A very Jane Austen Christmas story; Part Two
A VERY JANE AUSTEN CHRISTMAS
PART TWO- The Disagreeable Departure
Jane tossed and turned as though she were aboard her brother’s man-of-war-- all through the night. The tiring travel that the coming day promised was very little compared to the weight of her purpose. Her mind was most occupied with the larger question of what might have happened to cousin Imogene.
“I promise to follow as soon as my health improves,” Jane’s sister, Cassandra promised from her bed. Cassandra’s most appalling red nose inclined Jane to bid her stay in bed. When the carriage pulled up in front of the Austen’s cottage Jane’s mother, half tearful, half pushing her out of the door, wished her luck and begged a speedy correspondence.
“You look after Cassandra, Mother,” Jane ordered, “I will find Cousin Imogene.”
“I know you will,” her mother sniffed, pulling the collar up closer around Jane’s earrings. The winter wind whipped at her bonnet, and her quilted dress and swansdown pelisse felt like nothing at all against the bluster. “Here comes the carriage.”
Jane kissed her mother and waved at the upstairs window, knowing Cassandra would have crept out of bed. “I will send word once I have arrived, Mother.” Jane felt a pang, knowing how sorely her mother must have felt the disappearance of Imogene, the worry of her own sister (Imogene’s mother, Mrs. Seymour), and presently she seemed to be having second thoughts about Jane’s own departure. “Mother, it will be quite alright. There will be a satisfactory conclusion to the matter, and I will return to you by Christmas.” The coachman took Jane’s trunk rather unceremoniously as she climbed up into the carriage, nearly bumping heads with a man sitting opposite her.
There were three other people in the carriage, which she might have expected, considering it was the holiday season and people were travelling more than usual. Still, she had hoped to rest, and to think a little. However, within but a quarter of an hour she had named the other three occupants of the carriage ‘Mr. Wolf, Mr. Stench, and Ms. Chatterbox’, then spent the next quarter hour wondering what they might have named her.
“And where is your final destination?” asked Mr. Wolf, eyeballing her from her the buttons on her boots to the crown of her bonnet—lingering long over her tippets and muff.
“Ah, London. Is that where you come from, Ms. ...”
Jane had no choice but to supply her surname. “Austen.” It would have been very rude to fence with a gentleman at such close quarters. In such a situation she could not flutter her fan, turn on her heel, and make some excuse before disappearing.
“Is that where you come from, Ms. Austen?”
“Oh, my dear, you are full of questions,” Ms. Chatterbox cut in, flashing Jane a jealous glance. Mrs. Chatterbox’s eyes blinked convulsively as they surveyed Jane’s person with no less attention than her companion, but with rather more disdain.
Jane closed her eyes and nestled her bonnet into the upholstered seat. Mr. Stench, who’d been snoring, shifted beside Jane. The slight movement somehow produced an impossibly disproportionate degree of odor in the snug carriage. Had it not been winter Jane might have bent the rules of civility and reached over him to crack the window. As she gazed longingly at the little rattling pane of glass, she saw a farmhouse pass. It was a mysterious, rambling old building with mullioned windows and a white stucco façade. Soon after the carriage slowed and stopped. Mr. Stench, rising instantly and with rare alacrity flung open the door of the carriage, giving blessed relief to all within. A loud thump issued from the back of the carriage where presumably the coachman was performing monkey tricks with the baggage.
“Miss!” he called, with some urgency.
Jane pulled herself up presently and scuttled out of the carriage. She rounded the back where she discovered her trunk had met with a calamitous fall; the contents of which were scattered in a most indecent way. The coachman, initially quite interested in her employment, transferred his interest to a smaller buggy that pulled up beside them. As Jane struggled to repack and secure her trunk, she saw Mr. Stench board the buggy, which swiftly departed. Then, incredulously and to her horror, she heard the coachman’s whip, and the horses began to trot away up the road. Before she could gather her thoughts, or the rest of her unspeakables, the carriage was well away.
“Sir!” she cried, in futility. “Sir!” How could that impudent lummox forget one of his passengers? She looked around and saw only the road before her, the road behind her, and the farmhouse in the distance. The day was getting on, and likely the next coach would pass through at nightfall. What on earth was she to do?
B. Go for help at the farmhouse