An Unsuitable Governess Graphic

Chapter 2

After settling herself and Adelaide at the Rose and Crown Inn, Elizabeth ordered them both the luxury of a hip bath and changed into a fresh frock. The Gardiners’ had given her coin for her troubles, but Elizabeth wished to find work as quickly as possible. She would not impose herself further upon their charity by writing to ask for assistance.

“Miss Bennet?” Adelaide ventured, seeing Elizabeth gathering her outside wear.

“Wilson,” Elizabeth said. “Mrs. Wilson.”

“Yes’m,” Adelaide said, clutching her hands. “Mrs. Wilson? Mrs. Gardiner said I was to accompany you on your trip and—”

“And we have arrived. This is the countryside, and I am well used to walking in the countryside. I will not be long.”

Adelaide looked aghast. “On your own, Miss?” She looked down at her hands. She was a maid, not a proper lady’s companion. It was not her place to contest her assigned mistress. At the same time, she had been tasked with Elizabeth’s virtue.

“I am a widow making a call to the parson,” Elizabeth reassured her. “My virtue is well in hand. Can you can see to things here? We will need a proper dinner. And supper.”

“Miss?”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said, ending the conversation. As soon as she found work, she would send Adelaide back to London with assurances that Elizabeth was well settled.

“Yes’m.”

The day was chilly and gray. It had, at least, ceased raining, and patches of light brightened some of the clouds, giving the afternoon a hint of promise which restored Elizabeth’s optimism. The ground was damp as Elizabeth walked the main road alongside the wheel ruts.

At the town center stood the church, an impressive edifice of stone towering a full story over the smaller shops surrounding it. Elizabeth hoped the parson or his wife would be in attendance, or at least nearby, as one would be likely to know which households might be in need of a governess within the village and surrounding area. As Elizabeth passed the milliner, she noted a young maid standing at the curb in front of a carriage, having an animated conversation with a footman. She twisted a curl from beneath her bonnet, looking up at the footman with a flirtatious smile.

Elizabeth averted her gaze.

She entered the church, and finding the parson absent, resolved to return in the morning with the hope someone would be in attendance who could help her. Elizabeth’s natural amicability prevailed over her disappointment, and as she left the church, she smiled at the weak sunlight that had pierced some of the afternoon’s oppressive clouds.

Mrs. Gardiner had given Elizabeth a letter of introduction to former neighbors and friends in the area, and Elizabeth hoped calling upon them would improve her prospects. For now, she would enjoy a meat pie.

But as she retraced her steps to the Inn, an unsavory scene arrested her attention. A girl, perhaps eleven or twelve, stood with her back to a stone wall between two shops. In front of her were two young men. Their clothing was shabby and disheveled. The young girl’s dress was finely made in a pale yellow muslin. Aside from a smudge of dirt on her cheek, she was neat and clean. She fisted her gloved hands as she said something to the two young men.

The older of the pair laughed.

Elizabeth, recognizing the danger of the situation, strode over to them. “Excuse me? Might I ask your business with this young lady?”

The two men turned to Elizabeth. Noting the fabric and fine cut of her frock and the confidence of her bearing, the smaller of the two men stepped back. “Apologies, ma’am. This young lady was lost.”

“I thank you for offering aid, but it is no longer required.” Elizabeth strode towards the young girl and linked their arms together.

The girl was short and stocky of build with disheveled blond curls. Her features were strong, the sort that overpowered a child but grew more handsome with age. “I did not need any help,” she whispered, but her hand was shaking as Elizabeth walked her away from the two men.

Elizabeth said, “You should not be walking alone.”

“You are walking alone,” the girl retorted.

She made a point. Elizabeth had abandoned her own chaperone to walk on her own, and she’d made a habit of long, solitary walks since she was near this child’s age. Though she had never ventured unaccompanied to the village.

“It is true. But I am now one and twenty.” Or almost such. “When I was two and ten,” Elizabeth glanced down at the young woman, who averted her gaze. “I did not venture to town on my own without the company of my mother or sisters. Have you any sisters?”

“She is away. In Oxfordshire.”

“You must be very lonely without her. I have four sisters. The eldest is Jane, and I miss her terribly.” Elizabeth swallowed. Jane, having no success crossing paths with Mr. Bingley, let alone recapturing his interest, had left town a week before Elizabeth.

“Georgiana would rather play piano and play court to—” The young girl shook her head. “I cannot talk of that.” She blushed. Elizabeth, sympathetic to the girl’s mortification, having experienced an unfair degree with her mother and two youngest sisters, changed the subject. “I am Elizabeth… Elizabeth Wilson.”

“Rose,” the girl said. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mrs. Wilson.”

They walked back along the side of the road, skirt hems dragging against the damp grass, which muffled the sound of their footfalls. “Whereabouts do you live? Was it a long walk?”

Judging by Rose’s dress and manners, Elizabeth doubted she had walked very far on her own. She had a smudge of dirt on her cheek, but the pale yellow muslin of her frock was mostly clean, and a family with the wealth to afford their daughter such a fine dress would not allow her so much freedom to gallivant on her own about the countryside.

Even as eccentric as her own family’s habits were, much of Elizabeth’s freedom had been due to a surfeit of siblings and a mother who, while she often accompanied them on excursions, was also easily distracted, allowing the girls greater independence provided they kept a watchful eye on each other.

Lastly, it did not escape Elizabeth that Rose had only shared her given name. A girl with permission to run wild would not have hidden her identity. But Rose’s safety was of greater import than proving the young girl a liar.

“I think you for your help,” Rose said, pulling her away. “But I have no need of further companionship, Mrs. Wilson.”

“Who were those young men?”

“Village boys.” Rose stepped away, glancing back the way they had come.

Elizabeth said, “I had thought to stop for a meat pie before returning to my room at the inn. You may not wish companionship, but it has been a little lonely for me, as this is my first time so far from home with no family at my side. If you would oblige me, Miss Rose, I would be grateful for your company.”

“You would?”

“Of course. I suspect we have much in common. We both like walking.”

Rose’s lips twitched. “I suppose.”

“And I suppose we both would enjoy a meat pie. Are they very tasty at the shop?”

Rose nodded. “My last governess felt it inappropriate for me to have such a snack between meals.””

“Pish! You are growing. And active. A meat pie should cause you no lasting harm.”

Rose laughed. Elizabeth held out her arm, and the girl took it again. They walked together along a stone wall enclosing a small field with sheep and past the church.

“Why are you so far from your family?” Rose gasped, her eyes widening, “Are you seeking your fortune?”

Her fortune? Young Rose had an interest in novels, an interest in which Elizabeth doubted her previous governess had approved.

If she had even known.

While some, including Mary and Meryton’s parson, felt novels had an adverse effect on a growing mind, Elizabeth had never held such notions. Her mother had never read a novel, indulging in only scandal sheets and Burke’s peerage, and yet she was often silly. Jane read novels while Lydia, the least practical of Elizabeth sisters, read nothing at all. Elizabeth quite enjoyed a good novel and found no shame in it.

Elizabeth said, “I was hoping to find work as a lady’s companion or governess.”

“You do not act at all like a governess.”

Elizabeth bit her lower lip. “How does a governess behave?”

“She is strict. She dislikes reading unless it is for one’s own edification, which means overly moral and deadly dull. She insists upon hours and hours at the pianoforte. She does not approve when one climbs trees or searches for treasure.”

“And she does not approve of meat pies between meals, as you have said. That all sounds quite terrible. I much enjoy climbing trees.”

“You do?” Rose leaned closer to her. “I think Georgiana might have once approved of climbing trees, but I was too small, and then… I— You should tell no one of your fondness for climbing trees, if you wish to be a governess,” Rose declared. “Perhaps you are better suited as a lady’s companion. Though ladies also do not approve of climbing trees in my experience.”

Elizabeth laughed. “I believe this is much dependent on the lady. The truth of it is a lady never admits to climbing trees, at least not in company.”

Rose nodded solemnly. “Just as one does not admit to doing cartwheels or exploring or any exercise beyond dancing.”

“Do you dance?”

“I am not yet allowed until I have a better mastery of Latin, but Georgiana has showed me some of what she has learned.”

Elizabeth understood why Rose had little fondness for governesses. Elizabeth, free to pursue her own interests, had approached Latin at first as a way of growing closer to her father, and after had fallen in love with their tales of gods and heroics. Perhaps if Rose could gain more enjoyment from her lessons, she would retain them. In Elizabeth’s experience, knowledge was more easily acquired through enjoyment.

They stopped at the shop, sharing a meat pie hot from the oven. By time Elizabeth and Rose had finished their snack, and were licking hot juices from their fingers, the pair had become fast friends.

But as they stepped out of the shop, a delicate blonde woman of about two and thirty years came dashing down the road. “Rosalind!”

Rose muttered, “Drat!”

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Chapter 3

The woman was beautifully dressed, her bonnet trimmed in lace with a thick gold ribbon. She wore gray about her cuffs, the rest of her gown a pale blue. A maid followed her, face red and streaked with tears. Elizabeth waved and called out to them.

“Please,” Rose pleaded, tugging on Elizabeth’s sleeve. “We cannot tell her about the meat pie.”

“Is that your mother?”

“Yes.”

“And I suppose she was not aware of your decision to take an extended walk?”

“I wished to visit Sarah Gibbs at the mill. But Miss Thompson wanted to stay close to the shop; she said because Mama does not approve of my getting my hems dirty, but it is because Miss Thompson wishes to speak with Mr. Carver. It is not fair.”

“Rosalind Annabel Darcy,” Rose’s mother shouted. “I told you not to run off from Miss Thompson. Come here this instant!”

Darcy? Of Pemberley? Of all the horrid luck!

Mrs. Darcy curtsied to Elizabeth who returned the gesture. “I am sorry, Miss, for my daughter having troubled you.”

Elizabeth saw no resemblance between Rose and Mr. Darcy. Rose took after her mother both in height and with her blond curls and wide, green eyes. Mrs. Darcy was far too young to be Mr. Darcy’s mother by blood, so perhaps this woman was a second wife?

Mr. Darcy’s mother must have passed on then. Perhaps his grief contributed to his cross demeanor?

Mrs. Darcy said, “We have not been able to keep a governess, and if you insist upon this behavior, I will be forced to leave you at the house when I come into town, you will not see your friend, do you understand?”

Rose’s face fell. She clenched her fists. “I asked Miss Thompson to accompany me to the Gibbs’.”

“Had I not said I would take you to the miller’s after I had finished at the shop?”

“But we could go on ahead if Miss Thompson accompanied me.”

“Which she clearly did not.”

“I was accompanied by Mrs. Wilson.”

Mrs. Darcy turned her attention to Elizabeth. “Mrs. Wilson, I presume?”

Elizabeth curtsied, “I apologize. I am new to Lambton. Miss Darcy accompanied me back to the main road. I said I would see her safely back to her family, and she obligingly accepted my company. I fear we became so caught our conversation, we both lost track of the time. I am certain she did not wish to cause you bother of any kind.”

Rose blinked.

“Now, if I may take my leave.” As much as she liked Rose, Elizabeth had no interest in mixing herself further in the affairs of the Darcys.

“Mrs. Wilson?”

Elizabeth nodded.

“I am Mrs. Eugenia Darcy.”

“Mrs. Wilson is looking for work as a lady’s companion or governess,” Rose said. “Perhaps she could become your companion?”

Mrs. Darcy’s eyes lit up. “You are looking for a position as a governess?”

“Yes,” Rose said. “And Mrs. Wilson is very proper. She has no interest at all in climbing trees or exploring. I expect any young lady would become quite accomplished under her guidance.”

Mrs. Darcy’s eyes twinkled. “They would, would they? Mrs. Wilson, my daughter is enamored of your qualifications.”

“I fear her fondness for me may have led to some embellishment.”

“Nonsense. You are competent in Latin and Greek I assume.”

Elizabeth nodded. She supposed she was competent enough, though self-taught. Charlotte, who had a childhood governess, had often lamented Elizabeth’s greater facility with languages despite lacking formal training.

“And French?”

“No,” Elizabeth seized on this deficit with relish. “I am not proficient in French. Nor do I draw. And I play the pianoforte with only passable skill.”

“I fear your modesty ill serves you in this questioning. You appear to have a fine understanding of deportment and manners. And my daughter is fond of you, which is by far your most compelling qualification. None of the ladies the agency sent have managed such a feat. If you are interested in the position, you shall have it.”

Elizabeth felt faint. “I—”

“You will be compensated, of course, and, to speak plainly, should you develop an interest in exploration or climbing trees, so long as long as my daughter develops the deportment and skills so she might, upon her coming out, have a rewarding season, I will be content.”

Everything about the position was perfect to Elizabeth’s needs. She was already fond of Rose, and Mrs. Darcy was beyond amicable. But Elizabeth’s history with Mr. Darcy made such an arrangement impossible. Elizabeth pressed her lips together.

“Unless you are not fond of Rosalind?”

“No! Miss Rose is lovely.”

“Then what is it? I am not one to make an offer of this sort lightly.”

“It is only— I have had the honor of making acquaintance with your… son, Mr. Darcy, and I fear we did not have the most amicable beginning.”

To Elizabeth’s shock, Mrs. Darcy laughed. “Is that all?”

“It seemed—” Elizabeth tried to find her words. “It— Yes.”

“Fitzwilliam does not spend a great deal of time at Pemberley, not since his father’s passing. Had you other concerns?”

It was true; some men rarely concerned themselves with their own estates. Mr. Darcy had not made mention in Longbourn of his father’s second wife or his younger sister. If he had, Mrs. Bennet would have learned of it through the town’s extensive rumor mill. Perhaps Mr. Darcy was not often home. He had a house in town and Mr. Bingley’s friendship.

Thinking of Mr. Bingley brought back thoughts of Jane and her failure to recapture his attention. Elizabeth had not imagined Mr. Bingley so fickle, and yet, he had not sought Jane out while they were in town, and Jane, having no entry to his social circle as Miss Bingley had not responded to her letters, had eventually given up and returned to Longbourn in despair.

“Mrs. Wilson?”

“It would be my honor. Yes.”

Rose rocked forward on her toes. “Yes!”

Elizabeth smiled. So long as Mr. Darcy stayed away, and Elizabeth’s self-taught knowledge sufficed to educate Rose, all would be well.

She hoped.

Before setting Adelaide on her return journey to London, Elizabeth penned a note to Mrs. Gardiner explaining her situation. And with tears in her eyes, Elizabeth also wrote a note to Jane. 

Dearest Jane,

I trust this missive sees you well. I know you would never speak of it, but the pain of Mr. Bingley’s sudden change in his regard must still weigh on you, and I hate to add to your burdens by relating the understanding that I will be away from Longbourn longer than initially intended.

Elizabeth wished she could be more forthright with her letters, but in a crowded household such as Longbourn, where light fingers and curious eyes ensured privacy was not easily attained, Elizabeth was forced to speak in as general a manner possible.

After Mr. Collins’ most fortunate marriage to our dear friend Charlotte, our aunt and uncle have most generously allowed me to stay for a while longer in their care. Extending this visit may also offer a most interesting possibility for my future.

Please, do not tell Mama. Until my future is assured, the uncertainty would only harm her nerves. Pass my love to Papa, Mama, and our sisters.

I miss you with a longing that borders upon pain, but I assure you that I am well and happy.

With deepest love,

Lizzy.

Elizabeth handed the letter to Adelaide with additional coin, eliciting a promise that she would post it upon return to London.

With the letters done and handed over, Elizabeth felt the weight of her decision. She had chosen a fate most ladies of her class contemplated with horror. At least the deception of being a widow and the distance from Hertfordshire ensured she would not shame her family by going into service.

Elizabeth watched as Adelaide stepped into the stagecoach, the letters under her right arm. As the coach pulled away, it seemed to carry away Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s history, further and further into the distance until the forest swallowed the coach and the narrow road in green.

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Beneath a gray and weeping sky, a Royal Mail stagecoach trundled north towards Derbyshire. Miss Elizabeth Bennet wished to pretend it was all a grand adventure, but three days being jounced about until her muscles and teeth ached and three nights in tiny coaching inn rooms with the thin, ill-tempered maid Mrs. Gardiner had insisted Elizabeth bring as a chaperone, had robbed Elizabeth of her sense of wonder. Her eyelids were stiff, her hair itched, and she stank.

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