Costumes and Chaos
Chapter 7: Madam Author and her Major
Author's Note: The opening dialogue should be spoken in your best Rod Serling* imitation. The following story borrows greatly from an old story entitled "Absolutely Farcical" of which was mostly written by Caroline and she given permission to use it.
Submitted for your approval, one Lady Caroline Evans, young, beautiful and recently wed to Major Michael Evans. Prior to her marriage, Lady Caroline had often written stories for the amusement of her family. In the past four months (since her marriage) Lady Caroline had not put pen to paper. However, the creative streak can be hard to deny and your imagination can play tricks on you as Lady Caroline is about to find out in the Pemberley Zone.
It was early on the evening of the costumed ball at Pemberley and it seemed that all of England had been invited. The guest quarters were full to overflowing. In one of the guest bedrooms was Major Michael Evans--who, having resisted all his wife's entreaties to dress up as Edward, the Black Prince--looked almost normal in his green jacket of the 95th rifles.
Caroline bounced into the room and handed him a simple green mask. Wiping a minute speck of dust from his lapel, she smiled up him gently, "There, now you will pass inspection."
After kissing the smile from her lips, he whispered in her ear, "You look heavenly, my lovliest!" It was more than just a complimentary description for Lady Caroline was dressed as the heavens. Her hair glittered with gem-studded combs, sapphire stars, moonstone moons, golden topaz suns. Her gown was appliquéed with all seven planets in their orbits.
Caroline was enjoying this moment alone in the arms of her husband. Outside the guest room, she could hear two women coming down the hall. One was clanging in an ill fitting suit of armor. "I am Joan of Arc!" the woman claimed loudly enough to be heard in the room.
The brave young woman walked slowly to the tall pile of wood. From the center rose an ominous stake. She paused but one of her captures pushed her forward. With all the dignity she possessed, she mounted the platform and was then tied the stake. She could hear the crackling noise as the kindling was lit. At first it provided a comfortable warmth, but as the smoke and flames rose higher........ "Mon Dieu, we are to meet at last."
"Caroline....Caroline!" Michael gave her a gentle shake, "Are you all right? What is the matter?" he asked anxiously, for her faced seemed drained of color.
"What?" Caroline shook her head to clear it. The image had been so real that she wanted to put it down on paper once. But a memory checked her. "I am fine," she said, "just a trifle excited about this evening."
"A trifle excited?! Caroline, it was as if you were in another world. If that is the way you show excitement--do not do it again, for it frightened me."
"I frightened a brave soldier such as yourself, impossible!" Caroline rallied.
"Entirely possible, guns and cannons are nothing compared to the thought of harm coming to you," Michael pulled her into his arms, he gently placed a kiss on her forehead.
"Since you are so eager for the evening to begin, shall we go down?" he asked.
"Yes, I am ready. Do not forget that I have the first waltz," she reminded him.
"If I do forget you may have me brought up before a court-martial. Such behavior is unbecoming to an officer," Michael said as he closed the door to their room.
Lady Caroline had been shaken by the incident. It had been months since she had discovered that Michael disparaged women writing. She could remember that day clearly--Michael had entered the drawing room of her father's house shortly after they had become engaged. Caroline had been busy working on her latest story.
"What are you writing?" he asked. "It had better not be a love letter to any of your beaux," he warned.
"What if I told you I was writing a novel?" Caroline questioned in return, eager to tell Michael of her favorite pastime. It was a secret she had been saving to share with him.
"That is one of the qualities that I love about you, Caroline. Your sense of humor--as if you could be writing a novel!" he laughed, "I supposed it is filled with ghosts, and mysterious counts, and virtuous heroes, and fainting damsels. Oh, Save Me!" he cried in a high falsetto, before pantomiming a fainting spell onto the couch.
He looked up from the couch. "Caroline, why are you not laughing? There is no need to carry the joke further and pretend to be insulted."
"I do not find it a laughing matter that you think I cannot write a novel."
"I have no doubt that you could, but why would you want to? You are not a poor old maid trying to eke out a few extra pennies by writing, nor are you a bluestocking looking to impress the world with your book learning. Besides, you are much too pretty to have to bother writing about stuff and nonsense, anyway. Most novels are just silly drivel, don't you think?"
Caroline slowly nodded her head, not wanting to start an argument. She put on a false smile for the rest of the visit. After Michael had left, she took the last page of her novel in her hands and read it.
"Silly drivel," she finally said. "Who would want to read about the adventures of a courageous bulldog." Removing the rest her novel from the writing desk, she made her way to the fireplace.
Still feeling a trifle light-headed from her recent experience, Caroline entered the drawing room. "Perhaps a glass of wine will help," she thought. She stopped just inside the doorway and stared in amazement. An elegant peacock was strutting about the room beside a waddling duck. A squawking and complaining chicken with very ruffled feathers was trying to insinuate itself between the two birds, but they would have none of it.
On the sofa sat a cat, who was fluffy, white, and nice and fat. Every now and then it would lower it's paw and try to strike one of the birds, invariably missing. So it would hiss at them as they came near. In another chair, a badger was drinking a glass of sherry and reading a book. He looked up and winked at her.
Caroline silently turned and left the room. Leaning against the door she took a deep breath, and then another. "It was just your imagination playing tricks on you. The Darcy's do not keep a menagerie in their drawing room."
With some trepidation she opened the door again. She found all eyes staring at her. "Excuse me," she muttered and hurried over to an empty seat next to the sherry decanter.
From the comfort of her chair, Lady Caroline surveyed the room. Louisa Hurst, in a brilliant peacock blue gown, was sitting on the sofa. Her sister, Miss Caroline Bingley, more sedately dressed in a teal colored gown, was seated next to her. Mrs. Bennet was behind the sofa, in a yellow gown with yellow feathers in her hair. She was constantly trying to insert herself into the conversation between the two sisters but they would have none of it.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam. . ." began Louisa.
"Such a charming young man and the second son of an Earl," cried the delighted Mrs. Bennet.
"Is much sought after...." continued a determined Louisa.
"And why should he not be? A full colonel at only three-and-thirty!" exclaimed Mrs. Bennet.
"By many matchmaking mammas," Caroline commented, looking disdainfully at Mrs. Bennet.
"Oh, I am sure the Colonel is much to smart to be taken in by their traps. Kitty, do sit up. Young ladies do not lounge about so, especially when a fine young gentlemen may be expected at any moment," this aside was clearly heard by Lady Caroline, who pretended interest in a figurine on the table next to her to cover her uneasiness. She really wished for a glass of sherry.
Kitty sat up from the more languid position she had preferred. "Yes, Mama." Kitty began waving her fan back and forth, practicing her flirtations. However, the wrist band snapped and the vigorously waving fan went flying through the air to knock the glass of red wine Miss Bingley was drinking all over her gown.
There was a tense moment of silence. "Oh, Miss Bingley, your poor dress. Apologize, Kitty, this instant. Your poor gown. I know just the thing. I shall wring for the housekeeper, Mrs......Mrs....."
"Reynolds," said Kitty.
"Yes, Mrs. Reynolds, to come to your room, with some hot water..."
"I assure you, Mrs. Bennet, that my maid can take care of it," Miss Bingley stated through gritted teeth, leaving the room with Louisa following in her wake. Mrs. Bennet followed, though she went in search of Mrs. Reynolds to have the broken glass removed from the carpet. Kitty resumed her reclining position as soon as the others left the room.
Lady Caroline was looking somewhat bemusedly at the door, when a glass of sherry appeared before her eyes. "You appear to be in need of some restorative."
"Thank you," said Caroline, and downed the sherry in one gulp. Mr. Bennet refilled her glass, advising her to down this one more slowly, before he returned to reading a book. Feeling Caroline's eyes upon him, he looked up and winked at her.
"I think I have had enough sherry," she muttered, then hurried out of the drawing room.
Later that evening, as she watched the dancers in the ballroom Caroline began to think her strange apparitions were over. Why she had not had one in hours! Then she felt a tug at her sleeve. She turned to see a handsome face, smiling charmingly at her. "I am Mr. Crayfort. You must give me the leading role your next story," he said. Caroline's other sleeve is tugged, and she turns the other way, to face Mr. Collins.
"What pray, is this all about?" asked Caroline, a bit peevishly.
"Our dance, Lady Caroline, our dance!" Mr. Collins said gleefully. Pulling her onto the dance floor, Lady Caroline was the unwilling recipient of Mr. Collins confidences about Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
"She most graciously agreed that my dear Charlotte and I should attend this assembly. I must say, it is far grander than Lady Catherine would deem necessary. Lobster patties and ...Oh, I am sorry, I assure you, I did not mean to step on your foot....The amount of champagne that is being served is scandalous! Lady Catherine would not approve...Was that you leg, my lady? Indeed, I am terribly sorry..." and so it went throughout the dance.
When the torture was finally over, Mr. Collins escorted Lady Caroline to a chair. Mr. Collins went off, happily humming to himself, eagerly seeking his next victim. Lady Caroline longed to go stand in the snow and let the icy coldness numb her aching toes. She glanced at her dance card. Mr. Collins was listed for a second dance. She groaned. She would not be able to take the torture. "I do believe I will be spending that set in the ladies withdrawing room."
Caroline leaned back against the wall. A man sat down next to her. Mr. Crayfort, now masquerading as the young Prince of Wales, was assessing all the young ladies in the room. He focused on a tall young woman, dressed ý la Hussar. Wishing for an introduction, he turned to Caroline.
"That's Sophy Ralliven," she told him wearily, recognizing the young woman from one of her earlier novels.
"Really! I always thought she was fictitious!" was his reply.
"Er, yes, well...so are you!" Caroline told him defiantly. It was impossible to hold a rational conversation with a figment, she thought.
"Really! Then I shall ask her to dance. You really should be writing this down," he said somewhat solicitously before heading off to dance.
Caroline ground her teeth together. What an impossible man! Thank goodness he is only make believe! she thought, then froze as a wave of panic threatened to engulf her. What am I thinking? What is happening to me?
A rich, brown voice from behind asked, "What is the matter? Are you unwell?"
She turned to face the rich, brown eyes of her host. "Is that really you, Mr. Darcy?" Caroline asked weakly.
Darcy appeared to be perplexed by the question, but he nodded. Frowning slightly, he voiced his concern, "You look ill. Is there nothing I can get you for your present relief? A glass of wine--can I get you one?"
"Thank you, yes, I would greatly appreciate it."
"Let us find a more restful place for you," Darcy said. Taking her arm, he led her into a quiet corner. Catching the notice of a passing footman, Darcy retrieved a glass of ratafia and water that he handed Caroline, saying "I think I can slip out quietly and see what has happened to Major Evans."
"Thank you, Mr. Darcy," Caroline murmured.
As he walked away, a woman appeared, wearing a plain domino.
"Miss Austen!" shrieked Caroline, grabbing the lady's arm and pulling her down to chair. "Thank Goodness you are here! May I ask you something?"
"It appears that you have every intention of doing so" she said as she tried to remove her arm from Caroline's grip. It would not budge.
"I have read your books. Please, I need your help!" Caroline wailed.
"What is the problem?" asked Jane, finally succeeding in freeing her arm, though not without some damage to her gown.
"I fear that you will believe I belong in Bedlam. I am wondering myself if that is where I belong." Caroline noticed that Miss Austen did not contradict her statement.
"I seem to be having strange visions--I saw Joan of Arc as she was be led to her death, a drawing room was filled with animals, and a man who claims he wants to be the hero of my next story is waltzing around the ballroom with the heroine of one I have already written. There they are!" Caroline pointed to the couple as they waltzed by.
"You are writer, I take it? That would explain it," Miss Austen nodded to herself. "I am afraid that cannot see dancers, not until you have written their story down. Then we both could have the enjoyment of seeing the couple dance."
"I am afraid that I do not understand. What is your meaning?" asked Caroline puzzled.
Miss Austen sighed, "You see a couple dancing, so you write it down. I read what you have written, then I am able to see the couple dancing. It is really very simple."
"But I have given up writing! I have not written anything in months," Caroline confided.
"And why not?" asked Miss Austen, curious.
"My husband does not approve. He thinks that women writers are either bluestockings or," Caroline looked rather apologetically at Miss Austen, "a way for old spinsters to make some extra pin money."
"That there might be some truth to his philosophy, I agree," said Miss Austen, "but one writes for oneself first. If ones work is accepted by a wider audience, than so much the better, but outside approval is not necessarily needed. Do you approve of your writing?" Miss Austen finally asked.
Caroline nodded slowly at first, then with more vigor.
"Then cease neglecting your writing!" scolded Miss Austen. "It is no wonder that you are experiencing such visions! Could my own ideas flow as fast as the rain in the store-closet (as your seem to do) it would be charming."
"I am sure that your writing will long be held in esteem," Caroline complimented.
"Are you? I am not. I weigh my words and sentences more than I did, and I am looking about for a sentiment, an illustration, or a metaphor in every corner of the room. "
"And are you finding it?"
"At times. But we were talking about your writing not mine," Miss Austen ruthlessly changed the subject.
"Oh, what am I to do?" Caroline wailed.
"Just tell your husband. You will feel much better for it, though the knowledge of being exposed to such discerning criticism," sarcasm dripped from Miss Austen's voice, "may hurt your style, by inducing too great a solicitude."
"Do you really believe that to be so?"
"Go and consult with him on what is to be done!" Miss Austen ordered.
Darcy arrived back with Major Evans. "Caroline, are you ill? Mr. Darcy seems to believe so."
"It was just the exhaustion from my previous dance. Mr. Collins was my dance partner."
"Then you are very much to be pitied, Lady Caroline," commiserated Darcy, nodding his head in understanding.
"That bad, eh?" asked Michael. "Do you wish to sit out the next dance?"
"I am much better, thank you. The rest I have had has done me some good."
The band struck up "The Barley Mow". Michael claimed the dance. Caroline knew it was time to confess to Michael that she was a writer.
"Michael?" Caroline said tentatively as the met in the dance. "There is something I must tell you that you will not be pleased to hear."
The dance separated them.
"What is it?" Michael demanded--all manner of dark thoughts had entered his head during the separation. Everything from Caroline's being at death's door to her falling in love with another man.
"Can we return to our room? I must speak with you privately," she said with some urgency.
Michael was becoming really worried. Grabbing Caroline on her arm, he drew her from the dance floor and dragged up the stairs and into their bedchamber.
"Now, tell me what is wrong!" Michael demanded.
Instead of answering, Caroline went over to a trunk. Lifting the lid, she pulled out the packet of papers that was on top. She silently handed the package to Michael. There was some damage along one edge of the paper. The papers had obviously been spared a fiery demise.
"The Courageous Bulldog," Michael read aloud. "Caroline, what is this all about?" Michael was clearly puzzled.
"It is a story that I...I...I have written," she finally sputtered.
"What has it to do with your confession?" Michael asked.
"It is my confession. I write stories, long stories, short stories, stories about dogs and houses and any idea that comes to mind," Caroline admitted.
"You are not ill?" Michael asked. Caroline shook her head.
"You are not in love with another man?" Michael asked. Caroline decidedly shook her head.
"You are not selling state secrets to the French?" Michael asked. Caroline emphatically shook her head.
"You are writing stories?" Michael asked. Caroline reluctantly nodded her head.
Michael threw back his head and laughed. "This a relief. You do not know how worried I have been these past ten minutes. Why do you think that I would be upset that you write silly stories?"
Michael had said the wrong thing. This time Caroline became angry. Very angry. Picking up a pillow from the bed, she began to beat Michael with it. "They--whack--Are--whack--Not--whack--Silly--whack--To--whack--Me--WHACK!!!" Feathers exploded over the room.
Michael sneezed. Caroline grabbed another pillow. Michael sneezed. Caroline began a second assault. Michael sneezed as he grabbed the pillow away from Caroline.
"CEASE!!" Michael yelled in voice of command. It worked on soldiers in battlefields, it did not work on his wife.
"I have stopped--whack--writing to please you--whack--and have had the most--whack--trying evening because of it--whack--and you have--whack--the presumption--whack--to call my stories silly--whack--I will show you--whack--silly." Caroline was out of breath. With one final whack she burst into tears and ran from the room.
Michael watched her go, then sneezed. Feathers were still flying about him. They turned his green coat white. Brushing them off the best he could, he scavenged through the white swan's down until her found Caroline's story and sat down on the bed (sending more feathers into the air to make him sneeze) to read Caroline's story.
About half an hour later, Michael tentatively stepped into the sitting-room that adjoin the bedchamber. He saw Caroline seated at the window, gazing out at the snow covered. The moonlight on the crust of the newly fallen snow, gave the impression of midday. She did not turn her head when he entered.
Michael strode over to the window. He cleared his throat. Caroline continued staring out the window. This situation was not going to be easily rectified, he thought.
"Caroline," Michael began, "please look at me."
Reluctantly, Caroline turned from the window and gazed upon her husband. Her features told him nothing.
"Why...why did you say you gave up writing because of me?" he asked.
"Do you not remember?" Caroline asked.
"If I remembered I would not be asking," he said in a somewhat irritated voice.
In a mocking imitation of his voice Caroline replied, "You are much too pretty to have to bother writing about stuff and nonsense. Most novels are just silly drivel."
"I said that?" Michael shook his head. He could not remember saying it. "You must know that I would never wish to suspend that which gives you pleasure. Or which give me pleasure."
Caroline was looking at Michael with a mixture of disbelief and hope in her eyes.
"Then you do not mind if I write? It takes a great deal of time for a story to be properly written," she informed him.
"I insist that you write whenever you get the compulsion, except of course..." Michael leaned down and whispered into Caroline's ear the times when it be inappropriate for pen and ink to dominate her thoughts. Pink-cheeked, Caroline nodded in agreement.
"You must promise to send anything that you have written to me when I return to the Peninsula."
"Then you really do like what I have written? It is not some pretty compliment meant to spare my feelings?" Caroline questioned.
"I must insist that you send me your stories. How else will I know if Beauregard saves Master Timothy from the well?"
"You read my story," Caroline sighed in wonderment.
"I thought we had already established that."
"No, you do not understand--You read my story. I cannot tell you the pleasure it gives to know that someone has read and enjoyed my stories."
"Then you have forgiven me for my unkind words, however unwittingly they were spoken?" Michael asked before sneezing. A stowaway feather slowly drifted to the floor.
"If you will forgive the feathers! I did not know that they would make you sneeze."
"Then we have both learned something new about each other tonight. However, I think my offense was greater. I must insist that in the future you will let me know when I say something that upsets you."
Caroline gave him a small but wicked smile. "You may count upon me to follow that order major."
"Shall we rejoin the others to see in the new year?" he asked. "Or do wish to get busy with your pen?"
"I can wait until tomorrow," she replied mischievously. "Let us rejoin the other until then."
Rushing down the steps, they entered the Ballroom as the countdown began
"Happy New Year, Everyone!" shouted Bingley. The Band struck up "Auld Lang Syne".
Caroline made her way over to Miss Austen, who was holding a bouquet of fragrant smelling roses under her nose. "I believe you have afflicted me with your malady, Lady Caroline. Do you see anyone dressed in a wizard costume?"
Looking about the room, Caroline shook her head, for she could see no one in such a costume.
"Yet, these roses appear real enough," Miss Austen said more to herself than Caroline.
"Perhaps the gentleman is just shy, Miss Austen." Caroline grabbed Miss Austen's hand. "I cannot thank you enough for the advice you offered me this evening."
"Then everything has been straightened out between you and your husband?" Miss Austen pulled her hand away and discreetly rubbed it on her gown.
"Yes, I believe that everything will be well," Caroline confided happily. "Mr. Darcy need not fear those weasels I saw in his Library."
"Weasels? In the library?" Miss Austen shook her head. It sounded like something from a children's fairy story. It was beyond her imagination.
"Pardon me, but may I sit beside you," asked a gentleman in navel uniform.
"Of course you may, sir," Miss Austen replied.
The gentleman sat down beside Jane. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Wentworth, Capt. Frederick Wentworth."
RodSerling was the host of The Twilight Zone, a very popular television show in the US in the ‘50’s and can still be seen today on the SciFi Channel. SciFi Twilight Zone Web Page is good place to start if you have not seen the show. It takes a little while to load.
There is no picture for Caroline’s costume, I made it up, but there were 7 known planets in JA’s lifetime (Uranus was discovered in 1781.)
"I adore you wrote the lady cat,
Who was fluffy white and nice and fat"
From Don Gato, the only song I remember from grade school. Supposedly you can find a sound clip of it here Don Gato. I also borrowed a line from "The Night Before Christmas".
Finally, Michael’s uniform— The Sharpe Info Page—has a great picture of a dress uniform for the 95th .
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