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Heartfelt Happenings in Highbury

July 11, 2021 02:33PM
Some of you will remember us as the Florida Bennet Girls from days of yore. We got together for a weekend of Jane Austen-inspired fun, and we came up with this collaboration about one of our favorite spinsters. I hope you enjoy!

Blurb: What some may consider annoying traits, another may not mind at all. In Highbury, affection can spring from unlikely sources.



Heartfelt Happenings in Highbury

Lord Bartholomew Fitzwilliam, younger brother of the Earl of ______, found himself driving through the quaint village of Highbury on his way from London to Portsmouth. His groom, Hubert, had handed over the reins to his master but was now regretting his decision to relinquish control, clutching desperately to the side in terror. As the gig careened down the thoroughfare and splashed through a pothole, Hubert reached over to take the reins.

“Sir! Do allow me...” he shouted.

Lord Bartholomew slapped his manservant’s hands away. “Leave it. I am perfectly capable.”

Just then, a lady wandered into the High Street in front of them, clearly distracted. She did not notice the carriage headed straight for her.

Lord Bartholomew turned the horses just in time so as to avoid hitting her.

Hubert called out, “My lord, that post! We shall certainly take that post.”

Lord Bartholomew pulled on the reins but it was too late; the vehicle collided with the hitching post and the men tumbled from the carriage.

The lady who caused the disaster finally looked up. “Oh! Heavens me,” she cried, running over to tend to the gentlemen. “Are you hurt, my good sir? I can see that your groom is quite well, he popped up onto his feet and is dusting himself. But I see that you require assistance. Your groom shall assist me. Come, my good man, get on his other side. Let us help him to his feet. The Crown, the inn here in Highbury, is just there. Oh, but you do have a cut. Let us away to the Crown where you can sit and be comfortable. Oh, you cannot put any weight on your left foot. We will have Mr. Perry fetched immediately. Mr. Perry is the local apothecary. He has attended many illnesses and injuries. He will ascertain immediately whether your leg is broken or merely sprained. It is but a few more steps, mind the threshold. There will certainly be a seat for you here. Ho there, Mr. Chuttlesworth! You see this gentleman had an accident outside. He requires a seat by the fire and a cordial. Yes, we should send for Mr. Perry forthwith, what a good idea. Yes, Mrs. Chuttlesworth, a stool with a cushion is just the thing for his injured leg.”

Lord Bartholomew, settled upon the chair with his foot inclined, looked up at the lady with gratitude. “Thank you for your kind attentions,” he said rather loudly. Then to Hubert, he said, “Send a note to my nephew to alert him that I’ve been detained and shan’t be able to make our engagement.”

Mr. Chuttlesworth scuttled away, showing Hubert to a writing desk with everything he needed for the communique. The proprietress went out back to give orders to their lad to have Mr. Perry summoned post haste.

Now that they were alone, Lord Bartholomew took a closer look at the lady who both caused the incident and rescued him from it, only just noticing that she was in deep mourning. She wore a dress that was no better than an old frock dyed black, and a poor dye job at that. Her careworn face appeared anxious and melancholy, yet her fine eyes sparkled from the exertion and showed a hint of a more lively sensibility.

The lady saw his gaze travel to her black clothing. “Yes, sir, yes, I am in mourning. My mother just passed, you see, but four days ago, and was just buried yesterday. I have just come from visiting her fresh grave at the churchyard when I witnessed your terrible calamity. You see, I have thought only of my poor mother this past year, but now that she is gone I find I am unable to think of anything else.”

Hubert, having written the missive to the good colonel, reentered the room. “To whom are we indebted for the hospitality?” he inquired.

“My name is Miss Bates, at your service,” she replied.

“Did you you say Miss Bates?” Hubert said loudly.” Lord Bartholomew perked up when he heard this information.

“Yes, indeed, sir.”

“Well, Miss Bates, I am certainly glad that you were not injured in the scrape. We noticed you just in time - “

Lord Bartholomew grunted and held up his hand. “That is enough, Hubert. Let us speak no more of the accident.”

Hubert said, “But, my lord, the gig is still in the roadway. Shall I…”

Lord Bartholomew nodded. “I trust you to take care of it, my good man.” He waved Hubert away. To Miss Bates he said, “I am very grateful for your assistance.”

“I was happy to oblige, sir. By the way, do you like baked apples? Mrs. Wallace here in town bakes apples better than any others I’ve had, sir. They are extremely wholesome. Mr. Perry recommends them. He will tell you so when he arrives. I don’t think anything can be more salubrious than a baked apple for your injured leg. Mrs. Knightley herself sent over a whole bushel of apples from the orchard at Donwell Abbey, and so, you know, we sent them over to Mrs. Wallace to be baked. Patty will make up some apple dumplings, I daresay. She makes an excellent apple dumpling. My mother loved a good apple dumpling, but alas…”

Lord Bartholomew noticed Miss Bates’ eyes sparkling with unshed tears. He smiled and nodded as she happily chirped away.

Miss Bates continued prattling on in the same style until Mr. Perry’s arrival. When the apothecary entered the room, Miss Bates regaled him with the entire event, sparing no details of the mishap.

Mr. Chuttlesworth appeared in the doorway. “Did I not hear you say something about baked apples, Miss Bates?” She ran home to fetch the baked apples, leaving Mr. Perry to examine the patient.

Hubert returned to his master and held up a crumpled piece of tin. “I regret to inform you, my lord,” he bellowed, “that your ear trumpet was crushed beyond repair. I shall send away for a new one forthwith.”

Lord Bartholomew sighed. “No, no. Don’t bother.”

* * * *

Over the next fortnight, Lord Bartholomew continued to reside at The Crown. While his injuries healed swiftly apace and very well, he seemed in no hurry to decamp, in spite of numerous letters from his nephew.

Miss Bates often crossed the street from her home to visit her new friend and tend to his injury. She fussed over him and ensured that he never lacked for any comfort. She also continuously supplied him with various home remedies to assist in his recovery, and he always felt these were more efficacious than anything Mr. Perry prescribed. He watched her mouth as she rattled on and on, and he admired the shape of her lips and how prettily she formed words.

Before long, Miss Bates’ niece and husband arrived. They were alighting from their carriage just as Miss Bates came out her front door to head to The Crown. “Oh, my dear Mr. and Mrs. Churchill! I am so very glad to see you. How good of you to come.” Mrs. Churchill embraced her aunt as Mr. Churchill directed the servants to take the luggage inside.

As they entered the small apartment, Jane sighed. “Poor Grandmama,” she said. “The sitting room feels so empty with her. My dear aunt, I hope she did not suffer much at the end.”

Miss Bates’ eyes glistened with unshed tears. “No, my dear, she did not suffer. She went quietly in her sleep.”

“Well, that is a relief,” said Jane, taking her aunt’s hand. “I hope you have not suffered greatly from the loss. I am sorry we could not come sooner. But we look forward to bringing you back to Enscombe with us in a few days.”

Miss Bates hesitated a moment before replying, “We shall see, my dear Jane. I am not sure I am yet ready to remove from Highbury.”

“I understand,” replied Jane. “We are not in a hurry. We shall remain as long as you require to say goodbye and prepare for your departure. I am only pleased that we are now here with you and I will no longer be anxious about your being alone and with no one to care for.”

“Actually, I daresay, I flatter myself, that I have been very useful at the Crown to a gentleman staying there who fell in with some bad luck, Lord Bartholomew Fitzwilliam of _____. I was on my way to check in on him when you arrived.” Then Miss Bates proceeded to give a detailed explanation of Lord Bartholomew’s accident, injury, and recovery, including every remedy that had been prescribed and its efficacy.

They finally returned to the Crown, where Lord Bartholomew was sitting in his usual chair by the fire with Mr. Perry hovering over him. They entered the room in time to hear Lord Bartholomew declare, “Enough Mr. Perry, enough my good sir. I thank you for your kind services, but I beg you to desist. I am convinced no remedy can do me so much good as the solicitous attentions of my dear Miss Bates.”

As he said the last he looked up to see the party who had entered with that very lady. “Ah, there is my own angelic nurse.”

Mr. Perry slipped out the door in disappointment.

Miss Bates was speechless which in and of itself attested to the import of his declaration. Yet, she was unaware that she was indeed still capable of blushing. Mrs. Churchill however observed it with curiosity. Introductions were made and the good gentleman issued an invitation for the trio to dine with him at The Crown that very evening. His invitation was graciously accepted. At dinner, Lord Bartholomew declared he felt his leg was well enough to take a turn out of doors. He had been for the past few days ascending and descending the stairs at the Crown on his own. Mrs. Churchill had expressed a wish of going to the churchyard to see her grandmother’s burial site and he offered to join them. This outing was conducted the following day with great solemnity.

Within another fortnight Lord Bartholomew was ready to travel and left Highbury with a heavy heart and a solemn promise to call on the Churchills and Miss Bates at Enscombe. The visit was duly paid about a month after Miss Bates was settled there. Lord Bartholomew arrived at Enscombe with a spring in his step. “I am so pleased to see you well recovered,” said Miss Bates when he arrived.

“It is entirely owing to your efforts, my dear lady. You single-handedly preserved my health with your ministrations at Highbury.” This brought on a lengthy speech of gratitude which ended only when Mrs. Churchill interrupted to welcome her guest.

The next morning before breakfast Lord Bartholomew invited Miss Bates to take a turn in the shrubbery with him. She graciously accepted, explaining to him as they went along everything about the history of the shrubbery, including each plant and bush, as well as the house and grounds. He let her speak to her heart’s content and when she stopped to draw breath he paused in their walk. She turned to him with alarm. “Are you unwell, my good sir? Here is a bench,” she said gesturing, “come, do sit down.”

“No indeed, my dear Miss Bates, I am perfectly well, I assure you. As I have said, thanks to your attentions I am healed not only in body, but in spirit.” She started to respond, but he held up his hand, he forestalled her, “You must allow me to tell you how fortunate I feel to have met you.” Taking her hand, he continued, “And, I pray, you will make the happiest of men by accepting my hand and heart.”

Now Miss Bates was truly astonished; for, notwithstanding the gentleman’s polite hints, she had not anticipated such an application at her age. She had long given over any hope. “Lord Bartholomew, I am truly … I must say, I am shocked, I do not know what to say.” He only smiled at this. “I am - I am grateful, but are you certain? Are you quite certain you wish to? Dear me, I cannot even say the words.”


Still holding her hand in his, he replied, “I love you, and I will give you a comfortable and I hope a happy home.”

She beamed at his promise and nodded as she replied, “Yes, my dear Lord Bartholomew, I will marry you!”

He raised her hand to his lips for a kiss and said, “Very well, my dear Hattie. Then you shall call me Bart.”

“Well, Bart, shall we go tell Jane?”

Finis
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Heartfelt Happenings in Highbury

Alicia M., Cindy C., and Jen P.July 11, 2021 02:33PM

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