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Hyde Park, London, Quite Soon After What Has Just Come To Pass.
I gazed through the velvet draped carriage windows as I journeyed through the park. The afternoon had been one of tedium and frustration. Despite the generosity of my hostess Lady Millerton and the excellence of the cakes I had consumed, the society had been entirely underwhelming. Though the gathering had been well attended by young men, there was not one among them with a visage that was anything other than plain, let alone one to whom a lady of small personal fortune might ever be pleasing. It would seem that, to hope to find an amiable man, of tolerable brow so enamoured with me that he might disregard my lack of dowry, was beyond a dream. Thus I journeyed home a creature of desolation.
The carriage turned down the wide avenue and I was already full of dread at the prospect of returning. My imbecilic father would undoubtedly be inebriated and attempting to dance the quadrille with a looking glass, entirely convinced it was my mother. I remembered only too well the consequence of so enthusiastic a quickstep. I was picturing the scene of intoxication that awaited me, when, suddenly there was a noise from directly above my head. Something had landed atop the carriage. We came to so very abrupt a stop that I fell from my banquette and collided quite ebulliently with the opposite wall. Afore I could gather myself enough to call out to coachman to enquire what the Duce had possessed him? And did he require a blow to the visage to reunite him with his senses? the barouche door was opened and a man, wearing nought but a pair of under-drawers and clutching what appeared to be a woman’s nightgown, stood before me.
Every feminine sentiment of delicate propriety within me was so profoundly offended that I wished to scream. However, my afore mentioned collision with the wall had robbed me of my breath and I could not. The man seized his chance and stepped forth into the carriage.
“Pray Madam, do not scream.” Said he.
As such a thing was still beyond me, I remained silent.
“Forgive so brutal an intrusion, I do hope it has not been detrimental to your health!” Continued he.
I found the only words within my power were “My Coachman?!” for I was all perplexed confusion as to why the fellow had not yet appeared to save me from this man.
” It would seem he has not your nervous fortitude, he is too afraid to approach me, even to rescue you.” Was his reply. The man then surprised me further then by continuing as boldly as though he were asking me to dance. ” I am no vagabond, at least, I do not believe myself to be, I do not mean to harm you, but I must entreat you to command your driver to continue.”
“Sir, you cannot expect me to …” But I was interrupted.
“Madam, I beseech you, I am being pursued by the most villainous churls who mean to dispatch me. I must journey to Bath with the utmost expediency! I will pay you ten thousand pounds if you convey me there instantaneously.” He brandished the nightgown and I saw now that it was quite full of money.
“Nay,Sir, what you ask of me is an impossibility! I have enough trouble with my marital prospects as it is without so very openly endangering my reputation through scandalous peril!” Was my animated reply.
“Forgive me madam, but a private fortune of ten thousand pounds is a fortune indeed. With such a sum, no matter how it is acquired, I am certain that a young lady could marry who she chooses, whether he is a libertine or a saint.”
As I glanced once more at the pitiful chemise, so stuffed with bank notes it resembled a Christmas goose, I realised the truth of his words. My thoughts turned once more to the man I called Pappa, who’s intoxicated folly had led him to gamble away my fortune and with it all hope of marrying advantageously. In that unfashionable nightgown, held by this most peculiar stranger, I could see a future. One that contained the hope of marrying for love. I made my decision, lowered the window and called out to my driver.
“Mr. Leadfoot,” For that was his name.” This gentleman has brought me such dreadful news. My aunt has been taken ill. We must make all haste to Bath, though perchance we could stop at a tailor’s shop on the way, the poor fellow has been robbed!”
And with that we drove on.
I conversed openly with him now, though lingering nervous agitation meant that I spoke with the rapidity of a child who wishes to emphatically deny it’s guilt. I discussed the clement weather and the pleasing roads until I had not only exhausted the topics but also the road. For we were soon arriving at Bath. His lack of replies and the near termination of our journey meant I was suddenly overwhelmed by curiosity.
“Sir what is your name? For you have yet to introduce yourself. Mine, for the sake of formality is Miss Eliza Heroina. But, pray Sir, who are you?” I felt that as he had landed atop my carriage with such velocity so very ill attired, bribed me and commanded me to Bath, we were formerly enough acquainted to permit me to address him so very directly. To my astonishment he said;
” I do not know. I cannot recall who I am. I found myself at the docks of London with little or no inclination to recall my own name, let alone how I came to be there.” He reached once more for the chemise and from within he pulled som handsomely drawn likenesses of himself and some calling cards.
“I began to investigate the curious circumstances surrounding such a curiosity, and discovered these. If these likenesses are to be believed then I am apparently one Colonel Charles Lethe. Yet it would seem that I also answer to Mr Everstone, Mr Philips, and perhaps most peculiarly Monsieur De Mėmoire. What sort of a man needs such an abundance of names?”
“I am certain I do not know Sir”
“Nor I, which is why I am entirely determined to find out. It would seem that Charles Lethe is a resident of Bath, and as Charles Lethe, is the name that most resembles a gentleman’s (for who could expect a Philips, or indeed a Frenchman to be such a thing). Therefore I have decided that this would be the most prudent place to begin my search.”
Such calculating logic proved to be admirable, therefore I had a new found respect for Colonel Charles Lethe, a respect which nigh on redoubled as the chaise drew up outside his handsomely elegant lodgings.