Chapter 3: The Art of Overcoming

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Lady Dorothea had little that was hers beyond her rank and her station in life as mistress of Lamerton. Benjamin could behave as he liked elsewhere, but here, in this abode, she had steadfastly insisted on his absolute support of her position in the household. So it was that Lady Dorothea had become increasingly troubled by the attention he paid to one member of the household in particular - the new parlour maid, Charlotte Caprice. The fact that Charlotte had apparently entranced their house guest, Monsieur Henri Le Bas, could perhaps be overlooked. After all, Le Bas was French and Charlotte was an attractive - though Dorothea thought, a touch on the young side even for a Frenchman - proposition. But it was wholly unacceptable to have her own husband hooked like a fish on the line of a parlour maid for heaven's sakes! Something had to be done.

Lady Dorothea had in truth, never witnessed her husband so taken with another human being before. She had humbled herself, to the point of pressing her ear against the door of her husband's study, to listen to them; for Benjamin had taken to requesting the company of Charlotte, as well as that of Le Bas, in pouring over the latter's manuscript on the topographical encyclopedia of the Americas. On that occasion, Le Bas had departed the meeting early and Dorothea had been forced to quickly hide herself behind the lacquered hallway bookcase. Shocked by the intimacy implied by a private meeting between her husband and the parlour maid, Dorothea had again, humiliatingly, listened at the door.

"What do you mean Miss Caprice, by drawing the internal stamina of this plant with a lateral perspective?"

"Because that, your lordship, is the Rata. Incredibly, it is at the lateral spine of the plant that the seed pod emerges and to make this clear, I thought that this perspective would serve the peculiar reproductive features of the Rata better."

"I take your point. Quite unorthodox, but I agree, in this case, warranted."

Lady Dorothea was perplexed. This was her chamber maid. Yet, here was that same maid being consulted by her husband as an expert on one of his latest projects. It could not be tolerated. A household such as hers depended for its smooth running on each one having his or her place and on each knowing his or her own place. That a maid could speak to her master as her equal could not be borne. It was an offence to Dorothea's sense of propriety, indeed, a moral outrage that must be righted at once. She was wrong to have suspected Charlotte of sexual misconduct it would seem, but this was far worse. Her conduct threatened the delicate balance of the whole household.

And so it transpired that a rather flustered and blustering woman of forty something years should burst, rather inelegantly, into the room where Charlotte and Sir Benjamin had been reviewing Le Bas' manuscript.

"Dorothea", exclaimed Sir Benjamin in surprise.

"Sir Benjamin", replied his wife, brushing back disheveled hair in slightly breathless tones. "Forgive me Sir Benjamin for intruding like this into your office. But I need to speak to you urgently. Charlotte?"

"Of course your ladyship. I will return at once to my duties downstairs."

Once Charlotte had closed the door, Sir Benjamin spoke immediately: "Dorothea, darling, what is it? Has something happened?" His concerned eyes raked the rather plain, but not unattractive features of his wife's face. "Benjamin, I am very troubled by affairs and goings on in this household. I wish to speak directly and openly as the gravity of the nature of these affairs, demands." More concerned now, Sir Benjamin sat toward the edge of his seat with body postured forwards over his desk, eyebrows slightly askew. "Dorothea, what on earth are you talking about?"

"I am talking about Charlotte Caprice, our new parlour maid and the airs and graces it seems she appears to be assuming in this household! Is she our maid or is she your colleague now?"

"My dear Dorothea, whatever do you mean?"

"Charlotte is employed as a maid in this household, to do the duties of a maid Benjamin. If I want her to darn, sew, scrub or polish, I say the word and she does the work. For how much longer do you think, will such a maid be willing and grateful for such work, when her master is begging her opinion on his professional affairs? And how do you think it will look to the rest of the staff Benjamin, if a trumped up maid gets the ear and Lord knows what else, of the master?"

"Now Dorothea, you overstep the mark. You are behaving like a lunatic, jealous wife. You can not be serious!"

"Oh, but I am deadly serious Sir Benjamin! Why, when have you ever included me in your affairs? I know little of your life outside these walls - even though you find fit to spend more and more of it in London. Forget I said that, because the truth is, I don't care how much time you spend here at Lamerton or what you do in London. But I DO care about Lamerton. What we have here is threatened by giving that girl too much authority and attention Benjamin."

"What WE have here Dorothea? But pray, what is that? Don't you mean, what YOU have here?" Benjamin raked one hand through his dark head of hair in frustration. "Look, this is getting out of hand" he said in a more resigned one. "The girl is harmless. She is helping Henri and that is enough for me." Lady Dorothea was momentarily speechless.

"That is enough for you? That is enough for you? Isn't this my home too? Aren't I the mistress of Lamerton manor? I want her gone, Benjamin."

Sir Benjamin stood at his desk, his long form overshadowing her more delicate and diminutive one. "Lady Dorothea, the matter is closed for discussion. I have said what I have said and when you come to your senses and calm down, I know you have the intelligence and the grace to understand and accept my decision. Charlotte is helping our highly esteemed guest and my personal friend, Monsieur Henri Le Bas. She stays. Now, please tell cook to send my dinner up here tonight. Henri and I have much work to complete on the new manuscript. Thank you my dear."

Lady Dorothea sat mute and wooden like on her seat for a few moments, her eyes resting on an invisible spot just beyond her husband on the far wall. Like shutters snapping shut, her eyes blinked once, cleared and settled on her husband's face. She smiled sweetly, but her eyes remained expressionless. "Yes, dear" she murmured quietly. Only the swish of her skirts against the wooden floors could be heard as she exited the room.

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