Blurb: Thanks to the vigilante training from Lady Bertram and Chapman, Fanny Price correctly applies a blunt object to the back of Mr. Crawford's head.
Notes: MP is still my least favorite Austen novel, but that doesn't mean it's not inspiring. But it does mean that I want to take serious liberties with characters and plot points. Passive Fanny only works for me if that's a ruse for a more exciting double life. This drabble was actually inspired by someone's comment on another work on a different site, so the moral of the story is: LEAVE A COMMENT. (Not just here but everywhere. Muses are funny like that.)
THE JUST APPLICATION
With a desultory gaze, Lady Bertram watched her niece and protégée, Fanny Price, leave the glittering ballroom. Tonight had been a success, and Fanny certainly possessed the stamina to dance until dawn, but Fanny and Lady Bertram each had a very different image to maintain. It would not do to let the truth slip out.
Lady Bertram waited until her husband drew near then moved her fan just a little too late to hide her yawn. Sir Thomas seemed to notice her for the first time all night. "My dear," he exclaimed, "you must get to bed. The hour is late." He himself showed no sign of calling it a night.
Lady Bertram obeyed sleepily, taking the same path as her niece through the crowd of neighbours, appearing to one and all as a lazy matron.
Lady Bertram had not always been thus. When she had been a young girl, her parents had taken on a new maid, Alfreda Chapman. After a few weeks, Chapman revealed to Maria Ward - this was years before she would become Lady Bertram - that she had come from a family of gypsies and acrobats. If Miss Ward was curious to learn more, and willing to help Chapman speed through her chores, then a bargain could be struck. Her elder sister Julia would never have agreed to help a servant. Her little sister Fanny was entirely too immature to keep the secret from their parents. And so Maria decided to keep the bargain exclusively between herself and Chapman, and she began to receive an education that was far beyond what her family had intended for her.
It was a glorious lark at first, learning how to contort herself, performing physical stunts that were just this side of magic. What was begun in a flight of fancy found a firmer purpose one day when the two were taking a walk.
Chapman, far more confident in alleys and back passages than Miss Ward, led them down a shady street. Maria darted her eyes about nervously as her maid quietly told her to remain calm. They were halfway through, more than half, nearly at the end of the passage where it spilled onto a wider street when they were accosted. A man grabbed Maria from behind, intending to snatch her purse, while another cad shoved Chapman to the ground. Miss Ward shrieked in panic but her companion was too cool for noisy display. Instead, Alfreda Chapman rolled once and sprang back to her feet. Her attacker swung wildly at her and she was able to knock him down.
Seeing her friend and teacher behave so level-headedly deflated much of Miss Ward's initial panic, and she was able to resist her assailant more competently than at first.
Inspired by being able to best the two men, Maria and Chapman later put their abilities to the test with a small vigilante act, something that, should they be discovered, could be explained with a vacuous giggle and a "girls will be girls." The success and anonymity of their first attempt provoked them to try increasingly more difficult acts of good, pushing them firmly down the path of vigilante heroism. The next step was obviously costumes, and Chapman did not disappoint - although she did shock her friend. The outfits were intended to give them greater flexibility than women's clothing typically permitted. The clothes were also considerably less bulky, being made of considerably less material.
When Maria balked at the invitation to try on her new dress, Chapman explained the design was purposefully to distract anyone who spotted them. "Half the men and all the women who see us will be too embarrassed for our sake to look at us. They will turn away before they even see our faces. And the other half of men will be too busy ogling us to look above our bosoms."
Maria's marriage to Sir Thomas Bertram put a momentary damper on their activities, but the "Dynamic Duo", as they jokingly referred to themselves, found a way to continue their activities until Chapman suffered a serious injury that ended her career in fighting crime and righting wrongs. She was able to continue on as a lady's maid, her original cover for coming to Mansfield Park with the new Lady Bertram, and to coach her protégée, but she shredded her tights and acrobatic costume for the last time and her friend worked them into a particularly hideous rug.
Maria, Lady Bertram, continued to seek justice with Chapman's support but she took breaks for the births of her four children. Her husband had began to grow suspicious and so the duo developed a lie, an alternate identity of sorts, to convince him that his wife was not vibrant and athletic, not at all the sort of woman who masqueraded so daringly in so many escapades.
When Lady Bertram reached a certain age, Chapman delicately broached the topic of securing a protégée of Lady Bertram's own. They two were neither of them getting any younger and the time would eventually come when Maria would need more support than Chapman could provide in her limited capacity. She had already made a name for herself as the Caped Crusader due to her efforts to foil a plot to damage the Magna Carta - although that was a story from another time that does not bear repeating - and the ongoing need for her skills was well documented.
Chapman's first thought was to choose one of Lady Bertram's daughters, but a quick examination revealed that to be a dead end. Both the Miss Bertrams were very much influenced by their Aunt Norris, the former Miss Julia Ward. In the absence of a more active mother, they had turned to their aunt for the attention they sought and she had spoiled them in her way. The end result was that they were singularly unfit to follow in their mother's footsteps. But Lady Bertram's youngest sister had an excess of daughters and surely could part with one.
It took a month or two to lay out enough hints to her husband and sister so that they felt the idea originated with themselves to bring one of Mrs. Price's children to Mansfield Park as a charity case. At last the girl arrived, a young Miss Fanny Price. She showed little promise at first but still Chapman pulled her aside to offer to teach her acrobatics and other skills that the Miss Bertrams didn't know. After a month of coaching and training, Lady Bertram unaccidentally stumbled upon the lessons. Fanny was red with embarrassment and wanted to run away, but Lady Bertram soon calmed her, and then coaxed Fanny to show her a flip.
"It's not very good," Fanny apologized afterwards in her broad Portsmouth accent.
"Perhaps not now," agreed her aunt, "but I know that if you keep practicing, you will one day be able to do something like this." With that Lady Bertram launched herself across the room in a series of flips and turns. It was hardly her best work - the dratted dress interfered with her movements - but her niece was thoroughly won over.
Fanny thus began a training regimen under Chapman's careful eye. In a few years, she was qualified to join her aunt on various missions. The Triumphant Trio, as they now thought of themselves, made a formidable team.
So it continued until Fanny turned eighteen, and Sir Thomas gave her a coming out ball. She had already attracted the attention of a Henry Crawford, a half-blood relation of the pastor's wife, and would certainly attract even more attention after tonight.
Lady Bertram wanted to congratulate her niece on succeeding so spectacularly, and so she followed Fanny along the familiar hallways to the East Room. However, before she reached her intended destination, she found Fanny and Mr. Crawford in heated conversation. He was clearly trying to force himself upon her notice, to lure a kiss from her at the least, and she was having none of it.
Fanny's public persona, much like her aunt's, was designed to discourage anyone from linking her with the Caped Crusader's trusted assistant Wonder. She ducked her head when Mr. Crawford got close to her and slipped from his grasp while firmly yet quietly telling him to go away, but she could do no more than that.
Lady Bertram only saw a moment, but it was enough to understand the scene. "Mr. Crawford!" she said with uncharacteristic animation. The shock of catching the young man harassing her niece was nearly enough to make her completely drop her mask.
"Lady Bertram!" he responded with equal speed, turning from Fanny so that she could wriggle away from his latest advances. "What are you doing here? Miss Price and I -"
Whatever excuse he might have invented was lost to the ages. He dropped to the ground, revealing a set of fireplace tongs that Fanny had used to club him senseless.
"Your timing, dear Aunt, is impeccable," said Fanny as she glared at the man. She kicked him lightly with her toe, then more forcefully when he proved unresponsive.
"Now, now, Fanny," cautioned her aunt. "Do no more harm that he can explain by himself."
She knelt by the prone form and felt through his hair for evidence of Fanny's self-defence. "That was a remarkably good shot," she commented at last. "Did Chapman teach you that?"
Fanny rolled her eyes. "She has drilled it into me," she complained. "What will happen when he wakes up? Will he speak to Uncle against me?"
"I doubt it," said Lady Bertram. "I doubt he will say anything to anyone, because I doubt he will remember anything to say. You hit him good and hard. If he is an ordinary man, he won't ever remember the last five minutes, and will have a very hazy recollection of the last half hour."
"Should I hit him again, just to be sure?" asked Fanny.
Lady Bertram took the tongs from Fanny. An ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure. "No, my child. Once is enough. I have done it often enough myself in the years when I was working alone. He will wake with a terribly fierce headache, but he will blame that on the wine. He won't even remember accosting you, or my interruption." She sighed. "But he will still remember his attraction to you, I am afraid."
Fanny wrinkled her nose in disgust. Mr. Crawford had not been a favorite before now, and her opinion of him was forever sunk by this event. She muttered something under her breath that might have been, "If only it had been Edmund."
"What did you say?" asked Lady Bertram.
Fanny blushed to realize she had spoken aloud. "Oh, nothing," she said. "What should we do with the body?" she asked, trying to turn the conversation to more pressing matters.
Lady Bertram shrugged indifferently. "Let us dump him into a chair by the decanter and leave him. He can invent the why and the how of it when he wakes. Men are remarkably creative creatures when it comes to inventing excuses to shield their egos from a blow. I do not think your uncle even realises he does it anymore." So saying, the two made short work of leaving Mr. Crawford slumped in a seat in a darkened sitting room.
Fanny thanked her aunt again for her fortuitous arrival, kissing her cheek and promising at last to retire to her room. She had an early morning ahead of her with her brother's and cousin's departures, and Chapman was sure to lecture her over Mr. Crawford even if Lady Bertram found no fault. And there was training to do for an upcoming mission. Evil was a weed and seemed to spring up in the world just as quickly as they could root it out. But for now Fanny had earned her rest. With one last reproachful glare at Mr. Crawford, she swept from the room and went to bed.
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