The Nunnery Excerpt

HAMLET: Ha, ha, are you honest?
OPHELIA: My lord?
HAMLET: Are you fair?
OPHELIA: What means your lordship?
HAMLET: That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty.
OPHELIA: Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honest?
HAMLET: Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness: this was sometimes a paradox, but now the time gives it proof. I did love you once.
OPHELIA: Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.
HAMLET: You should not have believ’d me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it: I loved you not.
OPHELIA: I was the more deceived.
HAMLET: Get thee to a nunnery (1): why would though be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious; with more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery. Where’s your father?
OPHELIA: At home, my lord.
HAMLET: Let the doors be shut upon him, that he may play the fool nowhere but in’s own house. Farewell.
OPHELIA: O, help him, you sweet heavens!
HAMLET: If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for thy dowry,—be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, go: farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go, and quickly too. Farewell.
OPHELIA: Heavenly powers, restore him!
HAMLET: I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another: you jig, you amble, and you lisp, you nick-name God’s creatures, and make your wantonness your ignorance. Go to, I’ll no more on’t; it hath made me mad. I say, we will have no more marriages: those that are married already, all but one, shall live; the rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery, go.
Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1

1) nunnery:
noun, 1. A building which houses women of a religious order; a convent
noun, 2. (slang) A brothel

It was feverishly cold, and the light failed so early that night would be upon them soon. Fitzwilliam Darcy looked over at his friend next to him in the carriage as it rattled and swayed on this road to nowhere.
“I’m freezing,” said Bingley.
“You said that a mile back,” Darcy replied.
“I was cold a mile back too,” his friend remarked, pulling the rug on his lap up to his chin. “Any idea how much longer?”
“No idea. The last innkeeper in Stevenage said it was five miles to this odd little town that would have rooms when everywhere else is full up.”
“Meryton…” said Bingley, “sounds mysterious; let us hope it has merit or, at least decent rooms.”
“Let us hope.” Darcy looked at his friend with half a smile, then looked across at his valet who slept, despite the cold, sprawled out on the seat. Thankfully, Pursglove never snored. It was quiet again except for the sounds of the carriage and some outside sounds: the jangle of harnesses or the horse’s hooves. Mr. Hatch and the groom braved the cold on top of the box. Darcy had offered the young groom a place inside, but West had insisted on riding in his usual spot next to the coachman.
The sounds stopped as the carriage came to a halt unexpectedly. Darcy and Bingley glanced at each other as they heard Mr. Hatch speaking. If he was talking to someone, they could not hear another voice in reply. When sufficient time passed, and they still did not continue, Darcy looked at his friend, who only tucked his rug around him more forcefully with rather elaborate movements and avoided his eyes.
“I will see what the delay is,” Darcy growled, opening the carriage door to leap down, shutting it as quickly as he could.
A young woman in a soft green cloak stood by the side of the road. She was tall, but beyond that and her youth, he could distinguish nothing in the depths of her hood. A dog frisked at her feet, and the little thing barked at Darcy as he peered down at it.
“Sir,” called Mr. Hatch down from his seat, “this young lady was out in the cold, and with night closing in, I felt I should offer her a ride, but she seems to think she does not need it.”
Darcy looked at the young woman. “Do you live close by?”
The figure was motionless and mute, though the dog continued to move about her feet. He had a bright red scarf around his neck, helping to distinguish his white coat (marked with a few smudgy gray patches) from the snow. Darcy stamped his feet as he felt the cold creep into them; this set the little dog barking again, jumping around his mistress’ feet with enthusiasm. The figure in the cloak still made no answer.
“Well, it is too cold to be out; let us see you to town,” he tried. The hood moved, but he could not tell if it nodded or shook: yes or no. The green figure also did not move towards the carriage. Darcy stomped his feet as his legs were now cold; his toes were most definitely icy. “Look, miss, let us get you out of the cold,” he began, but he turned as he heard a thud.
West, the groom, was beside him, having dropped down from the box.
“Oy…miss…get inside…it’s cold.”
Darcy thought West must have bitten back a few retorts between words, but the green figure moved then, and Darcy leapt to open the door and usher it inside, crawling in after. She sat not beside Pursglove, the valet, but by Bingley in the forward-facing seat, and he considered the cheek of her to do so. He went to sit next to Pursglove but found the seat taken by the dog, which he had entirely forgotten about.
“Get off!” Darcy commanded, biting back a retort, and the dog did, just as the carriage lurched into motion again. He sat down next to the valet and stared at their new occupants: the girl in her green cloak and the dog at her feet. She remained buried in her hood, her form hidden beneath the cloak, bulky and tangled. It had wrapped around her when she sat down. Darcy looked over at his friend, who still maintained his position under his rug but with a bemused smile on his face.
“Do you live in Meryton?” he asked. The figure stared at him, or rather, stared straight forward, though she squirmed beneath her cloak as though excessively fidgety.
“We are going to Meryton to stay at the Inn, the Lion,” Bingley announced, finally deciding to join the conversation in this extremely unusual arrangement. Darcy eyed the cloak and could see it was of fine-woven wool which spoke of her being of higher birth than a mere farmer’s daughter—perhaps she was a tradesman’s child and had been out walking and lost her way? But what parent would let a child out on such an infernal day as today? The storms had abated, but the cold had drawn down well below the freezing mark for days. It was why the roads into London were impassible, and all of the inns from Stevenage to Hatfield were booked.
“Red Lion,” said a voice from the hood at last.
“Pardon?” said Bingley from his seat, sitting up a little.
“Inn’s the ‘Red Lion’,” said the girl.
“Ah,” said Bingley, who seemed not to have anything else to say, which was odd, since Bingley always had a mouthful whenever it came to young women; anything in skirts under the age of twenty-five, and he was apt to chatter away for hours unless Darcy stopped him. That was often his role in their friendship: redirecting his young friend away from the smiles and wide eyes, but the grasping hands, of women who were deviously interested in his fortune.
“Ahem, yes, we are heading to the Red Lion as all the inns in Stevenage are full due to the snow and the cold,” said Darcy. He wondered that he talked so much. “Is Meryton a big town?”
“No, more like a village,” said the girl.
“Small then…are we likely to find room?” he continued.
“There’s always room at the inn.” He could hear the amusement in her voice, but he was unsure if it was because of the slight biblical reference. She fidgeted again, and he wondered if he made her nervous. His height and usual reticence to speak often put people off, but as his friend still hunkered down under his rug, making no effort at conversation, Darcy felt compelled to continue.
“Where might we drop you?” Darcy asked. “And we still do not know your name.”
“Miss…Bennet,” she answered and fidgeted again. He thought that they were, at last, achieving some headway. He was about to repeat his first question, after introducing himself and his friend, when a head popped out from beneath that cloak. A lamb let out a piercing bleat which made his friend break into laughter. The noise woke Pursglove, who jumped up, planting a rather solid kick into Darcy’s side as he woke, swearing enough to make a sailor proud.
The girl shifted her position as she moved with what seemed to be comforting gestures to soothe the creature, though Darcy could not precisely tell what she was doing beneath the cloak. The animal closed its eyes, and Miss Bennet pulled it back under the folds of her garment. Bingley stopped laughing; Pursglove stopped swearing, but Darcy stared, unsure he was not now dreaming. Uncertain that he had not been rocked to sleep by the motion of the carriage and was simply experiencing a most bizarre dream where he talked more than Bingley, and a girl sat with a lamb on her lap and a dog at her feet across from him in his own carriage.
“It is newborn, see, and it is too cold outside,” said his passenger.
“It is too cold outside for humans, too,” Bingley ventured from his spot. Pursglove still had not recovered from his rude awakening but stared at the young lady as though he was also in some dream-state he could not explain.
“Do you normally go about rescuing newborn lambs on cold days?” asked Darcy.
“Yes!” Her answer rang out powerful and sincere, and the dog at her feet sat up to look at him as if to challenge Darcy’s right to question her motives. The tiny creature then settled down again on top of a bit of Bingley’s rug that pooled on the carriage floor to sleep once more.
“I see,” said Darcy, who felt again that he was dreaming. He glanced at his friend then at his valet, who raised an eyebrow but had nothing to say. “Can you let us know where to take you?”
“I will get out at the Inn. My aunt lives around the corner.” Then she dropped her head to hide her face. Darcy looked over at Bingley, who sat tucked beneath his covering, hunched down with a bemused look on his face.
“This is all very irregular,” said Bingley. “I imagine once we arrive, she will spring out the door; she seems more wild creature than girl.” He spoke as if the young lady was not sitting in the carriage with them, as if he too was experiencing some odd dream-like state. Darcy did not know what to say to his friend, but the carriage slowed, lurching over to the side before stopping.
He looked out the window to see a dull red brick building, plain in its construction, with a bright red door at the entrance. A bowed window was situated on the ground floor, and four windows graced the top where the bedrooms were located. He hoped there were rooms at the back as well since there were five in their party alone.
Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy opened the door, stepping down into a gray mass of snow and dirt to hand down their passenger, but his friend had the measure of it. The small dog leapt past him, and the wild creature in the green cloak grabbed the opening of the doorframe, swung herself out, ignoring Darcy’s offered hand to land in the snow. She scurried off, up past the horses who snickered and was instantly out of sight around the other side of the carriage. He moved to see the figure and the dog race past what looked like a well, turn a corner, and disappear.

Copyright © 2019 Anne Morris

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