Welcome to our board! Log In Create A New Profile
Use mobile view

Advanced

The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (3rd Installment)

February 12, 2018 03:54PM
PART FOUR

William Fitzwilliam, the Fourth Earl Fitzwilliam, recently appointed Assistant Foreign Minister, or Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to give the position its full and formal title, had decided to celebrate his return to a cabinet post by holding a house party at Wentworth Woodhouse, the vast South Yorkshire estate that had fallen to the Fitzwilliams in 1790. The center of the estate was an enormous residence, even larger than Pemberley, the impressive mansion owned by his nephew, Fitzwilliam Darcy.

In addition to foreign dignitaries stationed in London, and members of the Government, including his nominal superior, Foreign Minister Robert Stewart, the Marquess of Londonderry, prominent members of Parliament, notable officers in the Army and Navy, etc., the Earl had invited many family members to celebrate his appointment. Darcy was there with his delightful wife, Elizabeth, and her sister, Catherine. Since she was now out of mourning, he had also extended an invitation to Mrs. Darcy’s lovely older sister, Mrs. Jane Bingley. He had been a trifle surprised when she accepted. Quiet and shy at the best of times, and recovering from the trauma of a highway robbery attempt that had left a dozen men dead some months earlier, he hadn’t expected her to attend. But, if her acceptance was a surprise, it was a delightful one, of course, for Mrs. Bingley was a delightful creature in every respect.

His attention was drawn by the announcement of the arrival of another foreign dignitary.

“Major Michael O’Brian, representing the United States Minister to the United Kingdom.”

The new dignitary turned out to be one of the tallest men he had ever seen. He had expected him to be in a military uniform of some sort, but the American was wearing civilian dress. He bowed formally, then, after straightening, smiled and extended his hand in greeting.

“I bring you the congratulations of the People of the United States on your appointment, Your Lordship,” said O’Brian. “And, if I may, can I say how very personally honored I am to meet you? My relatives in Cork and Kerry, those I’ve been able to meet since being assigned here, all speak highly of you and of your tenure as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.”

“A short tenure, sir, and hardly a success.”

“But your efforts endeared you to the People of Ireland, sir. And that you were willing to make such an effort was highly appreciated.”

Lord Fitzwilliam nodded and smiled at the compliment, then said, “You were announced as ‘Major O’Brian.’ Are you in the American Army.”

“Marine Corps, Your Lordship. And it’s barely more than an honorary title. My actual position is Law Attaché. I was sent here to track down criminal fugitives from the United States who took refuge here during the recent . . . unpleasantness. To that end, I’m working closely with your Home Office and the Bow Street Magistrate. Mr. Adams, who deeply regrets not being able to be here himself, recently decided he needed a Naval Attaché in addition to his Military Attaché, and, when he learned that I once served in the Marines years ago, decided to make me the acting Naval Attaché, in addition to my regular duties, until a professional officer becomes available.”

“Where did you serve?”

“Ah . . . the Mediterranean.”

“The Barbary Wars! A hero of the Barbary Wars! An honor indeed, Major.”

“I was just one soldier among many, Your Lordship. Hardly a hero.”

“You remind me of my son. He also makes little of his military adventures.”

“Would that be Brigadier General Matthew Fitzwilliam?”

“Indeed it would! He is here for the party. Allow me to introduce you.”

With that he led O’Brian over to where two men in uniform were conversing. One wore the insignia of a brigadier general on the blue coat of the cavalry regiment he had served with prior to his promotion. As a general officer, he was no longer part of that regiment, as such, but continued to wear the regimental uniform out of preference. The other was a Naval officer wearing enough gilt to signify a flag officer of some kind, though he, like the brigadier, appeared to be in his 30’s, too young to be an admiral given the strict seniority rules of the Navy. Perhaps he held the temporary rank of commodore.

“Matthew,” said Lord Fitzwilliam, “allow me to introduce Major O’Brian of the American Marines. Major, my son, General Matthew Fitzwilliam.”

“A great honor, General. May I say your feats during the Battle of Waterloo are already legendary. I’m glad you served on the Peninsula. I’d’ve hated to’ve faced you during the recent unpleasantness between our two countries.”

“Gracious of you to say so, Major. May I present my very close friend, Commodore Frederick Wentworth. Despite his surname, he is not, as far as we’ve been able to determine, related to the Wentworth-Fitzwilliams, but the ties of friendship are as tight as any that might have been created by blood.”

“A pleasure, Commodore. And another great honor. Your bombardment of Algiers last summer is also the stuff of legend, and a great victory for all who love liberty. I’ve fought in that part of the world, myself.”

“So I gathered when I heard His Lordship’s exclamation,” said the commodore. “Are you still in the service, or do you simply use the rank?”

“My position as a Marine Corps major was obtained by a ridiculously circuitous route. And, at that, it’s very little more than an honorary title. As soon as a professional officer can be found to assume the duties of permanent Naval Attaché, I’ll be relieved of the necessity of bearing the title and go back to being plain old Mike O’Brian.”

“You are not a professional officer, then?” asked the general.

“No. I’ve worn my country’s uniform twice in times of need, but I never intended to make a career of it. I’m a law officer back in the States, and my actual assignment under Mr. Adams is to track down American fugitives and get them extradited back home. I’m working with one of your country’s Bow Street Runners, and have, in fact, been issued a warrant as a Bow Street Runner myself.”

“You weren’t the fellow,” asked General Fitzwilliam, “who took on twelve highwaymen single-handed in Derbyshire, were you?”

“Well . . . ,” said O’Brian.

The general turned to Wentworth and said, “It appears you and I are not the only legendary heroes present, Fred. I believe you were still at sea when the story began to spread. O’Brian here intervened in an attempted abduction of my cousin Darcy’s sister, Mrs. Bingley, and single-handedly sent twelve armed men to their Final Judgment. He had a pair of pepperbox pistols or something of the sort, and managed to dispatch each of the footpads with a shot apiece.”

“Mrs. Bingley?” said the commodore. “Isn’t that the lady conversing with my wife across the room?”

O’Brian and Fitzwilliam turned to where Wentworth indicated to see a group of young ladies happily engaged in small talk. One, whose back was to them, had a head of golden hair that, to O’Brian, was unmistakable.

“If your wife is the lovely dark-haired lady with the beautiful eyes, then she is indeed speaking with Mrs. Bingley,” said O’Brian. “If you gentlemen will excuse me, I’d like to pay my respects.”

With that he bowed to the two officers and walked over to the group of ladies. A man of his size automatically drew attention, and, when Jane saw him. she smiled in surprise and said, “Mr. O’Brian!”

O’Brian bowed, and said, “A pleasure to see you again, Mrs. Bingley. I see that you are out of mourning. Bright colors suit you.”

“Thank you, sir. Seeing you is a pleasure for me, as well,” she replied. “What brings you here?”

“Diplomatic duty. A bout of influenza has turned virtually the entire staff at the Ministry Office in London to their sickbeds. Since I was up here in the North tracking criminals, I escaped the epidemic, and was already close at hand. Yesterday I received an express from Mr. Adams ordering me to attend His Lordship’s party in his stead.”

“Then it appears you were right. It is a small world,” she said. Turning to the rest of the party, she went on, “Please allow me to introduce my sisters, Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy and Miss Kitty Bennet, and my new friend, Mrs. Anne Wentworth.”

O’Brian bowed to each in turn, and they spent the next few minutes exchanging pleasantries before Lord Fitzwilliam asked the ladies to excuse them so he could introduce “Major O’Brian” to some of the other visitors.

*


“Well, Jane,” said Lizzy. “You were certainly right about his being handsome. To say nothing of his being tall.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Mrs. Wentworth. “He is even taller than my Frederick, and Frederick is above six feet.”

Kitty, not surprisingly, came straight to the point.

“I think he likes you, Jane.”

“Not in any special way, I’m sure,” said Jane.

“I would not count on that,” said Kitty.

“Neither would I,” said Lizzy. “His eyes are sad, just as you described them. But they brightened when he looked at you.”

“Indeed,” said Anne Wentworth. “Frederick has the same look in his eyes whenever he looks at me.”

“So does Fitzwilliam,” said Lizzy.

“We have met but a few times,” said Jane. “We are naught but casual acquaintances.”

“You have met but a few times,” agreed Kitty. “But they were not casual meetings. He rescued you from violent criminals. You delivered a baby together. And you have watched that baby’s christening. All events during which emotions are at their height. I think strong feelings have taken root on his part, and, while those roots are new, they are already deep. Do not try to convince me that you feel nothing in return.”

“He is an American, here on temporary duty. And he is Catholic.”

“Hardly insurmountable obstacles,” said Lizzy.

“Indeed not,” said Anne. “Look at General Fitzwilliam. He traveled to a foreign land, and married a native of that land who was a member of the Roman faith. And they both seem very happy with the arrangement.”

*


O’Brian was, at that moment, being introduced to the lady Mrs. Wentworth spoke of.

“Major Michael O’Brian, this is my wife, Maria Elena Fitzwilliam, formerly Senorita Alvarez-Cuevas.”

O’Brian bowed over her hand, and said, “Mucho gusto, Senora Fitzwilliam. Supongo que se conocieron en España mientras el general estaba sirviendo allí. ¿Fue allí donde te casaste?”

Pleased at hearing her native language spoken, and spoken surprisingly well, the general’s wife replied, “Yes, we were married in Spain. You speak Spanish with the fluency of one born to it, though with a dialect more common in Latin America.”

“It was my mother’s native language,” said O’Brian. “I learned it from an early age.”

“She was Spanish?”

“Mexican. Part Spanish and part American Indian. My father captained an American merchant ship before taking up farming, and he put into California quite often. That’s where he met, and fell in love with, my mother. She was mostly Spanish, perhaps three eighths Acjachemen, what you in Spain call Juaneros.”

“And your father, I collect, was Irish?”

“Born in America, but Irish descent.”

“What an interesting heritage!”

“Not unusual in my country. A lot of us are mutts.”

“Mutts?”

“An American colloquialism for a mixed breed dog. But very often you find that mutts combine the best traits of the various breeds. Seems to work with people, too. One of the strengths of the United States to my mind.”

“Why did you ask if we were married in Spain?”

“I gathered from the medal commemorating Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows around your neck that you’re a devout Catholic, so I assumed you’d’ve insisted on a Catholic ceremony. Since Catholic marriages aren’t recognized in England, I figured you must’ve gotten married in your homeland. Plus, it’s traditional to be married from the bride’s church, and it would’ve been easier, with the general already stationed on the Peninsula, to simply handle all the wedding details there. Spain being an ally, and the Alvarez-Cuevases such a prominent family of aristocrats, it would also be easier to cut through a lot of the red tape over there.”

“Red tape?” she asked.

“Pettifogging rules and regulations that don’t really matter much except to those charged with making sure others follow them.”

“Ah, a delightful expression. Red tape! Well reasoned, Major. Do I detect a Jesuitical influence?”

“As it happens,” said O’Brian, “I chose a countryman of yours, Ignatius Loyola, as my confirmation saint.”

“Well-chosen, Major. Not only the founder of the Society of Jesus, but the one of the Patron Saints of Soldiers.”

“Well, I had St. Michael and St. Sebastian covered with my baptismal names. I figured choosing Ignatius made it a hat trick.”

“Hat trick?”

Trifecta. Like picking the first, second, and third place horses when you’re betting on a race.”

“Ah. I am coming to see that American English is a very colorful language.”

“Another of our strengths.”

*


At dinner that evening, Jane found herself seated at the same table as Mr. O’Brian, who was regaling the other diners with the story of precisely how he’d managed to become a major in his country’s Marine Corps, despite having no desire to be appointed to the rank.

“Well,” he was saying, “quite a few years back I lied about my age and signed up for a three-year enlistment as a Marine. I was a year or so too young, but my dad, who’d been a Naval officer before becoming a merchant seaman, wasn’t inclined to protest too much. Anyway, I was sent across the sea to, well, the same general part of the world where Commodore Wentworth so recently advanced the cause of freedom. Three years later, I mustered out with the rank of sergeant, and returned home to complete my education.”

“You don’t mean to say that you Jonathans actually have any universities over there, do you?” The supercilious voice belonged to Peter Rockwell, by courtesy the Marquess of Sholto, the eldest (and only) son of the Duke of Lessfordshire, seated next to his wife, Brigid, an uncommonly pretty girl, clearly in the late stages of pregnancy, who was young enough to be her husband’s daughter. Her porcelain skin, green eyes, and lustrous red hair bespoke her Celtic origins. It was said that she had been a downstairs maid in one of Rockwell’s residences when he married her.

“One or two,” replied O’Brian, choosing not to rise to the bait. “Some of us even know how to read by the time we graduate.” Turning back to the rest of his listeners, he continued.

“The one I went to is called Georgetown College, and it was founded in my home state, Maryland, back in 1634. I’d saved most of my Marine Corps pay, so I was actually able to mostly pay my own way through. My father helped with the rest.”

“And what did you do after graduating?”

“Got hired as a deputy sheriff In Caroline County, Virginia. After a few years I traded in the local badge for a federal one, and became a Deputy Marshal under the US Attorney General. I eventually went west to Louisiana, and went back into the military on a part-time basis while I continued deputy marshalling. Started out as a, well I guess over here you’d call it a provost, in the State of Louisiana’s . . . citizen’s force, what you’d probably call a militia. Given my education and battle experience, I was commissioned a captain, and held that rank when the state militia was federalized into the US Army and called into active duty for . . . well . . . a national emergency. Again, ‘cause of my experience in the Marines, I was transferred from my provost duties to a temporary spot in artillery. Naval ships, after all, aren’t really anything but floating artillery batteries, and even though Marines are riflemen, no one serves on a ship without getting some knowledge of artillery.”

“Then you would have been there for the Battle of New Orleans!” said Jane’s sister, Kitty.

“Not an unreasonable conclusion, Miss Kitty,” said O’Brian, who suddenly began to laugh uproariously.

“What is so funny?” asked Kitty.

“Well, it’s sort of an inside joke, but, in America, a United States Marshal addressing a lady as ‘Miss Kitty’ would probably be the cause of a great deal of hilarity,” explained O’Brian, when he finally managed to get his laughter under control. “See back home there’s a popular series of . . . plays . . . featuring a US marshal serving in a remote frontier area in one of the western territories. He’s the only law officer in the area. And he stands alone against any criminal gang trying to make trouble. Now, in this here town where he’s stationed, there’s a . . . businesswoman . . . who operates a local pub, hotel, and gambling establishment all in one. Good woman. Honest woman. Well-liked and well-respected in the community. But a tough, canny businesswoman making her way on her own in a harsh land. Without being explicit, it’s hinted that there’s a romantic relationship between the marshal and this businesswoman, Kitty Russell, who’s known throughout the territory as ‘Miss Kitty.’”

“Oh,” said Kitty.

“Doesn’t sound so funny when I explain it,” said O’Brian. “Just the same, would you mind if I called you ‘Miss Catherine’ or ‘Miss Bennet’ from now on?”

“Not at all,” said Kitty. “As long as my sister Mary isn’t here, it wouldn’t be incorrect to call me ‘Miss Bennet,’ I think.”

“We were speaking of the Battle of New Orleans,” said Jane’s brother by marriage, Fitzwilliam Darcy.

“We’d gotten onto the periphery, anyway,” said O’Brian. “Hadn’t quite plunged right into it.”

“It has always struck me as singular,” said Anne Wentworth, “that a group of non-professionals, however brave and dedicated, could have stood up so well against an Army of well-trained soldiers. How could the Americans have won, not merely a victory, but such a decisive one?”

“It’s not a subject I like to talk about, Mrs. Wentworth. As I’m sure you can imagine, it wasn’t pleasant for anyone who lived through it, even the winners. This much I will say. The British defeat was not due to any lack of bravery or discipline on the part of the British soldiery. But they were marching against massed artillery, and no infantry can survive that. Volley after volley was poured at them, but they kept coming until, finally, the choices were retreating or dying. A terrible waste of fine warriors. Though they lost the battle, they had nothing to be ashamed of, that much I can assure you of.”

He paused for a few seconds then resumed the story of his appointment as America’s Naval Attaché to Great Britain.

“Anyway, after my term of active duty ended, I returned to civilian life and took up my duties as a deputy marshal again. Eventually, when it became clear that a lot of American fugitives were hiding out in Britain, I was assigned, after the resumption of diplomatic ties between our two nations, to be the Law Attaché under Mr. Adams. Now Mr. Adams is a man who likes things done correctly, and the correct thing, so he believed was for him to have a Naval Attaché, but there were no Naval officers immediately available. When he found out I’d been a Marine in my misspent youth, and later a captain in the state militia, and that my captain’s commission had been, however briefly, federalized so that I was, nominally, a US Army officer, he arranged to have my dormant commission activated, then he transferred that commission from the Army to the Marine Corps. I wasn’t at all happy about it, so, to sweeten the ordeal, he promoted me to major. And that’s how I became a Marine Corps officer, and my country’s Naval Attaché to the Court of St. James, despite not having so much as a stitch of a USMC uniform on hand.”

“I could recommend a tailor, if you’d like,” said Rockwell.

“Really?” replied O’Brian. “You mean you actually frequent tailors who deign to make clothes for fighting men, Marquess?”

O’Brian’s retort generated a round of hearty laughter around the table, with the notable exceptions of the Marquess and his wife. Darcy, who was rather better acquainted with Rockwell than he cared to be, appeared to be particularly amused.

Deciding that it might be prudent to direct the good humor of the table away from the Marquess, and toward someone who could take it with a bit more good will, O’Brian said to Darcy, “I hope you only draw that weapon in the cause of truth and justice, Mr. Darcy.”

Still grinning widely, Darcy asked, “What weapon is that, sir?”

“That smile! It’s the first one I’ve seen on your face all night. I can only assume that you keep such a formidable tool concealed except in extreme circumstances. And I must say that I’m grateful. With that weapon you could conquer half of Europe.” Pausing for a moment for effect, he then added, “The female half.”

The laughter grew even heartier, and Darcy’s smile grew wider. Encouraged that he had chosen a target who could take the teasing in the proper spirit, he went on, “Really, sir, you’re richer than Croesus, and handsomer than Apollo. We can only thank God you’re already married to a woman you obviously love deeply. Otherwise no single man would have a chance. Add in that smile, and all other men are cast into darkness.”

Rockwell, not appeased that the amusement of the table had been artfully turned away from him, and thoroughly annoyed that the rest of the table found this American so charming, spoke up again.

“You realize, do you not, that Darcy is the nephew of the Earl?” he said. “And I am the son of a Duke.”

“And your point?”

“One does not make sport of one’s betters.”

“Well, then I guess it’s a good thing that I hold the highest rank it’s possible to hold in my country.”

“And what rank is that?”

“Free-born citizen. Of course you might not agree that this is a sufficiently high rank. So if I have to, I can fall back on my Irish side and point out that I’m a distant cousin to King George and the Prince Regent.”

“You?”

“Of course. I’m an O’Brian, a descendant of Brian Boru, King of the Irish provinces of Munster and Leinster, and the greatest of all those who held the title High King of all Ireland. And, as is well-known, Brian Boru’s daughter became the wife of King Malcom II of Scotland. Their descendant, King James VI, united the Scottish and English crowns when he became King James I, and every British monarch since that time has, like me, been a descendant of Brian Boru. Of course, I’m probably fifty thousandth in the line of succession, and, for religious reasons, I’m not eligible to be the King of England, anyway, so I’d have to decline in the unlikely event that I was ever offered the throne.”

“Religious reasons?” said Rockwell, not quite getting O’Brian’s point. When the light finally dawned, he said, “Are you saying you’re Roman?”

“No. I’m American. Of Irish, and Spanish, and American Indian descent. I’m not even part Italian, let alone Roman.”

“I mean are you saying you’re a Papist?”

“Well, I have been called that by rude, disrespectful people spoiling for a fight. I prefer Catholic. You know what university I earned my degree at. Where’d you go to school, anyway?”

“What has that do with anything?”

“Oh, nothing really. Except I’m guessing their mathematics department wasn’t really top drawer. Or maybe it was just that you aren’t that gifted at math.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You’re certainly no good at addition. You know already know that I’m Irish on my dad’s side, Spanish on my mom’s side, came from a state that was founded by Catholics, went to a Jesuit university founded there, and then profess to be completely surprised to learn that I’m Catholic myself. I’m reasonably sure that everyone else at this table figured it out without my having to be explicit. The only conclusion I can come to is that basic addition is not your long suit. Neither, apparently, are common courtesy and respect.”

“Papists don’t deserve respect.”

“And the Church of England does?” retorted O’Brian, his temper finally flaring despite his best efforts to keep it in check. “I mean you jumped on the protestant bandwagon, and you really didn’t even have a reason. The other great protestant founders, like Luther and Calvin, at least had a theological basis for their rebellion. Luther had justification by faith alone. Calvin had predestination. Both had sola Scriptura. Don’t get me wrong, I strongly disagree with those positions, but at least they had theological principles they were willing to defend. What was the great theological precept Henry VIII was willing to put it all on the line for? That he had a yen for Anne Boleyn, and a desire for a male heir, so he should just be allowed to found his own church which would allow him to put aside his lawful wife, and marry the woman he coveted.”

“He was a king!”

“He was an adulterer who wanted his adultery legitimized. And here’s the ironic part. Almost three years to the day after he married her, Henry had Anne Boleyn, the woman he tore the Church apart for, put to death on charges of adultery that were, most likely, spurious, and that Henry, most likely, knew in his heart were spurious. But by this time he’d developed a yen for Jane Seymour, so poor Anne had to go. The whole point of the Church of England, Henry’s wanting to marry Anne, crumbled into dust, and Henry was on to his third wife.”

He paused to give Rockwell time to respond, but he just sat there fuming.

“Nothing more to say, Marquess? Please, don’t be shy. Fill the table with your theological wisdom.”

Sputtering something unintelligible, Rockwell pushed away from the table and stalked off. His wife, with difficulty, managed to get up on her own before any of the gentlemen at the table could rise to help her, and followed him as quickly as her condition allowed.

The tension at the table was palpable, and no one felt it more than Jane. Displays of anger always made Jane uncomfortable, particularly at public affairs like this. She had not attended any social events for more than a year, and hated having this one marred by the heated argument between the Marquess and Mr. O’Brian.

O’Brian drew a deep breath and slowly exhaled.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “Truly sorry about that. Shouldn’t’ve let him anger me so easily. But insults against my Faith get my Irish up. I’m sure everyone here is a sincere, believing Christian. I’m sorry that I allowed myself to be goaded into striking out at your Faith. Please forgive me.”

With that he started to rise. General Fitzwilliam spoke up. “Please keep your seat, Major. We could all see that you were being deliberately provoked. All things considered you held your temper quite admirably. And what did you say that wasn’t historically accurate? We are all comfortable worshipping at our Established Church, and we all take pride in the fruits of that church like the Book of Common Prayer, the Hymnology, and the King James translation of Scripture, but it is quite true that its beginnings don’t stand up to a lot scrutiny. And, in many respects, Henry was undeniably a tyrant.”

“Though,” said Wentworth, “he was the father of the Royal Navy, so he has a soft spot in my heart.”

“You’re all very kind,” said O’Brian. “I’ll be back shortly, but right now, I think I need to walk off some of this pent-up tension, get me a breath of fresh air. Promise I’ll be back when the music starts.”

He paused for a moment after standing, and pushing his chair in, and asked, “There will be music, won’t there?”

“There are many ladies anxious to display,” said Jane. “Please do come back for the music.”

*


(TO BE CONTINUED)
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (3rd Installment)

Jim D.February 12, 2018 03:54PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (3rd Installment)

Shannon KFebruary 13, 2018 02:42PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (3rd Installment)

KateBFebruary 14, 2018 02:09AM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (3rd Installment)

Shannon KFebruary 14, 2018 03:51AM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (3rd Installment)

KateBFebruary 13, 2018 12:57AM



Author:

Your Email:


Subject:


Spam prevention:
Please, solve the mathematical question and enter the answer in the input field below. This is for blocking bots that try to post this form automatically.
Question: how much is 1 plus 15?
Message: