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The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (4th Installment)

February 15, 2018 01:09PM

Kitty had posted herself near the door through which Mr. O’Brian, or was it more correct to think of him as “Major” O’Brian, had exited, so she could keep watch and signal Lizzy when he was returning.

Kitty very much liked him. Not in that way, of course, for she was being courted these days by a very nice curate employed by the holder of one of the livings under Mr. Darcy’s sponsorship, who was, Mr. Darcy promised, destined to get that living himself when the current incumbent vacated the position.

But she liked him, and she thought, as different as he was from Charles Bingley, that he might do very well for Jane. Charming and possessed of easy, confident manners like Charles had been, he added to this a firmness of purpose and a sense of strength and decisiveness that Charles had lacked, or at least had not had in such abundance. She did not think, for example, that Mr. O’Brian would have been swayed from his purpose by a sister or even a close friend persuading him that the woman he loved did not reciprocate. He would have found out for himself.

A young lady who had just finished performing a rather lovely piece on the harp was leaving and any other ladies who wished to perform were being invited when she saw the silhouette of the broad-shouldered American approaching. She turned to Lizzy and nodded. Lizzy offered to play a piece if Jane would provide the vocals. Jane played no instruments, but had a lovely singing voice. However, she was often too shy to be prevailed upon to perform. This time, though,she had agreed to sing a piece she and Lizzy knew well if, and only if, Mr. O’Brian returned.

Kitty stepped away from the door and took a seat, so it wouldn’t look as though she had been watching for him. As he entered, she got up from the chair and greeted him.

“You are just in time,” she told him. “Lizzy and Jane are about to perform. Please sit here. It will give you the best view.”

Mr. O’Brian thanked her and took the chair after Kitty seated herself in another.


The song Lizzy and Jane had chosen was “Weep You No More Sad Fountains,” which Lizzy played beautifully and Jane sang beautifully. It sounded as though they had rehearsed it, but, in fact, it was a favorite that they had performed at small family gatherings many times, so they were able to settle into a piece with which they were so familiar quite easily.

Jane was reluctant until Mr. O’Brian stepped back into the room. She seemed to draw some strength from the tall American, and performed the piece with a confidence she rarely felt when in front of crowds. At one point her eyes locked with Mr. O’Brian’s. His eyes appeared sadder and gentler than ever, and he brushed a tear away at one particular lyric, the phrase “while she lies sleeping,” that seemed to affect him.

Had she made him sad? No, he smiled at her. He had just been deeply moved. Jane was, almost against her will, happy that she had the power to move him like that.

Their song ended, and the applause was more than merely polite. Mr. O’Brian even stood up to show his appreciation of the performance.

As no one else seemed anxious to display, O’Brian and Kitty walked over to Jane and Lizzy.

“A wonderful performance, ladies,” said O’Brian.

“Thank you, sir,” said Jane. “One part of the piece seemed to particularly affect you.”

“It was a favorite of my wife, Francesca. It was played at her wake, the evening before her Requiem Mass.”

“I am so sorry, Mr. O’Brian. I did not mean to awaken a sad memory. I didn’t realize you’d ever been married.”

“I don’t believe I ever mentioned it. Didn’t seem to be a way to open the topic at any of our previous meetings. She passed maybe a year and half before I got the assignment to come here. One of the reasons I was chosen, in fact. Folks had both passed. No wife. No kids. No brothers or sisters. Some distant cousins in California who I’d never met. Some distant cousins in Ireland I met for the first time shortly after I arrived. No one to mourn if the worst happened.”

“If the worst happened?”

“As you’ve seen, many of the people I’m tracking down are not anxious to be taken alive. And, like soldiers, policemen sometimes die in the line of duty. But you didn’t awaken a sad memory. You brought back a happy one. I was very much in love with my Cesca. And it reminded me that I’m still young, and may love again if I allow myself to.”

“Do you believe you ever will love again?”

“Lately I find myself believing it more and more,” he replied, locking eyes with her.

“Oh, dear,” she said in a small voice.

“I’ve made you uncomfortable again. I could see that my verbal set-to with that Sholto character upset you, and now I’ve done it for the second time tonight.”

“No, you must not think that. I asked a direct question, and, quite in character, you gave a direct answer. Perhaps it was even an answer I was hoping to hear. But you have a way of getting right to the heart of things that is unusual in my experience. I may have been hoping to hear what you said, but I am not sure I am truly ready to hear it, if that does not sound contradictory.”

“Not in the least. We all have those moments when we walk up to the end of the diving board, and then find we can’t quite bring ourselves to jump off.”

With that, he smiled, bowed and went off to pour himself a glass of port and talk about masculine pursuits with the other gentlemen.


As was often the case at gatherings like these, once the ladies were done displaying, the young people started moving furniture around to make room for an impromptu dance. Frederick Wentworth noticed his wife taking a seat behind the piano, willing to provide the music while everyone else danced. He sighed.

“What’s the problem, Commodore?” asked O’Brian.

“My wife, as usual, is sacrificing her own enjoyment to provide enjoyment for others. She loves to dance, but always seems to provide the music for everyone else. It’s a habit she developed during a long . . . separation she and I experienced when we first fell in love. Now, she seems locked into that habit.”

“Would you like the chance to dance with you wife, Commodore?”

“Of course.”

“Well, I can’t do my duty to the ladies in the usual way. I don’t know the steps to most of your country dances. But maybe I can find a way to free up Mrs. Wentworth, and be of service other than by providing a partner for the ladies.”


After completing the first set, Anne started riffling through the music, selecting something appropriate for the next set, when Major O’Brian came up to her.

“Mrs. Wentworth,” he said, “y’see the tall good-looking gent over there? That fella in the white breeches and the blue coat with all that gilt?”

She smiled, and answered, “Yes.”

“As it happens, he’s married to one of the prettiest ladies in the room, and I know he’d love the chance to dance with her. Suppose you let me spell you on this here pie-anna for a set or two, so you and he can trip the lights.”


“Sorry. Pianoforte. We tend to twist words around for own amusement in the States.”

“I see. And you’re saying you play the pianoforte, Major?’

“My status as a major is so vestigial, I’d really feel better if you just called me ‘mister.’ Or even just ‘Mike.’ Though people seem to have an aversion to Christian names over here. As for the instrument, how hard can it be? The high notes are on the right. The low notes are on the left. And the in-between ones are in the middle. C’mon, what d'you say? Let me take a whack at it.”

With some reluctance, she surrendered the bench to Major O’Brian, that is Mr. O’Brian, who proceeded to effortlessly play “Fur Elisse” from memory.

“Well, I’ve got Beethoven beat,” he said after a minute or so, then immediately launched into Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turco,” increasing the speed as he proceeded through the piece without missing a note. “And it appears I’ve mastered Mozart.”

He held his hands up in front of his face, wiggled his fingers as if puzzled, then turned to Anne, shrugged, and said, “Y’know what? I think I must’ve had lessons somewhere along the line. Let me try one more.”

And with that he launched into Handel’s “Gavotte in G.”

“No one handles Handel like I handle Handel.”

“I think you’re a very silly man, Mr. O’Brian,” said Anne with a smile. “But you seem quite capable of playing a couple of dance sets. Do you have a request when I resume my seat.”

“Play a waltz.”

“A waltz?”

“If you don’t mind. Like I always say, give me a free and easy waltz that is Viennese-y.”

Anne giggled in spite of herself.

After dancing two sets with her husband, Anne returned to the instrument and resumed her seat.

“Give me just half a minute before you start, will you please, Mrs. Wentworth?”

“Certainly. Best of luck, Mr. O’Brian.’


Jane had been sitting off to the side. No one had approached her for a dance, since she seemed disinclined, though she was no longer officially in mourning.

No one, that is, until Mr. O’Brian came over and asked, “May I have the honor, ma’am?”

She hesitated for a moment, surprised at his offer despite the exchange they had had earlier, then replied, “The honor would be mine, sir.”

As he took her right hand in his left, and put his arm around her back, she said, “What kind of dance are you expecting?”

“A waltz.”

“This is not how one waltzes.”

“It’s how I learned back home. And it’s a lot more comfortable than holding our left hands over our heads. Just rest your left arm along my right, follow my lead, and you’ll do fine.”

And, after a few minor missteps, she did. When she became comfortable with the steps, Mr. O’Brian stepped back, held up her right hand with her left, and gently guided her under the arc that was formed by their arms, so that she seemed to twirl below it and then return to his gentle embrace.

“Our first dance,” he said, when she returned to the default position. “How are you enjoying it?”

“Very much, sir. It has been a long time. I didn’t realize how much I had missed it. And, of course, it’s always the partner that makes a dance memorable.”

“I agree. I think this will be one of my most memorable.”

They continued to twirl gently to the music played by Mrs. Wentworth. That a man as big as Mr. O’Brian could be so graceful seemed remarkable. That such a giant of a man partnered with a comparatively petite lady could combine to make such a handsome couple seemed even more so. But so it was. To a lot of people in the room, the handsome young widower and the beauteous young widow seemed made for each other.

But the road to happiness is always filled with obstacles.



The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (4th Installment)

Jim D.February 15, 2018 01:09PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (4th Installment)

KateBFebruary 17, 2018 02:26PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (4th Installment)

Shannon KFebruary 16, 2018 02:17AM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (4th Installment)

Jim D.February 16, 2018 08:33PM


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