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The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (5th Installment)

February 18, 2018 07:40PM

The next morning, Jane met Mr. O’Brian at breakfast. He assisted her in filling her plate from the sideboard, then filled one for himself.

Sitting down next to her, he said, “I meant to ask you about your kids, Mrs. Bingley. How are they both? Are they here with you for the party?”

“Yes. They’re with their nurse, now. Several of the guests brought children, so the Earl has made sure there are activities for them.”

“That’s fine. I’d like to see ‘em both again sometime during the party.”

“I’m sure that can be arranged, Mr. O’Brian,” she replied. After pausing, she went on, “If it’s not too painful, sir, how did your wife die?”

“It was after a long illness. A cancer for which the physicians could do nothing. It was difficult for me, but much more so for her. She didn’t deserve such a painful death. I was severely depressed for some time afterwards, lived for nothing but my work. Came very close to losing my faith. It seemed as though God, if He existed, was punishing her. And me. I’d already lost my folks. So had she. We had no one but each other. But most of the years we shared were good ones, and, in time, I became grateful for those years, and the memories became less painful.”

“I’m so very sorry.”

He nodded his thanks, and said, “In time, your memories will become less painful, too.”

“I know. And I had my children to help me though my grief.”

“A blessing Cesca and I missed out on. We wanted kids, but I guess it wasn’t in the cards.”

“I think you would make a very fine father, Mr. O’Brian.”

“Well, you never know. I may find out one of these days.”

As they continued to break their fast, they were approached by no less than three gentlemen, all politely, but nevertheless obviously, sniffing after Jane.

“You know all those men well.”

“The first is a Canadian gentleman, Sir Gilbert Clifford, who moved to England when he inherited the baronetcy of a distant cousin. He once conducted some business with my uncle, Mr. Gardner. He was the first man ever to propose marriage to me.”


She nodded. “It was a little more than a decade ago.”

“You would’ve been just a kid.”

“I was but 15. He was quite ardent, but altogether proper, in his attentions. Lizzy and I were visiting my uncle and aunt at their home on Gracechurch Street, and we met while he was meeting my uncle on business. He then became quite pointed in his attentions. He even wrote me some romantic poetry. But I did not feel ready to enter married life at so young an age, and turned him down when he offered for me.”

“Did you feel anything for him?”

“No. That was another reason I turned him down. You are the first person I have ever told about this. Not even Lizzy knows he actually proposed. She thinks he just lost interest.”

“And the other two?”

“Lieutenant Denny was a captain in a milita regiment quartered in Meryton, the village near where I grew up. He, too, was pointed in his attentions, but discreetly withdrew when he saw that my heart had already been claimed by Charles. He is a second son, and so, after his militia obligation was completed, decided to make the military a profession. He entered the Regulars, and General Fitzwilliam has made him his aide-de-camp.”

O’Brian nodded.

“Mr. Calloway owns an estate in Nottinghamshire near Kimberton. It has been in his family for generations. He is a widower, with no children, and his only heir is a distant cousin he does not get along with. He is, as you saw, in his middle years, now, and would like a son of his own to leave his property to.”

“And he thinks you’re just the woman to be his heir’s mother.”

“I’m sure it never occurred to him before Charles died. His wife had passed just a year or two before Charles and I moved to Kimberton. He is also our consituency’s representative in Commons, and has been an influential Member of Parliament for many years, which, I imagine, is why the Earl invited him. When I moved from full mourning to half-mourning, he was one of several unmarried gentlemen in the area who made a point of paying condolence calls.”

“It seems I’m facing a lot of competition.”

“You are facing a lot of competitors, sir. It does not necessarily follow that they are giving you much competition.”

O’Brian smiled broadly at that, but, rather then press his case, apparently decided to leave it at that for the moment. Jane was relieved, actually. She knew where he stood, but he was, quite respectfully.not browbeating her. He was a very considerate man, now that she came to think about it, but quietly, almost instinctively so, and therefore not one to make a huge point of it. In that respect he was rather like her brother, Mr. Darcy.

The continued to eat in silence when there was a loud scream from the adjacent corridor.

“Please, M’Lord. I beg you stop. The baby!” It was a young girl’s voice, one that had a gentle Irish brogue. Her plea was followed by the sound of a series of slaps.

O'Brian rose from his chair immediately and ran out into the hall, followed by Jane.

Peter Rockwell, the Marquess of Sholto, was striking the face of his wife with a series of open-handed blows.

“You bog-trotting whore!” he screamed. “Don’t look to that whelp in your belly for protection! If I could have had my way, you’d’ve been shipped back to Ireland in disgrace, and the blasted thing would’ve been a by-blow I could ignore instead of the heir to my titles.”

With that he closed his hand, and struck her a crushing blow with his fist. She fell to the ground. A small crowd had gathered by this time. Rockwell stepped back and was about to deliver a savage kick to her abdominal area when O’Brian arrived and pulled him away. Jane knelt down next to the marchioness.

O’Brian turned Rockwell around, and, in a quiet voice that belied the angry glare in his eyes, held up his right hand, while he gripped a handful of the marquess’s waistcoat with his left.

“See this?” he asked Rockwell. He then closed the hand, and struck him a sharp blow that broke the marquess’s nose.

“Hurts, doesn’t it?” said O’Brian. “And that was just a jab. You struck your wife with a roundhouse right. Y’wanna know how that feels?”

With that, he cocked his fist back and threw a crushing cross that connected solidly with Rockwell’s left jaw, dislodging at least three teeth. He released his hold on Rockwell’s waistcoat just before the punch connected, thus propelling the marquess backwards some ten feet before he hit a chair against the wall, and fell to the floor.

Rockwell lay cowering on the ground, while a still livid O’Brian walked over to him and thundered, “Get up!”

Rockwell lay there, shook his head and said, “No, please.”

“All right,” said O’Brian. “Might be better this way. Now I’ll give you a taste of what you were about to deliver to your wife and child.”

With that, O’Brian stepped back and squared himself to deliver a powerful series of kicks to the hapless aristocrat.

“Mr. O’Brian!” screamed Jane.

Shaking with anger, O’Brian relented. He reached down, grabbed hold of the marquess’s waistcoat again, and pulled him to his feet.

“You got a lot of luck, Sholto,” O’Brian said, pulling him close so they were almost nose to nose. “’Cause I wanted to kick your guts out. Wanted it bad!”

He pushed the Marquess away.

“Get out of my sight. You can thank Mrs. Bingley for saving your sorry ass later.”

Another of the guests in the gathered crowd stepped forward to protest.

“I say there. You can’t go around interfering when a man’s disciplining his own wife. The law gives a man the right to do that, you know.”

O'Brian turned and gave the speaker a look of sneering contempt.

“Then the law’s an ass, if you want my opinion,” said O’Brian, “and I say that as a law officer. But even at that, the law limits a man to hitting his wife with a weapon no wider than his thumb. Look at the riding boots this sorry excuse for a human being’s wearing. D’ya think they might be just a little bigger than his thumb? And law or no law, where I come from no man who’s got any self respect just stands around while a bullying punk is about to kick a pregnant woman in the belly.”

“But he’s a son of a duke!”

“As far as I’m concerned, he’s a son of a bitch. No, he’s not even that. That’s what he aspires to. He’s what the bitch leaves behind an hour or so after she’s finished her last meal.”

He turned back to Rockwell, grabbed a handful of waistcoat again, and pulled him back into the nose to nose position.

“You hear that, Sholto? I don’t care who your father is. To me you’re nothing but dog @#$%&, y’understand? And a lot of things can happen to dog @#$%&. It can get scraped up off the ground with a shovel. It can dry up and get blown away in the wind. Or it can get stepped on and squashed. So take my advice and be careful where the dog @#$%& you.”

With that, he roughly pushed Rockwell away, turned and stalked off. A craggy-faced, slender, sandy-haired man said as he was passing, “Just can’t come up with your own dialog, eh, mate?”

Jane saw recognition in O’Brian’s eyes.

“Jack!” he said, shaking hands with the newcomer. “What are you doing here?”

“Watching you violate international copyright.”

“Fair use,” said O’Brian. “Anyway, it won’t be written for a hundred and sixty years or so.”

Jane had absolutely no idea what that meant. She continued to comfort the marchioness as the two men left to find someplace more private to confer.


They entered a parlor, and found that the Earl was already sitting there, reading a book.

“I apologize, Your Lordship,” said O’Brian. “My colleague and I were just looking for somewhere to speak privately.”

“Not at all,” said Earl Fitzwilliam. “Understand you’ve been playing Don Quixote to another damsel in distress.”

“I apologize for that, too, Your Lordship. But he was about to kick his pregnant wife in the stomach. I couldn’t stand by and let that happen.”

“Of course not. Hope I would have done the same thing in your situation. Nothing for you to apologize for at all. Mrs. Bingley and my Charlotte are with her now. Charlotte and I are placing her under my protection. Sholto will raise a fuss, no doubt. But his father wants that child born, and born healthy, so he’ll put a leash on him. In the meantime, we’ll install her in one of our lesser known estates where he won’t be able to find her.”

“Thank you, sir. That takes a load off my mind. My I present to you Mr. John Grant. He’s a Principal Officer at the Bow Street Magistrate’s office in London, and, like me, he has a warrant from the Home Office that gives him nationwide authority. He and I have been working together on those open fugitive cases I mentioned.”

Grant bowed. “A great honor, Your Lordship.

“Have you come to apprise Mr. O’Brian of information about some of the men you seek?”

“Nothing pressing, Your Lordship. But, as I ‘appened to be in the area on another case, I thought I’d pass it along. Didn’t know ‘e was taking on the role of marital counselor. If y’are, mate, I think it’s a lost cause. This wasn’t a love match.

“I’ve heard rumors that she was a servant of Sholto’s before he married her. How the hell did that come about?”

“Am I telling tales out of school, Your Lordship?”

“No. Most people in the ton are aware of the facts. Some still see Sholto as the wronged party, if you can imagine that.”

“What do you mean?” asked O’Brian.

“She was a downstairs maid, as you’ve probably ‘eard,” said Grant. “Just the type Sholto likes. Small, easily ‘andled, red-'aired, surrounded by an ‘ouseful of people who wouldn’t lift a finger to defend her.”

“Y’mean he raped her?”

“No other word for it. And got ‘er with child into the bargain. ‘E’d’ve just shipped her back to Ireland and forgot about her, but his old man, the Duke, isn’t long for this world, ‘and ‘e wants a grandchild before ‘e pops off into the sweet bye and bye. So ‘e laid down the law to ‘is son. ’E’d ‘ave to convince ‘er to marry ‘im, so the kid’d be legitimate. But, when Sholto proposed, she knew she ‘ad to power in ‘er ‘ands now, and she negotiated ‘ard. The Marriage Articles name ‘er the sole guardian if Sholto kicks off, with finances ‘andled by a lawyer she trusts, the one who drew up the articles. On top o’ that, she required that they be married in Scotland.”

“She wanted to elope?”

“Nothing of the sort! She refused to get married in a Church of England ceremony. They’d get married Catholic, or not at all. Only place in the Kingdom where Catholic marriages are recognized is Scotland.”

“Why’s that?”

“Bloody 'ell, mate, in Scotland all a couple needs is a blacksmith who’s willing to bang an 'ammer into an anvil while the bride and groom are standing next to each other. An actual ceremony in a church with a clergyman, even if it’s not the Established Church, more than suffices. Plus the baby’s to be raised Catholic. So, for forcing the poor girl into a bit of slap and tickle she wanted no part of, the Marquess found himself married according to the rites of a Church he despises, and forced to raise the future Duke, if it’s a boy, as a Papist. Meaning no offense, Mike.”

“None taken. No wonder he’s angry.”

At that moment, there was a knock on the door.

“Enter,” said the Earl.

The door opened, and the young gentleman who had castigated O’Brian for interfering in marital matters entered.

“I am here as the chosen representative of the Marquess of Sholto,” he said. Turning to O’Brian he went on, “The Marquess wishes to address those issues he has with you on the field of honor.”

O'Brian burst out laughing.

“Y'mean he actually wants to fight a duel?” O’Brian asked, still chuckling.

“Er, that is, yes,” the young man answered, puzzled by O’Brian’s levity.

“Well tell him thanks but no thanks.”

“You’re refusing the challenge?” said the young man incredulously.

“Yeah, that’s right. You tell him I said dueling is a stupid, barbaric custom. Dressing up murder so that it looks like a sporting event, with rules, and a referee, and even replacements on the bench. I won’t be a party to something so utterly devoid of morality or common sense. Aside from all that, my religion forbids it. I know he has little use for Catholicism, but in this case, it’s going to be what’s keeping him alive, so he ought to be grateful that the Vatican has dueling on its unapproved list.”

“But you’ll be denounced as a coward!” said the young man.

“So what? I know I’m not a coward. I’ve been in combat, and been wounded, as a soldier for my country. I’ve taken on armed criminals, outnumbered by as much as twelve-to-one, as a professional thieftaker. Can Sholto say as much? I don’t have to fight a chickenshit like him in an obscene ritual that’s supposed to represent ‘honor’ to prove my courage, and if people I don’t know and don’t care about denounce me as a coward, what’s that to me?”

Sholto’s representative, clearly not expecting the challenge to be refused, turned to leave.

“Hold for a moment, sir,” said the Earl to the young man. “Mr. O’Brian, can we speak privately over here,” and walked to the far corner of the parlor.

“Mr. O’Brian, I honor your principles, and largely agree with them. And if it was only your own reputation at risk, I would never advise you to go against your own conscience. But, as a representative of your country, you are not merely yourself. You are, in effect, the United States. Also, you are, at least in a technical sense, a military officer. Is there not some exception for soldiers in the Catholic prohibition?”

“There were opinions by some theologians that, if a soldier would endanger his career and his family’s livelihood by refusing a challenge, he could accept without endangering his immortal soul. But that doesn't apply to me, and, in any case, Pope Benedict specifically overruled that interpretation nearly seventy years ago. I’m risking excommunication if I accept a challenge like this, M’Lord. And damnation if I accept and I’m the one who winds up dead. And church law aside, there’s my own conscience. I think it’s wrong. If I go against my own conscience, I’m going against the guide to morality God gave me.”


The Earl looked at the young American, and felt only admiration. This was a man who knew what honor really meant. Not the use of deadly force to settle petty, private quarrels, but following one’s own innate sense of right and wrong. He might be driven to violence by anger, but cold-blooded activities like duels were to be condemned. But there was a larger issue here. And O’Brian had to be made to recognize that he had a responsibility to the country he represented. Particularly when he was acting as a diplomat in a country with which his had recently been at war.

“What if you agree to meet him at a specified day and time, but refuse to fight a duel, as such?”

“I’d still be putting myself in danger needlessly.”

“Not needlessly. You’d be putting yourself in danger in the service of your country. And, perhaps, in the service of that poor servant girl thrust into the aristocracy because that poltroon violated her.”


O’Brian had to acknowledge that the Earl knew how to navigate these deadly political shoals better than he. The Earl was a professional statesman. O’Brian was just a simple flatfoot. Sometimes you’ve got to take advice, and sometimes there aren’t that many sources from which to get it.

O'Brian nodded, then turned to the Marquess’s chosen representative.

“Where does Sholto want to meet?” he asked.

The young man named a remote field, off of the Earl’s property, and far from any settlements.

“I’ll be there at eight o’clock in the morning three days from now. But I’m not agreeing to the duel. If the Marquess wants to kill me that bad, he’ll get his chance, but it won’t be a ritualized contest. If he wants my death, he’ll have to commit murder to get it. Not dressed up to look like a fair fight. He’ll have to actually murder me. Personally, I don’t think he’s got the stones, but I guess we’ll see.”

“What is your choice of weapon?”

“Did I not just get through telling you this isn’t going to be a duel? Oh, hell, never mind. I’ll be bringing my pistols. He can bring whatever weapons he wants. I’ll have empty hands if and when he decides to try and kill me. Won’t fill ‘em ‘til he makes a move to attack. Make sure he understands that. This won’t be some count-off with each of us taking so many steps. I’ll give him a chance to attack me. If he takes it and succeeds, I’ll be dead. If he doesn’t succeed, I’ll defend myself, and probably kill him. That’s the only way I’ll agree to meet. If he’s not willing to go forward on those terms, let me know and we can cancel the whole thing and he can denounce me if he wants.”


The young man bowed, and walked out of the room, thinking that Catholics were an odd lot, and Americans were an odd lot, but American Catholics were the oddest of all.


Mike O’Brian, on the other hand, was thinking that he was a damned fool to let himself get talked into this meshuga assignment all those months ago.

“Months ago,” that is, in a purely subjective sense. Objectively, he’d been talked into it some two centuries in the future.



The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (5th Installment)

Jim D.February 18, 2018 07:40PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (5th Installment)

Shannon KFebruary 19, 2018 03:03AM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (5th Installment)

KarenteaFebruary 18, 2018 09:52PM


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