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The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (10th Installment)

March 07, 2018 10:48PM
PART ELEVEN

As soon as Jane and her children were established at the London residence of the Bingley family, and it became known that she intended to attend the Earl’s ball, a seemingly continuous line of suitors made their way to her parlor during visiting hours to seek the favor of a dance.

Two weeks before the ball was even scheduled Jane’s dance card was filled. But none of those who came were able to obtain the favor of the three most socially important sets at a ball, the opening, the closing, and the supper sets. It soon became known that the lovely and wealthy Widow Bingley was being courted by the American law officer whose timely intervention had prevented her abduction some months earlier.

Broken hearts and disappointed hopes abounded throughout the ton.

*


One of the disappointed suitors was the man who had made Jane Bingley a widow.

That blasted American was not merely a competitor for the lady’s heart. She had now granted him the inside track. True, a courtship was not a betrothal, but one almost always followed the other. And after a betrothal, marriage was virtually inevitable. His murder of Bingley had accomplished nothing but to clear the way for this upstart Yankee!

Steps would have to be taken!

*


A knock on the door of Longbourn bare minutes after the permissible time for visits had begun was answered by the housekeeper. She opened the door to find a very tall, imposing man standing on the other side.

Fine-looking, certainly, and well-dressed, though not with any particular effort at being fashionable. That is to say, not in a way that indicated the gentleman was intent on following every fad. His cravat was simply tied. His greatcoat had only one cape rather than the dozens that the dandies of the ton sported. His beaver hat had a somewhat shorter crown and a somewhat wider brim than was common. But he seemed comfortable in his clothes, and comfortable with himself. She found herself disposed to approve of the man she beheld.

“Am I addressing the famous Mrs. Hill?” he asked.

“Yes, sir?” she said, making her reply a question.

“Mrs. Bingley and Mrs. Darcy both speak of you with great fondness,” he said. “I believe they regard you as very much a member of the family.”

With that he handed over three sealed envelopes.

“These are letters for Mr. and Mrs Bennet from Mrs. Bingley and Mrs. Darcy, and from their son-in-law, Mr. Darcy. Though they did not reveal the contents to me, I suspect they are letters of introduction. My name is Michael O’Brian.”

With this, he handed over a calling card, and continued, “If it’s quite convenient, I would like a few minutes with Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.”

O’Brian was invited to wait inside, and then, a few minutes later, to meet Mr. Bennet in his library.

*


The man O’Brian hoped to make his father-in-law had an ironic expression on his face that, the American suspected, was his customary mien.

“Mr. O’Brian, according to these letters, you were the heroic individual who saved our Jane when she was set upon by murderous highwaymen.”

“Just happened to be in the right place and the right time, sir. I never discount the Hand of Providence in such cases, but my presence at that particular place and time was unplanned. Though it has led to things neither Mrs. Bingley nor I could have predicted. Is Mrs. Bennet available? What I have to say is best said to you both, I think.”

“Mrs. Hill, would you please ask Mrs. Bennet to attend me?”

A few minutes later they were joined by a lady, perhaps in her mid-40’s, with bright eyes, and a bright smile. It was easy to see where Jane, Lizzy, and Kitty got their looks. Mrs. Bennet was a remarkably fine-looking woman. In her late teens and early twenties, she must’ve been a first-round, full-count knockout.

“My dear,” said Mr. Bennet, “this is Mr. O’Brian, the American gentleman who rescued our Jane some months back.”

“Oh, Mr. O’Brian!” she cried. Just those three words were enough to make it clear to O’Brian that, whatever she and her daughter shared in looks, Jane certainly did not get her elegant, serene manner from her mother. “What a joy to meet you at last! How thankful we have been that you were there when Jane was robbed and almost abducted! How brave you were to kill all those men! How many was it again? Fifty?”

“Not quite that many, ma’am,” he replied. “An even dozen. Not even a baker’s dozen.”

“Oh,” she said, as if disappointed that the act was not as heroic as she had first supposed. “Still, it was a remarkable act of bravery, and we shall always be in your debt!”

“What is your purpose in visiting here today, sir?” asked Mr. Bennet.

“Your daughter Jane has agreed to allow me to court her, with the ultimate goal of eventually asking her to be my wife. I am here to ask for yours and your wife’s approval of this courtship, and, if it’s successful, for our marriage.”

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet looked at each other, than at O’Brian, then back at each other. Finally Mr. Bennet said, “You do know that’s traditional to ask the father for permission, do you not?”

“I do, sir,” he replied. “And I mean no disrespect to you by asking Mrs. Bennet to join us. But my experience has been that people tend to have two parents, and both of them tend to be equally concerned for the well-being of their children. I would like to have the approval of both of you before moving forward.”

“Sir,” said Mrs. Bennet. “What if we refuse this approval?”

“There are many reasons why that may be just what you decide to do, Mrs. Bennet. Which I’ll get to. If you do decide to withhold your approval, well, Jane is of age, and able to make her own decisions. I suppose I’ll go ahead and try to court her, anyway. But I’ll inform her disapproval. Aside from her natural affection, she has a great deal of respect for you both, and, it’s possible that, without your approval, she will rescind her permission to court her. If she does, I’ll step out of her life. If she doesn’t, I suspect she’ll still have many misgivings about going forward with a man neither of her parents approve of. But make no mistake. It is your approval I’m asking for. Not your permission, as such. Jane is now a free agent, and able to make her own decisions. She will always want your approval. And your approval or lack of it will, I’m sure, weigh heavily in her decision. But she no longer needs your permission.”

Mr. Bennet looked at O’Brian appraisingly, and asked, “What reasons do you think might cause us to withhold our approval?”

“Well, first of all, I’m American. Second, I’m Catholic. Third, I’m not nearly as rich as Mrs. Bingley. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a pauper, and if Mrs. Bingley didn’t have a cent to call her own . . . make that a farthing to call her own . . . I’d be able to support her and the kids, and any additional kids we might have, in comfort and security, if not in luxury. Fourth, I’m in a dangerous line of work, and Mrs. Bingley’s already been widowed once. Fifth, I’m part Indian. American Indian, that is. Which means I’m not a hundred per cent white. Now I take a good deal of pride in that part of my heritage, which comes from my mother, but you might not be comfortable with it. Sixth, well five objections is probably enough to be going on with, for the present. No reason to overload you both with reasons to reject me. I’m supposed to be trying to gain your approval, not talk you out of giving it.”

“How do you propose to overcome these objections?” Mr. Bennet said, not with hostility, but more in an appraising tone of voice that matched his countenance.

“Well, I can’t do anything about being American or Indian. I don’t intend to do anything about being Catholic. Nor about my profession. I’m a Catholic because I believe it’s the True Faith, and I’m a law officer because I think it’s my vocation, if you’re familiar with that word in this context. As for the money issue, I’ve jotted down a kind of rough draft of a prenup for your perusal. If we get to that point, I’ll hire a lawyer to write it up in proper legal fashion.”

“Prenup?” said Mrs. Bennet.

“Prenuptial agreement. Marriage articles I think you call ‘em over here.” With that he reached into his pocket and pulled out a paper on which some notes been written.

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet perused it together. Finally, Mr. Bennet looked up, and said, “You mean to settle half of your worth on Jane and the children, and to renounce any claim you have, as Jane’s husband, to the property and income she had prior to marrying you?”

“Half of my worth in this country. I have some more back home, but obviously, I’m not sure what that is, at the moment. I put it in very safe investments, so I wouldn’t have to worry too much when I got this assignment. I brought the equivalent of £20,000 with me when I came to your country. I’ll settle £5000 on Jane, £2500 on Thomas to be used for his education, and £2500 on Beth to be added to her dowry. In addition, I’ll pay Jane £200 a year room and board for being able to stay at Kimberton, and in her home in London.”

“Why pay her for room and board?” asked Mrs. Bennet. “You would be married. It would be expected that you live with each other without her having to charge you for the privilege.”

“£200 is a pretty standard amount for a wife’s allowance. What you call ‘pin money.’ If I just give her pin money, it’s like a gift. If it’s made clear that there’s a quid pro quo, it reinforces the notion that I have no claim on her property or money. This way she gets the allowance, along with an added protection over the assets she already has.”

She nodded, and looked at him with the same kind of appraising expression her husband had.

“You must love Jane very, very much,” she said.

“I never thought I’d love again, Mrs. Bennet. Like Jane, I lost a spouse to an early, undeserved death. Since meeting her, I feel alive again.”

“Why do you wish to elope?” asked Mr. Bennet.

“Who said I wish to elope.”

“You require that you and Jane marry in Scotland.”

“Yeah, but not elope to Scotland. There’d be banns read, and a ceremony in church, with a clergyman officiating, and, hopefully, family and friends attending. Followed by a party. Everything a wedding’s supposed to be. Just taking place in Scotland. If I wanted to elope, would I present you with marriage articles?”

“Then why?”

“’Cause when I get married, I get married Catholic! And Catholic ceremonies don’t count in England.”

“They do in Scotland?” said a surprised Mrs. Bennet.

“My dear Mrs. Bennet,” said her husband, “in Scotland all it takes is for a couple to watch a blacksmith smash a hammer into an anvil whilst they stand in front of him holding hands. An actual religious service, even a Catholic one, more than meets the requirement for marriage in Scotland.”

“But you could get married in a Catholic ceremony here in England,” insisted Mrs. Bennet. “You’d just have to have it repeated in an Anglican Church.”

“That’s the point, Mrs. Bennet. Catholic weddings aren’t recognized in England. Catholics, two Catholics, neither of whom is even a member of an Anglican parish, are legally required to repeat their vows in a protestant church, in front of a protestant minister, to make their marriage legal. Jews don’t have to do that. Quakers don’t have to do that. Catholics do. Unless they get married in Scotland.”

“But what if Jane wants to get married in the Church of England?”

“Once we’ve had the Catholic ceremony in Scotland, I’d be happy to repeat the ceremony in England, if that’s what Jane wants. I don’t mind renewing my vows in an Anglican ceremony to please my wife. But I refuse to get married in an Anglican church, either before or after a Catholic ceremony, because of a stupid, unjust law that denigrates my faith. If Jane and I get married, we’ll get married in a Catholic church, and that will be the one that counts, legally and in the eyes of God. If we choose to renew our vows in an Anglican church down here, it’ll be ‘cause we want to, not ‘cause we have to. If that’s a sticking point, let’s get it out there now.”

“It would cost a lot of money,” said Mr. Bennet.

“Money I’m willing to spend. Not only for me and Jane, but for as many of her family members as are willing to come.”

Mr. Bennet, held up his hand to forestall further discussion on this particular issue, and returned his gaze to the draft O’Brian had prepared.

Finally, he looked up and said, “Mr. O’Brian, the rest of what you have here is quite generous. I might have a few items I would wish to add, but, in the main, I find this quite satisfactory. I will not object to a Catholic ceremony in Scotland, if Jane has no objection, as long as you, in turn, have no objection to a subsequent Anglican ceremony in England, should Jane require it.”

“This also means that any kids Jane and I have’ll be brought up Catholic. I don’t think I have the right to impose my faith on Thomas and Beth, though I won’t discourage ‘em, either. But the kids Jane and I have, if any, will be Catholic.”

“Again, if Jane does not object, neither will I.”

O’Brian looked at Mrs. Bennet who nodded.

“Does this mean you’re approving the courtship.”

“Not quite, Mr. O’Brian,” said Mrs. Bennet. “We are approving your proposed marriage articles. We haven’t yet approved of you. Where are you staying?”

“I was going to get a room at Meryton’s inn for the night.”

“Nonsense!” she said. “With Jane and Lizzy married, and Kitty spending most her time with them, and Lydia following the drum in the West Indies, we have plenty of room here. You will stay at Longbourn tonight, and dine here this evening. We must get to know you if we are to approve of you.”

“What’s for dinner?” asked O’Brian.

“My dinners never give anyone cause for complaint, whatever I am serving,” she replied.

“Didn’t mean to imply otherwise,” said O’Brian. “But back home we have a custom called a ‘hospitality gift.’ Usually, it’s a bottle of wine for everyone to share at dinner. But to pick out a wine, I have to know what’s being served.”

Mrs. Bennet rattled off a long list that, to O’Brian, sounded like enough to feed an infantry division. He managed to pluck “pork roast” and “salmon” out of the recitation, and said, “I’ll bring a white wine.”

*


Dinner was actually very pleasant. The middle daughter, who still lived at home, seemed a little hostile, but based on what Jane and her sisters had told him about Mary Bennet, he halfway expected it. Well, he wasn’t going to invite her to participate in a religious debate, but neither was he going to shy away from one if she fired the first shot.

“This is an excellent wine, Mr. O’Brian,” said Mr. Bennet. “A Chardonnay, you said?”

“Made with Chardonnay grapes, yes. It was actually bottled in California, my mother’s birthplace. Vine cuttings were brought over, and vineyards established, often by the Franciscan missionaries. I understand you’re partial to port. I’ve brought a bottle of California port with me for afterwards.”

“Splendid,” said Mr. Bennet.

As the meat course was removed and the fish course served, Miss Bennet apparently decided that she couldn’t contain herself.

“Are you really going to force my sister to marry in in a Papist ceremony?”

“Won’t force her to do anything, Miss Bennet. First I’ll have to convince her to marry me, and if a Catholic ceremony’s a bone of contention, she’ll probably say no.”

“But if she says yes, she’ll have to bow down to a foreign ruler.”

“If you mean the pope, even I don’t bow down to him. Not in that sense, anyway. I’m an American, not a citizen of the Papal States. And I’m not asking her to convert. I’m willing to renew the vows in an Anglican service. I just don’t propose to allow myself to be forced to do it. Now, if you want to get into a debate about why the Church of England is superior to the Catholicism, you can try, but I’d advise against it. I’m willing to bet your dad would have a tough time winning that one, and, according to what I’ve heard, he was a champion debater at his university. I got eight years of Franciscan nuns, six years of Jesuit priests, and lot of my own reading backing me up. Instead, why don’t we simply celebrate what we have in common, instead of arguing over the differences?”

“What do you conceive as being elements of commonality?”

“Oh, come on, Miss Bennet. The belief in Jesus as the Second Person of the Trinity. The Bible. The Lord’s Prayer. I’ll even go a step farther, and say that I find a lot of the rites in the Book of Common Prayer beautiful and inspiring. I think the King James Version of the Bible is one of the major achievements of English literature. The most commonly used English translation in Catholicsim, Bishop Challoner’s revision of the Douay-Rheims version, was heavily influenced by the King James. Course he started out as a protestant, so the influence isn’t all that surprising.”

“A convert was made a bishop in the Catholic Church?”

“Converts are always the most devout followers, Miss Bennet. Challoner was baptized Presbyterian. When his dad died, his mom went to work as a housekeeper for a well-to-do Catholic family in Sussex. He wound up converting when he was 13. Went to seminary in France, in Douai, as it happens, where the first English translation of the Bible was prepared. After being ordained, he returned to England, and ministered to the poor in London. And eventually, he was raised to the post of Bishop in London, and did his revision of the Douay-Rheims Bible.”

He gave her a moment to take this all in, then said, “Your sisters tell me you love music, As long as I’m listing elements of the Church of England I admire, I’ll admit that one of my favorite hymns, at least the lyric, was written by an Anglican clergyman, John Newton. It’s called ‘Amazing Grace.’ Back home it’s been set to music. To a tune called ‘New Britain.’”

“I have heard of Mr. Newton. His conversion story is quite inspiring. But he was an outspoken opponent of the slave trade.”

“Another thing I admire about him.”

“I thought you were from Maryland.”

“Born there, yes.”

“Is that not a slave state?”

“Doesn’t follow that I’m in favor of slavery. I regard it as completely antithetical to the words that justified the founding of my nation. ‘That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.’ I think the fact that my country, the largest democratic republic on the planet, is also the largest slave-holding country on the planet, is a terrible hypocrisy that can’t stand, and I believe God will punish us for it severely.”

*


Mary Bennet found herself nonplussed. Not only by Mr. O’Brian’s spirited defense of his Faith, but that he was willing to speak with her at all, speak seriously, on religious and political matters. That he was willing to take her seriously. This was, at least unusual, possibly unique, in her experience.

“You are a powerful defender of your point of view, Mr. O’Brian. Still, I find I cannot bring myself to approve of popery.”

“You’ve been raised to disapprove of it, Miss Bennet,” he replied, “and it’s difficult to overcome a lifetime’s indoctrination. But it might not actually be Catholicism you disapprove of.”

“What else could it be?”

“What you have been led to believe is Catholicism. Back home there was a bishop, a very fine speaker, popular even among non-Catholics. He once said, ‘There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church – which, of course, is quite a different thing.’”

“What do you mean ‘wrongly believe?’”

“Misunderstandings of our traditions and beliefs. For example, that we ‘worship statues,’ ‘place Mary at the same level as God,’ or that ‘indulgences are permission to sin.’ None of these things are true, yet they are all criticisms that are commonly leveled against us. And if those are the things people hate about Catholicism, it follows that, again as this bishop said, the ‘hate is directed at error, not truth.’”

“He sounds like he was a fine debater in his own right,” said Mary’s father.

“One of the best,” said O’Brian.

“If you are willing, Mr. O’Brian,” said Mary, “I would like to discuss this further with you in depth.”

“I can stick around a day or so, if it’s all right with your folks," said O’Brian.

The fish course was followed by a light dessert. When the meal was finally completed and the dishes cleared, O’Brian turned to Mary’s mother and said, “Mrs. Bennet, that was one of the best meals I’ve sat down to since coming to your country, and that includes some very fine dinners at the Earl Fitzwilliam’s.”

Praising one of her dinners was definitely the way to her mother’s heart, and she responded, as expected, with delight at O’Brian’s compliment. And yet, Mary sensed, the comment was completely sincere, not a mere ploy to get on her mother’s good side, as it would have been had it come from her brother Wickham, thankfully stationed on the other side of the ocean.

More and more, Mary was inclined to approve of Mr. O’Brian’s courtship of Jane.

(TO BE CONTINUED)
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (10th Installment)

Jim D.March 07, 2018 10:48PM

Actually...

AlidaMarch 09, 2018 07:05AM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (10th Installment)

Harvey S.March 08, 2018 06:50PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (10th Installment)

Jim D.March 08, 2018 07:42PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (10th Installment)

Harvey S.March 09, 2018 05:45PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (10th Installment)

Jim D.March 09, 2018 09:06PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (10th Installment)

Harvey S.March 09, 2018 11:42PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (10th Installment)

KateBMarch 08, 2018 03:23AM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (10th Installment)

AlidaMarch 08, 2018 01:22AM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (10th Installment)

Jim D.March 08, 2018 02:33PM



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