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The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (13th Installment)

April 24, 2018 02:52AM
PART FOURTEEN

The Earl Fitzwilliam’s ball at his London residence, No. 4 Grosvenor Square, promised to be one of the great social occasions of the Season. The guests were to include many of the most important foreign dignitaries as well as the many of the brightest light of the London ton.

Shortly after the evening’s festivities commenced, Minister John Quincy Adams and his wife, Louisa, “and party,” were announced. Mrs. Adams, born in London, was already popular among in the high society of the Metropolis, and was of immense assistance to her husband in his ambassadorial duties.

The “and party” consisted of two rugged looking men in military uniforms, one of them an extraordinarily tall fellow wearing white breeches, polished black boots, and a blue, double-breasted tailcoat with several rows of gold braid across the chest, and a gold epaulette on either shoulder, signifying the rank of “major,” all set off by a red collar and cuffs, and a brightly polished white strap extending from his left shoulder to his right hip, where a sheathed saber was suspended. He carried a large, bicorn had under his left arm.

The other man, surprisingly enough since this was the party of the American ambassador, was dressed in a British military uniform. Similar to the American officer’s, it reversed the color scheme, being red, with blue trim at the collar. His epaulettes designated him a Captain of Royal Marines. Rather than a bicorn, he carried a tall shako under his arm. Like his American colleague, he had a saber at his left hip.

The hats and weaponry were both collected by footmen, as the party was greeted by His Lordship.

After warmly welcoming Mr. and Mrs. Adams, he turned to the taller of the two officers, and enthusiastically gripped his hand in welcome.

“You took my advice, I see, Major O’Brian,” he said to the tall man.

“I did, M’Lord. And it made a big enough dent in my pocketbook, that I’m tempted to send you the bill.”

“After hearing about your being wounded by an assassin’s pistol ball such a short time ago, I had expected that you would not be able to appear tonight.”

“Well, as you know, I have reasons for wanting to be here. Strong enough reasons that I felt I should ‘play through the pain,’ as we used to say on the playing fields back home. You recall my colleague at Bow Street, Mr. Grant. With the permission of the Admiralty, he got his old uniform out of mothballs for tonight’s party.”

“Very pleased to see you again, Mr. Grant,” said the earl, shaking his hand. “Or do you prefer ‘Captain,’ since you are, after all, in uniform?”

“Either one suits me fine, Your Lordship. ‘Appy to be here to support Mike in ‘is campaign tonight. And since ‘e’s in uniform, it seemed only right to follow suit.”

“Is there a particular prize you are trying to win tonight, Major O’Brian?” asked Mrs. Adams.

“A lady’s heart, ma’am,” he replied.

*

The lady whose heart O’Brian was intent on capturing was chatting with her sister when Minister Adams’s party was announced. Her eyes widened when she saw O’Brian.

“Dear heavens!” she said, “I’d hate to think I’m turning into our sister Lydia, but Michael looks splendid in uniform, does he not?”

“Indeed he does, Jane,” replied Lizzy. “Are you quite sure, though, that you are ready to be seen dancing three sets with him at such a public event?”

“We are courting, Lizzy. And he wants people to know. Moreover, since he’s made such an effort to be here so soon after his injury, I will certainly not back out from my commitment. The first, last, and supper sets belong to Major Michael O’Brian.”

O’Brian made his way to her, bowed, then bowed to Lizzy.

“You both look lovely, tonight, ladies. Mrs. Bingley, are you ready to open the ball with me?”

“I have been looking forward to it. And I thought we agreed that it was to be ‘Jane.’”

“Well, I figured since we were in public - . . . ”

“We are in public precisely so that people will know we are courting. I shall address you as ‘Michael,’ and you shall call me ‘Jane.’”

“Your wish is my command, Jane,” said O’Brian smiling broadly.

*

Jane and O’Brian took their place for the first set of the evening. Of course, Jane’s card was already full, so she was committed to another partner for the second set. O’Brian danced the next few sets with Mrs. Adams, with Miss Kitty Bennet, and, at Mrs. Darcy’s direction, with a couple of shy, demure misses who had not yet been asked.

During the set preceding the supper set, he asked Mrs. Darcy herself, but, finding that the dance was to be one with which he was not familiar, had to make embarrassed excuses.

“I’m glad it’s you I’m partnered with, Mrs. Darcy,” he said, “since you’ll understand when I explain that I don’t know these steps. May we spend the set sharing conversation, instead? If you’ll have a seat, I’ll get you a glass of punch.”

Mrs. Darcy agreed, and. within minutes, O’Brian had returned with refreshments.

“How are you feeling, Mr. O’Brian? You can’t have fully recovered from that attack, though you are much more active than I would’ve expected.”

“To be honest, I am starting to feel fatigued, and, ordinarily, I’d still be raring to go. I may spend the second part of the ball playing cards. Or just laying down. Until the final set, of course. Have I fulfilled my obligations to the other ladies, sufficiently that resting up during the second half won’t seem impolite?”

“Given that your wound is fairly common knowledge, I don’t think many will look askance. You’ve actually made a very good impression, tonight, sir, judging from the comments I’ve heard the other ladies make. Of course, everyone can see how devoted you are to my sister.”

*

And the man who coveted Jane Bingley was one of those to whom O’Brian’s devotion to the stunningly beautiful widow was most obvious. Even worse was that she seemed just as devoted to O’Brian.

He and Mrs. Bingley had shared one set tonight. But the entire time, she seemed distracted, and he noted that, whenever the dance separated her from him, or O’Brian from the lady he was dancing with, their eyes always found each other.

It was almost enough to provoke him into making another attempt on the American tonight. But that be taking too big a chance.

*

After the supper set, Jane and O’Brian found a couple of chairs next to each other at one of the tables. O’Brian left to fill a couple of plates, and returned forthwith. The two chatted happily as they tucked in to their meals, but as the supper break progressed, Jane noticed that O’Brian had a slight grimace, and appeared a bit pale.

“Are you quite well, Michael?”

“I’m fine, Jane,” he answered, but the enthusiasm seemed forced.

“You were almost killed a very short time, ago, Michael. Now please be honest with me. Are you quite well?”

“Wound’s giving me a slight twinge, to be honest, and all this dancing’s got me a lot more fatigued that I expected it would. Generally, around this time I’m just getting started at a gathering like this. Back in my university days, I could really party hearty. But tonight I’m starting to run out of ga - . . . uh . . . steam.”

“Then go home. Get a good night’s sleep.”

“But we’ll miss the last dance set.”

“There will be others, I’m sure. Your health is important to me, Michael. Please don’t jeopardize it for a dance set that’s still hours away.”

O’Brian hesitated, then said, “Might be best at that. May I call on you tomorrow?”

“You’ve danced with me twice, sir. It is your solemn obligation to call on me tomorrow.”

“Well, I always live up to my obligations, Mrs. Bingley. If we can have a few minutes alone, there’s an important matter I would like to discuss with you.”

“A certain question, sir?”

“I’m hoping it’ll end in a question. But I have one more major revelation to make before I actually ask the question I want to ask.”

“I will see to it that we have some time to ourselves, Michael.”

*

As Michael got up and left the table to pay his respects to his host and hostess, and to Minister and Mrs. Adams, three of Jane’s erstwhile suitors, Lieutenant Denny, Sir Peter, and Mr. Callaway, all took the opportunity of Jane’s suddenly being alone to approach her.

“Where’s Major O’Brian going?” asked Denny.

“The wound he sustained a short time ago is starting to give him pain. He has decided to leave early and retire for the night.”

“Did he not have the final set reserved with you,” asked Sir Peter.

“He did, but I told him there would be other opportunities, and that he should look to his health first.”

“Well, then, that leaves that set free,” said Mr. Calloway. “May I renew my request?”

“I asked her first,” said Denny.

“No,” said Sir Peter, “I’m quite sure I did.”

“Actually, our host’s son, General Fitzwilliam, was ahead of all of you. I must apprise him of the change of plans, but if he is already occupied for that set, I believe Mr. Denny was the next in line.”

The three suitors all bowed, with varying levels of graciousness, and left her to her meal.

(TO BE CONTINUED)
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (13th Installment)

Jim D.April 24, 2018 02:52AM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (13th Installment)

Shannon KApril 24, 2018 02:05PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (13th Installment)

Jim D.April 24, 2018 02:22PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (13th Installment)

Shannon KApril 25, 2018 02:41AM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (13th Installment)

ShannaGApril 24, 2018 04:44PM



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