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The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (14th Installment)

July 13, 2018 06:02PM
PART FIFTEEN

After her three erstwhile suitors left, Jane continued with her meal, and gave some thought to also after supper. Of course, she’d made commitments for the rest of the ball’s dance sets, which she was loathe to disregard, but the notion of staying up for another four or five hours without being able to share a waltz with Michael at the end was not something she looked forward to.

As she considered whether to go or stay, the three suitors, plates now laden with food, all returned, each begging to be allowed to take the chair next to Jane that Major O’Brain had vacated.

A deep, commanding voice spoke before she had a chance to answer.

“I’m afraid the seat is still spoken for, gentlemen. As is the lady’s company.”

Sir Peter, Lieutenant Denny, and Mr. Calloway all turned to see Michael standing behind them.

“Michael,” said Jane, “I told you your health was more important to me than a dance set.”

“So you did, madam,” he replied, “and your wish is my command. But His Lordship suggested an alternative. When supper has ended, he will open up one of the guest rooms for me to crash . . . uh . . . have a nap. Captain Grant will come to awaken me as the penultimate set is nearing its end, and you and I will be able to close out the ball together, as we planned.”

“Well,” said a surprised but relieved Jane, “that’s just . . . splendid! I was looking forward to our waltz.”

Michael took his seat, while the other three, clearly disgruntled, took vacant seats elsewhere at the same table.

Sir Peter, seated across from O’Brianl and next to Lieutenant Denny, watched as the latter cut a bite-sized piece of beef tongue, and start to raise it to his mouth. The fork suddenly slipped from the soldier’s fingers and landed back on his plate.

“A case of lapsus linguae, Mr. Denny?” said the baronet, who chuckled at the witticism.

Sir Peter looked over at O’Brian, who was frowning, as if puzzled.

“The jest escaped you, Major?” asked the baronet. “I’d’ve thought Latin was taught even at American universities.”

“As opposed to those in Canada, Sir Peter?” said O’Brian.

After a brief pause, Sir Peter said, “A hit, sir. A very palpable hit. I was privately tutored by a local clergyman. We have no universities in Canada at present, as you apparently know. Until I came into my present eminence, I had not the means to study here. By the time I had the means, I thought myself past the age where attending a university was appropriate.”

“In any case,” said O’Brian, “to answer your question, though I’m a little more familiar with Liturgical Latin than the classic variety, I understood the pun. I just couldn’t help wondering why you didn’t simply say ‘slip of the tongue.’ That way everyone could’ve gotten the gag . . . uh, joke. This way, all you did was show off your erudition, and the only people who’d’ve understood are fellas who’d gone to Oxford or Cambridge.”

“I must admit,” said Sir Peter, after another pause, “that I was hoping to show you in a poor light. Your roughhewn manner is, in its way charming. I thought, by showing off my . . . ‘erudition’ as you call it, I might come off to advantage. It was unworthy of me, and I apologize.”

“No harm,” said O’Brian, as he poured himself another glass of wine. “If our positions were reversed, I might try something similar. Especially if I was the first one to enter the competition, so to speak.”

“You’re aware of my earlier attempt to court Mrs. Bingley?” asked the baronet, nodding at Jane.

“I mentioned it to him, Sir Peter,” said Jane, “when we were all together at Lord Fitzwilliam’s house party.”

Sir Peter nodded.

“Well, after all,’ said Lieutenant Denny, “we were all competing in the field before you, Major. And a superior lady such as Mrs. Bingley is a treasure that any man of sense would try to win. Of course, Sir Peter and I, unlike you or Mr. Calloway, were making our interest known before she came into a great fortune.”

Calloway, offended, started to rise from his chair, but O’Brian held up his hand to forestall him, and he reseated himself.

“Mr. Denny,” began a flustered Jane before O’Brian interrupted her.

“No need, Jane,” he said. “The lieutenant brings up a fair point. When you had no material prospects, you could at least be assured that, when a man expressed his hopes, it was based on genuine affection, or at least attraction. Now, as a woman of means, that is no longer as certain. However, I believe Mr. Calloway to be well enough off, that, if Mrs. Bingley brought only herself to the relationship, he’d consider that fortune enough.”

“Indeed,” sputtered Calloway.

“And, since you bring it up,” O’Brian went on, “you might as well know, though it’s really none of your business, that, when I talked to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet to obtain their approval of my courtship of their daughter, I told them that, if that courtship led to a betrothal and marriage, I intended to foreswear any claim I might, as her husband, have over any land or income she receives from the estate of her late husband. Her brother by marriage, Mr. Darcy, and uncle, Mr. Gardner will continue to be her financial advisors. I’ll have no control over her assets whatsoever. And, moreover, I promised to settle half of my own fortune, in this country, on her and her two children, a quarter for Mrs. Bingley, and an eighth each for little Tom and Beth. That’s about twelve or thirteen thousand pounds in total. Not a huge amount, but neither is it inconsiderable.”

“You never told me that, Michael,” said Jane.

“I intended to tell you tomorrow when I called on you,” he replied. “But since it’s come up, we might as well get it out in the open. I don’t like the notion of people thinking I’m a fortune hunter. But I know it’s an easy enough conclusion to draw, given the circumstances. A foreign visitor, who has to work for his bread and butter, suddenly ingratiates himself with a wealthy widow. But I assure you, Lieutenant,” pronouncing the rank in the American manner, as “loo-tenant” rather than “left-tenant,” “as I did her father, that, had Jane only the proverbial widow’s mite, I would be able to support her and the children in security and comfort, if not luxury. I don’t need her money. I need her heart. Make sure you spread that around, y’hear?”

“Yes, sir,” replied the chastened officer. “I’ll make sure people know your intentions are both honorable and disinterested.”

“Fair enough,” said O’Brian. “Now then, Jane, can I get you something from the selection of desserts?”

*

Jane and O’Brian both enjoyed a dish of particularly delicious ice cream as the supper period wound down to an end and those who had eaten their fill started back to the ballroom.

When he had spooned the last bit of the treat, and Jane had done the same, O’Brian stood up, assisted Jane to her feet, took her hand in his, and bent over it without quite touching his lips to it, and said, “Until the final set, Jane.”

“Until the final set, Michael,” she replied.

*

Some four hours later, Jane had been returned to her seat by the person she was partnering with for the next-to-last set to find Michael, resplendent in his Marine Corps uniform, waiting for her.

“I believe this next set is ours, Mrs. Bingley,” he said. “May I get you something cool to drink while the musicians refresh themselves,

“That would be lovely, Michael,” she said, smiling.

A few moments later he retuned with a glass of lemonade for each of them, which they sipped until the musicians assembled for the last set.

*

It would not be true to say that every eye was on Major O’Brian and his lady. After all, they were hardly the only couple there deeply in love. And many of those who had persevered until the end of the ball only had eyes for their own partners.

Nevertheless, the major and Jane made a striking couple, and those who had seen their first waltz at Wentworth Woodhouse and who were also present tonight noticed the change. Then they had been a couple falling in love, but not quite admitting it to themselves, let alone to each other. Now they were a couple deeply and firmly in love, each absolutely certain of the other’s feelings. Each thoroughly comfortable in the other’s arms.

As for O’Brian and Jane, it was the pleasantest half hour either had spent since the death of their respective spouses.

Both hoped that the morrow would bring experiences that would be even more pleasant.

*

One of the gentlemen present, one who was not dancing, looked at the couple and felt only frustration and anger.

The woman whose husband he had eliminated had fallen in love with another. Soon, perhaps as soon as the very next day when O’Brian made the call required by etiquette, they would be engaged. Soon after that married.

And he would find himself even farther away from his goal, his exclusive enjoyment of the delectable favors the beautiful Jane Bingley had to bestow, than when she was married to Bingley.

For Michael O’Brian had already proven to be a lot harder to kill than Bingley.

But once O’Brian and Jane Bingley were married, killing him, no matter how difficult, would become an absolute necessity.

An absolute necessity!

And this time, he would not allow the newly widowed Mrs. O’Brian a period of mourning before making her his.

When he killed O’Brian, he would, at the same time, make off with the woman he’d been obsessed with for so many years.

TO BE CONTINUED
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (14th Installment)

Jim D.July 13, 2018 06:02PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (14th Installment)

ShannaGJuly 14, 2018 06:28PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (14th Installment)

Shannon KJuly 14, 2018 03:42PM



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