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Jul 13 2017

Heir of Rosings Park Chapter 14

Heir of Rosing Park iconFitzwilliam tries to have a talk with Michaels.

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 Chapter 14

Fitzwilliam eyed his valet from the corner of his eye. The man was fussing with something in the closet, again. But what was he doing?

Ever since yesterday when Miss Bennet complained the man had been seeking her advice, Fitzwilliam could not shake the question from his mind. What would the man require from her?

The valet held up his jacket, waiting for an approving nod, and then began to brush it vigorously.

“Wait, no. Is that not the jacket with the ink stain?” Fitzwilliam reached for the right sleeve. He had dragged it across a still-wet letter, ruining the letter and probably the jacket as well. It was the very last thing he should be seen wearing to dinner.

“Yes sir, but the situation is remedied now.” The valet handed the jacket over.

Fitzwilliam inspected both sleeves and scowled. No trace of ink remained.

“Do you approve sir?”

“Indeed, but I understood the stain to be unrepairable.”

“It was, sir. The sleeve cuffs were replaced, along with the collar, in a contrasting fabric. The look is quite fashionable if I do say so myself.”

Fitzwilliam held it at arm’s length and scowled at it. The cuffs had been changed. Probably at Miss Bennet’s behest. 

 He slipped the jacket on and tugged his shirt sleeves into position. The jacket was smart, much more so than in its original incarnation—and no doubt much cheaper than acquiring an entirely new garment.

 Was there anything that Bennet women did not have a useful opinion about?

He trotted downstairs. With Lady Catherine’s state, it fell to him to be available to entertain Rosings’ guests before dinner. Granted it was only Michaels and Miss Bennet, but still, he should keep up appearances.

And if he failed, it would give Aunt Catherine one more reason to become worked up. Something none of them needed.

Miss Bennet stood near the parlor windows, one hand resting lightly on the curtains, peering toward the lane that led up to the manor. Fitzwilliam paused just inside the doorway. She favored Elizabeth in her profile, just a little bit. Her expression was not wistful as she waited, but rather just a tad impatient.

Her face was always more pleasing with just a bit of fire in her eyes.

“Good evening, Colonel.” She turned and curtsied.

He bowed slightly. “Good evening, Miss Bennet. I trust you are feeling better this evening?”

“I am, sir, thank you. Pray forgive my missing dinner last night.”

“There was very little to miss, truth be told. There was little conversation and Aunt Catherine carried most of it herself. Not that it might be considered a bad thing. Usually if she carries both sides of the conversation herself, she finds it quite agreeable and little troubles her.”

The corners of her lips crept up. “Indeed, I have found it so. It is best to allow her to carry on in that fashion if the spirit so takes her. It is a little enough thing to give her comfort. And if there is other conversation desired, it is easy enough to make opportunity for it elsewhere.”

“Is this a gentle effort to tutor me in the way to live peaceably with my aunt?” He wrinkled his lips and raised his brows.

She looked at him, a tiny glint of mischief in her eye. “What need has a decorated officer to be tutored in the ways of peace?”

He rolled his eyes. “Are you suggesting that an education in the ways of warfare is an insufficient foundation—”

“I have said no such thing, sir. Perhaps though, your conscience is speaking for you?”

“You think my conscience guilty?”

“I know of no one without something to repine.” She turned away from him, her voice trailing off into a tight, high note.

He ran a finger around his collar and tugged. What could a sheltered gentlewoman know of a troublesome conscience? What did she suspect of him?

Small Tom appeared in the doorway. “Mr. Michaels, sir.”

Michaels strode in with his precise, measured steps. Good Lord, the man might be drilling with a regiment for the exactness of his stride.

“Good evening, Colonel.” Michaels bowed and turned to Miss Bennet. “Mary.”

His eyes turned up a bit at the corners.  Was that all the passion he could muster for the woman to whom he was betrothed?

Miss Bennet stepped toward him and curtsied, but her smile did not reach her eyes. “I am pleased you have joined us.” She glanced back toward the longcase clock in the far corner of the room.

As if on her command, it chimed half past six.

The dinner invitation had been for six o’clock.

“Forgive me, Colonel. My sincerest apologies. There was a bit of a to-do about fields and fencing among the northern tenants. I completely lost any sense of the time.” Michaels glanced at Miss Bennet, his expressions half way between annoyed and conciliatory.

“Think nothing of it. I have no doubt you have my best interests as your priorities. Surely the tenants are more significant than dinner.”

Mary bit her upper lip and looked away. Dinner might not be significant, but her sensibilities were.

No doubt if they were married, Michaels could look forward to a tongue lashing when he returned home late.  Who would he side with in such a confrontation?

“Besides, Aunt Catherine has not yet—ah, here she is.”

Mrs. Jenkinson, with Aunt Catherine on her arm, slipped through the door.

“It is good to see all of you assembled for dinner. I do find it so unmannerly when guests are late. Shall we to dinner then?” She swept out of the room, feathered headdress bobbing and taffeta crinkling.

A brief conversation of glances and raised eyebrows passed between Michaels and Miss Bennet as he offered her his arm.

Fitzwilliam swallowed back a smirk. It was nice to watch someone else be on the receiving end of such looks for a change. He followed them out.

Michaels leaned a little closer to her, voice muted. “You are bruised, what happened?”

“It is nothing, merely my own clumsiness.” Mary turned her face aside.

“It is not like you to be ungainly.”

“I was … I was having a … conversation with Mr. Collins. I was not watching where I was going. I … I ran into a door that unexpectedly opened as we passed.”

“A conversation? I hardly think that likely. He is not one to promote a mutual discussion.”

“Perhaps I was being kind.” Her eyes were fixed firmly on the floor.

“As you always are.” He patted her hand as they entered the dining room.

Was that all he would say on the matter? Did he not notice that the marks were nothing like what a door would leave in its wake? Could he not see what was in front of him, or did he not wish to be bothered with what might prove inconvenient and uncomfortable?

Fitzwilliam grumbled under his breath and took his place at the foot of the table in the small dining room.

Fewer candles lit the room than usual, perhaps a quarter less. The distinct odor of tallow lingered at the edges of the room. Somehow, Miss Bennet had seen to it that nearly half of the remaining candles were switched from wax to tallow. How had she effected the change so quickly?

Aunt Catherine announced the dishes. He bit his lip and did not correct her as she got several of them wrong.

Miss Bennet cast a demure glance his way and offered a long, slow blink of approval.

The expression should not have excited the warmth in his chest that it did, but there was no stopping it.

Plates were served and Aunt Catherine took her share of the conversation. “The sermon last Sunday was quite pleasing, was it not?” She settled back into her chair chest puffed. “I had the final reading of it you know. I think Mr. Collins did a quite creditable job in his presentation of the matter.”

“It was wise counsel, indeed, your ladyship. The parish is in your debt for insisting that men be reminded of their proper role in the family.” Miss Bennet dabbed a drop of soup from her chin.

“I am certain it is quite necessary for they are quite apt to forget you know.” Aunt Catherine tossed her head just a mite, like a bird done with its preening.

Fitzwilliam clenched his fist under the table. Hypocrite! The woman was a complete hypocrite! She herself encouraged Bennet to be everything that was despicable in a man. She probably approved Collins’ behavior as well.

“And who better to deliver such a message than one who sets the model for the rest of the parish.” Michaels murmured, not looking up from his dinner.

Fitzwilliam choked on the bit of bread that sopped up the last of his soup.

Miss Bennet sat up very straight and clutched the edge of the table.

“The vicar should be an example to all his parish.” 

“I chose Mr. Collins for just such a reason. He shows such attention to all things appropriate and proper.” Aunt Catherine waved her hands for emphasis, nearly knocking over the glass nearest her plate.

“I suppose him an excellent resource in teaching men the proper ways to manage their tempers?” Fitzwilliam muttered through clenched teeth.

“Many men have foul tempers and it is unseemly to display them. It is necessary for them to be instructed in the proper way to manage their animal spirits.” She struck the table with her knuckles.

“And you consider Collins the man to do such a thing?”

Aunt Catherine leaned forward, her elbows braced on the table. Her face screwed into deep lines and knots.

Miss Bennet shook her head and mouthed ‘no’.

“Have you considered the man’s temper, Aunt?”

“His temper? He has no temper. He has never shown me any temper.”

“Of course he would not do such a thing to his patroness. It would be unseemly. But when I served in the army, it was a well-known fact that if one wanted to learn about the competency of an officer, looking to the officers who served below him was the surest source of information.”

“What has that to do with Mr. Collins?”

“Have you ever asked Mrs. Collins about the nature of her husband’s temper?”

“Why would I ever do such a thing? What is her opinion in any of this?”

Miss Bennet’s eyes bulged as the table cloth bunched up in her hands.

Perhaps she was right. Only she was actually listening to him, and she already understood what he was trying to communicate.

Fitzwilliam dipped his head and leaned back. “Of course, you are correct, Aunt. There is no reason her opinion should be of any consideration at all.”

“I am glad you agree.” Aunt Catherine rang for the second course.

The servants removed used plates and platters and replaced them with new. Some of the dishes were different to what was normally served at Rosings, inferior cuts of meat, vegetables that Aunt Catherine considered more appropriate for the ‘peasantry’, all carefully placed at the farthest end of the table. Aunt Catherine mistook each for something more commonly found on Rosings’ table.

Miss Bennet caught his eye with a narrow glare. On this she would brook no interference. He pressed his lips hard and managed a fractional nod. Her expression eased and she exhaled heavily.

It was a clever plan, he had to give her credit for that. Certainly one much less confrontational than insisting on changes in the menu.  Though Aunt Catherine muttered about the quality of the venison, which was in fact mutton in a cauliflower, cabbage and beetroot cream sauce usually served on venison, she did not seem to notice the substitutions on her table.  Good thing that he did not abhor disguise the way Darcy did. Sometimes it was entirely necessary.

After dinner, they withdrew to the smaller drawing room where Aunt Catherine declared they should play cards. Fitzwilliam dealt a hand of whist, but she kept forgetting the rules. Her agitation increased until Miss Bennet declared that Aunt Catherine had won the hand and perhaps upon that triumph, should retire for the evening. It took a bit of effort to secure her agreement, but at last, Miss Bennet and Mrs. Jenkinson escorted her to her chambers.

“A glass of port, Michaels?” Fitzwilliam headed for the decanter on the far side of the room.

“A small one perhaps. Thank you.”

Fitzwilliam handed him a crystal glass.

Michaels saluted him with the glass. “I was rather surprised to hear that you had invited Mary to stay here in the manor. She does seem very well able to manage Lady Catherine’s needs though.”

“Indeed she does. I hope she will be able to impart her expertise to a long term companion for my aunt. In just the day she has been here, the house is already far more peaceful.” Fitzwilliam sat near the fireplace. “I think it more peaceful than most of the houses in the parish now.”

“That is a change indeed, considering what things were like even a week ago.”

“Very much so. I hope Miss Bennet finds it pleasant as well, to be in a household more peaceful than the vicarage.”

Michaels leaned forward on his knees. “Whatever do you mean? I have never noticed any disharmony there.”

“I do not imagine a well-mannered household would be apt to demonstrate discord to visitors.”

“Then how would you—”

“I am apt to notice things that most would disregard, I think. One must if one is to stay alive in time of war. Have you never seen how Mrs. Collins always stands beyond arm’s length from her husband? Or the way she twitches and flinches when his voice rises, even in services.”

Michaels pulled a chair closer to Fitzwilliam’s. “No, I have never made note of any of that.”

“I have found the reactions of one’s subordinates to be very telling of a man’s character.”

“You do not approve of the man. I know you have never liked him.” Michaels stroked his chin. “With his recent inheritance in Hertfordshire it is possible to see him away rather quickly.”

Fitzwilliam blinked and twitched his head.  Agreeable as the notion was, this was not the point he was trying to make. How could he be so blind to the safety of one he should be dedicated to protect?

“Has he pursued a curate since our last abortive discussion of the matter?”

“Not to my knowledge. I think he was rather put off by Lady Catherine’s rather dramatic reaction.  But, I know of several reputable young men seeking a curacy whom we might make inquires of. I think it would be wise to discuss with Collins a proper salary for the curate, though. He seems to be the type who would readily insist a curate try to live and maintain the parsonage on but fifty pounds a year.”

Fitzwilliam snorted. “He would deny the man the use of the parsonage altogether if he could. With his new estate, he can certainly afford to pay a curate decently. Send out the inquires. I have no problem selecting a curate for him and informing him of the choice.”

“Perhaps Mary will assist us in dealing with Lady Catherine’s concerns in the matters.”

“I should think Miss Bennet will not repine Collins’ departure.”

“It is difficult to have her father’s relation living so close. I do not think she prefers his company.” His voice deepened into something resembling a growl.

Perhaps the man did have a bit of a spark after all.

“I cannot imagine you are wrong. Darcy hates the very sight of Bennet and barely tolerates Collins. I have to think that Bennet’s disagreeable nature must be common in the family.”

Michaels rubbed his fist across his chin. “That is awfully harsh, do you not think? I prefer to believe Bennet a rare aberration.”

Fitzwilliam sighed. Perhaps the spark was the aberration.

 Maybe Miss Bennet was right to just allow the issue to lie quietly. Especially now, when she no longer needed to live with the Collinses.

 

What do you think Michaels thought of Fitzwilliam’s concerns? Tell me in the comments.


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17 comments

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  1. Taswmom

    Last week I was feeling sorry for Michaels, as I felt something growing between Mary and the Colonel. I still think Michaels a good man, just maybe not quite good enough?

    Wonderful chapter though. Just abut shorter than I’d like after waiting all week. 😥

    1. Maria Grace

      Sorry it wasn’t long enough, hopefully next week with be better. 😉

  2. Glynis

    Michaels seems to be particularly obtuse. Surely after seeing Mary’s bruises he would have recognised Fitzwilliam’s hints?
    I thought at first he seemed to really love Mary but am now beginning to wonder.
    But the banns are being read so I’m not sure how you are going to sort this out Maria. Looking forward to the next chapter.

    1. Maria Grace

      He is rather obtuse for certain. I think he also is careful about picking which battles he is going to fight and since what Collins was doing was considered normal and acceptable for the era, maybe it wasn’t his highest priority to deal with.

  3. Maureen

    I’m not sure Michaels is going to act upon Fitzwilliam”s suggestions. He seems a bit too on lined to think we’ll of Collins. I’m guessing the Colonel will have to take things into his own hands, and this may further distance Mary from Michaels.

    1. Maria Grace

      It is looking that way isn’t it? Thanks, Maureen!

  4. Elaine

    It would be nice if Michaels were perhaps more like Darcy, minus the wealth and status, of course, preferring to keep things under wraps, even though he feels them deeply. That sort of man would be just what Mary needs – if they can get past appearances and what each thinks the other should be. Then she wouldn’t be ‘in danger’ of getting too interested in the former colonel.

    1. Maria Grace

      It would be, wouldn’t it, exactly what would suit Mary best. The question of course is whether or not he will be able to rise to the occasion. Thanks, Elaine!

  5. Vesper Meikle

    Mary needs someone more outgoing than Michaels (hint – the Colonel). They are too similar for a successful marriage

    1. Maria Grace

      I’m sensing that you might have a subtle preference here…

  6. Katherine Schmitt

    Michaels seems like the kind of person who has to go away and think about something for awhile before he acts. I hope he’ll be able to see Mary’s bruise and think about it, ask some more questions of her and then see his way to punching Collins in the nose. Anything less and the next thing he wonders about will be how Fitzwilliam stole Mary away from him. I don’t think Mary is quite ready to jump, but I do think the Colonel is preparing for battle.

    1. Maria Grace

      Michaels is definitely more thoughtful than he is impulsive. But will he get around to thinking about the right things? Hmmm…

  7. Mary

    So far we readers have been able to hear Fitzwilliam’s thoughts a lot and, of course, Mary’s. On the other hand, we’ve read only Mr. Michael’s words and actions. As a reader, that makes me think that he will become a secondary character, even though he appeared earlier in the story than Fitzwilliam did.

    All three characters have major challenges to creating a healthy relationship.

    Mary’s inability to arrange to speak openly about the abuse to Mr. Michaels and her inability to forgive his habit of preoccupied tardiness are making her relationship with him difficult. Earlier in story she resented Mr. Michael’s failing to ask for her input. Now he asks a question and she does not make plans to enlighten him in private. That’s understandable, given her upbringing, but resenting that he doesn’t ask for input, and then later, not arranging for his enlightenment when he asks a question is creating roadblocks in their relationship.

    On the other hand, Fitzwilliam’s powers of observance are greater. He picks up clues due to his military experience. That gives him insights that Mr. Michaels doesn’t have, so he reads between the lines of her statements. However, his actions when so enlightened are precipitous and done without consultation with Mary, which seriously adds to her anxiety levels. And then there’s his tendency to resort to drink when under extreme stress, which clouds his judgment, a really bad habit to bring into a relationship with a woman who has experienced emotional or physical abuse.

    Mr. Michaels is the steadier man. Fitzwilliam’s attraction to Mary is firey. Mr. Michaels’ devotion is a deep calm stream. When he is aware of disrespect towards Mary, he addresses it firmly, as we learned from his conversation with Fitzwiliam earlier. However, without the life experience to pick up clues in conversation he labors under the handicap of too little information. He has, in the past, demonstrated a clear desire to defend Mary and make sure that she is treated with respect, but he simply does not pick up clues like Fitzwilliam does. He knows of Mary’s abuse at the hands of her father and his antipathy towards the man is clear. He needs to see something to believe it, or at least have it clearly explained in detail. But neither Mary nor Fitzwilliam are providing that sufficiently for him in the case of Mr. Colliins.

    Right now I’m thinking that if things don’t change and Mary doesn’t speak the truth with Mr. Michaels or learn to forgive his tardiness and Fitzwilliam doesn’t lose his tendency to speak and act without consultation, or to drink when under stress, an alliance with either man will create a difficult marriage for Mary.

    As to what is in Mr. Michaels mind in regards to Fitzwilliam’s concerns: my best guess from the clues so far in his conversation with Fitzwilliam, and in his responses to the challenges of Rosings and the disputations of tenants is that he is a man who responds to what he sees and experiences, and who is interested in creating honorable, practical, lasting solutions to conflicts between people. He also is fiercely defensive of Mary and brooks no disrespect towards her when he senses that it is occuring. He is a man who will take the time to create permanent solutions to problems (which often makes him late for dinner), rather than rush precipitously headlong into the fray.

    I think he will review the conversations. I think he may become more watchful. But unless the conversations he has with Mary and Fitzwilliam or others contain honest answers and clear information (and he’s not getting much of that) he will continue to labor under misapprehensions as he tries to work out solutions. He’s a man who will respond nobly, thoughtfully and firmly to what has happened to Mary in the Collins household if someone tells him what happened there, but no one comes out and says it. Mary prevaricates and Fitzwilliam hints. Because of his life experience, Mr. Michaels needs more clarity than that. And he’s not receiving it. And, unlike Fitzwilliam, he is not socially in a position where he can march in and ask questions in the Collins household to try to get it there either.

    1. Maria Grace

      You make a very good point about the difference in social standing between Michaels and Fitzwilliam and how that impacts what course of action is available to either of the men. Thank you for such an thoughtful analysis.

  8. Carole in Canada

    I think I’m feeling like Mary right now…confused. Mary doesn’t like to ruffle feathers and wishes for a smooth peaceful life. That, of course, is never possible, plus she hates to bring attention to herself. With the Colonel knowing what Collins did to her, causes her even more upset. Since she hasn’t told Michaels this can only hurt him when he does find out for I’m sure he will. Yes, it would be nice to remove Collins from the equation but it doesn’t resolve the issue. Charlotte is still in harms way. Michaels has no clue that the Colonel is taking a decided interest in Mary. It can’t go well for any of them if he does. Michaels isn’t stupid nor unobservant, however, he is overworked and trying to do the job he was given and enjoys, despite the challenges. I truly don’t think that he means to insult Mary by not showing up on time. Something has to give that will open his eyes and then the **** will hit the proverbial fan! The hole is getting deeper for all of them to climb out of!

    1. Maria Grace

      Yep, stuff is about to hit the fan for sure…

  9. Agnes

    I’m late to comment but I think poor Michaels was put in a situation he isn’t well equipped to deal with. He is Mary’s acknowledged fiancé, the man she should turn to for protection. Instead, she lies to him about her bruises. He did protect her from Fitzwilliam’s disrespect, which 1. should have made Mary inclined to trust him, which did not happen because of Mary’s abused past, and 2. made him disinclined to think Fitzwilliam is honestly concerned about Mary. Fitzwilliam is obviously motivated by jealousy, interpreting everything Michaels says in a bad light, and not informing him clearly.
    On the other hand, Michaels is taking Mary for granted, He doesn’t make any effort to see her privately, doesn’t sow any eagerness to meet her prompted by the dinner invitation, and doesn’t apologize to her specifically for being late. If he is not prioritizing her over work even now hen he should be the besotted bridegroom, it doesn’t bode well for their marriage.
    Then again, the problem may be the same: that Michaels needs things to be told clearly and openly, and Mary isn’t able to do that (again, her history of being abused likely makes it difficult to state her own wishes and preferences) but she will wish that her soon to be husband acts upon them, which is in a way unfair.

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