What is one to do when surrounded by stubborn men?
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Mary sprang to her feet, her chair clattering to the floor. She dashed from the room, the screeching guiding her to the corridor outside the colonel’s study.
Lady Catherine stood in the middle of the hall, in her full, regal glory: gold, silk gown catching the afternoon sun, ostrich plumes bobbing over her head. Collins, Fitzwilliam and Michaels lined up opposite her near the study door, courtiers waiting their turn to attend their royal patron.
“No, no, no! I did not give permission for a curate. I selected Collins for the parish, and with the parish he shall remain.” She stomped and shook her fists at her sides.
“Your opinion does not matter in this circumstance, Aunt.” Fitzwilliam growled back.
Foolish, stupid man.
“Lady Catherine, pray understand,” Collins edged half a step forward and bowed from his shoulders.
“My understanding is not at fault. I understand perfectly what is going on. You are trying to betray me.” She shooed him back with her fan.
“Nothing could be farther from the truth, Madam. I am solicitous of all your wishes and desires.”
“I do not desire a curate. That is my final word on the matter and you will do exactly as I say.”
Fitzwilliam interposed himself between them. “Stop your blithering. The matter has been decided. Leave it to us and trouble yourself with it no further.”
“You do not have the right to speak to me that way, nephew! I think it is time for you to go back to Matlock to relearn some manners. Get Long Tom. I want him now. He will see you are removed at once.” She poked him in the chest with her fan.
“I live here, this is my home.” They stood toe to toe.
Mary edged between them, applying her elbows to Fitzwilliam’s shoulder and chest as necessary. “Mr. Michaels, get both these gentlemen out of here at once. Please.”
Fitzwilliam towered over her, glowering like an officer. She rose on tip toes and returned the expression.
His eyes widened, and he backed away.
She took Lady Catherine’s arm. “Mr. Michaels has this well in hand. Do not worry.”
“But I do not wish for a curate.”
Mary urged her to take a step down the hall and another. “The gentlemen are well aware of your wishes. You know you can trust them to carry out what is necessary. They are all very loyal to you.”
They walked toward the stairs. Behind her, Michaels’ hushed voice urged the men back to the study.
Why had he not stepped in sooner? He knew better than to allow the colonel to antagonize Lady Catherine this way.
“Perhaps you would like a walk in the garden?” Mary led her toward the door.
“I have not had my walk today, have I?” Her forehead knotted deeply.
“No you have not. You so enjoy your garden.”
“You are a very thoughtful girl. Miss Bennet. Which one are you? There are too many Bennet girls.”
“I am Mary.” She held the door open and helped Lady Catherine down the steps.
“That is a good, sensible name, Mary. I approve of it, you know.”
“I am glad to hear that, madam. My mother will be very pleased to hear it. I shall write to her directly and tell her.”
“Oh look, the peonies are blooming. When did I order them planted here? I do not recall.” Lady Catherine paused and pushed her face into a mass of blooms.
She did not recall yesterday when they had the same conversation.
“The gardener says it was last year in the spring that you ordered it changed. So, this is the first time that it has bloomed.”
“Well then, I made a very good decision, did I not?”
“Yes, you did.” Mary took her arm again.
“I make good decisions.” Her face grew tight and expression dark. “I do, do I not, Miss Mary Bennet? My decisions are right and good.”
“You have made many decisions throughout your life, so very many. Perhaps you are tired from them, just a bit?”
Lady Catherine seemed to shrink. “I am weary at times. It tires me to think so hard these days.”
“Of course it does, after all that you have done, it is only right for you to be tired. Would it not be pleasing to have someone else to make some of those decisions for you? So that you might rest and enjoy Rosings as you ought?”
“What an odd idea. I never considered. Would it be right and proper to just allow someone else?”
“Not just anyone, but one of your line, whom you could trust. That would be agreeable, would it not?”
“I suppose so … yes, perhaps … possibly.” She blinked hard. “That might be a very good notion. I will have to think on the matter further.”
They continued along the path, crossing into the shade.
“One cannot be expected to make such a significant decision so lightly. It is good for you to think on it. But in the meantime, perhaps you would like to tell him that he may begin with some small decisions to help you see how very wise and conscientious he might be.”
“Wise? Fitzwilliam? He is not wise. He is lonely, very lonely. He needs a wife. Mrs. Collins can help. A vicar’s wife is good for introductions. You help her and we shall find him a wife.”
“I am sure he will be very glad of it.” It was hard to get the words out and maintain a proper expression of decorum. “Would you like to sit at your favorite bench? Look, I think Mrs. Jenkinson is there.”
“I would speak with her now, you know. There are things I need to tell her about Anne.”
Mary beckoned Mrs. Jenkinson, and she hurried to meet them. “Lady Catherine would like to speak with you.”
Mrs. Jenkinson took Lady Catherine’s arm and led her toward the bench basking in the fading afternoon light. She would be in good hands now.
She turned back towards the house, detouring through the rose garden. There were some very pretty varieties in bloom now, not as showy as peonies to be sure, but so fragrant.
Why was Fitzwilliam so stubborn? If only he would be a little more patient and not insist he get his way immediately. Commands and orders were not the only means to get something accomplished.
Next Saturday could not come soon enough.
Michaels met her halfway to the house. “Did you take her back to her room?”
“No, she is in the garden with Mrs. Jenkinson. Being out of doors soothes her.” She pointed back toward the bench.
Michaels peered over her shoulder. “Were you able to calm her?”
“Yes. What is more, she is slowly becoming reconciled to allowing someone else to make decisions.”
He offered his arm. “I do not know how you do, it Mary. You seem to have a way with her unlike anyone else. I am glad to hear you are making headway with her. The colonel’s patience with her is running thin.”
“Has it ever been anything else?”
They walked on, gravel crunching under their feet.
“Officers are not known for their patience.” Did he know how high-handed he sounded now? A little too much like Colonel Fitzwilliam.
“Well, then that is a flaw which needs to be addressed. If he does not change his ways with her, I swear to you, disaster will ensue.”
“Is that not a bit dramatic?”
She stopped, counted to ten, and turned on him.
Oh the look on his face! He did not expect that!
She balanced her fists on her hips. “Are you suggesting that I do not know what I am talking about, or perhaps that an old woman whose wits are failing is incapable of causing great damage. Or perhaps—”
He threw up open hands. “Please, Mary, calm down. You are taking great offense where none was intended, I assure you. Perhaps dealing with her is wearing on your patience as well?”
Or perhaps it was dealing with stubborn men that had her worn threadbare.
“Or perhaps you are peckish. The colonel has invited us all to share his table tonight. How does that sound?”
Condescending and conciliatory.
But Michaels’ expression was sincere. He was trying to be helpful and deserved to have the effort credited to his accounts. While not perfect, it was something, and she should appreciate it for what it was.
She slipped her hand in the crook of his arm and allowed him to escort her back to the house.
What do you think is at the root of Mary’s impatience and what should she do about it? Tell me in the comments.
Couldn’t resist giving you a little peek at the publication title and the cover. I’ll reveal the full cover later this week. The book should be available 8/31.