Small Tom, the butler, knows better than to get in Mary’s way, but is Col. Fitzwilliam equally wise?
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A se’nnight! For a full se’nnight she had held her tongue, patiently giving Colonel Fitzwilliam the opportunity to prove that he had not only heard her, but that he had also taken the advice to heart and was going to do something useful with it.
Mr. Michaels said he might have difficulty in taking suggestions, particularly from a woman. Mary ground her teeth hard. That had not been the correct thing to say at that particular moment. Not at all. But he had said it and at least now probably would not suggest it again. Ever. However true it might be.
If he was too stubborn to listen to advice, then he deserved whatever he endured. But the rest of them did not. And it was for their sake she would intervene.
Small Tom opened the door for her and dodged out of her way. Wise servant that he was, he had already learned when she was not to be gainsaid and did not even make a show of it.
Lady Catherine’s shrill muttering filtered from the small parlor. “How dare he! Who does he think he is? Telling me I do not know my own business.”
Oh, she was in a foul mood, almost as bad as Mary’s. And it was Fitzwilliam’s fault.
This must stop. How many times had she already warned the stubborn man? Lady Catherine was beyond reason. Arguing with her would do not good. Reminding her that she was forgetting things and confused only made things worse. Yet he insisted on doing both, regularly.
The office door was closed, but no matter. She flung it open and marched inside.
When it had been used by Lady Catherine, the room had been immaculate—granted that probably meant that no real work was ever accomplished within its walls, but at least it was respectable. Now it looked—and smelt—like a public house near closing hour.
Michaels and Fitzwilliam jumped to their feet, jaws dropping as the door slammed the wall behind her.
“What did you think you were doing?” She stopped directly in front of Fitzwilliam’s imposing desk.
“Excuse me, Miss Bennet.” He scowled—probably an expression that worked on lesser officers. He could never have withstood Papa if that was the worst he had to offer.
“You heard me. Do not play stupid. You know exactly what I am talking about. I have discussed this with you before, on multiple occasions.” She slapped the small space on the desk not occupied with papers, journals and empty glasses.
“Mary?” Why did Michaels look so surprised?
“How dare you march in here—” Fitzwilliam slowly rose and leaned forward on the desk.
She matched his posture. “And how dare you go on expecting that I will placate Lady Catherine when you will not do me the courtesy of doing as I have asked you.”
“You have no place to be instructing me as to what I should be doing.”
“Perhaps I do not. You then, all wise and knowing officer of His Majesty’s service, are free to apply your knowledge and understanding to the management of your relations. I shall be very happy to go and mind my own business.” She tossed her head and turned on her heel and strode out.
“Wait! Wait!” Heavy footfalls, two sets of them, pelted after her.
She continued on. Small Tom flung the front door open and stood aside as she marched into the bright afternoon sun. The footfalls continued behind her.
“Miss Bennet, please!” Fitzwilliam ran up beside her.
“Mary, stop, please.” Michaels touched her arm.
She stopped and stared at him.
Perhaps he had not seen her wear that expression before. Given his eyes, he probably did not wish to see it again.
“For you, I will pause. What do you wish of me, Mr. Michaels?” She balanced her hands on her hips and tapped her foot.
“Good Lord, talk some sense into your woman, Michaels!” Fitzwilliam shook his head.
Michaels’ face colored, and he pulled his shoulders back. “Excuse me, sir. She is not lacking in any sense. I would have you address her with proper respect. She is not your servant, nor Lady Catherine’s. Have you forgotten that she is a gentlewoman and the sister of your cousin’s wife?”
Fitzwilliam shrank back a mite and clutched his head. “Yes, yes of course, you are right. I have forgotten myself.”
Mary whirled on him. He had tried that recalcitrant expression once too often. “Indeed you have sir, and this is not the first time.”
“This has happened before?” Michaels glowered first at her, then at Fitzwilliam. “You never mentioned this in your letters, Mary.”
“To what point? There was nothing you could do about it from London.”
“Still I would rather have known.” His face hardened into something she would not have dared argue with. “You have indeed overstepped yourself. sir. I will not accept—”
“You are hardly in a position to be making demands, Michaels, or have your forgotten you work for me?” There was the arrogant officer back once more.
“Colonel Fitzwilliam, I am currently employed as the steward of Rosings, but I am not your servant. I am a professional man and I will be treated with the respect due me, as will my betrothed. If you cannot, or will not afford us that, then you are free to find yourself another steward. The quarter is nearly over. We may part ways at that time easily enough.”
“Are you threatening me, Michaels?”
Did he realize clenching his fists only made him look like a small boy who was not getting his way?
“By no means. I have no need to threaten. I am merely informing you of what I shall do if you continue on the track you are taking.”
“You are informing me you would leave your position?”
“Pray do not take offense, but you are in greater need of my services than I am of this position. I entertained several offers, including Pemberley, before taking this position at Mr. Darcy’s insistence. I am quite certain that I can find another position easily enough, particularly with his connections.” Michaels cocked his eyebrow with deceptive calm. The tiny twitch beside his other eye revealed he was inwardly seething.
“You will remember your place.”
She clasped her hands tight behind her back. Slapping her forehead now would only exacerbate his temper.
“Perhaps you should remember yours, Colonel. It is not an enviable one, considering the condition of this estate’s affairs.”
“I will not be spoken to in this manner.”
“And I will not either. Good day, Colonel.” Michaels took Mary’s arm and half led, half dragged her away.
Thankfully, she was a very good walker and could maintain his breakneck pace toward the parsonage. At the outskirts of the glebe lands, he slowed to a more normal walking pace.
“Did you mean what you told him?”
“I always say what I mean, Mary. Always. I have had quite enough of this Fitzwilliam family. I will not tolerate being treated like a servant by them. I am a professional, and frankly one of the best in my profession—at least according Mr. Darcy. It will not take me very long to find another position should I desire it.”
He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Honestly, the challenge of bringing Rosings out of ruin intrigues me and tests me like nothing else I can imagine. I would like to have that success to my credit. I want to do this, but not at the cost of my .self-respect. I will not behave as Collins does, or, forgive me, your father.”
“So what will you do?” It would be nice if he asked her opinion. She certainly had one. But perhaps that would be asking too much.
“The colonel has had too much to drink this morning. I must consider that his response has been addled by drink. Often, I have found that he recants once he has had time to regain his wits. I should prefer to give him that time to reconsider his rash words before I make a decision.”
“That seems sound.” It did. It made a great deal of sense. It was even what she might have said herself.
Had she been asked.
But she had not been.
So what do you think about Mr. Michaels’ response? Tell me in the comments.