An unexpected guest for Mary Bennet may change things at Rosings Park.
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She walked along the path to Rosings, opting for the one that led through the woods. Though the sunny path was Mr. Collins’ preference—it was overlooked by the windows of several of the manor’s principal rooms. She relished the trees’ deep shade and the illusion of seclusion and safety.
A man appeared in the distance, through a break in the trees, his boots still spattered with traveling dirt. He walked with long purposeful steps and a very familiar stride.
Could that be? No, it was so very unlikely. Still her heart ran faster, as her feet longed to do.
Young ladies did not run. It was shameful and reflected a lack of proper self-control. But she did increase her pace.
The man, though, seemed to have no such compunctions. He ran in her direction.
The instinct to take flight warred with the one to run toward him, rooting her in place.
She sprinted toward him.
There were times when running was entirely right and appropriate and necessary.
He was faster and met her with open arms before she had crossed half the distance between them. Before she could speak, he buried her in his embrace. Smells of horse and the road mingled on his coat, but did not mask the scent that was uniquely him.
“I had no idea you would come out to meet me? Who told you?” He pressed his cheek to the top of her head. His whiskers rasped along her hair, pulling strands from its tidy knot.
How hard had he ridden that he had not taken time to shave?
“I truly had no idea you were here. It was simply the hand of Providence that brought me here right now.” And a few nosey matrons, but he did not need to hear about them now.
“I cannot imagine better fortune than to see you first. Seeing Colonel Fitzwilliam will not be nearly the pleasure.”
“You have not yet been to the manor?” She peered up at him.
“The news I have matters little if it waits an hour or even a day to be delivered.” He shrugged, releasing her.
“Was your trip to London unsuccessful then?” She bit her lip and held her breath.
“Not so much that, but far more complicated than I anticipated.” He removed his hat and raked his hair with his fingers. “I believe I have finally untangled the records at last, but there is still so very much to be done.”
“You look so weary.”
“To be honest, I am bone weary and a bit discouraged. Mr. Darcy has touted my abilities to Colonel Fitzwilliam and now expectations are very high.”
“Mr. Darcy does not praise easily. He would not have said such things if he did not believe you up to his claims.”
“Whilst I have reminded myself of that, I am concerned that I will not be able to meet them. I am certain that the colonel expects the debts to be paid off quickly, with little privation on his part. It is hard to see how even in ten years the estate might be unencumbered. The expenses of the manor are extreme and I have a sense the colonel would prefer to maintain a lavish lifestyle. It will be difficult to find a way to rein in his expectations.” He rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger.
“We will find a way, somehow. I know Lady Catherine is difficult, but perhaps I can assist in persuading her, and thus him, of what must be done to retrench. With a bit of patience and persistence, it might not be as difficult as you expect.”
He embraced her again and kissed the top of her head. “You are a comfort to me, already a helpmate to me. I cannot tell you how glad I am to be home. Now you must tell me all about you. Your letters are always so pleasant and cheerful, but I know things could hardly have been so easy for you here.”
He offered her his arm and she slipped her hand in the crook of his elbow. How strong and steady he was. They ambled in the direction of the manor.
“Things have been as they usually have been. Mr. Collins is as he always is.” No that was a lie. But there was little Michaels could do to curb his temper, so best say nothing.
“Obsequious, pompous, overbearing and long winded?”
Mary tittered. “Those are your words, not mine.”
“Indeed you are far too kind to say such things. But when you describe the care to which he sees you follow every one of Lady Catherine’s instructions, it is not difficult to discern your true sentiments.”
“If you think those are my sentiments, then I have spoken too harshly, and I must moderate my words more carefully.” She swallowed hard. If he could see through her so easily, then Collins was not far behind. And that would be a serious problem.
“There is no sin in feeling deeply, my dear.”
Perhaps it was true, there was not. But that was how one got hurt.
“Mrs. Collins is faring well as she increases.”
Michaels shook his head, the corners of his lips turning up. “It is difficult to imagine a household of little Collinses running about. Perhaps it is a good thing he is the kind of man who will have little to do with his children.”
“It is not the nature of most men to be nurturing to the fragile and weak. Do not be so critical of him.”
He stopped and grasped her shoulders. “I know you are grateful for them providing you a place to stay so that you did not need to return to your father’s house whilst I have been away. Bu pray do not let your gratitude cloud the ridiculousness of the man.”
“It is not a bad thing to see the positive.”
“It can be, if it blinds you to other truths.”
They had had this conversation before. He still did not understand. Sometimes it was the only way to survive when nothing around one made sense.
His edges of his eyes creased as his brow furrowed. Upon some things, they would never agree. “So then, tell me of Lady Catherine.”
“I wish there were more good to tell. She no longer comes to call. There are some days she is driven past in the phaeton. Mrs. Jenkinson believes that the fresh air is good for her spirits. She waves as they drive past, but they no longer stop. It vexes Mr. Collins when that happens. He broods for hours, still wondering what he has done to offend his patroness.”
“You of course have explained—”
“That it is best that she does not stop to call. Yes, on numerous occasions. But the information does not suit him.”
“I do not like the way you said that. Does he have a temper?” He crossed his arms, his eyes narrowing in that dark look he had.
“Does not every man?” She looked aside.
“Mary! You well know that is not what I was asking.”
“His temper is nothing to my father’s. He might rail about and grow loud and cross, but nothing more. It is nothing I have not been able to bear.”
After living with Father so many years, there was a great deal she could bear. Far more than Michaels needed to understand.
“I do not like it. I am glad that you shall not have to stay there very much longer.”
“Mrs. Jenkinson says that Lady Catherine has some good days in which she is quite aware of what is going on around her and demonstrates good understanding. She will direct menus and even engage in conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam.”
“You mean try to tell him what to do?”
Mary shrugged. That was not the sort of thing Mr. Collins would appreciate her agreeing with. “The darker days are growing more common though, and very unpredictable. Those days she is angry, and I fear uncontrollable. I saw bruises along Mrs. Jenkinson’s face last week. She claimed that she was distracted and ran into the door frame. I am not inclined to believe that though.”
“You fear Lady Catherine is turning violent?”
“It is a possibility. I have heard the word ‘Bedlam’ mentioned more than once in reference to her. But I am disinclined to agree to something so drastic.”
“But would it not be for the best?”
“For her or for Colonel Fitzwilliam? Does it not seem cruel to you to have her taken from all she knows and holds dear—the only things which calm her—to a strange place with strange people and ways. Would that surely not make things worse than better? I admit I am no medical man, just a simple girl, but the reasoning seems quite sound to me.”
“Your reasoning always is. But if she is indeed a danger to others, and possibly to herself, then we must have some way to manage her.”
“I agree. I plan to call upon Mrs. Jenkinson and the housekeeper tomorrow. With their help, I hope to be able to offer some useful ideas soon.”
“Shall I convey that to Colonel Fitzwilliam when I meet with him? I think he will appreciate the assistance in managing his aunt.”
“If you wish. Just pray, let not Mr. Collins be informed. He is entirely uncomfortable with me meddling in the affairs of my betters. The notion that Lady Catherine must be managed agitates him greatly. Whilst I can bear it, Charlotte cannot. I fear her condition is fragile. She should not be taxed in any way that might be prevented.”
“How do you always seem to know what everyone around you needs? I may be steward of the land here, but my dear, I am quite certain you are steward to all the people.”
“Do you disapprove?” She pressed her lips hard and studied the toes of his boots.
“I approve very much.” He leaned down and kissed her.
Soon, very soon, they would be wed. She would be mistress over her own home, and all things would be well.
What to you think of Mr. Michaels now? Tell me in the comments.