Welcome to More Agreeably Engaged today. Due to circumstances beyond her control, Dee from Donadee's Corner is unable to post her review, which will come at a later date, possibly outside the scheduled blog tour. I am happy to host C. P. Odom in her place and will share an excerpt from chapter fifteen. Be sure to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of the post.
In case you haven't read it, let's take a look at the blurb first!
“Love at first sight” is a laughable concept in the considered opinion of Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam and never occurs in real life—certainly not in the life of an experienced soldier. In fact, until he observes the smitten nature of his cousin Fitzwilliam Darcy, he doubts that fervent love truly exists. Marriage, after all, is a matter of money, social standing, and property.
But his cousin becomes besotted with Elizabeth Bennet, the lovely but penniless daughter of a Hertfordshire gentleman, and is determined to make her his wife. Unfortunately, emotions overwhelm his good judgment, and he botches an offer of marriage.
When the colonel attempts to untangle the mess, his own world becomes almost as chaotic when he makes the accidental acquaintance of Miss Jane Bennet, Elizabeth’s beloved elder sister. Can emotions previously deemed impossible truly seize such a level-headed person as himself? And can impassible obstacles deter a man of true determination?
This excerpt is from Chapter 15 of my new novel, Determination. Previously, Colonel Fitzwilliam has been in romantic pursuit of Jane Bennet and has now called on her at her home, Longbourn. During that visit, he and Jane walk into Meryton along with Darcy and Elizabeth. Jane and Colonel Fitzwilliam lag behind the other two and thus see Wickham and three other officers step out of a shop, and Wickham confronts Darcy in the street. This excerpt deals with the events of that confrontation. Janet Taylor and her son put together an image of that confrontation on the back cover of the novel.
My lord cardinal (Cardinal Richelieu), there is one fact which you seem to have entirely forgotten. God is a sure paymaster. He may not pay at the end of every week or month or year; but I charge you, remember that He pays in the end.
— Anne of Austria
Saturday, May 9, 1812
Despite their attempt to walk faster, it was a simple fact that Jane was not nearly as accomplished a walker as Elizabeth. And while Richard could easily have increased his own pace, he could only have done so by forging ahead by himself, a thought that never crossed his mind. So it was that Elizabeth and Darcy were still about thirty yards ahead when, as they reached the outskirts of Meryton, George Wickham stepped out of a shop in company with three other officers.
Richard was close enough to hear Wickham utter an exclamation of surprise as he caught sight of the two walkers who were just passing the shop, which caused both Elizabeth and Darcy to stop in the middle of the road and turn towards Wickham and his friends. Richard could see from the piping and the cut of their uniforms that all four red-coated men were lieutenants from the same regiment, undoubtedly the local militia of which he had heard. The regiment had spent the winter months in Meryton and were being sent to summer quarters on the southern coast.
But such mundane thoughts were inconsequential to the cold, savage fury that swept through him at the thought of finally being in the presence of the scoundrel who had nearly ruined the life of his dear Georgiana.
Because Wickham and his friends had stepped out in the road to face Darcy and Elizabeth, they did not see Richard and Jane, who were walking up the road behind the officers. But Richard was close enough to hear the familiar voice of Wickham. That sneering tone, which had merely been objectionable when he had known him at Pemberley as a young man, now served to increase his already smouldering anger to the seething point.
“Ho, Miss Elizabeth,” Wickham called loudly. “And Mr. Darcy walking out with her. Such a fine couple, eh, lads?”
A titter of amusement went through the other three, which must have encouraged Wickham, for he stepped closer.
“I am disappointed, Miss Bennet, to find that you have been enticed by the Darcy fortune and consequence. I thought better of you—I really did—even though you and your sisters have no dowry and your father’s estate is entailed to another. But who can account for desperation—right, lads?”
Richard saw Darcy step forward, his jaws clenched in rage, which caused Wickham’s companions to step forward also. This threatening manner caused Darcy to stop since it was clear that, if he confronted Wickham physically, the other three would likely come to his aid.
“I know you would love to thrash me, Darce old man,” Wickham said mockingly, “but all your fortune will not help you if you raise a hand against me and my friends. And, since you yourself have no friends hereabouts, I would recommend that you be on your way like a good little boy. After all, everyone here is well aware of all your offences against me.”
“Still the bully, I see,” Darcy said icily, and Richard was now close enough to see the contemptuous expression on Elizabeth’s face. It was clear that whatever lingering doubts she might have held regarding Wickham had long since been dispelled and in the most thorough fashion.
Darcy’s contemptuous comment had evidently infuriated Wickham; he put a hand on his sword and stepped towards Darcy, who showed no inclination to retreat but rather stepped in front of Elizabeth to shield her.
“I do not have to take that kind of abuse any longer…” Wickham began.
Richard was still ten yards behind Wickham and his fellows, but he knew he could delay no further; the situation gave every appearance of getting out of control very quickly. He knew he had to do something immediately.
“Well, if it is not Lieutenant George Wickham,” he boomed in a voice shaped by innumerable shouted commands to mounted troops at drill and on the battlefield. “I never expected to come upon you in this place—and wearing the King’s uniform. Will wonders never cease?”
The unexpected nature of the shout from behind them, as well as its strength, broke the concentration the four officers had trained on Darcy, and they whirled about instantly.
“Please remain here, Miss Bennet,” Richard said quietly but firmly before stepping towards the four officers, all of whom were staring at him in surprise and even alarm. That alarm was undoubtedly the reason their hands had gone to their sword hilts at his unexpected comment. They had reacted to the harsh overtones of the statement even if the words themselves had been quite benign. Beyond them, further up the road, Lydia and Kitty had turned around and now stared at the scene in open-mouthed wonder and confusion.
“Where the devil did you come from, Fitzwilliam?” Wickham blustered loudly, and Richard shook his head in mock disappointment.
“Now, that is not a very respectful comment, Lieutenant, especially when speaking to a superior officer,” Richard said easily as he came to a stop several yards away. His speech was calm and collected, but it ought to have woken alarms in the mind of the other men, had they the experience and wit to know they had just wandered into treacherous waters. “I have to wonder whether your training in military courtesy has been sadly neglected. Or perhaps you were just asleep when that topic was taught? But it is not at all what I would have expected from four officers such as yourselves—even if your regiment is of the militia.”
While the other men now were expectant and alert, if a bit confused, Richard appeared totally relaxed, standing with his arms behind his back. Despite his size, he hardly presented a formidable picture, especially since his comments had been spoken so mildly. Wickham ought to have known better from their years together at Pemberley, but his blood was up, and he had friends to stand with him.
Jane had stopped in the roadway as Richard had ordered her to do, responding instinctively in the manner of a maiden when her protector steps forward in her defence. She was now about ten yards from the group of red-coated men, but she clearly recognised something the militia officers had not perceived. Richard was not standing in an unconcerned manner—not at all. His hands were behind his back, true, but he had turned his sword belt around so that his sheathed sabre hung behind his leg and out of sight of the four who confronted him. One of his hands—huge hands, Jane now realised—held the scabbard of boiled leather while the other gripped the wire-wound hilt of his heavy cavalry weapon. She felt prickling along the back of her neck and down her back.
This is not a trivial affair—this is real. There is danger, real danger, in this situation, and I have never encountered anything like it. Does Mr. Wickham see that? Does he understand his peril? Certainly, Colonel Fitzwilliam is prepared for anything. I can see it in the tension of his shoulders even if these four fools cannot. He is prepared to draw that sword instantly if events force him to do so.
The thought brought her eyes back to the hilt of his sabre, and a single glance revealed its well-worn appearance.
That is not a dress sword, she realized with a jolt of wonder. Why did I not see it before? I have seen the swords these militia officers wear, shining and adorned with gold gilt about the hilt and scabbard. This sword is weathered and worn. Not dirty, certainly, but stained and well-used.
She had no idea from what those stains might originate, but she did know that some stains did not wash out. Her neck prickled again as her racing mind pictured Colonel Fitzwilliam holding that sabre in one of his huge hands on the drill field or on the field of battle. Instinctively, she knew he had seen life and death situations completely foreign to her experience, all with that fearsome weapon in his massive hand, and she was deathly afraid of any impending confrontation.
However, it did not seem that the colonel was worried. Except for the tension in his shoulders—visible to her but not to Wickham and his friends—she could see no other signs of concern on his part. Instead, he seemed composed and confident despite facing possible odds of four to one.
“In fact, young sirs,” Fitzwilliam continued in the same mild tones, “as I stand here, a colonel in the regular army of His Majesty, commanding a regiment of his dragoons, I am quite surprised to see four hands on the hilts of four swords, all belonging to four mere lieutenants of militia.”
A number of people from the village had gathered around the tableau in the street by this time, and several shopkeepers stood just outside the doors to their shops to see what was happening.
“I have to wonder,” Fitzwilliam said softly, the mildness gone from his voice as he bared his teeth in the rictus of a smile, “whether you four lads understand that, if even half an inch of sword shows out of one of your scabbards, I shall kill you, one and all, right in this street.” His words fell into the stillness with the impact of heavy weights hitting the ground from a great height.
“And I have to wonder whether you pups are aware that, by merely putting your hands on your sword hilts, you have all made yourselves guilty of the capital crimes of mutiny and threatening a superior officer, His Majesty’s realm now being in a state of war. I could have all four of you miserable excuses for King’s officers in front of a court before the afternoon is over and dangling from a rope before tomorrow’s sun is fully over the horizon.”
Not a sound could be heard in the street as all those around, including the four officers in front of the colonel, realized the truth of what they had just heard. No one moved a muscle, and Fitzwilliam’s grin grew wider though no less mirthless.
“Those of you who do not desire to be killed in this street had best assume a less threatening posture,” he said quietly.
The four officers had never seen anything as fast as the sudden blur of the colonel’s sword leaving his scabbard. Before they could take a breath, they found themselves facing their adversary, who stood easily with sabre in hand, balanced on the balls of his feet and ready for anything. The tip of his heavy, dull-gleaming sabre was downward, but the face of each of the four red-coated officers was pale as they saw death look them in the eye.
As if the drawing of that sabre had restored their minds to consciousness, all four men immediately took their hands off the hilts of their dress swords. Jane was not surprised to see that all of those swords, even Wickham’s, were decorated much more lavishly than Colonel Fitzwilliam’s, but not one of them wanted to pit their blades against that of the frightening figure before them.
“Ah, much better but still not adequate, lads,” Fitzwilliam said coldly. “The custom we have in the King’s service is that junior officers are at the position of attention when in the presence of a superior officer.”
The other three officers instantly braced to attention, followed somewhat belatedly by Wickham.
“Now that the formalities are complete, Lieutenant Wickham,” Fitzwilliam continued, his voice mild again, “perhaps you could tell me why I just heard a lieutenant of His Majesty’s militia foully slander my cousin Darcy in public—preparatory, it seemed to me, to what looked suspiciously like the intent of administering a beating to said cousin?”
Wickham said nothing, but his eyes were dark pools of hate as he stared at Fitzwilliam.
“Nothing to say, eh? I suppose that is not too surprising since I feel certain no one here is aware that most everything you have told them about my cousin has been a complete and absolute fabrication—in short, Wickham, a series of outright, bald-faced lies.”
There was a rustle and whispering among the onlookers at this statement.
“These ordinary people are probably not aware that you were given a legacy of a full thousand pounds upon the death of old Mr. Darcy, the father of my slandered cousin.”
A spate of whispering broke out but was instantly hushed as Colonel Fitzwilliam continued. “Nor, I am sure, are they aware that the present Mr. Darcy made a bargain in which he gave you three thousand pounds in return for your relinquishing any claim to a living in the church. I daresay my cousin Darcy should have known better, but he was obviously indulging more in wishful thinking than cold logic.”
These statements, delivered in a matter-of-fact voice that carried to the back of the now-larger crowd, brought about renewed whispering, and Wickham’s expression was that of a trapped man.
“Four thousand pounds, Wickham. Many of these people will not see that much money in their whole lives, and you had it in your hands before you were four and twenty—put into your hands by the man you have foully slandered in this neighbourhood. Of course, that figure does not include the several times Darcy paid off the debts you left behind. And now, I daresay, you have none of that fortune left.”
Fitzwilliam looked around at the crowd, and he could see the suspicious looks being directed towards Wickham by several of the shopkeepers. Then he looked back at the older of Wickham’s three companions.
“You appear to be the senior, Lieutenant. What is your name?”
“Well, Lieutenant Denny, then be aware of this. I have known George Wickham since I was twelve years old, and I have personal knowledge that what I say is true. My parents, the Earl and Countess of Matlock, are also aware of it. If, as I suspect, Lieutenant Wickham owes money to the officers of the regiment, might you have any idea how he intends to pay off those debts?”
The glance Denny gave Wickham had little of friendship in it.
“No, sir, I do not know. And yes, sir, he does have a number of debts of honour.”
“Gambling debts. Well, George never was as good at any of the games of chance as he thought he was. But now, I believe you three have things you should be doing—such as taking a fellow officer before your colonel, perhaps? In fact, I shall make that an order. Do you understand me, Lieutenant Denny?”
“Yes, sir,” Denny said, beads of sweat now visible on his brow.
“And I would advise you to take care as you escort him to Colonel Forster, for I give you fair warning that George Wickham is quite accomplished at running out on debts. I hope that also is clear, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, sir. Completely clear.”
“Very good. Well, that seems to be all. That being so, you gentlemen—if I may use the term loosely—are dismissed to your duties.”
Wickham was not close to being quick enough to flee. He was still gaping at Fitzwilliam when two of his erstwhile friends had him by the elbow and were urging him down the street, followed by Denny. Jeers and catcalls sounded behind him, drowning out his sudden protests at the manner in which he was forcibly marched on his way.
Lydia and Kitty appeared not to know what to do at first, standing stock still, their heads swivelling back and forth between Colonel Fitzwilliam and their former favourite, who had just taken a drastic fall from grace. Finally, after whispering together for a moment, both girls ran up the street to catch up with the red-coated quartet.
Jane was not nearly as bewildered, and she now noted several shopkeepers exiting their shops with notes and receipts in hand as they made haste to catch up with the men surrounding Wickham.
Fitzwilliam turned back towards Jane, and he looked quite satisfied as he did some kind of complicated pirouette with his sword before smoothly sliding it into his sheath, a movement so rapid and fluid that Jane knew it must be the result of thousands of repetitions.
“Well, that was certainly exciting,” Darcy drawled wryly as he and Elizabeth joined his cousin and the four continued their interrupted walk.
“Yes, it was,” the colonel said, and Jane was surprised at the harshness in his voice. “And it need not have happened if you had not become so distant and reserved. You should have exposed Wickham the first time you met him here in Hertfordshire. Then he could not have cheated these shopkeepers and his fellow officers. And that does not even take into account the probability that he has been dallying with the daughters of these simple folk.”
Darcy stiffened at Fitzwilliam’s cold, slicing voice, his anger plain to see. “I was trying to protect Georgiana—”
“I never mentioned Georgiana when I related my story to Miss Elizabeth and her aunt, so there is no reason you could not have done similarly.”
Elizabeth’s eyes were on Darcy now, and Jane could read the question in them.
“Tell her, Darce,” Fitzwilliam said forcefully. “If she is worth marrying, she has to be worth trusting with the Darcy family secrets. But it is best that you explain yourself. I have no idea what transpired while I was gone these five years, but the Darcy I grew up with never would have allowed things to get so bad. I suspect Miss Elizabeth would find that man much easier to understand.”
Darcy looked at his cousin angrily for a moment, but as Fitzwilliam watched his cousin’s anger visibly fade, his own stern visage softened accordingly. But when Darcy nodded in agreement and turned towards Elizabeth, he stopped him with an upraised hand.
“That subject should be discussed later and more privately, especially since Miss Elizabeth’s sisters appear to have decided to rejoin us.”
Again, Darcy nodded in agreement as the two girls came running up to them and skidded to a stop.
“Colonel Fitzwilliam, Colonel Fitzwilliam,” Kitty burst out, panting breathless either from bewilderment or exercise. “What just happened?”
“Why are Mr. Wickham’s friends taking him away like that?” Lydia said, glancing up the street as the quartet of militia officers turned aside from the road towards their encampment. “They did not look very friendly when we ran up to them. And they would not even stop to talk though Mr. Wickham was pleading with them to let him go.”
“What you just observed, my dear ladies,” Fitzwilliam said, “is justice being done.”
“Justice?” Lydia said in protest. “But Mr. Wickham—”
“—is going to get what he deserves,” Jane said firmly. “You saw all those shopkeepers hurrying after the officers, did you not?”
“Well, yes, but why does that matter?” Lydia cried.
“Because they just learned that your Mr. Wickham is never going to pay what he owes them. He has no money to do so, and he leaves debts wherever he goes. I watched Mr. Wickham as Colonel Fitzwilliam said as much, and I recognised the truth of what he said. In fact, I have been castigating myself for being so gullible as to be taken in by Mr. Wickham’s well-spoken and amiable nature. And Mr. Darcy could also give testimony to that, because the colonel says his cousin has assumed Mr. Wickham’s debts several times previously.”
“And I have just decided that I shall do so one more time,” Darcy interrupted harshly. “My cousin Fitzwilliam is right: this is my fault because I did not make Wickham’s true nature known to everyone, and I cannot allow these tradesmen to suffer because I did not do what was right.”
“And Colonel Fitzwilliam revealed that Mr. Wickham is not only a gamester but never had any intention of making good his losses to his fellow officers,” Jane said, looking sternly at both Lydia and Kitty.
“That is the primary reason those officers are taking Wickham to their colonel,” Fitzwilliam said coldly. “An officer’s honour is highly important to him even though he be only a lieutenant in a militia regiment rather than being in the regulars like me. That is why gambling debts are referred to as ‘debts of honour’ since an officer is honour-bound to repay them. But Wickham has no money, and I daresay he was exceedingly anxious to be away from this country town. He always has an instinct when his string is about to run out. Doubtless he would have found it necessary to flee the regiment at some point. This encounter today just accelerated that moment.”
From the looks on her younger sisters’ faces, Jane had her doubts that they truly comprehended much of these explanations. But she also saw their expressions change to craftiness, and she did not need to read their mind to know they had just realized that they possessed pearls of gossip they could relate to all their friends. Without even a goodbye, both girls turned and scurried off up the street.
“I suppose I should try to stop those two,” Elizabeth said in mortification, “but I am feeling so drained that I simply cannot summon the willpower.”
She looked at Fitzwilliam with an indecipherable expression. “I thought I was going to see blood in the street just now, Colonel. I always looked at those swords the militia officers wore as simply an adornment, somewhat like a woman’s necklace.”
“My cousin can be somewhat formidable,” Darcy said with obvious fondness. “He usually manages to maintain a semblance of politeness and good manners to keep it concealed, but he has lived much of his life in a different world than the three of us.”
“Look,” Elizabeth exclaimed in amusement. “You have made him flush in embarrassment, Mr. Darcy.”
Only then did she notice that Darcy had rather tentatively offered his arm preparatory to continuing their walk up the street. She looked at him for only a moment and then took it, tucking her hand around his forearm.
As they walked slowly away rather stiffly, Jane, her violet eyes shining, said softly, “Bravo, sir.”
Fitzwilliam only shrugged then offered his own arm before they began to follow Darcy and Elizabeth.
“Well, someone had to do something,” he said, a trifle apologetically.
Jane nodded in agreement. But you stepped forward to do that something, she thought, while everyone else just stood about looking at what was happening without any idea what to do. I certainly had no idea things like this could happen, and I had no more clue than everyone else about what to do. Colonel Fitzwilliam may be fair spoken, but he is a man used to action and getting things done.
This led to another, more disturbing thought. And he has said he intends to make me his wife. After witnessing what just transpired, I find myself wondering how I could possibly doubt that he will fail in his intent—Mr. Bingley or no.
With these thoughts in mind and after walking past several shops, Jane shook her head firmly. “I cannot allow you to dismiss what you did so casually. It was like nothing I have ever witnessed before, and I suddenly understood how sheltered my life has been. That was a real situation, completely outside my experience. As Lizzy said: men could have died.”
“Possibly, I suppose, but I hope I am not indulging in false modesty when I say that it was not likely. None of those four, especially Wickham, had the stomach for a fight with someone who knew what he was about. I have been in dangerous situations before, unlike any of those four, and I was confident all of them would back away if I pushed hard.”
Jane looked at him a long moment. “I hope you will not take this amiss, Colonel, because it is not meant as a criticism. It is a mere statement of fact when I say you are totally unlike anyone I have known before.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam’s teeth gleamed as he looked down at her cheerfully. “No offence taken, Miss Bennet. Such an assessment bodes well for the ultimate success of my endeavours, I believe.”
Jane felt her cheeks warm at again hearing this…this rather unsettling man…so forthrightly state his desires. She cast about desperately for a way to change the subject.
“Another thing I found fascinating,” she finally said, a bit lamely, “is the way your speech seemed to change so easily. At one moment, you were taunting those men in gentlemanly tones, and then the next your speech sounded more like it came from the…the…”
“From the docks?” Fitzwilliam asked cheerfully.
“Well, I have no way of knowing, really, but it seems likely.”
“I command a regiment that was originally raised in Wales, but we have added a mixture of odds and ends from just about everywhere over the years. When things get a bit exciting, I sometimes talk like old Sergeant Jones, the grizzled veteran who first taught a very, very young Lieutenant Richard Fitzwilliam how to be a soldier.”
“I see,” Jane said, smiling slightly as she glanced over at the sturdy man with the sun-darkened face and the gleaming teeth. Then her eyes swung back to Darcy and Elizabeth walking rather slowly ahead of them, and her smile grew warmer. It certainly seemed as if Darcy and Elizabeth were talking more easily. She certainly hoped so because she thought he could make her sister happy if Lizzy would just give him a chance.
But, as concerning as Lizzy’s situation was, Jane’s thoughts kept returning to the tension-packed encounter just concluded. As she had commented, the danger had seemed paramount at the time, but she was not remembering the danger right now as much as some odd little snippets about Fitzwilliam himself. For example, she had been shocked at the size of his wrists when he put his hands behind his back, one hand on his sword and the other on his scabbard. The curl of his arms had pulled the cuffs of his uniform jacket upward revealing wrists of a more impressive thickness than she had ever before seen on a man, even the blacksmith in Meryton. And then she had realized that his hands had been equally large with fingers thick and wide. She had already seen how his hand could swallow her own when he raised it to his lips previously, but seeing those fingers curl around the hilt of his sword had brought home the power in those hands.
And in his arms and shoulders also. She had previously thought his uniform coat had been badly tailored, but seeing the fabric strain as he jerked his sword from the scabbard had shown her to be in error. His uniform had been tailored to allow the necessary freedom of his shoulders, chest, and arms. She was certain she had never seen a gentleman with shoulders like that. From their first meeting, she had recognised he was a much wider man than his cousin was, but she had not realized the true extent of the difference until she had seen him uncoil and set himself, ready to move if Wickham or his friends had drawn their swords.
She remembered the slender hands and fingers of Mr. Bingley, which were, in her experience, the rule for most gentlemen. She supposed she ought to feel disdain that Colonel Fitzwilliam’s wrists and arms were more like those of a farmer or labourer than of a gentleman, but she felt nothing of the kind. She actually felt a thrill at the thought of his large hand holding her own on the dance floor. And as for the thought of those strong fingers on her waist…or elsewhere…
An exciting tingle ran up and then down her spine, and Jane carefully looked away at the shop windows as they walked, hoping she was thus able to hide the blush she felt warming her cheeks.
What did you think of this encounter? It should have made those officers know it was no trivial affair! Several readers have said this was one of their favorite scenes when Colin was posting this story at Hyacinth Gardens. It is still a favorite scene!
What did you think of this encounter? It should have made those officers know it was no trivial affair! Several readers have said this was one of their favorite scenes when Colin was posting this story at Hyacinth Gardens. It is still a favorite scene!
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Blog Tour Schedule
01/18 Babblings of a Bookworm
01/19 So little time…
01/20 Diary of an Eccentric
01/21 My Vices and Weaknesses
01/22 Austenesque Reviews
01/26 Donadee’s Corner
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