Tabitha Takes the Air: A Mistaken Vignette

This deleted scene was originally posted on My Jane Austen Bookclub as part of the Mistaken blog tour. I’m sharing it here as well, for all Mistaken (and Tabitha Sinclair) fans to enjoy!

a-stroll-in-the-park

Saturday, 30 May 1812: London

“Ho, Dickie! Just the man!”

Colonel Fitzwilliam excused himself from the conversation with his companions and turned to look for his brother in the crowds. It could only be Ashby; nobody else ever hailed him thus. Finding him was not difficult, for he was sitting as proud as a peacock in his largest, shiniest curricle, wearing in a hat of absurd elevation, a coat of the most outlandish azure and a cloth-of-gold cravat. He was very likely visible from France. Rather more surprising than his typically gaudy attire was his choice of companion. Ashby did not often trouble himself to entertain Mrs. Sinclair.

“Well met, Brother,” Fitzwilliam called up as he reached the side of the vehicle. “And delightful to see you, Grandmother. ’Tis a fine day for taking the air.”

“There is not much air left to be had in this crush,” she replied, looking about at the throngs of passersby with a comical expression of slightly bemused contempt. “What on earth are all these people doing here?”

“’Tis the fashionable hour, madam. They are promenading.”

“That is one word for it, though not the one I would use.” She turned to her other grandson. “Is this why you insisted I come with you? To give you an excuse to parade yourself around like a great coxcomb in that ridiculous hat of yours?”

“No, indeed,” Ashby replied insouciantly. “I insisted you come because Father insisted that I insist. You are driving him to distraction, madam.”

“Am I?” she replied more cheerfully. “Oh good.”

Fitzwilliam chuckled when she winked at him. Resting a boot on the curricle’s first step, he leant an elbow on his knee and enquired, “For what is it that you believe me to be ‘just the man’ then, Ashby? Have you a war that needs fighting?”

“Not I, though my cousin seems to have foregone diplomacy in favour of hostilities, so you might need to take up arms in his defence.”

“Which cousin? And who is the enemy?”

“Darcy.”

“And the Gorgon of Kent,” Mrs. Sinclair added gleefully.

“Lady Catherine? I find that hard to believe. Darcy has ever been the most tolerant of her ways.”

“’Til now, mayhap,” Ashby replied. “But now her ladyship has discovered he does not mean to marry Anne, and it seems he did not take kindly to her attempts to scold him into compliance.”

“Darcy has never intended to marry Anne. What has brought the issue to the fore?” Fitzwilliam fancied he could guess. It was not two weeks since Darcy had confessed his heartbreak; it was too great a coincidence to think this was not connected in some way.

“My aunt has heard a report that he means to marry ‘a ghastly little upstart from Hertfordshire,’” Ashby informed him, veritably resonating with the joy of such delicious gossip.

Fitzwilliam licked his finger and rubbed at a smear on the rim of the carriage door. Elizabeth Bennet had much to answer for. “You know as well as I, Darcy would never condescend to marry anyone even remotely ghastly. Lady Catherine ought to know better.”

“She never has had much in the way of sense,” Mrs. Sinclair opined.

“Besides,” Ashby said, “by all accounts, Darcy’s defence of the woman has convinced her the report is true. Father says she is furious.”

“Oh, she is!” Mrs. Sinclair agreed. “I never saw her so angry, and I was there the day Sir Lewis gambled away her underclothes in a card game.”

“Well, that is very unfortunate,” Fitzwilliam said, “but I still do not see what you think qualifies me as ‘just the man.’ Surely you do not expect me to reason with her?”

“Of course not,” Ashby replied. “If she would not pay heed to Father, I hold no hope that she will listen to you or me. Since de Bourgh died, the only person to whom she has paid heed is Darcy, and I sincerely doubt, after this, he will be in any humour to speak to her again soon.”

“All the sense was evidently bestowed upon the Darcy side of the family,” Mrs. Sinclair opined. “No offence,” she added, reaching to pat Fitzwilliam’s cheek. “You inherited the Sinclair charm to make up for it.”

“Ha! Seems you were short-changed on all fronts, little brother,” Ashby scoffed. “At least I inherited the money.”

“I hope you have not spent it all on that preposterous coat. You might inherit the sharp end of my sword as well if you do not come to the point and tell me why I am ‘just the man.’”

Ashby flashed him a cocky smirk. “Who better to tell us what is really the matter with Darcy?” Both he and Mrs. Sinclair then fixed him with identical looks of expectation.

He lowered his foot to the ground and crossed his arms. “I have no idea what you mean.”

“You never were any good at lying, Dickie. It is obvious something is afoot, for I have never known Darcy as dull as he was at Father’s dinner two weeks ago. He barely spoke a word, even when Leighton began expostulating on the evils of Enclosure.”

Mrs. Sinclair nodded her agreement. “I must say, I recall him being far better company when he was younger. Most men grow out of petulance. He seems to have grown into it.”

“And I could have sworn he was half cut by the time he left.”

“I am surprised you noticed, Brother—you were cut to pieces by the third course,” Fitzwilliam replied. “Darcy had a headache that evening, nothing more.”

“You are fooling nobody. Do not think I have not heard about his scrape at Jackson’s. Darcy has not received serious injury in a fight since Nathaniel and he boxed each other off Pemberley’s veranda the summer before Mother died. If he has done so now, it is because he allowed it to happen.”

Fitzwilliam could not argue with that, so he did not.

Ashby gave a self-satisfied nod. “That and the way you are squirming in your regimentals lead me to suspect there is more truth to Lady Catherine’s claims than my father would believe.”

Curse his brother’s nose for scandal! “You must know I would not break Darcy’s confidence, even were I in it.”

“Oh, how excessively disappointing!” Mrs. Sinclair said abruptly and with the utmost disdain. “He is in love.”

“What makes you say that?”

“You would have told us were it aught else. Love is the only thing stupid enough to warrant your obstinacy in keeping it a secret—and the only thing dreadful enough to warrant his sulking.” She turned away from him to face the horses. “I have lost interest. Let us talk of something else.”

“Nay,” Ashby objected, “let us talk of this, now we have got to the crux of it at last. Is it this upstart from Hertfordshire with whom he is involved?”

“I did not say there was a woman involved.”

“Neither did you deny it. Is she truly the penniless niece of a tradesman? Are her connections truly that dire?”

“Well, if they are not now, they soon will be, for she will gain the devil of an aunt with the husband,” Mrs. Sinclair said huffily.

“What does it matter what her connections are?” Fitzwilliam replied impatiently. Darcy would never be required to contend with the ignominy of Elizabeth Bennet’s low connections, for Elizabeth Bennet did not want him!

“So there is a woman involved?”

He bit back an imprecation and feigned an easiness he did not feel. “What would you do about it if there were? You could never talk Darcy out of it.”

Ashby shrugged. “Probably not, but forewarned is forearmed. You of all people ought to know that. I would know if Darcy is about to make a fool of me.”

Fitzwilliam eyed his brother’s hat and privately challenged anyone to make a greater fool of him than he already had himself. “I am sorry to disappoint you, Brother, but I can say with authority that Darcy is not engaged to anybody and certainly not to a fortuneless young nobody from Hertfordshire.” He vividly recalled the wretchedness with which Darcy had admitted as much. “The most you must prepare for is Lady Catherine’s disappointment.”

Ashby snorted. “’Tis not I who must prepare for that. You are the last unattached male cousin—and Anne will need to marry somebody.”

“Over my dead body!” cried Mrs. Sinclair, forgetting her tiff and twisting in her seat to glare angrily at Ashby.

“Make certain not to repeat that in my father’s hearing,” he warned her, unperturbed by her displeasure. “It will only see Dickie down the aisle sooner.”

Mrs. Sinclair returned to facing forward in high dudgeon. “For heaven’s sake, take me home, boy, before I am asphyxiated by foppery.”

Fitzwilliam watched them roll off through the park with a resigned sigh. He hoped Darcy would be suitably grateful that the secret of his disappointed hopes had been preserved only by dint of him skewering himself squarely on Lady Catherine’s.

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