Colonel Fitzwilliam scores a few sneaky hits against an uncommonly preoccupied Darcy in this fencing excerpt from Mistaken.
Saturday, 25 April 1812: London
Colonel Fitzwilliam stepped back, tugging at his shirtsleeves where they stuck to his arms with perspiration. “Father wishes you to join his dinner a week on Thursday.” Darcy was engaged in wiping his brow on his sleeve; thus, much of his face was obscured. Fitzwilliam nonetheless observed his grimace. “Come now, it ought not to be too dire. Only a few sundries in attendance.”
The director called, “En garde,” and both men resumed their positions.
“Ashby will bring Lady Philippa, of course. And she will no doubt bring Lady Daphne.”
He lunged immediately, but Darcy parried, closing the distance between them. Fitzwilliam scrambled to retreat, but in lightening tempo, his cousin executed a sharp beat to his sword, feinted an attack in sixte, disengaged, and thrust in the opposite line.
The director called it. “Touche!”
“You will never guess who else will be there,” Fitzwilliam said, ignoring his aching sword arm and resuming his position.
“Wellington?” Darcy said flatly.
Again, Fitzwilliam lunged first, attempting to catch him off guard, but it was a weak attack. Darcy must have seen it also, judging by the speed and angle of his riposte.
He wondered, on occasion, why he bothered taking on Darcy at all. He brought his feet back under him and stood straight, pushing his damp hair from his face. “Better than that. Guess again.”
“A sensible guess, if you please.”
“I have no idea, Fitzwilliam, as well you know.”
“You only dissemble because you believe it will be some God-awful sparrow father is promoting.”
“Fear not!” he continued, grinning. “Who better to protect you from all young ladies seeking to distinguish themselves by breaking your heart?” He swished his sword about in front of him to demonstrate his readiness to defend his cousin.
The next assault began explosively as Darcy came at him with a fierce attack. He parried frantically and retreated a step—and another—before Darcy’s remise faltered, and he seized the opportunity. Parrying on the advance, he lunged forward, executing a glissade that saw his foil scrape down the length of Darcy’s blade and land a hit on his flank.
“Ah ha, a hit! Got you!”
Spinning away, Darcy raised his sword arm, circling it around once, twice, but on the third revolution, he slashed his sword downwards in an uncommon show of pique. The colonel grinned, gratified to have riled his usually imperturbable cousin.
“Perchance it is not protection from the ladies you require?” he said, raising his sword. “Mayhap you ought to accept one of Father’s suggestions after all—scratch that itch of yours.”
“I shall not dignify that with a response.”
“Better yet, take a leaf out of Bingley’s book. Choose a girl and fall in love!”
Fitzwilliam won the next assault with uncommon ease, his cousin’s usually flawless execution distinctly off kilter.
“Who is it, then?” Darcy enquired tersely, which was stranger still, for it was unlike him to be a poor sport.
“Who is what?”
“Your father’s secret dinner guest.”
“‘My grandmother, Mrs Sinclair.”
“I thought she was dead.”
“She very nearly is. She is eight-and-seventy!”
The next assault began with a rapid flurry of feints and retreats but ended abruptly when Darcy launched himself forward in a perfectly executed flèche, landing a hit on Fitzwilliam’s shoulder. Someone behind him applauded.
“A hit!” Darcy said with an infuriating smirk.
“Very flashy!” Fitzwilliam panted.
“Display is not your prerogative.”
“I should hope not! What a dull place Angelo’s would be were it not for the glut of pageantry.”
The clock struck twelve, and the director called time, signalling for a man to take their practice foils and another to bring their coats. They bid him good day and weaved their way through the crowded halls to the stables.
“What brings Mrs Sinclair to England?” Darcy enquired.
“One too many arguments with my cousin’s wife. She has forsaken Ireland forever and sworn never to return unless Niamh dies before she does. Only she arrived to discover her townhouse fallen into disrepair, so she has imposed herself on my father until it has been renovated. My father, who despises nothing in this world more than Sinclair women!” he ended, chuckling at his father’s vast displeasure.
Darcy did not join him in laughing. Looking at him, Fitzwilliam suspected he had not listened to a single word he said. “Not on top form today, Darcy?” he ventured.
It took a moment, but at length the words roused his cousin from his reverie. “By all means blame me if it will make losing more tolerable.”
Fitzwilliam wasted no more time attempting to extract his secrets. He was a man grown. He would speak up if there were aught serious troubling him.
“May I tell my father you will come?”
“I have a prior engagement that evening.”
“That is clearly a lie.”
Darcy smirked. “What of it?”
Fitzwilliam rolled his eyes, but after a little further persuasion, namely the inducement of watching Lord Matlock suffer the lamentable presence of his almost-dead mother-in-law, he extracted his cousin’s word that he would attend.