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Joined: 25-April 08
Geoffrey’s return home on Thursday night—that is, on Friday morning—had been late and tense. Despite the hour, his exhaustion, and the alcohol he had taken part in with Francis, sleep had eluded him. He'd found himself awake at dawn, wondering whether he had achieved success.
He had left as early as he could bear to be seen out of doors, walking casually near where Francis’s cousin had told him the duel was to be. It was empty. No shouting, no people, no gunshot, no blood. He breathed a sigh of relief and returned home to work on his translations.
The quiet began to affect his work, however, and once a decent hour had arrived, the quiet began to affect him, and he decided that he rather deserved to be congratulated for his activities of the previous night. No one but himself knew enough to offer those congratulations, but surely Viola would wish to know that disaster had been averted.
Thus, the hour of morning calls began with Mr. Stapleton standing, properly dressed but looking a bit off about the face, at the door to Mrs. Greystone’s residence.
Viola had left Lady Louth's in a much better state than the one in which she had arrived there. The tea had been very restorative as had been the company and Viola had been able to see the humorous side to what had happened in the park. Up until Lord Emerson had challenged Mr. Hopkins-Lawrence which wasn't very humorous at all.
Of course, the carriage ride home had brought with it the recollection that she had to explain the situation to her aunt. Being Viola, she did not delay the inevitable and sought out Mrs. Greystone as soon as she returned home. She took it very well and did not blame her niece for what had happened but did impress on her the damage this might do to her reputation. It was not a pleasant interview but both were sufficiently sensible to say what needed to be said.
Viola woke the following morning and immediately her heart sank as soon as she remembered what had happened. This was just the sort of potential scandal that could really damage Olivia's debut. Not to mention Miss Pritchard's and Miss Hampton's. She looked out of the window. Good Friday. A day of recollection, thought and prayer, not a day of fighting and bloodshed, though in an ironic way it was appropriate. She hoped they would blast each other to pieces. At least today they might have a chance of resurrection... Was that blasphemous? She dressed, ate breakfast alone and decided to spend the rest of the morning concentrating on music practice.
She had been playing the pianoforte an hour (mainly Beethoven, it had to be said- he suited her mood) when the servant announced that Mr. Stapleton was below. Would she see him?
Viola sighed and closed the instrument. Yes, of course she would. Perhaps he could tell her what had happened. She wasn't sure she particularly wanted to know. She had rarely felt so reluctant to see him, but then again, she did not really want to see anybody. It was not fair on him- he had behaved so kindly to her...
She purposefully did not send a message to her aunt that she had a visitor, and received her friend in the normal sitting room with the door left ajar.
"Lady Viola," Geoffrey said, smiling in greeting. "I hope I haven't interrupted anything?" It was a relief to see her, and to remember one of the primary reasons he'd had quite such an active night. Would he have done all of that if she wasn't mixed in with it?
"Interrupted anything?" she repeated as she waved him into a chair and sat down herself, feeling slightly out of breath from the nerves she had felt (and tried to suppress) when she had heard he was below. "Nothing important, you may be sure. I was only practising for the soiree."
They both sat. Viola wanted to ask but did not dare to because she did not want to know the result of the morning's activities. Then she pulled herself together and after a beat of silence said quietly, her eyes on him, "Well, Mr. Stapleton? I think we both know why you do me the honour of calling today."
That seemed unwontedly formal. And unwontedly direct, though the direction fit better than the formality. "I am always pleased to call on you," he pointed out, lest she think he needed a specific reason to do so. He'd have gotten to the point shortly himself, but this haste suggested a great deal less friendship than he thought they had.
"If the captain requires a report, it is that disaster has been averted: one ship has been ushered into the riverhead while the other has passed the port." The words were formal, but the context made them decidedly less so. It may have been a mild rebuke, but it was a fond one. "They have, as it were, passed in the night."
Viola had not been truly aware of just how tense she had been until she heard that the duel had not taken place, couched in Mr. Stapleton's most oblique metaphors which she nevertheless understood. It had almost been as if she had been holding her breath ever since she had left the park. She visibly sagged in her chair and closed her eyes for a moment. She pressed a hand to her forehead and felt the nervous fluttering in her stomach increase as it often did, paradoxically after the event of which she was nervous. After a moment of silence she spoke softly and with her eyes still closed.
"I am so glad." How worried she had been that she might be indirectly responsible for an illegal duel or, worse still, somebody's injury or death.
She opened her eyes and tried to smile. "So, neither of them perished at sword point then? How disappointing." But she could not keep up levity in the face of such overwhelming relief and she repeated again, "I'm so glad." And then, "I'm so sorry," though she was not quite sure what she was apologising for or to whom.
Geoffrey watched and listened to her reaction carefully, recording it for possible future need. Particularly interesting was how she continually reversed herself in words. "No, no perishing at all. Although I believe it was meant to be pistols, in fact. Less romantic, I suppose. One wonders why they chose it. Y ou do know it would've been their own fault?"
She smiled at him warmly though still rather tremulously. His familiar calm and irony was giving her the odd desire to start crying. Which she obviously was not going to do. Cry over Lord Emerson and Mr. H-L not shooting each other? How absurd!
She did not reply for a moment, thinking about whether she was responsible or not. Eventually she replied, "Of course it was not my fault that they reacted in the way they did, but I was there and they would not have had such a conversation or come to blows without me, so in some way I certainly do feel responsible."
She did not add that perhaps she could have dealt with the situation better, not played into Lord Emerson's hands by reacting and letting her temper get the better of her. Her almost loss of control was not something she really wanted to discuss with anyone at this stage.
"No one but they," he reiterated. "If a nurse and a tutor fight over the raising of a child, is it the child's fault? Not, of course, that you are in any way a child." He shrugged. "No one could possibly blame you for it but yourself. But we shall do our best to make certain nothing continues to happen. The Marquess has indicated that he should like to apologize to you directly, and Mr. Hopkins-Lawrence will be most happy to drop the duel once he does so. I believe Mr. Hopkins-Lawrence was not particularly enthusiastic about the duel to begin."
Viola's lips twitched. "I don't imagine Mr. Hopkins-Lawrence would be keen to fight a duel with Lord Emerson. Much as it pains me to admit it, I suspect the Marquess would be a good shot."
She paused and then added more calmly, "I am glad that the duel is unlikely to happen and I should be very happy to hear any apology Lord Emerson has to say, though I confess I am not sure he is capable of it! I should simply like to see this affair put behind us as quickly as possible. And if possible I should prefer to never meet with the participants ever again- yourself excepted, of course- but that cannot happen, not with the ball taking place on Sunday." Then she looked at him more archly, "But tell me, how does Mr. Stapleton know so much about Lord Emerson and Mr. Hopkins-Lawrence's intentions?"
"I am pleased to be excepted from that rule," Geoffrey said gravely. "As for the other, Mr. Stapleton has clearly been consulting a fortune teller, as it cannot in any way be that he has been consulting the parties involved and, ah, persuading, them to postpone their bout." He smiled in satisfaction, the exhaustion of the night fading in the memory of his triumph.
"Did you really?" she cried eagerly. "That was beyond the call of duty. But," she added, leaning forward and looking at him sincerely, "I am very glad you did. It is a great relief to me and I am truly grateful."
She smiled at him and tried to convey in her expression just how grateful she was. Her discomfort about the duel was receding, though her irritation with its participants was undiminished. It was just like Geoffrey to quietly do what was necessary! Or was it? She had never thought about it before.
"O! I am caught out!" Geoff said with a grin. "And here I thought I was being so very underhanded. I am delighted to have pleased you so. Does your gratitude extend so far as all that? For we could easily arrange to prevent men from fighting over you for the rest of your days." His tone was overly sincere; his eyes excessively wide. Proposing to Viola had become quite the habit.
Viola's heart, which had missed Geoffrey and which had not been proposed to in three years (ignoring the military friend of her brother who had tried to persuade her to elope with him last year), contracted ever so slightly. For a brief moment she couldn't help meeting his smile with a fond cross between wistfulness and delight and then she fell back into the old routine.
Her eyes went as wide as his and her hand went to her breast. "Oh, Mr. Stapleton, I never knew you cared! You must give me a moment to compose myself." She took all of two seconds to compose herself, enjoying her little burst of acting. "Oh, Sir, you are so kind but I can never give up my duty towards my dear novices. A nun's life for me." She pressed her hands together as if in prayer and surveyed him seriously and piously, before looking away and laughing a little, glancing up at him out of the corner of her eyes.
Ridiculous refusals for ridiculous proposals. It had always been the way between them.
For a brief, horrifying moment, he thought she'd quite forgotten their little game--or that he'd misremembered it. Before he could gather himself to retract the offer, however, she joined right in.
"Ah, well, it was worth a try," he said with a smile. "But far be it from me to compete with holy orders. Speaking of novices, is Lady Olivia expected to arrive soon?"
"Oh yes," replied Viola, quite glad to return to neutral territory. "All being well she should arrive on Saturday." She smiled wryly. "Just in time for the Emerson Ball. I wish there was a way we might not attend but I suppose it would look odder if we don't attend than if we do. It should be easy enough to avoid the host!"
She spoke in such a tone that left it ambiguous as to whether she was joking or not. After all, she did want to avoid the host and it might well be easy to avoid him in a crowd. On the other hand, he was the host!
"Hm, yes. If I recall the family's decorating habits, there should be any number of floral arrangements to duck behind. And of course there is always the handkerchief-dropping trick..." He shook his head. "The man must have gone suddenly mad. I have been over and over it, trying to find a better explanation." An explanation other than the one he now rather feared was the case--and if love it was, it was an odd type of love indeed. "But I am glad you'll go--if everything looks all right, perhaps they will become all right. I hope you will not think me too bad an influence on Lady Olivia? I would appreciate an introduction. As well as a dance with you, of course."
Madness seemed a perfectly acceptable reason to Viola. If it had ever occurred to her that Lord Emerson had been as much attracted to her as she had been to him then she had dismissed it so quickly it did not register on her consciousness. It was not a line of enquiry she even wanted to consider existed.
“I hope so too,” she agreed, then continued, “I fear you will be a terribly bad influence on her but I dare say I cannot avoid your meeting and I shall make sure it takes place in enough time for you to ask her to dance. As for myself... well, assuming I am not called upon to spend the whole evening hiding behind pillars and disguising myself with floral decorations, I should be most happy.” She smiled at him.
"I am most obliged," he said gravely. "We will all hope for your happiness--the ball would be damaged beyond repair were Lady Viola not to be seen at it."
Viola only smiled and he took his leave soon afterwards, leaving her feeling more relieved and comfortable than she had been for days.