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Christmas Eve Mood Fic: Angry


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It's time for my Christmas tradition of posting fics for Tarotgal's Mood Challenge, though of course I hope other people besides her enjoy it too.

Lord Patrick Freeman was, in many respects, a perfect gentleman. He was polite to everyone, didn’t do anything to excess, was careful with his money, and while he probably held a few opinions that went against the grain, he kept them to himself. In short, he was highly unlikely to cause a scandal, and when it came time to gossip about the antics of fellow aristocrats, there wasn’t much to discuss. Indeed, there were only three topics of conversation should his name come up. He gave a fantastic masquerade ball every year; he was deeply in love with his new wife, Eleanor; and it seemed he had been cursed by a sensitive nose, for he had never managed to learn the trick of inhaling snuff and claimed he couldn’t powder his hair because the dust made him sneeze. As there wasn’t much fun to be had in picking apart these traits, anyone talking about him merely observed how sweet his relationship with his wife was and left it at that.

A few people would sometimes suggest that Patrick’s outward personality could mask something more sinister, someone who was cruel when the doors were closed. This was dismissed immediately, for his servants all seemed to care for him very much and his wife seemed radiantly happy. It seemed unlikely that all of them were faking it. So the person who made the suggestion would be set straight, and the conversation would turn to other matters.

Should Patrick himself have heard that suggestion, he would have been horrified. He cared deeply about his reputation and the family name, and even the slightest hint that he was faking it upset him. Fortunately, no one was stupid enough to say anything to his face, and so he was able to move through society without incident, Eleanor on his arm and pleasant words always on his lips.

The uninformed gossips were right about one thing, however. While Patrick really was the kind man he appeared to be, there was a hidden side of him that very rarely came out. It took a lot to bring it to the surface, but when it came…God help anyone who got in its way.

Patrick and Eleanor had married in April. That November, Patrick decided that the time was right to throw his annual masquerade, and encouraged his wife to participate in the planning. It was her idea that the color scheme be softer colors, “to have a bit of Spring in the midst of winter”, which led Patrick to decide that the pseudonyms for the evening would relate to flowers, and to ask the cook to prepare foods that would be fitting for a winter gathering but also wouldn’t be out of place in Spring. All the invitees agreed it was a marvelous idea, and nearly everyone RSVP’d that they would be coming on the appointed day.

On the night of the masquerade, Patrick took one last look at himself in the mirror (his alias for the night was Lord Primrose, and his outfit was an appropriate sunny yellow) before crossing the hall to Eleanor’s room and knocking on the door. “Are you ready, Lady Campion?”

“Nearly!” Eleanor answered through the door, “We’re just trying to get the pleats of the skirt to lie right!”

Patrick chuckled and leaned against the doorframe, waiting for her to finish. There was no rush, after all; he liked to wait until more guests had arrived before making his entrance. That way, no one would know until the end of the evening which one he was. It added to the fun of the event, in his opinion.

At last, the door opened, and Eleanor exited. She was gorgeous, as expected, in a pink dress with the skirts cut to resemble the petals of the campion flower. Her mask was a slightly deeper shade of pink and bore similar cuts at the edges. Patrick bowed to her and kissed her hand. “You look stunning, my love. No wonder you kept me from seeing this dress until tonight.”

Eleanor smiled back. “I’m glad you approve. Can I expect at least one dance with you tonight?”

“Naturally,” Patrick answered, “Though only one or two. If I take too many, people might figure out who I am far too early.”

“Pity,” Eleanor said, though there was a sparkle in her eye, “If I was the jealous type, I might be offended.”

Patrick ran a finger across the back of her neck, gratified when she quivered slightly at the touch. “We can’t have that, can we? I assure you, I’ll make it up to you once all the guests have gone.”

“Be careful, Patrick,” Eleanor said, turning to face him and running a finger down his cheek, “You might make me more interested in that than this masquerade.”

“My apologies,” Patrick said, offering her his arm, “Shall we retire to the library and have a glass of wine while we wait for our guests to arrive? It would certainly be more pleasant than just fidgeting in our rooms.”

Eleanor took his arm, fluttering her fan. “Lead the way, Lord Primrose.”

For the first three hours of the ball, all was well. Eleanor joined the ball after about thirty people had showed up, and Patrick followed her fifteen minutes later. He signed her dance card twice, once for a dance in the middle of the festivities, and the very last dance before the unmasking, which seemed appropriate. After that, he regretfully kept his distance, not wanting to give the game away. Still, there was good food and interesting conversations to be had, so it wasn’t as if being kept from his wife was a dreadful inconvenience. He did occasionally try to spot her in the crowd, though, just to make sure she was having a good time. She’d attended before as a guest, of course, but now she was the lady of the house. Her opinion carried a little more weight this time around.

For his part, Patrick was having a fine time. The music was light and suited the theme, the food was delicious, and he always enjoyed looking at his guests, admiring the costumes and trying to figure out who was who. Even the fact that some of the guests had powdered their hair didn’t bother him; the mask pinched his nose enough to both disguise his voice and make it harder to inhale irritants. As long as he didn’t get too close, there wouldn’t be a problem. Besides, if he should inhale a bit too much and start sneezing, he could always pretend he was recovering from a cold. Perhaps not everyone would believe it, but it was a plausible excuse.

It was shortly after the clock struck nine that everything went wrong. Patrick had just finished his dance with the charming Lady Crocus and was crossing to the refreshment table to get a drink. As he did so, he glanced about the ballroom, looking for Eleanor. She was nowhere to be seen. Assuming he’d missed her, he got his drink and took up position near the table, looking around more carefully. Again, there was no sign of her. Growing concerned, Patrick moved to the opposite side of the ballroom and looked again, wondering if he needed to look from a different angle. But no, she didn’t appear to be anywhere in the ballroom. Since it was highly unlikely that she’d have gone outside to get some fresh air (the weather was far too cold for that, no matter how hot it got in the ballroom), she must have gone to another room in the house. Why she would do that was another question, as the ballroom was the only room open to guests that evening. Patrick discreetly left the ballroom in search of her, his heart thudding nervously. Was she feeling unwell? Was she looking after a guest that was unwell? Or was something more troubling going on?

He got his answer when he stepped into the main hall and caught a glimpse of a dim light in the crack under the door of the card room. Crossing over to it in three strides, Patrick knocked carefully on the door. “Eleanor?” he said softly, “Is that you?”

After a short silence, the door opened, and Patrick’s heart dropped into his stomach. Eleanor’s mask was off, the decorations in her hair had been removed, and her face was streaked with tears. Patrick immediately stepped into the room, shutting the door behind him. “What’s happened?”

Eleanor held up her hand, taking a few deep, shuddering breaths. Patrick guided her to a chair and sat beside her, holding her hand gently and waiting for her to compose herself enough to speak. Finally, with another shaky breath and a hard swipe at her eyes, she told him.

“I…I was dancing with a gentleman. I’m not sure who he really is; he signed my card as Lord Foxglove and was wearing bright red. While we were dancing, he looked around and complimented the ball. ‘I always look forward to Lord Freeman’s parties’, he’d said, ‘They’re so creative’. Pleased, I agreed, and threw in a compliment about you personally. I assumed he would agree, add in another compliment, and then move on to another topic. But he nodded, and then said…” she wiped her eyes again and tensed her body, as if hoping that would help keep her voice steady, “He said, ‘It’s a pity about his wife, though.’”

Patrick’s eyes widened in shock, and he clasped Eleanor’s hand a little tighter. “Are you quite sure? Is there any possibility that you could have misinterpreted what he said?”

“I’m afraid not,” Eleanor said, wiping at her eyes again as a fresh wave of tears came pouring down, “I said ‘What do you mean?’, hoping I’d misheard, and he responded with ‘Don’t misunderstand, Lady Freeman is pretty enough, and she seems to make Lord Freeman happy, but I do wish she’d learn her place.’ I know I should have changed the subject, but I was so stunned I wasn’t sure what to do. I said ‘Learn her place?’ faintly, and he said ‘Of course! A woman should not be venturing her opinions about matters of war or politics, yet she seems more than happy to speak her mind regardless of the company she finds herself in. All well and good among her lady friends, or perhaps a salon, but not at a dinner party, especially when she’s not the hostess, and certainly not in casual conversation. But then, I hear her mother came from a family of tailors, so she probably doesn’t understand how things are done’.”

Patrick’s shock was quickly being replaced by cold fury. “Did he say anything else?”

Eleanor shook her head. “Perhaps he might have if given the opportunity. As it was, the dance came to an end, and I managed to make a polite goodbye without bursting into tears. That’s when I came here.”

Patrick gathered her into his arms and rubbed her back. “Take however long you need to recover, my love. I’ll handle this.”

“You’re not going to do anything rash, are you?” Eleanor said, “If people are gossiping about me the way Lord Foxglove implied, I don’t want to throw causing a duel onto my lists of faults.”

“I doubt it will come to that,” Patrick assured her, “And if he’s the one that instigates it, I think I’ll be able to convince him to back down.”

Eleanor embraced him. “I am reminded once again how lucky I am that you chose to marry me.”

Patrick kissed her hair. “No more lucky than I am, my dear.”

He sat with her for a few more minutes, until he was sure the worst of her tears had subsided. Then he left her to fix her hair and mask and returned to the ballroom, mingling with the crowd and looking intently for a man in bright red. It didn’t take too long to find him, dancing with another young lady and looking completely at his ease. Patrick felt another wave of anger, but tamped it down; now was not the time. Instead, he made his way to the refreshment table and got a drink, waiting for the dance to end.

When the music ceased and Lord Foxglove broke away from his partner, Patrick approached. As he did so, he noted that Foxglove was one of the ones who had powdered his hair, but with the mask providing him protection (in more ways than one), he brushed the thought aside and focused on the matter at hand. “Well met, my lord. Are you enjoying yourself?”

Foxglove nodded and half-bowed. “I am indeed. Lord Freeman’s masquerade is always one of the highlights of the winter. I enjoy the varied themes and the chance to be someone other than myself.”

And the chance to speak out of turn with no fear of repercussions, Patrick added mentally, though outwardly he smiled. “I feel much the same. It’s exhilarating, to be able to move about with no established expectations. Though I still behave like a gentleman, of course; some customs should be followed, after all.”

“Very true,” Foxglove answered, “Though I do allow a little roguishness to creep in. It adds to the illusion.”

Patrick’s hands curled into fists, which he disguised with a bow. “I believe I see my partner for the next dance. If you’ll excuse me…”

Foxglove inclined his head. “Of course. I have a partner to seek out myself.”

Patrick left him and went to his dance partner, turning things over in his head. Foxglove (Patrick had to admit that the disguise was excellent; he had no idea who the man was) had given the impression that he would be unrepentant, treating the whole thing as a joke. Which meant that there was a good chance he was using the masquerade as a chance to gossip about practically everyone, not knowing or perhaps caring that he could be talking to his targets. It was a foul habit, but one that wouldn’t be broken by mere discussion. No, this breach of etiquette required something more forceful, and Patrick thought he knew just the way to do it. Smiling wickedly, he turned his attention to his partner. While he would need to time things just right, he had a few more hours before he needed to set his plan in motion.

The next two hours passed smoothly. Patrick danced and made the rounds, making sure to exchange a few words with Foxglove whenever he got the opportunity. He also had his dance with Eleanor, who had eventually returned to the ball, with no obvious signs that she had been crying. Only if you looked closely at her eyes underneath the mask would you see evidence of redness. Patrick gave her a reassuring smile and a promise that Foxglove would be dealt with, and she replied that she had no doubts about that, which filled Patrick with even more righteous indignation. How could Foxglove have dared to attack someone as sweet and trusting as Eleanor?

At eleven-thirty, Patrick’s plan truly went into effect. With the last dance completed, he sought out Foxglove and engaged him in conversation, starting out with pleasantries and gradually turning the topic towards social matters. Foxglove was only too happy to begin that line of discussion, boldly stating his opinion on everything, from Lord Mayweather’s new carriage to Lady Wyatt’s single-minded desire to find a good match for her daughter. Patrick waited until the opportune moment, and then he said;

“I hear that Lady Freeman will be holding a card party shortly before the new year. Will you be attending?”

“Should I be invited, yes,” Foxglove said, “I always enjoy the opportunity to win a little money. Although I hope the rooms are split into male and female gambling rooms; it’s easier to find topics of conversation that way.”

“Come now, women have many of the same interests as men! It isn’t that hard to find common ground.”

“Perhaps not, but I prefer my discussions of politics and other current events to be uninterrupted by the opinions of those who have no experience in these matters. What value can they add to the conversation?”

“Quite a bit, in my experience.” Patrick said, listening very carefully to the song the musicians were playing behind him. He knew the song well enough to know it was nearing the conclusion.

“Then you and I have had very different experiences. Bad enough that they’re asked for their opinion, but sometimes they volunteer them without prompting, like the aforementioned Lady Freeman. What possesses them to do such things?”

“The same thing that possesses all of us,” Patrick answered, “Genuine interest.”

Foxglove scoffed, but before he could continue his tirade, the song ended, and the lead violinist tapped his bow against his stand to get everyone’s attention. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is almost midnight. Everyone take hold of your masks and prepare to reveal yourselves!”

Everyone excitedly put their hands on their masks and turned towards the hall, straining to heard the sounds of the clock chiming. Patrick did the same, maneuvering himself so he was standing in front of Foxglove. “Do you stand by all you’ve said, Lord Foxglove?”

“Of course!” Foxglove seemed almost indignant, “I wouldn’t have said it if there wasn’t truth to it.”

The clock began to chime, and Patrick whipped off his mask before fixing Foxglove with an icy stare. “What about now?”

Foxglove, who with his mask off was revealed to be one Lord Kelly, immediately blanched and took a step back. “L-lord Freeman! I had no idea…”

“Obviously,” Patrick said, following after Kelly, “Otherwise you’d have known better than to speak so freely…especially where my wife is concerned.”

Kelly stumbled over his own feet, shaking a cloud of powder loose from his hair as he held up his hands. “I…I meant no offense.”

“Of course you did,” Patrick said, continuing to back Kelly into a corner, “One doesn’t gossip unless they intend to be at least a little judgmental. You made the mistake of thinking you were safely hidden by anonymity.”

His determined march forward had taken him right through the cloud of powder, and he could already feel it affecting his sinuses. However, instead of pausing to clear out the irritant, he merely pulled out his handkerchief and held it at the ready, keeping his eyes on Kelly all the while.

“Did you really think you would be able to say whatever you pleased without repercussions? Surely you considered that people would gossip about your gossip. Eventually, the truth would c…Ktchh!” Patrick touched the handkerchief to his nose just in time to catch the sneeze, then lowered it and continued his speech, with barely a break in his stride.

“The truth would come out, Lord Kelly. Perhaps, had it taken some time for you to…Tshh!…to be caught out, you could have passed it off as having a little…Etchh!…too much to drink. Unfortunately, you made a fatal error. You insulted my wife to her face. And…Yishh!…you did it under my roof.”

Even with the sneezing, he’d managed to force Kelly across the room until he’d run into the refreshment table. Kelly looked faintly terrified, and Patrick knew the point was sinking in. He narrowed his eyes (though more impending sneezes helped with that) and drove it home.

“You have insulted my hospitality. Chff! You’ve reduced a lady to tears. Heshh! And you’ve displayed an arrogance that goes far beyond that of your station. Hetchh! In other words, sir, you may have a title…Pshh!…but you’re no gentleman.”

He stepped back at last, drawing himself up to his full height. “You are no longer welcome in my house. You will write my wife a letter of apology, but otherwise never contact us again. And despite all evidence to the contrary, this is not something to sneeze at.”

With that, he put the handkerchief to his face and released one final sneeze, removing the last of the powder from his nose. “AKTCHH!!!

When he raised his head, Kelly had vanished, leaving a crowd of stunned onlookers in his wake. Although Patrick had never raised his voice, he’d known he would attract attention, and was certain all of the guests had just seen what had happened. That was the only way Kelly would take the lesson to heart, after all.

Patrick smiled and bowed to the assembled company. “Forgive that unpleasantness, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you all for a lovely evening.”

The guests took the hint and immediately began filing out of the room. Patrick took up position by the door and bid each guest farewell, offering up smiles and handshakes to reassure them that he held no ill-will towards them. A few of them seemed unconvinced, but he was sure that would be smoothed over in a day or two.

When the final set of guests had departed, Patrick closed the door and looked around the hall, quickly spotting Eleanor by the entrance to the ballroom. When he smiled at her, she rushed forward and threw her arms around him. “That was magnificent,” She murmured, “King Arthur’s knights couldn’t have been more chivalrous.”

Patrick slid an arm around her waist and guided her towards the stairs. “It was both my pleasure and my duty,” he said, “But I have no intention of giving Lord Kelly any more thought. Come, let us prepare for bed and make sure this evening ends on a pleasant note.”

Eleanor leaned against him, one hand softly stroking his cravat. “It already has.”

Three days later, a letter arrived for Eleanor, which she read over and then threw into the fire. That same day, Lord Kelly left for the country, with no indication of when he would return. The general consensus was that he would not be missed.

As for Patrick and Eleanor, life continued on as normal. They greatly enjoyed each other’s company and spent a fair bit of time socializing, both at home and at parties given by others. Still, if one was paying attention, they would have noticed that no one ever seemed to speculate about the Freeman’s personal lives anymore. Most people would have just assumed it was because there was very little to speculate about. But for the hundred or so people who had been present one November night, it was because they knew better.



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Wow! I love it when a story's plot is so good I forget I'm reading it on this forum! It wasn't until the very end that I remembered sneezing at all (which was also very well done). Great job👍

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3 hours ago, PennyLane said:

I love it when a story's plot is so good I forget I'm reading it on this forum!

That's extremely high praise! Thank you so much!

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I'm with PennyLane! The story was so good I just thought I was reading historical fiction and then boom the sneezes hit and I was even happier. 

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Thank you for posting this wonderful piece! I love your period pieces and the detailed and rounded characters you create :) Your historical fiction is always an absolute pleasure to read.

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Thank you so much! I really appreciate it! And given my interests (and one of my fandoms) there's a good chance I'll always have a historical fic idea or two floating around in my head. I hope you'll continue to enjoy them!

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11 hours ago, Wig_Powder said:

Thank you so much! I really appreciate it! And given my interests (and one of my fandoms) there's a good chance I'll always have a historical fic idea or two floating around in my head. I hope you'll continue to enjoy them!

Amazing. A very well written story that makes me want more of it. Honestly even if it was without the sneezing I would have still liked it. 

Maybe you should try doing a part 2 where they are alone in the library and the dust ends up making him sneeze  ??? 

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I'm so flattered by all the comments here saying it's enjoyable even without the sneezing. It means I'm doing something right.

As for a sequel, most of my stories are written as standalones with no plans for sequels, but perhaps inspiration will strike again with these two characters at some point. I'm glad you liked them well enough to want to see more, though!

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On 24/12/2017 at 1:25 PM, Wig_Powder said:

And despite all evidence to the contrary, this is not something to sneeze at.

That bit made me laugh quite a bit. This was a great little period piece and I definitely enjoyed reading it.

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The line seemed appropriate, given the circumstances. It also allowed me to indulge in a pun, which I try to use sparingly.

Thanks for reading!

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