Breakfast with Mary
I have been enjoying all of your stories on BoI for months now. This is my first submission. I hope you enjoy it.
"It is a beautiful morning!" said Darcy as he and Bingley road towards Longbourn, much as they had everyday since their recent engagements to the two eldest Bennet sisters.
Bingley, of the mind to think any morning spent in the company of his Jane a good morning, agreed with his friend, "Yes, Darcy, it is quite nice."
In truth, it was a rather beautiful fall morning. Darcy observed that though it was brisk, the sun was shinning and would soon dissipate the few pockets of ground fog that lay in low spots, promising perfect conditions for a long walk with his fiancee.
But more than nice weather had Darcy in a good mood this morning. He had awoken with the sweet but fleeting memory of a dream about Elizabeth at Pemberley. Breakfast had been deliciously prepared by Bingley's very competent cook. Indeed, even the company at breakfast had been unusually pleasant. Bingley, as always, was in good spirits. Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, however, were unusually cheerful, discussing the dinner planned for that evening for the Netherfield and Longbourn families and reminiscing about elaborate dinners enjoyed in the weeks before their wedding. Miss Bingley had not been present.
"Yes, Bingley, quite nice indeed."
Darcy and Bingley were greeted warmly at Longbourn by Mrs. Hill and immediately shown into the breakfast room with the promise that fresh coffee would be brought to them. Bingley's eyes lit up as he greeted Jane and immediately took a seat at her side. Darcy, however, was disappointed to discover that only Mary had been keeping Jane company. He looked from Mary to Jane and back to Mary and was about to ask where Elizabeth was when he notice both Mary's expression -- part amusement, part chagrin -- and the muffled sounds of distressed feminine voices coming from upstairs.
"I believe, Mr. Darcy, that Elizabeth has been delayed this morning by the uncooperative nature of my mother's hair." Mary said in the politest tone, though a sidelong glance towards Jane revealed that she knew her comment was less than polite.
Darcy, disappointed that Elizabeth was not there, was in too cheerful of a mood to be upset by this minor disturbance to his plan for the day. Indeed, as he listened to the muffled voiced, Mary's subtle image of Elizabeth subduing Mrs. Bennet's wild hair brought a broad smile to his face. "Well then, Miss Mary, may I join you for coffee?"
This was the first time that Mary had ever seen Mr. Darcy smile, and the fact that he had smiled at her, and as a result of her comment, made her smile, too. "Certainly, Mr. Darcy."
Darcy took a seat across from Mary but lapsed into a silent reverie, still thinking of the unruly nature of the Bennet women's hair, though this time his thoughts were of how, from the exposure and exertion of a long walk, some of Elizabeth's curls always seemed to escape their confines. His thoughts were interrupted by the serving of coffee. It was then that he remembered his companions.
Bingley and Jane seemed happily occupied with each other at the other end of the table. He knew they neither needed nor desired his conversation. Mary was reading a book and sipping her tea and also seemed content without his conversation.
This silence gave Darcy the opportunity to observe Mary Bennet. He admitted to himself that he knew very little about Mary, only what he had heard from Elizabeth and Jane. She liked to read, obviously, and she played the piano, rather poorly he thought, and she seemed to be the only sister who spent no time on her appearance. "Diligent" was the word Elizabeth had used to describe Mary for all her hours of reading and practice. "Diligent but misguided, no,...unguided" thought Darcy. He knew that she had never had lessons by a piano master like Georgiana enjoyed. None of the sisters had ever had the benefit of formal lessons in anything. That Mary applied herself was to her credit. Her diligence reminded him a bit of his sister.
"Miss Mary, may I ask what you are reading?" said Darcy, sitting forward in his chair, looking at Mary's volume.
"It is the second volume of ---'s History of Rome, Mr. Darcy."
"Ah, yes. Are you enjoying it?"
"Uh, yes. I like histories." Mary, who generally spoke with confidence, began to waver. Guests, particularly this one, did not usually engage her in discussions, and certainly they did not ask her about what she enjoyed. Though she was accomplished at quoting the opinions of others, she was not used to expressing her own.
"You will like the third volume, I'm sure. The author does a fine job of relating the fall of Rome to barbarians," continued Darcy
"Unfortunately, my father no longer has the third volume. I believe he lent it to someone years ago who did not do him the courtesy of returning it."
"Abominable behavior," grimaced Darcy, thinking of the care he took with his own collection "Well, I have a copy in my library in the house in London. I will lend the volume to you, since I trust you are the type of person who returns books."
"Of course, Mr. Darcy!" returned Mary, thinking of the disgrace of not returning a borrowed book.
"As it is, we will soon be brother and sister, and you will always be welcomed to use my libraries," he mused, almost to himself. "I suspect that you would find many hours of diversion in them."
"Thank you, Mr. Darcy. I have heard Elizabeth's description of your libraries. I'm sure I would enjoy them very much." For the first time, Mary was beginning to see the advantage to herself of her sister's choice in husbands. Before, she had agreed with Kitty that he was a bit frightening. She had never stopped to consider that he would allow her into his libraries.
The conversation lapsed once again into silence. Mary was wondering just how many books were in the libraries at Pemberley and in London. Darcy was again considering his soon-to-be sister, comparing her to Georgiana.
Georgiana was by far the prettier of the two. Mary was rather plain. They both seemed to have the same awkwardness, however, that he suspected came from a lack of confidence. Perhaps having two older sisters like Jane and Elizabeth would shake a plain girl's confidence, he thought. Mary also seemed to share his sister's seriousness about practicing the piano. Mary seemed to practice even more than Georgiana did.
"You also enjoy playing the piano, do you not, Miss Mary?" asked Darcy.
"Hmm? Oh yes, I do, Mr. Darcy," answered Mary, startled back from her thoughts of shelves and shelves of books.
"I believe I heard you practicing a new piece by Mozart yesterday. My sister plays that piece often. I have always enjoyed it."
"Yes, Mr. Darcy. I just received some new music."
"It is nice that you have a piano in your room on which you may practice. I suspect you would not get as much opportunity if you had only the instrument in the parlor to play. Not only would you share it with Elizabeth, but you would have to compete with, well,. . . with social gatherings."
"Yes, I was very happy when my Aunt Phillips gave me her piano. It is not as fine as our other piano, but it does allow me to practice as often as I like."
"And you do this all without the benefit of lessons?"
"Yes. I have given up hope of lessons. My mother never saw the necessity of it. Perhaps if Elizabeth had asked. . . ." she did not finish her thought, suddenly conscious of its implications about her mother.
Darcy understood Mary's meaning and could well imagine that Mrs. Bennet would have not thought lessons for such a plain girl worth the expense though she would have insisted upon them had one of her prettier daughters expressed an interest. He felt the unfairness in this for Mary and thought that he detected a hint of bitterness in her tone.
"Miss Darcy has enjoyed the attentions of a piano master for many years now whenever she resides in London. I believe he has taught her many things. She also studies with a voice master."
"Miss Darcy is very lucky." The cheerfulness that had shown through Mary's reserved manner left as she contemplated her unlucky situation.
"Yes, she is, Miss Mary. Yes, she is."
During this short conversation, Darcy began to sense that this sister was discontent with her situation. He could well understood that someone like Georgiana could easily be overlooked and neglected in a family of so many gregarious sisters. Suddenly he felt that just as he took care that Georgiana have the opportunity to overcome her shyness and gain confidence, so should someone take care that Mary did, too.
Darcy's acquaintances would be shocked at what he said next, for it seemed entirely out of character, though Elizabeth and good friends like Bingly, who now knew him well, would only be mildly surprised at what he said to Mary.
"Miss Mary, you should join us in London this January. Miss Darcy will be with us then and she will need a companion her age to keep her company when Elizabeth and I are out. She is not yet out, herself, and I fear she will be somewhat lonely. And I will arrange for the piano master to give you lessons as well as Miss Darcy. Perhaps, voice lessons, too. The library would be at your disposal, of course."
"And when I said that you were keep Miss Darcy company, I did not mean at the expense of your own social calendar. You could visit with the Gardiners whenever you like. And since you are out, you could join Elizabeth and I at balls when you like. And you will join us in other activities, too. Miss Darcy and I have always made a habit of going to the opera and to the theater in the past and I'm sure this winter will be no different. What do you say, Miss Mary? Would you like to join us?" During this long speech, he often seemed to be lost in his own ideas. It wasn't until the end that he looked at Mary and saw her surprise. Miss Bennet and Mr. Bingley, whose attention had been diverted by Mr. Darcy energetic speech, also looked on in surprise, not knowing if they had heard Mr. Darcy correctly.
Mary was speechless. Rarely had anyone ever singled her out except to criticize or tease her. Though she sensed that Mr. Darcy was sincere, she was to dumbfounded to answer. It was left to Jane to carry the moment.
"Mr. Darcy, I, for one, am sure that my sister would greatly enjoy what you propose. Your offer is most generous . . . one of a dearest brother. I'm a sure that Elizabeth will be pleased with the attention you pay to my sister." Though she said this, to herself she wondered if Elizabeth would be pleased. Jane was grateful that she and Charles would spend the winter at Netherfield by themselves, with no sisters in residence once Miss Bingley and the Hursts returned to London after the wedding. She had wondered about Elizabeth having to divide her attentions between her new husband and Miss Darcy, and now it looked as if yet another sister would claim a share. But perhaps Mr. Darcy had found a solution to this problem by inviting Mary, for as he said himself, she would be able to be a companion for Miss Darcy.
Mr. Bingley, who knew nothing of Jane's thoughts concerning sisters, merely was happy with his friend's offer and told him so. He had always known Darcy to be very generous with himself and his family, and it had always pained him that the Bennets and the people of Meryton had never recognized this in him. This invitation certainly would show that Darcy had a generous side.
Mary soon recovered he powers of speech enough to thank him. "Mr. Darcy, I thank you. As my sister says, I would very much enjoy visiting with you, Elizabeth, and Miss Darcy in London. I only worry that I will be a burden to you. And as for lessons, I'm sure that I could do just as well with just listening to Miss Darcy's lessons with the master. I could not impose upon you for lessons of my own." As she said this, she knew that it was a lie, but she could help but think that politeness required it of her. Lessons with piano and voice masters would be more than she had ever thought possible.
"No, no, Miss Mary. That would not do. You must have lessons of your own. I insist. Anyone with as much determination to play well as you do, judging by the hours you apply to practice, must be given every chance to play well. Yes, you must have lessons." Mr. Darcy was quite pleased with himself. Secretly, giving gifts to his sister had always given him great pleasure, but he found that he could not do so as often as he desired for fear of spoiling her. Giving Mary something she really would enjoy was very rewarding, as was seeing the smile that took over her face. Darcy noted that Miss Mary's smile was not all that different than Elizabeth's, actually, and now that she was truly smiling she was not so very plain.
Suddenly, Mary's smile disappeared.
"What is it Miss Mary? Have you found a fault in my plan?" asked Darcy, concerned.
"Mr. Darcy, I was thinking of Kitty. She will be here alone with no sisters, just my mother."
Here Jane once again stepped in. "Now Mary, I will only be as far as Netherfield, so Kitty will not be entirely without sisters. And don't forget that Kitty has a friend in Maria Lucas, who is only a short walk away. No, Mary. I shouldn't think you selfish to go to London this winter."
"And perhaps," continued Mr. Darcy, "Miss Kitty can visit Pemberley this summer."
It was at this moment that Elizabeth entered the room. The happy faces of Jane and Mr. Bingley were expected, but she was surprised to also see that Mr. Darcy and Mary were wearing even happier expressions. She was immediately applied to by Mr. Darcy to confirm his plan, with Mr. Bingley and Jane seconding his every suggestion.
Mary was left to herself for a while and took this time to more fully comprehend what had just happened to her. What had promised to be a horrendous winter spent enduring her mother's unkind attentions had turned into potentially the best winter of her whole life. That this salvation came from Mr. Darcy truly amazed her. As never before, now she began to understand her sister's joy at marrying him.
"Well, Mary? Will you come to stay with us this winter?" asked Elizabeth, now fully acquainted and agreed to the plan.
"Yes, Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy. It does seem to be an acceptable plan." Answered Mary, her calm and slightly disinterested tone belied by her smile and tears.
Later that day Mr. Darcy had time to reflect on the events of that morning. Mary had joined Elizabeth and him on their walk around Longbourn's gardens. With a happy Bennet sister on each arm, he told them about the operas scheduled for that season and the bookstores that he frequented. Mary was easily convinced to make the most of her time by agreeing to both piano and voice lessons, and all three thought to themselves how grateful they would if lessons could really improved her performance. He had told them about the library, the piano and the masters and would have continued on with more had Mary not realized that she had yet to practice that morning and asked to be released from the walk.
With just Elizabeth's company after that, Mr. Darcy had led the way down a more intimate path that took them out of view of Longbourn. The rest of the morning was spent much as he had anticipated before his breakfast with Mary, in the company of his enchanting fiancee. Indeed, it had been a wonderful morning.
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