The Last Miss Bennet
Miss Mary Bennet was the only Bennet daughter at home. The marriages of her two elder sisters, and the elopement of her younger one three years ago left her the charge of tending to her mother, who could not possibly sit alone.
Miss Katherine Bennet had for some months been engaged to a young man from the north country, who wore a red coat, but who also possessed a small manor in his home region. This left Mary as the only Bennet who was unspoken for.
Years ago, she had thought to find marriage in the character of her cousin, Mr. Collins. She had shared her insights, so that he might marvel, and read the most ostentatious of books of sermons, but it was for naught. The man who shared her reading tastes was not to be captivated by a plain girl with a book of sermons, but instead by the beauty of her sisters, which she alone had no part of.
Being the only plain Bennet, she had always thought to make herself desirable wife by acquiring accomplishments, but this plan seemed to be unsuccessful, for she remained a Bennet.
Kitty was the one to stay often with the Darcys and the Bingleys. Mary had never visited them, instead staying with her mother, who professed herself to be weary of travel, even to Pemberley, for she had no say in the household there, no matter what luxuries were offered to the guests.
Mary's surprise was great when she received an invitation from her sister Elizabeth, to spend the Christmas holidays at Pemberley. Mary knew herself to not be cheerful, or exciting, and pondered why her sister should offer this invitation to such a plain person as herself. (She never thought that her sister might mean it as a kindness, or a treat to be away from Mrs. Bennet.)
After some pondering over the invitation, a positive reply was sent to Pemberley, and Mrs. Bennet invited the Wickhams to stay the holidays at Longbourn, rather than spend the holiday alone with her husband. The Wickhams eagerly accepted the invitation, and Mary was sent off the Derbyshire to begin her first holiday away from her mother.
É * É
Mary had never seen Pemberley before, and it was so much grander than any house near Meryton, that she thought the house must be a palace. The staff was extraordinarily efficient, (but this might have been in comparison to Longbourn, where Mrs. Hill was in constant activity at Mrs. Bennet's needs.) Elizabeth met Mary in the entrance hall, with a face full of smiles, and a small boy in her arms. Mary had never met her nephew, and her curiosity was soon answered by hearing that the child was called William, and that he was two years old, come February. Mary, quite happy to be in the company of a sister with whom she had sometimes sat with, at balls and assemblies, and who read more than any of her other sisters, was quite happy to be shown about the house.
As the sisters and William came towards the parlor, another figure ran out to greet Mary. It was Kitty.
"Mary! How delightful to see you! I have not seen you for too long--it must have at least been six months!"
Mary asserted that it had been seven, but was pleased with such a warm welcome from one of her sisters, especially from one who had always thought her too reserved.
Indeed, by the time she should go to change for supper, she had met Mr. Darcy again, Miss Darcy, whom she had never met, and also Kitty's fiance, a Captain Redding who was on leave from his regiment, to spend the holidays with his betrothed, and also with his friends, the Darcys. Happy to be given so much notice, she changed into another gown, and fixed her hair with a smile, a thing which made her seem much less plain.
And with the beginnings of radiance on her face, she tripped down the stairs, and became lost several times, before she sat down to dinner, a feast of good things, happy to be on holiday.
On rising the next morning, Mary felt confused. The house was so large, and her room so comfortable. She did not recall how she got from her room to the downstairs, but slowly got up and dressed, lest someone should walk by her chamber, and lead her to the breakfast parlor.
Mary was in luck, and by the time she had dressed herself in a green morning dress, which had formerly belonged to her luckless sister Lydia, and dressed her hair simply, she heard footsteps in the corridor, and peeked out of the door.
Outside was Miss Darcy, and Elizabeth, talking to a maid servant, with bedding in her arms. Mary exited her chamber, and approached them.
Miss Darcy greeted her quietly, and Elizabeth gave her a sisterly embrace, before Mary was shown the correct way to the breakfast parlor, and the three all walked together into the room where another amazing meal was set out.
As they sat, Mary asked why the maid was carrying so much extra bedding.
"We are having a party of friends for the holidays. Most of them arrive today. Amongst them are Bingley and Jane, and their daughter Fanny. Jane is eager to see you again. Also, there will be Captain Redding's family, the Hursts, Caroline Barklem, nee Bingley, her husband, and a friend of Fitzwilliam's from Town."
Mary was a bit startled to hear of such a party that intended to come, and became quiet, as she thought how plain she would be in comparison to the ladies present. However, she could not dwell long in these fears, for there was a table spread with meats and breads and exotic fruits, and after that, Mary would have her morning to study more books, and to see the library.
After eating, and sitting a while, she found her way into the great Library of Pemberley, which Mr. Darcy had every reason to be proud of. Everything was in the correct place, and the assembled works were of such taste, that Mary was forced to read a book of more sense than the sermons she was accustomed to. Even so, she found the room quiet and comfortable, and spent the morning there, and after her noon-day meal, she declined to go on a walk, so that she might strive to find morality in the works of Mr. Shakespeare.
Her time wore on for so long, that she did not notice when several carriages drove up, depositing a small crowd of people, and their things. Elizabeth noticed Mary's absence, but for all she might try to remember where she had gone, she could not recall, and was forced to great the guests with just Kitty and Georgiana.
The Bingleys arrived first, and were so cheerful, that the whole house seemed to be lit up. Little Fanny soon discovered her cousin, and the two of them wandered off to the nursery to play their childish games. The Reddings were also agreeable guests, consisting of Mrs. Redding, the Captain's mother, Oliver, the Captain's younger brother, and Miss Katherine Redding, the twelve year old sister.
The Hursts and the Barklems appeared together, and settled down like an unwelcome fog. They were rude to the staff, and Mr. Hurst set out to clear most of the Pemberley Wine cellars of their best brandy.
Last of all Mr. Jeremy Wallace appeared, alone on horseback, but with a cart from Lambton with his things loaded onto it. As the gusty December air blew through the door, and the shouts of all the assembled quests were uttered, Mary happened to notice the time, and glanced out the window., which overlooked the courtyard.
Outside was a man, a rather handsome one, with a servant behind him. Mary took off her spectacles, and peered closer. The servant was carrying a pile of books. Glancing again at the man, Mary felt a hope in her that she had not felt since meeting Mr. Collins, the hope that she might some day lose the name Bennet.
After seeing the handsome man who traveled with such a stack of books, Mary went over to a table in the library, which held upon it a small, silver backed mirror. Picking this up, she submitted to vanity, forgetting all of her past sermons on the subject, and arranged her hair so that it might curl behind her ears. This being done, Mary went to the entrance hall, where the whole group was assembled.
Elizabeth, on seeing her, was quite happy, for she had been feeling quite guilty on leaving her sister from the group. She took Mary over to Jane, who was as gentle and pretty as she had ever been, and had kind words for Mary.
"My dear Mary, you have grown so! Your color is now quite pleasant. Do you still read?"
"Yes, sister. I just came from the library."
Elizabeth nodded suddenly, remembering the statement Mary had made earlier about wanting to visit the famous library of Pemberley. But Elizabeth could not long dwell on the subject, for there were many guests for Mary to meet.
Mary curtsied as she was introduced to Mrs. Redding, a large graying woman of taste, and Oliver Redding, whom she thought a dandy, and the wondering girl, Katherine, who clutched a novel in her hand. Mary, disapproving of novels, was prone to disapprove of the child, but the warm smiles in the plain face of the girl brought instant companionship between the two.
On being announced to the Hursts, she met with fixed smiles, for they remembered her performance at the Netherfield ball all too well. Caroline Barklem similarly smiled at her, and asked coldly about the health of her mother, while Mr. Barklem practically ignored her, being in conversation with Bingley.
Lastly, Mary waited eagerly to be introduced to the young man of the books. Elizabeth drew him from where he was inspecting his books.
"Mary, this is Mr. Wallace, Mr. Wallace, this is my sister Mary."
Mr. Wallace looked up. He smiled. Mary's cheeks turned a pleasant rose color, which along with her nervous smile made her look less plain than she really was.
"Delighted, Miss Bennet," was Mr. Wallace's reply.
Then Mr. Darcy drew his friend aside, and Mr. Wallace greeted Georgiana, who also seemed happy to speak to such a handsome young man. Her face shyly smiled, and Mary's heart sunk. She had forgotten how pretty Georgiana was.
É * É
Supper was a festive affair, with the large party of guests. Kitty and Captain Redding spoke only to each other, and Darcy, Elizabeth, Bingley and Wallace spoke together, and the Hursts and the Barklems formed a group at one end of the table. Jane, Mary and Georgiana spoke little, the latter two out of shyness, the former for her silent thinking of how happy the world was. Georgiana and Mary sat next to one another, and Wallace soon addressed them, and asked if Georgian would kindly play for them after the meal. Georgiana shyly agreed, and on hearing this, Wallace turned to Mary, and asked if she played. Mary eagerly asserted in the positive, and Elizabeth closed her eyes and sighed. Happiness could not be complete if Mary displayed her lack of taste and talent. Mr. Wallace was delighted, and thought that the two must perform a duet for the group, and that he should have great pleasure in hearing them. Mary's eyes shone, as she thought of pieces that would display her skill to it's utmost.
"Yes," she thought, "the piece she had played at Netherfield would do well, and she had the music in her trunk. It was a somber piece, not too frivolous. It would do quite well."
Mary rose as the party had finished their meal, and she went to fetch the music from her room. The rest of the party lingered about, and by the time she had fetched the piece, the group was assembling in the music room.
Mary looked in wonder at the beauty of the instrument before her, and felt that to be wealthy was a merit indeed. Georgiana smiled, and offered her a seat on the settee. In accepting it, Mary passed by Elizabeth, who saw the name on the piece of music. She paled, and glanced about, desperate. The piece had cause humiliation once, and while the Hursts and Barklems were present, such a piece would only remind everyone of Netherfield, and of the faults of the Bennet family. Mr. Wallace saw the glance, and on recognizing the music as a difficult piece, he decided that the duet should begin. On his saying so, Elizabeth relaxed.
Georgiana and Mary settled themselves at the instrument, and Georgiana chose a piece which Mary knew, but had thought not showy enough. However, as the two dedicated musicians began, it had a very pleasant sound, and Mary noted that she should try more works by this composer.
They finished to great praise, and played another duet, before Elizabeth was prevailed upon to play, and she did, and performed very well. Georgiana played again, but would not sing, and Mrs. Hurst and Mrs. Barklem bothered the whole group by singing a rather long ballad in several parts. Mary was called upon to perform, and again Elizabeth went rigid with panic.
By this point Mr. Wallace had figured out what Elizabeth meant, and spoke.
"Miss Bennet, I would not like to interfere with your turn to play, but would you do me the honor of playing a duet with me?"
Mary was astonished. This man played? She made an exclamation of the sort.
Darcy laughed, and announced that Wallace played very well indeed, although it was an embarrassment for he, Darcy, to admit that a friend of his performed in a pastime so feminine. Mary, eager to hear a man play the instrument, also desiring to make the man notice her, she agreed that they perform a duet.
Mr. Wallace chose a piece, one without singing, and the pair settled down at the bench to play. The general conclusion was that Mr. Wallace did indeed play very well. Mary resolved to play this composer more often as well. They rose from the instrument, and sat by each other in cushioned chairs, listening to Elizabeth play, and remembering the beautiful sound of the instrument playing a duet.
After Elizabeth's piece was done, the group all rose for bed, and as Elizabeth passed Mr. Wallace, she murmured a "Thank You."
Mr. Wallace laughed, but heartily agreed. The piece Mary had chosen was not one that would have been pleasant to hear. Pondering over the characters of the different women at Pemberley, Wallace went to his chamber, and fell asleep.
On waking, Mary dressed carefully, remembering Mr. Wallace, in a morning gown, which suited her somewhat more than the others did. She put away her spectacles, and tried to look interested as she gazed into the looking-glass, imagining that she saw that man. This must have worked to some extent, for she was soon pleased enough of herself that she walked down from her chamber, to the breakfast parlor, meeting Kitty along the way.
Breakfast was a merry affair, with most members suitably refreshed to begin their day. Mr. Hurst and Mr. Barklem languidly ate large amounts, and talked to no one, while Mr. Darcy, Bingley, Wallace and Captain Redding talked happily of their plans for the day. The food at the table was well prepared, and all were inclined to be cheerful, even Mrs. Hurst and Mrs. Barklem.
The day passed on so that the ladies occupied themselves with needlework and gossiping while Elizabeth saw to the servants and the household. Young William and fanny were permitted to sit with the women, and amused the younger women with their antics. Mrs. Hurst was indignant at their playfulness, as they toddled about the room, playing with a small leather ball. Mary read, not being so frivolously inclined to do carpet work, or to remake her bonnet.
The men came back from a day out of doors, and were called upon to admire the work of all the women. Caroline Barklem had embroidered a rather ugly bag, and was calling upon Mr. Darcy to praise the hideous piece of workmanship. His answers amused Wallace, who rarely would be so obvious about when he lied. On noticing Mary reading, he asked her what volume she had, and she admitted that it was Shakespeare's Henry V . He smiled, and admitted that it was a play he enjoyed to read. Mary found these histories much more rewarding to read than the same playwright's comedies, and was suitable pleased to hear that the token of her admiration enjoyed such more serious pieces of theater.
"For, sir, " she said, "to read histories is not a wholly frivolous occupation, but educational as well."
"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Wallace, "you must be a woman of education, to be so fond of reading and being informed."
Mary here was forced to admit that she had been schooled at home, without a governess, but readily assured the man that she enjoyed any chance of further readying her mind. Mr. Wallace laughed, and moved over to where Georgiana was sitting, sewing tiny pearls onto the edge of a glove.
É * É
Mr. Wallace was wandering about in the afternoon, and leaving Bingley, Darcy, Hurst and Barklem to a game of pool, he found Elizabeth in one of the parlors, assisting the housekeeper to hang garlands of evergreen about the room. He offered to help, and on hearing a positive reply, he rolled up his sleeves, and called for a step ladder, to reach the lofty walls of the room.
After they had been working for some time, Mr. Wallace inquired whether Elizabeth would tell him why she seemed to anxious that her sister should not sing and play on her own.
"Mary had dedication to music, but sadly, not taste, nor is her voice strong. Such weak exhibitions have caused ridicule to my family."
"I am sorry to hear that. But might not her taste be cultured, and her voiced strengthened, by the singing of exercises and such other pieces?"
"Sir, you should know that the person who could make my sister into a sensible girl, of taste and skill, has not yet been born."
Mr. Wallace smiled.
"I see you mean that as a challenge."
"Perhaps I do," was Elizabeth's replay, and on the basket she was working from becoming empty, she left the room, and the comment she had just spoken.
The next night, the party at Pemberley was to attend a ball at the home of one of the neighboring gentlemen, a Mr. Dale, who was married to Mr. Barkelem's sister. The good gentleman was a jolly sort, and was determined to set about making matches for all the young people not fortunate enough to be married or engaged.
His eye had long been settled on Miss Darcy as the perfect young lady, for besides her beauty and accomplishments, she was wealthy, and would make some gentleman a good wife. On seeing Miss Mary Bennet, he was overjoyed to see such a young woman who would be thankful for any intervention caused on her part. Indeed, he had heard of Miss Bennet, and decided that the lady should be engaged by the end of her stay at Pemberley.
Miss Bennet thought Mr. Dale a silly man. She thought that he was too bent upon the frivolous activity of matchmaking, although she was pleased with his attentions on attaining partners for herself and the other young ladies in the room.
Mr. Wallace did not care to dance. He enjoyed dancing on the whole, and was rather proficient in the exercise, but was reminded of his home every time he went to such a party, and recalled the fair faces of his past partners there. His host had already decided that he should dance with Mr. Dale's own daughter, and with such urging, he did so, rather unwillingly. Mary saw how he little cared to join in the amusement, and commended him silently on his standard of entertainment. (She did not think that a man who obliged himself in such a feminine pastime as music might prefer frivolous activities, but in different settings.)
So the evening passed on, and the good gentleman scarcely danced four sets together. He did however, dance with Mrs. Darcy, Miss Dale, Miss Darcy and Mrs. Barklem, and on completing these dances, he retired to a corner, to drink the good wine provided, and to listen to the music.
Mary was discontent that she had not danced with the object of her affections, but was well pleased that she had danced nearly every set, which was a circumstance she had rarely experienced back in Hertfordshire. This was partially due to her connection to the Darcy family, but she was much prettier amongst strangers, who had no prejudices as to her looks, and a young gentleman from Lambton remarked that she was indeed rather pretty. (Mary, overhearing this, was gratified, and made note of each compliment into her journal once she had returned to Pemberley.)
However, Mary found that she was able to talk to Mr. Wallace, as he stood along the sidelines. She remarked on how pleasant this party was, and he replied cordially.
"Yes, Miss Bennet, this is a fairly agreeable party, but unlike the ones I miss from my home."
Mary inquired whether he did not live in London.
"No, I spend but some of my time there. I come from Scotland, in all truth, but business brings me to London, so I dwell rarely there."
Mary, who unlike her sister Lydia (who knew naught about Scotland, save that Gretna Green was in it) had read about the country, and inquired where in it he lived.
"Not a place of much consequence, my father has a manor in the Borders. It is near Melrose. Do you know the place?"
Mary admitted that she did not know of it well.
"Ah, it lies near the Tweed, the Abbey there is a fine piece of architecture. But my home is a lovely place, as well, and my people are of the most agreeable in the world. You may find us stoic or thrifty, but we love a good party. I stand here mourning the absence of such parties as I stand here, to the side of the room."
"Do you not usually return home for Christmas?" Mary ventured.
"Usually, but because of certain affairs of business that have been recently arranged...I found that since a dear friend of mine could not spend the holidays at home, that I would rather spend the holidays also away from there."
"Ah," said Mary, who had never had a friend without whom home would not be home was forced to give a short answer. Then, she was called to dance by a toothy young man, whose only merit proved to be his fortune. Mr. Wallace was left alone to the comforts of his wine, and the memories of his home, and the Christmases past, spent in the company of his dear friend.
Soon Elizabeth called Mary over to meet a dear friend of hers, the clergyman for Pemberley, a Mr. Edwards, who seemed a good young man, but rather too poetical for Mary's tastes. However, he was very well read, and their conversation was intelligent. By the time the dancing was over, and the parties dispersed for their respective homes, Mary felt satisfied with herself. She had talked to Mr. Wallace of his home, had learned several interesting insights as to several books she had read, and had heard herself described as pretty. So easily satisfied, she felt truly happy, and departed into sleep happy, and free of care.
As the days grew closer to Christmas day, Mary busied herself in preparing gifts for the inmates of Pemberley, and helped her sister to prepare for such a holiday. Elizabeth's happy marriage had increased her patience with those less satisfied in life, and she was a ready listener to Mary's ideas, as they together planned a meal, or decorated rooms. (Though, it must be admitted that so intelligent and lively a person as Elizabeth could not always listen to such random scraps of morality, and often daydreamed instead about her husband and her son.) However, Mary began to have sensible ideas under the curbing of Elizabeth, so that Kitty remarked on how changed she was, when she picked up books to read that were not full of morals or sermons.
Mr. Wallace meant also to change Mary into an intelligent woman, remembering Elizabeth Darcy's dare. He smiled as he thought how he subtly chose books to be laid out upon tables in the parlor, and as he asked Mary her opinions about different works. Mary still clung to each moral she found, but was more open minded. Alas, her music ability had not increased with her sensible opinions.
Staying as she was with the Darcys, and as the ladies were invited to play, it would seem odd if she was excluded from the music in the evenings. Mr. Wallace could not volunteer himself always to play a duet, and if he did, it should become evident that he did not wish miss Bennet to perform upon her own. Mary sang at last, and the look of horror on the faces of true music lovers, and the smirks on the faces of Mrs. Hurst and Mrs. Barklem, showed just how weak her voice was. However, she did not notice these looks, and the assembled guests politely asked that she play again.
Mr. Wallace continued his kindnesses towards her, in suggesting pieces to be played, or to offer that Georgiana join her in a "favorite" song, or such other small kindness that helped to cover her lack of taste, and the strength in her voice. Indeed, he even went so far as to suggest that Mary should practice her singing during the day, and with his guidance.
Mr. Wallace was much skilled in the area of music. Though he only played the piano forte and sang, he loved these pastimes, and was a willing teacher. Mary reveled in the idea that such a wonderful man as Mr. Wallace should take such notice of her. And with such determination to satisfy the gentleman, Mary tried hard everyday to sing so that she could strengthen her voice. The halls of Pemberley were often filled with her mediocre voice singing scales and exercises. Even Elizabeth did not wince any more when she heard the voice, it was not bad now, but by no means capital.
Georgiana was very kind to Mary, having always wanted sisters, she was only too glad to assist her newest one in her own beloved area of music, for it must be admitted that she did play very well, and was very fond of music. Indeed, some days she would practice along with Mary, to ease out of her shyness of singing before others, and the effect was pleasing. Elizabeth was stupefied that such a change could have be wrought in her sister, and remarked so to Mr. Wallace.
"Sir, you must realize that now you are working the impossible, in letting us hear Mary, without regretting that she never had a proper master to teach her. Her tastes too, are improving, she reads less of Fordyce and more of more intelligent writers. Yesterday I even saw her reading the Iliad which is a worthy book. I believe that it should do her good to read such."
"Madam, your sister is indeed a pleasure to work with. There are so many silly and vain women (here Elizabeth smiled, as Caroline Barklem crossed the room) who could have sense if they applied themselves. Miss Bennet has great application, and a measure of skill, should she practice. I believe that my friend Darcy has an aunt who believes that one can never be truly good at something if you do not practice. This in some respects is true. Practice makes perfect."
"Yes," agreed Elizabeth, "Practice can lead one to perfection."
"Which is exactly what I am trying to create in your sister. A young woman who can think on her own, who has application, skill and above all, a sense of taste which is such that one can abide it."
Here they were forced to break off, for a maid had summoned Elizabeth from the room.
Chapter Eight :
Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wallace were riding with Bingley along one of the paths of Pemberley, taking notice of several interesting walls, and the tracks of deer. As they rode, they talked to one another, of sport, and sense, and of their homes. As Darcy was proud of his fine home, and the others suitably impressed by it, he kept a commentary about the different walks.
"This the the walk where I ran into Elizabeth when I returned a day early when I had business with my steward. How surprised I was!"
He was silent for a few moments, happily remembering what had followed. Bingley then pointed out a certain area of the trout stream where he thought he had seen a fox. This snapped Darcy from his reverie.
"We should go hunting soon. They are rather bad this winter, and should provide us with decent sport. We must ask Elizabeth what she think on this matter."
Wallace smiled as he noted how often Darcy depended upon his lively and sensible wife. Surely if he had a wife half so intelligent, he would depend upon her. He paused, remembering his home, and his family whom he was always depending on. Bingley asked him whether he should like a hunt, and he snapped from his daydream.
"I should indeed. In winter there is considerably less to do outside, and i should love more of a chance to test my newest hunter. Shall the ladies ride?"
"Wallace! Your head is always with the ladies!" Darcy exclaimed. "Can you not keep insensible of their charms for a day or so?"
Wallace shrugged, as he thought how much Elizabeth kept Darcy sensible of feminine charms.
"Wallace, you old dog! You might as well behave yourself while at my home."
"I am perfectly well behaved. I am even helping your wife to decorate your home, and entertaining your sister and your sister in-law with music. Is this a crime?"
"No, Darcy just wants you to admire his woods, and talk about the hunt which will lead you through his fine estate. Come! Admire this rather unremarkable bench, and please him." interrupted Bingley. Wallace did so, and they continued to think about the propose hunt.
"It shouldn't be until after Boxing Day." remarked Bingley.
"Agreed," said Darcy.
"May I venture who is to attend?" ventured Wallace.
"Oh! Indeed! Elizabeth must help me to recall who I owe the pleasure of a hunt at Pemberley to. Colonel Walters ought to come, and Mr. Dale. Elizabeth I have taught to ride with the hunt, and Mrs. Barklem will want to attend, as well as my sister and Mrs. Bingley. The Miss Bennets both cannot ride, and Mrs. Hurst is not inclined to do so. Then, of course, I must invite the men at home...it is too much to think of now."
"Indeed," said Bingley.
They rode on for some time.
" I say, Wallace, when do you return to your home?" asked Bingley.
"As soon as our friend Darcy turns me from his house...no, I leave here after New Years, and then I will return home. I am eager to be at home. My friends there...and then i think I shall travel to London for a time, and then I have the summer to attend to calls of friends and business. I shall return home for a time, and then, I have been kindly invited to Redding's wedding, which shall be here, and from there... "it is too much to think of now'. You see, I am a busy man."
"Certainly," remarked Darcy. "A very busy man."
É * É
When the men returned from their ride, the idea of a hunt was met with much rapture, on the parts of Mr. Hurst, the Barklems, Jane, Elizabeth and both Reddings. Kitty and Mary could not ride, and therefore could not participate, but Georgiana decided she would stay with them, and that the hunt was really much too dangerous for her. Appeased somewhat, Mary and Kitty returned to their needlework.
Wallace did his usual admiring of the work, and remarked to Mary that she did not read today.
"Oh! I finished both the Iliad and the Odyssey, and do not know what could measure up to them. I am now desolate, for I know not what to read."
"Have you not had Miss Darcy suggest something? I am sure she knows the library better than either of us."
On saying such, he addressed Georgiana.
"Miss Darcy, would you help Miss Bennet to chose a volume she might like to read? She does not know your brother's fine library, and asked me if you could help her to find something worth reading."
"What is there not worth reading in my library?" asked Darcy.
Miss Darcy rose, and accompanied Mary and Mr. Wallace to the library.
É * É
Once in the library, Mr. Wallace applied to Georgiana to suggest a volume. Being fond of poetry, she found a volume of the works of Mr. Wordsworth's works, and suggested it. Mr. Wallace applauded her tastes, and fetched down the book. He paused, and selected several others, as well.
"Miss Bennet, I am sure you should like this. It is the work of a country man of mine own, Mr. Burns. And this -- my dear Miss Bennet, you should enjoy this, for Virgil wrote this Aenead about the hero Aeneas from the Battle of Troy that you so recently read of. And this volume as well..."
Mary left the library, with an armload of books, and a head full of anticipation on what would lay inside. Mary now longed for adventure, and sense in what she read, and found fewer morals each day. On the whole, Mr. Wallace was performing the impossible, and giving Mary common sense, and a good mind to receive it in.
Mary sat reading everyday until Christmas. On that day, she put away all her books, removed her spectacles, and proceeded to be more pleasant than her sisters had ever allowed her to be. Jane assisted her in the making of several gifts, and Elizabeth had given Mary a fine book of Christmas compositions, which she now played with more than tolerable skill.
Little Fanny and William were entranced by the festive air these pieces were giving to old house, and ran about, scattering pine needles throughout the halls, and in tasting all the different food being prepared for the Christmas dinner. Katherine Redding, too, fell victim to her younger side, and ran just as hard as little William Darcy.
Indeed, the happy air of the group spread so far that even Mrs. Barklem had no cynical comments or complaints to utter. Instead, she bestowed upon Mary the very hideous bag, and told her that they were of the highest fashion in Sheffield. Mary, having never been to Sheffield, was forced to accept this as a fact.
The feast was laid out early in the evening, so that all might have time to frolic afterwards. Mary arrayed herself in a new gown of pale green, and Kitty helped her with her hair. After emerging from her chamber, looking much less like the Mary Bennet of Hertfordshire than she had yet been, she proceeded downstairs, and then into the room with the meal.
Mr. Wallace met her at the door.
"Miss Bennet! How well you look this evening. Do look at the food, my friend Darcy has provided. There must be enough for three times the party we have assembled!"
"I should say four," interrupted Kitty. "I say! Mary, your hair did turn out quite well, did it not, Mr. Wallace?"
"Quite, Miss Kitty. A charming job done well. May I hold out your seat? There. Now, Miss Bennet, your seat is here, next to me, and to Mrs. Hurst."
He held out her seat for her, and as soon as she was comfortably seated, he slipped into his chair between Mary and Georgiana. He immediately turned to Miss Darcy, and commended her on the painting which hung opposite them, which Georgiana had admitted to having done.
"Exquisite, Miss Darcy! I have seen that same view on my rambles with Darcy, and you portray it quite well."
Darcy smiled, as the conversation turned to his fine manor. Indeed, he was proud of his manor, and of its history and beauty. Apart from his wife and his family, the manor indeed took up most of his time and attention. Wallace was fully ready to compliment everything. His natural cheerful disposition was quite well mannered. he talked to everyone, praised everything, and delighted Elizabeth in eating several portions of each course that she had planned.
After the meal, he remained so agreeable. Mrs. Barklem was beginning to tire of her jolly mood, and Mr. Hurst was half asleep. The smiling party, however, moved on to the music room, where all sat about on chairs, while the young ladies (and gentleman) entertained them with carols and songs of Christmas.
Mr. Hurst and Mr. Barklem drank a great deal of wine, and soon fell asleep, but all others remained active. Kitty and Captain Redding suggested that they have dancing, and Darcy gave a nod, to show that he was in spirits enough to tolerate such. So, dancing commenced.
Due to the lack of alertness in of two of the gentlemen present, Mr. Wallace sat no dance, and proceeded to stay in his good mood. Oliver Redding, the rather silent young man awakened, and danced with Mary at least three times, and Georgiana twice. Kitty once more was able to boast that she danced every dance, although her head was much more aware that one could have happiness in other ways at a ball, besides having a partner in each set.
All soon sat down, tired, and Elizabeth and Mary played a duet of Greensleeves, for the pleasure of the tired ladies. All were ready to leave, when Mr. Wallace suggested that all sing together. Mr. Barklem and Hurst could not be counted on, Darcy and Bingley insisted that they should derive more pleasure from listening, but Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, both Reddings, Mrs. Redding, Mrs. Hurst, Mrs. Barklem, Georgiana and Wallace were more than pleased to oblige.
The sweet notes of Noel were raised forth by the ten mouths, and all who listened were amazed at their beauty. It lasted for several minutes, and then came blessed silence, as all began to think about the sincerity of the song. Several people now exchanged gifts, and thanked each other softly, not wanting to hurt the silence, which seemed so special. Mr. Wallace had two packages fetched, one for each Mary and Georgiana, and in them were two lovely books of Wordsworth, which had recently been sent from London. Both young ladies were surprised and pleased, and quickly set about to find a scarf they had together knitted with the finest lambswool, and on finding it, they bestowed it on the Scottish gentlemen, who thanked them, and admitted that he should find great use for it.
"My dear ladies, it will be an honor to wear such a fine and warm scarf, and I shall have use enough for it."
Bingley smiled. "Our friend Wallace is most eager to make sure that all on his grounds are in good health and happiness, and cares not how cold it becomes. And indeed, Scotland is quite cold in the winter."
Mr. Darcy spoke. "It indeed pleasures me to hear, Wallace, of your kindnesses towards your tenants. I have heard that they are indeed quite well situated."
Mr. Wallace smiled. " I enjoy helping any whom I can."
All happy, they bade each other good night, and departed in twos and threes, silently admiring the beauty of the night which was approaching.
For this was a special night, and little Fanny, who stood with her cousin in the shade of the doorway knew it, even without the toys they clutched. There was beauty and happiness all about. Even through Mr. Hurst's snores.
The general happy euphoria which had cloaked all the members of the party at Pemberley began to thin on the morning of Boxing Day. The house put away many of the festive decorations, and the party split between those who could ride, and awaited to forthcoming hunt, and those who could not or would not, and had no such excitement to look forward to.
On observing this, Mr. Wallace, who had a fine seat, and was among the eager, asked if the Miss Bennets had not ever learned to ride. On hearing this as a negative, he promised that he would teach them soon. This gave both Kitty and Mary something to look forward to, but they could not possibly be ready in time for the hunt. So, they hoped that the next day would be fine so that they might begin to learn. Captain Riley vowed that he would also help them, and that they were indeed deprived. This being arrived at as a truth, they all retired to their own activities for the very stormy afternoon.
Mary had a new piece to practice, and went off to the music room with Georgiana to turn the pages. Kitty and Captain Redding went off somewhere on their own, and the Hursts, Barklems, Bingleys, Mr. Redding and Mrs. Redding all played cards. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth talked together, and Wallace was left to ponder over what he should do.
He could have gone to the stable, and checked after his hunters, which he had had brought from his estate in Scotland, or to the library, but neither really seemed to suit him. So he stood, staring out the window, ignorant of all that was happening.
"Mr. Barklem! You must help me, Mr. Hurst carries all the forehand!" exclaimed Caroline Barklem at one point. The lazy yet doting husband forced himself to again pay heed to the cards, and managed to drop the hand which his wife had been holding all over the floor. Mr. Wallace decided to help in the retrieval, then, tiring of the group, he went off towards the library.
He heard the strands of Mary's new piece, and thought how improved she was. Georgiana Darcy was a willing assistant, and was eager to help Mary Bennet to appreciate music as much as she herself did. Mary's voice was even tolerable now, and the song was not displeasing to the ear. Mr. Wallace stood a whole in such thought, then opened the door to the library.
On a desk was piled a series of books which Mary had been reading, laid out with her spectacles and a note of her writing, quill laid absently next to it. Being bored and curious, he peered closer at the piece of paper.
It contained simple phrases, comparing themes in the Aenead to those of Jean Elliot's "The Flowers of the Forest". Phrases about straggling armies and defeated causes struck him, and he realized for the first time that Mary had truly developed her own sensible opinions, and that she was no longer just a student in learning to have sense and judgment, but that she actually had sense and judgment plenty enough.
The music had stopped playing, and Wallace recognized the piece as the one Georgiana was now mastering. Suspecting that Mary would shortly be coming to her usual haunt in the library, he placed the sheet as he had found it, and exited the room, taking up a loose volume from the shelves. It was the Burns, and he found himself smiling as he read "To a Mouse". Mary was now less of a mouse than as he had started with her as his pupil. She was her own woman.
É * É
The hunt was set for the 29th of December, and Mary looked forward to watching the others go. Mr. Wallace and Captain Redding had taught her and Kitty about mounting and walking a horse on a flat ground, and she found the sensation intriguing. She was determined to watch the skilled riders, and to suggestions to improve her own riding. So, she watched from a window, down into the courtyard, where the ladies mounted sidesaddle on gentle mares, and as the gentlemen mounted their spirited hunters. She noticed their seats and positions, and thought that her sisters indeed rode rather well, and fervently admired Mr. Wallace's admirable positioning upon the horse. He looked up, and saw her, and smiled as the group rode from the house, into the park, along with the Colonel Walters, Mr. Dale and several other gentlemen and a knight from the neighboring area. All the gentlemen wore bright coats, and the ladies looked trim and neat in their habits.
Mary turned back to the collection of verse in front of her, a volume borrowed from Mr.. Wallace, and saw his neat script making note of several things, with several thoughts inscribed in the margin. She turned to the inside of the cover, where he had signed his name.
Jeremy Robert Wallace, 1800. A gift from Mary Campbell
Mary wondered who Mary Campbell was. Was she the friend? Was Wallace attached to her? She thought of the fond way that he had spoken of his friend, and how the absence made his home unbearable. She thought hard about this, and concluded that her love must be checked, for it appeared that Mr. Wallace's heart was already spoken for.
É * É
The hunt party returned in good spirits, having had great sport. The ladies, who had tired more quickly than the gentlemen, had turned their horses towards home, having chased the fox for a good number of miles. The men, however, were only too happy to pursue the thieving creature, and continued. All were exhausted, but well entertained by the time they returned to Pemberley, where all the members of the hunt, as well as the Pemberley party dined together.
Both Mr. Wallace and Mr. Redding were attentive to describing the hunt to Mary and Kitty, who had never taken place nor seen one, and she was entertained well through the meal, by the two gentlemen on either side of her arguing whether they had lost the scent of the creature ten miles from the house or twelve.
The New Year passed cheerfully, with parties and amusements for all. Mary continued in her reading and music, and found her time pass quickly. Soon it would be time to return home, and she looked at the event with much sadness.
At Pemberley, Mary had found the closest thing to happiness that she had ever experienced. She found appreciation in her family members, she had found Georgiana to be very pleasant, she had learned to ride, and she had found Mr. Wallace to be the most agreeable man of her acquaintance.
Mary was determined not to hold an attachment which Mr. Wallace seemed to be unable to share, and tried her best to look at him as a friend, and no more. Nevertheless, she found no man to be quite his equal. He had not the virtue or manner of Darcy, nor the steadfast cheerfulness of Bingley, but he was learned and enjoyed activity. He had sound opinions, and Mary found herself unable to even think of comparing him to any other man.
On January the 4th, 18----, a messenger arrived at the gates of Pemberley, bearing an express from Longbourn. Darcy received the message, and his wife read it with anxiety. On finishing, she called Jane, Mary and Kitty to her, and announced,
"Father is quite ill, and mother asks that Mary return to help in the nursing. Kitty too, if she can be spared. Father asks for me and Jane as well, and it seems only right that we go soon as well, after the Christmas group has finished with their holiday. Mary--Kitty, would you go first, and aid in whatever you can?"
Both girls looked a little alarmed, and assented a positive. Darcy looked at Bingley with a look which only said If Mr. Bennet is so ill that he dies, where will Mrs. Bennet go?
Jane was genuinely concerned, and offered that she help her two younger sisters to pack. Mary accepted her help, and read the letter which Elizabeth had read from.
My sad duty is to alert you that your father had become rather ill. He stays in his bed, which is quite odd of him, and burns with fever. Mr. Jones has been called, of course, but the man seems to have done no good at all. As you might expect, I am all flutterings and nerves, and I get no rest. I am beginning to feel quite ill myself.
I pray that you, my daughter, prevail upon your younger sisters to return home, and to help me with this time, for my very dear Lydia is quite busy with her three children, and can scarcely spare me any time at all. You do not know what I suffer!
Lady Lucas has offered her services, but I see no reason to accept them, for Maria has just married your Uncle Phillip's clerk, who has come by a fortune, and indeed she never stops talking of it. I implore that you or your sisters make haste, for I should hate to see your father die, and those Collinses will take over, and I should suffer the humiliation of giving up my home to Charlotte....I suffer so very much!
Your father asks for you and for Jane, and Kitty and even Mary, so I do hope some of you will come.
Mary placed the letter back onto the table, and looked about in shock. She loved her father, and indeed had always read and organized thoughts for his approval. However, he was much better pleased with Elizabeth and Jane, and had called her silly. She loved him much more than her mother, whom she had always seen as an idle gossip, one of the society who labeled her plain, and in doing so limited her life considerably. She had no patience or sympathy for her mother's alleged illnesses, but was worried about her father. She had been silly before, Mary realized, and should her father die this instant, he would still think her a vain girl. She was quite ready to leave for Longbourn.
All of Kitty's and Mary's things were packed, and Mr. Wallace lent Mary a few volumes, and gave her a list of titles that she should find in her father's library. He was very kind to her, and was touched by the sorrow he saw in her face, and the anxiety. He dearly hoped that the trip would do her good, and repeated his wishes that they should meet again soon.
Mary left the park of Pemberley quite anxious indeed, and Kitty was also upset. Kitty had never been beloved of her father, and had never particularly liked her mother, who had always preferred Lydia to herself, and indeed was horrified, lest Captain Redding should meet Mrs. Bennet, and her beloved be scared off by the same.
The carriage which conveyed them was rather silent, and the two watched each other, hoping both, that Mr. Bennet should recover soon. Both too, were aware of the changes in each since they had both been at Longbourn. Kitty had been engaged, and had become a more intelligent, and understanding woman. Mary had a drastic change in her. She had sound opinions, her vanity had been lessened considerably, she had heard her voice described as very tolerable, and had even heard herself to be called pretty. She had danced more often, and had more partners in those few weeks than ever before in her life, and realized that life really had a great deal to offer. Such thoughts carried her quite a long way, until they reached Longbourn.
Lydia and Mrs. Hill met the carriage at the door. Lydia was rather bubbly, still, although had little to say in praise of her husband. Her enrapturement with him had long since died away, and she spoke instead of the society which Longbourn was offering at present, of Maria Lucas's wedding with the fortunate clerk, and how her mother was rather dull, and how the appearance of her sisters was a very pleasant thing in that regard.
On Mary fetching Mr. Wallace's books, Lydia exclaimed,
"La! Mary, how many books you have! Is Lizzy making you read that lot?"
"No, I read these for my own enjoyment."
Lydia looked at the titles, and recognized a few novels amongst them and proclaimed such,
"My dear Mary, you have never read a novel before! Is Derbyshire such a place to change you so? For I dare say, you even look not so plain!"
"Derbyshire is a wonderful place," Mary agreed. "Please, Lydia, take me to my parents."
Kitty seconded this plea, and they went in, Lydia commenting on how lucky Kitty was to be marrying a soldier, and how dashing he had been described of by an acquaintance of her husband. They noisy group left outside the pile of books, along with the luggage, to be brought i by the servants. Mary hoped the books would be safe. Even if Mr. Wallace was a claimed man, his friendship represented to her a different world from the one she was now so unhappily stuck in. Lydia talked on and on, balancing twin boys on each shoulder.
Mary found Longbourn to be a bit dull after the gay society that had spent the Christmas holiday at Pemberley. Lydia was rather tiresome, and could not rightly understand why each of her sisters was so altered.
"The two of you! My Wickham was telling me that he had never seen you so altered since we had last seen you! Mary -- I dare say you have more sense now than to struggle to sit out every dance! This Thursday there is to be a small party at the Lucases...no one should be able to recognize you! And your dress....for once you aren't wearing one of those droll things...do you not agree, Kitty?"
"Mary is changed indeed...and for the better. I believe that our dear friend the Scotsman was sweet on her!"
"No..no!" exclaimed Mary, thinking of the mysterious Mary Campbell, "I am quite sure that his heart is engaged elsewhere."
Lydia laughed. "And he makes you privy to such secrets...?"
"Of course not. It was my own deduction," returned Mary.
Kitty smiled. "Mary did have a lovely time, though, I should say. You should hear her play....no Lydia...she is indeed improved! I think her playing is lovely. For my dear Captain Redding's sake, for he is so very fond of music, I would that I had taken the trouble to learn."
"La! Indeed, Kitty! You never expressed such a wish previously. Think of all the times that we have had, running about Meryton in chase of officers!"
"Times that I could have spent more wisely, had I only known that I would meet my Redding."
"Well, we all shall go to this party...there is nothing I love better than society. The most charming young girl, a Missy Taylor has moved into the great house at Stoke, with her mother and step father. Such a charming young girl..but beast...all the visiting officers are madly in love with her. What vileness!"
Mary and Kitty glanced at each other, thinking this double faced comment a bit odd. But at least someone had moved into the great house at Stoke, with small drawing rooms or not.
At this minute, Mrs. Hill summoned the girls, and they remembered that they had duties towards their father in his time of need.
A physician from London had been sent for, and had just recently arrived.Both Kitty and Mary, and even the scatterbrained and narrow minded Lydia was glad to hear that their father was on the road to recovery. Mrs. Bennet indeed was also thrilled, having been lamenting over how of all people, that Charlotte Collins, nee Lucas, would be living in this house most likely before the year was out.
This news was most welcome to Kitty, who had been summoned from the side of her betrothed, and was eager to return to him, although she was anxious for her father. For although he had always pronounced her as silly, she knew that he had preferred her to Mary, whenever separated from Lydia. To Mary too, this was welcome news. Although she was not living at Pemberley like Kitty, she was hopeful that she would visit the occupants, whom she had befriended, again. Also, she was always anxious to please her father, and hoped he would be well and strong again soon.
To Lydia the news was welcome, but also distressing. She had no great love of living in various places, traveling with the regiment. She had many friends there, but still, she wanted to resume an existence of being the daughter of a gentleman, instead of a soldier's wife. She enjoyed being at Longbourn, and flirting slightly with Wickham's friends, and to promote the enjoyment of the Miss Taylor of Stoke. Her stay had meant to be for the holiday, and as it drew towards a close, she began to be anxious for it's extension. Indeed, her mother was now ill able to sit without her, and she hoped that this might make her stay longer. Especially because Mrs. Bennet had hired a temporary nurse for the young children. In the meantime, she contrived to enjoy every minute of her stay, and hope that as her father recovered that she might find herself a longer residence at her father's manor.
Therefore, she was in calm but good spirits as Mr. Wickham led her into the drawing room at Lucas Lodge. Mary and Kitty were soon singled out by Maria Sidney, nee Lucas, who had not seen the two Bennets since before she had married the former clerk of Mr. Phillips.
The clerk himself seemed to be a good man, one who long had fancied Maria Lucas, but had been in no situation to think of the daughter of a knight (even though this knight had formerly been in trade.) With the death of a great uncle, whom everyone had forgotten about, he had come by a large fortune, and married his love. It was a happy story for both involved, and everyone thought well of the marriage, save Mrs. Bennet, who was exceedingly bitter, and could only went her feelings by thinking that soon she would have four daughters married to agreeable men, and three of them married to men of ample means.
Maria was a friendly girl, and being fond of music herself, had always been kind to Mary. She was delighted to hear Mary's current improvement, and was delighted to oblige Mary by sitting by her and turning the pages.
Mrs. Bennet's bitter temper soon wore off, as Mr. Howard, Miss Taylor's stepfather, proclaimed both Miss Bennets to be quite not ill looking, and Miss Bennet so accomplished! He was indeed surprised that she was the only Bennet girl who was unspoken for, and proceeded, like the good Mr. Dale in Derbyshire, found her several partners for an upcoming ball. Mary was very much flattered by all the attention, and was pleased as well.
On returning from the small party (Mrs. Bennet only needed the news that her husband was quite likely to recover to proceed from the house), Mary decided to practice the first piece she had played at Pemberley, the one she had played with Mr. Wallace. She missed his bright and attractive character, and his kindnesses, which were so hard for any other to compare to. In her loneliness, she sat at the piano, and with the aid of a candle, played each note meaningfully, as she missed Mr. Wallace. But no -- he was spoken for. Mary Campbell existed yet. The other part of the duet was silent, as Mary played alone. Her half part flew hauntingly through the room, and was likely the best that she had ever played anything. On reaching the conclusion, she rose, and pulled her shawl closer around her shoulders. She shut the door of the room, and proceeded up the stairs.
She walked quietly, hoping not to wake the Wickhams, her father, or Kitty. Mrs. Bennet was yet awake, talking to Mrs. Hill of how her daughters had been praised. Mary saw that there was a light in her father's room.
"Mary....that was lovely music." spoke a voice from within. It was soft, and quiet, and was her father's. She turned into the doorway, and faced him.
"Has Lizzy been helping you? Her house is lovely. All the times I have seen you, I think of Lizzy...you are growing in sense, my child. And you played quite well."
"Oh no! It was a duet, and I lacked the partner. Indeed, it was rather ill without the second set of hands!"
"My child, I have rarely heard such a lovely melody. You play as if you had character. I suppose you do. Good night, Mary. You are a good girl."
"Good night," spoke Mary. She departed from the room, and went into her own chamber. The world was beautiful, even if Longbourn wasn't Pemberley. Longbourn could never be Pemberley, but Longbourn was her home, and a right good one too.
Mary woke rather late the next morning, being so content with the events of last night that she had no worrisome dreams, or other nuisances to disturb her slumber. For once, Lydia's children seemed to be quiet in the morning, and this too left her sleep unhampered.
On rising, she quickly dressed, hearing the family heading towards their breakfast. She reached the meal in good time, and there was post from Pemberley. Kitty was intently reading a letter from her betrothed, and there was a letter from Jane and Elizabeth between Mary and Kitty's places. Mary sat at the table, and read the two letters.
Dear Mary and Kitty,
I do hope that you, our mother and most importantly, our father are well on your receiving this. Charles and I have an intention of returning soon after this letter reaches you, and you may expect us at Longbourn on the Monday next. Charles has some business in the area, and is also just as eager as I that our good father might be ill.
......The party here is now quite broken up, the Barklems and Hursts for London, Redding back to his home, and likewise his mother and sister. Mr. Redding, however is to join the Barklems. Our friend Mr. Wallace is returning home, and was called to deal with some business which he had long been delaying. Pemberley will be quite desolate soon, after the cheerful group.
Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, I believe, are awaiting to hear from you, Elizabeth being very busy with a sudden wave of fever that has overtaken some of the tenants of Mr. Darcy, and she is eager to assist them in any way that she can. Georgiana too, is thus occupied. I alone seem to be free at this moment to rush the the bedside of our dear father. So, I bid you adieu, my sisters, and do give my greetings to mama, father and Lydia.
Yours Sister, Jane Bingley.
The next letter was from Elizabeth.
Dear Mary and Kitty, and Mama, for I know she shall want to read this,
Be assured that we are all well, and I am in earnest when I wish that I may hear the same of those at Longbourn....
....Our party is now broken up, and both Georgiana and I are kept in a flurry by a fever which is making many of the tenants ill. We have a duty towards them, and are grieved not to be able to rush at this moment to aid my dear father. Please, Mary, Kitty, write to me soon so that I may not be so anxious.
Your sister, Elizabeth Darcy.
Mary showed the letters to Kitty, and indeed they were then snatched up by Mrs. Bennet, who as quite eager to hear from each of her daughters who were married so well! She clucked and cooed over each letter, but soon they decided that they should look over some needlework, and they finished their meal, talking of needles. Mr. Bennet attended the meal, and although pale, seemed much improved. He too, read Elizabeth's letter, and told Mary to write to Lizzy quite soon, to assure her that he was far recovered.
After the meal, Mary departed to do so, and was sitting down, pen in hand, to write Elizabeth, when she heard carriage wheels, and ran to the parlor window, and looked out. Mr. Collins and Charlotte were alighting from a carriage.
Good Lord! Mary thought, the last man I need to see right now. Pleas e let them forget that I am here...I know not how to greet him after all this time!
At Longbourn, especially with her father's new found preference of Mary, Mary was not forgotten, as she had been at Pemberley. She was called from her letter, which held scarcely more than a greeting, and was summoned to meet the Collinses.
From questioning Lydia, she found that the Collinses had been expected, and had written that they would rush to Hertfordshire as soon as Lady Catherine should allow them to. Mr. Collins, as both a family member and a clergy man, felt his duty most acutely to help the family. Also, he should not be adverse to seeing Mr. Bennet perhaps not recover....
The first thing that Mr. Collins did was to ask about Mr. Bennet. He seemed a bit disappointed that he should be so well recovered, but exclaimed how grateful he was, and how fearful he had been that Mr. Bennet should have been killed, and that he should need to move from his position with the Right Honorable lady Catherine DeBourgh of Rosings Park, near Kent...
Charlotte smiled at Kitty, and asked after her family. On hearing a positive to this query of their health, she was grateful, and steered her ever talking husband from the doorway, and into the house. They had left their child at Hunsford with a friend, and Charlotte was happy to be in a house where she had always been offered friendship.
As soon as the Collinses had left the room, Lydia whispered loudly to Kitty and Mary,
"I dare say they seemed a bit put out! Imagine... that oaf thought he would have gotten Longbourn! Please! Not him...poor Charlotte. I never did figure out why she would marry a clergy man..and him of all of them!"
Mrs. Bennet, whose ears were quite keen, heard the statement, and replied,
"Indeed I am glad that your dear father should be so well recovered..indeed I was quite frightened! Imagine! I should have been forced into the cold..no place to go, and to make way for the undeserving pair!"
"Mary tried to soothe her mother, but it was in vain. Mrs. Bennet loved to gossip, and such an opportunity to free her mind of all her nerves and fears was not to be missed. Mary soon sat down, and thought. She ought to finish her letter. So she did. She talked of How her father was quite improved, of how the Wickhams had not yet left, and of the arrival of the Collinses, after all help of the sort was no longer needed. She communicated some thoughts Charlotte had presses her to pass on, and then closed elegantly. Sealing the envelope, she entrusted the epistle to Mrs. Hill, and proceeded to take up some needle work, and to sit and day dream.
Mary thought about Mr. Wallace. She still pondered over Mary Campbell. She wondered if Mr. Wallace's urgent business had anything to do with her. Then, as she though of her ideal man, she mind turned to Mr. Collins. Before, she had thought the man clever, moral and well read. Now she thought of the several times he had misquoted verses to the group, and how he never read novels. Something which she had formerly shunned as well. Now, she realized that novels were part of reading. The absurd fantasy with the absurd morality. In short, Mr. Collins was no longer seen by her as an appealing man. Indeed, she pitied Charlotte now, instead of envying her. Mary did not know it, but she was rebuking a major part of herself. She had no more ties to her misguided past, and was now a moderately well educated woman, independent to some extent, and ready to see the world with her own eyes.
* É *
That evening, the group listened to Mary play a few pieces on the old instrument at Longbourn. Her voice was calm and sweet, her playing even and strong. Charlotte smiled at her, and Mr. Collins was astonished. He had never seen his young cousin as so talented a young lady. Perhaps he could have paid more mind to her. Previously he had commended her morals, but found her to be lacking in other virtues, namely beauty and an agreeable disposition. Now, listening to the somewhat angelic notes, he was startled; this was not the cousin he had known.
After her performance he approached her and praised her, but she shrunk away. She wanted as little to do with this man as possible. The group had the card tables placed, and they sat in separate sets. Mary smiled. She was the being Mr. Wallace had shown her to be. She was more than just the plain Miss Bennet.
A week or so passed at Longbourn, and quite soon Mr. Bennet was active again, quite recovered, although rather pale. The doctors suggested that after a bit more rest that he go somewhere healthful. Mr. Bennet was worrisome at this, thinking of his expenses, but Mrs. Bennet was thrilled at the idea that she should be traveling in the near future.
The shore was much too cold at this point to be of help to Mr. Bennet, so while he waited, he researched on the different places, and began to think about his recovery in a different place.
Lydia and Mr. Wickham soon found that they would soon be needed elsewhere. Lydia was quite pouty on the subject.
"We shall be forced to leave the merry society here so soon! I cannot believe it...Mama! You must invite me to join you when father goes to the shore. I should love to see the shore again. I really should. The north is quite beastly...mama, you must ask papa to let me join you!"
Mr. Bennet sat in his robe in the library, and smiled as he heard the loud complaint. Lydia's company was not yet a thing he could so easily bear, and wondered who would take the child in hand, and stop spoiling her. Mary was now much improved in sense, as was Kitty, and they both were a delight to him. He delighted that they should be so altered for the better, and proceeded to give each a sizable space in his heart. What he deemed so amazing was that of the three silliest girls in England, two had become rather intelligent and sensible. He reveled in this fact.
In mid January, Mary and Kitty received a letter from Elizabeth, inviting them to Mr.. Darcy's house in London. He and Elizabeth were visiting some friends who did not know Georgiana, and the Darcys were leaving her at their home in London, and were eager that she have company. Kitty was the one who was temporarily adopted by the Darcys, but Mary and Georgiana had shown a genuine love of music, and other pastimes together, that Elizabeth thought it wise to include her in the invitation. As Mr. Bennet was supposed to be quite well recovered, she saw no harm in taking the girls from Longbourn, and Lydia would remain for a few weeks, in any case.
So, Mary and Kitty once more packed their things, and traveled off to London to be companions to Georgiana. Mr. Bennet bade them a fond farewell, and asked them both to write, if it should not be a bother. Both girls promised dutifully, and eagerly set off once more, to gaiety and society.
* É *
Mr. Darcy's house in London was a large one. Mary had only ever stayed with the Gardiners when she had been in London, and was quite unprepared for the regalness of fashionable town life. Georgiana met them happily, and professed herself quite pleased to see the two of them, and asked of their father. On hearing that he was walking far now, and that only a small amount of weakness and paleness remained, she was quite happy, and led the girls to the chambers she had designated for them. Mary sank thankfully into a tastefully upholstered chair.
In the evening, Georgiana sat down at her London instrument, and played a new piece by Mozart that she had been learning, and Mary listened dutifully, and played herself, later on. Then, Georgiana informed them of various engagements later in the week. Kitty and Mary both were eager to see fashionable London, even in the decided cold. Georgiana agreed to their desire, and fitted several trips about the city into her mental schedule. Mary, excited, and happy to once more be with her fashionable and sweet friend, went to sleep, awaiting the morning.
* É *
In the morning, Georgiana accompanied the Bennets to their aunt Gardiners, where they heard the latest news of their young cousins. Mrs. Gardiner was as happy as Mr. Bennet had been to see how good society was affecting Mary so much for the better. Kitty decided to stay the afternoon with her aunt, to discuss Kitty's wedding plans, and the best places for silk in London. Georgiana and Mary planned instead to visit a certain shop where music as sold, and proceeded on their way, with loving adieux to the kindly Mrs. Gardiner.
As Mary seated herself beside Georgiana in the carriage, Georgiana drew her closer, and whispered,
"I want to talk to you, Mary."
"I think I am in love with a young gentleman I know, and know not how my brother would take this."
"Your brother cares for you, why should it matter?"
"My brother is very good to me, but he is very protective. The man is of good family...and I like him very much indeed," she finished faltering.
"Who is he?" asked Mary, "Does your brother know him..does he care for you?"
"He is a good man..I...I don't think I want to say his name now, not while I am troubled. Yes, my brother knows him, but not very well. And..I believe that he admires me."
Who would not admire Georgiana Darcy, wondered Mary. She is so kind and gentle, and so sweet! She is a handsome girl, to some extent, and besides, she has more money than I shall ever have. Many virtues to make her worthy in the eyes of men.
My dear Georgiana...I know not about love. I have led a life more secluded from such things than you. I have always been overshadowed by my sisters...some more clever, so more friendly, all more beautiful. I do not know about love, but I know this. Do not give your heart away so until you are sure that the gentleman loves you in return."
"Yes, " murmured Georgiana. "Mary, thank you, you are quite right. And Mary..I believe you shall meet him at the Turners' tomorrow. I shan't point him out to you, but i trust that you will figure out who he is."
The carriage stopped, and the two girls alighted from it. They entered the shop, each blushing, each wondering, both confused.
* É *
On returning to the London house, complete with their purchases, they talked about Mr. Darcy and Georgiana, and they were surprised to see Mr. Redding sitting, waiting for them.
"Mr. Redding!," exclaimed Georgiana, worriedly thinking what she had last been saying, which she did not want any but Mary to hear, "What a surprise! I had no idea that you were still in the neighborhood! I though that you planned to only stay a fortnight with the Barklems!"
"My dear lady, I heard that you had guests, amongst them my brother's fiance, and I came to send his regards to her." He smoothly produced a packet of letters, all addressed to Kitty, in form writing.
"I am afraid that Kitty is with her aunt even yet, and I am sorry that she is not here. However, we shall be sure to give her the letters."
"That would be excellent."
The party sat down for tea, which the servants conveyed to them, and Mary sat wondering about Georgiana. She wondered who the man was that she so adored, and wondered why Mr. Redding had really come. Letters were easily enough delivered by the post, and certainly he must have had some sort of engagement. She was so busy thinking that she did not see Mr. Redding pick up a scrap of paper which lay between his seat and Georgiana's. He picked it up, read it quickly, and placed it back again.
Soon after the meal, he departed, leaving his fond regards for his soon to be sister. He took nothing with him save what he had brought, and bade Mary a friendly farewell. It was just as well that Mary had not seen, for she already had a great deal to worry about.
The night of the party, which Georgiana's mysterious young man was to attend, soon arrived. Georgiana dressed with care, and Mary was pleased to see how happy Miss Darcy seemed to be. Mary even seemed to be prettier than usual, out of her interest in meeting this supposedly charming man, and also because she was eager to make her debut as a fashionable member of society in London. In all of Mary's previous visits, she had been the niece of Mr. Gardiner, a respectable man, but also one in trade. Now she was the sister of the wife of Mr. Darcy of Pemberley, and particular companion to Miss Darcy. Kitty too, was happy to attend the party, although there was no chance of the Captain being there. However, she was almost certain that Mr. Redding would attend, and that was some solace, to talk to someone who knew her beloved so intimately.
The trio disembarked from their carriage, and after disposing of their gaily colored wraps, they entered a room full of people dressed in the most gorgeous clothes Mary had ever seen. Her previous visits had not prepared her for this, and as she was introduced to Lady Philomena Daire, she nearly fainted at the sight of so much lace. Had Mrs. Bennet been there, she should have never been able to stop talking of it. The society present seemed fairly well off, to put such things mildly.
Mary scanned the room for unattached young men, who could be candidates for Georgiana's love. There were four such men present, the only one whom she knew was Mr. Redding, but he was engaged in earnest conversation with a slight young woman, who Kitty introduced as Mr. Redding's cousin, Cynthia Pointers. The other three men were all fairly handsome. One, who stood by a window, and was conversing with a grey-haired dowager, was dark eyed, with dark hair. He seemed to be a serious man, whom Lady Daire introduced as Mr. Solloway. He returned the introduction with great courtesy, and spoke with a slight Scottish accent. She sighed, as she though of Mr. Wallace.
The second young man was fair, with dark eyes, and a concerned expression. He sat alone in a corner, sipping something, and occasionally joining in the conversation of his two neighbors, Lord Hubert Daire, and the third young man, a mousy haired man, whose clothes were immaculate. The second man was introduced as being Sir Andrew Krumpe, and the third was Sir Richard Bladde.
The whole group was merry, and soon all sat down to a hearty meal, with such a table which if not equal to, surpassed that of the Pemberley fare. Mary found herself next to the Scottish gentleman, and finally worked up the courage to ask,
"Are you acquainted with a certain Mr. Wallace of Melrose?"
"I am his cousin, if you mean the master of Volcanholm, which is not far from Melrose."
"The same. I trust that you are acquainted with him?"
"We met at Christmas. I was staying with the Darcys. I was wondering if you knew him, for I observed your accent similar to his."
At this Mr. Solloway laughed.
"I try to hide my accent. I don't particularly like it. My cousin is much more fond of it. What did you think of my cousin?"
"Oh! He was most gentlemanly...and he played the piano forte quite well." Another smile.
"Yes. You are most certainly speaking of my cousin. Now tell me, Miss Bennet, have you ever been to my fair country?"
"Then you have missed something great indeed! The hills are poems in themselves, I shan't begin to describe the heather at twilight, or the mists. I should never stop. You must visit it some day."
"Mr. Burns wrote some lovely phrases on the subject of your country and its peoples."
"Have you read Burns? Did my cousin put you to it? He tries to make everyone he meets appreciate the things he does. Indeed he is a most caring man! He is most doting upon his sister, and she in return is so kind to him... . He spends a great deal of time and money on the management of his estate, and on the prosperity of his tenants...and in addition to that, he reads and plays, and puts the rest of us men to shame."
Mary smiled, and passed the potatoes to Georgiana, who was in conversation with Sir Andrew Krumpe. Mr. Redding watched the pair from across the table, quietly sipping wine. His fair cousin sat beside him, and chattered on, but he was watching the couple. Mary was intrigued. In this pause, Sir Bladde claimed Mr. Solloway's attention, and Mary was left to respond to niceties addressed in her direction.
After the meal, the young ladies were called upon to exhibit, and many of them did. Mary watched the faces of the single gentlemen as Georgiana played, Mr. Redding was still observing Krumpe, who was listening carefully, nodding his head to the music. Sir Bladde was impatiently listening, quieting those around him somewhat violently. Soon, Mary was called upon, and played a piece very well. Mr. Solloway told her later that she played somewhat in the style of his cousin, and found her music very pleasing. He escorted Cynthia Pointers to the door, where Mr. Redding helped her into her carriage. Solloway smiled at Mary, and the trio returned to the town house.
After Mary had changed from her ball gown, she heard someone knock on her door, and drew her robe about her, as she admitted Georgiana to the room.
"Was he there?" asked Mary, who he was, did not need explaining.
"Yes. Oh Mary, I am quite sure that he returns my regard!"
"What makes you think that?" questioned Mary, who was earnestly trying to recall all who spoke to Miss Darcy.
"He is kind and attentive, and he gave me this letter."
Mary was surprised. The two had no official relationship, and for a man to address a women privately in this manner seemed highly inappropriate. Still, written proof was a good thing when one was questioning, and she was happy for Georgiana.
"Mary, he wants me to wait for him. He does not think that he has sufficient fortune to... marry me, and he wants me to wait for him. I shall write in the positive, do you not think? I hate to do anything without alerting my dear brother... but if I wish, in the time which shall pass, I could always break any attachment, should it displease my brother... but Mary! This is such a happy night!"
"Shall you not at least tell me who the gentleman is?"
"Silly, you shall figure it out yourself. I can't name him now, for if the letter should fall into the wrong hands... I daren't destroy it, for I love my gentleman dearly... but he has committed something of a crime, and wishes to redeem himself. Not something vile, but a breach of duty... a betrayal that tortures him even yet... and he wants all to be right... Oh Mary! That there were such another man in the world for you!"
"I'm sure there is," responded Mary, thinking of Mary Campbell, and how happy she must be, "But I doubt that I could ever be as sweetly happy as you."
Continued in Part 2
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