by Ey Stargazer
mary bennet gets some help to step out of her sisters shadows
|It has never been secret that the expectations of a family of multiple daughters is that there will be at least one beauty, one accomplished and one good humoured. These beliefs are held either subconsciously or proclaimed openly by any person that hears of such a family. No surprise then that when any one heard that the new wife of the prominent Mr. Darcy of Derbyshire had four sisters there was a great deal of expectation from them. This expectation was answered favourably by the arrival of the elder sister into the area with her husband who was a great friend of the Darcy’s. News that one of the other three sisters was married as well served to produce the general hope that the other two would come more into prominence. The second youngest answered these hopes tolerably well when she emerged with her sisters and was not short of suitors. But question still remained about the third young lady.
Genteel ladies are not so much in demand as rich gentlemen but a pretty face at a ball is always seen with favour, particularly if she have any fortune and connections worth mentioning.
“Mr. Bennet,” the mother of this same said girl called with enthusiasm as she made her was toward the library where her husband spent most of his time, “ I have wonderful news from Mrs… why my dear whatever can you be doing? You can not be thinking of leaving me at a time like this to go off visiting Lizzy again?”
“I can and I am Mrs. Bennet, it’s a right I will never tire of exercising and I’m sure they don’t object to my staying there any more than I object to going.” He could not repress smiling as his wife went upon her tirade that her nerves could no more bear his constant and unnecessary absences than she could that there last daughter in the house was nearing her twenty third year and still had not made any conquests.
“The remedy is simple, and Mrs. Long has just made me aware of it.”
Mr. Bennet sat where he could be comfortable, “Well then my dear tell me what gentleman now wishes to settle here and marry our daughter?”
“Oh, you are so tiresome, what will become of us if you insist on always being like this what I have to say relates to Mr. De Larier…”
“Oh this is brave and serious indeed, Mrs. Bennet, he is unquestionably a respectable man with good fortune but will Mary really be happy with a man that is already married?”
“Mr. Bennet! How can you even suggest such a thing, I said it relates to him, not that I was fixing on him. Oh course if anything should happen to his wife I would be glad of him as a son in law but we can not depend on such good fortune to make our way in life. What I am refering to is the cousins that I have reason to believe will be visiting very soon, in time for the Christmas parties.”
“Cousins of a respectable gentleman, my dear I have wronged you, you possess every virtue of wit and intelligence that are necessary in a proper match maker.”
Mrs. Bennet paused for a moment of silence under the praise of her husband before continuing, “so you must send for Kitty immediately, I’ll not have her miss this chance.”
“Kitty, Mrs. Bennet? I thought your inclination was for Mary, or do you plan to marry them both off to these men.”
“This cousin is of the peerage, so we must use beauty and not brains to attract him.”
Mary stepped away from the door and walked the distance required to get out of her mother’s hearing. She was not the prettiest of her sisters, this was something that she never pretended to be but, since her sisters had gone away, she was becoming ever more conscious of it. Lydia had been the most lively, Elizabeth the quickest of wit, Jane the most beautiful by far and Kitty the most easy to get along with. She had always thought of herself as the one with the accomplishments but even she could be no longer blind to the preference given the other girls when the instrument was opened at any party she was obligated to attend with her mother. The lack of her sister’s presence at the balls in Meryton had bought no increase in invitations to her and it was still unusual for her to dance any more than once in an evening. Her mother rarely noticed, she was too locked in gossip with the older ladies of the town to pay much attention to her wall flower daughter, outshined by any girl regardless of class that appeared in the assembly. It seemed that regardless of how adorned a dress she wore she always paled into the background.
She picked up a book from the table in the sitting room and proceeded to dawn her bonnet. A common occurrence now and most often for the same reason. She had hoped that with three of five daughters married that her mother would not push her so hard to accomplish something that seemed so entirely out of her reach. So a retreat to the wood on the one side of their garden was in order several times a day so long as the weather permitted. She always had enjoyed reading, though now it was more for pleasure than just as an accomplishment. “Let the cousin come and choose someone else, I’m sure one of my sisters would permit me to live with them without needing to be married.”
It was November and though it had not yet snowed that rains had confined her indoors more than she had become used to. The green was damp and made a wet sound under her shoes that nearly convinced her to retreat indoors again but she could not be deterred, it would be insupportable to loose the last day she might be able to be outside. The thick sent of the late blooming flowers after the rain was instantly calming for her lately frayed nerves, she had not been much for nature, except as a study to the many stories she read, but she found it necessary to have a retreat from her mother. Her book today failed to catch her attention.
It is difficult for any young lady, especially one with three married sisters to keep her mind fully focused on one thing when a topic of interest presents itself but moments before and though Mary had declared her intention of giving the visiting cousin no thought, a character in the book she was reading, arriving under similar circumstances, brought him forth in her imagination with full force and determination to be seen and paid attention to. She could not ignore the weight of a title nor wonder at her mother’s intention to fix him on one of her daughters. Here was a sting, Kitty was the only reigning single Bennet other than herself and since the removal of Lydia’s influence she had become much sweeter and less immature, the last letter they had from her hinted that there might be a suitor in the picture now.
“Mary, my love, come in side,” her mother called from the house with enough force that it could not be ignored.
Mary sighed closed her book that had by now been sitting idly in her lap for some time and retraced her steps across the lawn to the house.
“Come in, come in child, we can’t have you catching cold and spoiling your completion any more than it already is, can you really not find anything better to do with your time than read?”
“I thought you had a visitor this morning, mama, pray who was it?” Mary had few of her father’s talents but closer observation over the last few years had at least given her knowledge on how to accurately sway her mother’s conversation.
“Oh yes, my dear that is what I wanted to speak to you about, I had a visit this morning from Mrs. Long, she brought the most wonderful news, there is going to be a rich young man coming down to visit his cousins at Netherfield and I am determined that you should get him, he has, I understand, a large fortune is from an older family and has recently inherited a title. I do not yet know what his name is but he is a gentle man and I am assured quite young. I’m sure that his status will qualify him for a wife of intelligence and who could be better than you to answer the requirement.”
Mr. Bennet had had only to point out that Kitty was already in the throw of being courted by the sure intelligence from his other daughters and turned her attention to her other daughter. It did not follow that Mary be grateful for such action, but it put Mrs. Bennet in higher spirits to pursue her schemes and it was not long in conversation before Mary discovered that her mother’s intent followed all the way to waiting on Mrs. De Larir as early the next morning that they could manage.
“There is no cause for us not to attend to them, why we are overdue for a social visit, you must be careful to be attentive to her children, it will be well if she can pass to their cousin that you are not only intelligent but attentive. All men of influence are looking for young handsome women that are good with children. Come we must find something for you to wear.”
The De Larir’s had taken possession of Netherfield hall mere months after Mr. Bingly and family quit it to purchase their own home in Derbyshire, and though the family had only been there for a year they were still little known to the Bennet family. Mr. De Larir was a gentleman of standing that had brought his wife and three small children from the northern country and since they rarely attended functions and none of their children were old enough to go to any assemblies they were rarely seen aside from calls and the occasional family dinners that were held in the great house. The Lucas girls had been very disappointed that the ballroom at the house be so under used but with the coming of the cousins it was held in high hope that one might be held in their honour in the course of the visit. Mary did not feel that it was such a loss that the house be so underused, the family had after all not gotten it for the convenience of the neighbour hood but it had furnished one pleasure for her.
A letter sent not long after the family had arrived was misdirected and delivered to her. So excited on the occasion of what she thought was the first letter addressed to herself from her sisters that she opened it without first studying the inscription. What it contained was a letter from a friend of Mrs. De Larir that though not overly personal in nature in any way that a private letter is not entitled to be. Her mortification at her action prompted her to write a letter of apology to the sender before she knew what she was doing and obliged her to walk the distance to Netherfield to deliver the violated envelope. Lavinia De Larir was very generous and understanding and though not necessarily pleased did thank Mary for being honest about the letter. She had thought this settled the matter when in a matter of a week a letter came for her. This time the elegant hand was addressed to her with pointed accuracy and the author made so light a matter of it and complemented her so decidedly on her honestly and bravery for writing her apology to a stranger that she felt obligated to write back to answer what medial questions could be gleaned from the letter. What followed was a faithful and frequent correspondence that somehow managed to keep itself from the eye of her mother.
Hannah Blackly had a most marvellous way with words that, though Mary could understand their meaning from all that she had read, she paled at the thought of composing them into a letter herself. Who her correspondent was she did not rightly know. It would be impertinent to ask Mrs. De Larir and to ask Hannah seemed just as unacceptable. At the same time Mary had rather not know. She had told Hannah as little as she could about her family least she be compared to her sisters or grouped in with her mother and if it happened that Hannah was any bit above or below her she could not think what might be thought of their free and unsolicited written conversations.
Mary need not have worried over the threatened visit as one look out her window in the morning revealed blustery conditions that made any travel impossible. This made it necessary to put up with Mrs. Bennet’s near constant lamenting that they could neither go out nor would they get any visitors. Her father paid it no mind only smiling every now and then before retreating to his library for much needed peace and quiet. Her daughter’s only escape came when she would go up to practice her instrument. The impassable snow lasted the length of a fortnight, by which point it was already the beginning of December.
Mrs. Philips was a welcome sight to Mrs. Bennet but as she was preceded by an invitation from their eldest daughter to go the their house in Derbyshire there was little that she could mention that would not send Mrs. Bennet into the throws of despair.
“Oh, stop sister, can you not see that his coming is nothing to us now, we received dear Mrs. Bingly’s invitation this morning and Mr. Bennet is determined to ruin us and make way there to stay for the month.”
“It is no use, he will not be worked upon, he is not thinking of us, he will do whatever he can to get himself to Lizzy’s side. He is always giving her the preference. Why I’m sure we must have received at least a dozen invitations from my dear Lydia and he has refused to take us there, regardless of where they are. It is insupportable. And now Mary’s best chance has finally come and he wants to be off as soon as he can get things in order. He will be cruel. We have no grantee that there will be any eligible men of a titled rank or fortune in Derbyshire, all the men worth having in the area are already taken. He’ll see us ruined yet.”
“You are quite right my dear,” Mr. Bennet remarked as he made a pass through the room toward the library, “I‘ve been flouted on my every attempt thus far but I am decided that I will accomplish the task this time.”
“Oh, Mr. Bennet!”
Her husband inclined his head to the ladies of the room, “I will see you at dinner.”
“There you see how he is, there is no chance that we’ll even be able to see him.”
“But sister, it is as I am telling you…”
“I do not wish to hear any more about it!”
Mary here attempted to lay down the volume of sermons she was reading to find employment elsewhere but was stayed by her aunt.
“I think you will wish to hear this too.”
“Sister pray do not torture me, my nerves cannot bear it.”
“He is here.”
Mrs. Philips straightened her back with a satisfied look on her face, “He braved the inclement weather and arrived on Tuesday and they mean to attend the assembly tomorrow night.”
“Oh sister, I knew how it would be, fate could not leave the situation alone and seeks to do us justice in spite of Mr. Bennet’s intentions, I am sure I can persuade him to wait to depart for a couple days. Oh but I am sure those greedy Lucases have been waiting on them hand and foot since he arrived they will not allow any man to enter the county without throwing their daughters at them. But tell me sister what is he like?”
Both ladies now leaned in and Mary knew she would not be able to leave the room till the end of her mother exclamations, the review of every bit of gossip and the creation of their own. She was ready to pick up the next volume of her book when she heard such that arrested her attention.
“His name is Blackly, he is from Nottinghamshire and has a fortune of twelve thousand a year at least, he is tall of person, rides extremely well, and is the handsomest man in the land, they say he is very pleasing, you must understand that I have not yet seen him myself, but can be a little quiet in company he is not used to.”
“Aunt Philips are you sure his name is Blackly?”
“That my dear is the most sure thing about him.”
“Mary, you must not make yourself uneasy about a last name, I’m sure I would never have been so well married if I was as picky as that. Mary Blackly sounds very well.”
“Ah but Lady Mary Blackly sounds even better.”
“Aye sister it does oh how happy I should be, and to have a large estate in Nottinghamshire and I’m sure at least two houses in town. All you have to do is be a bit more social at the assembly, there are no girls half so accomplished as you hereabouts if you’d just make the most of it. If you keep withdrawing at the parties you are sure as ever to end an old maid, and then who shall take care of you when your father has died?”
“I believe there was a report of cousins coming, who else is visiting?”
“That my dear does not matter,” Mrs. Bennet laughed, “you must concentrate on Mr. Blackly and make the best of it. My dear sister, what is his title, I heard that he was part of the peerage.”
"That is the one thing I cannot find out for sure, I have not yet been introduced to him and even Sir Lucas has not been able to divine what his title is. It seems a very great secret."
Mary fell silent and listened to the continued mirth with occasional comments on herself that passed between the ladies. Could this be a relative of Hannah? Could it be in fact Hannah’s brother? The chance of their meeting in this way was truly amazing. To have someone that understood her plain and simple ways to possibly be at the next assembly perhaps she could be spared the judgmental eyes that rested on her every time she sat in the corner with no partner. But alas, it was too good to be true, there must be a thousand Blacklys in the country and there was no promise there would be any connection between them. Hannah had never mentioned a brother.
Her aunt insisted that Mary and Mrs. Bennet join her for supper and before Mary could utter a polite refusal, her mother accepted with a flourish that saw them exit the building in a little over an hour .
When they at last returned and her mother took herself up stairs in search of her husband, her attention was called by her father from the door to his library.
“You had some callers while you were out, a gentleman and a lady, they sat for a while before departing and said they hoped to see you tomorrow night.” His smile played into the impression that he was holding something back but he gave her no opportunity to question his manner before blowing out the candle, wishing her good night and making his way to where he could hear his wife calling out her displeasure at his not being by her side.
Mary looked at the card on the side table, it read Miss Gabriel West.
“What, back already? She disappointed you that much?”
Blackly took a light swing at his cousin, “She wasn’t at home, Miss West left her card.” The aforementioned lady sauntered into the room behind him, “I suppose she had gone out for dinner.”
“Did you leave Miss Blackly’s note?” the dry humour in Mr. De Larier’s voice prompted a spark of playfulness to fire in Gabriel’s eyes.
“Of course not, if I had I’d have no justifiable reason to call again, which,” she tapped his arm with her folded fan, “I fully intend to do.” She straightened and strode toward the book table, “Tomorrow if I can manage it.”
“Enterprising as usual, but hardly in the socially acceptable style.”
“And that surprises you?” Gabriel walked toward the mantle then turned to smile at Mr. De Larier, “I’ve never been patient, something I’m sure you are already acquainted with and the study of being quiet and retiring is enough to drive the social force right out of me. The moment I heard Hannah mentioned that her secret correspondence friend lived with in so easy a distance of you all…”
Blackly laughed quietly, “Miss Bennet was hardly being kept a secret, I’m sure Hannah mentioned about her the moment she received her second letter…”
“And we heard about her endlessly ever since,” Gabriel smiled as she finished Blackly’s sentence.
De Larier smiled, “and it evidently still did not serve to satisfy your curiosity