Chapter 1- A Disturbance of the Peace
It is a truth universally acknowledged that an introvert would like to be left in peace by younger sisters who insist upon dragging said introvert to nearly every ball and gathering in the county.
Mary Bennet found herself with her nose in her book once again while her sister Kitty flitted from one conversation to the other in the room full of people. Mary was thankful her second youngest sister was not as eager to meet prospective matches as Lydia was, because chaperoning one sister was enough.
Kitty was well-behaved to be sure, but the impropriety of a young girl traveling alone did not sit well with their mother and father, so Mary had seen plenty of the county and beyond its borders more than she would have desired to.
She checked the hallway clock for the time, it said 11 o'clock. Hopefully Kitty would tire soon and say they could go home, or at least Mary would hope because she was about at the end of her book.
Mary paused at the last chapter of her book and looked around the room. Music was mixing with voices and the porcelain faces were all the same to Mary. Kitty's friend Miss Louisa Weston was gesturing vividly to the circle and going on about the new militia recruits. Kitty's eyes lit up at the idea of the regiments coming and Mary heard her reply, "They will be so refreshing after last year's disappointment."
Mary shook her head and rolled her eyes. The officers were never good enough for Kitty, ever since Jane and Elizabeth taught her about what a suitable man would be for marrying. At this rate, Mary and Kitty would both be spinsters. Kitty perished the thought, but Mary found it comforting. No hosting dinner parties, no babies, no lingering gossip and no finding suitable matches for her own hypothetical future daughters.
"Penny for your thoughts? Five pounds if they're about books," a male voice said next to her.
Mary jumped and her book fell to the floor with a thump! The noise was enough to attract a few passersby and gawkers but the whole entire room did not notice for which she was thankful.
She felt her heart racing in her chest and took a few deep breaths. She collected herself before turning left to the fine young gentleman who had startled her.
He bowed and she curtsied in return.
"Forgive me. I did not mean to startle you," he said, bending down to pick up her book. "Romeo and Juliet, an interesting choice. I thought Hamlet was the better work for Shakespeare."
"Excuse me, I did not see you standing there," Mary said. "You have read Shakespeare?"
He laughed, "Do not look so surprised. I think Shakespeare is a great writer and I've read most of his works, except I can never seem to make it through Othello."
"I cannot disagree with that, though I don't expect men such as yourself to have a lot of time to read."
"Nonsense, I have read a great deal and many of my friends are well-read, whether they truly enjoy the books is entirely up to them, but they have read."
"Forgive me, I rarely find someone well-read enough to discuss the author or the content," Mary said, receiving the book from him. She fixed the pages into their proper state and closed it.
"They are hard to find, are they not? My friends will not hear one word of the library at my home, at Pine Hollow, because they say I talk too much about it and its contents, so I spend most of my time out of doors," he said.
"Where is Pine Hollow?"
"Cambridge," he said. "Forgive me, I seem have to forgotten my manners. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Henry Aldridge, at your service. And you are…"
"Mary!" Kitty's voice rang out halfway down the hall. Mary watched as her sister strolled towards them, running her fingertips along the wall for balance.
"Are you ready to go home? I sent for the carriage not five minutes ago," Kitty said.
"In a moment," Mary said.
"What's the rush? You are usually the first to leave when the carriage comes round."
"Oh! You met somebody," Kitty said, noticing Henry.
"Henry Aldridge, at your service," he bowed to Kitty.
"Kitty Bennet, of Meryton," she curtsied. "Are you related to the Westons, Mr. Aldridge?"
"Yes, Miss Kitty, I am their second cousin on their father's side."
"How nice. How long are you staying in Hatfield?"
"A fortnight and then I return to my estate for midsummer," Henry said.
Just then, a footman told the Bennets their carriage was round.
"It was very nice to meet you, Mr. Aldridge. You and your cousin Louisa must come to Meryton sometime and visit Longbourn," Kitty said.
"We might not be home though," Mary added quickly. Kitty looked at her curiously.
"My dear sister, where do we ever go besides town? Of course we'll be at home. Now come along," Kitty said and made a final curtsy to Henry.
"Until we meet again, Miss Mary," Henry said, bowing to her. Mary blushed, curtsied and ran out the door in one fluid motion.
Once in the carriage and safely towards home, Kitty said, "Well, he looked very nice."
"He was," Mary said.
"What did you guys find to talk about?"
"Enough to have a proper conversation," Mary said. She was not one to gossip about perspective husbands. Henry as a husband had hardly entered her mind, but it stuck there like glue.
"What are men to rocks and mountains?" Mary said, staring out the window into the starry night.