CHAPTER TEN

The next day was torture for Mary. She was extremely thankful that her engagement to Mr Collins was not announced yet, or it would have made her father's position so much worse, but the rest of the time she was miserable. Her mother was so happy, and as much as she disliked some of her mother's habits, Mary did not want to make her sad. It was even more so with her father. Her father wasn't exactly satisfied to see her marry a fool like Mr Collins, but he was pleased that he had made sure that all his children were provided for now. Mary hated to displease him. Kitty was disgusted by her parents forcing Mr Collins on Mary, and she was a source of comfort for Mary - one person, at least, would not be displeased with her to find she had fled. And she had to bear Mr Collins all day, talking about the sons they would have, how Lady Catherine would deign to visit her, and how he was sure she would be a conformable wife. She shuddered to think what might happen if her plan for escaping did not work.

That evening before she went to bed, she gave Kitty an especially big hug, she tried to be very helpful to Mama, and she kissed Father on the head. She hated what she had to do to them, but she comforted herself all the time with the thought of Mr Alcott, and she knew that her parents shouldn't have done to her what they did. It was wrong to force your child into marriage, however good it must be for them, and she vowed she would never do the same to any of her children. Then she had the pleasant idea that Mr Alcott and she might have children, and smiled for the rest of the evening, which made Mr Bennet relax somewhat. He had been afraid that Mary would be dejected, but she seemed to be far from it.

Mary went to bed rather later than usual. Instead of blowing out her candle straight away and going to sleep, she quietly went round her room picking out necessities for London. She packed as much as she could into a small valise - clothes mostly, but she couldn't leave behind her Bible, and she sneaked in some treasures. The thought came to her that if she didn't take what was most important to her, she might never see it again, and she had to sit down for a minute with that realisation, and gulp a little. She didn't want to leave Longbourn, but it seemed it was necessary, if she wanted to find love with Mr Alcott. With this thought she steeled herself, and continued packing.

To her horror, Kitty slipped into her room at midnight. "Mary!" she whispered. "What are you doing?"

Mary was terrified. If she was caught by her parents, all would be lost. "Kitty, please don't tell!" she whispered furiously. "I am leaving! I cannot marry that man!"

To her surprise, Kitty gave a grin. "Good on you! Don't worry, I won't tell our parents. But where are you going, Mary?"

"To London," she whispered. She blushed. "I should tell you... Mr Alcott and I.. we're.."

"In love?" asked Kitty.

She nodded.

"Yes, well, I had always suspected that," said Kitty. "Mary, whatever happens, do follow your heart! Mama and Father are very wrong to force Mr Collins on you like this, and don't ever feel you're in the wrong, all right?"

Mary smiled at Kitty. Right then, she loved her so much. She hurried over to her to give her a hug. "I will miss you a lot."

Mary was surprised to see tears in Kitty's eyes. "I will miss you too. But I will know you are happy. And don't worry, I never had this conversation with you. Tomorrow morning, I know nothing."

"Thank you, Kitty. You are so dear to me."

"Good night, Mary. Goodbye."

"Goodbye."

Mary shed a few tears at this point. It was to be expected. She felt she had one of the dearest sisters in the world, (who would have expected this a few years ago?), and she didn't know when she would see Kitty again. At least once Kitty was married Father couldn't stop her seeing Mary, if he wanted to. But Mary calmed down after a while, and started writing the letter.

Dear Mother and Father,

By the time you read this, I will be gone. I am sorry for any

pain to inflict upon you, but I cannot marry Mr Collins. I would

be terribly unhappy all my life, and although I know you just want

to secure a safe home for me, I cannot do it. I have some good

friends who do not want to see me unhappy, and they will help

me, so do not fear, I will be safe. I do not know how you will act

upon reading this, but please let me tell you how much I love

you and how terrible I feel to be doing this to you.

Your daughter,

Mary Bennet.

It took several attempts to write that letter. Before she had finished, there were several screwed up pieces of paper on the floor. And she looked at her watch, and it was five minutes before three o'clock. She calmly put on her pelisse and her bonnet, and soft slippers so that she would make no noise going down the stairs. Mary took a big breath before opening the door, and slipped out. She tiptoed down the stairs. She could hear nothing, but that was disconcerting. She would have rather heard Father snoring or something. Mary knew which steps creaked, she had tested them that afternoon, and so avoided them. She was downstairs. Now she had to avoid waking the servants. She slipped out a side door, and felt a little surprised at her success so far. Quickly she tiptoed to the shadows, and walked round the fence line under the shadow of the wall until she got to the gate. It was a moonlit night, and if she had walked away from the shadow, she would have been clearly seen from a window of the house. She breathed a sigh of relief when she came onto the road and saw a carriage waiting.

"Miss Bennet?" whispered a groom. She nodded. "I'll 'elp ye in, miss," he said. "I 'ope ye'll be comfortable. I'm Jim, by the way."

"Thank you," she whispered, a little too nervous to be very polite. She climbed in quickly, and Jim swung himself onto the carriage. They drove off quickly, but slowed down when they got away from Longbourn. Mary's heart was beating like a bongo drum. She couldn't believe it had worked.

The carriage stopped. Jim came to the door. "Miss, I was told to tell ye that the plans are slightly changed. I won't take ye to the 'averfield inn, I will take ye straight to London, if that's fine with ye."

Mary nodded tiredly. "Fine with me."

Jim eyed her drooping eyelids. "It'd be best if ye got some sleep, miss, if ye can."

"I think I will," replied Mary. He nodded, and returned to his driver's seat. They started again with a jolt, and the rocking and bumping of the carriage soon lulled Mary to sleep.

Jim woke Mary when they arrived in London. It was early in the morning still, but the sun was well and truly up, and Mary was fully awake and watching her surroundings with interest when she arrived at Mr Alcott's residence on Abermarle Street. Mary felt very small getting out of the carriage holding her shabby little valise, rubbing her eyes, in front of the huge, imposing frontage of Mr Alcott's house. The door was thrown open as she advanced cautiously up the steps, and a stately butler welcomed Miss Bennet to the house, and informed her that Mr Alcott was waiting for her in the parlour. He led her in, and closed the door, and she saw her Matthew standing in a corner looking out a window. He turned around as he heard the butler pronounce her name, and an almost goofy smile lit up his face as he rushed across the room to greet her.

"Oh, I've missed you!" he said, giving her a hug. "How are you, my darling? You must be tired!"

"Not at all, I'm wide awake," said Mary, smiling back at him. "I was successful, Matthew!"

"You escaped!" he agreed. "But you make very light of it, my love, I am sure it was not an easy thing to do?"

Mary lowered her eyes. "No," she said quietly, "it wasn't easy. I feel terrible about it, Matthew!"

He kissed her forehead. "You will be fine, Mary. They will not eternally banish you; after all, they did not do that for your sister Lydia, and what she did was much worse, wasn't it?"

She smiled. "That's true."

"Now," he said, "you must have some breakfast."

"I am hungry," admitted Mary.

They ate a delicious and enjoyable breakfast together, and Mary started to feel that if she was going to gain such a glorious future as this, it was worth running away. She couldn't imagine having half so good a time with Mr Collins, and this was only breakfast.

"Now," said Mr Alcott quietly. "Do you think it time to visit your sister?"

Mary looked a little pale. "I think so." She looked at him, her eyes begging help. "Will you come with me?"

He was touched by her need of him. "I don't think I can, Mary. If your sister does not take your point of view, she must not know that I will be looking after you."

Mary looked disappointed. "I suppose you're right."

"I will stop the carriage down the road from the Darcy's townhouse, and wait there for you. If your sister wants to help you, you can send a servant to tell me, and if not, you can find me there later. If you send no word out in an hour's time, I will come and fetch you. We don't want them to force you to stay there."

"Fine," said Mary, taking a deep breath.

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