Summary: Follow Mary Bennet in her quest to discover her true self, as unlikely friendships are formed, tentative romances occur, and attempts of matchmaking (or insufferable meddling) run wild. Also featuring Kitty, and other less known Austenian heroines. "Crossover" with other novels from Jane Austen.
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Jane Austen's genius. Only this plot is mine, along with a few original characters.
The nineteen-year old young woman was darkly staring at her reflection in the mirror. Were she to have a (bored, as usual) audience, she would have publicly despised the use of such frivolous objects and proclaimed her unadulterated faith in inner beauty. Alas, the mask she bore and in which she had wanted to believe herself did not abuse her any more. She had wanted to hide behind a respected bluestocking, and even that attempt had failed miserably.
The cruel sniggers, the poisoned remarks during her pathetic performance at the Bingley's, she had been painfully aware of them long before her father decided to intervene and closed the piano. But she had persisted, seemingly oblivious to the shame, because she just wanted to be heard. She loved music, but how could she have improved without any proper teaching? Weeks of hard-working practice had vanished under the sarcasm of both the neighbours and her most respected relatives, namely her father and Lizzy, sweet Jane being far too kind to even notice her humiliation. This scene had happened a year ago, but still displayed in her mind. And Mary, despite her pallor, felt her cheeks burn with embarrassment at the memory.
Tonight, the mirror did not lie. It showed her a scared young woman, sad and too pale for most people's liking. Long black hair, stormy grey eyes, often uncertain, with a flicker of despair in them. Fine features, but they lacked something all of her sisters did possess. She was not as pretty as them, not as vivacious, not as endearing…She was dull and she knew it. This was one of the reasons why she was immune to the charms of dancing, because even this activity did not get her out of the permanent state of a wallflower. Sometimes, she hoped that she was not as ugly as her mother's comments suggested. She had often overheard her (and other people, for that matter. She had discovered that she surpassed her sisters in this enlightening activity, due to her reluctance to giggle, and to the involuntary gift of not being noticed) saying to Lady Lucas:
" With my two eldest so well established, I am sure that Kitty will soon receive valuable proposals. She is very pretty, and so much alike my dear Lydia- and with her connections, now that she is related to Mrs Bingley and Mrs Darcy! Were they more eligible bachelors in the neighbourhood, she would have been married last year too! But I have no worry, since Mrs Darcy has offered to take Kitty with her to London! So many young men, very rich and single, in prospect of a wife! But a mother cannot be quite light-heartened when all her daughters leave her, no matter how happy she is for them to find themselves well settled. Yes, Mary will stay with me to take care of my health, but I would prefer her to find a suitable husband. And to speak quite frankly, I must bear her with as much patience as I can muster, for this child has no respect for my poor nerves. I am afraid that I must get used to this idea, however. It is obvious that this one will end up as an old maid. No, Mrs Darcy did not offer to take Mary with her too- I cannot blame her, though. She has many obligations, without having to make the entire education of Mary- Kitty knows how to dance and what is fashionable. Mary, even if it costs me much to say so, is a lost cause. She will stay with us till Mr Bennet dies and Mr Collins, your son-in-law, takes possession of Longbourn. Then her sisters will at least show some charity and take her with them. She could help with the education of their children, I suppose, with all these books and sermons which she reads constantly. Why isn't she interested in fashion like her sisters, why does she always dress up like our cook…? Ah, my poor nerves! ".
At this point Mary had stopped her listening. She had registered several facts which disturbed her greatly.
First, Lizzy, her admired sister, who enjoyed reading (like herself) and still never was a bore (unlike herself) had preferred to invite Kitty, silly, giggling, used-to-follow-Lydia's footsteps and malleable Kitty instead of her.
Then, she would remain the last Bennet at home during the next months and most likely, till her death as a confirmed spinster, with her mother, her criticisms and above all, her Nerves. (She did not count her father, who would seek and find asylum in his study whenever the need arose; but alas, the library would be invaded by her mother whenever she needed a victim.) The thought of being prisoner at home, alone with her mother, frightened her. After all, it was surely not a coincidence if both her elder sisters, once married, had left the neighbourhood of Longbourn. If she could give the benefit of the doubt to Lizzy- Pemberley, Derbyshire, had belonged to her husband from the very beginning-, Jane's departure of Netherfield was highly suspect.
Of course, she did love her parents. But she would love her mother far better from afar.
Was she as unattractive as her mother pretended? She stole a glance at the mirror, again. She did hope that this was not a definitive statement. She found solace in thinking that she was only plain, the lame duck among four beautiful swans. She was the odd one, but was she condemned by her difference? Was she doomed to loneliness?
Because she had felt alone over the first nineteen years of her life, and she did not want to live with this feeling of emptiness till her death. She wished she could live happy and die happy, too. Not bitter and misunderstood, not a burden to her family. She shuddered at the thought of Charlotte Lucas, now Charlotte Collins. There was a time when she would have gladly accepted Mr Collins' proposal. For sure he was not her knight in shining armour, but the young girl she was then had been attracted to him. He seemed to enjoy reading and she understood his awkwardness in society. Had he proposed to her, she would have accepted, not in order to secure a husband, but out of fondness. Now her fondness had been replaced with pity. Her father and Lizzy had exchanged enough snide remarks over Mr Collins' letters for her to understand how ridicule the poor man acted. Still, she was hurt to see how prompt the best of people could be to laugh at the expenses of others. Her serious readings promoted charity. But how could she understand charity and avoid blindness? Torn between the way her relatives and neighbours acted, and the wise pieces of advice given by Fordyce's Sermons, she did not know which path to follow, and this made her relations with others unnatural. Awkward moments and silent suffering ensued, invariably.
Mary glanced a last time at the mirror, her grey eyes suddenly resolved. She would not remain at Longbourn. She would try and travel to places where she could make new acquaintances, meet people who would not judge her. A change of manners would be necessary. She would have to overcome her shyness, be less pedantic, perhaps even learn to dance…but this remained a remote possibility, because she had never been asked to before and it seemed to her too extraordinary to even happen to her, plain and boring Mary Bennet, even with some slight changes in her demeanour.
She did not believe in Cinderella tales. The sermons which she was used to reading were wise, even if she admitted to herself that she found them boring sometimes. So far, they had helped her to bear her situation. They had taught her that endeavours would bring their own rewards. However, Mary did not dare to dream of "a suitable husband". For years she had resigned herself to the fact that love was out of her reach. She just hoped that she would never experience loneliness again, and that she would find who she was in the process.
But she had to take her fate into her hands before. And something told her that it would not be an easy task to convince her family of letting her execute the project she had conceived. Jane and Lizzy were due for next Tuesday. She still had the whole week to rehearse her plan.
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