"My Lord, I - " Mary tried to explain, but was interrupted by the Marquess.
"I will take that as a 'yes'."
Immediately, Lord Eddington pulled away and stumbled back with a blank look on his face. Mary tried to take a step forward and stop him, but somehow, she did not move, and remained with her back against the wall. Without a looking in her direction, Lord Eddington quickly said, "I apologize for my behavior, Miss Bennet, and I apologize for the distress I have put you through." He walked over to pick up his ring and with a tip of the hat, he said, "Good day, Miss Bennet."
Without another look back, he was gone.
Mary closed her eyes as she sunk further down onto the floor. Her hand slowly rose to meet the emptiness of her chest, and fingered the place where her necklace had been. She sighed as she felt the heaviness of her heart.
I need to rest. I need to think. I need to –
"…I love you."
Mary cried in frustration as those words seeped into her thoughts. She couldn't help but replay those three words, over and over again, in her head as she dove in a pool of guilt and regret. She didn't know what to choose, who to trust, and least of all, what to do.
I need…I need to speak to Sir Anthony.
"Miss Bennet, Sir Anthony is here to see you," the footman announced the next morning.
"Show him in, please," Mary immediately answered as she stood to greet Sir Anthony.
The drawing door opened and in came the elegantly-clad Baronet. He greeted her, as usual, with a sweeping bow. Before Mary could say anything, he strode over to her until they were but a foot apart. He smiled, and said, "Miss Bennet, I understand what I told you yesterday must have been a shock. I apologize for whatever distress the intelligence must have cost you. However, I hope that you would understand the imperativeness of my actions."
Mary stared at the man in front of her. With his kind smile and sincere eyes, she couldn't help but nod without a word.
"Miss Bennet, I know you must have many questions. But before I answer them, I have one question for you," Sir Anthony said as he slowly stepped forward and closed the distance between them.
"W-What is your question, My Lord?" Mary asked, hesitantly.
"You, Miss Bennet have stolen my heart since the first time I saw you, walking down Brooks Street without a clue as to where you were going. From then on, I found myself, inextricably drawn to your words, your heart, your mind – you. You, Mary, have become the demon in my soul, eating away my resolve and my sanity. Every moment away from you, my heart ceases to exist. And when I see you, I feel as if everyone around you becomes but a shadow to your beauty. I understand that what others in London may say about me – that I am a scoundrel, a rake, an opportunist. And I admit that those accusations may be true to an extent. But with you, Mary, with you, I have found the purest form of love."
With that, he bent down. His hands reached into his pockets, and revealed a ring. And like one of those fairy tale romances that schoolgirls dream about, he said, "So my question is, Mary…will you marry me?"
At those words, Mary could only gape at the sight of the ring. This was…not how she expected her morning to proceed. With her heart pounding, she looked at the man in front of her again. There was genuine sense of admiration in the way he looked up at her. For a moment, Mary almost said yes.
"My Lord, before I answer that question, I need you to answer my questions first," Mary said as she took a step back. "What you said yesterday – are you certain of its validity? Is Lord Eddington really Jonathan's father?"
Sir Anthony looked at intently for a moment before he stood up to face her with an impassive look on his face. He took a step forward, and said, "Miss Bennet, I do not believe this is a question of whether I am telling the truth or not. That does not matter. Rather, this is a question as to whom you trust – no – love, more - me, or Lord Eddington. Am I correct?"
"T-That is not my question My Lord. All I am asking you is whether you are telling the truth or not! This is not a matter of who I love or – "
"Yes, it is, Miss Bennet," Sir Anthony said, his eyes shined with anticipation as he inched closer to her, "You know that, deep down, you already know the answer to your question. No matter what I answered, you have already made a decision for yourself whether to believe me or not. You were just trying to spare yourself from actually having to listen to your own self by getting me to affirm your own decision."
"Th-That is not true, My Lord," Mary said as she backed away from the Sir Anthony. Yet, he inched closer with a look on his face that Mary had never seen before – and too scared to find out what it meant.
"You really are as clueless as your sister describes you as, Miss Bennet!" Sir Anthony exclaimed with a laugh that sent chills down one's spine. Suddenly, Mary felt a wave of apprehension as he smirked and said, "To think, that at one point, I thought of myself of actually fancying you chit of a girl. I had thought that – perhaps – I…" His voice trailed off as he leaned closer to Mary.
"My Lord, please – " Mary whispered as her back hit the wall.
"Are you scared, Miss Bennet?" Sir Anthony said in a whisper as his breath sent a chill down Mary's spine. "What happened to that woman who could talk back to a Marquess? Was that bravery? Or perhaps, you were just being foolish?"
"You what, Miss Bennet? Tell me, what were you planning on telling me today?" He suddenly grabbed Mary's shoulders. "That you finally realized that you love Eddington? And that you were planning on marrying him? Tell me!"
"I – I…."
YES! Mary's head screamed for her to say. Yes, I love him. Yes, I want to marry him.
Sir Anthony's face softened as he looked at her hesitation. His hands slipped off her shoulders as he took a deep sigh and a step backwards. He looked down for a bit before lifting his eyes to met Mary's own inquiring dark orbs.
"You were probably thinking 'yes' to those answers, were you not, Miss Bennet?" Sir Anthony said with a hint of pity. He looked down and reached into his pockets. "Did you fancy yourself to 'love' Eddington when he proposed to you?" Mary's eyes widened at the question. "Or did it start earlier, when he gave you…this?" With that, he pulled from his pocket a necklace. Mary gasped when she realized it was the very one that had been missing.
"Where did you get that?"
Sir Anthony scoffed softly as he tossed the necklace in the air, "You dropped it the other day at the orphanage, Miss Bennet. Imagine my surprise when I saw this necklace lying on the pavement as I was leaving the orphanage. And to my even greater surprise, I recognized it." He paused. "You see Miss Bennet, this necklace," he looked down at it insignificantly, "was the very necklace Eddington gave my sister when he declared his supposed love to her."
Mary's eyes widened. She could hear her heart beating, hard against her chest, as she looked down at the necklace in Sir Anthony's hands.
"W-What?" Mary could only muster herself to say.
"Do you not see, Miss Bennet? He – that Lord Eddington of yours – is nothing but a womanizer with no consciousness of right or wrong. All he knows is how to play games so that another woman could fall into his trap!" Sir Anthony sighed again and paused before saying, in a softer voice, "You see, my sister was one of those women. And look where she is now. Dead, with two orphaned children, one of whom died during childbirth." He paused. "I've tried to get over the grief, the betrayal, and the hatred that I felt toward Eddington during these past years. Yet, when I saw you – you, with your innocent smile and heart unsheathed and unscathed—falling for the charms of Eddington the same way that my sister did, I couldn't help but try all I could to detach your from the company of Eddington."
Mary stared at the man in front of her. She could feel hot tears, ready to spill over from the rim of her eyes. She didn't quite understand why she felt tears. Perhaps it was the disbelieve of Lord Eddington's discretions, perhaps it was the aftermath of his proposal, perhaps it was Sir Anthony's kind words, spoken so sincerely – as if all he ever tried to do was protect her. Perhaps she was just too confused in heart and mind to hold back tears that seem to crumble her very resolve to regain that sense of self-assured superiority of mind that she always prided herself in having. She hated herself for succumbing to the tear. But the tears kept falling, silently. She didn't know what to think. She didn't know what or who to believe anymore.
She felt herself being pulled into Sir Anthony's arms. He gently held her there for what felt like an eternity. Then, he spoke, this time in a much gentler tone, "I apologize for my tone earlier, Mary. I do not mean to hurt you in any way." He sighed. "I – I just couldn't stand the thought of any other man, least of all, Eddington, taking possession of your heart." He pulled away to look into her teary eyes, "Mary, I meant what I said earlier. I love you. I want to be the only one in your heart. I know I may not be a Marquess, and I may not be as rich as Eddington, but I live comfortably in my country home, and I can offer you a peaceful and happy life where we can raise our children and grow old together. You can have all that if you will only say yes, to me. Please, Mary - " he looked into her eyes intently as he wrapped his arms even tighter around her body, " Please, say that you will be my wife."
Mary stared at Sir Anthony, not knowing what to say or what to do. It felt so different – being held by Sir Anthony – she couldn't put into words how, but being in his arms felt so different from being in Lord Eddington's arms. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but somehow, words escaped her. Sir Anthony looked down at her lips, and before she could do anything, he swooped in and kissed her. Mary felt herself stiffen at the contact, but she felt herself slowly relaxing as Sir Anthony leaned in further, softly pressing his lips to hers.
This felt so different.
When Lord Eddington kissed her, it felt so much harder, more raw – there was confusion, frustration, sadness, and desire all pooled into an inexplicable kiss. Yet, with Sir Anthony, it felt so much more comforting and reassured, as if he just knew that she was meant to be there, in his armed, being kissed by him.
Mary didn't know which one made her less anxious.
That practical part of her – that damned sensible brain of hers that had dictated her whole life – screamed for her to rest assured in Sir Anthony's arms. He was right, with him she could live a comfortable life – the life she had always envisioned for herself – a life in the countryside, tending to the gardens, her books, and her music. She knew she had no desire for money or titles, which, her sensible head told her, was truly the only good that can come from a marriage with Lord Eddington. He would topple her world, as he had shaken hers ever since he came into her life. She would never be able to live in peace, being with him. He could and very well would bring her heartache. He could hurt her, so very easily.
And really, a voice that sounded much like Caroline Gorton quipped, are you even in the position to think of marriage with the Marquess? Her, a country miss of no significant lineage, no rosy complexion to compliment her face, no cheerful disposition to charm the Ton, and no real talent in any of the arts that could be admired. Her, Mary Bennet, the insignificant middle sister who had all but given up on the thought of marriage to anyone but the local clergyman at best. Her, who has neither grace or beauty. Who was she to think that Lord Eddington could possibly care for her in any way except for a fanciful fling?
And yet, from her heart, she could hear a tiny voice, the voice that told her to muster her courage and play her heart out on the piano at the Netherfield ball - the voice that had been suppressed after years of disappointments and laments. Perhaps he meant it all. Perhaps he truly does love you for all that you are.
Mary choked back a tear as her mind willed herself not to think back to all those moments she secretly treasured with him. All those tiny glances she stole at the Marquess when she was sure no one could see her. She willed herself not to feel the familiar pounding of her heart when he looked at her with his stark blue eyes.
Mary could not think of those things. Disappointment after disappointment has taught her not to listen to the romantic little girl she had learnt to repress.
Mary had to face the facts. She had to be practical. And the practical choice was Sir Anthony. It was a simple as that.
She looked up at the man in front of her. Suddenly she felt an urge to hide herself and run, as far away from him as possible. Yet, she remained seated. And in a whisper she could hardly even hear, she let out a "yes".
Sir Anthony let out a laugh, and exclaimed, "Capital!" He released her from his arms and brought her to her feet. He kissed her lightly on her cheek and proceeded to gather his cloak and walking stick that he had left next to the sofa.
"Now then, about the wedding – " Sir Anthony began, but Mary interrupted him.
"I would like to be married as soon as possible," she said indignantly.
So that I would not have time to regret my decision and run to Lord Eddington.
Sir Anthony looked at her with a curious stare, but gave a small smile, "That was exactly what I was about to propose. It seems we are of like mind, as well as heart."
He held out his hand to her, and said, "Now, Lady Burton, shall we?"
Mary slowly walked towards Sir Anthony – the man who would become her husband in some short hours, and took his hand.
She suddenly had the sinking thought that she just took the hand of the devil himself.
"To Gretna Green it is, then."
A/N: Wow it has been so long (almost 2 years?) since I updated! But last night, for some reason, I suddenly had a spur of inspiration, and sat myself down to finish what I had started. I know that in this chapter, many would feel frustrated with the decision that Mary makes, but I hope everyone can understand her decision, and I assure you, there is more to come! Thanks to everyone who has stuck with this story! I really appreciate it! Please leave a review, and check back later for more to come!