Title: Miss Mary Bennet Spinster
Category: Books » Pride and Prejudice
Author: Lady Gwynedd
Language: English, Rating: Rated: T
Published: 01-17-13, Updated: 01-17-13
Chapters: 1, Words: 8,464
Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Miss Mary Bennet, Spinster
March 3rd, 18xx
My dear sister Elizabeth,
It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you that our mother is dead. She was feeling poorly yestereve and retired to bed earlier than was her wont. I thought nothing of this for, as you know, our mother was prone to flutterings and vapours that plagued her most of her life so, other than bidding her goodnight when she went upstairs, I thought not much more about her well-being believing as I did that she would be well in the morning, as was usual.
It was a great shock when Hill went to rouse her in the morning to find her cold in her bed.
Father is completely asea. He keeps repeating o'er and o'er, "Fanny is gone? How can this be? I was to be the first to die."
He sits in his study neither speaking, nor moving, and staring into the ether. I have not been able to convince him to partake of food or drink since this morning when our tragedy was discovered.
Dear sister, I know that you are abed with your new babe but I would know what counsel you could give? I have written Jane and Kitty and will try to get a message to Lydia but I know it will be months before she will receive it since she is in Spain with Wickham.
Mrs. Lucas has been here since this morning. I daresay her distress is almost as great as ours. She is helping Hill to prepare mother's body, thus giving me this opportunity to write to you.
Meanwhile, Aunt Philips has had a conniption over the loss of her sister and has taken to her bed. I am sure Uncle and Aunt Gardiner will be a great help, though. They were sent an express a half-hour ago.
Dear Lizzy, I can hardly believe our mother has passed! O, how I wish you were here! You were always such a comfort to our dear papa and I am at a loss at how to succor him. He is so very distraught. Please write as soon as you may.
With great sorrow,
Mary was just sealing her letter when there was a knock at the sitting room door.
"Yes?" she called.
A red-eyed maid entered and said, "Reverend Carew wishes to see you, miss." With a small curtsey she was gone, leaving the man in question standing in the doorway.
"Oh Reverend Carew, what a sad day for us here at Longbourn!" Mary rose from her chair and took a few steps towards the gentleman. Tears threatened with every word she said and every step she took.
"Yes, indeed. It is with great sorrow I give you and your father my condolences." He bowed over Mary's hand and then followed her gesture that he should sit upon the settee nearest the hearth. It was a blustery day and she believed he'd prefer a warm seat, having most likely walked the mile from his rectory.
"For myself, I thank you, sir. I am sorry that my father is unable to receive you at the moment but I am sure he would agree with me." Mary clutched the handkerchief she was holding her own sorrow threatening to overset her.
"I understand completely, Miss Bennet. I would have postponed my visit but I felt a need to come as soon as I could to offer what comfort I may. Is there anything in which I can assist you?"
Mary swallowed the lump in her throat, almost overcome at his generosity. "I can only think that my mother will be buried from Longbourn and laid to rest in the family vault in the church yard."
"Of course. I will set that in motion when I return to the manse. Will your family travel hither to help with the arrangements?"
"I've written my sisters and Uncle. I am sure they will come as soon as may be but surely not sooner than the morrow."
He rose. "Then I shall leave you, Miss Bennet. I am sure you've been wishing me gone these minutes past."
"Oh no, sir. You were very kind to come." She stood with him and on impulse, extended her hand.
He took it in both of his and looked intently down into her sad eyes. "'Twasn't kindness, Miss Bennet, but only the desire of helping a friend." He squeezed her hand once, released it, and turning, left the room.
She stood there in a daze as she watched the door shut behind him. To her knowledge, no one had ever truly looked at her before. Oh, she had been observed and found wanting from her earliest memory but no one had ever seemed to see her or acknowledge her for the person she was. It was, she found, quite a peculiar sensation.
She had always been the lesser Bennet sister, all the rest more beautiful, more talented, and more witty than she could ever hope to be no matter how much she sought to improve herself. She had lived in the shadows of her sisters and then at the whim of her mother, who herself had been a remarkable beauty in her day, and used to being the focus of all attention in their home. Mary was content to have it be so. After all, it was all she had ever known.
Since her father could give her no dowry and her personal charms were found so wanting, Mary had long ago resigned herself to spinster's caps. Her sisters had seemed to find husbands without much effort but no man had ever looked at her twice. She was inured to it by now and instead of becoming embittered, she had decided to embrace her state.
So she made her caps to be things of beauty and her aprons were starched as crisply as she could manage. She was ordered and sorted and over time became the voice of quiet reason in the Longbourn household management. She now played what she wished on the piano forte instead of what she believed would draw the awe of the listener and she had broadened her reading to include lighter fare as well as the religious tracts she once had solely studied.
Since she no longer had to compete with her sisters, and indeed there was nothing to compete for, her life became a calm river to sail serenely upon. She played companion and, when necessary, nursemaid to her mother and sat and listened as her father read whatever history had caught his interest at the time. Though not satisfied, she was content.
So, when Reverend Mr. Edmund Carew looked at her, it was totally unexpected and somewhat uncomfortable. It caused her sense of self-possession to desert her.
She put a hand to her chest and wondered if the current fluttering of her heart was what her mother had suffered. She didn't know what to think about it, so she decided not to think about it at all. There was plenty to claim her attention at the moment so it was an easy thing to put out of her mind.
Reverend Edmund Carew had arrived in Meryton just over a year ago after their former vicar had succumbed to a virulent fever and gone to meet the Being he'd spent the better part of thirty years hectoring others about. The community in Meryton discovered that their newly ordained minister was quite the opposite of his predecessor. Instead of lecturing, he enlightened. Instead of drawing the notice of all by preaching on even whilst out of his pulpit, he was prone, rather, to silent contemplation.
Some seemed to believe he was dull-witted but as Mr. Bennet had said, "Indeed, he isn't a chatterbox but what he does say has sense. And as he keeps his sermons to under a quarter of an hour, I can't find fault with him in the least."
However, Reverend Carew was dutiful to his parish and spent many hours caring for his flock beyond the weekly services and the occasional funerals, baptisms, and weddings his position garnered. He had surprised many this past year by knowing much more about them than they had supposed.
He wasn't surprised at all when young Master William Goulding expressed the wish to marry Miss Maria Lucas, which had seemed to shock the countryside with its unexpectedness.
He was found to be a-picnicking in Farmer Smythe's apple orchard on the exact day the Martin twins had decided to raid it of its succulent fruit.
He appeared just after the woodsman delivered a load of winter firewood to Widow Blount and then took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and chopped it to size so that it would fit her grate the better and catch fire the quicker.
The Meryton community didn't quite know what to think about this man of the cloth who didn't mind dirtying his hands—or his collar—in the name of good. He was unmarried, it was true, but it was thought he could wait a few years before attempting that milestone. It was not a coincidence that this opinion had been fostered by Mr. Carew's refusal to attend any frivolous social romps since he had come to the village. The few women who had dared to drop a figurative handkerchief in his path had been disappointed by his lack of response.
Mary, herself newly resolved to eschew the married estate, certainly paid no more attention to him than she had their previous vicar. She mostly concerned herself with caring for her mother and father, writing letters to her sisters and friends, and what other duties that came her way.
It was true, Reverend Carew had come to dinner at Longbourn a few times as Mr. Bennet enjoyed diluting the constant feminine company of his family but he and Mary never passed more than a few words at the most. Evidently, they both were naturally quiet and, besides, her mother tended to dominate all conversation.
Recalling to mind her current distress, Mary roused herself and sent the kitchen boy into the village to have another courier come to Longbourn to take her sister's letters and deliver them by express. Her family needed to receive the news as soon as may be and express mail was the quickest way Mary knew.
The next few days passed in a fog. Aunt and Uncle Gardiner actually came to Longbourn the very night they received word and Jane and Bingley arrived with their two girls the next day. Those toddlers, along with her half-grown Gardiner cousins, gave Mary a much needed diversion from her sad chores. Mary was content to pass the majority of the duties of arranging and dealing with the aftermath of her mother's death to her older relatives and blended into the background as had always been her wont.
Sister Elizabeth Darcy, being just recovered from childbirth, was unable to attend but to their surprise, Mr. Darcy arrived to pay his respects and offer what consolation he could. It was an unexpected blessing to discover it was Darcy's company that brought their father some solace. Mr. Bennet had always appreciated his son-in-law's fine mind and wit—once the man had deigned to reveal it—so it was he that the grieving widower turned to for some measure of comfort.
Due to the numbers visiting at Longbourn, Mary gave her bed chamber over to Kitty and her husband, Mr. Wentworth. She moved into the nursery along with her nieces and cousins and there found occupation by keeping the young ones from underfoot downstairs. This meant that she was not privy to consolation calls made by the neighborhood as well as the consultations with Reverend Carew concerning Mrs. Bennet's funeral.
As a result, the next time Reverend Carew had the opportunity to once again look at Mary Bennet, it was as she was walking up the aisle of the church to take her place with her family for those same services. He noted the circles under her eyes and the twist of sadness of her lips and wondered if anyone had bothered to succor her. He found he was becoming more and more concerned about this particular member of his flock for the only reason that the rest didn't seem to pay her any mind at all.
After Mrs. Bennet was laid to rest, the days passed and the company at Longbourn dwindled until all had returned to their own residences, leaving Mary at home with her father, or so Reverend Carew thought.
It was nearing the beginning of April when he determined he should visit. Neither Mary nor Mr. Bennet had made an appearance at Sunday services and he began to fear that perhaps some malady other than grief kept the two at home, though he'd not heard otherwise.
When he knocked at the door, the familiar servant answered. "Hello. Susan, isn't it?"
She blushed and bobbed a curtsey as she said, "Reverend Carew."
"Is your master or mistress at home?"
"Well, no sir and yes sir. Mr. Bennet has gone to Derbyshire to spend time with his daughter, Elizabeth, but Miss Mary Bennet is at home. Please come in, sir, and I shall tell her you have come."
Mr. Carew was fair flummoxed at the thought that Mr. Bennet had left Miss Bennet alone at Longbourn! Hadn't the man any care for his daughter? She must be desolate to be abandoned by all her family and surely she was grieving every bit as much as any of them! He couldn't get his mind around their disregard.
He strode into the small sitting room to find it empty and the hearth cold. Did she not have enough to warm herself? 'Twas true, spring had arrived but in these parts that meant nought to anyone but a calendar. It was still cold enough to cause one's breath to smoke in the morning.
A few minutes later, Mary appeared, surprise writ large upon her face as she curtsied. "Reverend Carew, 'tis an unexpected pleasure."
She led the way to the familiar settees just as Hill arrived with the tea tray. Susan followed carrying a spill.
As Susan used it to light the kindling that was already set in the hearth, Mary explained. "Please pardon us, sir. I was upstairs today so we did not think to light the fire in here. I am sure some tea will keep the chill away until it catches well."
"'Tis no trouble, Miss Bennet." He looked at her once again. He saw that she was pale and her blue eyes were puffy as though she'd been weeping. He felt a tender wave of compassion for her that he'd never felt before for another woman, not even his kin.
He was surprised at his reaction and so he said more gruffly than he'd intended, "We've missed you at Sunday services, miss."
She blushed and looked down. "I apologize, Vicar. I know I have not kept my obligations to church lately. I've been so busy here that I couldn't seem…"
He interrupted her embarrassed explanation. "No, Miss Bennet. I wasn't chastising you, please forgive me. I'd just missed your presence and hoped all was well. When did your father leave for Derbyshire?"
"Mr. Darcy took him up with him after mama's funeral."
"Leaving you alone here in Longbourn?" Mr. Carew tried to leave any condemnation out of his voice but he was finding it difficult to maintain his sense of equanimity.
"Yes, but the servants are here. I don't take long carriage rides, you see." A blaze of color appeared on her cheeks and she stared down at the handkerchief she was mangling in her lap.
"No, sir. I get so very unwell when I have to ride back-wards for any amount of time. It makes me green to think of it." She put her now tattered handkerchief aside and started pouring the tea which she had assumed had steeped enough.
"So then, why don't you ride fore-wards?" It was such a sensible solution he couldn't imagine why it wasn't considered sooner.
"But then where would Papa sit? Or, Mr. Darcy?"
Mary's open expression told him more than he asked. This poor girl never sat fore-wards because it hadn't occurred to her or anyone else that she should. He realized that this was most likely due to the fact she had never been put first in anyone's mind before. This was so unjust!
He accepted the tea she was handing him using the action to order his disquieted thoughts. Taking a sip, he waited to speak again until Mary had prepared her own cup and then said, "Miss Bennet, it is a certainty that you would not be ill if you sat fore-wards during a carriage ride."
Mary blinked. "You think my illness comes not from the carriage but the manner in which I sit in it?"
"I believe so. In fact, I'd like to prove it, if you will allow. Tomorrow, what say you if I should bring my Phaeton by and we can test my hypothesis?"
"Oh, sir! I am not sure I wouldn't sick up. It seems very likely that I should. It would certainly be off-putting for you if I did."
"I would like to try, Miss Bennet. If I'm wrong, you shall have my deepest apologies and I will shoulder all the blame for attempting it but if I'm right, you'll find what joy a good carriage ride can bring."
Mary didn't know what to say. Though probably not a wise choice, she was tempted to agree with him. Her sisters had felt it best that her mother's boudoir be repurposed and the lady's belongings put up or given away while their father was gone from home. They believed this would lessen his melancholy. So as a result, Mary had been shut up these past weeks, tenderly going through her mother's possessions, trying to reckon what she should do with them and at the same time striving to ward off the melancholy the memories those things stirred within her.
Fresh spring air would do her well, she thought, but she truly hoped that Mr. Carew was correct in that she wouldn't disgrace herself.
"I believe I will attempt this experiment, sir. I may be surprised at its outcome."
"Excellent, Miss Bennet! I will be here an hour after dinner time. Dress warmly, for even though spring is showing herself more and more each day, it can still be a mite cool in the open air."
"Thank you sir, I shall look fore-ward to it." Mary chuckled at her pun and was happy to see Edmund join her. How delightful it was to share a droll phrase with someone who understood the humor behind it. Her mother had never done and her father had never cared to.
In her delight, she smiled widely at the gentleman, surprised at how much she was enjoying his visit. She felt neither gauche nor silly as she usually did in company. Perhaps it was Reverend Carew's priestly vocation that required he put maladroit spinsters at ease but, even if that were the case, she was glad he was doing it. It had been long since she had felt this way. It wasn't until her guest had taken his leave that she was able to name it—hope.
Mr. Carew kept his promise and arrived exactly at the prescribed time. April weather could be capricious but today dawned as beautifully as could be, encouraging the plants to fully awaken from their winter sleep.
Mary was dressed in deep morning for her mother so there was not one shred of color in her clothing as was proper, but oddly enough, the solid black set off her complexion a treat. Looking at her, Mr. Carew found it hard to believe that most thought her uncomely, in fact, he was beginning to believe she was quite lovely, indeed.
He helped her into his carriage as it sat in front of her home. It had but a single seat so the only way one could ride in it was fore-wards. In fact, it was a fairly small seat for two to share. They couldn't sit together without their sides touching. For some reason, this made Mary's heart flutter again, just like it had the day Mr. Carew visited when her mother died.
Mary was no judge of such things but it appeared to her that the carriage was very fine having brass fittings and soft leather seats. It had a roof that folded back and since it was sunny, Mr. Carew had put it down so they could enjoy the sun and the scenery unimpeded.
"I don't take the phaeton out very often as I prefer to use my own legs but it is a good day for a ride."
"I pray that I don't spoil it, sir." She had avoided eating her mid-day meal as a precaution, hoping that would convince her stomach to behave.
"I think you shall find that the trick is to look at the country side rather than at the horses. If you feel the least bit not the thing, tell me and I shall stop immediately."
Mr. Hill, Longbourn's man-of-all-duties, let go the heads of the horses and with a flick of the reins, they were off. It took Mary a few minutes to note that the familiar signs of biliousness hadn't appeared. In fact, the fresh air and sunshine were lifting her spirits more than she could imagine.
As they passed through Longbourn's gates she exclaimed, "This is quite wonderful!"
"All is well?" Mr. Carew said as he gazed at her, quite pleased to see the smile on her face and sparkle in her eye.
"All is very well, indeed. I can hardly believe it!" Her grin was contagious and soon the two of them were smiling and laughing from sheer joy.
Mrs. Lucas was taking the air in her front garden as the two drove by and stopped stone still in surprise. The vicar and Miss Bennet were courting? Well, this was news indeed! And her poor, dear mother not a month in her grave. What was Mary Bennet thinking?
It was surprising how quickly Mrs. Lucas could run when inspired. With her long shawls flapping like geese behind her, she dashed into her home to find her husband. "Mr. Lucas, you will never guess whom I saw driving down the highway as bold as you please…"
And so, it went. Like fire, the news spread.
The Lucases told the Gouldings, the Gouldings told the Barnabys, the Barnabys told the Atwalds, until finally it reached the front parlor of Mr. and Mrs. Philips. As Mrs. Philips was Mary's aunt, she was soon crossing the threshold at Longbourn, a bee in her bonnet and condemnation on her tongue.
"Mary Bennet, how could you?" Aunt Philips exclaimed as she burst through the kitchen doorway.
Mary had been helping cook make her special Queen Cake which required twelve beaten eggs. Cook was particular as to the methods used in her kitchen and Mary had been concentrating on beating the eggs to her exacting standards. Her aunt's unexpected arrival almost caused her to drop the bowl.
She stopped stirring and with round eyes asked, "How could I what, aunt?"
"How could you take up with a man when your dear mother isn't even cold in her grave? What a laughing stock you have made of our family—a single woman flaunting herself so boldly-with the vicar, of all people. What he must think of you! Shameful! I shall write to your father immediately and he'll have words for you, I've no doubt. Until then, you minx, you'll come to Meryton and stay with me and Mr. Philips so that I can keep my eye upon you."
"But aunt, I haven't…I didn't…He's not…" The thought that she had 'taken up' with Mr. Carew was such an alien concept, she could put no words to it. She was horrified and dismayed; horrified that the carriage ride had been so misconstrued, and dismayed to think that Rev. Carew might think she was trying to dally with him. Why, she'd never imagined it in the least.
Mrs. Hill entered the kitchen just then, her practiced eye measuring the situation, and said, "Mrs. Philips, why don't you come to the breakfast room and I'll bring you a nice pot of tea and some of cook's raspberry tarts? She's just pulled them from the oven."
Mrs. Philips stopped mid-tirade and her beady eyes caught sight of the tarts as they sat resting on a rack. "Raspberry tarts, you say?"
"Aye, madam. Made from the last of the conserves your dear sister put up last summer. Come and rest yourself, missus. Miss Mary will attend you soon." Mrs. Hill ushered Aunt Philips out of the kitchen but as she left she gave Mary a gentle glance as well as a sharp nod to Susan who immediately got the tea service prepared.
Bowl still cradled in her arm and spoon hovering mid-air, Mary stared in dismay at the doorway her Aunt had passed through. Aunt had said she was embarrassing herself? That she was disloyal to her mother's memory? That her father would be ashamed? That Mr. Carew is discomfited by her?
She felt as though someone had stabbed her to the heart. Of all of those reasons, the one that pained her the most was the last. The very last person in the world that she'd ever impose upon would be that kind man. All he had done was take pity upon her poor, dispirited soul and now he's to pay for it; the whole neighborhood pairing him with the likes of her.
She was finding it difficult to swallow the knot in her throat and tears threatened to spill at any moment.
"Here, let me take that, Miss Mary." Cook gently removed the bowl and spoon from the young woman's grasp. "I shall finish these eggs. You've got them started a treat."
Mary swallowed and whispered, "Thank you, Cook. I shall go to Aunt Philips presently."
But instead of taking refuge within the house in order to regain her composure, she slipped through a side door that led to the back garden and thence to a wicket gate beyond.
She suddenly couldn't bear the thought of going to her aunt and be heaped with recrimination and condemnation. She already knew she was a burden and a pariah to normal society—lessons that had been drilled home daily since she could remember. She was such a useless impediment to all that she loved.
Tears finally spilled over and streaked down her face. She realized too late that she had left her handkerchief in her good apron to don this work-a-day one that had no handkerchief, nor even a pocket. She pulled off her spectacles to mop her eyes with the bottom of her apron but in her distress, she lost her grip and her spectacles flew into the tall grass that bordered the path.
"Oh, no!" she cried as she knelt down to blindly feel for them. Her eyes had always been weak, yet another failing of hers, and she had been in spectacles since she was old enough to learn to sew. In her groping, she snagged her hand on a bramble that was growing in the weeds and tore her thumb open. The sharp pain was the last straw.
She sat back in the dirt, put her wounded thumb to her lips, and sobbed.
It seemed all the tears that she had held back for weeks boiled up and bubbled out at once. Her dear mama was dead, she had been hopeless to console her papa, her sisters demonstrated their lack of confidence in her with every action, she was left alone with just the servants for company, and the only bit of joy she had had in recent months—nay, years—had turned into a colossal mortification. And now, she had no handkerchief, had lost her spectacles, and had torn her thumb. There was never a woman as wretched as she.
Reverend Carew was walking briskly along the path from Meryton to Longbourn that led through a small wood that skirted Longbourn's park instead of taking the roadway. It wasn't a quicker route but it was a lovely day and his heart was so glad he felt the need to revel in it.
In the back of his mind, he wondered if his effervescent mood hadn't something to do with the time he spent with Miss Mary Bennet the day before. He had been delighted to discover his hunch had been correct: if Miss Bennet simply faced fore-ward in the carriage she would avoid any of the ill effects she had previously suffered.
They spent a wonderful afternoon tooling the roads around Longbourn, sharing light conversation and pointing out to each other spring's arrival in the trees, flowers and animals they passed. The ride ended too soon in his opinion but common courtesy dictated that he could claim no more of her time, so he left her at her home and returned to his own, wondering when he could visit her again.
He thought of a good excuse to do just that the next day and marveled how much lighter his spirits were with every step he took closer to his destination. The walls of Longbourn's back garden were near when he almost stumbled over a person huddled on the pathway, her back to him, crying into the apron she was wearing.
He knew at glance it was Miss Mary Bennet.
"My dear Miss Bennet, what's amiss?" He knelt down next to her and put his hand on her shoulder.
Startled, she looked up, blinking at him with the most vivid, albeit tearful, blue eyes he had ever seen. He stared into them for a moment until he remembered himself.
"Here, miss, let me help you to your feet and over to that bench set next to the wall." He put his arm about her, helped her up, and supported her to the rustic seat a few steps away.
Handing her his own handkerchief, he knelt in front of her and taking her free hand into both of his, he tenderly asked, "Miss Mary, why were you weeping?"
"Oh Mr. Carew, I am so sorry. I have brought so much censure and trouble upon you!" and she burst into more sobs.
"Censure? How could that be?" He could hardly see a way this kind, good lady could ever cause him harm.
Mary tried to stop her weeping and struggled to say, "We…you…I…Oh, Mr. Carew, I cannot say! 'Tis so humiliating."
She dabbed at her eyes and bit her lips, determined not to break down again as he studied her, trying to parse the truth from her blushes and tears.
"Miss Mary, where are your spectacles?"
"I dropped them over yonder and cannot find them."
"Well then, that's a problem easily righted." He rose to search the area near to the path.
Her lips trembled as she watched his blurry shape move away. She knew she was behaving like a silly, witless girl. She knew she was giving him a disgust of her. Whatever favorable opinion he may have had must be fast evaporating. She knew that it would for certain when he learned the source of her distress.
"Ah, success!" Mr. Carew stooped down and then held Mary's spectacles aloft.
Studying them as he walked back towards her, he said, "They seem none the worse for the adventure."
He handed them to her and she quickly slipped them on, murmuring her thanks.
"Now, my dear lady, please tell me how you've caused me trouble?"
His tone was gentle and a smile played about his lips, ever curious as to what she'd say.
"We were seen driving around the neighborhood yesterday and my Aunt says the whole village is speaking of it."
Mary studied her hands that were clutched tightly in her lap. "She says that I've dishonored my mother's memory and will upset my father when she writes to tell him."
"How can riding in a carriage cause such an uproar?"
"They say it signifies that I've thrown my cap at you to your certain embarrassment and I am making a spectacle out of myself." The last was said so softly he could barely hear it.
But then, Mary looked up and earnestly added, "Sir, truly I knew you were only being kind to me. I had no such thoughts that a liaison between us could ever be in the realm possibility. I'd never hoped, never dreamt…"
She blinked and quickly looked away, not wishing to see how repulsive that idea would be to him. She dashed at a few more tears that had slipped down her cheeks and swallowed, waiting to hear his response. Her stomach was in such knots, she doubted she would ever eat again.
But Reverend Carew only shook his head and smiled. "Miss Mary, there was no harm in taking the air with a friend. Of course, your relatives and neighbors should know you well enough to understand that you would never besmirch your beloved mother's memory by entertaining a courtship so soon after her passing. I think you must point this out to them, and simply ignore the rest. Do you think your father will be unhappy at your aunt's missive?"
"I don't know, sir. I doubt he's given two thoughts in that direction the whole of my life."
"Well, then as it is just the two of you at Longbourn now, perhaps it is time he did?"
She had nothing to say to that but felt much better at Mr. Carew's reasoned advice. She was very surprised he hadn't taken a disgust of the notion of being paired romantically with her.
"Are you feeling better, Miss Mary?"
"I am, sir."
"I was coming to Longbourn to see if you had suffered any unforeseen effects from our outing yesterday and now I see that you have, but not in a way I had ever dreamt you would. I believe it would be best if I didn't accompany you inside but do remember what I said and maintain your composure. It will all turn right in the end, I promise."
Once again, he took her hand in his and gazed deeply into her eyes and she felt those glad flutterings again. He saw her as far as the wicket gate and then turned to head back to his own home, determination in his step. He had his own letter to write. It was time her father took notice of his middle daughter—past the time.
The upshot of all of this clamor was that Mary went to stay at her aunt's until her father returned to Longbourn. Remembering Reverend Carew's counsel, she did just as he suggested and pointed to the fact, when people inquired, that she was in deep mourning for her mother.
Soon, the neighborhood had something else to talk about when Farmer Hyde's bull got loose in the drying yard and tore down and trampled all of the Fenster's spring washing. The fact the Martin twins were nearby when it happened did not go unnoticed and soon, their breeches were burning from a long overdue introduction of the cane.
It wasn't long before Mr. Bennet returned to Longbourn to his daughter Mary's delight. She had missed him as well as had chafed at living in her aunt's crowded domicile.
Father and daughter soon found a rhythm to their days and, much to their surprise, they also found much satisfaction in sharing a quiet life together. Mr. Bennet had taken to not only reading to Mary the various tomes he was perusing, but also discussing the subject matter with her afterwards.
He was also happy to discover, though uninformed, Mary's mind was every bit as sharp as her sister Elizabeth's. He had begun to realize his neglect of her over the years and the guilt niggled. He resolved to do all in his power to correct his former inattention.
So the months passed until one day, Mr. Bennet studied his daughter as she was making yet another cap and he asked, "Mary, why have you taken to wearing spinster's caps?"
"Because, Father, I am a spinster."
"But you are not yet three and twenty, my dear, you aren't near an age to resign yourself to that destiny."
"All my sisters were married well before their twenty-third year and even before then, were greatly admired by the local swains. I never had been and understand I never shall be. I felt foolish continuously left standing along the wall at dances and abandoned at social gatherings. This cap declares my lack of interest in the subject and I find I am much more comfortable now when in company than I ever was before."
"Your lack of interest? You truly don't wish for a home of your own and your own family to care for? After I die, you want nothing more than to go live with one of your sisters?"
"'Tis no use in pining after what will not be and I like most of my sisters and their husbands well enough. I shall make myself useful when that time comes, I am sure. But you are not an old man, papa. I hope you and I shall live together in mutual contentment for many years."
Mr. Bennet considered his daughter closely. "If a swain did show an interest, are you irrevocably opposed to the idea of marriage?"
Mary laughed and said, "What, Papa, have you received a request for my hand?"
She was being facetious but was struck when her father's response was not the jocular one she expected. He said nothing, just gazed at his daughter, as he tried to understand her mind.
"Father, why do you look so? I was being ridiculous. Of course no gentleman would be interested in me that way."
"I understand that you believe so but it may not be the case. I would like to be sure I will give any importuning young men the correct response."
"Well, if a line of suitors should form outside your study door, bring them on, if not only for the humor of the situation. Surely they would have the wrong Bennet sister in mind and be horrified to find I was the only one left."
Mr. Bennet gazed at his daughter for a moment and then said, "Your mother and I did very poorly by you, my dear."
"Poorly? Never, Papa! I've had a most fortuitous life."
"No, my child. Fanny and I didn't teach you to know and value your own worth, which is very great indeed."
"That's just fondness, talking. Compared to my sisters, I am naught."
"That isn't true and I'll hear no such foolishness from you again. You have a good mind, a kind heart, and an engaging manner when you choose."
Mary was bewildered for never had she heard such fulsome compliments from anyone, nevertheless her father. She could only manage a quiet thank you and then concentrate on her handwork, turning over what her father had said again and again in her mind.
The one thing she wasn't sure about, something that she was almost afraid to consider was that someone had been in contact with her father concerning her—some gentleman—who was in want of a wife.
She threaded her needle once again and considered. Thre had been a time in her life when she would have been grateful for any man's attention but the years and observing the experiences of her sisters and friends had taught her due caution.
She knew Lydia was frequently in dire circumstances because of the frivolous man she married. Though she was the youngest of them all, the years with Mr. Wickham had aged her and now it would be hard not to confuse her with being the oldest of the five sisters. Better an eternity as a spinster than a lifetime bound to a man like that. Mary shuddered at the thought and stabbed the needle through the cloth, accidently catching her finger.
Gasping softly, she pressed on the slight injury and sighed. Not all men were like Wickham, she knew. Jane, Elizabeth and Kitty seemed well satisfied with their husbands, at least. She was sure they would claim that Bingley, Darcy, and Wentworth were nothing at all like Lydia's husband but then, they had married for love, or so they said. 'Twas truly a coincidence that they had also married men who were well placed in the world, as well. Was it cynical of her to wonder if the one had to do with the other?
Returning to her task with a shake of her head, she was sure that she could never consider marrying someone just to be married. Besides Lydia, one had only to look at poor Charlotte Collins. Mary had overheard her tell Lizzy last Christmas, when all the family had gathered again at Longbourn, that she managed to arrange her days so that she had as little contact with her husband as she could help. What an unsatisfactory life that must be!
"Papa, must I marry?" She didn't look up from her stitching.
"Well, no my dear, you can stay with me as long as I live and you know there will always be a place for you with one of your sisters. But I thought you may wish to marry, if given the chance."
"I have decided I shall only marry if the gentleman suits me." She stated this firmly as though she would not be swayed on the subject.
"And I'd not wish you to marry where you would be unhappy, my daughter."
Glancing up to smile at her father for his kindness, she picked up her scissors in order to cut a thread.
"Is there any man that suits you, though?" He was fishing for an answer. Why did he persist? Was there truly someone waiting in the wings?
"Father, who is this man that hopes to be my suitor, the Prince of Wales?" Mary was tired of his hedging. It dredged up old insecurities and doubts.
Mr. Bennet snorted and said, "As if I'd trust even my field horse with that man, nevertheless, my dear daughter. But just the same, it's been a year since your mother died, Mary. Our mourning is at an end. It is likely that a suitor will show himself soon."
"Likely!" Mary's heart lurched. She truly had a suitor? She had been sure her father had been teasing her. Whom could it be?
"Aye, and I believe I've said too much on the subject. This is something a young man is wont to broach on his own."
"So, there is someone?" Mary was beyond shocked.
"I've said too much, child."
"Do you like him? Is he a good man?" She pressed on, needing to know at least that.
"The best, Mary. He is the best of men."
Mary let the unfinished cap drop into her lap in utter astonishment. "Will I like him?" she whispered.
"You've never shown that you disliked him."
Mr. Bennet stood and picked up the book he had been reading. "I had better hie to my study. I've already said more than I should." And he hurriedly left the room.
Mary sat and gaped at the door he had shut behind him. Truly, she wished he hadn't said anything at all about marriage, suitors and the rest. She was now in turmoil; her comfortable, calm world overturned. Who was this man that her father spoke of—this suitor?
She couldn't sit inside any longer. She needed to walk away the nervous humor that had suddenly enveloped her. She went to her room and took out the new pelisse and bonnet that Jane had given her for her last birthday. It was very smart, Mary thought, and the deep blue was her favorite color. She'd never had such a fine garment before and even she had to admit she looked handsome wearing it.
She passed through the kitchen on her way outside and called to Cook to say she was going for a short walk and would be back in time for tea. It wasn't long before she found herself passing through the wicket gate and down the path where she had encountered Mr. Carew eleven months previously.
Sighing, she sank down onto the bench where she had sat that day and remembered their encounter word for word. She would never admit to anyone that there really was only one man of whom she would consider leaving the surety of her current life for the uncharted waters of matrimony and that was Reverend Edmund Carew.
She had seen him quite frequently since that day, of course. She saw him every Sunday at church but he would also come to visit her father on occasion during their year of mourning. She had become increasingly impressed with the manner of man he was. She never let her day dreams prosper, though, as she was a convinced spinster and steadfast in not thinking of him in any other way than her vicar and her father's friend.
But now? Now, she didn't know what to think for fear he wouldn't be the one of whom her father spoke.
Oh, bother! This was most upsetting and thrilling and frightening, all at once.
"Well met, Miss Bennet!"
Speak of the devil and he doth appear! It was the man himself, coming down the path from Meryton! It must be the early spring light, but his face fairly glowed when he saw her.
"How do you do, Mr. Carew?" she said, feeling the color blaze in her cheeks.
"I do very well, Miss Bennet, and you?"
"I am also well, sir. I am enjoying the beginnings of spring."
"So, I see. I thought I would call on you and your father. How is he today?"
"He is also well." Though very exasperating, she thought to herself.
Edmund looked somewhat hesitant as he asked, "May I sit with you, Miss Bennet? I would like to enjoy the fine day with you."
"Of course." Mary moved to the end of the bench leaving room for him.
"You look quite lovely in that blue, Miss Mary. It is the exact shade of your eyes."
Her blush deepened and she said, "Thank you, sir."
She was gripping her hands tightly in her lap, unsure of how to act. What if he wasn't her suitor? But what if he was? She wished there was a civil way to ask him. She was finding it hard to keep control over her nerves.
"I suppose, since you are wearing such a fine color, that the year spent in honoring your mother's memory is at an end?"
"I shall always honor her memory, sir, but it is true, our year of formal mourning has passed."
"Ah." He nodded then swallowed as he shifted in his seat.
He ventured on, "Do you remember our discussion the last time we met in this place?"
"I do, sir. I was overset and you offered me consolation and advice, both which proved to be excellent."
"That's very well, indeed." He paused a moment then added, "I, myself, was torn that day."
"Yes. You see, had you not been in deep mourning, I would have rejoiced at the neighborhood's rumors concerning us."
"You would have?" Mary's heart began to thump so hard, she could hear it.
"That I would. It has been a hard road for me to put off my desires for a year until this day."
"This day?" Mary was sure she sounded backwards as could be.
"Yes," he answered, as he smiled. "This day. After we parted last year, you see, I wrote your father asking for permission to address you when your year of mourning was over."
"You did?" she fairly squeaked.
"I did. And do you know how he replied?"
"I'm sure he was as befuddled as I am at the momentt."
Edmund laughed. "No. He was most encouraging but cautioned me to wait, as I had already known I must."
"Oh." Mary could hardly think, nevertheless speak.
Edmund took her hand and lowered his voice. "Your year is over, sweet Mary. Do you think you could entertain the idea of becoming my wife?"
"But why? Why me? This is beyond belief!" Tears were welling in Mary's eyes. She was beginning to fear she had fallen, hit her head, and this was the resultant crazed dream.
"Because over the years that I've known you, I've found you to be thoughtful, honest, industrious, selfless, and kind. These are all admirable traits but I think it was the moment I looked into your beautiful blue eyes, I knew I had lost my heart. This was the longest year I've known in my life. It seems I've counted every minute. Please put me out of my misery." He reached for her other hand as he spoke.
"But I am a spinster!"
He chuckled. "I don't see that as a barrier to matrimony. In fact, it could be considered a prerequisite on the part of the lady."
Mary couldn't speak, she could only look back at him and nod her head as though she'd gone witless. The tears that had been welling up started to streak down her face and into her glad smile.
"Tell me, please," he begged.
"Yes, Mr. Carew. I shall. I will be your wife."
She squeezed his hands as she spoke and felt him return the pressure but after her answer, he let go and swept her into his embrace.
"There was never a happier man than I."
And with that they shared their first kiss, much to Mary's unexpected pleasure. She was rather breathless as a result.
"Oh my, I didn't realize the clergy partook in such doings."
"My Mary, I am a man before a cleric; a man that has dreamt of doing such for far too long."
And he kissed her again and again, teaching her to be as enthusiastic about the activity as he was.
They were married six weeks later, which seemed rushed to the neighborhood but an eternity to the couple. Mr. Bennet was quite pleased with the occurrence and confided to Mary he was most delighted because she would be only a half-hour's walk from him and he could still enjoy her frequent company.
Once again, Longbourn was filled with family but this time Mary wasn't obliged to give over her room or supervise the junior family members. This time, she was the center of each thought, the focus of all who loved her, and she reveled in the knowledge that she wasn't quite as unimportant and unwanted as she had believed.
In fact, when she looked into her beloved's eyes she realized she was quite the opposite.
This story derives from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and was my donation to the fandom fundraiser for Sandy victims.