It is a comforting belief among much of society, that a plain girl with a small fortune must have no more interest in matrimony than matrimony has in her.
Mrs Bennet was not a particularly doting mother, but she did have one object, and that was to see all of her daughters married. She was the most often bemused by Mary, her third daughter of five, and the one with the fewest prospects.
It was not that Mary was plain, exactly, for she was a Bennet, and the Bennet girls were known as the prettiest in their small neighborhood. But she said the most alarming things and was full of dire pronouncements on the base leanings of men, of which men were not eager to hear, and though she applied herself diligently to the piano and singing, she was not as accomplished as many another girl who approached the task with rather more gaiety than determination.
It might have been with something like relief, then, that as her two eldest daughters had made quite eligible matches, that Mrs. Bennet could surrender her vigilance with regards to Mary. Of Kitty, some effort must still be made, of course, and that was a daunting enough task in itself, but Mary – Mrs. Bennet owned herself unequal to the task.
She confided as much to her eldest daughter Jane on one of her frequent visits, that her nerves could not handle finding a husband for Mary.
“No, Mary must stay here and be a comfort to me and Mr. Bennet,” Mrs. Bennet declared. “And after we die you must take her in, Jane. She will be no bother. She loves only her piano and her sermons and she will do quite nicely and will be quite out of the way. She can help you with the children as you begin to have them, and that way will be able to pay for her own way.”
Jane endeavored to assure Mrs Bennet that she would be able to provide a home for Mary for many more years, and that Mary would find a higher place in Jane’s home than governess when such an unhappy event came about as to Mrs Bennet’s passing on, but Mrs. Bennet had already flitted on to another topic, in which Lady Lucas had offered up some slight and Mrs Bennet had grabbed tightly to it with an eagerness to receive the insult.
But what to do about Mary? Jane, ensconced in the height of domestic happiness, began to suffer a niggling doubt. Could it be right that she be so happy and her middle sister was not? Jane took up an accounting of the Bennet sisters’ fortunes. Of the five, she and her next sister, Elizabeth, were married to men they loved and respected. Their youngest sister, Lydia, was entangled with a disgraceful rake, which had brought down a scandal upon the whole family. Then there was Kitty, who fortunately was too young to be attached. Rather than let her go the way of Lydia, toward which destiny Kitty’s nature predisposed her, Jane and Elizabeth had each taken a firmer hand in her upbringing. For Kitty’s sake of future happiness and respectability they could not let her follow Lydia’s example, and it would not do to have two scandals in one family.
There was no need to have such a fear for Mary, who practiced goodness with sober devotion and no little pride, and thus was less susceptible to the wiles of bad men. But even Mary, for all of her sermonizing against the evils of pleasant society, had expressed interest in a greater life than that of living on her sister’s charity. Should she not have a chance at finding such happiness with a like-minded gentleman as Jane had found with her Bingley or Lizzy with her Darcy?
Jane worried, and when Jane worried, she acted. That evening she composed a letter to Lizzy.
I hope this letter finds you well at Pemberley. Mama has just left after a long visit, and I confess that I am slightly weary of her nerves. But it was good to have her company, and it was rather like old times. My Bingley left us alone to visit for much of her stay but he was perfectly amiable to her and her teases. Father was not able to come, and I believe him when he said that he preferred the library of Longbourne to that of ours, as we are not great readers, though we do mean to! but I do think we will see him in a fortnight or sooner.
Mama said something that concerned me, regarding Mary. For all that we were terribly embarrassed when she pushed us toward eligible men, she is entirely unconcerned with Mary’s prospects. She seems resigned – no, content – that Mary may not ever marry and thinks more of Kitty’s debut in London than the same for Mary.
I am happy to be chaperone to Kitty in public and I see a vast improvement in her behavior already, since she is no longer under Lydia’s sway, poor misguided soul. I think, though, that we should not neglect Mary. She is as unformed in her way as Kitty is, and though her opinions are firm she holds them with little understanding of society and the world. I think we do a grave disservice to her if we do not offer her the same guidance that we give to Kitty, and I think it will be just as well-received, if not better, by Mary.
I await your reply anxiously. Give my love to Darcy and Georgianna.
With this letter Jane hatched her plot and waited for Lizzy’s reply.
Lizzy gave a fond smile when she received and read the missive. Always like Jane, to think of others as deserving of all good fortune that fell to her!
“But if the world were as just as it claimed to be, all good fortune would be heaped upon Jane and those of her character, and there would be none for the rest of us,” Lizzy said to herself. “And that would not do at all.” She stood and paced the small sitting room that she had claimed for her own when she became mistress of Pemberley. The great house was hardly a house at all and its inhabitants – Lizzy, her young sister-in-law Georgianna, and her husband Darcy – rattled about in it as loosely as buttons in an old hat box. Elizabeth was used to cosier comforts. Longbourne was small, and old, and respectably shabby; this little room, which received the afternoon sun and looked out over a small bit of wilderness at the end of the park, reminded her of her childhood and her upbringing.
When her gaze fell on a miniature of her husband and all that it represented, she knew that Jane was right. Perhaps Mary would never find such happiness, but to withhold any opportunity from her by the simple expedient of assumption that she of all others would never fall in love, that she would never attract a respectable man, was as prejudiced a thought as any that Lizzy had been susceptible to.
“For we all know how that turned out,” she thought. “My prejudice almost cost me my love. How much more dangerous then, to hold such assumptions on the part of my sister and wield such power by omission as to prevent her from ever discovering if there is a man for her. Jane is right – we must do all we can for Mary.”
When she entered her husband’s study and gave him a kiss as he bent over his letters, he smiled up at her, his expression lightening so much that it melted her heart.
“You have the look of mischief about you,” Mr Darcy said. “Much as when we first met and exchanged words. Have I need to fear?”
“Not at all,” she said. “I merely came to warn you that I am my mother’s daughter after all. Jane and I are prepared to make a match for Mary.”
Coming soon in 2011.