Posted on 2013-07-04
"Mary, are you coming to Meryton with me?" asked Elizabeth as she entered the room with her bonnet. "Mr Benedict informed me last week that some new books would arrive and I want to go and check his collection". Mary agreed and together the two sisters set out to the Meryton bookstore. There were few things which could be compared to the pleasure of reading books. Elizabeth who had just turned 18 had read all the major works of Shakespeare and her sister Mary who was 15 was trying to match her.
"Who is your favourite character from all the plays you have read Lizzy?" Mary enquired. "Hmm...... I like many characters, but Beatrice would be my favourite. What about you? " Elizabeth responded. "Oh... I haven't read many plays. But I like Rosalind. She is so courageous". "That's true!" Elizabeth agreed turning around the corner and halting at the modest entrance to the bookstore. "Look here we are!"
Mr Benedict, an old man of two and seventy looked up from his book to see the familiar faces of the two Bennet girls. "Ah... Miss Lizzy, Miss Mary, good to see you. The new books are there on the shelf third row from the left."
"Thank you sir" Elizabeth replied, walking away to inspect the collection. Mary's attention however, was captured by the book beside the window. Its jacket was smooth and it was glowing in the morning sunlight. She walked towards it and held it to inspect its cover closely.
"Such a beautiful book! I think I will take it "Mary murmured. "Are you certain? "Mr Benedict enquired. Mary looked up to see the old man staring at her. "Yes! "She answered. "Why would I not? It is so beautiful!"
"What is beautiful Miss Mary, the content of the book or its cover? "Mr Benedict asked. "Eh.... What is the difference Sir? The....the..... book....it is the book that is beautiful , is it not ?" Mary answered confused by the old man's question.
"Ah... but... There is a difference. You see, covers can be very deceptive. The book that you hold, for instance, is about the technique of shooting. It is ultimately the content that is important not the cover. A book is to be termed good or beautiful for its content and not because it has a decorative cover.
"I do not understand" Mary said. "Do we not buy things or appreciate things for its beauty?"
"Yes we do,Miss Mary. But one must not completely judge something or someone sorely by their external projection or appearance. There is a beautiful butterfly in every caterpillar is there not? And the most beautiful diamond is made out of a mere coal. One should try to see and appreciate the beauty within and not simply notice the beauty outside. Here, let me show you something......"
Mary followed the old man to his table and looked at the book that he held. It was old and dusty, its pages were on the verge of falling apart and its jacket seemed to have served a meal or two for the mice. It surprised her that Mr Benedict would still keep such a torn book and her curiosity prompted her to enquire about it.
"Sir, why would you keep such a torn book? It is, I believe, beyond repair. Why not give it away and get a new one?
"It is the content that draws me to this book and not simply its cover. This is the Fordyce's sermon. When I was a young boy, I was suffering from a serious illness which would have left me blind. My mother gave this to me at that time. She used to read it to me every day and taught me to appreciate the richness of its content. It has since then always helped me in times of difficulty"
Mary took the book and opened it carefully. There in a very elegant hand was a note written by his mother:
My dearest son,
A clay pot having honey will be ranked higher than a golden pot having poison. It is not our outer glamour, but our inner virtues that make us valuable. Please always remember this.
Get well soon!
With all my love,
Mary stared at the writing,It is not our outer glamour...... It was so true and the wordings were so profound. Mary was extremely thankful that Mr Benedict had shown her this book. She looked at him with gratitude. "Sir, I can never tha.........."
"Mary, are you done?" Called Elizabeth, her arms filled with books. "I found some really interesting books today. You do have a wonderful collection sir. I cannot wait to read them."
"I am glad you like them, Miss Lizzy" Mr Benedict smiled. "It is good to see a lady taking interest in things besides balls, suitors and laces."
Elizabeth laughed and after paying walked out of the shop. Mary told her to wait for her and turned to the old man.
"Sir, do you have a copy of the Fordyce's sermon?" she enquired "I would love to read the book, but I am not sure if I may be able to understand it completely".
"I am afraid not, my dear. But you can borrow my copy, mark the paragraphs which you find difficult to understand and return it to me when you are done. You can also come here whenever you are free and I will try to help you understand it" Mr Benedict replied.
"Are you certain sir? Will you truly let me borrow that book?"
"Yes my dear, I am sure."
Mr Benedict carefully packed his book and gave it to Mary. "Do remember my dear, in life always try to see the beauty of the content and not be blinded by the splendour of the cover"
"Yes sir, I will try. Thank you very much" Mary replied taking the book and happily walking home with her sister.
Mary, however, never got the opportunity of returning his book, for, Mr Benedict passed away a week later. But she did remember his words. They echoed in her mind every time her mother called her plain, every time she was teased for not having a dance partner or a suitor, every time her own treacherous mind doubted her own self-worth. Those words had echoed long after the spectacle she had made of herself at the Neatherfield ball. And every night as she gazed at the shining stars, her heart longed to find someone, anyone - a dog, a servant, a friend, a companion, a suitor, a lover or even a husband who would love her, for her. Who would love her, just as she was. That was what her heart longed for, like millions before her had and millions after her would, a simple wish, a simple desire - to love unconditionally ...and ....to be loved unconditionally............
8 years later......
"October has to be the dullest month of the year", Mary sighted as she put down the Fordyce's sermon and looked out of the window. With her father Mr Bennet gone to Pemberley to stay with Elizabeth and her mother and sister in London, Mary was left with little devices to pass her time. It was her fault that she refused to accompany any of them, but Mary always felt awkward in company, even that of her sisters. Being plain and unappreciated had been a major blow to her self-confidence. Jane and Elizabeth had always been close, so had Kitty and Lydia leaving Mary out. Not that her parents loved her less but they loved their other daughters more. Being the other unmarried daughter besides Kitty, Mary had faced Mrs Bennet's lecture on catching a rich husband many times. Mary was not completely against the idea of marrying and like her other sisters wanted to marry for love, but unlike her sisters never entertained the hopes of ever finding it. "How I wish "Mary thought wistfully "I knew what it felt to be adored and loved. What it felt like to be appreciated for who you are and not criticized for being plain or unable to attract dance partners or suitors. Oh! How I wish I knew what it felt like to be precious to someone. But .......... I won't expect it. Expectations have always led me to disappointment. But how I just wish......."
"Miss Mary", called Mrs Hill, the housekeeper, cutting the line of Mary's thoughts, "the post has arrived". Mary sighted, getting down from her seat. It must be Kitty she thought. The two sisters had become close and Kitty was a regular correspondent amusing her with her letters, describing the various ways their mother had tried to find Kitty a rich husband. Hence Mary was extremely surprised when she took the offered letter to find the familiar handwriting of her father. Her father never wrote letters unless it was a matter of life and death or he missed someone dearly like Lizzy or he found amusement from the activity as in the case of Mr Collins. Feeling extremely curious, she opened it -
I hope you are enjoying your time with Fordyce and the piano. I am slightly unwell. Nothing, too serious to worry about. It must probably be the effects of my old age. Mr Darcy spent a quality time with me today and I enjoyed conversing with him. He is intelligent and well-read. I am truly happy for Lizzy. I would even go so far as to say that sometimes, in his company, her giggles and blushes rival those of Kitty and Lydia. Due to my ill health, I will not be returning to Longbourne this Thursday as planned. However our new steward Mr Hawkins must have already left for Longbourne. Hence he may arrive on Friday. Would you be so kind as to tell Mrs Hill to accommodate him when he comes and give him this enclosed letter. Our servants and Mrs Hill are present and Jane and Bingley are there in Neatherfield, if you need their assistance. So I am not worried about leaving you alone with Mr Hawkins. In addition, I understand that he is three and forty so he would not have any designs on you. Please write to me when he arrives and take care of yourself. I will return as soon as I am well.
"Well it seems that we will have company. I do hope that his nature is nothing like Mr Marwick or heaven forbid like our odious cousin Mr Collins" thought Mary as she climbed down the stairs and went to the kitchen to inform Mrs Hill about their new steward.
"Mrs Hill!!! ... It seems that our new steward Mr ...eh... oh! What is his name?!!.... Ah Yes!....Hawkins" she stated, consulting the letter "will arrive this Friday and Papa is unwell so he may not be there to receive him. Hence we are left to welcome him. Would you kindly see to the necessary arrangements?"
"Yes Mary, I will do so. I do hope Mr Bennet recovers soon. It is so horrible to be unwell", Mrs Hill stated wiping her hands with a napkin. "What is he like ? Did you father mention anything about him?"
"No, nothing. But I do hope he is not another Marwick. That man was........Ah!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mary cried frustrated, stomping her foot. "If this Haw...oh! What is his name?!!... Haggins? No...eh... Higgins. Right, Higgins. If this Higgins even dares to.......
"I believe, my dear that his name is Hawkins, unless my ears deceived me." Mrs Hill stated. "And Mr Marwick was not bad either. He committed the most heinous crime in your eyes by trying to court you, but it is not such a bad thing now, is it? You are after all a sweet girl and I would even go so far as to say that he would have made a good husband and.........."
"I am no hearing this!!! Mary cried "he was twelve years my senior!!! He only tried to court me because Kitty would not have him. He is nothing but a wilful self-absorbed man. What are men anyways when compared to good books, rocks and mountains or........."
"Carriages that work?" Mrs Hill responded. " Yes, I know that little speech of yours, young Miss. What is wrong in being twelve years your senior? You are three and twenty and have to marry someday. You will never find a good husband if you keep up with this attitude of yours. You should be happy of at least having a suitor. Now just look at ......."
"My God, Mrs Hill! Has mother commissioned you to give me that speech and arrange for my wedding clothes before she arrives so that she can get rid of another daughter and get fodder for something to gossip with Mrs Long? I never knew that you all loved me sooo much. I am overflowing with so much gratitude that I fear I would drown in it" Mary huffed.
"Very funny, young lady!" Mrs Hill smiled. "Now as I was saying, just look at your two sisters. They have found wonderful husbands. So tall, handsome and caring. Can you fault them?....."
"As a matter of fact, YES!" Mary replied "Mr Bingley left Jane because he was not sure of himself or was not sure of her, I am not sure which or it was perhaps both. Mr Darcy was proud and rude, hardly speaking to anyone unless he was spoken to. And please, do not even get me started on Mr Wickham and Mr Collin. And as much as I love my Papa, it is no secret that he does not make a good husband. So Mrs Hill, would you still fault me for blaming an individual of committing the crime of being a self-absorbed man?"
"Are you resolved then my dear", Mrs Hill responded amused "of hating all men?"
"No madam. I am not resolved of hating All men. Only those, who could potentially be my husband" Mary answered with a smile.
"If your mother heard you say this my dear, she would have summoned me for her smelling salts" Mrs Hill observed "but Mary, you just cannot continue like this. All I ask is for you to keep an open mind. Is asking that too much? I still do not understand why you did not accept Mr Marwick's courtship. You are three and twenty and God forbid may never receive another offer. You should have at least given him a chance. Why did you not?"
"Because I did not love him....."Mary murmured under her breath.
"What did you say dear?" Mrs Hill asked not believing her ears.
"I said that I am going to call on Jane. I have avoided going to Neatherfield for a long time and I feel bad about it. It is not dear Jane's fault that Mr Marwick is now Mr Bingley's steward. I just hope that I do not run into him. It will be very awkward. I will be back by supper time. Goodbye Mrs Hill" Mary hastily replied leaving the kitchen.
Mrs Hill sighted, "When will this girl ever grow up? It is no use trying to convince her. She is just so stubborn. Perhaps I must try to do something. Perhaps this Mr Hawkins is the one for her. Matchmaking days, I am back!!!......"
"Eh... Mrs Hill" Mary called re-entering the room "before you use your precious time and energy for matchmaking, instead of cake-baking, I came to tell you one juicy detail of Papa's letter that I had earlier left out"
"Oh! What is it?" Mrs Hill responded, not liking the direction of the conversation.
"It is that....unfortunately.... for you, mama and all the gossip-lovers of Meryton and very, very fortunately for me...... Mr Higgins is three and.... FOURTY!!! Is it not wonderful?" Mary happily replied.
"It is Mr Hawkins my child and no, it is absolutely not wonderful. You will end up as an old cranky spinster if you keep rejoicing like this. You should have gone with your mother and sister to London. You would have met some nice young man and would have even become engaged by now. You should be seriously thinking about your future young Lady, instead of contemplating on philosophical matters. There would be enough time for it, when you would have your own grandchildren." Mrs Hill chastised.
"I AM seriously thinking about my future Mrs Hill and they do not contain men...."
"Mary Annabella Bennet!!!!!" Mrs Hill cried frustrated, before Mary could complete her sentence "you cannot be so stubborn. You must and I repeat MUST think seriously about a future which WILL contain a man and....."
"Poor Mrs Hill, I have completely frustrated you today, have I not? Do no worry, when Mr Higgins arrives, I will make it perfectly clear for him that, in order to retain his position as a steward, apart from following Papa's directions, it would be necessary for him to find a wife and that, for the said blissful pursuit, he should enlist the assistance of your superior match-making abilities. There, does that satisfy you now?" Mary enquired sweetly and at Mrs Hill's pointed glare added "oh! Well..... I ...well also promise to seriously think about a future which will contain a man".
"Truly!" Mrs Hill asked smiling happily "do you promise to think about it? And my child, that man is named Hawkins"
"Truly Mrs Hill, I promise " Mary replied turning towards the door to exit and just before closing the door, she cheekily added "though I make no promise whatsoever to think about the said man in my 'serious' future in the capacity of a husband. Brothers, acquaintances or self- centered, egoistical creatures, maybe......."
Mary looked at her surrounding as she walked towards Neatherfield. The Tuesday afternoon sun had given the landscape a sombre splendour. It was strange, she thought, how the tides of the sea could change, the rivers, the villages and the people could change, yet this landscape remained the same. If it could speak, she wondered what tales it would tell. Tales perhaps of love and loss , hope and despair, of dreams and reality, of..........
"Mary, I was just coming to call on you!" Mary looked up to see the familiar face of Maria Lucas. "Are you going out somewhere?"
"Yes, I am going to meet Jane and little Mark Bingley. Would you like to join me?" Mary responded.
Maria agreed and the two girls walked on the familiar path to Neatherfield. They were greeted by Mr Northrop, the jovial butler and were informed that the Bingleys were out but were expected to return soon.
"Let us go and wait in the library. I want to see the new books that Mr Bingley got from London" Mary said leading Maria towards the library.
"But Mary, you may run into Mr Marwick there. You do know that Mr Bingley's study is close to the library, do you not?" Maria observed.
"Yes Maria, I do. Thank you. Where do you think we should go then?"
"I was thinking about......"Maria stopped as the sound of the piano filled the corridors where they stood. Curious to find out the source of that music, the two girls walked towards the music room and were surprised at finding a gentleman at the pianoforte. His blonde hair shimmered in the sun, his eyes were closed and his face was calm as he played a melodious tune. The two girls looked at each other and then at the mysterious stranger.
"I have never seen him before at Meryton. Do you know who he is? Maria whispered.
"No, I do not. Perhaps he must be a friend of Mr Bingley" Mary replied.
"I wonder why my mother or Mrs Longs failed to mention this to me. Perhaps they may have not known which is surprising because they know every single gossip circulating around Meryton." Maria pondered.
"It may be surprising for you, but it is highly refreshing for me. This gives me hope that maybe mama would also lose her superior gossiping abilities and not subject me to another lecture on the duties of a three and twenty unmarried girl" Mary replied.
"Well you really should be thinking about marriage, Mary. I am twenty and my mother already considers me a spinster. You do not want to end up like Charlotte, do you? I really cannot understand why she was never offered marriage before. It is not like every single man in Meryton is tall, handsome or rich."
"It is their vanity Maria" Mary answered "they are not perfect but they think that the superior position of being a man can excuse their unprincipled behaviour or their arrogant assumptions. They see women, not as an individual with a character or a mind, but as a decoration on their arms and their home. Nine out of ten men are interested in noticing the shape of a lady's lips rather than noticing the words that come out of those lips"
"Oh! Mary..."Maria giggled and abruptly stopped when she could no longer hear the music. The girls turned towards the stranger just as he looked up. Startled green eyes meet their and he hastily stood up and bowed "Ladies..."
They curtsied in return and stood uncomfortably for a few minutes before Maria summoned the courage to speak to him. "Are you new in this area sir?" she enquired.
"Yes madam, I arrived a fortnight ago along with Mr Bingley" he replied
"That's strange. Jane never told me they had company here at Neatherfield" said Mary.
"Company?" he asked confused.
"Yes" Mary answered "you are Mr Bingley's friend, are you not?"
A strange expression came over his face before he calmly replied "You are mistaken madam. I am not Mr Bingley's friend. I am his valet"
"His VALET?!....." Maria asked astonished.
"Yes madam. Now if you will excuse me....."He answered hastily leaving the room.
The girls exchanged glances before Maria spoke. "I do not believe him. He just cannot be a valet. He is too well- bread, not to mention handsome to be so."
"Are you disappointed Maria that he is not a single man in possession of a large fortune? For you do know that, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Mary replied with a smile.
"Oh Mary Anna! Do not tease me so. You do know what I mean!" Maria said pouting.
"Yes Maria Aurora. Do not pout. I know what you mean and I will also pay you a compliment by agreeing with you. You are right. He just does not seem to be a valet. He is too gentlemanly and I do not use the word in a general sense but in a specific one, as in a gentleman with an estate of his own." Mary stated.
"It is so very strange. He would have no reason to lie to us and we have no reason to doubt him. Yet we do. I think we should ask Jane about him." Maria said turning around the corner of the corridor and abruptly bumping into someone. "Oh! Please excuse me, I was...........Mr Marwick!!!"
Mary stifled a groan as Mr Marwick's eyes meet hers and hastily re-focused on Maria Lucas. "Miss Lucas" he said steading her "Miss Mary, how do you do?"
"Very well sir" Mary hastily replied when she saw that no answer was coming from Maria, who stood there staring at Mr Marwick. "Now if you will excuse us..."
Mary dragged Maria in the direction of the drawing room. "Maria, why were you....."
"Mary, you never mentioned that Mr Marwick was good-looking." Maria chided.
"Oh for God's sake Maria, that man is twelve years my senior and fifteen years yours. Please do not........"
"Fifteen years my senior!!!!"Maria laughed "oh this is rich. Who told you that Mary Anna?"
"Eh... Kitty did" Mary replied uncertainly. Even she had doubted the information, for Mr Marwick did look quite young. But it had been a good excuse to resist hearing Mrs Hill's lecture. She however had never given this excuse to her father knowing that he would not accept it. Now that she thought about it, she had never bothered to find out his real age.
"Oh dear Anna, he is eight and twenty. I overheard my mother saying this to our neighbour Mrs Carllis."Maria replied with a smile.
"Well it does not matter and It does not change a thing." Mary replied with certainty as she pushed open the doors to the drawing room and saw Jane with little Mark there.
"So someone has finally decided to come and give her sister some company" Jane teased as she came forward and hugged the girls.
Mary and Maria both played with Mark as they conversed with Jane. "So is Caroline is coming on this Thursday alone or with Mr and Mrs Hurst?" Mary enquired.
"She is coming alone. Would you girls like to join us for dinner this Thursday?" Jane asked.
Mary was about to decline but one look at Jane's pleading face made her change her mind. So it was decided that they would all have dinner together on Thursday. The girls stayed for some time and then took their leave. It was only after travelling halfway towards Longbourne that Mary realised that they had completely forgotten to ask Jane about Mr Bingley's Mysterious valet.
The bright Thursday afternoon saw Mary Annabella Bennet and Maria Aurora Lucas spend their time at Longbourne feasting on the cook's delicious muffins. Both the girls had packed a small trunk because Jane had insisted that they spend the night at Neatherfield after dinner. They had been reluctant at first, but Jane's pleading pout, Mr Bingley's warm and expectant smile and Mark's large and innocent eyes had finally made them agree to the plan. Caroline Bingley was expected at Neatherfield that day and both the girls or rather Maria could scarcely talk of anything else.
"Now that Mr Darcy is married, do you think Caroline Bingley will change" Maria enquired helping herself to another muffin.
"I really cannot say, Maria. I have only met her a few times after Jane and Lizzy's marriage and we have never spoken to each other." Mary answered.
"I overheard Mrs Hurst say to Mr Hurst at your sisters' wedding that she was aggrieved because she could not become the mistress of Pemberley. Perhaps her grief might change her and make her see reason" Maria stated.
"Perhaps, it may or perhaps, it may not. I believe that grief does not as much change a person as it reveals a person to his or her own self."
"Oh, my dear Anna! I so love it when the philosopher in you speaks these wise words" Maria remarked affectionately.
"Then Aurora, you must love me whenever I speak, for it is always the philosopher in me that is speaking" Mary replied with a smile.
The girls shared a laugh and engaged in an affectionate banter before finally agreeing to change their dress and go and help Jane at Neatherfield.
"I am so glad you are here girls" Jane happily stated kissing Mary and Maria on their cheeks.
"Of course they came dear. They are mere mortals after all who cannot refuse you anything after being charmed by your pleading looks and pretty pout" Mr Bingley remarked affectionately.
Jane Bingley blushed and kissing her husband on his cheek led the girls to the sitting room. "Has Caroline arrived?" Maria enquired.
"Yes, she has. She arrived an hour ago and has since then remained in her room. Would you girls mind if I desert you for some time? I have to speak to the housekeeper. It will not take long, I promise." Jane said.
"Not at all Jane. We will be fine" Mary assured her sister.
"Thank you dears. Mark may have woken up from his nap. His in the nursery if you want to meet him" Jane stated leaving the room.
"Well then, let us go and meet the little Bingley. And who knows, if we are fortunate, perhaps we may run into the mysterious valet or the good looking, eight and twenty, Mr Marwick" Maria mischievously remarked as she dragged Mary out of the room.
"Maria! I may agree with you on the mysterious valet part, but you need not enlighten me on the way Mr Marwick looks or his age. As a matter of fact, I am well aware of both" Mary replied ascending the stairs and turning toward the corridor which led to the nursery.
"Oh Good Lord in heaven! Did I just hear, what I think I heard! Did you, Mary Annabella Bennet, the stubborn, hard-core bachelor...eh... excuse me...spinster of the Bennet family........"
"......just agree with me that Mr Marwick is good-looking? Oh ! The Joy!....."
"Maria! I never agreed with ......"
"You said you were well aware......"
"Oh! Lord. Not in that sense. I meant that I knew how he looked and......."
"Oh! You know how he looks! Dear dear! Do you dream about him Anna? Have you finally fallen in love! Should we publish the Banns, order the wedding clothes...."
"MARIA!" Mary glared "please do cease your over enthusiastic portrayal of my tragic end! I am seriously persuaded to believe that my dear Mama has cast a spell on all of you....."
"Portrayal of your tragic end!" Maria giggled "why Mary, I never......"
" Who is ordering wedding clothes?" came a voice from behind them.
The girls turned to see Caroline Bingley coming towards them. She was impeccably dressed as always. If not for the cold expression in her eyes or the grim set of her mouth, she would have been acknowledged as a beauty. She had overheard the girls talking and even she could not help but smile at the phrase 'portrayal of my tragic end'. She was curious to know about what they were talking and hence she had asked the question. Seeing no answer forthcoming, she was prepared to repeat the question when Maria spoke hastily to change the subject-
"Miss Bingley! Are you surprised to see us here today? And as I see that you are looking well, I need not enquire after your health, need I?"
"Not at all, Miss Lucas. And dear Jane had informed me that you both would be joining us for dinner" she replied.
"I hope you had a good journey?" Mary enquired.
"Yes I did. Thank you. Charles had in fact made ... who is that?"
Mary and Maria turned to look at what had caught Caroline's attention and saw the object to be none other than the mysterious valet. Although he was talking to someone, he was directly in their line of vision. He was very tall and handsome. The girls watched in amazement as he lifted his green eyes and looked at Caroline Bingley. They seemed to stare at each other, before he remembered himself, bowed and walked away. Caroline Bingley on the other hand seemed to be robbed of breath. Fighting her smile, Maria spoke
"Miss Bingley, are you all right? Should I get some smelling salts? You look as if you are about to swoon"
"Eh... No... Eh... Do you know who he is?" Caroline enquired blinking furiously and clearing her throat.
"I think that he is....."
However, before Mary could complete her sentence, Maria spoke-
"...eh...has, not is, Mary. I think he has seven thousand pounds or was it ten thousand pounds. Maybe, it was twelve thousand pound. I am not sure...."
"Maria!" Mary began at the same time Caroline exclaimed " Twelve thousand pound!" covering her laugh with a cough, Maria continued-
"...Yes, but, Miss Bingley, with gossip, you truly do not know what or whom to trust. Perhaps you should ask your brother."
"I wonder why Charles did not tell me that he had company. But you are right Miss Lucas, I should ask my brother. If you both will excuse me...."Caroline stated practically running down the stairways.
"Oh Maria! Why did you do that?" Mary asked not looking too pleased.
"Did you just see the way she looked at him?" Maria replied " Who knew that even the cold Caroline Bingley could develop warm feelings for someone? But on second thought, if you, Mary Spinster Bennet can fall in love, who cannot? Oh Love! Thou art so....."
"Maria, you will cease this line of thinking. I AM not in love, and especially not with Mr Marwick. If it had been otherwise, I would have accepted his courtship. I think it is you who have taken a fancy to him." Mary stated.
Maria blushed and protested, "No, I am not in love with Mr Marwick"
"You do know, what they say Aurora, do you not? Double negatives in a statement make it positive. Hence, going by this conclusion, I would say, yes, you are in love with Mr Marwick"
"Is someone remembering me today ladies?"
They both turned and came face to face with Mr Marwick. Maria's blush deepened and Mary resisted the urge to cry out in frustration. Instead of answering him however, Maria murmured something under her breath and excused herself hastily. Mary followed her. They reached the sitting room where they saw Jane, Caroline and Mr Bingley. Caroline was just asking her brother about the mysterious valet.
"Charles, why did you not tell me that you had company?"
Mr Bingley looked confused "But Caroline, Jane did tell you that we were expecting Mary and Miss Lucas today, did she not? They are after all very close to our family and Mary is my sister. You can hardly........"
"I was not talking about them. I was talking about the gentleman who is staying with us. You never told me Charles that you had also invited your friend" she accused.
"Invited my friend? Caroline what or rather who are you talking about?" Mr Bingley enquired.
"Oh Charles, about that tall, handso...eh I mean, about that tall gentleman with beautif...I mean deep green eyes and ....well yes...eh...about him"
Mr Bingley looked surprised. In all his seven and twenty years, he had never seen his sister as flustered as she was now or never even seen her blush. He could for his life fathom her odd behaviour but he shook his head and tried to concentrate on the topic or rather the person being discussed.
"Tall... with green eyes...ah! Yes, you must have seen Arthur. He is my valet and I must say he ......."
"Wait a minute Charles, did you say your VALET!" Caroline enquired shocked.
"Yes Caroline, my valet and he is so very......."
Mary observed that Caroline had scarcely heard her brother. That the handsome young man was a valet came as a shock to her. Caroline tried to supress her feelings and try as she might, she could not bring herself to resent his position. Her feelings were conflicting with each other and by each second, she was feeling more and more confused. She was, however brought back to reality by her brother's voice asking her a question.
"I apologise Charles. What is it that you were asking me?"
"Well, Caroline. You mentioned in your letter that you wanted to tell me something. What did you want to tell me" Mr Bingley enquired.
"Eh...tell you something? Well, it was ...oh! Yes! I did want to tell you that, eh..... that,...eh Lord Blandford has eh... asked my hand in marriage and I ...eh, and I ........agreed" the last part was said so softly that Mr Bingley had to strain his ears to hear it. Nobody spoke for a full minute, but then Jane and Mr Bingley got up and went to happily congratulate Caroline while Mary and Maria exchanged glances. Mary never thought that she would ever feel compassion for Caroline Bingley, but it was precisely what she was feeling at that moment.
"When do I get to meet him Caroline?" Mr Bingley enquired smiling.
"Eh... He told me to ask your permission to invite him here so that he can properly ask you for my hand before making any arrangements." Caroline replied trying to look happy.
"Excellent! I will write to him after dinner to invite him to Neatherfield. What do you say , shall we proceed to dinner?" Mr Bingley asked
After dinner, as Maria continued to converse with Jane and Mr Bingley, Mary approached Caroline who was unusually silent.
"Are you happy Miss Bingley?" she asked.
Caroline looked surprised.
"I meant, with your engagement." Mary clarified.
"Of course I am Miss Bennet. Why would you think otherwise? I am after all marrying a Lord, a gentleman with a title and immense wealth" Caroline Bingley stated.
"Well, I just happened to notice the way you looked at eh... Mr Arthur. "
"Ah! Mr Arthur...... but he is nothing compared to Lord Blanford"
"In terms of wealth, beauty or both? and what about Lord Blandford's character?" Mary enquired raising her eyebrows.
"How does it matter? I am perfectly happy. " Caroline replied.
"If you say so, Miss Bingley. But I do hope that you will not simply love a person who is beautiful, but a person who can make your life beautiful. Any amount of wealth, title or beauty can only please the mind. It is only unconditional love and genuine appreciation that can bring true contentment to the heart. But if you are truly happy in this engagement, then I offer you my congratulations" Mary smiled and went to speak to Jane leaving a speechless Caroline behind.
As Mr Bingley later read aloud the letter he wrote to Lord Blandford, Caroline spoke excitedly about him, convincing everyone that she was truly happy, that marrying a very wealthy man with a title was like a dream coming true, but as Mary's words rang in her ears later that night, she knew that, the true challenge was not convincing everyone else that she was happy in her engagement, it was convincing herself.To Be Continued . . .