Posted on 2013-10-07
Papa did not spend much time teaching her about sums and numbers and figures, let alone physics, but Mary Bennet had discovered on her own that life and its varied pathways were often determined by a series of angles. Oh, her verses and Mr. Fordyce's well-meant thoughts certainly helped guide Mary, but of late, attaining knowledge and broadening her mind were all about the angle. For example, if she stood in the main hall, just to the left of the doorway, peered through the narrow strip of light allowed by the ill-hanging door, and stared hard into the mirror which hung to the right of the fireplace, she could spy on her sisters and their betrotheds. She could see their courtships unfold and no one was the wiser. Except her.
Oh, Mary had learned a bit as the world's most attentive chaperone. She could have stared for hours at her book or her tracts, and none of it would have been as edifying as listening to the cooings and whisperings which passed for intelligent conversation between Jane and her Mr. Bingley. He was a pleasant man, a decent man, a... clumsy man. Both he and Jane seemed to endlessly stumble into each other, knocking elbows and grabbing the other's hand for steadiness. Just last week, he'd knocked over Jane's sewing basket and then spent far too much time kneeling down and helping Jane pick up her threads and needles. That was not work for a gentleman. No, Mr. Bingley was nice, earnest, clumsy and soft. He tried so hard. Mary allowed that, and granted him extra points for not bowing and scraping as their cousin had done; in his favor as well were his table manners. Mr. Bingley, despite his hearty appetite, did not coat his teeth and lips in the sauces, meats and greens that filled his plate at the Bennet table. Nice as his teeth appeared to be, he kept them well-hidden while chewing.
Still, Mr. Bingley's cheerful smiles wearied Mary. She was pleased when Elizabeth's tall, enigmatic suitor became a steady presence. Mr. Darcy was unlike any man she'd yet encountered. It was not simply his appearance, though he did indeed have the most handsome visage that had ever blessed Meryton. She was sure of it; Mary had little imagination but she had seen paintings and perused a few etchings in Papa's books. Lydia might have her Mr. Wickham, he of the gleaming eyes, pointed chin and oddly shaped mole on his cheek, but he was nothing to Mr. Darcy. Wickham had indeed seemed impressive upon first encounter. Upon the second meeting, Mary had altered her impression and judged him too self-loving. But Mr. Darcy? His broad shoulders, cleft chin and steady, darkly hypnotizing stare made it increasingly difficult for Mary to concentrate on her reading or walking and she had indeed earned her new title as the world's worst chaperone. Well, perhaps the worst in Hertfordshire. Mrs. Forster was surely far less attentive, seeing as how she had let Lydia slip away with that moley dunderhead.
Darcy was clever as well. Of course, he had recognized that same trait in her sister, and Mary--whilst often disapproving of their conversational topics--appreciated that they were of like mind. Fingers touched, words were often whispered, and sometimes she heard him whispering bits of French or Latin. A learned man for their father's favorite daughter. Oh, and that smile he only showed to Lizzy.
Had there only been another Darcy for her.... Alas, he had no brother. Miss Darcy was a sweet sister to be, but far too happy with Kitty and Maria Lucas, who had immediately beribboned and bewitched the shy creature. Not to mention, she played beautifully and declined to discuss Fordyce.
Maria insisted that the cousin she'd met in Kent was equally impressive and not so fearsome as Mr. Darcy, but a man in regimentals could not have the sweeping mind Mary craved. Mayhap he would have a cleft chin and dark eyes? When had such things become so important to her future happiness? The weddings were mere days away. Lizzy and Jane would be leaving. Lydia was well gone. And now Kitty had been invited to London to stay with the Gardiners and further her friendship with Miss Darcy. Mary would be alone. She'd always sought solitude so she could study her books and share her newly gleaned knowledge with her family. Now she would have no one who would listen. Her mother would be plotting visits to Netherfield, perhaps using Mary as a pawn for entry. Her father would have fewer reasons to attend his family, what with Lizzy gone, and remain closed off in his library. Kitty had never listened, anyway, and Mrs. Hill was not truly family... there would be no one.
Mary glanced through the door crack. Oh, Mr. Darcy's finger was tracing Lizzy's ear, her neck! She was laughing, but that look in her eyes was unlike any expression Mary had ever seen. Or imagined. Suddenly Mr. Darcy's head blocked her view and Lizzy's giggles became gasps and her fingers were in his hair. Was staid Mr. Darcy whispering her sister's name? Mary swallowed hard. She needed a plan. She had to get out of this place, if it was the last thing she ever did.
The following evening, those among the four and twenty families who truly mattered to the soon-to-be-swept-away Miss Bennets gathered at the home of the Longs. Mary sat, as she always did, off to the side as observer to the intemperate laughter and fevered conversations swirling about her. There seemed not to be an unhappy person in the place. Mary's eyes narrowed as she watched Charlotte and her husband. An advancement of felicity indeed. Was there a man in Meryton who was both unattached and worthy? One who could show her a better life, and perhaps knew some of those kis--er, courtship angles Mr. Darcy seemed so skilled at? The Goulding and Lucas boys? Surely not. Mr. Jones, Mr. Lamb--?
Oh my, was that Mr. Robinson, Uncle Phillips' clerk? Mary recalled Elizabeth fuming over his query to Mr. Bingley at that long-ago assembly. Something about which girl Bingley thought was the handsomest. Lizzy had been furious at the question, and even angrier--as Mary later learned--by the judgments being passed on her and her sisters by those two gentlemen from London. Well, Mary thought, hasn't that all worked out quite prettily for my elder sisters? She looked again at the reedy young man leaning against the wall and a few more memories stirred. Henry, it was. Always with his hand in the air to recite his verses, a clear reading voice, yet often sitting silently in the back of the room...twirling his quill and tickling his chin. Dear heaven, Henry has a cleft chin. He was quiet. Tall. Knows his verses. Likes handsome girls. Oh. Mary looked at his face. While thin, he had a strong jaw and lacked conspicuous moley markings. His eyes were a clear grey hue, a fine indication that he, like she, was abstemious. Suddenly she realized he was staring back at her. Had he noticed how well she filled out this blue dress? Mary gripped her sheet music. It soon would be time for her to exhibit. It would be her opportunity. There was an angle here she could play. She made a desperate resolution and removed her spectacles.
There soon would be but two Bennet ladies left at Longbourn, mused Henry Robinson. It was the talk of the town, or at least the talk of the young men who'd admired Jane, competed with and lost to Elizabeth, and danced too closely to Lydia. Henry looked across the Longs' sitting room. Kitty was laughing. And coughing. Such a thin, forgettable sort of girl, like a shadow to Elizabeth and Lydia. Never seemed to have a thought of her own, and perhaps shared too many of Lydia's mannerisms and not enough of Lizzy's. That Elizabeth Bennet was something, he thought. Too smart for any man in Meryton, and although that rich Mr. Darcy seemed like no fun at all, he certainly was enthralled by Lizzy. Henry couldn't understand half of what he'd heard them discussing earlier. Some odd conversation about a vain lunatic and lovers' contracts. *
Henry looked again at Kitty, busy chatting with her new special friend, Miss Darcy. Oh, that girl had stepped in it now--off to meet the rich young men of the ton. Well, that was not for him. No, Henry Robinson would not be leaving Meryton. He had it all figured out...he'd plotted a series of dots on a straight line, each moving him toward his life's greatest goals. He soon would have enough money to partner with Mr. Phillips and establish his own office. He would buy a small estate. He would find a wife, one with a good name and a hearty womb. He wished for five sons. They would fill their own pew.
Henry felt his face growing warm. His attention had drifted as he'd considered the young ladies. He raised his eyes and met the steady gaze of Miss Mary Bennet. Oh Lord. That one. Always sermonizing. She used to stare at me that way in Bible study. As though I had bits of mutton in my teeth! He peered more closely. She looks different tonight. Why is that? Her eyes are brighter. So green. Has she imbibed of the punch? Unimaginable. Oh, she's taken off her spectacles. Those are some fine eyes. He watched as Mary rose, dropping her sheet music as she stood up. She bent over most indelicately, giving him a clear view of her generous womanly attributes. Oh my. Those are some creamy mounds. Henry felt himself blush; when he was but 14, he'd heard his cousin admire a lady's figure and had never forgotten the colorful compliments the older boy voiced.
The view had shifted and Henry realized Mary was walking slowly, albeit unsteadily, in a straight line toward him. He was unnerved. Why is she coming here? What does she want? Mary Bennet was most decidedly not a dot on his line! He gulped and wiped his hands on his breeches. The doorway was directly to his left. He had to get out of this place, if it was the last thing he ever did.
Without her spectacles, all Mary could see was the blurry outline of her intended. Yes, that is what Henry was. Her intended. She needed to impart that information to him. Mary felt his eyes on her as she'd bent over to pick up her music; living with Lydia these past few years had passed on at least a few lessons in how to attract a man's eye. She forced a demure smile to spread across her face and began to panic, wondering how she would greet her childhood friend. Perhaps she should ask him why he chose to wear a black waistcoat to an informal family party.
Such an odd color choice for a young man, she mused. Even with her lack of fashion sense, she knew he had erred. Henry needed a wife to guide him. Mary had not inherited her mother's eye for the cut of a gown or the setting of an attractive table, but other elements of Frances Gardiner Bennet were often on display: Mary shared her mother's bounteous chest, her intolerance for those who disagreed with her opinions, and her propensity for nervous overreactions. Thus, it was no surprise when, as she neared the newly handsome Henry Robinson, those very nerves took flight. In the effort not to squint and make a poor display, her hands shook and her eyeglasses fell from her hand. Mary reacted awkwardly but hastily. She dropped to her knees, blindly reaching out across the floor in a panicked search for her spectacles.
She succeeded quickly, scooped up the fragile lenses and placed them back on her nose, perfectly angled, where they belonged. Still kneeling on the rug, she looked up at Henry, walking sideways, at a right angle from her, and sighed. My hero.
Caroline Bingley's stomach roiled. She was trapped in a nightmare, a world turned upside down. She was cursed. This awful little town was her idea of hell, full of ugly women who didn't know fashion or art or books and only gossiped about the militia or cows or dull aunts with chin hair. It was insufferable. She turned away from yet another indecorous display of Mr. Darcy's so-called happy felicity with his betrothed. When would it end? She'd kept her head averted when she'd heard the laughter, but finally had turned to see those Bennet girls surrounded by their fellow ill-bred townfolk. Mr. Darcy had suddenly appeared, smiling, at Eliza's side. He'd bent down and blushed at whatever that country girl whispered in his ear. Blushed! It was insufferable watching that chit turn her Mr. Darcy into a slavish mooncalf. Caroline could not stand another minute of it. She had to get out of this place, it if was the last thing she ever did.
She drained her third cup of punch and wrinkled her nose. Did everything in this horrible little town taste of hay? Angry, jealous and not in the least abstemious like these hay-swilling prigs, Caroline stormed away, furiously pushing through the groups of happy celebrants, searching for a door. Oh, who designed these small rooms and their awkward furniture groupings? Who chose these lumpy rugs? What is that oddly shaped blue rhomboid? Umph....
While a graceful proficient at dancing, Caroline was less learned in the art of securing the ribbons on her slippers. Thus, while she saved herself from a tumble by leaning away from the crouching Mary Bennet, she was unable to stop herself from tripping on the loose ribbon of her too-tight but highly fashionable slippers. Only one man could stop her forward progress into the punch bowl. Caroline tumbled chest-first into the large, damp hands of a mortified Henry Robinson. The straight line he'd mapped toward his future happiness flew out of his head as the soft rounded bosoms of Caroline Bingley fell into his grasp. He held on tightly to keep the fine lady from falling further, and abandoned thought entirely when together they tumbled to the floor. Caroline's perch atop Henry's chest provided the good people of Meryton with a refreshing new perspective on town manners. There would be no more gossip about cows or dull aunts with chin hair. Indeed, as Mr. Lucas could be heard observing when the gasps died down, another jewel of Meryton was off the market.
Even Mary had to admit Caroline had outdone her as a studier of angles. I will retrench, she thought, casting a glance at the stunned face of Jacob Long, kneeling beside her, his hands full of her music sheets and his mouth gaping in a perfectly shaped oval. He tore his eyes away from the sprawled, stunned couple on the floor and looked at Mary. She smiled softly. He arched his brows over eyes of owlish brown, the color of wisdom, and gave her a crooked grin.
Oh my goodness. Just perfect.
"We Gotta Get Outta Of This Place"--The Animals
*Woman's Constancy, by John DonneThe End