Posted on 2012-05-27
Mary Bennet was more than surprised, and less than pleased to find her sister Lizzy alone in a darkened hallway with Mr. Darcy; but she knew - or rather, thought - that her sister disliked the man, and as she was quite ignorant in regards to encounters of the amorous kind, she was content to assume that the heightened color of both was the result of a disagreement, rather than of any, untoward, activity. Therefore, she quietly excused herself.
The last thing Mary expected was for Mr. Darcy to follow her, but he did; and even more surprising, he directly engaged her in conversation.
"Miss Mary," he began, "I see you are carrying a book; may I enquire as to what you are reading?"
Mary was very nearly overcome in being addressed by so great a man, but she recovered herself as best as she could and responded succinctly, "Fordyce's Sermons, sir."
"The Reverend Fordyce is very instructive," Mr. Darcy nodded gravely.
"Might I ask what else you enjoy reading?"
"Do you not read plays, poetry, or novels?"
When she said nothing, he tried being more specific, "Perhaps Shakespeare, Blake, Radcliffe, and the like?"
"No; never," Mary firmly replied.
"No?" Mr. Darcy's eyebrows shot skyward.
"I find all the instruction I need here, sir," she replied confidently, gesturing to her book.
"Then I need not ask if you have read Wollstonecraft," he commented with a bit of a smirk.
Mary Bennet did not know to suppose that Mr. Darcy was teasing her, so she responded with all the incredulity that she felt, "Absolutely not! Surely you would not allow your own sister to read such writing!"
"I would," he replied, very seriously.
Feeling immediately contrite, she responded, "I am sorry, I did not mean to judge."
"Do not make yourself uneasy," he waved her apology off good-naturedly, "I can well understand why that might seem unconventional."
Mary allowed her curiosity to take over, "You can? Then, I must ask, sir, why would you allow it?"
"I do not find all of her ideas to be radical; indeed, she makes some very creditable assertions, and I would wish for my sister to be informed of all beliefs, that she might better understand her own."
With Lizzy following closely behind, they continued to walk into the drawing room, where Jane was quietly discussing her future with Bingley, Mrs. Bennet was noisily discussing lace with Kitty, and Mr. Bennet was amusing himself with a book.
"I am not quite sure I follow you," Mary admitted as she took a seat opposite Mr. Darcy.
"How can I know if Fordyce's ideas are best, if I have not evaluated the alternate views, and decided against them?"
Mary still seemed confused, so Mr. Darcy tried a different tactic. "Have you heard of Johannes Vermeer?" he asked.
"Yes; I think so. He is a painter, I believe."
"Yes, he is. Now imagine; if you will, that I insisted that Vermeer's 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' is the most beautiful, most skillful, most insightful of all paintings in the world. Would you believe me?"
"Well, no; I do not believe so."
"I expect that though you may be well travelled, you have not seen all the paintings the world has to offer."
"And you would be correct in thinking so, Miss Mary; but what if I listed the numerous paintings I had seen, by many artists of renowned quality, from various countries around the world, and I still insisted that this painting is the best; what would you think then?"
"I think I might still disagree." Mary hesitated for a moment as she pondered her position, then clarified, "That is, if I had seen it and I continued to prefer another, I might; but, I would think your opinion to have more validity than before."
Mr. Darcy's expression was decidedly triumphant as he pressed on, "Would the same path of reasoning not follow for all thinking; whether concerning religion, politics, fashion, economics, or even, morality?"
Comprehension finally dawned on Mary as she concluded, "I see; so you are suggesting that in order to better understand why I follow the words of Fordyce, I must also read Wollstonecraft."
"No, Miss Mary; not precisely; I will not presume to dictate which texts you must study," Mr. Darcy laughed self-deprecatingly as he explained, "I have done with attempting to direct the minds of others. My past attempts in that regard have been nothing short of disastrous."
Something sounding vaguely like a snort came from the direction of Elizabeth, and Mr. Darcy suddenly succumbed to a coughing fit. When he recovered, he continued, "What I am suggesting is that no education is complete unless all relevant viewpoints have been considered. You may explore many perspectives, and find that your original convictions still stand true; although the further study will have lent them more strength. You may decide that you still adhere to most of your previous ideas, with some amendments. Or," he continued, with a sly smile and a sidelong glance in Lizzy's direction, "You might find that a strict adherence to long-held beliefs has caused you to overlook something most precious."
"Papa has often encouraged me to expand my interests, but I thought he was only teasing," Mary acknowledged.
"I have long felt that for every pound of jest, there is at least a shilling of truth."
Mary suddenly felt her father's many shillings of truth, and became pensive. Mr. Darcy, having recently become more perceptive in regards to the feelings of others, noted the change.
"Miss Mary," he said gently, "Have I said something to distress you?"
Shaking herself from the sudden bout of melancholy, she responded, "No Mr. Darcy; I was merely considering the import of what you have said."
He smiled kindly as he asked, "Have you read much of Pope's writings?"
"I confess, I have difficulty understanding much of what he writes, but he is a great favorite of Papa's and Lizzy's."
Mr. Darcy's reply was laced with sarcasm rich enough to impress the great satirist under discussion.
"Indeed; I cannot imagine why."
Mary had been so engrossed in the conversation, that she did not grasp the irony in Mr. Darcy's voice, nor did she hear the giggle which came from Lizzy, or the chuckle which escaped her father; but Mr. Darcy did, and after suppressing his own laughter, he took a moment to school his features back into a more serious expression before continuing, "Yes; well, though I do not agree with all of his writings, there is much wisdom to be found within them. He says, for example, 'A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring'."
"I can see how that pertains to the conversation we are having," said Mary.
"Yes?" her companion asked eagerly, "Tell me; how?"
"Yes; I would like to hear your opinion, Miss Mary."
Mary was momentarily stunned by having her view openly solicited. More than anything, she wished to reply intelligently, but she felt there was an embargo on every idea which surfaced. She opened and closed her mouth several times before opting for unadorned honesty, which in this case, as in most others, was the best choice.
"I think, perhaps, he is saying that if one only learns a very little on a given subject, then there follows the danger of developing ill-formed opinions based on limited information; in which case, it would be have been better to have learned nothing at all."
"So, by the same logic, by limiting myself to the readings of Fordyce, I have a narrow view of morality," she deduced. Mr. Darcy smiled and nodded encouragingly. "I believe I am starting to see your point, sir; but where does one begin?"
"That, I cannot say, for I know not what questions lie within your heart; but surely, there are things you have wished to know more of - you must have some sources of wonder," he suggested.
Mary was thoughtful for a few moments, but eventually spoke, "I must admit, due to the entail of Longbourn, I have sometimes wondered about the nature of inheritance laws and the implications for women."
"Spoken like a true bluestocking!" Mr. Darcy laughed, and Mary smiled in return, "I think that is as good a place as any to begin your quest for deeper knowledge; what remains is to find a variety of sources for study. I have seen that your father's library is well stocked, and I am certain he would wish for you to avail yourself of its contents," he suggested.
Mary looked up just then, and saw what her sister Lizzy had been tenderly observing for some time; Mr. Bennet, having set his book aside (ironically, a volume of Pope's work), was watching the interaction between herself and Mr. Darcy with great interest. Mary returned her father's slight smile with a shy one of her own, and he, chuckling to himself, shook his head and took up his book again.
"I think you are correct, Mr. Darcy," she agreed, and after another moment's thought, she added, "Thank you for speaking with me; you have given me much to consider."
"Not at all," he assured her with a warm smile, "I enjoyed our conversation very much, Mary."
Mary did take note of Mr. Darcy's seemingly unconscious lapse into informality, but despite her rigid views on propriety, she could not be offended, for there had been something of a brotherly aspect in his manner throughout their exchange.
So it came to pass, that when Mary was informed the next evening of Lizzy's engagement to Mr. Darcy, and realized he was soon to be her brother, she was less than surprised, and more than pleased.The End