Monday, January 23, 2012

Chapter II

Mary and Kitty: A Tale of Two Sisters

Chapter II

Mr. Bennet’s affection for his younger daughters was not notable; still less was the esteem in which he held his wife. Although their foibles afforded him some small amusement, this was offset trebly by the difficulties that too often arose from their lack of sense. Today’s correspondence from Lydia was a bitter example. 
Far from being surprised by the letter his lady had lately shared, however, he was not ignorant of Lydia’s predicament in _____shire. Indeed, a missive from his son-in-law’s captain had arrived the afternoon before apprising him of the situation. Mr. Bennet had spent the intervening time composing a letter to his brother Gardiner soliciting his assistance; this he had not yet dispatched, for none more than he aware that gentleman’s signal role in rescuing Lydia from her first entanglement. Now as he sat wearily in his study he realized he did not like to call upon those resources again. Appealing to Elizabeth or Jane did not answer either, for such an entreaty would necessarily embroil their husbands in yet another family scandal. It was unthinkable. Their patience and kindnesses had already been legion, and he could not bring himself to intrude further on their good graces. No, he would be forced to take action himself, a pursuit to which he was singularly unused.

Far from considering Lydia’s request for sisterly companionship, however, Mr. Bennet had been determined to instead to fetch her summarily home and lock her in the attic. His sudden pronouncement that Mary become emissary of solace had surprised him quite as much as it had her.  His sole reason for this singularity was the prospect it offered to vex his wife and annoy Kitty. It might do, however, he thought. Though Mary was by no means the apple of his eye, he knew her to be constant in her pursuits and suspected there might even be some steel in her backbone. If she were to accompany him on his journey, her presence would offer a comfortable buffer between himself and the inevitable protests of his youngest daughter. He had resolved himself on this action when his wife invaded the solitude of his library.

“Mr. Bennet!” cried his lady. “Whatever can you mean by denying Kitty this treat? You know very well that Mary will not like to venture out into the world for she has never done so before.”

“And Kitty has? I was not aware that she had become so well-traveled,” he replied. “Pray tell me of her adventures.”

“How can you tease me so? You know very well that Kitty has gone nowhere but Meryton this twelve-month. What I mean to say is that Kitty longs to go where Mary does not.”

“You are certain of this?”

“Do you not know that a mother can read her children’s hearts?” she asked with asperity.

Mr. Bennet did not know this. Rather, he suspected that his wife’s understanding of their daughters was framed by the distant memory of herself at a similar age. He did not take her up on this point, however. Instead, he said, “Pray have a seat and listen to me, I have some news to which you have not been privy,”
            Beyond the study door, Kitty bent her ears to hear what went on between her parents, while Mary, still somewhat stunned, stood twisting the ends of her sash.  That she should be singled out and favored above her sister was unprecedented.  Torn between anxiety and pleasure, it was difficult for her to form any exact thoughts. Visions of herself as a righteous emissary warred with a distinct dread of leaving the comfort of her home and the familiar circle of her connections.  She had traveled unaccompanied from her home but once, and in that instance, Lizzie had met her halfway to Pemberly so she was not obliged to spend a night at an inn. Once there, she made herself miserable by comparing her own meager accomplishments to the superior arts of Miss Darcy. Although she had imagined herself happily ensconced in the fabled library, she so often found Mr. Darcy there she could not be comfortable. True, every one had been very civil to her and Lizzie, in particular, had tried to discover amusements suited to her sister’s quiet ways; their efforts, however, made her less at ease than had she been ignored.

Now, the prospect of traveling a good ways to visit a sister who would not in the least welcome her and whose circle she would likely find alarmingly loose darkened the very air around her. She comforted herself that her father could not have been serious. It was very often his way to say precisely the opposite of what he meant. Moreover, she knew that her mother would now be arguing quite forcibly that Kitty go in her stead. Mary did not take umbrage at that favoritism, for it often excused her from being a party to the frivolity in which her sister and mother reveled.

            “Why cannot they speak more loudly,” Kitty whispered.

            “Perhaps,” Mary returned blandly, “you should interrupt and request they do so.”

            “That would never do! Do you not see--?” Kitty broke off.  “You are being satirical! I pray you will not do so, for it is not in the least becoming and people will call you eccentric on top of everything else!”

            “Kitty! What do they say?” She knew that on one occasion she had been referred to as the most accomplished girl in the neighborhood, but this compliment had arisen from the lips of Sir William Lucas and, after the glow had faded some several months later, even she realized such a authority  must not be given too much credence.

Whatever animadversions of character might have been laid at her door, Mary had no opportunity to hear, for a singularly unhappy Mrs. Bennet emerged from the library at that moment.

“Your father,” she said fretfully, “wishes you to go into him now, Mary—and pray do not try him further for he is in one of his moods and already a veritable Bonaparte.”
"Mama!" Kitty interrupted. "Do you mean he will still send Mary? That is infamous!"

"Hush, Kitty! It is of no matter. Now come you with me for I must have someone by me if I should fall into fits." With this pronouncement, she headed toward her chamber. In her wake, Kitty cast an unkind glance at her sister before following her mother up the stairs.

Mary had no desire to enter her father's study, particularly if he was angry. She was never one to seek his company as had Lizzie in former times, nor had he before ever summoned her to his presence. Still, she had no choice, so enter she did, albeit somewhat hesitantly.

“Be seated, Mary,” her father said when she had entered. “I have something particular to say to you.”

“Please, Papa,” she said urgently, “do send Kitty instead. Lydia would not like to have me, for she says I send her straight to sleep the moment I venture to speak, and I daresay I should find her company uncomfortable as well, for she will never heed my advice and scorns me instead.”

“I am not in a humor to care what your sister likes, Mary, and indeed this will not be a journey for either solace or entertainment. No, it will be quite otherwise.”
What her father meant by this speech, she had no way of knowing nor could she summon a clear response. She waited therefore while he frowned a moment and polished his spectacles before proceeding.

“Lydia, I must tell you, has once more placed herself beyond the pale. She has refused to accept the protection of Captain Williams and his wife and instead keeps company with low sorts, entertaining them freely while her husband – that creature! – is who knows where.”

To be sure, Lydia was beyond anything. Mary herself had never in her life refused to do anything asked of her by one who represented authority. If the pastor had asked her to dance on the tip of the church spire, she would almost certainly have attempted to oblige him. As ever, Lydia’s behavior was beyond her comprehension. “But papa,” she protested. “Lydia would pay me no mind. Surely you must see there is nothing I can do!”

“Do not fret yourself into a tizzy, Mary. I do not ask the impossible. Merely that you bear me company on the way, for go I must and bring the silly girl home. I do not relish the idea of facing her hysterics on my own. Besides, as we must spend at least one night at an inn, I cannot trust that she would not find a way to further disgrace herself after I retired to bed – no, she requires your steadying influence.”

This was another matter altogether. It seemed for once her good sense had been recognized, and she thrilled to it as another young lady might to a compliment on her new bonnet. This must be how Lizzy and Jane had felt all their lives, and she liked it a great deal. Whatever trials might await her on the journey, she now felt inclined to embrace her mission.

“It is a good thing,” her father went on, “that they removed from Newcastle else I should have left her there. But Eastbourne is not so very far, and if all goes well we shall escape without Lydia’s ever knowing we have arranged our route so as to avoid Brighton. Now be a good child and make yourself ready.”

As Kitty followed her mother up the staircase, her mind was full of arguments to support her going to Lydia’s.

“Mama,” she began, “Surely there must be something we can do to change Papa’s mind, for though he is so often annoyingly steadfast, your entreaties must surely move him.”

“So one would think,” Mrs. Bennet replied, “but he will hear reason.”

“Poor Mama! To be sure, one would think it your fault, Lydia made some small mis-step. Has he no compassion on your nerves?”

“Not he!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed as she entered her chamber and sank into the comfortable embrace of her chaise longue.

“But it was he, after all, who allowed Lydia to visit Mrs. Forester when the militia had first left Meryton—despite the entreaties of Lizzy and Jane.”

“Why you are right, Kitty! Why have I never thought of that? It is his fault after all. Not that it didn’t turn out very well in the long run.”

Kitty bit her tongue. Even she knew that the outcome of Lydia’s escapade was not all that could be wished for. Still, her mother’s suggestible reasoning was often a boon. Kneeling at her mother’s side she asked, “Do you not think Papa would agree that I should be given an opportunity to prove my good sense? After all, I do not think I am likely to be forced into marriage the first time I leave home!”

“I daresay you should not,” her mother agreed. “All the same, I begin to think this journey will suit Mary better after all.”

“What Mama! Whatever do you mean?”

“Only that, as Papa is journeying to Eastbourne as well. So while Mary will not know whether she is coming of going as long as she has her book, I do not think you would enjoy yourself half so much as you will at home with me.”

“Papa is going too?” she cried, quite struck at the notion. What an escape she had had after all. “Well! That is another thing entirely.”

“Indeed it is,” her mother agreed. “Let them go. I daresay we shall have our own adventures while they are away.”

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