Mary and Kitty: A Tale of Two Sisters
"What it is, Maria? Surely you've not been dampening your muslin?" This fashion, which one heard was rife among hoydenish London ladies, was surely the pinnacle of wickedness, and Kitty was gratified to see a deep blush bloom in Maria's cheeks. The fact that she knew this titbit at all was the result, of course, of Lydia's tutelage. Her elder sisters would never have dreamed of imparting such knowledge to their sisters.
"Of course not, Kitty! What do you think me?"
"I am only funning," she exclaimed. "You know I think you a very good sort. I simply cannot imagine you have done anything to raise the parson's eyebrow."
Maria bowed her head. "If only that were so! I have been very wicked, to be sure."
"Well! What is it? I am sure when it is out I will find it is something Lydia and I have done a hundred times. Now tell me quickly."
Maria sighed deeply. "I do not know shat can have possessed me, but I ... I stole a letter from Charlotte my mother should have got and read it before her."
Kitty was indeed a little shocked; not but what she might have dome the same herself had she got hold of Lydia's missive before her parents. But for Maria to have done so was another thing entirely. "Well that is not such a great thing, Maria! Seal it again and place it on her tray. No one will be the wiser."
"It is not so easy as that! I have ruined it with reading and reading yet again. I am so beside myself you cannot know!"
"Whatever did it say that is so alarming, Maria? Surely Mr. Collins is not dead or gone off his head?"
"Nothing of the sort," she returned with some asperity. "It is simply that Lady Catherine...Lady Catherine has contrived--" Maria broke off and resorted to her handkerchief while Kitty awaited her recovery with all the wretchedness of unrequited curiosity.
"You must know, Kitty," she said at last with a final sniff, "that I am to be married."
Kitty could not have been more shocked if Maria had said she was to be entered in a livestock competition. "Married! How is this? And what has it to do with Lady Catherine?"
"What a coil! Charlotte writes that Lady Catherine has contrived to find a match for me from among ... from among her tenants!"
"A tenant," she responded blankly. "Do you mean a farmer?"
"Oh, I do not know. And now the letter is all but ruined and I cannot give it to Mama in such a state. And indeed I do not know if I should want to. But still it has been three days and soon Charlotte will wonder why she has had no response and then she will--"
"Enough, Maria," Kitty interrupted. "That is the least of your worries. Does not your papa allow the hounds into the house?"
"That is our chief torment for they will be in and out of one's chamber with their great noses and paws, and they will try to eat from one's plate at tea and Papa will laugh as though it is some great jest, and Mama says she is blessed if she will bear such--"
Again, Kitty cut her off. "All you must do is bring it to your mama and tell her it was in the dirt near the kennel and she will have it that one of the beasts took it there. See if you cannot compel one of them to eat a corner of it."
Maria was much struck at this wise suggestion and determined to put it into practice at once. "Now," said Kitty, "do you have the letter on your person? For I cannot advise you unless I am made privy to all."
Because the social intercourse between the Bennet Family and the Gardiners of London was longstanding, frequent and affectionate, the way from Longbourne to London was familiar to Mary. Indeed, other than a glimpse of Mrs. Alcott's brown and white pig, made much of in their small community for its resemblance to the former Prime Minister, the first miles of the journey introduced no novelty. Their travels had begun early enough in the day to allow a call on the Gardiners with the motive, Mary both suspected and approved, of being entreated to stay the night and thus avoid the expense of a night at an inn.
Inns held no charm for Mary Bennet, indeed quite the reverse. Mary had stayed at an inn but once, and alive to her mother's fears that the sheets might not be well aired, had been unable to pass the night without interruption, prompted by a niggling sense that guests of a more minute and multi-legged variety shared the bed with her. This fancy she was not able to dismiss and passed the night in a state of elevated awareness.
Too, Mary was truly fond of her aunt and uncle, if somewhat jealous of their attentions to her sisters. Jane and Elizabeth were clear favorites, and even Lydia enjoyed a somewhat tarnished vestige of their good will. Still, there was every chance they might turn their fancy toward her, now that their elder nieces were occupied with their marriages and the duties of managing far larger houses and staffs than had been their wont to anticipate.
As they entered the City, Mr. Bennet pulled himself from his dozing ruminations to the extent that he pointed out such interesting sights as they encountered on their way to Gracechurch Street: the Dome of St. Paul's, Wren's monument to the Great Fire of London, and the Leadenhall Market. Mary was suitably amazed, and searched for some appropriate comment to make but could think of none, other than that the dome was very fine, the monument impressive and the market full of amazingly shrill sounds. These utterances, however, seemed to satisfy her father's expectations and no more was said until they reached their destination.