This was one of my first vignettes written for meryton.com. I wrote it before I rehabilitated Mary for a longer story. I have since decided that Mary got the short end of the stick in P&P. I, too, am a middle child, and I know how it goes.
Mary Bennet Assists Elizabeth
Upon hearing the letter carrier’s bell, Charlotte took out her coin purse so that she might pay the postman. She was not at all surprised to find that she had received a letter from Mary Bennet. In fact, Mary had become her most faithful and prolific correspondent. Charlotte was not sure how this epistolary friendship had come about, and it truly was a friendship that existed only on paper. When Charlotte had gone home to visit with her family at Lucas Lodge, Mary had made no attempt to see her even though they had been actively corresponding for months. Whatever its origins, it certainly turned out to be an interesting association.
The Lucas and Bennet families had always been close as their farms abutted one another. Charlotte, Jane, and Elizabeth, who were about the same age, had formed a tight-knit group all through their childhood, while it was Charlotte’s younger sister, Maria, who had been friends with Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. And, yet, here was another letter, the second of the week, penned by Mary, and relating all of the events taking place at Longbourn and in Meryton.
From the beginning, Charlotte had recognized that Mary’s true audience was Mr. Collins. If only he had not quit Longbourn so soon after Lizzy’s refusal of his offer of marriage, he would have realized how well suited they were for each other, and it would be Mary, and not Charlotte, sitting in the parlor of Hunsford Lodge darning his stockings. Mr. Collins, despite his declarations to the contrary, loved gossip, especially about his cousins; therefore, his wife had encouraged the correspondence. There was many an evening when the only thing discussed at dinner was what was happening or what might be happening at Rosings Park and the contents of Mary’s latest post, and it cheered Mr. Collins to know that at least one member of the Bennet family recognized his manifest qualities.
The letters, filled with interesting tidbits, had begun almost immediately after Charlotte’s arrival in Kent, and it seemed that there was nothing that happened at Longbourn that Mary was unwilling to share. As a result, she had known that Mr. Bingley had left Netherfield Park to return to London almost as soon as it had happened. And Mary was quite liberal in sharing the depth of Jane’s heartache: “With Mr. Bingley now gone for four weeks, Jane has decided to go to London to visit with our mother’s brother in hopes of restoring her spirits, which are very low. Unfortunately, Jane and Mama had pinned all of their hopes on Mr. Bingley, even though he had never once used the word ‘marriage’ in any of their conversations. It is now generally believed that Mr. Bingley will not return to Netherfield before the spring. It is my belief that he is never coming back.”
Charlotte, being well acquainted with the Bennet family, knew that Mary was unfortunate in being caught between two witty, beautiful, and intelligent older sisters and two pretty, vivacious, and witless younger ones. Because of her situation, Mary found comfort in books and tried desperately to earn her father’s approval by expounding on subjects that were of no interest to him. Because she was the plainest of the daughters, she had long abandoned any attempt to engage her mother because Mrs. Bennet was all about “the getting of husbands” and believed that Mary had no real hopes of marrying at all.
But Mary would have her revenge. It was she who revealed to the Collinses that Lydia and Wickham had eloped. That communication was shortly followed by another: “It pains me to tell you, Charlotte, that Lydia and Wickham have not gone to Gretna Green to be married but are hidden somewhere deep in the bowels of London living together without benefit of clergy! Papa has gone up to town to join with Uncle Gardiner in an attempt to recover Lydia, but considering the size of London, what are their chances of success? Please keep this information from Mr. Collins as long as possible. However, if he makes inquiries as to what has been written here, as his wife, you would be obligated to share our unfortunate news with him.” And share it she must, as Mr. Collins knew when a letter from his cousin had been delivered to the parsonage and insisted on reading it himself.
In Christian charity, Mr. Collins immediately put pen to paper to condole with the Bennet family and allowed Charlotte to read his letter. He had incorrectly written that Charlotte had revealed Lydia’s “licentiousness of behaviour had proceeded from a faulty degree of indulgence” at home. Charlotte had said no such thing. Those words were taken directly from a letter written to Charlotte by Mary shortly after it had been discovered that Lydia had left Brighton with Wickham.
With Wickham and Lydia’s hasty marriage, the Bennets had hoped to limit the damage so that none beyond their closest family members would learn the particulars of the unhappy event. But it was not to be. Upon reading Mary’s letter, Mr. Collins felt compelled to share the tawdry tale with Lady Catherine De Bourgh.
But life does have its twists and turns. It was Mary who wrote to Charlotte of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley’s surprise return to Netherfield Park, and it was an observant Mary who had noticed how frequently Mr. Darcy looked at Lizzy during his visits to Longbourn with Mr. Bingley. That particular news item confirmed what Charlotte had believed from the night of the dance at Lucas Lodge the previous autumn: Mr. Darcy was in love with Lizzy. And from a letter that Charlotte had received from Lizzy, she knew that her friend had dined at Pemberley during her holiday to Derbyshire. Mr. Darcy's very presence in Hertfordshire led her to believe that it was his intention to propose marriage to her dearest friend.
Charlotte shared her belief with Mr. Collins that Mr. Darcy would shortly become engaged to her friend. Unsure of which way the wind would blow, he informed Lady Catherine of the possibility of an engagement and his disapproval for such a match, but had also written to Mr. Bennet extending his congratulations for Lizzy making such an advantageous marriage to a “most illustrious personage” without actually mentioning the name of the prospective groom.
But Lady Catherine was not having it and was soon on the road to Longbourn for the purpose of insisting on reassurances from Miss Elizabeth Bennet that she would never enter into an engagement with her nephew as it would be “the ruin of him in the opinion of all of his friends and make him the contempt of the world.” The promises so eagerly sought by Her Ladyship were denied. Far from ending the romance, it had restored Darcy’s hopes that a renewal of his attentions would be welcomed.
Mary was quick to share all of the particulars of the drama with the Collinses, and when Lizzy wrote to Charlotte to announce Lizzy's engagement, she had already known of the happy event for three days.
What a chain of events Mary had begun! While Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy exchanged their wedding vows in the Bennet parish church, Charlotte was thinking of Mary’s role in bringing Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth together and wondered if she had any idea of what she had done!