Mary Bennet, Spirit Intelligence Chapter One
Mrs. Bennet yawned as she stumbled down the main staircase, her crisp white cotton lawn dress bearing no hint as to her disheveled state the night before. The pounding in her head betrayed her revelry. She walked past the elaborate paintings and sculptures into the main parlor, but the stunning art held little interest for her. Instead, she rubbed her fingers on her temples and closed her eyes.
“Hello! Is there anyone here? We pay enough for servants in this household. There should be someone available whenever I call.” The unlucky young woman who just so happened to be walking by the doorway grimaced, then changed her expression to one of neutral servitude.
“I am here, Mrs. Bennet. What do you require?”
“Bring me a tray for breakfast. Make sure to include those little cakes I had sent from the bakery. I’ll have chocolate this morning, steaming hot as I like it. Don’t dawdle with your mouth open. We spend good money on your employment.”
“Yes I will bring it at once.”
Her plump figure settled into the cushioned couch with ease, as she’d done more times than she could count. This lounging was her everyday routine to cure the ill effects of her partying. London society afforded her many opportunities to mingle, and Mrs. Bennett stayed with Kitty at the ball until nearly four o’clock in the morning. After so many quiet years at Longbourn, she relished the chance to seek amusement with the city aristocracy.
When the maid set down the steaming tea and bread, Mrs. Bennet noticed a small piece of paper tucked under her saucer. She called out before the maid left.
“What is this?” she asked, opening its folded edges.
“A note, Missus. It was set out on the parlor very early this morning, though I did not see it until I’d drawn the curtains.” She tried to sneak through the door, but Mrs. Bennet held up her hand to stop her.
“That’s odd. We haven’t a single visitor for days now. Of course, not by choice, but there are so many parties to attend and little time here. Visitors must be announced if they choose to visit. We shall have to speak to Jarvis for his lack of attention in this area.”
“Perhaps it is a note from Jane? Or Elizabeth? It has to be Lydia then. She’s not written to me in weeks, and I long to hear from her.” She brought the paper close to her face and squinted. Her expression changed immediately.
“Call for Mr. Bennet at once!”
“But he has asked not to be disturbed in his study. No one must enter. It was a strict order.”
“Mr. Bennet!” The older woman screamed, knocking over the tray and spilling tea all over the settee and carpet. The bread tumbled on the floor too, a crumpled mess on the expensive furniture. The maid sighed while she cleaned up the debris with her white apron.
With the note held high, Mrs. Bennet sprinted at an alarming speed to the ornate wooden doors that were the entrance to Mr. Bennet’s study. When she found it locked, she began pounding with her balled fists. Another servant peeked from a room to see the commotion, then quickly hid again.
“Mr. Bennet open this door at once! I am your wife! I will scream until my lungs give way! Then you will attend my funeral, and all of England will know that you neglect your duties as a husband.” She continued until finally, an annoyed looking Mr. Bennet swung one door wide open.
“My dear, we cannot have you fainting from hysteria. What brings you so early out of bed? Didn’t you enjoy the ball last night?”
“I did; it was lovely. It would be best if you attempted to mingle with society here. It’s unfashionable to hide from your social obligations. Lady Brown commented on your absence, and I had to make an excuse for you yet again. I cannot keep telling them you’re ill. You’ll have to die for me to keep that ruse for much longer.”
“We could only be so lucky. I’ll go to any event you wish if it keeps our family name unstained. We’re certainly above reproach, the Bennet family.”
His wife did not hear the sarcasm in his voice. “Silly man, that’s not what this is about. It’s Mary!” she yelled. “She’s taken off again!”
“She’s not a child. She can walk around freely of her own will.”
“Not without a chaperone, she can’t. And not in the heart of London. We’re not in Longbourn anymore. I don’t care how fashionable this town is, a passing thief could accost a lady of her standing. Please, Mr. Bennet, take care of your daughter.”
“Mary is safer wherever she is now so long as she is not in this house,” he responded.
A noise in the hall interrupted their heated discussion. A moment later, Kitty entered the room. She cracked open her eyes and grimaced at the morning light. Unlike her Mother, her hairstyle was messy, and her dress creased as if she’d taken little care in her appearance that morning.
“What’s this fuss about?”
“It’s your sister, Kitty.” Mrs. Bennet sobbed. “She left a note that she’ll be out all day with no explanation as to her whereabouts.”
“Did she slip away for a lover’s tryst? No, she left to gamble away her allowance? Or will we find her in a library somewhere with a pile of books? My guess is the latter.” Kitty picked a piece of toast off the plate on her Father’s desk.
“Do not joke about Mary. There are servants everywhere willing to spread gossip for only a pence or two. Help me convince your Father to fetch her. Else we are ruined.”
“I don’t see what the fuss is. Mary doesn’t care about this family’s reputation any more than our Father.”
“Mr. Bennet, please!” Mrs. Bennet whined.
He sighed, knowing that he would find no peace in the house until he did what his wife asked. She was accustomed to having her way.
“Call Jarvis and have him bring me my coat. I may know where to find her.”
The morning air was windy and crisp, showing the hint of autumn to come. Mr. Bennet walked briskly past the rows of houses, each beginning to stir with the morning routine. A nursemaid brought her charge home from an early walk, while a butler brought boxes through a servant’s entrance. Mr. Bennet did not attract any attention, which was how he preferred to move about the city.
Eventually, he stood in front of a building, much like the other houses only a few blocks away from his cozy study. The public that walked in the street changed just a bit. A drunk laid in the gutter not far from where he stood, sleeping off the previous night’s festivities. Mr. Bennet ignored him and the waste from the street and knocked politely on the door.
He heard a flurry of activity. The ruddy face of a child lifted a drape to see who was at the door. A minute later, it swung open, revealing a slightly older woman.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Yes, I believe my daughter may be here. Ms. Bennet.”
“There’s no one here with that name,” she retorted, her spine straightened. Mr. Bennet hated conflict of any kind but disliked his wife’s tantrums even more. A voice called from the stairs behind her.
“It’s quite alright, Mrs. Panthem. He is my Father to come to fetch me home.” Mary brushed by her, coat, and bonnet already adjusted. With a brisk nod, she joined her Father in returning to their house.
At first, they said nothing. They listened to the footsteps echo on the gravel.
“I’ve not seen your Mother in such a state for a long time. If you recall, the cook couldn’t serve the duck the right temperature to suit her tastes.” Mr. Bennet sighed. His wife had screamed at the French-trained chef, then stormed out of the room with cries to never eat again until they hired someone new.
“I did not commit a grave offense, Papa. I left a note to tell her that I would be out on business today.”
“There it is. You said that ‘business’ word, an offense beyond comprehension. You know how your Mother detests anything remotely inappropriate for a young unmarried lady.”
They passed into the more fashionable part of town, and Mr. Bennet tipped his hat to a passerby he recognized as a neighbor. The man nodded in response, with a brief greeting for Mary. He was a father indulging his daughter in an early morning walk around the square by all appearances. It was not trendsetting behavior. However, it would not raise eyebrows in even the most conservative household.
“Father, I could not let this opportunity slip through my fingers. I received word yesterday from the agency that my services were needed. There is a family here in London that has been dreadfully afflicted, which I could not ignore. I’ve discovered a new form of research that may prove helpful to their case.”
“You were forbidden from joining any agency by your Mother. She does not approve of your work, and I do not approve of her loud disapproval.”
“I’m of age, Father, old enough to make decisions.”
“Not quite, my dear. You still have a few years before you reach your twenty-fifth birthday.”
“Age is a ridiculous metric for maturity. One’s mind does not grow at a measured pace. A discussion with Kitty could show you that.” Mr. Bennet grinned at his youngest daughter.
“Still, your Mother has you wrapped in her apron strings until you are married. It is best not to give her more justifications for her behavior. If you’re going to sneak away for most of a day, learn to lie.”
Mary had nothing more to say to that because, legally, he was right. At the ripe age of twenty, she was still considered too young to make the decisions that affected her life. Mr. Bennet typically gave her space to think, but Mrs. Bennet offered no such reprieve. Her Mother badgered hoped for a magical engagement like the ones her elder sisters found.
No Mr. Darcys or Mr. Bingleys were scouring the dance floor for a mate in London. Her elder brothers-in-law were men of honor, despite their shortcomings. The rakes she spotted were more akin to Mr. Wickham, the most dishonest man in her acquaintance. Despite his devilishly handsome demeanor, he did nothing but wreak havoc on the family’s reputation and financial situation. Mary avoided him and his sort at all costs. When they approached her during the few outings she attended with her Mother and sister; she bored them with a conversation about some new scientific discovery. They typically sauntered away to another young, unsuspecting female that troubled them less.
In all honesty, they usually wanted little to do with her. Mary blended in with her background with little effort. Her dresses were simple, even plain to the critical eye of a London socialite. While her Mother and sister sampled the most delicate fabrics from the well-known dressmakers in the city, Mary chose her ensembles efficiently, with little thought to her appearance. Her dress that day was plain brown wool with not even a hint of embroidery or ribbon. She appeared to be a governess, much to her Mother’s horror.
Mary preferred to blend in, just like her Father. With her three eldest sisters all living in domestic bliss, she compared herself less to them. Jane was indeed more beautiful, Elizabeth more intelligent, and Lydia more vivacious. Mary’s long dark hair and piercing eyes were often hidden behind a bonnet veil or tucked into a simple style. She didn’t feel it necessary to spend so much time on her appearance when more significant work must be done.
As they neared the house that the Bennet family rented on a fashionable street, Mary sighed. Her Mother would possibly spend the rest of the morning scolding her for leaving the house without a chaperone. Then Mrs. Bennet would mention a party or some event happening shortly, one that Mary would feel obliged to attend. Another night of boring conversation and awkward flirting was her punishment.
When Jarvis opened the front door to greet them, he whispered something to Mr. Bennet, who then nodded. The butler took them down the hall out of view of the main parlor, where she heard her Mother and sister loudly discuss their latest adventures.
“Did you see that dress on the Morton girl? A sickly shade of green. It was ghastly.”
“It certainly did nothing for her complexion, Mama. Can we visit the shops today to find a new ribbon for my bonnet?”
“Of course! Jarvis? Is that you in the entry? Can you call for the carriage?”
“I will prepare it for you at once,” Jarvis called to them from the doorway, then motioned for Mary and Mr. Bennet to continue walking.
Jarvis led them to a small room adjoining the kitchen. Breakfast for two was laid out on the table, along with the day’s paper. Mr. Bennet took a seat and dug into eggs and toast.
“Is there where you hide in the mornings?” Mary asked, making her plate. She’d forgotten to eat in the flurry of excitement earlier. Her stomach reminded her of her human limitations.
“Only when your Mother is in a mood. Jarvis intentionally left this room out of our house tour, and you know she’d never set foot in a room she’d determined to be a cooking larder. Don’t give away my secret, or I’ll be very cross with you.”
“I won’t dream of it, Papa,” she smiled innocently.
“Perhaps you have become less silly than I once thought,” Mr. Bennet said. They finished their breakfast in silence, Mr. Bennet with his paper and Mary with a book.