JA quotes and intro

"I should infinitely prefer a book." -- Chapter 39, Pride and Prejudice
"...I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit..." -- Chapter 8, Pride and Prejudice
"I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be." -- Chapter 20, Pride and Prejudice

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Great Fool

Pride and Prejudice
"Mary King's Courtship"
Not long after the death of her aunt, Mary King becomes the object of George Wickham's attentions.

"She is a great fool for going away, if she liked him."
-Pride and Prejudice,
Chapter XXXIX


Too many ladies. It was this way at every gathering. Not one to put herself forward, ever conscious of her freckle-splattered face and uninspiring figure, Mary felt she would be lucky to dance at all tonight. She was never anyone's first choice. She certainly could not be now, with four of the Bennet girls in attendance. Even Mary Bennet, who was careless of her looks, garnered more interest. Lady Lucas's two nieces had come as well; they had stopped at Lucas Lodge on their way to Town. Fresh faces were always appealing to the gentlemen. And no less to the ladies, Mary thought, as she recalled dancing with Mr. Bingley last autumn. It was not so bad being only the third choice of such an agreeable man! Soon enough, however, his attention had been captured by Jane Bennet, and now he and his entire party were gone altogether. There were no unfamiliar faces among the men tonight. Mary sank into a nearby chair and resigned herself to an uneventful evening.

Her mother was talking with Mrs. Long. Mary hoped the topic of their conversation was not her recent inheritance. A vain hope, she knew, for her mother was bursting to tell someone, anyone. Mrs. Long was unlikely to keep such tidings to herself. Soon all of Meryton would know. Ten thousand pounds! It was extraordinary. She could not be easy benefiting from another's demise, especially someone as beloved as Aunt Clara. Poor Uncle! Poor Henrietta, to be without her mother! Her aunt had always wanted a houseful of children, and each summer when Mary went to Liverpool Aunt Clara treated her as one of her own. Clearly her aunt considered her as a second daughter; the generous legacy had proven that.

What could she say to Henrietta? The sadness of it, coupled with awkward feelings arising from the bequest, caused Mary great discomfort. She knew that her cousin, with her comfortable situation and ample dowry, would not begrudge her the money. Yet in Mary's mind a chasm had opened between them and she knew not how to cross it.

Her thoughts were interrupted by someone requesting a dance. Seeing a flash of red, she turned to face the officer. It was Mr. Wickham! Why was he petitioning her? Was he not enamored with Eliza Bennet, and she with him?

Everyone thought Mr. Wickham was exceedingly handsome, and Mary quite concurred. Was she imagining things? No, he was there, staring at her, smiling at her...

It would be foolishness to decline such a delightful offer.


Mary had enjoyed the marked attentions of Mr. Wickham for several weeks. After their first dance together, he often sought her company and had even called on her at home. She was becoming inured to the envious glances of other young ladies. Surprisingly, Eliza, who she expected would hate her, was as pleasant as always. Perhaps she never loved Wickham, she wondered. All the better for me, I suppose.

Wickham was to call on her today. He had asked particularly that she would receive him this morning at ten. When she told her father, he said nothing. Father rarely shared his feelings with her and never showed particular interest in any of her friends or admirers. Not that there were any admirers before George, she mused. Only once he ventured to comment, saying that Wickham never noticed her before she had become an heiress. She had dismissed his concerns. After all, her mother liked George well enough. George...

She usually spent the morning indoors, but the warmth of the April sun tempted her into the gardens. She sat down to wait in her favorite spot: a bench hidden from view by tall shrubs, situated near the path to the house. Feeling guilty for neglecting her cousin, she had brought one of Henrietta's letters to read. So far Mary had sent only a brief reply, expressing her condolences as best she could. Henrietta's last two letters had been little more than notes, really, entreating her to come to her uncle's home immediately. First her anxiety, and then George's presence, precluded all serious consideration of an early trip to Liverpool. But now - dared she hope to receive a proposal? Perhaps there would be happy news to communicate to her cousin. Such news would be welcome both as a distraction and as an excuse for her negligence. Henrietta would easily forgive her for remaining in Meryton to see to her own future.

Mary pulled out the oft-handled missive, penned on the last day of January and received a few days later along with word of her inheritance. She read it again, though she knew it by heart.

My dear Mary,

Mama is gone. She succumbed last evening. I have no tears left, which is fortunate, for my head aches from crying all night. It is so lonely here, so gray and cold. The sunshine offends me; it knows nothing of our devastation or it would hide itself. I took the long way to the breakfast room, though it did me little good as I could eat nothing. I meant to avoid the gallery. To see her portrait now - my tears might be renewed. Oh, Mary! I know your affectionate heart will understand me and forgive my incoherent rambling. I want to get away from this comfortless house but I dare not go outside and walk through the gardens, her gardens. Not this day. It would be too much. My only solace is in writing to you.

Will you not come to us? Papa is ill with grief and will not leave his bed. You always could cheer him, with that sweet voice of yours. Please come as soon as you can. Papa must rally soon, or I fear he will follow Mama and that would be more sorrow than I could bear. Have pity on me, on us, dear cousin.



She looked up from her letter when she heard talk behind the wall of greenery: "...no interfering brothers in this case. Ah, Denny, you shall have your money returned to you, and very soon!"

Was that not his voice?

"I can be patient; however I dare not speak for your creditors in general," was the answer. "But surely Miss King has more charms than just her purse! Though, when I think on it, she does not seem the kind of woman to attract you, Wickham. Not a classic beauty. Pardon me; perhaps her looks are quite to your taste. I have no wish to offend you."

A hearty laugh, then, "No offense taken, my friend. I suppose you would say I never cared three straws about her before her dear departed aunt made her so well off, but could I have afforded to otherwise? At one time - not so very long ago - I had hoped to do much better, but one must make use of such opportunities as one finds."

A pause dreadful to Mary's feelings ensued before she heard Wickham continue.

"I deserve no pity. Mary is a pliable, easy creature, not demanding. And all young ladies are more or less the same in a darkened bedroom, are they not, Denny?" More laughter. "It will be nice to have some more permanent company of that sort. Yes, I believe I shall enjoy being a married man."

Again she heard Denny's voice.

"Let us hope you employ a little delicacy when speaking with Miss King on the subject, or no doubt she will reject your suit! I cannot say I agree with you on every point, Wickham, but I do sincerely wish you success. For we young men who are not born wealthy must have something to live on."

The two soldiers briefly talked of other matters and Denny took his leave. Mary sat with tears streaming down her face, blurring Henrietta's words, making them all run together.

For one moment she hesitated, wishing it possible to forget what she had heard. She truly liked Mr. Wickham. What was she to do now? Then her vision cleared. I am a fool, she thought, a great fool. And with that she stood.

She would enter the house by the back door and instruct Mrs. Lawson to refuse any callers. Mr. Wickham would recover and find someone else's ten thousand pounds to pursue. She would send an express to Henrietta, pack her trunks, and inform her parents of her decision. Her dearest aunt was gone, but she would stay with her uncle and cousin, keeping them company and singing for them as often as they wished. She would give something back to those who had given her so much.

And she, Mary King, would be nobody's fool. Certainly not Mr. Wickham's.


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