The night that Mary Bennet was born had been a clear, cold one.
Stars illuminated the cloudless sky, as if watching over some fortuitous event. The village of Longbourn, and it's neighboring town of Meryton, were as quiet as they ever could be. Indeed, it was almost peaceful, if not for the happenings at Longbourn.
That estate was beset with activity, echoing with Mrs Bennet’s loud cries as she attempted to birth her third child.
By the time the infant girl came into the world, squalling to show off healthy lungs, the entire household of Longbourn, from its Master to the lowest Scullery Maid, was longing for silence and sleep. The Midwife left as soon as she could, citing the need to be rested should any other expectant mother call for her services the next day. The Nursery maid, already worn from hours of keeping a curious toddler Elizabeth and a worried young Miss Jane in their beds, was left to wash the new infant and put her in the cradle, before seeking her own cot and Bedfordshire.
Exhausted, the young woman never noticed that the nail holding the horseshoe above the cradle had come lose, the iron shoe falling into a corner. No one would notice the failed protection until a maid tripped over it while cleaning, several days hence, and hastily replaced the horseshoe, fearful of being blamed for any damage.
Privately baptised the morning after she was born, a spate of ill weather forced the delay of Mary’s public Christening at Longbourn church for almost a week.
The morning of the Christening for the third Bennet daughter dawned crisp and clear, though by luncheon looming thunderclouds promised a return of the heavy rains that had characterized the previous week. The weather was not unusual for this time of year, or for England in general, but villagers and tenants murmured to themselves to be wary, for the Fair Folk liked to work their mischief in winter storms as much as during summer revels. Mr Bennet, an educated and enlightened Gentleman, paid little attention to such warnings, and Mrs Bennet even less, dismissing them as foolish fancies of the lower class.
A new Nanny had been engaged, along with a wet-nurse, for Mrs Bennet had been beset by a fit of nerves at what she perceived as a third failure to provide an heir, and declared herself unable to nurse or care for the new infant.
Vigilant in their duties, it happened that on this particular night, both Nanny and Nurse suffered headaches brought on by a fussy infant and little Elizabeth’s determined attempts to be loud enough to be heard over her new sister. The head housemaid, Mrs Hill, was sympathetic to their plight, and brought up a tray with the requested items. The dash of laudanum in their evening tea proved stronger than expected, and not even the moon and stars, veiled behind thick clouds, bore witness to the events of the night.
Young Jane, unusually attuned to her sisters, stirred a little when a flash of lightning illuminated a shadowed figure slipping into the nursery. Yet the day’s events had tired her, and at a mere five years of age, she slept deeply. The horseshoe had not yet been replaced, and the figure, un-naturally light of step, crossed the room to the cradle.
Gazing down at the silent baby who looked up with solemn, wide eyes, the figure threw back their raincape, revealing themselves to be holding one bundle, and fled back out with another, a marigold tucked into the blankets the only sign of their passing.
In another life, Mary Bennet might have grown up as lively and popular as her sisters, and as a treasured pet of the Fair Folk beneath the Hill, perhaps she still did.
In the cradle that had rocked generations of Bennet babes, another child gazed around with eyes that saw a little too much, and wondered at the strange world it now inhabited.
Read Chapter One here