Mary’s journey toward blending in with Society would be a lot easier if her sources of information agreed with each other.
It was so confusing! One etiquette book insisted that ladies should be quiet and demure. Jane smiled more than she spoke, and was forever the centre of attention.
Another book claimed that ladies should speak politely and intelligently, but never quarrel. Lydia, even at seven, did little but quarrel with anyone who dared to tell her ‘no’. Lizzy was intelligent and witty, but a little too barbed. Mama gave her opinions loudly and decisively, but with little understanding or intelligence.
Ladies should promote harmony in the home and community. Gentlemen should set a proper example for others. Mama, Lady Lucas, Aunt Phillips and Mrs Long seemed in some kind of eternal battle to one-up each other. Many young men of Mary’s acquaintance were more an example of what not to do.
Mary would be inclined to put this down to the difference between books and people, but even the books failed to agree with each other with any real consistency. Some even contradicted themselves! How could society’s rules be so absolute, when they varied so wildly?
Asking Papa yielded nothing but an amused twinkle in his eyes and cryptic half-answers and platitudes that made even less sense than the etiquette books.
Finally, Mary settled on Fordyce’s Sermons for Young Ladies as her most knowledgable source. The sermons were based off the bible, after all, and what better authority could there be for moral behaviour?
She had purchased her own copy only that morning, after returning the borrowed one to the lending library. Now all she had to do was ignore Lydia’s opinions and take care that the book didn’t vanish into one of Lizzy’s endless piles of books. The maids were far too quick to assume that any book lying around was one of Lizzy’s.
Mary turned back to Fordyce, attempting once more to reconcile the etiquette dictated in the much-praised book, with the behavior displayed by her family and neighbors. How was it that Lizzy's lively wit drew smiles and respect, while Lydia's forwardness brought censure, but only ever behind her back? Sometimes, the middle Bennet daughter wondered if people would ever make sense.
Books were so much more reliable, and thus infinitely to be preferred over social interaction.
The next obstacle on Mary’s list of blending in was the many and varied accomplishments that young ladies were supposed to know.
Mary had questions, the first of which was how accomplished young ladies ever found the time?
“Accomplished” ladies played the pianoforte, and preferably one other instrument besides. They embroidered, painted, read, sang and spoke foreign languages.
The Mistress of an estate managed her household, looked after the needs of her tenants, and in all other ways was a pillar of local society. A Clergyman’s wife did the same for their parishoners. A lady married to an Officer or a Tradesman supported her husband’s career on the social side.
Women on all levels participated in the role of hostess and contributing to charity or charitable efforts on whatever level they could afford. In time, they adopted the role of mother and early governess. Nanny, also, if the household budget did not stretch. Some might even work for or inherit their husband’s business, and Mary had heard scandalous tales of the wives of Army and Medical men being pressed into service nursing people outside of their family!
Just looking at the list of accomplishments exhausted her.
Well, the first step on the road to being an accomplished lady would be a teacher. Jane and Lizzy had already appealed to Papa, only to be thwarted by Mama’s outrage that she might not be capable of teaching them all that a Gentlewoman needed to know. Mary knew better than to waste her breath repeating what had already failed.
Mama and Lady Lucas were forever in competition over something or other, and Miss Charlotte Lucas had mentioned trying to persuade her mother into hiring a governess...
Lies, even well-intentioned white lies meant to help, were a sin. Fordyce’s Sermons said so, and Mary was quite certain that she was being punished for hers.
Mama had acquiesed to the hiring of a governess when Lady Lucas confirmed that her daughters had been requesting one. Mrs Wells, however, was hardly the sort of governess Mary and Lizzy had dreamed about. Hired all the not-so-considerable way from London, Mary suspected that she was a woman more of fashion than of function.
Mrs Wells did play the pianoforte very well, and embroidered beautifully, but she considered books to be the domain of bluestockings, and expected all of her students to have the same natural talent that she possessed.
Mary was sure that she had some talent, but it was far from the seemingly-natural skill that Lizzy and Jane displayed. Still, one did not achieve by giving up at the first obstacle. Mary fingered the keys of the pianoforte, counting the seconds before Mrs Wells would throw up her hands in exasperation and declare Mary an impossible student.
As soon as she did, Mary escaped to the hermitage as Elizabeth replaced her at the instrument. She was not in the mood to bear Kitty or Lydia's questioning, as they seized on any excuse to delay their own lessons. Nor did Mary wish to subject herself to Mama’s declarations of nerves at the noise coming from the schoolroom.
The birds nest that was nestled in the eaves of the hermitage had fallen down at some point between visits. Twigs and animal hair mixed with fallen marigold petals on the stone floor. Mary would need to clean it up.
Later. Settling into her worn armchair, Mary swiped angrily at her eyes.
It wasn’t that she wasn’t trying to improve herself. Was it her fault that the pianoforte was yet another area she struggled where her sisters did not? She wanted to be good at music, truly!
Mary was doing her best, but the endless scales and repetitions that were all Mrs Wells allowed her were impossible to focus on for very long. She could play them, but her mind yearned for more. How was it that Lizzy, who actively avoided music lessons, was also the only one Mrs Wells deemed worthy of advancing beyond the bare basics?
Well, at least there was one piece of music that Mary could play without flaw. She positioned her hands as she would on the instrument, finding the notes easily as she hummed. The music flowed through her in a way that Mrs Wells never allowed, and her fingering matched it.
It felt like there should be words, too. A lament for something missing, or a serenade for a half-remembered dream place. Perhaps a mix of the two styles...
Mary jumped as a fine, clear, masculine voice began to sing in a language she didn’t know, looking around for the intruder.
The warrior who had rescued the Changeling boy almost three years ago stood on the other side of a sunbeam, and Mary felt her face warm. If the warrior noticed her embarrassment, he was gracious enough not to make mention of such. “You have talent, young Changeling.”
The warm feeling suddenly abandoned her, and Mary looked away. “Not according to my tutor, or any of my family who listens to me play. My tutor says I will never be proficient, and my family complains that I am too ponderous.”
The warrior waved a hand, and the debris that littered the floor blew into the air on a whirl of golden light, which faded to reveal a pianoforte, painted with marigolds and swirling vines. He gestured for Mary to sit. “Show me.”
Mary began to play the simple melodies that Mrs Wells had taught her when Elizabeth insisted that Mary go first while she finished the chapter of her book. She barely made it through the first verse before the warrior was nodding thoughtfully. “I see the problem.”
Did he think her incompetent, too? Mary bowed her head, waiting for the lovely instrument to be taken away again. She startled at the gentle brush of his fingers over her hand, eyes flying up to meet his gaze.
He didn’t chide her for not being able to maintain eye contact. “Excellence comes from enjoyment, from passion for your craft. To play without feeling will always be dull, but when you find the music within you...”
His smile was like Mrs Hill’s hot chocolate; warming her from the inside out and somehow making everything better. Mary set her fingers to the keys again, letting her emotions flow through her hands like Mrs Wells constantly snapped at them never to do. Here and now, “unseemly” constraints could go jump.
This... this was what music should be like!
This was also the second time that the warrior had troubled himself to help her. When Mary eventually had to rest her hands, she looked at the warrior seriously. “I would rather not have a debt between us. How may I repay you?”
He looked startled, as if he hadn’t thought that far ahead, and had merely wanted to restore her happiness. His eyes looked as though he were doing some very quick thinking, like Lydia when she was actually in trouble. “Your first composition. When you are confident enough to create your own music, write one for me.”
The sun emerged from behind the clouds, shining throughout he open windows, and between one blink of Mary’s eyes and the next, he was gone.
Read Part Three HERE