Mary find her patience tried this Sunday.
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Sunday came, exactly as it did every week. Mary sat beside Charlotte at the front of the church, exactly as she did every week. The parishioners took their seats exactly as they did every week.
The church looked exactly as it always did too. Stark slate floor. Stark stone walls. Sturdy wooden pews. A few cobwebs hanging in the corners. Windows in need of washing—yes she should probably get to that soon, but these days she could hardly leave Charlotte alone. And dusty window sills. Who could forget those?
There had been a time when Lady Catherine would not have. She would have dragged Charlotte out on Monday morning and overseen her efforts to give the little chapel a proper clean. But those days were probably long gone now.
Mr. Collins moved somberly to the front. Did he enjoy the way all eyes were on him as he paraded past all the pews? Although he loudly professed his humility to all who would listen, it seemed that a man so assured of his humility would necessarily be prideful of it.
One more topic to avoid bringing up with him. It might have made for interesting conversation though.
He climbed into the pulpit and a hush fell over the chapel.
“I publish the Banns of marriage between Graham Allen Michaels of Hunsford parish and Mary Susanna Bennet of Hunsford parish. If any of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first time of asking.”
Mary kept her back straight and eyes locked on the dark wood of the pulpit. There was a spot where vicars’ hands had rubbed the wood dark and shiny over decades of preaching. The whispers and cloth-muffled shuffles were too much. She glanced over her shoulder.
Too many people were looking at her. Just as many were scanning the chapel for Michaels. Others looked for the party from Rosings Park.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was in the family pew just across the church from Mary and Charlotte. He sat beside Lady Catherine, but the look on his face suggested he would rather be elsewhere. Mrs. Jenkinson whispered something to her and Lady Catherine cackled loudly.
Mary’s face burned as more whispers coursed through the congregants. It was not so much Lady Catherine’s laugh that troubled her. The woman could not control her own mind nor her behavior. It was what the others might be saying.
Being talked about was intolerable.
Mr. Collins cleared his throat, waited for silence, and returned to the order of service.
“Are you well?” Charlotte whispered, shifting uncomfortably in the pew.
“It will pass. And you?”
“The baby is restless this morning, I fear.” She rubbed her belly.
“Mrs. Grant is here this morning, there at the far side near the window.” Mary pointed with her chin.
“Yes, yes, I will speak with her. You may stop pushing me now. After tea this week, I am quite convinced that I should have a talk with her.”
“I shall then desist and be meek and mild and proper now.” Mary folded her hands in her lap.
“I hardly think that is possible.” Charlotte snickered and ducked her head, fighting to remove the expression from her face.
Mr. Collins would not appreciate it and would likely misunderstand, thinking his wife was laughing at him in church. That did not settle well with him at all. The poor man lacked a discernable sense of humor at most times, and during holy services was the worst.
Charlotte was right though, Mary was unlikely to become meek, mild and proper under any circumstances.
True enough, many thought that of her, but the charade had been impossible to maintain over all the months she had been living with the Collinses. Of course, Mr. Collins was none the wiser, he could hardly see the hand in front of his face. But Charlotte, she understood. Quiet was not the same thing as meek, and reserved did not mean mild. Mary had her fair share of opinions about how things should be. Woe to the one who asked and actually wanted to hear them. She merely held her peace until someone did.
To date though, Charlotte and Mr. Michaels had been the only ones who had.
Mr. Collins dismissed service. Even in the ensuing crowd, Mr. Michaels found her straight away.
“Good morning, Miss Bennet. Pray forgive me, I arrived a little late this morning.”
“Late to services, sir?” Mr. Collins approached from behind them. “That is not at all a desirable behavior. I cannot condone it. Think of the precedent it will set among the parish..”
“I understand, Mr. Collins, and I assure you that it was not by reason of intention or neglect on my part. I was called away for a bit of an emergency—”
“What happened?” Mary edged in front of.Collins.
“Not to worry, the issue is quite resolved, I believe. There was just a small misunderstanding on the road with Lady Catherine.” Michaels glanced over his shoulder toward where Lady Catherine, flanked by Mrs. Jenkinson, held court.
Collins’ face changed entirely, and his initial critical tone dropped. “Is her Ladyship well?”
“I am satisfied that she is. As I said, I was blessed to be able to be of assistance in resolving the matter and no further discussion need be had.” He offered Mary his arm.
“I am most gratified to hear that, sir. Most gratified.” Collins’ eyes wandered to Lady Catherine, slowly making her way past the crowd on Colonel Fitzwilliam’s arm. He nodded at them and ambled off toward them.
“I do hope he can keep his mouth shut.” Michaels muttered under his breath.
“He does seem to upset her as often as not.” Mary bit her lip.
If Lady Catherine became agitated, Mr. Collins would see that everyone at the parsonage would pay for it, whether they were to blame or not.
Michaels leaned very close. “She pitched Fitzwilliam from the carriage. She did not recognize him and refused to permit a strange man to ride in her carriage.”
Mary gasped and pressed a hand to her mouth. “That is the first time I have heard of her not recognizing him.
“I came on them in the road as it was happening. The colonel was naturally agitated, trying to convince her of who he was. It was not a pretty sight.”
“I can imagine.”
“I had the gig, so I offered he should ride with me rather than walk. Perhaps that way it would appear that he and I had attended some estate business prior to arriving and that would quell some of the questions. I can only imagine the gossip if he arrived on foot after she arrived in the carriage.”
“You realize that Mr. Collins does not approve of doing business on a Sunday morning.” Mary peeked over her shoulder. Thankfully Collins was not there.
“He would approve less of the talk of Lady Catherine’s madness.”
“What are you discussing, so low and private?” Charlotte waddled up to them.
“Certainly not what you would expect.” Mary said, with a quick glance toward Lady Catherine.
“Oh,” Charlotte’s smiled faded. “Would you have dinner with us this afternoon, Mr. Michaels? It has been so long since we have enjoyed your company.”
“I should like that very much, thank you.”
Charlotte nodded and wandered away.
“I think I shall follow the carriage back to Rosings just in case there are any more hiccups for the occupants. In any case, I should speak to the Colonel about a few matters—”
She squeezed his arm, a little harder than might be decorous. “It is Sunday. You should rest. You need to, you work far too late into the night and you start far too early in the morning.”
“I fear you are not accustomed to a normal working schedule—”
“I know, the hours my father kept were unusual and not what I should expect in your household. I understand. But I also know that once you begin, it is difficult for you to stop and you will continue well beyond what is healthy.”
“Why do you not come out directly and say it? You expect that I might miss dinner altogether and thus offend the Collinses.”
Mary nodded, but dropped her gaze to her feet.
“And offend you as well?”
She did not respond.
He laid his hand over hers and pressed firmly. “Oh, my dear, you are right, I have been apt to neglect you. The situation at Rosings though has been so overwhelming, it has brought out a level of single-mindedness in me that I know is both a blessing and a curse.”
“Do not think I am being critical of you. I am not. It is pleasing that you work so diligently, and that you are so good at what you do.” But it was difficult to be overlooked consistently for it.
“I am glad you understand. Forgive me, I must leave now. But I shall see you at dinner, and I promise, I will not be late.” Mr. Michaels hurried off.
He always intended to keep his promises. That was true. His intentions were good. But there was a better than average chance that he would be late in spite of them.
He was a good man, the best, even in spite of his distractibility.
It was good that he should be so hard-working and devoted to those he served. Or at least Mr. Collins said so. He certainly tolerated and even encouraged Mr. Michaels in his intensity of focus.
If only she were as sure as he.
Comparing herself to her sisters never brought pleasure, only dissatisfaction. Today was no different. Mr. Darcy’s devotion to Lizzy was the stuff of novels, running after her to rescue her from the clutches of Lady Catherine. And Lydia—who would have thought? She inspired her Mr. Amberson to walk to Pemberley and demand an audience with a man so far above him that they should never have otherwise met.
Apparently passionate tempers like Lizzy and Lydia inspired grand shows of devotion.
Mary’s did not.
But that was not the place to dwell. There was nothing good to be had from it. Michaels cared for her, exactly in the way all conduct books declared he should. He had prepared an excellent settlement and intended to fully provide for her. Complaining about such a man was the height of ingratitude.
Poor Mary’s patience is tried this Sunday. Would yours be? Tell me in the comments.
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