“This is the last time we will do this, you know,” said Lizzy. “From now on your maid Molly will be fixing your hair.”
“Lizzy, don’t be a goose. We can do this again when we visit,” Jane replied trying to cheer her sister.
“But it will not be the same.”
Just then, Kitty and Mary swept in, giggling as they gathered around.
“What do you think of our new dresses?” asked Kitty, twirling in a circle to display her new pink gown to its fullest advantage. “Mary, show them the beautiful lace on yours.”
Mary was usually the last one to be looked at or admired, and so when her sisters turned to look at her dress, the attention made her blush. Then they realized that something was different about her.
“Mary, you look lovely!” Jane exclaimed. And in fact, she did. Her hair was done more softly around her face making her look less severe. Lavender-colored ribbons, the same color as the flowers on her muslin dress, were wound artfully into her hair.
“Please stop talking about me as if I were not here,” Mary said, clearly embarrassed at the compliments she was receiving.
“But, Mary, you look wonderful. In fact, I have never seen you look better.” Impulsively Elizabeth pulled her blushing sister into a hug.
“I think entirely too much is made of how young ladies look. It is our more substantive qualities and accomplishments that are most important,” Mary pronounced.
“Yes, however, it does not hurt if the outside is just as lovely, too,” Jane said, putting a reassuring hand on Mary’s arm.
“We should be talking about you and Lizzy today. After all, it is your wedding day,” said Mary, clearly trying to deflect the conversation away from herself.
“What do you think of what I have done with Jane’s hair?” Elizabeth asked, returning to the subject at hand.
“I think you should add more ribbons,” Kitty suggested.
“And I think it is perfect as it is,” said Mary with a rare smile. “She does not need more ribbons to enhance her natural beauty.”
“Thank you, Mary, dear. Now enough fussing about me; it is your turn, Lizzy.” Jane stood up and offered the seat to her sister.
As Kitty worked diligently over her Elizabeth’s dark locks, her sisters giggled with excitement, sometimes all talking at the same time.
“Are you anxious about tonight?” Kitty asked nonchalantly. They all looked at her with wide eyes. “Well, it is what we are all thinking about, is it not?”
The response was nervous giggles and blushes all around.
“You know that is not a proper topic of discussion for unmarried ladies,” Mary scolded.
“Oh, do not be such a bore, Mary. When Lydia was here after her wedding, she told me all about it — how terrifying the marital bed is and all the indelicate things a husband…well, expects,” Kitty said with a gulp.
Jane and Elizabeth looked at each other with their eyebrows raised.
“Although I am certain that Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley would never behave in such a manner,” she quickly added.
There was another awkward silence.
“Oh, heavens, Kitty! You surely did not believe everything she told you,” Elizabeth exclaimed.
“Why not? She is now a married woman and knows all about the conjugal mysteries we are not even allowed to think about,” Kitty told them.
After a moment of silence, Lizzy spoke. “I cannot go into details, but Jane and I had a letter from Lydia sharing her ‘married woman’ wisdom. I am certain what she said had at least some elements of truth to it, but it was certainly nothing at all like what Aunt Gardiner has told us to expect. The words ‘terrifying’ and ‘indelicate’ were never mentioned at all.”
Another moment of complete silence followed during which all of the Bennet girls considered the situation. First, Lizzy started to laugh, then Jane and Mary and finally, Kitty. They laughed until tears rolled down their cheeks, and they were holding their sides. Mary and Kitty leaned on each other for support just to stand. Mary pulled out her handkerchief and patted her eyes.
When at last they were able to be coherent again, Mary said, “You know Lydia is in Newcastle right this moment laughing even harder than we are at the little joke she thinks she has played on you.”
“I was under the distinct impression you believed her, too, Mary,” Kitty replied a little indignantly.
Mary frowned. “I did not.”
“Oh, at moment like this, I do wish Lydia was here with us,” said Jane wiping away the last of her tears with the back of her hand.
“Yes, so I could get my hands around her little neck,” said Kitty, stifling another giggle. “In spite of everything, I do miss her sometimes though.”
“Do you also miss chasing men in red coats or running wild at parties so that we are all mortified with shame?” Mary asked.
Kitty turned serious. “No, Mary, my eyes are wide open now. It has become very clear to me that I was following the wrong sister. I only hope Lizzy and Jane will allow me to spend more time with them. I would prefer to learn to be a lady – just as they are.” Her eyes began to twinkle with mischief. “Then, perhaps, I will catch a rich husband, too.”
“This is more like it – true sisterly affection. I love all of you very much, and you will always be welcome at Pemberley,” said Elizabeth. Then she added with a note of humor in her voice, “That is, as soon as I actually manage to learn my way around my new home. It is so large that I know I shall be in constant terror of becoming lost. Why, the house has so many hallways and stairways that I might need to use a ball of thread like Theseus in the Minatour’s Labyrinth. It would be too embarrassing if Mr. Darcy had to send out the footmen or maids looking for me.”
“It might be much more fun if Mr. Darcy went looking for you himself,” Kitty said with a giggle.
“Kitty! Where do you get these ideas? ” Elizabeth cried as she broke into laughter again and her sisters joined her.
“Oh, look at the time! We must hurry! We have only a few minutes before we leave for the church, and there is still so much to do!” Jane told them.
Suddenly, tears formed in Mary’s eyes.
“What is it, my dear Mary? This is not like you. Are you unwell?” asked Jane moving quickly to put an arm around her sister.
Mary tried looking at the floor to hide the tears and shook her head. Jane put a gentle finger under Mary’s chin and lifted it. The watery pools that were forming seemed to magnify and distort her golden brown eyes. Instead of pulling away, as she normally did in a situation such as this, Mary smiled through the tears as Jane used a linen handkerchief to blot her sister’s eyes.
“I am so very happy for you, but after today, you will belong more to your husbands than to us. It will all be so different,” Mary told them between sniffles.
“We have talked about this before. We are sisters — forever and always. That is something that no wedding can change.”
“I know that.”
“Then what is it?” Elizabeth asked. “Are you afraid that you will never fall in love and get married?”
“Oh, romance is for other people, not for me,” Mary said, trying to sound serious.
“That does not have to be true, sweetheart, but for love to have a chance, you must open your heart and see the possibilities. If I had not taken the time to get to know Mr. Darcy, I might never have discovered all of his fine qualities. He would have passed out of my life as an enigmatic figure, a puzzle never to be solved, and I would be the poorer for it,” Elizabeth told her.
Mary managed a smile. “I shall remember your advice.”
“Come here, Mary, let me fix your face so those tears do not show. We cannot have all of Meryton saying that the brides’ sisters were crying even before the wedding. They might think you are not happy for us.”
“I am happy for you. Truly.” Mary hugged Jane.
Then in the distance, they heard their mother’s shrill voice calling, “Girls, girls! The carriages are here. You must come at once!”
Scrambling, they picked up bonnets, gloves and other little accoutrements. Jane, Kitty, and Mary rushed off leaving Elizabeth as the last one out. After a brief look around the room, she smiled and closed the door on this part of her life.