She was, to put it succinctly,
“Good afternoon, Miss Bennet.
Lovely day, ain’t it?” Mrs. Sheffield greeted her while sweeping the wooden
boardwalk outside her shop.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Sheffield.
It is a lovely day.”
“Have you read the newspaper today?”
“No, Papa keeps the paper for
himself and shares whatever he thinks is newsworthy. Was there something important
I should know about?”
“Oh, I’d say there were sumthin’
important. Wait right ‘ere.”
She leaned the broom against the
outer wall and disappeared into the store, returning in a few minutes with The
Gazette. She handed the paper to Mary and said, “Page Three.”
Mary took the paper from Mrs.
Sheffield and opened it to the appropriate page. Emblazoned in bold type across
the top was the heading: ‘HRH, the
Prince Regent Celebrates End of War.’ The article started by saying HRH
the Prince Regent wished to celebrate the end of the Peninsular War with an
elaborate garden party for every person to whom he or his father bestowed
titles upon in the past fifteen years, followed by a quick blurb of where and
when the party would be held. A list of all invitees marched down the page in
five straight lines.
“I fail to see how a party the
Prince Regent is holding affects me, Mrs. Sheffield.”
“I suggest you look at the guest
list. The names be in alphabetical order.”
To humor the kind woman, Mary
began reading, gasping out loud when she came to the letter ‘B.’ Mrs. Sheffield
began to cackle at the look on her face.
“Told you it were important.”
“Excuse me.” Her errand forgotten;
Mary handed the paper back to Mrs. Sheffield. “I must return home.”
With that, she spun on her heel
and walked quickly down the street. Once out of sight of the village she practically
ran all the way to Longbourn. When she arrived, out of breath, the house was in
a state of uproar.
“Mr. Bennet. What are we to do?”
The strident tones of her mother’s
voice was easily heard through the open window of Papa’s book room. Her father’s
reply was not discernable, and it wasn’t until she entered the vestibule that
more of their conversation filtered out.
“I am forty-two years of age. How
can I go through this now?” Mama’s voice had escalated to near-hysterical
The door to the book room opened
and upon seeing Mary, Papa beckoned her inside. With a fair bit of apprehension,
she did as her father bade and joined him and Mama. She seated herself in one
of the wingback chairs near the fireplace, and, in preparation to act surprised
when he shared the news, waited with hands clasped neatly on her lap. Mama
paced in front of the window while Papa settled at his desk with a deep sigh.
“Your mother and I have some news
and we would appreciate you keeping this knowledge to yourself for a small
amount of time.”
“Everyone will know about it soon
enough,” Mama cried out and threw herself into the closest chair.
Mary didn’t know if she should enlighten
them with the knowledge that the village of Meryton was already apprised of
their good fortune. Deciding to cross that bridge when it arose, she pretended
she had no foreknowledge and said, “I shall be the soul of discretion.”
“Thank you, Mary. You won’t have
to carry this secret for too long because, as your mother stated, the news will
become evident in fairly short order.”
At that, her mother wailed again
and bolted for the door, flinging it open before rushing up the stairs. Startled,
Mary watched, her mouth open.
“Don’t worry, Mary,” Papa said. “Your
mother is only casting up her accounts because of the babe.”