By: Nadia C. Shoshana
Word Count: 5068
Summary: A mass Jane Austen crossover story.
Ballrooms are known to bring the greatest of pleasures or disappointments and certainly the highest expectations from many different quarters in London. A particularly grand ballroom found itself employed for an evening during the height of the season by one Mr. Gardiner and his wife. Mrs. Gardiner had seen her two favorite nieces so handsomely established, and with the favorites taken care of, it was but natural that the last two of her unmarried nieces should excite some speculation. Mr. Gardiner had his own reasons, and while perhaps not unaware of his wife’s thoughts towards his two nieces, agreed that celebrations were indeed in order. Success had showered him with blessings as of late and he felt it quite prudent, even for a man of his circumspection, to hire for a night the handsome ballroom that would become the stage for the events which then occurred for this short chapter.
The Misses Mary and Catherine Bennett were the two unmarried nieces above. Mrs. Gardiner felt Miss Catherine would be quite easy to secure as she had been living with her sisters, Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Bingley, who had assured their aunt of attending. Miss Mary Bennett would be more difficult to secure as Mr. and Mrs. Bennett hardly ever came to London. While Mrs. Bennett would rejoice to come if she could, her husband felt a dread opposite but equal in passion to his wife’s delight in the prospect. But as Mary was a very proper girl and Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Bingley were assured of being there, the great attachment Mr. Bennett felt to his daughters and the great urging of his wife overcame Mr. Bennett’s natural dislike. London could be viewed with less dread than on former occasions and so an acceptance was sent and the Gardiners spared no expense in the preparations.
After the proper preparations were made, the night finally arrived when the ballroom was lit and the dances begun. The room proved quite full, for the Gardiners had many persons they were familiar with and numerous acquaintances as would be expected from a man so successful. Everyone who was anyone was there and many more besides.
The Darcys and Bingleys arrived in good time, followed quickly by the Bennetts. “What a very delightful ball, my dear brother! Though it is no wonder, as you are so very well off! So much finery and so many good looking young people!” were some initial remarks made by Mrs. Bennett to her brother as she was let in. The Darcys, Bingleys, and Bennetts were accompanied by Colonel Fitzwilliam who made a very happy discovery of an old and dear friend whom he had not expected.
Colonel Brandon, with his wife and party, had also arrived and a great many introductions were made. Let this prove the point that with one acquaintance a great many may be established, especially in London at the height of the season over the course of a single evening. Among Colonel Brandon’s party, Mr. and Mrs. Collins were included, for Mr. Collins knew Mr. Edward Ferras in the holy profession they labored in, though it must be said the acquaintance was felt more particularly on one side than the other. Mrs. Jennings was also among their party with Miss Margaret Dashwood, now a fine young lady of seventeen years. She soon got on very well with Mrs. Bennett, and the others followed in good time. Mrs. Darcy found a fellow lively spirit in Mrs. Brandon with animation enough to pass the evening happily–so long as their husbands were ascertained to take them round the room at least a few times. Mrs. Bingley and Mrs. Ferras exchanged quiet pleasantries and could find nothing displeasing but everything lovely in the evening spent between them. Mr. Collins spent the night assuring his relations that all was well with his esteemed patronage and generally cut in where no one wanted him. The men conducted themselves as expected and had a great deal to say about the upcoming parliament and hunting season, which was accompanied by so many excellent drinks to immediately credit Mr. Gardiner with hosting the best ball of the season.
While it is tempting to dwell all evening on such warm and familiar characters, this short story wishes to point to the lesser known but no less equally important persons overlooked. It is with the new and untested that greater interest and amusements at ballrooms tend to lie. So let us leave the happily married to mingle and enjoy themselves in their newfound acquaintances, and turn to those whose destinies had not yet been decided.
The Misses Bennett and Miss Darcy happily made Miss Dashwood’s acquaintance and had discussed each one’s accomplishments to form very favorable impressions all around. Miss Catherine Bennett and Miss Georgiana Darcy had grown into fine young ladies of twenty and nineteen since the marriage of their brother and sister. Under their influence, Catherine had lost her silliness while applying her liveliness to womanly pursuits, and Miss Georgiana had learnt from Catherine how to be gay while imparting a great deal of gentleness and thoughtfulness to her companion in turn. Miss Margaret Dashwood had grown into a fine blend under the direction of her two sisters, and while she was not so elegant as Miss Darcy, nor so lively as Miss Catherine, she possessed a great deal of smart observations and human feeling to deepen the understanding between the three young ladies much more than a ten minute introduction would at first suggest.
Miss Mary Bennett, a young lady of twenty and two years, had grown more soft with time but still lacked the easiness of her sisters while having the disadvantage of not possessing the quiet elegance of Miss Darcy or Miss Dashwood. Being the only daughter for Mrs. Bennett to dote on for the past three years had helped her develop more social graces than she had before, but she struggled to express and feel human sentiments easily. Her mother’s silliness had firmly rooted in her a desire and desperation not to be silly. So Miss Mary Bennett remained silent among her companions except for a few rare moments. She did try. Whenever an opportunity arose for her to quote a moral maxim or say something quite safe, Mary did exert herself, but it did nothing to heal the natural gap between her and her companions.
Of the four young ladies, Miss Mary Bennett would seem the least likely to be the focus for the forthcoming evening. She had connections but no fortune, was considered the least pretty of the four recommended for our consideration, and lacked almost all hopes of pleasantness for the evening, to say nothing of romance. Mary had never enjoyed a ball in her life, and she held no hopes that this one would change her sentiments. But there must come a time in every person’s life when their long held sentiments must be shaken when they will not work for a story.
As the time for dancing drew closer, Colonel Fitzwilliam, after having made a happy reunion with Colonel Brandon, found another reunion in another quarter no less dear than the first. Captains Croft and Wentworth were espied by him across the room with their wives and two young people who, by the looks of them, must be brother and sister. On introduction, Colonel Fitzwilliam met Captain William Price and his sister, Miss Susan Price. Captain William Price, a fine young man of twenty and five, had once been the lieutenant of Captain Wentworth and advanced so far in his estimation that he was himself made captain. There is nothing quite like the military life to endear total acquaintances to each other almost at once, and Colonel Fitzwilliam was quite delighted by the pretty smiles of Miss Price, which made him feel half his age.
Upon noting a few glances cast upon the three beauties and one lady across the room by Captain Price, Colonel Fitzwilliam enquired if he had secured a partner for the first dance. Captain Price admitted he had not, and this presented an opportunity for Colonel Fitzwilliam to not only introduce Captain Price to Miss Darcy, Miss Dashwood, and the Misses Bennett, but to also secure for himself Miss Price for the first dance.
Captain Price found himself in the very fortunate place of having many fine, sensible young ladies from whom he could select his partner. He had made no less difficult decisions during his eight years at sea, and it would have been nearly impossible if Miss Dashwood had not observed that she adored the sea and immediately drew him into conversation about it. It was a weak point for the both of them, him in his occupation and her in her favorite landscapes. Miss Catherine tried to join, for she still held a secret weakness for men in uniform, and Captain Price was a very fine specimen from among the navy’s best. But her lack of ever having seen the sea except in drawings only permitted her to add very little, while Miss Dashwood and Captain Price found they could not say enough.
“Cousin?! Is that you?” Captain Price broke off quite suddenly, seeing his eldest cousin and heir to Mansfield Park, Mr. Tom Betram, passing by.
“Yes, William. I am sorry, I only just arrived and was looking for you,” Mr. Bertram replied. He was a more subdued man than society remembered him five years ago when he had narrowly escaped a great illness and misfortune, though still plenty handsome for thirty and one. He had been in town and been discussing business with Mr. Gardiner and landed an invitation in the same afternoon.
Mr. Bertram was drawn into their circle and found himself placed between Miss Darcy and Miss Dashwood, and as the one was already employed by Captain Price, it fell to Mr. Bertram to strike up a conversation with the quieter but certainly not less charming Miss Georgiana Darcy. Mr. Bertram had, to his future credit and estimation, the knowledge of her immediate merits without the corresponding knowledge of her thirty thousand pounds. He thought her the most charming and exquisite girl he had ever met, which was a great deal to admit with his history, and she blushed to encourage him while speaking enough to show her worth. They were easily set apart as a couple for the first dance, so the Misses Bennett were left without partners for that turn. Mary felt relief in escaping the immediate danger, but could not quite bring herself to abandon her sister. Catherine was not used to having no partner for the first turn, and while she held herself bravely, Mary did note a single tear on her cheek halfway through.
The Misses Bennett would have remained without partners for the second turn had not Mr. Collins intruded with a single and rather silent young man. Mr. James Morland was introduced as a fellow clergyman of Mr. Collins, who had recently been awarded his own parish in the past month. Miss Catherine, who very badly wanted a dance, talked so lively and happily to Mr. Morland that he found himself asking, as much to get away from Mr. Collins as to please the lady. Catherine was happy to have a partner, and while she had always thought clergymen the least romantic prospects for husbands–Mr. Collins may have had some hand in this very unjust summation–she found herself thinking how clergymen may be the most unsung of the romantic type, for their uniforms were the unseen but spiritual uniforms, and Mr. Morland displayed the fine colors of good sense and handsomeness in all their finesse.
This arrangement left Mary to contend with Mr. Collins for the next three or four dances when the ever perceptive Mrs. Gardner intervened. “My dear Mary! There you are! I have someone I would like you to meet…” Mary was thankful to be saved by her aunt. It was particularly mortifying to talk with her cousin, as Mary knew she tended toward moralizing. Bad traits are never seen as so bad until reflected in another.
Her aunt led Mary into a quieter part of the ballroom where there was more room and plenty of places to be out of the way in, much to Mary’s gratitude. She discovered a young man observing the festivities near her uncle, but not so near to be included in his conversation. “Mr. Howard, may I introduce you to my niece, Miss Mary Bennett,” Mrs. Gardiner began and any hopes Mary had for spending a few moments for herself vanished.
“How do you do, Miss Bennett,” Mr. Howard replied, having an openness and lightness about him that put her at ease. He smiled agreeably and carried the conversation easily. He was what many would consider very handsome, and Mary was quite sure that there were many other young ladies he could choose from to be pleasant with, but he did not seem inclined to move.
Mr. Howard was at first unsure of Mrs. Gardiner’s intention. He had planned on dropping in to pay his respects and please his employer. He was very surprised and felt truly grateful to Mrs. Gardiner, but he did not intend to stay longer than he could help. The past four years had found Mr. Howard acting as Mr. Gardiner’s clerk and he had shown great promise and played a large part in Mr. Gardiner’s current success, but he refused to take part in a great many social events, leaving Mrs. Gardiner to believe he was suffering from a broken heart.
Mary was not perhaps the best balm for a broken heart in all of London, but Mrs. Gardiner had already attempted so many introductions among her numerous lady acquaintances with the man, and all had proved so futile that she could not help but hope. Mary was different and Mrs. Gardiner had nothing to lose and everything to gain in introducing the two. At the very least, she hoped it would help him to stay out among people a little longer than five minutes. It was not healthy to remain as cooped up and cramped as he had been, no matter the condition of his heart.
At first Mary answered tritely and wanted any excuse to go away. She found herself surprised that Mr. Howard lingered after fifteen minutes of nothings had been said. She found she could not quite place him. He looked like any other handsome young man, but he had stayed far longer than most and seemed less inclined to mingle than even she did. She did notice there was a something in his eyes, which if she had dared to look a little deeper she would have thought was a sadness, but Mary had never been thrown in with men before, certainly not as the only young, eligible lady, and she looked down at her feet.
Mr. Howard noticed the conversation was in dire straits. He was reduced to remarking on the most obvious such as– “What a lot of people the Gardiners know!” or “What do you think of the weather?” Finally they were left with nothing more to say and neither one found it comfortable.
“Is there any way you can forgive me?” Mr. Howard suddenly spoke. Mary had been about to make her exit with the excuse that her mother must need her, but stopped at this extraordinary request.
“Forgive? What is there for me to forgive? We have barely known each other ten minutes!” Mary exclaimed.
Mr. Howard seemed surprised at Mary’s reply and the vacancy that had been in his eyes was exchanged for embarrassment. “Forgive me, Miss Bennett, I seem to have spoken out of turn. You happen to remind me of someone and the warmness in here must have made me drift off.”
Mary considered if she should leave or not, but Mr. Howard straightened and looked at her with more scrutiny. “You do remind me of her in a way. Your looks are different. She had fair hair with curls while yours is darker and straighter.”
“Forgive me, Mr. Howard, but do you normally compare the lady you are engaged with to another in the course of your conversations?” Mary said rather bitterly. She was no beauty and knew it, but to have it talked of so openly with a stranger hurt her tenderly and made her far bolder than she was wont to be.
Mr. Howard hung his head at her reproof. “You are right. It was very rude of me just now. I do not normally compare the ladies except in my own mind,” here he chuckled, but seeing her face grow darker, he decided against making light of it. “Truthfully, you are of equal beauty in different ways. Your temperament was what brought her to mind and I am sorry if I offended you by it. She had a mind as pure and upright as all the saints! If you could but meet her, you would be assured I was comparing you to perfection itself.”
Mary was not sure what to make of this. She had never been called a beauty before and certainly never compared to perfection herself. Even though the opportunity to leave had presented itself, Mary suddenly had no inclination to go. She determined to hear more.
When Mr. Howard saw that she had, in fact, remained where she was instead of fleeing to her mother, he realized she expected more and debated what he should divulge. In a moment he decided he did not care. He would tell her just as if she were the real lady he wished to address. This might be the only time he could tell someone so freely ever again, and the thought of going through life and continuing as he was felt unbearable, even if it was selfish and weak.
Mr. Howard looked ahead at nothing in particular because Mary’s eyes had become too difficult to face. “Miss Bennett, do you think there is such a thing as forgiveness and redemption?”
She did not answer right away although a thousand different quotes and maxims came to mind, but somehow Mary realized that was not what he wanted to hear. It was very strange not to give them just when someone asked directly for such a thing. Mary, for once, did not give advice though it would have been the easiest in the world to give. This night had suddenly turned into a very different ball than Mary had been expecting, after all.
“I do,” Mary said very quietly, looking down. She had never answered something so simply or with so much personal conviction, “Though I would say some things are far easier to forgive and redeem then others, and even some require more than us mere mortals can give. That is why we have religion, sir.”
“May I tell you more particulars then, and see if you would judge if I am forgivable– redeemable–or not?” Mr. Howard pressed. He knew it was a great deal to ask of a mere acquaintance, but he also feared losing such an opportunity. Here was a girl whose opinion he valued more than any for the past five weary years!
“I will listen to all you wish to tell, so long as it does no injury to anyone but yourself,” Mary granted.
“Very well then, I want you as my judge and am sure you will do me justice. I deserve much, I am afraid, and you will hate me for what I have to tell, but I am willing so long as another soul knows the truth of what I suffer. Please think of me sometimes, Miss Bennett, and pray for me! I am truly miserable!” Mr. Howard said with true feeling and genuine remorse. “Pity me, for I cannot even abide my true name. Do not worry, your uncle knows he has employed all these years not Mr. Howard but someone who wishes to be known as Mr. Howard because he despises his name! My real name is Mr. Henry Crawford.” Seeing as it made no impression or look of recognition on Mary’s face, he went on, “I was sincerely in love with the girl I earlier compared you with. I swore I loved her at the time, but it was not until I had lost all hopes of winning her that I knew how deeply true that was! I made a mistake–a horrid mistake! I had a moment of weakness and let my vanity rule my better judgment. I took advantage of her cousin, who was already married and I had already dangerously flirted with, and so I lost any chances with her. I spent a year convincing myself that it was not so bad a thing to lose her, but the thing is, truth always wins out in the end! Every other conquest I made was empty, null, void, meaningless. I began to see my own moral wretchedness. I could never go to her and explain. There is no explanation. There is only weakness and everything vile in me! And once she was married to another, the blow hit me so hard, I had to run away from myself. That is where I found your uncle and begged him to employ me, to hide me from the world so I could forget and seek redemption these past four years. But I have not found it, Miss Bennett. All I have found is my own emptiness and weakness. There–now do you say I am forgivable and redeemable?”
Mary truly did not know what to say. It was all quite shocking. She knew that what Mr. Howard had told was terrible. What he had done was unthinkable and he knew it. She remembered now vaguely hearing about such an event five years ago. Five years ago she would have said such sins could never be forgiven. But then her sister, Lydia, had been forgiven and things made up while she was unaware of having done so much wrong! She had seen her other sister, Lizzy, turned from finding Mr. Darcy the most horrid of men to finding she wanted him as a husband! And yet another sister, Jane, in forgiving all those that had torn Mr. Bingley away and caused so much pain!
“Mr. Howard,” Mary said after considering and pondering for perhaps the longest moment of his life. “Or rather, Mr. Crawford, while what you have said and done is certainly horrid, there is one thing I have observed, though I am young, and that is people change. We are fickle, changeable creatures, capable of great good and great evil, but perhaps that is why we were made to change. So that when we fall into such terribleness, we can the more easily change to the good. I say ‘easily’ but that can only happen if we distrust our own strength and place all our hopes in the One Who never changes.”
Mr. Crawford listened eagerly to her reply and all his apparent confidence left him and Mary saw the man he really was, worn, weary, and nearly despairing. He did not dare look at Mary again and turned his face away so she could not see, but she was certain there must be tears in his heart if not his eyes when he said, “Thank you, Miss Mary Bennett. Thank you.” He left quickly.
Mary was surprised to find Mr. Bertram in quite a distressed state coming up next to her after Mr. Crawford’s hasty departure. He looked quite troubled. “I am sorry for imposing on you, Miss Bennett,” he began in a low whisper to her, “I know our acquaintance has been short, but I must make particularly painful matters aware to you concerning that man you were just with, in justice.”
“You need not concern yourself, Mr. Betram, for he has already told me of the pain he has caused your family. Please be assured, he has told me of his own accord, and while I would not dwell on such a painful subject, is it not beyond the frailness and strength of men to change, whether from good to ill or the reverse? Do not think I am asking you to forgive him. I am not sure the human will can, but there is a higher power that may forgive if it finds the soul willing. That is what all of my learning on morals has ultimately lead, but what good is it if it remains only learned, never applied? Oh! I am sorry! I had forgotten you were there,” Mary stammered and blushed quite red. Never before had she uttered her own musings aloud. New things were happening to her tonight and new considerations.
Mr. Bertram looked a little startled at her, and if Mary were not so overcome with the newness of her feelings, she might have caught the glance of recognition or knowledge in his eyes. Had not he hoped and believed the same thing, that what is worst in man may be changed into something better, or that past wrongs could be amended? Had he not regretted and felt such bitter remorse for his past life and sought to implement the changes suffering and thoughtfulness had taught him in his worst hour?
“Past wrongs may be overcome if one has the willingness and the strength, not in himself, I know. But with help from a different quarter, there is certainly hope,” Mr. Bertram remarked. Then he smiled and added to Mary, “Please tell him I said that.” He and Miss Bennett exchanged glances of understanding, and parted ways, he having done his duty and finding a lighter spring to his step, a burden he never expected to leave lifted, as he sought Miss Darcy for another turn, Mary having realized so many feelings she had never experienced before and finding her moral theories had always desired to show how they could be applied and not just theorized.
Mary was not a girl who ever ran, but to her credit she walked faster than she ever had in her search for Mr. Crawford to tell him such words that would lighten what he had felt these past four years. She found him nearly ready to leave the place, hat in hand, coat and gloves donned, simply waiting for his horse to be brought. He had suspected coming for the evening was a terrible mistake, despite Mr. Gardiner’s strong desires and promises he would not happen upon Mr. and Mrs. Edward Bertram or Sir Thomas, as they had declined due to Mrs. Bertram’s health or preference in staying at home. Dances could hold no more for him with all the guilt and loss he still felt. He was surprised when Mary came up to him and stopped him, out of breath, and even looking rosy. She did not consider her words for once in her life, and could never remember what she said, but she was assured Mr. Crawford understood the heart of what she had to tell. He was taken aback, and saw in that moment a new life opening up before him. He knew Mary could not lie. He knew Mary and Fanny both held the same moral principles and maxims. It was a truth he had immediately recognized and enabled him to pour his heart out. Maybe he could someday return to the family whom he had caused such suffering, maybe even seek forgiveness of her he had taken advantage of–maybe with time. But Mary, through Mr. Bertram, had offered the first true hope of forgiveness and with his first breath, he asked her for a dance.
No one was more surprised to see them stand up and take a turn than the two young people themselves. Henry found a great deal more joy in paying attention to a single woman of worth in one dance than he had ever before in all the dances where his main purpose had been to turn as many pretty faces as he could. Having been away from dances for so long, his memory failed him once or twice, but he found he had learned enough of humility to laugh at himself rather than find it unpardonable, and afterwards blessed the occasion because it caused Miss Mary Bennett to attempt her first smile. On her side, she began stiff and uncertain, but at her partner’s blunders, she was put at ease and found the smile creep on quite unintentionally. It had an uplifting and freeing feeling to it so she repeated it throughout the dance as an application not only of human virtue but human feeling. It was one she very much hoped repeated, and can therefore be excused for accepting to turn about the room twice more with her partner. That night the two young people who have been dwelt on the most in this little story learned a lesson they hoped would be repeated many times throughout their friendship–and who knows if it might not be transformed into something more?
Mrs. Bennett even made a note of her most silent daughter seeming to come alive that night, to Mrs. Jennings, “Why, I do believe there may be a little of Jane’s beauty in her, after all! I have never seen her look so well! She may yet get married. She could never do so well as my Jane, but perhaps she has something of my Lizzy’s luck.”
And Mrs. Jennings could add truthfully, “Is that the same girl you introduced me to earlier? She seems a different creature. You may yet marry her in a twelvemonth as it is the height of the season.”
With love though, when there is no objection in connections or fortune, and when there is only a little more chiseling of personalities that are open to it, it need take very less time than a twelvemonth to secure a match. I am sure I can leave you to imagine all the happiness that must have been left to follow such an evening’s events in the many new acquaintances made, and how the Gardiners were held in even dearer estimation by more people than they had ever been before, but this is, after all, only an introduction.