“Why, Mrs. Brandon, what a quaint table you keep.” The not-well hidden sneer on Miss Mariah Kingsley’s face spoke louder of her disdain for the gorgeous and well-laid table of Colonel and Mrs. Brandon.
“Oh, Mrs. Brandon, don’t mind my sister,” said Blanche, in a well-practiced, soothing tone. “She would find fault at the Prince Regent’s table, to be sure.”
Marianne did her best to smile pleasantly, while directing the young ladies and their father to their places at the dining table. It was well-known in Devonshire that since the new mistress of Delaford presided over the Colonel’s table, no one left wanting. Colonel Brandon has doted on his young wife and given her free reign over his home. Marianne had done much to bring a breath of fresh air into the old hall, and with it, life sprang forth and happiness seemed to exude from the once sombre walls.
Dinner passed politely, if a bit subdued, while Colonel entertained his good friend, Nicholas Kingsley. Gregory Brandon and Mr. Kingsley had initially met in India, of all places, while both were on assignment for His Majesty. Mr. Kingsley was part of the commercial effort with the East India Trading Company, and walked away a very wealthy man.
Luckily, Marianne’s younger sister, Margaret, was asked to join their table, as five would have been an unsuitable number for the table. In addition, Marianne thought that Mr. Kingsley’s daughters would want someone closer to their own age during their country visit. After the third course of sweets was picked over, the ladies excused themselves to leave the two gentlemen to catch up over a very fine glass of port. Margaret led the way with Blanche by her side towards the Blue sitting room, while Mariah followed haughtily along. Marianne brought up the rear, but not before having sent an imploring look to her husband. She hoped that he understood her pleading look to not be long at the table with their gentlemanly pleasures.
Once the ladies had closed the door and the servants left after having decanted the Madeira port, Brandon grabbed the humidor out of the side board and handed his friend a cigar.
”Damnation, Brandon, I am at a loss. I am so sorry that your lovely Mrs. Brandon was at the receiving end of Mariah’s pointed tongue. I don’t know what to do with the chit!” Nicholas lit his cigar, and slowly blew out his breath with a sigh. “Ever since my Anabel passed eight years ago, it’s been a battle with Mariah. Blanche, as you saw, is all sweetness and suitors buzz about her as bees to honey. But I cannot let Blanche go without Mariah gone first, or I shall be saddled with the Shrew herself for life!”
Colonel Brandon shook his head while chuckling, thankful that he did not have yet to deal with these issues. However, he did have some experience with young wards, and had a slight inkling as to the troubles that his friend had.
“I suppose it is too late to ship her off to a boarding school in Switzerland that is a barely disguised convent?” This type of speech was uncharacteristic of the stoic Colonel Brandon; however, since his marriage to Marianne, he has felt younger than his years and walked with a lighter heart. Plus, being with his old friend, he easily slipped into the remembrance of those bygone days of their time in that spice-filled alien world, India.
Nicholas shook his head as well, “Don’t think that the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. No, the best plan now is to find some fool to marry her! However, after the past two seasons in London, the Ton Mamas won’t let their sons near Mariah, for fear of having her as their daughter-in-law. To say nothing of the gentlemen who don’t want to be attached to such a shrewish bluestocking as my daughter. I honestly don’t know how I have failed.”
Gregory Brandon, not wanting to distress his guest any longer, switched the conversation while they finished their port. When he was with Marianne in the privacy of their room tonight, he would ask for her opinion. She seemed to have solutions for matters like this, having once been a rather impetuous and passionate girl herself. He was not saying that she is no longer passionate, but she had learned to focus that passion into her new role as mistress of Delaford.
Having finished his cigar, Mr. Kingsley said, “Come, Brandon, take me to your wife so that I may apologize and then send my girls off to bed so that they will no longer vex her.” Nicholas and Brandon got up from the dining table and proceeded across the hall. There was laughter coming from the room, and Mr. Kingsley looked somewhat surprised.
The gentlemen entered the sitting room, to find Margaret Dashwood and Blanche Kingsley head to curly head together. What a pretty little pair in the corner they made, talking conspiratorially, with fits of laughter bursting forth to punctuate the otherwise silent room. When Brandon glanced at his wife, he could tell that she was at her wits-end as to how to ‘entertain’ the beautiful, dark-haired Miss Kingsley. As soon as the gentlemen walked in, Marianne rang for the tea to be wheeled in. Mariah Kingsley sat in the blue pastoral toile-covered chair by the fire, with a slim novel in her hands.
“I hope you don’t mind, Colonel Brandon,” Mariah said as the gentlemen entered the room. “But I asked Mrs. Brandon for a quick peek into your library. This volume on the Egyptian kings caught my eye. It has been a good companion these many minutes, while waiting for tea to be served.” Mariah looked down her nose at Marianne, and Brandon knew he would have some feathers to smooth down later.
“Ah, the treatise by Thomas Young. Tell me, Miss Kingsley, do you have an interest in Egypt?” Brandon tried to distract the young lady, so that his wife could breathe. From the corner of his eye, he saw that Marianne relaxed slightly, and turned to smile at Mariah.
“Why, yes, I do. While we were in London for The Season, I was able to attend lectures by colleagues of Thomas Young, and have had a chance to observe the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum. It was quite exhilarating to see such an artifact!” Mariah’s face actually lit up during this discussion and gave Colonel Brandon more insight into this young lady, and how he might help his friend. The rest of the evening passed with this discourse betwixt the two, while Margaret and Blanche continued their conversation, and Mr. Kingsley quietly talked with Mrs. Brandon. He thanked her for a truly remarkable meal, regardless of what his eldest daughter intimated earlier.
After the guests had retired for the evening, Marianne had seen to arrangements for breakfast. She then went into her husband’s library to collect him for the evening. Marianne had learned that if she did not remind her husband to come to bed, he would spend a number of hours lost in his books.
“Ah, my Dear, I am glad that you came in. I would like to reiterate Nicholas’ apologies for his eldest girl. He mentioned over our port that he has been having difficulties trying to find a suitor for Mariah. The largest problem he has is the mothers; none want to have her for their dear boys. He had also mentioned that Blanche already seems to have several suitors, but will not allow her to accept any suit until her older sister is married. It seems a -“
“Rather difficult task? I can see why. She seemed all sweetness to you, but found only fault with me.” Marianne walked over to Gregory’s desk, with a slight pout on her face. Brandon looked up and pushed his chair away from his desk, making room on his lap for her beautiful wife. Marianne sat down, asking, “What does Mr. Kingsley plan to do? Margaret mentioned before heading up that Blanche actually has three men after her hand, but cannot encourage any of them until her sister is ‘disposed of.’ Wait a minute, I know that look in your eye. You have just thought of a plan, Gregory...out with it!”
Colonel Brandon did indeed have a plan. Having thought of the conversation he had with Nicholas after dinner, and then hearing Marianne recount the conversation between Margaret and Miss Blanche, his military tactics might come to play in his retired life after all.
“Mr. Kingsley mentioned that none of the mothers in town would allow their son to marry such a ‘difficult’ young lady. We need to find a young gentleman who is in need of money, who has no mother, and who is up for a challenge... for a challenge she would be.” Gregory helped Marianne up so that they might retire, saying, “This will take some careful thought, but I think I have a young man in mind. We shall discuss it further in the morning.” Tucking Marianne’s hand into the crook of his arm, husband and wife went upstairs for the evening.
“I do remember Wellesley. What happened to that young buck?” Mr. Kingsley was mounting his horse to join Colonel Brandon for a morning ride through the park. The ladies weren’t down to breakfast yet, so the gentlemen thought to take advantage of the delicious winter morning’s crisp air to wake up the lungs and invigorate the senses.
“Last I had heard, Hugh was at his estate, trying to repair the damage his older brother did before his accident. Now that Upton Abbey is his responsibility, Wellesley is trying to make something of the crumbling pile of rocks it has become.”
“Wasn’t he a lieutenant in your company while you were in India?”
“Yes, being the younger son, his grandfather bought him a commission. But that was as I was leaving. He was rather young to be in the position that he was; however, he proved himself with his stratagems and intelligence.”
“Oh, no, a man of intelligence will not abide my Mariah, no matter the dowry. I have tried that tactic before, but I was told that ‘no man in his right mind would put up with that girl who THOUGHT and pointed out what was wrong!’ Mariah had remarked to the gentleman in question that if he weren’t so fond of loose women and losing at the gaming tables, he wouldn’t need to find a simpering, dull heiress to marry him and pay for his past misdeeds. That did not go over well.” Mr. Kingsley led his horse down a bridle path, as he followed Colonel Brandon across the frost covered field.
“Oh, my friend, I do feel for you. But that cannot be the only stumbling block against Miss Kingsley?”
“No, as I mentioned, most of the mothers in London won’t let their sons within a ballroom’s distance of her. Why, you may ask? It might be due to the fact that she points out the fact the lemonade was watered down at Almack’s – which everyone knows, but no one complains about. Or... well, there are too many instances to count, my friend.... too many.” Nicholas shook his head with a sorrowful look on his face.
“May I ask why it is so important to find a suitor now?”
“As I mentioned, Blanche has many suitors; suitors who have titles and are not after my money, but they will not wait forever. Since both girls have been out in Society, time is of the essence.”
Passing through the rolling green hills covered in frost and lined with thin hedgerows, the two gentlemen rode in silence for a few minutes, each lost in thoughts of their own.
“Brandon, do you mean to tell me that you get to ride this beautiful countryside any time you like?” Mr. Kingsley had that look of wonder that most people do once they experience the countryside of Devon for the first time. “This surely beats the grass of Hyde Park or even the hillside of Newmarket with the tall trees everywhere.”
“Yes, it is a nice place to ride with the open horizons. And the weather is a bit better than London or Newmarket, to be sure. But back to your dilemma...”
“A dilemma, indeed. How shall we proceed? If we just bring young Wellesley to pay a visit, Mariah will surely know what is afoot, and will have nothing to do with him. It seems you have a good bit of game on your lands. Have you thought of having a hunting party? Most young bucks are always looking for new lands to explore and deprive the land of a few grouse or whatnot.”
“A fabulous idea, my friend; a great idea. Marianne is always going on about how we have so little society in the ‘wilds of Devon.’ I know that she is thinking of her younger sister, Margaret, as well. I think a hunting party is just the ticket.”
The two gentlemen finished their morning ride with a race back to the stables, with Colonel Brandon pulling up at the last minute to let his friend reach the stable yard before he did. Handing off the horses to the grooms who were waiting, they walked in companionable conversation up to the front of the house.
Laughing over Mr. Kingsley’s comment of being starved, the two approached the breakfast room to find Marianne and Mariah seated at the table in utter silence except for the occasional scrape of a fork on plate. Instantly, the two gentlemen quieted down, and paid their morning regards to the two ladies at the table. The rest of breakfast was spent with Mr. Kingsley, once again, paying compliment to the Brandons and their lovely home.
“May I peruse your library once again, Colonel Brandon?” Mariah asked as she was about to leave the room.
“Of course, Miss Kingsley. If you are after books similar to Mr. Young’s, might I direct you to the landing on the balcony? There are treatises on India, Egypt and several books on travel and discovery in that section.” Colonel Brandon asked if Mariah wanted him to point them out specifically, but Mariah declined the offer, stating that she would like to wander and discover for herself, and thanked him for the directions.
After hearing her footsteps recede down the hallway, Gregory turned to Marianne with the plan that he and Nicholas had thought up while on their morning ‘constitutional.’
“Dear, would it be too much of an inconvenience to have a small hunting party here, in two weeks time? Since it is the end of Twelfth Night, most are looking for some diversion. It would be a good idea to have help in clearing out our fields of the extra birds, as the spring planting will soon begin. We wouldn’t want those birds to eat up our seeds.”
Marianne put down her napkin, and took a moment to think about the prospect of having more people in her home. Then a sly smile came upon her face, “What a tremendous idea. And we shall have a ball at the end of the fortnight to celebrate the success of our gathering. That is, if the idea does not disturb your country visit, Mr. Kingsley?” Marianne turned to her guest with an expectant look on her face.
“Mrs. Brandon, I do like the way you think. We would love to be a part of your country party.”
The three were talking at the table, and only made aware of the passing time with the arrival of Miss Blanche and Miss Margaret to the breakfast room. The adults looked up rather guiltily and left the room so that the two young ladies might enjoy their breakfast alone.
Invitations had been sent to a number of people, and surprisingly, all but one accepted the Brandons’ invitation to a Hunting Party and Candlemas Ball. Rooms were aired and entertainments were planned by Margaret, Blanche and Marianne. Mariah locked herself in the library, refusing to partake in anything so ‘provincial.’ In order to make the party seem balanced, invitations also went out to Sir John Middleton and his household. Mrs. Jennings had procured acceptance for her daughter to join in the festivities, as they would be staying at Barton Park. Mrs. Jennings had somehow heard from a ‘little bird’ of the impetus behind the hunting party, and added the names of a few possible suitors to her own list of visitors. Sir John thought that Colonel Brandon had an excellent idea of a hunting party to help clear the lands and gained permission from the Brandons to have their own concurrent party. What a wonderful opportunity to bring many young people to their part of the world all at the same time.
Mrs. Brandon was thrilled at the idea, as then the two houses could split up the entertainments, but come back together for the ball. Secretly, Marianne was hoping to help Margaret find her heart’s match and see her properly settled, as Mama could not afford to take Margaret to London for her own Season. This was one time that Marianne had appreciated the meddlesome, but well-meaning, Mrs. Jennings. The two women spent several hours together, planning who would host which dinner or how the ladies would wile away the hours as the gentlemen went out shooting.
Among the guests of Mrs. Jennings, there was Lady Eleanor Freckenham, who travelled all the way from Ely, Cambridgeshire. Lady Freckenham was a particular friend of Mrs. Jennings while they were in school together so many years ago. Lady ‘Nora’ brought her son, Fredrick, and her married daughter, Mrs. Chandler, with her to Barton Park. Fredrick Ainsley then received permission to bring along his companion, Maxwell Meriwether. Mrs. Jennings thought it only appropriate to have as many young bucks around as possible, as there were several young ladies in need of a dashing husband. And this was how the parties grew!
Among the guests at Delaford, Mr. Hugh Wellesley gladly accepted the invitation from his ‘hero of India’ in order to have a chance to think of something other than the mess that both his father and brother had left Upton Abbey in. Mrs. Cavendish was invited to bring her sons, Andrew and Bramwell. Mr. Johnson and son attended for the shooting party as well. Major Martin, with his daughter Abigail, and Captain Reynolds also joined the merry party that formed up at Delaford in anticipation of the Candlemas Ball.
Sir John and Lady Mary Middleton and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings, hosted the first dinner on Monday, as the dining hall at Barton Park was spacious enough for the thirty people who ventured to Devonshire for sport and company. It was quite the table with persons from all spectrums of English society. Military men, peers of the realm and local neighbours all came together to be with friends and to make new acquaintances. Barton Park laid a nice table with three courses, each course having no fewer than twenty dishes each. Luckily, the gentlemen would be hunting all week to help provision the tables of both Barton Park and Delaford.
After dinner, when the ladies of the party adjourned to the sitting room, the conversation was at first strained. However, tables were laid out for cards, and as the older ladies were more prone to play at Whist, the younger girls seemed to have broken off into small groups about the room to talk. Marianne made sure to personally introduce Miss Kingsley to several of the other girls, in hopes that someone would make the young girl feel at ease. Mariah Kingsley was never a fan of large gatherings, much preferring the company of a book to that of a chatty female. But one of the new acquaintances introduced to her by Mrs. Brandon proved to be intriguing. Miss Delia Carey seemed to be more into furthering the mind than wasting it on tittle-tattle or card playing.
As the gentlemen came into the room after having finished Sir John’s excellent selections of ports and brandies, they made their way into the various groups to even out the party. Miss Francine Carey was first up on the piano forte to display her virtues as a musician, followed by Miss Abigail Martin. Major Pettigrew had overhead the conversation between Miss Carey and Miss Kingsley, and joined in the conversation, as he also had a keen interest in Egypt.
Much of the first week passed in a similar fashion, with various members of both parties getting together to either shoot, chat, take tea, have dinner, or play at cards. By the end of the first week, all members of the party knew one another, and some sought out the company of specific persons. That first Saturday, Barton Park had the pleasure of having most of the young people in attendance, and an impromptu dance was held. Miss Kingsley, not wishing to dance much, played songs to which the others danced. However, she was not to spend the whole night hiding behind the piano forte, as her father encouraged her to let others play.
Once Mariah was no longer behind the keyboard, Major Pettigrew, a man of seven and twenty, asked her to dance. Mariah accepted, for as she was about to decline, she noticed that quiet mouse of a man, Bramwell Cavendish, approaching. She had accidentally found herself caught in conversation with Mr. Cavendish earlier in the week and wanted at all costs to avoid another discussion on newts, of all things.
Margaret Dashwood was dancing with Ainsley’s friend, Mr. Meriwether, while Francine was partnered with Andrew Cavendish and the fourth couple for ‘The Maze’ was Mr. and Mrs. Chandler. The dance progressed as most do; however, Major Pettigrew had a chance to see Mariah Kingsley as a delightful young lady. Yes, he had heard the tales of her sharp tongue and snobbish ways, but he did not perceive why anyone would say such things of this beautiful young lady.
When the round finished, Major Pettigrew offered to get Miss Kingsley a glass of punch. He quickly changed his mind about his dance partner as she spat out, “Only if you promise not to oil the glass as you have oiled my hand during the dance.” Major Pettigrew bowed and walked away, returning with a cup that was wrapped in a napkin, and took his leave.
Mariah found herself alone for the rest of the night. Occasionally, Delia Carey would stop to chat with her between sets, and when it wasn’t her turn at the piano forte. Mrs. Jennings saw that Mariah Kingsley was alone and tried her hand at making the young girl feel at ease. Soon, Mrs. Jennings saw the error of her ways in having approached the troubled girl. After being told in no uncertain terms that her parlour-turned-dance-floor was a waste of space, Mrs. Jennings was further informed that the space would be better suited as a library to further the mind, not a place to let one’s mind go soft.
Mrs. Jennings stood speechless, which was no small feat. “I shall inform my son-in-law of your assessment, Miss Kingsley. If you will excuse me, I believe the punch bowl needs attending.” Mrs. Jennings then went off to talk with her daughter, Mrs. Palmer. The two were seen shaking their heads and glancing towards Miss Kingsley. However, more pleasant pursuits soon captured their attention, and they quickly forgot Miss Kingsley and her sharp tongue for the rest of the evening, as they were of the heart that life should be embraced and enjoyed.
With most of the fortnight behind them, and the Candlemas Ball approaching in two days time, the attendants found themselves house bound. Surprisingly, the weather up to this point had been admirable. Though it was cold outside, the clouds refused to dump their contents and spoil the shooting parties’ sport. This was not so on Thursday, as the clouds could no longer contain themselves and a heavy rain forced the parties to pursue indoor activities for the day. Some made their way to the music room for practice and duets, those who were so inclined turned one parlour of Delaford into a card room, and a few found themselves in various ‘quiet’ pursuits.
Colonel Brandon, Mr. Kingsley and Hugh Wellesley had decided to wile away the afternoon in the library with challenges of strategy over a chess board. Two would play and the third would make comments for both sides, much to the amusement of all. Brandon was taking on Nickolas in a rematch and Mr. Wellesley took the opportunity to look over Brandon’s fine library collection. The library at Delaford was one of the best he had seen in a private home, and wanted to take some of the ideas seen here to Upton Abbey. One day he hoped to have enough capital to leave a legacy such as the Delaford library. However, that seemed unlikely, as all of the funds left him by his wastrel father and brother would only maintain the abbey, not add to it.
The Delaford library boasted a second level that was open to the main floor, a balcony that went around, with a landing at the east end, big enough for a few armchairs and two tables. Hugh went upstairs to see what was on the shelves. As he found himself making his way around the balcony, he came upon the landing and an unusual sight... Miss Kingsley completely engrossed in a book. Mr. Wellesley cleared his throat, as was proper, to alert the young lady to his presence. Since the landing was on the opposite side of the library, he could hear little of the conversation between to the two combatants below.
“Miss Kingsley, I am sorry to interrupt.”
“So, leave, Mr. Wellesley. You are under no obligation to stand at attention before me.” Mariah looked up from her treatise on the Egyptian kings.
“You are mistaken, Miss Kingsley. I stand at attention to no one. I merely made my presence known to you, so that you do not take fright when glimpsing me from the corner of your eye. However, I was mistaken. How ever could a young lady such as you ‘take fright’?” Hugh Wellesley was not a man to take himself seriously, and he surely was not going to stand down. He had heard others talking of Miss Kingsley’s manner all week, but had not the ‘pleasure’ of an encounter with her. He was going to enjoy this, if it proved out.
“I – I merely meant, Mr. Wellesley, that. Well, that you need not stand by and can carry on.” Mariah Kingsley, stuttering and at a loss of words? She was used to everyone backing away once she opened her mouth. She looked at Mr. Wellesley more pointedly, trying to assess his character. All week she had heard nothing but, ‘Mr Wellesley this and Mr. Wellesley that’ from not only her sister Blanche, but also that moony-eyed Miss Abigail Martin. So what if he had inherited an old abbey from his father? So what if he was decorated for his service in India? He was just another man, and unworthy of her time.
“Miss Kingsley, I shall carry on. And, please, go about your business, filling your mind with drivel from that Mr. Blakewell, who has never been to Egypt, let alone to the Continent. His writings were based on hearsay, and reflect no actual knowledge of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt.” Hugh Wellesley saw the shocked look on her face, as he turned on his heel and continued down the balcony to further enjoy Brandon’s library. He was then called down to take his turn against the ‘unstoppable’ Mr. Kingsley.
Mariah sat in her chair, completely flummoxed. No one, not even her own father, had questioned her or talked to her in that manner. Not knowing what else to do, she replaced the book on the table next to her, and left the library, looking to find ‘comfort’ in tormenting Mrs. Brandon and her lack of planning for such a dreary day. The least Mrs. Brandon could do was to offer a game of charades, not that Mariah would join in.
Friday and Saturday were clear and dry, so that the gentlemen could continue their sport. Marianne was glad that her sister, Elinor, and their mother came over on Friday to help set up the ballroom for the Candlemas Ball. All was to rights and ready for the festivities to begin that Saturday afternoon with a light dinner before the dancing started. After having the Middleton party and many of the neighbours of Delaford, the ball boasted almost fifty people in attendance. Being that is was Candlemas, extra candles were about, bringing a merry glow to Delaford’s dancing hall.
Mariah, at the behest of Blanche, took extra care with her dress. On Thursday and Friday, Mariah spent more time with her sister and Margaret and listened to their assessments of the various gentlemen that were to be in attendance. The two younger girls could not make up their minds as to which gentleman they preferred, so they were going to enjoy them all.
The hall at Delaford was transformed into a magical wonderland. All of the attendants were gaily dressed for a mid-winter ball and enjoyed the break from everyday life, talking with neighbours and newfound friends. Mariah stood off to one side of the room with Miss Delia, commenting on the various persons about the room.
Hugh Wellesley came up directly to Mariah at the beginning of the ball to ask for the Supper Dance. Bowing before her in his well-turned out coat and knee breeches, Hugh enquired, “Miss Kingsley, if it will not upset your appetite, I would like the honor of the Supper Dance.”
“Mr. Wellesley, I don’t believe that it would prove harming to my digestion, so I accept.” Mariah found herself flushing at her words. Harming to my digestion, what was I thinking? Mariah thought to herself. Whatever will he think of me? Mr. Wellesley smiled with a twinkle in his eye, bowed, and walked away, leaving a blushing Mariah frozen in her place.
This short story was entered into the Republic of Pemberley's 'Jane Austen Made Me Do It' Short Story Contest.
I would love and appreciate any comments on this story. I hope you enjoyed 'Mariah's Match.' This will one day be part of a larger story featuring Margaret Dashwood.