The “April Showers” theme immediately brought certain images to my mind – two in particular: the scene in the rain at the end of “Wives and Daughters” and one that I wrote myself in “Return to Longbourn.” In both cases, the romantic overtones and the sense of as-yet-unfulfilled longing seem to be heightened by the rain and the fact that everybody ends up soaked to the skin.
In “Return to Longbourn” (which follows after “The Darcys of Pemberly” as sequels to “Pride and Prejudice”), Mr. Bennet has died and the new heir to Longbourn, Mr. Tristan Collins (younger and much more attractive brother to Mr. William Collins, deceased) has come from America to claim his inheritance. Mrs. Bennet has decided he simply must marry Kitty, and she has enlisted Mary’s reluctant help to promote the match. Mary (who is currently governess to the new family at Netherfield) is getting some ideas of her own, though. In this scene, she has her first chance to spend time alone with Tristan Collins, including a dash through the rain…
Mary returned downstairs with her assignment and fresh topics for conversation. She found her cousin in the sitting room, on his feet and staring out the window. At the sound of her approach, he turned and quickly replaced his pensive look with an open smile. But in that brief glimpse of his unguarded expression, Mary had read much. She felt a rush of compassion for the man as she considered his position. He was away from all his friends and from the wide-open expanses of the new world, and now confined to a modestly proportioned manor house in a small village with only her mother for company. The walls must truly be closing in about him.
“I am sorry, Mr. Collins,” Mary said instinctively.
“Why, Miss Bennet, whatever for?”
“Oh… perhaps for imposing myself on you,” she answered hardly knowing what she was saying. Mary looked about the undersized room as if seeing it for the first time – the outmoded furniture, the faded wallpaper peeling at the edges, the unnecessarily heavy draperies blocking what little sunlight managed to penetrate the overcast sky. “You have been cooped up in this house for a week, with barely a moment to yourself since your arrival, I should imagine. And now, were it not for me, you would have had your chance for a little peace.” Although it was an honest thought, Mary immediately reproached herself for speaking so freely to this man, who was still, she reminded herself, a relative stranger.
“I thank you for your sympathy so candidly expressed, Miss Bennet, but I have not suffered as badly as you suppose. I must keep my time and my mind occupied, and I am delighted that you are here to assist me. I so enjoyed our conversation last Sunday.” He glanced once more out the window. “But perhaps we might safely venture out of doors again… Shall we walk towards Meryton? Though the shops will be closed, it is a charming village and it gives us a destination of sorts. Or are you too tired for such and undertaking, Miss Mary?”
“I am not tired in the least, Mr. Collins.”
“Tristan,” he corrected her
“Mr. Tristan, then. Still,” with a glance at the sky, “I fear it will rain.”
“Then we shall have to adopt a lively pace in order to return to Longbourn before it does; it will add adventure to the scheme.”
Persuaded by his enthusiasm, Mary consented and they set off together at a brisk rate, as proposed. An easy silence rested between them some minutes as they gave themselves over to the enjoyment of the day, which, as Mr. Collins had suggested, held the tacit promise of adventure. The glowering nature of the sky lent a dramatic contrast to the occasional shaft of sunlight breaking through, and the air held a charge of anticipation at the threat of an approaching storm.
Remembering her mother’s explicit instructions, Mary, almost regretfully, resumed their conversation. “I understand you have another, far grander destination in view, Mr. Tristan. I hear you are to visit Pemberley and to there meet with your sister as well as two of my own – my elder, Elizabeth, who is Mrs. Darcy, and my younger sister Kitty.”
“You have heard correctly. I am for Derbyshire on Wednesday, the morning following this dinner party at Netherfield. As you might imagine, I am most anxious to see my dear sister Ruth again after so many years.”
“Of course, you are.”
“And your mother was extremely insistent that I should stay at Pemberley whilst I am in the neighborhood. She has sent a letter on to your sister, and she assures me I will be most welcome. There is a good deal more room for guests at the great house than at the parsonage, Mrs. Bennet pointed out. She is thinking of my sister’s comfort and my own, no doubt.”
“No doubt.” Mary pressed ahead with her assigned task. “I believe you will find both my sisters very amiable creatures.”
“I am sure that I shall. Tell me; is either of them much like yourself?”
Mary could not contain an ironical little laugh at the idea. “Not one bit, I promise you, so you are bound to like them both exceedingly well. Elizabeth is considered spirited and witty, and Kitty exceptionally good-natured. What is more, they are both allowed to be very pretty.”
“You are too modest of your own good qualities and accomplishment, Miss Mary. This commendation of your fair sisters is admirable, and yet it need not come at your own expense. I must say I admire you exceedingly for having the wits and wherewithal to secure a highly respectable situation of your own, not depending on chance or wealthy relations to rescue you from unlucky circumstances.” They walked on and, after a thoughtful pause, he added solemnly, “Besides, beauty is not what a prudent man values. It is a trap, and something never to be trusted.”
Mary glanced sidelong at him but, seeing his grave expression, she knew not what reply to make. She therefore remained silent and returned her eyes to the road ahead. Still, she was pleased with the sentiment, which seemed to her a specimen of singular insight.
They were just passing the tree-lined lane for Lucas Lodge, when suddenly the clouds united over their heads, and a driving rain set full in their faces. There was only one thing to be done, to which the exigence of the moment gave more than usual propriety; it was that of running with all possible haste back the way from which they had come. Laughing, Mr. Tristan grasped Mary’s hand without warning and compelled her along the road at a gallop. She held her skirt, put her head down, and raced along at his side, drawing deep draughts of the freshening air into her lungs as she went.
On they ran in unison, stride for stride. Neither of them proved fleet-footed enough to outstrip the rain, however, and they ended huddled together on the front porch of Longbourn, soaked clean through.
Too winded to speak, they could do nothing more for a long minute than breathe and stare at one another. Mary soon grew disconcerted by Mr. Tristan’s proximity, and she averted her eyes to inspect the damage done to her exterior. Her half-boots were caked with dirt, and the hem of her charcoal-colored muslin was likewise muddied. She could imagine the rest. “I must look a sight,” said she, cautiously lifting her eyes again to receive her cousin’s opinion.
He smiled down at her, drops of rain still caught in the tangled web of his pale eyelashes. “No more so than I, I would wager,” he said, jovially. “Come now, Miss Mary, you mustn’t take such a serious view of things. We have had our adventure after all, which I must say I enjoyed exceedingly. Will you not admit that you did as well?”
Before Mary could decide on an answer, Mrs. Hill opened the door and they were obliged to go inside.
Mary retreated at once to her old bedchamber to change out of her wet clothes with the assistance of the household’s young maid. “You shall have to see what you can do with these dirty things, Betsy,” she told the girl. “I can wear something else for now, but I must be back in my customary attire before returning to Netherfield.”
“Yes, Miss,” said Betsy, who then began to rattle on about the sudden change in the weather, the misfortune of the two of them having been caught out in it, what her father always said about the risk of being struck by lightening, and other such nonsense.
Mary could not properly attend. Her mind turned back to the walk out with her cousin. It was not only the substance of their conversation that seemed to invite continued reflection, but the exhilarating dash back to Longbourn in the rain.
Were she to answer Mr. Tristan’s question honestly, she should tell him that she had enjoyed it… prodigiously, in fact. She could not recall when she had last indulged in the pure pleasure of a physical release. Yet she would probably be at great pains to avoid owning how it had thrilled her. Why? She could not have rightly explained, other than it was a natural aspect of her reserved manner and the staid life she had carefully constructed for herself. Still, she had never been more tempted to let down her guard than now, with this cousin whom she began to regard as a true friend.
Once rid of her wet outer garments, Mary went to the closet, where the things she had left behind when she took up her post at Netherfield remained. The soft prints and calicos she found there looked suddenly bright, almost gay, by contrast with the unvarying somber tones of her governess habit of the last three years. She scrutinized the some dozen gowns and chose a pale blue muslin that had been a favorite in her former life. With Betsy’s help, Mary slipped it over her head and fastened it into place. Then she braved a look in the mirror. The gown was no doubt hopelessly out of fashion (as, she imagined, her sister Lydia would not have scrupled to point out), but at least she was presentable. A little attention to her mussed hair and she was ready to return downstairs.
Mrs. Bennet had not yet reappeared. However Mr. Tristan, in fresh attire and with his wet hair neatly groomed, awaited her in the parlor.
“Ah, how well you look, Miss Mary,” he said. “I see that you are none the worse for our little adventure. And no regrets, I trust?”
“Why should I have? There was nothing improper in it, was there?”
“Of course not! I only meant that I shouldn’t think running headlong on a country lane through a downpour is really in your line – not your usual idea of amusement. You seem to me to be of a far more sedate tendency.”
“Well, sir,” she replied with a touch of indignation, “I think I have as much right to enjoy a little exercise and adventure as anybody. And I daresay if I can keep up with three lively children, I can certainly keep up with the likes of you.”
“Well said, madam! I see I have underestimated you. That shall not occur again, I promise. And I am delighted to be proved wrong. It gives me reason to hope we shall share other adventures of a similar character in future. Do you ride, Miss Mary, or dance?”
“I am fully capable of both, I assure you, and yet rarely have the opportunity.”
“I trust, my dear cousin, that shall not always be the case.”
“I very much hope you are right, Mr. Tristan. Indeed, I look forward to it.”
Darcy, Elizabeth, and the rest of the P&P cast are back as the socially awkward Mary emerges from the shadows to take center stage in Return to Longbourn. What makes her tick? Is she destined to remain a governess forever, or can she overcome the misfortune of being “plain” to find love and her own happy ending?
I’ve always secretly believed Mary Bennet might have the hidden makings of a heroine. And if even she can benefit from a good soaking, maybe I should stop complaining about the record rains we’ve been having this spring and instead see if I can arrange to be caught outside in a shower with my handsome husband. Hmm. Who knows where it might lead? Do you have a caught-in-the-rain story, your own or a fiction favorite?
By the way, if you liked this in-the-rain scene, I should tell you that there is another in Return to Longbourn – the romantic climax of the book, in fact. But I won’t give the ending away here!