"It's tradition," Mary says.
"It's barbaric," Lavinia says.
"Oh dear, there it is again," Mary says, smirking, and takes a break from idling around the library (where they are alone, it goes without saying) to pause at the back of Lavinia's chair. Lavinia seems quite wed to Daniel Deronda this afternoon; it's possible Mary is the slightest bit jealous. She loops her arms around Lavinia from behind and hovers close to her ear. "That bleeding heart of yours."
"Oh, shush," Lavinia orders, swatting her away fondly. Mary catches her hand, runs a fingertip over the back of her palm. "I've never been on a horse in my life, and I'm not about to change that just to terrorize a poor little dog."
"It's a fox."
"As if they're so very different!"
"If you're to be part of the fine Crawley family, you must make at least some effort to embrace our traditions, you know."
"If I was to be part of the family, I would have married Matthew. Perhaps you ought to give this lecture to Amelia."
"I wouldn't give a dead cat to Amelia."
"And I'm sure knowing that would disappoint her completely," Lavinia says, a smile quirking her mouth, and goes back to her book.
"You know," Mary says nonchalantly, circling around Lavinia's chair, "I'm rather an accomplished rider. If I do say so myself."
Lavinia reddens just slightly, but keeps her gaze firmly trained on her page. The corner of her mouth twitches.
"Wouldn't you like to see for yourself?" Mary presses, sinking down onto her knees and resting her hands in Lavinia's lap, dancing her fingers across the book's surface.
"Of course," Lavinia says very tranquilly to George Eliot and Mary's fingers. "Only I don't see why that requires going outside."
Her straight face lasts a whole five seconds; then she meets Mary's eyes, and they both give into laughing.
"Good lord," Mary says, not unappreciatively, "When she called you a harlot, Aunt Rosamund wasn't so very far off."
"A harlot?" Lavinia says, with a small bit of genuine hurt; it makes her seem not a day older than she was when Mary first laid eyes on her, though six (very eventful) years have slipped by since. "Did she?"
"Ages ago," Mary says, dismissive, already regretting that she's mentioned it at all. It isn't that Lavinia will dwell: she's too even-tempered for that. It's only that they're so happy now that it seems a shame to look back on all that wasted, awkward, miserable time. "It just goes to show how much stock ought to be set in what Aunt Rosamund says."
"They really were keen to get rid of me, weren't they?"
"Ages ago," Mary repeats firmly. "And I wasn't about to let it happen."
Ah, there. A smile. Much better. "Even then?"
"Even then," Mary affirms, squeezing her hand. "Perhaps that should have tipped me off."
Lavinia squeezes back. Teasingly, she declares, "I can't in good conscience go fox hunting."
"Fair enough," Mary says; she's learning how to pick her battles. The key is to hone in on what's really worth fighting for. "And riding?" She makes sure to fill every syllable with promises of splendid indecency. "What about that?"
"I suppose country pastimes must have some merit," Lavinia answers, in quite calm tones for someone blushing so prettily, and closes her book. Mary grins, triumphant, and goes in for a kiss. It turns into several.
"The library's always nice this time of day, isn't it, Mama?" comes Edith's pointed and especially loud voice from the hallway.
Mary breaks apart from Lavinia; Lavinia takes a moment to smooth Mary's hair, and Mary returns the favor before she stands. They're getting rather sloppy about this. Mary's begun wondering when they're going to be caught, instead of if.
"Certainly, dear," Mama says, rather puzzled, as company steps in.
"Does it really matter what time of day it is in a library?" Amelia ponders. Annoyingly. "I'd think it wouldn't. Though, who does want to read in the dark? So you're right, Edie. As always!"
"Ah, Mary, Lavinia, there you are," Mama says, spotting them. "I should've known you were off together. Forever joined at the hip."
"That's us," Lavinia says, knocking her foot discreetly against Mary's.
"Until she gets sick of me, anyhow," Mary agrees dryly. Fortunately, Amelia starts prattling on about God knows what, taking Mama's attention hostage and giving Lavinia leave to shoot a rather moony and adoring look in Mary's direction. One day, Mary's heart will surely give out -- all of this happiness can't be healthy.
Edith rolls her eyes, and almost succeeds in burying her indulgent smile in a scowl.