Posted on 2011-04-14
November 1811, Hertfordshire
She had been haunting his dreams for what seemed like ages, and now here she was, standing in his room late at night, clad only in her nightclothes. How many times had he dreamt of her coming to him in such a manner? Too many for him to count, that was certain. What was she doing here? Could it be that she had felt the same attraction that he had? He knew he could never make her an offer of marriage. To do so was impossible and for her to have purposefully sought him out should have lowered his estimation of her, but he found that he did not care one whit about propriety at this moment. No, the only thing that he cared about was that she was truly here, with him, now.
The cool temperature in the grate went unnoticed because of the heat that was presently emanating from him at the thought that his greatest desire would be granted. He stood from the chaise where he'd been doing some late-night reading. She was silent, a look of awe on her face that she had been so bold to come to him so. She looked down at her feet, unable to meet his gaze. It was impossible for them to be together, this she knew well, but she could not see why she should not have this one night at least.
He drew nearer to her, speaking in a low voice in case someone should pass in the hall, "This is the happiest and most delightful of surprises. I did not expect to meet you here, like this. My dear lady, I am your humble servant, what may I do for you?"
No one had ever spoken so kindly nor so gently to her in all her life. This was something that was greatly missing in her life. Her family did not understand her at all, often discounting what she said as not being serious in purpose, but this was not the case with him. He always, even from the first, had listened to her. To him, what she said, her opinions had weight and value. It was true enough that she had an affectionate elder sister to whom she was close and shared everything, but even her dearest sister did not seem to understand her as he did. Yes, this was wrong; yes, this was a great and terrible sin; but she cared not. She would know, for once in her lifetime, what it was to be truly loved and valued for herself and herself alone.
Knowing her own mind, she resolved to meet his gaze at last. When she did, she found his steely blue eyes fixed on her in such a way that made her heart beat so hard that she was sure it would wake the house. In his eyes she found a look of pure love and desire, not the shame and censure she had expected from such a proper man. Taking his look as encouragement, she stepped closer to him until she was close enough to inhale his scent and feel the tingle in her spine that always occurred when she was in his presence. She knew she was expected to say something, but her wits had momentarily abandoned her.
"Dearest," he said soothingly as he clasped her hands into his own, "what is your wish? Please tell me, so that I can make your smallest whim a reality."
In a voice so small she wondered if it could even be her own, she made her simple, heartfelt plea, "Love me, please, just for this night."
He barely nodded before he enveloped her into his strong arms and kissed her with abandon. The weeks that he had spent in such close company had been torture. The dam that had held back all his pent-up longing and desire was broken and she was caught up in the flood of his passion. His strength took her somewhat by surprise, for he swept her off her feet as though she were nothing at all. She giggled as he nuzzled her neck while he carried her to his bed. He was supremely happy that he had been able to elicit from her that enchanting sound that he loved almost as much as he loved her. Her laughter had been a beacon calling out to him in his dull existence. How would he live the life that was destined for him, the one that his parents had planned out and that Lady Catherine expected without ever hearing that melodic sound again? He quickly pushed such thoughts aside. Now, in this moment, he would love her and make the memories that would have to be enough to console him in his lonely future without her.
They made love several times that cold November night. Each time was more tender and reverent than the last. Hours were spent professing the most tender of affections and memorizing every aspect of each other. Long before the servants were due to rise in the early morning, they said their tearful and solemn good-byes knowing that the realities of the world made such separation necessary. He had made no promises to her, nor had she expected any. Heart full, she quietly made her way back to her chamber. She was ever thankful that she had this one night of bliss with the man who held her heart, who understood and respected her like no other.
April 1827, Hertfordshire
Standing on the drive, wearing her widow's weeds, Mrs. Bennet awaited the arrival of the heir to Longbourn. The Reverend William Collins had written that he would arrive one day after her year of deep mourning and, through the years, they had found he was nothing else if not precisely prompt.
They had not met face to face since he had officiated the wedding of his cousin Kitty, some ten years before. There was a great deal to catch up on. "Mr. Collins, I am sorry for your loss. Charlotte was a lovely girl. I am sure you must miss her a great deal, as do your children."
He felt shame that he had never loved his wife like he ought. "My Charlotte made for an excellent companion, and I pray that she found me the same. The boys miss her something fierce and her good sense has been long missed in Hunsford parish these five years. I must take this opportunity to say that I am also sorry for your loss, my dear lady, and I would ask that you remember that I am once again your humble servant."
Mrs. Bennet's cheeks blushed bright red, which was noticeably in sharp contrast to the jet she wore. "I thank you sir, for your kind reminder. All is in readiness for the estate to be turned over to your good care. I shall leave for my Sister Phillip's once my half-mourning clothes are ready. I expect them within a fortnight."
This was the last thing Mr. Collins wanted to hear. "My dear lady, surely you cannot believe that I would let you leave me, I mean your home, in such haste! You make it sound as though I am come to send you to starve in the hedgerows. Surely, you must know that I, who has loved you all these years, could never do such a thing. Stay, my dear lady. Stay with me."
These were the words she had dreamed of hearing for so many years, but there were still the dictates of society to uphold. Mrs. Bennet found herself feebly protesting, "It is highly improper!"
"What is improper in allowing you to continue to live in the home that has always been yours? You are my cousin's widow. No one would think twice if I allowed you to continue on here at Longbourn. Say you'll stay. Say you'll stay with me. Stay with me, not just for this night, but for every night."
Mrs. Bennet agreed to stay on with Mr. Collins. He had been correct. No one looked askance at the goings on at Longbourn. Her daughters had all breathed a sigh of relief that none of them would be required to take on their mother and did not think too long on why she would wish to live by the good graces of someone she had once called "that odious man". Sir William was well-pleased that when his grandsons were home from school, Mrs. Bennet was there to help guide them with a mother's love in his own Charlotte's stead.
It was because no one was the wiser about the relationship of Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennet that the shock was so much the greater when their betrothal was announced three years after Mr. Bennet's death. Much was speculated and gossip abounded, but none had it right. Mr. Collins married Mrs. Bennet for the best of all possible reasons: they married for love.The End