Beginning, Section II
Verboten ~ By Leareth
Author's Note: I am taking a very big risk with this story. I have no idea what you will think of it, whether you will cringe or accept. But you know what I'm like - crazy. The main character is kind of paranoid. He has a guilty conscience and thinks everyone is always watching him. I like taking risks, even if it's controversial. I am aware that this story deals with a very touchy subject. If this offends, I'm sorry. It's a rather dark story (this is where the translation for 'Leareth' comes in - it means Darkness).
"Er, yes, madam. Will that be all?" asked Suesser.
"Yes, thank you. I am very well pleased with this material," replied the young girl, daintily and femininely dressed in a soft pale dress with a rose pink shawl. She watched as Suesser skillfully packaged the material with slim white hands. Suesser ignored her gaze as usual, hoping she would simply take her purchase and leave. It was nearly time for the daily 'visit'.
However, it seemed that the girl had something more in mind than just clothes shopping. The young shop assistant smiled uncomfortably at the customer as she began to talk.
"I shall use it to finish the dress I am making for Mr. Bingley's Ball," said the girl lightly. She laughed at Suesser's apparent discomfort with her chatter. "Will you be going, Mr. Suesser?"
"I have yet to decide - " said he.
"But you simply must! It is the event of the month. Everyone from Meryton will be there, including the officers! Think of that! I hope that I shall dance every dance with as many officers as possible . . ."
She continued in this vein for some time. Suesser could do naught but stand there pretending to listen. He had no patience for such female habits.
"Perhaps we see you dance at last, Mr. Suesser?" asked the dainty little thing finally.
"It remains to be seen."
A few years ago it had been something of a joke, how twenty-two year old bachelor Mr. Gabriel Suesser would never show any interest in a lady. Now his eccentric, shy, retiring character was old news and apart from a few subtle comments here and there at the annual Meryton Assembly, or, a ball such as Mr. Bingley's, one would hear little of it. He was a young man of fragile build, tolerably handsome with dark brown hair and green eyes and owned a small clothes shop in Meryton.
The blue door of the shop opened and two officers of the militia entered, their dark red coats creating a marked contrast to the girl's pale dress.
"Ho, shop-keeper!" cried the first, a heavily built fellow with a voice as strong as his features. "What would you have in the form of a lady's handkerchief?"
Suesser turned to face the new customers. His face lit up in a rare smile of pleasure at the sight of the second officer who smiled patiently at his companion.
"Please excuse my friend," said the second officer, a slightly built young man with pale blond hair and blue eyes. "He is perhaps overly eager to secure a present for the one he admires."
"Is there something the matter with me holding a liking for Lydia?" retorted the first officer.
"I believe 'liking' may be too light a word to describe your feelings. Would 'infatuation' be better?"
"There you go again, you book-learned fool!" laughed the first officer. "Why you joined the militia, Julian Lovborg, I do not know."
Julian Lovborg smiled indulgently. "Perhaps to discover something about myself."
The first officer rolled his eyes and looked at Suesser. Suesser looked away from Lovborg and at the other man.
"Lovborg is always acting quite strange," he said to Suesser. "I cannot understand him. He dislikes dancing and much prefers talking to men about books and other such distasteful things for an officer. I tell him he should become a lawyer, but he of course does not listen."
Suesser laughed, ignoring his former customer. "Each to what he likes, I say," he replied with an embarrassed look at Lovborg. "What do you think you will discover about yourself when you are on the battlefield?" he asked him.
Lovborg shrugged his slim shoulders, longish blond hair falling over his eyes. "I do not know. Perhaps I do not even need to go to France. I can learn just as much in this little town as I would over the Channel," he said meaningfully to Suesser.
"Enough of this philosophising!" exclaimed the first officer. He turned to look at the young girl. "Seeing as this shop keeper will have no idea as to what a young lady would like, would you be so kind as to help me choose a token for Lydia Bennet?" He bowed gallantly and extended his hand. The girl giggled and replied that she would be delighted to. Offering his arm to the girl, the nameless officer and the anonymous girl wandered off among the racks of material talking quietly while choosing small squares of lacy material.
Suesser sighed with relief at the chance of relative privacy. He looked at Lovborg who smiled at him.
"Why did you bring him with you this time?" he asked quietly with a nod towards the other officer.
"My friend intends upon giving a present to Miss Lydia Bennet at Mr. Bingley's ball tomorrow night, in what I believe a vain attempt to secure her affections, so I offered to accompany him," replied Lovborg. He leaned closer to Suesser. "Besides, I come here alone too often. Bringing him with me alleviates suspicion, which is what we want to avoid."
Suesser smiled sadly. He glanced around fearfully in case anyone was watching what seemed like an ordinary conversation between the two men. But the windows were covered with displays and the only other people in the shop were too absorbed in the shop's contents and each other to take any notice of them.
"Will you be going to the ball, Julian?" asked Suesser softly.
Lovborg turned his blue eyes on Suesser. "I think I must. And I think you must too."
"Why? I do not like dancing with young ladies - and neither do you. And you know perfectly well why."
"Of course." He smiled again, then it disappeared. "There are too many questions arising about myself, and you as well," replied Lovborg seriously. He moved closer to Suesser. "Going to Mr. Bingley's ball will quiet such rumours."
Suesser took advantage of Lovborg's closeness to take his hand. It felt warm and soft beneath his fingers.
"If you put it that way, then I will go," he said, looking for his customers. He could not see them. "At least you will be there to prevent me from dying of boredom."
Lovborg had also noticed that disappearance of his fellow officer and the young girl. However, he did not remove his hand.
"We cannot keep this up for much longer, Gabriel," whispered the officer.
"I know," replied the other man, equally softly.
Suesser jumped and jerked his hand away. Luckily it had been concealed behind the package the girl had bought some minutes before. He turned, trying to maintain a semblance of composure towards the officer and girl.
"May I have my package, please," asked the girl. The eyes of the officer beside her narrowed as he observed the shop keeper and officer, but did not speak.
"Er, yes of course," replied Suesser, flustered. He reached for the package but his trembling hands knocked it off the counter. Lovborg saw this and caught it, then handed it to the girl.
"Here you go, miss," he said smoothly, though Suesser could tell Lovborg was also shaken at their near discovery.
"Will . . . will you buying anything, sir?" Suesser asked the first officer.
"No. Come, Lovborg, we must go," said the first officer with a suspicious glance at Suesser. He pretended not to notice and dropped his eyes to look at his boots to hide his blushing face. He did not look up, even when the door opened and the young girl and nameless officer exited the clothes shop.
Lovborg was the last to leave, however. Suesser looked up and caught his eye. Lovborg gave Suesser a relieved and loving smile that Suesser returned. Then he also left.
Suesser collapsed on a nearby chair and held his head in his hands.
If to feel such feelings for Julian are forbidden, he asked himself for the thousandth time, then why do I feel so happy in his company?
Suesser exited the hack chaise in front of Netherfield House. He glanced around. He had never been to the manor before and up close it was very striking. The driveway was wide and clear and at the present moment, covered with carriages carrying all sorts of people, many of whom he knew. All the windows were lit. Suesser noticed that behind the window directly above the stairs to the entrance a man was watching and waiting. He shuddered. Nowadays, it felt like everyone was watching him. He could not let his secret be known - but nor could he resist flirting with the danger.
Inside Netherfield he could see dozens of people all waiting to be greeted by the host and hostess of the ball. He joined the line, impatient to get inside. Behind him, yet more guests had exited the carriage, a group of eight, five young women, a matriarch and two older men. The first man was an old, rather dignified fellow with glasses and a wry smile. The second was a rather largely built clergyman whose long speeches soon wore out Suesser's ears. He ignored the group and scanned the various groups of redcoats, in search of one man in particular.
He absently greeted Miss Bingley, her sister and Mr. Hurst. They also were just as willing to ignore him. In total all three of them said about six words to him. Bingley, a jovial, handsome young man was the only one who seemed pleased to meet Suesser, but he also seemed distracted, as if waiting for someone in particular.
He scanned the crowd. There was Lieutenant Denny, speaking to one of the Bennet sisters, another of the Bennet sisters cavorting around with some more of the officers. To one side stood the couple who had been such an object of scrutiny for the past few months - Mr. Bingley and Jane Bennet. Colonel Forster and his lady here, the infamous Mr. Darcy over there. At the back of the room was a large group of officers. Among them stood Lovborg, laughing and appearing totally at ease. Suesser smiled and casually made his way in Lovborg's direction.
Lovborg glanced at him and mouthed 'wait'. Suesser nodded and wandered around the magnificently decorated ballroom. Flowers covered the poles from floor to ceiling, and already some couples were lining up to dance. The eight-member orchestra began to strike up a tune. Suesser watched, ignoring several inviting gazes from young ladies who had no partner. However, he did catch the eye of the officer he had seen with Lovborg, that day in the shop. The man was talking with the girl from the shop, but upon seeing Suesser, he broke off his conversation to frown at him, as if unsure about something. Suesser walked as fast as he could without betraying his nervousness.
Was he right to come here, merely to spend more time in Lovborg's company? Or was it a step closer to falling from the thin thread he walked on?
Standing to one side of the dancing, he watched the couples dance. He laughed a little at the sight of one of the Miss Bennets trying to cope with the clergyman he had seen earlier.
"Other way, Mr. Collins!" cried the woman. Too late, for the bumbling man had bumped into the lady next to him. Spouting profuse apologies, the clergyman scurried back to his partner, who looked quite put out.
"That is one reason I dislike dancing," said a warm voice behind him. Without turning around, Suesser replied,
"That you will have a partner as uncoordinated as that pompous fellow? Or because dancing with me is not done in society?"
"The latter reason is perhaps the main one," admitted Lovborg. "Society is prejudiced against people like us."
"Prejudice is one of the worse aspects of human character."
"Oh, I can think of others," replied Lovborg. Suesser could feel the other man shrug his shoulders. "Vanity is also another. Vanity, fear and hatred of that which is unknown."
Suesser smiled. Out of the corner of his eye, the unknown officer from the shop was watching.
"We should dance at least once," he murmured. "Your friend there, I think is suspicious."
"He watches us."
Suesser leaned backwards as Mr. Darcy crossed in front of him. He shivered uneasily. Something was not right. He relaxed a little when Lovborg touched his arm.
"My friend does not watch us as intently as Mr. Darcy watches Miss Elizabeth," said Lovborg, nudging Suesser to alert his attention to the gentleman mentioned, trying to distract him from his discomfort. It did not work. Suesser felt like all eyes were on him, watching his every move with Lovborg. The gigantic paintings on the wall seemed to stare at him. The same way, he imagined, society watched for any mistakes, any deviation from the norm.
"I am going to dance the next dance after this," said Lovborg when Suesser did not reply. "We must do something to ease the questions in my friend's mind. Can you live my presence for the duration of the dance?"
Suesser nodded. Lovborg wordlessly replied by giving his hand a reassuring squeeze, then moved away.
The next dance began. Suesser discreetly followed Lovborg with his eyes, watching as the other man walked up and engaged a young lady in conversation. He tried to resist the stab of jealousy as he watched the discourse, that Lovborg could openly converse with the girl without suspicion whereas one word with Suesser and there were people like the unknown officer, watching, spying.
He should not feel jealous of Lovborg. The jealousy turned to anger at the stiff society in which he lived, the society that trapped everyone within a social 'norm'. To remain respectable, one had to adhere to conventions.
Even if the conventions meant unhappiness.
The music began again, a dance in a minor key. Suesser watched as Lovborg, evidently successful in asking the girl for a dance, moved into position at the end of the line closest to the orchestra.
At that end of the room, the unknown officer from the shop was watching.
Suesser froze and made a conscious effort to tear his gaze away. As casually as possible, he let his gaze drift down the line. There was Mr. Bingley and his lady, the gentleman talking animatedly, the lady perhaps more subdued. Miss Lucas dancing with Captain Carter, both engaged in what seemed a delightful conversation. Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet, also talking, but with a distinct coldness that indicated neither of them were pleased with the other.
Just at the edge of his field of vision, Lovborg and his chosen partner for the façade he had planned were also speaking. The girl looked very pleased with herself. She chattered on about what subject Suesser could not guess. Probably something trivial and meaningless, thought Suesser. Lovborg looked uncomfortable, as if he was eager for the ordeal to be over. When he passed Suesser, Suesser gave him a sympathetic look. In return, he received another of Lovborg's shining smiles.
And, on the other side of the room, the unknown officer, watching, his implacable gaze penetrating.
Watching! Everyone was watching everyone!
Suesser gasped, and leaned against the wall for support. All around him, people were watching people. Mrs. Bennet watching Miss Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley. Lady Lucas watching Miss Maria Lucas. The horn player in the orchestra watching Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Miss Bingley watching Mr. Darcy, and her brother, and Miss Elizabeth, and Miss Jane. The clergyman watching Miss Elizabeth. Miss Mary watching the clergyman. Miss Lydia watching the officers. Miss Charlotte Lucas watching everything. Mr. Darcy watching Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Mrs. Forster watching Miss Lydia. Colonel Forster watching Mrs. Forster. The unknown officer watching him. Himself watching Lovborg.
Everyone is watching!
The air seemed stifling, the walls seemed to be closing in. He breathed in short, shallow gasps and closed his eyes. He didn't even realise the dance had finished until Lovborg came up to him. Seeing Suesser's state, Lovborg took his arm and, making sure that no one was watching, drew him away.
They entered the first room they came to, a small drawing room. Lovborg closed the door and seated Suesser down on the nearest chair.
"What in God's name is the matter?" he asked worriedly.
"They're watching. They know about us, our relationship," gasped Suesser. There was a decanter of port on the table; Lovborg saw it and quickly poured a cup. He held it to Suesser's lips and he drank it gratefully. When the glass had been drained, he leaned back into the sofa.
Lovborg stood above him, arms crossed.
"Are you better now?" asked Lovborg.
"I suppose I am. Why must life be so complicated?" he bemoaned. "Perhaps the clergy is right. Perhaps my feelings for you are from the Devil."
"Now don't say that!" exclaimed Lovborg. He extended his hand and pulled Suesser up. "Just because society declares our relationship as immoral and disgusting doesn't mean that we have to listen. Come," he said, straightening his scarlet officer's coat. He took the liberty of brushing down Suesser's own brown jacket. "Any longer and someone might notice our absence."
Suesser looked fearfully at the door. Strains of music and the background murmur of conversation could be heard through it. Lovborg noticed this.
"You are paranoid."
This simple statement made Suesser laugh.
"I know I am, but I'm right. They know."
"No they don't. You're imagining things. Some people may suspect, but they do not know about us. But if you keep acting in this way, they will. So when we go back out there, you are going to act like you always have, before you met me."
Taking his hand, Lovborg led him to the door. He gave Suesser's cheek a light kiss before opening it, then they both made their way to the dining room.
They were seated at different tables. Lovborg sat with the officers, whilst Suesser sat with Mr. Jones the doctor, with the rest of the Meryton tradesfolk.
Suesser sat with his back towards the officer's table. Even so, he felt a watching gaze on his back that was not very friendly. Trying to ignore it, he struck up a conversation with the doctor.
Mr. Jones was a very friendly and intelligent man, and his conversation managed to distract Suesser's brooding thoughts. There were other distractions for him as well. To one side a man spoke to his dinner companion with a slight French accent about his views on the war, the other disagreeing until the conversation turned into a polite squabble. Suesser watched this all with a concealed laugh.
Another distraction for him and society was also coming. Suddenly the ball's host stood up and announced his desire for some music. Before he had even finished his words, the third Bennet sister had risen from her seat and had taken to the piano. All eyes were on her - away from Suesser and Lovborg, so Suesser imagined.
He sipped his wine and nearly choked when the girl began to sing. He put down his glass and stared at the performer, who seemed quite oblivious to the astounded looks of her audience. Instinctively, Suesser looked towards Lovborg who gave him a look of concealed shock. His reaction to the music was not his alone, though one fellow with a look of admiration on his face needed to get his ears checked, so Suesser thought.
But at least people weren't watching him any more. All their attention was on the singer. But still, there were some wandering eyes. Two of the Bennet sisters watched as the bumbling clergyman talked to Mr. Darcy. The two Bingley sisters watched the two Bennet sisters.
And there was the unknown officer watching him.
Suesser gripped the table and told himself to calm down. There was nothing he had to fear. It was merely his guilty conscience about his relationship with Lovborg that was plaguing him. Demons of his own making, he could exorcise them if he wanted to.
The 'music' ended, and just as quickly another was begun. Thankfully this one was stopped by the girl's father, but the girl's departure was replaced by a long-winded speech by the clergyman. Everyone stared at him in utter amazement until he was cut off by Mrs. Hurst who began to play the piano.
Still more things happened for people to fix their attention on. Mrs. Bennet began to talk loudly about her matrimonial hopes for her eldest two daughters, much to the girl's embarrassment. The youngest Miss Bennet was seen leaping around with an officer's saber. Laughing so hard she collapsed on a chair, she called for someone to bring her a glass of wine.
Soon, every eye was turned to some member of the Bennet family - and away from Suesser and Lovborg. Even the unknown officer was looking away.
Suesser sighed with relief. He was safe - for the time being.
But society would still watch him. Soon, their attention would be turned to him. They would watch him with such intensity that some day they would make him break under the pressure. He would scream out his confession and then society would shun him.
At the moment, there was something else for society to watch - the Bennet family.
But this ball was merely a short distraction for society.
Lovborg looked as if he had been stabbed in the heart - which he had, in a figurative sense. He stood dressed in his usual uniform, stock still in the back of the clothes shop, now stocked with winter clothing. Suesser kept his face as emotionless as possible.
"Why not?" asked Lovborg. "Why won't you come with me to Brighton?"
"In Brighton there will be more eyes watching us. More people. They'll find out someday."
"I do not care. Come with me."
"I can't stand the staring, Julian," replied Suesser in a distant voice. "They're always watching us, because our love is forbidden, and so they stare."
Lovborg stared at Suesser, slightly frightened.
"At the Netherfield ball last November, it felt like everyone was watching me because I am this way. Your friend already knows about us, and how long before the rest of them know?"
"He doesn't," protested Lovborg, a note of panic in his voice. "This is all in your mind."
"If you stay, or if I go with you, I think I shall go mad," said Suesser. "This is better for both of us. Our feelings are verboten anyway, so what will our separation matter?"
Suesser came closer to Lovborg.
"It is forbidden to go against society, Julian," said Suesser. "They watch our every move. I'm sorry. If you go, they'll stop watching."
He kissed him on the lips, then pushed Lovborg away.
Suesser looked at Lovborg. "Now go."
Sounds of carriages outside on the road. Moving on now.
Lovborg threw one last, sad smile at Suesser, before opening the door of the shop and walking out forever.
Gabriel Suesser leaned on the desk, oblivious to the passing of time.
It's over now. They have no reason to watch me anymore.
He didn't look up, even when another customer entered the shop.
Suesser looked up and froze. He backed away, until he came into contact with a bonnet stand. He knocked it over.
"You're still watching me! You're still watching me!" he screamed as he ran into the back of the shop and locked the door behind him.
The unknown officer was left by himself in the shop. He scratched his head and frowned.
"I only wanted to buy a handkerchief."
The Unseen Girl By Jaro
Nan drifted above the ballroom.
Joy. Dread. Pain. Laughter. Ah, such confusion. I ache...
Just a small, invisible swirl in the hot, candle-lit air, buffeted back and forth by the contradictory emotions flooding into her being, Nan reached the wall and clung tightly to an ornate sconce. Time was dimming all her perceptions and she was easily disoriented now.
One hundred and twenty-nine years since the fever.
Eyes formed in the swirl, but Nan couldn't really see the ballroom, despite the hundreds of candles casting their flickering glow on the happy crowd below her. Pretty dresses and well-brushed uniforms, flowers and ribbons and painted paper fans, all the details blurred before her.
I can't see them, but what does that matter? When, when, when will one of them see me?
The swirl quivered and other features began to form. Straggly hair. Thin, stick-like arms. All the feelings, the longings and joys and lusts that rippled through the room, strengthening with the arrival of more and more guests, were feeding her. Nan ate, drank, swallowed and came alive, and with this rebirth came hope, hope one hundred and twenty-nine years old.
Maybe the one I long for will come tonight!
Hope was the secret of her existence. She could feel it all over the room - young girls hoping for a dance, lovers hoping for the notice of their beloved, one gentleman hoping dully for the oblivion of wine. As Nan's vision cleared she began to make out faces. Near the door, a pretty, fair girl overwhelmed with admiration and anxiety was watching a dark-haired girl just making her entrance.
That dark-haired one...she hopes, just like me...she is looking for someone.
Nan lost her hold on the sconce as she felt the intensity of the dark-haired one's hope...but in another moment, the anticipation vanished, as a fair young man filled with eagerness and excitement and his tall companion, a bundle of nerves, came forward to greet the girl.
She is angry, now, shocked and disappointed. How easily people give up.
Nan drifted quietly to the floor. She herself had never hoped, before the fever. That had changed, then, in that strange time when everyone at Netherfield, from the Master in the great hall to the pageboys in the attics, had danced the last dance with death. The grey shadow overhanging even the faces of the living woke rebellion in her.
Can life be a nothing, easily erased? What makes one alive and what makes one dead? No one has ever paid attention to me, ever cared what happened to me. Am I dead before I have died?
Tossing with the fever in a forgotten corner Nan came to a resolution.
I will not die unacknowledged.
She needed this truth so desperately that her hope had been born strong and already full-grown, and even now, though the fever and the one hundred and twenty-nine years after had taken her flesh, dried her bones to dust, faded all her perceptions and muted her feelings, that hope still swirled and coiled through her entire being. She was made of hope.
Nan threaded neatly through the circling dancers. Not one of them noticed her passing.
No matter. They look within, like all the others. But there will be one with eyes to see...
Since the fever all her senses had changed. Touch was nearly gone; she couldn't always tell where the edge of a wall or a table was and often walked through them. Hearing was unreliable; sounds zoomed from faint to thundering and back again. But vision was the strangest. Even when she had fed on emotions and cleared her sight, people looked different. It was the eyes.
Eyes looking within, self-concentrated. No good to me. Eyes looking without, self-forgetful. Such a one will see me. One day...
In one hundred and twenty-nine years of searching, she had found that nearly everyone had both eyes turned inward. She passed example after example in the dance. An awkward man in the black of a clergyman gazed complacently at his own perceived importance. His partner, the pretty dark-haired girl who had been so angry earlier, was deeply concentrated on her humiliation at being paired with him. Behind them, a thin young man stared within at his deepest secret, terrified that it would become as obvious to others as it was to him.
There were some who had one eye in and the other out. A bouncy young woman in a low-cut gown, pleased with her looks, was also considering the tall, anxious young man Nan had seen before. At the end of the room, the horn player in the orchestra was fascinated by a beautiful girl moving down the set with the tall one's eager, fair-haired friend.
Not these, either. But if one of them would turn the second eye without...
The dancers and bystanders moved like a kaleidoscope in ever-changing patterns around the room. It was hard to be sure she had looked at everyone. Buffeted by gusts of laughter, smugness, surprise, annoyance, jealousy, admiration and nervousness, Nan's course through the room was more zigzag and intricate than any of the dancers' moves.
As the couples lined up for the third set, Nan was caught by a sudden block of feeling, firm and unyielding in the centre of the room.
The dark-haired girl and the tall one were standing opposite each other, two strong personalities crackling across the space within them. Nan halted, drinking it in.
I like it! Stubbornness, yes, this is part of my hope, the refusal to give up that has bound me here to Netherfield. For so long...
The dark-haired girl's eyes were wholly turned inward, thinking on the impression she was making on her partner. He was also examining his own appearance, but one eye turned slowly outward as he concentrated more and more on the girl.
Puzzled. Fascinated...shocked? Neither understands the other.
Nan moved away, disappointed. She circled for a moment between the fair, eager one and the beautiful girl who had so impressed the orchestra. Each had one eye fixed firmly on the other.
Lovers....but they too still look half within. He is hoping to impress her. She is pleased she is impressing him. Why do we all care for ourselves so much?
At supper, the swirl of feeling dulled a little. Nan drifted slowly along the long tables, her movements less zigzag now. A powerful burst of emotion snapped her head around.
Humiliation. Anger. Strong! Oh.....
The dark-haired girl was addressing a plump and happy matron in a fierce, desperate whisper. The wave of feeling was so strong Nan was forced backward. Her hip hit the table, rocking the tall candlesticks. Her mouth fell open. It had been one hundred and twenty-nine years since she had felt anything.
I have never been so solid, so alive. Is it a sign?
Wondering, Nan reached out and felt her fingers actually close around one gyrating wineglass. Her hand gripped it firmly. Looking down, she saw the emotions that had made her solid begin to whirl like tiny threads into the wine. The patterns were beautiful. But no one shrieked with horror at a floating winecup, nor did any of the people around her, eyes within, see her, a thin, big-eyed creature, clutching the glass.
The tall one was sitting across the table from the dark-haired girl. One eye was still turned outward, gravely fixed on the girl. The other was within, examining his own feelings. Or was it? As Nan watched, his second eye moved. Slowly.
It is happening! Is this the one?
Both his eyes were fixed wholly on the dark-haired girl, himself forgotten.
A succession of young women performed at the pianoforte, but Nan's hearing was faint. She fed on the emotions pervading the room, eagerness, vanity, mortification, scorn, a sudden besotted burst from a starry-eyed young officer, but all her strength went into the hope and her solidness. The tall one still had both eyes turned outward. He never spoke to the dark-haired girl, but his concentration never left her.
Does he love her, that angry girl? What is this feeling in him? She dislikes him.
Look how he gazes at her. Why can she not feel it?
I feel sadness, compassion. From whom?
I am sorry for him!
He loves. But does he have a chance?
As Nan hovered, wondering whether to disturb the tall one or not, the guests began to leave. Emotions left with them, contentedness from an imposing matron, disappointment from a spotty young ensign, one dull ache of despair from a girl in shabby clothes which screamed "governess." The few feelings left faded into tiredness. The wine in Nan's cup settled; she felt her solidness thinning again.
Look harder, tall one! Perhaps you will pierce her soul. Oh I hope you can...
As the last carriage rattled from the door, taking the dark-haired girl away, the tall one looked long out the window. Nan, a strange mixture of pity and hope, hovered nearby.
Is he all right?
A small frown creased his brow between those two outward-looking eyes. Nan's own two eyes were fixed on him. He turned towards her. She gripped the cup.
"Thank you," said Darcy, taking it from her. "That was a kind thought." He started to turn away, then stopped, looking closely at Nan's big eyes and faded appearance. He frowned.
"You look exhausted," he said. "It has been a long night for everyone. Go to your rest; I will make all right with the housekeeper."
Behind a sudden screen of tears Nan managed a smile, the first her eyes had known in one hundred and twenty-nine years. Then she was gone, forever.
Darcy, stepping once more to the window, stared out at the retreating carriage and its enigmatic occupant, Elizabeth Bennet. The drink in his cup moved gently - with Nan gone, nearly all the feelings had gone too. But one faint strand of hope, eternal, never-dismayed, still swirled slowly through the wine. Gazing out the window, Darcy raised the glass to his lips.
Scents and Sensibility ~ By Mags
Author's Note: Those of you who are Stephen King fans may recognize the style I have used for the expression of canine emotions; I borrowed it from Kojak, the dog in The Stand. I have always thought King had the canine mind absolutely pegged!
Rowley was generally a very happy dog. He had a kind MASTER who treated him well, gave him many interesting places to explore, fed him rich treats, and never, ever beat him nor allowed anyone else to do so. He accompanied THE MASTER everywhere, from the rich, dense smells of the city to the fresh animal scents and tastes of the country. Rowley had an ingratiating way about him that humans liked, and he was usually welcomed anywhere he went.
As usual, THE MASTER had brought Rowley along when he traveled to THE FRIENDLY MAN's house. For part of the way he had trotted behind THE MASTER's horse, but when his tongue began to hang out and he lagged behind, THE MASTER had put him in the carriage with THE UNKIND WOMAN and THE UNHAPPY WOMAN. Rowley, of course, did not actually think of humans in such terms; his limited mind sensed only abstractions, and his sensitive nose, refined by generations of careful breeding, picked up their emotions as easily as he picked up the scent of a bird or a fox or a rabbit.
He did not like THE UNKIND WOMAN; she petted him and was kind while THE MASTER was about, but at other times he was as likely to feel a slap or the point of her shoe when he sought her attention. Rowley was unused to such treatment and avoided THE UNKIND WOMAN as well as he could, but since THE MASTER saw fit to put Rowley in the carriage with her, he must suffer the consequences. He would have done anything for THE MASTER.
"Ugh!" cried THE UNKIND WOMAN. "This flea-ridden beast has tracked mud into the carriage! My gown shall be absolutely ruined, Louisa!"
THE UNHAPPY WOMAN replied, "Just ignore him, Caroline. He will lie down if you do not bother him." THE UNHAPPY WOMAN was never unkind to Rowley; indeed she rarely registered his presence. He sometimes sat by her with his head on her knee, which THE MASTER seemed to like when his scent was so blue-smelling; she would simply scratch his ears and say nothing, but her scent was never improved as THE MASTER's was by such canine attentions. Luckily for Rowley, THE BAD-SMELLING MAN was not riding in the carriage. He did not kick Rowley as THE UNKIND WOMAN did, but it was clear that he did not appreciate Rowley's presence. However, he was riding ahead of the carriage on horseback along with THE MASTER and THE FRIENDLY MAN. Rowley's animal sense told him that the BAD-SMELLING MAN's horse was not especially delighted with his burden, but that was none of Rowley's concern.
At last they arrived at their destination, a large country house that was a great deal like HOME. Rowley happily prowled the halls along with THE FRIENDLY MAN's dogs. He was intelligent enough to allow them precedence, and all was well, at least amongst the canine inhabitants.
Then THE NICE-SMELLING WOMAN and THE KIND WOMAN came to THE FRIENDLY MAN's house. THE KIND WOMAN was gentle and petted him, and THE NICE-SMELLING WOMAN quickly became Rowley's friend. He would follow her as she rambled about the grounds, and she ran with him and tossed him a stick to fetch. In between these long walks, he would go out shooting with THE MASTER and THE FRIENDLY MAN and THE BAD-SMELLING MAN, and life was good for Rowley.
One day, THE NICE-SMELLING WOMAN and THE KIND WOMAN were no longer at the house. Rowley did not really miss them, since he had a great deal to occupy his mind. Then THE MASTER took him to the stables and left him with THE HORSE-SMELLING MAN.
"Keep Rowley here, Daniel, will you?" asked THE MASTER. "Mr. Bingley is giving a ball tonight and I don't want him to bother the guests."
"Yes, Mr. Darcy," said THE HORSE-SMELLING MAN, touching his forelock. THE MASTER gave Rowley a last scratch behind the ears and left.
Rowley prowled about the stables, sniffing in the corners and investigating any interesting smells. The horses snorted at him from behind their stalls, but he ignored them, careful not to get too close to their hard hooves. He chased a couple of cats that lived in the hay-loft, then settled down for a nap.
He was in the middle of a pleasant dream involving a field of tall grass and a very slow rabbit when he heard the stable door open. He immediately raised his nose to find out who had entered. It was an alien scent, someone that Rowley could not identify; this must be investigated. He jumped up and padded over to the newcomer.
"Hello, there, boy," said the UNKNOWN MAN, scratching him behind the ears. "Daniel, my old friend, how are you?"
THE HORSE-SMELLING MAN laughed, "John, you old salty dog, I haven't seen you in years!" The two men laughed and talked together, and THE UNKNOWN MAN continued to scratch Rowley's ears; he was in dog heaven, his eyes closed, his tongue lolling, and his tail beating a steady tattoo on the rough wooden floor.
"Come up to the house, Daniel," THE UNKNOWN MAN said. "There's many who would appreciate your stories whilst we wait for our masters and mistresses. P'raps later we may toss the dice a time or two."
THE HORSE-SMELLING MAN agreed, and the two prepared to leave. Rowley tried to accompany them, but THE HORSE-SMELLING MAN shut the door to the stable while the dog was still inside. Rowley looked around in frustration; he wanted more of that lovely ear-scratching, and he was unused to having anything less than perfect freedom of THE FRIENDLY MAN's grounds. He walked around the stables, sniffing; at last he found a whiff of air untainted by the scent of horses and their leavings. There was a partially-open window above a table by the wall. Rowley jumped up on the table, put his front paws on the window-sill, and pushed the window open with his nose. He judged the distance to the ground with accurate dog-sense; it was doable, so he jumped.
FREEDOM! He raced across the grass to THE FRIENDLY MAN's house. THE MASTER would be there, and the kitchen staff who slipped him treats--but what was this?
He stopped in front of the house. There was a confusion of scents--horses, dogs, humans of every description. And the most delicious cooking smells wafted from the lower-level windows. Rowley sniffed, every nerve ending quivering. He absolutely must investigate this.
Rowley crept up the front steps and slipped in behind one woman's voluminous skirts; the footman at the door did not see him. He sensed that he would not be welcomed among all these humans, even by THE MASTER, so he lurked around the perimeter of the room, hiding under chairs when necessary, but still managed to sniff quite a few interesting scents.
Was that--he searched his limited memory for the proper connection--was that THE GIRL? He followed the scent eagerly, but when he reached its owner, he realized that it was not THE GIRL, although it was A SOFT-SMELLING GIRL; the scents were similar, but to Rowley not really worthy of comparison. She gave off a pink-tinged scent that Rowley recognized as similar to his own just before the hunt, every part of him alive and alert for whatever the day would bring. He pushed his cold, wet nose into her hand, and she laughed and looked down at him. "Hello, boy," she said softly, rubbing his head in a perfectly delightful manner. "I don't think you ought to be here, but don't worry, I shall not tell Mr. Bingley."
THE ANXIOUS WOMAN said, "Here is Mr. Pratt. Smile, my dear!" and THE SOFT-SMELLING GIRL went away. Rowley forgot her instantly.
There was a cacophonous sound emanating from one end of the room, where he had romped with THE FRIENDLY MAN's dogs only the day before. He stealthily made his way down to that end of the hall. Several humans were seated there, holding shiny things that made the loud noises. Rowley liked one in particular. It gave a nice clear call that made his spine tingle, not unlike the sensation he experienced when he first scented a rabbit. He drew closer to this interesting thing and sniffed at it. It had a cold metallic smell that was at odds with the warm sounds it made.
The humans stopped their noisemaking, and the one holding the shiny noisemaker looked at him curiously. Rowley gave him his best dog-smile and wagged his tail. The NOISY MAN said gently, "Shoo, boy, we have to work now," and they took up their noisemakers. It was all too much for poor Rowley's ears, so he took up position under a chair placed near the wall.
The humans were weaving around each other, and this worried Rowley's primitive senses. Dogs only did such things when they were at odds, and while most of the humans' scents were pink and purple, happy smells, he sensed a few that were from the indigo end of the spectrum. But why were the males and females facing off against one another? Only male dogs fought amongst themselves. It was all very strange to Rowley.
Rowley finally discerned THE MASTER's scent among all the others. He raised his nose again; and what was that--it was THE NICE-SMELLING WOMAN! Rowley wagged his tail with such abandon that his entire body writhed with joy. His two favorite people in the world--well, there was THE GIRL, but Rowley had not smelled her in such a long time that her remembrance was only a small spark in the back of his tiny brain.
But THE NICE-SMELLING WOMAN had some black scents coming from her, not unlike those of THE UNKIND WOMAN. THE MASTER's scents had a distinct tinge of blue, and they were edging toward black. What was this? They were circling one another, seemingly facing off for a fight. Rowley tucked his snout between his paws, stretched out in front of him, and watched them anxiously. He did not want these two people to fight. It meant that one of them would have to go away, and he wanted them to stay together and live with him.
THE MASTER and THE NICE-SMELLING WOMAN continued to move down the room, circling, touching, advancing, retreating. Rowley cocked his head. Their smells were still black; why did they not jump together, pawing and scratching and biting? Dogs would have had it over with by now.
He sensed other emotions coming from the humans: sweet candy pink from THE SOFT-SMELLING GIRL and THE KIND WOMAN and THE FRIENDLY MAN; they were all happy, and their joyful scents relaxed Rowley, along with the gently rhythmic sounds coming from THE NOISY MEN. There were some other scents as well; a sort of blue-green from one of the female humans, circling with a man whose smell was on the reddish side. The blue-green smell usually meant that there was a dog of the opposite gender involved. But the female did not seem inclined to fight with her partner, although they continued to circle one another. THE NOISY MEN had a smell that was positively brown. Rowley knew what that meant: a long hot summer afternoon with no rabbits to chase, no birds to flush, just a stretch of uninteresting time ahead. There was another scent floating by overhead, somewhere between purple and pink. It intrigued Rowley, but he could not determine the direction to follow it; it seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once. Rowley lifted his head again, trying to catch that elusive, hopeful scent, but it had dissipated, leaving something vaguely sweet in its wake.
But THE MASTER and THE NICE-SMELLING WOMAN interested Rowley the most. He sensed THE MASTER's smell becoming blacker and blacker by the minute. Rowley had never experienced THE MASTER's anger and did not understand it. He grew steadily more miserable until at last the NOISY MEN ceased their clamor and THE MASTER and THE NICE-SMELLING WOMAN separated. Rowley curled up under the chair, relieved that there would be no fight, and went to sleep.
The delicious smell of cooked meat brought him back to wakefulness, and he realized that the humans were leaving the big room and entering another room. Rowley had acquired many rich scraps in that room, surreptitiously handed down by THE MASTER and THE FRIENDLY MAN and THE NICE-SMELLING WOMAN and even THE UNHAPPY WOMAN - maybe she liked him after all! He followed the humans into this room, wagging his tail happily.
He avoided a SHRILL WOMAN seated at the end of one table, and followed his nose to a familiar scent. He laid his head on the human's knee, and was greeted by the sound of a happy, musical voice. "Rowley! You bad dog, what are you doing here? You had better not let Mr. Darcy see you." Even the dreaded words "bad dog" did not sound ominous from her mouth. THE NICE-SMELLING WOMAN handed him a few scraps, which he gulped down. He licked her hand gratefully, and she patted his head. "Now shoo, you bad dog," she said, the laughing tone still in her voice. Rowley was glad that her scent was much less black than it had been while she was circling with THE MASTER. Perhaps she would come back to HOME to live with him and THE MASTER and THE GIRL. Such a concept was Rowley's true idea of happiness, not forgetting the occasional rabbit to chase. He left THE NICE-SMELLING WOMAN, his tail wagging happily.
His attention was drawn by another smell, and he worked his way beneath another table…where was it…THERE! He thrust his nose deep into the lap of a human and sniffed.
A shriek assaulted his ears, and he realized, too late, that the lap he was sniffing belonged to THE UNKIND WOMAN. She tried to push him away, but he jammed his nose even further into her lap. Rowley sensed that he would be punished somehow, but trusted to the good offices of THE MASTER that the punishment would not be too onerous, and THE UNKIND WOMAN smelled most interesting, after all! But THE UNKIND WOMAN continued to shriek, and Rowley was finally hauled forth by a giggling footman and taken away from the high-pitched sounds. He had been enjoying his investigations but was happy enough to be pushed out the door, especially since THE LAUGHING MAN slipped him a bit of a treat, patted him on the head, and said, "Good job, boy, you've gotten revenge on behalf of your master. She's been sniffing about him since they arrived!" Rowley heard the other footman laughing uproariously as he made his way down the steps, although he was already tracking a new scent and now completely uninterested in the humans inside THE FRIENDLY MAN's house.
Rowley trotted over to the water trough and had a drink, then lay down by a carriage that smelled a great deal like THE KIND WOMAN and THE NICE-SMELLING WOMAN and even THE SHRILL WOMAN. He napped for a bit, his head resting on his paws, and then he heard it.
A piercing wail floated out an open window and into Rowley's ears. It sounded to him like the noises made by the barn cats when they held their nightly jamboree. Rowley crossed his paws over his head, trying to block the painful cacophony, but it persisted. There was only one answer for it; he had to drown it out. He sat up, raised his head to the moon--the full moon, the beautiful moon!--and lifted his voice, matching the timbre of the noise within, only increasing the volume.
"AAAAAWWWWRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! AAAAAWWWWWRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" He stretched his nose to the black sky, howling over and over, until he heard THE HORSE-SMELLING MAN shout, "ROWLEY!"
Rowley recognized the voice of authority; THE HORSE-SMELLING MAN was not THE MASTER, but the dog knew he had better be quiet. Luckily the cat-howlings from within soon ceased, and he was at last able to sleep under the carriage, exhausted from his adventures, his paws twitching as he chased rabbit after rabbit through the fields of dreams.