And The Clock Stopped
The following story is based on Candace's idea. Happy Birthday, Candace!!
Charlotte was finally alone in the parlor. She and Mr. Collins had arrived at Hunsford about an hour ago. Exhausted from both her wedding night (she shuddered in remembrance) and the long carriage ride. Charlotte had to greet and be greeted by the serving staff. While the staff was not large, they still delayed Charlotte from finding a moment of solitude that she so desperately needed.
Quiet reflection was not a task that Charlotte handled well. She was much too practical to indulge in pipe dreams. However, when the mantel clock struck six and she could here the tinny version of Mr. Beveridge's Maggot, a powerful memory seized her. The room melted away and she was back at the Netherfield ball.
She could see it perfectly. The couples were lining up across from one another. She focused her eyes upon Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. There was something other than dislike in Mr. Darcy's eyes. They seemed to burn with an intensity that were Charlotte being truthful, she would envy. Suddenly, Charlotte felt a hand on her arm, dragging her away from the ballroom, just as Mr. Darcy was reaching for Elizabeth's hand.
The passageway that ran behind the Netherfield ballroom was reserved for servants to come and go unnoticed. However, the usually busy path was deserted because the servants were busily preparing for the supper.
Taking Charlotte's hand the man and Charlotte began to dance.
"Lewis, why are you here?" Anger and joy mingled in Charlotte's voice.
"I couldn't stay away," he replied, turning briefly away from Charlotte.
"I told you that we could never meet again!" she whispered harshly, before taking a step.
"Why not?" he asked sulkily.
"Because you are but the caretaker of Netherfield--son of groom and a housekeeper. We cannot--must not believe that we can be anything more to another!" Charlotte spoke earnestly.
"You didn't always think so," Lewis reminded her.
"We were but children then. The only child my own age to play with."
"We played together as children, aye. But that all changed the day you turned fifteen, didn't it? We are more than friends, Charlotte."
Charlotte shook her head. "Your parents were servants to my parents. Anything more than friendship was not possible. It is still not possible and it will never be possible. Even friendship is out of the bounds of propriety. "
"Then let us runaway together. Go someplace where it will not matter who are parents are!" Lewis pleaded.
"No. You have no money. I have no money. I cannot afflict the humiliation that would come from marriage to you upon my family."
Though hurt and angry, Lewis put aside the last of his pride. "I love you."
Pain shot through Charlotte. For one moment she was tempted to forget caution, prudence, and familial pride and give in to her own heart but she ultimately remained resolute. "Love is not enough, Lewis. Please do not seek my company again," Charlotte told him just as the dance separated them.
Charlotte returned to the ballroom without turning back. She could feel Lewis' pleading gaze that all but compelled her to turn around. She almost turned back once, but to do so would mean certain capitulation. She forced her feet to move forward.
"I will love no other. I may marry, but I will not love. Do not ever forget that I shall love no other but you Lewis," the words were spoken in a whisper so faint that Lewis could not hear her. With her heart breaking, Charlotte stepped into the ballroom. The dance was over.
"There you are, Miss Lucas, I do believe that it is time for our dance. I do love a country dance."
"Yes, this is our dance, Mr. Collins." Charlotte smiled upon Elizabeth's cousin.
Charlotte awoke to the present with the slamming of a door. Resolutely, she rose and walked over to the mantel. Reaching up, she removed the clock. She turned it over and plundered the inner workings of the clock. She had to stop the clock. She never wanted to hear that song again. Finally, she was able to pull a piece of the mechanics out of the clock. It stopped at 6:17. Charlotte knew that she could not really stop time. It would continue on the physical world but it had ceased to exist in Charlotte's heart.
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