An Enigmatic Acquaintance
Elizabeth Bennet sat down on a bench in Wimsey Park and sighed. It had been three weeks since she and Jane had come to London to stay with the Gardiners, but two weeks since she had seen her betrothed, Mr. Darcy. Though they had originally intended to enjoy all of her time away from Longbourn together, he had been called to Pemberley to settle some business with his tenants; and it had detained him longer than either of the lovers wished. She had received a letter three days before, cautiously declaring that his work would be concluded in a day, and that he would be in Town on Thursday; but Thursday had come and gone, and Elizabeth now held a note with his apologies and love. It would be another week, he said, before he could leave Derbyshire; but once he departed, he would not return until he brought her back to Pemberley as his bride.
The hope of that coming happiness was the only thing that kept her sane, Elizabeth thought. She attended the theatre and assemblies with Bingley and Jane, but she often felt herself a gloomy intruder upon their ever-cheerful affection. No, she knew herself to be so; and her untypical depression was made worse because she also knew that she rightly belonged as part of a similarly happy pair.
Elizabeth was not used to depending completely on anyone. She relied upon Jane for confidences and companionship; but her sister's sweet innocence often forced Elizabeth to be less open with her thoughts than she would have with a companion of a more worldly mind. She trusted her father's wit to counteract her mother's fluttering; but again, her own hard recognition of the absurdities of both kept her from truly enjoying the company of either. Now, with Fitzwilliam's absence, she was finding her prized independence of thought and deed -- the same independence that allowed her to walk three miles through muddy fields or thank him directly for her sister's redemption -- had come to depend on another for its full expression. She needed him in order to be herself:she had no one to laugh with, and no one to teach to laugh at himself; no one to discuss the latest production of Romeo and Juliet with, as Jane and Bingley had been more preoccupied with whispering the balcony scene to each other than understanding the dark and hopeless interpretation the actors gave it; no one to form a proper pair with at Lady Westney's ball, and no one to try to escape into a dark corner with, for an embrace and -- twice -- a stolen kiss. In the park, Elizabeth remembered those kisses with fingers to her lips; and felt them all the more, since their giver was a hundred miles away. It wasn't just loneliness:it was him she was lonely for, physically, emotionally, intellectually. They balanced one another perfectly, and she depended on him as she had never depended on anyone, and he would be gone another week.
A tear trickled slowly down Elizabeth's cheek. She raised a hand to brush it away and caught sight of her slender gold engagement band; the weeping began in earnest. This was truly love, for she was perfectly miserable.
She had been sobbing for almost five minutes when a delicate hand placed itself on her shoulder. "Now now, my dear," a voice said. "It will all come out all right. Is there any way I can help you?"
Lizzy looked up to a wide, round face, ringed about with curls and containing a pair of innocent, sincere dark eyes. The lady was dressed well and carried a small book; Elizabeth noted with some curiosity a pencil tucked behind one ear and poking out from the edge of the bonnet. She felt a sudden affinity for her comforter at this sign of forgetfulness -- the lady's familiarity was improper, but oddly reassuring.
"I thank you, but no," Elizabeth said as she accepted a proffered handkerchief. She laughed shortly. "Not unless you can bring people across distances at a snap."
"Hmm," the lady mused as she settled next to Lizzy on the bench. "Well, I would I were your fairy godmother, and then the problem could be solved -- and perhaps it's not outside my power." A smile flashed across her face. "Whom do you wish to see?"
"My betrothed, Fitzwilliam Darcy," Lizzy replied.
"Yes, yes, of course," said the lady. "And how long have you been betrothed?"
"A little under two months."
"And are you very much in love?" The application was made solemnly, but Elizabeth caught a hint of a sparkle in the lady's eye.
"Very much," she said simply.
"And have you been in this happy state since you first laid eyes on one another?"
Elizabeth laughed. "No, not quite," she said, and proceeded -- again most improperly -- to tell the entire story of her relationship with Mr. Darcy, from their first mutually unflattering encounter at the Meryton assembly to the happy understanding reached in Longbourn Park. The lady laughed with Elizabeth over Mr. Collins' proposal, gasped at the revelation of Mr. Darcy's love, grinned at his damp appearance in the buttercups, tsk-tsked over Wickham's shocking behavior, and sighed at the final pleasant resolution of such a convoluted courtship.
"What a lovely story! You are to be married on the 12th?" she inquired.
"Yes," Lizzy said, though she could not recall mentioning the date, and added impulsively "Would you like to come?"
"I think I might contrive to be there," the lady said.
"Where shall I send the invitation? And to whom?"
Another fleeting smile. "Just make it out to 'A Lady,' as that's the name I'm best known by right now. It shouldn't fail to reach me." She snapped her fingers. Elizabeth stared at her. The lady smiled, more fully this time. "Well, well, over there. 'Twas a snap!" she laughed, pointing behind Lizzy's shoulder. She turned.
Fitzwilliam Darcy and his mount cantered gracefully towards them across the park.
"Mr. Darcy!" Elizabeth called; and before she quite knew it she was running headlong toward the rider. "Oh, Mr. Darcy! Where did you come from?"
"Elizabeth!" He pulled back and swung down from the horse. She pressed into his arms. "You're real, my God... Where are we?"
"Why, London, my dear," she replied, looking up at him confusedly. "Wimsey Park, not far from Cheapside."
He gazed around the open space, ringed by stone benches and polite ironwork, then down at Elizabeth. "Not one minute ago I was galloping across the grounds at Pemberley," he said bewilderedly.
"That's impossible..." Elizabeth breathed.
"And thinking about you, how much I regretted one more week's separation, necessary as it may be. No matter how I came here, I'm thankful for it." He grinned and leaned to whisper in her ear. "Dare I kiss you in the park?"
"I dare you," she whispered boldly, "especially as there's no one here but another lady -- the Lady!" She withdrew from his embrace and returned to her bench, but there was no one there, nor anyone in sight.
"A lady, about my height and coloring, in a blue dress and cap," she said as Mr. Darcy joined her. "Did you see her go?"
"I saw no lady -- but then, I saw no one besides you."
She told him of her morning's acquaintance. "I shall probably never meet her again," she finished.
"Oh, I don't know," Mr. Darcy said seriously. "Wait until the story's over for such a declaration."
"She called us a story too," Lizzy said, puzzling it out. "And she came and went so quickly, and had no proper name or address -- it's quite bizarre." She sighed, then smiled. "I'll have that kiss now, sir."
"My pleasure, Madame," said he; and in their further occupation, they completely failed to observe the white handkerchief fluttering beneath the bench, or the embroidered initials -- "J A" -- which were the only identification of a most mysterious Lady.
© 1997 Copyright held by author