Posted on 2010-06-07
She was in the garden, bundled up in her pelisse and scarf, totally safe from any wind, as she assured her father. Even in the colder months she loved to be able to spend at least some time outside; she was not particular about having beautiful flowers or picturesque scenes to look at. In fact she preferred it when things were messy, because then in neatening it all up, she was provided with a task.
Today she was pruning the branches of the saplings which lined the gravel path to the back door, many of which had been broken by the storm of the previous night. She had managed to convince her father that the danger of these branches being left as they were for people to trip over was greater than the danger of herself falling ill in consequence of venturing out.
Eyes intent on the sapling as she carefully used the pruning shears, it took her a moment to register the sound of footsteps crunching on the gravel path as the visitor approached, but when she did she could not help the heartfelt smile that overspread her face as she recognised the sound of his tread.
She looked up at him, ready to greet him with an affectionate word and a warm handshake, as she had used to in the past, but suddenly she felt an unaccustomed shyness. She had not seen him for some months since he had gone away to London, and something about him had changed in that time. He was as tall, as healthy, as handsome as ever, but his time in town had changed him in some way – he looked... older, more resolute, wiser, as if travelling beyond Highbury had given him experiences which had and would only increase the distance between them.
'Good day, Mr. Knightley,' she said, curtseying, the gesture feeling somewhat awkward; it was so unfamiliar between them.
He stood on no such ceremony. 'Won't you shake hands with me, like you used to?' he asked, holding out his hand.
He was smiling down at her, and her brief trepidation was dispelled as she saw in the unchanged warmth of his eyes her friend of old. She quickly stuck out her own hand, forgetting that she still held one of the branches she had sheared off the sapling.
He looked down at the leafy switch in her hand and then he threw back his head and laughed. 'You know,' he smiled, 'if you weren't grown so ladylike since I last saw you I might have been afraid you were going to hit me with that.'
She raised an arch eyebrow, her tones mock-offended. 'Are you suggesting, sir, that when you last saw me I was unladylike?'
He opened his mouth hurriedly with some half-formed protest to the contrary, and she allowed her smile to show, allowing him to relax. But only for a moment. 'Indeed, Mr. Knightley, I believe you deserve to be punished for such an implication.'
Then, quick as lighting, using the branch she hit him lightly on the arm before turning and running, unable to contain her giggles.
Stopping only to bend down and pick up a branch himself, he raced after her. 'I believe you deserve to be punished too,' he said, laughing, 'for that dreadfully formal greeting – since when have I been Mr. Knightley to you?'
She dodged his branch, skilfully landing a blow of her own on his side. 'Since today, Mr. Knightley,' she said, smiling as he good-naturedly rolled his eyes.
They were now weaving in and out of the shrubberies, trying and failing to dodge each other's blows, both breathless with laughter.
Finally he caught hold of her hand and held it tight. 'Give it up,' he panted. 'Call me by my name, Isabella.'
Energy spent, pulled along by momentum she leaned against him involuntarily. 'Very well – John,' she gasped.
For over a minute they simply stood that way, hand-in-hand, close enough that the mild breeze blew a lock of her hair across his cheek. In that moment she knew that nothing and yet everything had changed. She smiled up at him softly. 'It's good to see you again, John.'The End