Caroline Bingley was upset. Vexed. Put-out. And feeling not a little bit ill-used. She had just spent the morning seeing her brother and Mr. Darcy make what she considered the biggest mistake of their lives. If only things had gone as she had planned. Charles would be on his way to marrying dearest Georgiana. Caroline herself would be on very intimate terms with Mr. Darcy, and, she would be much closer to her own goal of being his wife and Mistress of Pemberley.
But that was not how things turned out. Charles had married Jane Bennet. While Jane was a dear, sweet girl, she really did not have anything to recommend her to being married so well. It was all Eliza Bennet's fault. If Mr. Darcy hadn't...well, she wouldn't think about it any longer. She would only make herself more upset.
She decided to get out of the house and get some air. She had never been a great walker-what with all the dirt and bugs and other icky things she never enjoyed it much-, but this was an occasion that called for concentration on ickier things than what had just happened at Longbourn church. Caroline was in such a state that she neglected to tell anyone that she had left Netherfield.
As she wandered through the paths around Netherfield. She thought about everything that was troubling her. Mr. Darcy and Eliza, Charles and Jane, what was to become of her now...and the group of gypsies that had been following her for the last quarter mile. Alarm overcame her as she wondered what she should do. She picked up her pace, and, in her panic, she took a wrong step, twisted her ankle, fell to the ground and hit her head against a very large tree root.
When she awoke she was looking straight into the largest, most beautiful pair of brown eyes she had ever seen. She had no idea where she was, but she smiled. And the eyes smiled back.
She considered the possibility that the wedding and the events of the preceding year and a half were all some sort of feverish nightmare. But then she saw the face attached to the eyes and the reality of the afternoon came crashing back to her. She realized just how dire her situation was.
Gypsies! They would rob her, ruin her, and leave her for dead. Oh! If only she had stayed in the gardens. But her mind had wandered and so had her feet. She had gotten so far away she had no idea where she had been when she fell, and knew that no one would think to look for her until dinner that evening. And maybe not until tea. After all, she had mentioned to Louisa that she felt she was taking ill to escape the wretchedness of having to bear Mr. Hurst's inane, insipid...well let's be honest here...drunken comments about that morning's double wedding. It would very likely be dark before anyone thought to look for and even later before they sent anyone out to search.
Panic seized her for the second time that day and she did something that Caroline Bingley never did. She fainted dead away.
The second time she awoke to someone stroking her cheek. It was such a tender touch that she thought that Louisa had discovered her absence and had rescued her. She was safe!!
But when she opened her eyes and saw a strange man looking down at her she sat up and scrambled backwards. Only to have a wave of dizziness wash over her.
"No, no. You must lie still. You've got a nasty bump on your head. We're not going to hurt you. You're safe here."
His voice was so soothing that she immediately relaxed. He spoke English very well, but there was an accent she could not place. It certainly wasn't French or Spanish, and she didn't know much about gypsies, but this one seemed rather nicer than most. Such nice eyes...rather pleasant features, and he had a very handsome figure too.
Oh, My! Her heart began to pound at the most alarming rate and she started to feel warm and a little, well, fuzzy. He continued to gaze into her eyes, and all Caroline could do was grin and lie back. (It must be mentioned here that, strangely enough, when she smiled this way, this truly genuine, lovesick grin, she greatly resembled her younger brother.)
"Aren't you going to rob me and leave me for dead? I mean, isn't that what you people do?" She had regained her power of speech and wasn't ready to let go of all of her self-importance.
The man sighed and leaned back, crossing his arms. "I realize that is believed to be the usual way of things," he said with a small, imperceptible smile, "but I really cannot bring myself to commit such an atrocious act to a woman in your situation. I couldn't live with myself if more harm were to come to such a beautiful woman." He smiled and Caroline felt herself in danger of swooning.
She broke his gaze and looked around at her surroundings. It was small and dark, but warm and comfortable. Richly colored silks hung everywhere. Her eyes were drawn to a particularly beautiful orange and gold wrap that hung on a hook near the foot of the bed where she lay.
"Do you like it? It's yours."
"No, don't be ridiculous. I..."All of her protestations were forgotten as the man handed her the scarf. Upon closer examination Caroline realized it was the finest quality silk she had ever beheld. And she knew orange silks...
"This is exquisite," she murmured to herself.
"I am glad you like it."
'No doubt stolen,' she thought to herself. This thought, however, was quickly dismissed when she looked up and met his gaze.
"Thank you. What are you going to do to me?" and to herself, 'I can think of a few things I'd like him to do to me. Hey! Where did that come from??'
"Well, first we'll get you something to eat. I would imagine you are very hungry, yes?"
Caroline nodded. She found it very difficult to speak in this man's presence. He was so unlike anyone she had ever known in his appearance, in his manners, and in his dress. He was wearing only a shirt and breeches, his hair was long and loose, and he stared at her without discretion.
"Come, take my hand and I'll introduce you to everyone and we can have dinner. You are lucky in a way. Tonight is special. We are having a celebration. My younger brother is just married."
"What a coincidence, so is mine," she said absentmindedly. At this moment she could care less about Charles. Or anyone for that matter. All she wanted was for this man to look into her eyes some more.
And they had yet to be properly introduced...
David. David? David, wake up."
David Hurst awoke reluctantly from his dream. It was the one in which he was hunting with his elder brothers the day before his wedding. In the dream he never made it to the church. It was just one long hunt...ah, well. Such is life.
"Yes, dear?" he replied drowsily.
"Have you seen Caroline? I was not worried when she did not come down for dinner, but when it is time for tea and I cannot find her. It is so unlike Caroline to miss dinner and tea. I know it was a very trying day for her, but..."
"Louisa, slow down! What are you trying to say?" he asked blearily.
"Caroline! She's...she's missing!"
The man led Caroline out of the tent. Outside there was a large fire with men and women dancing. The music was strange to Caroline's ears, but she was instantly drawn to it. It was slow and sensual and so unlike the music played at London society balls. This made you want to move. No, that was not it exactly. It begged it of you. Like a lover's whisper in your ear you were drawn to the rhythm. She stood watching the couples dance in a circle around the fire, mesmerized, until the man spoke.
"It's a dance of celebration, of love. They make it in hopes of giving the newly married couple good fortune in the marriage...ah...state."
Caroline blushed. She never blushed. How did this man hold such power over her? A voice in the back of her mind told her she was bewitched by some sort of gypsy spell. But, if she was, she did not see what was so horrible about it. That little feeling in the pit of her stomach(not to mention other regions of her body that she had previously never been aware of ...oh! my!...get your mind out of the gutter-we are speaking of her HEART ladies) was not altogether unpleasant. Speaking of stomachs...
"Are you hungry? Let us go and see what Natalie has prepared for this evening's feast."
She let herself again be led by the hand. She was beginning to feel very stupid. She had to think of something to say.
"May I ask your name, sir?"
Back at Netherfield a search of the grounds had been ordered. It was a bit chaotic since most everyone and everything was still recovering from that morning's wedding. In addition, some of the staff had already been released since the Bingley's were gone on their honeymoon tour of the countryside and the Hursts and Caroline had been scheduled to depart tomorrow. A hasty departure, yes, but Louisa and Caroline had wanted to return to London as soon as possible.
They started with a search of the house and grounds and did not begin a search further out until nearly two hours later. By that time it was late, dark, and cold. And the parties involved did not really have their hearts into it. After all, Caroline had endeared herself to no one during her initial stay at Netherfield.
Louisa was in hysterics. (Well, as hysterical as Louisa could get, anyway. Maybe not hysterical. Alarmed. Worried. Mildly concerned.) She certainly hoped Caroline would be found, and after nearly an hour and a half of fretfully adjusting her bracelets and rings she retired to her bedchamber. Where she prepared herself for bed and gave last minute packing instructions to her maid. She also requested that Caroline's things be packed as well. Hopefully this worrisome event would not delay their intended departure time.
Now, dear readers, the sister's actions may seem cold and without feeling to you. Do not hate her for this. She was simply not emotionally equipped to deal with such an event. Her sister really was very dear to her. In fact, she had a cold black hole filled with dread forming in her stomach. But as her brother was gone, and her husband was really no help in situations like these, she had to remain as calm as she could. And the only way to accomplish that was to slip into denial that anything was the matter. Besides, she did not wish to present such a face of powerlessness to the servants
And so, she did not allow her release until she was in her bed, with the covers firmly tucked around her, and the room in total darkness. There, she allowed herself to fear, to hope, and to pray for her sister's safe return. And, as she cried herself to sleep, she really did believe everything would be alright. It better be. Caroline had borrowed her favorite shoes that morning...
Before the man was able to give Caroline his name, they were interrupted by a lively young couple.
"Brother, thank you for tonight. You have made Ana and I very happy."
"No, Joseph. You shall make each other very happy. Speaking of which, what are you still doing here? Shouldn't you be sneaking away from the party?"
"We only wanted to thank you and take our leave. We plan on departing early tomorrow. Is there anything other than your good wishes and love that I can convey to our father for you?"
The man glanced at Caroline with a strange look in his eyes. He then drew his younger brother off to the side' leaving Caroline with the young bride. Caroline was completely out of her element. On one hand, she was affronted that he had not introduced her. On the other, she felt there was no way she would want to know these people who were so decidedly beneath her station. (Beneath it? She was not even sure that gypsies had any claim on society. Much less have a station...) So, she merely stood there peering down her nose distastefully at the younger woman. After a while she began looking around, all the while with the same disdainful look on her face. The looks she received were not hostile, but they were not exactly friendly either.
The man returned to Caroline's side. He kissed his new sister and they said goodbye.
The man turned his attention back to Caroline. "Come. We were on our way to get something to eat, were we not?"
Having recovered some sense of her normal self, Caroline felt her power of speech return. "I want to go home. You will take me back to Netherfield at once."
"You must eat. Come, sit down, and Natalie will bring you..."
"I am not hungry," she snapped. "And even if I were, do you really think I would eat what you have to offer?" She said this last with her trademark sneer. Whatever spell those lovely eyes had been holding her under was broken for the moment. She was back! "I demand that you take me home at once. If we leave this instant I may be able to convince my brother not to have you arrested for kidnapping."
"Kidnapping?! Are you mad woman? You knocked yourself unconscious and I brought you here so nothing would happen to you. You are quite lucky I rescued you. What if I had left you there and you had fallen prey to highwaymen?"
"Highwaymen?! In Meryton? Do not be ridiculous. The worst that could have happened would have been if some farmer's escaped livestock were to have decided my hat might make a good snack. As it stands now, I am here in your little traveling freakshow being held captive."
"Madame, please. What do you take me for? You are not being held captive. It is dark. I will escort you home personally first thing in the morning. For now, we are having a celebration. And I will wager that once you have breathed in the aroma of Natalie's wedding soup you will forget to hold your nose up so high in the air. Please, for me?"
As he said this last he looked into her eyes, and once more she was lost. She really must remember to avoid letting him do that. It was just so easy to get lost in them...
She broke his gaze. "No. I told you I am not hungry. I do however, have a terrible headache. Take me back to that tent I was in. I wish to lie down."
Caroline was lying. She was starving. What she really wanted to do, against every objection in her mind, was spend the evening in this handsome stranger's company. Every time he looked at her she went weak. Her physical impulse totally conflicted with what her normal course of action would have been. These conflicting feelings both excited and nauseated her. And, quite frankly, the nausea was overtaking her.
"As you wish. I will have Sylvia awaken you in the morning at first light. I will see you safely returned to your family. That you may depend on. Good night, madame."
He led her to her tent and returned to the celebration. Caroline sat down on the edge of the bed and fingered the scarf he had given her. What a horrible day! First Mr. Darcy and Eliza Bennet and now this. And she didn't even have anyone to boss around to make her feel better.
Chapter 3 - The Dream
Posted On: Friday, 30 August 2002, at 3:52 p.m.
Soon, exhaustion overpowered her confusion and she fell asleep on the pile of silk covered cushions. It really was quite sumptuous considering the circumstances. She soon drifted into a very pleasant dream.
As soon as it started she recognized it as her favorite recurring dream. She was in a fabulous dressing room. In it was all manner of gowns, shoes, hats, scarves, feathers (ahem), and, of course, jewels. She had a lovely dressing table and exotic flowers that decorated it. Several maids attended her. And since it was a dream they knew how to do things just so. She didn't have to fuss at any of them. And, strangely un-Caroline-like, she was at peace with this fact.
It was apparent from her reflection that she was preparing for some sort of formal occasion. And, as always happened one of her maids returned to her side to report that she could not find Madame's favorite hat. The one that was made specifically for this gown. She dismissed her maids, as she knew they were helpless when it came to tasks such as these. Who knew better than herself the contents of her own closet? She often spent hours on end marveling at her collection of (mostly orange) gowns. Louisa never understood her attachment to this color, but she felt it suited her.
She searched what seemed endlessly for her hat. She must have that hat. It complimented her gown perfectly. She dug through shelf after shelf, and then got to a part of the dream she had never reached before. She found her hat.
She called her maids back (who said she wasn't being difficult?) and had them complete their ministrations to her hair. Now she didn't know what to do. She'd never gotten this far before. Was she to simply go downstairs? Should she check on her (gulp) husband? For this most certainly was not Charles' house. That much she could tell from the way her room was decorated. Charles would have indulged her, yes, but she would never have taken such advantage of him. (Again, ahem. But I digress.)
At this point her maid informed her that her husband was waiting for her downstairs in the music room.
Apprehension filled her. One, she'd never been to the music room. How would she find it? Two, who had she married? (Quiet, no shouting. You'll ruin the surprise!) Was he some rich baron or earl? Or was this to be a dream that could never come true now that Darcy had been spirited away by that upstart? And three, did these shoes go with this dress?
Deciding that these shoes did, indeed, go, she decided to head in the most logical direction. Towards the sound of music.
Along the way she passed the family portrait gallery. She saw a portrait of herself surrounded by three children. Absolutely adorable children. The eldest resembled her younger brother, the girl was a copy of herself at that age, and the youngest was very familiar. Something in the eyes and nose and the fall of his hair.
The painting next to that was of her and a very handsome gentleman. They were facing each other and turned slightly towards the painter. She was smiling up at him happily and he was gazing down at with a smile that reached his eyes. She knew instantly that this was who her youngest son resembled, but still could not place the man. Sometimes lucid dreams could be the most frustrating! To be having and interpreting at the same time.
She continued on her way down the hall still confounded over her beloved's identity. Even a first name would be nice, but she could not come up with even that.
She finally reached the room from which she heard the music, and, with her hand upon the knob, took a deep breath to steady herself. She opened the door and entered to find a most magnificent music room. A pianoforte sat in one corner with a harp several feet away. All sorts of instruments lined the walls. Some were foreign to her and all were beautifully made and cared for by a loving hand. The room was obviously built for acoustics and she was impressed by this fact. Some people stuck there instruments in the room with the best light simply because they didn't know what else to do.
From behind a beautiful, slightly musical man's voice said, "Darling, you look lovely."
And as she turned to see the fate that awaited her, she, of course, woke up.
Frustrated that the dream should end thus she banged her fist on the pillow. Then remembered where she was. Sighing at her misfortune, she resigned herself to try to make it back to her lovely dream world. She fell back asleep, and woke several hours later, well rested, but sore and hungry.