As many of you know The Man Who Loved Jane Austen was written in collaboration with my late husband Michael O’Rourke. He called our
‘little project’ the ultimate valentine because it came from the love we had for each other. Please enjoy this excerpt of our ultimate valentine.
Darcy looked over at Eliza, who was curled up comfortably with her feet beneath her on the gray suede coach seat, listening intently to his every word.
“So she asked me to stay with her and tell her all about the place I came from, and to explain what the future would be like.”
He paused in his narrative to take a sip from his nearly full glass of champagne. Noticing that Eliza’s glass was empty, Darcy retrieved the bottle from its shelf and refilled it for her.
“I did as she asked,” he continued, replacing the bottle on the shelf, “but it wasn’t easy because, if you think about it, for all of its obvious shortcomings her time was still in many ways far more innocent than ours.
Eliza frowned at that. “It sounds like an awful time,” she said. “A time of wars, slavery, barbaric medical practices…”
He nodded slowly. “Yes, but in 1810,” he continued, “the skies and oceans of the world had not yet been polluted with industrial wastes. Great expanses of unbroken primeval forest still covered much of Europe and North America. There had been no world wars or nuclear bombs. No Hitlers had yet thought of constructing factories for the sole purpose of wiping out entire races of human beings…” Darcy’s voice trailed off.
“So was that how you described the future,” Eliza asked, “world wars and nuclear bombs?”
Darcy smiled and shook his head. “Fortunately, Jane wanted to know about other things, the kinds of things she wrote about. She asked me how society would change, customs, the role of women in the modern world…”
“And love?” Eliza inquired archly.
“Yes,” he said quietly, “love, too.”
Eliza slowly sipped her champagne and gazed thoughtfully into his sea green eyes. “And what did you tell her, about love, Fitz?”
Darcy shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Before I tell you that,” he said, “try to remember that I was speaking to a woman from a world where most women, especially women of her elevated class, were virtual prisoners of men. Generally they entered into loveless marriages based on property and money. Or they simply didn’t marry at all. In fact, something like 60% of women in Jane’s circumstances didn’t.”
Eliza’s eyes widened in surprise at the startling statistic, wondering where he had gotten it. But she said nothing.
“And even if an English Regency era gentlewoman was lucky enough to find a suitable husband,” he continued, “her troubles were often just beginning. In that time and place, women were routinely kept pregnant, bound to their husbands, unable to inherit if there was a potential male heir anywhere in their family line…”
“I don’t think I understand where you’re going with this,” Eliza impatiently interrupted. “What about love? Jane Austen wrote constantly of love.”
Darcy nodded excitedly, thrilled by her evident interest in what he was saying. “Yes, but always she wrote about love as an ideal, an ideal that was only very rarely realized in life. Try to put yourself in her place. How old are you, Eliza?”
“Thirty-four,” she replied hesitantly.
“And how many lovers have you had in your life?”
Eliza felt her face reddening. “That is none of your damned business.” she snapped.
Darcy appeared to be genuinely startled by her hostile response. “Sorry,” he said, reaching for the champagne bottle again. “I was only trying to illustrate my point. By age thirty, an Englishwoman of Jane Austen’s time would generally have been considered unmarriageable… an old maid spinster.”
Darcy considered his next words for a moment, then went on speaking in a quieter tone. “She would never have had any lovers at all, Eliza. Because the risks of pregnancy were just too high, and giving birth out of wedlock may well have resulted in her being literally cast into the streets and abandoned by her family and friends. Remember Lydia, the younger sister from Pride and Prejudice who ran off with Wickham who then had to be bribed into marrying her? Well that was actually no joking matter. In real life, both the girl and her family might well have been ruined as the result of her indiscretion.”
Eliza nodded. She tried briefly to imagine what living such a life might have been like, and failed. “I think I get the point,” she said after a moment of further reflection. “In Jane Austen’s world love was truly a luxury. And sex was playing with fire… But is that really so different from the way things are today?”
“Oh yes,” Darcy said emphatically. “In 1810, even sex in marriage was preposterously dangerous. More women died in childbirth than from any other single cause. And there was almost as much risk of contracting an incurable venereal disease from husbands who, more likely than not, frequently consorted with prostitutes in order to relieve their sexual urges.”
Eliza grimaced at the thought. “Lovely!”
“God knows our society today is far from perfect,” Darcy said, “but I was afraid that telling Jane how very different things would one day be in our time might make her own world seem intolerable by comparison.”
He hesitated for a brief moment before continuing. “It would have been far easier for me to make up some safe fictionalized future version of her own society,” he said
“But you didn’t do that, make up a safe version of the future.” It was a statement, not a question.
Darcy shook his head. “In the end I told her everything, about birth control, women’s rights, female CEO’s… In short, I told her the truth.”
Alarmed, Eliza suddenly reached out and gripped his hand. “Good God, why, Fitz?” she asked, her voice filled with genuine compassion for the long-dead English writer.
“Because she wanted to know,” he softly replied. “Because I didn’t want to leave her with a lie. And because…”
Darcy halted his narrative and looked down at Eliza’s hand. He slowly covered it with his own and leaned forward until their faces were almost touching. “Eliza, she was only 34 years old, too” he whispered, “and though she didn’t know it, her life was almost over.”
His voice broke and he retreated shaking his head. “I wanted her to know that the future held something better for women than what she knew.”
“And how did she react to your revelations?” Eliza was intensely aware of the pressure of Darcy’s hand squeezing hers. She squeezed back, encouraging him to go on.
He closed his eyes, savoring the feel of her touch. “Considering the fact that she had marked me as an arrogant, insufferable scoundrel, Jane reacted in the most unexpected way imaginable,” he told her.
“Then a woman in the society of your time may choose and discard her lovers at will, all without fear of censure?” Jane had listened in wonder to everything that Darcy had had to say about love and society in the 21st century, interrupting him frequently to ask pointed, intelligent questions, for which he had not always been able to supply ready answers, questions like that one, that were central to the freedom of all modern women.
“It’s not quite as simple as you make it sound,” he said, attempting to carefully qualify his answer, as he had several others before it. “But, essentially, yes, a woman of my time has that choice. Because for the most part lovemaking is no longer regulated by church or state, or even one’s relatives.”
He smiled then. “The individual’s right to privacy and personal choice in matters of love and sex theoretically applies to any activity that occurs between consenting adults.”
Jane silently considered the alien concept of a society filled with consenting men and women who were free to make love to one another whenever and however they liked.
“But what of morality?” she suddenly asked, following a long pause.
Darcy shrugged. “Oh I suppose that morality is still around in my lifetime,” he said thoughtfully. “God knows people still talk about it enough. But then, what we call morality is always only relative to the standards of a given society. In my world it’s a word that’s come to be applied more to corrupt politicians and bankers than to lovers.”
He saw her frowning at that and he knew that in her rigidly structured, class conscious society morality and sexuality were mutually exclusive terms.
“Consider the plight of one of your own fictional heroines,” he said, hoping to draw for her a clearer distinction between the two words. “She is forced by mere circumstance and social custom to choose between love and fortune. Now where’s the morality in that?”
“Where indeed?” said Jane, turning at last to smile at him. She sat there quietly for a moment longer, seemingly lost in thought. Then she abruptly stood.
Darcy immediately jumped to his feet, fearful that he had told her far too much. “I hope that I haven’t offended you with my frankness,” he said.
Still smiling, Jane shook her head. “No,” she replied, “you have been most delicate in your phrasing, sir. It is only that I find the swift and shining modern world that you’ve described nearly impossible to envision. It is like the telling of a dream.”
She paused, again seemingly lost in deep thought, then softly whispered to the cool breeze that had begun sighing through the trees. “Astonishing! The feminine spirit freed.”
“Jane…” Darcy was suddenly gripped with an overwhelming desire to pull her into his arms, as if he might somehow be able to protect her from the stark reality of her own rapidly approaching death in this distant age of primitive medicine and suffering, a reality that he alone in all that world could surely know awaited her.
“I should go now,” she said, interrupting his grim thoughts by looking up at the lowering moon. “It is very late and I must think on all that you have told me.”
Fighting back his compulsion to enfold her in a warm embrace, Darcy instead stepped forward and took her arm. She froze and gazed down at his hand on her. “Let me take you home,” he begged.
To his utter astonishment she raised her face to his and said, sounding for just an instant like a small girl, “Will you not kiss me goodnight first?”
He hesitated, then kissed her lightly on the lips. Jane pulled back from him and looked into his eyes, and for the first time he saw the woman that she truly was.
“Is that the manner in which you would kiss a lady if you were on a –what was it you called it — a date?”
Suddenly he was smiling, his tensions of a moment before running away like summer rain. “Well, maybe a first date,” he breathed.
Her voice was teasing, her face perfection in the moonlight. “And for a second date,” she teased, “or a third?”
Then Darcy did pull her to him, and kissed her more thoroughly. She responded eagerly.
For long seconds they remained locked together in the moonlight. When their lips finally parted, Jane leaned her head against his heaving chest and softly sighed. “Please forgive me. I only wished to taste a lover’s kiss in the moonlight.”
She raised her sparkling eyes to his and seemed embarrassed by her sudden abandonment of all propriety. “Henceforth you may regard me as a foolish old maid who had never before been properly kissed by a man,” she whispered.
Darcy placed a trembling finger on her lips to stop her from offering those foolish, self deprecating words. “No, dear Jane,” he whispered. “For the rest of my life I’ll remember only the beautiful and desirable woman that you are at this moment. And in my thoughts you will never grow old.”
“And I shall dream of a man who loved me once,” she vowed in return, “if only for a moment. And in my dreams, dear Darcy, you shall be ever strong and kind and most exceedingly noble.”
She misread his look of wonder at those last beautiful sentiments. “Oh do not be alarmed, sir,” she said, smiling happily. “For I know that you do not really love me. How could you when I have so harshly misjudged and vilified you?”
Jane sighed again, sounding like a contented kitten, and again she raised her face to his. “I am merely building up a store of dreams,” she told him. “So may I have another, if you please, dear Darcy.
He gently took her chin in his hand and caressed her lovely face, grew giddy on the scent of roses in her hair as they kissed in the waning light of the moon.
Despite the extraordinary tensions of his first day outside the secure confines of Jane’s bedroom at Chawton Cottage and the unavailability of so much as an aspirin tablet to soothe his throbbing head, the exhausted Darcy had fallen almost immediately into a deep and dreamless sleep upon returning to his luxurious room at Chawton Great House.
He awoke seven hours later to the rumble of heavy wheels on the drive below his window.
As he had every morning since arriving in 1810 Hampshire, Darcy spent his first several minutes of wakefulness with his eyes tightly shut. When he opened them, he tried to convince himself, he would discover that he was back in the Cliftons’ rented Edwardian mansion in his own time and his vivid memories of the last four days would turn out to have been nothing more than an interesting dream.
Listening closely to the morning sounds of the household, he strained to pick up the familiar whine of a vacuum cleaner and sniffed the air for the scent of exhaust fumes from the old green Range Rover his friend Clifton kept parked in the drive.
He heard instead the clop of hooves on the drive and the impatient snorting of a horse. The sounds were inconclusive, he told himself, for the horse might have been Lord Nelson out for a morning exercise with his trainer, or one of the handful of gentle saddle nags that the property owners kept on the place for their renters to ride.
Still, he did not have much hope that he had returned.
Opening his eyes at last, Darcy blinked at a bright shaft of sunshine pouring in through the open window. He clambered stiffly out of bed and walked over to peer down into the drive. A heavy black traveling coach pulled by a team of four horses was just disappearing beyond the gates of Chawton Great House.
It was still 1810.
He had just spent half of the previous night with a beautiful woman named Jane Austen, and part of the remainder with her murderous brother.
Grimacing at the prospect of facing the hostile Captain Austen, whose temper would doubtless not have been improved this morning by what must be a monumental hangover, Darcy splashed water on his face from a pitcher on his washstand and looked distastefully at the ivory handled straight razor that had been laid out for his use.
Picking up the deadly implement, he grimly regarded his gaunt features in the mirror. “Perhaps I should just cut my own throat now and save Frank the trouble,” he murmured.
Twenty minutes later, dressed in yet another of Edwards uncomfortable suits and badly shaved, Darcy entered the dining room. Edward and several of his guests from last night were nearly finished with breakfast as Darcy was escorted to a seat near the end of the table.
Darcy looked around nervously for some sign of Frank, and decided that the captain must still be recovering abed.
“Morning, Darcy!” Edward stopped chewing long enough to wave his knife in greeting to the guest.
“Good morning, sir.”
Darcy looked around, startled, as a servant leaned over his shoulder and dropped a slab of the same meat his host was enjoying onto Darcy’s plate.
“Got some bad news for you, I’m afraid,” Edward reported between mouthfuls.
Darcy’s stomach turned over as he stared down at the purple chunk of bloody flesh, momentarily forgetting that the modern practice of tinting meat a more appetizing shade of red had yet to be invented. He closed his eyes, waiting for the bad news, which he feared involved the missing captain.
“Frank has been recalled to his squadron at Portsmouth this morning,” Edward said. “I’m very sorry to say that you have just missed him.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.” Darcy swallowed hard, feeling the tension in his stomach ease and glancing again at his plate. Actually, the slab of rare beef nested in a pool of its own juices didn’t look all that bad, he thought.
Edward, however, seemed to be quite upset by the development of Frank’ unanticipated departure. “Yes,” he grumbled, albeit with an unmistakable note of pride in his voice, “seems my elder brother is being given the temporary rank of admiral and sent out to the West Indies to put a stop to these troublesome arms smugglers.”
Picking up his fork and knife, Darcy cut off a small piece of meat and popped it into his mouth. To his surprise, it was quite good — though unlike any steak he had ever tasted. Of course, he reflected, it contained none of the preservatives, steroids, antibiotics or the artificial coloring he was used to. He wondered if that made it safer or more dangerous than USDA inspected beef and looked around, wondering where the thick slabs of toast that the others were eating had come from.
“It is a shame about Frank.” Edward was saying from the head of the table. “I had hoped to take the two of you out today for some shooting, though it’s not really the season at all.”
Darcy tried to adopt a regretful expression as the servant magically reappeared and placed a rack of fire-singed toast before him. In fact, he was feeling better by the moment, for he couldn’t imagine any enterprise more hazardous than having been forced to accompany the volatile Frank on a shooting expedition.
Now, he thought, if only Jane would contact him to report that the farmers had been found and the stone wall located, everything could still be fine.
Jane. Darcy’s pulse quickened as he recalled the touch of her lips on his the night before, felt the urgent trembling of her slender body pressed to his in the moonlit forest.
“Well, it cannot be helped, I suppose.”
Darcy looked up to see Edward gesturing at him with his knife again. “My brother Frank sends you his compliments and begs you to recall your conversation of last night,” Edward said convivially. “I am delighted that you two fellows became such fast friends.”
“Oh, thanks very much.” Darcy lowered his eyes and busied himself with the food. “Your brother is a fascinating man,” he said, hoping they could change the subject.
Edward laughed. “Yes, a fine brave fellow is our Frank. Bit rough around the edges, though. What?” He swung his knife over his head in imitation of a vigorous sword fight. “Comes from his having seen too much blood and guts on the high seas, I daresay.”
Another servant entered the dining room carrying a small silver salver. The man bent over and whispered something in his ear. Edward smiled and pointed to Darcy.
“It seems our Jane has sent you a letter this morning, Darcy. I would say you made a good impression on her, as well as on our Frank.”
The letter was brought down the table to Darcy who clumsily broke the seal and read the few lines written in Jane’s neat compact handwriting. He felt his heart thumping joyously at her message:
“Sir, I have after some study located the passage that you and I were discussing last evening. If you will call on me at home at 2:00 P.M. today, I shall be glad to point it out for you.”
Beautiful, brilliant Jane! She had cleverly coded her note to make it sound as if she had located a passage from a book, when she was actually telling him that she had discovered the location of the stone wall, the passage back to his own time.
Glancing up at Edward, Darcy saw the expression of naked curiosity written on the other man’s face. And so he did the only thing he could think of to do. Smiling at her older brother, Darcy passed Jane’s letter down the table to him. “Your sister is very thoughtful,” he explained. “We were discussing a book last night that we had both read, but neither of us could remember exactly where a certain passage was to be found. Now she has discovered it and invited me to call on her this afternoon so she can point it out for me.”
If he had expected Edward to be pleased by that revelation Darcy was disappointed.
“Humph! That is bad news indeed,” the other man complained, barely glancing at the letter before laying it next to his plate.
“I beg your pardon?” Edward’s sour mood set off a new alarm bell in Darcy’s head, and he wondered what he had done wrong this time.
After a moment Edward laid his knife and fork aside. “Well, if you must go calling on my sister this afternoon I suppose there is no possibility at all of us going shooting,” he complained. “Damned bother, if you ask me!”
Darcy shrugged helplessly, barely able to contain the grin that was straining to spread across his features. Thanks to Jane it was just barely possible, he thought, that he might actually make it out of the 19th century alive.
Precisely at 2:00 P.M. that afternoon Darcy found himself in the downstairs sitting room at Chawton Cottage. From the lovingly polished piano in the corner to the small writing table placed under a north facing window and the collection of French country prints that graced the walls, the room had Jane’s mark on it.
And, indeed, she had confided to him the night before that she preferred doing most of her writing here during the day, where the light was good. For the most part, she’d said, she worked at the vanity table in her bedroom only when felt compelled to continue writing late into the night, or when it was too cold to heat the entire house.
Like Jane’s bedroom, he also noted, the downstairs sitting room bore the faint tantalizing scent of the rose water she loved so well and that she and Cassandra distilled from petals they collected all summer long from the gardens at Chawton Great House.
As befitted a proper afternoon visit, Jane and Darcy were seated stiffly on straight-backed chairs, facing one another with their knees a few feet apart. Cassandra sat beside a small table a little way across the room from the two, presiding over a china tea service decorated in an oriental blue dragon motif. From time to time she cast disapproving looks at their guest.
“So Frank was recalled to Portsmouth this morning,” Darcy told them, repeating the news from Chawton Great House. “I’m afraid that Edward was quite disappointed, as he had hoped we would all go out for some shooting today.”
He saw a sparkle in Jane’s eyes as she absorbed this bit of information. “And you, sir?” she playfully inquired, “were you also unhappy at being denied a vigorous tramp through the countryside with my brothers?”
“Naturally, the prospect of calling on the two lovely ladies who restored me to health was far more pleasant than the idea of spending the whole day walking about the fields with guns and dogs,” Darcy replied graciously, wondering how on earth he was going to manage to get her alone.
Cassandra looked pleased by his compliment and she actually rewarded him with a little smile.
Jane, however, pretended to be stricken by his flowery remarks. “Oh, that is too bad,” she said. “For now that you are recovered from your injury I had myself hoped to show you some of the countryside hereabout, if you were of a mind to walk.
“All the loveliest spring blossoms are just coming into bloom in the far meadows,” she added. “Or so I have been told.”
“That is true,” Cassandra said, jumping eagerly into the conversation. “And we have heard they are wonderfully colorful this year.”
“Well, of course, there is nothing that I’d like better than a pastoral walking tour with an agreeable guide,” Darcy quickly said, backtracking to cover his blunder and realizing at the same time from Jane’s self-satisfied smirk that she had led him straight into a verbal trap just to see how he would manage to extricate himself.
“Then it is settled.” Jane laughed, clapping her hands. “We shall go out to see the flowers of the fields.” Turning to Cassandra she put on a hopeful look. “Oh Cass, please say that you will join us.”
“Jane, you know I cannot,” Cass replied testily, evidently not taken in for a moment by her sister’s transparent manipulations. “For I have promised the vicar to see after the altar cloths at the church today.”
Jane appeared to be devastated by her reply. “Oh, poor Cass! I completely forgot,” she cried.
But her dark eyes sparkled with shared mischief, and she shot Darcy a conspiratorial look, then turned back to Cassandra. “To make it up to you, dear sister, I shall gather for your bedroom the loveliest spring bouquet that has ever been seen,” she promised.
Having finished their tea and exchanged pleasantries with Cassandra about the extraordinarily fine spring weather and the healthful benefits to be gained from robust exercise in the clean country air, Jane and Darcy walked side by side down a quiet country lane.
“You are so bad,” Darcy told her, “deceiving your poor sister that way.”
Jane laughed and skipped on ahead of him to examine a patch of delicate pink wild flowers she spied growing alongside a crude stile set into a wooden fence. “You do not know my sister at all if you think she was deceived,” she laughed, waiting for him to catch up. “The two of us planned the whole intrigue together so that you and I could be alone.”
She placed a finger to her lips and said in a stage whisper. “You see, sir, my sister Cass believes that we are lovers.”
Darcy wanted to reply to that, but when he caught up to Jane she immediately stepped onto the stile and, climbing to the top of the fence, pointed across the long open meadow. “The place where you were found by the farmers should not be far. Just at the end of this field, I believe.”
He climbed over the fence and helped her down to the damp grassy sod on the other side.
“Do you think you shall be able to return to your time as easily as you arrived?” she asked, holding onto his arm just a bit longer than necessary.
“I don’t know,” he said as they began to walk through the damp grass. Halfway across the meadow Darcy stopped and turned to face her. “Jane, about last night…”
Something like pain flickered behind her dark eyes and she suddenly broke away and ran ahead of him toward a low stone wall overhung with trees. “Oh look!” she called. “This must be the very spot.”
Darcy followed her to the wall and looked up at the distinctive high arch formed by the branches. He gingerly placed his hand on the neatly stacked stones, noticing that they had been warmed by the afternoon sun. “Yes,” he said after a moment of silence. “This is it.”
Jane sat upon the wall and turned her head to gaze through the arched overhang at the perfectly ordinary appearing meadow on the other side. “How are you to return?” she asked, knitting her brows as if she were at her piano contemplating a difficult musical composition.
He looked over the wall into the adjoining meadow and his hopes for a simple return to his own world withered. “I haven’t the faintest idea,” he admitted.
Stooping, he picked up a small piece of wood fallen from one of the trees and experimentally tossed it over the wall. It landed on the other side with a soft plop and lay there in the grass, exactly as one might expect a piece of thrown wood to lay. He could detect nothing at all out of the ordinary.
“Perhaps if you actually went across to the other side,” Jane suggested.
Darcy thought about that for a moment, then he stepped up and across the wall. But once again nothing extraordinary happened. He was simply standing on the other side. He looked at her and shook his head. “Nope!”
“Nope!” Jane laughed. “I must remember that word. For it matches perfectly your expression at this moment.”
Feeling foolish, Darcy quickly clambered back over to her side. For as he stood in the other field it had occurred to him that if he had somehow managed to step back into his own time at that instant he would never have seen her again.
“Anyway, I can’t go back without Lord Nelson…my horse,” he added, anxious to cover his dismay at the near blunder.
“Sir, I did not think you were referring to Lord Nelson, the hero of Trafalgar,” Jane teased. She gave him a dazzling smile, obviously not at all displeased that he was safely back with her, for the moment at least. “I remember how shocked I was when you told me that your horse was named after my England’s greatest naval hero,” she said, “especially with poor Lord Nelson only recently dead from a French soldier’s bullet.”
She paused then and her tone turned more serious. “I am sorry to say that was my first impression of you, Mr. Darcy. Such arrogance, I thought. But then, what else was one to expect from an uncivilized American?”
Darcy winced at his dimly recalled memory of their painful first encounter. “I must have been quite a shock to you,” he said. “brought dirty and bleeding into your house with my elastic underwear and my zippers, demanding to use your phone…”
He slowly placed his hand on hers. “Jane, I do hope I’ve managed to undo at least some of the unfavorable impressions you formed of me those first days.”
“Oh yes, Darcy,” she replied, smiling. “You have managed quite well. In fact, I confess that I shall not be at all happy to see you go. For Chawton has never before been so exciting a place…”
Jane’s voice broke and she turned away to prevent him from seeing the tear glistening on her cheek.
He raised his hand to her shoulder and gently turned her until they were again facing. “Jane… I wish we had met under different circumstances,” he breathed. “Knowing you has been the most wonderful experience of my life.”
“And of mine.” She sniffled bravely, smiling and brushing away the tear with the back of her hand. “For now I know at least a little of those tender passions and emotions which I have so often and yet so poorly attempted to describe in prose.”
Touched by the depth of feeling in her words, Darcy slipped his arms around her and held her close to him. “Has it really meant that much to you,” he asked, “the few hours we spent together last night?”
Jane looked up at him with an enigmatic smile. “Last night and the three days and nights before that, as you lay in my bed, watching my every move and listening to me speaking my heart.”
He pulled back, surprised. “You knew?”
“I cannot say I knew absolutely that you were not always asleep or in the deep swoon you pretended,” she told him. “But there were many times when I imagined that I felt eyes upon me when no one else was present. And poor Mr. Hudson’s perplexity over your failure to awaken had at last led me to suspect that you might not be so grievously wounded as you seemed.”
At the mention of the bumbling old doctor’s name Darcy laughed. “Let’s not forget that it was poor old Mr. Hudson who finally convinced me I had better awaken soon, or be treated to a visit from his pack of stinging wasps. Is that really a standard medical treatment for people in coma?”
Jane broke into a grin. “Actually, no,” she laughed. “Mr. Hudson confided to me his suspicion that you were perhaps more alert than you pretended and the dear old man assured me that in his long experience the mere mention of stinging wasps often worked miracles in restoring disingenuous patients to health.”
Darcy’s face turned red. “So I even underestimated him,” he said with chagrin. “You were absolutely right when you called me arrogant. For I stupidly assumed that the changed social customs and advanced technology of my time somehow made me superior in yours. I forgot all about wisdom and intelligence. Can you ever forgive me Jane?”
She replied by lifting her face to his and softly kissing his lips. “I have forgiven you, dear Darcy. For I do not know of another man in this world who would admit such imperfections in himself to a mere woman. Nor can I think of one who, knowing the terrible and dangerous secrets of the future as you must, would not be tempted to exploit them to his own advantage.”
She kissed him again, then stepped back and, glancing at the arch of trees above the wall, asked brightly, “When do you think you shall leave?”
Darcy shook his head, for although he was not ready to admit the possibility, even to himself, he was not at all certain that he could leave. “I’m not sure,” he replied evasively. “The portal, or whatever it is, doesn’t seem to be working at the moment.”
He closed his eyes, trying to remember every detail of the moments leading up to his leap through the arch. “I remember the sunrise was filling the space between the wall and the trees with blinding light,” he said, “so maybe that had something to do with it.
“I’ll try at dawn tomorrow.”
They sat on the wall in silence. Darcy fingered the medallion he’d worn since his parents had given it to him for his sixteenth birthday. He reached around and unhooked the clasp. Putting the medallion in the watch pocket of his waistcoat, he took Jane’s hand in his and turning it up placed the chain into her palm. Jane picked up the beautifully wrought necklace and looked at him questioningly.
“I heard you and Cassandra talking about the cross your brother sent and how you didn’t want to wear it on a ribbon.” he confessed. Jane was overwhelmed, “Oh, Mr. Darcy, it is beautiful.”
He took the chain and draped it around her throat, bestowing small, gentle kisses to the back of her neck. Jane turned to face him again. She gently touched the necklace, “so near my heart, as you shall always be.”
Darcy leaned over and kissed her. They lingered on the wall in the warm afternoon sun of that long ago year, exchanging secrets neither of them had ever revealed to another living soul. Exchanging kisses as well. For both were acutely aware that their miraculous but cruelly brief allotment of time together was nearly spent.
“Clever, charming and affectionate”
HAPPY VALENTINES DAY ONE AND ALL!