Dancing Bears--William H. BeardIf you recognize yourself in this, it was written for you.
I am not a social creature by nature, but I found myself invited one evening to a large dinner party. It was a grand affair. Our gracious hosts had an impeccable sense of exactly how many places to set at the great table in the dining room to make the occasion festive without being overbearing. He was the one I noticed first. Lord M. A stalwart character, very large. Dark and brooding like a bear, until he smiled at her, revealing a gentleness that took me by surprise. I am not the best conversationalist, and less so when I'm intent on studying the human condition that has fascinated me so from childhood. I had been seated next to a talkative chap whom I was able to placate by merely nodding my head politely every so often. I didn't mind this arrangement because it gave me the opportunity to observe Lord M. and his lady at a polite distance.
The lady I speak of was not known to me personally, but my dinner companion commented upon her appearance at the table with her husband--not Lord M. I was not the only one, it seemed, who had heard rumors that it was not the happiest of marriages and the Lady A. had sought to find a lover with which to occupy her time.
I watched them from across the table. They were seated at the extreme opposite ends of our gathering. It may have very well been two very different corners of the earth, for they were able to communicate only by fleeting glances at one another and small movements that held meaning for each. His were so full of yearning that I could hardly bear to watch him. There were several times when I saw him clench the table as if he were going to rise up and suddenly diminish this divide between them. Yet her signals to him were tiny words that drifted over my plate: stay, no, please, wait, wait, wait.
He grew impatient and I watched her pleading with him even as she lay her hand in her husband's and laughed softly into his ear, all the while beckoning to Lord M. with her soft eyes and coquettish smile.
The last course of our meal coincided with the setting sun and we all retired to the gardens of the estate to enjoy the twilight. A few of the guests paired off and wandered into the hedge groves under the pretext of catching fireflies. The miniature creatures floated about us like embers, igniting stolen kisses and tangled limbs in the soft grassy outer reaches of the garden away from the prying eyes of most of our party. Lady A.'s husband busied himself with a brandy, discussing some dull matter or another with a gentleman from France. All the while, she was planning her escape and I watched, ready to witness this rendezvous that had been so intricately woven and planned right before my eyes.
Lord M. had walked alone into the grove of oaks that lay far from the main house. I followed at a safe distance and stood watching him in the trees as he waited for Lady A. He paced back and forth slowly, busying himself with the repetitive exercise until he heard her footsteps. I slipped further back into the shadows, afraid that I might be discovered and ruin the moment that I had spent the entire evening awaiting.
As she neared, I held my breath, expecting the towering moment in which she would throw herself into his giant arms. I thought to myself how wondrous it would be to witness the soothing of this horrible ache in him that was so tremendous it permeated my own skin and tightened my chest. Lord M. strained against the edge of the tree line, opening his arms to her, urging her to come to him there in the darkness.
She stopped just short of his open hands. He could not reach her and I watched transfixed as she sweetly chided him for being so foolish as to love her. She reminded him of her husband, of her position, of how things could not be changed. He begged her to move closer, even if only to brush his lips with her fingertips. Lady A., in all her finery, in her beautiful dinner dress, replied laughingly that he was selfish for even wanting such a thing. And with that she turned and ran quickly back to the party, and back to the safety of her husband's waiting arm. As for me, I spent the rest of the night hiding in the woods, listening to the heartbreaking cries of a bear in love.