He then brought her to the bench where they had sat down to their first theatrical rehearsal together.
"Oh yes," she said, "This was a good place."
Henry was quiet, which struck her as odd, since he had sounded so enthusiastic about coming there. Even more than the other stops he had chosen.
"Jane… Lizzie and James lied for me," Henry stated.
"What?" Jane rejoined to this abrupt admission.
"Those two hours they spent telling the story of why I owed Lizzie a favor was… a bit of a misdirection."
"It didn't happen? How did you find me?"
"No, it happened that way – minus the embellishments, of course – but that wasn't the favor Lizzie was using as leverage over me."
"I knew this was going to happen," Jane said, pretending to be very grave, "Who did you kill?"
He flashed her that smile of his again and, in her current mood, in that beautiful place, with that perfect man, it was misdirection-shmishdirection. Who cared?
"No one," he answered, "But, ah, there was supposed to be a session this week. As soon as we knew when you were going to be coming out, I asked Lizzie to do whatever she could to reschedule the clients for this session. It wasn't easy and she had to substantially discount their fees – "
"Henry! That wasn't necessary. I mean, I love seeing the grounds again, but she didn't have to go to all that trouble with the financial situation the way it is – "
"Jane, please," he protested abruptly, "I'm nervous enough without you throwing me off with interruptions."
He immediately averted his gaze to the ground and shook his head as if silently chastising himself.
"Nervous?" she echoed in confusion. Surely after winning her heart in the most romantic way possible she didn't still make him nervous. Unless… she thought, Oh god. Keep your trap shut, Jane. Not a word. I mean, he probably isn't, but just in case he is…
"Sorry," softly escaped her lips.
What did I just tell you? Shut it!
He shook his head again, then looked into her eyes and exhaled sharply.
"No, I'm sorry," he said, his anxiety much more evident to her now, "Um. I asked Lizzie if she could clear this week, so that I could specifically bring you here…"
Jane suddenly heard chamber music floating from somewhere off in the distance. The melody was familiar, but hard to place…
"… to where you first gave me hope that I might be able to win your heart…"
It was so unbelievable romantic, but at the same moment her brain happened to place that melody and she started giggling in spite of herself. It was from her rebellious little recital. A tune the two of them had recently begun referring to as "our song" in jest. Though if he was proposing, she supposed its status would have to be made official.
"Sorry! Sorry!" she was tried to recover from snorts and giggles, and pointing into the air at the invisible music in explanation, "I just realized what's playing… I'll be quiet now… sorry… go on…"
His mouth was twitching with a smile, but once she was relatively serious again, his expression reverted to its previous apprehension.
It can't be a coincidence, she thought, He must have set the music up. But don't get carried away. Breathe. Just because he's being romantic doesn't mean –
"… I wanted to bring you here to ask you… "
I am going to say yes, aren't I? Of course! Focus. This is the happiest moment of your life going on right now.
He slid off the bench and onto one knee. That's when she saw a ring had appeared between his thumb and index finger as he extended it towards her.
"…Miss Jane 'Erstwhile' Hayes, if you will make me the happiest – "
"Did she say yes?" boomed Lizzie's voice over the loudspeaker that Wattlesbrook had used during their stay, "Jane? We can't hear you guys from here, so shake or nod your head real big – "
Jane could hear James' muffled voice in the background attempting to shush Lizzie and switch off the intercom.
Henry had every right to be outraged – Jane would not have blamed him. However, Jane had slipped off the bench, chortling, and as he grabbed her to steady her, he couldn't help cracking up as well. It was like they were back in the theatrical – the first time he had declared his love for her. Therefore, in a way, laughing through his lines was entirely appropriate for the occasion. Not to mention an interruption from Elizabeth Charming!
Their mirth faded gradually. Still, they smiled like morons at each other and Henry finally found himself completely at ease.
"Marry me, Jane?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered, nodding, and launched into his embrace.
"I know we have loads of details to work out," he told her as he held her, "Where to live – "
"Actually," she cut him off, "Not that many. Now is probably a good time to tell you that you're not the only one James and Lizzie were working undercover for."
He gave her a curious look.
"Lizzie and I kept in touch," she explained, "I knew she was the one who had bought Austenland long before I arrived."
"Why would you keep that secret?"
"Well, I wasn't sure when would be the best time to tell you… she recruited me."
Henry's nuptial joy evaporated into caution for a moment. She laughed.
"Not as an actor," she told him, "Of course. But Austenland has some graphic design needs, and we also think I could make some money by doing guests' portraits to commemorate their visits. And, apparently, James has been pushing for her to give me the duties of – how did he put it – 'puppet master'?"
"I don't think I could do that part though," she said.
"Why not? An Austen fanatic should hold the position."
"Art stuff is one thing, but to be the one to take your aunt's job…"
She shook her head.
"That's just a perk," he quipped.
"Anyway…" she said with a look of disapproval that transformed into one of adoration the longer she looked at her fiancé.
"Anyway…" he echoed, as he gently took her hand to slide the ring onto it. Before letting Jane have her hand back, however, Henry lifted it to his lips and pressed them against her palm.
"Oh my," Jane said as she took back control of that hand to caress his cheek, "Is it just me or is it getting hot out here?"
"Take off his clothes!" came Lizzie's voice abruptly over the loudspeaker once more.
"Give me the binoculars!" followed James' voice more distantly.
"OK," Henry said as she laughed, "I think that's all the romance we're going to get out of this place today. Let's go somewhere out of Charming and the Colonel's reach."
The End. (Probably)