If I Loved You Less…
A 'Becoming Jane' story, by Icha
Summary: Conversing with his nephew, the retired Chief Justice Lefroy is reminiscing on his past with Jane Austen. Inspired by 'Becoming Jane' the movie. Many grateful thanks to Rachel Kingston for her great beta.
Disclaimer: I do not own Jane Austen and her characters, or any other characters in this story. The story takes place in several time frames, i.e. 1795-1799, 1802, 1817, 1840, and 1867, based on several facts known about Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy. Should gentle readers like to know more of the facts, please visit Becoming Jane Fansite in the 'About Tom Lefroy' section.
Chapter 1. Thomas and Jane
Mid June, 1867, Bray
The Newcourt villa felt quiet, despite the lovely summer afternoon breeze blowing from the coast of Bray. Had it not been for a middle-aged woman tucking herself among the rose shrubs, no one would think that the house was inhabited. However, a luxurious carriage had just entered the villa gate and its only passenger understood that there would be at least one person inside the villa who was much related to himself, and who was exceedingly grateful for the lady in the rose garden.
As his carriage entered the gate, and before it passed through the lovely fountain in the middle of the pathway, the rose lady had heard of him coming. She stood up and tucked her white hair underneath her bonnet as she squinted, trying to see her guest in the afternoon sunlight of Bray. The elderly woman suddenly lit up.
'Thomas!' she proclaimed, and after casting aside her hamper, she walked to welcome her visitor who in turn extended his head over the carriage window and shouted back in excitement.
'Jane! How nice to see you! How are you?'
'Very well thank you Thomas, but especially well if you let the carriage stop properly before yelling at me like that.' Despite her old age, the woman called Jane laughed merrily. 'You might wake Father!'
'Dear me!' Exclaimed the guest called Thomas, a middle-age gentleman in his fifties who was dressed in immaculate travelling clothes. 'I did not think of that!' The carriage halted a few steps before her and, despite his age, the excited passenger almost leaped out to ground.
'But of course, you did not think of that,' Jane pretended to scowl. 'Since when did you truly think properly, dear Cousin?'
Thomas Edward Preston Lefroy grinned and hugged his cousin with a loving sigh. After a while, he released her and took in the surroundings. 'Oh… it's so good to be finally here with you, Jane. Bray looks as beautiful as you described in your letters. I trust that everything is in order?'
Jane Christmas Lefroy smiled and, still holding the hand of her cousin, chattered, 'As fine as any lovely Bray summer day can be. I have to tell you that my love of this town truly grows every day. Not that I can say that Carrigglas is not agreeable, mind you. But the sea breeze here has surely helped Father tremendously. In fact, we went horse riding this morning; passing Killruddery House &c on the way. Very capital!'
'Indeed!' said Thomas. 'You must tell me every detail of news I have not heard of since our last letters.' And then, to his driver he said, 'Can you please bring my luggage to the hall? I will settle the payment there.' Then, back to Jane, 'Yes, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to visit you and Uncle here; I did not think that I would make it.'
'But indeed, you did, Thomas. And a fortnight before my birthday.'
'Yes, your birthday,' Thomas looked fondly into Jane's blue eyes. 'I have been looking forward to it; that was why I set off earlier than planned.'
'But, Cousin, you need not have done so,' Jane started to walk with Thomas towards the villa. 'I rarely celebrate my birthday in any fashion whatsoever anyway. I was actually surprised to receive your letter that informed us of your coming here. Not that I am not glad to have you here, mind you. But travelling across the strait just to see an old maid celebrating her birthday?'
'Ah, but it will be your 65th birthday, Jane, and it is a special number for any women. And since you are my favourite cousin, I somewhat felt intent to come here and celebrate it with you!'
'Well… since you are so obliging, I feel I should thank you now for coming here and leaving your Jemima and children in London. My brother Anthony is also coming here, but not until the 22nd. By the by, how is Jemima?'
In full spirit, Thomas described the latest news of his family he had left in England. They entered the villa and were relieved to feel the coolness of air within the parlour. While Jane fetched the servant to bring some refreshments for her cousin, Thomas fixed the carriage payment and relaxed on the sofa.
Jane Christmas Lefroy was the eldest daughter of the retired Chief Justice Thomas Langlois Lefroy of Ireland. She was soon to reach her 65th birthday, but she had not expected anything other than a simple birthday with her father and sisters; Anne and Mary Elizabeth. Her sisters were now in Carrigglas, Longford, but they would come to Bray the following week.
Now a renowned judge of England, Thomas Edward Preston Lefroy had always been a dear cousin to Jane. She was thirteen years old when he was born on 30th of August, 1815. She would not see him for the first time until he was almost one year old, brought by Anthony Lefroy and his wife Elizabeth Wilkin to Ireland to see Uncle Thomas Langlois Lefroy. Baby Thomas was chubby with big curious dark eyes; Jane fell in love with him instantly.
And so was Jane to Thomas. Although Thomas Langlois Lefroy had two other daughters (Anne, who was two years younger than Jane, and Mary Elizabeth, who was two years younger than Thomas), Jane was the big sister for Thomas. During summer and winter holidays, both children usually played together. Well, Jane was soon too old to be called a little girl then; by the time Thomas was five, Jane was already a lovely eighteen years old young woman with soft curly light-coloured hair, almost blonde, and bright blue eyes – her father's eyes. Thomas remembered looking at Jane with admiration as she prepared herself for a Christmas party; no doubt with many boys ready to offer her wine and compete for the chance to dance with her. By the time Thomas was fifteen and had realised that girls were not actually that annoying (the only nice girl for Thomas so far had been Cousin Jane), and that they could be as lovely as their curly dolls, Jane was already eight and twenty. Twenty-eight years old, and still unmarried.
Thomas recollected one particular evening when he was still a young boy visiting his uncle in Dublin. He was sitting idly, tired of dancing with boring mundane girls around him. Jane had just finished a polka session with a gentleman of a mild manner who clearly thought of Jane as pretty and enchanting. Jane, on the other hand, thought indifferently of him, and strolled across the dance floor to join her cousin.
'Finished dancing, did you?'
'So it seems,' she said and sat down carefully, fixing her elaborate ball gown and curly hair set. Thomas could never understand how women could stand with such tight garments and still smile cheerfully. Still, Jane Christmas Lefroy was charming with her blue summer dress. 'Do you not dance? The Peterson girl was looking at you constantly.'
'I don't care. That gentleman you danced with also stared at you like he had never seen a woman before. Are you going to marry him?'
Jane giggled. 'Thomas Lefroy, what a silly question! What makes you think that?'
Thomas shrugged. 'He looks like he's going to propose you. Do you like him?'
'No. What do you think of some punch?'
'So you're not going to marry him?'
'We have just met, and I am not interested in him. Shall we get some wine?'
'Are you ever going to get married at all?'
Jane's attempt to stand up and move was abruptly stopped. She sat down slowly, and then even slower turned to face her teenage cousin. Thomas was almost as tall as her now, and soon enough, he would be taller than her.
'I don't know, Thomas …' she pursed her lips and made up her mind. 'No. I do not think so.'
Thomas was astounded, 'But you're so beautiful! Every gentleman in Ireland wants to marry you. Why do you not want to?'
Jane did not reply for a while, and suddenly Thomas felt a nagging feeling of sorrow. 'I don't know, Cousin…' she finally replied. 'Perhaps, because I have not felt true love yet.'
'But that's nonsense! Surely you have received at least one marriage proposal before!'
'Thomas dearest…' Jane's blue eyes looked into Thomas' dark eyes with sisterly love. 'Marriage proposal is rarely about love. So far, I have yet the luxury to meet love at all.'
Thomas did not know what to say. He mumbled something unintelligible even for himself before finally responding decisively, 'Then I will marry you! Just wait, Jane. I will marry you!'
A sparkle of humour emerged from within Jane's eyes. 'Indeed, Thomas! And what do you think we shall do then? Fighting all the time?'
'We never fight!'
'Oh, sometimes we do.'
'But it is because we like each other. No, because we love each other!'
'Yes, dearest, but that is not the kind of love we need for marriage. Now do me a favour if you may? Fetch me a glass of wine. I am exceedingly thirsty.'
Thomas tried to read Jane's mind, but she already diverted her attention to her gloves (which, upon her reflection, were not of suitable colours for the evening). He shrugged and walked to fetch the wine, while fixing his plan to marry his cousin as soon as he finished his education.
But life did not always go as planned. As he grew up to become a prominent lawyer, Thomas realised that his love for Jane was indeed kinship love, and Jane also did not harbour romantic feelings towards him. Thomas still accompanied Jane throughout her thirties, but as Jane reached her fortieth year, Thomas Edward Preston Lefroy met another cousin that would change his life: Anna-Jemima Lefroy, daughter of Anna-Austen Lefroy and Benjamin Langlois Lefroy. Thomas married Jemima, as she was usually known, on 9th September 1846, and stayed to build his new family with her in London. Across the channel, Jane Christmas Lefroy (and her other sisters) remained single and focused their attentions to accompany their father, the old Chief Justice Lefroy, in Ireland.
'Excellent dinner, my dear, as always,' the ninety-one years old Thomas Langlois Lefroy slowly placed his fork and smiled lovingly at his daughter. 'We have to praise the Lord for the lovely dinner, and also Margaret for her cooking.'
'Of course, Father,' Jane smiled back as she dabbed her lips with the napkins. 'But the stew was mine, Father, the stew was mine.'
'Indeed!' exclaimed her father who then chuckled. Despite his old age, ninety years old last January, he still spoke considerably well, albeit slowly. 'Well… you are indeed a great cook then. The best stobhach gaelach I have ever had so far.' Stobhach gaelach was the popular Irish stew Tom Lefroy always loved, even when he reached his nineties.
'Uncle, you should ask her to bake her own birthday cake,' teased the junior Thomas Lefroy as he pushed his empty plate with relief. 'We will be too well-fed, I daresay!'
'Mind your health, Thomas,' said Jane and resumed with 'You are not as young as you wish now', to which Thomas replied with a polite 'Yes, Ma'am'. Jane attempted to swallow her smile but did not succeed as she offered tea for the next session.
Both of the Lefroy gentlemen consented to the offer of tea; the younger asked if the tea could be brought to the library, for he would like to converse with his uncle there. Jane delivered the message to the maid and helped her father thither the library before excusing herself for she had other matters to attend to.
The younger Thomas had been a little disappointed that his favourite cousin would not accompany their tea session before he reminded himself that Jane had accompanied him for the afternoon tea as he arrived today. And now, looking at his uncle (who was making himself comfortable in his old chair), Thomas realised that Jane intentionally refused the tea tonight to give him more time with the retired Chief Justice of Ireland. He then began to appreciate his moment of solitude with his uncle; for Tom Lefroy was an uncle he shared the closest emotional ties, despite his uncle's busy schedules and their rather infrequent meetings.
The close relationship between Thomas Edward Preston Lefroy and his uncle Thomas Langlois Lefroy was not only due to their similar occupations. Both gentlemen were respected judges in their own countries, although between the two of them, Tom Lefroy had the higher position being the Chief Justice of Ireland. Long before Thomas was called to the Bar in 1844, he had been in regular contact with his uncle, albeit mostly through letters. It was a fact that Tom Lefroy once helped Thomas' father to obtain the title of Barrack-Master, after the London-based great uncle Langlois cut off the financial support for Anthony Lefroy for marrying the 'undesirable' Elizabeth Wilkin. Anthony owed his brother so much, and he kept telling his family not to forget Tom Lefroy's merits. After his father's death about ten years ago, Thomas became the main liaison person between the York Lefroys and his venerable Uncle Tom Lefroy.
Yet, it was not merely the moral debt or occupation similarity that made Thomas feel a close kinship with Uncle Tom. It was something else that sometimes he could not comprehend. Thomas could only say that he always felt at ease every time he conversed with his uncle, who – for many – were considered a stern judge and a very rigid pious man. Letters between them flew regularly, despite their own busy schedules, particularly after Tom became the Chief Justice of Ireland and Thomas became the judge of county courts in England. In between their discussions of laws and religious aspects, Thomas often saw a glimpse of a less-known Tom Lefroy; a more cheerful Tom Lefroy that wished for someone to reach out to him and to let him speak of something else other than law and religion. But what that aspect of Tom's character meant; until now, Thomas Edward Preston Lefroy never understood. And he wanted to know tonight.
'So, Uncle,' Thomas started the conversation as he browsed numerous books on the shelf. '– I heard from Jane that you had been horse riding this morning?'
'Do not attempt to ban me from riding, Thomas,' the old Tom Lefroy responded airily as he reached for a book on the nearest table. 'That will not do, I should warn you, for Anthony and the like already said as such many times and I still went.'
'Jane approved of it?'
'My own Guardian Angel?' Tom Lefroy often referred to Jane as his own Guardian Angel. He smiled. 'She always approved of things healthy for me. Besides –' he opened the book and flipped through the pages, '– she loves horse riding herself.'
'You should give her another horse for her birthday,' said Thomas, on which the older Tom Lefroy negated by stating that Jane would not want it now. The younger Thomas shrugged. 'Just as well. She looked healthy and happy…gentle, like a falling snow drop. Speaking of which –' he sat down next to his uncle. 'Was that the reason you gave her the name Christmas? Was it with reference to that obscure ancestral relationship with that Christmas gentleman… or was that a lady?'
Thomas could swear that he detected a split second halt of book flicking and enigmatic sparks from his uncle's eyes as the latter replied, 'Elizabeth Christmas. The ancestor of your aunt's father. Can you pour me the tea, Thomas?'
'Oh, yes, of course.' Thomas strode to the table next to his uncle where the tea set was placed. Then, as he poured the tea for both of them, he asked again, 'Was it not Mr. Christmas Paul or something similar? You said before that it was a male.'
His uncle flicked another page open. 'Is that so? Well, then, since you remembered anyway, why did you ask?' Another page was flipped without any recognition of its contents.
Thomas frowned as he offered his uncle tea; his uncle nodded, placed the book down and sipped the tea. 'I'm not sure, to tell you the truth…' Thomas then sat opposite his uncle and drank his own tea. 'It's just that… I always find it strange that such a long ancestral relationship can be an inspiration for Jane. Not that I do not like her name. I think it's a lovely name.'
'Yes, of course, that was the reason I chose the name,' his uncle smiled. 'Nice tea, Thomas. Thank you.'
'Or perhaps –' Thomas was still with his own train of thoughts. ' – Jemima's mother asked me a few weeks ago about Jane's name. She also found the Christmas name rather unusual, though not unattractive.'
'Jemima's mother?' another flicker of light in the old Tom Lefroy's eyes. 'Anna Austen, you mean?'
'The very one. Though we should address her as Mrs. Lefroy, I believe.' His uncle did not respond. Instead, he took another sip and closed his eyes. Thomas felt his throat clogged as he prompted, 'You…ehm, you know Mrs. Lefroy, I believe?'
The retired Chief Justice Lefroy did not answer for a time. When he did speak, his voice sounded as if coming from a distance. 'Yes, I do know Anna. She was… just a little girl when I first saw her.'
'In Steventon? In Hampshire?'
Thomas Langlois Lefroy opened his eyes, and when he placed his stare upon his nephew, the younger Thomas felt like the accused in a courtroom. 'Why do you ask, Thomas?'
The nephew cleared his throat, recalling that his uncle had not been elected as the Chief Justice for nothing. After a moment of silence reminding himself that he was also a judge in his own right, Thomas replied, 'Because she did not remember you… and she wish she did. But she was just a two year old girl, back then, was she not? And she was unlikely to remember anything.'
'Is that important? That she remembered me, I mean?'
'For her, yes.' Thomas fidgeted with his tea cup uncomfortably under the gaze of his uncle before resuming, 'I mean…she thought that remembering you might help her… to build a memoir.'
'A memoir?!' The old Tom Lefroy was indeed surprised. 'Whatever for?'
'The Austen family…' Thomas slowly regained his leverage, '– they plan to write a memoir for the late Miss Jane Austen. You know, the novelist, Jemima's great aunt. Since you…well, visited Hampshire when the late Miss Austen was still a young girl, Jemima's mother thought that, well… Let's just say that Mrs. Lefroy wish she remembered you ever visiting Miss Austen back then, so she could tell a story of Miss Austen's friends.' After taking a short break to breathe, he resumed. 'Obviously, she did not. Thus, I just had a thought to ask you, Uncle… if you – '
'Know Jane Austen?' the tone arrived again as if from afar.
Thomas tilted his head and slowly asked, 'Do you? I mean, did you?' As his uncle remained silent, Thomas resumed, 'Uncle, do you remember a particular time more than twenty five years ago when you asked me to go to London to obtain a particular letter from Cadell & Davies? It was a letter about Miss Austen. I could not remember the details, for I sent it to you immediately after I purchased it. You promised back then that you would explain the importance of the letter to me. In time.' Thomas fidgeted with his tea cup again. 'Do you not think this is the time?'
Ever so slowly, Thomas Langlois Lefroy placed his cup and gazed at the ceiling. 'Did I know Jane Austen? ... Yes, of course I did.' He paused, then amended his statement, 'Of course I do. She was not a soul easy to forget.'
'So –' Thomas fixed his seated, 'You did dance with her?' Upon his uncle's questioning gaze, he added, 'Well… it was said that –'
'Said? Who said so?'
'Mrs. Lefroy was talking with Jemima about dance when she said that her aunt, Miss Jane, was an excellent dancer and that she often would often lead dances. She also said that once or twice she danced with you,' Thomas felt his anxiety increasing. He shrugged as he added, 'Just ladies' gossip, you know.'
To Thomas' relief, his uncle smiled. A weak smile, but a smile nonetheless. 'I am not sure about the gossip's details, and I prefer not to know. But indeed I should say that we shared a lovely dance session, Miss Austen and I. No. Several lovely dance sessions. She was indeed a great dancer, Miss Austen. A graceful dancer.'
'Then… you knew her well?' Thomas asked cautiously. His concerns evaporated as soon as his uncle looked at him and gave him another faint smile. 'Was she indeed as charming and witty as her novels? Or tolerably, at least?'
'Tolerably? Exceedingly!' Tom Lefroy smiled as if to himself. 'The late Miss Austen was more charming and witty than her novels, I should say…'
'Ah… indeed…' Thomas mumbled several unintelligible words before he resumed, 'How did you take it… when you heard her death?' he cleared his throat. 'Her family was very sad… Jemima's mother cried the whole night. Did you… as her friend… were you sad?'
'Sad?' Tom Lefroy cast a glance over a thin shred of silver moonlight that fell on the carpet. Part of the silvery moonlight was reflected back by tears glazing his eyes. When he spoke again at last, his voice was mournful but clear.
'I was devastated.'
According to Deirdre Le Faye ('Jane Austen's Letters'), in 1798, Thomas' father (Anthony Lefroy) married Elizabeth Wilkin, who 'was considered in some way undesirable'. As the result, the Langlois family (Tom's benefactor) did not provide financial assistance for Anthony's family. Later on, Tom Lefroy helped his brother to become the Barrack-Master in Arundel (I assume it was the England Arundel), and later York (England) where the family branch lived. There are records that TEPL was a lawyer as well, called to the London Bar on June 7th, 1844, and later became Judge of County Courts in England. Hence, I assume TEPL lived in London with Jemima, for I have not found any records of his residence in the 1860s. That does not mean that such records do not exist, though.
Next: What happened to Tom Lefroy as he learned of Jane Austen's death?
PS 30 August 2007:
It occurs to me, based on a review by Kate (thanks Kate), that readers might confuse the two Thomases here. Hence, herewith I reiterate that 'Thomas Lefroy' or Thomas Edward Preston Lefroy was the younger Thomas, nephew of Tom Lefroy (Thomas Langlois Lefroy). I may make mistakes, but I try to refer to our Tom (Jane Austen's Tom) as either Tom Lefroy or Chief Justice Lefroy, or something like that. By the same token, the 'Thomas Lefroy' that Jane Christmas (daughter of Tom Lefroy and Mary Paul) was talking to during the ball in Dublin was the younger Thomas Edward Preston Lefroy from England, born in 1815, son of Anthony Lefroy (not to be confused with Anthony Peter Lefroy, father of Thomas Langlois Lefroy).
And the 'Memoir of Jane Austen' was indeed published on 16 December 1869, hence would be written in 1868/69, or perhaps initiated beforehand. Modern editors of the Memoir believed that the death of Frank Austen (Jane's fifth brother, the last of Jane's siblings to die) in 1865 triggered the need to preserve Jane Austen's memories in the form of a memoir.