Have you ever wondered what would have become of Jane Austen and her writing if she had continued her love affair with Tom Lefroy? I have. Follow me on my journey of weaving the imaginary tale of a life that could have been.
My story begins in the long lonely hours at Steveton after the failed elopement. Our Jane is trying to comfort herself with the knowledge that she did the honorable thing by releasing him. Her family and friends are trying to comfort the shell of the lively girl they once knew.
How will Jane write of the heart when her own is sorely broken?
Will lost love hold her back?
Is it really lost?
Follow along as what was once thought lost is found again in the guise of a hasty letter. After all, Jane received the title of "The Lady of Letters" for a reason. That reason is just more interesting than you think
The slow, melodic strain of a familiar tune drifted through her head. It was the same song she and Tom had danced to at Lady Gresham's ball. It had been many months since that night but the memories were still as fresh as ever. As she walked slowly along her path through the wood she thought back to that night. The way his eyes had met hers in the dance was a moment she would never forget.
The late afternoon sun flitted across the trees lightly, illuminating something here and hiding other things there. The weather was mild and the breeze pleasing but it affected Jane little. This place that had once been a beautiful sanctuary for her was now only a palpable reminder of him.
Tentatively she reached out and touched the rough bark of the tree he had pushed her hastily against the day he had come back to her. Her fingers stung from touching such a physical reminder of that day, of that intimate embrace. It seemed to hold his essence, kept his heartbeat.
For it certainly did not belong to her. She had hurt and disappointed him. No matter how it pained her, she knew it had been the right decision. Jane was no longer a sentimental young girl. She had loved as violently as any heart could dare. The feelings she shared with Tom were not the silly infatuation of youth, but a strong mature affection. Loving another in that way was rare and seemed to require a heavy payment. Jane had indeed paid with her happiness in exchange for his and his families. She told herself once again that it was noble, as she wiped the tears from her cheeks and headed towards home.
"You should not go there so often," Cassandra said as she walked through the door. Her sister's voice was soft with concern, but try as she might Jane could not rally her spirits enough to reassure her. Instead she offered Cassie a small smile before heading to the kitchen in search of some employment. She didn't want to think any longer. Without a strong will to check them, her thoughts would be with him constantly. She would wonder endlessly where he was and what he was doing. Was he content? Did he ever think on her?
"Back from your walk already?" Mrs. Austen asked her daughter from behind a large pot of stew. It was still unusual for her to witness Jane enter the kitchen with the intent to be of service. Jane had always despised housework and shirked it whenever she could in favor of reading or working on her stories. Since the unfortunate incident Mrs. Austen had not seen her daughter so dedicated to her chores.
"My energy was not what it usually is today." Jane explained. Her mother gave her a knowing look before handing her an apron from the rack. Jane took it, grateful for her mother's tact at present. The whole of her family in fact, had been very generous in their treatment of her and her ill spirits.
She had put them all in a difficult situation, yet they offered no censure or condescension. In the weeks following her failed elopement the family strayed little into society; Jane even less. This was a strain to Mrs. Austen who was by nature a social creature. With Lady Gresham's disapproval of Jane and the impossibility of meeting the Lefroy's without awkwardness for any forcible time, their engagements had been limited.
Jane was sure that her family had no doubt heard news of Tom, considering word spread quickly in Hampshire, but she bid them never to tell her. For had it not been Henry and Eliza who brought the news of his engagement and subsequent visit to the area? Jane had decided she never wanted to hear news like that again, especially from those she loved.
"Dinner is nearly ready child," her mother spoke softly. "Why don't you go and rest for a while, maybe write for a bit?"
"Mum," Jane replied giving her mother a resigned look, which Mrs. Austen pointedly ignored. Jane shuffled a few bowls around needlessly before giving up and retiring to her room.
"Would that I could," she spoke to herself while looking down upon her folio. Her hand ached for her pen, but she was at a loss for words. She had tried to write a few times since the incident but every time the words flowed, they were about Tom. As beautiful as the descriptions of him were that she conjured, she would not disgrace herself by keeping them. Every line went to the fire.
While Jane wanted to destroy all that reminded her of her lost love, Cassandra held ever thing of Roberts close to her heart. When she was sure of being left alone for a few hours she would take out his letters and read them over. Cassie was never one for public displays, so when Jane would hear her sister's soft cries she made sure to never disturb her.
It had been Cassandra's great influence and tender friendship that Jane relied upon most. Whenever she felt a fit of great sorrow coming on she would think of Cassie and her modest grieving. It seemed that Jane had finally learned to hold her tongue, and her emotions in check.
Feeling tired from her walk and heavy thoughts she lay across her bed. Closing her eyes she hummed a tune to herself before drifting into a deep slumber. She dreamt of being lost in a dark wood, and all the terror that would supply. Tossing and turning she called out in her sleep for what she did not know.
"Jane," a faraway voice called. "Wake up."
Her eyelids fluttered open and she saw the concerned face of her sister. Cassandra had rushed urgently to Jane's side when she heard her cries and almost forgot about the letter she had brought up with her.
"Are you alright?" She asked sincerely, touching her forehead to check for fever. Thankfully she was not over warm.
Jane sat up and smoothed her hair back. "A bad dream that is all," she said.
"Well in that case I shall give you what I came in search of you for originally." Jane wondered what she was getting at.
"Smith came in with the evening post a few minutes ago and it contained something for you." Cassandra held the square letter out to her. How odd it was for her to receive something in the evening post. She hoped it was not urgent news of some calamity.
She turned the letter over in her hand and saw that it was indeed addressed to a Miss. Jane Austen. The sender was a Mr. L. Thomas. Jane did not know this name at all and wondered if it could be some sort of mistake.
"Do you know who this is from? She asked her sister.
"Not a clue. Why don't you open it and find out," she suggested.
The wax seal broke easily seeing as how the letter was put together in a dodgy way. The addresser must have been in some hurry. Jane's heart stopped as she began to read the words.
My dearest Jane,
This letter must come to you as quite a shock but I could contain myself no longer. How long has it been since I last beheld your beautiful form? I have not accepted your goodbye. I cannot, will not. You must know that I am a man of my word. When I swore to you that I would not give you up I meant it. I never shall.
Even if you only live in my memories from this day forward I will be true.
Tell me you think of me.
It was a good thing Jane happened to be sitting on her bed. Because in spite of her never being prone to theatrics the contents of the mysterious letter so astonished that she nearly fainted.
Cassandra watched, as her sister's face became shocked and excited. This letter began to worry her.
"My dear Jane what is it?" She asked in haste. The answer was the farthest thing from what she was expecting.
"Tom." Jane replied.