Jane's long time difficulties with sleep were intimately known to those of her family and the small household they kept. No one, servants or family alike, would be disturbed by the occasional bump and hum in the night at Steventon, common place as they were. Her brother's home was altogether a different story. The sumptuous bedclothes and smoldering fire did little to ease Jane into respite. Her agitation and excitement for tomorrow's journey left her even more restless than her usual state. She could think of nothing but Tom. Since wandering the halls and library were most assuredly out of the question she had fixed her mind on writing. Yet the clock had long since chimed midnight and her page was as empty and clean as it was many hours ago when she sat at the small side table. The pen in her hand hung limply over her raised knees as she drifted into a dream like state.
How would he look to her after so long? She had morosely mulled over the possibility that she didn't truly remember his smile, or the way the corners of his eyes crinkled when she said something contrary, as she so often did to vex him. And if she felt this way, did Tom feel the same. Would he have forgotten details of her personage that he held dear?
It was half past four when she resolutely lay herself down with strict instructions that she would not dwell on the unknowns. Soon enough none of her imagining would matter in the least. She would away to London in a few short hours and they would soon be together again. The fact that their time together was limited and not as of yet a permanent arrangement didn't deter the peaceful smile that spread across her tired face. Any few moments in his presence would be cherished, they would be enough for two years.
The soft rap at the door did little to rouse Jane from the deep sleep her late hours had finally plunged her into. She was so lost to the conscious world that Cassandra had to shake her into rousing. The sight she was presented with when Jane realized it was morning caused her long suffering sister to stifle a guffaw. Jane shot out of bed like a cat dropped into a bucket. Hair and bedclothes flying, she dove for her case beside the bed, furiously searching for something through the dresses, hats, and underclothes.
"Jane," Cassandra exclaimed. Already dreading the work it would take to set her things back to rights.
"Whatever are you doing?"
As if startled to find herself with company Jane swung around, practically tripping over a discarded chemise. She stared at her sister for a moment with eyes wide and mouth agape.
"Where are my pens and paper?" she asked returning to scramble through her nearly empty traveling case. Giving no thought to her sisters amused expression.
"Did you look on the table beside the fire?" Cassandra asked with all sweet innocence, knowing full well she had not. As both the objects of her fervent search were sitting quite unmolested on the small round table where she had left them the night before.
"Of course," she began to gripe when the idea suddenly stole over her. She scrambled up from the floor and without so much as a thank you to her sister, threw herself into the chair and began to scribble something furiously onto her page.
Having enough prior experience and knowledge of her sister's sometimes queer attitudes, Cassandra set herself to the task of collecting the victims of Janes fit with her traveling case. The underclothes and shawls were easy enough to fold and repack. But there was nothing to be done for the dresses that were now hopelessly creased. Poor Jane would have nothing suitable to change into upon their arrival in London. She would have to hope that the state of her attire didn't deteriorate too much upon the journey. Cassandra would make sure she was placed furthest inside the couch to avoid excess dust.
After a period of time, once things were set to rights, Cassandra laid a gentle hand on Jane's shoulder. As expected, Jane jumped almost imperceptibly, but put the pen down and stretched out her arms.
"What was that about?" Cassandra asked as she began to finger comb Jane's hair.
"That, my dear sister, was a pivotal scene for first impressions."
Jane yawned and leaned her head back into her sister's capable hands. She was ever so tired and wished only to drift back into slumber. And she very well may have, lost as she was to the familiar sensations of someone dressing her hair.
"Your hair is utterly impossible this morning Jane. I do wish you would take more care. Especially when you know you have very good reason to want it looking presentable today."
Cassandra pulled her hands back quickly as Jane whipped her head around, unsteady on her chair.
"Friday,' she began in a whisper. "I'm not ready!"
She jumped up and behind the dressing curtain to begin her morning ablutions with haste.
"I've laid out your traveling dress and bonnet for you on the bed."
"You are too good to me Cass," Jane called from behind the screen.
"Of course I am," she replied heading for the door.
The morning meal had been laid out especially earlier this morning in the front parlor for the ease of those traveling. They had a long day ahead of them, eight hours traveling by coach with a scant hour of refreshment when the horses needed to be changed. A good meal was important for their comfort. Or at least that was what Casandra had tried to convince her of. But Jane was determined that they should not chance missing their ride. After all it was she who had jeopardized their time table with her disordered morning. So she was happy to forgo eating to be on their way. She was in such high spirits that she felt no hunger, so it was no trouble to her in the moment.
Yet now, hours away from their next stop, her stomach protested loudly; drawing the attention of her sister, who had until that point been engrossed in a book detailing the flora and fauna of Devonshire. A pastime Jane shared no affinity for and was quite indifferent to her sister's interest. Besides she was far too excited to find any pleasure in reading. Which for her was quite nearly sacrilegious. But Tom did have a way of making her troublesome, or more so than came naturally.
"You were right."
"About what?" Cassandra asked without even looking up from her book.
"Breakfast of course. I should have eaten. Now I'm hungry as well as anxious. And did I mention tired? Because I'm that as well."
"Here," Cassandra said handing her an apple she magically pulled from somewhere about her person before going back to her book.
Knowing she was dismissed, Jane decided her best course of action would be to close her eyes and hope that sleep would find her. Never one much taken by vanity, even she could admit that she hoped some rest would have a positive effect upon her complexion. Which was looking quite harried due to the deprivation of adequate sleep.
Slouching quite unbecomingly she silently thanked her eldest brother's generosity for their private travel accommodations, closed her eyes, and fell asleep still holding her apple.
Blessedly the journey passed with little to delay them. Jane was refreshed from her nap and positively bouncing in her seat with excitement as the lights of the greater city came into view. The journey slowed to what felt like a stop as they hit the outskirts of town. London traffic was well known to all, yet Jane felt it was quite a personal blow. Such was her anticipation.
Another hour passed, in which Jane tried valiantly to convince Cassandra that walking would indeed get them their faster before they pulled up in front of the fashionable town home Henry and Eliza had taken for the season.
Jane's attention was caught by the glow of the lamplights as she stood poised at the bottom of the steps. Somehow all the fates had conspired in her favor and she was here. Here in London, and soon with Tom. Suddenly it all felt like a dream, too good to be real, to be true.
She was broken from her trance by her sister's gloved hand reaching for her.
"Come on you," she said. And pulling her along the sisters made their way into the house.
For a moment they stood alone in an empty foyer while their cases were whisked away with no more than a nod in acknowledgement. Just then their delightfully disheveled brother turned the corner with a wide smile.
"Henry," Jane cried, rushing to embrace him with all the gameness of a younger sister.
Jane inhaled deeply, relishing the familiar comfort of her brother's affection.
"Let me breath Jane," he laughed breathily.
"And let me get a look at the two of you."
Henry chuffed her chin before bestowing a brotherly kiss upon Cassandra's cheek.
"So you've made it then," he started. He made a slow circle around them pretending to look very closely for what they did not know.
Seeming to find their persons to his satisfaction he stood once again in front of them.
"And I see no worse for the wear. I was quite expecting to find one or rather both of you harried into old age and infirmity after so long with those devils."
"Devils!" Jane and Cassandra asked in unison. Henry's face was serious and gave nothing away.
"The children of course," he scoffed. Earning a playful slap from Cassandra.
"They are angels and you love them just as well as we do."
"Of course I do, and should never say otherwise. Now let me show you to your rooms. My dear wife has happily informed me that there is not a moment to lose. Her dinner shall start at exactly half past eight and not a minute later."
"And just where is our dear cousin?" Jane asked as they followed Henry up the grand staircase.
"Finishing touches, and that's all I will say on that score."
The sisters gave him a suspicious look but all he did was smile. How very like Henry, Jane thought to herself.
"Here we are," Henry explained while throwing the door open.
"I know neither of you are opposed to sharing. And Eliza and I are just down the hall. If you need something just listen for the yapping. Pug is in a right state this evening, not found of company you see."
"Don't let you wife hear you," Jane called, already heading to unpack.
"I'm sure were just fine Henry. We will be with you both shortly."
Cassandra almost had the door closed when they heard Henry call out.
"Hurry up Jane. You wouldn't want to keep our old friend waiting."
Jane froze with the blue muslin in her hand, and deciding it was far to creased to wear anyway, chucked it at the door.
"Cassie, help me do something about this dress."
Their scant hour, to Jane, seemed to at once drag and fly by. Cassandra was a miracle worker and had her descending the steps looking far more presentable than she did upon arrival. Though Jane was thankful, it did little to ease her nerves. Her heart was flying wildly in her chest and she gripped the banister with shaking fingers. This was it, she told herself. She would see him any moment. Had he arrived?
Suddenly her excitement got the best of her and she rushed down the rest of the stairs in a very unladylike fashion. She went to call out to Cassandra to hurry up when she was distracted by raised voices coming from the side parlor. The doors were slightly ajar and she stepped closer, curios about the occupants and their apparent disagreement.
"I swear to you Kensington, the next time I lay eyes on that blaggard,"
She recognized the angry tone in her brother's voice and felt true concern for the gentleman he must have been addressing. Henry was such a genial fellow that whoever had offended him so must have erred egregiously.
She was standing right outside the doors now and would certainly be discovered any moment.
"Please do not judge him so harshly," an unusual tall man pleaded with him.
"I don't know why he is not here himself tonight. All I know is that after some mysterious message he took his leave of me suddenly and begged my help in explaining his absence."
"Yet you have delivered no explanation, nothing I can bring to my sister to soften this blow."
"Henry," Jane looked to him as the import of his words began to coalesce in her mind.
"What is going on?" She asked as an eerie calm began to settle over her.
He hardly needed to answer, his very expression told her all she needed to know. Tom was not here. He wasn't coming. He had disappointed her again.
"Why?" Is all that came to mind to ask. Her thoughts were swimming with the possible answers to that question.
"I don't know Jane." Henry had gone from angry to comforting in an instant. He took her hand gently though she felt little relief.
"Is he alright?"
"I believe so." The tall man answered her.
"He received an urgent message, I believe from the Judge. He was agitated but otherwise fine. He sent me to make his apologies."
"I see." Her tone was curt and she looked at nothing but the floor beneath her feet.
Feelings of grief welled up from within her and she felt as though she was back in the breakfast room of the LeFroy town home. How was it that she was thrown over again, after everything they had said to each other? What of the promises that were made? Loath as she was to think ill of him, this was a truth she could not deny.
He had been once again faced with a choice. And once again it was not her.
Determined to bear this disappointment gracefully she took her leave of the company. She ignored Eliza calling to her. Truthfully she had not even noticed her appearance. Even her sisters offer to accompany her was rebuffed. Jane intended to be alone for the tears that were sure to fall any moment. With quick steps she hurried back the way she had come only minutes before, this time with an altogether different reason for her haste.
Once safely ensconced behind the closed bedroom door she allowed herself to feel. She sat down heavily upon the coverlet and allowed the tears to make silent tracks down her cheeks as she made a decision. This would be the last time she would cry over Tom LeFroy. Thus infused with a firm purpose she walked resolutely over to her case to retrieve paper and pen.
She would write to him, one last time.