Chapter 2: In which two lovers are torn apart
His head ached as if it had been slammed into a wall. Tom wondered what he had drunk to cause such a throbbing. He slowly cracked his eyes open. The light in the room was dim thankfully, and seemed to be coming from a single window close to the ceiling. He blinked a few times trying to clear the blurriness from his vision.
Her face was the first sight he saw, comforting the pain his head felt. Tom crooked an awry smile, finally realizing his head was pillowed in his lady's lap. Her chilled hand rested on his cheek.
"Tom, how are you?" her voice, full of concern, cut through the thumping in his head. "Can you sit up?"
His eyes shut tightly, and he rubbed them with the heels of his hands. Then it suddenly occurred to him: the carriage ride from Hampshire foiled by a band of kidnappers and thieves. He pleaded with them to take him for ransom, but the bandits insisted his betrothed be taken as well for ransom or selling or for their own pleasure. At least they were still together. As long as Jane was by his side, he could keep her safe.
"I will be fine, Jane" Tom replied, attempting to sit up. "A bit of a headache, but it shall pass."
Tom peered around slowly to examine the surroundings. They were being held in a damp square room, seeming to be a small basement or cellar. A short wooden door stood to the left of them with a large, round pull in the middle. He knew the door had to be locked, but he would try it, Tom noted to himself, as soon as he regained his bearings. The floor was hard dirt covered by old straw. The round window close to the ceiling was covered by iron bars.
"This must be the bandits' hideaway."
"I'm afraid it is" Jane replied. "Oh Tom, what are we to do?"
Tom reached for her hand, planting a warm kiss on the back of her chilled palm. "I do not know, but at least we are together." He gathered her to his side. Jane laid her head heavily against his shoulder, the exhaustion of the events weighing her down.
"Did you see where they have taken us?"
"No. I was blindfolded after you were knocked out and manhandled back into the carriage. One man guarded me, not taking his grip off my forearm the entire journey. I fear his grip has left bruises."
Tom flinched at the information, his blood boiling to the point of wanting to jump to his feet and slamming his fist into the stone wall. But losing his temper would not do any good, and he only pulled Jane closer against him as if his hold would shield her from any more pain.
Jane nibbled her lip, settling her breath to continue. "I lost track of time, seeming to fall into a daze when the carriage final halted and we were brought to this room. Only minutes ago I could hear two men speaking just outside the door, but only heard one pair of footfalls leave." Her eyes filled with tears. "What if your uncle will not pay a ransom for both of us? I am so scared, Tom. What if we are separated and cannot find each other again?"
Tom loosened his hold, pulling Jane far enough to meet her eye. "We will make it, Jane. If we are separated, I will walk through the pit of hades to find you. Whatever it takes, I will protect you."
Suddenly, footfalls echoed through the area outside the door and both went quiet to listen. A lock rattled and the heavy door creaked open. Tom stood instantly, putting himself in front of Jane, headache forgotten, ready to fight. The guard was the first to appear in the doorway. He strolled in slobbishly and stepped aside as another man entered. He was the same man who branded a knife at them in the carriage. He grinned toothlessly at them.
Behind the toothless bandit was a taller man, who had been assumed to be the leader of the band. An amused smirk crossed his face as he sauntered in. "How are my guests?"
"If you will release us, we'd be fine, sir" Tom snapped, daggers in his eyes.
"That is not an option. Mr. Lefroy, is it?" the man replied, and Tom realized he spoke with a French accent. It was quite muted, but still lingering in certain words. When Tom did not answer, he continued, "I have one of my men off to London gathering information on your supposed relation to the chief justice."
"You will find I have not lied to you."
The man stepped forward, dangerously. "I trust you have not."
"What of my betrothed?"
"Oh yes, I will see that your uncle know of the circumstances with your betrothed."
Jane's hopes fell. Chief Justice Langhorn did not agree with his nephew's courting of such a women. When he becomes aware of their elopement, he may not pay the ransom for them. Or worse, save Tom but leave her to damnation in the hands of these thieves.
"For now I would like a word with your betrothed. Miss?"
Jane cleared the horrible lump in her throat. "Miss Austen, and what are you called, sir?"
"Monsieur Girard" the man replied, extending his hand for her to accept. "Come, Miss Austen."
Jane's face turned instantly pale as the fear of them being separated materialized.
"Whatever you have to say, you can say it to the both of us" Tom insisted, his stance daring but his voice desperate.
Girard towered over Tom as he snarled, "I will speak to her if I please. You're treading on deadly ground, Mr. Lefroy."
Tom was not one to back away from a fight, and before he could rationally think, he had thrown a blow to Girard's face. The taller man blocked his fist, yanking Tom's arm behind his back and tossing him to the ground face first. Jane screamed, rushing to Tom's side but an arm wrapped around her middle and she was lifted into the air.
The door clattered shut as she was carried, thrashing at her capture, from the cell. Her screams were echoed with Tom pleas through the hallway until she could hear him no more.