Title:There You Were
Author: Blue Chance
Chapter Rating: G
Warnings:Angst, dark themes
Disclaimer: It's all mine and I'm writing this for money... except I'm lying.
Summary: You were there, my love... so you know the story. Why am I retelling it now to you? To myself? Why should I relive the pain?
Author's Note: So... this is a bit of an odd story. It's odd because it is a new fandom for me, but I saw the movie and I could not leave it alone. I'm sectioning it off differently than is usual of me and the chapters are not led in to with quotes. Also, it's written with a type of narrative I've never used before in a story. Tom is speaking to the reader in a way, but he is telling his story as though he talking to Jane. I felt that he would not be speaking of their relationship to anyone but her, and I wanted to explore the story from his perspective. I do not quote anything directly from the movie, because if you're reading this I assume you've seen the movie - he goes over it as though from memory. Anything in quotes is mine. I did not just want this to be a retelling and rehashing of Becoming Jane. I do hope to bring something new to the table. We follow Tom through his encounters with Jane and things we did not see on screen.
Another thing that is different about this story is that it is not just fan fiction... it is something of a historical fiction as well. I researched the characters from the movie and have attempted to use fact and fiction together. I used fact to fill in some of the gaps that the movie left us with - and also just plain made some stuff up. I do not pretend to be an expert on Regency England, but I did research and I did try. So... thank you for trying this with me. I hope you like it and keep coming back for more!
There You Were
Part I: Hampshire
I can make no claim to have loved you from the beginning. For it is true, as you may know, that I did not. For the sake of honesty I must admit that I did not initially find you to be anything special at all. I dare say you had the somewhat unfortunate advantage of forming a more solid opinion of me that day in your mother and father's parlor than I did of you. Late, uninterested... ignorant. I can not imagine what you may have thought me to be that day. First impressions, my dear. First impressions.
I have long since realized that our lives are not our own. Oh, yes... we are able to make decisions here and there. Will I stand idle? Will I dance with each single lady at the ball? These are little things that give us the illusion that we are in control of our lives, but we are not. By some horrible miracle (Is that ironic, my love? Or is it just tragedy?) I was sent to stay in the country against my will. My own actions had led me to this turn of events but my own actions could not save me from them. Had I been a different man - a better man, I might never have met you at all. The idea is singular in and of itself because, you see, meeting you is what made me a better man. In any case, we are all bound to lead the life we encounter, not the life we imagine... and all life is, is a succession of incidents. Unrelated and unbiased incidents that sometimes lead to change. Change in our situation. Change in our relationships. Change in ourselves.
So it was one day as I held a gun for, not the first time in my life, but for the first time in the company of my nervous uncle and cousin... that a small voice calling my name from outside startled me, and unfortunately the gun, in to action. It had not been my fault, I still maintain that the blame lay clearly with Lucy for having, indeed, been the small voice... but perhaps guns were not for me. I had always been more of a boxing man myself. It was clear that I was not the only person in the room to hold this opinion, and it was suggested, and can no longer remember from whom, that I go for a walk.
Which led to our second meeting. If our first was beyond my control, our second was even more so.
I was lost in muddy Selbourne Wood and there you were. Miss... what was it? I could not recall. I did not think, and nor did I care at the time, that it would offend you. I only knew that I had sat with your family in your home as we all listened to you rattle on about, God only knew what. Everyone around me seemed politely besotted by your written words. What had you been speaking about? Oh, yes. Your sister and her fiancé (happier times for us all). I could not listen as intently as the others. You spoke eloquently and you, no doubt, had talent - but I was unimpressed. I might have mentioned my frustrations aloud, and received a brief scolding from your brother, which left me feeling more amused than chided.
So as I saw you walking that day in the woods calling to you... Miss, Miss - unable to pull from the depths of memory your name, I was saved from trying as you spoke to me quickly and in passing.
Miss Austen. Oh yes, Miss Austen. Now I remembered... and I was vaguely disappointed that I had not encountered someone more diverting in my hour of need.
Yes, I am sorry. That is how I felt upon the beginning of our second meeting - but I confess it now, that was the very last time I ever felt disappointment when finding myself in your presence. You were quick witted and sharp tongued - though I could see that I made you uncomfortable. I was something different from what you were used to. A man not at all like the men who had vied and were at present vying for your affections. I was not bound to your country's polite manner of conduct and it seemed, though for all you tried, that neither were you. We had met twice and twice I had managed to offend you, this I knew because this you told me without ever admitting you had been offended. I had been unable to paste myself to your words at your family gathering which must have hurt your pride - for who amongst your people had ever told you that your talent was anything short of wonderful? Offense number one. Number two, of course, being my inability to recall the name of a woman whom I had only ever met once and whom, in my defense, was only one of the many I had been introduced to that day.
Also, to be fair, it was hard to remember much of anything after having endured Lucy Lefroy's... considerable singing talents in the parlor. I do, however, concede the point to the extent that, yes, I did fall asleep during your reading. There was no excuse for that but... good God, woman, there was writing on both sides of those pages.
So, yes, you had every reason to ignore me, to keep walking as I called out to you - but once I was able to stop you from walking away from me, we spoke briefly of the woods we found ourselves in. I admitted to you that I found it unimpressive... nothing but mud and trees, perhaps offending you again by offending your country (admittedly, that was the point). I was a London man - by circumstance if not by birth, you see, and quite unable to understand why it was that anyone would choose to live so far away from, at least what I believed at the time to be, everything. You recommended (not so much a recommendation as it was an assignment) to me a book about the woods that I would later read - that you would later find me reading. That might have been the first clue as to my feelings for you. That not only would I never forget your name again, but that I should remember to read obscure book you had ever only mentioned to me once - and that you had not even mentioned by name.
So yes, as I said, I was disappointed at the beginning of our second meeting... but by the end, oh by the end. Your manner, your words, your peculiar elegance and passion. There was something about you that I could not immediately disregard. You left me and I called to you - asking if I had offended you, and you, dear Lady, swore I did not. Yet you left me there alone and lost, a testament to just how not offended you were. I found it amusing and beguiling at the same time. I think back to that day... and though I did not know, though I could not have known at the time - you had somehow secured my heart irrevocably as your own during those few moments in the woods. I can not tell you that was when I knew I loved you, but I can tell you that I do now know that I loved you - not from the beginning as was previously admitted, but almost all along.
That night I lay staring up at the ceiling in my room at the Lefroys', thinking of many things. Contemplating my escape from Hampshire, my glorious return home. How I hated this place with it's somber grace - it's mundane predictability. Day in and day out everything was the same. Colourless and, please forgive me, ugly. My uncle, the judge, was teaching me a lesson, indeed (little did he know the cruel fate he had sealed for me in trying to teach me this lesson). And the lesson was this; I would have to practice a bit more discretion as I continued in my inappropriate behaviors with inappropriate company... lest I be sent away to live again in quiet and dull obscurity. Dull, colourless, and please forgive me again, ugly obscurity. Nothing had been interesting thus far in to my stay just as I had suspected nothing would be.
And then, yes and then... I thought of you.
Turning to my side, I tried to push the image of you - lovely, face flushed with embarrassed irritation - away. What were you doing in my head, I wondered. I had met many women in my life. Indeed I had... experienced many women, but never had my thoughts turned to any of them so unexpectedly. Yet there you were. I had been wrong a few moments before in my thinking, I realized - for one thing had been interesting, and that was it.
You were interesting.
I closed my eyes and again wished your face away, willing sleep to come. The sooner I fell asleep, the sooner it would be day. The sooner it was day, the sooner I could get on with all the boring redundancies the day had in store for me, and the sooner that was over with... the sooner I could get back to sleep. A few weeks worth of repetition of this and I would be home. Away from Hampshire. Away from the Lefroy's... And yes, away from you.
The sooner the better.
The ability to look back at the events in one's life with the perfect clarity of what was and the knowledge of what was still yet to be is an unfortunate circumstance of the human condition. For you see, I did not know it then - but I could not possibly leave soon enough.
As I lay there in bed unable to put you from my thoughts... it was already too late.
We were late. Lucy, Mrs. Lefroy and I were late to the ball two or three nights later. My memory fails me yet again as I try to remember whose ball it was and why it was being thrown. Perhaps I can not remember because I was dizzy with the idea that I was going to be surrounded by dozens of country women - each of whom were going to expect a dancing partner of me. Each and every one of them just like Lucy. If there was any fun to be had at all that night, it would have been with your brother. I found him to be quite agreeable in London and hoped that he would show me the finer things Hampshire had to offer. If there were finer things. Which I doubted.
The Lefroy ladies and I entered the ball room from the balcony above and I was just about to make my way to... I will never know where exactly I was planning on going because that was as far as my thought carried itself before I saw you below. I will admit to you now and never again that I was, at first, jealous to find you dancing with Mr. Wisley. I did not understand why I should feel this, but did not have to wonder for very long in any case. The feeling was fleeting as a moment after I felt the emotion Mr. Wisley had made the egregious error of using your foot as part of the dance floor. It was then impossible to be jealous of him. So I could only smile. You caught my eye just as I was laughing at the sight before me. My heart felt tight in my chest, but I kept smiling. For your part, you looked at me as though you hated me. And perhaps you did... but who other than you would have shown me? The confines of propriety required that you conceal feelings of dislike, but there you were. There your emotions were. I was fascinated by you, Miss Austen. You were an anomaly in a world where much of everything was indistinguishable from much of everything else.
I made my way down to the ball room, in search of you - but once I made it to where I had previously seen you, you were no longer there. Another dance had started in front of me and I knew I had only a matter of moments to make my escape, past a line of young maidens standing idle - watching me as I walked away. I did not make eye contact with a single one of them, nor did I look back once I was clear of danger. I had risked the lion's den just to speak with you. Yet another clue as to my feelings even though I was as yet unaware of them.
Quickly I found myself in search of your brother, perhaps he would know where you were. I had caught sight of him while still in peril on the ball room floor - him and your cousin, Eliza Freullide, on the opposite side of the balcony from where I had come. What an odd pair the two of them made, but how I envy them now. To have the means and position to be with the one you love. It is something so few of us have.
What I found on that balcony was not what I had expected, however - you stood with your back to me, talking to your brother and cousin. There it was, that feeling in my chest again. Nervousness? Excitement? What it was exactly, I did not know and I did not wish to examine the condition past the point of curiosity.
They tried to warn you, didn't they, Jane? Even now I can smile at that. Jane... Jane, your brother had said. You ignored him. You went on speaking; went on insulting me. Were all his friends as disagreeable as I? And just where in Ireland was I from?
Limerick, you learned, is where I was from in Ireland, and you learned it from me - me who happened to be standing behind you. You must have been surprised. You mentioned me declining to dance so you had no doubt seen me narrowly escape with my life from the sea of husbandless women - thinking me a safe distance away. You turned around to look at me, face pale. I had given you no reason to like me or speak well of me, indeed I had done the opposite - but you felt guilty anyway. I am certain of it. I was bothered by your opinion of me, but I do confess to being curious as to the emotion from which it originated. Was it is the same emotion that urged me to ask you to dance even though you had not three seconds prior made your dislike for me abundantly clear?
And how amusing it was escorting you down the steps, your eyes cast downward, diverted to the side or to the ceiling - anywhere but on me. If you had looked, you would have been unhappy to note the grin on my face. For it had been you, had it not, that had been judging my refusal to dance as, shall we say, undiplomatic. How could you have turned me down without seeming a hypocrite? Not one word was spoken on our way down and I have no way of knowing what you were thinking, but I do imagine it was something along those lines. I am sorry, but it was not in my nature to turn down an opportunity such as I found just then. A man, after all, has to make his own fun.
You did dance well - even while keeping up with me in conversation. I feigned to be forgetful of your name once again, just to tease you - but you, without missing a beat, did the same to me. I could have laughed. We spoke many words, all amounting to the equivalent of calling one another arrogant. I suspected you felt yourself above your peers (and if you did you did rightly so). Although, if I had known that this would be one of only two times I would ever dance with you, I would have kept my words to myself, my eyes on you... and I would have danced with you all night. Instead, when the music ended I walked away from you and you from me - leaving the others to clap politely at the one hundredth of one hundred identical dances they had accomplished in their lives.
And yet... we did find our way back to each other through out the night. Allow me to apologize most sincerely for any unwanted attention it may have brought you. No doubt your mother had something to say about it. Mr. Wisley and his aunt, with their eyes so permanently affixed to your person, must have noticed as well. You must have wondered why, just as I wondered why. Why should I want to be near you who disliked me? Who had not a kind word to say to me? You with your dull writings and your... irritatingly innocent eyes. I was not even sure if my opinion of you was any higher than yours of me. Why was I drawn to you so? Three... or four instances was it? Instances in which we found ourselves near to each other. Each time you had more to say about my elevated airs and I of your pious indignity. You were wonderfully antagonistic and I am sorry to say that I did enjoy the spark of anger in your eyes every time I said something you did not wish to hear. I found that I was enjoying myself for the first time since my arrival nearly a week before.
For the first time, I was glad not to be in London.
My mother had once told me that in life we must make our choices with enough courage to support our conviction and accept the consequences of those choices with a smile... whether those consequences be good or bad. For once a decision is made it can not, for all intents and purposes, be unmade. This was in response to my inquiring as to why she had married my father who was so many stations below her. Penniless as he was, she loved my father with as deep conviction as could be had, and good or bad, she accepted whatever else came.
When the opportunity arose to stay in London with my uncle, to learn the law, to aid my mother and father in their financial responsibilities, I knew it was my duty to accept. And in accepting, the weight of my family came to be fully upon my shoulders. I made this choice with conviction as my mother had taught me... but I did not know you then. I was young and did not quite yet understand my mother's true lesson.
That I would have to live with that decision and the consequences of that decision for the rest of my life. Decisions can not be undone. There was no changing the past.
So you see, it is exactly how I have said. Our lives are not our own. It was decided long before we met that we could not be together, and through decisions that had nothing to do with us. I often wonder what I would have done had I ever had the opportunity to go back and do things differently - exactly what my mother had warned me about. A man could drive himself mad wondering what might have been, but I have wondered and do still wonder. I know, had it been you, if you were me - you would have changed nothing. You would have helped your family without question or protest knowing full well we would never be together. You are a better person than I...
For I do not know for certain that I could do the same.
When the ball was over and I was again back in my room and in bed, I amused myself with the recent memory of Lucy pouting jealously in the carriage ride back home. She had begun to question me about my interest in you, but her mother quickly cut her off, as seemed to be her way. Poor, dear, annoying little Lucy. Too young to be considered ridiculous in her behavior, but old enough to suffer the pain of unrequited infatuation. I did care for her though, I realized. Being one of eleven surviving children, I found that I had almost missed being incessantly bothered by a younger relation...
But I did not want to think about my siblings.
I closed my eyes, no longer amused. This place, this house, these people - they all served as reminders of what it was exactly that depended on me. I was here even now to learn to meaning of... what had my uncle said? Prudence. To learn prudence. And for what? To make myself worthy enough to inherit what was his. For my family. I did all this for my family. And, for all the love I had for them, I admit to you - shamefully - that I hated them as well. Forever trying to crawl out from behind the shadow of poverty, forever defending my mother's actions, and always, always, fighting to keep food on the plates of my brothers and sisters.
So no, I did not wish to think of these things just then. I never wanted to think of them, truth be told. I preferred to perform my duty quietly and go on with my life as though it were not a very large portion of my life. And so, I tried to push these thoughts to the very back of my consciousness - as far back as I could manage, which was where they usually stayed. It was, however, proving to be particularly difficult in this instance. Perhaps because I was becoming increasingly aware I was on the threshold of disaster in regards to my uncle and the money he afforded me. The majority of the time I could ignore the fact that my family and I relied completely on his rather conditional benefaction - but the situation I was in did lend itself most incontrovertibly to a very deep understanding that my uncle could, and indeed would, strip me of everything if I displeased him.
I realized quite plainly that I had been wrong about my uncle's lesson to me when I had thought it over some nights before. It was not, as I had previously mused, that I must learn how to get away with being myself...
It was that I must learn to be someone else.
I let out a sound of exasperation and threw my legs over the side of the bed. I remember running my hands through my hair, resting my head in my palms - knowing I would not sleep well that night.
So I stood up, lit a candle... and made my way quietly to the library.
It should not be a great mystery which book I searched for to take from the shelves.
By the time I had awaken the next morning I had already suffered a few minor embarrassments during my as yet short stay in Hampshire. Shooting my uncle's gun off in to the walls of his cellar, for instance. Falling backward on the seat of my very expensive pants as I called out to you in the woods, for another. These types of things, given my nature, were easily brushed aside the moment after they had occurred - the embarrassment fading away almost as swiftly as it had come. Usually the feeling was replaced by another emotion all together such as amusement or irritation. As I woke up in my night clothes on the arm chair in my uncle's library, my uncle and aunt staring at me with concern... I knew this would not be one of those instances.
After a brief moment of confusion, I sat up abruptly.
"Uncle." I said quickly - nodding my head in something of a bow to my aunt.
"If you you found your room to be other than accommodating in some way, surely something else could have been done about it." My uncle responded.
"Is Tom in here?" I heard Lucy's voice come from the doorway. I closed my eyes briefly, biting down on my jaw. The girl seemed to be in constant search of me - why should this moment be any different?
"Lucy--" Her mother started to warn her, but it was too late. There she stood in front of me, eyes wide - grin wider.
I pulled my robe tighter around me.
"Come, Lucy." Her mother said, pulling her away.
Their voices trailed away and I heard the library door close behind them. My uncle took a deep breath and sat down near me.
"How are you enjoying your stay here, Tom?"
"Well enough, sir." I responded, having nothing more to say on the subject just then.
"Glad to hear it." He said, then a pause. "I know that your coming here was not exactly your idea and that adjusting to country life when you are clearly quite accustomed to city living, must be quite difficult. Having said that, Tom, I really must insist that you put in the effort."
"Yes, uncle." I said, somehow knowing this had to do with more than just the discovery of me asleep in an arm chair. Perhaps I had been acting just a bit... aloof. For the previous three years I had divided my time between being quietly absorbed in study (yes, Jane, I did study) and things of a more diverting nature. It was, none of it, spent cultivating personal relationships or learning to be interested in the lives of others. I was respected in London, sought out after. The nephew of a successful and affluent judge. Three years of that and now Hampshire - it was difficult readjusting my behavior.
"We are very happy to have you..." he continued. "But I am sure that a young man such as yourself could easily find better ways to direct your restless energy than roaming around aimlessly through the night."
"You are, after all, only here for the summer. Why not make the best out of it?"
"Yes, of course, uncle." Was really all I could say. He took a deep breath and nodded as well. He stood up.
"Will you go calling this morning?" He asked, seemingly from nowhere. I must have looked confused.
"I had not thought of doing so..."
"Well, I am uncertain of the customs of Ireland or, indeed, even of London... but here, when a young man dances with a young woman at a ball it is considered polite to call on her the next day."
It may well have been a custom in both London and Ireland, but I did not know - and for certain it was one custom I had never observed. It seemed to be just a bit ridiculous when a man could possibly dance with many several women at a ball. Should he have to call on all of them the next day? I voiced this question to my uncle who merely said;
"Perhaps it is lucky for you that only danced with one young woman, then." He smiled, and I got the distinct feeling that he was teasing me a bit.
"Indeed." I responded dryly. My uncle bowed and left me alone once again in the library. I sunk back in the chair and ran my hand over my face...
I supposed I was obliged to pay you a visit.
"Mr. Tom and Mr. George Lefroy for you, Miss." I heard the maid speak to someone in the parlor. I had brought George as something of a chaperone so no one could get the wrong idea from my calling on you. I was not to be teased over this.
"Mr. Lefroy?" It was you, and you seemed none too happy. I smiled to myself for I had assumed your reaction would be something to that effect. The maid looked to George and I and gestured for us to enter the parlor. There you were, sitting daintily with your hands folded neatly in your lap. The maid curtseyed and was gone. George and I bowed.
"Miss Austen." I said. George addressed you as well.
"George." You said with a smile, and then looked to me with a bit less of a smile. "Mr. Lefroy. Please, sit down." You offered, feigning courtesy when I knew you hated me for being there.
"I am told paying you call would be only polite as you were so kind to favor me with a dance yesterday evening."
"Well, I must admit I would not have expected you to follow such--"
"Provincial rules of conduct?" I finished for you. You smiled a smile that was almost more of a grimace. This was turning out to be quite an amusing opportunity... for I knew you had many things to say to me that George's presence would prevent you from. I, on the other hand, could goad you as I wished. You turned to George.
"George, so kind of you to accompany Mr. Lefroy here today. How are things at Ashe?"
"Quite fine, Miss Austen. Thank you for inquiring."
Silence. I could have laughed.
"Tell me," I started finally. "How is your novel coming? Have you yet... accomplished what you meant to?" The irritation on your face was plain.
"I have accomplished nothing." You responded, then looked down for a moment of subtle frustration. That had not been what you meant at all, but it was what you said. "What I mean is, it is not done - but it is coming along rather well."
"Oh, I am very happy to hear it. There are so few successful feminine writers, but who knows? We could be sitting here now with the next Mrs. Ann Radcliffe."
"Mrs. Ann Radcliffe?" You asked, seeming surprised. "You have read The Mysteries of Udolpho?"
"Mmm." I said. "Prose are a bit weak in my opinion, but that is to be expected, of course. She could only write of that which she is immediately familiar - so we get much of nature and of the heroine Emily St. Aubert fainting. It does get to be a bit redundant. f?" How you did not narrow your eyes at me, I shall never know. You only looked at me, blank faced - doing quite a job at concealing the anger I know you must have been feeling. "Which is not to say that you are to follow in her footsteps. You might well be a surprise."
"Forgive me for saying so, Mr. Lefroy, but could it be possible that you could not understand the deeper meaning of the book?" You asked, and I said nothing. "It was sentimental and gothic. The heroine endured travesty after travesty and still remained a good person in the end. I can see how someone of limited literary knowledge may have scarcely understood the point... which is not to suggest you are such a person."
I did not have to think of anything to say in response to you, for your brother walked in just at that moment.
"Lefroy!" He said. "I thought it was you." I stood and shook his hand.
"Austen." I said.
"What brings you here? Don't tell me you've come to visit my sister? That would be down right polite of you."
"Oh, yes." You interrupted, standing as well. "Mr. Lefroy is very kind and polite, indeed, to grace us with his presence."
"Indeed." You rolled your eyes and looked away from us. "Will you be joining us at picnic tomorrow? Perhaps join in at the cricket match?"
"Henry..." You said. "I am sure a man of such high class metropolitan upbringing would find our country picnics very dull."
"Oh, no." I said. "You are mistaken. Just this morning my uncle was suggesting that I immerse myself more in country life. I would be delighted to come." I met your eyes. "I am actually quite good at cricket."
And, as it turns out, so were you.
It was a beautiful day... honestly the kind of day one could not expect to see in London. Perhaps in Limerick, when it stopped raining long enough - but not London. Not in a metropolis where one could not hope for a patch of green grass outside of a park, much less an open field on which games such as cricket could be played. There were other diversions to be had in the city, amusements of a somewhat questionable variety... but nothing such as this. Not for a person such as me.
I confess I never would have expected to see you walking toward me with a bat in hand... but, yes, you did turn out to be quite good. Something I might have guessed when you took up Mr. Wisley's turn upon his refusal to take it up himself. I thought, perhaps, you believed you had something to prove to me - that a woman could do anything that a man could and just as well. I was intrigued, but not impressed, by your forwardness. By the way you seemed not even to notice the look of stunned propriety on your mother's face and the way all the other ladies in attendance gasped. Why must we all drop our jaws and divert our eyes when a lady chooses to do something other than sit daintily under a parasol and fan at herself? Is that not irony?
If it ever seemed to you, to anyone for that matter, that I believed women to be below me or incapable in any way, it was not so. It was my opinion that a woman could have and do whatever she wanted the same as a man could. It seemed to me, though, that women generally - while perhaps wanting to be considered as equal to men - remained comfortable in their confinement. Freedom belonged to everyone and was there for the taking... but freedom is not always an easy thing to have. As in all things, the bad comes right along with the good. You can not choose to play a man's game while still hiding safely behind the rules and obligations that keep you happy and comfortable and expect to be considered an equal. To anyone. You yourself once had said that you did not devise the scruples by which you lived, but were obliged to obey them. You playing against me in the cricket match seemed to me to be an exercise in hypocrisy. I would give you your credit where your credit was due, but in this instance there was none.
This was when I became partially aware of my feelings for you.
You wanted to be something other than what your surroundings had made you. Jane, you were lovely and brilliant already, but you wanted something more. I could see it in you. The potential. You wanted to be different and that made you different. If you could me mine for only a moment, I would let you flourish. I wanted to corrupt you without ruining you. I wanted to open you up and let you spill out on to the world. To be whatever it was that you were trying to be. But you would most likely never let me, and I would most likely never try.
So as I sat for a moment on the ground after you had just won your team the match, I found myself feeling a bit annoyed. Annoyed because I expected so much more from you than I ever could have hoped to receive. You were better than your circumstances, and yet... and yet. I did not know.
Also, you did just beat me at cricket.
I let my irritation fade away and stood up, mentioning that it was obvious you had played the game before, allowing you to have your satisfaction. A few moments later Henry and I were racing down the hill to a bit of river for a swim. You and Eliza followed us - running almost as fast as we. Of this I was very aware. I was undressed completely by the time you made it down to us. I could feel your embarrassed eyes upon me... and then I knew you were gone. If you really wanted to prove to me that you could be my equal in all things, you would have jumped in that river with me. I knew you would not, but hoped that you would. To experience something for yourself. Something other than obligations or minor acts of dissent. A writer could not write of what they did not know - so how could you ever hope to be a writer when you knew nothing? Your world was a very small place.
"I've warned my sister about you." Henry said to me as we prepared to make our way back up the hill. I laughed as I pulled a boot on.
"Only you?" I asked. "And only your sister? I am disappointed. I had hoped that the whole of the female population of Hampshire would have been warned about me by now." I paused. "Twice." Another pause. "By everyone."
Henry smiled and shook his head.
"I am afraid that is mostly likely not far away from the truth."
"Ah, then I've succeeded."
I clapped Henry on the shoulder with a laugh and, being fully dressed, we began back up the hill to where everyone awaited our return.
"She is my sister, Tom." Henry warned, but in a friendly enough way.
"Yes, I know." I sighed.
"I just do not wish her heart to become one of the many in your collection."
"Do not worry, Austen. My intentions toward your sister should be of little concern to your or anyone."
"And yet, why do I still worry?"
I stopped and faced him. He stopped as well.
"Why, indeed?" I asked. "Believe me, even if your sister did come off of that pedestal she's placed herself on long enough to decide I am not the horrible creature she imagines me to be, she is not exactly the type of company I am known to keep. Furthermore, it does not matter because I am gone by summer's end..." I shrugged slightly.
"Yes, and I have had the opportunity to see for myself that that happens to be more than enough time for you." He responded. I let out a noise of irritation as I rolled my eyes - about to say something, but he continued to speak. "As for what she thinks of you, no one can speak better of her feelings than her herself - but I know her, and I can assure you her behavior does speak contrary to her words."
"And I seldom have the opportunity to observe either so allow me to assure--"
Whatever he was going to say, I do not know for I cut him off quite a bit more sharply than I meant to
"Allow me to assure you..." I trailed off for a moment, and took a deep breath. Your brother only looked at me with a concerned confusion. He had not meant to upset me, I know. I was not even sure of why he had. I regained my briefly lost composure and began to speak again. "Forgive me."
"Of course." He said. I let out a breath of air with an amiable smile and we continued on our way. "You must understand, it is just because I care for Jane that I feel I must to say these things to you."
"I am fully aware that I have a reputation." I started. "But you forget that I am here at my uncle's insistence to learn how to behave as an upright man of the law. I am doing my best to keep out of trouble."
"Yes, and how are finding it?"
"Oh, quite effortless." I said with a serious frown. "While I'm asleep anyway. I have yet to figure out how to get on while I'm awake."
Henry laughed shortly.
"If your uncle only knew you."
"Let us hope it never comes to that."
I searched for you when we returned to the picnic, if for no other reason to apologize for having undressed so abruptly in front of you. There had been many things running through my thoughts at the time, and none of them had been your or Eliza's reputation. Your brother may not have realized you two had been following us, but as I said before, I had been aware.
And also, my dear... my dear sweet Jane... I desired to see the flush that would no doubt cover your cheeks as I broached the subject. Would you deny having seen me? Would you think me impudent for bringing it up? I tried not to think such things, for such things led to a certain behavior that always seemed to get me in to the kind of trouble that I had just been speaking to your brother about. I found that I could not help myself. You see, your brother had enlightened me to a fact of which I had been previously ignorant.
He believed your opinion to be higher of me than you would have had me believe.
But you were no longer there to apologize to. We were informed that you, Eliza and your mother had taken your leave whilst Henry and I were still at the river. Though it was a bit disappointing, I could not keep myself from smiling. You had left to avoid me, to avoid having to acknowledge what had occurred. I did not doubt it at all.
And if my thoughts turned to you once again as I lay in bed that night, I wondered... would you be thinking of me as well?