Say my name
He couldn't even remember my name at the beginning. He probably thought that I was some stupid little country girl who had big plans for a future that was never going to come true. When I first saw him I thought that he was interested in me too, his gaze met mine briefly and showed curiosity. But after my reading he did not talk to me and only days later he did not even recall my name.
"What do you make of Mr. Lefroy" Eliza asked me.
"We're honoured by his presence" I answered ironically.
"You think so" my cousin laughed.
"He does" I replied. "With his preening prancing Irish cum Bond Street airs."
"Jane" my brother tried to appease.
"Well I call it very high indeed" I insisted. "Refusing to dance when there are so few gentlemen. Henry, are all of your friends so disagreeable? Where in Ireland does he exactly come from anyway?"
"Limerick, Miss Austen" a smooth voice behind me answered. I turned around, feeling heat rise in my cheeks and I did not know what to say. Instead of looking offended though his gaze shone with interest, his whole face and posture a picture of challenge. He voiced that challenge, disguising it with the request for a dance.
And I wondered why. In any case it seemed that this time he could recall my name.
He approached me in one of the worst moments of my life. I saw no other options but to accept Mr. Wisley's addresses - not only had Lady Grisham pressured me into it just minutes ago, mother and even father had made it clear what choices lay ahead of me. And with Tom now standing next to me at the fountain I heard Eliza's words ghosting through my head as well, reminding me that Tom was expected to marry rich. He was out of my reach and on top of that from tomorrow on he would not even be around anymore to at least see him.
I had tears in my eyes and did not want to show them to Tom. He stood next to me, out of the corner of my eyes I saw only his exhale in the freezing winter air. And for some reasons I got the feeling that he was just as crushed as I was.
"I have learnt of Mr. Wisley's marriage proposal." he started and for reasons of proper conduct he added a meaningless "My congratulations".
"Is there an alternative for a well-educated, young woman of small fortune?" I asked, hoping for him to offer me the solution I just couldn't see.
"How can you of all people dispose of yourself without affection?" he countered bitterly, refusing to look at me.
How wrong he was. How could he not know? I did feel affection, just not for the right man. "How can I dispose of myself with it?" I asked in return and because I wanted to be honest with him, to make sure he knew I referred to him I added "You are leaving tomorrow.".
He finally turned his head to look at me and slowly his eyes found mine. Those beautiful blue eyes were full of wonder. I could stare for the rest of my life into those eyes. But I did not have all those years, only this moment and even that would slip away too quickly. And I realized that I might only have this one opportunity to kiss someone I loved.
I focused on his mouth and bent towards him but he bent backwards slightly, leaving our personal spaces unmarred. My eyes travelled up from his lips to his eyes and when I bent forward again he did not move away anymore.
When my lips touched his I marvelled at their softness and warmth. It never occurred to me that a man's lips might feel like this. It felt beautiful and I was glad that I was brave enough to kiss him.
Suddenly though I felt him respond to me and I absentmindedly noted that his fingers graced my cheek and neck as if he was afraid his touch could break me. Hesitatingly he kissed me back and I knew in that very moment that I never wanted to kiss anybody else anymore in my whole life.
When I broke away for air my bravery left me. What had I done? I had never cared much for proper behaviour of my gender but women never initiated an contact this intimate. And he had a reputation, he surely had had kissed a lot of women. God knows he spent passionate nights with them too? It was my first kiss, I didn't know how it was done - how could I have hoped that he might enjoy it as much as I did? I drew back and looked at him to assure myself that I had not just made a complete fool out of myself. Had he not wanted it? Had I done it wrongly?
But he only stared back at me awed. I noticed only then that his hand still caressed my neck lightly.
"Did I do that well?" I asked embarrassed.
"Very" he replied without thought "...Very well." he nodded and a smile started to form on his face.
I was relieved, he seemed to have liked it. "I wanted to, just once, do it well" I said a little embarrassed, still I couldn't help but smile at him.
I heard men approaching us but I couldn't yet see them. When I looked back at Tom joy was written all over his face and he led me into the shadows of some trees and bushes nearby.
"I have no money, no property" he rushed out happily and I wondered if his mood and his words could be any more contradictory. "I am entirely dependent on that bazaar old lunatic, my uncle" he continued pressing me against a tree "I cannot yet offer marriage, but - you must know how I feel!" he said and my stomach began to tingle in anticipation. 'Not YET offer'?
"Jane, I'm yours." he said suppressing laughter of pure happiness. "God, I'm yours. I'm yours heart and soul...!"
It was the first time he had called me Jane.
She was a beauty with fine features and a pureness you did not find in women of the city. I wondered if she was one of Henry's sisters or if she was a friend of the family. My uncle had introduced me upon my arrival, since I happened to enter in the middle of a speech though nobody was presented to me. I sat down next to Henry and was curious about this girl that had all the attention of the room on her. The girl without name restarted her speech once - twice - and did not stop anymore to compliment the blond next to her. Soon enough I stopped listening to the overly sweet, faceless words and only heard her voice. It was melodious and very pleasant to listen to. I closed my eyes to focus better on it and enjoyed the first moment of relax since my departure from London.
This would develop into the worst winter of my entire life, I just knew it. It was cold and wet and probably the dirtiest walk of my life. And all you ever saw were trees. I so needed to get back into the city.
Then something blue caught my eye. It was the girl, the brunette from our neighbour's house. Thank god, finally there was somebody to talk to and to blend out this countryside boredom.
I tried to catch her attention but I soon enough realized that I did not know her name: "Miss...! Miss ..ahm! Miss!" I tried but she did not seem to hear me.
I hurried to reach her, called out to her and finally she reacted.
"- Austen!" She called back. Oh!
"Mister Lefroy" I replied and bowed to her.
"Yes, I know" she responded, seemingly offended. "But I'm alone"
I had to suppress a laugh at that and how formal she behaved "Except for me!" I countered.
"Exactly" she answered and still did not slow down her steps.
"Oh, come on!" I said chuckling "What rules of conduct do apply in this rural situation? We have been introduced, have we not?" If not wholly the first time, it had been done just now.
"What value is there in an introduction if you cannot even remember my name? In fact you can barely stay awake in my presence."
Wow. She was offended.
Probably I was better off with the trees. I turned around and to signal her my willingness to put some much needed distance between us I did not use her name again when I greeted her goodbye with a "Madam."
She did not leave my mind that day. I had never met someone like her. This girl already enriched this forced vacation and I did hardly know anything about her.
"Mr. Lefroy" I asked my uncle at dinner "I was wondering about our neighbours, the Austens" I started.
"Yes?" he offered
"Henry told me he has a lot of brothers and sisters? There don't seem to be too many around?"
"Well, some of the boys don't live at Steventon anymore. One has moved to the coast and two others are still doing services at the army. Then there is Henry of course and George. A nice fellow, he is."
"And his sisters?" I asked, hoping to direct our talk in the right direction.
"He only has two: Cassandra and Jane. You have met them both a few days ago."
"Alright." I answered "Which one was which?"
"Cassandra is the blond girl, she is the one engaged to Mr. Fowl. Jane is the brunette one and the youngest of them all. I think she's your age... How old are you exactly now, Tom?"
"I'm nineteen, uncle." I answered absentmindedly.
Dancing with her was the best idea ever. Her mouth was sharp, she had a quick mind and wit. Bantering with her was pure fun.
"Will you give so much to a woman?" she asked somewhere in the middle of our second or third dance.
"Must depend upon the woman." I replied, enjoying our conversation, if you could call it that, immensely. "And what she thinks of me."
"That you, Sir" she retorted immediately "Are above being pleased."
I had a hard time deciding whether she was bluntly offending me or challenging me - I was just too amused.
And I knew just how to tease her back: "And I think that you, Miss -" I faked to not remember her name again, the first time after all it seemed to have gotten quite some effect "what was that again?"
"Austen," she answered annoyed "Mister - ?" she parried
She was good at this. "Lefroy." I helped her remember.
When I heard noise coming from the book shelf behind me I was thinking of her already. I had asked Henry a few times about his sister without being obvious. She was a writer and loved to read. Lucy did not read at all and Mr. Lefroy enjoyed outdoor activities like hunting or fishing. Mrs. Lefroy preferred to stitch in her free-time and had told me once that - since the Austens didn't have an own library - Jane was always welcome to come over and read in the one of my relatives.
I caught sight of her as she was rushing to tiptoe out of the room. I already had to smile at her.
"Miss Austen" I greeted her, telling her at the same time that she had failed to creep out.
"Mister Lefroy" she answered and hearing her say that I noted that is was the first time she spoke out my name.
"...and reading." she added mockingly, with a tone that showed she didn't really trust her eyes. She was too much fun. Fine though. I was good at teasing her back.
"Of course you know about this." she accused me, letting me know that she did not approve of boxing.
Which encouraged me to tease her with it:
"Of course" I replied grinning, watching the fight.
The trained guy didn't show much sportsmanship though for he kept beating the other, even though that man was already on the floor.
He even picked him up, only to beat him down again. What an honour-less bastard. Somebody needed to teach that idiot a lesson.
"Beating the man to a pulp" Jane said nauseated while I decided to end this myself.
I took off my gloves and threw them at Jane, fixing my eyes already on my target.
"What are you doing?" she asked me in a hurry and when I tossed her my cloak she screamed "Mister Lefroy! Stop!"
But I was already on my way through the crowd, surprised the boxer with a first healthy blow and announced: "Let us see how you do against me, Sir!".
I was a good fighter. I was smaller than most but therefor quicker and I dealt my blows more precise than others.
I stood good chances of winning against this guy. Then he landed a hit against me. It was not light, yet it could have been worse. I did not feel much of the pain though for I heard her. She screamed my name and I had never hear her say it before: "Tom!" Her voice was blurred by others, everybody was screaming and my ears didn't work too well because of the knock, but I was sure I heard her.
Somebody pushed me in her direction. And when I was halfway in her arms, halfway in someone elses I heard her clearly: "Tom! You must stop!" she pleaded and she sounded so full of worry. So preoccupied, for me. And in that moment I did not care anymore about honour, or teaching anybody any lessons, I just wanted to stay close to her. And I would have, hadn't someone pushed me back into the ring.
I had to get up again and fight, or I would make a fool out of myself. I tried to get back focused, but her voice echoed in my ears. And then suddenly I heard it again: "Tom!"
It was said not only with worry - no, there was unconcealed affection and admiration, out in the open for everybody to hear. So I turned to search for her in that mass of people and realized too late that it had not been Jane who had called out to me but little Lucy.
The second I had turned away from my opponent I knew that I had lost the fight. When I woke up from his knock-out people had already left. Everybody but her, she shook me lightly and touched my cheek. I even think she stroked through my hair a few times. And she said something to guide me back into consciousness. It took me a little while to understand what she was repeating again and again:
"Mister Lefroy! Mister Lefroy?"
So we were back to that name again. Yet I couldn't find it in me to be disappointed. Not when she was so close to me, caring for me tenderly. And so, for one brief moment that was still influenced by weakness I allowed myself to give her a look unfiltered with my emotions, because there was no other person on earth that I would rather want to come back to.
Seeing her now was torture. Within the last 17 years - how often had I dreamed of her, wishing to meet her again, imagining what-ifs of all kind? But now, instead of the expected happiness I felt nervousness, sorrow, longing and confusion.
I tried to focus. Be nice, say hello and leave again. Should be possible. I'd grown.
"Best behaviour" I reminded my daughter. If they really had to meet I didn't want her to make a bad impression.
"Jane," Henry began "an old friend." And he couldn't help adding "Late as ever."
But I did not care, for she stood in front of me, looked at me with those eyes of hers and it was hard to not forget everything else on earth.
Eventually I was able to look away and address her sister-in-law: "Madame la Comtesse. Miss Austen." I greeted and bowed.
"Mister Lefroy" I heard her reply softly and it was impossible to not look at her again.
I wanted to say something but nothing made sense and after unsuccessfully searching for the right words to say to her I remembered that I was in company of my daughter and that I needed to introduce her.
"Please allow me to introduce to you" I said, trying to control my breathing, "your most avid... of admirers, my daughter, Miss Lefroy." Of course the most avid admirer would always be me, but I did not intend to say that. As I did not intend to reveal the full name of my eldest daughter.
I was unprepared though for how difficult it was to say "my daughter" to Jane Austen, when there was a time when that could have been "our daughter" . She seemed to notice it too.
"Miss Austen" my girl said "what a pleasure to meet you." I was glad she was on good behaviour in deed. However her eagerness got the better of her and she added: "Will you read for us this evening?" I should have left her at the carriage, I should have known she was too young and excited to remember the rules of good conduct.
"Ah, well you see, my sister never reads" Henry excused Jane. "Otherwise how else is she supposed to remain anonymous?"
"But -" my daughter started - did she not remember her education at all?
"Jane!" I called her back.
It worked, however I realized too late that now everybody had heard her name.
I immediately looked at Jane to see her reaction. Maybe I could still prevent her from understanding?
Her gaze slowly met mine, asking me a thousand questions.
And I searched for a thousand answers. That she was called after my mother-in-law, that Jane was a very common name, that it didn't mean anything, that it was the only name I could think of to name a female child. Everything to not tell the truth, that she was simply named after her, Jane Austen.
Thank god she didn't know my daughter's middle name yet - Christmas - which had of course nothing to do with believes and everything with the precious holiday I had spent in Hamshire.
However, not finding the words to lie to her nor the bravery to tell the truth, I just didn't say anything. For I was too afraid all my brain could form where the words 'I missed you'.
"I miss you, Jane" I finally was allowed to say it out loud. "And I will forever love you" I added in my mind.
I would not return again to England after this last visit. There was nothing to tie me to this country any longer.
I laid down the flowers and stretched out my hand to touch the four precious letters on her gravestone.
J A N E