Jane Bennet sat on the window seat in the room she was sharing with Elizabeth at Willow Hall. She rested her head against the wall, pulled her legs up so that she could wrap her arms around her knees and watched the sunset paint the sky with brilliant hues of purple and red. She turned her head to look at Elizabeth who was laying on the bed reading a book that Darcy had lent her from Pemberley’s library. “I should have gone home with Papa,” she said.
“But if you had gone with him, you would not be here for my wedding,” reasoned Elizabeth.
Jane nodded. It was the only reason she had stayed. “But after you marry, I will be quite alone,” she said softly. Alone here in this room and at Longbourn when she returned there.
“You will have Aunt and Uncle as well as the Abbots, and if Captain Harris keeps calling as he has, you will spend very little time alone,” assured Elizabeth.
Jane shrugged and attempted a smile, but smiling was not something she felt capable of doing much anymore ─ not since last fall before Mr. Bingley had left Netherfield. She had made an effort to remain cheerful and not give any hints about the pain that resided in her heart, and for the most part, she had been successful. However, it was so much more difficult when the man you wished to love but dared not was constantly in your presence. She was attempting to love another, and Captain Harris was not without merit. He was handsome and pleasant, and his inheritance would be sufficient for a good life. But he was not Mr. Bingley, and her heart was still unwilling to forget that fact. Perhaps with time, it would. Marriages where often formed without the deepest affection. Captain Harris seemed to respect her, that was a good thing, was it not? She sighed. She had never imagined she would have to settle for such an arrangement. She had always thought her heart would be engaged in such a way that the man she married would be her one true delight, the one person with whom she longed to spend her days.
“What of Mr. Bingley?” Elizabeth had come to join Jane on the window seat.
Jane shook her head. “He made his choice, and it was not me.”
“But what if he made the choice based on faulty information?”
Jane drew a deep breath. “I wish for a husband who will choose me no matter the advice he is given. I wish to be the one person he craves. The one he would put before his sister — before life itself.” She smiled sadly. “But that is not to be.”
“But what if he did love you with his whole being?” Elizabeth leaned forward toward her sister and placed her hands on Jane’s knees.
“No,” said Jane, pushing Elizabeth’s hands away and standing. “I will not even contemplate it. I have not the strength to do so. I am sick to death of longing for what cannot be. You must not ask me to consider such things. I will be happy enough with Captain Harris should he decide that I am indeed worthy of his regard.”
“But you do not love him.”
“One can learn to love,” replied Jane.
“You will not give Mr. Bingley a chance?” Elizabeth asked in surprise.
Jane shook her head. “I cannot. I cannot survive another disappointment.”
“Disappointment?” cried Elizabeth. “You do not know that it would be a disappointment.”
Jane crossed her arms and set her jaw firmly. She knew of what she spoke. Her sister had been fortunate in love, there was little Elizabeth could know the disappointment Jane had suffered in London when she had been spurned. “It is not as if I did not given him a second chance. I did call while I was in London.”
“You cannot be certain he knew of your call,” argued Elizabeth.
“He knew. Caroline made it clear that he did.”
“And you believe her — the very same woman that led you to believe you had an intimacy with her and later showed herself to be false — you believe her?”
“He did not call,” said Jane, going to brush her hair out at the dressing table in preparation for plaiting before bed.
Elizabeth threw her hands up in frustration. “And why would he call if he had no knowledge of your being in town? Mr. Darcy knew nothing of your being in town until I told him, and you had been there for three months by then.”
Jane’s brush froze in the air just above her head where she had intended to begin the next stroke. Slowly, she lowered the brush and lay it on the table. Then, just as slowly, she turned on her stool to face Elizabeth. “You spoke to Mr. Darcy of me while you were in Kent?”
Elizabeth’s eyes lowered to look at her hands. “I did. I asked if he had seen you, but he had not.”
Jane nodded slowly as this information settled into her brain. It was entirely possible that Mr. Bingley did not know of her presence in town if Mr. Darcy did not. Miss Bingley would likely not keep it from one and not the other, would she? Elizabeth had come to take up the job of brushing Jane’s hair. “Did he speak of Mr. Bingley?” The brush stuttered in its progress through her hair, and Jane turned so that she could see Elizabeth in the mirror. “What are you not telling me?”
Elizabeth concentrated on three more slow strokes of the brush through Jane’s hair before replying. “I did not wish to cause you pain,” she began, placing the brush on the table and turning away. “He loved you.” She turned back toward Jane, tears in her eyes. “Mr. Bingley loved you, but Mr. Darcy feared that you did not return his friend’s affection.”
Jane blinked and stared at her sister with her mouth hanging open. Mr. Bingley had loved her? And Mr. Darcy was to blame for the separation? She shook her head. It could not be true.
“I did not wish to tell you because you were so sad already, and I did not think we would ever see Mr. Bingley again.” The tears in Elizabeth’s eyes had begun rolling down her cheeks. “Mr. Darcy was sorry — is sorry for having had any part in your pain. He truly thought you indifferent to his friend and wished to save his friend from a disappointment. Had he known you were in town and had called on Miss Bingley, I am certain he would have seen that he was wrong and would not have kept Mr. Bingley from you.”
Jane’s shoulders rounded forward as her spine curved in a sigh. “That is why Caroline would not have told him of my call.”
Jane stood and walked the room, pacing down to the window and back to the wardrobe and wash stand. “What am I to do? What am I to think? He loved me only enough to be persuaded away from me? How great a love is that? Can one forgive such capriciousness? Is it not a flaw in character? Had we married, would he have eventually been persuaded by another that he loved her and not me? How am I to think?”
Elizabeth wrapped her arms around her sister. “I do not know, though I wish I did. Come, let me finish your hair, and then, we shall lie in bed and attempt to decipher the answer.”
And they did, but to no avail. As first one and then the other sister drifted off into a less than restful sleep, the question of what was to be done about Mr. Bingley remained unanswered — that is to say, no answer was spoken aloud, but in the breast of each lady a heart pled in his favour.
More in the Willow Hall Romance Series
A Pride and Prejudice Prequel ~ Willow Hall Romance, Book 1
Events from the past combined with threats in the present threaten to tear Lucy and Philip apart unless Darcy can help his friends save their blossoming love and rid Lucy of her uncle once and for all.Click cover image to find that book in your favorite store.
Click cover image to find this book in your favorite store.
A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novella ~ Willow Hall Romance, Book 2
When Fitzwilliam Darcy bought Willow Hall, he thought he was helping a friend escape an untenable situation. Little did he know he was purchasing a second chance for his own happiness.
A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novella, Willow Hall Romance Book 3
Lydia Bennet only meant to surprise her sisters and enjoy some fun. She thought she had planned well enough to avoid any disagreeable consequence, but she did not. However, when plans go awry, the results, much like the lady who made the plan, can be very unexpected.
Publication of this book is expected to be February 2017.