What Were They Thinking?
The Rocky Road of Romance Traveled by Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax
Okay, I've succumbed to the peer pressure. Some caveats:
1) I can't write;
2) This is gonna be long;
3) There's another volume coming.
Thanks to Cheryl for editing.
The irrepressible heat of the summer afternoon had taken its toll on Miss Jane Fairfax. Again, she managed to fend off yet another offer of employment from Mrs. Elton, whom it seemed would not tolerate a refusal of her assistance. "But Jane!" she exclaimed. "Think of the superior advantages such a position would procure! Mrs. Smallridge is a delightful woman. She moves in the first circles, and maintains a most charming household not far from Maple Grove. I am most certain that she will be delighted to employ YOU at my recommendation. I do so enjoy assisting those worthy of notice. And my friends do say I have quite a knack for singling outthose unseen blooms most in need of my advice and connections. TheSmallridges - so intimate at Maple Grove! - will quite rave about you,Jane. Such a modern household, such a well-equipped schoolroom! I amconvinced that they will have you on the spot - at a generous salary, Imight add - for a governess."
Jane sighed, and once again repeated that she could not engage herself inany arrangements of employment at present. The conversation was mostdiscomforting for Jane, and not merely because she disliked Mrs. Elton. Rather, it reminded her, with the starkest clarity, that she had very little time left before her secret engagement with Mr. Frank Churchill would either have to be broached with his family or broken off entirely. The day of strawberry-picking at the famous patches of Donwell Abbey had been long and hot in so many respects. Frank was late, as was becoming his usual mode of operation, and his stepmother, Mrs. Weston, was mentioning yet again how worried she was that he may have met with some sort of accident with his black mare. Jane had hoped that she and Frank would be able to steal a few moments of candid discussion of their situation today, but the prospect of such a meeting was seeming more and more impossible as the party finished gathering and settled near the house after the midday meal. She was growing weary of her secret, her company, and her immediate situation in the sweltering gardens of Donwell.
Jane and Frank had been acquainted months earlier in Weymouth. Frank had fallen quickly and madly in love with her elegant charm and dark, striking features, insisting that she consent to marry him despite the inevitable disapproval of his haughty aunt and guardian. In turn, she was captivated by his easy charm, gaiety, and good looks. He was handsome and passionate, if a bit self-absorbed, and entered her life at a time of most disturbing transition. Jane, an orphan, was now grown, and obliged to make her own living apart from the generosity of her father's old friend, Colonel Campbell. Her plan, prior to meeting Frank Churchill, had been to become a governess. She had been determined to make her way independently, despite the seclusion from society and demotion of rank and sphere it would bring her. Such a situation in life could not indeed be suffered by someone of the Churchills' sphere, and so Frank persuaded Jane to consent to a secret engagement to last until the imminent passing of his sickly aunt, whom he could not bear to burden with such disturbing news at such a critical time. At that time, he assured her, his Uncle Churchill - and his own father, whom the Churchills had thought an unworthy match for his mother - would surely bless the union.
Since October, no one but themselves had known of the affair. They wereobliged by circumstance to limit their contact to correspondence, as Frank had his duty to his aunt and uncle at their estate, Enscombe, in Yorkshire, and Jane was required to accompany the Campbells in Ireland. In February, Jane returned to Highbury to stay with her Grandmother and Aunt Bates, with great hope of being able to solidify the state of her plans with Frank. Frank's letters had, till the present summer, been frequent and consistently affectionate, though his view of their future together was imprecise at best. He gave her continual assurances that all would end to their satisfaction, though his notions of procedure were vague and ever-changing. At last, he decided that he would make a long-awaited visit to his father in Highbury, on the pretense of desiring to meet his new stepmother. Frank had always intended to reacquaint himself with his Highbury roots, but had always had one obligation or another - often to his aunt and uncle - to preempt his attention. Having been raised by the Churchills upon his mother's death, he felt that he had a special duty to repay their devotion. And considering the fragile state of his aunt's health, he felt obliged to cater to her wishes. Jane's presence in Highbury, however, was all that was necessary to force himself to make time to return for a visit to Randalls, his father's estate.
Their time together at Highbury, however, was strained and roughly-portioned, as both Jane and Frank could not reveal their attachment - even acquaintance - without arousing suspicion amongst their families and friends. Keeping up the appearance of disinterest was exhausting for Jane in particular, who had no refuge from Highbury. In the spring, theChurchills had removed to Richmond, which made it easier for Frank to come andgo when he pleased, as Richmond was not far from Highbury. So Frank, under the pretense of business or out of the necessity of returning to the Churchills on account of his aunt's health, could frequently escape the scene of their charade and thereby return with renewed strength to the deception. Jane, however, had no intimate society other than that of her aunt and grandmother in the general vicinity, and nowhere to go save their small residence. Her only escape lay in fetching the morning letters, in hopes of receiving a message from Frank or perhaps her friend Mrs. Dixon, Col. Campbell's daughter. Most recently, even Frank's letters were growing sparse and brief.
Jane felt increasing doubt as to the prudence of such an act ofdetachment. She was ashamed to be a party to such a disguise, as it forcibly altered her intercourse with others. While she became more cold and withdrawn, Frank became outwardly more animated and endearing. It hurt her especially to be perpetually held from him at arm's length, while he formed affectionate relationships with the unsuspecting others about them. At times, it was more than Jane's sensibilities could bear to see him paying the most earnest attentions to Miss Emma Woodhouse, whom which he continually assured her felt nothing for him. "After all," he had reminded her in one brief moment of privacy, "a young man who is truly unattached will mingle and flirt with young ladies, perhaps with one in particular more than with the others."
To this, she could only reply, "Oh! Frank! You have too much energy andinclination for it," before he was off again.
So, Jane had borne thesecret for months without a slip. At times, however, Frank's easy manners and inclination to relaxed spontaneity risked its security. Most recently, he betrayed an intelligence conveyed through one of her letters regarding Mr. Perry's plans for a carriage, a secret of which only she, her aunt, and her grandmother were aware. At first, he admitted that his stepmother, Mrs. Weston, must have written the information to him. When she denied any awareness, he attributed the knowledge to a "dream." At the moment that it seemed his charming absent-mindedness had cleared him, Miss Bates wondered out loud, as she often did, how great the coincidence between Frank's figment and the particular secret which Mrs. Perry had imparted to herself, her mother, and Jane several months before. Though the connection seemed excruciatingly obvious to Jane, no one else seemed aware of it. She hung at the back of the party as it approached Hartfield, the Woodhouse estate, adjusting her shawl and struggling to retain a tranquil countenance, and in doing so, realized that Mr. George Knightley had not only forged the connection, but was intent upon perceiving any reaction on her part as proof of its veracity. As that day at Hartfield progressed, Jane grew more and more uneasy. At Frank's suggestion, the young people sat down to word puzzles. Frank immediately endeavored to engross himself in Miss Woodhouse, but not without extending to Jane a message of relief in the word "blunder."
A blunder, indeed, Frank, she thought, and blushed. The blush grew deeper as she noticed the intensity with which Mr. Knightley regarded both Frank's puzzle and her own reaction. Jane hoped that her own guilt was causing her to overestimate both the level and cause for his suspicion. She had perceived on other occasions his anxiousness at Frank's particular attention to Miss Woodhouse, and fancied that this was the reason for his careful observance. She could not blame him, for the very same attentions which so engaged his interest also gave her great pain. She remembered the evening at the Coleses when they had both watched uneasily as Frank and Miss Woodhouse sang together at the pianoforte. As Jane had struggled to maintain composure, she noted how Mr. Knightley had gripped his chair, pushing himself deep into its back, with an expression of critical displeasure on his face.
Mrs. Elton, absolutely refusing to accept a negative answer from Jane,expressed her firm intention of sending Jane's particulars to herprospective employer in the next day's post. At this, Jane, much vexed and growing considerably and uncharacteristicaly pointed in her speech, interrupted, "Should we not walk? Will not Mr. Knightley shew us the garden? I wish to see the whole extent!"
She abruptly rose, and escaped into the gardens, with the others straggling along at a leisurely pace. I can keep up no longer, she thought. Always a part to act - a disgusting life of deceit! - this horrible lie must end else it will kill me! Jane was exhausted, drained by the reserve she had enforced upon herself and disheartened by Frank's growing inattentiveness.
It was not the constant separation from Frank which caused her the mostdiscomfort. No, indeed, his constant reassurances of affection duringtheir months apart had been a comfort during a time of quiet despair. Their close proximity caused the most immediate discomfort, emphasizing the necessity for public discretion which distance had to that point obscured. She was unable to so much as look at him, or even to accept his simplest civilities, without proceeding in an excruciatingly careful and studied manner. It was difficult indeed to find herself in the continual presence of a man whom at one time had laid bare the depths of his adoration for her , but was now continually indifferent. His act was entirely convincing, sometimes even to Jane herself, who wondered at times if perhaps he was purposely distancing himself from her. And she had few means of re-engaging him. Upon reaching Highbury, his letters had naturally dwindled to infrequent notes regarding either points of importance to the deception or brief details of his emergencies at Enscombe. There were few words of love in any of them.
As soon as it was evident that the others were sufficiently engaged in admiring Donwell's ponds and lime walk, she saw room for her retreat. She made directly for the house, and upon reaching the hall, happened upon Miss Woodhouse, who was attending to her father inside.
Jane was at first overcome by the simple desire to escape, but paused, andregained her composure. Just as well, she thought. She can inform my aunt that I have gone home when I am missed. Miss Woodhouse agreed to relay the information, but insisted that Jane wait for her father's carriage. I am determined to go directly, Jane repeated.
"Alone?" Miss Woodhouse exclaimed. Alone. Yes, Jane thought soberly, I am indeed alone. Where in the world is Frank?
She studied Miss Woodhouse, all confidence, poise, and sweetness. She was indeed beautiful. She did not doubt why Frank had singled this young woman out for his particular attentions. Emma Woodhouse encouraged their playful discourse, much to the delight and relief of Frank, who seemed to notice no one else while in her presence. Jane understood why Frank must not attend to herself, but why, she asked herself, must he try so ardently to attach Miss Woodhouse - to the neglect of everyone else - unless he was in love with her! The revelation burned through her slowly and excruciatingly. Could it be? Mrs. Weston, formerly Miss Woodhouse's governess, doted upon the two of them, and no doubt entertained hopes that her dear young friend and her beloved stepson might become a match. And Frank, ever-reverent of the needs and wishes of his family, she thought, might begin to question the prudence of his own engagement to her! It seemed too logical a possibility to ignore.
At that moment, Jane thought again of Mrs. Elton's offer. She wondered what life with the Smallridges would be like - without her family and friends, without Frank, and with little prospect for a second engagement. Her beauty would fade, her means would no longer allow her to dress becomingly, and she would be left little time to sit down to her beautiful pianoforte, her favorite pastime and a gift from Frank. The recollection of this proof of regard lifted her spirits somewhat, though her doubts persisted. What if he no longer loved her? She would grow old parenting other people's children, reduced to a servant in a stranger's house. Good God! What high hopes she had had for herself - to end in this manner! She, with her education, talents, and aspirations, reduced to a state of wage dependence when she had been so close to wealth and happiness. Perhaps she had overestimated Frank's constancy. They had, after all, entered into their engagement so quickly, and knowing so little about each other. They had both been so blinded by the passion of the moment, she admitted, that it was quite possible that Frank's infinitely more acute affliction would wan and dwindle before hers. She still loved him, but she missed the flattery of his attentions, and wondered if perhaps the Frank Churchill she had loved at Weymouth was the same Frank Churchill which took such delight in the company of Miss Woodhouse.
"...for me to be afraid of walking alone! - I who may so soon have to guard others!" How jaded it sounded. But there it was. You must face facts, Jane, she told herself. An unhappy situation is before you.
Miss Woodhouse then mentioned something about the heat and fatigue, to which Jane replied, "I am fatigued; but it is not that sort of fatigue. Walking will refresh me quick, Miss Woodhouse. We all know at times what it is to be wearied in spirits." Jane could not blame Miss Woodhouse for Frank's apparent attachment to her, but it did feel odd to be so near to admitting defeat in her presence!
"Mine, I confess," Jane continued, "are exhausted. The greatest kindness you can shew me will be to let me have my own way, and say only that I am gone when necessary." With Miss Woodhouse's assurance, Jane was off, still half-hoping to meet Frank on the way. She chided herself for wishing it, full knowing that Frank had again been usurped at home. It was still very hot, and Jane was soon forced to stop for a brief respite from her physical and emotional exhaustion. Fresh waves of uneasiness welled up within her, momentarily paralyzing her weakened body.
Just at the moment she thought she would faint in total resignation, she was startled by the sound of hoofbeats just down the lane. She looked, doubted, blinked, and was startled. It was Frank Churchill.
"Jane!" he exclaimed, pulling his horse up and dismounting hurriedly. "What is this? Are you alone? Have I missed the entirety of the outing?"
Jane, her spirits buoyed back up to a point of numb relief, wanted only to be home. She no longer wanted to think, as her thoughts would only heighten her pain and confusion. "Your stepmother is worried about you," she began. "Go make your appearance."
He was distracted, as always, she could tell. He took her hands and kissed them, thankful for this moment alone with her. Jane felt that he was very near an actual embrace, and when it came, she resisted the temptation to succumb to the creeping weakness in her back, knees, and arms. She did so much want to melt in his arms, but could not until she felt easy with their situation. "Frank, I -" she began, when he interrupted her, assuming that he had anticipated her words.
"Have patience," he said. "It should not be long now." Jane felt as if he had heaved a rock upon her heart. At that moment, it seemed as though he would never understand her. She wondered if he still really loved her enough for the entire affair to be worth their trouble. She pulled away, squaring her shoulders.
"You have been expected at Donwell for hours now. Hurry. I must be home.You must prove to Mrs. Weston that your mare is reliable. Let us partbefore we are seen!
"Jane, Jane, Jane," he exclaimed, "has it been that horrible, to beleaving sosoon? Let me walk with you, then." He tried to smile, but her gravity was overwhelming. What was wrong with her now?
"That would be foolish indeed. To be found out in such a way!" She began again down the road. How thoughtless he was! Did he understand a single word she had spoken?
Frank started after her. "Jane! - " She did not look back at him, and quickened her pace. Frank was stung. The force of his cheerful front would not relieve them now. He stood fixed for a moment, then remounted his horse wordlessly and galloped off. Jane sighed involuntarily, pressing ahead. When she returned home, she collapsed into bed.
Frank arrived at Donwell Abbey hot and out of spirits. He was hungry and tired, and what should have been a sweet and invigorating meeting with his dearest Jane had revealed her to be cool and distant. She received him listlessly and indifferently, which tore at his heart. He knew that she must be sick from waiting, and he understood that she had neither the temperament nor stamina to keep up the kind of incessant, dynamic veneer of cheerful disinterest of which he was capable. But he chose not to think of these considerations. She must realize the importance of keeping up our guard, he kept telling himself. One mistake could ruin us forever.
The consequences of an untimely revelation had always been of utmost concern to Frank, yet he thought of them little beyond a foggy notion of general familial discomfort on his side. Such an event would give rise to a myriad of unpleasant prospects, including severance from his living, which he could not consider without considerable guilt. For her sake - and his - he could not risk its loss. By the same token, for her sake - and his own - he could not maintain it. So, instead of directly attempting to reconcile the situation to his conscience, Frank became unfailingly absorbed with the urgency of all that was current, allowing himself only the most rudimentary appraisal of the next phase of events, and a reprieve from self-awareness and shame.
After eating, Frank was able to restore some of his perpetual outward cheer. Inside, however, he remained apprehensive. He let Miss Woodhouse convince him to join the next day's party to Box Hill, even, in hopes that being with Jane again, even under the pretense of indifference, might renew his spirits. And Miss Woodhouse herself was an ideal, if unwitting, ally in his deception. She was amiable and easy to joke and converse with, which made her the perfect object for his false flirtations. As she held her own with him, he tried to convince himself that the sort of intimacy into which they were thrown had forged a sort of unspoken understanding of playful friendship between them - and nothing else.
He noticed that the Woodhouses had been perusing engravings of Swiss views. He expressed an interest in going abroad as soon as he could. Yes, he thought. A separation of some distance would spare me the agony of her hostility! He was in a spiteful, childish mood, and though he attempted to curtail himself, he would speak as he felt.
'"As soon as my aunt gets well I shall go abroad," said he. "I shall never be easy till I have seen some of these places. You will have my sketches, some time or other, to look at - or my tour to read - or my poem. I shall do something to expose myself."' Frank was wound so tightly that he spoke half-seriously, and only half-guardedly.
"You will never go to Switzerland," said Miss Woodhouse. "Your uncle and aunt will never allow you to leave England."
"They may be induced to go too," he replied, now quite involved in this little fantasy. "A warm climate may be prescribed for her. I have more than half an expectation of our all going abroad. I assure you, I have. I feel a strong persuasion, this morning, that I shall soon be abroad. I ought to travel. I am tired of doing nothing. I want a change. I am serious Miss Woodhouse, whatever your penetrating eyes may fancy - I am sick of England, and would leave it tomorrow if I could."
"You are sick of prosperity and indulgence! Cannot you invent a few hardships for yourself, and be contented to stay?"
"I sick of prosperity and indulgence! You are quite mistaken," he replied, with a rueful laugh. "I do not look upon myself as either prosperous or indulged. I am thwarted in everything material. I do not consider myself a fortunate person." Indeed, I am not, he thought again - in all things that matter.
The next morning, the sight of Jane killed what was left of his renewed good humor from the evening before. She was obviously tired, and when she looked at him, it was with a cold, resigned calmness which alarmed him. He was at once wanting to stab back at her for her coldness the day before, and cry out to her that he loved her more than ever. Frank sensed that he was very near the realization of some very powerful truths, and was fearful. He could no longer be optimistically hopeful, so he resigned himself to appearing pleasantly tranquil whilst he struggled with her chilling presence.
Miss Woodhouse noticed immediately that he was unusually silent and out of sorts, paying little attention to all about him and bestowing only the barest civility when it was called for. Every attempt on her part to revive his spirits was unsuccessful for a good part of the day. Her attempts to draw him out, coupled with the heaviness in his mind and heart, eventually infused Frank with a resolve not to be beaten by Jane's indifference. He would maintain his veneer. She would not affect him. With that he turned the whole of his attention to Miss Woodhouse. He would use her animation and interest as his support. He would make her the center of attention - he would show Jane that he would not be shaken.
After a time, it was clear that Mrs. Elton had borne quite enough Miss Woodhouse's elevation. She was mortified that her own picnic should glorify anyone else, and was resolved to draw her husband away with her for a walk. Mr. Elton attempted to engage Jane to go with them, but she refused. Oh, how she delights in this! he thought.
"Happy couple!" he said--"How well they suit one another!--Very lucky--marrying as they did, upon an acquaintance formed only in a public place!--They only knew each other, I think, a few weeks in Bath! Peculiarly lucky!--for as to any real knowledge of a person's disposition that Bath, or any public place, can give--it is all nothing; there can be no knowledge. It is only by seeing women in their own homes, among their own set, just as they always are, that you can form any just judgment. Short of that, it is all guess and luck--and will generally be ill-luck. How many a man has committed himself on a short acquaintance, and rued it all the rest of his life!"
Frank spoke this impulsively and recklessly, half for the benefit of his own flagging spirits, in an attempt to maintain his role as Jane's antilover, and half to provoke some sort of reaction from Jane.
She did not disappoint him. '"Such things do occur, undoubtedly."--
"You were speaking," said he, gravely. She recovered her voice, and with it, her confidence. Everything he had said and done that day had destroyed nearly all certainty of his affection.
'"I was only going to observe, that though such unfortunate circumstances do sometimes occur both to men and women, I cannot imagine them to be very frequent. A hasty and imprudent attachment may arise--but there is generally time to recover from it afterwards. I would be understood to mean, that it can be only weak, irresolute characters, (whose happiness must be always at the mercy of chance,) who will suffer an unfortunate acquaintance to be an inconvenience, an oppression for ever."'
Frank looked at her, his mind racing with incredulity. What did she mean? Could she really want to be through with me? He could think of it no longer. He bowed, and then threw himself into the most violent round of flirting in which he had ever engaged with Miss Woodhouse. A single slack moment now, he thought, would force him to publicly betray his feelings for Jane. Anything short of complete denial would reduce him to groveling at her feet.
'"Well, I have so little confidence in my own judgment, that whenever I marry, I hope somebody will choose my wife fore me? Will you?" (turning to Emma). "Will you choose a wife for me? I am sure I should like anybody fixed on by you. You provide for the family, you know" (with a smile at his father). "Find somebody for me. I am in no hurry. Adopt her; educate her."
"And make her like myself."
"By all means, if you can."'
That evening, Frank rushed home to Enscombe upon receipt of a short letter from his uncle on the state of his aunt's health, without so much as another word to Jane. Not even a short note. Jane, devastated by the insensitivity of his speech and the difference of his reaction to her rebuttal of that day, was convinced that Frank wanted nothing more than to break off their engagement. It was probably for the best, she thought. Now she could cease to torment herself and he could face his aunt on her deathbed. And flirt with any young lady he liked with impunity! Yes, why did he come today if only to give me pain? He had been too gay, too spirited, and too mesmerized by Emma Woodhouse's charming wife-producing capabilities to consider Jane's heartbreak. She was so upset that she could not bring herself to face Miss Woodhouse or accept her gifts when she attempted to call on her in the days which followed. She feigned illness - no! She did not feign it, for it was real physical discomfort, assuaged by nothing. She resolved upon accepting Mrs. Elton's offer immediately. Had he not expressed himself plainly enough? She and Frank would never be together, so what was to keep her now from accepting the worst?
Immediately after speaking with Mrs. Elton, Jane sat down to compose a letter which caused her the greatest pain to write. She would inform him of her feelings regarding the imprudence of their engagement, and how it had come to be a source of repentance and misery to them both. She would give him the escape he desired, resolving that they should never have met, and that they should never meet again. It was all she could do to prevent the page from becoming an illegible and tearstained mess. It was sent with the morning post - and with it, a renewal of her old resolve to complete her sacrifice, retiring forever from the pleasures of life to penance and mortification for ever.
The next week was the most agonizing and unhappy of Jane's entire existence. When she could, she would excuse herself to her bedroom to silently sob, in hopes that it might relieve the terrible grinding pain in her temples and the burning knot in her stomach. The pain and knot remained, however, though the tears succeeded in draining away her strength. Anything, it seemed, could refresh her misery. The Bates' was filled with objects which could touch off devastating recollections. Even the sight of her grandmother's spectacles, one day repaired so diligently by Frank, reduced her to tears. To escape, she quietly left the house one day to wander aimlessly throughout some nearby fields, but the bright day coupled with the size of the sky and the earth oppressed rather than invigorated her. Her life was over, her world destroyed. How, she thought, could the world go on so cheerfully while misery such as hers existed?
For the first few days, she half-hoped, as all her hopes of late had become, that she would receive a letter of apology from Frank, in which he would redeclare his love for her, and reaffirm his wish that the engagement be preserved. But such a letter never came. By the fourth day, she was completely resigned to the failure of their love. Jane's worst fears struck freshly, their power renewed and magnified. He did not love her. And with relations between them as they were, she tried to persuade herself, he did not deserve her.
On his ride home, the day of the Box Hill picnic, Frank was quite nearly as distraught as Jane. He was thankful for an excuse - any excuse - to quit Highbury altogether, so as to avoid the pain of hearing her name, or of seeing her in the company of others, without possibility for reconciliation. Her words seemed plain enough. Was she truly ready to give up and go on without him? After all these months? He could not believe it. No, it could not be possible! Frank knew that Jane was susceptible to bouts of ill-humor on occasion, but she understood the intensity of his affection for her. She understood the necessity for his inattentiveness. He had reassured her of this over and over again, it seemed. How could she address him so coldly? How could she speak so insensitively? This time, he resolved, he would let her manage her moods on her own. Let her come to understand for herself how she wounds me! he thought. Though he tried to dismiss the seriousness of her behavior, the sensations which plagued him over the following days were those of unacknowledged and nagging guilt. Frank Churchill had never been comfortable with direct confrontation of the truth.
The morning of his aunt's death, Frank received Jane's letter:
For some time now I have considered our overhasty and ill-planned engagement regretfully. I can no longer act a part in such a deceit. It has oppressed us both, making us liars to ourselves and to all those around us. Neither of us, it seems, retains the determined optimism necessary to maintain it. Reality has called us back to our senses, reminding us that duty lies elsewhere, and reviving the prudence we so foolishly abandoned last October. Our situations will never be reconciled, we both now realize, and our only relief from the pain of such a mistake will lie in parting forever. We must never meet again, lest we be continually and painfully reminded of this source of repentance and misery to us both.She cannot be serious, he thought, reading and rereading furiously. Not now, as we approach the time when we may finally bare our secret to the light of day! Surely she must understand my situation - my aunt having been so ill, now dead - how can she write such things?! But he would reply directly, to assuage her fears, whatever they might be. He dashed off a few lines to her, satisfied that the serious and heartfelt reaffirmation of his love would soothe her. He wrote that he would soon broach the matter of their engagement to his uncle, and expressed confidence that their long ordeal would soon be over. This will revive her spirits, he thought, and prepared to send it out that very morning with the early post. In his preoccupation with the day's events, he inadvertently locked the letter in his secretary, and mistakenly considered the note safely on its way to Jane. He then removed with his uncle to Windsor, and thought no more of it, though Jane remained in his subconscious.
Now that he was free from the fear of disappointing his ailing aunt, it was time to end both his and Jane's suffering, he knew. Though he was optimistic about their situation, the next several days provided him with the time and distance necessary for him to begin to consider Jane's apparent misery. He wondered why she did not reply so speedily to his letter as he had to hers. Was she well? Just below the surface of perfect comprehension, self-doubt began pervading Frank's mind. Poor Jane, he thought, she has not the strength of optimism I have. I shall make everything right for her as soon as possible, he resolved.
Within two days of his relocation to Windsor, Frank received a shock which drew into stark clarity all of his subverted apprehensions. It came in the form of a parcel from Jane, containing all of his letters and a curt note:
I must admit to you, sir, my most extreme astonishment at receiving nothing - not even the smallest reply - in regard to my recent message. Silence on a point such as this cannot be misconstrued, and, as it is equally desirable to both of us to have every subordinate arrangement concluded as soon as possible, I have returned all of your letters by a secure conveyance. I request that, if you cannot directly command mine within a week, you would forward them to me after that period care of Mr. Smallridge...He knew at once the significance of her removal from Highbury, and cursed the inadequacies of the post until, almost immediately, he found that the error had been his completely - the letter was there, directly before him, on his writing desk. Idiot! he snapped at himself. Indeed, this whole series of sad events was his own fault, risen from his own negligence. Could not you see and understand what she was trying to tell you? Her cold behavior, unpleasant address, and pessimistic letter were no doubt a product of his own ungentlemanly conduct towards her. He had neglected her feelings, and subjected her to horrendous pains in his own selfish indulgence! He was too ashamed to think of what had transpired the day of the picnic - how he had aimed to strike back at her heart, and what he had said to Miss Woodhouse. At once, he resolved to make everything right to Jane. As awkward as it might be, he would attempt to obtain his uncle's blessing immediately, after which he would rush to Highbury so that he might directly subject himself to Jane's mercy. How stupid he had been! How utterly insensitive! Oh, but she must understand how ardently he did love her! His dear Jane - a governess! Absolutely impossible! So, in the effortlessly simple manner in which he was so used to proceeding, Frank Churchill sought to right himself again in the eyes of his dear Jane Fairfax.
Jane hoped, again, that her pessimism would foil itself, though she expected nothing more than a curt reply concurring in her judgment. Instead, the next morning she received a call from Frank Churchill himself.
At first she knew not what to say. He rushed for her hand, squeezing it with both of his, informing her that his uncle had given his approval. He continued, explaining his mishap surrounding her first letter, and the subsequent epiphany he had experienced by receipt of her second.
"Jane," he said, "I may be a selfish, impudent dog, not worthy of half your beauty and goodness, but you must learn never to doubt me. I am so sincerely attached to you that no other woman could possibly wrest my heart from your hands. Please - can you understand that all of my flirting with Miss Woodhouse was all a part of the act? I went too far, and I am certainly sorry for it...but it killed me to think that you no longer wanted me. I desperately wanted to elicit some sort of response from you with my speech about the Eltons at Box Hill - but the response I received chilled my heart, Jane. My reaction was all I could attempt without throwing myself at your feet. I pray that you did not mean it! Please understand, my dearest Jane... And your letter...can it be true? Are you serious about this Mr. Smallridge? Who put you up to this? Can you look at me and tell me that our engagement, while admittedly a source of great misery to us both, is a source of repentance?"
Jane was overcome, and even felt some remorse for having doubted him. She could not contradict such intensity. This was the Frank Churchill she had known months before in Weymouth - the entirely persuasive Frank whom she, and many others, could not successfully deny satisfaction.
"No, I cannot," she replied softly. "Nor," she continued, "can I face poor Miss Woodhouse without feeling great shame and the coldness and artificiality of my manners toward her during these months, and especially of late. Oh, Frank! That none of this would have ever happened! That we could have avoided this evil! This - dissimulation! And the pain which we have caused each other!" She explained to him all the doubts that had plagued her so long, closing with a description of Mrs. Elton's insistent offer and her decision to accept it.
"Jane, that is all on my head, not yours. To think of the misery I have put you through, and the scandal to which I exposed your name! Upon my word, dearest, I shall never betray you in this manner again...Now," he changed course, "how in the world could that officious - nay, it is an inept description! - offensive woman in her most ridiculous delusions ever hope to force my dearest Jane into the life of a governess?!"
Before Jane could think of something appropriate to say in reply, Frank had already begun a steady conversation with himself regarding the happiness of his parents. Well, thought Jane, Frank is certainly back, and sighed yet again.
Frank was satisfied with himself, elated that he had righted his situation so quickly. He had spoken passionately and forcefully to his uncle, expressing his deep love for Jane and his firm desire to be with her no matter what the cost. His uncle, in the aftermath of Mrs. Churchill's death, was unwilling to put up much opposition, and was soon won over. I am indeed fortunate, thought he. I am the luckiest man in the world!
As Frank rushed off to reveal the truth to the Westons, both for their own benefit and in hopes that they might convey the truth and his apologies to Miss Woodhouse, Jane Fairfax hoped that all would finally be settled to the satisfaction of all involved. She relaxed, in quiet joy and relief, confident that whatever the nature of the Weston's initial disappointment, Frank would no doubt convince them into a state of unqualified elation. Perhaps now, she thought, Mr. Knightley might be able to address Miss Woodhouse with the feelings which she knew he harbored for her. And on her own behalf, Jane was happy and relieved that Frank loved her still! Jane's pale, sickly countenance almost instantly bloomed to the notice of all who thereafter came upon her. She was all smiles and good nature now that the deception was finished, speaking easily and pleasantly as she had not done in months!
In her joy, she chose not to think of Frank's unconscious insensitivity. After all, she thought, now that they could be open about their engagement, it was obvious that Frank was anxious to return to their early, happy situation. He quite obviously adored and worshipped her, and in the days that followed, he would speak of little else than her beauty, goodness, and his devotion to her. Better still, he was continually reproaching himself for his ill treatment of her. Jane sighed, thinking of the three months they would have to wait, in deference to deep mourning of Mrs. Churchill's death, to marry. But it was really nothing compared to the eternity they had endured since October. She wished that they could finally be happy together. And though Frank was sometimes thoughtless and short-sighted, she knew that he would never break his word to her or betray her good faith...
To be continued...If I ever finish my thesis! ;-P
© 1997 Copyright held by the author.