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Too Deep to Wash Away

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No one spoke of what had almost been after the morning Jane returned home and Lady Gresham’s lecture that Sunday. Jane at first was grateful and tried to write but all the stories seemed full of too happy or too sad endings. Instead she chose to write of Gothic romance and a silly woman who expected too much of the world. It was not First Impressions but she couldn’t face that yet, not with the ribbon stained with his blood beside her writing and tying up his letters. Henry and the Comtesse married and seemed happy in their own way, they each found what they needed with each other. Many things went unspoken as arguments weren’t had for the sake of everyone’s happiness for though her mother wished her daughters married, she knew that it was not to happen.

*****

In London, the plans for the engagement moved ever onward and Tom spent his time as a barrister should with study and proper care to cases. He assisted men that he had once gambled and boxed with out of debt entanglements and tried not to think of Jane Austen. Henry married and Tom received a letter but no invitation which wasn’t a surprise. Within that letter, Henry wrote a line that struck Tom more than he thought words could do as he said; My sisters are as ever themselves though more quietly. I will not speak much of them but her words will appear, my friend.

When he read those words, he could see her so clearly, ink staining her fingers, oblivious to all the world as she taught the world the truth through her words. She would find a way to publish for he had yet to meet another of her quality and he knew he never would. No, he would not marry for love but for duty and she would write as she was meant to. He never thought to acknowledge that poor Mrs. Radcliffe could be correct, but it would be best for Jane to not be married. Perhaps if he kept reading those words and telling himself that then it would be true and his certainty that they could have found a way would disappear. His uncle chose to not speak of what had transpired as he was sure that Jane had simply been an infatuation and he was glad to see Tom recognizing his duty. The weight of duty had never felt so heavy.

*****

Jane had never lost her words but at times, she would stare at a page and wish that he was there to read them too. In the light of day, she could push those thoughts away with work and other things but in the dark of night, she would cry. His name was mentioned more in the papers as he did well for himself and one day, someone gifted him with lands. After that announcement, Jane began to watch for the news of his marriage for she knew that his uncle would not wait long if things stood favorably. It was best to not think too hard on what might have been and once he was married then, then he would be truly gone forever.

*****

His uncle never asked, he always did as he saw fit and informed Tom. After the gift, he was able to find a measure of freedom, but it felt too late as his marriage was taken as a given. One night in London, he met Henry and Tom almost turned away since he was worried what he might see in his friend’s eyes. Henry saw him first and pulled him to a quiet corner where he bought them both drinks as he said, “Do you still wish to be with her?”

Tom knew Henry was a plain speaker but he had never heard him say anything like this before, “What would it matter? Our fates were set and she was right, duty must come first. I am promised.”

“But you are not wed and if any could change your ending, it would be you two. She’s quieter, Tom. I think she hides in her words since she knows they’ll not disappear.”

“She will show the world the truth in those words. We had our second chance.”

“Why can you not have a third?”

Tom opened his mouth and before he could speak met Henry’s gaze and found he did not know what to say, it always came to duty.

Instead Henry continued, “I knew you could not answer, neither could she not in a way that was true.”

“Henry, why do you do this?”

“I wish for you both to be happy and to see my sister smile once more.”

“I would not hurt her again and though there is hope, things have not changed as much as they might have.”

“It is far more than there was before.” Henry ordered them another round of drinks and that was all they spoke of Jane that night but Tom found it hard to forget the conversation.

Things moved slowly as the woman he was engaged to was not able to come to London due to complications in Ireland and his uncle thinks little of it. The letters from home were full of hope as debts were finally repaid and a time when no one was in the red seems possible. There was much talk of his cases and in one a letter a note from his youngest sister that made Tom stare and laugh in a quiet coffee salon; Tom, mother says we probably shouldn’t be writing this but we think we should. We know you’re marrying the lady uncle wants you to cause he hasn’t said you can’t but things are doing better and you liked the writer lady more. Mother says that it’s better for you to be a great man of the law, we think that’s silly. Slipped inside the note was a dried rose tied with a green ribbon that he was apparently meant to give to Jane. It would be simpler if he knew what to do next for his desires and needs seem set against each other though the balance of money had shifted.

*****

When Henry next saw Jane, he kissed her cheek and smiled in a way that made her almost grin, “Henry, I suspect you of some mischief.”

“Not mischief, my dear Jane but righting things.”

“I do not think even you can do that.”

He sat down and took her hands in his, “There is a way and I know you think its not right or true but it shall be.”

“Henry, stop this, no good will come of it.”

“Let me help my sister so she can write her truth.” Jane was quiet and looked down as her brother held her hands tightly, she would not hold hard to hope as it could disappear.

*****

He was meant to be writing a review of an upcoming case but the note and flower in his pocket felt much heavier and Tom placed them on the paper. It would be possible to write to his betrothed and explain, perhaps their engagement would not be the wisest choice. There would be trouble and scandal but in time, he might have Jane.

He had never gone down easily though of late his fights have been in court, the boxing and drinking halls had not seen him in many a month. It would not be a surety, but a letter might open up possibilities. If so then he would write to Henry and her father who seemed as if he might be forgiving and Jane. He will not leave her trying not to cry for the sake of duty again. They would either be together or stop pursuing a future that will only lead to pain. The letter took time to write and he wished for her gift with words, he could turn an argument but she would call upon something more. Once it was sent, he tried to lose himself in his work and not think and wonder what would happen. He wished for control and Jane.

*****

For Jane, the words were never far, in them there was safety and truth. Within them, she would find a way to balance how things should be with how they ought to be. Sometimes the endings would not be seen as happy or deserved, but they would be true. Scandal and heartache lived beside the joy of marrying your match. Her mother would sigh at her but had stopped complaining or pressing, as long as the chores were done then Jane could write. Cassandra made certain that nothing fell too far behind if Jane became lost within the words of her worlds because they gave her happiness.

*****

It took a long month before he received the letter from Ireland which was polite, concerned and resigned. His former betrothed felt that this was not the best course of action to take, but was grateful that Tom was choosing to not cause a great scandal. He would take upon himself the worst of the scandal as she would explain that they were not the best match, there was an enclosed letter for his uncle. The wheels were beginning to turn and it would take time but one duty would be set aside so happiness could be embraced. His uncle of course disapproved and he stood for many lectures but he was not failing in his work or any bad habits, he was doing as he should except for this.

Each day he made certain that he would give his uncle no cause to complain as he sent a letter to Henry and Reverend Austen informing them of that change. He ached to write to her, to say that all will soon be possible but not yet. Everything was waiting as society must be seen to and given its proper due before desire could be met. She would not like that he had not written her first but all must be done within the bounds of society. When a letter arrived from Hampshire, Tom read and reread it as he considered his cases and when he could next leave.

****

Jane knew that Henry had a secret, he had a sleek look to him, though he had been looking that way ever since he married. This was different, this was personal and reminded her far more of when they were children and he knew something delicious that it wasn’t time to know. After watching him being smug throughout a series of lunches, she cornered him in the garden and stared at him, “Henry. What do you know?”

“You will see soon enough, Jane,” Then gave her another grin.

She sighed and turned away from him as a carriage came up the drive, “Henry?”

“Go greet him, dear sister.”

Her lips started to shape a sound when she saw Tom step from the carriage and her father smile at him. “I don’t understand.”

Henry tugged at her arm and then Tom was close to her and saying, “Jane, much has changed and yet nothing truly has.”

Words were her trade and yet, he was here and she had nothing to say. Her father laughed and turned away as Tom kissed her, there was a way for them to have their happiness. Between kisses and sitting in the garden, he told her all, that he had found a patron, that his betrothed had allowed him to break their engagement and that there was not much money but some. “Tom, is this real? I have not fallen into a novel?”

“No, Jane, you will be the wife of a fine barrister and an author. I have saved enough for you to meet my family in time. They wish to know of who has made me so respectable.”

“I did not do that, Tom. You did but I will continue to make you respectable if you will promise to share all with me.”

“Always, I wish you by my side.”