We stayed in Meryton only until we had seen Maria Lucas safely wed to her soldier. I played my small part not unaware that I would be next. I will openly admit that I was scared by the thought for I think that it would be a very foolish person indeed who did not enter such a commitment without a few pauses for thought. I am not saying that I had doubts, I am only saying that the immensity of it all scared me. Anyway, Maria and her husband soon left for the Peninsula and then it was time for us to decamp en masse to London, only Jane, who was far too delicate to travel, and Charles, who could not leave without her, stayed behind.
So it was that the Darcy Townhouse was invaded by the Bennets and I once more had to question whether Thorn actually did have lodgings in Town. To my mind it would be an easy thing for him not to have for as far as I could tell when he was not a the club, or his banker, then he was with us. Richard, it must be said, was little better. Now when I say that Thorn was with 'us' I truly do mean that for most of the days saw Papa, William, Richard and Thorn closeted up in William's study dealing with matters of 'business'. I had certain dire suspicions as to the nature of this business for I am sure that it did not take more than a couple of mornings to sort out Lizzy's dowry and settlement. I suspect that it is some strange ritual to welcome Thorn to the family and Papa's way of getting to know his future son in law without a gaggle of females being around to interrupt him. I only hoped that they did not corrupt my future husband beyond all recognition. But just because we women were excluded from these activities is not to say that we merely wasted away our time waiting for the men to condescend to join us, no indeed for we had business of our own - my trousseau. Hats, gloves, slippers, dresses were all ordered, examined and paid for.
Papa had made the mistake of giving us all a free reign and Mama took him at his word. Lizzy and I used this time to get Mary some new clothes and to expose her gently to a bit of Town life. We hoped that this might soften some of her, well more puritanical attitudes a bit. We insisted that she have several new dresses made up and although she protested a bit that she did not want them, that it was character that mattered, I do not think that her heart was in it. After all, every woman likes to feel beautiful. Really she has a very fine figure if only she would make more of it! I suppose it is partly our fault that Mary is as she is, it is just how she reacted to being overshadowed by other more vivacious, angelic or down right naughty sisters, I more than anyone should understand. It is my hope that perhaps she will come out of her shell more when she is the only daughter at Longbourn. Rumour has it that she may well soon be the only daughter in Hertfordshire, but that is another matter and strictly hush-hush.
In the end neither she nor Mama came to the ball that Lady Bellinger threw in our honour. This was not by choice you understand, but by the manifestations Papa who had swept them back to Longbourn two days previously leaving me in Lizzy's more than capable hands. The upshot of this is that I have come to the conclusion that Papa is a wiry old devil: there had been such a decided twinkle in his eye as he had announced over breakfast that he had urgent business at home and that he simply could not manage without Mama that there could be no doubting the matter. However he got what he wished for as Mama was trapped by wifely duty and Mary was more than happy to make her escape as well.
I did not really enjoy that ball. I must say that before then we had been most successful in avoiding most of the Ton and had not yet attended any functions. The result was that this was the first showing of Thorn and I as an engaged couple and after half an hour I felt purely as if I was on display in a museum. Luckily in-between those who came to marvel at the country hick who caught an Earl and those who came to garner gossip came the real friends and Thorn and I received the good wishes of Mr. Brummell and other friends with genuine pleasure.
However Rome was not built in a day and although I was much better at stomaching the follies of others than I had been eventually I reached the point where I simply could not stand it any longer. While Thorn was distracting a dowager in a puce turban I made good my escape and hid in a room that Lady Bellinger had laughingly pointed out to us earlier as being exactly for that purpose. I was congratulating myself on how clever I had been when I heard footsteps. Used to Thorn as I was I knew it was not him therefore it was with surprised delight that I found that it was Mr. Calder that had followed me.
'Miss Bennet.' He bowed, but I was delighted to see him and had resolved to myself that I would not let there be any awkwardness between us; I would not permit him to be so formal.
'Mr. Calder, my dear friend.' I gave him my hands and my best smile. 'I have so much to thank you for.' Mr. Calder looked slightly uncomfortable but then smiled.
'My thanks is that you are so obviously happy.' I gave a light laugh and a teasing look.
'I know, isn't it sickening?' I said this in a conspiratorial tone and despite himself he laughed.
'Is your family happy to see you wed?' There was a touch of sadness in his eyes and I was determined to make him laugh again. I suppose that what I was doing could have been construed as cruel but I was so sure that I was not the one for him that I though that I just had to sit out this awkwardness.
'Oh yes, Mama was in raptures.' I rolled my eyes. If only Mr. Calder knew it all! I then pretended to think about it. 'But then I think that my family would be happy were I to be married to a chimney sweep. It is not unsurprising - five daughters is a very great burden for anyone to bear.'
'Oh?' A raised eyebrow but no smile. I would have to try harder.
'Well, I know that it is quite beyond the pale to mention it but we really are very expensive.' I had done it! Mr. Calder laughed again!
'But a worthwhile expense surely?' I dimpled and cast my eyes demurely down.
'I would by no means guarantee it, but I am in no position to judge and so I am afraid that I will keep my own counsel.' Mr. Calder laughed again and his next question came easier.
'And the wedding is to be soon?'
'Oh yes, in a fortnight in Longbourn church. I shall ensure that you receive an invitation. I should like it if you were to come, if only to have a character building experience as you savour the Hertfordshire welcome and the small village mentality.'
'You think that I would benefit from this?' Mr. Calder, effacing all of Town's snobbery, seemed unconvinced.
'Oh yes, for you see in villages such as ours...' but what I was about to say was lost as Thorn joined us. The look on his face made it hard to tell what he was thinking. I remembered Thorn's jealousy and for the first time wondered at my purpose. Was all I doing hurting Mr. Calder by forcing friendship on him and hurting Thorn with jealousy's cruel bite? At this thought a sliver of cold slid down my spine. Oh Lord, what had I done?
'Calder.' Thorn was all civil politeness. Nothing more.
'Thornfield.' Mr. Calder mimicked Thorn's tone and the two eyed each other up like a couple of rutting stags. Really it was most ridiculous! Ignoring the dread sensation in the pit of my stomach I made one last attempt at salvaging my friendship. I did this by sliding my hand through the crook of Thorn's arm and smiling up at him in what I trusted was my most winsome manner.
'Hello.' Thorn's face softened the minute he looked at me and once more I had to marvel at the power that I had over so good a man. His hand covered mine.
'Hallo Kitty.' Do you think that it is possible to be kissed just by someone's eyes? I had never thought it possible but the look that Thorn gave me certainly made the heat rise up my face. But it would not do to turn into a milk sop now; I had no wish to give Mr. Calder pain or disgust of us. I tried for pertness.
'I was just informing Mr. Calder that I think that Papa will be well glad to be shot of me, very expensive things you know daughters.' Thorn's smile made me go weak at the knees. His words did little to help.
'No, but I trust that I shall find out.' I rallied myself and turned to Mr. Calder with a smile. Unfortunately I said the first thing that came into my mind and did not realise until after I had said it that it might be misinterpreted and offend Thorn.
'So what do you think of my influence, sir? I would ask you to please note that I have transformed a normally upright and respectable man who is perhaps best known as being a little over reserved and formal in public into a rose-tinted spectacle prone to poetry and bad eulogies.'
As I was trying to sink myself into the ground in shame and horror Mr. Calder laughed. To my surprise Thorn not only joined him but was also the next to speak.
'Be careful what you say next, Calder, and remember that I am a far better shot that you.' This was said with all good humour and no threat at all. I breathed a sigh of relief as Thorn averted another one of my disasters. I surreptitiously squeezed his arm in gratitude. Thorn's warm hand closed around mine more closely.
'I would never dare say anything that would disparage you, Lord Thornfield!' This had me in hoots of laughter as I considered some of the things that he had written about Thorn over the years. My goodness! Thorn remained calm and merely raised an eyebrow.
'I am glad to hear it.' He glanced down at my laughing eyes and then back to Calder. 'I do not know why it is but this madcap seems to enjoy your company. Perhaps you would be so good as to join us for dinner one night before we go back to Hertfordshire?'
It was plain that Mr. Calder was surprised by this invitation but after a pause he accepted. Thorn fixed a day, quite ignoring I think that it was not his house to invite people to. Mr. Calder then took his leave and Thorn and I were left alone. At first Thorn would not hear of my apologies, and then he would not accept my thanks although I still insisted that I voice them.
'Thorn, that was a good thing that you did back there. Thank you.' Thorn shrugged and with a teasing look deftly turned the subject.
'When was I ever stiff and formal in public anyway?' I quickly followed his lead.
'At Lady Bellinger's ball you...' Thorn would not allow me to continue but jumped in. I had this sinking feeling that whatever he was about to say it was all going to be my fault somehow.
'Well I have an excuse for that occasion that I am sure you will allow! I was in a sour mood to start with - you were looking particularly lovely and whilst I had fallen in love with you at Pemberley I wasn't yet ready to admit what was wrong with me.' Thorn's crooked smile stirred my heart. After a moments pause he continued self-deprecatingly 'of course that didn't mean that I was ready to share you either.'
I paused for a moment, all of a sudden my heart too full for words. When I did speak it was in a voice full of emotion for all that I valiantly tried to hide it with a smile.
'Lord Thornfield sometimes you can say the nicest things.' Instead of commenting on my demeanour, Thorn teased me out of my tearful mood.
'Does that mean that you have forgiven me for that awful look?' It took me a moment to remember of what he spoke but then I remembered - I had made some crass remark about bucking up. Thorn continued. 'I regretted it instantly, you know, but the damage was done. The worst of it was that you wouldn't let me close enough to apologise, you just danced around making new acquaintances.' Thorn gave me a sidelong look of long-suffering. 'I couldn't help but notice that they were all young and all men. I was heartily displeased.'
'Poor Thorn.' I mourned for him, not sorry in the least for I still considered that he had got his just deserts.
'Calder was the one I was worried about though, he has enough sense to see your worth, enough money to be able to support you and possibly enough character to be able to catch you. I didn't like it when you met him at that party - it especially hurt that you laughed too easily with him when all I had done that night was offend you.' I looked archly, ready to tease.
'What, jealous, my Lord?' Thorn's eyes filled with laughter for all that his face was initially composed.
'No, of course not. Merely...concerned.' His look said the opposite and mocked his self-deception. I smiled. Thorn then remembered an old grievance. 'And then you had the gall to say that you would go out driving with him when you always refused me!'
'I thought that it was a standing joke between us!'
'It stopped being funny when I imagined you curled up beside him on his curricle. It was even less funny when I remembered what a shocking driver he is!' I must be a bad person for although I would not give Thorn any pain for the world, I was still thrilled to hear that he had been jealous of Mr. Calder. A very bad person. I tried to reassure Thorn.
'That is true - you are far superior.'
'Don't try of weaseling out of this one Kitty! You were being deliberately obtuse and punishing me.' I had not choice but to concede the point.
'Well, perhaps I was a little. But then you apologised so beautifully that I had wished that it was you that I was driving out with, not Mr. Calder.'
Thorn remained unmoved, although I think that he was more than a little pleased. Seeing that I was to get nothing more out of the wretched man I kept talking.
'Besides it did not last long, why within a couple of weeks the park had busied up to the stage that we could not go any longer.'
Something, the look on Thorn's face perhaps, made me stop and stare.
'Thorn... you didn't?' His look was all innocence and this time I was not deceived in the least!
'Is it normal for most of the Ton to be out and about in the park at ten o clock in the morning?' I would not be put off by him being obtuse!
'No.' Thorn's grin was unrepentant. I struggled to be annoyed but in truth I was more curious than anything else.
'What did you do?'
'I gambled.' Thorn said calmly. My eyes widened in shock.
'Kitten!' I was not pleased to see Thorn looking heartily amused. If looks could have killed then he would have been massacred on the spot! I was sure that he was just being obtuse again, Thorn corrected me. 'I mean that I literally did gamble! I went to the clubs and took ruthless advantage of young impressionable men who wished to impress me. When I thrashed those who wished to play cards I told them that I would tear up their promissory notes if they went to the park every morning at half past nine for the next week. Soon they all thought it was a lark and it became quite the fashion.'
'You did it deliberately!' I accused.
'Yes.' On reflection I did not find this so great a sin after all. I then decided that it was probably my turn to give a little and so I put my arm through his once more and confided.
'Well if it is any consolation I was very aware of all of the females you talked to at all the parties we went to.'
'Really?' Thorn seemed surprised and pleased so I smiled and nodded.
'Yes, and I was very free and easy with labeling them all gold-diggers too.' Thorn's look became one of pride and delight.
'That's my Kitten!' I pretended to be vexed with him.
'You look pleased! I was in agony I assure you. I was horribly jealous.'
'Good.' Thorn was not at all repentant so I teased him a little more.
'Come Sir, now that is harsh, my heart was broken!' Thorn mocked me in return.
'Well I am sorry for your heart Kitten but I do not see why I should have to have borne all of the heartbreak.'
'True. My poor Thorn.' I reached up to kiss his cheek but Thorn turned his head and so of course we did not stop there. It was a very good thing that we were away from the crowds, I am sure that they would have been quite scandalised to see Miss Catherine Bennet being so thoroughly kissed by Lord Thornfield. When we drifted apart I had been cursing my blindness and all of the time that it had lost us; I said the first thing that came into my mind.
'I should have known that I loved you when we danced at Almacks. It was on the edge of my consciousness, but I did not turn to look at it.' Thorn smiled and hugged me close.
'Ah, the waltz, that was one of the better times for me.' I reached out to touch his cheek.
'Was I so awful?' Thorn give me a hard kiss to rid me of my mournful look.
'Kitten you are adorable and I would not change you for the world but you certainly tested by patience.' Thorn smiled. 'I thought I saw a certain look in your eyes that night.' I blushed and lowered my lashes to peak through them demurely.
'I found you very disturbing, Sir.'
'Good.' Thorn put a hand under my chin and made me look up. 'It was enough that I decided that the next day that I would risk everything.' He laughed. 'I should have known that it wouldn't go to plan.' I couldn't help but laugh with him.
'Oh Thorn!' Thorn grinned down at me.
'This time it wasn't quite all your fault, Kitty. I had bumped into Brummell and Alex and they had stuck to me like glue. Then you took exception to my Four Horse club uniform.' Thorn became reflective. 'I think on Brummell's part it was revenge as he wanted you but has not the means to support you.' I murmured some protest but Thorn was too caught up in his thoughts and merely frowned down at me. 'I wonder if he knew that I had meant to propose?' I tried to be stern.
'Thorn you must no think that just because you are enamoured of me that everyone else is.' Thorn took my point and smiled down at me.
'Enamoured, is that what I am?' I ignored his teasing tone as I realised what he had said.
'You were going to propose? Oh Thorn, I did not know!' Thorn made some sound of disgust.
'I as good as proposed to you on that ride.' I gasped.
'You did not!'
'I did! But I soon became so clear that you had no idea of my intentions that I once more became frightened.' Now this I would not believe.
'Oh yes Kitten, I always knew that if I were to propose too early that I stood a good chance of scaring you off. I also knew that I would be away for a good few days while I spoke to Robert. In truth I almost didn't give you the ring but by then I was desperate for some kind of clue as to what you felt for me and I thought that I had the perfect excuse for a present.'
Was I destined always to regret my folly? It was my turn to be self-deprecating as I admitted: 'I had not thought until that moment that you were going to propose, but when I did my heart almost took off - I felt nothing but happy excitement.' Thorn smiled.
'I had thought that I had seen disappointment. It was a small thing to pin my hopes on but I trusted that you would miss me.'
I smiled and sniffed. 'I missed you a little.' Thorn ignored me.
'But by then I was in another mull of my own making: the problem was that you plainly did not see the meaning of the ring and I had to go away uncertain if anyone would point it out to you.' Thorn's look was questioning. Oh, how I wished they had! But then what would I have done? Something, I told myself, I would have done something to show my regard for him.
'I did not know until Papa told me. I did not know when you returned to London. Why did you come back so much sooner than expected?'
'Darcy said you needed me.' Whatever I had been expecting it had not been that!
'Pardon, Kitten!' I made a gesture of impatience. Thorn shrugged. 'That was all his note said. I now know it was because he thought that you were being upset by Lily's lies and that I should return to deal with it. Short as his note was it was enough to have me in London by the evening of the day that I had received the letter. I changed and made my way to the party you should have been at.' Thorn smiled and I expected some teasing to follow. I was not disappointed. 'You have no idea how disappointed I was that you weren't there. I felt like a man in the desert who thinks that he has found water only to be told that the oasis is a few more miles down the road.'
'You really are feeling poetic today.' I mocked him gently, touched by his words.
'You bring out the best in me.' Thorn cupped my cheek.
'Continue.' I pulled back when Thorn would have kissed me; I wished to hear the rest of the story. Thorn shrugged.
'Well then I heard what you were really up to and you know the rest.'
'Mmm.' I knew it was unladylike but I had to bring it up. 'Our kiss that night really knocked me for six you know.' I smiled to myself as I remembered my anguish. 'I was so sure that it was all that I would ever have from you that I could not bear it and tore up to my room and cried all night.'
'Poor Kitten.' I was kissed to make me feel better. 'It was one of my better moments as despite everything that had happened it had shown that you were aware of me and felt more for me than you were ready to admit. I left it until late the following evening before I went round to the Darcy townhouse to see you. I was devastated to find that you were gone.'
We had both been hurt enough, and I will be the first to admit that my own stupidity has been at the root of it all. As Thorn and I consoled one another I resolved that I would make it up to him. Still there was no rush, we have the rest of our lives together after all. Eventually we decided that it was time to go back and face the masses. Before we left though, I had one last question.
'Thorn, how on earth did you manage to get Mrs. Crawford to shut up? She knew about the coat after all.' Thorn grinned with pride.
'Ah Kitten, my moment of genius!' I had turned on him and grabbed his coat with curiosity.
'Why, what did you do and why could you not say until now?' Thorn laughed at the avid look on my face.
'Why Kitten, I told her that I was wooing you and that in return for her silence she would be the first person to know of the news. I kept my promise - when I sent the announcement to the papers I sent a copy, with my gratitude, to Mrs. Crawford. A clever piece of psychology that - she is a gossip but she knows a coup de grace when she sees one!' I laughed and then nodded wisely.
'Ah and you couldn't tell me because you didn't want to scare me off.'
'Finally she learns.' Thorn's look made it clear that he thought my stupidity endearing. I could not be so kind to myself and once more found myself apologising.
'I must have been an awful trial. I am sorry darling.' I blushed on the last word, still unused to hear it trip off my tongue. This time Thorn had a much more effective way at making me stop apologising: shock.
'Are you going to make it up to me?'
'Thorn!' I blushed that much more at and he laughed in delight.
As Thorn lowered his lips to mine I declared.
'I won't ever be so silly again!' Thorn whispered his reply against my lips.
'Now Kitten don't make promises you can't keep.' And Thorn, being the decisive man he is made good use of our last few precious minutes alone before we went and faced the Ton once more.
The day of my wedding dawned bright and beautiful with scarcely a cloud in the sky. How do I know this? Well I am afraid that I can claim it with certainty as I personally witnessed it, indeed I had been up for at least three hours and with only fitful spells of sleep the night had seemed interminable to me. I must confess that I am rather bitter about the whole thing and cannot help but wonder if all brides are cursed with such atrocious wedding nerves. If so then I think it only fair that they should be given fair warning by their family and friends instead of sly looks and advice about needing rest! I shall certainly see that my own daughters are so informed.
Oh my, but it was awful! I had gone to bed in a fine mood, I had felt only happy anticipation of the following day but no sooner did I close my door than my small doubts hammered home and after bidding my family goodnight I hardly slept a wink for my thoughts, although only partly formed, insisted on plaguing me. By the time dawn struck my mind was centred on one thought that just refused to shift: Thorn was about to make the biggest mistake of his life. Who was I, some evil alter ego insisted on tormenting me by asking, the younger daughter of a country gentleman with more clothes sense than common-sense to aspire to one of the foremost Lords in the land? How was I, whose only talent was running up hems, supposed to run a great house? How could I hope to keep a man as good and as fine as Thorn captivated for thirty, forty, fifty years? By the time dawn struck I was almost in tears and quite ready to wake Lizzy and William for some comfort. I managed not to, for what could they say? I knew very well that nothing they could say would soothe me. I tried to think of Thorn, of the talks that we had had and the moments that we had shared but despite all of the wonderful compliments that Thorn had showered on me since our engagement my old feelings of inadequacy just would not leave me. In a bid to outrun these notions, and heedless of the fuss that it would cause, at the first sign of light I threw on one of my old dresses and went to roam about the garden.
I think perhaps that the fresh air did me some good for I revived and determined to take myself in hand. Of course this was easier said than done and it took me fully half an hour of peace and quiet to successfully argue myself back into a rational frame of mind. I told myself that Thorn was no puppy and that I had not set my cap at him. I would have to stop being such a goose and remember that if the truth were told then it would be clear that it was I who had been so single-mindedly courted. I reasoned that I would perhaps make a failure of being a great lady at first, but that I was young and quick to learn and even if Thorn should fall out of love with me we would surely always have our friendship? I was very proud of myself for being so reasonable but this process had necessitated plenty of pacing and audible conversation and so I had taken myself off to the wild bit of our garden that was shielded from a view of the house by a low wall, by the by it also had a small gate that had access to the lane. I am not normally so observant of details but this is all pertinent because no sooner than I had started to feel better than my musings were interrupted by the very definite sound of the gate opening. It so happened that at this point I had worked myself into the farthest corner and at this sound I ducked behind a tree. I really don't know why I did, after all it was my garden, but some instinct told me that I did not want to be seen. I heard the gate close again and after a moment I peeked around the edge of my hiding place. I am not quite sure whom I had expected to see, but I was never so surprised in my life when I saw Thorn wander over to the gate to the garden proper. I promptly drew back and leaned against the tree for a moment. What could he be doing here? My insecurities whispered that maybe he had changed his mind and, like the gentleman he is, had come hear to tell me himself. Quite rightly I waved these aside. There really was only one possible explanation and I smiled to myself as I imagined the teasing that I would give him about travelling all of this way so early on the morning of our wedding just to watch the house in which I slept. Of course secretly I was thrilled by this display of devotion, but it would never do to let on. I quickly made the decision that traditions or no, I simply could not let Thorn go without knowing that I was here and so I softly crept up behind him. I had not thought that my ambush would work - I had the whole length of the garden to traverse and Thorn is normally too alert to be so easily snared, but he seemed too deep in thought to hear the slight noise that I made, as I neared him I even stopped breathing before I pounced. Well one thing I am sure of is that I took Thorn by surprise, for his whole body tensed, he was like a snake coiled and ready to strike. On reflection, and after a brief chat with Richard on the subject, I admit that I should probably have given him some sort of warning, be it only at the last moment of attack, as Thorn may well have mistaken my identity and intentions. This didn't occur to me until much later, and at the time I was blissfully unaware of the mess I could have landed us in and so I smiled and whispered in his ear.
'Good morning, My Lord.' I said this in as cordial a voice as I could manage. I hoped that it was totally at odds with out situation and that Thorn would find the humour in it too but on reflection I think perhaps that he was too surprised to think anything of the sort.
'Kitten!' I was in one of those silly moments that one sometimes has and I wondered who else he thought would play games with him at such an hour. I opened my mouth to ask him but didn't get the chance for Thorn wanted to see me: he lifted his hands to mine to pull them away and tried to turn around. Well, I quickly had to put a stop to that. I pressed my hands down more firmly and spoke urgently into his back.
'No Thorn, you mustn't! It isn't allowed - you mustn't see me before the wedding.'
'But you are allowed to see me?'
'Yes well, the damage is already done there. Please Thorn!' Thankfully Thorn stopped to considered this. I loved him all the more for when he could easily have overpowered me he instead tried to wangle a way around my impediment. Eventually he found a loophole in my reasoning.
'But I can see you already - I can see your hands.' Oh-ho, very good sir! But I could not allow it. I thought quickly and was soon delighted by my answer.
'If there is no light then how do you know that you can see anything?' I am sure that my tone of voice must have conveyed some sense of how pert and proud of myself I was.
'Philosophical now are we?' I knew that I had won when I felt the smile under my fingers.
'Yes.' I grinned, but Thorn could not see it and the joke was not nearly so fun when I could not share it with him properly. It was around this point I became aware that my arms were starting to get a bit sore so I decided to bargain with my beloved before it got any worse and I was forced to concede a point. I tried for the nonchalant approach.
'Well I suppose that if you don't like us standing like this then there are other things that we could do. What if I were to let go but you keep your back to me?' Thorn saw straight through my little deception and I felt his grin widen.
'Arms sore, Kitten?' I ignored the mocking tone in his voice and shrugged.
'Done.' Apparently Thorn was as fed up with our awkward position as I was, or perhaps he took pity on me. Anyway, I let go and Thorn took a few paces forward. I shook my arms to get the cramps out of them and for a while we were both silent. I spent this time admiring the back of Thorn's head and decided that I found it as delightful as the rest of him. But then my curiosity got the better of me and it was I who broke the silence first.
'So what are you doing up so early?' Thorn smiled, I could tell it by the tilt of his head.
'I could ask you the same question Miss Bennet!' I gasped, cut to the core.
'Miss Bennet? Thorn! When were you ever so formal?'
'Ah but I can only call you by your maiden name for another few hours so I wouldn't want to lose the opportunity.' Despite myself I smiled. I really wished that there were not stupid traditions about bridegrooms not being allowed to see their ladies on the day of the wedding. After all, what difference can a couple of hours make? To my mind it must be a leftover from days of arranged marriages when the grooms weren't allowed to see their brides at all before the wedding as a safeguard in case they were so revolted by what they saw that they decided to change their mind and the land deal with the father would fall through resulting in a fight or family feud or some such. Whatever the reason I knew that I wanted Thorn over here by me and not all of the way over there. I crossed my hands in front of my stomach and hugged myself. It was a poor substitute.
'You can be very silly do you know that.'
'Yes. So what are you doing up? I shrugged but he couldn't see.
'I couldn't sleep.' Thorn went straight to the root of the problem. His voice, when he spoke, was soothing as if he were taking to a scared animal. I am afraid that it had the opposite effect on me from what was intended and all of my good work was undone as my insecurities came rushing out.
'It'll be all right, Kitten. I promise.'
'What if it isn't what if we end up hating each other? What if...' The words erupted from me and Thorn bravely tried to interrupt their rush.
'Kitten!' He made to turn but I gabbled a protest.
'No you promised. I don't want bad luck on top of everything else.' Thorn tried to lighten the subject and take my mind away from my worries. It didn't work.
'You don't believe that do you?' His voice relayed his skepticism.
'No but I'm not taking the risk that it isn't true.' Even to my own ears I sounded on the edge of hysteria. Thorn moved his hands in a gesture of impatience.
'Catherine.' Thorn's voice was stern. Oh ho, now I knew I was in trouble.
'Do you really think that we will end up hating each other?' I thought on this and quickly realised that I could never imagine a moment of my life in which I did not love Thorn. Still, I considered that could be naiveté speaking.
'No, but what about the running of the house and being a Countess? I am no lady, Thorn, and I can't even organise a...' Thorn interrupted me with more soothing promises when I seemed lost for the appropriate word.
'Kitten, I will teach you, Lizzy and Jane will teach you, the butler and housekeeper of Thrapsten Hall will help you. No one expects you to get it all right straight away.'
'No, but what if...' Thorn finally had had enough and put an end to my tirade.
'No Kitty, no what ifs. You will be fine because you are you and I will always be there to help.' Thorn shrugged. 'I have told you before Kitten that there are no guarantees in life. Believe me, you are not the only one who wishes that there were, I really wish that there were, I have always wished that I had a guarantee that you won't change your mind about marrying me because you find everything too intimidating.' Clever Thorn! I completely forgot my own worries in a rush to reassure him.
'Thorn I would never so that.' I embraced him from behind, hugging him close. I buried my head into his back and kissed him there. 'I love you.' Thorn groaned.
'Damn this stupid tradition.' I smiled as I realised a way around the impediment. Silly Thorn for not thinking of it first!
'Well I suppose you could turn around, as long as you keep your eyes close of course.' Thorn started turning and I could see the smile on his lips even as made sure that he really had shut his eyes.
'Ah, of course.' This was growled against my lips and so of course we were kept busy with each other for quite a while. We ended up perched on a log with me balanced on Thorn's knee and a handkerchief tied around Thorn's eyes lest he be tempted to peek. I kept a sharp lookout for the servants - if anyone saw us then they would be scandalised!
'This is nice, we should do it more often when we are wed.' Thorn murmured this as he was kissing my neck and I got a shudder down my spine at the very thought.
'Hmmm' I could not but agree. I felt it only fair, however, to give him one last chance of freedom. 'But Thorn, you are sure that this is what you want?' After giving my skin one last nip Thorn withdrew and pulled a horrified face.
'I am, and I am afraid, Miss Bennet, that after this morning's demonstrations of affection I will simply have to insist that you make an honest man out of me.' His tone was that of an outraged matron and I giggled.
'Oh Thorn.' I laid my hand on his cheek. Thorn turned to kiss it and then growled.
'Come along Kitty, the damage is done, back to business.'
I laughed but was not yet done.
'But Thorn - the family that you are about to marry into...' Thorn frowned and then seemed to know what I was talking about.
'What Kitty? Oh you mean the brothers-in-law I am about to gain?'
'Well...' Thorn squeezed my waist in comfort.
'It is a hard thing indeed to think that I shall now be able to call the most amiable man of my acquaintance brother, but I will bear up. If needs be we need only see him a couple of times per year.' I pulled back, exasperated beyond measure.
'Ah, it is Darcy that you are taking exception to? I quite understand. Well...' I punched him lightly on the shoulder.
'Thorn it is not and you know it!'
'Kitty, I would accept all of the silly young girls in England and all the disreputable rakes if it meant that I had you to wife.' Now that was what I had been after! Still I was not satisfied and turned my fingers in the edge of his coat in my uncertainty.
'You are sure?'
'Very well.' I lay my head on his shoulder. Thorn turned and kissed my hair.
'One day Kitten, one day you will see how wonderful you really are, and when that day comes you will walk a hundred feet tall.' I turned and nuzzled into his neck.
'Why did you come?' It was my turn to kiss and Thorn's turn to shudder.
'I wanted to be near you.' Was it silly that my heart should move to my throat and that tears should well up? I was not sure what I had done to deserve this wonderful man but I knew that I was thankful and that I would never let him go. I only hoped that I could be worthy of him and make him happy. The former would be proved in years to come, the latter...
I sighed and pulled back.
'What now?' Thorn's tone was suspicious. I smiled a smile as old as Eve.
'Well Sir, I was just thinking that I may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.' With this I lifted my lips to his and we were off again.
Far too soon for my liking lights came on in Longbourn and I stifled a groan at what I knew was my duty.
'What? Thorn could not see the lights and so I told him that I would have to go soon as the house was up and about. I imagined the chaos that lay within and what Mama would be like. I had a thought and turned to Thorn.
'I don't suppose that you fancy heading for Gretna? It is not too late!' Thorn gave a decisive shake of his head.
'No.' I cocked my head to one side, surprised by the certainty in his voice.
'It will be quicker to be wed from here and I, Miss Bennet, will not wait longer than I have to call you my wife.' I melted into his arms once more.
Needless to say that I did not go to the house straight-away but eventually, and far too soon for my liking, Thorn lifted me off his lap and stood up.
'Run along now Kitty, I am sure that you have things to do and I really should get back to Netherfield. Darcy will have my guts for garters if he thinks that I have run out of your wedding.' I realised the truth in his words and so reluctantly sorted my hair once more.
'It is all your fault, you know, I was not so much of a hoyden before I met you, I assure you!'
'Well if that is your idea of being a hoyden, Kitten, then I must beg you to never change.' I smiled and went on tiptoes to give him one last kiss goodbye.
'I love you Thorn.'
'I love you too Kitten.' I smiled.
'Don't look.' I planted one last quick kiss on his lips and then ran back to Longbourn. I was greeted there by Mama's wails, Papa's warning's of time-keeping, Mary's congratulations, Lizzy's smiles and William's encouragement. I bore all of this with a secret smile, convinced at last that this was where I was meant to be and that this was what I was meant to be doing. I would not keep Thorn waiting, I would make him proud.
It had been decided that we would have an early wedding breakfast at Longbourn and then ride for Thrapsten; Thorn wanted our first night as man and wife to be in our own home. We spent the time between the ceremony and leaving talking to as many of our guests as possible. Few of the Ton had been invited but we had asked those who we thought of as friends to attend and so were honoured by their presence: Lady Bellinger cried as well and said that it was the most beautiful ceremony that she had seen in years; Mr. Calder wished us every happiness and gave us a beautiful vase as a wedding gift; Tilly managed to come but was still dressed in her mourning weeds and Mr. Brummell had tied a new knot in our honour and had called it 'matrimonial bliss' - I was assured that it would soon become all the rage in London.
It was not until we were about to leave that Thorn pulled me aside and into the service corridor. He would not answer any of my questions but instead hurried me outside. Pausing by a corner he told me that he was about to give me a couple of my wedding gifts. I was never so surprised in all my days when we turned the corner and I saw Charlie and Young Jed dressed smartly and looking not a little nervous. I, being I, immediately went into raptures and started talking nineteen to the dozen. I demanded to know what they had been up to and how they were now. Young Jed told me that Thorn had approached them while we were in London and asked if they wanted jobs as my 'men at arms'. Apparently Thorn had been impressed by their loyalty to me and made them an offer that they couldn't refuse. Charlie added that with their first month's salary he had had enough money to allow him to marry his sweetheart, Annie, who was now in training to be my maid. Thorn only allowed us a few swift minutes of talk before he interrupted us and suggested that the boys might like to go and get the carriage so that we could all go home. I bid them a smiling goodbye and turned to my husband. Thorn watched them go before turning to me. His look was surprisingly earnest and I bit back the teasing words I had meant to give him.
'Listen to me Kitty, because this is important - they are reporting only to you. It doesn't matter what scrapes you get in they are to tell me nothing. You can completely trust them.' I was touched by Thorn's gesture, but was baffled as well. Did he not think that I would tell him all my secrets now?
'Thorn?' Seeing my confusion Thorn pressed my hands and spoke in low urgent tones.
'I know you Kitty, I know that your good intentions run away with you and that sometimes your secrets won't be yours to tell. I hope that you will always feel that you can tell me anything and I hope that you already know that I want to share everything with you: your tribulations as well as your joys. But I can't expect you to tell me everything and so I can try and keep you safe.' I smiled, confident that there would be no such need for all of this protection but unwilling to protest in case I should lose my two friends a job or offend Thorn for his touching thought. Blissfully sure that my days of scrapes and mishaps were behind me I rose up on tiptoes and kissed my husband.
'Thank you, darling ' Thorn wrapped his arms around me and growled in my ear.
'One kiss, wife, and then we will go home.'
One kiss it was and then I was led back into Longbourn to say goodbye to my family and my old home. Soon I was in the carriage and heading for a new life. As I leaned forward to get the last view of Longbourn Thorn pressed my hand in reassurance. I turned and smiled at him, I was now the one ready to do the reassuring for where else could I possibly want to be than with him? My Lord, my friend, my husband, my love.