part 1 Posted on Wednesday, 13 March 2002
At one and twenty, Jane Fairfax was of sound enough of character to know that she harbored no wish to be the heroine of any person's rescue fantasy. However her elegance of mind, body, and spirit; combined with her situation in life caused even the most sensible of people to imagine ways in which the unfortunate Miss Fairfax could be lifted from the sad fate of poverty, eventual disgrace and indifference that would likely be her fate unless for some intervention on their part.
"Mr. Noland comes to Weymouth this week and brings friends," Miss Sophia Campbell, soon to be Mrs. Dixon, said meaningfully to her intimate friend Miss Fairfax one morning in the garden.
Jane inclined her head politely in acknowledgment, full-well knowing her friend's meaning but not owning to it. "Does he indeed? Do you know these friends?"
"Only by name. Indeed, I believe it is but two of his cousins and a gentleman friend, but from what I have heard, the ladies are his female cousins who are much like sisters to him, two very genteel and elegant creatures, and that the gentleman is a fine and very handsome young man from the estate of Enscombe. They are to stay some time in town. A few months perhaps-enough time to form new and old acquaintances."
Miss Fairfax and Miss Campbell continued their walk in relative ease and familiarity, but Jane remained acutely conscious of her friend's gaze upon her. When it became almost too much to bare, she stopped.
"I wish you would not, Sophia," she started at last, her cheeks coloring.
Miss Campbell touched her arm lightly and said in a kind voice, "I only wish to see you as happily settled as I soon will be, my dear Jane. That is all. Mr. Noland is a very kind, liberal kind of gentleman. You would suit him very well, and he you."
"But we show no inclination towards each other, and have not in the years we have been acquainted. If you will forgive my frankness, Sophia, I have no wish to impose myself on such a man as Mr. Noland, and I would thank you not to have a man such as Mr. Noland imposed upon myself."
Miss Campbell was startled into silence by the conviction of feeling in her friend's voice and words, and remained thus until Jane turned, and with much self-reproach apologized for her outburst of emotion. She owned it partially to the heat and to the eventual loss of her dear friend, who rightly must transfer much of her time and love to her husband when the time came.
"I owe so much to you and your family, for all your kindness and goodness towards me. You cannot know how much I do, and I know I cannot ever repay the debt." At this Miss Campbell exclaimed with warm-hearted indignation, declaring that Jane's presence these years had been a blessing and never a burden, but Miss Fairfax would continue. She took her friend's hand in hers. "I know I can speak with you candidly-so you know that I must make my own way from now on. I am committed to the idea, and where I am to go from here, and what I am to do, will be done with only reference to myself and my own decisions. I do not want to be saved unless I myself am doing the saving. Of all that I am determined."
"You are quite convinced of this?"
"Will you not consider marrying? I know the governess trade does not wholly agree with you, Jane. I know your feelings on that subject."
Jane gave a very small, wan smile. "No, indeed the trade does not agree with me, but it is the best way I know to make a living when I am to leave you. If I could choose otherwise, there would be no hesitation, but we both understand the limits as to my choices-to any woman's choices. As for marriage, it is not out of consideration, but I will not be subject to a mercenary marriage, or for that matter a marriage of mercy."
Miss Campbell, unused to this sort of language from her friend, pursued this vein of conversation no further. Thus they completed their morning walk and soon returned to the house for a late breakfast.
In the breakfast room the Colonel and Mrs. Campbell greeted them, offering up plates of cold meat and fresh bread as they delivered the news that an invitation had been extended to them to attend a ball at Lawton Grange, (Mr. Noland's estate some ways out of town), to welcome his return. Miss Campbell exclaimed with delight, but Jane only nodded politely. She suddenly felt agitated. Jane knew her friend was generally not a schemer, but she also knew her well enough to know that Miss Campbell, when driven by devotion and fancy, could find herself unconsciously attempting to better her friend's situation in spite of pleas and protests against it.
"We will need to get new gowns, Jane," Miss Campbell said simply.
Again, Jane attempted to protest this kindness, saying it was far too much, and that she already had a pretty blue gown that would do nicely enough, but Miss Campbell would have none of it.
"I insist. I will hear nothing against it as reasonable as you are. You must allow me."
"We are only to have you with us a very few more months, my dear," said Mrs. Campbell kindly. Her warm, plump face beamed happiness and sadness at once. "Please let us do this one thing for you."
"A few months? Jane, oh no! You must come and visit myself and Mr. Dixon when we go to Ireland. Has he not told you of its beauties? Yes, I think he must, for you seemed quite enchanted. You must come to visit us. I would not want to lose you for the world. Have you not always wanted to see Ireland?"
Jane smiled and agreed that she had been enraptured by Mr. Dixon's accounts of his home in Ireland, and yes, she would be honored to be allowed to visit them there once they were married. With all this general agreeableness it was not long until their persistence and her sense of gratefulness was too much, and Jane consented for the Campbells to purchase her a new gown for the ball, which they insisted, would not be enough unless she would also allow them to throw in a pair of new white gloves.
Mr. Noland and his party arrived within the week. The party consisted of two ladies and one gentleman. The two ladies were as Miss Campbell said, his cousins, Miss Nancy Ashbury and Miss Mara Swift.
Miss Ashbury was a pretty young woman, fair-haired and slim. Her eyes were bright with excitement of new adventure to be found Weymouth, and her manners betrayed that she also was not closed to the idea of finding romance. She seemed to be amiable and graceful, but had the air of one wanting elegance. She was likely hours at practicing her manner of speech, the timber of her laughter, and her poise when walking, for she did it all rather too well for it to have been natural.
Miss Swift, although also cousin to Mr. Noland, was not sister to Miss Ashbury, but rather a second cousin. She appeared to be cut from an entirely different cloth than Miss Ashbury. Miss Swift was handsome, but handsome in a severe sort of way. Her dark hair matched the color of her dark eyes, and set off against her pale skin made her appear regal but cold. Her face was generally set with a look of neutrality, and if not for the expression of her eyes, she would have remained unreadable. Unlike her cousin who talked and flattered away, Miss Swift was quiet. Jane suspected upon meeting her that in her silence, Miss Swift was busy in observation of her surroundings, making note of all that passed.
Lastly there was the gentleman, a Mr. Frank Churchill of Enscombe, to whom Miss Ashbury appeared to have permanently attached herself. He was undoubtedly very handsome, and at once showed an openness of character and a playfulness that was very delightful to all that knew him. Indeed, the manner in which he handled Miss Ashbury seemed charity itself. He was at once attentive, but still detached enough as to not awake any suspicion in others that he was attached to her, or that he had any intention of ever doing so. He and Mr. Dixon soon became fast friends, and with the acquaintance already present between the Campbells and Mr. Noland, the two parties of young people were rarely seen apart in the months that followed.
The first real gathering that occurred after the initial introduction was the ball at Lawton Grange, which took place a week after Mr. Noland's arrival. Mr. Dixon arrived with his carriage to escort Miss Campbell, which also came to include Miss Fairfax, for the Campbells were still very particular about their daughter being alone with him, even though they were, and had been engaged for some months. The Colonel and Mrs. Campbell took their own carriage and they were all soon off to the ball.
"I do hope there are not too many ladies," Miss Campbell said as Mr. Dixon assisted her out of the carriage. "It is never a problem if there are too many gentlemen, for they are allowed to sit out a dance and not be scrutinized as to why they are lacking of a partner, but a woman snubbed will be wondered at and pitied."
"I think you shall not be ever in want of a partner, Miss Campbell," said Mr. Dixon warmly. "I will make sure of it, for if I am not engaging you to dance every dance, I will beat down any cur that would slight you." He turned then to smile at Jane. "And the same for you, Miss Fairfax, though I know not what any young man could be thinking if not thinking of having such an elegant partner as yourself."
"You flatter too much, sir," said she with a warm blush that became her complexion.
"Ay," said he laughing, "but it is still the truth. I would not speak it unless it were so."
Then politely taking both ladies by the arm, Mr. Dixon escorted them into the Grange which was awash in light and color. Other parties of young people from Weymouth had been steadily arriving all evening and the rooms were populated comfortably when they arrived inside.
Mr. Noland and Miss Swift greeted them, directing them towards the ballroom where couples were already engaged in dance. Mr. Noland laughingly told them to get in as much dancing as possible, because a dinner was to follow and with the amount of food that was being prepared, no one would be in any condition afterwards to even move. They were all charmed by his easy friendliness, and Mr. Dixon attempted to persuade him and Miss Swift in joining them, but he could not until all his guests had arrived. However Miss Swift conceded and walked with them inside to the spectacle.
"Are Miss Ashbury and Mr. Churchill already inside?" Jane asked politely.
Miss Swift raised an eyebrow. "Oh yes," said she archly. "My cousin was intent upon having the first two dances with Mr. Churchill, and she persuaded him to ask her. See, there they are now."
With an almost indiscernible motion of her hand, she pointed to the center of the room to where Mr. Churchill and Miss Ashbury were dancing. The adoration in Miss Ashbury's face was even apparent to Jane from that distance. That openness of admiration unnerved Jane for some reason. Miss Ashbury appeared oblivious to Mr. Churchill's indifference, and she felt that that lady was in danger of being wounded. Her concern must have shown on her face, for it did not go without notice.
"Do not worry for the sake of my cousin, Miss Fairfax," Miss Swift said softly so only the two of them could hear. "She understands what she does all too well. Please trust me when I say that she is in no need of rescue. On the contrary, of the two she is certainly not the one in any danger."
Jane had no reply to this. The confidence of Miss Swift seemed too much, but the manner of her delivery had been without malice towards her relation, nor had it that air of confession that was often used to create a false sense of friendship. However she could no longer think on the subject, for the current dance ended and a gentleman soon arrived to ask her permission to engage in the next two dances with him. Those two dances ended, and Jane was flushed in enjoyment. As she rested for a moment, it looked to her as though Mr. Dixon were coming her way to ask her for the next few dances. She smiled, but he quickly disappeared from her view when Mr. Frank Churchill startled her.
"Miss Fairfax!" exclaimed he, "if you remember we were introduced earlier this week." He was warm and overflowing with mirth.
"Indeed I do, Mr. Churchill."
"Then may I ask, if you are not presently engaged, to have the pleasure of the next two dances with you? It would be my honor."
Jane replied that she was free, and he soon led her out on to the dance floor. They spoke, smiled, and danced together. Frank Churchill turned out to be a very good dancer, and his proficiency combined with his good humor and attentions made Jane think him then to be the most agreeable partner she had ever danced with. She felt her cheeks go warm. She was not insensible to his charms. And if she had chanced then to look at his face, she would have seen the likewise applied to him.
Their dances soon ended and Jane left off to rest. Miss Campbell, she saw, was deep in conversation with Mr. Dixon, so Jane sought out the Colonel and Mrs. Campbell for company. However they were nowhere in sight, and as Jane was about to go in search of an available seat, she saw Mr. Noland look her way and smile. He excused himself from the young lady he was speaking to and began to make his way towards her.
"I hope you are having an agreeable time, Miss Fairfax."
"Yes sir. This is a wonderful ball. I do hope you are having a pleasant evening. Being the host sometimes makes an event more wearisome than could ever be when one is a guest."
Mr. Noland glanced quickly over his shoulder to the young lady he had just left. He beamed. "I can say with every assurance that I am having a wonderful evening, Miss Fairfax. I thank you. I think I have not had such an evening in many ages."
From across the room she saw Miss Campbell looking for her. When she caught her eye, Sophia seemed to smile with encouragement. Jane blushed and lowered her gaze. When she lifted her head again she noticed that Mr. Noland had glanced behind himself once again. Jane, seeing his anxiousness, politely excused herself to find a seat and rest.
She watched him as he returned to the young lady. His face was effused with joy, and Jane could not help but smiling herself. No, she thought. He does not regard me in that way, and I myself feel no pangs in my heart for his attentions to another. All the scheming in the world will not change a thing. But Jane had to wonder then if she was to ever feel those pangs, to know the pleasure and the pain of attachment. Her maudlin thoughts were interrupted though when she heard her name mentioned. She turned and saw Miss Swift and Miss Ashbury nearby.
"Did you not see the way Miss Fairfax was looking at him? Quite disgusting, Mara."
Miss Swift did not turn her eyes to her cousin as she replied. "If you had bother to look, Nancy," she began dryly, "I think you would have noticed that his face was much a reflection of hers. Surely you do not find disgust in his looks."
Jane blanched. For a minute she could hardly breathe no less move. Her composure was lost to her. She had only been speaking to Mr. Noland for a moment. How could their polite conversation have been taken to be so much more? Jane was absolutely mortified, and sat thus until shaken back to life by the sound of couples moving to the dance floor.
From the corner of her eye she saw Miss Swift and Miss Ashbury still standing. Mr. Churchill was fast approaching them, and as he stopped and was about to address Miss Swift, Miss Ashbury instantly took his arm and agreed that she would very much be honored by dancing with him again. ("Such an attention, sir," said she, "I thank you, but what must the other ladies think? Scandalous, but oh, the music is about to start!") He managed to mask his surprise quickly and led her away, although not without an apologetic glance towards Miss Swift. Miss Swift did not seem affronted by this at all, and merely shrugged and motioned them to go on. She would sit.
The passing of two dances gave Jane enough time to compose her spirits, and although she felt uncomfortable the rest of the evening, she was able to dance and give the impression that she was enjoying herself. She danced with a Mr. Frost, a Mr. Kale, as well as two dances with Mr. Dixon. Mr. Frank Churchill eagerly engaged her again for two more dances, but this time even his charms and attention could not rouse her to enjoyment. What he thought of her before was now replaced by this image of coldness and reserve. He could not help feeling disappointed. She however was insensible to this; her feelings of vexation and embarrassment had overtaken everything. And although she wished to avoid it, it could not be helped, and she was obliged to dance at least two dances with Mr. Noland. When it ended she quickly excused herself from his company and sought the refuge of Mrs. Campbell who was delighted to have her company as she thought herself too old to dance, and the Colonel was busy talking to a Lieutenant Payne about military matters. It was not soon enough for Jane when finally Miss Campbell and Mr. Dixon declared themselves exhausted and the party returned to town for the rest of the evening.
part 2 Posted on Sunday, 17 March 2002
Mr. Noland's party retired not soon after the departure of the Campbells, Mr. Dixon, and Miss Fairfax. The servants proceeded to clean up, and the group retired to the library for a rest before they retired for the evening. They were to go to Weymouth the next day to stay at Mr. Noland's house in town, and for the time they were at the Grange they wanted to enjoy its rich comforts and fine furniture.
"Absolutely charming evening, cousin," Miss Ashbury said with a yawn. She was reclined in a sofa and positioned herself in the most elegant manner she could manage. There was a smile to Mr. Noland. "I could have danced all night, that is, with the right partner." She looked significantly at Mr. Churchill who appeared otherwise occupied with a pile of sheet music by the pianoforte.
"Yes indeed," said Mr. Noland. "I have forgotten in my absence from Weymouth that there were so many pleasant and handsome young ladies here abouts. I wonder if they have sprung out of nowhere or if I was a blind coxcomb this whole time!"
"It does not matter now, Charles," said Miss Swift knowingly. "For I believe tonight you have opened your eyes and have liked what you have seen. Have you not, cousin?"
"Ah-yes I believe-Churchill! Why do you sit so quietly there? Tell me not that the ball was so dull to you as to drive you to find solace in sheets of music! Or that you are melancholy because you were rejected by some young woman. Come, man, join in our conversation. We are lively enough for five such people, and you have been too silent too long."
Mr. Churchill placed the music back on to the pianoforte and turned to them. "I am sorry, Noland--I have been distracted-but you know my love of music. Thank you for reviving me before I became too lost in notes and words."
"I hear from Miss Campbell that Miss Fairfax is quite the proficient at the pianoforte," said Miss Swift, "and that she has the voice of an angel. But ah, Miss Campbell is her particular friend. Yet I would like to hear her just the same."
"No, you are correct, cousin. Miss Fairfax was with the Campbells when I was last in Weymouth, and I had the pleasure of hearing her play. Churchill-I think even you would be pleased with her performance, that is if Enscombe has not spoiled you entirely."
Frank hesitated a moment before he spoke. "Well, then we must invite Miss Fairfax and her friends to a party when we were in town, shan't we? Then we shall decide."
"Well," pronounced Miss Ashbury loudly, rising from the sofa, "I do hope her playing and singing is not so cold and reserved as her manner, or as distracted as her dancing. That I could not bear with any patience. Now, shall we all retire for the night? I am quite worn out."
The invitation was made and accepted, and a week and a half after the ball the entire group was assembled at Mr. Noland's house in town. It was the first time the ladies had met again since then, for the gentlemen had often met to play cards or go shooting at Mr. Noland's estate. After dinner they sat down in the music room and Miss Swift was the first to perform. She was quite musical, but her voice was too deep and she had only a short range, however she did play very well and they were all entertained. While she played Jane sat with Mr. Dixon. Miss Campbell was speaking to Mr. Noland about his time in London, and Miss Ashbury was as usual connected to Mr. Churchill.
"Is Miss Campbell not lovelier than the moon tonight? I think Shakespeare could not do her description justice."
Jane was all agreement. Although Miss Campbell was generally considered quite plain, her elegance and her spirit often made her radiant, and Jane knew better than to argue with a man so much in love; and she herself could never slight a friend so dear to her heart for the world. And indeed Miss Campbell was lovely this night. There was positively a glow in her cheeks, but Jane conjectured that it had been there for many months-precisely those months since Mr. Dixon had declared his undying affection for her and had asked for her hand in marriage.
Miss Fairfax's and Mr. Dixon's heads were considerably close to the other's as they spoke, for they whispered so as not to be a distraction to Miss Swift, but the appearance of such intimacy could only prove to be mischief in the envious eyes of another in the room. Across the room Miss Ashbury had noticed Mr. Churchill's eye wandering, and thinking quickly she sought to regain his attention.
"Is not Miss Fairfax lovely tonight? I must say, her looks have quite improved since the ball. She looks positively glowing. I think it must be due to the change of the present situation." This last statement was said with an air of conspiracy.
Frank Churchill started-he begged that he did not understand her meaning.
She, knowing his penchant for mischief pushed forward with an idea. "Do you not think it is because of Mr. Dixon? I think it must. Look at their heads? So near, it cannot be proper. I cannot help but suspect that during Miss Fairfax's and Miss Campbell's acquaintance with Mr. Dixon, Miss Campbell was not the only one to fall in love with him." She smiled and anticipated an outpouring of mirth at the idea, but he was only half with her. At first his face betrayed confusion, as though he did not know which way to look, but then he looked to respond. His words were cut short however when Miss Swift completed her song and Miss Fairfax was entreated to come and play.
Mr. Frank Churchill was from there on completely lost to Miss Ashbury, and though she knew it to be true then, it did not change her relentlessness in her pursuit. She was not a woman who took kindly to snubbing when it was done to herself.
Miss Fairfax played extremely elegantly and sang beautifully. The whole of the room, with the exception of Miss Ashbury, was utterly enchanted, and the enchantment was only broken when the song was completed. A second song was called for, and Miss Swift suggested that Mr. Churchill should be asked to join Miss Fairfax in a song, for he too had a very distinct, and very good voice for song. It was all agreed upon and Miss Swift was afterwards congratulated for her wisdom in the suggestion, for Miss Fairfax and Mr. Churchill had combined to produce such a fine sound that they were begged for just one more.
The evening ended without any incident, but as they were leaving she heard Miss Ashbury declare loudly in surprise to her cousin, "A governess indeed! That is what she is to be!" Jane did not look up then, but she felt the eyes of the gentlemen upon her. "How unfortunate that such a talented creature should be relegated to such slavery, but I suppose-" Her words were cut off quickly, for Jane had raised her head then and turned to challenge Miss Ashbury with an even, steady stare. Then she quickly turned and left with Miss Campbell and Mr. Dixon without another word or look back.
One morning when the Campbells, with the company of Mr. Dixon, went to town to purchase more wedding clothes, and Jane, declining the invitation to join them for she begged them that she had to write to her Grandmother and Aunt Bates, was come upon alone by Mr. Frank Churchill.
He started and colored, looking all around the room and finding only her. He bowed and she stood up an curtsied.
"I was told that Mr. Dixon was come this way. I am mistaken?" He wiped his brow with his wrist and looked around again in agitation.
"He was here before, sir, but he has joined the Campbells into town in search of more clothes for the wedding."
"Oh." He paced a little, then stopped. "Why are you not with them?" he asked sharply, then checked himself. "I mean, you are not unwell are you, Miss Fairfax?"
"No. I begged to stay. You see," she said with a gesture to the desk, "I am occupied with writing a letter to my relations in Highbury. I have been away from them for a longer period than usual, and I do not wish to slight them. They are the only family I have."
"Highbury?" Mr. Churchill took two steps closer to Jane and then retreated once again. "Highbury? The Highbury just some miles from London?"
"Yes, sir, that is indeed the one. May I ask your meaning-"
She was interrupted by his abrupt motion. He moved again towards her and seated himself in a chair near her. She followed his action and sat back down at her desk.
He laughed rather consciously and looked at her intently. "I have known you for these weeks Miss Fairfax and not known that you are from Highbury."
"I do not understand?"
"We might have been neighbors." Jane noticed that his eyes look suspiciously red. "You see, Miss Fairfax, my father is Mr. Weston of Highbury. Do you know of him?"
"Mr. Weston? Of course. But your name is Churchill--"
He came to explain his situation, although in a rushed sort of way. When he finished, his gaze was yet upon her again. "So you see, if circumstances were different we might have been childhood friends, Miss Fairfax. How odd this world is. If things had turned out differently you and I might be attending balls in Highbury and not Weymouth! It would seem that we were fated to know each other."
Jane could hardly respond. Instead she said, "I think, Mr. Churchill, if we had both remained in Highbury it would be more likely for you to be in the company of Miss Woodhouse than in mine." She colored again, immediately ashamed of this admission.
"Miss Woodhouse?" he said with feeling. "Yes, I have heard her mentioned by my father. But does she not pay you attentions? Are you not the same age?"
Jane could not respond this time, and he, suddenly aware of himself stood up abruptly.
"Ah, ah," said he to himself. "Please pardon my intrusion upon your time, Miss Fairfax. I would not want to keep you any longer from your letter. I shall be off now in search of Mr. Dixon. Good day to you." With that he was gone, and Jane was left with her letter and her thoughts, neither of which she could manage to compose until a some minutes later.
The weeks flew by, and it seemed like no time had passed when late September arrived. Jane had thought the visit by Mr. Noland and his party would prove to be unbearable-for between Miss Campbell's hope of an attachment between Jane and Mr. Noland, the anxiety of finding employment after leaving the Campbell's, and Miss Ashbury's seemingly unprovoked and thinly veiled hostility it seemed that it could only bring pain-but it proved to be anything but. Miss Campbell was to be disappointed, for since the ball at the Grange Mr. Noland had found himself smitten with a Miss Darlington and was calling on her quite often. As for Miss Ashbury, Miss Swift seemed to understand the goings-on and had intervened on more than one occasion to keep her cousin's tongue in check with her own sharp rebukes. Jane's situation in seeking employment had not changed, but events caused her to begin to hope, and even when her feelings were not being turned that direction she was too happy or confused to think of them.
For since the dinner at Mr. Noland's, Mr. Frank Churchill appeared to single Jane out more and more to talk, dance, or sing. To both their good fortunes no one else in the party seemed to ever notice. Jane owned it to the preparation for Miss Campbell's upcoming wedding, and she was glad for it. Even the normally observant Miss Swift was too busy trying to prevent Miss Ashbury from staining the family name or talking of wedding plans with Miss Campbell to notice that Jane and Frank were often seen walking together in the lanes and talking as though it were the only natural thing in the world.
It confused Jane greatly. She did not know what to think of it. It very well could be that he was doing this out of kindness to her. Miss Campbell was in such a state these days with the wedding that she could have little time for her dear friend, and Miss Ashbury was of course beyond consideration. Miss Swift might have been a good companion for Jane, but she was always at her cousin's side. Mr. Dixon was also busy with wedding plans, and Mr. Noland appeared to be working his way towards a similar ending with Miss Darlington. So Mr. Churchill was the only one left for the task. If this were some form of rescue that had been devised for her, she could not have it. Yet there was too much happiness on both their parts for it to be done out of pity.
And there she had it. Jane blushed as she admitted it to herself. She enjoyed Mr. Churchill's company, perhaps too much to be safe. He was always pleasant to be around. There was always a joke or compliment ready for her when they met, and she found that he had surprising depth. He spoke of his family--his regard for his Uncle Churchill and his respect for his sick aunt. Once she heard him mention his birth parents-his father whom he saw rarely, and his dead mother. ("You see, we are both orphans in a way, Miss Fairfax.") She also could not deny that she found him very handsome, and in general very agreeable, although his joking at times went too far as to be arrogant and disrespectful. Yet it was not even that which caused her to feel in danger. When she was around Mr. Churchill she felt insensibly awake, if there could be such a thing. She laughed more, smiled more, spoke her opinions without hesitation, and was more open and friendly to those around her. Even Miss Campbell who had known her intimately since childhood noticed the marked difference in Jane's demeanor.
She could not always discern his feelings however. When they were alone she could almost have no doubt that he admired her. All social pretense fell away and he was at such ease. Anyone seeing them alone together could conjecture that he was the lover of Miss Fairfax. His looks and nearness said as much, but when they were in company he would often draw away and speak to anyone save herself. In such cases she would attempt to remain as neutral as possible, and many times this neutrality gave away to her accustomed appearance of coldness and reserve, but when alone with him again that too fell away. Such feelings vexed her to no end, and Jane wished fervently for something to distract her.
part 3 Posted on Thursday, 21 March 2002
The distraction soon came, and its effect was two-fold. A scheme was set upon by Mr. Dixon who declared that they must take advantage of the last good weather of the season and go out upon the water for a boating excursion. All but Mr. Churchill were able to come.
"He left Dorset early this morning for Yorkshire," said Mr. Noland with a shake of his head. "His aunt is having one of her fits again. She says she is too ill to be without him, and he is too good to her to refuse. It is a shame that he must miss out on our fun, but he has his duty."
It was soon all settled and the next day the group of friends set out in two boats. Jane was with Miss Campbell and Mr. Dixon, and Mr. Noland and his cousins were in the other boat. When they set out the day could not be more brilliant. The sky was alight in blue and dotted with large clouds that floated gently along the ocean of the sky. They could not have asked for a more perfect day. But the calm lasted only so long. It was soon apparent to all that a storm was fast approaching and they made haste to return to shore. They soon made it safely back, but not before a great scare. As the boat carrying Mr. Dixon, Miss Campbell, and Miss Fairfax was approaching the shore, a strong gust of wind came near to dashing Jane into the water. If not for the quick action of Mr. Dixon in grabbing her habit, the trip would have proved tragic, but thankfully for all concerned it had not.
Jane did not come away unscathed however. Her health had always been delicate and the storm had made her ill. Ill she still was two days later when she was happened upon alone again by Mr. Churchill. The worst of the illness had passed but she was again feeling faint. A spell had come over her just as Frank entered the room. She swayed, but managed to grab hold of a nearby chair to support herself.
"Miss Fairfax!" cried he in alarm. He was at her side immediately and took a hold of her, his hands on her back over her shawl.
"I am strong enough to support myself, sir," said she with faint embarrassment. "Please do not be alarmed." And indeed Jane did support herself and managed to recover from the swoon, but she soon was feeling faint again, but for another reason. Mr. Churchill who had grabbed hold of her in his concern was either insensible of it or had no wish to do it, for he did not let go of her after her declaration.
"I returned as soon as I could when I heard of the accident," said he with heightened emotion. "Shocking events, all of it. If I had only been here-if I-this never-it is lucky that Dixon acted when he did."
She composed her voice in the surprise of his touch. "It might still have happened regardless of your presence sir. Do not feel as though you are to blame, Mr. Churchill. Do not feel uncomfortable. All is well now, and that is what matters. We are all alive and safe."
"Miss Fairfax, I want you to know--" he stopped but still maintained his grip on her, "if anything had happened to you-or to any of the others, indeed, I would have most certainly-you must understand my meaning. What I mean to say is-cannot you not suspect, Miss Fairfax-my life would be nothing--"
She stared bewildered at his ramblings. Frank was so agitated that although he twitched in one spot he moved so much that it began to make Jane dizzy again.
"Oh dear Miss Fairfax!" cried he at last, but at that moment Mr. Dixon entered the room to the sight of Frank's arms encircling Jane. "You must wear this shawl," cried he at last in a broken tone. "I insist. You will never get well if you allow yourself to catch another chill." He pulled the shawl higher onto her shoulders, released her from his embrace, and turned to Mr. Dixon.
"Ah, there you are, Dixon," Frank said smilingly. "You catch me being useful, or believing myself to be thus." Gently he led Jane to a sofa and helped her sit although she was capable of doing so herself. "You perhaps did the hardest part, and I thank you for saving such a good creature as Miss Fairfax. I act now as a sort of preserver. What do you think?"
Mr. Dixon could only laugh and soon he and Mr. Churchill were engaged in conversation. They allowed that Miss Fairfax wanted privacy and soon excused themselves from the room. However it was not without a sorrowful parting look on the part of Mr. Churchill who looked at Jane meaningfully. When they had at last left Jane stood up again and walked to the window. Strange things were amiss, and she could not say that this strangeness did not affect her feelings too.
October came quickly and the marriage of Miss Campbell to Mr. Dixon came to pass. There were sufficient tears of joy and looks of envy to go around, and the cake was soon eaten up much to the satisfaction of everyone. The happy couple and the bride's parents spent the rest of the week preparing for the trip to Ireland while their friend Miss Fairfax prepared for her return to Highbury.
"You must come back to us, Jane, after you have returned from your visit to Mrs. and Miss Bates. There is a place for you with us in Ireland. Indeed, there is always a place for you where ever we are. Is that right, my dear?" Mr. Dixon agreed heartily with his new wife. "I know-you are determined to find employment, but please consider, Jane. We would have you stay with us forever if you would have it, and do not say we do it out of pity unless you mean pity for us, for I know not what I would do without you. You have been my salvation these years. I could not ask for a better friend."
"No. I insist that you hear me out before we must part. You are always welcome in our family because you are family and always will be. And I wish you would not be so set on this idea of employment. I understand you see it as a necessary evil, but you have to see that it is not necessary--"
"I thank you, Sophia. Your benevolence is too good, but I have trespassed on your family long enough. I will find a way to make a life for myself. Do not worry."
"I wish you would not be so much the martyr, Jane," Mrs. Dixon said grumpily, but her friend's smile revived her. "At least you will consider visiting us and staying with us in Ireland? I know you want to see it after what this big oaf has been telling you." Mrs. Dixon took her husband's hand in hers.
"Of course. Will you write me?"
"Only if you will write me."
The two friends at last embraced and exchanged tears and warm good-byes. The Dixons were soon off. Jane watched them as the carriage disappeared, and when it was no longer in sight she made her way back into the house to find Colonel or Mrs. Campbell. However when she entered the parlor it was not the Campbells whom she found, but rather Mr. Churchill who had somehow happened into the house. He bowed gravely and began pacing again in the nervous manner which she had seen him in not too long ago. He inquired after her health-she was well-and she after his, for he seemed out of spirits. He proclaimed that he was quite well and it was left at that.
"I did not know you were still in town," began she. "I was told by Miss Swift that you were all to leave Weymouth this morning. Indeed, I saw your whole party two nights ago when we all said our farewells."
"Yes, you are right. Noland and the ladies have left off this morning, but I--" He looked at her again, his eyes blinking fast. "But I did not get to say my proper good-byes. I have not been able to give the address that I had wished to make before my return to Enscombe. Do you understand my meaning, Miss Fairfax?"
Jane replied that she did not, although she colored when she said this and felt a nervous flutter invade her chest. She watched him walk to the door, open it, peer outside as if to check for eavesdroppers, and close it again, turning back to face her. He began to pace the floor, looking up every once in a while to gauge her expression.
"These months," he began slowly, "you cannot know what they have meant to me." He looked up her, his face all astonishment. Jane was flushed red. "Or do you?" Courage overtook him and he walked to her, taking her hands into his. "Oh Miss Fairfax, you must know--"
"Yes." Her answer startled him as well as herself. "Yes," she repeated softly although with more strength and emotion this time.
Encouraged by her answer, Frank stormed ahead, never once letting go of her hands. His normal sense of gallantry was now replaced by a sincerity and simple honesty that Jane had seen before in their walks together, and she thought they became him better than the highbrow manners and pretty words he was often prone to. He began to express his feelings of admiration and love, explaining that he could not remember when he had lost his heart to her, but that it was irrevocably hers now and forever if she wanted it. He went on-she had changed him-or she had in their time alone. He had never felt this way-and if she would consent to be his wife-well, if she would not he would certainly go mad.
Jane could not help but laugh at this. She removed one of her hands from the inside of his and moved it so her hand now covered his. Her gray eyes were full of affection as she looked upon his face and consented.
Frank's joy could hardly be contained. Jane almost cried out when it looked as though he was about to lift her into the air, but something in his manner changed and he let go of her hands. He looked away from her, his agitation returning.
"What is wrong? You are not ill, Mr. Churchill?"
"My aunt." He said this with venom. "It is my Aunt Churchill. She will not be extending blessings our way. You know her to be ill, but you should know that she is also bad tempered. Rank, and--" the next words seemed to come with difficulty, "and money are very important to her. If we are to be engaged it must remain a secret engagement--"
"I think I understand." Jane drew herself up to her full height and walked away from Frank. "I will not pretend to understand you, Mr. Churchill. Indeed, you remain quite a mystery to me, but I think I have heard enough to know that the terms of your offer of marriage are not ones which I am willing to agree to. I will not be a charity case, I thank you, sir."
"A charity? Miss Fairfax--"
"Please leave, Mr. Churchill. I have had enough of being rescued, or having those surrounding me wish to save me. I am not a weak, irrational woman! If I must find employment as a governess then that is what I shall do, but whatever comes to pass in my future I will do it my way. I will not stand to have any person come in and attempt to be my hero. The only saving of Jane Fairfax will be done by Jane Fairfax!" She was flushed with exertion, but she felt strong, not weak from the effort of declaring herself.
When she looked at him, she saw that he was momentarily dumbstruck. She made ready to leave when he made no move to speak. When she began her exit she felt his hand shoot out to grab her arm. There was shock, and then sudden clarity in his eyes.
"If you think that my offers have been some attempt to save you from the fate of poverty then you have read me wrong, Miss Fairfax. In large part, at least. There is no pity for you. If there is any pity here it is for me, especially if you will not reconsider, Miss Fairfax. My offer to you was wholly made on the wish to love and be loved by you. I spoke of my aunt only because I am to inherit the Churchill fortune one day, and her disapproval would result in her disowning me."
"If truly your vows were made with the intention of loving an being loved, then what does your inheritance matter?"
"Do you truly wish to live in poverty, Miss Fairfax?" asked he calmly. "I know I do not-I cannot. I have been raised in luxury and I believe the adjustment would be more than I could bear."
Jane was silent. He pressed on.
"My declarations of love are the root of my intention, but I cannot deny that I wish you a better situation also. But a better situation for the both of us. You deserve more than a life as a rich man's servant, and you deserve better than to be treated as an object of pity. I wish to give you both my love and my wealth, but my Aunt Churchill stands in the way."
"Explain to me your meaning, sir."
His features looked sickly as he spoke, but he mustered up all the strength to deliver his answer. "My aunt is ill, very ill according to her own reports. While she lives I cannot believe that she will give us approval to marry. My uncle is a good man, though. I believe he would consent to it, and if and when he does then my inheritance is safe. My suggestion of this private agreement is to at once ensure your regard and the future approval of it by my uncle when my aunt has passed on. I know how dreadful it must sound, but I want to give you the world, Miss Fairfax. Believe me."
"I do not doubt your intentions, but your actions, Mr. Churchill--"
"I know I am a coxcomb, a fool. I have been spoiled all my life and continue on, but-I do no so much wish to rescue you as I wish you to rescue me from myself, Miss Fairfax. You are too good; too lovely to be sure. I come up with this plan because I wish to offer you something in return."
"Is that not what marriage is then?" said she more to herself than to he.
"I do no understand you."
"Marriage is a give and take. An equal exchange between two partners who bring to the union something of balance. Do you not agree?"
Frank was again dumb with surprise. Finally he managed to spluttered, "Then does this mean, Miss Fairfax, that you-that you will consent? Not only to be my wife, but to the secret engagement?"
Her look was all he needed, although she still gave him reassurance in her words. Jane could only maintain a moral resolve so long. She had doubted-perhaps hidden the violence of her own affection not only from him, but from herself for too long. It all came out in the open now, and the two declared lovers reveled in their attachment and found a moment of privacy to express such a material change in their lives.
Unfortunately, such things must come to an end, and Frank reluctantly parted from his dear Miss Fairfax. He had told Mr. Noland and his cousins that he had forgotten something at Weymouth and returned to fetch it. He was to meet up with them on the road, and if he did not show soon they would begin to worry unnecessarily. In all it was a difficult parting. Jane was without the comfort of her friend Mrs. Dixon, and she was soon to return to Highbury where she was all but a stranger these last two years. He proclaimed again that he would go mad if she would not write him. However in all of this they found a ray of hope in another meeting.
"My father, Mr. Weston has recently married again, and I am to visit and give my attentions to Mrs. Weston. My aunt can only spare me for a short fortnight, however. Do I wish too much that you shall be to Highbury and that my visit to my good father will coincide with your return?"
Jane colored and said she knew not when the Campbells would part with her, but that she would write to him and tell him at once when she was to return.
"Oh Miss Fairfax," said he with almost too much emotion, "I am already dreading your absence. Days apart from you are eternities. I know not how I shall survive unless I can hear from you often. That will be my only solace."
Jane reassured him again of promises of regular correspondence, and he was more at ease, though not by much. Their meeting ending almost formally, and might have been so if Frank had not then taken her hands to his lips and kissed them feverishly.
"Good day, Miss Fairfax. Oh, you are too much a saint-too wholly an angel. I do not know how I may ever deserve you." He bowed. "I know not when we shall meet again, but you shall be in my thoughts every minute of every day until then. Adieu."
He was soon gone. Jane watched him disappear from her window, a mix of emotions brewing inside her heart and head. She began to feel ill, but fought it. So much had happened so fast. She wondered now what the next chapter in her life would bring, and how ever she was to survive it. How was she to know then that this was only the beginning of everything?