234 Pride Street, SimdonMadam, Thank you for your notes on the last section of our project. While I understand your right to feel that having a conversation, as you put it,with one’s audience is less than ideal, I feel the opposite. It is important to engage those one wishes to educate or they shan’t care a fig aboutwhat one has to say . I hope you enjoy this record, though judging by your aforementioned notes the frankness and narrative style in which Sir John wrote hisjournals may offend your sensibilities. However, in my opinion, it is perhaps the best specimen we have collected and may have to be revisitedat a later date. Respectfully yours, E.A.
“It is consumption.” Those three words were the worst I think I have ever heard. Robert never was a well person. As a child he was frail, as a young man frail still, but as he got older and we came here to university Ithought I had seen some improvement in his health. But that is when the coughing started. For weeks Robert assured me it was nothing but a cold, but I was not fooled. Soon enough, bloodbegan creeping into his coughs, and he deteriorated quickly. He collapsed not long after that, and I called for Dr. Isaac Trimble. Over the course of the next two days we cared for Robert, and by morningon the third Dr. Trimble had come to his conclusion. Even I, barely into my training, had recognized the signs. I wanted to remain optimistic,but how could I?
Dr. Trimble personally accompanied me to Simshire, leaving Robert in the care of Aunt Mary for the time being, to tell Mama and Papa. Ishould not have to express their immense grief.
When Dr. Trimble had gone (I believe he wished to pay a visit to his daughter, Mrs. Legacy, before returning to Simdon) I found myself in thelibrary. And it was there that my day took a horrible turn for the worse, though I would not have expected such a thing possible. As I stood between two large rows of books I nearly lost my senses. I was so angry, scared, miserable… I could not take it in. I clenched myjaw against the tears, and that is when I heard Lady Emma whisper my name. It was almost silent, but I heard her. I quickly wiped my eyeswith my sleeve, grabbed a book at random, and poked my head around the shelves.
Her grin was breathtaking, but it was all I could do to give her a miserable smile in return. “Good morning, Lady Emma,” I said formally. “I hope the morning finds you well.” I could see my stiffness hurt her, and I would not allowmyself to be the cause of her discomfort. If only I had been in the same state of mind two minutes later. “Forgive me. It has been… a trying fewdays. Robert—well, I am certain you have heard… the, erm… he—oh!”
She was there before I could blink, embracing me, clutching her thin arms around my waist as tight as she could. I could not think. I tried to hear what she was saying, but it was no good. My dearest friend was flinging herself at me, and I never letanyone do such a thing. Indeed, the last time a person had embraced me with my consent was when my mother comforted me after I broke mywrist falling from a weak tree limb; I think I was about six.
“John?” I got the sense that she had said a great deal, but I did not register a word of it. “Are you…?” She raised her hand to touch my cheek,but I anticipated her. I jerked away quickly, and something in my head snapped. “What are you doing?” I barked. “What are you—why are you… what—?!” “I just thought—I am sorry! John, I—please...”
I hated the misery in her voice and that sedated me if only slightly. I took a breath, looked at my boots, and endeavored to keep my voicesteady when I spoke. “Miss, I do not know what you have assumed, but we have clearly misunderstood one another.” Her face nearly broke me. “But—”
I held up my hands and gave her what I hoped passed for an apologetic look. “I am sorry, Emma,” I murmured. “I am sorry.” And then Iturned on my heel and stomped out of the library, out of the house, and straight to the stables. I did not look back. I could not.
Never before have I felt so ashamed. I have ruined everything, I am sure of it. What is the matter with me? Even if I was correct in myopinion of our relationship, which I doubt more and more each second, I certainly could have handled things better. Really, storming out onher? On my parents? What sort of a person does that? As I rode back to Simdon in the extremely appropriate gloomy drizzle I began to prepare myself for Robert’s ire. My older brother might bein bed and extremely incapacitated, but Robert would never let an opportunity to scold me pass him by.
I was correct in this assumption as I realized immediately upon slipping into Robert’s small chamber. I thought vaguely of the kindness ofour Aunt Mary and Uncle—Cousin? Er…and Dr. Trimble, allowing Robert to stay with them in Simfair while being treated, but mostly I waspaying attention to my brother. He looked positively dreadful. Nevertheless, I could almost hear Robert rolling his eyes. “You look no better,” I said. In fact, Robert looked exactly the same as he had the previous evening. This was not an encouraging sign. Atleast he was upright. However, Robert will be Robert. He sighed, which caused him to wheeze slightly and cough a little, and glared accusatorily at me. “You havereturned far earlier than I had cause to expect,” he pointed out.
I hope I looked as guilty as I felt. “So I have.”Robert nodded. “And pray tell me . . . why is that?”“Er.”“John, you will recall that I am rather ill. Furthermore, I have been out of patience since the age of four. Do not play with me.”
I could not help but smile a bit at that. I huffed as I tossed my jacket waistcoat onto a vacant chair by the fire, and my waistcoat with it amoment later; the ride wasn’t long, but Simland is very wet…and so was I. “There was a misunderstanding with Lady Emma, and I sort of . . .” “Hm?” Again, Robert coughed. This time it was harsher and his hand grasped about for his much abused handkerchief. It came away fromhis mouth red, as I knew it would. “Let me get you a clean rag, Robert,” I said, but he merely looked at me and waited for an explanation. Eventually I had no choice but to answer him; I stared into the fire as I did so. “Apparently she is in love with me.”
He threw a hand over his mouth so he would not laugh, but his grin was unbearable to look at. He was still shaking with silent laughter ashe said, “John, if you did not know of this then you are the only one.” “What?” I gasped. “How . . . that is ridiculous.” Robert narrowed his already heavily lidded eyes. “I swear to Plumbob, John. If you hurt that brilliant young woman I will have your head,”he threatened. “To be very plain, I doubt you could take me at the moment.”
As if to prove it, Robert’s thin body was racked with wet coughs. When he could breathe again, he shrugged like nothing had happened. “Ido not know, brother. You have always been a peaceful soul.” I frowned as I fell into the chair by his bed. “Had I known of her regard for me I would have exercised more caution in my actions. I fear Ihave lost a friend.”
“Do you really think Emma would ever let you walk out of her life? She is too good natured to allow such a thing to happen.” “It would add awkwardness to her friendship with our sisters …?” “That would not be her reason, as you very well know.” I shrugged. “I think I will stay away for a while; I do not believe I shall be able to carry on visiting Simshire as we have done every few weeks.When you feel better we may go together, but until then—”
Robert tossed a hand over his forehead and tried to look miserable. It cannot have been difficult. “I thought I was dying?” “No, you are not. If you were, you would not be acting like such a prat right now. Indeed, you should be begging for me to remember yoursoul to our Lord Plumbob in my evening prayers.”
Robert glared fairly impressively for one so ill. “Quiet, you.”“You know, I think you are doing much better!”His mouth twitched. “There is nothing like irritating one’s younger brother to alleviate one’s symptoms of illness.”“Apparently.”We fell into silence for a moment and I was hopeful that he would let the subject drop.“John. Tell me what happened.”
Of course not. I decided I should unburden myself while I had the chance, for whom else could I tell? “I was in the library—” “My lack of surprise is astonishing.” “—when Lady Emma came upon me. I am not ashamed to admit that I had lost my composure just moments before she joined me, but herpresence sobered me slightly. She is just so . . . beautiful.” Robert nodded. Even he could appreciate that, I knew. “She expressed her sadness foryour condition, of course, and I am sure she meant to comfort me when she ran forward into my arms. I was frozen for a moment, but whatcould I do? I eventually extracted myself from her, but I did not behave in the proper manner. Indeed, I believe I shoved her away from me. Itwas… detestable. If I forgive myself for anything that happened today it will not be the manner in which I treated that beautiful girl.”
I could see that Robert was weary, but he took no notice of my attempts to change the subject and simply continued to complain about myactions. When Dr. Trimble came in to check on him Robert assured the man that I had things under control, most likely just to give us privacy; Icertainly had not been an attentive physician. I felt guilty at that; I had not even considered him my patient since I walked through the frontdoor. No, right then he was my older brother, and I needed him for once.
“Do you regret it?” he whispered an hour or two later. He’d been sleeping on and off for most of that time, and even I was dozing as Iperused one of his dreadful poetry books; I was taken by surprise by the resumption of our conversation as if no time had passed. “Rejectingher. Do you wish you had not?” I considered that for a moment and came to an unpleasant conclusion. “On my way here, I told myself that I had acted a fool, that I was toorash. But . . . I realize now I was lying to myself. Whether I want to admit it or not, and at that moment I certainly did not, if put in the samesituation again the outcome would have been the same. I should think the manner in which I behaved would improve, but . . . I could not havepretended. She is the closest friend I have apart from you, but when I think of marriage… I do not see Emma beside me.”
“If I am not mistaken I have recently seen you in the company of one of those women,” Robert whispered, starting to fade intounconsciousness. “She seems familiar, but I cannot recollect why.” I heaved myself up from the chair and placed a hand on Robert’s shoulder. “That is the thing about Simselves, brother. They are a bit toofamiliar.” ---
“I was hoping you might be in here,” I said truthfully, but as the words left me I instantly regretted them. . .when had I become so bold?Er, never. I started to blush furiously.
She did not seem to mind my forwardness, though; upon seeing me enter the study she smiled and placed her book next to her on the sofabefore coming round to meet me. Sometimes the way Simselves moved was so disconcerting… it was as if they were closing in on their prey, orsomething of that nature. Nevertheless, as she moved toward me I only felt happiness.
“Good evening, Mr. Austen.”“Miss Sarah,” I returned her curtsey with a bow. “Last week when I was in Simshire I paid a visit to your old home, to call on Miss Deanna—”“I will never understand how you two get along…” she laughed.“Well enough,” I mumbled, blushing even more. “But as I was leaving she asked me to say ‘hello to Fire’ for her.”
Sarah only looked at me with an innocent smile. “Do you know, I think she meant you?” “What gives you that idea?” She was batting her eyelashes now. I was fairly certain she was playing with me, but it made me anxiousanyway.
“I—well, I do not know, only… well, y-you…” Damn this stammer! “You are the only Simself I am acquainted with other than, er, her. And Iguessed she did not want to send her respects to the smoky fireplace in my bedroom,” it was a nervous laugh, but I was convincing enough. “It is true that they used to call me Fire.” “Any particular reason? It seems an odd name for a respectable young woman.”
“I’m respectable, am I?” she joked. “Well, I guess we all sort of have these sort of… pseudonym… things, or most of us used to. I believe MissFuzzy is the only person to continue using hers but honestly I think it would be more odd, not less, if she were called something completelymundane like Mary at this point.”
“Strangely, I agree. She is a fascinating woman, to say the least.”“Definitely!” she snickered. “Did you know Miss Eleanor was called Widget for a time?”“I confess I did not! Heaven and Earth, will any of us ever understand you Simselves?”“I certainly hope not, for then I would lose my mysterious charm and nobody would have a reason to be interested in me at all!”
“I would be. I… I still would be interested.” ---
When I walked into my elder brother’s room this morning and saw that he was sitting up scrawling away in his journal I could have fallen tomy knees in relief. However, as that would have earned me an inordinate amount of teasing I avoided it and simply smiled at him. “I am so relieved you are feeling better!” Robert grinned. “And I thought you were hoping I would snuff it so you could have Papa’s fortune.”
I felt the blood drain from my face and could not think of anything to say for the time being.
He looked mildly concerned. “I was only joking, John, I know you would never—“
“Are you absolutely out of your bleeding senses?!” I yelled.
“Yes, a bit. You realize I have just been to hell and back on my death bed.”“Do not play that card with me, Robert! You know that I want nothing less than taking up Papa’s estate.”
“Yes, yes, you wish to do something useful in the world. I am aware you think my future is a dull one, thank you for reminding me of that.” “That is not what I meant.” I grunted as I strode over to the chair by his bed. “It is your place, not mine, to become master of it all. I havealways known that. I have also always wished to avoid the depressing, useless lives second sons often have. As a doctor for the army I willbecome a wealthy man in my own right, and, far more importantly, I may be able to save lives.” “If you live, that is.” “Well . . . yes.” “I am not saying that I would rather die than take Papa’s place, but it would be . . . helpful if you were to replace me.”
He simply stared at me. I was certain he was about to ask me an extraordinarily awkward question so I saved him the trouble. “I know.” He looked torn between happiness and horror and I could not help but laugh quietly at his expression. “We all know, in fact. Allof us save Papa, that is.” “Oh, Plumbob. Can you imagine if Papa found out…? He would be so devastated. He would hate me. Good Plumbob, he would probablydisown me! …Maybe I should tell him.”
I shook my head. We had all been aware of Robert’s differences from most young men for a long time, but when Tristan Surilie entered ontothe scene our fears were confirmed. But that was several years ago, and most of us had come to terms with it as best we could. Isabellapretended otherwise, but I know even she felt pity for Robert. Well, she might not feel pity at the moment. She was an affectionate sister, andconcerned for her brother, but her ball had been cancelled due to Robert’s illness. She was not what one would call pleased, precisely. I realized I had left him at a bad thought, so I cleared my throat and quickly contradicted him. “I doubt that. Papa loves you. He wouldcertainly be scared for you—and confused—but that is only if he actually believed your aversion to women was sincere, which I doubt hewould. In all likelihood Papa would take you out on the town to all of his old haunts—probably enlisting the aid of dear Uncle O’Leery—andtry to talk you out of it. Ha! He might even drag you to the Simselves and have them sort you out, though from what Sarah has told me they arevery sympathetic to your plight.” At the mention of my dear friend I was distracted momentarily, but I shook myself back into reality. “He maybe upset if he knew, Robert, but honestly… I do not think he would even believe you.”
I smiled sadly at him as his face fell forward into his palms. “I am so ashamed of myself,” he mumbled. “You ought to be!” I exclaimed. He was horror-struck. “John!” I put up my hands in defense, grinning. “It was in jest! But… let us be honest, what am I to say? I may be, ah… well versed in this situationgiven my tendency to read things of a. . . certain manner, but—s ”
“Promise me you will take over for me! Say you shall be Papa’s heir in my stead. I could leave. I could go back to Tri—I could leave.”
“I am serious!” he yelled; his face was alarmingly pale.“Robert! You are not yet fully recovered, calm yourself!”“What care I for my health?!”
“Do not say such things, you imbecile,” I scoffed.
“Well? I do not think I will survive if I have to wed and bed some obnoxious woman just to add to my wealth and beget heirs! I… blast meto hell in a thousand pieces, but I love… I love…”
I suddenly found the bedclothes absolutely fascinating. He was thinking of Mr. Surilie, I was sure of it, and all I could think of was thatmorning we left for school as Robert made the most obscene noises...urgh. “I thought you had said your goodbyes to him.” Thoroughly. He shook his head. “I did, but that does not mean I want this.” “It is not only your duty, Robert, but your right. You should not throw it away on me. Who knows, perhaps you will manage a son on thefirst go and may be done with the whole business!” I tried to sound cheerful, but the conversation had taken a horrid turn. “Perhaps, but who the devil shall I marry? I may honestly say that there is no woman of my acquaintance that I could countenance spendingthe rest of my life… with.” He looked confused, and very distracted, so I let the subject drop.
Not terribly far in the future, however, he asked me quite out of nowhere. “How does Lady Emma do?” I would have welcomed a conversation with my brother on anything but his position as papa’s heir; anything but that… or Lady Emma. “I donot know, in truth. I have not seen her.” “You still have not seen her? Good Plumbob, man, it has been far over a month now! Were you not in Simshire just last Tuesday?” I did notanswer, and he sneered at me. “You did not deserve her love if you are such a coward as this.”
I bristled at that. Me, a coward? Was he not the one constantly nagging me to take over for him at home so he could run off with somesailor? I just glared instead of saying anything I would regret. “How long do you intend to avoid her for?” he asked. In truth, I had no idea. If possible I would love to never see her again. Maybe I was a coward. I missed her, and I craved her companionship,but I did not want that if it meant risking her happiness—or mine. If I were in her situation I would prefer to be left alone; it would be toopainful otherwise. Perhaps I was making a mistake in assuming she wished to distance herself from me, but I had to sort out my own thoughtsfirst. “I do not know,” was all I said.
Robert coughed and looked out the window. “She is—she is perfection embodied. She is beautiful in the most otherworldly way, she isintelligent, no! Brilliant,” he explained irritably, holding out his fingers to count out the reasons for Lady Emma’s magnificence. “She truly isexceptional, and she is kind, though she takes nonsense from nobody, she is witty, well-mannered, poised… She needs someone who will fullyappreciate all that.” “I do appreciate that.” “But you do not love her, not in the way that would lead to marriage?”
The question seemed odd. Why did he care?And then it dawned on me. “You are correct,” I said, a smile forming on my lips. ---
Over the course of the next several months Robert and I were forced to throw ourselves into our education with far more interest thanbefore. We had both fallen quite behind due to his illness, so while we usually visited our parents at every week’s end, our time was insteadfilled with books with only the rarest excursion into the countryside. Dr. Trimble began taking me and Arthur Doran, my cousin Anna’s betrothed and his future son-in-law, along with him to see his variouspatients. While I was studying medicine at university there was little time for anything but theory, so getting hands-on experience outside ofthe lecture halls was very important to me. Although… with respect, I sometimes feel Dr. Trimble’s methods are a trifle outdated. Before any of us were truly ready, our first year exams were upon us. Naturally, we had very different studying habits. While my brotherspent most of his time gallivanting around town with his new friends, I essentially lived in the library. I was not always studying, of course.Well… not studying medicine. -
“Mr. Austen, are you about?” I winced. Usually I was more than happy to see Sarah—extraordinarily happy, even. But… just then, as I had my nose buried in one of themore lewd texts of the century? I was not particularly pleased at all. “Erm. Shit.”
When I saw her lovely face peek around the bookcase I was unchivalrously hiding behind I nearly fell out of my chair. The book I had beenholding went soaring through the air and as I watched it tumble from my fingertips all I could think was an elongated NO!
As I righted myself I saw her flick a finger as the book flew straight into her palm. If I had died right then, I would have been perfectly happywith it. She smirked at me. “What have we here?” How does one tell a woman one that one is reading about—well, things of an intimate nature. One does not, that is for bloody certain.“Nothing,” I lied lamely, but of course she opened the cursed book.
She blushed deeply as she scanned a random sentence. “Oh!” I had to admit, the way the blush lit up her pale face was enchanting. However, when she stuck out her lip and started smirking as sheturned the pages I forgot all about it. I returned to horror. “My, my, my…” she murmured. “Well really, I have to be honest with you, John. I would never have guessed you were into such things.”
I surprised myself by being affronted. “What makes you say that?” “Is it not obvious, John? Blowing it—sorry, no pun intended—blowing it with the one girl you really had a chance with, just because thethought of romance did not even cross your mind? I think the girls at Simfield have got a bet going about whether you are attracted to womenat all.” “Really,” I said. I rose with a serenity I was fairly sure I did not actually possess and tried to resist the urge to smirk at her.
“Maybe,” I went on, failing in my efforts to keep my face calm, “that particular relationship just was not meant to be.”Her breath hitched and she dropped the book. “Um. Guess not.”I grinned. “No.”
Before she had a second to come up with anything else witty to say I cupped my hands around her face and pressed my lips to hers, rough inthat entirely sensual way. I groaned as I moved closer, turning us and pushing her body between mine and the wall of books. I could have sworn, not one minute before, that every single bit of playful banter that had passed between us in the last year was nothing butthat: playful. Silly. Meaningless. But the way I was absolutely compelled to kiss her, and the way I thought I would die at the feel of her softmouth on mine proved that I was unequivocally wrong. I probably should have pulled away then and made my excuses, but if she was expecting that she would be sorely disappointed..
She gasped as the bookshelves creaked worryingly with the weight of our bodies. Not missing a beat, I picked her unceremoniously off herfeet and turned us both around, backing her into the much sturdier wall. I came to my senses for a moment. “Is this…?” I was trying to ask whether or not I should stop, but my voice came out far more throaty than was truly decent so I gesturedvaguely between us, hoping to convey my question.
She frowned at me and took two handfuls of my hair. She pulled my face back down to meet her, whimpering almost silently as our lips metagain. With her hands clenched in my hair I flicked my tongue across her bottom lip and nudged my knee between her thighs. It was almost as if I knew exactly what I was doing. I did not, of course, but these sorts of books did tend to give a person ideas… Her fingers dug into my back, threatening to bruise the skin underneath my coat, but I did not care. I wanted her closer. I lowered one ofmy hands to her hip and gripped the silky fabric there, but I froze. I knew I should stop, but I really did not wish to, so I did nothing. However, Sarah seemed far more determined than I was as she placed her hand next to mine and began tugging at her gown. I watched asshe slid the dress up her thigh, inch by inch, until the suspense of it nearly broke me. With a moan I—
Woke up. I had fallen asleep in my chair again reading a book on common medicinal herbs, only to be roused by Sarah standing over me with a widegrin holding a teacup. But all I cared about right then was that my book had fallen into my lap due to divine intervention rather than by Sarah’s kind hand to coverup the result of my extremely vivid daydream. ---
When I arrived back at Austen Park naturally everyone was disappointed that I was alone, but happy to see me. Isabella took it personallythat Robert had not come along, but what were we to expect, really? I was extremely fortunate to just miss Lady Emma; she was there, but she and Marian were not actually present in the main hall for myarrival. Marian had one of her terrible headaches and was having a bit of a rest upstairs, with Lady Emma reading to her. They were calleddown for dinner soon after I arrived, but declined to come. I was saved for one more night, at least. Or so I thought. After the meal everyone retired to Mama’s parlor for cards, but I decided to head—of course—for the library.
“Psst.”My ears pricked at the sound in the otherwise dark and silent hall. “Erm?” was my eloquent response.A soft laugh sounded from behind the stairs. “Gorgeous One, I am in need of assistance.”
There was only one woman in the world bold enough to call me something so vastly ridiculous. I sighed in an exasperated sort of way as Ispun around to find Miss Deanna smirking behind me. “Madam, I know I have told you this on more than one occasion, but enough is enough.”
She pouted fairly impressively, I had to give her that. “But I have needs!” she whined as she walked over to me. “Cee took away my laptopand with it went any hope I had of ever accessing ANYTHING that is good ever again!”
She mentioned this “lap top” fairly often, but I remained ignorant of its actual meaning. I was under the impression that it was code for oneof the more vulgar books in her collection, but even if that was the case I was not particularly interested in something so obscene that it neededa secret code. I was sympathetic, but I was firm in my decision. “Surely you could find some other pursuits to entertain you.”
She was horrified. “No! No I can’t!” “And I cannot continue to feed your problem.” “My problem, is it? I think you just do not want to SHARE,” she accused. I looked away, which was all but an admission. She batted hereyelashes at me in that coercive way and begged, “Please? I need to have SOMETHING to seduce Emma with!”
A sharp gasp of air fled my lungs as I teetered where I stood. “I beg your pardon?” I cannot have heard her correctly.
“PLEASE? I will tell you all about it, promise.”
I stared at her for a moment, at war with my conscience. I lost the battle.“Wait here.”Surely she had simply been exaggerating. A lot. A whole lot. I hoped. Possibly.
After she had let out a piercing squeal of delight I heard her sneak up the stairs behind me. I was relieved she did sneak, however, for we hadto pass Marian’s room on the way to mine; I could not bear seeing Emma at this precise moment with a Simself trailing behind me to mybedroom. At any rate I was not about to turn around and tell her to go away, but I must admit I was shocked that she barged her way throughmy door as well. I tried to brush off my panic as I shoved the novel into her hands without making eye contact. “This is the newest lewd text in my collection. I hope you, er, enjoy it.”
When I finally had the courage to meet her eyes I realized far too late that it was a horrible mistake to allow myself to do so. There she was,standing there and caressing the book in an almost obscene fashion, looking at me with bright eyes. “Oh, thank you, Gorgeous One,” shebreathed. “You are, er… you are welcome.” I was feeling a little over warm. Positively on fire, if I was perfectly honest. “But… how shall I ever repay you?” Miss Deanna wondered aloud. She was eyeing me with a leer one does not often see outside of thedockside area of the River Simthames.
That sobered me right up. “Allow me to escort you below stairs,” I said. “Right now.” I threw open the bedroom door, and showed her out; the cool air of the hallwaywas extraordinarily helpful in my endeavor to not completely lose my mind. It should be illegal to make such faces at an eighteen year old virgin.
When we were downstairs, just as I was about to call for someone to walk her home to Simfield, she grabbed my hand.“You have been really, really stupid, you know,” she told me with a knowing smile.“Er?”
“Ah, Emma!” De said happily, hiding my book behind her skirts.I felt petrified. I could hear light footsteps on the stairs, clearly belonging to Emma, but I could not look up.“Finally,” De went on. “Doesn’t she look pretty today, John?”“Er.” Was there always this little air in the main hall?“She really does, I agree!”These bloody Simselves I swear to Plumbob…
“Now Emma, The Gorgeous One was just explaining the function of a bone saw to me, SO fascinating, and I think you should hear ALL aboutit too. The drawing room is empty, I think, why don’t you go in there and explain.” It was a hard look she threw me, and I suddenly knew whatshe meant by ‘being stupid.’ I hated to admit it, but she was correct. I forced myself to turn around and look directly in Emma’s eyes. I hadhardly seen her in over seven months, though it was mostly my doing, and I realized then how ill prepared I was to take in her loveliness. Mybreath caught, and I thought I could see a hint of a sadistic smile on her full lips. “Er, right,” she said. “Bone saw. Sounds vastly fascinating.” “You could call it that, yes,” I answered without stammering once, though I was beginning to wonder where Miss Deanna had heard of abone saw. “Excellent! Shall we?” Emma asked, gesturing toward the drawing room.
Once inside I felt another wave of anxiety flow over me, but I was determined now. It had been far too long since I had seen my wonderfulfriend, and I was not about to muck it all up. “Emma—” “Oh, are you calling me that again?” she snapped. She clapped a hand over her mouth in surprise, though I certainly deserved her censure.The last time we spoke I’d insisted on the utmost formality, though unless absolutely necessary we had not called each other Mr. Austen or LadyEmma since we were fifteen. “Forgive me,” she said quietly.
I shook my head. “No, I should be the one asking for forgiveness. Indeed, I am. Er, asking for forgiveness. Will you accept my apology?” Iknew there was no way I would get away with so little, but I had to start somewhere. “I… should like to understand why you left so suddenly.” My wince was unintentional, but obvious. “Certainly, you deserve that much,” I said, and then I stopped to think before I said anythingbrainless.
I knew I had always been a bit of a coward when it came to Emma. The first time we spoke I had been terrified. I mentioned this to her now,trying to explain, but ruined it afterward by blurting out, “You really are unfairly beautiful, Emma,” She did not respond, probably shocked that I had dared to say such a thing. “Forgive me for taking the liberty of saying so, but it is true,” Isaid only slightly sheepishly. Her adorable face lit up with amusement then as she said, “Honestly John, you should take more liberties.” I could not help but smirk at her,but that seemed to irritate her more. She looked away from me and muttered, “Do go on.”
So I did. I explained to her how she was so beautiful but so intimidating. Taking the opportunity to stop looking at her as a woman made ourrelationship so much simpler, and I was eternally grateful for it. But I wished to know when her opinion of me had changed. She did not look pleased when I asked. “Must we really—?” I nodded, she sighed. “It was a very long time ago, perhaps just weeks after wemet and began studying those Simfrench texts.” I looked at my boots. “That long?” Of course it was not terribly shocking. Looking back on our friendship as I had done on many occasionsover the past several months, I could begin to see just how obvious it was that Emma was developing a certain regard for me. I am certain Iknew about it subconsciously, at the very least, but I ignored it. I did not tell her this last bit, not wishing to injure her more, but it was thetruth.
She went on, looking more upset than ever. “There was a moment… one particular moment on an autumn afternoon when we were arguingover the validity of Roussimeau’s argument. I said something silly, I cannot remember what, and you just… smiled at me—you really, trulysmiled at me in such an incandescently intimate way and I… It does not matter anymore, does it? It was foolish of me, and after that moment Ideluded myself into thinking that every kind thing you ever said was more proof of your affection which, as we now know, does not exist.”
“Of course you do,” she said. I could hear the sarcasm in her voice.
I sighed and turned away, and that is when I heard Miss Deanna open the door. “So, are you making out yet?” Emma must have given her one hell of a look for Miss Deanna backtracked quickly and said airily, “Oh is that Cee I hear?” Once she was gone I spoke again. “You were not the fool, Emma. I was the fool to be so completely blind. I was, well, a coward. I think Imight have seen you as a lady had I not been exceptionally afraid of doing so.” I had not meant to tell her that. Blast. I leaned forward almostresting my head on the mirror and gritted my teeth, hard.
“You know, guilt and worry have done wonders for your social skills.” I could hear the smile in her voice, and I laughed.“Have they?”“Here you are, saying very difficult things to a woman and you have not stumbled over your words once!”She took several steps toward me and I started to panic. Surely she would not—? I could not look at her. I looked everywhere but at her.
“John,” she said. She was holding out her hand, and I took it instantly in relief.“I was afraid you were going to embrace me again,” I admitted with a small smile. “I… sorry. I am not a particularly, er…”“Huggy person?” she asked. “Miss Rose teases Mrs. Simself about that all the time.”I raised an eyebrow, entertained. “Huggy… person? Simselves… what will they say next?”“Only Plumbob knows, and I doubt He is pleased.” She was smiling genuinely at last, and I could not help but return it.
Before I could talk myself out of it I pulled her forward by the hand I was still gripping and wrapped my arms around her and held her astight as I dared. I tried to convey everything I was thinking into that one moment, and then I released her.
“Emma, please understand. I—”“No, John. I do understand. You love me.”I beamed. “I do, truly.”“And I will love you, too, just as any good sister would.” -
When I fell into bed a few hours later after seeing her home (she would not stay the night, though I offered) I was so incandescently happy itshould have been a crime. I never thought we would come to such a perfect understanding with so little inconvenience! The only thing I reallyhad cause to regret was my stupidity at putting it off for so bloody long.
Half a minute after lying down I was up again, tearing a sheaf of paper from my journal and scribbling a note to invite the Simselves toIsabella’s party. Surely she would not object to more well-wishers. And I would not object to seeing Sarah. My conscience was clear, and I was going to make the best of it. ---
The next morning I sought out Marian before breakfast. I found her easily enough for she had taken to staying in her room more than ever,but I was surprised by what I found there. Her floor was covered in crumpled up paper, her writing table stained with ink, and Marian herself in a heap at the foot of her bed. It lookedas if she had fallen asleep while reading a letter which I guessed was from Bleu.
I shook her shoulder softly to wake her. “Er, Marian?”
“SEAMSTRESS. Erm, what?”I laughed as she reoriented herself with the conscious world. “Good morning, Marian.”
“Oh, hello John. Forgive me, I had a very restless evening. Do sit.”“I can see that. Is, ah… is everything quite all right with Captain O’Leery?”
She was glaring at me. Clearly, Bleu was not something I was at liberty to speak of. I would have to remember that. “Did you have a reasonfor waking me, John? I am not hungry, if Papa sent you to fetch me for breakfast.” “No, it is nothing so mundane, I assure you. This has to do with Lady Emma,” I told her. “Oh, John, I do hope you have finally come to your senses there. I still have no idea of what actually happened but the fact that the two ofyou went from the best of friends to awkward acquaintances is a clear sign that something was amiss.”
I held up a hand. “No, no, that is all sorted. We spoke last evening.”“Oh thank goodness… But then what is it you have to say?”“I think Robert means to marry her. I do not think he knows this yet, but nevertheless…”
Marian just looked at me, blinking slowly. And then she burst out laughing like I had just told the most brilliant joke of all time. “Robert…marry! Emma! AHAHA! Oh! I am sorry. Hee. So… what on Plumbob’s green earth brought you to that conclusion?” I explained my theories to her quickly, also mentioning how he always took the time to ask after Emma. I told her how furious he was withme when he learned of what I had done to her, and how strangely relieved he was when I said I did not think I could force myself to marry her. “As ridiculous as it seems, I think you may be correct. When he has visited recently he has shown a particular kindness to Emma. And…” “And what?” “Well, I believe Emma has sort of… transferred her affections to Robert. I confess I have been encouraging her.”
“You are joking!” I laughed. “Well that could not have happened with more convenience.” But then the reality of what she’d just said set in.“Marian, why would you encourage her? You cannot have known Robert’s intentions.” “No, but as I said he has been extremely thoughtful towards her and I thought at least it might persuade him to see that not all women arehorrid. He will have to marry someday, so I thought even if Emma was not the woman for him that he would be more open to the idea.” It seemed a very odd thing to do, whether or not she was correct. “You would see Emma disappointed for Robert’s gain?”
Well, at least she looked mildly ashamed. “It has made Emma happy for now. You did not see her after your falling out—she was not herselfat all. She would hardly speak! But then, when Robert recovered, she was so, so relieved. That was when I began to guess how happy it wouldmake her to befriend him.” “Lucky for you, Robert really does like her.” “I am so pleased! I doubt he will actually willingly propose, but if he is even considering…” “It is a step up from last year, yes.”
Marian smiled. “So what are we going to do?”The way she looked at me, clearly meaning to conspire and form a plot of matchmaking, made me anything but comfortable.“I am going to drink my weight in tea.” ---
As it turned out, Robert played into Marian’s plans exceptionally well. The party had scarcely begun before he strode into the garden lookingquite pleased with himself and his little surprise. “You might have told me you were going to surprise them,” I chided as he was smothered by our sisters and parents. “And miss the look on your face? Hardly.”
He finally managed to free himself from the eager arms of the family, but then he walked straight up to Lady Emma (she had been standingnext to me observing Robert’s entrance with as much bemusement) and pulled her into an embrace. As Robert released her I could see the bright redness of her cheeks. Was that embarrassment or pleasure? “Forgive my forwardness, Lady Emma, but it has been far too long, has it not? And you have been so close to our family these past five years ittruly feels that you belong here. I am most pleased to see you,” Robert told her. His tone was serious, but he was genuinely pleased, I could tell. Emma, of course, giggled and muttered something amiable. I could not quite hear it but I cannot imagine she was actually affronted byRobert’s actions.
I might have followed them and Marian over to where they went to sit, but that was when the Simselves arrived.
As I went to greet them I realized Henry was tagging along. I gave him a questioning look and he shrugged. “Phoebe Simself is my Venus,” he said simply, as if that was not a completely audacious thing to say about one of Mrs. Simself’s daughters. Ihoped he never let her hear him until there was a ring on Miss Simself’s finger. -
After personally welcoming the Simselves to the party, and after seeing Henry at least moderately chaperoned on a stroll with Phoebe (Willsand Luke were always more than happy to do such things, though for very different reasons) I decided to introduce Miss Sarah to my parents. Ihad been trying to talk her into it for several minutes.
“Come along, they will not bite.”“Are you sure?”“They are known for many things, but not that.”She swatted me playfully and nodded her assent.
They were delighted with her, of course. Sarah and I were both rather timid people, but she behaved admirably and within minutes I swear Icould see my mother’s brain whirring in the direction of a wedding breakfast. She caught my eye, though, and smiled bashfully; I grinned andbowed my head gratefully as she mimed locking her lips and throwing away the key.
Of course I had thought about marrying Sarah. Indeed, it kept me up for most of the previous evening. But what could I do? I was not yetnineteen, a second son with no prospects other than a life as a mostly respectable doctor unless I made a fortune with the army… and that wasafter I graduated from university. For the time being there was no way I could in good conscience recommend myself to her.
Best intentions aside, I did not care a bit about any of that an hour later. She had agreed to take a stroll around the grounds with me; Iwanted to show her my grandmother’s rose garden, the tree I fell out of as a child, the other tree I knocked a bees’ nest from and was chasedabout the park… She seemed vastly interested in all my silly stories of childhood and in seeing the wonders of my family’s home, and everytime I said something apparently amusing she laughed in the most charming way that, well… I cannot really be blamed for kissing her, can I?Of course I could. It was horrid of me, and I will of course have to beg her forgiveness a thousand times before I feel any better. But I do not regret it for a second. ---
It was the afternoon of my nineteenth birthday when Robert collapsed again. That was weeks ago, and still he is ill, more ill than the lasttime, I believe. When it was clear he would not improve without constant attention he was again moved to Aunt Mary’s home so Dr. Trimblecould keep constant watch over him. With nothing to focus my mind on but the very real possibility of my brother dying and my studies, I threw myself into my education likenever before. I was planning to finish my degree at the beginning of the summer. It was half a year earlier than expected, but things werequickly deteriorating in Simfrance. I needed to get my commission and head to war as soon as possible.
On one of the all too common afternoons I had my head buried in books and charts, Sarah came to see me. She did not often come toPemberley anymore, choosing instead to spend most of her time in Simshire. I would be lying if I said it had nothing to do with the difficultieswe both had with acting with propriety around one another. More often than not I was so distracted by the urge to have her in my arms I couldnot hold a conversation; as far as I was aware she was in a similar state.
But there she was, smiling sadly. “Do you think you might escort me to see your brother?” she asked without bothering with greetings orempty questions about the health of my parents; it was one of the things I loved about her.
I loved her. That was it then, there was no going back. My realization was like a pleasant slap in the face, if such a thing existed, but I triedto focus. I still had no right to ask anything of her. “Robert?”
“Yes. I have a message from Mrs. Simself for him, but I cannot exactly walk into your cousin’s house and deliver it.” “I do not know, is that not a benefit of being a Simself? Cannot you do what you please?” I was joking, but the frown that crossed her facewas not wholly unexpected. The one thing Simselves could not do was marry heirs to my family. I knew not the particulars, but it was all but alaw. If Robert died… but that did not bear thinking about. “I will take you, certainly,” I nodded, and called for the Chawton Society’s carriage.
“Could you give us a moment?” Sarah asked after we’d been shown into Robert’s small bedchamber at the Trimbles’ home. I was surprised, it must be admitted. What could Mrs. Simself have to tell Robert that I could not hear? What could I not be trusted with? Idid not like it, but I agreed.
I was forced to stand there for at least ten minutes, and every two or so I considered barging back into the room and demanding anexplanation. In the end, though, I decided I had to trust Sarah; if what she was saying had to be kept secret from me, there was a good reasonfor it. I was certain of that.
I was not invited back into the room. Instead, she came out and shut the door behind her slowly. “He is sleeping now,” she told me. “He isresting far easier than he was earlier.” The way she looked at me filled me with a combined sense of ease and dread. It was a relief, but why was he easier?
Before I could question her, Sarah took my hand and pressed it to her lips. “I am sure Mrs. Trimble has strong tea and cakes for usdownstairs. Come along.” ---
I do not know how Isabella managed to do it, but there we were. Not only had Papa agreed to resume plans for a ball for my sisters, but myentire family was now visiting Simdon for the season. Robert and I joined them at dinner parties and balls as often as we could, but as mygraduation loomed I was kept rather busy. On top of that, Robert had fallen ill again just the other day. Mama and Papa are worried sick but Ifeel confident that it is not a true relapse. Thank goodness for that!
Within the first week of her being in Simdon we all had the good fortune to encounter Lady Emma’s brothers, or two of them, at a ball.Captains Patrick and James Bingham are excellent gentlemen, to be sure, and indeed James and I had a good deal in common; I was studying todo the very thing he was. But while I conversed with James about his time in Simfrance as part of Lord Simmington’s regiment I could not helpbut notice Isabella and Patrick’s mutual affection. Whether Patrick’s affection had something to do with Isabella’s marriage portion, orIsabella’s had something to do with Patrick’s connections to nobility, I do not know… but both seemed highly likely. After that night they wereoften seen dancing together at balls, and I think Patrick had even spoken to Papa about the whole… marriage business.
We soon learned that there was a Simerican Opera company visiting, and when Patrick Bingham produced several sets of tickets Isabellabegged our parents let all of us go. I must confess I was curious about the opera; I had not ever had the opportunity to witness one despite beingin Simdon for nearly three years. But it was at the opera when I considered giving Isabella several pieces of my mind. Despite her previous behavior toward Patrick, Isabellawas not paying any attention to him at all. It was not as if I particularly cared whether or not she married him, but if she had any decency shewould not be spending so much of an evening all over one gentleman just as rumors went around that she would soon be married to another. I did not know this new gentleman’s name at the time, but I had heard he was almost forty, has grandchildren, and is the eldest son of abaronet from Devonsimshire who happens to be a close friend of the Earl of Simlucan— Emma, Patrick, and James’ oldest brother.
It seems Isabella knew him rather well, however. He has been invited to Pride Street numerous times now, but still I cannot tell whether sheactually likes him much; she certainly pays very little attention to anything or anyone but him, which is obviously irritating Patrick. I am notsure what to make of it, but I will have to keep my eye on my little sister before she disgraces herself. Plumbob knows Robert cannot bebothered with it, and Papa is so often busy with… other things. I ought to pay this gentleman a call. Privately. ---
Robert poured the tea with a delicate flourish. I had been correct about my brother’s recovery; Robert was back on his feet and acting likehimself again, if slightly shaken. I grinned. “You pour like Mama,” I pointed out. “She is the one who taught us, after all,” Robert said, not bothered by my observation. “Yes, but I pour tea all over the table when I try,” I went on. I loved tea, but it did not love me. “You are you John. You fall over buttoning your trousers. Sugar?”
“No.” I took my cup and pointedly grabbed a lemon wedge; I shuddered as he dropped two lumps of sugar into his. “So tell me, is there any news from Simshire?” he asked conversationally, but I knew he was eager to hear of Lady Emma. I just sat back in my chair and sipped with my eyebrows raised. He glared. “What?” “Why do we not just admit that you want me to tell you ALL about my visit with Lady Emma yesterday? You know, Robert, for a man not atall interested in ladies you seem to be almost obsessed with her.”
“Pah, obsessed,” he scoffed. He did not deny his interest, I noted.“In all honesty, not much has happened. Well, Emma did mention she was in love with you.”The tea Robert had just sipped returned to its cup immediately. “WHAT?”It was a minute before I could stop snickering, and the whole time he just sat there with his eyes wider than anything.
“Perhaps not in so many words, but it was as clear as day to both of us.” “Us? Oh, Marian. Of course, she must have gone with you.” “Yes.” I nodded. To my immense surprise, he did not seem happy about Emma’s affection. Indeed, he was positively brooding. I decided tochange the subject as I peered at him over my teacup. “So, tell me… what have you done to Henry?”
He laughed. “What have I done? Good lord, nothing! He’s more of a jumped up young blood than I shall ever be. Did you know he’s beenchasing after that Simself girl?” “Miss Phoebe? His ‘Venus’…” “That is the one without the spectacles, yes?” he asked. “Mm.” “Well then yes, Miss Phoebe. You know, that other one terrifies me. Miss Sophie seems more willing to bite my head off than say hello. Icannot imagine what I might have done to offend her!”
I laughed. “Nothing at all, I am sure. Miss Sarah tells me Sophie has simply inherited her mother’s, er… tenacity. Speaking of which, Papakeeps threatening Henry with marriage for his own good. He caught him with Phoebe in the scullery the other afternoon, and everyone knowsMrs. Simself does not take that sort of thing well.”
Robert smirked. “Nonsense, Marian told me Mrs. Simself and Papa were lovers once.” It was my turn to choke on tea. “It is true!” Robert declared. “It seems Papa had some sort of relationship with many ladies before he married Mama, and that most of them—all of them, really, save one—had ginger hair. So, really… at least Henry comes by it naturally.”
“Blimey…” Robert smiled, but soon enough he was frowning again. “What is troubling you, Robert?” I asked at length. “I thought you would be pleased that your attentions to Lady Emma have not goneunnoticed.” “I thought so too.” ---
Finally, the last guests of my sisters’ ball have gone and I can politely collapse in my old bedroom. What an evening! I danced with, it feelslike, every woman in Simshire. It was as if there was a queue to dance with me, and I cannot fathom why; I am a terrible dancer. I made the effort, however, and danced with Miss Sarah as often as I dared. Sarah. Would it be foolish to be ecstatic that she has agreed to wait for me?
We were both out of breath after a very enthusiastic set of dances, and laughing quite a bit. Somehow we ended up in the small courtyard,taking in the balmy air. It was just such an enigmatic evening that I found myself taking her hand and leading her back into the garden whereI had finally kissed her all those months ago. It was probably stupid of me, but I was soaring with happiness and could not help it. I kissed her hand when we reached our destination, and stared into her eyes. I had wondered so many times over the course of ourrelationship if she cared for me as I cared for her, but I think I finally knew. Before I could find a reason not to, I spoke...
“I cannot yet offer you what I wish to—“ “I do not care for all that.” “I care. I have no right to request this of you, but I beg you to wait for me. I will return from Simfrance before you know it, and then… whenI do…” “Yes?” “There is a question I should very much like to ask you. It is my greatest hope that you will agree to what I want.”
End! Thank you to the lovely Di for being so helpful with everything from proofreading to making the awesome mesh John’s uniform is made on,and thank YOU all for reading! Your support means so much to me. <3 Next up is Robert’s POV chapter, so look out for that! p.s. I TOTALLY apologize for John’s little, ah….daydream. He’s an eighteen-year-old dude, or was then. So…yeah sorry anyway. ---