All of a sudden her eyes were opened to the truth of the situation. All she had said was one word. One word to make everyone happy. One word to be married to Mr Harris Bigg-Wither. One word she couldn’t take back. One word.
She paced up and down the library in Manydown Park, pausing at the window. She shook her head as if it were to wipe away the unsettling numbness that was daring to consume her every thought. ‘Jane Austen! You are an educated woman in 1802, pull yourself together!’ She sat down at the oak wood desk, adjusting the chair carefully. The furniture screeched as they finally felt winter’s breath descend upon them. Rustles of paper echoed, as she set her manuscripts in the far left corner of the desk. Sighing, she opened her writing box and fingered her quill pen. Though it was not her favourite, she observed the feather – the delicate mottled grey flecked across the streaks of faded sepia. It rested against the collar of her inkstand with the nib resubmerged into the infinite midnight pool. The proposal came as a surprise, and so did her mind’s quickness to conform. He had the misfortune of possessing an extreme case of gaucherie, a situation only compounded by his unflattering countenance and nervous stammer.
She picked up her pen and began to sign the contract that threatened to take away everything she ever knew.
Thursday, 2 December, 1802
Manydown House, Hampshire
She paused, contemplating how to inform him of her engagement. Of course her father would approve of her marriage. After his brother died, Mr Bigg-Wither was to inherit Manydown Park, the family estate, alongside other properties, therefore this marriage would be most advantageous. It didn’t matter if he was six years her junior. A man would marry a woman upon his first impression, happiness in a marriage was entirely up to chance.
The unfamiliarity of Manydown Park discouraged her, as if it were warning her. Warning her of a life of discontent. Her fingers were still gripped around her pen, and she unknowingly, had dripped ink on her father’s name. She stood up, scouring the shelves despairingly, probing the spines of the almost fossilised books. Distasteful, bland books being imprisoned. Boxed in. Crowded.
“Jane! There you are!” cried her sister Cassandra. She’d seen her in the winding corridors. “I am to meet Alethea and Catherine in the Drawing room. Where were you that occupied you so?”
“I wanted to see whether the library was most amiable.” Jane said, masking her displeasure in the mundanity of its selection.
Upon entering the drawing room, she curtsied politely. Though they were close friends, her plain white muslin dress felt inadequate compared to Alethea and Catherine’s dresses. Alethea wore a flowing periwinkle blue muslin dress. Catherine had an ornate lilac silk dress draped on her shoulders, decorated with lace and ribbons. The heat from the fireplace against her icy skin made her feel sickly, her cheeks became deeply flushed.
“Jane, isn’t it so wonderful that we shall be sisters after your marriage?” Alethea said with her eyes shining.
“It would be delightful.” Jane said precisely planning her wording and tone of voice, tugging her mouth into a smile.
Cassandra and the two sisters conversed, though their words blurred a dull murmur.
“I feel quite ill. Do excuse me, I shall retire to my chamber.” She said, hastily curtsying and exiting– her head throbbing.
As she laid awake upon her bed, she felt the urge to distract herself from the constant lingering of her engagement. She gathered the manuscripts of her draft ‘Pride and Prejudice’ that she had picked up on the way back from the library. Drawing near to the flickering candlelight, she read over the manuscripts carefully editing the mistakes. Though her eyes grew weary, they were suddenly alerted. ‘“I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins's character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state."’ As she read over passage she became convicted of what she must do. She looked with disdain at Charlotte’s decision. ‘Marriage should be for love, not security’, she thought. After all, though Elizabeth eventually loved Mr Darcy– she had the strength to refuse him the first time, and to refuse Mr Collins. She paced around the room, hoping to not disturb anyone. Pausing, she thought of her family’s estate, and how she spent each sleepless winter night shivering. ‘Think about how advantageous this would be, not only for you, but your family!’ she argued, however, she then was reminded of her sister’s decisions on marriage. After her fiancé died, Cassandra withdrew from the marriage market. She thought of the beauty and elegance of her elder sister, the most wonderful person she’d ever known. ‘If Cassandra had to courage to not be married after her Thomas died, why shouldn’t I have the courage to break off the engagement?’ She asked herself. It felt like an eternity, as she grew weary of the position her back was in, until the gentle footsteps of the servants pierced the silence.
“You must be surprised, but I must give you time to think it all over. Indeed I do thank you again for the honour you have done me in your proposal, however, it is impossible for me to accept.” She said calmly. She curtsied quickly left the room before he could speak.
Jane walked quickly to pick up her already packed trunk and headed towards the front door. Greeting Cassandra and the two sisters, they stepped into a carriage fleeing to Steventon.
This is the first story I have published on HubPages and the first historical fiction story I have written. Constructive criticism and feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for reading!
© 2017 Zoe S