PROLOGUE | December 1802
My dearest Jane,
My hand is trembling as I write this letter. My nerves are in tatters and I am so altered that I believe you would not recognise me. The past two months have been a nightmarish whirl of strange and disturbing circumstances, and the future…
Jane, I am afraid.
If anything happens to me, remember that I love you and that my spirit will always be with you, though we may never see each other again. The world is a cold and frightening place where nothing is as it seems.
It was all so different a few short months ago. When I awoke on my wedding morning, I thought myself the happiest woman alive…
CHAPTER 1 | October 1802
Elizabeth Bennet's wedding morning was one of soft mists and mellow sunshine. She drew back her bedroom curtains to see the dreaming English landscape lying serene and beautiful beneath a soft white quilt. The mist was at its thickest by the river, lying voluptuously over the water, then thinning out as it spread over the fields and pastures before disappearing, wisp-like, into the trees.
The birds were silent, but there was a sense of expectancy in the air. It was as though the world were waiting for the sun to rise and burn away the gauzy veil, revealing the true colours of the countryside, not muted white and grey, but green and blue and gold.
Elizabeth sank onto the window seat and pulled her knees up in front of her. She wrapped her arms around them and her thoughts drifted to the ceremony that was to come. Images floated through her mind: she and her father walking down the aisle, Darcy waiting for her, the ring slipping onto her finger…
She was not the only one to have risen early. Her mother was already awake, complaining to anyone who would listen to her about her nerves, and Mary was playing the piano.
Kitty was calling out, 'Has anyone seen my ribbon?' and Mr Bennet was adding a full stop to his dry reply by closing the library door.
Beside her, Jane was still sleeping.
As she watched the world waking outside the window, Elizabeth thought of the past year and of how lucky she and her sister had been. They had both met men they loved and now, after many trials and difficulties, they were to marry them.
Elizabeth could not remember whose idea it had been to have a joint ceremony but she was glad to know that her sister was to share the happiest day of her lifeno, not the happiest, for she was sure that was yet to comebut the happiest day of her life thus far.
As the sun rose and the mists began to lift, Jane stirred. She blinked and then lifted herself on one elbow, pushing her fair hair out of her eyes and smiling her slow, beautiful smile.
'You're awake early,' she said to Lizzy.
'And so are you.'
'Here.' Jane climbed out of bed and took a wrapper from its peg behind the door, then draped it over her sister's shoulders. 'You don't want to catch cold.'
Lizzy took the wrapper and put it on, then she caught her sister's hand impulsively and said, 'Only think, in a few more hours we will be married. I will be on the way to the Lake District for my wedding tour, and you will be on your way to London, to visit Bingley's relations there.'
Jane sat down on the window seat opposite Elizabeth and Elizabeth made herself smaller, to give her sister more room. Jane raised one knee and let her other leg dangle over the edge of the seat, with her foot swinging idly an inch or two from the floor. She looked absently out of the window and twirled one fair curl idly round her finger, then she turned to face her sister and she said, 'Do you wish we were going on our wedding tours together?'
'Yes,' said Lizzy. 'And no.'
Jane nodded thoughtfully.
'I will miss you, Jane, but we need some time alone with our husbands,' said Lizzy, 'especially to begin with. You will write to me, though, won't you?'
'Of course. And you will write to me?'
'Every day. Well, perhaps not every day,' said Lizzy with a sudden smile, 'and perhaps not at all just at first, but I will write often and tell you what I am doing, and you must do the same.'
They heard the sound of footsteps on the stair and they knew it was their mother, who was coming to hurry them into dressing, even though the ceremony would not begin for another three hours. They greeted her with affection, being too happy to worry about anything this morning, and listened to all her anxieties, both real and imagined. They reassured her that Kitty would not cough in the ceremony and that Mrs Long would not steal Mr Bingley for her niece at the last moment'for I am sure she would be capable of trying,' said Mrs Bennet.
'Mr Bingley loves Jane,' said Lizzy.
Mrs Bennet smiled complacently.
'I cannot wonder at it. I knew she could not be so beautiful for nothing. Now, girls, you must come downstairs.
Breakfast is ready in the dining-room.'
Elizabeth and Jane exchanged glances. They could not face the thought of a family breakfast, with their mother fussing and Mary moralizing.
'I am not hungry,' said Elizabeth.
'Nor I,' said Jane.
Their mother protested, but they would not be persuaded and at last Mrs Bennet went downstairs, calling, 'Kitty! Kitty, my love! I want to speak to you…'
Elizabeth and Jane breathed a sigh of relief when they were left alone again.
'We should eat something, though, even if we don't really want it,' said Jane.
'I couldn't eat a thing,' said Lizzy. 'I'm too excited.'
'You should try,' said Jane, standing up and looking at her sister with affection. 'It will be a long morning and you don't want to faint in the church.'
'All right,' said Lizzy, 'for you, I'll eat something, but only if we don't have to go downstairs.'
Jane swirled her own wrapper from the peg and let it fall round her shoulders, then she drifted out of the room. Elizabeth leaned back against the window and her eyes looked towards Netherfield. She imagined Darcy rising, too, and preparing himself for the wedding.
Her thoughts were recalled by Jane, who returned with a tray of delicacies, and together the two of them managed to make a passable breakfast. They broke off small pieces of hot rolls and ate them slowly, in between sipping hot chocolate.
'What do you think it will be like?' asked Elizabeth.
'I don't know,' said Jane. 'Different.'
'You will still be here, at Netherfield,' said Elizabeth, 'but
I will be living in Derbyshire.'
'With Mr Darcy,' said Jane.
'Yes, with my beloved Darcy,' she said with a long smile.