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Excerpt from Part One
IF JONATHAN BINGLEY HAD not previously recognised that there was developing a serious problem that threatened his happiness and the stability of his marriage, he was certainly made aware of it as they returned to Rosings Park.
Throughout the journey, Amelia-Jane remained seated on the opposite side of the carriage to her husband, rather pointedly placing their youngest daughter Cathy, who was nine, and her lady's maid between them. She also insisted that the blinds be drawn down on her side of the vehicle, so as to preserve her, she claimed, from suffering another severe headache on account of the glare.
Their two eldest children, Charles and Anne-Marie, had already returned to their respective educational establishments on the previous day. Jonathan knew that they, like him, were uneasy about their mother's changing moods and uneven temper, for indeed, of late, she had changed greatly from the vivacious, light-hearted girl he had married and the easy-going, compliant mother they had known.
Jonathan was very troubled indeed; troubled and grieved. He had, at first, attributed the change to the loss of their two little boys, Francis and Thomas, born two years apart, both of whom had not survived longer than a year after birth. The terrible trauma of their deaths had affected all of them, but it had affected his wife more deeply and for a longer period because, with her elder children away from home and his own work keeping him busy, she seemed to find no solace at all.
Understanding the weight of the blow she had suffered, Jonathan had tried to reach and console her, but had failed repeatedly. Each time he tried to comfort her, she seemed to retreat even further into her own grief or break into heart-wrenching sobs. She was reluctant to talk of the children to anyone and, if pressed, would take ill and retire to bed.
Jonathan was too loyal a husband to breathe a word of this to his mother, who knew only that Amelia was still deeply distressed following the death of their sons.
The problem, however, continued to plague them and had recently worsened. Though devoted to his wife and family, Jonathan found it increasingly difficult to keep it to himself and finally sought his sister Emma's advice.
The opportunity to do so presented itself quite fortuitously, when some weeks later, his brother-in-law James Wilson, a long-standing and dedicated member of the Reform Group in Parliament, wrote inviting Jonathan to dine with him at his club in London. He had, he wrote, an interesting political proposition to put to him.
Jonathan, who had spent some twelve years in Parliament representing a constituency in the Midlands, had left the House of Commons some seven years ago, tired and bored with the bickering and dissension that had, in his opinion, opened the way for the Tories and set back Parliamentary Reform for a decade.
Thanks to the recommendation of Mr Darcy, he had been appointed by Lady Catherine de Bourgh to take over the management of her vast estate and business affairs - a prestigious position which included a very pleasant house in Rosings Park.
Others may have felt that the task of reporting regularly to Lady Catherine and being on hand whenever she felt the need for congenial company was too high a price to pay for the modest remuneration offered, but Jonathan, being an amiable and easy-going young man, had not been unduly troubled by Her Ladyship's demands upon his time.
The move to Kent had meant that Amelia-Jane, who had felt very isolated in Derbyshire, had found herself drawn into a new social circle, in which she seemed to find some enjoyment. There was also the very great advantage of being settled near Hunsford, the parsonage where her sister Mrs Catherine Harrison lived. Catherine provided invaluable support to Amelia-Jane when she needed help with the children, and, more than her mother or her husband, it was to Catherine that Amelia-Jane had turned for comfort following the loss of her sons.
Practical and mature, Catherine had been better able to cope with her younger sister's demands. Jonathan had seen clearly the advantage of their situation. More recently though, he had begun to feel restless; irritated by the superficiality of the social round at Rosings Park, he had begun to miss the involvement in politics and the brisk jostling of ideas in the public arena of Parliament. Which was why he had accepted James Wilson's invitation; there had been a promise of something interesting to do.
James, an active member of the Reformists, had insisted that Jonathan should maintain his membership and interest in the party.
"You are far too young to give up on politics, Jonathan," he had said. "We may yet have you back in the Commons, one day." And when Jonathan had modestly pointed out that it might not be easy to get back in, James had laughed and assured him that "room could always be found for a good man."