“I’d be honored.”
Jane smiled as she said the words he wanted to hear, but at the same time she felt a sinking in her gut.
Before she had time to process her feelings of dread, Cassandra, Alethea, and Catherine had burst through the door (no doubt having had their ears glued to the keyhole the entire time) and were rushing all about them. There were hugs and smiles and congratulations and was that a tear in Catherine’s eye?
All doubt was forgotten as Jane reveled in the joy her answer had brought. Cassandra held her so tight it just about took her breath away and Harris was actually smiling. It was such a strange and gratifying sight that Jane was convinced she had made the right decision.
That conviction waned later that night in the darkness of her lonely bedroom.
After all the festivities and being made much of, away from the happy well-wishers, Jane thought only of Harris. And she knew she had made a grave error.
Nonsense. She turned to lay on one side as if to turn her back on the thought. They had all been so happy – she had been so happy – not an hour ago. She summoned to her mind the images of her sister and her soon-to-be sisters in law and her spirits rose once again.
Then she thought of Harris’s smiling face and the sinking feeling was back. Jane felt the blood drain from her face as she contemplated her options. Could she take it all back? Was such a thing possible? Could she really look into those smiling faces and rip off their happiness like a mask?
She banished the thought from her mind as she turned onto her other side. It wasn’t possible. She had said she would marry Harris and she would marry him. Was she not a woman of her word? She would become a woman of means. She would no longer have to depend upon her brother’s charity. She would have her own house and her own money. She may even have children.
Instead of providing comfort, the thought of getting pregnant and having children left her feeling more chilled than ever. It led her to think of how she would come to be in that state and the thought made her throw her covers over her head and curl into a ball. If she couldn’t stand the thought of sharing a bed with Harris, how would she be able to bear all the nights for the rest of her life? The possibility stretched before her like a prison sentence.
She flung off the covers and paced about the room.
She knew there were women who put off their husbands with one excuse after another, but was that the life she wanted for herself? Was that the life she wanted for Harris?
The thought of lying to Harris for the rest of his life made up her mind. Not only did she deserve better than a loveless marriage, but he deserved better than to be lied to. He deserved a good wife who loved him, not a friend who performed her wifely duty out of just that – duty. It pained her to think of hurting him, but she knew it was for the best. Better to feel the short sting of rejection than the long bitterness of resentment.
As dawn brought color back to the sky and the birds brought song to the air, Jane dressed and prepared herself for a very awkward morning.