Only two more days.
Less than 48 hours.
Elizabeth paused to stare out the window, forgetting to watch Agnes as she separated Elizabeth’s and Jane’s clothes into piles to be packed in their trunks. And Agnes needed supervision. She was one of several extra servants hired by Mrs. Bennet to prepare for the wedding of her two eldest daughters and she was trying to do her duty in a strange house where the other servants (and some of the family, it must be admitted) behaved as if insanity was sweeping through the entire manor.
Poor little Agnes, a thin waif of fourteen, had been noted to shake her head and mutter under her breath when the kitchen staff became overwrought over cakes that fell and breads that resembled pancakes and fell to shrieking and abusing each other. Eventually, the recriminations dissolved into tears and embraces and the baking began again. Elizabeth had taken pity on the maid and asked her to come upstairs to help them pack.
Elizabeth and Jane had shared a bedroom since they had left the nursery eighteen years ago and their belongings had become inextricably intertwined. They had learned their sewing by embroidering their wobbly initials onto the inside seams of their chemises and petticoats, and later elegantly curved initials into their stays and gloves. Because Jane was tall and willowy and Elizabeth was of a more curvaceous figure they could not share their gowns or stays, but their petticoats, fichus and gloves were identical and shared equally.
How to divide these well-loved items that had always been shared had exercised their ingenuity all day, until they eventually decided to make a game of their dilemma. The rules were simple…they would put all the items of one type out on the bed, then take turns selecting their favorites until all the items were gone. The only difficulty was that when their special favorites were involved each sister would try to give the item to the other.
Now Elizabeth turned back to the room, her eyes filling with tears as she watched her beautiful sister go through their jewelry box and lay out the trinkets they had also shared in their youth. The little pin of ivory, carved into a violet that Jane had worn to hold her fichu in place when she went to her first rout party, put on by a neighbor for the young ladies and gentlemen just out of the schoolroom. Elizabeth had gone to the same party…their mother had always given them privileges at the same time since they were so close to the same age. Lizzy had worn the enameled ring Jane had just pulled out of the jewelry box, and she had felt so grown up!
The next jewels Jane untangled from the clutter at the bottom of the box were two bracelets, identical in shape and size. The only difference was that one had amethysts set into it, and the other garnets. Their Papa gave them those bracelets, just for their first ball. She and Jane had each worn their gold crosses that they wore most days, but Papa wanted them to have something special for the ball and had presented them to the girls just before they left for the Assembly Rooms. Lizzy remembered that they had laughed delightedly with their father over them while their mother fussed with an errant curl in Jane’s hair…the bracelets had “magically” matched the flowers embroidered on their white gowns and were the most beautiful jewelry they had ever seen.
Jane looked up at Elizabeth. “What is wrong my dear?” She glanced at Agnes and said, “Agnes, please bring up our tea and we will take a break before we continue packing.” Agnes bobbed a quick curtsey and hurried out the door, closing it behind her.
As soon as the maid was gone Jane went over to her sister and took her hands. “What is the matter Lizzy?”
In spite of her efforts to control her emotions, Elizabeth’s eyes filled again and a single tear coursed down each cheek. She smiled at Jane and shook her head. “It’s nothing, really, dearest. I am very happy…but I will still miss you dreadfully, my dearest sister.”
Jane wrapped her arms around Lizzy and they both clung to each other, mingling the tears they had not indulged in during the flurry of wedding preparations. The had each suppressed delirious happiness for their weddings and their husbands, sadness about separating from each other, relief to be leaving the drama that always swirled around their mother, and sadness about leaving their dear father who, for all his faults, had always loved his eldest daughters enough to exert himself to calm down their mother’s more extreme emotional outbursts. When they finally found their handkerchiefs in the pile of clothing on the bed they dabbed their eyes and tremulously smiled at each other.
Time to have their tea and finish packing.