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Jane Austen Lives Again - Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven

Jane was feeling very nervous. When she’d walked in to have breakfast at the usual time, she’d been very shocked to see Lady Milton sitting in her chair at the head of the table, looking for all the world as if she was up at such an early hour every day. Alice was seated next to her, and it appeared as if she’d interrupted an earnest conversation when she first walked in.
‘Ah, Miss Austen,’ said Lady Milton, ‘Alice said you wouldn’t be long … do take a seat. We’ve been cooking up a plan, which I hope will meet with your approval. There is no time to waste, and I shall not beat around the bush, as they say. I have always been a direct person, and therefore forthright in my opinions. What I am about to say I hope will not hurt your feelings, but it has to be said.’
Jane sat down wondering if she was in trouble by the tone of Flora Milton’s voice, and racked her brain for some thought of any misdemeanour she might have made. Her mouth felt dry, and she bit her lower lip anxiously. Perhaps it had been remarked upon that she’d not been doing a very good job of chaperoning the girls, and instantly thought she should have discouraged Julius Weatherfield from coming to see Mae so often.
‘Don’t worry, Jane, everything is fine, truly,’ added Alice reassuringly, after noting the distress in Jane’s face.
‘Stand up please, Miss Austen,’ said Lady Milton firmly, ‘I want to look at you.’
Jane was apprehensive, but did as she was told, and ran her hands over the cheap cotton frock she was wearing in an attempt to look as smart as possible. Lady Milton was always so perfectly turned out and it was impossible to feel anything but shabby under her scrutiny.
‘What do you think, Alice?’ said Lady Milton. ‘I have to say I feel sure she is a similar build. The same height and long, slim legs … she could make an excellent dancer.’
Jane was not prepared to stand meekly any longer. ‘May I ask what all this is about,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry, but I feel as if I’m on exhibit in the cattle market. I’ve told everybody here I don’t dance, and I promise you, I do not need lessons.’
Lady Milton laughed. ‘Dear Miss Austen, this has nothing to do with your dancing abilities, I assure you. The point is I’ve been attempting for some time to bring Alice into the 1920s without much success, but having finally persuaded her to have a new dress to wear in the evenings, she has brought to my attention that you are very short of evening attire yourself.’
‘Oh,’ said Jane both shocked and surprised, ‘but I am quite happy with my black dress, I assure you.’
‘You might be, Miss Austen, but I have had quite enough of its drab appearance at every mealtime and soirée.’
‘Lady Milton has a couple of dresses she no longer has any use for,’ said Alice. ‘We think you are about the same size.’
‘And I’m sure they would fit.’
‘No, I couldn’t possibly put you to so much trouble,’ said Jane, ‘I do not think I have the figure or …’
For once she couldn’t think what to say. The idea of wearing anything so modern or short as the dresses Lady Milton wore was enough to make her feel faint.
‘The dresses are beautifully tailored,’ said Alice. ‘They’ve been in storage, only worn once or twice a couple of years ago, and I know will be perfect for you. Please say you will have a look at them.’
‘It would be very churlish if I didn’t,’ said Jane remembering her manners and knowing that she could trust Alice’s judgement in such matters.
‘Good, that’s the first thing,’ said Lady Milton. ‘And now we’ll broach the second.’
‘I’m having my hair cut today,’ Alice interjected, ‘and Lady Milton wondered if you’d like to have yours done too. I’d feel so much better if someone shared the experience with me. I’m feeling very anxious about it as I haven’t had a lock cut off since I was a little girl, except the ends, of course.’
‘Alice, why are you having your beautiful hair cut off?’ Jane demanded, speaking her thoughts out loud. ‘You should stay true to yourself, and be who you want to be … not some slave to fashion!’
‘Please be assured I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. Since the war ended I’ve been living in a time warp, and I’ve decided I shall do so no longer. Please don’t feel you have to do anything, but you’ve been such a dear friend to me since you arrived, I thought you might like a haircut too.’
Jane gazed at Alice and thought she saw a brave new spirit emerging from the girl who’d seemed content to hide in the background. She could identify with that so easily. And what was it that she was so afraid of, she asked herself? It was only a haircut, and after all, even if it were disastrous it would grow again. Alice’s eyes beseeched her, and she found she couldn’t say no. And she had to admit that a small part of her was quite excited at the idea of emerging as someone new and unrecognisable.
‘I’ll do it,’ she said in the next breath before she could stop herself, ‘Alice, let’s cut our hair together.’
‘There’ll be no need for doing it oneself,’ Lady Milton exclaimed. ‘Marcel will be here in half an hour, which will give you just time to have a bite to eat. Alice, bring Miss Austen up to my boudoir after breakfast, and we shall see what can be done.’

Eddie Wallis was worried about his brother. Frankie had been at the rectory for nearly a month now, and after the initial excitement of his arrival, seeing him again, spending long hours sharing his wonderful company, talking together and hearing all the stories about his glamorous lifestyle, he’d become increasingly concerned. Eddie admitted to himself that initially he’d felt rather envious of his brother’s good fortune, and couldn’t help comparing where he found himself in life in relation to Frankie’s incredible journey. But, as time was passing he knew something was troubling Frankie, and he began to think that not all was rosy in his brother’s world. There were times when he was silent and dour, withdrawing from any conversation, preferring to stay in his room, quite unrecognisable from the Frankie he’d once known who always seemed so happy and carefree. Privately, he wondered if Frankie had ever really recovered from his love for Alice, but getting him to talk about it was like attempting to open a tin can with a spoon. He might make a few dents, but could not break through the impervious outer layer.
On this particular morning Frankie was in a horrible mood. He’d already snapped at Eddie because he couldn’t find his gold cufflinks, and his brother had heard him being short with the girl who came in to do the cleaning and make the breakfast. Dora was sobbing in the kitchen when Eddie walked in to see what was delaying the meal, and he had to work very hard to get her to stop.
‘They don’t know ’im like I do, those girls in the village,’ she said, banging the frying pan down on the stove. ‘Oh, they think he’s so gorgeous, but I’ve a mind to put ’em straight! I’ve only got one pair of ’ands, and I can’t go any quicker! If I told ’em what he was really like …’
‘Come now, Dora, you know Frankie isn’t a morning person. I’m sure he didn’t mean it.’
‘Maybe not, but he needn’t think he can go round acting like the Lord Almighty because he’s treated like royalty elsewhere. I always heard such good things about Frankie from my Mum, but I think he’s changed. Got a big ’ead now, my sister thinks, and I don’t like to agree, but I think she’s right!’
Eddie marched back into the breakfast room to face his glum brother who was hiding behind a newspaper. ‘Frankie, Dora is crying into the best tea towels in the kitchen, and unless you want to face a mutiny in Stoke Pomeroy with every female member against you forever, I suggest you get in there and make amends. Why are you in such a bad mood?’
Frankie peered from behind the paper, took a deep breath, and put it down. ‘I’m sorry, Eddie, truly I am. I promise I’ll sort it out.’
Five minutes later he was back, and when Dora came in seconds later bearing hot plates of bacon, egg, and extra slices of fried bread, she was beaming, and her cheeks rather pink. It really was infuriating, Eddie thought. If that had been him, Dora wouldn’t have spoken for a week, let alone be all over him with eyelashes fluttering. When she’d gone, he waited a few minutes until Frankie had consumed most of his breakfast.
‘Just what’s upsetting you? I wish you’d talk about it, and don’t tell me you’re fine because I’ve been watching you get steadily worse all week.’
Frankie paused, before he put down his knife and fork to gaze out across the rectory garden. The roses were in bloom, and seeing the little bench covered by the arch where they tumbled didn’t improve matters. It had been a favourite spot for him and Alice to talk of their plans all those years ago. ‘I suppose I’m just not easy to live with any more.’
‘Oh, come on, Frankie, that’s nonsense and you know it. I recognise this behaviour of old. If you want my opinion, and I know you probably don’t, I think it’s a woman, or at least, one in particular.’
‘Who do you mean?’
‘You’ve been stirred up ever since you saw Alice Milton for the first time. You might think you’re fooling everyone by flirting with her sister, but I’m not convinced.’
‘Well, you’re wrong, Eddie. Yes, it’s been unsettling seeing Alice again, not least because I can’t believe what’s happened to her. Where has the girl gone that stole my heart with her dazzling personality and stunning beauty? Where is that sweet, kind and lovely person I fell in love with?’
‘Alice is still there, Frankie, but it’s been hard for her, I’m sure. You know what Lord Milton is like, and life hasn’t been easy since the war.’
‘Hard for her? She made her choice, Eddie. Not only did she throw our engagement away, but made it quite clear that I wasn’t good enough. I tell you now, whatever you think, I have no feelings left for her, and I know you will not want to hear this as my brother and spiritual guide, but I cannot forgive her either.’
Eddie didn’t speak for a moment. He’d probably said too much he thought, and hadn’t been as sensitive as he ought. Where he was normally patient and understanding with his parishioners, his brother always managed to rile and bring out the worst in him. He hated to see the two people who anyone could see belonged together unable to even have a conversation, let alone ever be as they once were, and now it seemed it was too late.
‘Why can’t you forgive her?’ Eddie managed to say in a measured tone.
‘Because she should have stood up to them, she should have told her father that she was leaving, and that she couldn’t live without me. I thought she was strong, but I’ve come to learn Alice was just weak, and I’ve no room for anyone in my life like that.’
‘So, it really is all over between you?’
Frankie nodded. ‘I will admit, I loved her like no other, and I’ve never met anyone to match her equal, but I’ve no desire to rekindle any kind of relationship with Alice.’
Knowing how deeply Frankie was clearly affected, Eddie felt he couldn’t offer any advice. He just felt really sorry and sad that there was nothing to be done. All he could hope was that in time Frankie would realise how stubborn he was being.
‘And before you say anything else, Eddie, I’ve made up my mind. I’m quite ready to fall in love again, and either one of those Milton girls will do. Cora is sweet, and Emily is very eager to please. Besides, she has a strong character, as well as being an absolute darling, and something tells me that this time her father won’t put any obstacles in our way.’
When Jane stepped into Lady Milton’s bedroom she nearly gasped out loud. Dove grey walls were contrasted with swathes of glossy pink silk swagged across the windows, and draped over the bed, whilst underfoot a soft cream carpet completed the picture of opulence. It was a very modern room filled with the latest furniture, of highly polished pieces with sinuous legs, and curving sunbursts in a variety of woods. Two wonderful examples were displayed at the ends of Lady Milton’s huge bed that was magnificently crowned by a ciel de lit, from which were suspended more swags of the same shimmering silk to form a canopy. Unlike the rest of the house there’d been no expense spared in this room.
Invited to take a seat on one of the satin covered slipper chairs, Jane sat down whilst Lady Milton fussed about one of the maids who was arranging armfuls of dresses over the bed. Alice had been right, Jane saw a collection of evening wear selected on its suitability for a governess, nothing too short or outlandish in colour, but nonetheless the dresses were made of the finest silks, satins and chiffons. It was a long time since Jane had felt girlish excitement on seeing such confections, but she couldn’t help feeling rather pleased.
A knock at the door heralded Marcel, and after the inevitable exchange of kisses on each cheek, Lady Milton introduced his clients. He stood at a distance and regarded them, his head first on one side and then on the other. There was a lot of clucking and twirling of his waxed moustache, and several times when he came closer to ruffle Jane’s hair she thought he might catch her ear with his twirling scissors.
‘There’s nothing else to be done,’ he said in broken English, ‘it must all come off! Luckily, Miss Alice has the perfect shaped head for a close bob, and Miss Austen’s curls will frame her face quite delightfully.’
‘Then there’s no time to lose,’ said Lady Milton and instructed the maid. ‘Daisy, let’s take Miss Milton and Miss Austen to the bathroom and you can help by washing their hair to start.’
Large mirrors hung above two console basins on porcelain legs, and a capacious curved bath was arranged against a backdrop of pale grey tiles, and soft pink walls in the vast room. Again, nothing had been skimped on, and an additional dressing table, complete with built-in shell lights was littered over with exotic looking phials and bottles filled with scent, powder bowls, and enormous swansdown puffs on long handles.
Marcel flourished his scissors and the girls sat down to take turns having their hair washed before nervously taking a seat at the dressing table for their haircut. Alice went first, and Jane watched her long thick hair fall to the floor in a few short snips. Marcel circulated and considered, tweaked and trimmed until he was happy, and when Alice turned round there were genuine sighs of admiration.
‘Oh, Alice, my dear,’ cried Lady Milton, ‘you do look a picture.’
Alice beamed, and Jane thought how very much the short hair suited her elfin face. Her friend couldn’t stop smiling, and patted the bare nape of her neck.
‘I feel so very modern,’ Alice giggled, ‘and quite girlish.’
‘It’s taken years off you,’ said Lady Milton in her inimitable way. ‘You’ll have a queue of suitors just waiting to escort you now, you’ll see!’
When it was Jane’s turn she was too nervous to watch in the mirror as Marcel set to work. She saw her chestnut curls lying on the bathroom floor as Daisy bustled round to sweep them up in a dust pan, before they were gone forever. Marcel twisted and twirled, fluffed and finger-waved, until he stood back at last and declared he was finished.
Jane’s eyes had been screwed tight shut, but now she was forced to open them and take a long look in the mirror.
‘You look beautiful,’ said Alice, coming to stand next to her chair, ‘and though you were before, I have to say short hair looks wonderful on you.’
It was astonishing to see the difference the haircut made. Jane loved the short bob on sight, not just because she admitted to herself that she looked quite pretty, but also because it felt so liberating. It was dry already, and the curls forming round her face swept round to her neck where she felt a breeze from the open window kiss her nape. She felt a little giddy with pleasure, and decided she liked the boyish look.
‘Now, Marcel, we need a finishing touch,’ said Lady Milton. ‘Have you brought your cosmetics?’
‘Oh no, I don’t like anything on my face, I …’ Jane began.
‘I will simply enhance what is already there, my dear,’ insisted Marcel, as he unlocked a large silver box filled with bottles, assorted potions, and glass jars filled with cream. ‘Do not fear, I am not here to make you look like a clown.’
Alice and Jane gave in to his commands while Daisy acted as assistant. Their faces were steamed with hot water, cleansed with creams, refreshed with astringent lotions, and patted dry with crisp white cloths. They were massaged and stroked, dabbed at and daubed, until their complexions were smooth as marble.
Jane had to admit her tingling skin felt soft to the touch, and silkier than it had ever done before. When Marcel insisted on a light touch of ivory powder she allowed herself to close her eyes and surrender to the whisper touch of the swansdown puff.
‘One moment,’ he said, as he instructed her to lean back in the chair and close her eyes again. ‘Now you will see how make-up need not be a man-made mask, Miss Austen. I will merely add to your natural beauty.’
Alice looked equally beautiful. ‘I feel rejuvenated,’ she said, ‘and I’m so glad I had you to hold my hand through the whole experience, Jane.’
‘I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,’ said Jane with genuine appreciation. She couldn’t take her eyes off the stranger who looked back in the mirror.
‘Now for your dress, Miss Austen,’ said Lady Milton. ‘Daisy has arranged a selection on the bed, and you must take your pick. Don’t be afraid to take at least three, I have no use for them any more, and I’d rather someone had the benefit. Besides, it’ll free up some space for some more.’
Jane wanted to laugh at that, and did her best to stop the smile forming on her lips. They all trooped back into the bedroom, but the sight of the dresses was overwhelming. She’d never seen so many and couldn’t imagine how many Flora Milton must own if these were just the cast-offs.
‘There’s a screen over in the corner. Take a few at a time, and try them on. That’s the best way to do it, I find. Sometimes a dress can look nothing on the hanger, but a body can make a transformation.’
Lady Milton was being very kind, Jane thought. With Alice’s help she picked out a pale blue silk dress in tiers trimmed with coffee coloured lace, a dress of Nile green chiffon with a dropped waist, and a coral velvet, topped with a net bodice. Lightly embellished with bugle beads or pearls, the dresses were examples of understated taste, which suited Jane perfectly. When she emerged from behind the screen there were gasps of approval.
As if that wasn’t enough two pairs of evening shoes were found, and a box of necklaces were brought out of a cupboard to be spilled out onto the pink silk counterpane. Lady Milton insisted on picking out some long beads; Venetian glass to go with the blue dress, Jade to go with the green, and a string of long pearls to contrast with the coral velvet.
‘I couldn’t possibly accept them,’ Jane insisted, but Lady Milton wouldn’t budge.
‘Nonsense, my dear, if you are to represent the family when out with my daughters, we cannot have you looking anything but suitably dressed and adorned. Besides, they are all faux, of a refined style, and most fitting.’
Alice quickly agreed that Jane must have some jewellery, to cover Lady Milton’s gaffe, emphasising the fact that no one wore real jewels out any more.
Jane felt relieved, and glad she wasn’t going to be the guardian of a set of precious jewels. It was decided she should wear the pale blue silk for the evening’s dinner, and when she had it on again Alice stood behind her to clasp the Venetian beads round her neck.
‘Now, take a look in the glass,’ Lady Milton instructed.
Jane stared in shock. She couldn’t recognise herself in the long glass mirror or the transformation that had taken place.
‘I hardly know myself,’ she gasped.
‘But it is you, and you look simply divine,’ Alice enthused.
Jane felt caught up in Alice’s excitement at her transformation, and even felt a thrilling sense of decadence, a sensation of being both wicked and wild, and a little sinful to be taking such pleasure in being young and feeling so ecstatically alive again. The young woman in the mirror had a peaches and cream complexion. Jane’s red cheeks had always been a cause for concern, glowing pinker than ever when she was nervous or embarrassed, but Marcel had managed to tone down the effect to one which had her turning her head first one way and then another in amazement at her reflection. She was still blushing, but now her ivory skin was tinted with a hint of pale rose. Her eyelashes were not exactly darker, but looked thicker, gleaming with a silky sheen, as moist as her lips, artfully painted an enticing rouge, just a shade brighter than her natural colour. The effect was lovely, and she had to agree that it was not too much, and no one would know she had anything of artifice about her at all.
The calf-length dress caressed curves she didn’t know she had, and her heeled shoes showed her pretty ankles at their best. Something about the magical combination of the glacé blue silk and coffee lace made her hazel eyes glow as if stippled with lustrous sapphires in their depths. Being both restrained with its lace trim, and daring in its cut, the dress gave off an aura of elegant finesse, and twinned with her new hair made her look like a woman of fashion.
Jane no longer saw a governess too afraid of life to be herself. Her reflection showed a goddess of poise and refinement, an intriguing lady of sophisticated splendour who looked as if she was ready to take on the world. It was simply wonderful to feel such blissful pleasure in being so vain, a luxury she hadn’t allowed herself in an age. All she could think about was what Will would think of her new look, and though he was bound to tease her, she couldn’t help hoping that he might like it.

I hope you've enjoyed these chapters from Jane Austen Lives Again. Next week I'm going to be posting from another of my published books - I hope you'll join me in Steventon!

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six 
Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine 
 Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven

This is a thoroughly delightful read. Jane Austen re-awakens in the 1920s, 110 years after her death, and faces the new industrial world with her usual aplomb. Trains and motorised cars, along with shorter skirts, must be accepted. In reduced circumstances, she has to work as a governess. Noting the changes in environment, manners and appearance, but never succumbing to depression or undue anxiety, Miss Austen deals with the same daily social tasks and complications that her characters did. She has young women to encourage and chasten into suitable romances – while not remaining immune herself. The author has convincingly captured Jane Austen’s tone and personality. The 1920s come to life in the way that they affected a rural, once rich, family. The characters are true to Austen’s own novels and I am sure, were she defrosted into life for real, she would be amused and pleased to read this novel. Historical Novel Society
Travelling to Devonshire aboard a steam train, Jane Austen remarks to her companion and physician: ‘Dr Lyford, if I can survive embalming, the subsequent resurrection and the effects of transdifferentiation, I will live to tell the tale …’
So begins Jane Odiwe’s ‘fairy story for grown-ups’, in which Austen is brought back from the dead - scientifically, rather than miraculously - and transported to the west of England in 1925. Penniless (her royalties don’t go far in the Jazz Age) and - naturally - alone, she takes the traditional route for single women of no fortune and becomes governess to a clutch of sparky girls in a romantically crumbling castle by the sea.
She finds the bohemian Milton family quite enchanting, and is sure that she can bring some old-fashioned order to their somewhat chaotic existence - but to her initial dismay finds herself falling for the dark-eyed, curly-haired, and handsome son of the house. What follows is pure romance, but with the twists of humour and intrigue that Odiwe’s readers have come to expect. This is such an enjoyable tale - Odiwe handles the 1920s setting with the same assurance that she has brought to her Regency-set novels, and her rendering of a 20th century Jane is a delight. Jane Austen's Regency World Magazine

With Jane Austen being alive in the 1920’s and earning her keep as a governess, Jane Austen Lives Again sometimes felt like Downton Abbey meets Mary Poppins/Sound of Music (which are some of my favorite things!)It was a wonderful blend of history, fiction, and fairy tale! Absorbing, ingenious, and immensely satisfying – you definitely don’t want to miss Jane Austen Lives Again!

Meredith Esparza - Austenesque Reviews

Imagine a world where Jane Austen and her favorite characters exist in a Downton Abbey atmosphere—Impossible, you say, and yet, apart from the passage of years, they are all gentlemen and gentlemen’s daughters, as Elizabeth Bennet so succinctly puts it. In Jane Odiwe’s latest novel, Jane Austen Lives Again, our favorite author does not die at 42 in Winchester, but is kept, somehow in stasis, until Dr. Lyford can not only cure her last lingering illness, but revive her again in the prime of her life. The scientific details are not spelled out, and honestly, it doesn’t matter, as Ms. Odiwe’s book will captivate you from the first. Finally we are able to see Jane “live again” sans vampires and magic, and enjoy her introduction to modern life in the 1920’s. 
Laura Boyle Jane Austen Centre Online Review

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