Skip to main content

Jane Austen Lives Again - Chapter Five

Chapter Five

After Will had gone, Jane sat alone for a while wondering what she should do next, and though she longed to explore the house and grounds or even take a stroll by herself down to the sea she thought she must be patient and wait for instructions. It would be good to have an idea of her timetable for the day to see if there was any possibility of spending some time writing, and hoped Lady Milton would call in soon to tell her of the most recent plans. There was no sign of their mother, but she didn’t have to wait long before Beth, Emily and Cora walked in with a hail of friendly greetings.
Beth helped herself to some bacon and eggs, but Emily and Cora contented themselves with a cup of tea from a pretty Spode pot, saying they’d had breakfast in bed.
‘Though why I bother, my boiled egg was congealed by the time Elsie managed the stairs, and the toast stone cold.’
‘Emily,’ Beth scolded, ‘Elsie’s not as young as she was, I’m not surprised it takes her so long.’
‘Then mother should replace her if she can’t do the job properly,’ Emily answered petulantly, flicking back her golden hair. ‘What we need is some young blood, another girl from the village, willing to please.’
‘Elsie’s been with us for years,’ said Beth. ‘She’s been a loyal servant who has spent the last few years happy to work for reduced pay, and if you don’t like a cold breakfast then I suggest you get up and come downstairs. The maids have enough to do just trying to keep this house clean without waiting on spoiled girls, hand and foot.’
Jane couldn’t have put it better herself. ‘How many maids do you have?’ she asked.
‘There are only four left now, along with Mrs Naseby, of course,’ said Beth, ‘and two of them are rather young and inexperienced. I try and help out where I can, but what with cleaning, changing beds, laundry and lighting fires, not to mention preparing and washing up after meals there’s not enough time to do it all. We try and keep the main rooms clean, but something really needs to be done about the hallways, windows and passages. Mr Naseby used to see to all the big jobs, but he’s long passed on, and of course Mr Bell, the butler has only two footmen under him now.’
‘And I think he’d prefer it if the maids were under him,’ said Emily with a wink. ‘Only the young ones, of course!’
Jane bit her lip, and studied a stain on the tablecloth to stop herself from smirking. Emily was proving to be a completely spoiled brat, but there was something about her precocious behaviour that amused her, none the less. She was lively and intelligent, even if she engaged her mouth far too quickly before her brain had a chance to think about what she was saying.   
Beth grinned. ‘Emily, you’re too wicked for words.’
Jane noticed that Beth said no more on the matter, and she detected there might be more than a hint of truth in what she’d said. Mr Bell must be the young man his lordship had referred to last night, and she remembered that he’d also mentioned the likelihood of him being out and about with Will Milton. Well, that wouldn’t surprise her, she thought, as she remembered her dashing breakfast companion, and wondered if Mr Bell was as handsome.
Alice walked in just as Cora was saying they were all going to the teashop for lunch after their shopping. Jane noticed she looked very out of sorts; her eyes were red-rimmed, and she looked as if she’d been crying. No one else seemed to notice, and if Jane hadn’t said hello, she doubted any of them would really have bothered to say anything to Alice at all. One thing was clear. Besides the obvious disparity in their ages, the two sets of sisters seemed at odds, though at least Beth was civil, being the only one of the younger set to even smile at her stepsister.
‘I have a list compiled,’ said Alice. ‘Will said he’d give us a lift down into the village and pick us up later if we telephone from the post office.’
‘What about Lady Milton?’ asked Jane. ‘Is she coming shopping too?’
‘Oh no,’ said Emily instantly, with a laugh. ‘Mother never gets out of bed before two in the afternoon. Besides, she has her friend King Zoot coming to visit, so it’s likely we won’t see her until dinnertime.’
‘King Zoot? Goodness, is she entertaining royalty?’
Emily laughed so much, Beth had to nudge her to stop.
‘He’s a jazz musician, Miss Austen,’ said Alice quietly, as she rapidly turned beetroot red.
‘And he’s very famous in London where she met him at the Kit Cat club,’ Emily continued. ‘Zoot’s an old friend, and they spend hours together whenever he’s down in Devon. She met father at the nightclub too, when she was performing.’
‘That’s enough, Emily,’ said Beth in a warning tone. ‘I’m sure mother will tell Miss Austen her own life story if she wants to tell it.’
Jane hated to admit it but she was intrigued. She knew it was very wrong to jump to conclusions, but she couldn’t help wondering if Lady Milton had been a nightclub singer or dancer, like those she’d read about in the newspaper. With those film star looks, and her shapely figure she wouldn’t be at all surprised from what had been hinted. Nightclubs were completely unknown to Jane, though she’d read enough in the papers to hear they were ‘dens of iniquity’, whatever that might mean. As for jazz, she’d heard quite a lot played on Dr Lyford’s gramophone during her stay in the little terraced house on the outskirts of Winchester, and after a while had quite enjoyed it. The machine was Dr Lyford’s pride and joy, he told her, having saved for a whole year to buy it. And it was a small miracle to hear music coming from a moving disc and trumpet.
Jane couldn’t put her finger on why she’d warmed to Lady Milton. But there was something in her independent spirit she admired, and Jane always loved to hear stories about poor women having the chance to better their lot. She felt quite shocked that she wasn’t at all horrified by anything she’d learnt that morning and began to feel her morals must be already corrupted. Putting it down to the fact that she’d always led such a sheltered, narrow existence, she felt as if she were being given a second chance to take life by the hands and live adventurously, or at least watch those brave enough to be fearless about it. Having lived cautiously, and under strict rules and regulations for so long, Miss Austen felt the winds of change blowing across the Devon landscape.

Mae was trying to justify her reasons for why she was now roaring at great speed down the narrow country lanes at full tilt. She’d decided to take the motorcycle out for a quick spin, donning Will’s leather helmet and goggles, heading out the back way where no one would see her. Circumnavigating the village boundaries, she could be back before anyone realised she was gone, least of all Will who she knew was visiting one of the estate farms. Accelerating down the lane, her jauntily tied scarf flying back in the wind, she doubted she’d ever felt freedom like it. Mae loved her bicycle for the independence it gave her, but this was something else. The engine throbbed beneath her legs as the landscape flew by in a blur of burgeoning greenery, the tops of frothing cow parsley tickling her elbow as she rounded a curve in the road.
She didn’t see the car coming full pelt in the opposite direction. Blinded by the tall hedges, and careering too fast down the left-hand side of the road, when she heard the loud tooting and the screeching of brakes it was too late. Swerving to miss the elegant motor Mae almost crashed into the bank, but managed at the last to bring the cycle round, just catching the trunk of a tree and scraping her elbow back to the bone on the bark. Skidding to a halt, and wincing with the pain, she realised with a sinking heart that the wheel on her brother’s cycle was horribly buckled, and that blood was pouring from her arm.
‘What the hell, you blithering idiot, you could have killed us both,’ called an outraged voice.
Mae saw the stranger jump out of his car as she climbed off the bike, pulling off her goggles and attempting to undo the helmet. He was very angry, and she felt quite frightened.
‘Good God, you’re a woman,’ he said, stopping abruptly when he reached her, as Mae threw the goggles onto the floor in frustration. She was having no luck with the strap on her headgear, and tears were smarting at the corners of her eyes she was in so much pain with her arm. When she tried to put her weight on her leg, it buckled; she was sure her knee was twisted too.
‘Hey, just a minute, let me help,’ said the young man, in a calmer tone. ‘Take a seat in my car, let’s have a look.’
Mae took a step and winced, as the pain shot up her leg.
‘Put your arm round my neck,’ he insisted. Mae saw the anger leave his face, as he smiled. ‘I won’t bite, I promise.’
Mae put her arm round his neck, but wasn’t prepared for him lifting her into his arms like a hero from a romantic novel. He was dressed for a game of tennis in white shirt, trousers and shoes, and she realised that apart from her father, she’d never been so close to a man before, let alone felt a strong masculine heart beating through his thin cotton shirt or muscular arms gripping her legs. But, she rather liked it, especially when his blue eyes met hers, and the smell of his cologne made her want to snuggle her head down on the smooth pillow of flesh below his collar bone. His hair was very dark, almost black so his eyes were a startling feature in a tanned face. It was only a few short steps, but she was sorry when he put her down, fetching a towel from his tennis bag to dab at her graze before he wrapped it up. Again, she fiddled with the strap until his hand firmly cupped her chin, and she felt his fingers reaching for the buckle. As they brushed hers, she dropped them into her lap as if she’d just been scalded. He released the strap at last, and she allowed him to ease off the helmet, freeing her hair, which blew back in the wind to show off her beautiful features.

Jane followed the girls across the gravel drive to the garage, their shadows etched in shades of violet in the strong sunlight. She saw the roof was down on Will’s car in tribute to the sunshine as he backed it out, and as Jane climbed into the seat with the other girls, she couldn’t help remembering the awful weather of the previous day or how Will had fooled her into thinking he was the chauffeur. She sat in the middle of the back seat, with Alice on one side and Beth on the other. Alice, she noticed, was subdued, and Beth lost in thoughts of her own. In contrast, Cora and Emily shared the seat next to Will, the latter keeping up a constant stream of chatter, grabbing the steering wheel now and then to try it out. It was lovely to motor along in the fresh air, and watch the sea sparkling in shades of azure blue and turquoise down below them. Once or twice her eyes strayed to view the back of Will’s head above those broad shoulders, his hair neatly combed into place, with the exception of a few rogue curls that danced in the breeze.
Jane wasn’t sure if it was her imagination, but she was determined not to check on the fact that she’d seen Will staring at her every once in a while through the rear view mirror. His eyes were so penetrating, which she put down to the fact that they were so dark, like black velvet. He made her feel uncomfortable, as if he were constantly trying to weigh her up. It was a long time since she’d felt under such peculiar scrutiny, and though she was sure he didn’t stare because he was dazzled by her beauty, Jane reflected on the fact that in her former life, she’d grown used to being ignored by the opposite sex, content with becoming invisible as the years passed and her bloom faded. Since her first days venturing out with Dr Lyford and his sister, she’d been surprised at the attention she’d got from passing gentlemen. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, just strange, and she was unused to it. But, she couldn’t and didn’t want to look up again, and kept her eyes on the panoramic views, as they snaked their way along the twisting lanes down to the village.
They turned onto the high street and were met with an extraordinary sight. Both sides of the road were lined with people, mostly women, and there was a policeman directing traffic, and another, looking rather red-faced doing his best to keep the girls and ladies of all ages from spilling into the road and blocking the path of those trying to use it. There wasn’t ever much traffic in Stoke Pomeroy, and few cars were seen passing through the main road, but it looked as if the milkman with his horse and cart, and a miller with a wagon loaded with sacks of flour were giving up trying to get past the throng which surged around the entrance to the teashop. They shook their heads at Will, and suggested he find another way through.
‘It’s mayhem, you’re taking your life in your hands if you’re going down the high street, Mr Milton,’ said Mr Endicott, the milkman, stopping to doff his cap. ‘It’s some famous film star got out at Mrs Foxworthy’s, and the women are going wild. Begging your pardon, ladies.’
‘Good Lord,’ said Will, ‘I think I know what’s happened here. I’d better get out and help. Well, that didn’t take long for word to get round.’
All the girls craned their heads, as Will got out of the car, and Emily stood up in her seat to get a better view. Jane was as fascinated as the others, but it was impossible to see anything for the crowds.
‘Who can it be?’ shrieked Emily excitedly standing on tiptoes, and Cora, now sitting on top of the seat blocking the view of the others shouted gleefully, ‘Douglas Fairbanks junior?’
Jane had seen his photograph at the cinema in Winchester along with Louise Brooks on whom Lady Milton clearly styled herself. She turned to see Alice who was pointedly staring in the opposite direction, apparently not interested in seeing or knowing about who was causing such a commotion. And then quite uncharacteristically, she turned and said snappily, ‘It’s Frankie Wallis.’
‘Frankie!’ shouted Emily and Cora together, turning round excitedly, ‘Has he come back?’
Alice was looking very pale. ‘I believe he’s here on holiday.’
Beth stretched her arm over Jane in a spontaneous gesture, taking Alice’s hand. ‘I’m so sorry, how awful for you. Will he be here long?’
Alice attempted a smile. ‘Don’t worry, Beth, I’ll be fine.’
It didn’t take a great detective to work out that Frankie Wallis was the man who’d left the huge hole in Alice’s heart. After thinking her young man must be dead, it was clear he was very much alive, and breaking the hearts of dozens of young ladies, by the look of things. Jane watched Alice withdraw further. There might not be anything she could do to help but listen, so she hoped Alice might confide in her later and she’d discover the full story behind her sadness.
Will was coming back to the car, and directed his first words to his sister. ‘Are you all right, Alice?’
Jane saw Alice take a deep breath. ‘Yes, don’t worry, Will, he’s perfectly entitled to come home. Let’s face it, I’ve had an easy seven years without having to bump into him every day. And if he’s back for a while, I’ll just have to get used to it. It’s not as if we’ll see much of him anyway, he’ll be invited everywhere else by very glamorous people, I’ve no doubt. I’m sure he won’t want to be spending any time at Manberley.’
‘That’s just it,’ said Will. ‘He’s asked if we’ll join him for lunch. Yesterday, when I met him at the pub he said he’d stayed away too long, and that he’d like to come and say hello to Pa and Flora.’
Alice bit the corner of her mouth. ‘I’ve got to meet him sometime, it might as well be now.’
‘Are you sure? I can make an excuse if you’d rather. Look, it’s a lot to expect, you’ve only just found out he’s in the area. I’ll tell him no.’
Will was being so kind and considerate that for a moment Jane forgot that she wasn’t very sure about him. He reminded her of Henry, the brother who’d always protected and loved her as much as Will clearly loved his sister.
‘No, he’s your friend,’ Alice answered, ‘and I hope I can meet him on friendly terms. I don’t want there to be any awkwardness between you … best friends are meant for life.’
‘Well, only if you’re sure; I couldn’t bear to see you unhappy.’
‘I’m absolutely fine, Will. Come on, let’s go.’
 Will looked doubtful, but opened the car door to let her out. ‘The policemen have assured me that we’ll be allowed through. Beth, Emily, Cora, are you ready? Miss Austen, please allow me to help you out.’

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 

Amazon UK  Amazon US