Skip to main content

Jane Austen Lives Again - Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine

‘I’ve never heard of a foxtrot and I’ve got a wild imagination.’
As soon as the words were out she thought how gauche she must sound.
‘Goodness, you’ve led a more sheltered existence than I thought,’ Will exclaimed. ‘I was just coming to ask you to dance.’
‘I’m not sure that would be possible or appropriate, Mr Milton,’ Jane answered, searching for the right words. ‘I cannot dance, nor do I have any wish to make an exhibition of myself.’
It was an attempt to put him off, and even though she knew the reverse was true, that she loved nothing better than to dance, she’d already decided that to start again by having to learn modern dances to the music that was starting to jangle noisily and persistently in her head, would be impossible. She liked to be the best at everything, to excel at all she endeavoured to try. Failure was not a word she liked or allowed in her vocabulary, and besides all that, the memories of the past were crowding in on her.
She saw a line of eager young bucks, all waiting to take her hand in the dance. As if seeing from a distance, a familiar room glowed with candlelight and exquisite chandeliers, as Tom Lefroy took her arm, squeezed her hand, and led her through the intricate patterns, whirling her round in a country dance. The room throbbed with passions unspoken, of bodies meeting, fingers touching, hearts and minds open to tacit thoughts and caresses. And later, stolen kisses and a sweet promise beyond the confines of the house, now blazed across her memory and the gulf of time, as swift and searing as if it had happened yesterday.
‘I don’t believe you,’ Will was saying as Jane jerked back to reality when she heard his insistent voice. ‘You have the definite look of a dancer to me. Come on, let me teach you.’
He came to stand next to her leaning his weight with crossed arms on the balustrade as she did, and Jane hoped he wouldn’t see the tears that sprang to her eyes blurring her vision and thoughts. It was silly to be so stirred up and emotional at thoughts of the past, but she was overwhelmed by a sudden desire for all that she had ever known, and for all those she had loved. She longed to share a conversation with someone who spoke the same language in the cadences and timbre of her youth, and to feel a kinship and connection with every living creature in her own time, sharing an appreciation of what was expected, whilst operating within a familiar system. And although she’d often railed against such conventions, she almost craved such customary restrictions now. Knowing she couldn’t go back made her feel worse, and she had to focus her mind to bring herself back from sudden despair. Blinking back the tears she turned to see Will looking into the distance, and for the first time she thought she saw a look of vulnerability. There was an expression of sadness in his eyes as if he might be far away in his thoughts too.
‘I’ll be a poor pupil, I’m certain,’ she said, finally giving in to his pleading expression. ‘And I’m supposed to be chaperoning your sisters, not trotting about.’
She nearly added, ‘like a fox’, but the uncharitable thought crossed her mind that if anyone were like a fox it was Will with his chestnut brown hair, and she cast herself as a plump hen with ruffled feathers waiting to be snaffled up after one easy pounce.
‘Are you changing your mind?’ he said, turning to face her with a smile that spread to his velvet eyes, sloe black and glittering in the dying light. ‘Have I convinced you to dance with me?’
‘I hardly know,’ she muttered before he caught hold of her, pulling her arm gently towards him until she released her tight grip on the stone rail, and took her hands in his own.
‘Let me help,’ he said, easing his right arm round her waist and coming to stand so closely before her that she felt the blush spread like madder rose paint on a sheet of moist watercolour paper. Jane felt his fingers pressing into the small of her back, and he held her other hand aloft. Part of the trouble was that the music kept stopping, and being so close in the twilight calm felt so intimate. She was sure any onlooker would think she was allowing herself to be insulted at his will, and then laughed inside at the idea of being “willed by Will” to such bad behaviour.
‘First, take a step onto your right foot towards me,’ he instructed as the music struck up once more, ‘and then just a small one back again. Follow me after that, and you won’t go wrong.’
She was not prepared for what happened next as she obeyed his instructions to the letter. As she stepped back, so he pulled her against him, following quickly through on the advance with three rapid steps, until there was no space left between them. Jane allowed him to guide her, though she could feel the shirt buttons of his dinner shirt pressing into the silk of her dress, and his leg moving against her knee, brushing her thigh. His head was next to hers, she felt his skin, and his breath warm and fragrant on her hair. Suddenly, it was too much, too soon, and the coiling spiral of desire curling in delicious sensations from the pit of her being, struck her forcibly. Jane stopped, and pulled back. He saw the fear in her eyes, and her face flushed with crimson. Will knew he’d gone too far, and felt sorry that he had. It really hadn’t been his intention to frighten her or take advantage of her innocence.
As if she could read his mind, she was determined not to stay a moment longer. Perhaps she had made an utter fool of herself by over-reacting, but she knew she didn’t want to allow herself to experience feelings like those ever again. It was a lifetime since she’d felt such physical longing for another human being or been so close to a man.
‘I’m sorry, Will, I don’t feel like dancing any more,’ she said, and averting her eyes from those dark ones that were studying hers intently, she dashed away.
Will watched her light figure skipping over the black and white tiles to escape back through the French doors as quickly as she could. At least she’d called him ‘Will’, he thought, though he was certain it was quite by accident, but surely that meant they were making some progress, even if it wasn’t quite correct to think of her in terms like that. Good lord, what was he doing, thinking that way? He wasn’t even attracted to her, he thought, least of all by her dimples in that too round face or by those hazel eyes that resembled amber jewels lit in sunshine. Why had she reacted so badly? He’d only asked her to dance, and now he really couldn’t understand why he’d bothered. If she wanted to play being a stuck-up governess, that was fine. He was only trying to be kind, after all, and make her feel more at home. Miss Austen was such a prissy young thing, and too full of her own self-importance. What gave her the right to be so puffed up, and superior? He’d never known anyone like her, and he couldn’t fathom just what it was that he found so fascinating on the one hand and disenchanting on the other. He decided to ignore her from now on, and let her get on with doing what she clearly loved best, feeling herself to be high and mighty above them all.

Mae and Julius were still glued to the other’s side when Jane walked back in to the room. Mae thought she didn’t care how much that disapproving governess stared, to say she was enjoying herself was an understatement, and she was going to stay exactly where she was, right by Julius’s side. Generally aware that she had a devastating effect on men, Mae was confident that Julius was attracted to her as much as she was to him. Besides the fact that her slight form was ravishingly swathed in turquoise blue chiffon and pink roses, a panniered robe de style gown designed by Lanvin a couple of years ago and sent from Paris by her aunt, Lady Celia Broughton, Mae knew that Julius hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her all evening. The conversation between them was effortlessly flowing, and they’d discussed mutual subjects of admiration. She knew he liked playing tennis as much as she did, and couldn’t wait until she was fit enough to play against him. They’d talked about their love of art, the bohemian lifestyles of the Newlyn painters, and the Cornish artists like Laura and Harold Knight whose paintings were filled with light. They shared the same romantic ideals when it came to literature too, admiring the writers and artists of the Bloomsbury set with their unconventional lifestyle.
‘How I should love to be set free, and live the life of a truly liberated spirit,’ said Mae earnestly. ‘I have never cared much about conforming to society’s constraints … all I ask is an independent allowance and a string of admirers to call on me in my very own London flat every day. Of course, I would not like to idle my life away entirely. I’d be happy to spend time dabbling in watercolours, perhaps, or doing charitable works.’
‘And spend your evenings in jazz clubs dancing the night away, I suppose. It sounds like fun … but I don’t suppose you’d have a spare room for a friend, would you? I love nothing more than expressing myself in oils.’
‘For you, darling Julius, anything might be possible,’ Mae answered knowing she was being completely outrageous.
‘So, you’re not a country girl at heart? You wouldn’t miss Devon and its glorious coastline if you were cooped up in smoky London?’
‘Well, of course I would prefer to divide my time between the two if I could. There is nowhere like the sea for inspiration. I love to paint en plein air … there is nothing better than to be out in the elements for capturing the light.’
‘I quite agree. I wish you could see my place at Salcombe Magna, which I’m sure would be just to your taste. It’s utter perfection for painting sweeping landscapes. The house is set in a valley very close to the sea against a backdrop of lush green … you must come and see it sometime.’
Mae could not contain her excitement. ‘It sounds perfect, Julius, when can we go?’
‘We’ll take a drive there as soon as you’re mended and you’re fit enough to walk all over it. Some of the walks down to the sea are only accessible by foot, and I’d hate you to miss seeing the private beach or the summerhouse I’ve had built there.’
‘Do you live all alone?’
‘I have been on my own for some years now, but I’m used to it. I usually spend the winters in London and the house is left empty until the first of May when I come home. It’s at its best in summer … Salcombe Magna can be rather gloomy in the depths of winter. There were catastrophic shipwrecks in the area in the past, and when the wind is high and the stormy sea bashes the rugged rocks of the coastline on a grim February night, one can almost imagine you can hear the cries of the dead and wounded calling for help.’
‘How dreadful for you. I believe in ghosts, or at least feel that there are vibrations left behind in ancient places and buildings, especially where there might have been tragedy or suffering of any kind. I can just imagine how that might be the case by the sea. I often feel an overwhelming sense of sadness when I look out over a vast ocean. It’s as if the disappointed hopes of all the people who have stood there have been trapped in the water to rise out of its depths when a like-minded someone pauses to contemplate time and space.’
‘How wonderfully poetic,’ said Julius, ‘I just know you will love the house … there isn’t a more romantic place, or one so in harmony with its surroundings. Promise me you’ll be healed very soon.’
‘It’s only a twisted ankle and a swollen knee. My elbow is healed already, and I’m sure I’ll be completely better by next week. In any case, I’m certain everything will be cured all the quicker if you promise to visit me until I can visit you.’
Julius took up her tiny hand and kissed it. ‘That’s a deal, Mae, you have my word, I promise.’

Lady Milton introduced Jane to Captain Bartlett just as they were coming off the dance floor. As soon as she’d done it, Flora was off, making a quick excuse that she had to make sure King Zoot and the band were being looked after. It was obvious the captain wasn’t a great talker, and Jane felt at a loss to know how to steer the conversation. There was an awkward moment or two whilst she thought about whether she should be the first to speak, but she could see he was struggling, searching for the right words.
‘Do you live far from here, Captain Bartlett?’ she started to say, and then wished she’d thought of something more interesting or original to say.
‘I have a house at Sherford,’ he answered, ‘just a couple of villages away. It’s on the estuary with some fine views towards Exeter in the distance. But you, Miss Austen, are not a native of these shores, I believe.’
‘No, I daresay my Hampshire accent gives me away though I have lived in many places as well as in that beloved county. I spent some time in Bath, Southampton, and Winchester, as well as in Steventon and Chawton. Yet, I am sure that does not impress a soldier. I suppose you have travelled in your job, captain, and probably to places I have never been.’
‘I spent a lot of time travelling, it is true, and particularly in India, Miss Austen.’
‘India is a fascinating continent. I had an aunt who lived there for some years and my cousin was born there although they left for England a few years later. I used to bombard Eliza with questions about her time spent in such different surroundings to mine.  India to me was a land of exquisite spices, textures and fragrances - they often sent us exquisite parcels of flowered chintz, fine muslin and brocades - the very paper they were wrapped in seemed infused with the scents of jasmine and attar of roses.  
‘Yes, there is no place quite like it, but I sadly had to leave when my wife became ill. We came back to England and I was stationed nearer home.’
Jane was surprised to hear him talk of a wife; she had not thought he was married. The captain paused, and she wondered if the conversation was over. He looked very sad, she noted, and she waited to see if he’d say any more.
‘We moved back to Sherford, but sadly, we were not timely enough, and the sickness that had taken hold of her abroad claimed her short life at home.’
‘Oh, Captain Bartlett, how very remiss of me. I am so sorry to have reminded you of such distressing times, please forgive me.’
‘Not at all, I like to think of Mary, and to talk about her sometimes. People who know me around here are reluctant to speak of her for fear of upsetting me, I think. They do not know what to say, and so it’s easier not to say anything at all. But, it’s over eight years ago since she passed away, and I think it’s time I was able to talk about the past.’
‘It is not possible to dictate to one’s heart how long grieving should last,’ Jane said observing the sorrow in his blue eyes, ‘but time is a great healer.’
‘Yes, that’s true, though I sometimes wonder whether I will ever recover from the memories of her and the life we shared. Occasionally I think I could marry again, and feel almost ready to take a step to that end, and at others I know the time is not right.’
‘I am sure you will find someone to share your life just when you should,’ said Jane looking up into George Bartlett’s kind eyes.
‘Ah, yes … though that’s proving to be more difficult than I expected.’
Jane saw his gaze shift to Mae’s face, and a look of defeat and resignation showed in his expression.
‘Mae Milton is a beautiful young lady who needs someone to look after her,’ he said. ‘I rather hoped I might be the one to persuade her in time, but I think that idea is beyond all hope now.’
‘Only time will tell, captain. Mae and Mr Weatherfield have just met, and are merely in the first throes of getting to know one another.’
‘But there is something in their behaviour together, and in their admiration of the other that I recognise. Mary and I used to be that way, and were drawn like magnets from the very first time we met. No, I have come to realise there is something rather bleak about a one-sided love, and if I’m honest I wonder if part of the attraction for me is that she reminds me so very much of my darling wife.’
‘To love without any hope of being loved in return is a comfortless state,’ said Jane. ‘Perhaps it would be wise to look around for someone else, a lady who would return your feelings and love you with all her heart.’
‘You offer sound advice, and I’m sorry to have burdened you with my troubles,’ the captain said, ‘but it has been so easy to speak to you on many subjects I’ve avoided lately. I haven’t had a chance to talk to anyone like this for such a long time … thank you for listening.’
‘It’s my pleasure, Captain Bartlett. It is easier to talk to strangers sometimes, I’ve found that true myself.’
‘Don’t be a stranger, Miss Austen. I hope I will get to know you better in the coming weeks. I shall certainly heed your suggestions.’
‘One thing I’ve learned in my life is that sometimes the most unexpected events can turn one’s life in a moment to new and exciting times. You may find something happens when you least expect it … I hope you will not have to wait too long.’
‘I hope so too, Miss Austen.’
The captain moved away then and Jane later saw him leading Jessie Beales to the dance floor. The party was in full swing, and almost everyone was up and dancing. Emily and Jonathan Keeling were laughing their way through an overly dramatic tango, King Zoot had left his band to dance cheek to cheek with Lady Milton, and Eddie Wallis was gently teaching Cora the art of the Latin American dance. Will was dancing with one of the girls who’d arrived in a large party from the village, and Lieutenant Dauncey was partnering Beth, yet again.
Jane watched from a corner of the room hidden in the shadows, intrigued and curious, but glad to have escaped anyone’s notice, or so she thought. Frankie Wallis was circulating with a bottle of champagne, topping up empty glasses, and he stopped when he reached Jane.
‘You’re not dancing, Miss Austen,’ he said putting the bottle down on the sideboard behind her. ‘Can I tempt you out onto the dance floor?’
‘I’m afraid I don’t tango, Mr Wallis, and I’m just as happy standing here watching everyone else.’
‘That’s a great pity, I’m sure you’d enjoy a tango if you tried. There’s not much to it, I hope you’ll allow me to give you a lesson sometime.’
He looked as if he might pick up the bottle again and move on, but he hesitated. ‘Will you tell Alice I’m sorry she’s feeling unwell. It’s a shame she couldn’t come, I know how much she used to love dancing.’
‘I will pass on your message, Mr Wallis, but you should come and tell her yourself.’
‘I’m not sure she’d want to hear it from me,’ he said. ‘Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself this evening even if you haven’t had a dance.’
‘I’ve enjoyed myself very much,’ said Jane thinking of all she’d learned, and of the unsuccessful attempt to dance with Will. ‘I hope we’ll meet again soon.’
Frankie reached for the bottle of champagne and Jane was left alone once more. It wasn’t quite like any party she had ever been to, but it had given her an opportunity for more observation, and she felt she knew one or two of the guests rather better than she had before she’d arrived. She decided she must be more vigilant when it came to Will, and make more of an effort to avoid him. On the whole she’d enjoyed it, and couldn’t wait to see Alice. She was sure Frankie had missed her not being there, and it gave her the slightest glimmer of hope that not all was completely lost between them.

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   AmazonUS