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Project Darcy - A Pride and Prejudice Timeslip - Chapter Six

  Chapter Six 

Over the next week or so, the girls threw themselves into their new jobs and the dig got truly underway. Removing the topsoil was a slow process and the team covered every square inch of the excavation units methodically with shovels, picks and trowels. Martha was happy in her work. She didn’t feel the need to chat away like the other students around her, and no one bothered her as she dug enthusiastically into the earth with her shovel.
Jess was in the operations tent, and already unidentified objects were appearing, carried in with all due reverence, to be washed, labelled, recorded and identified. Charlie, by luck or design, Jess wasn’t quite sure, worked there also, though he was working on the computer at the other end of the space. Whenever he had a moment, he was at Jess’s side, taking note of whatever she was doing.
‘Are you coming to the pub tonight?’ he asked, as he watched Jess working. ‘There are a few of us meeting at the Deane Gate Inn.’
‘I’d like that, thank you,’ said Jess. ‘I’m sure Ellie and the other girls would like to come, too.’
‘Now, you’ve made my day,’ said Charlie, smiling into her eyes. ‘I’ve persuaded Henry to come … he’s a nice guy when you get to know him.’
‘I’m sure he is,’ Jess agreed, ‘what is he doing this morning?’
‘He’s at the sharp end with the diggers, you might know. This is a bit of a dream for Henry; he loves nothing more than scrabbling about in the dirt looking for history. He’s reading archaeology at university, he’s very clever and very thorough.’
‘What are you studying, Charlie?’ asked Jess.
‘How wonderful; what’s your instrument?’
‘I play double bass … but to be honest, it’s my electric bass I love playing best.’
‘Oh, wow, and I bet you’re really brilliant, too. Do you ever perform?’
‘I’m in a band at college.’
‘I’d love to see you play.’
‘Well, I’ve a few gigs at the weekends – there are some local festivals coming up. It would be great if you could come along. Bring your friends.’
‘Oh, that sounds really exciting.’
‘It is the passion of my life, I must admit.  How about you? Do you like music?’
‘I love music but I was never good enough to pursue music to your level … I play a little piano. I suppose I can play a recognisable tune, but that’s about it.’
‘And what are you studying?’
‘I want to be a teacher. I come from a teaching family … my mum, dad, and most of my aunts and uncles are teachers. It must be in my blood, I suppose. It sounds a bit boring, but I’ve been on teaching practice a few times now, and I simply love it.’
‘It doesn’t sound boring at all. I remember the teachers I had who were passionate about teaching. They gave me a love of my own in music. If it hadn’t been for my music teacher at school, I doubt very much that I’d be doing music, right now. And besides, I’m sure you’d be an inspiration for anyone.’
Jess blushed. ‘Well, I don’t know about that. It can be quite daunting facing a class of teenagers and trying to get them enthusiastic about Jane Austen.’
‘That reminds me; I’ve found a copy of Pride and Prejudice at home. I shall start reading it later, and then we can discuss it, chapter by chapter.’
‘I shall look forward to that,’ said Jess, putting down the dirt-encrusted object to meet his eyes that seemed to see all the way into her soul.
‘Anyway, it was lovely talking to you,’ said Charlie. ‘I’d best go, I can see someone waving at me by the desk.’
Back at the dig, there was great excitement. Will MacGourtey let out a whoop of elation, as the first line of bricks was located. Photographers, cameramen, presenters, experts and volunteers crowded round as if a treasure trove of precious jewels had been unearthed. The whole team turned up to see the line of exposed brickwork, still recognisable as such. Henry Dorsey stood at Will’s side as the archaeologist praised the volunteers working with him.
Ellie couldn’t help herself. She was standing next to Martha as the news broke. ‘You might know Henry would be credited with discovering the first significant find. And, just look at his face … he looks as if he found them single-handed.’
‘Well, it’s a huge deal, Ellie. I think I’d be feeling pretty pleased with myself if I was heading up the team.’
‘I don’t know, there’s just something so smug about him that I don’t like. Any one of you might have had the same good fortune if you’d been working right next to Will MacGourtey.’
‘I’ve enjoyed it, bricks or not,’ answered Martha, her eyes shining. ‘I must have found fifty nails this morning. It’s fascinating to think they might have been in the very floorboards Jane walked upon.’
Ellie wasn’t sure she could have got so excited about a few dirty nails. ‘I’m just saying, you’ve been toiling away just as hard, Martha, but no one has thanked you. Look at him, puffed up like a … peacock.’
‘He’s only doing his job. I don’t know why you find him so irritating,’ said Martha. ‘You’re being rather a snob, you know. He can’t help being so rich or privileged.’
‘What do you mean?’ asked Ellie.
‘I heard one of the girls from the university saying that Henry Dorsey comes from a hugely wealthy family. He’s from Surrey, apparently, and his family own some enormous pile in Weybridge when they’re not in their Chelsea townhouse or their villa on the Italian lakes.’
‘Oh, that explains it,’ said Ellie, inwardly groaning, ‘no wonder he looks so pleased with himself all the time.’
‘He’s going into the family business, apparently, though one of the others said all he’d really like to do is become an archaeologist.’
‘I wouldn’t expect anything less from him,’ answered Ellie. ‘Clearly, he’d rather be making more millions than following his heart.’
‘Still, it might turn out well for Jess if Charlie falls in love with her,’ said Cara, who’d been hanging back, eavesdropping.
‘I don’t understand, unless you mean Henry is going to give Charlie a job, perhaps.’
‘No, Charlie’s got money of his own, and a family pile. It’s a massive mansion not far from here, I’ve been told.’
Before Ellie could comment, Jess arrived, bouncing over to join the girls, a huge smile spreading over her face. ‘ Isn’t it wonderful? I can almost see it, can’t you? Just imagine, the rectory must have been right there.’
Ellie was taken back for a moment, almost pulled to the other dimension where she’d stood as a child. She could picture the house perfectly and she heard a voice in her head.
‘My home, my home … my beloved Steventon,’ the voice whispered so closely in her ear that she turned to see if there was someone who could have possibly spoken to her, but there were only the crowds of people all chatting away, glad to have an unexpected break from the work in progress.
‘Have you had a good morning?’ asked Jess. ‘I’ve been so busy; I really didn’t expect to be. I thought it would be ages before anything would be found.’
‘I’ve done some sketches,’ said Ellie, ‘some of them a bit fanciful, I’m afraid, but I’ve also painted a watercolour showing the landscape today. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve missed you, though you know what I’m like once I’m in the zone.’
‘Exactly. You go all quiet on me. I missed you, too, but I have had some company.’
Ellie looked at her friend who was looking back at her rather sheepishly. ‘It wouldn’t be a certain Charlie Harden, would it?’
‘It might be.’
‘And did he tell you all about his big house and all the money he’s inherited?’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, Ellie. I don’t think that can be right, he seems so grounded and normal.’
Cara turned once more. ‘His family own a great big house at Deane, apparently. I heard some of the Oxford girls talking. And they said his sister is here, but I’m not sure what she looks like or what she’s been doing. They said she’s at Oxford too, and that she’s supposed to be brilliant. His family are all really clever and talented.’
‘Charlie’s a musician,’ said Jess, nodding her head. ‘He sounds very passionate about his music.’
‘Well, it does seem you’ve been busy this morning,’ said Ellie, raising her eyebrows at the others who all laughed.
‘Ellie Bentley, you stop right there. I shan’t tell you any more if you’re going to be this teasing. However, what I will tell you, is that we’ve all been invited to meet Charlie and his friends at the pub tonight!’

When they finally reached home again they found Mrs Hill preparing an evening meal for them all. Delicious smells of grilled lamb chops and potatoes cooked with garlic and rosemary made them realise how hungry they were, and a fantastic spread laid out on the scrubbed table in the kitchen was a sight to see.
‘Well, you can’t go out to an evening like that without a good lining,’ said Mrs Hill, ‘and I know how hungry you can get out in the fresh air all day. Mr Hill is always ravenous when he’s been out in the gardens working. You’re growing girls and you need to keep up your strength!’
Apart from Liberty who raised her eyes, the other girls said how cherished they felt under Mrs Hill’s loving care. She was a very generous lady with her time, and wanted to hear all about the work they’d been doing. The girls were happy to talk all about the lovely day they’d had and the anticipation of the evening in store, and Mrs Hill listened as if she was enraptured by every word. The moment they’d finished the first course, she fetched a dish of stewed apples and a jug of cream for their pudding from the larder and sat down to listen to the rest of their tales.
As soon as the meal was over, Jess and Ellie started clearing the table, but Mrs Hill insisted they could have a night off from helping.
‘I’ll see to the clearing up. You go and get ready for you’ve to make yourselves lovely for all those young men I’ve been hearing about!’
‘Don’t you wish you were coming too, Mrs Hill?’ said Liberty. ‘I’m sure we could find you a nice young man.’
Mrs Hill laughed. ‘Get away with you. I’m not tempted in the least … no, Mr Hill is the only young man I’ve ever wanted!’
That had Liberty and Cara in stitches of laughter and even Ellie admitted to Jess she could not quite picture the dour and silent Mr Hill as a romantic hero.
As soon as supper was over, the girls disappeared off to their various rooms agreeing to meet downstairs in the drawing room before they went out to meet Charlie and the others. Ellie got changed in about five minutes and with plenty of time before they were due to go out she fetched her sketchbook from her bedroom and ran downstairs. She had an idea to try a drawing of the front elevation of Steventon Rectory based on what she’d learned that day, and was really looking forward to talking to the other girls about all the ideas she had. The door to the drawing room was closed, but as soon as Ellie touched the handle, she could sense that the very air was different. Sounds, smells and furniture were all changing before her eyes beyond anything she recognised. Gone was the circular table in the hall, and instead a pier table and ornate looking glass graced one side of the corridor. There was an umbrella stand and a bookcase full of heavy tomes, two mahogany chairs either side of the doorway, and a familiar object in the recess where it had probably stood for over two hundred years telling of the moments, seconds, minutes and hours that passed.  She heard the Grandfather clock in the hall whirr into action and chime again and again, with each sonorous strike of the bell seeming to take her further and further back in time.

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