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Project Darcy - A Pride and Prejudice Timeslip - Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

On the following morning, I awoke with thoughts of Tom still in my head. I was dying to tell my sister Cassy all about him, but she was away visiting her beloved fiancĂ© Tom, and spending Christmas with his family once he went away to sea. I wished to tell her everything, but then I was not sure she would be very pleased with the way I’d behaved. To dance three times with him had raised some eyebrows, and I knew those who liked to talk would be watching me even more carefully the next time we were together. I would write and tell her something about him, but perhaps not just yet.
In my bedchamber, hidden under the bed was my box of delights, all my writing to date. I fetched it out hauling the mahogany box onto the coverlet, disturbing the dust lurking below to sparkle in sunlit shafts like powdered diamonds. Opening the heavy lid with impatient fingers I couldn’t wait to fetch my scribblings out, to glance through the familiar pages. I stroked the papers one by one as if greeting old friends, and stopped to look through my latest manuscript. It was more or less finished, but at the editing stage, which took rather more ink and paper than I liked. Written in letters, Elinor and Marianne was my first full-length attempt at writing a novel. I liked writing about women’s lives, and this book about two sisters – Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, was to explore the differences between acting with the head or the heart. It was something I struggled with myself on a daily basis, and I was finding it harder to write about as the novel concluded. Behaving sensibly wasn’t always easy, but I tried to be a model of goodness and duty like my sister. My heart overruled my head on too many occasions, and finding a balance was always difficult.
I wanted to write great novels like those of Samuel Richardson or Fanny Burney – books that inspired others with heroines that were strong, bold and capable. But, they also had to include a hero, and I spent much time imagining how such a gentleman might look and behave. Leafing through the pages, I read aloud my description of Willoughby again. He was a hero at the start of the novel and I wanted my readers to fall in love with him as much as Marianne and I had done. Marianne was writing to tell her friend all about her new acquaintance.
A gentleman carrying a gun, with two pointers playing round him, was passing up the hill and within a few yards of me, when my accident happened. He put down his gun and ran to my assistance. I raised myself from the ground, but my foot had been twisted in the fall, and I was scarcely able to stand. The gentleman offered his services, and perceiving that my modesty declined what my situation rendered necessary, took me up in his arms without farther delay, and carried me down the hill. Then passing through the garden, the gate of which had been left open by Margaret, he bore me directly into the house, whither Margaret was just arrived, and quitted not his hold till he had seated me in a chair in the parlour.  
Closing my eyes, I lay back against the pillows to imagine the scene. Willoughby was very handsome, but his dark hair that fell on his cheekbones in loose black curls, in my imagination, looked rather blonde now, and the eyes that stared into mine had turned from brown to light grey. Tom Lefroy now held me in his arms, his heart was next to mine and his lips were so close I could feel his breath, warm upon my face, stirring the curls under my bonnet. His eyes lingered on my cheeks tinged with dusky pink, dropping to the slope of my breasts where a fine lace tucker was fastened with a silk rose.
How I wanted to see Tom – I had to know if last night had been as momentous for him as for me, and I would know when I saw him, in the very second our eyes spoke to one another as they had last night. Perhaps he would call with his aunt later on, or maybe even sooner, and I leapt out of bed to get washed and dressed. It would never do to be still in bed if Madame were to call with her nephew. Tom occupied all my thoughts. Was he washing too? I imagined the pale skin beneath the white shirt, his hair sleek with liquid, and drops of water falling from those limpid eyes.
I dressed as quickly as I could, before the cold air could freeze my fingers and toes to numbness. Morning sounds, of creaking wooden boards, of fires being laid, maids’ footsteps running up and down, buckets slopping, curtains rattling, clocks ticking, mice scampering, doors closing, jugs pouring, water splashing, scent pots clinking, snatched voices, and stolen whispers, greeted the day. I put on layers of my warmest clothes but I didn’t want to look bundled up if Tom were to come. If only ladies could wear breeches, I thought, which would be so much more practical. Running down to the kitchen, I knew Nanny Littleworth would be there, raking out the range, fetching out the breakfast set and giving Rebecca instructions about the first meal of the day. It was one of my favourite rooms in the house filled with homely smells, of hot meat and turnips, spruce beer and cinnamon, and now scented with tea and nutmeg, ginger, and coffee from the dresser. Despite the tallow candles burning, the light was dim that shone on a favourite print of Nanny’s, the sole picture in the room, showing a dish of sugared fruit. A slice of daylight glimmered on a velvet peach, a green gooseberry, and a silver knife. Texts from the bible featured on either side with stern words for the lazy and encouragement for the hardworking. Strung up high upon the walls, sides of bacon and great hams dangled from hooks, and on the shelves were displayed jugs and bowls, bottles and pots, some filled with jam, made with blackberries gleaned from the hedgerows and plums from the fruit trees. Glass pots filled with the sweet smells of strawberry, apple jelly or golden honey from Cassy’s bees sat side by side with the pungent tang of onions and spices, red cabbage and cucumbers pickled in dark vinegar. In the larder I knew there were mince pies and plum puddings waiting to be sent as gifts for our neighbours or to be eaten on Christmas Day. There were bottles of elderflower, ginger and cowslip wine and bowls of butter and cream waiting on the cold marble shelf to add a little bit of magic to the festive food. There was a pie stuffed with ham and eggs, its pastry crust crisp and brown, a pound cake rich with dried fruit, strings of sausages in a china dish, and a large turkey waiting to be plucked.
In the dining parlour, I set the kettle on a trivet to boil water for the tea and heaped too many spoons of black leaves into the teapot whilst watching the lane outside for any sign of life. I knew it was too early but every sound, and any figure of a man that loomed towards the window set my heart thumping. I drifted from one window to the other until my mother called out in exasperation, to bring the pot to the table. She regarded me with stealthy looks as I jumped in my seat at the sound of the bell clanging at the front door. It was only my father returning home after helping the men dig some sheep out of the snow, and it was so hard not to show my disappointment. Knowing I was being scrutinised I ate a piece of toast, which I didn’t want, and drank my tea.
‘You’re as fidgety as an old maid today,’ said my mother. ‘What are you about, Jane?’
‘I’m perfectly fine, Mama, I thank you.’
‘Expecting visitors, perhaps?’ said Henry, winking at me. He always had the ability to see into my mind and my heart.
My blushes were about to betray me when my father interjected, ‘Could you run me an errand, Jenny?’
He still called me by the name of my childhood, but he was the only one I didn’t mind using it.
‘I’ve got a pile of books for Madame Lefroy. I promised I’d send them over this morning.’
‘I’ll take them, Father,’ I said. I couldn’t believe my luck, and yet, when presented with the perfect excuse, I felt nervous at the thought of seeing him. Before Henry could make any more mischievous comments, I grabbed my cloak and left.
The morning was cold but sunny, and as I walked down the snow-covered lanes I could see icicles melting and snow falling from branches. By the time I got to Ashe the sun was so warm the muddy earth was showing through slushy ice, but I had a feeling I might be running out of time in the past. As I approached the house, I had the sense I was being watched, and when I looked up to the window above the door, I saw him. Tom smiled, before disappearing from view.
‘Madame Lefroy is not at home,’ said the housemaid, and I dithered, not sure what to do.
I looked up at the window but there was no sign of my Irish friend. I could not stand waiting all morning, and it began to be rather obvious that my hesitation had no purpose. Tom was not going to make an appearance I realised, and so I ran up the steps and into the hallway, handing the books into the maid’s hands. I couldn’t help wondering if Madame was really somewhere there in the house, that my behaviour of the night before had prompted this turn of events. But, I knew Madame had smiled when she saw us dancing together: she’d positively encouraged us to be friendly. But why did he not come downstairs? Was he now ashamed of his partiality, and regretted dancing with me so much?
As I turned to leave, I experienced the strangest sensations of time slowing which prevented me from moving quickly. It was like wading through treacle and my feet felt glued to the floor. The clock ticked loudly, but every second seemed to last an age, and then I saw that the hand on the painted dial was spinning, gathering momentum as the seconds passed by. The clock started striking with the sound of bells clanging as loudly as in a cathedral tower and I covered my ears and closed my eyes to shut it out. When at last I opened them I could see that everything of the world that had felt so real a few minutes ago had melted away. Steadying myself, I gripped the round table and staring past the open door I heard the last chimes of the Grandfather clock softly die away.

It took Ellie a few minutes to adjust being back at Ashe in the present. She felt stunned by the intensity of the emotions she’d felt and the scenes she’d witnessed. Never before had she experienced such a sense of belonging to the body that claimed her own. The attraction that Jane felt towards Tom was powerful. Ellie felt really shocked by that idea because the impression she’d got from anything she’d ever read about Jane Austen was that the famous author was often described as a bit of a cantankerous old spinster. And that was certainly not how she’d perceived Jane herself. Ellie couldn’t begin to imagine how or why it was that she was being given such a privileged glimpse into her youth. A similar age to herself, she guessed that would make the year 1795 or thereabouts. So, Tom Lefroy had arrived at Ashe Rectory that December to stay with his aunt who was Jane’s friend and neighbour, and it was definitely he that Ellie had seen haunting the house. No doubt they would meet again. Ellie felt quite torn, and even though she knew what she was feeling were not really her sensations and passionate feelings, her body had responded to those exquisite emotions. But, as much as she would have liked to linger in the past, time and fate had other ideas, and she was well aware that she would have to wait until she was summoned by whatever forces controlled her travels through time.

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten