Searching for Captain Wentworth
A Timeslip Novel inspired by PersuasionChapter Six
‘How’s it going?’ she asked, opening a bottle of white wine and pouring me a glass.
‘Surprisingly well,’ I said, almost convincing myself and resolving to keep my weird experiences to myself. ‘You wouldn’t recognize it; the place is spotless. Thanks so much, I couldn’t have done it without you.’
‘It’s my pleasure. I’m glad to help, but I expect you’re worn out now.’
‘Yes, I am really tired, and in the great scheme of things, I completely forgot about shopping or eating and suddenly that seems a great idea.’
‘Of course, here’s the menu. I’ll be with you in a minute. Have a look and see what you fancy.’
As Lara moved on to the next customer, I scanned the room thinking how much I loved this quirky place with its eclectic décor. There were ancient gas lamps hanging above the bar, their shell- pink lustre shades glowing with light. A painted oar from a rowing boat was pinned into the wall above the beribboned, Georgian mantelpiece, flanked on either side by trophies from a bygone age, and surveyed from on high by a print of The Laughing Cavalier who sported a furry moustache that someone had clearly stuck on over his own, for a joke. Nobody noticed me and I was quite enjoying the sense of anonymity when Lara stopped again to take my order.
‘Oh, by the way, Josh is in tonight,’ she said, putting a knife and fork in front of me before diving under the counter for salt and pepper pots. ‘I’ll introduce you to him in a minute. Then you won’t have to sit on your own.’
I looked to where she was pointing but before I could ask her exactly where he was, she was away upstairs to see to food orders. Presumably, she meant he was sitting on the other side of the bar, which was sectioned off in another room and I couldn’t see anyone at first. It was gloomy on that side, except for the glow of a fire in the grate. Then a figure moved forward, I could just see a blue- jeaned leg jutting out from a table. He bent down to pick up a leather bag and I got a glimpse of a profile, but Josh might as well have been a silhouette in a miniature portrait for all I could really see. Well, Lara had promised an introduction, so I’d just have to be patient. I wished I’d brought his glove with me and then, at least, we’d have something to talk about.
My Thai fishcakes arrived, fragrant with lemongrass, accompanied by wedges of crisp potato and soured cream that had my mouth watering. I was hungrier than I knew, savouring each bite as Lara looked on with a grin. She glanced behind her into the other bar and I guessed that she was checking up on Josh.
‘I won’t call him over until you’ve finished,’ she said. ‘I don’t think you’ll thank me for an introduction whilst you’re eating.’
I smiled. ‘Thanks. No, I don’t really want to meet my new neighbour with bits of coriander stuck between my teeth!’
‘Quite right. First impressions are always very important. And, it would be lovely if you could get to know one another. He always looks a bit lonely, and I never really see him with anyone. I don’t think he’s got a girlfriend.’
I could feel myself blushing under her scrutiny and was beginning to wonder whether meeting Josh like this would be such a good idea. It would be nice to make friends, but I didn’t feel like starting the sort of relationship that Lara was making hints about. I needed to change the conversation, although I admitted to myself that I was curious about him.
‘What does he do?’
‘He’s working on something at the museum over the road.’
So that’s where he’d been going earlier, even though it had been an odd time of day when everyone else working were locked in their offices. I couldn’t imagine what sort of job he could possibly do, and judging by his clothes and his mop of shaggy curls, if Lara had said he was an actor or a musician I would more readily have believed that.
‘Josh organizes exhibitions,’ Lara continued. ‘He’s here on a contract, so it’s not forever. He’s putting together something to do with Georgian paintings and artefacts; he’ll tell you about it himself, I expect.’
‘I saw him today, I think. He dropped a glove, out on the pavement. I picked it up and tried to catch up with him but he was too fast for me.’
‘Yes, it would be those long legs of his that kept you away. You’d have to run to keep up with him.’
‘Are the gardens over the road connected to the museum in any way?’
‘Yes, I’m sure they have a connection. I know they’re at least a couple of hundred years old, if not more, but I think I’m right in saying that at one time the museum was a hotel. Sydney Gardens were a place of entertainment, what they called pleasure gardens, not quite like they are now.’
‘Then Jane Austen herself must have walked in the gardens,’ I said, really thinking out loud, casting my mind back to my inexplicable experience.
Lara looked at me, a bemused expression on her face. ‘I daresay she did, but Josh will be able to tell you more about it than I can. Have you finished? Come on, you can ask him yourself.’
I saw her turn round, poke her head into the bar behind and say something to a person out of view. When she turned back, the look of disappointment on her face was plain to see.
‘I think we’ve just gone and missed him again, but Martin says Josh was going straight home because he’d got a bit of paperwork to finish. If you’re quick, you’ll catch him, he’s only just left. At least you’ve got a good excuse to knock on his door.’
I didn’t really want to hang around much longer. It was beginning to feel a bit like being at a party where I was the only person who didn’t know anyone and I couldn’t expect Lara to chat to me all night. On the other hand, the prospect of going home to knock on Josh’s door didn’t seem very tempting either. By the time I walked round the corner, I chided myself for being silly. What harm was there in just knocking on the door and saying hello? I could just hand over the glove and say I found it in the street, though how I’d get around the problem of telling him that I knew it belonged to him, I couldn’t decide. He’d think I was some kind of weirdo for spying on him if I told him. There was only one answer to my problem. I would just walk past his door and on up the stairs to my flat and try to forget all about it for the time being. In any case, I’d have to think hard about what I’d say and right now I was so tired, I couldn’t think straight.
However, nothing could stop me feeling guilty about it still being in my possession. I turned to the box that Great Aunt Elizabeth had sent me. Out of sight would be out of mind. I popped in the glove closing the lid quickly before I could think about what I’d done. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, I knew there was little possibility of the glove ever making an appearance again. And, although the idea that this was very wrong crossed my mind fleetingly, I chose to ignore it.
I couldn’t resist picking up the journal once again, though the spooky experience I’d had earlier made me hesitate, for a second, until I told myself not to be so silly. I opened it at the place I’d marked with a silk ribbon and waited. Much to my relief no whispers or haunting visions appeared. I read the next entry.
March 1st: Emma and my father are leaving London this morning. There has been no further mention of Mr Fellowes and their abrupt departure seems somewhat strange. I fear something is amiss.
I wondered if Mr Fellowes had got cold feet or if Emma had refused to marry him. The next few pages were blank and then on March 6th the journal became very interesting.
We are to remove to Bath. Mrs Randall has suggested this expedition to my father in order that Emma might be introduced to Bath society and perhaps find a husband. My father is adamant that she will be married before the year is out. I do not want to go to Bath and leave my home for months on end. The only saving grace is that Mrs Randall will accompany us, for which I am truly grateful. We are to take a house near Sydney Gardens. Mrs Randall assures me that I will enjoy myself and for her sake, I will endeavour not to disappoint her.
I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Sophia. Though I knew her words had been written over two hundred years ago, the sentiments and feelings were so fresh mirroring my own misgivings at leaving everything familiar. The next entry made me smile.
March 10th: We are arrived in Sydney Place. It is not at all like being in the country but the gardens just over the way are very pretty, and I hope I shall be allowed to walk there sometimes. Mrs Randall has lodgings nearby in Daniel Street. She would not be talked into joining us here in the house, saying that she had no wish for people to assume that she was trying to take my mother’s place.
Dear Mrs Randall, only you would be so considerate. You have been such a comfort since Mama passed away.
It was a strange thought that this was the very house where the family had arrived all that time ago. I could almost feel them around me, hear their conversations, or at least, imagine what they might have been. As the journal continued, Sophia’s reticence had given way to youthful excitement.
March 12th: Mrs Randall took us shopping for new muslins, that we might look respectable for a ball at the Upper Rooms. I chose a pretty, tamboured muslin that is to be made up into a round gown and I have black gauze for a new cloak. I also have a new white chip bonnet, trimmed with white ribbon and I find it looking very much like other people’s and quite as smart.
March 13th: We went to the Pump Rooms this morning and signed the arrivals book. Mr King introduced us to a family who are also residing in Sydney Place, and I have discovered they are living just next door. I wish my father were not so abrupt in his manner. He hardly acknowledged them. They seem pleasant, respectable people, but I know he assumes they are not worth knowing. They do not appear to be wealthy, though seem genteel enough. The father is a clergyman with a shock of white hair and the mother has quite as many airs as my father, which amused me greatly. I am not sure who felt they were being more condescending in addressing the other. There are two daughters, both very pleasant girls, whom I wouldn’t mind knowing better … their name is Austen.
I caught my breath, hardly able to believe what I was reading.
March 19th: I met the two Miss Austens on our morning walk in the gardens today. Miss Jane, the youngest sister, has a most penetrating way of looking at you, which I find particularly unnerving, but despite this her manner is quite friendly. Indeed, her clear hazel eyes continually sparkle with amusement, as if she has just heard of something that is about to send her off into peals of laughter.
So, it was true! I really had met Jane and Cassandra, as Sophia Elliot had all those years ago. I couldn’t wait to read more.
March 20th: A ball at the Upper Rooms tonight. Miss Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra were in attendance with their parents. Miss Jane engaged me in conversation when she was not dancing. I like her very much for her intelligence and her wonderful sense of humour. Her sister is also very pleasant, but has not Miss Jane’s liveliness, nor her wicked tongue.
March 22nd: A ball at the Lower Rooms – I nearly died laughing at Miss Jane’s antics. She teases and abuses all her dancing partners with her quick wit, but the best of it is that they do not realize she is laughing at their expense. We danced every dance and sat down not once.
March 24th: Accompanied the Miss Austens to the circulating library in Milsom Street. I heard all about their handsome brothers today. Edward is a rich landowner, James a clergyman, Frank and Charles are in the Navy, and Henry is a banker!
There was one last entry.
March 29th: I met the Miss Austens in the gardens as has become our custom on our daily walk. They were very excited because now hostilities are at an end with the French, the Peace means all our brave soldiers and sailors will be at war no longer. I expect Jane’s sailor brothers will be home soon. At any rate, we can expect to see whole crews and battalions of young men descending on the town. There is to be a ball held in celebration and I am to have a new headband to wear.
My hand flew to my mouth. I knew exactly what had happened that day and the conversations they’d shared!
Frustratingly, there was no more, and I couldn’t help but wonder why, though I guessed Sophia had just been too busy to write. How I wished that she’d written more about her time with the Austen family. I flicked through the remaining pages and then one more entry stood out in blue ink as bright as if it had just been penned.
On the page marked the last day of May were some lines written in my mum’s very familiar handwriting.
May 31st: Is it wrong to pursue what I know my heart must give up? I dare not go back again. But, when I am there, it does not feel like a deception, and I know it is right.
Time is but a shadow,
Too slow, too swift,
But for those who love,
Time does not exist.
I am a shadow, so art thou.
This was most puzzling and the only snippet of mum’s writing I could find. It did sound a bit dramatic for a woman who’d always been so even-tempered and calm whilst she lived her all too brief life. What, or rather whom had she contemplated giving up, I wondered? I actually didn’t know anything about my mother’s life as a girl, though I remembered her talking once or twice about old boyfriends who clearly weren’t significant. No, the only person she’d ever truly loved was my dad. There are photos of her when young, but they almost seem to be someone else, certainly no one I recognize. There’s one in a frame at home. She’s standing by a lake, her long, dark hair flowing back in the wind, her dress billowing out behind her showing lithe and fragile contours. I like that picture because she’s laughing, it’s a face full of love and hope for the future.
I didn’t quite feel comfortable about all the feelings and emotions that seemed to emanate from the yellowing pages of the journal like a forgotten elixir, elusive and intangible, and was about to add it to the contents of the rosewood box when I noticed the edge of a piece of paper tucked in to the binding at the back. Carefully extracting the brittle paper, I unfolded it to find the dust of a dried rosebud wrapped in a piece of lace, a silver medal-shaped coin and what looked to be some sort of subscription card. The medal had an engraving of the Sydney Hotel on it and I wondered if it might be like a kind of ticket, perhaps, to what was now the museum or even the gardens. But the most intriguing object was the subscription card to the Assembly Rooms for the entrance to Cotillion Balls for the price of a pound. The date was April 5th, 1802, and the name Sophia Elliot was written along the top. But, what really caused every hair on my head to stand on end was the realization that it was written very clearly in my own hand.
Further links: Chapters One,Two,Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve