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Searching for Captain Wentworth - Chapter Twelve

Searching for Captain Wentworth
A Timeslip Novel inspired by Persuasion
Chapter Twelve

My first night in Regency Bath was very strange. Wandering about the house felt both extraordinary and familiar, but I couldn’t help hoping that when I went to bed I might wake in the morning to find it had all been a weird nightmare. Jane’s brother had Josh’s glove and I couldn’t think how I was going to get it back or how I might return to my own time without it. I didn’t sleep very well and as I tossed and turned in the early hours of the morning, it seemed to me that I was not really alone. Lying in the dark under stiff cotton sheets, I felt sure I heard snatches of conversation in that very room. As in a dream, I thought I could hear the sound of stifled giggling along with whispered, confidential chatter.
‘Dolly, have you got any money left? I’ve seen a lovely hat in Jolly’s and I only need another three shillings.’
‘Only another three shillings! Lizzy Elliot, you’ll be the finish of me. We won’t be able to go to the dance if you spend what we’ve got left on a hat you don’t need. And then you shan’t be able to dance with that young officer who’s home on leave.’
‘Oh, he’s a vision, isn’t he, Dolly? And, quite as handsome as your Royal Navy sweetheart!’
I opened my eyes. It was only there for a second, but the impression of two young girls pinning their hair into rollers, as they lounged upon twin beds adorned with pink satin eiderdowns, was like a snapshot from a 1940s scrapbook. There were silk stockings hanging over a chair, cotton camisoles and pretty, belted dresses on hangers, dangling from a picture rail. There were felt berets on a wig stand, perfume bottles and a crystal bowl complete with a swansdown puff, which left a powdering of pink dust upon the surface of the dressing table. As I glimpsed the scene in a trance, the sound of a siren loudly wailing made me jump up to look round.
The strange images and sounds vanished in the blink of an eye. It was almost a relief to see Sophia’s room sharpen in focus again. The Chinese embroidery glimpsed through the looking glass on the opposite wall and the painting of birds and flowers trailing on sinuous branches across the room, had the effect of making me feel as if I was lying in a garden and, along with the muslin flapping in the breeze at the windows confirmed my existence in 1802. I couldn’t explain what I’d just seen, though I wondered if my fervent wishing to be in my own time had somehow projected me enough for just a few seconds to deposit me in my Grandmother’s time. I remembered my Great-Aunt Elizabeth referring to her sister Dorothy as Dolly, the name she always used with such affection. I couldn’t help wondering what they would have thought if they’d happened to see me. Would I have looked like a ghost to their eyes, or a shadow hovering above the bed? There were so many questions I had about this whole business of passing through time. Did time move forward? Or were we all just fixed in our own layer of overlapping moments, existing side by side, all in the same time. But the more I thought about it, the more confused I felt. All I knew was that when the light of the morning sun filtered over the shutters into my room, I had not returned to my own time and I couldn’t help feeling both trapped and disappointed.
At breakfast next morning, I decided to make a bid for freedom. I knew if I could get out to the gardens I might have a chance of seeing Jane and Cassy, but Mr Elliot had other ideas saying we had an engagement that couldn’t be missed. William Glanville, a distant cousin by marriage, had arrived in Bath on the previous afternoon and had invited us to visit.
‘You are to make yourself very amiable in the company of this gentleman, Sophia, for the sake of your sister,’ he said. ‘He is a widower who has made it known amongst the acquaintance of our circle that it is time he thought about marrying again. He is rich, the owner of several properties in the land. His largest estate is in the north, a gothic castle, that I am sure would satisfy all the romantic notions of any young woman.’
I breathed with relief. It was impossible not to think of poor Sophia being paraded before this Mr Glanville like a prize cow being led to the slaughter, but at least, it seemed she might be spared the ultimate sacrifice. That unenviable lot would be left to her sister Emma to fulfil.
I was surprised to find that Mr Glanville was not the grieving widower, but young and good looking, appearing to be both charming and very hospitable in an old-fashioned way. He was confident and dressed expensively in clothes that were cut to show off his tall, slim figure. I thought of all the men in my own time that I knew, and decided I was definitely a girl with a preference for nineteenth century manners.
‘My dearest cousins, I am so delighted to make your acquaintance once more. It has been too long, but I hope we will make up for lost time now we are together in Bath. Tell me, have you visited the theatre yet?’
Emma lost no opportunity in speaking up, blushing pink as she spoke. ‘No, Mr Elliot, we have not yet had that pleasure. Is there a play that you would recommend?’
‘Why, The Rivals – Sheridan’s masterfully funny play is a wonder not to be missed. I am certain it would be to your taste. I know young ladies like a romance, and those two heroines, Lydia and Julia will not disappoint. I shall arrange a box if you would like it.’
‘Oh, Papa, may we?’ Emma was smiling and happier than I’d ever seen her. Mr Elliot agreed to the idea, but Mr Glanville rapidly moved on to other subjects. He shared his love of poetry, not forgetting to ask our opinions on our own favourites, which had me almost scratching my head in remembrance of schooldays and appropriate poems. When he talked about his anticipation in dancing at the balls, I began to think that perhaps Emma could do a lot worse than marry this man who would at least be able to give her a comfortable life and who seemed to share an interest in like- minded passions.
When we found ourselves back at Sydney Place, Mrs Randall sought me out, saying that she was delighted by the visit, confiding that the summer before he’d married had been a time when Emma’s first hopes with that gentleman had been disappointed.
‘You were away at school, so I daresay you knew little or if you remember at all, but we expected a match for your sister then.’
‘No, I do not remember.’
‘It was the talk of Bath. Mr Glanville sought your sister out at all the dances during the first month of the season. Everyone admired Miss Elliot, she was in her bloom and as pretty as a picture. But when Miss Ancaster came along with her family estates and fortune, we knew that Emma’s hopes would be dashed.
Your sister’s dowry and lineage could not possibly compete, though I shall always say that on beauty alone Emma won the day. I do believe your sister suffered when he withdrew. Did she never write to you about her disappointment?’
‘Possibly she did, but I cannot recall the letter,’ I said truthfully. ‘So, Mr Glanville made his choice based on wealth and gain and not on the suitability of a partner by any other means.’
‘Only a foolish young man would have acted to the contrary,’ admitted Mrs Randall. ‘But, now his wife has been in her grave these last twelve months along with her poor dead babe, perhaps he is ready to start looking about for someone to take her place. This invitation is very encouraging, though, in any case, as a family connection I am sure he would have sought our acquaintance.’
‘I hope for Emma’s sake, everything will turn out as she hopes.’ I wanted to add that I would find it very difficult, if not impossible, starting all over again with someone who had not even wanted to marry me in the first place, preferring to choose someone who had more money, but tried to remember that my own thoughts were modern ones. Their way of going about courtship and marriage was accepted by everyone. I’d read Jane Austen’s novels over and over again to know that much. And I didn’t know quite what to think about the charming Mr Glanville any more.
When Mrs Randall left me, the impossibility of my escape from the nineteenth century began to hit me with a force like a blow to the head. I hadn’t really wanted to come back again, I’d wanted to sort things out with Josh, and now, I didn’t know if there was any chance of doing either.
The sound of a gong calling everyone to dinner broke my thoughts and as I passed the cheval glass in the corner of my chamber, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. There was something about the eyes I recognized, but the face that stared back was not mine even though it moved in just the same way. I stuck out my tongue, trying to catch out the vision in the glass. Why I was so astonished when my mirror image did the same, I don’t know. I remember thinking how much more of myself I seemed to be able to see in Sophia’s face, in her figure and in the way that she walked, and for a single moment, I could not remember anything about myself or the life I’d left behind.
The afternoon light was fading into early evening twilight and the glow of candlelight could be seen through windows across the meadows in the curve of the Paragon and beyond to all the terraces and crescents of Lansdown lit up like tiers in a vast amphitheatre.
The talk at dinner touched upon one subject only, that of Mr Glanville and of the honours Mr Elliot felt by being received so cordially.
‘Family connections remind one of our place in society and it will be to our great advantage to be seen in the company of our noble cousin. Blood and good breeding will always find one another. Emma, you behaved very prettily this afternoon. And, I am sure it did not escape the attention of our host that you are in very good looks.’
‘I flatter myself that I take after you, Father,’ Emma answered, with a smirk. ‘Indeed, I have often traced my features in your handsome portrait at the Hall, and I am blessed to have the luck to witness that face whenever I stand before the glass.’
‘And Sophia has equal good fortune to look like her dear mama,’ said Mrs Randall.
I chanced to look up from the plate of food that I wasn’t entirely certain about. Everything had arrived on the table at once. Arranged symmetrically on white gilded Wedgewood with a laurel motif, the mahogany table gleamed under candlelight, bearing plates of salmon with bulging, glassy eyes, jellied tongue glistening with gelatine, Florentine rabbits complete with heads and furry ears, oily mackerel in a sea-green sauce, a quivering white blancmange, and the only dish I was tempted by, a syllabub, like a dish of snow topped with crystallized flowers. I hesitantly tasted the cold mackerel that stared at me balefully from my plate. Was it my imagination or was the green gooseberry preserve that covered it doing more to disguise the fact that the fish had not seen the sea for quite some time?
Mr Elliot looked me up and down through his quizzing glass in such a way that I very quickly returned my gaze to my plate.
‘She does, indeed, and whilst she may never equal her sister in handsome looks, she has got over that most trying age and there is an improvement in her complexion, which was rather sallow. At least, Sophia has the advantage over her sister Marianne. The last time she came home from school, she had a nervous tick that rendered both eyes a most unattractive shade of puce. I do hope she will be improved in the summer.’
Whilst smarting on Sophia’s behalf it occurred to me that I didn’t really know about this other sister Marianne, youngest of the Elliot girls and fortunately for her far away at school.
Mrs Randall looked at me as she spoke up with a kindness that made me warm to her even more. I felt sorry for Sophia, but at least Mrs Randall seemed to have her best interests at heart.
‘The Elliot girls will be admired wherever they go, not only for their beauty which they all share, but for the qualities inherited from their parents whether they take the form of physical and intellectual attributes or whether they are hidden in other talents that make up a person’s character. Those qualities of sense and amiability in Mrs Elliot, that made her the dearest cousin and friend to me, are the treasures that lie within them all. I witness those traits every day and am constantly reminded of her quiet strength.’
I struggled to eat as much of the cold fish on my plate as I could. The second course arrived with plates of roast beef and duck, as well as apple pies and custards, but my appetite had gone.
Mr Elliot turned the conversation to Monday’s ball. ‘Mr Glanville will be in attendance and has made his request that we should be there to join his party.’
That wasn’t quite how I’d remembered it, but I felt sure that Mr Elliot would find some way of putting himself forward. The thought of the ball filled me with dread, and as Emma spoke excitedly about what she was to wear and which dances might be performed, all I could hope was that the tedium of an evening spent with the Elliots might be relieved with some conversation from Jane and her brother Charles.
 Further links: Chapters One,Two,Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen

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