Searching for Captain Wentworth
A Timeslip Novel inspired by Persuasion
Charles came to claim his dance. I needn’t have worried about not knowing what to do, though I began to think that hours spent watching Colin Firth dancing Mr Beveridge’s Maggot were not going to do me a lot of good. This dance was really energetic, more like the country dances I’d learned at school. Fortunately, only one couple started at a time, which gave me a chance to watch what they were doing. William Glanville and Emma led the dancing and as I tried to memorize the steps and figures, Charles demanded my attention.
‘Do you enjoy dancing, Miss Elliot? I must admit, it is my particular delight and the activity I miss most when I am away at sea. Indeed, whenever and wherever we disembark I will always head to the nearest assembly as soon as I can. No matter how tired after a voyage, a night of dancing always increases my spirits. My sister Jane always laughs at me about it, but to tell you the truth, she is just the same.’
‘I enjoy dancing very much,’ I replied truthfully, but had to suppress a smile when I thought how shocked he would be by the dark nightclubs I knew where not only the music was very loud, but where a partner might take you closely in his arms. Yet, somehow, looking at his expression, I had a feeling that if Charles Austen were suddenly catapulted into the twenty-first century, he would quickly get used to the idea. But thinking about my own time was no good, I had to prove myself in his, and I knew that I desperately didn’t want to let him or myself down.
All I could hope was that I wouldn’t disgrace him. I needn’t have worried; Charles took command. That air he had, a natural confidence in his own ability, coupled with charm that positively glowed from within, shone through even more so on the dance floor. All eyes watched us, which was unnerving, but once I felt confident about the steps and figures, I was able to really enjoy myself. Once or twice our eyes met. I had that feeling of indescribable excitement again. It felt fantastic and I hadn’t experienced that in such a long time, though I scolded myself for my ridiculous behaviour. What on earth was I doing? I was practically flirting with Jane Austen’s brother! But when Charles whispered that my dancing was wonderful, I felt I might burst with pride. I hadn’t thought it would be so energetic or exhausting and I was glad when it was the turn of the other couples to lead the way so I could get my breath back.
It was on one of these occasions that I spotted Jane on the other side of the room. She really had a talent for dancing. Nimble on her feet and so graceful, she skipped and smiled wreathing her way down the set. But, as I watched her laughing, her eyes bright sparkling, all of a sudden her expression changed and her body language conveyed more than any words could say. She froze and her darting eyes clouded in recognition at the tall, fair-haired man standing next in line to dance with her. He was clearly making her nervous. I couldn’t see him well enough to make out individual features, but I could see he was very good-looking. I saw Jane studying the floor intently before she looked up to flick her head the other way, thus avoiding his lingering glances. There was a moment of hesitation; a clear delay, and a faltering behind the beat of the music for just a split second before she allowed him to take her hand and when she did, that was when I saw the sparks fly. They held each other’s gaze, Jane’s head tilting at an angle displaying her long white neck. It was as if they were joined by an invisible cord and for a long time they did not take their eyes from one another. Not a word passed between them, but every glance spoke volumes. In the next second, I saw her raise her chin defiantly and as she gaily danced along the line as if nothing had happened, I noticed neither one of them looked back or sought the other out again. You would have thought they were strangers, yet I knew I was not mistaken. If they were not lovers now, I was sure there had once been a very strong attraction. Though neither had spoken to the other, I had no doubt they knew each other intimately.
My attention elsewhere, I nearly missed my step. Thankfully, Charles saved the day, grasping my hand and sending a frisson of pleasure coursing through me. By the end of the dance, my cheeks flamed, my breath taking a few moments to steady. Charles, of course, looked very cool. His slightly heightened colour made him look more handsome than ever and, unlike me, he seemed to be no more out of breath than when we started.
After the dance finished, I sensed neither of us wanted to part straight away.
‘Thank you, Miss Elliot,’ he said at last, touching my arm briefly, but enough to send a little shock of desire running through my veins, ‘it is rare to find a partner who dances with such grace and ease.’
I was so pleased. ‘The delight was all mine, Lieutenant Austen.’
‘I hope you will not think me presumptuous to ask for another.’
‘I would love to dance with you again,’ I said, even knowing that although I’d got away with it this time, I might not do so a second time. It was a risk worth taking, and however much I told myself I should not dance with him again, I knew there was nothing I’d rather do.
The musicians were tuning up again. Lieutenant Austen bowed and I curtsied as prettily as I could. He was about to take my hand again when we were rudely interrupted.
‘Miss Elliot, what a delight it has been dancing with your sister. And now I hope you will enjoy our promised dance to which I have so looked forward.’
Mr Glanville took my hand. It was done so swiftly that I couldn’t protest. Charles’s expression altered, he no longer smiled, and after a curt acknowledgement he immediately walked away. I could only trust that he would come to my rescue later on, but all hope vanished when he didn’t turn to look in my direction or reassure me in any way. As I walked to the floor with Mr Glanville I saw Emma glaring angrily, her lips pressed together in an anxious attempt not to reveal her true feelings. I silently mouthed an apology, but she didn’t want to see that I wished to be anywhere else but dancing with him or holding his hand that gripped mine far too tightly. Doing all I could to put him off, I avoided his eyes and his questions, but he seemed as keen as ever.
‘You have been hiding yourself, Miss Sophia,’ he said, ‘and it is a great pity for it is rare to find such a dancer to complement one’s own abilities. I should never boast of my own talent for dancing, of course, but my friends tell me of their envy. Sir Archibald Anson, a very dear acquaintance, declared he should never wish to be caught in a quadrille alongside me for fear of being put at a disadvantage. And he, my dear, has had lessons from the great Mr Wilson himself!’
‘I have little experience in dancing, Mr Glanville, and am as likely to tread on your toes as the next young lady,’ I answered, determined at once to show how very bad I could be. I hesitated on the next call, managing simultaneously to jump onto his gleaming slipper and smile as if I was totally unaware that I’d committed such a dreadful crime. Watching him wince had me biting my lip, and at least Emma looked placated for a second or two. But neither ignoring him nor abusing him seemed to stop him being as attentive as ever. As the last note struck I ran away, conscious that he was about to repeat his request to dance again. I thought he might follow me, but fortunately, Emma was waiting. She looked furious and wishing to steer clear of her, I dashed away losing myself in the throng.
The ballroom was very crowded and it took some time to squeeze past the multitude of people who stood at the sides observing the dancers. I didn’t quite know where I was going; the card room was full of people and I just wanted to be on my own. I was making my way along the corridor in the crush of people when I caught sight of Jane. Trying to reach her I was swept along, my feet hardly touching the ground as the crowds surged in two directions. Spotting a gap, I slipped and dodged my way through until I almost caught up and was about to call her name when I noticed she was with the same man she’d been dancing with earlier.
He was urgently whispering something in her ear though she didn’t look at him or communicate in any way. I couldn’t see their expressions, only the backs of their heads. There was a flash of movement, their fingers brushed with lightning speed, and I glimpsed a piece of paper pass between them before they abruptly separated, she to the ballroom, and he to the card-room.
I didn’t know what to think. I couldn’t help feeling curious about the reasons why they couldn’t talk to one another openly, but it was none of my business, and I decided I must put any speculation out of my head. There could be all sorts of reasons why Jane and a handsome young man were corresponding in such a clandestine way, and then told myself off for imagining that a love affair must be the reason.
Opening up the pair of double doors to my right I decided to take a chance and found myself in the tearoom, which was empty. Preparations had been made for the influx of thirsty dancers who would be arriving within half an hour to take tea. I sat down amongst the tables scattered with teacups and closed my eyes savouring the peace and quiet. The sense of relief at having escaped was sublime until I heard the door scrape open.
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