Skip to main content

Searching for Captain Wentworth - Chapter Five

 Searching for Captain Wentworth 
A Timeslip Novel inspired by Persuasion

Chapter Five

I panicked. I didn’t feel ready; I wasn’t at all certain what to do or how to react. I willed myself to turn and dashing back over the road, I decided that if I could get back to the gate where it had all started that would be my best escape. People walking past me through the shaded, dappled paths started to fade, as the present and past appeared to fuse for a moment, dream-like in translucent transparency. I could see the gate ahead, one moment in sharp focus, every detail magnified. But, in the next second it disappeared, just as quickly, evaporating like wisps of smoke, elusive and ethereal. As I reached out for it in desperation, grasping at nothing I could physically hold onto, it appeared in sharp focus once more. I held on tight, willing myself to feel the cold touch of iron, pulling with all my strength and at last I felt it open.
I found myself standing in the pouring rain at the bottom of the steps by the canal side, just as I had been moments before I’d passed through the gate. I must have dropped the glove at some point and couldn’t find it at first, until I realized I was actually standing on it. I couldn’t begin to think about my strange experience with anything approaching common sense, but I knew I didn’t want to go back through the gate. Deciding that my best course would be to follow the canal path, it didn’t take long before I reached a set of steps that led up to the main road with its hum of traffic and the sight of people going about their business looking reassuringly normal.
I let myself into the house. My first thought was that I must be brave and return the glove to its owner. It would be rude if I didn’t introduce myself, so I knocked, but there were no sounds from behind the immaculate, grey painted door. I’d just have to try again later.
Sitting by the fire to dry out, I kicked off my shoes and watched my damp socks steam on a footstool before the flames as I tried to understand what had just happened. The time by the clock on the mantelpiece said half past five, which surely couldn’t be right. I’d been away for at least a couple of hours. But when I thought about any time travel books I’d read, time didn’t ever behave, as it should. Had I really visited the past and met Jane Austen and her sister? Somehow, voicing those words in my head made it seem so unreal. I couldn’t explain anything. It was very unsettling and I wasn’t sure how much I did want to think about it.
That sense of unease, and the feeling that somehow I was not alone made me long for some other company. There were noises in the silent flat, which I know sounds like a contradiction. The creak of floorboards and scratching in the wainscot I put down to the possibility of nesting mice but, the tread of footsteps on the stairs, the rustling of silk swishing along the floor and the click of a door shutting softly, were all sounds that I could not easily explain. I closed the shutters as dusk fell and lit the candles in the sconces on either side of the huge looking glass before settling back into the winged chair. I felt my eyes grow heavy and sleep steal over me as I gave in to the comforting sounds of the fire crackling and the ticking of the clock. But not for long: other noises soon had my eyes open and staring into the darkened room. The sound of footsteps stealing up behind my chair froze my limbs to rigidity and pinned me to the seat. Wide-awake with a thumping heart I listened intently, trying unsuccessfully to convince myself that all I’d heard was a noise from the flat below or from next door. To my absolute horror, when I finally plucked up the courage to look behind the wing of my chair, I saw the door move as if someone had just pushed it open and heard the kind of ghastly creaking you might only hear in the scariest films at the cinema. Acting on impulse, I grabbed a heavy, gilt candlestick from the mantelpiece and crossed the room at speed to peer into the corridor beyond.
‘Is anybody there?’ I called weakly. Eerily silent, all seemed quiet in the dark hallway. The resounding, pounding beat of my heart made me jumpy and I couldn’t get past the feeling that somehow I was not alone. Scolding myself for getting carried away, I put my sensible head on and considered the fact that in an old house like this there were bound to be all sorts of noises caused by old timber shrinking and expanding, and gales howling through the gaps in the antique joinery. Returning to my chair, I gave myself a stern talking to before I sat down and switched on the lamp.
Candlelight was a little too atmospheric, I decided, and the light that pooled across the tabletop and over Great Aunt Elizabeth’s rosewood box was comforting. But the reassurance lasted no longer than the time it took my eyes to alight on a small, leather-bound volume, lying next to the rosewood box as if it had always been there. I was sure I’d never before set my eyes on this small pocketbook that proved on opening to be an ancient journal, but to consider what that meant was an idea I didn’t want to contemplate. It surely was the case that I’d merely overlooked it.
Opening the diary with trembling fingers, I saw three names inscribed in three very different hands on the inside cover and then I didn’t feel quite so frightened any more.
Firstly, in a flowing style in brown ink, neat and perfectly formed, were the words: This book belongs to Sophia Elliot of Monkford Hall, Somerset, January 1st 1802. She was the namesake my Great Aunt had mentioned, and I felt for sure it had been her body I’d inhabited earlier though just thinking about it had me doubting that my strange experience had really happened. I remembered my mother talking about this ancestor, telling me that I’d been named for her. I’d often wondered what she was like, but I knew nothing more. Mum always said there had been portraits of Sophia in the family, but sadly they’d all been lost or sold many years ago before she was of an age to save them.
Secondly, in pencil, with many flourishes on the capital letters, my grandmother had written: This book belongs to Dorothy Elliot, Mandeville House, Stoke Road, Crewkerne, April 7th, 1950. Keeping the name of Elliot in the female line, my grandmother had declared, was a family tradition that had been in place for hundreds of years passing from daughter to daughter. Thankfully, each generation had married happily to understanding men who never baulked once when their own names were rejected in favour of their own. Elliot women could trace their ancestry back to Tudor times according to Dorothy Elliot, but whether those first ladies had felt as passionately about their heritage, we would never know. 
Thirdly, written by my mother in an expressive, artistic style in blue fountain pen ink: This book belongs to Caroline Elliot, Flat 3, 36, Lennox Place, London, December 11th, 1976, but was clearly written when she was young, the letters larger and expressed with a creative flourish. Perhaps written when she was at art school, I wondered. Seeing mum’s handwriting brought back memories of her shopping lists, the recipes she’d copied out on scraps of paper that still fall out of cookery books to this day and, of course, all those precious birthday cards I’d collected. I stroked the ink, held the page to my face, knowing that her hand had been there and had touched the page. I wanted to add my own name, to feel a kind of kinship with the known and unknown Elliot women who had cherished this diary before me. I dug out my pen from the large bag at my feet and wrote my name with pride.
I skimmed through the entries, turning the pages and admiring Sophia’s perfectly formed handwriting. January and February seemed to have been fairly dull months for her, I noted. The weather that year had been cold and it had not been possible to go out very much in the Somerset countryside. The family coach had once become stuck in the snow after a ball which meant they had all walked home in their evening clothes, resulting in Sophia being put to bed for a week with a head cold. There were a couple of entries about her father and sister Emma leaving for London with a Mrs Randall, and one at the end of February that intrigued me.
February 22nd: My sister has a new beau; we are told, in a letter received this morning. Mrs Randall thinks it will be a good match and predicts a wedding by Easter. I am so pleased that I managed to persuade my father that I could be left behind. The thought of being paraded about at all the drawing rooms of London like a prize cow fills me with horror. I hope for Emma’s sake it is a love match, but I fear in such a short courtship, this cannot be the case.
So, Emma Elliot had been taken to London to find a husband. I could quite understand Sophia’s horror at the thought. To be introduced to a stranger and married in a month or two before you knew anything about your partner seemed a barbaric practice. But their whole way of life was something I couldn’t relate to and it was hard to imagine the lives of my ancestors. My family had enjoyed a life of leisure, privilege and wealth, but in my Great-Grandmother’s time the First World War changed everything. The family fortunes dwindled along with the estates, which had had to be sold. Now, all that remained was a black and white print of
Monkford Hall, the manor house that the first Elizabethan queen had given in recognition of services to the crown, which my mother had framed and put in pride of place above what she had jokingly called her other “seat”, in the loo. I’d always wondered about the house. My mother said she’d visited it once as a girl, a very long time ago, but there was no one living there now that we knew.
I turned the page and started to read the next entry, completely absorbed in this fascinating little book. To think that Sophia had written the diary was incredible and the fact that she shared my name made me feel an instant connection.
‘Sophie,’ whispered a voice with warm breath in my ear.
I literally jumped out of my chair. Spinning round I could see no one. I knew there could be no physical being attached to the soft, female voice I’d heard coming from the alcove where the corner cupboard, with its shell-shaped recess, stood. Was it my imagination or was the display of teabowls and silver teapots gleaming with a ghostly glimmer? 
‘There is no one here,’ I said out loud to myself. ‘I’m just not used to being alone in a big, old … quite scary place, now it’s dark.’
I plumped up the cushion on my chair, thought about sitting down again, but instead picked up my bag.
‘I think I’ll just pop out for a walk,’ I announced to the room as calmly as I could, not wanting to admit to myself that I just couldn’t stay there a moment longer.

Jane Odiwe 

Further links: Chapters One,Two,Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve

Amazon UK Amazon US