Jane Austen Lives Again
When Jane Austen’s doctor discovers the secret to immortal life in 1817, she thinks her wishes have come true. But when she wakes up from the dead, a penniless Miss Austen finds herself in 1925, having to become a governess to five girls of an eccentric and bohemian family at the crumbling Manberley Castle by the sea. Jane soon finds she’s caught up in the dramas of every family member, but she loves nothing more than a challenge, and resolves on putting them in order. If only she can stop herself from falling in love, she can change the lives of them all! Inspired by Jane Austen’s wonderful novels and written in the tradition of classic books like Cold Comfort Farm, I Capture the Castle, and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Jane Austen Lives Again is an amusing fairy story for grown-ups.
On the far side there was a glimpse of another room through open folding doors, where an overspill of people were chattering and laughing. When she was sure no one was watching, she moved through the crushing crowds into what seemed to be another sitting room with book-lined shelves. Beyond were French doors leading out onto a terrace, with wonderful views over the valley and steps leading down to a sunken garden. Roses bloomed over an arbour fixed at points along the terrace, and the scent on the evening air made Jane feel she’d been transported to some foreign clime she’d once read about. There was no one else in sight and leaning on the balustrade she watched the sun lowering in the sky sending blue shadows over the black and white tiles, setting the pots of white lilies aflame. A few Chinese lanterns bobbed in the warm breeze above her head, blushing pink as if lit by glow-worms. It was incredible to think she’d found such a peaceful haven, and though she knew she couldn’t stay there all night, at least it gave her a little respite from all the frenzied activity inside. The music floated out on the scented air, and she could imagine them all kicking up their heels, until there was a pause and tumultuous applause broke out, and a loud voice announced a foxtrot to slow down the pace so they could get their breath back. Jane couldn’t imagine what that dance could be, and couldn’t help picture a sly fox with a waving bushy tail trotting his way down a henhouse full of plump birds. She laughed out loud for it really was a ridiculous picture.
‘Is it a good joke?’ said a voice behind her.
Spinning round she came face to face with Will, the last person she expected to see.
‘I’ve never heard of a foxtrot and I’ve got a wild imagination.’
As soon as the words were out she thought how gauche she must sound.
‘Goodness, you’ve led a more sheltered existence than I thought,’ Will exclaimed. ‘I was just coming to ask you to dance.’
‘I’m not sure that would be possible or appropriate, Mr Milton,’ Jane answered, searching for the right words. ‘I cannot dance, nor do I have any wish to make an exhibition of myself.’
It was an attempt to put him off, and even though she knew the reverse was true, that she loved nothing better than to dance, she’d already decided that to start again by having to learn modern dances to the music that was starting to jangle noisily and persistently in her head, would be impossible. She liked to be the best at everything, to excel at all she endeavoured to try. Failure was not a word she liked or allowed in her vocabulary, and besides all that, the memories of the past were crowding in on her.
She saw a line of eager young bucks, all waiting to take her hand in the dance. As if seeing from a distance, a familiar room glowed with candlelight and exquisite chandeliers, as Tom Lefroy took her arm, squeezed her hand, and led her through the intricate patterns, whirling her round in a country dance. The room throbbed with passions unspoken, of bodies meeting, fingers touching, hearts and minds open to tacit thoughts and caresses. And later, stolen kisses and a sweet promise beyond the confines of the house, now blazed across her memory and the gulf of time, as swift and searing as if it had happened yesterday.
‘I don’t believe you,’ Will was saying as Jane jerked back to reality when she heard his insistent voice. ‘You have the definite look of a dancer to me. Come on, let me teach you.’
He came to stand next to her leaning his weight with crossed arms on the balustrade as she did, and Jane hoped he wouldn’t see the tears that sprang to her eyes blurring her vision and thoughts. It was silly to be so stirred up and emotional at thoughts of the past, but she was overwhelmed by a sudden desire for all that she had ever known, and for all those she had loved. She longed to share a conversation with someone who spoke the same language in the cadences and timbre of her youth, and to feel a kinship and connection with every living creature in her own time, sharing an appreciation of what was expected, whilst operating within a familiar system. And although she’d often railed against such conventions, she almost craved such customary restrictions now. Knowing she couldn’t go back made her feel worse, and she had to focus her mind to bring herself back from sudden despair. Blinking back the tears she turned to see Will looking into the distance, and for the first time she thought she saw a look of vulnerability. There was an expression of sadness in his eyes as if he might be far away in his thoughts too.
‘I’ll be a poor pupil, I’m certain,’ she said, finally giving in to his pleading expression. ‘And I’m supposed to be chaperoning your sisters, not trotting about.’
She nearly added, ‘like a fox’, but the uncharitable thought crossed her mind that if anyone were like a fox it was Will with his chestnut brown hair, and she cast herself as a plump hen with ruffled feathers waiting to be snaffled up after one easy pounce.
‘Are you changing your mind?’ he said, turning to face
her with a smile that spread to his velvet eyes, sloe black and glittering in the dying light. ‘Have I convinced you to dance with me?’
‘I hardly know,’ she muttered before he caught hold of her, pulling her arm gently towards him until she released her tight grip on the stone rail, and took her hands in his own.
‘Let me help,’ he said, easing his right arm round her waist and coming to stand so closely before her that she felt the blush spread like madder rose paint on a sheet of moist watercolour paper. Jane felt his fingers pressing into the small of her back, and he held her other hand aloft. Part of the trouble was that the music kept stopping, and being so close in the twilight calm felt so intimate. She was sure any onlooker would think she was allowing herself to be insulted at his will, and then laughed inside at the idea of being “willed by Will” to such bad behaviour.