A LOVE STORY LOST IN PRIDE & PREJUDICE... It is high summer when Ellie Bentley joins an archaeological dig at Jane Austen's childhood home. She's always had a talent for 'seeing' into the past and isn't disturbed in the least by her encounters with Mr Darcy's ghost at the house where she's staying. When Ellie travels into the past she discovers exactly what happened whilst Jane danced her way through the snowy winter of 1796. As Steventon Rectory and all its characters come to life, Ellie discovers the true love story lost in Pride and Prejudice - a tale which has its own consequences for her future destiny, changing her life beyond imagination.
As soon as supper was over, the girls disappeared off to their various rooms agreeing to meet downstairs in the drawing room before they went out to meet Charlie and the others. Ellie got changed in about five minutes and with plenty of time before they were due to go out she fetched her sketchbook from her bedroom and ran downstairs. She had an idea to try a drawing of the front elevation of Steventon Rectory based on what she’d learned that day, and was really looking forward to talking to the other girls about all the ideas she had. The door to the drawing room was closed, but as soon as Ellie touched the handle, she could sense that the very air was different. Sounds, smells and furniture were all changing before her eyes beyond anything she recognised. Gone was the circular table in the hall, and instead a pier table and ornate looking glass graced one side of the corridor. There was an umbrella stand and a bookcase full of heavy tomes, two mahogany chairs either side of the doorway, and a familiar object in the recess where it had probably stood for over two hundred years telling of the moments, seconds, minutes and hours that passed. She heard the Grandfather clock in the hall whirr into action and chime again and again, with each sonorous strike of the bell seeming to take her further and further back in time.
I brushed my hands over the blue and white checked poplin of my morning gown, and despaired. The hem was spattered with mud from the walk but more than that I knew my faded dress had seen better days, and would have been improved for having another three inches added to its length. My hair, always unruly and curly to the point of being wild, was threatening to fall entirely down my back from the knot on top of my head, and tucking stray strands behind my ears was not doing a very sufficient tidy-up. Though why I was so keen to impress the stranger come to Ashe, I could not think. I’d lived in the world for twenty years and had not yet worried about my appearance when meeting any single young man. But, I’d heard enough from my dear friend, Madame Lefroy, to be exceedingly curious about her nephew Tom – his coming to visit his aunt and uncle had often been talked about, but never accomplished. When at last he’d been expected, every morning visit in Steventon had included a mention of the well- composed letter his aunt had received. Every lady in the village had been full of the news.
‘I suppose you have heard of the handsome letter Mr Tom Lefroy has written to Madame?’ said Mrs Bramston. ‘I understand it was a very handsome letter, indeed. Mrs Harwood told me of it. Mrs Harwood saw the letter, and she says she never saw such a splendid letter in her life.’
We knew that he hailed from Ireland, which lent him an air of romanticism. I loved some of the country airs and songs that were composed by his countrymen, and I suppose I had imagined him to be something of a romantic figure. We were told he was clever, and I remembered someone saying that overwork was the reason for his visit. After a suitable rest, he was going to study law in London and until then he was to spend Christmas with his relations. When the invitation came, I couldn’t believe I was to meet him. He’d achieved almost mythical status, and he surely couldn’t live up to the nonpareil of my imagination.
‘Jane, your hair!’ my mother exclaimed. ‘Why did you not let Rebecca see to it this morning?’
‘I do not like to be always asking her to be looking after me with tasks I can do for myself. She has quite enough to do with running errands for Nanny Littleworth and Nanny Hilliard.’
‘You will have to do, I suppose. Just remember not to talk too much and run on like you do at home.’
We entered by the parlour door, and saw a young gentleman sitting with Madame. The Tom Lefroy so long talked of, so high in interest, was actually before me. He was introduced, and at first, I did not think too much
had been said in his praise. He was very tall and fair, his hair the colour of buttercups in sunshine. But, it wasn’t his shock of yellow hair that drew my attention. It was his eyes I noticed straight away. They were the colour of the sea on a winter’s day and as restless as the waves crashing to the shore. The grey coat he wore intensified the shade – one minute they were as lavender as sea thrift, the next as pale as pebbles in sand. He was a very good-looking young man; and his countenance had a great deal of spirit and liveliness. I felt immediately that I would like him; but as the afternoon wore on I found I was completely deceived in my first impressions. There was no well-bred ease of manner, or a readiness to talk, which convinced me that he had no intention to be really acquainted with me. Taciturn and proud were the words that sprang to mind. He looked as if he were there on sufferance, that the invitation from his aunt was most unwelcome.
My mother and Madame did most of the talking, but on feeling that perhaps we were a little overwhelming for someone who was not entirely well, I moved from my chair on the opposite side of the room to sit next to him.
‘You have come from Ireland, I understand, Mr Lefroy.’
‘Yes, from Dublin, Miss Austen.’
‘Ah, and is Dublin the town where you were born?’
‘No, that is Limerick.’
‘Thomas has been studying at Trinity College,’ Madame offered, as she caught our rather one-sided conversation.
Thomas nodded in assent, got up and walked over to the window where he stood looking out. It was then that I gave up trying to engage him further. Every now and then, I felt his eyes on me, and when once I dared to look back at him, he stared at me in such a way as to make me feel decidedly uncomfortable. I did not know what to make of him.
‘Well,’ said my mother on the walk home, ‘what a very proud and conceited young man. And never to open his mouth the whole time ... Irish airs are all very well, but he’ll not make many friends if he looks down his nose at his aunt’s Hampshire neighbours. I suppose his father is a Colonel and fancies himself very high and mighty, and there I was thinking that I’d
heard his mother was a very sensible woman.’
‘I understood from Madame that Thomas has been ill, that he is suffering the effects of too much work and that his eyesight has been affected.’
‘A poor excuse to behave badly, in my opinion,’ answered my mother. ‘He is most disagreeable, and rude. Why, I should have given him a dressing down if I were his aunt. To stand up and walk away when you were trying your very best to converse with him, I never heard of such a thing!’
He was dressed in a dark coat and satin breeches for the Basingstoke Assembly just a day later, a distinguished figure who seemed to have no wish to join in either the conversation or the dancing, merely standing at the edge of the dance floor with the Lefroy party almost as if he looked down on anyone who chose to take part. He walked here and there, occasionally whispering something in his cousin Lucy’s ear, which despite his serious expression seemed to make her laugh heartily. Nevertheless, there was something about him I could not dismiss, and I was intrigued by his haughty manner. It seemed improbable that he’d look my way, and yet I wished he would. I wanted him to notice me. He intrigued me in a way no other person ever had, and yet, he made me cross. I was angry with him for being so superior in his manners, but I loved a puzzle, and there was no doubt, Tom Lefroy was an enigma. I could not help staring at him, enjoying the way his yellow hair curled into the collar of the coat that closely fitted broad shoulders and skimmed over neat hips. He didn’t smile; he only observed the other dancers. I wondered if he knew that I watched him, but all I could see was his static expression, and an eyebrow twitching in response to his observations.