Searching for Captain Wentworth
When aspiring writer Sophie Elliot receives the keys to the family townhouse in Bath, it's an invitation she can't turn down, especially when she learns that she will be living next door to the house Jane Austen lived in. On discovering that an ancient glove belonging to her mysterious neighbour, Josh Strafford, will transport her back in time to Regency Bath, she questions her sanity, but Sophie is soon caught up in two dimensions, each reality as certain as the other. Torn between her life in the modern world, and that of her ancestor who befriends Jane Austen and her fascinating brother Charles, Sophie's story travels two hundred years across time, and back again, to unite this modern heroine with her own Captain Wentworth. Blending fact and fiction together, the tale of Jane Austen's own quest for happiness weaves alongside, creating a believable world of new possibilities for the inspiration behind the beloved novel, Persuasion.
I half wondered if I’d stumbled across the filming of a Regency drama, but there were no cameras or anything else to suggest a film shoot and, what was stranger still was the fact that the day was bright and sunny. As real as any moving image on a cinema screen men, women and children paraded, along gravel paths I no longer recognized, parasols and walking sticks in hand. Vibrant cloaks and pelisses gave a glimpse of the white muslin dresses fluttering back in the breeze beneath them and a hundred straw bonnets, feathered and flowered, were tied under the pretty chins of flirting girls in a myriad of silken, ribbon hues. The objects of their smiles looked equally wonderful, bowing before them, in breeches, frock coats and boots. I was rooted to the spot, my heart hammering in my chest, and a thousand questions running through my mind. As the image became sharper, so I became more aware of myself. I still held the glove, though the hand that held it wore a glove of its own. It wasn’t my hand, yet it moved with me and was fixed to the pale arm, which disappeared into a long sleeve, pointed at the wrist. I touched my cheek, and brushed the brim of a straw bonnet where a silk ribbon was tied in a bow under my chin. As my senses kicked in the rigidity of bone-stiffened silk, tightly laced about my body, made it difficult to breathe properly. A crisp, cotton petticoat was layered next to my skin and over that, I discovered an outer gown of fine, diaphanous muslin. A square shawl with a floral border, draped over my shoulders, complemented my beautifully tailored coat of soft, apricot wool. To complete my outfit, a reticule of silk satin, embroidered with a basket of roses, was suspended from my wrist on knotted strings. Looking down at my feet, I was glad that at least they were comfy in leather half-boots, even if every other part of me felt squashed and pummelled into shape.
There seemed no explanation except the one that immediately popped into my head. I must have gone back in time, I said to myself, but just having that idea was so ridiculous I dismissed it at first. Slipping the glove into the reticule, I took a step on shaking legs. The trees around me were moving. My feet were taking steps, one in front of the other, but I had no sensation of movement in my legs. I seemed to pass over the grass, over gravel pathways, hovering six inches above the ground without feeling the surface below my feet. The sun felt warm, everything appeared so intensely brilliant that bright tears smarted in my eyes because the light was so fierce. When at last my feet touched the ground my hesitant first steps soon quickened into quite a pace, which felt no more peculiar than wandering around Sydney Gardens dressed in nineteenth century costume would be at any other time. Feeling really uncomfortable and totally self-conscious, as the bonnet on my head wobbled about unnervingly, I wondered how on earth anyone would ever get used to this feeling of being trussed up like a Christmas turkey. I hadn’t a clue which direction to take; the gardens looked so unfamiliar until I came out from one of the narrower walks onto a wider path. I recognized the museum at the end, but even this looked different with its rotunda style front for a bandstand and wings of boxes on either side, hardly recognizable to the building I’d seen with its modern additions of glass and ceramic. The exit lay ahead and I was just wondering what might happen if I made it back to my aunt’s house in Sydney Place, when two young women came rushing through the gate talking nineteen to the dozen. One of them waved energetically before running towards me, holding onto her hat with one hand as she hitched up her long skirts with the other.
‘Miss Elliot! How pleased I am to see you,’ she cried, taking both of my hands in hers. ‘You are well, I hope, though I must add, you are looking a trifle pale.’ She hesitated and I felt her clear hazel eyes, almost amber in their luminosity, sweep over every inch of my face. ‘Miss Elliot, I must admit you do not look quite yourself.’
No, that was for sure, I thought, being completely uncertain how I looked. It was very confusing. I felt like me but I really couldn’t be completely me, I decided, because here was a stranger who knew me.
The girl whose broad smile reached her twinkling eyes had round rosy cheeks like a painted doll and unruly chestnut curls dancing under the brim of her bonnet in the breeze. Dressed in a plum, velvet pelisse which looked rather worn in places, but suited her dark colouring so well, it was cheered up by a smart, cream, Kashmir shawl with details in crimson and cobalt. Like that of her companion who caught us up, her clothes were neat but clearly not as new as mine. Just as I was struggling to find the words to speak, her expression swiftly altered, the fine arched brows above her lively eyes knitting anxiously together, as her face loomed in and out of focus.
‘Cassy,’ she called to her companion, ‘Miss Elliot is unwell. Help me!’
At that precise moment, I felt the world sway. A wave of nausea rippled through me as the ground seemed to be trying its hardest to meet the sky.
‘Quickly, Jane! Let us support her between us.’ Cassy acted swiftly, taking an arm and bearing the weight, as my legs buckled. Jane took the other side and the girls managed to lead me to the nearest bench.
As if time was moving, one moment I could see the gardens I’d left behind, and the next all was changed. Shifting in layers, the past and the present overlapped for a moment and I was left, feeling queasy, unable to focus on anything. Gulping back deep breaths of air, the feeling that I might be slipping back to my own time gradually disappeared. Jane and Cassy were talking to me, but their muffled voices were sounding far off like echoes coming from a long tunnel.
‘Oh, Miss Elliot, you’ve come back to us.’ Cassy said, as she waved smelling salts under my nose. ‘You’ve quite given the Miss Austens the fright of their lives.’
‘We thought we’d lost you,’ Jane added, ‘I’m so glad you’re still here.’
I was feeling so wretched that at first, the enormity of what I was experiencing didn’t sink in. An incredulous idea about the identity of the girl formed in my mind, as I recognized that she was one of the world’s greatest writers, a novelist of such genius that her books are still being read and loved two hundred years after her death. Even then, when the thought slowly surfaced and registered that Miss Jane Austen herself was talking to me, I couldn’t really equate that iconic figure with the slim, finely featured girl that took my hand between both of her own. I’d only ever seen one small portrait of Jane, which showed her as unsmiling, a rather stern looking spinster in a mobcap. Yet, the girl at my side seemed just like me. I saw a young woman whose love of life sparkled in her eyes and danced at the corners of her mouth.