Home > Austenland (Austenland #1)(10)

Austenland (Austenland #1)(10)
Shannon Hale

Miss Charming giggled. Aunt Saffronia smiled graciously as she took Jane’s arm, and the three walked into the drawing room. At their entrance, two gentlemen stood. Ah, the gentlemen.

They wore the high-collared vests, cravats, buttoned coats with long tails, and tight little breeches that had driven Jane’s imagination mad on many an uneventful Tuesday night. Her heart bumped around in her chest like a bee at a window, and everything seemed to move in closer, the world pressing against her, insisting that all was real and there for the touching. She was really here. Jane held her hands behind her back in case they trembled with eagerness.

“Jane, may I present Colonel Andrews, Sir Templeton’s cousin and the second son of the earl of Denton? He passed the partridge-shooting season with us and we have been fortunate enough to persuade him to stay on for the pheasant season. Colonel Andrews, my niece from America, Miss Jane Erstwhile.”

Colonel Andrews was fair-haired with a decent set of shoulders and a very ready smile. He could not seem more pleased to see her, bowing without removing his gaze from her face.

“What a pleasure, a very pleasant pleasure, indeed.” The way his tone slid over his words gave him a delightful, roguish appeal that made Jane want to kiss him on the spot. Or the lips, whichever was closer.

Hm, maybe she really could see this through.

“And this is his good friend Mr. Nobley,” Aunt Saffronia said, “who has agreed to honor us with his presence for some of the hunting season while his estate is under renovation.

Mr. Nobley was taller than Colonel Andrews, and his jaw was in no need of the long sideburns to give it definition. The line of his shoulders identified him as the most likely of the bunch to have been the shadowy lurker from the great hail. In the light, she found him handsome, in a brooding sort of way.

Of course, Jane thought, one man of each type for the buffet. Don’t mind if I do.

Mr. Nobley bowed stiffly, then walked away to look out the window.

“How do you do?” said Jane to his back.

Aunt Saffronia laughed. “Do not mind Mr. Nobley. He is annoyed to be trapped here with such minor country gentry, are you not, sir?”

Mr. Nobley looked back at Aunt Saffronia. “I do not know what you mean, madam.” His eyes flicked to Jane.

She found herself thinking, I wonder if he thinks I’m pretty? Then thought, don’t be silly, it’s all an act. Then thought, What fun!

“And you gentlemen already have made the acquaintance of Miss Charming.”

“Indeed,” said Colonel Andrews, bowing again.

“You boys know you can call me Lizzy.”

Jane glanced at Aunt Saffronia, wondering what would happen to this request. According to the Rules, it was completely im_proper for a man to call a woman by her first name unless they were engaged. Before Aunt Saffronia could speak or Mrs. Wattlesbrook magically appear with a disapproving look, Colonel Andrews came to the rescue.

“I would never dream of doing you such a dishonor, Miss Charming.” His voice drew out all the allure in her name, and he smiled with a sly, teasing expression.

Miss Charming giggled. “Tallyho.”

Oh no, thought Jane as she watched the exchange, panic tickling her heart. Oh no, oh no, they’ll assume I’m a Miss Charming. I don’t want to be a Miss Charming!

She tried to catch Mr. Nobley’s eye and somehow smile or wink or do anything to indicate that she would never say “tallyho.” He didn’t look away from the window, and after a few moments, Jane had cause to be relieved. In a burst of panic, she had actually been ready to wink at him. Yikes.

The dinner bell rang. Sir Templeton, who had been slouching in a chair, roused at the sound and offered his arm to Miss Charming. He patted her hand and grumbled in a too-loud voice, “Let us hope there are enough game birds tonight. My stomach is not up to much boiled mutton, what.”

Aunt Saffronia took Mr. Nobley’s arm, leaving Jane and the colonel at the tail end of the parade from drawing room to dining room. The precedence told Jane two things: Mr. Nobley must be very rich and well connected to outrank an earl’s second son, and she was the lowest-ranking woman. She supposed that was no surprise, considering she was not their “usual type of guest.”

They ate pigeon soup with lemons and asparagus, then heaped their own plates in self-service Regency style with fish and grouse, cooked celery and cucumbers. A cup of something like creamy applesauce served as dessert, and the wine was exchanged for Madeira. The food was pretty good, though a bit bland. When would Indian food arrive in England to spice things up? Jane thought she could go for a decent curry.

Aunt Saffronia kept the conversation flowing about the weather, the state of pheasants in the park this year, and the doings of mythic acquaintances in the city. Jane did not speak much during dinner, still oppressed with jet lag and curious to observe before opening her mouth and proving herself a fool. Mr. Nobley, too, barely spoke. Not that Miss Charming at his side didn’t do her best.

“What do you think of me dress, Mr. Nobley?”

“It is very nice.”

“Do you like the fish?”

“Yes, it is a good fish.”

“Do I have something in my eye?” This spoken while twisting toward him, her amazing bosom pressing against his shoulder.

No way Mrs. Wattlesbrook could find a corset to fit that, Jane thought.

“I . . . I am afraid I cannot see well in this low light,” Mr. Nobley said without really looking.

Miss Charming giggled. “You’re quite a bloke, Mr. Nobley. Rather!”

After dinner, the ladies retired to the drawing room while the men stayed in the dining room to pass around snuff and port, which activities the Rules forbade them from doing in front of women. Aunt Saffronia sat between one real and one electric kerosene lamp, embroidering and chattering about the gentlemen, while Miss Charming paced the drawing room floor.

“The colonel is all kindness, is he not, Miss Charming? He has such a sad reputation in the city I have heard, for carousing and card playing and the like, but I say, what else is a young, unattached man to do with the war over, thanks be, and he the younger son with no title to claim him? A small mercy his mother is not alive to see how he’s turned out, rest her. Now Mr. Nobley, of course, is most respectable, perhaps too respectable, what do you say, Jane? No tide, but an old, solid family name and wonderful lands. He will be a steadying influence on the colonel, a solid oar for a dinghy. He has such high connections and such a dignified bearing, though I tease him that he seems a bit stiff—”

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