Home > Austenland (Austenland #1)(11)

Austenland (Austenland #1)(11)
Shannon Hale

“Do they really have to drink port alone?” Miss Charming asked, pacing at double speed. “Can’t they come any faster?”

“Ah, here they are,” Aunt Saffronia said.

Jane smelled a mild waft of alcohol and tobacco sweep before them, and the gentlemen emerged triumphant—shiny colonel, glowering gentleman, soggy husband. Aunt Saffronia proposed a rousing game of whist to pass the evening. Miss Charming, seemingly bored of trying to seduce the Darcy out of Mr. Nobley, secured Colonel Andrews as a partner. Jane played opposite Aunt Saffronia. As for the rest of the party, Sir Templeton drank from a crystal decanter (probably full of cherry KoolAid, Jane guessed), while Mr. Nobley read a book and generally ignored everybody.

Jane focused on the rules of whist, losing horribly. She felt like hand-washed laundry, rubbed and heavy and ready to be laid out to dry. Her routine-addicted brain never handled time changes well, and the cards and conversation and exhaustion melted together, making her dizzy. She looked up to ground herself in her surroundings.

Mr. Nobley was absorbed in his book. She looked left. Colonel Andrews was grinning at her, his smile conscious of just how smoking hot he really was. All around her were yellow walls, gaudy Georgian finery, the deliciously historic smell of furniture wax and kerosene. She looked down at herself, dressed in foreign fabric, cle**age encased in rust-colored satin, slippered feet resting on an Oriental rug. She was completely ridiculous. At the same time, she wanted to stomp the ground and squeal like a teenager just asked to prom. She was here!

And if this were an Austen novel, the characters would be up for a little banter about now. Jane cleared her throat.

“Mr. Nobley, Lady Templeton says Pembrook Park will host a ball in just over a fortnight. Do you enjoy a good dance?”

“Dancing I tolerate,” he answered in a dry tone. “1 might say I enjoy a good dance, though 1 have never had one.”

“Scandalous!” Aunt Saffronia said. “You have danced in this drawing room several times, and I have seen you escort many a fine young lady onto a ballroom floor. Are you saying that none of those qualified as a good dance?”

“Madam, you may choose to understand my comments any way you like.”

Jane glared. He was, in his subtle manner, insulting dear Aunt Saffronia! Wait, no he wasn’t, they were both actors playing parts. Being inside this story felt a tad more surreal than she’d expected. For one thing, if this were real, she’d find Mr. Nobley’s arrogance annoying and his self-absorption unbearably boring. The character deserved a good thrashing.

“I suppose the lack in all such occurrences was to be found in your partners, Mr. Nobley?” Jane asked.

Mr. Nobley thought. “In them, yes, and partly in myself. I cannot imagine a dance truly being enjoyable unless both partners find themselves equals in rank, grace, and aptitude, as well as naturally fond of each other.”

“One might say the same for conversation.”

“Indeed one might,” he said, turning in his chair to face her. “We are ill-fated in that our society demands we engage in unworthy conversations and dances in order to seem courteous, and yet such actions are ultimately vulgar.”

“But pray tell, Mr. Nobley,” Jane said, enthused, “how is one to find out if another is her equal in rank, grace, and aptitude, and how is one to discover a natural fondness, without first engaging in conversations and social gatherings? Would you say a hunter were vulgar when coursing through the fields and only dignified when actually shooting at prey?”

“I think she has you there, Nobley,” Colonel Andrews said with a laugh.

Mr. Nobley’s expression did not change. “A hunter need not spend hours with a pheasant to know it would make a good dinner. A pheasant is nothing more than what it seems, as are hens, foxes, and swans. People are no different. Some may need endless hours of prattle and prancing to know another’s worth. I should not.”

Jane turned her gaping mouth into a smile. “So, you can tell the worth, the merit, the nobility of a person at a glance?”

“And you cannot?” His expression held a mild challenge. “Can you tell me that within the first few moments of knowing each person in this room, you had not formed firm judgments of their character, which up to this very moment you have not questioned?”

She smiled ever so slightly. “You are correct, sir. However, I do hope that, in at least one regard, my first impression will eventually prove not to be completely accurate.

There was a tense silence, and then Colonel Andrews laughed again.

“Excellent. Most excellent. Never heard someone give old Nobley the what-for quite like that.” He slapped the table emphatically.

“Come on, Miss Erstwhile,” Miss Charming said, “it’s your turn, what-what.”

Jane played her card, and after a moment stole a glance at Mr. Nobley. He’d been watching her, and when he looked away, guilt betrayed his forced serenity~ Sir Templeton, a nearly empty glass trembling in his hand, snorted in his sleep on the sofa. Jane heard Miss Charming say ‘jolly good” again, caught Colonel Andrews passing her a sly smile, and found herself wondering if she wasn’t the prettiest, smartest guest they’d had in some time. Or ever.

All was going splendidly.

And here we begin with Jane’s ill-fated, numbered list of boyfriends. Boyfriend #1

Justin Kimble, AGE TWELVE

According to sixth-grade reckoning, Jane and Justin had been “going out” since fourth grade, when he’d shared his Pixy Stix with her during the class carnival. This meant that Justin sometimes pushed her in the hail, Jane gave him significant valentines (I “heart” you), and whenever receiving a ‘rating phone call” asking them to score classmates on looks and personality, both scored the other as a ten.

Then came the fateful day Mrs. Davis went through her class list, letting each boy pick his folk dance partner for the upcoming ‘Hooray for Culture!” assembly.

Mrs. Davis called Justin’s name.

Jane sat up.

Justin said, ‘Hattie Spinwell.”

Hattie flipped her hair.

For years after, there were few things Jane distrusted so much as

the words “guy’s choice.”

days 2----4444

THE NEXT MORNING THEY EXPECTED a visit from the guest of Pembrook Cottage, but the rain was so dense, Jane felt as trapped as if the estate were surrounded by a moat. At least the wet kept the gentlemen from hunting.

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