Read an extract from Jane Austen Stole My Boyfriend
Posted By MKB Admin on Monday 4th Apr 2011
‘I hate Jane Austen! I really hate her!’
I stop. I know that voice.
‘Oh, Lavinia, Mama says that Jane Austen is just a vulgar, husband-hunting, affected little minx. She says you are to take no notice of her.’
I know that voice too.
It’s Lavinia and Caroline Thorpe. I remember them well from the time when Jane and I were at boarding school at Southampton. They had made my life a misery there. I can still hear them chanting ‘Look at Jenny Cooper’s muslin – it looks like a rag.’ ‘Jenny Cooper has the snub nose of a servant girl, she’s such a little dwarf, isn’t she?’; or else, to the owner of the school, ‘Mrs Crawley, Jenny Cooper has broken a school rule!’
And now here they are at the Assembly Rooms at Basingstoke.
I hesitate at the door of the ladies’ cloakroom. One curl has come loose from its knot at the back of my head during the hectic pace of the Boulanger dance, but it will have to stay like that. I can’t go in there and face the two Thorpe girls. I turn to go, but then something stops me and I turn back. Before my courage ebbs away I burst through the door, say to them icily, ‘Jane Austen is my best friend’; I’ll thank you not to gossip about her.’
I push past them, examine myself in the looking glass, trying to look calm. I pretend to look at myself, but I can see them sneering, shrugging their shoulders as if I were not worth a reply. I carefully pin up the stray curl, and then decide to leave it lying there on my neck – it looks nice, I think. I half-turn and with my head over my shoulder survey my gown, pure white and sprigged with tiny silver flowers. The train is beautiful. A hundred tiny deep blue beads have been sewn to it and they twinkle in the candle light. I smooth my long white gloves, making sure that they fit snugly over the elbow and then I sweep past the two Thorpe girls without another glance. As I close the door behind them I hear Caroline say,
‘Anyway, we’re going to Bath for the season; he’s bound to be there.’ She raises her voice a little and says ‘And the Austens and their beggarly cousin won’t be there to interfere.’
When I get back to the Assembly Rooms, the new dance has not yet been called, but Jane is already hand in hand with Newton. No wonder Lavinia is so upset. The Honourable Newton Wallop is the second son of the Earl of Portsmouth and it’s rumoured that he will be the heir to the Portsmouth estates as the eldest son, John, is strange and, according to Jane, it is feared that he is a lunatic. Newton has been a pupil at Mr Austen’s house at Steventon and he and Jane seem great friends, joking and laughing. They’ve been dancing together for most of the evening.
‘Your very humble servant, ma’am,’ says Newton, and Jane replies in very affected tones, ‘la, sir, pray do not be such a tease,’ And then she laughs as Newton reminds her of the time that she and he made an apple-pie bed for Jane’s prim sister, Cassandra. Lavinia would be furious if she could hear how friendly they sounded.
I don’t waste any more thoughts on Lavinia. I can see Thomas coming towards me. I don’t push my way through the crowd to join him. I just stand and look at him.
Captain Thomas Williams, the youngest captain in the Navy – brave, handsome and noble – and in love with me! Tall – taller than most people at the ball; broad shoulders; black hair gleaming like a blackbird’s wing under the candlelight from the chandeliers above; dark brown eyes, so piercing and yet . . . I think back to the little damp woodland and the bluebells and tiny forget-me-nots at our feet and how those eyes were so soft and pleading then. And still I can’t believe that he has asked me to marry him.
He has reached me now.
‘You look so beautiful,’ he murmurs in my ear and I smile and know whether my curls are pinned up tidily, or escaping down on the nape of my neck, it makes no difference to him. He loves me as I am and no matter what I do or say. We go and stand beside Newton and Jane.
‘Oh, la, sir, you make me blush,’ she is saying to him and Newton instantly responds with a deep bow and says loudly, ‘Madam, your beauty overwhelms me. No poor words of mine are enough to describe you.’
‘Dearest Newton,’ Jane begins in a very lofty way, her voice so loud that several people turn to listen to her and then she spoils it by hissing ‘You’re on the wrong side, Newton. You are such a ninny. Go and stand beside Jenny. Quick, the music is starting.’
I smile at Newton as he joins me. He’s quite handsome – not handsome in the same manly way as my Thomas, but he is large-eyed,, curly-haired and fresh-faced. He stretches out his hand to Jane and Thomas takes my hand and we whirl around as the last dance of the evening begins.
I can see Lavinia and Caroline Thorpe now. Neither is dancing. They are standing in front of their mama and Lavinia is half twisted towards her, saying something. I can guess what she’s saying. When she turns back her face is full of rage, eyes narrowed as she looks at Jane.
‘Jane,’ I whisper. ‘Look at Lavinia Thorpe, over there by the fireplace. She’s furious with you.’
Jane looks over her shoulder, a lightning look, but that is enough for someone with Jane’s quick wits. Newton dances back and Jane puts up her hand to hold his. She smiles sweetly into his face and drops a demure curtsy and then they are off dancing rather closer than is usual, both of them laughing as the two rows of dancers clap them energetically.
‘Jane ,’ I say when we are back in our bedroom at Steventon, ‘I think that you have made an enemy.’
‘Don’t care,’ she says, carefully hanging up her ball gown.
‘She’ll gossip about you,’ I say, hanging my gown beside hers.
‘Who cares about Lavinia Thorpe?’ Jane’s voice is scornful as she sits on the stool in front of our little looking-glass and begins to take the pins from her curls.
‘Not me,’ I say, taking up the hairbrush. I will brush her hair a hundred times and then she will do the same for me. I don’t care about Lavinia Thorpe, either. All I can think of now is that my uncle, Mr Austen, will be coming back from Oxford tomorrow and that Thomas will ask for my hand in marriage.