Austenland Page 30

Did Austen herself feel this way? Was she hopeful? Jane wondered if the unmarried writer had lived inside Austenland with close to Jane’s own sensibility— amused, horrified, but in very real danger of being swept away.

Ten days to go.

Boyfriend #10

Peter Sosa, AGE TWENTY-NINE

They met in the elevator. He worked on an upper floor, an ad exec, young for the position so obviously a genius. Smartness had always attracted Jane, that and hands and jawline and butt. And eyes. Also, integrity of character—she wasn’t shallow. Peter fell for her at once, he said, because she was stunning. That’s the word he’d used—stunning. It’s a difficult word to dismiss. She longed to be that word to someone.

They went out every Friday night for five weeks, and she felt her heart plummeting a long way. Boyfriend #9 was still raw, a sore that wouldn’t heal because she kept picking at it, but wouldn’t Peter be such a way to come back from that catastrophe! She fantasized of the day she would casually bump into nasty ex-boyfriends with Peter on her arm. And then . . .

“What is it? You’re married, aren’t you?”

“No, no, nothing like that.” He paused, leaving Jane to imagine. “I have a girlfriend I’m sorry. I’m not cheating, she’s right over there, at the table by the window. She made me a bet that I couldn’t make the first girl I asked out fall in love with me. Some movie she saw, thought it would be romantic, then it went too far . . .

Jane’s language would have made Britney the longshoreman blush down to her boots.

days 12----13

THE NEXT MORNING, RAIN BLURRED the hard edges from the world, transforming things into forms, like Christo’s fabric-wrapped bridges, nudes, and trees. Jane had been painting since daybreak. Yellow, red, orange, blue. The colors made her hungry, but she was too infatuated with paint on canvas to dress for breakfast. When Matilda came, Jane shooed her away.

She had forgotten the thrill she used to feel when buying a new paintbrush, squeezing all those colors onto her palette, smelling the clean natural odor of the oils, the reckless unknown of first spoiling a white canvas. These past years, she had become comfortable with her mouse and computer screen, creating corporate art, lazy and dull. And now, smearing green and gray together, interrupting it with orange, she realized she had loved her last boyfriends as a graphic designer would. But she wanted to love someone the way she felt when painting—fearless, messy, vivid.

In honor of Miss Eyre, Jane did a self-portrait. When she caught just the right shading of a cheek, her heart bumped her ribs as though she were in love. What she was after was that self-assurance in the eyes that those old portraits in the gallery had, a knowing gleam that insisted she was worth looking at. It was tricky to achieve. She wanted to ask someone else’s opinion about her painting, but not the traitor Matilda. Aunt Saffronia? No, she was too eager to please. Martin? Oh, stop it. Mr. Nobley? Yes, but why him?

She made it downstairs late for lunch and a maid served her cold meats and wellcooked vegetables. The house echoed as though long deserted. She thought of returning to her easel, but she felt unsettled by the expression she’d left in her painting—she feared it was forced assurance, an actor’s eyes. She decided to give both pairs of eyes a break.

She sat in the library, staring at the streaks of water against the window, the book A Sentimental Journey half open before her. What do gardeners do in the rain? she wondered.

Mr. Nobley had entered the room before he noticed her. He groaned. “And here you are. Miss Erstwhile. You are infuriating and irritating, and yet I find myself looking for you. I would be grateful if you would send me away and make me swear to never return.”

“You shouldn’t have told me that’s what you want, Mr. Nobley, because now you’re not going to get it.”

“Then I must stay?”

“Unless you want to risk me accusing you of ungentleman-like behavior at dinner, yes, I think you should stay. If I spend too much time alone today, I’m in real danger of doing a convincing impersonation of the madwoman in the attic.

He raised an eyebrow. “And how would that be different from—”

“Sit down, Mr. Nobley,” she said.

He sat in a chair on the opposite side of a small table. The chair creaked as he settled himself. She didn’t look at him, watching instead the rain on the window and the silvery shadows the wet light made of the room. She spent several moments in silence before she realized that it might be awkward, that conversation at such a time was obligatory. Now she could feel his gaze on her face and longed to crack the silence like the spine of a book, but she had nothing to say anymore. She’d lost all her thoughts in paint and rain.

“You are reading Sterne,” he said at last. “May I?”

He gestured to the book, and she handed it to him. Jane was remembering a scene from the film of Mansfield Park when suitor Henry Crawford read to Frances O’Connor’s character so sweetly, the sound created a passionate tension, the words themselves becoming his courtship. Jane glanced at Mr. Nobley’s somber face, and away again as his eyes flicked from the page to her.

He began to read from the top. His voice was soft, melodious, strong, a man who could speak in a crowd and have people listen, but also a man who could persuade a child to sleep with a bedtime story.

“The man who first transplanted the grape of Burgundy to the Cape of Good Hope (observe he was a Dutchman) never dreamt of drinking the same wine at the Cape, the same grape produced upon the French mountains—he was too phlegmatic for that—but undoubtedly he expected to drink some sort of vinous liquor; but whether good, bad, or indifferent—he knew enough of this world to know, that it did not depend upon his choice . . .”

Mr. Nobley was trying very hard not to smile. His lips were tight; his voice scraped a couple of times. Jane laughed at him, and then he did smile. It gave her a little thwack of pleasure as though someone had flicked a finger against her heart.

“Not very, er . . .“ he said.

“Interesting?”

“I imagine not..”

“But you read it well,” she said.

He raised his brows. “Did I? Well, that is something.”

They sat in silence a few moments, chuckling intermittently.

Mr. Nobley began to read again suddenly, “Mynheer might possibly overset both in his new vineyard,” having to stop to laugh again. Aunt Saffronia walked by and peered into the dim room as she passed, her presence reminding Jane that this tryst might be forbidden by the Rules. Mr. Nobley returned to himself.

Prev Next