Is that … are those potatoes there?
She walked a long gallery with north-facing windows and matched gazes with the portraits. Men and women in stiff costumes, old jewelry, their backgrounds faded countryside, their eyes imperious. They were marvelous. She wondered if those rich people had naturally looked on the world with such assurance of their own nobility or if the painter had created it for them. An itch inside her hand made her want to give it a try, but she scratched the desire away. She hadn’t picked up a paintbrush since college.She ran out of upstairs, so down she went, only to be stopped fast by voices coming from a sitting room. Jane wasn’t ready to face real people yet, not as Miss Erstwhile. The portraits had been intimidating enough. Footsteps scared her out of the hall and into an open doorway. It was a large, square, empty room, wooden floors, no furniture. The grand hall. The place where balls happen. The walls were an impatient green, the crystals on the chandeliers winked in the window light. If she were the type of person who looked for signs, Jane would have thought the room was shivering in anticipation of something momentous. But she wasn’t.
She turned to leave, and from the far door saw the dark outline of a man enter. He stopped. She stopped. She couldn’t see his face.Pardon, he said and turned back.She stood staring at where he’d been for a few moments, relieved at first that she hadn’t been forced to make conversation yet, then soon, actually sorry that he’d gone. Just his presence had set her heart to pounding, and the feeling prickled in her the delightful expectation of things to come.
As she ascended the main staircase on the way back to her room, she bumped into a woman bending over her own boots, the curve in her back declaring that she wasn’t wearing a corset.Dratted drawers, said the woman, straightening.
She was unnaturally buxom, in her fifties, and sported short, bleached hair heavily sprayed and an attached fake bun of a slightly different shade. Her eyes widened when she saw Jane, and her surgery-tightened skin stretched to admit a wide smile.
Well, hello, you’re new, aren’t you? My name’s Miss Elizabeth Charming, like Elizabeth Bennet, see? But don’t you like the last name? It was Mrs. Wattlesbrook’s idea. I’d thought just to go ahead and name myself Elizabeth Bennet, because I mean to bag a Mr. Darcy, but she thought Elizabeth Charming was more enchanting. Anyhoo, my friends call me Eliza. She stuck out her left hand, the ring finger of which still bore the mark of a recently removed wedding band. Jane shook it awkwardly with her right hand, then bobbed a curtsy.I will make friends with him then ask him for a job, Issy told herself. I will ask him for a job … shortly. Soon. In a bit. Yes.
But what actually came out of Issy’s mouth was, ‘I couldn’t take a look at it, could I?’Des, of Joe Golden Estates, was sick of his job. He was sick of his life, if he was being honest. He was tired of the market, tired of being on his own in an empty office, tired of endless to-ing and fro-ing with this stupid Pear Tree Court property as one person after another thought they could make a go of it, when, pretty as it was, it remained a commercial property that didn’t actually face a road. People got dreams in their heads that were nothing to do with business. This looked like another one.
Then he had to go home and sympathize with his wife. It wasn’t that he didn’t adore their baby, it wasn’t that at all, it was just he did need a night’s sleep now and again and he was sure that everyone else’s baby wasn’t still waking up four times a night at five months. Maybe Jamie was sensitive. It still didn’t explain why Ems hadn’t got out of her pyjamas since the birth. It had been a while now. But if he ever mentioned anything, she started screaming at him that he didn’t understand what it was like to have a baby, then Jamie would start screaming, plus her mother was usually over, sitting in his spot on the sofa, slagging him off, he suspected. Then it would all get so noisy he’d wish himself back at work again for five minutes’ peace and quiet. He hadn’t the faintest idea what to do.For the first time in what felt like weeks, Issy sensed a tiny flame of curiosity spark inside her. As Des somewhat reluctantly opened up the heavy door with three different keys, she glanced around, just in case the scary blonde lady was behind her somewhere, and would scream at her to get the hell out of her shop.
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