A very Jane Austen Christmas story; Part Fifteen
A Very Jane Austen Christmas concludes:
Part 15 - The Candy Shop
“Do not place your attaché so close to Miss Austen’s foot,” Mr. Godwin directed while Mr. Atwood boarded the buggy.
“It’s just a trifle,” Jane smiled, referring to her injury, “You needn’t fuss so.”
Mr. Atwood sat up front with Mr. Godwin as they drove to collect Mr. Wright, all of the men fussing rather unduly over Jane. The goodbye with Aunt Phoebe had taken a toll, and Jane was feeling like a distinct failure… lamenting her inability to find Cousin Imogene. Oh! And particularly when they were so close on her trail, blast it! It was a cold comfort at parting to know that she had seen her cousin, alive and well. Or so she thought. The more Jane thought of it, the more she doubted any of it even happened.
When Mr. Wright boarded, he joined Mr. Godwin up front, and the quiet Mr. Atwood joined Jane in the interior of the buggy, taking great pains to keep the floor around her feet impeccably clear. He then spent such a quantity of time studying his fingernails that Jane gave up her attempts at making bright conversation and instead closed her eyes.
Gentle hills covered with a quilt of snow appeared out Jane’s window as she soon drifted off to sleep. The carriage stopped short, and she started violently. She rose to her feet thinking, ‘Hurrah! My pain is gone’! When she opened the buggy door and stepped down it was into a lush green landscape rather than a snowy one. Everything was the color of the first green of spring, except a few bluebirds. In the distance there was a field of saddled horses, ready for races. One of them broke free from the herd and raced toward Jane. She recognized the horse as Cousin Imogene and hugged it around its sleek, muscular neck. In one astonishing movement Jane flung herself upon the horse’s back and the horse began to run wildly towards the next village. ‘Whoa!’ Jane shouted, ‘Whoa’!
Mr. Atwood was shaking her shoulders. “Ewan!” he shouted, rather informally, “It’s Miss Austen!”
The carriage stopped short, and Jane started violently. She rose to her feet and fell back in pain. Mr. Godwin flung open the door and both he and Mr. Wright squeezed their shoulders inside; their countenances filled with dismay.
“God’s teeth!” Jane exclaimed. “It was only having a silly dream-- I apologize most sincerely to cause such worry.”
“You were shouting ‘Whoa!’, Mr. Atwood argued.
“I’m terribly sorry,” Jane repeated. “I must have been dreaming.”
“Not a fear, Miss Austen,” Mr. Godwin sighed. “We are heartily relieved to find you well-- even if the circumstances did provide a little excitement.”
They were only a short way out of London, but the men suggested stopping for sustenance. They huddled secretively and whispered things that escaped Jane’s hearing, then returned with the suggestion of refreshment and fresh air. Jane intended to protest as she exited the buggy on her own, like a crab navigating steep rocks she looked around her at a charming village. It was swagged with evergreens and smelling of snow and perfume. Janee leaned against the tavern wall, yet unnoticed by the men, and caught a whiff of minted lamb from the kitchens.
“Jane!” Mr. Godwin burst, grabbing for the hickory stock.
“I am fine, Mr. Godwin. I can well manage my movement to limit the pain. Even as I walk, I assure you.”
As Mr. Wright and Mr. Atwood parked the carriage Jane took the stick with one hand and Mr. Godwin’s arm with the other.
“We will meet you at the tavern presently,” he called after his friends as he allowed Jane to pull him toward the perfume shop. She quickly bought a bottle of magic that smelled of vanilla and cloves for her sister, Cassandra. “Oh, look,” Jane said, pointing at a sign for Iced Cream, Sorbet, and Confections. “I would dearly love to bring home some sugared almonds and a box of chocolate. With nonpareils. And perhaps some marzipan. Oh! And perhaps a little gingerbread and butterscotch for your dear mother and sister. ‘Tis Christmas time after all… even if we are a little bit late.”
Mr. Godwin smiled and opened the door of the little candy shop to Jane, “I think our friends can amuse themselves admirably so long as you are comfortable walking. I think we had best pick up some peace offerings in the form or sweet presents. We are closer to the New Year than we are to Christmastide now.”
Jane agreed, entering the little shop. Jars of candies lined the shelves, and big wooden display cases were filled with trays of chocolate fudge, toffee, and spun sugar.
“I have half a mind to take a baker’s dozen of everything,” Jane laughed. Mr. Godwin laughed too, and their eyes locked for what seemed an indecently long time. In truth, it was rather a long time, as the young lady behind the counter was run off her feet serving the many customers in line. The door opened and closed, letting the frigid air in and out. Jane wished she could pull her pelisse tighter around her, but she didn’t have a free hand. The young lady behind the counter appeared frantic as she scooped mints and weighed jellied fruits, all the while apologizing for the delay and smiling nervously. When the door opened and closed again the girl looked up and smiled, relieved. Jane was vaguely conscious that a second girl had arrived and installed herself behind the counter, now tying on a lace apron. Her grip on Mr. Godwin’s arm tightened into a vice, and he leaned down to her.
“Are you quite all right? Shall we leave?”
“Cousin Imogene!” was all Jane could say.
The second girl tied twine onto a box, handed it over the counter and she looked over. “Cousin Jane?”
“It is I!” Jane called, shaking with excitement.
“Can it be” Mr. Godwin asked?
“Indeed, it is she!” Jane smiled broadly.
“Jane!” Imogene said, ignoring the crowd of customers and rounding the counter to embrace Jane. “Oh, it has been far too long!”
Mr. Godwin noticed the unusual gait as Imogene moved to Jane. She was a lovely, rosy girl with a smile that only lifted at one corner and a small constellation of freckles across her nose. Jane introduced Mr. Godwin and balanced on one foot so she could hold both of Imogene’s hands.
“My dear cousin, we have been looking for you everywhere. Your mother has been quite worried and has sent for me.”
Cousin Imogene dropped Janes hand and began twisting her apron, looking anguished and ridden with guilt. “Yes, I can imagine that it true,” she frowned.
“But why have you left her in such agitation?”
“Because I was so agitated myself, Cousin. You see Mother very much likes her routine, and likes being in charge. So long as I lived in her castle, so to speak, I was compelled to fall in with the order of the day. Oh, Jane, there were so many dances and balls… breakfasts... outings. I realized, with great dismay, that I was dancing my way literally into a marriage and a brood of children. Sooner rather than later at that. And I have always wanted more than that. I have always wanted to actually do something. Not just my house and then in someone else’s house.”
“I understand,” Jane nodded, picking her cousin’s hands up again and pressing them. “I quite understand. Young ladies do move from house to house in search of situations. One must peddle one’s beauty and make merry with bright conversation and a show of fragility. I perfectly understand.”
“Oh, Jane, do you not remember Grandfather’s orchard?”
“I remember that cursed ladder,” Jane shivered.
“I am thankful for that accident, I promise you. It made me imperfect and harder to marry off so quickly. That ladder, in essence, gave me time to think. I am grateful to that ladder!” Imogene was laughing heartily, and Jane joined in.
Mr. Godwin gently herded the two women to a corner of the shop, away from the custom of the store. The matter of what they were saying was not for public consumption, and rather unnatural in its sentiment for the average passerby. Imogene explained that her friend, Maryann, had taken over her father’s candy shop when her father became ill. Maryann’s mother had died many years ago when they were still children, and Maryann’s situation was not as comfortable as her own. The thrill of working appealed to Imogene enormously—particularly the idea of making candies and small pastries. The workday would begin early, and end very late. But they would, together, be the captains of their own destinies, and have something that was their own. Life would have a reason and a purpose. But the idea of a working life—by choice—was something that Aunt Phoebe would never understand or allow.
“When I thought about Maryann’s predicament and the impossible problem of her running the shop on her own, I simply had to come help. It was Maryann’s problem but likewise my opportunity. Had I not escaped the house early that morning, I would be lying in bed right now asking Susan to fetch me chocolates. Jane, I knew you would understand. I remember how things were between us.”
“I remember too. In the orchard… oh, but how we talked of our dreams and confided.” Jane whispered, “I wanted to become a famous authoress. And you wanted to live in the country and do clever things like making breads and puddings.”
Imogene made a gesture across the candy shop. “I have come quite close to that dream in but a short time. And…” she whispered. “I do live a little closer to the country. I share a small cottage that looks like a fairy tale house on green on the edge of London. There is even a pond where ducks and swans live.”
Jane cupped her hand over her mouth and parroted, “Dust-a-hoy! Baked potatoes all hot! Chairs to mend!”
Imogene’s countenance took on a dumbfounded aspect. “You know the place?”
“I think I stumbled upon it, by accident, while I was searching for you. You see, a girl in a carriage mistook me for you and called out your name while I was passing there. So I took to believing I might find you there, and returned.”
“Goodness, you are clever! Then you must come directly for a visit once I have left off work.”
“Alas, I am headed back to Surrey with my friends, Mr. Godwin among them. We have missed Christmas, you see, and it is time to return to Cassandra and… Mother.” Jane pointedly put an emphasis on the word ‘mother’.
“Yes,” Imogene agreed, looking down again. “I will visit Mother. I promise. After the shop closes, I will go to her. But I will not change my mind. I will keep on with my life the way that I like it”.
“And I am not so far away,” Jane added, hugging Imogene most sincerely and lovingly. “And as for our old confidences… I have been writing in secret. Almost every day,” Jane whispered into Imogene’s ear.
Imogene gasped and held Jane at a distance to look at her. “Jane!”
“Shh! No one has caught me at it yet. But perhaps we shall both have our dreams in the end.”
Congratulations on getting Jane through the holidays alive. You pushed her too hard one night when she was tired—and that resulted in her broken ankle. And you forced her out of London thinking only of Mr. Godwin rather than Imogene—that surprised me! But we got there in the end. I have back-up plans for when you chose something unexpected!
I’m not a Jane Austen scholar by any means, but I have read her books many times. In her own life there was no Mr. Godwin. She had at least one proposal (an engagement she broke off the following morning), but you have to remember that Jane’s short life was couched between wars in Europe. Young men were at a premium because there weren’t as many as there should have been. I left out huge aspects of her life and significantly changed the personalities of real figures, like her mother and sister. Everyone has to become a caricature in a short work like this. Everybody besides Jane, Cassandra, and her mother are completely fictional. And this storyline has been inaccurate in almost every way. It was extremely uncommon for girls to go to work if they didn’t have to. In the next generation, it would become more common. Women were completely at the mercy of the men in their lives. A father’s allowance or one’s place as a wife dictated the daily routine and lasting fortunes of a woman. But Jane paved the way, writing about real people and being candid and honest about the battle of the sexes in her writing (I would argue) brought about an awareness of the inequity of life. Men assumed women wanted to keep house and be ornamental. All of the novels previous to Jane’s were in the style of the Gothic Romance—with silly heroines, in unlikely but picturesque circumstances, requiring the help of a beefcake male to navigate dangerous situations.
In this adventure, Mr. Godwin serves as an accomplice, but Jane leads. And the solution to the mystery is not that Imogene has been abused, kidnapped, murdered, or fallen (aka works for the mantua maker—and yes, mantua maker was code in that era for a house of prostitution), but rather Imogene has disappeared to reinvent herself. Within her place in society, she realized she could not be the person she meant to be, so she had to step outside. At least Jane finally found her—and had as many adventures along the way as she could with Mr. Godwin.
It is curious to know that no one ever did see Jane writing. She was very secretive about her work, reading it with Cassandra and close friends in the evenings. But the act of writing it seemed sacred to her. She was successful early on, and thus given quite a lot of leeway among her family members. I assume it was in lieu of household chores that Jane was excused from when she made her time to write. She depended on first her father, then a brother to help her with the publishing of the books. Irritating, but true.
I think next winter we might do this again-- except I’ll write about Louisa May Alcott! We’ll have another ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ through the holidays and into the New Year.
Happy New Year, everyone, and if you’ve enjoyed this adventure be sure to look at all the Jane Austen products (patterns and wool) I’ve put into the Ribbon Candy Hooking shop, as a souvenir!