Emilia Jane Hart was seventeen when she discovered her great-grandmother's ring. It was Christmas Eve and the Harts were all gathered in the house of the family member who would have the most difficulty travelling: Grandma Charlotte. As always the house was filled with people and the smell of cooking. Old Charlotte was nearly 90. She sat silently in the living room with a blanket over her knees while her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren scurried noisily around her. Being on the cusp of adulthood was a strange place for Emilia, or Emily as she preferred to be called, to be. Not being a child, playing on the lawn with her younger cousins didn't really appeal to her, but not being an adult, meant she was included very little in the preparation for tomorrow. This left her free to explore the old house, which is all she really wanted to do at her grandmother's anyway.
Ten years Emily had been coming to this house and still corners and alcoves remained unseen by her. So, while the others were decorating the tree, cooking enough food to feed an army, hanging fairy lights or playing those games that children play, she snuck away upstairs. Through to the study where oak panels lined the walls, Emily knew there was a trapdoor under the rug under the heavy looking desk. As quietly as she could, Emily pushed the desk aside, flipped the rug up and clambered down the ladder to the room hidden underneath. Again, this room had multiple exits. There was another trapdoor which lead underground. A hole in the wall was covered in a long tapestry showing the Hart family back to 1612, a gold embroidered line across the silk showed when the family moved countries. Emilia traced the line above her grandmother's name; the symbol of the family's move to Australia. Three generations born here, and before that England, before that, if you went back far enough, France. Not the most exciting heritage. She sighed. Today, Emily wanted a new adventure. But finding the hidden passageways was difficult. There was nothing on the walls, save the family tree. She had already looked under the carpet for another trapdoor. The room was empty of any furniture. Maybe there were no more? No, Emily was sure there were. Maybe there was a button or something on the floor. She began to jump but two minutes of jumping on every conceivable part of the floor revealed nothing. Panting, Emilia lent against the wall, and fell through! Rubbing her back, she looked up and grinned from her place on the floor; the panel had fallen with her and she now found herself in a long, dark tunnel. Using the light from her phone, Emily crawled down the small passage.
"I wonder if Gran knows about all this?" she whispered to no one in particular. Of course when her head hit something hard, Emily was forced to stop. Suddenly, she realised she could stand and did so. In front of the young adventurer now was a door. Dark wood, detailed engravings and a gold handle; this was undoubtedly old. It creaked when it was opened. Inside stood the most normal of bedrooms; a bed, a wardrobe, bedside table, a small shelve of trinkets and books and a full length mirror were all the furniture inside. Emily had all of that in her own room in Canberra. The dust hung in the air. This room mustn't have seen light in years. Emily hurried over to the window and pulled the curtains open. The light that streamed in turned the air to gold. So you could see this room from outside? Looking out the window gave no clues as to where the room sat in relation to the rest of the house. Carefully, Emily set about examining the rest of the room. A hairbrush sat on top of the bedside table. Our adventuress noticed a newspaper squeezed between the books on the shelf and left the brush to hurry over to it. It was old; the pages were smooth and Emily felt that if she unfolded it, the paper would just disintegrate in her hands. But the date could clearly be seen on the cover. October 9th, 1816. This house was even older than Emily had first thought and this paper had been here longer than the three generations had lived here. Throwing the paper on the bed, she went to explore the rest of the room. A tiny box of pale powder and some sort of hair ornament lay in the drawer of the bedside table. When Emily took them out, their silhouettes stayed perfectly in the dust. The wardrobe was filled with what must have once been beautiful dresses. Although now the colours had faded and there were several holes where moths had chewed their way through. Emily looked down at her t-shirt, shorts and thongs and suddenly felt very unfeminine. The temptation to try on a dress was great but what was to say they wouldn't turn to dust if she took them off their hangers? A horde of hat boxes covered the bottom of the wardrobe. When the lids were removed it was seen that every kind of woman's hat ever invented resided within. Then, in one box, at the bottom, under an emerald silk bonnet, was a little gold ring. A tiny pale green stone rested amongst gold fingers that held it fast to the rest of the ring. It looked like an engagement ring. The metal was scratched and dirty but the lustre that shone through the grit lead Emily to believe it may be real gold.
"I wonder if it fits?" she thought as she slipped it onto her ring finger. Without so much as a bump, the ring slid on. It fit perfectly. Further digging in the wardrobe revealed an armful of tattered paintings, each signed: Addie. Dropping several on the way, Emily carried then to the bed before collapsing onto its dusty covers herself and examining them: a series of water-colours of a little pond, a really very good drawing of a horse in, what looked like, charcoal and a pencil drawing of a young woman. It was this last one that Emily found particularly interesting. The clip in this girl's hair was the same one Emily had found in the drawer. The drawn girl's hair was piled on her head in curls with only a few small strands falling out the front. Emily carried the drawing to the mirror and looked from Addie's drawing to her own face.
"I'm sure I could do this." she said, pulling at her own pale hair. So, the clip was retrieved and ten minutes of pulling and twisting later, Emilia Hart had the hair of a 19th century woman. She smiled when she saw her creation. Now the temptation to wear one of those gowns overcame her and she slipped one off its rack.
"How did people wear these here? It's so hot!" she thought as she examined her reflection.
"Emilia?" someone called outside the window, "come and help wrap the presents." the young adventurer started. She had completely forgotten about the rest of her family. Quickly she began to change back into her own clothes. That was when she noticed she was still wearing the ring. Twisting to get it off, she pulled. Suddenly, the little stone pushed in like a button. Then a white light closed in around Miss Emilia's vision and she fell to the floor.
How did I..?
How long was I asleep?
Mum's probably so worried.
I woke up in that strange bed in that strange room I had found. The old was ring still on my finger, the old dress still on my body and the old clip in my hair. Still, it could be morning already. That means…
I threw off the covers and started to pull at the clip in my hair. Just then, a knock came at the door. Whoever it was didn't wait for me to answer and just pushed the door open.
"Good morning, Miss. I see you're already dressed. I'll help with your hair. Your breakfast is here."
To my surprise, a little woman with dark hair and sparkling eyes had appeared in the strange room. Even more shockingly, she was dressed as a maid and had just brought me a plate of toast. I couldn't say a word but I'm sure my face said it all because the maid said:
"Are you alright, Miss?"
I swallowed. "W-who are you?" I asked and almost choked.
My voice had changed. Gone were the hard 'A's and nasal tones of my Australian accent and, instead, a refined upper-class English accent greeted me. I swallowed again as if I could just swallow away those disturbing tones that clashed with my ears.
"Abie, Miss, I serve you every morning," replied the maid.
I blinked and turned away.
"Tell me, Abie, where are we?" I asked slowly, still trying to adjust to this new voice.
"New South Wales, Miss." Abie sounded terribly concerned.
"Of course, and when are we?" I said, sitting down on the bed, which I only just now realised was clean and free from any dust, just like the borrowed gown I was still wearing.
"It's the 9th of October, 1816, Miss." Abie answered with her voice trembling.
"Right…" I said.
This can't be real.
I fell asleep in a creepy old room and now I think I'm back in 1816?
"Please let me fix your hair, Miss Hart," Abie said.
"Sure," I replied, not moving at all.
I couldn't move. All I could think was that I had to call Mum, somehow. But Mum hasn't been born yet and phones haven't been invented yet. Abie began to untangle my hair, and then started to brush it with the same brush I had found in this room, 196 years and 76 days from today.
This is impossible.
"Abie?" I asked as she finished my hair; I looked just like that young woman's from the drawing, "Are you sure it's 1816? It's not 2012, is it? You're not playing a trick on me, are you?"
"It's definitely 1816, Miss. Would you like me to fetch you father's newspaper, to check?" she replied.
"No, no, don't worry about it. I just… had a strange dream, that's all." I muttered.
This new voice was freaking me out.
"Very well, Miss." Abie finished before bowing slightly and leaving the room.
I felt like I was living in a Jane Austen novel.
Were they even written yet?
I didn't know.
When I get home I'll have to Google it.
Wait, when I get home?
How am I going to get home?
Left all alone, I began to explore the room again but everything was as it was in the future, only less dusty.
Cautiously, I pushed open the door. These stiff shoes were hard to walk in and this long dress didn't help. I couldn't breathe from this bloody corset, which Abie had returned to tighten just to be evil... I crept onto the landing and down the stairs. I recognised this house... I snuck out the door and up the drive. Only then did I turn around.
Just as I'd thought: Gran's house.
Sure, the garage and third story were gone and the roof was in much better condition but it was unmistakably her house.
"Emilia!" someone called, running out of the house.
How did he get here?
And he's in weird period getup too!
"Come back to the house! I wouldn't trust you on the streets with these convicts!"
Oh yeah... It's 1816.
Australia is still a penal colony.
I hurried back towards the house. "Coming, Dad!" I called.
"Dad?" He asked.
It's 1816, what would I call my dad?
"You don't usually call me Father."
Okay, think of all those weird 19th century novel adaptations you've seen on TV.
"Papa?" I tried.
"Yes. But, my dear, don't go outside without your brother or myself."
Thank you Little Dorrit, and Mrs General’s lessons in etiquette.
He lowered his voice so he was almost whispering by the time he got to the last word, "You know most of these convicts are Catholic."
I'm atheist anyway so...
Wait, actually, I'm probably not.
So I'm Christian?
Oh well, doesn't matter to me, really I would just have to remember never to say that or I’ll be tried for heresy.
I suppose that was a very atheist way of thinking: that I didn’t care if I was or wasn’t. So much was new. How was I supposed to act? What was expected of me? It seemed as if I'd had a life here before now as well. How had I acted then? Were there things I’d left unfinished? There was so much to process. My mind was overheating. I felt my knees go weak. I was falling. I could hear Papa (I must remember to call him that) calling my name. Maybe I was waking up.
Please, when I wake up, let it be Christmas Eve 2012.
Unfortunately, no. Back in what must have been my room, someone had changed my clothes. Suddenly I remembered the paintings.
Maybe that’ll give me some sort of clue as to my life here.
I threw off the covers and raced to the wardrobe. Two seconds later, the hat boxes were strewn across the floor as I searched for the art by the mysterious Addie. I checked again. Yes, definitely 'Addie' not 'Abie'.
They were the same: the pond, the horse and the girl.
The girl had changed?
But that's impossible.
A thousand impossible things had happened that morning, and I wasn’t saying that was the most unlikely, but there was no way such a thing could have happened. But no, the girl was me. I hurried to the mirror and mimicked the pose the drawing was making; the same light hair, the same dark eyes, the same short nose and small mouth. It was unmistakably me. There was a polite knock at the door and Abie entered with a damp cloth.
"Miss, you shouldn't be up!" she scolded and hurried me back to bed.
I pulled the covers up but refused to let go of the drawing.
"Abie, who drew this?" I asked as she mopped my forehead.
Apparently, I had a fever, though I felt completely fine.
"Miss Rose, of course." she replied.
"Why is it signed 'Addie'?" I demanded.
This was too strange. How had someone I'd never met, this 'Rose', known what I looked like?
"That's the name you gave Miss Rose. Don't you remember, Miss?"
"But why ‘Addie’ if her name's Rose?"
"Rose is her family name, Miss. Miss Adeline Rose."
Well, I guess I have to remember there are things I don't know about my life here.
"This is going to sound strange but, is she here? I mean, in New South Wales?" I figured I could play up this fever lie.
Abie looked at me with concern and placed the back of her hand on my forehead before replying.
"No, Miss, Miss Rose is still in England but we return this afternoon on board 'The Spaniel'. You'll see her soon." Abie explained.
"Right..." I murmured.
So we were going to England?
I've never been overseas. …
Except, I had because Abie had said return to England.
Then I was thinking: why were we here in the first place? I asked Abie.
"For your father's research." She seemed to be used to answering questions I should know the answers to by now.
"And P-Papa researches, what exactly?"
Still not used to that title...
"Remember it's just his hobby, Miss, the master is a true gentleman."
I nodded as if it made perfect sense, though what she had said hardly fit with my image of Dad, and waited for her to go on.
And so, the morning past by in a flurry of activity, everyone was so busy preparing for the journey. I suppose we must be rich because we had so many servants. Although, apparently they we're all staying here but Abie and Dad's -Papa's- valet. It was weird to think of D-Papa with a valet. I mean, the Dad I know just sits at home when he gets back from his ordinary office job and watches the footy. All this 'true gentleman' bullshit was just that: bullshit. And Adrian was here too.
He moved out years ago!
My older brother was seven years older than me and not the kind of person to be seen in the sort of embarrassing clothes he was in.
All those tight pants, I do not approve.
Disturbing, if you ask me, to see my own brother like that. Still, I boarded the ship, clinging to Abie's arm like I felt a scared, travelling woman of the time would.
The trip itself was hell. I had done Australian history at the school so I knew conditions would be bad but this wasn't a convict ship. This ship carried free settlers from England, it should be decent!
Or did it?
I thought that's what that sailor had said but now that I think about it, I don't even know if free settlers were coming to Australia in 1816.
Damn, I have to pay more attention in history.
Still, the fact remained; I spent eight months with almost constant seasickness. We were crowded in. When I managed to starve off the seasickness fro long enough to eat, the food was awful. I think I became paranoid partway through the journey that I would get scurvy and die. But I think I managed to keep up my 'English lady' act adequately, though. I stumbled off the bastard. He strolled off, swinging his cane, his top hat sitting jauntily on his head. This was Adrian we were talking about here! He plays rugby! He's studying engineering in Melbourne! He loves meat pies! He ripped he head off my Barbie when I was five! He wears top hats?
Abie and Papa's valet, who I'd come to know as Baxter, though what his first name might have been, I've not a clue, we're busy carrying the luggage. I did feel bad for making Abie carry my trunk; she was such a little thing. Still, I hardened my Hart's heart and climbed into the waiting carriage like a proper lady leaving her dirty work to the servants. Papa tapped the roof of the carriage with his cane (a cane? The closest my dad ever got to a cane was an umbrella!) and we began to move. Still, that stupid grin Adrian had plastered across his face was reassuringly normal. I was exhausted from being sick but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was falling deeper into this Jane Austen novel.
What an awkward carriage ride, though! My family finally noticed the bloody ring on my finger. I’m still surprised I got through the whole boat trip managing to hide it.
I still can’t get the damn thing off!
"I do hope some convict monkey hasn't stolen your heart while we were in the colony." Adrian joked as we bumped along.
That was one thing Jane never mentioned in her novels; how fucking uncomfortable these things were.
What would I give for a comfy car seat?
I tried to smile at my brother's joke but I'm sure it came out as more of a grimace of pain.
Am I supposed to call him by his first name?
I don't know.
But he doesn’t seem to reel back in horror when I do, so I assume it’s okay,
"I found this in my room and now I seem to be unable to remove it," I said, pulling at the ring to accentuate my point.
"That's good. I wouldn't know what to tell poor Alexander, if that was the case."
God help me.
More people I’m supposed to know but don’t.
"W-who’s Alexander?" I asked, resigned to the strange looks Papa and Adrian would give me.
"Really, Emily, your memory has reached a new low if you don't remember our childhood friend." Adrian laughed.
I smiled what I had come to call my 'lady's smile' but said nothing.
"Speaking of Alexander, Emilia," Papa said sternly, "You have reached an age now where it would be best if you called him Mr. Lumley."
I held in a snort.
I don't think he could have come up with a more poncy name if he tried!
No wonder I called him Alexander.
"Surely that is not necessary, Papa, if we have been intimate for such a very long time," I said, trying to hold in my laughter.
Gosh, I’m even starting to sound like Elizabeth Bennett!
"I must put your honour and the family's honour ahead of everything, my dear," Papa said, still using his stern voice.
If that was 2012 I would have told him to fuck honour, I'll call him whatever the hell I want, but I know an early 19th century woman wouldn't have done that. So I bowed my head like an obedient daughter.
"Very well, Papa."
The annoying thing was: this trip was going to take three hours, when it would probably take less than one in a car.
Where are you 2012?
I miss you!
All discomfort was forgotten when I got 'home'. There was something that was starting to nag at me.
I had just assumed she would be here. I noticed Abie carrying my trunk inside and asked her. Abie was like my spyglass into this world. She would answer all my questions without hesitation but even her sparkling eyes darkened a little at this one.
“She died a long time ago, Miss, in childbirth,” she said eventually.
But I was the last born.
I killed my own mother!
I felt sick.
“I’m so sorry, Miss.”
I covered my mouth with one gloved hand and hurried away.
No I’m sorry, Abie.
It’s not your fault.
Mum. My dear Mum, she drove Adrian and me to soccer every Saturday. She made my lunch for school for nine years. She’s proofread every essay I’ve ever written.
She can’t be dead.
She couldn’t have died. I couldn’t have killed her. This is not my mum. This is a different Mum. This mum wasn’t the mother of Emilia Jane Hart, born May 17th, 1995. She was an 18th century mum. Death in childbirth was normal now. But that didn’t make it any less painful. I took a deep breath and tried to remember I still had a mother back in my own time. All I had to do was get back to her. Five minutes of quiet crying in the corner was enough to bury my guilt for now. But, hey! You don’t want to hear about that! You probably want to know about the house. It was impressive, I’d give it that. There was a curving driveway leading up to the front door. Three stories of brick building were standing boldly on the lawn before me. A slight patio, supported by two thick sandstone columns, held the entrance and two huge bay windows dominated the ground floor. Then, on top of all those pale brown bricks was creeping ivy that covered half of the house. It was a nice building to look at and, for some reason, it was my home.
I’m so tired from the journey.
Those three hours of keeping up that charade had been more tiring than I’d imagined, not to mention the shock I‘d received at this end. I raced up the stairs to my bedroom (I only got lost twice. Impressive, right?), Abie helped me peel off the several layers of my dress and I was asleep in minutes.
Being a ‘lady’ was more boring than I had ever imagined; not that I had imagined being a lady very often. I’m glad the house had a piano otherwise I would have gone stir crazy. The one thing that seemed normal to me was playing piano. The lessons had been forced upon me since I was six but now I was grateful for them. Though, playing Vanessa Calton and The Entertainer seemed to shock the household staff a little. The garden was my other solace. I walked for, probably, a total of three hours a day. I couldn’t read any of the books in the library because they were all written in that oldey-worldey speak that was so bloody annoying to read. I sighed and chucked away the novel I had been trying to read.
I think I’ll go for a walk.
I would kill for my iPod right now.
Or the Internet.
Or a TV.
Or anything, really, to liven the boredom!
Just then, Abie knocked on the door and, as always, immediately entered the drawing room.
“Miss Rose is here to see you, Miss,” she said quickly and then left.
She was replaced immediately by another girl about my own age. Her face was almost the opposite of mine; dark hair where mine was light, light eyes where mine were dark, long nose where mine was short, full lips where mine were small and thin.
“Emily!” she cried as she strode over and embraced me.
And I say embraced because that’s what it was. This was no ordinary hug.
“Addie!” I replied.
This person was my best friend and I’d never met them before in my life.
Help me! What should I say?
“Uh… would you like to take a turn of the grounds?” I asked awkwardly.
Adeline agreed and soon we were both out in the huge garden.
“It’s been so long since we last saw one another. How was the colony?” Adeline asked. We were walking much slower than I normally would and it was frustrating. But now I had to make a decision: had I been to Australia before? I’d have to guess.
“Oh, a great improvement on our last visit,” I said, mentally prepared for the backlash.
“Yes, that’s what I’d heard.”
I let out the breath I hadn’t noticed I’d been holding.
“I apologise for not visiting earlier.”
Uh… what was I supposed to reply to that? This ‘best friend’ gig was the hardest thing I’d had to do so far!
“No offence taken. I’m sure you were very busy.”
“Oh, Emily, it’s been frightful.”
Okay, that wasn’t the answer I was expecting.
“You remember Mr. Eves?”
“Of course.” I lied.
“Well, he has given me an offer of marriage.”
I suppressed a snort. That would make her ‘Adeline Eves’. Say it out loud if you don’t get it. I would not wish such a name on anyone.
“You declined, I hope,” I said before I realised what I was saying.
“Of course! A fortune of only three hundred pounds a year is not tempting enough for me. He is a second son, you know.”
No, I don’t know.
“But Father is most upset. Mr. Eves’ uncle is a duke, you see?”
No, I don’t see!
“So Father said I was not to leave the house until I accepted his proposal! It has taken me these last three days to persuade him otherwise.”
Eh… now I really was stuck for a response. I settled with: “How dreadful!” and left it at that.
Geez, this time was trickier than I had first thought! All I’d had to do until then was smile and look pretty but I’ve never been anyone’s confidante, even in my own time! I don’t understand the problems here! How am I supposed to give advice? Luckily, I was saved from doing anything by a call from further down the path.
“Emily! And, Miss Rose!”
My mind raced. Male voice I don’t know. First name terms. No introduction. This must be Alexander! Shit. A week and a half with no visits, now two in one day? Still…
Lady-like, Emily, you must be lady-like.
“Oh no, that won’t do, Mr. Lumley. Papa has already explicitly commanded me to call you Mr. Lumley at all times,” I said, turning around to face him.
And, oh boy, was I in for a shock. Alexander was quite, no, very good looking. ‘Hot’, some would say.
“Oh. Very well,” he said with a heart-melting smile, “Then I shall call you ‘Miss Hart’ from now on.”
And then he took off his top-hat (a top-hat, mind you!) and swept low in a mocking bow. ‘I changed my mind. You can call me Emily.’ But I couldn’t say that. So, instead I smiled and curtseyed.
“You are engaged, Miss Hart?” he asked with a laugh, looking at me hand, which I immediately whipped behind my back.
“Oh dear…” I whispered, “Not at all, Mr. Lumley. This is merely an embarrassing mistake that refuses to be corrected,” I said at normal volume.
Adeline was staring at me. Alexander was grinning.
Fuck, this was embarrassing.
“Emily, you did not tell me! Pray, who is your husband to be? Is he a gentleman? I did not know there were such people in the colony.” Adeline asked, pulling my hand from behind my back.
I’m only eighteen!
I’m too young to get married!
“Addie, I beg you to believe me! I simply tried it on and now cannot remove it!” I cried.
Let this be over!
Then, as if it were soaked in butter, Adeline just slipped the ring off my finger.
How did that happen?
I had already tried that a million times and nothing had happened!
“Addie, you’re a life-saver!” I shouted, flinging my arms around her neck.
Do they even have that phrase now?
I didn’t care, I was free! Then I noticed, Alexander was laughing at me.
“Mr. Lumley, do not laugh. It was a genuine problem!” Addie said, placing the ring in my palm.
Oh thank you, Adeline! My saviour! My saviour from a tiny loop of metal and embarrassment!
“Well, Father must be expecting me home,” Adeline said with a knowing look in my direction before hurrying off.
“Mr. Lumley,” I said when we were alone, “Would you care to stay for dinner?”
Is that right?
Yes, I think so.
Dinner is lunch, supper is dinner.
“Emily,” he started, putting his hat back on and taking my arm, “Is this really necessary? I’m not sure how much more ‘Mr. Lumley’ I can take.”
Then we started towards the house.
“Of course, or else Papa would be very cross with me,” I replied, somehow thrilled that he wanted to call me by my first name.
Maybe, I was already adjusted to this time. Still, more than anything, I wanted to go home.
It had just gotten dark. There was nothing to do in the dark. No TV, no computers, no electricity. So everyone goes to bed. It was like camping. Alexander had gone home. I lay on my bed. The candle on the bedside table sending flickering shadows up the walls. How had I gotten here? Of course, I’d thought about this before but I was seriously home sick right now. The addition of Adeline and Alexander just reminded me of the friends I’d left behind. It started with the ring. I twirled it in my palm. I didn’t dare put it back on in case it got stuck again.
Think back, Emily.
You were in that creepy room. Someone called you and you tried to take off the ring. Then you woke up in 1816?
I don’t understand!
The pale green stone shone with the candle light. I wanted to go home. To a time when I have a mum, and Dad is normal and Adrian has left home. To a time when I didn’t have servants or a best friend called Adeline. I rubbed the stone. It was smooth. Then, it began to move. It pressed in completely.
My vision was fading. A blinding white light was surrounding me.
I’m so dizzy.
Emilia Jane Hart was seventeen when she returned to 2012. She lay on the floor of the dusty bedroom with the air filled with the sound of cicadas and Christmas cheer. She blinked. Her t-shirt and shorts were lying on the dusty bed. Her phone lay beside them; testaments to the time. Quickly, she slipped them back on and hurried out the door, already convincing herself it was a dream.