A Taste of Austen

To those who are new to my blog (and hello), a big part of my writing life right now is trying to find a publisher or agent for my novel, A Jane Austen Daydream.

A Jane Austen Daydream was a labor of love, a project I had worked on and off of for over seven years. It was inspired by the idea of what Jane would have done if she could’ve rewritten her life as one of her novels, making this book both for newbies and Austenites.

Last year, I was honored to have the novel chosen to be shared via Green Spot Blue (a literary Web site). The links to the chapters can still be found via the A Jane Austen Daydream page above. In the past on this blog, I have debated myself around agents or not (I have a history with agents that make me a little nervous), created a query letter, and wrote about different possibilities for the work. Currently, I am sending out query letters again for the work to both agents and publishers. So if anyone knows an agent or publisher that might be interested, please feel free to share (Because honestly, nothing is more persausive and important than contacts in the arts; it is one of the reasons I recommend often for new writers to find opportunities to make contacts and friends in the writing community)… And speaking of sharing, I thought I would share a taste from the work.

This is the second chapter from the first volume. Previously, it was announced that a big ball is being planned to introduce Cassandra to society and possibly find her a worthy suitor, the only problem is her sister Jane has to come to the dance as well…

-Chapter 2-

From Volume I of A Jane Austen Daydream

To the residents of Steventon, she was known as the “other Ms. Austen.” So, when Jane was spoken about, it was in a manner such as this:

“Will the other Ms. Austen be attending?”

“Has the other Ms. Austen discussed the matter with her mother?”

“I try to avoid the other Ms. Austen when I see her, she does effect me so.”

Not to say that Jane was not liked in her hometown, if pressed a person would have a hard time finding anyone that disliked her or had any reason to dislike her, per se, it was just that she had something about her that was different.

Her mind worked too quickly for many (and many times her tongue ran as fast as her mind) and speaking to her could feel like a challenge, especially to the simpler members of the town. If anything it could be said her mind was always active and busy, with a great many independent resources. She was sensible and eager in everything; her sorrow, her joys, could have no moderation. She also had a talent for “looking through” a person. Yes, her piercing eyes were always a concern for many, and it would make them nervous wondering what she was thinking behind them. One of the more superstitious members of the community once noted in private that if she was not the good Reverend’s daughter, she might have the power of a witch.

Jane was spoiled by being the cleverest of her family. At ten years old she had the misfortune of being able to answer questions which puzzled her older sister. She was always quick and assured and was seen by all to have a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous. Yet, none of these were points of quality that the town held in her favor, choosing Cassandra, the elder, as the better of the two. Could anyone have hoped for a wife or sister or daughter as wonderful as Cassandra? Cassandra who was always kind to everyone she met, who fit in so much better in a small town such as Steventon; Cassandra who was always the first to volunteer to assist anyone be it during a birth or a sickness or a death. She was an example to the congregation, and it was common for mothers to point their daughters towards her while saying things such as

“What would Ms. Austen do?”

“Do you think Ms. Austen would approve?”

Many times in the most private conversations, Jane, “the other Ms. Austen”, would be held up as an example of what happens in the opposite action, since Jane did many things that Cassandra would never consider doing.

“Now, dear, do you want to act like Ms. Austen or the other Ms. Austen? Consider carefully…”

The next day, after the life-changing dinner of the night before, Mrs. Austen could be found holding court with the other matrons of the town at the local tea shop informing all of them of the exciting events soon to happen to her wonderful daughters. It can easily be said that she did not hinder any of the gossip in the town, adding her own distinctive fuel to the fire, making it a true blaze. Yes, the stories of the ball began with her not nudging a pebble down a hill but more pushing a boulder off a cliff. How the other women praised the good fortune of Jane and Cassandra. Could two young ladies be luckier? Even, Mrs. Austen could not find a single fault with the plan she had a hand at putting forth or even her daughters.

“I love both my daughters. As a mother I could not be more blessed. Can you think of another young lady with Cassandra’s warmth and caring nature? Oh, my, any of the men at the ball would be lucky to find her. Her soft grace and kindness impress me each day. Just the other day we were knitting and I dropped my needle, a common error I am sure everyone here has experienced. Now Cassandra, seeing her mother unarmed as it were, simply handed me the one she was using and then picked up the one I lost for herself. A little gesture to be sure, but one that is common with her. Not a day goes by that she does not ask, ‘Dearest mama (she always likes to call me dearest mama) I wish there was more I could do to help you.’ Have you ever heard of such a thing! Oh, it gladdens my heart.  I do not like to boost of my children, but to be sure, Cassandra- one does not often see anybody better looking. It is what everybody says, not trusting my own partiality. Yes, any man would be lucky to capture her heart. I am so lucky with my two daughters, so very lucky.”

It was at this point that Mrs. Austen leaned forward and spoke in a whisper. “Now this can not leave this table. No, it can not leave this room. Last night I had a dream.” Some of the women gasped. It was certain that this story, even before it began would be spread quickly. Mrs. Austen nodded, loving the attention that she was getting. “Yes a dream. It was Cassandra. She was living in a large estate. She was outside in the large garden, taking care of two beautiful children. One of the children fell and in fear began to cry. Cassandra picked up the babe and began to soothe it in the most loving manner.” It was here that for dramatic purposes, Mrs. Austen grabbed her heart. “She is such a gem. I could not be happier if that was to be true. I am so very blessed with my family, but especially with my two daughters.”

“Will the other Ms. Austen be attending?” Mrs. Churchill asked.

Yes, of course,” Mrs. Austen said, looking uncomfortable and a little put out from being distracted from her hopes regarding Cassandra. “She will of course, be attending and I believe she could make a fine match as well. I can not think of a single reason that she could be seen as a…” It was here that Mrs. Austen became distracted by something out of the window.

It was her son Charles and he was hanging a poster on the window of the tea shop. He waved at his mother and skipped away.

Mrs. Austen motioned for the members of her table to remain and quickly (as best as she could since she had little practice in ever moving quickly) moved towards the door and upon opening it, quickly removed the poster there. She read in horror:

For your bemusement and enjoyment—-
This Saturday at dusk:
The Austen Family Theater Troupe
Will be presenting a new work by
the GREAT renown writer
Jane Austen (Ms)

The Visit!

A comedy in two acts!

It will star such esteemed actors as Henry Austen, Cassandra Austen,

and introducing Charles Austen as the diabolical Lord Fitzgerald…

With appearances by Jane Austen as everyone else.

Mrs. Austen did not return to her friends right away; she first accosted Charles, demanding to know more about the play. Charles would not say too much about the play (knowing little himself), but did say that he agreed to hang the signs and perform since he was promised the part of the villain and that he could wear a big mustache.

“Cassandra,” Jane sighed, “You must take part in the play. I could never dream of opening the curtain without you by my side. Charles and I put your name on the poster; the posters alone would be ruined.”

“Please do not tease me like that, Jane. I do not dare be seen in public right now. I am uncertain what it will do to my heart. Can you imagine all the attention that we would get because of this dance?” Cassandra said, then as if expecting a crowd of onlookers to appear over the horizon looked behind herself to make sure that they still had privacy on their walk.

No matter how exaggerated Cassandra’s concerns were she did have a point and it was for this reason that the two sisters made a pact not to travel into town for a full week. So on this day, they were on a hike, making sure to walk away from Steventon as compared to towards it.

Cassandra almost tripped and Jane caught her. “You will not be on the stage, dear sister,” Jane said, helping her sister to stand up. “Lady Hampton will be on the stage. You will be in character and Hampton is a wonderful character, if I can compliment my own writing. If it makes you feel better, I will be dressed as a man for most of my appearances. I was to wear a mustache, but I promised it to Charles.”

This point did not make Cassandra feel better and she continued the walk quickly, still evidently disappointed by all the directions her life has taken in the last day. Cassandra sighed. “Why can we not perform something more classic?”

Jane pretended to gasp. “Do you not like my writing?”

“Jane,” Cassandra said with a sigh. “I know what you and Henry are doing. You know that dad will punish you for the play. He always punishes you.”

“Yes,” Jane replied playfully, “I am prepared for that. My only great fear, dear sister is that he does not laugh first. That is the challenge- to see if I can get a true laugh before I am sent to the gallows.”

Cassandra looked ahead down the trail, still more serious than Jane. “At least it is better than your work that had the young woman becoming Catholic. Oh, the thought, Jane, for shame!”

Jane laughed evilly at the memory. How the audience gasped at the scene! Jane could remember the silence that followed the revelation. Yes, she was punished most severely for it, but for her father’s reaction- it was…stupendous. There was no other word to explain it for Jane than stupendous. She still had to hide her laughter when reminded of the many sermons her father gave the following weeks on the work. The fact she even dared to put on a play, two years after the incident, was quite an achievement for her… Actually, all it took was a little convincing from Henry. Jane loved to perform and entertain so much.

“I wonder if performing works like this is even proper,” Cassandra said.

“What do you mean?”

“At our ages, Jane,” Cassandra said, “We are not children anymore. We should be presenting ourselves in a more respectable light, do you not think? I can not imagine the better members of our society going to the trouble of putting on a play. It feels base.”

Jane kicked a stone and chose not to reply. The arts always seemed base to Cassandra.

They would have spoken of the matter more, but it was then that they crossed over a hill and to Jane’s great pleasure (and to Cassandra’s fears) they found… “Gypsies!” Jane said excitedly.

It was a camp of gypsies that seemed to be settling down for the evening. Jane could hear the sound of music and the smell of food.

“We should leave,” Cassandra said quietly, full of fear. “What if they were to rob us or steal us away?”

“Oh, Cassandra,” Jane said, grabbing her sister’s hand. “They only do that in books, but would it not be wonderful if they did! This could be fun.” And she then began to pull her sister down the hill after her. “Just think of the mysteries in front of us. Cherish the idea of the new experience and chance life has given to us at this moment. The stories we might hear! And, more excitingly, what if they were to tell us our fortunes.”

Cassandra did not like the sound of that. “Jane, we must not. What would father say? That is the devil’s work.”

Jane laughed and pulled her sister forward into the camp. “You worry far too much. It is a game, Cassandra, think of it as only that.”

The old woman almost seemed to look like a skeleton with the flicker of the candle light flames off her face. Jane found the entire environment of the fortune teller’s tent wonderfully gothic and scary, it reminded her of all the stories she so enjoyed reading; Cassandra, on the other hand, did not enjoy the experience at all… she especially detested the fact that Jane told the old woman that she would go first.

The old gypsy leaned forward to Cassandra and breathed in her face as she spoke slowly (It was obvious that Cassandra disliked the smell of her breath). “Before I read your palm there is something that you must understand. Life is a tale, a story,” She said in her thick Eastern European accent. She slapped Cassandra’s palm roughly and continued. “Our palms tell that story.”

“Like a novel?” Jane asked, excitedly.

“I do not read,” the old gypsy said and glared at Jane.  She looked back at Cassandra’s hand’s tracing the palm’s creases with the nail of her finger. Cassandra thought it felt very uncomfortable. “You are… a kind soul.”
“Thank you,” Cassandra said, instinctively.

“I do not compliment you!” The gypsy almost shouted. “I merely say what the palm says. Nothing more.” She turned back to the hand. “You will have… love.” Jane began to giggle. Cassandra and the old gypsy both looked to her until she stopped. She covered her mouth with her hand and motioned for them to continue, forget about her.

“Your love will be great, but it will end as all things do. Yes, I see an… end here.”

This statement made Cassandra feel very uncomfortable.

The old gypsy continued. “Your life line is… long, yes. You will have a long life.” She looked up at Cassandra.

Cassandra spoke softly, hoping not to anger the gypsy. “Is there anything else?”

“Yes, there is always more,” the gypsy said, “But it will cost you more. Remember, it is never wise to know everything.”

Cassandra paused for a minute considering whether to pay and then, upon deciding no (she never did believe in this anyway) shook her head.

“Now, you,” The gypsy said while pointing at Jane, “The one who likes to giggle.”

Cassandra bit her tongue from laughing at Jane and rose from her seat, allowing Jane to take her place.

Jane eagerly held out her hand. The old woman sighed, grabbed her hand and slapped it hard, like Cassandra’s before; Jane let out a little scream in pain. The gypsy did not notice or care about Jane’s discomfort. Something about Jane’s palm surprised the old lady and she leaned in closer to look (Her nose almost pressed against her flesh). “Your life line is…”

“I do not care about that yet,” Jane said, rudely interrupting (She wished she could rub her hand after the slap). “Tell me about love.”

The gypsy did not like being interrupted. She looked up solemnly at Jane and slapped her hand a second time for good measure, harder than the first. “Your love life, you ask of me?”

“Yes,” Jane answered quickly, “Please.”

“You will have… romance in your life. Love is very important to you… Yes, I see that everywhere… Everywhere… An adventure and romance awaits you.”

Jane looked back at Cassandra with a smile.

“And you will have love,” the gypsy declared. “It will take you by surprise. When you least suspect it… when you are not looking for it. Remember… you will be surprised.” She waved her hands dramatically at Jane.

Jane nodded, understanding.

“Now,” The gypsy said and grabbed Jane’s wrist tightly. She pulled her forward towards her. “Did you ever cut your hand?”

“Cut my hand?” Jane asked confused.

“With a sharp knife,” the old gypsy said slowly (Making both Jane and Cassandra very uncomfortable).

“No,” Jane said with a nervous shake of the head.

The gypsy stared into Jane’s eyes for a minute, as if she was reading her mind for the truth than turned back to the palm. “I have not seen this before.”

“What is it?” Jane asked excitedly. “Am I going to die soon?”

“No, I would have told you when you were to die if that true,” The gypsy said with a shake of her head. “Your life line never ends.”

Jane and Cassandra did not dare speak. Outside the tent, the lone violin could be heard, starting a new sad song.

“Excuse me?” Jane asked. “What does that mean?”

“It means,” The gypsy said rising to her feet and letting go of Jane’s hands, “that you will never die.” She went to the front flap of her tent, paused, looked at both Jane and Cassandra seriously and motioned for them to depart, which they both quickly did, scared to stay a minute longer than necessary.

The gypsy’s fortune soon replaced the news of the approaching ball as the most interesting topic for Jane and Cassandra. They never told a member of their family about the episode and would speak about it only in whispers, even when it was obvious they were the only two in the vicinity.

Cassandra did not like her fortune at all. While she was happy that she found love, the silence of the gypsy after that made her very uncomfortable.

Jane could not have been more thrilled about her reading though! It gave her everything she could have hoped for in the experience, and because of that, by the time the play was about to begin on Saturday she was certain it was… fake.

She must have annoyed the gypsy in some way, making her lie to her in such fashion.

Love and immortality!

How foolish she was to ever believe such nonsense!

Jane thought about it during the entire performance. As the audience laughed at her jokes, she wondered if the old gypsy had lied to Cassandra as well. As her father gasped at the joke about the women having to sit on the men’s laps because there were not enough chairs at the table, she only slightly worried about her punishment, thinking instead about how ridiculous a person would have to be to believe in immortality.

“It was all a joke on us,” Jane assured herself as she bowed with the rest of her cast. And when her father motioned for her to follow him into his office for the punishment she knew was coming, she had already promised herself that she would forget the entire event.

Love, she was certain does not surprise as the gypsy said. Jane would go to the ball and make a selection. Yes, that was how these things are done. She would pick the best match for herself in look, wealth, intelligence, humor, and interest. How could she not find success with her mind on the task?

Yes, there was far more interesting events to come, she believed, than wasting her time thinking even a minute more about her fortune and future (no matter how intriguing it was)… Surprise in love, indeed, she thought to herself as her father lectured her and then discussed her sentence.

Soon Cassandra and Jane would be departing for Godmersham Park and the Knight’s Ball; the carriage ride soon becoming nothing more than a page turn away.

And then, not even Jane and Cassandra could guess what would happen. Jane began to count down the remaining days and hours and minutes, preparing for the real destiny she believed was in store for her.

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3 responses

  1. Pingback: Time to Share! Some Southard Samples « The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

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