I’ve seemed to have hit some roadblocks regarding agents. While the responses from agents who have read it to be very kind (for example, “well-written” and “captivating”) and all note that they think it will find publication and success, I have yet to get the gold; in other words, one that feels inspired to push it for that “success” and “publication.” There is one agency I still have my fingers very crossed about, but if I hear a negative from them, I plan to try a different route- going right to small publishers and indie presses. (Oh, and if you are an agent or a publisher reading this- I don’t bite, please contact me. Seriously, I’ll send you flowers.)
Anyway, to keep myself inspired for the possible hard work ahead, I thought I would share some of the book here, Chapter 9 from Part II; one of the big turning points in the book.
At this point in the story, Jane Austen has begun a new life with her family in Bath. While there, Jane met a mysterious American playwright that she greatly enjoyed talking to, and in many ways has captivated her imagination, but she never got his name. Also, while in Bath, Jane’s family has become reacquainted with many old friends including Harris Bigg-Withers. In this chapter, Jane is about to be offered an interesting proposition….
Chapter 9, Part II
from A Jane Austen Daydream by Scott D. Southard
There are routines that one takes on in a life- first they may sometimes have a meaning, but slowly they will change becoming nothing more than habit. Over time they can make up our days, marking our own personal definitions with the scars of simply living.
A routine- that was what Jane’s walks on the riverbank became for her. Each afternoon she would leave her new home, a coat wrapped tightly around her as she began the walk to the river. Once there she would walk along the shore– but now with the cold weather setting in, her time there was less and less. She found the walks invigorating both in mind and spirit, an opportunity to collect her thoughts, think about her stories and plan future conversations for her characters in her imagination. That was what the walks became for her; that is what the walks were for her.
Of course, there was originally a different reason for the walks. At first, she easily admitted to herself what they were for–
He might be there again, her American.
She hoped to continue their conversation. He intrigued her. Not out of romance, she would argue that with anyone (if she dared tell anyone about the meeting), no it was out of curiosity merely. She had never met an American before; he was her first. Jane had heard many stories about the colonies and their inhabitants. How much was true, she wondered.
Also, more importantly, he was a writer as well. To have an actual conversation about literature with a fellow writer! A dream for Jane, something she had sadly accepted as never being possible, especially during her days in Steventon. There was no chance, no even hint of an opportunity. How many times she had to change the conversation or stop in the middle of a thought because the other party would not understand her point, could not understand her point. It was frustrating, but a frustration Jane had become used to sadly. Yet, now with the American she began to consider conversations she had once abandoned starting afresh.
Oh, the conversations they would have about literature as well! He must certainly be a good reader; a good writer has to be a good reader, it is a fact of nature! Of course, he would love Byron. Jane would not respect him if he felt differently about Byron’s work. And which were his favorite Shakespeare plays? How did he feel women were represented in the great Bard’s work?
Maybe they could share their stories with each other? They could give each other notes and exchange ideas. Maybe he would know a respectable publisher that could help her- Jane would not let herself contemplate that for very long. No, it is always easier in the arts to accept the worse than to excite one’s hopes.
And yet, she had never known hope of this nature until her brief walk with the American. In a way it could be said that he represented that for her merely- hope. Hope of a different life, hope of a kind of friend she had never known.
Each time, she would look upon the place where they met and wait half-a-moment before continuing her walk. “There, exactly there,” she thought to herself, “on that projecting mound- there he startled me and I first saw him.”
The sad truth to the matter though is that it had been a month now. A whole month since they had walked those shores and she had not seen him once.
No, he was gone and her little hope was gone with him, and these walks once with a goal, were now merely a routine- and yet, in her mind she heard the conversations that might have been. Occasionally she would have to stop herself from laughing out loud, worried what a passerby might think; thinking she was as crazy as she thought herself to be.
“Jane!” Her mother exclaimed upon her return. Both Mrs. Austen and Cassandra were waiting for Jane in the parlor.
“Give me a moment, to take off my coat, mama,” Jane said, “and then you can share with me any dire news you might have.”
“Dire? Hardly, dear girl! You should have never left. Where did you go? Oh, it does not matter. Jane prepare yourself. Mr. Bigg-Withers is here!”
Jane stopped in her removal of her coat. “Why?” She looked to Cassandra. “And why is that important? He has visited many times in the last month.”
Cassandra shook her head to show that she had nothing to add.
“Exactly, you silly girl,” Mrs. Austen said. She rose from the couch quickly and helped Jane in removing the rest of her coat, far more speedily and awkwardly than Jane would have liked. “He asked to see you… in private.”
“Why ever so?” Jane looked to Cassandra again.
Cassandra again shook her head to show she did not have an answer.
Mrs. Austen sighed. She straightened Jane in front of her, played with her hair and then began to pinch Jane’s cheeks until they began to hurt. “Ouch, mama! Ouch!” Jane almost leapt back from Mrs. Austen’s fingers, rubbing her cheeks. “Mama, that hurt.”
“He is waiting in the library,” Mrs. Austen said. She was becoming cross.
“Cassandra will you come with me?” Jane asked quickly, a little fear of the unexpected in her tone.
“No,” Mrs. Austen answered as Cassandra began to rise from her seat, her hand quickly grabbing Cassandra’s arm. “She most certainly will not Jane. If you are alone for too long in there, I might send her in, but for the time being it is fine that you are alone. Fifteen minutes with a fine and trustworthy gentleman is certainly acceptable, an hour would be considered far too much. I will allow as much as thirty minutes, possibly forty-five. Whatever the case, Jane, I will keep an eye on the clock, do not fear.”
“Mama,” Cassandra asked hastily, “what kind of an image does it present of Jane or of us that we would send her in alone for any amount of time?”
Mrs. Austen sighed, annoyed. “It is an image fine enough for her, thank you, Cassandra. He is a young man, he will not question his luck in having a young woman alone for company.” She looked at Jane, who looked surprised by her last comment. (What did she mean, “fine enough for her?”). She took Jane’s hand and began to speak sternly, like one giving rules before a game. “Do not sit on the same couch as him, Jane. And keep an eye on him as well. You may shake his hand at the meeting if he looks to expect it, but do not offer it for him to hold. I will send Cassandra in if it has been too long. Go! Go! I’ll stay in here and pray.”
And as Jane began to leave the room she looked back at her mother, once again taking her seat on the couch near Cassandra with a look of utmost concentration on her brow. “If she could do magic,” Jane thought, “the world would have fallen at her feet.”
Mr. Bigg-Withers rose from the chair, upon Jane’s entrance. He was looking at one of her father’s books that he had laid aside and probably forgotten about (a common problem of her husband that Mrs. Austen never ceases to complain about). “Ms. Austen, I am glad to see you.”
Jane smiled as kindly as she could and entered. “It is good to see you too, Mr. Bigg-Withers.”
“Please, Ms. Austen, you have known me most of my existence, please, call me Harris.”
“Then you have my permission to officially call me Jane at your leisure. You had done it in our youth, but now you are blessed with my adult approval,” Jane replied. “No more, ‘Ms. Austens.’”
He smiled at her comment and yet they looked at each other awkwardly after. Jane, not sure what was going on, Bigg-Withers not sure where to begin. He did not offer his hand, but neither did Jane; there was too much mystery and uneasiness between them in this strange meeting. “Could you take a seat, Jane?”
Jane nodded and sat on the couch, taking her mother’s advice to keep some distance between herself and the young gentleman.
Then there was silence. It looked like he was planning to speak and on a few occasions opened his mouth as if to begin. Jane began to be worried for his mental state. He sat for a few minutes, and then getting up walked about the room. Jane was surprised but did not say a word. “There is a matter of some delicacy that I wish to speak to you of, Jane.”
Jane found that curious and answered in the most pleasant way she could since she felt it not her place to upset him further. “You know my mind will always be open to you. You can speak freely with me.”
These words seemed to relax him, at least a little, for he stopped walking and turned to face her with a most serious expression across his brow. The result of his thoughts appeared at last in these words, “Jane,” he said very slowly, “I need you to marry me.”
He did not say anything more.
Jane did not speak as well.
Did Bigg-Withers expect Jane to respond immediately? Did he expect Jane to respond with a yes or no? Jane only felt overwhelmed and shocked by the question. After a minute, she began to question whether she had even heard the question, it being so ridiculous to her. “Did I hear you correctly?” Jane asked once her voice had returned. “Did you just propose marriage to me?”
He wiped some sweat off his forehead with a handkerchief and stuttered. “Maybe, I can not say, yes.” He seemed irritated with himself. “Yes, I want you to marry me,” He said after he had steeled himself more to the idea.
Jane studied the man in front of her, not ready to study the question that was just presented. He looked very pale. “Maybe you should sit down?”
“Yes, thank you,” he said quickly. He was about to sit next to her on the couch and then thought better of it, sitting in the leather chair across from her again. Jane when writing her own books, never considered that a proposal could be carried out in this manner- especially to her. No, this was quite a new thing.
Jane took a deep breath. “If you do not mind me asking, why do you want to marry me?” She asked slowly.
He sighed, a great burden seemed to leave his frame as he relaxed in the chair. “Jane, dearest and most wonderful Jane, I knew I could speak to you plainly. I knew you would understand.”
“How do you mean?”
“You knew there must be a reason, you knew it could not have been simply my heart. You know me too well for that. I was not planning to lie to you, but I am in a desperate position and who is to say what a desperate man would do until he is tested.”
Jane shook her head and leaned forward towards him. “I still am confused.”
He leaned forward in his chair towards her as well. He almost took her hand then instead placed both hands firmly on his own legs. “This would be a financial arrangement, I assure you. One I believe of the best convenience for both of us.”
“I think it is best you tell me everything, Harris.”
“Of course, yes, of course,” He looked as if he would stand again, but chose against it. He instead leaned further forward and began to speak in a fast whisper. “As you know, my family’s estate is one of incredible wealth and influence; thanks in large part over the years to my stepfather’s trading in the East Indies. My father has made it plain to me that if I wish to continue with the life I am used to I must make some changes, as it were. A risk I always knew was in front of me since I am his son in name merely, being born from my mother’s first marriage. This threat- yes I call it a threat- has gone beyond words, he has put conditions in his will. Conditions I must achieve prior to the reading of the will, if you can believe it. It is quite a list, Jane, quite a list indeed. And the first thing on the list is that I find a wife.” He stopped and sighed. “My father is old, Jane. He is close to your father’s age, so as you can imagine I do not have time to properly woo you.”
Jane wished she could have a glass of water, but there was none in sight. Her throat felt so very dry. “So for these reasons and these reasons alone you wish for me to marry you?”
“Yes, Jane, yes.” This time he did sit down near her on the couch, quickly moving from his chair to that seat. He even dared to take her hands in his. They both noted that the others were moist. “Jane, you know me; I have known you since childhood. There are few I hold most dear or with more respect. Before you give me your answer, think what I can do for you in this arrangement. I receive 10,000 a year. I promise you will not want for anything. A large income is the best recipe for happiness, I ever heard of. When we find a home, you may have your own library and you can fill it with whatever you will. I can help you to find publication for your books. Consider me your patron, Jane; I can be a great patron for your work. Think of all I can do for your name as an author and your work. I can also help your family. They will benefit from your elevation as well. Your sister and your mother should not want when your father has passed.” He paused and looked into her eyes. Jane knew those eyes. She had seen those eyes since her youth. So many years, so much time, there are few Jane could think of that she could trust more.
Mr. Bigg-Withers smiled awkwardly. He gripped her hands tighter. “We can be of great benefit to each other, Jane. Dearest Jane, please, what is your answer?”
You can check out the rest of the book via the links on the A Jane Austen Daydream page on this site. Also, if you liked reading this, why not check out some of my published books? I had two novels published in the last few years, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here. Thanks for reading!