I’m proud to share with you today an excerpt from my new novel A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM. Published by Madison Street Publishing, it can be purchased in print and as an eBook for only $3.99 on Amazon here.
In this chapter, Jane Austen is doing her best to avoid a proposal from the questionable and arrogant Reverend Blackwell. I hope you enjoy the selection
Chapter IV from Volume II
It has often been said that good things come to those who wait, but the fault with the expression is that it does not take into consideration the especially bad things that you are doing your utmost to avoid. Do bad things travel in different paths and fashions to the good? Can bad things be avoided since they, unlike most good things, are rarely expected or hoped for? Jane had a bad thing that she wanted to avoid, and the only plan she could come up with after an evening contemplating it was to run away—fast.
“Why do you need me to go on this walk with you?” Charles complained. He grabbed a branch from the ground and swung it around himself like a sword. Jane had to step back to avoid being hit.
Jane decided not to answer Charles’ question. “Is it wrong to enjoy our fields and hikes, Charles? Should not the pleasures of walking and breathing fresh air be enough? This may be our last time walking this trail together.”
“That is what you said a few days ago,” Charles moaned. “You cannot have two last times.”
Jane stopped and looked across the valley. The shock of the upcoming journey to Bath seemed to almost take her aback more now than it had earlier.
“I grew up here,” she said quietly, more to herself than to Charles.
“I grew up here too,” Charles said and sat on the ground by her. “I hardly see why that is so important a detail.”
“It is to me.”
“Everyone has to grow up someplace,” Charles said. “I would rather it had been someplace more exciting for me. India or Africa or the Caribbean would all have been better.”
“Do not let Cassandra hear you state your wish to travel to the Caribbean.” Jane frowned.
“No, of course not,” Charles said, lying back on the ground. “I am not stupid, Jane.”
“I did not say you were,” Jane said with a smirk. “You are my favorite of my younger brothers.”
“And you, Jane,”—Charles smiled in return—“are my favorite older sister named Jane.”
“It is a good arrangement.” Jane nodded, holding out her hand to Charles. He took it and rose to his feet.
“And you are my favorite sister with brown, curly hair.”
Jane did a little curtsy. “I thank you, sir. You are my favorite brother who is my height.”
“What a coincidence!” Charles said with a polite bow. “You are my favorite sister who is my height.”
They began walking again.
“Did I mention, Charles, that you are my favorite brother who is twelve?”
“You are my favorite sister who is forty.”
“I am not forty!”
“And it was such a pleasant game.” Jane sighed, looking up at the sun. “What time do you think it is?”
Charles eyed the sun as well. “Thirty minutes till noon.”
“We’ll keep walking. Show me that one path that you claimed no one knows about but you.”
“I will not. That is a secret. What are we doing here, Jane?” A louder whine entered Charles’ voice.
“Avoiding the apocalypse,” Jane said in a dark tone. “Avoiding the end of all things.”
“I would like to see that! Do you think there would be actual devils there?”
“You want to see a devil?”
“At least once, yes. I have heard so much about them recently.”
“That is true.” Jane laughed, recollecting the new Reverend’s sermon.
And, as if he was called by their conversation, in that instant Jane could see Mr. Blackwell approaching over a hill. Her plan had failed, and her own personal demon was approaching. She looked at her brother. “Not all devils come in red.”
Charles looked over in her direction, seeing Mr. Blackwell. “You do not mean Mr. Blackwell? He is far too boring to be evil.”
“Hush, Charles. He is to me. Protect me. Do not leave my side. If you leave me, he will do something most evil, worse than you can imagine.”
“What is that? Kill you? Maim you?”
Charles glared in his direction. That was all he needed to hear.
“So you think I ought to refuse him, then?”
Charles did not reply for there was no need; the expression on his face at the thought was a clear enough message for Jane.
“Ah! Miss Austen! Master Austen! I have been looking for the both of you. Your mother thought you both might be out on a walk.”
Blackwell sounded already out of breath from the excursion.
Charles held his stick out as a drawn sword and stood in front of Jane. Mr. Blackwell seemed surprised to see Charles standing in such a manner.
“Is something wrong, Master Austen?”
Charles did not answer.
Mr. Blackwell looked to Jane for direction. She only shrugged.
“Could you give us some privacy, Master Charles?” Mr. Blackwell asked smugly.
“I cannot do that, sir,” Charles said, crossing his arms across his chest. “I have agreed to act as my sister’s escort on this hike. Only she can send me away.”
Jane could not have been prouder of Charles, but Mr. Blackwell was not to be undone so easily. “Will you leave if I give you a pound?” he asked.
“Rather!” Charles exclaimed quickly and handed his stick to Mr. Blackwell. The money was quickly exchanged and, before Jane could protest, her brother was running away down the trail towards town, waving back at her.
Jane had never been so disappointed with her brother Charles.
She was now alone with Mr. Blackwell. There was no excuse or escape possible for her. I will be calm, she thought. I will be mistress of myself. I will be polite and listen and then say no when asked.
“Will you take my arm?” Mr. Blackwell said in a most dignified manner.
Jane did so; it felt overly rude not to. They began to walk.
“I am uncertain if you have noticed, Miss Austen, but there is a matter of great importance to me that I have wished to speak to you on. It is for that reason that I have searched you out.”
Even though Jane already had a fair idea where this conversation was going, she decided it was best to pretend ignorance.
“I do not know what you mean, Mr. Blackwell. What could you have to speak to me alone about? We have spoken in private before.”
Mr. Blackwell rubbed his eyes, complained about the pollen in the air and the effect it had on his allergies, and then continued with the meat of the conversation. “It is a matter of quite some delicacy,” he said, “probably the most delicate—well, I would assume as much—that a conversation can be. Of course, it could be said that the planning of one’s funeral could be just as difficult.”
Jane did not know how to answer to that. Was he comparing his proposal to making funeral arrangements?
He waved Charles’ stick in front of himself as if to say he was moving on with his speech. “The last thing, Miss Austen, that I wish to do is sound like a sermon or a lecture. This is hardly the place for such a discussion.” He coughed before continuing. “Since the beginning of time, since the dawn of man and the arrival of woman with the removal of Adam’s rib, man and woman have been tied together. Throughout the early Bible, every great prophet and man of God has had a wife, a noble and proper woman by his side—”
“I do not believe Jesus or many of his apostles did.”
“Yes, that is true,” Mr. Blackwell said. He sounded flustered by the interruption. “Circumstances were different in that situation, I think it can be rightly said.”
Jane decided not to ask how and waited for the rest of his argument. After a short cough he did continue. “A woman is needed by a man. How else is a house to be cleaned? The matter of a household to be upheld? The garden and the food prepared? And, if you do not mind me being a little less than delicate, how else is there to be offspring without the woman’s presence? No, it can rightly be said that for a man to be complete he must have a woman by his side.”
“Unless he is the Messiah or an apostle.”
Mr. Blackwell blushed. “Quite. I am sure now the matter of my point is far from your understanding, so I will begin again. When I heard of the rectory being available and that your father had two available daughters, it seemed a right situation for everyone. And after reviewing both you and your sister over the last fortnight, my eye has fallen on you. Do you need a moment to catch your breath?”
Jane did not need a moment; however, it would have probably hurt Mr. Blackwell’s feelings not to take one, so Jane did her best to fake a surprised reaction.
Her performance seemed to impress the Reverend. “I must say,” he continued, “that, at first, my decision to pick you over your sister was not an easy one. Cassandra is the eldest and seems more knowledgeable in the running of the household; however, there is little that I could teach her. She is already molded, as it were, by life. But you, Miss Austen, I believe could gain from my presence, making our future lives most beneficial for both of us. Something a little inferior I shall of course put up with, but it must not be much. If I am a fool, I shall be a fool indeed, for I have thought on the subject more than most men.”
Jane did not know what to say. She had prepared herself to a certain extent to be uncomfortable during this conversation with Mr. Blackwell, but never to this extreme.
“There is, for example, the time you spend writing. I have taken a moment to read the work you were writing. How disappointed I was to read material of such a common manner.”
“Common?” Jane exclaimed in surprise, more shocked at that moment by his review than the idea he had read her fiction without her permission.
“I think that is the best word to use, yes. You deal with the common man and the common man’s problems—love on the mortal plain, as it were. Or would it be better to say ‘common woman’? Perhaps, perhaps. Hardly what I would call an important piece like a lecture or an essay on life or God! Folly to squander your ability on such trifle! And the literature you seem to read—Gothic novels and the like—they are hardly any better. I have heard of the plays you have performed in the barn in the past. Those practices would quickly have to be put to an end. There is a higher plateau that one should aim for. Do you catch my meaning?”
Jane did and let go of his arm. This did not have the effect Jane hoped for, because Mr. Blackwell took the opportunity to grab her hands tightly. His own hands were cold and very soft. “Miss Austen, Jane, my dear, if I may be so bold. Let me say, however, that your mind is one of great potential. I have met few people more clever, especially within your sex. Your father and mother should be proud. Even though much of your time seems to be wasted on your wit, humor, performances, and little writings, there is such a potential there for serious contemplation. And in saying as much about your brain, I think you understand what I am saying now and what I wish to ask. Might I assume your answer?”
“Assume my answer?”
He let go of her hands. His face twitched into a smile, the second smile of his that Jane had seen. It was no more pleasant than the first. “Then we are agreed,” he said. “We must be quick. Your family is leaving next week and there is much to arrange in such a short time. Your father could do the service, and I am sure your mother and your sister could help with many of the arrangements.”
Jane stepped back. She could not be subtle now. The time for being delicate had passed. “I must say you misunderstand me, Mr. Blackwell. I did not give you an answer, especially not the one you assumed. It was not a statement, but a question.”
“I do not understand. Did I not make my intentions plain?”
“Yes, you most certainly did. I think even the least intelligent members of my sex that you have supposedly met would have understood. May I speak plainly?”
Mr. Blackwell nodded.
“I would like to begin, Mr. Blackwell, by thanking you for the compliments you have bestowed on my intelligence and upbringing. I am sure if my parents were here they would thank you as well.”
Mr. Blackwell nodded appreciatively in response.
“But in regards to your other points, I do believe I need to protest. Do I consider my humor, as you put it, and love of literature a fault? No, I do not. They are not a form of sin to me, but something I believe as important to human nature and growth as chastity and faith.”
“That is because you are young, Miss Austen,” Mr. Blackwell said with a sigh, “but I do promise, in time, I can help you understand the finer contexts of my argument.”
“You misunderstand me again,” Jane said quickly. “I should have probably said this at the first, but I do not accept your proposal. And since you have, so fairly, given me your argument for the union let me give you mine for the separation. Art is what I am. It is how I define myself. To lose the part of me that writes, that creates, would be to lose the part of me I love the most. Since you believe my work is one of sin and folly, then I must wonder how you would view me over time for creating it. No, Mr. Blackwell, I think it is obvious from the start that this is not a fine match, or even a passable one at that. I could not hope to make you happy, Mr. Blackwell. You need a finer lady than me.”
Mr. Blackwell was not dismayed. No, he did not even look the least bit deterred by her declaration. “I understand,” replied Mr. Blackwell, with a formal wave of the hand, “that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept when he first applies for their favor, and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time. I am, therefore, by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.”
“Upon my word, sir!” cried Jane in surprise. “Your hope is rather an extraordinary one after my declaration. I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal. It is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woman to be ready for anybody who asks her. We are not cattle for the trade, Mr. Blackwell.”
These words seemed to hurt Mr. Blackwell although he did his best to avoid showing disdain. He smacked the stick he had been holding twice against his leg and then carefully spoke again. “May I be honest with you, Miss Austen?”
“I believe in your occupation it is a necessity, Mr. Blackwell.”
He coughed and continued in his very dry tone. “You are, I believe, twenty-two—or is it twenty-four?—years of age. Not past your prime, certainly, but getting beyond an acceptable age for marriage and entering what some would call the age of spinsterhood, as it were. Your father and mother, although dear people, are elderly. I do not wish to number their days in saying that, per se, but death is approaching them as he does all of us. His speed with them, dare I say, will be quicker. Your sister, if I can say this correctly, is broken by the death of her fiancé, making her, some would say, a burden on whomever takes her in. For the time being, this is of course your parents, but upon their demise, she will be passed between your brothers in turn. Then there is your young brother Charles and your more questionable relation, Henry. Both are burdens as well—Charles by the sheer act of being young, and Henry, shall we say, because of the problems in his nature. I can see by the pale expression on your face that my words are affecting you. Do you wish for me to continue?”
When Jane did not respond, Mr. Blackwell once again coughed. “What I am trying to say, Jane, is that one should always think of the future and, most importantly, of the impact one’s choices will have on one’s fellow man. When one looks at my proposal as one of choice and its impact over time on one’s loved ones, I believe the answer becomes quite plain.”
He straightened himself, as if he were victorious in the debate.
Jane looked at her feet and took a deep breath. “I do not know what to say—”
“Not so hasty, please. I have by no means finished. Your parents would not complain. Your father and mother both gave their permission last evening. They are thinking of your best interests surely. You need to consider their experience and knowledge, for I am sure they would not have agreed with me so quickly if they did not see this as the best possibility for you. And what will you do when they leave this mortal coil? Will you take up an occupation? Will you work? Or will you become a burden like your sister Cassandra? These are all points to consider that you might not have thought of when you gave so hasty an answer before.”
“You amaze me, Mr. Blackwell,” Jane said. She continued to look at the ground. Her mind was filling with words, sentences, and expressions, but in her emotional state she had a hard time finding the right ones to use.
“That is my hope.”
Jane looked up, a spark leaping into her eyes and her voice shaking as she tried to hold in her anger. “I am not sure it is—not in the way I mean. You first try to win my affection with logic, and now you use fear and in a most crass and inhuman way.”
“It is not my intention to insult.”
“But you did, Mr. Blackwell, and in a most unforgivable manner. I guess it could be said that I should thank you. If you had begun with your heart, or mentioned it at least in passing, I might have been at a loss on how to deny you. This refusal comes much easier since I know now that you obviously do not have a heart at all.”
With those words, Jane turned on the surprised Mr. Blackwell and returned on the path alone. Jane felt the tears running down her cheeks, almost all the way home, without taking any trouble to check them, extraordinary as they were.