Today I am happy to share an excerpt from my new novel A Jane Austen Daydream. A Jane Austen Daydream is a re-imagining of Miss Austen’s life as a work of fiction, influenced more by her own novels than what reality decided to give her, filled with love, rogues, heartache, adventures and a lot of wit… as well as a few new post-modern literary surprises.
Published by Madison Street Publishing, it can be purchased in print and as an eBook for only $3.99 via amazon here.
From Chapter III of A Jane Austen Daydream
“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 will get because of this dance?” As if expecting a crowd of onlookers to appear over the horizon, Cassandra looked behind herself to make sure that they still had privacy on their walk.
No matter how exaggerated Cassandra’s concerns, 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 rather than 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 had taken in the last day.
“Why can we not perform something more classic?” Cassandra sighed.
Jane pretended to gasp. “Do you not like my writing?”
“Jane, I know what you and Henry are doing. You know that Father 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 will 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 had gasped at the scene! Jane could remember the silence that followed the revelation. Yes, she was punished most severely for it, but her father’s reaction was…stupendous. For Jane, there was no other word to explain it. She still had to hide her laughter when reminded of the many sermons her father gave on the work in the weeks following. The fact that she even dared to put on another 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. We are not children anymore. We should be presenting ourselves in a more respectable light, do you not think? I cannot 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 dismay) they came across something new.
“Gypsies!” Jane said excitedly.
It was a camp 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, 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.” She 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?”
“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 looked like a skeleton, with the flames of a candle flickering on 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, especially detesting the fact that Jane had told the old woman 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,” she said in a thick, Eastern European accent, “there is something that you must understand. Life is a tale, a story.” 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 glared at Jane. She looked back at Cassandra’s hand tracing the palm’s creases with the nail of her finger. “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.
“Your love will be great, but it will end, as all things do. Yes, I see an…end here.”
Cassandra looked very uncomfortable.
“Your life line is…long, yes,” the old gypsy continued. “You will have a long life.”
She looked up at Cassandra.
“Is there anything else?” Cassandra spoke softly, hoping not to anger the gypsy.
“Yes, there is always more, 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, pointing at Jane, “the one who likes to giggle.”
Cassandra bit her tongue to keep 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, as she had done to 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 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, and Jane nodded.
“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, “so deeply that it would leave a scar?”
“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, then 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 was true.” The gypsy shook her head. “Your life line never ends.”
Jane and Cassandra did not dare speak. Outside the tent, a lone violin could be heard, starting a new sad song.
“Excuse me,” Jane asked, “what does that mean?”
“It means”—the gypsy rose to her feet and let 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 fortunes 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, however, could not have been more thrilled about her reading! 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 a fake and that 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 of her play as they declaimed on their makeshift stage in their barn. As the audience laughed at her jokes, she wondered if the old gypsy had lied to Cassandra as well. 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, but she worried only slightly 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. 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.
She was certain that love does not surprise, as the gypsy said. Jane would go to the ball and make a selection. Yes, that was how these things were done. She would pick the best match for herself in looks, wealth, intelligence, humor, and interest. How could she not find success with her mind on the task?
Yes, there were 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.
“If asked to sum up this book in one word, I would have to choose “unpredictable”… you will, in the end, be rewarded by a quick paced novel unlike any you can ever have read, which injects new ideas and possibilities into the world of Jane Austen.” -The Jane Austen Centre