A Jane Austen Daydream--Chapter 1

(*Editor note:  It was with great pleasure that we earlier serialized Scott's novel, and now are pleased to run this greatly changed first chapter from the just released novel published as a complete book.--HW)

Jane Austen was born to a large family in a little house in a little village. Her father was the reverend and the schoolmaster. He was a kind man, conservative, but warm. His wife was also a fine lady, but it can be said (and it has, although not always to her face), that she could be more calculating and vocal than her husband. While he had the attention of the town at his pulpit each Sunday, the rest of the days belonged to her. She was an attentive neighbor to all and there was little that went on in the town that she was not aware of. The ways of the town were like a chess match for her, a game to be observed and plotted over. If a young lady in the town (and its neighboring villages, for she did not discriminate) was to become engaged, Mrs. Austen would know of it, often before the mother of the young lady. Yes, it can be said that she was remarkably quick in the discovery of attachments, and had enjoyed the advantages of raising the blushes and vanity of many a young lady by the insinuation of her powers over such a young man. With most of her children respectably married, Mrs. Austen had nothing more to do but marry the rest of the world, projecting marriages among all the young people of her acquaintance. It was a game she loved to discuss with anyone who cared to listen, and she had an opinion on each of the possible moves that could be made by any of her pawns. 

If there was one talent that matched - or possibly outshone - Mrs. Austen’s ability to spread stories through the community, it was her ability to procreate. The Austen family was large, with eight children in total. There were six young Austen men and two women, a number the Reverend found fitting, even though Mrs. Austen found it usually tiring. At the beginning of this tale, only three of Jane’s siblings were still in the rectory and therefore bear mentioning now. 

It can never be said enough the importance of Cassandra, Jane’s older sister. Cassandra was Jane’s voice of reason, her best friend and confidante. Two years Jane’s elder, Cassandra presented an image Jane wished she could mirror. Yes, Jane idolized Cassandra in many ways. She respected Cassandra’s composure and envied her mind and wit, for it seemed to her that she knew how to properly act in any given situation. She was a model for Jane to work towards, albeit a model she knew in her heart she could never achieve.

Henry, one of Jane’s many older brothers, was probably the most questionable of Jane's siblings. His parents, when they discussed him at all, blamed London for corrupting their boy. Why would a boy, of such intelligence and religious upbringing, be drawn to gaming and reckless behavior? 

They certainly could not blame themselves, so, for them, the blame lay in that vast unknown of London. Yes, it was London that taught him to enjoy gaming and the more friendly women of London society (the ones, Mrs. Austen pointed out, who laughed with their mouths open). Yes, London was to blame for his departure from the university, his subsequent return, and second departure. His father, whenever his thoughts turned to his wayward son would now use the term "scoundrel." It was the worse word he could dare allow himself to use about one of his own children. Of course, Henry's history and rascally behavior only endeared him more to Jane. If asked, Jane would admit (even with her father in the vicinity) that Henry was her favorite of all her brothers and, if she had been a boy, she might have been just like him for, to her, his life sounded fun and wonderfully free.

At the time of the start of our tale, Henry was living at home again. He had left university to reconsider, once again, his options for his future. For the time being, this meant smoking, visiting the pub, and sharing wit with Jane. When forced to explain her brother and his current direction in his life, Jane would merely say that “there is a great deal of wine drank in Oxford."

Finally, and not at all least (if someone was to present Charles as the least, they certainly would regret it later), was Charles. By the age of eight, he had already been marked as trouble by the local townsfolk. Now, at ten, he wore that badge proudly. 

Charles had an obsession with the military and not only dreamed of becoming an officer, but already considered himself one, even without the assignment and proper papers. On any given day, he and the fellow members of his "regiment" could be found marching through the streets of the village, protecting everyone from an imminent attack of the French, or so they wished to believe.

Not a week would go by when Charles did not ask for his own gun, and not a week would go by that his father would wisely say no. Jane's relationship with her brother was one of space. She believed, when forced to think about him, that his antics were that of a young male mind in growth, and it was best for her safety to keep him at a distance until his much needed sensibility arrived. There was a time she used to play with him in his war games. His favorite to play with her then was called "Joan of Arc" and they played it for many years - until little Charles learned how to start a fire.

These are the most important characters in Jane Austen's world at the turn of the 19th century. And at this moment, at this precise time in the telling, they are each deep asleep awaiting the dawn and the beginning of this tale. This is the quiet moment. The moment when the world and all the players in it await for the sign to begin. This is the moment when life shakes off the deathlike aspect of sleep and again rises to walk through the story of a life.

Soon their lungs will be breathing in deep the air of a new England morning. Soon they will each start the chores and labors of their days that they have done so many time before. Soon they will eat, laugh, talk, and walk through their streets, halls, and valleys again, experiencing life as they once did. 

And for all that to begin, it only takes a hint of the sun’s rays to signal the cock in the Austen barn to crow.

A Jane Austen Daydream is out now and available here.