Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion

BOOK: Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion
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Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion

Janet Mullany


To Jane Austen and all those who love her

Chapter 1

Chawton, Hants, 1810

he’s an extraordinarily troublesome girl,” the Reverend James Austen said.

Jane watched in fascination as the girl in question, her niece Anna, pulled a hideous face at her father, an expression that lasted only a second before her pretty face resumed its normal sweetness.

“Come, brother, you’d rather have her commit folly at twenty-seven than seventeen?”

“I was sixteen when it started, Aunt Jane,” Anna said.

“Indeed, a whole year of foolishness.” James stood as his mother entered the drawing room. “How goes the garden, ma’am? I have brought you some cuttings; your garden boy has them.”

“You did? Heavens, he’ll probably kill them by looking at them. What possessed your brother to send me that boy I cannot imagine. He’s all thumbs and none of them green. Come now, James, give your old mother a kiss. And you, too, Miss Anna, you must help me in the garden.”

James frowned at the display of affection between Mrs. Austen and her granddaughter. “She is here to reflect upon her foolishness and inconstancy, ma’am, not to enjoy herself.”

“Oh, of course,” Jane murmured. “But you hate gardening, do you not, Anna? And going for walks, and playing upon the pianoforte, and talking nonsense, and reading novels, for that is all we do here, I fear.”

“Hmm.” As James spoke Jane saw a quick glance of affection between father and daughter, quickly masked. “I had in mind some improving literature and early nights.”

“Naturally. Bread and water we can supply too, James. Never fear. We shall be the consummate gaolers.”

“Oh, stop talking nonsense and make tea for us, Jane.” Mrs. Austen removed the wide-brimmed, unfashionable straw hat she wore for gardening. “We shall keep Anna busy, you may be assured, and fortunately there are no eligible bachelors in Chawton.”

“Indeed, yes,” Jane said, measuring tea into the teapot. “For Mr. Papillon is destined for me, you know. If you set your cap for him, I shall be most displeased, Anna, and send you packing off home to Steventon again.”

“Really? You have a beau, Aunt Jane?”

“Your aunt is funning you.” James, softening a little, winked at his sister. “How goes the scribbling, Jenny?”

“Fair enough. Gallons of ink, acres of paper, and every morning my sister and mother and Martha have to wade through my torn-out hair a foot deep on the dining room floor. I thank you for asking, brother.”

“I’m not so sure it wasn’t novels that caused all this trouble in the first place,” James said. “They contain much romantic silliness.”

“Oh, heaven forbid we should act as rational creatures,” Jane said. “Do you think we do not know the difference between fact and fiction, James? That all we read in novels is but a fantasy of the life we lead, and we such poor creatures we cannot tell the difference? And,” she added, “mine don’t contain romantic silliness. Silliness, possibly. Romance, possibly. But the two together? Impossible.”

“Hush, Jane, or he’ll take dear Anna away again.” Mrs. Austen squeezed her granddaughter’s hand. “I assure you she shall return to your house a sober and chastened creature. You will scarce recognize her. Jane will be in charge of her practice upon the instrument—the gentleman who comes to tune, by the way, is quite ugly and married with five children—Cassandra and Martha will teach her to bake and brew; and I shall make her pull weeds all summer.”

“Very well.” James accepted a cup of tea from his sister. “Where are Cassandra and Martha Lloyd? I should have liked to see them.”

“I believe Cassandra is engaged in visiting one of the women in the village who is taken ill; we must add such calls to the list of suitable occupations for Anna,” Jane said. “And the last time I saw Martha she was plucking a fowl and was all over feathers. You’ll stay to dine, James?”

“No, I thank you. I must return home and write a sermon and cover my own floor with my hair.” He reached into his coat. “Here’s a London newspaper which Frank brought down.”

“Oh, excellent.” Mrs. Austen handed the newspaper to Jane. “You may read it, for I have no idea where my spectacles are. Now, tell me, James, do you know anything of Edward’s new tenants in the Great House? We know they have moved in, for Edward wrote to tell us so but said little enough about them, and of course it is not proper for we ladies to call upon them . . .”

As mother and son engaged in gossip and exchanged news, Jane leafed through the newspaper, with Anna looking over her shoulder.

“Aunt Jane, do you think I could remake this gown to match the one in the picture there?”

“I don’t think so,” Jane said. “We intend you to wear sackcloth and ashes to atone for your sins. Besides—” She stopped as a headline caught her eyes. “Oh!”

“What is it, my dear? Navy news?” Mrs. Austen asked.

Jane wondered at her mother’s ability to carry on one conversation while keeping track of another. “No, ma’am, merely that the Prince of Wales has banished the Damned from Brighton and from the court.”

“I should think so, too,” Mrs. Austen said. “They are wicked and ungodly creatures.”

“You forget, ma’am, that we sit here at liberty and talk English and not French because of their heroism some thirteen years ago,” Jane said.

“Oh, that.” Mrs. Austen flapped a dismissive hand. “As though our militia and Navy had nothing to do with it.”

“The writer of this newspaper article would certainly agree with you, ma’am. There is no mention made of our debt to them.”

“I believe it was greatly exaggerated at the time,” James said. “Certainly I never saw anything of the sort. Indeed, I don’t remember seeing a single French soldier.”

“I assure you that you are mistaken, brother. I was there. I—”

“Well, that’s all past,” James said with a male heartiness that made his sister want to shake him. “As for the Damned now, we all know that they are depraved and dissolute, and . . . ah, well, up to no good,” he trailed off, aware of Anna’s interest. “Certainly very wicked and blasphemous. It is not the sort of topic that should be discussed among ladies in the drawing room.” He sprang to his feet as Martha and Cassandra entered the room. “Sister! Miss Martha! Why, you look well, both of you. I’ve brought your errant niece as we agreed.”

were you, Aunt Jane?” Anna asked in a whisper after more tea had been poured and passed, and the Steventon gossip and relaying of family news resumed once more. “What did happen then?”

“I shall tell you of it later,” Jane said. Sometimes the urge to speak of those times was overwhelming; sometimes she wished she could forget. She wasn’t even sure that she would tell Anna anything of substance, for, as James said, it was not fit conversation for the drawing room. Much of it was certainly not suitable for a naive seventeen-year-old, whose worst indiscretion so far was to jilt a clergyman twice her age after throwing a year’s worth of tantrums until her father agreed to the engagement.

Like it or not, it was Jane’s duty to play the role of the respectable and responsible spinster aunt.

ater that night, Jane tapped at her niece’s bedchamber door.

A sleepy voice bade her enter.

“I came to see if you were comfortable,” Jane said, opening the door a little, “and I see you are, so I’ll bid you good night.”

“Oh, no!” Anna sat up in bed. “That is, I am most comfortable and not at all sleepy. Pray come in, Aunt Jane.”

“Only for a moment. No late nights, remember.” Jane came and sat on the bed, placing the candlestick she carried on a small table nearby.

Anna twisted a long curl of brown hair that escaped her nightcap. She had the delicate prettiness of her mother, with the bright hazel eyes so typical of the Austens.

“You don’t have to talk about it to me unless you wish to,” Jane said. “But your aunt Cassandra will almost certainly wish to know every detail, so consider this practice.”

“Oh.” Anna gave a dramatic, mortified groan. “I daresay you know more than I.”

“True, all of our family are terrible gossips, and what we do not know in our letters to each other we invent. So tell me what happened with your Mr. Terry. I know you were mad for him all this last year.”

“Papa said I was too young to marry.”

“He is twice your age, but that is not necessarily an impediment to happiness, although your father considered you too young to marry anyone. So I admit I was surprised when your papa agreed to the engagement in the new year.”

“I wore Papa down,” Anna said. “I endured an exile at Godmersham—”

“Now, your uncle Edward’s house and the pleasant land of Kent is hardly the equivalent of imprisonment in a sinister Italian castle.”

“I feel foolish.” Anna hung her head. “I spent three days with Mr. Terry’s family only a few weeks ago. And, oh, Aunt Jane, he was a different person at his home. His mother ordered him around and made slighting comments on her neighbors and on me; she told me she expected me to have children but not too many—as though that is any of her business! And she talked continually of the cupboards in his house and how he should order them. Cupboards! The rest of the time she complained of her nerves and my—I mean, Mr. Terry—agreed with her all the time.”

“Possibly he had learned a tactful agreement was the only way to deal with her.”

“She made me put away my novel and read sermons to her. Michael—Mr. Terry, that is—even took her part in that!”

“Well, you know what I think of people who do not like novels. I am biased in that regard.”

“And he made noises when he drank his soup,” Anna said with an air of finality.

“A serious offense indeed.” Poor little Anna. Jane patted her hand. “Pray try not to fall madly in love with a neighbor next time, Anna. It is so very awkward when things go wrong and respectable families are forced to behave like the Montagues and Capulets of Hampshire.”

“Is—is Papa really angry with me? I cannot tell.”

“More embarrassed than angry, I think. He looks stern, but beneath it all he loves you. He reminds me so much of my own dear papa, your grandfather Austen. He looks very much like him, too.”

Anna nodded, but now there was a gleam in her eye. “Now it is your turn, Aunt Jane. Who is this Mr. Papillon?”

“Our clergyman, a most respectable bachelor whose sister keeps house for him in the village. It is a family joke, that is all.”

“I don’t see why it is a joke. You are still quite handsome, Aunt Jane. Or at least you would be if you did not wear that hideous cap.”

“This cap befits my station as a respectable spinster of a certain age,” Jane replied.

“Oh, you are being satirical. Really, Aunt, that cap is most unbecoming, and I shall make it my duty to force you to wear something prettier. But tell me about what no one would talk of, about the Damned.”

Jane hesitated. “Briefly, then. I doubt you remember any of this for you were a tiny child. The French invaded and we thought all was lost, but the Damned were instrumental in protecting the Royal Family and leading the fight against the enemy. Your grandmother and grandfather, and Cassandra and I, were in Bath when it happened. And . . .” She fell silent. The golden candle flame wavered, and Jane flapped away a moth, awoken early, that sought to destroy itself in the seductive glow.

Anna looked at her expectantly.

“And now no one speaks of it. It was a shameful time for us, you understand, and many wish to erase it from their memories. Some respectable and wellborn people behaved dishonorably, treasonably even. The Prince of Wales now rejects those who saved his head and his crown. It is unjust.”

“You speak so passionately, Aunt Jane.”

Jane bent to kiss her niece. “It’s time for you to go to sleep. Did you say your prayers?”

“I did, but maybe I should pray that the Prince of Wales behaves better. And that the Damned be granted divine forgiveness and not sent to hell.”

“I fear both are impossible.” Jane picked up her candlestick. “Good night, Anna.”

BOOK: Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion
13.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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