Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Edward's Dilemma: Part III

Lucy's Steele's Sense--and Jane Austen's Sensibility

Wednesday, 24th April, 1811
No. 64 Sloane Street, London

The mail coach was incommodious and distressingly full; she was quite crushed against Anne, her ugly ill-favoured and elderly sister, as the poorly-sprung equipage lurched over the ruts in an attempt to gain Exeter; but such misfortunes must be immaterial to Miss Lucy Steele, in her eagerness to attack her zealous regard for duty.  Intelligence of the Miss Dashwoods’ removal from Norland to the environs of Barton Park having lately reached her ears, by the extraordinary good luck simple expedient of Mr. Edward Ferrars’  most recent letter missive—alarmingly replete with phrases of unconcealed admiration for the eldest Miss Dashwood—she was determined to scrape an acquaintance with such appalling delightful young ladies by any means possible.  A moment only was required, to seize upon consider of her relation Mrs. Jennings, an intimate of the Park—and so desirous, too, of being of use, to every young lady of passable merit!  To use, Lucy Steele should certainly put her; for Lucy detected a danger in Mr. Ferrars’ flowing periods of praise; and having endured with agonies admirable patience the spectre of his formidable mother’s nastiness displeasure these four years at least, she was most unwilling to allow any harpy to sink her claws give pride of place to a girl who could claim a mere cottage as domicile, and so paltry a sum as a third-share of three thousand pounds, as inducement to marriage.

I started, and set down my pen.  
My sister Eliza stood in the bedchamber doorway, almost entirely obscured by a quantity of linen freshly supplied by her housekeeper, Madame Bigeon—who is so burdened in years, that she may no longer ascend the stairs without grasping the handrail, rendering such tasks as the disposition of linen, entirely beyond her powers.
“Only say that you are not writing, dear one!”
The expression of horror suffusing Eliza’s countenance might well have been ridiculous, did not a healthy respect for pounds and pence inspire it.  I glanced away, conscious of the debt I owed my brother—who has franked the publication of my dearest child, my romantickal romp of Elinor and Marianne, my cautionary fable of gentlemen’s wiles—my Sense and Sensibility.  I am come to London in the spring of 1811 on purpose to proof Mr. Thomas Egerton’s type-set pages—and having seen my plaintive words in print, cannot restrain myself from constantly amending them.
“It is only a very little writing,” I offered hurriedly.  “A scene, perhaps, to elucidate the terms under which poor Edward committed his lamentable folly, of engaging the affections of Miss Lucy Steele.”
“Conniving little beast,” Eliza replied dispassionately.  “She ought to be whipped.  Perhaps Colonel Brandon might supply the office.  But Jane, you are aware that Mr. Egerton has expressly forbidden you to change another word, without you incur the severest charges on Henry’s purse!  Dearest, do not say that you have struck out the type!
I had.  The evidence was visible to every eye, in my firm blue scrawl.  I did the only thing possible—I seized the laundress’s bill from Eliza’s grasp.
“The charges on linen are extortionate in London,” I mourned.  “We cannot contrive to spend a quarter of this sum in Chawton village.” 
“--Which is why I am forever bringing my own sheets, dearest, when I chuse to visit your mother.”
I slipped the laundress’s bill over my errant pages, but not swiftly enough for Eliza’s eagle eye.  In high dudgeon, she deposited her pile of linen on my writing table.
“How am I to tell Henry that you have altered the text again?  He shall be wild with disapproval!”
“Henry is never wild.”
“That is an utter falsehood, Jane.  He is by far the most whimsical and intemperate of your brothers.  He should never have granted the Prince a loan, else--for you know we cannot hope to see a farthing of that silver back again; it is all gone in gambling and waistcoats.  And I have set my heart on the most charming jockey bonnet of leghorn straw, with eglantine ribbons-- and it must be impossible if you are to break Henry’s bank with paying Mr. Egerton for fresh type!”
“Eliza,” I said with remorse, “I assure you that I shall endeavour to mend my vicious habits.  Not a penny more shall Mr. Egerton have, to repair my misshapen prose; and you may have a score of jockey bonnets…provided I may save Edward from Lucy Steele’s toils.”
“I am excessively tired of Edward,” Eliza declared.  “He lacks all charm, address, and common sense, too—for how else should such a man be taken in by a vulgar chit with the name of Lucy?  I am out of all patience with him and his love.  Let Willoughby seduce Miss Steele--and there is an end to it!”
All speech was suspended by the appearance of Manon, Eliza’s personal maid; she frowned her disapproval, for Eliza’s hair had not yet been dressed and she was looking most unwell, from the effects of a persistent cold and exasperation with my spendthrift ways.  Manon seized the clean linen, and with a muttered imprecation of disapproval, departed for Eliza’s bedchamber.
“Willoughby cannot always be seducing everybody,” I retorted crossly. 
 “You know so little of the World, Jane.”
“Surely you must apprehend that Edward’s actions are...entirely honourable,” I attempted.  “That he must pursue the only course of action open to a gentleman, and pursue it in stoical silence.  That every reader of sense must admire his steadfast scruples, and his breaking heart--”
“—But every reader of sensibility would wish him to throw Lucy Steele in the Serpentine, and clutch Elinor to his bosom!”  Eliza threw up her hands.  “It is as I declared—you know so little of the World!”
“Hence the altered text,” I said flatly.  “It is intended to provide some verisimilitude to Edward’s motives.  A greater appreciation of his sorry dilemma.”
“His sorry backbone, you would mean,” Eliza muttered.  “Very well—let me see what you have set down.”
I turned to my writing table.
But the type-set pages were gone.
“Manon,” Eliza whispered.   Her countenance was all apprehension.
I moved swiftly to the door, to be met by the French maid.
“You have need of me, mademoiselle?
“Of the pages you secured,” I said, “on the writing table.  They were obscured by the linen.”
“Ah,” she said wisely.  “The laundress’s bill.  But madameis never to be oppressed by such trifles.  They make her ill.  She is forever thinking of all the bonnets she could buy, did she content herself with soiled sheets.  It is as well to cast such things on the fire.”
“And that is what you have done,” I observed.
Mais, oui, mademoiselle--What else would you?  She is not to be oppressed, madame.  On the fire it goes. ”
She made her curtsey and moved away along the passage, serene in the happy performance of duty. 
“Poor Jane,” Eliza murmured.  Already she had an idea of her leghorn straw, and how becomingly she should appear in it.
“Poor Edward,” I replied.  “Yet another scene lost.” 
And returned to my lamentable prose.

*   *   *

I hope you enjoyed Part Three of Austenesque Extravaganza's Touring Thursday!  Readers familiar with my Jane Austen Mysteries probably found themselves on familiar ground in the fantasia printed above--from the timing, Jane was in the thick of events recounted in Jane and the Barque of Frailty, not to mention her Sense and Sensibility page proofs from Mr. Egerton.

If you've missed the earlier parts of this "lost scene," by all means stop by these talented authors' websites:
Part One - Edward Visits Barton Cottage - Susan Mason-Milks
Part Two - Flashback! Edward and Lucy Reach an Understanding - Amanda Grange

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

And Suddenly, Autumn

I opened the French doors to the terrace this morning and a wave of cold air gusted in off the lawn.
That suddenly, it's September in Colorado.
Naturally, the temperature will climb into the 90s in a few hours, but as the dogs step tentatively into the seven a.m. dew, it's all of 55, and the promise of snow and woodsmoke are on the air.

I spent most of the summer traveling and talking about my latest Francine Mathews spy novel, JACK 1939, a World War II-era adventure featuring Jack Kennedy as a 22 year-old Harvard junior researching his senior thesis all over Europe--while Hitler mobilizes to invade Poland.  It was quite a shift from discussing all things Austen, but with the change of seasons I'm thinking like a Barron again.

At the moment, I'm putting the finishing touches on my segment of a lost vignette from one of Austen's novels--as imagined by Susan Mason-Milks, Amanda Grange, and me, in that order--which will be up on the website here in a week's time (check back Thursday, September 13th, for our contribution to the AUSTENESQUE EXTRAVAGANZA--something we're calling "Edward's Dilemma.")  Susan kicks it off on her website; Mandy follows with the all-too-vital middle; and I attempt to match their greatness with the final few paragraphs.  I hope you'll enjoy.

And then: what next?

The original publisher of the Jane Austen Mysteries appears unenthused with continuing the series.  It's possible Jane will find a new home; but at the moment, I'm researching something I've tentatively titled THE WATERLOO ARCHIVE.  The bicentenary of the Great Battle in 2015 fast approaches, and I want to be there with a story.  It's a great excuse to refresh my understanding of Napoleon's invasion of Russia, Wellington's life, the nature of the Prussian army.  All good subjects as the weather turns cool, and I stack the wood by the library fire.

Happy Autumn!