Austen meets Byron


This original tale of ‘A Changed Heart’ puts Jane Austen and Lord Byron in Bath, England during a period that both were known by facts of history to have visited.  Jane visits for her health, and Byron for his renewal. In 1812 Bath was the place to be, and in this year Jane was 36 years old ~ and recently diagnosed with Addison’s disease. With her opaque, failing health Jane Austen returns to Bath. My intent of heart is add details of truth above the mere facts of Jane’s quiet existence.  This 5,000 word short story includes historical places that remain in existence today.  Byron austen hat A CHANGED HEART ~ It was the twenty second day of 1812 and sisters Jane and Cassandra were set upon celebrating a fresh year of promise. Together these exuberant siblings enjoyed a carriage ride through the woods from Chawton House, across the Avon gorge on a bridge that would fail all mathematical principals yet supported the weight of thundering horses. In a great measure their merriment was increased by their grand expectancy to reunite with sister Lydia. The sun piercing the crisp cold of January simply added to their delight in this long awaited return to Bath. With deliberate pursuit of what news, good or bad they would gather, the horses clopped down Lilliput Alley to arrive at their chosen destination. After departing Bath in 1805 when their father George, the retired Rector of Stevenson passed, the surviving family of mother and two spinster daughters moved into Brother Edward’s mainedicountry estate near Canterbury. Both sisters were absolutely ravenous for any sort of interesting conversation. It had been ten elongated years since Jane refused to accept the unbearable and unsuitable affections of her rejected neighbor Harris Bigg-Wither. Sense and Sensibility was recently published and with that an extra portion of income. Gossip bloomed regarding her unknown pen. Her chosen anonymity produced a scandal among growing fans and a bit of notoriety in the Austen manor. It was a welcomed temporary lift to the entire family spirit as Jane’s all consuming passion of the written word had turned into such sweet fruit for all. However reclusive and miserable Jane had become, she rebounded this day from being vertically flattened by her comfortable, yet stifling country existence. She was abnormally happy to greet this day with hope for the years spawning ahead. Today was not going to be another stupid party with a limit of six people. “No indeed”, Jane declared “we shall not need to utter a single word of nonsense, and for this I am motivated beyond the acute disorder of boredom.” The famous Spring Gardens drew a fashionable throng across the river. The Bath Chronicle had advertised hot buttered buns and public readings at Sally Lunn’s House, the very place of great attraction to which they had reserved to be. With explicit purpose these Austen sisters had planned and twittered about what to wear ever since Christmas Eve. They arrived just before noon and were quickly engulfed in Lydia’s embrace! The reception of the three sisters by the proprietor was exuberant and Jane dreaded any recognition that may result from his great felicity. They were seated among the visiting aristocrats at a requested back table. The atmosphere chosen for this reunion was done without a thought for economy as Jane delighted in the opportunity of being generous towards her sisters. In December Jane had written a note to the proprietor and asked him to pay particular attention to the elegance of the table in which she and her sisters would sit. This would provoke an apt expression of exceeding joy for Lydia especially. Even in her maturity, Lydia was yet unabashedly Lydia and prone to notice all accouterments’s added in honor of her visit. camellias-57d70ec13df78c5833728c2fA moistened cluster of Pansies and Camellias tied together with purple ribbon was the centerpiece atop a white embroidered table cloth. The decor accentuated the rare joy of benefiting from Lydia’s way of abounding in vigor. For this particular New Year outing, the rich use of color, the aroma and warmth from the baking ovens wasted nothing on the elevated hopes for this memory making occasion. Jane was recently released from her doctors restrictions, and so delighted to be out and wearing Cassandra’s Christmas gift. A hand stitched white lace scarf that brightened the grey long sleeved satin dress that fitted Jane’s thin shoulders. Lydia had received a letter from Cass that gave voice to her dire concern for Jane’s frail health. Lydia’s discovery of such news gave priority to her certain attendance. The provocation that led to this celebratory moment was unbeknownst to Jane. With such extreme happiness over this New Year reunion, Cass was pleased that Jane’s countenance had notably improved. From the hand painted menu, Jane ordered a selection of sweets for the reunion; tea, three hot buns, lemon curd, Devon-shire cream and strawberries. After the customary etiquette of time, the tea was poured by attending staff into the beautifully ornate tea cups. With spoons quietly swirling, Jane’s eyes widened with a shock. Her confounded expression led Lydia and Cassandra to join in Jane’s directed gaze. A pin drop would have sliced the silence Byron portraitthat enraptured all three sisters. Suddenly the group focus was on whose voice they were hearing. Could they trust their ears? What was being publicly read was from Sense and Sensibility. A portion had been reproduced and circulated in the Bath Chronicle. But it was not just that Jane was the author of this enlightened novel, but rather who was reading it! To Jane it was indeed a rather disturbing misfortune to be so honored by such an undesirable reader. Simultaneously the Austen sisters recognized the one reading as England’s very own Lord Byron! Jane would have hoped to find a noted scholar giving voice to her articulated large truths, but as it is, she was completely vexed by the audacity of the infamously impetuous Lord Byron! He read while brandishing his arms. With a chuckle he read what Edward Ferrars spoke to the impressionable young Marianne. Jane was instantly filled with illegitimate thoughts as ‘her words’ slithered through the lips of this most offensive person. Her eyes froze upon Byron’s smiling mouth as he read. With growing consternation brewing she thought “Fate has been unkind that this man, of all men should read my heartfelt works with such a grinning smirk!” Lydia was lit up with such pride that she was ready to applaud had Jane not constrained her. Byron’s eyes glanced over at their table. Jane shifted in her chair and lowered her eyes to dissuade any polite conversation. Byron ended his animated reading and sat down with a crowded table of mostly female admirers. Cassandra and Lydia both acknowledged verbally how lovely of Lord Byron to choose to not read any of the many verses he had written, but to select Jane’s. The two chortled on with hilarity mixed in their volume and soon resumed in reminiscent conversation. Jane bowed out of their silly theories of why Lord Byron had chosen Sense and Sensibility out of all the books ever published. Jane was understood by family to resist any extroverted nonsense and was left undisturbed by her company to sit silently musing about the history of Bath. The name came about from the legend of Prince Bladud. The tale is that the Prince caught leprosy and was banned from the court and forced to look after pigs. Like the pigs, Prince Bladud was instructed to wallow in hot mud and was then found to be cured of his decaying skin. After being crowned King, he founded the city and named it Bath. Byron Corsham CourtJane’s mind was steeped in poor opinion. She harshly judged Lord Byron entirely on what others had said. Her mortification’s erupted with a selfish wish that Lord Byron’s skin would suddenly crawl as if diseased and cause him to cease reading. That he might wallow in remorse for his degrading illicit affairs. Cassandra was attentive to Jane and acutely aware of her sister’s anguished look as Lord Byron gave animated voice to her writing. With resignation and a lowered tone, Jane turned and bitterly complained in a whisper “He may pen verses that cause women to faint at his feet, but his good looks cannot recover his unrepentant reputation. It grieves me to think of how his opinion of my work clashes against the blemish of his undone moral character!” Cassandra quietly pleaded “Oh Jane, I agree he is not the ‘Byronic hero’ that his accusers claim. I perceive him to be a melancholy man who broods about perhaps a misery of some unknown unforgivable event in his past. His heart shows pure in his poetry, and his music. His delight in your wit brings him a measure of joy, and for this we must see that your pen has fulfilled its VSoEjYpurpose in him.” Jane could barely be attentive to her sister’s supposition when Lord Byron approached their table. It was Jane’s forthright intention to remain unapproachable. She began to fidget uncontrollably whispering to Lydia’s ear “Oh what shall I do, I simply cannot speak to this man whose reputation is ruined by his confirmed promiscuity!” Byron was a hero to many women, but not Jane! His romantic poetry was in a style that she could not fully comprehend as such passion for another had not been her friend. The fame of his scandalous private life was described by one contemporary as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”. Lydia retorted “Oh Jane, calm yourself and take pleasure in the moment.” Byron had recently published the first two cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Jane was not one of his adoring socialites! She gave him due credit for speaking effectively in the House of Lords on important liberal themes, however, his hectic love-affair with his half sister Augusta was disgusting! Jane’s brother Henry did not lead Jane away from the truth, but with great affection and respect for her intellect, he wisely chose to simply empower her with the facts of what was noteworthy in England. Jane had the privilege to read about the romantic style now in demand, however, a plunder of gushing words to describe Gothic architecture and nature’s perfect landscape was a bore to Jane. She refused to write to please the latest fashionable obsession to read paragraphs filled with adverbs to depict a simple fallen leaf. The fascination of England over Byron’s life and style of pen was indeed not shared by Jane. With his worthless character so widely in print, how is it that her text would be so tarnished by his tongue! Jane had procured a quiver of dark facts about a man named Lord Byron from a Lady Beckham, wife of the local magistrate. No mercy was seen through the eyes of the law, but Byron was seen by His Creator with Byron Peto Gardenthrough the eyes of grace. From a house filled with the discussion of law, Lady Beckham felt obliged to share love less words that drifted in from England. Jane held this one opinion of man above Gods and in so doing she could not conceive that any good could be held in the person of Lord Byron. Having ascertained steadfast knowledge of his affairs, Jane was absolutely incensed that this tragedy should land on her happiest day! Lord Byron unaware of Jane’s personal rebellion against him, stood at their table, bowed, clicked his heels and with a wave of a gentleman’s arm said “Miss Austen, your appearance is far lovelier than a flower in bloom. It is indeed my genuine honor to meet the woman that shall most certainly cause any man of intelligence to open the contents of his heart.” Altogether astonished at his grace and manner, Jane felt a flush of conviction spreading to her cheeks. The spirit of repulsion had been suddenly banished. Humbled by his sincerity, she questioned “What brings one as notable as you to Bath when London brims with praise for your work?” Byron then spoke “It would have been bold of me to suppose that on my birthday I should be gifted with the presence of such an accomplished woman. Therefore I must advance to request your forgiveness for my lack of social reserve in my cavalier approach. As destiny happens to surprise us with occasional sweetness, I am compelled buckled-book-2180047_640to reveal this genuine truth. Having just refreshed myself with the wit and content of your heart, and having hoped that I would someday meet the humble writer who wishes to remain anonymous, without presumption of course, that you are indeed that very artist ~ I am compelled to agree with the whispers in England that a woman, indeed a brilliant poetess penned Sensibly the Sense found in the verses I just read. If you are indeed the author, your secret is safe with me and I am further bold to ask that if we are contemporaries, might we enjoy a literary conversation over tea whilst I am in town?” Jane hesitated as Lydia inserted “Yes, yes Jane wrote what you have read and she has been writing many wondrous works since before she attended the Abbey School in reading.” With that horrifying thrust of truth, Jane could not offer any ignorance to who wrote what Byron just read and her eyes blazed across the table at Lydia!  Silence hovered like a thick blanket of fog and Lord Byron was correct in his perception that Lydia’s innocent enthusiasm had caused Jane to fluster with a visible chagrin. The kismet of their meeting had quickly dissolved and with the fastidious aplomb of a gentleman, Byron said “I stutter in the presence of such humility for it is a lesson that I am hard learning. Might you be assured that your anonymity shall be reverently respected Miss Austen. My time in Bath will be short as I have been invited to Lake Geneva with Percy Shelley. So if I should be so fortunate to cross your path again, maxresdefaultit would be considered my full portion to speak more completely of your inspirations. Thank you for giving me the gift of your time on my birthday. Miss Austen and ladies I bid you good day.” Byron left their table yet his stunning words swarmed through each lady in attendance. Lydia burst into tears at the thought of having vexed Jane when the afternoon had been so full of promise. “Dearest Jane, I am miserably sorry for having ruined our day with my impetuous behavior. I humbly acknowledge that I disrespected your desire to remain anonymous, and I admit that my pride for your accomplishment simply erased any ability to control my tongue. I beg for your pardon my sweet Jane.” Jane remained quiet in a state of violent shock by what had just occurred. She usually was quick to recover with a bit of wicked wit, but somehow she sat unready to speak a word. Lydia became excessively more distraught in Jane’s hushed state. Compassionately Cassandra quietly offered her sister a look of encouragement. It was a nod of approval for her surprising maturity in the admission of her uncontrolled tottering. Jane seemed to suddenly come back to a dimension of consciousness from the distant place her mind had wondered. With a warmth in her tone, the elder sister Jane looked at Lydia and proclaimed “The afternoon is yet young and it need not be cut short on a sour note. I shall seek no excuse for your bold assertion of truth, and it is I that must seek your merciful forgiveness. Let us return to joy and dismiss any further conjectures regarding Lord Byron knowing that I wrote Sense and Sensibility. ” Ahhh, whom is leading who? Jane possessed a winsome nature which allowed her to devote her observations and responses to any witnessed social guffaws as merely a source of inspiration to be noted with fanciful embellishment and either etched or scratched from a page. With a renewed light filled heart Jane continued “Let us delight in the fact that we have met Lord Byron and rest assured Lydia that your exuberant personality is something that I have always and will continue to admire. We shall all gain valuable 1-pergolainsights from what has transpired this day. My spirit was forthrightly admonished most accurately for the rage I held towards Lord Byron without a single idea of how much my judgment must have grieved God as my witness. Are we not all called to forgive and we have been forgiven? Come then let us amuse ourselves with what else is worthy of our attention and accept that not one of us is above needing a bit of coaching away from any gloating or thought of superiority. My personal lesson this day is to offer more grace instead of disdain. Oh my dear ever radiant Lydia, may the ever present joy you carry ~ be instantly contagious as we are obliged to enjoy this glorious day! We came together to spoil ourselves with the fruits of our lessons in labor. I am the proud sister of two amazing women of such grace that it doth far surpass my capacity to grasp the love God has lavished upon one so unworthy! ” A more noble recitation of the value contained in a self reproof could not have been better stated. Cass gushed with glee for the end of the tension at the table and each one served themselves a heaping spoon of berries and cream. An unequaled magnitude of happiness was the joint lullaby that rocked all to sleep. As they did when they were young, all three slept together tucked between luxurious silk sheets in their shared garden suite at the Apsley House Hotel. Awakened by Lydia’s giggling, it was a shared bliss to explore Bath’s exquisite gardens. Cass, Lydia and Jane engaged in a joyful frolic of ring around the Posey, just as they once did as little girls. Jane began to sing as she brushed her hair and Cass played the piano while the fire crackled. Before getting dressed and assuming proper composure for breakfast, the three spent time delighting in the coincidence of Lord Byron’s personal introduction and earnest praise of Jane’s pen. Such providence was a sure sign that 1812 would continue to be a year of tremendous surprise. Raised in the country the ladies insisted on a brisk morning walk before tea. Bundled up in jackets and bonnets they took a jaunt across the 112green to the camellia garden. Jane let loose with a fanciful bird call and indulged her imagination that this pleasure would have wings that would take her through the entire winter. The ever demure Cass also afforded herself a skip in her walk and a tune in her hum while Lydia shrieked over the finery of each new blossom that seized her gaze. As Jane turned the corner around a carved hedge she came face to face with none other than Lord Byron. Her nose red and running from the bitter cold was quickly wiped with an embroidered hanky tucked in her sleeve. “Good morning Miss Austen” His greeting was chipper and again she felt that her tongue had been swallowed. Jane was absolutely exasperated by her inability to hide her annoyance of being rendered utterly speechless in this man’s presence. As if she were a school girl, her eyes darted away from his as they sought another focus that would not give the one on looking a chance to peer into her soul. Time seemed to have been suspended as her troubled mind tumbled over what words would become sensible in response to his obvious delight in having encountered her again. Peering round the hedge to see if her sisters were coming, her gaze then settled on his face as she greeted “Good morning Lord Byron, and what a surprise to happen upon you so early in the morning. My sisters and I found our chambers at Apsley House most agreeable and I so hope that your stay has been equally congenial.” Just then Cassandra and Lydia approached from behind the immense hedge and were equally 5335371aadaa6afcb1bd3cca061f790dstartled to look upon the ever captivating Lord Byron. Lydia never pinched for clever words quickly exerted “My Lord what a lovely jolt of good fortune to chance upon seeing you twice within so short of hours. Is not this morning a bounty of benefit to have the favor of your presence while strolling in the garden! Come Cassandra, since we have all been formally introduced, it is certainly socially acceptable to allow these contemporaries to engage in a conversation that would literally be above our heads. Jane we will not be far ahead, and do not worry Lord Byron, we shall also keep this accidental meeting treasured as a family secret.” Jane stood confounded by her sisters offering that she would be available for such a extemporaneous meeting. Lord Byron noted Jane’s surprise and accepted the option with grace as he offered “Jane if you find it within your schedule, and if it is not too objectionable, might we sit briefly and enjoy a fortuitous exchange?” With consideration for her recent lesson on grace, with the utmost elegance she extended her gloved hand to accept the arm he most handsomely extended. They walked together in silence at a dignified pace towards the garden bench. Feeling ever so slightly pained by the obligation thrust upon her repentant heart, she was hesitant to admit that Byron’s charm was having its impact and she simply chose to acquiesce. Byron placed his woolen scarf to soak the dew from the bench. He then assisted Jane as she descended to sit. Sitting aside her he gave careful respect for a ladies requirement for a decent distance. After a lush moment of silence they both began to speak at the same time. Giggling softly Jane composed “You have delivered me unsolicited appreciation for what has been anonymously published of my writing. Coming from a man of such magnified influence on society, it took me a bit of time to receive the full measure of your most genuine manner. I therefore must acknowledge your professional garden-five-senses-yvoire-cloisterrecognition with a rather delayed and reflected honor. Your evaluation was extremely favorable and with that said I must confess that though your style differs, in your poetic verses, I am fairly charged to accept perceptions that would not be mine.” Byron’s gaze upon her while she spoke was fixed upon her particularly honest and refreshing pure candor. In his fame he has known many a person who would struggle to flank him with praise for works that he himself believed to be unworthy. His earnest fascination for her plain speaking encouraged him to be likewise. “May I consider you a friend Miss Jane?” She looked at him quizzically “I would be honored to name you among my small orchestra of friends. I shall consider you the sweet violin that accompanies the delicate keys of my sister’s piano” Byron was smiling wide when he professed ” Then Jane it is with unsurpassed respect that I feel compelled to now speak apt words that would encourage you to continue to write as a mirror of great value for the generations to come. My poetry is to be figured out, to be interpreted by some as folly, and others as romance, but your insights within relationships has been a grand lesson for me. Your brightness and humor holds in it great promise as a writer of important substance.” Jane sat blushing as she had not been so encouraged by anyone quite so eloquently. She was accustomed to her beloved Cassandra’s partial praise, but this was from a person who had no association or occasion to gain. Lord Byron halted his desire to further persuade Jane of the tremendous clout with which her words had impaled upon him. He leveraged the moment by adding “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now seem to bear.” It was wise to hold his words to a few as he was certain by her expressions that she grappled with the minimum of what he so ardently desired to confess. “Until the spirit of revelation is fully surrendered to, none of us can comprehend how deeply the dsc_0273written word can minister to the hidden brokenness of a human heart.” Jane was struck with the duplicity of his public persona and the words he was now speaking to her. It was as if God Himself had introduced him to her for such a time as this. In her fragile state of health, the family excursions to the seaside of Sidmouth, Dawlish and Lyme Regis were intentional to refresh Jane’s weakened condition. She concluded that God had a ripping sense of humor that He would use Lord Byron to teach and uplift her to a height that was precisely heavenly. His gallantry with her erased all previous inclinations regarding his character. She was reminded in their silent walk through the garden of a conversation she had enjoyed with her father, a member of the clergy, charged to pray for all people, the saved and especially the lost. Her sister Cassandra had readily perceived that Lord Byron’s lack of parenting and disconnect from the faith caused him to write from his darkness. It was curious to Jane that the wit of her pen had been so meaningful that he would pour out such praise of something she did not write with the intention of converting a soul. Feeling a freedom to speak with honesty she confessed “Among my few friends and shrinking family it would be considered an indecent crush between us if it were known that we are sitting alone sharing such transparent words. Ashamed as I should be to admit that my first impression of you was rather severe and unjust, I now perceive you with a worthy extraordinary esteem. Not entirely 102663960_wbased on your kindness shown towards me, but having more to do with my own conviction for having judged you at all” Byron was tested to also recite his compulsory penchant to discover who wrote the stirring words that he had chosen to read publicly in several places before Bath. “Miss Austen it was my choice to unmercifully badger my publisher to research and reveal just who was the lady genius behind what my heart believes to be a legacy, a gift to all who at some point find themselves questioning the meaning of life. The content of Sense and Sensibility is profound as it does not ridicule, but it was written to enlighten. My initial shock was to learn that it was written by a woman, and the most astonishing revelation was that she is a woman who is the daughter of a clergyman. I read about love, emptiness and pain that is laced with forbearance. My depraved self-indulgence has never been delayed or as controlled as your words. My attempts to fill the emptiness of my souls cry for love, fame or money has not met with contentment or sensibility. My questions to why was I born, or why I was chosen to live out the title as Lord Byron have yet to be answered. Having met many statesmen, and after many debates with esteemed writers, I was moved to take steps to meet and speak to Jane Austen before I depart this plane. Escaping my past is impossible; however, I do have hope in a future that includes people of your dignity and character. My confession to you Miss Austen is that I came to Bath in hopes that we would somehow come to this very open and honest communication.” Jane was surprised by the clarity he gleaned from something she wrote to simply entertain, but she was not surprised at how God could use anything to draw the lost back to Himself. After soothing him with a look of sincere compassion Jane smiled and shared “My dear brother Byron it has been remarkable to witness my own transformation during our brief yet divine interface. My lessons have been great last night and again today. What I am not is a saint. 6f368d267750ede967d597176c572ec3I therefore must encourage you to trust that God has a plan for you just as He planned that you would read something and seek comfort from something new. Indeed our lifestyles may differ, however my lifelong lesson is to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.  Without my Father talking to me about God, left to myself, my life would be full of what the world would perceive as unforgivable. When I heard you reading my words last evening I was filled with pride and prejudice. We each seek to know that somehow our work, our life, our being alive has in some measure benefited someone, somewhere in some small way. Sitting here now with the man known to the world as the bad, mad and dangerous boy ~ because of grace issued unto me, I see you in the light of truth. I was blinded and deceived, but I now perceive thee correctly. I shall treasure our friendship forever, and NOT because you protest that my words have inspired you, but because you Lord Byron have inspired me to write more truly about poor judgment.  To write as transparently as you have spoken.  My pride had a desperate need to be broken and thoroughly undone, so I thank God for our chance encounter. For all the friends that I have had while alive, for all the silly parties that I have attended, this conversation we are now engaged in has been the most fulfilling of my lifetime. Might I call you simply brother Byron?” His response was immediate “Yes, sister Jane, I would like that very much.” Lydia came into view and waved them towards the lake where Cassandra was engaged in teasing the geese. Jane then was prompted to maxresdefaultinquire “Brother Byron, please accept my earnest invitation to join the Austen sisters for some frivolity this afternoon! It would be so kind of you to grace us with your fame for a surprise birthday lunch for our beloved brother?” To which Byron replied with a smile “I accept on the condition that you would read to your adoring family some of your favorite pen. It is indeed a dreadful sin to have such an indecent crush on our most dearest Lydia!” They both laughed and soon stood beside the lake skipping rocks across the still water. Lydia’s childlike laughter and Cassandra’s sweet humming added the distinct sense that 1812 was bound to be a great year filled with a joy that will surpass every understanding. After a time they raced back to the hotel where Jane would tell eager ears that the conclusion of her titillating odyssey this afternoon was that the Austen family had acquired a rather dashing new brother in Lord Byron! (END OF STORY but not the fascination of Jane Austen) History accounts Jane’s demise at the age of 41, but not without this fictional chance encounter with Lord Byron the rebel! This story was submitted to the Austen Fan 2011 Contest hosted on the Republic of Pemberly website and published on Valentine’s Day 2011 by Barbara Alley Hoyle

via Daily Prompt: Opaque

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