In honor of Jane Austen’s birthday, I decided to post a few scenes from early drafts of Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas. I imagine Lucy and Robert Ferrars might be mortified to realize that they didn’t survive the editor’s knife. (All errors in the French are mine as my lovely translators never got a chance to see these scenes.)
From Chapter Five, draft 2.1:
Marriage, Margaret soon discovered, had done nothing to improve Lucy’s manner. After the company had settled themselves for tea, Lucy turned her attention to her sister-in-law.
“I suppose I should be surprised to see that you remain unmarried, Miss Dashwood. By the time I was your age, I had already been engaged for some time. Of course, my first engagement could hardly match my eventual marriage; nevertheless, one would hope that a woman of your age could have at least excited the interest of one beau.”
Margaret resisted the urge to reply.
“Margaret is only eighteen, Mrs. Ferrars,” said Mrs. Dashwood. “Her sister Elinor was older than that when she married dear Edward. I have no fear that Margaret will marry when she is ready.”
“Oh, of course she will; after all, her sisters managed to make relatively good marriages,” said Lucy.
“But I believe,” Fanny interjected, “that Marianne and Elinor were quite lucky. Such felicity cannot be expected to occur a third time.”
“No.” Lucy’s agreement was emphatic. “And Marianne had her great beauty and vivacity to recommend her to someone like Colonel Brandon, while everyone knows Elinor has a steady head. But Margaret, what qualities does she demonstrate? She possesses neither Marianne’s shining beauty nor Elinor’s common sense. No, I am afraid—” But what it was that Lucy was afraid of, she could not say.
Margaret had had enough of Lucy’s prattle and, deciding the benefit outweighed the risk, performed a spell that would make the next few days bearable. She held in her mind an image of Lucy’s mouth moving but producing no sound as she whispered, “Je prends votre voix et le mettre dans ma poche.” It was a quaint little spell from an old book. The whimsy of the incantation had pleased her: “I take your voice and put it in my pocket.” Nevertheless, she had translated it to French.
Lucy realized immediately that something was amiss.
“Lucy? What has happened?” Fanny asked.
Lucy, eyes wide, shook her head and tried speaking again. She gestured frantically to her throat.
“You have lost your voice?” Fanny said, almost as frantic.
“John, Robert!” The men stopped their conversation and attended the women.
“What is it, my dear?” John asked.
“Lucy seems to have lost her voice mid-sentence!”
John turned to Lucy. “Is this true?”
Lucy’s lips moved, forming the word “yes,” but no sound issued from her mouth.
“My dearest!” cried Robert, dropping to his knees in front of Lucy. “Try again. Slowly.”
Lucy mouthed a few more words, still unable to give her thoughts voice. Margaret arranged her face into a concerned expression. “Might another cup of tea help?” she suggested.
“Oh, yes, of course! Thank you, Miss Dashwood,” said Robert. Fanny bustled to the tea tray.
“Here, Lucy, dear, drink this,” Fanny said.
Lucy sipped her tea delicately and then set the tea aside. Aware of the company’s attention, she made much of clearing her throat. Again Lucy opened her mouth and again nothing issued forth.
“Not to worry, my dear,” said Robert. “You are merely fatigued from our journey. Perhaps you should not try to talk for a few days.” Margaret hid her amusement at the relief in Robert’s voice.
Lucy nodded, looking bewildered. Fanny rose and said, “I shall take you to your room, my dear.” She took Lucy’s arm and led her from the room.
The remaining occupants looked at each other.
“My word,” said John. “I suppose that came upon rather suddenly. Perhaps we should send for the doctor?”
“Oh, no!” Robert replied hastily. “She has been feeling a little unwell lately. Rest and a ramble in the country will set her to rights.”
Lucy’s mysterious silence contributed to the happiness of nearly everyone at Norland Manor. Robert, ever solicitous of his wife, nevertheless enjoyed speaking without interruption. Their children played with raucous abandon, never inhibited by their mother’s scolding. Fanny fawned over her sister-in-law, taking obvious pleasure in coddling her. Even Lucy enjoyed the attention her sudden illness inspired. Margaret and her mother passed the remaining days of their visit in relative peace.
The day before they were to leave, Margaret took one more tour of Norland’s grounds. She brought along one of her father’s journals with her, judging it wiser to leave the atlas hidden. Her wanderings took her to a favorite spot where a grove of oaks enclosed a little stone bench. She sat, enjoying the day’s calm for a little while before turning back to her father’s notes.
When she saw the name Bristlethwaite, she read with alacrity:
I spent the past fortnight in the company of Horace Bristlethwaite and his formidable wife, Eugenia. Both are sorcerers of uncommon skill, but Mrs. Bristlethwaite is also possessed of both wit and talent. While I do not subscribe to many of her views on magic, particularly concerning the training of servants, I have the utmost respect for her. She and Horace will make exceptional additions to the Mayfair Coven. We have sustained too many losses in this war. Bennet has only just recovered from our last battle, and had it not been for him, I would have perished. But enough dwelling on the darkness. I must return to my work; it gives me great comfort.
What could her father have meant by his reference to a battle? She had never known him to be a soldier. Could it have been a magical battle? Margaret sighed. She had so many questions but no way to answer them. She had been just thirteen when he had died, too young to understand who he was or to know what questions to ask him. During their lessons she put her attention more on the magic he taught her than on learning anything about him. Again she regretted that oversight. If only she could find some way to bring him back. I am being silly, she thought. Papa would never want me to waste my time thinking about such things. She smiled sadly as she imagined his response: What is done is done, my dear. No sense worrying about things you cannot change.
She turned her attention back to her book, but was almost immediately interrupted by the sound of shots. Jumping to her feet, she saw John’s dogs racing toward her, chasing a small vixen, with John and Robert not far behind on their mounts. The vixen dashed into Margaret’s little grove. In a moment the dogs would be upon her, tearing her to shreds. “Poor thing!” Margaret said. “Hurry, I will divert the dogs.”
The vixen stopped and fixed her with an oddly intelligent look. But at Margaret’s prompting, she dashed beneath a bush. Margaret, meanwhile, muttered the Distracted Dog Spell, a clever invention of her own, perfected on Sir Williams’s dogs. The incantation demonstrated a rare use not only of English but also of linguistic economy: “Squirrels!”
It never failed to amuse her that a simple word could have such an immediate effect. Margaret giggled when John’s dogs, as one, stopped their chase and looked up to the branches of the largest oak. They gathered around the tree’s base, barking up at the empty branches.
“Go on,” Margaret said to the vixen.
The young fox scrambled from her hiding place and streaked off down the hill just before Robert and John appeared.
“What on earth are the dogs doing?” John said as he slid from his horse.
“I thought your dogs were properly trained,” Robert said, still mounted.
“Margaret, did you see a fox? The dogs were chasing a little vixen. Would have caught her, too, had they not been distracted.”
The dogs were growing restless, still jumping around at the base of the tree, necks craned upward.
“I have seen nothing but the dogs, John. Perhaps there is a squirrel up the tree.”
“What a cacophony!” Robert cried. “Do you not train your dogs, John? I would never allow this sort of behavior from mine.”
Margaret glared at Robert’s back and then whispered, “No more squirrel.”
Suddenly the dogs bolted from the tree and swarmed around Robert’s horse, which panicked and shied, tossing Robert straight onto the ground where he sat, dazed.
“I say, Robert,” John said, striding over to help him up, “Whatever are you doing on the ground? Can you not sit a horse?”
Robert, who appeared unhurt in body if a little bruised in spirit, refused help, clambering to his feet on his own and stalking away without a word, a slight limp the only evidence of his misadventure.
John turned back to Margaret. “What on earth has gotten into the animals today?”
Margaret shrugged, struggling to maintain a mask of calm.
“I suppose I had better catch up to him. Come on,” he said to his dogs before mounting his horse and urging it to a trot. They set off toward the house, Robert’s horse trailing behind.
As soon as John and his dogs had left in a whirl of tails and flopping ears, Margaret laughed until her sides were sore.