Fandom: Doctor Who (Tenth Doctor)
Summary: At the age of three-and-twenty, Jane Austen was not a young woman anyone would have supposed destined for a remarkable life. And then she met the peculiar Dr. Smith.
Spoilers: None, really
It so happened, however, that in the winter of 1799 Jane paid a visit to her good friend Martha Lloyd and Martha’s widowed mother, who resided some fifteen miles away in the small hamlet of Ibthorpe, near to Hurstbourne Tarrant. It was not uncommon for Jane to visit the Lloyds, who were favorite friends of the Austen family — particularly as Martha’s elder sister Mary had lately married Jane’s brother James — what was uncommon were the events that transpired on this particular visit.
The journey itself, from Steventon to Upper Hurstbourne, went off quite uneventfully, and soon enough Jane found herself comfortably installed at Ibthorpe House, enjoying the amiable and affectionate company of friends. Once tea had been served and they had all caught up with the pertinent family news, conversation shifted to the strange phenomenon that had recently occurred in the neighborhood.
Jane had heard nothing of the marvelous event, so Martha described with enthusiasm how a ball of flame had fallen from the sky one night and landed near Hurstbourne Hill, inciting quite a bit of interest in their quiet corner of England.
“One of Mr. Blount’s grooms plainly saw an object bright and fiery blaze across the sky,” said Martha. “And it was accompanied by a great noise, loud enough to rattle the windows all the way to Stoke. And when several men of the village went to the place where it had seemed to land they found a strange round stone, which they say was uncommonly warm to the touch.”
“And now a great many curious gentlemen have come from all over England to look at our little meteor,” added Mrs. Lloyd. “Important scholars and philosophers from town, even.”
“And they all agree that it is a piece of a star from the heavens themselves!” said Martha. “Can you imagine?”
Jane had no trouble agreeing that it was a most fascinating tale, and easily the most interesting thing to happen in the neighborhood since Mr. Bendish had accidentally shot his steward in the thigh with a dueling pistol.
“It all bodes exceedingly well for the Andover ball,” said Mrs. Lloyd, helping herself to another biscuit. “I expect there will be an abundance of eligible gentleman in attendance tomorrow night.”
The assembly in nearby Andover had been the ostensible impetus for Jane’s visit — not that she needed an excuse to visit Martha, who was a friend almost as dear as her own sister — and both young women had been looking forward to the event for some weeks.
“Where is this remarkable stone being kept?” asked Jane, who found her interest exceptionally provoked by the news of the meteor. “Might we see it for ourselves?”
“I am afraid not,” said Mrs. Lloyd. “Mr. Blount has it locked up in his study. So no harm befalls it, of course.”
“He guards it jealously, only admitting those he deems qualified observers,” said Martha as she refilled the teacups. “Which sadly does not include silly young women like ourselves.”
“Speaking of Mr. Blount, Jane, dear,” said Mrs. Lloyd, “I am sure you remember his butler Gibson.”
“Certainly,” said Jane, who remembered no one of the sort.
“Dead, poor man! Only four days past. It came on him suddenly, right in the midst of breakfast. Carried off by a weakness of the heart, they say. And he was only eight-and-forty. It makes one think.”
“Indeed it does,” said Jane, who was thinking, not of poor Gibson, but of the meteor that had fallen in Hurstbourne. As she sipped her tea she wondered how far the meteor must have traveled in order to come here, and what marvelous things it might have seen along the way. It was just a stone now, but what had it been before its long journey? Was it truly a piece of a star that had shone upon strange and wondrous worlds? Perhaps it had been part of a great mountain upon one of those worlds or a stone on a far distant beach? The possibilities were more than her mind could encompass.
Indeed, nothing else that was talked of during the whole rest of the day could dislodge the meteor from her thoughts, though much was said on the subject of her father’s new pigsties and of the gout in Mrs. Lloyd’s knee.