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
Author's Note: Astute readers may recognize something the Doctor says in this chapter as part of a rather famous poem which is often mis-attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson or Robert Louis Stevenson. Since the genesis of the verses remains somewhat murky, I thought it might be interesting to imply that perhaps the Doctor is their originator. I am not, however, in any way attempting to imply that I am.
It was still raining in earnest by the time the ladies withdrew to the drawing room after dinner. Sally took up a position at the window where she could watch the rain sheeting against the pane and lament the ill weather. Mrs. Debary retired to her customary seat by the fire and, drawing Martha to a chair beside her, proceeded to expound the recent difficulties of acquiring fish. Mary and Susan, meanwhile, engaged themselves in an argument over the relative merits of their newly acquired bonnets. They attempted with some vigor to draw Jane into their deliberations, but she declared firmly that she had no opinion to give as she had seen neither of the bonnets in question, and therefore resolutely refused to be drawn.
In the midst of such sparkling discourse, is it any wonder Jane found herself impatient for the gentlemen to join them? But at last the coffee came in, followed soon after by the other half of their party. At first Dr. Smith was again monopolized by the attentions of the Debary girls, who had recovered from their dinnertime fright with renewed enthusiasm for their new acquaintance. But it was not long before Mary proposed a game of speculation, a venture that was supported eagerly by her sisters. Though they tried with great spirit to recruit the doctor to join them, he was steadfast in his refusal, and in the end they were forced to settle for the company of Peter and Sir Thomas at the card table.
Jane, having also refused an invitation to play, soon found herself approached by Dr. Smith and indicated with a smile and a nod that he should be free to join her on the sofa.
“Tell me, Miss Austen,” he began, settling his lanky frame onto the cushion beside her, “how goes the writing?”
Jane was quite taken off her guard by this inquiry, as she rarely spoke of her hobby to anyone outside of a small circle of intimate friends and family, and could not imagine how Dr. Smith might have heard about about it. “As it happens,” she replied, quickly recovering her composure, “I am not writing anything at present, and am strongly considering giving up the hobby altogether.”
“No, no, no, no, no!” cried Dr. Smith with startling fervor. “This won’t do at all. You can’t give it up!”
“Upon my word, I cannot see why not.”
“Well, because you love it, for one thing! And you’re brilliant at it, for another. Er... I imagine you must be, that is. Oh, but a great writer is a gift to the future! And you, Miss Austen, could very well be the greatest gift of your generation.”
Jane deflected this bewildering compliment with a derisive laugh. “Since I have only recently received an eloquently-worded rejection from a publisher who disagrees with you most resolutely, I believe it must be admitted that mine is life too small, my experiences altogether too ordinary, to offer anything of real value to literature. Jane Austen is not destined for success as a writer, and so I had better turn my attentions to more practical pursuits.”
“Bah! What’s a Fleet Street bookmonger know of great literature? Believe me, there’s nothing small about an ordinary life lived well. To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to leave the world a bit better... Well, that’s what I’d call success!”
Jane shook her head in confusion. Surely Dr. Smith was jesting with her, but the intensity of his demeanor did not seem that of a man speaking facetiously. Puzzled, and uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken, she undertook to change the subject to one that had been much on her mind since dinner. “I should be very interested to hear more of your theories on the meteor.”
He leaned back against the sofa cushions and rubbed the side of his face thoughtfully. “Well, to start with, your meteorite is hollow on the inside. And do you know what that means?”
He leaned in conspiratorially and whispered, “It’s not a meteorite at all.”
“Do you mean to say the stone didn’t come from the heavens?”
“Oh, it’s extra-terrestrial all right. But as far as I can tell it’s not a natural object. The thing was badly burned when it entered the earth’s atmosphere, but if I’m not mistaken — and I rarely am — someone constructed it on purpose, most likely as some kind of space vessel.”
“Now I know you are teasing me,” chided Jane. “Surely you are not suggesting that some exotic being has traveled from beyond the very stars themselves, only to land here in Hurstbourne Tarrant!”
He shrugged and gave her a mysterious sort of smile. “Stranger things have happened...”
Jane would have questioned him further, but at that moment there came a chorus of screams from the direction of the card table. Jane and Dr. Smith both leapt to their feet to see what was the matter, and discovered that Sir Thomas had collapsed to the floor, where he lay prone and unmoving.