Sunday, April 7, 2013

Lydia's Story: Jane Austen's Lost Manuscript

I am pleased to present to you all the last of the Edith Bellamy stories, or at least the last of the ones I have been able to find.  I took the time to read it before posting and I must say that while it is a little short in comparison to some of her other works it is one of her best.  So, without further ado, I will leave you to your reading pleasure.

Jane Austen with a transgender twist! A London insurance actuary falls asleep reading "Pride and Prejudice," and awakens next morning in the middle of the novel, transformed into Lydia Bennet, the youngest of the five Bennet sisters. This Regency tale of male to female transformation takes transgender fiction to new heights. Visit parts of Meryton J.A. never could have imagined! See how the new Lydia copes with early 19th century provincial English life as a buxom 15-year old girl! One of the most memorable transgender stories you'll ever read!

CHAPTER ONE -- I Fall Asleep Reading "Pride and Prejudice" and Awaken Transformed

Nineteenth century English novels have always held a particular appeal for me: their beauty of language, adherence to a fundamental code of morals and the elegant manners of their characters are not often found in works of our own century. Not long ago, I began rereading the novels of Jane Austen, whose trenchant satire of everyday, upper-middle class provincial English life in the first decade or so of the 19th century is often terribly funny, and whose heroines, though flawed, are wonderfully real and usually loveable, though sometimes rather too clever for their own good. Miss Austen's painstaking development of character and relationship, reflecting with gem-like brilliance the many-faceted nuances and foibles of real human beings, set a literary standard only rarely surpassed.

My favorite of Miss Austen's novels is "Pride and Prejudice," which I had not read for many years. Eliza Bennet is the most dazzling and articulate of Miss Austen's heroines, and also her most outspoken. I took up the book late one evening, went to bed with it and got as far as Chapter XV, where the two youngest Bennet daughters, Lydia and Kitty, make plans to walk to nearby Meryton next day to visit the milliner's, and, no less important, to flirt with officers of the local regiment of militia quartered on the town.

The two could hardly think of any thing else, for, at the advanced ages of fifteen and seventeen years, respectively, they had not, as yet, become accomplished enough in other female pursuits -- lacework and tatting, painting, piano playing, singing, netting purses, declaiming pious verses, vilifying maids' insufferable sloth -- to have any thing else quite so satisfying to occupy their time, of which they had a superabundance, inasmuch as they were not attending an academy and had servants enough so that they need not even brush out their own hair nor tie the ribbon under their bonnets should they choose not to do so. Though not really wealthy, they were quite comfortably provided for, and horribly bored.

I began to reflect on the lot of the girls and women of Miss Austen's time (and class) -- on the apparently narrow scope of their lives and on how very fragile was a girl's reputation: merely being alone in a room with an unmarried man -- not one's brother -- could ruin a girl for life, even though nothing less innocent may have transpired behind a closed door than a polite discussion of the weather or the crops.

Trying to penetrate the elegance and propriety of Miss Austen's prose, I wondered what life really must have been like for a proper young lady of the era -- unable, as she was, to own property, to vote, to bring an action in a court of law, to inherit, to initiate the first step in a romantic relationship (at least overtly), and for whom marriage to a man with more property than she was the ultimate consummation, a consummation, which, if not achieved by age twenty-five, would consign her to spinsterhood and a miserable, desiccated existence, dependent upon the grudging charity of niggardly relatives.

As I reflected upon these things, I grew drowsy and felt the book slowly slip from my fingers onto the coverlet. I drifted off and slept soundly, dreaming of grey stone houses set about with rose trees, of green fields and narrow country lanes flanked by ancient and impenetrable hedgerows. I saw visions of mists arising from languid streams, their deep banks overhung with mosses and ferns, of thick, spreading English oaks in June with red-and-white spotted Alderney cows lying placidly in their shade, chewing cuds of rich English grass and clover and lazily twitching away flies with their tails. Of fluffy white cumulus clouds languidly drifting across a ludicrously bright robin's egg blue sky. Of small Saxon churches whose apses hold ancient knee-high sepulchers topped with ornamental brasses of sad-eyed armored knights and elongated ladies in brocaded gowns --a lion at the feet of each knight, a small, faithful dog at the feet of each lady

So I was at first only half-surprised to awaken to an unusually peaceful morning devoid of the slightest mechanical sound: no sound at all, in fact, save for the distant lowing of cattle, the flat clanking of cow bells and the tapping of a woodpecker -- my half-surprise turning to alarm the moment I opened my eyes and found my self in a small, whitewashed bed chamber, a plain unpainted and unvarnished wooden stand with a large pitcher and bowl, and a rather too upright, warped and black-flecked mirror in back, opposite my bed. From my left, orange early morning sunlight streamed on the level through a casement set into a wall at least two feet thick. On the uneven wall to my right, facing the casement, stood a wooden clothes press with a narrow set of drawers built in to one side. Above the washstand and mirror hung a time-darkened oil portrait, in a blackened wood frame, of an unsmiling old woman holding a bible. The portrait hung quite high, secured by a cord where the wall joins the ceiling, and was tilted downwards, the better to keep a sharp eye on the bed's occupant, no doubt.

My toes were cold, my bladder uncomfortably full; I was about to arise from the bed to go relieve my self when I realised with a start I was an altogether different person -- smaller and softer, broader-hipped and complacently stupid. As I stirred, I had the unmistakable sensation of what could only be breasts -- full, heavy ones -- tugging at my chest. My complacency vanished the moment I realized I had somehow become a lush and penetrable creature, a suspicion quickly confirmed by a few panicky strokes of my now-smaller hands beneath the heavy bedclothes and up under my long, rough night-dress: I indeed did have full, heavy breasts, hairless skin as smooth as polished satin, generous hips framing a soft and broad belly.... And a.... a.... O! Not that! Lord preserve me!

I choked and could not breathe for at least half a minute. I felt between my legs again. No! It was simply not possible! I had a.... a.... a hideous vacancy there, a vacancy cleft straight down its middle by a familiar set of exquisitely soft lips, lips I had felt often enough before, but only on other women.

Other women, did I say? Other women? But I had gone to bed the previous night a man, a man with respectable enough male endowments, now utterly annihilated. In their stead were these delicate and ridiculously sensitive lips, nestled between soft and pliant thighs. Not only did my fingers feel these lips, but, horrible to say, these alien lips reciprocally felt the pads of my fingers brushing over their surface -- an indescribably delicious tingling that momentarily overcame my rising wave of panic and wonderfully concentrated my attention, as the sight of the gallows does for the condemned, but with a singular difference: I did not feel I was about to die.

I gingerly stroked the tip of my middle finger along the groove between my new lips and felt an abrupt yielding as it cleaved them apart and plunged into ... me .... and into my own intimate moisture. I beg your pardon, did I say my intimate moisture? It was an utter impossibility, against all laws of nature and science. But there it was! I slid my finger upwards a bit, felt something bud-like and exquisitely sensitive, brushed lightly over it and instantly a golden arrow of pure, unalloyed sexual pleasure shot up and up into an entirely unfamiliar part of my anatomy whose response to my touch was distinctly foreign -- and excruciatingly pleasant. This warm, liquid feeling rapidly spread inside me like a brilliant stain in an absorbent, light-colored fabric, leaving no doubt whatever about what must now lie within.

I gasped twice -- once at the ineffable pleasure the partial insertion of a small and hitherto innocent finger had wrought without any particular effort, and again at the realisation of just what it was I had inserted it into. No amount of denial could avoid the alarming conclusion: I had become .... a woman .... and I had quite obviously just inserted my finger into my ..... into my....

* * * * * *

O! Horrible! Outrageous! I could not even think the dread word that names where my finger was so pleasurably nestled! I could, in fact, not think of any thing, for the stain of pleasure spreading like hot nectar within me consumed all my conscious attention as it rippled through my new internal parts and then, like a rising spring of clear roiling water, welled up and up into my chest and my nipples grew tight and began to tingle and I felt my heart turn over with a curious writhing motion, my thighs spread slightly apart of themselves, and I heard my self utter an involuntary and undeniably girlish squeal of delight.

But my curious fingers had no time properly to explore my new .... my new .... aperture ... any more deeply than to ascertain I was intacta, that is, a virgin, (my finger's full penetration was impeded by my hymen), for what had actually awakened me was not the soft mooing of cows, nor a woodpecker (nor the insistent vesical pressure I could hardly ignore now that I was awake), but a smart tapping of fingertips at the white wooden door of my bedroom -- a door fashioned of several vertical boards and three horizontal cross-pieces studded with heavy black hand-wrought iron carriage bolts, a door with a black iron lever-latch and lock-bar, which, as I watched in mute stupefaction, lifted: the door began hesitantly to open with an agonizing creak, admitting the bonneted face of a pale and freckled serving girl.

The bonneted face addressed me:

"Idth only me, Ethther, Mith Lydia," lisped the girl, displaying a prodigious gap between her two top front teeth. One of her almost browless and watery blue eyes looked askance, so I was not quite sure whether she was addressing me or some other person at the other side of the room.

She continued, "You mutht bethtir yourthelf. Mithter Bennet your father hadth already ridden off to London. Mittith Bennet your mother and your thithters have been awaiting you in breakfatht room now thith latht quarter hour, and not theeing you at table nor hearing you thtir, and idth being theven o'clock and the day fatht waythting away and the regimental parade in Meryton being at eleven and you not even up yet nor even dretthed, and your wanting to thee Captain Shaftworthy in hidth red coat and on hidth white horth, your mother dethired I should wake and dreth you with dethpatch, if it pleathe you. You mutht needth make haythte, mith!"

Miss Lydia? Mr Bennet my father? My mother Mrs Bennet? A regiment on parade? Captain Shaftworthy? Redcoats? Meryton? My sisters? An English country house? I looked in the direction of Esther's wayward eye and saw no one else in the chamber. She was clearly speaking to me.

* * * * *

I stared, speechless and goggle-eyed, at the apparition in the doorway, but the gap-tooth and freckled maid, apparently unfazed by my failure to reply, opened the door fully and swept briskly into the room in her floor-length serving-maid's dress of coarse-spun and crudely printed calico. She glanced with an experienced eye beneath the washstand at a covered porcelain vessel and then scooped up the heavy stoneware basin and pitcher with no apparent effort, and exited the room, saying, "I'll be back, mith, in two shakes, with warm water." She neatly pulled the door closed behind her with one slippered and almost prehensile foot and was gone.

CHAPTER TWO -- I Discover Who I Am

Alone once again, and now somewhat less drowsy, I threw back the bedclothes, sat up on the edge of the bed, my heavy breasts jouncing softly, and looked about me with a bit more deliberation. I found my self clad in a tight fitting night-bonnet and full-length white muslin night gown with a wide blue satin ribbon encircling me just below my bust, a gown none too smooth, either: it felt coarse against my now delicate skin. As if struck by a thunderbolt, I suddenly perceived that I had awakened in the middle of a Jane Austen novel -- in the middle of "Pride and Prejudice," to be exact: I had quite clearly become the youngest (and tallest and most buxom) of the five Bennet sisters -- Lydia: all of fifteen years of age, vapid beyond all imagining, whose only interests in life were ribbons, bonnets, bonbons and Redcoats, in that order, though shortly to be rearranged, which, of course, I had no inkling of at the moment.

'Well now,' I said to my self, 'If I am really a character in a novel I have read several times over and know tolerably well, why is it that I have no recollection of this particular chapter?' "Pride and Prejudice" has, of course, no maid named Esther, nor does the reader ever encounter Lydia in her own bed chamber. There is no male character named Shaftworthy. And I seemed to be having my own thoughts at the moment, not those of the vacant youngest Bennet sister, who could barely reckon sums exceeding the number of her fingers, and, though she could write in a fair hand, had the vocabulary of a dull ten year old child and never took the least pains to restrain her shallowest thoughts from finding immediate utterance, no matter the company or the occasion. Just like her mother.

Now I was she! And my complacent stupidity? It was clearly Lydia's, not "mine," and, even more noteworthy than my stupidity, my body was now Lydia's, too. Would my mind and soul become as female as her voluptuous body? And, if so, how soon? A bit of stupidity I could accept for the moment (it would give me respite from the tiresome pressures of being male), but could I possibly tolerate becoming a flirt? Could I ever be attracted to men? Could I elope with a rakish and dissolute militia officer, marry him and look forward to bearing his babies?

And why did I have to become this particular character? Why the empty-headed Lydia? Why not Eliza her self, or even Jane? Rotten luck! How much Lydia's foolishness and scant mental powers would suppress my own intelligence and strong sense of self was of instant concern, to be sure, for Lydia was the archetypal empty-head. And she does, in fact, elope with an officer, a certain Wickham, and marries him! All at age fifteen! I was in for serious trouble, and very soon, too. And I knew not the slightest thing about being a girl, much less about eloping with an officer of His Majesty's militia! I had only a few. short Jane Austen-like chapters to get the hang of things!

Such abstruse considerations, however, would have to wait until I had at least seen my self in a mirror. Bodily basics come first, after all.

I sprang out of bed with all the vitality of a fifteen year old girl (only to stumble, as if from missing the last step of a staircase, because my bed was so unexpectedly high), and rushed to the bare wooden wash stand, which held the room's only mirror -- a small and imperfect one. The mirror was, as I have said, not on a swivel, so I had to stoop down to see my reflection, and then only by bits, because the mirror was small. But it was not too small for me to regard the reflexion of my pale and ovaloid English face: a classic peaches-and-cream complexion, like living velvet; a short but straight forehead; dark, delicately tapered brows over long-lashed, dark blue, almost violet eyes -- set just a trifle too closely together to betoken any thing but a dim intellect behind them; a small nose; fine lips (my upper one so thin it may as well not have been there); and a delicately pointed chin. A small, oval, and extremely pretty face.

I could see neither my ears nor my hair because of my tight-fitting frilled muslin night-cap, so I undid its satin bow tied under my chin and yanked it off, releasing cascading ringlets of chestnut brown curls that spilled to my shoulders and bounced several times with springy resilience. I smiled at my self in the uneven glass, and saw that my lower incisors overlapped, so I brought my lower lip a bit higher up, as if by long habit, to conceal the imperfection -- a little manouvre that made me look brighter than my close-set eyes implied, for otherwise Lydia would most likely have gone about open-mouthed like the empty-head that she was.

But my amazement at having been transformed into Miss Lydia Bennet of Longbourn, Herts., aged 15 years, in the year 1811, was eclipsed for the moment by my most un-Jane-Austen-like need to empty my bladder, a natural bodily function to which Miss Austen gives only the scantiest attention, or none at all. I could not recall -- in any of her novels -- even an oblique reference to a privy, her sensibilities being far too delicate to hint at the existence of any thing so coarse for the fulfillment of unmentionable bodily functions. I knew better than to expect any thing as fancy as a flush toilet, which would not, in any event, see the light of common usage in the best English households for at least the next fifty years -- and, in the countryside, more likely for the next one hundred. I did hope I would not actually have to venture outside the cottage, for I felt terribly vulnerable and had no desire to meet up with any strange men until I had sorted my self out, so strong was my immediate sense of cleft penetrability.

Recalling Esther's attentive glance at the odd porcelain utensil stowed under the washstand, I, too, had a look, and was rewarded by the discovery of a white glazed chamber pot with a smooth and close-fitting wooden cover. I bent over, gingerly slid it out from under the stand, and uncovered it (finding it, thankfully, empty and clean). I stood upright to hike up the full skirts of my nightgown, then squatted until I felt the cold rim of the pot on my broad, ivory bottom. I let my weight settle down onto the pot, felt supported, and, with surprising girlish expertise, relieved my self, shocked at the high-pitched rill of my stream and its duration, which must have lasted a full thirty seconds. Apparently, in times of no indoor plumbing or central heating, bladders were accustomed to going unrelieved for much longer periods than now.

Still squatting on the chamber pot, burning with private humiliation at having been summarily deprived of what I had considered, since childhood, a sacred male prerogative, (only girls had to sit!) I cast my eyes about the room looking for something to wipe my self with......

Suddenly the room grew dim, its furnishings flickered, faded, then vanished, the sunlight was snuffed out and I found my self suspended, without my body, in the cold darkness of interstellar space. I was no where at all and had ceased to exist.

[These chapters, with many words struck out and with marginal emendations to make them read in the third, instead of the first, person, were abandoned unfinished, torn in half, crumpled and thrown into the dustbin. They were rescued and preserved by Miss Austen's maid, whose great-great-granddaughter discovered them in a London attic in 1922.]

* * * * * *

CHAPTER THREE -- A letter from Jane Austen to her sister, Cassandra Austen

July 17, 1811

My Dearest Cassanda,

I TRUST THIS letter finds you in good health & the hay already ripe for the second mowing. The heat in London is unbearable & the stench of horse-urine every where can barely be suffered, tho' Henry never complains of it. You are fortunate, indeed, to have remained in the salubrious air of Hampshire where you can get fresh milk & butter every day. The London butter is rancid & even the freshest milk tastes half sour when compared to what comes from our own dairy.

I had hoped, my dear sister, that by distancing my self from the endless distractions of keeping the cottage & farm at Chawton & caring for Mama, that I would be all the better able to put pen to paper & get on with revizing "First Impressions," which has languished in its note book these past dozen years in the chest I keep under my bed. I have shown the manuscript to no one in all that time. But, with the forth-coming publication of "Sense and Sensibility," & our growing need for income, I pulled it out & found it has great merit for selling well, provided I can revise it to reflect the changes that genteel society has undergone in the last decade. Novels must be topical & up-to-date if they are to sell! The novel's satire of middle-class morals & values is a bit old, & must needs be brought up to present times if it is still to amuse -- & to sell.

In my last letter, I told you the heroine is called Elizabeth -- Lizzy, Liza or Eliza -- Bennet, she is the second eldest of five children, all of them girls. The family lives in the imaginary village of Longbourn in Hertfordshire; they are a genteel, landed family, but with limited income from rents, a number of farms having been sold off two or three generations before to settle the gambling debts of a profligate ancestor. As Mrs Bennet has produced only daughters & is now past child bearing, the estate is entailed, in default of heirs male, to a distant male cousin, a ill-looking prelate named Collins (a dull, pompous, obsequious fool), & will pass to him upon Mr Bennet's death -- a fine state of affairs for the five sisters! Tho' the father is as yet hale & hearty, the entail is, none the less, a constant thorn in the family's side. The situation gives me ample scope to ridicule Collins & all petty, sycophantic clergymen of his ilk: Collins is torn between his acquisitiveness and his sense of guilt that he will inherit something which common sense holds is not rightfully his. He hopes to make it all up to the Bennets by marrying one of the daughters, but of course none of the girls will have any thing to do with such an ill-favoured clod-poll.

The mother is a dreadfully silly, uneducated & pretentious creature with a patina of fine manners, who is a constant source of mortification to Lizzie (her least favourite daughter) & prattles without surcease about marrying off her girls into favourable situations (as such women do); & her father, Mr Bennet, is clever, witty, well-educated, capricious & thoroughly ineffectual -- after all, he married Mrs Bennet! Lizzie is her father's favourite child, & like him, she is more than clever, but unlike him, is unflinchingly resolute & keeps her eye fixed on the mark until she has got it. Lizzie's most formidable mark is, of course, a husband for her self: when she at last discovers that she has fallen in love with the prideful & arrogant Darcy, after having spent the first half of the novel savouring her intense dislike for the man, she directly swallows her own pride with typical feminine practicality, succeeds in sinking his, too, & so they are married in the end. That Darcy has an income of ten thousand a year does not, of course, figure in Eliza's conscious deliberations, as she is far above such pecuniary motives -- or, at the very least, she considers her self to be above them.

I have changed the title to "Pride and Prejudice," as it more accurately reflects the principal flaws in both Eliza & Darcy, flaws which must be surmounted & purged before their love can blossom. But, alas, I am hopelessly stalled in my revision! I cannot sleep nights, tho' I doze off now & then at my escritoire & each time find my self dreaming a most disturbing dream, about a time where I have never been, where people rush madly about in noisy metal carriages, not drawn by horses, but somehow propelled from within by an invisible fire, buildings are prodigiously tall & all windows & London is smothered in a pall of nauseating brown haze. The men have bad teeth & spotty complexions & carry black furled umbrellas, whilst the women, garishly made up as if for the lime-light, roam the streets wearing dresses so short that at least half their legs are exposed, or else wearing breeches just like the men! It is revolting even to imagine!

When I awaken from this unsettling dream, I can not concentrate any more on my writing, but, unaccountably, find my self thinking terrible thoughts about what married men & women do together in private -- thoughts that have entered my mind from Heaven knows where! I have never had such shameful thoughts, yet I am somehow compelled to think them, just as I seem compelled to dream this frightful dream. These unsavoury thoughts have found their way into my work as well, like rain water seeping in through a bad roof, affecting my stile no less than the content, & I am tearing up chapter after chapter as I deviate from my intended theme. I blush, dearest Cassandra, to tell you of this, but it is the plain truth & I am afraid that, should these strange dreams & unhealthy thoughts persist, I shall go mad!

For an instance, the youngest Bennet girl, Lydia, (who is only fifteen, but whom her mother would as quickly marry off as she would Jane, her eldest), was not intended to play any great role in the early part of the novel, but was meant to be merely a fluffy counterpoint to the intricate depths of her elder sister Eliza's character & rich personality. But when I can write, I am compelled to write entirely new chapters about Lydia alone, which only divert me further from my main narrative. I just now, a bit earlier, tore in half & crumpled up two chapters just about her & consigned them to the dustbin. Had there been a fire in the grate, I would surely have burned them! And these horrid chapters all come out written in the first person, as if Lydia was inventing her self as she goes along, instead of my inventing her! It is uncommonly strange, sister, to be no longer mistress of my own pen!

Nights in bed, unsleeping, I find my self thinking back to young Thomas LeFroy, & of that summer evening at Steventon in '96 when he took me into the stables to shew me his prize Irish mare, but it was to an empty stall with fresh straw that he took me & did unspeakable but wonderful things with me that I can never forgive, (nor can wholly wish to forget), but all the same I would have flown to Ireland that night with the uncommonly handsome rogue had he asked me -- I was twenty-one that year and, as ever, a poor prospect for marriage for want of even a meagre annuity. However, he did not ask me, for, having defiled me, he wanted only to get away fast: the cunning devil had packed his effects beforehand & had saddled his mare & hitched her to a tree in the meadow below the creamery, & so rode off directly he was done with me, & I twisted my ankle in the field running home in tears to the Rectory & told every body I had twisted it earlier & that is why I was late, as it was too painful to walk on (which was true). Of course, I never saw Thomas LeFroy again, nor did he ever, by all reports, return into our country, & I was exceedingly relieved when the flux came that month, tho' I had a bad fright, for it was more than a se'night late. But then, I was never as regular as you.

You will not, of course, tell any one of this, dearest Cassandra -- I am hardly certain of why I am telling it to you, as I have never imparted it to another living soul. It is as if the Forces of Darkness, unleashed by Thomas LeFroy all those years ago, have come back to torment me again!

I will remain here in Tavistock-crescent a fortnight more & endeavour to complete at least one half of the novel's revision. Then I shall return to Chawton by public stage, for I can not possibly hire a carriage, as much as the dust & the crowding & the rank onion breath of the other passengers is offensive to me: Henry has been importuning Crosby to advance me a royalty on the first printing of "Sense and Sensibility," but extracting money from book publishers, who are all calculating rogues, is like squeezing blood from turnips. Better said, from last year's turnips!

Kiss Mama for me & do not forget that next Monday is Susan the dairymaid's birth day. In the bottom of my work basket you will find a pair of new tortoise shell combs for her, which I bought at the fair at Nether Coppington, almost a twelvemonth ago. You will also find several sheets of fine Florentine tissue paper in the same place, & some Flemish red velvet ribbon for tying up the package. Do make certain to cut the ribbon long enough so that Susan can use it later for tying up her hair. She uses four ribbons. And do not neglect to tell the mowers there is a new scythe-blade in the loft of the barn, just come from the blacksmith in June. One of the blades always seems to go bad by the second mowing. There is also a spare snath stored with the blade, but no bees' wax has yet been applied to the handles.

With all sisterly love & affection, I am, as ever, your own, &c., &c.,


CHAPTER FOUR -- I Resume My Existence and Am Dressed in the Peek of Fashion

I remember squatting on the chill porcelain pot, looking anxiously about the room for something to wipe my self with -- and then all went blank and the next I knew, I was back in my sunny bedroom again and Esther was lacing me into my under bodice as I held my arms over my head to keep them out of the way. The room, as I said, had no full-length mirror to allow me to observe my self being dressed, but I could see plainly enough, by glancing downwards, that I was wearing white lisle stockings gartered just above the knee with plain poplin ties. The tops of my stockings almost met the legs of my long and rather puffy white pantalettes, about the length of what you, Dear Reader, in your time would call Bermuda shorts.

"Ah!" exclaimed Esther, "thith tie idth about to tear, Mith Lydia -- you are growing tho large in the bodthom that you are the envy of all the girlth for leagueth round! When thith one tearth, it will be the third tie thinth March that'th got weakened by too much pulling! I declare I never thaw a girl grow tho fatht, and in all the right plaithes, too. I've got your new blue cambric dreth -- the one that idth tho daring in front, all ready and ironed. It will give you joy to wear it to-day. Now, hold them up for me out of the way whiltht I finish tying you in. "

I obediently cupped my ample breasts and lifted them as requested, glad of any sanctioned opportunity to become more closely acquainted with my new appurtenances. They were full, firm and heavy; their nipples readily stiffened in response to my touch. I hoped Esther would have difficulty with the laces, and so grant me more time. Unfortunately, she did not, as she was deft-fingered.

"Breathe in deeply now, Mith," Esther commanded, ".... That'th better ..... there! You look thtunning! Thee for yourthelf." she exclaimed, brushing my hands away downwards and stepping back to assess the effect of her handiwork. Released from my hands, my breasts hardly sagged: I was so tightly laced I thought I'd break a rib if I took another deep breath!

I crouched a bit to gauge the result in the tiny wash stand mirror and was rewarded with a view of my statuesque décolletage, pushed up and out by Esther's skilled lacing. I wanted to stare at my self a while longer, to fondle my full and soft orbs, to resume, in fact, the delectable explorations which Esther had interrupted by her arrival, but instead, against my volition, I turned back round to face the wall-eyed maid, opened my mouth and heard, with the utmost surprise, the following words pass my lips:

"La! Esther, how you do prate on so about my daring blue cambric dress! Do you take me for an hussy? I shall be wearing a shawl, of course, so that I shall not be on display to all the sweaty farm folk we may meet on our way in to Meryton. Should the sun be hot, however, I may find reason to remove it, but not unless we meet with some officers," and I looked reprovingly at the maid.

Esther colored a mild crimson. "Thorry, Mith, I wadth only trying to praithe."

Despite my protestations of modesty, however, I found my self craving to see my self clad in my new blue cambric dress, which I had not put on since its final fitting in Meryton now nearly a month ago, when it was still only pinned and basted, so I was almost about to stamp my foot with adolescent impatience, but instead I asked, in a tone edged with petulance:

"And what, pray, is my sister Kitty wearing to-day?"

"Why, Mith, she idth wearing her yellow gingham and underneath, her betht mauve-colored top-petticoat."

Kitty, my seventeen year old sister, was quite flat-chested and rather too broad in the beam, but she had an exceptionally sweet face and dressed with great care, making the most of her limited assets. She was better-spoken than me as well, tho' that only went so far with a man. I did not, however, wish to be upstaged by her for any reason, and my new low-cut blue cambric with its tight-laced under bodice would be ample assurance that I would not be: on our last foray together into Meryton, I went green with envy to see the attention Captains Cox and Peckham bestowed upon Kitty (tho', I admit, I was engaged in rapt conversation with Captain Shaftworthy at the time -- we were considering the merits of the latest wig-powder from Paris) -- I am galled unless every man for fifty feet 'round has his eyes fixed intently upon me, no matter that I am engaged with only one of them at a time! I want them all! But Kitty's yellow gingham was no rival for my blue cambric. Kitty may as well stay in the shade to-day! I wanted Shaftworthy -- and Cox and Peckham too, if I could get them -- and I would claw out the eyes of any other woman who got in my way -- sisters included!

My spiteful reverie was interrupted by Esther's peremptory command, "Armth up again, Mith," and, still musing on just how provocatively a shawl might be removed in front of an officer (or officers), I clasped my hands behind my head and brought my elbows closely together, hugging my self, as it were, as Esther dropped petticoat after petticoat down over my shoulders, tying each about my high, deep waist. The outer petticoat, in very pale blue satin, was ruffled in front in a mass of horizontal frills. Then came the dress, in sky blue Birmingham cambric, low and square-cut in front, serving up my magnificent cleavage in a froth of white lace, with short, puffed shoulder sleeves that showed off my plump white arms to advantage. The skirt fell open in an inverted V-shaped gap from the high, wrap-over waist, exposing rows and rows of satiny frills of my outermost petticoat. I sat on a stool before the washstand and extended each foot for Esther to pull on my dainty blue satin slippers -- suitable for parlour wear, but which would be dusty by the end of our walk and would need cleaning. And, if it rained, well, then I would go barefoot rather than ruin them! A girl simply can not afford to spoil a good pair of satin shoes, not even an empty-head like me!

Then Esther easily brushed out my curls (my tight fitting night-cap had a good purpose, after all!) and tied my hair back just in front of my ears, using ribbons of the same pale blue satin as my frilled petticoat. I hesitated for a moment, thinking Lydia had forgotten some thing -- make-up perhaps? But, no, of course not, only whores and actresses (and the nobility) used make-up: it was forbidden to all other women. But I remembered the rose-water, several drops of which I spread with a fingertip in to the soft crease between my breasts. Now I was dressed and my toilette complete. And I was ravenously hungry.

As if reading my thoughts, Esther propelled me towards the door, saying:

"There! You're all ready to go down to breakfatht. You mutht be thtarving, tho down you go!" And she gave me a gentle shove. I had to pull my skirts in to get through the doorway, and as I scampered down the steep, narrow stairs, I had to hold them up so that I could see my feet and not lose my footing. The rustling of my petticoats made such a racket that my descent was hardly unannounced, and I heard irritated expressions of "At last!" "She is finally coming!" and "Wait 'til we see that dress!" emanate from the direction of the breakfast room.

CHAPTER FIVE -- A Sisterly Spat with Eliza

The chatter I had heard as I ran down the stairs abruptly ceased the moment the rustling of my petticoats heralded my imminent arrival, and my cheeks started to burn as I realised I was the object of their doubtlessly unfavourable discussion of my myriad faults. I paused in the hallway, where hung the household's only long mirror. I stopped to listen, to hear if the awkward silence would endure. Let them wait a bit longer! I had just a few moments to admire my comely reflexion, so I did and I tested my best smile. Before breaking away, I sucked in my breath and settled my tight under bodice a bit higher, accentuating my cleavage even more. I'd show them all! Then, my best smile on my lips, I made my grand entrance, bold as a brass weather cock in an electrical storm. Let the lightening strike! I had those glorious twin orbs, and I knew they were the envy of all my four sisters.

Five pairs of female eyes greeted my arrival into the sunny breakfast room, then each pair went its separate direction. Liza and Jane glanced meaningfully at one another with an 'I told you so!' look on their censorious faces, then simultaneously cast their eyes upwards in scornful condemnation. Kitty shot one glance at me and immediately looked downwards to stare fixedly at her place setting, with a sour, resigned expression and muttered something inaudible under her breath. Mary merely raised her eyebrows and blinked in my general direction, no doubt preparing in her mind one of her boring moral platitudes for the improvement of the female sex. Mama gazed lovingly at me, cocked her head to one side and smiled, seeing no faults at all and merely wishing she could still wear such a dress.

"You look lovely, Lydia, my darling," she exclaimed. "Come give your poor Mama a kiss!" Eliza and Jane, always in league together against me, puffed out their breaths in derision and shook their heads in disbelief, Kitty examined the flatware and sullenly turned her spoon over and over again, whilst Mary continued to blink myopically in my direction, her gaze mis-directed a bit to my right.

"Really, Mama," cried Eliza," breaking the sisters' silence, "Lydia has kept us all waiting this half hour and more, and all you can say is how lovely she looks! Slug-a-beds such as she should not receive rich rewards! Better she should be sent back upstairs to her chamber until tea time so that she may reflect on her sloth and forego her precious excursion into Meryton to-day."

"Hold your tongue Lizzie," Mama harshly responded. I was Mama's favourite, for we were the most alike, in looks, temper .... and stupidity, whereas she found Lizzie endlessly irksome, mostly because she was unable to follow her reasoning: Lizzie was logic personified, Mama and I, pure feminine impulse -- and we understood one another perfectly.

"We must all make allowances for youth," continued Mama, as I put my nose in the air and undulated across the room, holding my skirts up and out of the way so as not to catch them on the chairs and flaunting my wares as if I was the buxom figurehead of Brittania on a 72-gun ship of the line. I planted the requested daughterly kiss on Mama's cheek, and she patted mine and then pinched it. "Lydia still needs her beauty sleep," she declared, "and to-day, at the regimental parade, she may snare a husband, and must look her best!" Of course, we all knew Mama was not quite sixteen when Jane, the eldest, was born, so that she quite clearly considered fifteen to be the ideal age for a girl to be married.

Jane practically choked at the word 'husband,' but it was, to be sure, Eliza who rendered the first opinion on my new dress, which had been, of course, the subject of their conversation before my entry. With that haughty, needling tone of hers, she opened hostilities:

"Speaking of allowances for youth, Mama, surely you shall not allow Lydia to go in to Meryton in such a gown as this! Why, she is fairly spilling out of it and probably will, too, should she reach for a hat on a shelf at the milliner's! Neither Lydia her self, nor the rest of the family, need any such scandal as this unseemly display of bosom will doubtless occasion. I am quite shocked that Signora Palchetti should have cut it so low! I will certainly take my own patronage else where henceforward. Such a dress may be worn, perhaps, to a private ball without inciting excessive opprobrious comment, but not in to town on a weekday! And to a regimental parade, no less, with common soldiers marching by! What will people think of us when they see we have allowed Lydia to sally forth so scantily clad?"

"You are merely envious, Lizzie, because you could never wear such a dress," I cried, colouring. "You haven't the half of what it takes!" (This was the truth, and for this reason, Eliza usually favoured high-necked dresses.)

Eliza's dark eyes flashed in anger. "Mama," she cried, "It is intolerable for Lydia to address her elders with such impertinence! She must make instant apology!"

I adored teasing Lizzie on the subject of her less-than-generous endowments, so I was gratified not only to have drawn her fire, but to have returned it with such happy effect. One could almost smell burning gun powder in the breakfast room! Now, to advance my counter attack, I stuck my tongue out at her. This was going to be a lovely breakfast, I could see, and we had not even begun to eat yet!

Mama was trying to conceal her laughter with her hand, for I knew she had liked my retort and was not-so-secretly pleased to see Lizzie discomfited. "But Eliza," Mama began, unable any longer to suppress an outright smirk, "Lydia has merely spoken the truth -- indeed, we all know you could never wear such a dress. An older woman," Mama continued, (Lizzie had attained the advanced age of twenty, so in Mama's mind she was practically an old maid already), "An older woman must, of course, dress less attractively once the full bloom of youth has passed her by. And besides, one can not be made to apologise for telling the truth, now, can one?"

Lizzie's eyes flashed again, her nostrils flared and she bit her lower lip so hard I thought she'd draw blood. She clenched her fists and drew them under the table and in to her lap. But she remained silent and alternately glared at Mama and at me. I was ecstatic.

Now Mary piped up: "I agree with Elizabeth. A parade is not a party, neither should soldiers be distracted from duties military by young ladies who expose themselves shamelessly. Modesty in dress is ever a virtue in Maid, and is consistent with rectitude in all else. Lydia ought to wear something less daring."

Flashing a momentary saccharine smile on my lips, I acknowledged Mary's predictable aphorism with a slight inclination of my head and a mock curtsey. No one ever paid the slightest attention to Mary, not only the plainest of us five girls, but always as bland and boring as white pudding. She was not quite as stupid as Kitty or me, but she had none of Lizzie's or Jane's quick silver intellect, either. Mary provided the marginal notes for the family, in a manner of speaking, which gave her -- and no one else -- immense satisfaction. Mary, who was nineteen, lived in her own little world, and because she was so short-sighted, she almost never went out of doors and spent most of her time reading morally edifying religious tracts, writing uplifting homilies she would then commit to memory, for recitation when ever an occasion presented, or doing crewel work. Mary did excel at crewel work, I was constrained to admit. Mine was horrible, like the web of a drunken spider who has fallen into a glass of strong brandy, but Mary's was perfect.

Mama always sat at the head of the table when Father was away, so I took the chair to her right, usually Lizzie's when Father was home, but which Mama reserved for me when he was gone -- to Lizzie's great mortification, for it galled her no end -- each time -- with all the force of the first time Mama did it, just as it pleased me no end -- each time. I thrust my bosom outwards as I settled my self in my chair, sniffed and lifted my nose a bit to the side. Such meals were always a particular pleasure for me. I held my serviette up, by one corner, at shoulder level and let it unfurl with a negligent flick of the wrist (my little finger extended): this was the signal that the temporarily fatherless family was now officially at table and that breakfast could commence.

Breakfast proceeded in silence, save for the chinking of flatware on china and the sounds of plated covers being removed from, then replaced over, various dishes. The meal was exceptionally lavish: thick slices of fresh white bread slathered in sweet butter, rich fruit preserves or fragrant, crystallised honey; milk, slightly yellow and almost as thick as cream; a big pot of delicious Jamaica coffee; hot scones and muffins; thick rashers of bacon; endless links of short, plump sausages, their crisp skins bursting with fat; three or four kinds of smoked fish, including Scotch salmon; a red earthen pot of steaming oatmeal with a great gob of butter melting on top; wedges of yellow and orange melon of a kind I had never before seen or tasted; sliced fried potatoes smothered in melted Cheshire cheese; eggs cooked many different ways -- boiled, roasted, poached, fried, shirred and coddled. In short, it was a breakfast I never possibly could have countenanced eating as a man, yet here I was, as the much smaller Lydia, greedily shoveling forkful after forkful into my pretty little mouth -- and my mother and sisters not exactly stinting themselves, either. I was amazed that we were not all uncommonly fat. But, with the possible exception of Kitty, whose derrière was definitely on the hefty side, none of us could be considered any thing but well-nourished women, tho' I was certain that, for my self, I would be somewhat more than full-figured in less than ten years.

I took advantage of the silence to marvel at what a strange family I had been thrust into, and I the youngest and by far the most attractive, too! But what a spoiled creature was I -- a mother's pet lording it over her less well-favoured sisters. And I was so comfortably and obnoxiously stupid! It had taken all of my mental powers to come up with that crack about Elizabeth's less-than-astonishing bust, and even now, as I concentrated on analysing the characters of my mother and sisters, I was having considerable difficulty restraining my mind from returning to just how I was going to remove my shawl later in the day: precisely when and before whom.

And even worse, my brain was cluttered with images of red-coated officers strutting about in tight white breeches tucked into high black riding boots. I was fascinated by how their cutaway coats left their tight-fitting breeches exposed from the waist down, and how those breeches were really no less revealing than the cod-pieces I had seen Venetian men wearing in Renaissance paintings at the Tate Gallery in London when I had visited it as a little girl, and how I had liked those paintings very much indeed and had later imagined them often, almost nightly, if truth be said, and I wondered, never having seen a man naked, just what it was that occasioned such an excessively attractive bulge in his cod-piece.

Well, that is to say, I knew of course, but Lydia certainly didn't -- the Lydia part of my imagination was a tabula rasa when it came to private male anatomy -- all she ..... I .... knew was that there was a mysterious "something" between men's legs making the bulge, something very important to me that I desperately wanted to know more about, perhaps to see or to touch, or even to have it touch me .... or .... perhaps "touch" was not quite the right word..... But that part of my brain -- Lydia's part of my brain, I mean -- had no idea what that attractive bulge really contained. But she, that is, I mean, I yearned to find out. I was certain that it was somehow tied to my... her ... destiny. It was that important to her ...... I mean .... important to me.

Goodness! How vexing! These dual trains of thought were so very confusing! It was like having two separate persons within me: I still remembered with undiminished clarity who and what I had been; my largely unexamined femininity was still a dark and enticing mystery, a mystery I urgently wanted to learn more about when next I could contrive to be alone. But I was the spoiled, stupid and provocative Lydia, too, at the very same time, and, as Lydia, I was already an accomplished little vixen, comfortable in my voluptuous body! I could observe my self -- as Lydia -- in action, and critique her performance, as it were, with all my former intellectual powers, yet, as Lydia, I was barely articulate.

Would not you too, dear reader, be confused were you to find yourself in my predicament?

At any event, the cool and dispassionate appraisal of my family on which I had just now embarked was utterly derailed by a novel and wonderfully pleasant warmth deep within in that new softness between my legs, that serene, inviting softness I had not yet had the opportunity fully to explore. And not just a mere warmth, but a delicious moistness, a sudden gush of feminine lubrication, a melting deep in my belly that made me surreptitiously shift my legs under the table, crossing one over the other to feel the maddeningly delectable friction of my new ..... my new labia -- now aroused, wet and swollen -- rubbing together. Evidently Lydia was so constituted that her merely imagining a young officer in tight breeches was powerfully stimulating, even tho' I (but clearly not Lydia) had not the slightest interest in men! Suddenly, I felt my nipples start to harden and tingle: my eyes grew suddenly round as I dropped my fork on to my plate and gave a small, involuntary squeal. All faces turned towards me in amazement.

But before any one could speak, the room grew dim, just as had happened earlier: my mother and sisters faded into nothingness, and I, too, was shortly extinguished like a spark flying up a chimney and out into the night air to become a cold, dead cinder.

[This last chapters also were torn from their notebook, crumpled and thrown into the dustbin, where they was retrieved by Miss Austen's maid and saved with the earlier ones.]

CHAPTER SIX -- A letter from Jane Austen to her sister, Cassandra Austen

July 19, 1811

My Dearest Cassandra,

The oppressive heat here has somewhat abated, but now we are plagued by dust and blue-bottle flies -- big ones that settle ever where in necrotic profusion. Oh, how I long for Home! Only a little more than ten days, and I shall return to you!

A traveller to London from our parts told of a dreadful hail-storm yesterday. I do hope that it passed you by and did no damage to the oats, which are so frail at this season. Losing even one field of oats could break us this year, you know. But as hail-storms are so very local I figure it is most unlikely that the one the traveller mentioned could have damaged our crops.

I am afraid, dearest Cassandra, that I have made but little progress in my revizions of "Pride and Prejudice." The willful and stupid Lydia has almost completely aggrandised the novel: I sit down at my escritoire to write about Eliza and from my pen flows another chapter about Lydia! She is ill-bred and manipulative, utterly without moral virtue, and is nothing of my creating, tho' what I write of her comes from my hand. She is a carnal creature whose mind flies to imagining officers in tight breeches and she touches her self, where no woman should, when ever she fancies she is not observed: her great-grandmother's portrait, keeping a watch over Lydia's bed, sees all and keeps me abreast of her anticks. I dread to think what will happen when I bring Lydia to Meryton, and to the tight-breeched, red-coated officers she can not get out of her head!

So each day it is Lydia, Lydia, nothing but Lydia! I know not where she comes from -- perhaps from the Devil -- but it is without question that she is perfectly corrupting my work! And not my work alone, dear sister, but my whole life as well! I am obsessed with my memories of Thomas LeFroy -- I think of him nightly: I can not get him out of my mind. And, when I do sleep, in fits during the day, I am returned to that frightening and noisy London with the fetid brown air (tho', to its merit, it has no blue bottle flies).

But I have saved the worst for last, Cassandra. When I think of Thomas LeFroy, I am just like the odious Lydia: I , too, yearn to touch my self where no woman should and where I have never been touched except on that summer evening when Thomas LeFroy did those unspeakable things. But I dare not do it, for surely it will spell the destruction of me! Yet such thoughts fill my mind even as they fill Lydia's, and banish all sleep.

Our brother Henry has, of course, taken notice that all is not well with me, (tho', to be sure, I could not tell him the truth!), so only yesterday he brought me for a consultation with Sir William Blythe, in Wigmore-street. Sir William is, as you may know, physician to the Duke of Cumberland and to Admiral Nelson as well. Sir William listened to me in confidence and diagnosed an acute involutional melancholia (in former times known as the black bile) complicated by insomniac tendencies, for which he compounded a tincture of opium of which I am to take six drops in a small glass of port wine each bed time. I took the draught last night, but it had no effect besides making my recurrent dream all the more vivid, so I know not whether to halve or double the dosage to-night! At all events, Sir William will bleed me on Wednesday a week should my symptoms not improve by then. I have every faith in the man: it is said that Nelson suffered horribly from night-mares until he sought Sir William's help, and now he sleeps soundly and undisturbed.

I shall close now, dearest Cassandra, and hope that the wild onions are not profuse in the meadows this summer; by August last year, both milk and butter tasted like chives!

With all sisterly devotion, I remain your own, etc., etc.,


CHAPTER SEVEN -- I Find My Self in Meryton and Make an Assignation with Two Officers of the Regiment

When next I resumed my existence following the second Hiatus of Darkness, I found my self standing with my sisters Kitty and Lizzie on the sunny side of Meryton High Street, staring into the confectioner's window. How had we got there? Where had I been in the mean time? Lydia did not seem at all troubled by such questions, for I found her profoundly absorbed -- and then in a trice my identity was drowned by hers once again and I found my self profoundly absorbed, too -- in deciding which and how many of the sweetmeats displayed in the window I could purchase for tuppence. I was clutching a frothy blue-and-white parasol; about my white shoulders was a fine blue silk shawl pinned at my bosom with a corsage of violets. I could see in the window's reflexion that, as promised, my cleavage did not show.

Kitty held a yellow parasol, finer than mine, but she, having next to nothing to conceal, wore no shawl and consequently looked cooler than I felt, for the day, advancing on eleven, was already sultry. Lizzie appeared her usual immaculate self in her plain white dress and primrose Empire sash; she had neither shawl nor parasol, but for protection from the July sun wore a bonnet of finely woven pink-dyed straw with a delicate cluster of fragrant lobelia at one side, under the brim. Lizzie carried a small leather snap purse, also in primrose, and was in the process of opening it.

"Here is tuppence apiece, sisters," she said, bestowing a coin into each of our expectant palms. "But we haven’t all morning, so make up your minds and conclude your purchases with despatch, or we shall miss the parade," she admonished, closing her little purse with an efficient snap. Lizzie delighted in treating Kitty and me like five-year-olds when ever the opportunity presented -- which was often -- in this instance, doling out small coins to each of us (who could not yet be trusted by our doting mother to manage our own pin money).

Kitty, closing her little fist about the copper and frowning in concentration, cried, "I cannot decide between the licorice pastilles and the lavender ones! Which do you favour, Lyddie?"

"O. That's easy, Kit! Neither one," I giggled. "I shall spend my tuppence on crystallised ginger, which will sweeten my breath. Men are not partial at all to licorice, and lavender makes one's mouth taste like perfume, which I find disagreeable."

Lizzie cast her eyes heavenward as if seeking forbearance, and tapped her toe on the narrow pavement. "I shall give you girls no more than ten minutes to conclude your purchases. In the mean time I shall stop at the mercer's; Mrs. Fothergill promised Thursday last to save me some scraps of scarlet calico I want for my quilting. If I am not waiting for you when you are done, you shall find me round the corner," and, so saying, she briskly walked off with that prim little mincing strut of hers that she knew I found so infuriating.

Whilst Kitty was still pondering her choices, a dazzling glimmer caught my eye. I glanced up to see two officers in regimentals just entering the High Street at the low end of the town: the mirrored surface of one of their scabbards had reflected the sun. Lizzie already had her back towards them as she walked to the mercer's, and Kitty was still absorbed in the confectioner's window, so I alone was cognisant of their approach. They took the shady side of the street and were strolling indolently in our direction, gazing in shop windows, at a pace that would bring them opposite us in about five minutes' time. I could not make out, at this distance, who they were, but I was reasonably certain one of them was Captain Shaftworthy. The High Street was otherwise empty, save for several shop boys running errands and a drayman driving a waggon piled high with hay, drawn by two plodding oxen.

My heart began to race and I felt a sudden tingling in my secret place, a tingling which invariably heralded that flow of my heavenly internal nectar. I would have to act quickly! I furled my parasol with a soft snap, gripped Kitty's elbow, and almost dragged her into the shop, where, like a moth at a candle, she immediately began to flutter before the glassed counter display, filled with ever so many more choices than the windows had held. I knew Kitty would be paralysed by indecision for at least five more minutes. Whilst she gazed abstractedly at the variety of sweetmeats, indecisiveness already breaking out on her pretty young brow like a rash, I advanced to the counter and plunked down my coin.

"Twopennies' worth of crystallised ginger, if you please, Mrs Banks," I cried, sliding the copper towards the far edge of the counter, behind which the stout proprietress, or, better said, the proprietor's wife, was standing, beaming with the sort of smug indulgence one usually reserves for pets, small children and half-wits.

"Certainly, Miss Bennet," she responded, with that special inclination of the head used to acknowledge the precise and unvarying gulf between trade and gentry. Yet, as my elder, and one who had known me all my life, she could not resist being familiar:

"So, all decked out today in our finery for the regimental parade, are we?" she asked, her indulgent smile slowly spreading. "I am sure every young lady in Meryton...."

Anxious to get out of the shop directly -- without Kitty -- I had no desire to engage Mrs Banks in small conversation, so I merely coloured (by a little trick I had learnt from an actress who had passed through Meryton in the spring), and nodded with feigned enthusiasm, saying:

"My crystallised ginger, if you please, Mrs Banks."

Sensible of having been rebuffed, she frowned, but then straightaway reached into a wide-necked blue glass jar with a scoop to retrieve the ginger, which she wrapped in a small square of waxed paper and placed in my hand.

"Thank you, Miss Bennet," said Mrs Banks with a faintly petulant air, picking up the copper and dropping it into her apron pocket. I smiled, gave a small curtsey, turned away and headed for the door.

"I shall wait for you in the street, Kit," I said, rustling precipitously out of the shop and tinkling the spring bell over the door as I did so, but Kitty was too enmeshed in the toils of decision-making to have heard me. As the door swung to behind me, I extracted a piece of crystallised ginger from the packet and popped it in to my mouth; I thrust the paper with the others in to one of my skirt pockets.

Yes, Dear Reader, women's dresses had large slit side pockets in those days! Indeed, my the skirts of my gown were so loose and airy, hanging free from the tight and high-waisted bodice and held out by several long petticoats, that they could well have concealed a full-term baby beneath them -- and indeed, such concealment was not wholly unknown -- take Susan Dobbs, the miller's fourteen year-old daughter, for one -- who surprized both her family and Tim Reddington, the ostler's son, as well, last year at Michaelmas, when she all on a sudden went into labour and delivered a daughter before the midwife could be fetched!

From my opposite pocket, I removed a pair of light blue fine kid skin gloves and drew them slowly on, my furled parasol tucked up under one arm. As I pushed the fingers of one hand down between the splayed fingers of the other, to settle the gloves, I slowly raised my eyes to glance round me with studied indifference and was rewarded to see that the officers had closed half the distance that had lain between us when they had first entered the town. I further observed that my presence had been detected, for one of the pair, having looked in my direction, quickly turned away, to his companion. In a trice both faces looked towards me and then, after the briefest of glances, turned in unison to gaze, with rapt attention, into a convenient shop window. The shop they had paused in front of was the poulterer's, which held nothing of interest for dashing young officers. Clearly, they were taking counsel and biding their time. A lively discussion ensued, one of the two gestured broadly, and I was aware of a faint rhythmic thwack every few seconds, whose source I could not determine. I fancied I discerned the flash of a coin being flipped, but, at this distance, I could not be certain of it.

To throw my self in their way and, because it was less obtrusive for one, rather than two, to cross the High Street, I popped open my parasol and, shielding my self from the sun -- and from the officers' gaze -- stepped off the pavement and sailed blithely across the High Street to the milliner's shop opposite, where I promptly engrossed my self in this week's window display of the latest bonnets and ribbons from London.

Within a minute or so I heard the approaching murmur of masculine conversation and the musical jingling of spurs, punctuated by the same rhythmic thwack. Tho' I was now on the shady side of the street, I kept my parasol open and tilted towards the young men, so that my head was concealed. The murmur and jingling got louder but the thwack had ceased; then there was silence. I could tell from the fuzz prickling up on the back of my neck that someone was standing close behind me.

"Could it be one of the Misses Bennet, concealing her self under a superfluous parasol?" inquired a smooth baritone voice. "You are standing on the shady side of the street, Madam, so I rather doubt your complexion will much suffer should you close up your sun-shade and expose yourself to us."

With a coquettish smile prepared on my lips, I turned round to find my self gazing up into the smiling blue eyes of none other than Captain Shaftworthy, who bowed formally from the waist, removed his tall black shako and tucked it under his arm. He took my proffered hand in his.

"And Miss Lydia Bennet, no less, the most fair of the five fairest sisters in Hertfordshire!" he cried, bowing a second time. "This is indeed a singular pleasure."

"You are very kind, Shaftworthy, I am sure," I replied, fluttering my lashes and furling my parasol, "you know that flattery will get you every where with me!" I giggled, coughed to regain my composure and regarded his companion expectantly, a sharp-featured young man of medium height, dark, almost purple, red hair, (slightly disheveled), and eyes like a squirrel's: so black that their pupils were not visible. His thin lips were twisted in a small, wry smile as he awaited his introduction. Seeing me look intently at the stranger, Shaftworthy took his cue:

"May I present Captain Seamus O'Connor, the newest member of our regiment?" O'Connor removed his shako and bowed gravely. "Captain O'Connor, lately transferred from the Irish Horse Guards, has come into Hertfordshire only three days ago. I have undertaken to introduce him into the best of Meryton society, so I am doubly pleased to have encountered you Miss Bennet. Miss Bennet: Captain Seamus O'Connor. Captain O'Connor: Miss Lydia Bennet!"

I languidly extended my gloved hand, which Captain O'Connor, bowing again, brought to his lips, looking me straight in the eye all the while. I detected a faint whiff of gin on his breath, but poor, innocent Lydia, knowing nothing of strong spirits, took it for eau de cologne and quite fancied the fragrance, which she considered dashing and soldierly. In response to Lydia's growing excitement, my nipples had begun to stiffen, (so I was glad for my shawl), and the incipient moisture I felt in the still-mysterious softness between my thighs, when Lydia first spied the two men, had startlingly progressed: it seemed impossible, but I could definitely feel my pantalettes growing warmly damp in the gusset. It was fruitless to pursue my own train of thought in the face of such delicious distraction! So I succumbed, and returned my attention to O'Connor (who was still grasping my hand) -- and to the escalating female arousal welling up within me, which no girl can ignore, least of all the first time she experiences it.

"Your servant, Miss Bennet," said O'Connor, at last releasing me and smartly clicking his heels as he straightened. Now I understood the source of the strange thwacking sound: O'Connor carried a short, stiff riding crop, its black leather tip splitting and frayed; I could see that his right boot-top was dulled and worn from being continually struck with the crop in a sort of nervous habit. At the moment, however, he had slipped the looped handle negligently over his wrist, and the crop dangled idly at his side. I wanted to examine the crop more closely, to ask O'Connor about it, but instead, to my surprize, I found my self admiring the men's uniforms!

Now, a handsome officer in uniform is quite one thing, but two handsome officers in uniform is more than twice as good -- and such uniforms, too! A black shako with a curved white ostrich plume, the ***shire regimental emblem of a mailed fist over crossed sabres affixed at the front, and a patent-leather strap going under the chin; scarlet cutaway coats with double rows of gleaming silver buttons, ornate black-and-gold frogging at the breast; black-and-gold epaulettes; three heavy gold braids worn round the right shoulder; a white blouse and high starched white stock; and -- best of all -- those well-filled, immaculate white breeches stuffed into high black riding boots, silver spurs at the heel. And those breeches were nicely filled by the two specimens standing before me; Lydia, in between batting her eyelashes, could hardly keep her fascinated gaze from them, much to my chagrin, for there was nothing that interested me less in the two officers than the bulge in their breeches -- or so I thought.

For my part, I was more interested in their swords, which hung in mirror-bright scabbards from their belts: I wondered how sharp they might be, and whether either blade had ever drawn blood. But then, on the other hand, I could hardly fail to observe that O'Connor's breeches were rather more amply filled than Shaftworthy's -- and, upon so observing, I instantly felt one of those sweet little golden arrows twang straight up deep in to the soft core of my broad, white belly. My lids closed half-way, a silly smile spread over my face and I thought I would go mad!

Our at first disparate, but now converging observations -- Lydia's and mine -- were interrupted by Shaftworthy, however:

"Are you attending the regimental parade this morning, Miss Bennet?" he asked.

"Of course, Sir," I replied, shifting my stance every so slightly so that my thighs rubbed together: the predictable friction between my labia sent a second golden arrow twanging upwards. "I would not miss a parade for any thing in the world!" The second arrow shivered into a hundred tiny ones of more refined pleasure; for a moment I thought I would swoon. My eyes grew suddenly round and I tottered; with a little "Oh!" I laid my fingertips lightly on Shaftworthy's arm for support. The feel of firm male flesh through his sleeve released yet another arrow, and I gasped.

"Are you ill, Miss Bennet?" he asked, with genuine solicitation in his voice.

"Not at all, Sir, I am quite well. It was merely the hiccough: I do beg your pardon."

I removed my hand from his arm, and the captain continued.

"Willingly granted. If the hiccough persists, however, may I suggest a teaspoon of granulated sugar? I am certain one may be had at the confectioner's across the way." (Heavens forfend!) Shaftworthy paused, to make sure I was really not ill. Seeing I was not at all pale, but had, in fact, more than my normally high colour, he resumed: "

"Well, then, you must join O'Connor and me in the officers' refreshments tent afterwards. There will be lemonade and sorbet. Then, should you wish to attend, a private cold luncheon is to be served in our rooms at the George and Dragon, followed by a small entertainment. Only a few people will be there and you are particularly invited. We would be delighted to have you."

"The delight, Captain Shaftworthy, will be mine entirely," I replied, sensible of the distinction being shown me by a particular, rather than a general invitation, and hoping not too many other girls -- or any other girls -- had been invited. I felt quite grown up indeed! But I tried not to betray my excitement, and merely asked:

"But is not the parade in barely ten minutes, gentlemen? And are not you riding in it?"

"Why, what is the time?" Shaftworthy inquired.

"It is nearly eleven, I should think; when we entered the town the church clock was striking the half-hour." As I spoke the church clock, as if on cue, struck the three-quarter-hour.

Shaftworthy turned to his companion and cried, "I told you that was not the quarter-hour, but the half-hour we heard striking whilst we were still on Mulberry Hill, O'Connor! Now we must hurry or we shall be late and incur Colonel Mulholland's displeasure! He is a right tartar when officers are late! Excuse us, Miss Bennet, but we must be off directly."

So saying, they bowed to me once again, donned their shakos and hurried off, hands upon their swords' pommels to keep them from swinging wildly about as they ran, and taking the first turning off the High Street. When O'Connor had turned away from me, I noticed that the rowels of his spurs were fouled with dried blood and horse hair, whilst Shaftworthy's were clean. What, if any thing, Lydia made of this observation, I could not determine, for she did not reflect upon it, but it certainly caused me excessive uneasiness. I did not care for O'Connor in the slightest, but Lydia, child that she was, found him the more attractive. She fancied his odd, red hair, and thought his carrying a riding crop to be quite manly. And, of course, there was that superior bulge in his breeches, which was, of all his features, I am ashamed to admit, beginning to interest me, too, but only in the abstract, I do assure you.

Lydia had already forgotten about Shaftworthy, whom, were I a woman, I might have found quite attractive, for he was handsome enough and his eyes were kind. But what am I saying? I was a woman now, wasn't I? Or, at any rate, an overdeveloped teenaged girl with a lively libido. Clearly, I was not thinking like a woman -- at least not yet -- though the responses of my new body seemed certainly female enough, from my admittedly brief perspective of less than one day. However, I had no say in the matter of whom "we" fancied, so there was nothing for it but to follow Lydia's lead and hope against the worst: I had an uneasy premonition that I would very soon be brought round to her way of thinking, and not she to mine. At all events, my weighty concerns were fleeting, for, as Lydia watched the two run off, I felt my self merging into her again -- independent thought was becoming ever more difficult!

No sooner had the officers disappeared than I heard the tinkle of the confectioner's doorbell as Kitty exited the shop. At the same moment, Lizzie came round the corner from the mercer's; the two, joining up and linking elbows, crossed the High Street together and approached me. My timing could not have been more fortuitous!

"I settled on the licorice, after all," Kitty declared, as she stepped up on to the pavement.

Making no reply, I took another piece of crystallised ginger from my pocket and popped it in to my mouth.

I hardly noticed the sharp taste, for I was preoccupied with divining the precise nature of the 'small entertainment' to take place after the luncheon, and wondered what part, if any, Lydia -- or I -- was to have in it. But I could barely form the thought in my mind, as I was once more distracted by Lydia's growing arousal and found my self hoping again, contrary to all instinct and judgment, and with all of Lydia's self-centeredness, that I would be the only girl present: at the thought of being the only girl in the company of several handsome officers, I felt my intimate moisture suddenly become a frank, flowing wetness, which, as undeniably wonderful as the sensation was, frightened me. Lydia was, of course, too ignorant and stupid to be frightened.

But why frightened? First, because I felt my self blending more and more into Lydia's identity and was having increasing difficulty distinguishing my perceptions -- and thoughts -- from hers. Second, I was now fairly certain that a coin had been flipped, and that O'Connor had won the toss. Third, because I considered O'Connor untrustworthy and quite possibly dangerous. But, last, and more to the point, I was by now becoming aware that each time the plot of Miss Austen's novel took too carnal a turn, we were all of us likely to vanish in to oblivion. So, as my existence as Lydia Bennet was far superior to no existence at all, I tried my very best to think lofty thoughts acceptable to Miss Austen, tho', as you have no doubt discerned, Dear Reader, Lydia's lasciviousness was beginning to get me aroused, too, in a way I had never before known and which I found far from unpleasant. How long Miss Austen would let this go on before pulling the plug once again was any one's guess.

Lydia's vivid and persistent imaginings of O'Connor's well-filled breeches now overshadowed almost all rational thought, but such imaginings no longer revolted me quite as much as at first. My diminished revulsion and my own growing female arousal caused me considerable dismay and anxiety, for the sexual nature of the plot -- and my direct involvement in it -- was becoming more explicit by the moment. Yet, despite it, and despite the ominous turn of events, of which only I amongst the three sisters seemed to be aware, Miss Austen's pen unaccountably continued its task and we three continued to live and to breathe -- and I, in addition, continued to melt within -- to my horror -- at the prospect of being fulfilled as a woman -- and pretty soon, too, if I read the situation correctly.

I was certain, however, that Lydia had no real inkling of what most likely lay in store for her ... for us, I should say. She was highly aroused, to be sure, but had no certain knowledge of what men and women actually did together. Lydia was skipping merrily down the garden path and .... dragging me with her! I found the prospect highly unsettling, to say the least ..... and yet ..... and yet ..... I felt a new, unfamiliar emptiness within me that begged to be filled .... and I certainly knew, better than most, what lay within O'Connor's breeches....

* * * * *

This time it was Lizzie who interrupted my latest diversion, and directly I was overcome by Lydia once again -- by her libidinous persona and voluptuous body.

"No gaping at ribbons and bonnets, girls, or we shall miss the start of the parade!" chided Lizzie, pulling Kitty in the direction of the town green, where the festivities were to be held. I eagerly set out with them, hooking my elbow in Kitty's, so that the three of us girls, arm-in-arm, occupied the whole width of the pavement, broader on the south side of the High Street than on the confectioner's side.

As we followed in the two officers' footsteps, I realised with a start that I had forgotten to remove my shawl! Oh, well! There was nothing for it now! I supposed I would have opportunity enough at the luncheon, to which I was looking forward with eager anticipation as I skipped along the pavement with my sisters.

CHAPTER EIGHT -- A Regimental Parade

Meryton Common was filled with people, which explained why the High Street had been so deserted. The Common was a flat, grassy quadrangular area of six acres or more, running roughly east to west, and surrounded by elms on three sides; the fourth side, on the south and facing the town, was never planted with trees, having been left unobstructed for readier access. In olden days, the Common served as grazing land held in joint-occupation for the tradesmen and shop owners of Meryton who still kept a few cows, but, for at least the last hundred years, after growth of the populace, livestock would have reduced the greensward to powder (or mud), so the Common was given over to public and civic functions. Fetes and fairs, election rallies, tournaments of lawn bowls or skittles, religious revivals, outdoor plays, concerts and puppet shows -- and even a hanging or two -- all were held on the Common. With the commencement of Buonaparte's wars and consequent fear of invasion from France, militias had been raised all over England, and numerous regiments billeted in market towns, particularly in the Southern Counties. A regiment of militia, the ***shire Lancers, had been quartered in Meryton since '06. Hence, Meryton Common was now not infrequently used for military drills and parades, as well.

To-day the south side of the Common was divided by an outer picket of stakes and ropes and an inner picket of short poles interwoven with dull-red burlap, a common entry to both enclosures being left open in the middle. Within the inner picket had been erected a reviewing stand of fresh-sawn deal, facing north, so that the sun would not molest the eyes of the spectators and so that they would enjoy a superb view of Chalk Hill, Barrington Heath and the gently rolling uplands beyond. The stand was festooned with Union Jacks and red, white and blue bunting. At its west end was a long green-and-white striped tent -- the officers' refreshments tent -- a Union Jack flew from the tip of its tall central pole, whilst bright purple and yellow regimental pennants snapped and fluttered from the tips of the others in the inconstant hot summer breeze. A whitewashed railing, as at a race course, had been set in front of the stands and ran the whole length of the Common to separate spectators from the parade grounds proper.

The area between the two pickets, farther from the parade ground, was for apprentice laborers, farm folk, servants and menials, whilst the inner area, delineated by the burlap, was reserved for journeymen and master artisans, merchants and gentry. Admission to the reviewing stand, however, was by invitation only. Lizzie held three tickets to the stands, in the twelfth tier, (signed by Col. Mulholland himself), high enough to look down on the action, but still not so far away from it that we would be unable to recognize the officers we knew and wished to see on their horses.

Our elegant dresses readily distinguished us as belonging to the inner concourse, so, no sooner had we arrived at the outer barrier, all out of breath from having run as fast as we could, than a tall, young subaltern in regimentals saluted us smartly, and said, "This way, Ladies, if you please!" He ushered us through the crowd, crying "Make way there! Make way there, do you hear? Make way!" As he sliced through the mass of people with us in tow, Lizzie tugged at his elbow and displayed him our tickets. Without breaking stride, he nodded, and conducted us right to the stands and up in to our places. With another crisp salute, and not allowing himself the least smile, he was gone, no doubt in quest of other pretty young girls to escort.

The deal benches in the stands had been covered in yellow sail cloth to keep the resinous sap from spoiling our dresses, but it could not cover the scent of the new-sawn wood, which was quite strong in the sun. The piney fragrance, the heat of high summer, the sustained buzz of the crowd and the whinnying of horses in the near distance, as they were being readied by their riders and grooms, all combined to produce an air of urgent, but gay, excitement. Kitty and I remained standing, craning our necks and scanning the inner crowd to see who was there and who was not, but Lizzie, always less affected by a common atmosphere, calmly sat, removed her bonnet and fanned her self with it to cool off: always so maddeningly practical! After a few minutes, during which she twice admonished me not to remove my shawl under any circumstances what so ever, she again donned her bonnet and began composedly to read the programme, which the subaltern had handed to each of us.

"Oh, look, Lyddie," Kitty cried, pointing with her programme, already rolled up tightly, (never to be read), "There's Cissy Chatsworth, down at the railing, playing the grand lady. What a ghastly bonnet she is wearing! Do you not suppose she has grown quite a little fatter since the last parade she attended, in May?"

I did not care a fig about Cissy Chatsworth, her bonnet, nor how fat she might have become since May: I was scanning for officers -- two in particular -- but none were in view except for some very ancient ones, in the forties, perhaps, with grey hair, attending to ladies in the first two rows of the stands. I saw one who looked young, from his figure and carriage, but his back was towards us, so I could not tell who he was.

"Yes, I dare say she is grown a bit fatter, and her bonnet is rather ghastly, Kit," I perfunctorily replied, glancing in the direction indicated by Kitty's rolled programme. Just then the officer I had had my eye on turned round, looked over the stands, and suddenly began waving his hand. "But, see! There is Wickham, waving at us!" I exclaimed, as I recognized who he was.

This intelligence brought Lizzie to her feet, for she was fond of Wickham, the only officer in the regiment who could engage her in deep conversation. Lizzie was excessively fond of elevated discussion, but had little patience for talk of clothes and fashions, dances .... or of red-coated officers -- unless it was Wickham!

"O! Where is he?" she asked impatiently, casting her eyes every where but in the proper direction. I pointed him out to her, and directly she waved back. In response, Wickham bowed and then made an elaborate pantomime with his hands, accompanied by exaggerated facial expressions, gesturing towards the refreshments tent, by which we understood he desired to meet us there after the parade.

Further intercourse by dumb show was curtailed by a deep and deafening boom from the west end of the Common. All the ladies jumped; the men grimaced. A vast cloud of dense, white smoke rose slowly from the direction of the report: it was the blank cannon-shot, signalling the start of festivities. The crowd's murmuring quickly died down, all in the stands not already sitting, sat, and heads expectantly turned to the right, from which direction the regiment would be entering the field.

On a sudden, and far, far louder than any one would have imagined, the regimental band, as yet out of sight, struck up with "God Save the King," so we all stood again; the men removed their hats and looked solemnly straight before them, whilst the ladies blinked in the sunlight. Then the band broke into a lively march, we all sat once more, and the band came on to the field, in a close quick step, until they were opposite the stand. There they halted, and, polished instruments sparkling in the bright sun light, rendered several stirring patriotic airs. The clear, sweet chime of the triangle, and the pure, shrill notes of the fife, heard above all else, were like an effervescent tonic, as bright as the very day it self.

The band struck up yet another sprightly march, and the regiment came on to the field like a mechanical clock work: first horse, then foot: the former preceded by Col. Mulholland, on his dapple gray, high-stepping charger, the latter by the drum-major marching backwards without a single glance over his shoulder, whilst marking time by thrusting his truncheon high into the air. The men's uniforms were brilliant in the bright July sun -- scarlet coats and white breeches, pipeclayed to perfection, and black boots gleaming. The soldier's muskets and powder-cannisters, the officers' scabbards, and the buttons and buckles of all, were polished to a high state of mirrored effulgence, so that the combined effects of the music and the precise display of uniformed men bearing arms, as well as the sharp smell of hot deal in one's nostrils, was no less than dazzling: I was quite giddy with excitement, for I had never yet seen such a pleasing display of scarlet-coated, masculine pulchritude in all my fifteen years. I felt like Kitty before the confectioner's display-case: overwhelmed with desire, but unable to make any decision.

As I have already related, it was now only with the greatest difficulty that I could separate my self from Lydia's sensorium, and then only for a few fleeting moments: at all other times I was a captive to her powerful urges and to the delightfully molten sensation assailing my still-secret parts. When we had arrived at the Common, I had already attained a state of extreme sexual tension: the added stimulus of the parade -- of watching several hundreds of young men in scarlet coats and tight breeches strutting before me, as if displaying themselves for my own particular delight -- balanced me on an excruciating knife's edge of pleasure. I knew very well by this time that my pantalettes were soaked with my urgent secretions. I knew very well, too, even if Lydia did not, precisely what was needed to take the burr off that edge.

But, O! How horrible! My release, my present salvation, could only be purchased on my back, my legs spread wide apart, my heels in the air and my delicate softness penetrated by .... a man! The image was searing and loathesome! And yet... my emptiness cried out to be filled. I shuddered as Lydia crossed and uncrossed her legs again and again, sending stain after stain of radiating bliss through my belly and into my chest. My nipples were already sore from their prolonged erection.... What a hideous dilemma -- to be female in body and male in one's soul, to have the consummation of the one be the destruction of the other.

With these thoughts and sensations careening through my being, I soon lost all sense of time: before I knew it, the parade was done and Lizzie and Kitty were pulling me to my feet.

"Why, Lydia, you have been staring off into empty air this last quarter-hour like a moon-struck calf! The parade is now over; we must hasten to the refreshments tent whilst there are still tables to sit at. On your feet, you silly dreamer," Lizzie chided, snapping her ungloved fingers before my eyes, whilst prodding me in the shoulder with her other hand. It was, of course, precisely about prodding, but of a quite different sort, that I had been daydreaming. I stood and followed my sisters off the reviewing stand....

* * * * * *

By the time we wove our way through the press of people to the refreshments tent, all tables were occupied. The atmosphere in the tent was close, for people were packed in cheek-to-jowl. Lizzie soon descried Wickham at the far end of the tent, for he was more than six feet tall and easy to spot; she and Kitty made for him, but I held back, looking about me for Shaftworthy and O'Connor. I could not see them any where, and was on the verge of giving up on them and plowing through the crowd to join Wickham and my sisters when I heard my name called from behind.

"Miss Bennet, would you care for a cold lemonade?" asked O'Connor, and I turned to face him. He had been standing just behind me, two glasses of lemonade, one in each hand, held high above his head the better not to spill any. He had stuck his riding crop in to one boot so that only its handle protruded.

I batted my eyes, smiled, then replied, "You are very kind, Captain O'Connor, for I am really quite hot and thirsty. A cold lemonade would do me a world of good at the moment." I gratefully accepted a glass and practically inhaled its contents in three gulps, for I was indeed parched; the lemonade, tho' soothingly cold, was strangely bitter, but I attributed it to the lemons themselves and thought no more about it.

"But where is Captain Shaftworthy?" I asked, licking the sticky beverage from my lips.

"Oh, Shaftworthy is gone ahead to the George and Dragon to oversee the laying out of the luncheon and to prepare the entertainment. He asked if I would find you here and conduct you thence when you have satisfied your thirst."

O'Connor smiled disarmingly, and took a long draught of his own lemonade. His explanation of Shaftworthy's absence seemed plausible enough to Lydia, tho' I had the deepest suspicions of the Irishman. My supposition was that the toss of a coin had determined which of the two officers would be alone with me afterwards -- and, as it turned out, I was correct in this. But what I did not suspect, and could not know, and did not discover until much later, when it was far, far too late, was that O'Connor, the third son of the Earl of Kilbeggan, was a notorious womanizer: he had made a career of the army, as third sons so often do, and had left behind broken hearts -- and not a few babies -- at almost every one of his postings. His father's money, however, had kept him, on more than one occasion, from being cashiered.

At his last posting before transferring to the ***shire Lancers, O'Connor had been court-martialed for taking advantage of an inn-keeper's daughter in Roscommon; he had been acquitted of the charge, however, tho' some said it was only after his father had bribed the girl to withdraw her testimony, and had arranged to pay her a generous stipend for care of the baby.

I also did not know that O'Connor saw no pressing need to mend his foul ways, which were often dastardly in the extreme, relying upon deceit -- and upon arcane love potions. At all times he carried with him, secreted on his person, an obsidian phial containing a distillation of Madragorda officinarum and Calabar. The former, from the root of the Mandrake, is, in small doses an infallible aphrodisiac (and conceptive); the latter, from the calabar, or ordeal bean, (Physostigma venosa), a potent anamnestic, but in any thing except the minutest amounts, can paralyse. This doubly-insidious distillation had been compounded at O'Connor's direction by a dishonest Limerick apothecary. O'Connor had put several drops of this mixture in to my lemonade, which is what had made it taste bitter. As I have already related, however, I knew nothing of this at the time, tho' it all came out later.

At all events, I quickly finished my lemonade, and he, his. Presently I felt flushed and disorientated; I lost sight of Wickham and my sisters across the tent. I felt a tingling round my mouth and my nipples; my labia felt even more swollen and exquisitely sensitive, and, as I shifted my legs I could detect my outrageous wetness below, which, had there been silence in the tent, would have been embarassingly audible as my intimate feminine tissues came together and parted with my movements.

And then suddenly ..... Lydia was gone! I mean her persona was gone -- her shallowness, her girlish emotions, her petty jealousies and spitefulness, her memories of her self -- had all utterly vanished. I was no longer subjugate to her will and desires, as I had been since awakening this morning to find my self in her body and bed. Now .... I was my self again, with one rather fundamental exception, to be sure: I was still in Lydia's body and my sensations were still thoroughly female. That is to say, I -- as of the day before a forty-two year old senior insurance actuary from Putney with a wife and three children and a new Audi automobile -- I was still a young woman -- a young woman in heat, to be more precise -- in the year 1811, but now one without any female identity, without a past, without any moorings whatever. Lydia, for all her deficiencies, had been a sheet anchor of sorts all through this tumultuous day, during which, I must remind the reader, I had not yet beheld my self in the nude, tho', from the way my feminine garb fitted me, I had little difficulty imagining how nubile I must appear en deshabille. If events proceeded along their present course, I might soon behold my self naked -- but so also would another party, with whom I did not, at that moment, desire to share the experience.

I had but little time for reflexion, for, within moments of the onset of his potion, whose early effects he could no doubt detect by certain signs, perhaps the size of my pupils, O'Connor had cut me out of the crowd as one cuts the chosen heifer from the herd to be serviced by the prize bull in the paddock adjoining, and had led me, dazed and confused, from the tent and into the bright summer sunlight. My first instinct was to run -- but all was foreign and unfamiliar and I knew not where to go. In any event, my next step was taken out of my hands, for no sooner had we exited the tent than all was eclipsed in darkness again and time was suspended. I had, it would seem, displeased Miss Austen once more.....

[The preceding two chapters, like all the ones before them, were ripped from their note book, crumpled and thrown in to the dustbin, from which, like the others, they were retrieved and preserved by Miss Austen's maid, to whom posterity is forever indebted.]

CHAPTER NINE -- A Letter from Jane Austen to Her Sister, Cassandra Austen

July 21, 1811

My Dearest Cassandra,

I KNOW NOT HOW to begin, dearest sister, so distraught am I. Every thing has gone from bad to worse with my writing -- not only does the Hell-sent Lydia continue to define her self, as if she were a real being of independent volition, but my writing has become no less than salacious: penny novels are more elevated in subject and tone than what is pouring forth from my pen in an endless ribbon of filth!

In the two chapters I have just now torn up, Lydia has made an assignation with two officers of the ***shire regiment of militia, who have dishonourable designs upon her, which, to the extent that she suspects such designs, she is a willing conspirator in them! Imagine! One of my characters -- fifteen years old and unmarried -- desiring carnal relations with officers! I am quite fearful of taking up my pen again, not knowing the disgraceful depths to which it may lead me. Yet take it up again I must, for I am as compelled to keep writing this novel as I am to live and breathe. The best I can hope for is to keep my stile from becoming corrupted as well.

Neither a half nor a double dosage of Sir William's draught has brought me sound, dreamless sleep. In truth, my unsettling dream becomes ever more vivid and appears to me in ever finer detail with each passing night: last night I found my self shut up in a huge windowed, bright red coach of sorts, so large it had two storeys as well as an interior stair case! The machine belched clouds of foul black smoke from the back. It was moving at a foot's pace through a sea of those metal carriages I have told you about. I was seated in the upper storey, which held perhaps twenty rows of hard, bench-like seats, like church pews, made of a smooth dark-grey material -- neither wood nor stone, but of some substance unknown to me. A narrow aisle ran between the benches down the length of the coach; it was strewn with bits of paper, many of them silvered. In rows along both walls, near the roof, were posted colored handbills depicting meaningless objects: adverts of a sort, I imagined.

A Black African woman, dressed in a dark blue uniform with unpolished brass buttons, was lurching down the aisle demanding money of passengers -- a motley assortment of men and women of unusually sallow complexion, wearing drab, ugly clothing. The African wore a vizored cap, and, slung about her neck was a small silvered apparatus, not unlike a diminutive barrel-organ, with a crank-handle which she would turn to produce a small slip of paper. This she would tear off and exchange with each passenger for a coin. As she approached -- I was sitting in the rear of the conveyance -- I hoped she would take no note of me. But alas -- she reached me and enquired my destination in a strangely accented English I could barely comprehend. I was unable to respond, she demanded an answer and, getting none, began to shout at me like a Billingsgate fish wife. Whereupon all faces turned in my direction and I was stared at with incredulity by the other inmates of this machine, in the most ill-bred way conceivable, as if I were a rare animal displayed in a menagerie! Only then did I awaken; the bed clothes were all knotted about me, damp with frantic perspiration.

O, Cassandra, I do feel as if I am losing grip on my own mind! Days, my demonic character, Lydia, is writing my novel and nights, whilst waiting for sleep, I think the same sorts of lascivious thoughts she is thinking, and when fitful sleep at last arrives, I am straightaway plunged into my frightening dream! Thank heavens that in only two days I shall see Sir William again: I shall beg him to bleed me, or to compound some other draught that will banish these unhealthy thoughts and dreams!

Please pray for me, sister.

I am, as ever and always, your devoted and loving sister, &c., &c.,


CHAPTER TEN -- Cold Luncheon and a Small Entertaiment

When next Miss Austen took up her pen to grant me continued existence, I felt a sudden, searing pain on the back of my right hand, which I found my self pressing to my mouth to succour it, whilst hot tears poured forth from my eyes. I was outraged, and gasping with pain.

"You are a true English bitch indeed, Miss Bennet, ill-bred and sorely in lack of proper training...."

It was O'Connor, standing before me in a candle lit chamber, his thin lips compressed into a tight, malicious grin and striking his right boot-top with his riding crop in tensely restrained impatience. Evidently, he had just a moment earlier applied the same crop across the back of my hand with great force, for, when I pulled if from my lips to examine it, I had no trouble seeing the angry red welt which was rapidly rising there. I brought it again to my mouth, as if my moistening it, and the softness of my lips, would relieve the pain, which continued, however, unabated. O'Connor seemed to blur and waver through my burning tears. My knees felt weak and unsteady; I thought I should swoon.

In an eerily calm voice, O'Connor continued, "You have been eyeing me, Madam, with a marvellous lewdness since the first moment we met in the High Street. Do you not suppose a man is keenly aware of a pretty girl's repeated glances at his breeches? Do you take me for an imbecile? Yet, after the manifest overtures of your interested glances, and after filling your belly at my table and drinking freely of my wine, you rebuff me with a slap in my face, when I attempt nothing more than an innocent kiss. You have raised the stakes, Madam, but I shall have my way with you never the less."

"If you come near me, I shall scream!" I ejaculated between my sobs, taking several steps backwards, and still nursing my hand, which now commenced to throb.

"Scream if it please you, Madam, for little good will it do. This inn has walls of stone two feet thick; the casements are shut -- their heavy drapes, which I have taken the precaution to draw, will muffle any loud sound. The door is of stout oaken planks and we are, in any case, at the end of the hall way. Besides, it is mid day, the inn is deserted save for these rooms, and I have paid the servants to leave us undisturbed. Indeed, your screams will add spice to our little encounter. So, feel free ...." he replied, bowing and flourishing his hand. He ran his tongue over his bloodless lips.

Despite the damning (and true) account he had given of Lydia's ogling, my eyes could not help shooting a fresh glance at O'Connor's breeches, more than amply confirming my worst fears: he was excited now. And he was.... he was .... alarmingly huge, the white fabric of his regimental breeches menacingly distended by a stout and truncated pole that appeared to me, in my present cleft and vulnerable state, to be at least a foot long; the buttons of his fly-flap were straining as if they would pop.

I looked about me and saw that O'Connor was undoubtedly right -- my screams would not be heard, for the chamber, heavily beamed and low-ceilinging, was built like a fortress. Its wall-hangings and thick Persian carpets would, moreover, muffle all sound. The remains of our cold luncheon rested on the polished oaken table, on which stood a large -- and only half-empty -- flask of red wine, as well as two crystal goblets not fully drained. The room was dim, for the draperies had, indeed, been drawn, but tapers were burning, both on the table and mantel piece and in most of the sconces, so I could see tolerably well, well enough to detect that the massive door was shut tightly, tho' its double bolts were not drawn, and that the latch-key was not in evidence, as it was most likely in O'Connor's coat pocket. The coat itself was draped over the back of one of the chairs, his white stock tossed over it. His sabre hung from a peg in the beam over the table, its tip almost touching its surface.

The sitting room had one open doorway, however, through which I could make out, in the dimness .... a four-poster bed covered in white, its bed clothes neatly turned down as if in expectation of soon being used. At its sight, the image of my self I had seen in my mind at the parade -- on my back, thighs spread receptively apart, eyes half-closed in anticipation of rapture -- directly flashed before me and a shiver ran down my spine. "No!" I shouted within, "Never! I'd rather die first!"

None the less, I was mortified to discover that my single downwards glance in O'Connor's direction had revived my frantic, if unwelcome, sexual desire. Even through my intense pain, I could tell I was still amazingly wet and glowing like a small forge in the unplumbed depths between my new lips. My entire belly ached with desire to have .... to have that... that .... unspeakable thing deep inside me: I craved penetration in equal measure to how much I feared it!

All my instincts for survival screamed that discretion was indeed the better part of valour, given the present circumstances. Fear and desire teetered in the balance -- desire to remain unhurt, to be sure, but desire also to receive into my female body that which would relieve my growing pangs of emptiness. I was now a weak and frail -- if penetrable -- creature, with nothing and no one to defend me and incapable of defending my self against the inevitable. I bitterly recalled the old adage, "One may as well lie back and enjoy it," rueful that it now applied to me! With all these considerations, the balance descended slowly -- very slowly -- on the side of surrender. My eyes must have signalled it plainly enough, for O'Connor smiled more broadly and said:

"Ah, yes, that is much better, Miss Bennet. I am pleased to see how reasonable a creature you are, after all." He left off striking his boot, approached me to within an arm's length and lifted the hem of my dress with the tip of his crop, raising it until one stockinged leg was exposed to the knee, and raising his eyebrows with experienced admiration. "Now, let us get down to the small entertainment I promised. Permit me, Madam, to assist you with your buttons and hooks."

I felt my self instantly color, and recoiled, but only an inch: I remembered my resolution, meekly turned my back towards him, and let him approach me. With practiced efficiency, his surprisingly gentle fingers began undoing the long row of tiny buttons that ran down my back. His crop was evidently slung over his wrist, for I could feel it swinging gently against my broad derrière as he worked his way downwards. I prayed, that, when the moment came, he would be as gentle entering me as he was now being with his fingers, for I could not imagine how my soft, little body could possibly take him fully inside of itself, and he was probably not even fully aroused yet!

Then I had an idea, hardly novel for a girl in my present position: if I was going to succumb -- and most clearly the die was cast and there was no turning back now -- I may as well do it in a way most pleasant to the both of us. So, before he had half-way undone the back of my dress, I turned towards him, bowed my head submissively, put my hands loosely on his shoulders, and said, as femininely as I was able:

"Would you not prefer retiring to the bed chamber, Sir? I think we would be somewhat more at our ease there. And perchance the chamber holds a dressing-mirror? I confess, I am almost never in the way of seeing my self in a state of undress, and would find the sight uncommonly .... er.... interesting," which was, of course, the absolute truth.

O'Connor liked the idea, for his eyes lighted up at the suggestion. Clearly, he had a bit of the voyeur within -- every man does (I should know!) -- and the idea of watching an unclad and voluptuous young woman admiring her self in a mirror was highly agreeable. He began striking his boot again.

"Yes, there is indeed a full-length mirror in the bed chamber, a fine Venetian one, too, of costly plate glass. You go within, I shall follow with tapers and wine, for we will be making thirsty work, I dare say," and he laughed at his lewd innuendo.

I turned to go, but paused, looked back over my shoulder, and said, "Also, Sir, I would be much obliged should you leave off striking your boot with your crop," for, after having lifted my skirts, he had resumed, "It is hardly romantic and puts me quite on edge."

"Very well, as you wish," he replied, and instantly ceased; he did not, however, relinquish the implement, but merely slipped its looped handle over his wrist once again.

I floated in to the bed chamber with natural feminine grace, my little feet seeming barely to move. In the dim red light seeping through the drapes of the same colour I perceived readily enough that it was quite roomy and comfortably furnished, tho' the atmosphere was rather close, for the casements were shut up tight here, too, and no air could circulate. None the less, the heavy stone walls of the inn kept the interior at a surprizingly cool temperature for a mid summer's day.

I could hear O'Connor in the sitting room setting flask, glasses and candle sticks on to a tray. What I could not hear was his instillation into my wine glass of another drop of his tincture -- only one drop, for he was finely titrating the effect of the potion. Presently, the room grew brighter when he entered bearing the tray, which he set down upon a small occasional table. As I, standing, continued to examine my surroundings, he set the tapers in sconces where they would illuminate the chamber to greatest advantage. He then replenished my glass to the top, passed it to me, and settled himself on the bed, his back propped up against the head board, in a posture of lively expectation, as one settles one's self in a theatre seat before a performance one knows will be entertaining. He lifted his glass, I mine, and we both drank. I hardly noticed the twinge of bitterness; after taking several generous sips, I placed my glass down on the table and turned to the mirror, after repositioning it so that O'Connor could also see my reflexion.

It was indeed a fine mirror, its silvering gilded, so that it reflected every thing with remarkable warmth; it had a broad, free-flowing frame of clear cherry wood carved in a pattern of tulips entwined. The softly flickering candle light in the room, the deep polish of all the wooden furnishings, the richness of the brocaded draperies, the reddish light they admitted -- and the effects of the wine (as well as of the tincture it held) were all strangely comforting.

As I turned to face my self in the mirror, I was over come by the same sense of complacent serenity I had felt when I had first awakened -- only eight hours ago, tho' it seemed an eternity -- but a serenity now tinged with smouldering desire about to break into a white and unwavering flame. A seeming contradiction, I know, Dear Reader, but true none the less. The urgency of female desire in no way resembles that of a man: a man's craves explosive release; mine -- a desire to enfold, to receive, to be filled to overflowing, to rise and rise like a high spring tide, to be impregnated, to create new life from my own substance. Words quite fail me, Dear Reader, in conveying the burgeoning pressure of my new femininity -- and the growing desire, brand-new and never before felt, of pleasing ..... O'Connor.

Time seemed to slow to a snail's pace; I felt my self settle into a warm and pleasant trance. My fingers reached behind me to complete the unbuttoning O'Connor had begun in the sitting room. I slipped my arms from the puffed sleeves of my lovely new cambric dress and stepped out of it, leaving the garment in a soft heap on the floor. Next, I undid and stepped out of my frilled blue satin top-petticoat, and added it to the discarded dress. Then off came my under petticoats -- three of them -- not satin like the outer one, but of fine white poplin, which, when added to their predecessors on the floor, made a delicate mountain of fabric. Now I was clad in my laced under bodice, frilled pantalettes, and lisle knee-stockings (I had evidently kicked off my blue slippers whilst luncheoning, for I was slipperless). Ever so slowly, I floated over to the bed, where I bent down over O'Connor, desiring him to pull the ends of the bow that tied up my laces. He promptly took the hint and undid the tie; I turned my back toward him so that he could next untie my garters, which he did.

Balancing on one foot, whilst supporting my self with one hand on his shoulder, I peeled off one stocking, then, shifting feet, the other: I held them aloft, then let them, still warm and full of my scent, waft down over his head. He slowly pulled them away, balled them up and buried his nose in them for fully a minute. Then he looked up and reached towards me, but I teazingly pirouetted out of his reach, smiling, and resumed my place before the mirror. So far, neither one of us had spoken a word since leaving the sitting room, our communication having now ascended to a loftier plane where words were superfluous and could only have detracted from our mutual enjoyment of the small entertainment now in full progress.

Raptly regarding my self in the mirror, I unlaced my under bodice, opened it fully, and removed it. O! What a release, to breathe easily at long last! And O! What inexpressible pleasure to see and to feel my full breasts swing free! They were large, firm and globular, with rather small, but very pink areolae, and properly pendulous, too, with a captivating, concave curve above and a round fullness below. My nipples, still stiff from excitement, were large and enticing. In short, my breasts were well-fashioned for suckling babies -- and men -- and I lovingly hefted and cradled them now in my hands, running my thumbs round my nipples, and turning my face up towards the ceiling, my eyes lightly closed, and the very tip of my tongue protruding from a corner of my mouth. Recovering my self (for a brief moment), I once again glided back to the bed to allow O'Connor to fondle and nuzzle them -- but not to suckle them: not yet. I could not give my self so very quickly. His face buried in my bosom, he moaned softly with pleasure, tho', for my part, I wished he had more closely shaved.

Pulling gently away, I skittered back off towards the mirror, pirouetting and making pliés and graceful formal bows, my face almost touching the floor (I was so very flexible!), as part of my mating dance. I was transported, ready now to remove my last garment, my pantalettes, and to regard my self entire in my new feminine integument -- for the very first time. I undid the pantalettes' ties at my waist, and fairly undulated out of them --sinuously, sinfully -- letting them drop to the carpeted floor. Now I stood fully revealed in absolute and pure feminine glory, like Aphrodite risen from the spume of the sea: I gasped to see, reflected in the golden mirror before me, a narrow-waisted, wide-hipped, fully mature young woman with a broad and gently protuberant belly, that, tho' I was a virgin, appeared several months pregnant: my fecundity was almost that palpable -- it radiated from me like heat from a furnace.

Resuming my inspection, I turned to regard my shapely derrière, surmounted, on either side of the base of my spine, by those magic twin dimples that so fascinated Rubens in his paintings of voluptuous nudes -- now I had them, too! I marvelled to see the whole expanse of my hairless, ivory skin -- hairless, that is, except for a fine soft mousy brown tuft delineating my delicate mound, a tuft sparse enough to reveal, even in the dim candle light, the impossibly soft cleft which bisected me in my most tender and vulnerable spot, a gentle seam which coursed downwards no more than two inches before vanishing in to the beckoning softness between my milky white thighs.

I gasped at the reality of what I had become and paused for what seemed like an hour, hands again cupping my breasts, wrapt in deep contemplation of what it would be like to carry a child within me to term -- to deliver, nurse and raise it. I decided it would be a good thing, very, very good, indeed. But for that, I would need .... I would need...

Well, Dear Reader, I need hardly be more explicit as to what a woman requires to fulfill her self. I turned towards the bed, as a compass turns to true North; I dropped my head and let my arms fall to my sides. I was now ready, if not wholly reconciled, to meet the fate ordained for me by God or the devil or Miss Austen -- it mattered not which: I was what I had become, whatever the instrument of my transmutation, a transmutation now no longer cruel, and one whose greatest fruits I was about to enjoy. Tears of happiness began to course down my cheeks and I became aware of the subtle but unmistakable scent of my own female musk rising to my nostrils in the still air of the bed chamber....

CHAPTER ELEVEN -- First I Lose my Virginity, Then My First Lover

I stood naked at the foot of the four poster bed, head hung in submission, arms limp at my sides, my internal feminine tissues in a state of hot liquefaction. I had forgotten, by now, the pain in my hand, tho' the welt had not yet gone down. I stood motionless for what seemed like hours, but it was more likely only four or five minutes, so warped was my perception of time.

O'Connor finally spoke:

"Come closer, my fine English mare, come to the side of the bed. I should like to see your wares at less of a distance, and, moreover, I wish to put some questions to you."

'My God!' I thought to my self as I moved, as bidden, to the side of the bed, 'What might he possibly ask me?' With Lydia absent, I knew nothing of the times in which I found my self, other than what I had read in novels, my main source of information about Lydia as well. Suppose he should ask me about common acquaintances in Meryton? No, O'Connor was a foreigner, recently come into our country from Ireland -- in Meryton only three days -- so he likely knew no one outside of the regiment. Suppose he should ask, 'And what think you of the Irish question, Madam?' I would be lost! Or perhaps he might ask my opinion of animal magnetism! But my worries were thoroughly risible, for O'Connor had but one thing on his mind, of course, which had nothing to do with Meryton, national politics, or popular science.

He sat on the edge of the bed and looked me up and down with minute attention: it was evident from how he scrutinized me that he was somewhat short-sighted, for his reactions, particularly the dilatation of his pupils as he gazed at my .... my furred and cleft little mound, where his eyes dallied the longest, shewed that he had not seen this particular feature of mine clearly 'til now. He took his crop and placed its blunt tip between my knees, for I was standing with my legs tightly together, and, by applying pressure first to one knee, then to the other, as if to pry them apart, he made it clear that he wanted my legs open, so I took the hint, and parted them slightly, exposing my soft penetralia to his rapt gaze -- but not yet to mine.

Thankfully, O'Connor did not slide the crop upwards, but removed it from between my knees and gently prodded my breasts with its tip, as if to test their firmness. Then he ran it down my side, along my waist and over my hip. When he came to my derrière, he brought the crop round to the back, and smoothed it down over the curve of my buttocks; then he altered the pressure of the implement and gave me a slight tap with it, meaning I should turn about, so I complied, and I felt the crop run softly down my back from my neck to the base of my spine, then it lightly traced the cleft between my two cheeks, but did not attempt to part them (thank God!) Another tap, and I turned to face him again.

" From the firmness of your flesh it is clear that you are hardly a mare and not much more than a filly. How old are you?"

This was a question I could answer, at least. I resolved without hesitation that telling the truth would be the best policy, for I was unaware how much he knew of Lydia Bennet, and I feared to be caught in a lie, having already received a taste of his temper.

"I am fifteen, Sir," I replied, tossing my head and trying to make my self appear at least twenty.

"Fifteen! Shaftworthy was remiss in not telling me this. And your mother lets you out?"

"Yes, Sir, she was married at my age. According to Mama, a girl becomes a woman when she attains thirteen years."

"I see. At thirteen, your mama says? Imagine! Well, we shall have to take her word for it then, shan't we?"

I nodded eagerly, loathe to contradict. O'Connor continued, "Shaftworthy remarked in the High Street that you have four sisters. Is that so?

"Yes, Sir. I am the youngest."

"Are they all as comely as you?"

"Well, people say I am the fairest, but I am hardly a fit judge of that," I replied, with feigned modesty, trying to regain my aplomb, or such aplomb as a naked girl can regain when she is standing, in a bed chamber, before a fully clothed man with a riding crop in his hand.

"Well spoken, though your sisters would have to be rare beauties indeed to surpass you in comeliness. Now tell me, you precocious young mare, have you ever been with a man?"

"Oh, no, Sir! I am a virgin!"

"A virgin, you say? We shall see presently.... And have you any idea what men and women do together?"

This was a difficult question to answer, for, tho' I certainly knew, the body I was inhabiting did not, nor did its absent owner. My guess was that most fifteen year old girls belonging to the gentry did not know, and that their mothers probably did not tell them, either, until the night before their wedding -- if even then. The safest answer was 'No.'

To my amazement, I felt my self blush as I replied, "I fear I do not know, Sir, what men and women do together."

"Well, then, since you have been a woman now for two years by your own mother's reckoning, it would appear that it is about time you found out, do you not agree?"

"Yes, Sir. I should like very much to learn," which was God's honest truth, for I wanted nothing more than to learn the woman's part at first hand, being already well-acquainted with the man's but no longer bodily constituted to experience it.

"Excellent. In that case, I shall give you your first lesson directly, and trust you will be an apt pupil, for I find repeating my self to be rather tiresome. You may begin by turning round once more." Again I felt the controlling prod of the crop, applied to my hip as a boy plies a hoop with a stick, so I turned and stood with my back towards O'Connor again, my heart in my throat.

I stood for so long that I wished to look over my shoulder to see what he was about, and was on the verge of so doing when I heard a sudden high-pitched hiss cut through the air, followed by a sickening thwack of leather on soft, feminine skin and a brilliant explosion of searing pain across my broad, tender bottom as the flexible shaft of his riding crop bit into my flesh and its frayed tip raked round the curve of my haunch, stinging it cruelly. I drew in my breath with a great, open-mouthed gasp, my startled eyes were blinded by tears, and a hot crimson haze filled my brain. The room became dim and I staggered, but before I could fall there came the hiss once again then the same streak of violent, lancinating pain in a narrow parallel band, low on my rump, just above the first. I shrieked, fell to my knees and collapsed prone on the floor where I began to writhe and sob, holding both hands to the cheeks of my shapely -- and now shamefully striped -- derrière.

As I turned to lie on my side, still holding my self, the pain of the two vicious stripes wobbled and wavered and became less distinct but more diffuse; less sharp but more burning. I wanted to curse O'Connor, but I did not dare, for fear he would whip me again. After several minutes, my sobs subsided into fitful moans. I heard him pad in his stockinged feet across the bed chamber to the wash stand and pour water from the ewer into the wash basin; I heard a cloth being dipped into the water and being wrung out. Presently, his footsteps approached, he squatted down beside me and placed a cool, wet shaving towel over my buttocks. Tenderly grasping my chin, he raised my head and applied a large red handkerchief to my nose.

"Blow your nose, Englishwoman," he said, quietly, without any trace of anger in his voice. I did as directed, he wiped, then applied the handkerchief to my nose several more times until I was dry; with an unused corner of the handkerchief, he gently blotted the tears from my eyes.

"Thank you," I whispered, hoping that a display of gratitude might spare me additional strokes.

Then, the towel still draped over my bottom, he scooped me up off the floor and transferred me to the bed. I turned my face towards him and regarded him blearily as he sat again on the edge of the bed, one leg on the floor, the other resting on the coverlet, wholly at his ease.

We stared stedfastly into one another's eyes -- O'Connor's were featureless black pools, which, tho' bright, told me nothing of his thoughts or emotions; mine were doubtless red-rimmed and swollen. At length he smiled, and said, "That, my little mare, is the first lesson: the man is master: he has the control and the power. The woman is in every thing a weak, passive vessel, which he may at his whim fill with pleasure or pain; she must receive what he metes out to her with eager submission -- and with gratitude that he deigns to bestow any thing upon her at all. I do not doubt you have already learned this from the sting of my crop, so it is unlikely the lesson shall want repetition, but my crop and my right wrist are prepared to freshen your memory lest you forget. Do you take my meaning clearly?"

I bit my lower lip, sniffled and nodded assent: I neither needed nor desired further tutoring on the subject.

"Thank me for the lesson, now, and repeat back to me what you have just learned."

Outrageous! Thank him for thrashing me? But there was nothing for it: I thanked him for teaching me the first lesson of what men and women do together, and recited his words back to him.

O'Connor rewarded me with a soft kiss on my forehead. Then he stood and retrieved both our wine goblets from the table where we had earlier left them, taking great care not to get them mixed up. He handed me mine, still more full than empty. Propped up on my elbows, I took a long draught, greedily almost draining the glass, and handed it back to him. He placed it on the night stand, then took several sips from his own.

Within less than a minute, my pain had subsided substantially and I was once more aware of an incandescent desire to be entered and filled by a man. (It was the effect of the tincture, to be sure, but I had no knowledge of it at the time.) In response to my renewed desire, I now lay fully extended upon the feather bed for a few moments, savouring the sudden freedom from pain, then languidly rolled over on to my back, troubled no longer by the angry red welts across my bottom. I drew up my knees and let my thighs fall slightly apart. The sudden contact of cooler air on my soft pentralia produced a novel sensation, which induced me to glance down at my self. My view was impeded, however, by my large breasts, which constrained me to raise my self up on my elbows to see over them.

And, O! Now did I see my self, indeed! What I saw was utterly impossible, beyond all belief, but there it was! My once-demure labia were by now so swollen that they had parted of their own accord, revealing my delicate internal tissues, drenched with my own moisture, brightly pink in the soft candle light of the bed chamber and glistening like some rare form of membranous and undulant sea life. Nothing I had seen or thus far felt in the course of this most extraordinary day, so imprest upon me the stark completeness of my transmutation as this appalling sight of my own, expectantly gaping pudenda. I gasped, stared dumbly at the incontrovertible evidence of what I had become, and allowed my thighs to fall more widely apart, thereby improving the view. As I continued to gaze transfixedly at my vibrant pink cleft, I felt a faint ripple sweep through my new feminine organs hidden within, and I melted further until I felt like a candle-pot of warm molten wax, waiting to be molded by a man, to receive his negative form.

My reverie was interrupted by O'Connor, who had been watching me with fascinated scrutiny. Breaking the silence, he said, "I can now well believe that you are rarely in the way of seeing your self in a state of undress, for, by the play of astonishment over your visage as you regard your own body, it would appear that you had never seen it before! But pray, do not hasten your inspection, for I find your evident sense of surpize excessively diverting. When, however, your eyes have got their fill, I earnestly suggest that you touch your self whilst I watch; I am curious to mark your reactions."

I gazed downwards for some minutes more, but presently O'Connor's suggestion overtook me; I could resist touching my self no longer, particularly since the action was already sanctioned, and would not result in a beating. So I lay back on the bed and with one hand began to knead one breast, lightly running the tip of a finger round its nipple, whilst my other hand stole slowly downwards along the expance of my wondrously soft belly 'til it came to rest on my mound, which I cupped. Ever so slowly, I advanced my middle finger 'til it reached my incipient groove, then traced it downwards as it deepened, brushing over the hood of my little bud -- so sensitive it could barely suffer touching at all. Crooking my finger, I plunged it effortlessly and without friction into my satiny wetness, tho' its full insertion was once more impeded by the barrier of my maidenhead; the intense pleasure of even this partial penetration caused me to gasp with delight.

I was so very molten I could actually stir my self with my finger, as one stirs a thick batter or pudding; the delicate sound of my intimate tissues parting and coming together was like that of wavelets softly lapping a shore. Never before had I achieved such unalloyed gratification with such minuscule effort -- the barely perceptible motion of but one little finger! Now I paused, with my finger inside my self, and exhaled a long sigh of deep satisfaction. I lay motionless, savouring the receptive and absolute openness of my new-minted femininity.

I began to breathe more slowly and had closed my eyes in pure rapture, so I did not notice that O'Connor had arisen from the bed and had begun to disrobe. When I at last half-opened my eyes and looked dreamily up at him, he was clad in only his white military blouse, tented amazingly outwards below by his majestic erection. My eyes grew wide and I froze.

O'Connor knelt at the side of the bed and placed his hand on mine -- on my lower one, which was still cupping my mound, its middle finger conspicuously absent from view. Without saying a word, he disengaged my hand from where it had been so comfortably nestled, and gently pulled it up to my face. The fragrance of my own womanly musk was so inviting that I could not resist sucking my finger dry: my salty-sweet (but mostly sweet) taste was like a rare nectar. Then I felt my hand pulled downwards again to replenish its moisture, only this time O'Connor brought it to his lips.... Then he assayed my moisture himself by inserting two of his own fingers between my legs. I rolled my hips forward to grant him more ready access and moaned at the sensation of having a man inside me, even if only his fingers.

He directly detected the obstruction that had prevented the full insertion of my much smaller finger, withdrew his hand, and smiled at the welcome confirmation of my intactness. Looking down at me, he said, "Very well, my little English virgin, you are full wet enough for your second lesson; indeed I have rarely found any woman wetter. For this lesson, I want you on your hands and knees on the edge of the bed." By now my intimate tissues were in a state of advanced liquefaction; I was aching for genuine penetration, tho' fearful of the pain abrupt loss of my hymen would almost certainly cause me.

None the less, I obediently assumed the requested position, pillowing my head on my folded arms. My breasts swung softly downwards, their nipples grazing the coverlet. I glanced backwards to see O'Connor take up his crop, and my heart sank at the memory of its bite. O God! I would do any thing he wanted to avoid another stroke! He noticed me blanch, laughed softly, and said, "No need to fret, my little mare, I shall employ the crop only to improve your position, nothing more," and with that he gently nudged at my knees with it, signalling me to plant them farther apart on the bed, which I did, feeling my self open more widely: the enhanced evaporation from the greater expanse of labial moisture exposed to the air of the room provided a pleasantly cool counterpoint to the warmth of my labia themselves. Then O'Connor prodded my arms, making me slide them forward so that my head lay unsupported on the bed, the effect being to elevate my rump still further into the air.

With my face on the bed it was no easy feat to look backwards, but I managed a glimpse: O'Connor was now fully unclothed; he was quietly admiring the pink display of my most intimate treasures. To my utter dismay, he was far more massive than I had imagined, his erect tool as thick as my forearm and longer than I thought possible in a man. It was alarmingly turgid, almost purple in hue and ridged with thick veins. As wet and well-lubricated as I was, I felt far too small and delicate to accommodate so stout an organ without being maimed; but, to be sure, I had not yet experienced at first hand the remarkable resilience of a woman's intimate parts. The thought that I was now anatomically formed to deliver a ten-pound baby through the self-same aperture flashed through my mind, but was of scant comfort, for childbirth was, by popular report, excessively painful and, I had somewhere heard, often resulted in vaginal tears.

I closed my eyes tightly and prayed for the best, that O'Connor would not be rough with me.

He was not. On the contrary, he was exceedingly gentle. Using his hand to align and direct himself, he ran the soft head of his member along the extent of my slit, caressing my outer lips whilst not quite entering me, sending me into a frenzy of pleasure. He then advanced so the tip splayed my lips only slightly apart, and played it up and down once again, cleaving me but a little more deeply and picking up my copious lubrication with each deeper pass. The head of his organ once inside me, his hands became free, so he brought them forward to fondle my breasts, but still did not enter me fully. I buried my face hard in the bed, brought my hands round behind me and flared my buttocks apart; at the same moment O'Connor withdrew, but not completely, so as to keep his very tip aligned inside me, and then slowly slowly he thrust forward as I raised my bottom to meet him.

I felt a brief alien pressure then a sharp tearing pain as my hymen was rent and then an irresistible yielding as O'Connor distended my lips so that they snugly gripped and encircled his shaft and he entered my body with an exquisitely long shimmering glissade that went on and on without ceasing and I took him willingly in to my self and felt him glide deep and deep in to the farthest recesses of my soft female belly until I thought he would bore clear up through my chest and my throat and out of my mouth, so utterly and completely was I skewered by the Irishman, like a lamb on a spit. The exquisite passivity of being so deeply impaled made me want to collapse in a limp heap on the bed as if I had been stunned with a mallet, but instead the rigid pole plunged ever deeper into me like a remorseless piston, lifting me momentarily into the air, and I screamed -- in pain and in exstasy.

My weight back on the bed, I had purchase again; I rotated my hips and pushed my rump backwards to impale my self even further on his magnificent shaft, then we paused, welded together and immobile, until O'Connor began slowly slowly to withdraw and I could not hold him inside me, much as I wished to: despite the strongest grip I could exert with my new internal musculature, I felt my self emptying of him like an earthen amphora whose bottom has suddenly shattered, and I knew what it was to be passive and prayed his next thrust would drive in to me even more deeply and then it came with the same smooth and inexorable pressure which I could not resist and he left me again, only to return more quickly this time and out and in until he built up to a strong and regular rhythym.

Very soon I was drenched in feminine perspiration and heard my self grunting at the end of each thrust; the force of our coupling skittered me across the bed so far from the edge that O'Connor several times was constrained to lift me bodily (still impaled) and drag me back to my initial position. I became openness incarnate, as vast as the ocean, and as wet, and felt my self nearing the edge of a divine precipice from which I wanted to be cast, into a realm of unbounded exstacy I had never yet known. With consummate skill O'Connor brought me to that edge and kept me there 'til I was frantic to be jettisoned, but I could not quite cross the magical thresh hold. Then, to my dismay, he withdrew entirely, leaving me panting, dripping -- and still unfulfilled.

Now I did collapse on the bed -- in frustration -- then rolled on my side to see O'Connor offering me the remains of my wine, whilst, with his other hand, he drained his own goblet. "You are a rare vessel, indeed, Englishwoman," he remarked, putting his empty glass down, "and you deserve the release I have just now denied you. But in good time. First you must finish your wine."

I received my goblet from him and drank to the dregs. He took the glass and replaced it on the night stand, with his. The wine went straight to my loins, and I lay back on the bed, legs drawn up and widely apart. Turning my face to regard O'Connor, my eyes half-closed, I raised my fine eyebrows interrogatively. "Am I a good pupil, Sir?" I enquired.

"Indeed, Madam, you are most astoundingly quick."

"In that case, Sir, if you are prepared to administer the next lesson, I am all readiness."

"Watch your tongue, Madam, such forwardness ill-becomes you," and he reached for his crop. I quailed, afraid I had overstepped my bounds, but O'Connor used it only to prod my legs farther apart again, to the farthest limit my hips would allow, which, in a woman, I now discovered, is breathtakingly wide.

O'Connor knelt on the bed betwixt my legs, whilst I propped my self up on several pillows, as I was almost with child to see his enormous bulk disappear into my body: despite our coupling just now, it still seemed a thoroughly implausible act, and I desired direct ocular evidence of my complete penetration. I did not have to wait long.

This time I guided his organ with my own hands, first sliding its tip to and fro over my sensitive little bud, its hood now retracted, driving my self wild with cascade after cascade of golden arrows the friction produced. Though my bud could not support direct digital pressure, the tip of his organ and the belly of its shaft were so exquisitely smooth that I could hardly leave off; he assisted me by sliding its entire length back and forth over it until I thought I would swoon. At the low end of one stroke, I abruptly depressed the head of his member, flicking it downwards, so that, with the next, he plunged into me and I squealed involuntarily from rapture as once more I felt my lips widely distended and my emptiness filled.

O'Connor, propped up on his hands and pinioning my wrists to the bed, soon found his stride once again and the two of us began to move as one in a fluid and sinuous motion. A white glow filled my body and brain -- I closed my eyes and was transported high, high up to that bright and lofty plateau, far beyond the clouds, far beyond the sublunary sphere, where I remained suspended in divine agony -- then all motion briefly ceased, I held my breath and felt a soft pulsing explosion within me as O'Connor's hot seed spurted and spurted up through my cervix with impregnating force, triggering my first female orgasm -- atomizing me into countless scintillating shards of exquisite pleasure. Through a soft haze of exstacy, I could hear O'Connor grunting with each pulse of his member. Then .... an abrupt stillness, O'Connor froze and I heard .... a hideous gurgle, like a death-rattle, succeeded by....

"Irish dog!" in a loud voice, not O'Connor's. I opened my eyes just in time to see two inches of bright Sheffield steel emerge from his chest, just below the left nipple, twist for an instant to flash in the candle light, and retract with the quick-silver rapidity of a serpent's tongue, leaving a small red hole the size of a farthing, from which blossomed a strange soft pink flower of fine, blowing froth. O'Connor, eyes horribly open with the whites showing above and below, jerked like a marionette as the sword was withdrawn from his back, then pitched soundlessly forward, covering me.

I shut my eyes tightly and screamed. A swirling maelstrom of blackness again spun me out of existence -- for the fourth time that day -- and was, for once, thoroughly welcome....

[The preceding two chapters suffered the same fate as the others, the only difference being that they were ripped to little bits before being consigned to the dustbin, from which the maid retrieved them and painstakingly pieced them together again, on to a backing of stiff paper, using a paste compounded of albumen and barley flour.]

CHAPTER 12 -- A Letter from Henry Austen to his Sister, Cassandra Austen

July 24, 1811

My Dearest Sister,

IT GRIEVES ME GREATLY TO INFORM YOU that our sister is taken ill with a fever and is confined to her bed these last three days. Tho' she is doing poorly at present, we have had hopeful assurances that she may quickly reach a crisis and begin to improve, such assurances having been given us by Sir William Blythe, who, as our sister may have written to you, is physician to the Duke of Cumberland and other high personages.

Our sister has, no doubt, over worked her self to exhaustion: she has been revizing "First Impressions" for publication, working with single minded intensity up to the moment she was seized with this fever. But, for reasons she has told no one (unless, perchance, she has revealed them to you), she has been destroying her chapters daily, so that the work has not in the slightest progressed. When I enquired of her about the matter, she replied that she was 'off her stile,' and that, with still greater application, she would over come all difficulties and the final manuscript would be ready to send to Crosby by the end of July to be set into galley-proofs. However, in the event, it seems there will be nothing to give him.

Yesterday Sir William bled from our sister five ounces of dark red blood, so dark that it appear'd almost black, confirming his diagnosis of involutional melancholia. He has ordered cupping thrice daily and prescribed a diet of skimmed mutton broth and warm curds steeped in red clover honey. I have engaged, on Sir William's recommendation, two of the most capable nurses to be found in all London, who attend our sister for twelve hours apiece, ministering to her every need, so that she is never alone and wants for nothing. The night nurse has reported to me that our sister, in her delirium, speaks in riddles: of things, times and places unknown, tho' she articulates clearly enough, she tells me. I, my self, have not audited these ravings, as they tend to occur in the small hours of the morning.

I do have one bit of cheering news, however. This forenoon our sister had a lucid interval -- albeit a short one -- during which she requested her note-books and a bed-desk be brought, along with quill and ink. Sir William was greatly encouraged by this intelligence, and said that Jane may write to-morrow if she is again lucid, but for an hour and no longer.

Do not, Dear Cassandra, come to London; with two nurses in constant attendance, there is little more you can do at present: the support your warm affection would otherwise impart, can not now be at all efficacious, as our sister is in a delirious state most of the day, and recognises no one. Besides which, you are needed at Chawton, as our Mother can not spare you.

I shall write daily to keep you apprized of our sister's progress, which we must pray will be rapid and complete.

With all brotherly affection, I am, &c., &c.,


CHAPTER THIRTEEN -- I Learn the Truth and Strike an Important Bargain

"Wake up, Miss Bennet, please wake up!" It was Shaftworthy's earnest baritone -- with a panicky edge to it -- summoning me back to existence again, aided by a penetrating whiff of ammonium carbonate, which reamed through my sinuses like a gimlet. Twisting my head to get away from the ampoule of smelling salts Shaftworthy was applying to my nostrils, I opened my eyes to find my self on the floor of the bed chamber, covered with a scarlet regimental coat thrown backwards over my shoulders like a blanket, and nothing else to conceal my nudity. Shaftworthy was kneeling beside me, supporting me with one arm, whilst he waved the crushed ampoule under my nose with his free hand, trying to follow my aversive movements.

"That will do, Captain Shaftworthy, I am quite awake now. Take that vile stuff away!" I cried. He instantly dropped the ampoule to the floor and put both arms round me, fully sitting me up.

I turned to look towards the bed: O'Connor was prone on it, his ghastly white face, drained of blood, turned to one side, his surprised eyes, no longer bright, staring sightlessly in our direction. A broad ribbon of coagulate gore ran from under his chest along the coverlet and down the side of the bed, where it pooled on the floor in a glistening puddle like an obscene red pancake three feet across. Now I remembered the flash of the sword-tip as it pierced O'Connor's chest, and the odd blossom of blowing pink froth, and my hands flew to my breast; when I drew them out from under the coat, my palms were sticky with blood. I felt my gorge rise, and I wanted to scream, but somehow managed to contain my self.

"It is all over and done now, Miss Bennet," Shaftworthy soothed, none too convincingly, turning me from the grisly sight. "Let us get you washed and dressed, for we have not much time. I shall set up a skreen, you shall bathe your self and then I shall hand you your garments." Shaftworthy, perspiring freely, his straight blonde hair plastered over his forehead, trembled as he spoke. His face was almost -- but not quite -- as pale as the dead man's. Having dropped his military facade entirely, I could plainly see that he was not much more than a boy, perhaps twenty-two or twenty-three, if that.

"Sit here a moment, Miss Bennet, I shall fetch the skreen." He stood, went to the bed and drew from under it a folded, four-part Chinese skreen, which he erected near the wash stand. "Now, whilst I get your clothes," he continued, "take your self behind the skreen and bathe your self as best you can. There are fresh wash rags and towels on the shelf. I shan't look at you, I promise, and shall pass you your garments as you need them."

As Shaftworthy went about the bed chamber retrieving my dress and petticoats, my stockings, under bodice and pantalettes, I arose from the floor and scurried across the room, clutching the red coat close to my breasts. As I moved, I felt a warm trickle to run down the inside of my thighs -- the dead man's seed! O sweet heavens! Of course, I had been inseminated! And had loved, it, too, sweeping it all into me with every atom of my feminine being!

But not only had I been inseminated: I was already pregnant, tho' several weeks would pass before I realised my condition. O'Connor's tincture rarely failed: the mandrake root in it loosed a woman's eggs at any time in her cycle, and concomitantly caused the lining of her womb to grow rich and thick within hours, making it receptive to the fertilized egg, assuring impregnation at a single coupling. Mandrake root, were it sufficiently pure, frequently brought about twins, occasionally triplets. A barren Miller's wife in Ballyshannon, who swallowed powdered mandrake, had given birth to quadruplets, I later learned, tho' only one survived.

But such refined considerations of pregnancy, though the raw fear surely passed through my mind, were of little import right now. The chief was to clean off the gore and clothe my self. To this end, once shielded by the skreen, I discarded the red coat, filled the wash basin from the ewer and began to wash my self off with a wash rag, The water in the basin quickly reddened; I discarded it into a large vessel under the wash stand and repeated this several times before the water was clear. Then, with a clean wash rag wrapped round two fingers, I squatted and with great care performed my intimate ablutions, wetting and wringing out the wash rag repeatedly until there was no more stickiness within me. I towelled my self dry and felt half-way decent again.

By this time, numerous garments of mine had appeared, draped over the skreen. As I took them, one by one, and dressed my self, the room grew much brighter, for Shaftworthy had evidently opened the draperies, and the casements as well, for the air in the bed chamber stirred and smelled fresh. As I was lacing my self into my under bodice (and doing a much poorer job of it than had Esther this morning), Shaftworthy began to speak in an urgent tone:

"Please make haste, Miss Bennet, you are being looked for even now by the constables, and we shall surely be discovered any moment. We must talk before they arrive."

"Then pray start talking now, Captain Shaftworthy, if it is so very important!" I had dropped the first petticoat over my head and was tying it up. At the rate I was going, my dress was at least five minutes off!

"Then pray start talking now, Captain Shaftworthy, if it is so very important!" I had dropped the first petticoat over my head and was tying it up. At the rate I was going, my dress was at least five minutes off!

"Very well," he began, his voice tremulous with anxiety. "I am completely to blame in all, Miss Bennet! When O'Connor and I first espied you in the High Street, I proposed we toss a coin to determine which of us might be alone with you for an hour or so after the regimental parade. The object was to return with your shawl, as a trophy, to taunt our fellows with -- that is all, I swear it on the head of my mother! Well, I admit, we spoke of one or two stolen kisses, perhaps, but nothing more. I swear it, it is the truth!

"I lost the toss and wandered about the town for an hour and a half to kill the time; when I returned here and found the door to our rooms locked, I was loathe to use my latch key to enter, so I retired to the public rooms and drank two tankards of ale. When two hours and a half had passed, I again returned, and, finding the door still locked, and getting no response to my knocking, I suspected foul play, so I unlocked the door and stealthily entered. When I heard certain tell-tale sounds from the bed chamber, I guessed it all in a flash, for O'Connor had boasted at supper last night, before five of us, that he always carried with him a phial of mandrake elixir mixed with calabar extract -- a decoction which allows him to have his way with women, though they be unwilling, and afterwards induces a state of forgetfulness. It is also a potent conceptive, I am afraid to inform you. I thought he was jesting then, but the sounds coming from the bed chamber proved I was wrong. When I saw his coat draped over the chair, I rifled the pockets directly, and found this obsidian phial. It is only half-full; he surely instilled this mixture into your drink. Look!"

Shaftworthy's disembodied arm appeared round the edge of the skreen, its open hand displaying a shiny small black stoppered phial. The hand was withdrawn after a pause of a few seconds, and Shaftworthy continued:

"I became blind with rage, drew my sword and entered the room to find him using you most foully. A beast who so uses a woman deserves death, and I ran him through without a second thought. There! That is the whole story, Miss Bennet, you must take my word, though, Heaven knows, I have disgraced my self so much by my ill judgment that there is no reason you should."

I believed Shaftworthy without hesitation, for every thing he said had the ring of truth to it, and besides, I had seen the tossed coin flash in the sun. The existence of the phial and its insidious contents explained a great deal. The effect of the mandrake was obvious -- I mean, its aphrodisiacal properties. I suspected, too, that I really was pregnant, tho' the certainty of it would have to wait several weeks. As for the calabar extract, it evidently had acted strongly on Lydia and on me not at all: Lydia's forgetfulness (indeed, her eradication), preceded the events, yet I recalled every thing with cut-crystal clarity. Speaking of Lydia, she was still not in attendance, though I expected her to pop back into the picture any moment now. Therefore, it was essential to hear Shaftworthy out before Lydia returned, for she would certainly be a fly in the ointment, making sensible discourse impossible, so I said:

"Pray continue apace, Captain Shaftworthy. It would appear that you have murdered a man, albeit you thought he was raping me. How do you propose to exonerate yourself?"

Without demurring, he complied; whilst he buttoned me, he continued to speak:

"First of all, Miss Bennet, I shall be indicted and tried by a tribunal of officers of my own regiment, none of whom are from Ireland and all of whom more likely than not harbour a hidden prejudice against the Irish. Secondly, O'Connor was reputed a dangerous character -- his record is known and will bear it out, whilst mine is without blemish. Only his father's influence in high places procured him a transfer to the ****shire, for which he is widely resented throughout the regiment -- another item to my advantage. Thirdly, only last night, O'Connor boasted, before five witnesses, of possessing the elixir, and now the phial shall be entered in evidence and tested for its true contents; I do not doubt but it shall be found to contain precisely what O'Connor told us it did. I have also set aside the empty wine-goblets so that their residue can be tested as well: I do not wonder that only one shall be found to have traces of the elixir, the one bearing the imprints of your own lips.

"And lastly, you are but fifteen years old, and, whether you were consenting or not, is of no consequence under the law, for carnal relations with an unmarried girl less than sixteen years old is rape and a hanging offense under the Section Fifty-Two of the Articles of War, which govern our conduct. I have merely saved the militia the expence of scaffold and rope, and shall quite possibly receive a ribbon for gallantry.

"You shall be called as a material witness, no doubt, so I beg of you only one thing -- that you say nothing of the coin, for that is damning to me and could queer the result of the court-martial. This one bit of intelligence being withheld, I shall be surely acquitted. You and I are the only living beings that know of the coin, so, if we say nothing, it can not come out. Will you do this for me?"

'Why' I thought, 'should I help this young man?' He had, after all, set me up with a psychopath who beat and then raped me. Why should he not swing for his complicity? But then, in a flash of pure inspiration, I saw the perfect way out of my predicament.

"Only if you marry me, Shaftworthy," I cried. I would be getting a handsome and almost completely honorable young officer for a husband: I, whom from this day forward would be considered by all to be disgraced, damaged goods and therefore unmarriageable any where within an hundred miles of Meryton, whilst Shaftworthy, being military, could easily take me far off where I would not be known. Further, should I be with child, which I considered excessively probable after learning of the mandrake, I would be securing a father for my baby at the same time. And, as an added, special bonus, I would escape from the Bennet fold! Nothing could be more ideal (other than Lydia's not returning at all, leaving me in possession of the field, so to speak). And Shaftworthy really was quite handsome, with very kind eyes. He was not meant to swing from the end of a rope.

Shaftworthy, to his infinite credit, (for he knew the conceptive powers of the mandrake) hesitated only a moment. Fastening my last button, he spun me round, cried, "Done!" and kissed me full on the lips. It was the sweetest kiss I ever received.

Shaftworthy was wrong on one count: no court-martial was ever convened, only a coroner's jury, to determine whether or not a crime had been committed. Investigations were completed, witnesses sworn, testimony taken, evidence gathered, including O'Connor's riding crop. On the very day of the killing, I was forced to display not only the bruise on the back of my hand, but the shameful stripes on my backside as well -- all of which were carefully measured, then recorded (with diagrams), in the coroner's file, much to my intense mortification. 

The five officers -- including Shaftworthy -- were deposed on the matter of O'Connor's vain boasting. The contents of the phial were duly analysed, as was the goblets' residue, the results reported to the coroner's jury by Sir Humphrey Grice, Lucasian Professor of Pharmacopoeia at the Royal College of Chemists in London. Both the phial and the goblet bearing my lips' imprints were found to contain Mandragorda officinarum and Physostigma venosa in high concentration (the other goblet shewing no traces what ever); Sir Humphrey minutely expounded the properties of each for the edification of the twelve jurors, all of them Meryton men, good and true, and all of them having known me since birth. I had to suffer the humiliation of a mid-wife's examination, I confess, to prove that I was no longer intacta, in the course of which my gravid condition was detected -- and also entered as evidence (in closed court, however). The case drew wide spread attention, attracting journalists from London, Birmingham, Edinburgh -- and Dublin.

The matter of the tossed coin did not, of course, emerge, in accordance with the bargain Shaftworthy and I had struck. Without it, the weight of evidence against the dead man was overwhelming: the jury was sequestered for less than an hour. Its verdict: Justifiable Homicide in Defense of an Englishwoman's Virtue. No sooner had the foreman finished reading it than all the male spectators in the court room jumped to their feet and cheered; afterwards, they jostled one another to be the first to shake Shaftworthy's hand. A fanciful woodcut, showing me defending my virtue with my parasol, appeared in The Illustrated London News. It depicted me wearing an excessively modest high-necked dress, and O'Connor like the Devil himself, save for the cloven hooves.

Popular sentiment in Meryton ran so very high in favour of Shaftworthy that Col. Mulholland, never insensible to local opinion in matters affecting the regiment, decorated him with the George's Cross for gallantry, precisely as Shaftworthy had foreseen. And not only that, but he was soon promoted to the rank of major and given command of a battalion. Sympathy also ran high in my favor as well; no sooner had my interesting condition become widely known (which took about half an hour), than the good ladies of Meryton set about knitting blankets, bootees, mittens and bonnets for my baby. I was not in the least disgraced: I was every where invited to tea, to dinner-parties and to benefit balls, for I was the very symbol of English Womanhood Wronged.

And Shaftworthy's end of our bargain? He was as good as his word. In August the banns were read in Longbourn church and the wedding set for November. Mama was thrilled beyond words (no, that is not quite true, for she chattered about it incessantly), that one of her daughters was marrying a major and that she her self would soon be a grandmother. She sent off to London for the best of white satin and tulle; Signora Palchetti sewed my wedding gown, as well as bridesmaids' gowns for my four sisters (in pale blue). My gown was, of course, full enough so that I did not show, for by November my pregnancy was already five months advanced. The wedding filled the church to overflowing -- even though the day was raw, many stood out-of-doors in the cold; a ladder set below one of the windows allowed a young man to see into the church and call out each step in the ceremony to the well-wishers below.

The mandrake had done its work well, for in April of the following year, I was delivered of twins, a boy and a girl, the boy with O'Connor's purplish red hair and the girl's chestnut brown, like mine. Motherhood suited me admirably and Shaftworthy proved both a loving husband and a doting father. (In later years, I bore him three sons of his own and two daughters besides.) Upon the death of his father, in 1813, he inherited Brackenheath Hall -- an estate of a six hundred acres, in Dorset, as well as an income of three thousand a year. He promptly retired from the militia with the rank of colonel, settled down to become a gentleman farmer and introduced many agricultural innovations to our district.

And Lydia? Oh, Lydia! She returned the very evening of my seduction, perplexed in the extreme as to why her bottom was so uncommonly sore. She and I soon worked out a certain unspoken modus vivendi, wherein she could be as silly as she pleased and buy any bonnet or ribbon or bauble she fancied, but I put my foot down when it came to bonbons (I had gained almost three stone during my pregnancy and had trouble shedding the weight) -- and, of course, redcoats were now wholly out of the question. Lydia left all decisions, as to running the household and keeping the domestic accounts, in my hands. She could not have been happier in my choice of Shaftworthy as a husband and posed no objection at all to the twins, though she was often impatient with them when they misbehaved. Lydia, no less than I, was relieved when we removed to Dorset, as she was not displeased to put a good deal of distance between her self and her sisters, though we had to endure annual visits to Longbourn, and I, reciprocal visits of Mrs Bennet to Brackenheath. Insufferable woman!

Lydia soon grew up; our personalities imperceptibly merged, until, within a very few years, we became an accomplished -- and beautiful -- young woman, who was sometimes serious and thoughtful, and sometimes a bit silly and scatter-brained. I soon forgot about my previous existence, never giving the 20th century so much as a thought, for I was fully content where I found my self, and would not have exchanged my life as a wife and a mother for any thing in the world! As for the sudden whirlwinds of darkness -- they never recurred. Miss Austen was evidently well-pleased with how her characters had managed to work things out by themselves.

"Pride and Prejudice" -- as you know it, Dear Reader -- went on to be published, without my chapters, of course -- but the real truth is that Lydia never ran off with Wickham: that's just in the novel. The real truth, as I have told you, is that Lydia and I lived happily ever after in Dorset, as one woman, married to Shaftworthy. Perhaps our chapters may surface one day (there were rumors that Miss Austen's maid had pulled them out of the dustbin, one by one, and had placed them in safekeeping, but they never were found), and then the world will know Lydia Bennet's true story.

As for Miss Austen her self, she recovered from her fever as soon as she learned Shaftworthy and I were engaged, for our engagement put the stamp of genteel respectability upon the matter. And, when I became thoroughly reconciled to my life as a 19th century woman -- after I had been married for three months, perhaps -- Miss Austen's night-mares of the 20th century ceased entirely, at about the same time I forgot to think of my past.


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