Jane, Inc. – K. B. Thomas

[The phone rings]

Austen residence.

This is Andrews. Is Miss Austen in?

Oh, Mr. Andrews. Yes, she’s here.

May I talk to her, Cassandra?

Why? Is it important? By the way, I am ‘Miss Austen.’ I would prefer it if you don’t call me ‘Cassandra.’ My sister is also ‘Miss Austen’ or ‘Miss Jane.’

That may be, but I find it confusing. I don’t want to ask for ‘Miss Austen’ and end up talking to the wrong one. I’d like to speak with your sister. Jane.

I’m sure you would. Let me tell you that we don’t find you at all amusing, Mr. Andrews. When you were referred to us you were described as a highly successful literary agent. I have to say, we’ve been gravely disappointed in your performance so far. Do you realize, Mr. Andrews, that winter will soon be upon us and we haven’t the money for new cloaks, or even for the firewood recently ordered?

[Sigh] I’ve explained to you before, Cassandra, the little problem we have in the agenting business called ‘Public Domain.’

Yes, but Jane’s works are on the shelves in reams and reams. Certainly you can do something about that. We were so hoping that you knew the man in charge of this ‘Modern Library’ venture and that you might persuade him to see things our way. I’ve also heard that Jane’s works are in every man’s library. Every Man’s. Imagine! What of that, Mr. Andrews?

What of the papers I sent over last week? If only you would speak to her of incorporating…

Jane, incorporate? Mr. Andrews, you do not mean it.

The Brontes have signed. All of them.

[Disgusted] The Brontes. Vulgar girls, each one. I know you mean the girls because Branwell isn’t ever sober enough to hold a pen, from what I hear. If ‘The Brontes’ were truly modern they’d see that the Gothic motif won’t carry them far. They will soon be as forgotten as last year’s fashions. 

[Sigh, drumming of fingers on the desktop] Will you please tell your sister that I’d like to speak with her?

I would, certainly, but she’s in the drawing room just now. Writing.

[Sharp intake of breath] Not a letter, I hope.

No, something more substantial, I should think. She began after our walk this morning. The dew that wetted her shoes and the hem of her dress seemed to inspire her.

Good! Good!

[Twists apron strings between fingers] We were so hoping, Mr. Andrews, that you might be able to put the law into action against these publishers at ‘Dover’ and Messieurs Simon and Schuster. They profit from Jane’s works but she and I never do. You came highly recommended, Mr. Andrews, as the representative of William Shakespeare.

The Great Bard, I’m afraid, also suffers from the idea of ‘Public Domain.’

It’s simply too beastly to be borne, Mr. Andrews. After tea, I shall write to our solicitor.

Yes, you do that. [Pause] You’re sure there’s plenty of ink and paper in the drawing room? No one will enter and disturb her?

There are only our nieces and nephews. They are never a bother, Jane claims. She is always willing to put down her pen and blot the paper when the children are about. I am currently expecting them to tea.

Listen to me, Cassandra. Miss Austen. DO NOT let anyone in that room while your sister is writing. Bring her pots of tea, bring her bushels of buttered scones, keep the fire going and her fingers warm.

[Pursing of lips] I will not take orders from you regarding our domestic arrangements. What message for Jane, please?

Well. There’s a gentleman in London who has noticed your sister. Her novels, I mean. He would very much like to work with her. Nothing too strenuous at first, maybe some skits for the theater. Lots of breezy dialogue is the idea. No need to rush into a novel or screenplay just now, though Hollywood is where the big money is to be made. Why, one optioned screenplay and you’d have enough cordwood to keep you until Hell freezes over.

[More pursing of lips, one eyebrow raised] Please. Mr. Andrews. Remember yourself. Give me the details and I’ll talk it over with Jane.

Sorry. His name is Oscar Wilde. Very nice gent, sharp with a pen.

[Preening, smoothing of hair] We’re very keen on your client Mr. Shakespeare. You’re certain he can’t be talked into an arrangement?

It’s Oscar Wilde or nothing, Cassandra. Give your sister the message. Wait. Maybe that’s a bad idea. She gets cold feet, doesn’t she?

You mean a chill on the stomach? Yes. There are some days she’s not at all well.

Say nothing to upset her, then. Tell her I’ve ordered a baker’s dozen of white wax candles to be sent to your house. And a haunch of beef for your mother. She could do with a nice bit of beef tea I hear, whatever that is.

Or a goose, thank you. Mother does like a fat goose in the larder. I must ring off now. This Wilder person – we need a formal introduction to him. A written letter. I don’t want to hear that he and I are third cousins, or that he has taken rent of the manse around the corner, or that he’s our curate and we’re to have him to dinner. I’m much too old and I’m most certainly too tired for such plots and playings. Good day.

[Woman’s voice from the other room] Who was that, Cassandra, dear?

[Under her breath] Land agents. Solicitors, grocery men. Our laundress, tax men from the Crown. The apothecary, the butcher, the book dealer and stationer. The linen draper. The man who cuts wood and the boy who delivers it. Damn this phone. [Out loud] Only Mr. Andrews, your agent. Jane, dear, do you know a man with the impossible name of Wilde? He would like to work with you in the future. Fancies himself a writer, I’ve been told.

K. B. Thomas has been a book lover and bookseller since dinosaurs roamed the earth. She works, writes, and walks her dog in Portland, OR. Find more fiction at: kbthomas.net

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