Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jane Austen's Birthday, December 16th, 1775

On this day in 1775 Jane Austen was born.

Cassy knew there was something different about the house when she woke up. Apart from the dying wood embers of the glowing nursery fire and the darkness outside telling her that it was still night time, there was a lot of noise and activity inside. She could hear the patter of boys' feet on the polished stairs and the sort of anxious whispering, which though meant to be quiet cannot but help rouse even the most ardent sleeper. Despite the warmth of the room she shivered under her covers and as her eyes adjusted to the light she looked about and listened. What was it that had woken her up? What was that noise all about? Cassandra did not have long to wait to find out. The door of the nursery slowly creaked open and the head of a brother appeared. Which one was it?

"Are you asleep, Cassy?" called Edward.

Little Cassy held her arms up to her big brother. "Tedard," she called.

Edward was over at her side in a moment, scooping her up into his arms. "Come with me," he whispered. "Something very exciting has happened. Come and see."

Fully awake in seconds, caught by Edward's enthusiasm yet struggling to get down from his arms straight away, she nevertheless clung onto her brother's hand allowing him to guide her footsteps. Down the cold corridor they crept past the window looking out onto the garden where the first feathers of snow hurtled down onto the hard, frosty ground. She could see mama's room coming into view, a blaze of light, the noise of chattering voices and another sound, most unfamiliar, like that of some small mewing kitten. Everyone was crowded into the room. There was papa seated at some distance looking on at all the excitement, his white head nodding and moving in the agreeable way it always did when he was most pleased. James and Henry were sitting on the bed utterly enthralled by something mama was holding in her arms. Edward brought his sister forward and lifted Cassandra up onto the bed.

"Cassy, here is your sister, Jenny," said Mrs Austen. "Now what do you think? Here is a little playfellow for you."

Cassy looked down at the bundle in her mother's arms. This snuffling creature did not look very much as if it would be capable of anything very much, let alone become a plaything. But as Cassy gazed at the pink and white cheeks of her little sister, she decided that the baby was adorable. She put out her hand to touch one of the baby's fingers that had escaped from its swaddling. The tiny hand gripped her finger so fiercely that Cassy giggled. She looked up at her mother.
"She knows you are her sister and that you will always look after her," said Mrs Austen. "Miss Jane Austen, an early Christmas present for her big sister. Happy Christmas Cassy!"

And Cassy knew then as she kissed the baby's cheek that she would always love the special present that she believed came especially for her.

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