Monday, April 28, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Six

Chapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter FourChapter Five

The nankin boots Mrs. Hill assured Alison were Mrs. Bennet's best walking shoes pinched her toes, revealing their owner the kind of woman who would put fashion and vanity before comfort. Alison was not such a woman, and she resented the sensation of fleshing rubbing off her right heel as she climbed the steady slope to Oakham Mount.

Pleasant companionship might have rendered incidental aches no bother, but Mrs. Bennet's daughters were not capable of providing any. Mary sulked and clung to a book of sermons she insisted on bringing, while Kitty and Lydia whispered between themselves, giggling periodically without sharing the cause of their mirth. Alison did not expect teenage girls to behave amiably when forced to do something against their will, but she liked to think her daughters would at least lose both themselves and any sulks in the scenery, which really was magnificent. Spring was apparent wherever one looked across the gentle English countryside. Graceful, rolling hills were spotted with bursts of floral colors. How three girls could remain so petulant under such influence was beyond her. Before they reached the summit, she found she could abide it no longer.

"Kitty!" she called out, halting the progress of the two youngest Bennets before her. Both turned to her with wondering eyes. "Take my arm and speak with me a bit," she demanded, offering no explanation. Her own Kitty would have asked "Why?" without hesitation, but to her relief this girl obediently came to her side. Mary hurried forward towards Lydia, who had already resumed a rapid pace forward, while Alison deliberately slowed her own down.

They walked for a few moment in silence, until Kitty finally ventured, "You wished to speak to me, Mama?"

"No. Not particularly. I just wanted your company," she stopped to take advantage of a lookout over the checkered fields below. "Is it not a divine day?"

Kitty just looked astonished. "You wished for my company?"

"Indeed. Should not a mother want to spend time with her children?"

Kitty looked away and said softly. "Usually you prefer to spend time with Lydia."

"Yes," Alison sighed. "I'm afraid I've been too indulgent of your sister, and it has rendered her behavior unbecoming." For some reason, the particular ease with which this archaic sentenced rolled from her foreign sounding tongue made her pause and take note before plowing forward. "The unfortunate truth is that I have done her a far greater disservice than she yet realizes. Mothers so often are foolish when it comes to our last baby. From now on, I am going to endeavor to be less so."

Kitty did not fully comprehend the words, but she smiled tentatively and asked for further explanation.

"It would be unduly cruel to force a girl back into the schoolroom when she has tasted adulthood," Kitty gasped in shock at the words, but Alison ignored her. "Nevertheless, I intend to see that Lydia behaves in a manner more befitting her age. The youngest of five unmarried daughters has no business being the most forward. Do you think, Kitty, that you might help me in this?"

Kitty shook her head negatively. "I have no influence with Lydia, if that's what you mean."

"And why ever not?" Alison demanded. "Are you not her elder?"

"Yes, but I was always so much more tentative than Lydia ..." she began to explain.

"And I imagine a great deal more prudent, too!" Alison interrupted. "You've allowed Lydia to persuade you to lead you into activities and situations against your better judgement, have you not?" It was just what her own Lydia had so often done to her twin. When Kitty nodded hesitantly, and she continued, "Do not do so again. By setting a strong example, you can help your sister more than you imagine." The girl looked so grave that Alison instinctively sought to lighten the mood. "Come now! We cannot remain so serious on such a day, can we? Let us walk fast, that we might catch up to your sisters. What do you propose to wear to the Colonel's ball?"

By the time Alison and Kitty reached the top of the hill (Alison could not truly regard it at anything more), they were talking quite naturally about the alterations Kitty planned to make on an old gown. Mary and Lydia were sitting on a convenient rock while waiting, the former perusing her sermons, and both looked at the new arrivals with blank stares. Lydia rose to join Kitty, trying to lure her back down the path, but Kitty shook her off. "Just a minute, Lydia!" she said impatiently. "Can't you see I'm still speaking with Mama?"

With an all too familiar nasty glare (Alison was disappointing to know it habitual to teenage girls even so long ago), Lydia stormed off down the hill, leaving Mary scrambling to follow, with a inquiring, backward look at her mother. Kitty, to Alison's delight, simply maintained her train of conversation. The two women linked arms and set off in harmony, blisters and abrasions easily forgotten as they enjoyed a perfectly pleasant descent. The girl wasn't brilliant, but neither was her own Kitty. Alison was pleased to find the same generousness in this girl that she so admired in her daughter. If all the Bennets proved to similarly mirror the disastrously named brood back in Baltimore, she should have little difficulty managing them.

They caught up with Mary and Lydia, again, and walked home together. Lydia remained sulky, and Mary's superior smile suggested she had been lecturing the girl all the way down the mount. Even she doesn't deserve such treatment, Alison thought a bit guiltily, and resolved to find a way to make the girls reigning in more palatable. She idly wondered what the good of it all was. She could not really change the outcome of a beloved novel, could she? And if she could, would she truly want to? Perhaps most importantly: what else was there to do? If she must be Mrs. Bennet, it was intolerably to not try and better the woman a bit. Whether her actions could have any effect at all, or this was all just an amazingly elaborate dream, she could not be idle, that much was certain.

Read Chapter Seven

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