Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six
Alison considered her predicament as she tied to fall asleep on the uncomfortable, straw-stuffed mattress. It must be a coma, she concluded. It's the only thing that makes any sense! To begin with, even if time travel might be conceivably possible, entering into the reality of a novel was not. It was all the imagining of her fevered mind, and as such, she was empowered to do whatever she should choose to do, was she not? No longterm repercussions could be felt in the literary world at large. Lydia Bennet would forever disgrace herself with Wickham, and Elizabeth and Darcy's journey to perfect contentment must be difficult and angst ridden. Trying to improve Austen's characters could have no lasting benefit, but it would keep her mind occupied. If this was a coma, it was vital she remain engaged, and it whatever manner possible.
But what if it is not a coma? The thought would recur. What if this is death? If so, it certainly was not heaven. The notion of spending eternity in a Jane Austen novel might seem appealing on the surface, but to truly endure the atmosphere of Longbourn day in and day out for all time would come to feel much like some infamous resident of Hades, forever rolling a rock fruitlessly up a hill. Thank goodness it was Pride and Prejudice and not Mansfield Park or Persuasion! She couldn't imagine having to bear with a real life Mrs. Norris or Sir Walter Elliot.
If she were in hell, it must be considered a just punishment for naming her children so ridiculously. There was nothing else in her life she so regretted. She had always been a kind and engaged person, eager to improve her surroundings and provide assistance to her companions, even as a child when others her age were torching ants with magnifying glasses, or coordinating psychological torments for the more vulnerable children to endure. All who knew Alison Bateman had only good to say of her. Even those ladies who found her mostly intolerable (for no woman even can be universally appealing to all her gender) would never admit to the sentiments very loudly. She was too much a fixture of the community to be crossed.
While her rational mind dismissed the notion of damnation as ridiculous, especially for one who had always sought to live honorably, an irrational unease persisted that it was terrible mistake to have named her children after the Bennets. It wasn't a new thought, but never before had it brought such panic. Seeing the manner in which her own brood grew like their namesakes had always seemed like the hand of fate. Of course Jane was stunning and kind, while Elizabeth was brilliant and witty. How could Mary have been other than bookish, or the twins boy crazy? She had always acknowledged the similarities with a smile, but that was before her brain had trapped her in a pseudo-reality populated by the fictional counterparts to her real children.
And what of her family? Were they this very moment sitting around her prostrate form, praying for some sign of consciousness? How badly was she injured? Would she ever return to them? These notions excited real terror, and of the kind far too poignant to confront head on, especially in the middle of the night when tossing on an uncomfortable bed! Alison banished them from her thoughts and focused her attention back to this fantasy family she had inherited.
After their walk that afternoon, it proved a bit difficult to pry Kitty from her side. The girl must have been starved for attention, Alison reflected with pity. Mary was much the same. She would not be so affectionate in response to some motherly guidance, but there was little doubt she would make use of it. The poor girl was practically begging for instruction, running around with her nose in a book, seeking her own way with no direction or aptitude. Mr. Bennet was just as much at fault on her score as his wife. It was he who should have taken the time with her.
Mr. Bennet was an entirely different sort of problem. He in no way resembled her Tom, and so she had not the insight into him she had with the girls. Would he not remark the change in his spouse? Though she doubted any real consequences could come of it if he did, she still thought it best to stay out of his way as much as possible. As he showed no disposition to be anywhere but his library, it would not prove difficult.
Then there was Lydia, who required far more than just the strong hand Alison had already brought down upon her, though it was undoubtedly a good first step. Lydia needed to learn why her behavior was a problem. She needed to understand what it meant to have self-respect. The pitfalls of her behavior were so much more dire in this Regency world than in the modern, but Alison was unsure of how to get through to her. She knew from the novel how her older sisters had tried and failed to teach her better sense. She would not heed them, but would she her mother? Alison doubted it. She would see what could be done through a series of bribes and threats, a method that worked well with her girls when they were irrational three year olds. Perhaps it might prove as effective on a thoughtless teenage mind.
From Lydia her mind drifted to the two daughters she had yet to meet, and in which she could not help but feel the most interest. It would be very interesting to see how the fantasy Jane and Elizabeth compared to her daughters. Alison loved all her girls equally, but she did share a different relationship with each. Jane and Lizzy were the eldest, and since they left home each had become rather more like friends than daughters. Not just friends, the word was too meek! The greatest companions she had ever known was more like it. She had hopes of sharing this remarkable relationship with each daughter as she became an adult, but for the moment it set apart the two eldest as something special. She would hopefully be awake before they returned to Longbourn, where they were not expected for nearly two weeks, but part of her could only hope she would get a chance to meet them. It was the one consolation for remaining as she was.
It was nearly morning before Alison finally fell asleep, and when Hill came in to wake her for breakfast, her head ached with groggy exhaustion. The kind housekeeper suggested she stay in bed and take a few drops of laudanum, but Alison was used to getting up when she did not want to. Besides, she had entirely overcome any interest she had in the opiate. She would no sooner take it for a headache again than the Oxycontin she was prescribed after breaking her leg several years ago in a skiing accident.
In the breakfast room, she poured herself a cup of coffee. She was delighted the first morning to find it there, just when she had been wondering how tea was going to pull her through the day. It wasn’t exactly the double shot of expresso she was accustomed to buying at the coffee shop across the street from her office each morning, but it would do. She prepared a plate from the buffet and sat down, the change in altitude causing her head to swim. She pressed on her temples until it stopped.
"Not feeling well this morning, Mrs. Bennet?" came the languid voice from the opposite end of the table.
Surprised he noticed her at all, Alison lamented this as a bad start to evading his attention. She sought for a proper response and uttered. "It's my nerves," clutching at the familiar and hoping it would appease his interest.
"Ah," he replied, addressing his food. Alison thought that was the end of it until, some moments latter, he continued the subject. "Perhaps your recent taste for coffee it the cause of your disorder, my dear. You never did take coffee until two days ago."
He looked up and caught her eye in a penetrating stare, a slight smile just betrayed in the left corner of his mouth. Yes, she would have to be very careful around him, or else be forced to answer a bevy of uncomfortable questions. It she must be trapped in a Regency world, she would at least attempt to remain outside it's mental asylums, which is where she would probably land if her story came out.
Read Chapter Eight