Monday, March 31, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Three

Read Chapter One and Chapter Two.

Real or not, the weight of responsibility for Lydia Bennet descended upon Alison like an anvil on a coyote. She confronted five and a half plus feet of empowered teenager, just itching to do something stupid.

"Mama, may we not go see the puppies?" she persisted with a laugh at such unaccustomed silence in her mother.

"You certainly may not!" She was relieved her this-is-my-last-word-on-the-subject voice had just as much finality in the unfamiliar English tones.

The ladies stared in shock at such forcefulness from the permissive Mrs. Bennet, all but Lydia attributing such unusual behavior to the bump on her head. "But Mama ..." she began to protest.

"Not another word!" Alison interrupted. "I may not understand all that is going on, but I do know that to allow you, of all characters, to go off in the company of stable hands would be insanity." She was nearly yelling now, and the girl's lip began to tremble at the harsh treatment. Alison knew she was overreacting, however justified her response, and a stab of pity touched her motherly heart. "Forgive me. The accident has rattled my nerves." Lady Lucas nodded in agreement at the familiar complaint. "Perhaps I was in need of a good rattling, if you thought I would consent to such an activity, but I should not have raised my voice."

"Our actions should always be modulated as best befits our circumstance," Mary preened, in alt to see her mother check Lydia's immodesty. Alison glared at her, which caused the girl's posture to wilt. Her own Mary had similar middle child tendencies, trying to puff herself up at the expense of her siblings, and setting herself up in moral superiority to the others. Alison had been trying to squelch such behaviors in her daughter since they first materialized at the tender age of three, when she took to spying on and reporting her elder sisters' behavior no matter what they did, good or bad.

"Here is your tea, my dear Mrs. Bennet!" Lady Lucas cried in relief as a servant entered bearing the tray. "Do sit down and rest yourself. I fear you are yet unrecovered."

Alison allowed herself to be administered to, as her head was pounding ominously. The damp rag Sir William soon returned to present was not nearly cold enough to do the slightest good. She asked for ice, at which request her hostess balked but complied, commenting she happened to have some on hand for the dinner party she was hosting the next evening. A servant was sent running, and something resembling sherbet was presented in a bowl with a spoon. Everyone's eyes grew wide as Alison lifted the bowl and placed the bottom of the cool glass upon the lump on her head. She ignored them, just closing her eyes and sighing in relief, while Lady Lucas sat on edge and watched her delicacy melt.

What I would not give for a pill! Alison thought. Anything would do: ibuprofen, acetaminophen, Aleve. She was so accustomed to reaching into a cabinet and grabbing for a bevy of remedies, always at her beck and call. What on earth do these people do for pain? she wondered. Laudanum! The notion excited her, but she felt it would not be appropriate to just ask for some in the middle of a neighbor's drawing room. She hoped they had some at Longbourn, just to see what it was like, though she doubted it would do anything more than dull her awareness of the pain. What if she had a concussion? She lifted the bowl from her head, careful not to spill any of the semi-liquid substance dissolving within it. There was a large mirror across the room, reflecting the fireplace. Alison rose and went to it.

As she checked the dilation of her pupils, Mary came to her and asked in a hushed tone, "Mama? What are you doing?"

Alison was holding her thumb and forefinger around her left eye in order to pry it open. One look at Mary told her this behavior was utterly alien to her company. "It is possible to gauge the severity of a bump to the head by the pupils of the eyes. If one is large and the other small, the situation is more severe. Mine, as you can see, are the same size."

"Did Mr. Jones tell you so?" Mary questioned, astonished that her mother would have any specific medical knowledge beyond common cures.

"No," Alison sucinctly replied. "I think I'm now recovered enough to be jolted along home. Thank you, Lady Lucas, for your hospitality. Sir William! Come along girls."

"But you are to stay the afternoon!" Sir William protested. "I have ordered a nuncheon prepared!"

"You are very kind, but I think I will be most comfortable in my own home," Alison said wistfully. Longbourn was even stranger to her than Lucas Lodge, but at least there she might be more comfortable. She longed to take of the confining dress and lie down on a bed.

"Yet you must wait until Mr. Jones arrives, now he has been summoned," Lady Lucas insisted.

Alison looked to her wearily. He might be sent on to Longbourn, but she hated to cause others such undue inconvenience. "I suppose we must wait," she capitulated, resuming her seat. Sir William asked if she would eat her ice and, upon her negation, consumed the liquid himself.

Lydia, who was twitching impatiently in her seat, ventured to say, "Might we not just look in on the puppies while we wait?"

"No! Why do you persist when I already said so?"

"But it would only take a moment ..."

"Enough!" Alison commanded. Her head felt like it would split at the sound. If this were her child, in her own time, she would know how to proceed. Talking back equals no phone for the rest of the day. This Lydia, unfortunately, didn't a phone, a computer, or even a TV to be denied. What could she do: forbid her books? That seemed very backwards to Alison, and from what she knew of the girl, not much of a punishment. "If I hear one more word on the subject from anyone," she glared at Kitty for good measure, "she will not be permitted to attend the next assembly or ball to come up, whichever it may be."

Lydia gasped and was on the verge of retorting, but a quick pinch from Kitty stayed her tongue. Colonel Forster was finally holding his long anticipated ball the following week, and both were far too scared to remind their mother that this would be their very last chance to dance with the officers, whose near departure she had bemoaned beside them that very morning. Mr. Wickham had requested the first set from the youngest Miss Bennet. Had Elizabeth been in town, he would undoubted have asked her instead, and newly saved as he was from the encroaching attentions of Miss Mary King, both Lydia and Kitty (and formerly their mother) rejoiced to get the jump on his former favorite. Neither would jeopardize the opportunity for the world. The puppies and their handsome caregivers were given up as lost.

Mr. Jones arrived and examined Alison's eyes, confirming the good sense of her own actions. Mary looked at her with renewed respect, and the lady in Mrs. Bennet's body tried to set a good example by  not looking smug. The apothecary suggested a precautionary bleeding, which Alison stoutly refused. With his departure, the Lucases could excuse that of the Bennets, and the ladies were escorted to their carriage and soon on their way. It was an unusually quiet ride, or so Alison surmised. Mary maintained the bulk of conversation, a task at which she was not fluent. Alison imagined her younger sisters typically droned her out, and she responded encouragingly to one of the girl's less offensive assertions, but her attention was distracted by a familiar glare of rebellion from Lydia. Truly, Alison thought it must be searing her flesh. The girl was displeased with such unaccustomed parenting and was sure to test these newly formed boundaries at the first opportunity. Alison knew she was up for the fight but dreaded it nonetheless. Perhaps she would awaken before having to undergo the ordeal, but how could her head ache so if this were just a dream?

When they passed through an open iron gate onto the grounds of Longbourn, Alison could not help but eagerly take in all about her. She spotted the "wilderness" to the side of the house in which Lady Catherine berated Elizabeth and what must be the hermitage just viable on a distant rise. She could not suppress a gurgle of delight as her eyes took in the ivy covered edifice: a testament to the stability and age of the stone walls to which it clung. The sound of gravel scattering beneath the carriage wheels was perfect: almost familiar, echoing through countless classic novels. She was helped from the carriage by an awkward boy and surveyed the unobstructed facade. The house was perfectly charming: neither as shabby as in the 2005 film, nor as stark as the 1995 version. Were it situated in her own Baltimore County neighborhood, the place would cost a fortune. The entry way was arched and supported by two sturdy pillars. The carved stairwell nearly took her breath away, its artistry quite unusual in the modern world. Mrs. Hill was a surprise too - not the dumpy, worn creature of film, but a plump and motherly lady with a bright smile and twinkling eyes. She began helping Alison to remove her tight pelisse, causing her to jump slightly at the feel of unexpected hands on her shoulders, though no one seemed to notice. Lydia stalked off upstairs, soon followed by Kitty. Mary retreated to the pianoforte, whose strained notes soon penetrated Alison's ears.

"Can I get you anything, ma'am?" Hill asked. "You'll be wanting to rest after your ordeal."

"Yes," she knew not where anything was located. "Might you help me change into something less restraining? I would like to lay down."

"Indeed, ma'am! Just lean on me, and I'll get you upstairs and comfortable. You'll be wanting a few drops of laudanum in a nice cup of tea to settle your nerves. I'll have Sarah see to it."

Alison laughed. Laudanum would have been less exceptional than ice, after all.

Read Chapter Four

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