"Mama! Are you alright?" a voice cried. Alison assumed it was Kitty, but she sounded strange. She would not open her eyes to see who it was, in deference to the pounding in her brain. She felt she was lying in the grass but had no notion or interest in how she came there. The ache in her head overrode any other concern.
"La! It is a miracle any of us is alright!" said a new speaker. "I do think my whole life flashed before my eyes, just as in a book! How exciting!"
"Lydia!" No, not Lydia, Alison silently corrected a third voice, disapproving in its tone. "Our mother is unconscious, and her survival is in question. You must temper your spirits as the occasion requires."
"She is moving!" Definitely not Kitty. Each speaker sounded almost like one of her girls, but not quite. And where was Tom? Her eyelids fluttered, revealing blinding light and bulbous shadows.
"There, Mary! You see she is not dead, so now you can admit that a carriage accident, when it doesn't injure you, of course, is quite thrilling! I wish we might do it again." The accent, Alison realized, was British.
"Mama? Are you alright?" questioned the first voice again. Alison struggled to hold her eyes open and focus them on a teenage girl dressed like a Masterpiece Theater character. The bulbous shadow was her enormous bonnet.
"Don't try to sit up, ma'am," a male voice, far less refined, emanated from a new figure, leaning over her from behind the girl. "Johnny's on his way for help." It was easy for Alison to oblige. She closed her eyes again, and in what seemed no more than a moment was roused by a screeching sound.
"Oh! My dear Mrs. Bennet! How could such a thing come to pass?" Alison had only a second to recall her predicament before she felt strong arms begin to inch their way beneath her.
"T'was a rut in the road, Lady Lucas! Weren't there yesterday, and I'd swear on that!" She felt herself carefully raised.
"Never mind that, lad. Better ride to Longbourn and inform Mr. Bennet. Carriage accidents happen all the time. It is no great mystery, my dear!" Carriage accident? Alison wondered how she might possibly have been injured by a carriage. Nothing seemed to make any sense, but she assumed that was due to the lump on her head.
Eyes still closed, Alison felt herself gingerly laid against a leather bench, her head supported by a lavender scented lap. She sighed with relief and prepared to fall back to sleep, listening to a voice whisper, "It is but a short drive to Lucas Lodge, Mama. This will not take a moment."
I'll take it, she thought, and drifted off, only to be lurched back into consciousness a moment later when the contraption conveying her began to move. "What the hell!" she cried, sitting up quickly, only to be forced to cradle her head again while the world spun, jostled, and jolted, all at once.
"Mama!" cried one scandalized lady while the other two giggled.
Before another word could be spoken, the dratted vehicle slammed to a halt, nearly knocking Alison off her precarious seat to the floor, but six ready arms grabbed at her in support.
"Thank you," she said gratefully, in a voice nothing like her own, and the world came into focus. She looked around at the black box in which she sat with three oddly garbed strangers who kept calling her "Mama" in a lilting, staccato manner, and wondered if she had lost her mind. She soon knew she had.
One wall of the box dissapeared in a shocking bolt of light, and a voice called out from it: "Ah! Mrs. Bennet! You look more yourself already. Let me help you down!" A hand reached out for her, like something out of a Korean horror film, soon followed by the bulbous nose and ruddy complexion of the most unfortunate looking man she had ever beheld. There was nothing else to do but scream.
The women looked at her in surprise, while the man's yellow smile fell with concern. "No, not quite yourself yet, I see. No worries! We shall have you restored in a moment. The lads will carry you in to the sofa." He indicated to two dirty looking boys, the smell of whom she perceived the moment her eyes spotted them.
"I think I can walk now, thank you," she said shakily. With relief, she was allowed to step outside on her own.
"It was a carriage!" she wondered aloud, looking around her in amazement. She stood upon a gravel driveway before a solidly Georgian house: perfectly balanced, and but for the lack of a sun room on one side almost identical to the house in which she had grown up. Many of the houses in the neighborhood were of the same design, together presenting an impressive spectacle of suburban affluence, but those were set on one to two acre plots, not surrounded by such unabated land as this place. Nor did the chemically treated lawns of her youth ever sport sheep grazing upon them, except in the form of an occasional garden statue, never to be fazed by Chemlawn. She turned around to see her three traveling companions scurrying out of the honest to goodness carriage - drawn by two horses, no less! She had only once been in a carriage before: a tourist trap in Central Park. The ladies before her each wore an empire-waisted muslim dress and bonnet. She looked down at her own clothes and noticed with amazement the yards of brocade she sported. As with the smell of those filthy teenage boys, who were smiling at the young ladies, it took the observance of her eyes for her body to notice that the item poking her under her ribs must be a corset.
"Let's get you inside, Mrs. Bennet," said the horrible man, taking her arm, from which she recoiled, and leading her into the house. At least he didn't smell of stables. She looked behind her to see one of the girls laughing at something one of the boys said and shuddered. No good can come of that flirtation, her motherly instincts warned, and she took a moment to be grateful her girls knew better.
She was made comfortable on the sofa, or at least as much so as possible on such a hard, unforgiving piece of furniture. The ugly man was sent by the screeching lady - his wife, Alison presumed - to get a cold compress. She thanked the lady for the thought, especially that which banished the man.
"My dear Mrs. Bennet! I do hope you do not suffer any longterm trauma from this day's work! It's a wonder you and the girls weren't killed, and not a quarter mile from Lucas Lodge! Do drink a glass of wine. I'm sure it must help you!"
Alison accepted the proffered glass and sipped before saying in the strange voice, "I think there has to be some mistake. Do you know where my husband and daughters are?"
"Your girls will be in at any moment, and Mr. Bennet is at Longbourn, of course! He has been sent for: never fear on that score. I shall also drop a quick note to Mrs. Phillips, shall I? She will want to know what has befallen you. It is too bad my Maria isn't here to entertain the Miss Bennets. We look forward to the return of our girls from Hunsford, do we not, Mrs. Bennet?"
Alison was on the verge of protesting that she did not know any of the names her hostess mentioned, when a glimmer of recognition crossed her mind. One of the girls did indeed make her appearance, dropping a quick curtsy before burring her nose in a book. From an outside, one of the others emitted a squeal of girlish laughter. Longbourn, Bennet, Lucas Lodge ... "Lady Lucas?" she asked tentatively.
"Yes?" the lady readily replied.
Dear god! Alison thought. I really have gone mad. I think I'm Mrs. Bennet! The shock was enough to make her feel lightheaded again. It might be one thing to travel back in time - though the shock must still take some adjustment - but how is it possible for a person to be transported into a book? Ridiculous! Impossible! She must be insane.
It was upon drawing this conclusion that the two remaining young ladies burst into the room, stumbling upon each other and giggling. The tallest - perfectly raven curls bouncing, rosy cheeks aglow, and a devious sparkle in her eye - honed in upon Alison and renounced in bold tones: "Mama! Sir William's groom has a litter of puppies in the stables. May we go look at them? James says I might choose one to take home, if I don't care for getting my skirts dirty, which I don't a jot."
My god! It's Lydia! Alison recognized her youngest's namesake with abject horror. Real or not, it seemed the most oblivious hoyden in 19th century literature was her own responsibility. "Oh! My head!" she exclaimed and closed her eyes.
Read Chapter Three