Monday, April 14, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Five

Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four

Alison came to consciousness the next morning upon hearing the familiar sound of girlish giggles in the hall, yet before she could even open her eyes the feel of straw crunching beneath her and a bonnet on her head reminded her that she was not in Kansas anymore. Or Maryland, as the case may be. She sighed and opened her eyes to stare at the heavy canopy above her head. It had to be full of mites. At home, Mary's allergies required all of their bedding be incased in hypoallergenic covers. All the comforters had been replaced with easy to wash quilts, and they had the sofas and rugs professionally cleaned quarterly. Thoughts of what might be living in the bed curtains surrounding her made Alison feel rather queasy, and she drove it from her mind.

She needed to contemplate her predicament. There had to be something resembling a rational explanation for what was going on. Perhaps, like Dorothy Gale, she was in some sort of coma. That really was the most logical solution to her predicament. Time travel, if allowed to even be possible, would not result in her inhabiting a fictional world, however real it seemed to her. She set herself to recreating the events of the following day. Lydia and Kitty were arguing, they were late for the food bank, she was driving while Tom worked ... an accident! She must have bumped her head, just as in the carriage! Yes. She was clearly in a coma. Countless films, from The Wizard of Oz to Peggy Sue got Married, proved it.

If she was in a coma, what of the rest of her family? A thousand horrors pressed upon her, but she would not allow them to overcome her, unlike the real, or fictional, Mrs. Bennet. This was no time for needless worry. She had no way of knowing the truth, and she would not allow herself to be beset by anxiety. There was a family here in need, and she was always one to be useful where she could. She was sure to wake up to reality in no little time.

The previous day, upon first becoming aware of her strange surroundings, she had reacted poorly. Alison had always believed it essential to successful parenting to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them. Having contemplated the faults of the various Bennet girls so often, seeking corollaries in her own brood, the real life spectacle of Lydia shook her already agitated core, and she made several mistakes. Such high handedness would not pay off with the girl. This she knew all too well. If she were stuck in Pride & Prejudice, and in the guise of one of its least likable characters, the least she could do was repair the damage she had dealt the mother-daughter bond. Perhaps she might even do a great deal more. Alison spared little thought for the consequences of meddling in the plot of a literary classic. This was her coma, after all, and her actions could be of little consequence to anyone. She would not truly be changing the course of the story, and even if she did, it could only be for the better.

She climbed out of the impossible bed and opened the wardrobe doors. There she confronted the fact that she had not the slightest notion of what was appropriate to put on. She was not ignorant of Regency fashions. Indeed, she was educated well enough to know that she knew too little of what actually constituted morning dress. The one time she and Tom had spent an entire day in full costume at a Jane Austen festival, the removal of her fichu was deemed sufficient to transform her day dress to evening for the closing ball, but there was a great deal more to it than that. Dismissing five silk dresses and three brocade, which even she knew was passe, she still confronted a baffling variety of muslim, lace, and wool. It was fall, but the previous day had been warm, and remembering images of Mrs. Bennet from the films, she landed upon a tiered lace monstrosity. It seemed just the thing a Mrs. Bennet might wear on a morning. With a shawl and lace cap, she fancied she'd look just the part. The predicament remained of where such accessories might be kept and how and the laces and layers were supposed to be properly arranged. Alison laughed out loud at herself, remembering the bell pull a thoroughly confused maid had shown her the night before. It was cleverly disguised to blend with the wallpaper, which was hand painted with vertical braids, interspersed with a blue floral motif. Alison had seen something like it when her family visited a Vanderbilt estate in North Carolina, though this paper was a century older. The luxury of such an item slightly astounded her, and she wished she had her cellphone that she might take a picture of it. This thought made her laugh again, nonsense that it was. The sad truth was that it was all too clear how frivolously the money that should have been used to boost the dowries of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet's needy daughters had been squandered. She shook her head at the mounds of lace in the gown she had selected, wondering whether or not it was imported.  

When Sarah arrived, Alison learned that she was, in fact, completely ignorant of Regency fashion. The girl stared at the lace dress in astonishment, timidly questioning why her mistress wanted to wear a ball gown that morning. She was gradually conjoled into making a selection on behalf of her mistress, and Alison found herself dressed in the very same green silk that she was certain had to be evening wear. The only parts she got right were the cap and fichu, which were stored in the hope chest at the end of the bed.

Alison found herself the last one to join the table, all the other members of the household being deep into their plates. She greeted them all warmly but received little gratification in the way of replies. Seeing the sideboard piled with food, she made her way to it and inspected the offerings. She supposed she had been expecting something along the lines of what was served in the English bed and breakfasts she and Tom had stayed in when they traveled through England for their honeymoon. The only items in this spread that mirrored those more modern English tables was the cold toast in the silver rack, a plate of kippers, which she never cared for, and hard-boiled eggs. Thank goodness for the latter! Between them and what she soon identified as a ham casserole, she was able to sit down with something like satisfaction, though she could not help but wistfully imagine the field greens salad that would balance the richness of the meal.

It was not a lively meal. Kitty and Lydia chatted and giggled, while Mr. Bennet and Mary were buried in books. Alison imagined Mrs. Bennet usually joined in her youngest daughters' chatter, but as they both were casting periodic glares her way, she abstained from interjecting until there was a natural lull in their conversation.

"I was thinking we'd take a walk today, girls," she said with a smile. The entire table stared at her.

"But you don't walk, Mama," Kitty was first to break the silence.

"Nonsense!" she replied. "It is a beautiful day, and I intend to enjoy it."

"Is this a bid for the carriage, my dear?" Mr. Bennet questioned. "I might very well spare the horses. You need not engage in such maneuvers to get to Meryton."

"I'm not maneuvering," she said tartly. "I want to walk and not to Meryton. Let us explore nature and enjoy the fall foliage!" Lydia's jaw hung open in shock.

"And where do you propose to walk?" Mr. Bennet was clearly amused.

She racked her brain and declared, "Oakham Mount!"

He laughed. "My dear! That is very good. I have not been so diverted in years."

"I'm quite serious."

He looked as her critically. "I see that you are! Very well. Girls, you will escort your mother to Oakham Mount. I know she cannot find the way alone, having never ventured there these past twenty years or more. How good of you to clear Lydia's schedule for her, my dear! That was forward thinking."

Alison glared at him and stood from the table. "I shall be ready to depart in fifteen minutes," she declared before excusing herself from the room.

"Do you think my mother is up to such exertion after the accident yesterday, Papa?" Mary questioned, thinking remorsefully of her pianoforte, before which she had intended to spend most of the morning.
"I'd be very surprised to learn what your mother might not be up to," he replied. "Never fear, Mary! Your instrument will await your return, which I doubt will be long in coming, but if you should fail to return by tomorrow, I will ask Mrs. Hill to keep it company on your behalf."

Read Chapter Six

1 comment:

  1. Love that Lydia has finally heard the word 'no' from her mother for probably the first time in her life