Monday, April 7, 2014

Being Mrs. Bennet: Chapter Four

Read Chapters One, Two, and Three.

Alison was shown to large bed chamber with adjoining sitting room. The canopied bed was heavily curtained, and the furniture carved mahogany. Having only ever viewed such a room in museums or historical homes, and always across velvet-roped barriers, she entered cautiously, rather afraid to touch anything. Fortunately, Mrs. Hill quickly expelled her sense of reverence. The heavy dress was removed, the stays undone, and she was assisted into the tall bed. Though her eyes grew wide at the sound of crackling straw when she pressed on the mattress, the servant seemed not to notice. A cup of bitterly strong tea was soon presented to her, dosed with several drops from a greenish bottle, and she was left to an uncomfortable repose. Waves of nausea soon overwhelmed any amusement or interest she had in the laudanum, resulting in her making the acquaintance of the chamber pot.

While it was forcibly born upon Alison that she really was in a 19th century novel, the young Bennet ladies received a visit from Mrs. Forster, the new wife of the militia's colonel. Having so often sought the company of the officers, Kitty and Lydia were quickly becoming well-acquainted with the lady, and they delighted to make her their confidant on this occasion.

"You are so fortunate to be married, Mrs. Forster," was Lydia's lament. "I do not see why I should still be subject to the whims and inconsistencies of my mother's fancy. I'm sure I'd do much better on my own."

Kitty, feeling something was not quite right about this speech, hastened to explain, "We had a carriage accident this morning, and Mama bumped her head."

"A carriage accident!" exclaimed Mrs. Forster. "But you all look well. Was it not serious."

"Lord, no," Lydia replied. "No one was hurt but Mama. It was really rather exciting, until she began to act so strange."

Mary, who was only present out of duty and contributed very little to the conversation, now felt the need to interject: "A mother's attempt to steer her children towards the path of virtue is but her duty. I, for one, was pleased to see our mother being so reasonable under the pressures of an adverse circumstance. I would have granted lenience to anyone for extreme behavior following a severe accident." Other than an acknowledging smile from their visitor, this speech was entirely ignored.

"Imagine forbidding a slight indulgence as visiting a litter of precious kittens, and then threatening to keep us from your ball just for questioning such gothic behavior!" Kitty elaborated. "Our mother has always been in favor of our acquaintance with the militia. It was most unlike her!"

"Oh, but you must come to the ball! It will be no fun at all without you."

"My dear Mrs. Forster! I must be on my very best behavior so we do not disappoint you!" Lydia cried, greatly touched by the casual sentiment, which warmed into something more under the influence of her enthusiastic response.

"I know what we shall do! If you are indispensable to me, Mrs. Bennet could not keep you away. T'would be unneighborly."

"It's true," said Kitty excitedly. Mrs. Forster turned to her and said, "My dear Miss Kitty, won't you and Miss Lydia come to the inn and assist me in the arraignments? I'm sure your help will be very valuable.

Three of the ladies burst into animated chatter, while Mary's eyes grew wide. What two irresponsible and inexperienced girls like her sisters could possibly offer other than hindrance was unimaginable to her, but it mattered not: as they began to scheme to set out immediately to attend such a pleasant pursuit, another, more solid objection to the scheme provided a ready obstacle. "You forget, Kitty, that you are to oversea the inventory of the storeroom today."

This reminder incited no small degree of chagrin. "Mary, would you not do it for me?" her sister pleaded.

"Indeed not! I did it last time it was your turn."

"What is to be done? If Jane or Lizzy were here, I'm sure they would do it for me!"

"There is nothing for it," Lydia readily replied. "I will go with Mrs. Forster, and you shall do the inventory."

"But how am I to be indispensable if I am not there?" Kitty lamented, but her concerns went unheeded. Mrs. Bennet being indisposed, Lydia quickly applied for her father permission to go out with her friend, and it was readily granted. Soon they were off, leaving Kitty far too distraught to attend to the inventory, which Mary ended up doing after all.

When Lydia returned for dinner, she was alive with talk of Mrs. Forster's arrangements. Over the course of the afternoon, the two ladies leaped across the boundary between acquaintance and intimate, now referring to each other on a first name basis. "Harriet will not serve such a grand feast as Miss Bingley did at Netherfield, but the George simply cannot accommodate such abundance. As it is, the guests will be forced to cross a drafty corridor just to get their dinner. Harriet thoroughly laments the situation, to be sure, but she is hampered by being in lodgings."

Alison sat at the head of the table in a state resembling shock. Despite having disposed of the entire contents of her stomach, she could still feel the effects of the laudanum, which had at least dulled her headache. Meeting Mr. Bennet had been the most strange experience in a thoroughly bizarre day. At least there was little chance the couple were intimate.

Listening to Lydia babble and trying to eat the unfathomable dishes before her took almost all her effort, rendering her silent thus far, but when Lydia lightly explained her intention of spending the next morning with Harriet at the dressmaker's, the outing to which Kitty was pointedly uninvited, she had to speak,

"Mr. Bennet," she began firmly, "do you think Harriet Forster an appropriate chaperone for your daughter?"

He looked up from his food, in which he had been thoroughly engrossed, in surprise. "I'd sooner trust a epileptic with a surgeon's knife!"

"Yet you gave permission for her to act so today and make no objection to her doing so tomorrow?" The entire table stared at her. "I believe that the married lady takes responsibility for an unmarried female companion in this society, and I know Mrs. Forster is not up to it."

"You surprise me, my dear!" Mr. Bennet said with an amused look in his eye that angered Alison. "I did not know you were such a student of character. Perhaps you and Mary ought to compare notes on the subject."

"You have not answered my question," she insisted.

"Very well! Mrs. Forster is not my first choice of companion for Lydia, but nether is Kitty. If the latter will not feel her sorrow too loudly, I can only conclude that the former's attendance on the Colonel's wife will buy us all a great deal of peace and quiet. I like the scheme very well."

Lydia preened with satisfaction. "But Mr. Bennet," Alison began again, "I am her mother, and I do not give he permission to go. We must discourage this growing intimacy."

"My dear, what harm do you believe might befall them at the dressmaker's?"

"Nothing particular." Oh how she wished it were Tom she were reasoning with! They never disagreed before their children, alway providing a united front. If she were stuck being Mrs. Bennet, she was going to need this man's support. "You can't image that Lydia will improve her mind in such company."

"No, I certainly do not image such a thing, nor that she will do so amongst anyone else!" See an unusually determined look in his wife's eye, he sighed and relented. "Lydia, if your mother is against it, you'd best send a note to Mrs. Forster with your apologies."

"No, Papa!" she cried, and a burst of laments poured forth. Alison had an urge to scream and protest herself. It seemed Mr. Bennet only behaved as he ought in order to minimize his own trouble, expecting she would pester him until she got her way! It was insulting, and as Alison had no intention of acting in such a manner, she could not depend on the fear of her nagging to insure his compliance again. If she woke up the next day still trapped in this body, she would have to think long and hard about how to proceed. She had only one goal in site in this time, and that was to keep Lydia from ever going to Brighton.  

Continue to Chapter Five

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