Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine, Chapter Ten, Chapter Eleven, Chapter Twelve, Chapter Thirteen, Chapter Fourteen
"Mom, can you hear me?"
I can you hear you, Lizzy!
"Mom. It's me, Lizzy. Can you hear me?"
I can hear you, Lizzy! I'm right here!
"Mama? Mama, can you hear me?" An English voice startled Alison into consciousness. Her eyes slowly registered on Elizabeth Bennet, who was standing by the bedside, dressed to go out. If the sun was on the ascent, the windows did not yet expose the fact. Alison must have been looking at her favorite heroine with befuddlement, for she soon explained, "I was told you've taken a liking to long walks, and I thought you might join me for my morning ramble."
It only took a moment for Alison to become fully awake. A "morning ramble" with Elizabeth Bennet! Her dream was already forgotten when she eagerly responded. "Indeed! Let me just get dressed."
Elizabeth helped her instead of calling for a servant, and Alison only extracting the most serviceable garments from the wardrobe, they were soon out in the dewy spring morning, walking in no direction in particular beneath the dawning sky.
"This is lovely!" Alison exclaimed, as they paused to look out upon a sloping vista. Not a road dotted the landscape for miles, and only the sounds of birds, sheep, and the occasional cow reached her ears. For a moment she wondered at herself for finding it all so novel, and then the memory of suburban streets intruded upon her vision, reminding her to wonder what would be on this very spot in her own time. Her own time ... somehow, when Elizabeth Bennet was her companion, the concerns of that world seemed to slip away. The thought made her heart race, but not enough as it should, and she vaguely realized the fact, honoring it with more insufficient alarm.
"Shall we rest on this rock a while?" Elizabeth asked, gesturing to a large and flat protrusion along the side of the path they pursued.
"It's Mother Nature's own answer to the park bench!" Alison proclaimed enthusiastically, and sat with alacrity.
Elizabeth descended more wearily, perching herself as far from her mother as she could with grace. They sat in silence for some moments, Alison happily smiling about her, lost to all bit the perfection of the moment, and Elizabeth studying her wearily, her eyebrows pinched together with concentration. It was she who broke the peace by calmly stating: "There is a spider crawling on your gown."
As the words were spoken, Alison became cognizant of the rather ordinary brown spider climbing up her skirt. Her eyes might have widened at the sight, but she did not start, instead slowly leaning down to the side and picking up a stick which she used to remove the intruder carefully from the fabric. Soon the creature was safely scurrying away from the terrifying encounter, while Alison brushed off her gloves and gown.
"I knew it!" Elizabeth abruptly stood up and proclaimed, pointing a finger at Alison. "It may sound mad, and I know not how it might have happened, but you are not my mother!"
Alison paled at the accusation, and knowing not what to say, responded softly, "Then who do you suppose I am?"
"I don't know!" cried the distraught heroine, dropping the accusing digit and beginning to pace the ground. "It doesn't make any sense, but my mother has a decided aversion for all insects. She would never react as you just did."
"But spiders are such useful creatures, eating mosquitos and other pests, and really not insects at all, but arachnids."
"What are you even speaking about? My mother is not a font of information on scientific classification!" she said exasperatedly.
"I realize that," Alison replied sadly, "but I cannot help knowing the things I know."
Elizabeth looked at her intently. "So you admit to not being who you appear?"
"I cannot explain how it happened," she began to gush, "do not expect me to. One moment I was there, and then I was here, and that is all I know."
Elizabeth, far from relieved, had turned stark white at the words and sat unsteadily back down upon the rock. "So it is true!" she marveled. "I knew but still could not believe." She looked at Alison searchingly. "Who are you? Where is my mother?"
"My name is Alison Bennet," she began.
"No it isn't!" Elizabeth angrily interrupted.
"Alison ... Bateman," she said forcibly, trying to remember all the details. "I'm married to Tom Bateman." It got easier. "We live in Baltimore, Maryland and we have five children: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Lydia, and Kitty!" She was becoming frantic. Speaking of them out loud for the first time and weeks brought all the poignancy of her predicament bearing back down upon her. It was Alison's turn to lose her color, and Elizabeth placed bracing hands upon hers.
"Maryland? In the Americas? Yet we all have the same names ... how can it be?" she wondered.
"I do not know how it can be, but I can explain the names." She took a deep breath. "You see, I named my children after you."
"And you and your husband's names?"
"Coincidence. Austen never gave your parents' names."
"What? Who is Austen?"
Stop it you fool! Alison derided herself internally as her eyes grew big and her mouth hung open, though not wide enough to comfortably fit the foot she just stuck into it. How do you tell someone they are a fictional character? You don't.
"Austen, Austen, Jane, I mean James. Austen James, my cousin who records the family heritage," she quickly improvised.
"But we have no relations outside of England, nor relations named James! You are not making any sense!"
"It does not make any sense!" Alison cried in desperation. To her surprise, Elizabeth seemed to respond more to this logic than anything else she had said.
"Granted," she nodded once or twice and began to pace once more. Alison watcher her with fascination until she stopped and posed a new question:"What do you remember?"
"Not much, and less all the time! That is what I find most alarming."
Elizabeth looked like she agreed, and her posture softened at the thought. It was very quietly that she asked again: "Where is my mother?"
"I don't know! I'm so sorry," Alison instinctively put her arms around Elizabeth, just as she would have around her own Elizabeth, and held her as she began to tremble and then weep. Her emotion made Alison's own loss all the more poignant, and she felt she could cry and worse if she would only allow herself, but she was a mother, and here was a child in need of comfort, and she was the only one to provide it. She remained calm.
"Please excuse me!" Elizabeth eventually said, wiping her eyes and shaking herself into control. "I shall be myself agin now. Thank you."
"It's not a problem, my dear. I know how you feel."
"Yes. I suppose you do," Elizabeth grew thoughtful once more. "Yet you are forgetting your true life?"
"It's as if it just slipped beyond my hands, and I cannot touch it as I could before, when it seemed so much more real, especially compared to here. I was also so excited to actually be here that I didn't fight it at first as I probably ought to, and now it's all grown so familiar. I fear being trapped forever, but I am also enjoying myself, which is the even more horrifying scenario. When I think of my children ...." She could not continue. Suddenly it was her emotions that were rushing out of control, and she turned away to collect herself. She soon felt a warm hand on her shoulder.
"How did you know us? Through a cousin, Austen James?"
It sounded so ridiculous Alison knew it was unsustainable. "No, Jane Austen. I learned f you from Jane Austen. Please do not ask me more than that. I know you want answers, but I really do not have any to provide."
"But how do we undo this?" Elizabeth asked with a hopeless look.
"I do not know. I keep thinking I'll just wake up, and it will be over as quickly as it began," she looked at her hands, trying to remember the difference between Mrs. Bennet's and her own and failing miserably.
Elizabeth had resumed her pacing. "For some reason you wish not to explain, you named all your children the same as my parents." She suddenly stopped, as if absorbing the impact of a new idea. "How old are they?"
"The same ages as your sisters," Alison said meekly replied.
"It is impossible!" She replied, knowing that the entire conversation was, according to all logic, impossible. "Do whate'er thou wilt swift-footed Time,"* she laughed forcedly, and sat rather abruptly back down upon the rock. "Do you belong to my time?"
"To the future?"
"Two hundred years."
"Two hundred?" she repeated, sitting in marvel for several moment. "Then this Jane Austen must be a descendant? Are you my great-great-great-granddaughter or something?"
"Perhaps ... something."
"Well! This is all far too startling to make any sense out of it all. I sympathize more now with my father for not wanting to know the truth."
"He suspects me?" Alison asked.
"Yes, but he is too enrapt with the improvement to care." She looked sadly at her hands. "My parents marriage has not been a happy one."
"How do you know such intimate details of our lives? It's hard to imagine the anecdotes of our daily existence survived for two centuries." She suddenly narrowed her eyes, "And how did you know of Mr. Darcy?"
"Forgive me, but I really do not think I ought to tell you."
Alison searched for a response. "Because it might disrupt the space-time continuum?"
"Never mind. I wish I were able to explain it better, but I really cannot," Alison said, sitting back down on the rock, far closer to Elizabeth than they began. "Besides, you have just absorbed the shock of all this. Let's take this one step at a time."
Elizabeth wore a weary smile and said: "So you will explain it all another time?"
"Perhaps," Alison softly replied. "If I'm still here, and I still remember."
Both ladies fell into a gloomy silence.
*Shakespeare Sonnet 19
Read Chapter Sixteen