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
"My dear Miss Lizzy! Come in, come in! How nice to have you home again."
Elizabeth accepted a proffered seat. "It is nice to be home, Mrs. Hill." She glanced around at at the small room's familiar walls, in which most of her childhood scrapes and falls had been tended.
"What can I do for you?"
"I was hoping you might tell me more about my mother's health since the carriage accident."
A thoughtful look overspread the good woman's brow. "What is it you want to know?"
"Her behavior is markedly ... different."
"That it is," Mrs. Hill agreed.
Elizabeth sighed. "Do you know what might have happened to cause such a change in personality?"
"No more than anyone. The mistress has been as she is ever since the day of the accident."
"What was she like when she first came home that day?"
Mrs. Hill pondered her words before proceeding. "She was confused, not knowing where things were and the like."
"For example?" Elizabeth pressed, sitting forward attentively in her chair.
"Well she couldn't remember how to work the bell, for one thing."
"That could just be disorientation due to the accident."
"That's just what Mr. Jones said," Mrs. Hill confirmed.
Elizabeth felt she was probing in the wrong direction. "Today my mother declared her intention to buy a riding habit. I thought the one thing my mother and I shared in common was a fear of horses, and now she wants to ride my father's stallion!"
Mrs. Hill shook her head worriedly. "Many of her tastes seemed changed. She wont take any laudanum any more, not since that first night, and bathes at every opportunity."
"Long walks, coffee, reading aloud, dropping stitches," Elizabeth checked each item off on her fingers. "She shares amusements and intimacies with my father, and rebukes Lydia for too high spirits. Can this be the same woman?"
Mrs. Hill looked startled. "Who else can it be, miss?'
"I don't know," Elizabeth confessed guiltily, "nor do I wish to alarm you, but it boggles the mind. Can a bump on the head do so much?"
"If it makes you feel better, Miss Lizzy, she has been ever so pleasant these weeks! Always thanking me, and hesitating most charmingly whenever she requests a service. That last dose of laudanum she took made her mighty sick, and my heart nearly broke when she apologized for all the trouble she was causing."
Elizabeth felt as if she could never cease to wonder at her mother's recent marvels. "You sound like my father and Jane, content with what they see as an improvement and unwilling to ask how it came about, lest it prove a fantasy."
"It's not my place to question the behavior of the family, Miss Lizzy, but if you are worried for Mrs. Bennet, maybe you should talk to her about it. She's the best one to answer your questions, I should think."
Elizabeth pondered this a moment then smiled. "You are right. I do not know why I did not consider it an option myself. Thank you, Mrs. Hill."
"It's my pleasure, Miss Lizzy. Reminds me of the days you used to run to me with all your little troubles, and we'd sit over a cup of tea and work out why Mary tore your book or some such thing."
"I always felt better for your counsel."
On the other side of the house, Alison was lying in her bed watching a candle flicker on the nightstand. If she squinted her eyes, it almost had the same pulsing look as the off-air snow the television channels of her youth would default to late in the night. She forced herself to recall familiar themes songs - The Brady Bunch, The Jeffersons, and Scooby-Doo. These memories were vital tethers to her real world, and it felt vital to hold on to them.
These meditations were interrupted by a knock on the door, followed by Mr. Bennet's head in a night cap sticking through the door. Alison bolted upright in alarm. "Mr. Bennet!" she exclaimed.
"Good evening, my dear." He stepped into the room and shut the door behind him. Alison dug herself deeper beneath the covers. "I though we might ... talk," he said cautiously.
"Can it not wait until morning?"
He looked hurt. "I suppose it could, but I'd like to speak now." He picked up the chair from the vanity and placed it beside the bed. "You need not fear me pressing my affections upon you, if that's what has you worried."
Alison hoped she didn't look as relieved as she felt. "I did not mean to offend you ..."
"No matter," he interrupted. "We have more important matters to discuss, Alison."
See started and blurted, "How do you know my name?"
He looked truly flabbergasted, "And why should I not know my own wife's name? As I recall, I did have to speak it in church at least the once!"
All the color drained from her face. "And is your name is Thomas?" she asked desperately.
"Are you in earnest?" he asked in astonishment. "I'd like to know what else you think it ought to be! Perhaps Lizzy was right to be so concerned."
"Lizzy was concerned about me?"
"We all are, my dear," he sighed and stood from his chair. "I do not know what happened to addled that brain of yours in the carriage accident, but ever since I've seen the first glimmer of the woman I married that I've had in years!" He bent down and grasped her hand in both of his. "I know the years have not been what we once imagined them, but that does not mean the future must be the same as the past."
"You are in earnest?" She was floored.
"Completely. Think of what' I've said, Alison. I will see you in the morning," and he leaned over the bed and kissed her forehead, just as Tom used to do when he tucked her and one of their infant daughters in for a nap together. "Good night, my dear," and he left.
Mrs. Bennet's name is Alison! she wanted to scream at the closed door in alarm, shock, and confusion. Instead, tears overwhelmed her, making the world look like an Impressionist painting. Alison and Thomas, but Austen never gave either character a first name! She didn't think her name sounded remotely Regency. Was this just some wild turn in her fantasy? Or was her modern world the fantasy, and she was just batty old Mrs. Bennet? She couldn't tell what was real anymore, and that terrifying thought kept her awake all through the night.
Read Chapter Fifteen