Elinor and Marianne Dashwood had only just arrived in London that morning and established themselves as part of Mrs. Jennings household when that lady invited them to attend the shops, always the most urgent point of business on a visit to the capital, regardless of how many days one spent cooped up in a carriage getting there. As they stepped from the house towards the awaiting carriage, they were alarmed to be accosted by an unknown lady, who though of unexceptionable attire, was marked in every other manner – her gestures, her carriage, her speech – as an eccentric.
“Forgive me,” she began, somewhat breathlessly, “my dear Misses Dashwoods, for interrupting your outing. But wow! I’m very relieved to have found you. I was sent by your mother. You are to come with me at once.”
“Excuse me, ma’am,” said Mrs. Jennings, moving protectively in front of her charges and gesturing to her footmen for attendance, “but who are you to be speaking to these ladies so familiarly?”
“I am sorry, Mrs. Jennings, but I have very little time to fully explain. If the two young ladies would just speak with me just a minute, my purpose will be served, or at least I think it will. We just need to step over here for a moment,” she moved her hands in a shooing gesture and mimicked walking, hoping the ladies would follow.
By now, everyone watching this performance was thoroughly convinced that the lady was mad (and I can tell you, quite confidentially, that she also doubted her sanity, so on that point the group was in harmony). As two footmen flanked the stranger, Mrs. Jennings turned to usher the Misses Dashwood into the carriage. In panicked tones, the lady called out, “It would be so much easier if you would just spare me a moment! Please, Miss Dashwood, your mother sends a most urgent message. I ask only a moment of you and your sister’s time!”
Miss Dashwood, hearing a real note of panic in the woman’s voice, could not help but pity her. She paused, her foot on the carriage stair, and asked, “What harm could it do to hear her out?”
“None whatsoever,” Miss Marianne said determinedly, striding up to the lady and taking her hand. “What is it you have to say?”
“If you would but walk with me, your sister, too, all will become clear.”
“Oh no! You shall not whisk them away on my watch!” protested Mrs. Jennings. “Say your piece here, and then be off with you.”
The lady looked with consternation at the looming footmen. “What I have to say is not for all ears. If you would let them step but a half a block away, just out of earshot, that is all I ask. You will still see them. We will go no further than the lamppost, I promise.”
“Absolutely not! If you come with an introduction from Mrs. Dashwood, why not present yourself properly, instead of assaulting gentlewomen in the street? Anything you have to say to them, you may say to me,” she concluded with unaccustomed ferocity.
“Very well,” the lady sighed, rolling her eyes. “I have no more time to argue about it. Please, just come this way,” and this time she actually walked, instead of just miming the act, and the other ladies conveniently followed.
“This is far enough,” declared Mrs. Jennings when they reached the aforementioned lamppost. “Now tell us who you are at once.”
“Gladly,” she replied, already far calmer than mere moment before. “My name is Alexa Adams, though you will probably insist on calling me Mrs. Adams, just like the others.”
“The others?” Miss Dashwood asked.
“Yes, it should all be clear in a moment,” she said, looking around her. “I thought a lamppost a handy spot to use as a portal,” she laughed. “I hope it works!”
“What is this nonsense?” Mrs. Jennings huffed impatiently, but even as she spoke the words, the scenery around them began to shift and change, and suddenly they were no longer standing on a tidy Mayfair street corner, but on a much greener one, almost crowded with trees, with a motley collections of cottages and estates surrounding it. The only thing that seemed to remain the same was the lamppost. Mrs. Jennings turned around once in wonder, uttered a most alarming noise, and fainted on the spot.
The two Misses Dashwood knelt to assist their hostess, looking in vain for the footmen so lately in attendance, but Mrs. Adams, to their consternation, actually looked satisfied with the situation. “Good!” she declared. “I was hoping to not bring her at all, but since she insisted on coming, I’m glad to be able to foist her off on another member of the party. I believe your mother should still be at Longbourn, which you see across the way. Marianne, will you fetch her?”
Miss Marianne, quite bewildered, looked about her in shock. “But, is that not Barton Cottage itself, just there?”
“It is, but your mother is visiting at Longbourn, so that is where you will find her.”
“But it is impossible!” declared Miss Dashwood, pressing a hand to her head as an unaccustomed headache took hold.
“Yes, surely impossible, but here we are, nevertheless. Just that way you can even see your dear Norland. Please, I will explain everything, but first we must attend Mrs. Jennings. Marianne, will you get your mother?”
The stunned young lady complied, the idea of sheltering in her mother’s arms being the most appealing thing anyone could have suggested to her at the moment.
“What is all this?” asked Miss Dashwood, accusingly.
Mrs. Adams laughed. “My imagination quite run awry. I’m sorry to have incorporated you into the story in this jarring fashion, but I promised your mother I would bring you, and I couldn’t simply move an entire London block. We’re already too crowded in as it is. At least I found some suitable clothing, thanks to my friends in the local JASNA chapter. My Regency costume isn’t at all appropriate for day wear. Oh, but I did want to leave Mrs. Jennings behind! I already have too many difficult personalities on hand. I mean, she’s way better than Lady Catherine, of course. I really do wish I had thought to exclude her, but I had no idea what I was doing, you see.”
“No! I do not see,” Miss Dashwood replied in dismayed tones. “Nothing that you say makes the slightest bit of sense.”
“No. I suppose it wouldn’t. Unfortunately, complete explanations will have to wait. I still need to go get Jane Bennet, and I’d better go before Mrs. Bennet arrives. I see her now, approaching with your mother.”
Miss Dashwood looked towards the house called Longbourn, and indeed, there was the welcome of sight of her very own mother, hurrying forward with Marianne, and Margaret, too, trailing behind. They were followed by a large accompaniment of other ladies, whom she presumed to be Mrs. Bennet and her daughters, as well as a few gentlemen, but when she turned to further question Mrs. Adams as to their identities, she had already disappeared.