An Unusual Welcome
"Run mad as often as you choose, but do not faint." - Jane Austen
Allow me to introduce myself, I am Amanda Price, and I am a Janeite (or whatever Jane Austen fans are called now). My life as a whole had become routine. I woke up and stared at the wall for a bit. Wondering why nothing had changed, I got up to brush my teeth then had tea, and some biscuits and ran off to work. I was stuck in a rut!
I did the whole 9-5 thing. By the time I arrived home, I could think of nothing better than kicking off my shoes. Loosening up with a glass of wine was on the menu along with my favorite book.
Pride and Prejudice!
There was something about that novel that made me feel as though I was home again. The language, the characters, they all seemed to jump off the page. I was not ashamed to say that I held them close to my heart as dear friends. I found myself wishing that people still spoke like this. Where had the beauty of speech gone? Where had good manners gone?
I was single (if you hadn't already guessed). You could insert a longing sigh somewhere in that conviction. My best friend, Pirhana, was single too, but she was a little too eager to mingle. She would go out to bars and clubs, but, you see, that was not my thing. I was a dinner and movie kind of girl. A stroll around the park kind of girl. As you can imagine, therein lied my flaw; I was old-fashioned. I wanted to meet a guy at a ball. I wanted to have scores of suitors lined up for my hand in marriage. Seeing that it was not 1813, I had the next best thing: classic novels.
As I daydreamed at my desk, I heard a voice say my name, "Amanda Price?"
I sighed, for, it was time to bring myself back to reality. "Yes," I looked at my boss.
She beckoned me to come to her office. As soon as I sat in the seat opposite her; she replied, "There will be a few changes made today."
"What kind of changes?" I asked nervously.
She smiled at me. "Downsizing happens in every workplace. This is happening to you because-"
I interrupted, "Am I losing my job?"
She looked at me and continued, "Once the company gets back on their feet, you are welcome to reapply."
I slumped back in my chair. It was not the change that I wished. I had lost my job with the bank and could not even focus on my beloved novel. I took the bus home and pulled out my copy of Pride and Prejudice. I didn't even care if people stared at me. I had the worst day that was until someone bumped my elbow, and I screamed out in pain. Worst day ever times two. I was not going to miss the commute.
I decided to visit my mother. This was something I always did when I was feeling down. She was my only comfort as of late. She always knew how to make me feel better. Ever since dad died, she had been feeling lonely and looked forward to our chats. I came over for tea a few times a week. But, today, she was especially comforting. She knew when I was sad. She could see it in my face. She could tell by looking at me. She told me that I would understand this extraordinary power better when I became a mother... like that would ever happen.
Her name was Frankie Price. She possessed a pretty face, and there was much kindness behind her eyes. When she looked at you, all your sorrows came rushing out. She had that effect on everyone and, as a result, she was an excellent listener.
She handed me a cup of tea, "Dear, why the long face?"
"I've lost my job, mum."
"Oh." She reached out and touched my face, "But, you never liked the job in the first place."
"Yeah, I know." I sulked, "It paid the bills."
She sat right in front of me. "What does Michael say about this?"
I looked down, "Nothing. He doesn't. We split up months ago."
My mom breathed a sigh of relief, "Good. Never liked him much. I mean, how dare he propose to my daughter with a beer bottle!"
"Yeah." I shook my head, "That was so insulting."
"Sweetie," my mum took hold of my hand, "things will get better. Life always has some disappointments, but, everything always, always gets better."
My mum looked down at her teacup, "This needs more sweetener." She stood up and started looking through her cupboard. "Oh no, I'm out of sweetener packets."
"Hold on," I took my copy of Pride and Prejudice out and sifted through the pages. I found a packet of sweetener tucked between the pages of Darcy's second proposal. "Here," I handed my mother the packet.
She looked at me and laughed, "You need to get a purse, love."
When I got home, I dumped everything on the kitchen table but my book. I walked towards my bathroom with no other intention than to look in the mirror. Feeling like a total failure, I stared at myself; holding the novel in my hands. How could this have happened? I could hear my phone ringing. Something had happened, and I could not move. Before I could think any further or ask myself what would Jane do (Jane Austen to be precise), the mirror became a portal, and I was drawn in.
"A mind lively and at ease, can do with seeing nothing, and can see nothing that does not answer." - Jane Austen
I could hear voices around me that sounded like chirping mother hens. Slowly, I opened my eyes to see that I was surrounded by four women, all of whom were wearing cloth rollers in their hair. I noticed my surroundings had changed drastically.
"She is awake!" The girl nearest to me shouted out.
I closed my eyes once more. I must have been in a dream. This must have been some strange dream. A strange dream with period clothing. I needed to get out more.
"Lydia, do not shout." A calm voice scolded.
Lydia? I don't think I knew anyone with that name.
Eventually, my eyes fluttered open again to see a beige ceiling with pink roses painted upon the niches. This was most surely not my apartment bathroom. The rules of my apartment complex were that the walls must be white, and we could not even decorate with appliqués and hanging pictures were allowed but, sadly, were looked down upon.
Where was I?
"Ssh," a soothing voice spoke up from behind the young lady in front of me. "You passed out, my dear Lizzy. You must rest."
Whoa! Whoa, back up there. Lizzy?
"Oh! My poor nerves," a shrill voice cried from behind the girls. "I know I shan't live a moment longer! I just know it! Not when I had such news to tell Lizzy and she's fainted!"
The girl with the calming voice soothed, "But, she will be better in time for whatever news you have to tell her."
"W-where am I?" I had the gumption to ask though I think I knew the answer to that question. I knew the moment I heard Lydia's name being called out. I only did not want to consider it. This had to be a dream. I could scarcely believe that I was where I thought I was, for, if this was a reality show; it must have been one bloody excellent one.
I'd like Mr. Darcy behind door number one, please!
The oldest woman cried out, "It is as I suspected! Lizzy has gone mad!" She held her heart, "Oh my dear! My failing heart!"
The calm girl and Lydia bolstered me up and walked me towards a bedroom. Soon, I was lying upon pillows that were scented with lavender and scored with lace. I saw my copy of Pride and Prejudice on the bed and stuffed it under the pillow.
"Where am I?" I inquired again.
"Lizzy," Lydia looked at me in disbelief, "you are beginning to scare me. Do you not know where you are?"
"I have taken heed of such instances where people have lost their memory."
"Jane," Lydia rolled her eyes, "no one loses their memory from having their stays too tight."
No, they lose an organ or two!
"The predicament is that, dear Lizzy, does not remember where she is."
"Well," Lydia bit her lip playfully, "let us ask her some questions then. It shall be great fun."
"Where do you believe you are?" Jane asked.
"Um," I paused, "Hammersmith, London?"
"Oh my," Jane's eyes widened, "it is worse than we thought."
"You are in -"
No, it can't be!
Jane took a breath of relief as Lydia chided, "I see that some of your common sense still exists."
I sat back in bed; thinking that if I pinched myself; I would wake up and everything would be a reality once again. It took a moment for me to register as I slowly asked, "Longbourn?"
Jane brought an eyebrow up, "Yes. That is what our home is called."
"Has Netherfield been let at last?" I asked.
"That would be a joyous occasion to behold, but, alas, Netherfield has been vacant for quite some time." Jane smiled.
"So, this is before the beginning then?"
Lydia paused, "Before the beginning of what?"
I smirked at Jane and Lydia, "Did my mother put you up to this? She thinks I don't get out enough. Look, is this some joke?"
Jane furrowed her brow, "I assure you that it is not."
I started to yell at the ceiling, "Is this one of those candid camera deals but, period? Are there cameras in the vents?"
"Cameras?" Lydia and Jane shared a look that read Elizabeth-has-finally-gone-bonkers.
I stood up on top of the bed and yelled at the ceiling, "Hello? Can you see me?"
Lydia made a face, "Whom are you speaking to?"
"Come on!" I continued shouting at the ceiling, "What do I have to do to get out of here?"
"Lizzy, you are quite out of your senses today," Jane said tenderly; fear in her eyes. "I believe a short stroll outside will refresh your spirit."
"I don't want a stroll." I sat back down on the bed, "I want to get out of here. I want to go home."
"Lizzy, dearest," said Jane, "you are home. Longbourn is your home."
Lydia spoke slowly, "Longggggggggggggbourrrrrrnnnnnn."
I narrowed my eyes at Lydia. It was only natural for me to be freaking out. I mean, one minute I was in the real world and the next, I was in 1800-something. Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, but the first draft was written in 1797. I could be stuck in any one of those years.
My mirror turned into a portal, and if I was not mistaken, the mirror here might not work the same way. I could be stuck here... indefinitely. This, of course, was not what I wanted, but, it might have been inevitable.
I should be over the moon about this. Right? I was a Jane Austen aficionado. I had taken the place of Elizabeth Bennet. I'd eventually have Mr. Darcy all to myself (providing I did not vex him to the point of throwing me out a window). What more could a single girl in Great Britain want? Well, for one thing, this was pretty damn weird. It was one matter to be fond of something, but, it was another to be caught up in it. And man, I was caught up so badly that I was beginning to wonder if I was even here. What if this was all in my head?
Jane helped me stand up, "Let us take that stroll."
I glanced down and found myself wearing a cream-colored muslin dress with soft pink roses embroidered on the bodice, sleeves, and hem. This was not what I came here wearing. When we walked outdoors, we witnessed a man walking towards the house. He was tall and had wavy blonde hair. Handsome, and I daresay, would have made even a modern girl swoon. Holy hell!
He knocked on the front door only to be ushered in by our maid. We both found ourselves obliged to walk back inside the house, and we saw Mr. Bennet conversing with this man, the door slightly ajar.
"Mr. Bingley," Mr. Bennet smiled, "I would like to invite your family to dine with us at Longbourn."
But, this was wrong! All kinds of wrong. Jane was supposed to meet Mr. Bingley at the ball in two weeks! Mr. Bennet was supposed to call on Bingley, not the other way around! Then, Mr. Bingley would call on Mr. Bennet, coming to Longbourn on a black horse and wearing a blue coat. He would then get invited to dinner but respectfully decline right as Mrs. Bennet was planning a menu that would be a credit to her expertise as a housekeeper. This was all supposed to happen. Everything was out of place. It was wrong!
"This is wrong!" I found myself shouting.
Mr. Bingley stared straight at me. I found myself wishing that a trap door would appear underneath me and whisk me away far from the embarrassment that I was experiencing. "Hi," I awkwardly waved.
Mr. Bingley awkwardly waved back, "Hi." He looked at Mr. Bennet, confused. Jane pulled me aside, "Elizabeth, you should not speak to them unless they talk to you first."
"Men," Jane whispered back. "You should rest. Tomorrow is the ball and you need your strength for that.
Oh no. The ball was supposed to be in two weeks! Everything was getting messed up! I was so not ready for this. I couldn't dance the quadrille. I didn't know the proper manners needed. I couldn't imagine that I'd learnt much in a day. I didn't belong here. I loved the Regency Era, but I could not imagine myself living in it. There were way too many societal rules. I shook my head as I attempted to shrug away the negativity. I reminded myself that I could handle this. I might not have been perfect, but I could try. I could attempt to fit in until I got to the bottom of this. Until I found a way back.
The ball was not as grand as someone would have anticipated. It was held in what seemed to be a decorated farmhouse with a hearth, heating up the area. It was apparently called an assembly room. The rest of the warmth in the room had been altered by the quantity of people. I was in love with the quaintness of this place. I kept on peering over my shoulder; thinking that I would see you-know-who tonight.
I turned to see Mr. Charles Bingley, who came towards me and waved, "Hi."
Oh great! We had a thing now, Bingley and I.
"Hi," I waved back as Mrs. Bennet slapped my hand down with her fan.
"Lizzy, leave waving to the Queen of England," Mrs. Bennet scolded.
"Allow me to introduce my sister, Miss Caroline Bingley." Mr. Bingley smiled.
Kitty, Lydia, Mary, Jane, Mr., and Mrs. Bennet all bowed and Mr. Bingley and Caroline bowed again. I knew there was a great deal of bowing in Jane Austen World, but I didn't know to what extent.
"I dread that I bring bad tidings," he responded.
"Oh?" I asked.
"My friend, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, has taken ill."
"Yes," Caroline haughtily held her head high, "it is all so sudden and severe."
"Oh!" cried Mrs. Bennet, "How I would have so liked to meet him!"
Was Mrs. Bennet always this grating?
"Is it bad, do you know?"
"I do not know the full details," Mr. Bingley looked away, focusing on Jane.
I felt that there was something that Mr. Bingley was hiding and did not ask him any more questions. I moved towards Caroline and asked, "How do you like Hertfordshire?"
"It has its rustic charms, I suppose."
"I would hardly call it rustic," Bingley smiled at Jane. "Hertfordshire has a beauty that cannot be found elsewhere."
Mrs. Bennet piped up, "Rustic? I should think not, indeed. We dine with many refined families."
Caroline sent Mrs. Bennet a fake smile and turned towards her brother, "You, dear brother, are the one that chose to reside here. It is certainly not Grosvenor Square; however, one can become blinded by such... refinements."
"Do you dislike it here that much?" I tried my best to speak 1800s language.
Caroline looked at me in shock and then laughed lightly, "Such a bold question requires a bold answer."
"Well then," I smirked, "I guess you will have to answer boldly!"
"Lizzy!" Jane gasped in shock.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Mr. Bingley stifle his laughter at his sisters' expense. Caroline and I curtseyed to one another then I turned around to join the dance reel; stumbling my way through it. I despised group dances. I could not even do the electric slide without bumping into the person next to me!
I could not focus on the dancing anyways. I was angry that Caroline Bingley; a two-dimensional character... a name on a piece of paper was attempting to tell us our low position in comparison to hers through thinly veiled insults. However, I was slightly peeved that Mr. Darcy did not have the guts to show. So what if he was sick, I've had to go into work before with a fever. No one was going to ask him to dance. He would have sulked in a corner and called me barely tolerable anyways. What if I never get to meet him and am stuck in Pride and Prejudice World forever? If I don't get to meet him, I don't get to go home. Believe it or not, I was beginning to doubt of his existence!