I heard women talking and tried to focus on what they were saying.
“A most peculiar looking creature to be sure.”
“Who is she, do you think?”
“Foreign, of that there can be little doubt. It is not the fashion that a lady’s hair be cropped so close.”
“And the clothes we found her in. Why! Little more than sacking.”
“Not one ribbon!”
“But she looked kind…”
“Well, I should not care to be her at the assembly rooms tomorrow evening, for I am sure I should not tolerate it.”
I opened my eyes. I was in a short wooden bed with a lumpy mattress and a home-made patchwork quilt. Long heavy curtains at the windows made the room dim.
“Where am I?” I said.
“Do you not know? We happened upon you in the lane on the way home from Meryton. You are at Longbourn now. Yes, but perhaps you do not recognise the names. You are not from Hertfordshire, I think?”
”Meryton? Longbourn? Hertfordshire?” I said. “Okay, okay, just chill… Think… But what the heck am I doing here?”
I looked at the shadows of women in the room.
“Say, could you open the curtains and get some light in here?”
Without a word, one of them moved and pulled back the long drapes at each window.
I could see them now and laughed.
“I can’t believe they’re making another version! Surely there are enough?”
The women looked at me and then at each other.
“When did filming start? You’re Jane, right, and you, oh you’re definitely Mary. Who else would you be? What’s the book you’re holding? Something dull and preachy, no doubt.”
“It prays upon my poor nerves when people vex my girls. How do you …?”
“How do I know you? Oh very clever, Mrs Bennet, staying in character like this, but you can stop it now. I’m on to you all. Joke’s over.”
“My dear girl, you are quite delirious,” said Mrs Bennet.
“Oh, stop it. You’re all very good,” I said. “Okay, I take it back. Maybe we do need another version. Maybe yours will be the definitive one.”
“I think you had better leave her with Jane and I, Mama.”
“I will do no such thing, Lizzy, my girl,” said Mrs Bennet, starting to screech. “I am sure I am just as interested as you are in her story. I should very much like to know where she comes from and what she was doing in our lane.”
“Very well, Mama, but you had better sit quietly so as not to frighten her.”
“Lizzy,” I said, laughing. “She can’t help it. That’s the way she’s written. She’s a very good Mrs Bennet.”
“Do you know a great many Mrs Bennets?” said Jane, quietly.
“Well, there’s only one really,” I said, and watched Mrs Bennet preen.
“Where’s my book?”
“Mary,” said Lizzy. “Do you know where it is?”
“I am sure I do not know what you mean,” said Mary, quickly leaving the room.
I jumped out of bed.
“Where is she going? Where is Mary going?”
I ran to the door.
“Please come back to bed. You really are quite ill,” said Jane.
“I can’t,” I said. “I need my book back!”
“I know where she will be,” said Lizzy. “Let me take you.”
I followed her along the hallway, the sisters trailing behind us. Peeking into some of the rooms we passed, it was all just as I had imagined. When we reached the bottom of the stairs, I stood in the entrance hall and smiled. What drama this would soon see, and here was Lydia, the cause of most of it, quite innocently standing beside me. I tiptoed across the hall and pushed open one of the doors. There was Mr Bennet sitting in his library, reading and chuckling to himself. I closed the door on him and re-joined the sisters.
Lizzy led me out through the garden and into the walled wilderness where she would have her encounter with Lady Catherine. There, on a stone seat against the wall, was Mary, hurriedly scanning my book.
“Give that to me!” I shouted, running over to her.
“I really do not see what is so very special about your book, you know. It seems to me a very stupid thing,” she said to her sisters.
“I wouldn’t knock it, if I were you,” I said. “You have a lot to thank Jane Austen for. She’s one of the finest writers in England,” I said.
“To be sure, I have never heard the name before,” said Mary.
“Mary reads a great deal,” said Lydia. “She would surely know of the author?”
“Look, I’m not about to argue with you,” I said, “But she was very proud of all of you. You especially, Lizzy.”
“Oh, does she know of us?” said Jane. “Then I am sure we will be kind to her if we should ever meet her.”
“Yes, dear Jane,” smiled Lizzy, “I am certain of that.”
I wanted to stay and talk to them. I really did. There was so much I wanted to ask them and tell them. But I knew that I couldn’t.
Besides, I had to get home.
“I think I need to read for a while now,” I said, looking at each of the Bennet sisters in turn.
“Then we shall leave you in peace,” said Lizzy, motioning to her sisters.
“I shall call for you when tea is ready,” said Kitty.
“Oh, no,” I said. “Thanks. I think I’ll go home now.”
“Goodbye,” said Kitty and Lydia while Mary grimaced.
“Safe journey home,” said Jane.
“Well, goodbye,” said Lizzy.
“Thank you,” I said and watched them go back through the gate into the garden. “Right, now where had I got to?” I said to myself. “Not very far, if they haven’t been to the assembly room dance yet.”
I opened the book and, for the first time ever, read to escape back into the real world.