Whilst Mansfield Park is overrun by mummies and Fanny Price is being seduced by a princely corpse who was embalmed and buried 2,000 years ago, we join a select party playing whist at the Assembly Rooms in Bath. Sir Walter Elliot, Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Jennings are in deep discussion about the ghoulish goings on in Britain, for their Society has been decimated in the span of a few short years. Except for the demise of great swaths of the populace, Sir Walter would normally never have found himself spending two hours with people of such low connections. Not one to give up an opportunity to show off his fine gaming skills, Sir Walter graciously agreed to make up a fourth at cards.
Of the group, he had only made a tentative acquaintance with Mrs. Jenkins, an unrefined woman whose fortune was her only saving grace. The others were all unknown to him, which was not surprising. Mrs. Elton, although handsome of form and face, was even more vulgar than Mrs. Jennings, if such a thing were possible, for she also had the misfortune of being a mere clergyman’s wife. Mrs. Bennet’s behavior was beyond the pale. Although she could boast of some connections and had once possessed a beauty that would have attracted his connoisseur’s eye, he could only compare her mind to that of a simpleton’s. How Mr. Bennet could put up with her ceaseless and inane prattle was beyond his comprehension. Sir Walter’s only satisfaction at present lay in the fact that he was winning every rubber and that he looked resplendent in his new jacket and waistcoat.
He turned to Mrs. Jennings and asked politely, “How are the Miss Dashwoods and Mrs. Dashwood getting on?”
“Not well, my dear, Sir Walter, not well at all. A most unfortunate INFESTATION of deadly sea creatures and crustaceans has RUINED our ponds and waters, especially those around Barton Cottage. The ladies Dashwood must be ever vigilant against deadly tentacles wrapping themselves around an innocent limb, lest they be pulled into the waters and DROWNED. They must also guard their virtues from the murderous Colonel Brandon, whose face is designed to disgust. He is not what he appeared to be at first, I assure you.”
“WE do not have such slithery goings on in Highbury or Plymouth,” said Mrs. Elton primly. “In my opinion, these outbreaks must be in some way connected to LICENTIOUS behavior.”
Mrs. Bennet’s nostrils flared at this pronouncement. “Well, if it were not for my dear girls, whose fighting skills are legendary, Meryton must have succumbed to the undead plague long ago. T’is quite uncomfortable to be living in a region where corpses come to life and seek out one’s brain for sustenance.” Shivering delicately, she pulled her Norwich shawl around her. “I recall a dreadful ball at Netherfield Park where the cooks preparing dinner BECAME dinner. My poor Lizzie’s ball gown was torn to shreds as she lopped off the heads and limbs of those horrid creatures in order to save the rest of the assembly.”
“Nay, never!” Mrs. Elton could not contain her excitement. Gossip was her strong suit, and the sharing of it her vocation. Besides, she adored tales filled with blood and gore.
Sir Walter, concentrating on his cards, wished the conversation had not taken this deplorable turn. He was, however, a gentleman first and foremost, and thus he kept silent. If he played his cards right and allowed his opponents to continue to prattle, he would win this hand. If only Mrs. Bennet, his partner, would pay some attention to his discards.
Mrs. Jennings, who was in possession of a scrumptious scrap of knowledge that served no purpose until it was spread far and wide, crowed. “Indeed, t’is true. I understand from a dear old acquaintance, Mrs Norris, that mummies have overtaken Mansfield Park. It seems that her sister, Lady Bertram, evoked some ancient Egyptian INCANTATION and brought them to life.”
Thinking of her two remaining unmarried girls, Mrs. Bennet inquired a tad too eagerly, “Pray tell. what are the mummies’ backgrounds? How far do their families go back?”
“Thousands of years, my dear Mrs. Bennet. The pedigree of these creatures would put Sir Walter’s lineage to shame.”
Sir Walter bristled. No one’s lineage could touch the noble ancestry of the Elliots of Kellynch Hall.
“What of their lands? Their fortunes?” Mrs. Elton asked.
“I believe, said Mrs. Jennings, a closet Blue Stocking, “that their entire fortunes are entombed with them.”
“That is most regrettable,” Sir Walter said, thinking of his eldest unmarried, Elizabeth, whose good looks were withering and dessicating with every moment that passed beyond her prime. He despaired of her ever finding a husband who would suit the Elliots’ exacting standards.
Mrs. Jennings eyes gleamed with the cheap shine of a newly minted shilling. “I understand that the creatures have recently begun to stir again.” She reached for her reticule and retrieved a letter from Mrs. Norris, an odd woman whose acquaintance she had made in Lyme: ‘T’is the strangest phenomenon, my dear Mrs. Jennings,” she read aloud. “For whilst these creatures at first looked quite ungainly and ragged, and lumbered about the countryside walking into trees and emerging from the bushes like so many cavemen, they are starting to look better and better with each passing day. Whilst the mummies are coming to life, our servants have not fared half so well, some disappearing for hours and experiencing lapses in memory that puzzle us exceedingly. I find the Pharaoh startlingly handsome despite the unfortunate fact that his skin is as swarthy as, well, an Egyptian’s! His Eminence is apparently unmarried and looking for a CONSORT.”
The card players stopped playing. Silence lay as heavy in the room as the stone lid of a sarcophagus.
Sir Walter mentally began to formulate a plan that would place his Elizabeth in the path of this lofty, though foreign personage. Handsome, rich, and well connected were the only qualities he sought for a son-in-law. Who cared if his skin was tanned and leathery?
Mrs. Bennet’s shrill voice cut through the tomb-like atmosphere, “T’is a wonder that there are any eligible men left in England at all. My two middle girls are still unmarried, but those detestable zombies have eaten practically all the heads off every young male within three counties. Mr. Bennet and I have considered moving to the Colonies in order to provide for them, matrimonially speaking, of course.” Her thoughts automatically turned to Mr. Collins and that cheap golddigging Charlottte Lucas, whose behavior and manner of speech had become exceedingly strange of late.
Mrs. Elton’s silence did not go unnoticed by herself. She was accustomed to insinuating her opinion into every discussion, but neither Highbury nor Plymouth had been the destinations of choice for the ghouls, demons, and crustaceans that had overrun every nook and cranny of her beloved England! It went against her grain to be mum on any subject, and thus she spoke, “I and the Sucklings are Egyptologists of sorts. Mummy wrappings should be made of the most sturdy linen, for the cloth must survive untold generations of burial. I suggest, Sir Walter, that you meet with your tailor to discuss where you can obtain a cloth of a similar…”
A shriek pierced the assembly hall dance rooms. Above the din, Isabella Thorpe’s voice could be heard crying, “John, oh, John! What have they DONE to your head!? Where are your brains?”
Mrs. Bennet leaped up, scattering the cards on the table, which disconcerted Sir Walter to no end, for he was about to win the rubber …. “I must fetch Lizzie immediately! The zombies have arrived in Bath and we shall require her warrior skills!”
“But I protest!,” cried Mrs. Jennings. “We were speaking of MUMMIES!! T’is not fair that the zombies are taking center stage again! Why is it that they receive ALL the attention, whilst the mummies are getting none?”
Mrs. Elton turned to Mrs. Jennings, “According to Mrs. Norris, they are starting to GAIN GROUND. T’will be up to you, dear madam, to spread the word about Mansfield Park and Mummies as successfully as those Quirk Book upstarts, who have promoted the UNDEAD virally via Web 2.0. Perhaps you should solicit the aid of Vera Nazarian and that vulgar creature, Vic, who oversees that tasteless blog, Jane Austen’s World.”
“Well, if I must,” replied Mrs. Jennings, unhappy with the thought of having to exert herself on anyone’s behalf , especially after her experience with Marianne Dashwood, a most disastrous guest and watering pot. “One would think that people would be as intrigued with Mummies as with Zombies. It’s six of one or a half dozen of the other, if you ask me.”
Sir Walter scraped his chair back and bid his adieu. He would hie home to collect his Elizabeth, and whilst the assembly was preoccupied with staving off the zombies, he would take his daughter to Mansfield Park and place her in the Pharaoh’s way in a most COMPROMISING situation.
Gentle Reader: I have just finished reading Mansfield Park and Mummies and must admit that, much to my surprise, I kept turning the pages and reading the book. Goodness, but I enjoyed this fun romp. While I know that these kinds of books are not for everyone, I feel comfortable recommending Mansfield Park and Mummies to those who would like to take the PLUNGE and read their first Jane Austen mash-up. For those who have not read my interview with Vera Nazarian, please click here. She even made writing the novel sound like fun.