Hi, everybody! Welcome back for Chapter Sixteen! In case you are only just joining us, or have missed a part, never fear. Chapter 1 is here. Just follow the “Next Chapter” links at the bottom to read it as a serial. If you only missed last week’s chapter, then just click for Chapter 17.
When we last left our intrepid heroines, Mrs Gardiner was about to bust in on them in Elizabeth’s room. What are they going to do? And, more importantly, how are they going to explain Ellie?
Chapter 18: The Known and the Unknown
Ellie widened her eyes and glared at Elizabeth, who bolted forward to join her in leaning against the door.
“Yes,” called Elizabeth through the wood against her cheek. “I woke some time ago but could not go back to sleep. I have been reading ever since.” Elizabeth shrugged at Ellie and mouthed, “I did not know what to say.”
She nodded as Mrs Gardiner’s voice carried through the door once more. “Very well. I shall send you my maid to help you dress.”
“No!” cried Elizabeth frantically before she seemed to think twice about it. “I thank you for the offer, Aunt, but I do not require her aid. I shall join you at breakfast.”
“You will require warm water, though, Lizzy. There is a chill in the air. It would not do to refresh yourself with the water from last night.”
“Of course, you are correct. If you could have some sent up?”
“Lizzy, are you certain you are well?”
“I am quite well but a little out of sorts at the prospect of visiting Pemberley. I merely wished for some time to myself. I hope you will forgive me?”
Ellie released the breath she was holding and smiled. Her excuse was good, but would Mrs Gardiner buy it?
“I suppose it is understandable. Do not tarry for long, however, your uncle and I hoped for time to tour the gardens as well.”
The planked wooden floor of the passageway creaked when Mrs Gardiner left and they both removed their weight from the door. Elizabeth walked to the bed and dropped onto the mattress. “We shall require a reasonable excuse for who you are. No one would believe the truth and I have no desire to see the inside of Bedlam.”
Ellie began to bite her thumbnail while she went to the window and stared at what was happening on the street below. After all this time, Elizabeth was finally here with her, but they had to do more than just re-unite her with Mr Darcy. They had to save Lydia, too. Wait! Lydia!
“What if I am an old friend of yours who holidayed in Brighton. That way, I spent time in Lydia’s company. I was travelling north with a party of friends when I bumped into you here, at the inn.”
Elizabeth stood, her face looked like she’d just found a spare fifty pound note in the pocket of her jeans. “You could bring me news of my sister’s intended elopement!” she exclaimed. “We could save her.”
“That was the idea. What do you think?”
“If we catch Mr Darcy on the street, I believe the idea would work perfectly, but what if we miss him?”
“Then we go to Pemberley. In the original timeline, you met Mr Darcy on Pemberley’s grounds when you toured the house with your aunt and uncle.”
Her eyes had a brightness and humour that had begun to disappear during those last few days in twenty-seventeen. Elizabeth’s teasing disposition had shown up from time to time, but she had begun to fear she wouldn’t return. That had to be depressing.
Elizabeth clasped her hands in front of her. “We need to dress lest we miss him. We would have more time to save Lydia if we can locate him sooner.” She threw open the lid of her trunk and began tossing items on the bed. Stockings, ribbons, and stays all landed in a pile until a knock at the door made her rise. “What do we do with you? My aunt’s maid cannot see you here.”
In a big hurry, Ellie scanned the room. She couldn’t hide behind the screen because it didn’t sit flush to the floor. The maid would see her feet. Her only choice was to… “I’ll stand behind the door while you open it. Just make sure she doesn’t close it when she enters.”
With a large shift, Ellie tried to step down quietly, but the floorboard let out a large groan and she froze. Elizabeth rolled her eyes and waved her further back. When she was in place, Elizabeth opened the door.
“Good mornin’, Miss Bennet. I hope ya slept well.”
Ellie watched Elizabeth’s back while she stood and leaned on the edge of the open door, ensuring it stayed open while quick footsteps moved away from them.
“I did, thank you,” responded Elizabeth, who stood so straight she appeared as though she had a pole shoved up her back.
“We should close the door so I can aid ya in your toilette, miss.”
“I would prefer to attend to such matters myself this morning, but I do appreciate your offer.”
“But your aunt sent me to help ya.” The girl’s voice was a little higher than it was normally. What if Elizabeth gave in?
“My aunt will not blame you. I crave some solitude this morning, so I shall dress myself. I promise I shall not appear at breakfast without my shoes or without wearing my chemise.”
A nervous giggle came from the maid. “Ya do usually fend for yourself, but I know ya would not do those things. I think your aunt wanted ya just so for Pemberley, though.”
“I promise I shall look my best.”
A long silence followed and Ellie’s stomach clenched while she waited. This was killer not being able to see what was going on, but when Elizabeth began to relax so did Ellie. When the door closed behind Mrs Gardiner’s maid, they both slumped.
“My aunt is suspicious or she would not have insisted the maid attend me.”
“You could always confess about Mr Darcy’s proposal,” suggested Ellie. “Wouldn’t that explain any strange behaviour?”
She bustled over to the bed and began to sort through everything. “Possibly, but we need to worry about hastening our way to the street before the post coach arrives. The towelling is beside the water. I shall help you to dress, and then, you can be of aid to me should I require it.”
After a quick wipe of her face and arms, Elizabeth handed her the chemise, which she put on, but when she passed her the stays, Ellie came from behind the partition and frowned. “No, this thing is a torture device. I thought it was brilliant when I first put it on last time because my boobs looked so good, but I couldn’t breathe and it I felt like I had an underwire stabbing me in the ribs.”
Elizabeth laughed. “I do not know what an underwire is, but it will be noticeable if you do not wear them.”
Ellie grimaced and pulled them over her head. When she was finally in the gown, she emerged to find Elizabeth already wearing her chemise and stays. She’d obviously been dressing while Ellie did.
“I am thankful I packed spare undergarments. I would not always, but with the long journey and the walking my aunt and uncle planned, I thought a second set prudent.” Elizabeth pushed Ellie down in front of the vanity table and then stared. “Your hair is shorter than most ladies, but I think I can manage something passable at least.”
By the time she was finished, Ellie’s scalp stung and her hair was pulled impossibly tight on her head. How she missed being in Elizabeth’s body right now! Her hair was a bit heavy, but at least the maid didn’t pull most of it out trying to style it!
She watched while Elizabeth hurried to fix her own hair and put on a gown. When they both finally stood before the mirror, Elizabeth examined Ellie’s appearance. “’Tis the best I could do. The gown is a mite short, though not indecent.” She pulled two pairs of boots from under the bed.
Crap! She hadn’t considered shoes! Elizabeth had worn hers when she needed to, so they shouldn’t be a problem. Ellie sat on the bed and slipped her foot into the opening, which wasn’t difficult, but when she pushed her foot further in, her toes had to squinch together to fit. She stopped before she pulled it all the way on.
“Lizzy, did my shoes fit you?”
Elizabeth gave her a look of pity. “They were a little loose. My sisters and I use old, torn handkerchiefs when we borrow each other’s slippers, so I used the thin cloths in the water closet to keep yours from shifting around on my feet.”
After a big breath in, Ellie closed her eyes and pulled. When she had the boot fully on, the walls pressed against her skin, not painfully, but in an uncomfortable way. Of course, she wasn’t standing… yet. Hopefully, they wouldn’t be walking much!”
“Can you manage?” asked Elizabeth worriedly.
“I’ll make do. We need to get going, though.”
Elizabeth stuffed a cloth and a few coins in a small bag and handed it to Ellie before taking another she had in the trunk. “It would look odd should you not have a reticule.” Soon, they were both wearing what Elizabeth called spencers and also held gloves and bonnets.
When Ellie looked at Elizabeth, she was staring at her oddly. “What is it?”
“If I ask you a question, will you do your best to answer it, speaking as we do in this time?”
Ellie’s eyes widened. “I’m not very good at it.”
Elizabeth seemed not to listen since she continued, “Miss Forrester, are you from London?”
With a groan, Ellie slumped then drew herself straight again. “Indeedy, I do, miss. I’ve lived there for the duration of my life.”
A giggle burst from Elizabeth’s lips, she covered her mouth, and murmured, “Forgive me.” She stared at Ellie for another moment and then shook her head. “It would be best if you did not speak.”
When she turned to exit the door, Ellie grabbed Elizabeth’s arm. “Where did we meet?”
“In the corridor on the way to breakfast,” answered Elizabeth quickly. “I would not be allowed in the common rooms without my aunt or uncle, so it is the best response.”
To be on the safe side, Elizabeth walked slightly ahead, peering around corners and ensuring they weren’t seen coming from the Gardiner’s suite together before they headed down the stairs to the same private room as when Ellie first travelled back.
Elizabeth paused just before they entered at the sound of the Mrs Gardiner’s voice. “’I cannot make heads or tails of it, Edward. She has never locked the door or prevented my entry to her bedchamber. What could she have been hiding?”
“You are overreacting, my dear. Lizzy is not one to behave improperly. Perhaps she truly wanted some time to herself. She is likely at sixes and sevens at the prospect of meeting Mr Darcy again. After all, she never found pleasure in his company in the past.”
“I hope you are correct,” said Mrs Gardiner.
“I am. You shall see. Tea and a good breakfast will set her to rights and she shall be her usual self once she realises these great men are rarely at home. Please do not ruin our day by fretting.” The lady gave a sigh. Her husband’s attempts to soothe her did not seem to have helped.
“Good mornin’, miss.”
Ellie and Elizabeth both jumped and attempted a smile at the girl who approached from the opposite direction with a tray. The servant stopped before the door and stared at her and Elizabeth turned and lifted her eyebrow at Ellie. “We should go in.”
“Ah! Here she is!” exclaimed the gentleman, cheerfully, before standing and gesturing to Ellie. “But who is this?”
Elizabeth held out a hand to Ellie. “This is a friend of mine, Miss Eliza Forrester. She was travelling north from Brighton with a party of friends, but she found herself separated from them this morning. I happened upon her when I was leaving our rooms. I hope you do not mind, but I invited her to join us.”
Mr Gardiner bowed and his wife curtseyed while Elizabeth gave her a glare and motioned where her aunt and uncle couldn’t see for Ellie to do the same. She nearly stumbled, but once she straightened, she smiled. “It is pleasurable to meet you.” Elizabeth closed her eyes and let out an almost imperceptible groan.
“You are welcome to join us. Hannah was just laying out our meal, so the food should be nice and warm.”
“Thank you,” she responded as she and Elizabeth took the other two chairs at the table.
Following Elizabeth’s lead, Ellie tried to be as graceful and use Elizabeth’s manners to serve herself. When Mrs Gardiner spoke to Mr Gardiner, Elizabeth leant over and whispered, “I thought I said not to talk.” Ellie checked to make sure the Gardiners weren’t looking and stuck her tongue out at Elizabeth.
Mrs Gardiner straightened and clasped her hands. “I know you are uneasy about visiting Pemberley, Lizzy, but I appreciate your willingness to go, despite your misgivings.”
After swallowing her bite of toast, Elizabeth clenched her hands in her lap. “Actually, Aunt, I have decided I was nonsensical. I have heard so much about the place and now anticipate viewing such splendour for myself.”
Both the Gardiners stopped what they were doing and gaped at Elizabeth. Mrs Gardiner, after glancing at her husband, dabbed her lip with her napkin. “Your change in attitude is quite sudden.”
Elizabeth lifted a shoulder. “I cannot explain at present, but should we happen to meet Mr Darcy, I shall be well. I have considered the matter and decided not to dislike the man as I once did.”
“You cannot make such a startling revelation and not explain,” laughed Mr Gardiner. “You are being mysterious, which is not like you.”
“I understand, Uncle, but I beg you to allow me my own counsel. I cannot explain much without revealing several confidences.”
The flat set of his lips and his exhale told how he didn’t like her response. “I would never ask you to violate a confidence, but you have always been honest and trustworthy. I suppose we shall have to trust in your judgement.”
“I appreciate your faith in me,” she said softly. “I promise I shall not disappoint you.”
Her aunt reached across and grasped Elizabeth’s hand. “We are certain you will not.”
Ellie felt rather awkward—as though she were intruding. She glanced at the clock, biting her lip. She didn’t remember what time she’d ran out and was hit by the post coach. How should she determine when they have to depart? And how would they get away from the Gardiners long enough to approach Mr Darcy? “Might I take in the view?” she requested, pointing at the window. “I might see one of my friends outside.”
With a dip of her chin, Mrs Gardiner smiled. “Of course.”
Elizabeth gave her a confused look, but Ellie wandered to the window anyway and watched the street below. Nothing seemed familiar. The buildings all were similar to the last time she was here, people and riders on horseback travelled up and down the road, and a lone dog ran across, probably barking at a stray cat. Then, three boys ran to the horse chestnut tree on the green across from the blacksmith’s and began to climb its branches.
With a gasp, she whirled around and waved to get Elizabeth’s attention. The Gardiners weren’t watching, they were speaking of something to one another, so when Elizabeth looked up and her brows furrowed, Ellie began pointing to the door and mouthing, “We have to go!”
Elizabeth furrowed her brow. “What?” she said silently.
“We have to go!” She pointed furiously at the door again. Come on, Elizabeth! She had to understand at some point, didn’t she?
When she looked again at the Gardiners, they were staring at her with their mouths open—fortunately, they had no food in there!
“Sorry, but I thought I saw one of my friends.”
Though she appeared to want to bury her face in her hands, Elizabeth placed her napkin upon the table. “Perhaps I should escort Eliza outside. I do not believe she should be without a companion in an inn, much less in a strange town.”
Mrs Gardiner glanced between the two of them. “I do not see the harm in it. We shall be departing in the next half-hour so do not go far.”
“We shall not,” she answered while rising from her seat. “We shall be just in front of the inn.”
They walked out of the room as normally as they could, but once they were in the corridor, Ellie grabbed Elizabeth’s hand and tugged her towards the stairs. “If we don’t hurry, we’ll be too late.”
“You know the precise time?” asked Elizabeth as she put on her bonnet.
“No, but I looked out of the window before I ran downstairs and in front of the post coach last time. The same boys just ran to play on the green.” Ellie followed Elizabeth’s lead and put on her bonnet and gloves.
When they reached the front room, they stopped talking and wove through the few people who were speaking with the proprietor behind the counter. Ellie turned the latch and squinted when the sudden brightness of the outdoors assaulted her senses. Elizabeth followed her across the road where they watched the front of the inn.
Elizabeth stepped beside her. “How much longer?”
“Just wait a moment,” said Ellie, holding up her hand. That was when the commotion and the noise of the post coach and its team could be heard as it rounded the corner.
“I cannot believe you jumped in front of that.”
“I thought this was all some fantastic dream. If I’d known it was reality, I would never have dreamt of doing it.”
As much as she wanted to watch the coach, she scanned the street. That’s when she saw him. Dressed in the finest of riding attire, he sat tall and statuesque upon his horse that trotted in the opposite direction of the post coach. No wonder he’d stopped. He had a perfect view of the accident when it happened.
“There he is,” she said to Elizabeth. “Are you ready?”
“I do not know if I can manage this. What if he does not believe me?”
“He will believe you. You were just terrified you’d never see him again, and now, you are delaying. Let’s go. We have to save Lydia, remember? Let’s get you your happy ever after.”
Elizabeth pulled in a huge breath and almost lunged forward, walking in a hurry towards Mr Darcy’s horse while Ellie trailed behind her. That was when Ellie had what she thought was the most brilliant idea. She took a running step and grabbed the back of Elizabeth’s bonnet, which was not tied snugly around her chin, causing it to fall from her head and onto her back.
A gasp came from Elizabeth as she stopped and reached for her hat to place it back on her head. That was when they heard a deep, familiar voice exclaim, “Miss Bennet!”
So many questions! Will Mr Darcy stop? Will they convince him to help Lydia? Will Elizabeth embroider Ellie’s mouth closed? What are your theories? Let me know what you think!
Thanks for reading everyone!