Hi, everybody! Welcome back for Chapter Twenty-one! 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 20.
Darcy had some of his own ideas in this chapter. So did Elizabeth and Ellie in this chapter. They insisted on doing exactly what they wanted. Stubborn characters!
Chapter 21: Boredom, Books, and Betrothals
Ellie stared at the trees and fields as they passed endlessly by the window. How did people travel like this? No music, no audiobooks, and no phones with Bluetooth to keep your mind busy. She couldn’t talk to the Gardiners because they were suspicious of her, and Elizabeth had told her to keep quiet anyway. She was bored. Bored, bored, bored!
They’d left hours ago, shortly after the footman delivered the message of the coach being prepared. The Gardiners were fetched from the grounds, and Mr Darcy allowed them to select books if they wished from his library before they loaded into the carriage and left Pemberley. Problem was that Ellie didn’t know what book to choose because most of what she liked to read hadn’t been written yet. There were definitely no Mills and Boon bodice rippers and she wasn’t reading poetry.
For a while, Mr Gardiner and Mr Darcy spoke of business matters and investments, but that might as well have been electronics instructions as far as Ellie was concerned. The two men were silent now, but she couldn’t speak to Elizabeth without whispering and worried at being considered rude. Whispering to one person in a group was rude—even in her time, wasn’t it?
She also didn’t want to attract Mrs Gardiner’s attention any more than she already had. The lady now read from a small book she carried in her reticule, but Ellie didn’t doubt that Elizabeth’s aunt would forget about that book instantly if she spoke.
The coach had already stopped once for a change of horses, but with the rush of their trip, they didn’t go inside the inn for tea. Instead, they all visited the “necessary” and returned aboard the coach as soon as it was ready for the next two-hour leg. How she missed modern plumbing at that moment! Even a petrol station toilet was preferable to what she had to use in the nineteenth century. She shuddered at the thought.
At least the seats in Mr Darcy’s coach didn’t feel like sitting on the squished, flat cushion of a church pew like the carriage from the inn. Mr Gardiner seemed to find them comfortable enough since he now appeared to be sleeping with his leaned against the side wall.
Mr Darcy, meanwhile, stared at Elizabeth, who did not let it faze her, but stared right back in return when she wasn’t trying to read the book he gave her from his library. Well done, Lizzy! If he was still in doubt of her feelings by the end of all this, he would need to be checked for brain damage. Elizabeth definitely didn’t leave any room for misinterpretation with the slight curve of her lips and the almost flirtatious look in her eye when she glanced between the page and him. He couldn’t be so dense, could he?
The horses began to slow and Mr Darcy broke his gaze at his favourite view to peer out the window. “We have arrived at the next coaching inn.”
Ellie leaned towards the glass to take in the small village that lay beyond where they were now stopped while Mr Darcy’s man set the step and opened the door. Once Mr Darcy and Mr Gardiner helped the ladies from the coach, Mr Darcy spoke with the driver then returned. “There are four carriages before us, so we must wait. We could take refreshments in the inn if anyone is hungry?”
“I believe that would be prudent, sir,” responded Mrs Gardiner.
A strange smell hit Ellie’s nose when they entered and she coughed in an attempt not to gag. She hadn’t noticed anything at the inn in Lambton, but this inn was busier and they were forced to walk through a group of people who reeked of stale sweat and body odour. With a wave of her hand, she swallowed and followed Elizabeth. Good Lord! When had these people bathed last?
She breathed easier when they were shown into a private room and soon served a type of stew and crusty bread followed by tea and cake, which was better than anything Ellie had ever eaten in the twenty-first century—although the tea was rather weak. She smiled, remembering Elizabeth’s letter and the book Tom gave her. How she wished she had that to read now!
The horses were being changed when and Elizabeth and Ellie finished their tea, and while they wanted to walk through the village before being confined once again to the carriage, Mrs Gardiner preferred to wait. Her aunt and uncle did, however, agree to allow Elizabeth to walk with Mr Darcy as an escort, so Ellie followed Elizabeth and Mr Darcy from the inn.
When they had walked the full length of the street and were about to turn back, Mr Darcy stopped and faced Elizabeth, causing Ellie to come to a sudden halt or run into his side. “What you said before we left the inn… It has given me reason to hope as I have scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before.”
Ellie bit her lip and at Mr Darcy’s quick glance in her direction, she turned, took a few steps away, and watched the ducks waddle around the small pond near the churchyard.
She heard his deep breath. “I must ask before we lose what little privacy we have. You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.”
“My feelings, they are so different to what they were then.”
“Truly?” he asked, his voice screaming of his astonishment.
“Yes, truly.” Elizabeth’s laugh rang as clear as a church bell on Sunday morning. “I meant what I said. I do consider you the best of men. I realised, only when I thought it was too late, how much I love you.”
“Why would it be too late?”
“Because of Lydia’s foolishness. Do you truly want to connect yourself with a family in disgrace? How do I allow you to put your own sister’s future at risk?”
Ellie peeked out of the corner of her eye to find him holding both of Elizabeth’s hands. “I shall find a solution. I will find a way for us to marry. I promise you.”
Elizabeth giggled. “Was that a proposal of marriage, Mr Darcy?”
His low laughter joined hers. “I suppose I did forget an important step, did I not?”
“A lady only becomes betrothed once and I confess I would like to be asked properly if you do not object.”
“My dearest, loveliest Elizabeth, you must allow me to tell you how I ardently admire and love you.” At her groan, he laughed. “I have loved you since you first turned your sparkling eyes in my direction. At Hunsford, you showed me how insufficient were all my pretentions to please a woman worthy of being pleased. You humbled me, and I did no more than merely exist until I happened upon you again in Lambton. I do not merely wish to exist, Elizabeth. I need you to live. Would you make me the happiest of men and marry me?”
Elizabeth sniffled. “Yes, I will marry you, Fitzwilliam Darcy. I need you as well.”
If they had been in a more private place, Ellie was sure he would’ve taken her in his arms, but since they stood in the street and people, though not close by, were milling around the village, they simply grinned like fools at one another.
Ellie was so happy! They were engaged! When she returned, Tom would be there waiting and Pemberley would still be standing and looking as it did when she left. She’d accomplished most of what she was supposed to, but now, they had to find Lydia so everything was perfect.
After Elizabeth and Mr Darcy whispered to one another for a moment, Elizabeth rushed over to Ellie and hugged her. “He asked me to marry him. We are betrothed!”
“I heard,” she said softly. “I am so excited for you.”
Elizabeth drew back with her hands still on Ellie’s shoulders “If only I could see you so happy.”
“I am sure I will be once I go home.”
With shaky hands, Elizabeth brushed a tear from her cheek. “Of course, I shall never see you and Tom again once you return.”
“Don’t let it depress you now,” urged Ellie. “The man of your dreams just asked you to marry him. When I return, you know I will never forget you, and I will be happy as a clam with Tom. I don’t want you to be sad. Okay?”
“Of course, you are correct.”
They turned when Mr Darcy approached. “We should see if the coach is ready to depart?”
Before Elizabeth could take Ellie’s arm, Ellie pushed her forward to walk with Mr Darcy again while she trailed behind. Their voices were low, but Ellie concentrated as hard as she could to eavesdrop.
“May I ask how you know Miss Forrester?”
“I made her acquaintance in Cheapside in London. She has become a very dear friend.” Well, it wasn’t so far from the truth. She only left out that it wasn’t in eighteen-thirteen.
“Have you known her long?”
“Not tolerably long, but we have spoken often and been rather open with one another. I would trust her with my life.” She halted in her tracks, reached back, and tugged Ellie forward. “I understand why my aunt and uncle have their reservations, but I beg of you to trust me.” The Gardiners emerged from the inn, and Ellie elbowed Elizabeth to show her. “I cannot tell you everything right now, but I will. You have to trust that I know Lydia is in trouble, and if we do not intervene, she will be lost to my family forever. I do not desire such guilt on my conscience.”
He peered over his shoulder at the Gardiners and nodded, though he didn’t appear completely convinced. “I will do all that I can to be of aid.” He levelled a steely gaze on Ellie. “But be warned, madam. If you have deceived Elizabeth and cause her harm, you shall pay for it dearly.”
Ellie grinned widely. “Why, Mr Darcy, I could say exactly the same to you.”
He jolted a little, obviously shocked at her statement. “I beg your pardon.”
“If you hurt Lizzy, I will make sure you pay.”
His eyes widened and his eyebrows lifted. She doubted anyone ever challenged him or took him to task as she had. He probably fell for Elizabeth because she wasn’t drooling over him like Miss Bingley, hoping to make herself look better by agreeing with his every word and sneering at the competition. That woman definitely had a shock coming to her when she found out about his engagement to Elizabeth!
After a pause and a long study of her face and eyes, he dipped a slight bow with his head. “I am glad we agree.”
He must’ve been satisfied with Ellie’s threat since he offered her the arm not occupied by Elizabeth to make their way to the coach. He wasn’t necessarily friendly, but her willingness to stand up for Elizabeth seemed to garner her some respect. If only Mr and Mrs Gardiner were so easy!
Once they all were tucked back inside, they continued south. According to Elizabeth, Mr Darcy’s driver was keeping a swift speed, though it seemed a little slow to Ellie. After all, a car could travel much faster than a carriage, but perhaps it was her perception.
By the time the sun began to set, the novelty of the carriage had long worn off for Ellie. Despite the plush interiors and that the rig was well-sprung according to Mrs Gardiner, Ellie was becoming claustrophobic and restless.
When she and Elizabeth walked around at the next coaching inn, Ellie stretched her neck. “Is this really a four-day trip?”
Elizabeth’s forehead crinkled. “What is amiss? You have driven long distances in Mildred. This should not be so different, though we are travelling at a slower pace.”
“There aren’t five people in Mildred when I drive somewhere, and Mildred doesn’t hit every pothole in the road.”
Elizabeth smiled and gave her a sidelong glance. “Really? Then I have a different memory of riding in your car than you. When we are in the coach again, you should try to sleep. That would help you pass the time.”
“Miss Bennet?” Mr Darcy approached and bent in a fraction. “I have spoken with my driver. As long as we continue through the night, he believes we should make London by tomorrow evening.”
Elizabeth’s hand flew to her chest. “I never considered your driver. How will he ever manage such a long journey?”
His eyes warmed while he gazed at his betrothed. “You are too good to consider his comfort, but he assures me he will be well. He requires little sleep and often finds a quiet place to nap when we change horses. I do believe London will be as far as he can manage before he requires a long rest, however. I thought perhaps we could break our journey there. We could stay at my home and set out again the next day. Do you have any objections?”
“Ellie?” Elizabeth looked at her with such an honest question in her eyes. Elizabeth hadn’t studied the notes her father had made, so she didn’t know a lot of the information—even Ellie’s knowledge was limited since none of the journals made mention of the date Lydia supposedly left for Gretna Green.
“I don’t think it will be a problem, but I don’t know when Wickham intends to leave with Lydia.”
“What if he departs before we can stop them?” asked Elizabeth in a worried tone.
“Then, we know the inns where he will stop. I could always make a list, and we could use the same ones as we travel south to make sure we don’t miss them somewhere.” Ellie squeezed her friends hand in the hopes of soothing her.
Mr Darcy’s suspicious eyes settled on Ellie, prickling at her skin. “How do you know where they will change horses? Elizabeth, are you certain she is not in league with Wickham?”
“Fitzwilliam,” soothed Elizabeth, “I know beyond any doubt that Ellie has nothing to do with Mr Wickham.”
“I thought you said her name is Eliza Forrester.” His frame stiffened and his eyes narrowed in her direction. “Perhaps we should discuss what you could not tell me earlier.”
“Do you trust me?” Elizabeth stood before him, holding his gaze. “I shall not lie to you, but ‘tis a long and rather incredible story. I fear you will not believe us should we tell you the entire truth of the matter.”
He glanced over his shoulders to Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle as they entered the inn. “I assume you have not told the Gardiners?”
“No way,” blurted Ellie. “Don’t get me wrong. They’re lovely people, but they’d think we were mental, especially since we have no proof.”
His lips pressed into a fine line. “Perhaps I should hear your tale before they return then.”
“But even should you find it too fantastical, you will bring us to Brighton, will you not?” Elizabeth searched his face. “I have to save Lydia. She cannot elope with Mr Wickham.”
His hand took hers. “You have my word to continue on to Brighton. I do not doubt you, but I need to know what is off about her.” He motioned with his head to Ellie. “And to ensure she is not a danger to you. I love you too much to have you harmed when I could prevent it.”
Elizabeth’s eyes met Ellie’s. Ellie shrugged. It was time to see if it hit the fan and their ride to Brighton turned into Cinderella’s coach at midnight.
“Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, I would like you to make the acquaintance of Miss Elizabeth Forrester—her family and friends call her Ellie. You see, I first met Ellie when I awoke from my first night’s sleep at the inn in Lambton. Only when I woke, I was not in Lambton as I was when I retired.”
His eyebrows dipped down over his eyes. “I do not understand.”
“Would you agree to listen, without interruption, to the entirety before asking questions?” asked Elizabeth.
“If you think it necessary.”
So, Elizabeth, with Ellie’s help, explained all of it. How they first met, how Ellie jumped in front of the post coach to wake from her “dream,” how Ellie kept travelling back and attempting to fix the timeline while urging Mr Darcy to help Lydia, and finally, how they fell from Pemberley’s roof to end up once again at the inn. When Elizabeth finished, she wrung her hands in front of her. “Well, what do you think?”
He gave an incredulous bark of a laugh and ran his hand over his face. “You did not exaggerate when you claimed it to be incredible. If your friend did not stand before me, I would say you had a particularly imaginative dream brought on by some bad wine at dinner, but your friend does not fit here. Her speech and the way she carries herself is simply not right somehow. What I wonder is why would you and she trade places? What connection does she have to the Darcy or the Bennet families?”
Elizabeth grinned and stepped to his side so they both stared at Ellie, making her want to shrink back into the coming night. “I believe she is to be the great love of our descendent, Tom Darcy.”
“You said this Tom was helping you.”
“Yes, Tom is the historian for the Darcys in twenty-seventeen. He graciously allowed Ellie and I study my journals as well as yours. I did not desire to know too much of our future, so I did not read much of them. Ellie learned more in order to help Lydia without me.”
“Why without you?”
“Because I did not know when I would be able to come back. We thought Ellie needed to fix Lydia’s situation before I could return but somehow the fall accomplished it instead. Now, we have to save Lydia so Ellie can return to her own time and Tom.”
Ellie rolled her eyes. “Lizzy, I think it’s a little early to call Tom my great love.”
Elizabeth took Mr Darcy’s forearm in both hands and looked up at him. “Do you believe us?” Her voice was so hopeful, and Ellie held her breath, nervous for her. If Mr Darcy said no, he could end their journey then and there.
He ran his hand down her cheek. “I have no doubt you give this every credit, and I trust you. I hope you will forgive me, but it is the best I can do.”
Ellie grasped Elizabeth’s hand. “I know! You could tell him about his journals.”
He scratched the back of his neck, suddenly awkward. “You mentioned journals, but you requested I wait to ask questions and I forgot. You have read my thoughts?”
“I had not intended to,” confessed Elizabeth. “Tom spoke of things you had said, and then Ellie commented about a length of time when you had not penned an entry. When I looked at the date, I realised the last entry was before you proposed at Hunsford.”
“I was too disgusted with myself. I do not think I even looked at them since then.”
“Do you remember how we told you about the way we originally met again?” asked Elizabeth.
He nodded. “You said we met on the grounds when you toured Pemberley.”
“Yes, you wrote in your journal that evening.”
“I wrote in my journal today, before we left Pemberley.” He spoke as though he’d seen a ghost.
“It makes sense,” commented Ellie. “You probably just missed each other in the original timeline and Lizzy left the inn just after you passed. The only reason we knew you would be there today was because of the carriage accident.”
Mr Darcy ran his fingers through his hair and looked at the stars that were just beginning to appear. “There is so much we do not know of the world, but even this defies all belief. Yet, I cannot explain things away. You know of my journal, which is always under lock and key.” He started. “If you were on the roof of Pemberley, how did you find your way?”
Elizabeth’s lip curved up on one side. “Now that I have taken Mrs Reynolds tour, I know the servants’ passage at the end of the family wing is not a place she takes visitors.”
He covered his mouth with his hand. “Good Lord!”
They let him regain his composure before Elizabeth took his hand and held it between her own. “Do you wish to enquire anything further of us?”
“Yes,” he responded in a faint voice. “How many children did you say we have again?”
So, they’re betrothed! I kept trying to hold Darcy back, but he had other ideas. I just couldn’t persuade him to wait a little longer. He also insisted on knowing everything. Stubborn, insufferable man! Well, now it’s all mostly in the open, so Darcy, Ellie, and Elizabeth can work together to save Lydia. Tune in same time, same place next week for more!
Thanks for reading everyone!