Hi, everybody! Welcome back for Chapter Twenty-two! 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 21.
When we last left our trio, Darcy and Elizabeth were betrothed and Darcy knew the truth of Ellie. So many questions remain, though! Who knows what will happen? Oh, wait! I do 😉
Chapter 22: Sore Bums, London, and Snogging
Ellie breathed a tremendous sigh of relief when they reached London. Despite Elizabeth suggesting she sleep, she hadn’t managed a wink, her back and bum were sore from sitting for so long, and she was going to have a fit if she didn’t get out of the coach soon! Her one consolation was Mr and Mrs Gardiner lost a certain amount of interest in her after the first day, replacing stares at her with long examinations of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy.
She had to admit their body language had changed since Elizabeth’s acceptance of his proposal. He held Elizabeth’s hand a little longer when he helped her from the carriage, he watched her as they travelled, he blushed and smiled in her direction more than he had before, and he remained to speak with Elizabeth and Ellie during each stop to change horses. While the differences were subtle to most people, to the Gardiners, who knew Elizabeth better than most, the sudden acceptance of Mr Darcy’s attentions must’ve been surprising.
It was dark when they reached Mayfair, which was considerably different than the last time Ellie had seen it, but she’d kept from commenting because of the Gardiners. Mr Darcy agreed with Elizabeth that her inability to phrase her speech as they did in that time period only put their rescue of Lydia at risk and Ellie needed to remain as quiet as possible. It wasn’t like it was the easiest thing in the world, but she had kept quiet for the rest of their trip. Now, she itched to say anything! Even burping out loud would be a relief.
When they pulled before a rather large house on Curzon Street, Mr Darcy stepped from the carriage first and handed Elizabeth and Ellie down once the Gardiners exited. The Darcys only owned Pemberley in the future, so Ellie figured this home must’ve been sold to pay death duties or debts sometime after Elizabeth’s and Fitzwilliam’s time. As far as she knew, this house didn’t exist anymore. She’d walked down Curzon Street in the future, and she didn’t remember it.
Mr Darcy turned to Mr Gardiner as they entered. “Once you have rested, sir, I would like to speak to you on a matter of some importance.”
The Gardiners gave pointed glances to one another while the butler and housekeeper saw to their coats and hats. “I believe I would prefer to have the discussion now than later. I admit to finding a great deal of this puzzling, not to mention your immediate acceptance of this lady’s tales.” He dipped his chin in Ellie’s direction. “I have also noticed a marked difference in your manner with my niece since the evening of the first day.”
It couldn’t be said that Mr Darcy lacked patience! He allowed Mr Gardiner to say what he needed to before nodding. “Mr Gardiner, I understand. If you will follow me to my study, I hope to answer any questions you might have. Meanwhile, the ladies can rest until we need to set off once again.”
“I would prefer to remain,” interjected Elizabeth.
Mrs Gardiner shook her head tiredly. “Lizzy, it is not necessary. Allow your uncle to be of use to you.” The poor lady was so exhausted she almost swayed where she stood. Ellie could certainly relate to how the woman appeared. After all, Ellie wanted nothing more than a pillow and a soft bed—at least for a little while. Too bad she couldn’t have a hot water bottle for her aching bum as well!
Elizabeth stood tall and lifted her chin just a little. “I do not mean to take from my uncle’s responsibility, but I want to be certain any misunderstandings are avoided. I wish for my opinion to be known.”
“Lizzy,” began Mr Gardiner, however, before he could say more, Elizabeth grasped Ellie’s hand and turned to Mr Darcy. “Please lead the way, sir.”
A slight twitch of his lips was the only hint that Mr Darcy found Elizabeth’s actions amusing. “Mrs Thomas, please see to it Mrs Gardiner is shown to her rooms and is comfortable.”
The housekeeper bobbed a curtsey and held out an arm to the stairs. “Mrs Gardiner?” Elizabeth’s aunt pressed her lips tightly together, obviously displeased with her niece’s stubbornness, but followed the servant instead of arguing.
Mr Darcy then led them through a door off the entry hall to a wood panelled room with a series of built-in bookshelves along one wall, a fireplace on the other, and a window through which the black outlines of the street and the houses across the road could be made out through the dark.
After excusing the butler, he waited until the door was closed before standing behind his desk, the fingertips of one hand set on the surface. “Mr Gardiner, I am aware I will be required to speak with Mr Bennet at the first opportunity, but I thought that as Miss Bennet’s guardian, you should be apprised of certain information.”
Mr Gardiner’s bushy eyebrows lifted. “If you had not broached the subject, you may believe I would have insisted upon it before we departed this house.” Fortunately, his stern tone didn’t seem to upset Mr Darcy.
“I understand and would feel the same were I in your position.” He cleared his throat. “Mr Gardiner, when we stopped to change horses in Loughborough, I proposed marriage to Miss Bennet and she accepted me. I ask for your consent until Mr Bennet’s permission can be sought.”
With a glance in Elizabeth’s direction, Mr Gardiner opened and closed his mouth twice and blinked. “You mean you had no understanding before we began this journey?”
“No, Uncle,” answered Elizabeth. “Miss Forrester and I happened upon Mr Darcy as he rode through Lambton and I requested his aid in saving Lydia.”
He stepped closer to Elizabeth. “Did you accept him out of gratitude or because he insisted upon it in return for this wild goose chase?”
“No!” cried Elizabeth. “Do you really believe I would accept a man for no other reason but gratitude or as some strange form of payment?”
Mr Darcy put both hands upon his desk and leaned forward. “I would never have asked for Elizabeth’s hand if I thought she would accept for reasons other than affection, and I will say this once and for all, I would never use the welfare of her sister as a method of forcing her hand.”
Mr Gardiner held up both hands with his palms out while Ellie sank into a chair near the fireplace. “Mr Darcy, you must understand my point of view. Until we met you in Lambton, our niece never spoke well of you, and until that very morning, she was uncomfortable at the thought of touring Pemberley. I have every reason to be sceptical of the timing of your betrothal.”
“Only because I have not told all and sundry what I have learnt since I was last in company with Mr Darcy at Rosings,” cried Elizabeth, throwing her hands up and letting them drop to her sides. “I learnt the truth of Mr Wickham, who has all the appearance of goodness, but lacks common decency. I also now know the truth of Mr Darcy, who is one of the best men I have ever known. Forgive me for keeping my own counsel on matters I felt I could not divulge. I shared little with you and my aunt. I did confess some of my knowledge to Jane, but we agreed to conceal what we knew.”
“You could not have known,” soothed Mr Darcy. “Wickham is a practiced deceiver and you had no reason to believe his schemes would touch your family so.”
Her uncle peered over his spectacles at his niece. “Are you saying you carry an affection for Mr Darcy?”
Tears pooled on her bottom lashes as she nodded. “Yes, I do. I fear how the repercussions Lydia’s foolishness will affect him and his sister, but he has sworn to wed me regardless. I wish I could set him free for his own good, but I am too selfish. I cannot do so without tearing my own heart from my chest and destroying it.”
Ellie bit her bottom lip to prevent an enormous grin when Mr Darcy pulled a teary Elizabeth into his arms. Mr Gardiner had to accept Elizabeth’s feelings after that announcement! How could he do anything else?
“Very well, Lizzy. You have made your feelings known on the matter, though I cannot condone this behaviour. You may have an understanding, but you are hardly wed. I must ask you to refrain from flaunting propriety in such a manner.”
The two separated and Mr Darcy handed Elizabeth his handkerchief. “Forgive me. I do not like seeing Elizabeth upset.”
Mr Gardiner crossed his arms over his chest. “You have my consent until Mr Bennet’s permission can be sought. Now, what of her.” One arm extended and his finger pointed directly at Ellie, making her startle.
“Me?” she cried.
“Yes, miss, you. You appeared at the inn with this story of Lydia. Elizabeth believes you without question, though my wife and I cannot fathom why. But what we do not understand is why a man of sense and education—like Mr Darcy—is not suspicious of all of this.”
Mr Darcy cleared his throat. “During our travels, I have spoken to Elizabeth and Miss Forrester of Miss Lydia’s elopement, and I have every reason to believe the story is true. I know enough of Wickham’s perfidy to believe him capable of lying to the young lady and persuading her to join him, and I have witnessed Miss Lydia’s lack of restraint whilst in company. Forgive me, sir, but she would think it all a grand adventure until Wickham leaves her destitute and with some disease in Seven Dials.”
“So, you have met Miss Forrester on a previous occasion?” asked Mr Gardiner.
“No, but I trust Elizabeth. I know she would not tell me a falsehood, so I must conclude that what she tells me of Miss Lydia’s situation is nothing but the truth.” Mr Darcy clasped his hands behind his back. “I understand why you might have reservations, but you must know that Elizabeth would never make up a tale such as this or insist upon this journey if she did not believe with her entire being a legitimate threat exists.”
Elizabeth stepped to her uncle and took his hands. “I know I have not a shred of proof to show you what I say is happening, but it is. I know it is difficult, and you have never met Miss Forrester until now, but I assure you, she means me no harm. She is here to be of aid to us.”
He blew out a heavy breath and looked at Elizabeth, then Ellie for a long while, and lastly at Mr Darcy. “You will protect Lizzy. No matter what occurs.”
“You have my word,” replied Mr Darcy, extending his hand.
Once the men shook hands, Mr Gardiner rubbed his balding head. “I must rest before we set out again.”
“Of course.” Mr Darcy poked his head out the door and a moment later a footman appeared to escort Mr Gardiner to his room.
When he looked to Elizabeth to accompany him, she took a small step back. “Miss Forrester and I have some information to impart to Mr Darcy before we retire, but we shall not be long.”
Mr Gardiner nodded. “Be certain you get some sleep. We shall be of no use to Lydia if we are fighting sleep when we locate her.”
When he left the room, Elizabeth giggled. “I believe that is the longest you have remained silent since we met, Ellie. How difficult did you find it?”
“Haha,” said Ellie, rising from her seat. “If you have a pen and paper, I can make a list of the inns from London to Brighton.”
Mr Darcy pulled some paper, a pen, and a bottle of ink from his desk and placed it on the surface. She picked up the pen and stared at the tip. Were they serious? It looked like novelty quills they sold in gift shops—like the one at Winchester Cathedral. How was she supposed to write with this?
With a bubbling giggle, Elizabeth took the pen from Ellie’s hand. “If we want it legible, perhaps I should write the list.” She smiled at Mr Darcy. “Pens in the future do not work in quite the same manner.”
His forehead furrowed, and he watched while Ellie slowly rattled off the names of inns and towns along the trip to Brighton. When they’d committed them all to the paper, Mr Darcy began preparations for the remainder of their journey by arranging for changes of horses at the inns Ellie listed.
“How do you intend to separate your sister from Wickham when we find them? Have you given it any thought?”
Elizabeth sighed. “She is likely to be stubborn as a mule.”
“She believes she’s going to marry him,” added Ellie. “Originally, you, Mr Darcy, paid Wickham a load of money to go through with the ceremony since he had no intention of doing it to begin with. I don’t think she realised what she married until they moved north to Newcastle. Tom said that was when Lydia’s first letter asking for funds arrived for Lizzy.”
“Wickham would not have treated her well,” observed Mr Darcy.
“No, he did not.” Elizabeth crossed her arms over her chest as though she were cold. “I would imagine she lived a very sad life, which is why it is so important to remedy the situation if we can.”
He took Elizabeth’s hand in both of his. “I promise to do what I can to save her.”
Ellie turned to the fireplace and stared at a figurine of a lady on the mantelpiece.
“I know you will,” whispered Elizabeth.
Out of the corner of her eye, Ellie saw him kiss Elizabeth’s knuckles on both hands and then press his lips to her forehead. “You should sleep while you can. Morning will arrive swiftly and we must set off with the sunrise.”
Elizabeth rose on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Fitzwilliam. You cannot know what your faith means to me. You truly are the best of men.”
“Elizabeth,” he breathed as she pulled away. She didn’t make it far before he pulled her back and claimed her lips. Ellie turned away until a hand tugged at her elbow.
“We must go.” Elizabeth stood at Ellie’s shoulder, her face pinker than Ellie had ever seen it. They remained quiet as they departed the study. A maid waited for them in the hall and promptly showed them to Ellie’s room and then Elizabeth’s across the hall.
“If ya be needin’ anythin’, don’t hesitate to ask.” She bobbed a curtsey and left them alone. Before Elizabeth could disappear into her bedchamber, Ellie pulled Elizabeth into her own and shut the door.
“For someone who was so scandalised by Tom and me, you sure don’t have any problems snogging your Mr. Darcy.”
“Oh!” giggled Elizabeth. “Our situation is a bit different since we are betrothed, but yes, I have no problems kissing Fitzwilliam.”
Ellie leaned back against the door and lifted her eyebrows. “Uh huh. Fitzwilliam.”
“You are determined to see me mortified!”
“Yes, I am.” She put her hands on Elizabeth’s shoulders. “I’m just so excited for you!”
After a yawn, Elizabeth smiled. “Perhaps I could be more excited if this exhaustion was not so overwhelming.”
“I know, but I don’t know how I’m ever going to sleep,” gushed Ellie. “I have a million things swirling around in my mind and I don’t know how to make it stop.”
Elizabeth’s chin jolted back a little. “A million things swirling in your mind?”
“Yes, my mind is sort of spinning with everything we need to do and everything I want. I want to help you find and save Lydia, I want to go home, I hope Tom remembers everything, though I doubt he will, and I’m worried about never going back at the same time.”
“Perhaps you should not drink so much tea.”
“It’s not the tea!”
Elizabeth walked behind her and began to unfasten Ellie’s gown. “Take everything off but your chemise and climb into the bed. Once you close your eyes, imagine walking around the grounds at Pemberley with Tom, and I am certain you will drift right to sleep. When you wake, we will be off to save Lydia. I am certain once we accomplish our mission, you will return to twenty-seventeen.”
Once Ellie was tucked in, Elizabeth blew the candles out around the room. “Sleep well.”
“Good night,” she sighed. She hadn’t been joking. How was she ever to go to sleep?
The latch of the door sounded when Elizabeth left, so Ellie closed her eyes and did as Elizabeth suggested.
When she next opened her eyes, sunlight streamed through the cracks in the draperies. Her heart pounding in her chest, she rushed to the draperies and ripped them back. People walked along the pavements and the sun was high in the sky. They were supposed to leave hours ago. What the bloody hell happened?
Makes you wonder if she overslept and they left her in London, doesn’t it? LOL! Don’t forget to check in next week to see what actually did happen!
Thanks for reading everyone!