Hi, everybody! Welcome back for chapter Eight! 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 7.
So, Who is Ruby Reynolds and what other information does Mr. Forrester have?
Chapter 8: Elizabeth Bennet, Far too Stubborn to Die
“So, this Ruby Reynolds knew a lot about Pemberley? Is there a phone number?” Ellie asked.
“No,” Ellie’s father shook his head before turning his attention to the notes in front of him, his forehead creased into a frown of concentration. It was as if he had forgotten they were even there. He went on reading and muttering to himself, indifferent to their presence.
“But when your friend spoke to her, she was living in some retirement place in Lambton? Does it say the name of the retirement home?” Ellie asked.
“Hmmm?” her father replied, turning a page.
“Dad,” Ellie snapped. “I’ve never asked for your help with anything before, can you at least focus for two minutes?
Her father looked up in shock. “There’s no need to shout, Elizabeth.”
“It’s Ellie. I prefer Ellie. You would know that if you ever listened to me. You never listen to me and that’s okay, I gave up any hope of getting your attention a long time ago. Once I walk out of here, you’ll forget I exist again. I know that, and its fine, but please, this is important.” Ellie could feel hot tears of anger welling up inside her and willed them not to spill over.
“The name of the retirement home is Pemberley Shades, and it says Pemberley beside it, so I imagine it is in the grounds of the old house,” her father said, tersely.
A tense silence filled the room until Elizabeth intervened and smiled gently at the professor. “Thank you, Mr Forrester. You have been tremendously helpful so far. I wonder if I could prevail upon you to answer another question for me? As a historian, I wonder if you might know where records of death are stored?”
“Certainly, they’re kept at the General Register Office.” Elizabeth’s charm had worked wonders on him and he leaned eagerly across his desk. “You can request copies of death certificates for about ten pounds or so. They normally arrive in about a week.”
“Oh my, that is quite a long time. Ellie and I are very keen to know about a particular death. Is there no other, faster method of finding such information?”
“Online? Are they online?” Ellie asked quickly. “Can you look them up?”
“Yes. If you know the last name, first name, and year of death, there are websites that will find a death record for you.”
“Great. We know the year, eighteen-thirteen,” Ellie said triumphantly.
“Ah.” Her father cocked his head to the side. “Unfortunately for you, records began in eighteen thirty-seven. Before that, deaths were not recorded, though burials were noted in parish registers.”
“So, we would have to know which parish a person was buried in?”
“Exactly. The only other reliable source of information regarding births, deaths and marriages before eighteen thirty-seven comes from…”
“Family Bibles,” interjected Elizabeth. “Kept by the head of the family. All notable events were recorded in the front of them.”
“Yes, but they were kept only by wealthy families, the landed gentry. They’re traded as antiques now, sold on and spread about everywhere–those that remain, that is. No, your best bet is the parish registers. Some online records are taken from parish registers, but they aren’t comprehensive. You may be better off going straight to the horse’s mouth so to speak?”
“By that, I suppose you mean the actual church where a burial took place?” Elizabeth asked.
“Or the local registry office, yes.”
“I see.” Elizabeth was biting her lip.
“What about the census?” Ellie said, proud of having come up with an idea. “That’s all online, isn’t it? Who lived in which house, every ten years.”
“The first census was taken in 1841, I’m afraid.”
Deflated, Ellie shrugged at Elizabeth.
“Now.” Mr Forrester got to his feet. “I am teaching a class at eleven, but use the computer if you should like to continue your research. Slam the door on the way out and it will lock itself. What’s this all about anyway, Elizabeth?”
“It doesn’t matter, Dad.”
He shuffled around the desk, knocking a pile of books over as he went, but he didn’t stop to stack them up again. He gave Ellie an awkward sort of pat on the head—though he barely touched her—she just felt the tips of his fingers hovering over her hair for a moment. He left, without a goodbye and without making any arrangements to see her again.
“And there he goes, my Dad. As you can tell, I’m the light of his life,” Ellie said sarcastically, as the door closed behind him.
“You said your mother died when you were young?”
“I was four. I don’t remember much about her. It was just me and Dad. He worked a lot, always had his nose in a book, or away on research trips. I had au pairs and aunts who helped out.” Ellie went around the desk and sat in her father’s chair. She pressed a key on his computer to bring the screen to life. “Don’t look so sorry for me, Lizzy. I was fine, and he was great in some ways. He made sure I had money for university. I never wanted for anything. He’s just vague, anti-social, not good with people.” For the second time since they’d entered her father’s office, Ellie felt tears threatening and had to blink hard and quick to keep them at bay. “Oh, great! It’s password protected.”
Elizabeth looked bemused. “You have a problem with the information storage machine?”
Ellie laughed, despite her mood. “There’s a special sequence of words or numbers I need to put in to access the computer. It’s to stop other people from looking at personal stuff you might have saved on it.”
Coming around to stand over her, Elizabeth bent down and studied the keyboard. “I think I understand. I suppose one would chose letters and numbers that are easily remembered, that are of particular importance to the user.” Carefully and slowly she typed out “Elizabeth.”
Ellie hit the return key doubtfully and was stunned when the home screen appeared and google popped up.
“Perhaps,” Elizabeth said softly, next to her ear, “he pays more attention to you than you think. We are not all of us social beings.”
Though she was looking for the census website, Ellie was aware that Elizabeth suddenly seemed sad. “Hey, what’s the matter?”
“Not a thing. I am well. I just recalled something Mr Darcy once said to me, and then I remembered what became of him.” Elizabeth shook herself and nodded at the screen. “But melancholy is for times when we are at leisure, and now, we must work. Can this census tell us more than we knew this morning?”
Ellie shrugged, not knowing the answer herself, but asked for Elizabeth’s address and typed it into the search bar before selecting eighteen forty-one on the next tab.
“Oh, my father,” Elizabeth said, pointing at the screen when the results came back. “Does this mean he was still alive? In eighteen forty-one? He would have been nearly eighty!”
“Yep. Looks like he was still around. Is that your mother, Frances Bennet?”
“Yes, though I cannot imagine how they both lived so long together without one murdering the other! And my mother was always complaining about her health. What a terrible fraud she was.”
“You must have been a hardy family. In fact, you lived to a ripe old age. Well you did, before I killed you.”
Elizabeth laughed unexpectedly, loudly, and contagiously. Ellie began to giggle herself. She tried to sober up, but when Elizabeth hiccuped and laughed again, it started her off again too, until they were both wiping away hysterical tears.
“Oh, it is not funny,” Elizabeth said, looking back at the screen. “The only reason for merriment is that I now know there is strong possibility my father outlived Mr Collins.”
“Mr Collins? Oh, your friend Charlotte’s husband. I remember her from your letters.”
“Yes, he was to inherit Longbourn upon my father’s death. Do you know what became of him?”
“I didn’t read the whole book, sorry,” Ellie shrugged.
Elizabeth sighed when she looked back at the screen. “Mary is listed here too. I cannot be surprised she remained at home. I suppose my other sisters were all gone by then, to different homes, all married, while I…” Elizabeth got to her feet and paced behind the desk chair before exclaiming, “I cannot be dead. I stubbornly refuse to be. I do not feel dead.”
“But everything has changed. Pemberley, Mr Darcy, even Lambton is different now. If you aren’t dead, why is it all screwed up?”
“That is what we must find out. Consider this, Ellie, if I am dead, why have I not vanished, become other-worldly? Why do I still walk the Earth? Are we to conclude that I have not only cheated the laws of time, but wonder of wonders, is it possible I have cheated the jaws of death, too?
“I don’t know, but thinking about it makes my head hurt,” Ellie complained. “And I’m starting to think that computers aren’t going to help us either. Let’s get out of here.”
“And go where?”
“To Lambton and Pemberley, I suppose. Let’s try and find Ruby Reynolds, or someone else who knows the history of the place.”
“Thank you, Ellie,” Elizabeth said, sincerely.
“Hey. We’re tangled up in this together. I have no job to worry about. What else am I going to do? Let’s hit the road.”
Mildred’s tiny, but sporty, little engine roared in delight when Ellie put her into fourth gear. They had packed lightly and quickly. Then it had taken over an hour to negotiate their way out of the busy London streets, but now, they were on the motorway and making good progress north.
Elizabeth had been surprisingly relaxed about her first trip in a car, asking lots of questions and sitting back to take in the sights. She marvelled at the London Eye and the skyscrapers, along with the “new” Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Now, though, her knuckles were white as her hands desperately gripped the sides of the front passenger seat. Ellie sped up and changed lanes, whizzing past a huge lorry.
Elizabeth flinched. “’Tis very fast. May we not slow down?”
“Relax, I’m well within the speed limit. You’ll get used to it, or you can just shut your eyes till we get there.”
“So, we will be in Lambton before nightfall? So quickly?”
“Without any disasters, yes.”
Elizabeth gasped and held a hand to her chest as a white van swerved suddenly into the lane ahead of the them.
“Let’s take your mind off the traffic and talk. Tell me about Mr Darcy?”
“What about Mr Darcy?” Elizabeth blushed.
“You say you argued with him a lot, but then he proposed and you said no. After that he sent you a letter and now you don’t hate him anymore. What have I missed? Because it doesn’t make sense.”
“So many vehicles! Of all shapes and sizes.” Elizabeth pointed to a tiny city car they were passing. “Where do they all go to, in such haste? I cannot imagine.”
“Nice try but stop changing the subject.”
“We met at an assembly.” Ellie must have looked confused because Elizabeth quickly continued, “a dance. A dance at which Mr Darcy displayed very poor manners. He spoke to no one, danced with no one, though many a young lady was in want of a partner, and… well… He slighted me.”
“I overheard him describe me as ‘tolerable,’ and he refused to ask me to dance when his friend attempted to persuade him.” Elizabeth was playing with the cross that hung around her neck. She wasn’t someone who fiddled with things. She was calm and still most of the time, very together and poised, someone who wasn’t fazed easily—except when it came to the subject of Mr Darcy.
“Why did you care?”
“I did not. I found him and his manners pitiable. I laughed at him.”
“Oh, no. You really liked him, didn’t you? But he swaggered into the party, being all ‘I’m too cool for school’ and dissed you, big time. Later, he develops a serious case of the hots for you, but by then you’re all ‘I’m so over you, take a walk.’”
“I have no idea what you just said.” Elizabeth frowned. “Whatever has happened to the English language?”
“It got MTV’d. Back to Mr Darcy. You said you accused him of things he didn’t do?”
“I am afraid another gentleman told me falsehoods. He made spurious allegations against Mr Darcy which unfortunately, and perhaps due to my general disinclination towards him, I believed without question.”
“So, when he asked you to marry him, you said no. The two of you had an argument, and then he sent you a letter explaining things?”
“Yes, I confess I felt something of a fool after I received it.”
“Did you write back to him?” Ellie asked, as they passed a sign that read “Welcome to Hertfordshire.”
“Heavens no! An unmarried woman may not correspond with an unmarried man. Are we now in Hertfordshire?”
“Yep. Have you talked to Mr Darcy since?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “We move in different social circles and live so far apart. If we did happen to meet, well, ‘tis difficult to explain, but a woman of my time is bound by certain rules of behaviour. Unless we chance upon one another by accident and gain some time alone, it would be impossible. Even then, it would be bold of me to raise the subject. Yet, I confess I should like the opportunity to apologise for misjudging him.”
“And you would’ve had it, if it hadn’t been for me. I’m guessing you were about to bump into him by accident on the day I threw myself in front of the carriage. If I’d have kept you alive a few hours more, you would’ve had your happy ending.”
“Ellie, though you say I went on to marry him, I must tell you that even if I returned to my time tomorrow, and Mr Darcy offered for me again, I do not know if I would be fully prepared to accept him. His manners are still deficient. There is, I believe, within him, a tendency to think meanly of others. He is a man who has little consideration for those outside of his immediate circle of family and friends. I refuse to marry at all unless I can be assured of deep and true affection. My husband must be a man I can respect, and he must also be prepared to show respect to my family, which is not always an easy task. I often fail at the obligation myself, but he must be willing to try.”
“Have you seen his house? It’s huge and really pretty?”
Elizabeth laughed. “No, I have not seen his house. You think it might change my opinion;that a beautiful house can make the owner of if less reprehensible? Am I to rate his furniture above and beyond his character?”
Mildred made a spluttering noise. Ellie paused and slowed down before pulling over to the nearside lane, frowning at the dials on the old-fashioned dashboard. The red needles were whizzing back and forth like crazy. “What now? You were fine, Mildred. What’s going on? Stop it.”
The car refused to listen to her questions and orders, so Ellie was forced to nurse her along to the next junction where she pulled the wheel gingerly to the left and took the exit ramp, hoping that if her car did choose to break down, she would wait until they were off the motorway. They spluttered, lurched, and backfired their way along, eventually coming to a stop beside an old wooden sign. It was white with black lettering and various old village names were written on it, pointing in different directions.
“You must go right.” Elizabeth’s voice was certain, like she knew it for a fact.
Ellie looked dubiously at the road. “It looks kind of narrow, like it goes nowhere.”
“It goes to Meryton. You must turn right.” Elizabeth pointed to the sign with a shaking hand. “Meryton is home. ‘Tis the closest village to Longbourn.”
They looked at each other, both acknowledging the strangeness of what had just happened. “I don’t know if Mildred will make it. Maybe I should call a recovery truck?” Ellie said at last.
“Let us try. I believe Mildred will make it.”
Ellie turned the sharp corner and Mildred roared into action again, like nothing had ever been the matter, proving her wrong and Elizabeth right. The little red car sent them whizzing down a small, winding country lane that was dark with overhanging trees. They bumped along, being thrown about, and thankfully, didn’t come across another car until they met a wider road at the bottom, and all was light again. It seemed to be the main village road and Elizabeth sat up very straight at the sight of it.
“Well, this is nice.” Meryton was one of those very well-off, commuter-belt villages with lots of delicatessens, coffee shops, and boutique clothing stores.
“Is it?” Elizabeth replied. “It looks nothing like it did before. Go forward, and then, you must turn left.”
Ellie did as she was directed until they left the village when suddenly their surroundings weren’t so pretty anymore. They passed a recycling plant that was busy churning away at plastic bottles and paper; saving what it could, discarding what it couldn’t, then a McDonalds, a supermarket, and a factory. It was ugly. There was no other word for it.
“This was all once fields and trees and that was once the path towards Oakham Mount.” Elizabeth pointed to a small winding lane on their left.
Ellie slowed to stop beneath a brown sign, with symbols below it, telling them that Oakham Mount was a viewing point and picnic area. On the ground underneath was another handmade sign, roughly written and all misspelled in capital letters “BURGUR VAN – BACUN, CHIPS, SARSAGES. THIS WAY.”
“Maybe all progress isn’t for the best, but well, they do bacon, if you’re hungry. Bacon roll with ketchup?” she asked, hopefully.
Elizabeth smiled sadly, but shook her head. “Go on please. Do you see the church steeple to the left? Longbourn was nearby.”
Ellie drove on, but instead of finding Longbourn they drove into a housing estate called Oakham Heights where rows and rows of uniformity greeted them. Tiny little houses, brick built with wooden slats nailed to the front of them to make them appear older than they actually were; all cramped together and all allotted a tiny parking space and a tiny fenced garden.
“It is gone,” Elizabeth said, with a hand to her chest. She sagged against the seat for a moment, before recovering. Then, she got quickly out of the car and strode towards the church next to the estate. Ellie raced after her, running to catch up. In the churchyard, Elizabeth went quickly from tombstone to tombstone, reading the inscriptions and shaking her head, working her way to the back, till they were nearly at the church wall. There it was, in amongst a few other Bennets, her own epitaph. “Elizabeth Bennet.”
Ellie braced herself for tears from Elizabeth, wailing, despair. Instead, there was a shout of delight.
“Oh, there is nothing more delicious than being correct. Look, Ellie, I am alive!”
After reading the inscription on the stone, Ellie didn’t quite know what to feel. It was all that was good, and all that was bad. “Elizabeth Bennet. Much loved… etcetera. Oh, you are still alive! But only just.”
“Yes, I saw today’s date this morning, on your walkable communication machine and on your father’s information…” She waved a hand in the air. “Today is the seventeenth day of July. I do not die until the twentieth day of July. We have three days, Ellie. I am lost at present, but there are three days, a window of time perhaps, in which we might work to return me.”
“Return you to die?” Ellie hated herself for her pessimism, but then, it had been a hell of a day.
“In this moment, I die but can it be changed? If I travelled here, to your time, surely anything is possible. I wonder how I came to be buried here. I can only presume I lay dying in Lambton after being struck down. To transport my body here to be buried near Longbourn, would be most unusual and would have come at great expense.”
“Mr Darcy,” they both said, at the same time. Elizabeth reached for Ellie’s hand and gripped it tightly as the sky grew silvery above them. Lights swirled and they raised their faces to it, watching.
“It’s happening, Lizzy,” Ellie gasped, breathing quickly. “It’s starting. See that sky? That’s our chance. We need to get to Lambton, quickly.”
The sky is acting all strange again and Ellie and Elizabeth still need to get to Lambton, but should they go to the inn or to see Ruby first? We’d love to hear your theories and suggestions!
And, don’t forget to tune in same time same place next week for Chapter 9: “The sky, the story, and a token.”
Caitlin and Leslie X