Are you having fun? So, when we last left things Ellie had woken up in Elizabeth’s body at the Inn at Lambton, yikes!-things are getting stranger and stranger for our poor heroine, but at least in this chapter she gets a decent breakfast. Can you smell the bacon?…Read on.
Chapter Three – The Stranger in the Mirror
Ellie stepped closer to the mirror and leaned in until she was nearly touching the surface. Her dreams sometimes took on a strange bent, but what the hell was this? She turned her face to the side, keeping her wide eyes on her reflection as she examined every small detail of Elizabeth Darcy’s features. She brushed a curl away from her cheek, touched her temple, then her eyebrow, and lastly her rosebud lips. With her thumb and first finger, she shoved her nose down and then pulled it painfully to one side and then the other.
“Bizarre!” She was incredulous and her chin gave a jolt back in shock. Her voice was different, Elizabeth Darcy’s tone was higher than hers. She took in a breath to speak again, but before she could say another word, the door opened. She straightened and dropped her hands to her sides as a young woman with a jug entered and curtsied.
“Beggin’ your pardon, miss, but Mrs Gardiner asked me ta help ya dress.”
The maid—probably Mrs Gardiner’s maid—moved to a basin in one corner, poured the contents of the jug inside, and held a cloth out to Ellie. “Might as well wash while tha water’s nice and warm.”
Ellie automatically took the cloth as she stepped forward. Did people bathe in dreams? She’d once dated a bloke who loved dream analysis, but she couldn’t remember him ever mentioning bathing. Did a bath have a specific meaning and was a shower different? And was the lack of a tub significant?
The maid was watching her. Dream or not, the girl would think she was mad if she tossed away the cloth and traipsed out of the room in the relic of a nightgown she was wearing, even though the idea was tempting.
There was a screen located conveniently beside the basin, so she’d be hidden while she removed her clothes and washed. Standing before a stranger, whether she was in another person’s body or not, would be embarrassing—even in a dream, nudity was awkward.
Ellie dashed around it and began to clean herself up. The warm water was comforting as she wiped down her arms and chest, but when she reached her legs, she paused. Good grief! When was the last time Elizabeth Darcy had waxed, or shaved? She rubbed her hand all the way down her calf till she reached her foot. By the looks of it, she never had! Okay, so they probably didn’t have wax in the nineteenth century, but surely they had razors? Ellie lifted her arms to find a small tuft of hair. Eww! Disgusting. Apparently, ladies did not see the need for proper hygiene yet. At least she would wake from this; she wouldn’t survive for long if it were reality.
“Miss, are ya ready for your chemise?”
Ellie gave a tiny jump and peered around the edge of the screen where the maid held a simple white cotton slip. “Sure, why not.” Once she had pulled the slip over her head, the girl came at her holding what appeared to be something like a corset, except it wasn’t much more than a big bra with ties at the front.
“Puttin’ ya stays by tha fire dried them out well indeed after tha misty day yesterday.”
“It wasn’t so bad. I doubt I’ll ever get all the muck off my Converse, though.”
The maid paused and stared at her for a moment, so Ellie grabbed the “stays” and slipped them around her. “When in Rome and all that!” she thought, as the laces were tightened around her chest. The maid kept tugging and made them tighter still, pushing her breasts together until they bulged a bit from the top, and she could barely breathe.
Looking down at her now pretty impressive cleavage, she let out a small whistle. She needed to get some of these when she woke up! Much more effective than a push-up bra—who needed to be able to breathe anyway?
Once her stays were tied, the maid helped her put on “a petticoat,” ignoring Ellie’s eyebrow roll. “Really, another layer?” she asked, when a gown similar to Mrs Gardiner’s was put over the top of the petticoat.
A giggle erupted when she saw herself in the mirror—or technically, the sight of Elizabeth Darcy in the mirror. What a riot! This was like playing dress-up, though she could have never afforded the costume. She’d seen dresses and bonnets for Regency balls and re-enactments on Etsy. People shelled out quite a few quid on get ups like this, and she didn’t even have her phone—so no selfie of the results. Bummer!
The maid pulled her before a dressing table, and Ellie again found herself gaping at Elizabeth Darcy’s reflection, resisting the urge to lean in and examine the face from the portrait further. When the maid reappeared beside her and pulled the seat back, Ellie started and sat.
With the quick untie of a ribbon, the plait hanging down her back was loosened and a tumble of dark, mahogany curls fell around her shoulders, reaching her mid-back. Such a contrast to Ellie’s usual hair, which was fine, straight, and what some claimed to be a shade of ginger, but she preferred to call bronze shimmer; an argument she and Theresa had regularly.
“Do ya have a preference this morning?”
She thought about Elizabeth Darcy’s portrait in the library at Pemberley, but beyond describing the appearance, she really had no knowledge of the hairstyles of the time. “No, whatever you like will be fine.”
The girl gave her another confused look before shrugging and setting to work. Normally, Ellie enjoyed having her hair done, but this was an entirely different story! The maid brushed, tugged, pulled, and pinned until the bulk was neatly arranged on top of her head. Then she placed a metal thing that resembled a small pair of garden shears in the fire.
The metal heated until it was flaming red and the maid took it off, allowing it to cool for a few seconds before she returned. Ellie pulled away when the maid grasped a lock of hair to bring it closer to the heated instrument of torture. Was this about to turn into a nightmare? “What are you doing?”
The maid glanced to the tool and back to her. “Your aunt said ya were in a peculiar mood this mornin’. Now, shift back over so I can curl yer fringe.”
With wide eyes, Ellie remained where she was.
“Really, Miss Bennet! Your aunt will have my hide if I don’t have ya prepared for breakfast in tha next quarter hour. Please!”
Taking pity on the girl, Ellie straightened and closed her eyes, waiting for the smell of burnt hair to reach her nose. The maid laughed.
“I’ve yet to singe ya, and ya behave today as though I do it every time.”
After a few tugs on one side, she heard the maid passing behind her. “There’s one part done.”
Ellie peeked through a single eye while keeping the other firmly shut. There was now a set of perfect ringlets on one side of her fringe. A slight odour lingered, but it wasn’t any stranger than the smell of a modern curling iron.
“There, all done.” The maid placed the warm object on the stone hearth, opened a small box, and removed a chain and pendant. She put it around Ellie’s neck and Ellie pressed her fingers to the five stone amethyst cross while the maid fastened the clasp.
In one of Elizabeth Darcy’s letters, she had written about her family. They weren’t exactly the Beckhams, and she wondered how they could have afforded such pretty jewellery with five daughters to support. She had a memory of her father, the history buff, once telling her about paste jewellery when she’d been small, and he’d been trying to interest her in his work.” Wait? Why was she, all of a sudden, worried about how accurate her dream was?
“Your uncle has a private dining parlour—second door on tha left when ya go down. He and your aunt will be waitin’ for ya.”
“Thank you,” replied Ellie.
Awkwardly, she left the room, pausing in a small sitting room and looking back and forth between the two doors opposite. On a whim, she took the one to the left and found a long corridor, with a window to one end and what appeared to be a staircase in the opposite direction. She headed towards the stairs, studying the artwork on the walls and laughing when a man passed her, his tight breeches leaving little to the imagination—apparently life in the nineteenth century did have some compensations.
At the next floor, she paused at the sound of voices coming from where the maid told her Mr and Mrs Gardiner would be.
“I have never seen her behave as such, Edward. I cannot make heads or tails of it. She genuinely appeared terrified, as though I were a stranger, and where did she learn such a vulgar expression?”
“You are overreacting, my dear.” The lower voice sounded as though he wanted to laugh—particularly when compared to the almost frantic tones of Mrs Gardiner. “I am certain she was disoriented from a sound sleep, or perhaps a particularly intense dream.”
Ha! If he only knew the truth!
“I hope you are correct. Her father would never forgive us if she came to harm.”
“I am certain some tea and a good breakfast will set her to rights. 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 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 Ellie, who glanced around herself.
“Oh, you’re waiting for me to go in first.” After a giggle, she stepped inside the room, ignoring the girl’s raised eyebrows.
“Ah! Here she is!” exclaimed the gentleman, cheerfully. “Your aunt just told me of the silly prank you played on her earlier. You must not try her nerves lest she become like your mother.”
Mrs Gardiner rolled her eyes as she spread what appeared to be strawberry jam on her toast. “Really, Edward. Lizzy knows she has little worry of that.”
The man motioned to the chair across from him. “You have never been timid about a meal. Sit down, Lizzy, and make yourself a plate. Your aunt is quite eager to be off.”
Ellie looked over the food on the table. The smells coming from the dishes made her mouth water and her stomach gave a rumbling growl. She placed a hand on her belly as the man, who must be Mr Gardiner, laughed.
“You have never lacked a hearty appetite.” The girl set the last plate not far from her. “Look at that. Hannah has brought bacon.”
Without a word, Ellie took a piece of toast. Her clothes had been a bit tight since all her problems with Greg had started. She had been comfort eating – stuffing herself with chocolate and glugging white wine, and she needed to keep a closer eye on her figure.
She opened her mouth to take a bite of her dry toast when a sudden thought struck her, and the toast remained where it was, paused before her open mouth. This was a dream! And by some crazy quirk of fate, if it wasn’t, she was in Elizabeth Darcy’s body! She could eat all the bacon she wanted!
Mr Gardiner chuckled when she dropped the toast on her plate like it was a rock and began to help herself some of everything on the table. “I knew you could not ignore the bacon. You have adored it since you were a little girl.”
Elizabeth Darcy was a smart woman. After all, who could dislike bacon! She took her first bite, her eyes fluttered closed, and she sighed as the salty goodness all but melted on her tongue.
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.”
“Actually, now that you mention it. I’d rather not if it’s all the same to you,” responded Ellie, without thought. “I mean the house is lovely, but the owner is a real wanker! I’d be happy never to lay eyes on him again.”
“Elizabeth Bennet!” gasped Mrs Gardiner. “Where have you learned such language? I insist you tell me at once!”
Mr Gardiner’s bushy eyebrows were almost raised to his long missing hairline. “Regardless of where you learned such words, you should know better than to use them, young lady. I will not tell your father of this, but should you speak in this vulgar manner again, I will not hesitate to inform him upon our return. Do you understand?”
Ellie nodded and turned her attention back to her bacon. Who cared whether she swore, or called Tom Darcy names? Oh wait! If she was Elizabeth Darcy, the owner of Pemberley wasn’t Tom Darcy. It was… Oh, what was his name? Fitzwilliam! That was it. The owner was Fitzwilliam Darcy!”
Mrs Gardiner placed a hand on her husband’s wrist. “We are well aware of your distaste for Mr Darcy, but when would you have toured Pemberley?”
“I toured the house and grounds yesterday while I waited.” What difference did the truth make if she was dreaming? After all, she would wake and leave all this behind and nothing that happened here would matter.
“Not more of this,” complained Mrs Gardiner. “I hope you cease these infernal games before we depart. I do not find your present manner the slightest bit amusing.”
She was so tired of going along with this! She would say what she wanted and when she wanted. “My father would enjoy Pemberley’s library. If they allowed him inside, he’d never leave—especially once he noticed that big desk in the study—all he’d need is his research and takeaways and he’d be set for weeks.” After all, what history professor wouldn’t be in love with Pemberley’s library?
“But he would never be allowed inside, would he? I mean, they don’t allow visitors into Pemberley’s study, do they?” She rambled as she ate, without noticing the others at the table. “Not only do they keep the door shut, but it’s roped off as well. Not to mention Mr Arsey Darcy and his temper issues. Oh, and he hasn’t just got problems with his anger, he’s a two-timer to boot! I still can’t believe I fell for his act only to find out he’s married!”
Ellie set her knife and fork on the plate and reached for another piece of bacon, noticing the horrified expressions on the faces of the Gardiners as she grabbed it with her fingers and began to eat.
Mrs Gardiner set her utensils on her plate, dabbed her mouth, and rose from her chair, which scraped harshly against the floorboards. “I do not understand what has occurred to alter you so overnight, but until you can behave as you ought—as the Elizabeth Bennet I know and not some lunatic fit for Bedlam—I ask you to refrain from speaking that which is so disturbing to me.” The lady’s eyes were glossy with unshed tears. “I can only pray what ailment has overtaken you can be cured with a good night’s sleep.” Her voice was not loud, but had a slight raspy quality.
Mrs Gardiner stared at Ellie for a time as though she expected her to speak, before she shook her head in disappointment and left the room. Mr Gardiner, he wore a similar frown. His eyes told her off without words. She grimaced and hoped she wouldn’t get a lecture from him, too.
“Really, Lizzy!” he scolded. “You spoke no better than a common scullery maid and your manners at this table are no better than one of the hogs on the farm. Your father might find such antics amusing, but as improper as your mother can be, she would be as shocked as we are by your present behaviour. We would not be surprised by such a display from Lydia, yet we expect better from you.”
“But this isn’t real!” Ellie’s raised voice echoed around the room.
“I beg your pardon?”
“None of this,” she waved her hands. Mr. Gardiner stared at her bacon, it was flapping wildly as she motioned to her surroundings, “exists! I fell asleep this evening, reading a book of Elizabeth Darcy’s letters, and now, I am having this insane dream.”
Ellie stood and pressed a hand to her forehead, which was beginning to ache. “I am not Lizzy, or Elizabeth Bennet, or even Elizabeth Darcy! Any moment now, I will wake from this madness, and let me tell you, when I do, I’ll chuck that book of Elizabeth Darcy’s letters in the nearest bin!”
The dream had been a bit of a lark, initially, but this wasn’t fun anymore. The boning in her stays was stabbing her in the armpit, a pin in her hair jabbed painfully at her scalp, and she swore she could feel the hair on her legs rubbing against her stockings! She wanted this nightmare to end, and end now!
She sometimes woke from her dreams by taking a fright or falling, but nothing in the dining parlour would help her. She rushed to the window, placing her hands on the sill and watched the road before the inn.
The scene outside was similar to her vision of Elizabeth Darcy—like something from a period drama. The buildings were the same as in twenty-seventeen, but newer; the Tudor and Georgian buildings looked as if they had just been built! The road was not paved, and no cars sat parallel parked along the pavements. Men on horseback rode in both directions. Three boys ran to the horse chestnut tree on the green across from a blacksmiths and began to climb its branches. Carriages passed, hurrying to wherever it was they had to go.
Ellie didn’t look or speak to Mr Gardiner, but instead, hitched her skirts up to her ankles and rushed from the room. She ran down the nearest set of steps to the entrance of the inn, where a man opened the door for her as she came closer.
“Lizzy!” called Mr Gardiner’s voice from behind her.
Stepping outside, she peered in one direction, but other than another man on horseback, there was nothing. She turned the opposite way and saw a huge coach with more horses pulling it than she had time to count. It was hurrying down the road, making the people sitting on top if it sway from side to side.
This was it! She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and lunged, throwing herself in front of its huge wheels.
With a tremendous gasp, Ellie sat straight up in bed, her heart pounding against her ribs. She pressed her hand to her chest, reached over to click on the bedside lamp, and glanced down to the bedraggled camisole top she wore when she slept! Yes! She was back! Ellie fist-pumped the air in celebration.
The book! She felt around the duvet, shifted the pillows, and peeked under the bed itself, but no luck. Where could it have gone? After a few more minutes of searching, she let her shoulders drop, bewildered, as she scanned the room.
Everything was in its place, just as she left it the night before, except the book, but then, she was just going to throw the bloody thing in the bin. Why was she so concerned about what had happened to it?
Big red numbers on the bedside clock told her it was two in the morning. She checked her phone; the mechanic hadn’t called. It was too late for her to call him. She would just have to wait until tomorrow.
She glanced at the time once more. “Too early,” she whispered to no one but herself. With a heavy exhale, she turned off the lamp and snuggled back into the pillow, and drifted, this time, into dreamless oblivion.
Was Ellie dreaming, or did she travel back in time? And if she really was in Elizabeth Bennet’s body, where was Elizabeth Bennet? So many unanswered questions. We really must insist you come back next week to help us find the answers.
Caitlin and Leslie X