Hi, everybody! Welcome back for Chapter Eleven! 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 10.
I’m sorry to say that due to family obligations Caitlin is leaving the project after this chapter. Her funny dialogue and ideas will be missed, but we didn’t want to disappoint our readers by leaving Ellie and Elizabeth in the lurch so the story will continue on with just me. I hope everyone will continue to read, comment, and join us (Ellie, Elizabeth and me 🙂 ) until we see Elizabeth safely back to her Mr Darcy.
Chapter 11: Convincing Mr Darcy
Ellie came around slowly to find herself sitting in Mildred’s driver’s seat, her hands still clutching the wheel and her head bent down. She was still braced for impact, like nothing had ever happened, only it had happened. Mildred had swerved off the road, gone crashing through a fence, and Ellie had travelled back to eighteen-thirteen again. A disgruntled cow stared at her through the windscreen, obviously miffed about having her grazing space invaded. “Sorry,” she told it. The cow mooed and ambled slowly away.
Ellie got out of the car and rubbed her head—maybe it had collided with the steering wheel or the side window since her fingers now traced a small lump growing at her hairline. Her hair, thank God! She combed her fingers through the fine, straight strands. Now, this was definitely her own hair. She was herself once again, which was cause for mild celebration, but then, panic gripped her. Where was Elizabeth? She circled the car, searching both inside and out, but the girl had vanished.
Maybe they had swapped places and Elizabeth was now in her own body, recovering in her sick bed at Pemberley in eighteen-thirteen? Could everything be fixed? Ellie smiled and felt hopeful for a few moments before she sighed at the sight of her smashed up car.
What to do now? Mildred was wrecked. Ellie reached inside the car and grabbed her mobile phone to call a tow truck, but cried out in frustration when she read the display. No signal! She walked back and forth, jumped up and down, but the display still refused to show any tiny black bars. She was well and truly in the middle of nowhere. She looked back down the road to where Pemberley Shades stood earlier, but the retirement home was no longer there. In its place stood a pretty and quaint, little cottage. In the other direction, at the base of a lush, rolling green hill, sat Pemberley. Though Ellie had seen some shocking sights in the last few days, the changes since she and Elizabeth had last gone past the great house—not more than an hour ago—were truly incredible. No longer surrounded by other buildings, it stood alone, nestled beautifully into a little valley. The metal poles that supported it were gone and the roof was no longer in need of repair. It was perfect. Just like it had been on the very first occasion Ellie laid eyes upon it.
A smart, new Range Rover came down the road and stopped along the verge. Its driver got out and inspected the damage to the fence before he walked in her direction. Ellie smiled, ridiculously pleased to see him. There was something comforting about his lanky frame, his presence, not to mention the fact that he now existed. When Tom Darcy noticed her, however, he jumped back in surprise and appeared horrified.
“How did you do that?”
“Oh yeah, sorry about the fence. It all happened so quickly. You see there was a… well, something coming the other way. I had to turn sharply or…”
“No. I mean how did you get here? I just left you up at the house.” Tom rubbed a hand over his eyes. “How did you get here so quickly?”
“You said you left me up at the house?”
“You must have sprinted up that hill.” He frowned and folded his arms over his chest. “If you can move that fast there’s obviously nothing wrong with you. Get in your car. You steer, I’ll push.” He nodded towards Mildred.
He was angry with her, that much was obvious, but Ellie wasn’t quite sure why. She shrugged and tried a small, apologetic smile. “I’m not sure it’s driveable.”
Tom made a gruff sound and unfolded his arms before he walked around the car. “Well, apart from your wing mirror coming off and a couple of scratches on the bumper, it seems fine—and driveable. Let’s get your heap of junk off my land, so I can get someone down here to fix the fence. Otherwise, I’m going to have an expensive herd of cattle wandering into Lambton and blocking the roads.”
“Oh, you remember me now, do you?” he snapped. “Why were you pretending you didn’t before? I’ve met some crazy women in my time, but let me tell you, you surpass them all. Get in your car, get out of my field, and please don’t come back again.”
“Hey, I was just in an accident. You could be a little sympathetic,” Ellie protested. “Why are so cross with me?”
“Cross with you? What makes you think I’m cross with you?” he asked, his voice laden with sarcasm. “As it happens, I love sitting in bars on my own, nursing a pint for over an hour, wasting my time waiting for someone who doesn’t show up. Don’t worry about it, I’ve been stood up by better looking women than you.”
“Right, we were supposed to meet for a drink. But you can’t blame me for not turning up,” Ellie replied, her own anger rising. “You must know why I didn’t. I don’t like liars.”
“You’re calling me a liar! I’m not the kooky, untrustworthy one here. And, I was sympathetic. I picked you up from this wreck, remember, when you were acting all weird and pretending not to know me. I even let you sit in one of the private rooms and had our first aider check on you. Only it seems there’s nothing wrong with you at all, apart from being a complete fruit loop. When I took you to Pemberley, you behaved like you hadn’t seen it before, but you were there just couple of days ago. What is going on with you?” He crossed his arms over his chest with attitude. He definitely expected answers.
Ellie threw her hands up in the air. “I can’t explain it, but maybe someone else can.” She pointed down the road. “Who lives in the cottage there?”
Tom blinked, thrown by her sudden change of subject. “Ruby Reynolds lives there with her niece. Her family has been in service at Pemberley for generations. My Father gave her the lifetime tenancy of it.”
“Okay, so same space, different building, different circumstances, not a retirement home. You’re alive, which is good, but you said you just took me to Pemberley?”
“You know I did,” he replied, exasperated. “Now, though, I’m thinking I should have taken you to a hospital or called the police.”
“I need to see Ruby Reynolds.” Ellie began walking in the direction of the cottage.
“Hey, what about your car? You can’t just leave it here.”
She peered over shoulder. “Yeah, I’ll get to that, but I need to see Ruby first.”
“Hey,” he shouted again, running after her. “Whoa. Hold on.” He grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her around to face him. “I don’t want you bothering Ruby.”
Ellie wrenched her arm away. “I need Ruby to tell me the story of Elizabeth Darcy and the carriage accident.”
“The carriage accident? What about it? I’ll tell you anything you want if you promise to get your ridiculous little car off my land, leave us all alone, and disappear forever.”
Ellie sighed. “If I’m right, there was an accident in Lambton. Elizabeth fell under the wheels of a carriage. She was then almost killed by a doctor who tried to give her strychnine, but she knocked the bottle out of the doctor’s hand, called for Mr Darcy, and he took her to Pemberley where she got the proper care. Am I right?”
Tom’s browse rose. “I thought you weren’t interested in history or happy ever afters?”
“I am now. I’m very interested.”
“Okay. Well, that’s pretty much the story. What else do you want to know?”
“What happened afterwards?”
“They got married and lived happily ever after.” Tom stubbed a toe-capped boot into the dirt.
“And?” Ellie asked. “Some other issue or problem?”
“Not really. I don’t what else you want to know. The accident made Mr Darcy fiercely protective of Elizabeth. When she became pregnant with her first child, they fought over it. Concerned she was not strong enough to carry the baby to full term, he wanted her to drink a tea that was supposed to make women miscarry. She refused, insisted she couldn’t kill “what was born of their love.” In the end, the baby was healthy, and Elizabeth sailed through the whole experience. She went on to have seven more.”
“Right, interesting, but it’s not that,” Ellie said. “There’s something else. She didn’t just fall under the carriage, get taken to Pemberley, recover, and marry him. Something else happened, didn’t it? Something to do with a man called Wickham?”
“Yes, actually.” Tom’s eyes widened. “Her youngest sister ran away with a man named George Wickham. It was a huge scandal. Mr Darcy tracked them down and had to pay Wickham to marry the girl. In those days, having a sister living in sin would have ruined the reputations of all the siblings. Fitzwilliam couldn’t marry Elizabeth until that was all sorted out.”
“Yes, that’s what I remembered from your book! “My biggest regret,” that’s what Elizabeth said about her sister’s situation. She wished her sister had never been forced to marry George Wickham. He turned out to be cruel and Lydia had some sort of horrible end.”
Tom’s expression softened and he gave a self-conscious smile. “You read my book?”
“I did, though I’m now wishing I hadn’t.” Ellie couldn’t help thinking that it somehow set all of these strange events into motion.
“Tell me exactly who you are and what the hell’s going on?” Tom swiped his glasses from his face and began cleaning them on the hem of his untucked shirt.
Ellie caught a glimpse of a tanned, lean stomach and struggled not to stare, but forced herself to turn away. It was hardly the time to be gawping. She reminded herself he was married, but something about the man drew her to him like a magnet. His movements were unconscious, natural. He hadn’t meant to show his torso off, he wasn’t at all vain, and was totally unbothered about his appearance. He wasn’t one of those groomed, moisturised, buffed-nail, two-hundred-pound shoe-wearing city she-men she was used to. When he replaced his glasses, he gazed at her steadily and her knees buckled slightly. It took all her strength to straighten them again and keep herself upright.
“All that interest in the portrait, sniffing around Ruby Reynolds. If you turn out to be an art dealer after all, I’ll wring your pretty little neck,” he said with an angry glare.
“My pretty neck?” Ellie couldn’t help smiling. “I thought you’d been rejected by better looking women than me?”
“Whatever. You have precisely one hour to get your junk of heap off my land and get your prying nose out of my affairs. Go back to London.” He ordered and stalked quickly away.
Ellie ran after him. “You’re just cross about being stood up. Well, tough cookies! I don’t go out with married men, and you’re despicable for even asking me. You’re also rude. I wouldn’t have a drink with you if you were last man on earth.”
“What?” Tom stopped and gaped at her. “You think I’m married. That’s why you didn’t show up?”
“Well, I’m not. I’m divorced.”
“Divorced?” Ellie stood stunned and suddenly feeling stupid.
“Yep, divorced for over a year now. It was a pretty messy affair, and I’ve still got the scars, literally.” Tom pointed to his shoulder. “Got a nasty one here where she threw a stiletto at me.” He gave her a small conciliatory smile and stepped closer, so they were no more than a few feet apart. “Sorry if I was arsy with you. Truthfully, I was disappointed when you didn’t show up the other night. I really enjoyed our chat in the study. You’re not like the other girls I’ve gone out with. You were real, funny, and a bit edgy. I liked it when you told me off for being a pompous twit. Now though… What’s going on, Ellie? You’re not the girl I met that day.”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Try me. I might surprise you.”
Ellie looked up at the sky, blew the fringe out of her eyes, and wondered what to say. She desperately needed help, Elizabeth desperately needed help, and who better to help them than a Mr Darcy?
“I need you to take me to Pemberley. The person you picked up from the accident and took there wasn’t me.”
Tom’s brow furrowed. “Who was it then? Do you have an identical twin or something?”
“Let’s just go, in your car. Once we’re at Pemberley, I’ll call someone to come and get mine. I know I sound crazy, but as soon as we get there and you see her, well, you won’t have any choice but to believe me.”
He folded his arms and considered for a while before giving a slow nod. “Okay.”
They walked over to his car and Ellie was unnerved and flustered when he held the door open for her. It was such a simple gesture but how long had it been since someone had done that? The gesture was a touch of chivalry, something that was fast growing out of fashion.
The expensive Range Rover cruised along quietly while its driver was even more quiet. Ellie sat silent, frightened she might say the wrong thing and break the tentative peace they had negotiated between them. She stared rigidly out of the windscreen, but now and again felt Tom’s gaze on her. As they pulled up in front of a side entrance at Pemberley, she wiped her cheek with her hand. Maybe she had a smudge of dirt there—something certainly made him stare at her.
She jumped out before he could help her, and he showed her through the entrance and down a long hallway. He knocked on a door and waited until a voice told him to enter.
When they went into the room, Elizabeth sat on an ornate, antique sofa, sipping tea from a china cup and saucer, her little finger raised in a show of good breeding. Ellie was delighted to see her and laughed out loud, thinking how she seemed as if she belonged there. Though she was wearing the jeans and jumper Ellie had given her that morning, she still managed to look elegant, like she was staring in a photospread for Country Life Magazine captioned, “Mrs Darcy Entertains in her Stunning Derbyshire Mansion.”
Ellie crossed the room quickly and bent down to give her a quick hug. Elizabeth gave a small jump in surprise at being wrapped up in her arms but returned the greeting, her tea cup rattling on its saucer while she patted Ellie’s back awkwardly with her free hand. “I’m so happy to see you’re okay,” Ellie said.
“I am perfectly well, quite unharmed, I assure you. This young man was kind enough to transport me here is his equipage and left me in the care of his excellent staff. Though I believe I did not give my proper thanks at the time, shaken as I was, by our collision with the fence. I even forgot to ask his name.”
“It’s Mr Darcy, Tom Darcy,” Ellie informed her.
Elizabeth looked carefully at Tom, and then her head fell to the side while a small smile parted her lips. “Yes, of course it is. I see it now.”
Though Elizabeth saw the connection and the resemblance, Ellie could tell Tom hadn’t recognised Elizabeth at all. He was too busy staring at Ellie for an explanation.
“She’s not the person I brought here.” He pointed at Elizabeth with a crazed glint in his eye. “I brought you here. It was you. I’m not going crazy.”
“No, you’re not. The person you brought here might have looked like me but was actually Lizzy.” Ellie gestured at Elizabeth, but Tom only appeared more confused.
Ellie took the teacup out of Elizabeth’s hands and set it on a beautifully carved end table next to the sofa. She then pulled her up from the sofa by her hands. “We need to go your study, to the portrait.”
He shook his head. “Not the portrait again. Why the fascination?”
“It’ll explain everything. Come on, let’s go.”
“Must we?” Elizabeth protested. “I do hate to be parted from what was an exceptionally good cup of tea.”
“We must,” Ellie insisted, already tugging her out of the room into the hallway. “He can’t see it. It’s the clothes. I don’t have a bonnet or nineteenth-century gown handy. He needs to see you next to the portrait.”
Tom was behind them, following, but seemed reluctant. Ellie couldn’t blame him, really, considering all she put him through. She was lucky he hadn’t thrown them out the moment he saw Elizabeth. He pointed out the door to them when they reached it, and a moment later, all three of them stood on the rug in front of the fireplace inside the large study.
Ellie nodded in the direction of the painting, and Elizabeth’s deep brown eyes rose to gaze at her own portrait. She jolted backwards, before her mouth fell open.
“Oh my,” was all she could say. “That is terribly flattering. ‘Tis really me?”
“I don’t think it was done to flatter you. In fact, it’s very realistic,” Ellie laughed. “It’s exactly like you.” She glanced at Tom who was looking between the painting and Elizabeth, scrutinising both with narrowed eyes. “You see it, don’t you? You must see it.”
“Okay, so your friend here appears identical to Elizabeth Darcy, which is fascinating, but I don’t get your point.”
“Tom, she looks like Elizabeth Darcy, because she is Elizabeth Darcy.”
“Bennet,” Elizabeth corrected.
“Oh, sorry, Elizabeth Bennet. In her world, they’re not married yet, but it is her. If you’d seen her for the first time, as I did, in Regency clothes, you wouldn’t even be hesitating. She’s from eighteen-thirteen. I swear. We swapped places. I became her and she became me, but now, for some reason, she can’t go back.”
Tom stood with his arms crossed over his chest while she spoke, but when she was finished, he unfolded them slowly while he moved towards his desk. He picked up a telephone handset and held it out towards them as if it were a weapon. “Now are you two going to leave quietly, or am I going to have call the police and have you removed?”
Ellie swallowed hard. “Wait! We’ll prove it to you. You’re an expert on her life. Ask her something, anything, about Elizabeth Darcy.”
“Bennet,” Elizabeth corrected again, irritably this time.
“Fine.” Tom crossed his arms over his chest again and frowned down at Elizabeth. “Where did you go to school?”
“I didn’t go to school. I was educated at home.”
“Ha,” Tom cried in triumph. “You’re wrong.”
Elizabeth stepped towards him, her face serious with concentration. “Unless you refer to the disastrous se’enight I spent at Miss Hawthorne’s school in Hastings. I had a disagreement with a master about the year of Henry VIII’s death. When I refused to give into him on the matter, I was punished for my supposed disobedience by being locked in the scullery. I escaped through a window, but was caught on the grounds and sent home in disgrace. My father took charge of my lessons after that. He didn’t seek to return me there or send me elsewhere. I was right, you see, about Henry VIII, and he refused to pay for me to be taught by ‘fools’ who knew no better than a twelve-year-old girl.”
Tom nodded as his arms relaxed to his sides. “That’s exactly right, but it’s not in the book. How did you know?”
“Because I am, or was, that twelve-year-old girl. My temper has improved slightly, though my mother still decries my obstinacy.”
“Tell me something else, then,” Tom said. His eyes landed on the cross around Elizabeth’s neck where they remained. “If you’re Elizabeth Darcy…”
“Bennet,” Elizabeth cried, throwing her hands up in exasperation.
“Okay, Bennet, whoever you claim to be. Tell me something I’ve always wondered about then. What’s the ‘horrible document’ Mr Darcy gave you at Hunsford?”
Elizabeth smiled. “That is how Mr Darcy describes it? A ‘horrible document’?”
“Yes, I have his journals, and he talks about asking you to burn it. What was the horrible document?”
“He did give me something at Hunsford. That part is true, but he never asked me to burn it.” Elizabeth reached into a back pocket of her jeans, and produced Mr Darcy’s letter, holding it before him. “I believe what you refer to is this?”
Stunned Tom reached for it, but Elizabeth pulled away.
“’Tis rather personal.”
“Lizzy, what does it matter? Everything from that letter is two hundred years in the past. Let him read it. It’s proof of who you are, and we do need his help.”
Elizabeth considered for a while before placing it into his hands. “Very well. You may read it, but on one condition.”
“Alright, what?” Tom asked her.
“That while you study it, I might be refreshed with another cup of your excellent tea.”
Yay! Elizabeth is still live and well, but unfortunately not back in 1813. Will Tom help them or boot them out the door? Let us know what you think will happen next?
All comments, suggestions, opinions are welcome. Thanks for reading everyone.
Caitlin and Leslie xx