Hi, everybody! Welcome back for Chapter Fourteen! 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 13.
Last we left Ellie, she was about to fall face first in the mud… or was she? 😉
Chapter 14: An Evening in Dear Company
With a heaving gasp, Ellie jerked upright, fully expecting to land face first in the mud, but instead, a searing pain radiated through her chest and the wet muck never happened. She slowly opened her eyes and looked around the room, breathing in heavy pants.
She turned to find Mrs Gardiner moving to sit on the edge of the bed. Lizzy’s aunt brushed the curls away from Ellie’s face and smoothed the nightgown on her arms. “Finally, you are awake! The longer you slept the more worried I became, and you slept for so long.”
“How long?” asked Ellie, her voice again hoarse.
Mrs Gardiner peered at the clock on the mantel and back. “Close to one and twenty hours. Mr Newnham insisted you merely required the rest, but you would not rouse, no matter how we tried.”
“You mean I haven’t been awake since Mr Darcy’s visit?” Why ask such a silly question, of course she hadn’t been awake. Elizabeth was in twenty-seventeen with her and Tom. If neither of them were in eighteen-thirteen, Elizabeth’s body must have just waited for one of them to return? If so, what would happen if Elizabeth couldn’t return?
“No, but the gentleman thought of you a great deal while you slept, my dear.” She motioned to a side table where several clusters of flowers sat in delicate porcelain vases. “I believe he plundered an obliging field as well as his own hothouse.”
Before she could respond, the doctor approached the opposite side of the bed. “Do not think I have forgotten your dislike for the Willow Bark tea, but you will feel much better for drinking it. I do promise you.” She took the cup he handed her and downed the nasty stuff while he smiled. “Very good. Are you in any pain today? I hope it has diminished some since you were last awake.”
“I still ache a lot, and my ribs still really hurt here.” She pointed to one side just under her breast. “But it is better.”
“Capital,” he exclaimed. “I am glad to hear it.”
Now that she had a moment, she glanced around the bed. The last thing she remembered, she was running through the rain with Tom and she fell. Now, she was sitting in bed—and in Elizabeth’s body. She must have jolted up as though she was waking up from a nightmare, only this was the nightmare because she couldn’t return Elizabeth. No matter what she did, it didn’t work.
What had happened just before she returned last time? Mr Darcy had a visitor. She couldn’t remember his name to save her life, but he had news of Mr Wickham. Did Mr Darcy meet with him?
Elizabeth’s aunt looked up, surprised. “Mrs Gardiner? You have never addressed me as such. Are you certain you are well?”
“I’m sorry,” Ellie responded. “I must be fuzzy-headed from sleeping for so long.” She slowly relaxed into the pillows Mrs Gardiner arranged behind her back. Hopefully, easing back would also keep her ribs from hurting like they did when she woke up.
“Fuzzy-headed?” Mrs Gardiner laughed while she tucked the quilt around Ellie’s legs. “I suppose that is one way to describe that state of mind when one first wakes, though quite original.”
In some ways, what occurred next was similar to the last time she woke in Elizabeth’s time. Elizabeth’s aunt ensured she had broth and tea before insisting she rest for a time. Ellie protested she didn’t need to take a nap, but Mrs Gardiner didn’t listen.
She woke again when the room had dimmed considerably from earlier. When she scanned her surroundings, Mr Newnham rushed over. “Ah, you are awake again. I have told your aunt she should not fret, but I fear she does so regardless.” He handed her another dose of Willow Bark and nodded happily when she drank it as quickly as she could. “Your aunt and uncle are at dinner with Mr Darcy and his guests. We spoke of you going down to be in company for a short time two days ago. Would you still care for such an outing?”
Ellie pushed herself to sit up, ignoring the pain in her joints and especially her chest. “Yes, I really, really would.” She began to push the covers off and shift her legs to the edge of the mattress, but Mr Newnham smiled and put a hand to her shoulder.
“Not so hasty if you please, miss,” he said. “Hetty shall return in a moment. She can help you dress while I have enough footmen assembled to carry the chaise to the drawing room.” He took a pocket watch from his coat, opened it, and nodded while he closed the lid. “You should be down by the time the ladies withdraw from dinner. Your aunt should be prodigiously shocked, though I shall particularly enjoy Mr Darcy’s expression when he sees you.”
While he bustled around a small table of vials and cups, she sank into the pillows behind her. If Mr Darcy was still here, then did he not go after Wickham and Lydia? She withheld a groan. He had to save Lydia or they’d never get Elizabeth back. She began to tap her hand on her leg. How long would this Hetty take, anyways?
A young maid entered and Mr Newnham glanced up from his work. “Ah, Hetty, I am glad to see you have returned. If you could aid Miss Bennet in putting on her best gown, she shall sit for a short time in company tonight.” At the maid’s wide eyes, he peered over his spectacles. “If she becomes too bored within the confines of this room, she might just declare mutiny against my orders to rest, though I trust she will alert us should she become too fatigued.”
His gaze turned to Ellie, who nodded. Anything to get Elizabeth back. She’d definitely agree to anything.
Mr Newnham clapped his hands together. “I shall assemble some footmen outside the main door there.” He pointed to the door where Mr Darcy entered for his visit. “Please notify us when you have her prepared.” Hetty curtseyed when he strode past her to depart.
Unlike the last time Ellie dressed in Elizabeth’s clothes, the maid didn’t make her wear stays. “It would be too taxing on your poor ribs,” she said. Ellie had to admit, though, the lack of that evil bra made everything much more comfortable. The entire process of preparing made her short of breath, but she was able to regain her breathing while the maid styled her hair.
When she was ready, Hettie peeked out the door, and Mr Newnham returned and carried her to the chaise, where he placed her, while the maid tucked quilts and blankets around her. Her foot had still been too swollen for a house slipper, so Hetty took a lot of time making sure it was covered. “It would not do for the gentlemen to see your feet or ankles.”
It took everything Ellie had not to burst into peals of laughter. What was so bloody sexy about ankles or toes? She never did get those stories about foot fetishes that, no doubt, everyone heard. I mean feet were for standing, sometimes they smelled odd, and nothing about them screamed sex. Regency men were just strange!
When Hettie claimed she was settled, Mr Newnham fetched six rather tall, identically dressed men from the corridor, and then, stood behind them, giving orders and instructions.
“Now, Miss Bennet,” he finally said to her. “Please keep very still so you do not take a fall. If moving you becomes too painful, you must inform me so we can return you to this bedchamber.” He then raised his voice, “Keep her as steady as you can. We cannot afford to jostle her needlessly so please walk slowly.”
A moment later, she bit her lip while she was lifted. If only she could tell Theresa! The two of them could drink and giggle for hours over this. Of course, the men wore too many clothes compared to what she’d imagined and there wasn’t an extra to fan her with a large palm frond either. She choked back a laugh and Mr Newnham gave her a suspicious glance. She definitely needed to control herself or he’d have her brought straight back to bed.
To take her mind off the footmen, Ellie began watching their path and the art they passed, recognising a little from when they brought Elizabeth to the master’s and mistress’ suites. Mr Darcy had put a dying Elizabeth in the family wing? Had he meant to keep her as close to him as possible?
When they approached the large staircase, her surroundings became more familiar. The house seemed a bit grander now than it did in her day, but how much more did it cost for Tom to keep things just so—especially with tours tromping through on a daily basis.
They set her down in a room decorated in shades of pale blue, similar to the sky, and bowed before they left through a door made to blend in with the panelling along the wall. Ladies’ voices carried in from the hall, and when four ladies entered, several gave sharp inhales when they noticed her.
The ginger-haired woman, who led the group, paused for a moment and curtseyed. “Miss Bennet,” she greeted, before she continued inside. A rather tall, slender woman followed with dark hair and her head lifted a little, so she appeared to be staring down her nose at everything. Her lips puckered. “Miss Eliza,” she practically sneered before gliding over to join the ginger-haired woman.
Mrs Gardiner’s eyes were like saucers. “Lizzy! I remember this being mentioned, but are you certain this is wise. You slept two days after a mere visit. Two days!”
“I’m sure I’ll be okay.” Wait! Elizabeth didn’t use the word okay at all, did she? Oh, why bother! She couldn’t speak like Elizabeth if she’d been around her for years. This was hopeless!
That was when she noticed the girl standing behind Mrs Gardiner, her hands clasped in front of her and a nervous smile on her face. Mrs Gardiner stepped to the side and with a motherly hand to the girl’s shoulder, steered her forward. “You have not yet met, Miss Darcy, have you, Lizzy?”
“No,” she responded, shaking her head. “I haven’t.”
“Miss Bennet!” came a man’s voice from the doorway. She turned as Mr Darcy came striding into the room and dropped to his knee beside her. “When I heard you were awake and in the drawing room… well… I could not stay away. You have been asleep for so long, I became concerned you had taken a turn for the worse.”
Her cheeks and neck burned she was so embarrassed. She wasn’t Elizabeth, so being on the receiving end of his affection for her was uncomfortable and awkward. She glanced behind him as the tall lady rolled her eyes and scoffed. Mr Darcy, however, didn’t appear to notice since he was too busy studying every detail of her face.
“I feel much better today, Mr Darcy. I promise.”
He looked behind him, rose, and steered the girl closer by her elbow. “Have you had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of my sister?” he asked eagerly.
“No, I haven’t.”
The two ladies to the side of the room burst into giggles and Mrs Gardiner frowned at them, but they didn’t see and continued to whisper dramatically despite the glare of Elizabeth’s aunt. Ellie found herself paying attention to them when Mr Gardiner strode in and placed a kiss to her cheek. “I am pleased to see you so well.”
Her attention jerked back to Mr Darcy. “I’m so sorry. I was just distracted by how rude those women are.”
His eyes gave a momentary bulge while his sister covered her mouth with her hand and held back a laugh. Mrs Gardiner exclaimed, “Lizzy!”
The two ladies both stared while the taller lady’s eyes narrowed. “Perhaps that bump on your head has altered your perception.”
“I doubt it,” responded Ellie sweetly. “Perhaps my impeccable manners simply prevented me from criticising before.”
Both ladies emitted shrill giggles that pierced her eardrums. “Did you learn such manners from your mother or your aunt,” tittered the taller lady. “You must be the height of fashion in Cheapside.”
“Miss Bennet has just endured a horrific injury, Caroline,” scolded a man as he strode through the doorway. “I think we should all allow her time to heal. Louisa, Hurst is passed out sitting in his chair in the dining room, and I have no intention of remaining with him while he snores.” The man stopped when he stood beside Mr Darcy. “Miss Bennet! I cannot tell you how happy I am to see you looking so well.” When he began speaking to her, his face transformed and a huge grin overtook his features. “Pray tell me, are all of your family well? Are all of your sisters still at Longbourn?”
Were Lizzy’s sisters at Longbourn? How was she supposed to answer that? Oh well, she had to say something! “Lydia is staying with friends in Brighton, but yes, the rest of my sisters are still at home.” She turned to Mr Darcy and whispered, “Where else would they have gone?”
Caroline and the one she now knew was Louisa burst into gales of laughter, but Mr Darcy ignored them and pressed his sister forward. “Miss Elizabeth Bennet, I should like you to meet my sister, Miss Georgiana Darcy.”
Miss Darcy’s hands remained clenched in front of her until she dropped them to curtsey, but she clasped them back together as soon as she rose. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Bennet. I have heard so much about you from my brother.”
“Really,” exclaimed Ellie. “I wonder what he said.”
The girl’s brows drew down in the middle. “I assure you he spoke nothing but praise for you. He admired your wit and spoke very well of your performance at the pianoforte. He said little gave him more pleasure.”
“I don’t know what I should say.” It was the truth. She didn’t have Elizabeth’s knowledge. How much did she know about Mr Darcy’s sister? “Your brother must have been exaggerating.”
“Oh no, he would never…”
The girl was so honestly confused that Ellie liked her then and there. She was not a snob or a shrew like Caroline and her sister. Instead, she was just a shy girl, looking for acceptance from the lady her brother hoped to marry.
“Please don’t be upset. I was only joking.” Miss Darcy’s shoulders relaxed, though she tilted her head and appeared confused.
“Miss Bennet, I set these aside for the next time you were awake,” exclaimed Mr Darcy as he re-entered the room. He must have disappeared to the library while she greeted his sister, because he now held out three small books with a hopeful smile. “I hope you approve. I remember you enjoying poetry at Netherfield.” Poetry? Blech! She would rather drink more Willow Bark tea!
Miss Darcy peered over his shoulder to read the titles. “Fitzwilliam, these are your favourites,” she observed while he reddened. “You read them so often. Will you not miss them?”
He coughed and lowered until he again knelt beside the chaise. “I hope they help you pass the time while you rest. I would be pleased to read to you should you wish it.”
His voice was so hopeful and adorable, but she didn’t need to be the one to see this side of him, Elizabeth did!
A footman entered carrying a small vase with pink roses. “Sir?”
“Oh, thank you, Matthew.” He took the bouquet and looked around a moment before rising to move a small table next to her. “I collected these for you earlier. I hoped to deliver them when you were awake. I had not thought you would join us so soon.”
She touched the blossoms carefully. Roses were never her favourite. Ellie preferred lilies, but these were lovely.
“I hoped she would remain in her rooms,” whispered Caroline to her sister who snorted and covered her nose with a handkerchief.
Ellie plastered on a fake smile. This woman was getting on her last nerve! “If you object to my company so much, Caroline, you should have gone somewhere else.”
Miss Darcy pressed her lips tightly together while her shoulders gave an abrupt jerk here and there, Mr Darcy’s eyes widened, but he looked down to the floor and cleared his throat. Mrs Gardiner stared at her as though she’d sprouted another head and a pair of horns.
“Well, I never,” cried Caroline.
“Learned manners?” asked Ellie. “I’m so sorry. I’m sure my aunt would be pleased to help you should you need it.”
Dear Caroline turned almost purple. “Nothing is amiss with my behaviour, and I do not require lessons on etiquette from a tradesman’s wife.” In a swish of skirts, the obnoxious woman left. Hopefully, Elizabeth wouldn’t be too upset with her for this. If she wanted, she could always blame it on that bump on the back of her head.
“Mr Darcy,” said a man standing in the door, a dour expression on his face. “Please forgive me for interrupting, but an urgent message has arrived for you from London. I was told you should read it immediately.”
While the ginger woman, Louisa, followed her sister from the withdrawing room, Mr Darcy broke the seal and read the contents of the letter. He covered his mouth with his fist and exhaled before he scanned the room. “Has Mrs Hurst followed Miss Bingley?”
Bingley nodded and leaned against the nearest chair. “Yes, perhaps she will retire, though she should wake Hurst and take him with her.”
“Please close the door,” Mr Darcy instructed, the man who delivered the note instantly complied. “I am afraid I have some distressing news.”
Ellie gripped the blankets. Please don’t be Lydia! Please don’t be Lydia!
“I know this must come as a shock, Miss Bennet, but upon your arrival at Pemberley, I sent a letter to your family. I just received a response from your father that contains the gravest of news.”
“What has happened?” enquired Mrs Gardiner.
“I am afraid Miss Lydia has left her friends in Brighton and thrown herself into the power of Mr Wickham. They were to elope to Scotland and have been traced as far as London, but no further. I am so sorry, Miss Bennet.” Miss Darcy gasped and covered her mouth with her hands while Mr and Mrs Gardiner closed their eyes in horror.
He had to go this time. He couldn’t remain at Pemberley. He had to save Lydia! “You need to find them, Mr Darcy. You need to get Lydia away from him!” Ellie’s heart beat frantically. If they didn’t fix Lydia’s situation with Wickham, would Elizabeth still go back? “You have to get Lydia away from him!”
“Miss Bennet,” he cried as he sat on the edge of the chaise and grasped her arms. “You must calm yourself.”
“Lizzy!” exclaimed Mr and Mrs Gardiner, who both appeared behind him.
“You must find them!” Her head throbbed and her chest was killing her. “You can’t let her marry him! He’ll kill her! They can’t marry.” Then she remembered. “Saffron Hill! They have to be in Saffron Hill!” she cried, the pain increasing in her chest. Spots appeared before her eyes and her vision began to spin. She closed her eyes and grasped her head. “She cannot marry him. No matter what happens, she must be saved! You must help her!”
Strong arms lifted her from the chaise. “Someone fetch Mr Newnham immediately!” As she was carried from the room, Mr Darcy cried, “Miss Bennet!” That was the last she heard before everything went black.
What will happen now? Will Ellie wake up again in 1813 or will she finally find herself in that puddle of mud she was expecting at the beginning of the chapter? Inquiring minds want to know! I’d love to hear your theories, suggestions, and titles.
Thanks for reading everyone!