Chapter Four! 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 here’s Chapter 3.
When we last left things our heroine Ellie, in an attempt to wake herself up out of a strange dream-one in which she was in Elizabeth Bennet’s body-had thrown herself in front of a carriage…yikes, what does this mean for our happily ever after?…Read on.
Chapter Four – Elizabeth Bennet’s Untimely Demise
It was good to be home, or at least it would be when she eventually found a parking space. Though she had a resident’s permit, it wasn’t always easy, and Ellie had to drive around the side streets near her flat for almost twenty minutes before she was eventually able to reverse her little sports car into a tight bay, switch the ignition off, and pull the handbrake up.
Although she was still jobless, boyfriend-less and possibly soon to be homeless, at least her car was okay. The mechanic had woken her a few minutes after nine that morning by calling her mobile repeatedly. When she’d groggily answered, he’d met her downstairs and cheerfully taken her keys from her to have a look. How embarrassed she’d been when he’d turned the ignition and the car had roared cheerfully to life! The battered old MG, which had struck her as so great in the second-hand car showroom, but had given her nothing but constant trouble and huge repair bills ever since she’d owned it, now seemed to be running smoothly. The engine purred away happily, sounding better than it ever had; the mechanic had shrugged and told her there was nothing wrong with it.
Ellie had apologised for wasting his time, but he’d been so nice about it and hadn’t even charged her for calling him out. Now, she stroked the cars well-worn steering wheel and wondered. “You were definitely broken, Mildred. I didn’t imagine it,” she told the car. It was just another weird thing to add to all the craziness of the past twenty-four hours. She didn’t even want to start thinking about how Lambton seemed to have changed since she’d first driven into it. Hadn’t it been a cute little place with tearooms and antique shops, tiny buildings and narrow, winding roads? When she had been putting her bag into the boot of the car to start her journey home, however, it looked different, a bit down-at-heel. There was a charity shop and a café serving all-day breakfasts, but other than that, all the other shops were boarded up and loads of the buildings were in desperate need of repair. Hardly anyone had been around; Lambton was suddenly a bit of a ghost town.
It had to be stress! Who wouldn’t be strung out in her situation? Once she was back home, with her own stuff around her, she would feel more like herself again. Getting out of the car, Ellie began to weave her way through the busy London streets. A nice long bubble bath, and a good cup of coffee from her recently purchased, shiny espresso machine would set her to rights! Then later, she’d call Theresa and see she if wanted to meet up for a glass of wine.
Letting herself into the big communal front door of the Georgian building, she trudged up the old, winding staircase to the third floor. If she had to move out and give this flat up, she was definitely picking somewhere more modern, somewhere with a lift. Somewhere where the windows closed properly, the doors didn’t stick, and the walls were straight. When she first viewed at the place, the little quirks had given the flat character, but now, she wanted more than anything to leave them behind. Once she’d turned the key to the door of her flat, she gave the wood a kick and the handle a wiggle—a well-practised manoeuvre—and it swung open.
She threw her keys onto a table near the door and was shrugging out of her jacket when the sight of someone standing in the middle of her living room with a selfie-stick raised above her head—obviously meaning to use it as a weapon if need be—stopped her cold. Ellie jumped in surprise. Her first terrified thought was that it was a burglar, but then she blinked and gave the intruder a thorough once over. They had not come for her TV; they most probably didn’t even know what a TV was.
“Oh, won’t you please leave me alone? I am sick of you. I don’t want any more dreams, ghostly visions, hallucinations, or whatever the hell they are. Just bugger off,” Ellie cried out, pushing her fringe back from her face and putting her hands over eyes. Hopefully, by the time she looked again, the figure would be gone.
She peeked out of one eye, but no change, it was still there—no, she was still there. “I think I need to see a doctor.”
“As perhaps do I.” Despite the selfie-stick cocked over her shoulder like a baseball bat, her voice was more amused than frightened.
“And you speak! Terrific. I have gone certifiably nuts!” Ellie let out a short burst of hysterical laughter. “I can’t cope with this. I need coffee, now. Do you drink coffee? I mean, I know you’re not real, and I’m just imagining all this… Even so, it seems rude not to offer.”
“Is it possible, do you suppose, to share in a malady of the mind? You appear to be under the impression I am not real, and yet ‘tis no dream. I cannot wake from it,” the intruder said, moving lightly and gracefully, following Ellie into the small kitchen area. “All I see and hear, everything is beyond my comprehension.”
“Yep, mine too. I wish I’d never laid eyes on that bloody portrait of yours.” Ellie closed her eyes and groaned. She likely sounded daft talking to someone who wasn’t there and she’d offered them coffee to boot! What would Greg think if he could see her now? He’d probably be congratulating himself on his lucky escape!
“I trust that, given the strangeness of the situation we find ourselves in, you will forgive my impertinence—I know we have yet to be introduced, but you appear to have me at a distinct disadvantage—you know me, yet I do not know you? What is your name, and how are we acquainted?”
Ellie turned and blinked. “I’m Ellie Forrester, and yes, I know who you are. You’re Elizabeth Darcy.”
The tiny, very slim and petite girl drew herself up to her full height and raised her chin, an indignant frown upon her face. “I most certainly am not!”
“I’m sorry,” Ellie replied. “You’re Elizabeth Bennet.”
Elizabeth Bennet nodded. “Indeed I am, but how do you know me and where exactly am I?”
“Oh, that shithead took the coffee maker!” Ellie ignored the questions of her apparition and choked back her tears. There was an empty space on the kitchen worktop where the state-of-the-art machine had once stood. She glanced over at Elizabeth Bennet, who appeared half-horrified and half-amused. One of her eyebrows was raised and a small smile tugged at her lips. “Sorry, about the language, not what you are used to, I know. My ex-boyfriend was moving out his stuff while I was away and, well, the coffee maker wasn’t his.”
Ellie stopped, reached out, put a finger on the end of Elizabeth Bennet’s nose and pushed it to the side, just like she had when she’d examined Elizabeth’s reflection staring back at her in the dream. The nose moved, the skin under her finger was real and the girl let out a short yelp of pain.
“Desist! I shall thank you not to poke at me,” she protested.
“You’re real. You are really here” Ellie shook her head in wonder, looking properly at Elizabeth for the first time since she’d entered the flat. She was a living, breathing blast from the past. Her hair was neatly arranged on top of her head, with a few ringlets at her temples and she wore a long, thin muslin, empire line dress over a long petticoat. There was an amethyst cross around her neck. In fact, she looked exactly as Ellie had when she’d been Elizabeth. She was wearing the same clothes; her hair was styled in exactly the same way. It was astonishing, but she was real.
“I do not blame you for your incredulity, Miss Forrester, or is it Mrs Forrester?”
“Miss, but Ellie is fine.”
“Thank you, yes, I do believe, given the extraordinary nature of our joint predicament, it might be better for us to assume such an intimacy. And I am quite sure I have found myself in a world and time when such formalities are not always strictly necessary.”
Ellie muddled through this speech, and when she thought she understood it, she nodded.
Elizabeth put down the selfie-stick. “I am Lizzy, to my friends.”
“Yes, I know. How did you get here? How long have you been here?” Ellie smiled, forgetting about Greg, the coffee maker and everything else. None of that mattered when someone from the nineteenth century had managed to travel through time and end up in her kitchen.
“I awoke here, in your bed, some five or six hours past. At first, I did not believe the evidence of my own eyes. Everything is strange. I thought perhaps it a dream, but as I moved about your rooms I became gradually accustomed to the notion that it was no sleep-imposed fantasy brought on by too much cheese at supper. I was hungry, you see, Miss…oh, Ellie. I was hungry, and we do not feel hunger in our dreams. And I was very warm, I felt overcome by it, and I feel pain; if I should pinch my wrists and when you poked at my nose, it hurt. I have never hitherto known such discomfort in my dreams. Therefore I can only conclude that this is all material, and not fantasy.” Elizabeth finished with a small, elegant shrug. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
“Hamlet.” Ellie had a hatred of Hamlet. She’d failed her English Lit exam.
“Well, I am glad to see the Bard is not yet forgotten, in the year… Pray, tell me, what is the date?”
“Two thousand and seventeen.”
Elizabeth swallowed hard and bit her lip while she tried to digest the fact. “Well, what are we to do?”
Ellie put her hands in the pockets of her jeans and studied her shoes for a moment; they looked so scruffy next to Elizabeth Bennet’s neat little boots. “Well, in the absence of any good coffee, we’ll do what we English always do in times of crisis. We’ll stick the kettle on and have a nice cup of tea.”
“I noticed your paintings, Ellie, while I was here alone. They are quite extraordinary.” Elizabeth pointed up at a collage of photos Theresa had made her for her birthday-mostly pictures of the two of them on girlie holidays, drunk in various foreign bars and messing about on sunny beaches. “They are so very accurate. I cannot make out a single brush stroke. I think the artist must be very talented. May I know his name?”
“Nikon.” Ellie pressed her lips together, trying to not to smile. How did she begin to explain photography?
They sat opposite one another at the tiny table next to the window in Ellie’s flat, both of them cradling steaming mugs. Elizabeth Bennet took a careful sip of the liquid in hers and cocked her head to the side.
“Is it horrible, sorry? Not what you are used to? I don’t have any proper tea leaves, or cream, or bone china to serve it in.”
Elizabeth shook her head as she stared into her cup. “Oh no, it is different, but very good, very strong. I notice you do not mean to re-use it, the little bag that contained the leaves. Do you mean to discard it?”
Ellie nodded. “That seems wasteful to you?”
“Tea is expensive, in… At home, it is kept under lock and key and used many times over before it is given over for the servants use, and then used many times over again. It is oft times very bad, very weak, and sometimes, shamefully, in some of the grander houses, dreadful. I have often thought…”
“…the richer the hostess, the poorer the tea—the poorer the lady, the richer the tea,” Ellie interrupted. “I thought that was funny when I read it. You often find that, don’t you, that people who have the least to give are sometimes the most generous? You were spot on.”
“I was spot on?”
“I mean you were right. When I read it in your letters, it struck me as being so true.”
“My letters? You have read my letters?” Elizabeth asked. “My letters from some two hundred years ago. How came you to have read them?”
“Because someone kept them, and they were published. You were a famous lady.”
Elizabeth’s large brown eyes widened and she burst out laughing. “Not at all. I am simply Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn. I am the second daughter of a country gentleman, but I assure you, his estate is nothing of note.”
Ellie realised she knew things about Elizabeth she did not know herself. Elizabeth had no idea she was going to marry the ultra-rich Mr Darcy, with his stately home, bursting with chandeliers and grand pianos. This Elizabeth, sitting in front of her, hadn’t experienced any of that yet, and maybe it would be wrong to tell her. “What were you doing, before you woke up here?”
“I was in Derbyshire.”
“At Lambton, at the Inn. And you had gone to bed, and the next day you had plans with your Aunt and Uncle to go and tour Pemberley?”
“Yes, though I was not certain as to the wisdom of such a trip,” Elizabeth blushed and fussed at the curls that were beginning to escape from her elaborate hairstyle. “How do you know?”
“Because I woke up and had breakfast with your relatives, I was there.” Ellie paused, trying to remember it all. Holy crap, what had she said to Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle? How badly had she behaved? “When I was in the moment, I thought it was a dream, but it was so real. Do you remember what you were saying to me earlier about being hungry and how that doesn’t happen in dreams? I tasted bacon, Lizzy, and it was delicious; maybe the freshest, loveliest bacon I’ve ever had. I was you, while you were here being me.” Her voice trailed off as realisation dawned—She had really been Elizabeth Bennet!
Elizabeth blinked and stared out of the window. On the street below them, cars whizzed by and neon lights adorned the shop-fronts. Ellie could only imagine how frightening and surreal it all seemed to the girl opposite her.
When Elizabeth turned back, a small line creased the space between her eyebrows. “Do you mean to say we swapped positions? Became each other?”
“Unless I am completely crazy, that is exactly what happened. I don’t know why or how, but yes.”
“But now you have returned to your life. Why do you suppose I have not returned to mine?” Elizabeth had a penetrating gaze. For such a small person, she had a big presence and seemed to fill the little flat.
“I’m really sorry,” Ellie confessed, cowed by Elizabeth intense inspection of her face, “but, well, I do have a bit of an idea of why you haven’t, you know, gone back.”
“I think I might have killed you.” Ellie bowed her head as the horrifying truth rushed out of her in a terrified whisper.
“I beg your pardon?”
She held her fingers up, her thumb and index finger a teensy bit apart. “It’s more than a tiny bit possible that you are, in fact, dead.” Ellie squirmed, but there was nothing else for it. She’d just have to spit it out. “When I was you, this morning, I threw myself in front of a carriage—a massive carriage with about six horses pulling it and people sitting on the top. You see, it was the best way I could think of to wake myself up, and well, yeah, I got back to two thousand and seventeen. I suppose you should have gone back to…”
“Eighteen hundred and thirteen.” Elizabeth put a hand over her mouth in shock. “Yet I am still here! Can I not go back?”
Ellie shook her head, unsure of the answer. “I don’t know.”
Other than the faint sounds of London filtering through the glass, the room was silent for a few moments, until Elizabeth recovered.
“I have another question which relates to something you said when you first entered. As shocking as the news of my demise is, I recall you revealing something that is perhaps even more astonishing to me.”
“Why did you call me Elizabeth Darcy?”
Ellie has done in Elizabeth Bennet! Now, to figure out what to do about the situation. Hmmm, we’d love to hear any of your theories, suggestions, or titles. Oh! And stop by same day, same time next week for Chapter 5: “Lighting the Flameless Candle.”
Caitlin and Leslie X