Hi, everybody! Welcome back for Chapter Fifteen! 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 14.
Last we left Ellie, Darcy was carrying her to her chambers and crying for the doctor. Will she end up in Tom’s arms back in the future or will she wake again in 1813?
Chapter 15: Searching Elizabeth’s Memories
“Ellie!” cried a voice that could only be Elizabeth.
She groaned and pushed her hands against the muddy ground. The pounding against her skull felt as though she’d beaten it against a wall. “My head.” Strong hands grasped her arms and helped her stand. When she opened her eyes, Tom stood in front of her, touching her hair then her arms and waist, ensuring she wasn’t hurt.
“Are you okay?”
With a nod, she put her hand to her forehead. “I’m covered in mud, and my head feels like it’s been squeezed in a vice, but other than that, I’m perfect.”
“Do not joke!” Elizabeth scolded with a finger wagging in Ellie’s face. “Do you have any idea how long you were gone? We were frantic with worry!”
“Your aunt made me take a nap, so no, I don’t know how long I was gone. Last time I felt like I’d been gone for days, but only seemed to return an hour or so later. I can’t ever tell how long it’s been.” She pointed to Elizabeth. “Besides, you don’t know how lucky you are I’m the one going back right now. You were badly injured, but I’m the one who hurts and has to take that nasty Willow Bark medicine the doctor keeps giving you. And I have Mr Darcy trying to court me. Me! It should be you. I feel so awkward. I don’t want his flowers and poetry—I can’t stand poetry!”
Elizabeth’s jaw dropped. “He wrote you poetry?”
“No, he brought several books for me to read, but he did offer to read them to me. He also picked every wildflower in his fields and every rose in his hothouse for you, too. The man has it bad, and you could stand to cut him some slack.”
“I do not know what that means,” she said exasperated. “If you intend to lecture me, then please do so in words I can understand. I wish I knew why people have massacred the English language.” She turned and began walking back towards the house.
Tom offered Ellie his hand to help her from the mud puddle she stood in. “Don’t be too hard on her. I didn’t know what to do when you vanished, so I ran back to the house. Elizabeth may have looked just like you at the time, but when she spoke, it was obvious who she really was. Because you reappeared in your car after your last disappearance, she told me off for leaving the spot where you vanished, and we hurried back to wait for you to return.” They followed Elizabeth, who walked briskly several metres ahead of them. “When a few hours passed, she became terrified. She’s really afraid that each time you go back, it will become longer and longer until you don’t return and she’s stuck being you for the rest of her life.”
“Well, I don’t enjoy Regency life, so I don’t particularly fancy that scenario either.”
Tom nudged her. “Before we catch her up, what happened while you were there?”
“I took vile medicine, I was made to nap like a child, and then, I was taken downstairs after dinner.” Suddenly, she remembered the most important bit and gasped. At Tom’s questioning expression, she explained, “Before I returned, Mr Darcy received the letter—the one informing him of Lydia and Wickham running away from Brighton.”
“So, it has begun?”
“Yes, and I don’t know if I convinced Mr Darcy to go after them. I tried,” she rambled. “Lizzy must believe I tried as hard as I could. I became so upset when he told us the contents of Mr Bennet’s note that I blacked out and returned here. The last thing I heard was the poor man yelling orders to fetch the doctor while he lifted me and carried me upstairs.”
He squeezed her hand. “I’m sure you did the best you could and I’m sure Lizzy will believe you, but all we can do is see if the journals changed.”
Ellie wiped some mud from her cheek. “I’m surprised you remember this mess. So much changes whenever I go back. I’m glad we don’t have to convince you of who Elizabeth is again, though.”
Tom shrugged. “If I hadn’t been with Elizabeth while we waited, I suppose I might not remember, but you may not have changed anything this time or it’s possible you only altered something inconsequential. I mean the first time, you killed Elizabeth, and the second, you saved her. Both altered the future dramatically, but we won’t know what happened this time until we check.”
She let go of Tom’s hand and ran ahead to Elizabeth, who still strode towards the house. “Please don’t be angry with me. I can’t control how long I’m there any more than I can control when I go back. I want you there to see for yourself how charming your Mr Darcy is. I want him to give you flowers and books of poetry.” She leaned closer to Elizabeth and whispered, “I like my own Mr Darcy. I don’t want yours.”
One side of Elizabeth’s lips curved. “Forgive me my ill-temper. I am quite aware you cannot dictate when you depart or return, which makes this all the more frustrating. I do like you and Tom is an amiable man, but I long to go home. When you were gone for so long—”
“You became scared we would be swapped permanently.”
She stopped and stared around her at the house and the grounds. “To think, of all this I am to be mistress. I know enough to understand I marry Mr Darcy for love, and we live a glorious life here—in this splendour. I do not require such luxuries, but I certainly shall not object.” She gave a small giggle. “I must say that he is also a vast improvement over Mr Collins, who my mother was adamant I accept.”
“Mr Collins was not hot?”
Her eyes rolled and she laughed harder. “I assume you are asking if he was handsome, and no, he was not. Even if he had been the least bit attractive, his personality would have rendered him small. He was not repulsive, yet he suffered from a decided lack of hygiene.”
“Eww,” drawled Ellie with her nose crinkled. “He didn’t bathe?”
“We do not bathe as often as you, I have noticed, but I believe he washed less than most.”
When Tom approached, he looked between them. “What are you laughing about?”
“Lizzy was describing Mr Collins. He apparently proposed to her once.”
Tom laughed. “Ah, I have read of his proposal. Didn’t he say, “I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “How do you know that?”
He grinned. “I’ve read your journals, remember.”
She eyed him warily. “I am not certain how I feel about your knowledge of such intimate details of my life. You have a way of mortifying me with what I have unintentionally told you.”
“I did not mean to embarrass you,” he said, “but little facts and phrases pop into my head when you mention things that I recognise.” He held an arm out in the direction of the house. “While I would love to stand around and learn as much as I can from you, we should really check those journals to see if anything has changed. We don’t know when one of you will travel again.”
When they entered Pemberley, Millie, who was standing in the Great Hall, took one look at Ellie and shooed her to shower and change while Elizabeth and Tom went to the study. Ellie didn’t look forward to putting on her clothes from yesterday, but needs must and all that. Millie took her to a bedroom where she put a pair of joggers and a t-shirt on the bed before Ellie could remove her old clothes from her rucksack. Then, she showed Ellie the bathroom, how to work the taps, and where to put her muddy jeans and blouse to be washed.
When she departed, Ellie took in a deep breath. The bathroom smelled like Tom’s cologne. She opened a drawer on the vanity and found a razor, a brush, and other bits and bobs that all carried more of his tell-tale smell.
With a smile, she removed her clothes, showered, taking a big whiff of the soap, and wrapped a towel around herself before she wandered around the room. The bed was antique and similar to those in the rest of the house, but had a large canopy of sorts on the ceiling with no bed curtains. A modern duvet and pillows were spread haphazardly across the bed he hadn’t made presumably before she and Elizabeth came to Pemberley.
As much as she wanted to snoop around, she needed to return, so she reluctantly brushed her hair and changed into the clothes Millie provided, which were too large. She folded the waistband on the joggers several times and the Cambridge t-shirt hung past her hips, but Tom’s clothes worked in a pinch. With a grin, she put her brush back in her rucksack, leaving her bag there to return to the study.
Tom looked up, gave her a once over, but did not smile when she entered. “You did change Lydia’s fate, but not in the way you hoped.”
“Well?” Ellie bit her lip and lifted her eyebrows.
“Fitzwilliam did leave Pemberley and search for Lydia and Wickham,” explained Tom, “but you must have insisted Wickham and Lydia not marry and he honoured your request. Instead, Wickham was given passage to what we now call Canada, more specifically Nova Scotia, and Lydia was secluded from society. The family told the neighbourhood she visited a cousin in Shropshire, but in reality, she was with child.”
“He still married Lizzy, right?” She glanced from one to the other, a worried pang in her stomach.
“Yes,” answered Elizabeth. “We were wed, though not without some gossip and scandal attached to the union.”
“But Lizzy didn’t go back. If we saved Lydia, then why is Lizzy still here?”
Tom handed her an open journal. The handwriting wasn’t Fitzwilliam’s, it was more feminine. She looked to Elizabeth. “Is this yours?”
Elizabeth nodded. “We found some information in Mr Darcy’s, but Tom thought mine might reveal more of Lydia’s fate. He was correct.”
She skimmed through the entries until a passage made her pause and read through it again more carefully.
I received a letter from Mama this morning. Poor Lydia laboured for nearly three days before succumbing, taking Wickham’s unborn child with her. She was distraught when he chose money and passage over marriage to her. She railed at Fitzwilliam and I, and we shouldered the blame without argument, though Wickham was the villain. Mama said Lydia confessed to know the truth of Wickham before she died, but Mama still blames Fitzwilliam for not paying the wastrel to wed her youngest daughter. He did so at my behest. I am to blame. I pray Lydia finds peace. I hope someday, I shall find peace as well as absolution.
“We didn’t save Lydia.” The words hung in the air, making thick and difficult to breathe.
“No,” whispered Elizabeth. “But you have done what you could. Please do not think I hold you responsible. You could not have known what would occur.”
“We’ll figure out something.” Ellie shut the book with a snap, her voice insistent. “We have to. You will go back and everything will be perfect. You’ll see.”
“Shall I hold you to that promise?” Elizabeth’s eyebrow raised. “’Tis a difficult vow to uphold since we do not know how to remedy our problem.”
“Well, we’ll just have to think harder,” said Ellie, looking at the map still spread on the table. “We have to get you back. We will get you back.”
Elizabeth picked up a different journal and stared at the writing, appearing more serious now than she ever had. Since they’d met, a glint of something lit her eye, even when she was about to cry, but that quality had disappeared.
“What are you reading?” Ellie peered over her shoulder, recognising the now familiar, solid strokes of Fitzwilliam’s handwriting.
“I have never been so frightened as I was when Elizabeth fainted in my arms,” read Elizabeth softly. “I thought she died and a part of my chest was no more than a hollow void until Mr Newnham found her heartbeat and relieved my worry. My place is with Elizabeth, but her last words begged me to find her sister so find her I must. I shall do my heart’s desire as swiftly as possible for I want nothing more than to be at her side. Once I return, God willing, I shall never be parted from her again.”
Ellie and Tom both watched her as though she might shatter into a million pieces. Instead, she gave a shudder. “Elizabeth,” said Tom in a soothing voice. “You do remember Wickham’s history with your husband?”
She frowned while she set the book on the table. “He is not my husband yet, but yes, you read the letter he gave me at Hunsford. I have not forgotten a bit of it.”
“Did it ever occur to you that Wickham picked Lydia because he knew Fitzwilliam fancied you?”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened and her mouth opened and closed several times. “But how would he know?”
“Those two grew up here together and shared a room at Cambridge. Wickham would know Fitzwilliam better than a lot of people. He might’ve recognised the signs that Fitzwilliam Darcy was fighting his attraction to you. What better way to destroy any hope Fitzwilliam had of you than to ruin your sister.”
“How despicable!” she exclaimed. “But Mr Darcy indicated in his journal that Wickham required her pin money for passage to London.”
“Right, but he could have managed to persuade any number of ladies for funds, couldn’t he? Why Lydia Bennet?”
Elizabeth put her hands to her face and shook her head. When she removed them, her expression didn’t appear as though she were upset, but she stood straight and determined. “Would you mind terribly if I took a walk? I need to clear my mind.”
“I’d prefer you stay close to the house,” requested Tom. “I know you are accustomed to long rambles but if you get hurt, it might be more difficult to get you home.”
She scoffed and rolled her eyes. “I am not a small child. I can manage on my own. I have taken many a solitary ramble near Longbourn. Ellie, you are more independent than I, surely you agree with me.”
Ellie startled. She hadn’t expected to be put on the spot like this. “I understand, Lizzy, but I agree with Tom. If the sky begins to act all strange again, I’ll need to find you quickly. I don’t know what it would do, but I just can’t help but think it’s important that we’re together. I won’t be able to track you down if I don’t know where you are.”
“Very well,” she said, exasperated. “I doubt I shall be more than an hour. Would it be possible to have tea when I return?”
Tom smiled. “I will ensure it’s ready and waiting for you.”
With a decisive nod, Elizabeth left, leaving she and Tom alone. When Ellie turned, he stood beside her with a grin. “Millie gave you some of my clothes I see.”
“I assumed she did.”
He grinned wider, revealing his lovely white teeth and dimples. Her knees would’ve knocked together if it hadn’t been for the soft fleece of the joggers. “I rather like you like this.” He tugged at the hem of the shirt before grabbing a chunk of it and pulling her into his arms.
“You prefer me looking a right mess?”
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I like you wearing my comfy clothes,” he sniffed her shoulder, “and wet from using my shower. I rather like that you smell of my soap as well.” Goosebumps broke out down her arms and her back as his eyes met hers. He leaned closer and her mouth went dry. He was going to kiss her! His warm breath fanned on her cheek as he drew nearer and nearer. She sighed when his lips touched hers, but he didn’t linger long before he pulled back. Then, he paused for only a moment before he dove back in for more.
His lips were like velvet as they caressed hers and her brain wouldn’t work no matter how hard she tried to think. What was he doing to her? She’d never speak a coherent sentence again if he continued like he was, and she needed at least a part of her brain to figure out what to do about Elizabeth. His lips lifted from hers and branded the soft flesh beneath her ear.
After one last peck to the lips, he straightened with a smile so wide on his face, it could’ve powered the National Grid. “I should teach you everything there is to know about Lydia.”
“Lydia? Who’s Lydia?”
At the sound of his laugh, she buried her face in his chest. Why did he always turn her into a babbling puddle of mush?
Well, Ellie changed the past, but not in the way you might have figured. I’m sure y’all have a lot of questions, but there will be more about how the change came about coming so never fear! Ellie has a lot to learn and Tom has to be her teacher. I wonder how well that will work out?
Thanks for reading everyone!