Hi, everybody! Welcome back for Chapter Thirteen! 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 12.
So, Tom is helping and he was going to have that long-awaited drink with Ellie. I don’t suppose anyone’s curious about how that turned out? 😉
Chapter 13: Fitzwilliam’s Folly
Ellie didn’t open her eyes, but shifted and stretched, settling into that snug nook where she was all warm and cosy. She rubbed her cheek against the soft fabric of her pillow while she inhaled the pleasant woodsy smell. What washing liquid did they use on their sheets? She really needed to get some, but she’d spend all day in bed if it smelled like this.
She froze. Wait a minute, when had Tom shown her to a room?
After he poured that first glass of wine, he took the bottle, and led her back to the library where they sat on a chunky couch near the large, marble-trimmed fireplace. Once they drank a second glass, things became a bit fuzzy. They talked rather late. She remembered that. She also remembered Tom fetching another bottle of wine, but nothing about a bedroom jogged her memory.
Her pillow rose and fell with a groan. She gasped and sat up like a shot. “Oh, crap!” she muttered, with the heel of her hand on her forehead. Rising that fast was a bad idea. She swallowed hard and when the pounding in her head stopped, she opened her eyes.
Tom lay there on the sofa, breathing evenly, his mouth slightly opened, and sleeping like the dead. Even all rumpled with a hint of a beard peeking from his chin, he still drew her attention like no one else. He had such thick, dark curls. They really were lovely. A part of her wanted to reach over and run her fingers through them, but then he might wake up and she’d be embarrassed.
She needed to stop ogling him, so she dropped her head to the back of the couch while she tried to wake up fully. She licked her lips and her teeth. Ewww! She hadn’t brushed her teeth after all that wine and her mouth felt like she’d been sucking on a woollen jumper. Water would be heavenly, but she’d have to find a way to get up without waking him. She peered around her, but before she could figure out the easiest way of moving without disturbing him, the loud ring of her mobile phone sent her scrambling for her handbag.
Tom sat straight up. “Wha?”
Ellie pressed the screen and put the phone to her ear. “Where have you been? I’ve called and called. I’ve been to your flat. I even called Greg.”
“Theresa?” Why had she asked? Who else would call and tell her off without even saying hello?
“Well, duh! Who else would it be? Where the hell are you?”
Tom swung his legs to the floor and rubbed his eyes. It was probably good that Theresa called. She covered her mouth with her hand and blew into it, grimacing when the air hit her nose. Her breath was about as fresh as a smelly sock. What if he’d tried to kiss her?
“Hellooo? Ellie! Will you answer me? I know you’re there. I can hear you breathing.”
“You might want to answer her,” said Tom with a deep chuckle.
She tore her eyes from his, so she could speak without making an idiot of herself. “Oh, right. I’m in Derbyshire.”
“Why would you go back?… Oh, no. You didn’t go back for that wanker you said was handsome, did you?”
“Not exactly.” Okay, so her answer was a little uncertain, but it wasn’t like she could tell Theresa the truth.
Mr Handsome stood and left the room while Ellie shamelessly ogled his bum. Hopefully, he didn’t hear that last bit Theresa said!
“Not exactly? Ellie! You just got rid of one prick. You can’t get involved with another.”
“He’s not what I thought at first. He’s a good guy, but I misunderstood what someone said and got it all wrong. Besides, it’s not why I came up here. I had to fix something, but I can’t talk about that right now.”
“What about a job? Ellie, you’re supposed to be looking for one, remember?”
“Of course, I remember,” she huffed, “but something came up. Something I can’t put off.”
“I hope he’s worth it, because if he’s not, I’ll cut his balls off.” Theresa’s low tone sounded more threatening than normal and Ellie pulled the phone from her ear and looked at it. “Ellie?”
“It’s not like that, really. I swear, there’s a lot more going on than some handsome guy.” Tom returned with two cups that resembled coffee mugs, and Ellie immediately perked up. “I can’t talk about it right now. You’ll have to trust me. I gotta go. I’ll call you. I promise.”
“I’ll call you,” she repeated. “Bye.” When she hung up, she took the cup Tom offered, the delicious scent of espresso and steamed milk flooding her senses and waking her just a little more. After taking a sip, she looked up to find a devilish grin on his face that made her toes curl.
“So, you think I’m handsome.”
She hid her mouth behind her coffee. “What makes you think I was talking about you?”
“You don’t have to admit it if you don’t want to, but I heard you,” he sang. “You think I’m handsome.”
She set her coffee on the floor, stood up, and took a swing to hit him in the arm, but he grabbed her wrist and pulled her into his lap. His fingers dug into her ribs and she couldn’t help but laugh so loud it echoed around the room.
He paused for a moment. “Do you admit you said it?”
“No,” she giggled just before he began tickling her again. “Please! I can’t breathe!”
They were both laughing when his hand stopped its torture and rested upon her waist right where her t-shirt had lifted to expose her bare midriff. With a gasp, she swallowed while their eyes didn’t move one millimetre from the other’s. Her breathing quickened. His warm palm made her insides quiver and his chin dipped closer and closer… Oh, God! Her breath! Before his incredibly soft-looking lips touched hers, she turned into his neck and hugged him tight.
“Ellie?” One of his hands rubbed up her back, but she didn’t lift her face.
“I didn’t brush my teeth after all that wine last night. My breath this morning is dreadful. The coffee can’t have helped either. I want to, but I just can’t.”
His shoulders and chest shook. “Mine probably isn’t any better, you know. My teeth haven’t seen a toothbrush or toothpaste since yesterday morning.” As she lifted her head, his lips brushed her temple. “I wouldn’t have held your less than stellar breath against you.”
“How gallant of you.”
Before he could say another word, the door opened and Elizabeth entered, dressed in the gown she’d worn when Ellie first laid eyes upon her. She took one look at the two of them, turned multiple shades of red, and turned to face the other direction. “If you are going to behave in such an improper fashion, it would be more prudent to lock the door. Otherwise, you do not know who might interrupt.”
Ellie used Tom’s broad shoulders to stand. “We’re not behaving improperly. We were talking.”
Elizabeth’s eyebrow lifted. “In my time, your placement on his lap would be scandalous. You could be forced to wed.”
“Speaking of being forced to wed,” interrupted Tom, “you wanted to learn about Lydia’s elopement.”
Ellie grabbed her coffee. “We do. Whatever you know, we need you to tell us.”
He led them into the study where he retrieved a few books and some papers from a cabinet behind his desk. “These are both Fitzwilliam’s and Elizabeth’s journals from that time. Elizabeth’s don’t have much since she was still weak and recovering from the carriage accident. She does mention it after her recovery and what her husband went through to bring the marriage about. Fitzwilliam thoroughly detailed his search and included where he found them, so his will be more helpful.”
The pages of Fitzwilliam’s journal were yellowed and fragile, so Ellie turned them carefully, watching dates. When she reached April of eighteen-thirteen, there was a large gap of time between entries—he hadn’t written again until June. “What happened?” she asked, frowning. He didn’t write anything for almost two months.”
Elizabeth glanced over her shoulder and paled. “I am afraid the last entry is the morning he proposed to me.”
Tom’s eyebrows rose on his forehead. “If you don’t mind telling me, why did you refuse him?”
“Oh, it was a dreadful declaration,” she explained dramatically. “He listed every consideration that prevented him from proposing marriage in the past, including the situation of my family, the behaviour of my mother and sisters and sometimes my father. He thought his overcoming those faults spoke in his favour, I suppose. I had also discovered his role in separating my sister Jane from Mr Bingley. I could not marry the man responsible for the disappointed hopes of my favourite sister.” She gave a decisive nod. “I told him my opinion of him and said he was the last man on Earth I could be prevailed upon to marry. Much of it I now regret. I owe him an apology… if I ever see him again.”
“You will,” said Ellie. “We’ll get you back. I promise.”
“I appreciate your attempts to put me at ease.” Elizabeth glanced at the portrait and back. “However, I would prefer to hear the truth of the matter. I will not pretend my situation is easily solved, though I believe some of Tom’s excellent tea would do wonders for my nerves.”
Tom took the journal and flipped to August. “Here are the entries pertaining to Elizabeth’s accident and Lydia’s elopement. While you read through those, I’ll call down to the kitchen.”
Ellie read the three entries before she found one that provided the information she was looking for.
August 15, 1813
My visit to Mrs Younge today finally bore fruit. I am unsure of what I said that convinced her to give me Wickham’s direction, yet she provided it without much inducement. Without delay, I hastened to the seedy boarding house in Saffron Hill where he and Miss Lydia resided together in the most dissolute of circumstances. She refused to leave him, but Wickham was willing to be induced in much the same manner as he always was.
We stepped outside while Miss Lydia dressed and discussed what he would require to wed the girl. Of course, he never had any intention of marrying her until money was mentioned. The small amount of pin money she possessed helped their passage to London and he was not averse to her sharing his bed, but he never intended for her to be more than a diversion. I wanted to beat the smug expression from his face when we agreed to a sum, but I confess, I would have paid infinitely more to ensure Elizabeth’s happiness.
“Saffron Hill?” Ellie sighed and handed the book to Elizabeth, who began reading the entry while Tom set down his mobile and unrolled a map.
“I’ve done some research on that area, tracing property and historical records where I could. In eighteen-thirteen, the two properties marked with blue ticks were inns, which is probably what he meant when he said ‘boarding house.’ ”
“I have other information, but I doubt it’s useful. When Elizabeth’s father died and Longbourn became the property of a Mr William Collins, Elizabeth kept Mr Bennet’s journals and papers. I have the direction to the house where Lydia resided with a Colonel Forster and his wife in Brighton as well as a list of inns where they stayed on their trip to London. Mr Bennet noted them as he found them. I have no idea why. He was quite thorough, however, and the information could help.”
Elizabeth picked up the worn book Tom placed in front of them. “Poor, stupid Lydia. My father never disciplined her as he ought, but he appears to have been diligent when it came to her retrieval. He did enjoy books and study. I imagine he approached this much like a problem to be solved.”
After a quick knock, the door opened and an older woman brought in a tray with tea, a cafetiére, and breakfast food, and placed it on a table. “You haven’t eaten, Tom, and your friends haven’t either. Good hosts don’t starve their guests.” She glanced at the mess of old books and the map sprawled across the desk. “You’re not pouring over Lydia Bennet’s elopement again, are you?”
He grinned and placed an arm around her. “Millie, I’d like you to meet Ellie and well… Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth curtseyed. “’Tis a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Millie’s eyes shifted between the portrait and Elizabeth, then widened for a fraction of a second. “Oh, Tom,” she gave a giggle, “The tourists will enjoy her, my dear. The likeness is remarkable.”
A small lift appeared to one side of Elizabeth’s lips. “If you will excuse me, I should prepare my tea before it goes cold.”
“I should help her,” muttered Ellie. “It was good to meet you.”
As she followed Elizabeth, Millie whispered, “No young lady will date you if you show them your obsession. I know it’s been a few years, but surely you know how to impress a girl—dinner, flowers, walks in the garden.”
“Yes… well, thank you, Millie. I’ll call down if I need anything else.”
“What was that little smile about?” asked Ellie, pouring more coffee.
“Her assumption. I admit the truth to be fantastical, but she never suspected the reason I am actually here. ‘Tis amusing.”
Once Elizabeth made her tea, she placed two pieces of toast and two slices of bacon on a plate, and sat in the nearest chair. Tom scratched his head when he appeared beside her, scanned the tray, refilled his mug, and piled his plate with toast and the remaining bacon.
Ellie laughed, incredulous. “Hello! Bacon doesn’t grow on trees. I’d like some, too.”
Absentmindedly, he looked at her and her empty plate. “Sorry. You can have what you want. I promise I won’t bite as long as you don’t flap it about in my face.”
Those swoon-worthy dimples appeared, and she rolled her eyes, taking some of the bacon from his plate as well as a couple pieces of toast. She bit her lip to keep from smiling at his silliness but hip bumped him before she took the seat across from Elizabeth.
He sat in the chair next to her. “Any theories on how to return Elizabeth?”
Ellie blew out a heavy exhale. “I wish I had some control over any of it. Everything has been so random. Maybe if I had the book you gave me of Lizzy’s letters, I could try reading it again and hope it works like the first time, but I don’t have it. It disappeared after Lizzy was hit by the post coach.”
“I imagine we shall be forced to wait until the sky changes as it did yesterday,” said Elizabeth, glancing out the closest window. “I will say that whatever has caused this has been quite unaccommodating. I am rather put out at the capricious nature of it all.”
Tom and Ellie both paused what they were doing and watched her. With what she said, one might think she would appear upset or even angry, but she sipped her tea and gazed at the roses in the garden until she noticed their looks. “Why do you stare at me so?”
Ellie finished her coffee and scooted out her chair. “Tom, is there a loo close by? I’d like to change and brush my teeth.”
He pointed to a doorway Ellie hadn’t used before. “Since this wing is still part of the tour, you go into the old servants’ corridor and when it turns left, you’ll find the door ahead of you.”
She grabbed the rucksack they’d brought in from Mildred last night, and hurried to the water closet. She brushed her teeth and changed into the other outfit she’d brought. If she’d known she was going to see Tom, she would’ve brought something smarter, but it was too late now. When she rummaged around the bottom of the bag for her brush, her fingers bumped something hard—something she hadn’t packed.
Carefully her hand gripped it and pulled the mysterious object from her belongings while she stared at the cover in disbelief. The book? Had it magically appeared in her bag after her last trip to eighteen-thirteen? She ran the brush through her hair as fast as she could, shoved it in her rucksack, and ran to the study. When she burst through the door, both Tom and Elizabeth startled.
“Look what I found!” she exclaimed, holding the book of Lizzy’s letters in front of her.
He tilted his head with a confused expression. “Is that…?”
She nodded her head while she tossed her bag into the corner. “It was gone when I woke up that morning at the inn. I had it on the bed with me when I fell asleep, and I swear it wasn’t there when I packed my things. That isn’t even the same rucksack I used before. I never unpacked the other after finding Lizzy in my flat, so I used another when we hurried to leave London yesterday.”
Elizabeth took the book and turned it over in her hands. “But what does it mean?”
“It must’ve found its way back after the timeline changed,” said Tom doubtfully. “It sounds strange, but it’s the only thing I can think of.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and watched her over his glasses. “I’ve also wondered about something you told me last night.”
“Well, you said you thought you saw Elizabeth’s ghost…”
“I am still very much alive, thank you,” interjected Elizabeth. “I have no intention of haunting anything for a long time yet.”
“He means just before I travelled back and you appeared in twenty-seventeen. He wanted to know every detail of what happened, so we discussed it over wine last night.” When she turned to Tom, his eyebrows were raised. “I saw her outside the gates, near the road.”
“Will you show me?” requested Tom.
Elizabeth returned the book to Ellie. “If you do not object, I would prefer to remain. I want to be certain we have not missed any detail that might be of aid in locating Lydia.”
“I thought you preferred not to know too much.”
“I will restrict myself to the research Tom has offered. If we manage to save my sister, the details will change, will they not? Nothing will be precisely as it was.”
“She has a point,” said Tom. “What she’s reading is likely to be different if you can prevent Lydia and Wickham’s marriage.”
“Okay, but only what is on the table.” Ellie’s voice sounded horridly like a parent’s.
Tom grabbed her hand and tugged. “I’m sure she’ll be okay for a half-hour or so. We won’t be long. I promise.”
Ellie looked between them, but couldn’t resist following Tom when he led her out the door. Before she knew it, they passed through the gates where she lifted her arm and pointed. “There. I saw her right between those trees.”
Her heart did a flip when he laughed. It was a wonderful sound—rich and low. “Come with me.” He pulled her by the hand through the trees to a large clearing. A stream cut through the lush, green grass that sloped downward where a small stone bridge was nestled before a wooded hill. The path wound from the bridge up to a folly set picturesquely in the trees.
“Fitzwilliam built it in honour of their marriage. Elizabeth adored this part of Pemberley—she mentions it often in her letters. They had picnics here and played with their children along the banks of the stream. When you said you saw Elizabeth near the front gates, I knew it must’ve been close.”
They climbed to the folly and walked around. Near the door was an inscription:
In honour of the marriage of Fitzwilliam Darcy to Elizabeth Bennet, 14 October 1813.
I was and am yours, freely and entirely to obey, to honour, love and fly with you, when, where, and how, yourself might and may determine.*
Ellie turned to Tom, but before she could speak, hail began to pound the ground all around them and Tom practically dislocated her shoulder yanking her into the folly. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she responded. She stepped to the door and leaned to better see the sky, which now was that same strange purple-grey. Several sparks shot through the clouds while she called him over, “Tom, come see.”
His face was the picture of confusion when he noticed the shooting stars. “How’s the sky dark enough for a meteor shower?”
She shook her head. “It’s happening again. I don’t know why, but the weather becomes worse each time.” She looked over her shoulder. “We need to return to the house. I have to find Lizzy.”
“We can’t, not in this hail!”
“We have to,” she insisted. Before he could tell her no, she took off through the stinging pellets of ice and down the trail. Soon heavy footfalls followed close behind, thudding along the dirt path. The trees sheltered them most of the way down, but they were soon pelted again in the clearing. By the time Tom grasped her hand and led her down a different trail, the hail had given way to a driving rain and the path was flooding, becoming one enormous puddle.
Their steps created splashes as they ran until something snagged Ellie’s foot. The last thing she knew, she was falling face first into the mud, but she never hit the ground.
*From a love letter from Lord Byron to Lady Caroline Lamb
I think we know why Ellie never hit the ground. Will Fitzwilliam Darcy have gone searching for Lydia? What has happened in 1813 while Tom and Ellie were flirting? Tune in same time, same place next Wednesday! 🙂
Thanks for reading everyone.