Hi, everybody! Welcome back for Chapter Twelve! 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 11.
Alrighty! Will Tom believe that ‘horrid document’ or will he require something more to convince him? This chapter came out a touch long when I first wrote it, then it got a little longer, then, Caitlin reminded me of something Sunday, and I had to go back and fix it, which only added more. 🙂 So, I hope no one minds a bit of a long chapter!
Chapter 12: A Journal, Several Portraits, and a Bedchamber or Two
With a quick call on his mobile, Tom arranged for tea to be delivered to the study, and as soon as he pocketed his phone, his hand reached, palm up, for the neatly folded letter. Elizabeth’s earlier cheekiness disappeared, she hesitated, and stared at her name written in a flowing script, running her thumb across the paper in a sort of caress.
“He’ll return it when he’s done,” soothed Ellie, placing her hand on Elizabeth’s back. “He just wants to see it.” Ellie looked to Tom, who nodded.
“She’s right, you know. I’ve wondered for years what Fitzwilliam meant about that ‘horrible document.’ I only want to read it and make a copy if you don’t mind?” He spoke in a reassuring way, and as he spoke, the tension disappeared between Elizabeth’s shoulders.
She took a deep breath, steeled herself, and with a swift motion, set the letter in his hand. “I suppose no harm could come from what you suggest, but I do wish for its return. I am in a fair way of knowing it by heart, though the memory is no substitute for the original.”
Tom rolled his eyes. He was obviously still sceptical but at least willing to consider the possibility, and they did need his help. Lord knows they needed his help. The letter had to persuade him they told the truth because they had nothing else. Elizabeth’s Regency clothes were packed away in a bag inside Mildred’s boot, but how many people made replica clothing from that era these days? Those wouldn’t do a thing to convince him. That letter held their best chance.
He unfolded the paper and his eyebrows furrowed while he walked around his desk, not paying attention to where he was going and tripping on the leg before he made it to the other side. When he sat, he placed the letter flat upon the surface then pulled a book from the shelf behind him.
“’Tis so strange.” Elizabeth’s voice held a tone of wonder while she continued to stare at the painting.
“What is?” asked Ellie.
“I can see the lady in the portrait is me, I am told she is me, but I have no memory of sitting for an artist. I do not remember ever being at Pemberley before today. ‘Tis all quite disconcerting, you know. I have lived an entire life I do not remember.” She let out a tiny giggle. “I could be considered fit for Bedlam by some.”
Ellie peered over to Tom who was bent over the paper, engrossed in its contents. “Tom? Could I show Lizzy some of the house? It’d give us something to do while you study the letter.”
He lifted his head and blinked at her a few times as though he didn’t understand a word she said. “Oh, sure. Yeah, that’d be okay.” Before she could say thanks, his nose was buried again in the current object of his fascination.
They walked out of the room, and Ellie turned and followed the path she took on the tour while Elizabeth followed, peeking into rooms and studying the paintings they passed. They walked through three rooms without speaking a word. In fact, it wasn’t until she stood before a large portrait of a man in a red uniform, the nameplate reading, “Colonel Andrew Fitzwilliam,” that her voice startled Ellie. “Ah, Mr Darcy’s cousin. I met him in Hunsford when he stayed with his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He was not so handsome as Mr Darcy, but very gentlemanlike.”
She turned to face Ellie with her head at a slight tilt. “After Mildred stopped in the field, you returned to my body in eighteen-thirteen, did you not? I must admit to being shocked at seeing the alteration of Pemberley within moments of your disappearance—one minute it was in shambles and the next not even a charred stone wall remained. I confess to being exceedingly curious as to what occurred.”
“I did return,” answered Ellie. “When I first woke up, I think you were back in your room at the inn. Your aunt was there…”
Her eyebrows lifted. “My Aunt Gardiner? She must have been beside herself with worry.”
“Yes, your Aunt Gardiner and the quack doctor Ruby told us about. I could hear Mr Darcy begging your uncle to bring you here, to Pemberley, and he would send for whatever treatment you needed. I still don’t know how I did it, because it was nearly impossible to move a muscle, but I knocked some medicine from the doctor’s hand and yelled as loud as I possibly could for Mr Darcy.” She didn’t mention the strychnine or the lead. Elizabeth would have to return to that time. What good would it do to freak her out over something she couldn’t avoid in the future?
“Then my uncle must have agreed to Mr Darcy’s request.”
“You’re right,” continued Ellie. “Your uncle did let Mr Darcy have his way, and as you already know, you made it through. You should ask Tom since he knows more of the particulars than I do.”
“I do not believe that is wise. Should I return, it would not be sensible to know too much. I will find it difficult enough to conceal all I have learned as it is. How I travelled in time is not precisely proper drawing room discourse. You cannot simply fit it in with the weather or the state of the roads.” She raised an eyebrow. “Do you not agree?”
They wandered further down the gallery until Elizabeth stopped before the portrait of Fitzwilliam Darcy. Should she tell Elizabeth about meeting him? When Elizabeth returned, she’d learn of her supposedly odd behaviour, so it might as well come from Ellie than be a complete surprise. “I met him, you know.”
“Who?” Elizabeth asked distractedly, her eyes tracing each feature of the image before her.
Ellie laughed. “Mr Darcy, your Mr Darcy. Who else could I mean?”
Elizabeth turned in Ellie’s direction. “He is not my Mr Darcy,” she insisted with a huff.
“Yes, he is. All you would have to do is say jump, and he would definitely do it. He might even kiss your feet if you were crazy enough to ask.”
She shook her head with a laugh and turned to again stare at the painting. “I wish to say you exaggerate, but after recent revelations, I am not so certain anymore.”
“Do you at least like him more than when the two of you first met?” Ellie stepped forward to better see Elizabeth’s face. She wanted to know if she became nervous or awkward by the question. Maybe that would give her an idea of whether Elizabeth’s feelings had changed.
“Can a lady not have her secrets?” she asked mischievously. “After all, I do not enquire of your feelings for Greg or Tom Darcy.”
“No, she can’t have her secrets, and leave Greg out of this. He never cared for me the way Fitzwilliam Darcy cares for you. I mean, look at all the man has done. He is head-over-heels in love with you, and you still can’t say whether you like him any better? Come on, Lizzy! Really! He had you moved to Pemberley, he ensured your life was saved, and he would do anything for you.”
Elizabeth looked at Ellie. “My esteem for the gentleman rose merely by reading his letter as he did not require much to rise above my initial impression of him. But, if you must know, I am gratified by his constancy and touched by his depth of feeling. Does that satisfy you?” She turned and began to walk back towards the library, calling over her shoulder, “Now, I am certain the tea has arrived by now. It will be cold if we do not return. I detest little more than cold tea.”
Ellie sighed and followed her back the way they came. When they entered the study, Tom looked up from where he examined a book and the letter that lay beside it. “Amazing! The handwriting is identical to Fitzwilliam Darcy’s journals.”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes while she prepared the tea that awaited them when they entered. “Of course, it is. Why would I go to the trouble of keeping a letter written by the hand of another?” He appeared confused but instead of arguing, he became more distracted when he turned back to the paper. “Would you like some tea, Ellie?” she asked.
“I don’t think so, but thanks. I could really use a glass of wine after the day we’ve had, but I can’t ask when Tom thinks I’m certifiable.” Ellie leaned against the table and watched Elizabeth’s elegant movements for such a simple task. “I should tell you,” she began apprehensively. “When I woke up a second time, your aunt asked if Mr Darcy could visit you.”
“She allowed him in my sick room? While I wore my bedclothes?” Her voice was high and shocked. “How mortifying.”
“Well, yes, but she did it because she was concerned for him. He’d been so worried that he hadn’t slept unless the doctor made him. He stood outside the door for who knows how long…”
She shook her head. “Oh, dear. When I first met him, I never imagined he could be so caring. He seemed so proud, so cold.”
“Yeah,” chuckled Ellie, “about as cold as a bonfire on Guy Fawkes Night.”
“Well, he never spoke to me. He always stared and behaved in such a haughty manner. What other conclusion should I have made?”
“I don’t know how he acted when you met him, but I can tell you that when he entered the room, he was really nervous. I tried to speak like you but nothing came out right at all. I felt so bad for him that I said he was tolerable…”
Elizabeth spluttered and choked on her first sip of tea. “You used the word tolerable?” she squeaked, picking up a napkin from the tray and dabbing her chin.
“I did. He appeared shocked, and I immediately knew I screwed up.”
“You could not have known,” said Elizabeth. “I hope he was not too put out.”
“The two of you still married, so I doubt it. Besides, he thought I spoke oddly from the laudanum and told the doctor to give me less of it.”
Elizabeth giggled. “Forgive me. I can only imagine how you must have sounded.”
“He must have proposed to you? At Hunsford?” asked Tom in a loud voice, startling them. “He mentioned an incident at Hunsford frequently in his journals but never said what happened. Instead, he called it ‘that day.’ Even in this letter, he never says, but it has been the only possibility for his meaning I could think of. Elizabeth never mentioned it in directly in her letters either. Instead, she said he needed to think…”
“Of the past as its remembrance gives him pleasure?” finished Elizabeth.
“Yes, that’s it exactly.” His mouth didn’t close at the end of his statement but remained open while he gaped at her. “My God, it can’t be. You being here, in this time, is impossible. Time travel isn’t possible.”
“I would not have believed so either had I not awakened in this strange time and place. I do not understand so much and while I was fascinated in the beginning, I now long for home. I miss my family—even silly, headstrong Lydia.” Elizabeth glanced up to the portrait of herself, gave long exhale, before she looked again at Tom. “Please, can you help us?”
He made an extremely strange sound, almost a cross between an incredulous laugh and a bark, his eyes widened. “I haven’t the foggiest idea of how to send someone back in time. You need Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein—of course, you’d have to travel in time to consult him on the matter.” He shook his head as he stood and began to pace back and forth in front of his desk. “Even H.G. Wells would be a better choice than me. I’m just a simple historian with a near-obsessive fascination for my family’s history. I don’t know… I can’t solve this!”
Ellie jumped forward and grabbed him by the arms, stopping him in his tracks. “We don’t need a brilliant scientist. I think we need to fix Elizabeth’s biggest regret for her to go back.” She glanced to Elizabeth, hoping she would help convince him, but she just sat there watching them as though they were a show on the telly. “Well? Don’t you agree?”
“Forgive me, Ellie,” she replied, placing her teacup upon the saucer. “I have felt such a fish out of water since my arrival. I must confess to enjoying your Mr Darcy’s shock. We do indeed require your assistance and not whoever you mentioned earlier, though I am certain they are quite knowledgeable in their own right. I must confess that I am at a loss in regards to my biggest regret. ‘Tis quite unlike me to have regrets, but if you say I did, then I must have.”
Ellie took Elizabeth’s hands since it was the best she could think to do. She hated shocking her, but if they were going to fix this, then she had to know. “While you visited Derbyshire with your aunt and uncle, Lydia eloped with George Wickham.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes in horror. “Oh! That stupid, stupid girl. I tried to warn my father, but he would not heed my advice. I knew something of this nature would happen one day, though I do not understand why it is my regret? She should be the one to shoulder the grief of such a mistake.”
“Because Mr Darcy was so in love with you, he paid Wickham to marry your sister,” explained Tom. “I don’t have an exact sum, but it’s believed to be nearly one year’s income.”
“Ten thousand pounds!” Elizabeth’s hand flew to her chest. “He was rumoured to have ten thousand pounds per annum.”
“But your biggest regret wasn’t the money,” continued Tom. “Wickham had a cruel streak no one realised and three years later, he…” He scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. “Well, he beat her to death.”
A loud swallow came from Elizabeth while she stared at them, trying to come to grips with what she’d heard. “I felt responsible. I may not have arranged the marriage, but I would have felt responsible. Mr Darcy would not have paid for them to wed if it was not for me.” She took a deep breath as though she was trying to hold back tears and looked at Ellie. “You believe preventing Lydia’s marriage would return me home.”
“It’s all I can think of,” said Ellie. “What do you think?”
Elizabeth straightened and stood tall. “We can only make the attempt. ‘Tis all we have.”
Hand in hand, they turned to face Tom. “So, will you help us?” Ellie searched his eyes for something, anything that would mean he truly believed them.
“I don’t have a clue what I’m supposed to do.” His shoulders slumped. “How could I possibly fix Lydia’s situation? I live two hundred years after all of that happened. I cannot go back to eighteen-thirteen.”
“No, but I can.” Ellie reluctantly loosened her grip on his rather well-muscled arms and stood straight. “I know it sounds insane, but that’s how this entire mess started. I was reading that book of letters you gave me when I fell asleep. Next thing I knew, I woke up in Elizabeth’s body on the morning she was supposed to tour Pemberley. It was me, not Lizzy, who ran in front of that carriage—I was trying to wake myself up because I thought all of it was a bizarre dream.” The words poured from her mouth in a big rush and without ceasing. “When I first came back, you didn’t exist because Lizzy died. You only returned after the second time I travelled back.”
He flinched a little when she said how he hadn’t existed, but his eyes never left hers. “Then how do you do it? How do you go to eighteen-thirteen? Do you have some strange machine or do you have to be in a specific place?” A strange glint she couldn’t identify appeared in his eyes. “You don’t own a DeLorean do you?” One side of his lip curved upwards, and she punched him in the arm.
He rubbed the spot she hit. “Hey, that hurt.”
“Then don’t make fun of us,” said Ellie.
“I’m sorry. This is just so unreal and that popped into my head.” He cleared his throat and straightened. “So, exactly how do you travel to eighteen-thirteen?”
“Well, I don’t know exactly. The sky turns sort of a weird purple and sparks shoot across the sky, so we know when it’s coming. Then, I am Elizabeth there while she is me here if that makes any sense at all. So far, it’s happened two times, but I did seem to stay for a while the last time because I woke up twice after the carriage accident.”
“How am I supposed to help you then?” he asked with an adorable frown. “It all seems impossible when you’re the only one going back and forth.”
Elizabeth stepped between them. “I believe Ellie to be correct. We require every detail of my youngest sister’s elopement. We must prevent her marriage to Mr Wickham and hope the change returns me home.”
“Will you help us?” asked Ellie again while she crossed her fingers behind her back. He had to say yes!
He looked at Elizabeth and then at Ellie where his eyes remained for at least a minute or two. “Yes, I will do what I can—not that I know what that is.” He muttered the last and ran a hand through his hair.
Ellie, without thinking, threw her arms around his neck and pulled herself tight to him. “Thank you!” His body stiffened, and she suddenly felt awkward and stepped back. “Yes, well…”
“We’ll need caffeine to keep us going.” He reached for his phone and pressed a button. “Would you like some coffee?”
Ellie laughed. “I love coffee, but would it be too much to ask for a glass of wine? It’s been a long day.” His dimples appeared and made her heart thump madly against her chest. How could a simple smile reduce her to mush?
“Never mind the caffeine, I think wine sounds perfect.”
The sound of a throat clearing made them turn to Elizabeth, who smiled. “Please do not forget my presence. I know behaviour between men and women is quite different in this day and age, but I am unaccustomed to such free expressions of affection.” Tom’s cheeks became a brilliant red and had to have matched her own, which burned.
“While I am eager to be home,” continued Elizabeth, “I am also greatly fatigued and will not be of much aid unless I rest. I hope I do not ask too much, but might you have a bedchamber where I could retire?”
Tom started and felt around on the desk. “I am certain I can find the perfect room for you.” He patted his pockets front and back. “We can fetch your bags from the car later or perhaps I should just have one of the farmhands pull your car from the field with the tractor?” He abandoned his search for whatever, grabbed his mobile, and made a call to arrange for Mildred to be brought to Pemberley. After he hit end, he led them through a maze of hallways Ellie hadn’t seen on the tour. Eventually, they reached a door that Tom opened to reveal a huge bedroom. An enormous bed stood to one side with a large, square canopy attached to the ceiling and long, thick bed curtains.
“I believe it only fitting this room be yours, Mrs Darcy.”
“My name is not Mrs Darcy. I am Miss Elizabeth Bennet.” She stepped inside and turned in a circle with an amazed expression. “I do not understand the significance. Why should this be my bedchamber?”
Tom leaned against the door frame with a cheeky grin. “This is the room you shared with Fitzwilliam Darcy during your entire marriage. I thought you might prefer it to the others.”
Her face became as red as Mildred. “’Tis not appropriate to discuss such matters. How do you…? Never mind, I do not wish to know.” She hurried into the hall. “Do you have another bedchamber I might use?”
“Lizzy,” called Ellie, “there’s no reason you can’t sleep in that room. It’s yours. You’ve already slept there.”
She shook her head furiously. “’Tis not mine yet. I have not lived that part of my life, and I do not feel I should reside there until I have. Besides, people do not discuss such matters. I do not discuss your sleeping arrangements with men.”
“I haven’t slept with any men since you’ve known me,” exclaimed Ellie, shocked.
“But that does not mean you have never… I do not discuss such things because it is just not done.” Elizabeth turned to Tom. “Is there not a simple guest suite I could use? A house this size must have a modest guest room.”
“Those are all a part of the tour,” explained Tom. “The family wing has been kept private, and because of the history, we’ve kept these rooms decorated similarly for the last two hundred years. I suppose a little more of that superstition, like how we don’t move your portrait.” He motioned down the hall with a slight jerk of his head. “Perhaps the mistress’ suite? According to the journals and your letters, you never spent one night in there.”
Elizabeth studied him almost like she was attempting to see if he was lying. “Very well, I suppose I will use the mistress’ suite.”
“Don’t look too put out about it.” Ellie laughed, grabbed her arm, and led her after Tom to the next door. “I am sure it is an amazing room. Besides, Tom could always make us walk to the inn.”
“You know very well he would not,” protested Elizabeth. “He is a Darcy man, which likely means he is too noble for his own good.” She smothered a yawn with her hand and gazed longingly at the large four poster bed. “I thank you for your hospitality, sir.”
“Do you need anything else?” He scratched the back of his head. “I could get you a t-shirt to sleep in, but I am afraid I don’t have much for a lady. All of the clothing from your time is preserved, and I don’t dare open the boxes.”
“I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but I am so exhausted, I might just sleep in these clothes.”
He nodded and said, “Sweet dreams then.”
When they left Elizabeth, Ellie followed Tom to the kitchen where he poured each of them a glass of wine. He took a large swallow, looked at his wine, and then his eyes met hers. “I know I said I’d help you and Elizabeth, but I want something in return.”
Ellie startled and clutched her glass a little tighter. “What is that?”
“I know you told me only part of the story. I want to know exactly how you and Elizabeth got into this mess—and everything you’ve done since you found her in twenty-seventeen.” His serious expression cracked, a brilliant smile overtook his features, and his dimples peeked from his cheeks. Her knees wobbled, but she remained standing.
She opened her mouth once… twice… but nothing came out. When had she become such a daft cow?
Tom and Ellie are going to finally have that long awaited drink? What could possibly go wrong… or right? Are Ellie and Elizabeth on the right track? And is Tom a good substitute for Stephen Hawking? Inquiring minds want to know? 😉
Thanks for reading everyone.