We’re at Chapter 24! 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 23.
Is Lydia okay? I suppose we’ll find out one way or another today.
Chapter 24: Lydia’s Outcome
When Lydia hit the floor, all hell broke loose. Mr Darcy’s men grabbed Wickham by the arms while Ellie, shaking in anger from seeing the way he treated Lydia, ran forward and lifted her knee as hard as she could into his bits and pieces. He made a deep grunting noise and doubled over in a useless attempt to grab himself, but couldn’t get his hands to his balls because of Mr Darcy’s men heaving him into a nearby chair. The tallest of them grabbed a long strip of white fabric to one side and bound Wickham’s hands while Elizabeth dropped to her knees beside Lydia.
“You bitch!” muttered Wickham, writhing in the seat.
Ellie laughed and stepped closer. “Is that supposed to offend me, because I’ve been called worse, you know. You should’ve kept it in your trousers. Maybe next time you’ll think twice before putting it where it doesn’t belong.”
Mr Darcy’s only reaction was a lift of his eyebrows while his men chuckled under their breaths. They finished binding him and Ellie turned back to Elizabeth, who knelt beside Lydia with tears streaking down her cheeks. She stroked the hair back from her youngest sister’s face and begged her to wake, but Lydia didn’t move.
Ellie knelt on Lydia’s other side and pressed a finger under her jaw to find a pulse, which was there, but when Ellie compared it to her own, it seemed a little slower. She’d never been trained as a first aider, and at the moment, really wished she had.
“You cannot do this, Darcy!” yelled Wickham, struggling to free his hands. “I will ruin the little doxie without a second thought.
“Might be difficult from debtor’s prison,” said Mr Darcy. Wickham turned white as a sheet, and Mr Darcy shifted to stand over the worthless toe rag. “Do you think I paid your debts for all these years and never kept a record of the payments? How long do you think it will take to pay off nearly a thousand pounds? Of course, once I pay this establishment and any current debts, that sum could rise a few hundred pounds. The militia could have you released, but I believe they would be more interested in trying you for desertion.”
He looked to Elizabeth. “Is Miss Lydia able to be moved to the carriage?”
Elizabeth nodded. “I believe so. She breathes, but Miss Forrester and I need to make her presentable before we leave this room.” She tied the ribbons on Lydia’s chemise and grabbed the gown from the bed behind her. “Please help me,” she begged Ellie.
She would’ve helped her anyway, but Elizabeth’s tone broke her heart. The poor dear had wanted to save her sister more than anything and now, her sister lay unconscious. What else could go wrong? She’d wondered it before, but what if Lydia couldn’t be saved?
Ellie lifted Lydia’s head and shoulders while Elizabeth slid the gown over, but Ellie almost dropped her when someone bellowed. She and Elizabeth turned at the sound of a sickening crack to find one of Mr Darcy’s men towering over Wickham whose head now lolled to one side.
“I beg your pardon, sir, but I wasn’t expecting him to yell like that.”
“No apology is necessary. Since we want to attract as little attention as possible, I would have done the same.” He lifted Wickham’s head by the hair. “It appears as though you have broken his nose.”
Mr Darcy rummaged in a small sack and handed his man a few coins. “Well done, Graham. Let us hope his crooked visage renders him less attractive to the ladies. It will be better for them if it does.”
With Ellie’s help, they managed to draw the gown down Lydia’s legs and roll her to fasten it in the back. Elizabeth slipped Lydia’s boots on her feet and tied them. Then, while Ellie kept an eye on Lydia, Elizabeth threw Lydia’s belongings that were spread all over the room inside a trunk. Finally, she scanned the room. “I think I gathered it all, but I care not if I did not. We need to get her to my uncle’s house.”
Mr Darcy grabbed a long tan overcoat from a hook, spread it on the floor, and they carefully lifted Lydia, setting her on the coat. Once she was wrapped inside, he lifted her, and Elizabeth put a bonnet on her head. She’d be less likely to be recognised that way.
After gesturing to his men to gather the trunk, they made their way down the narrow corridor and stairway to the carriage. Once Ellie, Elizabeth, and Lydia were inside, Mr Darcy grasped Elizabeth’s hand. “Remain here. I must pay for Wickham’s lodgings and make arrangements for him. My driver and the man remaining are both armed. You will be safe with them.” He kissed her knuckles before he slammed the door shut and disappeared back inside the building.
The maid seated beside Lydia kept her from falling on the floor while Lydia flopped forward with a groan. “Lord, my head.”
Elizabeth leaned from the seat opposite and put her hands to Lydia’s cheeks. “We shall get you some laudanum when we reach Uncle Gardiner’s. Lydia groaned again and the maid gently coaxed her to rest against her shoulder.
It seemed like they sat there for an hour before Mr Darcy finally bounded down the front steps of the inn and jumped inside. When the door closed, he knocked his walking stick against the roof and they began to move. “Is she well?”
“She roused enough to say her head hurt, but never opened her eyes.”
His lips pressed to a fine line and one of his hands remained clenched while the other searched out Elizabeth’s. She blushed a little but let him have his way. “What happened with Mr Wickham?” she asked.
“My men are delivering him with an accounting of his debts to King’s Bench. He will not have the funds to buy his freedom any time soon. He should not have it for years with his habits. Of course, as I said to Wickham, the militia could try him for desertion if they choose.”
“What do we do about Lydia’s reputation?” she whispered.
He sighed and ran his hand through his curls. “I have more than one idea for that, but I believe we should consult with your uncle before a decision is made.”
She leaned her head against the back of the seat. “Thank you. You had no obligation to help us find Lydia, yet you have done so without asking anything in return.”
A small smile curved his lip to one side. “Yet I have gained a treasure more precious than I could have ever imagined when I only hoped to improve your opinion of me.”
“My opinion of you improved long ago.”
He raised their joined hands and pressed his lips to the back of Elizabeth’s hand, making Ellie sigh. They had Lydia, and she seemed well enough. How long would she have to wait before returning to Tom? A part of her couldn’t wait, but a part of her worried. What if he didn’t remember any of this? After all, this was a pretty significant change to the past.
When they arrived at the Gardiners’, Ellie gazed up at the house in wonder. How did it look so similar but at the same time so different? The business on the ground floor was gone and the entire street was more of a neighbourhood than it was in her day.
Once the housekeeper saw Elizabeth, she allowed them inside quickly and led them to an upstairs room where they could put Lydia. Mr Darcy requested to meet with Mr Gardiner, and after he lay Lydia down, returned to the parlour to wait. Elizabeth plopped onto the bed and stared at her sister. “Stupid, foolish girl!” she muttered. “Mama always indulged her and Papa allowed it, and now, she is ruined irrevocably.”
“Maybe Mr Darcy can fix things?”
“Fix things?” Elizabeth’s voice was disbelieving and high-pitched. “No one can restore her innocence. We do not know how far her elopement has spread.”
“Don’t get depressed so soon. Let’s see what Mr Darcy wants to do.”
“I suppose you are correct.” She stood and looked down at her sister. “Would you help me to ready her for the physician? Mr Darcy said he would send for one.”
“Yes, of course.”
Following Elizabeth’s lead, they did almost the opposite of what they did at the inn. They removed Lydia’s gown and her chemise, changing her into a nightgown Elizabeth took from a cupboard. Carefully, Elizabeth brushed her sister’s hair but did not plait it. “She has a lump on the back of her head.”
Ellie felt weird about it, but touched the place Elizabeth showed her. “It’s really not that big. She probably has a concussion, but I don’t know what to do about it.”
The door opened and Mrs Gardiner hurried inside with a dark brown bottle and a glass of wine. “I owe you an apology, Lizzy. Your insistence that Lydia was eloping came as such a shock in Lambton that it made it difficult to credit, yet you were correct.” She glanced at Ellie. “We owe you an apology as well, young lady. You attempted to help us, and we were defiant when we actually owe you a debt of gratitude.”
She nodded awkwardly, resisting the urge to agree with her, while Mrs Gardiner set the items on the table by the bed and brushed a lock of hair from Lydia’s forehead. “Mr Darcy has sent for a physician. Perhaps we should wait until he arrives to give her the laudanum. If she needs to wake, it might prevent it.”
“What about Willow Bark?” offered Ellie. “Would that keep her from waking?” She bit her lip at Mrs Gardiner’s surprised look in her direction.
“No, and I think he could still give her the laudanum if he wished. I believe I have a small amount, but I shall send Lucy out for more. I shall be but a moment.”
Unfortunately, Mrs Gardiner didn’t return straight away but sent word with a maid that she was out of Willow Bark, and rather than entrust it to a servant, she walked down to the apothecary herself for more.
Not long after the maid left, Lydia moaned and clutched her head. “It hurts.” She tried to sit up, but swallowed hard and dropped back down to the bed. “Lizzy, make it stop.”
Elizabeth crossed her arms over her chest. “Do you know where you are?”
Lydia blinked a few times and glanced around. “At Uncle Gardiner’s.”
“Do you know why?”
“Because you had to ruin the perfectly lovely time I was having with George.” Her tone was petulant, like the spoiled child she was.
“Lovely?” cried Elizabeth. “He used you or are you just too dim-witted to understand? He took your money and your maidenhood, and he would have eventually left you in that hovel alone and penniless had we not found you.”
“I know. You need not remind me,” Lydia whinged. “He is the one who hurt me, so why are you scolding me?”
“Because your behaviour put you in that situation. You, no doubt, flirted and behaved shamelessly in Brighton or he would have never thought of bringing you to London. You agreed to an elopement—something you should never have done—and gave him your virtue before you were wed. You have ruined us all!”
“Oh, tosh! No one will care. What I did was not so bad.”
Elizabeth gave an incredulous laugh. “Yes, it is! What if you fall with child? Do you want to be sent away?”
“Mama would never allow that to happen, besides, George ensured I would not get with child.”
Ellie’s fists were clenched at her sides and she’d been biting her cheek to keep from speaking, but could Lydia really be so clueless? “How did he do that?”
“Why should I tell you?” asked Lydia, glaring at Ellie as though she had a third eye and a hairy mole.
Elizabeth stepped beside Ellie with a bit of a blush on her cheeks. “I would care to hear this as well.”
Looking up at them from the pillow, Lydia opened her mouth several times before she shrugged. “I do not have to tell you.” She turned to Ellie. “Besides, I do not even know who you are.”
“Ellie helped me save you from that man, and that is all you need to know,” fumed Elizabeth. “You can answer her questions as though they come from me. You will be answering them from Aunt Gardiner or Papa if you do not tell us anyway.”
“Ha! As if I would tell Papa.”
“Then, you may as well enlighten us, Sister.”
Lydia inched up the headboard a little and tucked her hands in her armpits. “He did not finish inside me,” she mumbled, refusing to look at them.
“And you think that will make a difference?” asked Ellie with a laugh. “That’s hardly a dependable method.”
“How would you know?” Lydia sat up quickly and swayed. “George said it would work.”
Ellie laughed incredulously. Lydia was as stubborn as a mule. “He lied—just like when he said he’d marry you?”
“I was to be the first of my sisters to marry! He said he loved me! I would have had the most dashing husband and been the envy of all my sisters.”
Elizabeth pushed Lydia to lie back before she fell to the floor and gave herself another bump on the head. “And now you will likely be the ruin of us and no man will have you. Do not sit up again. I shall not help you if you fall off the bed.”
Mrs Gardiner entered. “Your argument can be heard at the bottom of the stairs. Lizzy, perhaps you and Miss Forrester should go to the parlour. Your father is here and wishes to speak with you. I will sit with Lydia until the physician comes.”
She followed Elizabeth into the corridor and down the stairs. The voices of several men could be heard through the door, and Elizabeth knocked before someone called, “Enter!”
Mr Darcy was the first to stand when he saw Elizabeth, and the stranger in the room, who must’ve been her father, chuckled at the eager expression upon Mr Darcy’s face. “I now see what you have been saying, Gardiner. He is certainly besotted.” Mr Bennet hugged his daughter. “You showed great foresight and maturity when you predicted Lydia’s actions in Brighton. I was a fool to make sport of you.” He leaned around to see Ellie. “Would you introduce me to your friend?”
She turned and held out a hand in Ellie’s direction. “Mr Thomas Bennet, may I present Miss Eliza Forrester. She has been of great aid in discovering Lydia’s whereabouts.”
Mr Bennet bowed. “My brother Gardiner has told me much of you, young lady. I am not certain why you have helped us, but I can never repay you for your information.”
Ellie gulped and glanced around her. Mr Bennet definitely expected some sort of a response! “I am pleased I could be of… help? I expect nothing for what I am happy to do.” She looked at Elizabeth, who grinned.
“How is Lydia?” asked Mr Gardiner.
With a roll of her eyes, Elizabeth shrugged. “Petulant, whinging, and infuriating.”
At a knock from the front door, Mr Gardiner excused himself. After watching him leave, Mr Bennet sighed. “Mr Darcy has one or two ideas to hopefully minimize any damage to the family’s respectability. He has also requested my permission and blessing to marry you, which I must admit came as quite a shock. I have given him my consent. He is the kind of man, indeed, to whom I should never dare refuse anything which he condescended to ask. I do hope you are as resigned to have him as he is to have you.”
Elizabeth took her father’s hand. “I am, Papa. He is the best of men. I love him dearly.”
“Well, then,” he sighed. “I suppose there is nothing to be done for it. I shall have to beat some sense into Lydia and Kitty or I shall run mad.”
A tiny giggle came from Elizabeth as she kissed her father’s cheek. “What ideas have you for Lydia’s reputation?”
“I thought we should marry,” suggested Mr Darcy. “We could claim I sent a carriage and a maid for Lydia and her note to Mrs Forster was nothing more than a poorly conceived joke.”
“Do you truly believe that will work?” Ellie fought the urge to adjust her stays. Why did those stupid things like to dig into her ribs at the worst moments? “It just seems so simple.”
“Colonel Forster is in town, searching for Wickham. I believe he would gladly accept the excuse,” offered Mr Bennet. “Lydia would no longer be his responsibility. My only concern is Meryton. My wife took to her bed when the letter from the Colonel arrived. I cannot imagine word has not spread to the village.”
Mr Darcy ran a hand over his mouth. “I could contact Bingley. After we are wed, we could all journey together to Meryton. Miss Lydia’s return with us as well as the stories of her attendance at our wedding would help quell some of the rumour.”
“As would Mr Darcy’s willingness to marry me.” When everyone looked at Elizabeth, she held up her hands. “Those in Meryton believe Mr Darcy to be of the proudest sort. Most of our neighbourhood would not believe that Mr Darcy was willing to marry a Bennet sister if Lydia attempted an elopement.”
Mr Bennet sat heavily in his chair. “I can see your point, but you must realise that there will still be talk. Not everyone will believe the tale, and I cannot say as I blame them.”
“There will be doubts, but my marriage to Elizabeth should go far to keeping you in good standing with your neighbours. If Mr Bingley returns to court Miss Bennet, that would also do your family’s reputation good. No one could hold Lydia’s foolishness against you.”
“What if she falls with child?” Ellie glanced to each one of them. That was the phrasing Elizabeth and Lydia used, and it was the one problem with Mr Darcy’s plan.
Mr Darcy’s cheeks turned rather red. “Mrs Gardiner mentioned an herb called Tansy. She intended to purchase some with the Willow Bark. It is said to prevent such conditions. If she shows signs of having conceived, we shall make arrangements for her.”
“We must hope it is effective then,” said Elizabeth with one eyebrow lifted.
“What say you, Lizzy?” asked her father. “Do you mind if your wedding is a hurried affair? Mr Darcy has offered to procure a license and send for your mother and your sisters.”
Her betrothed shifted from foot to foot. “I know it would not be in the chapel at Longbourn, but we could be wed as soon as your family arrives.”
Elizabeth stepped toe to toe with him, placed her hands to his chest, and lifted on her tiptoes. “I care not for a trunk of new gowns or teas and dinners. I want nothing more than to be married to you.”
“Then I suppose I must send for your family,” whispered Mr Darcy.
I hope the kick to the nether regions was what everyone hoped 😉 It looks like we’re to have a wedding and family is invading! Time to prepare the guest rooms and hide the silver!
Thanks for reading everyone!