Hi everyone! Just a quick thanks to Caitlin for being such a sport and letting me in on her awesome idea. She’s been a lot of fun to work with and has such a neat vision of Ellie and Elizabeth that it’s hard not to get sucked in and live in their world as well. And by request, Elizabeth’s portrait from the banner is in today’s post! 🙂 Okay, no more delays. Let’s get to where we left off last week!
Chapter 2: The Near Miss
The only way to leave Pemberley was through the gift shop. It was a cramped, peculiar place, full of thimbles, toast racks and all sorts of oddities— nothing anyone could possibly have had a practical use for since nineteen eighty-two. Ellie had been trying to dodge and weave her way out as quickly as possible, when a book was thrust at her by a short, matronly lady in thick glasses and a chunky knit cardigan.
“You must be, Ellie?” The lady said, smiling. Her name badge read ‘Marion’.
“Yes.” Ellie glanced down at the book and saw it was the one Tom Darcy had tried to persuade her to buy, a post-it note was stuck to the cover. His writing was unpretentious, scruffy and scratchy, and she smiled at the sight of it, thinking, ridiculously, that it looked exactly like she would have expected it to. God, Ellie, get a grip, you only met him twenty minutes ago, you know nothing about him. Without reading the note, she tried to pass the book back. “I’m sure it’s great, but I really don’t have a lot of money at the moment. I’m waiting for a mechanic to come and fix my car and that’ll probably cost me loads. So, thanks, but no thanks.”
“No charge, lovey. Mr Darcy told me to keep an eye out for you, said I should give it to you.” Marion was very sweet. She spoke with a lisp, obviously hampered by a pair of badly-fitting false teeth.
Ellie silently pondered for a moment. Would it be wrong to accept it? Had she been too hasty in agreeing to have a drink with him, too easily flattered? What if he was some sort of crazed stalker, or what if he had a girlfriend tucked away somewhere, or even worse, a wife? Maybe he regularly scanned the Pemberley tour parties for girls who might be easily impressed by his connection to the big house and surrounding estate.
“He seems… nice. Mr Darcy, that is,” she said. “Have you worked here long?”
“Nearly twenty years. He’s a lovely lad is Tom Darcy. Fair and kind to all the staff here.”
“I’ll bet you’re just saying that because he’s the boss. Does he pay you extra to say good things about him?” Ellie teased.
The jolly little lady laughed. “No, heavens, no. He’s as well thought of as the older Mr Darcy was before him. Though his dad was probably a bit too kind, a bit too generous. Luckily for us, this one has a more sensible head on his shoulders. He’s got big restoration plans for Pemberley, you know? He wants to drag it up to scratch again. Make it as beautiful as it was in its heyday.”
“And what’s Mrs Darcy like?” she asked quickly, guessing and fishing for information. She felt a warmth creep into her cheeks as she was met with a distrustful look. She was embarrassed by her own nosiness, but she had to know.
All the jolliness left Marion’s face and her eyes narrowed. “Well, that’s not for me to be talking about. None of my business, I’m sure…”
Ellie’s heart sank into her shoes. She was a complete and utter idiot. There was a Mrs Darcy! Bloody hell, why hadn’t she checked for a ring? She felt like crying. It was official, this weekend could not get any worse. Were all men complete shit-bags, or just the ones that took an interest in her?
“Well, I hope you enjoyed your visit. Are you taking the book, or not?” Marion didn’t sound so welcoming anymore, and had become a little impatient.
“No, I’m not. I may look sad, but I’m not desperate enough to become a bit on the side, or a cheap one night stand.”
The elder lady’s eyebrows rose in surprise and her mouth made a little ‘o’ of shock. Ellie realised she’d raised her voice and caught the attention of everyone in the tiny shop. She heard their mutters and excited whispers, but was too angry to care. “Actually,” she grabbed the book from Marion. “I will take it.” She hurriedly peeled the post-it note off the front and stuck it down on the nearby cash desk, before heading to the door, where she stopped and turned for a moment. “That way, if Tom Darcy comes anywhere near the inn at Lambton tonight, I’ll have something heavy to hit him with.”
Then, thankfully, she was out in the open air, striding down the gravel drive. She moved at a furious pace, walking with determination towards the large gates at the end of it. The wind rushed at her and whistled in protest as she cut a path through the heavy gusts. The only other sound was the crunch of the tiny stones as her feet moved over them. It was quiet enough for her to hear her mobile ringing at the bottom of her small rucksack. She ignored it at first, letting it ring out, but whoever was trying to reach her was persistent, and after a few moments it began ringing again. Wiping away the angry tears that had begun to pool in her eyes and were threatening to spill over, Ellie pulled off the rucksack and dug out the phone, glancing at the screen before answering.
“Where the hell have you been? I’ve been so worried, I’ve smoked two packs of cigarettes since last night. I’m trying to quit, you know? Being your friend is shortening my life.”
Despite her dreadful mood, Ellie couldn’t help smiling at the sound of Theresa’s voice. Whatever else might happen, there was someone she could count on; there was at least one person in the world who truly cared about her. “I’m sorry. I did try to call you. The reception here is patchy.”
“Where are you?”
“Derbyshire. And don’t ask me why, I have no idea. I just wanted to get out of London. Greg…” Ellie choked on the words, they wouldn’t come out.
At the other end of the line Theresa made a soothing, sympathetic noise. “I know, I went over to see you and he was moving his stuff out. Stuff which you should have made a bonfire of, by the way. We could have danced around it and chanted evil spells, while we watched his Hugo Boss shirts burn. And then we could have made an effigy of Chantel and stuck pins in it.”
“Yeah, but it wouldn’t have helped. I wasn’t it the mood for voodoo.”
“I could do the voodoo, while you sat in a corner feeling poopoo.”
Ellie let out a small, bitter laugh.
Theresa’s sigh was loud enough to be heard clearly, even through Ellie’s crappy phone. “I’m sorry, chick.”
“Now, get your pert little bottom back to London, there are things you have to do when you break up with someone. There is a procedure that must be followed. First, you have to wallow and watch sad movies for at least two days and eat a lot of ice cream, then you have to get magnificently drunk and throw up, then you have to anonymously order sixty-two pizzas to be delivered to his slutty, man-stealing, no morals, new girlfriend’s address, cash on delivery. I’m keen to get started on the ice cream and alcohol parts.”
“I’ll be back tonight. I just have to wait to get Mildred fixed. She broke down, can you believe it? It’s like every bad thing that can happen to a person decided to happen to me in the space of the last forty-eight hours!” Ellie was trying not to feel too sorry for herself, but it was proving more and more difficult.
“Hey, nobody died. It’ll be okay.”
“No, it won’t. Why do people say stupid stuff like that? It won’t be okay. I had to resign from the estate agency. I had to! I couldn’t go in every day and face Chantel and Greg cooing at each other over the desks. I have no job, Theresa.”
“You hated that job, you only stayed because of Greg. Think of this as an opportunity to do something different.”
“I won’t be able to afford the flat on my own. He’s moving in with Chantel. I’ll have to move.”
“Get a roommate,” Theresa suggested, as though it was just the simplest solution in the world
“It’s a one-bed studio, who am I going to share with?”
“Danny Devito. He’s only small, I’d bet he’d hardly take up any room. He could sleep in the closet.”
“Stop trying to make me laugh, I don’t want to laugh. Do you know what else happened? This is the icing on the cake. I got played by this absolute wanker. This handsome guy, who runs this big stately home. He invited me out for a drink and it turns out he’s married.”
“You said handsome? After wanker, you said handsome.”
“Well, I didn’t mean to, in fact he’s not handsome, he’s geeky. He’s lanky and has stupid, curly hair, and glasses….and arrrggghhh!” Ellie’s scream frightened a magpie who gave a squawk and flew away.
“Oh, you really fancied him, didn’t you?”
“Only for a moment. I went temporarily insane. I just got dumped, after all.” Ellie remembered Tom Darcy’s smile, and the way his dark eyes had brightened when she had agreed to meet him. “Never mind, forget him. Arrggghhh!” she screamed again, in frustration.
“Wow, you sound more cross about him than you are about Greg.”
Ellie blew her fringe from her eyes as she exhaled. “Honestly, I’ve been expecting the Greg thing for a while. I saw the way he stared at Chantel. She’s so glamorous, you know, legs that go on forever, all that big blonde hair.”
“And not to mention her being the regional manager. He’s after a promotion, you know. That’s a big part of it.”
“Let’s face it, Theresa. She’s everything I am not.”
“You are gorgeous, inside and out, and don’t forget it! Now, come back to London, please?” Theresa begged.
While they had been talking, Ellie had reached the gates at the entrance to Pemberley and walked through them. A small road ran along the border of the estate and she would have to cross it to get to Lambton. Just as she was saying goodbye to Theresa and preparing to step out, an odd sight on the other side of the road caught her eye. A figure in old-fashioned clothes, a dark cloak and a bonnet with long floating ribbons, which were being whipped around in the breeze. She looked as if she had wandered off the set of a period drama, or stepped out of a painting. When she turned and smiled, Ellie gasped, “Elizabeth Darcy.”
Then there was the loud, long beep of a car horn and Ellie heard herself cry out in fear, certain she was about to get hit by a large chunk of moving metal. Instead there was nothing for a moment, no impact, no collision and when she opened her eyes she found herself sat safely on the kerb. Had she fallen, or jumped back? A car was swerving sharply in front of her. Its brakes screeched before the driver seemed to regain control, then sped up, continuing on down the road. Ellie watched the car’s taillights disappear and tried to process what had happened. With a shaking hand, she picked up her phone, which was lying a couple of feet away.
Theresa was yelling down the line at her. “What was all the noise?”
“I almost got hit by a car, but I’m ok, I think.”
“Oh. My. God. Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I got distracted and stepped out, but I think I jumped back just in time. I’m not really sure, there was something…” Ellie squinted at the other kerb across from her but whoever, or whatever, had been there, was now gone.
“Ellie, I’m worried about you.”
“I’m fine. I just got a shock. Not even a bruise, I promise. I’ll speak to you in a while.” She ended the call before Theresa could protest, and then hurried over the road, being careful to look properly this time, but there were no cars, and no lady in period dress either. “Elizabeth,” she called out loudly. She then glanced around to see if anyone appeared. “Well, it’s official. You have beaten me world, and sent me insane. I’m now seeing things!” She threw her hands in the air. It was all too much!
But was she, seeing things? The figure had looked so real. She thought back to her time in the study at Pemberley, when something had brushed past her. Had she just seen Elizabeth’s Darcy’s ghost? Shaking her head, she chuckled to herself. There were no such things as ghosts. She was overtired and overemotional. She needed to be put down for a nap, like a small child, and to have someone smooth her hair back from her face and bring her soup.
The mechanic had promised to get in touch as soon as he arrived in Lambton. She should go to her room at the inn and lay down until he called. Taking the shortcut she had discovered that morning, when she had walked to Pemberley in the opposite direction—through the lanes and fields—Ellie made her way, but every now and then she would have to stop and look about her, puzzled. Though the flowers and trees and hedgerows were as pretty as they had been when she had first seen them, their colours seemed oddly muted; and then there was the weirdness of the sky, which was giving off a strange light. It was dark, but not like it would be if it was about to rain. It was almost purple in places, broken up by sparks of bright silver. Were they shooting stars? In the middle of the day! Had she banged her head when she had fallen in the road? Should she go and see a doctor? Things felt different, but she was unharmed, she was sure of that, just confused and full of questions. Nothing hurt, nothing at all and her legs were apparently very determined to get her to Lambton. She was there in what seemed like just a few minutes.
The inn was a quaint little place, nothing special, but clean and cosy, and welcoming, with its low ceilings and antique furniture. Ellie went up the tiny staircase and found her room. She searched the pocket of her jeans for the key card she had been given the previous evening and instead pulled out a large iron key. She stared at it for a minute before giving a shrug. Maybe she hadn’t been given a key card. She had been really upset the night before.
Shutting the door behind her, Ellie put her phone on the bedside table and fell wearily onto the bed, hoping that when she woke up everything would have returned to normal. She tried shutting her eyes and willing herself to sleep, but it was no good. She tossed and turned, unable to forget about how something had pushed past her when she had been standing with Tom Darcy, beneath the portrait. And how the strange figure by the roadside had smiled at her and looked just like Elizabeth Darcy. Her descendant might be an unfaithful pig, but Ellie was still drawn to the book about Elizabeth. She could almost feel it on the bed beside her, could almost hear it begging to be opened. What the hell, she thought, reaching for it. She had nothing else to read, and hopefully it would be dull enough to send her out cold. She turned to the first page, and was soon, unexpectedly, deeply engrossed in the life and letters of a lady who had lived almost two hundred years before Ellie had even been born.
How long had she read for before passing out? Ellie didn’t know, but it must have been hours and hours, because when she next woke up, the sun was streaming in brightly through the tiny windows of her room at the inn. There was no way it could still be the same day; the light was too good. Which meant she must have slept right through and missed the mechanic’s call, which also meant her car still wouldn’t be fixed. She might be stuck in Lambton for another whole day, maybe even two. She swore out loud.
“Why, Lizzy. Wherever did you learn such an expression? Such language would make a sailor blush.”
Ellie sat up straight and looked in the direction of the strange voice. In her room, at the end of the bed, stood a thin, pretty, middle-aged woman, who was staring at her with a mixture of amusement and horror.
“What are you doing in my room?” she demanded, her heart beating quickly.
The woman frowned. “Oh, excuse me, my dear, I did not think you would object. It is not, after all, the first time I have come into your room to wake you. You have slept very late. So now you must make haste, or I fear we will not get to enjoy all the delights Pemberley has to offer. If you do not rise soon, the morning will have quite run away with us. I shall have someone bring water and warm cloths, and my maid will come and help you dress.”
“No offence, but I think you might have wandered into the wrong room. Do you normally wear glasses? Or do you maybe take tablets for something? Is someone supposed to be looking after you?” Ellie asked gently, now more concerned than fearful. Clearly the woman had issues.
When she came closer, Ellie edged away, but the strange woman managed to reach a hand out and place it on her forehead. “Lizzy, I have woken you too suddenly, from a strange dream perhaps? I hope you are not unwell,” she mused. “You have no fever.”
“I’m fine, but you’ve got the wrong room, I’m not Lizzy.” It was then that Ellie began to realise the woman spoke strangely. Not badly. No, in fact, she had a very cultured, intelligent sounding voice, but her words were odd, out of order, and her phrases were weird. ‘Make haste?’ It was like something out of one of Elizabeth Darcy’s letters. Ellie searched around for the book of letters, but it was nowhere to be seen, neither was her phone, or the bedside table! In fact, the room was a lot sparser than she remembered, less chintzy. “Who are you?”
“Lizzy, are you perhaps making me a victim of your famous wit? Must you tease me? Of course you know who I am. Have I not known you since you were five, when I married your uncle Gardiner?”
“You are Mrs Gardiner?” Ellie said, her voice flat and emotionless, but on the inside her mind was reeling, her emotions were whirling, her stomach was flipping over.
“Of course I am. Now stop this, ’tis a silly parlour game.” She patted Ellie’s hand and walked out of the room. Ellie watched in amazement, bewildered by the floating, empire line gown the woman wore. Then she saw that she was wearing a prim long-sleeved nightgown, with ruffles and lace down the front of it. She jumped from the bed. Where was that damn book? Reading it had conjured up a horribly realistic dream.
While she ripped apart the room, pacing, talking and pinching herself, she caught sight of her reflection in a mirror on the wall and swore for the second time that morning.
Last night she had been wishing herself out of her own sad, miserable existence and into the life of Elizabeth Darcy; a woman with no work or money worries, with dozens of servants on hand to cater for her every need, an enormous house surrounded by beautiful lawns and woodland, and an adoring husband to boot. Well, her wish had somehow come true. The face in the mirror, staring back at her, was Elizabeth Darcy’s!
Thanks for joining us for Part 2! Don’t forget to tune in next Wednesday to see what on Earth Ellie does in “The Stranger in the Mirror.” We’d love to hear your theories and thoughts in the comments, so don’t forget to tell us what you think!
Oh! And don’t forget! We are going to need a title for this story, so we’d love to hear your suggestions. We’re going to keep a record of all your ideas and whoever made them. Then, Caitlin and I will pick our favourites and you’re going to vote for the final title! We’ll have a giveaway for that at the end, but forgive us if we haven’t squared up a prize to tempt you with right at this moment 🙂