Hi, everybody! Welcome back for Chapter Twenty! 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 19.
Will Elizabeth accept or will she and Ellie be making their way to Brighton on their own? 🙂
Chapter 20: Tours, Travels, and Near Confessions
“Yes!” Elizabeth’s entire body jumped when she responded. “I am humbled and honoured by your generosity, sir. I thank you for your offer and accept.”
A barely noticeable curve appeared on Mr Darcy’s lips and Ellie wondered if he believed Elizabeth’s claims about Lydia or if he was simply over the moon about being in Elizabeth’s company for the trip to Brighton. She’d need to talk to Elizabeth soon. Depending upon how long it took to get to Brighton, they might have to catch Wickham and Lydia on the road.
Before she could whisper in Elizabeth’s ear, Mr Gardiner rubbed the shiny, bald top of his head. “Even with the roads in good condition and a decent carriage, we are a four-day’s journey from Brighton. If we encounter rain or muddy roads, the trip could be significantly longer. I am hesitant to give any of this much credence, but if this story is true, we have little way of preventing what is already set in motion.”
“We can use my coach,” offered Mr Darcy. “Days are long this time of year. We could depart as soon as you are packed, or I could have my servants gather your belongings and follow. If we hope to catch them, we will need to travel day and night without stopping for sleep.” He set a direct gaze at Elizabeth. “I warn you, this is not an endeavour for the faint of heart.”
With an outstretched hand, Elizabeth approached Mr Darcy. “I have no objections to what you propose, Mr Darcy. I cannot thank you enough for your willingness to help my family.” He bowed over her hand, while her aunt and uncle shared a perplexed look.
Mr Gardiner let out an exasperated breath. “Mr Darcy, you cannot believe this story to be true? Please understand, I trust my niece, but I believe this to be set upon nothing. Lydia would lie for the sheer attention of it, and I have never met this young woman in my life.” He pointed to Ellie, acting more frustrated than angry.
With his hands clasped behind his back, Mr Darcy’s expression spoke of sympathy. “Regardless of whether the situation is true or not, Miss Bennet believes with her entire being this will occur, and I trust her. If she has been misled, we shall know soon enough. In the meantime, I have a younger sister, and if I were in Miss Bennet’s place, I would pray for someone to trust in my judgement so I could do my utmost to save her. I shall be at Miss Bennet’s disposal until we discover what has become of Miss Lydia.”
“We should arrange for our trunks to be readied,” murmured Mrs Gardiner. Her aunt was obviously not going to allow her beloved niece to travel for several days in a coach with a stranger and Mr Darcy. “I am not certain of how you came to be involved, Mr Darcy, but should this all be true, our family will certainly owe you a debt of gratitude.” Mrs Gardiner’s tone was wary and disappointed all at the same time. “Edward?”
He nodded. “I shall settle the bill with the innkeeper. He levelled an odd look at Ellie before he followed his wife out, leaving Mr Darcy with the two of them.
This was it! An opportunity for Elizabeth to set everything right! Ellie walked to the window and pretended the view outside was as interesting as her favourite show on the telly, but nothing but silence came from behind her with the scuffling of feet along the wood floor. Oh, come on, Lizzy!
Elizabeth slumped into a chair and sighed, causing Mr Darcy to rush to her side. “Is there nothing you could take to give you relief? A glass of wine—shall I get you one? You are very ill.”
Thank you, but I am as well as I can be,” she began, but paused for a moment before continuing, “Before another word is said, I must beg your forgiveness for our encounter in Hunsford. I was intemperate and should not have abused you so.”
“What did you say that I did not deserve?” He spoke so softly Ellie had to strain to hear. “My behaviour was unpardonable. I cannot think of it without abhorrence.”
“We will not quarrel for the greater share of blame annexed to that evening,” said Elizabeth. “The conduct of neither, if strictly examined, was irreproachable. But since then we have both, I hope, improved in civility.”
“I should have warned Meryton of Mr Wickham’s dissolute ways. Your sister might not be at risk if I had thought to speak more openly of my dealings with the man.”
“You could not risk those you love.”
“Those circumstances need not have been mentioned. Mr Wickham has done enough to warrant a wide berth from respectable families and merchants alike without considering the offences against my family.”
“Regardless,” said Elizabeth, and Ellie could just imagine her slight shake of her head and her determined expression as she brought the conversation back to the original topic. “I cannot express how thankful I am for your faith and willingness to be of aid. I am ashamed of the manner in which I treated you. You are truly the best of men.”
Ellie bit her lip, stiffened, and waited. Would he take this as her declaration or would he assume she meant nothing more than she was mistaken?
“Do you truly mean that?” His voice held a note of awe and disbelief.
“I do. You could have been as sceptical as my aunt and uncle, yet you believed me without question and offered your coach as well as to escort us. My gratitude knows no bounds.”
No! Ellie cringed and bit her lip, remembering Mr Darcy’s reaction when she was in Elizabeth’s place and said she was “grateful.” He had not been thrilled.
“I have no wish for your gratitude,” he almost spat out.
“Yet you have it. I only hope one day you will forgive me for my misjudgement and cruel words.” Elizabeth’s tone hardened. She had no idea how she’d offended him.
He sighed. “I was, perhaps, angry at first, but then my anger took a proper direction. I assure you, I forgave you long ago, so think on it no more. I should arrange for a carriage to transport you and your aunt and uncle to Pemberley so we can depart from there. If you will excuse me.”
His heavy footfalls carried him from the room, and Ellie turned around to find a baffled Elizabeth. “What did I say?” she asked. “I did not mean to cause such offence.”
“You said you were grateful. I said the same thing one time when I was you and he became upset then, too.”
“But I am grateful.” Her brows drew down in the middle while she glanced at the door and back. “He is so stubborn and insufferable! What could he possibly find objectionable in my gratitude?”
“He doesn’t want you to feel obliged to him.”
“Oh, good heavens! For a man who claims to love me, he should know I would never accept his hand out of gratitude or obligation. He can be the most infuriating man!” She stalked over to the window and looked outside a moment muttering under her breath. “How we spend a lifetime together and as happy as Tom said is beyond my comprehension.”
Ellie didn’t have the best record when it came to love, but she still decided to try. “People in love are not always wise and don’t often see things in the most obvious way. They say ‘love is blind’ and it really is, you know? Greg was an ass for the entire time we were together, but I ignored it because I thought I loved him. Mr Darcy probably remembers what you said to him when he proposed and fears you will never love him. The thought of you marrying him only because you feel ‘grateful’ would be a kick in the balls.”
“I beg your pardon?” asked Elizabeth wide-eyed. “I am unfamiliar with that phrase.”
“A kick in the balls?” At Elizabeth’s nod, Ellie pointed to the juncture of her legs. “You know, a kick to the most sensitive part of his body.”
Elizabeth blushed and burst into laughter. “I know a little of farm animals, but I know very little of what is beneath a man’s clothes. “Do not tell me more for I fear I might be tempted to stare when I finally learn.”
After they both giggled, Elizabeth sighed and shook her head. “He is such a proud man, but in the very best sense of course. I never treated him civilly in the past. I thought he was disagreeable and enjoyed challenging him. Now, it seems I cannot speak to him without offending him.”
“The two of you will work it out.” Ellie grinned and winked. “You have several days in a carriage to do it, too.”
“Yes,” laughed Elizabeth, “with you, my aunt, and my uncle. I cannot speak of my feelings so freely. That may be the way of those in your day, but I must wait for him to confess his love before I can tell him mine.”
They both jumped in their boots, literally, when Mr Darcy returned. “I passed Mr Gardiner in the hall. Mrs Gardiner’s maid is packing your trunk, and the carriage I have arranged from the inn will return to convey the servants and your belongings to Pemberley as soon as the trunks are prepared. It awaits us out front.”
Elizabeth took a few steps so she stood directly in front of him. “I had no intention of offending you earlier. Please forgive me.”
His lips pressed together tight for a moment. “I am pleased you have pardoned me for my dreadful words at Hunsford, but I have no desire for your gratitude. I would never have you feel obliged to me.” His mouth curled like he tasted something disgusting.
Ellie couldn’t resist peeking. Elizabeth’s one eyebrow arched. “And what would I be obliged to do, Mr Darcy?”
His mouth opened and closed several times while his forehead crinkled. “I-I am not sure.”
She took her gloves from the table and began to pull them onto her fingers. “Oh, I think you know, and I would hope you know me better than to believe I do anything, particularly making a decision that affects my entire life, out of obligation, sir.” She put on her bonnet and hurried out the door.
Ellie grabbed her own hat and gloves, and rushed after Elizabeth, catching her just outside the door. “You certainly told him off,” she giggled as they hurried down the stairs
Instead of the look of triumph Ellie expected, Elizabeth pressed a hand to her stomach “I have likely ruined any hope and doomed Tom.”
“Don’t be so dramatic. You already said you were horrible to him when you first knew him, and he still fell in love with you. I don’t think you need to stress about setting him straight now.”
“I hope you are referring to the state of my nerves.” They stepped into the sunlight and blinked until their eyes adjusted, but turned quickly at the sound of someone’s throat clearing behind them.
“I appreciate your clarification, Miss Bennet.” He held out his hand towards the carriage in front of them. “Would you care to wait inside until your aunt and uncle join us. They should not be long.”
“Thank you, Mr Darcy,” she responded. With the help of his hand, they both boarded the carriage. Elizabeth insisted Ellie sit in the far corner so Elizabeth would have to sit beside her aunt. “Otherwise, she might insist on speaking to you. I would also not be averse to you feigning sleep for as much of the journey as possible.”
“Glad to know I am so useless,” said Ellie drily.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “I never said as much, as you are well aware. My aunt and uncle are suspicious of you and it would be best if you give them nothing else to hold against you.” Ellie opened her mouth to speak, but closed it when Elizabeth turned to watch Mr Darcy through the window.
He now sat tall upon his large stallion while it stomped and snorted in frustration at being idle. As he turned his horse in a small circle, he looked up and it appeared their eyes met until he had to complete the circuit. Elizabeth looked down to her hands in her lap, her cheeks pinker than usual.
When the Gardiner’s joined them, Mrs Gardiner sat in the seat across from Ellie with her husband beside her rather than with Elizabeth. With the intention of behaving as much like Elizabeth as she could, Ellie stared out of the window or at her reticule when they began moving and avoided making eye contact with the woman. She didn’t feel that Mrs Gardiner was particularly angry with her or found her threatening, but instead, it was like Mrs Gardiner was trying to figure her out. How she wished she could’ve enjoyed her first carriage ride, but the strange prickling feeling of being watched kept her from relaxing and expressing her excitement.
Elizabeth took Ellie’s hand when they entered the Pemberley gates and held tight as they approached the house. The light limestone that glistened in the pleasant weather, the sun’s rays glinted from the lake that rippled in the breeze with two swans gliding across its surface. The house had never looked so beautiful. It was not so dissimilar to the way it looked in the future, but several little details differentiated this Pemberley from the one Ellie was more accustomed to and made it seem in better repair.
Upon their entrance, the surprised housekeeper and obviously Ruby Reynolds’ ancestor, Mrs Reynolds, showed them to a comfortable drawing room, but when Mr Darcy explained the Gardiners had planned to tour the house that day, she showed them around while Mr Darcy attended whatever business he had to complete before they could leave.
Mrs Gardiner’s demeanour improved while Mrs Reynolds ushered them into sumptuous rooms, pointing out bits and bobs about the family and the history of the home. Elizabeth’s aunt had so looked forward to seeing Pemberley that she must have been pleased not to miss it because of Ellie and Elizabeth’s foolishness.
Tea and little cakes and biscuits waited for them when they returned to the dining room and Mrs Gardiner gushed about the tour and the bits she enjoyed the most until Mr Darcy joined them.
He just began to lower himself into a chair when Mrs Gardiner dabbed at her mouth with her napkin. “Mr Darcy, would you mind if my husband and I walked around the gardens closest to the house before we depart?”
He stood and held out his arm. “I do not mind at all. I am certain a walk would be beneficial before such a long journey. I shall send for a gardener to give you a tour.”
“Please sit and enjoy your refreshments, sir,” insisted Mrs Gardiner. “We are content to walk and enjoy the scenery. We would not wish to be an imposition. Would we, Lizzy?”
Elizabeth glanced back and forth between Mr Darcy and her aunt and uncle. “Of course not.”
Mrs Gardiner held out her hand. “Will you not join us?”
“I believe I should remain with my friend,” responded Elizabeth. “I hope that is acceptable.”
Mr and Mrs Gardiner looked between Elizabeth, Mr Darcy, and Ellie. Were they attempting to decide if Mr Darcy was keeping an eye on Ellie and Elizabeth or whether Ellie was a decent chaperone for Elizabeth and Mr Darcy?
They appeared disappointed when they left the room, but Mr Darcy, after whispering a few words to a departing footman, returned and sat in the chair closest to Elizabeth. Ellie pressed her lips together tight to keep from grinning and walked to the window.
“I hope you enjoyed your tour, Miss Bennet?”
“I did, very much.” Her voice warmed as she spoke and Ellie could just imagine her smile.
“I hope you found Pemberley to your liking?” In contrast to Elizabeth’s tone, Mr Darcy’s was stiff and uncomfortable.
“’Tis a fine house and the grounds, from what I have seen of them, are stunning. I am certain there are few who would find Pemberley wanting.”
“I have only ever cared that you approve.” He spoke softer and in a way that sounded yearning.
“I do,” Elizabeth almost whispered. “I approve of it very much.”
Ellie peeked back for a moment because she had to see Mr Darcy’s reaction—it did not disappoint, either. While Elizabeth sat with her hands clenched in her lap, Mr Darcy sat frozen and again staring. How could a man be so tongue-tied!
“’Tis unfortunate we must hasten to leave. My sister and a party of friends will arrive later today. There are some who can claim an acquaintance with you.”
At her confused look, he set his teacup back in its saucer. “Mr Bingley and his sisters. My sister has been quite eager to make your acquaintance, but we must depart before that can happen.”
“I had not realised you expected guests. Please forgive me for involving you in my family’s affairs when you undoubtedly have more important demands on your time.” Out of the corner of Ellie’s eye, Elizabeth became visible when she began pacing before the fireplace. “I should greatly enjoy meeting your sister should the occasion arise. I am certain she is an amiable young lady.”
“Please do not distress yourself,” said Mr Darcy, who stopped Elizabeth’s frantic back and forth by placing his hands on her shoulders. “I was in earnest when I offered to be of aid to you. My sister and her companion do not require my supervision, and the Bingleys and the Hursts will not linger as they would with my company but depart for Yorkshire on the morrow.” He removed his hands while Elizabeth’s lip curved just a little.
“I am causing you so much trouble. You are very kind to put up with it.”
His low laugh sounded so much like Tom’s and Ellie started at the familiarity of it. She missed Tom. Had he disappeared when they fell or did he even remember any of this at all? Her stomach tightened and she shook it out of her head. She couldn’t think about Tom right now. They had to find Lydia. Then, she could concentrate on Tom all she wanted.
“I am certain you believe intervening a necessity. Besides, I could never think you a bother. You must know that.”
A shuddering breath broke the quiet after Mr Darcy’s words. “I have been so wrong,” whispered Elizabeth, “so blind.”
Mr Darcy’s fingers hesitantly reached towards Elizabeth’s face, trailing from her temple to her chin while Elizabeth’s eyes closed and she tilted her head into his hand.
“Mr Darcy, the coach is prepared and awaits you in front of the house,” said the footman who suddenly appeared in the doorway.
Elizabeth shifted back and watched the empty fireplace while Mr Darcy clenched his hands at his sides. “Thank you, Matthew.”
Ellie reached to the closest tray, picked up a tiny apricot tart, and shoved it into her mouth whole in way that would have appalled Mrs Gardiner. So much for all this standing about at windows like a daft cow! It was getting them nowhere!
So, it looks like we’re off! How long before Darcy starts wondering more about Ellie? Or will he continue to ignore the Ellie in the room? I’d love your comments and ideas!
Thanks for reading everyone!