Can you believe we’re already on chapter twenty-three! 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 22.
So, what did happen? We left Ellie looking out of the window and wondering why she was in London, but what time in London did we leave her?
Chapter 23: Words, Welfare, and Wickham
Ellie pulled her eyes from a well-dressed man in a topcoat so tight it rivaled the modern trend in skinny jeans to the clock on the mantelpiece—eleven! Why were they still in London? Did Mr Gardiner manage to convince Mr Darcy to call off the search? Elizabeth wouldn’t have let them leave her there, would she? No, she would never do that.
She rushed from the window and began trying to dress herself. Parts of it were easy. She could manage the stockings and stays well enough on her own, but the stupid fastenings on the gown. As she mumbled curses, she contorted her shoulders and arms in an attempt to close the back, but it just wasn’t working.
At the sudden sensation of being watched, she froze and glanced around. The maid who showed them to their rooms the night before stood in the doorway, giggling softly while she watched. “Would ya care for some help, miss?”
“Yes,” nodded Ellie. She needed to say as little as possible, but how could she do that when she didn’t know what was going on?
The girl chuckled as she worked. “The ones ya managed to hook were crooked.” When she was done, Ellie started for the door, but the maid stepped to the dressing table and pulled out the seat. “We need ta fix your hair before ya go down, miss.”
Ellie hurried to the mirror and looked at her reflection. She had bits of fringe sticking up in all directions and the curls Elizabeth had so carefully managed were flat as a pancake. She was amazed they lasted at all, though. Frustrated, she plopped into the seat.
While the maid gathered what she needed, Ellie peeked back at the clock. She needed to ask, but how to phrase it? Oh, sod it! “We were supposed to depart for Brighton early this morning. Do you know why we haven’t?”
The maid began pulling and tugging at her hair to style it in some way or another while Ellie clenched her teeth. “Not really, miss. Word below stairs is Mr Darcy sent out several messages last night, and that one or two letters arrived for him early this mornin’. He then gave orders to let everyone sleep.”
Mr Darcy said to let everyone sleep? What did he discover that changed their plans so much? What if he decided Ellie was a big, fat liar? Well, that wouldn’t work at all! They had to find Lydia and find her soon!
Once the maid was finished with her hair, she bounded from the chair and through the door. When she reached the bottom of the stairs, she followed voices into the dining room where Mr Darcy and Elizabeth sat at one end of a long table with a footman and a maid standing against the far wall. Where were the Gardiners?
“Why are we still in London?” she asked. Her voice was a little loud, but what right did he have to change their plans?
Before she could say anything else, Elizabeth jumped from her chair and rushed over while Mr Darcy motioned for the servants to leave them.
“We have no need of further travel,” explained Elizabeth. “Please, sit and have some breakfast. I am sure it would do you good. We need to discuss what Mr Darcy learnt during the night.”
Mr Darcy was standing when Elizabeth pulled her to the table and steered her into a chair. Elizabeth didn’t sit, however, but took the plate in front of Ellie and disappeared behind her.
“I hope you slept well, Miss Forrester?” Mr Darcy sat down and seemed to study her while he waited for her answer.
“Too well. I should have been awake long ago.” The plate Elizabeth had taken appeared before her laden with toast and bacon. Elizabeth took her seat.
He sipped from his cup and swallowed. “I hope you do not find me presumptuous, but before I planned the next portion of our journey, I sent an enquiry to the first inn on your list with descriptions of Miss Lydia and Wickham. Upon his arrival, my messenger did not even have to present the note to the innkeeper.”
Ellie looked between the two of them. “I don’t understand.”
“Matthew is trustworthy, so I told him I was searching for Wickham and that he would be travelling with a young lady. He was to discover what he could without alerting anyone to our search for Miss Lydia before presenting my enquiry to the innkeeper. A few coins in the hands of one or two of the men playing cards revealed that Wickham stopped at the first inn a few days ago. Miss Lydia was with him. While they waited for the next leg of their journey, Wickham lost nearly three crowns gambling.”
“So, they are in London.”
Elizabeth nodded. “It would seem so.”
“But we know where they are!” She grasped Elizabeth’s arm. “Don’t you remember the maps? They’re in Saffron Hill. We even know which properties it could be. We just need to go there. I would just have to remember which buildings don’t exist in the future and we can figure it out from there.”
“Mr Darcy already has a man searching the area.”
She looked at Elizabeth. “But it would be faster if we went down there ourselves.”
“No,” insisted Mr Darcy. “Saffron Hill is not a safe place for any lady.”
“Oh, please!” waved away Ellie. “You should try living in London in twenty-seventeen.”
Mr Darcy’s forehead crinkled. “Has town become more degenerate than it is now? I would have hoped it improved.”
“I’m sure in some ways it has improved, but there are different reasons it isn’t always safe in the future. I took Elizabeth around a little. She could probably compare it better than I could.”
“Tis exceedingly different and was quite entertaining.” Elizabeth appeared more like she was critiquing a book than discussing the differences between nineteenth and twenty-first century London. “I found the horseless carriages extremely fascinating. Ellie has one of her own. Its name is Mildred.”
Mr Darcy’s eyebrows rose high on his forehead. “Horseless carriages?”
Elizabeth nodded, but Ellie startled and quickly looked around the table, frowning. “Where are the Gardiners? They aren’t still sleeping, are they?”
“No,” answered Elizabeth. “They departed for Cheapside an hour ago.”
“They left you here?”
Elizabeth winced at the loud, high pitch of Ellie’s shocked voice. “Despite their insistence, I refused to leave you. It would not be proper after all. They only agreed at Mr Darcy’s assurance that the two of us would always be in the company of a maid or you—once you were awake, that is.”
“Forgive me for not having you roused earlier, Miss Forrester. I knew you, Elizabeth, and the Gardiners required rest, and I had the means to conduct our investigation while allowing you to sleep.”
A further study of Mr Darcy revealed his exhaustion. The man allowed them to sleep, but must’ve been woken up several times during the night to make the next arrangements. He didn’t have the luxury of sleeping for as long as he needed.
They all jumped at a light rap from the servants’ entrance. “Yes!” called Mr Darcy.
A footman stepped inside and bowed. “Forgive the interruption, sir, but you wished to be informed when Matthew returned.”
Mr Darcy wiped his mouth. “Yes, thank you. Please have him meet me in my study.” The footman departed and Mr Darcy placed his hand on Elizabeth’s. “I shall return to inform you of his findings.” At Elizabeth’s nod, he rose and exited the room.
Despite the tension in the air, Ellie took a bite of her bacon while Elizabeth poured what she assumed was tea into a cup, but when she lifted it, it was too dark. “Coffee?” she asked excitedly.
“Mr Darcy asked whether you preferred tea or coffee. He drinks coffee as well.”
“Bless him,” she murmured, stirring in a little milk and sugar. She closed her eyes and moaned when the bold flavour touched her tongue. It wasn’t exactly Costa, but it would work.
Elizabeth grinned. “I knew you would be pleased.”
“You must’ve been up early if you told Mr Darcy where they are staying.”
With a shrug of one shoulder, Elizabeth took a sip of her tea. “I have never been a sound sleeper. I heard voices in the corridor when Mr Darcy was awakened by his butler. A maid had given me the use of one of Miss Darcy’s dressing gowns, so I put it on with haste and followed them down to Mr Darcy’s study.”
“What time was that?”
“The clock struck four while Mr Darcy and I discussed what should be done. When he called for his messenger to return, he sent me to my bedchamber since I was not presentable.”
Ellie couldn’t help but grin. “You were alone with Mr Darcy, in his study, and in only your shift and dressing gown?”
“Hush!” scolded Elizabeth as she blushed.
Before Ellie could laugh, Mr Darcy strode back into the dining room. “He found them. I thought I might have to bribe Mrs Younge, but with your information, that will not be necessary. I must say I am relieved. I have no wish to give that woman more money than I already have.”
He downed the rest of his coffee. “Forgive me, Elizabeth, but I must go. The carriage is being prepared and I have requested a maid and a footman to accompany me.”
“What do you intend to do?” asked Ellie. “Lydia won’t leave Wickham. That was one of the biggest problems you mentioned in your journals. She insisted on staying with him. She swore they would be married sooner or later, so what difference did it make if she remained. Lizzy is your best chance of getting her to come with us.”
He pressed his lips together and exhaled heavily. “No, I cannot allow the two of you to accompany me. Saffron Hill is filled with the worst sort of miscreants and filth. I could not live with myself if Elizabeth were harmed, and the Gardiners would never forgive me. ‘Tis too much of a risk.”
“You said you were to bring a maid, but I’ll be there, too,” countered Ellie. “Propriety is covered and neither of us will let anything happen to Lizzy. You have my word to protect her with my life should it be necessary.”
His eyes held hers while he clasped his hands behind his back. A stiffness was usually present in his bearing, but he looked as rigid as a pole at the moment. He clenched and released his jaw several times and shook his head. “I appreciate your words, Miss Forrester, but—”
Elizabeth stepped forward and grasped his arm. “She has a valid argument. Lydia has always been spoilt and headstrong. I doubt she can be prevailed upon easily, and I do not want you to pay Wickham one shilling if it can be helped. He does not deserve it.”
Worried eyes gazed upon Elizabeth and his hand cupped her cheek. “I cannot lose you now that you have finally accepted me. Please do not ask this of me.”
“You will not lose me,” whispered Elizabeth. “We shall walk straight into the inn or boarding house, retrieve Lydia, and depart without delay.”
His shoulders dropped as though all the air had suddenly left his body. “You will never just acquiesce to my wishes, will you?”
A bubbly giggle burst from Elizabeth. “You would never have fallen in love with me if I did.”
Ellie returned to the table and finished her coffee and bacon, giving the two a moment of privacy. Once she’d wiped her hands on her napkin, Elizabeth grabbed her arm. “The carriage is ready and Mr Darcy prefers we board in the stable yard to prevent gossip.”
“Just in the event an acquaintance or meddlesome matron happens to be passing. Should we manage to retrieve Miss Lydia, we shall have enough difficulty with her reputation. I would prefer no one know of Elizabeth accompanying me to that part of town.”
A maid entered with their spencers, gloves, and bonnets. Once they were prepared, they were led through a good-sized garden behind the house to the carriage just through the gate. Mr Darcy handed them inside, and the maid joined them while a rather fit footman climbed on top with the driver and two other men climbed aboard a small seat on the back.
Before they left the mews, the draperies were released to cover the windows and for some odd reason, no one spoke. Elizabeth stared at her hands clasped in her lap, Mr Darcy watched Elizabeth, and the maid leaned her head against the side of the carriage to peer through a small portion not covered by the thick fabric.
It didn’t take long before the silence began to irritate Ellie. She itched to speak—to start a conversation, but with the maid there, it just wasn’t a good idea. By the time they stopped and the carriage shifted with the men climbing down on the outside, she breathed a sigh of relief. They couldn’t continue to remain quiet now.
Mr Darcy was the first to exit when the door opened and after a few words with his men, he helped Elizabeth and Ellie step down to the street. Before she could really look around, the odour hit Ellie like a punch square in the nose and she almost gagged. What was that smell? To her, it was this nauseating combination of a rank public toilet, something rotten, and bad body odour. Elizabeth opened her reticule, fished out a handkerchief, and covered her nose, sending Ellie scrambling to do the same before she was sick.
As they entered the building in front of them, the sound of men cheering came from a room to the back. It sounded a lot like a pub on the night of a big football game, so nothing alarming at least. A dirty-looking man came from a door to the right and leered as he passed, giving a mostly toothless grin. Ellie shuddered before the footman, who accompanied them, stepped between them and gave a nasty glare in the man’s direction.
She peered around and noticed the men from the back of the carriage, the footman, and Mr Darcy surrounded her and Elizabeth in a sort of bubble of protection. She should’ve known he wouldn’t take any chances, and while she didn’t need his mollycoddling, she definitely appreciated his protectiveness of Elizabeth.
After a few words with the innkeeper, they climbed a narrow stairway and filed down a corridor that didn’t smell any better than the outside. When they reached somewhere in the middle, Mr Darcy stopped and rapped loudly upon a slightly crooked door.
There was some movement inside and whispers before the door opened to a handsomely dishevelled man in what appeared to be a white blouse that was open at the collar, breeches, and tall black boots.
“Darcy!” he exclaimed. “I did not know you enjoyed the pleasures of this part of town.”
“George!” called a girlish voice behind him in a whiny voice. “Who is it? Is it the gentleman you were expecting?”
“Not exactly, my dear.” His eyes darted to Elizabeth and his lips curved into a wicked smirk. “Well, well, well. Who do we have here? I see I am not the only one to avail myself of the delights of a Bennet sister.”
Before Wickham could say another word, Mr Darcy levelled a vicious right hook to the prick’s jaw, sending him to the floor. Ellie snickered and Elizabeth elbowed her in the ribs while Darcy’s men shoved Wickham’s body to the side and entered, closing the door behind them.
Mr Darcy quickly turned so his back was to the room and Elizabeth gasped. “Lydia! Cover yourself this instant!”
All Ellie could do was gape at the girl lying on the bed in her chemise, because though she could easily fill a D cup, when you really looked at her face, she still appeared really young. The ties at the top of her chemise were undone and the material gaped apart, exposing the top of one of her breasts, and one bare leg was bent at the knee.
She lazily twirled a curl of her hair around one of her fingers. “Lizzy! Have you come for my wedding? Is it not exciting? I shall be the first of my sisters to marry. You will be jealous, will you not? After all, you once preferred George. I know you did.”
After searching the room, Elizabeth began to gather Lydia’s clothes, tossed them on the bed, and stood with her hands on her hips. “We need to get you dressed. We are leaving.”
“La! I am to be married!” she exclaimed. “Whether it happens today or next week is of no matter. I am to be married to my dear George.”
A thud came from Wickham attempting to raise himself from the floor while he laughed. A sound that wasn’t charming at all, but almost evil. “You think she will go with you so easily? She is quite attached to me, you know.”
Elizabeth grabbed Lydia and jerked her to the side of the mattress. “Lydia Grace Bennet, you will dress, and we will go to our Uncle Gardiner’s. You will certainly not be marrying Mr Wickham!”
Lydia stood and stepped nose to nose with Elizabeth. “I will remain where I am.”
“No, you most certainly will not!”
Wickham chuckled and drew himself up to standing. “I might be persuaded to let her go.”
At his words, everyone, including Lydia, turned to Wickham with their mouths open in shock, but Wickham only smiled wider. “She has been a great deal of fun and her pin money was convenient for the journey, but for the payment of my debts and a few thousand to live on, I would be willing to part with her.”
Lydia’s jaw dropped. “You said you loved me!” she screeched.
Wickham shrugged carelessly. “I did when the occasion suited, but I have no desire to be shackled to you for the rest of my life. You were the one who assumed we would elope. I just let you believe what you wished.”
Ellie gasped as Lydia lunged across the room and started hitting Wickham with whatever she could manage. With little to no effort, he pushed her forcefully from him, sending her bodily into the footboard of the bed before she slid to the floor. A strange thud echoed around the room as her head hit the floor, and she was still.
I know! Another cliffie! Sorry… well, maybe not. It was just a good place to leave it. So, have they saved Lydia or is this just another tragic demise? Tune in next week to find out!
Thanks for reading everyone!