“What is right to be done cannot be done too soon.” – Jane Austen
A month seemed like a long time, and as I stared into Darcy’s eyes, I felt uneasy. I know, there I went again with the worrying. Everything was working out for once, and I was fretting about bothersome trivialities. Who cared if a month was a long time? Darcy and I loved each other. What ifs crossed my mind and I could have kicked myself for thinking about the worst case scenario.
On the twenty-eighth, we would be going back to Pride and Prejudice World. But, what if nothing happened? What if we stood in front of the mirror like a couple of fools and nothing happened? What would happen then? I did not have the heart to force Darcy to live in this modern world.
“You seem troubled.” A gentle smile appeared on Darcy’s lips.
“Mind reader.” I scrunched up my nose with a playful grin.
“I have grown accustomed to you well enough to recognize when something is displeasing you.”
“How can you tell?”
“This,” he rubbed the lines between my eyebrows, “always seems to show up when you are angry or—”
“Fine, I get it!”
“—or irritated,” he continued.
Before I could come up with a snarky comeback, Darcy kissed my forehead. I closed my eyes, my worries melting away. I lay my head on his shoulder, feeling the warmth of his body so close to mine.
“I’m worried about the mirror not working.”
He stayed silent as if contemplating my words. I looked up, “If it doesn’t work, you have to stay here.”
“It will work.”
“But, what if it doesn’t?”
“You don’t sound convincing.”
He sighed, “I am attempting to convince myself.”
“So, you do have doubts!”
“If it doesn’t work, you’ll have to get a job. You have no skills!” I cringed, “I meant to say you have no current vocational skills. I mean-”
Darcy sent me a strained smile, “We will worry about my want of competencies when the time comes.”
The sun peeped through the plantation shutters, a hint of how today was a fresh start. I sat up in bed, stretching my arms. Putting my feet on the hardwood floor, I gazed at the window. Today was the day and the moment I opened the blinds, the sun would come passing in. A delightful feeling overcame me as I stood up and crossed the little space between my bed and the windowpane. I forced the shutters open, shining truth upon my situation.
I smiled as I took in the view of my city for one last time. I was going to take the next step in my life. I was going to be with the man I loved. A felicitous sentiment entered my body. I turned away from the window, away from the city I knew so well, and towards my destiny.
I found Darcy sitting on the sofa in the living room. He looked at me, and a smile appeared on his lips. He was back in his original clothing, the top hat in his hands and his cravat knotted around his neck. Holy cravat!
He stood up and walked towards me. Taking my hand in his, he asked, “How did you sleep?”
“Not well,” I confessed. “And you?”
He rubbed his forehead, “No, I did not sleep well either.” He sent me a tired smile. “But, now that you are by my side, I believe I shall sleep well for the rest of my life.”
I flushed as we looked at each other. He reached a hand out to stroke my cheek. I sighed in contentment as I closed my eyes and tilted my head towards his hand. As nervous we were, we still had these small moments where love took precedence over everything else.
I decided to take a shower in the other bathroom away from the mirror. I know it seemed random and a bit frivolous but, I wanted to indulge in the things I would no longer have. I brushed my teeth with toothpaste and toothbrush; then I changed into my Regency gown. By the time I left the bath, I had resembled a romance-novel reject as though the toilet swallowed me whole and spat out a Jane Austen heroine.
When I walked back into the living room, I saw that Pirhana, Michael, and Mum were already there. My mum had brought over various pastries and tea. She stood up and hugged me as soon as I walked towards her. Pirhana and Michael joined in turning it into a group hug.
“My pen placed you in that world two centuries ago,” Jane’s eyes twinkled, “and, it is time you travelled back to where you belong.”
“I love you.” I told mother, “You will always be my mum.”
Touched by my words, she placed a hand to my face and kissed my cheek, “I love you too.”
Michael gave me a light punch in the arm. “You turn Regency England on its head! Make me proud!”
I laughed, “I’ll do my best.”
I turned towards Pirhana, and she threw her arms around me. She sniffled and stumbled on her words, “I love you.”
“I know; I love you too.”
“Take care of yourself and-and,” Pirhana’s shoulders shook, “don’t forget about us!”
“I could never,” I shook my head.
Michael placed a comforting arm around Pirhana. She leaned against his shoulder. I took one last look at them, and relief came over me. They had each other, and it was my consolation. I was doing the right thing. Darcy took my hand in his, and we walked towards the bathroom. My stomach grew heavier with each step. By the time we were standing in front of the mirror, it felt as though I couldn’t breathe. I squeezed Darcy’s hand assuring myself he was at my side. A lingering fear took over as I worried about us getting separated.
“Nothing is happening.” I whispered, “Why is nothing happ—”
Before I could finish my question, a bright light emitted from the mirror blinding me. I put my hands up to shield the light.
“No... Elizabeth!” Darcy’s voice echoed, “ELIZABETH!”
I reached my hand out and felt nothing but air. My heart raced as I panicked. I tried to turn my head to see if he was behind me, but, the force of the portal kept snapping my head forward. I could hear the faintest echo of his voice, but could not make out the words. A cacophony of sounds began to drown his voice out. I tried to turn myself around again, but to no avail. Discordant lights streamed past me and then, all went black.
When I awoke, I found myself lying on a bed. The ceiling was beige with pink roses painted upon the niches. I knew the familiar ceiling. I had come home to Longbourn. I turned over to find Jane at my bedside. She wore a kind smile. I did not need comforting smiles right now. I needed to know where Darcy was and if he had come back unharmed. Why had I let go? Why had I done something so stupid?
“She’s fainted again.” I heard Lydia say behind the bedroom door. Kitty’s little giggle followed the comment. The terrible two were at it again. Had Lydia learned nothing from her mistakes?
I sat up in bed, receiving a head rush and groaned, holding my head in my hands, “Where is Darcy?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is he not here?”
“No,” Jane seemed confused.
“I must go back to Pemberley.”
“Lizzy,” Jane protested, “you must take care.”
“I can take care of myself when I get to Pemberley.”
Lydia entered the room with Kitty trailing behind her. She sent me a sweet smile, “Ah, at long last she has awoken.”
Kitty giggled a second time. I swear Lydia was a sitcom, and Kitty provided the laughing track.
“It is as though I never left home,” I quipped.
“When did you come back from Pemberley?” Lydia asked with all the energy of a pouncing cat. “Was it everything you dreamt it would be?”
I could hear the faintest hint of jealousy in Lydia’s voice. For the first time in my life, I had to watch what I said. I was not one to mince my words. Blunt and outspoken, I often got into trouble for saying what was on my mind and all because I could not tell a lie. No one said an honest life was the easy path.
“Lydia,” I hesitated for a moment and then, muttered, “it was nice.”
“Nice?” Lydia scoffed, “It must have been beautiful. I hear the grounds are the envy of other estates.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “it was beautiful.”
Lydia raised an eyebrow. She knew when I was holding information back. But, she knew me well enough to know I was not going to give into her questions. Still, it was not going to stop her.
“Does Mr. Darcy plan to marry you?”
“Lydia, dearest,” Jane remarked, “you must refrain from asking these questions for now. Elizabeth is recovering from her fainting spell.”
I sent Jane a thankful look, relieved not to have to answer. I had an immense feeling if I answered, I would start crying. My heart had become like a pocket; each ventricle held feelings I hoped would not spill outside of concealment. It was my duty to repress my emotions into submission not just for my sake but others as well.
“Perhaps,” Jane suggested, “we should call for the doctor.”
Bloodletting? No thank you!
I stood up in a hurry and wavered to the side. I sat back on the bed upset at my legs for being weak. I tried to breathe in and out, but, could not control my shaking hands.
“Calling the doctor will not be necessary, but, getting the carriage ready for my departure is imperative,” I stated.
“Where are you going?” Lydia asked.
Concern laced Jane’s features, “Has something happened to make you want to go back?”
Lydia scoffed, “She has had her taste of riches and now wants nothing to do with us.”
“No,” I glared at Lydia, “why would you think such a thing?”
Jane soothed, “Lizzy, you are not making much sense. You must rest.”
“I can sleep in the carriage.”
“Well then,” Jane stated, “if you do not hear reason, then I shall have to accompany you.”
“Will nothing persuade you to stay one night?” Lydia asked.
“Why do you care?” I turned to Lydia, “You have done nothing but mock me.”
Lydia’s eyes flickered, “I am still your sister.”
I gritted my teeth in frustration, “For god’s sake, if no one will ready the carriage than I shall do it myself!”
Lydia left the room with a sense of urgency. I shrugged off her strange behavior. The more you paid attention to her, the more she created drama.
“I am concerned for her,” Jane said in a hushed tone.
Jane sighed, “Much has happened since you have been gone. She has suffered for her imprudence.”
“I am sorry to hear about her struggles.”
“Do you not care to hear about it?”
“You can tell me on the way to the stables.”
“At least have tea before you go,” Jane suggested., “Mother and father have not seen you yet.”
“Do I have to?”
I could feel my mother’s piercing eyes on me. I looked up from my cup of tea and saw her watching me with expectant eyes. In spite of being gone, everything had remained the same, and I found it comforting. There was one constant in my life now, and it was my predictable mother.
“Are you not going to tell us?”
“Tell you what?” I pretended to look confused.
“Lizzy!” Mother cried, “How can you be so tiresome?”
“I did not know I was.” I smiled, “I shall endeavor to be better for your sake, mother.”
“Well, come then,” mother coaxed, “tell us about Darcy. Did he propose or was your visit all for naught?”
I hesitated and exchanged looks with Jane. She did not know the entire story, nor could I tell her. I’d sound like a crazy person. I must have paused for a long time because even father looked at me with a worried expression. I wanted to excuse myself from the table, but, instead took a deep breath and began to speak.
“Yes,” I smiled as bright as I could manage. “Mr. Darcy did propose, and I accepted.”
Mrs. Bennet cried, “Mr. Bennet, did you hear this great news?”
Father ignored mother’s obvious question. He looked at me in concern. “Lizzy, I thought you disliked Mr. Darcy. Are you confident he can make you happy?”
Tears escaped my eyes as I thought of Darcy and everything we had gone through. The universe was cruel. Darcy made me happy, and all I could think of was how I wished he was at my side having tea with my family.
“Yes,” I said in a soft voice, “Mr. Darcy makes me very happy.”
“Then,” Mrs. Bennet clapped, “it is settled. We shall invite Mr. Darcy over to celebrate.”
“No mother,” I shook my head, “let us solve the matter of Mr. Palmer first.”
“Oh yes,” Mrs. Bennet sighed and turned her shrewd eyes upon Lydia’s empty chair, “Where has Lydia run off? I never see her anymore!”
As we walked to the stables, Jane informed me of everything that had happened during my departure. It seemed due to her scandal with Mr. Wickham; Lydia was shunned at Meryton. Aside from close friends and family, no one wanted anything to do with her. Oh sure, the shop owners took her money, but that did not stop their gossiping. Lydia’s situation seemed dismal. The sole individual that spoke to Lydia was Mr. Palmer. But, he had not expressed any interest in her aside from friendship.
Jane explained, “Mother advised Lydia to visit Mr. Palmer unchaperoned.”
“I wonder where she gets these ideas from,” I shook my head in disbelief.
“Lydia began to visit him every day.”
“Oh,” I cringed.
“One day,” Jane sighed, “he told her to stop coming. Lydia was devastated.”
“Do you think it would have been worse if she had run off with Wickham?”
Jane shook her head, “I think either way she would be condemned.”
Guilt washed over me, “Was that why she wanted me to stay?”
Jane glanced sidelong at me as we walked. “She will never admit to it. But, Lydia needs you. Now, more than ever, she needs the comfort of her sisters. Out of everyone, she values your opinion the most.”
“My opinion?” I scoffed, “If she valued my opinion, she would have never have ended up getting involved with Mr. Wickham.”
“She has grown since the incident.” Jane spoke, “However, she still needs your guidance.”
“I take it mother has been hard on her.”
“She means well,” Jane explained.
“You are too kind again.”
The grass crunched beneath our feet as we walked. Silence fell upon us as we thought of our respective lives. I had not forgotten about Bingley, but, he was lower on the priority list at the moment. I knew Jane still thought of him. I knew her heart still ached for him.
I took her hand in mine. “I love you, Jane.”
She smiled and squeezed my hand. “I love you too, Lizzy.”
When we reached the stables, the carriage was nowhere to be found; a space remained where it should have been. Several horses were missing and those that remained snorted in their quarters, their eyes following me in curiosity. I stared at the empty spot with my mouth agape. I wanted to say unladylike words too colorful to paint a beautiful picture. I had the urge to punch something but, instead balled my hands into fists and decided to growl in frustration.
“Where is the carriage?”
“I do not know,” Jane answered.
“But, how can—” I paused, trying to breathe through my words, “Where is—”
Tears escaped from my eyes as if they no longer wanted to hide. It felt as though all the oxygen in my lungs had been quarantined in the middle of my chest. The more I struggled to breathe, the more I began to hyperventilate.
“I c-can’t... breathe,” I sobbed.
Jane hugged me and for a moment words were unspoken. A gentle breeze blew calming me down. I squared my jaw and nodded to myself. Even if the carriage was gone, there were other forms of transportation. I would find my way back to Pemberley even if I had to walk on foot! After all, I was fond of walking!
I pulled away from Jane, “Thank you.”
“Is everything all right? You seem in distress.”
“I am well.” I smiled and took in a breath, “We must think of other ways I can go to Pemberley.”
Jane sighed, “I am sure father would not mind. But, mother would never let you take a hack chaise.”
“So,” I pursed my lips, “I guess that is out of the question then.”
“An alternative would be to wait until morning,” Jane suggested.
“Or,” I smiled, “we could ask Mr. Palmer for assistance! I cannot believe I didn’t think about this before! Perhaps, it will bring Lydia and him closer!”
“Are you certain that is a good idea?”
“It’s an excellent idea!” I beamed, “We should go right this instant!”
Palmer’s farm was a little farther than Lucas Lodge. His land was lush and verdant. Situated on a hill, his humble yet generous brick cottage seemed welcoming. We walked around the property searching for him until we came upon the stables. Jane and I stopped in our tracks. The carriage was here, and it meant one thing.
“That is our carriage,” Jane whispered.
“I know,” I whispered back.
“Who do you think took it?”
“I’ll give you one guess.”
We continued walking until we could hear two voices talking. Inching forward, I saw Lydia talking to Mr. Palmer. He was wielding a scythe with his back turned, maintaining the lawn. Jane looked down, her cheeks beet-red, for, Mr. Palmer was shirtless.
He turned around, and a look of apprehension showed on his features, “Lydia.”
Lydia curtsied, “Mr. Palmer.”
“You should not be here.”
Lydia ignored his comment, “My sister is back from Pemberley.”
Mr. Palmer nodded, “Perhaps you should be with her.”
“She is engaged.”
“All the more reason you should be with your sisters.”
“I packed a picnic.” Lydia’s voice trembled, “You must be famished.”
“Lydia,” he warned, “you—”
“Do you like strawberries?” Lydia interrupted, “I’m quite fond of them.”
“Lydia,” he began again, “you need—”
“No,” Lydia’s smile vanished. “No,” she said, her expression determined, “do not send me back.”
“Why?” Palmer asked.
“I cannot go back home right now.” Lydia shook her head.
Mr. Palmer’s features softened as he looked at Lydia. He propped the scythe against the wall. Her eyes traveled over his bare upper body, taking in the way his roped muscles strained underneath his tanned skin. Lydia watched in fascination as he put his shirt back on.
“What did you bring in your basket today?”
Lydia smiled, “I brought punch, cheese, crackers, sandwiches, tea, strawberries, and scones with cream.”
He raised his eyebrows, “That is quite a feast.”
They spread a blanket on the lawn and began to eat the food Lydia had brought. They talked of life in Hertfordshire, the militia leaving Meryton, and the weather getting warm enough for picnics. Their eyes met when nothing was left to discuss, and silence fell upon them both.
“And then there was silence,” Mr. Palmer jested.
Lydia laughed and looked down at her plate smiling. She did not notice Mr. Palmer had not stopped looking at her. What was holding him back? Why had he not proposed yet? Was it because of Mr. Wickham or was it because of Lydia? Lydia was young and impulsive. She was immature. But, that was changing. I could not understand what was holding him back other than the fact he was from modern times.
Their eyes met as they gazed at one another. The desire in his eyes was broken when Lydia spoke.
“Why are you looking at me like that?′ Lydia asked, “Do I have anything on my face?”
“No.” He cleared his throat, “No. You do not.”
“Then, what is it?”
Lydia looked away. It seemed as though she was struggling to find the right words to say. As Lydia tried to formulate the least offensive sentence, Mr. Palmer stood up. She looked up at his offered hand and took it as she rose to her feet. His hand lingered upon hers for a moment. I wanted to slap them both on the back of their heads, but, did not want to give up our hiding spot.
Lydia asked, “Do you love me a little yet?”
“Lydia, you should go home now.”
“Do not treat me as if I am a stray dog begging to be loved.” Her jaw tightened, “If you want me to leave you alone then tell me and I shall.”
“I cannot love you.” He whispered.
“Why?” Lydia cried, “I do not understand.”
“I do not expect you to know.”
“I come here,” Lydia explained, “because I enjoy your company. Home is a constant reminder of how I have disappointed my family.”
“I know,” Mr. Palmer explained, “but, I am not the answer to your problems.”
“My problems?” Lydia nodded, her expression was resentful.
“I did not mean to suggest you are the problem.”
“Yes,” Lydia shook her head, “you did.”
“Lydia,” Palmer insisted, “wait—”
Lydia curtsied and ran towards the stables. Jane and I shrank back into the shadows. We could hear Lydia sniffling as she climbed into the carriage. She clicked her tongue to get the horses moving, and the horses galloped away at top speed. A sense of foreboding washed over me as Jane and I hurried after the carriage. We stood watching the coach as it disappeared into the horizon.
“Where is she going?” Jane wondered, “Longbourn is in the opposite direction.”
I stared into the distance wondering what to do. Who knew going back to Pemberley would be so difficult! Where was Lydia going to with the only mode of transportation our family owned? She had seven out of ten of our horses pulling her to heaven knows where! Father would be angry when he heard of this latest development. Until Lydia returned, we would be unable to farm our land. Then I realized, I was going to do the same thing. I was going to take the carriage to Pemberley. I had not even thought about if father needed the horses. Guilt washed over me when I realized I was just as selfish as Lydia.
I thought aloud, “Lydia was rejected by Mr. Palmer. Then, she drives off in the opposite direction? Where is she going to?”
Jane and I exchanged looks as it dawned on us. A shiver crept up my spine as my eyes widened.
Jane gasped, “Do you think she went—”
“To Mr. Wickham?”
“Yes,” said Jane in a small voice.
“I hope not.”
“And, if she did?”
“Then,” I cringed, “God help us all.”
“What shall we do?”
I hesitated for a long time, longer than I should have. Every moment of hesitation meant more time for Lydia to meet Wickham. Were we jumping to conclusions? For all we knew, Lydia could be taking a joyride around the English countryside with seven horses and the family carriage.
I did not want to bother him again. I did not want him to think Lydia was a nuisance. However, the only person who could help lived in the cottage in front of us.
“Mr. Palmer is the only one who can assist us,” I muttered.
“I feel as though we have given him enough trouble.”
“I know, Jane,” I sighed, “but, he has a carriage and we, unfortunately, do not.”
We walked towards the stables again and found Mr. Palmer putting his farming equipment away. I cleared my throat, and he turned around, meeting my eyes. Palmer smiled and approached us with a small curtsy. When formalities were over, he peered at us in curiosity, a frown replacing his smile.
“What is wrong?”
I bit my lower lip, “We need your help.”
I cringed, “Lydia—”
“What has she done now?”
“I dislike the manner in which you are speaking.” I found myself defending Lydia. “She has done nothing to warrant it.”
“You are right.” Mr. Palmer sent me a strained smile, “She has done nothing to me. She is a lovely girl. But, she is still a girl.”
“She has yet to grow a woman’s heart.”
“So, in other words, she is immature and needs to grow up.”
Mr. Palmer nodded, and it was affirmation enough. Lydia would need to change her ways. Was she capable of change? Could Lydia alter her being in such a way to make Mr. Palmer love her? Well, if she indeed ended up taking the carriage to see Mr. Wickham right after seeing Mr. Palmer, then Lydia had a long road ahead of her before she could be redeemed.
“What did you need my help with?”
“Lydia has taken the carriage in the opposite direction of Longbourn.”
A shadow fell across Mr. Palmer’s features as though he knew why I needed his help. He pulled his jacket on as if doing so made him into a man of action. I watched as he put his hat on and he turned to me, “What would you have me do?”
“We need you to drive us in the direction Lydia went.” I choked on my words, “We must hurry. I fear she may be lost to us forever.”
Mr. Palmer’s carriage was smaller compared to our own. He didn’t have the amount of family we did since he was a bachelor. But, our carriage was more fashionable in comparison, and that was saying a lot. Calling this a carriage was an overstatement, it was more like a wooden cart and was pulled by a single horse. I figured he had no need for a fancy traveling contraption being the resident farmer and all. A lady could not traipse about town in this pony-cart. I wouldn’t have cared if it were me but, I had a feeling mother would demand a carriage for Lydia if he was to marry her.
If we ever found her.
I watched as the last rays of sunshine disappeared making it difficult to see the surrounding landscape. I glanced sidelong at Mr. Palmer. His mouth was set in a determined line as he held the reigns in his hands. I could see the worry in his features, his eyes scanning the landscape back and forth. I ended up sitting next to him. Jane was in the back of the cart with the vegetables and bales of hay.
I turned around, “Jane, how are you managing?”
“I am fine.” She smiled as she held onto the side of the cart for dear life.
“Do you want to switch places?”
“No, no,” Jane kept the nervous smile plastered on, “I would rather not move.”
The darkening sky seemed forgiving as if each shining star represented my hope of reunion with Darcy. I missed him. I needed him now more than ever. He kept me grounded in times of crises. I could not help but wonder if he was thinking about me ... wherever he was.
“Do you see anything?” I asked Mr. Palmer.
“No.” Mr. Palmer squinted as if doing so would help him see better. “It is getting dark, and there is no moonlight tonight. I will have to stop to light the carriage lamp.”
The lights were not as illuminating as headlights on a car but, you could see some of the landscape. A small amount of landscape. For some strange reason, I found the illumination of the dark road comforting as if the lamp made everything safer. Deep down, in the pit of my stomach, I felt unease. Mr. Palmer seemed to sense my disquiet.
Keeping his eyes on the road, he said, “Do not worry yourself. I shall find your sister.”
I found myself blurting out, “You seemed to show interest in her last Christmas. What changed?”
He kept quiet for what seemed like an eternity. I regretted saying anything, fearing I had made the issue worse. I wanted to stand up for my sister. Lydia was a lot of things, but, she was still my sister.
“Lydia has made many mistakes since our first meeting,” he mumbled. His voice was almost inaudible as if he did not want me to hear him.
“Oh,” I scoffed, “and no one can learn from their mistakes?”
“She keeps making the same mistakes.”
“What mistake would it be?”
He clenched his jaw. I could see he was trying to control his temper. He muttered, “She keeps going back to him.” He said him with such indignation it made me want to take a shower.
“Perhaps, it is because you keep pushing her away.”
He was about to open his mouth to speak when the light from the lamp caught something on the side of the road: the figure of a woman and the remnants of a broken carriage.