Soft is the Wind
Know your own happiness. Want for nothing but patience - or give it a more fascinating name: Call it hope. - Jane Austen
Palmer’s eyes widened as he stopped the carriage. Lydia’s body lay upon the cold earth. Clouds had not filled the sky yet, but, thunder rolled in the distance reminding us how precious time had become. We had one last lingering look at the twinkling stars before the storm covered the heavens. The chill in the night air bit at our necks, shoulders, anything exposed. I wrapped my shawl around my body tighter, wondering how long my sister had been outside in this state.
He moved towards her. Paying no heed to the dirty ground, he dropped to his knees to place his fingers upon her neck. I heard him sigh with relief and assumed he found her pulse. He proceeded to ascertain her body for any breaks. Other than a few dark bruises, it appeared her injuries were superficial. Nevertheless, she still needed to see a doctor.
I offered a silent prayer, begging she would wake up and everything could go back to normal. But, as my eyes scanned the wreckage, I realized too much had happened, and there was no option but to keep moving forward. A positive thought crossed my mind as I hoped we could find a way to mend the only mode of transportation my family owned. Loud thunder clapped, ringing in my ears, causing my heart to catch and I shook out of my reverie. How did she get into this accident? Where had all the horses gone?
Palmer lifted her body as if she weighed no more than a feather and then placed her in the back with Jane. Having found a blanket, Jane put it around Lydia. Jane drew her tight, wrapping her arms about her sister to warm her. He sat down next to me and for a moment, we sat in silence. After a minute or two, he cleared his throat to speak. I watched him from the corner of my eye. He seemed as worried as Jane and I.
“Your family’s carriage is in ruins. It would be too expensive to repair this much damage.”
“Oh,” I sighed, understanding the gravity of the situation, “and the horses?”
“Gone,” Mr. Palmer shook his head, “Run away, or perhaps, stolen.”
I listened to him speak. His voice was even and calm, but, I could hear the emotion behind his words. If Lydia acted with more restraint, this incident would never have occurred. But, it was too late to think of the past. Where was I going to find the money to get a new carriage and horses? How was I going to inform father that our horses were stolen or missing?
“What shall I tell my father?”
“May I offer my assistance until your family can afford a new carriage and horses?”
“Sir,” I shook my head, “you have helped us enough.”
A strained smile appeared upon my lips. I let myself think for a moment before I spoke. I wanted to accept Mr. Palmer’s help. However, father would not approve of me making the decision on my own. Instead, I said, “You must discuss it with my father.”
Darcy, I miss you. I need you here by my side. I wish I knew where you were.
Mr. Palmer took the reins in his hands. Once the carriage started to move, I turned around, and Jane and I exchanged worried looks. I could tell what she was thinking about and I did not need to ask her. It was evident. The possibility of losing Longbourn weighed on our minds. If we had limited means to farm the land, then there was no telling what could happen. It felt as if the Sword of Damocles was dangling over my head, one false move, and swoosh.
When we arrived at Longbourn, I could feel the worry and anxiety settle in the pit of my stomach as if I had swallowed rocks. An unconscious Lydia was a recipe for disaster, and as we walked into the house, I could feel the tension. Trying to keep a level head in crises was harder than I thought. I had no idea how I managed to keep my cool, but, I succeeded in sounding calm enough to explain everything to mother and father. Mother fainted, and Mary ran off to fetch the smelling salts. Kitty giggled with a nervous smile plastered on her face. This reaction seemed appropriate coming from her. And father, well, he retreated into his study, shutting the door behind him leaving me to manage the zoo on my own.
Mary ran into the room and waved the smelling salts under mother’s nose. After a few moments, her eyes fluttered open, and she began to whimper, “Oh! My Lydia, my poor daughter! My poor dear child!”
Mary helped Mrs. Bennet up and walked her towards a chaise. Mother cried and cried, hyperventilating and in general, not helping the situation at all. Mr. Palmer stood in the hall watching this drama unfold with Lydia in his arms. I wanted to sink into the floor or trade places with the table. Being an inanimate object was becoming a proper goal as impossible as it seemed.
Turning towards me, Jane asked, “What shall we do?”
I suggested, “Take off her clothes and corset. They are too restricting.”
Kitty giggled again.
“Oh for heaven’s sake, Kitty,” I snapped, “do stop laughing!”
“I cannot help it!” Kitty tried to muffle her giggle with her hand.
“Fine,” I addressed Kitty, “then make yourself useful and call for the doctor.”
Kitty nodded, “Yes.”
“Jane,” I dispatched another order, ” please get a bowl of water and some rags. We may need to clean up some of her injuries.”
Mary opted to watch after mother, leaving Palmer, Jane, and an unconscious Lydia alone. I rolled up my sleeves like I meant business, “Mr. Palmer, follow me. We need to bring Lydia to her bed. The doctor can check her better there.”
Mr. Palmer and I walked upstairs to Lydia and Kitty’s room. He placed her on the bed and turned towards me. Before I could say anything, Kitty called me from downstairs. I left the room, leaving Palmer and Lydia alone.
“Yes Kitty,” I inquired, “what is it?”
“Will Lydia recover?” Kitty fretted.
“Oh Kitty,” I smiled, “Of course, she will.”
A few tears escaped from her eyes. She tried her best to hold them back. Her lower lip trembled as she concentrated on looking at the floor. I hugged her, catching her by surprise.
“Is Lydia awake yet?”
“No. But, do not worry.”
Kitty muffled her cries in my shoulder, “This was all my doing.”
Confused, I asked, “What do you mean?”
“I told her to go back to Mr. Wickham if Mr. Palmer would not accept her. I was cross with her. Mr. Palmer was all she ever spoke of, and I began to miss our outings to Meryton,” Kitty confessed.
“Kitty,” I smiled, “Lydia has her own mind. She can make her own decisions. You felt she was ignoring you. There is no shame in it.”
Kitty smiled up at me, her innocent eyes conveying a sense of hope, “The doctor will be coming soon. I sent a message boy.”
I walked upstairs to check on Lydia. Palmer was kneeling by the bedside, holding Lydia’s hand in his. Feeling as though I had intruded upon an intimate moment, I hesitated, unsure of what to do. Instead, I felt rooted in place. Almost afraid to move, I watched as he lowered his head, his shoulders shaking. He lifted a hand to brush strands of hair from her eyes.
His voice shook, “I am sorry for everything.” He sighed, “Come back to me, Miss Lydia.”I cleared my throat, and he stood up as if his britches were on fire. I spoke, “Kitty has informed me the doctor will be arriving soon. He shan’t be long. We sent a message boy.”
Mr. Palmer looked down at Lydia. I continued, “There is another matter I would like to discuss with you.”
He turned towards me, “Yes?”
Now was as good a time as any to talk about this. Palmer and I were in private. I figured if Lydia overheard anything, she would chalk it up to delirium. Finding another opportunity to discuss the matter would not happen again. It was not as though Palmer and I were close friends. Sure, we were acquainted, and neighbors and he was becoming a friend, but, close, we were not. We did not go out of our way to speak to one another. Lydia was the only reason we were in the same room. But, why couldn’t I talk to him? Why couldn’t my mouth open and tell him what was on my mind?
“Miss Elizabeth,” he asked, taking a step towards me, “is something wrong?”
“Is Miss Lydia worse than we thought?”
“No.” I took a deep breath, “This does not concern Lydia.”
His brow creased, “Whom does it concern?”
He watched me with a wary eye, “Me?”
“What does it concern?”
He regarded me with an unreadable look for a moment. And, as if he was not tall enough already, the candlelight cast a looming shadow along the wall. I wished I had not said a word. Why did I have to open my big mouth? He walked forward until we were face to face.
“My future with what?” He asked.
“I know you are from the future,” I whispered.
Before Mr. Palmer could respond, Jane breezed into the room carrying a bowl of water and rags. Mary trailed after her. Worried they had overheard my exchange with Palmer, I clamped my mouth shut. I knew my sisters well enough. Jane would never utter a word. If Mary had heard, she would keep the secret. Gossiping and speculating were beneath her morals. For once, I was glad for Mary’s moral high ground. She glanced at Lydia, still unconscious and turned towards us.
“Has anyone administered the cool compress?”
I looked at Mr. Palmer. Trying to steer the situation to a new topic, I asked,” Did you?”
“No, I thought you did.” He smirked at me, catching on to my bag of tricks.
Mary sat on the bed, trying to hide her exasperation. Sitting next to Mary, Jane soaked a rag in the water and wrung out the excess. She folded the cloth and placed it on Lydia’s head. Lydia twitched, feeling the cooling sensation of the compress on her skin. Her eyes fluttered open, falling on Palmer.
Palmer went to Lydia’s side, taking her hand in his. She gave him a weak smile and lost consciousness again. Jane smiled at Palmer, “She will be fine, I assure you.”
Palmer looked at me and asked, “Miss Elizabeth, may I have a moment to speak with you?”
“Yes, in the parlor.”
As I followed Palmer down the stairs, I could hear the rain beating on the windows. I eyed the shut door to my father’s study, a dim light emanating from underneath. Every time he wanted to avoid problems, he would retreat to his study. I hated it. But, I did not wish to disturb him. For now, his study was all he had.
Palmer entered the parlor, and I shut the door behind us. He turned to me, “How much do you know?”
“Where do you want me to begin?”
“I am unsure.” He narrowed his eyes and demanded, “Tell me what you know.”
“You do know that you are in a world—”
“With characters from Pride and Prejudice,” he nodded, “Yeah, I know.”
“Okay, so long story short, I’m from the future too. I used to—I don’t know where to begin. Okay,” I took a deep breath, “I grew up in Hammersmith, England thinking my name was Amanda Price and my mum was Frankie Price. Well, it turns out, my mum is Jane Austen, and I’m Elizabeth Bennet. My mum—Jane went into a portal during her last few days in the nineteenth century and ended up in Pride and Prejudice before it was Pride and Prejudice because she’s the creator. So, baby me decided to take hold of her hand when she went back, and I ended up in modern-day England with her.”
“How did you come back?”
“Through a mirror,” I sent him a sheepish smile, “I assume you—”
“Yeah, same.” He asked, “But, how did you find out about me?”
“When I went back—”
“Wait, you went back?”
“I thought it was a fluke.”
“I brought Darcy with me by accident when I went back.” I hesitated, “While researching how to get back, I found an article about a student at Plymouth University who had gone missing.” I sent him a knowing smile, “You.”
“So, there is a way back?”
His eyes flickered with anticipation. Hope was a strange emotion. In times of crises, hope was there to lean on like a good friend’s shoulder. It struck me how much I wanted to go back when I first ended up here. But, what changed everything was hope. I had given up so much for love, and I was hoping others would do the same.
“Yes, there is a way back,” I muttered.
“You must wait until January twenty-eighth.”
“It is the publication date for Pride and Prejudice.”
He nodded as if trying to process all the information I had thrown at him. It all made perfect sense to the both of us. But, to others, our conversation would have seemed ridiculous. Women were thrown into the asylum for far less than discussing dimension jumping. I did not want to imagine what could have happened to us if this conversation had been overheard.
“One thing I don’t understand,” Mr. Palmer began, “is why a mirror? If mirrors work, shouldn’t there be more people in this world than you and I?”
I shook my head, “I’ve thought about it. And, while I’m not sure how it works, I believe the mirror has to be a gift from a loved one.”
“Ah,” Palmer said, “yes, the mirror was gifted to me by my fiancé. She said my place needed a woman’s touch.”
“You’re not thinking of going back, are you?” I squeaked.
“It is enticing.” He shook his head, “But, I’ve been gone for more than ten years and my family must have declared me dead by now. I don’t have anything to go back to and over here, I have a farm and a large cottage.” He sent me a sheepish look, “I was engaged before I disappeared. But, I’m sure she’s married by now. I’ll have to think about it.”
“Oh,” I asked, “is this why you rejected Lydia so many times?”
He looked down, “Partially.”
“What do you mean?”
“Lydia is very young and at times, she can be,” he trailed off.
“Immature,” he concluded.
“She’s changing. Give her time. You guys can have a long engagement,” I suggested.
“One minute we’re discussing my being from the future and the next, you’re planning my marriage.” He joked.
“A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”
“Nice!” He smirked, “A Jane Austen quote.”
“Are you a Jane Austen fan?”
“My fiancé was a Jane Austen fan. We used to read Pride and Prejudice aloud every night.”
“Ah,” I smiled, “and you ended up here.”
“I should be relieved someone knows.” He sighed, “I feel a burden has been lifted from my shoulders.”
“And you say you’ll think about going back?”
“There is a choice before you,” I spoke. “You can go back, or you can stay here. I chose to love. I decided to stay by my loved one’s side.” I shrugged, “You choose to love, or you choose yourself. No one can make the decision for you.”
“I know,” Mr. Palmer explained, “I do have feelings for her. But, they are feelings I do not understand.”
I could hear my mother crying again and the gentle murmur of Jane’s voice. Hurried footsteps sounded behind the closed parlor door and I turned my head to look. The doctor had arrived. We had been waiting with bated breath and at long last, we would know if Lydia would be all right.
“I shall leave you with another Jane Austen quote,” I smirked as I walked towards the door.
“What is it?”
I placed my hand on the doorknob and turned to look at him, “There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time.”