Westbury Falls #9: The Wretched Mr. Sutton

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Today, we have the next installment of “Wesbury Falls” and an announcement that the series is in the works for publication to Kindle Vella this fall. So, unfortunately, I will only be running the next two chapters. I hope you’ll be able to follow it on that platform and will give you the links as the project gets ready to run. If you’ve followed this far, know that the series on Vella will contain more details and bonus chapters not given on The Beautiful Stuff thus far. I hope you’ll all be able to continue the adventure.

And now, this…

Lillian was worn thin. The difficult conversation with Matthew, the afternoon of people and the lack of any progress in her plan to leave this god-forsaken time, and hopefully save herself and her Aunt from certain death all cumulated in her having what Miriam described as “a bout of horrible exhaustion”.

Her feelings for Matthew especially had distracted her from the purpose of her being here, or what she thought was the purpose. He made her want to stay. He made her consider living the rest of her short life out in horrible yards of linen and under the control of a man she knew nothing of except that he might very well be the one responsible for her future death. Simply because it meant she would still see him in the same social circles even a few times before her untimely end.

As she lay in bed, watching the mid-morning sun crossing the horizon, she thought through the options that were limiting themselves with every day that came closer to the day Lillian had disappeared. But while her rational mind beat itself against the still injured skull it was trapped in, like an angry bird yearning to be free, her heart commandeered its power to dwell on the hurtful words of Dr. Blackwell, and the fact that he had not spoken to nor seen her since that sunny afternoon on the blanket a three days ago. It was the longest she’d ever gone without seeing him since her arrival.

The door creaked open, even as she was drying her eyes yet again and thinking herself a foolish and stupid girl for wanting something so ridiculous. Miriam poked her round, cheery face in the crack and whispered.

“Pardon me, miss.”

Lillian sniffed and quickly dried her eyes. “Yes…I’m awake, I’m sorry. Please don’t bring me breakfast, I’ll come down soon.”

“Mistress, begging your pardon, but you’ve a gentleman visitor, waiting down in the parlor.”

Lillian’s heart leapt, and she threw the covers from her legs, exposing them to the coldness of the room, but barely noticed. Her heart tripped to life.

“Has Dr. Blackwell—”

“Begging you, no miss!” Miriam looked at her confused before continuing. “Tis your fiancé, Mr. Sutton. He’s asking if you are well enough to be seen?”

Lillian sat back down, deflated. Of course it would be her fiancé. Dr. Blackwell had no reason to see her. If any indication could be made from their last meeting, he had officially deemed their patient and doctor relationship over. Any relationship they may have held, as friends, as co-conspirators in the dangerously strange game of honesty that never passed between two of the opposite sex in this era, was over. Lillian sighed and nodded.

“Of course, I—” she smoothed her wayward hair. “If it would not aggrieve him to wait in the parlor while I dress, I shall be down presently.”

“If you are not feeling up for such a visit, I have no qualms about letting him know you are not yet recovered.” Miriam said and her eyes softened.

Lillian rose again and walked to the door. She smiled sadly and took the older maid’s hands in hers. She felt the calloused and hard worked hands and the appreciation for such loyalty, not just for her as a charge but as a woman forced into a situation against her heart’s will.

“I appreciate that, more than you know. I shall make his acquaintance…er meet with him. It would not do—” she sniffed, “for a woman to refuse to see her betrothed after so long an absence.”

“Shall I serve tea? And if, you are feeling unwell, you may signal me by dropping your spoon. Then I shall make sure to devise a distraction. So that you may take your leave.” Miriam offered boldly. Lillian smiled widely and placed a kiss on her cheek with childlike warmth.

“Yes please, Miriam, that would be lovely, thank you.”

After Miriam left, Lillian dressed herself in a pale blue, cotton dress, tying it as tightly as possible on her own, and feeling that her ribs hurt from the deep drawing of breath. It made her think of the run she’d so brazenly taken on the day of Matthew’s leaving. She had wished she would have caught up to him. Or that he had come after her. But she hadn’t. And he hadn’t. And it appeared, by all accounts that the universe was reminding her that Dr. Blackwell was not to be hers. Her hair was an absolute horror, but she tamed it with a comb and water and put it back into a simple bun, something Kitty had shown her she could do herself in a pinch. It certainly wasn’t the same spiked pixie she was used to. Lillian still found comfort in toying with it. And she needed comfort now.

Taking the stairs and deep breaths very carefully, she descended and thought through all of the possible questions, comments, and conversations she might have with Mr. Sutton. What would he wish to speak of? What if she wasn’t able to pretend to know about their previous interludes? What if he found her much changed, so much so that he deemed her mentally unsound or worse, an imposter?

What if—she turned the corner of the parlor and saw him standing, stoically against the fireplace. He was a large man, hands clasped behind his back and reserved as he stared over his long and straight nose down at her. The nose was akin to Matthew’s but the eyes that stared at her above it were cold and brown; disinterested but for the slight shock at how quickly she had rounded the corner. His brown hair was trimmed neatly to the staunchly pressed and tight collar around his thick neck

She made a small surprised sound before remembering herself.

“Mr. Sutton, it is a pleasure to see you again,” she lied as she had never met the man, but bowed her head and knee low, curtsying far longer than necessary in order to gather her wits.

“Miss Byrne, the pleasure is all mine,” he said in a clipped and authoritative voice and came nearer. “Forgive me for being away so long,” he bowed and she offered her hand. He kissed it with cold lips quickly and in a perfect example of withheld emotion. “I hope I am not interrupting your convalescence. I would have offered to—come sooner—” he paused, blushed and cleared his throat. “But I’m afraid business in London has kept me from your bedside these long weeks.”

She could not see this large and reserved man, his jowly face and barrel chest sitting at her bedside calling her Angel and Lily. Her heart fell and she smiled despite the pain. She must maintain the act if she were to buy herself the time and opportunity to save her ancestor. The bigger picture had to come first.

“I am much improved, and am happy that you’ve given me a joyous reason to leave the confines of bed.” Now she blushed and turned away as he looked at her. “That is to say—I am much rested and anxious to return to my normal tasks.”

“I am glad I could inspire you,” he said and sniffed. He looked at her forehead. Studied the wound and shook his head. “Tis a shame you shall be scarred from the event.” Lillian tried not to scowl and used her strongest effort to not reply the way she would have with Matthew. She had no such pact of honesty with this man, he was, after all, her soon to be husband.

“With some skill, I can learn to arrange my hair to hide much of it, and you can make the effort to always stay on my left.” She said. It was the closest thing to polite she could manage and she wished she’d held her tongue a bit harder. He turned his head to the side and studied her and she wondered if she were about to be found out for the liar she was.

“I suppose your right. In any case, our sons will not inherit it.”

“Sons—“? Lillian choked on her response and fell into a fit of coughing.

“Do you find my assurances too forward?” he said and put his hands behind his back. “But, of course our future will hold the blessings of male heirs to the Sutton name!”

She smiled demurely above clenched teeth.

“Of course, my—dear—Mr. Sutton.” She forced herself not to throw up in her mouth. The strangest thought of being too forward, and Matthew’s intimate comment to her on the day of the picnic flashed in her mind. How she had wanted to be alone on a blanket with him in the afternoon sunlight and feel his warm strong fingers trailing up her thigh.

“You are quite flushed, my dear. I see you are as impatient for our future nuptials as I.”

Lillian took a step back and her thoughts were brought back to the present. The gall of the man. It was one thing for Matthew, who knew her best and felt genuine affection for, to make inappropriate comments. This man was, by all accounts a stranger and she felt sick to think of what was running through his mind. He watched her face turn downward. Probably attributing it to the necessary outward propriety of young women in the era.

“Though you are ill, you are still quite beautiful. I shall be the envy of all the men in the hunting club.” He tumbled through the backwards compliment and turned quickly away.

He’s a bumbling idiot and vulgar, but I won’t have to marry him if I can figure out a plan of escape quickly, Lillian thought and sunk down to the couch as her legs grew noticeably weaker. Mr. Sutton came to sit in the chair beside her. He was studying her now, as if trying to decern if she had changed in other ways. His brow scowled at the scar. As if his favorite statue had been gashed in transit.

“How has your business been?” she said suddenly in an effort bring his attention off of her face. “I hope that you are not too weary from your travels.” She said “The weather has been quite unpredictable and I know not enough to understand how that must affect the ships in your care.”

He looked at her as if she’d grown a second head and it occurred to Lillian that women were probably not allowed or expected to talk of business, even with their husbands. At least not this husband.

How she wished Dr. Blackwell were here.

“You musn’t worry for the boring details of running a shipyard, my darling. Let us talk instead of Dr. Blackwell.”

Lillian’s eyes shot up at the mention of his name. “I beg your pardon? I’m not sure I quite comprehend the subject.”

“My cousin!”

She feigned ignorance and shook her head. “I’m not sure there is much to speak of.”

“Well, I understand I have him to thank for saving your life? Though he could have used a lighter hand on that stitching.” He added. Lillian’s mouth turned down in anger.

“He…his first stitches were quite perfect. I tore out the others accidentally while slipping up a hill in the rain. He—aided me in getting back to Westbury Manor and had to repair them with wet and cold fingers.” She defended quickly, remembering every detail of the moment and the way he’d found her, wanted her, held her. Her eyes filled anew. Mr. Sutton watched the tears with a glint of something sinister within his eyes. An understanding…a need to stake claim on her as his property.

“I cannot fathom a reason why you’d be out walking in the rain to begin with, let alone up hills on your own. Nor why you thought it acceptable to accepting such aide from an unmarried man.” His voice was thick with disapproval. “When we are married, you must know that kind of behavior will simply not be tolerated. You do know that you are to remain at home, I will not have my wife traipsing about the countryside like some common bumpkin. Did anyone see you? Besides the doctor? Scrambling through the rain like a witless peasant?” Mr. Sutton’s voice rose, and a strange darkness took over his features. His rounded cheeks clenched into hard lines and he rose to pace before the fireplace.

“I am quite fond of walking.” She said simply.

“I am quite fond of a complacent wife,” he said back in a tone that brought a rising of bile into Lillian’s throat. The door burst open unannounced by a knock and Miriam stepped in with rattling tea service tray and a face quite flushed itself. She looked once at her young charge and her beady, hard eyes landed on Mr. Sutton.

“Beggin’ your pardon, sir. Miss Bryne requested serving tea after your long journey.”

Lillian loved her for the complete lack of respect in her tone and she smiled even though her eyes stayed downcast to the patterned rug beneath her feet.

“Fine,” he acknowledged with a curt nod, and held his tongue while the woman, whom he felt far beneath the benefit of his words, set the tea service down in front of Lillian. Miriam began to pour him the first cup and looked up at Lillian’s pale face.

“When we are married, you will find everything you need in our family’s grounds and shall have no reason to leave. Ever. I assure you. You will be quite content.”

Content. No reason to leave. Complacent.

“As for my cousin, you will no longer cause him the grief of maintaining your propriety as he is leaving in short time to seek his fortunes elsewhere. You shall have no reason to leave when we are happily betrothed. Walking or otherwise.”

Lillian knew what her proper place was supposed to be, knew the reaction she should give, when a man, the man who was promised to be her husband, the man she was to obey and cherish spoke to her in such a commanding tone. She knew the decent and right thing to do if she were to keep up the façade long enough to escape.

She knew all of these things and chose to open her mouth anyway.

Westbury Falls: Episode #5

Good morning! Welcome to December, I’m not sure what happened to this year, but I do know that after a month of NANOWRIMO, I’m taking this week off and I hope you are too. To soothe your tired brain, here’s the fifth installment of last year’s project for NANOWRIMO. The one where we meet Kitty– a ray of cherry-pink sunshine, who is also capable of burning those who slip away from propriety like a fire-obsessed toddler in a Stephen King novel. Oh–and there’s a little more Doctor. Get cozy, this is a long one. If you find yourself lost, please check out the earlier episodes of this strange little time-traveling jaunt. Enjoy!

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“Oh Miss Darlingwood, you have caught me in the midst of my own wanderings, I’m afraid. My head has put strange and sudden thoughts into my being that I can’t always comprehend. The engagement…yes— “ Lilian stalled for a moment by twisting her hands together in what she hoped would look like a virginal nervousness. “It must have been very…nice.”

“Nice? Is that all? Oh please Lily, you do not mean to tell me that is all you can devise? You know I desire much more detail, every last whisper and turn of the leaf. Did he—” she leaned in close and looked around the deserted parlor. “Did he dare kiss you? Is that why you are remiss in telling me details that you not once have held back? Rest assured, Miss Byrne, I wouldn’t tell a soul.”

So much for being coy, Lil thought and tried not to smirk. How scandalous to have kissed a man who proposed to you! Lil rarely kissed anyone in her time. She was usually attracted to the dark, morose skater types, who’s plans included bringing down society by skipping class. Bad boys. Boys that didn’t hunt pheasants or drink scotch.

“I truly do not remember the proposal. I wish I had more romantic detail to give to you, I fear the fall has quite damaged my memory to the extent that even when the young Dr. Blackwell assured me, I had recently become engaged, I assured him that I had not.”

Miss Darlingwood took in a sharp breath and then released it in a whoosh of giggles. “Miss Byrne! I am both saddened at the tragic loss of such a memory and amused by your teasing of Dr. Blackwell by calling him ‘young’. He is quite the aged bachelor!”

“Ah yes, the ripe old age of seven and twenty,” she smirked. “Is not Mr. Sutton much older?” she asked. Miss Darlingwood nodded and looked around to the deserted room.

“Well, yes, but he is of means and acquired those means through several years of investments overseas. ‘Young’ Dr. Blackwell—“she giggled at repeating the name, “appears to be fallen from his father’s graces by practicing medicine in rural bumpkin-filled hovels in the south of England. He is much disgraced and would be most shockingly lucky to find himself a willing bride, unbothered by his recent escapades.”

“Escapades?” That sounded juicy and now it was Lillian who leaned forward. “Whatever do you mean?”

“I mean that he is treating the poor with so much regularity that he has become quite poor himself and has quiet assuredly upset his father’s plans to be the successor of the family’s highly respected hospital and board position in Bath! While we are all very grateful for his continued attention to your care, we were in part shocked that the good Colonel would allow him such access with his reputation.” She responded as if this were all very new information, and shockingly so. “With all his work in the poor houses, one wonders if he could really call himself by the title of “Doctor” at all. He makes barely more than even his stipend and does not seem bothered to live below his means.”

“He administers to the poor? But isn’t that noble and kind?” the last words drifted off softly between her lips and Lillian’s blush returned. Miss Darlingwood watched her face with curiosity before her eyes lit with mischief.

“Nobility and kindness do not mix, dearest Lily. He should have joined the clergy if he was so inclined, at least there is some honor in that. But in treating boils for trades of eggs and shelter in barns does not make for good husband material!” Lillian sat back and frowned. She needed to stay focused and try to learn what she could about her supposed fiancé so she could play along until a solution to take her back home was found.

“We must think up a good story—” Kitty began, “forgotten or not, when your engagement party comes to pass you must have something to tell the circle of women who will no doubt be dying to know how you captured the attention of such a man.”

Lillian felt sick to her stomach. She didn’t want to capture the interest of any man, she just wanted to go home. Kitty went on despite the quiet contemplation of Lillian.

“So, my suggestion is this…He proposed beneath the large willow tree on the edge of his favorite grouse field, rifle in hand and the mist making him all the more impressive of a man. You hesitated, as all good and proper young women do when faced with such a delicate and intimate decision and he snuck a kiss in to persuade—”

“He did not kiss me!” Lillian said it so loudly and adamantly that it startled them both. “Forgive me, I mean to say, I think such an occurrence would not have been lost to any fall or injury to the head.”

“Well, it sounds much more exciting than ‘it was very nice’,” Kitty argued. Lillian sighed.

“I do not wish to lie to you Kitty about the proposal. I simply do not remember it ever taking place. Are we quite sure he actually asked me?” In all of her mother’s study and the journals she’d read, never had her ancestor ever mentioned getting married to Mr. Sutton. She had disappeared before that time and shortly after was found, drown on the banks of Avon.

“Perhaps it is something we can get him to recall when he visits you again.”

“Again? I have never seen him here at Westbury Manor.” Lillian said distractedly and rubbed at the tight and perfect stitches, placed so carefully by such skilled fingers. Miss Darlingwood looked at her.

“You mean to say your fiancé has not come to see you in your time of need? Not in over a week?”

“Well, no—” Lillian’s eyes and hands fell to her lap. Strange, if a man was engaged to a woman, advantageously or otherwise, would he not come to see her post haste in the event of her injury? Perhaps they did not have that kind of arrangement. Maybe she was more of a convenience.

“He is otherwise occupied,” came the sudden and deep voice from the hall causing both women to turn. Miss Darlingwood rose immediately and bowed to Dr. Blackwell and she looked down at Lillian in horror as she stayed seated and glaring. Kitty nudged Lillian with her knee to remind her. Lillian made an annoyed sound and rolled her eyes at the ritual of rise and curtsy as was used in the era. She moved to stand but he stopped her.

“You needn’t rise, Miss Byrne, if you are feeling faint.” She scowled at him.

“I assure you I am quite fine.”  She stood and bowed but did not lower her eyes. Matthew’s eyes narrowed on hers and the heat seemed to rise in the room. Miss Darlingwood came around the settee to again bow and offer her hand. He did as was custom but as his lips touched Kitty’s hand, his eyes lit on Lillian for a brief moment.

“I have been occupied trying my very best to help Miss Byrne recall the details of her engagement to your cousin, Mr. Blackwell. “

“Doctor,” Lillian croaked in correction.

Doctor Blackwell,” Kitty corrected with a slight scrunch of her nose towards Lillian.

“You needn’t worry with titles, Miss Darlingwood. It is not necessa—” Lillian interrupted.

“It is absolutely necessary! Yours is a title that has been earned through hours of meticulous work, that you’ve accomplished on your own merit. It was not simply given.” Her voice quieted as he stared at her through the speech with a strange look on his face. She blushed at the overflow of startled affection that she’d felt for him after Kitty had unwittingly bestowed in her gossip of his supposed failings towards his family. She knew what it was to fall short in the eyes of those who should love you the most.

“Miss Byrne I—” his blue eyes fell and he clasped his hands behind his back.

“I would not have survived, if it hadn’t been for your calm and assured manner and skill. I have not thanked you nearly enough, and I hope you will not think me remiss or ungrateful. I am so—“she stopped speaking and stumbled, breathless and enchanting, around the settee to stand before him.

“So?” Kitty asked in a hushed voice as she stepped aside and watched the strange interplay between doctor and patient, unmarried and betrothed.

“So very grateful.” Lillian finished and bowed before him. Matthew’s eyes fell to the beautiful coils of raven hair, hiding the neat stitches, to the heaving and full bosom, held in the gray brocade material of her dress. When she looked up, the lavender eyes were stormy and gray.

He ached to pull her up from her submissive position. To have her complain about her stitches, or how rudely he had handled her, or how improper he’d been. Instead her behavior melted away the idea of guilt and replaced it with genuine need, hard and fast in his body and heart. Kitty cleared her throat.

“Doctor Blackwell, as Mr. Sutton is your cousin, perhaps you would like to remind Miss Byrne of the utmost happiest occasion of her life.” Miss Darlingwood said pointedly. Lillian rose and blushed and stepped away.

“I’m sure she’ll remember on her own in time.” He countered, not wanting to think on the matter.

“You might hasten her happiness by telling her now,” Kitty said in a strange smile that seemed almost menacing. Lillian studied her. Kitty was trying to keep the status quo. People in this era were much more astute at reading body language and probably could feel the uncomfortable play of emotion and physical response between Dr. Blackwell and herself. No wonder Matthew looked so angry and uncomfortable around her. She was upsetting his world.  

“Forgive me,” she said softly. “I do not recall the event.”

Dr. Blackwell cleared his throat and paced to the fireplace.

“You must keep in mind that men do not remember events the same as ladies do and we are prone to not fetter over the idealic details of how many flower petals fell on his shoulder or which type of finch sang above you or from which direction the spring breezes blew.”

Kitty giggled. “Oh Dr. Blackwell, you tease us so!” Lillian did not giggle. She did not want him to continue. She did not want to know how she came to be engaged to a stranger. Not even a truncated version.

“He did not kiss you, as I had overheard, forgive me, earlier from the hall. That is not to say he did not want to, for I know not the desires of his heart.” Matthew paused his story and looked back from the fireplace only briefly to gauge Lillian’s reaction and to contain the ideas in his own mind of kissing her. “He only asked with his usual, forthright manner…I imagine much as he would if asking to use someone’s grounds for hunting.” He said the last bit under his breath and with a roll of his eyes at his cousin’s unromantic nature. “If it helps you to imagine, I suppose he held his hands to his back and rocked on his heels in a proper amount of embarrassment and concern for your answer.”

“Perhaps he held them away so that he wouldn’t be tempted to sway you otherwise!” Kitty giggled and covered her mouth to stifle the sound as she looked back at Lillian, who blanched, somehow containing herself with pursed lips. She leaned against the sideboard, along the farthest wall from Dr. Blackwell.

“Perhaps,” Matthew said with a smile and turned away before she could read his face. “But, as I’ve known my cousin since I was three and he six, he rarely crosses the boundaries of propriety for the sake of affection.”

“Rightly so, he is a decent and excellent character we can be assured! You see dear Lily?” Kitty said and came to her and took Lil’s cold fingers in her hand. “You’ve nothing to worry about, Mr. Sutton is a proper and sound man.”

“Stoic, unaffectionate, proper…decent—fantastic. What more could a girl hope for in a life partner?” she said lowly to herself and the air around her grew heavy. She felt stifled. She took her hand from Kitty’s and lifted her skirts before bowing.

“If you would please excuse me, Dr. Blackwell, Miss Darlingwood, I think I should like to take some fresh air.” She darted from the room, making a rushed getaway that surprised both Dr. Blackwell and Miss Darlingwood.

“But isn’t it raining dreadfully?” Kitty squeaked behind her. Matthew watched her run out and down the hall before dashing to the left and down the staircase. Her slippered feet made soft and even taps on the tiles of the stairs.

“What if she falls?” Matthew said and moved to follow her but Miss Darlingwood stepped coyly between him and the door.

“I assure you good sir, she shall be safe on the grounds. Perhaps we shall leave her space with which to think. After all, it is nearly her engagement party in three weeks’ time and she may need the solitary moments alone to ruminate over the lovely details.”

Matthew looked down at Miss Darlingwood, petite and in pink cotton that illuminated the flush of both cheeks and breasts. He looked away quickly as she stared up at him through her blond eyelashes with a smile. He knew very well that she was a beautiful woman, one that had no shortage of suitors due in part to her soft and sweet countenance and part due to her father’s good fortune. He also knew that she had captured the heart of Lillian’s brother Fitzwilliam, but had no intention of marrying a boy of so little means even though he stood to inherit Westbury upon the passing of his childless Aunt and Uncle.

“I would love to hear some of your travels to the south. I hear it can be quite barbaric over the border.”

Matthew cringed and his lip drew back in disgust. Such was the prevailing attitudes of the times. When in all reality, he saw very little difference between the two peoples. Though he had observed that the Welsh were exceedingly proud of their hard-work ethic and rugged (in the eyes of the British Empire) existence. Certainly, a woman of Miss Darlingwood’s upbringing and constitution would not be able to survive such a “primitive” lifestyle. A woman would have to be adventurous, physically able bodied, and stubborn. Matthew looked out to the empty hallway.

“Perhaps some other time. I am running quite late for meeting with my father and should not dawdle further.” He politely bowed before rushing from the room.

Westbury Falls (Episode 2)

What’s a blogger to do when she’s in the throes of final edits, soon-to-be-publications, and running out of guest posts? She throws you another section of fluff from her weird-ass time-traveling/faerie-mischief/Austen-esque novel. You’re–welcome?

Here’s the first installment, iff you need to catch up: (https://thebeautifulstuff.blog/2021/08/26/a-little-excerpt-westbury-falls/)

And now: Part Deux (edited for length)

Westbury Falls (continued)

Lily was playing a game with herself; a game wherein every time she opened her eyes, she made rationalized odds as to whether or not she’d wake up in her own bed, or at the very least, a hospital, and that the good Dr. Blackwell would retreat back into her subconsciousness’ fantasyland.

This time, she thought, it’s gotta be at least sixty-percent. Her eyes, would flutter open to a blurry vision of a room. She knew that the head trauma must have been real as it was the only consistent thing she could feel when she awoke. When the fog cleared and she was again staring at the red velvet curtains of the ostentatious bed, or the worried and rounded face of one of the older women who had found her, she would close her eyes, and try again.

Occasionally she would wake to the deep blue eyes of the doctor (if that was in fact what he was) and she would stare into them, convinced reality couldn’t create such a stunning man. He would smile, sometimes. Looked concerned others. Brush her hair from her face, murmur that she was all right, and not to fret. Lily closed her eyes, fall back asleep, and tumbled into dreams. Dreams plagued with the vast swirling dark, with the sound of a voice somewhere in the shadows calling her. Sometimes it sounded like her mother, sometimes it sounded like her own voice echoing back. Sometimes it whispered the word Lily, and Angel, and Darling.

The most shocking moment came when she woke to the sight of the concerned face of her brother. Though still blurry, she thought for sure that this was the moment that she’d finally woken up in her own time.

“Will, thank God,” she whispered and moved to sit up. But as her vision sharpened, his face was changed. As though it was her brother with strange differences. A freckle on his cheek that hadn’t been there before. A slightly narrower nose, not like their father’s. Dark hair, like hers.

“Lillian my dear. Thank goodness, I’ve been terribly worried! You haven’t called me by such a pet name in years since we were but babes at our mother’s skirts,” the man said and solidified in Lillian’s mind that this was not her brother. Will wouldn’t worry about her. He rarely worried about anything. If he did find some ounce of concern for her well-being, he certainly would not admit to it. Her Will would have been shaking his head and laughing at how stupid she’d been. Calling her names. Name.

“Of course you’re Will,” she said, befuddled and grasping at her bandaged head. Suddenly, warm fingers were there, capturing her wrist and reading her pulse, She looked to see the fair doctor, keeping his eyes demurely turned away and studying her stats with a detached and professional manner. He cleared his throat.

“It is common for people who have sustained severe trauma to the head to revert back to childlike tendencies,” he said calmly to Will who nodded in understanding.

“I am not reverting! That’s Will! My brother—at least, at least I think it is—” she laid down once more.

“Fitzwilliam,” Will reminded her and for a stark moment Lillian was jostled awake by the name.

“Fitzwilliam,” she said softly. Her brain sorted out the card in a deck of a thousand and remembered the diaries and family journals her mother had carried in acid free packaging all the way from America. The diaries of Fitzwilliam Darcy Byrne and his wife. The truncated one from his sister Lillian (for whom she was named) that only accounted up until her untimely death from a drowning accident.

They’d spend most of a month traveling across the country in search of their ancestral story. And Fitzwilliam held a key role in all of it. It was his diaries that gave the most detailed accounts of their family history. How their mother had passed away, and they had moved to live with their aunt and uncle, Colonel Mayfield at Westbury Manor. How his beloved sister had drowned shortly after being married to—the names and stories blurred in her tired head and she wavered.

Lillian groaned and put a hand to her forehead. The possibility that seemed lost in all the fog, made her feel sick to her stomach. It simply couldn’t be true.

“Lillian, dear, what is it, how can we help?” Fitzwilliam said desperately and took her cold hand in his. Lillian peered out with one eye at him. Nope, not her brother. But if the drawings and paintings she’d seen could be believed, he was Lillian Louisa Byrne’s. This couldn’t be real; what kind of sick head game had the injury brought upon her?

“May I—“? She began but lost her breath.

“Yes, anything, Miss Byrne,” The doctor said from her other side.

“May I please—” she stopped to word it correctly. “Trouble you for a looking glass so that I may see the extent of the damage?”

“Miss Byrne, it is quite a disturbing wound and I would not wish to distress you further—” he argued.

“I am quite well enough to handle the sight,” she said stubbornly and glared at him. “Or are you afraid your stitching is subpar?” The grating insult seemed to take Dr. Blackwell back, and Fitzwilliam laughed beside her.

“Lily! Such terrible manners! I apologize Dr. Blackwell, she is indeed not herself.”

The doctor smiled at her and shook his head. As if her rudeness was a ruse he saw through and thought it quite charming that she should put up such a brave front in the face of such trauma.

“It is quite all right. I was not referring to my impeccable work, I was referring to the bruising and alteration of her rather plain appearance. I’ll allow you to decide if that is for the better or worse,” he retorted. Lillian gasped.

“You—” she began and the doctor chuckled. Fitzwilliam at first looked horrified but then laughed himself.

“He is indeed a match to your wit and most dark mood, sister.”

“My lady,” the doctor smiled and handed her a silver handled mirror from the vanity table beside the bed. It seemed, in all of her time, suffering through her mother’s obsession of the history and cultural norms of the era, that she would not think a true gentleman, especially a man of such esteem as a doctor to be so brash or rude. But perhaps the Austen’s and Bronte’s of the time were not so unlike the romantic idiots of the modern world, who tended to sugar coat the affections and behaviors of the opposite sex. She snatched the mirror away from him with a glare.

She wasn’t really interested in what the stitches looked like or the bruising. What she really wanted to see was if the image she held a reflection of was in fact hers, or was her great, great, great times seven grand aunt’s. The glass was milky and dusted, and for a moment Lillian feared that her vision had been impacted by the fall. She had gotten far too used to the modern world’s minor conveniences. Like mirrors. Cameras with their fancy filters and effects. The face that stared back at her seemed to share in her shock, the raised eyebrows and puckered mouth mimicking what she knew her muscles were doing. But it was not entirely her face.

The similarities were impeccable actually, but she was sure her eyes were not so deep a blue and she was missing a scar on her chin from a fall off a bike at the age of twelve. But the biggest difference by far was that, at the time of her tumble in 2019, her hair had been a short pixie cut and tinged with blue dye. Now it fell in long and loose raven curls all the way down to past her shoulders and mid back. She touched it in fascination, so soft and thick. Hair that hadn’t ever been dyed or blown out, or all the hundreds of other tortuous things the modern woman did to herself in the name of fashionable trends.

“My hair,” she said softly. Matthew watched her with some curiosity. She didn’t appear to even look at the wound but had spent the last few moments studying her own face as if it were the first time she’d ever done so.

“Do not fear, my darling, I’m sure the ladies can help you right it again when you are feeling much better. You mustn’t think it’s unbecoming, you are, after all convalescing.” Fitzwilliam said to her astonishment, thinking her upset for the state of it, wild and free.

“I actually prefer it—” Dr. Blackwell said before silencing the thought.

“Down and wild from days in bed?” Lily asked with a scowl. The words stopped his movement and Matthew stared at her for an uncomfortable moment in a way that suggested he was imagining days in bed with her. Matthew cleared his throat. Fitzwilliam cleared his throat.

“Yes, well, we can see to it that someone comes this afternoon to help you, if you wish,” her brother offered. “Perhaps Miss Darlingwood might be available. She has been much concerned with your absence and has asked after your health repeatedly.”

Lillian closed her eyes and the mirror fell to the bed beside her, still stuck in her hand. More people she supposedly knew, more people that knew her as someone she was not. She sighed and felt tears sting the corners of her eyes. What in the hell had happened? Could this be a dream? It did not feel like one.

“I—” she sniffed and opened her eyes. “It does not matter. But what I would greatly like, is to get up and—walk.”

“It is not recommended Miss Byrne,” Dr. Blackwell said immediately and looked into her glassy eyes. “If you should fall again—”

“I will be careful,” she said. He gave her a disbelieving stare. “I assure you Dr. Blackwell, I am quite well enough to stand on my own.”

“Oh? Will you be as careful as when you ‘decide’ to take the stairs eight at a time?”

Fitzwilliam burst out in a beautiful, room-lighting laugh and in it, Lillian found the comfort of her own brother’s laughter. She scowled at him in the same fashion she would her Will.

“It wasn’t the preferred method but it got me there with some haste,” she countered and jutted her chin at the doctor in defiance. He looked down at her pretty pink pout and his eyes softened, his smile grew. Both men chuckled.

“If it were up to judgement on your spirit alone, I would think you are healed all but in the severity of the cut,” his warm fingers went up to delicately touch the healing wound. She shied away until the contact of them against her skin seemed to draw the whole room into focus once more and she leaned in.

“You may walk,” he said and pulled back. “In short increments and only when accompanied by someone else.”

“Oh, well—” she scoffed and sat back against her pillows, still pouting. “Thank you for your professional permission.” Both men raised their eyebrows at her tone. Matthew leaned in to Fitzwilliam.

“Is she always this obstinate?” he whispered though not so quietly that she wouldn’t be assured to hear him.

“No, usually moreso. She must be tired,” Fitzwilliam nodded looking directly at Lillian.

“Oh you!” she took a small pillow and threw it at her brother, connecting it squarely in his buttoned up chest. Lillian studied the coat briefly, and the doctor’s clothes in turn. If this was a joke, if it was not real, then her imagination had made every detail impeccable. Right down to the brocade pattern of her bed sheets and the golden buttons on Fitzwilliam’s coat. Her new brother laughed.

“I shall send someone to help you bathe and dress,” he said softly and came closer to gently press a kiss to her forehead. Dr. Blackwell watched and Lillian swore he had the look of jealousy on his face, as though he wished he could leave her with such warmth.

“I can do it myse—”

“Please, Miss Byrne,” the Doctor interjected. “I know you are quite ready to be healed and understand your frustrations, but waves of dizziness can catch one unaware after such a wound. Be you a strapping and grown man or a—” he stopped, unsure if the next words were sanctioned or proper. “Delicate young woman.”

“I am not delicate—”

“So you keep insisting. Please—” he sighed with frustration and gathered his own navy blue coat from the chair beside the bed. Lillian wondered how long he’d been there, with her, beside her bed, no doubt sleeping in the chair in order to be close to her in the hours of her need. She had seen him in quite a few of the moments she’d opened her eyes. “I ask that you take the opportunity to allow others to help you.”

Lillian Byrne wasn’t good at letting people help her. She didn’t want to rely on other people. When her father had abandoned them at the tender age of eight, she’d learned that women couldn’t count on anyone but themselves to make sure they survived and thrived in life. And here she was, stuck in an era where women had little choice but to be taken care of by men. She, herself, was even supposedly engaged to be married. And where was her unwanted fiancé?

In the present moment she didn’t care. She just wanted to leave the confines of the bed and get her body moving. Maybe then her brain could sort out what had transpired from the moment she’d fallen and why she didn’t seem to be able to wake from this dream.

“Will you return to walk with me?” she asked suddenly, and then felt a hot flash light her cheeks. She knew from the research and books she’d been inundated with by her mother, that it was not proper for her, an unmarried or even promised young lady to ask an unmarried man. But the fact remained that Matthew Blackwell was the one person she was most familiar with. He’d been with her since she’d found herself in this strange and impossible set of circumstances. He was the most known to her. Fitzwilliam raised his eyebrows and looked at the young doctor in anticipation of his answer at such a strange and forward question.

“I—I must go and see to business I’ve been kept from these last three days.”
            “Three days—“? Lillian began to ask, had it been that long? Her mother would be so worried!

“My father is expecting me as soon as my business here is concluded as I have much to catch up on in his clinic and with our…personal affairs. I’m sure that your brother, Miss Darlingwood, or Colonel Mayfield would be more than happy to accompany you.” He said softly and donned his coat.

“You’ve been here for three days?” she reiterated the question as if reminding him.

“Quite so! He’s a credit to his profession,” Fitzwilliam jumped back into the conversation. “The good doctor even slept in the chair by your bedside in the event you should need anything at any time of day or night.”

Lillian blushed and looked up at the doctor who avoided her liquid blue eyes with deliberate effort while he adjusted his collar.