Thirst. Elizabeth that she had never truly been thirsty before. Before, drinking happened without a second thought; a servant was called, and Elizabeth drank. Now, her tongue lay like dry dough in her mouth. Elizabeth ran her fingers along the damp, stone floor. Her chained leg clinked with her movement. The links ran to an iron ring nailed into the wall, too dark and too far away to see.
Piles of root vegetables hunkered in the surrounding darkness, mostly potatoes and carrots. Between them scurried things she preferred not know. A sip of plain water would be heaven sent, and the desire to stop the discomfort of being without dominated her thinking.
Light footsteps sounded above, interrupting the long silence.
“Please,” Elizabeth rasped. She cleared her throat and spoke more loudly, “I need some water, please.” The footsteps stopped, and she knew the owner of those soft footfalls was listening. “I am so thirsty.”
“I am not allowed to open the cellar door,” came a small voice. It was the boy, Aldous, Algon, Alfred — what was his name?
“I am really thirsty,” she said, crawling to the base of the wooden ladder that led topside. She stood, reaching up to the trap-door above. The chain pulled at her ankle. From above shone half-moon of light shone through a barred square hole in the trap door, revealing the shadowed outline of his cheek. “Will you give me some water?” Elizabeth asked.
Perhaps, he would open the door and climb down. It was a wild hope; the boy was too small to pull up the heavy, wooden door that led down into the cellar. He was only four or five that she recalled. She heard him walk away and hopes sank.
“Wait, please!” she cried, scratching at the ladder rung above her. “I am so thirsty, please.” There was silence, then his footsteps returned.
“I can pour it through the bars,” he said, his voice closer. “You will have to catch it.”
“All right,” she replied. She was willing to try anything. It was odd that the boy would think of something like that. He was just a boy, but maybe this wasn’t the first time he had done this.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied. Who cared how he had figured out how to get water into the root cellar. He could be a child genius, or maybe someone had taught him. Either way, he was the holder of the water she desperately needed, and his idea was better than sitting in defeat.
The water dribbled down. She put her mouth up and caught some water, gulping and swallowing gratefully.
“More,” she begged. It might sound unbecoming, but propriety was the farthest thing from her consciousness at this point. When Elizabeth had tried to escape, which landed her in this literal hell hole, she never thought she’d beg from a little boy who sounded as frightened as she. More water dribbled down through the opening.
Elizabeth heard to door open and held her breath. She heard a woman whispering, and the water stopped. “You will get us beat again.” the woman hissed above.
“She’s terrible thirsty, Mama,” the boy said. “She will not be any good if she dies down there.”
“He will put us both down there with her, if you get caught.”
“It is not his fault,” Elizabeth spoke up in the boy’s defense. “I begged him for water. I am so thirsty.”
“You should not have run, missy,” the woman said. “That just made Bart angry.”
“I know. I am sorry for that,” Elizabeth said. There was silence, and she hoped she had not lost the woman. “Please, Willow.”
After what seemed an interminable amount of time, she heard the latch click on the cellar door, and it lifted.
“Quick, give her the cup,” the woman instructed the boy. He handed the cup down to Elizabeth. “Drink quick or we are all in trouble.” She also handed her a bit of bread and meat.
Elizabeth gulped down the water. “Thank you,” she gasped, giving the cup back to the boy. “Call me Lizzy,” she said. Willow looked at her for a moment, then shook her head in the affirmative. Lizzy realized looking at Willow how thin she was as was her son compared to the girth her husband carried.
“I will try to get you more later,” Willow said, her gaze sad. “I cannot promise, but I will try.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said trying to smile. Not that Willow would see. Still, the effort mattered.
Willow closed the door without replying. After a pause, when Elizabeth thought all was lost, the woman whispered, “If I get the chance, I will help you. No promises.”
Then, they both left and Elizabeth was alone in the dark, damp cellar. She had eaten a raw potato the night before and figured she could stomach another one. It was better than starving, but her stomach growled and twisted from both fright and the raw vegetables she was unaccustomed to.
The woman – Willow – had offered her water, bread and meat. Maybe, Elizabeth could convince Willow to help her escape.
It was a wild bit of optimism, but Elizabeth hoped. Hope was all she had, hope and the irrational dream Fitzwilliam Darcy would somehow find her in this place and rescue her.