Caroline Bingley was not pleased to see her brother had returned so soon.
“Charles, what are you doing here? You were supposed to be with the other men for a few more hours. Were they not planning to play cards after dinner?”
“Darcy was not feeling well, and of course, I could not allow him to return alone. He went straight to his rooms. Mrs Nichols, would you see that a tray is sent up to him?”
The Netherfield housekeeper nodded her head and left to see to her task. Miss Bingley became concerned. “We should send to London for a physician immediately.”
“It is not necessary. He has a headache and wished to retire to rest tonight. If he requires a physician, we will send for one.” Bingley turned towards Jane Bennet. “It is a pleasure to see you here, Miss Bennet. Have my sisters taken care of your needs?”
Jane was not feeling well herself and had grown weary of the sisters’ questions regarding her family in the city. The condition in which she had arrived left her exhausted and feeling feverish. The sky had poured down on her when she was nearly a mile from Netherfield, so she continued there, rather than returning home.
“Your sisters have been all that is kind, Mr Bingley. And the food has been delicious.” Jane stated, her eyes looking down at the food remaining on her plate.
“Miss Bennet was just informing us of her relations in town. They live in Cheapside. I have never met anyone who lives in that area of London.” Caroline nearly crowed in her attempts to humiliate her guest.
Darcy was displeased with Miss Bingley’s behavior. “I know my brother does business with some of the warehouses in Cheapside. One of the warehouses is particularly well known to Fitzwilliam.”
Miss Bingley turned to Darcy, shocked. “Surely your brother would never take you to that area of London. It would be far too dangerous for any decent persons to go near. I am certain I would never willingly step into Cheapside.”
“One of the finest warehouses for fabrics is in Cheapside. Certainly, your dressmaker would wish to obtain the finest silks for your gowns.” Darcy stated, sitting up and brushing down the front of his sister’s gown that he was wearing. It was a strange feeling to the gentleman. “Gardiner Imports is well known for their quality merchandise.”
Jane’s head lifted, and she looked at Darcy. “Edwin Gardiner is my uncle. He is my mother’s brother.”
The gentleman was surprised. “I…my brother has done business with Mr Gardiner. He has spoken highly of your uncle.”
Bingley smiled. “See, Caroline, Darcy would only deal with the best, so there are good people in Cheapside. Being Miss Bennet’s uncle does not surprise me, as she is such a fine young lady.”
“But certainly, your brother does not allow you to visit those warehouses. The area is far too rough for you to be there.” Caroline attempted to recover from her surprise.
“I have not, though I do not find it so dangerous as you do, Miss Bingley.”
“My sister, Elizabeth, and I visit our aunt and uncle every year. Where they live, on Gracechurch Street, is quite pleasant. Some of their neighbors are very kind. And there is a small park down the street from their home, in which Lizzy enjoys walking.” Stated Jane.
This news was pleasing to Bingley. “I would enjoy visiting you and your relations if we are ever in London at the same time.”
Catching herself before she showed her disgust, Caroline shook her head. “Charles, it would not be proper for you to visit there on such a short occasion with Miss Bennet, and not being introduced to her relations. If I did not know better, I would take you to be a tradesman yourself.”
“And what is wrong with people who are in trade? Is that not where our wealth came from? We still own two mills, does that not make us the same as Mr Gardiner?”
A gasp escaped from his sister, as her eyes darted to Darcy. “That is completely different. How could you discuss such in front of Miss Darcy? I declare, her brother would not wish for such to be spoken of in front of her.”
Bingley had been looking at his younger sister when Louisa Hurst caught his attention. “I believe Miss Bennet is ill, Charles. She has a flush about her and appears to be near collapse.”
His attention returned to Jane and he noticed the redness of her cheeks. “Miss Bennet, are you well?”
Jane attempted to reply, only to lose consciousness. Bingley scooped her into his arms, rushing from the dining room and up the stairs. By the time he reached the top of the stairs, Mrs Nichols had heard the commotion and met him on the upper level.
“Which room can Miss Bennet use? She is quite ill.” The young man was deeply concerned.
“Here, Mr Bingley.” The housekeeper motioned to a room that was near the far end of the hall. “I have just checked these rooms, with the weather being so severe, I was unsure if the young lady would be able to return to her home.”
Bingley nodded his head and followed Mrs Nichols. “We should send for the physician.”
“There is only an apothecary in Meryton. The nearest physician is near twelve miles from here. In this weather, it would be quite dangerous for him to come so far.”
“Send for the apothecary. If he decides we need to send for a physician, we will do so. No matter the cost, see that anything Miss Bennet requires is done.”
Placing Jane on the bed, Bingley backed towards the door. He was obviously torn between leaving the room and remaining, fear for the young lady.
“Mr Bingley, you must remove from the room. I will tell you if there is any change with Miss Bennet.”
Finally, the gentleman stepped out of the room, slowly closing the door behind him. Mrs Nichols ran for the maid and informed her of the situation. The maid left to obtain the items Mrs Nichols requested and to inform the butler of the need to send for the apothecary.
Bingley was in the hallway, waiting for any news of Jane’s health. Darcy felt sorry for his friend, and stepped up to him, placing a hand on Bingley’s arm. “She is strong, I am certain she will be well soon. Miss Bennet was caught in the storm, as she was riding a horse here. Poor thing, she was soaked clear through.”
“You saw her? Why would she ride a horse with the weather turning as it was?”
“I am not certain, but she stated that she was nearly here when the rain began. I loaned her a gown, as hers was quite ruined.” Darcy had caught himself almost saying that he had loaned Jane one of his sister’s gowns. He must remember to use care.
“Thank you, Miss Darcy. I am grateful for your kindness. My sisters would never be so generous to Miss Bennet. Would you do me a favor? Would you go in the room and see if Mrs Nichols requires anything?”
Darcy’s eyes grew round. How was he to get out of such a situation? He could not possibly enter the bedchamber of a young lady to whom he was not related. It was not possible. “It might be best if I did not. I have never assisted in caring for the ill and I would only be in Mrs Nichols’ way.”
“Of course. And your brother would not approve of you being in the sick room of Miss Bennet’s.” Bingley was disappointed with being unable to know what was happening.
“Do not fret. I am certain she will recover quickly. Perhaps it would be best for you to send a message to her family, so they will not worry of her not returning home.”
Bingley was pleased to have some sort of occupation. “I will pen a message to her father. And it might be nice for Miss Bennet to have her sister come and stay with her. Though, with the storm, I doubt that the young lady would wish to come.”
“You could send the carriage with the message. Certainly, Miss Elizabeth would wish to tend her sister. From what has been said, Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth are very close.” Darcy could not understand why he would make such a suggestion, but there was something about the young lady that had drawn his attention. He could learn more of her, without her being the wiser.
“Miss Darcy, you are wise beyond your years. Must be your brother’s influence that has trained you to know just what to do. My sisters would pack Miss Bennet into the carriage and send her home immediately, even if it were to cause Miss Bennet further problems.”
Darcy could well imagine Miss Bingley wanting to discourage her brother’s attraction to Miss Bennet.
“Miss Elizabeth would be a wise alternative to your sisters. And I am certain that Miss Bennet would rest easier knowing her sister is at her side.”
Bingley went immediately to write the letter, sending for a footman to join him. The man, Barton, came quickly to answer his employer’s request. “Find one of the maids and take her with you in one of the carriages, to Longbourn. This letter if for Mr Bennet. Hopefully you will be returning with Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
Once the man left, Bingley sat down on the chair across the hall from the room containing Jane Bennet.
Mrs Nichols came from the room, stepping closer to her employer. “Mr Bingley, I believe I was mistaken. Miss Bennet would fair better with the care of a physician.”
Darcy momentarily forgot he was not in his own body. Used to taking charge of a situation, he stepped closer to Bingley. “I will send word to our family physician. He will come from London.”
“I appreciate your kindness, Miss Darcy, but it would be better if your brother was the one to write to the physician.”
“Oh, yes…Fitzwilliam should send the letter. Why do I not go to his room and ask him to do so.”
“Thank you, Miss Darcy.” Bingley stated, the agony he felt clearly written in his eyes.
Darcy went down the hall, until he could not be seen from where Bingley sat. rather than going to his rooms, where his sister was to be found, Darcy went to his sister’s chambers, moving straight to the desk and pulled out the writing supplies.
The gentleman wrote out the letter to Mr Atherton, the physician who had taken care of the Darcy and Fitzwilliam families for years. Fortunately, the handwriting was that of Fitzwilliam Darcy, not Georgiana. But how to seal the letter? Normally he would use his family seal, but it was in the room where his sister was resting.
Then Darcy remembered that his sister had the locket that had been their mother’s, and it held the same seal. He went to her dressing room and began sorting through the box containing his sister’s jewelry. Finally, he located the locket, and took it to the desk, heating wax to drip on the back of the folded parchment, then placing the seal on the hot puddle.
Returning to the hallway in front of Jane’s room, Darcy handed the letter to Bingley. “My brother asked me to give this to you, knowing you would wish for it to be sent quickly. He was dressed for bed, so it would have been a delay to have to wait for him to be properly attired.”
“My thanks, Miss Darcy. I will have to thank Darcy in the morning.”
Elizabeth Bennet was welcomed to Netherfield by the butler. Before she could remove her pelisse, she heard a voice come from behind her.
“Miss Eliza, what brings you here on such a night?” Caroline Bingley was displeased to find the second eldest Bennet sister at Netherfield.
“A letter arrived at Longbourn from your brother. In it, he stated my sister was quite ill and Mr Bingley offered his carriage to bring me to stay with Jane.” Elizabeth stated.
“Charles should have informed me, as I am acting as his hostess. And Louisa just informed me that she would check in on your sister before retiring for the evening. There is nothing for you to do for Miss Bennet, as the staff is seeing to her needs. My brother was foolish to bring you out at this time of night, as I am certain your sister will be well by the morning.”
“Jane is delicate and when she becomes ill, she requires care that I was trained to give her. The apothecary taught me how to tend my sister, as her lungs were damaged when she was a child and a blocked chimney filled her room with smoke. I brought some of the herbs that we use to help her breathe easier.”
“I doubt it would be necessary, as she was only fatigued from being in the rain earlier. Such a foolish way to travel when there was a storm brewing. But then again, it gave your sister a reason to remain at Netherfield rather than returning home. Charles is too innocent to understand that some so-called ladies are far from innocence, wishing to find a rich husband to trap into a marriage.”
Elizabeth’s eyes rounded as her anger grew. How could such an evil woman be related to such a kind man? Miss Bingley and her brother were opposite of each other. Where he was all that was goodness, she was all that was wicked. “My sister would never behave in such a manner, Miss Bingley. She would never wish to be a burden to anyone and would have insisted on returning home if she were able. As she was not able to return to Longbourn, I believe she must be quite unwell.”
“Believe what you wish, but I know what you are about. Your mother has made her desires clear. She wishes for one of you to wed my brother and another to marry Mr Darcy. But I will protect Charles and his friend, you will not trap them into your web.”
“Miss Bingley, is this how you welcome someone to your brother’s home?” Darcy stated from the stairs he was descending. “I could hear you and your behavior is far from being proper.”
“Miss Darcy, forgive me. I am certain you could agree with me that the Bennet women are country chits and are far beneath our brothers. You would not wish to have such a person as a sister. But you are young, so you do not know the danger females like the Bennets pose to good men like Charles and Mr Darcy.”
“I am old enough to know about the marriage mart in London. Every single lady, young and old, have tried to capture my brother’s attention. Every mother with an unmarried daughter, every widow, all have attempted to encourage my brother into marriage. But he is too wise to allow himself to be snared.
Fitzwilliam does not require your assistance and I am certain your brother would be displeased with your behavior on his behalf.”
Caroline stood staring at the younger lady. She had never heard so much come from Georgiana Darcy, and she wondered why the younger girl would come forward to defend the Bennet sisters. Had Georgiana been fooled by the Bennet chits? But she could not afford to be in disfavor with the sister of her goal. “Forgive me, Miss Darcy. I was only wishing to protect our brothers.”
“Well, there is no need for you to do so. Miss Elizabeth, if you would join me, I will show you to your sister.”
Darcy motioned to Elizabeth, indicating Jane being upstairs. Elizabeth was pleased to follow the young lady, grateful for a chance to escape from Caroline Bingley.
As they continued out of view of their hostess, Miss Bingley began to fume. She returned to the drawing room, finding her sister.
“I thought you were going up to your rooms, Caroline.” Louisa Hurst stated.
“I was planning on do so, until I entered the foyer to find Eliza Bennet had just arrived.”
“No, why would she come here, especially uninvited?”
“Oh, Louisa, you are a fool. Charles sent word to Longbourn and invited Miss Eliza to come and stay here while she tended her sister. Instead of getting rid of the one sister, another one has come to ruin our family.”
“Well, if Charles invited her, we must be welcoming to her. And we should have shown Jane Bennet some kindness. She is a sweet, dear girl.”
“I cannot believe you are my sister. The chit is only interested in Charles because he is wealthy. We must speak with Mr Darcy. He will aid us in removing Charles from this pathetic backwards place.”
Caroline wasted no time before approaching the rooms assigned to Darcy. She knocked lightly on the door, softly calling out to the gentleman . “ Mr Darcy, it is important, I must speak with you immediately. “
But when the door opened, it was not Darcy. Instead, a very irritated valet stood in the doorway, keeping the door against his back, which hid the body sleeping on the bed.
“Miss Bingley, my master was suffering from a headache and drank a glass of port before retiring. I will only wake him if there is a matter of dire circumstances.” The valet nearly hissed his words.
“Well, I will ask that he speaks to me first thing in the morning. The matter is important.”
“Very good. I will see my master receives your request. Good night.”
As soon as the door closed before her, Caroline huffed. How she wished she could have entered the bedchamber. She wanted to be married to the gentleman inside the room, to have the power that would come with being Mrs Darcy of Pemberley. And having a husband who was as handsome as Fitzwilliam Darcy would be a pleasure. Everyone who ever looked down on her family for their ties to trade would be sorry for how they treated her.
Caroline walked down the hall, turning towards the east wing, where her brother was sitting across from the room where Jane was being tended. Seeing his sister coming towards him, Bingley stood.
“Forgive me, Caro. I should have sent word for you to come up. Miss Elizabeth has arrived and is with Miss Bennet. I know you did not feel comfortable in tending to her yourself, and thought Miss Bennet would be grateful to have her dearest sister with her.”
“You should have spoken with me, Charles. Certainly you can see that the Bennets are attempting to trap you in a marriage. I would wager a bet that Miss Bennet is fit to go home. You should send them on their way immediately.”
Bingley was flabbergasted by his sister’s words. “How could you think such a thing? Miss Bennet would never be so mercenary. She is all that is good.”
“Men, you are all fools.” Caroline’s attention was distracted when the bedchamber door opened, and Mrs Nichols stepped out. “Here, we can learn the truth. Mrs Nichols, tell my brother. There is nothing wrong with Miss Bennet, is there?”
“I do not wish to disagree, Miss Bingley, but Miss Bennet is very ill. When she was younger, she had pneumonia. Poor dear nearly died. Since then, she is more susceptible to take ill and settled in her lungs. Miss Elizabeth has brought some of the herbs they use when her sister takes ill. I was going to gather other items we will require.”
“Of course, Mrs Nichols, whatever is required.” Bingley stated, fear welling inside him.
“This is nonsense. No one ever takes ill over such an event of being rained on. Goodness, it is not as if she rode here on horseback from London. She was near this house when the rain began.”
One would have thought her familiar with her brother’s moods. He turned towards Caroline, his fury growing by the moment. “That is enough, Caroline. I insist you go to your rooms immediately, before I forget my manners. You will have nothing to do with Jane’s care or her sister’s presence. Do I make myself understood?”
His raised voice intimidated Caroline. “Very well, Charles. But you will come to me to repair this mess when you are trapped by a fortune hunter.” She turned and marched away before her brother could say another word.
Once Caroline had entered her rooms, slamming the door closed, Bingley collapsed back into his chair.
He thought about the young lady, lying in the room before him, terribly sick. What would he do if she were to die? Charles Bingley often spoke of being in love with some young lady he met. But none of those ladies could hold a candle to Miss Jane Bennet. Not only was she the most beautiful lady he had ever met, she was sweet and kind. He had come to enjoy speaking with her when they had been at gatherings. And Bingley had called at Longbourn a few times.
And now, when Bingley had found the one lady he wished to spend the rest of his life with, she might be taken from him by illness. He would move heaven and earth to save her.