Midnight had come and gone and Elizabeth was still tending her sister. Jane’s breathing was labored, and a fever had taken a strong hold on her weak body. Fear was building, fear of losing her beloved sister and dearest friend.
As she attempted to quell the fever burning inside Jane, Elizabeth was furious with her mother. When Mrs Bennet had insisted on her eldest daughter riding horseback to Netherfield, with the threat of rain looming, Elizabeth pleaded with her mother.
“Mamma, if Jane is caught in the rain, she will become sick.”
“Then she will need to remain at Netherfield. I have been frustrated with the thought Jane would not see Mr Bingley. So the rain will be perfect to give my beautiful girl a chance to see him.”
“And how is she to see him if she is in bed, feverish?”
Mrs Bennet waved her least favorite daughter away. “Enough, Lizzy. You have no notion of what I go through to see you all married. My nerves, oh, my nerves.”
Elizabeth knew there would be no further discussion, as her mother made her way upstairs, going to her room, pleading for their housekeeper, Mrs Hill, to bring her salts. So, Elizabeth attempted to convince Jane not to go. “Please, Jane, send a message to Miss Bingley that the carriage is not available today. Perhaps she would send a carriage to collect you, or another day could be arranged.”
“I could do no such thing. How would it look if I was to tell Miss Bingley such news? We would appear to be nothing more than paupers.”
Jane refused to discuss the matter further, leaving the room to prepare for the evening to come. And Elizabeth prepared for news that her beloved sister had been drenched and was now quite sick.
Close to sunrise, Jane’s fever was dangerously high. Mrs Nichols had left to bring more cold water, leaving Elizabeth alone when her sister began convulsing.
Elizabeth ran to the door, yanking it inward, and found Bingley sleeping in his chair. Before she could say a word, Darcy spoke from down the hall. Miss Elizabeth, has something happened?”
Bingley roughly began to wake at the voices. Elizabeth turned to Darcy, tears beginning to trail down her cheeks. “Miss Darcy, I was hoping that Mrs Nichols was on her way back. My…my sister…she is…”
Instantly, Darcy moved forward. “Please, Miss Elizabeth, what has happened?”
Unable to speak, Elizabeth grabbed the arm of the young lady’s body, pulling her inside Jane’s bedchamber. At first Darcy stood stock still, knowing the inappropriate situation before him. But seeing the condition of the lady on the bed, his take charge personality stepped forward.
“We need ice. If we do not lower her fever, Miss Bennet will be in danger.” Darcy stepped over to the fireplace, throwing a bowlful of water to douse the flames. “It is too warm in here. The physician in Lambton says that the heat in the room can hinder a fever. And he is a firm believer in fresh air.” Darcy had reached the windows, throwing one after the other open.
From the doorway, Bingley watched what was happening. He was shocked to see his friend’s sister acting much like his friend. He had never seen the similarity before, as Georgiana Darcy was usually immature and, in Bingley’s opinion, spoiled.
“Miss Darcy, what might I do to be of assistance?” Bingley asked, desperately trying to keep from going to the side of the bed and begging for Jane to be well.
Darcy turned to his friend. “Ice…we need ice. As much as we can get.”
Charles nodded his head and left the room, finding a footman bringing a pail of water. The young man explained. “Mrs Nichols was certain we would need ice, so she is sending someone to fetch it, and she asked me to bring this cold water up while she waits.”
“My thanks, James. Return to Mrs Nichols, in case she needs your assistance.”
The footman turned and hurried back to the kitchen, where the housekeeper was ordering the staff to their tasks.
Returning to Jane’s room, carrying a pail of water, Bingley announced that Mrs Nichols had already sent someone to the ice house.
“Bingley, bring a bottle of port.” Darcy ordered his friend, not realizing his slip with informally using his name.
A look of confusion rose on Charles’ face. “Your brother would not approve of you drinking spirits, Miss Darcy.”
Darcy took a moment before he realized that the view his friend saw was of Georgiana Darcy asking for port, believing the girl wished a drink. “Forgive me, Mr Bingley, but using alcohol on Miss Bennet’s skin can aid in reducing her fever. Our physician did not know why, but it assists the body in cooling.”
Bingley was still slightly confused, but he obliged and returned with the bottle of port. Darcy turned to his friend. “You should return to the hall.”
Though reluctant, Bingley moved towards the door. Giving one last desperate look towards Jane, the young man stepped out of the room.
Darcy had to fight his desire to join his friend, as his being in the bedchamber of an unmarried young lady who was unrelated to him was highly inappropriate. But no one knew the truth. All they saw was Georgiana Darcy’s body, her voice. There was nothing else to do but help Miss Bennet, as her life was in jeopardy.
Over the coming hours, Elizabeth and Darcy worked side by side, cooling Jane until her fever finally broke in the early afternoon. As Jane rested comfortably, Elizabeth turned to Darcy, embracing him tightly.
“Miss Darcy, I cannot thank you enough. If not for you, I may have lost my most cherished sister. You cannot know how grateful I am to all you have done for Jane.” Elizabeth stated as she pulled back, reaching her hand up to wipe the tears freely flowing from her eyes.
Though the situation was awkward, Darcy found having the feel of the young lady’s arms around him to be pleasing. “I did little, Miss Elizabeth, though I am pleased to know that Miss Bennet will recover. While your sister rests, you might take some time to sleep. You must be exhausted.”
“You are correct. I am quite sleepy if I were to be honest. You must be as well.”
Darcy chuckled. “Indeed I am. I will see you later, Miss Elizabeth.” He rose and began to leave the room. As he reached the door, he turned back to the sisters, his heart lightened by the sight of Elizabeth’s relief. “If you showed need any further assistance, please send word to me.”
After speaking to Bingley in the hall, reassuring his friend of Miss Bennet’s improvement, Darcy made his way to Georgiana’s room.
Mrs Younge was waiting impatiently. “Miss Darcy, are you well? I was shocked to learn you were in the sick room of that country nobody. How could they force you to take care of her? Miss Bingley would not even lower herself to tend the sick girl. You must be furious with all of them.”
Darcy frowned. Did his sister’s companion believe Georgiana to be so spoiled that the girl would find it beneath her to come to the aid of one who was ill. “Miss Bennet is the daughter of a gentleman, in that we are equal.”
“But who is her mother, and her relations? They are in trade, so far beneath the granddaughter of an earl.” Mrs Younge declared. The woman went about assisting Darcy, fussing over the pins holding his hair up. Darcy was uncomfortable with a woman seeing to his care. He longed for his valet.
“Would you prefer a bath now or after you rest?”
“After. Have you seen my brother?” Darcy asked.
“No, from what his valet said, he has kept to himself all day. Very odd, is it not?”
“Hopefully he is not taking ill.” Darcy replied. “I will have to speak with him tomorrow.”
Mrs Younge wore a sly grin. “You should do so early, as we are to take the curricle into Meryton tomorrow.”
Darcy was confused. “What reason are we to go to Meryton? I know of no appointment. “
“It is a surprise for you, Miss Darcy. I have arranged for you to spend time with a dear friend of yours.”
“A friend?” Darcy could not remember his sister discussing a friend meeting her while she stayed at Netherfield.
“I will not ruin the surprise, but you will want to look your best. I suggest you wear your green gown with the silk roses on the bodice. It is quite becoming on you and brings out the color in your eyes “
Tired, Darcy decided not to worry about what would happen the following day. Instead, his mind went back to the hours spent in Elizabeth Bennet’s presence.
Though they had been working to save her sister, Darcy had come to know enough about the young lady to know he wanted to know more. Being with her was more pleasing than with any other female he knew.
Reclining on the bed, Darcy continued going over the previous hours. The memory of Elizabeth’s arms around him made the gentleman fall asleep with a smile on his lips.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
The physician arrived to find Jane Bennet recovering. She was extremely fatigued, and she had developed a slight cough, but she appeared to be on the road to her health returning. Pleased with what he was seeing in the ill lady, and after giving Elizabeth several elixirs to aid Jane further improve, the physician returned to London.
Darcy was surprised that he had yet to speak with Georgiana, as the only time she had come out of his bedchamber, she had kept away from him, saying very little to anyone at Netherfield.
“Darcy, you should have allowed the physician to see you when he was here. Perhaps he could have given you something for your headache.” Bingley said at dinner.
Georgiana replied that she would be fine, rest was the only thing she required. She paid no attention to Miss Bingley simpering over what she that was Darcy, her obvious attempts to be of service to him growing annoying. After dining, Georgiana excused herself and returned to her brother’s rooms. Unknown to Darcy, his sister had been drowning her sorrows in the bottle of brandy that he had brought in his trunks.
“Miss Darcy, you really should treat us to some of your talent on the pianoforte. Your brother is always telling us how gifted you are and the new pieces you are learning.” Caroline pleaded.
Miss Bingley was put off by this information. “You should not have been put upon by those country chits. How dare they place you in danger of potentially becoming ill yourself? It is not to be tolerated. All day, everything has been delayed due to the servants seeing to the care of Miss Bennet. When I requested water drawn for my bath, I was told that the water being prepared was for Miss Eliza and I would need to wait. Can you imagine such a thing?”
“I am sorry for the inconvenience, sister. Miss Elizabeth had a difficult night and day, and I insisted that a bath would allow her to rest better. I had no notion you had not already bathed.” Bingley replied.
“The problem is that we have to have the Bennets in our home. They should be at their home, having their servants tend to their needs. Instead, they are here, inconveniencing us, and putting demands on our guests. It is improper, and we should just quit this neighborhood, return to London immediately.”
“To be honest, Miss Bingley, I did not feel put upon at all. It pleases me that I was able to assist Miss Bennet. But I am still sleepy and should retire early. I am afraid I might fall asleep on the keys if I tried to perform.” With that, Darcy left the room.
“See, Charles? Do you see how our guests are having to make excuses for having to endure being with those country nobodies? Miss Darcy is too polite to say how distressed the situation has made her. We must discuss the matter with Mr Darcy tomorrow and close the house immediately. London would be far better for us.”
For the first time in his life, Charles Bingley did not give in to his sister’s demands. “If you wish to return to London, by all means, go. I will be remaining here. Louisa, if you and Hurst would also like to leave, feel free to do so. And do not torment Darcy over leaving. He has his plans and the Darcys do not require you to determine when and where they should be.”
With that statement declared, Bingley turned and walked determinedly from the room, proud of himself.
A stunned Caroline turned to her sister. “Living here has made our brother mad. Indeed, we must discuss the matter with Mr Darcy tomorrow. “
“Caro, you had best use caution. You do not wish to anger Charles further.” Mrs Hurst attempted to make her sister see reason.
Miss Bingley huffed, then rose from her seat and left the room.
Darcy rose early in the morning, making his way to check on the Bennet sisters before going out in the gardens for a walk. The door to Jane Bennet’s room opened just as Darcy raised his hand, and Elizabeth was standing before him,
“Forgive me Miss Darcy. I was just stepping down the hall to retrieve the book I was reading. Jane has finished breaking her fast, and plans to take a nap, so I planned to read while she rests.”
From inside the room, Jane’s voice could be heard. “Is that Miss Darcy? Please ask her to step in for a moment.”
Nervously, Darcy attempted to decline. “Your sister stated your desire to rest. I can return later.”
“Miss Darcy, I wonder if I could ask a favor of you. Lizzy normally takes a walk each morning, and she has been trapped here, with me. Would please insist on my sister taking a stroll with you in the gardens? It would be a blessing to have her enjoy some nature rather than remain indoors.”
“Jane, you would have Miss Darcy thinking I am a hopeless case. I am capable of enjoying a good book.” Elizabeth teased.
“Miss Elizabeth, I was preparing to take a turn about the gardens and would love having you join me.” Darcy said with a smile.
“Go, Lizzy. I will be sleeping, and if I assistance, all I need to do is ring for a maid. Do not fret, go have a walk outside.” Jane motioned for her sister to leave.
Finally giving in to Jane’s insistence, Elizabeth closed the door behind her as she left the bedchamber. “If you could wait a moment, I will fetch my pelisse and bonnet.”
Darcy nodded his head. “Of course. I will wait for you.”
Before long, the pair were strolling outside in the finely manicured gardens near the north side of the manor house. The two were discussing the latest books they had read. Elizabeth was shocked to hear some of the books that the young lady had read.
“Miss Darcy, if I did not know better, I would swear you were a young man home from the university, not a young gently bred girl approaching her first Season in a few months.”
Darcy had to remind himself of what everyone thought he was when they looked at him. He was a man, trapped in the body of his younger sister. At times, when he was conversing, he would forget that people believed, from his appearance, that he was the nearly six and ten-year-old Georgiana Darcy.
“My brother keeps the libraries at Pemberley and at our townhouse in London well stocked with the newest books. Fitzwilliam is one who loves to learn and putting the information to use.”
“My father allows me to read any of his books in his study, and I find learning to be my favorite thing to do. I have even learned ways to better the yields of the crops our tenants’ plant.”
Impressed with the young lady beside him, Darcy found himself mesmerized to find someone he could speak with on many topics. They continued on in this manner for another hour, discussing languages, poetry, and the latest books about the battlefields on the continent. Of course, Darcy knew some stories from his cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam. But some of the stories he had been told were simply not appropriate for a gently born young lady to hear.
“My cousin is in France at the moment. He is a colonel with the regulars, part of the cavalry. My aunt, Lady Matlock, fears receiving word that Richard has been killed on the battlefield. But Richard has often spoken that he chose the life. Being a second son of an earl, he could have had any profession he desired. He chose the military, beginning as a Sergeant and earning his current office.”
“If I was your aunt, I would be scared out of my mind. To have someone I loved be so close to constant danger would make me ill. If he had not gone to the army, what profession would your cousin have been best suited for?”
“You know, I have never thought of what other profession would best for him. He would never be fit to be a clergyman and being a solicitor would not be for Richard. I should ask him if he has thought of anything different. “
Elizabeth chuckled lightly. “At least men have a choice in their lives. We gentlewomen have no choice in life. Either we marry a wealthy man and live under his rules, or we live at the mercy of our fathers and brothers. If, such in my family having an entail against the female line, if there is no brother, once our father has gone, we are at the mercy of the heir. You are fortunate to have a brother to watch over you until you choose your future.”
A bit of shame came over Darcy. He remembered the conversation that he had overheard at the assembly. “Who is to inherit your father’s estate?”
“My father’s distant cousin. We have yet to meet the man, though he is soon to arrive to meet us.” Elizabeth sighed. “And if we have no male protector, we are only allowed to be companions or governesses. To do anything else would be disgraceful in the eyes of society.”
“Are you looking forward to meeting your father’s heir?”
Elizabeth stopped. A shiver coursed through her body, and she looked away, rather than all Darcy to see the tears welling in her eyes. After a few moments, she returned her attention to her friend. “Unfortunately, I have no option to look forward to his coming. My father has decided that I am to marry his heir. So, my future is set.”
“You do not sound thrilled with the decision.” Darcy watched her carefully.
“Forgive me, Miss Darcy, but I am not excited at all. I know I should keep my opinion until I meet the man. But everything I have ever been told of Mr Collins tells me that he is not the sort of man I could find happiness in marriage.”
“Mr Collins, he is your father’s heir?” With Elizabeth’s head nod, Darcy continued. “Is Mr Collins a clergyman, with the living at Hunsford Parish in Kent?”
“How could you possibly know of him?”
“Hunsford is next my aunt’s estate of Rosings Park. She is the one who controls the living at Hunsford. And my brother has met Mr Collins, when he was last visiting our aunt and cousin, Anne.” Darcy explained his knowledge of Mr Collins.
The look of hope Elizabeth gave made Darcy’s heart sink a bit. He had nothing positive to report to her, only misery at the knowledge that the man was a buffoon.
“Please, Miss Darcy, tell me anything you know of Mr Collins. I beg of you, ease my concerns about my future.” Elizabeth pleaded.
This was a difficult situation. How was Darcy to ruin her hope with the truth? “I am afraid that what I was told was not good. My brother, he…well, he was not impressed with Mr Collins. You must understand, our aunt believes herself to be the most important and knowledgeable in all of England. She prefers to have those around her be sycophantic, groveling at her every word. Mr Collins is such a man. It is my belief that you will hear only the greatest praise for every word Aunt Catherine utters.”
Tears began streaming down Elizabeth’s cheeks. “As I suspected. Well, the decision has been made for me, and I had best accept my fate. Excuse me Miss Darcy, I should return to my sister, in case she requires assistance.”
Darcy’s heart dropped at the pain he had just witnesses in Elizabeth’s expression. How he wished he could hold her in his arms and tell her all would be well. And he found himself wishing he could kiss the fear from Elizabeth and ask her to be his. But he could not think of such things at the moment. He was stuck in his sister’s body and that was his top priority.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~