Sunday, October 27, 2013

Jane and Bingley: Something Slightly Unsettling (Part Four)

Part One / Part Two / Part Three

“Oh, Lizzy! I’m so glad you came! I did so hope you would!” Jane greeted her sister with as much enthusiasm as her strength allowed. 

“Then you should have said so. I would not have had as much opposition were your wishes known,” Elizabeth smiled, though her eyes betrayed nothing but concern, as she quickly made a survey of the accommodations and the patient. She and Miss Bingley spoke dispassionately about what had been done towards insuring her comfort, and shortly there after the two sisters found themselves alone. Jane was not equal, however, to much conversation, and could attempt little besides expressions of gratitude for the extraordinary kindness she was treated with, driven by a need to temper her sister’s dislike of their hostess. Elizabeth silently attended her.

When breakfast was over, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley joined them, and Elizabeth began to like them herself, when she saw how much affection and solicitude they showed for Jane, who could find pleasure, despite her state, in this opportunity to prove the worth of her new friends. She said a silent prayer of thanks that Miss Bingley did not address her familiarly in front of Elizabeth. 

The apothecary came, and having examined his patient said, as might be supposed, that she had caught a violent cold, and that they must endeavor to get the better of it. He advised her to return to bed, and promised her some draughts. The advice was followed readily, for the feverish symptoms increased, and her head ached acutely. Elizabeth did not quit her room for a moment, nor were the other ladies often absent. 

When the clock struck three, Elizabeth felt that she must go and very unwillingly said so. Jane was by no means better. If anything, the relief of Elizabeth's care seemed to allow her to display affliction more openly. Miss Bingley offered Elizabeth the carriage, and she only wanted a little pressing to accept it, when Jane, strengthened by recent displays of affection, testified such concern in parting with her that Miss Bingley was obliged to convert the offer of the chaise into an invitation to remain at Netherfield for the present. Elizabeth most thankfully consented, and a servant was dispatched to Longbourn to acquaint the family with her stay and bring back a supply of clothes.

At five o'clock, the two ladies retired to dress, and at half past six Elizabeth was summoned to dinner. Jane soon drifted into the foggy haze of dreams accessible only to children, the sick, and the dying. Images of Netherfield’s inhabitants drifted before her, each in turn. Mr. Bingley, constantly outdoing himself in graciousness, and Mr. Darcy, with his fine profile and disdainful eye. She wished she might be so fortunate in life as to be able to show her displeasure, rather than always hiding behind an obsequious mask. Miss Bingley called her Jane and ordered her about, while Mrs. Hurst laughed gaily. Even Mr. Hurst had his turn, speaking of nothing but ragu until suddenly turning into Elizabeth, bustling about the room and directing the maid. Jane perceived that she had now drifted back into reality, and realizing that reality was a terribly cold place, she complained in a scratchy voice to her sister. Elizabeth piled on more blankets and built up the fire, but still Jane shivered. She knew not how she would bear it, and thanked her sister again for all her efforts on her behalf, while simultaneously shivering more violently than ever. Eventually, she must have fallen back to sleep, which was the only thing that brought any relief. She knew this upon waking again, some unknown time later, when the horrid cold returned. Elizabeth brought her a draught, and with relief she managed to return to dreams of her new friends, their elegant life, and being embraced as one of their own.

When she next arose, she instantly knew herself improved. Her head felt clearer, and she carefully raised it from the pillow to survey her surroundings. Elizabeth slept in a nearby chair.

“Lizzy?” her voice sounded a croak to her ears, and she winced at the harsh tones, but to Elizabeth it was a welcome relief.

“Jane!” she exclaimed, rising quickly and hurrying to her side. “How do you feel?”

“Far too warm and clammy. I think my fever broke. Will you remove some of these blankets?”

Elizabeth called for the maid, who assisted in changing Jane’s linens and refreshing her damp skin. Jane was glad to feel clean, but the ordeal drained her of the little strength she had. Soon she was again asleep.

Elizabeth passed the chief of the night in her sister's room, observing with attention each return of restlessness in Jane. Twice more she complained of chills, and once more woke up drenched in sweat, but by the morning, when inquiries came in very early from Mr. Bingley by way of a housemaid, and sometime afterwards from the two elegant ladies who waited on his sisters, Elizabeth had the pleasure of being able to send a tolerable answer. In spite of this amendment, however, she requested to have a note sent to Longbourn, desiring her mother to visit Jane and form her own judgment of her situation. The note was immediately dispatched, and its contents as quickly complied with. Mrs. Bennet, accompanied by her two youngest girls, reached Netherfield not long after breakfast concluded.

Had she found Jane in any apparent danger, Mrs. Bennet would have been very miserable, but being satisfied on seeing her that her illness was not alarming, she had no wish of her recovering immediately, as her restoration to health would probably remove her from Netherfield. Elizabeth saw the situation differently.

“Jane is much improved, Mama. I think she might be conveyed home shortly.”

“Nonsense, Lizzy! Jane is doing very well where she is. A carriage ride could send her into a relapse.”

“It is only three miles. I do not think it could be so very disastrous a journey, and I’m sure she would be far more comfortable at home.”

Jane ran a weak hand across a silken sheet in silently disagreement. Fortunately, Mr. Jones arrived at this opportune moment, and he agreed entirely with Mrs. Bennet. “As Mr. Bingley himself insists that Miss Bennet remain for as long as is needed, I really cannot advocate moving her until she is perfectly well,” came his proclamation.

“There, Lizzy. What did I say? Jane, you will remain right here until we are absolutely certain you have completely recovered, and not a moment sooner.”

“Yes, Mama,” she replied as sweetly as always. She knew Elizabeth was not enjoying her time at Netherfield, but as she had suffered a terrible cold in getting there, she would not be rushed away before she had an opportunity to solidify her triumph over one, if not all, of the gentlemen. It was not just her future which depended on it, but Elizabeth’s too. She wished her sister would be more thoughtful of such things. To run away now might be perceived by Mr. Bingley as a desire to escape his company. She could only imagine what Charlotte Lucas would have to say of such a suggestion.

Jane was feeling more charitable towards her family than was her custom, but when Miss Bingley soon appeared and invited her mother and sisters to join the party in the breakfast parlor, Jane’s goodwill quickly diminished. Left alone to wonder what might be said downstairs, and how it might reflect upon herself, Jane was as near fretful as she ever came. She hoped Elizabeth would succeed in keeping the voluble lady on appropriate subjects of conversation, and that Lydia and Kitty, the remaining Bennet sister, would be too overawed by their company to say anything at all.

She was not left in limbo long. Elizabeth soon returned, and her look of suffering confirmed Jane’s worst suspicions even before she began to speak. Jane saw what was to come. Elizabeth had a difficult to fathom need to recount moments of grave discomfort. The act seemed to purge her from their influence. Jane did not understand why she could not refrain from ever acknowledging unpleasantness in the first place. It was better to leave such things in the past.

“That was intolerable!” Elizabeth began, leaning back against the closed door and shutting her eyes, as if pained. “You might be thankful for your sufferings, that it spared you the memories of such humiliation.”

“Lizzy …”

“I know I should not speak ill of my own family. You need not tell me so. But of all people for my mother to intentionally insult, why must it be Mr. Darcy? His disdain is unbearable, especially when it is deserved.”

Jane had not been about to say anything of the sort, but she did not disagree, asking instead, with some degree of wonder, “What do you mean: insult Mr. Darcy?”

“He asked about my study of characters, and casually remarking that we live in a small society that cannot afford wide scope for such a pastime, my mother chose to think he was mocking the neighborhood, sending her into a passionate defense of the country. I thought I must sink through the floor.” She began to laugh, as Jane looked on in astonishment. “I’m sorry, but I must either laugh or cry. There is no hope for it.”

“Oh, no! This cannot be!” Jane cried out, and to the alarm of Elizabeth, she began to rise from her bed. “I must dress and go downstairs myself. Any wrong impression must be rectified with all haste!”

“Jane! My dear, you are not yourself! You must not think for a moment of stirring, not yet! I should not have burdened you with such tidings.” No, you should not! “Please calm yourself!”

“But do you not understand, Lizzy?” protested Jane, easily succumbing, in her weakened state, to the firm hand that held her down. “To have insulted such a man as Mr. Darcy!” 

Elizabeth, who was unaccustomed to hearing her sister speak so, felt Jane’s head for renewed fever. “You must rest, Jane,” she commanded. “What care you for Mr. Darcy’s opinion, anyway? It matters little compared to Mr. Bingley’s affection.”

Does it not, Lizzy? she questioned silently, but Jane would say no more on the subject to her sister. She had already said too much. After years of careful self-censorship, she must not now expose her deepest thoughts and instincts. As soon as possible, she would venture downstairs, that she might survey the damage herself. Until then, there was little to do but hope, a sensation with which she was already far too familiar. 


Come back tomorrow to read Part Five!



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Few heroines evoke such diverse emotions as Jane Austen's Emma Woodhouse, for whom readers profess everything from disdain to devotion. In "Emma & Elton", Alexa Adams explores what might have befallen the supercilious Miss Woodhouse if she were made aware of Mr. Elton's affection prior to his proposal. This short story was first published on Adams' blog in tribute to Halloween, and though you'll find no ghost or ghouls gracing its pages, tenderhearted Janeites be warned: here lies "something truly horrid".

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  1. Mr Darcy! I always saw him in my boyfriend!

    1. Ha ha! I see him in my husband, though with age it's getting harder and harder to impose it on him. Mr. Darcy and a gut don't really blend too well.

  2. It had to be Mr Darcy, then next is Elizabeth.

    I'm really looking forward to the next installment.

  3. Col Fitz has starred in my dreams. LOL!

    I felt sorry for Jane in this one. It's miserable having a cold. I like the direction her story line is going too.

    I shared about the story on FB with a link.

  4. Scary fevered dreams would be Mr Collins, good fevered dreams Mr Darcy or the Colonel

    1. The day I dream of Mr. Collins, I'm definitely calling the doctor as soon as I wake. Way too scary!