What can I say? I started this story in March of 2020 and you can guess why. Then I abandoned it for a few years. I’ve dusted it back off and am over half way finished now, so it’s time to start share the first few chapters with my blog readers!
I will have more information coming forward later, but it has been a very difficult year for me medically and emotionally. I genuinely appreciate that you all have continued to support me even when I did not consistently have posts for you! You’re the best! I’m doing much better now and am hopeful for the future.
I don’t have an official blurb yet for this story. I think you’ll be surprised by some things. The quarantine sets things in motion, but there is more standing in the way between Darcy and Elizabeth than merely forced proximity and an epidemic.
I will be posting the first two chapters here, but to read the rest you’ll have to follow me on Patreon. I hope to see you there! Note: There is a free option!
“What do you mean we cannot leave Netherfield?” Elizabeth asked the apothecary as they spoke in whispers away from Jane’s bed.
Elizabeth had arrived at Netherfield the day before to tend to her sister. When Jane developed a nasty cough overnight, Elizabeth asked Mr. Bingley to send for Mr. Jones.
“Miss Bennet is not the first patient I have seen with symptoms such as these. Unfortunately, there is a rampant illness spreading through Hertfordshire.”
“I thought Jane only had a cold! She complained only of a sore throat yesterday.”
“Nay, it is far more serious than that. It begins with a sore throat and spreads to the lungs.”
Elizabeth took her eyes away from the elderly medical man and watched her sister as she began to cough.
“Do you hear how she struggles to clear them?”
“What are we to do for her? Should we send for a physician? Surely, she needs my mother at such a time!”
“I have already sent a letter to your father. Your family is under strict orders not to leave Longbourn. As your sister became ill shortly after arriving here, your family likely has already come in contact with whatever has caused this malady.”
Elizabeth frowned. “If they may have the same ailment, what is the harm in their visiting Jane here? The occupants of Netherfield might also be infected.”
“Yes, but we must end the spread. Suppose your mother stops at a friend’s house after calling on your sister?”
“Surely, it can be explained to her that she must not do that.”
“I am sorry, Miss Elizabeth,” Mr. Jones said while packing his things. “It is out of my hands. The mandate came directly from James Campbell and Lord Cecil.”
Elizabeth furrowed her brow. Things must be serious indeed for the county High Sheriff and Lord Lieutenant to be involved. “Is it very deadly?”
Mr. Jones met her eyes, his gaze unflinching. “There have been many deaths in London. However, my physician contacts and I are hopeful that quarantining and less crowded conditions will minimise the impact.”
“And the course of the sickness itself? Surely being out of the big cities improves the condition.”
“Unfortunately, it turns dire for some regardless of where they live.”
Elizabeth had not believed arguments such as “bad air” for spreading disease. Rather, she thought overcrowded conditions and unsanitary practices kept contagion thriving in places like London. Hearing that healthy customs did not offer any safety alarmed her.
“Is there anything I can do for Jane?” A note of panic had crept into Elizabeth’s voice. “What signs should I worry about?”
“Do not fret too much. Miss Bennet is young and strong. God willing, she will fight off this ailment in a week or so. Keep her drinking liquids — warm tea and broth are best. She must eat to keep her strength. Work the mucus out of her lungs with warm poultices on her chest and back. Help her roll to one side to cough, which clears the lungs best.” Mr. Jones demonstrated the procedure. “You must be especially worried about fever. You have always been good in the sick room and seldom seem to catch what others have when you nurse them, but I will remind you to wash your hands often.”
Elizabeth nodded as Mr. Jones lifted his valise and approached the door. “I will also explain this to the housekeeper and provide a list of tonics to blend. Now, I must be gone as many others need me.”
Elizabeth watched him leave and rushed to Jane’s side as another coughing fit seized her. For much of the afternoon, Elizabeth stayed at her sister’s bedside. Most of the time, Jane slept fitfully, allowing Elizabeth’s mind to consider all the doctor said. Life in the country had allowed them to escape much of the constant fear of illness that was part of London life. Still, some things were commonplace, even in Meryton. Influenza and pneumonia came every winter. Due to variolation and, more recently, inoculation, smallpox outbreaks had reduced. That disease had been around for so long that they at least understood its usual course and how to make a patient comfortable.
What Mr. Jones described was unlike anything Elizabeth had ever heard of. One did not present with only a mild sore throat and developed pneumonia overnight. The quarantine edict was not entirely unheard of, but certainly so for something that began with only cold-like signs.
Jane roused from her sleep with a coughing fit; Elizabeth eased her to one side. Once Jane had caught her breath again, Elizabeth wiped her sister’s brow with a cool cloth, thankful that the fever had not increased. Elizabeth washed her hands, her gaze turned to the clock in the room as her stomach rumbled. She was missing dinner. A knock at the door drew her focus.
Opening it, she was thankful to see two maids. One carried a tray with food, and the other brought fresh water.
“I was instructed to ask that you ring when you are finished eating, Miss Elizabeth.”
“Oh, there is no need to remove the tray immediately.”
“It is not for that, Miss Elizabeth,” the maid said. “I was told to stay with your sister so you might rest.”
Elizabeth furrowed her brow, unsure if she thought the offer excessively generous and, therefore, from Mr. Bingley or incredibly presumptuous and, thus, from his sister. Elizabeth decided to edge on the side of caution and assume kindness was the motivation.
“Please relay my thanks to Mr. Bingley for the offer. However, at the moment, I have no need for rest. I could never ask a maid to sit with my sister all night.”
“Oh, it was not Mr. Bingley, ma’am. It was Mr. Darcy.” The young maid blushed as though it had been an unaccountable privilege to have the handsome man speak to her.
It certainly explained the conceit in directing things for Elizabeth. “Perhaps it would be better if we leave him in the dark, then. Of course, I shall thank him when I next see him, but there is no reason for you to inform him that I will not be doing as he instructed.” She ought to have considered that in any case, but she thought that Darcy might make trouble for the maid.
The maid raised her brows, and her mouth dropped open slightly. “Beg your pardon, Miss. I do not want to contradict you, but Mr. Darcy seemed very concerned about you and your sister. I do not believe he meant to order you about.”
Elizabeth fought the urge to roll her eyes. The girl was half in love with him. Of course, she would see kindness and overlook his high-handedness. “I shall ring if I need you,” was all Elizabeth could say.
The maid departed, leaving Elizabeth to enjoy her meal in peace. The empty tray seemed to taunt her from its position on a table. Still, Elizabeth steadfastly ignored it, choosing to read instead. Eventually, however, she needed fresh water, so she had to ring the maid. Fortunately, the one who had done her tasks silently appeared. However, this time she, too, asked if Elizabeth preferred to leave the chamber for a time. Thankfully, she accepted Elizabeth’s refusal better than the earlier maid had.
Another tray appeared for Elizabeth at the supper hour. Jane had still seldom awoken and had not managed to consume much broth or water. Finally, around midnight, more water was brought up to last Elizabeth for the night. Elizabeth left her only to change into a borrowed night shift and dressing gown. She would stay with her sister for the night.
Jane’s coughing seemed to grow more violent as the hours ticked by. More worrisome to Elizabeth than the cough was that Jane’s head felt warmer than before. Elizabeth finally managed to fall asleep in the early morning hours, curled up in the chair by Jane’s bed. She awoke just after daybreak when a maid entered to start the fire. Shivering, Elizabeth pulled a shawl around her shoulders and checked her sister’s forehead. She burned with a fever!
Saying a silent prayer, Elizabeth pulled the cord for a servant. While she waited, she began bathing Jane’s head in the cold water that remained. It seemed to take forever for a maid to appear.
“I am sorry, Miss,” the mouthy maid from yesterday said. “We are in a bit of an uproar. Mr. and Mrs. Nicholls did not arrive this morning, and when we sent someone to check at their cottage, they were very ill. So Mr. Bingley sent the apothecary to them. Mr. Jones says they are not to leave. He says no one is to come or go, even if they work here but live in the village.”
“Good heavens! Who does that include?”
“The housekeeper stays here, but the cook’s assistant, the other housemaid, and the footmen are all the Nicholls’ children and live at home with them.”
It hardly surprised Elizabeth. Families were often all in service together. She looked at Jane. “When my sister is resting better, I will help in any way I can.”
“No, Miss, we cannot have that! It’s not your place.”
“We cannot stand on ceremony at such times. I know how to follow directions as much as anybody and am not afraid of hard work. If you help me bathe my sister with this cool water, I can assist you all the faster.”
“I wish I could, Miss Bennet, but Miss Darcy needs me.”
“Mr. Darcy’s sister is here?”
“Aye, she arrived last night by stage with her companion. Mr. Darcy was angry something fierce when he heard they came alone, but apparently, they could not travel with any of their London staff. Netherfield is closer than their great estate, so they came here.”
“I will not keep you then,” Elizabeth said. She noted that while she had always known servants would gossip, this maid seemed more forthcoming than any she had ever come across before. “I will make my way to the kitchens when I can.”
The maid left, and Elizabeth resumed bathing Jane, succeeding in cooling her body a little. In the process, Jane awoke and, after struggling to clear her lungs, managed to drink a little broth and a glass of water before falling asleep again. Elizabeth left her side, silently vowing to return as soon as possible.
Making her way to the kitchen, she heard a great deal of shouting. Passing the housekeeper’s room, she noticed it was empty. She had never met Mr. Bingley’s housekeeper, but as she rounded the corner and saw a small greying woman rushing about, she had supposed she found her. Stepping into the kitchen, the smell of fire assaulted Elizabeth’s nose, and suddenly all the activity and noise made sense. The range had been left open, and the fire from the oven billowed over the top, scorching the wooden shelving nearby. The screaming woman fanned at it with a towel that also caught fire. She threw it into the blaze and darted back.
Elizabeth’s eyes took in the scene. She ran to the cauldron over the fire, praying to find water, and it was empty. Instead, there was a large puddle between it and the cooking range as though someone had attempted to douse the fire but spilled halfway. Finding the urn that had been used nearby, Elizabeth seized it and looked for the exit. It took her a moment to locate the outside doorway, but she ran in that direction. Yanking the door open, she nearly collided with Mr. Darcy, who held giant jugs in his hands. Her surprise at seeing him was great, but there was no time to say so.
He only yelled after her, “Hurry!”
She dashed away. Back and forth, they ran three times as the housekeeper sobbed hysterically in the corner of the room. Finally, Darcy and Elizabeth had the fire out. She caught her breath and leaned against the large table in the middle of the room for support. When her wits were gathered, she looked around to find Darcy kneeling before the old woman who rubbed at her heart while he whispered soothingly to her.
After a few moments, he patted her hand and left her side to approach Elizabeth.
“Thank you for your timely arrival, Miss Bennet. I do not know that we were in danger of it turning into an awful blaze, but your assistance was much appreciated.”
Elizabeth was about to point out how ungrateful he was, but he spoke again before she had the chance.
“Mrs. Thompson apparently has a heart condition. Mr. Jones has been after her to retire, but she felt she could handle her position as the housekeeper. This excitement was too much for her. I will escort her to her chamber, and she will need to rest. She may be unable to return to the kitchen…ever.”
“What happened?” Elizabeth only then realized that Darcy wore an apron. The sight would have made her giggle in any other circumstance.
“She was unfamiliar with how the stove worked, and, of course, I knew no better either. We did not cover it with the plates, and the fire got free.”
“You were helping to cook?” Elizabeth’s brows rose in astonishment.
“I was assisting Mrs. Thompson in whatever she needed. I suppose Molly told you about the Nicholls family.”
“If Mr. Jones is correct, they will not be the only ones who become ill. We will all have to do our share.” His brow furrowed for a moment. “How did your sister fare the night? I hoped she would improve, but I do not believe you got enough rest.”
“No, her fever has increased. I should check on her again, although I will need more cool water.” Elizabeth’s arms already ached from all the water she had carried in. She thought, too, of the empty cauldron.
“Allow me to escort Mrs. Thompson, and then I will return with fresh water.” His eyes flicked down her body. “Perhaps you can use the time to refresh yourself and check on your sister.”
Before waiting for Elizabeth’s reply, he turned on his heel. Elizabeth wanted to fume at his behaviour, but it was challenging when he so gently led Mrs. Thompson up the hall. Conceding that his directives were correct, even if his manner was irritating, Elizabeth looked in the pantry and larder before ascending the stairs. With the fire out and the range needing cleaning, it was unlikely they would have a warm meal for dinner. She sincerely hoped Molly knew something about cooking because all Elizabeth knew was the meat pies she had made with Charlotte.
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