Laudanum & Determination
There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” ― Jane Austen
As I opened the parlor room door, I discovered the foyer in chaos. Voices spoke over one another, making a gentle murmur, blurring words together like a new foreign language. All but Mary stood in the hallway, crowding the doctor. Even father ventured out of his study to assess the commotion. I had never seen my father look so out of sorts. In other circumstances, father would have stated Lydia’s actions would teach her her own insignificance. Perhaps, I was seeing him in a different light. There was no accounting for personal space here. Not where The Bennet’s were concerned. Everyone was trying to talk at the same time to a bewildered doctor who put his hands up as if to say don’t shoot.
“Has the patient awoken?” He spoke over the din.
I moved forward, “Once. Lydia’s eyes opened for a few seconds and then she lost consciousness again.”
“Tell me what you have been doing to keep the patient at ease.”
“We put her to bed as soon as we could and have been administering cold compresses to her head.”
I led the doctor upstairs. Mary stood up from the bedside and crossed the room to stand next to me. We watched as the doctor checked Lydia’s wrist and informed us her pulse was steady. He proceeded to press on her fingernails, letting us know the blood perfusion was good. I hoped it meant there would be no blood clots but, kept the thought to myself. I had knowledge of the Regency era, but not of all their medical procedures. I hoped I had not acted out of turn by taking charge of the situation. But, I reminded myself I had to take care of my sister first and if it meant acting like a strong woman in an era where doing so was looked down upon, then so be it. I hoped Lydia woke up soon because l needed to know what happened and why. Why did she feel the need to crash the carriage? Was it the work of Wickham? Was it her own stupidity? Was it both? Oh, the burning questions I had for her.
The doctor opened his bag, pulling out a candle and a box of matches. What was he going to do? Light Lydia on fire? Lighting the candle, he lifted Lydia’s eyelid and waved it in front of her pupil. Repeating the same with her other eye, he told us Lydia’s eyes appeared to be healthy and responsive to light. He blew the flame out and set it aside. Next, he took a pin out and pricked Lydia’s arm to check her reflexes. To my astonishment, she moved her arm back despite being unconscious.
Mr. Palmer walked into the room and stood next to me. In silence, he watched the doctor performing tests. I stole a side-glance at him and noticed his eyes seemed to be glistening. His brow creased as he tried to hold his emotion in—and he succeeded. His gaze dropped to the floor, wilting like autumn leaves about to fall off a tree. He tightened his jaw, his countenance hardening.
The doctor shut his bag and addressed me, “She is still unconscious; however, she will wake before long. There do not appear to be any broken bones. We will need to wait until she awakens to check if her neck is injured. If she wakes up with a headache or is restless, you can give her laudanum in wine.”
“Laudanum in wine?”
“Is it not opium?” I asked.
“Yes,” the doctor explained, “but, it is a tincture of opium.”
And that was supposed to make it better ... ’tis a mere tincture after all! I decided to remain quiet and not ask any questions. Curiosity killed the cat, after all, and there was no telling what a little bit of laudanum could do. Having been spoiled by modern medicine, I could not fathom drinking opium laced wine just to survive a nasty fall. Mixing drugs with alcohol was a common practice in the Regency Era, and I was beginning to feel lucky not to be sick.
The doctor went on, “You must monitor her overnight. It is too soon to distinguish if she has hurt her brain.”
Mr. Palmer lifted his gaze, “Hurt her brain?”
“You must keep her as still as possible,” the doctor continued, “and her surroundings quiet. In fact, you must try to keep her quiet. There is a danger of bleeding in the brain from such an injury.”
“She could hemorrhage.” Mr. Palmer muttered to himself.
“When she awakens, she may experience a severe headache, and she will want to move. Do not let her. We must be certain her brain is not bleeding before she can move.”
“Can you not say anything positive?” asked Mr. Palmer, his lowered eyes darkening.
The doctor clamped a hand on Palmer’s shoulder, “She will get better. I am astonished at Miss Lydia’s fortitude. I bear no doubt she will recover her strength tenfold.”
Mr. Palmer sent the doctor a weak smile, “Thank you.”
“You may give her lemonade if she is thirsty and gruel if she is hungry. She will be bedridden for two to three weeks. I propose you take turns watching over her tonight. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, please tell me. I will be visiting daily until she gets better.”
“Thank you,” I smiled.
When the doctor left the room, Mary returned to the bedside to put another cool compress on Lydia’s forehead. I walked downstairs, wandering without any purpose through the hall. I passed the foyer window and glanced outside. The rain had subsided, droplets pitter-pattered from the eaves, the aftermath of the storm. I walked outside to take a deep breath. Inhaling the crisp, earthy scent of rainfall, it felt like I could breathe once more.
Soft footsteps sounded behind me, and I turned around to see my father approaching, a thin smile upon his aged features. It had never occurred to me what he went through and how much he worried. He always seemed lazy and thoughtless. However, this was on the surface. Beneath it all, he was an aging man with a trifling wife and four grown daughters, two of them as silly as their mother. These daughters should have been engaged or married by now, but, with a shortage of suitable suitors, it was no wonder they remained unmarried. Worry had chiseled at his wizened features. His eyes crinkled as he smiled at me. I smiled back, feeling sorry for everything the Bennet daughters had ever done or would do for that matter. He ran a hand through his bone-white hair as if doing so would tame his thinning pate. His timeworn eyes appeared to be weary, but, they still twinkled like pools of earthshine.
“Lizzy, what are you doing out here? It is cold outside.”
“I needed to step outside for some fresh air, papa.”
“Did you pay the doctor?”
“Yes,” he mumbled, “and Mr. Palmer said he would loan us some horses and a carriage.”
“I did not accept.”
“Why?” I looked at my father in disbelief, “Why would you not accept his assistance?”
“I do not like being in debt to anyone.”
I sighed, “What shall I do?”
“Not just you, Lizzy.” He looked down, “We will all have to work the land until I can afford more horses.”
Work the land? This was Pride and Prejudice, not Gone with the Wind!
“I thought we had enough help.”
“We had enough help. We have workers, but, with the horses gone—”
“What if Mr. Darcy were to help?”
“Lizzy, I could not accept.”
“But, Papa, he means to wed me.” I said, “He will be family.”
“He is not here,” said father, “and we must decide on this tonight. It will only be until I can get a new carriage and horses.”
I watched him as he walked back into the house. My father was right, after all. Darcy was not here now, and it was my fault. We had to think in a logical manner. We had to be practical. I was going into the field tomorrow. I was going to wield a scythe and feed chickens. What would Darcy think of his fiancé feeding farm animals and milking cows? I wondered if he loved me enough to marry me despite this setback. No, I couldn’t think about this today. I had to think about now, the present. And beginning tomorrow, I would be a farmer.
The candlelight flickered. Unable to sleep, I sat up in bed watching as the shadow of the flames danced along the wall. There was no point in trying to sleep. In an hour, it was my turn to watch over Lydia, and then, I would have to tend to chores aka farming.
I pushed myself off the bed and tiptoed towards the window. The hills were a diverse patchwork of verdant grass, however, the bluish light of the midnight moon washed over the land surrounding Longbourn, making it seem almost monochrome. Sitting down on the window seat, emotions stirred in my chest as if in anticipation for something to happen, but, I knew not what I was yearning for. I began to watch the landscape, hoping for something—anything to appear over the horizon.
Jane walked into the room, yawning and crawled into bed. With her shift over, I stood up and cast one last look out the window. I sighed, brushing away tears with the back of my hand. This was my life now, waiting for something to happen. I squared my jaw, and with determination, I plucked up my stationery set. As the early morning rays peeked from the clouds, I realized I could not sit and wait for my life to happen. I would set things in motion on my own.
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