Meeting Mr. Darcy
"My sore throats are always worse than anyone's." - Jane Austen
I awoke to see myself resting in a room with Grecian columns. I peered at the ceiling and thought it odd that someone would paint a Vatican-like mural in a bedroom. But, then again, this was the Era of Extravagance. It was pleasing to look at when one was sick. The lengths someone would go to show their monetary benefits baffled me. This bedroom was lined with Grecian columns from ceiling to floor. "If this is the guest bedroom," I thought to myself, "then I am in awe of their splendor."
There was a sharp knock on the door, and Mr. Bingley entered my room. I pulled my blankets around me, "Mr. Bingley."
"Miss Elizabeth. Why," he seemed astonished, "you are faring better than Miss Jane."
"I've had the flu before."
"Pardon me," he looked at me, befuddled, "the flu?"
I bit my lip, "Oh! I must be quite ill! I have made up an illness. Silly me, I must be delirious."
He laughed, "At least it is not a cold! That would be bothersome!"
I did not have the heart to tell him that the flu was worse than a cold. So instead, I smiled, "Oh no, that would never do." I changed the subject, "How is Jane?"
"Bad, I am afraid. She suffers a headache and a high fever."
I wanted to laugh. But, I knew I should not, for, in my time fevers and headaches were nothing. 99.9 was not considered a fever anymore. And nothing but being close to death could get you out of work for the day. Sometimes, not even death.
"You should go. Jane might need you."
"What about you?" he asked.
I scoffed at that. "I'm all right. My immunity system is - I am stronger than she is. She is delicate."
Bingley left the room. Then, I remembered, I was always sticking random, small objects in my books. One time, my mother found a packet of aspirin in the pages between Jane getting sick and the Netherfield Ball. Another time, my mother found a pressed flower and a picture of my ex-boyfriend, Michael. I hoped that the picture of Michael was no longer there. I took my book from the nightstand and found a pack of aspirin in its pages.
If I gave the aspirin to Jane, it would shorten her stay here. If I took it, it would get me better sooner so that I could take care of Jane myself and not have to rely on these people. If there was anything I despised, it was depending on someone. I poured myself a cup of water from my bedside carafe and took the pills. I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep. But, in a few hours, I began to feel as though I was suffocating. For some strange reason, I woke up to find that my fever was higher than before. In the darkness, I saw the outline of a man; sleeping rather uncomfortably in an armchair.
He woke up with a start. Standing up, he placed the back of his hand upon my forehead. He muttered something to himself, but all I could hear was "foolish girl."
I whimpered, "I don't feel good."
"Ssh." The man soothed, "Do not talk. You need your strength."
I took hold of the man's hand, "Thank you."
"Did I not tell you?" He softly scolded me, "Do not speak."
I could not make out his face, and I was too delirious to study him. But, I went back to sleep, for, there was something comforting in his touch (as terse as his voice sounded). The next day, I was much better. I cleansed myself (the best I could without proper running water) and changed my clothes. I walked downstairs and could hear people talking at the breakfast table. Mr. Bingley stood up as I entered the room.
I nodded, and Bingley inquired, "Are you well?"
"I am better." I smiled, "How is Jane?"
"She is slightly better." Bingley looked worried, "The fever though lower, is not entirely gone. She is still weakened."
I nodded, "I can take care of her better now that I am no longer ill."
Another man entered the room as soon as I sat down. I awkwardly stood up, banging my knee on the table. I grimaced in pain and curtsied. He bowed and looked away from me as he sat down. He focused on the wall; his cheeks reddening as he turned his eyes back to me. He seemed familiar to me. I could not place it.
Bingley patted the man upon the back and said, "Ah! Darcy! How are you on this fine morning?"
"Quite well," Darcy said and nothing more (in a terse voice).
Then it came to me, "You nursed me back to health. Didn't you?"
Mr. Darcy seemed taken aback, "Madam, I do not know to what you are referring."
I looked down; confused, "It was a simple question, sir. Did you or didn't you?"
"Perhaps," Mr. Darcy's lips quivered into a smile, "Miss Elizabeth is still ... feverish?"
Ignoring Darcy's comment, I sat down, "Pray, Mr. Bingley, when will you hold a ball in Netherfield?"
I looked away from Darcy's gaze as Bingley said, "As soon as you and Miss Jane will allow it!"
"Good, then," I smiled, "we allow it!"
Darcy did not break his gaze from me. I could not help but look back at him. My chest tightened and for a moment, the only people in the room were the both of us. Darcy was tall with a noble brow and possessed dark hair. He was incredibly handsome. There was something stately in his countenance. I was sure that he was the one that nursed me back to health. I do not think he wanted anyone to know that he had been in my room. I didn't blame him for wanting to keep it a secret with a woman like Caroline Bingley in the house. I convinced myself that she breathed fire.
Bingley coughed, and Darcy looked away, remembering that someone else was in the room. The ball was in my court now, and I had the authority to think of him as I chose.