Chapters 1-3 of Pride and Prejudice and Poison
The sound of horses and carriage carried through the windows to the occupants of the drawing room. They looked up at each other in wonder. “Who could that be?”
Kitty, who had been wandering the grounds, saw the carriage plus four thunder down the lane towards their house. She ran into the drawing room. “There Is a coach with four horses coming down the lane! There is a coat of arms on the coach! I do not recognize it.”
The occupants of the room arose as if one. Shock at having a coach plus four pull up to their house was nothing compared to the shock of Hill introducing their visitor, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She stepped into the drawing room roving her critical eye over everything. Then she strolled into the room and sat in the lone unoccupied chair, which was normally reserved for the head of the house, Mr. Bennet.
Elizabeth was at a loss as to why the much esteemed and proud Lady Catherine de Bourgh would travel this far, let alone stop in to call upon Elizabeth. Especially since she had not seemed fond of her when she visited the Collins. “Your Ladyship, might I enquire upon your health?”
“You may.” Elizabeth’s eyes widened at the pause before Lady Catherine responded. “I am not unwell.”
Her confusion grew as to the purpose of Lady Catherine’s visit. If she was being polite, making a social call, Lady Catherine would behave in a much more civil manner than she currently was. Why was she here then?
“And how were Mr. and Mrs. Collins when you left?” Elizabeth was hoping to find out when Lady Catherine left, as perhaps that would give an insight —*as to the purpose of her highly unexpected visit.
“I saw them the night before last and they were well.” Elizabeth glanced at Jane sitting next to her, both sharing a wondrous look. Why had an esteemed member of the nobility, let alone someone that did not seem to cherish the social call, stop for a visit?
“Miss Bennet, you seem to have a nice lawn upon the side. Maybe you could take me on a tour of your grounds?” Elizabeth eyebrows rose at this declaration. It was to be a tête-à-tête! She could not fathom the cause for this. Lady Catherine said the Collins were well, and that had exhausted the list of reasons Elizabeth had considered for Lady Catherine’s visit.
“Oh yes, your Ladyship, the grounds are very nicely kept and vast. You will find-“
Lady Catherine stood, interrupting Mrs. Bennet. “I will await you on the lawn to the side of the house. I expect light refreshments and hot cocoa to be prepared directly.” Lady Catherine then strolled back out the room whence she came, leaving behind a room full of silent and shocked countenances.
Mrs. Bennet rushed towards Elizabeth, grabbed her arm and dragged her out of the room nearly at a run. “Make haste, make haste! It will not do to keep one of such importance waiting! Put on your best bonnet and take this parasol to keep the sun off her Ladyship. Quickly now!”
Elizabeth was so rattled she was nearly unable to tie her bonnet. Thankfully her mother left to oversee the preparations of the light refreshments that her Ladyship had ordered.
“What an honor this is for her to stop in on us.” Elizabeth raised her eyebrows at Jane.
“Is it? For a social call I would have expected to see happy feelings in the visit.” Jane gave her a small smile and handed over the parasol. Elizabeth rushed out of the house to the side gardens and the iron wrought table and chairs in the midst of the copse of trees.
Lady Catherine was already seated at the head of the table overseeing the placement of the light refreshments and hot cocoa upon the table. Elizabeth sat across from her waiting for the servants to leave. It would not do for them to hear the nature, the real reason for Lady Catherine’s call. Servants were the worst gossips. Aside from her mother and aunt, of course.
Lady Catherine took a sip of her hot cocoa and set the cup back down on the saucer. “You must not be surprised by my visit. You could have no confusion at the nature of my call. I am most displeased.” Elizabeth blinked, folding her hands together in her lap.
“On the contrary, I am at a loss as to the nature of your visit.” Elizabeth shivered more to the icy countenance of Lady Catherine than to the chill air of fall. She took a healthy drink of her hot cocoa to fortify herself during this visit.
“Do not mock me Miss Elizabeth, I am not the sort to be trifled with. You cannot deny that is it is you who started the rumors I have heard. That not only was your elder sister engaged, soon to be married to a man of considerable means,” at this Elizabeth bristled but held her tongue, “but that you too were soon to be engaged to someone most definitely above your station. My own nephew Fitzwilliam Darcy!”
At this Elizabeth’s surprise was complete. Nothing less then pigs raining down from the sky could have surprised her more. “You are mistaken Lady Catherine. I have not-“
“I will not be interrupted! Fitzwilliam Darcy has been engaged to my daughter, yes my daughter since they were both in their cribs. It was the wish of his mother and I that our families were to be united as such. Are the wishes of his late mother, my dear friend, to be slighted and ignored by someone of no standing?” At this Elizabeth could not keep her silence any longer.
“Pardon me Lady Catherine, but my father is a gentleman and I am a gentleman’s daughter. Is not Mr. Darcy the same?” Lady Catherine’s face blanched, her lips pursued so severely that Elizabeth wondered if the woman was even breathing. She composed herself by taking another long drink of hot cocoa.
“I will not be treated as such! You are making a mockery of everything that is held dear in our society! I am sure you have used your feminine wiles upon my nephew, but mark my word it will not be borne. Are you engaged to my nephew Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth took another drink of her cocoa, giving her time to compose herself yet again.
“Your ladyship says that it cannot be so.” Lady Catherine narrowed her eyes furthering the image in Elizabeth’s mind of Lady Catherine as one of the mythical creatures, a dragon. She took another drink of her cocoa to hide her smile.
“I am most displeased. I had not expected to find such insolence. Are you or are you not engaged to my nephew, Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth pondered her answer, but then realized Lady Catherine would never leave until she got a straight answer.
“I am not.” The relief seen in the relaxing of Lady Catherine’s body would have been a cause for merrymaking and mockery for Elizabeth had this been any other occasion.
“And you vow to never enter such an agreement with Mr. Darcy?” The hope that rose in Elizabeth’s chest was overcoming. She knew not what caused these rumors that came to Lady Catherine, but if there was any truth in them, any at all, she wished fervently that they would come true.
“I will not.” The rapid turnabout of Lady Catherine’s countenance was comical but Elizabeth did not feel at all like laughing.
“Insolent girl! Unreasonable! Is this how I am to be treated? Is this how my family’s legacy and the hallowed grounds of Pemberley are thus to be polluted?” Elizabeth flared her nostrils and pursed her lips, keeping herself from uttering what she was feeling. At least she, just a gentleman’s daughter, understood the polite and civil dictates of society.
Lady Catherine stood. “I am leaving. I do not wish good tidings upon your mother, your father, or your sisters.” Lady Catherine stepped around the table and out of the of the flower garden situated in the little copse of trees.
Elizabeth looked down at the table, at her empty cup of cocoa, the uneaten finger sandwiches that Cook had so quickly prepared. She tilted her head to the side and looked up at the sky. She dared hope with all her being that there was truth in the rumor.
Elizabeth pondered the strange visit, walking on the grounds, through the trees just meandering as she turned the reason for Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s visit in her mind. How could she have gotten the strange idea that Mr. Darcy and her were engaged? He asked her many months ago! She was quite clear in her refusal and honestly was still surprised that Mr. Darcy deigned to acknowledge her when their party visited Pemberley months ago. Not only did he acknowledge Elizabeth, but he had asked to be introduced to her companions! Then he proceeded to act like the most civil, amiable, gentleman she had ever encountered.
But that was months ago, many months ago and she had not seen him since. Nor heard from him. And why would she, thanks to Lydia her family was in disgrace. It was only a miracle that Mr. Bingley had called on Jane and asked her to marry him. It was still so new that Elizabeth was worried one screech or simper from their mother would drive Mr. Bingley right away.
So how did Lady Catherine come to her conclusion? A conclusion so strong in her mind and so insistent that she drove from her home at Rosings to Longbourn? Elizabeth recalled that Lady Catherine had said an alarming report had reached her. Would it have come from Mr. Darcy’s cousin, Col. Fitzwilliam then? But no, that idea did not have merit. Col. Fitzwilliam would never betray a secret like that, and a secret it would be considering how much Lady Catherine had riding on the planned marriage of her daughter to Mr. Darcy.
Who else corresponded with Lady Catherine? Her head felt odd just then, woozy as if she had been in the sun for too long. She shook her head, amazed at how much this visit affected her if she was a bit woozy from just walking in the trees. She had best head back to the house now, much earlier than she ever had before. Suddenly the knowledge of who had possibly informed Lady Catherine of the ridiculous notion of her engagement to Mr. Darcy came to mind, Mr. Collins. He was an invariant gossip, and drew pleasure from providing on dit first to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, as if by becoming a source of early news he would endear himself further with her.
Mr. Collins, how yet he managed to insert himself into other’s affairs, such as hers. What ever could have given him the idea that Mr. Darcy had or was going to propose to her! Had he just now found out about Mr. Darcy’s proposal at Rosings? If so, why would he think it had just occurred?
Another sudden spell of dizziness overtook Elizabeth. This one was so grand that she reached out an arm to keep her balance. How contrary! When her body had always been in the best of health, why choose now to suddenly come down with a cold? Elizabeth could only assume it was a cold from the stress of the visit and the colder weather, though she was dressed warmly.
She quickly made her way back to their house, aware of new pains, cramping in her midsection. The timing for her monthlies was off, for sure. It was too early for them to appear again. She had not thought stress could affect their schedule yet she did not have another theory. Again severe cramping interrupted her thoughts. Uneasiness at her physical distress, as she was not one to suffer physical ills. Indeed she was the most healthy of the family. She retired to her bedroom when she would rather much be walking and working out her thoughts as she was wont to do. Elizabeth lay on her bed as more sharp pains wracked her midsection.
“Oh, I hope this distress over Lady Catherine’s visit resolves itself quickly. We have had enough misfortune to deal with. Let not stomach ailments afflict us also.”
Elizabeth thought that if Mr. Darcy had been wavering before, as to what he should do, which had often seemed likely, the advice and entreaty of so near a relation might settle every doubt, and determine him at once to be as happy, as dignity unblemished could make him. In that case he would return no more. Lady Catherine might see him in her way through town; and his arrangement with Bingley of coming again to Netherfield must give way.
Sadness, an unusual visitor, settled through her. It Is arrival was timed with a fierce urge to cast up her accounts. “This visit and unpleasant words have bothered me much more than I had realized. Such a shame that I allow Lady Catherine to affect me so.”
“If, an excuse for not keeping his promise, should come to Mr. Bingley’s friend within a few days,” she added, “I shall know how to understand it. I shall then give over every expectation, every wish of his constancy. If he is satisfied with only regretting me, when he might have obtained my affections and hand, I shall soon cease to regret him at all.”
Elizabeth’s thoughts were forced to turn from her affection of Mr. Darcy and anger at the interference of his aunt, to concern for her own well-being. Such pains and illness she had never suffered. Steady and severe cramping of her midsection along with detestable nausea and casting up of her accounts. Then the nearly uncontrollable bowel which came only with the worst of intestinal ailments. The only good to find in the situation was that it kept her mother from questioning her regarding Lady Catherine’s visit. Yet, it kept everyone away for fear that they would also get ill.
The servants were busy throughout the night. Elizabeth could not keep anything down. Water, tea, hot cocoa to sooth the stomach. Nothing worked. Even seemingly having emptied her entire body, she was still forced to go through the motions as her body was controlled by this horrible malady. Her sheets were changed several times throughout the night. A foul taste was in her mouth. It reminded her of when she was a child and bit a coin.
The sharp pains and cramping of her midsection were not enough. Her arms and legs were also subject to severe cramping. It was as if she had ran a foot race of such distance, that every part of her body was rebelling. Elizabeth bit the blankets to keep herself from screaming in pain. Sometime during the night, Hill rubbed her body with horse liniment, which was normally used for when the horses were overworked in the fields. She recognized the smell as she used to love to play near the stables when she was a child.
She was not sleeping nor awake due to exhaustion and constant cramping, as well as her body working to expel the contents of her body though nothing was left for it to work with. Everything occurred as if it was in a dream. She drifted, unable to sleep, unable to fully be aware. The pain was unending, all over her body. Sharp pains of cramping through her legs, her arms, her jaw. Sharp cramping in her midsection. She could no longer lift herself up when the maids needed to change her sheets.
“Mama! You cannot banish Lizzy to the servant’s floor!”
“I will not have her getting you ill, Jane. Not when you are engaged to Mr. Bingley. We need to keep you well. Quick now, get back in your room and shut the door! We must preserve ourselves from Elizabeth’s disease!”
Jane was driven back downstairs by the maids. She stopped at the top of the staircase to glance back at her sister carried out of her bedroom. Elizabeth was wrapped in sheets, to be taken up to the servant’s floor. A shudder wracked Jane’s body. The sight was too eerie and foreboding. Her sister’s skin matched the color of the white bedsheets exactly. Her body wrapped in sheets as if it was prepared for burial.
Jane sobbed, tears running down her face as the maids pushed her around the corner to go down the stairs to the main floor for fear of Mr. Bingley’s intended catching whatever afflicted Elizabeth so severely.
“Where is Lizzy? Hill, where is Lizzy? She has switched rooms with one of her sisters? I am not a doddering old fool unable to remember where his children’s bedrooms are?” Mr. Bennet smiled genially upon Hill. He did not visit his favorite daughter the day before, as with the maids running about, he figured it was best if he left that alone. It sounded like things had quieted down, so he was going to check in to see how Lizzy was doing. Perhaps discuss the current book he was reading.
“Pardon me sir, but Mrs. Bennet had Miss Elizabeth moved to the third floor.” The change in Mr. Bennet’s countenance was immediate.
“What? Moved up with the servants?” He was aghast, unable to speak for several seconds and greatly resembled a gaping fish. Hill grabbed the folds of her dress tighter, trembling with exhaustion from being up all night. All the maids were exhausted yet Mrs. Bennet gave none of them time off.
“My word. I will have to discuss this with Mrs. Bennet. I can not wonder what would cause her to do such a thing.”
Hill was torn with indecision. Mrs. Bennet ran the servants and maids in the house so they had very little interaction with Mr. Bennet. However, Mr. Bennet was the head of the household. “Pardon me for saying Sir, but Mrs. Bennet did not want Miss Bennet or the other girls to become afflicted with the illness Miss Elizabeth has.” Hill curtsied and left as quickly as her exhausted legs could carry her away from Mr. Bennet, whose face was turning a mottled shade of red.
He would not go on to the servants floor to check on Elizabeth. He was not one of those employers. However, he was not going to let Mrs. Bennet run the house on her own anymore. Not after the disastrous events with Lydia. He was going to take more of an interest in the raising of his children, by God. Starting now with his dear Lizzy.
He found Mrs. Bennet holding court over the remaining girls in the drawing room. As usual, she was in a tizzy. “Oh such horrible luck! My poor nerves cannot take this! Just when we have Jane nearly settled with Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth manages to get herself ill. That girl! As if we do not have enough to worry about keeping Mr. Bingley happy, what with all the servants running hither and thither taking care of Elizabeth! You would think she did this just for the attention now that her older sister Jane was engaged.”
“Mama! Elizabeth is dreadfully ill. You cannot imagine that she would wish this upon herself?”
“And why cannot I? She chose the most inopportune time. She will make you sick, she will get us all the sick, we will be in our deathbed and you will die and you will not have had married Mr. Bingley and then where will we all be when we are turned out of this house when Mr. Bennet dies and the Collins kick us out!”
Mr. Bennet had heard enough. “Mrs. Bennet.” He rarely sounded so severe. That coupled with his unannounced entrance caused all the occupants to jump. “I have just had a report of an alarming nature. Am I to understand that you moved Lizzy, who is ill, up to the servants quarters?”
That was enough for Mrs. Bennet to start again. “She has chosen the most dreadful moment to get ill. We must keep this quiet! It would keep Mr. Bingley away from Jane and you know those artful Lucas’s. I am sure they would snatch Mr. Bingley for Miss Lucas. We must keep Elizabeth’s affliction a secret so that Miss Lucas is not supplanted in Mr. Bingley’s eyes!” There was much widening of Mrs. Bennet’s eyes and waving of her handkerchief marking each point in her argument. It would have been better had she been looking at Mr. Bennet when she spoke. She would have noticed his countenance getting darker and darker.
“Mrs. Bennet, I have allowed too much freedom in the past. But that is changing. I will not have a child of mine hidden away in the servant’s quarters. Bring her back down to her bedroom at once. I aim to visit with her as soon as she is settled.” Mr. Bennet turned to his eldest daughter, the most levelheaded of all his daughters currently in the room.
“Jane, when did you last visit with Lizzy?” Jane sat with her face lowered facing the sampler on her lap. She warily lifted her eyes to her father. Warily for she knew the fit her mother would throw when Mr. Bennet had quit the room.
“I was not able to visit her, Sir.” Mr. Bennet looked severely upon his wife again.
“And tell me, why were you not able to do the Christian duty of visiting your ill sister?”
Jane glanced at Mrs. Bennet and then back at Mr. Bennet. “Mama forbade it.”
“Indeed I did! Jane cannot afford to get whatever illness Elizabeth has managed to get. She has to stay perfectly well and healthy or mark my words, Mrs. Lucas is going to steal Mr. Bingley just like she stole Mr. Collins for her daughter.”
“Mrs. Bennet, Lizzy is to be moved to her bedroom immediately. What has the apothecary said regarding Lizzy’s health?” Mr. Bennet looked at Jane and then Mrs. Bennet. As both were looking away from him, it dawned on him that the apothecary had not even been contacted. “What Is this? Have you not contacted Mr. Jones to come immediately? If she was sick enough to be moved away from the other girls, then she was sick enough to have the apothecary visit!”
Mr. Bennet was gearing up for one of his very rare moments of intense anger. They had always been directed at Mrs. Bennet in the past. This was looking not to be an exception.
“Mr. Bennet, we cannot have Mr. Jones to Longbourn! That will keep Mr. Bingley away! Then Miss Lucas will move in and snag Mr. Bingley for herself! I have always said not to trust the Lucas’s! And look what they did with Mr. Collins after he proposed to Elizabeth. We have to keep Elizabeth away from the girls and not let there be any reason for Mr. Bingley to not show at our house!”
Mr. Bennet’s eyes had been opened rather harshly these last few months. He had largely left the child rearing to Mrs. Bennet but now realized that had been a mistake. It also opened his eyes to his own behavior. Mainly his lack of attention towards his own children and their upbringing. If Elizabeth was seriously ill, Mr. Bennet would never forgive himself.
“Mrs. Bennet, may I inquire as to how you found Lizzy when you saw her last? I presume that was this morning?” Mrs. Bennet waved her handkerchief, blotted her eyes, yelled at Hill for more tea. She did not answer the question directly, but Mr. Bennet knew what the answer was. Rapid footsteps approached the drawing room. Hill was arriving to Mrs. Bennet’s shouted demands. Before Mrs. Bennet could say one word, Mr. Bennet stood in front of Hill looking very fierce indeed.
“Hill, I am concerned as to the health of my daughter Lizzy. When did you see her last?” Hill curtsied glanced at Mrs. Bennet and then back up to Mr. Bennet.
“Sir, I saw her this morning as I brought her broth to drink.” Hill continued to fidget, playing with the sides of her dress. Mr. Bennet knew he looked foreboding but he was too angry at the moment to restore his countenance to the good humor it normally possessed.
“And how was my Lizzy when you saw her last?”
“She is still wracked with the pain, Sir. The cramping is so severe it looks like her muscles are doing a dance on their own. We rub the horse liniment and massage as much as we can while keeping her full of the bone broth cook is making.” Mr. Bennet stood back aghast. This was not some simple cold or flu that Mrs. Bennet had led him to believe.
“St. Vitus’s dance? I have read about it. That jerking affliction only possessed those with chorea? Are we to all be afflicted with this? Send a messenger for the apothecary immediately!”