I’m having a ball with the grandchildren. They are so awesome that I’m not typing as much as I should or as much as my daughter demands. However, as soon as I post this I’m going to start on Chapter 10. This chapter is a bit of filler but it sets the scene for what’s to come. Caroline Bingley is a stinker. Ack!!! But I need her to be this way for later. Without further ado, here’s the chapter.
If you are starting at the beginning, here is the link to Chapter 1: Chapter One
While Jane continued to sleep peacefully, Elizabeth felt anything but peace. Mr. Darcy could stir her ire faster than any man alive. One moment he acted the gentleman and she was pleased with his company, finding much to desire in this persona. When his words became presumptuous and his manner arrogant, she despised the ground he walked upon. How one man could inspire such disparate feelings puzzled her exceedingly.
The colonel? He was exceptionally brave. And, extremely creative with his use of invectives. She chuckled to herself. Never before had she seen a man’s bare leg and feet. Upon reflection, she could not recall ever spying her father without stockings. Why were they so hairy? The colonel even had a patch of the dark sprigs on the top of his big toe. His feet were long and narrow. His toes were long and jointed, similar to an old man’s fingers. Truly, they were not a thing of beauty. Yet, overall, the pleasantness of his character made her easily overlook any physical flaws. Of course, perhaps all men had long, skinny, hairy feet.
She stuck her own stockinged foot in front of her. Certainly, it was much shorter than the Colonel’s. It was wider as well. Should the fabric be suddenly removed, as his had been, there would be no thick dark hairs on her toes.
Chuckling to herself so as to not wake her sister, she contemplated the difference in the appendages of her sisters. Jane, Mary, and Lydia were all taller than she. Each had longer slimmer feet, with Lydia’s being the longest. The other sisters had all rejoiced as this kept their youngest sister from ‘borrowing’ their shoes without asking. Elizabeth and Kitty were about the same height. Where her curves were rounded, and her legs were more muscled, Kitty’s feet were wider, giving her the impression of being more solidly founded. Of them all, it was their mother who had the tiniest feet, giving a clue as to her petite form prior to having given birth to five healthy daughters.
Unable to contain her laughter, Elizabeth promised to study the boots of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. Would they be longer or shorter than the Colonel’s? Skinnier or fatter? Would Mr. Bingley have red hair on his legs to match his head? Perhaps not, as the colonel’s hair was a much lighter color than on his legs.
What a silly subject to consider, Elizabeth Bennet!
Jane stirred at the unexpected noise in the bedchamber.
“Lizzy?” Her voice sounded like the bullfrogs around the rim of Longbourn’s pond. “Are you well?”
Elizabeth smiled. How like Jane to be concerned over someone’s health other than her own.
“Do not be concerned, sister. I was pondering the differences in male and female feet, which caused my burst of humor.”
“Feet?” Jane’s brow furrowed. “What could possibly have happened to have caused this particular line of thought?”
“Jane,” she whispered. “I witnessed something scandalous today.” Both girls looked at the corners of the room as if there was someone in hiding eager to hear their conversation. “Mr. Darcy pulled off his cousin’s stocking after removing his boot. I will tell you now, the sight of his barefoot has been the subject of my contemplation since. Are you shocked at my lack of decorum for letting my eyes travel to such a place?”
Jane giggled. “Only you, Lizzy dear.” She lay back on the mattress, resting the back of her hand against her forehead. “Oh, no! Now, I am curious. What sort of feet does a man have?”
Elizabeth’s mirth could not be contained. “Be prepared to be surprised. If you will drink this cool water to soothe your throat, I will tell you every aspect of the gentleman’s lowest portion in specific detail.”
Jane’s eagerness to drink from the glass gave Elizabeth no clue as to her motive. Was it thirst or curiosity? Her blush provided the answer Elizabeth sought. Smiling from ear to ear at her shy sister’s burning desire to know, she began her narrative.
With eagerness, Darcy descended the stairs to break his fast. He could not recall sleeping even one wink the whole of the night. It was not hunger causing him to move his valet along, but the need to see Miss Elizabeth.
Some females were drawn to an injured man, their sympathetic heartstrings pulled by being needed to provide care. He also understood some ladies were drawn to a uniform. None looked finer in a blue or red coat of the military than his cousin. Blast the man!
Meeting Bingley at the foot of the staircase, they entered the room together, stunned to be met with Miss Elizabeth’s noisy hiccup.
Slapping her hand over her mouth, she raised her eyes from her brief perusal of the gentlemen’s Hessians to look slightly behind their shoulders. Both Darcy and Bingley looked to the floor to see if they had inadvertently stepped into something that should not have been inside Netherfield Park. No, the floor was bare. What was she about?
“Miss Elizabeth,” Bingley greeted his guest with his typical enthusiasm. “I hope your being downstairs is an indication of Miss Bennet’s improved health?”
As his friend and host moved to fill his plate, Darcy listened carefully to her reply. It would not do for the Bennet sisters to remove themselves to Longbourn while he was glued to his cousin’s side. Of course, should they do so, he would have the advantage as Richard would not be leaving his bed for a long while.
“I thank you for your inquiry, sir.” She patted her lips with her napkin before placing it back on her lap. “I was hoping to request the presence of the apothecary or surgeon when they came to examine the Colonel. Jane’s cough has not abated, and her throat is raw.”
“Good. Good.” Bingley distractedly proclaimed as he took the seat across from her. At their glances, he quickly amended his response. “No, I do not mean her being ill is good, for that could never be so. What I mean, or rather, what I meant, was that it was good I can be of service by contacting Mr. Jones. Dr. Stevenson is already upstairs with the colonel.”
Unknown to the other dining companions, Darcy had initially responded the same as Bingley. It was good the Miss Bennets would be remaining at Netherfield for his own purposes to bear fruition—as long as he could keep her away from Richard.
“I would ask, if I may, that a note be delivered to Longbourn. With the Colonel needing intensive care, I think the wise course for Jane and me would be to remove ourselves to our home. She could recover in a familiar room with familiar company, while you tend to a more important guest.”
“No!” Darcy could not wait for Bingley to respond. What if he agreed with Miss Elizabeth? That simply would not do.
Now, it was both eyes staring at him.
“Pray, do not think my cousin would wish Miss Bennet’s removal at the expense of his own care,” he said. “Richard would feel worse, and so would we, should your sister get a chill from the three-mile journey. My belief is that you both should remain until she has improved considerably.”
“Was anyone going to ask my opinion?” Caroline Bingley stood just inside the doorway, her sister and brother-in-law shadowing behind her.
Darcy could hear the venom in her voice. Bingley really needed to take control of his sister. She acted a fishwife, only better dressed.
“Caroline, I only stated what I knew you would offer should you have been in the room.” Her brother responded.
“Really, Charles.” With a target in mind, she approached the table. Turning her attention to the only female already seated, she maliciously purred, “Miss Elizabeth, you are still here? I am all astonishment.”
“Caroline!” It was all the warning Miss Bingley got for not minding her tongue. Bingley’s countenance was more embarrassed than furious, which disappointed Darcy.
“Why, Charles.” Her tone changed but not the vitriol of her words. “With the dear Colonel above stairs on the brink of death, you cannot expect the staff to care for someone with a paltry illness who would be better off at home, would you? After all, our newest patient is family to our invited guest, is he not?”
“Miss Bingley, I apologize for my sister and me being a burden by stretching your limits as hostess of your brother’s home. We shall leave as soon as Mr. Jones declares Jane fit for travel.” Setting her fork aside, Miss Elizabeth stood, causing Darcy and Bingley to stand at attention as well. “Pray, excuse me.”
“Caroline Bingley!” Charles hissed. “Your insult to our guest was poorly done.”
“Humph!” Taking her seat, Miss Bingley ignored her brother. Instead, she nodded to the footman to prepare a plate and serve her.
Darcy was appalled at her rudeness.
“Mr. Darcy, have you heard whether your aunt and uncle, the earl and countess, will be arriving today? I cannot imagine them not coming to Hertfordshire to see to their son’s care.” Miss Bingley placed a spoonful of jam on her toast. “Once we are rid of the Bennets, I can devote my full attention to them, as is their due.”
He knew what she was about. Attempting to garner favor from someone of elevated rank and title at the expense of other guests was the sign of a neglectful hostess. Darcy despised her dream of being mistress of his estates.
“I have not yet heard, Miss Bingley.” Darcy contemplated whether or not to speak his mind. What had been easily done with Miss Elizabeth was uncomfortable with his host’s sister. Swallowing, he decided to commit himself to his usual behavior. If Bingley would not remonstrate his sister, it was not his business.
“I shall have the best rooms prepared. They shall have every comfort.” She looked at her brother. “Charles, we will recommend Netherfield Park as the scion of propriety and good manners in this country hamlet. Thus, we will be well-spoken of when the Fitzwilliams return to town.”
“Somehow, I cannot consider denigrating a guest nor our place of residence as being the epitome of good manners, Caroline. Therefore, I would recommend you not speak as long as the Colonel’s family is in residence. Darcy, I know,” Bingley looked to his friend, “has learned to overlook your bad behavior. The others will not.”
“Charles Bingley! Of what are you speaking?” Miss Bingley’s affront appeared genuine. “I have been taught at the finest academy in London and regularly associate with the elite of society.” Suddenly, she pierced him with her sharp eyes. “Why are you speaking this way now? Is it the influence of those Bennets who have made you forget yourself, treating your beloved sister as an outcast? All the more reason to send them home.”
Turning to Darcy, she continued her rant. “Sir, you cannot agree with my silly brother. He knows not of what he is speaking. Surely, you have observed our superiority over local society. In fact, was it not you, yourself, who proclaimed none in Meryton were fit to stand up with at a dance? Did you not prove your point by dancing solely with me and my sister? How could you possibly find fault with my desires to remove Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth from our house before the arrival of Lord and Lady Matlock?”
It galled him to have her toss his character alongside hers. Apparently, Miss Elizabeth was not the only one to hear his horrid comments at the assembly. He was shamed. But, so should she be abashed by her own conduct.
“My mother and my Aunt Helen would never turn a guest out in favor of someone of elevated rank. Good manners would, and has, prohibited them from doing so.” Darcy set down his utensils indicating he was finished. Standing, he hovered over her, reminding Miss Bingley of her relative position in society compared to his. “I have apologized for my words and conduct at the assembly, Miss Bingley. I erred grievously. You have done the same.” Bowing to his host, he excused himself.
Rushing up the staircase, he returned to his cousin’s room. He felt in desperate need of common sense and peace. The only sources in Netherfield Park that he was aware of were either Richard or Miss Elizabeth. Since she would be caring for her sister, the Colonel would do.
“What has lit a fire under you?” His cousin asked.
Darcy was relieved to see his Richard sitting up in bed, his injured leg propped upon a carefully arranged pile of pillows. The surgeon stood from the chair next to the bed when he had burst through the doorway. He reseated himself as soon as Darcy joined them.
“I am happy you are here, Mr. Darcy.” Dr. Stevenson was a young physician who took his career choice seriously. Like Richard, he was the second son with a healthy older brother. The likelihood of either of the two men in front of him inheriting was slim to none. Nevertheless, neither man bore resentment.
“How might I help you, Doctor?” Glancing at his cousin, Darcy found him relaxed and seemingly unconcerned.
“The truth is, my patient has already expressed a desire to stand and join the company downstairs. Since you appear to know your cousin well, you will not be shocked when I opine that he will do all he can to see to his desires as soon as I turn my back. Therefore, Mr. Darcy, I am charging you with keeping him in place.”
“An impossible task.” Richard chuckled loudly at Darcy’s comment.
“Unfortunately, knowing the Colonel as I do, I had surmised this to be his attitude as soon as I heard of his injury. Because of this, I had my assistant deliver a mobility device to Lord and Lady Matlock to deliver when they arrive today. I merely require as much time to pass as possible before he starts using the crutch, that is all.”
“You are a wise man,” Darcy observed. He, personally, had never sustained such an injury. However, it was easy to speculate how frustrating Richard’s position was. Like him, Darcy would be pulling against the bit for as much freedom as was possible.
“Also,” the surgeon continued. “I asked the young lady I met yesterday who is currently caring for her sister if she would come and read to your cousin, who, I might add, was exceedingly happy at the arrangement.” Without realizing the surprised glee of both gentlemen, he continued, “She is a lovely young lady with a charming character. Do either of you know her circumstances?”
Darcy wanted to growl. Richard’s eyes twinkled in merriment.
“As I understand it,” his cousin said. “She is the second of five daughters who have little in the way of assets other than themselves to bring to a marriage. Upon observation, she is a devoted caregiver, as evidenced by her care of Miss Bennet and the fact she walked three miles to attend her.”
“Then she would be an ideal wife for a surgeon, I believe.” Dr. Stevenson mused, much to the consternation of both men. “My practice has grown to the extent I no longer am concerned about income so her small portion means nothing,” he muttered, as if to himself. Making a decision, he declared to the room at large, “I would enjoy having a helping hand in my practice who can also tend to my needs, someone bright, lively, and wise. Would this be the way either of you would describe Miss Elizabeth?”
Richard was far too quick to reply. “Absolutely! As a matter of honor, I will inform you that both my cousin and I are determined to make Miss Elizabeth our bride. What have you to say to this?” His challenge was clear. Step away, Dr. Stevenson!
However, the good doctor was undeterred.
“She will be here soon. Then we shall see.” The doctor paused. “I was surprised to find no maid had been assigned to help with their care, so I inquired of Miss Bingley as she was on her way to break her fast if one could accompany Miss Elizabeth to the sickroom.”
Darcy shook his head as Richard demanded, “what is this?”
A soft tap on the door ended their mental castigation of Miss Bingley.
Since he was closest to the entryway, Darcy answered. He was delighted to be the recipient of her smile. As she stepped inside the room, a maid followed closely.
Good! Miss Bingley finally did something right.
Curtseying to the gentlemen alongside and upon the bed, Miss Elizabeth observed, “Colonel, I am sorry to share that the selections of reading material from the Netherfield Park library is rather sparse. Knowing this, my father secreted two volumes, recently arrived from Hatchards in London, for me to devour with the small trunk they sent for our care.” Holding up the two tomes, she offered a choice. “The first is my personal favorite, Der Schweizerische Robinson by Johann David Wyss, and the second is Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by Lord Byron.”
“You read German?” Asked the doctor at the same time Darcy blurted, “You read Lord Byron?”
Without answering either question directly, Miss Elizabeth looked at the Colonel as she approached the two chairs on the near side of the bed. “Sir, if you do not understand the language, I will be pleased to translate.”
He laughed boisterously as Darcy and Dr. Stevenson hurried to take the remaining chair after she was seated. The doctor won.
Undeterred, Darcy requested an additional chair for himself and the maid from a footman located in the hallway.
As the servant placed a tall wooden chair in the corner for the maid, he had the man put the other directly across from Miss Elizabeth. He could observe her lovely face while the surgeon could not. He wanted to laugh aloud at the brilliance of his plan.
Then, Miss Elizabeth shifted her chair so she looked directly at Richard, placing her shoulder to Dr. Stevenson, and her profile to Darcy. He wanted to kick the bed. Apparently, he was not nearly as intelligent as he had thought he was.