Sick at Netherfield
The fire is roaring, but I hardly feel the heat as my body shivers. My skin is hot yet refuses to sweat, indicating a fever has set in. Doctor Jones is being fetched at Mr. Bingley’s insistence, but this gives me little comfort. I am in a stranger’s bed, in a borrowed nightgown, and being tended to by unfamiliar servants. It is late now. The sun disappeared beneath the horizon hours ago. I can detect laughter and piano playing from the drawing room. Caroline and Mrs. Hurst helped me to the room, but after loaning me a nightgown, they left me to the care of the maids. I have the ultimate respect for the maids nursing me on such a short notice. However, I miss the gentle touch of my sisters. Even mama’s effusive chattering would be a soothing balm to me in my current state.
What I would give to be transported to Longbourn. The idea of sneaking to the stables and riding Nelly home crosses my mind. A smile spreads across my face at the reactions my family would have at my arrival. Mama beside herself, Papa amused, Mary disappointed, Lizzy concerned, and Kitty and Lydia laughing at the absurdness of the situation. A grimace replaces my smile as another chill wracks through my body.
My throat is becoming scratchy, another sign of my sickness progressing. I will probably have a cold for several days. If only I had pushed harder to take the carriage instead of following Mama’s order to ride in the rain. She was right that the Bingley’s would offer to have me spend the night because of the rain, but her plan of having me spend extra time with Mr. Bingley was foiled. A chuckle escapes my throat and morphs into a cough that leaves me gasping. I should not amuse myself if I want to rest. My coughing alerts one maid who is sitting outside in the hall. She knocks before entering the room.
“Hello miss. I heard you coughing. Would you like a drink?”
I nod my thanks and struggle to sit up. The maid moves to my side and places me against the pillows. She pours a glass of water and hands it to me. The sip stings my throat and makes me gag. Noticing my reaction, the maid removes the glass and wrings her hands. I recognize she wants to speak, but most servants are nervous about voicing their opinions, especially around guests.
“Please do not restrain yourself on my account.”
The maid releases a breath and her posture relaxes.
“Shall I make miss a pot of tea with honey? It always soothes my younger brother’s throat when he is ill.”
I am always surprised at how frightened some servants are of offending their mistresses even when it is to offer unsolicited help.
“Yes, that sounds lovely. Thank you, miss…?”
“Thank you, Alice.”
Alice leaves the room after her last remark and closes the door. I settle back on the pillows and close my eyes. That small interaction has exhausted me. I hear voices down the hall and as they travel closer to my room, I realize it is Caroline and Mrs. Hurst.
“Can you believe it, Louisa? Choosing to ride a horse here? Through the rain? She was soaked when she arrived.”
“Oh yes, sopping wet and dripping all over the rugs. I couldn’t believe it. If she was not the only tolerable company in this whole county, I would never converse with her again!”
Laughter follows and fades as they travel farther down the corridor. Tears well up as I realize my new friends don’t care for me. A wave of nausea encompasses me and I breathe through my mouth to stem the urge to vomit. How could they? I thought they cared for me as a friend. My hopes of their brother courting me are dashed. In my mind, I picture his happy, smiling face and swallow a cry back down. His family’s disapproval and uncertain feelings make me doubt his interest.
A knock at the door has me wiping my face just in time for Alice to enter with a tea tray. She glances at me with obvious concern written in her eyes.
“Are you alright, miss?”
I manage a wobbly laugh to reassure her. It would not do to have it spread around that I overheard my hostess’ insults.
“Yes. My throat is bothering me. May I have some of that delicious tea?”
Alice nods and begins preparing my cup. I turn away to hide my face and send a silent prayer that I recover soon.