A/N: This part is a bit shorter this week. As I said at the beginning of the story, I am posting these in the segments in which this story was written. My aim each day is a minimum of one thousand words. Some days I exceed that amount, but this day, I fell just a few words short.
“We are leaving in the morning?” Jane whispered after Lydia had fallen asleep.
Elizabeth nodded. “Papa says Lydia needs Mama.”
Jane raised a brow.
Elizabeth smiled wryly and nodded her agreement. Mama was not good in a sick room. Having her fluttering about — and loudly — was never conducive to recovery. However, Lydia and Mama had a special relationship so it might not be all bad.
“I am sorry,” she said to Jane. “I know you had hoped to see Mr. Bingley.” She stopped talking and drew a breath to keep the tears that were gathering once again from falling.
Jane gave her a sad smile. “I was, but perhaps he will come to Netherfield.”
It was so like Jane to attempt to remain positive even when things were dire.
“And perhaps Mr. Darcy will join him.” Jane smiled as she came to stand next to Elizabeth and placed a hand on her shoulder reassuringly.
“Perhaps,” Elizabeth said weakly. He would not. But it would do little good to discuss that detail with Jane right now. It would only start the flood of tears once again, and her head already hurt from crying earlier. She did not need to increase her pain.
“You do not think he will?” Jane asked, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
Elizabeth sighed. It appeared she was not going to be able to avoid this discussion. “Papa has severed our acquaintance with Mr…” she swallowed against her tears, “Darcy.” She took another steadying breath. “Papa holds Mr. Darcy accountable for…” she waved her hand toward Lydia.
“But he is not!” Jane’s whispered response was emphatic. “Lydia knows better, and if Papa or Mama had taken the bother to check her every once in a while, she would not have behaved as she did.” She grasped Elizabeth’s hand. “He is not responsible.”
A tear slid down Elizabeth’s cheek and then another and another. She knew it was true. Mr. Darcy had not caused her sister to be hurt, but what good did knowing such a thing do? She was still not going to be allowed to see him again. “I love him,” she whispered.
Elizabeth had, of course, spoken to Jane earlier about how she and Maria had come to be travelling to London with Mr. Darcy. There had been several hours of sitting and watching Lydia with very little else to do after the physician left, and so tales about Rosings had been shared. However, in all her talking about Mr. Darcy, she had not revealed how she felt about that gentleman. Indeed, until she had been faced with never seeing him again, she had not known it herself. But now, she felt the weight of that revelation fully as it pressed hard on her chest making breathing painful and causing tears to fall.
“I love him,” she repeated, as Jane gathered her into an embrace.
“Oh, my dear, dear, Lizzy. We shall have to find a way to right this wrong.” She rubbed Elizabeth’s back and cooed sweet things as Elizabeth cried.
Finally, when the worst of this fresh burst of grief had seemed to pass, Jane held Elizabeth away from her a short distance and said, “I will stay with Lydia until Aunt returns if you wish to go lay down for a bit.” She brushed at the tears on Elizabeth’s face. “I have found a rest helps ease the pain of disappointment, though only slightly.”
Elizabeth merely nodded, not trusting her voice, and allowed herself to be persuaded to take a rest.
An hour later, after having cried and then fallen asleep, Jane joined her and wrapping her arms around Elizabeth, settled in for a short sleep of her own before one or the other of them would be called to take their turn at Lydia’s side.
All night, the ladies of Gracechurch Street shifted between rest and watchfulness. Aunt Gardiner would sit with Lydia for an hour and a half, and then, one or the other of her sisters would come and fill the chair. Finally, Elizabeth had refused to return to her bed and chosen, instead, to sleep in a chair in the corner of the room when it was not her turn to sit beside Lydia. It was here that the sun found her as it began to rise, and as Jane’s eyes were falling closed of their own accord, Elizabeth rose from that chair where she had been dozing and stretched.
Her limbs were stiff, and her neck was sore, and her heart ached more and more as the dawn approached. For as the morning drew near, so did her separation from the gentleman she loved and the place where, though he might not visit, she might in travelling about the town chance to come upon him.
She had imagined it as she sat next to Lydia. She would stop at some store for a bit of lace or a pair of gloves, and there he would be. They would smile and greet each other. Then he would offer to see her to her next stop, and as they walked, he would confess his love for her, and she would assure him that she felt likewise. It was a silly and fanciful dream, but it had done its work in keeping her from dwelling on reality and dissolving into tears. Even now, she contemplated such thoughts for a moment before she walked over to the bed and smoothed Lydia’s hair as she had so many times during the night.
“Jane.” Elizabeth placed her hand first on Lydia’s rosy cheek and then on her damp forehead. There was no mistaking the signs of fever. “Jane,” she repeated, feeling the small start of anxiousness growing. Lydia was warm, alarmingly warm. “The physician. We need the physician.”