Sometimes when writing, I surprise myself. In writing this next scene, little did I know I was about to gift the Bingley sisters with a new moniker to proclaim as their own. This snippet is from my Work In Progress, The Wager.
“I do,” Jane replied. “My mother’s sister is married to Mr. Phillips.”
“How lovely, and is Mr. Phillips busy with his little shop?” Miss Bingley asked before raising her fingers to hide a smile.
“My uncle is an attorney. He is the one who negotiated the lease your brother signed to rent Netherfield Park.”
Miss Bingley pursed her lips at being reminded they did not own the estate where she rested her head at night but rented it from another. Regardless of this annoyance, she continued with her line of questioning, solidifying Elizabeth’s belief she had a nefarious purpose for the unexpected invitation to tea.
“Does this same uncle have his own estate?”
“His eldest brother inherited the family estate in Surrey.”
“Our dear Uncle Phillips is a second son,” Elizabeth interjected, not wanting Jane to reveal their beloved uncle’s father was a baron. “He chose to follow the law instead of taking orders, which brought him to our corner of Hertfordshire.”
“A choice Aunt Martha is very glad of,” Mary added before she took a small bite of her cake.
“Your other uncle,” Caroline continued as though neither Elizabeth nor Mary had spoken. “He is in trade, yes?”
Jane nodded in the affirmative.
“Our uncle is very successful. He and his wife live in London.”
“In Cheapside, I heard.”
“Near Cheapside, on Gracechurch Street.”
“I imagine he lives there in order to keep a watchful eye on his property,” Miss Bingley tittered and slid a sly glance toward Mrs. Hurst.
Elizabeth’s anger began to simmer. What was supposed to be a pleasant tea had turned into an inquisition where the perpetrator believed she had all the answers and only wished to humiliate her guests.
“Speaking of property, remind me again Miss Bingley,” Elizabeth began with false sweetness. “In which county we can find your father’s estate?”
She would have gone further, but Jane laid a warning hand on her forearm.
“Enough, Lizzy,” she said in a soft undertone.
An odd sound came from Mary and both turned their attention toward her.
“Jane,” she said in a small voice. “I do not feel well.”
Mary then doubled over and struck her head hard enough on the floor to render her unconscious. Both Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst emitted tiny screams.
“Miss Bingley, is there any fish in these cakes?” Jane demanded as she hurried to Mary’s side, gently lifting her sister’s head to rest on her lap.
“How would I know?”
“Please find out if there was.”
Miss Bingley continued to gape and cast panicked glances toward her eldest sister. Mrs. Hurst seemed to grasp the gravity of the situation and hurried to the bell pull. Only when a footman stepped into the room did Miss Bingley snap out of her stupor.
“You there,” she demanded and pointed at the footmen. “Have Mrs. Nickers attend us and send a maid to ask the cook what was in the cakes she sent up for our tea.”
The footman cast a quick glance at Mary lying on Jane's lap before hurrying from the room. Elizabeth heard Mrs. Hurst murmur to her sister, “Her name is Mrs. Nicholls.”
“Oh, who cares. She is just a housekeeper.”
At that moment, the butler entered the room. Most likely to investigate why some of the ladies had screamed.
“What may I do to help, Ma’am,” he queried, addressing Jane, not Miss Bingley.
“Send Jeremy for Mr. Jones, he is the fastest rider of all the footmen. Tell him Miss Bennet is having one of her reactions and we need him post haste.” The butler turned to do her bidding, stopping when Jane called out again. “Cardston, after that, please find Mrs. Nicholls and tell her I need water for drinking as well as to wipe Mary’s face, it will help cool and relax her.”
Cardston withdrew to do her bidding, completely ignoring the gaping mouth of his temporary mistress.
“Who do you think you are, to order about our servants as if they are your own?” Miss Bingley demanded. “It is not as though your sister is dying.”
Jane’s eyes flashed with anger upon hearing such a callous comment. Elizabeth was not at all surprised by her sister’s reaction. She and Jane could and did withstand the barbs and insults of ignorant people, but woe betide the person who attacked her family. Fortunately, for Miss Bingley, Mary stirred and her eyes fluttered.
“Relax, dearest,” Jane soothed as she gently stroked her sister’s cheek. “You hit your head on the floor and were rendered unconscious.”
“Jane…” Whatever it was that Mary wished to say would never be known because she promptly rolled to her side and vomited onto the carpet.
The outraged gasps of Miss Bingley would sustain Elizabeth for days, but only after her sister recovered. Any further outbursts were stymied by the arrival of Mrs. Nicholls, who bustled into the room with a couple of maids, bringing water and clean rags.
“Thank you, Mrs. Nicholls,” Jane said, overriding any comment Miss Bingley or Mrs. Hurst may have made. “Prepare the green guest room for Mary and have Cardston direct Mr. Jones there when he arrives.”
“Right away, La−, Miss Hamilton.”
“Who are you to give orders to my servants?”
“I have neither the time nor the inclination to answer your questions, Miss Bingley.” Jane caressed Mary’s brow with tender affection. “My sister’s recovery is my only priority.”
Although she wished to lend comment, Elizabeth stayed quiet. This was Jane’s fight, not hers. Two hours later, an exhausted Mary lay sleeping in one of the guest rooms after a thorough examination by Mr. Jones. Fortunately, she had only taken a bite of one small cake.
“Will she be able to come home tomorrow, Mr. Jones?” Jane asked, her attention riveted to the still form of her sister lying in the bed. Elizabeth sat by the side of the bed, holding Mary’s hand in hers.
“Miss Hamilton, your sister has suffered one of her Idiosyncrasy’s. It is as I told you when she had her last spasmodic symptom, her body reacts in a different manner to some foods. The last time it was lobster. Do we know what she ingested today?”
“Miss Bingley learned some of the cakes had crab in them,” Elizabeth offered in reply.
“Ahh…this is good to know. It seems Miss Bennet must avoid ingesting any type of fish.” Mr. Jones paused, as if in deep thought. “Has she ever reacted to lake trout?”
“Not that I am aware of,” Jane said. “We have trout regularly during the summer months. My Uncle Gardiner is an avid angler and loves to fish our stream, allowing us to enjoy the spoils of his labor.”
“Fascinating. It seems Miss Bennet only reacts to oceanic species of shellfish,” Mr. Jones murmured. “I will write one of my friends in Town and see if he has any further insight into these types of maladies.”
“So, Mary can come home tomorrow?” Jane asked.
“As far as her reaction to food, she is fine. However, she struck her head quite hard, which is the reason she became violently ill. She must rest quietly, and it is imperative she is awakened every four hours.”
“I shall stay with her, Jane,” Elizabeth offered.
“Are you certain?”
“After your little dust-up with Miss Bingley, I believe a strategic retreat is called for you to regroup your serenity.”
Once Mary rested quietly, the remaining sisters returned to the drawing room. Jane to say her goodbyes to Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, and Elizabeth to see her safely off and confer with their hostess about what Mr. Jones had requested regarding food and drink for Mary. The doors to the drawing room remained partially open and the strident tones of Miss Bingley clearly carried into the hall.
“What did Miss Hamilton mean? Ordering our servants around like this was her own home. I declare those Bennet sisters are the main reason I wish to quit this horrible place.”
Quick footsteps could be heard and a low murmur from Mrs. Hurst.
“I do not care, Louisa. They are below us, practically dirt farmers with two impoverished step-daughters and their estate entailed away. We must get Charles away from Miss Hamilton. She will drag him down into the mud with her and ruin my chances of making a successful marriage.”
Elizabeth not only felt Jane stiffen but saw her draw back her shoulders.
“Do nothing you will regret later, Jane,” she cautioned. “Words may pierce our pride and sting our memories but they cannot change who we are and the life we will lead once Trenton comes home.”
“While our lives will alter when our brother returns in a few short weeks, I am tired of the snide remarks and underhanded comments that perpetually spring forth from Mr. Bingley’s sisters.” Jane turned cerulean blue eyes toward her sister and smiled wide enough to crinkle their corners. “I believe it is time for those two ladies to be schooled in proper etiquette.”
“As you know, there is no love lost between Miss Bingley and me, and in most circumstances, I would wholeheartedly agree, but – think on this – if you reveal our rank, are you prepared for that woman and her sister to grovel and toady for your attention.”
“Now that I am aware of their true sentiments, I have no desire to acknowledge them in any form.” She paused and her expression turned thoughtful. “Unless I continue to accept Mr. Bingley’s attentions.”
“Is his affection worth the twin tentacles of doom waiting for us in the next room?”
“I confess I am uncertain.” Jane took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I suppose we shall find out over the next few weeks.”