Elizabeth spent the remainder of the day with Jane, and most of the gentlemen were absent until dinner. General Tilney had gone to the Council in London with the retained servant of Longbourn. Checking on Jane after the meal, Elizabeth was pleased to see her sister so improved she could come downstairs for an hour. She smiled as Mr. Bingley situated Jane near the fire. After seeing to her comfort, he sat closest to her and drew his chair close. A sigh escaped Elizabeth as she watched their romance blossom. She had always thought the closest lovers would have a language of their own and indeed her sister and Bingley needed no words to know each other’s thoughts and feelings.
“Miss Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley, startling Elizabeth’s reverie. “Come walk around the room with me. It is refreshing after sitting so much.”
Surprised, Elizabeth agreed and set aside her work. She noted with chagrin that at last Mr. Darcy looked up from his book; clearly Caroline’s motive all along.
“If you are tired of your book now, Mr. Darcy,” Caroline said with a pointed look at the book he had closed, “you are welcome to join us.”
“As a gentleman, I must decline. I can think of only two motives for your desiring to walk around the room together and I would hate to be in the way with either.”
“What can you mean?” Caroline asked. “Miss Eliza, do you have any idea?”
“I do not have the slightest idea, but I believe he is inclined to be severe with us. We ought to disappoint him and ask nothing of it.” Elizabeth truly wondered if she had the fortitude for yet another round of condescending talk from Mr. Darcy and fervently hoped Miss Bingley would leave him to his own devices. Alas, it was not to be.
“I simply must ask. I cannot comprehend your meaning at all, sir,” Caroline persisted.
“I have no objection to explaining myself. You either walk together as you have secret affairs to discuss or because you know your figures appear to the greatest advantage by walking.” Caroline preened beside Elizabeth, causing her to roll her eyes. Darcy continued, “If the first I should be completely in your way; if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire.” His eyes met Elizabeth’s for a moment, and again she felt that familiar flash of fire and ice that only he managed to provoke.
“What a shocking reply!” Cried Caroline, although clearly she was satisfied with Darcy’s words. “I have never heard anything so terrible before. How shall we punish him?” She asked Elizabeth and ceased their walking directly before him.
Quelling the urge to rise to Mr. Darcy’s bait and unleash her fury, Elizabeth chose to laugh instead. “There is not an easy way, I am sure. But we should return the favor and tease and laugh at him as well. As well as you know him, you ought to have some idea of his weaknesses.”
“There is nothing worth teasing Mr. Darcy over. He has no insecurities, no weaknesses.”
“Oh my! How uncommon, and I hope it remains so. As you know, I dearly love to laugh.” Especially these days, when so much of her life felt out of control.
“Miss Bingley flatters me more than can be,” Mr. Darcy replied. “Even the wisest and best of men may be ridiculed.”
Aha! She had got Darcy to admit to his weakness. He cared too much for the opinion of others. “I own that inconsequential faults and follies divert me, and I laugh at them as often as I can. I hope I am never guilty of deriding the good and just. But I suppose you do not have those sorts of whimsical failings.”
“Perhaps that is not possible for anyone. I have made it a study, however, to avoid the faults which commonly cause learned men to stumble.”
“Such as vanity and pride,” she lifted an eyebrow.
“Vanity is a failing,” he said. “But pride will be under good regulation when one has a truly superior mind.”
Elizabeth turned her head to hide a smile. His words, which must have been intended to anger her by accusing her of being too proud but with inferior birth, were laughable. The man was so blinded to his own nature.
“Do you believe you have found something worth laughing at, after all, Miss Eliza?” Caroline said, her voice dripping with condescension.
“Indeed, no,” Elizabeth replied. “Mr. Darcy is a man without fault.”
“That is impossible,” Darcy said rather forcefully. “I am not pretentious enough to believe that. I have failings but not of the mind. It is not in my disposition to easily forgive vices and evil behavior as much as the world would like. My good opinion once lost, is lost forever.”
“Ah, that is a failing indeed but impossible for me to laugh at.”
“We all have a natural failing that nothing can overcome, I believe.”
“And yours is to hate everyone,” Elizabeth supplied.
“And yours,” he said with an incomprehensible smile, “is to willfully misunderstand them.”
Miss Bingley put an end to the conversation by suggesting music, but Elizabeth could not shake the feeling that Darcy had admitted to a personal evilness and rather supposed such darkness dwelled in everyone. As one who was trusted to support her and her sisters, it was a chilling and fearful thought.
The rest of the house was abed, but Jane could not sleep. As understandable as it would be, it was because she had been in a sleep-like state for three days. The time was not particularly restful. She had spent it feeling as though she battled some unseen evil force. It made sense with what her mother had said. She was simply fighting off the potion’s effects on her powers. Somehow, it seemed darker than that. Jane was hardly likely to suppose what it could mean, however, since it was difficult for her to think of evil in the world at all. Elizabeth had acquainted her with the demons that had attacked her and Catherine. Jane regretted she had not been present to help but was pleased to hear that their powers could reach far.
What kept Jane awake tonight was the arrival of new feelings. It felt as though a veil on the Netherfield house had been lifted. Not everyone was easy to make out, and truthfully she had little desire to invade the privacy of her friends, guardians, and family. One person’s feelings easily reached out to her, though. It had been growing since their first meeting and now, strengthened by the fear that gripped him during her illness, Charles Bingley unequivocally declared his love for her.
I must speak with you, his thoughts filled her mind. Can you walk with me on the morrow after breakfast?
Of course, she replied.
Rest now, love, he said to her and somehow, hearing those thoughts calmed her mind.
On the next morning, Jane arrived in the breakfast room in time to overhear Elizabeth requesting use of the carriage to leave for Longbourn that day. Before she could think of a reason to put Elizabeth off, lest she miss her walk with Bingley, he spoke.
“I would worry about Miss Bennet’s health. An additional day of rest will surely be to her benefit. It is no trouble at all to host you both longer.”
His mother and sisters seemed to rouse to similar sentiments upon his voicing it and would not hear of them leaving. She might have felt selfish for putting her desires before Elizabeth’s, but Jane immediately sensed Elizabeth’s pleasure at Bingley’s attention.
“I have a suggestion on how to spend the day!” Mrs. Tilney exclaimed when breakfast was finished. “Come to the library.”
Sensing that Bingley was hesitant to deny his mother’s request, Jane spoke. “Might I meet with you all later? I find I need a restorative walk.”
Elizabeth opened her mouth, but Jane shot her a quelling look.
Bingley stood. “I would be most pleased to escort you, Miss Bennet.”
Caroline frowned. “Perhaps we all ought to take our exercise.”
Mrs. Tilney nodded her head. “Oh, very well. We can read Lovers’ Vows some other time.” She stood, signalling, as hostess, that the others should as well.
“I prefer the library,” Mr. Darcy said, and Jane felt Bingley’s gratitude.
Caroline seemed indecisive for just a moment until Elizabeth spoke. “Indeed. I would rather read as well.”
Caroline looked at her mother, who graciously directed the situation. “Henry, you will oblige me, will you not?” She asked her step-son who agreed. “And Louisa and Hurst certainly would rather read than walk. Very well, Charles. We shall see you when you return. Be sure to not keep Miss Bennet out too long.”
The lady sailed from the room, and the others followed. Bingley held out his arm and Jane eagerly took it. Stopping in the hall for their outerwear, they were soon walking the gravel paths of Netherfield’s park.
“I have much to tell you,” Bingley said as he guided Jane to a stone bench. He laid his great coat to give added protection from the cold for Jane.
After she had been settled, he began. “Your family told you of the attack your sisters faced?”
“Yes. I confess I do not quite understand how it all worked.”
“True love is unbreakable. Time and distance cannot diminish it.”
Jane nodded her head. Yes, she easily understood that.
Bingley stood and paced. “I…I…” He ran a hand through his hair and beat his hat on his leg. Jane never knew a man could be so adorably flustered.
She grabbed his hand. “I understand,” she said. She did not need his words of love when she could feel his emotions so plainly.
He smiled and sat, entwining their hands. “I love you, Jane. I knew it the moment I first saw you. And you felt it too.”
“Yes,” she said, breathless at his declaration and unable to meet his eye. He gently lifted her chin and drew closer. She was certain he meant to kiss her, and so she hated all the more that a thought would intrude at just that moment. Was this not all too easy and simple? Love at first sight?
Bingley pulled back and shook his head. “Ah, yes. My intention was to explain more.”
Jane blushed, worried that her thoughts wounded him and cost them the romance of the moment.
“Never fear, darling. I will collect my kiss,” he said with a wink. “Your father had not told you the text of the prophecy regarding you and your sisters because he sought to protect you. What he does not yet know, however, is there was a new prophecy made not long before your mother and sisters died.”
“Very few knew of it. By this time, it was suspected there was a spy amidst the Council, and it was just after it became evident your sisters were the Bewitched ones. Before your family could be apprised of the news, the Oracle was killed.”
Jane paled and trembled. How many had died to protect her?
Bingley wrapped his arm around her. “They gave their lives out of love.”
She nodded her head. Again, that she could understand. “But how could this oracle love us? Did she know us?”
“In a way…” Bingley said, and Jane perceived he felt he could not say more on that topic.
“What did the prophecy say?” she asked.
He looked around the gardens. “It is too dangerous to speak it. We cannot risk the enemy learning of it, but I will communicate it to you. Here,” he held out his hands. “It makes it easier.”
Jane put her hands in Bingley’s.
Love can come in many forms. A sisterly bond does not require blood and women were the chosen vessels as this can be forged from an early age. Men can have such a bond as well, but it is usually born through battle and in this case, the witches needed to be united in love before facing their enemies.
Jane nodded her head. Women’s lives were more confining than men’s, even as children. They were more predisposed to cling to each other.
An even more powerful, but volatile, bond is romantic love. A person will foresake all, even their family, to unite with their lover. Such the prophecy declared:
Lo! The Bewitched Sisters I have seen
Unflinching love betwixt them never lean
Carnal lovers bend and break lest one soul
A heart true and powers akin make whole.
Jane thought about Bingley’s words for a moment. She appreciated how un-intrusive he was. He could decipher the prophecy for her. Instead, he allowed her to use her own reason. Our powers are not whole without romantic love? I thought our powers were unconquerable?
As sisters, you are very formidable. With the right lovers, you might truly be unpenetrable. Or…
Broken and destroyed by deceit from the wrong one.
Powers akin… They will have magical powers, and it will be similar to our own. She blushed considering her power with Bingley’s. That is rather vague. Surely many have the ability to interpret feelings…or thoughts.
True. It is not the power which makes one fall in love. It is love plus the power. The spouse is meant to be a support to the sister.
Jane’s heart pounded hard. She loved Charles Bingley. She truly did. Surely he must be the one who was to be her true love and match her power.
There is more to explain, Bingley interrupted her thoughts.
Who else knows of this prophecy? She wondered.
The immediate family of the Oracle, the Council, my family. You have wondered what triggered the return of your powers. When your youngest sister entered society, it signaled that you were all susceptible to an evil suitor. The quartering of the Militia here is no mistake. Someone in their midst must work for the Dark One.
Are…are you all meant for one of us?
I do not mean to be vague, dearest. But we cannot predict who one shall love. When I was told of the revival of the Bewitched Sisters and this prophecy- as my step-father was allowed to inform us and we were inducted into a special chapter of the Council- I did not think I might fall in love with the woman who was an empath. I had not thought of how similar those powers were, but it is more than that. It is as though a shared understanding of our hearts.
It is. Jane agreed.
Besides, with Frederick here there are four of us unwed and only three sisters. Bingley winked.
What does all of this mean for us?
It means, should the enemy know anything about this, he would try to separate us. He would wish to make it look as though I am evil or unworthy in some way. I beg you, if you truly love me, to trust me and believe in my love and honour.
Always. She felt the word echo in her mind, and that is when she realized, she and Bingley had not been speaking with their minds, but rather with their hearts. It must have been the same way Kate and Lizzy had managed to call to her for help even though they were separated by miles and she sick in bed.
The heart understood the heart.
Yes, it does, Bingley spoke to her. He stood and held out his hand.
When Jane slipped her hand in his, she felt a peace settle in her. When his lips claimed her own she knew her soul had found its other half, and she would never let that go.
Pulling back after some minutes he smiled and looked into her dazed eyes. Come, let us return to the house.