While Jane and Bingley were outside talking, the rest of the party gathered in the library. Henry grabbed Darcy even just before entering.
“Darcy, I do not like this. I shall not read this.” Henry looked at him for a moment. “I do not think you do either. I do not trust the girls not to enchant the text as we read it. If either of us is destined for a Bewitched Sister—” He stopped at Darcy’s hard glare. “I only said if! If either of us is destined for one and we are enchanted to love another instead, it could have disastrous consequences.”
“They would hardly put a spell on you since you are their brother.” He ran a hand through his hair. “What would you have me do, Henry? It is your mother.”
“Step-mother, you mean.”
“Darcy, Henry, come in from the hall you will have to keep us waiting will you?” The very lady called out.
“Leave the matter to me, Henry.” They entered the room at last. “My dear Mrs. Tilney,” Darcy said. “My tastes do not lean towards dramatic readings. Shall we not debate the synopsis and merits of the play instead?”
The woman troubled her bottom lip. She looked at her daughters and then Miss Elizabeth before replying. “Of course, Mr. Darcy. Are we all familiar with the text?”
The others in the room look for Elizabeth. “Indeed, ma’am. I have seen it in London,” was Elizabeth’s reply.
Mrs. Tilney motioned for the others too sit, and Henry sees the topic you must.
“I have strong opinions about Anhalt,” said Henry. “As a clergyman, I find his position most of unquarrelsome.”
Darcy laughed. “What is there to quarrel over the clergyman?
“Surely, his poverty quarrels with himself,” said Elizabeth. “As well as inhibiting his chances with the fair Amelia.”
“You understand matters there,” said Henry.
“The General was simply scandalized at how little you get paid dear,” said Mrs. Tilney.
“Mr. Darcy,” said Elizabeth. “What do you think of the Baron? If he is a representation of the aristocratic class?”
“You asked me a question I cannot answer. For I am not and a noble,” said Mr. Darcy.
“Oh!” cried Caroline. “But you do have noble blood. The Matlock house is of old blood.”
Mrs. Tilney eagerly nodded her head. “And do not forget your magical legacy.”
“I fear we have wandered from the topic,” replied Darcy. “Miss Elizabeth asked if I agreed with the Baron’s depiction. I believe my answer is that people of every class leave lives of dissipation.”
“Even the clergy?” Elizabeth asked with a smile on her lips.
Henry laughed. “Unfortunately, I can agree with that sentiment.”
Darcy scowled. “Indeed.”
“And what do you think of these old vows between the lovers?” Caroline asked.
“I cannot think that there was any true love on the Baron’s side for Agatha,” said Elizabeth. “If he had truly loved her all those years before, then her lower status would have meant nothing. He loved money and himself.”
“Is that is not a rather simplified understanding of the world?” Caroline asked. “Shirley,” she said turning toward Darcy, “you would say the world is more complex, Mr. Darcy?”
“The world does have high expectations for the marriage mart. However, a man must answer to his integrity above society’s madates.”
Caroline smiled at his reply, leading Elizabeth to believe the other lady thought it possible to ensnare the gentleman.
“What do you believe Agatha ought to have done, Miss Elizabeth?” Darcy asked.
“I believe that marriage to the Baron, after his terrible treatment of her for all those years, should have been her only answer. If his honor was roused enough to wish to marry her, he might have been prevailed upon to provide her a home and and income.”
Caroline, Mrs. Tilney, and Mrs. Hust gasped.
“What what lady would wish to live in such a way?” exclaimed Caroline. “There is no establishment is respectable as marriage for a woman.”
“I would rather be destitute than marry in that situation.”
“Such unwise words from someone so young!” Mrs. Tilney reprimanded. “I would hope my daughters would have better sense. A man is allowed his…indescretions.”
“I do not mean to say that a man must be perfect and flawless, anymore than I would say a woman should be without fault. There are certain fallings more prone to the male sex. I only believe that the right kind of temperament is necessary to be happy in marriage. A man who had discarded her for decades and has only just had a sudden change of heart. She would be foolish, after so many other disappointments in life and at his hands, to trust in that again. Once married she has little choice to secure her future in an independent manner. I have great respect for the marital state, but women need the right sort of man.”
Darcy leaned forward while the others mulled over her words. “You believe there is something specific about the nature of women that requires the right sort of husband, but you did not say men might have need of the right sort of woman. Did I understand you correctly, Miss Elizabeth?”
“Yes, that is what I meant. Women are at such a disadvantage; they had rather be sure they are gaining a husband that will treat them with respect and affection lest they are better off to stay as a spinster or poor relation, or even a street beggar as was Agatha’s case.”
Darcy stroke his jaw. “This belief is born out of personal experience?”
Elizabeth blushed a little. “Naturally, I can speak towards a woman’s position in life more than I could a gentleman’s.”
“And having only sisters certainly does not help.”
Elizabeth arched a brow. “I have heard you have a sister, Mr. Darcy. Does that make you an expert on all things female?”
“Mr. Darcy is the kindest brother in the Kingdom!” Caroline attemtped to interject herself into the conversation without success.
“No, I would not think that I know everything about the female mind. I do understand how rapid a lady’s imagination is. She will leap from admiration to love and matrimony in a span of seconds.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Perhaps your experience, too, is limited. Your sister is very young, I understand.”
“But she is so accomplished for her age!” cried Caroline.
“Age brings maturity then? If that be the case, then I would say a gentleman of age and wisdom understands that he needs the right sort of woman as well. Not every lady with a pretty face and passable manners can captivate him.”
Elizabeth felt the fire crackle in her again. He alluded, again, to the night of the assembly in Meryton. “I did not reference captivation. You have proved my point exactly. A woman must consider a man’s income, his family and standing in the world. His treatment of her and others in his care. She must have faith and trust in his good character and that it will not bend or change through the course of life. A man is not beholden to anyone. Therefore, while he may like a little bit of money out of his wife, considers if her beauty can last and whether her accomplishments are superior to her peers and can tempt him into matrimony. He wants a hostess and a portrait; a caricature of a woman, not a flesh and blood wife.”
“A man is not beholden to anyone?” Darcy cried. “Do you not consider he may have a family duty to fulfil? Others to care for and being prudent on money is only sound.”
Elizabeth opened her mouth to retort, but Darcy pressed on. “Nor did I mean such superficial and changeable things such as beauty or ability. Her mind, madam, will be his constant companion. She must be suited to compliment his temperament and powers.”
“Then I rather wonder at some men needing a wife at all,” she said with derision. “Some gentlemen have money aplenty and are the heads of their family and their own temperament are so comprehensive that they would not have need of anyone else. While their powers,” here she looked at the windows which had begun a frost from the inside before returning her gaze to Darcy, “gain so much acclaim, he would have no need of another to strengthen his own. And you forget, sir, that I have several step-brothers.”
“I fear I must disagree with you one count, Miss Elizabeth,” Henry at last spoke. “No person, be it gentleman or lady, can live a solitary life. We all have need of each other.”
“Well said, Henry,” Mrs. Tilney said and then rose, causing the others to as well. “I rather think some music would do us all good before we must separate to dress for dinner.”
They heard the voices of Jane and Bingley in the hall. “Excuse me,” said Elizabeth. “I should see to Jane.”
She fled the room as fast as her limbs could carry her. They burned with fire…or was it from the cold?
Catherine walked with Mrs. Allen into Meryton.
“What a shame to hear about that maid,” Mrs. Allen said.
Catherine mutely nodded her head. The beauty of spending time with Mrs. Allen was that so little thought was required. She would carry the conversation entirely.
“Come, dear. Some shopping will pick you right up. Rumor has it that the Tilneys are going to give a ball! We will have a nice, new gown made up.”
Catherine followed her sponsor into the small shop but could not look at the fabric with any ease. She did not wish to go to Netherfield ever again. What must Henry think of her?
Having failed to gain even a smile from her charge, Mrs. Allen declared they would next go to the milliner. As they left the shop, they nearly collided with a woman followed by several young ladies. After the requisite pardons, it was revealed Mrs. Allen had an old acquaintance with the other lady, named Mrs. Thorpe. They had been school friends but had only seen each other once since their marriages, and that was upwards of fifteen years before. The Thorpes were now visiting a relation in Hertfordshire. In due time, the women recalled the presence of the young ladies around them.
“This is Isabella, my eldest daughter,” Mrs. Thorpe explained.
Upon Catherine’s introduction, she was surprised at the reactions of the others.
“How very much like her brother Miss Morland looks!” Miss Thorpe exclaimed.
“Indeed!” said her mother.
As they began to explain their history with Catherine’s eldest brother, she recalled that James had spent a portion of last Christmas with a family by the name of Thorpe. Immediately the Thorpe ladies declared a wish to know Catherine better, and she could not dislike the idea. A new friendship would be just the thing to forget the pangs of what might have been a hopeful romance.
The two young women felt immediate bonds of friendship and walked the shops of Meryton together, with Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Thorpe following behind. When the time came for the groups to part, the young ladies arranged to walk together in two days’ time. Isabella would get to meet Catherine’s older sisters. As Catherine walked home, she acknowledged the only thing she could look forward to more than walking with Isabella again was the return of her sisters from Netherfield.
The next morning, Catherine bounced on her toes in excitement as Jane and Lizzy arrived.
“You will never guess what has happened!” Catherine said. Jane seemed to immediately perceive everything, but Lizzy made several silly conjectures.
“No, Mr. Allen has not joined the circus,” Catherine frowned. “In fact, Mrs. Allen was worried about his foot. Mr. Jones cannot help his gout.”
Catherine looked at her older sisters for a minute before the news gushed from her lips. “I have made a new acquaintance! The family already knows James and they are visiting nearby relatives. Mrs. Allen knew Mrs. Thorpe when they were at school.”
“And does Mrs. Thorpe have a handsome son? For what else would put such a smile on your face?”
Catherine frowned again. She had done her best to not think about the humiliating incident at Netherfield. Her heart was certainly not ready to move on from Henry Tilney.
“No, Elizabeth,” she said in a patronizing way which earned an eye roll. “I met a sophisticated lady and already feel as though she is a dear friend. She is to join me on a walk to Meryton tomorrow. Say you will come.”
“Anything and anyone is preferable to spending any more time at Netherfield with the intolerable Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth declared.
“Girls, come to the drawing room,” Mr. Bennet said, and the ladies followed. He informed the housekeeper they were not to be bothered and shut the doors. The girls looked at him with anxiety.
“Shortly before the attack on Kate and Lizzy,” he said, “I received a letter from my cousin, Mr. William Collins. He is my heir that is to inherit this estate. Although we are magical, England’s laws still exist. It is my greatest regret that I cannot secure the estate for my children. At least, your elder brothers are set through Mr. Morland’s legacy.”
Catherine had three elder brothers. Their father had left a small estate which held the incumbency of two livings. Her eldest brother, James, was now the master of a small estate worth four hundred pounds a year in Wiltshire. He would become a clergyman as well, to add to his income. He could, indeed, obtain both livings but had promised the lesser one to his next brother, Richard, who was still at Oxford. Catherine’s third brother was meant to become a barrister, and the little ones would join the navy, but they were not yet old enough. Her sisters, Sally, and Becky, were at a local seminary.
The Morland girls each would have three thousand pounds, and Mrs. Bennet had left five thousand pounds to her surviving daughters who could not be made over to his next wife. Had Mr. Bennet, fewer children, he might have managed to save more, for the second Mrs. Bennet was everything economical. However, his wife had ten children of her own upon their marriage. Jane and Lizzy would have two hundred pounds a year to divide among themselves until they married, but Mr. Bennet’s widow would have only four hundred pounds a year to divide among all the children at home and the older sons until they entered their professions.
“It is no secret that I detested my cousin Bart Collins. We quarrelled over our magical blood, and he insisted that his family would never know it. Now, he has died, and his son wishes to extend an olive branch to our family.”
“How does he wish to do so?” Mrs. Bennet asked. She was as sensible as anyone that the family would need his support should Mr. Bennet not live for many more years.
Mr. Bennet chose to read Mr. Collins’ letter.
I know that my father had a long disagreement with you for many years. However, I do not think I do him a dishonor by attempting this communication with you as I was ordained this past Easter, and surely reconciliation is very Christian-like, and I have waited two years out of deference to his memory. I have been so fortunate as to gain the patronage of the one of the most esteemed peeresses in the kingdom, the Right Honorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of the late Sir Lewis de Bourgh. I am quite sensible to the injury the entail would give to your daughters and Mrs. Bennet’s children, and so I come quite ready to offer every possible method of amends. If this is acceptable to you, I am at liberty to arrive on Monday the 18th and can stay until following Saturday. I send respectful compliments to your wife and family.
“I have replied, and he is arriving tomorrow as proposed. Remember, he does not know of the magical world, and we cannot risk him learning of it and exposing us at such a vulnerable time.”
“You do not trust him?” Catherine asked.
“I do not know him,” Mr. Bennet replied.
“He sounds a bit ridiculous,” Elizabeth observed.
“Yes, and adults seldom take the news of learning about the magical world well,” Mr. Bennet replied.
“What can he mean by his willing to make amends to us?’ Catherine asked.
Mr. Bennet shook his head. “The Collins family had no independent income. Bart was a yeoman farmer but upon his death, his widow gave up the farm to take rooms at Bath. William gaining the patronage of a noble is quite amazing. I fear the only thing he can offer as amends is a permanent place to you all at Longbourn.”
“That would be rather a hard promise to keep should he marry,” Elizabeth said.
“Precisely,” Mr. Bennet said. “He means to offer marriage to one of you.”
“But we don’t even know him!” Elizabeth cried aghast. “He can’t just assume he would fall in love with one of us, and it would be reciprocated.”
“My dear,” Mrs. Bennet said calmly, “marriages are often forged on nothing more than familial alliances. It does not mean they must always be cold and unloving.” She smiled at her husband, who returned it with one of his own.
“Fear not, Lizzy,” Mr. Bennet said as he redirected his gaze to his daughters. “I would not approve a marriage to him. It is wisest, as I mentioned before, to keep the presence of magic in Meryton a secret from him, and obviously, that would be impossible if he married a magical lady, let alone a Bewitching Sister.”
“That is certainly a relief,” Catherine said.
Elizabeth was staunch in her opinions that marriages required love, but Jane and Catherine believed every person had a perfect mate, and love was relatively easily formed. Elizabeth vehemently disagreed. At times, she insisted she would be a spinster and never marry.
“Let us not worry ahead of time,” Mrs. Bennet chided. “For now, we must await for the gentleman to arrive.”
With nothing of more significance to report of the day, the hours passed until at last the family went abed, each anxious in their own way for tomorrow’s meeting with Mr. Collins.
Jane kicked Elizabeth under the table at dinner the following night. Mr. Collins had arrived at his appointed hour and was as ridiculous as Elizabeth and their father had expected. They alternated sharpening their wit on the unsuspecting man and could hardly quell their urges to laugh. Jane had to admit she would feel worse if she detected any hint that Mr. Collins perceived the slight his hosts were giving him. Instead, he was entirely oblivious to the crafty insults slung at him as he rambled on about the magnificence of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s person, wealth, estate, character, and judgement, with the situation of his parsonage as the added relish of his recipe of perfect delight. Whoever married him would have to be a very long suffering lady, indeed!
Alas, it seemed her close attention to perceive his feelings was noticed by the man in question. He began to speak almost exclusively to her. Sending her parents a desperate look, Mrs. Bennet pulled Mr. Collins aside after dinner. Jane was not told the contents of their conversation until much later that night.
“I noticed Mr. Collins paying you a great deal of attention, Jane,” Mrs. Bennet said to her as Jane readied for bed that evening.
“Yes, I tried to discourage him,” she replied.
“I know, dearest. He simply is blind to anything he does not wish to believe. I do think, however, that I have managed to bring you ease for the remainder of his stay.”
“Really?” Jane’s voice raised in pitch, mixing disbelief with excitement. “You have my most extreme gratefulness if that is the case.”
“I hinted that I expected you would soon be engaged.”
Her words immediately caused Jane to blush and look away.
Mrs. Bennet took Jane’s hand and led her to the bed. “You know I do not have premonitions of the future, dear. I am speaking only as a mother and a woman in love who can recognize the signs. Did you get to spend much time with Mr. Bingley at Netherfield before your return?”
“No, I did not get to spend much time with him, but the time I did have was time well spent,” she replied with a soft smile on her face.
“I am very happy for you,” her step-mother replied.
Mrs. Bennet squeezed Jane’s hand and then stood to depart. She was at the door when Jane broke the silence.
“Mama? Oh never mind,” Jane said quickly.
Mrs. Bennet turned to face Jane. “What is it?”
“How did you know you truly loved your husband? How did you know he was the soul matched to yours?”
Mrs. Bennet smiled. “I didn’t. I loved him, and he loved me, and we simply had faith that love could take care of the rest of it.”
Jane’s smile vanished. She had hoped for more definite knowledge.
“But you know,” Mrs. Bennet said with a far away look in her eyes, “Lizzy is not wrong to think that most people have only one true love in their life. Many people remarry and I expected nothing more than safety for Kate and security for my children when I remarried to your father. I found so much more. I assumed Morland was my lasting love of a lifetime, but I was wrong.”
“How did you know when Papa was?”
“If you have to ask, then that is your answer. One day, I realized I didn’t have to ask any longer. I loved him from eternity and back. It took time. I suspect that is all you need as well, my dear.”
She kissed Jane on the forehead and then left.
As Jane laid in her bed, that night she meditated on her step-mother’s words. She loved Bingley, but was she truly certain she loved him enough? That he was her one true love for a lifetime? If the prophecy he disclosed to her was correct, her union with a false heart would prove disastrous. Yes, she would not be in a hurry.