Although Elizabeth teased Catherine for being so eager to meet with the Miss Thorpe, by Tuesday morning, she could think of no better idea. With any luck, Miss Thorpe would somehow distract Mr. Collins from her side. It would be worth it to spare Jane the displeasure of Mr. Collins’ attention. However, Elizabeth need not have been worried about Jane for as soon as he came to the breakfast room, Elizabeth found herself the object of his admiration. She knew not how she would tolerate the remainder of his stay at Longbourn.
By the time Catherine proposed they all walk to Meryton with her, Elizabeth was so anxious to leave she was the first with her bonnet and cloak on. Alas, Mr. Collins seemed intent on keeping pace with her. Elizabeth kept from using her powers by noticing the surrounding flora and recalling in which potions they could be employed. Her musings were interrupted by an unexpected but familiar voice just as they reached town.
“Kate! Jane! Lizzy!” Her eldest step-brother, James, called to them from across the street. The girls eagerly ran to his side with Mr. Collins trailing along.
“We had not expected you for another fortnight,” Kate said.
He nodded to a gentleman at his side, “We changed our plans. My estate is doing well and needs no attention from me. As Thorpe hosted me for Christmas, what could be more natural than me to introduce him to my family?”
Elizabeth raised her eyebrows and Jane passed her a stern look. Sometimes it was rather trying to not have your thoughts and emotions to yourself. There was nothing so terrible in thinking that Mama might have liked noticed before James came with a guest. Jane need not have looked so harshly at her.
“John! Here you are!” Elizabeth turned to the new voice of a pretty young lady about Jane’s age. “Miss Morland, what a pleasure! I will depend on you to tell me all the best places to shop and walk here.”
“Nothing would give me greater pleasure!” Kate said before turning to her sisters and introducing them to a Miss Isabella Thorpe.
“Blast! You see I am not used to manners anymore. I forgot to introduce you as well,” James said before announcing his friend as Mr. John Thorpe. That accounted for James not alerting his mother to a guest. Surely Mr. Thorpe would stay with his own relations. Perhaps Elizabeth had deserved Jane’s silent censure after all. Disliking the thought, she noticed how Mr. Thorpe seemed struck by Kate and James could not keep his eyes off his friend’s sister. Elizabeth stole a look at Mr. Collins. The same could not be said of him. He took a step closer to Elizabeth.
The door of the shop behind them opened, and a tall, well-dressed officer emerged. His dark hair and eyes framed his sharp features as he took in the scene before him. Elizabeth felt her breath leave on an exhale. He was the handsomest man she had ever seen.
“Morland! Thorpe! I had not expected to meet you here!” he cried while walking to the gentlemen.
“Wickham!” They echoed in astonishment.
“Well, and why should you be surprised to see me in the town I was raised? Surely if you heard me speak of Meryton once, I spoke of it a hundred times.”
“This is true,” said the as yet unintroduced gentleman. “I do not know how I let it slip my mind when Denny met me in London and told me where the militia was quartered. Only, even if I had remembered it I wouldn’t have expected you to be here, as fond of travel as I know you to be.”
The gentlemen laughed, and the officer cast his eyes over the assembled group. “I should have known Meryton anywhere from your description. As I can recognize your sisters as well. I must appear abominably rude to have spoken before an introduction. Do pardon me, ladies.”
He smiled so sincerely, Elizabeth easily forgave his impertinence. “We do not stand on much ceremony here,” she said.
“Is that so?” he asked as his smile grew.
“Well, girls, allow me to introduce you to Mr. George Wickham. We met at some table or other in London, and here it looks like he’s entered the King’s service! Wickham, to your left, is Miss Isabella Thorpe.”
“A pleasure, Miss Thorpe,” he said after the requisite bow and curtsy. “I should not have guessed her to be one of your sisters, Morland, although, I do not think you gave her justice Thorpe.”
Curious as to how she had been described by her brother, Elizabeth grew bold. “Should we put your powers to the test then?”
A look of interest flicked in his eyes, but Mr. Wickham demurred. “I wouldn’t dare leave off the usual civilities.”
Elizabeth tried to not look disappointed. After all, there was nothing wrong with good manners. James opened his mouth, but Miss Thorpe touched his arm, forestalling him. “Surely as a lady requested the game there can be no harm in playing.”
Elizabeth smiled. She quite liked this young lady.
Mr. Wickham nodded his head. “Very well.” He silently scrutinized each woman for a moment before beginning. “The angel to my right must be Miss Bennet.”
“That was a rather easy guess. She is the only blonde,” Miss Thorpe interjected. “But can you guess which is Miss Morland and which is Miss Elizabeth Bennet?”
“Without a second glance,” he said and winked. “Here, I shall turn around even so nothing in their countenance shall give them away.”
Elizabeth had to contain a laugh at his ease and charm.
After turning, Mr. Wickham began without hesitation. “Miss Morland is the lady in the green spencer, and Miss Elizabeth is the lady in the blue cloak.
“Very good, sir!” Kate exclaimed, and the gentleman turned around. “Well, go on and tell us how you did it. I doubt my brother told you anything about our fashion choices.”
James laughed. “Indeed, no.”
“It was some slight of hand or trickery, I think,” Mr. Collins said with a frown. “You had a prearranged signal with Mr. Morland. My patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, frowns on deceit– even as a joke.”
“There was no trickery, my good sir,” said Mr. Wickham. “Miss Morland looks much more like her brother than Miss Elizabeth does.”
“Well, that is hardly fair!” Kate frowned. “I was prepared for some outstanding show.”
“I am sorry to disappoint you,” he replied. “Perhaps another time.”
“We are walking around the shops with Miss Thorpe this morning, but my aunt is hosting a dinner for several officers on the morrow, and we are invited as well. As you are such good friends with James, I am sure it will be no trouble to add you and Mr. Thorpe as well.”
The sound of horses interrupted their conversation, and Elizabeth turned to see Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy on the street. Mr. Bingley beamed at seeing Jane and the two directed their horses towards the group. As Elizabeth looked toward Jane to see her reaction to Mr. Bingley she could not help but catch sight of Mr. Wickham’s face as he turned white. What a strange reaction! She looked toward Bingley and Darcy and indeed, the latter was red.
During her days at Netherfield, she had gathered that Mr. Darcy must have ice magic, but she had not supposed he was as strongly gifted as he apparently believed himself to be. Now, though, she felt as though a gust of arctic air was directed right at Mr. Wickham. The others seemed to not notice, perhaps it was her sensitivity to the cold due to her power, but she gave little thought to how the others did not notice. The arrogant man was going to freeze Mr. Wickham on the streets of Meryton!
Determining that two could play in such a way, she set her mind to creating heat but not fire directed toward Mr. Darcy. After a few moments, Mr. Wickham seemed thawed enough to be able to touch his hat in salute, but Darcy barely returned the greeting. Angered by his incivility, she enhanced the force of her heat directed at the pompous man. After another minute, Elizabeth was pleased to see Bingley and Darcy take their leave.
It was impossible to not wonder what occurred between the two gentlemen and Elizabeth resolved to ask if Jane had discerned anything on their walk home. James, Mr. Thorpe, and Mr. Wickham joined them on the sisters’ guiding of Miss Thorpe around Meryton. Elizabeth hoped Mr. Collins would join the other gentlemen in more conversation, but unfortunately, he remained steadfast at her side. After showing Miss Thorpe the principal shops, the young people parted. The Morland-Bennet siblings and Mr. Collins then visited Mrs. Phillips, who had been the sister of the first Mrs. Bennet. She eagerly invited Mr. Collins to her dinner the next day and agreed to her nieces’ entreaties to invite Mr. Wickham as well.
After such a busy day, it was at last time to return to Longbourn. Only then did James and Kate manage to induce Mr. Collins in conversation, leaving Elizabeth free to speak with Jane.
“Did you not see the strange interaction between Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy?”
“No, it entirely escaped my notice. Mr. Bingley was speaking with me,” Jane said while blushing.
Elizabeth sighed. “Perhaps Kate noticed, but I had particularly wanted to know if you felt anything pass between them? I am certain Mr. Darcy intended to ice Mr. Wickham there on the street!”
“Lizzy,” Jane said in her scolding elder sister tone. “That is preposterous. Mr. Darcy would never be so reckless, and I believe our father has told the inhabitants of Netherfield, indeed the entire town, about Mr. Collins’ lack of knowledge about the magical world. Mr. Darcy is among those assigned to protect us, he would never expose our powers in such a way.”
“You did not feel the icy blast nor see how pale Mr. Wickham grew. I had to send quite an intense heat surge to counter it.”
“Your prejudice is too strong. What would Papa say?” Jane asked as they entered the house.
“What would I say about what?”
“Aunt Phillips has invited all of us to her house tomorrow,” Elizabeth rushed to say.
Her father raised an eyebrow. “Jane seemed concerned I would not agree with whatever you were scheming or had done. Why would I not approve of you going?”
Jane glanced sideways at Elizabeth silently pleaded for her assistance. “We did not think you would like to go yourself and worry about us without a chaperone,” Jane said.
“I was so surprised at the condescension and favor shown me by Mrs. Phillips!” Mr. Collins exclaimed as he saw Mr. Bennet upon entering the house. “To be sure, I am your relation, but I am nothing to her, and she had not met me above five minutes before she invited me to sup in her home tomorrow! I have never had such attention paid to me in my whole life! What a sweet town Meryton is!”
“There you see,” Mr. Bennet said to his daughters. “There is no cause for alarm. Mr. Collins shall accompany you to your aunt’s tomorrow, and I shall not be troubled to leave the library.” So saying he returned to the very room while the ladies piled into the drawing room. For a moment, Mr. Collins stood awkwardly in the hall, apparently confused on who to follow. Elizabeth stifled a groan when he chose to sit with the ladies and selected the chair closest to her. All his empty praise of her needlework made it difficult to keep her feelings in check.
“How graceful your fingers fly, Cousin Elizabeth!” He exclaimed, and a little while later, “Such delicate work united with a lady of such cleverness. It is a rare sight to behold!”
Elizabeth could not help what happened next. Mr. Collins soon felt the need to mop his brow of perspiration and after another moment or two excused himself to his room.
“Elizabeth,” Mrs. Bennet chided.
“What? Weather is so testy this time of year. He might be overheated from the exertion of our walk earlier.”
The ladies stifled smiles and returned to their work and Elizabeth found that her fingers were far less clumsy without squashing the desire to light her cousin on fire.