It’s been a few weeks since I’ve updated the story but I’ve finished and it’s now on pre-order! https://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Netherfield-Abbey-Prejudice-Witches-ebook/dp/B01GY0FC4I
The next day passed in tedious hours until the young people assembled to go to Mr. and Mrs. Phillips’ party. When they arrived the men were still with Mr. Phillips, so the young ladies had very little to do while Mr. Collins heaped mountains of praise on Mrs. Phillips.
“I wish Miss Thorpe and her sisters had been invited,” said Catherine to Elizabeth.
“I quite liked Miss Thorpe. I do not recall James speaking much of his friend before. Do you?”
“No, but then our brothers seldom speak to us about their friends.”
“I thought maybe Mr. Thorpe caught your eye,” Elizabeth said.
“No! Certainly not. What did you think of Mr. Wickham?” She stole a sly look at Elizabeth.
“I have never met with a handsomer or more charming gentlemen. Did you not think he had the best manners? Friendly and open, while being everything proper.”
She thought she heard a relieved sigh escape Catherine. “Maybe not the most charming, but certainly excellent manners.”
“What? Who else have you met who could compare? Recall that I have been in Society longer than you and—” At last, the moment Elizabeth wished for arrived. The gentlemen entered the drawing room. Several other members of the community had been invited as well, and Elizabeth saw every female eye turn towards Mr. Wickham. He had eyes only for her, however, and sat to her right. They only had time to discuss the weather before Mrs. Phillips opened up the card tables.
“Lizzy, would you mind playing for us?”
Although she was disappointed she would not have the chance to play and possibly talk more with Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth obliged her aunt. She could hardly contain her happiness when Mr. Wickham stood and spoke.
“As all really superior ladies require assistance in turning their pages, I would be pleased if you allow me.” He then turned to Mrs. Phillips, “I mean no offense to my hostess, of course.”
“As you please, sir,” Mrs. Phillips good-naturedly replied.
As Elizabeth looked through her aunt’s music books, looking for a piece she felt would show her skills the best, Mr. Wickham asked her how far Netherfield was from Meryton.
“About a mile.” She frowned at the piece in German it seemed he continually brought forward and chose a simpler melody.
“And…and how long has Mr. Darcy been staying there?”
“About a month,” she said but was unable to let the subject drop. “I understand he has a very large estate in Derbyshire.”
Elizabeth did not contain her surprise when Mr. Wickham replied he was acquainted with Darcy since his childhood. When it came to her describing him as a very disagreeable man, Wickham was astonished to hear her free opinion until she insisted all of Hertfordshire was disgusted with Darcy’s pride.
After he had turned a page, he spoke again. “I cannot pretend to be sorry. Too often men like him are looked at only for their material worth. The world is blinded by his fortune and dignified manners. They see him only as he wishes to be seen.”
Elizabeth could hardly agree more with Mr. Wickham’s estimation of Darcy’s vanity.
“I wonder if he will be in the country for much longer,” he said after another page or two.
“I had not heard of him going away anytime soon,” Elizabeth said. “I hope his being present will not affect your choice to enter the Militia.”
“Oh, no. I will not be driven out by him. It does pain me to see him. His father, the late Mr. Darcy, was one of the best men and my truest friend. It grieves my soul to consider how his son has turned out, but he is the one who ought to fear being in my presence and not the other way around.”
Evidently, Mr. Wickham believed he might have been too bold because he then changed the subject to general things: Meryton, the neighborhood and principal members of society. At the close of the song, Elizabeth was requested to stay at the pianoforte and after selecting another piece, Mr. Wickham took up their previous topic.
“It was the promise of constant and good company from Denny that induced me to join the Militia. Society is essential to me. I have been such a disappointed man that my spirits cannot bear solitude. I was intended to enter the church, as I believe you are inclined to understand why.”
He paused here and Elizabeth wondered if he referenced her magical powers. She had no idea how to discern if new strangers she met with had magical understanding or not. She determined to rely on her intelligence. “It is not the most profitable career, to be sure. My cousin, Mr. Collins,” she nodded to where he sat with her aunt, “tells us he has been given a living by a very wealthy lady named de Bourgh. So, for some, there is ample opportunity to be well-settled and certainly in more comfort than the Militia offers,” she observed.
“It is more than that,” Mr. Wickham said. “All my life I have been drawn to the church. It is the position most gentlemen of my peculiar temperament hold,” he raised his eyebrows and paused.
This allowed her to understand his implication. He was of magical nature. “I am sorry for the Church’s loss, but I believe perhaps it is mine and all of Meryton’s gain to have you in the Militia just now.” Elizabeth felt a strange connection to him. In the weeks since learning of her powers and role in the magical world she had frequently felt too much was beyond her control and danger lurked everywhere. In Mr. Wickham’s presence, her instincts finally calmed, and she no longer felt the fire simmer just below the surface, ready to defend herself.
“There certainly may be some great Providence in the work of all of this,” he acknowledged, “but it still does not mitigate Darcy’s rejection of his father’s wishes and the natural order of things.”
“Indeed! But why would he be so dishonest?”
“He feels the distinction of his mother’s rank far too much. They are nobles.”
“Yes, I have heard,” she said.
“Their allegiance is very much to the Crown.”
Elizabeth recalled her father’s history lesson. The crown and the magical world were sometimes at odds with each other. If Darcy’s mother had been non-magical and he had a preference for those relatives, then it would explain his rejection of the magical order of things. She had thought Darcy hated everyone in general, but perhaps it was just the magical world. However, his friendship with the Bingleys and Tilneys did not make sense, then.
“I am surprised he would be friends with Mr. Bingley and General Tilney then,” Elizabeth said when the music allowed speech again.
“They are rich, I presume?”
“Netherfield is easily worth twice as much as Longbourn and Mr. Bingley has even more, although no estate of his own yet.”
“Ah, it makes perfect sense. Darcy’s pride never entirely leaves him, but with the rich—regardless of anything else about the—he can be very pleasing.”
Elizabeth furrowed her brow. “Mr. Bingley and the General’s younger son are very amiable, and charming young men who I had not thought would be so awed by Darcy’s wealth when they grew up in style. Darcy must quite conceal his devious nature from them.”
“Indeed. You are wise enough to know to beware such traits. There is good about him. He is cried up as the very best of brothers, and he has a very strong sense of familial duty.”
“Yes, I recall him mentioning his unforgivable temperament. I am sorry that it has been directed at you. But what sort of girl is Miss Darcy?”
“It pains me to say this of any Darcy, but she is turning out too much like her brother–very proud and too enamored with her mother’s family and their ways.”
“Who did you say their mother was?”
“Lady Anne was the daughter of the Earl of ___. Her sister is the Lady Catherine de Bourgh that you mentioned gave a living to your cousin.”
Elizabeth was surprised at Wickham’s information. The Earl was the richest man in England and one of the most influential peers. Understanding that Lady Catherine was his aunt, Elizabeth now knew there was a general family weakness for overbearing haughtiness. She had thought the topic over, just as supper arrived when Mr. Wickham spoke again as they put the music away.
“Lady Catherine’s daughter will be a very wealthy heiress, and it is believed the cousins will soon marry to unite the two estates.”
“Poor Miss Bingley,” Elizabeth said with a smile.
Supper did not allow for more private conversation, but Elizabeth observed Wickham’s manners throughout the evening. He was open and friendly with everyone. She could not get him, or what he had said, out of her head and resolved to confide in Jane, at the very least, as soon as possible. Focusing on Wickham, made Mr. Collins’ inane prattle quite bearable.
The following morning, Elizabeth acquainted Jane and Catherine with everything she learned from Mr. Wickham.
“You grow more ridiculous, Lizzy,” Jane cautioned. “Mr. Darcy could never behave so badly.”
“Do you think Mr. Wickham a liar then?” Elizabeth probed her sister.
Jane remained quiet for a moment. “No. No, I had no sense of him being artificial or deceitful. There must be some great misunderstanding between the two.”
“It is unlikely that there could be such a misunderstanding as that,” Elizabeth said.
“Mr. Darcy could not be so dishonest and evil, Lizzy,” said Kate. “Mr. Tilney’s power is to discern evil.”
“Some things may be beyond his comprehension. He did not know how to help Jane.”
Catherine immediately blushed. “That was not his fault. Besides, he was gone most of the time Jane was ill.”
Elizabeth threw her hands up in frustration. “Very well, everyone is perfectly pleasant and agreeable and not at fault for anything ever.”
“That is not what we are saying,” Jane cautioned. “You must admit you have unjustly disliked Mr. Darcy since his words at the ball.”
“He has refused to mix with the rest of Meryton Society. You have seen it with your own eyes. You have not been able to read the feelings of anyone from Netherfield. I felt his assault on Mr. Wickham the other day, and now I have been told that Mr. Darcy not only disregarded general societal rules but the magical order of things when he is supposed to be a protector to our powers. Do you not see the harm in trusting him so implicitly simply because he keeps good company?”
Before Jane or Catherine could retort they were called from the shrubbery where their conversation was to the house by the arrival of Mr. Bingley and the ladies of Netherfield.
“The General sends his regrets,” Mrs. Tilney said. “He shall return this afternoon, but we desired to bring our invitation today.”
Despite Mrs. Tilney’s civilities, the ladies did not stay long. Elizabeth would have been more annoyed, but she noticed Mr. Bingley’s eyes seldom left Jane’s.
Catherine was unsure if she should be relieved at Mr. Tilney’s absence or feel slighted. Deciding it best to put all thought of Mr. Tilney from her mind, she sent a note to her new friend instead. She could hardly contain her surprise when later that afternoon, a note came from Netherfield for her. Miss Tilney invited Catherine to go walking with her on the morrow if it did not rain. Catherine had been eager to know Eleanor Tilney better, so she might learn more of the brother. Since her misunderstanding at Netherfield, Catherine had thought it folly to advance intimacy on that side but could not deny Miss Tilney her request. She sent her reply directly.
The next morning brought rain, and Catherine gave up the walk with Miss Tilney as impossible. She sat in the drawing room, just in case, all morning. Mr. Collins also sat with the ladies and Catherine’s head swam with his empty compliments to her mother and references to his patroness. He seemed to give backhanded compliments to Lizzy and Jane stared dreamily out the window.
Just as the rain began to ease, James arrived with Isabella and Mr. Thorpe. “We have come to see who would like ride with us to St. Albans.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “St. Albans is much too far.”
“Too far you say?” Mr. Thorpe asked. “Why it is only about twenty miles from here. We can be there and back before dinner.”
“I daresay you could get there before dinner, let alone tour the area and return,” Jane said.
“I have the fastest team this side of London. I would bet anyone,” Mr. Thorpe continued. “Morland’s team is good too.”
Isabella approached Catherine. “My dearest Catherine, say you will come with us.”
“Miss Tilney had asked to walk with me,” she said, “but then it rained.”
“I am sure she does not mean to come now. We saw her riding with a gentleman in a smart phaeton in town, did we not Bella?”
“Oh, I suppose you are correct. She must have thought it was too dirty to walk.”
“Come on, Kate,” James said.
“Well, if you are confident Miss Tilney was already out. I would like to see a real Abbey like in the books I read. Mama, what do you think?”
Mrs. Bennet looked out the window. “Stop in the library so your father can give you some charms for weather and speed.”
The site of four beaming young people were enough thanks to her, and she shooed them out of the room. After having their journey sufficiently blessed by Mr. Bennet, the foursome set out. Passing through Meryton, Catherine was shocked to see Miss Tilney and her brother walking toward Longbourn. She could not miss the look of disappointment they gave her.
“Oh. Stop!” Catherine called to Mr. Thorpe. “Stop! That was Miss Tilney! Why did you tell me she was out riding?”
Mr. Thrope merely laughed and clucked to his horses.
“Stop or I’ll jump out.”
“No, you will not,” he said.
Catherine folded her arms over her chest. “I suppose I will not but I am very cross with you. Why did you lie to me?”
“It was a mistake, that’s all. Now, cheer up. How am I supposed to enjoy this outing if you’re angrier than a riled up hornet’s nest? I tell ya, Miss Cath it doesn’t do you a lick of good to frown like that. A man likes to see a lady smile at him.”
“I will have no more smiles for you,” she muttered under her breath.
Believing his words had made a change on her, he perfectly imagined some small smile on her lips. As he drove, he told her of his exploits and “accomplishments” at University.
“I do believe you mention drinking altogether too much,” Catherine said.
“Nonsense! The world would be better if they had their bottle a day!”
“A whole bottle!”
“Yes! ‘Tis the best medicine for men. Why your brother—”
“Thorpe!” James was calling from behind them. “Thorpe!” He called again, and Mr. Thorpe stopped his team.
“We had better turn back. The clouds are gathering again, and we have been out for an hour and passed probably only seven miles with at least another eight to go. We set out too late today.”
“No, I think you must be wrong. Surely we have gone more than ten miles.”
“Your sister agrees with me. Mother will be angry if I have Kate out in the rain.”
Miss Thorpe addressed her brother. “John, we really should turn back. We will never be on time for dinner if we don’t go now.”
James and Isabella turned around, and Mr. Thorpe did likewise. Catherine hardly knew what to make of the outing. She was disappointed to not visit St. Albans but more upset that her new friends deceived her regarding Miss Tilney. That she and Mr. Tilney would have another reason to think less of her was hard to bear! Still, as they drove on, she determined she would at least apologize for being held captive against her will and lied to even if she could not speak and address the matter of thinking their father a murderer.
The clouds opened up while they were still some miles from Longbourn and they arrived at the door soaked. Isabella claimed not to mind at all, that the adventure was worth any cost, especially with such company. She directed a look at James, who returned her smile.
“Mrs. Tilney and her daughters paid a call on us,” Isabella said. “She was keen to invite us to her ball next week as she had learned we were such good friends to your brother. How exciting! You must come over and dress with me. I will depend on you to tell me just how things must be at so fine a place.”
Catherine confused as to why her friend would think she knew more about the world and elegant balls could only nod her head before Isabella and her brother whisked away.
Once inside, she scurried upstairs for her bedchamber and warm clothes, happy to have a reason to avoid the drudgery of the drawing room.
In the days that passed, rain continued to fall. There were no more visits from Isabella or a chance to speak with Miss Tilney. Many letters were sent to the former, but Catherine believed it better to talk in person to the latter. She hoped she would have the courage and peace of mind at the ball which was quickly coming.
Besides the obvious enjoyment of a night of dancing and company of friends, the Longbourn family looked forward to the ball for another reason. Mr. Collins visit would draw to a close soon after. The young ladies were eager to continue their magical training, and even Mrs. Bennet had to admit she longed for his absence as he so clearly viewed every article in Longbourn as a future position.
Mr. Bennet looked forward to his heir’s absence perhaps most of all. In his first marriage he had established the custom of passing many hours in his study, and while his next wife did not drive him there out of silly talk, she was frequently needed to oversee the children and maids, and the comfortable routine of his private apartment continued. Mr. Collins was a most unwelcome intruder, made all the worse by the suspicion that he intended to ask for a daughter’s hand in marriage at the end of his stay. He must be refused, by both the lady and the father, but Mr. Bennet anticipated little pleasure in the ordeal.