The next night, the family attended dinner at Sir William Lucas’s home.
“Mr. Bingley seems quite taken with Jane,” Charlotte Lucas said to Elizabeth.
“I think he is!”
“Does she return his affection?”
“You are our dearest friend in the world, surely you see she does!”
“Yes, but he does not know her as we do. She should make her feelings plainer.”
Elizabeth scoffed. “You know you would never do that. You would never allow the whole world to see your thoughts and hopes; to gossip about them and intrude on your privacy and all before you even know a man’s character.”
“Happiness in marriage is nothing but chance. If she knew him her entire life, she would have no greater chance of felicity than she does now. People change too much and grow unalike through the years. At any rate, it is best to not know the faults of the person you will spend your life with. Then you can approach the beginning of your marriage with nothing but excitement and hope rather than trepidation and regret.”
Elizabeth was amazed at her friend’s opinion, but could not reply before Colonel Forster, of the regiment, approached them.
“A fine evening, ladies,” he said with utmost civility.
“It is! A wonderful means of enjoyment,” Elizabeth said. She felt a chill run through her, causing her to glance around and notice Mr. Darcy nearby.
“I had thought young ladies preferred dancing to anything else,” said the Colonel. “Or so my dear soon to be wife says.”
“Then you shall have to host a ball for her once your regiment is settled! Happiness in marriage is easiest secured through the happiness of the wife!” The Colonel was an amiable gentleman and laughed at Elizabeth’s tease.
“Matilda will be happy to hear there are other ladies here that long for balls. I am afraid she has far too romantic of an opinion of my career, but then she knows nothing of the real dangers.” He gave Elizabeth a pointed look, and her smile faltered some. She had not considered before that the militia was posted in Meryton at the exact time General Tilney returned to Netherfield.
Jane turned the conversation to how the Colonel found Meryton and his favorite parts of winter. Elizabeth grew quiet, allowing her mind to wander.
“You are considering something, Eliza,” Charlotte said in her ear.
“Did you see how Mr. Darcy was listening to our conversation?”
“He seemed most attentive.”
“Well, he must mean to intimidate me with his stern looks, but I will not allow it.”
“Eliza,” Charlotte cautioned.
“Oh, do not fear he will end up singed. I am still more comfortable with my tart mouth than with my magical powers. He already despises me, I may as well be impertinent. Ouch!” Elizabeth rubbed her ribs where Charlotte had elbowed her. “Why did you? Oh.”
Mr. Darcy had approached. Charlotte seemed to suggest with her eyes that Elizabeth get to work on her plans, and so she did. “I daresay the Militia will host a ball before too long. I think I was uncommonly persuasive and eloquent in my teasing.”
“Indeed, you were most passionate; but it is a subject which makes most ladies articulate.”
Elizabeth met his eyes, feeling fire crackle in her. “You do not believe we are intelligible on other topics? We are only enthusiastic about dancing and other fripperies?”
Charlotte grabbed Elizabeth’s hand. “I see Mama motioning to me. It will now be your turn to be teased, Eliza. It is time to open the pianoforte, and you know you are Papa’s favorite performer.”
Elizabeth sighed. “You are such a strange friend! If my vanity had taken a musical turn, you would have been invaluable. As it is, I had much rather not play before those in the habit of hearing the very best.” She felt herself begin to color as she hated to be the subject of pity or scorn.
“Nonsense, you are one of the best Meryton has to offer,” Charlotte soothed.
Realizing it was useless to argue and perhaps worse to seem so insecure before Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth allowed herself to be led to the instrument after a flippant comment directed at Mr. Darcy. She knew herself to be agitated but underestimated how much. Her fingers tingled and hovered somewhere between ice cold and burning, causing her to stumble over a few notes. Nor was her voice as robust as she would have liked, but the audience seemed to not notice and politely asked her for more songs. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Jane whispering to Charlotte. Charlotte’s younger sister, Maria, was soon brought forward, and Elizabeth retreated to the safety of her sisters.
“Kate, you look confused,” she said as she reached Catherine’s side.
“I do not see Mr. Tilney here,” she replied.
“Mr. Bingley has said that he went to London on an errand and is expected to return with their brother in a few days. Frederick is now a captain in Colonel Forster’s regiment.”
Catherine seemed to feel the loss of her favorite acutely, and Elizabeth contained her urge to roll her eyes. She barely knew Henry Tilney, and he would return in a matter of days. Why did her sister look so struck by the news?
Jane tapped her foot, a sure sign that she interpreted Elizabeth’s feelings.
Maria Lucas began a lively tune. “Look, Kate,” Elizabeth said. “They are rolling up the rug and here come a few officers. Will you not dance with one of them? That will improve your spirits.”
She mutely nodded and acquiesced when asked to dance. Mr. Bingley solicited Jane for her hand as well. Having been on display quite enough for her tastes for one evening, Elizabeth was happy to not have been asked to dance. Seeing Charlotte across the room, she made her way to her friend.
Passing by Sir William Lucas, he stopped her with an audacious request, to dance with Mr. Darcy! Entirely coerced by Sir William, Mr. Darcy asked her to dance, but she had already promised herself to never dance with him. Why should she give consequence to such an arrogant man? Unsurprisingly, Mr. Darcy did not press for her hand, and as Sir William could not persuade her to accept the gentleman, she was at last free of them both.
In her dance with Mr. Bingley, Jane smiled. The ease of their previous encounters was returned. When she did not exert herself to extend her powers, she felt she could understand Mr. Bingley. Or perhaps she only felt what she hoped he felt? Magical powers certainly did not make courtships any easier. Worse still, she was rather certain he could understand her thoughts, something she had never suffered through with other potential suitors. On the other hand, Mr. Bingley was the epitome of amiability, surely if he knew of her attachment he would find some way to discourage her if he did not return the sentiments. Content with her own thoughts, she did not take the time to further ponder Catherine’s strange feelings earlier in the evening. She was unusually quiet in the carriage on the way home, but Jane believed it simply due to the disappointment of missing Mr. Tilney.
Catherine said goodnight to her sisters and sat at her desk. She looked over her journal entry from last night. She had recorded her premonition of the evening at Lucas Lodge, but it was entirely incorrect. She had foreseen Mr. Tilney in attendance and dancing with her. Eleanor Tilney seldom left her side. Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy had been absent, leaving Jane noticeably concerned. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst were forced to mingle with their society instead of standing with Mr. Darcy in a corner in their usual derogatory way. Instead, Mr. Tilney was missing, and his sister barely met an eye the entire evening. Jane did not look as though she enjoyed Mr. Bingley’s company more than anyone else’s and Mr. Darcy spent a remarkable amount of time near Elizabeth, something Miss Bingley noticed. She then kept him in her clutches most of the evening.
Realizing she was no more gifted in her powers than anything else, discouraged her greatly. She began to wish she never had the ability of foresight returned to her. Mr. Bennet had not shared the text of the prophecy with the sisters, and she could not imagine how such a gift would prove invaluable to end evil in the world. As it was, her abilities were unreliable. Everyone thought she and her sisters were the ones of the prophecy, but Catherine seriously doubted it. Or at least not she, perhaps one of her younger sisters may develop the gift still—or maybe it did need to be blood relations after all, and her mother might bear another child. At any rate, what if they would be targeted by an enemy, now that they were no longer in hiding, because of this belief? It hinged in part on others believing in her ability, but it was quite untrue. To continue in this way would place her sisters in danger.
Resolving to speak to her step-father about it in the morning, she chose to attempt sleep. No sleep came, however. In the midst of tossing and turning as a night wallowing in insecurities brings, a terrible nightmare arose.
A man cloaked in black aimed a pistol at her while her mother and her step-father lay unconscious on the floor. Ropes bound Elizabeth’s hands, and her wrists bled from where she attempted to free herself without avail. Jane stood immobilized by the fear and panic in the room. Other beings, Catherine was uncertain if they were even human, lurked in the shadows. She saw the sun catch the lock plates of their matching pistols. The guns were trained on her family.
“You could have prevented this, Miss Morland,” the gunman said to her. That he knew her previous surname struck her forcefully. “If you were a true Bewitching Sister, you would have foreseen this attack.”
“Then you have nothing to fear from us,” Elizabeth said.
“There is no doubt you and Miss Bennet are the sisters of the prophecy. The weakness came from trusting Miss Morland,” the cloaked intruder said. “She was too eager to please and be accepted to tell the truth. With you two dead whoever is the true third Bewitching Sister will be powerless.” He squeezed the trigger, and the others followed suit. The shots rang out with deafening noise.
“No!” she screamed and woke up as she rose from the bed. Sweat dripped from her brow, and her heart pounded.
“Beg your pardon, Miss Kate,” said the housemaid as she scooped up a broken water pitcher. “The thunder scared me, and I jumped.”
Catherine took a moment to calm herself and realized it had all been a terrible dream. The sounds of gunfire she heard must have been from first the thunder and then the crashing of pottery on the floorboards. She mumbled a soothing word to the servant, who quickly left. The rest of the house still seemed asleep and so she went to the drawing-room they had been using as a study for their powers. Finding the family spell book, she leafed through it.
“A Forgetting Spell! Perfect!” she muttered to herself. She would forget how to use her power and then her family would be safe. “Caution: While this spell is reversible, the consequences of it are not. Be certain of your desire to forget your regrets before using.” Determining that there would be no harm in her forgetting her talents, or lack thereof, she scanned the list of ingredients for the potion. Taking inventory of the still room revealed a lack of ground hyacinth. The housekeeper informed her bulbs had recently been planted so they would bloom in the summer. Otherwise, she knew not how to find more at this time of year. Stealing into the garden, Catherine found the correctly labeled area and dug up a bulb with her bare hands as she did not wish to alert the staff to her actions. Returning to the still room, she dutifully ground it up for her potion. It smelled and tasted vile, but she eagerly swallowed her concoction before going to breakfast with her family.
Shortly after they finished, a letter from Caroline Bingley arrived, inviting Jane to Netherfield for the day. Catherine’s right eye began to tear, and she wiped it away with her handkerchief. In a matter of minutes, Jane was sent off to Netherfield Abbey in the coach. It soon began to rain heavily, and no one was surprised when the coach did not return at the appointed time. The road was far too muddy to make it easily traversable.
In the morning, a note arrived from Jane. She had fallen ill once at Netherfield. At one point, she had been obliged to get out of the coach, which was slipping in the mud when but a quarter of a mile from Netherfield. Her sore throat and coughing she imputed to that. Elizabeth immediately resolved to attend her dearest sister.
“I will go with you as far as Meryton,” Catherine said. “I must call on Mrs. Allen.”
The sisters walked together as far as they could. Elizabeth felt Catherine quieter than usual, but her own thoughts were preoccupied with Jane.
Elizabeth made it most of the way to Netherfield when an overwhelming concern for Catherine came over her.
“Lizzy!” she heard Catherine’s voice call but could not see her.
“Kate! Where are you?”
“Lizzy, please!” Catherine faintly called again and then whimpered in pain.
Growing frantic with worry, Elizabeth felt the fire building in her. Her instincts screamed danger was near. “Where are you?” she called again and again but heard nothing but silence.
Retracing her steps, she turned back. She felt drawn to the old bridge by the miller about half a mile away and off the main road to Meryton. It made no sense, as when they parted in Meryton Catherine turned the other direction to go to Mrs. Allen’s house. Still, Elizabeth began to run.
As she grew closer, she saw a man towering over Catherine’s crumpled form. The man muttered an incantation over her, and it seemed to Elizabeth that Catherine’s body began to glow, and the man grew larger. What was this? Dark magic?
“Stop!” Elizabeth shouted as she grew closer and the man turned to face her.
“You shall not stop us,” he said in a low voice that contained eerie echoes.
“I…I shall!” Elizabeth said and stepped closer. She grabbed a rock from the ground and aimed to throw it at him but with a jerk of his head the rock flew from her hand and landed out of reach.
“What do you want? Please, do not hurt her!” She fell on the ground to find something else to act as a weapon, but the man growled and rushed toward her. Thrusting out her hands in defense, fire flew from her hands, stunning him.
“Kate!” Elizabeth screamed and ran to her sister’s side. Just before reaching Catherine, Elizabeth stumbled to the ground. Blood streamed down her head. Her enemy had used his powers to hit her with the very rock she attempted to use after him.
“You are powerless, witch!”
“Never!” She screamed and attempted to throw her hands up but could not. It felt as though they were tied down.
Her tormentor laughed cruelly. “They say love for one another makes you extraordinary. They say that it makes you the most powerful witches of all time, but you see it makes you weak! Her powers are gone but she worked as a brilliant trap for you,” he said.
“What will you do with us?” Elizabeth asked. She hoped to keep him speaking until help arrived. Surely help would come. She recognized now, love brought her to Catherine’s side and surely Jane or their parents would appear any moment as well.
“What every witch deserves,” he gestured to a makeshift pyre she had not seen before. “You will burn.”
Elizabeth gasped in fear when he knelt and began the fire.
“There will be no resurrecting of the Bewitching Sisters. Each of you must die.”
“You have tried that before,” she taunted as he tied her hands with rope and yanked her off the ground.
“That is why we will see you burn in person this time.”
“We? Do you have friends? Can such an ugly man have friends?”
“He comes!” The man growled out, and a chill ran up Elizabeth’s spine although she had no knowledge of who he spoke of. She looked around and saw no signs of help, only Catherine’s still lifeless form on the ground.
“You know everything about us, then?”
“We have had spies watching you for a long time.”
“So you know that you can never prevail!” she shouted as he led her to the stake. As he went around her back to tie her down, she saw Catherine begin to rouse.
“Lizzy?” the younger girl called out and slowly sat up. “Lizzy!” she cried, and Elizabeth saw with horror as a large rock sped through the air, directed at Catherine’s head.
“No!” Elizabeth screamed and was immediately engulfed in flames. The man screamed in pain behind her. Feeling her hands now free as he leaped from the fire and writhed in pain, she ran to Catherine’s side, conscious that she did not have a single burn upon her.
Catherine had darted out of the way of the rock, it struck her leg instead of her head. Two black clouds flashed before them, revealing a man and woman dressed in black, but their faces shadowed by hoods. The sisters clutched each other.
“Don’t let go!” Catherine cried as she buried her head in Elizabeth’s neck.
Squeezing her sister tightly, Elizabeth said, “Never!”
“I worried you would not come,” Catherine whispered.
“Always, silly goose. Love will always bind us!”
“Always!” Catherine agreed as the female demon fired a gun.
A bright white cloud surrounded the sisters, and they heard the woman scream in pain as the bullet redirected and pierced her.
“But you are only two!” the man in black exclaimed before flying away in another black cloud.
“Miss Elizabeth! Miss Catherine!” they heard the anxious voice of Mr. Bingley shouting as the protective white cloud surrounding them dissipated.
“Mr. Bingley!” they cried in surprised unison.
“Are you well?”
Elizabeth and Catherine looked each other over. “Nothing but some scratches and bruises, I think,” said Catherine.
“Kate, did I burn you? What has happened to your eyes and hands?” She had slight burns on them.
“I do not think you hurt me, but I have no idea what happened to them.” She had no memory of abuse. The demon cast a spell and subdued her.
“Well, we otherwise seem unscathed. How did you come to be here?” Elizabeth asked while attempting to find hair pins.
“It was Ja—Miss Bennet. She grew extremely agitated and worried about you. We endeavored to calm her, but when Darcy learned she wrote you, Miss Elizabeth, he insisted you would be on your way to Netherfield and ought to have arrived by then. I was to search the woods while he went on ahead to Longbourn.”
“How is Jane?” Catherine asked.
“My sisters and mother were attending her and awaiting the apothecary when I left,” he said.
They heard a carriage approached on the main road and soon Mr. and Mrs. Bennet arrived with Mr. Darcy and General Tilney.
“Kate! Lizzy!” the parents ran to their daughters and embraced them.
Allowing the family a private moment, the men of the Netherfield group moved on to the burned demon.
“Who sent you?” Bingley ran to him and yelled as the demon gasped for air.
He did not speak, and General Tilney approached his step-son. “Calm yourself. You and Darcy make yourself useful to the Bennets. This one is not long for the world.”
Bingley agreed, and he and Darcy returned to the others.
“I want to see Jane,” Elizabeth said.
“Surely we ought to return home and clean up first,” Mrs. Bennet said, and the sisters reluctantly agreed.
“Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, do either of you recognize the demon that attacked my daughters?” Mr. Bennet asked.
“No, I have never seen him,” Darcy said, and Bingley agreed.
“Papa,” Elizabeth said, “he certainly seemed to be working for someone else. The demon said another was coming. Two soon arrived, a male and female. The woman shot at us, and it rebounded. The man yelled something about there only being two of us and then disappeared.”
Mr. Bennet nodded his head. “Yes, he likely did not understand how you defeated his soldiers when the prophecy has always said it would be three, and Jane was not present.”
“I do not understand it either,” she said.
“You do not know?” Darcy asked in confusion, then turned to her parents and said in annoyance, “You did not tell them!”
“What did you not tell us?” Catherine asked.
“I did not wish to distress them,” Mr. Bennet said to Darcy and then turned to his daughters. “The love that binds you is so resilient that you can call on the power of a missing sister so long as she lives. Neither distance nor health severs or lessens it.”
“I…I don’t understand. Why would that distress us,” Catherine said.
The group grew silent, and Elizabeth frowned. “They did not want us to be concerned that such a thing could happen. It is like a fail-safe within the prophecy. But the enemy does not know?”
“They must suspect it now,” her father said. “It was a secret clause.”
“Then how does he know?” Elizabeth cried and glared at Darcy.
“Darcy’s family has been an influential part of the council for many centuries,” Mr. Bennet said. “He is entrusted with secrets even I do not know. His presence at Netherfield at this time is no coincidence.”
Elizabeth held back a huff.
“Come, let us return home and rest,” Mrs. Bennet said.
“Please, take the carriage,” Mr. Bingley said. “We will return on foot.”
“Please tell Jane how much we love her,” Catherine said, and Elizabeth added her sentiments as well.
The party had just broken up when a shot rang out, and they jerked their heads to where General Tilney stood with his gun still in hand. The dead demon slumped against the tree. “He teleported it from the demoness. I had turned my back for a moment and heard the gun cock.”
“It was quick thinking on your part to grab it before he fired,” Mr. Darcy said.
“I believe his injuries made his mind slower. Charles, next time you happen upon a scene do make sure there are no loose weapons about,” the general said with evident irritation. Mr. Bingley blushed slightly but before he could say something in his defense they heard more voices.
“Over here!” the general called. Mr. Hurst and Colonel Forester ambled to them followed by several officers. “They’ll see to the bodies,” he began to walk toward the path to Netherfield. Looking back at the others he said, “Well, come on then.”
To Longbourn, therefore, went the Bennet family while the others went on to Netherfield. Forced to rest by their mother and exhausted by the events of the day, Catherine and Elizabeth slept until the next morning. They awoke the next day to sunshine and determined to see their sister. Again a note arrived just after breakfast for the third day in a row, this time reporting terrible news. Jane had fallen dreadfully ill overnight and would not rouse this morning. The doctor summoned her family to her side, and words were inadequate to explain the despair of their Netherfield friends.
“Kate, you still look so unwell. You ought to stay here,” Mrs. Bennet said while looking at her daughter’s reddened eyes.
“No! I was terrified that I was not truly a Bewitching Sister. I was resolved to give up my powers somehow. She saved me by sending her love when she could not send herself. You will not keep me from her side now.”
“Let her come,” Mr. Bennet said, and the family hurried to the carriage.
“You should have confided in me, Kate!” Elizabeth said once they were seated. “How could Jane and I be Bewitching Sisters and you not?”
“My premonitions fail,” she whispered to her hands.
“When have they failed?”
“The night at Lucas Lodge. I had seen an entirely different set of circumstances.”
“We are still learning to use our powers. I did not know before I was tied to a stake that I could control fire so completely with my mind. You have a gift, dear one, and it will be of use at the right time.”
“I do not even understand how our powers work if what is most important is our love for one another,” Catherine said.
Mr. Bennet had been listening quietly to their conversation. “Do you not? To truly love a person you must care deeply about their feelings.”
“Empathy,” Elizabeth supplied.
“Exactly,” said Mrs. Bennet. “You must also be willing to fight.”
“Lizzy’s fire. But what do premonitions mean for love?” Catherine asked.
“True love never ends. It always has a future,” Mr. Bennet said, and Mrs. Bennet squeezed his hand.
“Do you think Jane will recover?” Elizabeth asked, twisting her handkerchief in her hands.
“I know it,” Mr. Bennet replied. “The Bewitching Sisters have important work left to do.”
Arriving at Netherfield, Catherine and Elizabeth walked to the door hand in hand. They did not know what the future held, or how to defeat their enemies, but they knew they would face their battles together as sisters.
Continued in The Secrets of Netherfield Abbey!