“What a lovely home you have,” Mrs. Tilney said to Mrs. Bennet in the drawing room after dinner. “Did any of your daughters assist with the meal?”
Mrs. Bennet attempted to answer civilly, but her daughters could see her embarrassment at what must be an obvious slight.
“No, the girls have nothing to do with the kitchen.”
“Oh, pardon me. I do hope I did not offend you with the question. Lady Lucas boasted of her daughter’s meat pie.”
Elizabeth had a hard time believing Mrs. Tilney was genuine, but Jane seemed unaffected by any feelings of pretension in the room and surely she would have sensed the truth. It was their first meal in company since the return of their powers and also their first meal with their new neighbors.
“It is truly an honor to be here,” Eleanor Tilney said.
Caroline Bingley added, “Oh yes, we have heard much of the Bewitching Sisters.”
“Caroline, you must be careful with your words!” Mr. Henry Tilney said as the gentlemen entered.
“Do you sense it is dangerous to speak of our magic now?” Catherine asked and glanced about the room.
“Of course not,” he replied. “I believe she must mean that she has heard of you frequently. Much implies volume and words take up no space at all, certainly not any space at all in the minds of most people.”
Catherine chewed her bottom lip, confused by his wit and wordplay. However, Elizabeth smiled. “And then some people speak so little because their thoughts threaten to overflow. Such must be the case with you, Mr. Darcy,” she said.
“Not at all,” he said so coldly the conversation died.
Elizabeth took a sip of wine as she watched Jane and Mr. Bingley across the room. He had gone straight to Jane’s side and had not ceased smiling at her the entire evening. Mr. Hurst’s face was indeed reddened from his after dinner port and Mr. Bennet and General Tilney talked in private conference. Unable to make out their words her eyes wandered to Mrs. Hurst. She said little and instead played with her elegant bracelets. Elizabeth had the feeling Mr. Hurst was of more fashion than fortune.
When she turned her attention back to the assembled group, she saw Mr. Darcy staring at her. He did not smile or talk and yet seldom looked away from her that evening. Annoyance festered in her heart and her palms prickled with sensation. She struggled to control her magical impulses.
Catherine was pleased to speak with Miss Tilney on the subject of books. “Did you read the latest volume of Mr. Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?” Miss Tilney asked.
“Oh, no. You will have to ask Lizzy her thoughts on that. Papa makes me read such things, but I can never make much sense of them. Do you not find it difficult to credit stories of what happened so long ago when they are reported with as much certainty as someone may describe what happened at last week’s ball?”
“It is hardly likely a historian will admit to an inability to accurately give his information,” Mr. Tilney countered.
“Then are we the fools to believe it when anyone can find fault with Mrs. Howes’ report of the order of events or the accuracy of the gown worn by Mrs. Ridgeway?”
You dislike invention and embellishment?” Mr. Tilney said with a raised eyebrow.
“Not at all. I enjoy novels particularly.”
“The former Mrs. Burney?”
“Mrs. Radcliffe. The Mysteries of Udolpho is the nicest book in the world. But I suppose you never read it.”
“Everyone knows novels are not important enough for gentlemen, they read other things.”
“I have read hundreds and hundreds of novels. I have many years of advantage over you if we would ask one another which books we have read. Now, Udolpho had me so enthralled I could not put it down even to spare five minutes when Eleanor was called away. I would not say it is the nicest book, however.”
“Well, why not? If you liked it so much can you possibly like something else more?”
“Perhaps I may find one I do love more later, but I assumed you meant the binding was the neatest.”
“The binding!” Catherine cried in confusion.
“Henry is teasing you, as he does with me. He has very demanding standards on word usage.”
“Nice used to apply to a person’s dress or feelings, a sense of refinement or neatness and now it is used for everything.”
“Pay him no mind, Miss Catherine. Come over here with me and we may talk more of other books.”
Catherine left Mr. Tilney’s side in confusion. She seemed to annoy him when she was most certain he would be the gentleman from her premonition which laughed. She tried stretching her mind, to force a vision or feeling to come but could not. Miss Tilney talked about drawing, and Catherine listened with ignorance, she knew nothing on the subject and was relieved to see Jane motion them over.
“Are you well?” the younger sister asked.
“Perfectly!” Jane smiled.
“You have not been speaking.”
“I am afraid that is my fault, Miss Catherine,” Mr. Bingley said.
“Mr. Bingley is a telepath and can effortlessly read my thoughts,” said Jane.
“No more than you can discern my feelings!” Catherine smiled to see Jane praised so ardently, even if her sister blushed.
A hearty male laugh broke through their conversation, and Catherine looked across the room to see Mr. Tilney laughing beside Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy scowled at the scene, and both Jane and Bingley jumped beside her.
“I fear my friend has had enough company this evening,” Bingley murmured before excusing himself.
Jane looked after him in worry. Before much longer the Netherfield family left.
“I dare say that went differently than you thought, Kate,” Elizabeth said to Catherine.
“You could say that.” She disliked Elizabeth’s enjoying so much of Mr. Tilney’s company.
“We had better return to Mama,” Jane directed her younger sisters to the drawing room before whispering to Catherine. “She was too angry at Mr. Darcy the entire evening to notice Mr. Tilney.”
“And Mr. Tilney?”
“Despite what Mr. Bingley said I cannot seem to discern the feelings of any of the gentlemen, or any of the Netherfield group at all, except when Mr. Darcy seemed upset by Mr. Tilney’s laughing. I suppose it is not necessary since we know they are to safeguard us.”
“I wish we knew more about what we are supposed to eventually do.”
“Do not borrow trouble, Kate. We shall likely know before too long. Already so much has changed.”
“The next time you want to wish me away just to whisper in the hall you might say it,” Elizabeth stuck her head out the door.
Jane and Catherine shared a smile before following Elizabeth to the drawing room.
Before too many days passed, Mrs. Tilney returned the civility and asked the Longbourn family to dine at Netherfield.
“I cannot think of a better way to pass the evening,” Catherine said in the carriage.
Elizabeth huffed. “I am sure you and Jane cannot for not only are you nicer people, but you have the attention of charming gentlemen. The only people who notice me are sour. Miss Bingley and Mr. Darcy both stared critically at me the entire night they dined with us.”
“Perhaps they saw something worthy of admiration,” Jane said.
“If your powers worked at all on them, you would know how incorrect that is.”
“You are always so ready for a fight,” Catherine observed.
“I suppose it is the fire in me!” Elizabeth said with a smirk.
“I trust you girls are not so silly as to be distracted by a couple of bucks and forget the seriousness of your powers,” Mr. Bennet cautioned from the other side of the carriage.
A pout formed on Catherine’s lips. “Our days are filled with instruction and worry about what it means that our powers have returned, that General Tilney has returned. Can we not enjoy ourselves when in their company?”
Mr. Bennet opened his mouth to speak, but Mrs. Bennet placed a hand on his arm, forestalling him. “Practicing your powers on those you know to be friendly can serve you when you must practice on your enemy,” she said.
Jane cried in horror, “Practice on them!”
“You do not think they have used their powers on you?” Mr. Bennet asked.
They pulled up to the house, halting the conversation but each of the girls wondered at the sense of civility and propriety in the magical world.
Mrs. Tilney had ordered a lavish meal with several courses. As usual, the three sisters assigned different meanings to the affair. Jane saw only that their new neighbor was anxious to please. Elizabeth saw it as a pompous and vulgar display, flaunting General Tilney’s greater wealth. Catherine cared only that she was seated far from Mr. Tilney. Little was said, at first, until Mr. Bennet cleared his throat and gave each of his daughters a pointed look, a clear reminder of his earlier words.
Mr. Darcy, sitting next to Elizabeth, commented on the meal. Unsurprised that he would enjoy the grandiose atmosphere, she gritted her teeth before replying and felt her palms itch. It occurred to her, she never wondered if he had magical powers, convinced as she was that he was aware of her own. He must be a fire wizard like her father for he always excited her powers. She stared at a candle at the table and the flame grew. Wondering if she could also snuff it out, she attempted to do so and was pleased to see the light diminish. Mr. Darcy chuckled beside her.
“I dearly love a laugh. I hope you will share your amusement,” she said.
“How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”
Elizabeth pursed her lips at the Shakespearian quote. “You would assign me the role of Portia?”
“Do you not fight against the darkness?”
Elizabeth wondered if he had ever fought against dark forces. Instead of indulging her curiosity, she chose to joke. “But you believe I do so through trickery, as Portia disguised herself as a man to argue in court to save her husband’s friend?”
“I would not dare to know the arts of a Bewitching Sister.”
Elizabeth frowned as the flames in the room grew. Determined to ignore him, she turned her attention to her food.
Several seats away, Jane smiled uneasily at Mr. Bingley, who chatted seemingly without a care in the world. She realized days ago that she could not discern the feelings of any of their Netherfield neighbors, as though a charmed spell protected them. Still, she tried. Concerned that her father’s words were true, and their new friends used their own powers freely on their guests unsettled her. Did Mr. Bingley read her thoughts? Did he know how useless her powers were at the moment? Her father had said her gift was very powerful. It pained her to think the world had true evil in it; evil she was destined to defeat, so she did not dwell on it. Tonight, however, she realized the weakness of her powers. How she longed for this night to end! At the very least, she hoped the meal would soon be over. The room evidently had a draft and warming by the fire was infinitely more preferable than another course.
“I think if our guests are amenable,” said Mrs. Tilney, “we ought to adjourn to the drawing room for our dessert.”
The Bennet family nodded their heads in agreement, and Mrs. Tilney stood to direct the ladies to the drawing-room and allowed the gentlemen to remain. They would have dessert and coffee when the men joined the women.
“Miss Bennet,” Miss Bingley joined her on a sofa, “my sister and I were simply amazed to hear your story. Such times we live in! But tell us, dear, how are you adjusting?”
Always reserved in the company of others, Jane dissembled. “My father is a great teacher. Our progress is very rapid. We did have our powers as children and memories of such were restored.”
“How brave you all are!” Mrs. Hurst said.
Elizabeth approached, and Miss Bingley gasped. “Miss Eliza! You are so flushed! Are you sure you should be so near the fire?”
“Are you ill, Lizzy?” Jane asked.
“I feel perfectly well. You look pale, dear.”
“She likely caught a chill while we were eating. The room gets terribly cold. That is why mother suggested we remove to the drawing room,” Mrs. Hurst explained.
Elizabeth understood as she struggled to control her emotions around Mr. Darcy, that she had not felt any cold at all. “Allow me,” she said, and the flames grew. She sat next to Jane and the ladies discussed the impending winter weather. After several minutes, Mrs. Hurst excused herself to speak with her mother.
Across the room, Catherine sighed. Jane and Elizabeth were dear sisters who were close before the death of their mother and even closer afterward. Being several years younger, she did not often join them in activities as a child, but since she made her come out, she had hoped that would change. Instead, she felt a bit forgotten.
“Miss Catherine,” a voice behind her spoke, and she turned to see Mrs. Hurst. “I hope you have enjoyed the evening.”
“Oh, yes,” Catherine hastened to say. “It was beyond my expectations,” except for the company, she thought to herself.
“Indeed! I am surprised given your talent.”
“My predictions seldom extend to the company I keep.” In fact, there had only been one premonition of that kind. Never mind it was the only real premonition she had experienced, foreseeing her father’s chess moves notwithstanding.
“How nice to have such control over them!”
“Do you also have the gift of foresight?”
“Oh, no. I have no incredible power but perhaps conversation.” Catherine attempted to keep her surprise to herself but apparently failed. “I see it surprises you to learn there are some that only know potions and spells. It is quite common, actually. Very few witches or wizards have the sorts of powers your family has. In my own, it was only my father and now my brother. The General has a keen mind but otherwise has no power he can manipulate. His sons have nothing of importance.”
Catherine nodded her head. She had known that there were some in her community that did not have gifts. The Lucas family, for example, were splendid potion makers but had no natural power. Others such as Mrs. Allen did not even have that skill. She had not realized those were the most ordinary cases.
“You and your sisters are quite rare,” Mrs. Hurst said, and Catherine forced back the feeling of inadequacy comparisons to her older sisters always brought. Even their father said Jane’s power was great and Elizabeth could control fire on a whim. Catherine had seen how easily Elizabeth toyed with the flame in front of her. What use was she?
The gentlemen entered, and she put her feelings aside for other discomforts. The dining room had been cold and now with the arrival of more people, the drawing room became overheated. She could hardly contain her delight when her family departed.