Darcy left Elizabeth Bennet’s side wondering why he didn’t expose Wickham when he had seen him in the streets of Meryton the week before. Given Elizabeth’s line of questioning, it was apparent that Wickham had told her his usual lies. Darcy would be angry with her, but she was so new to the magical world. She hadn’t seen it’s dark side. It was no surprise if suspicion was not in her nature. Desiring to collect himself, he walked toward the library. Lost in his thoughts, his eyes were locked on his feet willing them to carry him faster. A loud gasp down the hall brought his head up.
“Frederick!” Henry bellowed in an angry tone.
Henry’s elder brother, Captain Frederick Tilney, was enjoying the pleasures of a lady. At Henry’s voice, she jumped back. She turned to run down the hall but saw Darcy. Their eyes met. As he recognized the foul creature, he scowled and sent her bolting in the other direction. Darcy scarcely believed his eyes when Catherine Morland ran from the library door and called after the lady, confirming what he saw.
Henry approached his brother and Darcy hurried to their position in the hall.
“Gentlemen, let us speak in the library,” he motioned them through the door. “Before we rail against Frederick, perhaps you can explain why you were alone with Miss Morland in the library, Henry?”
Darcy knew even if Jane Bennet’s reputation were entirely destroyed by Frederick, the rogue would not marry where there was no money. Henry, however, was as susceptible to attraction and affection as Bingley.
“I’ve been here the entire time,” Eleanor muttered from a chair by the fire. Her face was pale and drawn. She rested her head against the back and squeezed her eyes shut.
“My apologies. I shouldn’t have presumed—”
“No. You should not have,” Henry said quietly but firmly. He walked to Eleanor’s side. “Are you well?”
“There is too much emotion here.”
“Is it Darcy? The ball?”
She gently shook her head. “Something is not right…” She trailed off, lacking the strength to continue.
“Fred, help me get her to her room.” The young man’s face showed contrition as he came to his sister’s side. Henry looked at Darcy and said, “We’ll continue this discussion later.”
“I shall alert Mrs. Tilney,” Darcy said.
“No!” Henry and Eleanor said at the same time, shocking Darcy.
“Ask for her maid. She knows the usual treatment,” Henry said in commanding tones. “Return here.”
As the household staff was overworked due to the ball, Darcy went downstairs. Although the housekeeper was flustered, she ably directed Eleanor’s maid to her mistress. Darcy returned to the library only a moment before Bingley arrived.
“Darcy, why am I not surprised to see you hiding in here?”
Unsure how to reply, Darcy only motioned for his friend to sit.
“No. I am looking for Miss Bennet. She said she felt poorly and was going to the lady’s retiring room, but no one has seen her since.”
“You had better wait for Henry and Frederick then.” Darcy honestly felt sorry for the blow his friend was about to receive. And rather thought the blow his other friend would likely get would be his just due.
“Why should I wait for them?” Bingley looked anxiously at the door. “Did something befall her again? Tell me where she is!”
“Calm yourself. I thought you could speak to her heart?” Darcy raised his eyebrows. He rather thought that line of communication was broken now.
“It does not always work,” he said sheepishly. “It requires a great deal of concentration for her. It’s unsurprising that it cannot happen during a ball or when she is ill.”
“Yet, it did at the Assembly last month and while she was ill here.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
Bingley frowned at Darcy but thankfully, Henry and Frederick arrived before Darcy could reply.
“Darcy says you know something of Jane?” He looked at them expectantly, and the other two men glanced at each other.
“Do not be angry with me, Charles,” Frederick said. “Her flirtation with you apparently meant nothing.”
“What are you talking about?” Bingley turned red, and Darcy knew he was understanding the meaning of Frederick’s words even as asked the question.
Frederick met Bingley’s gaze. “You understand me.”
Bingley lunged at Frederick, but Henry pulled him back.
“I trusted you! You were supposed to be a brother to me!”
Frederick laughed. “Your trollop mother marrying my father doesn’t make us brothers.”
“Take it back!” Bingley attempted to surge forward again.
Darcy shook his head at Henry’s efforts. “Let him go, Henry or I’ll beat Frederick myself.”
“Frederick,” Henry said reproachfully.
“Oh, alright. Your mother isn’t a trollop any more than all the other females we know are. And I am no worse than most men are. A beautiful woman came to me. Her knowing manner proved she understood exactly what she desired.”
“So you would have made me a cuckold?”
The rage was dissipating from Bingley’s face, and if Darcy had to interpret his friend’s feelings, it looked like he might weep. Henry let go of Bingley as it was clear the fight had drained from his body.
“No, of course not. Why would I want anything but momentary pleasure from such an easy conquest and one who has no understanding of fidelity? I would have told you. Of course, I think you might judge her too harshly. You’re a fool to expect monogamy and love.”
Bingley shook his head. “I thought she was my true love.”
“Prophecies can be incorrect or open for interpretation,” Darcy reminded him.
“I hate to steal the thunder of your pain, Charles,” Henry said. “But on that note, I would speak with all of you.”
“I am confident Bingley agrees there cannot be too little said on the subject of his pain.” Darcy gave his friend a pat on the back. “Let us be seated.”
Frederick closed the door to ensure privacy and Henry explained Miss Morland’s vision in the hidden chamber. Darcy silently fumed as the story continued.
“Well, that’s rubbish. Darcy would never marry Caroline or involve his sister in anything the General plans,” Bingley said.
“Can we not lay this matter to rest now?” Darcy asked. “Jane Bennet, Elizabeth Bennet, and Catherine Morland are not the Bewitched Ones. There is no use in us remaining at Netherfield.”
“What do you propose, Darcy?” Henry asked.
“Bingley and the General were to go to London tomorrow—”
“My errand will certainly be shorter than I anticipated,” Bingley said sadly.
“We shall follow the next day. Miss Bingley can write Miss Bennet that we travel to offer Bingley better accommodations and to prepare for the Season. Frederick,” he glared at the other man, “can remain here with periodic trips to Town or Bath—wherever the General may be—in case there is anything to report.”
“Such as?” Frederick asked.
“Just because we are convinced they are not the Bewitched Ones, does not mean the enemy will immediately agree. If he is watching as closely as we fear, then hopefully they will be safe.”
“Darcy, I know you have never thought highly of the ladies,” Bingley said, “but a sudden withdrawal could put them at serious risk.”
“Then we shall have to produce evidence of other Bewitched Sisters, or at least that we are still looking for them. Although, I am convinced the prophecy is meaningless.”
“How do you propose to do that?”
“The goal is to simply convince the enemy that we are so certain these ladies are not the Bewitched Ones they need no protection from us. I will continue to comb the countryside for such a set of sisters. Bingley is free to enjoy London while Henry and Frederick pursue their business as usual.”
The others mutely nodded their heads, but Darcy had to concede the plan did not sit entirely well with him. It was necessary. It was his duty. And yet, he did not like having to leave Hertfordshire and Elizabeth Bennet behind.
Jane cried out in fear, but no sound came forward. She tried to run, but her legs would not move. They felt numb and frozen. Complete darkness surrounded her, and she could see nothing. As the first feelings of terror eased from her mind, she recognized she had experienced this before. This was the same black prison she laid in for days while sick at Netherfield. She had been told that during that time she unconsciously gave strength to her sisters fighting a demon. She sent her love when she could not send herself. Surely it worked the opposite way as well. The attack assaulted her mind, but could not touch her heart.
She stretched her powers. It was hard, at first, to fight the fear her own senses created. When this happened before, she had not actually been bound and imprisoned. She had been sick and watched over by loved ones. They had fretted over her constantly. She repeated to herself over and over again that her feelings were not reality. Jane did not understand why she was back in this dark chamber, but she knew, in fact, she was not alone, never alone. She was loved by her family and friends. She knew, too, Lizzy, and Kate’s powers were always available to her. Focusing on that as reality, allowed her to feel love. It warmed her heart.
As Jane felt the warmth diffuse over her body, darkness faded. Still unable to make out shapes, Jane saw only brightness. Then, she heard her name.
“Jane! Where are you?”
Kate’s voice had a note of panic in it. At first, the light faded, and Jane felt the panic rise in her as well. Did Kate need her assistance and she was incapable of offering it? Was she in danger?
As Kate searched for Jane, the love she had for her sister outweighed the feelings of panic. The light returned, but sight still eluded her. Next, Jane could feel. She was in a bed, and a bitter scent lingered.
“Jane, please will you talk with me. I love you.” Kate called again.
The blinding light began to soften, and Jane could feel her limbs were unbound. Focusing her love for her sisters, she managed to flutter her eyes open. The room was dark and unlit, but moonlight shone from the window. It was the same chamber she had stayed in before. How did she come to be here?
This time, Kate’s voice sounded very near.
“Kate,” Jane attempted to call, but her voice was weak. “Kate! Kate!” Jane tried again with her voice growing louder at each attempt.
Pushing herself up, she fumbled with the covers. Her legs still felt heavy and weak, but she forced them to touch the cold floor.
“Kate! Katie!” Jane called as she shuffled to the door. At last, she reached it. Peering out the door, she saw Kate about to turn a corner at the end of the hall.
“Kate!” Jane cried with all the energy she could muster.
Catherine turned and dashed down the hall. Upon seeing her sister, she met Jane in a fierce embrace. “I thought we had lost you! What is going on? Why did you hide from me? Why were you kissing Captain Tilney?”
“Kissing Captain Tilney!” Jane felt herself turn cold, and her legs wobble. Was it possible she had done such a thing while unconscious?
“You are ill!” Kate said as she caught Jane from collapsing. “Here, let us talk in the room.”
Kate led Jane back into the chamber and fumbled around the room until she found a lamp to light. “Why did you sound surprised that I had seen you? You know what I saw.” Catherine blushed.
“I most certainly did not kiss Captain Tilney,” Jane said vehemently. After a pause, she murmured, “That I recall.”
Deep lines furrowed Kate’s brow. “I saw you kissing him outside the library. Henry and Eleanor saw it as well as Mr. Darcy. Then you ran away, but I could not keep up. How did you manage to run so fast? And know your way around the house so well? I had more time to explore it than you did when we were last here.”
Jane shook her head. “I recall dancing with Mr. Bingley and drinking punch. Soon, I needed to visit the ladies’ retiring room. I felt dizzy so I sat for a few minutes, and that is all I recall until I woke here.”
“When was that?”
“After the third set.”
“The third set! Why, the ball is almost over. It is the surely the last dance now. I have been searching for you nearly an hour, and that was at least an hour after the third set.”
“I cannot explain what happened. However, before I managed to call for you, I was in the dark place I had been while ill. Only recalling that I was loved pulled me from it.”
“Jane, we must leave. The General is not good as we think he is. Neither are Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley.”
“You’ve been talking to Lizzy too much!”
“No, I had a vision. Mr. Tilney and his sister asked for my help. They had discovered a small chamber in an unused wing of the house. Mr. Tilney did not know what it was used for but could feel an evil presence. While I inspected it with them, I saw the future.”
Catherine explained her premonition. “But that explains nothing about what the room was used for,” Jane said.
“I agree, but the important matter is that Bingley will marry Darcy’s sister. And something evil is afoot because Eleanor was bound.”
“I do not understand. Bingley would never marry Miss Darcy. Unless… Oh! He thinks I do not love him for I was seen kissing his step-brother!”
Catherine shook her head. “It must be more than that. Finding love elsewhere does not require a man to see his step-sister treated as a prisoner and having no cares in the world. He is not right for you.”
“No. I don’t believe that,” Jane said weakly. The truth was, however, that she did not understand what occurred this night. Twice now, she was attacked while at Netherfield. If it was not Mr. Bingley, it must be someone in the family.
“We can talk more at the house. We must leave,” Kate said.
Jane mutely nodded her head. They returned to the ballroom just as the final set completed. Explaining to their parents that Jane was ill, they arranged to have the carriage be the first brought up. Under the pretense of illness, Jane and Kate were excused from having to say farewell to their hosts. As they gathered in the carriage, it was evident to all that none of the young people felt particularly pleased with the evening.
“I was honored to make the acquaintance of the nephew of my patroness,” Mr. Collins said. “Imagine meeting the esteemed Mr. Darcy of Pemberley at a ball in a country town visiting my cousins! He greeted me with—”
Sweat began to pour from his brow. “Pardon me, Mr. Bennet. I really think I am over warm from the ball. Might we stop and I can ride up top with the driver?”
“If you are confident you will not catch a cold,” Mr. Bennet said.
“I am absolutely certain,” he said while banging on the roof for the carriage to cease.
Once Mr. Collins was outside, Mrs. Bennet scolded, “Elizabeth.”
“It was not me!” she cried.
The others looked at Mr. Bennet who attempted to hide a sly smile. “A ball is pain enough without having to listen to his prattle and condescension.”
“Oh, Mr. Bennet. What shall we do with you?” Mrs. Bennet asked after a laugh.
Jane appreciated the calm affection between her parents. She wondered if she would ever have that with Mr. Bingley.
Elizabeth awoke the next morning with a headache and a feeling of foreboding. Jane and Kate had gone directly to bed after they returned home but Elizabeth had not missed that they were both missing from much of the ball. Which left her as the sole focus of Mr. Collins’ attentions. Hence the reason for the foreboding and the headache today. Mr. Collins had made his wishes quite clear for the whole neighborhood. Fortunately, she had no fear that her parents would expect her to accept his proposal. She did, however, loathe the feelings of mortification which must come from such a scene. She dressed and joined her family below with dread.
As expected, Mr. Collins asked for a private audience with Elizabeth shortly after breakfast. Mrs. Bennet hesitated but Elizabeth silently communicated her opinion it was best to get the humiliating moment over with. She was mistaken, however, in how accepting Mr. Collins would be in a firm refusal. Again and again, he twisted her words to be a sign of eventual consent. As he construed her every statement to be an effort of asking for more admiration and love from him, Elizabeth’s mind filled with imagery of Medieval knights. It was said they competed in tournaments sometimes for a lady’s love. Elizabeth now wondered if the women even cared for any of them or if the foolish men did not invent their feelings with their own imaginations.
“I absolutely cannot accept you,” Elizabeth said. “Can I speak plainer? My feelings in every respect forbid it. Do not suppose me to be plaguing you. I speak from my heart with a mind as rational as yours.”
“You are uniformly charming!” he cried.
Before Elizabeth could think otherwise, a fireball appeared in her hands.
“Miss Elizabeth!” he yelped in horror and fear.
“Will you believe me now? Would I draw fire on a man I loved and hoped to wed?”
“Miss Elizabeth!” His bottom lip trembled, and he raised his hands in defense.
Elizabeth had no intention of harming him but thought to instill some fear might do him a world of good. She drew up her arm and aimed at his body.
“P-p-p-please!” He stammered out as he turned to run. Before he made it to the door, he looked at her once more, still poised to throw at him. Letting out one final shriek, he turned the handle, flung open the door and then dropped to the floor unconscious.
Elizabeth let out a disgusted snort then stepped over him. A few minutes later Mrs. Bennet found her in the garden.
“Lizzy, I hope Mr. Collins wasn’t too disappointed.”
“Oh, I don’t think he was.”
“And where is he now?”
“I left him in the drawing room,” she said while hiding a smile.
Mrs. Bennet nodded her head and returned to the house, but Elizabeth knew when she had been caught out. Instead of a booming voice or shrieking wails from her parents, a maid came toward her. “Miss Lizzy, you are requested in the library.”
Elizabeth scolded herself as she went inside. She really ought to know better. Now his memory would have to be altered, but the damage was unconsciously done. Even if she did have some extra fun with it.
“Be seated, Elizabeth,” her father said, and she obeyed. “Your mother tells me Mr. Collins made a proposal to you this morning, and you declined.”
“And she also tells me that he was found unconscious in the drawing room. Since awakening, he has muttered incoherently that you are a witch and a plague on this house. We had to restrain him for setting out for the magistrate.”
“As that is Sir William, I hardly believe he would do anything about it,” Elizabeth said.
“Nevertheless,” Mr. Bennet replied, “you knew the dangers of telling or showing him proof of the magical world.”
Elizabeth blushed. “I did not mean to. He would not take no for an answer and kept saying I must mean to make him repeat his requests as though I needed excessive flattery. I grew angry and frustrated. The fire came without conscious thought. Surely there is a spell to make him forget.”
“There is,” Mrs. Bennet said. “Recall, however, what happened when Kate tried to use it. It is a temperamental spell, and so we must ask those with greater talent in potion work to assist us. Charlotte Lucas is to come soon.”
Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. “I did not mean to do wrong, but I am not sorry for it. I see no harm that has been done.”
Mrs. Bennet sighed. “My child. One day you will learn that there may well be damage done that you do not conceive possible at the time. You would not ever intend to hurt an innocent, but through good intentions, it may be done.”
“Is there something greater at risk here?”
“No. Let this be a learning lesson, however. You have always been quick to judge, and you must learn to be more cautious. Your judgments may not always be sound.”
“I will do my best,” Elizabeth said and was then excused.
As they waited for Charlotte to come, Jane received a letter from Netherfield. She immediately paled upon reading its contents.