The Secrets of Netherfield Abbey- Chapter Nine

tsna coverChapter Nine

Jane’s hands trembled as she read the letter from Miss Bingley. One part drew a gasp from her, and she raised her hand to her lips.

“What is it?” Elizabeth asked.

Charlotte Lucas was announced, and Jane slipped the letter into her pocket. She would tell her sisters later. “I did not know you were visiting,” she said with a tight smile to her old friend.

Charlotte raised a basket. “I come on business. A note was sent to my home that somehow Mr. Collins was “informed” of magic. My mother is out so I have come to deliver the tonic.” Her eyes landed on Elizabeth, who blushed.

Mrs. Bennet arrived before Charlotte could sit. “Thank goodness you have come! One of the little ones is sick and asking for me so I cannot sit with Mr. Collins for long. I will show you to his room. Betsy will assist.”

Jane wondered at the happy feelings emanating from Charlotte, but then assumed it must be that she was happy to be of use and visiting friends. A few minutes later, Charlotte returned to the drawing room, nearly radiating with joy. Rather than question it further, Jane clung to the feeling to mask her own despair.

“Did you enjoy the ball last night?” Jane asked.

“Oh, yes. It was so beautiful! And I danced more last night than I usually do.”

“Hmph,” said Elizabeth. “You danced with two officers and once with Mr. Collins. You hardly have a reason to be thankful for that, but I confess I am.”

“Mr. Collins is not so bad. I have danced with many a stupider man.”

“If you say so.”

“What of you, Jane and Kate? I do not recall seeing you very much.”

Jane met her Catherine’s eyes. “I overexerted myself and required rest. Kate accompanied me.”

Elizabeth raised her eyebrows in question and Jane willed her not to speak.

“It is not unexpected since you were lately so ill,” Charlotte said. “On that note, I will not stay any longer. It is nearly time to dress for dinner, and I do not wish to overtire you. Mr. Collins was resting and feeling much better when I left. He should be well enough to enjoy dinner downstairs.”

The ladies thanked Charlotte for her help and walked her to the door. After she had departed, Elizabeth questioned Jane.

“Did you truly fall ill last night? How do you feel now? Should we call the apothecary?”

“I am perfectly well,” Jane said even as her heart felt like it shattered. “I will explain all this evening.”

Mr. Collins indeed felt well enough to join the family for dinner. He seemed oddly happy, and Jane could not decipher why. She had expected him to wish to leave Longbourn early due to Elizabeth’s refusal, but he said he would stay until Saturday as planned. Fortunately, Charlotte had invited him to Lucas Lodge for the majority of the following day.

After dinner, Jane took the time to calm her feelings before she spoke to her sisters about Caroline’s letter. It contained many things that, at first, shocked Jane. Still, she had learned last night to master her emotions, and she would not lose them over a letter.

Finally, came the hour when the family went to bed. The three eldest girls shared a room and could converse privately. First, Jane and Kate told Elizabeth of their experiences the night before.

“It does not surprise me in the least that Mr. Darcy should be part of an evil plot. There must have been some evil spell on Jane,” Elizabeth said. “I am sorry to hear that Mr. Tilney and Mr. Bingley are involved.”

“I do not know for sure Mr. Tilney was involved. In my vision, he was not in the room and his sister was bound,” Catherine said.

“I believe I might have some explanation to add,” Jane said and withdrew her letter. “This was from Caroline Bingley.”

 

My Dear Friend,

You will be shocked to read, no doubt, that we have all followed Charles and the General to London. They left this morning as planned, but as more things came to light, we soon understood that their stay could not be as short as they had anticipated.

You were very sly to not mention it last night, likely because you were so confused, but I have learned all about the terrible things that befell you during the ball. It grieves me to tell you that it was my step-sister Eleanor who poisoned you.

Jane paused at Elizabeth and Kate’s gasp.

She must be jealous of your strong abilities as she is also an empath. When Frederick disclosed that you had kissed him, Louisa and I did not rest as we sought to find some explanation for your behavior. We demanded that each of the rooms be searched. Ingredients for a spell that would make one entirely submissive to another’s will were found. Eleanor had taken to her rooms half-way through the ball hoping to hide proof of her sins, but her maid reported seeing the ingredients and vials.

This is twice now that you have been ill under Netherfield’s roof, and my step-father and mother are determined it never shall be again. I am confident you understand why we must leave. After Eleanor is duly punished, we must continue our search for the Bewitched Ones.

All is not lost, however. Many of my acquaintances have already returned to London for the winter. Additionally, Mr. Darcy was very anxious to see his sister again, and I confess I look forward to increased intimacy with her. Charles is very fond of her already and readily owns he has not met another lady with such beauty, grace, and accomplishment united in one person.

I shall miss you, and you must promise to write often. If you are ever in London, be sure to call on us! I wish you many beaus this winter.

Yours,

Caroline Bingley

 

“I cannot believe that Eleanor took part in anything evil,” Catherine said.

“The alternative is to say that Caroline is blatantly lying and seeking to hurt me and her step-sister. I know her to be incapable of such.”

Both girls looked to Elizabeth to be the rational voice.

“It is very clear,” said Elizabeth, “that Miss Bingley wishes her brother to marry Miss Darcy.”

“Yes,” Jane agreed. “Even if I was under the magical command of someone else, I could not blame a gentleman for doubting my constancy. If he had been uncertain of his regard and my suitability before, that must have sealed matters.”

“I disagree,” Elizabeth persisted. “I do not know that I trust Caroline’s version of events, but she makes it clear that they are leaving London to deal with Eleanor.”

“But what is that about them not coming back? They do not believe we are the Bewitched Ones?” Kate asked.

“It appears they think that,” Elizabeth said. “Undoubtedly they were influenced by Mr. Darcy, who does not approve of us.”

Jane shook her head. “Do you not see the charity they offer? If they leave, they signal to the Dark One that we are not the Bewitched Sisters. We will no longer be under evil attacks.”

“Do you believe we are not the fulfillment of the prophecy?” Kate asked, apparently upset at Jane’s lack of faith.

“I do not know that we even know of the full prophecy.”

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth leaned forward, clearly intrigued.

“Here, take my hands and I will explain.”

Jane used heart speak to tell her sisters of the prophecy Bingley had told her. When she had finished, the girls were all pensive.

“I do not understand how you could speak to Mr. Bingley in such a way if he were not your true love,” Catherine said. “And if he is, then he would not marry Miss Darcy. My premonition is flawed in some way.”

Jane shook her head. “No, do not believe that of yourself again. There was an explanation for Eleanor being bound before them. Mama has explained that people do not always have just one love in a lifetime. Perhaps our love was necessary for only a short period.”

“Or,” cut in Elizabeth, “Mr. Bingley is being induced to Miss Darcy against his real wishes, and it will all come to naught.”

“That is rather unlikely. If he actually cared for me, what would stop him? Not the arguments of his friends and family.”

“Family, at least, is quite likely to influence someone’s opinion,” Elizabeth murmured. “More important than understanding Mr. Bingley’s motives at such a time is the issue that we might not know all of the prophecies about the Bewitched Ones. Perhaps not even the Council knows.”

“We should ask Papa,” Kate suggested.

Jane agreed. “Yes, after Mr. Collins is gone, we will tell him our experiences.”

“And our Aunt and Uncle Gardiner will be coming for the Solstice soon,” Elizabeth added. Although they were the brother and sister-in-law of the first Mrs. Bennet, they were still welcomed at Longbourn. Mr. Bennet and Mr. Gardiner had been friends for nearly thirty years.

Deciding they had made all the sense of the situation that they could for the evening, the sisters soon went to bed. Jane slept restlessly. In her dreams, she hovered between that dark prison of the night before and whisperings of her name in Mr. Bingley’s voice. When she attempted to feel his love, however, there was no reply. Either the distance was now too great between them or his love for her had waned.

 

*****

 

The sisters filled the following days in quiet pursuits, each too thoughtful to speak much. Such unusual activity might have drawn the notice of their mother more if she were not as busy with sick little ones. Mr. Collins had been invited to Lucas Lodge for much of the week, and Elizabeth blessed Charlotte for her thoughtfulness. The reverend was as anxious to be out of the house and away from her as she was to be away from him. His leave-taking on Saturday, however, astonished the family as he promised to soon return.

The girls were just about to approach their father about the matter of the prophecy when Charlotte arrived unexpectedly.

“Eliza,” she said while taking her friend’s hands, “I wanted you to hear it from me first. Mr. Collins and I are engaged.”

“Engaged to Mr. Collins! Impossible!”

Charlotte flinched as though struck, and then Elizabeth realized she had sent a heat wave through the room. Elizabeth opened her mouth to apologize, but Charlotte spoke instead. “Why should you be so surprised? Just because you did not care to receive his proposal does not mean all women must find it deficient.” Charlotte’s eyes flashed, and her eyebrows were raised, reminding Elizabeth how similar her friend was for all these years.

“Well…I….” She trailed off. Of course, there was the issue that only days before proposing to Charlotte he had declared passionate love for Elizabeth. Elizabeth held her tongue, however. “If you are determined, then I wish you all imaginable happiness.” It would be very imaginable, to be sure, Elizabeth thought to herself which prompted an elbow to the ribs from Jane.

“It is a very respectable match,” Jane said over the top of Elizabeth’s cry of pain.

“Thank you. It is,” Charlotte said forcefully as though stating it time and again excused the ridiculousness of the idea. She then added, “I was not like you all. I was never romantic. I ask only for a comfortable home. I believe my chances of happiness with him are as good as they are with any man.”

Elizabeth’s eyes grew wide. How had she misunderstood her close friend so much? There was no talk of dispositions or talents, of matched intellect or companionship. No, it all mattered on what Collins was worth.

“I am certain you shall be happy,” Kate said with a smile.

Charlotte stood. “I do not have much time for a visit today. I only wished for you to hear of it from me. We are still settling matters about the date for the wedding, but my father and Maria talk of visiting in March. I should be so happy if you would come as well, Eliza.”

“I will speak with my parents. I am uncertain they can spare me…” Elizabeth trailed off. She could imagine few things worse than seeing her friend in such a degrading match and residing under the same roof as Mr. Collins again let alone the proximity of the pompous Lady Catherine.

Charlotte seemed to like the answer, however, and soon took her leave.

“I cannot believe she accepted him!” Elizabeth turned to her sisters the minute Charlotte was away from the house.

“Do you not think they might love each other?” Kate asked.

“How could they when they barely had a conversation together and only days before he had proposed to me? That is hardly the behavior of a man who is violently in love with another.”

“Ooh, perhaps it was forbidden love then!” Kate nearly swooned. “He felt compelled by duty to offer for one of us, but his heart beat for another.”

“Catherine,” Elizabeth frowned.

“Well, I do admit it is hard to imagine Mr. Collins animated by anything or having such a crisis of conscience,” Kate at last sobered.  “And he certainly didn’t act as though he was confused.”

“How would such a man act?”

“Quiet, I suppose. Very quiet, absorbed in his own thoughts and observing the actions of others.”

“Add a scowl on his face and you will have Mr. Darcy, which proves your theory could not be correct for there was never a man more decided in his own good opinion and knowledge than Mr. Darcy.”

Her sisters sighed, and Elizabeth checked herself. She knew she was given far too much to air her grievances about the man. “Come, let us ask Father about the prophecy.”

Elizabeth knocked on the library door and was bade to enter, her sisters close on her heels.

“Well, this is something,” Mr. Bennet said looking up from his book. “I do not recall the last time all three of my older girls wanted my attention at once.”

Elizabeth shut the door and then settled herself in a chair before speaking. “We have come to ask for exact details on the prophecy regarding the Bewitched Ones.”

“Ah,” Mr. Bennet said and sifted through papers on his desk. “I had been waiting for Mr. Collins to leave, but undoubtedly you have questions since our neighbors have left. Jane, I believe you received a letter from Miss Bingley?”

“Yes. She made it clear that her family did not think we were a fulfillment of the prophecy.”

Mr. Bennet sighed. “The prophecy is problematic. I had not wanted to tell you while you all were still adjusting to your powers. In the last generation, there was a gifted oracle who passed on several predictions regarding the Bewitched Ones. I do not know wthem all. There is only one who was entrusted to know each prophecy upon her demise. Her son, Fitzwilliam Darcy.”

“Mr. Darcy’s mother was the oracle?” Jane asked as Elizabeth scowled.

“Yes and that is why he is the chief investigator for the Council.”

“So, that means General Tilney does not know every prophecy regarding the Bewitched Ones?” Kate asked.

“Correct. Mr. Darcy is the only one who knows them all. The General knew the prophecy regarding suitors for the sisters. I only know that information because he returned to Netherfield upon Kate’s Come Out.”

“To understand the complete prophecy, we must ask Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth asked. She would rather not have to speak with him again. He would never tell them, and there was the usual reason for her to desire distance from him. He unsettled her, and she hated it.

“Or gather them from the others.”

“Who are they?” Kate asked.

“Members of the Council. I do not know them all, the identity of some must be hidden, or we would be too susceptible to bribery. One Keeper is Lady Anne Darcy’s sister. She resides in Kent.”

Recalling her conversation with Mr. Wickham, Elizabeth’s eyebrows shot up. “Lady Catherine de Bourgh?”

“Yes. I have wondered if her choosing of Mr. Collins as her rector was mere chance. As he came here to ‘heal the breach between the family’ at her encouragement, I rather think it was not. Undoubtedly, she desired information about you three.”

Elizabeth blushed as she considered her lack of restraint toward Mr. Collins the previous day. That would be unlikely to endear them to the lady. Elizabeth wondered how many members of the Council had to be convinced they were not the Bewitched Ones for their cause to be senseless.

“I have heard one was a Mr. Jennings. His widow visits London every February. Another was a Lady Elliot of Somersetshire. She passed over a decade ago, and I do not know what became of the family or who the secret might now reside with. I believe she only had daughters. I am not sure if her husband remarried or if her daughters are still at home.”

“These were two Council members entrusted to keep her secret after her own death, and now they are gone?” Jane asked.

“The passage of time makes it common enough,” Mr. Bennet said.

“But it does not appear a long passage of time occurred. They died only a few years after Lady Anne.”

“Do you think the other Council members could be in danger?” Kate asked.

“Either that or the new ones would be signs of a coup by evil forces,” Elizabeth said. “We must seek to know not only the prophecies but the Council members.” Her shoulders slumped. “How can we go about it?”

“I will consult with your uncle when he visits. Surely one of you can return to London with him.”

“Jane will go!” Elizabeth hoped that Jane would be able to meet with Mr. Bingley again. The evidence was now seeming that Catherine’s premonition was only part of a larger force. She was certain Jane’s heart would only be touched by her one true love and after understanding the prophecy on the importance of mates, she believed it critical that Bingley and Jane be reunited.

Jane blushed but nodded her head. “I would like to go.”

“I will speak with your uncle and others that I trust about how to find our answers. I had not wished to overwhelm you earlier by telling you about the scattered prophecies but neither had I any idea that the General would believe you were unqualified. I will say, though, do not think too badly of the General. He is doing only what the evidence seems to support for the information he has.”

“Oh, no. I do not blame the General. I blame Darcy,” Elizabeth said as she stood. “He must have some motive in maligning us. He had not cared about giving Mr. Wickham his rightful place in the church, and now he is doing it to us as well. He must have another set of sisters he finds of greater standing.”

“I have not met this Wickham or heard his story, but when you see him next please invite him to the house so we might converse. I am hesitant to believe anything said against a Council member,” Mr. Bennet said. “Now, leave me so I might write my letters. The Evil One will be watching and notice that Netherfield is now empty. Use it to your advantage. Study the arts and hone your skills, my girls. For evil will not be duped into complaisance for long.”

The sisters left the library, but Elizabeth felt far from satisfied. If they did not have answers earlier, she would go to Kent to visit Charlotte and while there she would hope to glean information from Lady Catherine. The prospect of using her powers outside of her home again thrilled her. She could not, however, be happy at separating from her sisters. All the more reason to find their answers as quickly as possible, especially if someone was hunting Council members as well.

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