The Secrets of Netherfield Abbey- Chapter Seven

tsna coverChapter Seven

 

Elizabeth entered the drawing-room of Netherfield with a different purpose than her sisters. Whereas Jane glowed with the joy of being able to meet with Mr. Bingley again, all of Kate’s happiness rested in joining Miss Thorpe for an evening of dancing and entertainment. Far from being in love or in the throes of an exciting, new friendship, Elizabeth only hoped to dance with Mr. Wickham. Mr. Collins had solicited the first two dances with her, but she believed she had every reason to expect at least one set with the handsome officer. He had made his admiration of her perfectly visible at her aunt’s the week before. After the slight of her last ball, Elizabeth was immeasurably pleased to be confident she met with the approval of at least one gentleman in question.

“But where is Mr. Wickham?” Kate asked from Elizabeth’s side as they greeted a group of officers.

“Ah, he had business in London,” Mr. Denny replied.

“What bad luck to miss the ball!” Kate exclaimed.

“I do not imagine,” said Denny, “that his business would have taken him away at just this moment if he did not wish to avoid a particular gentleman.”

Elizabeth instantly understood Denny’s meaning but Kate looked at her with a confused expression. She said nothing, however, before Mr. Collins approached.

“My dear Cousin Elizabeth, is this not a wonderful event?”

“Yes, Mr. Collins. As we have discussed, at length, all week, I am very happy to be here this evening.”

“You are a lady of grace as well as sense. I know this area seldom has balls of this sort with such superior company, that it must be very agreeable to you. I, of course, am not so unused to lauded company due to my close association with my patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.”

“Indeed.” Elizabeth looked on helplessly as her friends scattered.

“Of course, the neighborhood of Hunsford holds monthly balls, but I surmise it is not so much the dancing as the company here that you prefer and that I can offer easily.”

Elizabeth did not understand his train of thought. Suddenly, he seemed to burst forth with a new, much more startling one.

“Do you not find dancing conducive to courtships?”

“Courtship!” She half questioned and half exclaimed.

The musicians began, and she was led to the dance floor by her cousin. She prayed there would be no more talk of courtship!

Fortunately for Elizabeth, Mr. Collins was too busy apologizing for any errors he made in the dance to say anything else. What would usually bring shame and misery in a partner only brought relief. The release from him at the close of the first two sets was sheer ecstasy.

Elizabeth danced next with an officer and had the pleasure of hearing Wickham spoken well of. Her friend, Charlotte, approached. Having not seen each other in a week, Elizabeth quickly made her friend acquainted with the information regarding Wickham and Darcy. Charlotte listened in acceptance and commiseration, which if Elizabeth were truthful she liked better than Jane’s desire to defend Darcy. Her feelings validated, she easily moved on to discussing her cousin.

“I am sure you saw how humiliating it was to dance with him. I was surprised anyone else even asked after such a terrible display!”

“You do not think anyone would be foolish enough to blame you for his awkward abilities?”

“Hopefully not, but you never know. It seems the judgment of most men is less than I thought. Mr. Bingley and Mr. Tilney are intolerably blind to the wickedness of Mr. Darcy!”

“Miss Elizabeth,” Mr. Darcy’s voice behind her shoulder caused Elizabeth to jump. She turned, wondering if he had overheard her.

“Mr. Darcy,” she said with an iciness that would rival his power.

“May I have the honor of your hand for the next set?”

“You may,” she replied before thinking, confused by his presence and civility. Before she could come up with an excuse to change her mind, he bowed and departed.

“What have I done?” She asked Charlotte.

“I dare say he will be agreeable.”

“Heaven forbid! I’m determined to hate him. How terrible it would be to like him!”

“He is ten times Wickham’s worth. Don’t be a simpleton, Eliza!”

Moments later he returned to escort her to the dance floor. Elizabeth eyed him with suspicion. Had he bewitched her? And if he had, why? Their hands met and instead of the coldness she had become accustomed to experience near him, she could feel the heat of his palm through their gloves. It scorched her, and she quickly withdrew, looking her hand over for some kind of singe mark. Shaking her head at her foolishness and determined to survive the set, she returned her hand to his.

“This is a pleasant dance,” she said.

“Indeed,” was his only reply.

They stood silently as several others went down the line. It was interminable! “I have remarked on the dance. Now it is your turn to say something. Perhaps you like the size of the room or the number of couples.”

Darcy smiled. “I would be happy to oblige you by saying whatever you most wish to hear.”

What an odd thing to say and how strange that her mind would recall his slight of their first encounter. There was nothing he could say now that could take away that sting and she would rather die than admit it to him. “That reply will do for the present. I will add that I enjoy private balls over public ones, but now we may be silent.”

“Do you talk by rule when dancing then?”

As Elizabeth fumbled her way through a jest and sarcastic comment on his preference for silence, she was surprised to see his expression grow colder and colder. Their conversation lapsed again which allowed her mind to wander again to the injustice he had given Wickham.

“Do you and your sisters often walk to Meryton?”

He could not have said anything more likely to anger her than to reference their last encounter. “Yes, we often walk to Meryton. It is an excellent way to make new acquaintances, such as we were when you met us last week.”

A deep shade of hauteur overtook his face, and she felt the ice emanating from his body. At first, he said nothing and Elizabeth determined she could press him no more. At last, he spoke.

“Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends— whether he may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain.”

Feeling the familiar desire to lose her fiery fury on him, she took a deep breath before replying.  “He has been so unlucky as to lose your friendship and in a manner that might affect him his whole life!”

Darcy made no answer and seemed as though he was casting about for a new subject. Before he found a suitable topic, however, their dancing was interrupted by Sir William Lucas.

“You make a very handsome couple and dance so well together! I hope to see it repeated the anticipated and desirable event takes place.” He nodded at Jane and Bingley. “But do not let me stop you from dancing!” Sir William bustled onward, entirely unaware of the change his words imparted on his companions.

Darcy continued watching Jane and Bingley for several minutes before returning his attention back to Elizabeth. “I am sorry I do not recall what we were speaking of.”

“Nothing, sir. We have tried two or three topics now without success. Sir William could not have interrupted two people with less to say to each other.”

“What think you of books, then?”

“Oh no! I cannot speak of books in a ballroom. Besides, I am confident we do not read the same things or have the same thoughts when reading them.”

“I am sorry you think so, but then there can be no shortage of discussion.”

Elizabeth heartily wished for silence now. She had seen him moody and feeling above his company before, but his attention to Jane and Bingley concerned her. Would he try to sever his friend’s attachment to Jane? She knew how prejudiced he was towards those beneath him.

“I recall you saying that you found it impossible to forgive those that offend you. You are careful in the creation of your resentment, are you not?”

“I am,” he said firmly.

“And you never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?”

“I hope not.”

Elizabeth shook her head. He was blinded to his own faults as much as his friends were.

“May I ask to what these questions tend?” He inquired coolly.

“Merely for making out your character.” The truth was, even a Bewitched One would be powerless to stop one of the wealthiest men in the Kingdom from pointing out all the insufficiencies of a match with a Bennet daughter. She did not think, however, that Mr. Bingley would be so easily swayed from her sister. In the end, her impertinent questions would serve only to vex herself more on the formation of Darcy’s character. “I hear such different accounts of you as to puzzle me exceedingly.”

“I can readily believe that reports about me may vary significantly. I do not think, however, that sketching my character at the moment will do either of us favors.”

“If I do not do it now then I do not know when I might have another chance.”

“I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours,” he said with his voice as icy as his features and hands. They parted in silence, neither one satisfied with the course of the dance.

 

*****

 

Catherine stood toward the back of the ballroom. She had already suffered through dances with Mr. Thorpe and her cousin. Isabella enjoyed constant male admiration, and James was at her side as often as possible. Looking about the room, Kate noted that Mr. Bingley chatted with Jane and Elizabeth was dancing with Mr. Darcy. She hardly supposed to know Elizabeth’s thoughts, but Kate believed Darcy partial to her older sister. Kate hoped Elizabeth would be sensible to the gentleman’s attentions and not set her sights on Mr. Tilney. Sighing, Kate reminded herself that she ought to get over her infatuation with the young reverend. He could never think well of her now.

As she observed the amusements in the room, Catherine felt like an outsider. She often felt that way, she was beginning to believe it related to her magical powers. As she mused on the possibility, a feeling of anticipation welled in her. Her heart raced and the hair on her arms raised in awareness. She jumped when she heard a voice behind her.

“Miss Morland,” said Mr. Tilney.

Catherine spun around, heart pounding and chest heaving from surprise, and saw Mr. Tilney and his sister looking at her. The former with amusement twitching at his lips and the latter with a concerned expression.

“I am sorry we startled you,” Miss Tilney said.

Her soothing voice calmed Catherine. “I let my mind wander and was only surprised to be jolted from my reverie.” She cast a bashful look at Tilney. He still looked amused, but he did not appear to look at her with condemnation. “I do hope you can forgive me for missing our walk last week. Mr. and Miss Thorpe called just after it ceased raining and desired to drive out. I declined, believing you might still come for me, but I was mistakenly informed that you did not mean to walk with me.”

Mr. Tilney’s brows furrowed. “Who told you such a thing?”

Catherine blushed. “Mr. Thorpe said he saw Miss Tilney and a gentleman riding in a phaeton. When I saw you passing in the street I did ask for him to stop so I might at least explain the matter but he would not.”

Tilney’s expression darkened, and he cast his eyes about the ballroom. Catherine followed his gaze and saw it land on Mr. Thorpe, whispering something in a young lady’s ear which caused her to blush. Tilney scowled.

“Think nothing of it, Miss Morland,” Miss Tilney said. Her words brought here brother’s eyes back to Catherine’s. He looked ready to speak, but Miss Tilney laid a hand on his arm, and he visibly softened. “We shall walk together another time. Please do not think we came over here to chide you.”

“Indeed. We have a favor to ask you, Miss Morland.”

“I would do anything in my power to assist you,” she murmured hoping the affection in her voice was not too obvious.

“It is precisely your powers that we need,” Mr. Tilney replied clearly unaffected by her words. “Will you walk with us?”

Without a backward glance, Catherine followed her friends. They said nothing as they walked through the halls of the abbey. The sounds of the ball grew fainter and fainter. Arriving at the wing which housed the chamber belonging to the deceased Mrs. Tilney, Catherine blushed. Did Henry take her here to laugh at her?

“Be at ease, Miss Morland,” Eleanor said. “Henry found a secret chamber a few days ago, and we cannot discern its use.”

“I do not understand how I can help.”

“You saw a vision of the past before. Perhaps you might again.”

Although not as clever as Elizabeth, Catherine was able to understand what the siblings did not say. They did not trust the others in their house enough to confide in them.

“Of course,” she said.

They led her on. At the end of the hall, Henry pushed against the wall under the staircase. To Catherine’s surprise, a piece of paneling opened a door. They entered, and a feeling of dread was palpable. Catherine instantly recognized it as similar to the demon which bound her weeks before. Henry and Eleanor hung back and allowed Catherine to walk through the room. Her fingers gently grazing articles here and there, noting the signs of recent use. Coming upon a pot and book stand, she felt a pulse of energy course through her body. A metal spoon for stirring sat nearby and when Catherine picked it up to inspect it, she gasped as images flooded her mind.

Voices and colors flashed at lightning speed. She could not understand them, but their tone was menacing. Part of her wanted to throw the tool aside and be rid of the fear coursing her veins. Instead, she made her mind focus. Finally, one voice emerged above the others. “Congratulations my darlings, you are finally the bewitched ones.” The voice was that of the current Mrs. Tilney! Could she be congratulating Catherine and her sisters? An image floated before her mind. Mr. Darcy and Caroline nestled together on a settee. Mr. Bingley and a girl younger than Catherine sat on another one. Eleanor sat alone, restrained. “Yes, our dynastic plans are finally complete,” the General said and raised a toast.

The spoon fell from her Catherine’s hand with a clatter. She felt herself falling backward, but was caught in strong arms.

“Breathe now. That’s it.” The low voice of Henry rumbled in her ears, and her eyes fluttered open to see his concerned expression.

“We ought to leave,” Eleanor said. She will calm better in a different room.

Catherine gripped Henry’s arm tightly for strength as they walked down the long hallway. At last, they came to the library. Henry gently led her to a couch and helped her recline. He brought over a glass of wine and allowed her to rest for several minutes.

As the fog in her mind cleared, Eleanor gently took her hand. “Can you tell us what you saw?”

Alarmed, Catherine sat up. “You are not safe here!”

“I do not think we are in danger from books,” Henry said. Catherine could tell he desired to calm her, but she was not falsely dramatic or too weak to understand the gravity of what she had seen.

“It was mostly a jumble of angry voices and dark images. At last, I made sense of things. Mrs. Tilney congratulated the Bewitched Ones on a victory, but it was not my sisters and me. Instead, it was Caroline, Eleanor and another lady I did not recognize. Mr. Bingley sat with her; Mr. Darcy with Caroline. They appeared very…intimate.” Catherine flushed, and her companions raised their eyebrows.

“And Eleanor?” Henry asked.

“She was restrained in a chair,” Catherine whispered.

Eleanor immediately paled. Henry stood and paced about the room.

“There is more…” Catherine said uncertainly. Henry stopped suddenly before her and stared expectantly. “The General was raising a toast. He said his dynastic plans were finally complete.”

“Where were the others? Where was I?” He demanded harshly.

“I—I—I do not know!”

He let out a hollow laugh. “This information is practically useless. Perhaps it is all harmless, and my sisters really are the Bewitched Ones.”

Catherine stood with gusto and tilted her head to meet his eyes. “Do not find my powers lacking because I do not see you in my visions, other than when you were a small boy. If it was harmless why would Eleanor be restrained? You are blinded by affection for your father and friends!”

“Will both of you please calm?” Miss Tilney asked gently. “We must think through this rationally.”

“If you want logic we ought to ask Darcy to speak with us.”

“No! You can’t tell him!” Catherine cried.

“He already knows I found the chamber. He agrees there is dark work going on there.”

“Miss Morland, forget my brother for a moment. This other girl, can you describe her?”

Catherine closed her eyes to bring forth the picture again. “She looked a year or two younger than me. She had golden hair in shiny curls and blue eyes. The most unique eyes I’ve ever seen. They were almost violet.”

Eleanor gasped and looked at her brother. “Miss Darcy?”

He slumped into a seat. “It would appear so. I cannot think that Darcy would be involved in anything evil. That he would include his sister.”

Voices in the hall alerted them. Hearing Jane’s voice, Catherine went to the door. Her eyes nearly fell out of her head at what she saw.

Jane’s arms were wrapped around an officer, and he trailed kisses down her neck.

Henry’s voice boomed from behind her, “Frederick!”

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