The Secrets of Netherfield Abbey- Chapter Six

Oops! I meant to finish posting on my blog awhile ago!

tsna cover

Chapter Six

At Netherfield, the house was in uproar preparing for the ball. The gentlemen frequently avoided the ladies entirely by taking refuge in the billiard’s room. The General frequently had business in Meryton with the Militia.

“Dreadful weather,” Henry said to Darcy and Charles one afternoon while observing the continued rain. “Frederick says that his men are growing testy. Of course, the tavern keeper is making a mighty profit.”

“So long as Frederick can ensure that Wickham does not appear,” Darcy said.

“No, that is all taken care of.”

“Do you know anything about the new ones invited?”

“The Thorpes?” Darcy nodded his head. “No, I have never met them. Perhaps Charles knows something.”

Henry and Darcy turned to Charles, awaiting his answer, but none came.

“Charles!” Darcy, at last, broke his friend’s reverie.

“What?”

“Quit doing your mind trances to talk to Miss Bennet,” Henry said with a snicker. “Darcy wants to know if you know anything about the Thorpes.”

“Nothing at all. Miss Morland has become friends with the eldest daughter and Mr. James Morland knows the eldest son.”

Henry frowned. “Yes. Eleanor was supposed to go out walking with Miss Morland the other day. Instead, Miss Morland was seen riding out with Mr. Thorpe.”

“What? Unaccompanied?” Charles cried.

“No, Miss Thorpe and Mr. Morland were just behind them.”

“Well, then that explains it,” Charles said.

“How so?” Darcy and Henry asked in unison.

“Miss Morland has only just come out. She grew up in the shadow of beautiful sisters who are near in age and had a close bond before she joined the family. She is not only searching for affection from a friend but would not wish to disappoint her brother. If Miss Thorpe and Mr. Morland desired to drive out, then I could very well understand Miss Morland feeling that she could not refuse them.”

“I would not wish my sister to act in such a fashion. She ought to have at least sent a note to Eleanor,” Darcy said.

Henry shook his head. “I do not think the Thorpes are a good influence on Miss Morland. She would do better to spend time with her sisters and learn some of the conviction that Miss Elizabeth has.”

Darcy raised his eyebrows and the room cooled by several degrees. “If you feel so strongly about her, Darcy, then why not speak up?” Charles said.

“You are mistaken. Strength of feeling is not the same as regard. Nor is regard the same as love or love the same as a soul match.”

Henry guffawed. “As if you would know!”

“Not from myself, but I did see a union of perfectly matched souls in my parents. Neither you nor Charles can claim that.”

“And simply by seeing the love of your parents means you can determine not only if you are in love but if Charles is as well?” Henry asked.

“I dare not say I know Charles’ feelings better than himself. Though, I do think I observe Miss Bennet more objectively than either of you do.”

“You are determined to disbelieve the prophecy!” Charles exclaimed in defense.

“Nay. I do believe. I merely doubt if these sisters are the manifestation of the powers.”

“You are thinking with your head when the answer is from the heart,” Charles replied.

Henry leaned forward and ran a hand across the back of his neck. “With beauty such as they have it would be very easy to think with something else entirely,” he muttered.

Charles and Darcy laughed at the unexpected words from a clergyman.

“What? I am still a man and mortal. I am no monk. If only they were not so…so exuberant! So encouraging and happy to see an object of their affection!”

Darcy scowled, and Charles laughed again. “Darcy certainly wouldn’t know that affliction. The only one happy to see you is Caroline, but it is not so much you as much as your pocketbook and estate.”

“Yes, thank you so much for reminding me of that. Why am I here again?” Darcy said and gulped some wine.

“Because your mother died protecting these ladies and it is your family’s sacred duty, and you always do your duty,” Charles answered.

Henry lifted a wine glass. “Well, regardless of prophecies, we have been tasked to protect these ladies who the enemy clearly thinks are the Bewitched Ones. Let us drink to our duty.”

Charles smiled Darcy begrudgingly lifted his glass.

“I think I will go and find Eleanor. She has been too isolated as she hides from Caroline and Louisa,” Henry said and departed leaving Charles and Darcy alone.

“Henry was wrong earlier,” Charles said. “I do not communicate to Jane through my mind. The heart understands the heart. It is the same way the sisters can defend each other regardless of distance.”

“You forget that I have seen you in love before,” Darcy said.

“Suit yourself.” Charles stood.

“No, I do not suit myself, and it is not you that I doubt.”

“Are you serious? After the other week, you would still doubt their powers?”

“I have no doubt they are talented witches. However, I have seen nothing that displays they are the Bewitched Ones.”

Charles shook his head and walked to the door. “You have blinded yourself, Darcy,” he said before exiting.

Frustrated with his friend’s ill-humor, Darcy paced the room and stood before the fire. As he stared at it intently, it grew, and he stumbled backward knocking over a table. He landed on the floor with a loud clatter.

The door opened wide, with a shocked Caroline Bingley on the other side. “Mr. Darcy! Are you injured?” she asked as he stood.

“I am perfectly well. I am sorry my clumsiness startled you.”

Caroline’s eyes drifted to the fire. “My mother was just requesting your presence in the drawing room. It is much warmer in there as well so you will not have to build the fire so high.”

“I will come in just a moment,” he said in clipped tones and the nuisance left.

As he set the table to rights, Darcy could have sworn he heard Elizabeth’s laughter echo in his ears.

I have been bewitched,” he muttered under his breath.

 

*****

 

Henry found Eleanor alone in the library. “Ellie, how long have you been alone?”

“Only a few hours,” she said while shrugging her shoulders but she could not hide her sad expression from her brother.

“You ought to have sent for me.”

“You need the company of young men.”

“You could always join us,” he said.

“No, being with Darcy makes me think too much about his cousin.”

“Richard would not wish for you to be melancholy. Now, tell me about the ball. All ladies must look forward to balls.”

“I am only content because I know that I will have partners to dance with. Of course, it will not be with the man I wish to dance, but at least it means there will be less time I am forced to mingle with the ladies.”

“I am sorry Miss Morland did not walk with you.”

“Do not be too harsh on her, Henry. She is a younger sister and they often feel compelled to please their elder siblings.”

Her words made Henry sit back. “Have Frederick or I ever made you feel as though you must go along with us against your will?”

“No, but I bear the brunt of your choices just the same.”

“What does that mean?”

“You are both far too charming with ladies. I have had ever so many girls try to form a friendship with me because they have fallen in love with one of you.”

“You need not worry about Miss Morland there, then. If she were so interested in me, then she would know to not slight my sister.”

Eleanor shook her head. “You are quite mistaken, Henry. Anyone can see she thinks very highly of you, but I do agree she is not the sort to befriend someone simply out of a desire to ingratiate themselves in their family.”

Henry could tell his sister would not amend her opinion on Miss Morland, and so he kept further thoughts to himself. He had not told Eleanor about Catherine’s ridiculous misunderstanding in believing his father killed his mother. If he were honest with himself, he shared some of Darcy’s skepticism about the ladies. He was more willing than his friend, however, to acknowledge that the gift of foresight was temperamental when one was first learning and thought the girls might better prove themselves in the future.

Considering the prophecy, he thought to ask his sister her opinion of the Bennet and Morland ladies. “How do the sisters get along? Have you perceived them in love with anyone of unscrupulous means?” Henry could hardly understand the dark feeling he had as he inquired further. “I do not think well of the Thorpes.”

Eleanor laughed. “You have not yet met them! Miss Bennet is quite in love with Charles. Miss Elizabeth and Miss Morland’s affections are not fully formed—or were not when they were last here. I did not feel they were attached to anyone untrustworthy.”

“Does that mean they are attached to someone?”

“I will not invade their privacy like that,” Eleanor said. “Now, get away with you. Being so nosy and match-making like an old woman.”

“Fine, fine,” Henry said and stood. “If you have anything to add to the post, I will have a letter to go out tomorrow,” he said.

It was their secret arrangement for him to ferry letters between Eleanor and Darcy’s cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam, to whom she was secretly engaged. Their father did not favor the match because Richard was the second son of an earl. As an army officer, he had little fortune and less prestige than the heir. Of course, Frederick always meant more to his father as the heir.

In recent months, Henry, Eleanor, and Charles had felt the need to have a secret arrangement of unsaid things between them. Eleanor and Charles had it easier than Henry did. As an empath, Eleanor could understand unspoken things through feelings. Although, she currently had it better regulated than Miss Bennet. Naturally, Charles could read thoughts. Henry relied on wordplay. Sadly, this new arrangement occurred shortly after their parents’ marriage. Henry and Eleanor loved Charles like a brother, but his mother and sisters soon proved deceitful and cunning. Of course, it mattered not to the General. He had married for wealth and connections and cared nothing about the character of his wife and step-daughters. Henry also had powers to discern evil where his father did not.

“Yes, I will have it ready at breakfast,” she said. Then sighed and looked out the window.

Seeing she had grown morose and distracted again, Henry silently left the room. He considered Eleanor’s words in defense of Catherine Morland. Perhaps he had been too harsh on her. Eleanor did wander aimlessly around the house and without comment or care from the other ladies. What would a young woman with an imagination as active as Miss Morland think? And as defensive as he was of his sister, it was conceivable for her to be just as biased towards her brother. Indeed, he had seen how much she loved her elder sisters.

He was jolted from his reverie by a sound down an unused corridor. Or at least he had thought it was unused. Before he could investigate, however, his father appeared.

“Here you are, Henry. What sends you to down here?”

“I was visiting with Eleanor. She keeps to the library right now. My step-mother and sisters’ anxious feelings over the ball are too powerful for her.”

“Ah, the ball. Just what I wanted to speak to you about,” the General continued seemingly uncaring about his child’s welfare. “I want you to dance with Miss Morland.”

Astonished, Henry asked, “Of course, sir. As she is an acquaintance, it is only correct that I solicit her hand for a set.”

“I think you ought to dance two or three times with her.”

“Two or three times! Surely that would give the wrong impression.”

“She would be a splendid match for you. I met a young man named Thorpe today that told me Miss Morland was worth twenty thousand pounds.”

“It seems unlikely that the Morlands would have that kind of income,” Henry cautioned.

“No, she is the favorite of an old couple with no living relatives. Mrs. Allen escorts her about town, buys her fine gowns. She and the eldest son are to get everything from the squire.”

“I will dance with her, but that is all.” Henry wanted no part of his father’s mercenary match-making schemes.

“That will be quite enough I am sure. She is a lovely lass and with money on her side looks all the more comely. She’s a simple, young thing and if you show her a bit of attention, she will soon fancy herself in love. A woman is never more attractive to a man than when she is in love with him, and soon you will see attraction and sense will carry the point.”

“It would be cruel to raise Miss Morland’s expectations and inspire a love that I do not return.”

“Then choose to love her! There is the magical match as well. To marry a Bewitching Sister. Well, you know what that would do for you.”

“General! Here you are!” Mrs. Tilney’s voice interrupted their conversation. “I did not know you had returned.”

“Yes, I am going upstairs to dress for dinner, my sweet.”

Henry turned his face to conceal the rolling of his eyes at their fake display of affection for each other. “I am going as well. Excuse me,” he said and moved on to the stairs frustrated with his father’s request, his step-mother’s existence and that he had not had time to decipher the strange noise down the hall. His senses were peaked, however, that it was not of light magic.

He made his excuses early that night and returned to the hall. The chambers were all locked, and he was about to give up his search when he noticed a tapestry underneath the stairs that led to his mother’s chambers knocked slightly askew. Bringing his candle close, he detected a false wall. There was a door which had not closed smoothly, being caught on a rug.

After checking to be sure of his privacy, he entered the room. There was no hearth, and so the room was chilly, hence the thick rugs on the stone floor. Investigating the place further he saw signs of recent occupancy. There were areas where dust had been swept clear. On a table towards the back of the chamber stood an empty pot and bookstand. He looked around for more supplies for what was brewed but found none. Most curiously of all, there was a lingering scent of smoke, stronger than he expected the few lamps in the room to give off, and yet no evidence of fire.

Deciding he should not look more when others in the house were unaccounted for, he soon left the room, being sure to leave everything undisturbed and sealing the door up well. He did not like the heavy feeling of foreboding he had. He would tell Darcy, Charles, and Eleanor about the room. Perhaps together they could determine what potion was being mixed and by whom. If they were unsuccessful, then maybe Miss Morland could be brought to it during the ball, and she might have another vision of the past. If it were not for evil means, there would be no reason to hide it. Far from suspecting a relation, he considered that one of their servants might be to blame, as the Bennets had a spy in their midst. Henry now had another reason to anticipate the ball and dread it at the same time.

 

*****

 

One young man was not in a state of discontent over the upcoming ball at Netherfield. Charles Bingley was in the blessed state of near-constant communication with his beloved, although the rain made any outings and visits impossible. Naturally, his friends would laugh at his state, but Charles believed they were actually envious. No man desired to be alone his life and wanted only for his money or standing in Society. In Jane Bennet, Charles had found his perfect complement in every way.

Only one more day until the ball, love. Charles spoke to Jane.

I can hardly wait. My sisters are full of anticipation as well. We have never had so much excitement in Meryton before.

I am not as inexperienced in private balls and soirees, but my anticipation is all for seeing you again.

Charles could feel Jane’s heart smile. How can you miss me when it as though you never leave me?

It is not the same as looking at your face, feeling the touch of your hand in mine. I long to hear your voice and laughter. My hand itches for the smoothness of your cheek and the taste of your lips.

Charles! Cease! You make me blush. I am in the drawing-room, and now Mama is wondering what is wrong with me. She is concerned I will fall ill again.

I will behave. Do not make me wait for long, dearest.

I promised Mama I would not be in a rush.

Do you doubt me?

No, but there is so much unknown.

The prophecy confirms you are safest when united with your true love.

It is not just the danger of evil I worry about. My sisters have not yet found love. Will it not upset the balance of our powers if I leave my parents’ house?

It should not. Your powers are bound by love which can bear any separation of time and distance.

I know you are correct, and yet it does not feel as though it can be correct.

You are susceptible to the feelings of others.

No, I have not discerned feelings of inadequacy from Lizzy or Kate. These are my feelings, but they seem foreign. It has been that way ever since I awoke at Netherfield.

Jane paused for a moment. Likely she was busy with the others in the room. Charles mulled over her words. At last, she resumed the connection between their hearts.

Mama is asking that I help Kate with trimming her gown. I am sorry we are so busy preparing for the ball I will not have time to sit in silence like this again.

Do not worry, love. I will go and be of use to my mother and sisters.

What use is a man when planning a ball?

Oh, to hear their vexations, of course! Be well, my darling.

When Jane did not reply, Charles knew it meant her concentration had been broken by the goings on of Longbourn. It made him long all the more for the day when they could marry and never be parted by distance.

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