Three weeks had passed since the Netherfield ball, and Jane slowly grew used to the empty feeling in her heart. At first, it seemed as though a massive stone weighed it down, every look and word reminding her of Mr. Bingley. Again and again, she read Caroline’s letter and repeated to herself Catherine’s vision. Bingley had made his choice, and she was not it. Miss Darcy, the unknown paragon of beauty, youth, accomplishment and wealth, was his future. How could Jane remotely compete with all of those claims? She was fast approaching twenty-three and had never had a serious suitor. While Elizabeth fumed over Charlotte’s acceptance of Mr. Collins, Jane recognized that in a few short years, she may very well be in the same predicament.
Jane also recalled her father’s explanation as to why their powers were the fulfillment of the Bewitched Sisters prophecy. True love required empathy, protectiveness and always had a future. Bingley could not esteem her as his true love, then. His actions did not consider her feelings. He was unwilling to fight the General on his love or even Frederick Tilney for Jane’s affections. Additionally, not only was in London with no plans to return but did not communicate with her in their special way.
Rather than grow bitter at her misuse and misplaced trust, Jane felt nothing. Her ability to understand the feelings of others faded a bit more each day. Elizabeth believed if Jane went to London, she might see Bingley again. Jane had no hope of that. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner lived in very different circles from Bingley. It would, however, provide her with distance from all the memories of his presence in Hertfordshire and be a distraction. Bingley might not be her true love. Perhaps she did not have one. Maybe the Bewitched Sisters were not meant to marry, rather than fall for the wrong gentleman and destroy their powers. First, however, they needed to gather all the prophecies and defend their claim to the Council.
While Jane awaited the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner with anxiousness, Elizabeth enjoyed the continued presence of Mr. Wickham. He had met Mr. Bennet and was now a fixture at Longbourn. Jane could not quite tell if her father believed everything Wickham shared about Darcy, or if he simply found amusement in it. Elizabeth thought it all as verified fact.
Only once did Elizabeth extend her belief of Mr. Darcy’s immorality as a friend from Wickham to Bingley. Jane fully understood that, at the moment, she now had an ability to shield unwanted emotions — even her own. If she took the time to truly considered how she felt about Bingley’s abandonment and what her failure in behavior meant not just with Bingley but to her sisters, she would be too melancholy to function. An even worse feeling would be to cast Bingley in a poor light. Jane knew it made little sense, but blaming herself was preferable to blaming him or his friends. She did not fault him for her heartbreak. He did not love her, and he owed her nothing. Darcy could convince Bingley of nothing for which there was no evidence.
Although she struggled to articulate the feelings, Jane expressed her displeasure in Elizabeth abusing Darcy and Bingley to her. Thankfully, Elizabeth — loving sister that she was — obliged Jane and mentioned it no more. Jane was pleased, however, to see that Elizabeth merely enjoyed a general flirtation with Wickham. Elizabeth’s heart was not likely to be touched easily.
Catherine’s friendship with Isabella Thorpe continued. Jane saw that Catherine was uneasy around Isabella’s brother, but he would soon return to Oxford. James remained and would until after Christmas. Then he talked about going to London or Bath. Jane admitted only to herself that she would wish her brother would stay at his estate more. She assumed he might stay at Fullerton more once he married. On that account, Jane had no need to use her empathic talents to discern a growing partiality for Isabella Thorpe. She would be lucky to have him. Although Fullerton was not a large estate, it was better than most men of twenty-four could boast and Isabella had nothing to offer but beauty and grace.
When not walking to Meryton with the Miss Thorpes, or entertaining Militia officers at Longbourn, the sisters studied magical arts. Previously, they had been too consumed with the novelty and excitement of their legacy, and then the gentlemen of Netherfield Abbey, to take much time to read their family history and memorize potions and spells. Jane had never realized before that the bulk of magic was not manifested with special powers. In fact, there seemed to be a magical hierarchy. Those with outward talents were more privileged than those with only magical knowledge. While Mr. and Mrs. Bennet both had magical powers, the rest of the Morland children did not have talents and the first Mrs. Bennet was the only one in her family with powers. Catherine’s vision now seemed perfectly clear and logical. Of course, the General would wish for a greater magical legacy and create dynastic marriages.
Although lacking in talents, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were a very respectable magical family from London. For the outside world, Edward Gardiner sold antiques and rare objects. In the magical world, he was a gifted researcher and genealogist. The evening after their long awaited arrival, while the ladies caught up on London gossip, Mr. Bennet, Mr. Gardiner, Mr. Allen and Sir William Lucas gathered in the Longbourn library. Jane trusted the four gentlemen entirely to come to a plan on how to locate the unknown prophecies. At last, they emerged, and the children were sent to bed.
“I believe we have a plan,” said Mr. Bennet when everyone was seated. “Jane will go to London with the Gardiners. Mrs. Jennings is known to him, and he can easily secure a few invitations to events of mutual friends. I must warn you. She is known in magical circles as The Matchmaker.”
“Better you than me,” said Elizabeth, drawing Mr. Bennet’s notice.
“Ah, yes. Lizzy, you shall go to Hunsford with Sir William and Maria. We only know of Lady Catherine through the reports of Collins and Wickham. Who knows how accurate they are, but perhaps you might gain her confidence by flattery or friendship with her daughter. In any case, try not to light her on fire.”
Mr. Bennet smirked, and the others lightly laughed. It sounded like a fool’s errand to Jane, but her father soon added, “It is very possible that Lady Anne shared information in correspondence with her sister. Gaining Lady Catherine’s favor is not as necessary as gaining her trust. Frequent visits to her home and being allowed to wander about will be more helpful than her liking you enough to pay attention to you.”
Sir William nodded his head. “From my experiences at Court, people of her rank enjoy being useful and condescend to give advice aplenty. She shall see you like a project to improve, the novelty of Charlotte having worn off by then and Maria will be far too terrified to say two words together to the lady. Take no offense to whatever deficiency she finds in you. Use it to our advantage.”
Elizabeth chewed her bottom lip and nodded her head.
“And how shall I help?” Catherine asked.
“You will accompany Mr. and Mrs. Allen to Bath.”
“When do we leave?”
“We can’t all set off at once, or the Dark One will grow suspicious,” Mr. Allen said. “We’ll leave in May.”
Mr. Bennet nodded his head. “I learned that Lady Elliot’s husband still lives and never remarried. He is in deep debt, however, and retrenchment seems impossible. There is talk he will go to Bath, a favorite of his and less expensive than London. We will know more later, but it seems very likely to become his permanent residence.”
“Now, my dears,” said Mr. Bennet. “This is more than snooping and hoping to learn the prophecies. Do you recall the comet we have been seeing?”
The girls nodded their heads in agreement. Mr. Bennet had been more than a little preoccupied with studying it since it first appeared in the sky over the summer.
“Edward has been tracking the movements and predicts something startling is about to occur in the non-magical circle. Napoleon has been waiting for a sign. Tensions are mounting between him and the Emperor of Russia. The General has reported that his contacts in France say that Napoleon is amassing a massive army. Whether he targets Russia or Britain, it can have devastating effects. You will coordinate your efforts with the gentlemen here and must be in constant communication with each other as well.”
“Of course,” the sisters mumbled together.
They then broke into small groups to discuss their plans for travel arrangements. Jane would be leaving with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner when they returned to London. Although they did not socialize much, they had planned several outings in a hope to meet Mrs. Jennings. Mrs. Gardiner had acquaintances that knew the lady. Jane hoped they would not be the most fashionable circles where Bingley was sure to be.
As the evening came to a close and the others went upstairs, Mrs. Bennet asked for Jane to stay and speak with her.
“You have become reticent, my dear,” the gentle lady who had raised Jane for many years now said. Jane looked to her as a mother as much as she would the woman who gave birth to her.
“I always am when I feel I have nothing to add.”
“And you do not feel as though you’ve had anything to add for several weeks now? Or is it that you’re consumed with your own worries and questions and have not trusted your family to help you?”
Jane shook her head. “I am not troubled, actually. I am…numb. The emotions of others, that once felt so overwhelming, I have now blocked.” She looked down at her hands. “Along with my own.”
“You must see that you cannot continue to do so when you leave Longbourn. Regardless of the General’s lack of faith in you and your sisters at the present, we know you are a Bewitched sister and in time, this will be vindicated. The world now needs you to use your powers. You must allow your empathy to begin again. All is not lost. You have learned a valuable tool, the ability to block feelings when necessary.”
“How do I allow myself to understand the feelings of others when I do not understand my own?” Jane asked as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Giving voice to feelings often assists in sorting them out.”
“I feel hurt and betrayed. I thought Bingley was my one true love.”
“Why did you think that?”
“I know without a doubt that I love him. I had believed he was my true love because we had shared the ability to speak with our hearts.”
“Have you used this ability to speak to your sisters?”
“Yes. I believe I did it unconsciously while they were attacked.”
“I believe so as well. But you can divide that and speak with both of them.”
“Yes…” Jane trailed off, uncertain of where her mother was going with the subject.
“And you love me as a mother, and yet I am not your true mother. I did not give birth to you.”
“But you have cared for me as a mother! Returning that affection is the most natural thing in the world.”
“It is,” Mrs. Bennet said and squeezed Jane’s hands which were still knitted on her lap. “If your mother could return and live this very minute, would you love me any less?”
“Then being able to use heart speak is not indicative of true love.”
“Oh.” Jane had never considered it that way. “I had already accepted Mr. Bingley was not my true love, but I had been confused as to how I could prevent misunderstanding it in the future.”
“Sometimes we can only learn through experience. You had promised to not be in a hurry.”
Jane gave a rueful smile. “And yet I was anyway!”
“Can you comprehend the reasons why you are not his true love?”
Jane took a deep breath, understanding what her step-mother was asking. She wanted Jane to feel empathy for Mr. Bingley. Now that she had accepted responsibility in allowing her own feelings to carry her away, Jane discovered she did not hate Mr. Bingley as she had thought. Without the sense of bitterness and anger, she was able to use her powers freely.
Jane began hesitantly. She felt her mother’s grave concern for her. Although not in the room, she felt the same emotion from all the occupants. Elizabeth emanated anger and protectiveness but also a feeling of confidence. Kate’s concern mingled with admiration. Jane was surprised to note it. Was Kate’s heart broken as well? She decided to consider it later. Slowly, she attempted to reach Mr. Bingley. Unlike before, she was able to locate his feelings in the netherworld of spirits, but she could not make them out.
Disheartened, Jane broke the connection. “No, I could not understand them.”
“I am unsurprised. There is generally not a reason for it any more than there is against it. But you do not blame him any longer?”
“No,” Jane breathed out, feeling an immense sense of relief with the truth behind the words.
“Then, I believe you are ready to move forward. You recall the importance of the prophecy he shared with you?” Mrs. Bennet knew better than to speak it aloud.
“And you see now the repercussions that happened since he left. What if you had been attacked? Would you have been able to assist your sisters if they had been?”
“I do not think so.” It was a sobering thought.
“When you are in London, you must be on alert. What your Uncle Gardiner said about Mrs. Jennings is entirely accurate. She is a gifted matchmaker, although her skills have decreased with age. She will instantly attempt to pair you with a young man and decipher your heart’s desire. I caution you to not attach yourself to any young man until after all of this is settled, and if you still hold Mr. Bingley close to your heart, for his own sake, you must shield it from her.”
“I will,” Jane promised.
“You have not asked if I could discern what happened the night of the ball.”
“What’s the point? Caroline discovered Eleanor drugged me, and I believe now that it did not ruin Mr. Bingley’s feelings for me. What good can come of understanding more?”
“Nevertheless, I have tried.” Jane looked at her mother expectantly. “I have not been able to see a thing. My powers are blocked by strong forces. It may be that the Council has chosen to block access to that time because of Miss Tilney’s actions. Or it could be that it was very dark magic involved. Far darker than I would think Miss Tilney capable of. You should be ready to defend yourself at all times.”
“I wish I had Elizabeth’s firepower,” Jane said.
“Your uncle will teach you some maneuvers. You must forgive your father for neglecting to teach you. He had no reason to learn himself. You will also continue your studies in a way that only London can offer.”
Jane mutely nodded her head. Her magical education was a bit on the neglected side, and she looked forward to learning more in Town. Their discussion at an end, the ladies parted for the night. Elizabeth and Catherine were already asleep when Jane climbed into bed. As she considered her mother’s words, she knew only one truth. Hope was entirely over for Mr. Bingley and the only way to prove to the Council that they were the Bewitched Ones was through finding the prophecies. More than that, it was the only way to protect the innocents of the world.
A woman in a dark cloak glanced around the busy town square before slipping into an alley. She met a tall man in the shadows far from the sight of others.
“You are alone today?” he asked.
“No. I slipped away from my companions. I do not have long.”
Rather than speak, he pulled her into his arms and kissed her. Although he began to deepen the kiss, she pulled away.
“Have you heard from your contacts?” she said, smiling at his staggered breaths and the hungry look in his eyes.
“All goes as planned. What of yours?”
“The eldest leaves for London soon.”
“Do you think they suspect?”
“No, I do not believe so, but we shall have to be careful.” The lady glanced down the alley. “I must go.”
“I will pass along your message. We will not be caught unawares.”
“And you are certain he is good for the payment?”
“You worry too much about money, beautiful,” he said and trailed fingers over her neck then to follow the chain of an expensive necklace.
She snatched his hand and looked at him with steely resolve. “Answer me,” she said through gritted teeth.
“He will pay.”
She searched his eyes for the truth. Accepting it, she turned on her heel and left the alley. Seeing her friends approach, she walked past the bookstore and acted as though she had just exited. No one could know of her complicity in the plan to create an impostor set of Bewitched Sisters.
To be continued in The Magic of Pemberley Park (Hopefully coming August 2016)