Thursday Three Hundred- Just to See Her Smile

Rose Letter

My Music Monday post was the song “Just to See You Smile” by Tim McGraw. I’ve always wanted to give him a happy ending in that song so it’s inspired this story. I actually think the song would go more naturally with Emma and Knightley but I got told with the Jane & Bingley story that readers just want Darcy and Elizabeth. 🙂 Maybe one day, I’ll explore minor characters and other Austen books more. I hope you enjoy my Regency-Happily-Ever-After-ified version of this song.

 

Just to See Her Smile

 

“Miss Elizabeth,” Darcy frowned as he saw the face of the most beautiful woman in the world crumple in tears at his entrance. “What has upset you so?”

They had met at a ball in London three months ago. He had called on her today with the intention to propose. Her uncle knew and so he had consented to this private encounter.

Elizabeth dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief and her fist tightened around a letter. “A letter from my father. He is ill and requests I return to Longbourn immediately. I do not even have time to say farewell to my friends. If you had not arrived at just this moment…” Elizabeth’s eyes filled with tears again.

“I am very sorry to hear of Mr. Bennet’s illness. Is it serious?”

“No,” her voice shook. “I do not believe so, but I cannot deny him the comfort of having his favourite daughter as a nurse. I seldom come to London more than once a year and with my aunt’s situation I do not think I would receive another invitation until the following Season.” She wiped her eyes. “I am such a selfish creature! I confess I do not want to leave London so soon. Please, tell your sister and Mr. Bingley how much I regret not getting to say goodbye. You cannot conceive how glad I am to have the opportunity to speak with you.”

Understanding that the life of Elizabeth’s father was not in imminent peril, Darcy allowed himself a moment of joy at seeing proof of her affection for him. “In that case, I have good news. Mr. Bingley has signed a lease at Netherfield. He has invited my sister and I to visit and we will be there within a fortnight.”

Elizabeth smiled so wide, Darcy felt as though the sun broke through the overcast sky. She was radiant and resplendent, and he would go anywhere for her, just to see that smile.

“Oh! That is the very best news!” Elizabeth stood and clapped. “Now, I may leave without any remorse. I do beg your pardon, but I must rush to pack now. My aunt has sent a notice to my uncle and I expect we will go on the one o’clock stage.”

“I am happy to give you such joy,” Darcy murmured. “Until we meet again.” He bowed over her hand, raising it to his lips and rejoicing in her blush.

Unfortunately, Mr. Bennet did not quickly recover from his illness. As the weeks in Hertfordshire progressed, Elizabeth withdrew more and more from Darcy’s company. As Mr. Bennet’s health continued to deteriorate, his heir presumptive arrived to visit and, allegedly, console his previously estranged relations. The only positive thing Darcy could see out of the experience was his friend Bingley seemed very much in love with Elizabeth’s eldest sister. When Elizabeth would see the two sitting together, a soft smile came to her face, making Darcy’s heart skip a beat.

One morning, as Mr. Bennet’s time to depart the earth drew nearer, Elizabeth met Darcy in the hall. Bingley and Georgiana had already entered the drawing room. Elizabeth twisted her hands and looked more tired than Darcy had ever seen her before.

“Mr. Darcy, I am relieved I have the opportunity to speak with you.”

“I always wish to give you a respite from any worry. Tell me how I may be of assistance,” he said, furrowing his brow. Dread knotted his stomach.

“My father does so poorly now. It will not be long until…” She trailed off and squeezed her eyes shut. “My mother has taken to her chambers and cannot abide visitors. Any reminder that we might soon have to relocate sends her into fits of anxiety and despair. I am exceedingly sorry to say this, but my sisters and I feel it is best to not entertain friends.”

“It is very understandable. When my father was ill, I was in no mood for entertaining, but I had thought we were on much better terms of friendship than that. If you wish, however, I will explain your feelings to Bingley and my sister.”

“I-I-I do not wish to send Mr. Bingley away,” Elizabeth stuttered. “Jane finds such solace in his company and my sisters can scarcely go a day without seeing Georgiana. They love her as a sister. However…”

Ice trailed down Darcy’s spine as he understood what she meant. It was only him that she wished away. “I apologise if my presence and visits were not welcome. I had thought…”

“Please do not misunderstand,” Elizabeth whispered while looking at her feet. “In the coming weeks, there will be many decisions to be made. I must have a clear head.”

The voice of the detested heir asking after Darcy’s absence rose from the drawing room door. He understood that Elizabeth might receive an offer from Mr. Collins and that she would consider taking it to keep her family at Longbourn. However, why did she not see that Darcy was willing, nay desiring, to offer marriage as well?

“Elizabeth,” he stepped forward. “I must tell you—”

She took several steps backward, tears streaming down her face. “Papa needs me. Good bye, Mr. Darcy. You have always been a dear friend and I hope we meet again under more pleasant circumstances.”

Those tears crushed Darcy’s heart. He could not understand her choice but he could not force an explanation. She had made her decision and it was not to spend her life with him. The greatest thing he could now do for her was to abide by her wishes.

“Yes, I believe I have urgent business in London. I will take my leave of the others.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth managed a shaky smile before fleeing down the hall.

Six months later, Darcy scanned the ballroom in which he found himself. Since leaving Hertfordshire, he only went through the motions of life. Once, he would have rejected the continual offers of dining and the pompous balls he detested. Now, he needed the busyness. Bingley had proposed to Jane just before Mr. Bennet died. They waited now only for her mourning period to end before they could marry. Georgiana wrote copious amounts to all the Bennet sisters but Darcy had made it clear he did not want to hear about it.

A familiar figure appeared in a doorway, and Darcy’s heart stopped. “Elizabeth,” he whispered.

She looked around nervously and then their eyes met. The corners of her mouth tipped up and she nodded at him. A minute later, she walked toward him with a gentleman in tow.

“Mr. Darcy,” she smiled as she curtseyed. “I admit I hoped we would see you here. Mr. Bingley seemed uncertain, although he says you have become quite sociable!”

Darcy bowed, basking in her presence once more. “I am pleased you have found me.” He looked at her lavender gown. “I wrote my condolences but allow me to give them in person.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth muttered.

“My dear, perhaps you would enjoy some punch while I speak with Mr. Darcy,” Mr. Collins said and placed a hand over Elizabeth’s, giving it a squeeze. “Lady Catherine has told me there is no one better to seek advice from on estate matters.”

The presence of Collins set Darcy’s teeth on edge. His voice and way of directing Elizabeth had his hand curling in a fist. When the man claimed the affection of a betrothed, Darcy saw black. Taking a calming breath to avoid fisticuffs in a ballroom, he turned his attention to the gentleman.

“Pardon me,” Elizabeth said and she approached Bingley who was in conversation with Jane and a few others at the moment.

“I do not think I am impertinent to ask for congratulations,” Mr. Collins said. “Such a bright jewel to be mine! However, it is not to be wondered at. I can offer her family very much and as Lady Catherine’s condescension proves, I am a gentleman worthy of much respect and distinction. I have always felt we were kindred in that way.”

Darcy had been prepared for such news, yet a vise gripped his heart at the news all the same. “Is it settled, then? You have asked Miss Elizabeth to be your wife?”

Mr. Collins waved a hand. “Such a formality. I have told her to name the day in which I will be the happiest of men. She mourns her father but I suspect after her sister weds, she will select a date. She would not wish to outshine Jane. Such impeccable manners! Lady Catherine quite approves of her judgement.”

Darcy listened in silence as Mr. Collins continued to praise Lady Catherine and asked inane details about estate management. During the time, Elizabeth danced. Her most recent partner, Bingley, was walking her back toward to Mr. Collins.

“Do you not mean to dance?” Darcy interrupted Collins as Elizabeth approached.

“I wish I could,” he sighed. “Riding for so long in the carriage this afternoon has cramped my leg. Poor Miss Elizabeth seemed quite dejected when she heard I could not display my lightness of foot. I think it will put a damper on her enjoyment of the evening.”

“If I may,” Darcy said. “I would offer myself as a partner for a few sets. You can be assured she will feel comfortable with an old friend moreso than a new acquaintance.”

“Indeed!” Collins bounced on his toes and then grimaced. “She should feel the compliment of your offer. Lady Catherine’s nephew! I do feel fatigued and have been wondering if we might sit but did not wish to insult such a high personage as yourself.”

Darcy managed to keep his eyes from rolling. “I would be pleased to do you the service. Please, do not inconvenience yourself for me. Seek refreshment and a seat.”

“Thank you!” Mr. Collins ambled off as fast as he could.

“What did you say to make him scamper off?” Elizabeth laughed as she and Bingley arrived a moment later.

“I have visited Longbourn every day for months and that is the first time I have seen him move so fast. Oh, he is going to the supper room,” Bingley observed. “Yes, that will motivate him every time.”

Darcy chuckled. “As it happens, he has entrusted me with your care for the evening, Miss Elizabeth.”

“Oh?” she chewed her bottom lip.

“Might I start with requesting the honour of a set?”

Elizabeth nodded and held out her wrist. Her next dance was free and Darcy wrote his name on her card, then claimed two others. Elizabeth’s eyes widened when she reviewed his work.

“Shall we?” He took her hand in his and led her to the floor. “Mr. Collins tells me congratulations are in order.”

Elizabeth raised a brow. “That is not the same as giving congratulations or best wishes. Ought you not to say how happy you are for me?”

Although he hated deceit, when Elizabeth did not denounce an engagement, Darcy lied. “I am exceedingly happy for you.” Instead of a gnawing pain in the pit of his stomach, happiness diffused him as Elizabeth smiled.

“That is much better,” she grinned.

The dance pulled them apart for a few moments and when they returned, he could not resist gripping her hand a little tighter than usual and pulling her a little closer. “I would say or do anything to make you smile, Elizabeth. Do you not know this by now?”

The dance pulled them apart again. When they returned, Elizabeth’s lip was caught between her teeth once more. “I had hoped that was the case but I think you must not understand the easiest way to make me smile.”

“What is that?”

Separated once more, Darcy looked over his shoulder. Collins was no where in sight. What a fool he was to let another claim time with his treasure. As much as Darcy wished to make this his last time seeing Elizabeth as separating all ties with her would be easiest on his heart, he could not. That bumbling idiot could never make Elizabeth happy. He saw the lines of fatigue and anxiety on her face. Shadows under her eyes that had appeared during her father’s illness had not disappeared. Darcy would have to return to Netherfield with Bingley with the sole purpose to give her a reason to smile every day. Her favourite flowers ought to be brought from the hot house. A new copy of her favourite book would be acquired. Courting her would be impossible but allowing her to find a shred of happiness in each day was required of him.

As Darcy considered other ways he might offer Elizabeth said happiness and how best to manage his affairs from Netherfield, the steps of the dance returned them to each other.

“You asked me the easiest way to make me smile,” Elizabeth reminded him.

“I did.”

“You,” she whispered as the dance ended and they faced one another. “It has always been you.”

“What are you saying?” Darcy asked as he stepped closer to escort her off the floor.

“We must speak plainly.”

Darcy agreed and carefully directed her toward the balcony overlooking the house’s garden. “I would give anything to make you happy, Elizabeth, but I will not break my principles. You cannot choose us both—”

“I choose you,” Elizabeth gathered Darcy’s hands in hers. “I needed time and distance to firm in my mind what my heart had always known. I cannot sacrifice my happiness for the sake of others. Mama will adjust to living elsewhere. I know you will be kind to us and take care of my family. She need not fear the hedgerows.”

“Elizabeth,” Darcy breathed and raised her hands to his mouth. “I love you and ask that you accept my hand in matrimony. Will you have me?”

“Yes!” Elizabeth nodded and smiled. “I love you. Will you forgive me for being stupid and trying to be noble?”

“You should already know the answer to that,” he murmured as he pulled her close to him and wrapped his arms around her waist. “I will never be parted from you again. Wherever you want to call home will be mine as well. Whatever will ease your mind regarding your family will be done. I wish only to make you happy.”

“You do, Fitzwilliam,” Elizabeth said, shyly. “You do.”

“Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth!” Darcy bent to kiss her and seal their love.

When they returned from the balcony, Elizabeth and Darcy could not conceal their smiles for the remainder of the evening. Upon announcing their betrothal to their friends and family, despite the protestations and screams of others, the smiles never left their faces. Years later, Darcy descendants would show each new generation the portrait of Darcy and Elizabeth, in which the artist perfectly captured their joyous grins, and tell of their ancestor who would do anything to make his beloved smile.

 

 

The Secrets of Pemberley- Chapter Ten

I haven’t really put any comments before the chapters on my blog but I will on this one. Things get very angsty and seem hopeless. Hang on.

Previous Chapters: One / Two / Three / Four / Five / Six / Seven / Eight / Nine

Chapter Ten

March 15, 1837

 

Darcy left his study in search of his family. There were matters to arrange before they journeyed to London for the Season. Now that their eldest daughter had married, they should not need to spend so long a time in Town. Will did not need them and Ben would be busy with Cambridge much of the time. Their younger daughter, Betsy, would not be coming out until next year.

“Now, practice like this,” Elizabeth said, and laughter ensued.

“Did you really have to do this, Ellie?” Darcy heard Betsy ask her cousin as he stood outside the door.

Jane and some of her daughters were visiting. The Bingleys had moved to an estate only thirty miles from Pemberley within a year of their marriage. Darcy smiled as he knew the joy the cousins found in each other.

“No, silly, watch again,” Ellie said with oohs and ahhs following. “You had better learn fast for you only have a few weeks.”

Darcy opened the door with a scowl on his face. The occupants of the room immediately froze, clearly caught in the act. “Betsy will not be presented at court until next year.”

Jane quickly looked between husband and wife and stood. “My dears, let us take a walk after spending all morning in here with these dusty garments.” She curtsied to Darcy. “Come, you too, Betsy.”

Darcy did not watch them leave as his eyes remained locked with Elizabeth’s. Hearing the door close, he raised a brow.

“We have discussed this,” he folded his arms across his chest. “You know I want her to wait. Anne did not enter Society until she was nearly nineteen.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “They have very different dispositions and Anne’s birthday is in the summer. It was either enter at seventeen or wait until nearly nineteen.”

“Georgiana chose the same.”

“Again, you are not considering the difference in their personalities,” Elizabeth said and began shaking out the old court dress she had unpacked to practice curtseys with.

“She loves it too much,” Darcy said. “She loves frivolity and London.”

“That is not a crime,” Elizabeth sighed.

Darcy closed his eyes. After all these years, he still had not explained about his mother. He saw that same liveliness in Betsy. Between her beauty and her fortune, she would capture the eye of many suitors and probably make an impulsive choice. In her blood were the errors of a grandmother and two aunts.

“She will be eighteen next week,” Elizabeth said. “You cannot keep her a child forever. If we do not allow her these freedoms, she will take them anyway.”

“Why will you not bow to me in this, Elizabeth?” Darcy asked and took a step forward. “I had thought you, at least, respected me.”

“What do you mean?” she asked and lifted her chin defiantly. “Do not turn this around on me. I have been a good wife, but I will not sit by as you attempt to impose your selfish disdain for the feelings of others! Think beyond your arrogance and conceit and see that you may be wrong.”

Darcy stepped backward. Where had such a thing come from? This was the Elizabeth from his Hunsford proposal. Her eyes flashed in the same anger, which he had only seen glimpses of in their marriage. She had thought that of him, had she? All these years while he thought she cared for him, she had been concealing her implacable hate.

Grasping for his anger, just as he had lo those many years ago, he took a step forward. Elizabeth gasped and looked away, but he would not allow it.

“Look at me,” he demanded, and she obeyed. “I know you have never loved me. I know you never could in all these years, but I will not tolerate public mockery. Now, say you will tell Betsy to wait. We must be united in this no matter how much you hate me.”

A sob came from Elizabeth’s mouth, and she pulled a hand up to cover it while doubling over. Darcy stepped forward in concern, but she held her other hand up to keep him away. Straightening, she exhaled, but pain and regret lingered in her eyes.

“I cannot speak of this at present, Fitzwilliam. I am going for a walk.”

Before Darcy could say anything else, she darted from the room.

Believing it just another argument, he returned to his study and did not emerge when Jane and her daughters left. He had assumed Elizabeth returned inside with them. At tea time, she did not join him. Despite a desire to seek her out, he did not move. They did not argue frequently, but when they did, he had learned Elizabeth needed time to overcome her anger. Often, she would not intend to join him, but he would find her and apologise, earning one from her as well. Not this time. No, this time he would remain firm. He was right, and he knew it. She would come to him with her apologies first.

As he attempted to enjoy his tea and biscuits without her by his side for the first time in five and twenty years, he mulled over the services he had done her and her family. Kitty had married a Derbyshire gentleman with a small estate and Mary wed the vicar of Kympton. Only Lydia lived far away, and she visited once or twice a year. He could not stand to see Wickham, but the man had had held true to his contract. In return, Darcy assisted him in his career. Believing it better to have the man employed and in something as rigid as the army than free to make his own fortune, Darcy secured Wickham a position as adjutant to a general. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet often visited Pemberley before they passed.

Was it too much to ask that she do one thing for him? Just allow him one more year with his little girl. Scowling at the thought which proved her point, he returned to his desk. After another hour or two, his work was completed, and he rang for the butler to take the stack of letters. Half went in the mail and the other half to the land steward.

“Begging your pardon, sir,” young Reynolds, who had taken over for his father a few years before, said, “but Mrs. Darcy has not returned from her walk, and the sun will set soon.”

Darcy’s eyes slid to the clock. She had been gone six hours! It was no secret she was their favourite and no secret she was an exemplary mistress. Despite her humble origins, she managed the estate with more grace, generosity and good sense than the ladies in most of London’s oldest families. Mrs. Bennet had taught her to be an excellent hostess, and Mr. Bennet taught her insight and wisdom. Darcy knew that now, but learning to value her relations came too late in their marriage to make a difference. Elizabeth remained forever sensitive over their positions in life.

Belatedly, he realised that she must have been hurt when he insisted Betsy not come out. She must have thought he believed her as inept as her own mother was on the subject. However, it was his mother he had worried about. Shaking his head, he realised the long overdue conversation with Elizabeth could be put off no longer. He stood, pulling on his coat and forming an apology in his mind.

“I will find her. If I do not return in an hour, send others,” Darcy said as he exited the house.

After an hour, dread filled his heart. It was unlike Elizabeth to stay out after dark. He was just beginning to convince himself that she must have returned a different route when he heard a gardener calling for Mrs. Darcy and the gleam of a lantern. He jogged over.

Hearing that she had not come to the house felt like a knife in his heart. “I have not yet checked this path. Over here,” he motioned to the gardener, and they walked for several minutes before making out a figure of something in the road.

Darcy inhaled sharply as he considered it too big to be a sheep or deer. The gardener did likewise but said nothing.

“I will go,” Darcy said and held out his hand for the lantern.

A cloud rolled by, bathing the path in moonlight and Darcy screamed, then ran.

“Lizzy!”

A woman’s lifeless figure laid before him. He reached her in seconds and set the lantern down.

“Lizzy, Elizabeth, where are you hurt?”

He touched her shoulder, and her head rolled. Lifeless eyes stared up at him.

“Oh God!” Darcy sobbed and scooped her into his arms. “No, anything but this. No!”

He pressed his ear to her chest, hoping to hear a beat or feel respiration. Instead, he felt the stickiness where her blood had trickled down her head from a gash.

Tears flew from his eyes as an anguished sob roared from his throat. “Lizzy, wake up, love. Just wake up,” he cried over and over again rocking her as he clutched her tightly.

“Sir,” the gardener placed a hand on his shoulder, causing Darcy to jump and return from something near insanity.

Turning his head, he saw others slowly approach with their lanterns at their side and hats covering their chest.

“May I?” Jack, the strongest footman asked and held out his arms.

“No!” Darcy yelled and held Elizabeth closer. “No, I will take her.”

“Sir, it is some distance,” Jack said.

“She will be returned to her—” Darcy paused as his voice broke, “her home, to her bed, by me and me alone.”

He managed to stand without letting go of his precious cargo. He and the entourage walked slowly, there was no hurry to rush her into the house or seek medical attention. She was well past that. From time to time, others asked to share his load, but he refused. His arms felt no pain. His entire being was numb.

As he laid Elizabeth on her bed, he fleetingly registered Betsy screaming from the doorway where others worked to hold her back. A good man, a good father, would have strength to offer his daughter in such a situation. He was neither. He was selfish and a bastard. And while Betsy had need of him and Elizabeth could no longer draw comfort from his attention, he refused to leave her bedside. It gave him comfort.

In the morning, the housekeeper ordered him from his wife’s chamber. Jack and another footman, forcibly removed him and delivered him into the hands of his valet who shoved wine mixed with laudanum into his hands. Against his will, he slept. Charging to Elizabeth’s room, relief flooded him when her bed was empty. She lived! It had been naught but a nightmare. But no, items were covered in white linen, protected from dust until he could bear the thought of discarding them.

Never, he vowed.

He crumpled to the ground, sitting in her doorway and wept like a child. Tears he had suppressed since he was removed from his mother at the age of eight sprang forward. What had life given him but grief? Unloved by the man he called father, abandoned by the real one, rejected by the woman he had built his life with, they had all seen him for what he was. Nothing. A fraud. Not worth existing.

If he had never been born everyone’s life would have been better. Lady Anne might have learned to love the country or George Darcy to abide the city. The elder brother Darcy never knew would have lived. Georgiana would never have nearly eloped with Wickham—a fact that cost her everything. Although it remained a secret, she never trusted another man and remained unwed. She established her own home in Town. Elizabeth’s life would have been infinitely better. She would have lived.

There had been excessive amounts of rain that washed the road away some, leaving the occasional unexpected rock. Had she been walking she would have seen them, but Darcy surmised she must have been running. She clearly tripped over one rock and as she fell, struck her head on another larger one. He could not forget her lifeless eyes. Her mesmerizing eyes that always held so much emotion, all the light snuffed out. He had done this. He had driven her to vexation, pushed her to need the exercise in what she must have already viewed as more a prison sentence than a life worth living. Had she felt pain?  Had she suffered?

He was confident it was the last time he would feel anything again. As the day wore on, he was proven wrong. Servants came to him asking about funeral arrangements. Betsy pleaded with him to eat and sleep. Jane and Bingley arrived to take over decisions. Elizabeth’s other sisters and their families filled the house. Still, he remained to stare at her empty bed.

The day of the funeral, he was guided to a bath and groomed. He looked the perfect gentleman, with new mourning arm band, but in his heart he knew the truth. He was a murderer. The day he married Elizabeth he sealed her fate. Nay, the day he had kissed her.

And what did he expect? He took the name Darcy and acted like lord of the manor. In truth, he was probably nothing more than the son of a footman who might have had questionable paternity himself. Jack grew up in Newgate, where his father had been sentenced before he was even born. All the years Darcy had hated Wickham when he had done far worse.

Brought to Elizabeth’s grave, he remained rooted in front of it. The sun blinded him so he could not make out the words. What would be said? That her husband drove her to her death? That his arrogance and false conceit ruined her?

“I am sorry I was never the man you deserved,” Darcy said.

His throat aching after days of unused and parched from lack of hydration. He welcomed the sting. Would that it was a noose around his throat as he deserved.

The sun shifted, and Darcy was reminded of a day when he was still a young man and admiring Elizabeth walking in the grove at Rosings. Perhaps now she was at peace as she had been that day.

His name was called, and before turning away, he cast one long glance at the marker as he was uncertain he could ever look upon again and read it:

Elizabeth Darcy

1792-1837

Beloved wife and mother.

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride- Chapter One

mr. darcy's bluestocking bride.jpgHi Readers!

I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve had a story to post! First of all, I DO plan on completing Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Joy. I had some health and family complications earlier this year and then we moved (again) and somewhere along the way I lost my notes. However, I have recently found them and can finish the story as I intended! I plan to post again in July and we’ll do a bit of a Christmas in July posting. 🙂

Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride is a WIP with 17 chapters written and most of them through a beta. I can’t say for sure how many chapters there will be but I’m thinking 22-25 so I’m closing in on THE END. I’ve rated it MA just to be safe but so far there have been no kisses and I plan on fading to black for the wedding night. However, they’re both rather sexually aware. There is a moderate amount of couple angst.

Blurb: He’s on the hunt for a bluestocking, and she is no man’s fool.

Fitzwilliam Darcy, heir to a barony, must put aside his hatred for attention and Society and find a wife. Deemed the most eligible bachelor of the Season, he seeks high and low for a well-bred, intelligent woman to replace the one he determined unsuitable.

Elizabeth Bennet used to be certain of her judgement. In one day, everything changed. Her family might be in danger, and she needs a confidant. When she meets Darcy again and again in the groves of Rosings, her head says to tell Darcy everything, but her heart wonders if she can trust him.

As the clock works against them, can they find what they need in one another? Or will the duties of family and lingering secrets separate them?


My Dearest Niece,

Fear not, although Society may say you are ruined. Those who know you will always love you. When you return from France, it will all be forgotten. These sorts of scandals always are for girls with money and prestige. Do not think you are the first or last to face such concerns. Think of your future, my dear girl. You may be, perhaps, a little sadder but also wiser for the misadventure.

Your loving aunt,

A.F.

 

Chapter One

Elizabeth Bennet snatched the letter addressed to her from the mail tray in the hall and left Longbourn and all its noise behind. Reading letters from her dearest sister, Jane, now required solitude. Jane’s heart had been broken when their new neighbour, Mr. Bingley, left the area over three months before. After a month of sorrow, Jane had gone to London to visit with their aunt and uncle but her letters did not seem to indicate she was improving.

Mr. Bingley’s sister, who had seemed a dear friend to Jane, did not help matters. Before leaving Hertfordshire, Miss Bingley had written Jane a letter hinting that her brother had plans to marry his best friend’s sister. She reiterated the point when Jane called on Miss Bingley shortly after arriving in London.

Elizabeth’s lips curled up in memories of Mr. Bingley’s friend. That Mr. Darcy was friends with Mr. Bingley — himself everything amiable — ought to be a mark in Darcy’s favour. And yet, Mr. Bingley’s hasty retreat from Hertfordshire, followed directly by Darcy and Bingley’s relations whom he had left behind, just proved Bingley was too amiable for his own good. He would never see how Darcy treated all those around him. Elizabeth had been told that Darcy dare not surround himself with anyone but those that would stroke his ego.

Jane’s letter was uncharacteristically light and Elizabeth would likely finish reading it before she reached the nearby town of Meryton. She allowed herself a few minutes of reflection before opening it. She hoped Jane would be showing signs of forgetting Mr. Bingley’s impression on her heart. It was now March and surely three months in London could erase six weeks of flirtation in Hertfordshire. Elizabeth drew consolation from the fact that tomorrow she would leave for her journey to Kent to visit a newly married friend. She travelled with Charlotte’s father and sister but they intended to break in London and then Elizabeth would see for herself how Jane fared.

Taking a deep breath, Elizabeth broke the seal as she passed the lodge of Longbourn. Its tear-stained contents shocked and repulsed her.

Dearest Lizzy,

I write to you in the most melancholy of spirits. Yesterday, while shopping with my aunt, I espied Mr. and Miss Bingley outside a shop window. They were speaking with a lovely young lady, very elegantly dressed and I could see the evidence of her good breeding and proper manners. She stood with an older lady, who I must think is a companion or some relation. I cannot say for certain, but I wonder if this was not Miss Darcy.

I could perfectly see their expressions. Miss Bingley was very pleased to meet the lady, her brother scarcely less so. I saw in his countenance every expression of happiness and amiability he ever showed me. The young lady and her friend soon left.

Mr. and Miss Bingley came in the store with smiles still on their faces. They did not see me at first as I was mostly concealed by a display. I stepped out into the aisle to greet them. Instantly they ceased their movements and their smiles vanished. Mr. Bingley coloured but did not acknowledge me in any way although I had curtsied to them. Caroline tugged on her brother’s arm and they turned and quit the shop. It was so dreadful! My only consolation is that no one of our acquaintance saw it.

I now must say he had no true regard for me. I am quite distressed. I can only think myself a fool for believing otherwise. And to have my wishes so openly known by all my friends and family! He undoubtedly desired to leave the neighbourhood to avoid such rumours. I cannot blame him in the least for having a care about the credit of his name.

I know you will sit and think that it was all designedly done, but for what purpose? What could either the brother or the sister gain by making me believe in their affections? No, let me blame myself. I hope I was not so vain as to imagine this preference, perhaps though I only saw what I wished to see.

I hope this reaches you before you depart for London. I long to have my dearest sister with me.

Yours,

  1. Bennet

Elizabeth had never felt so much rage before in her life. Miss Bingley and her brother gave Jane the cut direct in a shop! Fortunately, it seemed there had been no witnesses but the very thought! Jane would excuse it though.

In the weeks since Mr. Bingley’s departure, Elizabeth had tried hard to reconcile the Mr. Bingley, whom she knew to be kind-hearted, with his treatment of Jane and friendship with Mr. Darcy. Jane would never listen to her arguments. Every time Elizabeth attempted to say perhaps Bingley was less than reliable, she was shushed. To Jane, anyone she loved or esteemed must be without fault.

Elizabeth rather saw faults in everyone. If not of character, then of circumstance. The charming Militia officer, Mr. Wickham, and his poor prospects served as an example. Of course, that resided squarely at Mr. Darcy’s feet. As repining the impossible benefitted nothing, Elizabeth had never let Wickham into her heart. She would always wish him the best and count him as a friend. Elizabeth even championed his courtship of the newly wealthy Miss Mary King in Meryton. After all, handsome young men must have something to live on as well as the plain.

All this thought of gentlemen irked Elizabeth. “What are men to rocks and mountains?” she said as she entered the edges of Meryton.

Reaching the outskirts of town, Elizabeth kicked a rock for good measure and instantly regretted it. Pain pierced her foot. Limping to an alley where she could slip off her boot and rub her sore toes, she was surprised to hear familiar voices of several of the officers carry from around the bend. What were they doing gathering in an alley?

“She wasn’t much to look at, but she was enthusiastic enough,” Captain Carter said.

“Most bar maids turned whores are for a few quid,” Mr. Wickham said and joined in with the laughter his words caused.

Elizabeth did not quite know what they were talking about, but it sounded coarse.

“And here I thought my equipment made her randy,” Mr. Denny said and another round of laughter ensued.

Instinctively, Elizabeth did not care for it. She was turning to limp away when she heard reason to stay.

“No, I don’t partake in that sort of sport,” Wickham said. “Now, Longbourn, there’s some apples ready for the picking.”

Elizabeth’s cheeks flushed. Increasingly, she began to believe they spoke of carnal things and that connected with five gentlewomen in the same manner they spoke of a bar maid could never be a good thing.

“Too marriage-minded over there,” Denny warned.

“So much the easier then. A true seducer can turn a phrase just so a lady expects a marriage proposal but all she’s gotten is a tumble instead,” Wickham said.

“The Bennet chits are let on a loose leash. Their mother practically throws them at young men,” Carter said.

“Must be why that Bingley fellow ran off just after his ball,” Denny said. “A shame too. Chap certainly knew how to throw a good party.”

“And best of all, their father is too loose in the pockets to demand satisfaction!”

Elizabeth’s temper began to grow but she knew better than to confront such talk. There was nothing to do but listen to such humiliating talk of her family. She had to wonder at being cursed with such good hearing, however.

“It’s a shame they’re not the heiresses Mary King is,” said Wickham. “Wouldn’t mind keeping Eliza to warm my bed every night, even if she is a bit of a bluestocking.”

Tears sprang to Elizabeth’s eyes to be talked about in such a debased way in addition to the usual insult of bluestocking coming from a gentleman, nay, cad, she had thought friend.

“You’re not the only one who was tempted by her. Mr. Pompous Darcy and that parson danced with her at the ball.”

“That’s old news Carter.”

“Yes, but one of the Netherfield maids is sweet on me,” said Denny, “and she said that Miss Bingley was in fits of jealousy the entire time Miss Elizabeth was at Netherfield. Lucy said Miss Bingley often writes the housekeeper asking for information about the area and the Bennets in particular.”

“Well, there you go, Wickham,” said Captain Carter. “Darcy left because he knew you would win the challenge for Miss Elizabeth’s affections. You ought to claim your prize!” A round of raucous laughter rang out.

“Oh, I have far better idea,” Wickham said but dropped his voice. Elizabeth inched forward to hear better, hoping her boots didn’t scrape against the stone pavement. “Eliza is too intelligent for such a plot, she would know enough to want a real wedding…but Lydia. Lydia I could convince to elope.”

“What do you get out of that?” Carter asked.

“Eliza will be going to Hunsford soon. Darcy’s aunt is her cousin’s patroness and I know he visits every Easter. Eliza is no fool and neither is that sharp eyed friend of hers. She snatched up Collins right away. Between the two of them, they can help Darcy along. Once they’re engaged, I can make off with Lydia and Darcy will pay to patch the whole thing up.”

Elizabeth’s mouth dropped open while the men sniggered.

“And once she’s tired of her dour husband, I will play on her affections as well. Mark my words, boys, I will not be wearing red for much longer.”

“You are debauched, my friend!” Carter said as the men finally walked away.

Elizabeth stood in the alley with her back pressed against the wall for a long while. She could not credit what she heard. Was this what men talked of? Was it as harmless as the gossip she heard from ladies like her Aunt Phillips?

However, Elizabeth knew even in that case there were always shades of truth. Her sisters were given too much freedom, her mother too eager to put them out, and her father too willing to laugh at their follies. They had no fortune and no brothers to demand satisfaction from a rake. If not Wickham and these officers, then surely it made them open to be preyed upon by others. Bingley’s treatment of Jane was proof enough that men cruelly use women.

In time, her heartrate returned to a normal beat and her breathing calmed. Lydia would know better than to elope and to a man without fortune. Besides, how would they ever be alone enough for such a thing to transpire? Behaving silly at a ball was not the same sort of thing as an elopement. And Lydia could never keep a secret to save her life! Elizabeth considered telling her father but decided to act as though she had never heard such ridiculous things. She could not take Wickham’s words seriously and had no proof. Certainly, her father knew more about men and had seen no reason to distrust the officers. Still, Elizabeth hoped to avoid Wickham at the dinner her mother had invited him to that evening. She never wanted to speak with him again.

 

*****

 

“Fitzwilliam, Georgiana, sit with your old aunt,” Baroness Darcy said to her sister’s grandchildren when she saw them enter her evening soiree. They were her only family left.  The “children” obeyed. “I know you leave for Kent soon, Fitzwilliam. Do you go as well, Georgiana?”

“Not this year, Aunt,” the young lady said with downcast eyes.

“Chin up. Darcys are never to feel inferior,” Lady Darcy said. “At the rate Fitzwilliam is going, you shall be the next Baroness.”

“Spare me your matchmaking, Aunt. Lady Catherine will give me ear full enough when I arrive in Kent,” Darcy let out an exasperated sigh. “Besides, mother and father were both thirty when they married and I have some two years until then. And you have never married.”

“That is because there were no young men like you, my boy,” the aging lady said with an affectionate pat on her favourite nephew’s cheek. The action, and his expression at the endearment, made Georgiana giggle.

“Much more like it, young lady. Will you play this evening?”

“Oh no! I could never perform before all these people. They are only in the habit of hearing the very best.”

Darcy could see Georgiana’s fear but her words were reminiscent of Elizabeth Bennet’s words at a dinner in Hertfordshire. He had thought she teased, but had she been afraid of his opinion? During his time in the area, Darcy had feared he had been too obvious in his admiration for her. Darcy believed that his friend’s sister, who long had designs on him, had not been the only one to notice how much he liked Elizabeth.

His aunt’s words broke his reverie. “Then play your own composition and no one can claim to have heard a better rendition of it!” Lady Darcy exclaimed.

“Aunt,” Darcy chided. “Georgiana, our aunt only intends to tease.”

“Do I? And I suppose you believe you can speak for me? I had thought you were raised better.”

“Please do not be cross with Fitzwilliam,” Georgiana said. “He would never presume to know better than a social superior.”

“Social superior! Is that the rubbish you learn at schools now? Fitzwilliam, you must give her proper companionship. Georgiana, I mean he ought to know better than to speak for a woman, not just a peeress.”

Darcy smiled at his aunt’s gentle scolding and held up a hand. “Of course, I now you are a rational creature with your own mind. I have no doubt you speak from your heart.”

Years ago, Darcy’s aunt had been part of a circle of intellectual women who hosted a salon. Instead of the usual political wrangling and gambling, they promoted the arts. Several of the hostesses became renowned artists and writers. In the Darcy family, the term bluestocking was no insult. The same could not be said for his Fitzwilliam family. However, they had always liked the Darcy purse.

“I knew there was good Darcy blood in you,” the Baroness said.

“Now, you know it is a commandment to obey your elders and so you must indulge an old lady. My one regret in not having children of my own is that there is no one to take up my torch when I’m gone.”

Georgiana screwed up her face in confusion. “I thought Fitzwilliam was your heir?”

“Of the title and the money, of course. I mean of my passion!” Lady Darcy paused and nodded at another titled lady who walked past them and toward the card tables.

“Music?” Georgiana asked.

“Music, writing, art. Female artists funded by females.”

Darcy tugged on his cravat. These days, talk of women pursuing such things for intellectual stimulation, income, or world renown was akin to espousing favour for France’s Revolution. The ones who could most support such a project happened to fear for their necks.

“Fitzwilliam, I’m putting you to work. Bring me the brightest young women you can find of good stock and decent income and I will fashion them into patronesses.”

“If I could find such a young woman, I would marry her,” Darcy said even as a pair of fine, dancing eyes came to mind. However, Elizabeth Bennet did not come from good family or decent income.

“What’s the matter with him, Georgie?”

Darcy blinked to find his aunt studying him closely.

Georgiana rolled her eyes. “That’s the look on his face whenever he thinks of her.

“Her? Are you courting a lady and did not tell me?”

“Of course not, Aunt. You know you would be the first to know anything I do.” He tried to remain serious but his subtle smirk gave away his sarcastic words and immediately Georgiana and his aunt were grinning.

“La! You make me sound a pest! I will not be like your other aunt then and meddle in your business. You do not have to tell me who, but if Georgie’s female intuition tells her you are sweet on a girl, you cannot hide it for long.”

Darcy tugged on his cravat again. With any luck, he would not remain sweet on her for much longer. Surely there was someone who met his qualifications for a wife. The problem was, now that his aunt had stated who she looked for in intellectual companions, Darcy could not help but notice they were the same as what he always said he wanted in a wife. And while he would always desire an intelligent wife, a spouse was something far different than a philosophical colleague. No lady had peaked his interest in eight and twenty years the way Elizabeth Bennet had. Perhaps choosing a wife involved some undefinable quality, an attraction as well as intellectual compatability.

“I think we have him thinking on her again, Georgie,” his aunt teased and Darcy scowled.

“Tell me more about this project of yours, Aunt. We are to go to the theatre tomorrow, perhaps we might find a lady who suits your demands.”

“That’s the problem with you,” she said after an exasperated sigh.

“What is?”

Georgiana laughed at him. “Everyone knows most who frequent the theatre care little about the plays. They go just to be seen.”

“And where would you expect a true appreciator of theatre to go?”

“They might go,” Lady Darcy said, “but they would not be so bold as to confess the reason.”

“How preposterous! Do you think so meanly of your sex?”

The Baroness laughed at him. “I have years more experience than you do, my boy. I know such a lady is a diamond of the first water. There is a disadvantage to this generation. In my day, ladies fought hard to receive any education. The ones who persevered beyond basic letters and math were often taught by their fathers or their brothers’ tutors. Now, ladies’ heads are filled with false accomplishments and vain pursuits. I fear it is impossible to find a learned lady who is not muddled with such mush.”

“Could not the same be said of gentlemen? Now, everyone attends school and University but few come out with any true greater understanding and mastery of the subjects.”

“The essential point, Fitzwilliam, is that when they are taught it is to be of use to their estate, profession or the country. Ladies so called “refined” education is to be of use in only this,” she waved her hand around at the drawing room.

Various clusters of people congregated together. One group played Commerce, another Whist. A third group sat near the fire and discussed politics. One lord’s wife winked at a member of parliament of the opposite party and then leaned in close. The scene suggested exchanging favours for votes.

One day, Darcy would inherit the barony first created for John Darcy in 1317, and God help him if Pemberley or any home he resided in took on such a scene. His aunt was very much correct. Ladies were not encouraged to think beyond empty, or sometimes immoral — whether seducing an opponent or a man to the altar — pursuits.

Aware he had been silent too long, Darcy addressed his aunt with his purpose in coming this evening. “I have been wondering, Aunt, do you have any suggestions for a companion for Georgiana? As you know, I resisted finding a replacement for Mrs. Younge, but you have convinced me that her education might be lacking.”

“Of course. I will have a list with references drawn up when you return from Kent.” Do not worry,” she said when Georgiana furrowed her brow, “you shall help decide. Now, I have ignored my guests for long enough. Do try to enjoy yourselves before you leave,” she said as she stood.

With all the grace and poise an eighty-year-old baroness could muster, she walked through the room. When the group at the fire seemed to grow too contentious, she redirected the more outspoken ones to the supper room. Those prone to gambling too high were arranged near the fire, away from the card tables. Indeed, no school could teach such instincts. Magdalena Darcy, tenth Baroness Darcy de jure, might be the last of her kind and her heir apparent could only hope the next Baroness Darcy might be just as capable.


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Renewed Hope- Chapter Three

renewed hope 4Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

 

Caroline Bingley sat alone in her chambers. Any moment now, her maid would appear to help her dress for dinner. For the time being, however, Caroline reveled in a rare moment of solitude. Three days ago, she had left London and followed her brother to Hertfordshire. Again. He seemed more determined than before, and Mr. Darcy seemed eager to return as well. Although Caroline had suspected for weeks now that he harbored a tendre for Miss Elizabeth Bennet of a neighboring estate, she continued to hold out hope.

Mr. Darcy was just the sort of man she had envisioned marrying ever since her aborted elopement ten years prior. Of course, if he ever knew she had planned an elopement at sixteen, he would certainly never find her respectable. Let alone if he had known it was to a shop keeper’s son. A coloured shopkeeper’s son. Not that he had even planned on taking over the shop. He had designs to enter the army when she had met him. Last Caroline heard he had done so well as to distinguish himself in battle.

When she was very honest with herself, which was as infrequent as possible, she admitted that she favoured Mr. Darcy because for the last four years his cousin served in the same regiment as her long ago lover. The name Jacob Truman never passed between them, and if he was mentioned in letters, Caroline was not privy to them, but it was enough to know that if Colonel Fitzwilliam was well, Jacob might also be.

Perhaps, that is why Lord Arlington, despite his participation in the set down just given her by Mr. Darcy and her brother, appealed to her on some level. Logically, she ought to try and ensnare the viscount. Eliza Bennet hated her. If Mr. Darcy succumbed to his infatuation and married Eliza, Caroline’s invitations to Pemberley would become far less frequent. Additionally, Arlington was of an age to wed and his father entering his dotage. Whomever he married would become Countess before too long. His reputation supported he did not care for the ton’s leading ladies. While Caroline prided herself on being accomplished and cosmopolitan, she knew the truth. It would take many more generations before trade was washed out of the memory of the name Bingley. Nor was she an ignorant, insipid miss. She had lost her naiveté when she had to face the truth that love could not conquer everything. She was not as young as the debutantes or even Miss Eliza, but she was still handsome and wealthy. To a renegade earl’s son, that must account for something.

Additionally, there would be no hope for the rake to reform. He would carry on with his liaisons, and she would be free to keep her heart to herself. He would never expect love or real intimacy from her. Once, she had believed the same about Mr. Darcy but, at last, his cold heart seemed to thaw. He all but declared himself in love with Elizabeth Bennet and intent upon marrying her.

Well, she would not cry over the loss. Indeed, she was utterly exhausted from the chase. Her heart had never been in it, and she did not know if she had enough energy to pursue another young man. Lord Arlington was convenient but likely immune to her charms. Just the same, she believed she owed it to her family to test the waters. Marrying a viscount would do wonders for their standing. If she did not marry well, then not only would she have failed the dying wish of her mother but she would have given up the love of her life for no reason. She must make the last ten years of pain mean something.

Determined, she looked in the mirror and nodded. She had no hope of success, but she would give her best chase anyway. Her maid entered, and Caroline ordered her most daring dinner gown prepared. It would emphasize her superior figure. The accompanying necklace landed just above her décolletage, drawing the eye. She declined the matching bracelets, earbobs, and her most lavish turban. Instead, Caroline ordered a simple hairstyle. The overall effect said that she could play the part of Viscountess but did not drip with London society adornments. Even more startling, she felt more like herself than she had in years. A touch of the refined and a touch of the country lass she used to be.

*****

Arlington looked across the dinner table at Netherfield and smiled at Caroline Bingley. The self-satisfied smirk that appeared for half a second told him exactly what he thought. She was making a play for him. He would let her try, like all the ladies before her. A harmless flirtation never hurt a soul.

“My compliments, Miss Bingley. You have ordered an excellent meal.”

The half-smirk appeared again, even as Darcy stomped on his foot. Arlington contained his yelp to himself. He knew what he was doing. And it was not solely for selfish reasons. Earlier, he had made a pact with Georgiana to plan a walk that would allow Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet time together with Caroline out of the way.

“As a bachelor, I seldom enjoy such a spread for a meal at home with family.”

“Thank you, my lord,” was her impeccably civil reply.

“You concede there are downsides to being a bachelor, after all, Arlington?” Bingley said from several spaces down.

“It has been said that the way to man’s heart is through his stomach. Who am I to disagree with the platitudes of matchmaking women?” He smiled at Caroline and then turned to Georgiana. “Take heed, Georgie. Setting a good table is one of the most important accomplishments for a lady.”

Of course, he generally did not think so but knew that his cousin would not take anything he said too seriously. Instead, his remark apparently pleased Caroline. He studied her smile. There was a guardedness he did not see in other women. It was as though she was playing a part. She wanted the world to think she was the sort of lady who desired to ensnare a viscount, but she often forgot her role. There were no secret glances. She did not stare longingly at him or flatter him too profusely. She relied entirely on outside influences to attract him: a gown, jewelry, a meal. There was nothing particularly in her demeanor that was artful.

She was grasping, that was evident. She had been angry and resentful to notice Darcy’s unabashed admiration of Miss Elizabeth earlier, but it merely wounded her pride. She now spoke to Darcy with tolerable civility. She had never cared much for the man. She had only wanted his money and name. And yet, why would she need more money? Her income was reported to be twenty thousand pounds. She had been educated at an excellent seminary in London and had many friends of the peerage. She must be nearing five and twenty, as she was older than her brother. In London, there were enough baronets and knights that would be eager for twenty thousand pounds. It would not be the position of Viscountess, but Darcy could not offer that either. Nor could the income of his ten thousand pounds been the only attraction. For a truly mercenary woman, an assured five thousand a year is better than the unlikely possibility of ten thousand a year.

Arlington had spent much time with actresses and could easily spot a fake. Caroline Bingley was an imposter of a fake. What was the part of her that she kept hidden like? Why would she desire to be so much like the ton and yet after all the years of acting, not truly absorb its values?

*****

Richard had kept his word about leaving the dinner early, but for entirely different reasons than he had thought they would be. He discomposed a lady! What an ungentlemanly scoundrel he was!

And the truth was, he had no reason for his pointed barbs on her character. She had not seemed artful at any point in the evening. She asked about Georgiana, not Darcy. She seemed entirely uninterested in information on how to gain his good opinion. Whatever conversation she had had with Darcy seemed to direct him back to a lady, that Richard knew would be unlikely for her to know. Had not Darcy reported the Bennets had no connections? And the Crenshaws were the dearest friends of the Matlocks.

Lady Belinda had not deserved his harsh words. He had been discombobulated wince their accidental meeting earlier in the evening. So much so, that when her father attempted to introduce him, Richard did not want her to think less of him for knowing he was the second son instead of the heir. He expected, for just one night, to enjoy the pleasures that can be afforded from the flattery and charms of a beautiful lady.

Lord and sunder she was beautiful! Soaking wet, she had taken his breath away. Her hair made darker, her features paler. So striking in contrast! When she returned for dinner, there was no trace of their first meeting left. For some reason, he needed to know that it was not an illusion on his part. He searched for any sign she had been as deeply affected as he but found none. Annoyed that he sought her good opinion, when he knew more than most the dangers of a woman, he attacked ruthlessly. Her words about uncivil soldiers were too on the point but in the next moment she softened and seemed genuinely interested in Georgiana and his opinions of music. His head was swimming with conflicting information, and he had waged into battle half-cocked.

After she had fled the table, Lord Crenshaw explained the reasons for his daughter’s low spirits. She had formed an attachment to a young naval officer who could not offer marriage without needing her entire dowry. Even if Crenshaw had wished to assist, and he understandably had his reservations about the match, it was placed in a trust that could not be touched until Lady Belinda came of age. Determined to make his own fortune, the officer took a posting last summer. The ship was soon lost at sea and Belinda was still grieving.

Richard tugged off his cravat and threw it on a chair. Having done little to ease his frustration, he then poured himself a drink. He had unjustly wounded a lady, and his honour was the only thing he had left. The drink was to drown out the portion of his mind that screamed at the folly of going into enemy territory. But his better nature demanded that he make amends. A familiar feeling that he had experienced many times before formed in the pit of his stomach. He was equal parts excited by and terrified of another interaction with Lady Belinda. He needed a plan of action for the latest battle he faced.

The following morning, Truman entered while Richard was finishing dressing. “Toss me the cravat. Yes, the old one will do.”

Truman laughed at the finished product. “Have you no compassion for my dignity?”

“What? Like you wish to be my nurse and dress me. I am not a baby.”

Truman looked away and did not laugh as Richard had expected. “That was insensitive of me. Of course, you are proud of the station valet.”

“It may not be much to an earl’s son, but earning wages for work that half a world away my kin folk are forced to do in chattel makes me proud.”

Truman’s grandfather had been a slave and brought back to England after a war in the colonies. He became valet and butler to the officer who bought and freed him. Truman’s father earned enough money to open a shop. Such was the usual career path for a household servant and his descendants, but it meant more to a man who might be denied his freedom due to the colour of his skin.

“Forgive me. Last night’s dinner and my errand this morning made for a poor night’s rest.” Of course, dreams of Belinda in his arms did not help matters.

“What happened last night?”

Rather than attempting to put into words the strange effect Belinda had on him, Richard waved off the concern. “I have a daunting errand today. Hopefully, all goes well.”

“Good luck with the Major-General,” Truman said as Richard left.

The words rattled in his ears. Richard had meant apologising to Lady Belinda.

*****

Richard did have a meeting with Major-General Vyse planned, however, and they met at one of London’s finest clubs. The fact that the superior officer clearly felt at home in his surroundings did not bode well for Richard.

“I have looked over your reports, Fitzwilliam. It seems nothing could have been done differently. My apologies if you were close to Craufurd.” Richard inclined his head at the civility. “Now, it seems the regiment needs a new brigadier.”

This was the moment Richard had been dreading. He prayed he was not offered the command as refusing would be near impossible and dishonourable.

“Do you know William Gordon? I think he will be the perfect fit for this regiment. He shows promise. I have already cleared it with headquarters. You will report to his office when he arrives in London later this week.”

Their meeting soon ended and Richard’s frustration grew as he rode to the Crenshaw residence. The only promise William Gordon showed was a sizeable pocketbook, an unwed daughter, and a lackluster parliamentary record. He worried about himself first and had no loyalty to the crown. Or to the mere men that fought under his command and at his whims. The problem with the British chain of command is that it mattered more who one knew than how one fought. With any luck, Richard could suggest a few advisors for soon to be Brigadier-General Gordon to take on. Perhaps if he had competent people surrounding him, he might listen to their opinions.

Arriving at Belinda’s home, the knot in his stomach returned. Strange that he would feel it before asking for an audience with her but not while speaking with the General. Richard usually associated the feeling with battle. Although, in this case, she was certainly the more dangerous enemy.

Lady Crenshaw certainly made her instructions clear to the butler as Belinda entered the drawing room without a chaperone. What mother would not give a lady a few minutes alone with a suitor? Richard’s black heart laughed at the idea of trusting a man who killed for a living with an innocent’s reputation. Mere minutes could end a life…or bring thrilling pleasure. The thought pricked Richard’s mind as Belinda exuded vitality in a pale pink gown. Richard blessed the fashion designers who dictated gowns follow a lady’s curves more naturally than the generation before had. Living in the age of Napoleon might be well worth something after all.

She resolutely refused to look at him and sat down on a settee. Apparently, he was not even due the usual civilities. After several minutes in silence, Belinda glanced at the door and huffed. Richard gathered his gumption. He needed to make his apology and depart, not stare at the graceful line of her neck or where the fabric skimmed over her hips. He stood and walked closer to her. Despite herself, she looked up, craning her neck as he towered over her. The ridiculousness of it caused him to smile.

“Did you suppose, Lord Arlington, that because I did not speak to you, I could not see you? Perhaps you believe I need spectacles or that no woman would be able to resist your charm? Or more likely, you suppose all ladies desire the title you could offer them. Well, I do not covet a title, nor do I need glasses. And as you see, I am perfectly capable of—”

She abruptly stopped and stood. “You were saying?” He followed her to the window.

“I cannot think straight when you are standing near me like that!”

Richard smiled and leaned against the wall. “How is this, then?”

“Why do you unsettle me so?”

“All part of my irresistible charm,” he drawled. He should at least inform her that he was no viscount, but then viscounts could be forgiven for rudeness.

“I certainly find it resistible,” she said but stepped closer and arched her neck again.

His attention was divided between wondering about the taste of her plump lips and desiring to query the smoothness of her neck.

“Are you even paying attention to me?” She snapped.

“Yes,” he said.

“Good. As I was saying, there is nothing charming about you! You accuse innocent ladies that you do not even know of being mercenary and conniving—”

“I am sorry about that.”

“And you— What was that?”

Richard’s smile grew as he looked at her large eyes go round in surprise and confusion.

“I apologise for my accusations last night. Please forgive me. I would not mean to hurt you.”

“You think you hurt me? Your words were nothing. Nothing…compared to losing…” Tears began to fall, but she still attempted to speak. “And then to be forced to go on like nothing happened. Like I am not empty. Paraded around for suitor after suitor.”

He withdrew his handkerchief and pressed it into her hand. “I am sorry.”

“What for?” she blubbered.

“For thinking it was all about me?” He gave her a half-smile, and she returned it. Mentally, he was apologising for wanting nothing more than to kiss away her tears. She was mourning another man’s death. The last thing in the world she desired was his kiss!

Belinda shook her head. “I do not think I like you apologetic. You’re far safer when gruff and demeaning. When you are like this, it’s so—so—so confusing!”

“What is confusing?” His mind was too busy changing “honour, honour, honour” and ignoring the craven beast-like feeling to kiss her jumping up and down begging for attention. When had she come so much closer to him?

“This,” she said before touching her lips to his.

 

 

Renewed Hope- Chapter Two

renewed hope 4

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Richard scowled in the mirror as he awaited his valet’s return. His brother, James, and Darcy had hightailed it off to Hertfordshire, leaving Richard alone against his mother’s machinations. Why Darcy suddenly wanted James at his side Richard knew not. He was Georgiana’s other guardian, and Darcy had spent the better part of a decade avoiding James. But then, James could come and go as he pleased and Richard was bound to a soldier’s life. He had just returned from a third deployment to the Continent, and another one was possible.

Richard examined himself. The uniform covered up his scars. The jovial smile he plastered on his face masked the pain he felt at seeing friends and brothers in arms die on bloody battlefields. And all for what? He had not felt some great duty compel him to fight. Not like other men like his valet. Nor had he sought glory. He was intended for the church and a rash decision at after the betrayal of a woman sent him fighting Boney as soon as the short-lived Treaty of Amiens was broken. No sound emitted from his lips but in his black, ugly heart he laughed. He had proved quite a good soldier, quite adept at taking life. To imagine he was capable of helping lead others to an eternal one was beyond ridiculous. It must have been that flaw in him that sent the lovely Julia longing for the arms of the first man she laid eyes on after recognizing the mistake she made in accepting his proposal. Fortunately for Richard, that man had been his brother. While the ton may think he was a rake, James, at least, had the honour to rebuff the lady’s advances and alert Richard. But then, James had been wiser about women than Richard. Now, they both had learned and had it on good authority there was only a handful of decent women on the earth: their mother, their deceased Aunt Anne, their cousins Anne and Georgiana, and the only woman who had captured James’ heart, Claire du Val.

“Here is a fresh one, sir,” the voice of Richard’s valet, Jacob Truman, broke his musings. He held out a cravat. “You should quit thinking about her. It will do you no favours this evening,” Truman said quietly while studying Richard’s face in the mirror.

Richard did not need to ask who Truman meant or how he had known. The men had served together for half a decade. When Richard found Truman, he was the beaten batman of a cruel colonel who found fault with everything Truman did simply for the color of his skin. The fact that Truman was twice his size and could have had a successful career alongside Gentleman Jackson and Bill Richmond should have alarmed the abusive colonel. That Truman did not fight back spoke to his superior character. It was easy enough for Richard to secure Truman’s transfer. Since then, the men had become like brothers and had seen hell together.

Finishing his cravat, Richard shrugged on his jacket. “I intend to leave as early as possible tonight but if somehow I am prevented, do not stay up. I am quite capable of dressing and undressing. Ridiculous that after all we have seen on the battlefield we now have to pretend as though I cannot tie a knot. Then again, perhaps we have been fighting Boney so long because the noblemen lead the military, and they are actually that inept.”

Truman tsked. “It is the way of the world.”

“With any luck, it will not be the way of ours for much longer. Have you thought more about what you will do when your contract is up?”

Truman’s eyes took on a vacant stare. “There is not much of a life for me other than a soldier’s.”

“There is your father’s store,” Richard pushed.

“Far too gentle for the likes of me,” the other man shook his head.

Richard understood the man’s true feelings. Returning to his home and circulating with the people he had once known was impossible for a man still running from the memories of a woman who had done him wrong. Which is precisely why Richard dreaded this evening. The Countess of Matlock was on the hunt to see her sons and nephew married. As Richard boarded the carriage with his parents to attend a dinner at Lord and Lady Crenshaw’s and heard them extol the virtues of the daughter and heiress, Richard acknowledged he might rather face another battalion of Frenchies than try to live in polite society with insipid debutantes and cunning widows flung at him. But then, the French could only maim his body and women were a vast deal more dangerous. If he had a heart left, he would be concerned.

 

*****

 

Lady Belinda Crenshaw sat on the bench in her family’s London garden. She hated London and all its confines. Her heart longed for the countryside and the open fields of the family estate. Often as a child, she would visit the coast with her governess and allow the ocean spray to hit her face. The wind would blow, freeing the locks of her hair and tickling her nose with salty sea air. Of course, that was before the sea took Captain Seth Rogers from her.

As a naval captain, she ought to have been prepared for his possible demise or injury. He had faced Napoleon’s navy before, however, and returned unscathed. Or so he said when she questioned him about it. Then he gave a hearty laugh and upon seeing his charming smile, Belinda pushed all negative thoughts from her mind. However, he did not die in battle. His ship and crew were lost during a perilous storm.

For a time after hearing the news, she had fantasized that he had survived. She dreamed of waves carrying his body to a distant land. Upon washing up, he was taken in. Living in enemy territory would be dangerous, but her strong captain would find a way home. He would find a way back to her. As long as she could think that, her heart continued to beat and drawing breath was not so painful.

Hope vanished some weeks later when news came that he had washed ashore. Dead.

There would be no returning. The life Belinda imagined disappeared as suddenly as the puff of clouds it had been built upon emerged.

She had known Seth for only a few weeks the previous summer while he stayed with relations near her estate. Before he left to take command of a new ship, however, he proposed. Belinda rapidly said yes but her parents refused consent. He was a nobody to them. His family was nothing impressive, he advanced in the Navy only through middling connections. He had no fortune, nor would he inherit one. Indeed, they were convinced he was a fortune hunter as Belinda was worth twenty thousand pounds. He never mentioned her wealth, however. Indeed, their dreams included her accompanying him, not his retirement from the Navy and living off her funds. Belinda had made up her mind, however. She waited only for her one and twentieth birthday to come so she might wed where she wished without parental interference.

Fate was a cruel mistress indeed. Her birthday was last week, and she now had complete control of her income. Only she had no visions for her future. Perhaps in time she might hire a companion and take a small house in a different county. Returning to the Crenshaw estate would be inexplicably painful, and she would never like London. The worse difficulty laid in the fact that she could not mourn Seth’s death as they were not openly engaged. As it was, her parents insisted on hosting dinner party after dinner party in an attempt to marry her off. Her mother, especially, took it as the highest insult to have a “spinster in the making” as daughter. Her father bemoaned the family legacy as she was the sole child. If she did not marry and have children, it would go to a distant cousin and what duty did they have to the Crenshaw estate and coffers?

Her parents had a favorite. Lord Arlington, the Earl of Matlock’s eldest son. Belinda knew him perfectly well by reputation. She would rather die than marry him. There was nothing honourable about him. According to the gossip sheets, he sought his pleasures anywhere and everywhere. He dabbled in trade and factories for his income, was a liberal Whig and a rabble rouser in politics. In short, he was everything the perfect viscount should be. And she would never be the perfect viscountess. She was not formed for boring drawing room talk with ladies who came only to be jealous and spiteful. She hated London balls and soirees and would rather dance a lively reel any day. And she was entirely unapologetic about it all.

The wind blew harder, and Belinda looked up to see darker clouds roll in. At least she thought they were clouds. In London, it was difficult to know. Still, she ought to return inside. Her mother planned another ridiculous dinner with Lady Matlock. After running Mr. Darcy off the other night, Belinda had not heard the end of it. She smiled to herself. Their conversation had been intriguing, and if Belinda had to guess, Mr. Darcy was quite in love with some unsuitable lady in Hertfordshire. She could only hope he would be brave enough to try for her.

A few steps from the door, the clouds opened. Large, heavy rain drops pummeled her face, forcing her to bend her head down. She opened the door and bolted inside then collided with a wall that had never been there before.

 

*****

 

“It is a good thing Lady Crenshaw wrote and adjusted the time for our arrival. It looks like rain,” Lord Matlock said as they followed the butler to the drawing room.

“Louisa did not adjust the time for our arrival. We were always meant to arrive at four,” his wife said.

“No, when we last met they had said five.”

Richard rolled his eyes at his parents’ disagreement. His parents had never been very traditional. His father had been the second son and unexpected to inherit the earldom. His pursuit for the fair Miss Eleanor Manners’ hand was declined by her father and instead she was betrothed to the heir of a duke. The couple eloped, scandalizing Society. Of course, all was forgiven once he inherited not only a title but his wealthy uncle’s income. Now, they all tolerated the lord and lady’s eccentricities, including their free way of speaking to one another. Richard, however, had often wished his parents had conformed just a bit more to the normal function of society.

The door to their destination was opened, revealing it was empty. As they sat, Lord Matlock’s sly smile showed he enjoyed besting his wife.

In ordinary cases, a baron would not leave an earl waiting long. However, the Crenshaws were nearly as eccentric as the Matlocks and on the best of terms with them. It was why Richard’s parents promoted a match with Lady Belinda so much. Aside from the prudence of money and social standing, that is. However, they loved Belinda nearly like a daughter and after the disservice they gave Arlington when he wished to marry Claire, they were eager to prove they had only the best intentions toward him. They would be happy if she married either of their sons or their nephew, but would be happiest if Arlington wed her.

Something like jealousy rose in Richard’s heart. He had never felt such before. He could not understand the sentiment. He did not desire to marry anyone, and indeed had no need to. He had income from his father in addition to his profession. Being a soldier afforded him all the company he required, and he needed an active life. He had never chaffed against the rules and regulations of service but neither could he imagine the idleness James experienced. Still, he did not think he should be a soldier for the rest of his life. What he would do with himself, therefore, he had no idea. James’ had direction and fulfillment within his grasp.

Uneasy with the direction of his thoughts, Richard stood. Under the guise of needing to use the privy, he excused himself. He just needed air. On assignment, even officers slept in tents on the battlefield. Then there were the ship travels from England to foreign land and back. To escape the dark and wet confines, he spent as much time as he could on the ships’ deck. The vastness of the sea and the wind on his face calmed the dark thoughts of his mind. London drawing rooms, while not dark and dank, proved to be just as stifling.

Descending the stairs to the ground floor, he recalled the threat of rain. He just reached the garden door when he heard raindrops. Before he could open it and decide if he should face the deluge or not, the door flung open. More suddenly than a sea squall, a drenched water sprite dashed right into his chest. As she bounced off his body, his arms reflexively reached around her so she would not stumble. A jolt like lightning struck him, causing his arms to tighten. With a strangled cry she wrenched herself from his arms and ran out of sight.

Head swimming for calm, Richard stood before the still open garden door as rain poured in. He felt like he had just lived through a hurricane, though it had been but a woman. His body’s reaction to her shape and the feel of her against his chest reminded him of the two tempests, she was surely the more dangerous. Whoever she was.

 

*****

Belinda ran upstairs to her bed chamber as fast as her water-soaked skirts would allow her. Pins fell from her hair and drenched curls stuck to the side of her face. A blush of mortification crept over her skin. She must have looked a terrible fright and yet had not only been seen that way but literally crashed into a man. Her parents’ guest. She knew Lord and Lady Matlock were to dine this night, meaning the gentleman must be Lord Arlington.

Reaching her room, she slammed the door shut as though she could keep out the dangerous thoughts flooding her mind. He had been the most handsome gentleman she had ever seen. He was solid and well-built. His shoulders took the whole door frame. She could still feel the strength of his arms when wrapped around her.

Belinda shook her head, sending droplets of water to the floor. As accidental as the embrace had been it had been more than she ever allowed Seth, whom she loved. It mattered not that she could not entirely recall his face or the color of his eyes or the scent of his cologne and that his lordship was far more muscular than any nobleman had a right to be. She was ruined for love now. She refused to be sold like chattel to the highest bidder for her parent’s sake, let alone to a rake such as Arlington. And if she could not love him, then she refused to allow whatever momentary attraction she felt to sway her opinion. He could never be constant, and if she were ever prevailed upon to marry again, she would desire fidelity and mutual interests. Companionship. Not that she had even been willing to consider the idea before. And she still was not willing to consider it. Purely hypothetical thinking.

To pull her from her jumbled and traitorous thoughts, she began removing her sodden clothing. At last, her maid appeared and helped restore her to order. By the time she descended the stairs to join her parents in the drawing room, she looked every inch the proper Lady Belinda that she never was in her heart. She steeled herself for the evening. Lord Arlington would see no sign of embarrassment from her.

“Ah, Belinda. Here you are, at last.” Her father said. “You have not met Matlock’s son. Allow me to introduce you.”

“Forgive me, my lord,” the gentleman in question said. “We met briefly in the hall earlier.

Belinda drew her lips tightly together. Already, he hoped to unnerve her.

“Indeed?” Her father questioned and looked at Belinda for corroboration.

“Yes,” she said with an affected shrug.

“Well, then…” her father trailed off. Clearly, he had rehearsed in his mind how the night would go and now everything was off balance. Fortunately, Lady Matlock was a talented conversationalist.

“I simply adore the new drapes, Louisa.”

“Yes, it was high time to begin improvements in this room. We have not done any since our marriage. I consulted Belinda, of course, as it will be hers one day.”

Inwardly, Belinda sighed. She hated the marriage mart. Most of her worth in society’s age was summed up in that sentence. As an heiress, it was near impossible to find a gentleman whose attentions would be genuine. Then, her mother’s primary note was about her decorating skills. This was what was expected of marriages among peers. Her interests did not matter. Peers did not marry for companionship or love. Her mother prattled on.

“She was especially keen that the fabric come from England. She would not even hear of Indian silk.”

Her mother left off the fact that Belinda chose such fabrics because French fabrics were unavailable and Belinda would just as soon ride into battle herself than support anything from the country that sent her beloved to war. Neither did she want reminders of Britain’s empire at all. If not at war with France, Seth would have just as likely been fighting the Americans near the Indies or been on a merchant ship traveling to and from India. All of it was dangerous work. Instead, she promoted textiles from the North of England.

“How patriotic,” Lord Matlock said and then glanced at his son, who looked at her peculiarly. Breaking eye contact, she returned her gaze to her hands.

“Oh, yes. Belinda volunteers at the Royal Hospital several times a week.”

Belinda’s head snapped up. The others looked at her, expecting a remark of some kind. “A lady has duties to her country just as much as any man. They may fight, but we may nurse.”

“What duty does a lady owe to Britain?” Lord Matlock’s son said. “There are some that would say the French treat their women better.”

“You cannot convince me Napoleon cares about women, France or anything but himself. This war will, God willing, one day end. And then we will be friends with France again, as we always are. It is he, and his supporters, that must be stopped, and Jacobin women are fooling themselves if they believe he can offer them more freedoms.”

Dinner was called before Belinda could say more and it was just as well. She had wanted to remain indifferent and composed. Rumour had it that Lord Arlington did not like proper English misses, therefore pretending to be one would be the surest way to send him packing. She remained perfectly polite and calm during dinner. Nearing the dessert course, Lord Arlington leaned over and whispered to her.

“I expected you to attack your meal as though you were after Boney.”

Rather than remark on his break in propriety, she matched him. “Even a soldier must appear civil at times. What do I gain by sawing into my food as though it were a bayonet?”

She had expected to offend him. If being silent did not run him off, then insulting him surely would. Instead, his eyes took on a faraway look. Unnerved, she changed the topic of their conversation. “Do you enjoy music?”

Her words seemed to bring him from his reverie, and he blinked rapidly for a moment. “That is a rather general question. There are many forms of music.”

“What is your favorite form?”

“The pieces that speak to the soul. They communicate feeling and depth. My cousin, Georgiana Darcy, has a great talent. Her masters are delighted with her fingering but her audience delights in the emotion she gives mere notes on a page.”

“You speak fondly of her.”

“I do not get to see her as often as I would wish.”

“I have not met her. What is she like?”

“No, you would have little occasion to meet her. She is but fifteen. I am the wrong one to ask, however. I still think of her as a young girl. Darcy could tell you more.” His hand flexed slightly around his wine glass.

“Mr. Darcy did not seem very welcoming to conversation when I met him. Nor do I blame him. I understand he was distracted with thinking more about cursed pirate gold.”

“Pirate gold?” A smile inched across his face.

Compelled to broaden the smile, Belinda went on. “He seemed to need help deciding if a certain jewel that might be under a curse would be worth owning. Of course, we had first talked about finding unexpected treasure in the countryside.”

“The countryside!” Awareness filled his features. “Hertfordshire. Lady Belinda, I do not know whether you are clever or devious.”

The bluntness of his words drew her back. “I hope I am neither. I wish to be known only as honest and friendly. You cannot blame me for encouraging him to return to Hertfordshire. I could not sway his mind. My words would hold no importance if it were not something he already desired to do.”

“You are acquainted with the Bennets of Hertfordshire, I take it.”

“I have never heard of them before!” How dare he accuse her of something underhanded. “If you insinuate I schemed to have Mr. Darcy return to a match you find unsuitable, then you should know it was for selfish reasons only. I had no desire for Mr. Darcy’s courtship. Or yours. I have loved too deeply to be attracted to wealth, rank or name. In my own way, I pleaded that he would leave me be. I now make the same plea to you. Excuse me.”

She stood and left the room, not caring that she had ruined her mother’s dinner. Her parents ought to be used to her severe moods by now, and if they continued to push suitors on her, it would only get worse.

Chapter Three

Sisters Bewitched- Chapter Two

sisters orange bar 5

Chapter Two

Instead, each lady dreamed of their deceased parent. Mr. Morland came to Catherine bathed in a white glow and bade her go to the woods behind the east garden. Mrs. Bennet ordered her daughters there as well. Jane obeyed readily enough, but Elizabeth was too sensible even in her dreams. At length, as she felt as though her limbs were on fire, she determined the cool autumn air would bring relief. The ladies stood around a neglected fountain currently covered in overgrown ivy. They looked at each other in confusion.

“Lizzy, do you remember how we used to play here? I think I was about eleven when we stopped coming,” Jane asked.

“Yes, we would dance around it with Mary. I used to pretend the most fantastical things happened. The trees and flowers would dance with us and sing a special song.”

“Why did you stop?” Catherine questioned.

“Mary had a nightmare and then we were not allowed to come here anymore.”

“I used to have bad dreams,” Catherine said. “Sometimes it seemed like they came true.”

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked while Jane gasped in alarm.

“It started with small things. I dreamed my cat had kittens and the next day she did.”

“That is rather explainable,” said Elizabeth. “Someone probably told you she would soon have them.”

Catherine nodded her head. “I dreamed of a man in a carriage during a terrible storm one night. There was a large rut in the ground, and it broke the carriage wheel. The man came to no harm, but one of the horses went lame.”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened. “Did that come to be as well?”

“Yes, my uncle came to visit us the next day, and the exact scenario happened to him.”

“What else?” Elizabeth asked as her curiosity grew. Jane trembled beside her.

“The last dream I had was of my grandmother dying. She sang some strange song to me as she held my hand.”

“Did…did…that come true?” Elizabeth could barely say the words.

“Yes. I was so upset and terrified. I was weeping at her side, and I remember thinking that I had caused her death because of my dream.”

“Surely that was not so!” Jane cried.

“It was my last dream.”

“How old were you?” Elizabeth asked.

“Eleven. We soon came to Hertfordshire and…” Catherine trailed off as each girl knew what happened afterward. An illness swept the county and claimed their parents.

“Did you dream tonight?”

Catherine slowly nodded her head. “Yes. My father told me to come here.”

Jane spoke up. “I have never had such strange dreams before but my mother asked me to come to the fountain.”

Elizabeth laughed. “How strange that I should dream the same thing. I am sure you obediently went, even while still asleep, whereas I argued with her!”

“What made you leave your bed then?” asked Jane.

“I suddenly felt so hot. It was as if I held my hand over a fire too closely.” A breeze rustled in the nearby trees, and Elizabeth shuddered. “Now I feel cold.”

“Come, share my wrap,” Jane said. She held out her other arm to Catherine. She suddenly felt as though their youngest sister was very much in need of comfort. “You too, Kate.”

The three young women huddled together before the fountain when a great rush of wind parted the sky. The moon shone so brightly they had to cover their eyes.

“Look up, children,” Elizabeth and Jane heard their mother say.

“Kate, all is well,” Mr. Morland said.

The light lessened and at last, the ladies could see before them their departed parents.

“This cannot be!” cried Elizabeth.

“It is real,” they heard Mr. Bennet say from behind them.

“Do not fear,” Mrs. Bennet was at his side.

“Are we dead?” Catherine asked in confusion.

“No, dearest,” Mrs. Bennet explained. “The time is now right for your powers to be returned. You are descendants from great lines of witches.”

“I see your fear,” Mr. Morland said. “There is good and evil in this world, tended to by witches fighting for either side. It was a curse from the dark side which brought illness here five years ago. A family of great female witches had been prophesied about. They would have the powers of empathy, fire, and premonition. That family was the Bennets of Longbourn.”

The girls gasped and Mr. Bennet continued the tale. “We did not know how the prophecy would be fulfilled. Our family name was never reported. We grew nervous as each successive daughter exhibited more traits to fulfill the prophecy. When Mary began having premonitions, we advocated the High Council of Witches for protection. A traitor was amongst them. Instead of having protection, your youngest sisters and mother met their demise.”

The two Mrs. Bennets stood next to each other now, hand in hand. The former Mrs. Morland spoke. “Kate was so upset over her powers that her father and I bound them just before we visited Hertfordshire. When Mrs. Bennet and her daughters succumbed to their sickness, we were visited by the High Minister. She said Catherine’s powers were not well known in the community and were sufficiently cloaked from The One wishing to harm the Bewitching Sisters. The power of the gift lies in the three women forming bonds of sisterly love and unity, not in a blood line. It was suggested she could take Mary Bennet’s place.”

“You sacrificed yourself so Mama could marry Mr. Bennet?” Catherine exclaimed to her father. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“It was for the greater good. I have never been too far from our family.”

The young ladies stood still, shocked in wonder. Elizabeth was the first to speak. “Why are we being told this now?”

“Because now,” her mother said, “it is necessary for you three to use your powers to defeat the darkness returning to Hertfordshire. General Tilney’s return to Netherfield was the signal that the Dark One has returned to complete his mission.”

“What is that?”

Mr. Bennet was the most knowledgeable and therefore answered. “We do not know entirely. But the Bewitching Sisters were prophesied as guardians of the Kingdom of Magic and Great Britain. He must mean harm to one or both of them.”

“And he dwells in General Tilney?” Catherine hated thinking poorly of anyone in the family.

Mr. Bennet answered again, “No, the General is a trusted council member. It is he who put the enchantment on Netherfield, as Longbourn’s closest neighbors. Should the spirit of darkness return, the house will be readied for occupancy again.”

“What has changed? What would trigger such a thing?” Elizabeth questioned.

“We do not know,” said Mr. Morland. “We have limited time for visitation this night. We could only appear long enough to explain the history to you and join your living parents in unbinding your powers.” The parents soon surrounded the girls and said a chant returning their powers and memories of magic.

“We must go, but I would caution you girls that enemies often enjoy hiding behind a friendly face. Now, we trust the love which has brought you this far will last as you work together to vanquish this evil,” the deceased Mrs. Bennet said. “Know you have our love.”

After tender embraces, the ghostly parents vanished.

*****

In the following days, the sisters learned more about their newly awakened powers. They also learned that many of their neighbors in the area had magical powers.

“Perhaps I should not mention Mr. Darcy, knowing your power is the gift of fire, Eliza, but now that you know the truth, would you like me to give him a “tonic”? I could momentarily turn him into a goat!” Charlotte said to her friend the day after the ball.

Elizabeth laughed. “That was your thought all along! I confess many things in the past now make sense. Mrs. Long was once an oracle was she not?”

“Yes, but now you know her predictions are usually wrong.”

“Why would that be?”

Lady Lucas and Mrs. Bennet who had been in the room overheard this part as well. Mrs. Bennet explained, “The Council did tell us that by hiding the existence of the Bewitching Sisters it may affect the strength of magic for the entire area.”

“Like a cloaking,” Elizabeth suggested, and the elder ladies agreed. “Now there ought to be an increase of magical abilities for everyone,” she concluded.

“In that case, I shall turn Mr. Darcy into a hawk. His eyesight needs improving,” Charlotte said.

Elizabeth laughed, knowing her friend would never use magic for such personal and negative reasons. “Unless there is a spell to cure his pride, I am afraid there is nothing to be done.”

The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Allen. She had called to ask if the girls would like to walk with her into town. Catherine quickly agreed.

“I should like to stay home, Mama,” Jane said.

Elizabeth smiled. She guessed that Jane hoped Miss Bingley may call on them and likely bring their brother as well. She wondered why Catherine did not wish to stay as well and asked about it.

“I feel urged to go,” was her reply.

“Have you had a premonition, Kate?” her mother asked.

“I do not think so. Not like I had them before, that is. I did not see a scene unfold. Perhaps before I regain the ability to see I have the talent to sense?”

The other ladies looked at each other, hoping one may have the answer. Lady Lucas, at last, suggested, “It may be impossible to know since powers come to most as children, and they likely could not express it so well if it began in such a way.”

“I know before the ceremony last night I awoke to a burning feeling in my limbs, but I have yet to create fire,” Elizabeth said then sipped her tea. “Not that I have tried or would know how if I wished it.”

Mr. Bennet spoke from the doorway. “Go on with Mrs. Allen, Kate. When you return, if we do not have visitors, we will begin lessons. You are all bright enough girls and had your powers for many years before the binding, so I have no doubts you shall catch on fast.”

The ladies all agreed, and Catherine set out with Mrs. Allen while Elizabeth and Jane continued their visit with Lady Lucas and her daughter. One expected only misery and the other expected only joy should the Netherfield party visit.

 

*****

 

Two hours later, Jane and Elizabeth sat with Mr. Bennet in his library. Both vaguely annoyed that the gentlemen—that is Mr. Bingley—did not call on Longbourn with the ladies of Netherfield. Catherine returned after seeing nothing of note.

“Ah, I see your dislike of reading serious materials has played with your mind. You felt “compelled to go” rather than sit home and read!” Mr. Bennet teased.

“Papa!” Jane cried. “You upset her by calling her stupid!”

Mr. Bennet came to Catherine’s side. “I am sorry. I did not mean it that way. I only like to tease.”

Catherine sniffed. “I know.”

Silence reigned in the room, and Mr. Bennet stood reflecting for a moment.

“He will do better in the future, Kate,” Jane said.

Catherine mutely nodded, and Mr. Bennet squeezed her shoulder. “Jane speaks the truth for she discerned my feelings.”

Elizabeth cocked her head to one side. “Is that why Jane has always seen the world so cheerfully?”

“Although her powers were bound, some residual bits remained. Empathy is a powerful and burdensome power to have. It should not be confused with telepathy for one may project feelings of goodness if they believe strongly in their actions, but have destructive thoughts and motives.”

“How is it burdensome?” Elizabeth was always the most defensive sister.

“She will be susceptible to the feelings of others even when they do not actively call on their magic. It can often make one nervous.” He paused a moment. “Your mother was an empath. At the time of the binding, Jane’s power promised to be even stronger.”

Jane and Elizabeth exchanged a look. It certainly explained much about their mother. She often lay abed afflicted with nervous flutters, and yet when one of her children needed her, she was like a lioness. Elizabeth allowed that had her mother heard Mr. Darcy’s insult the night before and perceived how it wounded her daughter, she would flay him with her tongue at every meeting. A half amused, half sad smile formed on her lips. She inherited her sharp tongue from her mother.

“With all the new changes, I never thought to ask if you and my mother have powers. It was simply enough that we were protected and accepted,” Catherine said.

Mr. Bennet smiled. “I have fire power.”

“Is Lizzy’s power stronger than yours like Jane’s is stronger than her mother’s?”

“When combined the three of your powers will be strong enough to defeat nearly any foe.”

Elizabeth noted he did not say her power was particularly strong. It seemed Jane was first not only in beauty but also in powers.

“Kate, instead of seeing the future, your mother can see moments of the past. It gives her a sense of great wisdom. She excels in sound advice and guidance.”

“And my father?”

“Ah, your father had the power to sense dark magic.”

“Is that why he was a clergyman?” Elizabeth asked.

“Indeed! Most of the world does not know about magic. We have to make our way in life as though it does not exist. Some are land owners, some ministers, some soldiers, lawyers, shopkeepers, or other laborers.”

“Powers are not hereditary?” Elizabeth, more than her sisters, desired to know as much as possible about their powers. She had a thirst for knowledge combined with good sense and wit that they did not.

“Sometimes they are. Obviously, in a family with more than two, there is a greater diversity of powers.”

“What about good and evil?”

“That is always a choice.”

Jane and Elizabeth shared another look, and Jane instantly perceived her sister’s feelings. Taking a deep breath, she asked, “What of our sisters? Did they have powers?”

Before Mr. Bennet responded, Jane felt a sense of mourning she had not experienced since just after the deaths of her mother and sisters. The binding helped remove some of the pain for her, but she now sensed her father carried it with him always. She quickly realized how difficult it would be to manage her sensitivity to the feelings of others. Tears streamed down her cheeks.

“Now, Jane, you must calm yourself. Think of happy memories instead. I will do the same, but there will come a time when you must use your own strength to overcome.” She nodded her head and her sisters hugged her close. “Kitty had a very unique gift. She could actually impersonate the qualities of others. She was still very young and had only gone so far as to learn how to be pleasing enough to get her way. Typically, she followed the strongest personality around her—that of Lydia’s—but a true master can change even their outward appearance.”

“That sounds very dangerous!” Jane cried.

“It can be. It is usually associated with dark magic, but light magic can use it as well. Lydia had the power of enchantment. Her passionate nature enraptured others. Enough questions for now. We must begin lessons.”

First, Mr. Bennet lectured on the general history of magic in England, lightly glossing over the dark years of witch persecution. “The Crown tried to be understanding of our powers, but light and dark magic were so unbalanced that mortals attempted to meddle. When William and Mary seized the throne, an agreement was reached. The magical community would see to its own affairs and contact the Crown only if things were beyond our control.”

“Was there ever a time when it was?”

“Nearly so. When the madness in France started, it was clearly of magical influence.”

“Democracy is evil?” Elizabeth asked, her disbelief obvious.

“Nothing is more English than representative government, Lizzy. The dark intent was clear due to the violence and intensity. A spell was cast upon the people, they unknowingly hurt themselves more with their radical passions than they were when abused by their royalty—also of dark magical influence.”

Elizabeth nodded her head. “Dark magic is tyrannical. It seduces with the promise of power and then makes you a slave to its own will.”

“Excellent! I knew you would be clever enough to see it.”

“We are still at war with France. They are now ruled by Napoleon, but the Council did not see the need to take matters to the Crown?” Jane asked.

“We pooled all of our resources. We have many in important military and political positions—such as General Tilney. The evidence of the existence of the Bewitching Sisters was what truly turned the tide, however.”

“But there is a new danger now,” Catherine said.

“Indeed. Our fight against Napoleon is as necessary as ever. We have not had a large victory since Trafalgar seven years ago. The Darkness grows stronger than ever, now is the time to return your powers and fulfill the prophecy.”

The sisters gulped to consider the importance of their powers. Rather than allowing them to wallow in concerns for the future, Mr. Bennet moved on to practice sessions. Elizabeth was given time in the garden to conjure her fire and learn to throw it. Jane was assigned poetry reading to learn to block moods and feelings of others. Catherine played chess with her father in an attempt to perceive his moves. After several lessons on the benefit of knowing when to alter the future and when to allow it to come to pass, she, at last, defeated him.

At the close of the evening, the girls went upstairs exhausted.

“I am sorry Mr. Bingley did not come today,” Jane confessed.

“I am glad Mr. Darcy was absent!” Elizabeth exclaimed.

“I daresay one of you shall be happy and the other dismayed at the dinner we will have with them on Thursday,” Catherine said.

Elizabeth scowled. “Mama mentioned no dinner!”

“I have foreseen Miss Bingley in our home in a green turban with seven peacock feathers and Mrs. Hurst festooned with bracelets and rings. Mr. Hurst’s face reddened with port, Papa and General Tilney in deep discussion while Mrs. Tilney attempts to converse with Mama.”

“And the other gentlemen?” Jane asked, her voice rising in hope.

“That is less clear. I see all three unmarried gentlemen. I only know one smiles, one scowls, and one laughs.”

“Elizabeth!” Jane said. “You should cease such ungenerous feelings immediately!”

She gave a sheepish smile. “I promise to keep any fire I throw at Mr. Darcy limited to glares from my eyes and darts with my tongue in verbal rebukes.”

“That is just as well for your aim needs practice!” Catherine called before ducking into her room. The faint smell of smoke registered from the other side of the door.

Sisters Bewitched- Chapter One

 

sisters orange bar 5

Chapter One

“Have you heard, Mr. Bennet, that General Tilney is to return to Netherfield Abbey at last?” The newest Mrs. Bennet asked her husband.

“Is he? I suppose he has his reasons.”

“Indeed. He has married a Mrs. Bingley.”

“And does the new Mrs. Tilney have any grown children?”

“Yes, all of their children and a large party of friends are to come to Netherfield.” Mr. Bennet raised his eyebrows in silent question, and his wife complied. “They are to be here in time for the ball after Michaelmas.”

Mr. Bennet stroked his jaw line. “I suppose that will turn the neighborhood on its heel.”

“Will you call on him?”

“I think it better should I see him at the ball and allow him to settle in first.”

Their three eldest daughters exchanged curious looks with each other. Ordinarily their parents had far too much sense to care this much about a neighbor returning to his estate.

The second daughter, Elizabeth, mused to herself that her birth mother would have had many flutterings over a wealthy gentleman with available sons coming to the area. The first Mrs. Bennet had passed five winters before in an illness that swept the area and took her three youngest daughters and their nearest neighbor, Mrs. Tilney. The current Mrs. Bennet’s first husband, the Reverend Morland, also passed as they were visiting a relation in Hertfordshire.

Finding himself with two grief-stricken daughters of marriageable age, and Mrs. Morland with several children and very little pension due to her as the widow of a minister, the two married for necessity when their half mourning was complete. General Tilney had quickly left the area and took his children: two sons and a daughter, with him. They had not heard a thing from him or about him in all these years.

“Jane, Lizzy,” said the third daughter, Catherine, “do you remember General Tilney or his children?”

“We were very young,” answered Jane, “but they were all kind.”

“But did you play with them often?”

Elizabeth answered, “Eleanor is Jane’s age but the boys, Frederick and Henry, are four and two years older than her.”

“Eleanor was at school when her mother died, as was Henry. The eldest was at university. We had seldom been in their company for many years before Mrs. Tilney’s death. I know not being at home bore heavily on them all.”

Elizabeth nodded her head. “Yes, as much as I wish Mother would have agreed to send us to school, I am glad we were at home for her final hours.”

“General Tilney must have loved his wife very much if he could not stand to be home or remarried until now.”

“Perhaps,” Elizabeth said while shrugging. She had been fifteen and in little company of either elder Tilneys.

At the same moment, Jane said, “Of course!”

Elizabeth kept her thoughts to herself. Jane was too apt to trust and like people. There was no intimacy between the Netherfield and Longbourn families. Jane would only know what she saw on the civil calls and large dinners. She was predisposed to view everyone in a favorable light.

“Such romantic sensibilities must be passed on to his sons then,” Catherine continued.

“Kate!” Elizabeth chided. Her sister read too many romantic and gothic novels. “Life is not like your books. Do you suppose that your mother felt the loss of your father any less than General Tilney would have felt of his wife? And she remarried quickly.”

“My mother did love Father dearly,” she replied, evidently reconsidering.

“Life is not fair to women, Lizzy. Mama may love Papa now, but you know that was not the arrangement when they married,” Jane corrected.

Elizabeth merely nodded her head for there was much wisdom in Jane’s words. She wondered if the situation of their parents’ demise and remarriages colored both the outlooks that Jane and Kate had of romance and marriage. For herself, she was not easily pleased or impressed. A man would have to love her quite ardently to marry her with only fifty pounds to her name and yet that could hardly be sensible. She could never marry a man out of his wits.

 

*****

 

Without much more fuss, the days passed until the next Meryton assembly. It was not the ladies’ first desire to get to know their prodigal neighbors at a public ball, but their father had been adamant in not calling earlier. As it happened, General Tilney had only been at Netherfield for a day or two before leaving for London. Mrs. Long, the circulator of all gossip, claimed he would be arriving with five gentlemen and five ladies.

The single women of the area pouted at the possibility that all the men were already attached. At last, the moment of truth came. The party was the last to arrive at the ball. When only five gentlemen total arrived and four ladies, the crowd, unanimously gave up Mrs. Long as once again wrong in her information and before so much as a word was spoken settled it in their heads that the four young gentlemen were unattached. One lady was surely Mrs. Tilney, given her age, and the others must only be sisters.

The truth was something to the effect. One lady was indeed Mrs. Tilney. She brought her son and daughters–one married with her husband in attendance. This left the two sons of General Tilney, but no one could claim to recognize the eldest. His age looked correct, but there was no family resemblance.

They were soon to find out, that it was not Frederick Tilney, heir of Netherfield Abbey of four thousand a year and houses in Town and Bath. Instead, it was a Mr. Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire. His reported income was ten thousand pounds; he was cried up as good as a lord! He was the particular friend of Mrs. Tilney’s son, Mr. Charles Bingley, and would have been the prize of the night to attain his admiration if his manners had not given a disgust. Compared with the amiability of Mr. Bingley and the General’s younger son, Mr. Henry Tilney, Mr. Darcy was seen as intolerably proud.

Mr. Bingley was without a house, although his inheritance was large, and he declared a desire to lease an estate in the neighborhood, and Mr. Tilney had just taken orders and was to take over for Dr. Harrison. The ladies, both sensible and romantic, sighed at the fine figures the two gentlemen cut and their dancing skill. Mr. Darcy was the most handsome and tallest, but no one could admire his way of staring critically at the crowd. General Tilney was cried up as much improved from when he was last seen and very much in love with his wife who had married into trade.

Elizabeth and Catherine saw, with much joy, that Mr. Bingley had immediately sought an introduction with Jane at his earliest opportunity.

Jane smiled at her handsome partner. Before he even spoke, his gentle smile put her at ease. “We were so pleased to hear of your arrival in the neighborhood, Mr. Bingley,” she said. “We have all missed General Tilney’s presence, and I am sure your mother and sisters will be welcome additions as well.”

“My mother seems most fortunate in her marriage.”

“I believe I heard they married last year?”

“Yes, and you may wonder at the delay for their taking residence at Netherfield again.” Jane nodded her head. “They met in Bath and chose to stay there until all their children finished their educations. I have just completed my master’s examinations at Cambridge. Henry finished his education just before the marriage but then served as a deacon until he came of age. Frederick’s regiment was also stationed nearby.”

“I knew him as a boy. He has joined the military?”

“Yes, a Captain in the Militia. There was talk of him going into the regulars, but he has not yet, and as heir to Netherfield I rather doubt that he will. His father insisted in some form of employment for his son, however, to keep him occupied.”

“And have you had the same demands put upon you?”

“I am charged with purchasing an estate as soon as may be.”

Regret seared Jane’s heart. “Oh, then you will not stay long at Netherfield?”

“I doubt I shall find anything until next Spring. The autumn and winter are hardly conducive to looking at estates.”

“I suppose so. We are fortunate, though, with our easy distance to London.”

“Indeed. My sisters enjoy that as well.”

“They seem like very elegant ladies!”

“Thank you. Caroline and Louisa do count themselves as such. I am afraid my newest sister, Eleanor, is more reserved.”

Jane looked around the room and saw Miss Tilney standing alone. “I know my sisters and I will enjoy getting to know her better. It simply takes some people longer to warm up to a crowd of strangers.”

Mr. Bingley cocked his head. “I think you speak from experience.”

Jane blushed. She typically wore a mask and did not allow others to see the anxiety she felt underneath her serenity, but it was as though Mr. Bingley spoke to her heart and encouraged her to let down her guard. “Yes, I find new people and situations uncomfortable.”

I understand, she heard him say just before separating for their part of the dance.

“I have never revealed so much to a new acquaintance before,” she confessed when they met again.

Again we are in agreement, he replied as the final notes of the song played. He led her to Mr. Bennet’s side, and he left to find his next partner.

“Did you enjoy dancing with Mr. Bingley, Jane?” her father asked.

“Yes, he was the most pleasant man I have ever met.”

“How interesting since he spoke so little.”

Jane thought it was a strange remark but then excused it away as her father merely teasing her. She knew he would soon joke she was already crossed in love having only had one dance with the gentleman. Several dances later, Mr. Bingley asked for another set. While she was flattered by his compliment, she admitted she found the conversation different this time. Perhaps it was because he spoke only about the beautiful landscape of Hertfordshire and not on such personal subjects again.

It was during this dance with her that Elizabeth saw Mr. Bingley turn to address his friend. Elizabeth had been forced to sit out the dance due to the absence of partners.

“Darcy! I must have you dance!”

“I loathe dancing with strangers. Save your sisters I do not know a soul here.”

Elizabeth found that strange wording but was too taken with the rest of their conversation to pay much heed to it.

“I have not seen prettier girls in my life!” said Mr. Bingley.

“You are dancing with the only beautiful one.”

“No, there is her sister just behind you. She is very lovely and quite amiable too. Let me call Miss Bennet to introduce you.”

“Which do you mean?” He looked over his shoulder and his eyes locked with Elizabeth. Perhaps it was just from the peculiar inspection, but she had the strangest feeling settle in her at that moment. First, she felt heat, then a chill. He quickly tore his gaze away. “She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me. Return to your partner and enjoy her smiles for you are wasting your time with me.”

Although she felt like a puddle after the riot of feelings meeting his eyes gave, Elizabeth’s courage always rose to every occasion of intimidation. She promptly left her seat and retold the scene to her closest friend, Charlotte Lucas.

“His eyesight must be poor for him to make such a remark! My mother and I have just the tonic which would help him…”

“Oh, Charlotte! He is too proud to want any of your homemade tonics or even to admit to such a deficiency at all. I daresay he is entitled to his opinion, and I could much easier forgive his pride if he had not wounded mine.”

“Was it your pride or your vanity, Lizzy? Did he affect how you think of yourself, or only what you want everyone else to think?”

Elizabeth scoffed. “As if I care what the neighborhood thinks of me!”

“Little more than you do what a stranger thinks of you? I am your dearest friend, and I know the truth. You desire to project the image of a quick-witted and lively, pretty girl. You dislike close examination.”

“You would not understand, Charlotte. I’ve always felt so…different than the other girls.”

Miss Lucas was saved the trouble of replying by the arrival of Jane. She was astonished at Elizabeth’s report of Mr. Darcy.

“I cannot believe he meant it in that way! Mr. Bingley is the nicest man I have ever met, surely his friend must be as kind. No, you shall not laugh me out of my opinion no matter how much you roll your eyes at me, Lizzy. You must have misunderstood Mr. Darcy.” Jane could be firm where she believed herself right.

Mr. Bingley approached, ending the conversation. He asked Elizabeth for a dance but spent every other possible moment talking with Jane, ensuring he was in the same set as her. Elizabeth was too happy for her sister to feel slighted.

Across the room, Catherine was enjoying the dance. She had only entered Society the summer before and had attended a handful of balls. There was some debate between her parents as to if she could enter Society with two unmarried older sisters and if not for the concern of cost, than for chaperonage. Luck would have it that one of their closest neighbors, a Mrs. Allen, had offered her duties to attend Catherine as often as possible. Mrs. Allen was amiable and kind, but her passion was for fine dressing. Such it was that she gave Catherine a new gown specifically for this ball, insisting she could not possibly wear a remade one from Jane or Elizabeth.

The newness of the gown—made for her figure and in the latest fashion—did wonders for Catherine’s looks. She believed herself actually pretty for the first time. As the night wore on, Catherine began to fear it was all for naught for there were more people at the assembly than usual, to see General Tilney and his family, and yet still there was a shortage of gentlemen. She stood in the back of the room for the first several sets while Mrs. Allen chatted on about muslin. Catherine began to doubt if she would have a partner at all for the entire evening. Unexpectedly, Sir William Lucas, master of the ceremonies, approached with a tall gentlemen of about five and twenty.

With amazement, did she follow Mr. Henry Tilney to the dance floor. He had asked only to be civil, she was quite certain, but impressed her with his gallantry nonetheless. While dancing, they had little chance to speak much and instead broke for tea between the sets.

They had been observing the people around them and talking about the differences between public and private balls when Mr. Tilney suddenly changed the topic. “Pardon me, but I have only now recollected that I did not begin with the usual civilities one asks with a new acquaintance. I should ask if you like music or the theater?” said Mr. Tilney.

“Yes, what little I have seen of them.”

“You have not seen much of either?”

“No, my family seldom goes to London.”

“Really!” he said with feigned surprise.

“Why should you be surprised? I know I hardly give the air of a sophisticated lady.”

“Why, indeed!” said he, in his natural tone. “But some emotion must appear to be raised by your reply, and surprise is more easily assumed, and not less reasonable than any other. I ought to ask if you enjoy dancing.”

“Very much.”

“Now I must give one smirk, and then we may be rational again.” Catherine turned away her head, not knowing whether she might venture to laugh. “I see what you think of me,” said he gravely. “I shall make but a poor figure in your journal tomorrow.”

“My journal!”

“I know exactly what you shall say in your journal. After recording what good looks you are in you shall call me a half-witted man and say I plagued you half the evening.”

“Indeed not!”

He leaned a little closer to her, “Then shall you write that you danced with an uncommonly handsome man who was an extraordinary genius and you cannot wait to know more of him?”

Catherine’s heart began to thump wildly at his flirtation, but she held her own. “Perhaps I do not keep a journal.”

“Of course, you do! I have found young ladies are always journaling when they will not say too much in company. I daresay it lends itself to letter writing—which we all know women dispense with better care and precision.”

This at last animated Catherine to speak more. After declaring she did not believe women were strictly the better letter writers, Mr. Tilney agreed that among skills which depend upon taste, both sexes were evenly divided in their abilities.

Before more could be said, they were interrupted by Mrs. Allen. “Catherine, do take this pin out of my sleeve. It has stuck me already! And I hope it has not torn my gown for it is a great favorite especially at nine shillings a yard.”

“That is exactly what I should have guessed it to cost,” said Mr. Tilney.

“Do you understand muslins?” asked Mrs. Allen and so began an ardent discourse on Mrs. Allen’s side on the subject of muslins and shopping and how happy she was now to live closer to Meryton than in their previous home. Mr. Tilney amused himself greatly with the discussion and Catherine hardly knew how to make him out. Nonetheless, she enjoyed her next set with him and left the ball with her head full of him. She was certain she would even dream of him.

In fact, each of the young ladies at Longbourn was certain they would have eventful dreams that evening of the gentlemen they had met. Their estimations could not quite prove true, however.