Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters Chapter Four Part Three

Road in dark forest

The following morning, after the food had been cleared from the breakfast table and Mrs. Bennet ordered the school things brought out for the little ones, Jane, Elizabeth, and Kate made their way to Mr. Bennet’s library. He had been asked by the steward to pay a call on a tenant, and so the girls occupied themselves in his absence.

“Did any of you suspect we were witches or that they even existed?” Jane asked.

Elizabeth vehemently shook her head. “No, never! I am not known for a sweet temper, but I had never guessed that I was secretly a pyrotechnic!”

Kate chewed her lip. “I had forgotten entirely about the dreams I used to have until yesterday. In fact, I haven’t dreamt at all in years until last night. I suppose that is why it seemed so unusual to me.”

Elizabeth surveyed her sisters. Like her, Jane seemed to feel no apprehension about their new powers, but Kate appeared less content. Elizabeth wondered if Jane could use her empath powers on Kate. Jane had always been very conscientious of the feelings of others. Perhaps she had retained a bit of her powers all these years. Elizabeth gasped at a sudden memory. “Jane, do you remember that time when Lydia took my ribbon and would not give it back? I singed her hair when I ripped it out of her braid and Mother scolded me like never before.”

Jane laughed. “Now that you mention it, I do. What about when my favorite barn cat disappeared for days, and I was inconsolable? I cried so much I made myself sick!”

Elizabeth smiled. “Then the dratted thing turned up a few days later with six kittens?”

“I named them “happy” in different languages.”

Kate’s eyes grew wide. “How old were you?”

“Seven or eight?” Jane glanced at Elizabeth, who nodded, for confirmation. “Tell us a story, Kate.”

Elizabeth smiled at Jane’s thoughtfulness and hoped it might make Kate feel more at ease. Elizabeth and Jane had immediately accepted Kate, and all the others, into their family but in the last few months, their relationship with Kate had changed. She always wished to tag after them, but being nearly four years younger than Elizabeth, was not in company until only a few weeks ago. Now, it was difficult for Elizabeth to see Kate as a young woman and not as a child. No matter the differences in their ages, it seemed like now there were constant reminders that Kate was a step-sister and not blood. She was now formally “Miss Morland” rather than “Miss Catherine” when in public.

Kate screwed up her face as though she was trying very hard to remember something…anything. “Besides the dreams I told you about last night, I always knew when my brother James would prank us on April Fool Day.”

Elizabeth exchanged glances with Jane. For as long as she had known James he could never keep a secret. He would drop hints about his plans, and in the end, only a true fool would be left unaware.

“Lizzy!” Jane scolded although Elizabeth had said nothing.

Elizabeth tried to look apologetic as she realized Jane must have sensed her thoughts. However, she would not apologize for the truth. Besides, she felt proud of her sister’s abilities and could not hide an expression of pride.

“What?” Kate looked between the two.

“Nothing,” Elizabeth said too quickly, and Kate raised her eyebrows expectantly. “I had a sarcastic thought — but did not say it — and Jane must have sensed it. Well done, Jane!” Lizzy beamed.

“I hardly see why you need to be so excited over being sarcastic at my expense,” Kate frowned.

“Don’t be silly!” Elizabeth said. “I’m happy to see how quickly Jane is learning to use her powers. At least you two can practice and learn without potentially harming someone. I hope Father returns soon so he might begin teaching me.”

Jane nodded. “Let us forget about magic for a few minutes. What did you think of the ball?”

Inwardly, Elizabeth smiled as Jane was once again the peacemaker. Kate immediately filled with nervous fluttering like a butterfly. The blush on her cheeks confirmed what Elizabeth guessed. Catherine was infatuated with her dance partner from the night before. Elizabeth wished the blush she felt rise in her was from such pleasant thoughts.  As thunderous thoughts filled her mind, her skin grew hot.

“Lizzy!” Jane quickly grabbed wine from her father’s cabinet and thrust a glass into her sister’s hand. “Lizzy, calm yourself.”

Steam rose from the glass as Elizabeth brought the drink to her lips.

“That’s it,” Jane encouraged another sip. “Now take a deep breath.”

Elizabeth complied.

“There. Better?”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said, her voice shaking. “I did not expect… I didn’t know how to stop it,” she said quietly.

“Kate,” Jane said in a voice that was higher than normal. “Tell us about Mr. Henry Tilney. I did not speak with him last night, but I saw you two dancing.”

“I do not quite know what to think of him.”

“He’s very handsome,” Elizabeth said still more subdued than usual.

“He is,” Kate beamed.

“And I thought I saw you laughing?” Jane asked.

Kate giggled and then pressed her hand to her lips in an attempt to muffle the unladylike reaction. “We were having a genuine conversation, and he interrupted it for silly nonsense about if I like music and the theater. Things like that.”

Skepticism flared in Elizabeth, and hot tingles returned. “Does he think that such things are nonsense—”

“It was the way he said things,” Kate spoke over her sister. “The tone and expression… He was making a joke of things.”

“Oh!” Elizabeth calmed and smiled.

“I believe I am indebted to him for bringing up more usual topics of conversation for new acquaintances,” Kate said with a frown. “I quite forgot them and am afraid I was nearly impertinent.”

On the subject of impertinence, Elizabeth had to tell her younger sister what Mr. Darcy had said. Surprisingly, Jane’s expression turned dazed, and soon she closed her eyes as though concentrating. It reminded Elizabeth of attempting to make out a noise in the distance.

“Jane?” Lizzy called sharply.

Jane opened her eyes as Kate waved a hand in front of her face. “Are you ill? Did you hear us?”

“I’m perfectly well,” she smiled at them. “I was only lost in thought. What did you say?”

Elizabeth’s dark feelings returned, but not as unchecked as before. “I told Kate what I heard Mr. Darcy say.”

“Do attempt to forget it,” Jane said. She took Elizabeth’s’s hand in hers. “Do not judge him by one evening.”

Elizabeth’s nostrils flared. “Is not one evening more than fair when he judged me with a mere glance?”

“It was very wrong of him to say such things, and if you were merely finding his looks at fault, I would not reproach you. But you attack his character when you do not truly know it.”

“He attacked mine too. It is not only beauty that attracts dance partners. He supposed I did not make good conversation or was not a good dancer — ”

“You are leaping to conclusions!” Jane interrupted.

“Besides,” said Kate, “how does poor dancing mean bad character?”

“Perhaps — perhaps it would mean I was unintelligent or too arrogant to pay attention during my lessons or lazy or —” Elizabeth broke out in laughter and defeat as she recognized the ridiculousness of her claims.

“What has my girls in such a good mood?” Mr. Bennet said as he came into the room.

The sisters said nothing but grinned at him, and he sat behind his desk.

“I suppose you have many questions,” the ladies nodded their heads in unison. “I have worked up a schedule for each of you. You will have time to learn magical theory as well as practical application. I must warn you,” he gave them each a stern look, “most of Meryton does not know about our magical heritage or of the wizarding world at all. It is imperative they do not learn of it. As of now, everyone in our community is cleared with the High Council and the Quorum as trustworthy, but jobbards are not screened. You must guard your secret.”

The smiles slipped from the girls’ faces, and Elizabeth did not need empathic or telepathic abilities to know the thoughts and feelings of her sisters. Someone had killed their parents. They understood the high cost.

Elizabeth was the first to break the silence. “Only say we will not need to go shopping for funny hats and brooms.”

Mr. Bennet shook his head and chuckled. “You have much to learn,” he said and handed out their schedules.

Later that day, Lady Lucas and Charlotte visited. Elizabeth was surprised to learn that her best friend’s family were magical. They did not have demonstrative powers. Instead, they were proficient in medicines and cookery. Elizabeth smiled at the pride Lady Lucas had as she talked about Charlotte’s abilities with tonics.

Charlotte grinned and then turned to Elizabeth. “Perhaps I should not mention Mr. Darcy, knowing your power is the gift of fire, Eliza. However, now that you know the truth would you like me to give him a “tonic”? I could momentarily turn him into a goat!”

Elizabeth laughed. “That was your thought all along last night when you suggested one for his eyesight! 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?”

“The Council told us by hiding the existence of the Bewitching Sisters,” Mrs. Bennet explained, “it might 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 does need improving,” Charlotte said.

Elizabeth laughed again. “Unless there is a spell to cure his pride, I am afraid there is nothing to be done.”

The conversation was soon interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Allen. It was revealed that although she was not magical at all, her mother had been. She had the opportunity to learn spells and potions but chose not to. Elizabeth sighed in relief that they did not need to hide their abilities from so many of their close friends.

Mrs. Allen had called to ask if the girls would like to walk with her into town. Kate quickly agreed. Elizabeth had no desire to stay in the house lest Mr. Bingley and his friend call on them.

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

“You do not wish to stay home as well, Kate?” Elizabeth asked with a teasing smile.

“I feel urged to go,” was her reply.

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

“I do not think so. Not like 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 your 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. Elizabeth, I request that you stay here.”

The ladies all agreed, and Kate set out with Mrs. Allen while Elizabeth and Jane continued their visit with Lady Lucas and her daughter. Elizabeth wondered why her father had asked her to remain at home, but her father did not stay in the room. Determined to enjoy herself while she could, she returned her attention to their guests.

Reunited- Chapter Nine

reunited 2Chapter Nine

 

Rage coursed through Will’s body as the name fell from Elizabeth’s lips. He had been so careful to not mention him to her.

“Will?”

Elizabeth’s words drew him back to the present. Concern clouded her features. “Might we walk now?”

“Is there something you do not wish for my father to know?”

Will shook his head. “No, I will speak with him later. I know myself only too well on this subject. I can relay the facts coldly which I believe would wound you, or I might become overly-emotional. I do not know if it makes any sense to you.”

Elizabeth looked at him for a moment before nodding her head. “Sam and I once found a pup who had lost his mother. When we found him he was hurt but when we attempted to help him he gnashed his teeth. Sam bundled him up in his coat and carried him home. We thought to keep him in a pen so he would be safe but he only became more belligerent, attempting to bite anyone who came near him, even with food in hand. Finally, we believed he might do better on his own—his wound had healed. We opened the pen but he never left sight of us. That night, we left the door open and he willingly slept in there. The next morning, we visited again and instead of growls and angry barks, we were met with a wagging tail. He would follow Sam everywhere after that. We were both heartbroken when he went away to school.”

“I recall Sam talking of his pet. He does not still live does he?”

“No,” Elizabeth sighed sadly. “Jasper passed the autumn after Sam did.”

“I am sorry,” Will touched her hand. “It sounds as though he was a great comfort to you in the absence of your brother and then…”

“All is well,” Elizabeth answered. “I told the story to explain that I understand your feelings. Jasper was not a bad-natured animal. He only needed his freedom and space. Feeling caged heightened his anxieties.”

“That is it exactly,” he closed his eyes in relief at her perception and understanding. How had he ever been so fortunate as to meet her? “Shall we?”

Standing, Will asked for Mr. Bennet’s permission for the walk. Having received it, they set off.

“I have always regretted that you ever met Mr. Wickham,” Will began once they were some distance from the house. “He should never have been in a house full of ladies.”

“I know,” Elizabeth nodded and squeezed his arm.

“You know!” he repeated in amazement. “But how? Did he importune you? I ought to have killed him!”

“No, not me—” Elizabeth hastened to say and tugged on his arm to cease his movement. “Miss Graves told me she had explained it to you. I thought you knew.”

“She did indeed,” Will nodded, “but I did not know she had informed you as well.”

“It was…” Elizabeth sighed. “She found me distraught on the stairs and had assumed the worse.”

“Why were you upset?” Will cast his mind back to the week he had known Elizabeth. His memory was clouded by distance and through layers of regret, pain, and anger. He could barely recall any particulars but only knew that his heart could not deceive him. He had really loved Elizabeth.

“It was after we hid in the cupboard,” Elizabeth answered as she blushed.

Instantly, Will remembered the moment. She had sent him away after he kissed her senseless. He had believed at the time that she had believed he was ungentlemanly. She spent some time avoiding him, but when he came to her to apologise, she had nothing but sweet words and tempting looks for him. “Is she why you had calmed by the time I spoke with you next? What did she say?”

Elizabeth began walking again, nervous energy filling her. “I had built all sorts of ideas in my head. I had thought you only meant to use me—you said nothing about love or courtship, and at the theatre, you had said nothing could exist between us. She allowed me to see the differences between you and a vile abuser like Wickham.”

“I have always liked Miss Graves,” Will grinned for a moment. “She is Mrs. Annesley now—widowed to a footman we had at Darcy House. She has returned to her post as Georgiana’s governess.”

“Governess?” Elizabeth wondered. “Is she not getting quite old for that?”

“It was necessary,” Will bit out. “Come, let us sit here,” he motioned to a bench under a currently bare tree.

“Unbeknownst to me until only a few days ago, Wickham would often visit with Georgiana as a child. Even after my father died—no, I must explain matters first.”

Elizabeth listened patiently as Will paced before her and explained the situation of his father’s will. He had left a valuable living for Wickham but the young man refused all claim to it. He requested instead funds to study law—claiming that Will had given him the idea from one of their arguments—and Will had supposed that would be the end of his acquaintance with the man. Instead, like a bad cold, he came back again and again, abusing Will’s name far and wide whenever he denied him money.

“It seems while I was away from Pemberley, he would visit Georgiana. After Mrs. Annesley married, I decided to send her to a school in London. She has perceived this as me tearing her from her only friend—as she told me in today’s letter. Last summer, my cousin and I removed her from school and allowed her to travel to Ramsgate with a companion. It turns out this woman had a connection to Wickham, who arrived at Mrs. Younge’s invitation. There, he convinced Georgiana to an elopement, and it is only my unexpected arrival that put an end to the scheme.”

“An elopement!” Elizabeth cried. “And to such a man! Thank goodness you arrived in time to prevent it.”

“I saw the packed bags and confronted both her and Mrs. Younge, but the confession was most unwilling. I wrote to Wickham—he renounced all interest and intention in Georgiana, and so she blames me now for separating her from her lover.”

“How could she be so deceived in his character? How could she not believe you given your history?”

“I am afraid it is my fault,” Will said as anguish seized his heart. “I concealed the truth from her as I did not wish to wound her impression of our father. He was much to blame in permitting Wickham’s behavior. By now, you must suppose Mrs. Annesley was not the only Darcy servant to be importuned by him.” At Elizabeth’s nod, he continued, “I failed her.”

Shame gripped him. It ought to have been him to die in the fire. How many lives had he destroyed? Elizabeth’s, Georgiana’s, if he had been in his room, he might have saved Sam or his father. Mr. Bennet never would have been hurt. Instead, he selfishly drank himself near to oblivion at the tavern below.

“You did not.”

Elizabeth placed her hands on his cheeks, wiping away tears he did not realise had spilled from his eyes.

An anguished sob tore from his throat as he buried his face in her hair. “She was but fifteen—what did she know of the world? I was her only family—”

“I was only sixteen when we met and I never would have consented to an elopement. Do you remember? We discussed it.”

“I remember,” he gripped her tightly.

“And you never would have suggested it. Georgiana must face some responsibility for her choice, but most of it resides in the schemes of one man. How long have you blamed yourself for his every evil deed?”

Elizabeth’s words struck him. He had never realised before that was exactly what he had always done. “What would I do without you?”

“What did you do without me? You wrote in your letter—the one I was fortunate enough to receive—that you continued to write to me even after Sam died and all hope died. If you have kept them, I would like to read them.”

“It would do me no good in your view, I fear. I poured my anger out on the page.”

“Might I help heal those wounds? If I can understand the pain, I may better nurse them.”

“I burnt them all before coming to Hertfordshire. I had wanted to let go of the past. I never expected that you still loved me—I had convinced myself you never did. I wished only to prove that I no longer would be your fool.”

“I do not fully understand why you would believe that of me. If you recall, we did not talk very much a few days ago.”

“Oh, I remember,” he chuckled. “I would tell you of the sweetness of your lips,” he whispered in her ear, “but I do believe you said you would rather be shown love than told of it.”

Elizabeth whimpered and arched her neck as his lips inched down the column of her throat. “Yes, but I spoke of fidelity too.”

Will met her lips for one delicious moment, then pulled back. “And I will show you that as well.” He placed her hand on his arm, laughing as she returned from her daze. “I am capable of some restraint, although I do not think you can blame a man after desiring a woman for so many years and so sure he would never have her again to act as I did.”

Elizabeth agreed, and they meandered through the Netherfield gardens.

“I was a fool,” Will admitted. “Sam hinted a bit too strongly one evening about my being in love with you and Wickham heard. He taunted me for the entire trip. How would I know how to court a lady? I was too stupid to please one. She must only desire my money. I could only interest one as young and poor as you.” He shook his head. “I have little doubt that I appeared the epitome of an arrogant heir to you, but the truth was that I felt intensely insecure in my own value. I had often experienced friends who desired only to use me. Wickham is the primary example. He knew more than any other how a person could appear interested in me only to desire the Darcy name and wealth. He always knew how to make me feel most vulnerable. I do not know why I persisted in listening to him and believing him—I suppose I could not believe myself so worthy of deserving you. Can you ever forgive me for that?”

Elizabeth leaned her head against Will’s arm, and they walked in silence for a few moments. He dared not look at her face. The fact that she had not pushed him away was more than he had dared to hope for.

“I do not like that you were so easily deceived, but I do forgive you, and I can understand it. I had only my inner voice saying the same sorts of things about you.”

“Have you put those feelings to rest?” he asked as they arrived near the stable.

“I hope so,” Elizabeth answered honestly and sighed. “I suppose I will be going home soon.”

Just then, the coachman emerged. Wearing a stern face, he stomped in anger toward the house. Will called out to him.

“What is the matter?”

“Yesterday, we had supposed the carriage was stuck in the mud. I apologise, miss,” he glanced at Elizabeth, “for the dirty walk you faced in the rain.”

“As you see, I am no worse for the excursion.”

“You sound as though the problem was not the mud?” Will asked.

“The axle is broken. A nearly clean break.”

Dread knotted in Will’s stomach. “Do you suspect someone tampered with it?”

“One of our saws is missing,” he said. “I believe it must have been cut down so it might appear intact but very weak once in motion. If we had not been going so slow due to the rain, it would have been dangerous—perhaps deadly—when it broke.”

Will turned to Elizabeth, her face appearing as snow and her hands feeling like ice even through the thickness of his coat and her gloves.

“Who would do such a thing?” she asked in a trembling voice.

 

*****

 

A terrified shudder wracked Elizabeth’s body while Will and his coachman stared at one another. An unspoken conversation occurred, and although Elizabeth could not say she shared in it, in the pit of her stomach, she knew the logical culprit.

“Come, dearest,” Will led her to a stool in the stable and withdrew a flask, pressing it into her hands.

Elizabeth murmured her thanks and took a few small sips until she felt warmth and vitality rush through her. No one could have known ahead of time that it would be Elizabeth who rode in Will’s carriage next. No, he was the target. She had little difficulty believing Wickham hated Will and was capable of evil—but to attempt murder? Even worse—did this mean he was here? Near Netherfield? Near Meryton? Her eyes scanned the trees as though she would see his menacing visage. How had she ever found him handsome? In her memory, now, he was akin to a monster.

“Let us walk back, we have much to discuss with your father,” Will said and assisted her in standing.

“What will you do?” Elizabeth asked Will as they approached the house.

“I will speak with your father and also Charles. I do not believe he or any of his family is a target, but they should be careful at any rate.” He pressed a kiss to her temple. “Fear not. You will be returned home safely.”

“It is not me that I worry for!” Elizabeth cried, bringing them to a stop. She threw herself into Will’s arms, clutching him tightly. “Why when we have just found one another again must this happen?”

Will whispered soothing words of love in her ear and rubbed her back until the spell of emotion passed. “We do not know that anything intentional happened. I know your intelligent mind. I know you can perceive what Davis and I did not say—but if he is to blame, then you can be sure he will not be showing his face again any time soon. He thrives on lulling me into a sense of security and is too clever to push his luck and be caught. I would hazard a guess even if we found proof that he had been here he is now far away.”

Elizabeth wiped her tears with the handkerchief Will offered and nodded. London was a very convenient distance, and he easily could hide there.

“I will write to my cousin and inquire about Wickham’s whereabouts, but if I know Wickham, he would much rather have me alive than dead. You cannot blackmail a dead man.”

Elizabeth was not at all proud of the fact that for a fleeting moment, amidst the gut-wrenching pain of imagining Will dead, she considered that his heir must be his sister. Would Georgiana want him dead so she might marry Wickham? Or would he put a plan into action without her knowledge to remove her guardian? Biting her tongue, Elizabeth chose not to voice her concerns. Will knew both far better than she did and if he did not entertain the possibility of them then more than likely she would only pain him with such wild possibilities.

Had she learned nothing in recent days? She should put her most fevered ideas behind her and not give into her imagination. There were no clues to lead to her recent thoughts. Good heavens! Was she turning into her step-mother?

Upon reaching the house, Mr. Bennet greeted them. “I am feeling much recovered, and your mother has sent a missive begging our return on the morrow. My cousin arrives the following day and she says the master of the house is required to be in residence.”

“Your cousin?” Will asked.

“He is the son of the man who was heir before Sam was born. We have never met Mr. Collins before, but he seems quite ridiculous.”

“Indeed,” her father laughed. “His letter contained more compliments to his patroness—a Lady Catherine de Bourgh, he mentioned as though I should know her name—than it did to my wife or daughters—of which there were many although he has never seen them.”

Will started at Mr. Bennet’s words. “Pardon me, did you say Lady Catherine de Bourgh?” Upon confirmation, Will looked between father and daughter, and said in an amazed one, “She is my mother’s sister. How came he to know her?”

“He did not say,” Mr. Bennet answered. “I had thought you might return with certain news you wished to share?” He glanced between Will and Elizabeth. “Will told me you would soon be selecting a wedding date?”

“Oh,” Elizabeth answered and looked at her feet. Yes, she had told Will she would compromise and settle a date but must she decide just now? Her stepmother must have opinions about such things and still as far as the rest of the world knew they had never spent much time together. They could not announce it right away.

“Unfortunately, we did not have a moment to discuss the date,” Will hastily intervened. “On that subject, I do request an audience with you but not on the topic of the wedding.”

“Certainly,” Mr. Bennet agreed and followed Will to the library.

Sighing, Elizabeth determined to join the others in the drawing room. Her mind could not focus on any of the conversations at hand. Caroline must have delighted in seeing what looked like evidence of her stupidity. Elizabeth’s mind worked again and again. Why would Wickham wish to kill Will? Was Wickham as harmless as Will believed?

Elizabeth and Will had no more opportunity to talk and the afternoon and evening were filled with Caroline’s insistence upon music and cards, gently scolding Will for writing letters when he had requested the music. Elizabeth stole glances at him during her time at the pianoforte. He rarely looked up from his page, but often his pen did not move as though he were lost in the music. A few times their eyes locked and Elizabeth almost believed then that love was a tangible thing. She could feel his caress with his eyes. His arms were around her once more and the safe, secure feeling she always felt in his presence filled her.

The following morning, Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth returned to Longbourn. After describing the house to her sisters and her mother, Elizabeth retreated to her room for solitude. A half hour later, she was not surprised when there was a knock at her door, and Jane entered.

“Are you very jealous of me for getting to spend time at Netherfield?” Elizabeth teased.

“I am very thankful that Papa recovered so quickly and you were there to help. Was it an agreeable visit?”

Very agreeable,” Elizabeth beamed. “Will and I managed to have many conversations, and I think we understand one another much more now.”

“Do you trust him now? Do you have peace about the past?”

“I think I do,” Elizabeth nodded. “Now, I will tell you that Mr. Bingley asked about you several times a day and always seemed to work you into the conversation.”

“He did not,” Jane blushed. “Do not tease me so.”

“I am telling the utter truth!” Elizabeth grinned and hugged her sister. “Perhaps when I next visit the house you will be its mistress.” She could not contain a set of giggles as she used her best Fanny Bennet impression.

“Lizzy!” Jane pretended to scold but smiled at Elizabeth’s words.

Suddenly, Elizabeth sobered and squeezed her sister again. “Thank you for always being so selfless. I am sure you listened to me cry over Will far more than you ever wished.”

“I would say so! I would never wish for your heart to be broken.”

“I did not mean it in that way. I am certain if the positions were reversed, I would have lost patience with you in a matter of weeks.”

“No,” Jane shook her head. “You are my dearest friend and can be excessively protective. If the situations were reversed, you would have girded your loins and marched to London to demand explanation and retribution. I am weak compared to you.”

“Never say such a thing!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “Your strength is, perhaps, different than mine. It is quieter, but I see it and so must all who call you friend.”

Jane smiled, and the sisters sat in companionable solitude for a few moments until there was shouting from the hallway. “Lizzy! Jane!” Lydia yelled. “Mama says to come downstairs!”

Sharing a smile, they left their chamber and rejoined the family below.

Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy & the Bewitched Sisters- Chapter Four Part One

Road in dark forest

Previous sections: Prologue / 1.1 / 1.2 / 2.1 / 2.2 / 3.1 / 3.2

Chapter Four

 

The occupants of Netherfield also did not rest well the evening after the ball in Meryton but for different reasons entirely.

“I want to know,” Mrs. Tilney said when everyone was seated with coffee and refreshments, “what you all thought of that…that…I believe I heard the residents refer to it as a ball but with the number of country dances it surely would never qualify!” She shuddered.

“We are not here to worry about friendships or fashion, Agatha,” General Tilney said. “We have been assigned to determine if these are the Bewitched Sisters.”

Mrs. Tilney smiled at the scold. “We might be magical but we are still ladies, and as we frequent London more than Pember Wigan, you must allow that we care about good Society and gowns.”

The General grunted and reached for a newspaper.

“Still, I am curious what the gentlemen of our party thought,” she continued, “because I am sure I can guess the ladies’ opinions. Mr. Darcy, what did you think of Meryton?”

“I saw little beauty and no fashion,” he said disinterestedly.

“You did not think the Bennet ladies worthy of your notice? I thought they seemed quite interested in you,” Miss Caroline Bingley, the General’s younger step-daughter, said.

Darcy, used to Caroline’s prying manners from his long friendship with her brother, knew how to answer her. “I saw no attention or pleasure shown to me.”

Caroline gasped in shock. “You mean to say they ignored you? How could they not know who you are?”

Darcy approached Mrs. Tilney to refill his coffee to keep from rolling his eyes, although it was difficult as she simpered while pouring from the ornate coffee service. He returned to his seat and wondered when he might go to bed, hoping the chamber was more comfortable than the drawing room. Every cushion was stiffly stuffed and upholstered in garish colors the Bingley ladies favored so much. At last, he replied as Caroline did not take her eyes off him. “It is no consequence when they were of equally no interest to me.”

“Of no interest?” the General threw the paper down. “You know, of course, that in this back-country village is a family that claims to harbor the most powerful witches of the era!”

He was beginning to turn red and when worked up could be in a rage for quite some time. Usually, Darcy avoided doing so but collaborating with the General meant Darcy finally had a chance to observe him carefully. Alas, Bingley could never stand for there to be unhappiness or strife.

“Now, I must disagree with something you had said earlier, Darcy,” Bingley shook his head. “The Bennet ladies were exceedingly lovely. The eldest was an angel! Nor did I dislike the manners at the dance. I am not one for formality and stiffness.”

“I believe we generally call it elegance, Charles,” Caroline said with a sly smile. She looked at Darcy for confirmation.

“The eldest Miss Bennet was pretty, I will grant you, but she smiled too much for my taste.” Charles only grinned at Darcy’s words, and he had to hide his own smile. The lady indeed smiled far too much to interest him, but it was all he could say against her as of now. It was a code they used for Darcy to give in approval of Charles’ dance partners. From experience, they both knew far too many ladies would prefer to catch Darcy and only used Charles as a means to an end. Darcy did not pretend to read emotion or minds, but he could at least allow Charles to know that he had no interest in a lady.

“That may be true, but I still found her very agreeable,” Mrs. Louisa Hurst, Charles’ elder sister, interjected.

“Yes, if we are to be trapped here, she is one I would not dislike getting to know better,” Caroline said.

Darcy glanced at Bingley’s step-siblings, Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who had remained silent. “What did you think, Henry? I believe I saw you dancing with one of them.”

The General, who still seemed put out by not venting his spleen earlier, looked at his son with more interest than usual.

“I danced with the youngest one,” Henry said. “I was the only one to dance with her. I don’t know why I go to balls with you two! Charles always heads right for the prettiest girl and plays court to her all night, and Darcy refuses to stand up with anyone he doesn’t already know.”

Caroline grinned at the mention that she had been the only single lady Darcy danced with all evening.

“I danced with the middle daughter!” Charles said. “I tried to get Darcy to dance with her too!”

“I daresay you cannot blame Charles for not dancing with Miss Catherine Morland,” Louisa said in her brother’s defense. “She stood at the back and was hardly noticeable at all.”

“And when you did notice her!” Caroline made an unpleasant face. “Those teeth!”

“Nevermind her looks,” Darcy said through a clenched jaw. “Did you sense anything from her or the others?” Henry was a Kleros, his magical gift was to sense evil.

Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters, Chapter Three Part One

Road in dark forest

Chapter Three

 

Instead of dreaming of gentlemen as might be supposed after a ball, each lady dreamed of their deceased parent. Mr. Morland came to Kate bathed in a white glow and bade her go to the woods behind the east garden. The deceased Mrs. Bennet ordered her daughters there as well. Jane obeyed readily enough, although she trembled at the strangeness of her mother’s ghost appearing before her. Elizabeth, however, 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 sisters stood around a neglected fountain currently covered in overgrown ivy. They looked at each other in confusion.

“How strange that we are all here,” Jane said.

“Yes,” Kate agreed. “I do not recall leaving my bed. I have never roamed about when asleep before.”

“Nor I,” said Elizabeth. “However, now that I am here, I feel like I ought to remain. That is ridiculousness, is it not? Leaving feels somehow wrong.”

Jane looked around the area with dawning comprehension. “Lizzy, do you remember how we used to play here? I think I was about eleven when we stopped coming.”

Elizabeth slowly nodded. They had not visited this fountain in many years, long before her mother and sisters died. Playing here was one of her first memories. “Yes, we would dance around it with Mary. I don’t think Kitty was born yet. 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 coming?” Kate questioned.

Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. “Mary had a nightmare, and then we were not allowed to come here anymore.”

“They frightened her so much,” Jane murmured. She had always been very sensitive to the feelings of others.

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

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth asked while Jane gasped in alarm. Why had Kate never mentioned that before? Is that what had happened with Mary? Elizabeth could not remember.

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

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

Kate nodded. “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 had 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.”

Words lodged in Elizabeth’s throat. She felt as though she were on the cusp of something, like looking over the edge of a cliff and deciding to jump. “Did…did…that come true?”

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

“Surely that was not so!” Jane cried, tears shimmered in her eyes as though she could now feel the despair Kate must have experienced.

“It was my last dream,” Kate whispered.

“How old were you?” Elizabeth asked.

“Eleven. We soon came to Hertfordshire and…”

Kate trailed off as each girl knew what happened afterward. An illness swept the county and claimed their parents.

“Sometimes, I still feel as though I have seen something in a dream. The ball this evening, for example, seemed eerily familiar.”

Recalling her strange dream of her dead mother earlier this night, Elizabeth looked at Kate intently and asked, “Did you dream tonight?”

Kate slowly nodded. “Yes. My father told me to come here.”

Jane spoke up. “I have never had such strange dreams before, but tonight my mother appeared clothed in white and 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.

Their youngest sister suddenly looked in need of comforting. She held out her other arm to Kate.

“You too, Kate.”

The three sisters 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 gasped in unison when they saw their deceased mother bathed in white and floating like an angel.

“Kate, all is well.”

A ghostly gentleman said next to Elizabeth’s mother, and she presumed it was Mr. Morland.

“This cannot be!” cried Elizabeth.

“It is real,” Mr. Bennet said from behind them.

The sisters spun on their heel to see their living parents standing hand in hand and with no expressions of shock.

“Have no fear,”

“Are we dead?” Kate 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.”

Still in each other’s arms, Elizabeth could feel Kate and Jane tremble at such news.

“No,” Jane whispered and vehemently shook her head. “I would never want to harm a soul.”

Elizabeth squeezed her older sister’s hand. “Of course not, Janie. You are the sweetest person in the world!”

“We must be fevered or going mad!” Kate exclaimed.

“I see your fear,” Mr. Bennet said and raised his hands to silence them. “You do not recall for we bound your powers and erased the memories. However, you were born with gifts and for many years knew of the magical world. Contrary to the contemporary representation, we come from good witches.”

Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters- Chapter Two part two

Road in dark forest

What does Elizabeth think of the Assembly and Darcy? Can they get along better in this magical world?


While Jane and Bingley danced, Elizabeth sat out due to the absence of partners. She had not minded and was busy watching the new neighbors. Mr. Darcy had caught her eye early in the evening, and she now amused herself imagining his inner thoughts as he circled about the room with an expression of disdain. His strong jaw was firmly set. Now and then someone bumped into him and his face contorted. She was busy wondering if the spasm was an expression of revulsion or pain when Mr. Bingley left his second dance with Jane to approach his friend.

“Darcy! I must have you dance!” Mr. Bingley’s face was flushed from the heat of the ballroom and the exertion of dancing.

Mr. Darcy looked amongst the crowd. The baker and his wife promenaded past, and Elizabeth thought she saw his lip curl.

“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 and he turned his whole body to look at Jane.

Darcy loosened his cravat and then stared at his gloved hand while responding. “You are dancing with the only beautiful one.”

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

Elizabeth’s breath caught. The last thing she desired was to be inspected by Mr. Darcy. She reminded herself she had no reason to want his good opinion, all the same, she wished she had worn a different gown or spent more time on her hair.

“Which do you mean?”

Darcy 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. The minute Darcy walked on to find fault with another dancer, she promptly left her seat and retold the scene to her closest friend, Charlotte Lucas.

Charlotte laughed at Elizabeth’s description of the haughty interchange. Once calmed, she whispered into Elizabeth’s ear, “His eyesight must be weak for him to make such a remark! My mother and I have just the tonic which would help him…”

Elizabeth sincerely doubted such a specimen of a man could have any fault so mundane as weak eyesight but laughed at the image provoked. She imagined Darcy with a quizzing glass which magnified objects tenfold and yet he still needed to bring items close. Perhaps he might mistake a dirty stocking for a posy and sniff it.

“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.”

Charlotte’s sharp eyes met her friend’s. “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.”

Elizabeth shook her head. Her dark curls dancing at the movement. “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!” Jane’s blue eyes went wide in shock and disbelief. “Mr. Bingley is the friendliest 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. As the evening wore on, however, it seemed Mr. Darcy was always watching her. Finding more fault with her, she assumed. She did not care about his close inspection.

At one point, Mr. Bingley’s younger sister was led to the dance floor by Darcy. Her orange silk gown floated around her in an almost magical quality. At first, Elizabeth admired the dress but believed it did not flatter Miss Bingley’s complexion. Additionally, her nose quite literally stuck in the air lest she suffer from the aroma of her fellow dancers. Elizabeth watched Miss Bingley cringe before touching every other partner. If Mr. Darcy’s eyes wandered, Miss Bingley would say some joke, judging by the way she laughed at her words, and Mr. Darcy’s lips tilted up in a small smile. Elizabeth suspected snide comments being made and hoped someone in Miss Bingley’s set would trample on her train. Elizabeth grinned at the possibility then immediately felt guilty about what Jane’s reaction would be.

Rolling her eyes at herself, she turned her attention to her sisters. Kate danced with Henry Tilney, and Elizabeth smiled to herself as the gentleman made her younger sister laugh. Kate had just come out a few weeks earlier, and Elizabeth applauded her parents for allowing their other daughters of close age out even while the eldest remained unmarried. Elizabeth happily saw her sister’s first ball must be everything a lady needed. For once, Elizabeth did not even regret Kate’s fanciful imagination. Growing too warm, she stationed herself near an open window until Mr. Bingley collected her for their set.

 

Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters Chapter Two Part One

Road in dark forest

 

First, here’s a family tree for those who asked. Mr. Bennet married the former Mrs. Morland. Mr. Bingley’s widow married General Tilney. All of the characters were several years old when the deaths occurred so everyone has at least one dead parent. Does that make sense?

sisters bewitched family tree 2

 

Chapter Two

Meryton, Hertfordshire

October 4, 1811

 

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 local 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. When only four women and five gentlemen, including the General, arrived, the crowd, unanimously gave up Mrs. Long as once again wrong in her information and before so much as a word was spoken had 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 a son and two 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, Charles Bingley, and it 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. and Mrs. Tilney’s sons, 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. Mr. Henry Tilney had just taken orders and was to take over for Dr. Harrison in a nearby parish. The ladies of Meryton, both sensible and romantic, sighed at the elegant 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 declared as much improved from when he was last seen. Town gossips determined him very much in love with his new wife who came from a good family but married into trade with her first marriage.

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

Jane smiled at her handsome partner. “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.” Mr. Bingley’s brown eyes danced in the surrounding candlelight.

“I believe I heard they married last year?” Elizabeth asked.

“Yes, and you may wonder at the delay for their taking residence at Netherfield again.”

Jane and Elizabeth nodded.

“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 completed his studies just before the marriage but then served as a deacon until he came of age. Frederick’s regiment was also stationed nearby.”

Jane smiled at the mention of the eldest Tilney son. “I knew him as a boy. He has joined the military?”

“Yes, a Captain in the Militia,” Mr. Bingley said. “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.” Mr. Bingley gazed out across the crowd as though to be sure his step-father had not heard the remark.

Jane furrowed her brow. “And have you had the same demands put upon you?”

Uncertainty clouded Bingley’s eyes. “I am charged with purchasing an estate as soon as may be.”

Elizabeth observed that although Jane’s expression did not change, disappointment momentarily flashed in her eyes.

“Oh, then you will not stay long at Netherfield?” Jane asked.

Bingley grinned, and his white teeth dazzled like diamonds. “I doubt I shall find anything until next Spring. The autumn and winter are hardly conducive to looking at estates.”

Jane blushed but did not reply. Elizabeth felt it necessary to say something.  “I suppose so. We are fortunate, though, with our easy distance to London.”

“Indeed. My sisters enjoy that as well.”

This, at last, roused Jane to speech. “They seem like very elegant ladies!”

Elizabeth looked across the ballroom and immediately saw the women in question. Their delicate silk gowns and ornate headpieces with feathers stood out amongst the crowd of patterned muslins and fresh flowers as they lined the dark paneled walls. Mr. Bingley’s elder sister, Mrs. Hurst, toyed with a shining necklace of emeralds and sapphires. Elizabeth guessed it cost half her father’s annual income. Firm to believe in first impressions, Elizabeth perceived the ladies felt above their company and could not like them.

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

Elizabeth looked around the room and saw Miss Tilney, dressed not nearly as finely as her step-sisters, standing alone.

Jane smiled gently. “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. “Yes, I find new people and situations uncomfortable.”

The musicians began to strike up for a new set, and Mr. Bingley civilly requested Jane and Elizabeth as partners. As Jane was lead to the dance floor, Elizabeth overheard what she said to Bingley.

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

Fantasy Friday- Pride and Prejudice and Prophecies, Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters Chapter One, post one

I’m going to do a cover reveal when I get closer to publication so for now we just have the Fantasy Fridays graphic. Here’s the prologue in case you missed it.

Road in dark forest

Chapter One

Longbourn, Hertfordshire

September 21, 1811

 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that love is the greatest magic of all and to most of the old families in Britain, just as inconceivable.

As the Bennets of Longbourn in Hertfordshire were neither an ancient family nor had they the distinction of rank or wealth, they must be forgiven for Mr. Bennet learning to dearly love his second wife. Despite this vulgarness, they had not openly spoken of the magical world in sixteen years, at least. When news arrived of returning neighbors after a long absence, the conversation between husband and wife were so discreet as to puzzle their three adult daughters. They gathered in the drawing room to enjoy the last hours of sun through the southern windows.

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

After several moments of silence, Mr. Bennet replied from behind a newspaper. “Is he? I suppose he has his reasons.”

“Indeed. He has married a Mrs. Bingley.” Mrs. Bennet pulled a lamp closer as she pulled out a pile of stockings to darn for the little children.

“And does the new Mrs. Tilney have any grown children? The General’s should all be past their majority by now.”

“Yes, all of their children and a large party of friends are coming to Netherfield.”

Mr. Bennet put down his paper and raised his eyebrows in silent question.

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?” Mrs. Bennet gave her darning more attention than it usually warranted and did not meet her husband’s eyes.

Mr. Bennet put aside the newspaper and walked across the room to the bookshelves on a far wall. He scanned it for several minutes, muttering under his breath. “I believe I’ll read Leonora to you all tonight. You like that one, don’t you, Lizzy?”

Their second eldest daughter looked up from where she sat with her sisters. “You know I like all those sorts of novels — ”

She was interrupted by the youngest, Catherine. “Oh, no. Why not The Italian?”

“No, Kate! Not that one again!” Lizzy argued. “I am sick of melodrama.” She tossed a ribbon at her younger sister’s head, who shrieked in undignified shock. “I was aiming for the basket to your side. It’s not my fault your head is so big,” she said with a shrug and a smirk while Kate glowered.

“Elizabeth,” the eldest said in a firm but gentle voice. Her wide, clear blue eyes made it difficult to displease her.

“No need to defend me, Jane,” Kate said. “I know how to get even.”

Elizabeth’s jaw dropped open for a scathing retort, but Mrs. Bennet cleared her throat. “Girls,” she said in a sharp tone and with raised eyebrows. Her dark eyes transformed from gentle to piercing and each daughter ducked their heads and returned to their work.

“Ah, here we are. The Vision of Don Roderick by Scott shall be an agreeable compromise,” Mr. Bennet said as though he had not paid any heed to the squabbling of a moment before.

“Mr. Bennet,” Mrs. Bennet said in a milder tone than she used on her daughters but one that demanded an answer all the same.

Mr. Bennet sighed before speaking. “I think it better should I see him at the ball and allow him to settle in first.”

The answer displeased his wife, who sucked in a breath and pursed her lips in a thin line. However, she said nothing.

The 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.

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.

Mr. Bennet found himself with two grief-stricken daughters of marriageable age, and Mrs. Morland with several children and no pension, 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 Kate, “do you remember General Tilney or his children?”

“It was years ago,” answered Jane, “but they were all kind.”

“But did you know them well?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “Eleanor is Jane’s age but the boys, Frederick and Henry, are four and two years older than her. They were too old to join in our games.”

Kate frowned, and Elizabeth passed a newly mended handkerchief to her. Kate had the most patience for embroidery out of all the girls. Elizabeth looked out the window longingly. It was now too dark for a stroll in the garden. Her father took a break from his reading to place lamps around the room. The slightly worn but pale wallpaper and several well-placed mirrors magnified the light. Elizabeth shuddered at how much they would spend monthly in candlesticks otherwise.

Jane stretched out a gown her youngest sister had outgrown and neatly cut a rectangle. She cut a long strip from a contrasting fabric to make an apron string. “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. “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.”

Her mother had insisted she would have missed her daughters too much to send them to school, but Elizabeth believed the real reason was that her mother was a spendthrift. Of course, her step-mother’s brood of children cost nearly as much, and so the Bennets continued to spend most of their annual income of two thousand pounds a year.

Kate let out a happy sigh. “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!”

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

“Kate!” Elizabeth chided quietly. 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,” Jane said. “Mama may love Papa now, but you know that was not the arrangement when they married.”

Elizabeth frowned as she pulled out another handkerchief from the mending basket. At least this one was for a brother and therefore required less fancy needlework. “Mama, is it James that needs more handkerchiefs?”

“Allow me to consult the list,” Mrs. Bennet said and held a ledger toward the lamp at her side. As a mother of nine children of various ages, she managed the household through extreme organizational means. “Yes, James and John both,” she informed Elizabeth. “What they do with them, I don’t know,” she muttered to herself and stabbed a child’s stocking with her needle.

Elizabeth bent her head over her work and blew a wisp of dark hair out of her eyes. She kept her thoughts to herself about the potential personalities of their neighbors. Jane was too apt to trust and like people. No intimacy had existed between the Netherfield and Longbourn families. Jane would only know what she had seen on the civil calls and large dinners. Additionally, she had only been in company for a year before the Tilneys left the area. She had always been predisposed to view everyone in a favorable light.

Elizabeth wondered if the situation of their parents’ demise and remarriage colored 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.