Fantasy Friday- Mr. Darcy and the Bewtiched Sisters, Chapter One part 2

Road in dark forest

Here’s the second part of Chapter One! I really like how we get more of Darcy’s point of view in this version.

London

September 23, 1811

 

Fitzwilliam Darcy now just under thirty, with the same dark hair and piercing blue eyes of his youth, leafed through several letters of recommendations. He brushed an unruly and curly lock slightly to the side.

“Richard,” Darcy said in a deep but distinct voice, “I think Mrs. Annesley is the one.”

Richard, around the same age as Darcy and wearing Regimentals, took a sip of wine before replying. “I believe you’re right, which will come as no surprise to you.” He assumed an exaggeratedly pompous posture as his companion scowled. “Fitzwilliam Darcy is never wrong.”

“Very amusing,” Darcy scowled. These days, he felt like everything he did was wrong. “Has she spoken to you at all?”

“No. Father and I only get one-word answers. Mother gets little more. When we mention her returning here, she bursts into tears.”

Darcy glared as Richard drained his glass as though there was nothing unusual with what he just said.

“Well, if you’re sure her references all check out, then I’ll be off. The Major has complained about my absences recently. You’ll be ready for Georgiana at the end of the month?”

Darcy’s grip on the papers tightened. He had checked Mrs. Annesley’s references three times personally and employed half a dozen others to do so as well. He would not be caught unawares again. It was all entirely his fault, but Georgiana could not bear the devastation she almost caused by her planned, but thankfully interrupted, elopement. “Yes. I think redoing the upstairs drawing room will excite her. And by then I will be free of daily correspondence with my steward at Pemberley. I do not want any distractions when she returns.”

Richard stood and shook his head. “You’ll frighten her more if you hover. Don’t treat her like a child — ”

“That is precisely what she is!” Darcy said with a quietness that belied his intense feelings and the temperature in the room dropped. “I never should have allowed her to go to Ramsgate, or to entrust her care to a woman who was not a relation.” His sister, twelve years his junior, was all he had left of his family. His parents had believed he would protect her and instead his selfishness nearly led to her ruin.

“You will not always live with her,” Richard said. “Someday she will marry, and you will have to have faith that man will see to her wants and needs. You will have to trust Georgiana…and yourself,” he added softly.

Rather than replying to his cousin, Darcy turned his attention to other correspondence. His mentor wrote to him of a group of ladies in Hertfordshire that he expected to come into magical powers very soon. The General reminded him of his duty to his mother’s memory. He alone knew all of her prophecies — which ultimately got her killed — and he alone could determine if these sisters fit the prophecy of restoring balance to the forces of good and evil.

Darcy did not need the reminder. He could never forget his duty, even as he loathed the requirement. Did anyone understand the pressure he felt having to straddle two worlds? The mortal world required he present the face of a typical English gentleman: impeccable manners, landlord, with a healthy interest in sporting, ladies, politics, concern for over taxation, and his estate’s drainage ditches. To be entirely mortal would mean sacrificing his magical heritage. The magical world, however, desired he fully embrace his legacy. Yet, how could he want to live in a world which killed his loving mother? A world that now thought they had endless claims on him no matter that he had his own desires. Both worlds had one thing in common: they expected him to marry one of their own.

Memories washed over Darcy. His father and mother had a love story the likes of which few could understand. However, his mother had kept her powers a secret and the older Mr. Darcy did not take to the truth very well. Especially as he only became aware of his wife’s abilities when he began having premonitions himself. It was proof that they were true soul mates but put the Darcy family into even more trouble when the Caligo took over.

While Mr. Darcy had been called away on Council business, Caligo struck at Pemberley. Even now, that day haunted Darcy. If he had been braver, he would have protected his mother instead of hiding. He could have prevented her death, and that tormented him more than any concerns about weaknesses in the magical world. In the years that followed, Darcy’s father could hardly look at the boy who led to his wife’s demise.

“What a monstrous frown, Cousin,” Richard interrupted Darcy’s musings.

“News from the General.”

Although Darcy did not serve in the military or the magical community’s counterpart the agmen, he headed the Cabinet of Premonition. In particular, he had taken over his father’s tasks of investigating claims of an ancient prophecy regarding three sisters who would restore the balance of power between good and evil. His mother had the sight and became a renowned oracle. In her later years, most of her prophecies proclaimed the impending arrival of the Bewitched Sisters. Darcy did not realize it at the time, but most of the things his mother taught him, from nursery rhymes to fables, held some degree of memorizing her prophecies. The instruction served as insurance should she be killed and evil infiltrate the Council.

“He and the family will return to their estate in Hertfordshire around Michaelmas to investigate a claim to the prophecy.”

“Ah,” Richard said with raised eyebrows. “So it begins again. Are you ready for it?”

Darcy sighed and leaned back in his chair. “I only wish I did not have to leave Georgiana, but she must stay.” In the years since he had become Minister of Prophecy, he had investigated many claims between sisters.

“This is the first time you will be staying with the Tilneys, however,” Richard said. “Bingley’s sister—”

“I know she’s a devious, grasping woman, and a powerful witch. I will not fall prey to her wiles — magical or mortal.”

“I did not mean to insinuate you would,” Richard raised his hands to cease Darcy’s tirade. “I only worry about the added stress you must bear.”

“Thank you,” Darcy gave his cousin a soft but sincere smile.

He had few he could count on and few who understood him. Richard had reason to fear Darcy’s travels to Hertfordshire with the General. Tilney’s first wife had died five years ago, and he remarried last year. It was not a love match by any means. Mrs. Bingley was still lovely at forty and had a substantial fortune. Additionally, she had a noble magical legacy. Darcy, however, had reason to rejoice and mourn the match. His good friend Charles Bingley was now the General’s step-son, and that would naturally help advance his career and position in both worlds. On the other hand, Charles’ sister Caroline had set her cap at Darcy years ago and would not give him up.

“I had best be off,” Richard said and stood. “Give my regards to Charles and Henry.”

“Is that all you wish me to do?” Darcy asked with a raised brow.

“Oh, I’ll be around with a letter for Ellie. Why would I trust you to give her my sentiments? She might just as easily fall for my loving words from your rich mouth.”

Darcy laughed. “She is far too intelligent for that.”

“That she is,” Richard smiled and agreed. “She loves me, after all.” The gentlemen shared a laugh and Richard took his leave.

After his cousin had left, Darcy perused the General’s letter again. It was an unusual set of circumstances. Mr. Bennet had two daughters. The eldest was an empath, and the younger had the ability to create and control fire. His step-daughter had just come out and was rumored to have the sight. However, Darcy did not think as step-sisters they would have the required bond to manifest the strength of the Bewitched Sisters. Additionally, their powers were currently bound, and while they would soon be released, they would be utter novices at the craft. It seemed unlikely they would fulfill the prophecy, but Darcy’s duty required he examine them anyway. Too many mortals and witches both had perished in the last twenty years. Once peace was restored, Darcy could have the peaceful country existence he had always craved.

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.

Fantasy Friday- Pride and Prejudice and Prophecies

fantasy friday.jpg

In 2015, I launched a fantasy/paranormal short story series, The Witches of Austen, which mashed up Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey that also had alternate history themes and a mystery plot. The plan was to make one per Austen heroine and then a final capstone to the series. Well, you can imagine there’s very little interest in something so unfocused. It didn’t help that my covers were bad, I tried using a different pen name, I did little to no promotion, and I even had a typo on the first cover for a few days. Additionally, the second story grew to novella length. The third one was becoming novel length when I decided I needed to just retire the series and start again to do it justice.

I’ve never entirely abandoned the idea and tinker with it from time to time. It’s far more focused now but I think will still be something with little interest and will probably build slowly if it’s ever a success. In short, it’s a passion project and not much of a paying project. All year, I said I wanted to write or edit 500 words a week on it, just to keep myself moving forward. Well, it’s nearing the middle of the year and I’ve kept that promise to myself only twice.

Yeah.

I had actually edited quite a bit in late 2016 but got distracted with other projects. So, I’ve decided to roll out Fantasy Friday on the blog. The goal is 500 words every Friday. I might skip some if my schedule is crazy.

What’s the new series like?

All the original elements are in this series. I am fleshing out the magical world building. Since each book will be a novel, there’s less rushing to do. Maybe one day I can do fantasy short stories but I probably shouldn’t have made my FIRST one in the genre so tough. Yes, readers, it’s actually HARDER to write a short story than a novel.

I’m also finished genre-hopping. I feel more comfortable in the fantasy world of witches and wizards than the paranormal. I’m not really sure where the distinction is drawn but think more Harry Potter or Merlin and less Charmed or Supernatural. I will be keeping the mash-up of P&P and NA. However, character pov will be more focused. In the original series, there are pov from all three girls and their prospective men. Subsequent books were supposed to focus on one couple per book but while writing them that didn’t work out. In the P&P&P series, the main focus will be Darcy and Elizabeth. There will be subplot scenes and pov of the others but the ultimate romantic goal will be their HEA.

One last thing. I need beta readers. Ones that don’t mind inconsistency. That being said, I think the first four chapters did see beta reads a few years ago. I should dig up the emails so I can thank them by name but for now, if you’re reading this and know you helped, thank you! Let me know if you’re still interested. 🙂

Now, finally, onto the story!

Mr. Darcy and the Bewitched Sisters

Prologue

1797

 

A lad about twelve years old with piercing blue eyes and dark, curly hair sat on the nursery floor with his new sister. He did not, in general, think much of babies, but his parents had told him she was very special and much awaited. Additionally, they informed him it was always his duty to protect her. He enjoyed that. After all, soon he would go away to school and be a man. Men protected their family. It is what his father did every day. Actually, so did his mother. In that case, one day little Georgiana would return the favor, and they would equally protect their family.

“I think the little miss needs a rest,” the nursery maid said then scooped up the baby to take to the night nursery.

Master Fitzwilliam Darcy meandered the halls of his family’s house. In the afternoons, he would sit with his mother in her study. Lady Anne did not know, but her son frequently snuck into her study before their lessons together and watched as she exited the secret chamber. He was not yet tall enough to reach the hidden button which opened the door — not that he would ever intrude. He never broke the rules. His mother forbade him to enter there, and he would obey. She promised, one day, to teach him all about his magical roots. He, too, had a special task.

Approaching his mother’s study, young Darcy peeked his head around the corner in time to see his mother leave her alcove. A booming sound at the front of the great hall drew his notice, and he curiously stepped forward. The butler raced toward the door to block the intruder’s entry.

“Where is your mistress?” a deep voice commanded.

Around a bend in the hall, Darcy could see nothing. However, he did not hear the old, but loyal butler give away his mother’s location. Instead, he heard the old man gasp out.

“Please! Please!”

The intruder spoke in an unknown language to the boy, and the next he heard was a loud thud followed by footsteps going down a different hall. Instinct made Darcy return to his mother’s room.

“Fitzwilliam,” his mother whispered as he entered the study. “Go up the back stairs. Find your sister. Find the nurse.”

“Mama, who is that man?”

“Never mind, obey me now! There is not an instant to lose. Hide anywhere.”

“Come out, come out, Witch.” The intruder called from down the hall.

“Go! Now!” Lady Anne hissed at her son, and he immediately obeyed.

When he reached the nursery, he could not find the nurse. Believing the matter too urgent to look for her, he scooped up his sister. Wisely, considering that if the man intended to harm them — as his mother seemed to think probable — the nursery would be the first place he would look for children. Instead, Darcy planned to hide in a large potting container in the conservatory. He had not tried to hide there since he was ten and had last played with the steward’s son but he thought he could drag it behind a large plant and conceal them. Eventually, his mother would find them.

She never did.

Instead, Darcy awoke to the tormented wails of his father which travelled through the house. He found his father cradling his dead wife in the secret alcove of his mother’s study. Lady Anne’s head leaned back with one arm strewn above her head as Darcy Senior held her to his chest. Except for the vacant stare in her still-open eyes, Darcy might have thought she slept.

Most alarming of all, within feet of her prone body, lay a crystal ball used to contain her prophecies. Apparently, her attacker had desired knowledge of one in particular. Unknown was if he had succeeded.

 

Sisters Bewitched- Chapter Four

sisters orange bar 5Chapter Four

The next night, the family attended dinner at Sir William Lucas’s home.

“Mr. Bingley seems quite taken with Jane,” Charlotte Lucas said to Elizabeth.

“I think he is!”

“Does she return his affection?”

“You are our dearest friend in the world, surely you see she does!”

“Yes, but he does not know her as we do. She should make her feelings plainer.”

Elizabeth scoffed. “You know you would never do that. You would never allow the whole world to see your thoughts and hopes; to gossip about them and intrude on your privacy and all before you even know a man’s character.”

“Happiness in marriage is nothing but chance. If she knew him her entire life, she would have no greater chance of felicity than she does now. People change too much and grow unalike through the years. At any rate, it is best to not know the faults of the person you will spend your life with. Then you can approach the beginning of your marriage with nothing but excitement and hope rather than trepidation and regret.”

Elizabeth was amazed at her friend’s opinion, but could not reply before Colonel Forster, of the regiment, approached them.

“A fine evening, ladies,” he said with utmost civility.

“It is! A wonderful means of enjoyment,” Elizabeth said. She felt a chill run through her, causing her to glance around and notice Mr. Darcy nearby.

“I had thought young ladies preferred dancing to anything else,” said the Colonel. “Or so my dear soon to be wife says.”

“Then you shall have to host a ball for her once your regiment is settled! Happiness in marriage is easiest secured through the happiness of the wife!” The Colonel was an amiable gentleman and laughed at Elizabeth’s tease.

“Matilda will be happy to hear there are other ladies here that long for balls. I am afraid she has far too romantic of an opinion of my career, but then she knows nothing of the real dangers.” He gave Elizabeth a pointed look, and her smile faltered some. She had not considered before that the militia was posted in Meryton at the exact time General Tilney returned to Netherfield.

Jane turned the conversation to how the Colonel found Meryton and his favorite parts of winter. Elizabeth grew quiet, allowing her mind to wander.

“You are considering something, Eliza,” Charlotte said in her ear.

“Did you see how Mr. Darcy was listening to our conversation?”

“He seemed most attentive.”

“Well, he must mean to intimidate me with his stern looks, but I will not allow it.”

“Eliza,” Charlotte cautioned.

“Oh, do not fear he will end up singed. I am still more comfortable with my tart mouth than with my magical powers. He already despises me, I may as well be impertinent. Ouch!” Elizabeth rubbed her ribs where Charlotte had elbowed her. “Why did you? Oh.”

Mr. Darcy had approached. Charlotte seemed to suggest with her eyes that Elizabeth get to work on her plans, and so she did. “I daresay the Militia will host a ball before too long. I think I was uncommonly persuasive and eloquent in my teasing.”

“Indeed, you were most passionate; but it is a subject which makes most ladies articulate.”

Elizabeth met his eyes, feeling fire crackle in her. “You do not believe we are intelligible on other topics? We are only enthusiastic about dancing and other fripperies?”

Charlotte grabbed Elizabeth’s hand. “I see Mama motioning to me. It will now be your turn to be teased, Eliza. It is time to open the pianoforte, and you know you are Papa’s favorite performer.”

Elizabeth sighed. “You are such a strange friend! If my vanity had taken a musical turn, you would have been invaluable. As it is, I had much rather not play before those in the habit of hearing the very best.” She felt herself begin to color as she hated to be the subject of pity or scorn.

“Nonsense, you are one of the best Meryton has to offer,” Charlotte soothed.

Realizing it was useless to argue and perhaps worse to seem so insecure before Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth allowed herself to be led to the instrument after a flippant comment directed at Mr. Darcy. She knew herself to be agitated but underestimated how much. Her fingers tingled and hovered somewhere between ice cold and burning, causing her to stumble over a few notes. Nor was her voice as robust as she would have liked, but the audience seemed to not notice and politely asked her for more songs. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Jane whispering to Charlotte. Charlotte’s younger sister, Maria, was soon brought forward, and Elizabeth retreated to the safety of her sisters.

“Kate, you look confused,” she said as she reached Catherine’s side.

“I do not see Mr. Tilney here,” she replied.

“Mr. Bingley has said that he went to London on an errand and is expected to return with their brother in a few days. Frederick is now a captain in Colonel Forster’s regiment.”

Catherine seemed to feel the loss of her favorite acutely, and Elizabeth contained her urge to roll her eyes. She barely knew Henry Tilney, and he would return in a matter of days. Why did her sister look so struck by the news?

Jane tapped her foot, a sure sign that she interpreted Elizabeth’s feelings.

Maria Lucas began a lively tune. “Look, Kate,” Elizabeth said. “They are rolling up the rug and here come a few officers. Will you not dance with one of them? That will improve your spirits.”

She mutely nodded and acquiesced when asked to dance. Mr. Bingley solicited Jane for her hand as well. Having been on display quite enough for her tastes for one evening, Elizabeth was happy to not have been asked to dance. Seeing Charlotte across the room, she made her way to her friend.

Passing by Sir William Lucas, he stopped her with an audacious request, to dance with Mr. Darcy! Entirely coerced by Sir William, Mr. Darcy asked her to dance, but she had already promised herself to never dance with him. Why should she give consequence to such an arrogant man? Unsurprisingly, Mr. Darcy did not press for her hand, and as Sir William could not persuade her to accept the gentleman, she was at last free of them both.

In her dance with Mr. Bingley, Jane smiled. The ease of their previous encounters was returned. When she did not exert herself to extend her powers, she felt she could understand Mr. Bingley. Or perhaps she only felt what she hoped he felt? Magical powers certainly did not make courtships any easier. Worse still, she was rather certain he could understand her thoughts, something she had never suffered through with other potential suitors. On the other hand, Mr. Bingley was the epitome of amiability, surely if he knew of her attachment he would find some way to discourage her if he did not return the sentiments. Content with her own thoughts, she did not take the time to further ponder Catherine’s strange feelings earlier in the evening. She was unusually quiet in the carriage on the way home, but Jane believed it simply due to the disappointment of missing Mr. Tilney.

 

*****

 

Catherine said goodnight to her sisters and sat at her desk. She looked over her journal entry from last night. She had recorded her premonition of the evening at Lucas Lodge, but it was entirely incorrect. She had foreseen Mr. Tilney in attendance and dancing with her. Eleanor Tilney seldom left her side. Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy had been absent, leaving Jane noticeably concerned. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst were forced to mingle with their society instead of standing with Mr. Darcy in a corner in their usual derogatory way. Instead, Mr. Tilney was missing, and his sister barely met an eye the entire evening. Jane did not look as though she enjoyed Mr. Bingley’s company more than anyone else’s and Mr. Darcy spent a remarkable amount of time near Elizabeth, something Miss Bingley noticed. She then kept him in her clutches most of the evening.

Realizing she was no more gifted in her powers than anything else, discouraged her greatly. She began to wish she never had the ability of foresight returned to her. Mr. Bennet had not shared the text of the prophecy with the sisters, and she could not imagine how such a gift would prove invaluable to end evil in the world. As it was, her abilities were unreliable. Everyone thought she and her sisters were the ones of the prophecy, but Catherine seriously doubted it. Or at least not she, perhaps one of her younger sisters may develop the gift still—or maybe it did need to be blood relations after all, and her mother might bear another child. At any rate, what if they would be targeted by an enemy, now that they were no longer in hiding, because of this belief? It hinged in part on others believing in her ability, but it was quite untrue. To continue in this way would place her sisters in danger.

Resolving to speak to her step-father about it in the morning, she chose to attempt sleep. No sleep came, however. In the midst of tossing and turning as a night wallowing in insecurities brings, a terrible nightmare arose.

A man cloaked in black aimed a pistol at her while her mother and her step-father lay unconscious on the floor. Ropes bound Elizabeth’s hands, and her wrists bled from where she attempted to free herself without avail. Jane stood immobilized by the fear and panic in the room. Other beings, Catherine was uncertain if they were even human, lurked in the shadows. She saw the sun catch the lock plates of their matching pistols. The guns were trained on her family.

“You could have prevented this, Miss Morland,” the gunman said to her. That he knew her previous surname struck her forcefully. “If you were a true Bewitching Sister, you would have foreseen this attack.”

“Then you have nothing to fear from us,” Elizabeth said.

“There is no doubt you and Miss Bennet are the sisters of the prophecy. The weakness came from trusting Miss Morland,” the cloaked intruder said. “She was too eager to please and be accepted to tell the truth. With you two dead whoever is the true third Bewitching Sister will be powerless.” He squeezed the trigger, and the others followed suit. The shots rang out with deafening noise.

“No!” she screamed and woke up as she rose from the bed. Sweat dripped from her brow, and her heart pounded.

“Beg your pardon, Miss Kate,” said the housemaid as she scooped up a broken water pitcher. “The thunder scared me, and I jumped.”

Catherine took a moment to calm herself and realized it had all been a terrible dream. The sounds of gunfire she heard must have been from first the thunder and then the crashing of pottery on the floorboards. She mumbled a soothing word to the servant, who quickly left. The rest of the house still seemed asleep and so she went to the drawing-room they had been using as a study for their powers. Finding the family spell book, she leafed through it.

“A Forgetting Spell! Perfect!” she muttered to herself. She would forget how to use her power and then her family would be safe. “Caution: While this spell is reversible, the consequences of it are not. Be certain of your desire to forget your regrets before using.” Determining that there would be no harm in her forgetting her talents, or lack thereof, she scanned the list of ingredients for the potion. Taking inventory of the still room revealed a lack of ground hyacinth. The housekeeper informed her bulbs had recently been planted so they would bloom in the summer. Otherwise, she knew not how to find more at this time of year. Stealing into the garden, Catherine found the correctly labeled area and dug up a bulb with her bare hands as she did not wish to alert the staff to her actions. Returning to the still room, she dutifully ground it up for her potion. It smelled and tasted vile, but she eagerly swallowed her concoction before going to breakfast with her family.

Shortly after they finished, a letter from Caroline Bingley arrived, inviting Jane to Netherfield for the day. Catherine’s right eye began to tear, and she wiped it away with her handkerchief. In a matter of minutes, Jane was sent off to Netherfield Abbey in the coach. It soon began to rain heavily, and no one was surprised when the coach did not return at the appointed time. The road was far too muddy to make it easily traversable.

 

*****

 

In the morning, a note arrived from Jane. She had fallen ill once at Netherfield. At one point, she had been obliged to get out of the coach, which was slipping in the mud when but a quarter of a mile from Netherfield. Her sore throat and coughing she imputed to that. Elizabeth immediately resolved to attend her dearest sister.

“I will go with you as far as Meryton,” Catherine said. “I must call on Mrs. Allen.”

The sisters walked together as far as they could. Elizabeth felt Catherine quieter than usual, but her own thoughts were preoccupied with Jane.

Elizabeth made it most of the way to Netherfield when an overwhelming concern for Catherine came over her.

“Lizzy!” she heard Catherine’s voice call but could not see her.

“Kate! Where are you?”

“Lizzy, please!” Catherine faintly called again and then whimpered in pain.

Growing frantic with worry, Elizabeth felt the fire building in her. Her instincts screamed danger was near. “Where are you?” she called again and again but heard nothing but silence.

Retracing her steps, she turned back. She felt drawn to the old bridge by the miller about half a mile away and off the main road to Meryton. It made no sense, as when they parted in Meryton Catherine turned the other direction to go to Mrs. Allen’s house. Still, Elizabeth began to run.

As she grew closer, she saw a man towering over Catherine’s crumpled form. The man muttered an incantation over her, and it seemed to Elizabeth that Catherine’s body began to glow, and the man grew larger. What was this? Dark magic?

“Stop!” Elizabeth shouted as she grew closer and the man turned to face her.

“You shall not stop us,” he said in a low voice that contained eerie echoes.

“I…I shall!” Elizabeth said and stepped closer. She grabbed a rock from the ground and aimed to throw it at him but with a jerk of his head the rock flew from her hand and landed out of reach.

“What do you want? Please, do not hurt her!” She fell on the ground to find something else to act as a weapon, but the man growled and rushed toward her. Thrusting out her hands in defense, fire flew from her hands, stunning him.

“Kate!” Elizabeth screamed and ran to her sister’s side. Just before reaching Catherine, Elizabeth stumbled to the ground. Blood streamed down her head. Her enemy had used his powers to hit her with the very rock she attempted to use after him.

“You are powerless, witch!”

“Never!” She screamed and attempted to throw her hands up but could not. It felt as though they were tied down.

Her tormentor laughed cruelly. “They say love for one another makes you extraordinary. They say that it makes you the most powerful witches of all time, but you see it makes you weak! Her powers are gone but she worked as a brilliant trap for you,” he said.

“What will you do with us?” Elizabeth asked. She hoped to keep him speaking until help arrived. Surely help would come. She recognized now, love brought her to Catherine’s side and surely Jane or their parents would appear any moment as well.

“What every witch deserves,” he gestured to a makeshift pyre she had not seen before. “You will burn.”

Elizabeth gasped in fear when he knelt and began the fire.

“There will be no resurrecting of the Bewitching Sisters. Each of you must die.”

“You have tried that before,” she taunted as he tied her hands with rope and yanked her off the ground.

“That is why we will see you burn in person this time.”

“We? Do you have friends? Can such an ugly man have friends?”

“He comes!” The man growled out, and a chill ran up Elizabeth’s spine although she had no knowledge of who he spoke of. She looked around and saw no signs of help, only Catherine’s still lifeless form on the ground.

“You know everything about us, then?”

“We have had spies watching you for a long time.”

“So you know that you can never prevail!” she shouted as he led her to the stake. As he went around her back to tie her down, she saw Catherine begin to rouse.

“Lizzy?” the younger girl called out and slowly sat up. “Lizzy!” she cried, and Elizabeth saw with horror as a large rock sped through the air, directed at Catherine’s head.

“No!” Elizabeth screamed and was immediately engulfed in flames. The man screamed in pain behind her. Feeling her hands now free as he leaped from the fire and writhed in pain, she ran to Catherine’s side, conscious that she did not have a single burn upon her.

Catherine had darted out of the way of the rock, it struck her leg instead of her head. Two black clouds flashed before them, revealing a man and woman dressed in black, but their faces shadowed by hoods. The sisters clutched each other.

“Don’t let go!” Catherine cried as she buried her head in Elizabeth’s neck.

Squeezing her sister tightly, Elizabeth said, “Never!”

“I worried you would not come,” Catherine whispered.

“Always, silly goose. Love will always bind us!”

“Always!” Catherine agreed as the female demon fired a gun.

A bright white cloud surrounded the sisters, and they heard the woman scream in pain as the bullet redirected and pierced her.

“But you are only two!” the man in black exclaimed before flying away in another black cloud.

“Miss Elizabeth! Miss Catherine!” they heard the anxious voice of Mr. Bingley shouting as the protective white cloud surrounding them dissipated.

“Mr. Bingley!” they cried in surprised unison.

“Are you well?”

Elizabeth and Catherine looked each other over. “Nothing but some scratches and bruises, I think,” said Catherine.

“Kate, did I burn you? What has happened to your eyes and hands?” She had slight burns on them.

“I do not think you hurt me, but I have no idea what happened to them.” She had no memory of abuse. The demon cast a spell and subdued her.

“Well, we otherwise seem unscathed. How did you come to be here?” Elizabeth asked while attempting to find hair pins.

“It was Ja—Miss Bennet. She grew extremely agitated and worried about you. We endeavored to calm her, but when Darcy learned she wrote you, Miss Elizabeth, he insisted you would be on your way to Netherfield and ought to have arrived by then. I was to search the woods while he went on ahead to Longbourn.”

“How is Jane?” Catherine asked.

“My sisters and mother were attending her and awaiting the apothecary when I left,” he said.

They heard a carriage approached on the main road and soon Mr. and Mrs. Bennet arrived with Mr. Darcy and General Tilney.

“Kate! Lizzy!” the parents ran to their daughters and embraced them.

Allowing the family a private moment, the men of the Netherfield group moved on to the burned demon.

“Who sent you?” Bingley ran to him and yelled as the demon gasped for air.

He did not speak, and General Tilney approached his step-son. “Calm yourself. You and Darcy make yourself useful to the Bennets. This one is not long for the world.”

Bingley agreed, and he and Darcy returned to the others.

“I want to see Jane,” Elizabeth said.

“Surely we ought to return home and clean up first,” Mrs. Bennet said, and the sisters reluctantly agreed.

“Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, do either of you recognize the demon that attacked my daughters?” Mr. Bennet asked.

“No, I have never seen him,” Darcy said, and Bingley agreed.

“Papa,” Elizabeth said, “he certainly seemed to be working for someone else. The demon said another was coming. Two soon arrived, a male and female. The woman shot at us, and it rebounded. The man yelled something about there only being two of us and then disappeared.”

Mr. Bennet nodded his head. “Yes, he likely did not understand how you defeated his soldiers when the prophecy has always said it would be three, and Jane was not present.”

“I do not understand it either,” she said.

“You do not know?” Darcy asked in confusion, then turned to her parents and said in annoyance, “You did not tell them!”

“What did you not tell us?” Catherine asked.

“I did not wish to distress them,” Mr. Bennet said to Darcy and then turned to his daughters. “The love that binds you is so resilient that you can call on the power of a missing sister so long as she lives. Neither distance nor health severs or lessens it.”

“I…I don’t understand. Why would that distress us,” Catherine said.

The group grew silent, and Elizabeth frowned. “They did not want us to be concerned that such a thing could happen. It is like a fail-safe within the prophecy. But the enemy does not know?”

“They must suspect it now,” her father said. “It was a secret clause.”

“Then how does he know?” Elizabeth cried and glared at Darcy.

“Darcy’s family has been an influential part of the council for many centuries,” Mr. Bennet said. “He is entrusted with secrets even I do not know. His presence at Netherfield at this time is no coincidence.”

Elizabeth held back a huff.

“Come, let us return home and rest,” Mrs. Bennet said.

“Please, take the carriage,” Mr. Bingley said. “We will return on foot.”

“Please tell Jane how much we love her,” Catherine said, and Elizabeth added her sentiments as well.

The party had just broken up when a shot rang out, and they jerked their heads to where General Tilney stood with his gun still in hand. The dead demon slumped against the tree. “He teleported it from the demoness. I had turned my back for a moment and heard the gun cock.”

“It was quick thinking on your part to grab it before he fired,” Mr. Darcy said.

“I believe his injuries made his mind slower. Charles, next time you happen upon a scene do make sure there are no loose weapons about,” the general said with evident irritation. Mr. Bingley blushed slightly but before he could say something in his defense they heard more voices.

“Over here!” the general called. Mr. Hurst and Colonel Forester ambled to them followed by several officers. “They’ll see to the bodies,” he began to walk toward the path to Netherfield. Looking back at the others he said, “Well, come on then.”

To Longbourn, therefore, went the Bennet family while the others went on to Netherfield. Forced to rest by their mother and exhausted by the events of the day, Catherine and Elizabeth slept until the next morning. They awoke the next day to sunshine and determined to see their sister. Again a note arrived just after breakfast for the third day in a row, this time reporting terrible news. Jane had fallen dreadfully ill overnight and would not rouse this morning. The doctor summoned her family to her side, and words were inadequate to explain the despair of their Netherfield friends.

“Kate, you still look so unwell. You ought to stay here,” Mrs. Bennet said while looking at her daughter’s reddened eyes.

“No! I was terrified that I was not truly a Bewitching Sister. I was resolved to give up my powers somehow. She saved me by sending her love when she could not send herself. You will not keep me from her side now.”

“Let her come,” Mr. Bennet said, and the family hurried to the carriage.

“You should have confided in me, Kate!” Elizabeth said once they were seated. “How could Jane and I be Bewitching Sisters and you not?”

“My premonitions fail,” she whispered to her hands.

“When have they failed?”

“The night at Lucas Lodge. I had seen an entirely different set of circumstances.”

“We are still learning to use our powers. I did not know before I was tied to a stake that I could control fire so completely with my mind. You have a gift, dear one, and it will be of use at the right time.”

“I do not even understand how our powers work if what is most important is our love for one another,” Catherine said.

Mr. Bennet had been listening quietly to their conversation. “Do you not? To truly love a person you must care deeply about their feelings.”

“Empathy,” Elizabeth supplied.

“Exactly,” said Mrs. Bennet. “You must also be willing to fight.”

“Lizzy’s fire. But what do premonitions mean for love?” Catherine asked.

“True love never ends. It always has a future,” Mr. Bennet said, and Mrs. Bennet squeezed his hand.

“Do you think Jane will recover?” Elizabeth asked, twisting her handkerchief in her hands.

“I know it,” Mr. Bennet replied. “The Bewitching Sisters have important work left to do.”

Arriving at Netherfield, Catherine and Elizabeth walked to the door hand in hand. They did not know what the future held, or how to defeat their enemies, but they knew they would face their battles together as sisters.

Continued in The Secrets of Netherfield Abbey!

Sisters Bewitched- Chapter Three

sisters orange bar 5Chapter Three

“What a lovely home you have,” Mrs. Tilney said to Mrs. Bennet in the drawing room after dinner. “Did any of your daughters assist with the meal?”

Mrs. Bennet attempted to answer civilly, but her daughters could see her embarrassment at what must be an obvious slight.

“No, the girls have nothing to do with the kitchen.”

“Oh, pardon me. I do hope I did not offend you with the question. Lady Lucas boasted of her daughter’s meat pie.”

Elizabeth had a hard time believing Mrs. Tilney was genuine, but Jane seemed unaffected by any feelings of pretension in the room and surely she would have sensed the truth. It was their first meal in company since the return of their powers and also their first meal with their new neighbors.

“It is truly an honor to be here,” Eleanor Tilney said.

Caroline Bingley added, “Oh yes, we have heard much of the Bewitching Sisters.”

“Caroline, you must be careful with your words!” Mr. Henry Tilney said as the gentlemen entered.

“Do you sense it is dangerous to speak of our magic now?” Catherine asked and glanced about the room.

“Of course not,” he replied. “I believe she must mean that she has heard of you frequently. Much implies volume and words take up no space at all, certainly not any space at all in the minds of most people.”

Catherine chewed her bottom lip, confused by his wit and wordplay. However, Elizabeth smiled. “And then some people speak so little because their thoughts threaten to overflow. Such must be the case with you, Mr. Darcy,” she said.

“Not at all,” he said so coldly the conversation died.

Elizabeth took a sip of wine as she watched Jane and Mr. Bingley across the room. He had gone straight to Jane’s side and had not ceased smiling at her the entire evening. Mr. Hurst’s face was indeed reddened from his after dinner port and Mr. Bennet and General Tilney talked in private conference. Unable to make out their words her eyes wandered to Mrs. Hurst. She said little and instead played with her elegant bracelets. Elizabeth had the feeling Mr. Hurst was of more fashion than fortune.

When she turned her attention back to the assembled group, she saw Mr. Darcy staring at her. He did not smile or talk and yet seldom looked away from her that evening. Annoyance festered in her heart and her palms prickled with sensation. She struggled to control her magical impulses.

Catherine was pleased to speak with Miss Tilney on the subject of books. “Did you read the latest volume of Mr. Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?” Miss Tilney asked.

“Oh, no. You will have to ask Lizzy her thoughts on that. Papa makes me read such things, but I can never make much sense of them. Do you not find it difficult to credit stories of what happened so long ago when they are reported with as much certainty as someone may describe what happened at last week’s ball?”

“It is hardly likely a historian will admit to an inability to accurately give his information,” Mr. Tilney countered.

“Then are we the fools to believe it when anyone can find fault with Mrs. Howes’ report of the order of events or the accuracy of the gown worn by Mrs. Ridgeway?”

You dislike invention and embellishment?” Mr. Tilney said with a raised eyebrow.

“Not at all. I enjoy novels particularly.”

“The former Mrs. Burney?”

“Mrs. Radcliffe. The Mysteries of Udolpho is the nicest book in the world. But I suppose you never read it.”

“Why not?”

“Everyone knows novels are not important enough for gentlemen, they read other things.”

“I have read hundreds and hundreds of novels. I have many years of advantage over you if we would ask one another which books we have read. Now, Udolpho had me so enthralled I could not put it down even to spare five minutes when Eleanor was called away. I would not say it is the nicest book, however.”

“Well, why not? If you liked it so much can you possibly like something else more?”

“Perhaps I may find one I do love more later, but I assumed you meant the binding was the neatest.”

“The binding!” Catherine cried in confusion.

“Henry is teasing you, as he does with me. He has very demanding standards on word usage.”

“Nice used to apply to a person’s dress or feelings, a sense of refinement or neatness and now it is used for everything.”

“Pay him no mind, Miss Catherine. Come over here with me and we may talk more of other books.”

Catherine left Mr. Tilney’s side in confusion. She seemed to annoy him when she was most certain he would be the gentleman from her premonition which laughed. She tried stretching her mind, to force a vision or feeling to come but could not. Miss Tilney talked about drawing, and Catherine listened with ignorance, she knew nothing on the subject and was relieved to see Jane motion them over.

“Are you well?” the younger sister asked.

“Perfectly!” Jane smiled.

“You have not been speaking.”

“I am afraid that is my fault, Miss Catherine,” Mr. Bingley said.

“Mr. Bingley is a telepath and can effortlessly read my thoughts,” said Jane.

“No more than you can discern my feelings!” Catherine smiled to see Jane praised so ardently, even if her sister blushed.

A hearty male laugh broke through their conversation, and Catherine looked across the room to see Mr. Tilney laughing beside Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy scowled at the scene, and both Jane and Bingley jumped beside her.

“I fear my friend has had enough company this evening,” Bingley murmured before excusing himself.

Jane looked after him in worry. Before much longer the Netherfield family left.

“I dare say that went differently than you thought, Kate,” Elizabeth said to Catherine.

“You could say that.” She disliked Elizabeth’s enjoying so much of Mr. Tilney’s company.

“We had better return to Mama,” Jane directed her younger sisters to the drawing room before whispering to Catherine. “She was too angry at Mr. Darcy the entire evening to notice Mr. Tilney.”

“And Mr. Tilney?”

“Despite what Mr. Bingley said I cannot seem to discern the feelings of any of the gentlemen, or any of the Netherfield group at all, except when Mr. Darcy seemed upset by Mr. Tilney’s laughing. I suppose it is not necessary since we know they are to safeguard us.”

“I wish we knew more about what we are supposed to eventually do.”

“Do not borrow trouble, Kate. We shall likely know before too long. Already so much has changed.”

“The next time you want to wish me away just to whisper in the hall you might say it,” Elizabeth stuck her head out the door.

Jane and Catherine shared a smile before following Elizabeth to the drawing room.

 

*****

 

Before too many days passed, Mrs. Tilney returned the civility and asked the Longbourn family to dine at Netherfield.

“I cannot think of a better way to pass the evening,” Catherine said in the carriage.

Elizabeth huffed. “I am sure you and Jane cannot for not only are you nicer people, but you have the attention of charming gentlemen. The only people who notice me are sour. Miss Bingley and Mr. Darcy both stared critically at me the entire night they dined with us.”

“Perhaps they saw something worthy of admiration,” Jane said.

“If your powers worked at all on them, you would know how incorrect that is.”

“You are always so ready for a fight,” Catherine observed.

“I suppose it is the fire in me!” Elizabeth said with a smirk.

“I trust you girls are not so silly as to be distracted by a couple of bucks and forget the seriousness of your powers,” Mr. Bennet cautioned from the other side of the carriage.

A pout formed on Catherine’s lips. “Our days are filled with instruction and worry about what it means that our powers have returned, that General Tilney has returned. Can we not enjoy ourselves when in their company?”

Mr. Bennet opened his mouth to speak, but Mrs. Bennet placed a hand on his arm, forestalling him. “Practicing your powers on those you know to be friendly can serve you when you must practice on your enemy,” she said.

Jane cried in horror, “Practice on them!”

“You do not think they have used their powers on you?” Mr. Bennet asked.

They pulled up to the house, halting the conversation but each of the girls wondered at the sense of civility and propriety in the magical world.

Mrs. Tilney had ordered a lavish meal with several courses. As usual, the three sisters assigned different meanings to the affair. Jane saw only that their new neighbor was anxious to please. Elizabeth saw it as a pompous and vulgar display, flaunting General Tilney’s greater wealth. Catherine cared only that she was seated far from Mr. Tilney. Little was said, at first, until Mr. Bennet cleared his throat and gave each of his daughters a pointed look, a clear reminder of his earlier words.

Mr. Darcy, sitting next to Elizabeth, commented on the meal. Unsurprised that he would enjoy the grandiose atmosphere, she gritted her teeth before replying and felt her palms itch. It occurred to her, she never wondered if he had magical powers, convinced as she was that he was aware of her own. He must be a fire wizard like her father for he always excited her powers. She stared at a candle at the table and the flame grew. Wondering if she could also snuff it out, she attempted to do so and was pleased to see the light diminish. Mr. Darcy chuckled beside her.

“I dearly love a laugh. I hope you will share your amusement,” she said.

“How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”

Elizabeth pursed her lips at the Shakespearian quote. “You would assign me the role of Portia?”

“Do you not fight against the darkness?”

Elizabeth wondered if he had ever fought against dark forces. Instead of indulging her curiosity, she chose to joke. “But you believe I do so through trickery, as Portia disguised herself as a man to argue in court to save her husband’s friend?”

“I would not dare to know the arts of a Bewitching Sister.”

Elizabeth frowned as the flames in the room grew. Determined to ignore him, she turned her attention to her food.

Several seats away, Jane smiled uneasily at Mr. Bingley, who chatted seemingly without a care in the world. She realized days ago that she could not discern the feelings of any of their Netherfield neighbors, as though a charmed spell protected them. Still, she tried. Concerned that her father’s words were true, and their new friends used their own powers freely on their guests unsettled her. Did Mr. Bingley read her thoughts? Did he know how useless her powers were at the moment? Her father had said her gift was very powerful. It pained her to think the world had true evil in it; evil she was destined to defeat, so she did not dwell on it. Tonight, however, she realized the weakness of her powers. How she longed for this night to end! At the very least, she hoped the meal would soon be over. The room evidently had a draft and warming by the fire was infinitely more preferable than another course.

“I think if our guests are amenable,” said Mrs. Tilney, “we ought to adjourn to the drawing room for our dessert.”

The Bennet family nodded their heads in agreement, and Mrs. Tilney stood to direct the ladies to the drawing-room and allowed the gentlemen to remain. They would have dessert and coffee when the men joined the women.

“Miss Bennet,” Miss Bingley joined her on a sofa, “my sister and I were simply amazed to hear your story. Such times we live in! But tell us, dear, how are you adjusting?”

Always reserved in the company of others, Jane dissembled. “My father is a great teacher. Our progress is very rapid. We did have our powers as children and memories of such were restored.”

“How brave you all are!” Mrs. Hurst said.

Elizabeth approached, and Miss Bingley gasped. “Miss Eliza! You are so flushed! Are you sure you should be so near the fire?”

“Are you ill, Lizzy?” Jane asked.

“I feel perfectly well. You look pale, dear.”

“She likely caught a chill while we were eating. The room gets terribly cold. That is why mother suggested we remove to the drawing room,” Mrs. Hurst explained.

Elizabeth understood as she struggled to control her emotions around Mr. Darcy, that she had not felt any cold at all. “Allow me,” she said, and the flames grew. She sat next to Jane and the ladies discussed the impending winter weather. After several minutes, Mrs. Hurst excused herself to speak with her mother.

Across the room, Catherine sighed. Jane and Elizabeth were dear sisters who were close before the death of their mother and even closer afterward. Being several years younger, she did not often join them in activities as a child, but since she made her come out, she had hoped that would change. Instead, she felt a bit forgotten.

“Miss Catherine,” a voice behind her spoke, and she turned to see Mrs. Hurst. “I hope you have enjoyed the evening.”

“Oh, yes,” Catherine hastened to say. “It was beyond my expectations,” except for the company, she thought to herself.

“Indeed! I am surprised given your talent.”

“My predictions seldom extend to the company I keep.” In fact, there had only been one premonition of that kind. Never mind it was the only real premonition she had experienced, foreseeing her father’s chess moves notwithstanding.

“How nice to have such control over them!”

“Do you also have the gift of foresight?”

“Oh, no. I have no incredible power but perhaps conversation.” Catherine attempted to keep her surprise to herself but apparently failed. “I see it surprises you to learn there are some that only know potions and spells. It is quite common, actually. Very few witches or wizards have the sorts of powers your family has. In my own, it was only my father and now my brother. The General has a keen mind but otherwise has no power he can manipulate. His sons have nothing of importance.”

Catherine nodded her head. She had known that there were some in her community that did not have gifts. The Lucas family, for example, were splendid potion makers but had no natural power. Others such as Mrs. Allen did not even have that skill. She had not realized those were the most ordinary cases.

“You and your sisters are quite rare,” Mrs. Hurst said, and Catherine forced back the feeling of inadequacy comparisons to her older sisters always brought. Even their father said Jane’s power was great and Elizabeth could control fire on a whim. Catherine had seen how easily Elizabeth toyed with the flame in front of her. What use was she?

The gentlemen entered, and she put her feelings aside for other discomforts. The dining room had been cold and now with the arrival of more people, the drawing room became overheated. She could hardly contain her delight when her family departed.

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.