My kind and wise beta reader told me several months ago that for some reason, Chapter 13 is often a brick wall for authors. I laughed with her over it and brazenly told her that that would not happen to me. Haha. Now here we are with more time passed than I planned for. The chapter did not want to be written, would not be written, until I had made some discoveries and found a solid direction. Writing plots is hard! Lol This chapter is shorter than I generally like but there are a lot of different perspectives occurring. I wanted to match them up into their respective time frames, but that made for a really long chapter if I wrote about all the events occurring on the same day. I hope you are still with me on this fun ride.
Recap: Georgiana was injured in a carriage accident but is recovered and en route to Netherfield with her cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Darcy rode out to assist them but missed recognizing his own equipage at one of the inns on the road to Derbyshire earlier in the day. He has stopped for the night, and must decide in which direction to go in the morning. Mr Collins has arrived at Longbourn, and Wickham is in town.
Dozing peacefully, the sleek black cat did not hear the conjuror's approach, nor did it bear witness to the shadowy figure descending the stairwell in the flickering torch light. Consequently, it did not have any warning as to the rude awakening it was about to receive. The solid surface it was sleeping on suddenly shifted, and was pulled violently out from beneath it, causing the frightened feline to jump up into a ball of hissing fury and land with claws protracted and back arched high. An annoyed guttural growling that sounded suspiciously like a whine, emanated from the feline as it settled begrudgingly into one of its other favourite spots along the high shelf. Lowering its head onto its paws, the cat watched the conjuror warily through one narrowed eye from the shadows.
"Insolent cat! Sleeping on the grimoire," the conjuror muttered irritably, cradling a large antique tome. (1)
Placing the book on the wooden table situated in front of the rear wall of the chamber, the conjuror paused to lovingly stroke the tattered edges of the grimoire. A pale hand then rested on the cover to feel the latent power of the hardcover book vibrating just beneath the surface. Thumbing past spells for love, revenge, and wealth, the conjuror's fingers stopped at a well-worn page adorned with a goat's head bedecked with long, sharp horns. The fingers then brushed across the page in a caress before a forefinger tapped meaningfully at a specific paragraph.
The black-cloaked figure turned around to inspect the wall which was occupied by a myriad of different sized jars filled with indescribable items distorted by the thick glass surrounding them. Deft hands pulled this jar and that, setting them in a row on the table above the book. Reaching for the mortar and pestle, the conjuror began to chant forbidden words in French in a low-pitched refrain as the items from the jars were carefully removed and added, one at a time, into the rough stone chalice.
Glancing up and over the table, dark, beady eyes checked to see if the chalked pentacle in the middle of the floor was still intact. Satisfied that it was indeed, the mortar and pestle were momentarily abandoned on the table top, and a drawer was opened to reveal a glint of highly polished metal in the torchlight. The pale hand drew out a long, thin, bejewelled knife; the steel honed to a rapier-sharp edge. Reverently laying the knife on the table, the conjuror rolled up one sleeve of the black cloak.
As the chanting resumed, the conjuror took up the knife again, and the bare, pale extremity was held over the chalice. With a swift and practised slicing motion, the ceremonial knife instantly sundered the thin skin at the wrist. Dark red blood flowed from the wound in several meandering rivulets which culminated in a single stream that dripped steadily into the chalice, prompting the conjuror's chanting to become louder and more fervent. The black cat in the shadows slowly lifted its head, watching guardedly as the hair on the back of its neck rose in response to the charged power swirling around the chamber.
The pentacle at the core of the chamber began to glow, pulsating in rhythm with the human heartbeat pumping the conjuror's lifeblood into the chalice. The air was heavy, and a shimmering stratum appeared in the centre of the encircled five-pointed star. The conjuror's eyes shone bright with excitement, the same as they always did when this event occurred, while the shadowy figure emerged as a solid entity within the pentacle.
Lucy adjusted her cap while attempting to tuck in the loose wisps of her hair as she loitered in the back hallway of the kitchen. She had to make haste or Mrs Mercer would catch her idle again. A knowing smile spread across her countenance as Lucy thought back to her clandestine activities just a few short moments ago. Being in Willie's embrace was just about the most pleasant and exciting thing to happen to her in her youthful experience. A scullery maid's life was not easy, but she was lucky to be hired to work at this grand manor. Her friends were envious of her recent employment and she could not wait until she told them all about her new beau.
Hurrying down the dim hallway, Lucy spotted a curious strip of light beneath one of the pantry shelves. Thinking how odd this was, she stepped closer to the shelving for a better look. Running her hand along the outer edge, she felt a gap between the shelving and the stone wall. A cool draught flowed out of the crack and caused a shiver to run down her spine. Her curiosity thoroughly roused, Lucy pulled with both hands on the exposed edge, gasping as the shelving swung away with a dull grating sound. The secret passageway revealed rough-cut stairs and lit torches lining the walls.
The maid hastily looked behind her to see if anyone was approaching, and seeing herself alone, slipped through the crack in the wall to descend into the cellar. Perhaps there was a comfortable chamber below that might afford her and Willie some privacy in the future. She stifled a small giggle. How convenient that would be, she thought giddily. It was always a challenge to find time alone with her lover, away from the meddling eyes of the housekeeper and the butler. Although it does make our trysts more exciting, no doubt.
Lucy crept silently and slowly down the twisting stairwell, grateful for once for her serviceable shoes. Her hand trailed along the rough stone wall for balance. Perceiving a distant murmur of voices, Lucy thought that she might have come upon another lover's tryst and hoped that she might glean some information that could be useful above stairs. Gossip was the currency of servants, after all. If it was not necessarily something scandalous in relation to the master or mistress, then perhaps it was gossip about others who were in service in the manor as well. Either way, it could pay out considerably in the future.
The voices became louder and clearer as Lucy neared the end of the stairs. Stopping to press herself against the inner wall, she hoped the speakers had not detected her presence yet. Her lips flattened into a straight line as she discovered that she could not understand the language being spoken in the chamber. However, she was simultaneously excited and dismayed when she recognized the voice of her employer. What luck! If this turned out to be some momentous information, Lucy thought that she might be able to blackmail her employer into giving her a better position in the household. Played poorly, Lucy realised that she may also be sacked for this impertinence. She frowned as she thought about being separated from Willie.
She turned her thoughts back to the conversation. A feeling of foreboding settled in her gut as she listened to the foreigner speak. Even though she could not understand the words, the gravelly voice spoke in a menacing tone, one that made her want to run back up the stairs as fast as she could. Reluctantly, she stood her ground, convincing herself that this was a unique opportunity that should not be wasted.
Wishing to verify that one of the speakers was truly her employer, and in an attempt to discern the identity of the second voice, Lucy carefully and slowly edged her way to the brink of the stairs. Her stiff uniform made a soft scratching sound as it brushed against the wall, and she gradually skimmed her head along the surface until one eye could freely see into the chamber. Rounding the corner with slow deliberation, her gaze found the familiar figure of her employer, and then focussed beyond to where the foreigner stood. A strangled cry tore from her lips as her eyes widened in horror.
With the heavy realisation that she had just given herself away, Lucy pressed her slim body desperately into the wall, the rough-hewn rock cutting into the soft flesh of her hands. She bit down on her tongue in an effort not to scream aloud, the sight of the foreigner burned into her brain. This cannot be happening, she thought, panic starting to take hold. HE cannot be real! Surely all those stories in church were just imaginary tales to make people think twice before committing a sin. HE is NOT real! Her heart raced in her chest as she struggled to keep from gulping in air too fast. A bead of cold sweat slid down the back of her neck.
Suddenly, she heard it, the deafening sound of silence. With a sharp intake of air, Lucy stopped breathing altogether. Still nothing but silence. They have stopped talking. They know I am here! As stealthily as she could manage, Lucy attempted to ascend the stairs, shuffling sideways, still pressed against the wall. She breathed as much as she dared even though her lungs were burning, and carefully lifted her foot to the next step in order to propel herself up from the one below. This pattern continued for a few more steps and when she thought she was sufficiently clear of the doorway to the chamber to not be seen, she turned fully towards the stairs in anticipation of running back to the pantry.
A blood-curdling scream filled the stairwell and echoed into the chamber as Lucy was yanked backwards by an invisible force. She landed on the stone floor at the bottom of the stairs, bruised and dazed, and when she came to her senses, she launched herself on her hands and knees to scramble away. Distant laughter rumbled from behind, impelling her to escape. Moving forward and scraping her knees in the process, Lucy's thin arm stretched out to touch the bottom-most stair step. Within only mere inches of her goal, her body was dragged backwards again and she slid violently toward the centre of the room with both arms outstretched in a feeble attempt to scrabble for purchase, or anything that might stop her movement.
Her body hit something hard with a dull thud and she was suddenly still. Daring to look behind her, she saw that she was exactly where HE stood. Lucy began to sob in fear and shake uncontrollably. She sat up in attempt to distance herself from HIM.
"Tsk, tsk, what have we here," the other voice asked knowingly. Lucy whipped her head around to face her employer, a hopeful expression clearly discernible by the conjuror. "A young maiden, all alone, creeping about where she is unwanted."
Sighing, her employer crouched down, the pale hand reaching under Lucy's chin to gently lift her head. "Good help is so difficult to find, but do not worry, your sacrifice will not be in vain." Lucy's face fell as she now understood that no succour would come from that quarter.
A deep, evil cackle bubbled up from her employer's throat and echoed in the chamber. HE joined in the laughter and Lucy cried out violently. Sobbing, she could do naught but sit there in abject fear. Seeking some kind of comfort, she thought of her Willie's crooked smile on his handsome face, and then…darkness.
"Let us enjoy this unexpected bounty together," the foreigner clapped his hands together gleefully.
Tendrils of steam rose in the cool air as Darcy eased his sore body into the hot water. Almost immediately, he felt its soothing effects as his muscles began to relax as he leaned back against the copper tub. Closing his eyes in contentment, he emitted a small outbreath of approval, sliding down until the water lapped at his stubbled chin. The recently lit fire had just started to put out sufficient heat, but he had not been able to wait any longer. Hopefully, the room would be pleasantly warm when he was ready to step out of the tub.
He rode into Market Harborough only an hour past, and had swiftly made his way to the Three Swans Inn from whence his cousin had sent the express detailing the carriage accident in which Georgiana was injured. It was hard to believe that the incident had occurred only yesterday. It had been a harrowing twenty-four hours, and while he still had many unanswered questions he was satisfied that his sister was in no immediate danger from the carriage accident.
Upon his arrival, he queried the innkeeper in the hope of gaining any information related to the current whereabouts of his sister. To his dismay, he learned that the party had left early that same morning, and that the innkeeper could not definitively say in which direction they had travelled. He did, however, assuage Darcy's greatest fears by stating that the "young miss" had walked out of the inn on her own and had not been carried out.
Sitting up, Darcy tested the air, and feeling the warmth of the room was adequate, he stretched for the soap bar sitting on a stool at the side of the tub. He blushed a little as he recalled his earlier encounter with the buxom serving girl who had brought the last bucket of hot water. She bent over the tub and emptied the bucket. The rising steam left a wet sheen across her ample bosom, and her low cut peasant's blouse showed her assets to her advantage. The full meaning of her offer was abundantly clear when she had offered to assist with his bath, reaching to wash the areas that he could not. Darcy was not interested. She was all wrong; she was not Elizabeth.
His thoughts centred on his beloved as he finished bathing, and so engrossed was he in his pleasant thoughts that he only noticed his current surroundings when he began to shiver, bringing forth goose-flesh. Rising from the rapidly cooling water, Darcy reached for his towel and carefully stepped out of the tub drying himself briskly. After pulling on a pair of trousers and his lone clean shirt, he dragged a chair closer to the fireplace and sat, revelling in the heat. The ride across two counties today had left him exhausted and suffering a bone-deep, residual chill.
Darcy forced himself to stay awake and alert as he pondered his newest dilemma: return to Netherfield or ride on to Pemberley? His cousin was as close to him as a brother, and knowing him as intimately as he did, Darcy felt reassured. The Colonel was, without a doubt, a man of unwavering action. His decision-making skills, both summary and resolute, would only have permitted him to consider Georgiana's health first. If his sister had left the inn with her faculties intact, both mentally and physically, then perhaps all was well and Netherfield was their destination.
Making a quick list of the benefits and disadvantages of travelling on to Pemberley versus returning to Hertfordshire, Darcy settled on returning to Netherfield in the morning. If he was wrong, and his cousin had decided to return to Pemberley, he knew his sister would be well-cared for at home. Mrs Reynolds would see to it. Fitzwilliam would send him an express and Darcy could return to Pemberley after a proper farewell to his friends. If he was correct in his assumption, then his reunion with the two most important women of his acquaintance would occur all that much sooner. He smiled softly, anticipating seeing Elizabeth again.
Stoking the fire for the last time, Darcy made his way across the small room and wearily crawled into bed. His last conscious thought was of a pair of fine eyes.
"Lizzy, what do you think of this dress?"
Elizabeth looked up from the book she was reading and espied her sister across the room, standing in front of the cheval mirror in the bright morning sunlight. Tilting her head to the side, Elizabeth chewed on her bottom lip for a moment before offering, "You look very well, Jane, but I think a bit of complementary colour would be lovely. I have just the thing, too."
Laying her book aside, she walked to the left side of the vanity and opened a drawer that immediately sprang to life with ribbons of all colours and textures spilling out haphazardly. After a few moments, Elizabeth huffed out her frustration as she began to pull ribbon after ribbon out of the drawer. Throwing them in a tangled heap on the bed, she sorted them by colour, and then sat back with her hands on her hips and a frown upon her face.
"Well, that is decidedly odd! Where in the world could that ribbon have gone? I am quite sure that I put it exactly in its place last night before we went to bed."
Looking around the room, Elizabeth's gaze landed on her sister who looked slightly amused. "Jane, do not look at me like that. I am certain that it was put away in the drawer with the other notions."
"Which ribbon is that, Lizzy," the sound of mischief seeping through with the question, "the blue satin that Mr Collins was so fond of on our walk yesterday?"
Elizabeth crinkled her nose in disgust, "Yes, the very same. It will complement the pale yellow of your gown perfectly. You do not think that perhaps Lydia or Kitty filched it, do you? I was sure that the scolding I gave them the last time something belonging to us went 'missing' was severe enough that they would not dare do that again."
Jane giggled at the memory of her youngest sisters gaping and gasping like fish on dry land at Elizabeth's rebuke. "Indeed, there have been no repetitions of that behaviour since."
Humming a low sound indicating her satisfaction, Elizabeth replied, "I shall do a little reconnaissance and see if I cannot recover my ribbon. If I am successful, you shall be wearing it when your Mr Bingley calls on you later today." She chuckled to herself when she noted two patches of rosy red staining Jane's cheeks.
Mr Bingley did not arrive at Longbourn for a visit that day, much to Jane's disappointment. However, this regret was short-lived or at least put aside, as the Bennet sisters were looking forward to the supper party at their aunt's house that same evening. Kitty and Lydia spoke of nothing but officers in scarlet coats for the entirety of the day, ensuring that no one wanted to be in their company except for Mrs Bennet.
It was at times like this that Elizabeth wished she could escape to the library like her father did. And although she invaded his private sanctuary with regularity, she refused to do so today. Her cousin, Mr Collins, had usurped her as her father's companion and nothing could induce her to be in the same room as he unless it was absolutely unavoidable. Unfortunately, Mr Bennet was not as amenable to this change in companions as Elizabeth was. Anything that kept her out of the notice of Mr Collins and provided respite was most welcome.
With the weather still fine, and weary of the frivolous milieu inside Longbourn, Elizabeth slipped outside for an afternoon walk. The brisk activity helped lighten her mood considerably, but one subject still weighed heavily.
How in the world am I to convince Mr Collins that I will make an entirely unsuitable wife? I am sure that Papa will refuse his offer, but what if he doesn't? Papa has never denied me anything, but this may be too much to refuse. How easy it would be, how convenient for him, to know that his family would be provided for upon his death.
Knowing her father's penchant for making, and taking, the easier decisions when problems arose, she was not sure that he would stand up for her desires. She worried the nail of her right thumb between her teeth without thinking as she continued to walk automatically along her daily route.
Reaching her favourite spot, Elizabeth sat on a fallen tree trunk and sighed, her arms supporting her upper body as she leaned back with her face held up to the sky to soak up the sun. Her cousin was oblivious most times, and overbearing the rest. He was also arrogant enough to believe in his own superiority, and secure enough to know that his unfortunate wife must abide by any and all of his rules.
This was also, unfortunately, the law in England. Any idiosyncrasy or oddity of behaviour that could be quelled physically after the wedding would not be a strong enough inducement for him to not offer for her. Husbands could beat their wives with impunity under the law, and although Elizabeth did not believe that her cousin was the type of man who might beat his wife into submission, one never really knew what went on behind closed doors.
Obviously he was not repelled by her stating her opinion so decidedly, nor by her obsession with reading. Again, things that might be curtailed by force after the wedding…she sighed. She continued to study her ponderous dilemma, making mental lists. There were a few things she refused to engage in or even pretend to be engaged in, and so they were "wiped from the slate": promiscuity, drunkenness, and overt rudeness. She could not abide those things in others, and they were such that her reputation would be in tatters, even if they were implied. Her honour was still intact and she wished to keep it that way.
It must be something so shocking that he could never accept me as his bride and furthermore, it had to be something that would remain a secret within the family so as to protect all of their reputations. I will definitely need to enlist the assistance of my sisters.
Preparing to return home, Elizabeth decided that she needed serious inspiration and made plans to visit her father's library in search of it. Surely there would be something there, in history or in literature, that could be of use to her. Feeling better now that she had a solid objective, Elizabeth's thoughts turned to Mr Darcy.
Neither he, nor Mr Bingley, had come to visit today and this left the eldest Misses Bennet somewhat at a loss. Mr Darcy was so passionate about his feelings for her during their stay at Netherfield. She had been so sure that he would make time to meet her at Oakham Mount in the early mornings but several had come and gone with no such encounters. Jane was even more despondent over Mr Bingley, although only Elizabeth could perceive it, knowing her sister so well.
Of course, they were gentlemen of consequence, Mr Darcy more so than his amiable friend, and as such, they most certainly had business to which they must attend. She reminded herself that Fitzwilliam was in Hertfordshire at his friend's behest in order to assist him in learning estate matters. She should not assign more importance to herself than an old friend who humbly requested his instruction and support.
Elizabeth laughed, gently chiding herself for her foolishness. It had only been a few days since they left Netherfield. The gentlemen would visit soon. She marvelled at how a handsome man could turn one into a ninny so summarily.
(1) Grimoire: A grimoire is a textbook of magic, typically including instructions on how to create magical objects like talismans and amulets, how to perform magic spells, charms and divination, and how to summon or invoke supernatural entities such as angels, spirits, and demons. In many cases, the books themselves are thought to be imbued with magical properties.
The 18th century saw the rise of the Enlightenment, a movement devoted to science and rationalisation, predominantly amongst the ruling classes. However, amongst much of Europe, belief in magic and witchcraft persisted. Governments tried to crack down on magicians and fortune tellers, particularly in France, where the police viewed them as social pests who took money from the gullible, often in a search of treasure. In doing so, they confiscated many grimoires.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, following the French Revolution of 1789, a hugely influential grimoire was published under the title of the Grand Grimoire, which was considered particularly powerful, because it involved conjuring and making a pact with the devil's chief minister. A new version of this grimoire was later published under the title of the Dragon rouge and was available for sale in many Parisian bookstores. In Britain, new grimoires continued to be produced throughout the 18th century and in the last decades of that century, London experienced a revival of interest in the occult.
All characters belong to Jane Austen. Although I have respectfully borrowed quotes and inspiration from Pride and Prejudice, this story belongs to me. All rights reserved.