Chapter 1

Miss Caroline Susan Bingley had mixed feelings about her brother's announcement. She had no real desire to go to the country or to be in the country; yet she had to admit that it was always preferable to be able to describe, while in town, all the pleasures and delights one had enjoyed in one's country home. Her brother, Charles Bingley, had been left a sufficient fortune by their father to purchase an estate, but after a year of being of age he still had not found one to buy. So now he had decided upon leasing a country house, and Miss Bingley began to wonder whether he would leave it to his children to purchase the family estate. In any case, the one good thing about the matter was that she would be the mistress of any home taken by her brother – whether leased or purchased – until he should marry.

Nevertheless, the idea of her brother only leasing a home vexed Miss Bingley greatly – for having sufficient fortune at his disposal, it was only wanting for her brother to make an actual purchase for their family to enter the coveted sphere of the elite in their own right, by becoming members of the landed gentry. They had fortune, fashion, education, and accomplishments; the only thing they did not have was land. But, she took some comfort in the fact that with him only leasing in Hertfordshire, there was yet hope that he might actually purchase in Derbyshire.

Miss Bingley smiled – with her brother's house in the country and her sister's house in town, her circumstances would be ideal. (Except when her brother and sister were together and she was left without a choice between the two.) Well, it was nearly ideal, the only inconvenience being that Charles was settling in entirely the wrong county.

As soon as her maid was finished with her hair, Miss Bingley sashayed ever so elegantly down the staircase to join her sister at breakfast.

"Good morning, Louisa," she said.

"Good morning, Carrie-Sue."

Miss Bingley disdained this childhood nickname, but tolerated it from her relations because they persisted in using it. At least there was no one else present to hear it. "You know what I prefer you to call me when we are alone, Louisa," scolded Miss Bingley.

Mrs. Hurst rolled her eyes and let out her breath dramatically, "Very well, Good morning, Mrs. Darcy."

Miss Bingley purred dreamily. "That is much better. Now, what shall we do today? Shall we call on Miss Darcy this morning?"

"Why Caroline, you have read my mind. I was just thinking it had been entirely too long since we have had the pleasure of her company."

"Perhaps we can prevail upon her, and her brother of course, to dine with us this evening. Charles is due back before dinner is not he?"

"He is indeed. That is a brilliant idea, Caroline. What a happy, intimate, party we shall all be together."

When the ladies arrived at the Darcy home, they found Georgiana Darcy with her friend, Miss Grantley, engaged in covering screens together. If Miss Darcy rolled her eyes in a silent message to her friend, and if Miss Grantley suppressed a giggle, neither Miss Bingley nor Mrs. Hurst noticed.

"Good morning, my dear Georgiana," effused Miss Bingley, grasping the younger girl's hands."

"Miss Bingley, how kind of you to call on me again so soon," replied the usually shy, except when she's annoyed and has to be sarcastic, Miss Darcy.

The ladies ordered tea and chatted for about half an hour – at least half of which time was spent by Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst in praising Miss Darcy's work and giving Miss Grantley advice on how to improve hers.

Miss Bingley then nudged her sister with little subtlety and Mrs. Hurst said, "My dear Georgiana, you and Mr. Darcy must dine with us in Grosvenor Street this evening."

"Oh yes, what a splendid idea, Louisa," chimed in Miss Bingley. Then addressing Miss Darcy, she added, "Our brother has gone to the country to look at a house but he should be home for dinner."

"I do not know," Miss Darcy prevaricated, "I cannot accept without my brother's approval."

"We shall apply to him, then. Certainly he cannot object. Is he in the house?" asked Miss Bingley with a gleam in her eye.

Miss Darcy could do naught but have her brother summoned from his study to pay his respects to the ladies and consider their invitation to dine.

As soon as he arrived in the room, Miss Bingley moved to his side and grasped his arm, "My dear Mr. Darcy, how good of you to join us."

He disengaged his arm from her clutches and said to his sister, "What did you need, my dear?"

"Mrs. Hurst has invited us to dine this evening. Do we have any other engagements?" Please let us have another engagement, she begged silently in her own mind. But Darcy wished very much to forward his sister's acquaintance with Mr. Bingley and, therefore, accepted the invitation.

"Oh how delightful," shrieked Miss Bingley, grasping for his arm again. "What a pleasant evening we shall all have together." He avoided her attempts to grab him with some deft Matrix-like movements and quitted the room immediately thereafter on the excuse of having a pressing matter of business requiring his attention.

A few moments later, after several meaningful looks from her sister, Mrs. Hurst distracted Miss Grantley. Miss Bingley took the opportunity to pull Miss Darcy into a corner for some private discourse. When they were alone, Miss Bingley removed her gold locket from around her neck (which held a miniature drawing of her on one side and a tiny looking glass on the other). She gently allowed the locket to sway before Miss Darcy's eyes as she chanted, "Your eyelids are growing very, very, heavy." Miss Darcy followed the gold locket back and forth with her eyes, mesmerized by the pendulum-like movement. But just as Miss Darcy's eyes were about to close, Miss Grantley called her friend's attention away, foiling Miss Bingley's designs – but only for the present.

At dinner that evening, Mr. Bingley announced his pleasure with the house he had seen and his intent of taking it. He prevailed upon his brother and his friend to accompany him to Netherfield for the autumn to partake in shooting, and to bring the ladies including (why not) Georgiana. And so to Hertfordshire they were all to go.

Chapter 2

When Miss Bingley returned home from a shopping excursion with her sister – in preparation for their journey to Hertfordshire – she literally ran up to her room and energetically opened the bottom drawer of her armoire. She threw the various books, articles of clothing, and other personal effects that were concealing the object of her search over her shoulder frantically. Finally, she found it: her book, Witchcraft and Black Magic, a History. She quickly scanned the pages until she found the one she was seeking. It was a drawing of the sign of a witch. The sign that indicated the presence of a real witch. The sign to look for if one is searching for the services of a witch. The same sign she had seen on the wall at the last shop they had been to today. She smiled.

She could follow the suggestions in the book, but she was an amateur and lacked access to many of the substances called for in the spells; but to obtain the assistance of a professional would bring her certain success. It was at this moment that her sister caught up with her and entered the room.

"My goodness, Carrie-Sue," said Louisa, as she scanned the floor, noticing the various and sundry discarded items strewn about, “whatever were you in such a hurry for? I thought you would break your neck running up the stairs."

Miss Bingley did not respond, she just sat on the floor in front of the open drawer of her armoire amidst a scattering of various personal items, staring at a page in a book.

"Carrie," repeated Mrs. Hurst, taking another step into the room.

Still, there was no answer.

Mrs. Hurst took a deep breath and assuming a patronizing tone said, "Mrs. Darcy."

"Yes," responded Miss Bingley as if it was the most natural thing in the world. She finally tore her eyes from the page before her and fixed them expectantly on her sister.

"What is the matter with you?"

"Nothing, Louisa." She wanted her sister to go away. "I have a headache and would like to take a nap before dinner. Please excuse me." Louisa left the room, and Caroline returned her attention to her book.

After dinner, Caroline retired early, claiming to still have a headache. But instead of going to bed, she donned a dark traveling cloak and sneaked out of the house into the dark London streets. The air was thick and the night was foggy, but she made her way back to the shop guided by the light of the full moon overhead. Everything was locked up, but there was a faint glow of putrid light emanating from one of the back windows. She walked around and knocked on a door, which she could only surmise, was the entrance to the living quarters of the proprietor. The door was opened by the woman who had waited upon Caroline and Louisa at the shop earlier in the day; except, she appeared darker, older, and more haggard than Caroline had remembered. She had a long thin nose that had a wart protruding from the end of it with one hair sticking out of the wart, and she was all dressed in black with a strange and very unfashionable hat upon her head that came to a point. "Ah, Miss Bingley, we have been expecting you."

Caroline had not caught the name of the lady who had assisted her and Louisa in the shop and merely replied in astonishment, "You have?"

"Of course. I noticed you staring at the drawing on the wall in the shop. I knew you would be wanting our services." Then she opened the door more fully and Caroline stepped in. There were five other women in the room and there was a large black cauldron boiling over the fire, with green goo bubbling over its sides. There was a putrid, foul stench permeating the room and a mist floated throughout the air and rolled thick along the floor. There were also shelves covered with old jars and bottles filled with colorful substances, and countless thick books, all covered with dust and cobwebs. Next to them were six broomsticks leaning against the wall. And, just as Caroline walked into the room, a black cat crossed in front of her. She began to tremble with fear.

The woman spoke again, "I am Mrs. Rushworth. These are my sisters, Mrs. Ferrars, Mrs. Churchill, Mrs. Clay, and Mrs. Elton." Then she added with deference, "And Mrs. Norris is our leader, mentor, and teacher."

"How do you do?" said Miss Bingley, addressing all of them, as she executed a perfunctory curtsy.

None of them said anything, and they all returned to their employment. Mrs. Ferrars was taking jars off the shelves and sniffing them one by one, as if searching for something. Mrs. Elton was stirring the ever-bubbling goo with tireless monotony as Mrs. Clay added a variety of substances one by one, sometimes missing or, worse, adding too much, due to her clumsy wrist, and Mrs. Churchill chanted quietly and incoherently over the brew as she read from a book that lay open on a bewebbed table in front of her. Mrs. Rushworth looked to Mrs. Norris and said, "This is the young lady I was telling you about. She was in the shop earlier today."

"Welcome to our coven," said Mrs. Norris, as she gestured towards a dusty sofa upholstered in a thick black tapestry. "What brings you to us this evening?"

"I was hoping to avail myself of your services," said Miss Bingley, as she sat down.

"What exactly do you wish us to do for you, Miss Bingley?"

"I wish to be married to a gentleman."

"That should not be terribly difficult. You are, I presume, a gentleman’s daughter?”

Miss Bingley looked uncomfortable for a moment, then raising her chin answered resolutely, “Yes, of course.”

“Hmm,” replied Mrs. Norris. “Will any gentleman do, or is there one in particular?"

"There is one in particular."

"I might have known. I assume you brought something of his, a personal effect?"

"Of course," said Miss Bingley, proud that she had known enough to do so. She reached into her reticule and took out Mr. Darcy's watch fob that she had pilfered from his home the day before and handed it to Mrs. Norris.

"A watch fob?" asked the lady in an amused tone. Miss Bingley turned as she heard the other women snickering behind her.

"It was all I could find," she replied.

"Most people do manage to get a lock of hair or some such thing."

"Will it do?"

"Yes, it will do."

As Miss Bingley stood, she could see that Mrs. Clay was already preparing a smaller cauldron and placing it over the fire next to the large one. Mrs. Elton began ladling out a bit of the rich green goo from the large pot into the smaller one.

"What is that?" asked Miss Bingley.

"That is our stock brew; now we only have to personalize it for your purposes."

Mrs. Elton then approached Miss Bingley with a towel and a pin. "I need three drops of your blood," she said, taking Miss Bingley's hand.

Miss Bingley was shocked. "But why?"

Mrs. Elton sighed heavily and rolled her eyes, "Because the recipe calls for it." By this time she had led Miss Bingley to the small pot and placed her hand over it. Miss Bingley complied, hesitantly. Mrs. Elton pricked her finger and then let three drops fall into the pot. She then wrapped Miss Bingley's finger in the towel and relinquished her hand.

Mrs. Ferrars finally spoke announcing, "Ah, I have found it."

"Found what?" asked Miss Bingley.

But no one answered her. Mrs. Ferrars then sprinkled a reddish powder generously into the small pot. Eye of Newt and Adder's Fork and other such things were then added – liquids, powders and solids alike. The goo changed color from green to a deep purple to a crimson red and then to a frothy black. Mrs. Churchill then poured a layer of brandy over the top and set it on fire. As the brew caught fire a bolt of lightning struck outside and a roll of thunder crashed about them. When the brandy burned off Mrs. Elton tied the watch fob to the end of a string and tied the other end of the string to the middle of a stick, which was balanced across the top of the pot allowing the fob to dangle into the goo.

As it boiled Mrs. Clay pulled a book from the shelf and Miss Bingley noticed that it had the image of a skull and crossbones overlaying a large drawing of a heart across the front of it. She turned to Miss Bingley and said, "What's his name, dear?"

"Darcy, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, Derbyshire."

"Yes, thank you Carrie," said Mrs. Elton.

Then all six witches joined hands in front of the fire and read from the book in unison. All Caroline could understand was her name and Darcy's name mentioned here and there. At length they stopped and removed the boiled fob from the pot. To Caroline's surprise it was cool, dry, and undamaged. She would be able to return it to where she had found it. Finally, Mrs. Rushworth grabbed a bottle from the shelf and poured a few drops of a rich dark brown syrup into the brew.

"What's that?" asked Caroline.

"Chocolate," said Mrs. Rushworth.

"Chocolate?"

Mrs. Churchill nodded and smiled, "Makes it go down easier!"

Mrs. Elton stirred the goo a few more times while Mrs. Ferrars retrieved a small empty glass vial from the shelf. She held it as Mrs. Churchill expertly poured every last drop of liquid from the significantly larger pot into the tiny bottle. Mrs. Rushworth then placed the cap on the vial and handed it to Caroline.

Mrs. Clay said, "You must add a thimble-full of this potion to his tea."

"A thimble-full" repeated Caroline.

"A thimble-full, no more, no less," emphasized Mrs. Elton.

"The tea must be prepared with sugar but no milk," said Mrs. Ferrars.

"Sugar, no milk," repeated Caroline trying to remember how Darcy took his tea. Did he even drink tea?

"Two sugars," said Mrs. Churchill, "no milk."

"Then you must chant as he drinks it," said Mrs. Norris.

"He must not sip, he must swallow it in one gulp," said Mrs. Rushworth.

"One gulp, no sipping," repeated Caroline. Then turning her attention back to Mrs. Norris she asked, "What must I chant?"

All of them answered at once, "Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble."

Caroline began to repeat it, "Double, double, toil and ... wait a minute, is that not from Shakespeare?"

"Yes," replied Mrs. Clay hurriedly, "and our ancestors were extremely vexed that he revealed one of our secret chants in his play." The others began to nod their agreement vigorously.

"You must chant it three times," said Mrs. Elton.

"Three times."

"Three times," repeated Mrs. Ferrars, "while pressing your left hand to your heart and your right hand to his."

"Left hand on my heart, right hand on his."

"And you must be wearing an orange gown," said Mrs. Churchill.

"Orange gown. That shouldn't be a problem."

"And you must do all of this while standing on one foot," said Mrs. Rushworth.

"One foot."

"The right foot," added Mrs. Ferrars, helpfully.

"And, if at all possible," said Mrs. Clay, "he should be wearing that fob when it is done."

"Wearing the fob."

"Thimble full ... two sugars, no milk ... gulp no sipping ...'double double toil and trouble fire burn and cauldron bubble' ... left hand on my heart, right hand on his ... orange gown ... stand on right foot ... wear the fob." She continued to repeat everything, trying to commit it to memory. Then she placed the vial in her reticule and asked, "How much do I owe you?"

As if on cue, Mrs. Rushworth then handed Mrs. Norris a book and the latter answered, "Before we tell you, allow us to show you our lovely book of simple spells." Mrs. Norris held the book up with one hand to show it to Caroline and then gestured to it with her other hand as she spoke. "It looks like an ordinary diary, so you can carry it with you, but it contains the most basic spells needed for everyday life."

"One to cause a recalcitrant servant to come down with a pox," said Mrs. Ferrars. "Another to cause sudden facial blemishes to disappear," said the befreckled Mrs. Clay.

"... or appear," added Mrs. Churchill.

"Another to make your rival trip and fall while she dances with your beloved," said Mrs. Elton.

"Another to bring on memory loss in those who may have witnessed you doing something inappropriate," said Mrs. Rushworth.

"Everything you need to make life a little easier," finished Mrs. Norris.

"I'll take it," replied Caroline, grabbing the little book. "How much?"

"One hundred and fifty pounds."

Caroline gasped. "One hundred and fifty pounds?!?!"

"Do you think running a coven is inexpensive? Do you know the going rate for Blind-Worm's Sting these days?"

Caroline breathed heavily. She was dying to get out of there. She thought of all the pin money and jewels she would have as Mrs. Darcy and quickly handed over the required payment and left the place – very satisfied with her purchases.

As soon as the door was closed behind her, Mrs. Norris said to the others, "Well done, ladies," and they all laughed. Then she looked at Mrs. Clay and said, "Nice save on Macbeth. I didn't think she'd recognize it."

"That was a close one," agreed Mrs. Churchill.

"Perhaps we should consider looking to other resources," suggested Mrs. Ferrars.

Then Mrs. Elton looked at Mrs. Rushworth and said, "Standing on one foot? That's a new one. Very creative."

"I confess I was tempted to make her look ridiculous."

"Oh, she will," said Mrs. Norris, "she will," as they all cackled, imagining the spectacle of Miss Bingley trying to carry out their spell.

When they had all calmed themselves and wiped the tears of mirth from their eyes, Mrs. Rushworth looked at Mrs. Norris and asked, "Think it'll work?"

"It would take a miracle."

Chapter 3

Caroline smiled to herself as the carriage rumbled on towards Netherfield House. She clutched her reticule to her bosom as she thought of its contents: her small vial of love potion, a thimble, and her spell book. She wondered how soon after their arrival she would be able to fix a cup of tea for Mr. Darcy. Certainly he would be wishing for some refreshment after the journey. She glanced outside the carriage window and watched as he sat regally astride his horse, riding along next to the carriage. Georgiana made some trifling commentary about the countryside and luckily Louisa replied with the necessary civility and attentiveness, leaving Caroline free to daydream.

She thought of her imminent wedding to Mr. Darcy, of herself enthroned as mistress of his vast estate. Suddenly a memory came unbidden to her mind. She recalled visiting Pemberley last summer. She had been walking the gardens surrounding the house when she perceived Mr. Darcy emerge, wet and in a scandalous state of undress from an afternoon swim in his pond. She recalled how the water droplets had glistened from his masculine face and his dark, curly locks – which hung provocatively against his forehead; how his lawn shirt had clung to his sculpted chest, and his breeches to his chiseled thighs. She began fanning herself, in spite of the brisk weather. Indeed, she had quite forgotten the dirt and scum that had lodged itself in his hair and clothing, or the entrails of some curious water-plant that had clung to his body, or the foul stench that had hung in the air surrounding him, after immersing himself in the murky waters of his pond. No, these thoughts had quite escaped her as she sighed dreamily, thinking only of the more pleasant aspects of that long ago encounter.

Once they had reached the house at last, Caroline was eager to enter and order tea service. Unhappily for her, it was her brother who had handed her down from the coach. Then she walked into the foyer and was arrested by the sight of a fat, drooling bulldog. She looked towards the woman with whom her brother was just exchanging pleasantries and, discerning her to be the housekeeper, said sharply, "What is that?" as she pointed to the dog.

"Oh, that's just ol' Lucy, Miss, he's a guard dog of sorts for the place. Don't you pay him no mind."

Before Caroline could speak again, Mr. Bingley said, "Lucy? But did not you say he was a male dog?"

"Aye, Sir, I did. My girl, Nancy, was but four years old when old Mr. Smythe first brought Lucy to live with us and he charged her with namin' him so she called him Lucy. When we told her he was a boy she said she didn't care and she would call him Lucy."

Mr. Bingley laughed and began patting the dog's head. Lucy seemed to enjoy it and rubbed eagerly against the offered hand.

"See there, he's real friendly," said Mrs. Martin. The others approached Lucy and began petting him. Mr. Hurst and Mr. Darcy each gave him a few pats and even Louisa touched the top of his head tentatively.

Looking towards Mrs. Martin, Miss Bingley said, "You will remove that dog from this house at once."

Mrs. Martin looked down and said, "Yes ma'am."

Miss Bingley heard a low rumbling sound and turned to Lucy to see him staring right at her, teeth bared, growling as he allowed himself to be led away by a footman. Lifting her chin triumphantly, Miss Bingley smiled to Mrs. Martin and said, "Mrs. Martin, I presume? I am Miss Caroline Bingley, your new mistress."

"How d'you do ma'am," said Mrs. Martin with a curtsy. Miss Bingley then acquainted her with the names of her guests and Mrs. Martin, in turn, introduced the rest of the household staff. This was tedious and time consuming for Miss Bingley who was impatient to have tea served, but she made up for her lack of patience during this interlude by excelling in inattentiveness. For while her servants were being introduced, she was daydreaming of ways to exact revenge upon Mrs. Martin as she clutched her reticule ever more closely, wondering which of the spells in her book would suit the impertinent old shrew.

At last the name of the final scullery maid was uttered and Miss Bingley wasted no time in ordering a tray of tea for all the company. The others wished to be shown to their rooms, to refresh themselves and perhaps rest following the journey, but Miss Bingley insisted that they all remain for tea.

Once it was brought into the room, Miss Bingley offered a cup to Mr. Darcy, "May I fix you a cup of tea, Mr. Darcy?"

He looked at her in open astonishment, "Perhaps the ladies would care for some first, madam."

"Of course," she replied, quickly giving half-full cups of tea to Louisa and Georgiana without bothering to ask whether either of them desired milk or sugar.

She then turned her back to the company and removed the vial of love potion from her reticule. She prepared Mr. Darcy's tea – just as the witches had prescribed it – carefully measuring out a thimble full of the potion and adding two sugars and no cream. She offered it to the object of her schemes, saying, "Now drink deeply, Mr. Darcy," while lifting her left foot and clutching her own heart with her left hand, as she held the cup out to him in her right, her lips poised to articulate the words stolen from ancient witches by the Bard for use in his tragic play.

In spite of her preparedness to carry out the requirements of the spell, the gentleman declined any desire for tea. She began to insist, but upon glancing down, she noticed that Mr. Darcy was wearing a different watch fob than the one she had borrowed.

He followed her eyes down to where his fob dangled and said, "Miss Bingley? What is it?"

"Your fob, sir," she muttered absently. "You are wearing your brown one rather than your black one."

"So I am," he replied, wondering if all the candles in her candelabrum were lit.

Miss Bingley then moved to return the tea to the tray, when Mr. Bingley reached for the cup, announcing that "Some tea would be just the thing."

She was mortified and as he reached for it, she purposely tipped the cup, and it fell onto the floor. One thimble-full wasted, not to mention a mess on the floor. She would have to try again another time. She immediately called for someone to come clean up the mess and after the shards of the cup and saucer were picked up, the tea was duly mopped up and the water pitched out of doors.

When the others had retired to their rooms to dress for the evening, Miss Bingley remained in the drawing room and withdrew her book of spells from her reticule. She chose an easy spell, this being her first occasion to use the book, and it being more convenient by requiring the presence of neither the object of the spell nor any of her personal effects, but only the pronouncement of her name in the printed verse said aloud three times:
One spot, two spot, three spot four Mrs. Martin is now an eyesore.
She smiled to herself in smug satisfaction, as she finished chanting it a fourth time, for good measure.

That evening, the whole party was engaged to attend a public assembly in the nearby village of Meryton. There they were to make the acquaintance of the finest personages the neighborhood had to offer. Miss Bingley had no expectation of being impressed. On the whole, the event as well as the people who attended it were everything she had anticipated, vulgar, coarse, and utterly beneath her notice. The local squire was titled by virtue of little more than an accident of providence, while the wealthiest man in the country boasted an income less than half the size of her brother's – and even his estate, she had heard, was entailed away from his five daughters. The local society certainly left much to be desired. They were interested in nothing more than local concerns, the incomes of the single gentlemen of her own party, and speculation as to which of the local young ladies would win their hearts.

The prettiest girl in the country was the eldest of the aforementioned five daughters of the aforementioned estate owner, a Miss Bennet. Miss Bingley found her pretty enough and sweet enough, but perhaps not as fashionable as she would have preferred to desire furthering an intimate acquaintance with her. She had four sisters. The youngest two were not worth a moment's thought as they were both wild girls whose propriety was as lacking as their vanity was overflowing. The middle daughter was plain and otherwise unremarkable. But the second daughter, she was another story entirely. She had neither beauty, nor taste, nor elegance, nor refinement, nor fashion – this Caroline could perceive in an instant – but nevertheless, our heroine knew that this Miss Elizabeth Bennet would bring trouble and she chose to dislike her from the moment she set eyes on her.

Miss Bingley was strong in her conviction that Mr. Darcy could not give a second thought to a girl so far beneath him, especially one with so little to recommend her. Indeed, he had slighted her by refusing to dance with her. Miss Bingley had overheard his conversation with her brother wherein he claimed she was not handsome enough to tempt him to stand up with her. Unaccountably, Caroline took great satisfaction in this particular bit of incivility – though he acted with almost equal disdain to everyone present during the course of the evening. Nevertheless, she sensed that Miss Elizabeth already had designs on her Mr. Darcy.

The gentleman in question did, of course, dance with herself, and she relished his attention in doing so. She glanced at Miss Elizabeth with an expression of smug satisfaction and took his arm with a proprietary air. Let the local women fall over themselves for her brother's attentions, but she was determined that they should know Mr. Darcy was for her; certainly none of them could even dream of competing with her. Miss Bingley had the highest opinion of herself and considered herself the veritable standard of the accomplished gentlewoman.

On the way home in the carriage, she had the pleasure of listening to Mr. Darcy's strictures on the society they had been in company with. He had spent much of the evening protecting his sister against the ambitious young fortune hunters with nothing to recommend themselves except false charm and flattery. When the young men of the neighborhood had been sufficiently disparaged, the Bennet family followed. His remarks on Miss Elizabeth's looks and person answered all Miss Bingley could have hoped for. He even found fault with the beautiful Miss Bennet and her cavity-inducing sweetness, pronouncing that she "smiled too much." Charles, of course, took a different view. Never had he conceived an angel more lovely. Miss Bennet was the personification of feminine perfection. But since Mr. Bingley was often waxing poetic on some young woman or another, no one gave the least bit consideration to his present exclamations.

When they arrived home and entered the vestibule, they were met by Mrs. Martin. When Miss Bingley first saw her she screamed. Mrs. Martin's face was covered with blemishes. "Is aught the matter, Miss?" asked the housekeeper.

When the others saw Mrs. Martin, they were equally shocked and torn between turning away in disgust and staring out of morbid curiosity – similar to one's reaction at seeing a horrible carriage accident on the side of the road. Mr. Bingley said, "Are you unwell, Mrs. Martin?"

"I am well, sir, why do you ask?"

"You look ... uh, ... unwell." Then without asking leave of the intended patient, he immediately dispatched a footman to Meryton to fetch the apothecary, and ordered Mrs. Martin to her bed.

Miss Bingley had just recovered from her shock enough to rejoice in knowing that the spell had been quite effective, when Lucy came bounding into the room through the door left open by the footman on his way out. She had little time to wonder what he was doing in the house, for the dog was immediately upon her, jumping up and down, running circles around her, licking her affectionately, and even drooling all over her, all the while wagging his tail most passionately.

Chapter 4

The following morning, Miss Bingley was dreaming happily of being kissed by Mr. Darcy when she was awakened – and consequently all of Netherfield was awakened. The sound of the scream coming from Miss Bingley’s room caused Mrs. Hurst and Mr. Bingley to fear for their sister’s life, and they raced to her suite just as her maid also rushed in. There, they were met with the sight of Miss Bingley lying in her bed and fighting off the affections of Lucy, who was standing on the bed hovering over her face and licking her ardently. Miss Bingley struggled under the animal as she yelled, "Get this dog off of me," in between her panting breaths.

Within a moment, a few more maids of the household were in the room, while several of the household footmen, along with Mr. Hurst and Mr. Darcy, were assembled in the hallway outside Miss Bingley’s bedroom door. While the others were thus gathering, Mr. Bingley, being the only man in the room, had already lunged forward in true heroic fashion, in an effort to subdue the dog. In an attempt to avoid Bingley’s grasp, Lucy climbed nimbly over Miss Bingley to the opposite side of the bed. Bingley then ran around the bed to grab the animal from the other side and back Lucy jumped to the other side of Miss Bingley. The two went back and forth several times while Miss Bingley was trampled repeatedly – and it seemed as if one of the three was enjoying this game. As she lay under the romping animal, Miss Bingley attempted in vain to dodge the increasingly voluminous spillages of drool emanating from it. At last she gathered all her strength, and as the dog crossed over her, she pushed against it and heaved it onto the floor.

After glaring at her brother for a moment, she screamed, "How did that animal get back into this house?" She turned her angry eyes towards Lucy and pointed an accusatory finger at him as she spoke. Lucy, feeling the wrath of the object of his devotion upon him, crawled with some trepidation towards her and placed himself at her feet where he lowered his head in abject humility and let out a whimper. Unmoved, Miss Bingley yelled, "I want that mutt gone!" and stomped into her dressing room. Lucy followed at her heels, only to have the door slammed on his snout. The footmen were now allowed into the room and they dragged the dog away to be tied up at the stable.

When Miss Bingley was dressed, she went to sit in the drawing room before breakfast. As she approached the door, she heard a great crash and clattering of dishes and glassware from around the corner in the corridor. Following the source of the sound, she found a kitchen maid with her back pressed against the wall and her hand against her bosom, trembling and panting wildly, her eyes bright with fear and surrounded by broken crystal and china.

"What is it?" demanded the mistress. "Was that dog in here?"

"No ma’am," said the maid, "‘twas Mrs. Martin walking by ... I was so shocked ... I wasn’t prepared to see her ... I was told she was indisposed, but I had no idea ..."

Just then another crash was heard further down the corridor in the direction the girl had tilted her head when she’d mentioned Mrs. Martin’s name.

"Clean this up and be more careful," snapped Miss Bingley.

Then she went off to find the source of the second crash. This time she found a young house maid crouching on the floor in a puddle of water surrounded by broken glassware and fresh flowers, with tears flowing down her cheeks. Upon seeing her mistress, the maid merely pointed down the hall and said in a quivering voice, "Mrs. Martin."

Again, Miss Bingley instructed the maid to clean up the mess and then walked in the direction the maid had pointed in the hope of preventing further catastrophes. She heard another crash and followed the sound to the breakfast room. There she found two footmen staring absently at the other door to the room and holding empty trays. The family’s breakfast was strewn all over the floor.

Before mid-morning more than half of Netherfield’s staff had fled the house. Miss Bingley had not had breakfast, and to make matters worse, she was called upon by the Bennet ladies during the course of the morning and was forced to face them on an empty stomach.

Upon entering the drawing room, Miss Bingley had the unhappy pleasure of being met by all six of the Bennet women. She put on her best pageant smile as she wondered where her sister, Louisa, might be. After initial greetings were exchanged, which was no inconsequential space of time due to the superfluity of Bennets in the room, Miss Bingley rang the bell for refreshments. After the passage of a full five minutes without the appearance of a servant, she smiled prettily to her company and rang again. When no one appeared after several more minutes and she felt her ability to maintain the conversation waning, she suggested a walk outdoors.

Mrs. Bennet was not incredibly keen on the idea and had not given up the hope that Mr. Bingley might yet make an appearance. She was prevailed upon, not by the persuasion of her two eldest daughters but by her youngest who absently wondered whether they might meet with the gentlemen out of doors, to indulge in some fresh air and exercise.

After spending a quarter hour promenading through the pleasure gardens, the path led the party around behind the stables. There Miss Elizabeth spied Lucy tied outside the stable. The rope allowed the dog to reach the patch of ground in front of the door leading from Netherfield’s kitchen, and they all observed Lucy bound to the door as it opened and drink from the puddle created when someone pitched out a bucket of water. Miss Bingley now understood the source of Lucy’s infatuation.

Delighted with the prospect of making a new friend, Miss Elizabeth immediately moved towards the animal. Lucy, who had been lying recumbent on the ground with his eyes closed, immediately stood and faced her. He appeared puzzled and sniffed the air, then glanced at Miss Bingley and upon returning his gaze to Miss Elizabeth he began barking and growling at her ferociously, baring his teeth and lunging at her viciously to the extent allowed by his rope. Miss Bingley was startled at first, but her fear soon gave way to pleasure as the scene unfolded. Miss Elizabeth had frozen in place as the other Bennet ladies cowered back at a safe distance.

It was at this moment, just as Miss Bingley’s enjoyment of the scene was rising, that Mr. Darcy appeared from around the corner. He surveyed the scene and immediately sprang into action, taking Miss Elizabeth’s arm and leading her to a safe distance.

"Are you well?" he asked her tenderly.

"I am, thank you," she replied in a voice that sounded excessively coquettish to Miss Bingley’s ear. Only after this assurance was given did Mr. Darcy relinquish the fair damsel’s arm. He then turned to the dog, who was still lunging forcefully in Miss Elizabeth’s direction on the end of his taut rope. Darcy attempted to quiet the animal with commands and soothing words, but to no avail.

After a few moments, Miss Bingley stepped forward and spoke softly, "Lucy."

The dog immediately quieted and prostrated himself before her, whimpering as the rope went limp.

She walked to his side and he stood to meet her hand with his head. She patted him and said, "Now quiet down." Then she rejoined the ladies and said, "I do not know what could have gotten into him. He is really the sweetest creature," smiling insincerely into Miss Elizabeth’s skeptical eyes as Mr. Darcy looked on in awe. The Longbourn ladies took their leave soon after.

Miss Bingley immediately went to the kitchens to berate the entire staff for failing to respond to the bell earlier, but she was astonished to find an empty room. Seeking clues to their mysterious disappearance, she ran into her sister. Louisa was able to inform Caroline that the entire staff had quit and fled the house because they could not bear to work under the supervision of Mrs. Martin in her present state. Mrs. Martin was removed from Netherfield and Mr. Bingley had arranged for her to be placed in the care of a blind widow in Meryton. Miss Bingley now found herself at the task of hiring a housekeeper and staff for an entire house, among a small community where lived a good number of former employees who had fled the house in dread and fear and spread the word of their inability to work under such conditions. She did not even know where to begin.

Luckily, Louisa had the presence of mind to summon the five personal servants of all the inhabitants of the house who still remained. They were immediately rounded up and other duties divided among them. Their grumbling was only diminished by doubling their wages.

Miss Bingley finally had a private moment to seek out her spell book and undo the spell she had placed on Mrs. Martin. She found the reversal spell and repeated it three times, as indicated:
Out, damned spots! out, I say!
Then she remembered she had uttered the original spell four times and added a fourth chant of the reversal spell just to be safe.

Dinner was a meager affair, the gentlemen’s valets were adequate footmen, but the ladies’ maids were poor cooks. After dinner, Miss Bingley was relieved to at least have dominion over the tea pot. She fixed Darcy another cup of tea with a dose of her love potion, but he politely refused it. She was becoming a little frustrated with his lack of cooperation and did not know what to do with the tea. She could not simply leave it sitting out, the danger that someone else might drink it was too great; though, perhaps not entirely without benefit, she thought in reference to Lucy’s case. Finally, when no one was looking, she poured the tea into the pot of a small tree that was in the room. Another thimble full of love potion gone.

During the course of the ensuing fortnight the Netherfield party was invited to dine out three times with neighbors. They were unable, however, to return any invitations due to their lack of a household staff. Meanwhile, Miss Bingley was preoccupied with attempting to hire servants. At first it was difficult, but once she paraded the fully recovered Mrs. Martin through the streets of Meryton, she was able to hire a full staff.

These two weeks also brought about a change in Lucy’s status in the household. He was now Miss Bingley’s constant companion. He followed her everywhere and was admitted to every part of the house. It was even rumored among the new staff that Lucy slept in the mistress’ bed with her.

Miss Bingley took advantage of every opportunity during this time to attempt to serve her love potion to Mr. Darcy. Each of these attempts was foiled, however, with the gentleman left questioning Miss Bingley’s sanity.

With the house finally fully staffed again, Miss Bingley was able to breathe a sigh of relief and she began planning her own dinner party when they were obliged to spend an evening at Lucas Lodge. Miss Bingley found nothing to enjoy in the evening except the knowledge that Mr. Darcy shared her views on the tediousness of the evening and the unworthiness of the company. Her spirits were significantly dampened when she learned that not only had his thoughts not been bent in that direction, but that he admired the supposedly fine eyes of none other than Miss Elizabeth Bennet. She sighed discontentedly, longing for an end to the evening. How she missed Lucy!

Chapter 5

A few days after the party at Lucas Lodge, Miss Darcy joined Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst in the drawing room.

"Ah, dearest Georgiana it is so good to see you. Have you been unwell since our arrival?" asked Miss Bingley.

"No," she replied, "the authoress merely forgot that she had brought me to Netherfield when she wrote the last chapter."

Miss Bingley was affronted. "Of course, this would happen in a story about me! I'd wager if Elizabeth was the heroine, the authoress would not have forgotten such an important detail!" Lucy, who was lying at his mistress' feet, raised his head to give her a sympathetic look, let out an indignant huff in commiseration, and nuzzle her hand.

Mrs. Hurst rolled her eyes, and then in an effort to change the subject, said, "The gentlemen are to dine with the officers this evening, so we should have plenty of time for catching up."

"Oh, perhaps we could have some company for dinner this evening," said Miss Darcy, enthusiastically. "We could plan a girls' night with some of the local ladies. The Bennet Girls seemed very pleasant and I have not seen anyone since the Assembly."

Miss Bingley's expression showed her distaste for the idea. "I had hoped for a more intimate dinner this evening, with just the three of us. We will be having a large dinner party here next week, after all."

Mrs. Hurst suggested a compromise saying, "We can have company and still be an intimate party if we invite just one person. How about Miss Bennet? You seemed to find her tolerable, Carrie-Sue."

"Very well, I will send a note to Longbourn requesting Miss Bennet's company for dinner," replied Miss Bingley as she looked out the window. She only acquiesced because it looked like it would rain and perhaps that would prevent Miss Bennet from accepting the invitation.

Georgiana smiled out of both relief and pleasure. She did not wish to dine alone with Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, and she also wanted to get to know Miss Bennet.

To Miss Bingley's disappointment, Miss Bennet not only showed up for her dinner engagement, but she showed up on horseback and was consequently quite soaked as the rain had begun during her journey.

She was given a large shawl to wear over her sopping clothes before they went in to dinner. At dinner, Georgiana attempted to speak with Miss Bennet about the neighborhood, the society, and the surrounding countryside. But, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley continually bombarded her with questions regarding her family, her fortune and that of her sisters, her connections, and her situation. By the end of dinner it was evident that Miss Bennet was feeling very poorly.

As she rose to move to the drawing room, Miss Bennet swayed helplessly and collapsed back into her chair. She was escorted to one of the guest rooms where she was able to lie down. She continued to insist she'd be well enough to go home after just a few minutes’ rest. Georgiana remained in the room with her, but Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst returned to the drawing room.

"Well now our evening is ruined," said Caroline bitterly as Lucy curled up at her feet. "I do not know why you suggested inviting her in the first place."

"But isn't this what you wanted, a nice quiet evening?"

"I wanted a nice quiet evening with Miss Darcy!

"Ah, well, you'll just have to make do with my company."

The ladies continued in much the same manner, conversing for several minutes, until at length, Miss Bingley observed Mrs. Hurst staring blankly past her.

"Whatever is so captivating?" asked Miss Bingley, glancing in the direction her sister was gazing.

"Has that tree always leaned towards the right like that?"

"Leaning? Why Louisa, whatever is the matter with you? That tree is not leaning. Its trunk is perfectly straight. I am very pleased that my company is so interesting that you must stare at potted trees of all things!"

"Well, I am sure it is leaning. But it is of no consequence," she said with a brush of her hand.

Soon, Miss Darcy joined them and announced that Miss Bennet had fallen asleep. She would have to spend the night. After some conversation, the ladies decided to entertain themselves with some music. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst insisted that Miss Darcy play first. She obliged them, but would only play one song. Afterwards, Miss Bingley moved across the room to the instrument.

While her sister was in the middle of a perfectly executed concerto, Mrs. Hurst gasped loudly, interrupting the music, to Caroline's mind, rather rudely.

"For Heaven's sake, what is it Louisa?" asked Caroline.

"Look at the tree, Caroline. Now it's leaning the other way, towards the instrument."

"Nonsense, Louisa, the tree is as straight as ever it was. I am really becoming concerned about this apparent arboreal obsession of yours!"

"But do you not see? It is leaning to the left now, and before it was leaning to the right. It is very strange."

"Louisa!" snapped Caroline, "Trees do not move!"

Poor Georgiana, caught in the crossfire, simply gaped back and forth at the two of them as if she was watching a tennis match.

It was at this moment that the gentlemen entered the room. They were quickly informed of Miss Bennet's presence in the house and her condition. Mr. Bingley was beside himself with worry for her, but could not say he was displeased that she was spending the night in his home. He commissioned a well-trusted servant to have the apothecary summoned from Meryton at first light.

Miss Bingley moved from the instrument to order supper and then resumed her seat near Mrs. Hurst, as the gentlemen made themselves comfortable. Mr. Bingley continued speaking of Miss Bennet, asking questions until he was satisfied on every detail of how the ladies had passed the evening, and speculating on what could be the matter with her, and how soon she might recover.

After a few moments of conversation, Mr. Darcy took the opportunity, during a brief pause in Mr. Bingley's expression of concern for Miss Bennet, to observe, "Bingley, is that tree leaning to the right?"

"Ha!" said Mrs. Hurst, triumphantly. "I told you it was leaning, Carrie!"

"Yup," added Hurst, "it's leaning."

"What?" said Bingley.

"Don't say what, say pardon," replied his sisters in unison.

"Pardon?" Bingley sputtered obediently, looking to Darcy in confusion.

"The tree," said Darcy, gesturing.

"Oh, the tree. Looks straight to me. Do you suppose I should ask Cook to prepare some chicken soup in the morning?"

Lucy arose from his position to walk over to the tree and sniff it thoroughly. He regarded it indifferently, then resumed his place near Miss Bingley.

"How very odd," said Darcy, philosophically.

"Indeed," added Hurst.

"Yes, chicken soup will be just the thing," said Bingley.

The following morning, a note was dispatched to Longbourn explaining Miss Bennet's condition, the fattest chicken in Netherfield's coop had a very bad day, and the apothecary was indeed summoned to visit and examine Miss Bennet. He determined she had caught a bad cold in consequence of getting wet through the night before, and would be well after a few days' rest. No sooner had he left the house than Lucy began barking viciously. Miss Bingley had just quieted him when Miss Elizabeth Bennet was shown into the breakfast room. "I might have known," Miss Bingley muttered under her breath.

Miss Bingley exchanged a knowing glance with her sister after they both had an opportunity to take in Miss Elizabeth's appearance. She looked positively wild. Her face flushed, her hair blowsy, and her petticoat a full six inches deep in mud, they were absolutely certain. They could not imagine the circumstances meriting her having walked the three miles from Longbourn. And, Miss Bingley could have sworn that Miss Elizabeth had looked upon Darcy as a lioness looks upon a baby antelope, in the wilds of Africa, immediately before striking.

Miss Elizabeth was shown to her sister's room. Later Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst shared their thoughts about her with Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. The former defended Miss Elizabeth admirably, but our heroine was most perturbed by Mr. Darcy's observation that the exercise had brightened Miss Elizabeth's fine eyes.

The next few days were absolute torture. Miss Elizabeth, who had extorted an invitation to remain until her sister was better, was dangling after Mr. Darcy quite shamelessly, and made every attempt to ingratiate herself with Miss Darcy. It was disgusting really, and quite nauseating for Miss Bingley to witness. At first, Miss Bingley was inclined to laugh at the injudiciousness of Miss Elizabeth's efforts. She argued with Mr. Darcy at every opportunity and seemed to purposely disagree with his every opinion. Indeed, Miss Bingley felt sorry for the girl, who obviously had no idea what men really desired in a wife. What was Miss Eliza trying to do? Prove her intelligence? How absurd! Men like Darcy wished only for wives who would cater to their ego and agree with them like any good hostess should. But soon, it became evident that Darcy was not wholly impervious to Miss Elizabeth's charms. He paid a great deal more attention to her than Miss Bingley approved.

On the evening of Miss Elizabeth's arrival, Miss Bingley was playing cards at one end of the drawing room with her brothers and sister when Darcy noted, "Good Lord, Bingley, I do believe the tree is leaning in a different direction now."

Mrs. Hurst confirmed his observation with a shocked, "It is indeed!"

No one else seemed interested in the tree. Later, Miss Bingley ended the card game and moved to the instrument in an effort to put an end to her rival's unscrupulous flirting with Mr. Darcy – which was thinly veiled as verbal sparring – by playing at the pianoforte. She had not been playing long, when Mr. Darcy looked up from the book he had been reading and said, "Good Heavens, it is leaning towards the pianoforte now."

"It is!" said Mrs. Hurst. Her husband may have supported the observation further had he been awake to notice. "I do believe it is following you about, Carrie."

"That is complete nonsense," said Miss Bingley – who had stopped playing upon hearing the sound of Mr. Darcy's voice – even as she recalled pouring cup after cup of love potion laced tea into the tree's pot.

There was some general speculation about whether the tree leaned in different directions and what could be causing it. Miss Bingley was asked to move about and stand in various positions around the room, while the others watched the tree carefully to detect any movement. Lucy, of course, followed his mistress to each new location and then looked expectantly at the tree. Mr. Hurst had even awoken to join the fun. The worst part, though, was the participation of Miss Elizabeth in the sport. After having had quite enough of being treated like the proverbial laboratory mouse, Miss Bingley tired of the experiment and left the room. Lucy followed at her heels, but paused before exiting the room to glance back at the tree and make a smug, scoffing sound.

Over the next few days, Miss Elizabeth continued her audacious pursuit of Mr. Darcy, and to Miss Bingley's disgust, he seemed to be playing right into her hands. Their “verbal sparring” continued, and now encompassed conjecture regarding the famed drawing room tree and how its apparent conquest by Miss Bingley had been accomplished. Mr. Hurst found sufficient entertainment in the subject to stay awake and partake in the speculation regarding his sister-in-law. Miss Bingley made an effort to deflect further discussion of the tree's apparent preference for herself by talking of the dinner party planned for next week. It was then that her brother mentioned his plan of having a ball instead of a dinner. Miss Bingley tried to dissuade him from this course, but upon Miss Elizabeth's assurance that her sister would be pleased to attend a ball at Netherfield, he was resolved.

During the Miss Bennets' stay at Netherfield, Miss Bingley made no further attempt to serve Mr. Darcy her tainted tea. She would not attempt the spell in Miss Elizabeth's presence. To her further frustration, however, Darcy seemed to be more inclined to drink tea than ever during this interim. At long last, Miss Bennet's health returned, and the sisters finally took leave of Netherfield. Miss Bingley could not have been happier about their departure. But she had at least gained some insight from their visit into Miss Elizabeth's designs and Mr. Darcy's vulnerabilities. She had to do something before the Netherfield Ball. After the debacle with Mrs. Martin she was hesitant to use her spell book again. But she knew she had to be prepared to confront her rival on the evening of the ball.

The following morning, Miss Bingley wracked her brain for ideas as she made her way through Meryton. If only she could go to London and consult the coven again. She was at a loss as to how to proceed with winning Mr. Darcy and extinguishing his attraction to Miss Elizabeth. She entered a confectionery in search of comfort and had just ordered a selection of treats from a young freckled girl when she noticed a design seemingly drawn on the inside of the girl's wrist.

"What is that?" asked Miss Bingley.

"It is a tattoo," she replied, pulling her hand away.

"But the design," said Carrie, "I have seen it before."

The young lady was surprised. "Have you? Where?"

"At a shop in London."

"Do you happen to know the name of the proprietor?"

"Mrs. Norris."

The befreckled girl smiled widely. "My aunt!"

"Your aunt?"

"Yes, my father's sister. I haven't seen her since my parents died. My uncle, my mother's brother, took me in after their death. Aunt Norris wished me to go live with her and her … pupils in Town, but my uncle would not allow it." Then the girl remembered herself and said, "Forgive me, my name is Miss Mary King."

"I am Miss Caroline Bingley, pleased to meet you, Miss King."

"Likewise, and please call me Mary."

"Very well, then you must call me Caroline," replied Miss Bingley, though she disdained the appearance of intimacy with a working class girl.

"I shall be happy to, Caroline. Now, tell me, have you seen my aunt? Is she well?"

Miss Bingley assured the young lady that her relations were quite well when she saw them in London, then proceeded to ask cautiously. "Do you know aught of your aunt's ... craft?"

"I know a little, but my skill lies primarily in another area.

"Really?" asked Miss Bingley, with great curiosity.

"But how do you know of my aunt's abilities? Did you have occasion to avail yourself of her services?"

Miss Bingley briefly confided the nature of her experience with the London coven to Miss King and explained her present difficulties.

Miss King smiled. "I know just what you need. And, you will not find it in that spell book! Come." She locked the front door to the shop and then led Miss Bingley into the back room. They passed through another small door in one corner, after Miss King opened it using a key she wore around her neck.

Miss Bingley was a bit apprehensive about entering the room after her experience with this girl's relations in London. However, a glance through the doorway soon revealed that it was filled with many bolts of different fabrics and various other trinkets used in the making of what appeared to be rag dolls. Miss King picked up one of the white dolls from a basket in the corner. It had black buttons for eyes and a small stitch of red thread that curved into a teasing smile. "That's her!" said Miss Bingley. They fitted the doll with appropriate clothing. Then Miss King began chanting over the doll in some unknown language while she burned some very odd smelling substance she called incense. She handed Miss Bingley what appeared to be a rudimentary wooden drum and a tambourine and told her to play while she danced about the room with the doll, singing.

When she had finished the ritual, Miss King handed the doll to Miss Bingley with a small box. Miss Bingley opened the box and saw that it contained several large pins. "I have placed a spell of a rather exotic nature on the doll, Caroline. Whatever you do to the doll will happen to Miss Elizabeth, so be very careful with it."

"Oh," said Miss Bingley, who hadn't had any idea what was going on until now. "Thank you so much, Mary."

"You are quite welcome. That will be one hundred pounds."

"A hundred pounds? Surely the fabric and buttons could not cost so much."

"No, but I believe my artistic skill has some value. It is really all a matter of supply and demand. There is not a terribly large market for my craft hereabouts so I have to make my profit where I can."

"Oh very well," said Miss Bingley, handing over the money. She left the place quickly, cradling her doll as she started to make her way back to Netherfield, grinning in anticipation of using it at the ball.

Chapter 6

As Caroline made her way down one of Meryton's back alleys towards the direction of Netherfield, clutching her Eliza-doll closely, she fantasized about all the misery she could inflict on Miss Elizabeth Bennet using the doll. She would be able to foil the little gold-digger once and for all and give Darcy the means of seeing her for what she really was. Then Caroline would have a chance to return Darcy's attention to where it belonged – herself. She was drawn from her happy reverie by the sound of voices chattering in the street. There was one in particular that she could distinguish – that sweet, lyrical little laugh tinkling through the air. She would recognize the sound of her nemesis anywhere.

She crept up a side street; and, from her hidden vantage point, could see four of the Miss Bennets standing on the corner talking to several of the officers and another strikingly handsome man who was with them. A man dressed in clerical garb also stood with the ladies. Caroline wrinkled her nose when she saw him. He was sweating ... in November, was painfully unattractive – painful to anyone who had the misfortune to look upon him, that is – and was waxing poetic about some woman of rank and her windows.

Miss Eliza was smiling suggestively – like the little tramp she was – at the plain-clothed young man, who Caroline had heard called Mr. Wickham. Caroline gently took out one of the pins and then shoved the box in her pocket. First, she grazed the pin across the back of the doll's neck. To her glee, Miss Eliza swatted at the back of her neck. Caroline smiled and jumped up and down in her delight. She tried again, this time poking the doll with the pin. "Ouch," said Miss Eliza as she rubbed the back of her neck."

"Are you quite all right?" asked this Wickham fellow.

"Oh yes, I am well."

Just then, Caroline saw her brother and her husband, er, and Mr. Darcy, ride up to the group. "Aha," Caroline said to herself, pleased that Darcy would see Elizabeth flirting with another man, "now my one true love will see the little strumpet for what she is."

Caroline clutched the doll to her as she watched in nervous anticipation, accidentally sticking the pin hard into the doll's hip. "Ow," screamed Eliza, as she fell to the ground in excruciating pain. Caroline immediately realized her mistake and withdrew the pin. But it was too late. Darcy had dismounted and was offering his services to the young lady.

"Is there anything I can get you for your present relief?" he asked as he cradled her in his arms.

Wickham was also doting on her. "A glass of wine perhaps?"

The parson, too, was particularly concerned for her well-being. "Allow me to summon the apothecary."

Jane was too busy gazing into Charles' eyes to notice anything amiss with her sister. Caroline rolled her eyes. It was too much!

It was Mr. Collins' inclusion in the trio of gents who came to her aid that led Elizabeth to assure them all that she was quite well – the pain had subsided. She stood to her feet and noticed a look of passionate dislike pass between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. Mr. Collins, however, was looking at Darcy with a far different kind of passion, and she shuddered.

Knowing her Eliza-doll was effective, Caroline headed home to make plans for using it at the ball next week. Upon arriving at Netherfield she went up to her room to place the doll safely under her pillow ... no wait, as tempting as suffocating Miss Eliza might be, it would ruin Caroline's plans for the ball. She carefully placed the doll on the window seat in her room and pulled the drapes closed in front of it. Then she rushed downstairs to join Louisa and Georgiana.

In the meantime, Lucy was doing his usual rounds of inspecting his mistress' chambers, and discovered the doll on her window seat. He intuitively recognized it as an enemy. At first he regarded it curiously, then he barked at it furiously. Finally, he knew he had to remove the distasteful item from his mistress' hallowed quarters.

He carried it outdoors and Elizabeth, who was sitting at Longbourn with her sisters working diligently as all proper young ladies did, suddenly had the sensation that she was floating. Lucy at first started to dig a hole, and threw the doll to the side to begin his work. Elizabeth was relieved the sensation had stopped. Then, Lucy decided the little doll would make an excellent chew toy. Elizabeth suddenly felt like she was being mauled. She began screaming and flailing about the parlour – much to the dismay of her poor mother. She was taken to her room and put to bed and the apothecary summoned, before Lucy tired of his play. He was about to pitch the doll into the hole when Mr. Darcy walked by.

"What do you have there?" he said.

The dog didn't answer.

Darcy then proceeded to wrestle Lucy for the doll and was finally successful in removing it from the animal's teeth – after Elizabeth gave further proof of her insanity to her family.

Finally, having taken possession of the doll, Darcy looked at it curiously. It was beautiful. It looked just like her: The soft pale cheeks, the rosy lips, the gentle curves of her figure. He caressed its face, and Elizabeth sighed in contentment. Then he cradled it as he took it up to his room to place out of the reach of Caroline's mutt. Elizabeth fell asleep in her bed to the rocking sway of Darcy's gait as he mounted Netherfield's stairs. He placed the Lizzy-doll in a capacious drawer of his wardrobe, nestled atop a pile of his neatly folded cravats.

Elizabeth awoke from her nap feeling rested and refreshed, with a pleasant, yet somehow manly scent wafting through the air around her. The apothecary had come and gone, not wanting to disturb her slumber, advising Mr. Bennet to summon him again should there be a relapse. Elizabeth joined the family for dinner and seemed fine for the rest of the day.

After dinner, Caroline made another attempt to serve Darcy a dose of tea with her potion in it. He took it from her and she was so shocked that he'd accepted it, that she forgot to prepare to perform the spell. She immediately lifted up her foot and put her hand over her heart. She reached out to touch Darcy as he looked into the tea. He took a step back just as she was reaching for him, and she stumbled forward, almost falling to the floor. He looked at her with a frown and asked, "Are you trying to kill me?"

"No, of course not, I just ..."

He showed her the cup and she noticed a fly floating on top of it, struggling to get out of the hot tea. "Ew," she said.

Darcy laughed and placed the cup on the tray, to be removed by the servants.

"Here let me fix you a fresh cup," she offered eagerly, going to the teapot.

"No," he replied, "I'll do it myself." Darcy prepared his own tea as she stared at the discarded cup. What was she to do with it? She could not pour it in the tree pot now, they would all be suspicious and possibly figure her out.

The others sat down to play cards, but Caroline refused to join them. She could not allow anything to distract her from keeping track of that cup of tea. She simply sat in a chair near the tray and stared at it, trying to figure out how to best dispose of it. Everyone ignored the potted tree as it leaned in her direction – they had all grown quite used to the phenomenon.

A few minutes later Caroline was disturbed from her strategic reverie by a buzzing sound. She waved her hand around wildly trying to swat at the annoying fly. The buzzing finally stopped, and Caroline was relieved, but when she turned to her left she could see the little bug sitting contentedly on her shoulder. Caroline sighed. It seemed she had another admirer. She knew if she swatted it away it would just keep buzzing around her. Anyway, she'd read somewhere that houseflies had a life-span of 24 hours. This one had certainly lost its youthful glow. By tomorrow it would be gone.

A maid entered the room and began to remove the tray. "No!" cried Caroline with a little too much alarm in her tone. Everyone looked at her curiously. "Um ... I may drink more tea later."

"Very good ma'am," said the girl as she curtsyed and left the room.

Caroline waited until everyone else retired. Once they left the room, she was finally able to dispose of the tainted tea. She figured the tree's pot was the best place to put it, since it was already affected. Then she gently stroked its leaves before leaving the room with Lucy following behind her and the fly on her shoulder.

She was happy to arrive in her rooms and to have a chance to check on her Eliza-doll. She was shocked and dismayed to discover it missing. She searched her room for it frantically – emptying drawers, stripping the bed, overturning furniture. A half-hour later she was satisfied it was not in her suite, and she was exhausted. She fell asleep in her dinner clothes, on her naked bed.

Meanwhile, once Darcy had arrived in his rooms, he immediately retrieved the Lizzy-doll and hugged it to him as he slept. As Elizabeth lay in her bed at Longbourn she felt herself wrapped in a warm, cozy embrace and slept in peaceful contentment.

The next few days brought rain and an interrogation to Netherfield. Miss Bingley inquired of the staff again and again regarding her lost doll. She questioned them as a group, and spoke to each of them individually. She threatened, bribed, and eventually begged them to tell her where the doll was, but to no avail.

Finally, the day before the ball, Caroline sat in her room sobbing. She had gone to Meryton in the rain, but Miss King could not make another doll of the same person until the spell was reversed on the first. The doll had to be found. Lucy, sensing his mistress' agitation, came to nuzzle her hand. "Oh, Lucy," she said, "It is gone. Gone." He looked at her curiously and she said, "The doll. My Eliza-doll has gone missing." Lucy then jumped to the window seat and barked in the corner where the doll had been. "Oh Lucy, did you see it there?" The dog walked towards her and prostrated himself in front of her. "Did you take it, Lucy?" she asked. He whimpered. "I know you were only trying to help. It reminded you of my enemy and you wished to rid my room of it. I am not angry, but you must find it. Please find it for me." Lucy took off running. He searched the house. Then he remembered who had taken the doll. He went to Darcy's rooms but the door was closed. He stood in front of the door, waiting until morning when the man who had stolen his mistress' doll would emerge. Darcy was inside sleeping soundly, hugging his Lizzy-doll to his chest – as he had done every night since the day he took possession of it – unaware that Lucy stood sentry outside his door waiting to deprive him of it.

On the morning of the ball, Darcy awoke early, dressed, and went whistling down to breakfast in the best of moods. As soon as he was out the door, Lucy snuck into his room before it closed behind him. He soon sniffed out the doll, but he was unable to open the drawer where it was stashed. He ran to Caroline's room and awoke her by licking her hands and face. "Mr. Darcy," she muttered. Then she opened her eyes and said, "Lucy?" The dog jumped up and down and spun around once or twice. "Have you found it?" she asked. He became more excited. She patted his head and said, "Good boy," then rang for her maid. As soon as she was dressed, she looked at Lucy and said, "Show me."

Lucy led her to Darcy's room and looked at the door, which had been closed by a servant. She said, "It is in Mr. Darcy's room?" The dog jumped against the door. She opened the door cautiously and crept into his room. Lucy led her to the wardrobe and she opened the drawer he put his nose to. There it was. She grabbed the doll and closed the drawer as she turned to leave the room. Just then, Mr. Darcy walked in. She quickly put the doll behind her back.

"What are you doing?" asked Darcy.

"I was looking for you," answered Miss Bingley as she waved the doll inconspicuously behind her back until Lucy took the hint and removed it from her hands.

"Looking for me? Whatever for?"

She moved towards him in an effort to distract him, while Lucy slunk out through the dressing room with the doll. "I was wondering if you'd care to join me for a walk in the garden."

"It is raining."

She looked towards the window. "Oh. So it is. Perhaps later."

With that, she returned to her rooms, where Lucy was awaiting her with the Eliza-doll. "Oh what a good dog you are," she said enthusiastically, scratching his ears. "Thank you!"

She took the doll from him and locked it in her trunk along with the box of pins, until the evening. Now she was ready for the ball.

Chapter 7

Caroline examined her reflection in the mirror. She looked very well swathed in a delightful orange confection of the latest style. Her skirt was trimmed in layers of peach-coloured lace. Her decolletage dipped daringly low and was embellished with rows of beading in coral and salmon shades, yet pushed to an exquisite height by the tightness of her undergarments. Her hair was swept up in an elegant arrangement with tangerine-colored ribbons woven throughout, perfectly complementing the three extraordinarily long feathers that erupted from her coiffure, and tantalizing wisps had been left to curl down her neck in a most provocative way. She wore an abundance of necklaces and bracelets and rings, and earrings that stretched to her shoulders, all inlaid with dozens of delicate citrine stones. Her final adornment was a matching shawl, gloves, slippers, and reticule of deep fiery-sienna velvet. Her face was perfectly made up with rouge and scarlet paint on her lips. She could not fail of attracting Mr. Darcy's attention this night.

"Good evening, I am Mrs. Darcy, this is my husband, Mr. Darcy. It is a pleasure to meet you," she cooed to her image in the glass, then laughed to herself and spun around in glee. "Soon," she said. "Soon." Lucy was standing to her side looking back and forth between Caroline and her reflection. "What do you think?" she asked. He cocked his head to one side regarding her reflection, then barked his approval. She smiled and patted his head. "Now for the finishing touch," she said, walking over to her trunk. She unlocked it, opened it and removed her Eliza-doll along with the box of pins. She carefully placed them in her reticule with the vial containing the last few precious drops of her love potion, and looped it securely around her wrist. (She did not need a thimble, she had already measured out the remaining potion and had only one treasured dose left, she could not fail in her use of it.)

This was to be an evening of import. She could feel it. She felt it in her very bones. Tonight was the night in which her fate would be fixed. It would all happen in this one momentous evening.

As Miss Bingley glided down the stairway to join her brother in the receiving line, she saw that he was standing at the bottom next to Mr. Darcy. Both gentlemen looked up upon hearing her approach and she could immediately perceive their awe. She smiled broadly. Both gaped up at her in muted adoration. They were stunned by her beauty. "Good evening gentlemen," she said in a tone of pretended modesty, as she averted her eyes. They continued staring at her unbelievingly. She rolled her eyes, sighed, and said, "Men!" Then took her place in the receiving line.

They were soon joined by Mr. and Mrs. Hurst. When the former first saw his sister-in-law he immediately broke out in peals of laughter. His wife, however, soon quieted him then turned to her sister and said, "My dear Carrie-Sue, perhaps you do not need quite so many frills this evening."

"Nonsense, Louisa. This shall be my evening to shine. My effervescent illumination will dim the very stars in the sky. My entire life has been leading up to this one occasion. My one true love will emerge from the slumber of his heart this night and claim me as his own. His very soul will serenade me. From this night forward only I shall exist for him! He will never see another woman. He will be perfectly devoted to me forever and he will adore me even into the afterlife and for all eternity! Our heavenly selves will revel in a perpetuation of our Earthly attachment!"

"Alrighty, then," said Louisa, turning away from her sister with wide eyes and a nervous flinch in her stomach. Mr. Hurst's laughter was renewed, but this time remained unchecked by his wife.

The guests began to arrive and each one, man and woman alike, was equally affected by Miss Bingley's appearance. All were wide-eyed. All could barely formulate words in the face of her beauty. Their wonderment was empowering to her. Finally, she was being venerated, adored, exalted, as she so deserved. She smiled to everyone with all the graciousness of a goddess.

Finally, her nemesis entered the room. Miss Elizabeth Bennet was so simple, so inelegant, so unadorned, Miss Bingley nearly scoffed upon seeing her. Obviously, she had not even bothered dressing for the evening. She must be still in her morning dress. She must have realized all her efforts at ensnaring Mr. Darcy and shackling him to herself would be in vain. She had given up her suit. Miss Bingley overheard Mr. Darcy telling Miss Elizabeth that she looked very well. He must have taken pity on her. He was ever the magnanimous gentleman. She would put a stop to that!

After everyone had arrived, Mr. Bingley and Miss Bennet led the way to the dance floor to open the dancing. Miss Bingley waited patiently for Mr. Darcy to approach her and solicit her hand for this all-important first pair of dances (she was a little vexed with him for not engaging her in advance of the ball) but he did not. She ventured a glance in his direction. He was turned away from her. She walked towards him, quickening her pace as the first strains of music began to play. He had simply forgotten, he was not attending. She would have to teach him to be more cognizant of her situation. "Excuse me, sir," she said, "the dancing is about to start."

"So it is," he replied, shrinking from her with a half-frightened look and moving to the other end of the room. Now she comprehended his feelings. The poor dear. He was quite intimidated by her beauty. Fearful of rejection. She must reassure him.

She began making her way towards him again when she heard Mrs. Hurst and Mr. Hurst arguing. The former was saying, "The hostess of the ball cannot be without a partner for the first dances."

"I will not dance with her," bellowed Mr. Hurst in a pretend whisper.

Miss Bingley turned sharply toward her sister. "You do not truly expect me to dance with my own brother-in-law to open this ball?"

"Oh forgive me," replied Louisa, "I did not notice the long line of gentlemen waiting their turn to solicit your hand."

"They are all too frightened," replied Caroline pityingly.

"I'll say," said Hurst. His wife gave him a commanding look, but he was adamant in his refusal. "She clearly does not wish it," he replied, grabbing a glass of wine from a nearby tray. Then he added thoughtfully, "Perhaps later in the evening, when much of the wine has been consumed she will be more solicited." He then left them to join Darcy.

Caroline was a bit frustrated by the apparent lack of men in the room with any courage! She walked about the room proudly, content to simply watch the dancers. Everywhere she went she drew the eyes of everyone. Several gentlemen, being distracted, moved wrong in the dance in consequence of their being unable to refrain from gawking at her. She caught a glimpse of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, dancing with the very same odious parson she had been standing with on the street in Meryton the day Caroline purchased the Eliza-doll. He trampled Miss Elizabeth's delicate toes more than once, much to Caroline's delight.

As it was, several of the officers were standing in a corner noticing Miss Bingley's beauty. They began to talk of daring one another to dance with her. Bets were laid out, money changed hands, and Miss Bingley was secured for the second set of dances. She was pleased to see a man in the room able to overcome the awe that her appearance must provoke and step forward to claim what he must most desire. And she was certain she looked very smart on the arm of an army officer.

At the end of the second set, she found herself again partnerless, yet confident until the first steps of the third dance set commenced that another young swain would have the courage to approach her. None did and she watched surreptitiously as the decanters of wine were emptied into their glasses, recalling Mr. Hurst's prophecy.

When the dancers began to line up for the third set she could not believe her eyes when she witnessed her Mr. Darcy leading Miss Elizabeth Bennet to the dance! It was not to be borne! Drastic measures were required. Here was the moment that would determine if Miss King was worth her price! Caroline made her way, quietly, stealthily to a corner of the room where she could be hidden by one of the additional potted trees that had been brought in to adorn the place for the ball. She looked around her furtively and then removed the little doll from her reticule. She drew one long, slender pin from the little box. She stabbed potently at one ankle of the Eliza-doll and simpered with glee as Miss Elizabeth suddenly lifted that foot into the air, grasping at her ankle in obvious pain. Mr. Darcy immediately offered his arm and led her from the dance floor. But, before they had gotten far, the other ankle received a similar blow. Miss Elizabeth screamed in pain jumping back and forth between her two feet as her father walked up and supported her other side. The pin was then thrust into her back and she arched her spine in a most unnatural way. Caroline grimaced at the sight.

Mrs. Bennet had already begun fluttering towards her darling child who was soon seated in a chair and seemed perfectly well. Miss Elizabeth began assuring her family there was nothing the matter when yet another yelp escaped her in consequence of Miss Bingley sticking the pin in the doll's arm. Mr. Darcy had taken the chair next to her and was offering comforting words as well as any assistance he could render. Miss Bingley raised the pin above the doll to plunge it into its head – half curious to see the effect it would cause – but instead drove the pin into her own flesh by accident. She screamed in agony as blood began to drip from her finger. Everyone turned to look at her. The music stopped, the dancing stopped – all except for Miss Lydia Bennet who continued dancing merrily without any music at all until she noticed her partner looking at her strangely. Caroline hurriedly hid the doll behind her back, then covertly dropped it into the large pot holding the tree behind which she'd been standing. A nearby footman gave her a napkin to stop the bleeding and all was well. Miss King walked to her side and while Caroline was telling the musicians to resume their playing she scooped up the doll into her own reticule.

The dance recommenced while Miss King admonished Miss Bingley to take greater care in using the doll. "You cannot leave it lying about. It would be disastrous for it to end up in the wrong hands." Miss Bingley thanked her and asked for the doll back. "It is too dangerous," replied Miss King. She extended her reticule and said, "Trade with me." Miss Bingley readily complied, checking the colour of Miss King's reticule to make sure it would not clash with her own ensemble. It was not as elegant as she might wish – surprising, considering what Miss King charged for her services – but it would do.

Caroline knew her office as hostess. She went over to Miss Elizabeth and asked whether she were well. Then, in spite of being assured of Miss Elizabeth's feeling quite fine, she looked at Mrs. Bennet and said with great solicitude, "I am frightfully concerned for Miss Elizabeth's health. I would wish you to know we would not be at all offended if your party was obliged to leave us. She appears pale to me, I think she should be at home, resting from such an ordeal. I have never witnessed anyone to be so possessed by seizures. I wonder what could be the cause of it. Surely, she must be suffering from some dreadful malady."

Miss Elizabeth protested again that she was quite all right. She would stay at the ball. Mr. Darcy, however, supported Miss Bingley saying that if Miss Elizabeth was in the least bit unwell, she should take every precaution with her health. He obviously wished her gone as much as Caroline did! Mrs. Bennet, however, was not disposed at all to leave the ball, or to have any of her daughters leave it. She said, "Thank you for your kindness, Miss Bingley, but she is perfectly fine now, as you can see. It was merely a passing sensation." Mr. Bennet did not seem inclined to contradict his wife, and so they were to remain.

Frustrated, Miss Bingley moved away from them. She danced with another couple of officers, who were full of smirks and sideways glances to their friends. Soon, it was time for supper. This was to be the culmination of all Miss Bingley's well-laid plans. Indeed, this would be Mr. Darcy's last meal as a free man. He would no longer be able to resist the attraction of his one true love afterwards! She patted her reticule, thinking of her potion, and then blanched as she realized it was not in this reticule at all. She instantly began scanning the room for Miss King, but she was nowhere to be found!

The guests were sitting down to supper, the time for the fruition of all Miss Bingley's designs was at hand and the most instrumental object in accomplishing her wishes was out of her reach. She looked about the room in desperation. What was she to do? She swatted at a fly that buzzed near her face as she murmured to herself, "Oh, if only Lucy were here to assist me! He could sniff out the little witch!" She was soon relieved of the infernal buzzing around her head as the fly zipped off in the direction of her quarters.

Very soon afterwards, Lucy bounded into the room. Finding his mistress in a moment, he stood before her, erect as a soldier, ready to do her bidding. The company was astonished to see the animal amongst them. Some of the gentlemen laughed, some of the very delicate ladies screamed, some of the guests just stared in wonderment. "I need you to find my reticule," Miss Bingley whispered to him. He was on the case!

Miss King was not, in actuality, terribly far off. As it happens, she managed to lure a redcoat into the library to discuss the merits of Mr. Bingley's collection of books. The conversation was by necessity a very short one. Luckily, however, they discovered sufficient amusement to justify their having walked all the way to the library, which now kept them there. And they were presently situated between the shelves occupied in a mightily passionate exchange. In short, they were partaking in a rather delicious snog.

The beastly sound of a determined being was heard entering the room and Miss King adjusted her dress, fearful that it was her uncle. Instead, they encountered a dog – a dog with a singular mission. He approached her purposefully and snatched at the reticule hanging from her wrist. At first she would not give it up and shooed him away. The soldier – gallant as he undoubtedly was – tried to push Lucy back from Miss King. But Lucy quickly dispensed with his valiance by pushing him onto the floor and growling rather wildly in a manner that brooked no opposition. He was not to be diverted from his purpose and Miss King was forced to relinquish the item with an "I hope Miss Bingley will not be too disappointed!" The dog raced from the room, the reticule gently clutched between his teeth, leaving the two to return to their prior activities in peace.

Lucy returned to his mistress, his mission accomplished. She patted his head, accepting the soggy accouterment from him. Then she realized how silly she would look with two reticules in hand and sent him to her rooms with Miss King's. Upon his departure from the room, Miss Elizabeth again began to feel queasy as if she was suffering from motion sickness. She had felt somewhat like she had been floating all evening, but now she felt the sensation more keenly, more violently. In a few moments, however, it passed and she felt at ease. Her cousin, Mr. Collins, however, had been particularly concerned by her preoccupation, expressing apprehension for her well-being. He had been telling her of his intent to introduce himself to Mr. Darcy, in consequence of his own connection to that gentleman's aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who was his patroness. Miss Elizabeth had made every possible attempt, given her dizziness and present agitation, to dissuade him from such an inadvisable purpose, but he would not hear her admonitions.

Meanwhile Miss Bingley, upon receiving her own reticule back, immediately set about preparing a cup of tea for Mr. Darcy. She knew he would desire a cup after his supper as had been his habit of late. She added the potion to his tea and two sugars, no milk, just as she had been instructed. She approached him saying to herself under her breath, "Double, double toil and trouble / Fire burn and cauldron bubble ..." She handed him the cup and to her delight he took it! She stood on her right foot, placed her left hand over her heart and extended her right hands towards his. All her most precious dreams were about to come true.

He lifted the cup to his lips. She urged him to drink it all in one gulp. Then just as he was about to imbibe and she was in the process of uttering the all-important phrase, Mr. Collins approached Mr. Darcy to make his intended introduction. Mr. Darcy's elbow – poised outwardly as it necessarily was for him to drink the tea – was jostled by the parson. Mr. Darcy lurched forward, bumping Miss Bingley's outstretched arm to the side and sending his tea flying in the direction of Mr. Collins, who was effectively doused. Miss Bingley's hand landed on Mr. Collins' breast just as several drops of the tea splattered about his face. She still stood on one foot and everything happened in such quick succession she had not ceased quoting the Bard. Suddenly, she was all fear and panic when only a moment before she had been euphoric, triumphant. She watched the glistening drop of tea that had settled on his upper lip in silent, terrified suspense as his tongue inevitably darted out to catch it. "Noooooo," she screamed regaining the floor with both her feet. But it was all too late. She watched in disgust as the parson's expression became serene. Then she remembered the fob. He could not be affected by the potion without Darcy's fob. She glanced down at Mr. Collins' breeches and was stricken with every sensation of alarm and pain and disgust. It was the very same fob she had taken to the coven in London!

She looked pleadingly at Darcy, announcing with dismay "He is wearing your fob!"

"No indeed," replied Darcy, more than a little curious at her seeming obsession with his fobs. "I would not be caught dead wearing a fob from Fobs Discounted."

"Fobs Discounted?" she cried, observing the FD woven into the leather, "I thought they were your initials!" Darcy merely laughed as Caroline went on – uncaring what she might divulge about her own artfulness – "Why did you have his fob?"

"It somehow ended up in my luggage last time I visited Rosings. But I returned it to him express!"

Caroline crumpled to the floor sobbing in acute misery.

During the same few moments that this occurred, Mr. Bingley had begun to talk of music. Before he was able to give voice to his entreaty, however, the pianoforte was occupied. Strains of a very singular sort of music began to emerge from the bowels of the instrument. It was a melody none had ever heard before, but the assembled company found it to be quite a catchy tune.

Mrs. Hurst had come to her sister's side and led her to a chair where she sat, her face still buried in her hands, contemplating the perverse set of circumstances which had destroyed her most fervent hopes. She was about to excuse herself and retire to her room and was just trying to compose herself adequately to make an exit when a deep voice raised in earnest song filled the room.
Where it began I can’t begin to knowin’ But then I know it’s growin’ strong
Miss Bingley raised her eyes to the instrument to see Mr. Collins playing jovially, his hands flying zealously over the keys. He caught her eye and winked.
Was in the spring And spring became the summer Who’d have believed you’d come along
She was mortified by his presumption and turned away. The crowd had taken up the beat and was now clapping and swaying to the music.
Hands, touchin’ hands Reachin’ out Touchin’ me Touchin’ you
As he sang, Collins nodded in Miss Bingley's direction, then smirked as he reached the zenith of his song.
Sweet Caroline Good times never seemed so good I’ve been inclined To believe they never would
Miss Bingley sat wide-eyed, dumbfounded! Mrs. Hurst giggled and whispered, "My dear Carrie-Sue, I do believe you are being serenaded, just as you predicted!"

Miss Bingley was not so amused. "Do not be ridiculous Louisa, I did not intend to be serenaded by a buffoon!"
But now I Look at the night And it don’t seem so lonely We fill it up with only two And when I hurt Hurtin’ runs off my shoulders How can I hurt when holdin' you
"Oh dear God," said Miss Bingley. Her head ached.

"You could do worse," said Mrs. Hurst. "He has much in his favor. You could be mistress of Longbourn."

"Longbourn?" wailed Miss Bingley. "How can I settle for Longbourn when I am so deserving of Pemberley? I was meant to be its mistress. It is my destiny! I will accept nothing less."
Warm, touchin’ warm Reachin’ out Touchin’ me Touchin’ you
Everyone had already been looking at Caroline in consequence of Mr. Collins' obvious display of devotion. But now, after such an outburst by her, they stared with even more interest.

Mrs. Hurst offered the following counsel, "I think you would do well to reconsider your ambitions."
Sweet Caroline Good times never seemed so good I’ve been inclined To believe they never would Oh, no, no
By now everyone was familiar with the song and took up the chorus with Mr. Collins. The entire room sang together:
Sweet Caroline Good times never seemed so good I’ve been inclined I believed they never could Sweet Caroline*
With such vocal support for his song, Mr. Collins was able to leave his station at the instrument, while the singing continued as strong as ever. He approached Miss Bingley took her hand and pulled her from her seat. He spun her around once and folded her into his arms as he dipped her towards the floor just as he concluded the last words of the song. He then kissed her soundly on the lips.

A collective gasp was heard from the entire room. Mr. Bingley immediately approached the couple and demanded that Mr. Collins make an honest woman of his sister. Ignoring Miss Bingley's protests, Mr. Collins said, "With pleasure!" and dropped to his knees before his ladylove.

"No, this isn't happening!" she cried.

"Oh do get up!" said Bingley. "Let us go into my study to discuss the terms of your marriage."

They left the room with Miss Bingley following after them voicing her remonstrations the entire way, leaving the party in the capable hands of Mrs. Hurst who urged everyone back into the ballroom for more dancing.

Everything was speedily settled between Mr. Bingley and Mr. Collins in the study. Every objection made by Miss Bingley about her own future was met with a reminder that she was now a compromised woman. An entire room had witnessed her ruin. There was no keeping this from the eyes of the Ton. She would never attract a worthy gentleman – or in fact any gentleman – now. She had better jump at this opportunity for wedded bliss while it was available.

Mr. Collins was perfectly ready to give her every assurance of his eternal devotion. He would adore and revere her forever. He was disposed to offer her every comfort, every felicity that she could ever desire. He would live to please her. His appeals were so sincere, so earnest, his devotion so utterly evident, she began to think it might not be a very bad thing to be wed to such a man. A mere hour of ardent pleas was sufficient to win her over to the idea. Longbourn was not an estate to be scoffed at. Once they took possession of it, their total income, including her own, would be perfectly respectable. They would have a house in town, of course; they would reside there until such time as Longbourn fell into their hands. She began to calculate how many years Mr. Bennet was likely to continue living. She had just one more stipulation.

"Lucy is to come with me ..."

"But I am allergic to dogs," replied her intended, clearly sad to disappoint her.

"It is not a negotiable term, sir."

"Very well," he replied. "Of course he shall be welcome at Hunsford Parsonage."

"Are you mad?" she cried. "Hunsford Parsonage! Surely you do not imagine such a shoddy establishment to be worthy of your bride!"

"But Lady Catherine herself suggested many improvements ..." he began.

"I begin to think, Mr. Collins, that you do not love me at all."

His injury was instantly apparent. "No, I beg you, you must not think so. Of course, we shall reside wherever you wish."

"We shall purchase a house in town."

Mr. Collins did not at present have the wherewithal to inquire as to how that would be possible. He simply said, "Of course, my dear, whatever you wish."

Then Miss Bingley turned to her brother and said, "I also want the tree in the drawing room."

"I would not dream of dividing it from you," he replied.

She glared at him. It was then determined that the wedding would take place in a fortnight. She then left them and sashayed up the stairs to her room with all the dignity she could summon to impart the change of plans to Lucy. She went to bed in less contentment than she had expected to feel at this moment, but contented nonetheless and completely oblivious to the fact that hers was not the only engagement accomplished during the course of the evening.

The very object of her schemes, Mr. Darcy, had offered for Miss Elizabeth and she had accepted. Her own brother had succumbed as well to Cupid's machinations and engaged himself to Miss Bennet. Even Miss King had managed to elicit a proposal from the handsome young officer who had so enjoyed her attentions in the library, during the throes of lust that had consumed them both therein.

Miss Bingley became Mrs. Collins and had the pleasure of indulging her every whim. He could deny her nothing. During the first year of their marriage she was made more felicitous than she could have imagined possible with such a man as her husband. Yet, she lived in a mixed state of felicity and shame – knowing her husband to be decidedly inferior to her, knowing herself to be the ridicule of all her acquaintance because of it, and knowing the man she truly desired was forever divided from her. Yet, she also knew he would never indulge her as Mr. Collins consistently did. In time, however, his attentions and flattery and endearments became overwhelming to the point of being nigh intolerable! Even she began to tire of standing on the pedestal upon which he placed her; and their closest relations could not abide to observe his obsequious veneration of his wife. Caroline began to wish for relief from her husband's constant, unbearable, adoration. After a year of marriage her greatest source of solace was in the company of the one creature whose devotion never grew tiresome: Lucy.

FINIS

*Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond