The Secrets of Netherfield Abbey- Chapter One

The Secrets of Netherfield Abbey is Book Two in my Witches of Austen Series and the sequel to Sisters Bewitched.

This series is best read in order, but if you have not read the first one, it can be briefly summarized. This is a short story/novella series with each book feeling like an episode of a drama series. A small conflict is introduced in each story with the over reaching one of defeating the Dark One will spread throughout the series. Books One through Four mash up Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey. Ten books are planned.

In Sisters Bewitched, Jane and Elizabeth Bennet and their step-sister Catherine Morland learn that they have magical powers which were bound many years previously upon the deaths of Mrs. Bennet, Mary, Catherine and Lydia Bennet and Rev. Morland. It is believed the three sisters are the fulfillment of an ancient magical prophecy of sisters who could defeat the Dark One by their overwhelming love. Their powers are returned when residents move back into Netherfield Abbey. The now combined Bingley and Tilney family and their guest Mr. Dary are guardians tasked with assisting the sisters.

Jane is an empath, Elizabeth can control and create fire, and Kate sees the future. Not all of the sisters are prepared to take on their magical powers, however, and when Kate doubts her abilities she takes a potion to forget her insecurities. It does not work, and instead, she and Elizabeth are attacked by a demon while Jane is sick at Netherfield. The sisters’ love for each other can transcend time and distance and although Jane is absent, her power gives Elizabeth and Kate strength to fight. The book closes with the Bennet family journeying to Netherfield to tend to Jane who has worsened. Kate and Elizabeth have accepted their powers and responsibilities as Bewitched Ones.

Chapter One

“How can you be so complacent, sir?” Charles Bingley asked as he paced around his step-father’s private study. “The symptoms are the same as before!”

“You sound like a superstitious woman, Charles,” General Alexander Tilney replied. “My wife died of a sudden fever.”

“Such as Jane has!”

“Bingley,” Bingley’s best friend Fitzwilliam Darcy warned.

“You know more than any else the whole prophecy, Darcy. I will use her Christian name in privacy and in such a moment. That is my true love wasting away, succumbing to the same illness which took the last woman to reside in this house and the one that took her mother and sisters.”

“It is not the same,” Darcy said. “Mrs. Tilney’s death had no magical reasons behind it whereas the death of Miss Bennet’s mother was an effort to kill off the Bewitched line.”

“Then there is a curse of some sort on this house!”

“Impossible, Charles. Your mother and sisters are well. I would not bring them or Eleanor back if there were a chance to harm them. There are protective charms placed on us. Miss Bennet suffers from a human ailment, but I believe because of her magical importance she will soon recover.”

“It has been three days,” Bingley slumped into a chair and held his head in his hands.

“Take heart, Bingley,” Darcy said. “If she is your true love as you say, then love conquers all.”

“I thought you did not believe that,” Bingley said.

A sound in the hallway made Catherine jump, and she turned away from the door she had been listening at. She had been hoping to hear something of Henry Tilney’s return but instead heard Mr. Bingley profess love for her sister and that he believed the house was cursed. It was precisely the sort of news to thrill her. Long before learning she had magical powers and was the fulfillment of an old prophecy to defeat evil, she had loved horrid novels set in old haunted abbeys and the power of true love.

She arrived at Netherfield three days ago with her older sister and parents upon news that her eldest sister had fallen so ill she was no longer waking.

She could not understand it, but she felt something like guilt for Jane’s illness. It made no sense to her; she could not think of anything she did. Jane had been caught in the rain and then fell ill. Catherine and Elizabeth had been attacked by a demon, and, therefore, it was possible that one had desired to cast a spell over Jane as well. However, Jane had stayed the night before at Netherfield and so reaching her would seem impossible.

The only thing Catherine was guilty of was worrying she would bring about the demise of her sisters through her own faulty gifts. She wished now she had asked her father previously about her silly misgivings. She had awoken the morning of the attack and determined a walk to Mrs. Allen’s, her sponsor of sorts, would return her good spirits. While out she was accosted by a demon. Perhaps if she had spoken to her father, she wouldn’t have left the house and been attacked. On the other hand, he may have found Elizabeth walking on her own, and she had been the one subdued instead. Considering Elizabeth’s powers proved considerably more useful in the face of demon attacks, it had worked out for the better.

 

*****

 

“Are you happy now?” General Tilney asked his step-son after he was certain Miss Morland walked away. “Do not talk to me again about these ridiculous fears. Who knows what that girl will concoct in her head now.” He turned on his heel and left Bingley and Darcy alone in the library.

Darcy blew out a breath. “That went as planned.”

“Indeed,” Bingley said.

“Are you sensing she will awake soon?”

“No. Her thoughts are too disorderly. Something magical is certainly to blame. It is as though she is battling an evil presence.”

“Let us hope one of the Bennets discovers what it is before the General,” Darcy said and tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair.

“You really ought to believe the entire prophecy, Darcy,” Bingley said. Darcy held up his hand to cease Bingley, but he continued. “It was your mother who was the keeper of the prophecy.”

“I do not need to be reminded,” Darcy murmured. Nor did he need to be reminded that his mother died fifteen years ago protecting the secrets of the Bewitched Sisters. She had been murdered by the same villain that sought to strike out the Bennet line.

“Well, I’m off to meditate more,” Bingley said as he stood. “We cannot alter destiny, Darcy.”

He promptly left, and it was only after hearing the door click did Darcy acknowledge his friend’s words with a shake of his head. “I know.”

The force of his emotions suddenly blew out the flames in the fireplace. Exasperated at his lack of control and not wishing a servant to know his humiliation, he stirred the fire for several minutes and added a log until it was moderately burning again. It was not lost on him that the reason for his frustration could have easily returned the warmth to the room.

Annoyed at the direction of his thoughts, again, he left the library intent on walking the grounds. Miss Bingley accosted him in the hall and demanded to go as well. Believing she would offer a diversion from his consideration of Elizabeth Bennet’s fine eyes–which he had made the unpardonable sin of proclaiming them as such to Caroline the night of the dinner at Sir William’s house–he welcomed the other lady’s presence. Instead, Miss Bingley teased him about his attraction to Elizabeth and most horrible of all, the lady herself stumbled upon them while walking with Mrs. Hurst. Thankfully, she preferred solitary exercise. Soon, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley desired to return inside to warm themselves. Darcy felt no remorse that being in his presence must have chilled them. He had no desire for their company.

*****

Elizabeth rambled the grounds of Netherfield Abbey frustrated anew with Mr. Darcy. He had almost seemed considerate of her feelings a moment ago when he invited her to walk with the others. That could never do. For surely if he could have been considerate of her feelings at all, he never would have uttered such harsh words about her appearance before they even met. He was full of such arrogance! Elizabeth well knew that she was quite pretty. It was evident from the start that Mr. Darcy disliked Meryton for its lack of people of rank. Sir William Lucas was knighted some years ago. Her father had the largest estate in the area. Hertfordshire, in general, had peers, of course, but none that lived close to the market town.

Thus far in her time at Netherfield, he and Miss Bingley had mocked women who were not “accomplished” to their standards. In addition to the usual ridiculousness of useless talents such as drawing and knowledge of languages, they believed magical women ought to have a rudimentary knowledge of all the magical arts. Of course, she was at an instant disadvantage for both. She had not attended a boarding school and only recently had her powers unbound, her magical education ceasing at a young age. Mr. Darcy claimed to know only six women he would deign to declare accomplished. A rueful smile gathered on Elizabeth’s lips. Pity the women who merited Mr. Darcy’s praise. They sounded dreadfully dull and unhappy. The worst was that he acted as though all womankind longed for his good opinion.

But then, what could she expect with the company he kept? Yesterday Mrs. Tilney declared that she was bored of the lack of amusements in the area and goaded her husband into agreeing to host a ball. Mr. Bingley immediately delighted in the idea, looking forward to setting a date when Jane was well. His sisters and friend, however, seemed displeased with the notion. Elizabeth regretted Henry Tilney’s absence, as he could be counted on to be civil. She could hardly guess what Miss Tilney thought of anything. She rarely spoke.

Given their debate last night about the ability for friends to persuade one another, she had no hopes of Mr. Darcy’s sourness to ease. Apparently, he desired to test her resolve as he–very teasingly–asked her dance as Miss Bingley played a reel. Terrible, vexing man! He sought to mock her taste and put down her standing as a social inferior.

If Mr. Darcy hated it so much he could leave! But then her father had made it sound as though Darcy was to be useful to her family in some way with his magical knowledge. For herself, she would rather die than be indebted to anything from him. As it seemed his knowledge came from his family’s long standing connection with the Council, she would tolerate any assistance Darcy could give.

More than all this, she hated that every time she was in his presence, her body went hot and cold. The lack of control she had over her own powers when he was near infuriated her. She had learned that fury fueled her powers. In a heightened emotional state, she had greater control of the fire that burned under her skin. If she were truthful, what she loathed the most was that since learning of her powers so little had been in her control. As a woman, it seemed already that she had little influence on her life, and now she had even less. Feeling as though she could not contain her magic when Darcy was near frightened her. Yes, fury and outrage were a much more welcoming feeling than fear.

Exhausting herself, she returned to the house. Jane had still not awakened, and while her father insisted all would be well, Elizabeth was steadily growing more concerned.

She had endless questions about the attack that had occurred and what the future might hold, but there was little new to say, especially without knowing anything from Jane.

*****

Catherine walked the halls of Netherfield. It was her turn to sit with Jane, but she could not get thoughts of a curse being on the house out of her head. A terrible suspicion was forming her mind. General Tilney spoke of his wife’s demise without sorrow. Indeed, he had little compassion for the loss of Jane and Lizzy’s mother or Jane’s current condition. She recalled too, Mrs. Hurst’s words that the General had no powers. Perhaps there was an evil presence in Netherfield, and it was masked from him. Perhaps it even dwelled in him!

When her family arrived earlier in the week, they were cautioned that no one ever went to the wing with the gallery, and yet she could have sworn she saw Miss Tilney walking down it the other night. The lady was withdrawn and seemed to barely tolerate the presence of her step-mother and step-sisters. Catherine assumed it must be difficult for Miss Tilney, seeing a replacement for her mother and being left to her own devices with new relations. She gathered Miss Tilney was quite close to her brothers and had hoped they would return soon. Now, Catherine wondered if Miss Tilney did not know of more sinister problems at Netherfield.

At the end of the gallery was a chamber, just past another stairwell. Catherine had an unyielding suspicion it belonged to the first Mrs. Tilney. She put her hand on the knob and turned, half relieved and half fearful that it was unlocked. Just before stepping inside she had a vision.

Henry was a child and an older boy, surely his elder brother, sat with him weeping at a bedside. The General paced the room and scowled at his sons. A physician came to his side and declared there was nothing he could do for Mrs. Tilney.

Next, she saw the General talking to a figure in shadow. She could not hear all the words, they said in hushed whispers. Feeling as though she were an invisible entity to the scene, she attempted to draw closer.

“It has not gone as planned!” the General snarled.

“All is not lost,” the still hidden person said. “Be faithful and you will be rewarded in due time.”

“I killed her for nothing!” the General said.

Catherine gasped and cried out. The two men silenced and looked her way, but, of course, could not see her.

“Silence!” the shadow said. “You do not know what lurks here and what can hear. You will do your part!”

He disappeared in a cloud of black, and the General growled in frustration before leaving the room, ending the vision.

Catherine awoke from her premonition. Her chest heaved, and she felt as though she would never catch her breath. A sound on the stairs drew her notice, and she cried out in fear. Alas, it was only Henry Tilney.

“Good Gracious you scared me!” she said with a hand on her chest.

“It was not my intention,” he said and then looked at her hand still holding on to the door of his mother’s room. “May I ask what you are doing, Miss Morland?”

She yanked her hand away from the handle as though singed. “Well, what are you doing?” she returned.

He shook his head at her impertinence. “I am returning to my room. I just came from London with my brother and his friend. This stairwell is closest to the stables.”

“I was just…admiring the portraits,” she said lamely. “I thought there might be more in this room.”

He raised a skeptical eyebrow. “You had better be honest with a man such as I. You know I can sense darkness and lying is not from the light.”

Catherine hung her head. “I confess, I had a desire to see your mother’s room.”

“And your desire was awakened by Eleanor’s praise of our mother?” he asked.

“No, Miss Tilney has not talked to me much at all. She seems excessively depressed and disconcerted.” His face twisted in pain for his sister’s feelings, which would do him great credit in Catherine’s opinion at any other moment. “I have seen her walking this hall at night,” she whispered.

“And by this, you concocted what? That my mother’s spirit lives on in the house? That it has some reason to haunt its halls?”

“Well,” she stammered. “I had thought none of you were at home when she died and your father–he does not seem as though he was very fond of her. I heard him say to Mr. Bingley–”

Henry interrupted her. “Charles does not know anything about my mother’s death. He is distraught by your sister’s illness. Frederick and I were at home when my mother died.”

Catherine nodded her head. “Yes, I know now that now.”

This drew him back. “Eleanor told you about it?”

She was silent for a long moment. “I had a vision,” she said at last.

“You do not see the past,” he said incredulously.

“Perhaps…perhaps your mother was showing me the past? I might have seen part of the future as well.”

“You are uncertain?”

“I have never had such a situation before.”

“Tell me what you have seen,” he said while directing her down the gallery.

After she had told him, he shook his head. “How strange! Indeed, it was all the past, but not as you presume. My father was charged with killing a woman the Council had believed was a spy for the Dark One. Further information exonerated her. It was not my mother. He had thrown himself into work after her death–that was how greatly it affected him–and was very upset to learn he had killed an innocent.”

Catherine chewed her bottom lip, but Henry pressed on.

“What have you been thinking, Miss Morland? That my father was an agent of darkness? That he callously killed his wife? And perhaps had designs on your sister as well? Do you think the Council would trust in him so implicitly? Do you believe such darkness could escape the notice of so many witches with great powers? That he could conceal his real self from his children, including one whose very ability it is to see darkness in others?”

“I…I…” She had nothing to say in her defense. She ran from him with tears of shame streaming down her cheeks. At the bottom of the stairs, she collided with her mother.

“My dearest Catherine? What has caused this distress?”

Before she was able to reply, her mother gasped and stilled, clearly having a vision of her own. When she awoke from her trance, she pulled Catherine by the arm.

“Come, we have not a moment to spare!”

Mrs. Bennet pulled Catherine down to the kitchens. “I need several glasses, wine, and rags immediately!” she demanded of the kitchen staff. “Bring them to Miss Bennet’s room!”

Then she hauled Catherine to the drawing room to find her husband. “Where is Lizzy?”

“Here I am,” Elizabeth said from the door. “I was out walking. What has happened? Is it Jane?” Elizabeth looked as though she was ready to run up the stairs.

“Yes, you are needed in her room. We must all go.”

They rushed to the room and a maid with the glasses and arrived a moment later. Mrs. Bennet shut the door behind the maid and locked it.

“Mama, what is going on?” Catherine asked.

“When you ran into me, I had a vision. You were upset thinking your power was insignificant. You cast a forgetting spell, hoping to forget you were a Bewitched one. It did not work as you had expected. Instead, you forgot the dream you had and, of course, that you had made the potion. But the elixir is dangerous. The hyacinth can lead to burns. That is what we saw on you the morning of the attack. It was not from Lizzy.”

Catherine screwed up her face. “I do not recall any of this.”

Mrs. Bennet pat her hand. “We will give you a remembrance potion later. There is more about Jane. Our maid Lucy is a spy for the Dark One! She came upon the mess in the still room and used it to poison Jane. That is why she fell ill. Check her mouth for burns.”

Elizabeth gently opened and peered into Jane’s mouth. “Yes, there appear to be partially healed burns inside.”

Mr. Bennet nodded his head. “I have heard of this before. Her power, connected with her sisters, was too strong for the potion. Instead, it has put her in this state. Do you know what is to be done?” he asked his wife.

“Yes, a fire cupping method. Lizzy will need to light these rags,” she said while soaking them in the spirits. “You will put them in the cups and then remove them. Kate and I will quickly seal the cup over her flesh. It will draw the darkness out.”

Mr. Bennet retreated to the entrance to allow Jane privacy as the women disrobed her and turned her to expose her back. In a matter of minutes, the process was complete. Jane began to rouse, and there was a knocking on the door.

“Jane!” Mr. Bingley called from the other side.

“Just a moment,” Mr. Bennet said as the ladies redressed Jane and rolled her to her back.

Catherine and Elizabeth sat with her while Mrs. Bennet approached her husband.

“What do I say to him?” Mr. Bennet asked.

“He likely already knows from our thoughts,” she replied. “We do need to talk to Darcy and the General, however.”

“Indeed,” Mr. Bennet said. “And return home as quickly as possible.”

He opened the door and greeted Bingley.

“Please, may I see her?” he asked. “I know it is not the done thing, but there are enough chaperones…” he trailed off as Mr. Bennet allowed him in.

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet followed behind him and saw Jane leaning on stacked pillows with a small smile on her face. Her hands were grasped by Elizabeth and Catherine.

“You see,” said Elizabeth to Catherine. “Nothing shall ever separate us.”

“It is all my fault,” Catherine wailed.

“No, dearest,” Jane said. “You will see. This was to our benefit; I am sure of it.” Then noticing Bingley’s presence she met his eyes with a large smile.

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet greeted their daughter with a kiss on her cheek. “I am happy you are recovered,” her father said. “We will explain all later, but we must return to Longbourn. I am sure you will be in excellent care with Lizzy and Kate by your side.”

Catherine shook her head. “Oh, no. Please, let me go home with you,” tears still fell from her cheeks, and her cheeks had burned red.

“You had really rather leave than stay here with Jane?” Mrs. Bennet asked.

Bingley looked at her for a long moment. “Ah, what a sweet sister you are, Miss Morland. Of course, you miss your other siblings.”

No one missed the grateful look Catherine gave the young man, but they chose not to press her about it. “Then you must come now,” Mr. Bennet said.

“Jane, take all the time you require to recover,” Mrs. Bennet said again before kissing her forehead. “We are so happy you are well,” she said before leaving.

Elizabeth sat, stunned at what had passed. Despite her mother’s statement that Bingley must perceive it all, she relayed the events to him and Jane.

“Darcy and the General will handle it all,” he said then paused. “If you will excuse me, I believe Henry has returned, and I must acquaint him with some news.”

Jane and Elizabeth nodded. Elizabeth stayed at Jane’s side for the remainder of the day and only went downstairs for dinner.

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