I’m sorry I didn’t post yesterday! I thought I was going to have a chance after my kids went to bed but that didn’t work out because my daughter was keeping my son up. I had to separate them but that meant her sleeping in my bed and me staying in there. By the time she actually fell asleep, it was too late for me to get back up and I also worried about waking her. So here we have two chapters today!
In case you missed it: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
Ding Dong Merrily on High
“Cousin Jane, will you read me a story?” Cassandra Gardiner, eldest child of Edward and Margaret Gardiner asked. She had been selected among her siblings to journey to Longbourn to visit her relations for Christmas.
“Cassie, Jane needs rest. Sit by me, and I will tell you a story while I braid your hair for bed,” Elizabeth Bennet said to save her sister.
Jane had never been so depressed before, and Elizabeth was positively alarmed at her beloved sister’s low spirits. Cassie was a good girl but so pleased to be with her older cousins that she overwhelmed them with questions and attention. Jane was the only one nice enough to be stuck with Cassie most of the day and Elizabeth now sought to give her reprieve.
“I’m waiting,” Cassie said as she wiggled closer to Elizabeth who tugged on the child’s unruly curls with a brush. “Ouch!”
“I am sorry, dearest. Now, let’s see. Christmas is only two days away. Do you know the story of the Bells of Christmas?”
“No,” Cassie said, turning her head to grin at Elizabeth.
“Keep your head straight,” Elizabeth said as she gently moved the child’s head.
“Considering you made up the story for your sisters it would be difficult for Cassie to have heard it before,” Jane chuckled from the nearby bed.
“True. Gracious. Do you recall how angry mother was with me for making up some story that Kitty requested nightly and yet it was not in any of the books in the nursery? Mama could never get all the parts just right and hated it when Kitty went around “shrieking at the top of her lungs,” as Mama said.”
Jane laughed in earnest, and the sound warmed Elizabeth’s heart. “No one could do it like you.”
Elizabeth smiled and sighed fondly. “Fortunately, you, Cassie, are older than Kitty was when I made up the story, so I do not think you will act so silly over it.”
Cassie straightened and said in a prissy voice, “Of course not! I am the sensible daughter. For silliness you must consult Eleanor. And I wish you would call me Cassandra.”
Elizabeth and Jane shared an amused look. Lord help their Aunt Gardiner, Cassie was beginning the trying years early. With any lucky, their youngest sisters, Kitty and Lydia, were coming out of them.
“Pass me the ribbon please, Jane,” Elizabeth said and racked her brain to remember how the story began. “It’s about a boy who was the bell ringer at his church. He could hear the bells ring in Heaven on Christmas Day. Ding dong! Ding dong!” She exclaimed in a very theatrical voice which caused Cassie to laugh.
“Angels filled the sky. They sang,” Elizabeth took a deep breath and boomed in a false operatic voice, “Gloooooria, Hosanna in Excelsis!”
When she had finished, Elizabeth turned pink from the exertion and needed to catch her breath. Cassie was stunned in silence for a minute. “Why do they always think the angels speak in Latin?”
“Well…I’m not sure,” Elizabeth confessed, put out that Cassie seemed unimpressed with her theatrics.
“And I don’t think there are bells in Heaven.”
Elizabeth sighed. She had never worried about the logic of her story, and Kitty had been much easier to please, it seemed. “The boy was strange, he only spoke in rhymes.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Cassie said.
By now, Elizabeth was certain little Edward, who could not yet speak in full sentences, was her favorite cousin by far. Exasperated, she continued on. “Pray you dutifully chime, your matin chime ye ringers. May you beautifully rhyme your evetime song, ye singers.”
Elizabeth stood to sing the final line and Jane joined her, grinning. “Gloria, Hosana in Excelsis!”
“Come, Cassie. Join us,” Jane said and held out a hand.
With a sigh that reminded Elizabeth too much of Mary, Cassie slid off the bed and took Jane’s hand. “Gloria, Hosana in Excelsis!”
“There, now it’s time for you to go to bed,” Elizabeth said.
“But I want to stay up!”
“Your mother said you could stay up late tomorrow,” Jane said in a soothing voice.
Cassie frowned. “I will have to go to bed early on the other nights while everyone else goes downstairs to enjoy supper. Lydia is only a few years older than me!”
“And until Lydia was fifteen she had to stay in her room at nights too. If you cannot abide by the rules you will not be allowed to come without your siblings again,” Elizabeth said sternly.
“But I wanted to spend time with you and Jane and all you did at dinner was sit with the others. Lizzy spent all her time avoiding Aunt Bennet and won’t stop talking to Wixam or whatever his name is.”
“Wickham,” Elizabeth muttered under her breath.
Earlier that day, her Aunt Gardiner had counseled her against paying him so much attention.
“He is a very charming man, but I must caution you about any growing attachment to him,” Aunt Gardiner had said. “If he had the living he was promised, I could see no evil in the match.”
Elizabeth sighed. It was true Mr. Wickham needed a wife with a larger dowry than she had and encouraging an attachment between the two of them was more than flirting with danger. He was just the sort of man that appealed to Elizabeth, their powers of conversation and wit equally matched and their opinions on most things nearly uniform.
“Cassie, what if I told you that I will be returning to London with you?”
“Really?” Cassie and Elizabeth squealed at the same time.
“Yes, Aunt Gardiner thinks it will be good for me, and Mama liked the idea as well,” Jane blushed as she spoke.
Elizabeth and Cassie grinned but for very different reasons. Elizabeth had hoped Jane would journey to London with the Gardiners. It was her hope that Jane might meet Mr. Bingley and renew their attachment which was unexpectedly severed about a month ago.
“Now, get to bed,” Jane said, and Cassie scurried away.
After saying their good nights, Jane and Elizabeth shut the door and began to walk down the stairs. There had been guests for dinner, and some had remained for supper.
“Do not look at me that way, Lizzy. I do not have any thoughts seeing Bingley again,” Jane said, but her heightened color belied her true feelings.
“I will say nothing about it,” Elizabeth vowed.
The clock chimed the hour just as they reached the bottom stair. Before Elizabeth could voice her opinion that the chime sounded strange, she suddenly felt dizzy.
We Three Kings
“There,” Bingley pointed out the carriage window and Richard pushed aside a curtain. “Longbourn is to the west about where that star is.” Hope burned in his heart.
“When Mrs. Bennet invited us to dinner, I do not think she meant to arrive unexpectedly and a month after the invitation was issued. Christmas is in two days; they likely have family visiting! Additionally, they have likely dined by now,” Darcy said to his side while tugging on his cravat.
“As if she will mind,” Richard said. “You and Bingley are as good as lords, kings even, to her, I bet!”
Bingley grimaced. He would rather there be as few reminders as possible to Darcy about the Bennet family’s standing in Society.
“You’re the son of an earl,” Darcy cautioned. “Do not think you are exempt!”
“Please, I bring only the experience of death as a soldier. No one wants their daughter married to an old soldier with little fortune or good looks. Everyone knows you’re rich Darcy, that’s why you are allowed to scowl so much.”
“Bingley is far more popular than I,” Darcy said.
“Yes, because he flatters everyone. They feel important and puffed up around him,” Richard laughed.
“Most of the people we meet are more important than me,” Bingley said. Richard was a good man and as fond of a laugh as anyone Bingley had ever met but sometimes he missed things. “You are a Colonel in His Majesty’s army. Darcy runs a large estate. Sir William Lucas had a prosperous business and was knighted by the King. Mr. Bennet is a magistrate. What am I? I’ve done nothing to deserve my wealth, I have no estate and no responsibilities.”
Richard was silenced. For a moment. “So, tell me about your girl, Bingley,” Richard said with a waggling of eyebrows again. For some reason, Bingley felt as though he had this conversation with Richard before.
Bingley chuckled as Darcy let out a groan. “Miss Bennet is the most beautiful creature I have ever beheld! I thought so upon first sight, and she has only grown in beauty every time I have seen her.”
“How can that possibly be?” Richard asked. “Oh, she must be dressing to impress,” he said in a knowing voice.
“Hardly,” Bingley said. “She fell ill while calling on my sisters one time and had to stay a week abed. When she finally joined us after dinner, one night her skin was pale and dark circles were under her eyes. Her nose was red. Still, she was lovely to me. The first night I met her she was simply a pretty face. Now, I know her kind heart. I have heard her speak lovingly of everyone. She is truly beautiful inside and out.”
A hard jab to his rib alerted Bingley to the fact that he had stared off with a grin on his face. “Yes?”
“Richard asked you a question I find most pertinent,” Darcy said, his voice slightly smug. Well, more smug than usual.
“I asked if Miss Bennet returns your affections. Not that it matters. Good matches are seldom made with affection in mind.”
“It can hardly be a good match when she has no dowry or connections. And the relatives. You will regret coming along,” Darcy said.
“They cannot all be bad,” Richard said. “Besides, did you not hear me before. I think a good match has more to do with the lady’s character and disposition. My parents married for advantage and could hardly be unhappier.”
“Richard is correct,” Bingley said. “Just leave Miss Elizabeth alone. The younger girls are ridiculous but are easily ignored. Mr. Bennet is sensible.”
Darcy scoffed but the carriage approached the house, and he said no more.
The gentleman climbed down from the carriage and wordlessly approached the house. The housekeeper seemed surprised to see them. Instead of taking them to the main drawing room, as Bingley had expected, they were brought to a smaller parlor and announced.
“Mr. Bingley?” Mrs. Bennet’s shrill voice asked and snapped to his face. “Oh! You have come to save us!” She collapsed into a chair and rent the air with loud sobs.
“Save you! What can you mean?” Bingley cried alarmed at the lady’s response.
Darcy elbowed his side and Bingley finally gazed around the room. No one was dressed for dinner, despite it growing late and the elder members of the Lucas family was present. In one corner, Miss Lucas sat with her eyes unblinking. Her mother cried quietly into a handkerchief in a nearby chair. Miss Elizabeth Bennet sat to the right of Miss Lucas and Jane sat to the left. She too was crying. Elizabeth and the other daughters looked as though they were feigning concern.
“Perhaps we should see Mr. Bennet,” Darcy said after a minute of listening to Mrs. Bennet’s loud wailing.
Jane stood to her feet and approached them. She would not meet his eyes. “Forgive us for any rudeness. You see, you must not have heard yet. My cousin, Mr. Collins, was meant to leave a few days ago but his departure was delayed due to illness. This morning, he was found dead. Mother is beside herself in fear. My father and Aunt and Uncle Gardiner are in the library. A new heir must be found…” Jane trailed off.
“And the Lucas family?” Darcy asked coldly.
Jane’s eyes revealed her hurt at his words and Bingley inwardly groaned. He understood that Darcy had strong opinions about grief and death, but it was not his place to tell visitors to leave.
“Miss Lucas was his betrothed.”
The three gentlemen looked between themselves, seemingly at a loss. Finally, Richard stepped forward. “Pardon me, I know we are not introduced but is there anything we might do for your family at this time?”
Jane sent a pleading look to Elizabeth, who left her friend’s side. “Mr. Bingley,” Elizabeth said with a smile that did not meet her eyes. “We are pleased to see you again. We had heard from your sister you never meant to return to Hertfordshire. As you see, however,” she cast an arm about the room, “we are not in a position to entertain guests at such a time.”
“What! No! Do not send them away!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed from the nearby settee, immediately recovered. “Well, certainly Mr. Darcy could leave but no, Mr. Bingley you must stay! See how well Jane looks!”
“Mother, please!” Elizabeth said as a deep blush overspread her cheeks.
Bingley was surprised to hear Darcy speak. “If you will permit us, madam, I think a walk about the garden might be refreshing for the young ladies.”
“Oh, yes!” Jane’s youngest two sisters that Bingley could never differentiate between shot out of their seats.
“No,” Elizabeth said firmly. “No, thank you. We will remain where we belong,” she cast a scolding look at her sisters who slumped back into their seats and pouted. “I do hope we will see you again when our grief is over.”
“Eliza, I would welcome a respite,” Miss Lucas approached their congregation at the parlor door.
“Yes, surely there is nothing inappropriate about a walk in the garden with such good family friends,” Bingley said while searching over Jane’s face. Why would she not look at him?
The young people sedately entered the hall, and the ladies gathered their outerwear. Night was falling fast and only a few minutes of setting sun remained. Bingley introduced Richard to the ladies. He offered his arm to Miss Lucas, who took it after a minute’s hesitation. Bingley extended his arm to Jane, who blushed, but took his arm. A feeling of rightness permeated his heart. Darcy did not offer to escort anyone but seemed to trail closely behind Elizabeth. Richard spoke quietly to Miss Lucas and Bingley could not help but notice Jane remained mute.
“I am exceedingly sorry if my sister’s mistaken impression that I would not return to Netherfield caused you any distress, Miss Bennet.”
Jane gave him a small smile. “Certainly not. A gentleman may come and go as he pleases.”
Did he imagine it or did her voice tremble? “A gentleman keeps his word.” Jane shuddered next to him, and he pulled her in closer. “Are you getting cold?”
Jane whispered something while looking at her feet.
“Pardon, I could not hear you. Perhaps we ought to return inside.”
Jane slowly raised her head and met his eyes. Tears glimmered there. “No, I am not cold and do not wish to go inside.”
Bingley took in a deep breath of air, filling his lungs to capacity and feeling as though at last he could breathe again. Jane’s subtle rose water scent filled his breath, an innocent but heady aphrodisiac.
“Jane! Lizzy! We’re cold!” The taller of the young ladies called from the door where three of them were huddled.
“Mary says it is nearly seven o’clock. I’m famished,” called the other one.
Bingley put his other hand over Jane’s and gave it a squeeze. “It seems our walk is over.” He dropped his voice and leaned closer to her air, breathing in her scent again. “I will call again in a few days. Do you believe me? Will you trust me again?”
Jane shuddered again and nodded but remained silent as Bingley escorted her back inside. Behind him, he heard Richard and Miss Lucas whispering and what sounded like Darcy and Elizabeth having another dispute. As he helped Jane out of her pelisse, the clock chimed seven. Suddenly, he felt unaccountably dizzy.