In case you missed it:
O Little Town of Bethlehem
“So, this is Meryton?” Richard asked as he gazed out the carriage window. He had the strangest sensation of having been here before. “It looks familiar.”
“Of course it looks familiar!” Darcy snapped. “It is just like every other small English town. Here’s the square, there’s the market. Down the street is the dressmaker.”
At Richard’s side, Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana, stifled a giggle and elbowed him. He knew that meant that she did not think Richard should tease Darcy for his foul mood. It was so difficult to resist, but he would try.
“Meryton has its own beauty to offer,” Bingley said with a nervous smile. “I’ve never been more taken with a county than I am with Hertfordshire.”
Richard rolled his eyes. The man was too far gone. In love with a whole county just because a lady he fancied lived here? Ridiculous! Richard had little use for romance. He believed love to be the greatest, and rarest, thing in the Kingdom and something he could never attain or deserve. Who would want a poor soldier when they could have his brother’s viscountcy, Darcy’s Pemberley, or Bingley’s flattery and five thousand pounds per annum. Granted, each came with familial drawbacks, but ladies often marched men to the altar faster than they knew what was good for them.
“Well, I cannot wait to meet the Miss Bennets,” Georgiana said in a tone she had taken to use when desiring to sound mature.
“What do you know of the Miss Bennets?” Darcy shifted in his seat.
“Do you not recall? You wrote to me of them. Five sisters, each pretty, the eldest two in particular.”
Darcy frowned, and Bingley turned a skeptical eye on his friend. “Ah, no complaints about the eldest smiling too much? And I’m surprised that he would admit Miss Elizabeth is pretty. He flatly refused to dance with her at a ball we attended.”
Georgiana gasped. “Impossible! You would never be so rude!”
Darcy muttered something under his breath. “What was that?” Richard asked.
“I said I spent the next several weeks attempting to secure a dance with her to make up for it. Not that I got any thanks from it!”
“I can’t imagine a lady not being taken with your sweet disposition,” Richard said.
“She refused my hand in one place, went off to scold her ridiculous sisters, which was just as well. Later, she laughed at me for asking as though I would joke about dancing.”
Richard raised his eyebrows. How many times had he heard his cousin complain about dancing? More than he could count and yet it seemed he dwelled on attempting a dance with this one lady and Richard highly doubted it was to amend hurt feelings he had caused, especially as a mere apology would suffice.
“You danced with her at my ball,” Bingley said.
“And she berated me the whole time,” Darcy scowled.
“And now we know why Darcy hates Meryton! Is it the whole town or one lone miss who will not bow to the prestige of your name and wealth?” Richard rather thought it was good for Darcy to have someone stand up to him.
Georgiana’s eyes went round and when she spoke it was in a small voice. “The lady you described in your letters would never be so…so…impertinent!” She reached forward and put a gentle hand on her brother’s arm. “You may have misunderstood her.”
“Impertinent is quite the word for her! For her family! For the whole town.”
Georgiana meekly withdrew her hand and shrank back into the plush cushions of Bingley’s coach.
“And yet you agreed to return readily enough,” Richard pointed out.
Darcy muttered something again, but they had turned up the lane and Netherfield appeared in the distance.
“It looks like a very nice house, Mr. Bingley,” Georgiana offered and Bingley smiled, evidently relieved that nothing more was said against the Bennets and Darcy’s ire had not been too provoked.
“Thank you. Caroline thought it would be too cold for winter and all of her friends are in town, so she refused to come but I am thankful for my guests.”
Georgiana blushed, but Bingley was already looking out the window again. Richard looked at Darcy who had watched the interaction with interest. A wordless exchange passed between them. Could it be Georgiana fancied Bingley? On her side, it would be natural to have a tendre for her brother’s friend, after all, it had happened once before with George Wickham. And Bingley would certainly be a faithful and generous husband. He could ask for nothing better for his cousin and guardian. Of course, by the time Georgiana were old enough to marry, both might have other interests. Bingley appeared to have already set his sights on a lady, although Richard doubted it was more serious than any of the other times he had witnessed the man infatuated.
Once inside the house, they were shown to their chambers and then offered a tour by Bingley, of which Darcy added the pertinent information. Bingley would often gaze at a certain location with a faraway look as though remembering a certain event or placement. How lucky he was to have pleasant memories. When Richard closed his eyes, the horrors of the battlefield emerged to haunt his dreams.
To distract himself, Richard proposed a walk. The others joined him, happy to stretch their legs after their journey. They had arrived before dinner, and so plenty of daylight remained. Bingley seemed to walk as though dragged somewhere with magnetic attraction. Darcy hovered close to Georgiana’s side and occasionally looked around as though he heard some noise. Just as Richard was about to tease his cousin, they heard female voices approach around from a trial in the woods.
“Why did you take the last of the blue ribbon, Lydia? You know it will best on me,” a shrill voice split the air.
Richard watched as Bingley walked faster to meet the ladies while Darcy slowed.
“It’s of no use when we have nowhere to wear them. I hate winter!”
“Girls, do be quiet,” a gentler and melodic voice said. Beside him, Darcy suddenly stilled. “I am sorry, Charlotte, you were saying?”
At last, the ladies saw them, and Richard understood why Bingley was so insistent to return and why Darcy was in agony as a mixture of terror and excitement coursed through him. Before Richard stood six of the prettiest ladies he had ever seen.
“The Miss Bennets and their good friend, Miss Lucas,” Bingley eagerly made introductions.
Bingley then talked with a blonde haired beauty, introduced as Miss Bennet, to the exclusion of all others. The lady blushed, and Richard thought Bingley looked a bit flushed.
Georgiana boldly approached Miss Elizabeth, who eyed the Darcy siblings with suspicion. The youngest Bennet sisters first gaped at Georgiana’s gown and then eyed Richard with interest when Bingley announced he was a Colonel in His Majesty’s Army. He was stunned by their forward and flirtatious manner but managed to keep an eye on the ladies who remained part of neither group. The younger simply pulled out a book and buried her head in it. The elder watched Miss Elizabeth and Darcy’s interaction with keen observation and a small smile on her face. Noticing Georgiana had grown silent, Miss Lucas talked with the younger lady.
After a few minutes of brief conversation, Miss Lydia bounced on her toes excitedly. “You all simply must come to the house. My mother will be so happy!”
“Lydia, I do not think we can add four dinner guests unexpectedly. Remember, our aunt and uncle are arriving today and Mama has quite the meal planned” Miss Elizabeth said.
“Perhaps,” Miss Bennet stepped forward to address all of them, “you might continue your walk to Longbourn and refresh yourselves before returning to Netherfield? It is less than half a mile away now.”
“Splendid!” Bingley said, and he rushed forward to offer Miss Bennet his arm. This set Miss Kitty and Miss Lydia into a fit of giggles.
“I am afraid the walk is too far for Georgiana,” Darcy said firmly.
“You do look exhausted, dear,” Miss Lucas said, and for the first time, Richard bothered looking at his cousin. Had she been this pale all along or was it simply seeing Bingley with the object of his affections?
Miss Elizabeth bit her bottom lip, seemingly undecided. “Could you continue to the house? Then we can offer our carriage or Mr. Bingley can send for his, to escort you back.”
“Here, lean on me,” Darcy extended his arm, and Georgiana took it with a grateful nod.
The flighty girls stepped forward, now noticing that they were all leaving for Longbourn. Rather than have them at his side, Richard quickly asked to escort Miss Lucas. She was carrying a basket which he attempted to take from her as well.
“There is no need,” she said with a proud lift of her chin.
“There might not be a need for you to ask for help but there is always a need for a gentleman to offer it,” Richard said with a charming smile.
“Such pretty words, Colonel. Do they serve you well on the battlefield?” She asked as she handed over the basket.
“No, that I must reserve for pretty ladies with baskets full of…?”
“Meat pies,” Miss Lucas said with a blush. “Mrs. Bennet’s brother and sister, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, quite favor them and say no one does them as well as my mother and me.”
Richard concealed his surprise. The lady on his arm was introduced as a daughter of the local knight, and she looked as every bit as genteel as the Bennet ladies, who he doubted had many sensible thoughts let alone useful talents and services.
“I have astonished you by confessing my cooking skills,” she shrewdly said.
“Not at all,” Richard recovered. “I merely appreciated how nice it is for a lady to have skills of merit.”
“Yes, do give them flattery terms. My embroidery is shameful, but I can stitch clothes. I cannot paint a table, but I do know that if Miss Darcy rests before a fire with lavender water rubbed at her temples she will feel rejuvenated.”
Richard marvelled at how kind she was to consider his cousin, a stranger to her. Additionally, he enjoyed the refreshing way she declared her talents without pretention or deprecation. She was a woman who knew her worth.
Reaching Longbourn, brought about a separation. The ladies fussed over Georgiana while the gentlemen hovered with watchful eyes. Miss Lucas had been correct. A cup of tea, a slice of meat pie, and some lavender water refreshed Georgiana enough to return to Netherfield. Rather than have to arrange either the Bennet carriage or Bingley’s coach, Mrs. Bennet’s brother, and sister-in-law, arrived and offered use of their carriage. Richard was impressed with their kindness and saw Darcy’s reaction to their fashionable dress and manner. Mrs. Bennet, Richard admitted, was uncouth and clearly Darcy had expected the same from her relatives.
When dinner at Netherfield was finished, Georgiana daintily wiped her mouth with the napkin. “I hope you do not mind, Mr. Bingley, but I gave your cook Miss Lucas’ recipe for meat pies. It was the best I have ever had.”
Bingley smiled. “Not at all and if you wish, I will order them to be made tomorrow. Handy to have around for Christmas at any rate.”
“It seems food is a healer and I thought they said food was the way to a man’s heart,” Darcy quipped and squeezed his sister’s hand.
The words reverberated in Richard’s ears. He had never been as taken with a woman as he was with Miss Lucas. He shook his head to dispel the thoughts. He could not fancy a lady after a conversation about little more than meat pies!
“Do you feel well, Richard?” Georgiana asked him.
“I think I ought to return to my chambers. Long day,” he mumbled and made a quick bow and noticing the time was nearly seven o’clock. This would be the earliest he went to bed in possibly his entire life.
“Too bad you will have to wait until we visit Aunt Catherine at Easter to taste any of Miss Lucas’ pie,” Georgiana said just before Richard reached the door.
Richard turned. “Why will Aunt Catherine have Miss Lucas’ pie?”
“She is marrying Aunt Catherine’s rector. For the first time in my life, I actually look forward to visiting Rosings!”
“I am glad you will have a friend,” Darcy said.
His smile dissolved into a look of satisfaction Richard felt had nothing to do with Georgiana. However, he could not attempt to decipher it because there was a sudden pounding in his head in time with the chimes of the clock. Louder, louder the bells rang until the seventh hour was announced. Richard squeezed his eyes shut and saw nothing but white, bright light.