I’m sorry it’s been a few days. My son is out of school this week and it’s been difficult finding time to write, edit, and post!
In case you missed the earlier chapters:
O Come All Ye Faithful
Bingley smiled as he headed toward his stables. He had just arrived at Netherfield but overheard a maid whisper to the housekeeper that the eldest Miss Bennet would be overjoyed to learn of his return. It was all the proof he needed to feel alive with hope that Jane Bennet returned his affections.
Anticipating the arguments of Darcy and not wishing for the competition of Richard, or having to rescue him from over-attention, Bingley chose to visit Longbourn independently. He puffed out his chest in pride. Yes, it felt good to make decisions independently. He had relied far too heavily on Caroline and Darcy’s advice for years now. He desired to marry Jane Bennet and what was to stop him but the arguments of his friends? The greatest of which had been her indifference to him, but rumor had it, she was quite in love with him.
For the first two miles of the journey from Netherfield to Longbourn, hope and satisfaction filled Bingley’s heart. Belatedly, his mind began to wonder how Jane felt about his sudden disappearance and unexpected return. Would she believe he was inconstant? How could he convince her of his faithfulness?
A dozen folk tunes about love and fidelity flitted through his mind. Bingley pulled out his pocket watch. He would arrive at Longbourn shortly before seven. If they had music after dinner, then he would insist on singing. Jane would not be left in doubt of his adoration any longer!
Finally, he reached Longbourn and called upon all his courage as he was shown to the drawing room. A glance around the place showed there were several officers, the Lucas family, and a fashionable man and woman he did not know.
“Mr. Bingley!” Mrs. Bennet’s shrill voice reached his ears just as his eyes found Jane. She had blushed upon seeing him and now stared at her hands. Why would she not look at him?
Mrs. Bennet bounced off her seat and came to his side so fast she had to catch her breath. “Well, Mr. Bingley, you are too late for dinner, but please join us for coffee and tea. Stay for supper if you can.”
“I have not forgotten your promise to come for a family dinner. My brother and sister-in-law from London are with us now but leave after Christmas. You must come then.” Dragging him by the arm to a seat, she rambled on. “Of course, please come before then as well. You are as welcome here as at your home.”
She paused and looked around the room. “And you arrived alone? Your sisters are not with you? Then I insist you come as often as you can. A house is nothing without a woman to keep it, as my Jane knows.”
Mrs. Bennet gently pushed him on the shoulder and Bingley landed on a cushion next to Jane.
“Mama, please,” she said in an urgent whisper.
“Perhaps a walk in the garden would be refreshing,” Miss Elizabeth said from the other side of Jane.
Bingley immediately stood up again. What had he been thinking coming directly here with no plan?
“Oh, yes!” Jane’s youngest two sisters that Bingley could never differentiate between shot out of their seats.
“No, you should remain here,” Mrs. Bennet shook her finger at her second daughter. “I will not have Jane catching a cold by walking about in December! She complained of a headache only earlier today!”
“The room feels too warm to me,” Miss Lucas said as she approached them. “I would welcome a respite, and we would be well looked after.”
“Yes, surely there is nothing inappropriate about a walk in the garden with such good family friend,” Bingley said while searching over Jane’s face.
“Let them go,” Mr. Bennet said from a corner where he played a game with several gentlemen.
Mrs. Bennet capitulated, and the young people left the room to gather their outerwear. Bingley extended his arm to Jane, who blushed, but took his arm. A feeling of rightness permeated his heart. To Bingley’s surprise, it did not feel like a new sensation. It was as though he had experienced this very scenario before, and yet he had never walked with Jane in Longbourn’s garden in the evening before.
From Jane’s other side, Miss Elizabeth leaned forward. “Mr. Bingley,” she 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.” She then wandered off, seemingly very curious about a hedge.
Shame filled Bingley. “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 and to hurry. I’m famished,” called the other one.
Something about the statement made Bingley’s heart race. Nearly seven o’clock. Hurry. Why? He shook his head to dispel the disjointed thoughts. The feeling as though he had lived this before still filled him, making his tongue feel thick and unnatural. He led Jane to the door.
“I will call again in a few days,” he managed to say as he helped Jane out of her pelisse.
The clock struck seven, and as he heard the bells chime, a strange sensation passed over him. He felt as though he had just been knocked over with a feather. Nearly seven o’clock. Hurry, echoed in his mind.