Christmas is long over and now even New Year’s has passed. I hope to finish by Twelfth Night (January 6). We’ve got a few chapters left!
In case you missed them:
Joy to the World
“Oh good gracious!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed from a window. “Oh my goodness! I shall faint! It’s a Christmas miracle!”
Jane hastened to her mother’s side. “Mama, what is wrong?”
Mrs. Bennet brought a fluttering hand to her chest. “Mr. Bingley has returned!”
“Mr. Bingley?” Most of the room echoed at once then looked at Jane, causing her to blush. Then there was a bit of a mad dash to the window as her sisters and several guests endeavored to peek outside.
“Mr. Darcy is with him,” groaned Elizabeth. “Who is that other gentleman? He looks familiar.”
“Allow me,” Mr. Wickham peered out the window.
“Well?” Mrs. Bennet asked.
Jane had cast her eyes down and gripped her hands but could hear her mother panting in excitement.
“That is Mr. Darcy’s cousin, a Colonel in His Majesty’s Army and the younger son of Earl Fitzwilliam.”
“The son of an earl!” Mrs. Bennet erupted so loudly that Jane jumped. “What joy!”
“Perhaps we had better leave,” Wickham said to his fellow officers.
“You are not leaving?” Elizabeth said.
“I think it would be better.”
Elizabeth became uncharacteristically quiet, and Jane would have worried more about it if the officers didn’t follow Wickham to her father’s study. Were they going to hide in there until Bingley and the others were in the drawing room and then sneak out of the house? What ridiculousness!
Mrs. Reynolds appeared, holding back a smile, and announced Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Miss Darcy. No one had mentioned her arrival. Jane’s heart hammered in her chest. Bingley’s sister said he would marry this young lady.
Jane ought to hate her, but a small glimmer of hope welled inside her. Why would Mr. Bingley return to Netherfield just to show off his betrothed? Why did his sisters not visit with him? Could it be that Elizabeth was correct and Bingley did love her? Jane’s eye’s followed Miss Darcy as she dragged her brother to Elizabeth’s side.
“My sisters elected to stay in London,” Mr. Bingley said.
Jane blinked. Had someone asked him a question? Was he speaking to her or the entire room? While busy watching Miss Darcy, he had sat next to her.
“Oh! I love London! It must have been very difficult to tear you away from it,” Mrs. Bennet said. “But I see Hertfordshire has its draw,” she gave a significant nod to Jane.
Heat slapped her cheeks but still her mother talked on without allowing anyone else to speak. “My brother and sister are from London. You will not meet with a finer merchant or a finer gentleman. Although they are not as lofty as some,” here she sent a scathing look to Mr. Darcy who sat next to Elizabeth and the very couple in question, “would like.”
“Mama, can we go for a walk in the garden?” Lydia interrupted her mother.
“Well, certainly but Mr. Bingley will want to stay…”
“I would love nothing more, madam.”
“But I do not think it appropriate for an earl’s son…”
“There can be nothing inappropriate by walking with such a good friend of the family,” Mr. Bingley’s eyes locked on Jane’s and felt like a caress.
Jane’s heart soared as Miss Darcy was absolutely forgotten. As they gathered in the hall to put on their outerwear, Jane noticed Mary hugging a book to her chest.
“Mary, dear, I think it might be too dark to read outside,” she said gently.
“That’s not a book. It’s her diary,” Lydia giggled. “She has been taking it with her everywhere and scribbling in it. She must have a secret beau!”
“Jane, I must speak with you,” Mary said while ignoring their youngest sister but Bingley approached. Mary thrust the diary open to its last page. “What do you see?”
“Just the date. December twenty-third.”
“Yes, but look! It is the final page! There are enough sheets for one page per day of the year in this diary.”
Jane furrowed her brow. “You must be mistaken.”
Mary fumbled with the pages through her gloves and then it was knocked from her hand by Colonel Fitzwilliam accidentally knocking into her as he helped Charlotte Lucas. Bingley reached Jane’s side, and she could think of nothing else.
“Show me later tonight,” she said to Mary before taking Bingley’s arm to walk in the garden.
Walking at Bingley’s side filled Jane with peace and joy. She had never known she could miss a person’s company so acutely before. She had never traveled much, but she had often stayed in London with her aunt and uncle. During such visits, while she missed her family, Elizabeth especially, she always found pursuits to distract and cheer her. The separation from Bingley was a deep ache in her heart that nothing but his presence could fill.
Terrified that none of this was real, it was far too good to be true, Jane remained silent. She had dreams of this very thing. Bingley would show up unannounced, as was his way, and be her Christmas miracle. He would confess his love and apologize for his leaving then propose under the mistletoe. Jane blushed at the thought. Her heart longed for this very scene but was it just another dream? It felt so surreal, as though she had been through it all before, although Colonel Fitzwilliam and Miss Darcy had ever appeared in her dreams before. She still felt as though she knew this scene.
At last, Bingley broke the silence. He whispered near her ear, “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 and attempted to conceal a tremble in her voice. “Certainly not. A gentleman may come and go as he pleases.”
“A gentleman keeps his word.” Jane shuddered next to him, and he pulled her in closer. “Are you getting cold?”
Jane stared at her feet and whispered, “Please do not be a dream.”
“Pardon, I could not hear you. Perhaps we ought to return inside.”
Jane slowly raised her head and met his eyes. She attempted to hold her tears back. “No, I am not cold and do not wish to go inside.” The dream always ended when they went inside.
“Jane! Lizzy! We’re cold!” Lydia called from the door where three of her sisters were huddled.
“Mary says it is nearly seven o’clock. Hurry! I’m famished,” Kitty whined.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Miss Darcy speaking with Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy said something and Lizzy immediately turned red in anger and began arguing with him.
Bingley put his other hand over Jane’s and gave it a squeeze, drawing her attention back. “It seems our walk is over.” He dropped his voice and leaned closer to her her. “I will call again in a few days. Do you believe me? Will you trust me again?”
Jane shuddered and nodded but remained silent as Bingley escorted her back inside. She knew the dream would end once inside. Instead, Bingley helped her out of her pelisse. Jane breathed a sigh of relief. This was real, she did not wake up. There were no clocks and bells chiming in her dreams. She could smell the coffee and tea. Yes, her senses were never so aware in her dreams.
As the sixth bell chimed a sense of warning hummed in her body. Yet, she had lived this before. She was to beware the seventh bell, something would happen. Something terrible. Someone cried out just as her vision blurred. All around her, she was aware of others moaning in pain. Then, she saw and heard nothing, consumed in the darkness of night before dawn.