Sorry I’m late posting again! I’ve been so exhausted and my son is having trouble adjusting to school. I’ve been on the phone with school several times this week and had to pick him up early twice. That means less writing time! There are 3-5 chapters left after this one (depends on if I need to round anything out or decided to do an epilogue). What Child is This is one of my favorite Christmas Songs so I’ve had the idea of this from the very beginning.
What Child is This?
“I swear to you, I keep dreaming of Miss Bennet. It is a sign. It must be,” Bingley said as they boarded his coach again.
Out of nowhere the night before, Bingley had insisted on returning to his leased estate near Meryton, Hertfordshire. Darcy had insisted on going with him. Georgiana insisted on going with her brother. Richard insisted on going with her.
Last Darcy had heard, George Wickham was in Meryton and friendly with the Bennets. Of course, that had been two years ago. The Regiment likely was now stationed elsewhere, but with no notice, Richard had no means of finding out. However, he would never let the scoundrel near his young cousin again
“I will never understand why you renewed the lease even though you had not returned in over two years,” Darcy said coldly.
“Yes, I know all about your displeasure at my not taking your advice on the matter,” Bingley said.
Richard looked at his cousin, Georgiana. It was unlike Darcy and Bingley to have a disagreement. Darcy could be overbearing at times, but Bingley hated arguments. Wordlessly, she told him not to push the matter.
“What do you think they’re like now?” Georgiana asked.
“Ja — Miss Bennet would be as beautiful as ever,” Bingley replied instantly.
“You call it love when you only care about her looks?” Darcy asked. “What if seven years had passed instead of just two?”
Richard studied him. He expected to hear derision but instead, Darcy looked nearly as anxious as Bingley did.
“Why did you even want to come?” Bingley said in clipped tones.
“It was this or visit Aunt Catherine,” Richard said hoping humor would diffuse the tension. “You know he skipped out of going at Easter again.”
“Yes, tell us about your visit again,” Darcy said.
Richard tugged at his cravat. He did not like to speak of that time. Without Darcy’s company, Rosings was even more tedious than usual. Last year, Richard had taken to spending as much time as he could at the parsonage. Foolishly, he fell in love with a married woman. Even more foolishly, he returned to see her the following year.
Richard could guess Darcy’s reason for avoiding Rosings at Easter. Two Easters ago, Charlotte Collins had invited her dearest friend, Elizabeth Bennet to visit. As Richard’s friendship with Charlotte deepened, she confided that she was disappointed Darcy had not come as planned because she believed he was in love with her friend.
At first, Richard rejected the idea as incredulous. After observing his cousin, however, he believed it to be true. Now, Darcy sat across from him, knowing he would soon be seeing Miss Elizabeth again. He still held a torch for her. Richard could sympathize with his cousin’s pain. Darcy had been wise to avoid meeting with Miss Elizabeth, but it seemed he could no longer avoid the pull of his heart.
Richard took a sip of the flask he carried with him. Would that he and Charlotte were as free as Darcy and Elizabeth were. Darcy had ideas about rank and circumstances for marriage, but those weren’t real obstacles the way Charlotte’s marriage was. Of course, that and the fact that she had no idea of his feelings.
“Rosings was as boring as ever,” Richard said. “As you know, Darcy, there was a lively houseguest at the parsonage last year, but she was not there this year.”
“Who was the houseguest?” Bingley asked absentmindedly while looking out the window and drumming his fingers on his thigh. “At this rate, we will not get there until nearly seven!”
“The horses are tired,” Richard reasoned, “and the roads are damp.”
“Yes, well,” the usually good-natured man harrumphed. “You were saying?”
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet was a guest of my aunt’s clergyman, Mr. Collins. They are cousins, and she is his wife’s friend. I believe you met the man? His wife was the former Charlotte Lucas,” Richard addressed Bingley but directed his eyes at Darcy.
No one had asked if Richard desired to go to Netherfield. It was just assumed. Indeed, he never thought otherwise himself. His duty was to Georgiana. However, each turn of the wheel brought a piercing pain to his heart. The day before they left London, Lady Catherine had written and explained that Mrs. Collins would be visiting her parents over the Christmas holiday. Richard knew the Lucas family was good friends with the Bennets. Even now, she might be in Longbourn, and Richard would have to see her again.
Bingley suddenly leaned forward, interest burning in his eyes. “Did Mrs. Collins say anything about the Bennets? Why did Miss Elizabeth not return?”
“Mrs. Collins said something about it being an inconvenient time for her family but believing they were all well. She had no idea of when Miss Elizabeth might be able to visit again.” Richard shrugged his shoulders. He had spent little time speaking of Miss Elizabeth when Mrs. Collins was his true interest.
Bingley sat back, evidently disappointed. At last, they reached the house and were shown in. The room went silent at their announcement. A quick scan produced the lovely Mrs. Collins. She was sitting next to a lady in glasses, who had a baby on her lap. It felt like a punch to his gut.
Was this her baby? It should come as no surprise after two years of marriage, and yet, she had shown no signs of pregnancy at Easter, and the child was no newborn. In fact, it could sit on its own. What little Richard understood of infants from his brother’s children, they could not do so until they were many months old.
Faintly, he registered the sound of voices. A stiff introduction and not the shrill voice he expected of Mrs. Bennet. His feet shuffled toward the baby, who fussed. The spectacled woman spoke to it in gentle tones. “Here, do you want to see the people?”
When she turned to face the child out on her lap, Richard felt all air leave him. The baby was the spitting image of George Wickham as a child. Behind him, he heard the gasps of Darcy and Georgiana.
“Colonel Fitzwilliam,” Mrs. Collins said, drawing his notice. “How nice to see you again.”
“Indeed. Nice…pleasant…” he trailed off as his brain could not master speech let alone polite conversation at the moment. He cleared his voice. “Excuses me, but I did not hear. Congratulations. He’s a fine lad,” Richard nodded at the baby.
Mrs. Collins shook her head. “You are mistaken, dear Colonel. My husband and I are not expecting our child until the Spring. This is Mrs. Spurlock’s baby.”
“Mrs. Spurlock?” Richard said as Darcy and Georgiana joined his side.
“My sister Lydia married Mr. Spurlock last year,” the woman in spectacles said. “She and her husband are visiting after being stationed in Newcastle. It is the first we have seen them since before the wedding.”
“You might have seen the announcement,” Mrs. Bennet said, “although it was not put in the way I had hoped.”
“No, I had not,” Darcy said.
“Oh, well. It had been August before last. No doubt so long ago it would have slipped your mind even if you had seen it,” she said.
Was it Richard’s imagination or did she look relieved they had not known of the announcement?
“Stationed in Newcastle? He must be an army man like myself!” Richard said, hoping he could learn more information from the man. There could be no coincidence in the baby looking so much like Wickham as a child.
“Indeed!” Mrs. Bennet beamed. “He’s over here. Let me introduce you,” she said, and Richard followed over.
Several minutes of stupid conversation later, and Richard guessed as much information as he thought he could glean from the man. Spurlock and Lydia met in London; the gentleman was an acquaintance of her uncle through his father who shared a business connection with Mr. Gardiner. After their marriage, he joined the Army and was stationed in Newcastle. He was just stupid enough to be the sort that was chosen to marry a ruined girl and think it lucky for him. A younger son of a tradesman suddenly an ensign in the army with more pay and where he might distinguish himself and with a pretty wife was enough to make many men satisfied. Richard wondered if he were stupid enough to believe the child was his.
“Colonel,” the spectacled miss appeared sans baby, “I am to make your tea,” she said and nodded at the table.
Richard instructed her and watched as she moved with grace. “Thank you, Miss ?”
She blushed. “Miss Mary. I know there are several of us. It must get confusing,” she said. “Although, you met Lizzy before, didn’t you?”
“Indeed,” Richard said as he took a sip of his tea and watched Mrs. Collins across the room dote on Mrs. Spurlock’s child. Motherhood suited her.
“I do not know why you are always so fascinated by her when she has always been taken,” Miss Mary huffed under her breath.
“And what do you mean by always?” he asked.
Miss Mary turned white, and her eyes darted to a bound journal on the other side of the table with writing materials nearby. It looked as though she had been adding pages to it. Richard reached for it, but she snatched it and held it close to her chest.
“May I speak with you?” she asked in a timid voice.
“You are speaking with me. Not making much sense, but speaking,” he said with a sigh.
“No, I know that,” she let out a nervous chuckle. “In a few minutes when everyone is distracted? I have to show you something.”
“Miss Mary, I think you are fatigued–”
“Listen! It concerns my family and yours too!” She dropped her voice, “And–and Mr. Wickham.”
Richard said nothing but grit his teeth and nodded. In a few minutes, the others were sufficiently distracted, and he made his way to Miss Mary.
“I am glad you trusted me, sir,” she whispered.
Richard said nothing and the lady pushed her glasses back on her nose. “This journal contains three hundred and sixty-five pages. It is meant to have one page per day of the year.” She quickly fanned through several entries. “As you can see, I always complete my entry in the allotted space.”
Richard’s quick eyes had scanned a few entries while she spoke. Most of the entries were short and seemed to contain no news. After Michaelmas, the entries grew longer.
“Do you see the date,” Mary pointed to one. “Look at the year.”
Richard furrowed his brows in confusion. This journal was two years old. Before he could formulate a question, she turned the page, and the same date was repeated. She leafed through eight pages, each with the same date, December 23, 1811.
“Now, read today’s entry.” She held it up for his inspection.
December 23, 1811
Today I learned two years have passed since last night. This is beyond anything I had guessed. Lydia is married, but there was some scandal about it. I heard Mama and Aunt Gardiner discussing it in hushed tones. Apparently our friends abandoned us during the time. They just started visiting again but now that Lydia is at Longbourn, Mama thinks she the others will avoid us. Strangely, Charlotte Collins has lent her support, although Mama insists it is so she can look around the house as her future domain. Mama has given up on any of us marrying. Her schemes are at an end, and it is so strange to see her quiet.
My heavens! Since writing the above, I have learned the most shocking news. Lydia eloped with Mr. Wickham last year! After several weeks it became clear to her, he had no intention of marrying, and she left him. Uncle Gardiner then patched up a marriage for her. They say her baby came early, but I would not be surprised at all to learn it is Wickham’s child. There is something familiar about his eyes.
I do not know how to heal this rift in time. Will I awake tomorrow in the past, or in the future. Is this reality inescapable? I do not know what to do. Was my meddling to blame for this turn of events?
“Read the other entries, if you like, but be quick!” Mary said when Richard looked at her in doubt.
Quickly, he read the other entries. They were different situations of him arriving with Darcy, Bingley, and Georgiana. Mary never had anything to record before dinner time. It was always vague explanations of how the day was spent. Then, Richard and the others would arrive and Mary’s memory became very detailed. Certain words were repeated in each circumstance, and everything seemed to shift at seven o’clock.
“Do you believe it?” She twisted her hands and nibbled a bottom lip, hoping for his approval.
“There is only one way to know,” he said and then impulsively kissed her.
“Mr. Bennet! Mr. Bennet!” he heard Mrs. Bennet shrieked. “Come, you must make him stop! You must make him marry her!”
The rest of the room was silent.
Richard pulled away and looked in Mary’s astonished eyes. “There. Now, if it is true as you say, then no one shall recall this tomorrow.”
Before he could say more, the clock struck seven. He held Mary’s eyes as the others around him clutched their heads.
“I will remember,” Mary said as her bottom lip trembled and tears filled her eyes.
“As will I,” he promised.
As the chimes continued, he felt like a cloud was lifting and he saw clearly for the first time in weeks. He could never forget. Why had he been so interested in a married lady who barely seemed to notice his existence? How had he missed the woman before him? Even as he asked himself the question, he knew the answer. It was safer to chase something that could never be a reality than be rejected as insufficient. He would fight tooth and nail for this reality to be the one worth keeping. As his own epiphany dawned, he considered Darcy and Bingley’s predicaments. White light swirled around him as understanding became clearer.