Good King Wenceslas
December 23, 1811
Mr. Bennet had been watching the liveliness in his drawing room with a smile. Mrs. Bennet sat at his side, holding his hand. He had thought the time loop finished, but then Mrs. Bennet suffered through an epiphany, so it appeared others had something to learn. While they all fell asleep, at least they managed to stay in one place rather than separate to various locations or endure extreme jumps in time. He supposed that was because Darcy and Elizabeth had worked past their differences. By his count, time had reset twice since then.
“They are so well-matched, Thomas,” she said sweetly, reminding him of the woman he married five and twenty years before.
“Do I have you back?” he asked.
Fanny gave him a shy smile. “Yes, I am sorry I was lost for a little while.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I was so worried about having an heir and then about the girls.”
“And I was no help at all,” he finished. “We will begin again. You have nothing to fear now that the older three are to marry, and Kitty and Lydia need more time.”
“I fear what will become of them,” Fanny whispered. “I spoiled them terribly and did them a grave disservice.”
“We both did,” he acknowledged.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lydia talking with Miss Darcy. If he were not mistaken, they spoke of her encounter with Wickham, and Lydia was proving quite a difficult audience. Unexpectedly, Lydia seemed to reconsider.
Mr. Bennet glanced at the mantle clock. It was nearing seven o’clock again. Returning his eyes to Lydia, he saw her collapse and Miss Darcy catch her before the clock reset once more.
“Oh dear,” Miss Darcy exclaimed as she sank to the floor under the weight of Lydia.
Instantly, the music and laughter ceased as everyone momentarily succumbed. Upon awakening, Lydia still slept, trapping Georgiana beneath her. Everyone scrambled to her side. Darcy reached her first. Lifting Lydia off his sister, he laid her on a settee and then left her to the care of her parents while seeing to Miss Darcy.
Fanny perched on the edge of the settee and soothingly stroked Lydia’s face and arms until she came to.
“Papa,” she said before even opening her eyes.
Mr. Bennet’s heart thrilled. He had never seen his younger daughters rely on him. They had always belonged solely to their mother.
“Papa, you must hear about Mr. Wickham,” Lydia said as a line furrowed between her brows. “You must keep my sisters safe. He hurt Lizzy!”
“Hush,” Mr. Bennet said and kissed her forehead. “All is well. Darcy saved her.”
“Who will save the others?” she asked, her bottom lip trembling.
“What will you have me do?” he asked. He could not even be sure what day it was.
“Call for your hat,” Lydia demanded.
Looking into her blue eyes, the perfect picture of her mother, Mr. Bennet found that he could not refuse her one and only reasonable request.
“Call for Hill!” he said, and Lizzy pulled the bell cord.
“I will go with you,” Bingley said at his side. “I am a member of the community and must take an interest in the area.”
Mr. Bennet nodded. “Darcy, Colonel, do you feel compelled to go, too?”
He watched as Elizabeth slipped her hand in Darcy’s and squeezed it tight. “I think it would be wise to allow cooler heads to prevail,” Darcy said.
Colonel Fitzwilliam agreed. “If you do not meet with a satisfactory answer, my sword would love to become better acquainted with him.”
Beside him, Mary smiled slightly. Mr. Bennet watched in awe. If he could have guessed, he would have thought Mary would have been attracted to the austere Mr. Darcy, and Lizzy pleased with the fun-loving colonel.
He said his goodbyes and set off at a brisk pace. It was too late in the evening to call for his carriage, but the moon shone brightly, reflected all the more by a layer of snowfall. The wind began to blow by the time they reached the town of Meryton and the quarters of Colonel Forster.
“Mr. Bennet,” he said, looking up from his desk. “I am surprised to see you so close to Christmas.”
Bingley and Mr. Bennet shared a glance. If the calendar had advanced normally, they would be past Twelfth Night. How many people were affected by their time loop?
“I did not know of your return, Mr. Bingley. Welcome. And accept my thanks for the ball you hosted last month. My wife has not stopped speaking of it.”
“Nor mine,” Mr. Bennet chuckled while Bingley blushed at the praise. Clearing his throat, Mr. Bennet got to his point. “We have come on business regarding one of your officers.”
Glancing from one man to the other and with concern marring his face, the colonel motioned to some chairs. “In that case, you had better sit.” He passed out drinks.
Leaving out some personal details, Mr. Bennet relayed the truth of Mr. Wickham’s history with the Darcys. When he had finished, Colonel Forster furrowed his brow and rubbed his eyes.
“As dreadful as that story is, he has done nothing criminal, and I cannot expel him from my regiment.”
“We only ask that you curb his ability to gossip about the Darcys and keep an eye on his behaviour. He has many debts, I understand.” Mr. Bennet looked at Bingley for corroboration.
“Yes, he does. Darcy has bought the ones in Town and in Lambton. Wickham must be careful or face prison.” Taking a deep breath and glancing at Mr. Bennet, who nodded in support, Bingley told of Wickham’s attack on Elizabeth and Darcy.
“Impossible,” Forster muttered and rubbed at his eyes again. “He was on duty that night.”
“And just how many nights was that?” Bingley asked.
Forster threw his hand down on the desk and gave Bingley a stern look. “What do you mean?”
“As a colonel of the regiment, you must take meticulous notes,” Mr. Bennet answered. “How many entries for December twenty-third do you have?”
“How could you know?” He blinked at the men. “I thought I was going mad!”
“We seem to the be recipients of some Christmas magic.” Mr. Bennet smiled. “We are being given the opportunity to relive a day until we realise some extreme failing we have and learn to manage the day correctly.”
“I see,” the colonel answered. “But what do I have to do? What have I to learn?” “I fear the weight is on our shoulders, and perhaps Wickham’s,” Mr. Bennet explained. “All you must do is believe we tell the truth. If we get our own houses in order, your calendar ought to move forward at a regular pace again.”
“In the meantime, pray, keep a close watch on Wickham,” Bingley said.
“Of course,” Forster answered.
The gentlemen then departed, finding the return trip not as uncomfortable as before.
“You handled that quite well,” Mr. Bennet said, looking at his soon-to-be son. “I was thankful for your presence.”
Bingley shook off the compliment. “I have been thinking for days that I have learned much from not wanting to be like you.” He glanced at Mr. Bennet. “I mean no offence. One can easily draw a comparison between us. You avoid making decisions as much as I do, although perhaps out of different motives.”
Mr. Bennet nodded in agreement.
“Now,” Bingley continued, “I see that I have much to learn from you.”
To their astonishment, the town’s clock tower began to chime. Clutching the wall of a building, they braced for the dizzy spell.