So much has been said about preparing for Christmas and traditions, I decided that I would look a bit past Christmas to December 26, St. Stephen’s Day or Boxing Day. Named for the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen’s Day was celebrated by giving to charity. The gentry would give their servants Christmas boxes (thus the name Boxing Day).
About a week ago, I awoke with a story tripping around my mind. Initially, it involved Elizabeth and Darcy, but the longer I thought about it, the more I realized it fit better for Jane and Bingley. I had no idea to actually use it in a story, but decided I would share with you all instead. St. Stephen’s Day seemed like a perfect setting. I hope you enjoy it.
Jane laughed as she watched Elizabeth pat the snow into a ball and look about for their cousins. The family had just finished delivering St. Stephen’s Day boxes to the tenants and the Gardiner children were filled with unreleased energy. With the fresh layer of snow which had fallen while they were making their deliveries, Elizabeth had suggested they allow the children to expend their exuberance before returning home where Mrs. Bennet might be apt to scold. The rest of the family had eagerly returned to the carriage and promised to have hot tea and chocolate waiting for them.
With a soft sigh, Jane raised her head to the sky and felt the cool touch of the lacy flakes against her cheeks. The snow was light and intermittent, leaving little more than a dusting on top of the small accumulation from the previous night. It was enough to inspire the desire to play, but not to hinder travel. Soft thuds sounded behind her and she realized the battle had begun. She lowered her gaze to watch as her sister and cousins alternated between hiding behind bushes and trees, and throwing their snowballs at one another. For a moment her heart lightened seeing Elizabeth’s surprised countenance when Sarah, their eldest cousin, struck her with a well-aimed projectile. Her laughter caught in her throat when another struck herself square in the chest.
“Ah, and I thought I was the judge. When did I become a target?” Jane bent over and scooped up a handful of snow. Lobbing it toward her cousin, she turned to run for cover but was stopped short when she ran into an immovable object and felt arms wrap about her to steady her.
Her eyes fastened upon the fine winter coat and blue scarf before they travelled slowly upward to take in the gentleman’s smiling countenance.
“I had hoped to see you today, but had not thought I would be as fortunate as this.” Mr. Bingley chuckled.
He had yet to release her and Jane was uncertain how to respond. The last letter from his sister had declared Mr. Bingley nearly engaged to Miss Darcy and determined not to return to Hertfordshire that winter. Yet here he was.
Mr. Bingley nearly lifted her off the ground and deposited her behind the closest tree, standing to the side to protect her from any other attacks. The reminder of the snowball fight seemed to finally break her from her dismay.
“Why are you here, sir?” Perhaps it was not the most polite way to greet him, but a bit of disbelief still lingered.
His smile slipped and a line formed between his brows. “Do you wish me to go?”
“No!” Jane cleared her throat and stood taller. “That is, it is not my place to dictate your actions, sir. You are your own man.”
Mr. Bingley’s countenance reddened. “I am, and I have chosen to behave as such.”
The smile returned and he quickly scooped a handful of snow and threw it toward a giggling bush to his right. A high-pitched screech followed by more laughter emanated forth.
“Lissy!” cried a small voice to their left. “My fingers are cold.”
“Very well,” replied Elizabeth. “Shall we return to Longbourn and have some hot chocolate?”
A cheer went up and the children rushed from their protected hiding spots and danced about her. She took a hand of each of the smaller children and glanced toward her sister and the gentleman. “Will you join us, Mr. Bingley?”
“I would like that very much, Miss Elizabeth.” He held out his arm to Jane.
Remembering the pain of his departure a month prior, she hesitantly laid her hand upon his arm, trying to keep her touch as light as possible.
The older children whispered between themselves and hurried off toward Longbourn, taking a rather circuitous route. “Follow us!” they cried.
Elizabeth frowned, but shrugged and did as they asked. Her soft voice could be heard singing Christmas carols with the children joining on the choruses.
“I envy you, Miss Bennet,” Mr. Bingley said as they made their way through the wooded area.
“Why?” Jane asked, tipping her head so she could peek at him.
“The joy of children at Christmas, it is infectious. I am certain, should more people be exposed to it, they would be happier.”
“I had not thought of it, sir, but I am certain you are correct.” She met his gaze directly and returned his smile.
“Miss Bennet,” Mr. Bingley began but hesitated.
“Look!” cried Sarah.
The couple followed the girl’s pointed finger to a bough directly over their heads only to see a branch of mistletoe obviously drawn out to dangle over the path. Jane felt her cheeks burn and she was unable to meet the gentleman’s eye.
“Forgive me, Miss Bennet, but it is a tradition.” He leaned closer and placed a soft kiss upon her cheek.
The children cheered, then Sarah grabbed her brother’s hand and pulled him forward turning onto a different path that wound through Longbourn’s woods. Elizabeth laughed and shook her head but followed along.
“Forgive me again, Miss Bennet, I forget of what we were speaking.”
Jane allowed her hand to rest more fully upon his arm. “The joy of children at Christmas.” She was embarrassed that her voice was so weak.
“Ah, yes. It is clear you like children.” His hand covered hers. “I have not had much experience with them as I am the youngest of my family. Even my cousins are older than I, and those with children all have infants.”
His thumb caressed the back of her glove scattering her thoughts until she was unable to respond. They walked in silence until Thomas, Sarah’s closest brother, stood before them giggling as he looked up. Jane took a deep breath before she tipped her head upward and saw another branch suspiciously dangling in a similar manner to the last one.
Mr. Bingley chuckled. “Tradition, you must understand,” he said just before placing a kiss on her other cheek.
When they began walking again, the children were already disappearing out of sight with Elizabeth reprimanding them to slow down. Jane and Mr. Bingley followed along, but the distance between them and her family began to grow.
“Miss Bennet, I believe I owe you yet another apology.” Mr. Bingley’s hand covered hers, this time covering it completely and surrounding it with his warmth. “I left suddenly and without explanation. It was not my intention to remain away so long.” He fell silent and she could hear him breathing deeply. “I fear I allowed myself to be persuaded from a course which I had believed would bring me happiness.”
“But you have now returned,” Jane whispered.
“Yes.” He stopped and lifted her hand from his arm, drawing it to his chest and placing the other over it also. “If I am to believe what is said, it would be best if I learned the truth from the source, do not you agree?”
Jane’s brow furrowed as she studied him closely. “As I am ignorant to what was said, sir, I cannot reply for certain.”
Whispers drifted toward them and Jane was reminded they were not alone. She drew her hand from his and took a step forward. Mr. Bingley followed which brought about another bought of laughter from her cousins. This time, she looked to the gentleman without confirming what she knew was now overhead.
He stepped closer, his eyes lingering upon her lips as he brushed his fingers over her cheek. “May I?” he whispered.
Unable to reply, Jane tipped her head upward and closed her eyes. The caress of his lips upon hers was tender and far too brief. She felt herself sway and opened her eyes to find Mr. Bingley smiling at her.
“Shall we see where my cousins lead us next, Mr. Bingley?” she asked as she returned her hand to his arm.
“Indeed, Miss Bennet.”
May you all have a very Happy Christmas and a blessed New Year!