In the Arms of Mr. Darcy is the fourth volume in The Darcy Saga sequel series to Pride and Prejudice. Unlike the previous three novels, this novel moves at a faster pace and covers the second year of the Darcys’ marriage.
I have chosen a chapter from the middle, #8 entitled “Christening,” and must warn *SPOILER ALERT* that it reveals the sex and name of the Darcy firstborn!
For more information about In the Arms of Mr. Darcy, click over the this page: http://sharonlathanauthor.com/…..f-mr-darcy
Chapter 8 ~ Christening
As Lizzy had noted upon rising that morning, the sun was blazing in a brilliant cobalt, cloudless sky, bathing the earth in eye piercing sparkles reflecting off the banks of snow. Yet, despite the reality of a fierce sun, the air was only a few degrees above freezing. The faint rays of warmth able to radiate through the chill succeeded in melting the layered frozen flakes enough to edge the chapel’s eaves with glistening spikes of twisted icicles and provide background sounds of muffled drips from snow laden trees.
Bundled to his eyeballs, as promised by a protective father, Alexander was rosy cheeked and red-nosed, but otherwise unfazed by his first excursion abroad. He slept through the entire short jaunt to the church, nestled in Darcy’s arms with Lizzy incessantly retucking the tightly wrapped blankets, only blinking and stretching briefly upon alighting from the carriage. Reverend Bertram assured that the wide drive and stone pathways leading to Pemberley’s quaint house of worship were scoured clean of every speck of ice. This allowed not only for safe passage, but also for an accumulated crowd of local citizens craning for a second glimpse of the young Master.
Darcy undertook this event with the utmost seriousness. If there was one aspect of his existence he understood deep into the core of his being, it was the significance of this moment and the obligatory protocol associated. He was not about to allow several dozen people to touch or breath on his newborn son, nor subject him to the atmospheric elements for longer then absolutely necessary. So he turned to offer a hand to his wife, lent an arm to her dainty gloved hand, and imperiously walked into the brightly candlelit interior with nary a glance to either side. It was left to Mrs. Darcy to extend kind smiles to the onlookers.
The front pews were reserved for the Darcy family and friends, some of whom were already seated. Reverend Bertram greeted from the inner narthex, bowing properly at the Darcys and exchanging a short whispered conversation. His estimation that the modest chapel would be bursting at the seams with attendees proved to be inaccurate, but the seats were filled to a capacity not seen in many a year. Darcy submerged his emotions behind a composed façade, but he was profoundly moved by the devotion expressed in their participation.
A hush fell over the previously talkative assembly as Mr. and Mrs. Darcy carried their son to the designated bench in the front row. The sanctuary was pleasantly warm due to the combined effects of thick stonewalls, a mass of bodies, and the four braziers burning coal in each corner. Lizzy gently worked to remove the woolen blankets, revealing Alexander in all his lacy satin glory. A ripple of whispered awe ran through the congregants. Lizzy and Darcy shared a private smile and loving glance, hearts swelling with immeasurable pride and happiness.
Resplendent in his formal vestments, black cassock covered by a delicate white surplice and accented with a stunning cross of gold and green satin stole, Reverend Bertram stood in regal command behind the pulpit. The kindly face of the grey haired elderly gentleman shone upon each person equally, caring eyes touching every face. He signaled his wife, who sat at the five-year-old pianoforte which was a gift from their patron when the prior one grew impossible to tune adequately, and she applied competent fingertips to the ivory keys for the initial bars of “Come, and Let Us Sweetly Join” by Charles Wesley as the white robed choir entered to stand in their designated location.
Alexander’s eyes opened as the first voices rose in song. With the serious expression typical of the weeks old infant, he gazed up at his father, who was concentrating on the choir, and quietly settled in to listen to the disembodied singing and cadenced music as it lifted, harmonized, and swirled about the chamber.
The good reverend had long ago learned the necessity of keeping the introductory worship as short as feasible in hopes that infantile fortitude would persevere throughout the ritual itself. Even at that, there had been many a child whose wails nearly drowned out the verbalized blessings well before the assault with tepid water to a delicate forehead. Thus it was that as soon as the final strains of echoing music died, he lifted his hands and requested the congregation join him in prayer.
With bowed head, Darcy listened to the invocation while smiling at the blue-eyed stare fixed on his face. One chubby hand was wrapped around his thumb, and it was no surprise when Lizzy’s soft hand crept over, fingers lacing and simultaneously caressing both husband and son.
“Gentlemen and ladies of Pemberley Parish, welcome to this first Sunday of the year of our Lord eighteen hundred eighteen. Every day and every year granted to us by the gracious Hand of our merciful God is to be treasured and accepted as a gift. Nonetheless, there are certain days, certain years, and certain events that are marked as momentous. Supreme over all human celebrations are those that exalt our awesome Father, sacrificial Savior, and renewing Spirit. Yet, in the process of uplifting our hearts and minds in honoring and commemorating human occurrences, we are also reminded of the grace and mercy of the Creator of all. Today is such a day.”
Reverend Bertram paused, eyes sweeping the assembly and resting lastly on the Darcys. He smiled, continuing in his ringing voice, “Of all the miracles we daily witness, second to the reawakening of a lost soul finding Christ is the miracle of a new life created in the union between two who love and are joined in the Holy State of Matrimony. Today, this Fourth day of January, we gather here in God’s sanctified House to welcome a new life. Further, it is our joy and honor to perform the sacred ritual that will set this innocent babe, born into sin and darkness, upon the true path of Light and forgiveness.
“The Christening Sacrament, baptizing a soul in need of redemption, serves numerous functions. It is a welcoming of the child into the family, community, church, and the world. It is a formal blessing of the child, just as Jesus blessed the children in Mark chapter ten, verses thirteen to sixteen. It is a celebration of the life given, a life that is treasured and loved, a way to publicly thank God for this transcendent joy. It is to dedicate the child to God, vowing to raise him in the tenets of Christian faith. It is to purify by the washing of water, symbolically cleansing of the stain of Original Sin and imparting rebirth through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a time of formal naming and presentation of the reborn Child of Christ to God and the parish community.
“All of these functions are willingly and wholeheartedly entered into today by Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy. With unification of purpose and free submission to God, they bring their first-born child, a son, before us now to receive the Sacrament. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, if you will join me here with the Godparents as well?”
Darcy rose, heart surging with joy. Glancing to his misty-eyed wife, he fleetingly envied the societal custom that said it was acceptable for women to shed tears but not men! The five of them, with Alexander quietly awake from the comfortable position nestled against his papa’s solid chest, gathered next to Reverend Bertram on the elevated chancel where he now stood beside the baptismal font.
Darcy stared into the beaming faces of each Godparent, one by one meeting their eyes to convey an unspoken message of thankfulness and abiding affection. Jane Bingley, serene and beautiful in a pale yellow gown, golden locks shimmering in innumerable curls upon her head, cerulean blue eyes shining and brimming with steady love. Charles Bingley, stately in a tailored suit of brown, red hair gleaming in the sunrays through the high windows, eyes wide with lingering traces of amazement, but tender with eternal friendship. And lastly, George Darcy, resplendent in a modern suit of vivid blue with long fitted trousers and waistcoat of cream velvet, brown curls lying impishly over a high noble brow, dimpled and toothy grin extending to identical Darcy blue eyes with fathomless depths of compassion, twinkles of humor, and profound familial devotion.
Darcy and Lizzy turned their attention to Reverend Bertram, confident in the certain knowledge that Alexander was to be perpetually surrounded by the best of souls.
Reverend Bertram’s elderly but trained speaking voice rang out, easily reaching to the farthest ear and readily commanding the attention of the vigilant flock. “Loving parents, family, and friends, you have come to witness the dedication of this blessed child to God. Realizing that this baby is special because by his birthright he is a Child of God.”
He turned to Darcy and Lizzy. “Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, your gift of love for each other made this child possible, and your guidance, wisdom, and love assures the happiness of this new life. May you remember to listen with your heart to the indwelling Christ as you nurture, love, and watch this loving Child of God grow into his divinely inspired potential. Do you receive this child as a gift from God?”
In a clear voice they both responded, “Yes, we do.”
“Do you wish to give thanks to God and receive His blessing?”
“Yes, we do.”
“Then let us pray. God our Creator, we thank you for the wonder and miracle of new life and for the mystery of human love. We thank you that we are known to you by name and loved by you from eternity past. We thank you for Jesus Christ who has shown us the way of love. Bless these parents that they may cherish their child. Make them wise, patient, and understanding to help him grow as he ought. Surround this family with the light of your truth and the warmth of your love. We praise you Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen”
“Blessed be God forever,” the entire assembly intoned.
“What name have you given to this child?”
“Alexander William George Bennet Darcy,” carefully articulated in ringing tones by a proud father.
“Who stands with you as persons of testified faith to offer their willing services as support in bringing Alexander to a conscious knowledge of Christ at the earliest possible age?”
Each godparent answered by stating their names, Reverend Bertram then asking, “Do you vow to withhold the tenets of your faith, set an example of Christian life and behavior, do all within your power to maintain a lasting relationship with Alexander and the Darcys, and be a support to them in the fulfillment of their vows until such time as God releases you when called home to Him?”
Lizzy was furtively dabbing at her teary eyes. She was afraid to look at Darcy, who she felt standing stiffly beside her; one glance at what she knew for certain was his patented rigid expression when overcome would surely send her over the emotional edge. She was correct, of course, as Darcy’s jaws were beginning to hurt from the tight grip he forced upon each muscle and bone. Alexander, in contrast, had accidentally wrapped his fingers around the ties to his bonnet and was happily ignoring all the drama about him in the delightful contemplation of flapping lace.
In fact, he was noticeably more disturbed by the sudden interruption to his play when passed from the familiar location next to the strongly beating heart of his father into the strange arms of another man than by anything that had transpired thus far. The surprising motion caused his arms to flail and partially lose their clasp on the entertaining ribbons, and then to make matters worse, his mother leaned over and removed the bonnet entirely! The indignity and annoyance of it all was almost too much to bear and his face screwed up in preparation to vocalize his opinion on the subject.
Fortunately, Darcy could read his son’s thoughts quite well and placed a firm hand onto his chest, leaning slightly to hush placatingly and capture Alexander’s gaze before it was too late. His timing was impeccable, Alexander calmed and distracted by the beloved face and voice.
Reverend Bertram chuckled, beaming upon the assembly. “Father to the rescue! Thank you Mr. Darcy for saving me from the arduous task of raising my age-crusted voice above the din!”
Darcy bowed slightly with a soft smile as the crowd rippled with quiet laughter. Reverend Bertram stepped behind the venerable baptismal font, a thick pedestal of white marble with curved inlaid strips of black marble and beaten copper between the four sides richly carved with images of Jesus blessing the little children. On top sat a bowl of intricately scrolled sterling silver, very old with aged tarnish spots impervious to the diligent efforts of numerous Pemberley servants on down through the centuries. This bowl served one purpose only: to hold the blessed water for christening Darcy children. Last used for Georgiana, the bowl had nonetheless been polished regularly and stored safely awaiting this very day.
Now Alexander’s head of massed brown curls dangled over the water-filled bowl as Reverend Bertram plunged his hand into the tepid liquid and said, “Alexander William George Bennet Darcy, I baptize thee in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Alexander blinked and flinched in surprise at the sensation of water poured onto his head, but remained peacefully gazing into the rector’s face. Lizzy squeezed Darcy’s arm, impulsively laying her head onto his shoulder while he blinked so furiously as to be unaware of anything but his own struggles to retain control.
Dipping into the small chalice of oil, Reverend Bertram anointed the babe’s forehead with the shape of a cross, speaking clearly, “I sign thee, Alexander, with the cross; the sign of Christ and His Church.”
Mrs. Bertram approached, handing a lighted candle to Darcy, Lizzy, and each Godparent, while the Reverend completed the sacrament, “Shine as a light in the world to fight against sin and the devil.” Rotating and lifting Alexander so all could easily see his face, he finished in a booming voice, “Congregants, I present to you Alexander Darcy!”
A cheer went up, claps resounded, and shouts of Alleluia burst forth, as Mrs. Bertram and the choir added to the clamor with a rousing hymn. The noise was the final straw for Alexander who broke into serious cries just as Darcy hastily handed his candle to Lizzy and reached to rescue the upset infant from the Reverend’s arms.
After the service, a relieved and ebullient Darcy gladly welcomed the congratulations of the citizens, his jovial smile a sharp contrast to the somber man who had entered the chapel. For some reason that he could not properly identify, he felt as if a weight was lifted. In a perhaps illogical rationale, it was as if Alexander was more real now, permanent and protected in a way he had not quite been before. The final crescendo was the formal entry into the parish registry of Alexander’s full name, birth date, parents’ names, and father’s listed occupation as Master of Pemberley. A gathering of family and friends observed the procedure, Darcy applying quill to parchment page with studious intensity and writing each letter in his firm hand with precise penmanship. Legibility for centuries to come would not be an issue.
He turned with a broad grin, the last vestiges of proper reserve erased momentarily at the sea of shining faces. George clapped him on the shoulder, glancing at the register and nodding.
“Excellently done, William! All spelled correctly too. Amazing.” Darcy merely grinned wider.
The intended quiet, intimate luncheon was anything but. True to Lizzy’s speculation, Mrs. Langton and the entire staff had ignored any urgings of the Mistress and thus presented a meal of stupendous proportions. The already elaborate holiday decorations were enhanced, the table dazzling with candles and ribbons in abundance, and the christening cake a masterpiece of exquisite artwork. The “cake” was actually three cakes stacked, each one less in diameter to the one below and of a variant flavor and custard filling, but equally thick. It was covered in creamy white frosting, pearls, and cascading flowers in multiple colors. The enormous concoction stood nearly three-feet high and required a table all by itself.
George presented the Bingleys with a gift identical to what he proudly displayed on his lapel: a triangular shaped pin of gold with the etched relief of a cherub in one corner and the words, “Alexander’s Godparent” scrolled below. This one item would be a topic of amused conversation for the bulk of the evening.
The humble gathering visualized evolved into a full-scale fête. Lizzy received numerous praises for the lavish affair and was too embarrassed to confess that she had little to do with it. The guest of honor made a brief appearance, dressed in a lovely but practical gown and staring with wide-eyed intensity from the security of his mother’s arms.
Georgiana and Mary played a duet on the pianoforte, voices raised in harmony with Kitty in a lyric paean to Alexander. The lyrics were a compilation of poems and nursery rhymes placed to music written by Georgiana. It was an excellent cap to the afternoon.
The guests said their adieus as the sun sat low on the horizon, darkness and icy roads not conducive to staying any later. By nightfall the Vernors, Sitwells, Hugheses, and Lord and Lady Matlock were safely ensconced in their own Manors, leaving the Darcys, Bennets, Gardiners, and Mr. Daniels to lazy and sedate companionship until bedtime.
Darcy joined his wife in the nursery, relieved to have removed his formal attire and anxious to devote attention to wife and son. Although they had carefully shielded Alexander from the festivities, he seemed unusually weary; not even nursing as well as typical and falling asleep at Lizzy’s breast rather than on Darcy’s shoulder as was his norm.
Darcy noted the concern on Lizzy’s face. “He has had a busy day, that’s all. There is no fever and his color is unchanged.” He kissed the tiny forehead nestled under his chin. “Tomorrow he will wake frequently demanding your attention to make up.”
Lizzy chuckled, smoothing the blanket tight over his body. “Most likely that is true. I know I am exhausted by the day’s events so can commiserate.” She leaned onto her husband’s arm, yawning hugely. “I can hardly keep my eyes open! One of these days I am going to fall asleep while rocking him and he will tumble to the floor, I just know it! Perhaps this comfortable chair was not such a wise idea.”
Darcy laughed, rising and extending a hand. “I have no fear that you will ever drop our son. Come, dearest, there is one last ritual we must attend before I can tuck you both into bed. Grab that candelabrum.”
Lizzy raised a quizzical brow, but he merely smiled and wiggled his fingers, so she took the proffered hand and lit candelabrum without a word. Darcy led out of the warm chambers into the chill of the hall. As always, spaced lamps were lit so safe navigation was not an issue. Unerringly, he led them down the staircase, along the silent second floor hallways to the Grand Staircase, and down again to the massive foyer.
Slippered and bare feet made no sound on the marble expanse as they crossed to the blue tapestry. Darcy pointed, voice hushed but throbbing with emotion, “Look there.”
“Oh!” Lizzy covered her mouth as tears sprung.
Darcy cautiously readjusted the inert body of his son until he was facing the woolen veiled wall and stepped closer. “Alexander Darcy, our son. There you are, my wee love, forever a part of a noble heritage,” he whispered, fingertip tracing the embroidered rendering of Alexander’s name and birth date. Lizzy’s fingertip followed, tears freely spilling down her cheeks but chin lifted with immeasurable pride.
They stood for several minutes, Alexander sleeping on and unaware of the importance. Darcy, like his uncle and every Darcy child before, had spent hours examining these tapestries, often considering them the bane of his existence. Only with maturity did the true significance of family and ancestry dawn. He chuckled now in remembrance, Lizzy glancing into his amused visage.
“What is so funny?”
“Currently, Alexander is innocently indifferent to the history unfolding here, and in years to come, he will grow to hate the convoluted connections and bizarre names. I can assure you from personal experience that it will probably not be until he stands here with his wife and child years hence that he will fully appreciate what is revealed on these walls.”
“Perhaps. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful accomplishment and we can be proud for him.”
Darcy nodded. Lizzy sat the candelabrum on the floor and encircled her spouse’s waist, snuggling securely into his warmth and sturdiness as his free arm drew her tight. For a long while they remained gazing in silence until the cold of winter seeped into even Darcy’s bones, only then retiring to their warm bedchamber.
* ~ * ~ *
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