Excerpts: A Darcy Christmas
The snowflakes drifted slowly downward. They were enormous flakes and floating so delicately on the air that, even in the inky darkness behind the thick glass with only the faint glow of lamplight reflecting, Fitzwilliam Darcy could visualize the minute crystals and unique geometry of each flake. It was mesmerizing and oddly calming to his tumultuous thoughts. He sipped the cocoa that was now lukewarm, watched the snow fall and gather into piles on the panes, and struggled to stir up the Christmas cheer one was supposed to enjoy on Christmas Eve.
It was not working.
He couldn’t readily recall the last Christmas that was truly joyous. Surely it was before his mother died, but the memories were faded and supplanted by so many years of forced gaiety. Oh, they exchanged presents and decorated the house and went to church and delighted in a lavish feast. Often they visited Rivallain for the day, the estate of his uncle and aunt, the Earl and Marchioness of Matlock, and once or twice they had dwelt at Darcy House in London for the holiday activities there. But like all festivities since his mother’s passing, and now his father’s, the celebratory atmosphere was muted.
Of course he strived to celebrate the day for his sister Georgiana’s sake, understanding that a child needed the merrymaking. And lauding the birth of their Savior was indeed a commemoration he took very seriously. Yet personally, he often felt that the entire season could easily pass by without him noticing or caring.
Darcy had grown so accustomed to the attitude that it hardly registered any longer. Even while plotting and planning for Georgiana and purchasing gifts—that a delight he truly did enjoy—his internal zeal for Christmas was dim. He did not dread the holiday nor was he particularly gloomy over it; he just did not care all that much.
So why was this year so different? Why did he feel a melancholy blanketing his soul? And why did the dreams continue to invade his sleep? Why was she persistent in burrowing into his mind and hea…? No! He refused to even think it! This Christmas of 1815 was no different than the previous twenty-seven.
He sighed unconsciously and continued with his rapt contemplation of the falling snow and abstracted sipping of the cooling cocoa.
* ~ * ~ *
A pile of presents surrounded Alexander Darcy, the heir to Pemberley, who accepted the ridiculousness with his typical stoicism and intense concentration. He did not quite seem able to grasp that something special lurked inside the package. He was perfectly content to look at, play with, or chew upon the ribbons, wrapping, or box itself. The adult assistants allowed this for about two seconds before impatiently “helping” him open the gift to reveal the treasure within. Alexander tolerated the interruption to his play with extreme forbearance, continually amazed when a new toy was miraculously revealed. Then he would squeal with glee, bouncing and waving his arms in the air, and joyfully clutch the prize to his chubby chest.
It was a lengthy process, mainly because Alexander had just recently learned how to walk proficiently. His stumbling early steps and need to hold on to a solid foundation were gone in the wake of new maturity. He was quite proud of his skill and also well aware of just how much more of the world he could explore on two legs that functioned fairly well most of the time. Suddenly sitting on his bottom confined to a small space was wholly untenable! Alexander was an oddly complacent child, but even he grew cranky and annoyed at being compelled to stay put. Luckily he was easily distracted, as most infants were, and readily calmed when a new sparkling bauble was thrust under his nose.
The loving adults thought it was the greatest fun ever.
“Here, Alexander,” Dr. George Darcy said as he loosened the ties holding the maroon and yellow cloth concealing the spongy item inside. “Jharna’s son, Nimesh, had this made for me. It is a hoolock gibbon, my favorite of all the primates in India.” George, younger brother to Darcy’s deceased father, freed the exquisitely crafted stuffed animal from its wrappings, grandly plopping it onto the toddler’s lap.
“Uncle! He is remarkable.” Darcy leaned forward from his cross-legged perch behind his son to finger the soft brownish-black fur. “This is incredible taxidermy. Are you sure you want Alexander to drool and chew on such a masterpiece?”
George waved his hand dismissively. “It is well preserved. Allow him to play with it for a while, then perhaps it can be put aside temporarily to extend its life. But I wanted it for a toy. See how the long arms wrap around you, Alexander. He is bigger than you so will be great for cuddling.”
Alexander was mesmerized. He pressed the black bead eyes, ruffled the thick white fur rings around the eye sockets, pried open the toothless mouth to peer inside, squeezed the thin arms, and wiggled the long toes. He looked up at his father, smiled widely, and released a string of nonsense intermingled with “papa” and a smattering of intelligible words as he proudly showed off his newest animal.
Darcy smiled, pulling his son onto his lap for a tight hug. “You are assuredly the only child in Derbyshire with a stuffed gibbon, my sweet.”
“Papa, see? M’key? Mine, Unc Goj?”
“Yes, he is yours and ‘monkey’ will do, I suppose. Your Uncle George spoils you.”
George snorted. “Somebody has to. Poor baby would have no toys to play with if not for his favorite uncle.”
Georgiana laughed. “Yes indeed. Nothing to play with! Poor Alexander. Now, open this one from your favorite auntie, my precious.”
* ~ * ~ *
Darcy grunted. “Be that as it may, what I am curious about is how you two seem to be catching so many clandestine kissers under mistletoe. Wandering the halls freely after escaping your nannies?”
“Yep!” They declared simultaneously with nary a hint of remorse. “We saw Aunt Mary kissing Uncle Joshua. Caleb kissing Miss Cassie. Aunt Giana kissing…”
“Very well,” Darcy dryly interrupted the flood, “I believe we get the idea.”
“And Uncle George showed us the hidden passageway behind the King Arthur tapestry!”
“Oh did he now?” Darcy growled, Lizzy bursting into laughter.
“Be calm, dearest. It only leads to the music room so no harm can be done. I have never understood what the purpose of that secret route could be.”
“Mysteries of Pemberley aside, you two are hereby forbidden to evade your caretakers and wander the halls, understood?”
“Yes, Papa,” they quickly agreed, heads nodding in unison.
Lizzy chuckled under her breath and Darcy briefly closed his eyes, both knowing the admonishment would be as ignored as the promise. Prim Alexander sat on his father’s lap through the whole commentary with his lips pressed tightly together and brows knitted. Lizzy ruffled his curls, leaned for a kiss, and whispered for his ears only, “Occasional misbehaving is healthy, Alexander. You should give it a try now and again.” But he truly looked aghast at the idea, Lizzy only laughing harder and pulling her firstborn onto her lap for a snug embrace.
“Can we go now? Please!” Michael and Noella pleaded, bouncing on their knees, for once not irritating each other in their agreement over Christmas entertainments.
“I am hungry.”
“And I have Christmas presents and birthday presents and cake!”
“It’s not fair that she gets more presents,” Michael grumbled, the truce obviously over as he glared at his sister.
“It’s my birthday!” Noella smugly declared, smirking as she added, “Christmas is my special day, not yours.”
“Christmas is everybody’s special day. It’s Jesus’ day, not yours, silly!”
“Today is God’s day first,” Lizzy interrupted what promised to be full-scale war. “But we will manage to celebrate both special events. Just as Alexander’s birthday falls on mine and your papa’s anniversary and we always celebrate both.”
“No ‘buts’ young man,” Darcy caressed the thick brown locks so like his. “Look at it this way, son: You have a birthday all your own. A day not shared with any other holiday or person.”
“So can we open presents now?” Noella asked, ignoring Michael’s cheery expression and protruding tongue.
“Your birthday will be celebrated later today, after church and Christmas.”
“But I am three!” she wailed, tears instantly forming.
“Technically you will not be three until late this afternoon, Noella, because that is when you were born.”
“But, Papa! That is silly. Today is my birthday and today happened at midnight!”
“You cannot argue with that logic,” Lizzy murmured with a smile.
* ~ * ~ *
Longbourn Manor and the surrounding lands gradually became unmanageable and too isolated for the elderly gentleman whose vision was failing. Nevertheless, pride and stubbornness kept him tied to his familiar environment despite Mrs. Bennet’s incessant complaining about boredom and loneliness with all her daughters married and busy. Her long absences to dwell with her brother and sister-in-law in Cheapside brought him a measure of peace but led to further isolation and the estate’s decline.
A broken leg resulting from a minor stumble upon the stairs prompted George Darcy to drive to Hertfordshire to rescue his friend. He goaded the cranky older man into a heated shouting match while the physician reset the bone misaligned by the local hack; verbal insults and expletives were flung back and forth with anger masking the residual pain not dulled by heavy draughts of brandy. George’s nagging and harassment persevered for days until finally convincing Mr. Bennet to relocate to Pemberley, which, of course, was the main purpose of the trip. Lizzy and Jane were profuse in their thanks, which George also quite enjoyed!
The years that followed were joyful ones for all the inhabitants of Pemberley. Mr. Bennet delighted in exploring the vast library that appeared to have a magically inexhaustible supply of new books. His friendship with Dr. Darcy was a sincere one that brought pleasure when the busy physician was available. And the immensity of Pemberley meant that privacy and quiet were easy to find even with the ever-increasing number of Darcy children, constant visitors, and a shrill wife, when Mrs. Bennet chose to reside at Pemberley rather than in London. Thus the skillfully wrought portrait depicted an aged, snowy-haired man with twinkling, intelligent eyes and a faintly mischievous smile.
“Mother, I have your tea poured and sweetened as you like. Noella is filling a plate with your favorites.” Alexander bent, planting a soft kiss to his mother’s cheek.
“Thank you, darling.” Lizzy clasped her son’s offered hand, smiling into the face that was a youthful image of her husband’s.
“Happy Christmas, Father. Aunt Jane, I believe Michael and Ethan are yet fighting over who should be allowed to bring your breakfast, but Charlie has your tea waiting.”
“He won that battle, did he?” Charles laughed, glancing to Jane’s designated table placement where their second son stood behind the chair, steaming cup of tea waiting.
“Only because Michael and Ethan were too busy arguing over boiled or scrambled eggs.”
“I never eat boiled eggs.”
“And of course Michael knows this, Aunt. Irritating cousin Ethan is the impetus, but I am sure he will relent before you perish from hunger.”
“Let us pray so,” Darcy murmured. “I would hate to be forced to publicly admonish my ornery son on Christmas Day.”
“Do not worry, Darcy,” Charles said. “Ethan is far too gullible. Michael is good for him.”
“Perhaps, but I rather doubt Michael has Ethan’s best interests at heart.”
“Merry Christmas, Mama! Papa! Your plate is ready, Mama. Shall I dish yours, Papa?”
“Thank you, Noella, but I can manage. A hug would be appreciated,” he said with a smile, opening his arms as Noella readily embraced him. “Happy birthday, holly berry.” He kissed her head, whispering for her ears only, “I have a very special gift for you.”
“Oh! What is it, Papa! Tell me, please!”
“Christmas first. One party at a time, as we always do, and then this afternoon I will reveal. No pouting, miss,” he tugged on her protruding lower lip, “and the sad eyes shall not sway me.” He winked at his wife, Lizzy smiling and shaking her head, well aware that Darcy was pathetically vulnerable to weepy manipulation from his daughters.
* ~ * ~ *
For once the children were not in a frenzy to open their presents. Rather, the exuberance was centered on the tree. Footmen hauled dozens of boxes and trays into the room, setting the precious ornaments onto waiting tables. The women took charge, doling out the decorations to the children in an age appropriate manner and assisting in the hanging. The men supported the ladders needed to reach the higher branches and assumed the responsibility of wisely placing the tiny candles that would be lit that evening. It was a production to be sure, but one filled with merriment. Background music was provided by those talented with instruments and singing. Snacks and drinks were replenished steadily, and gradually the tagged gifts were distributed and opened. Surprisingly there were no mishaps beyond a few broken cookie ornaments.
The only interruption to the flow was the delivery of an enormous painting. The family gathered close and everything halted when Darcy opened the crating and the masterpiece was unveiled.
The nearly five-foot square canvas, painted in brilliant colors, showed the front façade of Pemberley with Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth standing regally on the topmost step of the columned portico. They were turned slightly sideways with Elizabeth in front of her husband in a semi-embrace. Alexander, equally noble and the image of his sire except for his coiled brown curls, was positioned one step below with Fiona by his side, her flaming red hair tumbling over one shoulder. Michael, dark and brawny, stood with one arm flung over raven-haired Noella’s shoulders, their devilish grins identical. The younger Darcy siblings were spaced evenly in between.
The painter had resided all summer at Pemberley, dwelling with the Darcys in order to properly capture their personalities on canvas. The result was amazingly accurate and awe-inspiring.
Lizzy slipped away from the boisterous crowd some minutes after Darcy excused himself to ensure the painting’s safe delivery to his office. She quietly opened the door to discover him gazing at the framed canvas propped on a sofa. He did not turn from his serene contemplation of their family, but she knew he was aware of her entry—they always sensed the presence of the other—and sidled up to him, arms naturally embracing.
“I plan to hang it there,” he nodded toward the wall above the settee. “As much as I love Gainsborough’s landscape, I would prefer to have you and our children watching over me as I work. Someday it can join the others in the Portrait Gallery, but not yet.”
“I concur. We look wonderful here. It is an amazing portrait, arriving at a perfect time.”
“How true. It induced me to reflect on Christmases past. All of them have been wonderful since you came into my life.” He looked at her then, blue eyes tender and inundated with love.
“All of them?” she repeated, memories flashing through her mind and her tone only partially teasing, but her eyes were full of the same deep love when they locked with his.
“Even those Christmases that were sad or difficult were special, my heart. My life is complete since we married and I would change nothing. This Christmas is the most recent in a very long line of incredible memories.”
“It is not over yet!” She reminded him, both of them laughing as they returned their gazes to the painting.
Silently, in sweet harmony, they admired the canvas testimonial to what they, through God’s grace, had achieved in the long years of their marriage. They studied the painted images, each beloved beyond measure. The portraitist had easily identified the individual characteristics, capturing them brilliantly. Especially manifest was the love, unswerving commitment, and supreme happiness verily shining from their faces as proud parents to the next generation of Darcys.