Once again it was my turn to post over at the fabulous Casablanca Authors’ Blog. In keeping with a holiday theme, I decided to post a Christmas excerpt from ‘Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy ~ Two Shall Become One.’ The chapters that cover the Darcys’ first Christmas as a married couple at Pemberley are far longer, editing required to keep it manageable! However, since this is my website and I am trying to focus on Christmas themes all month, I can make it a bit longer! Still, it is truncated, so anticipate even more holiday cheer with Lizzy, Darcy, and their visitors when you read the novel.
Lizzy did not rouse at the knock to their door but did at the hoarse rumble of Darcy’s voice, felt as well as heard through his chest where her head lay. She stretched and nestled closer to his side, his arms immediately tightening their grip.
“Is it morning already?” she asked sleepily and yawned expansively.
“I fear so.” He nudged her gently, rolling to his side with her in his embrace until he could see her face. “Happy Christmas, Mrs. Darcy,” he murmured with a tender kiss as he stroked her hair.
“Hmmm … Happy Christmas, beloved. Must we rise straight away? Or do we have time to cuddle for a spell?”
“I believe an obligatory episode of Christmas cuddling is in order,” he said with a smile.
With a mixture of joy for the holiday and regret at departing their warm bed, the Darcys embarked upon their day. Lizzy joined her husband in their sitting room, having bathed and dressed, stunning Darcy as she approached in a resplendent gown of cream and emerald green taffeta. Marguerite had once again dressed Elizabeth’s hair elaborately, clips with emeralds and diamonds sparkling nearly as brightly as her fine eyes.
Darcy caught his breath and then smiled expansively. He took her hands, kissing each palm. “Lovely, Mrs. Darcy.”
“Thank you, Mr. Darcy,” She curtseyed. “You are quite dashing as well, husband. I believe Samuel and Marguerite are consorting again.” She laughed, fingering the emerald green waistcoat he wore.
“Heaven forbid we clashed. Come, my love, our guests await and I am famished.”
Traversing corridors and staircases abounding with greenery, ribbons, and candles, along with the surfeit of mistletoe balls, the Lathrops joined the Darcys and the Matlocks, all attired in their holiday finery. Christmas greetings flowed. Georgiana, Col. Fitzwilliam, and the Gardiners were already in the dining room partaking of the fabulous Christmas morning spread. Mrs. Langton had cooked three versions of the traditional Christmas pudding frumenty as well as a vast array of sweet rolls and pastries. Further greetings ensued as Darcy went directly to the coffee and then piled his plate with food, pausing for a tender kiss to Georgiana’s cheek.
“Happy Christmas, brother.”
“Happy Christmas, my dear. All is well, Georgie?”
“Very well. Shall be better still once I open my presents from you,” she teased shyly, earning a raised eyebrow.
“Was I required to supply a present today? Must have slipped my mind.”
She giggled. “Nothing ever slips your mind, brother. I have no fears.”
“Or is it that you have been peeking in the parlor again?” he asked with a stern expression, causing Georgiana to blush and stare intently at her plate. Darcy laughed. “Father was not able to break you of the habit, so I shall not try. Nonetheless, you must bear the anticipation along with the rest of us until after church.”
The modest chapel of Pemberley was an old yet beautiful structure located an easy distance from the manor in a small, unnamed village exclusively for the needs of Pemberley’s workers. In fair weather the family would walk to church. Today, however, although the sky was mostly cloud free, the wind was brisk and snow had covered the ground some two inches deep, so the carriages were employed. Lizzy had previously attended services twice with Darcy since their marriage.
The Pemberley party arrived at the church and was greeted by Mr. Bertram and his wife Sarah. Lizzy liked the elderly couple, Pastor Bertram being a serious quiet man of few words and his wife the quintessential grandmotherly type. Milling about the courtyard were the inhabitants of Pemberley and the nearby communities who attended services here. Naturally Christmas brought forth a substantially larger crowd than normally seen. Lizzy was amused to note Darcy assuming his Master of Pemberley pose, reserved, somewhat aloof, and serious, as he greeted people with a curt nod and isolated comments.
Georgiana, on the arm of her cousin, shyly greeted a number of the wives and children she and Lizzy had met during their visits. Darcy cocked one brow in pleased surprise and smiled faintly.
The church was decorated with holly branches and festive candles. The service itself centered around the birth of Christ, unsurprisingly, with carols and readings from the Holy scriptures as well as a short missive from the Book of Common Prayer and one of John Wesley’s sermons on the Epiphany. To the delight of all, the service ended with a short play recounting the story of Mary and Joseph searching for the elusive inn in Nazareth, live donkey and all, as performed by the children of the parish. It was thoroughly adorable, despite the uncooperative ass and the Christ babe who refused to cease wailing. The entire congregation exited with laughter and smiles of joy.
After church, visiting was brief due to the wind’s resurgence and the threat of fresh snow. Once returned to Pemberley, all retired to the warm parlor, Georgiana hastening to the pile of wrapped gifts in the corner. Darcy smiled indulgently at his sister, secretly pleased at her childish behavior as he was not yet prepared to relinquish his grip on her life.
A light repast of mince pies, scones, plum cakes, tea, cocoa, and coffee were furnished to stem the tide of hunger until the Christmas feast was served in mid-afternoon. Gradually the gifts were passed out, everyone wishing to take their time to prolong the enjoyment. Georgiana was not disappointed, her brother having procured several pieces of sheet music, a stunning brooch of aquamarine, three gowns, and new leather-bound journal with her name embossed in gold.
With extreme effort, Darcy had forced himself not to inundate Lizzy with gifts. He knew she retained a residual discomfort regarding his wealth, their wealth in fact, although she was hesitant to regard it so, and he sensitively acknowledged her delicacy. Therefore, he avoided jewelry or furs or anything else overly expensive, opting for personal items. He bought her books he knew she wanted, a stationery set with her new name printed on the letterhead, two gowns, a shawl of exquisite Chinese silk, and a letter seal with ‘E.D.’ entwined amid the Darcy crest. This latter gift brought tears to her eyes. The combination of her initials boldly and permanently displayed with the ancient family symbol touched her, lending a magnified reality to her station and the history involved. Unfortunately the setting was inappropriate for her to thank him as she wished, so she settled for a dazzling smile and fleeting caress to his hand.
For Darcy, Lizzy felt that luck had been on her side. Marguerite had directed her to a bookstore in Matlock and, after she introduced herself to the owner, he had diligently applied himself to obtaining whatever she wished. Then, while strolling randomly down the sidewalk, she had spied the perfect gift in a shop window. The remaining two purchases had been purposefully sought. Thus, Darcy was jubilant to unwrap three books he coveted: Admiral Horatio Nelson’s Letters and Dispatches, Walter Scott’s Tales of My Landlord, and a volume of poems by Thomas Gray.
“Elizabeth, how did you acquire Tales of My Landlord? It was published not a month ago!”
“I charmed Mr. Stevens. Promised him Mr. Darcy of Pemberley would inform all his friends how accommodating he was. Then I fluttered my lashes.”
Darcy laughed. “Well, however you managed it, I do thank you. This is wonderful.”
Lizzy handed him the smaller gifts: a new dressage horse whip and saddle blanket, and a waistcoat of pale blue to match his eyes, strangely enough the one color he did not already own. Her final gift rendered Darcy speechless. It was an eighteen-inch-tall, intricately carved ebony statue of a rearing stallion with a man mounted. The workmanship was unparalleled.
Darcy sat with mouth fallen open. Lord Matlock and Col. Fitzwilliam leapt from their chairs, converging on Darcy and the statue with combined enthusiasm and expressions of awe.
“Unbelievable!” exclaimed the Earl. “Wherever did you find this, Elizabeth?”
Richard was equally amazed and blurted before Lizzy could respond to Lord Matlock’s inquiry, “It is a Ferrier! You found a piece by Lambert Ferrier in Lambton?”
All eyes were on Lizzy, her husband’s breathtaking in the delight and love they showed. She blushed. “Matlock, actually, at that little shop on Second Street …”
“Landry’s establishment?” Richard interrupted in astonishment and Lizzy nodded. “I have never seen anything of this quality in there.” He whistled sharply. “Fortunate day for you, Darcy. Your wife possesses the luck of the Irish to stumble across a Ferrier in Matlock! Now I am truly jealous of you.” He smiled and winked at Lizzy. Lord Matlock was caressing the statue as if were made of gold, and Darcy continued to stare at her, his eyes teary.
Lizzy was flabbergasted by the response. All Landry had said was that it was a collector’s piece. Lizzy knew little of art, so even if he had told her it was a Ferrier, it would have meant nothing. She only recognized fine craftsmanship in a general way and had been struck mostly by the faint resemblance to Parsifal and her husband in the statue.
She smiled at Darcy. “It surely was blind luck, William, I confess. I merely thought you would appreciate the figure as it mirrors Parsifal and you. I may not particularly care for your horse, but he is an elegant and noble creature … as are you,” she finished in a whisper. Darcy was overwhelmed as the entire room faded from his consciousness. He leaned over, taking his wife’s chin in his fingers, and kissed her lightly. He met her eyes and was further lost. Only the abrupt sound of his uncle clearing his throat broke his concentration, and he blushed scarlet as he pulled away from Lizzy’s lips with effort.
“Yes, well, job well done, Elizabeth, well done,” declared the Earl as he resumed his seat, grinning broadly.
The opening of presents absorbed the bulk of the early afternoon. There was rampant laughter, expressions of awe and delight, and pleasurable conversation. The gentlemen accompanied Darcy to his study, reverently, to select the perfect location to display his statue, after which they repaired to the game room where Darcy skillfully defeated each of them in billiards. The ladies visited contentedly.
Christmas dinner was served promptly at four. The feast lavishing the table eclipsed the last evening’s repast. There was enough food to satisfy twice as many diners: venison, goose, turkey, an assortment of vegetables, gravies, rare fruits such as oranges and pomegranates imported for the occasion, breads, souse, trifle, fruit and plum cakes, and a variety of pies. The remains of their banquet, as well as from the servants’ feast, which would occur later in the evening, were to be distributed to the two orphanages in the vicinity and the neediest tenants on Boxing Day. The courses were proffered in spaced intervals, allowing time for digestion and conversation.
The weather had deteriorated substantially, with snow swirling and drifting as the wind howled. An after-dinner stroll in the garden was unfeasible and therefore deferred in favor of a ramble through the Sculpture Gallery, Portrait Hall, and conservatory.
Paintings and sculptures were scattered throughout the entire manor. Those that graced the gallery were the rarest and dominated by marbles. The Portrait Hall, in truth the long hallway leading to the ballroom and formal dining hall, exclusively housed paintings of the Darcy family. The oldest, from 1438, was a group portrait of Alexander and Clara Darcy with their three children. When Lizzy had initially beheld this painting a week after her arrival at Pemberley, she had been stunned by the resemblance of the eldest son, also named Alexander, to her husband. The boy in the painting was approximately eleven and had the clear blue eyes of his mother, chestnut brown hair, and a serious set to his mouth, all of which were the image of the current Master. Lizzy smiled each time she viewed this painting, visualizing their future son.
The entire hall was a revelation of Darcy features. Blue eyes cropped up frequently. Brown hair dominated, although there was a smattering of redheads and numerous blonds. The men were usually tall and lanky with broad shoulders. Darcy’s chin cleft was a newer attribute, first noted on Emily Darcy, his grandmother, in 1760. Almost universally the men appeared serious and aloof, rarely showing the slightest smile, whereas the women displayed more good humor. Pemberley Manor and horses served predominately as backdrops.
Darcy’s parents had been painted shortly after their marriage, the love evident on their faces, even eliciting a small smile from James Darcy. A later portrait of Anne Darcy and her two children, commissioned two years after Georgiana’s birth, clearly captured a beautiful yet pale and tired Anne. Georgiana was a chubby, adorably bright toddler. Darcy at thirteen was incredibly tall, nearly six feet and grave, with a keen intelligence manifest in his eyes but also a lingering grief. This grief would consume his eyes further as the years progressed, until Elizabeth.
No one commented, but the thought was on all of their minds. Darcy, however, was gazing at his parents and marveling at the absence of pain in his soul. He missed them naturally, and always would, yet the melancholy was no more. He looked down at Elizabeth, squeezed her arm firmly to his side, and smiled charmingly.
Entering the conservatory at the very end of the northern annex was akin to stepping into summer. The snow continued to fall, blanketing the ground and the glass roof, yet the flowers and bushes inside bloomed. The room was perpetually warm and humid, fragrant and colorful. The group impulsively broke up as they strolled among the greenery. Darcy purposefully steered Lizzy to a far corner well concealed by an enormous weeping maple and pulled her into his arms. He held her against his chest and she closed her eyes in happiness, devouring his heat and strength.
“Are you enjoying your first Christmas at Pemberley, my love?” He inquired, resonant voice vibrating in her ear.
“I am enjoying my first Christmas with you, beloved. We could be on the moon and I would be delirious with joy. William, I have not had the opportunity to thank you properly for your gifts.” She tilted her face up to meet his eyes. “The gowns are lovely; the shawl is stunning; you know how I love books; and the stationery set is perfect and useful. Mostly I must tell you how touched I am by the seal. I am a Darcy! I know it is ridiculous, yet I still forget at times. I suppose I have been a Bennet for too long.” She laughed and he smiled.
“Have no fear, Mrs. Darcy, I shall remind you a hundred times a day if need be. I will never allow you to forget you are mine.” He tenderly caressed her cheek, then cupped her face with his hands and lavished light pecks all over her features.
Col. Fitzwilliam’s voice from around the tree successfully quashed any further romantic enticements, sadly. Darcy frowned and scowled at his cousin in annoyance, Richard merely raising one eyebrow and pointedly ignoring him. Lizzy took Georgiana’s arm and, with Lizzy giving her husband an amused glance, the sisters resumed their walk.
“Fine day, Darcy, wouldn’t you agree?” Richard asked with a grin.
“Tremendous,” Darcy replied with dripping sarcasm and Richard laughed.
The remainder of the evening passed in varied pursuits. Georgiana delighted them all on the pianoforte. Carols were sung, Richard adding his talents several times, as did Darcy twice. Refreshments were furnished, although no one was particularly hungry. A rousing game of charades was highly successful, as was a lively round of Musical Chairs, with Georgiana the ultimate victor. Richard challenged Darcy to a bout of darts. Darcy was fully aware he would lose miserably, to which Richard proclaimed it was healthy to be humbled periodically. Upon this decision, the gentlemen repaired to the game room for port, brandy, and manly activities.
The ladies retired to the parlor, ending what was universally agreed to be a first-rate Christmas with quiet conversation, cards, and a mind-boggling game of dictionary that they were all far too weary to take seriously.
Lizzy retired hours earlier than Darcy, the gentlemen capping their evening off rowdily. She was deeply asleep when he staggered into bed and only marginally aware of him gathering her into his arms. The urge to tease him the next day for his raging headache was potent, but she resisted. After all, she rationalized, fun was had by all and he deserved to celebrate as he deemed appropriate. Instead, the ladies allowed their smug smiles to speak volumes as to their lack of sympathy. Suffice to say, this Christmas would be remembered by all for a multitude of reasons!