As my readers already know, the first three novels in The Darcy Saga series moved very slowly in time, covering the first year of Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage. Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy ended as the winter of 1816 turned into 1817 with spring budding on the horizon and Lizzy expecting their first baby. Loving Mr. Darcy spanned the spring and early summer months of 1817. The third volume of the series, My Dearest Mr. Darcy, detailed the autumn months of 1817, ending on the cusp of winter with the birth of Alexander a day before the Darcys’ one-year wedding anniversary.
Therefore, the Darcys did not celebrate their second Christmas as a married couple until In the Arms of Mr. Darcy, the fourth novel in the series. A great deal had happened in that year, and I do not wish to give away spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read my novels. Suffice to say, the newborn Darcy son was not the only addition to the family and expanding friends list, nor was his presence the only reason Pemberley was bursting at the seams with guests for the holiday! I really enjoyed delving into this second Christmas event for my favorite characters, the result being the first three chapters of the novels devoted to the celebration. Here are a few samples to enjoy, followed by purchasing links.
Pemberley was decorated more lavishly than last year, the maids, footmen, groundsmen, and even the senior staff apparently wholly liberated by the joyous atmosphere over the past year. Twelve short months was all that was required to expunge the years of sadness. They had seemingly denuded the forest of holly, mistletoe, pine boughs, and any other greenery remotely Christmassy, draping every balcony, windowsill, banister, fireplace mantel, and alcove. Darcy’s jest about mistletoe ornaments proved accurate, with balls at every corridor junction and dangling from each ceiling light and threshold. All the heirloom decorations were in place, as well as a sprinkling of others that had been unearthed while rummaging through the attic for baby furnishings. There were three times as many candles strewn about the manor and grounds with several dozen torches placed throughout the gardens.
One corner of the parlor was cleared and draped with yards of gold and silver edged red velvet, onto which was arranged a plethora of brightly wrapped and ribboned presents. Pine branches decorated with tiny candles further adorned the area. The entire parlor furnishings were shuffled to provide more room, so supplementary sofas and chairs obtained from other chambers could provide more sitting room. Both dining rooms were sumptuously adorned, and the ballroom was polished to gleaming. Instruments were tuned, fireplaces were scrubbed, and chimneys swept, vases of fresh flowers were abundant, lamps were filled, windows were cleaned, patios and walkways were freed of all debris, and scented potpourris were everywhere.
While the servants unleashed their creativity with greenery and ornaments, Lizzy and Mrs. Reynolds had organized the menus and entertainments. The huntsmen, including Darcy a time or two, had provided the main staples for the dietary fare. Desserts of all varieties from basic pies and cakes to elegant pastries and meringues were created. Mrs. Langton and her superb staff could be trusted to whip up an array of tasty dishes and treats to augment the main courses.
The game room was set with extra card tables, a second dart board, Hazard dice, and a domino set of ivory, acquired while in Great Yarmouth, to augment the chess, backgammon, cribbage, and draughts tables already in place. In anticipation that the freeze and snows would escalate, ten pairs of skates were bought and the existing ones sharpened, the curling stones and brooms were brought from storage, and sleds were inspected for safety.
Added together, it seemed a certainty that Christmas at Pemberley would be a raging success.
Past Christmas reminiscences were shared as they sat in the cozy parlor with fire crackling. The rowdy Bennet celebrations differed hugely from the sedate festivities at Pemberley, but everyone delighted in the story telling. With his customary flair, George related the long ago holiday memories, clear from his dramatizing that the Darcy children of his generation possessed few of the strict manners of later generations.
“It was the only night of the year that we did not argue about retiring in our anxiousness to greet the dawn and open presents. And the only night we did not sneak into Estella’s room after we were supposed to be asleep.” George chuckled. “Our parents were ignorant of how late we often extended our ordered curfew, romping and mischief making until nearly midnight upon occasion.”
“I doubt if they were as ignorant as you surmise,” Darcy interjected with a smile, continuing at his uncle’s questioning look. “Grandfather once said to me, when I was seven or so and upon the occasion of a visit from my cousin Anne with Richard and Jonathan here as well, that now I could, ‘disobey as children ought, by pretending to be abed before traipsing the darkened halls to cavort with your siblings.’”
Richard was laughing. “Oh yes, I remember that! And I also remember how surprised you were, William, and Anne as well. Poor souls with no conspirators about on a regular basis! You two were scandalized at the idea of disobeying a parent.”
“And you managed to break me sufficiently of that ridiculous notion. Bursting into my room with Anne being pulled along by Jonathan. I nearly screamed in fright. Dear Anne looked ready to collapse. This one”—he indicated Richard while glancing about at the grinning faces of his audience—“had gone so far as to steal food from the kitchen!”
“Ah yes. Fun times,” Richard said, his face radiating puckishness.
George, however, was mournful. “I can’t believe they knew! Rather spoils the whole purpose of being naughty and breaking the rules if the authority figure is aware of it. I am crushed.”
“Do not be dismayed, Dr. Darcy,” Mrs. Gardiner offered placatingly. “I imagine there was a wealth of roguish misbehavior they never knew of.” George brightened considerably.
Darcy stood beside his wife, hand warm on her shoulder. She glanced upward, eyes sparkling as she clasped his fingers, lifting for a kiss to his knuckles. He smiled, brushing across her cheek before turning to Richard. “Colonel Fitzwilliam, the gold wrapped box to your right is addressed to Mrs. Darcy. Yes, that one. Bring it here please.”
“For you, my lady,” Richard bowed gallantly, placing the flat box onto her lap.
“Thank you, Richard. William, I thought we were done. You already gifted me three new gowns, the sardonyx cameo brooch of a mother and child that I absolutely adore, the leather bound edition of Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads, two new pairs of gloves, handkerchiefs, and what else… oh yes, the wooden table with drawers to sit beside my chair!”
“Trifles, my dear. The latter essentially because I was weary of seeing your sewing scattered all over the ground.” He grinned and squeezed her shoulder. “This, in addition to the larger box in yonder corner”—he pointed to a now visible package previously buried under the mound of presents—“is your main gift from me.”
“You may as well just open it, Lizzy,” Jane interjected, smiling at her brother-in-law. “It is purchased and wrapped. I doubt if there is any chance it will be returned.”
“Absolutely none. Thank you, Mrs. Bingley, for your support. My wife has yet to comprehend the realities of being spoiled by her husband. I pray you do not torment Bingley with useless arguments and quibbling.”
“I fear she does,” Charles said with a laugh. “However, I do believe we should be thankful, Darcy. After all it was the modesty, virtue, and economy of spirit which partially drew us to the Bennet sisters, along with other stellar attributes I hasten to add.”
“Lord have mercy! We will be here until next Christmas at this rate! Open it, Elizabeth, before these two begin reciting poetry and destroy all our appetites!” George declared, Mr. Bennet laughing and nodding in agreement.
Jane blushed, Lizzy laughing as she began untying the ribbons.
“Honestly, Lizzy, and you too, Jane, be thankful you have husbands able to present such treasures! How fortunate you both are!”
“Thank you for the reminder, Mama,” Lizzy said with sarcasm.
Darcy, however, had no response forthcoming. Rather, his gaze was riveted to the wooden case Richard held in both arms. It was well over five feet in length yet only a foot wide, which would have strongly hinted to Darcy what it contained even if it was not branded with the label Knopf Bros. of Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. His mouth fell open and immobility gripped all four extremities.
“How did you…?” He stopped, speechless.
Lizzy was grinning broadly, face rosy with delight as she jumped up to stand beside her paralyzed spouse. Placing one hand tenderly on his arm, she explained, “I know you have coveted one for your collection. Richard was able to acquire an original, dated 1786. I have yet to see it myself, not that I would know what I was inspecting, so I pray it meets your expectations. Open it!”
Richard laid the case onto the table, stepping back as Darcy approached with reverence. “This is unbelievable. I cannot thank you both enough.”
“I should have thought of it myself and claimed all the glory,” Richard said. “After all, years of immersing yourself in the journals of William Bartram and Jonathan Carver, as well as other American frontiersmen, and the undoubtedly embellished tales of Daniel Boone, should have enlightened me.”
Darcy had opened the case, nearly the entire room’s occupants now clustered about to watch, revealing a pristine condition rifle. But not just any rifle. A uniquely American invention of the 18th century frontiersman: a long rifle. This one sported a stock of beautifully grained wood, lacquered and decorated with silver and brass inlays fancily scrolled, the stamped and dated emblem of its makers, and a barrel easily four feet in length. Every surface, both wooden and metal, gleamed. It was exquisite.
Collectively, the men in the room, even Mr. Hurst who had left his vigil by the liquor cabinet, whistled in appreciative awe. The women, unschooled in the artistry of firearms, nonetheless could readily grasp the fine quality and sheer beauty of the displayed specimen.
Darcy grasped the weapon, lifting with steady and competent hands, as Richard continued his narrative. “This one reputedly has a range of nearly four hundred yards in the hands of an experienced marksman. You should be able to achieve that, Cousin, with practice.”
“Four hundred yards!” Mr. Bennet gasped. “I would love to see that!”
Colonel Fitzwilliam turned to the skeptical Mr. Bennet. “A general I know has a long rifle and has reached four hundred seventy yards. Of course, he is our regiment’s finest marksman, actually trained as a sharpshooter, but Darcy here is quite an excellent shot. An English Baker rifle can nearly attain that distance, but not as reliably. Nor are they as imposing in appearance or as beautifully designed. I daresay these American rifles are the most elaborate I have ever seen, as painful as that is to admit.”
Darcy’s eyes were glittering as he sighted down the barrel, stock end nestled flawlessly against his shoulder. “I do not know about four hundred yards, but I certainly will attempt it. The balance is excellent, weight perfect, and you are correct Richard, no English or German firearm compares. Damned Americans!”
“Do you like it then?” Lizzy asked teasingly. “I am sure Richard could get my money back.”
He lowered the weapon to his side, encircled his surprised wife’s waist, and drew her in for a firm kiss. “I love it almost as much as I love you. You keep your paws off my rifle and I shall leave your musical box unmolested. Agreed?” Lizzy nodded, several eruptions of laughter ensuing around the massed observers.