As my writing and publishing timeline moved on past the first three novels in The Darcy Saga, the timeline of events for the characters began to overlap in unusual ways. What do I mean?
In early in 2010, just as I finished In the Arms of Mr. Darcy, my publisher requested a Christmas/Pride & Prejudice-themed novella for release as part of an anthology later that year. I was given freedom to write a unique story with different versions of the characters, and I did mull over a few possibilities, but in the end decided to remain with The Darcy Saga. I saw it as an opportunity to advance the timeline and am very happy I went that route.
My novella A Darcy Christmas fits flawlessly into the Saga by giving glimpses of several Christmas holidays set far into the future, but also by expanding upon Christmases previously only alluded to or lightly touched upon. A perfect example of the latter was the third Christmas Darcy and Elizabeth celebrated together, which as it happened was within the timeline of In the Arms of Mr. Darcy. That novel was done and in the hands of my editor, and I had already made the decision not to write a major Christmas chapter at the end of the novel after devoting several chapters to the season at the beginning. In fact, the entirety of their third Christmas was covered in three paragraphs ~~
Darcy concluded his business in London and hastened home for the Christmas holiday. … Despite his fretfulness, Alexander had recovered rapidly from his cold. Darcy returned to discover a fat, healthy son who greeted him with shrieks of joy and outstretched arms as he toddled across the nursery floor and fell into the strong embrace of his delighted father.
His wife, conversely, greeted him feebly from their bed. Alexander’s mild infection had transmitted to Lizzy nastily. She lay under about a dozen quilts, nose red and copiously running, chest rattling with each breath, lips chapped in a feverishly shiny face, and a hacking cough that rendered her weak and winded. It was the first incidence of such an illness with his wife and Darcy was seriously dismayed. And furious.
But he thrust his anger at not being notified aside, and diligently assumed the task of caring for their son and nursing his wife to health. Luckily the Christmas activities planned were minor and completely arranged, all the presents purchased and wrapped, since Lizzy barely managed to stay awake while Alexander thrilled over his numerous toys. The infant’s fascination with the ribbons and paper wrap evinced a weak smile and chuckle that instantly sparked a coughing spell necessitating Darcy carrying her to bed for a hot mist breathing treatment and rest.
In A Darcy Christmas I decided it would be fun to elaborate upon these tiny hints. The result is a ten-page vignette titled “Christmas Toys” with a slowly recovering Lizzy joining Darcy, Dr. George Darcy, and Georgiana for a fun scene with Alexander opening presents on Christmas morning.
Here is a small portion ~~
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.”
“Thank goodness it is only you two here this Christmas or we not only would never get through the gift unveiling, but we would also have a brawl on our hands. Jane may take exception to the ‘favorite’ appellation.” Lizzy spoke from her lounging location on the chaise, her voice weak and rough from coughing.
Darcy had returned from an eventful visit to London several days ago and discovered his wife extremely ill with a vicious cold. Darcy was still furious over not being informed of her illness. She was gradually improving under the care of their resident physician and her diligent husband, but remained lethargic and symptomatic. Yet, as sick as she was, Lizzy refused to lie abed for her son’s first Christmas of consequence, the prior one occurring when he was not yet a month old. Darcy understood—his attempts to dissuade feebly offered—but he was worried. He directed a glare at his uncle, who ignored the not-so-subtle reminder of his nephew’s irritation at not being notified, before closely examining his wife’s face for the slightest sign of increasing distress.
“Cease staring at me, William. I am fine.”
“Drink all your tea and then I will cease staring at you.”
Lizzy lifted the cup reluctantly to her lips, grimacing with each swallow. “This is exceptionally foul.” She shuddered, it now her turn to glare at the doctor.
“If medicine was delicious, people would stay sick,” George asseverated. “It is a psychological inducement to get well if the medicine is bitter and fetid.”
“Alexander’s medicine was a sweet, berry-flavored syrup,” she grumbled sulkily, already knowing his response since they had had this argument several times, the physician always winning and the tonics suspiciously tasting worse.
“Babies must be tricked into taking their medicine. Adults apply reason.”
“Or force,” Darcy added, pointedly nodding toward the half-filled cup.
As noted above, in early 2010 I had finished the fourth novel and already began my fifth novel, at the same time as I also began plotting and writing the novella my publisher wanted for the 2010 holiday season. It was a very busy year! I don’t wish to give away too much for anyone who may not have read The Trouble With Mr. Darcy, so shall simply say that a major storyline in the first third of the novel involved Elizabeth suffering from a crippling illness during the months after the birth of their second son and prior to their fourth Christmas as a married couple. The serious tone of this topic, one that I strongly believed was vital to maintain, did not fit with writing a cheery, joyous holiday celebration. Therefore, I kept to the theme of recovery and the importance of intimate family moments with this ONE paragraph referencing that fourth Christmas ~~
On Christmas Eve the foursome gathered in the upper story bedchamber after dining with their guests. Darcy read the nativity poems of Henry Vaughan and the first Christmas story from the Bible until both boys were soundly asleep. He sat the Bible aside and glanced to Lizzy, who was barely awake and propped half reclining with Michael curled against her chest. No words were spoken but communication was clear. He smiled, brushing lightly over her cheek before leaning to extinguish the bedside lamp, and then drew Alexander into his embrace. They slept as a family, unknowingly beginning a tradition that would carry down through the years.
I left it there, with only this short line in the next paragraph giving any details of that fourth Christmas: “Christmas came, Lizzy’s crazed planning paying off in a lavish celebration with local friends that could now fully be enjoyed.”
Who the guests were and how that Christmas specifically unfolded will forever remain unwritten by me. Instead, I revisited the briefly noted Christmas Eve “tradition” in A Darcy Christmas a couple of times, most notably in the vignette titled “Christmas Storytelling”. Here is a snippet from that section of my novella, set on a future Christmas Eve with Darcy and Elizabeth in the bedchamber with their children.
“‘The grate had been removed from the wide overwhelming fireplace, to make way for a fire of wood, in the midst of which was an enormous log glowing and blazing, and sending forth a vast volume of light and heat: this I understood was the Yule clog, which the squire was particular in having brought in and illumined on a Christmas eve, according to an ancient custom. Herrick mentions it in one of his songs:
“‘Come, bring with a noise,
My merrie, merrie boyes,
The Christmas log to the firing;
While my good dame, she
Bids ye all be free,
And drink to your hearts desiring.’”
“Why does he call it a ‘clog,’ Papa?”
Darcy paused in his reading and smiled at his eldest daughter. “It is an older term for a large, heavy piece of wood, Noella. Not so commonly used today, but one of the reasons I adore Mr. Irving and encourage you to read him is his command of our language.”
Michael snorted, muttering disdainfully, “Everyone knows what a clog is.”
Noella flared, piercing her brother with a withering glare. “I bet you did not know it! You are more stupid than me!”
“Children,” Darcy interrupted the familiar exchange with his patented tone: calm and quiet but with a firm edge that clearly conveyed the penalty for disobeying. “You will refrain and hold your tongues. It is Christmas Eve and we will have a lovely family time. Understood?”
“Yes, Papa,” they intoned meekly, ducking their heads. Darcy, however, knew his children well and did not miss the smirk on Michael’s lips or the elbow nudge Noella gave her brother.
Neither did Alexander. “Bets on how long peace reigns?”
He spoke in French, his father responding in the same language, “Five minutes? Ten?”
“Ten what?” Michael asked.
“If you attended to your French lessons then you would know more than merely counting to ten,” Darcy answered in English, reaching to pinch his second son’s nose.
“I can count to more than that,” he countered churlishly. And then he brightened, turning his crooked grin upon Alexander. “You win in languages, brother, but I can still wrestle you to the ground in seconds.”
Alexander shrugged, unconcerned. Nor did he deny it since it was the truth. Alexander was nearly two years older than his brother and a foot taller, having inherited his father’s stature, but Michael was brawny and incredibly strong. Lizzy lovingly referred to him as her bear. Noella said he resembled a block, always following the slur with a comment comparing his intellect to a stone. Practically from the moment Noella could talk the two had grated on each other’s nerves. Yet underneath the incessant pestering and insults, the two Darcy children closest in age were deeply devoted to each other. Of course, they would deny the affection vociferously! Nevertheless, denials aside, the fact that they clearly enjoyed the bantering and baiting and were forever together revealed the truth.
Such as now.
Michael and Noella sat cross-legged next to each other, their shoulders and knees touching. The family congregated in their parents’ bedchamber, the enormous bed large enough to accommodate all seven of them with ample space to sprawl out. Yet Michael and Noella chose a position next to their father’s long legs, bodies brushing together as they proceeded to irritate each other.
The family held a tradition started upon Michael’s first Christmas Eve. Alexander joined them in their bedchamber while Lizzy nursed Michael, Darcy cuddling his two-year-old son against his chest and opening a book to read a story. Naturally, given the date, he chose the Bible and a collection of Robert Herrick’s Christmas poems. Both boys fell asleep to the comforting sound of Lizzy humming carols and Darcy reading poetry, neither parent having the heart to return them to the nursery. The special interlude of holiday celebrating was unplanned but thoroughly enjoyed, the perfect memory of Christmas Eve play and storytelling thus becoming a tradition.
The addition of more children only enhanced the delight, so the once-a-year event continued. Following a lavish dinner and entertainment with carols in the parlor with whatever guests were dwelling at Pemberley, they dressed in sleeping attire and reclined upon their parents’ enormous bed in the fire-heated chamber while Darcy read a collection of Christmas themed stories. Songs were sung, prayers were recited, and upon occasion, everyone slept in the room rather than returning to their own chambers.
The story choices varied year to year, but always concluded with a Bible reading of Christ’s birth. This year Darcy chose the writings of Washington Irving from The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon. After disappointing Michael and Noella by refusing to read the tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, he began with “Christmas Eve” and had not gotten far when the first of what would probably be several sparring interruptions had occurred to discuss the origins of clog.
Lizzy laughed from her comfortable location leaning against Darcy, propped on a large goose-down pillow and holding the youngest Darcy asleep on her chest. She met her husband’s eyes and smiled, and then she winked at her eldest son. It certainly was annoying at times, but the antics of Michael and Noella were amusing. Alexander smiled, bending his head to nuzzle a kiss to the head of the fourth Darcy offspring who sat curled on his lap.
“Papa, finish the story, please.” The four-year-old’s tiny voice, sweet and velvet, brought instant tranquility to the room. Everyone smiled, even Noella and Michael, tender eyes alighting upon the fragile child encased in her protective brother’s embrace.
“As you wish, angel.” Darcy resumed his reading, the tendrils of peace touching all of them as if a spell had been cast.
Such was the natural power of Audrey Faine Bethann Darcy.
I hope everyone enjoyed these tasty bits from The Trouble With Mr. Darcy and A Darcy Christmas. For more of the Darcys, click the purchasing links below and grab your copy of either or both now!