My sincerest prayer is that everyone have a joyous Christmas replete with family, fine food, presents, Santa filled stockings, and all the rest! As a special treat from me, here is an excerpt from In the Arms of Mr. Darcy. Celebrating their second Christmas as a married couple, new parents William and Elizabeth welcome a multitude of guests to Pemberley. This snippet is a mere sampling of the fun that took place!
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. Lizzy was quite familiar with her husband’s need to shower her with gifts. It was a habit borne of his deep love for all those dearest to him; an expression established long before she entered his life. The logical conclusion was simply to accept it, but her nature would not allow her to ever be mercenary or greedy and, therefore, it was mildly uncomfortable. She glanced upon his glowing visage, much like a child with a secret, and could only say a silent prayer of thankfulness.
The box contained a book bound with fine calf leather dyed a deep blue with gold leaf etching along the spine. The pages inside were blank, the intent of which was unmistakably indicated by the gold emblazoned Alexander William George Bennet Darcy scrolled across the front cover. Before Lizzy could find her voice, Darcy was kneeling with hands caressing over the exquisite binding.
“It is a memory book. I saw something similar in Derby. I had this made by a bookbinding establishment in London that has restored numerous antique volumes I have purchased over the years. You can write your thoughts, facts as he grows, ink prints of his feet, memories of first words, when he walks, and anything else that comes to mind. Is it not a fabulous idea?”
“Darcy, this is marvelous!” It was Charles, face suffused with enthusiasm. “Where did you get it?” The new father and father-to-be launched into a discussion, Jane and Lizzy exchanging amused glances.
“William, thank you so much! It is a marvelous concept, keeping an itemized log, so to speak, of his transitions and growth. Will you write in it as well?”
“If you wish. My mother kept a similar journal for Georgie and me. I ran across them in the attic, having not thought on it for years.” His voice grew quiet, eyes far away for a spell as he stroked the embossed name of their son. “Such memories are priceless.” He cleared his throat gruffly with a slight shrug, voice firmer as he resumed. “The other gift accompanies and is the last, I promise. Merry Christmas, my love.”
It was a trunk of cedar, approximately three feet cubed with short legs, sturdily if plainly constructed with no embellishment other than Alexander carved in rough block letters across the lid. The sweet aroma of cedar pervaded the air, every eye lifting from individual unwrapping to observe the scene.
“Mother kept particular artifacts in a series of boxes, some that I discovered damaged. I did not want that to happen to Alexander’s favorite toy, first shoes, blanket, or anything else we deem worthy of keeping. So I built this…”
“You built it?” Caroline interrupted in astonishment, Darcy glancing to her face with a smile.
“I am quite skillful with my hands, Miss Bingley. Unfortunately, I do not have the talent for whittling or engraving as did my grandfather, so it is unadorned, but it will withstand the test of time and any pounding by a rowdy son! I thought it would fit nicely below the window in the nursery.”
“Absolutely! It is fantastic.” Lizzy raised one hand to lightly brush his cheek. “Thank you, William, again.”
Lizzy turned to Richard, “Colonel, now that my husband has finally exhausted the gift giving, it would be an appropriate time to retrieve the package you assured me was in your safekeeping. If you please?”
Richard bowed formally. “As you wish, Mrs. Darcy. Pardon me a moment.” And with a brisk clap of his military boot heels, he pivoted and exited the room.
“Secrets, Mrs. Darcy?” Darcy asked with a raised brow.
“It is Christmas, my dear.”
“While we are waiting, Lizzy, this is from all of us Bennets. We pooled our resources.” Kitty placed a smallish, but heavy gift on her lap, stooping to kiss her cheek. “Merry Christmas.”
The wrapping hid a roughly cigar box–sized, highly glossed, cherry wood musical box! The glass panel in the ornately carved lid displayed the copper cylinder and shiny mechanical devices required to turn the cylinder and elicit the sounds. Lizzy gasped, hand instantly over her heart in awe and delighted expressions of thanks pouring forth. It was a stunning piece of workmanship, instantly drawing the attention of most in the room, especially the ever invention-fascinated Darcy.
“Incredible! Where did you acquire one so large and sporting a cylinder rather than disk, Mr. Bennet?” He was already lightly touching the internal springs and motor.
Lizzy playfully batted his hands away with a laugh. “Get your own musical box to dissect, Mr. Darcy! This one is mine.”
He straightened with a faint blush. “Of course, dearest. I was merely looking.” Several snickers erupted, Colonel Fitzwilliam returning to a room of polite twitters and flushed cousin.
“What have you done now, Darcy?”
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.