An excerpt from Twelfth Night at Longbourn
It was Christmas Eve. At home, Kitty and her sisters—no wait, no one would be left at Longbourn to go out to cut evergreen and holly boughs for decorating the house and making a kissing ball. She stopped and sank down to the stair step, face in her hands. Even being at the Darcy townhouse in London could not make up for the arsey-varsey tumult her life had become. All those things she used to do with her sisters were over, and she might now be alone, forever.
The scent of cut boughs tickled the edges of her imagination, so real she might reach forth and stroke the needles.
She gasped and jumped up. A young maid stood two steps below, her eyes very wide. “I am sorry Miss—a delivery just come for you downstairs.”
Kitty followed her into the foyer. A pile of evergreen boughs, a bunch of holly branches and a clump of mistletoe lay against the wall. The housekeeper appeared and handed her a card.
She opened it. We will miss gathering greens with you this year. When you arrive, we can collect more if you like. But for now, these will have to do.~Lizzy
Kitty forced back the lump in her throat. Her sisters, the older ones at least, were all that was good and kind and thoughtful. Even if she did not marry, there would still be those who cared about her.
“Are you pleased?” Miss Darcy peeked over the housekeeper’s shoulder.
“Pleased and very surprised.” Kitty knelt beside the evergreens and pressed her face into the needles.
The fragrance embraced her. She could almost hear the happy echoes of Christmas Eve at Longbourn.
Miss Darcy clapped softly. “I am so happy. It was dreadful difficult to keep the secret.”
“Yes, Mrs. Darcy made the arrangements as soon as she invited you to come.” Mrs. Hartwell, Miss Darcy’s companion, stepped around Miss Darcy.
“Just this morning, I was pining for the times we would go out in my father’s woods to cut these.”
“The woods at Pemberley have evergreen and holly aplenty and hellebore, too.”
“Oh, I love Christmas roses.”
“We shall have to look for some when we get there.” Miss Darcy clapped softly.
“Shall we hang these?” Mrs. Hartwell lifted a branch.
Miss Darcy gathered several small branches. “Oh yes, let us do. Though first we must save some for a kissing bough.”
“A what?” Mrs. Hartwell frowned.
“A kissing ball. Have you ever made one, Miss Bennet?”
“Mama insisted we fashion one each year. I often caught my father stealing kisses from her below it. My sisters and I would take turns keeping watch and counting how many berries he plucked himself.”
“I never thought of a husband stealing kisses from his wife. What a novel idea. I wonder if my brother—”
“That is not a proper thought for a young lady to consider.” Mrs. Hartwell’s tone sliced the air between them.
Kitty flinched. Catherine would not have told that story. Would she ever learn?
Miss Darcy sighed. “Is a kissing ball equally improper?”
“Since it is just us ladies here, and we are to depart in a few days, I find little harm in it.”
Kitty bounced on her toes. “What fun!”
Kitty and Miss Darcy selected the best of the greens and mistletoe while Mrs. Hartwell dashed upstairs for ribbon. They met in the morning room, where the housekeeper waited with two wire hoops saved from kissing balls from years gone by.
“You hold these together,” Kitty placed the hoops in Miss Darcy’s hands, “whilst we tie them.”
It took them several tries and much laughter before the wire frames were secured into a sphere. They giggled and argued in the way of good-natured sisters as they trimmed and fastened boughs around the form.
“Apples! We must have some apples!” Miss Darcy disappeared for a moment and returned with a small bowl of bright fruit.
Fluffy bows attached the apples around the sphere and a cluster of mistletoe to the bottom.
“How beautiful!” Miss Darcy called for a footman to help them hang it near the parlor door.
Mrs. Hartwell stepped back and cocked her head to and fro. “I must say, that is much more attractive than I expected.”
“She is not easy to please, is she?” Kitty tittered.
Miss Darcy stared up and twirled underneath the mistletoe. “No, she is not.”
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