An excerpt from The Darcys’ First Christmas
Elizabeth sat in the upstairs sitting room, reading. Now things were returned to normal, a few minutes on her own proved pleasant, not isolating. Earlier that day, Darcy and Fitzwilliam had taken the children and Georgiana to cut decorations for the house. Evergreen boughs and Christmas roses adorned the mantle and filled vases on the tables throughout the house, the fruits of those labors.
What a change a few days and an alteration in company made. Though there had been a few frenzied moments in planning, all in all, peace had returned and with it a sense of the Christmastide season.
Mrs. Reynolds peeked into the room. “It is almost here, madam. The Pemberley tradition is for the family to gather in the parlor.”
Darcy and Fitzwilliam arrived a moment later.
“Come, my lady, your chariot waits.” Fitzwilliam bowed.
“I am quite capable in getting to the stairs on my own. I have become quite handy with these walking sticks now. Perhaps I might suggest them as a new fashionable accessory for the ton.”
Fitzwilliam sniggered. “Do not say that too loudly. All it would take is one of Almack’s patronesses to appear in company with them. The next day everyone will be clamoring for them. You might speak to Bingley. There could be a fortune to be made in selling fashionable walking sticks to ladies.”
Oh, how lovely it was to hear him in good humor once again. The house was glum and dreary without his laughter.
They carried her downstairs to the parlor where the Gardiners awaited.
Soon she would attempt the stairs on her own. The novelty in being carried had worn off. She longed for the freedom to come and go as she pleased. Darcy, though, would probably regret the loss of the excuse to be so close to her in public. She would miss that, too.
The fragrance of evergreens enveloped them, the room bearing a veritable forest of boughs, decked with gay red and white ribbons. Mama decorated this way too. More than anything, this brought the feelings of the Yuletide season to life.
Georgiana pressed her nose to the glass. “I see them coming!”
The children crowded around her. They had never seen a Yule log before. In town, the Gardiners celebrated with a Yule candle.
“Is the hot cider ready?” Elizabeth asked.
“Yes, madam, and there is bread and cheese in the kitchen for the men,” Mrs. Reynolds answered as she walked past the parlor door.
Elizabeth craned her neck to see out the window. A team of horses and several farmers, trundled up to the front of the house, a huge log chained to the team.
The front door groaned open and clanking chains and men’s voices filled the ground floor.
Elizabeth sat on the couch farthest from the door and gathered the children to her. They pressed close, eyes wide at the sight of the men wrestling the enormous log up to the fireplace.
Surely it would not fit. No, there was simply no way.
The children gasped and applauded.
How had they made it fit?
Darcy smiled at her from the other side of the room. He had promised her it would fit and was gloating in the glory of being right.
Darcy and Fitzwilliam thanked the men for their efforts, and Sampson ushered them back to the kitchen for an ample measure of Pemberley’s hospitality.
“That is the biggest Yule log I have ever seen,” Aunt Gardiner beckoned the children closer to the fireplace.
“Where did it come from, sir?” Matthew, the oldest, tugged Darcy’s coat sleeve.
Darcy hunkered down beside him. What an excellent father he would make.
“We have a cooper on the estate. The Yule log has always come from there. It is a log not suitable to his purposes, made a gift, suitable to ours.”
“Surely it is large enough to smolder until Twelfth Night,” Elizabeth said.
“That is the plan,” Darcy said. “Each year, it is the job of the youngest hall boy to sleep in the parlor from Christmas Eve until Twelfth Night. He tends the Yule fire and ensures it remains lit until throughout.”
“Do not fear, madam, the lad is well rewarded for his efforts, with all the apples he can roast and toast and cheese he can stuff himself with.” Fitzwilliam winked.
Darcy waved them all close to the fireplace. He opened a silver box on the mantle and removed two crystal bottles and a silver box. He anointed the log with oil, wine and salt.
“May the fire of this log warm the cold; may the hungry be fed; may the weary find rest and may all enjoy heaven’s peace.”
He opened a second silver box and extended it toward them. “This is what remains of the last Yule log.”
Ashes filled the box. Along one side lay a long splinter.
“Fitzwilliam, would you care to light the log?”
Fitzwilliam rubbed his hands together briskly. “Afraid that you might not be able to manage to start it on the first try yourself, old man?”
Darcy snorted, but held his peace.
How like boys they were. But it was good. Fitzwilliam brought out a youthful, almost playful side in Darcy, one that needed release far more often. True, it was a mite prickly, but that could be shaped and softened with time and practice.
Fitzwilliam hunkered down beside the Yule log. Shadows drifted across his face. He stiffened and stared into the fireplace.
Darcy crouched beside him. “Are you well? Should I not have asked you to do this?”
Fitzwilliam swallowed hard and worked at words. “I … I … I can do this.” His hands shook
“Let us do it together.” Darcy moved close beside him and whispered to Fitzwilliam.
Elizabeth closed her eyes to listen better. He was reminding Fitzwilliam of boyhood times. Times spent in their hunting lodge, of Yule logs past. Of pleasant, peaceful things.
Slowly the trembling stopped, and Fitzwilliam began to breathe more normally.
Together, they struck the spark and fanned it into life. They lit the splinter and nursed the burgeoning blaze until the log burned, too.
Darcy stood and arranged the group around Elizabeth. He extended his hand toward her, and they joined hands in a circle.
“Let us consider the year past. Our faults, mistakes and bad choices. Let us allow the flames to consume those that we may begin the coming year with a clean slate. With that as our starting place, let us purpose to improve our faults, correct our mistakes and make improved choices.”
He squeezed her hand hard and peeked at her from the corner of his eyes. She squeezed his hand back.
This was a tradition different to her family’s. But it was very pleasing and she would look forward to it in the coming years.
They lingered a moment longer then released the circle.
A pair of maids entered bearing trays of cider, apples for roasting, bread and cheese for toasting.
Darcy tossed Fitzwilliam an apple. “You may have the honors of tending the roasting apples.”
Fitzwilliam bit into it instead. Darcy laughed heartily.
Yes, this was the sound to launch a proper Yuletide upon.
Read more about Yule logs here.
Read the scene Miss Darcy and the Kissing Ball here.
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