Traditions prevailed in both breakfast foods as well as Christmas activities, meaning that in many ways this Christmas was indistinguishable from last year and all the ones that would follow. Mrs. Langton and her staff had prepared a stupendous breakfast heartily enjoyed by everyone in the elaborately bedecked dining room. Everyone wore his or her finest garments, Mr. Bennet dashing in the new suit purchased for his trip to visit Lizzy in London the previous spring. Marguerite and Samuel’s consulting was now an expected arrangement, Lizzy and Darcy therefore dressing in nearly identical shades of blue with silver threads and trim.
Reverend Bertram preached a flawlessly constructed if unsurprising sermon on the birth of Christ. This year the youngsters gathered in the chancel dressed in choir robes, accompanied by the organist as they lifted their childish voices in a number of seasonal hymns. The finale was the older children singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” while the tiniest held up corresponding signs with painted pictures of the vocalized gifts. Naturally there were mishaps, especially as the singers inevitably sped up the rhythm as the lengthy song progressed, but the resulting mistakes added to the fun.
Opening of the presents would take the greater bulk of the afternoon to complete due to the massive quantity of gifts and frequent interruptions. The cacophony of voices and laughter was overwhelming at times. Any attempt at order was ludicrous. Lord Matlock trapped Mr. Bennet, Mr. Gardiner, and Dr. Darcy, the older gentlemen retreating to a far corner for relatively sedate conversation. Mr. Hurst made a beeline to the liquor cabinet and rarely wandered more than a few feet from it throughout the entire afternoon. Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst sat apart, gazing down their noses at the rowdy Bennets and Gardiners, feeling superior and unaware that Lady Annabella Montgomery was wrinkling her nose at them.
Lizzy handed the baby to Darcy when Mr. Taylor announced the arrival of the Bingleys, Darcy then happily encumbered in a chair away from the fray. Alexander was awake in Darcy’s lap, his chubby body erupting with newborn wiggles at the silly faces created by his father and the tickles delivered.
“My goodness he has grown!”
“Welcome to Pemberley, Charles,” Darcy spoke with a laugh. “I would rise and bow properly, but I am otherwise engaged. Pull up a chair and say hello to my son.”
This he did, Colonel Fitzwilliam standing beside Darcy with a broad grin. Alexander’s gaze moved from face to face, intently studying. “He looks so like you, Darcy. It is uncanny! Rather disconcerting actually, to have an infant piercing me with your blue eyes.”
Darcy smiled with pride. “I will consider that a compliment, Bingley. He is intelligent and it shows. Is that not the way of it my precious, wise little boy?” The picture of infantile acumen abruptly lost as Darcy attacked his son’s soft neck with nibbling kisses, fistfuls of his hair seized painfully.
“Ouch! Help please!” Darcy pleaded from the depths of Alexander’s neck. Richard laughingly untangled the amazingly tough fingers from Darcy’s locks.
“You need a haircut, Cousin.”
“So I have been informed.” He nestled Alexander against his chest, soft head tucked under his chin, and rocked gently. “How was Christmas at Hasberry, Bingley?”
“Delightful. Jane decorated so beautifully and our cook prepared an amazing breakfast feast. We attended church in Buxton and we, that is Jane and I, thought it perfect.”
Richard hid his smile, Darcy glancing toward Bingley’s sisters who sat rigid on the sofa. Caroline looked up, briefly meeting Darcy’s eyes and raking over the tiny body secured by his broad hands before glancing away with disinterest. “I gather Miss Bingley and the Hursts were not as enthused?”
“Well, you know how it is. Nothing compares to London or, surprisingly, Essex.”
“Essex?” Richard asked in surprise. “What does Essex have to offer?”
“Hanged if I know.”
“Who can understand a woman, eh, Darcy?” Richard said with a nudge to his cousin’s booted foot. “Unfathomable creatures all, but we love them nonetheless. Here’s to the fairer sex!” He lifted his glass toward Bingley and Darcy.
“Pathetic. I do pity the woman who ensnares you, dear cousin. Now, if you both will excuse me a moment, I think my son needs to be put to bed.”
The present revealing commenced. Every attempt was made to open neatly, one at a time, but enthusiasm occasionally overcame caution with ribbons and paper flying. Darcy rejoined a group in a state of moderate, lively chaos. Laughter was rampant with frequent jumping up to hug someone across the room, gifts being passed about for inspection, and exclamations of appreciation.
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.
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.”
“The other gift accompanies and is the last, I promise.”
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.”
Sharon Lathan lives in southern California with her own Mr. Darcy (of 24 years) and is a Registered Nurse specializing in Neonatal Intensive Care. When not at the hospital or attending to the ofttimes dreary tasks of homemaking, Sharon is generally found reposing in her comfy recliner with her faithful laptop adhered to her thighs. In truth, she somehow manages to find the time to read books written by other authors, see the occasional movie, keep up on her favorite TV shows, teach preschoolers at her church, and enjoy the life gifted her.
Sharon has a lovely website with all sorts of extra goodies aside from all her books and excerpts.