Happy Monday! I’m spending this week revisiting holiday scenes from some of my books. Today is an excerpt from my newest, An Endeavour to be Worthy!
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Darcy,” said Mr. Gideon when he opened the front door.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Gideon.” He and Georgiana happened to greet the butler in unison, making the man beam as they entered.
The man helped Darcy with his coat while several maids appeared to be of aid to the ladies. “I hope church was enjoyable.” For the first time, Mr. Gideon’s slight accent was noticeable.
“The service was lovely,” said Miss Elizabeth. “My grandparents, Lord Hatton, and Miss Montford will be directly behind us. We shall await them in the green drawing room.”
“Very good, miss. We shall be ready for their arrival.”
Miss Jane wrung her hands. “Do you think they are well?”
“I am certain they will be here soon,” said Darcy. Due to the delay, they may have been caught in traffic.” Bingley had never been a violent man, yet he had never expected Bingley to fall into such debt either.
A commotion in the front hall announced the rest of their party’s arrival. When Darcy peered at Miss Elizabeth, he could not miss the heavy exhale and the manner in which her body relaxed.
Lady Richmond was the first to enter the drawing room, making her way to Miss Jane and sitting beside her. The two spoke in hushed tones as the earl and Hatton entered. Georgiana joined Miss Jane and the countess and offered the latter her hand. Perhaps the similarity of their experiences would deepen their friendship. He had no objections. Georgiana would only benefit from such an association.
He stepped over to Lord Richmond and Hatton with Miss Elizabeth close behind. “I am not sure what Bingley hoped to accomplish.”
“He surely hoped to force a meeting with Janey,” said Lord Richmond. “Nicholas restrained him while we boarded our carriage. That Miss Bingley woman approached and attempted to ingratiate herself to Amelia, but Amelia and my wife cut her. Lady Jersey, as well as Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret were nearby and witnessed the exchange. I am certain those who are in London for Christmastide will know before the first of January.”
“Enough!” When he turned, Lady Richmond was standing with her hands raised in front of her. “’Tis Christmas, and we shall not dwell any longer on the Bingleys but enjoy our day. Now, we have gifts for each of you. Fitzwilliam, I shall not accept a refusal.”
He and Miss Elizabeth sat upon the settee as the countess distributed her packages. While she handed Miss Elizabeth a box, the earl handed him a bottle. “My wife charged me with finding you a gift. I hope you approve.” The older gentleman wore a slight smile.
When he took the bottle, he turned it in his hands to view the label. “An excellent brandy. I thank you.”
“Brandy, my lord,” said the countess with her lips pursed.
“He purchases the latest books as soon as Hatchard’s puts them on the shelves, and they had nothing newer than a month ago, which I am certain he already possesses. What would you have me buy?”
“Lady Richmond, I must admit your husband is correct. I do not require much, and this will be savoured since Richard drank my last bottle of this vintage six months ago, and I have been unable to procure more.”
“For heaven’s sakes, do not let the colonel near it then,” said the earl. “I had no idea he was so intemperate.”
“He does enjoy a good brandy, but I was at Pemberley for the summer while he lived at Darcy House, not long after he was assigned to Horse Guards.” Richard could drink quite a bit and keep his wits about him, but he was not one to drink an entire bottle of brandy in one sitting.
Miss Elizabeth opened the lid of her box and gasped. “Grandmamma, you have given me so much jewellery since my arrival. I do not require so much.” Nestled in velvet was a necklace with a pendant that resembled a snowflake. Diamonds set in gold with the larger stones in the centre and becoming smaller as they neared the tips.
“Nonsense. This is the last of your mother’s jewels that was set aside for you, as is Jane’s gift.”
Miss Jane flipped open the lid on hers and inhaled swiftly. “Grandmamma, this is lovely.” She turned it to show Miss Elizabeth the modest sapphire necklace and matching ear drops.
His sister held a stack of music sheets and a cashmere shawl sat upon her lap. “Fitzwilliam, what of our gifts?”
After he excused himself, he ducked out into the hall where Mr. Gideon happened to be passing. “Pardon me, but a servant from Darcy House was supposed to deliver some gifts while we were at church.”
“Ah, yes,” said Mr. Gideon. “Forgive me. I forgot to mention it upon your arrival.” He stepped inside a doorway on one side and brought out a small trunk. “Where would you like it?”
“I can take it. Thank you,” he said. When he returned to the drawing room, he withdrew two packages and handed them to Georgiana, who in turn, gave them to Miss Amelia and Miss Jane. Meanwhile, he passed gifts to Lord and Lady Richmond and Hatton. Lastly, he returned to Miss Elizabeth’s side and passed her the last.
“’Tis from Georgiana and I both.”
She gave him a side-long look, but her fingers trembled ever-so-slightly while she peeled away the silk paper. “How beautiful. Thank you.”
“What is it Lizzybeth?” asked her grandmother.
With a careful touch, she lifted it from the wrapping. “A hair comb.”
“Which will be lovely in your dark hair.” Her grandmother admired the piece, then stepped over to sit close to her husband while she removed the paper from hers. “What gorgeous silk! Thank you, Fitzwilliam. I must admit I adore a trip to Madame Morisot’s, and you have given me just the excuse.”
“Yes, thank you Darcy,” said the earl dryly.
Miss Amelia and Miss Jane thanked both him and Georgiana for the fabric in their packages. Hatton clapped him on the shoulder after expressing his appreciation of the journal he had received, and Lord Richmond gave a hearty laugh when he saw the bottle of brandy Darcy had gifted him. “Great minds think alike, do they not, Darcy?”
“I had just managed to find a shipment a few days ago.” His attention returned to Miss Elizabeth, who fingered through the material that was beneath the hair comb. “You have given me fabric as well?”
Her grandmother chuckled. “He has selected well. You have always looked well in rose, and you will need a great many gowns for the Season.”
“Lady Richmond, breakfast is served.”
“Come. That tea and toast I had before church was not sufficient to last me until dinner,” said the countess.
As was his wont, he offered his arm to Miss Elizabeth, but this time, also his sister. “If you do not like the fabric—”
She startled, and her eyes widened. “No! Forgive me for being remiss in thanking you. I should have done so when I first noticed the silk.”
Georgiana gave a giggle. “Your sister says you do not enjoy fittings.”
“That is true, but that does not mean I do not enjoy wearing a pretty gown. My favourite colour is that shade of pink, so I shall enjoy the gown doubly so.”
“My brother selected the material all on his own,” said Georgiana, making his cheeks burn. “I accompanied him to the drapers and selected all the fabric but yours. Fitzwilliam found that one and had it cut before I had any say.”
Miss Elizabeth’s gaze held his. “I would say he has an excellent eye for ladies’ fashion.”
He could not help but smile at Georgiana’s giggle. She had laughed more since being in the company of the Montford ladies than she had since Wickham. They did her well indeed.
When they all sat around the table, Miss Jane placed her hand over Georgiana’s where it rested on the table. “Miss Darcy, I must thank you for comforting me in the carriage.”
“Oh! I am happy I could be of aid, though I cannot consider what I did so important.”
“But it was. It is always reassuring not to be alone. I do wish what happened to you had not occurred, but I am thankful you shared your experience with me.” Darcy’s heart swelled. His sister had ladies she could confide in and trust. Had she ever found one such friend? He had never met one.
“Thank you. I hope you will call me Georgiana. I should like all of you to do so.”
“Then you should call us by our Christian names too,” said Miss Elizabeth.
In that moment, his little sister beamed brighter than she had in so long it was all he could do not to weep at the table. How ridiculous was he to be so sentimental?
After a generous breakfast as well as tea and cakes, a chess tournament between Lord Richmond, Hatton, Elizabeth, and Mr. Darcy followed. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy were the last two to play with Elizabeth the victor. Not long after they returned to the drawing room, Lady Richmond whispered to a servant who brought out a large bowl with raisins, poured brandy over the dried fruit, and set it on fire.
Miss Elizabeth grabbed Georgiana’s hand and pulled her up to the bowl. “I love snapdragon.”
“I have never played,” said the young lady. “More often than not, Christmas is just my brother and myself at Pemberley. We have a meal, of course, and play chess, and I perform on the pianoforte.” What? She had never played Snapdragon? The game was a tradition at Richmond Castle and Longbourn, thus Elizabeth played regardless of where she spent Christmastide.
“’Tis simple really,” said Amelia. “You attempt to take a raisin from the flames and eat it.”
Georgiana’s eyes grew to the size of horse chestnuts. “You put your hand in the fire?”
As she asked in a squeaky voice, Nicholas reached in, grabbed one of the raisins, and tossed it into his mouth. “See, simple, but you have to be quick about it.”
Georgiana reached in but missed the raisin on the first attempt.
“You can do it.” Elizabeth took her turn, grabbing her own, and eating it.
When Georgiana’s turn came around again, she managed to grab a raisin and eat it with a grin. The rest of the party cheered. The game lasted but a quarter hour at most before Elizabeth returned to sit on the settee near Mr. Darcy.
“I must thank you for your kindness to my sister,” he said. “I have not seen her so happy in a long time.”
She shook her head. “I have done nothing but be her friend. I consider myself fortunate to have the company of such a kind young lady. You need not thank me for something I am pleased to do. I do think after their similar experiences, Jane may become more of a confidant of sorts for her. They are both reserved, though Georgiana is a bit more open with her feelings, but their tempers suit. Jane is six years her senior, yet Charlotte and I were close for a long time, and she is seven years older.
“Richard and I hoped for her to make friends when she attended school, but she was miserable and wrote of nothing but her fervent desire to return to Pemberley. While she has known your cousin for a while, making the acquaintance of you and your sister, and being in company more with Miss Amelia will only be of benefit to her.”
Unable to hold his gaze another second, she looked back at Georgiana and Jane who conversed quietly near the fire. All day, she had attempted not to show how distracted she was by him. When they sat side by side in church, her arm prickled at his nearness and the cedar notes of his cologne flooded her senses. Her insides were a muddled mess. She had been uncommonly forward when she caught his lips with hers under the kissing bough. He did not seem offended at the time, but upon further reflection, had he considered her move too bold—too forward? She had fretted over kissing his cheek, and he had not thought ill of her. Was she being ridiculous once again?
She took in a deep breath. Her grandparents were engrossed in a chess match. While her grandmother had not taken part in their tournament earlier, she challenged her husband to a rare game, a challenge he accepted with an unusual glint in his eye. Jane and Georgiana were still occupied, and Amelia and Nicholas were arguing some such nonsense as they oft times would. She took a small silk paper-wrapped parcel from where she had tucked it into the cushion.
“I have this for you,” she said as she held out her gift. Good Lord, she was trembling from head to toe. Their eyes met as he, with careful fingers, took the package from her palm. She clenched her hands together in her lap. “’Tis not much. Just a trifling really.”
“No, I am certain it is wonderful.” A dimple appeared on one cheek, and she clenched her hands tighter if that was possible.
“You have not opened it yet.”
He untied the ribbon and opened the paper, revealing the small stack of four handkerchiefs she had embroidered since their walk in Hyde Park. She was not as accomplished with a needle as Jane, but she had managed a good “D” for Darcy and had finished the edge of the muslin so it did not fray.
“You need not use them if you do not care for them. I am not very skilled at embroidery.”
After a glance around the room, he covered her fidgeting hands with his. “They are wonderful. I shall use them every day.” He removed his handkerchief from his pocket and replaced it with one of hers. Once he had set the rest with the bottle of brandy from her grandfather, he leaned as close as propriety would allow in the situation. “You have, at times, been uneasy with me today. Have I done something to cause you distress?”
“No,” she said turning her head quickly, so their gazes met. “I confess I have worried of your reaction to what I did under the kissing bough.”
He broke into an enormous, dimpled grin that took her aback. “You need not fret as I consider that the best Christmas gift I have received thus far.” He chuckled as a vicious heat crept up her chest and to her cheeks. How was she to respond to such a bold statement?