I’m so excited to announce the publication of Mr Darcy’s Christmas Calendar! Can you believe it’s November already? I’ve been getting in the Christmas spirit, though I’ve not done very much shopping yet – I love the upcoming festive season, but there is always so much to do, isn’t there?
I’ve been wanting to finish writing this book for a couple of years now, and I’m so glad I managed it this year – I’ve had such a lovely time writing it. Thank you for sharing my special day – I hope you’ll like the prizes I’m offering in celebration!
Firstly, I’m offering three paperbacks of Mr Darcy’s Christmas Calendar and two Kindle e-book gift cards.
Secondly, I have two chocolate Advent calendars that I had made by a company in the UK called Snapajack. They are really fun to do, and you can upload your own images to personalise your calendar. There is a chocolate treat behind every door up until December 24th!
Thirdly, I have a set of ‘3-D’ Christmas Cards – of course these are a Victorian invention, but some cards feature in Mr Darcy’s Christmas Calendar, and these particular cards show similar scenes to ones in my book.
Fourthly, I have two Advent calendars – postcard size – with doors to open every day during the month of December. These are very traditional with a picture behind each door, rather like the calendar in my book, except I can’t promise they’ll be quite as magical!
If you’d like to be in with a chance of winning any of the prizes please leave your name and a comment below. The winners will be announced on November 12th!
Lizzy reluctantly followed Mrs Bennet up the narrow staircase to the first floor, and just along the corridor until they stopped in front of a white painted door on which was yet another number. This time, the figure three was fashioned out of brass, and hanging below it on a hook, she saw a framed miniature painting. It was a watercolour of two girls dressed alike in simple, white muslin dresses, exquisitely painted. The girl on the left reminded her very much of the portrait of Jane Austen that Lizzy had once seen in the National Portrait Gallery, except that she looked much younger without her spinster cap. Her hair was dressed on top of her head with curls falling round her face. She was smiling with such warmth that her hazel eyes appeared to sparkle in the light. With her head inclined towards the girl next to her she held out her hand, from which were suspended three pendants on gold chains. The very pretty girl seated at her side gazed back at her with a similar look and expression. There was no doubt who she could be in Lizzy’s mind and all at once, she heard a whisper which seemed to confirm what she’d guessed.
‘Cass,’ said a voice softly in her ear, and thinking there must be someone else behind her, Lizzy swung round. There was no one there, and Mrs Bennet, who was busy jangling keys, selected one before stepping forward to unlock the door. Leading her into a modest-sized room with a view out onto the garden, there were two canopied beds filling the room, hung with curtains in blue check. On either side of the fireplace were two cupboards, which gave tantalising glimpses of the contents within. Shelves of blue and white china on the left displayed a handsome washbowl and jug and on the opposite side the tall cupboard door had been left open showing dresses hanging neatly in a row.
‘You can have the Miss Austens’ room tonight,’ said Mrs Bennet, taking out one of the gowns before shutting the cupboard doors. ‘They won’t be needing it, seeing as Cassandra is away and Jane has left already because she’ll be sleeping at the Great House this evening. The sisters have always shared a room, you know. Full of secrets they are, almost as sly as my eldest girls for keeping confidences. Your namesake, Elizabeth, she’s the worst of the lot! Now, Lydia is a different kettle of fish. She has no secrets from her dear mama!’
Lizzy was beginning to think that “Mrs Bennet” was taking all this play-acting a bit far. It was one thing to dress up and put on a performance for the sake of visitors to the house, but it was after closing time now. To tell the truth, it was starting to unnerve her, but she felt she couldn’t really question the lady.
‘I am to sleep in here? Is it allowed?’ asked Lizzy.
‘Well, I’m sure it is if Miss Jane requested it herself. She can be very fussy, to my way of thinking, but a bed’s a bed, I say, and it does no good to be too particular!’
‘Jane Austen said I could sleep in her bed?’ Lizzy couldn’t help herself and laughed out loud. ‘Oh, now I really am in Fairyland!’
‘Fairyland? No dear, you’re in Chawton, just until the snow melts. I shall leave you now. The housemaid will help you undress, as I daresay Mrs Hill will be attending to my daughters. And I’m sure she’ll have lots to say about what you should wear tomorrow evening.’
‘What I should wear?’
‘Why, you’re to go to the ball. Miss Jane said you should attend with everyone else. You can go in the carriage with my girls, if the lane has been cleared in time. The men are out there now with Mr Hill, and no doubt, they’ll be back again in the morning, and come back frozen to the bone. This is the worst snow we’ve seen since Lydia was born and that was a winter I never thought I’d survive. Not that I ever complain. As I said to Mrs Lucas, no good ever comes of grumbling, though I feel perfectly justified to complain on the subject of Mr Bingley. My poor daughter – he will keep her waiting for an announcement.’
Mrs Bennet smoothed the counterpane, muttering under her breath and shaking her head, oblivious to the fact that Lizzy was there, and she was still talking and lamenting Jane’s lot as she exited and made her way down the stairs.
Lizzy looked about her now she was alone. It was a very cosy room, she saw, with a chocolate rug on the floor and striped wallpaper on the walls. A jug of holly and ivy on the windowsill before the casement gave it a festive air, the scarlet berries glistening in the candlelight. The oval looking glass above the fireplace reflected her face, pale and slightly anxious, but she was comforted by the sounds of a clock ticking and wood crackling on the fire as it burned. There were bookshelves, and Lizzy couldn’t help picking up a copy of a volume of Camilla by Fanny Burney. She’d read once that she was one of Jane’s favourite authors – what a lot of trouble the curators of the house had made to get all the details right, she thought. There were all sorts of personal objects left lying around – a pair of spectacles, a thimble and a needlecase were left neatly on the mantelshelf at one side and an ebony hand mirror, a patch box and a bottle of lavender water were arranged on the other. Two pretty reticules dangled from a wooden chair by the fire, and a piece of lace was folded over the top. On a handsome tambour desk, two Tunbridge workboxes sat on top in pride of place. The lid of the desk was rolled back and Lizzy could see the contents inside. There was a pile of music, each carefully transcribed note beautifully sketched upon fine lines, and there were several songs, she noted: The Soldier’s Adieu, Robin Adair, and The Yellow Hair’d Laddie, looked well-thumbed and were covered in personal notes and alterations. A sheaf of paper in the middle of the desk looked like a manuscript file and there was a bottle of ink and a well-used pen, its feathers short and stubby. Drawn to the writing like a magnet, Lizzy tried very hard not to look and for at least a minute, she avoided reading the top page. However, like a heroine in a novel, the temptation proved too much. What she read really surprised her!
Elizabeth or Lizzy, as her family named her, had never been to a ball before. There were not funds for such gaieties and now she had been invited to such an occasion, Lizzy felt uncertain about what to do and how to behave. Young and inexperienced, with little confidence in her own style, she worried that she would make an ill-advised decision about how to be dressed. But, her friend came to the rescue in time, and loaned her a dress to wear, a gown to surpass all others she had ever possessed. To be fine, dressed in white, was a thought that pleased her, so when the maid came to help her she gave in readily to all her ministrations. There was one further concern. So few were her ornaments and jewels that she suffered an anxious moment, enough to sober her spirits even under the prospect of a ball given principally in her honour. However, on receipt of a note accompanying a jewel box in the drawer of the desk all was resolved.
Lizzy read it through twice. She had a feeling that this had been especially written for her to find. Was it a coincidence that the girl described in the passage seemed just like her? There were several small drawers in the interior of the desk. Pulling each one out a little fraction, whilst simultaneously pretending that she wasn’t in the least bit curious, she almost squealed when in the very last one she discovered a slim leather box and a note addressed simply to “Lizzy”.
Inside was a poem.
This little trinket I hope will prove
To be not vainly made
For if you desire an ornament
It will afford you aid.
And if we ever need to part
T’will serve another end,
For when you look upon this jewel
You’ll recollect your Freind.
Jane Austen 3rd December 1811
Lizzy opened the box, her fingers trembling in anticipation. She gasped when she saw its contents. Lifting the precious treasure from its box Lizzy discovered a beautiful topaz cross, suspended on a gold chain. She knew she’d seen it before and remembering the painting of the two sisters she flew to the door to take a look. There it was – her cross, along with two others that Jane held in her hand. What she hadn’t noticed before was the plaque underneath which gave a little history of the painting.
This watercolour of Jane and Cassandra Austen was painted shortly after their sailor brother Charles presented them with topaz crosses bought with his prize money in 1801. There is a third cross in the painting, about which we currently have no record or information.
So, there was a little mystery about the beautiful jewel she held. Lizzy wondered if she dared try it on. Picking up the note, she read it through again looking for any clues that might tell if it was really hers to wear. What struck her as rather strange, was the date at the bottom of the poem. This note had been written almost to the day in 1811, the year that Pride and Prejudice had been written and revised.
Lizzy’s eyes alighted on the Advent calendar she’d left on the bed. A strange light was glowing from the doors of all three, illuminating the objects within. Although she knew she hadn’t opened doors two and three, she saw they were open now. December first shone with the picture of Lydia’s pink bonnet, December second showed an invitation announcement, and before she’d even peeped at the door of December third, Lizzy knew exactly what she’d find. Twinkling and golden, the topaz cross and chain glittered in the eerie light looking identical to the one she now placed around her neck. It had been December first when she’d arrived at the house. How could it now be December third?
The sound of footsteps on the stairs had her darting round, but she needn’t have been frightened. It was only the housemaid, Sally, come to help her settle in and see that everything was to her satisfaction.
I hope you enjoyed it! Don’t forget to leave a comment if you’d like to win a prize – and come back on the 12th November when the winners will be announced!