The holidays are fast approaching and it seems like an ideal time to indulge in our two favorite things at Austen Variations, share our variations on Jane Austen’s works and give away great prizes. So for the next five weeks we will be sharing our holiday themed books with chanced to win on every post.
Use the rafflecopter below to put in your entries for the giveaway. Winners will be drawn each week for the book featured in the post. After Twelfth Night, Winners for all the rest of the prizes will be selected. To spread the good cheer, there will only be one prize per winner.
Congratulations to our week one winners: Taswmom, Jenn, Judy Sizemore, Serena Agusto-Cox and Kathy Berlin!
Below is an excerpt from “Pemberley Celebrations – The First Year,” which is a compilation of short stories that follow Mr. and Mrs. Darcy through the different holidays in their first year of marriage. The book, published in 2012, has three Christmas stories in it, and the excerpt below is the first part of the first story.On a personal note, the segment of this story regarding Darcy’s mother’s death on Christmas Day was something we experienced with my husband’s mother, who died Christmas morning. While she had cancer, it was completely unexpected and affected our celebration of that joyous holiday for several years.
In celebration of the holidays at Austen Variations, I will be giving away a signed book to someone in the US and an ebook worldwide. Be sure to enter through the rafflecopter below! I hope you enjoy our month-long celebration with all the excerpts and giveaways!
Elizabeth settled herself comfortably on the bench in the courtyard at Pemberley, bringing her legs up onto it and tucking them underneath her to keep them a little warmer. She brought her hand up to her neck and pulled the collar of her pelisse snugly under her chin. Once contentedly warm, she found herself easily drawn to the words of the book she was reading. After about a half hour, the sound of a horse caught her attention.
She stood up and slowly walked toward the entry way, stepping out from beneath the archway. She saw one of the estate horses pulling a cart that carried a large evergreen tree. It was so large that it hung over the top and front. Its wide branches were secured so they would not fall over the sides. She closed her book, keeping a finger tucked inside the pages to mark her place, and hurried over to satisfy her curiosity.
As she stepped away from the shelter of the courtyard, she was startled by a gust of wind that brutally tackled her senses. She struggled against the force of it, wrapping her arms about her and putting her head down as she approached.
Mr. Avery, the head gardener, and his son, Daniel, were using all of their strength to pull the tree from the cart. Elizabeth winced as she saw the older man struggle with his footing. Once he – and the tree – were secure, she breathed a sigh of relief and rushed over, curiosity propelling her.
“What is this tree for?”
“It is Pemberley’s Christmas tree, ma’am. Every year in December we search the grounds for the best tree to cut down and bring into the ballroom to set up for Christmas. Mrs. Reynolds and the house staff then decorate it with all sorts of shiny baubles and trinkets.”
Elizabeth shook her head in wonder. She could not believe that a tree that large would be brought into the house. She did not understand what significance this tree could have, but she was eager to find out. She gleefully followed them into the house where Mrs. Reynolds greeted them.
“Oh, you have done well!” Mrs. Reynolds said as she clasped her hands together. “Bring it in! Bring it in! Is it not just splendid, Mrs. Darcy?”
“Yes it is! But I fear I do not understand for what purpose you are bringing a tree indoors. I have not heard of such a thing!”
“Oh, I would be happy to explain, Mrs. Darcy. The late Mr. Darcy discovered on his many tours abroad that in Germany they often decorate an evergreen tree for Christmas.” Pointing to the tree, she added, “The Christmas tree. They bring one indoors and decorate it with many little ornamental objects or candles. It is a symbol of everlasting life and reflects much of the Christmas story. Mr. Darcy liked the tradition so well, he decided to bring it to Pemberley.”
“That sounds delightful! May I help decorate it?”
“Most certainly, Mrs. Darcy. Follow me.” The older woman turned and walked with determined strides that were propelled as much by her head nodding forward as by each step she was taking.
Elizabeth followed her into the ballroom, where she was surprised to see several boxes lining the floor. Seeing one open, she walked over to it and peered in. Her eyes widened as she looked upon gold and silver trinkets, baubles, and beads, small porcelain and glass Christmas figurines, and assorted coloured bulbs. She leaned over and carefully picked one up, turning it over in her hand, in awe of what she saw. She had never seen so many beautiful things!
She watched, captivated, as the two men struggled to carry in the tree. As they swung it around, they narrowly missed an ornate vase resting upon a table. Elizabeth rushed over to move it in order to prevent any real mishap. They finally positioned the tree in an upright position and secured it in the special wooden base they had previously made. Elizabeth dropped her jaw as she took in the height of it, but she allowed a soft gasp to escape as they released the twine that held its branches in. The tree unfolded and commanded all the presence in the room.
Elizabeth brought her hands together in delight. “It is beautiful!”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Mr. Avery said. “We always try to find the most perfect tree. We think this is one of the finest we have ever had.”
Mrs. Reynolds looked over at her and added, “It is perfect for your first Christmas as Mistress of Pemberley, Mrs. Darcy. And just wait until you see it decorated!”
Mrs. Reynolds began picking up the ornaments and putting them on the tree. Elizabeth looked at the ornament she held in her hand before finally hanging it on one of the branches. She then carefully examined each subsequent ornament she picked up. She found a glass star and turned it over in her hands, thinking it looked almost like a diamond.
“That goes on the top, dear. When the men bring in the ladder, we will have them put it up there. They will also get the ornaments on the uppermost part of the tree for us.”
Elizabeth suddenly sighed, her shoulders rising up and down with her breath. “What is it, Mrs. Darcy?”
“I was just thinking that this tree is so beautiful; it is too bad that it is here in the ballroom where we will not have the occasion to enjoy it as often. How nice it would be to have one in the sitting room, where we spend most of our time. Of course, it would have to be a smaller one.”
Mrs. Reynolds gave her a reflective look. “It just might be the right time to put one back in the east wing sitting room again.”
“Yes, dear. The elder Mr. Darcy and his wife always had a large tree in here and put a smaller tree in the sitting room where they spent most of their evenings together.” She paused, and looked as if she were remembering Christmases years ago. “When Mrs. Darcy died, Mr. Darcy never again put up that tree in the sitting room. Christmas was a very difficult holiday to celebrate. Did you know that Mrs. Darcy died on Christmas Day?”
Elizabeth’s heart gripped inside her. “No, I was not aware of that! Fitzwilliam never mentioned that to me.”
“The elder Mr. Darcy could not bring himself to put up a tree in the sitting room again. In fact, for a few years, we did not have a tree at all. Finally he agreed to allow the staff to put up the tree in here; however, he rarely came in himself to enjoy it. I think he allowed it mainly for the children. Miss Darcy was very young when her mother passed, and consequently she was not as adversely affected by the tragedy.” Mrs. Reynolds let out a heartfelt sigh. “But both the late Mr. Darcy and his son seemed gravely distraught by it for years. Christmas has never been the same.”
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes and bit her lip. “Mrs. Reynolds, I noticed a change in my husband a few days before he left. He seemed remote and withdrawn, at least more so than normal. Could this possibly be the reason?”
Mrs. Reynolds drew in a slow breath, slowly shaking her head. “This time of year has always been difficult for him. Every year they would all leave early in December, which is when we set about getting the house decorated. Some people believe it is bad luck to decorate the house before Christmas Eve, but that is nothing but nonsense!” She wagged her finger back and forth. “We chose to do it early in the month, when they were away, because it just made it easier for both him and his father. If you do not mind my saying so, I think with you here now, it might be time to change some of the ways we do things at Christmas.”
Elizabeth watched as the men came in and hung the remaining decorations on the upper part of the tree, finishing it off with the star on the top branch. She and Mrs. Reynolds stood back and marvelled at the beauty.
“I have never seen anything so magnificent in all my life!” She looked at Mr. Avery and asked, “Do you think you could find a smaller tree to put up in the sitting room for us to enjoy?”
“Certainly, Mrs. Darcy. There are a good many trees out there. We shall go out tomorrow and find one for you.”
“I thank you.”
Mrs. Reynolds took her arm. “Come with me, Mrs. Darcy. There is something else I would like to show you.”
Elizabeth’s excitement matched Mrs. Reynolds’ as they briskly walked down a long hallway to the back of the house. They stepped into one of the rooms and the housekeeper opened a great wooden door. The space was filled with boxes, all neatly marked. She pulled one out – it looked like it may have been a hat box – upon which was written Christmas Ornaments – Small Tree.
“What is this?” asked Elizabeth.
“This is a box of ornaments specifically for the smaller tree. Look here!” She brought the box over to a table and removed the lid. Inside were more ornaments, although smaller and less ornate than the ones in the ballroom. In fact, as Elizabeth leaned in to inspect them more closely, she realized they looked handmade.
She picked one up and saw that it was an embroidered angel in a tiny frame. A ribbon was attached at the top from which to hang it. There were other embroidered items, some paper decorations, and some crudely made ornaments that looked like they could have been crafted by a child from items found around the grounds of Pemberley.
“Those are ornaments the young Mr. Darcy and his mother made. Every year he made an ornament with her for the small tree in the sitting room.”
Elizabeth tilted her head at the housekeeper as she told her this. “How long has it been since these have been brought out?”
“Since Mrs. Darcy died.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “This year we must hang them on the tree in the sitting room. We must!”
That night, in the solitude of her room, Elizabeth thought about all she had been told that day, particularly the death of Mrs. Darcy on Christmas Day. She was rather surprised that her husband had never spoken of it. He often talked about his mother, the love she and his father had felt for each other, and of course special memories he had of her. But he had never mentioned any details of her death.
As she lay in bed, she absently let her hand run over the smooth sheets where her husband normally slept. This was their first time apart since their marriage, as he departed two days ago for London. How she missed him! She knew there would be days – and nights – when he would be gone from her side, but she had not realized how much she would feel his absence!
The next morning, eager for the arrival of the smaller tree, Elizabeth sat in the east sitting room writing letters and going over a few things with Mrs. Reynolds. She still had so much to learn in her role as Mistress of Pemberley. She was pleased that the housekeeper seemed to enjoy her company and patiently passed on to her all she knew from her thirty years in that position. It was also very apparent that the woman held the late Mrs. Darcy in great esteem, and Elizabeth hoped that in time, Mrs. Reynolds would regard her in that same way.
The morning passed quickly, and after enjoying a simple repast, Elizabeth returned to the sitting room and noticed that the tree still had not been brought in. She went to the box of ornaments and pulled out each one, admiring the ones that Mrs. Darcy created and smiling at the ones her husband had likely made when he was a boy.
As she stood holding and examining a small bauble, arms suddenly came about her and a husky voice whispered in her ear, “Good afternoon, my love.”
Upon hearing her husband’s rich voice, Elizabeth closed her eyes and leaned against him as a contented smile crossed her lips. She grasped his arms and held them securely against her. Her heart beat ecstatically now that he was home again! With his lips still near her ear, he buried his face into her deep auburn hair and bestowed a lingering kiss upon her neck causing a wave of euphoria to sweep through her. They remained in this manner for a few moments longer, both feeling a compelling need to make up for their few days of separation.
Elizabeth then turned and joyously reached out her arms to encircle her husband’s neck. She gazed up at him and softly said, “I am so glad you are home, my love. I missed you so much!” Lifting herself up on her toes and pulling him down toward her, she met his lips in an ardent kiss.
When they parted, Darcy took in a deep breath. He pulled a loose strand of hair that had fallen across Elizabeth’s face and he twirled it around his finger. “And I missed you, my dear. How I missed you,” he added with a groan. “Your smile, your fine green eyes, your kisses, your…”
Darcy’s gaze was suddenly drawn away when he noticed the box on the floor. “May I inquire what that is you have there?” he asked with a nod of his head in its direction.
She turned toward the box and took his hand in hers, stroking it gently. She was unsure what his reaction might be seeing it again after all these years. “This, my dearest, is a box of ornaments you and your mother once made. Mrs. Reynolds brought it out for me.” She paused and watched his face.
“I see.” He slowly pulled his hand away and stooped down to look into it more closely. Elizabeth waited, quickly taking and holding a breath as he picked up one of the ornaments. She saw his jaw tighten before he put the ornament back in the box. When he turned to look at her, she readily noticed how he quickly fisted and then relaxed his hands.
“What are you planning to do with these?” His voice was steady, with very little emotion, and he exhibited a more formal demeanour, as he often did when struggling with control.
“I…” Elizabeth swallowed and forced a smile. She reached again for his hand, grasping it firmly. “Mrs Reynolds told me yesterday about the large Christmas tree in the ballroom… it is in there now! You should go see it!” Then more softly she said, “And she told me of the smaller tree that used to be put up in here.”
“I inquired of Mrs. Reynolds whether we could have a small tree in the sitting room, where we spend most of our time… so we could enjoy it. She told me about these handmade ornaments, and…”
“Elizabeth.” Her name came out in but a whisper. She could see the tension in his face and wondered if this had been too much for him. But instead he turned to her and smiled. “It has been years… I had almost forgotten they even existed.” He reached down again and picked up a mass of woven twigs that looked somewhat like a star. “I probably made this when I was six years old.”
Elizabeth put her arms around him and looked up into his face. “Would you approve of a smaller tree in the sitting room?”
Darcy took in an audible breath and let it out slowly, rubbing his chin briskly. “Christmas has been difficult since my mother died. She died on Christmas Day.” His voice broke, and he closed his eyes but he continued, drawing her into his arms. “For many years after that, we barely celebrated Christmas at all, other than attending church services on Christmas morning and giving the requisite gifts to one another. There was no decorating, no singing carols, no festive meals or gatherings with friends. Finally the staff began putting up decorations themselves and brought a little more festivity into the holiday, I would imagine, for Georgiana’s sake.”
“I am so sorry, Fitzwilliam. I did not realize Christmas was a difficult time for you.”
“Not so much, anymore,” he said as he reached up and cupped Elizabeth’s face with both hands; his eyes dark and searching. “In truth, I actually looked forward to Christmas this year because of you.” He rewarded her with a reassuring smile. “I think it is a fine idea.”
Elizabeth grew pensive, and she drew her fingers down Darcy’s face. “Mrs. Reynolds told me that in recent years you would always leave around the first of December so they could put up the decorations while you were gone. Is that why you left again this year?”
Darcy wrapped his arms about her, pulling her close, and Elizabeth responded by burying her head against her husband’s chest. “Earlier this year I made these plans for that very reason. Time has eased the pain of the holiday, but last year, especially, it held a more intense sense of anguish for me. I struggled with a mixture of missing you and wanting to see you again, yet at the same time trying to talk myself out of the feelings I had for you. It was, needless to say, one of my worst Christmases in a long time!”
Elizabeth tilted her head up and looked longingly into his eyes. “I do hope Christmas this year will prove to be much more pleasant!”
A broad smile appeared, revealing the single dimple in his right cheek that only exhibited itself on rare occasions. “Exceedingly more pleasant. I am certain of that, my love.” He kissed the top of her head.
“And what of Georgiana? Has she been similarly affected at Christmas?”
“No, she was very young when Mother died. She normally stays in London until the middle of December. She has been able to experience more of the Christmas festivities there, than here at Pemberley.”
“Fitzwilliam, we need to change that. Do you think we can?” Elizabeth’s face shone with anticipation.
He looked down at his radiant wife and smiled. “I am willing to do anything you wish, my dear. We shall do whatever makes you happy.” He leaned down and kissed her again, but it was quickly interrupted by the appearance of the men bringing in the newly cut tree.
Elizabeth and Darcy watched as the men set up the tree. Once it was up, the couple began putting on the small ornaments. Occasionally Elizabeth saw him inspecting an ornament and he would make a comment about the occasion or age he had been when it was made. It was evident which ones his mother had made, and Elizabeth was in awe at her ingenuity.
As they were just about finished putting the ornaments on the tree, Darcy came over and placed his hands on Elizabeth’s shoulders. “I cannot help but think how much I have missed all these years by avoiding this part of the Christmas holiday. It is truly enjoyable.” He drew her into his arms. “However, I must confess that part of its attraction to me is the fact that I am doing it with my beloved wife.”
“Fitzwilliam, you are so very sweet!” Elizabeth looked up at him and tilted her head. “Mrs. Reynolds said your father did not often go into the ballroom after the large Christmas tree and decorations were put up. Was he ever able to celebrate Christmas after your mother died?”
“It is hard to say. We would go in there on Christmas morning to open presents, but he rarely went in there at other times during the season.” Darcy suddenly tensed and ran his fingers through his hair.
“What is it?”
He walked over to the fireplace, planting his elbow on the mantel, and wrapped his thumb and finger around his chin. “A few years before my father died, I came home one afternoon. Apparently my father did not hear me come in. I heard a noise in the ballroom and looked inside.” Darcy had a faraway look in his eyes. “I saw my father in there, sitting in front of the tree, crying. He did not know I was there, and I never spoke to him about it. He had always been so strong after my mother died. That was the first time I had ever seen him cry. I had always been aware as a young boy of the love my parents had for each other. But it was later, as an adult, that I realized the depth of that love, even so many years after her death.”
Darcy looked at Elizabeth with an expression that spoke volumes of the depth of his love. “I resolved then, that I could only marry someone for whom I had that same kind of love.”
He walked back over to Elizabeth, drawing her firmly to him again. With his arms locked around her, his voice quavered, “And now, Elizabeth, I appreciate even more the love he had for my mother, having loved you and received your love in return.” He took in a long, deep breath. “You have made me the happiest and most contented of men. There are times I feel my heart will burst with all the love I feel for you.”
When Darcy suddenly swept Elizabeth up in his arms with a look of longing on his face, she was more than willing to put aside decorating until later. He carried her up the grand staircase silently, expectantly, and with nary a thought of a passing servant or two who witnessed the display with pursed lips in a vain attempt to suppress a smile.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt! Don’t forget to enter for the weekly drawing as well as the final drawings!
Here are some of the wonderful prizes we’re giving away!