Regina Jeffers

Christmas at Pemberley

“An infant is a speck of Heaven that God allowed us to experience.” This is the story of a Regency Christmas, one centered on the birth of a child. For me, 2011 offered a special Christmas. In November, my son welcomed his first child into the world — my first grandchild. It is a boy, and I dedicate this book to that “speck of Heaven” we will come to know.

Chapter 1

From the carriage’s rear-facing seat, Darcy insisted, “Elizabeth, we cannot.”

Elizabeth Darcy clung to the coach’s strap out of necessity, but despite her husband’s reasonableness, she objected to his order. “But, Fitzwilliam, we must be home for Christmas.”

“Christmas or not, you’re too precious for me to risk your injury under such appalling conditions.” He eyed her expanding waistline, but he made no direct reference to the strong possibility that she carried his heir. Darcy gestured to the icy roads they had encountered outside of Harrogate.

With exasperation’s deep sigh, she said, “I shall bow to your wishes.”

Darcy realized that even after two years of marriage, it still hurt Elizabeth’s pride to allow him dominance over her in any way. They had always had a friendly “contention” between them, a well-developed twisting of language and logic. It was this quality that had attracted him to the former Elizabeth Bennet. “Verbal swordplay,” he had termed it. He rapped on the roof and gave Mr. Simpson orders to find appropriate lodgings.

Through the trap, his coachman shouted over the elements. “There be a small inn slightly off the main road. Maybe three miles, Sir.”

“Take your time, Simpson,” Darcy ordered.

“There is no need, Uncle,” Georgiana Darcy assured the Earl of Matlock. “Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth shall be home tomorrow. My brother wouldn’t miss Pemberley’s Christmas. It’s his favorite festivity. Fitzwilliam takes his seasonal duties quite seriously.” The girl tried not to flinch at her Aunt Catherine’s customary snort. If Georgiana had any inclination that her formidable aunt had called on her brother, the Earl, Georgiana would never have traveled to Matlock on a day trip. Lady Catherine De Bourgh had always frightened the girl, and recently her mother’s older sister had all but disowned the Darcy family when Fitzwilliam had chosen Elizabeth Bennet as his wife over Lady Catherine’s frail daughter, Anne. In fact, Lady Catherine’s condemnation of the new Mrs. Darcy had created a permanent split in the family tree. Darcy had refused to acknowledge the woman he once revered.

“And have we any news of the colonel?” Georgiana’s attempted nonchalance sounded contrived even to her. Information regarding Edward Fitzwilliam’s inevitable return was the true reason for Georgiana’s visit. The colonel had traveled to America nearly a year prior, and she had counted the days, praying for his early return: It was her secret Christmas wish. Along with her brother, Edward served as Georgiana’s guardian. It was he to whom she had turned when she felt intimidated by her brother’s sense of propriety and her aunt’s demoralizing mandates. And Georgiana cherished every moment she had spent with the man. The recent difficulties the army had faced in the Americas had brought her more than one sleepless night.

“We expect Edward’s return some time after the New Year,” the Countess had shared. “We had hoped he would be able to share the festive days under our roof, but the colonel’s last letter indicated otherwise.”

Georgiana let out a relief’s sigh: He would return soon. “I am pleased, Countess.” She had set her teacup on a nearby table. “Fitzwilliam will rejoice in the news.”

Lady Catherine had held her tongue longer than anyone could have expected. Then she spoke, and disdain laced her words. “At least, the colonel’s return will force your brother to see to your Come Out.You’re nineteen and haven’t made your appearance in London’s Society. It makes sense that Darcy would need to protect you from his wife’s influence,” she said with a snarl. “I’m certain that my nephew regrets his choice of mates, but who am I to bring that to his attention?”

Georgiana noted that both the Earl and his Countess rolled their eyes. She wanted to defend her brother’s decision, but she would not betray the fact that Pemberley had suffered with Elizabeth’s two previous miscarriages. Lady Catherine would see Mrs. Darcy’s inability to carry to term proof of Elizabeth Bennet’s inferiority. Georgiana’s aunt would have no sympathy for the grieving parents. “We’ve been busy at Pemberley establishing my brother’s imprint on the estate,” Georgiana lamely offered.

“Nonsense.” Lady Catherine ignored her niece’s explanation. “Darcy’s been the Master of Pemberley since his father’s passing.”

The Earl interceded. “It takes a young man years to replace his father’s legacy. My nephew’s marriage has opened new doors for Darcy’s separate identity. People considered the late Mr. Darcy one of the best. It’s no fault if Darcy has taken his time in creating his own hereditament.”

A second contemptuous snort filled the room. “Either way, Child, you should have made your Society entrance. Edward will see that Darcy no longer shirks his duties. The colonel may not have been able to prevent Darcy from denying his familial duty to Anne, but Edward has the legal right to insist upon your presentation. Thank goodness someone in this family understands decency and comportment.”