With Ms. Winchesters help I have detailed the events of Margaret's and my first Christmas together. The resulting story will be serialised and a new part posted here every Thursday between now and Christmas. This story can be read as a companion piece to Northern Light or as a stand alone story set after our wedding. I do hope that you enjoy it.
Given how lavish Victorian dinner parties and balls are, you are probably thinking that my and Margaret's first Christmas was a lavish affair with a nine course dinner and weeks of parties leading up to the big day. However on this occasion, you would be wrong.
We had not long been married then, only a few months, and it had been difficult for us to spend much time alone. I was still struggling to get the mill back up to full capacity and living with servants meant that time on our own was a precious commodity.
I was surprised when Mother announced her intention to spend Christmas with Fanny and Watson, since I know she does not take much pleasure in their company. I questioned her decision but she was adamant; she had already arranged everything and was to leave us on Christmas Eve and return the day after Boxing Day.
When I told Margaret that evening as we lay together in bed, she raised her head off my chest and smiled at me.
“Imagine, two whole days alone,” she sounded wistful.
“There will still be the servants,” I reminded her.
“Only if we want them,” she bit her lip to stifle the cheeky grin that wanted to escape. “We could send them home to their families for the holiday and then we would have this whole house to ourselves.”
“And what will we eat?” I asked.
“I can cook us something. I don't promise fine fare but it will be edible and tasty. Besides, man cannot live on bread alone!” She said that last line so innocently that if I had not known her well, I might have thought she was talking about spending the day in church.
Thankfully I did know her well by then and rarely have I heard such a tempting idea. I quickly found myself agreeing.
Dixon was the hardest since she viewed Margaret as family and enjoyed taking care of her, so Margaret made the arrangements for Dixon to spend four days with her sister and all but ordered her to go. The other staff were much easier to convince to take a day off, especially since I assured them that they would still be paid.
As we awoke on Christmas morning, we heard something that I have never heard before; perfect silence. The Mill was empty, none of the usual hustle and bustle was happening inside the house and even the street traffic seemed to have disappeared.
We lay there for a while, not talking of anything special, just enjoying the peace and quiet.
“We had better get ready soon if you don't want to miss the morning service,” I reminded her.
Margaret looked up at me, her eyes shining with tears.
“I...” She sat up so that her back was to me, looked down at her hands and began picking an imaginary speck of dirt from under her nails.
“What is it?” I asked, sitting up and putting my hands on her shoulders.
“I have always attended my father's service and since we came to Milton, gone to church with him,” she said, her voice so soft that I almost had to strain to hear her.
I moved my hands from her shoulders to around her waist and pulled her back against my chest, holding her there.
“God knows that you love him,” I assured her. “I do not think He will mind you missing one service because it is painful.”
“Do you think so?” she asked.
“I know so,” I assured her. “Besides, God knows what is in your heart and it does not matter if you pray to him in a church or in a shed, he will still hear you.”
“You're right, of course.” I could feel her visibly relax. “Thank you.”
I kissed her shoulder.
“Now, why don't you go and wash up and I will play the hunter-gatherer and see what we have in the kitchen!” I teased.
She nodded and slipped from the bed to pull her robe on.
She paused on her way to the bathroom and turned to me.
“Would you leave your hair loose today?”
She smiled and nodded, making a grand show of swishing her raven locks around her head as she resumed her course to the bathroom.
Margaret's hair is as beautiful as she is and I love seeing it loose. Indeed it is so thick and full, hanging at least half way down her back, that I often wonder where it all hides once Dixon has put it up for her.
“Have you looked outside?” she asked. “It's beautiful.”
There had been a fresh snowfall overnight and she was right; although I'd only glanced outside, it did indeed look beautiful.
“Not as beautiful as you,” I told her.
“Well, let's just hope that the snow keeps any callers away. With us both in this shocking state of undress, I should hate to think what might happen.” I teased.
“We will no doubt become the talk of Milton once again,” she smiled and came to stand beside me. “You didn't tell me that you could cook?” she chided me.
“I can't, not really but we had a few midnight raids on the kitchen at boarding school,” I smiled.
“A mis-spent youth,” she teased. “And the fires?”
“We kept our own rooms and had a rota for which of us would clear and light the fire every day.”
Margaret slipped her arms around my waist and peered around me.
“So what are we having?”
“OEufs a la Jean avec du jambon.”
Margaret began laughing.
“That's a very grand way of saying ham omelette!”
It's very strange how, although we own the house, we can still feel like intruders in certain parts of it!
With breakfast over we headed to the parlour. The room had been decorated for Christmas with lots of ivy garlands, paper chains, a mistletoe ball hanging in the centre of the room and in one corner, a pine tree which has been decorated with hand made ornaments, lots of holly berries, paper flowers and red and white sugar canes.
Around the candelabra on the mantelpiece snow-tipped holly leaves and pine cones had been placed and the cinnamon and vanilla pod bunch which lay there was giving the room a slightly sweet and festive scent.
We placed some cushions in front of the fire and sat down there to exchange gifts. Margaret had bought me a gold watch, inscribed on the back with “To John, your loving wife, Margaret.”
“It's beautiful,” I told her, leaning over and claiming a kiss. Every day now I would be wearing a token of Margaret's love for me and that feeling was worth more than any gift on its own.
I had bought Margaret a ruby and diamond eternity ring (ruby is her birthstone) and had the inside of the band inscribed, “With love J”. I didn't have as much space as there was on the watch so I had to be brief.
Margaret seemed pleased with it though and made me place it on the ring finger of her right hand for her.
“Is it the right size?” I asked, worried that I had done something wrong.
“It's perfect,” she smiled.
She leaned over and kissed me but this was not a kiss of thanks, it was a soft kiss of desire.
To be continued...
© Catherine Winchester 2011. All rights reserved.