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HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM DONALD L HARDY
This is an extra scene from my book “Lover’s Knot” which is available now–the scene happens after the end of the novel – so possibly, unless you want to be spoiled, it’s best not to read this until you’ve read the book itself!
“…until at least the first week of the New Year, perhaps by Epiphany. I am not certain.
I must finish in haste, if I am to make the afternoon post. I miss you terribly, and count the days until I return home.
Mother sends her dearest love, and so, as I cannot say often enough, do I.
Jonathan folded the letter and slipped it into its envelope. Langsford had been gone a two weeks, and now his return was delayed longer still than planned. Though a new letter came every day, Jonathan missed him keenly and constantly; they had not been separated for such a span since coming to Trevaglan Farm the preceding Spring, and now, Christmas Eve, penned in the house by the cold drizzle that spattered fretfully against the windows, Jonathan was even more forlorn than when he’d seen Langsford off at Penzance station.
Still, he had no one to blame but himself. He had declined Langsford’s invitation to come to Yorkshire for Christmas, and had, Langsford chided him, chosen to bury himself in feudal splendour with his tenantry. That his actual reason for remaining in Cornwall had been a fear of facing the Langsford-Knight family while holding the secret that they two were lovers was spoken of by neither, but both knew that this was so; being as fond of Langsford’s parents as he was, he feared he could not face them, or, if he could, that he would by a look, a gesture, or an unbidden smile would cause suspicion, or even reveal their secret, and bring disgrace to both them and the family. No. Yorkshire was not a possibility. And since Jonathan’s sister always travelled to her husband’s family in Norfolk, and the invitation to stay with his father and stepmother – annually delivered and annually declined – offered no relief, he was, for the first time in his life, alone at Christmas.
The mantel clock whirred and struck the hour, loud in the silent room. Jonathan tucked the letter into his pocket and picked up his book. Meg, the cook and housemaid, would be laying out tea in the dining room shortly; that at least would be pleasant. He opened the book and found his place, but the warmth of the room and the soft ticking of the clock lulled him with their comfort and monotony, and he drifted into a light slumber.
He woke suddenly and glanced at the clock – he’d only been asleep for ten minutes or so, and for a moment did not know what had woke him. Voices sounded in the hall, and as he rose and turned, the library door flew open, and Langsford walked into the room with Meg trailing behind him.
Merry Christmas!” Langsford said cheerfully, slipping off his wet coat. “I hope that I’m in time for tea; the weather is dreadful and I’m thoroughly chilled.
What in the world are you doing here?” Jonathan asked, astonished.
I’m just getting tea now, Mr. Langsford,” Meg said simultaneously, taking Langsford’s coat, “and I’ll cut some more cake and put on some more water. Lord, what a surprise to have you here, though glad I am, no offense, Mr. Williams, but the house is too quiet with just you and me here. This is a nice surprise for Christmas!”
Thank you, Margaret,” Langsford said, mischief in his voice, “and I am glad that someone among us happy at my arrival.”
Don’t be an idiot,” Jonathan said, fighting the impulse to cross the room and embrace the other man. “Of course I’m delighted, but I’d just received your letter saying you wouldn’t be home for several weeks, and now…”
And now I’m here on its coattails,” Langsford finished. “I’d have sent a wire, but I wanted to surprise you. Speaking of coattails, Margaret, light of my heart,” he said, turning to the woman as she hovered behind him, “do take care of mine. They’re quite soaked, as am I, and they should like to be dry, and I should like to have something hot. Would you please bring some hot water and some sugar?”
Of course, sir!” Meg said coyly. “There’s nothing so warming for a gentleman on a cold, wet night as a good hot whiskey, and I’ll see if we have some lemon. Me mother always says, and I’m sure that she’s right, that…”
Meg,” Jonathan interrupted – he had learned in the eight months he’d lived at Trevaglan that she would prattle on without seeming to take breath until forcibly stopped – “please hang Mr. Langsford-Knight’s coat up to dry, and bring the water.”
Yes, Mr. Williams,” Meg said, and bustled across the room. “It is so good to have you home, Mr. Langsford!” she said as she pulled the door closed behind her.
And is it?” Langsford asked, smiling.
Dear God, yes,” Jonathan said in a rush.
They met midway across the room, and their kiss seemed to last for hours, and to be over all too soon. Though not normally demonstrative, Jonathan held Langsford tightly and laid his head against the other man’s shoulder. “I’ve missed you awfully, Alayne,” he said softly. “I didn’t think I would, this much.”
And I, you, Jon,” Langsford said. “I’d no sooner posted that letter than I realized I couldn’t endure the thought of you here alone…and I couldn’t bear being away from you.” Jonathan felt Langsford’s lips brush the top of his head, and he sighed and nestled in closer. “So I packed my kit, and caught the first train I could.”
What did you tell your family?”
I simply said that the racket of all of my charming nieces and nephews, as much as I enjoy their company, was wearing my poor nerves, and that I had to go and walk the Climes of bliss in Cornwall.”
Jonathan pushed back, laughing. “I can just picture the response that evoked.”
Mother stormed, of course,” Langsford said, leading Jonathan to the chairs by the fireplace, “and called me…let me think,” he screwed up his face, “flighty, thoughtless, capricious, lacking in all sense of family responsibility, and certain to disgrace them in the eyes of the county with my flibberty-gibberty behavior.” They settled into the chairs. “She had planned on my visiting all of the neighbors for the next three weeks. Father finally put an end to it by ordering me out of the house, simply to stop her tirade.” He smiled. “But she did send her love to you as I left, and hopes you’ll come at Easter.”
Certainly,” Jonathan said.
I actually arrived in Penzance last night,” Langsford said, stretching his feet toward the fire, “and I’d have been here this morning, but I stopped in Chapel Street to pick up some papers I’d left…”
Indeed. I’d hoped Fastnedge would be wildly celebrating the Yule tide joy with his family – can you believe that the man has seven children? Neither can I – but there he was, and he had ‘just one more thing before you go…’ at least a dozen times before I could make my escape.”
Jonathan grimaced. “Yes,” he said. “I’ve been party to that conversation myself.”
Still, here I am,” Langsford said, “and we shall have a quiet Christmas, just the two of us.”
Not until after tea,” Jonathan said. “Dr. and Mrs. Deane are coming before he has Christmas Eve service.”
That will be pleasant,” Langsford said, smiling.
It will,” Jonathan replied. “I had planed to attend service, but since you’re here, and weary from your travels, I’ll beg their indulgence, and stay home…”
Langsford smiled. “So thoughtful of you.”
Yes. And I’ve given Meg the night free to go to her people.”
We’ll be entirely alone in the house?” Langsford asked, raising his eyebrows. “How will we manage?”
I’m certain you’ll think of something.”
My mind is teeming with ideas even now.”
I’m certain it is,” Jonathan said drily. “But unless I’m mistaken, that’s the bell, and the Deanes have arrived.”
The next hour was two parts delight alloyed with one part impatience. He and Langsford always enjoyed the Deane’s visits, and this one was no exception – they were entertaining dining companions and usually stayed quite late, engrossed in lively conversations or equally involved games of bridge whist. And his sheer joy at Langsford’s company, at the sound of his voice, the unconscious passing of his hand through his hair as he argued a particular political point with Mrs. Deane filled him with a contentment and ease that loosened his usual reserve, and more than once he caught Langsford looking all astonishment at his banter.
In spite of this, however, he had to maintain the strictest discipline not to glance at the clock, to measure the time before he knew they would have to depart. As much as he liked the Deanes, this night he wanted nothing more than to have them on their way to the church, leaving him alone with Langsford. With service not starting until nine in the evening, however, he knew he had at least three hours of curbing his impatience. He was startled then, when after only an hour, Mrs. Deane rose.
Now, Richard,” she said, “let us be on our way and leave these two gentlemen to talk us over thoroughly. We do have to be at the church.”
Is the evening service so early, Mrs. Deane?” Langsford asked as he stood. “Certainly not.”
Of course not,” Deane answered. “What in the world are you thinking, Eleanor?”
I’m thinking, Richard,” she said firmly, “that Mr. Langsford-Knight has just returned home after an extended time away, and that we should leave him to enjoy that homecoming in the peace and quiet of the season. No, no,” she said, holding up her hand as Langsford protested, “I am quite resolved. Perhaps, though, you and Mr. Williams will dine with us on Boxing Day? You can tell us all the news from home. Mr. Williams? Will you come?”
I know I should be delighted,” Jonathan answered, “and I’m certain Langsford will be, also.” He would have agreed to bring the meal, so filled he was with gratitude at this unexpected favor.
Then we shall see you then, at eight,” she said, holding out her hand to Langsford. “It is good to have you back.”
I’ll call Meg,” Jonathan said, “and have her get your get your wraps. Alec will bring your carriage around in a few minutes.”
No hurry, no hurry,” Deane said.
Jonathan was crossing the room when a sharp, peremptory knocking sounded on the front door. He paused in the doorway and looked back at Langsford, puzzled.
Are you expecting anyone?” Langsford asked.
Not at all,” he answered, and the knocking repeated, louder this time.
Perhaps it is someone in need,” Mrs. Deane said. “They are certainly emphatic.”
Yes, they are,” Jonathan said, picked up a lamp and hurried down the hall, the others following him. He opened the door.
A tall, fashionably dressed woman of late middle age stood on the doorstep, her fur collar turned up against the damp. Her hat, its feathers brushing the underside of her umbrella, was perched forward on her head in a manner that on any less commanding a personage would have been called jaunty. So wholly unexpected was her appearance in his doorway that Jonathan was speechless.
Well, young man?” she asked, tapping her walking stick on the threshold, “are you going to invite me in? Or must we stand here waiting until Christmas is rung in?”
Mother?” Langsford said behind him, his voice incredulous.
There you are,” Mrs. Langsford-Knight said, sweeping by Jonathan as he mutely stepped aside. “Run to earth, you incorrigible, shameless child. Of all the irresponsible acts in your scandalous life, this is perhaps the most outrageous, positively driving your family to make the journey all the way into this wilderness, simply to have the questionable pleasure of your company on Christmas Day. And who, might I ask, are these apparently civilized and charming people?” With the same dazzling smile that Langsford had inherited, she indicated the Deanes, while looking at her son and Jonathan for an answer.
Mrs. Langsford-Knight,” Jonathan started to say, jolted from his shock into an attempt at being a good host, “please allow me to…”
Family?” Langsford interrupted. “Is Father here, also?”
“Of course he is, you ridiculous boy,” his mother said sternly. “You don’t expect I should have made this long a journey alone, I hope. And Charles and Regina and their children, and Elizabeth and Adalebert.” She leaned in and whispered confidentially, “I did try to leave Bertie behind, for poor Jonathan’s sake, he’s such a bore, but what could I do; he’s family, if only by marriage.” She straightened and looked around her. “Well, what are you all waiting for? Our luggage is following with your father’s valet and my maid – such a mercy they’re married, it makes travelling so much simpler, doesn’t it? And will you please introduce me, so I don’t feel quite so incredibly like I’m snubbing these people, for I assure you that is neither my desire, nor how I raised you.”
M..mother,” Langsford said, as taken aback as Jonathan had ever seen him, “may I present Dr. Deane, our vicar, and his wife.”
Eleanor Deane?” Mrs. Langsford-Knight said, turning to her. “This is a most delightful surprise! And this must be Richard. You will let me call you Richard, won’t you? And you must call me Leticia, since Eleanor and I are cousins, after a fashion and at some distance.” And taking the Deanes by the arms she swept from the hall and into the light of the drawing room, leaving Jonathan and Langsford staring after her, dumbfounded.
I tried to stop her, my boy,” a man said behind them from the doorway, “but your mother…”
Defers to neither man nor god when she’s made up her mind,” Langsford said. “Hello, Father.”
The next half hour was a flurry of greetings, hurried gathering of overcoats, and proffering of tea and cake. Langsford’s nephews, fidgety after their long journey, were sent off to explore the attics; his nieces sat demurely with their grandmother on the divan. After seeing everyone reasonably settled, Jonathan, in a daze, hurried off to the kitchen to give dinner instructions to Meg, who, after the initial frenzy of activity, had quite vanished.
Meg,” Jonathan called as he dashed down the passage from the hall to the kitchen, “see what we have in the pantry to…” He burst into the kitchen and stopped abruptly in the doorway.
Meg wasn’t in the kitchen, but an older woman, ramrod straight and severe of face, stood in the middle of the room, directing two young women and a hulking giant of a man as they laid out trays and dishes on the big kitchen table. Kettles steamed on the stove, and the room smelled of freshly baked bread, roast beef, and mulling cider. Jonathan stood speechless.
We’ll have dinner ready in just a few hours, Mr. Williams,” the old woman said without even glancing in his direction. “I’ve sent Margaret to prepare the bedrooms, and Cassie Hale with her. Alec and James are seeing to the baggage, and we’ll shortly bring more cakes for your tea.”
I…well…thank you, Aunt Bannel,” Jonathan stammered. Acknowledging as everyone did that the old woman – midwife to the surrounding countryside, reputed witch, and one of the few people who was fully aware of his love for Langsford – knew the business of everyone whose lives touched hers, this seemed beyond even her usual foresight.
’Tis no trouble,” she said, and looked at him sternly. “You’d best be getting back to your guests. The others will be arriving shortly, and you’ll not want to be crowdling about the kitchen when they do.”
Yes, of course,” Jonathan said, started to leave, an hesitated. “Others?” he asked, but she’d already turned away and was firmly instructing one of the girls in the making of a treacle pudding.
The others?” Jonathan murmured as he opened the drawing room door, and was swept into the tumult of conversation that enfolded him.
Langsford’s mother, it turned out, had decided that, if her son could not spend Christmas in Yorkshire, Yorkshire would spend Christmas with him. And so she had immediately roused the entire household, packed them bag and baggage, and took the night train to London and then through to Cornwall, wiring ahead to Penzance to arrange for carriages to meet them at the station and take them to Trevaglan, but not, it seemed, wiring Langsford to warn him of their pending arrival.
If I had,” she said, smiling indulgently at her glowering son, “you would have forbade our coming, and what sort of mother would I be, to ignore the wishes of her dearest, dearest child?”
The kind of mother,” Langsford said with affection clearly tinged with exasperation, “that you have always proved to be: utterly impossible, and a terrible example to women everywhere.”
Now, Mr. Langsford-Knight,” Mrs. Deane said smoothly, “how can you possibly say such a thing? I find her maternal devotion touching, and I’m certain Richard will us it as an example to be followed devotedly by mothers everywhere.”
You’re outnumbered, Alayne,” his brother Charles said, laughing, “and I think it best if you relinquish the field.”
That’s probably wise, dear,” Mrs. Langsford-Knight said, patting Langsford’s knee as he held up his hands in surrender. She turned to Jonathan. “And I so wanted to see you, too, Jonathan, my child. Christmas would not have been complete had you not been with us. He’s stayed with us over the holidays since they were both boys at Cambridge,” she explained to the Deanes, and then turned back to Jonathan. “And while you were in the kitchen, we’ve quite settled the arrangements in the house.”
Which means, of course, that Mother has,” Charles said.
The children will sleep in the little rooms in the attic,” she continued serenely, completely ignoring Charles’s interruption, “Charles and Regina in the room opposite yours, Elizabeth and Bertie in the front room next to it, and Henry and I in Alayne’s room. Alayne has graciously offered to stay in the little room on the first floor, which shows a generous spirit” she said, glancing slyly at Langsford, “and, I fear, a desire to hide away from the racketing about he expects to be going on overhead all night.”
I wouldn’t hear of it,” Jonathan said firmly. “My room is quite the largest in the house, and the most comfortable. You will stay there, and I’ll take the small room downstairs.” He looked at Langford, his face all innocent concern. “I shouldn’t like to think of you being tucked away from your family, after they’ve travelled all this distance to be with you.”
As always, your thoughtfulness overwhelms me,” Langsford said drily, and the room shouted with laughter.
Jonathan rose to offer Langsford’s father another cup of tea, when another knocking sounded from the front hall. Silence fell over the room, and Jonathan involuntarily blurted, “The others.”
Others?” Langsford asked. “What others?”
I have no idea,” Jonathan said as he crossed the room, “but I think Aunt Bannel does.”
Pardon me,” Langsford said to his family, and he followed Jonathan in to the hall. “Aunt Bannel?” he muttered. “What has she to do with it?”
I’m not certain,” Jonathan said, “but she’s in the kitchen, preparing dinner large enough to feed a half the parish.”
Here?” Langsford said. “How in the world…”
Jonathan shook his head. “I cannot even begin to guess,” he said, and opened the door.
Merry Christmas, Jonathan!”
Caroline!” he exclaimed. “What on earth are you doing here?”
His sister, her husband, and their three children all stood on the front step, huddled under umbrellas against the drizzle, their arms full of packages wrapped in damp but festive paper.
Didn’t you receive my letter?” she asked.
Letter? What letter?” he replied. “Come in, for heavens sake. Hello, Oliver, come in, come in.”
I wrote you two days ago, telling you we were coming,” Caroline said, handing him the package she carried and unwrapping her scarf. “I couldn’t bear the thought of you alone here at Christmas, and since Oliver’s family is in Italy, and I knew you’d never go to Father, well, here we are.”
The letter hasn’t arrived,” Jonathan said, and knelt to embrace his niece. “How are you, Anne of the Dell?” he asked. The girl, twelve years old, struggled for a moment to maintain the dignity of a grown woman who’d travelled far, then giggled and threw her arms around her uncle’s neck.
Who is it, Alayne?” Langsford’s mother called from the drawing room. “Bring them in out of the cold, for heaven’s sake!”
You have guests?” Caroline asked.
Equally unexpected, believe me,” Langsford said. “My family arrived not an hour ago, wanderers in the storm as are you.”
Oh, dear,” Caroline said, a worried look crossing her face. “We’ve terribly inconvenienced you.”
Nonsense,” Jonathan said cheerfully; Caroline had always been a worrier, and he wasn’t going to give her the slightest opportunity to start now. “There is plenty of room and plenty of food and I could not be more delighted to see you.” He took her arm. “Come, let me introduce you to everyone.”
Tea, brandy, cakes and conversation followed the introductions. The Deanes left for church after promising to come back to Trevaglan for Christmas dinner the next day, and in a very short time, the women clustered on the divan, gossiping about clothes and children and such things as interested them, and the men gathered by the fireplace, gossiping no less intently about business and politics. Caroline’s children joined the Langsford-Knight boys in the attics, and their shrieks of delight, muffled somewhat by the intervening floor, echoed down the stairwell.
Jonathan drifted over to the window, watching the scene with a faint smile, and Langsford joined him.
Well, I fear all my plans and schemes for an empty house have gone awry,” Langsford murmured.
Jonathan glanced at him and smiled ruefully. “So it would seem,” he replied. “Do you mind terribly?”
I should,” Langsford answered after a moment’s thought, “but I don’t. I couldn’t be happier.”
Nor I,” Jonathan said quietly.
Alayne!” Mrs. Langsford-Knight called from the sofa. “Come here, my dear. I’ve just realized, you will have to give up your room also, or dear Mrs. Reaves here and her husband will be forced to sleep on a sofa, or under a stair, or someplace equally dreadful.”
Of course,” Langsford said, “I’ll have the room set up immediately, and move my things…” He paused, and looked blankly at Jonathan. “Where? We’re rather full up.”
You’ll bunk in with me, of course,” Jonathan said, struggling not to laugh out loud as Langsford nearly dropped his glass in astonishment. “There isn’t much room, but I daresay we can make do for the duration.”
Oh, no,” Mrs. Langsford-Knight said, “we couldn’t possibly put you to such an inconvenience. Let us put our heads together, ladies, and see if we can come up with a better arrangement.”
Not at all,” Jonathan said. “Why, it will be like when we were at Cambridge, and I first came to visit you. And we endured much worse while hiking in the Lakes that summer, believe me.”
Are you certain?” Mrs. Langsford-Knight asked, and Jonathan nodded. “Well,” she said, beaming at everyone. “That’s well settled.”
And so it was. After dinner, served and enjoyed under the watchful eye of Aunt Bannel, and after the children were bundled away to their attic rooms, and brandy and cigars and coffee and final good nights on the stair, Langsford and Jonathan made their way by candlelight to Jonathan’s old room tucked in the corner of a low wing off the main house. The house was wrapped in silence, and as they closed the door, they heard the drawing room clock distantly chiming midnight. A fire burned on the grate, and on the hearth in front if it, two earthenware mugs of mulled wine stood steaming, their handles tied together with a green ribbon.
A Christmas gift from Aunt Bannel?” Langsford asked.
A Christmas blessing,” Jonathan said.
Langsford reached out and took his hand. “Merry Christmas, love.”
Merry Christmas,” Jonathan whispered, and blew out the candle.
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