This year’s short story takes place the next morning and is our newlyweds’ first Christmas morning together. I’ve hidden it below, since it has an unavoidable spoiler by telling you who gets married at the end of Shades of Milk and Honey. I trust that the fact that matrimony ensues is not a surprise…
|Please enjoy: Early on a Christmas Morn||SelectShow>|
The morning of Christmas dawned with a snow fall. Jane rolled over in the bed and slipped out to go to the window. Behind her, Vincent burrowed deeper into the bed, drawing the counterpane up under his chin. Even with the carpet, the floor chilled her feet. Hair stood up along her arms in horripilation from the cool air. Shivering, Jane drew back the curtains for a better look at the blanket of white that covered London.
She glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. It was nearly nine already. They had been too long in bed and it would be difficult to get a carriage in all this snow. After staying up with her family until the Yule candle had burned down, she did not wish to force him to get up, but they had yet more obligations today. “Vincent, it is past time to rise.”
He rolled away from her and tucked his head under the pillow. “I do not need long to get ready.”
“I have seen you tie a cravat, my love.” Jane pulled her hair over her shoulder and began undoing the braid she had slept in. “You do not wish to keep my parents waiting, do you?”
He made a little whine but did not move.
Jane came and knelt on the bed, leaning over him. “Come now. Westminster was your suggestion and Mama is so excited.” She waited. “She will think we have had an accident if we are late.”
Vincent peeked out from under the pillow. “We will not be late.”
Sighing, Jane climbed off the bed. They had been married but two months and she had already learned that Vincent had only two manners of awaking in the morning. Either he was up excessively early and straight to work or he would sleep for hours and resist all attempts to rouse him. With their work for the Prince Regent paused for the holiday, it was clear that he was in the latter mode. This would not trouble her, save that her parents would be waiting and she could not go without him.
If being tardy made her mother certain that something was amiss, then arriving without Vincent would make her certain that their marriage was ending.
She pulled on her long stays, shivering near the fire as she dressed. She did not like the busk, but the dress she wished to wear fit better with the sturdy piece of wood in place. Once her petticoat was on, she felt a little better though her arms were still chilled. Vincent slumbered yet in the warm bed. Frowning, Jane pulled on her wool dress and crossed the room to stand beside him. “Are you going to get up?”
He made a dull noise that might have been an assent or a denial.
“You are going to force my hand, my love.”
He did not reply. So Jane slipped her hand under the counterpane and found the tender flesh of his side. To her cold fingers, his skin felt as though it were burning.
Vincent yelped and squirmed away from her. “Not fair!”
“You are still in bed, my love.” She tapped him again, chuckling as he gave another yelp.
“I am.” Without any mercy at all, Jane slid her other hand under the counterpane and applied it mercilessly.
Vincent writhed away, tangling in the bed-linens. She moved her attention to his sides, tickling him as her fingers warmed. With a laugh he flung himself away.
And off the bed.
Landing with a thud, her husband laughed hard enough that she had no fear for him. Jane could not restrain a laugh. Vincent’s head popped above the bed. “You– ” Whatever he was going to say was lost as he rushed across the bed and snatched her up. Jane shrieked with laughter as he pulled her on to the bed and tried to tickle her.
She thanked providence that she had chosen her long stays. Jane relaxed and stared up at her husband whose fingers were ineffectual at provoking further laughs from her.
Dismayed, he sat back on his heels. “Jane… are you not ticklish?”
“It appears not.” She was not going to alert him to the protection her stays offered. Jane rolled up on to her knees and kissed him on the cheek. “Do not look so crestfallen.”
“I am not.” He grinned and ran a hand along the boning. “You will not be so protected this evening.”
“No?” So much for hoping he had not noticed the boning. She slid her hand under his night shirt and he flinched back. “Remember my frosty fingers of death.”
He sighed again. “You are a wicked woman. I did not know that when I married you.”
She kissed his forehead. “And now you do.”
“Fortunately…” He took her hand and kissed the fingers. Turning, he hopped off the bed and dashed across the room to his wardrobe. Reaching in the back, he pulled out a shapeless brown paper package. He came back to the bed and held it out to her. “For you.”
Surprised, Jane set the package on her lap. Their family had exchanged presents last evening and Vincent had given her a drawing book for her design sketches. It had been a lovely and practical gift.
As Jane undid the string holding the brown paper shut, Vincent watched with one hand rubbing the back of his neck. He looked oddly concerned. Before she had the paper off, he said, “I can exchange it for another, if you do not like it.”
The paper came away to disclose a handsome brown bear muff, trimmed in silk. Jane caught her breath. She had wanted exactly such a thing, but not not felt that she could justify the expense when she had a perfectly good swansdown one. “It is beautiful.”
He sighed, looking all relief. “And it will also keep your hands warm.” He ducked his head with a shamefaced smile. “This is hardly the first time I have noticed your frosty fingers of death.”
Jane stood to kiss him and the Vincents were then occupied for some time as each proved their understanding of the other. When they finally left their apartments, it could no longer be said to be Vincent’s fault that they were behind their time in collecting the Ellsworths. Even so, Vincent acted the gentleman and offered apologies, claiming responsibility for their late arrival.
Jane’s mother asked what had kept them to which Jane could only blush.
To her surprise, Mrs. Ellsworth’s alarm vanished with a smile and a wink. “Ah… Well. We cannot expect newlyweds to be entirely prompt for morning engagements.”
Mr. Ellsworth cleared his throat and suggested that they all go to Westminster, but not before Vincent had joined Jane in blushes just as deep. They both acknowledged, however, that while there were many joys on Christmas morning and among the best of those was to be well matched in marriage and blessed with an understanding family.
May your own Christmas Day be as happy as that of Jane and Vincent and your New Year many tidings of great joy.
I will also tell you that Glamour in Glass begins four days after this story takes place. Alas, you have to wait until April to read it. Meanwhile, I wish you a Very Happy Christmas.