I realize that Christmas is over, but it’s not Twelfth Night yet! Actually, I love reading Christmas stories any time of the year. As I’m continuing this blog series from last year, I thought I’d pick up where I left off.
Once Upon a December began as a fun series of stories inspired by Christmas songs I enjoy. When I first shared them, I didn’t think there would be any interest in publishing them. Actually, I nearly gave up writing, or at least publishing, that December (2014). The story of why I didn’t give up is for another post, but thankfully, I didn’t. I decided shortly after that crisis moment that every story was worth publishing so long as it was well-edited. I decided to buck the rules that some people made up that said some stories were too short to publish. In 2015, I published one novella, two novels, and two short story anthologies.
I don’t recall if Once Upon a December reached a number one status or anything like that. I do remember it being a joy to write. I also remember I either sent or received the editing while I was in Kentucky for the 2015 JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) Annual General Assembly. That event was also the week before I moved out of state.
Since publishing Once Upon a December, I have published two other Christmas stories and put all three in the Christmas with Jane series.
For my excerpt today, I’m going to use Fitzy the Snowman. It was inspired by the copyrighted song, Frosty the Snowman, so I had to be careful about how I got the imagery across without using any of the words from the song. I also decided to experiment with first person point of view instead of my usual third person. For added fun, I wrote through the eyes of Lizzy’s little Gardiner Cousin.
Fitzy the Snowman
Mama had let my siblings and me sit in the drawing room at my aunt and uncle Bennet’s house to meet the visitors. We were to remain behind at our house in London, but our cousin, Jane, had recently become engaged. The wedding would be after Twelfth Night, so Mama and Papa arranged to stay a little longer than they usually did on their annual trip to Longbourn and brought us children with them. The carriage ride was cold and tiresome, but the morning after we arrived, we were greeted with a nice snowfall.
My older sister, Eleanor, managed to sit nicely while my brothers and I fidgeted and stared out the window longingly. Cousin Jane’s betrothed, Mr. Bingley, was a very kind man. We all liked him immediately. He talked and joked with us. His friend, who Mama happily introduced as Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, simply sat there, completely still. Well, unless Cousin Lizzy moved. He watched her every movement. She didn’t seem to like it either.
“Mr. Darcy,” said Lizzy, “although my cousins live in London, they have not had the privilege of visiting the museums. How kind of you to give them a display.”
She spoke rather sharply, and he shifted uncomfortably.
“I do not take your meaning, madam.”
Such cold politeness!
“You are the exact likeness of a marble statue!”
My mother heard and added to the conversation as Mr. Darcy looked entirely unsure how to reply.
“Oh yes, the Darcys have a very fine gallery of marble. I know there were busts of many of your forefathers. I imagine there is one of you, too, now.”
“A very handsome image, I am sure.”
Was Mr. Darcy blushing?
“I am certain that is what Elizabeth was saying as well.”
“Lizzy was saying he was too cold and impersonal!” I felt compelled to correct my mother. Lizzy always said I had her cleverness about me, even if I was only eight years old.
“Kathy!” Eleanor and Lizzy gasped in unison.
“Kathleen,” my mother said in the tone that promised I was due serious punishment later. “Take your brothers outside. John can accompany you, so there will be no rough play.”
I frowned. What had I done wrong? We left our governess in London; she was to spend Christmas with her family. John, the Bennet footman, was very large and intimidating.
“I need to check on my horse. I would be happy to oversee the children,” Mr. Darcy suddenly said and stood.
He looked at me intently, and although I was frightened, I would not back down from his glare. When at last he looked away, I glanced towards Lizzy, who was watching Mr. Darcy before she met my eye and winked. I breathed a sigh of relief. Lizzy would ensure Mr. Darcy did us no harm.
I took Matthew and Benjamin in hand and led them outside. Mr. Darcy followed us but stopped to ask the housekeeper a question. A maid appeared to help dress us in our coats and hats, and soon we children were bounding in the wide openness of a country estate.
I entirely forgot about Mr. Darcy’s hateful presence for several minutes as I chased my brothers in play. Then I saw Matthew scoop up a ball of snow and throw it—but not at me. It knocked Mr. Darcy’s hat right off his head. He barely had a chance to react before being pelted in rapid fire with snowballs from behind. Lizzy had snuck out of the house and formed an arsenal of snowballs while we played!
Mr. Darcy spun around in shock—and surely indignation—but a snowball landed squarely on his face. She had no mercy, and as he attempted to wipe off the icy weaponry, she launched another attack. Matthew had joined in by this time, and in another instant, Mr. Darcy’s front and back were entirely covered in snow.
I trembled in fear. How angry would he be? But he broke out in a wide grin before scooping up snow and, far too gently, aiming for Lizzy.
She jumped out of the way and teased. “Being a statue again?”
“I am no statue!”
He scooped up a large pile of snow and made a great show of aiming for Lizzy’s face. She narrowly ducked out of the way in time. Now that she had engaged her enemy, she was relentless. She lobbed another snowball at him, and he returned it. She ran away again, but now he was no longer content to be stationary. He chased her around, and immediately we children joined in as well. He could not match the four of us, though, and soon we had him on the ground.
“Stop! Stop!” Mr. Darcy pleaded.
Lizzy motioned for us to cease, and she even held out her hand to help him up, although surely such a large man could manage on his own. He took it and pulled her to him, scrambling out of the way as she fell into a heap of snow! What a jolly soul Mr. Darcy had!
“Mr. Darcy!” she shrieked. She laughed at the same time, clearly enjoying the play.
When she caught her breath, she said, “I suppose I deserved that.” She looked at Mr. Darcy, covered from head to toe in snow, and chuckled. “We are even now. I am certain I am as bedraggled as you are.”
“You are lovelier than ever. A snow nymph.” Her hair had tumbled down during all the exercise, and he pushed a stray curl away from her face.
Lizzy’s eyes widened. Although her cheeks were already rosy, they became brighter, and she quickly looked away. She hastily stood and dusted herself off, looking around as she did so. I saw her eyes alight on Mr. Darcy’s hat, and she brought it back to him.
“Come, children!” she called. “I think we ought to dress up our snowman.” She looked at him for a moment in assessment. “He needs a pipe!”
I ran off to the kitchen—we were only a few paces away—and begged for John’s old pipe. He parted with it easily when I explained it was for Mr. Darcy.
When I returned, Lizzy was still standing before Mr. Darcy. They were simply staring at each other like a pair of statues now.
“Here! For his pipe.” I thrust my cargo into Lizzy’s hands.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, finally unfreezing. “Well, let us dress our snowman.”
She held up Mr. Darcy’s hat, and he had to duck down for her to place it on his head. They both still smiled like fools. She handed him the pipe, and he pretended to take a puff. Then to the amazement of us both, he began to dance a jig.
The boys came running back as they heard us laughing. Lizzy joined Mr. Darcy’s dance, but they must have been dizzy from their turning. They nearly bumped into each other, and Mr. Darcy righted Elizabeth before she fell by grasping her waist. He did not let go, however. He hummed a different, slower tune than before. She placed one hand on his shoulder and the other in his hand. They were nearly hugging! Finally, they ceased their steps, but they did not pull apart. White clouds blew rapidly from their mouths, and they looked as though they were out of breath.
Lizzy’s cheeks were bright red. “Are you frozen now?” Ben asked.
Mr. Darcy immediately released Lizzy. “Are you cold? Ought we to return to the house?”
With a soft smile, Lizzy answered, “The dancing quite delightfully warmed me. You really ought to dance more.”
“If all my dances could be like that, and with you as my partner, I would,” he said, and Lizzy drew in a sharp breath.
Mr. Darcy nervously looked away and then up at the sun. “I fear the snow will melt away today; we should enjoy it while we can.”
“Chase us!” the boys yelled before scampering off again.
Lizzy pulled me aside, and we came up with a plan.
“Grab a stick, Kathy, and we will be soldiers. Our snowman can be our captain, and we will march to the village!”
Giggling, I ran off to fetch my newest prop, and when I returned, Lizzy and Mr. Darcy had the boys in a straight line. I held up the rear.
“What is our captain’s name?” Matthew asked as we began to march.
“He’s Fitzywilliam Darcy!” Benjamin cried out.
“Fitzywilliam!” Lizzy choked out between laughs.
“I will have you know, my cousin is a colonel in His Majesty’s army—with the Royal Horse Guards Blue—and Fitzwilliam makes a fine name for a military man,” Mr. Darcy said with a tone of suppressed laughter.
“Of course…” Lizzy replied. “Or perhaps my cousin meant Frostywilliam. You are still covered in snow, sir.”
“As are you, Miss Snow Nymph.”
“That I am, Fitzy the Snowman.”
We all laughed at Mr. Darcy’s new name.
We marched the short distance past the lodge and entered Longbourn village. A few children joined in behind us. Soon we were on our return march, Fitzy the Snowman thrusting his stick up like a baton in time to a jaunty tune Lizzy sang.
Suddenly we came to a halt.
“Darcy!” Mr. Bingley sounded alarmed and walked forward. Two horses trailed behind. “Darcy, Good God! What have you been doing?”
Lizzy broke ranks. “He has been a delightfully entertaining snowman.”
Mr. Bingley looked puzzled, but as he glanced from one snow-covered body to the next, a grin broke out on his face.
“I am sorry to have to end your fun, but it is time for us to leave. Darcy you will have to hurry now so you can change if we are to make London before dark.”
“You are leaving?” Lizzy turned and asked Mr. Darcy. It sounded like an angry accusation.
“I will be back on Christmas. We are to fetch our sisters for the holiday.”
Lizzy suddenly seemed shy, and Mr. Bingley lured us away with promises of warm treats in the kitchen for us. Just before I entered the house, I looked back to Lizzy. Mr. Darcy raised her hand to his lips before mounting his horse. Only I saw her watch after them as the gentlemen left. Their horses galloped over the hill, reminding me of Lizzy’s song, but she did not sing this time. She placed the hand he kissed on her cheek.
A few days after we returned to London, we received a letter from Lizzy announcing her betrothal to Mr. Darcy. My parents were surprised, although they had noted Mr. Darcy’s attention to Lizzy after his return, but I was not. I knew she fell in love with him the day Fitzy the Snowman came alive.
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What’s your favorite Christmas song?