Gaslight Chronicles Vignettes

                                 Home & Holly
                                                      © 2013, Cindy Spencer Pape
                                           
        A Gaslight Chronicles Vignette
                     
   Takes place between Dragons & Dirigibles and Ether & Elephants

Christmas Eve, 1859, Hadrian Hall, Northumberland

“It’s our first Christmas without all of the children home.” Caroline Hadrian, Lady Northland
said to her husband Merrick as they descended the stairs from the nursery to the master suite at
Hadrian Hall. “It just doesn’t seem right.

“Our chicks are leaving the nest,” he said, drawing her down the corridor toward their bedroom.
“It’s only natural, darling.”

“I know.” She laid her head against his shoulder and leaned into him, wrapping her arm around
his waist. “But it’s going to be so strange, not seeing Tom or Wink’s faces around the tree
tomorrow morning. The little ones were asking for them all day today.”

“The hazards of having a twenty-four year age gap between eldest and youngest.” He toed open
the bedchamber door, swung her inside and closed it with his foot. “I’m sure they’ll telephone.”

“Yes.” Caroline’s heart brightened a little. “And they’ve both sent big boxes of gifts for the
babies. The nursery will be so full of toys there might not be room for the children.”

Merrick chuckled and swooped in to kiss her. Even after eight years of marriage, Caroline’s
heart still pounded at his slightest touch. She leaned into him, returning his kiss, deftly
unbuttoning his waistcoat. Yes, it was sad that their eldest two adopted children were unable to
return for Christmas, but they still had seven, ages twenty-two to seven months, all asleep in
their rooms. Although Caroline had coped with a difficult life in her own youth, the past eight
years had brought unparalleled joy, all wrapped up with this man whom she loved more than
she’d ever dreamed possible.

Later, exhausted and lying beside him, she ran her fingers through Merrick’s dark wavy hair,
now streaked with strands of gray that only served to make him even handsomer in her eyes.
The grandfather clock in the hall outside their room chimed midnight. “Happy Christmas, my
love.”
He hugged her tight. “Happy Christmas. You’re still the best gift I’ve ever had.”

                                                                              ***
The next morning, Merrick woke when a weight slammed onto his chest. “Wake up, Papa. Saint
Nicholas has been here.”

Merrick opened his eyes to see his five year old son Will bouncing on his rib cage. “Good
morning, Will. Are you sure he came? You might not have earned any presents this year.” He
tickled the boy’s ribs as he sat up. Sylvia, at seven the likely mastermind of the invasion was
shaking Caroline’s shoulders, and three year old Rose sat on the foot of the bed with her thumb
in her mouth.

“No,” said Jamie, eighteen and home from military academy for the holidays. The youngest of
the adopted Hadrians, he stood beside his next-eldest sibling, Piers in the doorway. “There’s
definitely a surprise in the parlor. I think someone must’ve been very good indeed.”

Twenty-two year old Nell giggled, bouncing baby Vivian in her arms. “Come on out in the hall,
everyone, and let Mum & Papa get dressed. Then we can go down to see the presents.”

They filed out, shouting exhortations for speed. Merrick kissed his bride, then reluctantly
climbed out of bed. “And to think I once believed I’d grow old alone. It certainly would have
been quieter.”

Caroline laughed as she pulled on her dressing gown. “And you’d have been a miserable old
bear. Now hurry up.” She was as much of a child on Christmas as the rest of them and didn’t
care who knew it. Her enthusiastic spirit was just one of the things he loved about her.

Soon, the family tromped down the grand staircase, taking a moment to gaze at the big, ornately
trimmed tree in the entrance hall. Then they moved on to the cozy family parlor, where a
smaller tree waited, decorated with handmade ornaments. All around that corner of the room,
piles of brightly wrapped gifts gleamed in the gaslight.

Jamie and Piers brought coffee for Merrick and chocolate for Caroline who nursed Vivian under
a soft blanket, while Nell corralled the younger children into perching on a sofa with sweets.

“Before we open any of the packages, we have a special gift for Mum,” Jamie said. He leaned
against the servants’ door. “It seems Saint Nicholas knew exactly what she wanted for
Christmas.”

“A grandchild?” Merrick said with a laugh. Their eldest, Wink, had married this year.

Caroline snorted. “No, not until they’re ready.” Her vivid green eyes misted. “All I really
wanted was to have them home for Christmas.”

Jamie opened the door with a flourish. Wink, her husband Liam McCullough, Scotland Yard
superintendent and the Hadrian’s foster son Tom Devere, a Knight of the Round Table like
Merrick, all burst into the room, hugging Caroline, Merrick, and the other children with equal
glee. Even George, Wink’s bronze mechanical dog was there, wagging his metal tail.

“I just couldn’t stay away,” Wink explained to her mother. “Liam wrapped up a big case last
night, and when he settled down to do the paperwork, Sebastian Brown intervened. He knew,
you see, how much I wanted to come home. He took over Liam’s shift today, too, although we’ll
have to be back in London by tomorrow.”

Merrick nodded. “Send Seb my thanks.” The grandson of a Knight of the Round Table, Brown
was a good friend of the Order, and a big help to Liam in Scotland Yard.

“We stopped by Liverpool to pick up Tom,” Liam added. “Since he’s undercover as a wastrel,
he can afford to be missing for a day.”

Tom nodded. “It’s nice to be warm and dry, even if only for one night. And to see everyone
again, of course.”

Caroline’s eyes were bright with tears. “Thank you. I love you all. Now it really feels like
Christmas.”

Jamie had gone unusually still. Finally he smiled. “Next Christmas, we won’t be all together. I’m
sorry, Mum. But we’ll all be all right. Just—doing different things. We will be together again,
though. I can’t see when. When we are though, I think there might be more of us.”

Jamie had visions which were invariably accurate. Merrick clasped the young man on the
shoulder. “Thank you for that. And for excelling in school this term. I’m proud of you, son.”
Jamie blushed. He’d had a good time getting kicked out of prep school after prep school, but
had clearly found his niche at a military academy.

“If we’re not going to have Christmas together next year, then let’s just enjoy this one, shall we?”
Caroline’s voice was light and sweet, and Merrick’s heart still kicked when he saw her smile.
“Sylvie, help the little ones pass out the packages. Piers, Jamie, pull up some extra chairs.”

Merrick plucked one package off a sturdy branch and brought it to Caroline while the younger
children distributed boxes.  “This is from all of us, darling.”

She opened it without disturbing the infant at her breast, and gazed at the necklace he’d
commissioned. Nine cameos dangled from a gold chain, each bearing a white, mother-of-pearl
silhouette against a green jade background. He’d given the jeweler images of each of the nine
children, and had them carved into stone for Caroline to wear. The matching earrings featured
his silhouette and hers.

“It’s Christmas in a box,” she said with a misty smile. “Because that’s what Christmas is. Love.”
She handed it to him to place around her neck, whispering, “I need one of Liam, too. He’s ours
as much as any of the others.”

“Of course.” He couldn’t resist dropping a kiss on her nape. Then he settled back on the settee,
with his arm around Caroline and their youngest child. Their last, according to both the doctors
and to Jamie, but neither of them minded that. Nine was plenty. “You’re right,” he said. “Love is
what the yuletide spirit is all about.”

She’d made a believer out of him. “Thank you,” he whispered—to the universe, to St. Nicholas,
to a deity, he didn’t know which. “Thank you for every single one of them.” He gazed out at all
the people he loved and said, “Happy Christmas, everyone. May all your wishes come true.”



                                Naughty & Nice
                                                      © 2015, Cindy Spencer Pape
                                           
        A Gaslight Chronicles Vignette
                     
                            Takes place after Ether & Elephants

London, December 1863

“Well, Nan, what shall we buy your mother for Christmas?”

Nancy Devere looked up at her father, who had adopted her only last spring, but was already
her knight in shining armor. She shrugged. “I don’t know, Papa. What do people give for
Christmas? Doesn’t Mama already have everything she could ever want?” Nan had been
brought up on the docks in Plymouth with a drunken prostitute for her only parent. Christmas
gifts were entirely outside the realm of her experience.  

“She doesn’t need anything, that’s true.” Papa, Sir Thomas Devere, lifted her down from the
carriage, making her crimson coat swing around her full skirts. She giggled like a little girl
instead of a mature lady of twelve and a half. “What we’re looking for is a present that tells her
how much you love her. It can be as inexpensive or expensive as it needs to be, but it should be
special. It should mean something.” They both wore breathing masks like everyone else in
London did when outside, so his voice sounded a little funny.

Nan nodded, taking in the sights and sounds of Bond Street as she thought. So many people,
and all the shops decorated with evergreen boughs and big red bows. It was busier than the
docks when a whole fleet had come in. She liked it better in the country where Papa lived, and
the air was clear.

“I have an idea.” Papa smoothed one of her dark curls and tucked her hand around his arm.
“Let’s go find something for Charlie first. I know that should be an easier task.” Charlie had
been adopted like Nan, but even after only eight months, it felt like she’d always had a little
brother. He was with Mum at Granny and Grandpa Hadrian’s London home, while tomorrow,
he would have his chance to shop with Papa.

“That’s an easy one.” Nan rolled her eyes. “All he ever talks about is trains and music. Can I buy
him the toy locomotive in the shop window?” She pointed toward the toy store across the street.
It was probably a very expensive toy, but her new parents had more wealth than she could
comprehend. They’d given her a generous allowance and she’d saved it carefully for Christmas,
not really needing to buy anything during the fall term at the school they attended on
Stonechase, Papa’s estate, where Mama was the headmistress. Since Charlie was blind, he liked
toys that moved and made noise. The locomotive would be perfect.

“Absolutely.” Papa guided her across the street, dodging carriages and steam cars. He plucked
the train engine from the shop window as soon as they were indoors. “I think you’re spot on,
darling. Your brother is going to love this.”

Nell sneaked a look at the price tag dangling from the rear wheel. She had enough, but there
wasn’t going to be much leftover for Mama’s gift. Maybe she could find a piece of new sheet
music that wasn’t very dear. Eleanor, or Nell, Devere was a marvelous singer and pianist.

The shop owner bowed to Papa and put the engine in a box, which he handed to an automaton
to wrap, while he typed the price into his analytical engine. Nell pulled her red velvet purse
from her pocket just as Papa reached for his wallet. “I have enough,” she said, straightening her
spine.

“I’d planned a special allowance for Christmas shopping,” Papa said. “Charlie will get one too.
You don’t need to spend your own money.”

“But then it wouldn’t really be from me.” Nan looked directly up into her father’s blue eyes, so
unlike her own plain brown. She’d already embroidered two handkerchiefs for Papa and argued
with Mama about buying the linen herself. She’d lost that argument on the basis that the linen
wasn’t the gift, the handwork was. She and Charlie had also made gifts for their cousins and
other members of the extended Hadrian family. She wasn’t making the train. “I want to pay.”

“Very well.” Papa returned his wallet to the breast pocket of his coat and gestured for the
shopkeeper to take Nan’s purse. “You’re stubborn, you know, just like your mother.”

“That’s why you love me.” Nan smiled with delight. To be compared with Mama was the
biggest compliment Papa could give her. Her parents adored one another to the point where it
was sometimes embarrassing.

He winked at her. “You’re right, you baggage. Now do you want to carry the parcel too, or am I
allowed to do that so I can secure my masculine dignity?”

“You may carry it.” She nodded regally. Having a perfect memory had helped her learn the
speech and mannerisms of the upper classes quickly, even though her parents would have been
endlessly patient if she hadn’t.

She led him back onto the street and looked around at the bustling, noisy throng. “In there.” She
pointed at a store she didn’t recognize, just around the corner off the main street. A small
hanging sign said, “Heart’s Treasures.”

“I’ve never seen that before,” Papa muttered. He followed her quickly as she darted forward. As
a Knight of the Round Table, Papa was one of the country’s top secret warriors. That always
made Nan feel safe. It also meant he was fast, able to keep her pace as she dipped through the
crowd.

“It’s new.” Nan had been here before, and if she didn’t remember it, it hadn’t been there. That
was her one true talent. She couldn’t do magic like Papa or sing like Mama, but she
remembered everything.

“Nan, stop.” There was an element of command in Papa’s voice that had her skidding to a halt
even as she reached for the door. Papa took a few steps forward and placed her behind him.
“There’s magick here,” he whispered. He paused for a moment, then nodded. “It’s good magick.
We can go in.” He held the door and let Nan precede him inside.

She blinked as her eyes adjusted to the dimmer light of a fire and some lamps. There was no
gaslight in here, just the flames of a time gone by. An old man stood behind a counter, in a gray
suit with a red flower in his lapel. He had curly white hair with a long beard, and eyes as blue
as Papa’s. “Welcome, Sir and Madam. How can I help such a distinguished couple?” The
twinkle in his eyes said he was teasing to make Nan feel grown up, not mistaking her for Mama.

“I need something special,” Nell said, stepping up to the counter. “A gift for my Mama.”

The old man tapped his chin. “I see.” He moved along the back of what Nan could now tell was
a glass case. “How about this, young lady?” He lifted out an item and handed it over to Nan.

She studied the locket and shook her head. It was beautiful, gold and engraved with songbirds.
“There’s only room for two photographs. Mama would need at least four. One for Papa, and
Charlie, and me, and the new baby she’s having after New Year.”

“Wise thinking.” The shopkeeper pondered while Nell peered into the case. “I have some
lovely silver hairbrushes. Might be just the thing.”

Again Nan shook her head. “Mama has hairbrushes.”

“A pearl brooch?” The helpful old man tipped his head. “It’s an antique.”

“No.” Nan wrinkled her forehead. “Not jewelry.” Mama didn’t wear much of that when she
taught music at the school. She followed the case to the far corner and then she saw it. A small,
heart-shaped box in pink porcelain—Mama’s favorite. “May I see that box, please?”

“Well, that isn’t much,” the shopkeeper said. “It’s an odd thing. Little pockets in it to hold locks
of hair. And who wants a heart with an elephant painted on it?” Nonetheless, he took it out and
handed it over.

Nan’s heart sped up. “Mama loves elephants. She’s half from India.” Sure enough, the box, just
big enough to fit in her hand, had a daintily painted pachyderm on the lacy-edged top. Inside
the box, a small mechanism held a half-dozen little silk envelopes, all empty. “There’s more
than enough.” She showed her father. “And room for more if she wants. I could sew those. And
embroider our names on the side, so she could always have a piece of each of us with her when
we’re away.”

The mechanism in the box tucked the silk pockets down when she was done.

“It’s a very clever piece,” Papa acknowledged. “But it is odd. I can loan you some extra money
if you want to go buy her some jewelry or something.”

“No.” Nan was certain. “This is it.” She handed it back to the old man, who was now beaming at
her. “I’d like to buy this, sir. Can you tell me how much it is?” She didn’t have much allowance
left after the locomotive.

“Two shillings and five pence,” the shopkeeper said at once.

Nan frowned. It didn’t seem like enough, but then he’d said no one had wanted the box, so
maybe he’d been trying to sell it for some time. She dug out the remaining coins from her purse
and laid them out on the counter to add up. “Two shillings,” she said. “And look—seven
pennies. It’s enough.”

“Excellent.” He counted out the requisite coins and handed her back tuppence. There were no
automatons here, no Babbage engine to manage the money, just nimble fingers and an old tin
cashbox. He pulled a small wooden box from behind the counter, and wrapped in tissue paper,
the heart-shaped porcelain just fit. Papa accepted the second parcel gravely.

“Thank you, Mr.—” Nan broke off, since there was no sign to indicate the shopkeeper’s name.

“You’re very welcome, Miss Devere.” He leaned over and shook her hand.

On their way out, Papa turned back to the gentleman in the store. “Thank you,” he said.

“You’ve been very good this year too, Sir Thomas, said the man with the twinkle back in his eye.
“Even when you were being naughty. But I think your gifts have mostly been delivered.”

“Still waiting on one,” Papa said. “But yes. I’m a very lucky man. This is the happiest Christmas
I’ve had in many years.”

Either he closed the door or it closed by itself.

“Care to buy some licorice with that tuppence?” Papa asked. “Or is there another plan I’m not
aware of?”

“No licorice.” Instead, Nan walked over to an old woman selling chestnuts and gave her the
money, accepting only two, though she’d paid for four. “A Christmas gift to you,” she told the
woman, who’d smiled and waved her off.

Thoughtfully, Nan and Papa sat in the carriage eating chestnuts as the driver turned to take
them home. “Papa?” Nan asked.

“Yes, sweetheart?”

“Was that Father Christmas?”

Papa paused with his mouth half open. Finally he said, “I don’t know. Why do you ask that?”
Nan tapped the wooden box that held the heart. “Because of this. It was just what I wanted.
Mum can keep us all in her heart. But mainly, it was the other thing.”

“What other thing?”

Nan giggled. “He knew that you’d been naughty
and nice.”
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