That Silent Night: Holiday Excerpt

That Silent Night by Tasha Alexander is a Christmas novella in the Lady Emily Mysteries series (Available for only $1.99 below).

Lady Emily and her dashing husband Colin are spending a few days in London, doing some last-minute Christmas shopping and making the most of the time alone, when they find themselves in the middle of an unexpected mystery. The couple is just getting cozy, not at all bothered by the storm outside. But when Lady Emily looks out the window to see a woman standing in the blowing snow, without a coat, an eerie feeling falls over her, and she rushes out to help, only to find that the woman has disappeared. Colin is convinced her eyes were playing tricks on her, but Emily is haunted by the woman's image. Clearly, there is something spooky afoot, and she is determined to get to the bottom of it. . .

“I blame Mr. Dickens entirely.” Colin Hargreaves, my husband, a scowl on his well-formed lips, stretched his long legs, crossed them at the ankles, and then sipped his whisky. “And his wretched little Christmas book.”

“You must place some of the onus on Prince Albert,” I said. “Christmas trees are an old German tradition.”

“Trees I do not object to in the least,” he said. “It is the carolers and their incessant singing that brings me to the brink of madness. The whole population of London must be roaming the streets tonight, and if I am forced to endure one more rendition of “Good King Wenceslas” I shall take no responsibility for any bodily injuries suffered by the performers.”

“Be that as it may, you would certainly regret them in the morning,” I said. “I have already instructed Davis to send all carolers away with a good tip.”

“Even that doesn’t silence them,” Colin said. “They keep at it as they make their way along the pavement. Insidious.”

“I have never known you to be such a Scrooge, if I may take up your reference to Mr. Dickens’ work,” I said.

“I resent the accusation,” he said. “I enjoy Christmas as much as the next man—“

“We have fled Anglemore with the specific purpose of avoiding festivities,” I said. “That does not suggest enjoyment.”

“We have come to London for a bit of shopping. You know there is a particular toy I am hoping to find at Hamleys for Richard.”

“You need not have come all the way down to London from Derbyshire to personally select a Noah’s Ark,” I said. “You could have rung them and explained what you want. That is, after all, the point of telephones.”

“A palpable hit, my dear,” he said. “However, had I done so we would not have this time alone. Quite the contrary, at this very moment we would be playing charades at Montagu Manor.”

Now, at last, he admitted the truth. We had removed ourselves to Anglemore Park, our house in the country, not, with the fashionable set at the start of grouse season, but later, when fog descended upon London and the weather began to turn inclement. Colin adored taking our boys—the twins, Henry and Richard, and our ward, Tom—to the zoo and the museums. The British Museum (Natural History) proved a favorite with Richard, who had become fascinated with elephants during the course of the summer. Tom, always amiable, enjoyed any exhibit, but I must admit Henry had caused more than a few problems. He objected strenuously (and loudly) to taxidermy and had to be physically removed (by me) when he had shouted “Morbid! Profane!” incessantly after being confronted with displays of animals in this unacceptable state. I am still unsure as to how either of these words entered his vocabulary.

Colin remained behind with Richard and Tom while I delivered a stern lecture to Henry after I had dragged him outside. He stood very still, his little hands clasped behind his back, his features placid, and gave every appearance of being a model of youth subdued unless one noticed the defiance in his sapphire blue eyes. I did not entirely disagree with Henry’s judgment on the practice of stuffing and mounting animals and, my reprimand finished, I took him by the hand and walked toward the British Museum, where the two of us spent the remainder of what turned out to be a most pleasant afternoon looking at ancient artifacts.

When, sometime in September, we retreated to Anglemore, we settled into the quiet country life, the boys running wild on the extensive grounds while I set myself to the task of reading Herodotus in the original Greek. Colin spent much of the autumn abroad, called upon by the Palace to deal with a sensitive matter developing in Russia, about which he could tell me nothing. This caused no tumult between us; as the wife of one of the Crown’s most trusted agents, I had grown accustomed to the demands and restrictions of his work. When at last he had accomplished whatever it was that needed to be accomplished—and having done so, I did not doubt, with panache—he came home, exhausted, and wanted nothing more than to relax at his ancestral estate.

Then December arrived. We very much enjoyed the company of our nearest neighbors in Derbyshire, the Marquess and Marchioness of Montagu—Rodney and Matilda Scolfield—and frequently dined with them. Matilda, no doubt having inherited her grandfather’s tendency to the dramatic—the old man had torn down the family seat and replaced it with a replica of a medieval castle so that he might play feudal lord—had got rather carried away with celebrating the season. Her own children, a girl not yet two and a boy who would turn one during the summer, were too young to be much affected by what Colin now referred to as The Festival of Horror and the brunt of her excess was felt, instead, by her husband and my family.

During the first week of the month, she hosted two holiday-themed dinners, a pantomime, and tried to convince Colin to dress as Father Christmas for a children’s tea. When he learned of her plan for a daylong charades tournament that would include the entire population of a neighboring village, Colin ordered a special train and bustled me off to London with him, on the pretense of Christmas shopping.

Much as I enjoyed teasing him—just a little—about his escape, I always adored London when fashionable society had abandoned it for the country. After our requisite visit to Hamleys, we walked home via Piccadilly, calling in at Hatchards, where Colin bought a copy of Henry James’ The Awkward Age and I, ready for a little light reading after my Greek, selected Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s latest, Her Darling Sin. As we approached Fortnum’s, snow danced from the heavy clouds that had darkened the skies all day, and by the time we had turned into Park Lane, it had blanketed buildings, pavements, tree limbs, and even the tops of hansom cabs and carriages until not a hint of grit or grime remained visible. Rather, I observed, like a Christmas card.

 

Copyright © 2015 Tasha Alexander.

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Tasha Alexander is the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Emily series and the novel ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE. She attended the University of Notre Dame, where she studied English and Medieval History. Her work has been translated into more than a dozen languages. She and her husband, novelist Andrew Grant, divide their time between Chicago and the UK.

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