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Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Historical Christmas Event with Pamela Mingle

As a teacher and librarian, Pam fell in love with Shakespeare and Austen. So, naturally, as writer, she turned to the Elizabethan and Regency periods as the settings for her novels. She and her husband live in Colorado, but visit and walk the countryside of England, Scotland and Wales as often as they can. These trips have given her an ideal way to discover new locales for her books, and with friends along, they’re a lot of fun besides! 

I’m honored to be here on Christmas Eve for the finale of the Ramblings Historical Christmas Event. My offering is a new short story about Sir Hugh and Eleanor Grey from A Lady’s Deception. It’s their first Christmas together, and they have a quarrel on the morning of Christmas Eve. A story of love and sacrifice, it was inspired by O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi.

The Gift

For Lady Eleanor Grey, Christmas Eve could not have begun with greater promise or joy. Hugh nuzzled her awake, and they made love while the sun worked its cautious way above the horizon. “Before Lili wakes up,” Hugh whispered, and Eleanor was in no position to argue.

How could such a fine beginning have made so rapid a descent into quarreling and finger-pointing?

The quarrel had started when Hugh, over a breakfast of coddled eggs, toast, and tea, inquired about Eleanor’s plans for the day.

She’d been studying the sky when he spoke. Heavy and low, it looked as though it were waiting for a signal to let the snow begin. She glanced over at her husband. “Hanging the greens this afternoon and completing the Christmas boxes for the tenants.” She paused to break off a piece of toast for Lili. “But first I must visit the cottage and see how Jane and Minnie are coming along on the remaining orders.”

“And I suppose you will be bent over a seam for much of the day, in that case,” her husband said, eyebrows lifted.

Eleanor sipped her tea before answering. “If they need help, yes. But—”

“Darling, I’m concerned about the amount of time you are spending at your work. Coupled with the duties of a mother—one who is expecting a second child, at that—I’m afraid it may be injurious to your health.”

To Eleanor, that statement sounded precisely like one that might have issued from her managing mother. A fact which only encouraged her to take exception. “I do not intend to stay long, Hugh. There is too much to be done here.”

He threw down his napkin. “Devil take it, Eleanor. I’ve heard that before, only to find you still plying your needle at sunset.”

“Devil take it, El’nor,” Lili said, her dark eyes sparkling with mischief. Both parents gave her a scolding look.

“Lili, you must not say such things. Nor should your papa,” Eleanor said, glaring at Hugh. But she felt laughter bubbling up, which distracted her from the subject at hand. “You want me to give up the business, and I will. I simply need to see certain things through before that can take place.”

Hugh leaned forward to grasp her hand, but she snatched it out of his reach. “I worry about you, Eleanor. And the health of the child you are carrying.”

“I am perfectly healthy, and so is the baby. It’s Jane and Minnie I worry about. After I close the business, what will they do? They depend on the income they earn from me.”

Hugh’s eyes softened. “I know. But they are not your responsibility. Their experience will stand them in good stead, and in any case, I would never allow their families to suffer.”

Eleanor rose and, after cleaning Lili’s face with a cloth, picked her up. Hugh’s implication that she might be endangering their baby stung. He did not understand what her work meant to her. Her dressmaking business, EB Creations, represented independence. It was a thing she’d created and nurtured, and giving it up would be like giving up one of her children.

To him, her reluctance to let it go seemed stubborn and irrational—they were wealthy, after all. In fact, she had greatly reduced the number of hours she worked prior to her marriage. Dressmaking had been her salvation when Hugh was off in North America with the British forces. Before he knew of Lili’s existence, before Eleanor had even decided whether to tell him he had a daughter. She had started the business with the intention of saving every penny she earned, so she and Lili might someday have their own home. Away from the restrictions her parents had placed upon her and the prying eyes of neighbors.

Hugh’s deep voice jolted her back to the present. “I’m off to Haslemere this morning, and it looks like snow,” he said, pushing away from the table. “So this errand calls for an early start.” He came to Eleanor and Lili and kissed them both. Eleanor’s irritation with him dissolved. He was only concerned for her and their little family.

“Must you? I don’t care for the looks of the sky.”

“I’m afraid it can’t be helped. But my business shouldn’t take long. Be a good girl today, poppet.” Lili reached her arms out for a hug, and afterward Hugh strode out with a smile on his face.

When he was gone, Eleanor wrapped up in her warmest cloak, hat, and boots. Patty, their housekeeper, would watch Lili while she was gone. The snow had already begun, a steady but still light fall of flakes drifting through the crisp air. They landed on Eleanor’s shoulders, pure white against the emerald green fabric, and pricked her face like needles.

Hugh’s words echoed through her mind. Bent over a seam…injurious to your health…duties of a mother…plying your needle at sunset… By the time Eleanor reached the cottage, she’d thought it all through and reached a decision. She found the girls packing the gowns and dresses. To brighten the workroom, they’d lit all the candles, and the Argand lamp Hugh had given her several months ago was burning as well.

“Good morning, Lady Grey,” Jane said. She and Minnie bobbed curtsies.

“It’s Eleanor to both of you, as you well know. How are you coming along?”

With a look of pride, Jane swept her arm toward their completed orders. “Nearly done. Simon will be by any minute to pick up the boxes.”

Eleanor employed Jane’s brother, Simon, to make deliveries for them during busy seasons.

“With so many orders for the holidays, I thought we’d never finish in time,” Minnie said.

“You are all done with the sewing?” Eleanor asked. “Even the embroidery on Mrs. Hammond’s gown?” She was surprised. And pleased. She would give each girl extra coin this month. Diligent workers, they both deserved it, and perhaps it would help soothe the ruffled feathers she was about to cause. Having her own task to complete, Eleanor was more than grateful her assistance would not be required. “I’m so proud of you both. The gowns of Haslemere will rival anything seen in a London ballroom! Now, you’d better be seated. There is something I must tell you.”

As kindly as she could, she informed her faithful assistants that their services would no longer be required.


Hugh had asked the groom to hitch up the wagon, and now they plodded slowly into town.

Damnation! That was not the way he’d intended things to go with Eleanor. She was exceedingly sensitive about her business, and by now he should be able, at the very least, to broach the subject of her closing it in a more tactful manner.

He knew how much it meant to her, and how it had sustained her when he’d been in Canada and she had given birth to Lili. But at this point, it had become more hindrance than sustenance.

Before their marriage, Eleanor worked such long hours, she’d looked exhausted much of the time. That vexed Hugh no end, and he would not stand by and watch her come to that pass again, especially not with another child on the way. If only she would limit her work to designing, not sewing.

Ah, well. There was only so much a man could do. Or say. He was off to see his steward, Ned Martin, who had been working on a project for him. His friend had once been employed in an iron works and was mechanically inclined. He could do anything he set his mind to, and Hugh hoped he had been able to accomplish the task he’d been charged with. When his business with Ned was concluded, Hugh hoped he could get home before the snow fell in earnest.


When Eleanor trudged homeward, she could barely make out the path. The snow fell in wet, heavy flakes, swirling and cascading around her and blanketing her in white. She was glad she’d taken the time to wrap the embroidered waistcoat she’d made for Hugh. Thank heaven, Jane and Minnie had taken her announcement in stride, which had gone far in relieving Eleanor’s worries about them. She’d had an offer from a dressmaker in Haslemere, Jane had said, and Minnie shared the news of her courtship. It seemed she’d caught the eye of a local lad and was soon to be wed.

Fancy that, Eleanor thought. Hugh was right. The girls would be fine.

She’d walked the path between home and the cottage hundreds of times. Nonetheless, she was forced to stop more than once to get her bearings. Relieved to finally see the outline of her home, she hurried to the kitchen door and brushed snow off her cloak before stepping over the threshold.

“Here is your mama!” Patty said. Lili was sitting at a small table drinking milk and eating a sugar cake. She loved being in the kitchen with the servants, who often let her “bake” her own pastries.

“We’re ready to have our nap, aren’t we Miss Lili?” Patty winked at Eleanor, who sat down beside Lili. The child promptly offered her mother a bite of cake.

“Hello, love. Have you been helping Patty?” Eleanor removed her cloak, and the footman, Michael, whisked it away.

Lili nodded solemnly, and pointed to the rows of boxes resting on the wood floor. “I put jars in the boxes.”

“And a fine job she did too,” the housekeeper said.

“Patty, ask Michael to fetch the hamper from Fortnum and Mason. We need to add the plum puddings.” Then she lifted Lili from her chair and said, “Let’s get you up to bed, little one.” In the nursery, Eleanor laid Lili on her cot, and after one story—Lili’s favorite, “Little Goody Two-Shoes”—returned to the kitchen. “Are the boxes done?”

Patty nodded. “They are, my lady. We added the puddings.”

“Then we’d best get started on the greens.” Because of Eleanor’s pregnancy, Patty and Michael insisted on doing most of the work. Eleanor simply directed their efforts. Every so often, she glanced out the windows. The snow had not let up. Outside was a curtain of white, and as the day waned, she began to feel uneasy about Hugh. How would he find his way home in this? She’d had trouble the short distance from the cottage.

Turning to Michael, she said, “I’m worried about Sir Hugh, Michael. Would you light some torches? Perhaps the flames will guide him home.”

Lili woke from her nap and helped lay greens and cones on tables. The house burst with the sharp, sweet scent of a pine forest, but Eleanor could find no pleasure in it, for there was no sign of Hugh. Dinner came and went, and full darkness fell. Still no Hugh. Although Eleanor tried her best to hide it, she knew her face must be pinched with worry.

After she’d tucked Lili in for the night, Eleanor busied herself with mundane tasks. Writing a letter to a friend who’d moved to Guildford, sketching a design for a gown, fussing with the holly and mistletoe. At long last, she insisted Patty and Michael retire. Patty did so without argument, but Michael refused, preferring to keep a vigil with her. He dragged a chair near the door and sat.

“Michael, you’ll be cold there. Come sit by the fire.”

“No, my lady. I’m never cold.” In a few minutes, she heard him snoring.

With a sigh, Eleanor picked up volume one of Pride and Prejudice. It was her favorite novel, and the pages were beginning to look dog-eared. She’d hoped the familiar and beloved characters would soothe her, but for the last few hours, a knot of genuine fear had been forming in her stomach. Visions of the wagon stuck in a snow drift ran through her mind. There was nowhere to shelter, and Hugh would freeze to death. No reasonable person would have ventured out today, so there would be nobody to help him. But he must have made it to town, and perhaps he’d remained there with Ned Martin and his new wife Annabelle. She prayed he’d done the sensible thing and stayed put.

How she wished they hadn’t quarreled this morning.

After a while, the book dropped from her hands and she dozed. A sound startled her awake. How long had she been sleeping? Eleanor rose and ran to the window. In the pitch dark, she could see nothing, but she was certain she’d heard something. There it was again, and now she recognized it.  Horses neighing, announcing they’d arrived home. Now truly hopeful, Eleanor raced to the front door and pulled it open. Michael finally stirred.

“What? Is it Sir Hugh?”

Wrapping a shawl around her shoulders, she stepped outside, Michael on her heels. The torches were still burning, and she kept her eyes focused on the driveway. And in another moment, the horses came into view. They were moving slowly, fighting their way through the drifted snow. At last they reached the area Michael had kept cleared, and Eleanor took off. What did she care about snowdrifts, wet feet, or frostbite? Her darling Hugh was home. And safe.
He jumped down from the wagon and opened his arms to her. She flung herself into his embrace. “Hugh! Oh, Hugh.”

Eleanor was laughing and crying all at once. He was covered in frost and snow. And he felt like a pillar of ice. That did not matter. Nothing mattered, except that he was home and safe.

“I thought I might not make it, Eleanor. I was afraid I would never see you and Lili again, or our baby. You are my…everything.” He held her tightly for a long moment, finally saying, “What am I thinking, keeping you out in this weather. Come, let’s go inside.” He turned to Michael. “Rouse the stable lad to help you with the horses. And there’s something in the back of the wagon that needs to be carried in. You can set it in the kitchen. And leave the cover on it.”

“Go upstairs and put dry clothes on, darling,” Eleanor said. “We’ve kept the fire going in the kitchen, and I’ll put the kettle on the hob and find you something to eat.”

“Yes.” He turned to leave, but swiveled around and said, “Do not look at the…object Michael is bringing into the kitchen.”

“No, I promise, I won’t.” Now her curiosity was piqued.

Eleanor found it difficult to do as Hugh asked, because said object was most intriguing. Covered with a tarp, it took up half the kitchen worktable. She wanted to peek, but she’d promised, so instead, she busied herself preparing tea and fixing Hugh a plate of bread, cheese, and cold slices of beef.

Hugh walked in and sat at the small dining table the servants used. Eleanor poured their tea and gave him a quizzical look. “Well?”

He smiled devilishly, and she remembered why she’d fallen in love with him. “Hugh! Don’t tease me.”

“Let me eat, then I’ll show you. Tell me about your day.”

Eleanor related everything she’d done, saving the best for last. By this time, her husband had finished his meal and consumed numerous cups of tea. “I did it, Hugh. I told Jane and Minnie EB Creations was no more.” She studied him, waiting for his response.

He had the oddest look on his face, and to her shock, whoops of laughter burst from him. That was the last reaction she’d expected. He got to his feet and pulled her close. “I love you, Eleanor.”

“Why are you laughing? It’s the truth. I’m closing the business. I officially let the girls go.”

“I don’t doubt it.” Hugh continued to chortle, even as he began removing the tarp from whatever it was he’d brought home. “Here it is, darling. Your Christmas present.”

Eleanor stared for some time before working up the courage to ask Hugh what it was.

“Ah. Let me enlighten you. It is a sewing machine. I read about it and contacted the inventor, who told me it wasn’t meant for delicate fabrics. I bought it anyway, and Ned modified it for dressmaking. Happy Christmas, dearest Eleanor.” He draped an arm around her and drew her tightly against him.

She sputtered. “But Hugh, if you wanted me to close the business, why did you do this?”

She’d turned to face him, and he grasped her arms. “Because in the end, my love, I want whatever makes you happy. If you wish to keep your business, we’ll find a way to make it less demanding. I thought this was one thing that might help.”

“But you were so angry with me this morning.”

“And I am sorry for it. I wish you would work less, but I never wanted you give up something that means so much to you.”

Tears brimming, Eleanor framed his face with her hands and kissed him. A lingering, sweet kiss she hoped conveyed her deep and profound love. “Thank you, Hugh.”

Arms entwined about each other, they retired to their bed and ended the day just the way they’d begun it.

Hugh Grey and Eleanor Broxton share an unforgettable liaison the night before he leaves for war in Canada. The memory sustained him for the years he was away. Now, the reputed rake is back, knighted, and he’s got enough money to right the estate his father left in ruins. What would make Sir Hugh Grey’s world perfect is the lovely Eleanor by his side.

Their attraction is sizzles, and the sweet way Hugh is wooing her—a kitten, kisses in the moonlight, and expert help in lighting her dreary work space—makes Eleanor dream of forever with her strapping knight. But she refuses to risk a scandal, which could ruin his newfound respectability and esteem, especially in her father’s eyes. When Hugh discovers what she’s been hiding, it could drive them apart forever.

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Up For Grabs:
  • 1  eBook of A Lady's Deception

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  1. Sounds like a great book! Thanks for the chance! Happy Holidays to you!

  2. You're welcome! And Happy Holidays to you too. xo

  3. Wishing you a wonderful Holiday. What a delightful
    story. Thank you for sharing.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

    1. So glad you enjoyed it! Happy Holidays to you too!