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The First Christmas
The frosty grass was no more than a blur of green as seen through the foggy glass windows of the carriage. Emily sat in utter awe of her surroundings, twiddling her thumbs beneath the thick wool gloves she had covering her small fingers. She gazed around in silence outside of the small carriage into the open countryside: thick mounds of fluffy white snow spotted the small farms and barnyards through which they passed on the cold, December morning. With a smile, Emily glanced at the woman sitting next to her. For the first time in her life, she would have a family to spend Christmas with.
The woman sat upright and elegant, adorned in a long crimson gown with gold fringe and white tassels, staring straight ahead with a blank expression. Her hands were folded, framed in thick leather gloves and lay gracefully on her lap. Her hair was pulled back into an elegant bun, covered by a wide brimmed hat sporting lace and a large, scarlet feather.
“Yes, Emily?” the woman said, now turning her gaze toward Emily who continued to stare up in amazement.
“Nothing, Mrs. Norberry, nothing at all,” she responded shyly and turned to look out at the passing scenery through the frosted glass. Mrs. Norberry went back to staring blankly as the carriage proceeded on.
They continued to gallop through a never ending vast of countryside, the scenery only changing minutely from the occasional icy bales of hay to barns framed in a coat of fluffy snow. After a few more hours of traveling, the carriage came to an abrupt stop. The carriage driver came to the side of the carriage and took Mrs. Norberry’s hand in his own.
“Your destination, Mrs. Norberry,” he said, assisting her out of the carriage, “Medlock Manor, Yorkshire.”
“Thank you, Mr. Rochurth,” she said as she smoothed her dress and exited the carriage. Emily followed close behind and stood in awe of the sight before her.
The huge mansion stood overlooking the endless countryside. Emily gazed up at the tall towers, ornate stonework, and architectural ornaments that decorated the walls and lawn of the property. She made her way up to the thick iron gates and gazed between the tall metal bars into the property.
Mrs. Norberry made her way to the gates. “Stand aside, Emily she said with the same blank expression upon her aged face. The skirt of her dress lightly brushed the slight bit of snow that had accumulated on the ground as she made her way up behind Emily.
Mr. Rochurth swiftly came up beside the two and pulled at the thick lock that hung on the tall gates. From his pocket he pulled a large key with which he unlocked the gates and opened the portal to the dignified estate.
“Happy holidays, Mrs. Norberry,” Mr. Rochurth said as he retreated back to the carriage. She ignored his cheer and swiftly guided Emily up the cobblestone path through the courtyard to the entrance of the manor.
As the pair reached the tall oak doors, a servant from inside pulled them wide open and Emily’s heart leaped at the sight of the grandeur kept within. A large chandelier hung above the threshold, and just beyond the entrance stood a multitude of rooms lined with tall bookcases, spotted with long couches and armchairs, and brimming with all sorts of paintings, sculptures, and statues.
“This way, Emily,” Mrs. Norberry said, leading the way down a long corridor to the left. The walls were a deep green and upon them hung dated paintings and lighted candles giving off a dim glow. The smooth wooden floors creaked beneath their every step as they finally reached the proposed destination.
“This,” Mrs. Norberry said, pushing open a short wooden door on the right side of the hallway, “Is your quarters. Do come in.” They both entered the room and once again, Emily’s eyes danced with amazement as she looked at each ornate detail of the large room.
“Your bed, your wardrobe, your study,” she said, introducing Emily to the details of her new bedroom. “You are to remain in here unless told otherwise. Should you need anything, send for myself. As you know by now, I am the head servant here at the manor and I should always be of assistance. Wandering is forbidden, you shall address me with utmost respect, and never bother your uncle. Am I clear?”
“Yes, Mrs. Norberry,” Emily said, still enchanted by the newness of her elegant new home. Not even such words could diminish her spirits at that moment. “You are clear, ma’am.”
“Excellent,” Mrs. Norberry said as she tucked through the doorway back out into the hallway, “Supper is at five o’clock. I’ll have someone sent for you.”
“What about the Christmas decorations, Mrs. Norberry?” Emily said with a hearty smile just before Mrs. Norberry shut the door.
“We don’t celebrate that nonsense here, Emily,” she said as she finally shut the door and shuffled down the hallway.
Emily dropped her coat, gloves, and hat onto the floor and paced aimlessly around the large room. She made her way over to the tall bay window that overlooked the front courtyard. The tall evergreen trees were heavy with the fluffy white snow that had now covered the entire property. Even without the decorations, the holiday spirit flooded the air.
Emily stretched out on her bed, curling up underneath the thick quilt and still looking about. Despite the lack of decorations, Christmas at the Manor was already far better than Christmas at the orphanage. For the first time, Emily was spending time away from the orphanage. Her uncle, who she had never before met, had adopted her for a reason unclear to herself. Whatever the reason being, Emily was ecstatic to be out of the care of the orphanage. She had never known her parents; they had given her up at birth, another action whose reason remained mystery. Her life was spent behind the drab walls of an emotional prison, a place where feeling remained numb and happiness was nearly nonexistent. The head mistresses of the home were brutal disciplinarians who believed in forceful punishment. The other children were equally as miserable. The entire existence was miserable in every sense of the word.
Upon hearing news of her adoption, Emily’s spirits had immediately lifted. Not only was she leaving the orphanage, but she was leaving during December; she would finally get to celebrate Christmas. Mrs. Norberry’s words of “not celebrating that nonsense” had not quite registered, and Emily’s spirits remained glowing.
The heat of the thick quilt and the dull sunshine emanating through the bay window put Emily right to sleep as she lay motionless on the soft bed. Hours passed, and before she realized it, Mrs. Norberry was awaking her.
“Supper time, Emily,” she said, pulling back the blankets and exposing Emily’s small legs to an unexpected chill.
Shivering, she rose out of bed. “Will my uncle be joining us?” she inquired with wide eyes.
“He will,” Mrs. Norberry responded as she remade the bed. “He has been of poor spirits lately,” she continued as Emily listened with intrigue. “You must not speak unless spoken to. Am I clear?”
“You are, Mrs. Norberry,” Emily said as she danced out of the room and started own the hall.
“Emily!” Mrs. Norberry said as she quickly caught up with Emily halfway down the corridor. “I specifically told you that wandering is forbidden.”
“I’m not wandering,” she replied with a hearty grin, “I’m going to meet my uncle for supper! We’ve never before met.” Emily’s eyes glowed even in the dimly lit hallway.
“Mr. Lofington is in ill-spirits, as I have also told you, Emily,” Mrs. Norberry said sternly as she struggled to keep up with Emily’s bouncing strides in her long gown, “You must learn to follow orders.”
“But Mrs. Norberry, it’s Christmas time!” she said, speeding up as the threshold to the dining room came into distant view, “ And I haven’t done a thing wrong!” With that, she merrily glided ahead of Mrs. Norberry and happily took a seat next to the man who was, presumably, her uncle.
He sat with the same blank expression Mrs. Norberry often displayed, his long hair hanging just above his collar and a bit of scruff hanging off his chin. Emily sat smiling up at him, her eyes glowing in the flicker of the candles that sat at either end of the long table. Her head sat below the tip of the high-backed chairs and her feet swung gleefully as she examined her new surroundings.
“Emily,” he said in a nonchalant tone, greeting his niece.
“Uncle,” she responded in an excited tone.
“Emily, what did I tell you,” Mrs. Norberry said. “Oh, Mr. Lofington,” she said as he came into view, “I’m sorry about her, the child cannot follow orders.”
“She’s no bother,” he said half heartedly, and averted his gaze to the flickering candle before him. After a moment’s silence, “What do you think of your new home, Emily?”
“Oh, Uncle!” she began, “This estate is magnificent. Thank you for bringing me here. But why haven’t you got other children than myself. Haven’t you a wife?”
“Enough, Emily,” Mrs. Norberry scolded before Mr. Lofington could open his mouth. “Speak only when spoken to and nothing more,” she mumbled and continued to set the places for dinner.
The room became silent and Emily continued to look about at the unfamiliar room. Tapestries hung from wall to wall and framed each window with a unique pattern. Her curiosity mounted with every glance. As she turned to see what might be behind her, her elbow suddenly hit Mrs. Norberry’s, who was busily setting Mr. Lofington’s place with an ornate platter that now, as a result, fell to the ground and shattered with a loud smash.
“Emily!” Mrs. Norberry hollered, fuming with anger, “Please stop acting so childish and sit still. Fold your hands and look ahead! Quit causing trouble!” Emily did as she was told, now feeling slightly less elated, and sat in silence at her place.
Finally, the table was set and Mrs. Norberry emerged from the kitchen with platters of meat, potatoes, vegetables, and fish.
“How’s your meal, Emily?” Mr. Lofington said looking up from his plate.
“Delightful, Uncle,” she said as she took another bite of the mashed potatoes, “Really delicious.”
“Glad you think so, child,” he replied, returning to his plate.
“I can only imagine how delicious the Christmas meal will be!” Emily said happily. Immediately, Mrs. Norberry dropped her fork to her plate, the sound reverberating through the wide room.
“What have I told you, Emily?” she said, anger brewing in her narrow eyes. “Get to bed now!” She stood up abruptly and pointed towards the corridor.
Startled, Emily dropped her utensils and quickly scuttled down the hallway. She opened the door and made her way inside her chamber, confused and upset at the reaction her actions had yielded all night. Puzzled, she wondered what she did that could possibly make these people hate Christmas so. Warm tears slowly swelled in her eyes as she climbed into a thick armchair by the window. Even the mistresses at the orphanage had been somewhat spirited during the merry holiday time.
After lying in the chair an hour or so, the sun had finally set. Emily decided it was time to dress for bed and made her way to the wardrobe. Her dressing area was a platform slightly raised up a few steps. She made her way up the short steps, but as she made it to the third step, her foot slipped. She fell forward and knocked into the wall beside the tall armoire, which in turn unexpectedly opened, revealing a hidden closet that Mrs. Norberry had not mentioned.
Emily peeked inside, discovering stacks of boxes overflowing with assorted Christmas items. Her heart lifted at the sight. In the corner she noticed a small snow globe. Inside was a small depiction of the nativity, the shimmering bits of snow dancing around it. Immediately, she picked up the snow globe.
Though she knew it was against Mrs. Norberry’s orders, Emily opened up the chamber door and exited to go find her uncle. She felt it necessary to apologize for her seemingly rude behavior earlier in the night. Slowly, she nervously crept down the long hallway hoping not to run into Mrs. Norberry along the way. Finally, she came to the dining area. Her uncle sat alone, still staring blankly into the flickering candle.
“Uncle,” she said, “I found this. I want to give it to you. I’m sorry for my unruliness tonight, I promise you it won’t happen again. I love you, Uncle.” And with that, she placed the snow globe in her uncle’s hands and wrapped her small arms around his neck.
“Emily!” Mrs. Norberry said, storming out of the kitchen.
“No, Mrs. Norberry,” Mr. Lofington said immediately, as he placed the snow globe on the table and returned Emily’s embrace. “This child has done nothing wrong.”
“I’m sorry for making you hate Christmas so,” Emily said, still holding onto her uncle.
“Nonsense child,” he replied as she slowly loosened her grip and stood face to face. “You have done nothing of the sort.”
“But Mr. Lofington,” Mrs. Norberry began again.
“Please, Mrs. Norberry,” he replied sternly. “Emily, after your parents died I was left with no one to love. I am unmarried, I have no children of my own. I had no reason to be happy, thus, no reason for Christmas. But tonight, you have proven me otherwise. Your spirits are contagious, my niece. I finally have someone in my life to share the cheer I have so longed for which to have. Thank you for giving this to me,” he held the snow globe, “You have bestowed upon me the long lost gift of love, family, and Christmas cheer. For that I am ever grateful. I only wish I had taken you in sooner.” Emily continued to smile up at her uncle.
“Mr. Lofington, what are you saying?” Mrs. Norberry said in a tone of disbelief.
“I am saying that I want all Christmas decorations up by sunrise tomorrow. It’s December, is it not? Well, let’s go then. Send along the orders as you were told.”
With that, Mrs. Norberry shuffled, puzzled, off to send along the message and hang the Christmas decorations.
As for young Emily and her dear Uncle, the two, in a sense, had celebrated their first true Christmas together. For the first time, the characteristic joy, merriment, and warmth of the season was felt in their hearts. Finally, Christmas was spent the proper way: celebrated in the presence of beloved family. It was the true spirit and meaning of Christmas that was learned that December in Medlock Manor.