Merry Christmas from Regency Reflections! Our gift to you is this charming short story written by Laurie Alice Eakes. This is a revised edition of a story previously published in an American Christian Romance Writers (Now American Christian Fiction Writers) newsletter.
(Note: To the English, “pudding” is not the custard-like substance Americans call “pudding.” English pudding is more like a cake, though it Is boiled, not baked, and plum pudding does not necessarily contain plums.)
The Devere family entered the kitchen once a year. From Lord Devere, to his wife ; from Rebecca, the youngest of their nine children, to Sarah, the eldest , the family gathered around the worktable on Christmas Eve morning to take turns stirring the plum pudding. According to tradition begun a century earlier when the last Stewart, Queen Anne, sat on the throne, each person prayed as he or she stirred—prayed for prosperity and joy, prayed for strength and future spouses.
“Let us say a special prayer for the new year,” suggested Belinda, the middle daughter.
Everyone agreed—except for Sarah. Christmas might now have more meaning to her heart , but to her, what went into and came out of the pudding needed a helping human hand, not divine intervention.
She intended to control the disbursement of the charms, those tiny trinkets that made each slice of the pudding an adventure. When the family gathered with friends and neighbors to partake of the pudding, Sarah would ensure that each person received the charm that she thought befitted their needs.
Belinda would receive the thimble, reminding her to be thrifty with her pin money. Rebecca would receive the wishbone because she, being so small, needed all the blessings she could get during the next year. Their father would find the anchor in his slice of pudding, for he was such a stronghold for all of them he needed a safe harbor himself. The crown would go to fifteen-year-old Geoffrey because he would enjoy directing the festivities as “king” and wouldn’t be mean about his revels. Finally, to Lance would go the ring. Although he was only four and twenty, he was the heir and should wed sweet-natured Eliza. They’d loved one another since infancy.
Sarah frowned as she stirred the pudding with one hand and fingered the trinkets in her pocket with the other. “And, Lord, don’t bring Alexander calling again.”
Eliza’s older brother Alexander Featherstone had begun to court her, Just because I’m the only female in ten counties who hasn’t thrown her cap over the windmill for him.
Not that she was impervious to his looks, charm and intellect. She could love him. . .if he came around too often. She feared she already did love him; thus, she wanted him to stay away from her rather than add her to his quiver of fawning females.
“Tharie.” Rebecca, tugged on the skirt of Sarah’s round gown, “you’re taking all the turnth.”
Sarah released the spoon and stooped to lift her baby sister high enough to grasp the wooden spoon. Once on the floor again, Rebecca looked up with a seraphic smile. “I athked Jethuth for a huthband for Tharie.”
Sarah grimaced. “You’re better off praying for a wife for Lance. That won’t take a miracle.”
Belinda giggled. “Oh, I don’t think it’ll take a miracle—for either of you.
Blushing himself, yet smiling, too, Lance grasped the spoon from Belinda. “I pray that Eliza accepts my offer.”
“We’d like excellent matches for both of you,” their father said. “Who has the charms?”
“I do.” Sarah gave the trinkets to the cook to drop into the batter as she poured it into the bag for boiling.
Except the cook wouldn’t drop them in. Sarah had persuaded her and the butler to press the charms into the pudding slices of the right people. The cook’s nod assured Sarah she would carry on the game, and Sarah followed the family upstairs to rest before church.
At the service, Alex and Eliza joined the Deveres at the church. Somehow, Alex ended up sitting beside Sarah in the box pew.
When they stood, he slipped his large, warm hand beneath her lace-clad elbow. When they prayed, he took her hand in his, and she couldn’t pull it away without drawing attention to them. When they departed, he draped her cloak over her shoulders and allowed his fingertips to brush the side of her neck. Those were courting gestures, and she didn’t know why he teased her so.
Nor why God had ignored her prayer to keep Alexander away.
Disturbed, she tried to climb into the carriage with her parents and younger siblings, but they declared the vehicle overcrowded and insisted she go with the Featherstones. But that carriage was also full, so Sarah and Alex strolled the half mile from village to the Devere estate over ground white and hard with frost, through air that turned white with each breath, beneath a sky that resembled candle flames frozen in black glass. Cold, Sarah didn’t object when Alex tucked her hand in the crook of his elbow, then covered her fingers with his.
At least she said she didn’t object because of the cold. In truth, she felt warm all the way through, and that made her uncomfortable, unsure of herself.
Sarah hated being unsure of herself. She never was unsure of herself—except around Alex lately.
Lord, I don’t want to be another foolish female with a broken heart over him. But she feared she already was, for she’d seen him courting many girls in the decade she’d known him noticing females.
The Lord seemed to be ignoring her. Alex sat beside her at the table as the butler carried in the pudding and began to serve. Smiling, she watched everyone take their first bite of pudding, anticipating the moment when each found his charm.
But no one did.
Family member after guest savored the rich sweet until half of everyone’s slice vanished—except for Sarah’s, as she hadn’t taken so much as a nibble of hers. Everyone glanced around the table, curious, puzzled.
“Who’th got a charm?” sleepy-eyed Rebecca asked. “I wanted the crown.”
Everyone shook their heads.
Lord Devere looked at Sarah. “You gave Cook the charms, didn’t you?”
“Yes, Father.” Sarah glanced at the butler, who gave her a twinkling glance, and her stomach knotted, her heart pounded.
Alex touched her arm. “You haven’t touched your pudding.”
Sarah read laughter in his gaze, and had to steel herself against running from the table.
“Here, have a bite.” He seized her fork and cut off a generous mouthful of pudding, then held it up for her.
Face heating, Sarah sprang to her feet. “I don’t want pudding. I want to see everyone finding the charms I made certain they’d receive.”
Everyone looked shocked that anyone dared interfere with the discovery of plum pudding charms—everyone except for Alex and Geoffrey. They started laughing so hard the bite of pudding slid off the fork in Alex’s hand and plopped onto the white linen tablecloth. The pudding fell apart to reveal the tiny silver ring.
“Hurray!” Rebecca clapped her hands. “God anthwered my prayer. Tharie will get married this year.”
Alex turned serious. “I certainly hope so.”
“Oh, you!” Sarah spun on her heel and fled with a cacophony of laughter and exclamations running behind her.
She barely reached the nearest refuge, the winter parlor, before she heard footfalls behind her and felt a hand drop onto her shoulder, stopping her. “Wait,” Alex said.
She faced him, shaking. “Why? So you can make more of a fool of me?”
Alex met her glare with a challenging gaze. “More of a fool than what you’ve been making of me for the past three years?”
“Sarah, everyone in the county knows I love you except for you.” He clasped her hands between his. “You treat me like I’m poison.”
“You are as dangerous as poison if anyone gets too close.” When he kept gazing at her in silence, she plunged. “You love every female so much you don’t love any of us. My Christmas prayer was for God to keep you away tonight.”
“But God has other plans for us.” He took her hands in his. “What better time than Christmas to remember that He knows what we need more than we do?”
Sarah frowned. “And you claim God believes I need you?”
Alex grinned. “You wouldn’t care if I were here if you didn’t love me.”
He kissed her before she could say more.
She still said nothing because he’d stolen her breath.
“And I went through a great deal of trouble to ensure you got the ring.” His eyes pleaded with her. “Doesn’t that count toward you believing I love you?”
“It’s cheating—” Blushing, she began to laugh. “If I’m the only lady you’d do that for…”
“The only one. A match made in”—he kissed her again, his lips sweet from the confection he’d been eating at the table—”pudding.”