Chapter One - Christmas at Chanter's House (1)
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In a country at peace, men of war are confined to their homes and families. To some this can create a suffocating world where they can only dream about the freedom of distant lands and the camaraderie of the army. To Captain Josiah Tenterchilt, married only nine years previous, he could imagine no better way to spend Christmas than with his wife. It would be incorrect to suggest that the captain did not enjoy his life in the army, for there was nothing he regarded as highly as the British army, but he loved his wife beyond anything or anyone else.

He lived in a large town house which he had received upon making Miss Elizabeth Jenkyns his wife. It had tall railings before a grand driveway, with two huge sycamore trees growing at either side, and a large Jacobean front with enormous windows overlooking the drive, railings and the road beyond. While Captain Tenterchilt was a fiercely proud man, he did not see this place as anything more than his home. Indoors, Chanter’s House was filled with lavish marbled floors, high ceilings and strong coloured walls that gave the rooms a warmth, even in the cold of winter.

He and his wife did not live alone in the great building for they also shared its opulence with their three young daughters, Arabella, Imogen and Catherine. Each of the three girls appeared now, decked in their most beautiful dresses, sitting at the table to share the Christmas meal with their parents. Ordinarily on a Tuesday the family would not sit down together for a meal, but Christmas day held a special dispensation. The five of them would sit together for dinner on Sunday, but on all other days only the eldest daughter would share the table with her parents for Captain Tenterchilt did not believe it was right for a child younger than seven to join their parents at the table. Now, all three girls watched excitedly as a large joint of beef, tureens of vegetables and the plate that housed the plum pudding were all brought through from the kitchens downstairs. Imogen sat with her hands on her lap as she knew she should, having been taught ready for her seventh birthday which she would shortly be celebrating, but her eyes sparkled as she took in the splendour of the spread before her. Arabella brushed a loose stand of hair from her face as she indicated to one of the footmen the food she would like. She was a perfect lady in miniature, having learnt a great deal from her mother in her eight years, studying each movement that she made and trying to learn from the answers and instruction she gave. This great house would one day be her own, Arabella knew, and she wished to be prepared for such a day whenever it might appear. Catherine covered her mouth trying to hide the excited smile she felt creep across her face and she giggled into her fingers as her father stood to carve the meat. Being only four she had a long time to wait before she would be able to share this experience daily with her parents, and so, to be given an opportunity midweek, seemed almost as exciting as the gifts that she knew were waiting in the drawing room.

Captain Tenterchilt, who sat at the head of the table, looked at his gathered family and smiled slightly to himself. Elizabeth, whose eyes never strayed from her husband’s, followed his gaze and felt a similar smile catch her own features as she took his hand in her own, while Arabella watched on from the other side of the table, unsure whether she should take her father’s other hand but deciding against it.

“Catherine,” Imogen hissed as her younger sister picked up one of the potatoes in her hand.

“It is alright, Imogen,” her father said gently, while Elizabeth helped her youngest daughter with her cutlery. Generally their mother would not do such a thing, but Christmas arrived with great acceptance and leniency within the hierarchy of the family.

“My dear ladies,” Captain Tenterchilt said softly, rising to his feet. “A very happy Christmas to you all. I shall not make a long toast, or Cat may not be able to contain her excitement.” Imogene watched as her mother frowned slightly, but her father continued. “But with the events that brew overseas this might be our last Christmas together for a time.”

“Josiah, please,” Elizabeth whispered as Imogen’s eyes filled with tears.

“War is in a man’s nature, Elizabeth,” he replied as he looked around the gathered ladies. Imogen kept her eyes fixed on her father as he continued speaking.

“I do not mean that I shall die, my dears, only that war does not know the holy days and festivals which we observe.”

“But, Papa,” Arabella whispered. “You have missed our last two Christmasses.”

“It is the price military men must pay, my dears.”

“I hope that my Christmas miracle might be that you are returned to us for next Christmas, Papa,” Imogen whispered with great earnest. Catherine looked across at her father and nodded, unable to say anything for her mouth was full of plum pudding.

“You could not wait, my little Cat,” Josiah smiled across at his youngest daughter who shook her head, giggling into her hands once more.

“Her name is Catherine,” Elizabeth whispered, looking at her own plate but seeing nothing. She loved Josiah so greatly, but she had been forced to acknowledge that, while she held the highest position in his heart, his heart still belonged very much to the army. Her husband had only just returned to her from his exploits in India, where he had fought under the flag of the British army in the Kingdom of Mysore. That he was already planning and anticipating his return to conflict left a bitter taste.

“Then, here is a health to my beautiful ladies,” Josiah continued, lifting his glass to them all. Arabella and Imogen copied him while Elizabeth begrudgingly lifted her glass and encouraged young Catherine to do the same. “Merry Christmas, my dears.”

“Merry Christmas, Papa,” the three girls chimed as one before Elizabeth set her own glass on the table, untouched. At once the children began eating and their mother watched as the three of them, with varying manners, enjoyed their dinner. She tried to recall the celebration of the day, and smiled at each one of her family, but she could not bring herself to converse during the meal.

Afterwards the family withdrew to the drawing room and the presents were handed out to each of the daughters. Arabella received a beautiful family of dolls each wearing clothes which were embroidered with her initials, and she traced the stitches with her fingers, appreciating the fine needlework. Imogen, a keen scholar, received a writing set with its own inkwell and a pen into which her name had been engraved. Catherine, who had no interest in dolls and wrote as little as she could, received a collection of toy horses and riders. But, while their gifts were each so well matched to the individual daughter, their favourite gift was one they were given to share. Elizabeth watched as her three daughters gathered around a small wicker basket and both Imogen and Catherine gave an excited squeal, while Arabella

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