Festive wishes to all my many admirers from the dauntless Goronwy Kenrick!
I feel I ought to say as much, but frankly, this festival has never been amongst my most favourite; of course, in my day we didn’t go in for all the excessive present giving in which you moderns indulge – even the peasants – any present giving took place on St Nicholas’ Day, and the Christmas tree was not a current British custom.
My last Christmas on earth, in 1794, was not of the most pleasant; it began with a message from my dear little wife Ceridwen; left at the post office two days before – she couldn’t get away, it seems, from London. Very likely, and I knew why at once – she couldn’t escape the embraces of that fool Captain MacKenzie – Naval hero and murderer. Well, that bothered me not at all, save that she would have had the house more comfortable and somehow overcome the staff shortages. Of course, in those days servants worked on Christmas Day, save for attending church; what else would they do with their time anyway? Get into mischief and think up radical ideas.
I didn’t go to church: I’d never been exactly devout and now couldn’t attend if I would – but for some reason that had nothing to do with religious devotion my man Arthur Williams did, being at that time still human enough to venture into a place of worship.
He told me that that Dubois nephew of the Countess of Ruthin’s had arrived; good, I’d met him in Town and gather that he is a capable mathematician – odd in a low ruffian capable of living for so many years as a common criminal, but then, the complexities of the human mind are manifold – and I had need of a higher level of mathematical understanding than the one I possessed myself for my experiments with time travel.
“He fell asleep with his head on the Dowager’s companion’s shoulder; you know, that little fair haired one,” he said. “The Vicar affected not to notice, and so did his aunt. I near choked trying to keep back my laughter.”
“The Vicar’s sermons are enough to put anyone to sleep,” I remarked. “But having heard of the activities of that libertine in town, I’ll warrant he has lifted the little chit’s skirts before the holiday season is over, though that sort of rake always gives himself airs about leaving alone innocent maidens. Now, order my horse saddled up, fellow, and I’ll take a ride.”
He said something about the heavy snowfall and orders for dinner, which I ignored.
I went out with the sullen groom, also sulking about the lack of festive foods provided in my household – dammit, why should a Man Vampire celebrate Christmas? and who should I see but the party from Plas Uchaf, rushing along in a sleigh, bells jingling merrily.
That insipid Lord Ynyr was driving, fancying that he cut a fine dash at the reins. He was a good looking fellow enough, resembling in colouring his Dubois cousin Reynaud Ravensdale (another ex outlaw member of that family whom I’d met in Town) but lacking that lawless fellow’s dash, somehow. Dubois was not affable, his peculiar green eyes most cold, as if he dared to despise me, a fine thing in one with his history. Neither were either of the ladies, the Dowager’s niece by marriage or her foolish little companion, warm in their greetings. But I invited them back to Plas Cyfeillgar.
Of course, they were skittish about the atmosphere in the hallway, which for sure is charged with menace, and a good thing, too; I want no intruders in my little laboratory. The men formed a sort of protective guard about the silly girls.
I conducted them to the library, but didn’t notice the absence of a fire until I saw how the ladies shivered in their furs. A joke was called for.
“You ladies are like a couple of charming little Baby Buntings in your furs,” I quipped. “Let us be grateful there are no wolves about, sharp teeth at the ready, to snap at your soft flesh.”
To my astonishment, the ladies drew back and the gentlemen took umbrage. Dubois’ eyes flashed savagely, and he was insolent enough to ask me what I meant by that? The wonder is, he didn’t get out his cut-throat’s blade at once.
I laughingly turned the conversation, but annoyed at the lack of response to my summons for service, went out to call again.
One of the lackeys had the insolence to shout back at me. “Do not raise your voice at me, my man!” I was tempted to go down and set about the lout there and then, but reluctant to engage in an undignified brawl before my guests.
No doubt this was all over the lack of a Christmas dinner.
The foolish young men said they would not impose on me further, but must take the ladies home. Looking at the girls’ necks, modestly concealed under their wraps, I swore that I would sink my teeth into both.
I assured them my little wife would soon be up to have the wretched scrubs in order.
It seems that Dubois ruffianly criminal was not yet finished with his notions of gracious conduct; for out in the yard, I was later to find, he removed the little kitchen maid – whom I’d only kept on out of the goodness of my heart and fond memories of my late wife – on the grounds that she had been beaten.
I spent the rest of the day – after my frugal lunch – in my laboratory. I heard the Christmas bells ringing down in Llangynhafal; they made me feel quite ill, so I closed the curtains to shut out the discordant jangling, and went to play cards with Arthur Williams.
Such was my last Christmas on earth; but my next shall be more diverting.