Home > Silent Night (Lady Julia Grey #5.5)

Silent Night (Lady Julia Grey #5.5)
Deanna Raybourn

The First Chapter

Here we come a-wassailing

Among the leaves so green,

Here we come a-wandering,

So fair to be seen.

“Here We Come A-Wassailing” Traditional English Carol

London December 1, 1889

I tore open the letter and scanned it quickly before brandishing it at my husband. “We are going to Rome,” I informed him. I gave him the letter to read, fairly hopping from foot to foot as he came to the end.

“Bloody hell.”

“We must go,” I insisted.

“We must not,” was Brisbane’s equally firm reply. I smiled to myself, certain I would win this particular skirmish. I was already half-packed in my mind. Rome would be chilly for Christmas, but not so cold as to preclude a full appreciation of the city and all its attendant delights. Parties and entertainments, pageants and festivals—and a new mystery to be solved, given the contents of the letter.

The process of persuading Brisbane to permit me to help him in his investigations as a private enquiry agent was slow. Glacial, in fact. But progress had been made, and through our various adventures we had drawn closer than ever. The anticipation of sharing a new case with him in one of my favourite cities was almost more than I could bear.

My brother, Plum, the newest addition to Brisbane’s staff, held out his teacup. “Any hope of more tea? And another muffin?”

I obliged him, as much for the chance to plan my persuasions as to be sisterly. Besides, Plum had only recently been released from the splints that had held his injured arm in place after a particularly nasty incident of my own making.1 I still felt a trifle guilty about that. I poured his tea and toasted up a muffin and when I handed them over, he fixed me with a mischievous eye.

“Haven’t you forgot something?”

I cast around in my mind. “Nothing of importance. The significant cases have all been attended to, and the rest are trifling matters Brisbane can either finish himself or hand over to the very excellent Monk. We can be in Rome by the middle of the month.”

Brisbane said nothing. He merely steepled his hands under his chin and regarded me thoughtfully. Plum settled back into his chair, clearly enjoying himself.

“You have forgot.”

I puffed out a little sigh of impatience. “Don’t be cryptic, Plum. You haven’t the cheekbones for it. What is it that I have forgot?”

“Father.”

I smoothed my skirts. “I haven’t forgot Father at all. He knows not all of his children can come home every holiday and he never fusses about Christmas.” That was not entirely true. Father, or to give him his proper title, the Earl March, was a bit of a despot about his children even though there were ten of us and the eldest was past forty. Father liked to play the patriarch and gather us into the fold whenever he could. “It’s been years since the whole clan was gathered at Bellmont Abbey.”

“Ten, to be precise.” The words were clipped and weighty as stones.

I went quite still. “No.”

Plum’s handsome mouth curved into a smile. “Oh, yes. It’s slipped your mind, dearest, but the year is 1889—and that means Twelfth Night falls in 1890.”

I buried my face in my hands. “No.”

Brisbane stirred himself. “What is the significance of 1890?”

I peeped over my fingertips. “The Twelfth Night mummers’ play. Every year the villagers put on a traditional mummers’ play.”

Brisbane groaned. “Not one of those absurdities with St. George and the dragon?”

“The very same.”

I exchanged glances with Plum. His smile sharpened as he picked up the story. “I am sure Julia told you Shakespeare once stayed as a guest of the Marches at Bellmont Abbey. There was apparently a quarrel that ended with the earl’s wife throwing Shakespeare’s only copy of the play he was writing into the fire. They patched things up, and—”

“And to demonstrate he bore no ill will, Shakespeare himself wrote our mummers’ play,” I finished. “Once every decade, instead of the villagers of Blessingstoke performing the traditional play, the family perform the Shakespearean version for the local folk.”

“Every ten years,” Brisbane said, his black brows arched thoughtfully.

“Yes. The men in the family act out the parts and the women are a sort of chorus, robed in white and singing in the background.”

“It is great fun, really,” Plum put in. “Father always plays the king who sends St. George to kill the dragon and the rest of the parts always seem to go to the same people. Except for St. George. That one always falls to the newest male to marry into the family.”

I busied myself with tearing a muffin to bits while Plum’s words registered with Brisbane.

“Absolutely not.”

I turned to him. “But dearest, it is tradition.”

“I am not an enthusiast of tradition.”

He gave me a dangerously pleasant smile as Plum rose to his feet. “I almost wish I could stay for the rest of what promises to be a very lively discussion, but I am afraid I must be off. I shall tell Father to expect you for Christmas then, shall I?”

I threw a shoe at him but he ducked through the door just in time. I went and sat on Brisbane’s desk. “It does not matter what you say or what you do, the answer is still no,” he said evenly.

I slid off the desk and onto his lap. What I said and what I did after that had no bearing on the situation at all except that by the time the housekeeper came to fetch the tea things, our clothes were tidied and the matter had been settled. I would write to my friend in Rome and postpone our arrival until later in January. We were going to Father’s for Christmas and Brisbane would play the part of St. George in the Twelfth Night revels. I tried very hard not to gloat.

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