The knocking grew louder and louder as all four jumped from their seats, startled and staring blankly at each other. They didn't know what to do. It was highly odd to have such a thing occur at such a time of night unless… No one dared think of that though. They continued to stare at each other until Mr. Darcy remembered that he let all of the servants have the evening off. Though his heart had somehow jumped into his throat, it was up to him as master of his home and head of his family to answer whomever or whatever called from behind the door.

The massive door dwarfed Grandfather with its colossal English oak as he tugged on the entry. Outside, there was only the cold wind blowing a bit of snow across the sinister night sky. The moon was hiding beneath a blanket of achromatic clouds and refused to give the night her light. There appeared to be no one entreating entrance into the house. Grandfather looked about and found a wreath knocking about in the wind.

"It is but a wreath and nothing more," he informed them as his heart settled back into his chest as he returned to his family. The former enchanted mood managed to run away while Grandfather had the door open, and none were quite as mesmerized as before with the Spirit of Christmas.

Trying to lighten the odd mood that had taken place, Katie said, "It's almost like a Poe poem. '…in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow
,'"

Grandfather patted her back as he searched about his former seat for his pipe, "If a raven flies into the house tonight, I believe I would take an extended holiday to Barnsley Hall."

"Do you mean to say that you wouldn't converse with it, Grandfather?" Jane asked with her sweet, soft, innocent voice.

"I should say not, Jane, my girl! I will admit that in my more morose days after the demise of your beloved Grandmother, I conversed with her portrait and still sometimes do, but to speak with a bird, no! I have yet to cross so far over that thin line between genius and insanity."

Johnny smiled as he listened to this playful banter between Mr. Darcy and his granddaughters, and before taking a sip of cider stated, "Either that, or you haven't sampled the opium as much as Mr. Allen Poe did, but then, you are a self-proclaimed genius and know better."

The elder man was flabbergasted and thrilled that Johnny had joined the sparring. In his defense he claimed, "I have never proclaimed myself to be a genius."

"Then you are insane?" Katie asked.

"Neither. I am an average English gentleman. I was simply trying to make a point, Katherine," he rebuffed.

"Katie, isn't that what the lunatics always say at the hospitals? They claim that they're not crazy, but the same as you and I?" Jane asked her older cousin.

"Why yes it is, Jane. Maybe Grandfather should take holiday at Barnsley Hall?" she teased. She would have added more to torment her Grandfather when a loud and unmistakable racket could be heard in the back of the house near the kitchen.

"Jane, Grandfather hasn't misplaced any black cats lately, has he?" Katie asked, trying to ease her cousin's fears as both Mr. Darcy and Johnny started slowly the long walk to the kitchen.

"Poe's villains often claim their sanity, don't they Katie?" Jane tried to keep up the banter as she tightly held on to her cousin's hand.

"I see Katherine the Great's been sharing her morbid fascination of Poe with you, Jane." came a voice from the entry to the west wing of the house.

Katie could recognize that voice anywhere, but it couldn't be him, could it? No, he was far away in the cold, muddy trenches. He certainly wasn't there with them on Christmas Eve. She looked at Jane who was thinking the same thoughts, then looked in the direction of the west wing. There he stood, all tall and dark in his worn uniform, smiling at her as he had when she saw him last. He really was there! He was well and in front of her!

Katie picked up her skirts and ran toward him. "Bertie!" she yelled out as she jumped into her twin's arms, and he twirled her round in circles.


From "The Raven." By Edgar Allen Poe.