I started this last December for Batwings79's 2011 Downton Abbey Mistletoe Challenge but simply didn't have time to whip it into shape before the due date. So out it comes now, though we're already past the deadline for the 2012 challenge. Still, as I type this, it's Twelfth Night and technically still the Christmas season.
Now here are Batwings79's specifications from last year:
"Each story must contain at least three of the following criteria: a. Kiss under the mistletoe with one half of your ship and another character; b. A drunken Mrs. Patmore; c. A sober Lady Violet drinking everyone else under the table; d. Singing – drunken or sober; e. Thomas engaging in any drunken or sober activity that ends up with him getting punched; f. Giving of a 'suggestive' gift; g. Tartan underwear; h. Chocolate, peppermint or other edible item; i. A telephone conversation – suggestive or other otherwise; j. Buttons popping; k. Knives; l. Shakespeare or Dickensian quotation; m. A Christmas hickey."
No credit for finding the Dickens quote, but virtual brownie points for anyone who ferrets out multiple references to the film A Christmas Story, based on Jean Shepherd's In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. I have extremely fond memories of hearing Mr. Shepherd tell that very tale on the radio one Christmas night many years ago.
And while I know Downton Abbey takes place in Yorkshire, I've included "The Sussex Mummers' Carol" in honor of everyone in Revels.
Daisy's Dare: A Story for Christmas
"Daisy! Have a care with that."
"Yes, Mrs. Patmore," said Daisy, pausing in the midst of trying to dislodge the meat from a walnut.
"You'll put your eye out, you will," said the cook, stopping her own work long enough to watch her kitchen maid's fumbling fingers, and frown at the sight. "And mind you don't leave any bits of shell behind. I should not like one of his lordship's guests to break a tooth during the pudding."
"No, Mrs. Patmore," said Daisy, once more doing battle with the walnut.
They'd both of them been elbow-deep in preparations for days - weeks, even - but no effort could be spared if they were to do the household proud, Mrs. Patmore said. At least it meant the kitchen was smelling especially nice, and everything looked so lovely and festive, not just in the main house but downstairs, where the servants had their meals. They'd put sprigs of holly in the windows, and draped greenery all about, and Thomas had rather wickedly hung mistletoe above one of the doorways - not that anyone had time for "such nonsense," as Mrs. Hughes put it, when they were all so busy.
But they did have to find time to eat and drink, and every day the table seemed to be filled with more good things than Daisy had ever seen in her life - little cakes and tarts, and fruit, and biscuits and sweets such as they never had the rest of the year.
All the servants were allowed their fair share, too, at meals and in the evenings, when the work was done, or nearly so, and then it wasn't just the younger ones who wanted an orange or a bit of gingerbread, either. In fact Mr. Bates had surprised everyone by turning out to have a sweet tooth. Daisy should never have guessed.
She quite liked sweet things herself, not that she'd a minute to enjoy them when Mrs. Patmore was running her off her feet day and night. Still, every time she went past the table, Daisy stole a glance at the cakes and fruit arranged there, amidst the holly and greenery, with a beautiful glass bottle standing right in the middle, and thought about which she'd choose for herself, when she had the chance.
"Oh, go on," said Gwen. "Mr. Carson said we might have a glass apiece."
"All right, then," said Anna. "But just the one. He'll know if we've taken more than that."
"He would, wouldn't he?" replied Gwen. Daisy heard a bottle being opened, and something pouring out, and a glass set down upon the table. "Now, what shall we drink to?"
"A happy Christmas," said Anna at once.
Daisy could hear two glasses knocking against each other, and Gwen saying, "A happy Christmas, and a better new year," and then, after a minute, "Ooh, it's sweet."
That sounded so lovely, and Daisy wished with all her heart she were sitting at the table with Anna and Gwen, especially since she'd been on her feet since sunup, but she daren't, not when she was only the kitchen maid and -
"Haven't you finished with that yet?" came a cross voice.
Daisy fairly jumped. "No, Mrs. Patmore."
"Well, then, look sharp, or you'll be here half the night," said the cook. "And mind you remember to cover up everything on the table or the mice'll get a feast such as his lordship might only dream of.
"Then it's up to bed with you directly after that! No dawdling."
"No, Mrs. Patmore."
That was the last of it, then, or nearly - just that lot on the table to see to, and then she might go up to bed. Trying to hold back a yawn, Daisy was about to go put the sweets away when she heard someone say her name.
"We girls ought to try it, all of us - you, me, Daisy, and the others."
"Try what?" asked Anna.
"Set upon Mr. Carson as he comes through the doorway."
"Not that way, silly," said Gwen. "With kisses." Daisy could hear Anna scoffing at that, and Gwen going on, bold as brass: "Oh, it'd be worth it just to see the look on his face. And he'd like it, even if he scolded the lot of us afterwards."
"He might," said Anna, giggling. "And he most certainly would!"
"Mind you, if it was just two people standing beneath that mistletoe, it'd have to be you and Mr. Bates."
"Don't be daft."
"Only that would be different, wouldn't it?" said Gwen. "Not a little kiss on the cheek. Not all shy-like. Firmly. Full on the lips. And with your hands on his chest. Or your arms round his neck."
"Oh, go on," said Gwen. "You ought to take him by surprise. I dare you!"
"I said that's enough!"
"If he's like my father," Gwen added, "enough to drink of an evening and he wouldn't remember a thing come morning."
"Mr. Bates doesn't touch strong drink," said Anna crisply. "Not that I've seen."
After that things went quiet for a minute, and then Gwen said: "You mustn't take any notice. It's just sometimes I envy you."
"Envy me? Whatever for?"
"No man's ever looked at me the way Mr. Bates does you."
"And what way's that?"
"Soft. Tender." Daisy had to struggle to catch Gwen's words. "You see, I sometimes - I sometimes wonder what it's like."
"What what's like?" said Anna.
"I don't know."
Daisy didn't know either, but she wasn't about to stop listening till she found out.
"What it's like to be with a man," went on Gwen. "Have him - let him - "
"Of course I have," said Anna softly. Then, more briskly: "Have to make do with wondering, haven't I?"
Just at that moment came the sound of footsteps in the hallway, followed by a deep voice that made Daisy jump.
"Now what's this?"
"You said we might have a glass apiece, Mr. Carson," said Anna calmly.
"So I did," said the butler. "One glass. I shall know if anyone's taken more than that. "
"Yes, Mr. Carson," said Anna and Gwen together.
Daisy could hear Mr. Carson leaving - through the doorway with the mistletoe over it, she was sure, because the next sounds that came were a loud whisper from Gwen - "Missed our chance just now!" - and another giggle from Anna.
There, that was the lot: everything put away for the night, just as she'd promised.
But by then there was no one else about, either: Anna and Gwen had gone up to bed, and so had most of the others - except for William, who had been allowed to visit his parents before Christmas and wasn't back yet, and Thomas, who stood outside with Miss O'Brien, smoking cigarettes.
Mr. Carson was still up too, of course, only he was in his office, talking to Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore about something - Daisy could hear the rumble of his voice, even from down the hall - but there was no sign of anyone else, or anything else, in the servants' dining room.
Just that lovely bottle standing in the middle of the table, right where Anna and Gwen had left it.
One glass. Mr. Carson said they might take one glass apiece.
The others had had their share, but Daisy hadn't, and surely there could be nothing wrong in her taking it, now her work was done. Besides, she almost never got anything nice, with her being the youngest and all, and Mrs. Patmore and everybody else telling her to do this and do that. And she hadn't had so much as a glass of water since dinnertime.
Daisy fetched herself a tumbler and started pouring out the drink. It was a lovely deep color, like summer berries, only it didn't smell like them at all.
When she'd filled the glass almost to the rim, she carefully shut up the bottle, then found herself a chair alongside the table where Gwen and Anna had been.
Now, what shall we drink to?
A happy Christmas.
But there was no one about to say it, or touch glasses.
"A happy Christmas," whispered Daisy, and raised up the tumbler.
It was sweet, like Gwen had said, though not like a pudding. Or toffee. Or even berries. It was just...sweet. And strange. And a bit strong. But it was lovely.
Besides, she daren't waste any of it, when Mr. Carson was allowing them each only one glass. She'd finish her lot, then go up to bed.
To be continued...
Yes, I'm violating the living daylights out of Batwings79's guidelines. Bad, bad KDN. ;-)
One more chapter to come.