Today, Christmas Ever After will be available from Dreamstone Publishing. It is an anthology of Regency Christmas novellas from Victoria Hinshaw, Regina Jeffers, Emma Kaye, Cora Lee, Alanna Lucas, Janis Susan May, Arietta Richmond, and Becca St. John. Four of the stories on the anthology are “sweet” and four are mildly “sensual.”
My contribution to this project is a lovely story entitled “Letters from Home.” I rarely toot my own horn, but I dearly love this piece, for it has a bit of angst, some light-hearted moments, and a very satisfying happily ever after.
It also features a unique Yorkshire Christmas tradition. “The Devil’s Knell” is a Dewsbury tradition based on a tale from the 1400s. Supposedly, in 1434, a knight/landowner called Black Tom de Soothill became very angry when learning a servant boy did not attend Church, so angry that the knight threw the lad into a pond, where he drowned. To atone for his sin of murder, the knight donated a tenor bell to the church and requested it be rung each Christmas Eve. The bell would toll for each year that has passed since the birth of Christ. The ringing signifies the forgiveness of sins. “The tenor bell which was donated by the murderer was known as Black Tom. The bell was featured on a 31p stamp, part of a set issued by the British Post Office in 1986 — Traditions of England. The inscription on the bell reads ‘I shall be there, if treated just, when they are smouldering in the dust.’ The Bell Tower at Dewsbury Minister now has an octave of eight bells. They were recast in 1875 and rehung in 1964.” [Yorkshire Post]
Other versions of the tradition’s origin say the bells are rung because the Devil died when Jesus was born.
Originally, one of the unique things about the bell was how the ringing was timed to be completed within a 24 hour period. Nowadays, they start before midnight and end after midnight the following day, for they must be rung over 2000, but not so in my tale. I took some dramatic liberties with the ringing of the bells in my story, for I have three churches, in close proximity, each in turn, ringing a bell spaced equally apart to complete cycle. My story takes place in December of 1815, after the Battle of Waterloo and the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The belsl will, therefore, ring 1815 times.
Blurb: She is the woman whose letters to another man kept Simon alive during the war. He is the English officer her late Scottish husband praised as being “incomparable.” Can Major Lord Simon Lanford, 11th Earl of Clarendon, claim Mrs. Faith Lamont, a woman serving as a companion to her younger cousin, as his wife or will his rise to the earldom and his family’s expectations keep them apart? It is Christmas, and Simon prays for a miracle because in his heart he recognizes neither of them are as expendable as their families believe.
This excerpt from chapter 5 of “Letters from Home” demonstrates how the Dewsbury tradition plays out in my tale.
When Simon returned to the drawing room, he joined in the planned parlor games and conversation and the lighting of the yule log at midnight, and through all the activities, like all in attendance, he ignored Mrs. Lamont. Not that he could truly ignore her, but he gave the impression of indifference because he knew such was the lady’s request.
However, his opportunity to speak to her again came at midnight through a gift of the village churches. “Ah, the bells have begun,” Lady Harvey-Patterson sang out from her place before the fire. “It is Christmas Day at last. Time for an old woman to seek her bed.”
“What bells?” Sir Boling inquired. “I heard no bells.”
“There are bells,” Simon assured. “Mr. Wickersham, might I implore you to open the windows.”
“Certainly, Clarendon.” Wickersham rushed to do Simon’s bidding.
“It is too cold to open the windows,” Miss DeLong complained.
“We will close them again momentarily,” Simon said with a twist of his lips in amusement. “Gather around and listen.”
As the various couples and chaperones made their way to the open windows, a bell rang out in the distance.
“I hear one,” Lady Sophia said in excitement. “But where are the others? Is there to be just one?”
“It is called ‘The Devil’s Knell,’ and the bells have chimed as such for some four hundred years.”
His guests gathered closer together before the windows while Simon explained, “The parish churches’ bells will toll once for every year that has passed since the birth in the sacred manger.”
“This is 1815,” Miss Mitchell declared in awe.
“Yes,” Simon continued. “The bells will chime one thousand eight hundred and fifteen times. There are three churches participating.”
“When will they end?” Lord Seton inquired.
“At midnight Christmas Day,” Wickersham explained. “I’ve experienced the tradition previously while staying at Clarence Hall. One time the previous Lord Clarendon and some of the others in attendance rode into the village to have a closer listen. It is quite remarkable. The locals time the bells so the last one is rung exactly at midnight on Christmas Day.”
“Twenty-four hours. I would go mad if I lived within the village,” Miss DeLong complained in her spoiled manner.
Wickersham ignored her. Instead he said, “Wait until you hear Mr. Eggleston’s service tomorrow. He times his points so the bells do not drown out his words. Quite remarkable to observe.”
“There is another,” Mr. Mitchell called. “Someone should time them. Fetch the mantel clock, Wickersham.”
As Wickersham followed the gentleman’s suggestion, Simon motioned those waiting behind him, including Mrs. Lamont, forward. When she joined the others before the window, he drifted in her direction as he shared, “The sound of the bells is meant to remind Satan that Christmas marks the end of the Devil’s reign on earth.”
“How long between each bell’s chiming?” Lord Seton asked. “It cannot be the same each year.”
“With the passing of a new year,” his aunt observed, “the chimes grow closer together. Fortunately, at Clarence Hall we cannot hear them clearly unless the conditions are right, and we can barely hear the ones from the church on the road to Leeds.”
Simon thought Aunt Josephine sounded very much of Miss DeLong’s nature, where he had always found the idea of the bells magical. When he was a child, he and his mother would sit up late, wrapped in blankets, and listen to the bells while the rest of the household slept. It was one of his fondest memories, one he would endeavor to replicate with his children.
“How far apart are they?” Seton reiterated.
Wickersham studied the clock. “Everyone remain quiet so we can listen carefully.
With the tone of the next bell, all in attendance held their collective breaths as the clock ticked away the seconds. Meanwhile Simon nestled behind Mrs. Lamont. He noticed how she silently counted the seconds. At forty-eight, another bell rang. By mutual consent, in whispered tones, the group began to count to forty-eight again. The third bell was fainter, but still discernible on the cold night air. Again, the count began.
Carefully, Simon nudged Mrs. Lamont’s hand with his note. For a few of the counted seconds, he thought she would refuse him, but, at length, her fingers wrapped around the paper, and it disappeared under her shawl and into the sleeve of her opposing hand, just as his guests shouted, “Forty-eight!” and broke into laughter.
Simon seized the moment, “Meet me in the library once the house has settled in,” he whispered in her ear as he pushed his way into the middle of those enjoying the tradition of the bells. “Enough counting,” he said in good-natured amusement. “If we do not lock up the windows, the drawing room will be covered in ice.” He looked upon his guests. “Thank you for embracing our Yorkshire traditions with such enthusiasm. I appreciate good company, and Lady Plankston has gathered some of the best here this evening. You are welcome to stay longer and enjoy the yule log, but I must claim my bed. Unfortunately, the French left me a fairing no man would want unless he was an old soldier, and such wounds marked his devoted service to the King. I must attend to my leg before I am too crippled to join you tomorrow for Christmas services and supper. Therefore, I bid you a good evening.”
As he walked from the room, Simon prayed Mrs. Lamont would take pity on him and come to the library. If not, he would find another means to spend time with the lady. She would soon learn how loneliness was a sign changes are required in one’s life.
Other Stories/Articles on Dewsbury’s “Devil’s Knell.”
GIVEAWAY: I have three eBook copies of Christmas Ever After for those who comment below. The giveaway will end at midnight EST, Monday, October 22.
You can also purchase a PRINT copy of Beautified by Love, which includes two Christmas novellas: “Letters from Home” and “Lady Joy and the Earl.” A bonus story of “One Minute Past Christmas” from George T. Arnold and me can also be found in this edition.
“Letters from Home”
She is the woman whose letters to another man kept Simon alive during the war. He is the English officer her late Scottish husband praised as being “incomparable.” Can Major Lord Simon Lanford claim Mrs. Faith Lamont as his wife or will his rise to the earldom and his family’s expectations keep them apart?
“Lady Joy and the Earl”
They have loved each other since childhood, but life has not been kind to either of them. James Highcliffe’s arranged marriage had been everything but loving, and Lady Joy’s late husband believed a woman’s spirit was meant to be broken. Therefore, convincing Lady Jocelyn Lathrop to abandon her freedom and consider marriage to him after twenty plus years apart may be more than the Earl of Hough can manage.
“One Minute Past Christmas”
An Appalachian grandfather and his granddaughter are blessed with a special ability—a gift that enables them briefly to witness a miraculous gathering in the sky each year at exactly one minute past Christmas. The experience fills them with wonder, but they worry their secret “gift” will end with them because, in forty-four years, no other relative has displayed an inclination to carry it on to a new generation.