Our writers group recently held a flash fiction challenge with a seasonal theme. The words ‘Christmas Card’ had to be included. Christmas wasn’t really a ‘thing’ during Regency times but I had fun writing the following short story, where Eugenie and Beatrice find themselves in the thick of events that are yet to come.
A Twist in Time
Eugenie took the card off the silver salver and waved it towards her sister. ‘Beatrice! Look what came in the mail!’
‘What is it?’
‘A Christmas card.’
‘It can’t be. Christmas cards weren’t sent until 1843 when a man named John Calcott Horsley printed the first card for his friend Sir Henry Cole. Henry wanted a card to send to friends and professional acquaintances to wish them a ‘Merry Christmas.’
Eugenie’s face fell. She threw the card into the fire. ‘What a shame. It was so pretty.’
A gust of wind blew the door open to show Beryl the butler, hauling in a conical tree-like thing.
‘What on earth is that ugly specimen?’ cried Beatrice.
Beryl stamped her feet to get rid of the snow on her boots. ‘It’s a fibre optic Christmas tree. Much easier than going out into the woods and chopping one down. And look, it already has lights.’
Eugenie gasped. ‘It’s beautiful!’
‘You are in error, Beryl,’ said Beatrice sternly. ‘Fibre optics are the result of an 1854 demonstration by John Tyndall that light could be conducted through a curved stream of water, proving that a light signal could be bent. Fibre optic Christmas trees weren’t devised till at least the 20th century.’
‘Not only that!’ cried Eugenie, determined to show she was as clever as her sister. ‘You cannot exist, Beryl. The first female butler was Lorraine Woods who made her debut when she found herself serving at the Beaulieu home of Lord and Lady Montagu. I don’t have an exact date, but I know it isn’t now.’
‘Be off with you!’ shouted Beatrice. ‘And take that hideous thing with you. We prefer a real tree that stinks of pine and drops needles all over the place.’
The door had no sooner slammed behind Beryl the non-existent butler than Eugenie and Beatrice found themselves clinging to each other in terror. A dreadful uproar could be heard in the carriage drive. The girls crept to the windows and peered out. There, in the falling snow was a strange carriage emitting a mechanical cacophony. There was no sign of the team that had pulled it down the long driveway to the manor. The crest on its red and white side panels proclaimed, ‘The Warehouse.’
‘Isn’t it gaudy?’ breathed Eugenie, entranced by all the lights. Some of them were even flashing!
Beatrice snorted. ‘It’s no more than a ghastly symbol of the free market economy that overtook the western world after World War Two.’
Eugenie stared at the piles of colourful packages she could see through the carriage windows. ‘Couldn’t we just peek inside?’
‘Absolutely not! Stephen Tindall didn’t found The Warehouse Group until 1982. That conveyance is a figment of your imagination.’
Eugenie began to cry. ‘But what about Father Christmas? Isn’t he real, either?’
‘Don’t be silly,’ said Beatrice, putting her arm around her sister. ‘Of course, Father Christmas is real. English personifications of Christmas were recorded in the 15th century, with Father Christmas himself first appearing in the mid-17th century in the aftermath of the English Civil War.’
‘And hot toddies?’ sniffed Eugenie hopefully.
‘Oh, hot toddies are defo a thing. Probably invented in Scotland in the 1700s. What we don’t know, is how Hot Toddies got their name. A poet called Allan Ramsay published a poem called The Morning Interview in 1781 that mentions a Todian Spring called Tod’s Well which was the main water supply to Edinburgh—’
‘F’crying out loud, Beatrice! Enough of the information-overload. Can’t we just ring for a maid to bring us one?’
‘Indeed, we can.’ Beatrice looped her arm through her sister’s and steered her towards the drawing room. She wished the Colonel had not waited so long to conceive his secret 11 herbs and spices. A nice drumstick would have gone down well with a hot toddy.