Pine branches were braided around the upright poles of the porch and railings of Cotter’s main house, Hamer’s home and anywhere they could drape such things. Pine cones painted white and red were pinned to the laurel wrappings and wreathes with bright red bows adorned every door on the Serenity Winery estate. The snow was still white and seemingly recent although the last storm was four-days ago. The eaves were frosted with thick white snow and the angles of almost every eave had at least a foot-long icicle. Sleigh bells were nailed to the center of each doorway wreath and announced the arrival and entry of visitors.
“Someone’s jingling the bells on the door. Let me get it.” Mrs. Hamer opened the door and greeted Samantha Wigglesworth and Andy Mashpit. “Merry Christmas you two, come in and close the door, it’s freezing out there.”
Mashpit and Wigglesworth removed their boots after banging the snow from them. They both changed into the shoes they carried in. “Merry Christmas to everyone.” Wigglesworth gave the greeting since Mashpit hadn’t heard it or seen Hamer’s lips.
“Yes, Merry Christmas.” Mashpit hung up their outerwear. “I don’t think we’ll see any snow tonight.”
“No matter. Everyone is staying the night.” Cotter raised a glass of warmed cider in greeting.
A large blue balsam fir decorated with colored pinecones stood off in a corner of the large living room well away from the fireplace. Numerous presents wrapped in red or green paper lay around it. All the gifts had been placed over the past week, including several gifts to Cotter and Skyler from Nancy and Mathew. One large blue-and-white-striped package was also labeled for them with the bold signature of Mortimer Pignast.
“The others should be along directly, I hope,” Bradley Hamer said. “I’m getting hungry.”
Ten-minutes later the door jingles revealed Fern Ferndock and Pignast. Finally the last guest arrived–Pamela Skyler. She walked into the room with Hamer’s oldest daughter and stood by Cotter after a minimal hug and peck on the lips.
“I don’t know whether everyone knows everyone else, so I’ll go first.” Cotter introduced Pamela and in so doing introduced Rosicot, LaRoque, Mashpit, the Hamers and their children.
Pignast and Mashpit introduced Fern and Samantha, respectively. Cotter spoke again. “I would like to propose a Christmas toast with the first bottle of Serenity wine to be consumed in Connecticut.”
Gertrin Hamer, Cotter and the Hamer teenager filled the glasses.
Cotter raised his glass. “To peace and tranquility, good health and a prosperous next year. I want to also toast the new women of our family–to Pamela, to Fern and to Samantha.”
No invitation had been sent to Nancy and Mathew. Their gifts were for Pamela and Cotter for their engagement. At first Cotter was reluctant to accept them but he succumbed to Pamela’s direct pressure about Christmas spirit and family mending. Gertrin Hamer also added that presents for their engagement as well as for Mashpit’s would be there and that Elizabeth Colt had sent gifts for both couples as well.
Wigglesworth sidled up to Fern. “Has Mortimer popped the question yet?”
“He’s waiting for something called ‘stability’ to appear.” Fern smiled. “I think it will happen when he receives his certificate from Yale to assist surgeons with anesthetics.” She smiled a devilish grin. “And if not, then I’ll ask him outright about marriage.” They both laughed.
“Okay let’s eat.” LaRoque saw the plates and servings were on the table and couldn’t contain his hunger another moment.
After the meal, presents and gifts were opened and general domestic tranquility permeated the pine-scented air. LaRoque threw a few more large logs on the fire which would last the night. Fabian Rosicot had delighted the newcomers with answers to their questions about France and Paris but when questioned about his purpose for being in New Haven and his job at the winery his response was evasive.
“Mademoiselle Fern, I oversee the proper functioning of the equipment which came from France.”
“What does the French machine do?” Samantha Wigglesworth looked at Mashpit during her question as well as at Rosicot.
“It helps make the wine.” Rosicot’s answer was for everyone. “The machine helps the wine with aging.” He would offer no more than that.
Pamela Skyler was beside herself with frustration. She wanted to know the nitty gritty about how Serenity winemaking was different than Van Haven wine production. She held her tongue. The risks were too great. She looked at Cotter and their eyes locked in understanding. No business questions or tours or anything to do with the wine business was to issue from her mouth. Skyler also wanted desperately to tell Cotter about Danzer’s recruitment of mercenaries. Release of that information would also end her relationship with Cotter. The spirit of the evening, however, was one of personal closeness, Christmas giving, and future family formation.
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