Here is the long-awaited ending of our story, Home by Christmas. The credit for the idea to write a serial Christmas story belongs to Laurie Alice Eakes, award-winning author of published novel, Family Guardian. Laurie Alice wraps us up today. I hope you enjoyed our story.
Griffin heard someone shout behind him, a strained, female voice begging him to wait. His mother. No one else in the household sounded that weak, that frail.
Mother—Mama—fading away like Lila, but without the sweetness of love on his lips. Lila begged him to take care of Verity, keep her safe. Mother had pleaded with him to stay all those years ago, or at the least, keep himself safe. He had succeeded with the latter.
He failed with the former when he brought Verity home for Christmas.
"Verity." His daughter's name tore from his lips, crystallizing in the frigid air and melding with the snow.
Ahead of him, the carriage slowed, stopped. Marguerite's face showed in the window, her fine eyes wide, her mouth forming an O of surprise.
Lungs searing, Griffin sprinted the last yards to the vehicle and grasped the door handle. "Is Verity in there? Marguerite, please tell me she is."
Marguerite let down the window. "No, I haven't seen her since she said she would tell Disha about packing. Why--?"
"She's gone. No sign of her in the house." Griffin released the door and stepped back. "They scared her off. My family, in all their Christmas cheer and kindness, made her feel unwelcome." He heard the sarcasm, the bitterness in his voice, and didn't like it, yet felt powerless to stop it. All his energies must go to finding Verity, his daughter.
The one precious thing left in his life.
"Griff—" Marguerite compressed her lips for a moment, then took a deep breath. "I'll continue in my carriage and search along the road. You—ah, yes, here comes Emory and some of the other men. They can search the grounds."
"I'll get my horse and search the road, too." Griffin stepped back from the carriage. "Thank you."
"You should stay here."
Griffin stared at her. "Stay? Are you mad? I have to find Verity."
"Someone needs to be here when we do find her." Marguerite reached a gloved hand out to him. "Someone who loves her."
"Of course." Hands fisted at his sides, he started to turn toward the house. "Please, go hunt for her."
"I will. And Griff?"
He glanced over his shoulder to see her fingers curled around the window frame, her face tense. "Forgiveness starts with you."
She was right. He wished she were not. The picture of himself her words conjured was not pleasant, was not the image of the loving follower of Christ he wished to present to the world.
But forgive when his daughter was missing because these people had been cruel to her?
He couldn't return to the house and face them all. He wanted to race across country, leap fences and hedgerows, seek his daughter in all the hiding places a country estate could afford. He didn't want to sit beside his family, the family who had rejected him eleven years ago for not wanting to go into the army or church, and now rejected his daughter for being different, too.
But he could have changed. Verity could not. She needed someone who loved her in the house to welcome her back, assure her she was wanted wherever he happened to be. And others, too. His sister. Verity's cousins. Marguerite.
Griffin watched the retreating carriage and thanked God for the lovely lady inside. She understood how Verity felt. Others—no, he and others—had rejected her for being chubby and frumpy, relatively poor and without a mother to teach her social graces.
She had forgiven him for his unkindness. Though still hurting, she had forgiven Charles for abandoning their engagement. The least he could do was forgive his family for their discomfiture with Verity. If he had prepared them, if he had written, if he had not simply shown up on their doorstep and expected eleven years of silence to simply melt away because it was Christmas, matters would likely be different. Verity would not be missing.
As he trudged through new-fallen snow toward the group of servants preparing to set out and hunt, Griffin felt the anger rise in him again. It was Christmas. He had counted on the spirit of love and generosity that pervaded the season to make things right with his family.
But no, he needed to make things right with his family, needed to ask their forgiveness. Love and generosity took all parties involved to make it a family.
He reached the men, started to speak, and realized that Terry already sat astride a horse in their midst, gesticulating as he gave directions.
"Thank you," was all Griffin needed to say.
Terry leaned down and rested his hand on Griffin's shoulder. "It's the least we can do. We don't want anything to happen to that precious child, and we don't you to leave again." That said, he touched his heels to his mount's sides and trotted toward the parkland, where trees and glades created too many hiding places for a small girl.
"You go on inside, sir," Stevens said. "We'll find the young lady."
On horseback and on foot, a dozen servants set out in as many directions, leaving Griffin growing cold in the falling snow, a score of feet from the light and warmth of the house.
Slowly, forcing his feet to move forward rather than chasing after the searchers, away from those he must confront with his own failings as a son and brother, Griffin climbed the front steps and tugged open the massive door. Warmth from fires in all the downstairs rooms brought him the scents of pine logs, ginger, and cinnamon. Children's high, pure voices rang out pure and sweet with "Hark the herald angels sing".
His daughter should be there. His daughter... His daughter...
Feeling anger surge inside him again, he closed his eyes and prayed for the strength to forgive. Jesus had become vulnerable as a baby in order to give the world forgiveness. In Him, Griffin could find the strength to put the past behind.
He opened his eyes, and his mother stood before him, her hands, as delicate as bird bones, stretched out to him, her faded blue eyes bright with tears. "My dear son, can you ever forgive us?"
"I have already." With those words, part of the burden on his heart lifted. "But I'm truly the one who needs forgiven."
"What kind of mother would I be if I didn't forgive you for being headstrong and willful and stubborn?" She smiled, restoring much of her youthful beauty, as the pain lines around her mouth seemed to smooth out. "You're so much like your father."
"I am—" Griffin broke off the protest and laughed. "So I am."
He wanted to say he was much more generous and kind, yet he didn't know if that was true. His father wasn't mean. His employees did not suffer for want, and the warmth and sparkling decorations of the house demonstrated an open purse for this most precious celebration. And what had Griffin contributed but tension and confusion?
"I should have warned you all I was coming," he said.
"It might have helped." Mother clutched his hand and turned toward the drawing room. "Come talk to your father. He's distressed about the---our granddaughter being out in this storm. He loves children you know."
Griffin didn't know, yet half a dozen offspring clustered around the pianoforte, and Father sat by the fire gazing at them with a look of joy on his face such as Griffin never recalled.
Time changed everyone. Some became harder, embittered. Others grew softer, kinder. Griffin presumed his father has the former, holding his past against him, while wanting his father to accept him as a new man.
If he was a new man, he must move past his father's rejection of Verity, of Father's rejection of his own son's desire to travel and create his own future, and forgive. Griffin closed the distance between Father and himself. Nearness to the fire blazed away the last of his chill, and he crouched before his sire. "Sir, I... Father, I should have said this as soon as I walked in the door, but I didn't, so please accept my words now."
The children began singing "The Holly and the Ivy", and Father lowered his gaze to Griffin's face. "You were always quick to speak your mind, so why the hesitation now?"
"Because I need a forgiveness you may find difficult to give." Griffin rested his hand on the arm of Father's chair a mere inch from the older man's hand. "But if you can, I'd like to stay home for Christmas. I exhausted everyone traveling in time to get here for the holiday... I know matters are difficult with Verity... I should have warned you."
"I should have expected nothing less than the flouting of convention from you." Father's voice rasped with a harsh edge, but Griffin thought he caught a gleam in his eyes, a spark of humor.
"My granddaughter isn't going to have an easy road. Did you think about that?"
"Not when I fell in love with her mother."
"You never did think before you acted."
"No, sir." Griffin hesitated, then took the plunge. "But even if you can't forgive me for not being an exemplary son, will you try to accept her? With your influence in the county, you can smooth her path. But if you cannot, I'll find someplace where she can be happy and loved. Maybe the American west or—"
"Not again." Father closed his hand over Griffin's. "Don't you dare go running off again. You face a little conflict, and you go running off. And now you've instilled that habit into your daughter and look what's happened."
Griffin winced and refrained from reminding Father why Verity ran off.
"It's my fault she went, I know." Father spoke as though he read Griffin's mind. "And if anything happens to her—" His voice broke. "If I have my son back, then I will accept his daughter, too."
"Thank you." Griffin bowed his head in humble prayer that he still had a daughter.
Behind him, the children stopped singing and feet pounded toward the dining room on a chorus of "It's time to stir the pudding."
Silence followed in their wake, and in the stillness, Griffin caught the crunch of carriage wheels.
"Marguerite." He sprang to his feet and raced for the front door, flung it open just as the carriage drew up before the steps. "Verity?" He leaped to the ground and yanked open the door.
"Papa." Verity tumbled into his arms, cold and wet, but so alive.
"Oh, my angel, don't ever run off again, no matter what happens." He looked past her to Marguerite. "Where was she?"
"Trudging along the road." Marguerite drew her brows together. "She didn't want to come back."
"I understand, but sometimes we have to face things that may be unpleasant to find the true joy beyond." Griffin held out one hand to Marguerite. "Will you join our family?"
She smiled. "For as long as you like."
Together, the three of them entered the warmth and light of the house to join the family that had all weathered the storms of years and hearts to make it home by Christmas.