Tidings of Joy
© 2013 by dqmwartist
Colleen lifted the lid on the trunk Robert E had made from the designs Sully and I had drawn up. It was still as beautiful as the day they brought it home, shining in the sunlight and painted a deep maroon.
“The initials look good,” Sully remarked.
“Yes,” I added. “Thank you, Robert E.”
“Y’all did a fine job puttin' it together. Glad I could add my part,” Robert E said with a smile in his voice.
“Let's put it in the barn where she won't see it,” Sully suggested as they lifted the trunk from the wagon and carried it towards the outbuilding.
“Doesn't hardly seem possible, does it?” pondered Grace, turning to me as we watched the men. “One day they're this size, the next day...”
“They're turning seventeen.” I responded quietly.
Colleen’s face when she opened the trunk had been worth all the endless nights of grappling over what to put inside for her birthday. “Oh, my gosh, it’s beautiful,” she said, beaming with joy.
“Sully and Matthew built it, and I sanded and oiled the wood,” Brian added with great pride. “Ma did the linin’. Then Robert E burned your initials in. Look inside.”
She was very touched by the gift we’d all made together and was duly impressed with the money given to her by my mother. “Twenty-five dollars?”
“It’s from your grandmother,” I explained. “She thought it might help with school expenses…and a little something left over for a birthday gift.
There’s something else—under the tray.” I watched as she lifted the tray to reveal the beautiful dress Emma had made her.
Colleen’s glowing face, words of thanks, and her proclaiming it was the best birthday ever, had made my heart happy. I felt some of that same joy tonight.
We gathered near the fire as Colleen searched through her trunk for the present for opening on Christmas Eve.
“Grandma sent me something to be opened tonight when I got home,” she mumbled from the interior. Compartment trays were strewn beside her along with various clothing pieces as she searched.
“You couldn’t have lost it,” Brian remarked as he tried to remain patient but couldn’t resist looking over her shoulder.
“Of course not,” came the reply from inside.
Holding Katie in his arms, Matthew teased, “Dig far enough and we’ll have a hole in the floor.”
“Matthew!” Colleen scolded as she came up for air. “Spare me your drivel.”
“Ya know I’m just teasin’.”
She smiled up at her bother before looking back down and pulling out a package wrapped in brown paper. “Remember that Christmas years ago when we got Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? This looks like it could be another book.”
“I remember—you boys were making cranberry and popcorn garlands.” I recalled their bickering before we opened our gifts.
“The popcorn sure was good,” Brian remarked with a smile. “Although pricking myself didn’t feel so good.”
“That’s why you should have strung the cranberries,” Matthew added, clearly remembering that night as well.
“Shall we allow Colleen the honor of unwrapping the gift?” I asked everyone, eager to know what was inside. Most of my father’s library was already here in Colorado Springs, and I wondered what Mother had found.
Colleen stood up, stepping carefully over the piles she had made, and seated herself by the fire. Laying the package on her lap, she gently untied the strings and removed the paper as if she were undressing a baby. “Oh, Ma, look!” she exclaimed when the contents were revealed. “I’ve seen this in the bookshops in Denver for some time and longed to read it but never had the money.”
“What is it?” I inquired. She had always been an avid reader; her grandfather would have been proud.
“Little Women by Louisa May Alcott,” she replied with a beaming smile.
“Is that a girl book?” Brian asked, eagerness gone from his voice.
“It’s about the March family. Their father is off at war, and they are doing their best to survive with Christmas approaching,” Colleen explained enthusiastically. Brian looked uninterested, and Matthew was not so sure about it either.
“Why don’t we read some of it?” I offered trying to placate everyone. “That way you all can decide for yourselves if you like it or not.” I did not want her brother’s remarks to ruin Christmas for Colleen.
“I’ll go first,” she said, returning to her seat by the fire. She opened up the book, carefully turning each page until she found the first chapter. Her voice was clear and steady as she began:
“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.
“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.
“We’ve got Father and Mother and each other,” said Beth contently from her corner.”
I was reminded how wrenching it had been when David had gone to war so soon after we had announced our engagement. A part of me had been selfish and wanted to make him stay. Also, I had not known much of poverty, living in Boston society. Coming out West, I began to see it firsthand, and my sympathies went out to the March girls over what they were feeling as Christmas approached without their father or much money.
Colleen was a wonderful reader, and hearing the tale reminded me of trouble my sisters and I got into growing up. I remembered losing a pair of my gloves at a party, or was it that I left them at home? Either way they showed up the next day, and Mother scolded me. I never lost another pair after that.
“I like Jo,” Brian admitted, “She writes very well, and she has a lot of love in her heart.”
“I don’t understand why Mr. Brooks kept Meg’s glove,” Andrew remarked. “Why didn’t he return it?”
Sully grinned, “Oh, he thought about it but he had other plans.”
Andrew looked confused, and Colleen met his gaze appearing unsure of what to say or how to explain matters to him. But Matthew broke the silence, “Beth reminds me a bit of Ingrid, so sweet and unselfish. I loved that about her.”
“We all did,” I added, as tears welled up at her memory. Colleen continued with the novel to distract us from our loss.
“I must thank Grandma for this book,” she said, pausing in her reading, looking up and smiling from ear to ear. “It’s a wonderful story, and I know I’m going to love it.”
“I’m sure she’d be pleased to hear from you.”
Colleen beamed, stood up, and quickly went upstairs to start penning her letter. Andrew knelt before the fire to warm his hands while Brian and Matthew went to fetch more firewood.
“She’s changed so much—from the girl who always wanted to be at parties into a young married woman,” I remarked turning my gaze from the now empty stairs to Sully’s deep blue eyes. “That she has,” he added.
“I’d best go tell her not to spend all night writing,” Andrew said before rising and following in his wife’s footsteps. Katie walked toward us, putting her small hands on my dress. She smiled up at us, full of the joy of Christmas.
“How about we get ready for the party?” I suggested, looking into her shining eyes. She held out her hand for me to take as I got up.
“I have a lovely dress for you to wear tonight,” I said as we climbed the stairs.
“Pretty dress!” Katie added. She was already attracted to things that shined and sparkled.
“Yes, dear.” When we reached the upper hallway, she clapped her hands with delight. “Can I see, Mama, please?”
“Of course, let’s go find it.” Katie marched straight to our bedroom door, opened it as best she could, and went straight to the wardrobe. “Dress here?” she asked so sweetly. I walked over to open the doors and pulled out a beautiful deep-green frock with a white lace collar. Emma had done a fine job, and Katie’s eyes were wide when I showed her what she would wear to the party. It did not take long for her to want to try it on.
“You look beautiful, Katie,” I said just as the last button was fastened, and she turned around to face me. “Tank you, Mama,” she said and reached out her small arms for a hug.
“Poppie, look!” she called out just as Sully came through the door. “I have pretty dress like Mama.”
“You sure do, Kates, my special princess.” I could barely hear the quiet kiss she gave him on the cheek before leaving our room to show off her new outfit.
“Good to have Emma back helping our Katie look even more beautiful. She does a great job.”
“She does,” I added. “I’m happy for her wanting to build her own dress shop here after the experiences she’s had. Speaking of which, I had her make one for me, too.”
“Oh? I’d like ta see it.”
I reached into the wardrobe and found the gown, pulling it out to show him. It was very much like the red one I had worn in Boston years ago.
Colleen had helped me pick that out, and Rebecca had made sure my hair looked perfect. I had good cause to be nervous, but Sully’s transformation that night had stunned me so much that despite constant reminders of my Boston upbringing I was sorely tempted to lose myself in his arms quite in appropriately.
“Can’t wait to see you in it,” Sully remarked, his eyes shining with love. “First time I saw you in red, all I wanted was to dance the night away with you. Will you give me the pleasure of being my dance partner tonight?”
“Gladly, kind sir,” I responded merrily, laying the dress, white kid leather gloves, and woolen muff carefully on the bed before giving him a gentle kiss on the lips. Before I could even think of putting my gown on, Sully had me in his arms.
“There is one more thing,” I whispered, leaving his embrace and going back to the wardrobe. I pulled open one of the drawers taking out something Lydia, one of Hank’s girls, had made for me. In a moment of weakness, I’d told her of my desire to have another child. I would have rather worn one of my chemises, but she had insisted I wear a low-cut corset under my gown instead. “Close your eyes,” I insisted, removing my cotton dress and slipping into the constricting garment.
“Mmm,” he murmured as he opened his eyes to peek and then reached for me. We fell onto the bed, our arms and legs tangled in the quilt, as my dress slid to the floor. “Sully, think the children would miss us if we didn’t come back down?”
“Probably,” he answered before kissing me sensuously.
“Merry Christmas, Sully,” I said softly, as his eyes slowly opened, desire glittering in them. I could feel the slow burn of excitement building in me as his lips met mine again passionately. ”Merry Christmas, Michaela,” he whispered as the sounds of laughter floated up from below.
“I suppose we should dress and go downstairs,” I whispered.
“Maybe,” he answered sighing reluctantly.
I smiled before releasing myself from his embrace, letting the coolness of the air caress and calm me as I made my way over to the dressing table.
As I prepared for the party, I reflected on how much I loved this time of year. I prayed for another little one’s laughter to be added to that of the wondrous children we had already been blessed with. Later tonight, Sully, I envisioned ever enthusiastically…