Christmas in Alabama – 1862
In honor of the upcoming holiday, I have posted an excerpt from my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire. This is the sequel to A Beautiful Glittering Lie, and is the second part of the Renegade Series. Enjoy!
“Here it is! Come quick!”
David sauntered across the dead grass toward his little sister. Amused by the way she was jumping up and down like a nervous flea, he couldn’t help but grin. Obviously, she was too excited to care that her petticoats were showing from under the brown coat and green calico dress she wore, or that her long auburn hair had broken free from its bondage as her bonnet slid from her head and dangled down her back.
“Which one, Josie?” he asked, stifling a snicker.
She planted her feet, and pointed to a small yellow pine near a cluster of sweet gum and ash trees. “Right here!” she exclaimed.
Glancing down at the sapling, he gave her a crooked smile. “Well, that’s a mighty fine tree, but ain’t it kinda scrawny?” He estimated the pine to be three feet tall at most.
Josie frowned at her older brother, who had one eyebrow cocked from under his slouch hat. His hands were tucked into his brown trousers, and his linen shirt hung loosely on his tall, lanky frame. Unsure as to why he appeared so skeptical, she said, “No, it’s jist right. We’ll string some corn on it, hang some nuts and berries on it, and it’ll look right smart in the corner of the front room.”
With a shrug, he said, “All right. If you reckon this is the one.”
She nodded, her bright blue eyes reflecting her elation.
David relished the moment, for he knew Christmas was her favorite holiday. He had only heightened her anticipation on the way out to the woodlot by reminding her what would happen that evening, how Santa would be stopping by later when she was sound asleep. Of course, he had no explanation as to how eight tiny reindeer could pull a sleigh all the way to Alabama. Josie promptly informed him that she wasn’t a child any longer. She was all of thirteen, and didn’t believe in those farfetched stories anymore, but he knew better. She would be lying in her bed tonight, listening and waiting.
“Well, go on now, cut it down!” Josie insisted.
He put his thumb and forefinger to his lips and gave a high, shrill whistle. Noticing how the gray sky was growing darker, he looked over at the edge of the clearing where they stood, and saw the underbrush rustle. Suddenly, two hound dogs bounded out of the trees, followed by a gangly young stallion.
“Come on, Renegade. Over here,” he called out to the colt, who responded by cantering to him.
Josie giggled at the sight. “Your dumb horse thinks he’s a dog!”
“He ain’t dumb. I’ll wager he’s a lick smarter than you are, li’l sister,” David teased.
The horse blew and stomped his front hoof.
“Why, that’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of. And not only is he dumb, he looks right silly, too. He can’t decide if he should be spotted or palomino!”
David observed his horse for a moment. Renegade’s face was piebald. His dark chestnut coat was highlighted with white spots and patches concentrating on his underbelly, and his mane and tail were light flaxen. He had white socks up to his knees. His unusual eyes were brownish green. David remembered how he had heard that a horse with strange-colored eyes like Renegade’s was considered sacred and chosen by the Cherokee Indians. Several people had noticed the strange coincidence, and his other sister, Rena, also frequently commented that he and his horse had the same colored eyes.
“I reckon he knows what he is,” David remarked. “Besides, he’s unusual, and that makes him unique.”
“Oh, he’s unique all right,” Josie said, giggling again. She pulled her hair back from her face and replaced her bonnet.
David untied a saw from a leather strap attached to Renegade’s saddle. He knelt down, quickly sawed through the little tree’s trunk, picked it up, and tied it across the saddle’s seat. His two black and tan dogs sniffed around the tree’s sawed off stump. Suddenly, they both lifted their noses into the air with their ears pricked. They bolted across the open clearing, baying at an unseen curiosity as theydisappeared into the woods.
“Caleb! Si!” David hollered after the two hounds. “Well, there they go,” he observed wryly. “All right, Renegade, take it on home.” He patted his horse on the shoulder.
Renegade nickered softly, shook his head, and trotted off in the same direction as the two hounds.
Josie gasped. “Look, David! It’s startin’ to snow!” She tilted her head back and stuck out her tongue, trying to catch snowflakes on it.
“Come on, you do it, too,” she coaxed him.
He obliged his little sister by imitating her.
Josie laughed, spinning around with her arms extended while snow fell silently down around them.
“Oh!” David clasped his hand to his face. “One fell in my eye!”
He couldn’t help but smile, although he was careful not to let her see, and snorted to cover up his delight. “Well, I’m right glad you think it’s so funny.” He looked at her, trying to keep a straight face. “Come on, Josie girl. We’d best be gittin’ on back.”
He allowed her to go ahead of him as they started on the bridle path that cut through the woods.
“Let’s sing Christmas carols!” she said. “That new one we heard last year. Jingle Bells!”
“You start,” he prompted.
“Dashin’ through the snow …”
He joined in. Their voices grew stronger in unison.
“In a one-horse open sleigh …”
They came to an empty field, and trudged through, stepping over mud puddles while they continued singing.
“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way …”
Their house stood quaintly at the far end of the field. Smoke circled from its two chimneys, dissolving into the gray sky. The sweet smell of burning hickory reached out, inviting them closer. From a distance, the structure appeared to be two separate cabins sitting side by side, but upon closer observation, one could see that they were connected by a covered breezeway. Each section contained two rooms and a fireplace. A wide flat porch on the front of the split log building served as an entryway. The tin roof, which seemed to expel heat in the summertime, also managed to repel snow during winter months.
The cold, damp air encroached upon brother and sister. As they sang, their breath escaped, floated out across the fields, and vanished in phantom gusts.
“Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh!”
On the last note, Josie’s voice jumped an octave. They laughed at their grand finale and walked around to the front of the house, where Renegade was waiting patiently for the tree to be removed from his saddle. A buckskin horse stood beside him.
“Whose horse is that?” Josie asked.
“It looks like Bud Samuels’ horse.”
David and Josie looked at each other, wide-eyed. “Pa!” they both exclaimed.
Josie sprang onto the porch, burst through the front door, and went inside while David untied the small yellow pine. He set it aside, pulled the saddle from Renegade’s back, and removed his bridle.
“Go on into the barn, Renie,” he said. “Or you’ll be one big ole snowball in a minute.”
The colt blew, and trotted around the side of the house.