J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

A Becharmed Callie Christmas

Christmas comes but once a year … but will it be different this Christmas?

Callie Mae Copeland is the only child of affluent landowner, Sullivan Copeland, and his wife, Faye. Because Callie has been doted on her entire life, she is pampered and outspoken. Although the Civil War is looming and is in its second year, it hasn’t affected the Copelands or their neighbors in north Alabama too much … yet.

Once she turns sixteen, Callie realizes the influence she has over boys her age and uses her flirtatious graces to her advantage. She turns her sights on Christmas and is determined to do everything in her power to make the Copeland’s annual Christmas party a success. Although money is tight, she convinces her father to buy material for her stunning new Christmas gown. She can’t wait for the party so that she can impress her beau, his best friend, and all the other guests who are invited.

But following the party, Callie is abruptly faced with the realization that the war is closer than she imagined, and everything is uncertain. A terrifying thought consumes her. Will this be the last Christmas she will ever see in her family’s old antebellum home? Will anything ever be the same again?

Author: J. D. R. Hawkins

Fiction / Historical / War/Military / Drama / Suspense / Young Adult

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0CN2D4YMW
  • Paperback: 90 pages
  • Publisher: Independently published (November 7, 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 979-8866387212

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.

                               –  Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Chapter One

“Thank you for lettin’ me come with you today!”

     The older man grinned at her from the driver’s seat of the black-lacquered carriage. “My pleasure, Callie,” he said with a smile.

     He tapped the reins to increase speed. The two bays reacted by accelerating to a slow trot.

     “I hope they have what I’m lookin’ for,” the girl stated, folding her white-gloved hands in her lap. Her long, blonde hair flowed gently in the breeze caused by the moving carriage. Even though it was November, the temperature was warm enough to open the windows.

     “So do I, my dear,” the older gentleman said with a chuckle. Rounding a curve, a two-story clapboard structure came into view. “Here we are!”

     He pulled the carriage off the road to the side of the building, where a few other vehicles were lined up. A sign attached to the outside of the building read “Mercantile.” Stepping down, he walked around and took her extended hand. She smiled and stepped out, heisting her floor-length, navy-blue day dress up above her boots as she did so. Once her feet hit the ground, she set out for the front of the building, bounded up the wooden steps, and strode inside. Several men standing around a wood-burning stove looked over at her as she entered. The older man followed her inside.

     “How do, Copeland’s!” the shopkeeper greeted them. “Fine day we’re havin’!”

     “That it is, Ben,” replied Mr. Copeland. He pulled a cigar box from his breast coat pocket, withdrew a stogie, and lit it.

     “What brings y’all by?” Ben inquired. “And how can I be of service?”

     Callie stepped closer to the three men gathered around the stove. “Mr. Johnson, if you please, I’m interested in purchasin’ a new bolt of fabric for a Christmas dress.”

     “Are you fixin’ to pay for it yourself, little lady?” Ben asked. “Ain’t you all of fifteen?”

     He winked at Mr. Copeland, who chuckled. 

     “Soon to be sixteen,” Callie corrected him. She glanced at the other two gentlemen, who grinned at her. “My father has agreed to buy it for me.”

     “Tentatively,” said Mr. Copeland, puffing on his stogie. “We shall see.”

     The men chuckled.

     “Well,” said Ben, “there’s some fabric in the back room, but it’s been here for a spell. Nothin’ new has come in since the start of the war.”

     “Callie nodded. “Thank you kindly, Mr. Johnson. I’ll have a looksee.” She turned on her heels and walked across the wooden floorboards toward a back room.

     “Young ‘un’s grow up too fast,” one of the gentlemen standing at the stove said.

     “That they do,” Mr. Copeland replied, puffing on his cigar. “And I reckon it’s felt more by folks like my wife and me, who only have one.” He cleared his throat. “While she’s havin’ a look, I’d like to pick up a few supplies, Ben. Would you mind showin’ me around?”

     “I’d be happy to,” said Ben. “But why ain’t you havin’ one of your servitudes pick up supplies?”

     “All five of them ran off in the middle of the night last week,” said Mr. Copeland. “Believin’ Lincoln’s promise of freein’ them, I suspect. If any of them come back, I’ll have to sell them off, because you can’t trust a darkie once he’s run off.”

     “Reckon not,” said Ben. The middle-aged man sighed. “It’s a whole new world that’s bein’ forced on us. Prices are goin’ sky high, and I’m runnin’ low on stock.”

     “We’re in the second year of this blasted war,” said Mr. Copeland. “Perhaps it will end soon.”

     “We can only hope and pray,” said Ben. “Now, what can I git for you?”

     Callie walked deeper into the mercantile until the men’s voices became a drone. She turned a corner to see several bolts of fabric piled up on top of a table. They were the same bolts she’d seen before. Knowing she had to make a decision, she rummaged through the pile. At the bottom, she found the perfect one: a bolt of deep purple velvet fabric. Pulling it out, she picked up the bolt and casually started for the front of the store. She took her time, glancing at the trinkets displayed in glass cases, which she knew had been created by local womenfolk who were experiencing dire times and needed the extra money.

     A stack of publications caught her eye. She turned to see a pile of Harpers Weekly magazines. Setting the bolt of fabric down, she picked up one on top of the stack and started thumbing through it. The depictions inside shocked her. The engravings, copies of photographs taken at the Battle of Antietam, depicted dead men in Confederate uniforms lying about in open fields beside equine carcasses and broken wagons. She had heard about the battle, known as the Battle of Sharpsburg to her, but it had taken place months ago, and hundreds of miles away from her beautiful home in north Alabama. Now the depictions brought the war closer. The thought of it ending up in her own front yard sent a shiver up her spine. It seemed the war wasn’t as glamorous as she had been told. She decided to shake the terrible thought from her mind. Placing the magazine back on the stack, she picked up the fabric and walked to the front of the store.

     “I found one, Pa,” she announced, trying her best to sound excited, regardless of the repulsiveness she’d just seen. 

     Mr. Copeland, who had returned to the front of the store with Ben, turned to look. “That’s a beautiful color, Callie. And it matches your blue eyes splendidly!” Turning to Ben, he asked, “How much is it?”

     Ben smirked. “Prices have gone up. It’s twenty-three dollars.”

     “What!?” exclaimed Mr. Copeland. 

     “Please, Pa,” Callie pleaded. “It’s most likely the last chance I’ll git to have a new gown. And it’s almost Christmas!” She glanced at the calendar above the cash register displaying a Currier and Ives painting, and “1862.” Large X’s crossed out each day that had passed. November 12 was yet to be crossed out.

     Mr. Copeland looked at the other men. He scowled. “Oh, all right, my dear. I’ll relent to your heart’s desire. But this will be the last time.”

     “Thank you!” Callie squealed. She gave her father a quick hug. 

     The men chuckled.

     Mr. Copeland pulled his wallet out while shaking his head. “One daughter is surely enough,” he remarked under his breath.

     The men chuckled again.

     “We had a mighty fine time at your Harvest party, Miss Callie,” one of the gentlemen said.

     “Why, thank you kindly, Mr. Foreman,” Callie beamed. “I’m so happy y’all could attend.” She smiled at the thought of the party she and her parents had hosted for the neighbors the previous Saturday. It was the last time she had seen her best friend, as well as her two boys. She would see Jake and David again soon enough, and impress them with her beautiful new purple gown that she planned to construct by then. 

     “The dress you had on at the party was right purty,” the other man said. “My wife was wonderin’ if you made it yourself.”

     “Why, yes, Mr. Skidmore, I did,” Callie proclaimed proudly. “Thank you for the compliment.”

     “My wife and I had a splendid time, and truly enjoyed the music,” Mr. Skidmore continued.

     “Yes, the violinist was very talented, indeed,” Mr. Foreman agreed. “Everyone looked festive, and the food was delightful.”

     “Thank you, Mr. Foreman,” said Callie. “We wanted to do somethin’ for our neighbors, to try and keep our spirits up durin’ these tryin’ times.”

     “It might be difficult outdoin’ yourselves with your upcomin’ Christmas party,” Ben said.

     “Don’t be surprised if we do!” Callie said with a laugh. “We’re havin’ a dance, and even more musicians. Not to mention all the wonderful sweets my ma and I plan to make!”

     “We’re surely lookin’ forward to it,” said Mr. Skidmore. “It might be the last party this county sees in quite a spell.”

     “Some folks around these parts might think we’re holdin’ parties despite the war, and it ain’t no cause to celebrate when men we all know are dyin’,” said Mr. Copeland. “But it’s like my daughter said. We want to share our good fortune while we still can. Who knows how long this war will last.” 

     The men grew quiet.

     Callie’s smile faded. She couldn’t help but recall what she had just seen in Harper’s Weekly.

  “The Walkers told us at the party that they were travelin’ to St. Louis for the winter,” said Mr. Skidmore. 

     “It’s true as I know it,” Callie said.

     “Reckon you’ll be missin’ that li’l girl of theirs,” said Mr. Foreman. “Miss Alice. Ain’t she ‘bout your same age, Miss Callie?”

     “Yessir, she is.” Callie frowned. She had been trying to put the thought of losing her best friend out of her mind and focus on the upcoming holiday instead. “I will miss her dreadfully.”

     “Well, y’all can always write to each other,” said Mr. Copeland.

     “And who knows?” said Ben. “Maybe y’all will see each other again someday.” He smiled assuredly.

     Callie solemnly nodded. “Perhaps. I’ll bid my adieu now and wait in the carriage. Good day, gentlemen.” She turned and walked out of the store, the tiny bell above the door tinkling to announce her departure. The last thing she wanted was to show weakness, act like a child, and shed a few tears in front of the menfolk. 

     On the ride home, she asked her father. “Pa, can I visit Alice before she leaves?”

     “When are they fixin’ to leave?” he asked.

     “November seventeenth.”

     “That’s next Monday.” Mr. Copeland thought for a moment. “All right, Callie. I’ll take you over there on Saturday so y’all can say your goodbyes.”

     “Thanks, Pa!” She smiled graciously, and hugged the bolt of fabric.

Three days later, Callie’s father delivered on his promise, and drove her to Alice’s house. Upon arriving, they were engulfed in a flurry of commotion. People were coming and going, leaving with the Walkers’ furniture, livestock, and various other belongings. Callie presumed Alice’s family was giving away all of the unnecessary things they couldn’t take with them on their long journey from Alabama to Missouri. She and her father stepped up onto the porch. Callie rapped on the screened door. One of Alice’s brothers allowed their entry, and hollered up the stairs for his sister. 

     “I’ll go find Alice’s kinfolk to wish them well on their travels,” Mr. Copeland said, and ambled off.

     Momentarily, Alice trotted down the steps. “Callie!” she exclaimed, holding her arms out. 

     The two girls embraced.

     “I couldn’t let you leave without me seein’ you off first,” said Callie. She smiled at her friend. “I do declare, this entire excursion has left you glowin’!”

     “I’m so excited, Callie! I can hardly contain myself!”

     Callie simpered at her friend. She couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy.

     My brother thinks he’ll find the biggest gold nugget there is, once we git to Colorado territory.”

     “That would be remarkable,” said Callie.

     The two girls walked into the parlor and sat down on the blue velvet sofa. A bustle of activity surrounded them as friends, neighbors, and relatives assisted in emptying the house and packing up the covered wagon for the Walker’s trip.

     “Are y’all still travelin’ with two other families to St. Louis?” Callie asked.

     “Yes. It’s all going accordin’ to plan.”

     “I ain’t never been to St. Louis before,” said Callie. “Or anywhere else, for that matter.”

     “I’ll write to you when we git there,” Alice said.

     Callie saw her father walk out the front door. “I so do wish I could take the trip with y’all! But then, I wouldn’t be able to attend our annual Christmas party. You should see the fabric I got for my new dress. It’s purple velvet!”

     “You’ll be the purtiest girl there, jist like you always are,” said Alice, pulling her dark brown hair back from her face.

     “Alice!” her mother hollered from another room. “You need to git your things packed up!”

     Alice expelled a sigh, and gave her friend a somber smile. “I reckon I’d best go do as Ma asks.” 

     The two girls rose to their feet. They hugged again.

     “I’ll miss you,” said Callie, a lump swelling in her throat.

     “And I’ll miss you,” said Alice. 

     She walked Callie to the door, and the two girls hugged once more.

     “Don’t forget to write!” said Callie as she followed her father to their carriage.

     “I won’t. Goodbye Callie!”

     Walking to the carriage, Callie turned to wave. “Goodbye, Alice!”

     She climbed into the carriage and closed the door. Trying not to let her sadness escalate, she grew unsuccessful, and felt a lonely longing in her heart for her best friend. I hope all of your wishes come true, Alice, she thought to herself, brushing away a tear as her father slapped the reins.

     On the ride home, she was uncommonly quiet, but to her relief, her father didn’t question it. She forced herself to stop dwelling on Alice’s departure. Instead, she turned her thoughts to the upcoming Christmas party. Alice was right: she would be the prettiest girl there. She would impress everyone with her finesse and extraordinary presence. Once December arrived, all would be merry with Christmas. She was sure of it.

%d bloggers like this: