J.D.R. Hawkins

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

Cover Reveal – The Right Kind of Wrong

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He’s dangerous, damaged and doomed but he’s hers…

With no name, no medical history, multiple gunshot wounds and enough security to rival the Prime Minister’s, Dr Aria Dubey’s new patient is something more than she asked for. And everything she might just need.

Intelligence Officer Karan Bhatnagar has only vengeance on his mind. Nothing will stop him from seeking justice for his murdered parents. 

Not even almost losing his own life. And certainly not the doctor who healed but couldn’t save him. The woman he can’t afford to fall for. And the killer’s next target.

There’s only one thing left to do…find the killer and end him before he ends them. Will Karan and Aria risk everything for a love that is all kinds of wrong? And yet, is the right kind of wrong.

Releasing on 26th January!

About the Author:

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Shilpa Suraj wears many hats – corporate drone, homemaker, mother to a fabulous toddler and author.

An avid reader with an overactive imagination, Shilpa has weaved stories in her head since she was a child. Her previous stints at Google, in an ad agency and as an entrepreneur provide colour to her present day stories, both fiction and non-fiction.

Contact the Author:
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A Beautiful Glittering Lie on Librarybub

I recently advertised my novel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie, on Librarybub. I strongly advise other authors to participate in this program in order to gain excellent exposure for your book!

During the week before Christmas, 2551 librarians saw my book. Here are the links:

My book was also featured in press releases on these outlets:

CBS

https://markets.financialcontent.com/wral/news/read/40702916/thrilling_teen_fiction_highlighted_in_librarybub_selection_for_december

NBC

https://www.wfmj.com/story/42988409/thrilling-teen-fiction-highlighted-in-librarybub-selection-for-december

I’m hoping lots of libraries will pick up my book during their next purchasing round. Thank you, everyone, for your continued support!

Woodworking 101: How to Get Started

For the new year, I wanted to share an article about something near and dear to my heart. My dad loved woodworking. He was very talented, and created many beautiful pieces, including furniture, sculptures, carvings. etc. Here are a few pictures of some of his creations.

My main character, David Summers, who appears in all of the books in the Renegade Series, is modeled after my dad, in that he has a passion for woodworking.

This article is a guest post courtesy of Mr. Carlos Trejo. Thank yo so much, Mr. Trejo, for your contribution!

Did you know that wood was the first drawing material? In the form of charcoal, it was the first artistic medium. An example of cave art, using charred wood, at Rouffignac in France dates back 13,000 years!

Woodworking can be a wonderful hobby, but knowing how to cut wood, make doors and build stairs can also save you a ton of money. If you want to get started, however, you need to do it the right way. Woodworking is a skill like any other, and a learned one at that. 

In past generations, many people were lucky enough to have a parent, grandparent, or trusted uncle who knew their way around a woodworking shop. Some even remember taking shop in high school, learning to make practical things like toolboxes and the like. But not everyone was blessed with that kind of early exposure, but you can make up for the lost time and learn the skills you need to complete home projects like a pro. Here are some key things you need to know to get started with your new woodworking hobby. 

Woodworking Basics: What You Need to Know

Where to Start

If you are ready to get started with your new woodworking hobby, you probably have a lot of questions. So how can you get started safely, and what do you need to know as you set up your new woodworking room? 

Even before you start building anything, you will need some basic materials to get started on your woodworking adventure. Many people choose to set up their workshops in a garage or storage shed, and adapting those spaces to a new use will require some basic supplies. 

Lining the walls of a garage or storage shed with pegboard, for instance, will give you plenty of space to hang hand tools and power tools. You can even add a cord spool to keep all those extension cords neat and tidy.  

You will obviously need electric power for your new woodworking shop, so make sure there are enough outlets available. If you have any doubts, an electrical upgrade may be in order; the last thing you want is an overloaded circuit that could become a fire hazard

You will also need some basic knowledge, even if you plan to take a DIY approach to learn woodworking. If you have a trusted woodworker friend or neighbor, reach out to them for help. If not, check into woodworking classes at the local community college or extension center; these low-cost courses are a great way to learn the basics. And there is always the internet, especially the many detailed woodworking tutorials on YouTube and other video channels.

What Kinds of Tools Do You Need?

As you build out your new woodworking shop, you will need to outfit your new space with the right tools. Building a woodworking shop from the ground up can be an expensive endeavor. It is a good idea to begin with the must-have tools, those go-to items you will need again and again. Regardless of what you are building, here are some essential tools you will want in your woodworking shop from the start. 

  • Circular saw
  • Nail gun
  • Hammer
  • Cordless screwdriver
  • An assortment of nails, screws, and other fasteners
  • Chisels
  • Hand clamps
  • Power drills

Once you have the basics of your woodworking shop laid out, you will need a secure place to keep all those items. Hopefully, you have already lined the walls of your space with pegboard. So all you need are some hanging hooks to keep most of the items in place. You can also use tool storage drawers to hold all those tiny materials, as well as smaller hand tools. 

Now that you have the essential tools taken care of, it’s time to look at other tools that will allow you to expand the number of projects you take on. Some of these power tools can be pricy, but if they allow you to turn a contractor-led project into a DIY one they could pay for themselves in a matter of weeks. Here are some smart large form factor tools to consider for your new woodworking shop. 

  • Lathe
  • Jointer
  • Table saw

In addition to those larger tools, you might also want to add a jigsaw and a reciprocating saw to your woodworking repertoire. Both of these tools are highly versatile and can be used on dozens of home improvement projects. 

As you continue with your woodworking hobby, you will probably find other tools you would like to have. If you plan to do some outdoor home improvements, you will probably want cordless hand tools at your disposal. Including drills, screwdrivers, nail guns, and the like. You may want to choose a single brand and stick with it since the charging stations should be compatible with one another. And while you are at it, look for a dedicated space where you can set up a charging station for all those tools, so they will be ready whenever you need them. 

Woodworking Safety Tips

Woodworking can be a fulfilling hobby and a great way to save money on home improvement projects. For the cost of hiring a single contractor, you can build out an entire workshop and do the work yourself. 

Even so, it is important to put safety first whenever you are working with power tools, and protecting yourself should always be your most important consideration. Here are some essential safety tips you should never ignore:

  • Goggle up – eye protection is vital when working with power tools, so always wear a pair of quality goggles in your woodworking shop
  • Wear a mask – Cutting wood creates fine particles, and those particles can damage your lungs. Always wear a mask when you are sawing, screwing, or drilling wood.
  • Never disable safety devices – Table saws, circular saws, and other power tools come with guards and other safety devices built-in. Those guards are there for a reason, and you should never disable or tamper with them. 
  • Protect your ears – Power tools generate a lot of noise, so protect your ears with foam plugs or don specialized headphones to dampen the sound and prevent long-term hearing damage.
  • Check cords for damage before and after every use. It is easy to nick a cord while cutting wood, so examine extension cords for signs of damage before and after every project. 
  • Wear proper shoes or safety boots – Protecting your feet is essential, so leave the sandals and flip flops behind when you enter your woodworking shop. 
  • Read the manuals carefully before using any new piece of equipment. Make sure you know where the emergency stop button is located, and always read the safety precautions before getting started. 

Good Woodworking Projects for Beginners

Now that you have your woodworking shop set up and all your tools have been hung up, you are probably anxious to get started. But you will want to start slowly, with simple projects you can complete quickly. 

As you gain confidence and experience, you can ramp up the complexity of the home improvement projects you take on, but for now, here are some easy woodworking ideas to get you started. 

  • Build your child a wagon.  A wood wagon is relatively easy to build, and it requires only the most basic of tools. 
  • Give yourself a great place to sit. If you love those stylish Adirondack chairs but not the high price tag, you can build your own, all in your new woodworking shop. With basic supplies like a circular saw, a few pieces of wood, and a couple of dozen nails and fasteners, you can give yourself a comfortable place to sit when your project is done. 
  • A workbench. Having a workbench in your woodworking shop will come in handy, so why not build your own? Building a workbench is the perfect first woodworking project for beginners, you can get it done in a single afternoon.
  • Make a set of sawhorses. This is another woodworking project that will add to the usefulness of your new shop. Every carpenter needs a set of sturdy sawhorses, and the ones you make will be vastly better than any you can buy. 

Recycling/Reusing Past Materials

As you get started with your new woodworking hobby, you will probably find yourself taking on lots of home improvement projects. Once you have your woodworking shop set up, you will view your home through a different set of eyes. You will find all kinds of things that suddenly need an upgrade. 

Every one of those woodworking projects will generate some level of waste material. Recycling those materials is the environmentally responsible thing to do. There are many ways to make your projects as green as possible. 

If you have usable wood and other construction materials left over, you can donate them to a good cause. Habitat for Humanity runs a number of resale stores around the country, and that is a good place to start. You can also check with local charities to see what they need and where you can donate. 

You can also reuse smaller pieces of wood and leftover construction supplies for your future projects. Those small pieces of wood, for instance, can be glued together to create a wonderful little birdhouse. So you can share your newfound woodworking skills with your avian friends. 

No matter what your goal is, learning some basic woodworking skills is a smart thing to do. And now that you know how to get started, you can begin your new hobby with confidence. 

Originally Posted on Porch.com

Happy New Year!

While going through some old papers today, I came across this interesting article. I hope you enjoy it! (I had to post the original article because I jammed my finger last night and am having a hard time typing!)

(Article courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Pvt. Samuel A. Hughey Camp 1452, SCV, & Pres. Jefferson Davis Chapter, MOSB, volume 35, issue no. 5, May 2011 ed.)

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

I hope you enjoy this article about super bikes and how to protect them in winter weather, written by guest blogger Kevin Brown. Have a very happy New Year!

Six Latest Super Bikes and How You Can Protect yours in Winter

Bikes come in all shapes and sizes, running in style, design, engine capacity, weight, and capability. In this list, I have collected some of the world’s best superbikes and their shopper counterparts, making a note of the distinctive mechanical specs, alongside the bicycles’ historical backdrop, related models, and the organizations that made them. Every one of these bicycles dominates in some area. I have attempted to incorporate choices for each kind of rider: the easygoing cruiser, the rough terrain globe- adventurer, or the thrill-seeking road racer.

Superbikes are motorcycles with engine limits of 1000cc (or only close to it) and have also been alluded to as hyperbikes. These bikes have developed underway over the most recent 50 years, as the first “superbike” was the Honda CB750, delivered in 1969. From that point, bikes kept on getting faster and quicker. After the arrival of the Suzuki Hayabusa in 1999, a man of his word’s arrangement was reached between the universe’s greatest bike makers to restrict the maximum velocity of creation bikes to 186 MPH. This understanding kept going a short time, yet soon enough, makers proceeded with the opposition to make quicker and faster bikes, bringing about the horde of 200+ MPH cruisers we have today, a significant number of which I’ve remembered for this list.   

Along these lines, to avoid the poor choices and raise the right ones, here are ten of the most solid superbikes you can purchase (and six that ought to be evaded all together).

1. Honda CBR600F4i

Why not begin things off with a bang? Furthermore, not one from the engine. An incredible inverse, as our first bike, the ’06 Honda CBR600F4i, is seen by millions to be among the most dependable superbikes ever created. Even though it might have all the earmarks of being less aggressive than the standard 600RR, the F4i is similarly quick and with expanded form quality for sure!

2. BMW K 1300 S

This model was presented in 2008 by BMW. Over ten years after the fact, the bike stays most loved among petrolheads. K 1300 S is the quickest bike BMW Motorrad has ever delivered. There have been various varieties and various facelifts throughout the long term, yet at the center remains BMW Motorrad’s four- cylinder power unit. The soft murmur of a water-cooled 4-cycle motor is music to the rider’s ears. This great engine joined with the steady work 6-speed gearbox, makes these wheels turn genuine quick. 

3. Yamaha Bolt and Bolt R Spec

“Yamaha’s spending budget-friendly, choke cheerful Bolt, and Bolt R-Spec bikes are returning for the 2020 model year. Yamaha refers to the Bolt as its “metropolitan execution bobber.” Yet, the Bolt has discovered it is calling the whole way across the riding range with its minimal, strong skeleton, execution suspension, and torquey V-twin force.”

4. Kawasaki Ninja H2

Outfitted with a 998cc engine, the Ninja H2 is a powerhouse and is, in a real sense, the quickest creation bike available. Yielding around 310 horsepower, the Ninja H2 has a maximum velocity of 249 MPH and is confined to follow driving because of its power. The bike weighs just shy of 500 pounds, making a capacity to weight proportion that leaves most different cycles in the dust. This is the thing that you’d anticipate from Kawasaki, one of the most respectable bike makers on the globe. Costs for the H2 start around $28,000, a reasonable price for such a ground-breaking superbike. 

5. MV Agusta F4 RR

MV Agusta supports Lewis Hamilton due to their relationship with Mercedes. However, there’s a critical contrast between Hamilton and the average man – he can manage the upkeep cost’s cost; the more significant part of us can’t. In any case, the considerable expenses do not make it any less of a beautiful bike, only an impractical one.

6. Ducati Panigale V4 S

Last, however not least, is the thing that most lovers expected – a Ducati. Even more explicitly, yet, the fresh out of the box new 2020 Ducati Panigale V4 S. This Ducati truly is the “Ferrari of cruisers,” particularly when you consider its origins, shading, speed, and smooth figure. All that, in any case, comes at the exorbitant cost of constant repairs and over-priced parts.

Here are five things on how to prepare for bikes for winter riding.

i) Battery

Batteries struggle during the cool for a very long time as the low temperature hinders the compound response. In this way, more current is expected to stay aware of the demand.

ii) Coverup

There is no compelling reason to sprinkle out on extravagant bike covers. Just check out old covers, blinds, metal garages, or floor coverings from the extra room (check you have consent from a grown-up first!) or a cause shop to keep your bike hot over winter. Watch out for buttons or any scratchy things on the spreads; these can harm paintwork when you pull them on and off.

iii) Change the Oil

Regardless of whether the oil is not expected for a change, side-effects of burning produce acids in the oil, which will hurt the internal metal surfaces. Warm the engine to its ordinary working temperature, as warm oil depletes a lot quicker and more totally.

iv) Clean Your Motorcycle

Before you mothball the bike, please give it a legitimate shower to wash off the grime and dead bugs, and other stuff that can consume the paint and metal. At that point, wax the painted parts, apply a silicone protectant to plastic boards, and wipe down chrome-plated, cleaned, or anodized metal segments with a cloth that has been soaked with an airborne oil. The wax and silicone will keep those painted and plastic parts perfect and ensured, and the light oil in the ointment will help keep metal from rusting. Talking about rust, ensure you wholly perfect and afterward lube your chain.

v) Winterizing Your Engine

Next, we should go to the engine. Radicals demand you need new oil in the fall before storage and new oil come spring. That is pointless excess and waste. You don’t need messy oil sitting in the engine deteriorating throughout the winter, so in case you’re more than most of the way to your next planned oil change, feel free to do it now. That way, the motor internals are washed in new motor oil, and you’ll be prepared to ride in the spring. If the oil is new, ensure it’s topped up.  

Excerpt From A Beautiful Glittering Lie

I love Christmas. It’s one of my favorite holidays. I love the music, the magic, the mystery and of course, Santa Clause! This year is extra special because of the rare Christmas Star.

Here is an excerpt from my novel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie. It gives a glimpse of what life was like in north Alabama during the Civil War. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas to all!

The day of Callie’s Christmas party arrived. Rena and Josie had primped for a week, repeatedly trying on the five dresses they owned between them, until they finally came to a decision. David didn’t give it much thought, since Callie’s charms had worn off with time, but he did carve a beautiful broach for her. 

They reached the Copeland’s as dusk was setting in. It was an unseasonably warm evening, and Caroline remarked about how the weather seemed to be cooperating with the party. Pulling into the yard, they saw several other carriages and wagons parked outside. David directed Joe Boy to an open area. He jumped down, tied the draft horse to a shrub, greeted Percy, who was tending the horses, and after assisting his mother and sisters down from the wagon, he escorted them up the steps to the house. The stylings of festive violin music floated through the air. Caroline tapped on the door. Momentarily, Mr. Copeland answered, dressed in a waistcoat with matching black trousers. 

“Why, there y’all are!” he greeted them happily. “Please do come in!” 

Extending his hand to David, the two shook and followed the ladies into the parlor, which was aglow with glittering lights. Candles flickered on brass candlesticks, reflecting off blown-glass decorations that adorned an enormous pine Christmas tree regally standing in a corner. The women were attired in festive, colorful dresses, and the men wore fine suits. David thought the entire sparkling room was enchanting. 

Josie and Rena saw some friends, so they went off to mingle. Mr. Copeland took Caroline’s arm and led her over to his wife, leaving David awkwardly alone. He gazed around for a familiar face, and finally found one. Jake ambled across the room in his direction, with Callie on his arm. She was radiant in a shimmering, bronze-colored, hooped gown. Her golden hair was drawn up and confined within a snood that matched the hue of her dress. Jake appeared similarly attractive in his best suit. 

“Glad to see you could make it!” he exclaimed, giving his friend a playful punch on the arm. 

“Y’all knew we couldn’t miss this.” 

“Well, I should certainly hope not!” exclaimed Callie. “Everyone knows mine is the most extravagant party in the county this season. And we have cause for celebration, this bein’ the first yuletide since the start of the war.” Releasing Jake, she clamped onto David. “Jake, would you be a darlin’ and go fetch me some punch?” 

“It would be my pleasure, Miss Callie,” he said with a smile. Giving David a wink, he strolled off into the crowd. 

“Now, Mr. Summers, if you please, I would like you to come with me,” she said, giving his arm a tug, so he obediently followed along like a puppy. 

The violinist, joined by a pianist, delved into a tender rendition of “Silent Night.” Callie stopped momentarily to listen, so David took his opportunity. 

“Miss Callie, I made you a token,” he bashfully admitted. Withdrawing a small wrapped package from his pocket, he handed it to her. 

“Well, I do declare! David, darlin’, you shouldn’t have!” She tore open the wrapping and pried open the box, revealing the broach he had painstakingly carved for her. “Why, it’s absolutely breathtakin’.” She pinned it onto the front of her gown. “I shall wear it always.” 

Taking his hand, she leaned over to give him a gentle kiss on the cheek, barely missing his mouth. 

He shied away, embarrassed. Clearing his throat while his face flushed, he muttered, “What did you want to show me, Miss Callie?” 

“I would like to present you to some friends who are out back.” 

He followed her to the garden, but immediately wished he hadn’t, for as soon as they were outside, he saw several faces he recognized. 

“David, you know Owen Ridgeway, and his brother, Lemuel.” 

“Hey, Summers,” said Lemuel in a friendly manner, but his older brother only glared. 

“Hey, y’all,” David responded genially, for Callie’s sake. 

Jake arrived, and handed Callie a glass filled with sparkling red fluid. Seeing the tension, he said, “Zeke, go on in and git yourself some punch.” 

“Don’t mind if I do,” he said, taking his chance to escape the scene. He knew Callie was unaware of the conflict, but he was riled, and he didn’t wish to spoil her party, so he went inside to the food table. 

The spread temporarily distracted him from a possible confrontation. Ham, turkey, stuffing, cornbread, pickles, garden vegetables, bread pudding, and assorted pies were displayed on gold leaf china. His mouth watered as he absorbed the sight. 

Rena appeared beside him. “Are you enjoyin’ yourself?” she asked, taking a plate. 

“I was, till Callie took me outside. That scoundrel Owen Ridgeway is here.” 

“He is?” 

“Yeah, and so is his brother. I don’t have a quarrel with him, though.” 

“Jist avoid him, David,” she advised. 

He looked over to see the seriousness in her gaze. “I’ll be on my best behavior for Ma’s sake, but if he tries to make a fuss, well …” 

“Jist don’t.” Rena glared insistently at him before moving on. 

Once he had filled his plate, he walked across the kitchen, sat at the table, and began eating. Soon, several guests joined him, and struck up a conversation about his father. Isabelle scurried about to accommodate the partygoers, as did the Copeland’s five slaves, and a few others the neighbors had brought along to help support them. 

After lingering for half an hour, David excused himself. He walked into the parlor, where he saw Jake and Callie talking to Alice Walker, so he joined them. 

“Oh, David, Miss Alice has jist informed us of the most dreadful news!” Callie leaned against Jake for support. 

“What is it, Miss Alice?” he asked. 

“We’re movin’ to California,” she announced. A broad smile spread across her young porcelain-like face. 

“Californee is a right far piece away!” Jake exclaimed with a chuckle. 

She nodded. “My pa has an uncle out that way who struck it rich, so we’re fixin’ to go next year sometime. Perhaps after spring thaw.” 

David smirked through a flash of jealousy. “I wish I could go out to Californee and strike it rich,” he muttered. 

Callie smiled at him. “Perhaps we can all go out for a visit later on,” she suggested hopefully. Turning toward the wall, she decided to change the subject. “David, have you seen the paintin’ my ma jist acquired?” 

“No.” He drew closer to have a look. 

“Pa bought it for her for Christmas. Ain’t it magnificent?” 

“It surely is.” He gazed at the landscape, noticing how the bluish-purple colors of twilight were accurately represented. 

“My ma says that it’s right fittin’ and all. She says that this paintin’, Twilight, symbolizes the transitions we’ve all been goin’ through—the 

new Confederacy and two new presidents, talk of freein’ the slaves, and the country splittin’ in two. It’s like the dawnin’ of a new day.” 

David stared at the painting, reading her description into the swirls left by the artist’s brushstrokes, and reckoned she was right. 

Mrs. Copeland’s high-pitched voice cut through the din. “May I have your attention, please?” 

Callie’s father tapped on a crystal champagne glass with a piece of silverware, causing it to ring out. The participants grew quiet. 

“We would like for all of our guests to please assemble out back in the garden!” she exclaimed, and motioned invitingly, so the partygoers followed her. 

As David walked outside, he noticed the entire backyard had been redecorated. Paper lanterns strung across the length of the yard illuminated the setting, and musicians were gathered on a platform near the back. The violinist had transformed himself into a fiddle player. He was joined by a banjo player and a percussionist, who sat poised atop a stool with spoons in his hand. 

“For our first song,” the banjo player announced, “we’re playin’ a fine tune by Stephen Foster, called ‘O Lemuel.’” 

Owen guffawed at the reference, jabbing his little brother with his elbow. The music started, and the crowd coupled up. Walking out into the center of the straw-covered yard, they began swirling to the music. The chill in the air seemed to dissipate as the dancers moved in synchronized harmony across the makeshift dance floor. 

David watched while a schoolmate, Thomas Halsey, escorted Rena. Jake and Callie took to the floor, as did their parents, even though Mr. Kimball’s injured leg prevented him from dancing with much elegance. Like he usually did at gatherings such as these, David partnered with his mother and younger sister, dancing to the lively melodies of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and “Jim along Josie.” He danced with Alice, and once, timidly, with Callie, who complimented him on his stylish grace. When the music changed to a waltz, she stated that she thought he would easily fit into high society with his fancy footwork. 

After the musicians took a break, he strolled into the house for refreshment. Owen followed, confronting him in the kitchen. 

“Think you’re quite the rooster, don’t you? Dancin’ with every gal at the party.” He stared provokingly with penetrating green eyes, his blond hair tussled atop his head. 

David whirled around to face him. Owen had always been a showoff, and was constantly teasing him because he was left-handed, and trying to outdo him at every opportunity. 

“That ain’t none of your concern. Savvy?” 

Owen snorted. “You’re worthless. You ain’t nothin’ but a weasel. All you can do is hide behind them skirts!” 

Rena entered to see her brother bristle at his adversary. “David …” she warned. 

“Not now, Rena,” he growled back. 

“Recall what we discussed.” She could see from across the room that her brother’s eyes were darkening from hazel to brown, which to her was a bad indication. 

“I want to have a word with you out on the veranda, Ridgeway,” David stated. 

He tromped off through the house. Owen grinned, traipsing behind. David heard his mother’s voice as she entered the kitchen. 

“What’s goin’ on in here?” she asked. 

“Dere’s ‘bout to be trouble out front, Miss Caroline,” Isabelle explained as she gathered a trayful of dirty dishes. 

“It’s Owen Ridgeway again, Ma,” added Josie. 

Caroline growled, “I’ll put a stop to this.” 

“No, Mrs. Summers,” Jake intercepted. “Allow me.” He sauntered through the house as voices outside escalated, and went outside to see David and Owen glaring intensely while throwing verbal spears at each other. 

“I know it was you who killed my dog last winter!” David roared. “You did it jist to spite me, because you were jealous!” 

“Why would I be jealous of you?” Owen mocked a laugh. 

“Because I’m smarter than you, and you know it.” 

“You cheated on those school exams so you could graduate! You lied about your pa fightin’ at Manassas, too! You’re spoiled and soft!” 

“I’ll have you take that back!” 

“Now, boys,” Jake interrupted, “there ain’t no need for—” 

Suddenly, Owen lurched at David, who threw a punch into his attacker’s face. They were immediately wrestling on the veranda, tumbling over each other while grunting, cursing, and yelling. Members of the party dashed outside, alarmed by the commotion. Jake managed to break the two apart, and held his friend’s arms behind his back. Lemuel seized his brother in the same manner. The two opponents snorted like bulls, their faces red with vehemence. A trail of scarlet blood trickled from Owen’s nose. 

“Take it easy!” Jake hollered. 

Mr. Copeland stepped in. “What is the meaning of this?! I will not have you two behave this way at my gatherin’!” He stomped over to Owen and took him by the ear. “I’m throwin’ you out, young man! You’re no longer welcome here!” Leading Owen to the steps, he thrust him toward the yard. Lemuel meekly scurried after his brother. “Off with you now, and don’t come back!” 

The brothers staggered toward their wagon, climbed in, and rode off down the lane. 

Turning toward David, who was panting to catch his breath, Mr. Copeland sighed. “David, I thought better of you than this.” He walked past him and went inside. 

The words stung more than any expulsion could. Frowning, he looked at his startled family, at Jake, who simpered at him, and at Callie, who scowled at him. He knew what he had done, although it was unintentional, and he felt deeply ashamed. He had ruined Callie’s Christmas party. 

Soon, the family decided it was best to leave. Barely speaking to each other, they returned home and retired to their bedchambers. The next morning, on their way back from church, Josie broke the silence. 

“How come Owen Ridgeway don’t like you?” she asked straightforwardly. 

David shrugged. “He never has, and I don’t cotton to him, neither.” 

She chuckled faintly. “I reckon you would if he was nice to you.” 

He shrugged again. It was a situation he assumed he would likely never know. 

On Christmas Eve, he hitched Joe Boy to the wagon before leading him into a thicket. With much consideration, he chose a pine tree that would suit his family, cut it down, tossed it into the wagon bed, and drove down the hill to where the saddlebag house sat nestled in the valley. The sun shone brightly, giving no indication it was a winter’s day, other than the fact that the hardwood trees were bare. 

He arrived home, extracted the tree, and struggled to carry it into the house. Wrestling it through the door while it poked him with pine needles, he finally squeezed it through. He set it in the stand he had prepared, and stood back to admire his accomplishment. The tree was glorious. In his eyes, it rivaled Callie’s. Freshly cut pine instantly scented the air. 

The family proceeded to decorate it, using what few ornaments they had accumulated over the years, most of which were handmade from wood, as well as strands of dried berries. They placed tiny candles in tin holders on the boughs and lit them. The tree glowed with inviting luminosity. 

“I wish your pa was here to see this,” Caroline sighed. 

She gathered her clutch into the front room, where she read the story of Christ’s birth from the Bible, just like Hiram did every Christmas Eve. As she drew to a close, her voice broke, and she sniffed back tears. 

“It’ll be all right, Ma,” David assured her, gently stroking her arm. “Pa’s thinkin’ of us right now, too, I reckon.” 

She nodded in agreement. “Well, let’s git to bed. Santa Claus won’t be able to come if y’all are up late.” 

The children sniggered. They had been told the truth about Santa years ago, but they played along for their mother’s sake, and promptly went to their rooms. David lit a fire in the fireplace and crawled into bed, but he couldn’t sleep. He tossed and turned, staring at the gauze-covered window. Pale moonlight cast an eerie glow, enticing him to investigate. He arose and peeked out into the empty yard, but it was too dark to distinguish anything, so he climbed back into bed, folding himself in the covers. He thought of past Christmases spent with his family, and 

imagined what his father must be going through, camped in a tent in the middle of nowhere. 

At least Bud is there with him, he thought. Finally, he dozed off.

Christmas in the Confederate White House

Here is a flashback to what it was like at Christmastime during the Civil War. Confederate First Lady, Varina Howell Davis, describes the scenes.

Varina Davis, wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, wrote this article describing how the Davis family spent the Christmas of 1864 in the Confederate White House. It was published in The New York World, December 13, 1896 and has since been reprinted often. This excerpt was obtained via the website “The American Civil War, 1861-1865.”

Varina Davis, wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Library of Congress

…Rice, flour, molasses and tiny pieces of meat, most of them sent to the President’s wife anonymously to be distributed to the poor, had all be weighed and issued, and the playtime of the family began, but like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky came the information that the orphans at the Episcopalian home had been promised a Christmas tree and the toys, candy and cakes must be provided, as well as one pretty prize for the most orderly girl among the orphans. The kind-hearted confectioner was interviewed by our committee of managers, and he promised a certain amount of his simpler kinds of candy, which he sold easily a dollar and a half a pound, but he drew the line at cornucopias to hold it, or sugared fruits to hang on the tree, and all the other vestiges of Christmas creations which had lain on his hands for years. The ladies dispersed in anxious squads of toy-hunters, and each one turned over the store of her children’s treasures for a contribution to the orphans’ tree, my little ones rushed over the great house looking up their treasure: eyeless dolls, three-legged horses, tops with the upper peg broken off, rubber tops, monkeys with all the squeak gone silent and all the ruck of children’s toys that gather in a nursery closet.

Makeshift Toys for the Orphans

Some small feathered chickens and parrots which nodded their heads in obedience to a weight beneath them were furnished with new tail feathers, lambs minus much of their wool were supplied with a cotton wool substitute, rag dolls were plumped out and recovered with clean cloth, and the young ladies painted their fat faces in bright colors and furnished them with beads for eyes.

But the tug of war was how to get something with which to decorate the orphans’ tree. Our man servant, Robert Brown, was much interested and offered to make the prize toy. He contemplated a “sure enough house, with four rooms.” His part in the domestic service was delegated to another and he gave himself over in silence and solitude to the labors of the architect.

My sister painted mantel shelves, door panels, pictures and frames for the walls, and finished with black grates in which there blazed a roaring fire, which was pronounced marvelously realistic. We all made furniture of twigs and pasteboard, and my mother made pillows, mattresses, sheets and pillow cases for the two little bedrooms.

Christmas Eve a number of young people were invited to come and string apples and popcorn for the trees; a neighbor very deft in domestic arts had tiny candle moulds made and furnished all the candles for the tree. However, the puzzle and triumph of all was the construction of a large number of cornucopias. At last someone suggested a conical block of wood, about which the drawing paper could be wound and pasted. In a little book shop a number of small, highly colored pictures cut out and ready to apply were unearthed, and our old confectioner friend, Mr. Piazzi, consented, with a broad smile, to give “all the love verses the young people wanted to roll with the candy.”

A Christmas Eve Party

About twenty young men and girls gathered around small tables in one of the drawing rooms of the mansion and the cornucopias were begun. The men wrapped the squares of candy, first reading the “sentiments” printed upon them, such as “Roses are red, violets blue, sugar’s sweet and so are you,” “If you love me as I love you no knife can cut our love in two.” The fresh young faces, wreathed in smiles, nodded attention to the reading, while with their small deft hands they gined [?] the cornucopias and pasted on the pictures. Where were the silk tops to come from? Trunks of old things were turned out and snippings of silk and even woolen of bright colors were found to close the tops, and some of the young people twisted sewing silk into cords with which to draw the bags up. The beauty of those home-made things astonished us all, for they looked quite “custom-made,” but when the “sure enough house” was revealed to our longing gaze the young people clapped their approbation, while Robert, whose sense of dignity did not permit him to smile, stood the impersonation of successful artist and bowed his thanks for our approval. Then the coveted eggnog was passed around in tiny glass cups and pronounced good. Crisp home-made ginger snaps and snowy lady cake completed the refreshments of Christmas Eve. The children allowed to sit up and be noisy in their way as an indulgence took a sip of eggnog out of my cup, and the eldest boy confided to his father: “Now I just know this is Christmas.” In most of the houses in Richmond these same scenes were enacted, certainly in every one of the homes of the managers of the Episcopalian Orphanage. A bowl of eggnog was sent to the servants, and a part of everything they coveted of the dainties.

At last quiet settled on the household and the older members of the family began to stuff stockings with molasses candy, red apples, an orange, small whips plaited by the family with high-colored crackers, worsted reins knitted at home, paper dolls, teetotums made of large horn bottoms and a match which could spin indefinitely, balls of worsted rags wound hard and covered with old kid gloves, a pair of pretty woolen gloves for each, either cut of cloth and embroidered on the back or knitted by some deft hand out of home-spun wool. For the President there were a pair of chamois-skin riding gauntlets exquisitely embroidered on the back with his monogram in red and white silk, made, as the giver wrote, under the guns of Fortress Monroe late at night for fear of discovery. There was a hemstitched linen handkerchief, with a little sketch in indelible ink in one corner; the children had written him little letters, their grandmother having held their hands, the burthen of which compositions was how they loved their dear father. For one of the inmates of the home, who was greatly loved but whose irritable temper was his prominent failing, there was a pretty cravat, the ends of which were embroidered, as was the fashion of the day. The pattern chosen was simple and on it was pinned a card with the word “amiable” to complete the sentence. One of the [missing] received a present of an illuminated copy of Solomon’s proverbs found in the same old store from which the pictures came. He studied it for some time and announced: “I have changed my opinion of Solomon, he uttered such unnecessary platitudes — now why should he have said ‘The foolishness of a fool is his folly’?”

On Christmas morning the children awoke early and came in to see their toys. They were followed by the negro women, who one after another “caught” us by wishing us a merry Christmas before we could say it to them, which gave them a right to a gift. Of course, there was a present for everyone, small though it might be, and one who had been born and brought up at our plantation was vocal in her admiration of a gay handkerchief. As she left the room she ejaculated: “Lord knows mistress knows our insides; she jest got the very thing I wanted.”

Mrs. Davis’ Strange Presents

For me there were six cakes of delicious soap, made from the grease of ham boiled for a family at Farmville, a skein of exquisitely fine gray linen thread spun at home, a pincushion of some plain brown cotton material made by some poor woman and stuffed with wool from her pet sheep, and a little baby hat plaited by the orphans and presented by the industrious little pair who sewed the straw together. They pushed each other silently to speak, and at last mutely offered the hat, and considered the kiss they gave the sleeping little one ample reward for the industry and far above the fruit with which they were laden. Another present was a fine, delicate little baby frock without an inch of lace or embroidery upon it, but the delicate fabric was set with fairy stitches by the dear invalid neighbor who made it, and it was very precious in my eyes. There were also a few of Swinburne’s best songs bound in wall-paper and a chamois needlebook left for me by young Mr. P., now succeeded to his title in England. In it was a Brobdingnagian thimble “for my own finger, you know,” said the handsome, cheerful young fellow. After breakfast, at which all the family, great and small, were present, came the walk to St. Paul’s Church. We did not use our carriage on Christmas or, if possible to avoid it, on Sunday. The saintly Dr. Minnegerode preached a sermon on Christian love, the introit was sung by a beautiful young society woman and the angels might have joyfully listened. Our chef did wonders with the turkey and roast beef, and drove the children quite out of their propriety by a spun sugar hen, life-size, on a nest full of blanc mange eggs. The mince pie and plum pudding made them feel, as one of the gentlemen laughingly remarked, “like their jackets were buttoned,” a strong description of repletion which I have never forgotten. They waited with great impatience and evident dyspeptic symptoms for the crowning amusement of the day, “the children’s tree.” My eldest boy, a chubby little fellow of seven, came to me several times to whisper: “Do you think I ought to give the orphans my I.D. studs?” When told no, he beamed with the delight of an approving conscience. All throughout the afternoon first one little head and then another popped in at the door to ask: “Isn’t it 8 o’clock yet?,” burning with impatience to see the “children’s tree.”

David Helped Santa Claus

When at last we reached the basement of St. Paul’s Church the tree burst upon their view like the realization of Aladdin’s subterranean orchard, and they were awed by its grandeur.

The orphans sat mute with astonishment until the opening hymn and prayer and the last amen had been said, and then they at a signal warily and slowly gathered around the tree to receive from a lovely young girl their allotted present. The different gradations from joy to ecstasy which illuminated their faces was “worth two years of peaceful life” to see. The President became so enthusiastic that he undertook to help in the distribution, but worked such wild confusion giving everything asked for into their outstretched hands, that we called a halt, so he contented himself with unwinding one or two tots from a network of strung popcorn in which they had become entangled and taking off all apples he could when unobserved, and presenting them to the smaller children. When at last the house was given to the “honor girl” she moved her lips without emitting a sound, but held it close to her breast and went off in a corner to look and be glad without witnesses.

When the lights were fled, the garlands dead, and all but we departed” we also went home to find that Gen. Lee had called in our absence, and many other people. Gen. Lee had left word that he had received a barrel of sweet potatoes for us, which had been sent to him by mistake. He did not discover the mistake until he had taken his share (a dishful) and given the rest to the soldiers! We wished it had been much more for them and him.

Officers in a Starvation Dance

The night closed with a “starvation” party, where there were no refreshments, at a neighboring house. The rooms lighted as well as practicable, some one willing to play dance music on the piano and plenty of young men and girls comprised the entertainment. Sam Weller’s soiry [sic, soiree refers to a party or reception held in the evening], consisting of boiled mutton and capers, would have been a royal feast in the Confederacy. The officers, who rode into town with their long cavalry boots pulled well up over their knees, but splashed up their waists, put up their horses and rushed to the places where their dress uniform suits had been left for safekeeping. They very soon emerged, however, in full toggery and entered into the pleasures of their dance with the bright-eyed girls, who many of them were fragile as fairies, but worked like peasants for their home and country. These young people are gray-haired now, but the lessons of self-denial, industry and frugality in which they became past mistresses then, have made of them the most dignified, self-reliant and tender women I have ever known — all honor to them.

So, in the interchange of the courtesies and charities of life, to which we could not add its comforts and pleasures, passed the last Christmas in the Confederate mansion.

(Courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Private Samuel A Hughey Camp 1452/ Military Order of the Stars and Bars, Jefferson Davis Chapter, Volume 66, Issue No. 12, Dec. 2020 ed.)

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas – Victorian Style

With Christmas less than a week away, I wanted to share some interesting history about the holiday and Victorian traditions. I hope you enjoy!

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Image by Winslow Homer entitled “The Christmas-Tree.” Harper’s Weekly, December 25, 1858.

The tradition of decorating a Christmas tree for the delight and amusement of young and old dates back to 16th century Germany. Still, many of us find ourselves asking, “How should I trim my tree this year?” or “How should I decorate my home for the holidays?” I thought it might be fun to share some of the ways our Victorians friends decorated their Christmas trees and homes. Who knows? Maybe some of us will decide to have a Victorian Christmas theme this year.


“The first Christmas tree was introduced into England in the early 19th century. In 1841, the German Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, decorated a large Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, reminiscent of his childhood celebrations in Germany (the Christmas tree had been a deep-rooted German tradition since the 18th century).

Soon after, it became a Victorian Christmas tradition in England to set up a large tree at Christmas and decorate it with lighted candles, candies, and fancy cakes hung from the branches by ribbon and by paper chains.

Sophia Orne (Edwards) Johnson (1826-1899) better known as “Daisy Eyebright”, was an American author. She wrote for many periodicals of her day and began a journal entitled “Daisy Eyebright’s Journal” for the Country Gentleman. In athe 1870’s Christmas issue, “Daisy Eyebright” explains how to set the Christmas tree up. According to Daisy,

“If you can obtain the tree from some pine woods near at hand, select a finely shaped fir balsam or spruce, with firm branches, and about nine or ten feet in height. Then spread a large sheet over one end of the parlor carpet, and put a good-sized tea chest in the center of it.

The lower limbs of the tree must be sawn off so that it can be firmly fixed into the box; and any small heavy articles, like weights and flatirons, can be put in for ballast, to keep the tree firmly in place. Then fill up the box with hard coal. The chest must be concealed with some pretty material; old curtains will answer the purpose, or the American flag; and a white furry robe is also suitable. Drape these articles close to the tree, and let them trail a little on the floor, to make a graceful sweep.”

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Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, & their family from the 1848 Illustrated London News. 

In 1847, Prince Albert wrote: “I must now seek in the children an echo of what Ernest (his brother) & I were in the old time, of what we felt & thought; & their delight in the Christmas-trees is not less than ours used to be.” He would decorate the trees himself with sweets, wax dolls, strings of almonds & raisins, & candles, which were lit on Christmas Eve for the distribution of presents, relit on Christmas Day, after which the tree was then moved to another room until Twelfth Night (January 6).

The Queen’s journal of 1850 describes the scene: ‘We all assembled & my beloved Albert first took me to my tree & table, covered by such numberless gifts, really too much, too magnificent.” “The 7 children were taken to their tree, jumping & shouting with joy over their toys & other presents; the Boys could think of nothing but the swords we had given them & Bertie of some of the armour, which however he complained, pinched him!” 

Holly, Ivy, and everyone’s favorite ~ Mistletoe! Used for decoration around the house.

“These common plants all produce winter berries and were held to be “magical” long before Victorian times. The holly berries were said to repel witchcraft and a berry-laden sprig would be carried into the Victorian house by a male and used to decorate the Christmas pudding.

Mistletoe had pagan origins and in Victorian times it was not allowed in churches. However, kissing under the mistletoe was popular in Victorian homes. After each chaste kiss a white berry had to be removed from the sprig until there were none left – and no more kisses were to be had.”

Sneaking up from behind ~ a common and often successful maneuver.

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The old “I say. Will you look at that. I’m under the Mistletoe. You’re under the Mistletoe. It’s fate.”

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Mistletoe “victim”

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And finally…not even sure Mistletoe is in this image. Don’t care. (Edit: I found it! Yes, indeed…Mistletoe has been located and is being used appropriately. Good for you, sir!)

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Daisy Eyebright” also explains how to properly decorate the Christmas tree up. According to Daisy,

“Now the tree is planted, and we must proceed to decorate it. Make chains of popped corn, strung together with needle and thread; at least a dozen yards will be none too much for a large-sized tree, and the pure white festoons entwined amid the dark green branches of the tree produce a fine effect.

“We must also have chains made either of glazed scarlet, gilt or silver; cut the paper into small strips, four inches long and not half an inch in width; fasten the two ends of each strip together with flour paste, and make half of them into rings; then take the rest and make into similar rings, but first slip each strip through two of the dried rings before joining the ends. In this manner all the slips of paper are interlaced, and we have a chain of rings which will greatly adorn our tree. They must be festooned in long, graceful loops from limb to limb, and the effect is very charming.”

 

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Flower And Fruit Festoon clip art​

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Of course there was plenty for the children to do. Their activities added to the entertainment of the long evenings during the Christmas season. The children assisted in covering English walnuts with tinfoil or gilt paper and in filling small apples with cloves. The latter served to keep moths from the drawers of bureaus. They also made inexpensive, but acceptable presents.

Originally published in The Cottage Hearth, December 1876

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(Article courtesy of Civil War Talk, December 17, 2020 ed.)

Excerpt From A Rebel Among Us

In the spirit of Christmas, I would like to share with you an excerpt from my novel, A Rebel Among Us. In this scene, the protagonist, David Summers, finds himself in an awkward predicament, and does his best to fake his way through it. This book is the recipient of the prestigious John Esten Cooke Fiction Award. I hope you enjoy this sample of A Rebel Among Us.

The dogs barked outside. 

“Oh, they’re here!” Anna hurried out of the kitchen. 

The young men followed. 

David heard people being greeted at the front door. He stood back from the rest behind Patrick, mentally preparing himself for his performance. Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery exchanged compliments with Grace, Claudia, Sarah, and her nieces. A blonde girl with ringlets entered, followed by a Union soldier in uniform. David glared at him, repulsed by his appearance, but concealed his disgust. Anna hugged the soldier. 

“It’s been so long, Stephen,” she said. “How I’ve missed you.” 

David’s heart lurched. 

“And you, my dear.” Stephen stepped back, removing his kepi to expose a full head of thick blonde hair. “So much has happened since I last saw you. How have you been? How is your health?” 

“Fine. Everything’s fine.” 

“Since your father passed, my thoughts have been with you constantly,” he said. Surprisingly, he laughed. “I remember him telling me, when you and I were both in our youth, how I should be the one to marry you once we were grown.” 

“I know, Stephen. He told me many a-time as well. But now we know better. Things have changed significantly since Father passed.” She requested their coats. Turning her back to him, she threw a glare at David, who read the sarcasm in her countenance. 

The soldier approached Patrick and shook his hand. Approaching David, he asked, “Anna, who do we have here?” 

The girl with the pipe curls who had entered with Stephen drew closer to David, making him somewhat uncomfortable. 

“This is my second cousin, David Summers, from New York,” Anna responded cheerfully. 

“From New York,” the soldier repeated. Smiling, he extended his hand. 

David hesitated but forced himself to take it. 

“Splendid to meet you, sir. I’m Stephen Montgomery.” 

“And I’m his younger sister, Mary,” said the girl with the ringlets. Pushing past her brother, she drew so close to David that he felt compelled to step back. “Hello, Mr. Summers,” she said, extending her hand. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.” Batting her lashes, her blue eyes sparkled. 

“Miss.” He cordially took her hand and kissed the back of it. 

She giggled. “Why, Anna, you never told us you had a cousin in New York.” 

Her demeanor reminded David of Callie. 

“Yes, well, we haven’t seen each other since we were very young,” Anna replied. She flashed a questioning look at David. 

Patrick saw and snickered. 

“And these are our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery,” Anna introduced. 

“David Summers,” Mr. Montgomery said as they shook. “Are you related to the Summers of Lancaster?” 

“No, Father,” said Mrs. Montgomery, allowing David to kiss the back of her hand. “He’s from New York.” 

“Oh.” Mr. Montgomery scratched his gray-streaked beard. “What do you do for a living, young man?” 

David glanced at Sarah, who smiled reassuringly at him. “I’m—a farmer,” he said, remembering to accentuate his R’s. 

“And what do you farm, sir?” asked Stephen. 

“Crops, mostly,” he stated. 

The gathering chuckled. Stephen frowned. 

“David, may I see you for a moment?” Anna requested. 

He excused himself and heard Sarah suggest they all take a seat while he followed Anna into the kitchen. Once he had entered, he breathed a sigh of relief. 

“Try not to act so nervous,” she instructed in a hushed tone and handed him a plate of hors d’oeuvres. 

He sighed again to summon his courage before following her back into the parlor. 

Claudia and Abigail began their performance. They started by playing “There’s a Song in the Air.” 

David set the plate on the marble-topped parlor table and looked up to see Patrick grinning at him. 

Stephen stood and strode over to him. “So, Mr. Summers, are you here for the holiday?” he pried, smiling. He had a warm, friendly way about him. David wondered if Anna had misread his intentions. 

“For the duration,” he responded. 

Stephen’s brown eyes grew concerned. “The duration of what?” 

“The war,” Anna told him. “He’s here to oversee the farm for Uncle Bill until he returns home.” 

Stephen’s expression darkened. David realized Anna hadn’t misread him after all. “Oversee? What does that mean?” 

Patrick moved closer to the little gathering. 

“It means he’s in charge of operations, and he will probably inherit the farm,” Anna said with conviction. 

Stephen glared at David. “Oh,” he said cheerfully, his demeanor transparent. “Why haven’t you enlisted, Mr. Summers?” 

David glanced at Patrick. “I paid my three-hundred-dollar computation fee,” he lied. 

“You’re not one of those bounty jumpers, are you?” Stephen leered. 

David scoffed at the notion. He remembered being told about bounty jumpers by his messmates. Some men in the North joined up to receive a cash bounty, promptly deserted, and joined up again in order to obtain another bounty. 

Mary, who had been standing close by, asked, “Where on earth did you get three hundred dollars?” 

“It’s an inheritance,” said Anna. “Let’s sing carols.” She took Mary by the arm and directed her toward the box piano. 

“Who died?” Stephen inquired. His eyes narrowed as he stared at David. 

“His father,” Patrick interjected. 

“Oh.” Stephen frowned. “Would that be the cousin of Anna’s father or mother?” 

David couldn’t remember the drill. He looked at Patrick for support, but the Irishman only shrugged. 

“Uh, her mother,” David replied. 

Trying to mask his uneasiness, he walked across the room, nervously sat down, and wondered if he would be discovered after all. He stared at the floor, listening to Abigail play “We Three Kings from Orient Are.” Struggling to regain his composure, he thought another swig of whiskey might do him good. He glanced around, noticing how the ornaments on the tree sparkled. The firelight and candles resplendently flickered and reflected off them. Everyone was dressed in beautiful clothing, except for him. Instead, he wore Anna’s deceased father’s suit, which was barely long enough. Realizing his inadequacy, he grew even more self-conscious, so he crossed his arms and legs. 

The little girls took turns playing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel,” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” Deciding to take a break, they headed straight for the plates of gingerbread and sugar cookies, meringues, rock candy, and chocolate creams. Patrick motioned to him, so David quickly followed him into the kitchen. To his relief, Patrick uncorked the whiskey bottle. 

“How am I doin’ so far?” he asked. 

Patrick handed him the bottle. “Here, take another nip.” He chuckled at his friend’s worried expression. 

David took a long pull from the bottle and handed it back. 

“Here’s to your nerves,” Patrick said with a laugh and swigged from the bottle. 

Stephen soon appeared in the kitchen and took the opportunity to interrogate further, making David feel like a mouse being stalked by a cat. 

“Where did you say you’re from, Mr. Summers?” he inquired with a smirk. 

“Ala—er, Albany,” he replied, nearly choking on his mistake. 

“What county is that?” Stephen asked. 

Mary and Anna entered the room. 

“Um, it’s in New York,” he responded, glaring at Anna in panic. 

“Have you seen the armory?” asked Stephen. 

David shook his head. 

“The Quakenbush House? How about the Hudson River itself?” 

David shook his head again. “I don’t get off the farm much.” He shrugged. 

Patrick cleared his throat. “Tell us, dear Stephen, how ye managed to evade the fightin’ yourself.” 

He smiled at Stephen, but David could sense deep-seated resentment between the two of them. 

“I was injured at First Bull Run,” Stephen said. He ran his hand through his thick blonde hair. 

“Injured, ye say?” Patrick pressed. “And where might that be?” 

“Right here.” Stephen extended his left hand to show a mangled little finger. 

David stifled a laugh. “Pshaw,” he said. “Is that it?” 

Mary drew closer to her brother. “Stephen has friends in Washington who decided he was eligible for a promotion. He is now a sergeant-major.” 

She smiled proudly at her brother, who flashed a grin at her before he turned his gaze to Anna. 

David noticed the three chevrons with three rockers on his sleeve, the insignia of a sergeant-major. They were blue, which told him Stephen had served in the infantry. “You got promoted all the way up to sergeant-major for a crushed finger?” he asked in awe. 

“Yes, that’s right,” Stephen fired back. 

David snorted. “A promotion for an injured finger from First Mannass—uh, the Great Skedaddle,” he corrected himself and remarked, “If that don’t beat all.” 

“At least I’ve seen the fighting. Unlike you.” Stephen glared at him with indignation. 

David felt his anger rising. Clenching his teeth, he glowered back scornfully. 

Sarah came into the kitchen. Immediately noticing the two young soldiers glaring at each other, she gasped and glanced at Anna, who appeared stunned. 

“Please come into the parlor for singing and lively interview,” Sarah said, attempting to diffuse the situation. Stepping toward David, she quickly took his arm. 

“Bully for Grant,” Mr. Montgomery bellowed from the parlor. “Bully for Sherman too!” 

“Don’t lose your temper, dear,” Sarah whispered and escorted him into the parlor. 

They entered the candlelit room. Expelling a sigh, he sat down on a green velvet chair beside Stephen’s father, who vigorously puffed on a fat cigar. 

“He’s a humbug, I say,” Mr. Montgomery exclaimed, speaking to his wife and Grace. 

“Who’s a humbug, Papa?” Mary inquired, sitting in a chair on the other side of her father. 

“Jefferson Davis, that’s who!” 

David scowled, his ire rising. Biting his lower lip to contain it, he glanced over the gathering. He felt so out of place he thought he might burst. This was becoming far more than he could bear. 

“That man is a tyrant,” Mr. Montgomery continued. “When this war is over, I’ll be the first in line to see him hang.” 

David stared at the Oriental rug on the floor. Unable to sit there any longer and listen to Mr. Montgomery’s rhetoric dishonoring the South’s beloved president, he abruptly stood, walked out of the parlor, and went outside onto the front porch. 

Patrick followed. “Now, David, don’t be gettin’ your Irish up.” He grinned, handing him the bottle. 

He took a few swigs. 

Patrick jokingly remarked, “Best be slowin’ down a bit, lad.” 

“Do you think they’d notice if we left?” David’s head started to spin. 

Patrick snickered. “Aye. Sure’n you know our Anna needs us here. The party will be over soon enough.” He pulled out his pipe, so David obligingly handed him the pouch of tobacco he’d shoved into his pocket in preparation for his friend’s arrival. Patrick took a deep puff and said, “‘Tis nearly a full moon.” 

Stephen emerged from the house. “Chilly evening, isn’t it?” His charming smile had returned. David felt like he was in the company of an alligator, calm and docile on the outside, but ready to strike and devour at a moment’s notice. 

“Indeed,” Patrick replied. 

“Mind if I have some of that?” Stephen pulled a pipe from his coat pocket. 

David glanced over at him. He noticed the buttons, the piping, the blue fabric, and the embroidery on his sleeves that reminded him of all the Yankees he’d seen on the battlefields. He looked away. Patrick handed the pouch to Stephen, who filled the bowl of his pipe. He lit it and puffed. 

“This is very good,” he stated, inhaling again. 

“‘Tis David’s,” Patrick blurted. 

Stephen smiled. “Hmm. Where did you get this? It tastes like Southern tobacco.” 

David shuddered. He was glad the darkness concealed his reaction. “A friend of mine,” he responded, unable to say any more. 

Maggie came to the front door and called them back in. They followed her into the parlor, where the discussion was still taking place. Mr. Montgomery immediately drew Patrick and Stephen into the conversation. He expressed his feelings on how he disagreed with the Copperheads, who were willing to accept the South back into the Union under a negotiation with concession, and how he agreed more with the Radical Republicans, who were in favor of total surrender and victory followed by severe punishment. He then proceeded to complain about how the confounded War Department had been purchasing shoddy uniforms for the grand army of the United States. 

“They ought to be ashamed,” he said, finishing his rant. 

According to Sarah, The Sanitary Commission was doing an excellent job improving conditions for the soldiers in battle. Mrs. Montgomery agreed, noting the book she’d recently read, titled Hospital Sketches. It was written by a nurse named Louisa May Alcott, who was assisting the Union army. 

The topic drifted to paintings of Whistler and Monet, how men were now able to measure the speed of light, and the oil wells in Titusville and Oil Creek. Mr. Montgomery brought up Darwin’s theory of evolution, which David had discussed numerous times around the campsite with his fellow cavaliers. He sat back and listened silently while the others exchanged conjectures. Most of the discussion concerned things he knew very little about. Mr. Montgomery invited his opinion, but he declined, afraid of revealing himself. 

The little girls resumed their repertoire of carols during all of this, entertaining their audience with “Joy to the World,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.” 

Anna turned to David. “My cousin here has a very lovely singing voice,” she said. “David, why don’t you sing something for us?” 

Mortified, David gawked at her in disbelief. “Uh, what would you have me sing, cousin?” he asked, embarrassed he was now being put on display after all. 

She smiled. 

He rebounded by suggesting, “How about ‘Silent Night’? Do you girls know how to play that song?” 

Claudia nodded, turned toward the piano, and played an introduction. 

Drawing a deep sigh, David began singing. He barely glanced at his audience. As he sang, his baritone voice grew stronger and more confident, and soared to a high note before he finished the first verse. Deciding that was more than enough, he stopped. Everyone applauded. 

“Bravo,” Mr. Montgomery bellowed. 

David grinned, feeling his face flush as he sat back down. He glanced at Anna, who beamed at him. 

Not to be outdone, Stephen announced, “I brought each of you girls a gift.” 

Abigail clapped her hands with delight. He withdrew several packages from under the tree. 

“Abigail, this is for you. Claudia.” He handed them each a package. “Maggie, here you are,” he said. 

Maggie smiled and took the present he handed to her. 

“And this, darling Anna, is for you.” He gave her a small box wrapped with a bright red bow. 

She smiled at him. “Why, thank you, Stephen,” she replied. 

David glowered. Stephen’s display of affection repulsed him. 

Tearing into her package, Abigail exclaimed, “It’s a stereograph!” She positioned one of the thick cardboard photographs in front of the lens and held it to her face. 

“I have one too,” squealed Claudia.  

They exchanged pictures. 

David glanced at Patrick, who rolled his eyes. “‘Tis all for show,” he whispered loudly.  

Mrs. Montgomery glared at him. 

Maggie opened her gift. “Oh, it’s a journal. I’ll so enjoy writing in this.” She glanced at David, who raised an eyebrow at her. He wondered if he would be her topic. 

Anna opened her gift. She stared into the little box cupped in her hand. “Stephen, I don’t know what to say,” she said quietly. 

“It was my grandmother’s,” he explained. Walking over to her, he pulled a dainty gold necklace from the box and placed it around her neck. 

David watched silently, his blood reaching its boiling point. He forced himself to remain silent and tightly clutched onto the arms of the chair to help him contain his anger. Anna’s actions confused him. After describing Stephen’s story, why was she being so receptive to him? David hoped she was putting on a performance for the Montgomery’s, but he wished she would turn her attention to him, instead, and repel Stephen’s revolting advances. 

“I have something for you as well,” Anna told Stephen. She knelt beneath the tree, pulled a package out from under it, stood, and handed it to him. 

He grinned and glanced around at the spectators before opening it. Staring at the contents, he hesitated for a moment before bursting into laughter. “Oh, darling, how did you know?” He pulled the contents from the box, revealing a pair of trousers. Holding them up, everyone took notice of how large they were. “I must admit,” he said, “I have put on some weight.” 

David and Patrick looked at each other and grinned, recalling how Anna had told them Stephen had gotten too big for his britches. She had obviously taken it upon herself to make him a bigger pair. 

“By the way, Mrs. Andrews,” Stephen said as he placed his gift on the sofa cushion, “my condolences on the loss of your cousin.” 

Sarah glanced at Grace before looking back at Stephen. “Why, whatever are you talking about? I didn’t lose a cousin,” she replied. 

David’s eyes grew wide. 

Stephen turned to glare at him. “I thought you said it was Anna’s mother who you were related to.” He reached down toward his sidearm, the formidable revelation impending. 

Anna hurried over to stand in front of David. “Is that what he told you?” She forced a laugh. “Well, it’s as I explained, Stephen. We haven’t seen each other since we were children, and I’m sure he’s forgotten, that’s all.” 

“Why, yes,” Sarah said, coming to the aid of her niece. “He’s just confused. After all, he’s been through so much lately, what with the loss of his father, the journey here, and all the responsibility that has been placed upon him.” 

David glanced at Patrick, who wore an amused grin on his face. 

“The poor thing,” said Mrs. Montgomery. “How terrible it must be for you.” 

“Yes, um, ma’am,” David responded.  

Stephen was still staring at him. To his relief, he had moved his hand away from his holster. 

Anna glanced down at David. She noticed his stark white face. “My dear cousin is still reeling from grief.” 

“Well, we should be leaving, my dears,” Mr. Montgomery said as he gazed up at the mantle clock. “It is nearly eleven, and we must all be tucked in before midnight!” 

He pulled himself up. The Montgomery’s followed his lead and made their way toward the front door. Stephen glared at David. He turned toward Anna and took her hands in his. 

“Thank you, my love, for the gift, and for this enchanting evening.” 

“You’re welcome, Stephen,” she replied, gently withdrawing her hands from his. 

“Gentlemen,” Stephen said to Patrick and David, donning his kepi. “I hope to see you again in the next few days before I return to Washington.” 

“Stephen,” Patrick acknowledged, puffing merrily on his pipe. 

The ladies escorted their guests outside. 

“It has been so wonderful to see you again, my dear,” Stephen said to Anna. “This reminds me of when we were children, and our families spent the holidays together. I know I’ve been away recently, but I hope we can resume our close relationship once again.” 

“Yes, Stephen,” she said. “We’ll reunite soon.” 

David glanced outside to see Stephen climb aboard the Montgomery’s sleigh. Finally, the sound of chinking bells drifted off into the distance. He breathed a deep sigh of relief. 

Patrick chuckled. “Well, ye did fine under the circumstances, lad.” He patted David on the back. 

“I reckon I’ll retire,” David weakly stated. Two traumatic Christmas Eves in a row had left him exhausted. He bid everyone goodnight and started toward the stairs. 

“You two had better get to bed as well,” Grace told Claudia and Abigail, “or you won’t be asleep by the time Santa arrives.” 

The girls smiled widely at each other. They rushed past David and bounded up the stairs as fast as their little legs could carry them. Once upstairs, he heard them scurry around inside their room. Soon, they appeared at his door with a book. 

“Will you read to us?” Abigail asked. 

“Of course, I will,” he replied with a smile. 

He finished lighting his fireplace, led them back to their room, and tucked them in. Sitting on the edge of Abigail’s bed, he read the cover. 

A Visit from Santa Claus.” He opened the book and read, “‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirrin’, not even a mouse.” Glancing at the girls, their eyes large and full of wonder, he continued reading until he reached the end of the poem. “…But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight. The end.” Closing the book, he stood and set it on the dresser. “Goodnight, girls.” He turned down the lamp. 

“Goodnight, David,” Claudia responded. 

“Goodnight, cousin.” Abigail giggled. 

He closed the door and turned. Startled to see Anna standing in the hallway, he nearly jumped. 

“That was lovely,” she said, smiling. 

He grinned. 

“You’d better go to bed now too, if you want a visit from Santa Claus.” 

David chuckled. They stood there, smiling at each other, neither one knowing what to say next. 

“Well, goodnight.” She started toward the staircase, but turned back to face him. “By the way, you were wonderful tonight. Stephen doesn’t suspect a thing.” She softly snickered and descended the steps. 

His head began to spin from the whiskey taking hold. He went into his bedroom and closed the door. Dropping down onto the bed without bothering to remove his boots, he fell asleep within seconds. 

Guest Post by Lauren Bracy

Here is another guest post that I think you might be interested in. My husband and I are in the process of flipping houses, so we are very interested in home improvement projects. I hope you enjoy!

What are the types of concrete services offered by concrete contractors? 

Achieving perfection in concrete work is not an easy job, and it requires precision, accuracy, knowledge, and skills. Moreover, perfect concrete work ensures strong construction work. A good concrete service is an amalgamation of materials and tools, and you should prepare the concrete with right amounts of cement, water, sand, gravel and adhesive. It is better to hire professional concrete services in this regard. They offer a wide range of services including concrete slab installation, pathway and driveway installation, flooring, and lots more. They can install a polished concrete floor in your property to save your maintenance cost. Even, they can add a layer of epoxy on your commercial floor to make it chemical-resistant. 

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Types of concrete services: 

However, there are different types of concrete services available, and you must choose the right one according to your requirements. Here, you can find some concrete services

Residential concrete services: Contractors offer various residential services including foundation repairs, cultured stone or concrete paving, brickwork, and others. You can even install a concrete shed in your property that can last longer, and you can make your garage or pet house with concrete slabs. Apart from that, you can connect your patio with the main entrance with a concrete pathway. Concrete pavers are the most durable solutions for the homeowners, which require less maintenance cost. 

You can also hire concrete services for decorating purpose and installing polished concrete floor and decorative concrete pavers in your property. These pavers are available in various colours, and you can create a special area in your garden with these pavers. Concrete services can also install cultured stones in your pavement. Cultured stones are man-made stones, available in different shapes, colours, and sizes. Concrete services can also install such stones in the sidewalks, patios, and walls. Apart from that, they offer repair services, and if you find any crack on your walls or ceiling, then you can hire them to fix it.  

Commercial concrete services: There are various services offered by commercial concrete contractors, such as building foundations, retaining walls and sidewalks. Apart from that, they can also work on public-property, and they can provide road construction, concrete removal, and asphalt maintenance services. Even, you can hire such contractors for your landscape, and you can renovate your lawn by using some concrete blocks and retaining walls. These concrete blocks can withstand the soil pressure, and they can keep your lawn neat and clean. 

You can install some decorative stones like marble granite or limestone in your commercial floor. But you cannot install such stones without preparing their base, and you need to hire a reliable concrete contractor in this regard.

Services offered by concrete contractors: 

Professional contractors can provide various concrete services including corning, cutting, and forming of concrete, and they can work on heavy commercial and industrial projects. Most of the contractors offer the following services: 

  • Concrete removal and replacement 
  • Maintenance of concrete foundation and structures 
  • Installation of structural foundations, grade beams, poured walls and concrete slabs 
  • Concrete paving for open areas, like streets, sidewalks, and landscape areas 
  • Retaining wall construction 
  • Paving services including base paving, asphalt paving and stone paving 
  • Floor and ceiling installation 
  • Foundation work for commercial and residential building 

You can get all the information about such service providers online and choose the best concrete services for your project. Make sure you must check their license, certifications, reviews, and insurance before you hire. They have different specializations, and you must choose them according to their portfolio. You can ask for the quote from different concrete contractors and compare their prices to choose an affordable one. 

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