Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas on the farm, 1883

To everyone reading this, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

In Chapter 14 of Sentence of Marriage, we see one family's Christmas Day 126 years ago. For them it was not so very different from any other day of the year. There were cows to milk; cooking to do; children to tend. They went to church in the morning, and at lunchtime sat down to a hot dinner: roast lamb and vegetables, followed by plum pudding. Quite unsuitable for a New Zealand summer, of course, but a hot dinner on Christmas Day was a tradition brought from "Home".

Gifts were simple, and often homemade—Amy has given each of her menfolk a handkerchief embroidered with his initial. This year there's a houseguest: a young man from the city, who's been paying Amy a good deal of attention. She's unable to hide her disappointment when he appears to have no gift for her, but he persuades her to slip outside with him while the rest of the family is lingering over tea and cake.

Jimmy took hold of her hand, then reached into his pocket with his free hand and pulled out a small box. He placed it on Amy’s palm and closed her fingers around it. ‘How could you think I wouldn’t have a real present for you?’ he said, the slightest hint of reproach in his voice.
‘I… I’m sorry, I was silly and thoughtless.’
‘No, you weren’t. You’re never thoughtless. Aren’t you going to see what’s in it?’ He let go of her hand.
Amy lifted the lid of the box. Lying on a bed of white velvet was a gold brooch in the shape of a letter ‘A’. She touched it in disbelief, and looked up at Jimmy with wide eyes. ‘For me? It’s gold! I’ve never had anything gold before. Oh, it must have cost you a lot of money.’
Jimmy shrugged. ‘Father’s still paying my allowance into the bank while I’m down here. And I can’t think of anything I’d rather spend money on than making you happy. You like it?’
‘I love it!’ Her face dropped. ‘What’ll I tell Susannah about it, though?’
‘Don’t tell her anything. I’m afraid you won’t be able to show anyone—at least not for a while. Can’t you wear it somewhere no one will see it?’
Amy nodded. ‘I can wear it under my dress. I’ll wear it every day.’ She gave him a radiant smile.
‘Could you put it on now, just for a minute, so I can see it?’
‘Of course.’ She tried to fasten the brooch at the front of her collar, but it was awkward without a mirror. Her fingers fumbled with the catch.
‘Let me.’ Jimmy took the brooch and pinned it deftly, but when it was done instead of dropping his hands he slid them on to her shoulders. He leaned towards her till his face was only a few inches from hers and caressed her shoulders with his fingers. ‘Don’t I get a thank-you?’ he asked, looking into her uptilted face.
Amy opened her mouth, but before she could get any words out Jimmy’s mouth was on hers, and she gave a little mew of surprise. He raised his head and smiled down at her.
‘I’m afraid we’d better go back now,’ he said, letting his hands drop from her shoulders. ‘They’ll miss us soon. Happy Christmas, little one.’
‘It’s the best Christmas I’ve ever had.’ Amy took off the brooch, slipped her hand into his and walked back to the house at his side, clutching her brooch in a blissful dream.

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