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The Christmas Belle

The Christmas Belle

Bathed in the blue light of dawn, snow swirls and falls in thick flurries, making visibility nearly impossible. Like ghosts, the outlines of two figures materialize through the haze. Encrusted with ice and snow, their movement is measured.

His aged cobalt eyes recognize the snow-softened edges of a cabin ahead. Heavy laden boots quicken at the familiar sight. His companion also senses relief is near and bounds forward, barking her excitement.

 “Yes, girl, we’re almost there.”

 As he nears the sleeping cabin, the air shifts around him with a surreal feel. He stands at the mouth of the shack, stamping his feet and setting aside the fresh kill. Inside, his thick salmon-colored fingers protrude from the soggy wool of his mittens as he struggles to light the lamp.

 He looks down at the sound of her soft whimper. Her dark, rheumy eyes never failed to melt his heart. “I know, girl.” He pats her. “You’re cold and hungry.”

She rests a huge paw on his leg and nuzzles him with her massive head. The cream-colored Mastiff tilts her chin, acknowledging his concern. She licks her chops and lumbers away, eager to warm herself in front of the stone hearth.

The deep sound of his laughter reverberates through the frigid room. “Belle, my love, you’re as faithful as they come. God love ya.”

Thump, thump, thump, her tail moves in appreciation.

The old man plods toward the hearth and busies himself, giving the occasional grunt as he works. Soon, the cheery warmth from the fire spills across the worn wooden floor and absorbs the chill of the room. With this task complete, he peels his mittens and flexes his fingers.

“Hungry, old gal?”

Her brows rise as she tilts her face. With a quick snort, she lets him know her patience is waning.

“You’re tasting that rabbit out there, eh?”

She raises her head and whines.

“Of course, you’re famished. I could eat a bite myself. How’s about I get a snack to tide us over till that varmint is done? I don’t fancy eating that thing raw. Although I doubt you’d be none too picky, eh?”

Intelligent eyes follow him to the cabinet where he reaches inside to bring down a linen-covered basket. He removes a cold biscuit and waves it for her. “Ere ya up to it?”

Belle pulls her massive frame to a sitting position in answer. Her tail wags in expectancy. He throws the bread to her, and she snatches it from the air with a quick snap of her jaws. She swallows and looks to him for another.

His eyes twinkle with delight, and his shoulders shake with mirth. “Ah, you are good!” He tosses several more to her until the basket is empty. He holds back one for himself, nibbling it as he pulls carrots and various ingredients from the larder. Under his nimble fingers, small mountains of diced vegetables grow larger. He scoops them up in his beefy hands and deposits them into the pot. Next comes the rabbit—cleaned, prepared, and chopped. It, too, joins the myriad of components boiling in water.

“Ah, so much to finish.” His eyes fall to the wood shavings littering the floor. The latest project sits on his workbench, begging his attention. He gathers the emery cloth and hums an old lullaby his mama used to sing as he goes to work polishing the carving.


Hours pass without a sound but the occasional pop and sizzle of the logs. The stew roils inside the blackened kettle, permeating the room with a rich, hearty aroma. Belle raises her head, her body at attention. She meanders to the door, sniffs, and gives a small whine.

“What is it, girl? Are they here?”

He sets aside his work and is at the window in three steps. With his sleeve, he wipes the frosty glass and peers outside, a smile wreathing his face. Several large bucks have gathered. They paw the snow with their impressive hooves and press their noses to the ground in search of food.

“Not time yet, old friend. We still have much to do.” He gives her a wink. “First, we fill our bellies, eh?”

Returning to the cupboard, he secures two bowls and ladles stew into each. The steam rises and fills his nostrils. “Mustn’t burn your tongue.” He sets aside the dishes.

As he waits, he returns to the workbench. He removes the precious gifts he’s labored over, lifting each one and examining it with a critical eye. When they meet his approval, he adds them to a burlap sack and places them by the door.

The loud tick of the clock marks the seconds. Surely, the stew has cooled. He places a bowl beside Belle. She laps up the meal with fervor and pushes the near-empty dish around the floor with her nose. He stands watching her with adoration before turning to his own.

The wood squeaks as he settles his burly frame into the rocker and offers a quick prayer of thanks for the rabbit that has given its life. “Ah.” He sighs as Belle pads over to him and rests her chin on his knee. “You would have mine too?” He raises a bushy brow. “You are a heartless wench—shame on you.” He chuckles while he fishes a choice chunk of rabbit from the stew and presents it to her. This time, she takes a dainty nibble, her velvet lips barely brushing his fingers. She elicits another bite before lying down at his stocking-clad feet.

He polishes off his stew, enjoying every drop, and reaches for a tattered old book he keeps ready by his chair. Time has yellowed the pages, but the message is eternal. He absorbs the precious words, most of which he already knows by heart. He reads several passages, letting them sink in, before easing his considerable girth to the floor. His knees protest the abuse, but he dismisses the discomfort as he kneels and prays. “Father, I have not been a good man. I was foolish in my youth—not kind to man nor beast. You have said in your Word that who was forgiven much, there is much love, and I ask that you never take this spirit away from me. I thank you on this holiest of nights for your dear Son and for allowing me to give these simple gifts to the children. I ask that it bring a bit of joy to their hearts. At no time have you failed to gather the creatures of the fields to carry my sled and allow me to get down the mountain to the towns below. May all souls be reminded to give of themselves and keep the spirit of giving alive all year long. Amen.”

He rises and dons his warmest clothing—Belle’s gaze follows his every movement as he putters about the cabin, preparing for the trip. She is getting old and may not be able to accompany him many more years. Her body quivers with anticipation. She knows the routine as well as he, and she doesn’t want to be left behind.

He steps outside the door, his breath appearing in a huge puff. His heart never fails to quicken at the sight of the majestic creatures that assemble themselves at his crudely made sleigh. It is simple but sturdy. He busies himself with the harnesses, stroking each great beast, and speaks to them as old friends. They respond in kind.

A movement at the window catches his eye. Belle’s large head and paws fill the frame as she watches him. He smiles. As if I could ever leave her. With a final check to make certain all is secure he returns to the house. She waits at the door. Her tail wags, the excitment causing her body to sway along with it. She greets him as if he had been gone for ages and barks a deep welcome.

As he bustles around the cabin, making sure he has all he needs, her solid frame bumps into him, knocking him off balance several times. “All right, girl. I know you are anxious to be on our way. I’m excited too.” He pats his leg with his mitten-clad hand. “Come. It’s time.”

He hoists the sack of toys over his shoulder and together they tramp through the snow to the waiting sleigh. She doesn’t hesitate but takes her position beside her master, eager to be gone. She sits erect, her muscles trembling with anticipation. The moisture from her warm breath produces a misty haze as she barks her enthusiasm. Belle’s rough voice echoes through the night. They are on their way.

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