December 23, 1888
“Mama? Mama!” At the sound of the child’s voice, Ruth hurried down the gallery to the nursery room.
“What is it, Little Jake?” She breezed into the room, smiling and holding her index finger to her lips.
The toddler was just waking from his nap. Excitement about the party that was to happen later in the evening had kept him awake for half the previous night.
“Shush, love. You don’t want to wake Belle, do you?” Ruth whispered to her son and lifted him up to her hip.
“No,” Little Jake whispered loudly as Ruth whisked him out of the room.
“Let’s go downstairs and have a snack, shall we, love? I heard May say she baked some pralines.” She sniffed the air. “Mmm, do you smell them, lovie?”
The little boy answered with a big grin, and Ruth squeezed him to her.
Three years had gone by since she and Garrett had renewed their marriage vows, and each day she grew to love her husband more. Their son was three, and his baby sister was eighteen months old.
Everyone in Garrett and Ruth’s world had fallen into their own loves and lives. Tom Murphy and his wife, Suanne, always had a huge party at the saloon on Christmas Eve that everyone in town stopped in on. The night before Christmas Eve, though, everyone Garrett and Ruth loved and lived around would gather at their home for their annual celebration.
Ruth walked down the staircase from the gallery and turned into the new kitchen. It was made entirely of adobe with a large fireplace at each end and the big cast iron cookstove from the original kitchen. The room was separated from the main cabin by a short, covered walkway. Garrett had gotten the idea to build the new kitchen when May had regaled him with stories of the balconied homes in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The homes were built around rear courtyards that contained separate kitchens. It reduced heat in the house, but more importantly, the possibility of an accidental blaze was alleviated. If anything in the kitchen caught fire, it would never spread to the main house. Ruth had loved the idea, and so the former kitchen had been remodeled into a bedroom and small sitting room for May.
“Hello there, May. I have a gentleman here who is hungry for a praline.” Ruth smiled and sat Little Jake in a chair at the table.
“Well that is music to my ears, y’all.” May strolled over to the table with two pralines on a china plate and a cup of milk. She placed them in front of the little boy with a wink at Ruth. “Mama doesn’t want a praline? This is my Mama’s recipe. And I have some nice strong coffee. What do you say, Mama?”
Ruth giggled. “May, you make the best everything I think I’ve ever tasted. Lavina is a wonderful cook, but you by far are the best. I’m so happy you and Joe decided to stay here in Tucson instead of leaving us for your home town. At this stage of the game, I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t here.”
“Look, Miss Ruth. I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for you and the sheriff.” She lowered her voice and pointed her back to Little Jake. “I don’t know if I’d even be alive today if it weren’t for y’all. I told Joe. I said, Joe, these people saved my life. He knows everything. You gave me the courage to tell him about my life before I knew y’all.” She leaned forward and embraced Ruth who swiped a sweet tear away from her own face.
“Hello?” They heard Lavina’s voice from the main house..
“We’re here, Lavina. In the kitchen.”
Lavina came out and walked through the open kitchen door. “Hi, Little Jake.” She smiled at the boy who nodded while he munched his way through a gigantic cookie.
“We’re having coffee and pralines. Come join us. This is the calm before the storm.” Ruth sat at the table laughing.
Garrett and Jake were at the jailhouse getting ready to call it a day. The new second deputy, Shane, would hold things down for the next couple days, but Garrett wanted to finish up some paperwork having to do with a prisoner he and Jake would be taking up to Phoenix the following week.
“You go on ahead, Jake. Tell my wife I won’t be long.”
“If you say so. I don’t know why you won’t just leave that until the day after, kid.”
“The day after? Come now, Jake. You’re my mentor. What’s the first thing you ever taught me?”
“Oh, not that again.”
“Come on. You’re the one who told me never to put off until tomorrow what can be done today.”
“Yes, but it’s Christmas. Well, almost.”
“I know, but if this paperwork is done, then all we need to do is the transport on the twenty-seventh. We’ll be back by the morning of the thirty-first.”
“You do have a point there, kid. Alright. I’ll explain your tardiness to your wife. You’re a lucky man to have such an understanding woman. I love my Lavina to here and back, but she will not put up with certain things. Why, Ruth had to talk her into letting me go up to Phoenix. She said there wasn’t the possibility of me missing New Year’s Eve with her. And with the new baby on the way, she wants me close. The midwife says it will be any day now.”
“I know. I was thinking of taking Shane along and leaving you here.”
“If you think Shane has what it takes, I’d like nothing better, kid.”
“Alright then. Tell my wife I’ll be late and tell yours you won’t be going up to Phoenix. Sound good?”
“Sounds good.” Jake grinned and left the building. A moment later, Garrett heard the sound of Jake’s horse galloping across the dirt away from the jailhouse.
Shane was on his dinner break, but Garrett thought he could get his paperwork done so that he could go home once the deputy was back for the night. Before he hunkered down to get through it, he walked out of his little front office and to the jail cells behind it. His prisoner sat on the bunk, staring straight ahead. Garrett noticed the man’s lunch tray was untouched.
“Dinner’s going to be late tonight. You might want to eat that.”
The man said nothing. He kept looking straight ahead and spit.
“OK, suit yourself.” Garrett went back to his desk in the other room.
“Shane. You have everything you need for the night?”
“I do, sir.” The young man went to the little table in the corner that he used as a desk. He sat and stretched his long legs up to rest on the table. With his hands folded behind his head, he looked like he had put aside any demons he might have had about keeping a man in a cell so near to Christmas.
“You know, Shane. I’m sorry you can’t be at the party tonight with Mary. If we didn’t have a prisoner, you could have come. But, well, that’s the way it goes.”
The young man grinned. “I know it, Sheriff. I know I have to pay my dues. I told Mary, I said, Mary, someday when Sheriff Hughes is retired and I’m sheriff, then I won’t have to miss any more holidays.”
Garrett chuckled. “Well, I’d say that sounds like a good plan, Shane. Sounds like a good plan, indeed.” He put his head down and started to his work while Shane tipped his chair back and read up on the prisoner he’d be obliged to spend Christmas with.
Back at the house, the ladies, Lavina, Emma and Ruth were getting ready for the festivities with the help of Mary. Eileen was dressing Little Jake and Belle in the new matching outfits she’d sewn for them. Belle’s dress was made from the same fabric as Ruth’s, and Little Jake wore a shirt of the fabric with a vest and a tiny cowboy hat the exact replica of his daddy’s.
When May had dressed, she asked the others if anyone needed help. With the answer being a resounding no, she headed down to her domain, the kitchen, to begin putting things for the meal together. When Eileen and Mary were finished getting ready, they went downstairs to help May by setting the table and preparing the sideboard for the dishes that would soon be coming from the kitchen.
Lavina and Emma sat on the chaise in Ruth’s bedroom.
“Ruth, you look absolutely beautiful.” Emma smiled. “Doesn’t she, Lavina?”
“She sure does. Y’all both look like just the prettiest things.”
“We’re in good company, then Lavina, because you simply glow. Motherhood suits you.”
“Why thankee. And it suits you. Oh, to think our lives were completely different just three years ago. I mean, I know you had your little ones when you arrived here, Emma. But, I had just married Jake. And then, almost as soon as Ruth was settled in here, she and Garrett went back to New York to solve the mystery.”
“And poor Ruth was newly pregnant. The morning sickness was hitting her at all different times of the day.” Emma rolled her eyes. “It was awful for her.”
“It was the not realizing what was causing my sick spells that made it so awful. Once I knew, well the spells ceased, wouldn’t you know it?”
The women laughed, and a knock tapped on the doorframe of the half open door.
“Yes? Mary? Come in dear. What is it?”
“I’ve finished my work, Miss Ruth. May says she doesn’t need me anymore. Not until later when the dishes and pots get done.”
“Well, that’s wonderful. It gives you more time to enjoy the party with us.”
“That’s just it, Miss Ruth. I wondered if I might make a plate and take it over to the jailhouse. Shane is watching the prisoner tonight. He’s the newest lawman in town. I understand that he has to work. But it doesn’t mean he has to spend the holidays alone, now does it?”
“Not at all. You run along. Take whatever you like. And you may ride the horse in the stall next to Jenny if you like.”
“The black mare? The one with the white blaze on her forehead?”
“The very one.”
“Oh, thank you, Miss Ruth. Thank you so much. ”
“You’re welcome, Mary. The mare belongs to you.”
The girl blinked hard. “Excuse me? What did you say, Miss Ruth?”
“I said, the mare. She’s a gift. Your Christmas gift from the sheriff and me. You’re the one who runs the errands into town. Now you don’t have to struggle. And in the new year, if you find yourself with some time to ride in and eat lunch with Shane, well, I don’t think anyone would mind.”
The girl was across the room lickety split and threw her arms around Ruth’s neck. “Oh thank you, Miss Ruth. My goodness, that horse is about the most beautiful animal I’ve ever laid eyes on.”
“That’s not counting Shane, now is it?” Lavina asked, and the four women all laughed at her joke.
“I’ll be going now then, Miss.”
“Yes, and there’s a new saddle with a blanket. Timmy will show you where everything is.”
The girl curtsied and left the room.
“Now, I might as well get to you two.”
“What do you mean, Ruthie, dear?” Emma poured a glass of elderberry wine for each of them.
“I mean this.” She opened the wardrobe that held her evening dresses. From the bottom of it, she extracted two brown paper wrapped parcels. “Hmm, let’s see. This is for you, Emma. And Lavina, this is yours.”
“Ruthie! You shouldn’t have done this. You’re too generous. But since you want to do this now, hold on a minute.” Lavina ran from the room and was back in a flash with her own wrapped packages. “For you.” She turned to Emma, “And for you.”
“Alright, I suppose y’all have to wait another minute while I go to my room to get yours.”
“It seems that all of us are meeting Santa Claus a little early!” Ruth sat on the bed and Emma handed her a glass of wine. When they each had their gifts, they proceeded to open them, the three of them laughing and thoroughly enjoying the moment.
That night, after dinner, when everyone sat in the main cabin room of the house, Ruth snuggled against Garrett as they sat on the sofa. The Christmas tree graced a round table in the middle of the room, the candles on it cast shimmering shadows against the ceiling and walls.
Joe Murphy played the new pianoforte that Ruth had bought for Little Jake and Belle to learn, and the guests stood around in a semi-circle singing carols.
“Are you happy, my darling wife?”
“That’s a silly question, wouldn’t you say, Garrett? I’ve never been happier. The only thing missing …”
“I know. I know how you miss your mother and father. I would that I could have met them. I would that they could see how happy you are.”
“Oh, I have a feeling that wherever they are in Heaven they can see you and me. They can see us and our children. They see their legacy being carried on and it honors them. You know, sometimes it occurs to me that if things hadn’t happened as they did, I would not have the life I have now. And I can think of no better life than the one I currently live.” She gazed at her husband. “I love you so, Garrett. I’m blessed beyond belief to be able to share my life with you.”
“I’m the one who is blessed, Ruth darling. I didn’t know that life was so precious until you came into mine. And our little ones. It moves me to think that your parents can see us and how everything we do is in their honor.”
“Yes, and this Christmas they would be especially joyful.”
“Oh? And why is that?”
“Because we will pay homage to them again.”
“I’m confused. What do you mean, dear?”
“I mean, I have a special Christmas gift for you, my darling. And my mother and father would very much want me to tell you what it is even though it’s not actually Christmas yet. I’ve given everyone else their gifts.”
“I know.” Garrett laughed and looked around the room at the boxes and brown paper that littered the furniture and floor. “Alright. You know I’m a purist, but if you must give me my gift early, then so be it.” He sighed in mock dismay.
“Silly.” Ruth laughed and snuggled further into him resting her head on his shoulder.”
“Well, what darling?”
“What’s my present?”
“Oh that. Are you sure …”
Garrett silenced her with a sweet kiss. “Tell me, Mrs. Hughes. What’s my gift?”
Ruth lifted her head and met his eyes. “Well, I can tell you now, but you’ll have to wait a few months before you actually get it.”
“Is is something from that new catalogue from Sears and Roebuck?” He gasped. “Ruth, did you buy me that new straight razor I’ve been talking about?” His hand rubbed over his chin. “Oh that will give a close shave. How did you know? Jake told you, didn’t he?”
“Well, actually he did. But that’s not the present I wanted to tell you about.”
“So I haven’t ruined the surprise, Ruth darling?”
“No you haven’t because I have another present for you, dear.”
“You do? Well, do tell.”
“We’re going to be honoring my mother and father again.”
“That’s nice, but what does that have to do with …” Garrett gasped.
“Ruth? Is it? Are you?”
She nodded. “Yes dear. I have another little one on the way. In June we’ll welcome another result of the love we have for each other.”
“Ruth,” Garrett whispered. He held her close, and her tears began to flow.
“I love you, Garrett.”
“I love you, Ruth.”
Together they looked around the room at their guests who were singing Silent Night.