In light of all the terrific Christmas-flavored postings lately, I've been prompted to share an excerpt from my historical novel "The Lockwoods of Clonakilty," a scene based on a little adventure my own family had a few years previous.
To set the stage: James Lockwood, an Irish officer in the British army's Inniskilling Regiment, is returned to Clonakilty to recover from his Waterloo wound. His children are home from school, to the delight of their massive old dog, Sergeant. Brigid, the lieutenant's wife, and Catherine Cashman, their beloved housekeeper, prepare the house for Christmas. The story goes ...
It was such joy to be together once again, and they all took delight in the approach of Christmas Day, though Brigid and the children forced themselves to wait until mid-December to erect the Nativity scene James had sent from France in 1814. The full array of animals and dramatis personæ took their carefully posed wooden posts, and on Christmas Eve the youngest of the family, the elfin Lucy, was tasked with reverently placing Christ in his manger. Shortly thereafter, however, she ran into the kitchen and cried, “Mama! Sergeant has taken baby Jesus!”
There followed general mayhem, pursuit, and exclamation, while Mrs. Cashman threw her apron over her head, crossed herself, and fell into a long string of Hail Marys, knowing they were all surely going to burn at the instigation of that galloping apostate of hell.
Sensing that her delicate frame did not qualify her for close combat with Satan’s imp, Lucy ran to the bottom of the stairs and called up to her father with a degree of panic in her voice, “Papa! Sergeant has Jesus in his mouth!”
She ran into the kitchen and cried, “Mama! Sergeant has taken baby Jesus!”
James, who now had only enough laudanum in his system to instill a moderate element of glee, still smiled madly and thought, “A Christmas miracle indeed… speaking in tongues, as it were… and God knows he has tongue and to spare… though that is certainly not an orthodox aspect of either the Anglican or Catholic rites... perhaps our Sergeant has become a raving Methodist.”
Sergeant broke free from his pursuers, thundered upstairs, and, with nails clicking on the hard wood floor he trotted into James’s room. The big old dog stood there wagging his thick tail, holding the somewhat slobbered but wholly content Christ child at a cocky angle in his capable jaws. James saw wild delight in those brown canine eyes, until Brigid and the children tackled Sergeant and recovered their Jesus. They were all sufficiently soaked in Christian truth to view the kidnapping of the Christ as a great sacrilege, while James lay in his bed wheezing laughter until tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Laugh away, James Lockwood,” said Brigid, looking beautiful in high colour and honest, righteous anger, “but I’ll not see the miracle of our salvation disparaged in this house by man or beast.” The strength of her Irish accent coloured her voice, and James fiercely loved her. Turning from her grinning husband, she addressed her grinning dog, holding up the Messiah and saying, “Sergeant Lockwood, if there is one tooth mark on baby Jesus — one! — I shall see you sleeping outside, cold rain or no, and as God as my witness I shall give the scraps from the Christmas roast to Twinkles McCarthy!”
James continued a childish, uncontrollable mirth, and thus it was only Sergeant, recognizing the name of the onerous little bitch from down the road, who assumed a posture of mournful regret.
Turning to her children, who all shared their mother’s abhorrence of even a hint of disrespect to the high veneration due Christmas, Brigid said, “Please take Sergeant downstairs and have him make peace with Mrs. Cashman, if ever she can find room in her heart to forgive him.” All five of the children took an iron grip on Sergeant’s collar, and in a knot of humanity they walked him down the stairs, the shamed, vilified, and wholly downcast dog brought before the most Catholic Catherine Cashman for judgment.
Brigid scowled at her husband, and seeing that he was not to be swayed from his pagan mirth she gave him only a frustrated “humph” as she turned to join her children in the reclamation of what little soul Sergeant could field.
James coughed and wheezed for a bit as he drifted back toward sleep, his heart light and happy for the first time in a very long while. He listened to the wall clock steadily ticking time away, but it was soon drowned out by the sounds drifting up to him, the laughing voices of those he loved.
Happy Christmas, everyone. Enjoy yourselves, but pray, keep an eye on the dog. You know how they are.
-- The Bois Family