Building a Christmas
Colonel Nathaniel Walker has been ravaged by the Civil War nearly as much as his country has. Now he seeks the sanctuary of home, hoping to find solace from the dreams that haunt him most nights. Instead, he finds an orphanage for war orphans has sprung up next door. Now, his guilt has faces – fourteen of them. And the woman who cares for them. Melanie Treymont exhibits more courage under fire than any soldier he’s ever seen. Is she the one who can help him rebuild his life and finally put his demons to rest?
Melanie Treymont hopes to make amends for her dead husband’s actions by taking responsibility for fourteen war orphans. But facing eviction, she may have to give up her plans of building a life for them. Help comes from an unexpected source, as her neighbor, Colonel Nathaniel Walker, steps up to the challenge, despite fighting his own inner battles.
These two tortured souls unite for the children, working to build a life for them as well as themselves. They start by “Building a Christmas.”
The bodies flew past his head. Parts of organs lay strewn at his feet. The moans of the dying filled the air. An odd foot got up and walked past him, seeking its owner.
Colonel Nathaniel Walker awoke shaking, bathed in a fine, cold sweat.
If anyone had asked him, he would not have said he was an evil man, a bad man, or even an uncaring man. Yet he’d sent countless men, some so young they were nearly boys, to their deaths. Been responsible for even more.
It was what war did to you. It changed your very being.
Nathaniel wasn’t sure he had a soul anymore. What Antietam hadn’t taken of it, Gettysburg had. What he wanted to know was why God, in His perversity, had insisted on keeping him alive. He should have sent him to hell.
Maybe he already was there. Maybe this was a special kind of hell. One designed to torment him and only him.
He got up from his bed, shuffled to the window, looked out at the field behind the roadhouse. Twenty-eight years sat upon his shoulders with the weight of eighty-eight. Tomorrow, he would complete his journey and he would be home.
Why? He was useless now. Unable to think clearly. Unable to work. Unable to feel. Unable to do anything but see those whom he’d killed in one way or another. By bullet, bayonet, or order.
He splashed water long gone cold on his face, washing away the sweat and tears. The sun would come up soon. He could see the pink tinge on the edge of the sky.
Red sky at morning, sailor take warning. He wondered what kind of storm the day would bring, but decided it didn’t matter. It couldn’t possibly match the storm in his head.
He wouldn’t go back to bed. He would not sleep, wished he didn’t ever have to sleep again. If he didn’t sleep, he couldn’t dream. He put on his socks, ignoring the holes in them, and his boots, ignoring the holes in those, too, and, wrapping the thin blanket around his cold shoulders, sat in the chair and stared at the coming dawn.
And just sat.
Melanie Treymont rolled over, pulling the blanket up higher. It didn’t help. She was still freezing. Grumbling, she rubbed her feet together in a vain attempt to warm them. You’d think the landlord could have given her enough coal to last the night. It was the end of November, for God’s sake. Didn’t the man know it was cold outside? And inside.
Dawn was fighting its way past the horizon when she finally gave up the battle and rose to dress. At least her gown and boots would warm her a bit.
Downstairs, the roadhouse slowly came to life, the sounds of wood being brought in, the smell of cooking fires being lit drifting up to her room. Clanging pots told her cooks were beginning to make food, and . . . coffee? Oh God, was that coffee? Closing her eyes, she sighed and smiled in anticipation of a cup of blessedly hot coffee.
She stuffed her nightgown into her satchel and waited for what she hoped was a decent interval, then carried her bag down to the roadhouse’s main room. With any luck, she would have enough time to eat a breakfast and buy a cold lunch packet to eat on the road before having to board the coach. And drink a cup of coffee.
It would seem the other travelers spending the night at the roadhouse had the same idea she did. There was only one seat left in the main room. A lone man sat at a small table, the chair opposite him empty. Tall and taciturn, with dark hair curling over his collar, she assumed the Union soldier was returning home. He had shared the coach with her yesterday, spending the whole of the trip silently looking out the window with eyes, she’d wager, not registering anything he saw. She knew he wasn’t blind because he’d saluted her as though she were a general when he held the door for her. But he never uttered a word the entire day. His uniform’s worn green jacket seemed to provide scant protection from the weather and aside from his rifle, he carried only a small knapsack.
She caught his eye and smiled a greeting. He looked at her blankly before staring down into his cup of coffee. A bowl of porridge sat before him, seemingly untouched.
Undaunted, Melanie approached the table.
“May I join you?” she asked, smiling.
He looked up at her with a blank expression, as though she were speaking a foreign language he didn’t understand. She wondered for a moment if he was deaf, perhaps from standing too near cannon.
Finally, he shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he said, and cast his storm-cloud grey eyes down again at his untouched porridge.
Not the reception she’d hoped for, but then again, she was the intruder here. She murmured a thank you. “Where are you going to?” she asked, hoping to break the awkward silence.
He gave a huge sigh, looked up at her with something akin to scorn. “Pittsburgh.”
“So am I. We shall be traveling companions again, it seems.”
His level gaze bored into her.
“How is the porridge?”
He stared in silence again, then shoved the bowl to her. “Here. Have it.”
“Oh, but I couldn’t take your breakfast,” Melanie protested. “I was just wondering if I should order it.”
“Nothing else to order,” came the terse reply. “Eat it or go hungry.”
“You needn’t be rude about it,” she bristled.
He shrugged again, pulled the bowl back in front of him, picked up the spoon, then set it down again.
The owner’s wife came up to her and Melanie ordered her own porridge and coffee, then sat back and looked around the filled main room. “It seems the landlord does a brisk business, does it not?”
He raised his gaze to her. “Look, if you don’t mind, I’d just as soon eat in quiet.”
Well. That put it bluntly. Her brows raised. “Then why don’t you?” she asked.
His own brow furrowed in question.
“Eat,” she said. “You say you want to eat in quiet, but you’ve yet to touch your food.”
“Are you my mother?”
“Do you need one?” she shot back.
The faintest ghost of a smile flitted across his face, before he turned dour again. “If I eat, will you be quiet?”
“Eat, and we’ll see,” she answered in her best schoolmistress voice.
He picked up the spoon and took a mouthful, pulled a face that made her burst out laughing. “It’s not funny,” he snarled.
“Oh, but it is. You look just like one of the babies the first time they try porridge,” she said, trying in vain to curb her laughter.
“I’ll wager theirs isn’t cold.”
“Sometimes,” she admitted.
“You’re not being quiet.”
“You’re not eating.”
He made a rude noise, drank some coffee, and stood. “Enjoy your breakfast, madam.” He dropped a coin on the table, grabbed his knapsack and rifle from under his chair, spun about, and practically stomped out of the room.
“Well,” Melanie said to herself. “That set me in my place.” She
dug into her own porridge and made a face she imagined was quite similar to his. It ought to be. Her food was cold as well.
Two broken people, fourteen orphaned children who lost their parents during the civil war. Melanie has poured her heart and soul into caring for the children and now they learn they are losing their home as the owners are going to sell out. With no money and nowhere to go, the future looks grim.
Nathaniel has returned from the war, being the only survivor of his troop – caring the guilt of many on his shoulders. When he comes home, he finds the orphans, living in the neighboring ranch have been taking care of his fragile father and his ranch he can no longer work.
Everything works with this story. The hardships, the seemingly impossible task of keeping the orphanage and the children together. It’s easy to picture the world the author has built in your mind as you read along. This is a heartwarming tale that had me breaking out the tissue box over the plight of the children and the hard times they endure. You’ll see a love story unfold and see the mending of two souls as they strive to keep the orphanage open and I don’t think you will stop reading until you finish this one, I know I didn’t. Reviewed by Cyrene