I sat back and closed my eyes contentedly, feeling the warmth of the fire on my face, and the brandy warming my insides. My belly was happily full from a good lunch. Life was good.
“Barnabas, are you going to sit there all day?” smiled my mother. She looked at me intently, as she set down a small tray on the side table. “You look like the cat who has got the cream.”
“I’m happy mother,” I replied simply.
“I’m glad to hear it”, she smiled back at me. “Would there be any particular reason you feel that way?”
“I don’t quite know,” I mused. “ It can’t be just a good dinner, a warm fire, this brandy-” I looked into the amber liquid and swirled it round in my glass.
I looked up at her earnestly. “I just have a feeling that this will be a good year for us, perhaps the best one we will ever have.”
“Well I hope you are right.”
“How is Father?”
“Oh his cold is still bothering him, but he will recover soon I’m sure. The hot toddy should help.”
“I hope so,” I said, standing up and going to look out of the window. “How beautiful it looks outside, the snow.”
My mother came to stand by my side. We stood in silent companionship looking at the expanse of white that covered the grounds like a blanket.
“How pure it looks,” I said at last, breaking the silence, “almost as though everything is untainted and new, cleansed almost in readiness for the coming new year.”
“You sound almost poetical Barnabas.” My mother took my hand. “I’m so proud of you. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you that but I am.”
“Well-” I said, my face flushing at the sound of pride and love in her voice. “I hope I will always make you feel that way, no matter what happens.”
A sudden chill came over me and I shivered, then in one fleeting moment it was gone.
“Come and sit by the fire again Barnabas, you look a little cold.”
I turned away so that she would not see the confusion on my face. I’d been so happy all afternoon and in a mere moment, something I couldn’t explain had come over me, I was not a man given to bouts of melancholy, so it was all the more puzzling to me.
“Yes,” I said, and walked over to my chair and poured more brandy into my glass, and with perfect timing in walked my Aunt Abigail.
“I hope you don’t plan to finish that bottle, and sit there stupefied all afternoon, Barnabas,” she said in a scolding tone.
“Since when have I been a drunkard?” I retorted. “It’s New Year’s Day, and I for one feel like celebrating it in a pleasant manner, with a couple of glasses of brandy by the fireside. I don’t see what is wrong with that.”
“Well you wouldn’t, so I won’t be the one to spell it out.” With that she opened the Bible she more often than not had in her hands.
I sighed, waiting for her to start quoting me chapters about the evil of “strong drink” when the door opened and in flew little Sarah.
“Barnabas, let’s go out and make a snowman! Oh say you will, look I have a carrot for his nose.”
“You will catch a chill,” Aunt Abigail said, “ You don’t want to be in bed with a fever like your father now do you?”
“No I won’t!” Sarah said,” I have my new grey coat, that will keep me warm, and the mittens you knitted for me.”
My mother moved away from the window, and smiled at Sarah. “I don’t see why you can’t go out with Barnabas Sarah, as long as you wrap up warmly. That’s if he wants to go with you.” With that she looked at me for my assent.
“Of course,” I said graciously, “ Go and get ready Sarah.”
“Oh good!” She said and handed me the carrot. “Now you take care of the snowman’s nose for me until I come back.”
“I will,” I promised, smiling affectionately at her, amused by her excitement.
My aunt made a harrumph sound and I looked over at her sitting there stiffly in her chair.
She met my gaze, a frown turning her mouth downwards.
“Those eyes of yours will get you into trouble Barnabas, you mark my words.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said puzzled.
“If looks could kill Barnabas!” she exclaimed, looking away momentarily then down at the Bible in her lap.
“Now just what are you talking about Abigail?” My mother’s voice took on a sharp tone.
Abigail had the grace to look a little guilty, but only for a moment. “Well it was the way he looked at me. That expression just popped into my head. I don’t know exactly what I meant by it.”
“And how did I look at you?”
“I don’t wish to discuss it,” she muttered and stood up. “I think I’ll retire to my room for awhile.”
“As you wish. Oh Sarah, you do look nice and warm, here’s your carrot.”
“Have a nice time,” my mother said.
“We will!” Sarah almost ran to the door. “Look out the window Mother and you can see us make the snowman.”
“I will darling.”
The snowman proved more difficult to make than we imagined, for our hands got very cold and we had to keep blowing warm air from our mouths every so often to ease the stiffness of our fingers. We soon found out wet gloves were an impediment to snowman creation.
A little bird flew down into one of the low branches in the trees and watched us set the carrot into the snowman’s head.
“Oh the bird must be hungry! Let’s go get him some bread from the kitchen Barnabas.”
If there was one thing above all I loved about my sister it was her inherent kindness, her purity of heart.
“All right, you stay there, I won’t be long,” I promised. “I ‘ll get the buttons in your box for the snowman’s eyes too.”
“Then he will be able to see, won’t he? He can look out at the trees and watch the birds.”
“He will,” I said smiling.
When I returned Sarah was playing her flute and the bird was cocking his head, appearing to be listening to the piping sounds.
“I think you’ve made a new friend Sarah.”
“Do you really think so?”
“I do. Now let’s crumble up this bread and put it under his tree.”
As we neared the tree the bird flew up into the next branch watching us, then swooped down to the ground when we moved away.
“Oh he is so hungry Barnabas!”
“I expect he is, with the ground covered by snow, frozen hard with no worms for him to find.”
I took Sarah’s little button box out of my coat pocket and handed it to her. She chose two bright blue buttons for his eyes and I helped her push them into his round face.
“Oh but he has no mouth! What can we make his mouth out of?”
I reached into my pocket again and handed Sarah a piece of thick red thread.
“How about this?”
“Where did you get that?”
I looked down at her and spoke in a hushed conspiratorial tone. “From Aunt Abigail’s sewing box. Now don’t you tell on me! She left it in the drawing room.”
Sarah giggled, enjoying the secret.
“I won’t tell on you.”
We pushed the thread into the snowman’s face and Sarah pulled the thread up at each end.
“Now he’s smiling. That’s better.”
We stood back and looked at our snowman. The being of ice stood there comically, his buttony blue eyes gleaming in the frosty daylight, smiling at us as though he was very glad to have been created.
“I think he’s happy we made him Barnabas.”
“I think he is too. Do you want to give him a name?”
“Adam, like the first man in the Bible.”
“That is blasphemous,” Aunt Abigail said as we came into the drawing room to warm ourselves by the fire and told our mother about our snowman.
“Making snowmen is one thing, but only God gives life and calling a snowman after the first man-”
“Oh Abigail be quiet!” My mother tutted.
“”Well, if I don’t point out their sinful ways who will?” Her voice rose in response to my mother’s annoyance. “ This is a good Christian household, and don’t you forget it.”
“Have you not thought Aunt, that by naming the snowman Adam that we acknowledge God’s creation?” I said in my best soothing and charming manner.
“Well if you put it like that-”
“I do.” I said firmly, “Now let’s not fight on New Year’s day. I want nothing more than peace and happiness in this house.” I smiled at my mother and little Sarah. “And love of course.”
“You will always have my love,” my mother said warmly.
“And mine too!” Little Sarah hugged me tightly. I wrapped my arms about her warm little body and kissed the top of her head.
“Happy New Year darling,” I said softly into her long brown hair.
Her sweet face lifted up to look into mine. “It will be a happy one won’t it Barnabas?”
“The best,” I said, looking over her head gazing at the snowman stood outside, and watching our bird soar into the sky, his belly full of the bread we had given him. He flew high into the cold still air, and then vanished from my view. I had the feeling that we would never see him again, which made me feel inexplicably sad. The sun was setting, shadows began to fall around our drawing room and I let go of Sarah in my arms and began the evening ritual of lighting all the candles.