Love Rides a Chestnut Horse Ch. 13bytigrlily320©
Time passed quickly on the farm as the two fell more in love and prepared to start their family. They had a simple ceremony held in the church with Doc and Sarah as their witnesses, and couldn't be happier to finally be husband and wife.
Eventually, September arrived, and the fall of the year slowly settled in. Bella was now four months pregnant, and her belly was now rounded, showing beneath her clothing as she moved about the farm and the town. People still whispered, but it was found that the pair was so much in love that they didn't care.
As morning dawned, James walked out to the barn. He had purchased around seventy-five head of cattle at the end of the summer and wanted to ride out to the fields to check on them. Bella and Cappy stood on the porch watching as he came galloping out of the barn soon after, astride Beauty. He waved as they loped for the back field and Belle couldn't stop her smile as she watched James ride her beloved horse.
She and Cappy headed back into the house to do her chores, hearing hoof beats pound up the drive again after about an hour. He walked into the house after seeing Beauty to his stall, calling for Bella. Her voice sounded from upstairs, and once there, he found her in the room that would soon be the baby's nursery. He looked around at the coat of paint he had put on it a few weeks prior, a bright cheerful yellow. Bella stood folding cloth diapers into the top drawer of a short brown dresser. He walked up behind her and slid his arms over her belly, hugging her gently. He kissed her on the top of the head and then kneeled before her, placing an ear to her stomach.
"How's my boy?" he asked with a smile. It widened when his question was answered with a soft kick against Bella's stomach. "Aw, thanks, little man. Kicking Daddy in the face already, huh?"
"He was just answering you, baby," she smiled down at him. "He can't get word out any other way."
"I was planning on making a cradle," he glanced up at her as he stood. "But I also found your cradle down in the cellar and I just wondered which you would prefer."
She smiled, "Daddy really kept my cradle?"
"Yes," he brushed her hair back. "Of course."
"Well, if that one is in good condition," she shrugged. "I don't see a need to make a new one. Unless you want to."
"Ok, honey," he nodded. "I'll run down and get it." He headed down stairs and into the cellar, coming back up a few moments later with the cradle. He set it down on the kitchen floor to clean it off, looking over the sturdy little wooden structure. He lifted it once it was dusted off and carried it up the steps, walking back up to the baby's room.
"Hey honey," he set it down as she turned to look at him. "What do you think? It might need a coat of varnish, some sanding... I don't know, you can decide."
As she looked down at it, she narrowed her eyes. "That wasn't mine," she looked up at James, confused.
"It was the only one down there." He shook his head. "Are you sure this isn't yours?"
She shook her head, "I'm sure. Mine had a little roof – I used to use it for my dolls when I was really little."
"Well, if you'd rather not use it, I can take it back down. Or we can even throw it out."
She looked up at him, shrugging. "I guess we can use it. Daddy made it for someone, after all."
"I can make one if you'd rather," he rubbed her back gently. "It's up to you, honey."
She nodded, "maybe you should. Just get rid of that one, ok?"
"Sure, Belle," he lifted it from the floor and carried it out to the barn. When he returned a few moments later, he walked back up to the nursery to find it empty. "Belle?" he called, walking around the rest of the house. As he again entered the kitchen, he noticed that the basement door was open. "Uh oh," he muttered. He started down the stairs, calling out "Honey?"
Her voice was soft as she answered, "I'm right here."
He looked back to where she stood under the stairs, running her fingers over the soft sanded wood of the cradle. He walked over and pulled her close to him.
"I don't know who this was for," she looked up at him.
"Really?" he glanced over as she shook her head. "That's strange."
She pulled away from him and looked around at the rest of the clutter in the basement. She sighed, "I should really clean this mess up."
"I can do it, honey," he gave her belly a gentle rub as he smiled at her. He sighed inwardly in relief as she returned his smile and shook her head.
"It doesn't need to be done right now."
He nodded and followed her gaze to the toys littering the floor. "What on Earth did he do down here?"
He shrugged, "who knows, baby?"
She nodded, "I found some papers over there on the work bench."
She crossed over to it, rifling through the yellowed paper, trying to read the faded ink. "They're letters," she shook her head. "But I don't know who they're for..." her voice drifted off as she scanned them. "And they don't make any sense..." She took a seat on the old stool in front of the bench. James walked over and stood next to her, placing his arm around her shoulder for support.
She pulled one out of the pile. "This is addressed to my grandfather. But he was dead long before I was born." Suddenly she gasped, dropped the letter to the table and turned, staring at the crib in the corner.
James caught the letter as it dropped to the table, looking at Belle with concern. "What's wrong baby?"
"She..." her eyes were wide as she looked up at him. "She was pregnant."
"Who was pregnant, love?" he rubbed his hand up and down her back as he watched her face.
"Your mother?" he asked.
She nodded. "She was pregnant... when she died."
"Oh, Belle," he pulled her close.
She reached over, running her fingers over wooden trains, toy horses, and smiling cowboys. "It must have been a boy. Daddy always wanted a son."
"But how would they have known?" he questioned.
She smiled up at him, touching her own protruding belly. "A mother always knows."
"Oh?" he smiled. "And what are we having? I know we've been calling it a boy forever, but do you think you really know?"
She nodded. "We've been calling him a boy because it is. And he's very excited to meet his daddy." He smiled at her and kissed her forehead. She sighed softly, "That's why daddy never got over it."
James nodded, "it would have devastated him." Terror passed through his mind as he imagined losing both Bella and their child in one moment.
"He didn't just lose Mama," she shook her head. "He lost his son, too. Did you throw the cradle away already?"
"No, baby. I didn't," he assured. "I put it in the barn."
She smiled, nodding. "That's good. That's really good."
"Do you want to use it, Bella?" he asked softly.
She grinned, "if you fix it up, do you think our baby can use my little brother's cradle?"
He kissed her forehead, "alright baby, I'll sand it down a little and re-varnish it. Does that sound good?"
She nodded, picking up the stack of letters, and prepared to carry them up the stairs. "Maybe some of these can still get to where they need to go."
"Do you want me to clean the toys too? And the crib?" he asked.
She shrugged, "you should be able to make whatever you want for our baby. Take whatever you want, ok?" She laid her hand on his cheek, leaning forward and kissing him softly.
"I want you to be happy," he assured. "We'll use what you want first and foremost, ok?"
Bella smiled wide. "I am happy. I'm happier than I've been since I was seven."
"Good," he grasped her small hand in his and squeezed gently. He stood, and tossed a bunch of the toys in the crib. He headed out to the barn as she carried the stack of letters into the den to search through later. James walked into the workshop he had made for himself in the barn, running a hand over the nearly finished crib there that he had been working on for weeks.
"Maybe another time," he sighed. He grabbed a cloth and carried it up into the loft. He pushed the cradle back into a dark corner and covered it up. He pulled down a bale of straw, pushing it in front of the covered cradle and headed back down the ladder. With a disappointed sigh, he grabbed a piece of sandpaper and began to rub down the old cradle.
A while later, he heard Cappy's happy bark and looked up to see him and Bella walking down from the house.
"Hey guys," he smiled as he worked. She leaned in and kissed his cheek as he rubbed the spindles on the cradle, smoothing out some rough patches.
"Are you ok, James?"
He looked over at her. "Yea honey, I'm fine. Why?" Without waiting for an answer, he leaned back and studied the unfinished wood. "What do you think? A darker or lighter stain for the wood?"
She ignored his question and stuck to her original topic. "You just seem disappointed," she rubbed his back.
"Now, why would I be disappointed, love?" He stood, looking into her eyes. He kissed her softly. "This is the happiest I've ever been."
She smiled with a small nod. "Ok, if you're sure."
James turned the cradle over and rubbed down the rockers. He glanced over at Bella with a wry grin. "So, what are you three up to?" he winked.
She smiled wide. "We," she backed away a little, "are up to nothing." She turned and walked over to Beauty's stall, where the big horse stuck out his head and nuzzled her stomach while she laughed. "I know, buddy," she rubbed his nose. "The baby can't wait to meet you either."
He smiled, "you never said. Do you want a light or dark stain honey?"
She shrugged, "that doesn't matter to me."
"A reddish one might go well with the yellow," he tilted his head to the side. "But so might a dark one."
"Do you have to go into town to get it?" she asked.
"No," he shook his head. "I have some here." He moved over to a cupboard and began looking through the small canisters.
"Oh," she answers, somewhat disappointed.
He smiled at her tone. "You know, actually we're low. I will have to run in and pick some up. Is there anything else I can bring you, my love?"
Her face lit up with a smile and he groaned. "Oh no, am I going to need the wagon?"
"No," she smacked his arm lightly. "Your son and I would just really like some chocolate. Ok, a lot of chocolate."
He laughed. "Well, ok then. Chocolate it is." He walked to Leo's stall and saddled him quickly. Leaning down, he kissed his wife gently on the lips and then on the bellybutton.
"Be careful," she warned.
"I always am, love," he assured. He nudged Leo into a trot. As he reached the driveway he pushed the old horse into a fast lope. He heard Cappy barking as he chased him down the road, and he turned. "Go to Mama, Cappy, NOW!"
The dog stopped, looking back into the barn. He took off and ran back up to Bella in the barn, jumping up on her and trying to lick her happily.
"Good boy," he murmured as he watched, turning in the saddle again and urging Leo faster toward town. He hated leaving Bella alone for any length of time, but sometimes it was easier to try not to get her moving in her condition.
Back in the barn, Bella scooped up the squirming puppy and walked back over to Beauty and Honey in their stalls. "Alright you two, tell me what he's been doing out here all the time." Looking around the barn, she noticed a hay bale in the loft that appeared to have been moved into a random spot. She wrinkled her nose in confusion and carefully climbed up into the loft. Seeing something behind the bale, she pushed it out of the way, accidentally knocking it down below where Cappy barked at it menacingly. She laughed as she heard him begin attacking it. Honey lets out a whinny that sounds almost as if she's laughing at the whole thing. Seeing the object behind it covered in a sheet, she pulled it off and gasped, bringing her hand to her mouth.
The small wooden cradle was intricately carved, a small pillow already lying in it. She kneeled at the side, allowing the tears to run down her face. There are ornate hand carvings showing majestic horses and playful puppies were done on the head and footboards of the cradle. Bella ran her hand over it, reveling in its beauty. There are even little rings and baubles to play with attached to the spindles. Several coats of stain have brought the dark mahogany to a high sheen and she sighs, realizing it's the most beautiful thing she has ever seen. And more importantly, that James had built it out of love for their child.
Wiping her tears, she sat there on the hay next to it. She sat there with her arms folded stubbornly, awaiting his return. Shortly after that, she heard hoof beats coming down the drive. Cappy stands at the bottom of the steps, wagging his tail. James came riding into the barn on Leo, the crate of chocolate bars under his arm and the stain shoved down into the saddle bag.
He looked down at Cappy. "What the hell are you doing, dog?" He swung down from the saddle, calling out, "Baby? I got you all the chocolate they had." Upon not receiving an answer, he looked down at Cappy and called again. "Isabella? Where is she, bud?"
Cappy wagged his tail and looked up into the loft. "Thanks, little man." He took the stain out of the saddle bag and placed it and the chocolate on the work bench. As he walked back over, he realized that the hay bale he had placed in front of the cradle was now lying on the floor in the middle of the barn.
"Hmm," he muttered, glancing around and seeing Belle back in the corner. "Honey," he called gently.
She looked up, "why didn't you just tell me?" She looked over at his cradle.
"You seemed so happy to be using the one your dad made," he sighed. "I didn't want to take that away from you. I didn't want you to feel obligated."
"Obligated??" she cried, her eyes widening.
He winced, "maybe that was the wrong word."
"Of course I would want our son to sleep in the cradle that his daddy made him," she shook her head, her voice dropping to almost a whisper.
"But what about your brother's?" he moved to sit on the ground next to her, looking up into her eyes. "I understand why you would want to use it."
She shook her head, eyes shining again with tears. "So help me, if you do not use this... I will break the other one myself."
"Alright," he smiled, squeezing her hands. He reached down and pulled it out into the light coming in the windows. The sunlight beamed off of it, making the carving look even more incredible. She shook her head as tears filled her eyes again.
"Come on, baby. There's chocolate downstairs," he smiled as he helped her up. He tucked the cradle under his arm and led her down out of the loft. As they reached the bottom, he pointed to the large crate on the table. It stood about six inches tall and was twelve by twelve inches otherwise.
Her face lit up and she clapped her hands, heading over to it. "Thank you," she smiled as she leaned up and kissed him on the cheek.
"For what, Belle?" he smiled down into her face as he pulled out his knife and popped the crate open. He pulled out a candy bar and handed it to her.
She took it from him, glancing back up into his eyes. "For everything," she smiled as she took it from his hand.