Anne here, hoping everyone had a wonderful Christmas and New Year.
I've been thinking about presents. When you're a child, the fact of the present is usually enough, but sometimes it's the meaning of the present that's important. Looking back at the presents of my childhood, only a few really stand out. Most of them I don't remember at all, and as for where they are now, that's anyone's guess.
But I still have the pair of marble horse-head bookends that my dad gave me one year, that combined my two eleven-year-old passions — reading and horses. (I actually wanted a real horse, but sadly that never arrived.) But this set of bookends was my first grown-up kind of present, and I was so proud to get them.
In several of my books I've had a young girl yearning for a doll. I'm not quite sure where this comes from — I was never a doll kind of child — I preferred living animals, and my teddy. But I suppose a doll stands for someone of your own to love, and I think we can all understand the kind of yearning a young, lonely girl might have for a doll. Dolls are symbolic in so many ways.
In my book, BRIDE BY MISTAKE — which hit the shelves on Tuesday — my heroine's father, having no son, worked his motherless young daughter her hard, training her to run the estate, and treating her as a boy. But one day he returns from a trip and Isabella spies a present in his bag…
Papa's bags were right there. The flap of one was open. Bella was tempted to peek.
What she saw took her breath away — a golden-haired china doll, the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen in her life, dressed in a pink velvet dress, with real lace, so beautiful it almost made her cry.
Last time Papa had brought her a riding crop, beautifully tooled, and of course, Bella had been delighted, even if it was the kind of thing you gave a son. And she did love riding.
But this gloriously beautiful doll was for a daughter, a most beloved daughter. She didn't know what thrilled her most — the beauty of the doll, or that Papa had thought to bring her something so lovely, so special. It made all her hard work worthwhile.
Every detail of the doll was perfect, even down to tiny oval pink fingernails on her dimpled china hands. Her shoes were of palest pink leather, fastened with tiny pearl buttons, and she wore white stockings made of silk. The doll's eyes were bright blue, with long lashes made of real hair and they seemed to smile at Bella, like a friend, like a sister.
She hugged the doll to her. She'd always wanted a sister. She would call her Gloriana. She lifted the dress to see what the doll wore underneath — and heard a sound at the door. Someone was coming. Quickly she thrust the doll back into Papa's bag and hurried away.
She would have all the time in the world to play with her doll.
She changed into her prettiest dress and waited until dinner time with barely suppressed excitement.
"Have you been a good girl, Isabella?"
"Yes, Papa." She felt almost sick with anticipation.
"I've brought you something from the city. Do you want to know what it is?"
Her hands were shaking. "Yes, please Papa."
He handed her a parcel, square and heavy, too small to be the doll. "Well, go on, open it."
She unwrapped it. It was a book; Equus, on the care and treatment of horses. Puzzled, she glanced at her father, thinking perhaps he'd played a trick on her and would produce the doll in a minute. "Is that all, Papa?"
He laughed. "No, of course it isn't all, now where did I put it?" And he started patting his pockets.
And Bella laughed with him, laughing too loudly in relief and delight that Papa had joked with her, when normally he was so serious.
"Ah, here it is." He pulled from his pocket a small twist of paper.
Bella's laughter died. She eyed the brown paper twist. She knew what it contained and it wasn't a doll.
"Thought I'd forgotten your sweet tooth, did you?" He gave her the little packet of boiled sweets." Now, come and give your father a kiss and then run along upstairs with your treasures."
Were you a doll kind of child or were animals more your thing? Were you ever disappointed in a present, as Isabella was? Do you still love getting presents? On wordwenches we give our guests the most stupendous cyber gifts, no expense spared. If you could give yourself a stupendous gift, no expense spared, what would it be? I'll give a copy of my January book, BRIDE BY MISTAKE, to someone who leaves a comment.