THE VALENTINE BANDIT
Emmeline laughed as she read the article in the local newspaper. "Listen to this, sweetheart," said Emmeline as she glanced up at her husband. "You'll be so amused."
When she had gotten his attention, Emmeline read the article to him with a bit of humor in her voice.
"The Valentine Bandit has struck again. Each year he sneaks out of his hiding place and finds some poor unsuspecting widow to surprise. He is spreading happiness throughout the city of Willow Valley. Many a young girl wants to meet this bandit, but he is too sly to be caught. Reports say he has a black mask just like a bandit and is dressed all in black. Valentine's Day is a day to show that we care about others, and this bandit is doing just that."
Eleven-year-old Josie interrupted and asked, "Do you think anyone will ever catch the Valentine Bandit and find out who he is?"
Lucas shook his head. "I doubt it, sweetheart. He's too clever."
Emmeline smiled at Josie's enthusiasm when the subject of the bandit was brought up. Turning back to the article, she continued reading.
"Valentine's Day is also a day to show your love for that certain someone. I discovered an article in The New York Courier, and it was written with such eloquence and humor that I have decided to share it with the people of Willow Valley. The New York Courier wrote: We have ascertained the fact that the bachelors are moving around the city and actually making preparations for the celebration of St. Valentine's Day. They have positively crawled out of their flannels, trimmed their whiskers, shaved the growth of ages, straightened the vertebrae, and bound them up in cloaks ten yards wide to keep the cold weather at a distance during the approaching festival. We give the ladies fair warning to hold themselves in readiness. The picked youth of the city, such as will make loving husbands, are to be present, if God prosper them."
"So... he was giving the ladies fair warning?" Lucas chuckled. "Well, Valentine's Day and all its celebrations tend to be for the romantically inclined. It's a time of romance."
"Exactly!" she said triumphantly as she laid the newspaper down and picked up a fancy Valentine. "This is an invitation to a Valentine's Ball held at Mrs. Young's mansion. There will be music and dancing and..."
Lucas grinned as he interrupted, "And plenty of food. She has the most delectable foods at her celebrations."
"Not only that, my dear. But plenty of bachelors! That's what Felicity told me."
He raised his brow curiously. "Bachelors?"
"That's right. I'm going to take Charlotte to the ball with us. She's lived such a sheltered life and I think she should get out and mingle a bit and meet some young men her age."
"Are you thinking of introducing your cousin to a few bachelors?" he asked with skepticism.
"Of course. She's shy and just needs a little encouragement. That's all. A Valentine's Ball is the perfect place for her to meet some eligible young men."
"You can't be serious. For your plan to work, a man has to be attracted to a young lady first."
"I know what you're thinking. She's very plain, but I can fix that."
"You can't make a silk purse out of a..."
"Don't say that! It's rude."
"I'm just saying that she isn't very attractive, sweetheart. She pulls her hair tight on top of her head, which gives her a severe look. I've never seen her wear anything but very plain dull-colored gowns. And she doesn't even look a person in the eyes when she talks to them."
"That's not her fault. Being raised by a strict clergyman wasn't easy. I've got a few days before the ball, and I'm going to teach her some things... such as social etiquette, a few dance steps, and how to attract a man."
"I'm not being rude, sweetheart," said Lucas with a shake of his head. "I'm being honest. I don't think it'll work."
With a sigh, she said, "You don't understand. Charlotte needs to believe in herself. Self confidence is the secret."
Lucas cleared his throat and gazed at her like she didn't make sense. "What do you mean?"
"It's all about self-esteem. A person will believe what he is told if it's said enough. If he is treated as if he's lazy and slovenly, he becomes that. If he is treated like he's dull-witted, he believes it and acts accordingly. If my cousin is told her whole life that she is plain-looking, then she believes it."
Folding his arms over his broad chest, he said matter-of-factly, "What you need is a miracle, my love."
"Don't you believe in miracles? Being a doctor, I'm sure you've seen a few of them."
Lucas smiled and gave a nod. "But the Lord had a hand in those little miracles and I was guided to know what to do."
Emmeline gave a knowing smile and didn't say another word. She was going to help her cousin find a beau, and she was going to give her the confidence that she needed. Charlotte was going to believe in herself.
As she thought about her cousin, she reminisced about days gone by. In her youth, Charlotte was considered a tomboy. She could skip a rock across the river better than any boy. In fact, she could run faster than most and win at Stick-pull when challenged. The girls were flirtatious and coy, but Charlotte wasn't like that. They would scream at a rat that entered the school, but Charlotte was just amused by it.
The girls wore colorful gowns with ruffles and lace, but Charlotte's father only bought her plain simple ones for school. When Emmeline was visiting her cousin, Charlotte begged her father for a new stylish gown so she could fit in.
With soberness, her father said, "Gowns with ruffles are expensive. We shouldn't be prideful, girl. You don't want to appear vain." With that said, he quoted a verse to back up his decision. "Beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Proverbs 31, verse 30."
Emmeline was not amused with his answer. What did fearing the Lord have to do with wanting to look pretty? Since Charlotte's father was from Scotland, he had old-fashioned ideas and wouldn't relent. He was extremely frugal, and he had brought his traditions with him.
Another time when she was visiting her cousin, they wanted to take a walk down to the store to buy some sweets. But her father said she had chores to do. When she complained and said she could do her chores the following day, her father folded his arms over his chest and quoted a verse that surprised both of them.
"Go to the ant, thou sluggard. Consider her ways and be wise. Proverbs 6, verse 6."
Emmeline's eyes widened with stunned surprise.
Not understanding her father, Charlotte asked, "What did you say, Papa?"
"Listen to me, child. The ant has no ruler or overseer, but it gathereth her food in the harvest so it can have food for winter. In labor there is profit. Proverbs 14, verse 23."
Emmeline didn't understand what kind of profit he was talking about, but her cousin obeyed. And Emmeline helped her with her chores. As they worked together, they giggled and gossiped about anyone and anything.
Her cousin was two years younger than Emmeline. At the age of twenty-eight, many felt she would never marry, because Charlotte wasn't pretty like the young ladies around town. They always fixed their hair with ringlets and frills but not Charlotte. Pastor MacFarlane said it wasn't comely for a pastor's daughter. What was he afraid of?
Glancing down at the Valentine in her hand, Emmeline smiled. She was going to make her cousin feel special. She was going to build up her self-esteem and let her know that she was a pretty woman. With a sly smile, she knew what she was going to do. Emmeline was going to give her cousin ringlets and frills.
"After all," she whispered to herself. "The way a person feels about themselves makes a whole lot of difference in their appearance." With that in mind, she got to her feet and said with determination, "I want to go to Little Valley to visit Charlotte, sweetheart. Can you take care of the children for me? I'll be staying over night then I'm bringing her back home with me."
Cocking his head curiously, he said, "This must be very important to you."
She nodded. "It is. And I don't have much time to get Charlotte ready."
Lucas gave a confident nod and said, "Don't worry about a thing. The children are in good hands."