This fictional short story presents the characters of Judith and Julius Sunshine, Byrd Spilman Dewey’s characters that were stand-ins for herself and husband Fred. It is a little glimpse of life along Lake Worth more than a century ago. The story takes place at the Dewey’s lakefront home, Ben Trovato in West Palm Beach. The Rapallo Condominium now occupies the homestead. Ben Trovato means “well invented” in Italian, and I hope you find this little story “well invented” as well.
Christmas 1897 at Ben Trovato
Preparations were well underway for the Christmas holidays on The Blessed Isle. The two stockings, that of Judith and Julius, were carefully hung on the hearth in the parlor of their lovely lakefront home, Ben Trovato. Judith was busy preparing Julius’s favorite sweets. She had to keep a careful watch on the oven to make sure the temperature was just right, and a watchful eye on their cats, Kitty Winks and Catty Meow, as they were eying the butter meant for the cookies.
“You kits will soon get your little treat,” said Judith. “But you’ll have to wait till I’m finished.” As Judith put the last of the cookies in the oven, the kits eagerly awaited as Judith placed a large dab of butter on a dainty plate. Two very happy kits licked away at their prize.
Christmas was always different in Florida than it was up north. This year it was especially warm, and everything was a shimmering green. Julius had found a perfectly shaped spruce pine in the woods behind the Blessed Isle, and cut it to display in the parlor. This much amused the “cattle,” which is how Julius always referred to the cats. Kitty Winks found it silly to bring a tree in the house when so many were all around the house. When the ornaments began to adorn the tree, the kits were certain they were carefully placed toys just for them!
As Christmas Eve approached, Julius had a real dilemma – how to get Judith out of the house for a few hours so her Christmas surprise could be delivered. He spoke with their nearby neighbor, the old German professor. “Maybe you could come over and say that your wife needs some help with baking”, said Julius. “Then I could get everything set up and it will be a big surprise.”
But Julius was not the only one planning. Judith also had a Christmas surprise, something she had been working on for weeks. Julius was very proud of his naphtha launch, the Calamity Jane, so Judith thought it fitting that he should have a fine cap and coat – a commodore’s coat!
She worked on it on the days he was away on business over on the island. Soon it was finished and carefully wrapped under the tree.
On Christmas Eve morn, the old German professor appeared just as planned. “Oh Mrs. Sunshine, do you have a few moments?” said the professor. “My wife is having some trouble in the kitchen.”
“What sort of trouble?” said Judith. “I am not entirely sure, except that she was crying that she is such a hopeless housewife.” Looking very downtrodden, Judith was not happy about being out of the house on Christmas Eve; she had much to do herself to prepare for Christmas Day.
Hurriedly she took off her apron and put on her bonnet and followed the professor over to his place a few minutes walk to the south. There sat the professor’s wife with a kitchen full of ingredients. Judith sighed at the lack of cooking skills of the young wife, but soon things were progressing in the kitchen.
After about an hour, suddenly Kitty Winks appeared, meowing in great distress. Judith heard her cries, and went out on the piazza to see what could be wrong. As Kitty Winks saw Judith, she cried even louder and ran towards Ben Trovato. Judith knew something was wrong at home. She rushed back in to say she must check on things at home. As she dashed through the woods, she could see the house – and strange figures on the upstairs porch! Julius was over on the island, so she was certain it was not him.
What to do! She thought how clever the cats were to alert her to this most serious situation. She went back to the professor’s house and told of the burglary underway. “If only Julius were here!”
Of course the professor knew who it was, but did not want to spoil the surprise. “We’ll go over there and check things out.”, said the professor.
As they walked through the woods, just then Julius was arriving at the wharf. The professor quickly approached him and apprised him of the situation. Julius chuckled a bit. He walked quickly towards Judith and said “Don’t worry, we’ll catch that burglar!”
“Oh please be careful Julius!” cried Judith.
After a few minutes, Julius called to Judith from the upper piazza “I have the culprit up here – come up here and see.” Judith thought this odd, but she proceeded up the stairs. As she rounded the corner, she saw it…a beautiful new writing desk! “Oh Julius!” she cried “you planned this whole thing!” “Well, not the part with the cats sending out the alarm!” said Julius.
Judith then scurried down stairs and took Julius’s package –“You can’t guess what it is!” Julius opened the package and beamed like a child “Oh its perfect – I’ll put it on right away–let’s go for a ride!”
Julius put on the new coat and cap, and Judith and Julius motored happily along the moonlit waters of Lake Worth that Christmas Eve…Judith dreaming about the new writing desk, and Julius happily attired in his new coat.
And at Ben Trovato sat two very relieved cats, comfortable under their spruce pine Christmas tree, contented in their Florida paradise.