It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
Scott Lancer was not a man given to humming at any given time but there was something in the air that December that was contagious. Growing up in Boston, in the care of his maternal grandfather, he would never have hummed as he worked. He’d have been sitting in a boring, stuffy office listening to equally boring and stuffy men report on how much money Garrett Enterprises had made or was losing. He’d much rather have been out caroling with friends, or ice skating or attending the Christmas balls that friends and neighbors were hosting.
Living in California with his long absent father and newfound brother and “sister” and even a kindly old uncle of sorts had changed a lot of things about Scott. He was a bit less formal in his manners but not altogether informal. He’d learned to work with his hands more than his brain. His body shape had changed some. Far from being the skinny, pale faced and fancy dressed dude he’d bronzed quite nicely – though he still had to take care not to get too much sun being fair skinned like he was – he had muscled out and bulked up. Not that meant a thing to Maura Talbot. The Lancer boys’ surrogate mother thought Scott was still “skinny as a rail” and was always endeavoring to fatten him up.
As he carried in an armload of fresh greenery for the windowsills and the chandelier and such Scott could be heard humming O Little Town of Bethlehem. It was his surrogate sister, Teresa O’Brien who recognized the tune first.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem, Scott? Is that the only carol you know or is it because you’re so proud of being from the same city as the man who wrote it?” she teased.
Scott refused to be baited.
“I hum it because I like it,” he replied with a tug on her ponytail.
“I agree with Teresa,” Scott’s younger brother, Johnny, chimed in. “I think you’re just thrilled that you know the man who wrote it and it’s new and he’s from Boston.”
“New!” Scott scoffed. “It was written three years ago, little brother. That does not make it new.”
“It makes it pretty new,” Teresa said with a giggle, “and I still say you’re humming it because it’s the only one you know. Why don’t you try Silent Night or O Come All Ye Faithful or something?”
“If you don’t appreciate my musical talent,” Scott said, “I’ll take it elsewhere. The horses don’t complain if I hum, or sing, the same carol.”
“If they heard you sing they would,” Johnny crowed.
That was the last straw as far as Scott was concerned. While not exactly ready for the concert stage he knew he had a relatively decent voice – at least that’s what Maura Talbot told him. Her husband, Jim, agreed with her and had told Scott that they ought to team up to do a solo some Sunday in church. So far Scott had declined.
“You think you’re funny, don’t you little brother?” Scott said as he advanced on his brother swinging a single branch of evergreen as if it were a switch.
“Don’t think so,” Johnny said as he backed away, “I know so.”
It was to this scene, with Teresa’s giggling echoing through the Great Room, that Murdoch returned. Shaking his head at the scene he restrained his elder son from his pursuit of the younger one and took the greenery away from him.
“That’s enough you two,” he said in mock severity. “If you’ve got that much energy take a ride over the Bar T and collect the holly Maura’s gathered for us. It’ll take you long enough that you ought to work off that excess energy you seem to have - and don’t eat a lot of cookies while you’re there or Maria will have your heads if you don’t eat lunch!”
The two young men wasted no time in getting out the door to get their horses. Maura Talbot was an outstanding cook and she spoiled them rotten with fresh baked goods every time they made an appearance. Being Christmas time they knew she’d be busy in her kitchen making gingerbread, gingerbread men and sugar cookies and who knew what else? A trip to the Bar T was always a treat in more ways than one.
“Murdoch?” Teresa asked her guardian with a giggle. “Do you think those two will ever grow up?”
“I highly doubt it, darling,” Murdoch answered her with a smile as he wrapped his arm around her tiny waist. “I highly doubt it.”
It was about an hour’s ride to the Bar T and the brothers were anxious to get there but not so anxious as to risk injuring their horses.
The smell of fresh bread baking wafted on the air to them a mile from the house. The breeze also brought the sound of laughter and singing. As they drew near to the house Johnny and Scott could see Johnny’s best friends – the proverbial Prankster Posse – had also arrived. Maura Talbot was always busy doing things for others and the boys adored her for it. The closer they got to the kitchen the stronger the smell of baked goods and coffee became. Chocolate and cinnamon were very strong smells.
Seated around the kitchen table were Jim and Maura Talbot, Kevin Millar, Rico Portillo and Willie Mays. In front of them was a large platter filled with cinnamon rolls and each had a mug of coffee besides.
“Smells good in here,” Scott commented as he and Johnny entered through the kitchen door.
“Scott! Johnny!” Maura was happy to see the two youngest Lancer men come into her home. Immediately the petite red-headed woman rose to get two more mugs and some more cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven for the newcomers.
“Come on in boys, and make yourselves at home,” Jim said as he pushed a couple of chairs away from the table.
“We could hear you laughing all the way outside,” Johnny said. “What’s so funny?”
“The boys were telling us stories about their younger siblings,” Jim explained. “It seems that Christmas has caused certain parties to get very silly.”
“Sí!” Rico said with a grin. “Pedro is certain that our donkey will be the one to carry the Virgin Mary in la Posada that he spends all his time brushing and washing and polishing the poor thing. Mama has had to find other things for him to do to save the poor burro!”
“The same donkey – burro – that he usually has a running feud with?” Johnny asked in surprise. “How did that happen?”
“I think Domingo likes the extra attention – especially the carrots Pedro has been bringing him.”
Pedro, also known as Petey, was Rico’s youngest sibling. He was a perpetual motion machine – always on the go. He even tired out Johnny who was often referred to as perpetual motion himself. If not by his father or brother then by Maura Talbot who’d helped bring him into the world.
“Does the Padre know about this?” Scott asked.
“Oh, sí,” Rico acknowledged with a grin. “He knows and he’s watching Pedro very closely to see how long this good behavior will last.”
“ I believe it, the man’s no fool,” Johnny agreed. “ and since Petey can’t stay out of trouble for more then ten minutes sometimes I’ll just bet Padre Felipe’s watching very closely.”
“You should see what it’s like at the Rocking M,” Kevin said. “Every time I get near my sisters they squeal and start throwing things at me. They think I’m trying to get a look at what they’re making for me.”
“Aren’t you?” Jim asked the young man.
“That’s about what I figured,” Jim laughed and the others joined him.
Willie added his two cents worth.
“Mama has been cleaning the house for days and making cookies to hang on the tree. The problem is keeping Jimmy and Cece out of them. If they’re not eating them themselves they’re giving them to Kelly and to Rico’s little sisters and brothers.”
“This is true,” Rico said. “It is also true that Mariano can’t say no when they offer him one any more than the little ones can. I’ve caught them sneaking cookies several times now but I don’t eat them – I make them give them back.”
“Rico Portillo!” Maura exclaimed. “You know you’re just as bad as they are. Just in the time you’ve been in this house – not even an hour I might add – I’ve seen you eat half a dozen cinnamon rolls and start eyeing my cookies as well.”
Everyone laughed for Rico was as notorious as Johnny for having a sweet tooth. Kevin and Willie were almost as bad.
“Not only that,” Willie added, “they’ve been leaving cookies and milk for Santa since December 1st. They’re absolutely convinced that Christmas should be every night – not just the real Christmas!”
“I thought Jimmy decided, last year,” Scott said as he reached for a second cinnamon roll, “that he was too old to believe in Santa Claus.”
“He did but Cece still believes and she gets mad at him when he says there’s no such thing,” Willie explained. “Mama and Pa finally told him to just go along with her on it because by next year, or maybe the year after, she’ll finally decide that she’s too old to believe.”
“Our boys loved Christmas,” Jim said. “They’d help me choose a tree from the time each of them turned six they went with me every year to find the ‘perfect’ tree.” He chuckled at the memories. “When I took all three of them there was a huge argument – most of the time – over which tree was the best one. They seldom agreed with each other. If I complained, though, my darling wife would remind me that they wouldn’t be little boys forever and I should enjoy it while I could. Then she’d come out and find the ‘perfect’ tree and none of us dared argue with her!”
His wife ignored that comment and concentrated on refilling empty coffee cups and replenishing the supply of cinnamon rolls. If there was anything these men, including her husband, were good at it was eating her cooking – stovetop or baked goods. And keeping their mouths full would stop the talk of how “perfect” she was. Or, rather, it would stop the talk of how she always found the perfect tree.
“Have you boys been practicing your dance steps?” she asked as she returned to the table.
“Dance steps?” Johnny squawked.
“Yes, dance steps. You know we’re hosting a Christmas dinner and dance this Saturday night. I expect all of you to dance at least two dances with me – a waltz and a reel or a polka.”
“But Mrs. T,” Kevin spoke up, “you know Johnny doesn’t like his fun organized!”
“Oh and what is it you call that little bit of fun you had with the jack o’lanterns and such at Halloween a couple of years ago? And how about when you helped set up those fools who were making it look like you were tipping over headstones in the cemeteries hereabouts? Do you not call that ‘organized’?”
“She’s got you there, fellas,” Scott said. “You were very organized at Halloween a couple of years ago and you had fun at the same time.”
“Scott Lancer,” Maura turned on him now, “don’t you go harassing these boys about that when you were just as guilty in the two raids on Jelly’s melon patch a couple of summers ago. You’re all guilty of organizing your fun in spite of any protests to the contrary! Now I’m expecting you all to dance with me come Saturday night and I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer!”
Jim Talbot just grinned as the five young men squirmed under her verbal onslaught. Despite any attempts at protesting these boys made he knew that they would be there in their Christmas finery – for it was a formal occasion like it or not – and they would all be dancing with her in just a few days time.
Before long they were all on their way home loaded down with as much holly and as many wreaths as they could carry on horseback. Maura was having Rico deliver a wreath to Sheriff Gabe in Spanish Wells and Willie was to deliver one to Sam Jayson in Morro Coyo. This was besides the wreaths that she’d made for their families and a few of their neighbors in the three local towns.
When Johnny and Scott arrived back home they found that the greenery had been placed in the windows along with big fat candles that would be lit every night in keeping with an Irish tradition Maura had taught Teresa about - candle in the window to guide the Holy Family to a safe haven. Their own wreaths had been hung on the door by Jelly and Cipriano. Bright red, velvet bows adorned all the wreaths which were hung, not only on the front door, but on the French doors to the Great Room and the kitchen door as well.
Wooden crates containing the ornaments that would be hung on their tree were stacked in a corner of the Great Room awaiting the tree that the boys would go out and cut down in just a few days.
The house smelled of ginger and cinnamon and fresh bread and all sorts of good things. Both Lancer sons were chased out of the kitchen during the course of the afternoon as they tried to get at the cookies that were being baked for the party at the Talbots as well as Lancer’s own little party for the children of the ranch hands. Maria and Teresa weren’t sure who the children on the place actually were by the time they shooed Johnny and/or Scott out of the kitchen for the tenth time.
Later on that night, as she looked through the crates of ornaments Teresa realized that some of the clips, that held the candles on the tree, were missing or damaged. A trip to Green River to Mayor Higgs’ store was in order. His was the only store in the area, that carried this particular item. Not even the Widow Eualia Hargis, in Spanish Wells, had these clips. They were necessary if the Lancers were to have a lighted tree.
“Well, would you look at that,” Johnny said with a nod toward the door of the Green River Sheriff’s Office. “Looks like old Val’s got a bit of the Christmas spirit after all.”
Scott looked where his brother indicated and grinned. “It’s more like Mrs. Talbot saw to it that he did, if you ask me.”
The scruffy looking sheriff opened his door and exited just as the brothers pulled up in front of his office. Rumpled and unshaven, as usual, he was headed out to make his first circuit of the town checking for trouble and to see if any of the merchants wanted an escort to the bank with their excess cash. Upon seeing the Lancers he groaned because he knew that they knew where the wreath on his door had come from and there was going to be some sort of comment – complimentary or otherwise – made about it.
“Been doing some decorating, Val?” Johnny asked.
“It looks very nice, Val,” Scott added with a gleam in his eye. “Did you make it yourself?”
“It’s a beautiful wreath, Val,” Johnny continued. “I didn’t know you had it in you. The bow is perfect! Wouldn’t you say that the bow is perfect, brother?”
“Very funny,” Val groused. “You know as well as I do why there’s a wreath on my door. It ain’t because I put it there! I’d’ve arrested the one who put it there only…”
“It must have been Tim,” Scott said to his brother. “Anybody else but Mr. or Mrs. Talbot would be in jail for even trying to put a wreath on his door.”
“You know you’re right, brother,” Johnny replied with a big grin on his face. “Only Tim could get away with it.”
“Mr. Talbot could. Val wouldn’t dream of arresting him.”
“No, no, you’re right about that. And we know for sure that Mrs. Talbot wouldn’t get in trouble for this.”
“True, true,” Scott said as Val glared at them. “It has to have been Tim. Mrs. Talbot mother hens him like she does all the other teenagers and children and she’s like a mother bear protecting her cub if anybody threatens him.” He grinned at the embarrassed sheriff. “Yes, I’d say it was Tim under orders from Mrs. Talbot and neither one of them wants to cross her.”
“Tim” was young Tim O’Connor – a friend of Teresa’s whom she occasionally went out with, though it was nothing serious. He was the Talbot’s youngest employee – other than Willie – and Maura was very protective of him. Val liked the boy well enough but he wasn’t about to admit anything to the two jokers in front of him. They’d ruin his reputation for sure by spreading it around!
“You notice how careful he was not to say who put the wreath there,” Scott asked his brother.
“Yeah, yeah, I did. I’ll bet it was Mr. Talbot. Val wouldn’t arrest him either – he wouldn’t dare.”
“I still think it was Tim,” Scott said.
“It wasn’t neither of them and you know it! Did you two come here just to cause trouble for me or do you actually have business in town?” The sheriff of Green River was getting aggravated with the harassment.
“Oh, we have business,” Johnny assured his friend, “but we like to stop in and say ‘hello’ when we’re in town. Just to show we’re wanting to be friendly we’ll buy you a drink.”
“You know I don’t drink when I’m on duty so why did you ask?”
“Like Johnny said,” Scott told the lawman, “we just like to be friendly.”
Val just snorted and went on his way with the laughter of the two brothers ringing in his ears.
Mayor Josiah Higgs was a rotund little man with an exaggerated sense of self importance and a stubborn streak a mile wide when it came to following advice. In other words he bragged a lot and ignored what people told him he should do which had resulted in his store being robbed at least once and a good suit being ruined by mud and smashed pumpkin when he presided over the first, and only – to date, Green River Punkin’ Chunkin’ Contest.
When Johnny and Scott stepped into his store they could hear him complaining about “know it all sheriffs” and rude customers. They glanced at each other and rolled their eyes before quickly finding the items they had come for and making their purchase. After a quick stop at the local saloon for a beer apiece they headed back home.
As they rode along the streets they could see that some of the stores were all decked out in their best holiday decorations of wreaths on the doors and windows, which were adorned with either red or gold bows. Even Mayor Higgs’ store had candy canes, imported chocolates and toys on the shelves, tables and in the windows. It made Scott a little nostalgic for the candy canes and silver lanes aglow of the stores back in Boston. He made a mental note to himself to come back to Green River sometime in the next few days to get candy canes for his brother, Teresa and the orphans at Padre Felipe’s mission. While he was at it he’d get some for Willie, Rico and Kevin’s younger siblings. Kevin’s sister, Kelly, was only nine and he was sure she’d like one. He’d be sure to teach her, if he could, about the legend of the candy cane and how it related to the Christmas story.
On their way out of town they saw Rico hard at work at the livery stable being assisted by his younger brother, Mariano, who was a talented artist. The Portillo brothers were painting the stable doors a bright red and white and apparently were planning to do the window frames as well. Their sister Victoria was putting evergreen branches and candles in the windows of the office that their father, a talented carpenter and wood carver, had recently added on to the building.
“Hola Rico, Mariano! Victoria como esta?”
“Hola Johnny! Hello Scott!” the Portillo brothers responded.
“I’m fine Johnny. How are you? How is Teresa? I have not seen her for almost a week.”
“She’s a busy little bee at the ranch right now,” Scott replied. “She’s been making wreaths and putting the greenery up in the house. She’s already got the boxes of ornaments out of the attic and gone through them.”
“That’s the reason we’re in Green River today,” Johnny explained. “When she went through them she found a bunch of the clips for the candles that go on the tree are either broken or missing so we had to come in and get some more.”
“How are your parents?” Scott asked Victoria.
“They are fine. They want to know when you will grace our little home with your presence again. They appreciate a quiet visit from friends after putting up with my brother and his three compadres,” she said with a smile at the blond brother.
“Soon, Victoria,” Scott promised. “I always enjoy my visits – noisy brothers not withstanding.”
“You hear that, Rico?” Johnny complained
“Si, I hear it. I think my little sister is in trouble,” his friend replied.
“Not if you don’t want to be in trouble with papá, you won’t do anything,” Victoria reminded her brother.
The Lancers laughed, waved good-bye and headed for home.
The next morning Johnny and Scott, accompanied by Jelly, Cipriano and a couple of others, drove off with a wagon to collect their chosen tree. With no snow on the ground the tree would be placed on the wagon and transported home so as not to damage it by dragging it over rocks and tree roots.
When it was set up in the living room the tree came close to touching the ceiling. They were just barely able to put the star on the top of the tree and have an inch or so to spare.
Johnny and Scott diligently sat down to help string the popcorn and cranberries with Teresa but, for a while, it seemed like more popcorn was going in their mouths than onto the string for the tree. The boys vehemently denied this, which only caused Teresa to giggle harder than she already was while Murdoch sat at his desk and listened with a huge smile on his face that he tried to hide from them. It was wonderful to have his boys home after all these years even if they did get silly. He’d missed them more than words could say.
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here,” Scott said as he looked around the room. “If it would snow it would be perfect,” he added with a nostalgic sigh.
“Not likely, brother,” Johnny said. “That snow we got last year was very strange.”
“Not strange, Johnny, wonderful! A miracle!” Teresa insisted. “Scott was feeling depressed because of his leg and missing things back in Boston and God sent snow to cheer him up.”
“A miracle, huh?” Johnny advanced on his little sister to tickle her.
“Miracles do happen, Johnny – especially at Christmas,” Murdoch said as he gave him a warning look about “attacking” Teresa who had wisely taken shelter behind her guardian's chair.
Scott decided to turn the tables on his little brother.
“Speaking of miracles,” he said with a gleam in his eye, “Mrs. Talbot expects on at their dance this week.”
“Oh, and what has that woman got up her sleeve this year?” Murdoch inquired.
“She told Johnny and that trio of circus clowns he hangs out with that she expects them to dance at least two dances with her.”
“This is a problem?” Murdoch wanted to know.
“Yes,” Scott answered his father. “Johnny doesn’t like his fun ‘organized’ and Kevin tried to stick up for him. She told them that they will dance a waltz and one other dance with her. There is no argument about it.”
“This I have to see,” Teresa giggled. “I remember how hard she worked with him at her birthday party a couple of years ago. She got him to manage a jig for about two minutes before he found a way to run off.”
After a brief discussion of the dance, which was only a few days away, the family retired for the night. Teresa was going into Morro Coyo to pick up a few gifts at Baldomero’s store and would be accompanied by Johnny who still had a couple of things to get.
“This is the last of it Señorita Teresa,” Juan Baldomero told the tiny brunette.
“Thank you,” she said as she paid him and picked up her moderately sized paper sack. “Merry Christmas – Feliz Navidad – to you and Mrs. Baldomero.”
Outside Johnny waited in the buggy having finished his errands and not wanting to hang around inside. He helped Teresa into her seat and started toward home.
“What’s in the bag?” he asked.
“Nothing that concerns you, Johnny Lancer,” she told her brother.
“That pretty much means that you’ve got one of my Christmas presents in there,” he said with a smirk. “What did you get me?”
“You’ll find out Christmas morning and no amount of begging, pleading or teasing me is going to do you any good. If you don’t behave yourself I’ll tell Mrs. Talbot and she’ll box your ears tomorrow night.”
His complaint just made her giggle which made him pretend to pout which just made her giggle even harder. The ride back to the ranch was a merry one indeed.
The day of the Talbots dinner and dance arrived before they knew it. At three o’clock that afternoon Murdoch gave his men their Christmas bonus and gave all but a skeleton crew the rest of the day off. The schedule for those who would work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day had already been decided among them giving those with families time with their families and those who didn’t have families would do what became known as a Secret Santa swap. Each man drew another one’s name out of a hat and purchased a small, inexpensive gift for them. It was then wrapped and placed under the tree. The smart ones had the storekeeper write the recipient’s name on the wrapping so that nobody could guess by the handwriting – or lack thereof. A festive air was evident in the bunkhouse.
At four o’clock the family gathered in the courtyard to make their way to the Bar T for the party. A surprise awaited all of them thanks to the clever hands of Teresa and Jelly and Maria.
The team was groomed until they shone and their harness was well oiled and gleaming. Bells had been attached to the harness and jingled every time one of the horses shook its head.
“Bells, Jelly?” Scott asked.
“Yeah, bells – silver bells if you notice Mr. Smarty Pants!” the old handyman was sensitive to the teasing tone in the blond’s voice.
“They look lovely, Jelly,” Teresa reassured the old man as she place a hand on his arm, “and they sound nice too. Jingle bells on the way to a Christmas party are very festive.”
The other surprise was the appearance of Barranca and Ranger. The Lancer brothers were taken aback when they found that someone – and neither Maria nor Teresa would admit to being the “guilty party” – had braided red and green ribbons into their manes. Their regular saddle blankets had been replaced by a red one for Barranca and a green one for Ranger. The boys just shook their heads as they untied the reins that fastened their horses to the hitching rail and mounted up.
The closer the Lancer party got to the Bar T the more clogged the road became. Lone riders, pairs, trios and large groups filed down the road. Surreys and single seat buggies and wagonloads of neighbors traversed the route singing all manner of Christmas songs and carols – among them We Three Kings and Hark The Herald Angels Sing.
“Caroling, caroling Christmas bells are ringing,” someone sang and the others joined in.
The guests were greeted by Jim Talbot, resplendent in tan pants, green shirt, black string tie and highly polished black boots. Maura was equally elegant in midnight blue brocade with gold earrings and gold combs in her hair, which was piled on top of her head. A hearty handshake for the men and a kiss on the cheek for the women was the greeting that they got from Jim while Maura beamed and kissed all with equal feeling before shooing them inside and telling them where to lay their wraps and coats. It was a cool evening and promised to get much cooler by the time the party was over.
Inside Johnny found his best pals all decked out in what they, or their mothers, considered their best clothes. All wore dark trousers but where Kevin and Willie wore plain white shirts Rico was wearing a bright red shirt with ruffles on it and a short jacket like the one Johnny normally wore. Their hair was neatly combed – not that Willie’s hair required any combing – and all were freshly shaven. Their parents were mingling with the crowd already assembled when Johnny managed to slip away from his family and join them.
Kevin’s eyes gleamed as he poked Willie and Rico and pointed toward Teresa who was standing in the doorway to the living room. He sauntered over and tapped her on the shoulder.
“Merry Christmas, Miss O’Brien,” he said as he kissed her on the cheek and laughed as he pointed to the mistletoe hanging in the doorway.
“Merry Christmas,” Willie echoed him as he, too, kissed the girl.
“Feliz Navidad, Señorita O’Brien,” Rico chuckled as he, too, kissed her.
All three were ready to try again but Teresa outsmarted them by moving out from under the mistletoe. However, they were not ready to settle down by any means. The next five eligible young ladies that entered the house were waylaid under the mistletoe by the Prankster Posse and their illustrious leader – Johnny – until half an hour later Jim Talbot caught them wandering the room with a twig of mistletoe and promptly put an end to their nonsense by finding something for them to do.
It was well known in the community that Kevin, Rico and Willie had decent singing voices and Jim was about to prove it. He called for everyone’s attention as he opened the piano that he, and his three sons, had presented Maura with shortly before the war.
“Could I have your attention everybody?” he called out to the gathering. When things quieted he said, “How about some Christmas carols? Kevin, Willie and Rico have graciously volunteered to start us off with Deck the Halls.” Turning to them pranksters with a knowing grin he started them off by striking the first note on the piano keyboard.
Kevin started, wavering a bit at first, but soon singing strongly in a pleasant baritone with Willie’s bass and Rico’s tenor joining in. Soon everybody in the room was singing – if not well with gusto.
Maura then talked Scott into attempting a duet on O Come All Ye Faithful. Andrew Millar, Kevin’s father knew the words in Latin so he was given a solo on the first verse. He was very well received in part because very few understood Adeste Fideles. Rico’s parents and the other Spanish-speaking members of the group were able to follow it easiest due to the Latin origins of their own language. Jim was not allowed to escape displaying his talents and was “forced” into singing O Holy Night as he had at the late church service a year ago and to do Silent Night while accompanying himself on the guitar.
During a lull in the singing the pranksters, including Johnny, managed to single out a pretty girl apiece to squire around as Scott put it. Virtually every eligible young man found an equally eligible young lady to escort to the buffet table and the punch bowl. The punch bowl being watched very carefully by Jelly who was making sure nobody spiked it and ruined Miz Talbot’s wonderful party.
Under the bright chandeliers colorful gowns and gems – artificial or real – flashed in the light. Red, green, blue, yellow and other assorted bright colors mingled in a kaleidoscope of color with the browns, tans and blacks worn by the men.
After several dances the young couples managed to elude the supposed chaperones and slipped outside. It was the pranksters who were inadvertently responsible for the final break up of the party.
“Let’s take the surreys,” Kevin said, “and take a ride somewhere dark and quiet where we can ‘talk’.”
“That’s a great idea!” Willie exclaimed. “How about we go out to Jingle Bell Rock? It ought to be real pretty there with the moon shining down. We can take a walk around the pond and ‘talk’.”
All the girls started tittering because they knew that kissing was more what the boys had in mind than taking a walk around the pond. One by one they began to slip into the house and get their wraps. Eager young men waited outside. Their plan was foiled when Murdoch, Jim, Andrew, John Mays and Manuel Portillo realized that their sons were missing as were most of the other young men and women. Something was up and they were sure the Prankster Posse was involved.
“Going somewhere boys?” Jim asked with a knowing gleam in his eye.
“Like to the pond for a little ‘talk’?” Murdoch added with a meaningful look at his sons. Even Scott had succumbed to the idea.
“We were just going to take a little drive,” Johnny said.
“Yes, a drive,” Scott agreed.
“Like to Jingle Bell Rock?” Murdoch asked.
Their secret exposed the group broke up as the fathers of the young ladies came along to escort their daughters back to the party long enough to say good-bye. It was getting late anyway and some of them had a very long drive to get home.
Jim just shook his head with a grin as he helped Murdoch herd Johnny, Scott and the other young men back inside. The fathers all exchanged the same amused look but kept it from their sons. Most of them remembered a trip or two to Jingle Bell Rock during a Christmas party themselves. Jim’s three boys had all managed, at one time or another before going off to war, to take a young lady out there. While nothing serious ever came of these excursions it was best to head them off before anybody could get the wrong idea.
Christmas morning dawned bright and clear but without snow. Scott was a bit disappointed but he knew that the sleigh could run just as well on the wheels that were attached as it could on runners if it did snow.
Gifts, including a tobacco pouch for Murdoch, a gold locket for Teresa that contained a picture of her family – including Jelly – on the inside, a new jacket for Scott – this one made of buckskin, and a nice leather wallet for Johnny as well as a new pair of bright green suspenders for Jelly, were exchanged. A sumptuous ham dinner was served and the family settled in the Great Room to eat dessert in a relaxed atmosphere.
“You know something, Murdoch,” Teresa reflected. “It’s nice to visit the Talbots and the Millars and everybody but nothing can beat home for the holidays.”