Melting snowflakes mingled with the tears on Scott Lancer’s face. Their closest neighbors, and good friends, Jim and Maura Talbot had just presented him and his family (though he knew it was really just for him) with a horse drawn vehicle that was just like the sleighs he’d ridden in back in Boston. The only difference was, that since there was seldom any snow in the San Joaquin Valley, this one had runners and wheels that could be swapped just by throwing a lever.
Jim and Maura had both grown up in Massachusetts – in the Sturbridge area about fifty miles or so from where Scott had grown up in Boston with his maternal grandfather. An accident at Thanksgiving time had left Scott with a broken leg and he was feeling somewhat homesick on top of useless because of the limitations his injury left him with. Even assisting in decorating the tree hadn’t helped cheer him up much.
Jim and Maura had conspired with the fathers of Johnny’s three closest friends to design and build this sleigh. Even now, as a rare and wonderful snowfall was occurring, Jelly Hoskins, the grizzled old handyman at Lancer, was scurrying to the barn to get Zanzibar the buggy horse. Everyone who had just arrived at Lancer while out caroling was crowded around the sleigh, which was painted a bright red with yellow scrollwork trim, oohing and aahing over it. All except Maura Talbot herself who was standing next to Scott with her right arm around him as he struggled to control his emotions.
“Thank you, Mrs. Talbot,” Scott said softly. “You don’t know how much this means to me.”
“Why Scott Lancer!” Maura laughed. “Don’t you think Alex and I sometimes miss sleigh rides and such in the winter ourselves? If there had been anything there for Jim we never would have moved out here. But we did and we do sometimes miss sleigh rides and snowball fights. Skating parties and bonfires.”
As she spoke Jelly returned from the barn with Zanzibar and he and Johnny hitched the horse to the sleigh. Maura and Scott slowly, for Scott had to be extra careful using his crutches in the new fallen snow, approached the sleigh. With a little help from his brother Scott managed to climb in and took up the reins.
“Get up!” he said to the horse.
Zanzibar slowly started forward somewhat uncertain of himself in this white stuff that was covering the ground. He’d never seen snow before and he wasn’t sure what to make of it. However, he was a well-trained animal and he obeyed the command to start moving with very little hesitation.
They took a short drive down the road to the arch and back again. When they got back Scott’s face was flushed with happiness and red from the cool air that had rushed past.
“Well, how do you like it?” Jim asked jokingly for he could see the answer on the younger man’s face and in his shining blue-gray eyes.
“Words escape me,” Scott said breathlessly. Looking at his surrogate mother he asked, “Mrs. Talbot – would you do me the very great honor of being my first passenger?”
Maura’s brown eyes shone with the pleasure she was getting from the thrill she could see Scott getting from this special gift.
“With pleasure, Mr. Lancer,” she said as her husband helped her into the seat beside Scott.
Off they went through the still falling snow and down the road just as he had done before. Zanzibar, now accustomed to this strange vehicle and the white stuff on the road, moved along as a quicker pace than he had previously. The old horse seemed to find new life and a spring in his step as he moved along. Maura and Scott were enjoying the rare snowfall as much as they had always enjoyed snow. Maura was getting a lot of pleasure out of Scott’s enjoyment of the sleigh. John Mays was a very clever blacksmith and mechanic and they’d tested the mechanism to be sure that it would be simple enough to lower the wheels if there were no snow.
Soon enough they were back in the yard and it was now Teresa’s turn to have a ride. The girl had been born and raised at Lancer. Never in her lifetime, that she could remember, had they ever had snow so she’d never seen a sleigh except in pictures. Now she was not only seeing one but getting to ride in one as well.
Teresa’s long brown hair flew behind her as Scott guided the now confident Zanzibar down the road and back again. Her eyes sparkled with excitement and her cheeks were pink from the breeze as well as her excitement. As they pulled up next to the crowd that was waiting she could barely contain herself long enough for Scott to come to a complete stop before jumping out of the sleigh and running into the house. Scarcely a moment later she was back out the door with their housekeeper and mamacita in tow.
“Scott! Maria’s never ridden in a sleigh either. Take her for a ride like you did me won’t you?”
“It’ll be my pleasure,” the blond answered as Murdoch and Johnny assisted the somewhat reluctant Mexican woman into the sleigh.
Another run down the road and another excited female passenger. This was truly a novel experience for Maria and Scott couldn’t help grinning as he thought about how disgusted his grandfather, Harlan Garrett, back in Boston would react if he saw this. The sleigh he would possibly approve of – giving a “servant” or an employee a ride just for the fun of it he would definitely frown on. Not that Scott cared. He liked Maria who treated him as a son just as she did Johnny. She fussed over him, fixed favorite foods for both of them and helped tend to the household. In short she was always there for them. This was the least of what he could do to show his appreciation.
When all of the ladies present, as well as the youngsters that were among the carolers, had had a ride it was time to give Zanzibar a rest. Scott pulled up in the yard and let Jelly take over while he hobbled over to the bench in the courtyard. Jelly took the sleigh and the buggy horse down to the barn and put them away. Brushing the snow off of the seat he made himself comfortable and looked up with shining eyes at his family and friends.
“I don’t think I’ll forget this Christmas as long as I live,” Scott said.
For the next week Scott was kept busy taking Teresa into Morro Coyo, Green River or Spanish Wells to shop for the big Hogmanay, or Scottish New Year’s, celebration that Murdoch was planning. The sleigh gathered a lot of attention in all three towns. The three sheriffs were highly amused at the sight of such an unusual vehicle but dared not say anything for fear they would taste one of Scott’s fists, have a drink thrown on them. Worse yet they didn’t want to have to face Teresa’s wrath for teasing him or making fun of the sleigh. Secretly they all thought it was pretty clever.
On New Year’s Eve Murdoch opened the house to neighbors and friends from all the neighboring ranches and farms. It was quite the festive occasion with all the traditional foods and events. When it was all over, and the clock had struck midnight, Scott breathed a sigh of relief, looked at his family and their guests and said, “I think this is the best holiday season I’ve ever had and I’m looking forward to the beginning of a blessed new year.”