A Christmas Demon

Face of black horse

by Rick Beck

rickbeckwritersrealm@outlook.com

It was always cold in the northwest of the country in December.

This year two snows had already come and gone by the tenth. Another snow was predicted for the night of the country club Christmas party. A prediction of snow wasn’t about to keep the Horatio Arnolds away from the Club’s annual Christmas celebration.

The Horatio Arnolds had fallen behind on entertaining at the horse farm. They’d all but lost touch with people who were once near the center of their life.

It was a very hard year. The hardness couldn’t be measure in words. The death of their son sent them into a tailspin of despair. They thought it was time to move forward again. They knew they needed to try.

They’d been out of circulation for too long and they decided to make a comeback at the club’s Christmas Party. The day had been overcast and there was talk of snow later that night. No talk of snow would ruin an evening with friends.

Horatio stood in the picture window his study looking out at the pasture land below. The house was surrounded on three sides by the lower pastures. The stable was directly behind the house and the forest land with the riding trails were directly behind the corral.

Horatio scratched his neck with one finger. The tux wasn’t as form fitting as it once was. He felt as though he was swimming in it. It would do until he could have another one made. If they intended to get back into circulation, he couldn’t wear a tux two sizes too large.

Genevieve Arnold sat in front of her mirror with Agnes brushing her golden hair. She’d put on her own makeup and still looked worn. Her reflection in the mirror no longer showed the vibrant young beauty she once was.

Her gown was the same one she wore last Christmas. She hadn’t gone shopping and it was the only gown that came close to fitting.

“There you go, mum. You’ll be the belle of the ball, you will.”

Genevieve sighed and gave Agnes her best smile.

“Thank you, Agnes. You always do a superb job.”

Genevieve’s heart wasn’t in the idea of going out. She’d keep a close watch on her emotions so Horatio wouldn’t see she was less than enthusiastic. He loved drinking with the men.

 

Horatio Arnold stood at the door of the stable. He liked smelling horses, what they left behind mingling with smells of hay and oats. He listened as a commotion came from the rear.

Major Wellingford came dashing out of the last stall. He slammed the gate behind. The black Arabian didn’t appear. The Arabian was his son’s horse. Bobby had been dead since the summer before.

“I say, Major, he still off his feed tonight?” Horatio inquired.

“Damn horse. I tried to give him the best oats I could find in the region and he won’t have any of it. Dumped the feed bucket and ran me right out of his stall. If I had that horse in my regiment, I’d take him out and shoot him,” Major Wellingford said.

“Besides, Genevieve wouldn’t hear of it. He gets hungry enough, he’ll eat. Don’t go in the stall with him, Major. Put the oats just inside the door. He wants the one feeding him that’s always done it.”

“Bobby cut quite a figure dashing across the lower pasture on that black stallion. His blond locks blowing in the breeze. I still look for him, I do. Master Robert gone so young. It’s all wrong, it is. That horse misses him too. He’s waiting for him to return, Horatio.”

“It’s time to get moving. Have a good evening, Major,” Horatio said, leaving the door and walking toward the house.

The Major yelled after him from the door of the stable,

“You sure you don’t want me to drive you, Horatio. It’s going to snow. I feel it in my bones. I’d even shave and wear that monkey suit you bought for that fancy chauffeur you let go.”

Horatio Arnold let out a loud laugh.

“That’ll be the day, Major.“

“Thought I’d ask. I knew the answer,” the Major said. “You and Genevieve have a fine time but keep an eye out for the snow. You might want to beat a path back here before it gets out of hand.”

“We’ll be fine. It’s not five miles to the club. I better go see that Genevieve doesn’t need me. Have a good evening, Major.”

“You as well, Old Friend.”

There was no sign of snow as the Arnold’s drove toward the country club for Christmas dinner. The clouds hung lower than they had all day as it was getting dark earlier than usual.

The Arnolds decided they needed to get out. They both enjoyed Christmas dinner at the club. Seeing familiar faces wouldn’t hurt. They’d not been out since July and they both enjoyed Christmas dinner at the club. They’d never missed Christmas dinner at the club and they wouldn’t miss this year’s celebration. They’d been away and now here they were.

They were greeted at the door and escorted through the back pats and handshakes as if old friends had come home at last. The music was gay and the drinks flowed generously as men gathered in small groups to chat about this and that.

Genevieve wasn’t left alone for a moment. The wives all fussed over her and complimented her on her gown and how good she looked, although as fine as she looked, she’d aged an additional ten years since the summer.

Dinner was served and glasses clinked, knives and forks clanked against fine China as food kept coming until everyone was too full to get up, but get up they did. They would dance the night away.

The snow predicted for later that night arrived early. It had been noticed by the men once they’d had enough dancing. The major’s prediction was spot on and men gathered at the rear windows of the ballroom to watch the six inches of snow become seven inches. The Horatio Arnolds were the center of attention. While the evening had gone perfectly but the five miles home was beginning to look a lot further as Horatio saw the accumulation.

Stepping inside the main door of the ballroom, the man in charge of the club began to speak.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I see you’ve already noticed the problem at hand. The snow has arrived earlier than predicted. The few inches predicted has grown to eight inches at the moment. Those of you chauffeured to the club can relax. A professional driver will easily negotiate these conditions. However, those of you who have driven yourselves might want to think about calling it an early night. This mess shows no sign of letting up. Thank you and Merry Christmas to you all and thanks for coming. We shall look forward to seeing you all on New Years Eve.”

Like everyone else, Horatio saw the snow without noticing the way it was piling up. The announcement alerted him that it was time to head for home. They’d had a lovely time but all good things had to come to an end.

Genevieve reluctantly said goodbye to old friends. She hadn’t noticed the snow at all. They’d brought the Porsche for convenience but it was built low to the ground. She saw the wisdom in saying good night early. Wouldn’t do to get stuck in the snow in evening clothes.

The Porsche was an excellent handling car and Horatio knew his way around cars. He’d driven in all kinds of weather. A few inches of snow was no challenge.

Until he turned out of the driveway of the club and onto the main highway to head for home. There was a definite pull on the steering wheel from the snow impacting the undercarriage. He’d had enough to drink, it didn’t alarm him at first. He did think that in another hour, if it kept snowing like this, the Porsche wouldn’t have enough clearance to make it to the house, and that wasn’t the worst of it.

The defrosters weren’t up to defrosting in the cold that was getting colder by the minute. The windscreen was becoming difficult to see out of.

Horatio leaned forward to use his cuff to rub a spot to see out of.

“I can’t see, Horatio. Turn on the defrosters, Dear,” Genevieve said straining to see what was ahead of them..

“They’re on, Old Girl. I have it on high,” he said. “When the car warms up, they’ll do better.”

“I suppose the heater is on too?” she asked, not saying that she was becoming chilled in her low cut ball gown.

“The engine needs to warm a bit before it’ll get warmer,” Horatio said, but it had been ten minutes and in most conditions heat would be pouring out.

Once more he leaned forward to use his cuff on the inside of the windscreen. His cufflink scratched at the glass. Genevieve watched her husband carefully. She had a sense of impending doom.

“How much did you pay for this car? You’d think the heat and defrosters would be tip top.”

“It’s not the car. It’s the weather, Dear. Here’s Tweed Lane. A mile and a half from our driveway and than home,” Horatio said cheerfully.

The snow was deeper on Tweed Lane. The pulling on the steering was more pronounced.

The Porsche danced to the left. Instinctively, Horatio steered out to the left to catch up with it. He skillfully brought it back into line. Genevieve felt the car sliding. She reached for the dash, keeping her eyes on her husband.

Horatio made the same correction a minute later. He was successful in getting the car righted. He smiled to himself feeling satisfied with his performance.

Genevieve wasn’t quite as thrilled about her husband’s ability to keep the sliding car on the pavement. She kept her grip on the dash.

The third time the Porsche stepped out, Horatio over corrected, creating a more dicey situation. He almost caught the car in mid slide, but he over steered again and disaster was at hand.

They weren’t going fast enough for either of them to be injured, but it was snowing furiously. The temperatures had begun to plummet, and the two of them were in the ditch on the side of the road in evening attire.

“Oh, Horatio, now you’ve done it,” she said feeling the car leaning to the right.

“Only take a minute, Dear. I’ll have her back on track,” Horatio said, listening to the hopelessly spinning right wheel.

There driveway was only a mile away. A mile in a foot of snow was no plum pudding. He did everything he knew how to do to get the car back on the pavement, but it was futile.

Hanging his wrists over the steering wheel, Horatio’s head drooped between his arms. The wheel stopped spinning when he took his foot off the gas. They were in a pickle now.

The snow kept snowing. The temperature continued to plummet, and each time he pressed the accelerator, the wheel spun. He didn’t relish the idea of climbing out of the car but he had to do something.

“Do something,” Genevieve yelped.

Opening the door, he stood in nearly a foot of snow. The road on the left meant they were a mile from the driveway of the house. Walking a mile and a half in a raging snow storm was possible in the proper gear. He’d walk it and bring help back to retrieve Genevieve, and if it kept snowing like this, they could all freeze together.

It was a plan. Genevieve wasn’t walking anywhere in heels and a ball gown. He’d leave the car running. There was plenty of petrol in the tank, but if it kept snowing like this, he might not make it to the house. They’d find his frozen body after the first thaw.

He looked over at End of the Line Lane. The Catholic Boy’s Home was up there about the same distance as the house. No point in walking there. It would be no more difficult to go to the house.

The wind began to cut through Horatio’s evening clothes. It was unearthly quiet as he listened for any sign of a sound. No one would come down this road for days. The plows might come on the third or maybe the fourth day. That was no good. They’d long ago have run out of gas and they’d be frozen in place.

Should he make it to the house, at the rate it was snowing, he’d never make it back with help for Genevieve before the next day. He couldn’t just walk away and leave his wife in these conditions.

Horatio turned back around and opened his car door.

“What do you suggest I do, Dear??”

“I’m sure I don’t know, but do something,” she said loudly.

Horatio stood up and screamed, “Stop snowing, God damn it.”

There was complete and total silence for a moment, and then

Genevieve began to laugh.

“That’s something, I suppose. You’re hopeless, Horatio,” she reminded him. “Either get in or get out, but close the damn door. I’m freezing.”

Horatio agreed that he needed to do something. He looked toward the house after closing the door. He looked up End of the Line Lane. It had to be one or the other. He wasn’t sure how far the Boy’s Home was. It might be a quarter of mile closer than the house was.

He’d start toward the Boy’s Home and if it didn’t feel right, he’d walk to the house.

He started off and then he realized he had on the jacket to his tux. He took it off, walked back and opened the car door.

“Here, this might help,” he said, handing his wife his jacket.

“Horatio, you’ll freeze out there.”

“No, I won’t. I refuse to freeze. See you in a few,” he said, closing the door and stopping when he reached the center of the road.

Horatio stood considering the distance between there and the two destinations that came to mind.

As he stood there, he heard a soft but distinctive noise. Someone was laughing. Someone was coming up the road and there was laughter. He heard it more clearly now.

He heard voices coming closer. They were definitely voices. Someone was walking up the road. He saw two figures coming toward him. It was two teenage boys. They were pelting one another with snowballs and laughing.

“What’s that laughter?” Genevieve yelled. “Is someone there?”

“It’s two boys,” Horatio said, standing in the middle of the road. “Can you beat that. They can give us a push and we’ll be OK.”

“I say, you young men, would you give us a shove,” Horatio said.

The bigger boy picked up his pace, once he heard the call for help. He was tall with blond tassels showing from under his toboggan cap. The smaller boy had red hair and wore the same cap.

“You got yourself out of kilter, Dad. Sure we’d be more than happy to help,” the bigger of the two boys said. “I’m Michael and this is Kenny Kelly. We were just over Mr. Magruder’s farm. We helped him get in his cows so they don’t freeze in this weather. They said it wouldn’t amount to much. It might last until Christmas, don’t you think? A white Christmas would be nice.”

“I do. I appreciate you’re being willing to help,” Horatio said. “I’m Horatio Arnold. I live at the horse farm at the end of this road.”

“I’ve heard of you. You get in now, Dad, and ease on the gas and we’ll have you back on your way in a minute,” Michael said. “One we get you moving, don’t stop. We’ll be OK. You head for home, Dad.”

Michael and Kenny got behind the right wheel and waited for Horatio to apply some gas.

Just as the boy predicted, in two or three minutes they had the car on the pavement and it didn’t require much strain. The car stopped and the driver’s door opened and Horatio got back out.”

“Here. Here. Let me give you this. You saved our bacon and I want to give you a reward for that.”

“No. No,” Michael said. “It’s nice of you to offer, but father would skin us if he knew we took Horatio Arnold’s money for doing him a good deed. Glad we could help,” Michael said, as the two boys headed up End of the Line Lane.

He watched them walking away and Horatio just then realized how much the taller boy looked like his son Bobby. They wouldn’t take anything for helping them. Maybe this new generation wasn’t so bad.

“They wouldn’t take anything for their help. Can you beat that?” Horatio said. “There must be houses up there. Their father sent them to Magruder’s to bring in his livestock.”

“Nice boys. The tall one looked a bit like Bobby,” Genevieve said.

“I thought that too,” he said.

“You’ll just need to go find their house once the snow melts and let their father know what fine boys he’s raised. You can take them something as a thank you and insist they take it,” Genevieve said.

“Yes, I can do that,” Horatio agreed, applying the throttle to get them moving ever so slowly. In fifteen minutes they reached the driveway. Horatio carefully turned in and eased down on the gas.

There was a terrible pulling under the car that threatened to jerk the steering wheel out of his grasp. Horatio kept a slow pace until they could see the house ablaze with lights.

*****

Horatio slathered orange marmalade on his English muffin and took two big bites before drinking more steaming hot coffee.

“Adeline, the bangers are particularly good this morning. Are these from Magruder’s?” Horatio asked.

“Yes, Sir, same as the cream and butter. I know you’re partial to the quality of his things.”

“Magruder’s farm,” Genevieve said. “Wasn’t that where the boys who helped us were coming from the night of the Christmas party?”

“Yes, they came from bringing in Magruder’s cows. I’d almost forgotten it. Close call, that one,” Horatio said. “Don’t know how it would have turned out if they hadn’t come along.”

“Yes, and I bet you haven’t gone to find their house and let their father and mother know what fine boys they’re raising.”

“Top of my list of things to do, Dear. I want to see where they live. Maybe hire them on to help with the horses come summer, The Major has to do it all at the moment,” Horatio said.

“They’d love that. Boys love horses. There can’t be much work around here for them. What a splendid idea, Horatio. Be nice to have boys around the house again, don’t you think.”

“Yes, it would. I’ll go this afternoon. I’ve been meaning to do it.”

“Maybe invite them over for Christmas dinner. You can put up the tree. We can put a gift for them under it. I love giving gifts,” Genevieve said, seeming happier than she’d seemed in some time.

Whatever you wish, Old Girl. Seems like you have this decided. Your wish is my command,” Horatio said.

He reached across the table for her hand, kissing her fingers.

“Eat before your breakfast is cold, Dear,” Genevieve said with a blush coming to her face.

“Yes, Dear.”

Adeline brought fresh cups of tea and took the coffee away as she cleared the dishes.

“Adeline, have we ordered the Christmas goose yet.”

“They won’t do the geese until Christmas week. We have a standing order. Mrs. Magruder will have her plum pudding. She puts it up in the brandy you like. Should I order just one,” Adeline asked.

“Make it two. We may be having company for Christmas dinner. Make sure the goose is big enough. Wouldn’t want to run out.”

“Yes, Sir. Consider it good as done. You haven’t entertained in some time.”

*****

It was the first warmish day in some time when Horatio drove back to where they were stuck in the snow. He made the turn on End of the Line Lane. He drove all the way to the end of the lane. There wasn’t a single house. The only building was the Catholic Boy’s Home. He wondered if he misunderstood what the boys told him. It was a stressful meeting and he must have misunderstood what the older boy said. He’d stop at the Boy’s Home and inquire there. They might know where the two boys lived.

“Yes, I’m Horatio Arnold. I’m looking for two boys who did a good deed for me and my wife. I thought they said their house was up this way. It was a Michael and Kenny Kelly,” Horatio said to the woman who let him inside the front door.

“Wait just a minute. I’ll get Father Samuel,” she said.

“No, don’t bother the father. I don’t want to create a fuss.”

“Mr. Horatio Arnold visiting is no problem at all. It’s an honor.”

Father Samuel swept out of his office and came rushing down the hallway to greet Horatio.

“Come in. Come in, Mr. Arnold. What can I do for you? I’m Father Samuel, the headmaster and caretaker here.”

The father shook Horatio’s hand cordially.

“I recognize the name, Father Samuel. I didn’t mean to interrupt your day. I’m just a bit turned around. You see, two boys rescued my wife and me at the end of your lane during that nasty storm last week. What I think the older boy said was, they were Michael and Kenny Kelly and they lived up this way. I offered them a twenty for helping us. They wouldn’t hear of it,” Horatio said. “Boys like that need to be encouraged. They are certainly well raised.”

“I scolded them for spinning that tale. They were late getting back. I’d sent them on an errand and they were gone way too long. When they came in they spoke of assisting Mr. Arnold who got himself in a pinch on the side of the road, and here you are. I must apologize to them now.”

“Father, without their help we might have froze. I don’t mind telling you, I’m grateful they happened along.”

“They’re always late. The two of them go off together and they lose track of time. If all the boys were as reliable as Michael and Kenny, well, I wouldn’t have a job. They may lollygag a bit but two more reliable boys I don’t have.”

“I don’t understand. They live here. He plainly said his father... Father Samuel,” Horatio realized without needing to think further.

“I’m so silly. I should have figured that out right away. They live here, of course,” Horatio said, “I should have put it together.”

“Yes, and it’s Michael Roe and Kenneth Kelly. They aren’t related. They are like brothers. First, before I call them out of class, I want to extend my thanks for your generous gifts to the home each year. You help us take care of boys like Michael and Kenneth. I am so happy they did a service to benefit you.”

“More than a service. We slid off the road in that terrible storm last weekend. I don’t know what would have become of us if those lads hadn’t come along to get us back on our way,” Horatio said.

“I’ll send for them. Would you care for a cup of tea, Mr. Arnold? I’ll have the boys brought down. We can chat in my office,” Father Samuel said.

“Yes, I could do with a spot of tea. Thank you. The boys are orphaned then?”

“Just a minute,” Father Samuel said, stopping at an open door. “Mary Francis, have Beatrice prepare some tea for our guest. We’ll be in my office. Bring Michael and Kenneth as quick as class lets out.”

“Mr. Arnold, I wish to extend my condolences on the death of your son. We said prayers for him. I was heartsick when I heard of his death. Losing a child is the hardest challenge a family faces.”

“Just don’t speak of providence and such,” Mr. Arnold said. “If I hear someone else speak of the grace of God, I shall puke.”

“It’s something no one who hasn’t experienced it can understand. I’m here for you or your wife should you wish to talk. I’ve learned from the boys, being available is the best we can do. An ear for listening, and a shoulder for leaning, and I’ll leave it at that.”

“Yes, Let’s do that. Am I to understand Michael and Kenny are orphaned? They seemed so, so... cheerful. When someone says orphan, well, Charles Dickens comes to mind. Not much cheer there.”

“Kenny was a sad case. His parents died in a plane crash. Absolutely no one to take him and he ended up here. Oh, he was a tough one. Didn’t speak. He’d withdrawn once he found out his parents weren’t coming home. He just sat and stared. It was difficult to see. I didn’t know what to do. It was Michael who brought him back to us. He sat with him when he wasn’t in class or church. Just sat holding his hand and speaking gently to him. In a few months he began talking, but only to Michael at first. He still refused to let anyone else touch him.”

“Sounds tragic. Kenneth is the smaller boy?”

“Yes, and you see what he’s like today. They’re a matched set, those two. Quite inseparable. When I let them go off, they’ll lose track of time. Come home late every time. I’m thankful for Michael. His story may be even more tragic. His mother brought him the year before I came to take charge.

“We take foundlings no matter the circumstances. It’s the policy to turn no boy away. The woman that brought Michael to us, that’s our name for him, wrote she was Margaret Thatcher. She wrote his name as Lord Nelson from Trafalgar. We found out that she was a Millie Roe. Into drugs and not all there. I think Michael may be better off with us. We have grown quite fond of him.”

“I should say so. That’s crazy,” Horatio said. “I’ve never thought what circumstances brings a boy to you, Father. I’d never have guessed the two boys who rescued us came from such difficulties.”

“Your donations go a long way to make the boys’ lives better, and you are in my prayers, Mr. Arnold.”

They turned to small talk after facing the details of their reality. Horatio was even more determined to give the two boys he’d met something else to smile about. He felt like Father Samuel was a fine priest to have charge of orphaned boys.

The tea was refreshing as Horatio heard the story of the Home and Father Samuel’s journey that brought him to his current post.

“Ah, here they are. Boys, this gentlemen has come to have a word with you. Don’t mind me. Just pretend I’m not here.”

“Hard to do, Father,” Michael said. “You got home safe, Mr. Arnold?”

“You remember me from the ten seconds we had together? We got home safe and sound and with my heart full of gratitude for your kind assistance, Michael. My wife, Genevieve, insists we have you for Christmas dinner. Nothing out of the ordinary. Goose with all the trimmings. We’ll have a tree. I’m sure Genevieve will see to it there is a gift or two for each of you under the tree. It’s the kind of thing she insists on and she insists we have you over.”

Horatio made it up as he went along. It wasn’t like they hadn’t talked about it and now he would begin preparing for it.

“What a splendid invitation, Mr. Arnold,” Father Samuel said. “What do you say, Boys.”

There was silence for a few seconds.

“What time is dinner?” Michael asked facetiously.

Everyone laughed.

“Father, can we go?” Kenny asked.

“Certainly you can. I’ll drive you over and I’m sure Mr. Arnold will see that you’re home by curfew,” the priest said.

*****

Once he was home, he sat down with Genevieve to tell her all that he’d found out about the boys.

“They’re orphans. Both of them. Father Samuel seems like a very nice man. The boys seem to care for him,” Horatio said. “I like the man and he was aware we lost Bobby. I wouldn’t have guessed that.”

“My word, how tragic life can be. No matter how hard things are on us, we have more than we need and live a luxurious life. Those poor children don’t know family and they don’t know the love a good family can provide. Michael is the one who resembles Bobby, Dear?” Genevieve said.

“Yes, Kenny is the small one. His hair is as red as Santa’s nose.”

“Well, we’ll just have to see to it that Santa is good to the lads who rescued us,” she said. “You’ll need to go find us a lovely tree and I’ll have the staff get the decorations out of storage.

Both the Arnolds got busy making preparations for a Christmas they’d both dreaded up until now.

It was the first Christmas without Bobby’s laughter and joy. They’d see to it Michael and Kenny had plenty of joy this Christmas.

*****

“Put the star on the tippy top,” Genevieve said, handing Horatio the final ornament that went into place. “That’s the topper, Horatio. It’s beautiful.”

Horatio eased himself back onto the floor.

“Bobby would be dancing with joy while you put up the Star. I do miss him so, Horatio. Having the boys over will be just the thing to liven up the place. I’m so excited they’re coming. There will be the laughter of boys in the house again.”

“Father Samuel will come in for a drink when he brings them. I’ve written a check twice as large as we usually give. Those stories he told. Well, we have so much and we can afford it,” Horatio said. ”He’s quite a lovely man. You’ll like him.”

It was three in the afternoon when Father Samuel escorted his charges to the front door of the huge Arnold house.

“Oh, Father,” Genevieve said. “Thank you for bringing the boys. My husband says they have a good man looking after them. I was so happy to hear it.”

“He’s too kind, Mrs. Arnold. I want to thank you for your wonderful contribution to help take care of the boys.”

“It’s a pittance and the least people with means can do, Father.”

“None-the-less, it’s a thoughtful gift and greatly appreciated, and I shall get out of the way after I introduce you to Michael Roe and Kenneth Kelly. Boys, Mrs. Horatio Arnold, your hostess for today.”

“The lady in the car,” Kenny said. “You’re pretty. Nice to meet you. Call me Kenny. Thanks for inviting us. Your house is so big.”

“Father,” Horatio said, coming into the entryway. “Boys.”

“Your house smells wonderful,” Father Samuel said. “Makes me sorry I didn’t accept your offer to stay with the boys.”

“You can stay for dinner, Father,” Horatio said. “You’re entitled to change your mind. There is plenty for everyone.

“No, this is the boys’ day. I will take you up on the drink that you said would be waiting. You two have a good time and mind your manners,” Father Samuel said, following Horatio to his study.

“What is that fragrance. It smells absolutely wonderful?” Michael said as he walked with Genevieve into the living room.

The hearth was a blaze with a roaring fire.

When the boys saw the tree they ran over to it.

“It’s beautiful,” Kenny said. “Look at the star. It’s perfect. I remember we had a star on top of our tree at home. Can we sit next to the tree?” Kenny asked,

Michael stood close to Kenny as they admired the tree.

“He’s such a kid,” Michael said. “It is a pretty tree.”

“You can sit where you like. Adeline, that’s our cook, has prepared her special punch. It has oranges, lemon, and lime floating on top. You’ll love it,” Genevieve said.

Kenny squealed with delight as Adeline brought a silver tray with two big glasses filled to the brim with the colorful liquid.

“Be careful. Don’t spill it,” Michael said, walking to the windows that overlooked the pastures below the house.

“Horses!” Michael said, amazement in his words. “Horses.”

“We’ll go down after dinner. The Major will be feeding them. If you ask him politely, he might let you help,” Genevieve said, standing next to the excited boys.

Horatio came into the room after Father Samuel left. He stood behind Genevieve and the boys.

“They’re out for a run before the Major feeds them,” he said. “Do you boys like horses?”

“Yes,” Michael said. “I love horses. I dream of having a horse of my own one day.”
The two boys laughed, sipped their punch, and looked up at the most beautiful Christmas tree they’d ever seen.

Webster announced dinner with a little bell he carried in his white gloved hand.

“Dinner is served, Lady and Gentlemen.”

Everyone in the house did their best to see to it the boys had a good time. They took advantage of the opulence present in the Arnolds’ house. They hadn’t entertained since Bobby died and the entire staff wanted this to be the best dinner ever.

The food kept coming and the boys were overwhelmed by the amount and variety. They cleaned their plates and went back for more. It was easy to see they enjoyed every bite. Horatio carved the goose with a flare each time there was a request for more.

There were three kinds of fresh baked pies, ice cream, pudding, and huge glasses of milk fresh from Magruder’s farm.

“I’m stuffed,” Michael finally said. “It’s all wonderful. Thank you.”

“After dinner you can open your gifts,” Horatio said happily.

For the first time the day hit a snag. Opening gifts wasn’t what Michael wanted to do next.

“Can we see the horses first?” Michael asked.

“Michael, we have gifts,” Kenny squealed with delight.

“When will we get another chance to see real horses again, Kenny. I can’t think of anything better,” Michael explained.

“Just like Bobby,” Genevieve said.

It just slipped out. Things she thought but didn’t usually say.

“Bobby was your son. Did he like horses too?” Michael asked.

Genevieve hadn’t expected them to know who Bobby was.

“Yes, he loved horses too,” she managed to say, folding her napkin about ten times while she said it.

“We said prayers for Bobby, once Father told us he was sick,” Michael said.

Genevieve unfolded her napkin. She’d run out of words.

“If we’re going to see the horses, we better get started,” Horatio said, trying to keep control of himself.

Genevieve had taken on a sad demeanor.

The three of them headed for the back of the house and Genevieve gathered herself together and followed. This was to be a wonderful day for the boys and she wouldn’t be sad.

“I have a hunch the major will be feeding them about now. If you ask him nice, he might let you lend a hand. How’d that be?,” Horatio said happily.

Horatio led the way to the stables. Genevieve found a smile for her face and caught up to the men as they entered. Halfway to the back of the stable, they reached the major.

“Major Wellingford, I’m happy to present Michael, he’s the tall one, and this chap is Kenny,” Horatio said, touching Kenny’s shoulder. “This, my fine young gentlemen, is Major Wellingford.”

“The two boys who saved you from an untimely death,” Major Wellington said, coming toward them.

The major came up short just before reaching the group.

“My God, Horatio, he does resemble Master Robert. I thought it was wishful thinking when you said it, It’s a pleasure making your acquaintance, and this one with flaming red hair. Two keepers, I’d say. I was just feeding the horses. Would you care to lend a hand.”

“Could we?” Kenny asked.

“You could and shall. Master Michael, Master Kenny, we put the oats in these feeding buckets,” Major Wellingford explained. “Now we don’t just toss them down and move on. We let the horse, this one is Sandy, get a little smell of dinner and we set it down in front of her so she knows what it is. Then we move on to the next stall.”

As they moved to the second and third stall down, a commotion was coming out of the final stall. Michael stopped to watch and see if he could catch sight of what was making a fierce racket, but noise and nothing more came out of the final stall.

“Here, you take this bucket, Michael, and the next stall is Jezebel. Be careful, she’ll steal your heart if you aren’t careful.”

“Let me feed one,” Kenny said anxiously. “I love horses do you? The next horse is Rex. yours, Lad. Take the bucket. That’s it, let him get a nice smell. That’s Rex. I know, stupid name for a horse, isn’t it,” the major said, casting a glance at Horatio. “He loves his oats anyway. Give him a smell. That’s right. I can see my job is in danger.”

The major kept up his happy banter down the line until they reached the next to the last stall. The commotion in the last stall hadn’t calmed down at all. If anything, it was louder.

Kenny took the next to last bucket as Michael stood at the door, listening to what sounded like a very angry horse.

“That’s Demon. He’s a bad one. Bobby was the only one of us that could handle him. He’s an Arabian, black as pitch, he is. You can’t go in there, Master Michael. I’ll take the last one,” the major said going for the last bucket full of oats.

“I say, Major. I thought we agreed...”

The major disappeared inside the last stall. Michael stood right next to the open stall door without looking in as the major carried the last bucket with him. There were two short snorts and the next commotion was the major running out of the stall, slamming the door.

“You damn Demon. Bobby had you pegged right,” the major said.

Demon’s chest collided with the stall door to further express his displeasure with the major.

He snorted at him and he shivered before raising his head to emit another angry sound at.

“He’s beautiful,” Michael said with surprise. “I thought there was a bull in there.”

“Aren’t you a beauty?”

Demon’s eyes grew as big as saucers as Michael came right up to him.

“Don’t touch... the horse,” Horatio started to stay and then stopped.

“His name is Demon?” Michael asked as he began giving Demon’s neck long gentle stroked. “Beautiful, beautiful boy. He’s a pretty horse, he is. Let me feed him.”

“As far as I’m concerned, you can do anything you damn well please. You got bigger balls than I got, Kid. Don’t that beat all,” the major said as Michael picked up the bucket of oats.

“What a beauty you are. Are you hungry, Demon?” Michael asked the horse. “Have I got something good for you.”

“He must think he’s Bobby,” the major said.

“He knows it’s not Bobby. Close enough to get his attention. I’m going to need to give that boy your job, Major.”

“He can have it if it means him taking care of that devil.”

Michael left the stall gate open as he moved into the stall. Demon moved backward as the boy came forward.

Demon stopped moving when Michael held the bucket up near his nose to offer him a smell of oats. He sat the bucket down between his legs and Demon’s head disappeared into the feed bucket.

Michael stroked behind his neck while speaking in a gentle voice.

The major was joined by Horatio, Genevieve, and Kenny went into the stall, keeping Michael between him and the horse.

“Can you beat that?” the major said.

“Never seen anything like it,” Horatio said.

“Do they have stables at that home?” Genevieve asked. “No one else has been able to get near Bobby’s horse until now.”

“Can I walk him after he eats?” Michael asked.

“Whatever you and Demon decide to do seems to be in order,” Horatio said.

“Amazing,” Genevieve said as Michael led Demon around the corral. Kenny stayed on the outside of Michael.

“Don’t that beat all,” Major Wellingford said. “I’ve seen it all. That horse won’t let anyone near him for six months. Some orphan kid comes along and they adopt each other, just like that.”

“We’ll hire Michael to take care of Demon,” Genevieve said. “That’s all there is to it.”

“Guess we will, Old Girl,” Horatio said. “Those two boys are a matched set according to Father Samuel. We’ll need to find something for Kenny to do. I think we can afford to hire two boys.”

“Be nice having lads tending the houses again,” the major said.

*****

“Sit,” Father Samuel said. “Nice to see you, Horatio. How are you? By the way, the boys love working with the horses. Lovely of you to hire them. I have two happy lads on my hands.”

“That’s what I’m here about, Father. I want to take the boys off your hands. Genevieve and I have talked it over. Those boys need something permanent, and Lord knows they are a joy to have at the house. Genevieve has made up her mind. She wants to adopt them.”

Father Samuel’s smile came a bit too easy.

“Why the big smile, Father? You usually need a minute to think about such a thing,” Horatio said.

The priest opened the top drawer of his desk and brought out some official looking documents. He slid them across to Horatio.

“I don’t understand. These are already filled out. I don’t understand. I thought we’d need to jump through some hoops.”

“Mr. Arnold, the day you first came to have a chat with the boys, I told Sister Mary Francis, ‘He’s going to end up adopting those two.’”

“How could you know that?” Horatio asked.

“I’m a priest. God whispered it in my ear. You’re a good man Horatio Arnold. The only hoop to go through is having your barristers talk to my barristers to arrange for you to sign the papers. There are a few blank spaces you’ll need to fill in. I’d like for you to sign the papers here, if that’s OK.”

For the first time in Horatio Arnold’s life he couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

The Beginning

Happy Christmas, Everybody!

A Christmas Message

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol 180 years ago. He took midnight walks around London while he wrote. Dickens created a miserly skinflint who brings misery to everyone. After seeing himself through others’ eyes, Scrooge is horrified by the future he sees.

Ebenezer vows to change, and he does. He finds joy in giving. He sees the good he can do for people he once made miserable.

Charles Dickens saw a better way for people to be. He reminded us, it’s never too late to change.

Maybe Dickens was seeing our future, if we don’t change our ways. Maybe you can think of the heroic people of Ukraine this Christmas. Maybe think about how warm and well-fed you are. Maybe think of Europe on fire when a war in Ukraine refuses to remain there.

Maybe think of what the homeless will eat on Christmas. Forty percent of homeless children are LGBTQ, our kids. They might not eat this Christmas if someone doesn’t take them food.

If you take a timeout from buying more stuff, you might find a better way to be.

I hate being a Debbie Downer during the happiest time of year, but these are my thoughts this Christmas.

I can’t say it any better than Tiny Tim said it:

“God bless us, every one,” Tiny Tim. C Dickens, A Christmas Carol, December 19, 1843.

Photo by Silvi Aranda at Pexels