Word Count 3,179
Monday, December 17, 1871 (mid-morning):
“You will be home by Sunday, won’t you?” Teresa O’Brien fixed her imploring eyes on one Lancer brother and then the other. It wouldn’t be right if they weren’t there to help celebrate.
Johnny Lancer tweaked Teresa’s nose. “You don’t think we’d miss Christmas, do you?”
“But it’s only a week away.” Teresa felt a surge of worry. “What if you get caught in a snow storm in the mountains, or the wagon breaks down, or . . .?”
“Stop worrying.” Scott Lancer put an arm around her and pulled her close. “We’ll be here. You can count on it.”
Teresa let out a sigh. “You’d better be.”
Scott drew away. “Speaking of snow. I wouldn’t mind having a little for Christmas . . . and some mistletoe if you can manage it.”
“And don’t forget to put the presents on the tree.” Johnny grinned.
“On the tree?” Teresa tipped her chin up and scowled at Johnny. “Don’t you mean under it?”
Scott elbowed his brother. “You do mean under it, don’t you?”
Johnny shook his head. “Nope. I want presents on it.”
“And how is she supposed to do that?” Scott arched his brows.
“I don’t mean anything big.”
Scott continued to scowl. “Then what?”
“Oh, little stuff . . . candies, dried fruits . . . some cookies. All wrapped up and tied with pretty ribbons and hung here and there.”
“We’ve never done that before.” Scott crossed his arms. “Where did you come up with that idea?”
Johnny shrugged. “Made it up. Don’t you like it? It would dress up the tree, wouldn’t it?”
Teresa formed a picture in her mind and smiled. “I love the idea!”
“Actually, it does sound festive.” Scott nodded his head a couple of times and looked over at Johnny. “You know, Brother, sometimes you amaze me.”
Johnny flashed a smug grin at Scott.
Teresa propped her hands on her hips and looked from one brother to the other. “Well, if I go to all of that work, you two had better be here on time.”
Scott patted her arm. “Never fear. Christmas Eve will find me right here.”
“Where the love light gleams, right?” Johnny covered his mouth and his shoulders shook.
Scott gave Johnny a scowl. “I said no such thing.” He turned back toward Teresa. “I assure you, I’ll be home for Christmas.”
Johnny smiled. “Me, too . . . even if it’s only in my dreams.”
“It better not be!” Teresa tapped her foot. “You won’t get any presents.”
“We’ll be here. Christmas Day, at the very latest.” Scott grabbed Johnny’s arm. “Won’t we?”
Johnny nodded. “You bet. Come hell . . . or a foot o’ snow. We’ll crawl if we have to.”
“Yes, we will, if we can ever get out of here.” Scott smiled at Teresa. “Otherwise you may have to settle for us being here in our dreams.”
Teresa swung a hand at Scott. “Get going, then. I don’t see anyone holding you back.”
The brothers laughed as they stepped off the veranda. Teresa smiled contentedly as she watched them climb up to the seat of the buckboard where Scott took up the reins and drove away. When they were out of sight, she turned back toward the house. Hopefully their trip to Virginia City would go well. Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without them.
Friday, December 22, 1871 (early afternoon):
The train rumbled along a clear track on its way to Sacramento. Johnny Lancer tipped the front of his hat up and looked over at his brother. “Murdoch oughta be pleased with the Cartwright deal. Don’t ya think?”
Scott Lancer stirred and moved his own hat up above his eyes. “If he isn’t, I don’t have a clue what would make him satisfied.”
“We’re makin’ good time, too.” Johnny jabbed a thumb in the direction of the window near his head. “Not one drop o’ snow or rain since we left home. Don’t look like we’ll have to worry about snow holdin’ us up. There ain’t even one cloud in the sky.”
Scott arched his back and shifted in his seat. “We should be at the Cross Creek Station by this time tomorrow. That’ll put us home a day early.”
Johnny slumped lower. “What about dropping in on the Poes? Take ’em a little Christmas cheer.”
“You realize if we do that, we won’t be able to make it home before dark.”
“Who says we gotta get there tomorrow? We promised to be home by Christmas Eve, right? So why can’t we spend the night and head out right after breakfast. “
Scott rubbed his chin. “I suppose that would work. Besides, if we arrived home tomorrow, Teresa would put us to work. Is that what you’re thinking?”
Johnny grinned. “Uh, huh . . . and be houndin’ us all day about what we got her for a present. You wanna put up with that?”
Scott wagged his head side to side. “Johnny, I do like the way you think sometimes. So, what time do you figure we should show up on Sunday?”
“Oh.” Johnny tipped his head back and scowled upward. “An hour before suppertime oughta do it.” He looked over at his brother. “That’d give us time to stash our packages and get cleaned up. Don’t ya think?”
Scott slowly nodded and crossed his arms. “We might have to waste some time in Spanish Wells. Even if we walked the team the whole distance, it wouldn’t take three hours to get home from the Poe’s place.”
Johnny slapped Scott on the arm. “Now you’re thinkin’. We could stay at Charlie’s a little longer, hit town about noon, and go play cards for a couple o’ hours after we have a bite to eat. Long’s we head out by three, we’d be home by five.”
Scott’s smile faded. “Of course, you do realize that Teresa will be stewing long before then.”
“I know.” Johnny felt a stab of guilt but pushed it out of his mind. “But she’ll be too happy to see us to be mad for long. Don’t you think?”
“That’s true . . . as long as we have a good excuse for being that late.”
Johnny skewed his mouth. “Stoppin’ off in town might not be a good idea, huh?”
Scott sighed. “Might not.”
Johnny wrapped his arms across his chest and rubbed his jaw with one hand. Surely there was some way they could get out of being home early.
An idea took shape. Johnny lowered his hand and tapped his other elbow. “You know, Scott. There is that farmhouse you let the McGloins stay in. We could kick back there for a while. It looked pretty clean when we camped out there last month.”
Scott smiled and slapped Johnny on the leg. “Now you’re talking.”
Johnny felt his excitement rise. “We could say we had trouble with the buckboard after we left Charlie’s, and we stopped in there to fix it.”
“That’s correct. With no witnesses to contradict us, who’s to be the wiser?” Scott tugged the front of his hat over his eyes. “Now that we have that settled, I think I’ll continue my nap . . . if you don’t mind?”
“Fine by me.” Johnny tipped his hat forward and closed his eyes. Slowly he drifted into a world filled with dazzling snowflakes. A towering tree, wrapped top to bottom in glimmering lights, took up most of the Lancer parlor, and rainbow-colored presents rested on the tip of every branch. Murdoch, who had mysteriously grown a white beard and was dressed all in red, greeted Johnny and Scott at the door. Then they all sat down at the table Teresa had spread with a feast fit for a king.
Sunday, December 24, 1872 (shortly after daylight):
“Would you look at that?” Johnny Lancer waved a hand toward Charlie Poe’s front yard.
Any other time, Scott would have welcomed the sight with open arms. He sighed. “You do realize what this means, don’t you?”
Johnny brushed away a snowflake that had landed on his nose. “Your wish for snow came a little early?”
“That . . . and that there’s no way we can make it home by tonight if this keeps up.” This thought sent a shudder through Scott. He’d made a promise. Teresa was counting on him to keep it.
“It could turn to rain.”
Scott arched his brows. “Not likely. Can’t you feel that bite in the air?”
Johnny dipped his head. He dragged one foot through the layer of snow on the porch and formed a furrow that was deeper than the heel of his boot. “Yeah. Don’t look like it’s gonna let up either.”
Scott gazed out at the wall of white flakes. “If anything, it’s coming down even harder. At this rate, it could snow another four or five inches before dark.” He drew in a chilling breath. “It’ll be a lot deeper at the top of the ridge, too.”
“And T’resa laughed when you said you wanted snow. Bet she ain’t laughin’ now.”
A lump formed in Scott’s throat. “I know. Who’d have thought it would snow two years in a row when in the past it’s gone a decade or more without so much as one flake.”
Johnny continued to scuff his heel in the trench he’d made. “Guess we’ll have to dream about bein’ home for Christmas. We can’t get the wagon through in this. Team’d never get up that last hill.”
Scott closed his eyes. “Not pulling the buckboard. That’s for sure.”
A hand wrapped around Scott’s arm and a Johnny spoke in a soft drawl. “We might as well go enjoy our breakfast before we turn into a couple of snowmen. There ain’t much else we can do.”
Scott glanced at his brother. “I suppose you’re right.” He took a step toward the door and paused. “I hate to admit defeat, but I guess you know that by now.”
Johnny slung an arm over Scott’s shoulder. “Same here . . . but sometimes you don’t have a choice.”
That was a truth Scott well knew, a hard lesson learned during his days in the cavalry. But this was different. The war was over. Christmas was meant to be spent with family, not just dreamed about.
Sunday, December 24, 1871 (late evening):
“They aren’t going to be here, are they?” Teresa O’Brien jabbed the iron poker between the logs on the fire. Sparks crackled and flew upward, a few glowing embers pelting the hearth.
Murdoch gazed at his ward from his chair near one end of the sofa. “We can’t expect them to travel in this.”
Teresa stood and turned. “I know. But why did it have to do this now? We’ve never had this much snow at one time . . . ever.”
“At least they were home last year.” Murdoch chewed at his lower lip. The truth of that brought little comfort.
Dejection filled Teresa’s voice. “And they’ll be here in their dreams.”
Murdoch scowled. “In their dreams?”
Teresa nodded. A faint smile appeared and quickly vanished from her face. “Oh, it’s just something Johnny said before they left. If they couldn’t get here for Christmas, they’d dream they were.”
“That could go two ways, you know.” Murdoch closed the book he’d been reading and laid it in his lap. “If they’re not here by midnight, I think we should turn in.”
Sadness filled Teresa’s eyes. “And dream they were here. Is that what you’re saying?”
“Yes.” Murdoch cleared his throat. “There’ll always be another Christmas Eve. There’s no sense ruining this one wishing for what might not be. Maybe they’ll show up tomorrow and we can still spend Christmas together.” He rose, joined Teresa in front of the fireplace, and pulled her against his side. “Why don’t you get the eggnog, Darling, and another plate of cookies? Maybe by the time you get it all set out, the boys will show up.”
It was nearly midnight when Teresa had everything prepared. Murdoch settled into his chair at the head of the table, and she sat in the one around the corner to his right.
Teresa tipped her head, her breath coming out in a soft sigh. “I hope Jelly’s having a good visit with his sister and her family.”
Murdoch welcomed the change from talking about his sons. “I’m sure he is.”
“It seems kind of quiet without him and . . .” She looked down. “At least he got to go for Christmas.”
“Yes, it is.” Murdoch searched for words to lighten her mood. “I’m sure he’ll give us an earful when he gets back. You know Jelly.”
Teresa fussed with her napkin. “Maybe we’ll all be together on New Year’s Eve. Jelly’s supposed to be back on Saturday.”
The grandfather clock let out a loud gong. Murdoch leaned back in his chair and silently counted the eleven more that followed. It was Christmas. Feeling sorry over lost hopes, however, would solve nothing. If there was one thing he’d learned over the past twenty-six years, it was that.
Murdoch reached across the corner of the table. “Shall we say a little prayer before we eat?”
Teresa grasped Murdoch’s hand and bowed her head. He bowed his, too. In quiet reverence, he expressed his gratitude for another Christmas and the reminder of God’s special gift to all mankind. He closed with a request for the safety of his own sons.
“Johnny and Scott will fine.” Teresa squeezed Murdoch’s hand. “I was just hoping . . .”
Murdoch tightened his grip. “Me too . . . but we have each other.”
“Yes, we do.” Teresa smiled, withdrew her hand, and reached for a cookie.
They silently filled their plates with various goodies. Murdoch poured the eggnog and lifted his glass. “To Christmas and to us.”
Teresa raised her glass. “And to Scott and Johnny.”
Murdoch nodded. “And to Scott and Joh–“
The French door straight across from the far end of the dining table burst open and a blast of cold air brushed Murdoch’s cheeks. Two snow-covered forms strode into the room, their voices ringing in unison. “Merry Christmas!”
“You’re home!” Teresa jumped up and raced toward them.
Scott and Johnny Lancer peeled off their coats. They gave them a good shaking before coming on inside and closing the door.
Teresa barely let the brothers hang their coats and hats on the coat tree before giving each a welcoming hug. “I’m so glad you’re here.” She grabbed Scott’s hand and then Johnny’s. With happiness beaming on her face, she led them to the table.
Scott smiled at her in return. “I promised we’d be here for Christmas, didn’t I?” He glanced toward the clock behind him. “Although, I see we didn’t quite make it for Christmas Eve.”
Teresa’s smile faded into a frown. “But how did you do it? The team couldn’t pull the buckboard in this. There was eight inches of snow out front just before dark. The ridge would have a good two inches more. It could be a foot deep by now.”
Johnny grinned at Teresa. “We decided bein’ here would beat any old dream. When we finally got to Spanish Wells, we left the wagon and borrowed a couple o’ horses. It was still slow goin’. Had to stop quite a few times to let ’em rest.”
Murdoch greeted his sons as they took their seats. His chest tightened and he reached for the pitcher that was in front of his dish. “Would you like some eggnog? I can add some brandy to it to help warm you up.”
Scott moved his glass closer to Murdoch. “Sounds good to me. Thank you.”
“Same here.” Johnny slid his glass over in front of Teresa’s plate.
Teresa remained standing behind her chair. “I dished you each up a plate at supper time and put them in the oven to keep warm. I’ll go get them.” She hurried out before either had a chance to reply.
While Teresa was getting supper for his sons, Murdoch collected the brandy decanter and added a healthy shot to each of their glasses of eggnog.
Teresa returned a short while later with a plate of steaming food in each hand. She set them in front of Scott and Johnny and settled into her place at the table.
Scott drew in a deep breath. “Hm. Thank you, Teresa. This smells delicious.”
Johnny inhaled, agreed with his brother, and took a bite of the roast beef. “Tastes good, too.”
Murdoch leaned back. He sent a silent prayer heavenward to thank God for bringing his boys home safely and in time for them to celebrate Christmas as a family.
Johnny stabbed his fork into another piece of meat. “This is sure better than any dream I could have had.”
Scott lifted his filled fork. “Same here.” He looked from Teresa to Murdoch. “It’s good to be home for Christmas. May we never have to say it’s only in our dreams.”
“I’ll drink a toast to that.” Murdoch lifted his glass high. “Here’s to being home at Christmas.”
Scott saluted with his glass. “And to snow and mistletoe.”
“And presents on the tree.” Johnny raised his glass.
Teresa smiled as she help up her glass and looked from Johnny to Scott. “We kept the love lights burning all through the evening. I’m so glad you made it home by Christmas.”
They all sang out together. “And that it wasn’t in our dreams.”
Laughter filled the room. Glasses clinked together. A chorus of voices shouted, “Merry Christmas.”
Murdoch sipped his drink. He couldn’t wish for a better close to the day. With a joyful heart, he lifted his glass again. “May this be the second of many Christmases to come.”
~ The End ~
December 16, 2014
Note: The song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was the inspiration for this story. Of course, the song wasn’t in existence in 1871, so I couldn’t refer to it in that way. Also, since there were already two Lancer stories based on Scott not being home for Christmas because of the war, I chose to use the words from the song in a different way so that this story could end on a happier note.
Before writing this story, I did a quick search on the song. Here is a brief reference to its first recording. You can listen to it on YouTube at the link below. The other link will take you to Wikipedia where you can read a little more about the song’s history.
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a Christmas song recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby who scored a top ten hit with the song. Originally written to honor soldiers overseas who have longed to be home for Christmastime, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has since gone on to become a Christmas standard.
To listen to the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MD-cxwJ5o8
For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I’ll_Be_Home_for_Christmas
PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT
Thank you for reading! The authors listed on this site spend many hours writing stories for your enjoyment, and their only reward is the feedback you leave. So please take a moment to leave a comment. Even the simplest ‘I liked this!” can make all the difference to an author and encourage them to keep writing and posting their stories here. You can comment in the ‘reply’ box below or email Desert Sun directly.