Chapter 6 SLEIGH LUNCH
“I have room up here next to me if anyone wants to ride up front.” Mr. Castle said wrapping a furry blanket around his legs.
“Can I ride up there, please? It’s so much closer to Barnaby.” Blossom pleaded.
“Me too!” Bud leaped to his feet scattering straw all over everyone.
“We’d best let them sit up there or they’ll never sit still. Now you mind Mr. Castle and no goofing off. Barnaby likes well-behaved quiet kids.” Grandpa said giving Mr. Castle a wink as he lifted Blossom and then Bud up to the driver’s seat.
“Let’s go, Barnaby.” Mr. Castle called out flicking the reins. The big brown horse shook his head and started moving forward.
“How does Barnaby know where to go?” Blossom asked quietly as the horse headed down the street and turned at the corner.
“I tell him with the reins. If I pull on this one he goes right and if I pull on the other one he turns left. But he’s a real smart horse. He knows where the best places are, so we’ll just let him decide where to go.” Mr. Castle said leaning back against the seat. Sitting back comfortably he watched the big horse plod slowly through the falling snow. Blossom and Bud watched him for several seconds then scooted back until they were leaning against the back of the seat like Mr. Castle, their short legs sticking straight out on the broad bench seat. Mr. Castle pulled his fuzzy blanket so it covered all three of them. Blossom pulled the warm blanket up to her nose.
“This is fantastic.” Rose said snuggling under a blanket next to Sunflower. “What a great way to spend Christmas Eve day.” she held out her mitten to catch the falling snowflakes.
“When are we going to eat?” Pine asked looking at all the containers his Dad and Uncle had carried out and put in the sleigh. They smelled like the kitchen had earlier.
“When we get to where we’re going.” Grandpa said his blue eyes twinkling with the secret.
Pine thought about asking where that was but he was pretty sure no one was going to tell them until they got there. Sighing he looked around at all the decorated houses they were passing, they looked so much more festive than usual from a horse-drawn sleigh, especially the way the Christmas decorations twinkled in the falling snow. “It’s so quiet out here with just Barnaby’s feet clumping in the snow. This is what Christmas must have been like for the pioneers, when they didn’t have cars and things like we have now. Really quiet.”
“I like horses better than cars.” Blossom said from the front seat.
“That’s why sleigh rides are great for singing Christmas carols.” Grandma suggested.
“That’s a great idea.” Sunflower said starting to sing ‘Jingle Bells’. Everyone joined in, even Mr. Castle boomed out the song in a loud deep voice.
They trotted down streets, past their school and over a snow-covered bridge. They sang carols the whole way until Barnaby stopped suddenly. “Why did we stop?” Blossom cried leaning forward to see if Barnaby was okay.
“Because it’s time to eat!” Mrs. Browne answered.
“Yup!” Mr. Castle nodded. “Barnaby needs his supper too.”
“Can I help?” Blossom and Bud said together.
“Sure, but first we have to put a blanket on Barnaby so he doesn’t get cold while we eat.”
The two littlest ones scrambled off the sleigh while Mr. Castle pulled a thick blanket out of the back of the sleigh. He covered the large horse and showed Bud and Blossom how to fasten it so it wouldn’t fall off. “Now we give him his feed bag.” Mr. Castle announced fastening a bag filled with grain to Barnaby’s bridle.
“Is that how he eats?” Blossom asked fascinated, watching the horse with his nose deep in the bag.
“Only when he’s working. In the barn he has a bucket for his food and a box for his hay.”
“Who wants some chili?” Mr. Browne called pouring thick steamy chili from one of the thermos into plastic bowls.
“Super cool!” Pine shouted. “A winter picnic!”
“I’ll take some!” everyone shouted making room in the sleigh for Bud, Blossom and Mr. Castle. With the hot bowls of chili sitting on the bales of straw beside them they ate sandwiches, drank hot chocolate and horse shaped cookies. It didn’t take them long to eat up all the packages of sandwiches and cookies and to empty all the thermos of chili and hot chocolate.
“That was a mighty good meal, Mrs. Mahogany.” Mr. Castle said taking the feed bag and blanket off of Barnaby.
“It sure was Mom!” Pine echoed settling back against the straw bales next to Oak, Rose and Sunflower.
“Everyone set?” Mr. Castle asked climbing up onto the seat. He glanced over his shoulder and grinned at Bud and Blossom. Now that it was getting darker they were both snuggled in next to their fathers.
“All set!” Grandma said tucking a blanket tight around Bud and Blossom.
“Let’s go Barnaby!” Mr. Castle clucked to the big horse. Barnaby turned the sleigh around and started heading back to town. Instead of going straight back to the Mahogany’s house Barnaby twisted and turned down every street and avenue in the town.
“Ohhh! Look!” Sunflower squealed. “Now all the houses are lit up! Look at all the Christmas lights. They’re beautiful.”
“Let’s sing our way home again.” Grandma suggested while Mr. Castle and Barnaby took them all around the town until they had seen every single decorated house. It was totally dark by the time they arrived home.
“Thanks Mr. Castle.” they all called unloading the empty food containers and dirty dishes out of the sleigh. Blossom grabbed Grandpa’s hand and pulled him over to Barnaby.
“I have to say good-bye and thank you to Barnaby.” she said. He lifted her up. She leaned forward and patted Barnaby on the white star between his big brown eyes. “Thank you Barnaby. It was the very best Christmas ever.” she whispered in his ear.
She waved until she could no longer see the horse and sleigh. “We’d better get inside so you can get changed in time for Grandma’s game.” Grandpa said as they slowly walked hand in hand back to the house.
Once inside Blossom ran to catch up with Rose and Sunflower and to get changed. “Don’t look at anything till we get back.” she called back to the adults.
“We’ll be right here, Sweetie.” Grandma promised.
It didn’t take them long to change into their new Christmas clothes. “You all look so Christmasy.” Grandma said when they rushed back into the kitchen dressed in new red and green pants and shirts on the boys, skirts and blouses on the girls.
“Can we take everyone in and show them what we did?” Rose asked excitedly grabbing Grandma’s hand.
“Let’s go, the dishes can wait.” Mrs. Mahogany laughed even though most of the dishes were done. Mrs. Browne and Grandma had helped her clean up a bit while they waited for the kids to return. They hadn’t even peeked at the decorations.
Next week: GRANDMA’S GAME