Sleigh bells ring, are you
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight,
We're happy tonight.
Walking in a winter wonderland.
She looked around the large formal living room of the Manor house, which tonight had been transformed into a ballroom. The guests were just starting to arrive, and she thought the room had never looked lovelier. As usual, Matt and Maddie had spared no expense in preparing for the party, and the decorations and Christmas music set a festive ambience. Her gaze lingered on the Christmas tree, without a doubt her favorite part of the décor. She smiled proudly as she thought of Honey’s decision to cut down a tree this year. She had been prepared to stand up to Matt and Maddie for Honey, but Honey had set her mouth in a firm line and looked at them with her big hazel eyes, and neither of her parents had been able to refuse her. Honey had made up her mind to get a real tree this year, and nothing Maddie could say could dissuade her from her plan of dragging Dan and his axe into the preserve in search of the perfect Christmas tree. They had come back with quite an impressive tree, and Maddie had sighed in relief until Honey had announced her plans of decorating it herself. She had gotten all the Bob-Whites involved in baking homemade decorations, had Bobby and the two sets of Lynch twins create paper chains and colored picture ornaments, and even roped Matt into helping her string popcorn and cranberries. At the first sight of the finished tree, Maddie had had to retire to her room to recover, and Miss Trask had not missed the hurt look in Honey’s eyes. Once again, she felt a little spark of anger deep inside her, as she always did when she thought of the way Honey’s parents, especially Maddie, seemed blind and deaf to Honey’s feelings. At least Maddie tried harder now with Honey, but Honey deserved much more than Maddie seemed able to give her. Maddie was back down now, though, greeting the guests, and telling anyone who would listen that Honey had picked out and supervised the decorating of the tree. Matt smiled indulgently as the guests exclaimed over it. Miss Trask hoped they’d remember to tell Honey how much they liked it. She’d try to give them a tactful hint to that effect if she got the chance.
She glanced around the room once again. The Wheelers had told her that she was officially off-duty tonight; that she was just to fraternize with the other guests and enjoy herself. So far, she was having a difficult time obeying orders. She always felt most comfortable at large gatherings when she had something to keep her busy. She looked over at the buffet one more time, making sure everything was in order. The newest cook, Babs, had done a marvelous job. The sumptuous feast included a steamship round, seafood and chicken dishes, and all the trimmings. Waitresses hired from a catering company were already circulating with trays of champagne, ginger ale, and hors-d’oeurves. She walked in front of the buffet table, straightening plates and napkins, and was amused to find Helen Belden doing the same thing. The two women smiled at each other, each recognizing their common need to keep busy. They walked toward each other, but had barely exchanged greetings, however, when Peter came over and claimed his wife for the first dance of the evening. Helen excused herself with an apologetic smile. Miss Trask watched them dance, and marveled at the way, after almost twenty years of marriage, they still looked at each other as if they were newlyweds. What made some love seem to last forever, while some seemed to end almost as soon as it had begun, and some never happened at all? she wondered. She didn’t want to think about which category she belonged in. There was always hope, wasn’t there? She had tried not to think about romance since that fiasco with Gordie McDuff. Thank goodness she had come to her senses that time. She looked away as Peter leaned down to kiss his wife, and sighed as she watched all the happy couples. Everyone seemed to be paired up. She wondered if she would dance tonight, and unconsciously her eyes searched the crowd of people for one particular face. She tried to tell herself to be sensible, but she couldn’t help thinking about one man. Matt had mentioned he would be here, but he had no idea of Miss Trask’s feelings for him. He and the others probably thought she was sweet on Mr. Lytell or Mr. Maynard. She tried not to shudder at the thought. They were all right as friends; she enjoyed a good card game or cup of tea with either one of them, but romance? She hoped she wasn’t that old yet!
She went back to searching the faces. Celia and Tom waltzed by, then Trixie and Jim, followed by Diana and Dan. Honey was dancing with Mart, who, not surprisingly, appeared to be doing most of the talking. They had only danced a few minutes when Brian cut in on his brother. Miss Trask watched as Honey’s expression changed ever so slightly. She looked up at him with a shy, happy look, and as he bent his dark head to whisper something in her ear, her cheeks flushed and her face seemed to glow. Miss Trask thought again what a handsome couple they made. She didn’t know what the chances were of Honey ending up with Brian, but she sent up a silent prayer that she would end up with someone as nice and as trustworthy, anyway. Glancing over at Matt, she saw him looking daggers at Brian. He didn’t seem to feel the same way. Probably no one is good enough for his little girl, Miss Trask thought. Laughingly, Maddie pulled him out onto the dance floor. That’s right, Maddie, keep him distracted. And watching the Wheelers dance, she thought there was a good chance that Matt had forgotten about Honey already. She saw Mart and Di dance by, and thought Mart had forgotten Honey pretty quickly, too, cutting in on Dan as quickly as his brother had cut in on him. Di took the change of partners with good grace, smiling up at Mart. Miss Trask wasn’t sure which one she’d prefer to be dancing with. There was no clue on her face. She had seen Dan give her a pretty bracelet as a Christmas gift, and she had looked at him almost the same way she was looking at Mart now. Miss Trask wondered if she knew which boy she preferred.
Dan shrugged and walked over to the punch bowl. He was used to being the third wheel, or rather the seventh wheel, with the Bob-Whites. Following his movements, Miss Trask tried not to gasp as she saw the familiar face she had been searching for. He looked even more handsome than she remembered, and his dark suit flattered his large frame. He was smiling and laughing at something Regan was saying. That was one thing Miss Trask liked about him; he always seemed to be congenial and cheerful. Well, it wouldn’t do to stand here staring with her mouth open. She prepared to circulate, but just then he looked up and saw her, giving her a smile and a wink from across the room. Miss Trask couldn’t help smiling back. She remembered last time he had winked at her; he had joked then about the famous Bob-Whites. He made his way toward her. She smoothed her fitted gray silk dress unconsciously. It’s really getting rather warm in here, she thought. He came over and seemed to greet her affectionately enough, asking her if she still kept company with the notorious Bob-Whites. She hoped he wasn’t talking to her just to be nice.
"Yes, they’ve really made a name for themselves," she replied. "They certainly keep me busy trying to keep up with them; especially Trixie."
He looked over at Trixie, still dancing with Jim as though no one else in the room existed.
"She seems pretty easy to keep track of tonight," he said with his usual big grin.
Miss Trask agreed, trying not to stare too much at his handsome face and warm, brown eyes.
"I just had a piece of this pecan pie with Regan," he said, "and it’s out of this world. Would you like me to get you some?"
"No, thanks," Miss Trask answered. She smiled to herself, thinking about how Honey had managed to get into the kitchen earlier, despite many protests from Babs, and bake several pecan pies from a recipe Helen Belden had given her. Miss Trask had a sneaking suspicion that that particular pie was Brian’s favorite dessert. "Maybe later," she answered. She didn’t think she could choke down a thing right now.
He turned to look down at her, and her heart began to race. Was there really hope?
"Look, I’d love to ask you to dance, but I’m not much of a dancer." He seemed a little less sure of himself than usual. "It’s kind of warm in here. Would you like to take a walk?"
Miss Trask nodded eagerly, thinking, This is definitely my kind of guy.
They donned their coats and boots, and slipped out a side door. Snow was just beginning to fall, and the Christmas lights outside the Manor House sparkled in the snow, giving it the look of a fairyland. The lights and music followed them as they walked through the pristine snow. Miss Trask could just make out the song that was playing, and she had to smile when she heard it.
"Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight
Walking in a winter wonderland."
It seemed to fit so perfectly. Miss Trask reveled in the snow and cold air, and thought with relief that she now felt completely happy and comfortable. She always loved walking, and having good company made it all the more enjoyable.
They lost track of time as they walked and talked for quite a while, finally deciding they’d better turn back before frostbite set in. As they passed the Robin, Miss Trask had just begun telling about the mystery that surrounded it one summer, when they saw Tom and Celia making their way toward it. As they watched, the young couple paused in front of the door, turning to kiss one another. Miss Trask froze, and remained silent, not wanting Tom and Celia to see them, and not wanting to look at her companion. Unfortunately, he chose that moment to sneeze. Tom and Celia whirled around.
"Retiring so early?" he kidded the couple. "The party’s just beginning."
"Um, yeah," Tom answered, "Celia’s a little tired."
"Well, sleep well," Miss Trask said, trying to keep the smile out of her voice. As soon as Tom and Celia had entered the trailer, the tension was too much, and she and her companion burst out laughing. They were still smiling as they reached the Manor House steps. He turned to her.
"Margery, I’m not really a partying kind of guy, and I have to work early tomorrow, so I’m just going to say goodbye here." He took her hand. " I just wanted to tell you what a great time I had."
Miss Trask smiled up at him, scarcely breathing. "Me, too," she managed to say.
He leaned down and brushed her cheek ever so gently with a kiss. "Good-night," he said.
Miss Trask stood and watched the tall figure make his way through the snow toward the cars. She shook herself, finally realizing how cold it was. She walked back into the Manor House, leaving her coat and boots in the hall. The lights and music and warmth and the sight of all the people she loved welcomed her back to the party. This time, Miss Trask smiled as she watched all the couples dancing by. She had no idea what song was playing because there was still only one going through her head right now:
"When it snows, ain’t it thrilling,
Though you nose gets a chilling?
We’ll frolic and play the Eskimo way
Walking in the winter wonderland."
This story was originally written for Happy Holidays at Zap’s Trixie Belden page, and it was one of the first stories I wrote. My graphics can’t begin to touch the original set put together by Carol. Maybe some day Carol’s beautiful work will be recovered, but at least this way some of my stories are once again online! ‘Winter Wonderland” was written in 1934 by Richard Smith and Felix Barnard. The song is used without permission, but I am not making anything from it. Photo courtesy of Google Images.