Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Sleigh Ride! by Eileen O'Finlan


I can't believe I've lived in New England all my life and I've never been on a sleigh ride. Well, it will have to go on my bucket list. Especially after the fun my characters, Meg, Kathleen, and Nuala had when they indulged in a sleigh ride. Meg, Kathleen, and Nuala are domestic servants in Worcester, Massachusetts in the 1850s. Irish immigrants, they all came from the horrible starvation of An Gorta Mor, the Great Hunger. They were lucky to survive. But now they have new lives in America. It's not all fun. They work hard sun-up to sun-down and then some. But unlike their lives in Ireland, they are able to earn good enough livings to send money back to their families, save for their futures, and partake of an occasional indulgence. Usually it involves clothing that mimics that of their employers. But on a day in February they decide to find out why the children of their employers are so fond of sleigh rides and pool their money to hire a sleigh and driver for themselves. Here's a peek at what happens:

Blankets and foot warmers in hand, the three bounded out the door. Two large chestnut horses trotted up the street, stopping in front of the house. The sleigh driver was the same Irishman who had taken the Claprood girls and their cousins for a ride.

“Where to?” he asked, jumping down to assist them into the sleigh.

“Anywhere you like,” Nuala told him. “We're out for enjoyment. It doesn't matter where we go.”

A flicker of recognition showed on his face as Nuala spoke, her brogue giving her away. “You lasses are the helps?”

“Aye,” said Nuala, “but today we're your passengers.”

Looking at Meg, he furrowed his brow. “Didn't I see you at the Claproods'?”

“You did. I work for them.”

A broad grin spread across his face. “This is a grand thing indeed!”

“What do you mean?” Kathleen asked.

“'Tis the first time I've driven Irish lasses. It's always Yanks that hire me. We're every bit as good as they are even if they don't know it, aye? One day we'll be as successful as them. Then you'll ride in sleighs and carriages anytime you want.”

They all giggled at the thought. Meg wondered if it could really be possible.

“What's your name?” Nuala asked.

“Seamus O'Herilhy, at your service, m'ladies,” he said, with a sweeping bow that from most people would have seemed mocking, but from their countryman held an air of genuine respect.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Seamus O'Herilhy,” Nuala responded. “I'm Nuala O'Flaherty, and these are my friends, Meg and Kathleen O'Connor.”

“A pleasure it is,” he said with a smile before climbing onto the driver's box. With a snap of the whip, the horses were in motion.

For the next two hours they traversed the hills and valleys of Worcester. It was obvious that Seamus knew the city well. They headed northwest to the Tatnuck section. Filled with meadows, pastures, and farmland, Tatnuck appeared like a fairyland. Last night's snowfall covered the landscape like a pristine white cape with a million glistening diamonds. Only where farmers had gone about their chores was the seamless white garment rent by plodding footprints.

Wind whipped their faces as the sleigh sped along, the horses picking up speed in the open fields. Meg gazed wide-eyed at the world of white domed by a clear blue sky. The easy glide of the runners with their accompanying whoosh made her grin so hard it hurt. She'd never before felt such exhilaration.
Nuala nudged her. “Aye, but this is exciting!” she exclaimed.

Meg nodded, the bracing air stealing her breath. She glanced at Kathleen. She, too, was grinning as she peered first one direction then another. The big draft horses kicked up sprays of snow as they ad-vanced, their bells resounding in the brisk air. The sleigh slowed as they crested a hill, then sped up again as it raced down the other side. The friends screamed with delight, falling into a fit of laughter upon reaching the bottom.

Public Domain picture


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