Let Candles Light the Way

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There was a lit candle tied to every tree along the driveway to the Moors'. They were the traditional sort of candle, with white wax and orange flame. The snow-chilled winds didn't perturb them in the least, their fires barely flickering. Big, light flakes of snow twirled around them lazily in the night, illuminated by the moon and by the torches on the trees. The stars could be seen in the certain patches of the sky where there weren't clouds, still as the forest below.

People flocked in the drive, their boots splattered white. They talked and laughed, walking slowly down the road. Children chased one another around, hiding behind trees and squealing as they threw snowballs. The occasional owl would sing above their heads, causing them to grown quiet and listen.

At the end of the twisting path was a log cabin, draped in snow and covered in ivy. Smoke curled from the chimney and candles lined the porch, welcoming all when the hour struck midnight. The windows glowed a glossy amber and the shadows of Mr. and Mrs. Moor could be seen bustling away, putting the final preparations into their annual New Year's dinner.

Welcome to all, people and families of all sorts would arrive, bringing their friends and relatives. Their sons and daughters would carry leftover scraps and berries for Prince, the fat border collie who lived with the Moors. Infants were cradled and cooed at by all, smiling cheekily or sleeping until the meal. The bare trees and their pulsing shadows guided the townsfolk on their way to the cottage.

Not a mile east, the city clock glowed with festive lights, awaiting the end of New Year's Eve. Its face was the color of old parchment, its numerals ebony like the hands. It was tall and made entirely of bronze, a golden 1906 inscribed near the middle. It stood in the center of Palansler Square, serving as a timepiece for all.

There was one minute to go. Fathers held their children on their shoulders so they could see the clock face, their faces flushed from excitement and the cold. Bells hung from threads at their throats, collected from the New Year's carriages that had brought them here. Tiny hands held them tightly, preparing for when the clock struck twelve.

There was a short silence in which no one breathed, their eyes glittering in anticipation.

Then the clock donged once, twice. Children began to smile. Thrice, four times. Prince howled inside the cottage. Five times, six times, seven. Parents pointed towards the clock, grinning at their child's amazement. Eight times, nine times, ten. Mrs. Moor's shadow arrived at the door, her old weathered hand clasped around the handle. Eleven times, twelve. "Happy New Year!" cried a thousand voices, mingling with their children's bells as they shook them above their heads elatedly. Mrs. Moor opened the cottage door, her ancient face peeled back in a beaming smile.

The people poured inside, stomping the snow off their boots and hanging their coats on the hook. Mrs. Moor greeted everyone enthusiastically, her head bobbing and hands accepting small gifts from the children with a smile and a pat on the head. Everyone drifted into the grand room, where there was a high ceiling, a dining table and a stone-encrusted fireplace alight with flame. Bowls filled with tiny fires were placed around the room, providing light and warmth for all inside.

Mrs. Moor looked inquiringly to the last person in the entrance hall: a little girl. She looked no more than five. Her bell was clutched in her small hands, golden and gleaming.

She handed the bell to Mrs. Moor, who took it with a teary smile and hung it around her neck, her grasp shaking slightly. "Why thank you, dear," she said kindly. The little girl smiled shyly and ran off to the fireplace, sitting with the other children waiting for a story. Mr. Moor sat on the rocking chair in front of them, his blind eyes unseeing, but smiling all the same.

"Story! Story!" chorused the children.

"Alright, alright," he chuckled, holding his hands up for silence. "Let's see now, let's see..."

Near the dining table, the adults laughed and complained lightly about small things, joking and telling stories as they always did. Newcomers to the dinner party were introduced and given a quilt square to decorate. It would be sewn onto the quilt hung on the wall above the dining table. Musicians took out their instruments and began to play, smiling encouragingly at the people who stepped up to dance.

Dinner was served soon after by the Moors' daughters and sons. They set platter after platter in the center of the wooden table, uncovering them to reveal venison, steak, roasted vegetables, pudding, fruits, bread baskets, lobster and many other delicacies. The seafood was marveled at most -- to have come all the way from the coast! Mr. Moor was guided to the head of the table and Mrs. Moor sat at the foot, folding her hands and smiling as she waited for all to be seated.

As the last scuffles of chairs and murmurs subsided, she stood, nodding. "We gather here today to eat, laugh and dance. Our only request is that you stay long enough to take a candle to light your way back. We welcome you to the year 1917!"

A hearty applause erupted from the table, children whooping. Prince scurried over excitedly, hovering around them, looking for scraps.
Someone tied a bell around the dog's neck that jingled brightly when he waddled, announcing his presence. People slipped Prince a scrap or two with sideways glances at Mrs. Moor to make sure she didn't see. Laughter echoed as people talked and ate, the music resuming as soon as the minstrels had finished eating.

As people gradually swallowed the last bite they could manage, they'd stretch, sigh and get up to dance or watch the dancers. Children clapped as Prince twirled around on his hind paws to the music, squealing and laughing when he lost his balance. They fed him bread and cheese from the table to get him to dance again, ginning.

Soon though, they began to yawn, sipping hot chocolate brewed by Mrs. Moor. Mothers took their hands gently and led them to the door, wrapping scarves around their necks in preparation for the snow. They thanked Mr. and Mrs. Moor graciously and she handed each family a candle, making them promise to return next year. When the last person had left the cottage, Prince howled a fond farewell.

If you looked back, you'd see Mr. Moor hand-in-hand with Mrs. Moor, smiling broadly like a child. Mrs. Moor waved, the little girl's bell jingling merrily as she did.





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