Summary: Here’s the Christmas story. It’s short, but fun.
Rated: T (2,760 words)
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
The Night Before Christmas
T’was the Night before Christmas, and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
“Mice!” said Joe Cartwright in disgust. He was lying on his stomach on the floor of the kitchen in the Ponderosa ranch house. “Pass me the plaster,” he added to Hoss, who stood behind him.
That morning, Christmas Eve, Hop Sing had spotted a mouse in the kitchen. Joe was the smallest and slimmest, so he had been elected to get down into the narrow space between the dresser and the wall, and patch the hole. Traps had been set all over the house, and a couple of mice had already succumbed.
“Oh, mice is all right, Little Joe,” Hoss said, predictably. “They ain’t as dirty as rats.”
Giving his older brother a dirty look, Joe applied the plaster to the hole in the wall. He had planted a little poison bait in the hole before he did this. It was definitely an awkward angle to work at, he thought, as he caught his elbow on the dresser for the hundredth time. He bit back the curse that sprang to mind. It was all very well for Pa to hate swearing, he thought, but there were times when a man was pushed to it, and he didn’t see Pa squeezing into this space.
“Got it,” he said. “I’m coming out. Back off, Hoss and give me some room.”
Obediently, Hoss got out of the way, and Joe began to squirm backwards. Reaching the spot where he could start to get upright again, Joe put his hand down to push against. There was an audible snap as one of the mousetraps closed on his fingers. For a second, there was silence, then Joe let out a scream! Hoss rushed to his aid, and released the spring. Joe looked at his mangled fingers, and then glanced at Hoss to thank him
The words died on his lips as he saw the struggle Hoss was having to control his laughter. Seeing that Joe knew, Hoss collapsed into a heap, guffawing heartily. Furious, and in agony, Joe got to his feet, and rushed over to the pump, to plunge his hand into a basin of cold water sitting there.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads
And mama in her kerchief and I in my cap had just settled out brains for a long winter’s nap.
Leaning on the stone chimneybreast, staring into the fire, Ben Cartwright was lost in memories. It was natural, he supposed, to think on times past. He remembered the Christmases he’d spent with his three wives. The ones that stuck more clearly in his mind were the ones spent with Marie here in this house. The reminders were all around – the baubles she’d brought with her, and which they still hung on the tree, and the little traditions she’d introduced. That didn’t mean he’d loved his other wives any the less. Indeed, he cherished their memories.
There was movement by his side, and Ben glanced up to see Adam standing there. He smiled at Ben. This was a pose he’d seen his father in on many a Christmas Eve. “Memories?” he asked, softly.
“Lots of them,” Ben agreed, smiling. “Our first Christmas in this house.” He laughed. “Do you remember the way Joe used to pester us to hang up his stocking every year?”
“And not just his,” Adam answered wryly. “We all had to hang one up. He counted Hoss and I as children, and so we had to have one, too.”
“You might have been doing a man’s work, son,” Ben replied,” but you were still a child in many ways.”
Brushing that comment away, Adam looked at the tree, glittering with its load of baubles and tinsel. “Remember how upset he was the year that Bobby Wilson told him Santa didn’t exist?” Adam chuckled.
“It wasn’t funny!” Ben protested, laughing. “He was really upset!”
“It was funny! He looked so woebegone!” Adam was chuckling harder. “And remember how he always woke up about 3, and demanded to get his presents?”
“The only day of the year we could guarantee he was first up,” reminisced Ben. “Marie always hoped he would sleep a little alter that day, and he never did.”
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutter and threw up the sash.
One of Joe’s fingers was broken; there was no doubt about it. Gently, Ben bandaged his son’s injured hand, and fought to keep a straight face while he did so. Hoss kept exploding off into fits of laughter, and Adam was copying him. Joe’s face was as dark as thunder, and he maintained an icy silence. Ben sought for a neutral topic of conversation, but all that came into his head was another memory.
“Do you remember when Hoss jumped out of the window one Christmas Eve?” he asked, and after a moment, Joe’s mouth twitched. Joe had been pretty small, but the crash as Hoss plunged down the roof into the snow below had wakened the whole house.
Blushing scarlet, Hoss said, “Aw, Pa, you didn’t need to bring that up.”
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gave a luster of midday to objects below
When what to my wandering eyes should appear
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer
“You thought you saw Santa flying across the sky?!” Joe crowed, his anger at his brothers forgotten. He threw his head back and let go with that unique, infectious giggle. “Pa, he didn’t, did he?”
“That’s what he said,” Ben agreed, laughing, too. Hoss was blushing furiously, but it was true. One night he had dreamed he saw Santa, and fell out of his window. He had been sleeping walking at the time, and that had undoubtedly saved him from a nasty injury.
With a little old drive so lively and quick
I knew in a moment it must be Saint Nick
“What were the names given to the reindeer?” Adam asked. He took a sip of the glass of wind he held in his hand. It was dark outside. The family were gathered around the fire, waiting for supper to be ready. They always dressed for Christmas Eve, and were already looking forward to Pa reading them the Christmas story.
“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten?” Joe accused him. He started to move to put his feet on the table, then caught the glance thrown at him by Ben, and changed his mind. “I thought you knew everything?”
“Precisely because I do know everything, I sometimes can’t find the information I’m looking for,” Adam replied smoothly, and they all laughed.
More rapid than eagles his courser they came, and he whistled and shouted and called them by name
“Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Prancer, now Vixen
On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall,
Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!”
As Joe finished reciting the names – his especial privilege – Hop Sing called them to the table. Ben gave thanks, and they fell on the tender roast beef as though they hadn’t seen food before. The mood was mellow. Joe needed a little help cutting up his food, but Ben poured the wine with a generous hand, and the boys drank more than they normally would at home.
Comfortably full, they repaired once more to the fireside, and Hop Sing served coffee. Ben rose, and opened the bible, and began to read. The magic of the ancient story held them all captive, even though they knew each word by heart.
There was a moment or two of silence after he finished, and then Adam retrieved his guitar, and they sang some carols, solemn ones at first, then livelier ones as the joy replaced the awe. Finally Adam put down the guitar, and Ben gave them all a glass of brandy.
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew,
With a sleigh full of toys and Saint Nicholas too.
Then in a twinkling I heard on the roof, the prancing and pawing of each little hoof
As I drew in my head and was turning around, down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.
“Listen to that wind,” Adam said. He rose and opened the door. Snow swirled in at once, and Adam all but lost his grip on the door. He pushed against the strength of the wind to shut the door. “Its turned into a real blizzard,” he added.
Unable to resist the lure of falling snow, Joe bounded to his feet and went to the window to look. When the office window didn’t allow him to see enough, he headed upstairs. Indulgently, the others smiled. Joe often had to go out into falling snow. He was unable to give a reason for it, but they often found him outside in weather no sensible being would dream of going out in.
It wasn’t long before he clattered back down the stairs, but he wasn’t smiling. “The barn door is swinging,” he said. “I’m sure we shut it earlier.”
With a martyred sigh, they got to their feet. “Joe, you stay here,” Ben instructed. “We can deal with this perfectly well, and we don’t want anything else happening to that hand.”
“Yes, sir,” Joe said, reluctantly. He watched enviously as they bundled up and then headed out into the blizzard.
He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot
A bundle of toys he had thrown on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes, how they twinkled, his dimples how merry
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.
As they neared the barn, they could see someone moving about inside. Adam drew his gun, and he nodded to Ben. In one smooth movement, he threw open the barn door, and went in.
The old man standing there reminded them of someone. He jumped as Adam entered, then relaxed and smiled. “I’m so pleased to see someone,” he said. “I’ve lost my way. I’m looking for the Fleming ranch. Can you tell em where it is?”
“You’re about 20 miles in the wrong direction,” Ben said, motioning to Adam to put down his gun. “Why didn’t you come to the house?”
“I thought this was the house,” said the old man, who was brushing frozen snow from his beard. “It wasn’t until I came in that I realized my mistake. And then, I love horses, so I had to pet them.”
“Come and have a hot drink before you go on your way,” Ben said.
“Thank you, that’s very kind, but time is against me, and I must push on. I’ll get something to drink at the Flemings. God bless you all.” The man picked up the bag he had with him, and nodded politely to each one, and headed back into the teeth of the gale.
They secured the barn, and went back to the house. “We should have pressed him harder to stay,” Adam said, a bit surprised that none of them had objected to his leaving.
“I did,” Joe volunteered. “I just stuck my head out, and saw him lighting his pipe, and asked him to come in. He just shook his head, and vanished.”
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath
He had a broad face and a round little belly
That shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf
And I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself
A wink of an eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
“Well, its too late now,” Ben said, regretfully. He looked at the clock. “Come on, boys, let’s get to bed. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” they echoed, for it was just on midnight. They went up to their rooms, and slept soundly. Ben lay for a few minutes, thinking about his sons and their mothers. A pang of grief shot through his heart, then was gone. There was a time for mourning, but this wasn’t it. Tomorrow, they would remember those family members who were gone, and remember them with joy and laughter. He closed his eyes, and sleep claimed him.
He spake not a word, but went straight to his work
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle
But I heard him exclaim as he drew out of sight
“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”
The sun was shining on the new snow when the Cartwrights woke next morning. They clattered downstairs to hug one another and open their gifts. As usual, the gifts were thoughtful, and affectionate, and greatly appreciated. Joe crouched down, and looked under the tree. “Hey, Pa,” he said, “you forgot these ones.”
“Which ones?” Ben asked, confused. “I’ve given all mine. Adam? Hoss?”
“Not mine,” said Adam.
“Nor mine,” chimed in Hoss.
Puzzled, Joe drew the parcels towards him. “This has your name on it, Pa,” he said, holding one out.
Slowly, Ben opened it. Inside was a handsome, leather bound book. It was one Ben had been wanting, and the boys had been unable to track down.
“Adam,” Joe said, and they all watched as Adam opened his gift. It was a set of architects drawing tools. Adam had a set he’d cherished for years, but they were well handled and not as good as they had once been. These ones were magnificent.
“Hoss,” Joe said, nope enjoying the surprise.
With careful fingers, Hoss opened his, and found a beautiful piece of leather. It was pale and finely cured. Hoss had been looking for such a piece to finish the new saddle he had been making for himself.
“And now me,” Joe said, and opened his one. The gun belt within was beautifully tooled and oiled. The leather was tan and when Joe tried it, it fitted perfectly.
“I don’t understand where these gifts came from,” Ben said. “That gun belt is perfect, and a left handed one. Those tools, and the leather, and my book… who did this?”
Still sitting on his heels by the tree, Joe smiled. “I think I might know,” he volunteered. “I think it was Saint Nicholas himself.”
“Santa Claus?” Adam scoffed.
“Well, who else could that old man in the barn have been last night?” Joe asked. “The Flemings didn’t mention a visitor to me when I saw them a couple of days ago. And why else would we not have pressed him to stay with us? I think these just might be gifts from him.”
“Whoever gave them to us, we must thank,” Ben said. “I’m sure we’ll discover soon enough.”
They toasted the mystery gift-giver, and had a wonderful Christmas Day.
The Flemings denied having any visitor that Christmas Eve. Nobody else had seen the little old man wearing a fur coat, and carrying a sack. No one said that they had given the gifts. Joe said no more, but he remained convinced, to his dying day, that he and his family met Santa Claus that snowy Christmas Eve.