All Through the Night (by Belle)

Summary:  This story was written for the 2016 Advent Collection.  If the Christ child was born today, a Christmas before the Cartwrights.

Rating:  G  (1,580 words)

All Through the Night
(A prequel to In Absentia)

Christmas 1852, Portland, Oregon

Sleep, my child, and peace attend thee,
All through the night

Meg was singing. Of course, Meg was usually singing. She sang while setting the breakfast table. She sang while polishing the silver. She sang while making the beds. Hymns, folksongs, pub songs, and lately, lullabies. Fortunately for Cookee, Meg’s voice was sweet and tuneful.

Cookee was fussing over the delicacies he was charged with concocting for the Palmer’s Christmas soiree: roast turkey with cranberry sauce, turnips, winter squash, cookies, assorted pies, nuts and raisins. He was torn between pride at the variety and quality of the repast and the certain notion that it would not be properly appreciated.

Stepping back from the hot stove, Cookee mopped the sweat from his brow and motioned for Meg to make room at the table. He sat down with a thump and sigh before snatching up the paring knife to work on the mound of vegetables.

Meg grinned at his theatrics and continued to sing under her breath.

Guardian angels God will send thee,
All through the night

“How do you know this song?” he asked her.

“Me mum used to say the shepherds sang this to the Christ Child on the night He was born,” she replied.

“Tell me the story,” Cookee invited her. They both settled into their chores—he to cleaning the vegetables while she poked spicy cloves into the apples and oranges arrayed on the table.

When Meg wasn’t singing, she was talking. Gossip, mostly, whispered comments about Mr. Palmer whereabouts and the places where he wasn’t (anywhere near Mrs. Palmer).

When she wasn’t singing or gossiping, Meg shared the bedtime tales from her homeland an ocean away. Ordinarily, she favored vivid, frightening accounts of witches, wolves, and lost children.

Although not nearly as exciting as her usual fare, Meg’s Christmas story was nearly as fantastic. Nothing in Cookee’s experience had prepared him to accept the notion of royalty using a barn as a birthing chamber. That a king’s birth should go unannounced, unattended, and unheralded was unthinkable. Barbaric. Compelling.

There was little time available to puzzle over the idea of an infant king (the “king of kings,” no less) born in such mean circumstances. Guests were coming, and a feast was expected. Their relaxed pace was soon abandoned for the need to rush about— arranging the dazzling repast on platters of chased silver to serve the hungry visitors . The banquet continued well into the night; in fact, by the time the exhausted Cookee and Meg had cleaned up after the departed guests, it was nearly midnight.

Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping

Mrs. Palmer appeared unexpectedly at the kitchen door as Meg was about to bundle herself into coat and hat. Their employer’s eyes were rimmed red with fatigue, and she twisted her fingers nervously as if uncertain of her welcome.

“Sit, sit” Cookee scolded, and he drew a chair from the nearby table. “What Missy need?”

“I don’t want to be in the way. . . I was hoping for just a morsel of something and a hot drink,” Mrs. Palmer replied. “With all of the excitement, I didn’t eat very much.” Cookee frowned at the revelation.

“Here, I make a plate for you. Go! Sit in parlor, we will bring it.”

Cookee sorted through the leftover food while Meg fetched a plate and tray. Very soon they had the lady of the house settled into a comfortable chair with a tray of food at her side.

“Missy have a ‘Merry Christmas’” Cookie said, wincing at his pronunciation of the dastardly tangle of vowels.

“Thank you, Cookee. Merry Christmas to you!” Mrs Palmer simpered as she carefully sounded out the phrase for Cookee’s benefit. “You’ll get it right soon. It’s not that difficult.”

Cookee beat a hasty retreat before his eye roll ruined the holiday mood. Meg waited in the kitchen as Cookee pulled on his own coat. Quietly they exited the house, stepping reluctantly into the icy mix of drizzling rain. The mile long walk to Meg’s boarding house seemed to take longer than usual despite their hurried steps.

I my loved ones’ watch am keeping,
All through the night

“Thank you, Cookee” Meg whispered, pressing a small, wrapped package into his hands, “Merry Christmas.” She ran inside before he could protest. Running his thumb under a loose edge to pull away the paper, Cookie revealed a soft knitted scarf. He wrapped the bright cloth securely around his neck, pledging silently to prepare Meg’s favorite candied fruits very soon.

Cookee headed back to the Palmer house. His small room would be snug and dry, and as his services would not be required on Christmas day a long sleep was assured. Since no one was around to notice his lack of dignity, Cookee broke into a trot, dodging around the growing puddles of water and trying not to slip in the mud. He found himself singing Meg’s lullaby as he drew closer to the house.

Angels watching, e’er around thee,
All through the night

Cutting through the alley behind the house, Cookee was nearly to the back door when he noticed the slightest of movements from the corner of his eye. He halted and scanned the area anxiously. He had no desire to invite miscreants to push inside his employer’s home.

Finally, he made out the source of his discomfort—a sodden, shivering bundle of humanity tucked against the brick wall. Creeping closer, Cookee raised his lantern to reveal a small boy, blonde and frail, slowly freezing in the bitter cold. A touch to the boy’s shoulder failed to rouse him, but confirmed how dire the child’s condition was. Quickly, Cookee unlocked the door and propped it open. Returning to the child, he lifted the boy under his shoulders and knees and clutching his small burden to his chest, hurried them both through the door.

Midnight slumber close surround thee,
All through the night

He placed the child on a chair while he stoked the fire until it was blazing hot.  The change of scenery served to rouse the little fellow.  The boy’s eyes were wide open, and he shrunk away as Cookee approached him.  Cookee was quite able to command obedience through voice and gesture, but the night’s work demanded a softer touch.  He smiled at the shivering lad and coaxed him with kind words and gentle touches to relinquish his saturated rags in exchange for the coverlet from Cookee’s bed.  He rubbed the boy’s drenched hair and cold flesh with the kitchen towels, all the while fussing at him in a way that might have felt threatening if the touch and tone weren’t so completely compassionate. Soon the boy was warm and sipping hot chocolate as Cookee bustled about fixing another plate of food.

“Cookee? What’s going on?”

He hadn’t heard Mrs. Palmer enter the kitchen. Her eyes were narrowed and fixed on the small child wrapped in a quilt.

“Found child outside in cold rain,” Cookee explained as he heaped food on the plate. Placing the plate on the table, he stepped around Mrs. Palmer to push the child’s chair close to the table and gestured for the boy to eat.

Mrs. Palmer briefly closed her eyes and pressed her lips together. Clearly, she was attempting to react patiently to her cook’s brazen offer of hospitality to strange children.

“That’s certainly unfortunate,” she said. “However, I simply can’t take in urchins off the street. It just isn’t done.”

Cookee surveyed the luxurious kitchen, snug and cozy against the cold night. The cupboards were laden with food left over from feeding people who did not live on the street and weren’t forced to cower in icy rain on the most sacred night of the year.

“Why?” he asked her. “Why isn’t it done?” Her mouth gaped open at his impertinence, and she gulped and sputtered rather than offer a real explanation. Cookee seized his opportunity.

“No one brought lady about to have baby off the street. Said there was no room. Had to have baby in barn. Maybe people called that baby ‘urchin’ because they couldn’t see he was glorious king.”

“Cookee, this isn’t the same thing at all! This child is . . .”

“Missy,” Cookee interrupted her gently. “When you look at boy, all you see is rags, and dirt, and hungry eyes. Don’t see glory that could be hidden under all. Maybe that why baby king was born in barn so everyone could understand glory doesn’t come from fine clothes and house.”

He had never seen Mrs. Palmer so flummoxed. He stood his ground silently and watched her expression shift slowly from righteous indignation to ashamed understanding. She brushed moisture from her eyes, nodding in acceptance of his words.

Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping

“Thank you, Cookee.” Clearing her throat, she gestured to the little fellow. “The small bedroom upstairs will do nicely, I think.” Extending her hand to the child, she coaxed the little one to his feet. With a hand on his shoulder, she turned back to her cook.

“Merry Christmas, Cookee.”

“Missy?”

She paused.

“Name not Cookee. Name Hop Sing. Not that difficult.”

She gave a little snort of laughter before replying.

“Merry Christmas, Hop Sing.”

I my loved ones’ watch am keeping,
All through the night


XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX MERRY CHRISTMAS XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

 

Link to the 2016 Advent Calendar – Day 17 – Snow (by faust)

 

 

 

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Author: Belle

I have been a fan of Bonanza for as long as I can remember! For me, the Cartwrights represent hope, faith, and triumph over life's adversities. Ben, Adam, Hoss, and Joe are human beings with human flaws; but to me, they are always exceptional human beings. My fan fiction reflects this perspective.

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