Summary: Not everyone enjoys the Christmas season, but maybe, just maybe…
Rating: G 2,280 words
With inspiration by Theodore Geisel
Every man, woman and child in Virginia City liked Christmas.
They liked it a lot.
C.H. Ring (short for Charles Hamish) did not like Christmas. No, he did not.
Every December, C.H. would journey into town from the mine he worked within a stone’s throw of the Ponderosa to trade a sack of silver for winter supplies. Always hoping to be left in peace, he was always disappointed when town folk tried to include him in their holiday cheer. Since no one seemed able to take a hint, he became more direct with each passing year.
When approached with smiling greetings, he’d snarl, “Go away.” When confronted with the sounds of carols merrily sung, he’d shout, “Stop your caterwauling!” until the choristers gave up in dismay. His responses to requests for charitable donations had been known to blister paint. Parties? Anyone naïve enough to offer an invitation was treated by a sullen glare before being treated by the sight of his back.
No one knew why C.H. hated Christmas. In point of fact, he couldn’t explain his feelings on the subject even to himself. He simply couldn’t remember a time, even when he was a little shaver, when Christmas had been anything more than sorrow and disappointment.
Naturally, the citizens of Virginia City had some opinions on the subject. Ernie and Dutch, pleasantly tipsy on that chilly December afternoon, had made the mistake of shouting “Merry Christmas!” at C.H. when he stepped into the Silver Dollar to wet his whistle before the long ride home.
After recovering from getting their ears pinned back, Ernie announced to the crowded saloon, “I don’t think this ‘un’s head is screwed on just right.” His audience chuckled under their breaths, but mostly kept their peace—no one wanted a Christmas season brawl with old C.H.
But, when Dutch piped up, “I thinks his shoes is too tight. Makes a man a sour puss,” everyone burst into laughter and voiced their own ideas. C.H., whose back was getting straighter and jaw tighter with each comment, threw his money on the bar and left without finishing his beer and sandwich.
Hoss Cartwright had been enjoying the shenanigans until C.H. got so wound up and stalked out. It had been a little dadburned funny, after all. But a guilty conscience from participating in hurting someone’s feelings (especially at Christmas) had Hoss out of his chair and following the old codger before the batwing doors stopped swinging.
“Hold up, there!” Hoss called. C.H. merely walked faster. Hoss broke into a little bit of a trot that soon brought him up even with C.H.
“Look, C.H.,” Hoss said, “Nobody meant nothin’ by what was said in there. I’m real sorry if it hurt your feelins’.” C.H. scoffed and kept walking.
“Wait! What have you got against Christmas, anyhow? Most folks show a lot of heart ‘round this time of year.”
C.H. stopped walking. He made an about-face and marched right up to Hoss. Shaking a finger in the younger man’s face, C.H. sneered, “Well, I reckon my heart must be two sizes too small, then. Leave me alone.”
Hoss watched the old fellow turn on this heel and make his way to the cart hitched to an old horse. C.H. paused and patted the horse’s neck before swinging up to the seat and driving out of Virginia City.
Old C.H. was steamin’ mad the whole way home. Why should anyone care what he thought about Christmas? He wasn’t pokin’ his nose into anyone else’s business—why should they botherin’ him? So what if he didn’t like Christmas? Did the cock-eyed bunch of ‘em want a list? He could make them a list!
Number one—Christmas was too durned noisy. Come Christmas mornin’, every Tom, Dick, and Harry was up at dawn shootin’ into the air, firing off Chinese rockets, or just shoutin’ “Merry Christmas.” Alongside the bells of every church in Virginia City ringing, it was just too much commotion for C.H. He wouldn’t live by himself out in the middle of nowhere if he didn’t like it quiet.
Number two—people stuffed themselves silly with the Christmas feast. Wasteful was what it was. Didn’t these good church-going people know that there were people going hungry? Kids who didn’t have someone to stuff them with sweets. Kids who had to scrounge for whatever they could find or face the day with an empty belly. That thought made C.H.’s gut clench and his eyes sting a little.
Finally, and to top it all off was the singing. How could folks sing about joy and hope and miracles in a world as miserable as this world was? All that singing was a lie, that’s what it was. It was pretending that everything was all right when most things never went right.
If folks wanted C.H. to be happy, then they’d fix it so Christmas never came. Yep, that would be the ticket. No Christmas at all. What would that be like?
C.H. was passing the turn-off to Ponderosa while stewing on the possibilities of a year without Christmas. It was his poor luck to live as close to the Ponderosa as he did. Some trick of geography and wind current made the ranch house seem to be practically in his back yard sometimes. He could hear their dinner bell clanging, their ranch hands whooping, and Little Joe’s target practicing. Naturally, every single year he heard the “joyous” noise of the Cartwright Christmas celebration. Nope, it wouldn’t hurt C.H.’s heart none if the Cartwrights missed a Christmas or two . . .
At just that moment, C.H. had an idea. An awful idea. A wonderful, awful idea. What if Christmas didn’t come to the Ponderosa?
For the next week, C.H. was a busy fellow. Sure, he spent his time buttoning up his homestead for the real winter soon to come. But this year, he had a project to occupy his mind and energies. By Christmas Eve, his plan with all of its preparations were in place. He’d sorted through his old rag box and found enough red fabric to stitch together a simple coat and hat. He’d pulled the sleigh he used when the snow got too high for his cart and cleaned it up. Finally, he didn’t touch a razer for the entire week. By the day before Christmas, his beard had come in good and full—and as white as the snow that fell thick that day.
Night fall came—dark and moonless with only a sky full of stars to light his way to his destination. Throwing a bunch of sacks into the sleigh, C.H. clucked his tongue. His old horse, Max, neighed in response. When the old nag ambled up to him, C.H. offered the apple from his pocket. Good old Max made no objections to being hitched to the sleigh at the strange hour of night. No dog could have been more loyal or faithful. C.H. stepped back to consider the effect. Well, Max wasn’t no reindeer. Maybe, with a couple of spindly branches tied to the bridle? Max turned a baleful eye on C.H.—just as if he could read the old man’s mind. C.H. decided not to push his luck. He had a sudden inspiration. Dashing back into the house, he pulled an old red and white quilt from the trunk at the foot of his bed. Returning to the yard, he tied his grandmother’s morning star quilt across Max’s broad back. Perfect.
Time to get moving.
At the Ponderosa, all the windows were dark. Quiet snow filled the air. All the Cartwrights were dreamin’ sweet Christmas dreams. C.H. didn’t care.
He tied Max to the porch post—close to the front door. Santa might come down a chimney, but C.H. wasn’t trying that.
Instead, C.H. tried the front door latch. Amazing. The door wasn’t even locked. Richest people on the Comstock, and they didn’t lock their door on Christmas. Seemed like they deserved what they got.
Easing into room, he took a couple of minutes for his eyes to get accustomed to the light. Embers were still glowing red, banked in the massive fireplace of the great room. Bulging stockings hung from the mantel. A huge tree was set up, decorated with ornaments and candles waiting to be lit. Beneath the boughs, gaily wrapped presents were piled. C.H. smothered his glee with difficulty.
“Those stockings,” he murmured. “are the first to go.”
C.H. was so quiet, so light of foot, he fairly slithered around the room. The stockings went into one of his sacks placed by the door. Each present was gathered up and stealthily carried away. C.H. had planned on stripping that monstrosity of a tree bare of all ornaments, but he hadn’t planned on such a tall tree. Maybe . . . it would probably be more dramatic to leave the tree without any presents.
C.H. took a quick trip through the kitchen. He piled pies, and cake, and cookies into the baskets that were so conveniently available. Anything that looked festive was put into a sack or basket and bundled out to the sleigh. It didn’t take too long before the sleigh looked pretty darn full. Max was dozing at the post, covered in grandma’s quilt, oblivious to the larceny his owner was conducting.
Back into the house, C.H. went to check for anything he’d missed—especially anything that might point the way to a certain near neighbor. He was crouched down low beneath the tree-searching for anything that was left when he heard a sound that made his bowels nearly turn to water.
Backing out from under the tree, C.H. straightened up to see Hoss Cartwright watching him in the dim light. Clad in nightshirt, robe and tall white hat, Hoss was looking at him as if he couldn’t quite believe his eyes.
“Santa,” Hoss inquired in a mild, curious tone of voice, “why are you taking Christmas away?”
No one had ever called C.H. a coward. Saying a quick prayer that Hoss was nearsighted, C.H. decided to count on the disguise and dim light to enable him to brazen the situation out.
“My dear lad,” C.H. explained in what he hoped was a Santa sort of voice, “I’m merely exchanging the things that were left here by mistake.” Hoss’s eyebrows crawled toward his forehead.
“Your Christmas went to um, someone else. I have to, um, you know, go get your stuff from there, and bring it back here. Ho, ho . . . ho?”
Hoss didn’t say a word. C.H. held his breath.
“Fair enough,” Hoss said finally. “I reckon it’s important to have the right Christmas. Got your sleigh on the roof?”
“Of course,” “Santa replied, hoping Hoss wouldn’t peer out the window.
“Okay, then. I know ya got a lotta work to do. Merry Christmas.” Hoss patted him softly on the shoulder and headed back up the stairs.
“Merry Christmas,” C.H. whispered. As soon as his heart stopped trying to hammer its way out of his chest, he scuttled out of the ranch house as quick as he could.
He and Max were nearly a mile down the road before it hit him. He’d done it. He’d kept Christmas from coming to the Cartwrights. He was giggling, and there was no telling how long it had been since he’d done that.
Poor old Max. The horse had been standing in the cold and was struggling up hill with the heavy sleigh. Didn’t seem right to make the horse suffer. C.H. drew them to a stand still and climbed out. He unhitched the horse, and pushed the laden sleigh behind a small stand of trees. Satisfied that no one would find it any time soon, he and Max began their walk home.
Dawn came—lighting up the snowy landscape with a rosy glow. C.H. stepped out onto his porch. Just about this time on Christmas mornings past, the commotion would start. Bells clanging, whooping, singing the works.
C.H. was betting on different sounds this year. Wails of misery perhaps, sobbing would be nice. It was too much to hope for cursing from that crew of mealy-mouthed do-gooders. C.H. walked a little way down the trail to hear better.
He strained his ears. He could hear something stirring and sailing in on the morning breeze. He took a deep breath. He wanted to savor the moment, And then . . . and then . . .
He heard sounds of joy. He heard a chorus of hope. He heard singing. What was wrong with those stupid Cartwrights? Why would they sing? They didn’t have any presents. They didn’t have their feast. They didn’t have Christmas because he had kept Christmas from coming.
C.H. stumbled backwards in shock. He sat down hard on an old tree stump and dropped his head into his hands. He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming, he’d taken their presents and their feast, but Christmas had come anyway.
All that work. He’d taken such a risk—breaking into a neighbor’s home and stealing from them. Everything he’d planned had come to nothing. He’d never felt so, so . . . relieved.
Christmas came without presents, stockings and treats. Maybe Christmas was more than what could be set on a table and pushed underneath a tree. C.H. felt something stir inside him, and he felt his chest swell until it felt as if his heart had suddenly grown three times larger. The moment his heart settled down—he smoothed his crimson coat and settled his cap at a jaunty angle. He wanted to find out what more Christmas had to offer.
The sleigh was discovered, safe and untouched within moments, C.H. was headed down the trail toward the Ponderosa. He met Hoss, riding his favorite mount, about halfway to the ranch house.
“Howdy, Santa!” Hoss greeted him with a wide smile.
The return “howdy” was just as cheerful. In fact, C.H. had to stop for a minute to stretch out his jaw—he wasn’t used to smiling so much.
“Them other folks—they still need that Christmas?” Hoss asked him.
C.H. shook his head. “ I think they need your kind of Christmas.”
“Well, come on, then. We’ve got a passel of kids waitin’ for Santa.”
To say that C.H. wasn’t a little concerned about his reception from Ben Cartwright wouldn’t be accurate. But, C.H. has feelin’ so fine, he decided not to worry about it.
Ben Cartwright was pacing the outside, stamping his feet and swinging his arms to stay warm.
“Hoss, C.H.! Good work, there’s still time.” Ben Cartwright smiled and gestured his welcome. “Get your brothers to take everything back inside. C.H., we need to talk.” Ben gestured to the bunkhouse. After a moment’s hesitation, C.H. followed.
Ben closed the bunk house door behind them. “Quick, they’re already here, but I believe there’s time to talk.”
“What? Who’s here?”
The county orphans. We’re having a party for them. Seeing you as Santa will be real treat.”
“Mr. Cartwright, there’s something you should know . . .” He stopped speaking, uncertain how to say what needed to be said. Ben waited, patiently . . sympathetically. C.H. decided that difficult conversations could come later. Instead, he straightened his shoulders and took a deep breath.
“Merry Christmas! Let’s go see them children.”
Click here for the 2018 Advent Calendar – Day 12 – Jacob’s Ladder aka Storytime by JC
Other Stories by this Author