Summary: A Christmas surprise on the ranch.
Rating: G 1,090 words
Away in a Manger
Ben Cartwright smiled tiredly as he pulled his mount to a halt in the yard of the Ponderosa. “Well boys, looks like we made it home in time for Christmas,”
His three sons, dismounting from their own horses alongside their father, nodded in agreement. They had ridden long and hard this cold Christmas Eve, hoping to arrive back at the ranch before midnight.
“I suggest we put the horses up in the barn,” Ben continued, “then get in the house out of the cold weather. A nip of brandy in front of a roaring fire sounds good to me!”
“I just hope Hop Sing has some supper waiting for us,” Hoss said with a glance toward the house where the glow of lamplight from the window indicated that their cook and housekeeper was waiting up for them, “I’m powerful hungry after all that travelling.”
“Well, all I want right now,” Ben’s youngest son, Joe, said with a wide yawn, “Is to get to my own bed and sleep.”
“I can go along with that, little brother,” Adam agreed, matching Joe’s yawn with one of his own, “It’s been a long, long day.”
“Mr Cartwright,” a sibilant whisper came from the direction of the barn and the four men looked over up see Barney, one of their ranch hands, hurrying towards them. “Just to warn you sir, there’s a woman in the barn, so try not to scare her when you take the horses in,”
“A woman?” Ben echoed, surprised, “What woman?”
“She came by this afternoon,” Barney informed him, “lookin’ for a place to stay. I’d have turned her away, except for her being so close to her time …”
“She’s expecting a baby and you put her in the barn?” Adam interrupted, “Why in blazes didn’t you take her straight into the house? Hop Sing would have taken care of her.”
“Cause she’s just a gypsy woman,” Barney explained, a little defensively, “She coulda been out to rob you for all I know. Better safe than sorry I thought so I kept her away from the house. Like I said I would’ a sent her packin’ if it weren’t for her condition.”
Annoyed that the unknown woman had been denied the hospitality of the Ponderosa Ben spoke sharply, “I expect visitors to the ranch to be treated better than that,” he looked round at his sons, “Boys, I think we’d better go and invite this poor girl inside and find her a bed for the night.”
But before anyone could move a sharp cry of anguish rent the frosty air and sent the Cartwrights running for the barn.
In the wash of moonlight that flooded through the door as Ben flung it hastily open, the huddled figure of a young girl could be clearly seen on the floor of the barn.
“My dear,” Ben spoke softly, trying not to scare her, as approached, his sons’ close behind him, “Are you all right?”
A tear stained face, twisted in pain, turned towards him and the girl moaned in agony, hands cradling her swollen belly. “My baby, I think it’s coming,”
“Then we’d better get you into the house,” Ben said, reaching out a hand towards her. The girl turned away, crying out as pain gripped her once more.
“Looks like she’s too far along to be moved right now,” Hoss put in, practically elbowing his father out of the way as he moved to kneel beside the young woman. “Now ma’am, don’t you worry none,” he addressed her, his voice a soothing croon, “I’ve birthed me a couple of babies before, and you’re gonna be just fine.”
“Anything we can do, Hoss?” Adam asked, happy to let his brother take control of the situation.
“You can get some lamps in here,” Hoss instructed, “and Pa, pile some hay up over there for a bed, Joe, you run tell Hop Sing we got a baby on the way and we’ll need some water and towels. Then all of you leave this to me and give the poor girl some privacy.”
Wordlessly, his family moved to obey.
Over the next few hours, as Christmas Eve passed into Christmas Day, Ben, Adam and Joe waited anxiously, as Hoss and Hop Sing helped the girl labour to bring her child into the world.
At last, as the first faint glimmers of dawn light touched the skies, a baby’s shrill cry was heard from the barn and Hoss and Hop Sing emerged, tired and happy, to announce that mother and child were doing well.
“Is it okay if we go see?” Joe asked, eager to take a look at the new baby,
“Sure you can,” Hoss told him with a grin, “Hop Sing and me are just gonna wash up and then we’ll bring Mary and her baby inside.”
“Mary?” Adam said, “That’s her name?”
“Yep,” Hoss glanced over at his youngest brother, “so looks like we got us a Joseph and a Mary and a baby born in a stable. Kinda fittin’ for a Christmas night don’t you think?”
“So what are me, you and Pa?” Adam asked with a grin, “The three wise men?”
“It is kinda like the Christmas story,” Joe said, almost reverently, “Any idea what she’s gonna call the baby?”
Hoss gave a hoot of laughter at the question, “Well, that’s where the similarity to the Christmas story ends Joe. The baby’s name is Henrietta. Mary done got her a baby girl.”
As Ben, Adam and Joe tiptoed into the barn they saw Mary, revealed as a sweetly pretty girl now that the pain of childbirth had faded from her face. Wrapped in a blue blanket that Hop Sing had brought from the house, she sat on a floor strewn with sweet hay, her baby cradled to her.
“We’ve got no gold, frankincense or myrrh to offer you ma’am,” Adam said quietly as the Cartwrights gathered round to admire the infant. He bent to softly stroke the child’s downy head, “But we can supply a warm bed, a hot meal and a safe haven for you and your daughter as long as you need one.”
Later, with Mary and Henrietta safely tucked up in bed, Ben welcomed Christmas morning by reading aloud from the Bible. As he told, once more, the story of that very first Christmas the Cartwrights couldn’t help reflecting on the small miracle that had happened right here on the Ponderosa this year. A baby born on the Lord’s birthday.
Kathleen Pitts December 2008
Other Stories by this Author
- Joe’s Christmas Wish – a Christmas poem (by KateP)
- A Child’s First Christmas (by KateP)
- To Be A Father (by KateP)
- A Winter Evening – a Christmas poem (by KateP)
- In The Bleak Midwinter (by KateP)