Synopsis: It’s Christmastime on the Ponderosa, a moment between Hoss and Ben. A Sequel to: Of Winters Past.
Genre: Western, prequel
Word Count: 1,400
Opening the door, Ben Cartwright heaved a sigh at seeing the snow of the night before had covered the ground thicker than he’d anticipated. He’d thought the snow was stopping by the time he’d finally seen Little Joe tucked under the covers. He’d enjoyed the time the two had spent talking of days long before his youngest was born. He, and Joe’s brothers, tried their best to keep Marie’s memory alive for her child. So, a little bit of lost sleep was a small price to pay for the smile that lit Joe’s face as they reminisced about his mother.
Shaking his head, Ben stood there of two thoughts; one, it was going to be easy following his son because of the snow and two, it wasn’t going to be easy following his son because of the snow.
Entering the barn after tramping across the yard, Ben made quick work of saddling Buck. As his youngest son was more apt to do, he offered a brief apology to the gelding while leading him into the yard before mounting. Turning rein to direct his horse, the two followed the deep hoof prints left earlier in the morning.
A ride that would normally have taken thirty minutes, or possibly twenty – depending on the rider and horse, ended up taking a little over three quarters of an hour. Unsure why he felt so pressed to follow, only that rational thought escaped him when he found the boy’s covers tossed to the foot of the bed, the room empty, and him nowhere in the house.
Stepping from his saddle, he tethered the reins and quickly checked his son’s horse before following the footprints into the pines.
The morning sun had already crested the eastern range before Ben pushed aside the last low-hanging branch that barred his way. Walking into the clearing he spied Hoss sitting on a large boulder. The recently turned sixteen-year old painted a picture of serenity with his legs crossed, his hands clutched to keep the blanket closed, and a smile of contentment on his face. The last time he’d followed his son to this location had been the first snowfall after Adam had left for college.
This morning, as he had back then, Ben left a waking Little Joe in the capable care of Hop Sing before taking the same trek, only with considerable more snow to struggle through than so long ago.
With the snow crunching beneath his boots, Ben crossed the short distance to his middle son.
Slowly, Hoss raised an index finger to his lips; indicating for his father to be quiet with one hand while pointing across the field with his other. There, Ben spied a small herd of deer, some pawing to reach the hidden grass while others were already nibbling.
“Hoss,” Ben quietly called as he climbed the boulder.
Whispering, “Look up there Pa.” Hoss pointed to a group of squirrels jumping from one branch to another, playing in the trees.
“How long have you been out here?”
“Long enough to see the sun rise, and watch all the critters.” Shifting over, Hoss patted the heavy blanket on which he sat. “Look there Pa; that eagle flying high. Don’t he look so majestic?”
The condensation of his breath rose in the cold air as he spoke, “That he does son.” Taking a seat, Ben slipped his hands into the pockets of his jacket. “I was worried when I couldn’t find you in the house.”
“Sorry Pa, but Hop Sing was still asleep and I didn’t want to wake him.” Startling and pointing once more, “There Pa!” The smile spread wider across his face, his eyes brighter.
Ben saw nothing, but then the snow shifted; forcing him to look harder.
“Snow fox, gotta be.” Shivering, “Don’t that beat all.” Pulling his hand back into the warmth of the blanket. Remembering his father setting beside him, “Guess I shoulda left ya a note.”
“But when I saw all the snow, I knew ya’d have no problem followin’ me, if ya had a mind, and I figured ya’d know where I went.”
Acknowledging his understanding, “It’s been a while since you’ve come here.”
“Yeah, too much to do around the ranch to be able to come out here.” Relishing the time alone with his father, but seeing the arched eyebrow that questioned his motive. “Guess I got ta missin’ Adam. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, what with havin’ got his letter an all. Tellin’ us all he’s plannin’ on doin’ over the holidays and how Grandpa Stoddard has the house all fancied up for Christmas.”
“Sometimes those same letters can make times like these more difficult. The letter is proof that our loved one is far away, that they’re not going to walk through the door, bearing gifts, and wish us ‘Merry Christmas’.”
“I thought….” Bowing his head, “Don’t rightly know what I thought.”
Placing an arm across his son’s shoulders, “You thought if you came here you’d feel closer to Adam. I remember before he left for college he’d bring you up here, the two of you spent a lot of time together out here. Most of the time, though, the two of you would come during the Spring and Summer. When it was warmer.”
“Ya think he’ll want to come back here once he graduates?” Hoss wondered if his father understood the intent of his question.
“He wrote of his intentions to return to the Ponderosa. He should be home sometime late Summer, and you can ask him.” Smiling, Ben nodded, he’d understood.
“Are ya mad at me Pa?”
“No,” pulling Hoss closer. “I’m not mad.”
Hoss relished the embrace. “Pa, when we was travelin’, did you ever see anythin’ as beautiful as all this.”
Removing his arm from his son’s shoulders, he took a moment to run a hand over his jawline; his eyes took in all that he could see, the open valley, the pines reaching towards the sky, the mountain range in the distance. When the land was green and blooming in Spring, or lush with thick grasses of Summer, it was a site to behold, but in the quiet of winter shrouded in a pristine snowfall, “No, I don’t think I’ve seen a place more beautiful than what we have right here.”
“I’ve not seen Heaven,” Ben playfully gruffed and gently shouldered into his son.
Blushing, “And I hope you don’t, not for a long time.” Slowly shaking his head, “Pa, I know my Christmas wish.”
“Seein’ God’s beauty out there….” Hoss jutted his chin forward, “I wish everyone felt the way I do right now, I wish everyone could find peace on earth.”
“That’s a pretty big wish.”
“Just my size, don’t ya think, Pa?”
“Yes, just your size.” Rising to his feet and stepping down from the boulder, “What say we head on home. We’ve got a few chores to work on before we have a Cartwright snowball fight later today.”
“Snowball fight? Like old times, huh?” Climbing to his feet and grabbing the blankets.
“Hoss, your little brother has memories of his mother and a certain snowball fight.”
“Marie’s first Christmas with us?”
Ben nodded, “I think it’s time we gave him some memories of his own”
Blowing out a quick huff, “Makes me wish Adam were here all the more.”
Rubbing his gloved-hands together, “If he were, he’d be on my team.”
“Your team?” Hoss queried.
“Sure, Little Joe said the two of you were unbeatable, so I need someone on my side to help even the score.”
The two retraced their paths to where the horses stood. After securing the blankets behind his saddle, Hoss mounted Chub and gave a full-bellied laugh.
Turning Buck for home, “What’s so funny?”
“If Adam were here, can you imagine Joe pretendin’ ta be hurt and Adam worryin’ to see what’s wrong? Then Joe’d jump up and throw the snowball he’d kept hidden.”
“And hit Adam dead center. SPLOT!” Ben smiled, “Just like Marie did.”
“Just like Ma. They’re two of a kind, aren’t they Pa.”
“Yes, son. Just like you and your mother. The two of you…. you…. you remind me a lot of your mother.”
“Ya miss her Pa?”
“Every day. Just like I miss Adam’s mother and Joe’s.”
Merry Christmas! Wishing everyone Peace on Earth!
Christmas Wishes Series: