Summary: Word Count: 11,000
Light Up The Winter Darkness
The wind whipped the fresh snowfall into twirling clouds as it howled around the dark ranch house. It was past midnight, and a frigid Christmas Eve had slipped unnoticed into an even more frigid Christmas Day.
Earlier, the big log house had been alive with light from oil lamps and candles beaming in every downstairs room and the voices of long-time, and not so long-time friends, sharing carols, toasts, and stories about Christmases past.
However, concern about the increasing volume of the wind, and the deepening cold, broke the party up early. After a final toast to their host, the guests bundled up to brave their cold way home to Virginia City or neighboring ranches, and the last “Merry Christmas” was lost to the wind gusts. Ben Cartwright always felt invigorated and ten years younger after a party, especially one he hosted at the Ponderosa.
Shutting the stout door after the last of the retreating guests, Ben turned and surveyed the scene before him. The fire still burned warmly in the stone fireplace which dominated the large open room. A stately pine tree blooming with ornaments stood in the corner by the stairs. His three sons, chatting and laughing, were moving the heavy furniture back into place from where it had been moved to make room for dancing.
Joe looked at Hop Sing, who with his long queue swinging, scurried back and forth to the kitchen with dirty dishes and leftover food. Joe looked at the dining room table and then at his older brother and giggled. “Hoss, you feeling puny tonight? There’s a whole tray of cookies left, and half of that platter of ham.”
Hoss hefted his father’s favorite red-leather, armchair and easily deposited it in its accustomed place across the room by the side of the fireplace. He grabbed a handful of cookies as the tray passed under his nose on its way to the kitchen. He tossed one to each of his brothers who had just settled the blue armchair into its place on the opposite side of the fireplace from the red-leather chair. “Seems to me like you two puny fellows need the cookies more than me if it takes both of you to move that chair.”
Adam sank into the blue chair and cocked an eyebrow at his youngest brother who was perched on the hearth. “Well, it’s no wonder little brother here needed my help to move this light little chair. I don’t think he left a young lady undanced with tonight. Especially one little blonde in a red velvet dress.”
Joe grinned and batted his long eyelashes at his oldest brother. “Hey, it’s Christmas. A time for sharing and granting wishes. So I was sharing myself with our guests and granting the wishes of all those girls who were wishing for a dance with that handsome youngest Cartwright brother.”
Adam winked at Hoss who was rolling his eyes. “I noticed you were granting your own wishes too, by stopping right under the mistletoe after each dance.”
This brought a hearty guffaw from Hoss as he clapped Adam on the back. “Good one, big brother. Romeo here doesn’t have an answer for that one.”
“Yeah, well talking about Romeo, someone spent a lot of the evening with Rebecca Kaufman.” Joe eyed Adam speculatively.
Adam glared at Joe and harrumphed. “She happens to be a very intelligent girl who I enjoy talking with. She was telling me about their festival of Chanukah. It’s a very interesting story. I’m surprised, but happy, that her father brought her since they don’t celebrate Christmas. They both seemed to enjoy themselves, though. Most of the other guests are their customers, so they were among friends.”
Adam stood and stretched and looked pointedly at his brothers. “Well, let’s get back to work so we can get to bed. The few of us can vanquish all of this mess. The few against the many”.
Joe looked at Hoss and shook his head. “There he goes spouting Shakespeare. He can’t even give us a break on Christmas”.
Adam draped his arms around his brothers’ shoulders and steered them towards the office alcove, where furniture still awaited return to its rightful places. “Ah, gotcha! It’s not Shakespeare. It’s from the Old Testament; it’s a quote Rebecca taught me from the Chanukah story. As I said, it’s a very interesting tale. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.”
“Good night Pa!” Hoss called as he went up the stairs with Adam and Joe trailing tiredly behind him.
“Night boys. You all better turn in. We have a long morning shoveling out, Christmas or not,” Ben answered as he banked the fire.
“Too bad we don’t have them few defeating many that Adam was talking about,” Joe teased.
“We’ll just tell Little Joe that Mary Lou is waiting for him in the barn in her red velvet dress and a sprig of mistletoe, and he’ll have a path dug out lickety split,” Hoss said poking his older brother in the ribs.
“And we’ll just tell you there’s a bowl of plum pudding and a sack of candy out there!” Joe giggled.
Ben smiled to himself as he thought of Christmases of the past and hopefully of the future. Humming his favorite carol, he made his way up the stairs, where the three centers of his thoughts were already sound asleep.
The stillness of the night was broken by the sound of urgent pounding on the oak door. Jolted awake, Ben hastily donned his robe and slippers and lit the lamp on his bedside table. Grabbing the lamp to light his way, Ben quickly made his way down the stairs, his sons, in various stages of dishevelment behind him.
Hop Sing was already at the door, but reluctant to open it at that hour of the morning. Ben gently pulled Hop Sing aside and stood with his hand on the small revolver he had taken from his bedside table and had thrust into the pocket of his robe, while Adam cautiously pulled the door open. The five men reflexively stepped back from the blast of cold air that blew in two snow-covered half-frozen teenage boys..
Stunned, at first, Ben spurred the others into action. “Adam, Hoss, get these boys to the settee! Joe, build the fire up. Hop Sing make a pot of coffee!”
Soon the two boys were wrapped in blankets in front of a roaring fire sipping hot coffee liberally laced with sugar. Setting across from them in his customary blue chair, Ben studied the two boys as he waited for them to be able to talk.
Both boys seemed to be in their early teens and Ben assumed them to be related, as both had the same spiky blonde hair, pug noses and spattering of freckles across their pale faces. The boys were painfully thin and their clothing well-worn and patched. One was a few inches taller than the other.
The taller of the boys drained the final drops from his cup and looked around as if coming out of a daze. His red-rimmed eyes stared for a split-second at the magnificent Christmas tree in the corner, then settled on Ben, as he put his arm around the other boy who sat beside him still slowly sipping the hot coffee. He started to speak, the words coming shakily. “Please Mister, you gotta help ’em”. At these words, his companion started softly sobbing.
Ben moved to sit on the sturdy table in front of the settee and patted the boy’s knee encouragingly. “Help who, son? You’re safe now, and we’ll help you. Tell us what kind of trouble you’re in.”.
The boy took a deep breath and continued, his voice becoming stronger and steadier. “My name’s Max Rosen. This is my younger brother Sam. Our ma and pa and us were on our way to Virginia City when the snow storm hit us yesterday. Our wagon got bogged down in the snow. Our pa remembered that a big ranch was close by and sent us for help while he stayed with Ma and our little sister. Please, you gotta help us! Our sister is only 6 and Ma is expectin’ another youngun anyday now!”
“Expecting a baby anyday!” Ben could hardly believe what he heard. “Jumping Jehosaphat! What ever possessed your father to take a woman so near her time and his children out in this weather on Christmas Eve”!
Max leaped to his father’s defense. “Listen Mister, our pa didn’t have any choice. He was managin’ the mercantile store in Reno for old man Duffy and we lived over the store on the second floor. Old man Duffy sold the store and didn’t even tell Pa it was for sale. First we knew about it was when the new owner came and told Pa he bought it and was going to run it himself and live on the second floor. We had to get out right away. That was two days ago. We were tryin’ to get to Pa’s brother in Virginia City. Ma thought it would be all right to travel…”
Adam, Hoss, and Joe were already hurrying up the stairs to get dressed and get blankets and warm clothes for the Rosens. Ben went to the kitchen to tell Hop Sing about the situation.
“Hop Sing, we’re going with Max here to get his parents and sister. They’ll need hot soup and coffee. Mrs. Rosen is expecting a baby. I hope and pray that it isn’t her time yet. Get a fire going in the fireplace in the downstairs guest room and put some hot bricks in the bed to get it warm. Put a cot in that room and warm it up for the little girl.”
“We’re not taking the younger boy with us. He’s about had it. Put him to bed, please. The two boys can share an upstairs guest room. Give him one of Joe’s warm flannel night shirts, and lay one out for his brother also. I know Joe won’t mind.
Hop Sing had already had a pot of beef broth and a new pot of coffee going before Ben had come into the kitchen. “Hop Sing know what to do. No need told. You go find boys’ family. You bring back. Hop Sing have everything all ready. Find family, Mr. Cartwright!”
As Ben rushed from the kitchen, Hop Sing continued the preparations for their unexpected guests, As he worked, Hop Sing muttered to himself in Cantonese; prayers for the parents and little girl and unborn baby and curses for the evil man who turned them out of their home.
Benjamin Rosen pulled the blanket tighter around their shoulders as he and his wife Miriam sat huddled in their make-shift shelter, their little daughter Hannah between them. He was a store-keeper, not an outdoorsman, but with the help of God, who provided a convenient outcropping of rock for a wall, he managed to rig his wagon, a tarp, and wind-fallen branches into some protection from the storm for his family. Part of his family. His mind kept straying to thoughts of his sons; 15-year-old Max and 13-year-old Samuel. He had no choice other than to send the pair for help after the deepening snow made passage impossible for their wagon. He had remembered that there was a large ranch, the Ponderosa, in the vicinity. He had heard that the owner could be counted on to help a person in need, be it friend or stranger. He silently prayed that such a man would brave the storm to come to the aid of the stranded travelers. He added a prayer that the new little one on the way would not try to make its entrance into the world quite yet.
The few items of furniture that the family had been able to fit into the wagon, were being sacrificed, piece by piece to feed the small fire at the edge of the shelter. He hoped with all his heart that one special item could be spared; the cradle that had held three children, and would soon, please God, hold a fourth.
Finishing his prayer, Benjamin could not stop the dejected sigh that escaped his lips. Miriam’s hand tightened in his. “Benjamin, please. Stop blaming yourself. We agreed we had no choice but to try to make it to Nathan and Ruth in Virginia City. Please, dear, have faith. It’s Chanukah. That story alone, should remind you of what faith can do.”
Joe Cartwright pulled his thick woolen coat tighter around his chest as he checked the cinch on Cochise’s saddle. Despite the barn being well built, the place was frigid from the icy wind. He and Hoss were saddling the horses and hitching up the sleigh. Ben and Adam were still in the house readying some maps and gear while Hop Sing tried to scrounge up some warm dry clothes for young Max.
”Hoss, how much colder do you suppose it will get? And how much more snow are we bound to get?” His breath made clouds of steam around his head in the cold barn.
“Don’t know, Short Shanks. But we ain’t got a choice. We got to go find those folks,” Hoss said as he finished feeding the last horse. He was worried not only of finding the Rosens, but about the journey back home once they were found. “We have to get movin’.”
“If it ain’t too late already,” Joe said throwing Adam’s saddle on Sport.
“Don’t say that, Joe. We got to hope we get to them in time. Have faith Joe,” Hoss urged. “Say a little prayer that the Lord sends some angel to watch out for them.” He finished saddling Chubb. Then he went over to help Joe harness the pair of draft horses who would pull the sleigh.
“And a couple of angels to show us the way there and back. It is Christmas Day,” Joe sighed looking up. “Do you think that might help?”
“I jest sure hope that baby wasn’t born while them boys was wading threw the storm to find help here on the Ponderosa. Won’t be much hope for a newborn babe out in the open.”
“Baby Jesus was born in a manger,” Joe offered. And it is His birthday today.”
Hoss sighed as he tightened the last buckle. “Baby Jesus wasn’t born in the middle of a blizzard in the high Sierras. Let’s hope we get there and that angel watches out for all of us.”
Thankfully, it had stopped snowing and the wind had died down, but it was still bitter cold as the rescue party set out. The sun was peeking over the mountains, and shedding its feeble winter light on the man and boy in the sleigh and the three riders flanking it.
Max had no idea how far his brother Sam and he had walked the previous night, but thankfully, he knew the direction they had come from. The fierce winds had obliterated all signs of their footprints.
Hoss, who had taken the lead, abruptly stopped his big black and turned in the saddle, pointing off to the right. “Someone’s been through here since the wind died down this morning. There’s tracks from five or six horses comin’ from the direction of the old MacDougal place. They’re headin’ towards where Max says his folks are. Hope they’re able to give Mr. and Mrs. Rosen a hand. Looks to me like they’ll be there long before we will.”
The mention of five or six riders nudged something in Ben’s memory. He urged the horses pulling the sleigh forward with a snap of the reins as he realized with alarm what that something was. “Those riders might not be good news for the Rosens. Roy Coffee told me last night that the Merchants Bank in Carson City was robbed the day before Christmas Eve. We better hurry boys!”
Snow was falling again and the gusty wind was unforgiving as they continued on. The wind picked up, coming from all directions, tearing at their jackets and driving the dry, feathery snow under their upturned collars. Ben was glad he had bundled up that morning. Hop Sing had rounded up some warm clothes and an old coat of Little Joe’s for Max but it was not enough. When the wind blew through the open prairie, the frightened boy shuddered. The skinny youngster squeezed closer to Mr. Cartwright, trying to stay warm, instinctively seeking some comfort from the fatherly man. Ben shifted in the seat. Holding the reins in one hand, he wrapped his arm protectively around the lad and drew him closer. “We‘ll find them, Max. We will.” Ben tried to reassure him. “You just try to concentrate on telling us where your folks are and we will do the rest.”
“Y-y-yes, sir,” the boy shivered. “I’ll try, Mr. Cartwright.”
The Cartwrights initially tried to follow what they thought were the two boys’ tracks but it was clearly impossible. The wind had ironed out any sign of them by the time they rode past the corral.
“Which way, Max?” Adam called.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure. We went down hill a lot. Then crossed a frozen creek.”
“Pa, that sounds like they was up by Cherry Creek. It goes up hill from there to the Carson Road past the old McDougle place,” Hoss shouted above the wind.
“Head to the north, then boys,” Ben ordered. “That’s how we’ll go.”
Benjamin Rosen had tearfully added the precious cradle to the fire after his wife drifted off to sleep. He was thankful that she hadn’t had to watch as he took the hatchet to the beautifully carved cherry wood. Now he sat and watched her and Hannah sleep while his thoughts drifted back to the first night of Chanukah. It was only four days past, but seemed like a lifetime. “Only a few days ago we were a happy family sitting around the table, nice and cozy and warm enjoying the first night of Chanukah and now, on the fifth night we are out in the dark in a blizzard and my sons are missing. How will I ever forgive myself if the boys got hurt or killed looking for help? It is all my fault.”
As they ate their dinner, Mr. Rosen started to tell the story from his place of honor at the head of the table. His sons sat to his right, his daughter to the left. His beloved wife Miriam sat opposite him.
He began the story as he did every year. “One day Greek forces arrived at Modiin, the home of Mattityahu, an elder and religious leader of the prestigious Hasmonean family. There, the army established a Greek religious altar and ordered Mattityahu to offer a sacrifice to a pagan god. Mattityahu refused, but while he stood firm, another Jew offered to make the sacrifice. Enraged, Mattityahu killed him and attacked the Greek soldiers. His action sparked a Jewish rebellion, which he and his sons led. They became known as the Maccabees, which in Hebrew, means “Men Who are as Strong as Hammers.”
Hannah giggled. “That’s a funny name.”
“The were very brave and very strong. There were very few of those freedom fighters battling a bigger, stronger, better armed enemy,” Mr. Rosen added.
“But the Macabees were braver!” Sam interjected.” Much braver.”
“The Jews were led by Judah Maccabee, the most famous of Mattityahu’s five sons. The Maccabees, a force much smaller than the powerful Greek armies, finally triumphed after fighting for three years. The Maccabees reclaimed the Jewish Temple, which was, at that point, almost unrecognizable as a place of Jewish worship.”
“It was ruined and dirty and the villains had sacrificed animals there too,” Max added. Hannah wrinkled up her nose.
“Max, we are eating dinner,” his mother said firmly from her seat opposite her husband.
“Go on Papa, tell the story.” Hannah pleaded. Her dinner lay cold in front of her.
“Eat your dinner and I will go on.” Mr. Rosen paused
Each child took a bite of food, followed by another. “This dinner is too delicious to let get cold, children. Eat.”
Mrs. Rosen smiled. “Go on Papa. Continue.”
“When the Jewish army wanted to rededicate the Temple, they were unable to find enough specially prepared oil to light the Menorah, a holy lamp, or candelabra, used in the Temple service,” Mr. Rosen went on with the Chanukah story. “They hunted and hunted. Finally, in one deep dark Temple chamber, the brave Maccabees found only one single flask of oil, which normally would have lasted only one night. They would need eight days to get more. However, by a wonderful miracle, the one flask of oil lasted eight nights, until new oil, fit for Temple use, could be produced. “
“It lasted eight days instead of one!” Hannah smiled holding up eight fingers. She had heard the story before but loved to hear her father retell it.
“That’s right Hannah. It was a miracle,” said her father.
“Really, two miracles,” Max explained. He took a third spoonful of Mama’s delicious apple sauce and passed the bowl to his father. “Dinner is delicious Papa. Eat!”
“Two?” Hannah held up two fingers. “Two miracles?”
“Finish your latkes before your brothers steal them from you.” Miriam urged passing the plate around the table. Hungry Max quickly scooped the last two potato pancakes from the serving dish onto his plate.
“Hey, Maxie!” Sam complained indignantly. “Don’t be such a pig, a chaza!”
Max put one latke, the larger one, on his brother’s plate. “Happy Chanukah, little brother.”
“A Chanukah miracle!” Benjamin Rosen teased. “My oldest boy sharing Mama’s latkes with his brother!”
“Three miracles!” Hannah held up three fingers. “The miracle of the latkes, the miracle of the oil and …and… What was the other miracle, Papa?”
“The miracle of the triumph of a few dedicated people defeating a mighty army of villains, Hannah. A few brave Macabees fought the stronger army for their right to be Jews, to be free to worship in their own way.” her mother explained.
Mr. Rosen swallowed the bite of savory roast chicken he had in his mouth. “The Chanukah prayer says, ‘God gave the mighty to the hands of the weak, many into the hands of the few… the wicked into the hands of the righteous.’ This is the miracle Jews commemorate to this very day.”
“Even here in America?” Hannah asked.
“Especially here in America,” Miriam Rosen smiled. “A free country for all of us. By lighting the eight Hanukah candles of the mennorah, Jews everywhere in the world recount the triumph of our ancestors against evil, the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the miracle that a one day supply of oil lasted eight days,” Mr. Rosen said. “All of us Jews, all over the world light our candles on the same day at sundown.”
Sam nodded. It was a nice thing to imagine. All the Jewish boys and girls lighting their candles with their families all over the world just as his family had done tonight.
“When we were in Russia, there were many years we were afraid to let the menorah shine in our window. Not like here in the United States of America,” added Miriam proudly. She proudly looked at the polished brass candle holder near the front window. The flickering golden candles were reflected in the dark window. People passing by the store in the cold dark street below could see the Rosen’s menorah lighting the winter night.
“Why Papa? ” asked Hannah. She too looked up and admired the beautiful mennorah. She had helped Mama polish it that very afternoon until it shined like pure gold. Mama told her how she and Papa had carried the menorah with them to America. The only thing they had from the old country was the brass menorah Papa had made with his uncle the blacksmith. Papa had made the brass menorah as wedding gift for Mama.
“Oh my little American girl, thank goodness you don’t know,” her mother sighed.
“Cossacks, the Czar’s soldiers would attack Jewish homes and destroy things and hurt people,” Sam said. “They were very bad people.”
“Why? Why did the soldiers attack the Jews?”
“Because we were Jews,” Max said bluntly. “There was no other reason. They hated us simply because we were Jewish. Tell her, tell her about that last Chanukah we were in Kreminitz, Papa; tell her why we are here, here in America.” Sam said.” The Cossacks came. They broke in. They were drunk on vodka and they were going to beat up people and burn the entire shtetl and…,”
“Boys, it is a holiday. You will scare your sister,” Mrs. Rosen glared at her sons.
Mr. Rosen vaguely described what the despicable villains did. There was no need to frighten little Hannah with all the gruesome details. “The burned the shtetl,” Benjamin Rosen said softly.
“That means town,” Sam explained.
“Like Carson City? Like Reno?” Hannah asked.
Miriam smiled and smoothed her daughter’s hair. “Smaller, much smaller. A little, tiny town. Hardly a bump in the road compared to Carson City. We had handful of little houses, a few shops. A cow or two for milk. Chickens and ducks and geese and good people. My uncle was the black smith. Papa’s father was a cabinet maker. He could make anything, so beautiful, so fine. He had golden hands.”
Max remembered it clearly as if it had happened the night before. It was the fifth night of Chanukah and he was only six years old, just as Hannah was now. Sam was barely four years old that Chanukah night. Papa pushed Mama and the two little boys into the bedroom and told them to hide under the bed. Mama squeezed her two little boys between the wall and the head board. Then she blocked them with her own body so her precious children couldn’t be seen and pulled the feather bed over all of them.
When the Cossacks and the rest pushed in the door, Papa tried his best to fight them off, to protect his family. They beat him until they thought he was dead. The villains took what ever they wanted and smashed everything else. They left without finding the rest of the family.
“Be quiet, be silent,” Mama had ordered her children. The two terrified little brothers obeyed knowing that all their lives depended on their courage and silence. They hid their despite the frightening sounds of glass breaking and wood cracking. They remained silent despite the smell of smoke and screams and shouts all around them until the sun came up. Papa called to them and they crept out from their hiding place.
The next day, despite his injuries, Papa went out to see how the shtetl had faired. When he returned, Papa told the boys that their grandfather the cabinet maker with the golden hands had been murdered by the mob and their uncle the blacksmith had died as well. The Rosens made plans to leave for America that day. It took them almost two years, but they eventually arrived in the land of freedom and opportunity.
“No bullies will ever intimidate us here, never again,” said Mr. Rosen. “We are in America. Happy Chanukah!”
“Happy Chanukah!” the children answered.
He was jarred out of his reverie by the muffled sounds of horses’ hoofs plodding though the snow. He excitedly shook his wife’s arm. “Miriam, wake up! I hear horses! The boys must have gotten through! We’re rescued!”
He jumped to his feet, anxious to meet their rescuers, when the flap of the tarp was roughly pushed back and three rough-looking men pushed their way into the shelter.
“Don’t make a sound or I’ll blow your head off! Sit down by them!” The shaggy-bearded man gestured toward Miriam and Hannah with the rifle he had pointed at Benjamin’s head. “Do what you’re told and I might just let you all live.”
Benjamin dropped down beside his white-faced wife and took her and their daughter in his arms. “We don’t have much, just a little food. You can see that. I used the last of our money to buy this wagon and those two horses. They’re all we have of any value. Take them. Take them and leave. Don’t hurt my wife and daughter.”
The man spit into the fire, and glared at Benjamin out of hooded eyes. “Those sorry lookin’ critters? We don’t need the likes of ‘em! What we need is you.” His cold gaze roamed from Benjamin to Miriam to Hannah and back to Benjamin. “Looks like we got a posse on our tail. Damn! Don’t know where we picked ‘em up at! Thought we got away clean. Well, we got us three hostages now.”
Benjamin half-rose from beside his wife, but fell back as the rifle swung in the direction of Hannah. Miriam grabbed her daughter to her with a stifled sob.
“I ain’t agonna tell you agin! I’d just as soon not have to fool with a young’un anyway. Burt! Silas!” The man with the beard barked at the other two who stood silently by the entrance. “Get back out there with Bernie and Gus and help ‘em git the horses out of sight, then git right back in here! The wind should rub out our tracks.”
The taller of the two turned and left silently, but the other just stood there looking at the small family. His eyes locked on the obviously pregnant woman who sat wide-eyed convulsively clutching the little girl. He turned hesitantly to the leader. “Hank. Why don’t we just take this fella with us and get outta here? The posse ain’t gonna keep after us once they come onta’ this woman and kid. They’re gonna stay and take care of them.”
This questioning of his orders seemed to anger the man, who was used to unquestioned leadership. He rounded on the smaller man. “Shut up Silas! I’ve ‘bout had it with you! Burt’s right; you’re goin’ soft. You just remember who’s boss here! And remember, that a hundred-thousand split four ways is better than a hundred-thousand split five ways. Now git!”
The man called Silas slunk out into the cold. But not without a final furtive glance at the three terrified people huddled in the back of the shelter.
Muttering to himself, Silas hid his horse in between the side of the shelter and the encroaching brush. “Goin’ soft. I hain’t goin’ soft. I’ll show that fool Hank who’s goin’ soft when that posse gets here. I hain’t afeared of no posse. Won’t be the first one I’ve shot it out with and won’t be the last. But I hain’t killed nobody that was unarmed. Not even robbin’ a bank or rustlin’ cattle. I hain’t about to start on pregnant wimmin and little kids. I never did trust that Hank, he’s a little crazy. Ever’ since that bank job in Silver City a coupala months ago, he’s been playin’ us all agin’ each other. And Burt’s been cosyin’ up to him. Might be better to take my chances with that posse.”
Stomping back around to the front of the shelter, Silas spied the lantern lying in the snow where Hank had kicked it when they rode up. He stopped and stared it, rubbing at his bristle-stubbled chin. “That lantern brought us here; it’d bring that posse here.”
He shook the nearly empty lantern “Should be ‘bout enough oil here for about another hour or so.”
The snow was falling heavily in fits and stops. One minute the flurries were more like a sprinkling of windblown dust and then the next the snow got heavier and thicker. Raw endurance and persistence was the only hope for the Cartwright to make it to the Rosens through the deepening snow. A gusty wind blasting from the slopes had cast the snow into treacherous deep drifts, and all the horses struggled mightily.
The horse’s warm breath was frozen into icy frost across their noses and chests. It was extremely slow going. In some stretches, the snow had blown off the trail and rocks showed darkly against the frosty white. In other stretches, the horses had to push hard through deep snow up to their hocks Each of the boys took turns breaking trail through the deep powder either on horseback or in a few stretches, by on foot leading his horse. Ben drove the sleigh behind them.
“I can’t believe we are taking this long to ride to Cherry Creek.” Joe exclaimed impatiently. He had taken his turn breaking the trail on Cochise and now let Hoss take the lead.
“Dadgumit, that was in the summer, Little Joe. This sure ain’t summer,” Hoss shouted. His voice was lost in the wind. Icy flake stung their faces as it whipped off the mountains.
“We aren’t even half way to the creek,” Joe shook his head.
“Look, there is the dip just before the first bend in the trail. The old McDougle place is up there,” observed Adam. He patted Sport’s flank.
“Looks like a light up there.” Hoss said squinting. “And I smell smoke.”
“Think the Rosens could have made it up there? No one lived there in a couple of years.
“Maybe it‘s them,” Joe shouted to his brothers over the wind.
“Go back and tell Pa. Hoss and I will go up there and check,” Adam decided.
“No sense all of us strugglin’ to get up there and break a wider path for the sleigh.” Hoss said as Adam turned Sport toward the McDougle place. “Ain’t enough time to waste.”
Adam knew Hoss was right. The odds against the Rosens were getting worse as the day wore on. The encroaching darkness and the blowing snow would make it difficult to see more than a few feet ahead in a couple of hours.
The days were short at this time of the year and the weak sun would be gone very soon. The horses were getting skittish and tired sitting in the cold. At least, most of the time, the wind was blowing from behind them
“Where could the wagon be? You can’t hide a whole wagon in the snow… even in a blizzard,” Max asked Mr. Cartwright. Uncontrollable shivering shook Max’s body. Ben pulled him closer and wrapped the borrowed coat tighter around the boy.
“Hang in there, boy. Here’s my scarf.” Ben reached across and handed Max the green wool muffler he had worn around his neck. “Wrap it around your neck and ears.”
Max was stiff and cold beyond shivering. He was pretty much frozen and clearly exhausted beyond belief. He fought to stay awake. The life of his family depended on him.
“Think about something warm. That sometimes warms me up,” Joe suggested. He often did that himself when he was doing chores on a cold day or riding home from Virginia City on a dark winter night.
“Mama makes really fine potato latkes,” Max said. He tried warming himself by thinking of how snug and his cozy Mama had made their old home over the store. “It’s the fourth night of Chanukah, Joe. We should be lighting the candles at sundown.”
“Sundown? It’s dark from the storm but nowhere near sundown.” Joe explained. He craned his neck trying to see Adam and Hoss returning.
“You’ll be back in my house by sundown,” Ben tried to comfort Max. “Your whole family.” His dark eyes met Joe’s in wordless communication. Both were worried what was taking Adam and Hoss so long.
“I can’t believe how cold it still is out here,” Little Joe said as a gust of wind hit them.
Ben was very sure an hour had already passed as they followed the path Adam had Hoss and forged for the sleigh. Adam and Hoss should have been back by now. “What’s taking your brothers so long?”
“That’s it! That is the place we crossed over on the ice.” Max stood in the sleigh and yelled excitedly. “My brother had trouble getting up the bank and I had to boost him up,” the boy pointed.
“Pa! Look up ahead! A light!” Joe stood in the stirrups and turned to the man and boy in the sleigh. Ben pulled the team to a stop and he and Max strained to see through the wind-driven snow to where Joe was pointing. Max’s heart pounded in his chest.
The wind died momentarily, allowing a view unimpeded by blowing snow. Up ahead, a light flickered bravely in the gloom
“Mr. Rosen? Mrs. Rosen? It’s Adam and Hoss Cartwright, from the Ponderosa! Are you in here?” Adam cautiously pushed the door of the old McDougle cabin open. It had been uninhabited for over a year. Elderly Nora McDougle had lived there alone for 10 years after the death of her husband Charlie, 10 years before, until her own death. They had no one to leave the cabin and their small plot of land to, so the cabin had set there deserted; the small plot of cleared land waiting to be reclaimed by the wilderness.
Adam stepped through the door and into the main room. Someone had been here recently, but he doubted it was the Rosens. A woman would not have set a hot coffee pot directly onto the table, or a pot of beans hardening on the stove or bean-encrusted plates scattered around. Regardless that this cabin was deserted, it was just not a woman’s nature.
Adam felt the cook stove. It was cold, but a fire still smoldered in the fireplace, and the lamp in the middle of the table was lit.
A doorway across the room was covered by a set of drapes. Adam stepped to one side of the doorway and with hand on his Colt revolver, quickly pushed them aside. Like the main room, the bedroom was deserted.
Going back outside, Adam found Hoss emerging from the small barn across from the cabin and called to him. “They’re not here. Someone’s been here recently, but it doesn’t look like it was them. Find anything in the barn?”
Hoss shook his head. “Nope. Empty. But there’s a lot of horses’ tracks millin’ around. Looks like the same one’s we spotted earlier. One of the horses has a split shoe. Right front.”
Sighing, Adam pinched the bridge of his nose. “Let’s mount up and get back to tell Pa and Joe and the boy that we have to keep looking”.
Getting closer to the light, Ben and Joe realized it was from a lantern sitting on a stump. Illuminated in the light of the lantern was a wagon. Behind the wagon was a large outcropping of rocks. Branches and a tarp had been used to convert the outcropping and wagon into a crude but effective shelter. The reflection of a small fire could be seen inside the shelter and smoke curled from a ventilation hole in the make-shift roof.
“That’s it! That’s our wagon! Ma! Pa!” Max was overjoyed and started to jump from the sleigh. Ben prevented this by grabbing ahold of his coat.
“Max, wait! The snow is too deep. Let Joe go on ahead and trample a path with Cochise.” Ben gestured to Joe with his head, his eyebrows raised.
Joe was thinking the same thing he knew his father was. Pa wanted him to check to see if the Rosens were still alive before he let the boy go.
As Joe rode up to the shelter he spied the welter of horse tracks and boot prints. Joe was gripped with an uneasy feeling as he remembered his father’s news about the bank robbery in Carson City. He dismounted from Cochise for a closer look. A strong gust of wind rattling the bare tree branches drowned out the faint sound of boots stealthily crunching on snow. The butt of a gun met the back of Joe’s head and he toppled into a snowbank with a soft grunt. He didn’t feel the rough hands pulling him out and dragging him through the flap of the tarp.
“They’re not up there, Pa. Someone’s been there, but we don’t think it was them. Where’s Joe? What’s wrong?” Adam reined Sport in beside the sleigh, Hoss right behind him.
Ben and Max were standing in the sleigh, Max clutching tightly to Ben’s arm. Looking ahead of the sleigh, Adam and Hoss spotted the feeble glow of a lantern, and the make-shift shelter.
“The Rosens’ wagon?” Hoss asked.
“Yes, Joe rode on ahead to break the trail while we waited for you.” Ben gestured toward Max, and like Joe, Adam and Hoss knew why Ben held Max back. “He should have been back by now.”
“Mr. Cartwright, do…do you think somthin’s wrong?” Max found the courage to ask.
“I’m afraid it looks that way son.” Ben squeezed Max’s shoulder comfortingly. “Sit back down here and wrap up. I need to talk to Adam and Hoss.” Ben tucked the blanket that Max had discarded in his excitement back around the boy and gestured Adam and Hoss away from the sleigh.
“What do you think?” Ben asked once they were out of earshot of Max.
Adam and Hoss exchanged glances then told Ben what they had found at the McDougle cabin. “It’s hard to tell with the wind blowin’ the snow around the way it is, but it looks like riders came this way from the cabin. You think it might be those fellas that robbed the bank in Carson City?” Hoss rubbed the back of his neck nervously.
Ben shook his head and shrugged. “I don’t know what to think. But something’s wrong. Joe should have been back by now. You two go check. I better stay here with Max. Be careful.” Ben restrained himself from patting his sons and substituted a pat to Chubb and Sport, then started to trudge back to the sleigh. After a few steps, he stopped and watched their retreating backs.
Joe slowly blinked his eyes open. The first thing he was aware of was the dull pain in the back of his head. The second thing was that his head was being cradled in a women’s lap. Gazing at him with concern was a pug-nosed, freckled-face man, who could only be Max’s and Sam’s father.
Joe struggled to sit up, aided by the man he assumed to be Mr. Rosen. Joe realized that he was inside the shelter he had approached. He put his hand to the back of his head and tentatively looked around.
Dominating the small space, a small fire sputtered bravely, but was fightin a loosing battle against the cold. A woman and little girl sat wrapped together in a blanket; the little girl pressed close to her mother’s side. The man had resettled into his place by their side. He clutched his coat about him and looked curiously at Joe. On the other side of the dying fire, a grizzled, dirty, dangerous-looking man sat holding a rifle on the frightened group. Flanking him were two equally grizzled, dirty, dangerous-looking men. Two more hunkered down in the shadows.
Joe looked back to the freckled-faced man and managed a small smile despite their precarious situation. “Mr. and Mrs. Rosen? Max and Sam are fine. A rescue party is right behind me.
Mr. Rosen started to clap Joe on the back in his delight to hear that his sons, at least were safe, but was brought up short by their captor. “Shut up! Just sit there and shut up, all of you!
You, kid! Who are you?” He grabbed Joe up by the lapels of his coat and shook him. “How far behind you is this rescue party and how many men are there?”
Suddenly he pushed Joe back down and turned to Benjamin Rosen, a look of glee on his face. “Hey, I know who you are now. That kid called you Mr. Rosen. Well, well. You’re that rich Jew fellow that runs old man Duffy’s mercantile store over there in Reno. Rich enough to have solid gold candle sticks like them silver baron fellas. Yeah, I’ve seen those gold candle sticks of yours in your window.”
Their captor’s expression turned from glee to menace as he advanced on Mr. Rosen. “And you told me all you had was this old wagon and broken-down team.”
Reaching out, the brute grabbed little Hannah from her mother’s embrace and wrapped a powerful arm around her delicate neck. “Now, you must have somthin’ as valuable as them gold candlesticks hid real good in that wagon. I think you just better get ‘em.”
Hoss rode back to where Ben and Max waited with the sleigh. “There’s six more horses there than the Rosen’s team and Cochise. Five saddle horses and a pack horse.” Hoss worriedly shook his head. “You’re right, Pa. Somethin’ looks mighty wrong. I got a feelin’ that you’re right about those horses belongin’ to the fellas that robbed the Merchant’s Bank, too. And I think they got not only the Rosen’s in there, but Joe too.” Hoss looked over to where Max waited in the sleigh. “Adam’s keepin’ an eye on the shelter. What do you think we should do?”
Ben went back to the sleigh and with a fatherly hand on his shoulder, explained the situation to Max. “I’m going on up there double on Chubb with Hoss. You stay put here with the sleigh.”
Max stood as tall as he could and looked from Ben to Hoss, then back to Ben. “Mr. Cartwright, that’s my parents and little sister in there. And Joe is in there because of us. I might not be a growed man yet, but I’m not a little kid anymore either. I’m sorry, sir, but I ain’t stayin’ here. I’m goin’ to help get them out. My pa told us stories of kids younger than me fightin’ Cossacks in Russia and Syrians back in the days of the Maccabees. I’m gonna do my part, like they did.”
Ben gazed into Max’s eyes and saw the determination of a man there. He knew Max was right. He had to be allowed to help. He looked at Hoss, and Hoss nodded his agreement. He clapped Max on the back and picked up the reigns of the sleigh. “Well, let’s go get them.”
“You in there!” Ben Cartwright bellowed. “This is Ben Cartwright! We have you surrounded. Let those people go!” His powerfully deep voice bounced off the rocky outcropping and echoed in the still, frigid air.
Adam and Hoss prayed that the outlaws would believe their charade. They hoped that the three men and a tired boy could give the appearance of an armed posse. There was no way they could go in there with guns blazing, not with Little Joe and the Rosens held captive.
In the shelter, Joe’s eyes lit up at the sound of his father’s voice. “That’s my Pa,” he whispered to Mrs. Rosen. “Not to worry Ma’am. He and my brothers will get us out of this fix.”
“It’s a miracle,” she whispered. “It’s truly a miracle.”
“Let’s get out of here! The posse has us surrounded.” Hank shouted. “Take the kid with us as a shield.” He went to grab Hannah.
“Papa!” Hannah bawled. She squirmed away from the outlaw’s grasp but tripped over Joe’s outstretched boot. The cowboy reached out and caught her before she fell. Joe pulled her into his lap and wrapped his arms protectively around the girl. “Let her be,” he glared at Hank.
From his seat in the corner of the lean-to, Mr. Rosen jumped up. “Don‘t you touch my child” he ordered Hank.
“You gonna stop me?” Hank punched Mr. Rosen in the chest, knocking the shopkeeper off his feet. He fell through the flimsy canvas side of the shelter into the snow outside. Stunned for an instant he clambered to his feet and leapt back into the shelter the same way he had exited.
“Papa!” hollered Max. He started to rush forward from his place next to Mr. Cartwright but Ben grabbed him by the belt of his coat. Ben pulled the boy back and said firmly, “Hold tight, son. We’ll get them out. Just do what we planned.”
Max nodded and continued to mold snowballs as Adam Cartwright had directed him. He had a large pile at his feet.
“Make sure you stand clear if there is any shooting, Max. Stay right here behind the sleigh and do just what you are supposed to do,” Ben said. His dark eyes stared into the boy’s frightened blue eyes.
Max hesitated. He longed to rush forward and save his family though he knew Mr. Cartwright was correct. He had sworn to do his assigned task.
“Promise me,” the rancher put his hand on the youngster’s shoulder.
“Yes, sir,” Max nodded. He continued molding snow balls and silently prayed for his family’s safety and for the Cartwright’s strength to defeat the outlaws.
“We got you surrounded!” Adam called as he and Hoss made their way to the far side of the little shelter.
“Let them folks walk out!” Hoss added trying to make his voice sound like a small army as the waded through the drifted snow.
Ben Cartwright, his gun ready, watched Hoss and Adam make their way to the opposite side of the shelter. Hoss boosted Adam up on the rocky out cropping that had sheltered the Rosens that night. He scrambled on the slippery boulder for a hand hold and foot hold. “We have to get those outlaws out of the shelter and away from the Rosens and Little Joe. Then we can get a clear shot at them. We can’t let them folks get caught in the cross fire.”
Hank shoved Rosen aside to get to the menorah.
Easing little Hannah into her mother’s arms, Joe watched for an opening.
“I told you leave my daughter alone!” Rosen ordered. “Get out of here.”
“And I ain’t leaving with out this golden candle stick here! This here is worth a fortune.” Hank growled eyeing the shiny brass menorah.
“Take it and get out!” Rosen roared.
Joe jumped up, swung at and knocked Hank into the corner of the wagon. The outlaw’s pistol popped out of his holster clattered and skidded across the packed snow under the wagon. Joe leaped on Hank’s back and Mr. Rosen pounded him from the front. All three tangled together fell through the canvass wall of the shelter. They rolled onto the snowy ground.
Just at that moment, Adam Cartwright slid off the ice glazed outcropping and crashed through the snow covered top of the shelter.
“Adam!” Hoss bellowed. He charged after his brother.
Adam landed heavily on both feet and somehow managed to maintain his balance as most of the shelter collapsed around him and the others.
“Get him!” ordered Hank pushing snow out of his eyes. The bandits and their captives struggled to untangle themselves from the canvas and broken furniture that had formed the Rosen’s shelter.
Bernie Frye drew his pistol and aimed at Adam. “You ain’t taking me alive!”
Desperate to survive, Rosen swung a broken table leg into the other man’s stomach, causing Frye to drop his pistol. The outlaw doubled over and staggered back a step or two.
“Get them!” Hank repeated. Bernie quickly straightened and charged straight at Adam, knocking him back hard to the frozen ground. Bernie jumped on top of Adam and punched him with a solid jab to the face and then a second. Adam reached up and threw an upper cut which caught Frye just under the chin. Bernie fell backwards and Adam rolled away from him.
Adam reached up and grabbed the man’s leg, pulling him away from the gun and onto the ground. Adam scrambled to his feet just as Bernie grabbed for the gun. He was quick but Joe was faster. He leaped forward and grabbed the pistol. “Hands up!” Joe ordered. Adam scrambled to his feet and quickly went after another outlaw as Joe held a gun on Frye
By then, Hoss had charged down the slope and entered the fight. Hoss threw a fist into the Silas’s stomach, causing him to double over and stagger back a step or two. But Silas quickly straightened and charged straight at Mr. Rosen, knocking him back to the ground. He jumped on top of the man and belted the him below him with a quick jab to the face. Benjamin Rosen reached up and threw an upper cut which caught Silas just under the chin. The outlaw fell back and Hoss hauled the man off of Rosen and flung him out of the fray. The outlaw bounced down the icy slope, landing on hard on his back.
“Freeze!” Ben roared as he waded through the snow. The bandit lay disoriented on the frozen ground as Ben Cartwright rushed up with his rifle.” Don’t even think of moving,” He glanced up at the brawl not twenty feet from him The rancher planted his boot in the outlaw’s chest and ordered the man to lay prone on the ground.
Burt flung a half broken chair at Hoss who ducked. The chair barely missed little Hannah but her mother protectively pulled her daughter close.
“Hey! Watch that!” Adam shouted as he swung the first punch. The outlaw ducked and shoved past him in an attempt to get the menorah before he escaped. He was still convinced it was made of gold and had monetary worth far out weighing personal emotional value the item had to the Jewish family.
One of the other villains, Gus, swung at Hoss. He took heavy punch on the mouth that split both his lip and the scraped the attackers knuckles. He struck again and the larger man absorbed the blow with his stomach. Hoss swung a right and a left at the other man’s jaw knocking him backwards onto the ground. The outlaw’s eyes rolled back in his head and he lost consciousness.
Adam drove a left hard into Burt’s midsection which sent him to the ground.
Suddenly, the leader of the outlaws, Hank leapt upon Little Joe knocking the pistol from his hand. He grabbed it but before he could fire, a shot rang out.
Seeing the pistol aimed at Adam, Ben had taken his foot off his captive and rushed forward. He was forced to shoot him in the close quarters before the outlaw killed one of his boys.
The despicable villain lay dead on the frozen ground, blood staining the snow red.
“We give up! Don’t kill me!” Silas Farmer raised his hands in submission.
Burt slowly regained consciousness but played possum for a few moments while Benjamin Rosen and the Cartwrights finished off the band of outlaws. He eyed the menorah and planned his escape.
“Adam, get a rope and tie these fellows up.” Ben directed aiming his rifle at Silas Farmer, Bernie Frye, and Gus Jones. He nodded in the direction of Hank Sims. “Hoss, wrap this one in the tarp and sling him across one of the horses.”
Adam took a coil of rope from his saddle and headed back to the cluster of people. Despite having no hope of escape, Burt grabbed the menorah and bolted for the outlaws’ picketed horses.
“Burt! Come back!” Silas shouted as his disreputable buddy tried to run off and avoid inevitable capture.
“Grab him! He’s getting away!” Ben shouted as Burt ran from near the sleigh.
Hoss pivoted and started to give chase but slipped on the packed down snow. He crashed heavily into the pile of rubble that had been the shelter, barely missing Hannah.
“I got the golden candle stick!” Burt bellowed as he brandished the brass menorah over his head. “It all mine!”
“Take this, you big rat!” Max yelled. He let loose with a volley well aimed, hard packed snow balls. The first smashed Burt between the eyes and the second hit him full in the chest knocking him backwards into the snow. The drift had built up, innocently disguising a treacherous, bottomless fissure between the boulders. Burt plunged into a cavernous drift and was soon swallowed up to his neck in fluffy, deep snow.
Burt instantaneously turned from escapee to prisoner. “Help me! I am sinking!” he squealed like the coward he was.
Adam realized that as ridiculous as the robber looked, he needed to get him out of the snow drift or he would be in serious trouble.
Pulling off his gloves with his teeth, he quickly knotted the rope into a slip knotted lariat. He narrowed his eyes and estimated what it would take to reach his the trapped man.
“Just like a stuck heifer” Joe laughed. “I suppose we better haul him out, though he sure don’t deserve it. Let him freeze to death.”
“Get me out!” Burt bellowed waving the stolen menorah over his head.
“Just like a stuck heifer,” Adam agreed.
“Jest like one; and a scrawny, ugly mean lookin’ beast if I ever did see one.” Hoss added standing up.
“Maybe we should just leave him there until spring thaw.” Adam suggested.
“Maybe we should make sure he gets arrested and tried,” Mr. Rosen said helping Hoss to his feet and brushing off the larger man.
“Come on get me out of here ‘afore I freeze,” the outlaw wailed.
“That’s right, boys. Let the law handle this,” Ben said agreeing with Rosen.
“Quit yer goldurn jawing and get me the hell out of here!” the robber pleaded. Clutching the stolen candle holder, he was trapped in the snow drift. No matter how hard he thrashed about, he was sinking fast in the deep soft snow. There was an over hanging tree branch that he could have reached with his right hand but it would have meant loosing his greedy grip on the Rosen’s menorah.
“Hey fellow! It’s Christmas, and we have a lady and kids near by, so watch your lip,” Ben corrected.
“Yeah, don’t you go cussin’ in front of my Ma and little sister!” Max suddenly bolder added. He grabbed another snow ball and raised his hand threateningly. “Toss out our menorah and Mr. Adam will pull you free. ”
“No!” Burt was obstinate.
“Then freeze!” Max decreed. “We’ll just come back in the spring and dig out our menorah. ”
Mrs. Rosen smiled weakly at her oldest son’s bravery. She hugged her daughter to her.
“Is that bad man going to freeze?” Hannah asked her mother.
“Don’t worry, Honey. We’ll pull that fella out and bring him to Sheriff Coffee jest like your Pa said,” Hoss assured her.
“I’m going to toss you a rope.” Adam grinned winking at Max. “Just toss the menorah this way.”
“No!” Burt was not giving up that easily.
“Just stand still and quit your bellowing,” Joe added. “Or freeze hard until spring.”
“You sound like a sickly milk cow. Mooooooooo.” Adam smiled
Mr. Rosen started to laugh.” What are you going to do, Mr. Cartwright?”
“I’m going to rope him and pull him out. If you and my brothers can give him a hand, I think we can pull him out before he freezes solid and avoid anyone else getting hurt.” The young rancher tied the end of his line to a nearby tree trunk. Then Adam twirled the rope lariat over his head and lofted it over the crook in one swoop. “Tie it around your chest, buddy and we’ll pull you out.”
“Unless you prefer waiting until spring…” Max said.
“Or tie it around your neck and we can hang you and put you out of your misery,” Joe teased. “Whichever Mrs. Rosen wants.”
“Pull him out as soon as he returns our property,” she said with a nod.
“Let him stand trial. It will be my pleasure to testify,” Mr. Rosen added.
“Get me out of here!” Burt pleaded weakly. Then he reluctantly raised his hand and threw the menorah to Mr. Rosen.
With a doff of his hat, Benjamin presented the candleholder to his wife. “I think this belongs to you, my darling wife.”
Ben Cartwright suddenly realized that this was no joking matter. It would soon be dark The man was going to be soaked through and they still had a long ride home to the Ponderosa with a hugely pregnant woman, a small frightened girl, a cold, weary boy and a very brave man. And, although the snow had stopped falling, it soon would be dark. “Pull him out, boys. We have a long ride home,” Ben said firmly. “And went you pull him free, tie his hands together and put him on his horse for the ride back to the Ponderosa.”
Adam tossed Burt the rope. Hoss and Joe grabbed him as he struggled out of the drift. Ben added his shoulder to the rescuers pulling the half frozen thug up the slope.
Silas reached over and grabbed Burt by the front of his frosted coat. “Now go apologize to them folks. Then maybe they’ll forgive your sorry carcass and mine.”
“I’m mighty sorry, Ma’am, Mr. Rosen, sir.” Burt said through his chattering teeth.
“Tie the two of them up and let them warm up by a fire while we settle Mrs. Rosen and Hannah in the sleigh. Then you tie those scoundrels on their horses for the ride back,” Ben directed his sons.
“I suppose there is a marshal in Virginia City, Mr. Cartwright? Or a sheriff?” Mr. Rosen said helping his wife through the snow to the sleigh. Hoss scooped up Hannah and carried her on his shoulders.
Ben smiled. “A sheriff, Mr. Rosen. And Sheriff Coffee is coming to the Ponderosa for Christmas night dinner too.”
The Cartwright brothers were exhausted from the cold and the battle with the outlaws as well as the long day in the saddle. They didn’t dare stop, now. Each time one of them faltered, another member of the family urged them homeward. The Cartwrights had to get the Rosen family back home.
Ben urged the team on, every now and then glancing over his shoulder at the weary Rosens in the back of the sleigh.
The group came to the place the trail forked off towards town and they needed to head down hill to the south, to the Ponderosa.
“Are we getting close to your home?” Mr. Rosen asked hopefully. Little Hannah was tucked snugly between him and her mother. Only the tip of her knitted cap and her eyebrows poked over the plaid blanket Hoss had tucked around her
Through the blowing snow Ben Cartwright could see the cluster of frosted trees and snow capped fence posts that he recognized as the beginning of the Ponderosa boundary. “The north fence line, Boys. We are almost home!” Ben shouted from the sleigh.
Gradually, the snow stopped falling and the moon broke out from behind the clouds. The stars reappeared in the black velvet sky lighting the dark winter night.
“We should see the house soon,” Adam called to the Rosens.
A wide smile broke Hoss’s face.
Despite his weariness, Little Joe kicked his heels into Cochise and took the lead. “Yahoo! Almost home! And it’s still Christmas! Let’s go!”
Ben felt a surge of relief with the first glimpse of the golden lights of the ranch house through the blowing snow and the dark shadows of the tall bare trees. He could see the faint glow of yellow like the beacon of a light house guiding the weary sailors home from the stormy sea.
“Merry Christmas!” Joe shouted. “Merry Christmas!”
“Hop Sing must have lit every lamp in the house.” Adam exclaimed. “Upstairs and down. Even that big one over the front door!”
“And look he lit one by the barn too so we could see to put up the horses!” added Hoss.
“Hannah! Miriam! Look! Sam is on the porch with a lantern too” Mr. Rosen declared.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…” Max smiled as he counted aloud. “Eight!
“What are you counting son?” Mr. Rosen asked from the back of the sleigh as Little Hannah pulled the blanket down and looked at the house they were approaching.
“I can see eight lamps all lit up in the Cartwright‘s house, Papa.” Max explained.
“Mr. Cartwright, your house is the biggest menorah I ever did see.” exclaimed little Hannah.
“Mr. Cartwright, I thank God we’ve arrived at your house for more reasons than one. I didn’t want to say anything to cause anyone more worry, but I believe that little one is on its way,” Miriam spoke up calmly.
The week after Christmas, the Rosen family took their leave of their new friends to continue their interrupted journey to Virginia City. The children, including baby Judith in a rabbit fur bunting, and their mother were well bundled up in the borrowed sleigh, the cherished menorah wrapped in soft flannel and ensconced in Hannah’s lap. Also wrapped protectively from the weather and wedged in at their feet was the cradle Ben Cartwright had dug out of the attic and presented to the Rosen’s with the blessing of its three former occupants. In a moneybelt, safely buckled under Benjamin Rosen’s clothing, was $6,000.00 presented to him from the Merchants Bank of Carson City as a reward for the capture of the Sims Gang. The Benjamin Brothers and Sons Emporium that he and Nathan had dreamed of ever since coming to this new land would now become a reality.