Summary: Little Joe is in a Christmas pageant.
Word Count: 4252
Ben Cartwright descended the staircase and cast an amused smile towards the dining room. Sitting there were his two eldest sons and they seemed to be very amused themselves. Laughter filled the room as Ben made his way to the head of the table and sat down for breakfast.
“Morning boys,” Ben addressed Adam and Hoss. “What’s got you two in such a jovial mood? Finally getting into the Christmas spirit?”
Hoss grinned and handed the coffee pot to his father, “It’s Little Joe, Pa–just wait until you see him!”
“Yeah, he’s in the kitchen with Hop Sing. If you listen closely you will hear him fussing,” Adam laughed.
Ben looked towards the entranceway to the kitchen and then he heard the loud protests of his youngest son.
“Ouch! Hop Sing you just stuck me with another pin—I ain’t doing this! Take this get-up off me right now!”
“You hold still, Little Joe—you not get stuck!” Hop Sing yelled at the boy.
“Ouch—dad burn it–you done it to me again! What are you trying to do, get blood all over my costume?” Joe continued fussing at the cook.
“Hit you with fry pan if you yell one more at me! Now take in breath—have to tie rope now to see if fits!”
“Why did I let myself get talked into this mess?” Joe argued and sucked in his breath so Hop Sing could finish his alterations.
“There—that work. You done—take off and Hop Sing get all ready for you!” Hop Sing announced, exhausted from battling the seventeen year old.
“Wait!” Ben called into the kitchen and turned and winked towards Adam and Hoss. “Come on in here, Joseph—before you take it off! We want to see your costume!”
“Forget it!” Joe shouted from the kitchen.
“Don’t make us come in there!” Adam yelled across the table.
Joe slowly made it out of the kitchen, a frown creasing his face knowing what was coming next. He knew he looked quite ridiculous and would now have to watch the glee on his family’s face as they watched his misery. He stopped at the head of the table and looked over at his father. Joe was dressed in a linen material from head to foot. There was a bright braided cord of gold around his waist and he held in his hand a shepherd’s staff.
“Go on–get it out of your system–laugh at me!” Joe insisted as he shot a look at each of his brothers.
“You look very nice—a real shepherd, Joseph,” Ben replied and had to bite at his bottom lip to keep from bursting out with laughter.
“Hey—Little Bo Peep—have you lost something–like–um sheep?” Hoss called across the table.
“Watch it, Hoss—-the kid has a staff—he might use it on your head!” Adam warned and then chuckled at the expression on Joe’s face.
“Have I been humiliated enough yet, Pa?” Joe asked as he clenched his hand-carved staff.
“Okay—you can go ahead and get out of your costume. Thanks for being a good sport,” Ben replied and patted Joe’s arm.
Joe turned, rather indignantly and marched into the kitchen where he hastily pulled off his get-up and handed it to the cook. He then moved back to the dining table and took a seat next to Hoss. Pouring a cup of coffee, Ben handed it over to his son and Joe nodded his gratitude.
“So–dress rehearsal’s today, huh?” Ben asked Joe, hoping to improve on the boy’s mood.
“Yeah—dad gone it–I didn’t want to do any of this! Becky got me into this, then she goes off with Jim Brady and starts flirting with him! I should just bow out while I still can.”
“No–you can’t do that, Joseph. You know Reverend Fletcher has a lot vested in this play and the profits are all going to the new children’s home. Just go do your part and then be a bit wiser next time,” Ben insisted.
“Wiser? You playing a wise man next year?” Adam asked, still trying to get the better of his little brother. He had to admit that Joe going up on the stage at the Piper Opera House tickled him. Of all the people in Virginia City who had natural talent, his little brother had been chosen to play the lead shepherd. What made it even more amusing was that the boy had an acute case of stage fright.
“One more joke from you, Adam, and I am gonna deck you–I mean it!” Joe warned.
“Why so touchy, Joe? You know how much you like performing!” Adam teased on.
“I hate it! I always have. You all remember what happened when I was nine?” Joe asked and shot a look around the table. Ben, Hoss, and Adam all rolled their eyes at the same time. They knew what was coming.
“Not the third grade play story again!” Hoss sighed and stared at his father for a reprieve.
“I was up there on that stage—just ready to belt out that stupid song–” Joe started his story, ignoring the expression of protest on his family member’s faces.
“Here we go again—this is what, the millionth time now?” Adam fussed.
“Then—it happened—I stepped just a little too close to the end of the stage—and BAM! I fell flat on my face—-right on Abigail Jones’ big feet. I thought I was gonna die of embarrassment. It was then that I swore I would never ever in life do that again!”
Ben patiently waited for Joe’s rendition of his most embarrassing moment in life to finish before he cleared his throat.
“Yes–Joseph—just like I told you—what was it—eight years ago? You have to get back up on that stage and conquer your fear. It’s taken you awhile–but I am sure you can do it just fine. Besides–you only have one line!”
“Yeah—one stupid line—and for that I have to wear that idiotic costume! I ought to smack Jim with my staff for stealing Becky from me—in fact—I ought to smack her too!” Joe fumed.
“Merry Christmas,” Hoss shot in and then started laughing again.
“Well, little shepherd boy—it’s about time for you to get on your camel and head out for rehearsal isn’t it?” Adam asked, hoping for some peace for a change.
Joe leapt from his chair and started over towards Adam, having had enough teasing for one morning. Ben’s hand was a little quicker, though. He grabbed the rowdy shepherd and pulled him back.
“Enough—Joseph! Now Adam’s right—you get your costume and head on into town. You made a commitment and you are going to go through with it. Now head on out,” Ben said sternly.
“If I fall off that damn stage—” Joe muttered and felt his father’s hand jerking him back towards the table.
“The WHAT stage?” Ben asked raising his eyebrows for effect.
“Um—the—ah—well—gotta go, Pa–don’t want to keep them all waiting!” Joe smiled and broke his father’s grip and headed into the kitchen.
“Well–at least we will have some peace to finish our meal,” Adam stated and reached for more coffee.
“Peace on Earth good will towards men,” Hoss laughed. “See? I could’ve done Joe’s line!”
“Naw—we wouldn’t have enough linen for your costume!” Adam grinned and felt the kick of Hoss’ boot under the table.
Hearing the back door to the kitchen slam, Ben turned towards his sons and said, “That sounded like one angry shepherd to me!”
Adam and Hoss laughed at their brother’s plight and the thought of him having to wear his costume in front of the whole town come Saturday night.
Assembled in the front row of Piper’s Opera House was the entire cast of Reverend Fletcher’s Christmas Play. There were twenty-five young men and women of the congregation present and all decked out in their appropriate costumes. Joe’s latest love interest, Becky Harmon sat next to Jim Brady and seemed to be whispering in his ear and ignoring the reverend’s instructions to be quiet. Joe didn’t miss the fact that the girl who had coerced him into being in the play was flaunting her affection for Jim Brady. But, Joe did have to laugh when he stared at Jim’s costume. He was dressed in a gaudy arrangement of purple, gold, and blue velvets. Joe, though he wasn’t thrilled about looking like a shepherd, was happy that he had avoided the choice of head wise man. As far as he was concerned, Jim looked like a sissy boy and it amused Joe immensely.
“Now—we are fortunate that Miss Abigail Jones has agreed to help us with our final run through of this play. I want you all to give her a big round of applause,” Reverend Fletcher announced as Joe’s former teacher appeared on the stage.
Joe shrunk down in his chair and covered his face with his hands. He wondered if life could get any worse than it was at that moment. Before him stood the teacher on whose feet he had fallen onto in the third grade. Joe prayed that she wouldn’t remember.
“Thank you—I am so pleased to be able to help this worthy cause,” Miss Abigail bowed to the applause the cast gave her. It was then she spied Joe Cartwright. “Why –Little Joe Cartwright! Is that you?” she called down to him.
“No—I am a shepherd,” Joe remarked sarcastically.
“I am so happy to see you trying to make up for that awful performance you had so many years ago!” Abigail continued.
“Somebody kill me,” Joe whispered to one of the other shepherds to his left.
“All right–let’s all get up here on the stage and run our lines, shall we?” Reverend Fletcher said to the group.
Joe made a quick move over to Becky as the others were stepping up on the stage. He grabbed her arm and whispered to her.
“Hey–what’s the deal anyhow? You wanted me to do this play with you–and now you are all over Jim!”
“Oh–Joe–you know I like both of you–don’t make a scene out here,” Becky replied and flashed her eyelashes at the young man coyly.
Jim stepped back and grabbed Becky’s arm and turned towards Joe and said, “She’s my girl—now go tend to your sheep, Cartwright!”
“You’re not very wise for a wise man!” Joe fumed as he stepped towards Jim.
“Enough! You boys better go to neutral corners–we have a play to put on!” Reverend Fletcher stepped in to break up the heated battle between the two.
“Okay—let’s go, Becky!” Jim said and pulled Becky up on stage with him.
Reverend Fletcher could see the look on Joe Cartwright’s face, and knew what had been going on between all three of the young people. He felt for Joe, but he had to insist on no shenanigans.
Come on, Little Joe—let’s go get all the shepherds lined up and get this going, shall we?” the Reverend asked and walked with the boy up the steps.
Rehearsal went well in spite of the ill will between a few of the cast members. Under Miss Abigail’s direction they soon had a smooth transition between scenes and everyone knew their lines. When both she and the reverend were content that the play would be a success the following night, they dismissed the actors with instructions on when to arrive for the show. Joe rode home feeling quite despondent. It seemed as though he had not only lost his current girl friend but also a good chunk of his dignity by parading around all day in a shepherd’s robe. He thought on different scenarios that night as he bedded down his horse. Surely he could come up with an illness or injury, which might get him out of public humiliation! Heading inside the ranch house Joe was hoping that his brothers had decided to give him a break and not tease him about the play.
Joe set his costume bag on the credenza and turned and looked towards the living room. There, in the corner by the fireplace and stairs was a huge tree.
“Merry Christmas!” Ben sang out to welcome his youngest home.
A quick smile graced the young man’s face as he witnessed the look of happiness his father wore. He was standing there next to the hearth with boxes of decorations. Joe figured that Pa was trying to cheer him up and it was starting to work.
“Hey–when did you get the tree?” Joe asked as he moved in closer to it.
“Adam and Hoss got it this afternoon–had to carve an extra foot off the base just to get it in here. You like?”
“Sure—looks good—better than last year. I thought we were gonna put it up day after tomorrow?” Joe asked suspiciously.
Ben clapped Joe on the back and chuckled, “I thought my shepherd needed a little Christmas spirit before show time. How ‘bout you and I start putting the decorations on?”
“Okay–on one condition,” Joe nodded and reached for the first ornament.
“No shepherd reference for the rest of the night!”
“Deal,” Ben agreed and grabbed some ribbons to secure to the tree branches. He worked for a few minutes and then asked, “So? You all ready for tomorrow? Everything go okay at rehearsal?”
Joe grinned and handed his father the star that they usually put on the top bough. Ben took it and climbed the stairs and placed it on the very top of the tree.
“Look yonder–there is the star—the star we will follow this night! From this time forward there will be peace on earth good will towards men,” Joe chimed out and then bowed at the waist.
Ben came down the stairs applauding Joe’s rendition of his part. “Hey–thought you only had one line–that sounded like two to me!”
“Dad gum that Miss Abigail—she’s helping with the play and she added onto my line,” Joe explained.
“Oh oh–she didn’t mention anything about your little incident in third grade did she?”
“Oh yes she did—and to all the cast members too! You sure I can’t come down with something like typhoid tonight, Pa?”
“No—sorry—-but if you get to feeling puny tomorrow night–just remember that Doc Martin will be in the audience!” Ben grinned and patted Joe’s shoulder.
“Hey–you started without us!” Adam shouted as he and Hoss entered the house.
“We’ve only done a little–come on, Boys, grab some of these decorations and we’ll have it done before dinner!” Ben called across the room.
The four Cartwrights worked diligently on decorating the tree and then the mantle. By the time that Hop Sing called for them to come to the dinner table the house was adorned with all the Christmas array and spirits were high. It was beginning to feel like Christmas on the Ponderosa at last.
Accompanied by his family, Joe made it to the play the next night right on time. They could all tell that the boy was nervous and he had been very quiet in the surrey as they headed on into Virginia City. Adam and Hoss decided to lift Joe’s spirits and not harangue him over his costume as he slung his wardrobe over his shoulder and walked forlornly to the dressing area. The huge auditorium was filled to capacity with people who had come to enjoy the Christmas play and to help out the children’s home with their ticket donations. Ben took a seat on the front row with Adam and Hoss sitting on either side of him. They made idle chitchat with some of their neighbors and waited patiently for the play to begin. Ben peered down the front row and saw that Miss Abigail Jones was seated in the center. He closed his eyes and could still see his little boy head- diving off the stage and onto the woman’s feet eight years earlier. Ben said a silent prayer that Joe would remain on top of the stage this time.
Back stage things weren’t going quite as well as the Reverend wanted. Joe’s friends weren’t too happy with the fact that Becky had been spooning with Jim Brady. And, Jim’s friends were egging him into a fracas with Joe. Reverend Fletcher did his best to move the different factions of shepherds and wise men to opposing sides in order to prevent a fight. He also had scolded them and reminded them yet again about the whole meaning of Christmas. Thinking that he had at last gotten through to the hardheaded young men, the reverend walked out on stage to address his audience.
And so it began with several beautiful solos and instrumentals all echoing the joyous Christmas season. On one end of the stage out in the wings stood the three wise men, and on the opposite side stood Joe and the other shepherds. Throwing scathing looks at each other, the young men waited for the signal to take their marks on the stage. Becky was center stage, dressed as a beautiful angel. She was stunning, with her long blonde hair falling softly onto her shoulders and the glow of a halo on her head. Joe couldn’t take his eyes off the young woman, unfortunately neither could Jim Brady. When Joe was given the nod to move forward onto the stage he noticed that Becky had winked over at him. He smiled broadly as he and his fellow shepherds moved closer to her. Jim had caught the wink too and it made him angry, so angry that he decided to do something about it.
Joe stared out at the audience and could feel his heart in his throat. He could see his father and brothers sitting in the front row smiling up at him. But, he also could see Abigail Jones sitting a few seats down from the Cartwrights and it made him cringe. Catching his breath, Joe looked over for the reverend’s nod. As soon as he saw it he stepped closer to the edge of the stage and said his lines.
“Look yonder–there is the star–the star we will follow this night! From this time forward there will be peace on earth good will towards men!” Joe sang out his part and then started to step backwards to line back up with the other shepherds.
****Thank goodness****Ben thought to himself, so glad that Joe was still standing.
Joe didn’t see the move that Jim had made along with the other two wise men. Just as he stepped back the wise men stepped forward and bumped into Joe. Losing his balance Joe fell forward, plummeting off the stage and down to the audience below. As irony would have it, Joe looked up from the floor and could see Miss Abigail looking at him sternly. For the second time in his life he had landed on her feet.
The audience howled with laughter and that was all that Joe needed to fuel his anger at Jim. He jumped to his feet and climbed back on the stage with his staff in his hands. It was then that the melee began. Joe was beyond listening to the reverend’s pleas, nor his father’s deep baritone voice shouting to him from the audience. He lit into Jim Brady, knocking him to the stage floor, breaking his staff in two as it hit the wise man. The remaining wise men started to attack all the shepherds and soon the rest of the cast had run off for dear life. The crèche was reduced to rubble as were all the other props before Sheriff Coffee charged the stage and corralled the shepherds and the wise men and ushered them to his jail. Ben and his other two sons sat in their seats speechless. Reverend Fletcher pushed the choir onto the stage and they tried their best to sing Silent Night above the laughter that still permeated the Opera House.
Ben had made his apologies to the reverend numerous times that night. As he left the opera house along with Hoss and Adam, Ben tugged his hat over his eyes to try and disguise his face. He knew that everyone would remember whose son had fallen off the stage, and whose son had beaten up a trio of wise men. Knowing that Joe had been taken to the jail, Ben calmly climbed up into the family surrey and waited for his other two sons to step in.
“Pa? Ain’t we gonna go get Little Joe?” Hoss asked when he noticed his father had turned the team towards the ranch and not the sheriff’s office.
“No–we are not! Joseph and his fellow shepherds deserve a night in jail. Perhaps it will allow me to have peace on earth for one night!” Ben fumed.
“Well—you know it was that Brady fellow who knocked Joe down, Pa,” Hoss was quick to jump to his baby brother’s defense.
“Yeah—well it was Joe who broke his staff over the guy’s head too! Not to mention what he did to the nativity scene! It’s a good thing that they used a doll to play the baby Jesus!” Adam added.
“All I want to hear all the way home is silence—just silence!” Ben called out to his sons totally frustrated by the night’s events.
“Silent night–holy night–” Adam started singing and Hoss laughed at his choice of tunes as they rode home.
The next morning Ben relented and drove the buckboard into Virginia City and bailed out his errant son. There was a long silence between them both all the way home. Joe hadn’t gotten much sleep in his cell as the shepherds had decided to hurl insults at the wise men harbored in the adjoining cell all night. Still wearing his shepherd’s costume, Joe walked into the ranch house followed by his father. He tried valiantly to make a quick escape to his room but soon felt the tug of his father’s hand on his left arm.
“Not so fast there, Young Man,” Ben said sternly.
“I didn’t get any sleep last night—can we get into this later?” Joe asked meekly.
“No,” Ben answered and then removed the latest edition of the Territorial Enterprise newspaper from under his arm. “Adam–Hoss–come here a minute–I want you all to hear this!” Ben called into the dining room where his eldest sons were still eating breakfast. They both stood and moved into the living room next to their father and brother. “There’s a very interesting article concerning your performance last night, Joseph. Let me read it to you,” Ben began by first clearing his throat.
“The church’s Christmas play was a smashing success last night, with the emphasis on the word “smashing”! On a night that tolled the angel’s refrain of “Peace on Earth good will towards men” the stage of the Piper’s Opera house was itself reduced to pieces. While almost all of Virginia City turned out to enjoy an evening of Christmas spirit, some “spirited” shepherds decided to corner the three wise men and a melee ensued. One wonders if perhaps the Reverend Fletcher should have opted for a more peaceful holiday fare–like a prize fighting match. Such an event surely would have offered considerably less blood-shed than the rambunctious offering last night. A performance, which was expected to conclude with a reverent cantata of Silent Night, instead ended with broken chairs, broken props, and a few broken noses. In lieu of a standing ovation, for their brilliant show-stopper, the wise men and shepherds were slapped into handcuffs and herded to the Virginia City jail. As the night fell softly over our peaceful town and folks meandered back to their decorated homes, a passel of shepherds and three battered wise men sat behind their locked jail cells. Instead of seeking the brilliant celestial orb, the wayward performers could only see the star that was pinned firmly on Sheriff Coffee’s vest. By dawn almost all of the thespians had been let out on bail and were handed back their robes, staffs and saddled their camels to spread Christmas cheer elsewhere. But, in keeping with the spirit of the season, all the bail money has been donated along with last night’s play proceeds to the Virginia City Children’s Home.”
Adam and Hoss had to stifle their laughter, after witnessing the expression on Pa’s face. Joe stood there wincing over the scathing newspaper article.
“Well, Young Man? What do you have to say for yourself?” Ben asked harshly.
Joe, still wearing his battered but intact shepherd’s clothing shot an arm out towards the tree in the corner of the room. His finger pointed to the top of the tree and he answered, “Look yonder–there is the star–the star we will follow this night! From this time forward there will be peace on earth good will towards men!”
Adam laughed at his little brother’s attempt to get off the hook with their father. “Well—that was the line that brought down the house and all!” he quipped.
“Yeah—I guess Joe was the star of the show, Pa!” Hoss winked towards his little brother.
“Is that ALL you have to say, Joseph?” Ben asked again, but this time was having great difficulty attempting to hold in his mirth.
Joe gave his most eloquent bow and then looked into his father’s eyes and said, “Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas indeed!” Ben fired back, but then broke into a grin of his own and hugged his ragged shepherd.