Word Count: 5700
A fire crackled in the huge fireplace warming the large, log ranch house. Jamie gently removed the fragile, blown glass Christmas decorations from their bed of straw in the wooden box where they nestled most of the year. Carefully, he hung each colored ball on a branch of the Ponderosa pine tree that stood to the side of the staircase.
Ben sat his desk, where he had been working on the ranch ledgers, and watched the boy that he had taken into his home. He packed fresh tobacco into his pipe and lit it. He and Jamie had ridden to a meadow where Jamie had selected a seven foot tall Ponderosa as the perfect tree to be the Cartwright’s Christmas tree.
Jamie had made chains out of some colored Chinese rice paper that Hop Sing had, while Hop Sing had folded the same rice paper to make birds, flowers, and animals.
Ben looked at the different ornaments on the tree. They brought back lots of memories. Draped around the tree were the strings of brightly colored beads that Marie, Little Joe’s Ma, had brought from New Orleans. There were the tiny crocheted stockings that Hoss’ Ma, Inger, had made, and the tiny cloth dolls, fairies, and snowmen that Adam’s Ma had contributed. On the top was a polished tin star that Ben himself had made. Under the tree sat a tattered and well-used rocking horse that had been Adam’s, but had been ridden by all three little boys, and most liked by Joe. With the wooden horse were a set of wooden blocks with the alphabet on them. Near by was a well-read copy of a book, entitled ‘The Night Before Christmas’, written by Clement Moore in 1822.
Thinking of his sons caused Ben to wonder where all three of them were. It had been months since they had heard from Adam. According to his last letter, Adam had been traveling all over the eastern states, seeing the country, he said, while doing some buying and trading for a friend who owned a marketing company.
Hoss, Joe, and their friend Candy, a hired hand from the ranch, were off in northern California somewhere — hopefully on their way back home. They had gone to deliver a small herd of breeder cows and a bull to the Dinsmore ranch near a little town called Willow Creek, a few miles from the coast. It was a long trip, especially at this time of the year, but Dinsmore had paid well for the herd as a wedding gift for his son and new daughter-in-law. Besides, Joe, Hoss, and Candy had been excited to go and see the country there.
They should have been back by now, but a telegram a few days before had said they were staying for an extra couple of days with the Dinsmores. The telegram didn’t say why, but Ben made a bet with himself that it might have had something to do with a need to see more of the northern California country. If he had gone, Ben was sure he might have done the same.
But he wasn’t so sure that they were going to make it home in time for Christmas. It was already the 15th of December.
Hop Sing came in from the kitchen and set a plate of cookies and a cup of coffee on the desk for Ben. “You no worry, Mister Cartwright. Mister Hoss, and Little Joe, and Candy. They be back for Christmas.”
“I know, Hop Sing. I’m not worried,” said Ben to his cook, housekeeper, and close friend.
“That Mister Hoss, he can smell my cakes and cookies all the way to California.”
The black horse stopped when he felt his rider shift back in the saddle. Cochise had stopped when Chub stopped, and so had Candy’s bay horse that he called Rusty.
“Ya know? I could of sworn I smelled some a Hop Sing’s ginger bread,” commented Hoss where he sat on Chub.
Little Joe cackled. “Big brother, every time you get a teensy-weensy hollow spot in your belly, you think you smell something that Hop Sing might be cookin’.”
“Hoss, I gotta agree with Joe. But some food does sound good right now,” said Candy.
Joe clucked to Cochise, who walked on, while Joe called back over his shoulder. “Let’s go a little farther. We still got daylight.”
Candy and Hoss followed Joe. “What’s the rush, Joe?” asked Hoss.
Candy pulled his coat closer around himself, and his hat a bit lower. “A fire would feel good, too.”
Joe answered Hoss as he rode on. “It will put us that much closer to home, and I could use some a Hop Sing’s cookin’, too.”
They road for a few more minutes when suddenly Candy pulled up his bay, and stared off through the forest of big trees that they were riding through. “What was that?”
“What was what?” asked Joe. He and Hoss stared where Candy stared.
“Over there.” Candy pointed. “I thought I saw someone or maybe more than one someone darting through the trees.”
“I don’t see nothin’,” said Hoss.
“Me neither,” said Joe. “You’re imaging things, Candy.”
At that moment a large, gray hoot owl drifted down to pass just inches over their heads, making all three men duck. It continued on to land high in a dead tree. It hooted three times at them. All three of them laughed at the scare an owl had given them.
Candy shook his head then urged the bay on. “I don’t think what I saw was an owl, but I know I’m getting’ tired, and I still think we’re on the wrong trail. We should’a turned east by now.”
“Well, this is the way that hand at the last ranch we stopped at said to go. This way, through the trees, ‘til we came to a fork in the road that has a sign saying Big Trees, then turn east. Said it was the best and fastest way to get to Redding where we could catch the train to go to Sacramento.”
“Well, Little Brother. I think he was foolin’ with ya. We should a turned east back at the saloon and gone to Redding.”
“Over there?” Candy hissed in a loud whisper, and pointed to his right. “I thought I saw someone, again.”
They all looked but couldn’t see anything.
“Joe, I think we gotta get Candy some food and a bed for the night.”
They rode on for a while in silence. There were huge trees everywhere they looked. Big trees that had almost a scary look to them. It was as if the trees were watching them.
“Them sure is ‘bout the biggest trees I done ever seen,” commented Hoss. “You could build a whole house out a just one tree. They make our Ponderosa pines look like match sticks.”
“They sure are big,” agreed Joe. “Would be a lot of board feet in each one. They must be them giant redwood cedars we heard about from Hank Dinsmore.” Joe stopped Cochise and scrutinized the area around them from one side of the trail to the other, then back. “Over there. A little old man. Peakin’ round that tree.” He pointed at a huge redwood among the forest of trees, ferns, and brush that seemed to be getting thicker and more impenetrable the farther they went.
“You’re as bad as Candy, Joe. I don’t see nothin’,”
“So I’m imagin’ things, am I? Now who’s imagin’, cause I don’t see nothin’, either.” Candy crossed his arms and leaned on his saddle horn. “Did he have a funny pointed pullover cap?”
“Yeah, he did and he had green clothes on. Bright green, with red trim.”
“See, didn’t I tell ya I saw him, too.”
Hoss slowly followed after Joe and Candy as they rode on, looking and searching through the thick trees for a sign of the little man. “You fella’s sound like you’re talkin’ ‘bout elves or leprechauns. Joe, ya see anything now?”
“Nah.” Joe guided Cochise around several of the big trees where he thought he had seen the man. “Maybe it was the owl again. Or a deer or some other animal.” A big layer of fog rolled in toward them, making it more difficult to see. As they watched the fog fill each corner and crevice of the forest. a deer did poke its head out around a tree and stared at them with great, big eyes filled with wonder at finding humans in its home.
All three men sighed. “Just a deer,” said Candy.
“Come on, Joe. It’s getting’ late, and I’m starvin’, and we got this dang fog comin’ in. It’s makin’ me cold. And all this talk of little green men, and this fog, and these big trees is givin’ me the creeps.” Hoss pulled his big coat about him and fastened the top button under his chin. “Let’s find a place to hole up for the night. With this fog, we’re gonna get more lost then we already are.” He urged his horse on.
Candy followed Hoss. “Yeah, thanks to our all-knowing, well-informed guide.”
After a minute, Joe sent his pinto after his brother and friend at a trot so he could catch up. Maybe tomorrow would be a better day. The fog continued to settle deeper, and silently around them. It thickened and lay heavy, making the trees and brush look like shadows. It deprived them of their usually good sense of direction. Not real sure of where to go, they continued on, looking for a place to spend the night.
In the distance was the faint hoot of an owl.
One horse blew softly, another shifted on the short picket line near the camp, while the third still dozed as the first distant glow to the east attempted to lighten the sky. Candy snored where he lay wrapped in a blanket, head on his saddle. Joe turned over and pulled his blanket tighter around him. Hoss cracked his eyes open slightly when his stomach growled at him. Expecting to see the fire down to just a few coals, he was surprised to see several chunks of wood had been recently added to it, and it was roaring with flames.
Hoss sat up quickly at the sight of a little man sitting on the far side of the campfire cooking a piece of meat on a stick he held over several hot coals he had pulled to the side of the fire.
“A good, fine morning to you, Hoss,” said the man.
His right hand going quickly to the Colt pistol that lay beside him, Hoss rubbed the sleep out of his eyes with his left hand. He still wasn’t sure he really was seeing the little man or if he might be dreaming. “Who are you?”
The little man was dressed in green, with high, black leather boots and a brown leather jacket. There was a green cap that came to a point and had a red tassel on its tip. His pointed ears twitched as he stared back at the man who was three or four times bigger than he was.
Hoss could tell he wasn’t afraid, and he didn’t seem to be a threat. There was a gleam in his bright blue eyes and a knowing smile on his face. “I am called Donner.” He withdrew the stick and meat from the fire. He tested the meat with a finger, then tore a strip off and ate it. “My friends are called Dasher, and Blitzen. My wife is Crystal, and my daughter is Dancer.
Without Hoss realizing it, four other people had come out from where they had been hiding. Two were men and two were women. Crystal removed a burlap bag from the pack of supplies that Hoss had brought so he didn’t starve on the trip. She removed the chunk of meat and sliced off several pieces. She pierced them with sticks and handed them out to the others. Dancer took two; apparently one was for her mother. Crystal sliced off a larger piece, put it on a stick and handed it to Hoss. The smell of roasting meat filled the camp. “Where ya from,” queried Hoss as he turned the stick slowly so each side of the meat could cook.
Donner took another bite. “We are from here. The Big Tree Forest. At least we are now.”
“Now?” echoed Hoss.
Donner nodded his head. “Now. Our people used to be from other places. And I think there are still some in those places. Places you call Germany, Sweden, England, Ireland. Before that we were from a far, far away planet called Vol-Can.”
“Vol-Can? Another plant? I never heard of such nonsense.” This time the questions were from Joe who had awakened and had been listening to their guests. He returned the revolver he had in his hand to its holster. He pulled on his boots, then stood, picked up the coffee pot, filled it with water from a canteen, added a measure of coffee, and set it on a hot rock at the edge of the fire. “No one can come from another planet. It’s impossible, and stupid to even think about. Keep the fantasies to yourself. Just tell us who you are and what you want.”
Donner laughed. “Want? We don’t want anything, Little Joe, other than to share your fire and food. We have just been….curious, shall I say, about why you are here.”
“Well, we’re headed for Redding so’s we can catch a train to Sacramento, and get home fer Christmas,” explained Hoss. “But my little brother, here, listened to some drunk cowhand fer directions, and done got us lost.”
One of the other little men snickered. Joe and Hoss didn’t know if it was Dasher or Blitzen. They couldn’t tell them apart. Donner and the two women just smiled at the story.
Candy continued to snore in what appeared to be a very sound sleep.
Hoss had to ask some more questions. “I don’t mean to offend you people but why are ya’ll so small. And yer ears are pointed.”
“And how come ya know our names,” put in Joe.
One of the women, Crystal, the wife of Donner spoke. “We are unsure of why we are not like you or other people. We only have our legends to go by. Stories passed down by mouth from generation to generation for many hundreds of years.”
“Well, I always liked a good tale, don’t you, Joe?”
“Yeah. Sure I do,” answered Joe, sarcastically.
“I am called Crystal, because I can use crystal rocks to see into the future, and into the past, and to remember the stories.” She reached in the bag she had brought to the camp, and produced a shiny, bright crystal. It was about two inches long, an inch wide and pointed on one end. It almost seemed to glow. “Our stories say that hundreds of hundreds of years ago our first people came from another planet or maybe it was a star. We only know it was somewhere in the far heavens. It was called Vol-Can. The leader or king of Vol-Can wanted to send his people to other places to learn about other people and cultures.”
“But…But…How…?” Hoss tried to ask.
Crystal held up a hand to silence him. “We do not know how we got from Vol-Can to Earth. Our king put us here, and now we can never go back. As to why we are small and have pointed ears. – it is just the way we are. The legends say we were not always small. I think it has happened when we married with other earth people. There was not enough of us to continue our tribe and we found it necessary to find husbands and wives among other tribes.”
“I never heard of no Vol-Cans before. You’re just making this up,” smirked Joe.
“Maybe you have not heard of Vol-Cans. Many have not. We are also known by other names. Elves, leprechauns, fairies, gnomes, pixies, and alfars, spirits, and dwarfs. Only some people can see us. Like you, Hoss, and you, Joe. But your friend Candy can not see or hear us.”
“Now, I wouldn’t be so sure about that, if’n I was you,” said Hoss, shifting position on his bedroll trying to get more comfortable. “Candy saw one of you first, yesterday. Then Joe and I didn’t see you all ‘til I woke up this morning.”
“Did he now,” said Donner showing surprise, and the others looked just as upset that Candy had seen them. “Now fancy that, would you.”
“Now tell us, Mister Donner, what do ya’ll do out here?” questioned Hoss.
Donner’s daughter, Dancer was quick to answer. “We work, of course. We make things – toys, furniture, clothes, toys, and – and things. And then we sell them…in… certain…markets.”
“Did you say we make toys?” cut in Blitzen.
“Yes, toys,” Crystal added.
“We make lots of toys,” came from Dasher.
“Toys,” solemnly echoed Donner.
“Enough about the toys,” exclaimed Joe disgustedly. “So what if you make toys?”
Sweetly Dancer continued, “We do live here, so we have families, and raise our food, and chickens, and goats, and ponies.” She pointed back toward the trees where four small horses or ponies stood. They had short legs, and very shaggy manes and tails. “Mostly we keep to ourselves. But sometimes – sometimes we help people…like travelers who are lost.” She smiled at Joe and wiggled her pointed ears.
Joe wasn’t overly impressed. Her pointed ears sort of made him sick to his stomach. He reached for his coffee pot but it hadn’t even started to boil yet. Changing his mind he grabbed a canteen and took a swig of water. When he looked up all the elves or Vol-Cans or whoever they were had disappeared; except for Donner.
“Go back about ten miles. There is a fork you missed that goes east. It will take you to Redding. I have sent Blitzen and Dasher ahead to mark it properly. You won’t miss it this time.” Donner held up his right hand and made a V with his fingers — two fingers to each side, the V in the middle. “May you have peace and a long life.” He picked up a stick and poked at the fire causing sparks to fly up. “Your friend is waking up.”
Hoss and Joe both looked over toward where Candy lay. The cowhand groaned, raised his head and noticed the two brothers gawking at him. “What’s the mater?” he asked, “you two look like you seen a ghost or something’.”
“Or something,” said Joe.
“Candy,” said Hoss, “I want you to meet Mister Donner.” He looked back toward the elf but there was no one there. “Where did he go?”
“Who?” asked Candy, as he pulled on his boots. “That coffee ready yet?”
Hoss tried to explain about the little elf people, but Candy just cackled with laughter. “Heck of a dream you had, Hoss.” He looked at Joe.
“Oh, it wasn’t a dream,” Joe assured Candy. “I saw ‘em, too. And so did you, yesterday.”
“You’re both pullin’ my leg.” Candy reached for the now boiling coffee pot and poured a cup. He nearly dropped it when an owl hooted at them from a nearby tree. On silent wings, the bird lifted into the air and in seconds was gone from sight.
Big flakes of snow swirled down covering the ground, the trees, and the small travelers’ inn and eatery located in the countryside somewhere south of Boston. It looked like a welcome place of rest to the weary rider as he rode up. He dismounted, led his horse into a nearby stable, unsaddled, and rubbed down the tired animal, then gave it some hay and oats. He picked up his saddlebags and a satchel, and stepped up on the porch of The Highland Hotel. He slapped off as much of the snow as he could, petted a small black and white collie dog that wagged its tail in greeting, and opened the door. He stepped inside and took a look around the establishment. It looked clean and neat, and there was the smell of stew, fresh bread, and coffee. Just what he needed on a cold, snowy night.
A handful of people looked back at him, then returned to what they were doing, except for one. “Evenin’, Sir. If’n you need a room or a meal, you have come to the right place,” said a man of about fifty with a Scottish accent. “I’m Angus McNell, but most just call me Scotty.”
The traveler dropped his bags on the floor. “I’m Adam Cartwright. A meal and a room sounds good.”
Adam drank a beer, then ate a meal of the hot stew and bread. When a woman brought a pot of coffee and a cup, he accepted. She poured coffee in the cup, smiled sweetly at Adam and left to refill the cups of the other diners. He leaned back in his chair, sipped the coffee and surveyed the room. Two men who looked like drummers or salesmen talked in low tones while they finished their meals. The woman who had waited on him cleaned off a table and returned the dishes to a small kitchen in the back. Scotty stood behind a bar and wiped at it absentmindedly.
Adam noticed a small tree standing in a corner by a rocking chair near the kitchen door. It was decorated with strings of popcorn, wooden stars with intricate designs cut into them and small wooden birds. On a nearby table stood three candles illuminating a small wooden nativity. Adam decided someone was a very good woodcarver. As he thought that, Scotty came from behind the bar, sat in the rocker, picked a chunk of wood and a knife from a wooden crate beside him and started carving.
Seeing the tree caused Adam to wonder what the date might be. He knew it was close to Christmas but with all the traveling he had been doing he wasn’t sure of the exact date. Maybe it was Christmas Eve.
The two drummers stood and went up the stairs to their rooms. For a few long moments, there was only the sound of the fire, and the snick of Scotty’s old knife as he worked on the wood.
Finally Adam spoke. “I believe it might be close to Christmas, but I’ve lost track of the date. Could you tell me what it is?”
“Ay, Mr. Cartwright. You are correct. Christmas it ‘tis. Or rather Christmas Eve. It’s still the 24th of December for a bit yet.”
Adam nodded his head. “I’m glad I didn’t miss it. I think I might have been a bit disappointed if you had said it was after Christmas.” For a moment, he thought of the package of books he had sent to his family on the Ponderosa Ranch. He wondered if they had received them yet. He hoped they had, as it had been about a month since he mailed them. Memories of growing up on the Ponderosa flooded him mind, causing him to smile and wonder what his father, and brothers were doing on this Christmas Eve. Christmas had always been a magical time for him and his family.
Both women came out of the kitchen, the older one carrying a tray with two cups and a teapot. They took seats at a table where they sat drinking tea and relaxing.
The front door opened and a boy of about seven or eight came in followed by a swirl of snowflakes. The boy had an armful of wood that he dropped in a big wood box by the door. He did this about four times until the wood box was filled. The last time the collie came in with him. The snow was coming down harder and faster. It looked like they might be in for a blizzard.
Scotty added a few pieces to the fire, bringing it to a roar that warmed the big room, making everyone drowsy, especially Adam. It had been a long day but he felt reluctant to go to his room.
The younger woman went back to the kitchen and returned with a plate covered in sugar cookies, gingerbread and shortcakes. She offered some first to Adam, who gladly took several, and then to the other. The first bite almost melted in his mouth. They were as good as the ones he remembered Hop Sing making. Again, thoughts of Hop Sing made him think of the Ponderosa Ranch and home. He wished he had gone back for Christmas but at least he had found this place to stay for the night. He decided he liked the small hotel and its residents. Maybe it would be a good idea to head west for Virginia City when spring came.
Scotty interrupted his thoughts. “That is my daughter, Kayla. She is almost as good a cook as her ma, my wife Katherine.” He looked at the two women and winked. They ducked their heads in embarrassment. “And the boy is my grandson, Patrick. He is a good boy. Usually.”
Adam acknowledged the introduction. “I am pleased to meet you.” He nodded his head at the women. “These cookies are delightful. Patrick, thanks for keeping the wood box full of wood on a night like this.”
Patrick then ran upstairs but came back soon with four stocking. The adults grinned at him but didn’t say anything as he hung them on nails next to the tree.
Scotty teased him a bit saying, “I said you were good but do you think Saint Nick will think you have been good enough so that he can leave you a present.”
Patrick grabbed another piece of shortbread. “I hope so. I want a new book to read.”
The boys comment caused Adam to think of a story. “I know a Christmas poem,” he said. “If you would like to hear it.”
“Oh, yes, please, Mr. Cartwright.” Patrick clapped his hands in excitement.
“’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…” Adam continued with the well-known poem to the delight of the boy, his mother, and grandparents.
When he had finished, Katherine said to Patrick, “Is it not time for you to go to bed?”
“Ah, Grandma, it is early yet.”
“Saint Nick will not come until you go to sleep.”
“But how does he know, Grandma, and what about the snow storm? Will he be able to come in it?”
“He uses his magic,” she whispered loud enough for all to hear.
“Off to bed with you, lad. Morning will come soon enough,” said Scotty to the boy.
Kayla ushered her son up the stairs, with her mother following.
“Angus, are you coming?” asked Katherine, when halfway up the stairs.
“Go on with you, woman. I’ll be along in a bit.” Scotty walked behind the bar, took down a bottle of whiskey, picked up two shot glasses, and then went to the table where Adam sat. “Will you have a drink with me, Mr. Cartwright?”
“I’ll be glad to, Scotty. And, please, call me Adam.”
“Adam, it is then, lad.” Scotty poured a drink into each of the two shot glasses. “To a Merry Christmas.” He raised his glass in a toast.
Adam echoed his toast. “To a Merry Christmas.”
Kayla appeared on the stairs and came down. She put a finger to her lips asking for Scotty and Adam to keep silent. As the two men watched, she laid a small white shirt, and a pair of dark brown pants under the tree. Then a pair of knitted socks and gloves. She and her mom had worked hard on them so Patrick could have a new set of clothes.
Scotty went behind the bar again. He dug around for a bit and returned with a beautifully carved pony. He set it under the tree with the clothing.
“It is so pretty, Papa,” said Kayla. “Thanks for making it for Patrick.”
“Go on with you, lass. Off to bed.”
Kayla gave her father a hug and headed back up the stairs, then turned back and called to Adam. “Goodnight, Mr. Cartwright. I’ll see you in the mornin’ for breakfast.”
Scotty had returned to digging behind the bar. Again he went to the tree and placed a carved cat near the pony, and an intricately carved wooden vase with it. As he returned to the bar for more things, he explained to Adam. “Kayla loves Patrick more than anything. She is a widow now, and misses her man.” He added several wooden bowls nested together and some wooden spoons. He stood up. “Mr. Cartwright, Adam, I wish you goodnight, sir.” He hesitated. “Adam, we would be pleased if you would join us for Christmas dinner tomorrow. Stay here for a day or so, if you wish. Wait out this storm. It is warm and dry here.”
Adam, too, had been listening to the storm that sounded as if it were getting worse. “I think that sounds like a good idea, Scotty. And a goodnight to you, too.”
The two Cartwright brothers and Candy had found their way out of the huge redwood forest with the help of the Elves. They had made their way to Redding and caught a train to Sacramento, with their horses riding in a stock car. Then it had been on to Virginia City, Nevada. It had been a long trip and the thought of the Ponderosa Ranch and home was better and better.
It was a huge relief when they were finally able to guide their horses into the ranch yard and dismount. The evening was late and the smell of supper drifted out to them when the front door opened and Jamie came running out, asking a string of questions that no one could answer before he would ask another.
Ben came out to greet his sons and friend, and there was much slapping of backs and a few hug as everyone was glad they had made it back before Christmas. “How was the trip? Did the cattle get there in good condition?”
“They were in fine condition and Hank Dinsmore was pleased with them,” said Joe.
“It was a good trip, Pa,” said Hoss. “Just long. But we made it. Thanks to some help from some little people called Elves, when Joe got us lost.”
Ben crossed his arms and stared at his middle son, not sure he had heard him right. “What did you say, Hoss? Joe got you lost? Elves?”
“Elves,” echoed Jamie. “What about elves?”
“It’s a long story, Pa,” said Joe, as he swung his saddlebags over his shoulder.
“Yeah, and I’ve heard it to many times, already,” added Candy.
“Oh, and Pa, we stopped in Virginia City and picked up the mail, and there was a package from Adam.” Joe un-strapped a package wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine from where he had put it behind his saddle on top of his bedroll.
“Well,” said Ben excitedly. “It’s nice to know that he remembered us at last. Too bad we didn’t have an address to send him at least a letter.”
“Come on,” said Hoss entering the ranch house. “I can’t wait to eat some a Hop Sings good cookin’.”
Later that Christmas Eve Ben sat by the fire watching and listening to his sons and friends as they laughed and joked. They ate candy and cookies that Hop Sing had made. Jamie held a skillet over the fire to pop more popcorn. Hoss made a vain attempt to sing Jingle Bells.
Ben wondered where his oldest son, Adam might be on this night. They had added his gifts to the others under the tree. They felt like books, which would be like Adam who had always loved to read, as did all the Cartwrights.
Ben hoped Adam knew they were thinking of him.
Adam sat by the fire for a few more moments, thinking of how much he liked it here. He liked Scotty and his family and was glad he had been asked to stay over until the storm was gone. He wondered if Scotty was trying to play matchmaker for his daughter.
The wind blew and moaned and threw sleet and snow against the windowpanes. The collie lay in front of the fire softly whined and wiggled his legs in his sleep. Probably chasing rabbits in his dreams, thought Adam. Two cats, a big tabby, and a smaller half-grown calico silently drifted in from the kitchen. They curled up together on a rag rug that lay under a small table.
Quietly Adam stood, set his valise on the table and took out several items. Going to the tree he knelt and laid two silk scarves near the gifts Scotty and Kayla had left. One was a shimmery sky blue to match Kayla’s eyes. The other was a deep yellow that would be nice for Katherine. He placed a small but sharp skinning knife with a bone handle in Scotty’s rocker. Then he put a book beneath Patrick’s stocking. It was ‘Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain. He thought the boy would like it. He knew he always had.
Turning he thought he saw a face at the window, peeking in. It had looked like a short man, maybe heavy set with a long, white beard. He seemed to have on a reddish brown pullover cap and a matching coat. Adam opened the door, wondering if a late traveler needed to come in for the night. He could see no one on the porch. As he hesitated, the sound of sleigh bells and hoof beats came faintly through the wind and snow. Adam could have sworn he heard someone calling out “Merry Christmas.”