Three Christmas Cards (by Debra P.)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  3844


Runaway Sleigh

[Adam Encounters A Special Christmas Eve Visitor]

 

The sun had only just set, but the trail through the woods was already growing dark. Adam Cartwright urged his mount to a brisk pace through the light dusting of snow that covered the path. Sport snorted, his breath becoming visible on the cold air. He tossed his head proudly and lifted his feet high as he went, leaving a clear trail of hoof prints behind him.

It was Christmas Eve, and Adam was hurrying to join his family for the beginning of their celebrations. He smiled to himself as he rode, thinking of what awaited him as soon as he arrived home. There would be a festive supper by candlelight, then the candles on their tree would be lit and he and his father and brothers would take their places around the hearth to sing carols, accompanied, of course, by Adam’s guitar. There would be popcorn and cookies, spiced cider and hot cocoa, and a great deal of laughter. Then, just before they all retired to bed, Ben would bring out the old family Bible and read the Christmas story from the book of Luke. That was a part of their family tradition that went back as far as Adam could remember.

In the morning they would rise early to exchange gifts and dress in their best to head into town for church.  After the service and the exchange of greetings with all their friends there, they would return home for the climax of the day, the magnificent feast prepared by Hop Sing.

Suddenly an unexpected sound intruded itself over Adam’s pleasant anticipations.  he silvery tinkle of bells came drifting through the air from around the next bend in the road, closely followed by the sound of many hoof beats and shouts of “Whoa now!  Whoa there!” in a resonant voice.

Adam reined in Sport and gazed curiously up the path, when what to his wondering eyes should appear but a runaway sleigh pulled by four small deer!  So startled was he by this apparition that the out of control vehicle with its frightened passenger had whizzed right by him before he was able to react. Urging his horse to the pursuit, he quickly caught up with the fleeing deer. Reaching out his hand, he grabbed hold of the bridle on one of the leading deer and, slowing down, gradually brought the sleigh to a safe stop. It was only when the sleigh’s driver scrambled down from his seat and landed on the ground that Adam got a good look at him. He was a short, rotund little man dressed in a suit of leather that, in the fading light, appeared to be of a rusty reddish color. The suit and his cap were both trimmed in what looked like soft grayish rabbit fur. His face was framed by a well trimmed grizzled beard, through which his smile shone with a remarkable warmth. The eyes that peered through his spectacles were dark and lively.  As Adam dismounted, the little man stepped forward to meet him with his gloved hand extended.

“Thank you!  Thank you, young man!  I could have been in real trouble if you hadn’t come along just now. I don’t know what got into my friends here.  They’re usually such steady creatures.”

Adam took the man’s hand, his face showing his amusement at the scene before him. “I take it you’re headed to be the main attraction at someone’s Christmas Eve party. I must say I’ve never seen a more realistic get up.”

“Oh, I have a great many stops to make tonight.  And as for being ‘realistic’, why I suppose I’m just as real as anybody else is.”  The little man’s eyes twinkled.

“Excuse me for asking,” Adam said as he cocked an eyebrow, “but aren’t you supposed to have eight deer?”

“Oh, I do, but all eight aren’t needed to pull the sleigh at once. I find things work best if I use four for the first half of the night, then switch to the others for the second half. That way none of them get overtaxed.”

Adam found himself slightly taken aback. The man was starting to sound as though he really believed himself to be…. “Uh…I don’t believe you actually told me your name,” he finally said.

“The man looked at him with a kindly gaze. “But you already know my name, son. It’s Nicholas.”

“Named after the saint?” Adam inquired.

Nicholas chuckled. “Not exactly.”

Adam looked on bemused as the man stepped up to each of the deer in turn, laying his hand on each of their muzzles and whispering in their ears.  The animals became calmer and the jangling of their harness bells became quieter. “I think they’ll be all right, now,” Nicholas said, “and I really have to be getting on. I have an awfully tight schedule tonight you know.”

“Of course,” Adam returned in a low voice, still not certain what to make of all this.

Nicholas climbed back into the sleigh and took up the reins.

“Thank you again for your help, Adam.  Don’t be surprised if you find a little something extra under the tree tomorrow morning. And a very Merry Christmas to you and all your family!”

And with that, Nicholas clucked to his deer and the sleigh took off down the path.

Adam stared after them until they disappeared into the deepening darkness. Then suddenly a thought occurred to him.  “Wait a minute.  I never told him my name. How did he know who I was?” His eyes widened. “No, it can’t be…”

He continued to stare down the path after the vanished sleigh for a long moment. Finally, shaking his head, he turned Sport around to resume his original route. As he looked up he noticed that it was becoming quite a starry night, and it was time for him to be getting home. He was anticipating the about to commence festivities more than ever.  There was just one thing.  If there was in fact an extra present for him under the tree on Christmas morning, how would he ever explain it to his family?

*****

That Was A Wonderful Party

[Christmas Festivity On The Ponderosa!]

 

As I rode up to the ranch house at the Ponderosa, it was obvious that the yearly Christmas party was well under way.  The bright light from inside showed up the outline of the wreaths hanging in the windows. Faint sounds of laughter and music made their way past the thick, sturdy walls to catch the ear of new arrivals.

As I stepped up to the door and raised my hand to knock, it unexpectedly opened, revealing Hoss standing there with a smile that warmed the winter night.

“Well, howdy, Deb!  Come on in!  We was wonderin’ if you was gonna make it.”

“Oh, I couldn’t miss this, Hoss.  I’m sorry I’m late.”

“Now don’t you worry about that none.  Here, let me take your cloak.”

“Thank you.”

As Hoss hurried away to put my cloak with the others in the spare room off the dining area, I stepped forward and took in the wonderful scene unfolding before me.

The great room was dominated by the beautiful, tall pine tree that filled the corner between the staircase and the fireplace. At least a dozen gingerbread men hung from its branches, along with chains of popcorn and colorful paper links. There were carved wooden toy ornaments (I particularly noticed one little rocking horse) and festive ribbons.  And on the top there was a beautiful, many-pointed silver star, shining in the light of the tree’s glowing candles.

The air was filled with the scent of pine, from the tree, and from the garlands that hung in graceful curves from the stair railing, the mantle, and the door frame. The middle of the room was filled with gaily dressed couples twirling energetically to the music of Homer Jeffries’ fiddle. Homer is probably the best known fiddler in the area and plays for numerous parties and other events.

As I looked on in delight and began to tap my foot, Hoss reappeared by my side. “I’ll bet you’re thirsty, ain’t ya?” he said.

“I sure am,” I responded.

“Well, let’s take care o’ that right now.” And, taking my arm gently, he led me over to the long table where food and drink were laid out.  Three beautiful candelabra adorned the table, each holding three tall, red tapers that shed a warm light over the plates of delicacies. At either end of the table rested a large bowl with a ladle, surrounded by cups. The one nearer to us held eggnog, the one at the farther end held punch.

“Punch or nog?” Hoss asked, his eyes roving eagerly over the hearty spread.

“Eggnog will be fine, thank you.” I picked up one of the already filled cups resting there and began to sip. It was excellent. I smiled as I detected the taste of a touch of brandy in the mixture. While I stood there enjoying the treat, Hoss had grabbed a shiny apple from a bowl heaped with them. He took a bite and a look of sheer pleasure came over his face.  With a quick glance to see that no one was looking, he grabbed another apple and slipped it inside his shirt, then pulled his vest tighter around him, attempting to hide the bulge. That made me smile.

At that point Joe appeared, his eyes sparkling with even more than their usual vivacity. “Hi, Deb! Good to see you,” he said.

“Good to see you too, Joe!” I answered heartily.

Joe leaned forward and spoke in a low, conspiratorial voice.  “I’ve got a bet with big brother there that I’ll dance tonight with at least eleven different girls. You’ll help me win it, won’t you?”

“Of course I will!”  I smiled at him.

Joe took my hand, but before we could join the dancing, the number came to an end. There was a round of applause from the guests, which Homer Jeffries accepted with a gracious bow. I looked over at Joe and shrugged my shoulders apologetically.

“It’s OK,” he whispered.

Homer announced that it was time for him to take a break, but that there would be more dancing later on. In the meantime, all who so desired were invited to join in the singing of Christmas favorites. A good number of guests accepted the invitation and drew near to the hearth, while the rest hovered around the edges of the group, eager enough to listen, if not to sing themselves.

Joe and I moved to take places among the singers. The logs in the fireplace blazed merrily, their heat bringing a rosy glow to the faces of people nearby. As I was about to sit down, I noticed a box resting at the corner of the hearth. From it came a sound I thought I recognized. I kneeled down and looked inside the box.

It was lined with soft rags, on top of which lay six purring balls of fluff.

“Kittens!” I exclaimed, picking up a pure black mite with soulful eyes. “How adorable!”

“Would you like one?”  Ben came over and stood over me with a smile on his face. “I’ve been hoping to find homes for them with some of the guests tonight. Three of them are already spoken for, but the one you’re holding is still available.”

“Oh, that would be wonderful! I’d love it!”

“Four down, two to go,” Ben grinned.

While this was going on, Adam and another young man, whom I did not recognize but who was obviously a friend of his, took their places in front of the group with their guitars. For the next twenty minutes or so they took requests, leading the group in hearty renditions of everything from “The First Noel” to “What Child is This?” to “Joy to the World”, ending with a gentle and lilting “Silent Night”.

Then it was time to go back to dancing.  Homer Jeffries took his place and retuned his fiddle while those who intended to trip the light fantastic paired off and the others headed for the refreshment table.

Joe was making his way toward me and I was preparing to give him a little bow when I heard a voice behind me. “May I have the honor of this dance?”

I turned around and found myself staring up into the dark eyes of Adam Cartwright. My breath caught as I responded to his nearness. The contrast of his white shirt against his tanned skin and black hair was stunning, and the look in his eyes could have melted the polar ice cap!

It was all I could do to stammer out, “It would be my pleasure, sir!”

He looked over at Joe, who had stopped in his tracks. “You’ll just have to wait for the next one, younger brother,” he said, and Joe returned him a look of resignation.

As the fiddle took up the strains of “The Skater’s Waltz”, Adam put his hand on my waist, I put my hand on his shoulder, and off we whirled into an enchanted land of melody and delight.

That was a wonderful party!

*****

Candle Flame

[One Of The Cartwrights Is Far From Home At Christmas]

(One of the few references to Adam in the series after he left the Ponderosa had him spending some time in Paris.  I am taking that as the basis of this little vignette.)

 

It was Christmas Eve, and Ben Cartwright’s thoughts were bittersweet as he gazed out the window of the ranch house at the quiet scene outside. A light new snow had fallen, ending a couple of hours previously, and still lay almost undisturbed in the fading glow of the setting sun. The pristine scene was marred only by a couple of sets of footprints running from the house to the barn and back, left there when Hoss and Joe had done their chores earlier. The sight held an almost unearthly beauty, but to Ben, the new snow brought up poignant thoughts of past Christmas Eves, and of the family member who had been such an important part of them but who would not be here tonight.

From far behind him, near the fireplace in the great room, he heard the voices of Hoss and Joe raised in light-hearted banter. Though he couldn’t quite catch all their words, it wasn’t hard to figure out what they were talking about. It had been a good idea, Ben thought, to open up the presents from Adam early. In reality he didn’t think there had been much choice. He chuckled to himself as he recalled the curiosity and impatient longing with which the boys had regarded the box sent by their older brother ever since it had arrived from Paris. He doubted if they could have held out until the next morning in any case.

Ben looked back toward the fireplace and saw Hoss sitting on the settee, holding his gift: a beautiful framed sketch of a horse. Adam had written that the sketch was the work of a rising artist named Edgar Degas, whose favorite subjects were horses and ballet dancers. “Take very good care of it, Hoss,” Adam wrote. “I’m betting that some day it will be worth a great deal more than I paid for it.”  Hoss, of course, had little regard for the monetary value of the artwork. It was the image of the horse itself, so graceful and so dynamic, that enchanted him. Ben looked on fondly as his middle son gazed in delight at the sketch and pondered the question of where the best place would be to hang his new treasure.

Joe had laughed in amusement at the note from Adam which accompanied his gift; a handsome bottle of a fine men’s cologne. “This scent is supposed to be VERY appealing to the women.  Not that you need any help in that regard, younger brother,” it said, “but I figured you’d appreciate it anyway. Wear some to the next dance you go to and let me know what happens.” Joe had splashed a little of the cologne on his face and, in response to some gentle teasing from Hoss, ventured the opinion that Sharrie Forrester, his latest flame, would probably love the stuff.  All in all, he seemed quite pleased.

Ben turned back toward the window, and as he did so he drew his new lounging jacket, his gift from his oldest son, more closely around him. The jacket was beautiful, soft and warm and handsomely styled, but more important to Ben was the short letter from Adam that went with it. “This jacket should be very nice for cold winter evenings. My sincere hope is that you will wear it in good health for many years to come, and that you will think of me when you put it on,” it read.

“No need to hope for that, son,” Ben thought to himself as he felt the moisture beginning to well up in his eyes. “I think of you every day as it is.”

Suddenly he became aware of Joe coming up to stand beside him.

“I’ll bet I know what you’re thinking,” Joe said quietly as he laid a hand on his father’s shoulder. “You’re missing Adam, aren’t you, Pa?”

“Yes…I am, Joe,” Ben returned. “I guess I’ve never really quite gotten used to his not being here.”

“I guess I haven’t either,” Joe admitted with a look in his eyes that tugged at his father’s heart.

Hoss came up to join them. “I miss his music just about now, that’s fer sure,” he said.  “Singing carols in a little bit just ain’t gonna be the same without Adam’s guitar.”

Joe’s eyes brightened. “Well now, I was just going to say something about that. I’ve got a little bit of a Christmas surprise for the two of you. You see, I was thinking that we were going to need somebody to do that job…so I decided to learn how to do it myself.” His father and brother looked at him curiously. “You may have noticed that I’ve been going into town more often than usual lately,” Joe continued. “Well, I’ve been taking some guitar lessons from Rick Wagner.  Now I’m not claiming to play anywhere near as well as Adam, but I do think I can do a pretty passable job on most of our favorites.” He looked at his father with a wide smile.

“Joe, that was a wonderful thing to do. I appreciate it very much, son.” Ben reached out and drew his youngest to him in a quick hug.

Hoss was grinning too. “Pa, don’t you think it’s just about time we were lightin’ the candles on the tree and gettin’ down to doin’ some singin?  I’m right anxious to hear what little brother here can do.”

“I think it is, Hoss,” Ben replied. “But before we do that…”  He took a candle from a pile of extras that were lying on the desk, placed it in a holder and set it on the window ledge. Then he drew out a match, struck it, and touched it to the wick.  The candle flame flickered for a moment, then settled into a steady warm glow that brightened the room and reached out through the window to illuminate the darkening night.

“Merry Christmas, son,” Ben said in a low voice. “God keep you safe and grant you joy.”

“Merry Christmas, older brother,” Joe almost whispered. “Wish you were here tonight.”

“From me too, Adam,” Hoss added quietly.

Together the three of them gazed out the window, their hopes and prayers joining together and being carried by the candle’s beams far out into the night.

*****

Adam Cartwright made his way quickly through the cold of the Parisian night, keeping as much as possible in the light of the street lamps. Finally he reached the door of the pension where he had a rented room.  Shivering, he hurried inside and up the stairs. A few minutes later he had started a fire in his room’s fireplace and settled himself in the chair in front of it to warm himself. As he held out his hands to the flames, a pensive expression crossed his face.

This Christmas Eve had been a full one for him.  A friend of his named Paul Francis, an American who had been living in Paris for a number of years and who had established himself as an art dealer, had thrown a Christmas party to which many of the Americans currently residing in Paris were invited. Adam had already met a number of these people in the course of his visit and he found them to be good company. The festive holiday atmosphere had worked its magic and he had enjoyed himself greatly.  Later on he had attended a late night candlelight church service, which he had found very beautiful. But now that all the rush of activity was over and he had the chance to catch his breath, he found his thoughts turning, not to the events of the day, but to memories of Christmases past, back home in Nevada with his family.

He was thinking especially of the Christmas church services he had attended when he was quite young. Personally he had always preferred a late service on Christmas Eve to a service on Christmas Day. Somehow there was a special atmosphere at a late service that he felt made the whole Christmas story come across in an especially real and vivid way. He remembered services in the plain wooden church back in Virginia City and how they had ended with each member of the congregation lighting a candle and joining in singing “Silent Night”. The soft light of the candles showed up the faces of the people, full of hope and quiet joy, and the gentle voices raised in the beloved hymn were singing a true lullaby.

Finally, when the song was over, everyone blew out their candles and stood silent for a moment, caught up in the sacred magic of the night. The smell of candle smoke represented one of Adam’s most powerful memories. It would always evoke Christmas for him.

On a sudden impulse, Adam got up from his chair, picked up the candle on the night stand by his bed and placed it in the window that looked out onto the street.  He quickly found a match and lit the candle.

As he watched the flame burning brightly he felt a sense of peace wash over him. He felt more connected to his home and his family than at any time since he had left them.

“Merry Christmas, Pa…Hoss…Joe,” he thought to himself. “I hope you’re all enjoying the gifts I sent.”

“And…who knows?…maybe…just maybe…one day soon I’ll be with you again.”

***The End***

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