Summary: Let’s all sing along.
Word Count: 3032
On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me
A partridge in a pear tree.
“It’s very nice,” Adam said, truthfully. “But what is it?”
Beaming all over at the compliment, Hop Sing replied, “It pear tree.”
“That?” Hoss asked, gesturing towards the ornamental tree in its heavy ceramic pot. “That’ll grow pears?”
“Once big enough,” Hop Sing agreed nodding. He scooped up another parcel from the table.
“What’s that?” Joe asked.
Opening it, Hop Sing displayed a dead bird. “It partridge,” he explained. “Cook for dinner.”
“It ain’t gonna feed us all!” Hoss declared, disappointment in his tones. “One o’ them’s hardly big enough ta feed one o’ us!”
Sniffing disgustedly, Hop Sing shook his head. “Not for Cartwrights’ dinner,” he told them. “For Hop Sing.” He smiled. “You get roast beef.”
“Where’d you get them from?” Joe asked, gesturing to include the tree.
“Friend,” replied the Oriental and bustled away into the kitchen.
“Male or female?” Joe called after him. His only response was a torrent of Chinese. Joe glanced at his brothers. “We’re in trouble now, brothers,” he informed them. “That definitely means it was a female friend!”
On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.
“Pa?” Hoss queried, coming across Ben standing in the upstairs hall, looking at the roof and frowning. “What’s wrong?”
“Can you hear it?” Ben asked.
“What?” Hoss replied, mystified.
“That cooing,” Ben answered. “Listen.” He held his finger to his lips and they both stood there in silence listening hard. Just as Hoss was about to say he didn’t hear anything, a chorus of soft ‘cooing’ reached his ears. “There!” Ben exclaimed. “Did you hear it?”
“Sure did,” Hoss agreed. “Them doves sound like they’s in the roof.”
“That’s what I thought,” Ben nodded. “Hoss, do me a favor and get rid of them, will you?”
Sighing Hoss agreed, and a little while later, he and Joe went into the attic to find and evict the doves. The attic was cold, and a small hole in the roof showed them where the doves had got in, along with some of the snow that was falling steadily outside.
It took over half an hour of chasing, tripping and muffled cursing to get the birds caught and ejected. “Dadburnit!” Hoss muttered, as he looked at the pile of droppings on the floor. “I guess we’d better git that cleaned up.”
“Feel free,” Joe grouched. “I’m goin’ to patch the hole in the roof before more snow comes in.”
“Well, thanks a bunch, little brother,” Hoss called after him. He went to get what he would need and as he scraped the attic floor clean, he heard Joe outside on the roof.
As Joe got the new slate into position, Hoss shouted, “That’s got it, Joe!”
Caught by surprise, Joe flinched violently backwards and found himself sliding down the snow-covered roof. “Aggghhhhhh!” he screamed, as he gathered speed and slid off the edge of the roof.
On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Three French hens…
“What’s so special about these French hens, Pa?” Adam asked, as he watched Hop Sing put the hens into the coop.
“I don’t know, son,” Ben replied. “But after that fox got so many of our hens, Hop Sing insisted we buy some more, and the only ones he could get were French.”
“How does he know they’re French?” Adam asked, covering his mouth with his hand so that the cook would not hear. “They look just the same as the others to me.”
“I have no idea,” Ben admitted. “Nor did I understand his explanation as to why there are only three, when we ordered a dozen. But he got so irate; I decided it was better not to ask any further.”
“Wise move,” Adam agreed.
As they started to walk towards the barn, they heard a scream from behind them, and turned in time to see Joe shoot off the edge of the roof to land with a loud thump out of sight behind the kitchen. “Joe!” Ben cried and rushed around the side of the house, with Adam in hot pursuit.
Luckily for Joe, he had landed on a large pile of snow, and so was not very badly hurt. As it was, he had knocked his shoulder out of the socket, while trying to halt his slide, and of course, it was his left shoulder he dislocated.
“I’m gonna get you for this, Hoss!” he vowed, as Ben helped him into the house.
On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Four calling birds…
“Hey, Pa, that new store’s open!” Joe exclaimed, as they drove into Virginia City. “Can we have a look?”
“Once your shoulder is back in place, yes,” Ben agreed. Although he had put shoulders back into their sockets before, it wasn’t something Ben enjoyed doing and he didn’t want to do it for Joe. So he had had Hoss hitch up the wagon and he and Joe had come into town, Joe’s injured arm gently supported by a make-shift sling. Joe was trying very hard to pretend that his shoulder wasn’t that sore, but he was fooling no one.
An hour or so later, once his shoulder was back in place and Dr Paul Martin was satisfied that no nerves had been trapped, Joe and Ben left his office and went slowly across to the new store.
‘Edgar’s Emporium’ read the sign outside and the Cartwrights exchanged glances before going in.
The store was packed to the ceiling with odd things. Although there were clothes, and some food, neither thing were the run-of-the-mill things that they were used to. There were jars and boxes of mysterious looking spices and the air was heavy with a myriad of unfamiliar scents. It was also incredibly noisy, as the air rang with various bird calls and Joe even spied a tiny monkey in a cage behind the counter.
“What are you looking at, Joe?” Ben asked, catching up with his son as he peered into a cage of birds.
“Calling birds,” Joe answered. “Four of them.” He grinned at his father. “Two breeding pairs. I was thinking of buying them for Hoss.”
“Don’t you dare!” Ben ordered, as one of the birds let out a piercing cry. “Those doves were bad enough!” He pretended to grab Joe by the ear. “Let’s go home before you get any more bright ideas.”
On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Five gold rings…
“I tell you,” Adam sighed, disconsolately, “it’s a regular epidemic.”
“Adam!” Ben reproached him. “You make it sound like the bubonic plague! You’re talking about weddings here. Christmas is a very romantic time to be married.”
“I guess it is,” Adam agreed. “But five of our hands getting married within the same week? Tell me that’s not an epidemic.”
“When you put it like that…” agreed Hoss. “I guess it is.” He winked heavily at Joe, who pretended not to notice. “So what are ya tryin’ ta tell us here, big brother? Are ya gittin’ married, too?”
“What?” Adam shrieked, sitting up straight. “Me? You must be joking!”
“Aw,” Hoss sulked, looking disappointed. “I was really lookin’ forward ta ya gittin’ married so’s I could be an uncle.”
“You’ll need to look somewhere else,” Adam said, pointedly looking at Joe, who put up his uninjured hand.
“Not me!” he stated emphatically.
Sighing deeply, Ben muttered, “Well, it would be nice if at least one of you got married sometime so I can have some grandchildren to spoil before I’m too old.”
On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Six geese a-laying…
“Goose for Christmas dinner outside in hen coop,” Hop Sing informed Ben at breakfast the next day.
“Thank you, Hop Sing,” Ben replied. “We’ll watch out for it.”
Watching Joe chase his food around his plate with his right hand, Hoss asked, “Pa, why’nt we get some geese an’ breed our own one for Christmas?”
Raising his eyebrow, Ben asked, “And what would we do with all the others that come along? I breed cattle here, in case it has escaped your notice. When I want a goose, it’s far easier to buy one in town.”
“Well, I jist thought…” Hoss began.
“When we tried raising our own turkeys when we first got here, you wouldn’t let us eat them,” Adam interrupted.
Hoss blushed. “Ya didn’ have ta bring that up,” he mumbled.
“It’s true though,” Ben agreed. “And that’s another good reason why we aren’t going to raise geese. Besides, have you ever heard the noise they make? We’d never sleep again.” He returned to his breakfast, the matter closed.
On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Seven swans a-swimming…
“It’s a good book, isn’t it, Joe?” Adam asked, right in his younger brother’s ear, making Joe flinch.
“What is it with you and Hoss?” Joe grumbled. “First he scares me and I fall off the roof, now you’re at it too!”
“Sorry,” Adam replied, contritely. “But it is a good book. Are you enjoying it?” He went to sit in the blue velvet chair at the bottom of the stairs. Joe was curled up on the sofa. “I read it last winter.”
Putting aside the volume of English medieval history, Joe nodded. “I remember. That’s why I went looking for it. I remember you telling me it wasn’t dry, like some history books, and its not. It’s real exciting. All those battles and knights in shining armor. It’s great.”
Adam smiled. “There are some really interesting facts, too,” he remembered. “Like the law being passed to prevent a Catholic ascending the throne.” Joe, predictably, scowled. His mother had been Catholic. “And the banning of Christmas day.”
Perking up at that, Joe added one that he’d read just a few moments before. “And all swans are Crown property,” he marveled. “Why would the Crown want to own all the swans?”
“I’m told they’re good to eat,” Adam replied. “We’ve never had one, but the feathers are as warm as goose feathers, and there’s a lot of meat on swans. For the poor people, the temptation must have been almost irresistible.”
“Pa, have you ever eaten swan?” Joe asked, as Ben came down the stairs.
“No, not that I know of,” Ben replied. “But that reminds me, Adam. Could you go down to the smoke house and bring up the last of the ducks we shot and give them to Hop Sing? He was asking me for them earlier.”
“Sure thing,” Adam agreed and got to his feet.
“Hmm, smoked duck,” Joe drooled.
“You’re getting as bad as Hoss!” Ben joked.
On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Eight maids a milking…
“I thought you were reading English history?” Adam asked, as he came back in to find Joe’s nose buried in a dime novel. There was a lurid picture on the paper cover of a young woman running away from a black-cloaked man.
“I was,” Joe replied, vaguely. “But I’ve had my dose of culture for today, thanks. I want some entertainment.”
“That’s a peculiar outfit that girl’s wearing,” Ben commented, glancing over Joe’s shoulder at the illustration on the page.
“She’s a milkmaid,” Joe replied, crossly. “I’m trying to read here. Would you mind letting me get on with it?”
“A milkmaid?” Adam echoed. “Please tell me that’s not set in this country.”
“It’s not set in this country,” Joe snapped. “Now will you leave me alone?” He turned his back on his father and brother, heaving an ostentatious sigh. Ben and Adam exchanged identical amused glances before leaving him alone.
On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Nine ladies dancing…
“How can you go to a dance with a dislocated shoulder?” Adam demanded.
“In the buggy, same as you fellows,” Joe retorted. “Please, Adam, help me with this?” He waggled his white shirt in front of Adam’s nose. “I haven’t got a date for tonight, so it doesn’t matter if I can’t dance, does it?”
“All right, all right,” Adam capitulated, and dropped his own white shirt on his bed to struggle with Joe’s sling. He caught Joe giving him a searching glance. “What?” he asked.
“Do the ladies like your furry chest?” Joe asked. “All the girls I’ve gone out with have raved about my smooth chest.”
“I like more mature women,” Adam informed him. “And yes, they do like it.”
“Must be weird,” Joe commented as he handed over his string tie. “What’s it like being furry?”
“Warmer than being smooth, I expect,” Adam snapped. He tied the tie and stepped back. “Now go away and let me finish getting dressed!
When they arrived at the dance, all the younger women crowded round Joe, cooing over his injury and listening with round eyes to his (embellished) story of how he came to fall off the roof.
“I count nine gals hoverin’ round Joe,” Hoss muttered in disgust later in the evening. “And I ain’t danced wi’ Bessie Sue but once!”
“Its enough to make you sick,” Adam agreed, wondering why his furry chest wasn’t attracting the ladies that night.
On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Ten lords a-leaping…
The inevitable fight came late on in the evening. Joe was standing by the punch bowl, chatting to Sally Marks. A moment later, her boyfriend, a cowboy Joe knew slightly, appeared and said, “What do you think you’re doing, Cartwright?”
“Oh back off, John,” Joe replied, wearily. “I’m just talking to Sally.”
Luckily, Joe was sober and John was drunk, or else Joe might have ended up in a real mess. As it was, he saw the punch coming and simply ducked. Next moment, a wild melee broke out as a number of drunken cowboys raced to Joe’s defense.
By the time Adam and Hoss were picking themselves up, Roy Coffee had arrived and was taking the worst of the drunks to sleep it off in the town jail and Joe was sitting on a comfortable sofa watching the proceeds with all the air of a young lord.
“I don’t know how he does it,” Adam muttered. He could feel several spots on his face that would turn into bruises before the night was out, and Hoss was in a similar condition. “There’s not a mark on him!”
“Jist as well,” Hoss told him. “Think of the trouble we’d be in if’n Joe came home all beat up an’ with his bad arm, too.”
Adam gave Hoss an ‘old-fashioned’ look. “What makes you think we’re not going to be in trouble anyway?” he asked.
On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Eleven pipers piping…
They were having a sedate breakfast the next morning, Christmas Eve, when the air was suddenly rent by an unearthly noise. “What on earth?” Ben cried, leaping to his feet and looking around wildly. “What is that?”
“Bagpipes!” Joe cried and jumped up, a wide grin splitting his face. He rushed over and opened the door and the whole family stood there in amazement as a Scottish piper walked across the yard, playing ‘Scotland the Brave’. The horses in the corral were racing around in terror, for the noise was quite deafening as it bounced off the house and barn.
Behind the piper were two girls and a small bear. “Yee-Ha!” Joe caroled and rushed out into the snow to greet the Giggly Sisters, who had been living at the ranch now for almost a year, and who had been away doing some Christmas shopping with Paw, their pet bear.
“At least its only one piper,” Adam consoled his father, but he was wrong, for another 10 suddenly marched out from behind the barn playing ‘Amazing Grace’.
It was stunningly beautiful to hear the pipes on the cold air and the old hymn moved them all. After it was finished, the pipers bowed to the sisters and left. Joe and the girls came inside, where the girls demanded the details of how Joe had become maimed while they were away.
“I’ve got my Christmas present,” Joe declared. “My girls are home!”
Ben tried valiantly not to groan in despair.
On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Twelve drummers drumming…
“Paw’s just a baby, so to keep him out of the presents until morning, we gave him one early,” the redhead explained as the blonde helped the little bear unwrap his gift. That Paw was delighted was evident, but no one else seemed to be. He had a little red drum.
As Paw paraded around banging on the drum to his heart’s content, the blonde smiled at Ben. “At least he’s an only bear,” she consoled him. “Think how much worse it would be if he were twins.”
“These last few days have been so like that song, ‘The 12 Days of Christmas,’ with the things that have happened,” Adam remarked. “How does it go again?”
And the redhead stood up, drew in a deep breath and began singing,
“On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me (breath)
Twelve drummers drumming
‘Leven pipers piping,
Ten lords a-leaping,
Nine ladies dancing,
Eight maids a-milking,
Seven swans a-swimming,
Six geese a-laying,
Five gold rings (breath)
Four calling birds,
Three French hens,
Two turtle doves…”
And here everyone joined in, singing the last line while the redhead added the descant
“And a partridge in a pear tree!”
Merry Christmas everyone!
Music and words for The 12 days of Christmas by Frederick Silver. Although the 12 days applies to the 12 days leading up to Epiphany, when the Magi came from the East, I have taken the liberty of setting it before Christmas, not after. And many thanks to my dear sister Claire for her helpful suggestions. What would I do without you, sis!