A Christmas for Mike

By Betsy

 

 

“Well, Jess, somebody’s gotta do it,” Slim said, pulling the saddle from Alamo’s back and carrying it from Alamo’s stall to the saddle rack, “Miss Daisy’s got her heart set on it.”

 

“Sure somebody’s gotta do it,” Jess repeated, following Slim with his own saddle, “But I can tell ya now, it ain’t gonna be me.”

 

Slim turned around and looked his partner up and down.  “I don’t see why not, I think you’d make a great Santa Claus.”

 

“No siree!  Slim, I ain’t the Santa Claus type!”

 

“Why, sure ya’re.  We’ll gitcha some padding, glue a white beard on…” Slim ducked the fistful of hay… “An’ ya’ll be all set.”

 

Furious muttering drifted down along with fork loads of hay from the loft whither Jess had climbed.

 

“Listen, Slim, why don’t you do it?  You know more about it than I do.”  Jess asked when again on the ground, leaning the pitchfork against the wall.

 

“Can’t,” Slim replied nonchalantly.

 

“Why not?” Came the disgruntled retort.

 

“Too tall,” the blonde rancher grinned.

 

They dropped the argument once within the house.  Daisy wanted this to be a Christmas surprise for Mike, and besides, maybe if they didn’t say anything about it, she would forget.  Their high hopes were dashed, however, after Mike was abed and they were seated around the fireplace relaxing after the day’s work with cups of coffee.

 

“Slim, Jess, have you given any thought to my idea?”

 

The pair exchanged cautious looks. 

 

“Uh, yeah, Miss Daisy, we talked about it, a little,” Slim said slowly.

 

“And?”

 

“And, well, ya see it’s like this, Miss Daisy…” Jess began, floundering to a halt and casting a pleading glance over her head to his partner.  Daisy followed his glance expectantly.

 

Slim stood up suddenly from his seat on the leather settee.  “We just barely got ta kickin’ around ideas fer it, an’, well…” it was his turn to look for help.

 

“We just couldn’t decide who was, was the most suitable.”   Jess finished weakly.  “Well, I’m beat; I think I’ll turn in.  ‘Night, Miss Daisy, ‘night, Slim, ya comin’?”

 

“Yeah, right away.  ‘Night, Miss Daisy.”

 

The boys placed their mugs on the table and beat a hasty retreat to their bedroom.

 

A few hours later Slim roused to the sound of Jess’ voice insistently whispering his name.

 

“Slim, you awake?”

 

“I am now, what d’ya want?”  Slim’s voice showed his irritation.

 

“We gotta figger out somethin’.  Somebody’s gotta play Santa Claus fer Miss Daisy.”

 

“Yup.  Why don’t you do it.”  Slim suggested sleepily, rolling over onto his side.

 

“Nope.  Already said I wasn’t gonna.”

 

“Well, I tol’ you why I can’t, so I guess we’ll have ta look fer somebody else.”

 

“Mort?” Jess asked, in a moment of inspiration.

 

Slim opened his eyes and looked across the dark space to where he knew Jess way lying.  “Jess,” he said solemnly, “You’re a genius.”

 

+++++++

 

The next day Slim and Jess found an excuse to ride into town and confront Mort with Jess’ brainwave.  To their dismay, they found he had already made other plans.

 

“I’d like ta help you boys out, but I’m afraid I already got previous arrangements.  I’m goin’ ta Cheyenne to visit my Pa over Christmas.”  The sheriff rose from behind his desk and made his way to the pot-bellied stove to refresh his coffee cup.  Turning back to face the young men, he added with a grin, “I just wish I could see one of you all decked out in a red suit with a white beard.  I’ll bet you’d look mighty purty!”

 

“Thanks, Mort.  Thanks a heap,” Jess growled, grabbing his hat and striding out the door, giving it a smart bang as he closed it.

 

“You sure know how ta help a friend, doncha, Mort?”  Slim said with a mock glare as he took up his own hat.  “Thanks fer the coffee,” he added with a smile.  “Have a good time in Cheyenne, merry Christmas!”  The door had no sooner closed behind him when it reopened and Slim stuck his head back in,  “And by the way, if you hear a ruckus down Laramie way on Christmas Eve, you’ll know Jess has been press-ganged into duty!”

 

The ride home in the cold, snow laden wind was a quiet one, each man deep in his thoughts, his face buried in his muffler. 

 

About halfway to the ranch Slim raised his head.  “Hey, Jess,” he called.

 

Jess turned the upper half of his body, acknowledging Slim while trying to stay warm and covered.

 

“How ‘bout Mose?”

 

Jess’ eyes squinted up, showing he was smiling, and his black Stetson bobbed in agreement.  Satisfied that he had found the perfect solution, Slim retreated back into his muffler, planning the perfect way to raise the suggestion to the old stage driver.

 

+++++

 

Slim found the perfect way, but Mose turned him down much as had the sheriff.

 

“Sorry, Slim, I’d like ta do it, but I promised ta spend Christmas with a pal o’ mine in Denver.  Hain’t seen him in a good many years an’ we’re gonna make it a ripsnorter!”

 

Jess grinned, despite the cold and the disappointment as he maneuvered the fresh team into place.  He could just imagine the “ripsnorter” Mose would have.

 

“Well, thanks anyway, Mose.  Have a good trip, merry Christmas,” Slim said not sounding very merry, stepping away from the ready coach.

 

“Merry Christmas!” Mose hollered as he whipped up the team down the road to Laramie.

 

“Well, now what?”  Jess asked, coming to stand by his partner.

 

“Now we flip a coin.”

 

“Whose coin?”  Jess asked, warily.

 

Slim turned raised eyebrows on the shorter man.  “Why, Jess, are you sayin’…”

 

“I’m sayin’ ya sure would if ya could!  ‘Mon, let’s git these chores done.  It’s cold enough ta freeze yer eye teeth!”

 

The coin tossing was postponed, and after supper, Mike, who had been curled up with Buttons in front of the fire at Jess’ feet, turned and laid his chin on the cowboy’s knee.

 

“Jess?”

 

“Yeah, Tiger?”  Jess laid down the piece of harness he was mending and met the boy’s blue-eyed gaze.

 

“Do you believe in Santa Claus?”

 

Jess dropped his eyes, and then looked to Slim and then Daisy for guidance.

 

“Well now, Mike, I reckon that…” he trailed off, thinking of Christmases when he was Mike’s age, and Christmases since he had come to the Sherman ranch.  “I reckon I do,” he concluded and felt, rather than heard, Daisy and Slim let out a relieved sigh.

 

“Have ya ever seen him?”  The boy persisted.

 

“Yeah, I seen him once.”  Jess dropped the leather on the floor and held out his hands for Mike to climb into his lap.

 

“You did?”  This surprised statement came from Slim.

 

Jess chuckled.  “Yup, I did.  It was a few years after the War an’ I was stayin’ in this little town over Christmas.  A nice little old lady ran the boardin’ house I was stayin’ at, an’ on Christmas Eve I was comin’ in late, an’ I saw this little, round, ole man all dressed up in a red suit with a big pack on his back comin’ up the street toward the boardin’ house.  I hustled right inta the house an’ up the stairs, an’ then I peeked over the railin’ ta see what was gonna happen.  Well, he come right in the front door and disappeared inta the parlor where the Christmas tree was, an’ ya know what?”

 

Mike shook his head, his eyes big with wonder.  Jess glanced around the room.  Daisy had lowered her handiwork to her lap, and Slim had put down his book and both were hanging on his every word.  He grinned and looked back down at the child in his lap.

 

“The next mornin’ there was presents fer all o’ us in that there boardin’ house.”

 

“But, Jess, how come he didn’t come through the chimney?”

 

Jess’ eyebrows twitched.  “Well, ya see, Tiger,” he said, thinking fast, “It was a mighty small fireplace, an’ it had a mighty hot fire goin’, an’, an’ I guess he got tired o’ ridin’ all over the world an’ decided ta stretch his legs fer a bit,” he ended in a rush.

 

The answer seemed to satisfy the boy, and he snuggled contentedly in Jess’ lap for a few minutes before posing his next question.

 

“D’ya think I’ll see ‘im this Christmas?”

 

Slim and Jess exchanged glances.

 

“Ya jest might, Tiger, ya jest might.”

 

Daisy sent Mike off to bed not long after that, and Slim and Jess retired themselves soon after.  Once behind the closed door Slim turned to Jess.

 

“Did you really see Santa Claus?”  He asked half incredulously.

 

Jess gave a low laugh.  “There was a feller stayin’ at the boardin’ house who had dressed up to visit the kids at the school house.  I reckon he must a gone around an’ made some house calls after that, ‘cause it was gittin’ close ta midnight when he got in.  I, well, I’d been out pretty late m’self, an’ I’ll never fergit how I felt when I seen that ole Santy Claus comin’ up the street an’ goin’ in the parlor.”  He finished undressing in thoughtful silence and lay awake for a long time, remembering that night and that feeling.

 

++++++

 

Jess roused early the next morning and sought out Daisy in the kitchen.

 

“‘Mornin’, Miss Daisy.”

 

“Why, good morning, Jess.  My, you’re up early.”

 

“Yeah, got ta thinkin’.”

 

“‘Bout what?”

 

“Miss Daisy, d’ya think I could fool Mike?”

 

Daisy turned, the wooden spoon held upright in her clasped hands.  “I think, that whether you fooled him or not, he would greatly appreciate it,” she said solemnly. 

 

Jess stood.  “Alright, then, I’ll do it.  But don’t tell Slim,” he added hastily.  “He’d never let me hear the end of it.”

 

The following days passed quickly, and Jess and Daisy worked tirelessly to make sure “Santa Clause” would really come.  Slim was puzzled, though suspicious, as to why Daisy had seemed to give up on them so easily, especially when Jess denied any knowledge of her plans with a look that forbade further discussing.

 

+++++

 

Christmas Eve arrived on a cold day with a gusty little wind busily blowing snow into piles against the fences and barn walls.  By nightfall the wind had settled and gentle flakes had begun to fall, creating a scene lovely to all but a Texan’s eye.  As the dishes were being cleared after supper, Jess suddenly raised his head with an alert look on his face.

 

“What’s up, Jess?” Slim asked.

 

“I think I heard somethin’ in the barn.  I’ll go check.”

 

“I’ll go with ya,” Slim volunteered, heading for his coat.

 

“No, I kin manage,” Jess said hastily, and Daisy stepped in, backing him up.  Catching on suddenly, Slim returned to the table and hid his face behind his empty coffee cup.  A few silent minutes passed, and then Daisy stopped in her tracks between the kitchen and the table, her blue eyes wide.

 

“Listen!” she whispered.

 

“I didn’t hear nothin’,” Slim said, as Mike’s head snapped up.

 

“Sleigh bells!” he cried in a hushed voice, starting to run to the door.  Daisy caught him by the shoulders and stood facing the door with him.  Heavy steps were heard on the porch, followed by a knock on the door.

 

“Come in!”  Daisy called.  Slim stood up at the desk and looked toward the door, a look of disbelief on his face.

 

The door was opened and a white-bearded man dressed in a red suit trimmed with white fur wearing shiny black boots and a Stetson that looked suspiciously like Slim’s best hat stepped into the room.  He carried a large gunny sack thrown over one shoulder, and he moved rather stiffly, as if he was afraid he might loose whatever was used to pad his large stomach.

 

“Ho-ho-ho, merry Christmas!” he cried in a deep, gravelly voice, and Slim had to turn away biting his lip to keep from laughing out right.

 

“Merry Christmas to you, Santa Claus,” Daisy replied with a welcoming smile.  Mike just stared, eyes and mouth as large as saucers. 

 

“Santa Claus” reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a long list.  After reading down it, he looked up with twinkling blue eyes.

 

“Are you Mike Williams?”

 

The boy in question nodded his head, still gaping.  Daisy placed a gentle finger under his chin and pushed it closed.

 

“Santa Claus” swung his bag to the floor and bent over it, rummaging deep within it.  At last he pulled forth a round and a long skinny package wrapped in red paper and held them close to his cold-reddened face, squinting at the label.

 

“I believe these are for you, young man,” he said.  “Have you been a good boy?”

 

Mike nodded vigorously, then shook his head.  “Sorta.  I tried ta be good.”

 

“Santa” ho-ho-ed again and held the packages out.  “That’s good enough, son!”

 

Mike stepped forward, aided by Daisy’s gentle push, and took the gifts.  “Thank you, Santa,” he said.  Taking them he retreated to Slim’s side before tearing the paper eagerly.

 

“Mrs. Daisy Cooper?”

 

Daisy looked up, surprised.  “Why, yes,”

 

“Have you been a good girl?”  The blue eyes snapped roguishly, and Mike chortled while Slim choked.

 

“J…I believe I have been good, Santa.”

 

A parcel wrapped in bright blue paper was bestowed in her hands, and then “Santa” glanced at his list again.

 

“Mr. Slim Sherman?”

 

“That’s me.”  Slim’s voice sounded mighty queer.

 

“Santa” started to ask the requisite question, but something about the look on his boss’ face made him stop and his face go even redder.

 

“Have you been good?”  Now “Santa’s” voice sounded choked.

 

Words failed Mr. Sherman and he had to suffice with a nod.  He was handed a bundle wrapped in gold paper, and then “Santa” turned to hoist his sack over his shoulder and quit the premises before he ruined the surprise.

 

Mike left his orange and peppermint stick on the table and ducked under Slim’s elbow to tug at “Santa” coat.

 

“Mr. Santa, can’tcha stay fer jest a bit?” he pleaded.

 

“I got a lot a deliveries ta make yet ta-night, son,” “Santa” replied straight-faced.  “Why?”

 

“‘Cause Jess’s out in the barn, but he should be back any second,” Mike explained earnestly.  “He’s tried jest as hard as me ta be good, ya ain’t gonna leave without givin’ him somethin’ too, are ya?  I know he’d be mighty glad ta see ya again.”

 

“Santa” ruffled Mike’s hair.  “Ya say he’s in the barn?  Well, I’ll jest stop in as I go.  Maybe he could give me some feed fer my reindeer, too,” “Santa” added with a glance a Slim that almost proved to be the latter’s undoing.  “Would that be alright?”

 

“I guess so.  Thanks a lot, Santa,” Mike grinned.  “This is the best Christmas I ever had!”

 

“Santa” grinned back and shouldered his sack.

 

“Merry Christmas!”  He cried, going out and closing the door tightly behind him.  Mike ran to the window and, blocking out the light, watched as “Santa” disappeared into the barn.

 

“I don’t see his reindeer,” he said disappointedly, surveying the yard. 

 

“Maybe you could see ‘em out your bedroom window,” Slim suggested, knowing he needed to get Mike away from the window before Jess came out of the barn without Santa.  The ruse worked, and the lad scampered away to peer carefully out his window. 

 

“Ho-ho-ho, merry Christmas!”  “Santa” bellowed from the barnyard, the door opened, and Jess walked into the parlor.

 

“Jess!”  Mike cannonballed into his friend from his room, “Didja see ‘im?”

 

Jess laughed raspily.  “It’s cold ‘nough out there ta take a man’s voice away!  Yeah, I seen him.”

 

“Did he give ya a present?”

 

“Yup, did you git anything?”

 

Mike scurried off to fetch his gifts and proudly show them off, and then everyone else had to display what Santa had brought them.  At last Daisy shooed Mike towards bed, telling him he needed to go to sleep so that Santa could come.  The door closed behind the two of them on Mike’s statement of “but he already came!”  Jess and Slim were well pleased to leave that predicament in Daisy’s capable hands.

 

The partners stood against the mantle piece soaking in the warmth from the fire and listening to the soft sounds of the ticking clock and the rise and fall of voices from Mike’s bedroom.

 

“What made ya change yer mind, Jess?”  Slim asked softly after a while.

 

“I dunno,” came Jess’ voice just as softly.  “Mebbe rememberin’ how I felt when I seen “Santa Claus”, an’ rememberin’ all the times Santa didn’t find our place when I was growin’ up.  I didn’t want Mike ta think that Santa couldn’t find him.  Or mebbe I’m jest gittin’ soft in my old age.” He added with a failed attempt at lightness.

 

Slim smiled and clapped a hand on the back on Jess’ neck.  “Well, whatever the reason, ya done good, partner.  Ya done real good.”

 

 



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