“Mr. Nicholas, I believe that dam is gonna drop that foal tonight. Waxing started the day before yesterday and she's moving pretty slow today,” Kid Curry called out across the yard as he walked out of the barn and pulled the collar of his Sherpa up to his ears against the the cold of the dark December night air.
Mr. Nicholas, an older man of stocky build and the owner of the ranch, was standing on his porch drinking a cup of coffee.
“She started pacing?”
“Yes Sir, and she's getting up and down a lot, pawing in the stall . She's getting more restless in general, and she's been dripping a bit of milk all day, Sir.”
“You seen contractions?”
“Yes Sir, and they appear to be getting stronger,” Kid said as he approached the house and stood at the foot of the steps.
“Check for breech?”
“I did Sir. It don't appear to be a breech.”
“That dam holding up alright?”
“She seems to be so far. We got a nice comfortable stall set up for her. She ain't down to stay yet though.”
“I'll be interested in seeing what that foal looks like. I couldda shot that mare the day she broke loose. She's from a very impressive bloodline, but I don't know who she sired up with. That foal could be very valuable or not worth the milk it suckles.”
“Ah, yes Sir. Judging by the mare alone though, that's gonna be a fine looking foal.”
“You go get your supper now, son. Gonna be a long, cold night.”
Kid nodded and headed across the yard to the bunkhouse.
“Damn, it's getting cold,” Kid grumbled as he walked into the bunkhouse and shed his coat.
Heyes sat at the table drinking his coffee. Kid walked over to the pot of leftover stew and ladled a healthy serving into a bowl. Then he grabbed a spoon and a biscuit and walked over to the table to join his partner.
“That mare's gonna birth tonight,” Kid told Heyes.
“You gonna need help?”
“Won't turn it down,” Kid replied with a smile. “Though I admit, it looks like it's gonna be an easy birthing. Course you can't be sure of anything till it's over.”
“How soon you think she's gonna go?”
“She ain't down yet. A few more hours I suspect.”
“Mr. Nicholas is gonna get himself an early morning Christmas present?” Heyes said with a smile.
Kid shook his head. “Maybe. He's already wondering if the foal is gonna be a gift or a lump of coal since he don't know who sired it.”
“He's a businessman, Kid. That foal's money to him.”
Kid frowned. “Yep, that's all that animal means to him... Don't know how people can think like that, Heyes.”
“Kid, I know you've got a soft spot for horses, but if you was a rancher like he is, you'd be thinking like Mr. Nicholas does about a cow or a steer.”
“But not a calf, Heyes and surely not a foal. Hell, birth's a miracle.”
Heyes smiled. “And this being Christmas Eve...”
“Yeah. It makes you think. Heck, there's even a comparison here.”
“No one but you Kid, could find a comparison between the birth of a foal and the birth of the baby Jesus.”
“Well, both happened in a barn.”
“Both was born in December.”
“And before they was born, nobody knowed who sired em.”
“Kind of a stretch, there, Kid. I think Mary there had a good suspicion.”
“Maybe. I just wish Mr. Nicholas could see the value of the foal, regardless of the lineage.”
“Like I said, he's a businessman. That foal means money in his pocket.”
Kid sopped up the last bit of stew with the last bite of his biscuit and shoveled it into his mouth, then he washed it down with the last of his coffee.
“Heyes, after we get our amnesty, remind me never to go into the ranching business.”
Heyes smiled. “Alright, Kid. Now you ready to get back out to the barn?”
“Yeah. I got the chill outta my bones.”
“Easy Girl,” Kid said, gently stroking the mare's neck to watch for sweat before bringing his hand down to check the girth and then the dilation. “Easy Girl.”
“I'd say another three, maybe four hours,” Kid told Mr. Nicholas who had ventured out into the cold barn for a quick check of the mare.
Kid slowly moved out of the stall and secured the gate. He wanted the mare to stay as calm as possible. The more people bustling about the barn, the more nervous the mare could get, and the more nervous the mare got, the more likely she might actually delay the birthing.
“Well, send someone to wake me when it's over,” Mr. Nicholas said as he turned and walked out of the barn.
Kid shook his head as he watched the owner leave. He picked up a rake and moved a large pile of clean hay against the back wall of the barn. Then he reached for a couple of blankets and tossed one to his partner.
“This should keep us warm enough through the night,” Kid said as he sat down in the pile of soft hay and covered himself with the blanket.
Heyes sat down beside him and wrapped himself in his own blanket.
“I wonder if this is what it was like in the stable waiting for the baby Jesus to get born,” Kid said.
Heyes smiled. “Probably not much different.”
“I bet Joseph paid a lot more attention to Mary than Mr. Nicholas does to this mare.”
Heyes chuckled. “You sure do worry a lot about that, Kid.”
“Well, it just ain't right, Heyes. Just watching a birth makes you realize it ain't an easy thing for that poor mother to go through. It don't matter if it's a person or an animal, birthing ain't easy.”
“Does look like it hurts a lot,” Heyes agreed.
“And that old coot don't give a whip stitch about that.”
“Kid, you're gonna be an awful nervous expectant father some day.”
“Well, if I am ever an an expectant father, I ain't just gonna walk outta the room and tell someone to call me when it's over.”
“I don't think fathers are exactly welcome in the room during the birthing, Kid.”
“Heyes, if I was there when it all started, I damn well better be there when it ends. And nobody's gonna tell me otherwise.”
“I doubt if anybody would dare try to tell you otherwise, Kid. You know, sometimes you really amaze me.”
“Just how... practical and sensible you are about the things that really matter to you.”
“Well, it just makes sense, Heyes. A baby's got two parents. They ought both be there.”
Heyes grinned. “You saying we ought to bring them stallions in here right now?”
Kid laughed. “That's a might different, Heyes. I'd be helping the mama, not making her more nervous.”
The night moved on and still the mare stayed standing, though front legs bent more and more regularly as she worked her way though the increasingly strong contractions. Hourly Kid got up and entered the stall to soothe the mare and feel the changes of the mare's belly.
“I think she'll be down within the hour now. Pretty much time now to just sit back and let her be.”
Sure enough, forty minutes later the mare lay down and stayed down. Kid got up and lit more lanterns. Then he walked over and stood outside the stall, his arms folded on the top plank of the stall as he watched the mare work through the peristaltic contractions.
“Heyes, the foal's coming,” Kid announced when he saw two scrawny legs begin to emerge.
“You think you ought to get in there to help?”
“She knows what she's doing. As long as things is going smooth, I ain't interfering with Mother Nature.”
Heyes got up, keeping the blanket wrapped around himself, as he joined Kid near the stall. He glanced over at Kid who had a look of pure amazement on his face as he watched the fluids gush and the sac encased slippery foal enter the world.
“We're seeing a miracle, Heyes,” Kid whispered.
“We truly are, Kid.”
As the last of the foal was pushed from the mare's womb, the sac stretched and broke and the foal's wet head emerged as the still delicate animal drew it's first breath.
The mare waited only moments before standing and they watched as she turned to help the foal rid itself of the remainder of the sac.
“Ah, ain't that beautiful,” Kid whispered.
They stood silently and very still so as not to spook the mare. And they watched as the foal made a dozen unsuccessful attempts before finally pulling itself up to stand on four wobbly legs.
Heyes watched Kid's smile widen, his eyes sparkling with joy and wonder.
“Can barely hold itself up right now, but one day that horse will be running like the wind,” Kid said proudly.
“I see what you mean, Kid.”
“About this being like the night in the stable in Jerusalem..... That baby....this foal....a world of unlimited possibilities at the moment of birth.”
Kid nodded but didn't take his eyes off the new mother and her baby. “A miracle, plain and simple. Every birth is a miracle.”
“Want me to go wake Mr. Nicholas?” Heyes asked.
“Not yet. Let's give the new mama and her youngin a little time to get acquainted,” Kid replied as he watched the mare gently licking the foal clean.
“Wouldn't you think with a name like Nicholas, that man would be of better spirits this time of year?” Heyes mused.
But Kid was so enraptured, he really wasn't even listening to Heyes.
“Ah, look it, Heyes. That foal's trying to find it's first meal.”
Heyes pulled out his pocket watch and glanced at the time. “Kid, it's after midnight. It's Christmas.”
Kid wrapped an arm around his partner's shoulders, but his eyes stayed fixed on the foal.
“Merry Christmas, Heyes. This turned out to be kind of a special one, didn't it?”
Heyes looked at his wide-eyed cousin, still enraptured by the birth of the foal.
“It sure did, Kid. A very special one.”
NOTE: A special thanks to Rachel Kruidenier for sharing her horse sense on a subject that I have no actual experience, and to Donna Webster for her proofreading and practical input.