Another Christmas Cheer

By AKeays

“There it is,” Kid pointed through the blizzard with a gloved hand. “Looks like they gave up on it.”

“I sure don’t blame them for that.” Heyes squinted against the large snowflakes hitting him in the face. “It’s hard enough riding a horse in this stuff, so even with four-in-hand, a stagecoach would be impossible.”

“Yeah, no kiddin’.”

Both horses began to blow with anxiety as their riders pushed them closer to the snow-covered mammoth; it didn’t look or smell like anything they’d ever seen before.

“C’mon!” Heyes gave his big gelding a kick as it tried to dance away from the stationary beast. “You want to break a leg? It’s just a stagecoach. Get up there.”

Duly chastised, the gelding snorted and allowed himself to be pressured closer.

Kid was already up by the front, checking the undercarriage from atop his horse.

“Look at the way the snow has all piled up under there. Them wheels are all clogged. I’m surprised the horses were able to drag this thing as far as they did.”

“It was fully-loaded, too,” Heyes commented as he looked up at the luggage piled on top. “Why in the world would anyone take a stage anywhere at this time of year?”

Kid shrugged though Heyes couldn’t see it through the layer of white falling between them.

“This blizzard weren’t expected, Heyes, and most folks are willin’ ta take the risk ta be with family for Christmas.”

“They should know better at the end of December,” Heyes still grumbled. “Blizzards can come up any time.”

“Yeah, but we’re out here, ain’t we? We thought we’d make it ta Porterville okay, but we didn’t, did we? It’s a good thing we come across this stage route so we could use their tracks.”

“I suppose.” Heyes rode ahead, following the shaft from its base attached to the stage up to where it disappeared under the deep drifts of white.

Tracks of horses and people had broken the snow around the shaft, and could still be faintly made out as the party had moved away from the stage to carry on along the road.

“At least they’ve left us a good track to follow,” Heyes said as Kid joined him. “With the snow all broken up by them, we should make better time. We might even catch them.”

“What I wanna catch is the waylay station. I don’t fancy spendin’ a night out in this.”

“Good point. So, we better get going.”


Darkness fought against the brightness of the snow just as the lights from the waylay station shone through the swirling flakes.

“Oh, thank goodness,” Kid breathed. “I don’t think I can feel my toes.”

Unseen horses, from the vicinity of the lean-to and paddock, whinnied a greeting to the new arrivals.

The two geldings nickered back as Heyes and Kid stiffly dismounted and approached the porch.

Before they reached it, the door opened, and a round, friendly-looking proprietor holding a lantern, greeted the new-comers.

“We certainly have a full house this evening,” he announced. “Come on in boys, the more the merrier, it seems.”

This greeting was met by two gleaming smiles.

“Thank you,” Heyes said. “We sure were glad to see your lights.”

“Ha!” The proprietor grinned at them. “I bet you were.” He turned and shouted to someone inside. “Rudy! Get out here and tend to these gentlemen’s horses.”

“Comin’, Pa!”

A young lad, around fourteen and still shuffling into his coat, brushed past his father and took charge of the two horses.

“I’ll take good care of ‘em,” the lad promised as he led the horses away. “We got more horses than usual right now, but it’s a sturdy shelter and lots a hay. With all of ‘em packed in there, they’ll keep each other warm.”

Then the lad and the two horses disappeared into the swirling white with only the sounds of welcoming whinnies indicating the location of the barn.

“There’s no point in me standin’ here heating up the outdoors,” the proprietor stepped aside. “Come in, come in. Coats and boots go in the hallway, then I’m sure you can squeeze yourselves in there close to the fire.”

“Thank you.”

The partners stepped into the light and warmth of the station and were met with a sight that stopped them in their tracks.

The long, wooden table was laid with plates upon plates of roasted meats, mashed potatoes, and root vegetables. Freshly baked bread still sent its enticing aroma throughout the house to tempt those already stuffed.

The effect on the two cold and hungry men at the door was mutually unanimous. Eyes lit up as tummies grumbled.

But that wasn’t all. A ponderosa pine stood in the common room, decorated with candles and paper chains as well as colorful ribbons, acorns and feathers.

More candles adorned every corner and mantle, bringing a warm, rich light to the room already basking from the blazing fire in the hearth.

Children sat on the carpeted floor, cutting out more decorations for the tree as they laughed and told each other Christmas stories from their home towns.

The numerous adults stood or sat on sofas or chairs, finishing dinner and drinking cider or wine. It was a jovial group, and the partners couldn’t help grinning from the infectious merriment.

“Howdy!” came the numerous greetings from the men, as they all raised their cups in a toast. “Get yourself settled in, boys. The food is great and the fire’s hot.”

A plump woman, red in the face from the heat of the stove, came out from the kitchen to replenish the vittles on the table.

“Don’t just stand there with your mouths hanging open,” she told the new-comers. “Get your coats and boots off, then come help yourself.”

“This is my wife, Mrs. Dasher,” the proprietor announced. “I’m Mr. Dasher, of course. Come, I’ll show you where to hang your coats.”

Just then the front door banged open and young Rudy tumbled inside, closing the door behind him.

“Your horses are all settled in!”

“My goodness! Just look at you.” Mrs. Dasher stood with her hands on her hips. “You get into some dry clothes then go sit by the fire and warm up.”

“Aww, Ma, I’m fine.”

“You are not fine, Rudolf. Your nose is as red as the cranberry pudding. Now go do as you’re told.”


An hour later, Heyes and Kid sat in amongst the herd of other travelers. Their tummies were full, and the fire, along with cups of warm mulled wine had warmed them up from the inside and out. They smiled contentedly while listening to the various adventures.

“Vhat a fright it vas,” Mrs. Kringle continued in her heavy German accent. “I tought for sure ve vould be stranded out dere and buried in zee snow, not to be found until spring.

“Our driver, Herr Krisston, assured us dat dis station vasn’t far avay, so I need not have vorried, but vhen zee horses got bogged down, I truly tought ve vere done for.”

“It was fun!” came the outburst from young Rachel Kringle, “We got to ride the horses in the snow!”

“Vell, dat’s true,” Mrs. Kringle nodded her head in agreement. “Herr Krisston did permit zee ladies and younger children to ride zee horses. But vy goodness, just stepping out of zee coach chilled my feet and got me all vet. I’ve never been so glad to see zee lights of dis fine abode.”

“Ve vere fine,” Mr. Kringle finally put in. “Herr Krisston knew vhat he vas doing.”

“Yes,” Krisston spoke up. “We were never in any danger. Some discomfort, I’ll grant, but I knew we would make it here before nightfall. Although, this has turned into the worst blizzard we’ve had in ages.”

“We were lucky,” Mrs. Yule stated. “Our coach arrived here before the blizzard got really bad. Thank goodness our driver decided to stay here to wait it out. I certainly would not want to be on the road in this.”

“You vere very fortunate, indeed,” Mrs. Kringle bobbed her head to emphasize. “It vas very frightening. The only thing vorse would have been Donner and Blitzen.”

Heyes frowned. “Donner and Blitzen?”


“Ah, excuse my vife,” Mr. Kringle chuckled and shook his head. “Even after all dese years, she sometimes forgets ve are in America. Donner and Blitzen, zey mean thunder and lightning in German.”

“Oh.” The partners nodded in unison.

“I don’t think you needed to worry about that, ma’am,” Kid assured her. “Not in the middle of a blizzard.”

Natürlich nicht. I vas just saying.”

“What were you fellas doing out there?”

Two sets of innocent eyes turned to the second stagecoach driver.

He stood, leaning against the mantel nursing a glass of wine as he scrutinized the two men.

“Us?” Heyes asked.

“Yes. Two men on horseback could have gotten lost out there. You were fortunate to find the stage road.”

“Fortune favors the foolish, Mr. Bow,” Kid smiled. “Like yourselves, we didn’t realize a blizzard was on its way.”


Heyes saw suspicion growing and decided that some truth wouldn’t hurt the situation.

“We have a friend in Porterville. He’s the sheriff there, Lom Travers.”

“Oh.” Bow’s eyes lit up. “Yes, I know Sheriff Travers. Fine man.”

Heyes and Kid smiled and nodded.

“Yeah,” Kid went a step further. “He asked us ta drop by for Christmas if’n we were in the area, so we thought we would.”

Suspicion hit the eyes again. “In the area? Don’t you live around here? Why would you be traveling at all this time of year?”

“We travel around a lot,” Heyes tried to keep the edge out of his tone. “We’d just finished a job for Governor Hoyt and found ourselves close by. Lom was good enough to offer us a place to stay over the holidays.”

Again, Bow’s eyes lit up. “Governor Hoyt? My, my. What are you? Federal Agents, or something?”

Heyes and Kid both laughed.

“Oh no,” Heyes assured him. “Nothing like that. We just do the occasional job for the governor’s office, that’s all.”

“Oh, yes? Like what?”

The smile left Heyes’s eyes. He was tired of this busy body.

“That’s confidential, Mr. Bow. We’re not at liberty to say.”

Bow’s brows jumped up and he pushed himself off the mantel. “Really?”

“Miss Bella!” Mrs. Gobblers’ strident tones cut through the conversation. “You get over here this instant!”

“But ma, we were just—”

“I know what you were just. Now come over here right now.”

The young girl slumped her shoulders and sauntered over to sit by her mother.

“I wasn’t doing anything.”

“You were playing cupid. Again. I thought you would have learned a lesson after the last time.”

Bella sighed, thinking her fun was over for the evening.

“Besides,” her mother continued in a whisper, “the way that young lady prances around in front of the boys, she doesn’t need your help getting their attention. She’s quite the little vixen. I would rather you stay away from her.”

“Kind of hard to in here,” Bella pointed out the obvious. “Besides, she says she wants to be a dancer not a prancer.”

“A dancer!?” Once again, Mrs. Gobblers’ voice cut through any other conversations, and all eyes turned to her. “Well,” she huffed, “why anyone would want a career upon the stage is beyond me! A dancer, indeed!”

At which point, the young lady whose virtue was in question burst into tears and ran to her mother.

Mrs. Boxing hugged her sobbing child to her and, after sending Mrs. Gobblers a scathing look, turned her back on the woman.

Mr. Boxing, on the other hand, had puffed up and was ready for a fight when Mrs. Dasher saved the day.

“Come and help yourselves, everyone!”

All eyes swiveled to the table to find that it had miraculously been cleared of all the dinner paraphernalia to be replaced by dessert bowls, and utensils, along with cups and saucers.

“Hot cranberry pudding for dessert, and coffee and brandy are on their way! We even have ice cream.”

Mumbled comments of appreciation made the rounds as everyone shuffled to their feet.

The children, hearing “ice cream” surged forward until they were stopped by Mr. Dasher’s loud baritone.

“Stop! We’ll not have a herd of children charging the table like comets from the sky. Go back to the fire and your mothers will bring desserts to you.”

A universal “aww” made the rounds, but the youngsters all did as they were told.


“Ohh, I ate too much,” Kid complained as he pushed his empty bowl away from him.

“Nobody said you had to go back for seconds.”

“Yeah, but it was so good. Besides, you went back for seconds.”

“True, but I’m trying hard not to complain about it.”

“As long as you ain’t complainin’ about it when we’re tryin’ ta sleep.”

Heyes smiled. “I think there are going to be enough distractions tonight without you worrying about me complaining.”

“Oh, yeah.”

Both men sat at the cleared-off table, facing the common room.

Most of the men stood or sat, in quiet conversation as they sipped their brandies. The women took turns reading Christmas stories to the group of youngsters who were all seated around on the floor, listening intently.

The fire still danced in the hearth, though not quite as vigorously as earlier in the evening, but it had done its job, and the room was toasty warm.

Blankets and pillows had been laid down throughout the large room with efforts made to keep family groups together and the single men off to one side. It wasn’t going to be very private, but it would have to do.

“It sure has been some Christmas, eh, Kid?”

“I’ll say. Kinda nice though, too.”


Then they noticed Mr. Bow scrutinizing them as suspicion creased his brow again.

“Ya know,” Heyes said, “it’s going to be crowded in here, maybe we should take our bedrolls and sleep in the barn.”

The front door banged open as Mr. Dasher and Rudy came in from tending the horses. The cold draft hit Heyes and Kid full on and each man cocked a brow at the other. Maybe sleeping in the barn wasn’t a good idea.

“It looks like the snow is stopping,” Dasher announced. “Perhaps tomorrow some of you younger fellas can go dig out that stagecoach and get it here. The coaches won’t be goin’ any further though, not for a couple of days.”

Groans made the rounds.

Heyes and Kid glanced at Mr. Bow.

“How about we help dig out that coach tomorrow and then be on our way.” Heyes suggested. “The coach that made it here will have left tracks that we can follow right into Porterville. The horses shouldn’t have any trouble with it.”

“I like the way you think, Heyes. Merry Christmas.”

The two men tapped their brandy glasses.

“Merry Christmas, Kid.”