Summary: As three of the Cartwrights are making their way home for Christmas, Ben becomes ill. Adam and Hoss find a rancher willing to give them refuge from the cold and snow. Little do they know, their rescuer has a connection with another journey the Cartwrights made many years earlier. Ben, Adam and Hoss find they’ve come full circle in their Christmas journeys.
Rating = K, Word Count = 8705
A/N – This is an extended version of my Advent story. When I worked on that story I had envisioned it to be a story within a story. However, I decided that type of story would be too long for the Advent Calendar, so I posted Ben’s story only. Well here is the rest of the story. Hope you enjoy it.
A Christmas Journey
Hearts of Hope
The frozen grasses crunched under the horse’s hooves. There was only a bit of snow and ice on the ground but what was there made traveling slow and hazardous through the barren countryside. Scanning the area up ahead, Adam slowed his horse to a stop. He was chilled to the bone with the sun setting and saw no place safe to settle for the night. Sport shook his head causing ice pellets to drop from his mane. Adam rubbed his mount’s neck to settle him. “I know boy, we need to get warm, and soon.” After a few minutes of staring at the bleak land ahead, Adam turned his horse around and rejoined his brother and father who waited in the shelter of some boulders.
Hoss could read his brother’s expression without any words being said. He shivered and glanced over to their father. Ben was motionless on his horse, his breathing ragged, his eyes half closed.
“Adam we gotta do somethin’. Pa needs ta get warm, or… well, we all do. Didn’t ya see anything, anything at all?”
Adam sadly shook his head. “Come on. We’ve got a bit more daylight left. There are some tree-covered hills just a few miles ahead. We can try to camp there. At least we’ll have wood to make a fire and some shelter from the cold.”
Hoss grimaced at the thought of being outside another night, but knew they had no other choice. He nudged his horse forward leading Ben’s horse. Adam led the way. By sundown they had a large fire going and Ben was resting fitfully on the ground, a deep pile of pine boughs and blankets beneath him. The brothers sat in silence, both praying for help for their ailing father. After scrounging more wood for the fire, Adam checked on his father and turned in. Hoss agreed to take the first watch.
Hoss kept the fire going and checked his father regularly. He felt so helpless. The three of them were on their way back from a cattle ranch in northern Nevada near Oregon. They had hoped to purchase some cattle to strengthen their herd but found they were going to have to wait until Spring to bring them home. An early winter storm came in fast and the Cartwrights barely got ahead of it. A few days after they left the northern ranch things began to go wrong. Another brief snowstorm was just strong enough to obscure their trail and throw them off course. Ben had started to show signs of a cold that quickly moved into his lungs. Judging by the mountains, Hoss knew they were close to the Ponderosa but couldn’t be sure just where they were.
Hoss wrapped his coat tighter around him as he added a log to the fire. It was close to Christmas and Joe would be worried. They had to find a town soon to get their father to a doctor and let their younger brother know where they were.
He looked up at the stars, which seemed as cold as the ice on the ground. “Lord, I know you’re watchin’ over us. You know how bad Pa is. Help us find a town so’s we can get him some help.” Hoss felt a hand come to rest on his shoulder. Turning he saw Adam’s eyes on him, a look of agreement for the prayer he’d just offered. The brothers exchanged places and waited out the cold night.
The sun had fully risen before the brothers began to break camp. As the sun rose higher in the sky they saddled their horses, preparing to head out. Their hearts were heavy as they mounted up, Hoss putting his father on Chubb and climbing up behind him. Adam took up Buck’s reins and headed forward. After a couple of hours, Hoss pulled his horse up and waited for Adam to catch up.
Adam tilted his hat back letting his eyes follow Hoss’ long arm. At the base of a hill was a collection of buildings.
“Looks like a farm. Let’s go.” Adam nudged Sport forward. A half hour later, they rode into the yard. The small house was in front of them, and the barn and storage buildings behind that. A door opened and a man stepped onto the porch.
“Howdy. What can I do for you?”
Adam nudged his horse closer to the house. “We’re on our way home to Virginia City but our father has taken ill. Is there a town nearby with a doctor?”
“Not that close, I’m afraid. It’s about an hour ride. I can send my foreman for the doctor. You’re welcome to stay here.” He stepped off the porch and helped the brothers get Ben into the house. It wasn’t a large home but there was a spare bedroom for them to use.
While the brothers helped Ben get into bed, the man sent his foreman into town and let his wife know they had company. After Ben was settled in the bed, Adam and Hoss went back into the living room.
“I’m Josh Samuels. My wife Sally is in the storehouse. I took the liberty to have your horses taken care of. Your bags are by the door there. I’ve got coffee on and we’ll be having dinner soon. Is your father comfortable?”
After Josh sat down the brothers followed. “Yes, he seems to be resting better. Thank you for your hospitality. I’m Adam Cartwright. This is my brother Hoss. Our father is Ben Cartwright.”
Josh’s head snapped up at the mention of the names. He studied each one so intensely it made Hoss quite nervous. “Um, is somethin’ wrong Mr. Samuels?”
Josh blinked and smiled sheepishly. “Oh no, not at all. And please call me Josh. Forgive me for being rude. It’s just that…it seems like I’ve heard your names before. And, Adam is it? You look familiar to me too.”
Adam frowned at that. “We have a ranch near Lake Tahoe. We haven’t traveled this far north before. We’ve come from a ranch near Oregon, hoping to buy some cattle. A sudden snow storm forced us to leave without the cattle and another storm caused us to lose our way on the journey home.”
Josh shook his head. “Well you really have lost your way. You’re about a day or so east of where you ought to be. Oh here comes Sally. I need to help her carry some food in from the storehouse. I’ll be right back.”
Hoss stood and paced the room. “Well, that explains a lot. I thought them mountains looked further away than they oughta be. Adam we need to let Joe know where we are. Don’t look like we’ll make it for Christmas. We cain’t travel anyways till Pa gets better.” He turned to get Adam’s thoughts and found Adam staring at the fireplace. “Adam? Did ya hear?”
“Hmm? Oh, sorry Hoss. I heard you but I’ve been trying to figure out how Josh can know us, or rather me.” He looked up at Hoss. “You know, his name does sound familiar to me too but I just can’t place it.”
At that moment Josh returned and introduced his wife to the brothers. She announced that dinner was ready. Hoss took a moment to check on Ben then joined everyone at the table. After a filling meal, the men returned to the living room to enjoy coffee and cake while Sally cleaned up the dishes.
Josh broke the silence with an intriguing question. “Adam, I’ve been thinking. Did you ever travel in a wagon?”
Hoss looked over at Josh then at Adam. Adam’s face registered a look of surprise and Hoss knew Josh had struck on something.
Adam answered slowly, almost cautiously. “Yes, when I was quite young. My father, Hoss and I were traveling west from Nebraska.”
Josh grew more animated and leaned forward in his chair. “I knew it! Do you remember stopping at a small town and staying with a man that fixed wagons? His name was Joseph Samuels. His wife was Mary and they had a little boy about six years old. I was that little boy. If I recall, your father was sick or something like that.”
Adam’s eyes widened as the memory flowed into his mind. “I do remember. Your father took us in. I was about six or seven then.” He turned to Hoss. “You were a baby at the time.” Adam’s expression suddenly grew serious. “It was just a few months after Inger had died and Pa was, well, not in the best of shape.”
Sally soon joined the men after reporting that Ben seemed to be sleeping well and breathing better. She left the bedroom door cracked in case he awoke.
Adam grew silent. Hoss looked between the two men, then spoke to his brother, “Adam ain’t ya gonna tell me what happened?”
Before Adam could respond, there was a knock on the door. Sally answered it and admitted the doctor. He was shown to the room where Ben was as Adam and Hoss followed. As the brothers stood by the door, Hoss leaned over and whispered to Adam, “Seems our prayer got answered, brother.” Hoss saw a smile break through Adam’s frown as he watched the doctor hovering over their father.
Out in the living room the doctor gave his report. “Your father is very lucky gentlemen. He’s got a low fever, which seems to be getting better. His lungs are a bit congested but that should clear up with the poultices. It seems to be just a bad cold. A few days of rest here and he’ll be good as new. Especially,” he smiled at Sally, “with the help of Sally’s chicken soup.”
He shook Adam’s and Hoss’ hands. “I’ll return tomorrow to check on your father.”
Adam followed him out to his buggy. “Doctor, thank you for your services. I was wondering if you would mind sending this telegram for me. We need to let our brother know of our delay.” Adam held out a slip of paper and money to him.
“I’d be pleased to, but put your money away Mr. Cartwright. You don’t need to pay me for the visit or sending the message. It’s Christmas after all.” He climbed into his buggy and gave Adam a smile and a wink before driving away.
Grateful for the generosity, Adam went back into the house. He wanted to spend some time with his father before supper was served.
Adam sat near the bed trying to read some poetry but his thoughts kept drifting to another time when he was much younger and his father wasn’t sick but deep in grief. Adam saw Ben open his eyes once but not speak. Leaning forward, Adam explained about the illness and that they were at a farm. Ben smiled and drifted back into a deep sleep. Adam began to relax, feeling a sense that all would be well. There was something special about the Samuels and Adam found his thoughts focused on the connections between his memories and the present situation.
After supper, Ben awoke again but he was very weak. Hoss and Adam spoke with him before Sally shooed them out so she could feed him some broth. They watched the gentle scene as Sally spoke quietly to Ben, encouraging him to take each spoonful. Smiling, the brothers returned to the living room. Josh offered them some brandy.
Hoss waited a moment then asked Adam his question, “Adam, how come neither you nor Pa ever mentioned the Samuels? You gonna tell me how you met?”
Adam raised his eyes and gazed at his brother over the top of his glass. One side of his face rose into a half smile. “I don’t know Hoss. I was pretty young and we went through a lot more before Pa finally bought his first piece of land.” He stared off into the fire to collect his thoughts. “If I recall it was near Christmas then too, when we met your family, Josh. Pa was lost in his grief over Inger, and we were desperate to find a warm place to stay……”
Twenty-five years earlier:
Snow crunched under the horses’ hooves and the wagon wheels. The day’s fading light cast somber shadows across the forlorn landscape. The overcast sky promised more snow very soon. Hunched over on the wagon seat, wrapped up against the frosty air, the reins held loosely in his gloved hands, Ben Cartwright stared off into the distance. His coal black eyes a mirror to the darkness of his soul. Huddled down in the depths of the wagon, Ben’s six year old son Adam tried to keep his baby brother warm. He’d used all the blankets and bags he could find but still both boys shivered as the wagon rocked this way and that over the frozen terrain.
It had been a hard few months for young Adam and his family. Seeing the only mama he’d known die right in front of him still brought fear to his dreams. After she was buried his father decided they needed to push on to Fort Laramie hoping the larger wagon train would still be there. Adam remembered the excitement of seeing the fort, only to have all hopes dashed as they had learned the other train had left them behind once again. It was then that Adam saw the greatest change in his father.
Ben argued with the other families that he was not going to give up his dream. He had suffered too much to put it on hold for another six months. His boys needed a real home and by the good Lord’s hand they were going to get it. With that he packed his wagon with supplies, loaded up his boys and headed out of the fort to the southwest, away from the Oregon trail. Adam saw a hard set to his father’s jaw and knew nothing would dissuade him from his decision so he tried to be as helpful as he could be in hopes of making their journey into the unknown better for his father.
Adam had been keeping track of the days and now, in the rocking wagon his eyes focused on the marks he’d carved in the frame. His eyes widened when he realized they were just two days from Christmas. Feeling the wagon come to a halt, Adam gently laid his sleeping brother down and slithered over their supply bags to the front opening of the canvas cover. He poked his head through and peeked around his father’s arm.
“Pa, is everything alright? Are we stopping for the night?” he asked timidly.
Silence. Adam was used to that. He climbed up onto the seat and looked all around. What he saw made his heart sink. The landscape was bleak with a few inches of ice and snow on the ground. Tufts of wild grass sprouted everywhere but not a tree was insight. After a moment he noticed tiny snowflakes falling and stinging his tender face. He looked up into his father’s face hoping to see…what…he wasn’t sure. All he saw were the dark, lonely eyes he’d grown accustomed to since Inger had died.
“Pa, it’s snowing. Don’t we need to find some shelter soon? Hoss’ll be waking up and ready to eat. Pa?”
More silence but at least Ben turned his head to look at his son. Adam smiled at his father then looked up to the gray sky. Please God, take care of us. Bring a smile back to my Pa’s face. Please?
Adam dropped his head to quickly remove the few tears that had formed. When he looked up he saw a glimmer of light off to the side. The more he watched it the brighter it grew. He finally figured out that it must be a town and as the dull winter light faded, the town’s lights grew brighter.
“Pa, look. I see a town. Look Pa!”
Ben seemed to come out of his stupor and looked to where his son was pointing. He nodded and turned the horses in that direction. Adam slipped back into the back of the wagon to stay with Hoss and keep him warm. As they came to the bottom of a hill, Ben stopped the wagon once again. The snow was coming down hard and it was getting hard to see. The final jerk of the wagon woke Hoss up so Adam brought Hoss up to the seat to be with his father. He looked around and could see the lights of the town; they were so close. It wasn’t a very big town but he could hear a few people shouting and laughing. He didn’t understand why his Pa had stopped.
Slowly Adam took the reins out of his Pa’s stiff hands and laid them on the seat. Then he slid Hoss’s wrapped body into his Pa’s arms. Ben took the bundle and held it tight next to him. Adam took up the reins and flicked them gently across the horse’s backs. The horses were tired but even they seemed to know that they were near something good. They willingly moved forward pulling the worn wagon closer and closer to the town.
By the time they reached the edge of town several inches of snow covered the ground making it difficult for the wagon to roll. The first place Adam came to was a small barn and house. The rusting sign said “Livery and Blacksmith”. Neither looked sturdy enough to withstand the snowfall or protect the horses but Adam didn’t care. He was nearly frozen and worried for his father and baby brother. He pulled the team to a stop, set the brake and wound the long reins around the post by the seat. Seeing a light in a window he shouted to see if anyone would come.
After a few moments a door flew open and a man ran out and through the deepening snow. Gloved hands quickly pulled Adam down. The man then turned to take the baby from Ben’s arms. After taking the two children into the tiny house he went back outside and returned within a few minutes with Ben leaning heavily on him. While the man went back out to take care of the horses and wagon, a woman and little boy helped Adam and his father and brother get warm by the fire.
All Adam could remember from that night was the warm fire and some warm soup. After they ate Adam and Ben shared the only bed in the tiny home. Little Hoss was placed in a well-padded crate near the fire. Adam thought how good it felt to snuggle next to his father. He closed his eyes, said a silent prayer of thanks, and was soon fast asleep nestled in the crook of his Pa’s arm. An hour later only the glow from the fireplace and the stove filled the single-room home as six people slept soundly. The snowfall had ceased outside and the heavy gray clouds parted to allow a bright moon and stars to shine down on the frosty landscape and the little house.
Quiet voices and the smell of eggs cooking awoke Adam. When he stirred Ben also awoke. Father and son looked at each other then moved to sit on the edge of the bed. Hoss, who sat happily in the crate, noticed their movement and immediately tried to get to them. Adam jumped up to keep Hoss from tipping the crate and picked him up. The two hugged then Adam handed Hoss to his Pa. The lady cheerfully called them all over to the kitchen to get some breakfast.
“Good morning,” she spoke softly as the threesome joined the little boy at the small table in the kitchen. “I hope you slept well. I have plenty of eggs and some milk for the children. Coffee will be ready in a moment for you sir. Oh, dear, where are my manners. I’m Mary Samuels and this is my son Joshua.” She indicated the boy sitting beside Adam. Ben noted that Joshua had light brown hair, like his mother, and dark eyes which seemed to smile on their own.
Ben nodded his head and introduced his family. “I’m Ben Cartwright. These are my sons Adam and Eric, whom we also call Hoss. I thank you and your husband, Mrs. Samuels, for helping us last night and for sharing your food with us.” He glanced around the small structure wondering how much of a hardship it was on the family to help his family. “The eggs and coffee smell wonderful. I don’t mean to be ungrateful, but after breakfast, my sons and I will be on our way, and not be any more of a burden to you.”
Adam’s heart sank at those words. He nearly protested when Mrs. Samuels spoke up. “Mr. Cartwright, believe me when I say it is no burden at all to have you and your sons with us. It is our greatest desire to help anyone who needs it. Besides, although the snow has stopped falling, it is quite deep. My husband is outside now clearing a path to the barn and checking the animals. I’m afraid you won’t be able to go anywhere for a few days at least. Please, for the sake of the children, would you consider being our guests for Christmas?”
Adam watched his father’s face change expressions many times while Mrs. Samuels spoke. But her last statement brought a look of pure surprise and sadness.
“Christmas? I’m sorry. I – I didn’t realize it was so soon.” Ben looked down at his boys, attempting to hide his shock that he’d nearly missed an important celebration. It pained him that he wouldn’t have anything to give them, especially Adam, this year.
“Oh yes, it’s tomorrow in fact.” She served the meal then sat on a stool at the stove to eat her own meal. “The snow caught us a bit by surprise but Joseph, my husband, is still planning to go to the mercantile later this morning. He’s taking Joshua with him to do a bit of shopping. You and your son, Adam, would be most welcome to join him. I’d be more than pleased to watch the little one if you like.”
Ben didn’t quite know what to say but agreed anyway, which put a huge grin on Adam’s face. The excitement of a trip to town gave Adam a bigger appetite and they ate the rest of their breakfast in silence.
When Joseph Samuels returned to the house introductions were made once more. Young Joshua Samuels was nearly the same age as Adam so the boys played well by the fire with some toy horses, and they included Hoss when they could. Ben asked to speak to Joseph outside. The welcoming expression on Joseph’s tanned face gave Ben the courage to say what he needed to say. He explained about their travels and that he had a few supplies he was willing to share, but that he had no gifts for the holiday. He asked if the store might take some items on trade.
Joseph studied the ground for a while. He could easily see the position this man was in and also had noted the sorrow hidden behind his eyes. This man had some tragedy in his life that seemed to have diminished his hope in life. He saw it in the young lad too but the hope there seemed to be fighting to get out. Joseph was getting a sense of what he needed to do. He spoke in a gentle voice, “Mr. Cartwright…may I call you Ben?” Ben nodded. “Ben, times are hard for us all one time or another. I’ve learned to trust in the Lord for all things. He seems to always provide no matter what the circumstances.”
Joseph led the way to the barn, indicating for Ben to follow. “I’ve some scraps of wood here that can only be chopped for kindling but I’ve enough of that to last quite a while. You’re welcome to use what you like if you need to. The store will take items on trade. But actually, I’d be interested to see what you have as there could be some things I, or Mary, could use.”
Ben showed Joseph some tools he had and a few furs he’d kept when he’d hunted for food during their travels.
“Ben, why don’t you keep the tools? You might need them on your journey. The furs, however, are some of the best I’ve seen. We have hunters here that bring furs to trade, and we trade with the local Indians. If you and I can agree on a price I’d like to buy a couple from you. The rest you can trade in town if you like.”
Ben was taken aback at Joseph’s sincerity and offer. Something about the family’s willingness to help gave his pause. Having observed the size and condition of the house, Ben wouldn’t have expected this family to have extra money to spend. He shrugged off his concerns and began to discuss the furs. After some negotiating, and with a warm handshake, the two men agreed on a price. Ben was pleased to now have a little money to spend on his sons for Christmas. The rest he thought best to put back for future use.
After concluding their business, Joseph went to check on the horses. “I’ve noticed your horses are a strong breed. With some rest and good feed they should do fine to take you further on your journey but your wagon could do with some repairs. Maybe we can talk of that after the holiday tomorrow. Right now we need to get to the store. This afternoon I’ll be going out to collect some greenery for the house. Would you care to join me in finding a small tree?”
Ben’s heart was filled with so many conflicting emotions. He didn’t want to let Adam down, especially at Christmas, but his heart was too full of pain to let any joy in. Thanks to the help from the Samuels, he now had the option to sell some of his furs. This gave him a tiny bit of hope for the future. At least he and his sons wouldn’t starve. But it was still so difficult to get excited about Christmas. Not wanting to appear rude to his host, he reluctantly agreed to help Joseph find a tree. A warm smile lit Joseph’s face as he gently patted Ben on the back. One step at a time, my new friend, he thought as the two men walked back to the house.
Adam had been so excited to ride in a sleigh he nearly got himself into trouble with his father for forgetting his manners. Once he and Josh were settled in the back seat under warm blankets and with heated bricks under their feet, Joseph clicked the reins and set off for the center of town. The town itself was actually quite small. There were a few stores, a bank, some repair shops and a saloon/hotel/restaurant.
“We seem to be on a path for homesteaders, trappers and Indians. Some folks pass through and others decide to stay. Each year it seems we get just a little bit bigger. The Indians around here are relatively peaceful and we kind of leave each other alone.”
Ben listened to Joseph’s descriptions of the town and people with half interest. He had seen it so many times before. Some of the towns made it and some died a slow death. He sighed deeply and looked around, wondering what would become of this little place in the future. That’s when he noticed that something about this little town was different. He was drawn out of his melancholy thoughts as he heard Adam and Joshua talk about the different Christmas decorations they saw in the windows. That was it, Ben thought. This was the first town he’d encountered that truly decorated for Christmas. He saw candles in the windows, ribbons around signs, even a bit of greenery here and there.
Joseph pulled the sleigh up beside the mercantile. When everyone was out he helped Ben carry the furs inside. The boys scampered off to look at treats and toys in the small shop. As their fathers took care of their business, Josh looked at tin whistles and candy while Adam looked at books. Josh also saw him looking at some pipe tobacco. He wandered over and teased him about that.
“Adam, you’re not big enough for tobacco. My papa doesn’t even like it in the house.”
“It’s not for me, Josh. My Pa likes to smoke a pipe at night but he hasn’t been able to get any tobacco for a long time.”
Josh didn’t know what to do about Adam’s sadness, so he tried to cheer him up. “Come on, let’s go look at the whistles. I’m hoping my papa will get me one for Christmas.”
Adam followed Josh but kept looking back at the tobacco. Josh started thinking about that and the money he had in my pocket. When Adam wandered over to the books again, Josh found his Papa and told him about Adam’s interest in the tobacco and books. Joseph listened with a thoughtful look in his eye, then sent Josh to tell Adam they would be leaving soon. When Ben found Adam he gave him some money from the fur sale and told him to spend it however he liked. Adam’s face brightened as he ran off to find Josh.
Seeing his son so happy brought a bit of warmth to Ben’s heart. He started looking around the store and his eyes fell on a lovely lace shawl. His heartache returned as it sank in that he had no one to buy that for. Oh Inger, I miss you so much. You would love this little town. How I wish you were here with me now. Ben quickly turned another way and found a section of books. While he scanned the titles, Adam was picking out a special gift for his father.
At home, Mary had fixed everyone a good stew and made some special cookies. She had also put some greenery and ribbons around the little house. When the men and boys returned from town, Adam immediately thanked Mr. Samuels for the trip and gave his Pa a big hug. He then went to greet Hoss and play with Josh by the fire until called to dinner.
After dinner, the boys agreed to rest for a bit while Ben and Joseph went in search for a tree and greenery. After their rest, Adam and Josh helped Mary pop corn and string it to hang on the tree later. The men found a perfect little tree quickly and returned to a warm house filled with the scents of popped corn, cinnamon cookies and coffee. The evening, after supper, was spent decorating the tree and consuming cookies, and what was left of the popped corn. Afterward, everyone settled by the fire to listen to the Christmas story. Joseph took down the family Bible and began to read.
When he reached the part about the angels Adam sat a bit straighter and held his brother a bit tighter. This was his favorite part.
…..”And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men….”*
That Christmas Eve, Josh and his parents slept in the kitchen by the stove. Adam shared the bed with his Pa, and Hoss slept by the fire. A strange sound woke Josh up in the night. He lay real still and listened. It was Adam and it sounded like he was crying and talking to someone.
“God, I want to thank you for this family that is helping us. I hope you will bless them real good. I know Hoss and I will be okay now but I don’t think Pa will be. Can you help him to smile again? I’ve seen him give little smiles but I don’t think it’s enough. I sure do miss Mama. She could get him to smile a lot, but I know she’s with you now. Let her know we’re doing okay, will you? Amen.”
Saddened by what he’d overheard from his friend, Josh snuggled next to his Mama, grateful for her warmth, but he quickly realized Adam didn’t have that same feeling. It made him sad but then he came up with an idea. This Christmas he could share his mama with Adam. Soon Josh went back to sleep content with his planned gift for his friend.
In the darkened house, Ben lay staring at the ceiling. He’d been aware of Adam’s prayer. It was breaking his heart knowing he was letting his sons down. The air was warm and the thought occurred to Ben that Joseph must have gotten up during the night to rebuild the fire. Unable to sleep, Ben silently left the bed, bundled up and slipped outside. As he made his way to the barn, he noticed that a few inches of new snow had fallen. Stopping at the barn door, Ben’s attention was drawn to a quarter moon edging toward the distant mountains to the west. He leaned against the tall corral fence and stared at the bright light it emitted. The fresh powdery snow glistened like all the stars above but the beauty of it was lost on Ben.
From deep inside him something shook violently. Knowing what it was, Ben gave into it. Soon he was sobbing uncontrollably. Months of pain, loneliness, fear, and anger came rushing out. It was a flood of all he’d kept inside, for his sons’ sakes, but could contain no more. When the torrent of emotions slowed to a trickle, Ben took some deep breaths, rested his head on his arms and bade his body to relax.
“Oh Inger, my world is so dark without you. How will I go on?”
After releasing all that was tormenting him, Ben felt a tendril of warmth creeping around his heart; the cold no longer seemed to bother him. Suddenly aware of a warmth outside his body he raised his head and noticed a faint glow surrounding him, replacing the glow of the moon. His heart quickened as some of that warmth covered his hands. Turning, he gasped at the face before him. “Inger?”
“Ya Benjamin, it is me.”
He opened his mouth but could not speak his thoughts.
Inger laughed and placed her warm hand to his cheek. “Oh my sweet Ben. How I have missed you.” Her smile faded just a touch as she studied his sunken features and sad eyes.
“Inger, how….can you be here? Oh my love I’ve missed you terribly.” He reached for her but she stepped back.
“Shh, Ben. You cannot touch me but ‘feel’ that I am here.” Her hands hovered over his again, warming them from the cold. “I have come because it’s Christmas, and to bring you a gift. I know you have struggled so much these last months. Oh Ben your burden has been great but my dear Ben you need to let go of it, all of it.”
“Let go of what? Inger I….don’t understand.”
“Ya, I think you do, Ben. Your fears, your pain. Ben I have never left you, and God has never left you. You must realize you are not alone on this journey.” She raised her hand to point to the stars. “This will be the sign to you my love. You taught me how you use the stars as a guide. But Ben, you have your faith too, and with faith comes hope. Let them guide you as well.”
Ben’s mind was a whirlwind of thoughts but as he focused on Inger’s lilting voice, his mind calmed and his heart beat to the rhythm of her words.
“Inger, I…it’s too painful. The boys need a…..”
Inger smiled at him, her blue eyes twinkling like the starlight around them. “Ben, Adam and Hoss need you, my love. You have all you need inside you to love them. Your faith is strong Ben. That is all you need to go on. I will be ever near and watching all of you my love.”
Ben stared at Inger, soaking in all of her features until he realized she had faded away and all he could see was the moon’s glow in front of him.
Ben breathed out, “No…Inger, no….” He stood rooted to the spot hoping to see her once more.
Inside the house, Adam tossed and turned, then cried out, “Pa! Mama!” Opening his eyes, he saw Joseph sitting beside him but not his own father. “Pa!” Adam clambered out of the bed past Joseph and ran toward the door. He hesitated for a moment when he heard Hoss cry out. Adam’s eyes flicked over to Hoss, who was trying to climb out of the crate, and back to the door.
Joseph saw the conflict on the young boy’s face. “Go on Adam, go to your Pa. I’ll take care of Hoss.”
Adam hesitated but a moment, then pulled the door open and ran outside. When he saw his father leaning against the corral fence, he struggled through the snow to reach him. Ben was startled to feel small arms wrapped around his legs. Looking down he saw Adam’s tear-stained face peering up at him.
Ben dropped to his knees in the snow and pulled his son to his chest. His heart beat fiercely at the feel of his son’s small body next to his.
“Pa, I didn’t know where you were. I had a bad dream but then I saw Mama Inger. Oh Pa, I was afraid she had taken you with her.” He sobbed into his father’s chest.
Ben eyes widened. What did Adam mean, he saw his stepmother? Ben looked up to the stars and saw one shoot across the sky.
“Pa?” Adam whispered.
Ben heard Inger’s words in his heart. A sign, a sign of his faith. Ben lowered his eyes and saw the questioning look from his son, but saw something else. Hope perhaps?
He took Adam’s sweet face gently into his hands. “I’m here son, and I’m not going anywhere. Your mama is with us too, never far away from us.” Ben wrapped his arms around Adam and stood up. “Let’s go inside, son. It’s Christmas Day and we have some celebrating to do.”
Adam hugged his Pa’s neck tightly, then rested his chin on Ben’s shoulder as they headed back to the house. Adam saw the moon begin to sink behind the mountains, but then a soft glow obscured it. He raised his head, about to alert his Pa, when the sound of sweet laughter stopped him. He smiled and watched as the glow and laughter faded away, to reveal the moon once more. Adam whispered, “Merry Christmas Mama.”
Ben heard his son and his heart was filled with a hope that he could go on. That was the gift Inger spoke of – the gift of Hope. As long as he had his sons with him, and kept his eyes up, he could go on.
Upon entering the home, Ben stood for a moment taking in the scene before him. Mary and Joshua were placing treats on the table, Joseph stood by the fireplace grinning, as Hoss crept, slithered and crawled toward his father. Still holding Adam, Ben squatted down and scooped Hoss into his free arm. Ben looked to his sons, his dark eyes alight with love. He whispered something to Adam which brought a grin and fierce nod of his head. At the sound of his father’s voice, Hoss gurgled and clapped his chubby hands.
“Merry Christmas to one and all!!” they shouted in unison.
A warm Spring breeze caressed Ben’s face and blew through his graying hair. It had been a full day since he, Adam and Hoss said farewell to the Samuels family. He drove the wagon forward, keeping the ever growing mountains in front of him.
Adam climbed up onto the seat beside his father giving him a crooked smile and a cocked eyebrow.
“Is your brother asleep?”
“Yes sir. Sleeping like a baby, Pa.”
Ben chuckled and smiled as he handed the reins to his young son. After giving his Pa a smile, Adam adopted a serious look and focused his eyes on the team and the road ahead.
Confident that he had a few moment’s break from driving the team, Ben reached under the seat to retrieve his journal. It fell open naturally to a blank page awaiting a new entry. Ben set his pencil to the page and began to write:
“After Christmas, we stayed with Joseph and his family until Spring. Joseph and I became close friends, as did Adam and Josh. Mary became like a mother to my boys, loving them as her own and spoiling them with her cooking. I helped Joseph where I could but he actually helped me more. I learned a lot about wagon care and repairs, blacksmithing, and raising boys. I also learned about generosity. Joseph let me work alongside him but would never allow me to pay him for his hospitality and care. When Spring arrived he set us up with a brand new wagon and team. He said our own horses were good but wouldn’t get us to the end of our journey. I tried to explain we couldn’t take the new team but he told me it was a gift, a gift to ensure his friends would get to their destination safely. As we bid farewell and headed west, one of Joseph’s sayings came to me. He said that what they give away comes back to them in other ways.”
Ben looked up from his writing and pride filled his heart, seeing how well his son was guiding the team. He patted Adam on his leg, cleared his throat and began to read the latest journal entry to his son. When he finished, he put the book away and took the reins from Adam. Ben couldn’t help but smile at the studious expression on his young son’s face. He knew Adam was working through something and his question would be forthcoming. Ben didn’t have to wait long.
“Pa? What did Mr. Samuels mean when he said that what they give away comes back to them?”
Ben pondered that question for a moment then answered his son. “Well, Adam, I think it means that as we seek to help others, God sees fit to help us in ways we might not expect. Giving of ourselves to help others brings blessings to us and to those we help.”
“Well, I think Mr. Samuels is gonna get a lot of blessings for the way he helped us.” Adam thought for a moment then continued. “Pa, I hope we can help others the way Mr. Samuels helped us.”
Ben grinned and ruffled his son’s dark hair. “Well, we can certainly try, can’t we son.”
“Sure can Pa. Pa? Will we see Josh and his family again?”
“I don’t know, son. Anything’s possible I guess, but I truly don’t know, Adam.”
With that, Ben turned his attention to driving the team and Adam returned to the back of the wagon to spend time reading and watching his little brother.
The lone wagon continued on its trek westward toward the Sierra Nevada mountains and the new home this father and his two sons would eventually have.
Adam’s voice trailed off as he finished the story. All was silent in the small room, only the crackling of the fire filled the silence. Hoss took a deep breath and nudged his brother.
“Thanks for tellin’ the story Adam. I never knew it got that hard for you an’ Pa. It was a mighty special blessing God gave us in finding Joseph and his family.”
Adam smiled softly at Josh. “Yeah, it sure was.”
Later that evening, a ranch hand brought a message from town. It was a response from Joe. While he was disappointed that he would be alone for Christmas he was glad that his family was safe and would return home soon. After sharing the story with Hoss and Josh, Adam went to stay with his father. He had fallen asleep in the chair and was awakened by the morning sun. It was Christmas Eve. Clearing the sleep from his eyes, Adam found his father looking at him with a soft smile.
“It seems the tables are turned for us, son.”
Adam chuckled. “Yeah, I guess so. How are you feeling?”
“Much better than I was. How long have we been here, and where is here?”
“Only a day, Hoss and I found this farm yesterday morning. It was a Godsend Pa. We were lost and freezing when it was there right in front of us. The doctor came out from town and said you were on the mend. You just need some good old-fashioned rest. We should be on our way home in a couple of days.”
Ben didn’t miss the sad look cross his son’s face. “Adam, what is it? What are you not telling me?”
“It’s nothing Pa. It’s just that it’s Christmas Eve. We won’t be home for Christmas.” Seeing his father’s concern he added, “Don’t worry. I asked the doctor to send a telegram to Joe. Joe got word back to us. He’s disappointed, of course, but glad we’re alright. We’ll just have to celebrate a bit late, that’s all.” Adam tried to sound cheerful about the situation.
Ben didn’t buy it so waited until Adam told him about Josh Samuels. Ben was stunned by the news that they were once again helped by this family. All he could do was give up a silent prayer of thanks. He locked eyes with his son. Adam spoke in a husky voice what both were thinking, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for some have entertained angels unaware.”**
Ben eyes brightened as he nodded, then something else caught his attention. “I seem to smell something good cooking outside.”
Adam smiled that his father was on the mend. “I’ll go see and bring something back for you.”
Ben nodded and closed his eyes as he sank back into the pillows.
In the kitchen, Adam found breakfast was ready. Sally tried to get him to eat but he insisted on taking breakfast to his father first. Adam carried the plate and utensils and Hoss followed carrying a cup of coffee. The brothers sat with Ben while he ate then returned to the kitchen for their own meal. After breakfast Josh and the brothers went to get a tree for Christmas while Ben slept and Sally did some baking.
By midday, the men had returned to find the doctor about to leave the house. They had found a small tree that would fit in the living room so Josh set it up while Adam and Hoss spoke with the doctor at his buggy. He was happy to report that Ben would recover fully. The doctor said he wouldn’t be back out so wished everyone a merry Christmas and the Cartwrights a safe journey home.
Inside, Sally had chicken stew, frosted cookies and hot cider ready for the men. She took some to Ben too. After everyone warmed up they decorated the tree and hung some greenery over the windows. By evening, Ben joined everyone at the table for a special dinner and singing of some carols, then Josh brought out the family Bible. He opened it to the passages of the Christmas story and began to read. Everyone sat silently after Josh finished. He looked up from the Bible and saw Ben staring at him. Josh remembered those dark eyes had always fascinated him. He never could discern what was behind them.
“Adam has told me that your father was the one who took us in so many years ago. I would like to thank you and your wife for taking us in now, when we needed it the most.”
“Mr. Cartwright, it is my pleasure that our paths have crossed again. When you left I felt I’d never see my friend again.” He glanced over at Adam.
Ben’s dark eyes now were dancing as he glanced at his son then he turned them toward Josh. “I’ve never forgotten that time nor any of what your father taught me.”
Josh nodded and lowered his head. He knew his father had so much to give others, and he kept seeing it come back to him. Now, all these years later, one powerful time had come full circle.
“Josh, are your parents still in town? I’d be pleased to see them again.”
Josh looked up, a sadness in his eyes. “I’m sorry Mr. Cartwright. They both passed away a few years ago. When that happened I sold the business, and Sally and I moved out here just a couple of years ago. We’re getting the place in shape and plan to buy horses soon. We want to raise good riding and cattle horses for the other ranches around here. Papa and Mama would have loved to have seen you all one more time. They always wondered if you ever found your dream, sir.”
Ben nodded. “I did.” He glanced at his sons and smiled. “We did. The Ponderosa, on the shores of Lake Tahoe. I hope you and Sally will come see us some time. You’ll always be welcome.”
Josh took Sally’s hand. “We’d be glad too, as soon as the weather warms up.”
Everyone laughed and enjoyed more cider and cookies in front of a dancing fire.
A few days later, the Cartwrights were heading home. The sky was a deep blue, the air was crisp, and the mountains in the distance were white with snow. Josh gave the family a pack horse loaded with food and supplies, to make sure they had all they needed to get home. Just before the end of the year, three men and four horses rode into the yard of the Ponderosa, and were warmly greeted by the youngest Cartwright.
Six months later, several men rode into the Samuels’ ranch with a stallion and half a dozen mares. The note only said, “What we give away comes back in other ways.” ~ Ben C.
Josh smiled as the horses were released into the corral. With gratitude and a renewed hope, he took in the ranch around him, and looked up into the bright summer sky. Almost a hundred miles away, three men paused in their work on their ranch to look up at the mountains surrounding them and enjoy the azure blue of the sky. Paths had crossed and friendships were forged on two separate Christmas Journeys.
*Luke 2:8-14 (King James Version)
**Hebrews 3:2 (King James Version)