The Next Step...
Chapter 117 -
A Tearful Christmas
Written by Deanne Bertram
awaited Micah and Hattie’s return from Denver as he paced back and forth
on the platform at the train depot’ holding his rifle in the crook of
his arm while rubbing his hands together, berating himself for
forgetting his gloves.
Upon hearing the
train whistle in the distance, Mark looked at the train station clock
and noted the train was a half hour late.
“See, I told you
North Fork would survive without you,” teased Mark as he helped Hattie
to the platform and offered to take their luggage.
“That remains to be
seen,” Micah teased back.
“Mark you were right,
Denver was so much fun. The wives and ladies at the agency had me going
every which way one could,” declared Hattie. “I didn’t have a chance to
miss all of you, until we stepped back on the train. Oh, and the
“The shops?! You
should say the shopping! We’ve a chest in the baggage car for
everything she purchased,” smiled Micah.
“Well Christmas is a
little over a week away; I bet you both did a lot of Christmas
“You’ll just have to
wait until Christmas morning, just like everyone else,” replied a
Mark borrowed a flat
cart to load the luggage and accompanied Hattie and Micah to the safety
of their home.
“Won’t you come in
for a moment?” asked Hattie, removing her heavy shawl and gloves.
“Sure, I can spare a
few minutes,” replied Mark.
As Micah removed
their luggage from the cart, Mark saw the case, “Micah, what’s this?”
“It’s my newest
shotgun,” Micah replied with pride.
“So, Hattie wasn’t
the only one who went shopping up in Denver,” teased Mark.
“No sir, this is
compliments from my colleagues,” boasted Micah.
Micah carried the
case to the dining room table and opened it, Mark let out a whistle upon
seeing the weapon.
“A one barrel
shotgun?” asked Mark. “That doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Micah emptied the
“Five?” queried Mark.
“But how does it
feed?” a perplexed Mark asked as he took the shotgun in hand.
Micah smiled as he
informed Mark, “It’s a pump action. Put one hand here,” he pointed “and
pull it towards you, then fire. The spent cartridge ejects when you
‘pump’ the next round in.”
“Pretty slick. And you don’t have any trouble operating it?”
“Guess I’ve always
seen my arm as useless, but the guys up there pointed out to me just how
much I use it without realizing it. This beauty is something to behold
and fire,” Micah commented as he took the weapon back and rubbed his
hands over the varnished wood stock.
“It sure is
something…” Mark smiled, seeing a hint of the younger Micah Torrance
standing in front of him. “Well, I best be getting home, let you two
In eager anticipation
of Christmas, some of the schoolchildren were talking during lunch
recess of their Christmas’ past. As each child told of some of their
special memories, their classmates listened intently. When it was
Myra’s turn, she told the others of how the previous year she saw her
Mama kissing Santa Claus.
“There ain’t no such
thing as Santa Claus! You’re such a baby!” Bobby Bolton taunted as he
and a group of other boys came up behind the group of younger children.
“Myra McCain, a baby…believing in Santa Claus! There ain’t no Santa!”
“There is too!” Myra
called back as she stood to her feet, fists clinched.
A number of other
boys who hung around Bobby Bolton started laughing, pointing their
fingers towards Myra, and continued to taunt her.
With tears forming
her eyes, Myra ran from the school grounds as Percy Bullock and Isaiah
Cooperton stepped from the schoolhouse.
“What’s this all
about?!” Percy demanded.
“The baby believes in
Santa Claus!” Bobby harshly taunted, folding double in laughter and
slapping his knee.
demanded, catching every student by surprise. “Bobby, Cory, Marcus, you
three just gave up the rest of your recess. Inside and open your
readers to page 56. I expect you to be able to answer my questions on
the next chapter by the end of school today.”
“What for? We ain’t
done nothing wrong,” Marcus called. “Everybody knows there ain’t no
Santa. Only babies believe in something that ain’t real.”
“You will do as
instructed or I will also keep you after school and give you extra
assignments for the duration of the semester.” Percy pointed the three
boys back to the schoolhouse.
After watching the
three enter, Percy turned to look at the other students who gathered
“Mr. Bullock?” Anna
“Is what them boys
say true? There’s no Santa Claus?”
“I take it that all
of you want to know the answer?” Percy asked as he saw the inquiring and
unsure looks on the faces of the children. They nodded in response.
“Why don’t you follow
me over to the tree,” Percy walked to sit down on the bench under the
tree in front of the schoolhouse and motioned for the students have a
“Santa Claus, Saint Nicklaus…
He goes by so many names,” Percy mused.
“Is he real?” Anna asked.
“Maybe you should know a little
bit more about him; not just that he brings presents. It was the Dutch
settlers who came to America in the 17th century, who
introduced us to Santa Claus, only they called him Sinter Klaas. And,
over the decades, Sinter Klaas became very dear to the children of the
American settlers and je became very much a part of our Christmas
tradition. But as the years passed, and he knew he was soon to be
“You mean he died?” Charlie
“Yes, the original Sinter Klaas
died… See there is only so much happiness that he could provide
throughout the world and when his heart became full, from all the
happiness and joy he delivered… he chose another person who would love
the children and who wished to spread joy at Christmas by delivering
presents to good little boys and girls. Through the years, we came to
call him Santa Claus.”
Percy looked to each child in
the group and most of them he could tell they didn’t exactly understand
his explanation. Most wanted to believe in Santa Claus, but the
taunting they had witnessed gave them doubts.
“Regardless of what Bobby
Bolton and his friends said, I think it is important for each one of you
to believe in all the good memories Santa Claus has brought you. Those
can’t be taken away from you.” Percy smiled as each child started
remembering back. “I have a special assignment for you, I’d like for
each one of you to write a story of your favorite Christmas memory.
Everyone, run inside pull out your papers and pencils and write your
stories. Go on.”
As the other children scampered
to return to the schoolroom to collect their writing supplies, Percy
watched as Jonathan Morrowicz stayed seated.
“Sir, we’re Jewish… We don’t
observe Christmas or Santa Claus.”
“You’re family observes
Hanukkah?” Percy watched as Jonathan nodded. “Then you may write a
story of your favorite Hanukkah memories.”
A smile spread across
Jonathan’s face; he stood to his feet and ran into the schoolhouse.
“Mr. Bullock?” Isaiah asked as
he walked to where his teacher sat.
“Yes, Isaiah,” Percy answered.
“What of Myra. She ran away,
I’m sure Mr. McCain or her brother should know what happened.”
“I know, but I can’t leave the
“Sir, I can ride and let the
Marshal know, if he’s in town.”
“Isaiah, I’ll let you ride, but
just let her brother know I’d like to see him here. Ask that he return
to school with you.”
Yes sir.” Isaiah tightened the
cinch to his saddle before climbing onboard.
“And if he’s not working
today?” asked Isaiah.
“Then ask Deputy Lane to come.”
Isaiah mounted his horse and
rode to the other end of town where the Marshal’s Office was located.
Mark and Isaiah
arrived back at the schoolhouse and entered to find Percy walking up and
down the aisle of the quiet classroom; he smiled as he saw his brother
Upon seeing Mark,
Percy stated, “Isaiah take your seat and work on your assignment.
Students, you are instructed to continue on your assignments, I’ll be
back in a few moments.”
Percy closed the
schoolhouse door behind them and motioned Mark to step to the ground.
“Mark, I’m sorry,
but… Bobby Bolton and some of his friends weren’t very nice to your
sister. They overheard her talking about Santa Claus during lunch
recess. I stepped from the schoolhouse to see Myra running away.”
“Which way did she
run?” asked Mark.
Percy pointed the
direction he last saw the girl running.
“Mark, once you find
her, if your parents wish to keep her home until after the holidays,
I’ll honor their wishes. Most of the children who observed the taunting
are at that age where they want to still believe, but aren’t sure.”
Percy told Mark what he had told the students.
“Thanks Percy, I
appreciate your letting me know.”
“Mark, when you find
your sister, please wish her a Merry Christmas from me and Tessa.”
Mark walked to the
hitching rail and untied BlueGirl’s reins and led the two horses as he
tracked his sister. He didn’t have too far to go before he heard Myra
crying and found her sitting under a tree.
“Hi Gabby, I hear you
had a rough day at school today,” Mark answered as he dropped the reins
and walked over to sit down next to his sister.
“Are you upset that I
ran away?” Myra asked without looking up.
“A little, but I’m
more upset that you’re upset. Care to tell me what happened?”
“Didn’t Mr. Bullock
“He told me a little,
but I’d like to hear your side of what happened.”
“Bobby Bolton called
me a baby,” Myra quietly answered.
“Because he overheard
you talking about Santa?”
“He overheard me
telling the others how I saw Mama kissing Santa Claus last year.”
“You never told me
that,” Mark answered as a smile spread across his face.
“Mark, is what Bobby
said true?” Myra asked.
“That there’s no such
thing as Santa?”
“You said you saw him
“It could have been a
dream,” whispered Myra.
“Gabby, there is a
Santa Claus, but not everybody believes in him.”
“Santa is a part of
Christmas and as Christians, we believe in Christmas and all the history
associated with the holiday.”
“But aren’t all
people Christians?” Myra asked.
“Not all. There are
many religions in this world. Your friend, Jonathan Morrowicz, and his
family observe Jewish traditions and at this time of year, they don’t
observe Christmas, but instead, they observe Hanakkuh.”
“It’s where the
people of their faith celebrate their religious freedom though a
celebration called Festival of Lights. Over eight days, they light one
of the candles on the Menorah, sort of a special candelabrum,
commemorating the rededication of their Holy Temple in Jerusalem.”
“Who’s faith is
better?” Myra asked.
“Faith is what a
person believes, but I think you meant to ask, which religion is
Myra nodded her
answer to her brother.
“Neither. It is what
the person believes. Our religion has its roots in Judaism. I guess
it’s like our country had its roots in England, but the American
settlers decided that…”
“We were tired of
paying the King of England for nothing,” Myra interrupted.
“You can say that.
So, we decided to form our own government. And in ancient times, there
were followers of Jesus who decided that, for them, Christianity was the
path they wanted to follow.”
“But Santa Claus?”
“He wasn’t originally
part of our observance of Christmas, but if you remember you bible,
there were three wise kings who followed the star to Bethlehem and
presented presents to the Christ Child.”
“But Santa Claus…”
of Sinter Klaas from the Dutch settlers, and we made him part of our
tradition for the holidays. Sort of like the way the Three Kings
brought gifts to the Christ Child… So to celebrate the birth of Christ,
Sinter Klaas brought gifts to the children of the world.”
“And he became Santa
“But why would Bobby
say he doesn’t exist?”
“Because he no longer
believes,” Mark answered regretfully.
“Because he’s not
real?” Myra couldn’t let go of the reason behind the teasing.
“Could there be
another reason Bobby doesn’t believe?” asked Mark.
believe because he’s so mean,” Myra answered and pouted her face.
“Maybe he’s so mean,
because he doesn’t believe,” Mark corrected. “Gabby, to believe in
Santa is something special. And it’s what you believe in your heart
that matters, not just because someone says it is or isn’t so.”
“Do you believe in
Santa Claus?” Myra cautiously asked.
“Yes, I believe.”
“You’re just saying
that to make me feel better?” Myra asked, still unsure.
“No I’m not. Gabby,
you have to decide for yourself if you wish to believe.”
“It’s my decision to
believe in Santa or not?” Myra tried her best to understand what Mark
“Yes,” Mark replied.
“Will Santa be mad at
me if I don’t believe?”
“No, he won’t.”
“But then I wouldn’t
get any Christmas presents,” Myra answered.
“That’s not true,”
“But I shouldn’t
believe in Santa Claus just to get presents,” Myra stated.
“Are you sure you’re
my sister?” Mark asked.
“Why would you ask
“Because you sure are
smart for an eight year old.”
“I’m almost nine!”
“Why don’t you come
with me back to the office?”
“I guess I’m in
trouble for running away from school?”
“No, not this time.
Mr. Bullock stated that you could be excused for the next few days from
Brother and sister
quietly led their horses as they returned to town and walked to the
Marshal’s Office. Percy smiled as he looked out the schoolhouse window
and saw them walking together.
With Eloise sitting
in front of the saddle in front of him, Mark escorted the McCain and
Trumble children home from school. He motioned for the twins to take
their horses to the barn, while he told Myra, Robbie, and Little Ted to
take care of their horses, “I want to talk with Ma and Pa.”
“So, is Myra in
trouble for running away from school?” Little Ted called as he ran
inside his home.
“Excuse me, but this
isn’t a barn,” scolded Milly. “Where’s your sister?”
“Out in the barn…”
“Doing what?” asked
“Taking care of
BlueGirl, what else?”
“Did you take care of
Cappy?” Lucas asked, knowing his middle son had not had the time to
properly take care of his horse and equipment.
“I… I…” replied
“I think someone
needs to return to the barn and take care of his horse, the right way,
and clean his saddle and bridle,” Lucas stated.
“Ah man…” Little Ted
stated as Lucas turned his son around and pushed him back out the door.
conversation to Mark, Lucas stated, “I think you and Percy handled the
situation as best you could…”
“Pa, she’s still
“Mark, I’m sure once
you and your father bring the tree in tomorrow evening, and we start
decorating it, Myra will get back into the Christmas spirit.”
“I sure hope so. I
don’t like to see my sister so sad…”
“None of us do.
We’ll take it from here. Go on home and tend to your brood, son,” Lucas
“Thanks, Pa,” replied
Mark as he placed his hat on his head to leave.
evening, the boys sang Christmas carols as they decorated the tree,
while Myra stated she wasn’t in the mood.
“Myra, will you help
Eloise and me string the popcorn?” asked Milly.
“I guess so,” she
replied as she took the needle and thread, and a bowl of popcorn from
her Mama and sat next to Eloise.
It was Christmas Eve
when Lucas sat down in his chair, a book in hand; and looked to his
children and grandchildren, and two children to be, who sat around the
front room of the house as he prepared to read, ’Twas the Night
Before Christmas. He hesitated when he saw his daughter and her
troubled expression. Lucas could tell his daughter was still upset, but
whether it was from the taunting Bobby Bolton and his friends had done
or her struggling in whether to believe or not, neither Lucas nor Milly
had been able to brighten her mood.
Lucas began to read,
the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
Lucas stopped reading
when Myra stood and ran to her bedroom.
As Lucas stood, they
all heard a knock on the front door. Milly stood from her chair to
stated in surprise at their Christmas Eve visitor.
“I hope you don’t
mind my dropping by unannounced,” Stevan Griswald stated as he stepped
inside and removed his hat.
“Not at all Stevan, I
was just reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” Lucas stated.
“And Myra?” Stevan
asked as he realized she wasn’t in the room.
“She just ran to her
bedroom,” Hope answered.
“She’s still unsure
about what happened the other day at school,” Mark replied.
“Yes, Percy told me
what had happened. Well, I think I have the solution,” Stevan answered
as he pulled out a newspaper from his satchel. “If I may?”
Lucas nodded, “Milly,
would you mind taking the other children into their rooms?”
Milly and Hope
maneuvered the children into the bedrooms.
Stevan continued, “I
subscribe to a newspaper from New York, the New York Sun, though this
was printed back in September, I thought one of the articles was amusing
and kept it. Unfortunately, I had put it away and forgot where I placed
it; otherwise I would have brought it the other day… when Myra was first
upset by Bobby Bolton’s taunting.”
Lucas took a few
minutes to read the newspaper article from the New York Sun.
I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If
you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a
little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a
skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that
nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All
minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In
this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his
intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by
the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity
and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life
its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there
were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no
Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance
to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in
sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world
would be extinguished.
Not believe in
Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get
your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to
catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down,
what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign
there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those
that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing
on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there.
Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and
unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the
baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil
covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the
united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear
apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain
and view and picture the supernatural beauty and glory beyond. Is it all
real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and
No Santa Claus!
Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now,
Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now he will continue to make
glad the heart of childhood.
“Stevan, thank you,” Lucas
answered. “Milly would you bring Myra out here.”
Milly nodded and walked
to Myra’s bedroom door and opened it.
“Myra, Mr. Griswald is
here. Would you please come to the front room?”
Quietly Myra walked
beside her Mama into the front room.
“Merry Christmas Myra,”
Mr. Griswald offered.
“I guess,” Myra answered.
“Myra, please come here,”
Lucas asked of his daughter.
Upon reaching Lucas, he
lifted her to sit her on his lap.
“Mr. Griswald brought
something that I think will help your predicament.” Lucas handed the folded
newspaper to Myra and pointed to the story. He gave her time to read.
skep…ti…cis…m?” Myra asked as she stumbled over the word.
“It’s when people don’t
believe that something is true,” Lucas answered.
“And com… pre…”
smiled as he asked.
“That’s when people,
children or adults, try to understand,” Stevan answered.
As Myra continued
reading, Milly, Hope, and Mark waited to see what would happen.
Milly offered Stevan a
cup of coffee.
“I’d be delighted to
accept your hospitality,” Stevan answered.
Myra finished reading the
article and set the newspaper upon her lap. “So, Virginia wrote a letter?”
“Yes,” Lucas answered.
“And a big newspaper
printed it and they wrote an answer to her, in the paper?”
“Yes, Myra,” Stevan
“Why? I mean, why did
they print her letter? They coulda just wrote her a letter and put it in
the mail service.”
“Myra,” Stevan stated as
he walked over and knelt next to Myra, still sitting on Lucas’ lap.
“Because you’re not the only child or adult who has doubted the existence of
Santa Claus. He is love and generosity, everything that’s good inside one’s
heart at Christmastime.”
“Do you believe?” Myra
“Oh yes, Myra. I believe
in Santa Claus and I believe that a part of Santa Claus lives inside each
and every one of us who believe.”
Myra looked to Lucas,
“Papa, do you believe?”
“Yes, sweetie. I believe
in Santa Claus.”
“But the paper said he
lives and lives forever. Mark said, he died but other’s…” Myra scrunched
her face in confusion.
Lucas thought for a
moment, “Sweetie, it is true, the first Sinter Klaas died, but no one can
live forever and before St. Nick’s dies, he chooses someone to carry on, as
he did. And over the years, that individual becomes Santa Claus.”
“I think I understand,
but how does he visit everybody on one night?” Myra asked.
“See Santa tries his
best, but the world is a big place,” Lucas answered.
“North Fork is a big
place,” Myra interrupted, causing the adults to smile.
“Well, the world is a
really big place, and Santa has helpers; people who carry the spirit and the
love of Santa, and see that no child who truly believes is disappointed
Christmas morning,” answered Lucas.
Myra curled her index
finger around her chin, and after thinking for a few moments stated, “So,
Papa, last year…”
“Yes, Myra?” Lucas asked.
“Are you one of Santa’s
helpers?” Myra quietly asked after looking around the room.
Lucas looked to his
oldest as Mark let out a quick laugh and said, “Pa, I’d answer that question
truthfully, seeing as how I’m a marshal. I can pull out your bible and make
you swear to tell the truth.”
“Yes, I’m one of Santa’s
helpers,” Lucas answered, curious why Myra asked and why Mark replied as he
“Then it was you!” a
smiling Myra declared as she jumped from Lucas’ lap and ran to hug her Ma.
“Oh Mama! Did you know you weren’t kissing Santa Claus, you were kissing
“I was what?” Milly asked
as she knelt to return her daughter’s hug.
“Last year, I heard a
noise and I peeked out my room and I saw you kissing Santa Claus!” Myra
exclaimed. “Only it wasn’t Santa Claus, it was Papa! Did you know?”
“I always wondered what
Mrs. Claus would think if she found out about her husband kissing me,” Milly
answered trying to hid her amusement.
“Papa, I wish I were a
boy,” Myra stated as she turned to look at Lucas. Her voice held a small
amount of disappointment.
“Gabby, why would you say
that? I love having you as a sister,” Mark stated as he knelt next to her.
“Well, if I were a boy,
when I grow up… I could be one of Santa’s helpers. But as a girl, I can’t.”
“And who says that Mrs.
Claus doesn’t have helpers? How do you think Santa got so fat so that his
belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly?” Hope asked.
“Then I can be a Santa’s
helper?” Myra squealed, her face lit with the spirit of the holidays.
“Would you like to hear
the rest of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas?”
“Please Papa. Yes,” Myra
beamed as once again she believed.
Milly and Hope brought
the other children back into the front room.
“Is Myra in trouble?”
Little Ted asked.
“No, I’m not in trouble!”
“We just needed to have a
conversation with your sister. And you young man, be careful with how you
behave,” advised Lucas.
“I’m sorry. You won’t
let Santa bring me a lump of coal, will you?” nervously Little Ted asked.
The children settled back
to sitting on the floor, Little Ted and Robbie sat next to each other while
Eloise sat on Robbie’s other side. Myra allowed Levi to sit in her lap.
Josh, Zach, and Eli sat together while Mykaela sat with her Grandma and Hope
held Faith. Mark pulled up a chair so Stevan could join the family for the
The children were nestled all
snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.”
Lucas continued to read
the entire poem, pausing every now and then to cherish the memory of those
sitting before him.
Later, Mark escorted
Stevan to the front door.
“Stevan, thank you. I’ve
not seen Gabby so excited since this all began.”
“My pleasure Mark, I’m
just happy to be able to help. Can’t have our star pupil unhappy around
“It’s good to see you
smiling,” Milly stated after pulling the blanket to Myra’s chest and sitting
down on the edge of her bed.
“No need for you to be
sorry, Myra,” Lucas stated.
“Papa, as one of Santa’s
helpers, just make sure there’s no mushy stuff with the other Mama’s when
you’re delivering packages to other boys and girls. I don’t think Mama
would like that.”
Milly tried to hide her
“So you do believe in
Santa Claus?” Milly asked.
“Of course! I mean, if
Marshal Johnny has to have Grandpa Seth as a helper and Mark has all those
deputy marshals… I don’t see what’s wrong with Santa having helpers. I
mean, the world is a LOT bigger than North Fork.”
Myra turned on her side,
curled up, hugging one of her dolls, while Milly repositioned the cover over
her shoulder. Lucas and Milly kissed their daughter goodnight. Next, they
pulled the covers over Eloise, who had fallen asleep before Lucas had
finished reading the story. Lucas blew out the lantern and they left the
Before retiring to their
own beds, they checked in on Little Ted, Levi, and Robbie; all three were
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