The Rifleman
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The Next Step...
Chapter 117 - A Tearful Christmas
Written by Deanne Bertram

Mark anxiously 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 shops…”

“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 shopping.”

“You’ll just have to wait until Christmas morning, just like everyone else,” replied a teasing Hattie.

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 magazine.

“Five?” queried Mark.

“Yep,” answered Micah.

“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.”

Mark whistled, “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 get settled.”

*****

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.

“ENOUGH!” Percy 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 nearby.

“Mr. Bullock?” Anna called.

“Yes, 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 seat.

“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 called ‘home’…”

“You mean he died?” Charlie asked.

“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.

“Jonathan?”

“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 children unattended.”

“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.”

“Yes sir.”

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 and sons…

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.

“Where’s Gabby?” asked Mark.

“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 tell you?”

“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?”

Myra nodded.

“You said you saw him last year.”

“It could have been a dream,” whispered Myra.

“Gabby, there is a Santa Claus, but not everybody believes in him.”

“Why?”

“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.”

“What’s that?”

“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 better?”

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?” Myra asked.

“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…”

“Christians learned 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 Claus?”

“Yes.”

“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.

“Bobby doesn’t 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 was saying.

“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,” Mark replied.

“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 that?”

“Because you sure are smart for an eight year old.”

“I’m almost nine!” declared Myra.

“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 school.”

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 Mark.

“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 Little Ted.

“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.

Returning the conversation to Mark, Lucas stated, “I think you and Percy handled the situation as best you could…”

“Pa, she’s still unsure.”

“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 suggested.

“Thanks, Pa,” replied Mark as he placed his hat on his head to leave.

*****

The following 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,

“’Twas 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 answer.

“Stevan?” Milly 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.



Dear Editor,
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 Santa Claus?
Virginia O'Hanlon
Virginia, your 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.
Yes, Virginia, 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 abiding.
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.

“What’s skep.. 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…”

“Comprehensible?” Stevan smiled as he asked.

“Com-pre-hen-si-ble.”

“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 answered.

“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 dared ask.

“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 did.

“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 Papa!”

“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!” Myra responded.

“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 reading.

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 Christmas.”

*****

“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.

“I’m sorry.”

“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 giggle.

“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 bedroom.

Before retiring to their own beds, they checked in on Little Ted, Levi, and Robbie; all three were sound asleep.

The Next Step — Loss

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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