The Man Who Saved Christmas! page 2
by: Robert Yance Newton
It was the sound of horsemen that caught Hambone's attention and brought him back to reality.
Five riders came thru the snow like shadows thru the wagon yard. They rode through the partially open barn door and dismounted inside, as Hambone came out from the apartment. A chill caught him and he wished he'd grabbed his coat.
A man, of huge proportions, stood holding his horse, slapping leather reins across a ham-sized palm. Yellow-eyed, whiskery faced, hog jowled, Bad Bob Bobbit, spat tobacco juice to the hay covered dirt floor, then grinned his green-toothed grin.
"Heard a Newton uz in t'other day. Picked up that big Conestoga ya had." Bad Bob stood spraddle-legged. The rest of his men dismounted and began to fan out around Hambone who eyed each one.
There was Caleb Heartfear, a weasley little man with snake-skin boots that had built-up heels, who had a mean glint to his weasel-eyes and an awkward gait.
Orville, "The Skunk", Adams, stood string-skinny with his hand resting on the butt of his gun. His dirty unwashed body reeked. The stench hanging in the air overpowering even the fresh barn smells.
Both men flanked Hambone on his left.
"Loyal" Doyle Braden, a slick gun-slinger and gambler, with a frilly white shirt and black suit, stood to Hackman's right. As did "Lucky" Eddie Wilkenson, a lean, wolfish looking man, with one eye missing. A jagged scar ran down the length of his oval face, across that empty eye socket. He had only a thumb and little finger on one hand. The other had been horse stomped recently. There was, of course a broken leg from the horse stomping incident and he leaned on a home-made crutch. But "Lucky" Eddie was still a dangerous man to be around. With gun in hand, "Lucky" Eddie moved into position to Hambone's right.
The home-made crutch suddenly sank into a soft spot of dirt and "Lucky" Eddie tripped over it, tumbling awkwardly to the floor, as his Colt revolver accidentally went off!
Ping, ping, ping! The bullet missed Hambone, glancing off a plow shear, ricocheting off a brass lantern-holder knocking it off the wall, then bouncing off a horseshoe, nailed above the barn door for luck, and winging "Lucky" Eddie with a flesh-wound to his arm in the process.
"Yeowwww!" Eddie yelled when he was hit.
After a moment of numbed silence, as Eddie checked the flesh wound and his torn, bloody coat sleeve, Eddie looked up sheepishly at Bad Bob, who stood in disbelief and shock, like everyone else.
"Lucky!" Eddie said. "Could've kilt somebody!" was his apologetic remark. Mumbled as he inspected, with some concern, his newest wound.
"Ya put that gun away ya lunk headed fool!" Bob exploded of a sudden. "Lucky Eddie...," he mumbled. "Hah!"
"What idjut gave him a bullet, anyhow?" Bob roared and Caleb Heartfear winced. But never would he fess up! Never!
"He did!" Eddie answered. Pointing at Caleb who slumped noticeably. Fearful and apprehensive, with his eye on Bob's reaction, Caleb tried to act nonchalant.
"Where'd Virgil Newton take that there wagon?" Bob suddenly turned angrily on Hambone Hackman.
"Ta his house, I reckon." Hambone said.
"Hah! They wouldn't hide them presents at Virgil Newton's house. Yer a lyin" Bob's yellow-eyed glare drilled thru Hambone fiercely. But Hambone Hackman stood grinning..., unafraid.
Hambone had come to this country with the Bacon Brothers, who had settled in the Warren. After living thru five years of the Civil War, as a Union Army spy, the likes of Bad Bob and his boys were no more dangerous than that, he thought. Then Hambone watched "Lucky" Eddie struggling to his feet with the aid of his crutch.
"Well..., maybe a little more dangerous." he decided.
"I got no idea of where them presents for the orphanage is hid, Bob. And if I did, I wouldn’t say.
"But I tell ya this, mister! Yew n your boys won't have a rock era hole big enough ta hide in if ye steal Santy and them gifts!
"Why..., they done sent 'Widda-maker' Thorndike after ya all ready, Bob. And then of Dedder Alive, has swore ta pick-up yer blood-money reward." Hambone eyed Bob's non-plused reactions.
"And what about them women, 'Lady N' and 'Miz Glenda'...,"
Bob's sudden stiffening at the mention of the women intrigued Hambone.
"I hear 'Lady N' says she's never gittin off yer trail till she runs ya down, Bob. What'd ya do ta them girls? 'Miz Glenda's' not one ta say much but I can see she's no one ta trifle with. What is it Bob?" Hambone kept talking, moving suddenly into a slow straight-forward walk towards Big Bad Bob Bobbit. Bob began backstepping, the look of fear hot in his yellow eyes, as Hambone talked of the two mysterious women.
"I hear 'Miz Glenda' and this 'Lady N' woman, has been gittin purty close ta yer tracks, Bob. Even knows of yer Dutchman's' Canyon Hide-out!"
Bob's huge body shuddered visibly then he turned and mounted his big bay mare. The others followed suit. Backing away as one, ready to draw at any moment, as Hambone Hackman, the used wagon salesman, stared them down and talked of..., the women!"
Only "Lucky" Eddie had trouble keeping up with the pace of it. With his injuries, his crutch and all. But his gun was drawn, from behind his belt, and he was ready for the roll of the dice.
As Eddie tried desperately to keep up with the crowd, it was of no use. They had already mounted as Eddie scrambled for his skittish horse.
Finally, up on its back, keeping Hambone at bay with his .44, "Lucky" Eddie shoved the pistol behind his silver belt buckle and the gun went off!
With Eddie, now shot to short-cake and behind bars, US Marshall J.T. Thorndike supervised the burying of Eddies horse.
With piercing, ice-brown eyes, "Widda-Maker" Thorndike peered into the falling snow of the evening, as if seeing beyond the darkness. He swore upon the horses grave to avenge the real murderer..., Bad Bob Bobbit and his bunch.
Her name was Newton-Moen. Willa Newton-Moen! She was ambitious for a person of her size and stature (as wide as she was tall)!
The orphanage had suffered a tremendous set-back when poor Om got whacked, high-voiced, by that deadly limb.
He lay, moaning still, in the bedroom, swathed head to foot, mummified, with bandages. There'd been broken arms and legs as well as that high-pitched squeaky voice he'd been left with. The poor man was a misery for sure.
Merit Hazen, a neighbor of sorts, had just pulled out of the drive when Virgil Newton met him on the road.
"Hey Merit!" Virgil''s breath fogged the crispness of the day. They sat out front of the tall white house along the road.
Willa Newton-Moen's, "Orphanage for Children Whose Parents Drowned During Baptism." The sign on the false front said.
"O.C.W.P.D.D.B." was painted below. Then an addition to the sign had been attached. Nailed in place by Om himself..., during more feisty times, of course.
"AND ANY OTHERS WHO NEED MOTHERIN' " It said.
"If Bad Bob Bobbit or anyone else tries to steal Christmas from these kids..., we'll stop em cold!" Merit was saying as Virg let his eyes drift from the sign.
"Least it ain't a snowin' taday." Virgil said
"You mark my words, Virgil Newton. With Pid, as the teamster, and J.T. ridin' shotgun, we'll see that those presents get through.
"And b'sides...," Merit leaned out of his buggy, "We've got us a secret weapon!"
"Ya Do?" Virg was stunned by this news. "Well, what is it Merit?" Then it dawned on him "Oh..., yeah! It's a secret ain't it!"
Willa watched the men thru her front room window as the noise of children soaked the ceilings, walls and floors until it could no longer hold back the sound. The house was flooded in it!
Merit left after awhile and Virg Newton rode into the yard.
The house felt warm after the long ride. Virgil finally doffed his coat but his floppy felt hat never came off. The color indiscernible from the years of dirt, weather and wear.
"Don't ya worry none, Willa!" Virgil shouted. He sat across the long oak dinner table from her, drinking coffee.
"We'll git them presents thru!"
"Shhh!" Willa looked around to see if Virgil's shout had been heard above the noise that was seeping thru the vast expanse of the house.
"Kids!" Willa's voice boomed. The glass shook in the windows and a sudden silence sucked the noise back into the structure of the building itself for the time. Then to Virgil she spoke quietly.
"Watch what ya say around the kids." Willa whispered. "They figger on doin without this Christmas and I don't want ta raise no false hopes, what with Bad Bob on the prowl!" Willa gazed into Virgil's sad brown eyes.
"Let's just leave it at that, Virg. Then if a miracle happens, we'll get those gifts fer the kids, and Bad Bob'll get his proper come-upence!"
"Ya know," Virg leaned close and said it. "Blue-eyed Lil Hackman, sent them kids two barrels a toys 'n such, and another two barrels a clothes for 'em.
"She give food and cash and even threw in that carved Indian figger that stood outside her saloon. With that big ol' finger carved out a pointin' West.
"Said it didn't go with the `dressin' a the place no more. So I put it in the wagon shed fer ye.
"There's somethin else I heared today, over to Milton. General Elgee LaMont has been assigned to make sure we do! Get the..., ya know what's..., thru. Know what I mean?" Virg winked as he scanned the place for any little listening ears.
"Elgee?" Willa clasped her large hands to her mouth. "Oh!" she gasped.
"Oh..., Sorry Willa. I fergot ya was sweet on him at one time.
"Course..., ya always got Om yonder."
The groans from Om's sick room, upstairs at the back of the big house, were all that could be heard in the silence.
"Rumor has it that Bob and his gang figger on surprizin the wagon. There's places all along the way to ambush it.
"But the General's got idees that of Bob'll try somethin' wiley. Know what I mean?
"Oh Bad Bob's a foxy one sure 'nuff!" Virg spat tobacco juice into a cuspidor.
"Don't spit across the room Virgil. Land sakes! Git up 'n walk over there 'n git the derned thing."
"I hit it didn't I?" Virg defended. Surprised.
That's when they heard the horses.
"It's soldiers, Willa!"
"Oh!" Her eyes widened.
"Yep! It's him. General Elgee LaMont hisself and a contingent a..., oh, ten-twelve soldiers." Virg peered out the window as children rushed from all over the house to look. The spongy structure of the house released it's load of noise once again.
Willa was primping hurriedly, checking her billowing dress and wondering if Elgee would notice that she'd put on three hundred pounds? That the svelte young lady of sixteen, at a hundred-fifty pounds, when they'd first met, was long gone? Would he notice the 40 children? What would he think of her?
It was a loud banging, louder even than the children's noises, oozing from the very grains of wood in the structures existence.
Willa realized it was the door and not her heart that she'd been hearing.
Four soldiers stepped thru when Virgil opened the door. Then came the General.
Elgee LaMont carried the proud presence of a Napoleon. The distinguished, upright walk of a Lincoln. The fearless look of Phinneus T. Bomshekle, the warrior that he was, and a smile to light the darkness besides. He was glad to see Willa again and Elgee marched right up, hugged her and kissed both her fat, blushing cheeks.
"It is you!" he murmured.
Willa giggled and fell into her seat at the long table. The General took a seat to her right. To her left the seat was empty. Pid Newton and some soldiers filled the rest of the table.
The curious children were like ants at a picnic as Willa, flustered as she was, fanned herself with a frilly hanky. The house seemed hot.
"Widda-Maker'll be here in a second, General. He hadda make a stop at the outhouse." Virgil Newton said as he took the chair next to LaMont. He had to yell it over the noise of the children.
"Kids!" Willa finally hollered. The windows shook and silence, like the changing of the tides suspended time. Children disappeared and the house swallowed up the noise once again.
It was a stunned General LaMont who broke the silence.
"You'd have made a wonderful Sergeant, Willa," is all he said.
"Widda-Maker" Thorndike entered the quiet room. Eying each person. Taking in the group with a lawman's collective mind, as he finished fastening his fly. Then without a word he took his seat next to Willa.
There was a weathered appearance about Thorndike. Weathered by wind, rain, sun, even life itself. An assurance of satisfaction in his crooked little smile. "Widda-Maker" tilted back in his chair, cock-sure of himself.
"Gentlemen..,. and lady," LaMont nodded at Willa, who blushed. 'He grinned, then turned serious.
"We have a bold bad bandit on our hands. Bad Bob Bobbit has promised to blatantly blast Christmas with deeds too incredibly evil to reveal to you in detail. So..., no detailed deeds are available at this time.
"However," the General stated," we will crush this Christmas resistance, wherever it may be!
"Marshall Thorndike will reveal to us the plan, Marshall?" The General finished.
J.T. Thorndike looked from beneath the flat brim of a $2.00 hat. The confident, crooked smile stuck on his face.
"I'll tell ya when ya need to know!" Thorndike spoke. "Right now, ya don't need to know!"
So, from then on, the orphanage in the Warren, turned into a United States Garrison of sorts. Guarded, as was the gift shipment in Virgil's bulging barn, by crack soldiers and the entire force of J.T. Thorndike's reputation.
Word came that the bounty hunter, Dedder Alive, was more 'Dedder than alive'. After nearly capturing Bad Bob and his gang, over on the Bachelor's Flats, near the hog ranch.
Caleb Heartfear had his custom built high heels shot off and was now dubbed "Shorty" Heartfear.
It had been the spooked pigs, which ran smack over Dedder, in a hog stampede, that had him near death. Bad Bob had escaped the hog farm trap and Christmas now hung in the balance!
It was the day before Christmas. The snow was over four inches deep and falling heavily. The Conestoga moved noisily like a ghost in chains, thru the early morning darkness.
With Pid Newton handling the ribbons, 'Widda-Maker' Thorndike tried hopelessly to peer thru the heavy snowfall. The shotgun ready at this side.
The wagon load of toys and gifts rattled with every chuck hole, groaned with every turn and squeaked a rhythm with the tall wide wheels. They could be heard a mile away "Widda-Maker" thought. It concerned the wary Marshall.
A squad of soldiers flanked the precious load. Far enough away to be out of sight, yet close enough to come a running at the first sign of trouble!
The orphanage was left with only two soldiers to meet the wagon load of Christmas goodies, if it arrived at all. For everyone knew, Bad-Bob Bobbit was not a man of idle threats!
Virgil was there of course, awaiting the arrival of the soldiers and the wagon. But something felt..., uncomfortable about it all. So Virgil kept checking the guards thru the window and occasionally, he walked the perimeter himself just to be sure.
Hambone Hackman stood in the loft of his Horse-Hotel barn, forking hay into each stall. The barn was full today, but Hambone Hackman was thinking of the orphanage.
Lil was giving out free Christmas dinners at her "Blue-eyed Lil's Opera House Saloon" so there were no horse stalls left at Hambone's Horse-Hotel. Rigs and wagons of every size were parked along the muddy, gravely, snowy Scappoose Road. Hambone felt a foreboding that would not let him go. When he could stand it no more, Hambone Hackman saddled a horse and grabbed a coat. Then, hesitantly, he lifted the lid on Blue-eyed Lil's hope-chest.
There they lay! As they had for twenty years, since the day he'd taken them off, promising Lil, faithfully, he'd never put them on, to fight with, again. They were a perfectly matched set of Sam Colt's, "Equalizers", with bone-handled grips. They rested in well-worn holsters that smelled of gun oil and leather. The fragrance that always turned LII into a tigress! He gently touched the leather. Then reverently touched the bone grips.
"I'll just carry 'em. I won't put 'em on!" Hambone decided. So, without breaking his promise to blue-eyed Lil, Hambone Hackman threw the matched set of Colts over his shoulders. With the smell of the leather and gun oil caressing his nostrils. "Wish Lil was here" he thought suddenly. Then the ex-Union army spy mounted his big black horse and rode out into the swirling snow. He was headed for Willa Newton-Moen's orphanage. The "spy" in him, had a heavy feeling of urgency weighting his shoulders.
Both of the soldiers, meanwhile, had been dispatched with ease. Both were tied up, gagged and left in the barn.
Now, except for Virgil Newton, Bad Bob and his boys had the place secured. Virgil hadn't shown his sad faced self for over an hour. So, Bob and his boys waited to spring the trap.
Once Virgil Newton was put out of business, everything would be ready. The soldiers would come in thinking Bad Bob's own boys, now dressed in the captured soldiers garb, were two of their own. They would ride in unsuspectingly.
Thorndike and Pid Newton, of course, would assume that they had made the toy run successfully and, perhaps, could be caught off guard, Bob figured. But he worried most over the two mysterious women, 'Lady N' and 'Miz Glenda'. For it was they that he owed his child support to! They..., and they alone, Bad Bob feared!
If it came to it, a fight with anyone else, Bob figured, he had a good chance of winning. But these..., women..., it would be a battle so fierce that Bob had only visions of defeat. Total..., enduring, defeat.
Bad Bob finally heard the front door open.
Virgil Newton stretched and yawned. It had been a long day! He gazed into the heavy snowfall and listened hard, with ears alert. Waiting to hear the sounds of the toy wagon and the soldiers, but there was nothing!
Then Virg eyed the two guards. One at the barn door and one over by the entry gate. Something struck him as odd and different about the men, but Virg couldn't put his finger on it. After much thought and wonderment, Virg decided it was only his jumpiness that made him doubt, and he went back inside.
Caleb Heartfear let out a sigh of relief. The soldiers clothes he was wearing, Caleb feared, would give him away. Even with the built up heels on his snakeskin boots Caleb only stood 5 feet 4 inches tall. Now after having his heels shot off, in the battle at the hog farm, he was barely 4 feet 10 inches.
The soldier, the smallest of the two real guards, stood six foot tall and weighed almost 200 pounds. So..., the clothes fit..., loosely to say the least! The other fake guard, Orville Adams, wore the clothes of a two hundred-fifty pounder who stood 6 feet 2 inches. His uniform billowed and bagged on Orville's six foot, one hundred-twenty pound frame.
But they had made it! Virgil Newton hadn't noticed the difference and Bob's plan was working perfectly. Now all they had to do was wait for the prize. What a surprise this would be for the soldiers and Pid and "Widda-Maker" Thorndike! "Shorty" Heartfear giggled at the thought.
"Nearly there, J.T.," Pid said to the man next to him.
"Don't like it, Pid!" "Widda-Maker" commented.
The wind blew the snow, like stinging ice-darts, into their faces. The night, black as obsidian, was cold! They were now less than a mile from the orphanage.
"Bad Bob should'a hit us by now. Ain't no other logical places to ambush us 'tween here and the orphanage." J.T. Thorndike pondered it all. "The orphanage." He suddenly thought. Then he shouted, urgently... just as the idea hit him. "Hold-up, Pid!" The marshal ordered. But Pid Newton mistook his words.
"Yeeee Hawwww!" Pid Newton yelled as he sprang into action.
"Yeee Haww, Jake!" he ordered as he cracked a whip over the horses backs and slapped reins. The wagon lurched forward as six horses, three-span, leaped forward in their pull.
"Yeee Haww!" Pid yelled as Widda-Maker' Thorndike was thrown backward. Tumbling off the seat the shotgun went off into black space, and the white-eyed horses shifted gears!
"They's a shootin' at us J.T!" Pid hollered then he put the leather to the team as he noticed his partner missing.
However, Thorndike was now trying to scramble from amongst the presents, trying not to break any, as the wagon lurched and jolted. The team, white-eyed and wild with fear, with Pid hollering teamsters jargon and cracking the whip, yelling "Yee Hawwl" at the top of his lungs, poor 'Widda-Maker" had a time of it, trying to get to his feet.
"Hold up Pid. Thorndike was yelling. But all that made Pid Newton do was to drive the horses even harder, more recklessly, in trying to escape.
The wagon slid around a corner throwing Thorndike off balance again. Spraying snow three feet into the air, and banging a hub off a tree trunk. Again the shotgun went off. The second barrel of shot blasted chunks out of Pid's foot rest and he snapped the whip again.
Back at the orphanage Virgil Newton stepped outside. This time he decided to go talk to the guards by the barn. When he did the trap was sprung!
From behind him, 'Loyal' Doyle Braden hit Virg with a pistol barrel and Virg went down, just as he recognized Orville, "The Skunk" Adams, by the smell.
Hambone Hackman, the used wagon salesman that he was, wouldn't quit! Though it snowed harder than he'd ever seen it snow and the icy wind blew boldly, breaking limbs and cracking trees, he rode through the Christmas Eve blizzard, with that deep feeling inside him, that Willa's orphanage was in trouble!
It was dusk when Hambone cut the snow filled indentations. Tracks of Bad Bob and his bandits. By black-dark Hambone knew that it was to Willa's orphanage the tracks were leading. No question!
Posted in Feature Story