The Man Who Saved Christmas!
by: Robert Yance Newton
"Hambone Hackman's Famous Oklahoma Guarantee" the sign said on the wall. "If it breaks..., ya git to keep both pieces!" Hambone told him. Then he grinned!
It was Virgil Newton who had come looking for a wagon that day. He'd come to get the use of Hambone's largest rig.
"It's a bunch a presents we're a haulin', Hambone". Virg had told him. "Course ya know that!
"We been collectin' now fer most of three months and my barns a bulgin' with stuff fer the orphanage. I gotta git them things outta my barn fore it plumb explodes.
"Ever-one, includin yew, a loanin' us this h'yar wagon a yor'n, has been generous to a fault, I tell ya." Virgil's unshaven face grew serious.
"Mazes me, 'bout how Christmas brings out the 'folk' in folks..., ya know what I mean, Hambone?" Virgil Newton spat tobacco juice. Staining the snow on the ground as it melted a brown hole. Every where there was a dusting of white freshening the landscape.
Hambone eyed the brown hole next to the wagon wheel.
"Ya know..., Bad Bob has promised ta kidnap Santy Clawz this year. Says Santy ain't never brought him nothin', so why not? Plans ta sell the presents ta the Stumptowners n' make a fortune and hold Santy for ransom"
"Yew ain't Santy are ya, Virg?" Hambone eyed the tall, rail-thin Newton in baggy britches and a dirty, raggedy black coat. Virgil grinned his over-bite grin. But his face looked sad and tired, which was simply Virg's demeanor.
"Naw. Ain't me, Hambone. It's Couzin Pid."
“Pid? Why..., he's skinnier n' yew are, Virg! Some Santy he's a gonna make!" Hambone laughed. "He looks like a devil's stick match, with a great big adams apple!" Hambone grinned.
"Well...," Virg stated matter-of-factly, he is the only one what ever got-over on ol’ Bob, ya know!" No one but Pid's ever done it! So if'n Bad Bob wants them presents of the orphans, they'll have ta git past Pid ta do it! 'N he ain't likely ta give em up easy like, ya know.
"Sides, Hambone, ain't ya heared? Ol’ J.T. Thorndike is on Bad Bob's trail. 'N he's a ridin' shot-gun for Pid." Virgil informed.
"Widda-Maker Thorndike?" Hambone's eyes grew wide with surprise.
"Why..., I reckon ol Widda-Maker's 'bout the most famous, baddest US Marshall there ever was!
"Ol’ Bob must be wanted purty bad fer em ta send Widda-Maker after um." Hambone grew serious.
"Oh! There's more!" Virg went on. "That bounty hunter, Dedder Alive, he's out after that $5,000.00 dollars on of Bob's head. And there's a couple a ladies come in, on one-eyed Charlie's coach t' other day, a lookin fer Bad Bob and his boys, too! A gal, by the name a Lady N and her aide, as she calls her, Miz Glenda'. "Virgil shook his head and looked at Hambone. "Mysterious sort a women...," Virgil Newton spat tobacco juice into the snow again, hitting the same hole as before, by the wagon wheel, and melting it just a bit wider.
"Know what I mean?" He wiped his mouth on his coat sleeve and put a dirty hand to the wagon. It was a Conestoga, built extra large for the long hard trip west from Missouri in 1850.
The covered top was gone and the hoops were missing, but it would do to carry the many presents to Willa Newton-Moen's "Orphanage for Children Who's Parents Drowned During Baptism." O.C.W.P.D.D.B. It was called for short.
Willa Newton-Moen had mostly taken on kids who were orphaned on the way West, however, for there weren't that many baptisms in Oregon. Her orphanage in the Warren was growing. She and Om now cared for twenty-seven kids, as well as their own thirteen. Forty, in all!
Om cut trees for a living and reared kids with Willa during his off time. But, three months before, Ormederio Moen had been injured in a tragic logging accident.
While trimming limbs from a fallen stick (a tree two hundred-fifty feet long and twelve foot thru at the stump) a big limb, bent under great stress, was released of a sudden when the last of other great limbs, holding it, was cut thru, letting the tension loose in a whoosh of release!
The end of the limb came up between Om's spread-legs with terrific force! Knocking him straight up for ten feet, then ten feet backwards and off the log on which he stood.
Om, a man with a usually deep, baritone voice, now spoke in high and squeaky tones. But..., his voice was getting somewhat deeper again as time passed. Flat on his back, wrapped in bandages, Om was unable to work. With a high squeaky voice and all the other injuries besides, Om was useless!
This years Christmas gift drive had been the best ever, and would help the Moen orphanage more Than could be expressed. Cash had even been donated. by some, when they heard of Om's misfortune.
But, the threat of Bad Bob Bobbit's Bandit Bunch hung over the merriment of the Christmas season like smoke, from the McCormick WigWam Burner, umbrella'd St. Helens, just before a rain.
Hambone Hackman thought of that as he watched Virgil Newton pull out that day. His thoughts changed suddenly, however, when Virgil side-swiped the the gate post with the wagon as he turned the team onto the main wagon road. It was called the Columbia River Road and Virgil headed North. The huge lumbering wagon teetered as it jostled across the deep ruts.
Hambone thought of that Oklahoma guarantee as the wagon crashed thru a rut and shuddered.
"Remember Virg!" Hambone hollered out "If it breaks..., ya git to keep both pieces!"
Virgil just kept on a driving.
Hambone watched it snow as he sat by the woodstove. The stables were empty, the wagon yard void of customers and Hambone, a man who enjoyed company, was alone. The view of the wagonyard, stables and the corral, thru dirty windows, was his only company. That and the warm crackle of the fir in the woodstove. The rest of his majestic, Scappoose view was socked in by the weather.
It had been a week since Virgil Newton had come for the big wagon. Rumor had it that Bad Bob Bobbit was conjuring up a plan. Steal the orphanage's presents, sell them in Stumptown, and kidnap Santy Clawz then hold him up for ransom. From Fox's Landing to Stumptown, he'd made the brag.
Now, J .T. Thorndike, the US Marshall called, "Widda-Maker", was on the scene. Two women, it was said, were also looking for Bob and his band. But no one seemed to know why..., or who they were, but for their names.... 'Lady N' and `Miz Glenda.'
Bob had begun laying low, though no one could say why. However, Bad Bob had never feared the law before. Maybe it was those two women, Hambone wondered, as he gazed out into the falling snow...; or that bounty hunter!
The Black Oak clock on the wall chimed twice and Hambone eyed its ivory covered face.
Hambone Hackman waited for blue-eyed Lil, his wife. She would be bringing him news soon of her Grand Opening.
Blue-eyed Lil's was to be the grandest opera house and saloon West of the Cascades. Lil had purchased the Cigar Store Saloon and Land Office, then remodeled it to suit her.
The hand-carved wooden Indian still stood out front, in full war bonnet, wearing a buffalo robe and pointing a big finger Westward. But inside the place had changed. There was a large stage with silk and red velvet curtains, plenty of brass, and copper appointments, and a highly polished cherry wood bar that glistened, as did the matching, mirrored back bar. Red carpets, gaming tables and oak chairs filled the first floor. The floor above which had once housed fancy ladies, would now be a respectable meeting place for business people and would house Moonem and Lyers brand new law offices.