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A Journey in Search of Christmas

Published January 10, 2008        by Matt

The Governor descended the steps of the Capitol slowly and with pauses. lifting a list frequently to his eye. He had intermittently penciled it between stages of the forenoon's public business, and his gait grew absent as he recurred now to his jottings in their accumulation with a slight pain at their number and the definite fear that they would be more in seasons to come. They were the names of his friends' children to whom his excellent heart moved him to give Christmas presents. He had put off this re-generating evil until the latest day, as was his custom, and now he was setting forth to do the whole thing at a blow, entirely planless among the guns and rocking-horses that would presently surround him. As he reached the highway he heard himself familiarly addressed from a distance, and, turning, saw four sons of the alkali jogging into town from the plain. One who had shouted to him galloped out from the others, rounded the Capitol's enclosure, and, approaching with radiant countenance, leaned to reach the hand of the Governor, and once again greeted him with a hilarious "Hello, Doc!" Governor Barker, M.D., seeing Mr. McLean unexpectedly after several years, hailed the horseman with frank and lively pleasure, and, inquiring who might be the other riders behind, was told that they were Shorty, Chalkeye, and Dollar Bill, come for Christmas.

"And dandies to hit town with," Mr. McLean added. "Redhot."

“I am acquainted with them," assented his Excellency.

“We've been ridin' trail for twelve weeks," the cow - puncher continued, “and the money in our pants is talkin' joy to us right out loud!"

Then Mr. McLean overflowed with talk and pungent confidences, for the holidays already rioted in his spirit, and his ~ tongue was loosed over their coming rites.

“We've soured on scenery," he finished, in his drastic idiom. “We're heeled for a big time!"

"Can on me," remarked the Governor, cheerily, “when you're ready for bromides and selphates,"

“I ain't box-headed no more:' protested Mr. McLean; “I've got maturity, Doc, since I seen yu' at the rain-making, and I'm a heap older than them hospital days when I bust my leg on yu', Three or four glasses and quit. That's my rule."

“That your rule, too?" inquired the Governor of Shorty, Chalkeye, and Dollar Bill These gentlemen of the saddle were sitting quite expressionless upon their horses.

“We ain't talkin', we're waitin'," observed Chalkeye; and the three cynics smiled amiably.

"Well, Doc. see yu' again:" said Mr. McLean. He turned to accompany his brother cow-punchers, but in that particular moment Fate descended, or came up, from whatever place she dwells in, and entered the body of the unsuspecting Governor.

“What's your hurry?" said Fate, speaking in the official's hearty manner. "Come along with me:"

“Can't do it. Where're yu’ goin'?"

"Christmasing," replied Fate.

“Well. I've got to feed my horse. Christrnasing, yu' say?"

“Yes; I'm buying toys:'

“Toys! You? What for?" “Oh, some kids:”

“Yourn?" screeched Lin, precipitately. His Excellency the jovial Governor opened his teeth in pleasure at this, for he was a bachelor, and there were fifteen upon his list, which he held tip for the edification of the hasty
McLean. "Not mine, I'm happy to say. My friends keep marrying and settling, and their kids call me uncle, and climb around and bother, and I forget their names, and think it's a girl, and the mother gets mad. Why, if I didn't remember these little folks at Christmas they'd be wondering - not the kids, they just break your toys and don’t notice; but the mother would wonder - 'What's the matter with Dr. Barker? Has Governor Barker gone back on us?' - that's where the strain comes!" he broke off, facing Mr. McLean with another spacious laugh.

But the cow-puncher had ceased to smile, and now, while Barker ran on exuberantly
McLean's wide-open eyes rested upon him, singular and intent, and in their hazel depths the last gleam of jocularity went out.

“That's where the strain comes, you see. Two sets of acquaintances - grateful patients and loyal voters-and I've got to keep solid with both outfits, especially the wives and mothers. They're the people. So it's drums, and dolls, and sheep on wheels, and games, and monkeys on a stick, and the saleslady shows you a mechanical bear, and it costs too much, I and you forget whether the Judge's second girl is Nellie or Susie, and-well, I'm just in for my annual circus this afternoon! You're in luck. Christmas don't trouble a chap fixed like you."

Lin McLean prolonged the sentence like a distant echo.

“A chap fixed like you!" The cowpuncher said it slowly to himself. "No, sore," He seemed to be watching Shorty, and Chalkeye, and Dollar Bill going down the road. “That's a new idea - Christmas:" he murmured, for it was one of his oldest, and he was recalling the Christmas when he wore his first long trousers.

"Comes once a year pretty regular," remarked the prosperous Governor. "Seems often when you pay the bill,"

“I haven't made a Christmas gift," pursued the cow-puncher, dreamily, “not for-for-Lord! It's a hundred years, I guess. I don't know anybody that has any right to look for such a thing from me." This was indeed a new idea, and it did not stop the chill that was spreading in his heart.

"Gee whiz!" said Barker, briskly, "there goes twelve o'clock. I've got to make a start. Sorry you can't come and help me. Good-bye!"

His Excellency left the rider sitting motionless, and forgot him at once in his own preoccupation. He hastened upon his journey to the shops with the list, not in his pocket, but held firmly, like a plank in the imminence of shipwreck. The Nellies and Susies pervaded his mind, and he struggled with the presentiment that in a day or two he would recall some omitted and wretchedly important child. Quick hoof-beats made him look up, and Mr. McLean passed like a wind. The Governor absently watched him go, and saw the pony hunch and stiffen in the check of his speed when Lin overtook his companions. Down there in the distance they took a side street, and Barker rejoicingly remembered one more name and wrote it as he walked. In a few minutes he had come to the shops, and met face to face with Mr. McLean.

“The boys are seein' after my horse," Lin rapidly began, “and I've got to meet 'em sharp at one. We're twelve weeks shy on a square meal, yu' see, and this first has been a date from 'way back. I'd like to- rr Here Mr. McLean cleared his throat, and his speech went less smoothly. "Doc, r d like just for a while to watch yu' gettin' - them monkeys, yu' know."

The Governor expressed his agreeable surprise at this change of mind, and was glad of McLean's company and judgment, during the impending selections. A picture of a cow-puncher and himself discussing a couple of dolls rose nimbly in Barker's mental eye, and it was with an imperfect honesty that he said, "You'll help me a heap!"

And Lin, quite sincere, replied, "Thank yu'."

So together these two went Christmasing in the throng. Wyoming's Chief Executive knocked elbows with the spurred and jingling waif, one man as good as another in that raw, hopeful, full-blooded cattle era which now the sobered West remembers as the days of its fond youth. For one man has been as good as another in three places - Paradise before the Fall; the
Rocky Mountains before the wire fence; and the Declaration of Independence. And then this Governor, besides being young, almost as young as Lin McLean or the Chief-Justice (who lately had celebrated his thirty-second birthday), had in his doctoring days at Drybone known the cow-puncher with that familiarity which lasts a lifetime without breeding contempt; accordingly, he now laid a hand on Lin's tall shoulder and drew him among the petticoats and toys.