~ CHAPTER 1 ~
Vin had been up and out early this Christmas Eve with Ezra. They were shopping for gifts for the children at Josiah's church. Vin left Ezra at the tavern and began to cross Main Street to where Mary was talking to JD. Before he got to them, JD had gone his own way. Mary began to head towards the telegraph office.
"Mary," he called to her.
" I haven't seen him," she answered as she hurried on her way.
Vin had stopped on Main Street to speak with Mary near where a street Santa ringing a bell and wishing passersby a Merry Christmas. Vin saw the man and smiled.
"What are ya collectin' for?" Vin asked.
"The orphans," the man answered.
Little Virginia Madison ran up to the Santa.
Virginia Madison was the daughter of Paul and Marguerite Madison. Vin knew them well. They lived on the outskirts of town - well-to-doers, he called them. They didn't call him at all. They avoided him at all costs hoping he'd go away - considering him a bad element. Marguerite was from Boston; Paul was from Tennessee. He had done some cattle ranching in Texas when he met Marguerite. The cattle business was good to him, and his wife had a head for business. She rarely came into town, but when she did...there was hell to pay from most. Mary knew her acid tongue very well. Marguerite wanted Mary to sell The Clarion to her husband after Mary's husband had died. She had the nerve to ask at the funeral. Mary refused and had been the victim of her verbal abuse ever since. Mary's son, Billy, liked Virginia and vice versa, but Marguerite wouldn't let her daughter associate with Mary's little "heathen".
Virginia's presence could only mean Marguerite, Paul or both were in town.
"Virginia, what a surprise," Vin greeted the girl.
"Hi, Vin," Virginia replied; she always did like Vin.
"Where's your parents?"
"Mama's with Mrs. Potter. Mister, are you really Santa Claus?" she answered turning her attention to the street Santa.
The man knelt down on one knee next to the girl.
"Go 'head, give it pull," he said pointing to his white beard.
Virginia tugged at the hair on the man's chin.
"It's real!" she exclaimed to Vin. "But, how can that be? Mama said there is no real Santa Claus. She says it's a lie that grown-ups tell their kids to deceive them."
Santa smiled at Virginia, "Sometimes parents lose sight of their childhood and their imaginations."
"Tell him what you want for Christmas, Virginia," Vin told her.
Virginia leaned over to whisper into Santa's ear. She told him what she wanted.
"No toys, no clothes; are you sure that's what you want?" Santa asked.
"Yes, sir," she replied.
"Well, I can certainly try to do all I can. I don't usually deal with a request such as that. Is it OK if I tell Mr. Tanner, here? I may need his help," Santa asked.
Virginia looked up at Vin, and back into the calming eyes of the older man in the read suit.
"Yes, you can tell him." she said smiling at Vin.
"OK, you run along now, and we'll work on that request." Santa told her.
At that same time, Marguerite exited the general store. Eyeing her daughter in the presence of Vin Tanner and a stranger riled her. She angrily and quickly made her way toward them. Marguerite grabbed Virginia by the wrist and scolded her.
"Virginia Madison, what have I told you about talking to strangers?" she snapped at the child while jerking at her wrist to have her come with her.
"But Mother it's Vin and Santa," Virginia cried.
"Mr. Tanner, I do not wish to tell you again to refrain from being in the presence of my daughter! And you you filthy old man preying on young children and filling their heads with your highly imaginative fantasies. You both should be imprisoned for luring children into such lies depriving them of the reality of the cold hard truth!" she scolded the two men and stormed off with Virginia.
"What did she ask you for?" Vin said as he watched mother and daughter leave.
"They are on the brink of losing their home. Her parents are not as rich as people believe. They won't be able to pay the next payment."
Vin glanced at the red and white clad man and back at Virginia and Marguerite. He had no idea. They always acted like money was something they did not lack.
"Mister?" Vin asked.
"Yeah?" Santa answered.
"What's your name I mean, other than Santa Claus and how'd you know my last name?"
"My name's Kris Kringle or Santa Claus. I know a lot of things, especially people's names."
Vin stared at the man in disbelief.
"So, Mr. Tanner or should I call you Vin?" Santa began.
"Vin's fine." Vin answered.
"Alright, Vin, what do you suppose we should do about this situation?"
"Well, you are collecting money."
"Yes, for the orphans." he responded.
"Santa or should I call you Mr. Claus, Kris or Mr. Kringle?" Vin questioned.
"OK, Kris, I believe I have the orphans taken care of. A friend of mine recently came into some money, and I've convinced him to rebuild the orphanage. I also got him to play Santa um you tomorrow at the church and give the orphans Christmas presents. The people here will not give any money for the Madisons. They are not that popular mostly because of Marguerite's attitude," Vin attempted to explain.
"So, you think I should have people give money for the Madisons under the ruse of giving to help the orphans?" Kris asked.
"I cannot be part of a lie. I try to teach the children to be truthful; hence the reason I keep lists of good and bad little boys and girls. I will, however, agree to this under one condition."
"Whats that?" Vin asked.
"Your friend with the money, Ezra Standish, exchanges with me the amount I collect. This way, the money I collect from these good, kind folks who are giving to these orphaned children can rest assured that their donation is going directly to these children. Mr. Standish can donate his ill-gotten gains to the Madisons," Kris explained.
"Well, I can mention that to him and see that he says," Vin responded. "By the way, how'd you know Ezra was the friend I was referring to?"
"I am Santa, remember?" Kris said with a smile and a chuckle.
~ CHAPTER 2 ~
As he headed over to the Standish Tavern in search of Ezra, Vin went by his wagon. He walked by it noticing the hide that was usually draped over the opening had been moved. He stopped and looked around. He saw nothing and no one suspicious. Vin entered the wagon to make sure nothing was amiss. He saw where his harmonica once lay was a note that read "IOU one harmonica". Vin was still just learning to read. He didn't know what the letters "IOU" meant, nor did he know the word "harmonica". Vin figured he'd have to ask Mary or Ezra to explain the note to him. He left the wagon with the note in hand upset he couldnt find the harmonica. He knew the note must have had something to do with the missing harmonica. He continued on to the tavern.
Before reaching the tavern, Vin saw Josiah, Mary and Nathan gathered together. He walked toward them, as they appeared distressed. They explained Chris was not back yet. While they were discussing what to do about Chris, he suddenly appeared on the horizon. He was greeted, and Nathan took him to his office to tend to the wound on his forehead. Mary had gone with Chris and Nathan. Vin went to the tavern, but did not find Ezra. He began to check about town for him.
Vin had looked for Ezra for quite some time before meeting up with Chris and Mary again. He approached them and took the note he found in his wagon from his pocket. Mary read it to him and explained what the "IOU" meant. Vin became irritated and angry that someone would take his harmonica without asking. Upset over the harmonica, Vin left to continue his search for Ezra.
Vin finally found Ezra at the bank. He had considered Vin's suggestion - putting the rest of his winnings in the bank for the rebuilding of the house on the orphan ranch. Vin caught him just before he did.
"Ezra, wait. I have to talk to you," Vin said.
"Pertaining to what, may I ask?" Ezra replied.
The two left the bank. Vin saw Santa/Kris again - this time next door to the bank. Vin and Ezra approached him.
"Kris, this is " Vin began.
"Mr. Standish," Kris finished.
"Pray tell, how, may I inquire, did you know who I am?" Ezra asked.
"I am Santa Claus Kris Kringle, actually," Kris whispered, "I know a lot of things."
"Santa Claus? You are delusional, dear sir," Ezra accused.
"No, Mr. Standish, you were a bad boy. You cheated decent folks out of their hard-earned money and nearly ruined Christmas for the orphans had it not been for your friend here and that encounter you had last night," Kris told him.
"Vin, you were not to utter a word to anyone!" Ezra scolded a surprised Vin.
"Ezra, I didn't say anything to anyone," Vin defended.
"He's telling the truth, Ezra. He did not tell me."
Ezra cast a glance at Vin and back to Kris.
"Mr. Standish, Ezra, I need you to help a little girl and her family," Kris began.
"Do what?" Ezra asked.
"They are losing their home. I want you to take the money you were going to put towards rebuilding the orphanage and pay off the bank for the title to the home," Kris told him.
"Seriously?" Ezra questioned.
"Yes, I have begun a collection for the rebuilding of the orphanage. You'd be surprised how much money Santa can get folks to donate."
"To what family am I offering this generous dead?"
"The Madisons." Kris informed.
"Paul Madison and his evil wife, Marguerite?" Ezra asked, surprised.
"Yes," Kris replied.
"No, absolutely not!" Ezra exclaimed
"Ezra Standish, they are in need. They have a little girl that has asked for their home for Christmas - no other gifts, just their home. I told her I'd see what I could do. You must put aside your differences with these people and do what is right. But you mustn't tell a sole. No one must ever know." Kris scolded.
Ezra thought for a moment; then, he looked at Vin. Vin shook his head "yes".
"You realize I can not remit payment for this home; do you not? The banker and I are very acquainted. He would, perhaps, tell the Madisons who offered payment in their behalf." Ezra explained to Kris.
"That's true," Vin explained.
"OK, Ezra, you give me the money, and I will go into the bank. I will make the payment," Kris told Ezra.
Ezra handed the money to Kris. Kris went into the bank and paid the debt on the house in full.
While Kris was inside, Ezra asked Vin, "If he is indeed Santa Claus, why does he not give the children the gifts?"
"Because, Ezra, he's Santa. He won't be here. He'll be making deliveries around the world."
"Uh-huh." Ezra agreed with Vin.
After making the payment, Kris returned to Vin and Ezra waiting outside. Kris showed them the title.
"Now, they will not lose their home," Kris said.
"Was there any cash remaining?" Ezra asked.
"Yes, there was. I figured you wouldn't mind making a donation to rebuilding the orphanage since you were going to do it anyway," Kris told him with his ever-present smile on his face.
Virginia saw the men talking and approached them.
"Are you having any luck with what I asked for, Santa?" Virginia asked.
"We're working on it, Virginia," Santa answered.
"Thank you," she replied.
That was as far as the conversation reached. Marguerite saw them speaking and retrieved Judge Travis to have Santa arrested.
"He is preying on young children," she accused.
Judge Travis could do nothing else but have him arrested. Vin protested, as did Ezra. The judge ordered Vin to bring Kris to the jail; he did as he was told out of duty. Judge Travis told Vin to present their case at the hearing. He scheduled the hearing for later that same day. He didnt' want to have a Santa - real or fake - in jail on Christmas Day.
Vin attempted to collect evidence as Ezra went about his business of preparing the gifts and his Santa imitation for Christmas Day.
~ CHAPTER 3 ~
Vin visited all the families he could before the hearing. He explained what happened to Santa to each family. He, then, asked each of them to come to the hearing and testify in the behalf of Santa or Kris Kringle. Vin also asked them to tell everyone they saw to come to the hearing, too. He met up with Mary, and he asked her to bring Billy to the hearing. She agreed.
The hearing began to a packed meetinghouse. It seemed every family in Four Corners was present; however, not all seven men were present. Chris was out purchasing a gift for Mary. Nathan was at the Wells' homestead. Buck and JD were both out of town. Josiah was in the church - a now empty church as the children were gone to testify for Santa, if needed.
The Madisons' decided Marguerite would present their side. Vin couldnt get anyone to take up Kris' case. He was going to have to do it himself.
"All right, let's get this over with," Judge Travis announced.
"Judge Travis, this man is parading around town dressed as Santa Claus lying and deceiving our children. He's building the hopes of these, our, children up for things no one can possibly fulfill. He is also conniving against the adults of this town by posing as Santa Claus and requesting donations for the orphans. I am sure we will see none of that money go to the orphans, and I'm sure we won't see him after Christmas Day," Marguerite Madison informed the judge and gathering.
"Vin, I suppose you are going to argue these accusations?" Judge Travis asked.
"Judge, this man's name is Kris Kringle. Some folks call him Santa Claus. He gives children hope; he doesnt just build their hopes. He doesn't lie; I dare anyone of y'all to ask him something only you would know. As for the money, y'all will see. What he ahs collected will go directly to the orphans," Vin told them.
Each side began to call witnesses. Marguerite finally called her daughter, Virginia.
"Virginia, dear, do you know this man?" she asked.
"Yes, ma'am." Virginia answered.
"Who did he tell you he was?" Marguerite questioned.
"And he asked you what you wanted for Christmas?"
"Yes, ma'am." Virginia answered.
"Tell us, what did you tell him?" her mother asked.
"I'd rather not say," she responded.
"Virginia, you have to," Judge Travis told the little girl.
"OK, but Mother " she began.
"But nothing, dear, tell us what you asked for." Marguerite interrupted.
"Yes, ma'am. I asked him to give you and Papa the deed to the house and land; so, we would have a place to live," little Virginia answered as she lowered her head.
"I uh I have no more questions for her," Marguerite said stunned.
The meetinghouse was perfectly quiet as all eyes were on the Madisons. Slowly, whispers were rising out of the crowd about the financial status of the once thought well-to-do family.
"Quiet!" Judge Travis scolded the townsfolk drawing silence once again.
Virginia stepped down. Marguerite had a few more witnesses; then, it was Vin's turn. Vin called Kris to testify.
"Mr. Kringle, where do you live?" Vin asked.
"The North Pole." Kris replied.
The crowd began to mumble to one another. Judge Travis again called for silence.
"How did you get here?" Vin continued to question.
"My sleigh "
"Yes, and, of course, my reindeer - Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen and Rudolph."
The entire assembly of people laughed aloud at the thought of nine reindeer, which most weren't even sure what they were, pulling a sleigh. As they laughed, a man entered the building with a sack marked U.S. MAIL. Mary followed in behind him.
"Excuse me, I just got here. I'm the driver for the stage. I have some letters here addressed to a Kris Kringle and some for Santa Claus. I understand he's in here?" the man informed and asked the group.
Kris stood and walked over to the man.
"Thank you, Johnny," he expressed his gratitude.
"Don't I know you, sir?" Johnny asked.
"Yes, yes, you do. About twenty years ago, you wrote me a letter asking for a doll for your sister, Evelyn. Your family couldn't afford Christmas that year; so, you didn't want anything for yourself. You knew Evelyn wouldn't understand because she was so young," Kris asked.
"She enjoyed that doll, and thank you for the toboggan."
"Mrs. Madison," Judge Travis called.
"Yes, sir," she responded.
"Has Mr. Kringle hurt you, Virginia or any other individual here in Four Corners?"
"Well, no not yet. Not physically, but "
"But nothing, Mrs. Madison. It seems the US MAIL and its carriers recognize this man, Kris Kringle, as Santa Claus; therefore, so does this court. I, a judge sworn to uphold the laws that the government that operates the mail creates, can not argue with that government department if it feels that is who this man is. If they receive mail addressed to Santa Claus, Kris Kringle or whatever at the North Pole or wherever and deliver it to this man, who are we to tell them they have made an error. Mr. Kringle, my apologies. Now, I want everyone to go to home and spend Christmas with your families. I wish you all a Merry Christmas!" Judge Travis decided the hearing.
"Come, Virginia," Marguerite snapped as she grabbed the child's hand.
Vin left with Kris and Mary. As Mary left the two alone, Vin offered his gratitude for her bringing in the stage coach driver.
~ CHAPTER 4 ~
Vin and Kris walked down Main Street towards the Standish Tavern. They found Ezra inside. Kris wanted to have a last word with him before he had to leave.
"Ezra, I would like to speak to you before I leave," Kris whispered over the bar.
"You are departing?" Ezra inquired.
"Yes, it's Christmas Eve, you know. I have a lot of work to do."
The three men stepped outside the tavern.
"Ezra," Kris began, "I would like to thank you for portraying me for the children. I know your Christmases have not been very good ones. I know the one thing you wanted most in all your Christmases was to have your mother with you. I want to tell you I am sorry for not being able to present her to you all those years. I have tried, believe me. She can be a stubborn woman at times. Sometimes some gifts are even beyond me. Some gifts can only come from the Heaven's above. That goes for you, too, Vin. I know your childhood left a lot to be desired, as well. You both should realize your friends here they are gifts, not from me, but from above. Cherish them as if they were neatly wrapped and placed beneath your Christmas Tree. One more thing I tried again this year, a couple of weeks ago, to bring you that one special gift, Ezra. Merry Christmas, Ezra and Vin. Thank you for all you've done for me today, Vin, and thank you for what you are about to do tomorrow, Ezra."
Both Ezra and Vin stared dumbfounded at Kris, then at one another always astonished at what he knows about them.
"Oh, Vin, about the harmonica, don't worry about it. Things will work out. Remember the Christmas spirit, patience and understanding when you deal with the situation," Kris said as he walked out of Four Corners.
"Buy you a drink?" Vin asked as he turned to Ezra.
"No. It is Christmas, my dear friend. Beverages are on the house," Ezra smiled at Vin as he held one of the swinging doors to the tavern open for Vin to enter.
Later that night, Chris came to gather anyone wanting to go to Nettie Wells' place to see Nathan. Josiah couldn't leave the children unattended just yet. Mary had already gone home to relieve the judge from watching Billy. JD was with Josiah. Buck had already teamed up with Chris, which brought them to Vin and Ezra.
"Hey, Vin, Ezra. Y'all wanna come out to Nettie's to see how Nathan's comin' along? We're bringing a few things they may need for the baby," Buck said as they entered the tavern.
"I have to close here and prepare for tomorrow," Ezra replied cutting a glance over to Vin.
"I'll come with y'all," Vin responded with a twinkle in his blue eyes and a smile for Ezra, knowing what Ezra meant by 'preparing for tomorrow'.
The three men prepared their gifts for the infant yet to be born. When they finished, they left for Nettie's. As they rode, they saw a bright star hovering above, seemingly over Nettie Wells' homestead.
Another bright light flashed across the sky as they heard a familiar voice shout from above:
"Merry Christmas, Four Corners! Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas! On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen, on Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer and Vixen lead on Rudolph!"
Then, the night was silent.
Ezra, Josiah and JD, too, had heard the jolly old man's last words to them, as did Mary, Billy, Judge Travis and the Madison family. The Madisons were on their way home. They would have to begin packing what they could tomorrow.
Christmas Day brought a flurry of snow upon Four Corners much to everyone's surprise.
Ezra played Santa Claus, as promised, and gave out the gifts Vin helped him pick out to buy. Vin found a new harmonica with another note. Buck, along with Chris and Mary, confronted Vin. Vin remembered what Kris a.k.a. Santa Claus had said by keeping his Christmas spirit and used patience and understanding in dealing with Buck.
As for young Virginia Madison and her family, they awoke Christmas Day to a small wrapped package beneath their Christmas tree.
"Mother, open it!" Virginia exclaimed.
"Alright, child, calm down," Marguerite replied as she handed the package to Paul. "Here, you open it."
Paul took the package and unwrapped it. He opened the box to find an envelope. Paul removed the envelope; it read, in bold letters: Merry Christmas, Virginia, Marguerite and Paul Madison! May you share many warm and happy memories of Christmases yet to come here in this house!
Paul read the message aloud and opened the envelope. Inside was the deed to the land and house marked "Paid in Full."
Tale Seven: Spirit of Chrismas
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