Because of a Christmas Tree
With anxious eyes, Sonny watched as Mr. Soper examined the old man, feeling his hot face, taking his pulse and listening to his labored breathing and hoarse coughs. After what felt like hours to the waiting boy, he turned and said quietly, “Sonny, I need to fetch some things from my place. I won’t be gone long. Can you get some water heating up to make some tea?”
The boy nodded, glad to be able to something for this man who had taken him in and cared for him.
All that day Sonny and Mr. Soper remained in the shack with Old Marley. The other men in the mining camp wandered by during the day to “see how things was goin,’ an’ did Doc need anything.” Mr. Soper, though he was young, was considered the “town doc” for he had spent one year at a medical school before lack of funds had sent him out west in search of gold to finish his training. All during the day Sonny had been quiet, which was quite unlike his usual talkative self.
Sitting down for some supper that evening, Mr. Soper turned to the boy and asked, “Are you feeling all right, Sonny? You’re awfully quiet.”
Sonny nodded. “Yes, sir, I'm all right. I’ve just been thinking about Uncle Marley and Christmas. How many more days until Christmas, Mr. Soper?” Though the other men in camp might call the young man “Doc,” Sonny never did. His polite manners and speech around the mining camp hinted that he had been used to more refined ways.
Rubbing his stubby beard, Mr. Soper thought a moment before answering. “Well, the day after tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Did you have some plans?” His voice was kind, for the boy interested him and he promised himself that if anything should happen to Old Marley, he would take care of the boy.
“Yes, Uncle Marley and I want a Christmas tree. We were out hunting for one all day yesterday, but we never found the right one. Do you think Uncle Marley will be able to go look for a tree before Christmas?”
“Let’s just wait and see,” Mr. Soper replied softly, rising to add another stick of wood to the stove.
The following day was much the same. Old Marley didn’t get any worse, but neither did he seem to improve.
On Christmas Eve, Sonny sat on his stool by the stove, his chin resting in his hands, and stared at the floor. Uncle Marley was still sick. He couldn’t go with him to find a Christmas tree. And Mr. Soper couldn’t go because he must stay and take care of Uncle Marley. Could Sonny talk one of the other men into going to find a Christmas tree? “Uncle Marley wants a tree,” Sonny whispered to himself. “I just know it would make him better.” With the quick decision of a child, Sonny stood up and pulled on his coat.
“Mr. Soper,” he said softly, “I’m going to go visiting, if you don’t think Uncle Marley needs me.”
The young man looked up. “No, Sonny, Old Marley isn’t likely to be needin’ you for a while. And I reckon it’ll do you a heap of good to get out of this shack for a while. You just run along now and enjoy the sunshine.”
Only pausing a moment beside the bed to touch the old man’s hand, Sonny hurried from the shack and up the road.
A sudden shaking of the shack roused Soper from his light doze beside the bed. The room was dusky even though it was mid-afternoon. “Huh,” he muttered, rising and lighting the lamp. “Sounds like a storm might be blowin’ in. I wonder which shack the boy’s in.” Peering out the window, Soper took notice of the few flakes of snow which danced in the wind.
The young man turned, stepping over to the bed and placing a hand against the old man’s face. “Yep, it’s me, Marley. How’re you feeling?”
“Like I’ve been huntin’ for a week with no sleep. Where’s the boy?”
Lifting the old man’s head, Soper held a tin mug of tea to his lips. “Take a drink of this and then get some more sleep. I reckon Sonny’ll be ‘round before too long. He’s gone visiting.”
Taking several swallows before turning his head away, Old Marley relaxed for a moment. Another gust of wind shook the shack. “Winter storm comin'?”
“Reckon so.” Soper rubbed his hand over the back of this neck and looked towards the door. Where was Sonny?
Soper turned. “Yep.”
“Sonny might like yer company tonight for dinner. I ain’t feelin’ up to fixin’ it jest yet.”
“Just get some sleep, Marley. I’m not goin’ any place.” He watched as Old Marley’s eyes closed and saw him fall into a deep, healthy slumber. It was only then that he crossed the room to the window. It wasn’t snowing much, but he could feel the cold wind drifting through the cracks around the windowpane. If Sonny didn’t return soon, he might become stuck in another shack.
Just then a step was heard outside, the door was pushed open, and someone almost blew inside. It wasn’t Sonny.
“Bronson!” Doc Soper’s voice was low. “Anything wrong?”
The newcomer shook his head, his tones equally low as he replied, “Nope, jest thought I’d see if’n ya needed anything. How’s Old Marley?”
“Fever’s broke. He’ll mend quickly I reckon. Could you find Sonny and bring him back here? Old Marley was askin’ for him when he woke up. He’s gone visitin’.”
“Sure thing.” And the rough miner stepped back out into the cold afternoon.
Within an hour he was back with a few of the other men. “He ain’t around the town, Doc,” Bronson reported. “Ain’t nobody seen hide nor hair a him fer hours.”
“Hours?” The young man’s eyes were wide and anxious. “But he’s been gone since this morning. Has he been to see any of you?”
The men nodded and one spoke up. “Yep, asked me if’n I wanted to go hunt some tree with him.”
Giving a gasp, Soper’s face turned pale. He had forgotten Sonny’s talk of finding a Christmas tree with Uncle Marley before Christmas. If no one in the shacks had seen him, he must have gone off to find a tree alone. And a winter storm would soon be on them!
With a few rapid, but low words, he told the men of Sonny’s desire for a Christmas tree. It didn’t take more then five minutes for the men to comprehend everything and immediately they started off to round up the others and begin their search for the young boy.
Where is Sonny?
Did you see the giveaway on Read Another Page?