A Western Christmas Corral–in 4 Roundups

BY  Ben House

Originally performed by the Veritas Academy Humanities Class.

With apologies to Mr. Charles Dickens, in hope that the heirs to his works do not find out about this literary rustling.                                              And with thanks to John R. Cash for helping out with his singing of “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”


ROUNDUP ONE

JAKE MARLEY’S GHOST

 MARLEY was dead, to begin with. There ain’t no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the sheriff, the judge, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. That was Old Eb Scrooge. Yep, he signed it. Old Eb Scrooge signed a lot of papers. Seemed he always got somethin’ out the deal, like more land, more cattle, more money.

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail and had been pushin’ up daisies for seven years.
Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Eb Scrooge and Jake Marley had been partners, running the same ranch ever since they left workin’ at Old Fezziwig’s outfit, for I don’t know how many years. Partners up til the day that Marley was kilt in a fight over more land.
Marley died and got his six feet of ground and Old Eb got the lands belongin’ to the folks what killed Marley.
Now with Marley bein’ in Boot Hill, Scrooge was now the owner of the whole spread, the whole herd of longhorn cattle, the barns and corrals, the horses, saddles, the bunkhouse, the ranchhouse and the outhouse.

What a fine cattle ranch it was. Big gate out front with a sign hangin’ down. Scrooge and Marly Cattle Ranch.
Scrooge never painted out old Marley’s name off the sign, however. There it yet stood, years afterwards, right out front of the ranch– Scrooge and Marley Cattle Ranch. Yes, Sir, the ranch was known as Scrooge and Marley. Sometimes a feller that was new to the parts would call Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes he called him Marley. Old Eb Scrooge answered to both names. It was all the same to him.

Oh, but Eb Scrooge was one tough man, as rugged, rough, tanned and ridged as those wide open plains of west Texas. He was tight-fisted. Maybe it came from all those years of running cattle during scorching summers and hard winters.

But he was more than rough and rugged. He was just plain ornery, as mean as a mad dog, as rangy and unpredictable as a herd of buffalo.
And tight fisted. Why ole Eb Scrooge was a squeezing, wrenching grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old coot! The blazing sun of a hot Texas summer and the blizzards of winter had little influence on him.
No camp fire could warm him, no sleet and drizzle could chill him.
No blue northern wind that howled across the plains was more bitter than Eb Scrooge; no falling snow was more cold.
No pelting rain less could make him more neighborly. No foul weather on the outside could match his foul temper on the inside.
The heaviest rain and snow and hail and sleet could they often drew folks together and brought out the best in a man, but nothing could soften the tough rawhide exterior of Eb Scrooge.

Everybody in town called him Mr. Scrooge, but no one stopped to jaw with him. Ever one was afeared of him.

None of the other ranchers would have said, “Hey, Eb, how you doin’? Come by my place and share some grub with me.”

He never had a kind word or even the time of day for anyone.

A boy: “Hello, Mr. Scrooge….Can, can, can I…I…tie up your horse for you, sir?” (Frightened look and then the child runs away.)

Not any wider woman, not even the preacher, would ask Eb Scrooge for help.
No man or woman ever once in all his life asked for directions to such and such a place, of Scrooge.
Even if a friendly dog saw him coming, he would tuck his tail and hide.
But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked.
Yes, sir, enjoyed bein’ mean and contrary. Hard hearted, cold, rough, unfriendly, unneighborly.
He only smiled if he bested somebody in a deal, a land deal, cattle buyin’, horse tradin’.

Cattleman: “Eb Scrooge heped me out once. Took my cattle with his herd on the trail drive. Paid me near $4 a head after sellin’ em up in Kansas. Course, then he charged $5 a head for his troubles. But then he offered to buy me out since I was broke, gave nearly half what I paid for my ranch.”

General Store Manager: “I run the general store. Least, I ust to. Eb Scrooge paid the legislature to put the railroad five miles from my store. He started his own general store there. I work for him now. Work longer hours, make less money, but it was the only job I could get.”

Sheriff: “Don’t talk bad about Mr. Scrooge. Course, I got elected sheriff only cause he let me. The way I see it, he is the law round these parts. I’m the sheriff, you see, and I sometimes have to evict folks who owe him money, but leastways, I have a job.”

You see what kind of feller he was.
He wuz, that’s the key ideer.  If you don’t understand all that about Ole Eb, you won’t be able to understand what is so amazing about the rest of this story.

Some years back, of all the good days in the year, it was Christmas eve. Old Scrooge had been out herding cattle with his men all day long. He was always fearful that somebody might rustle a cow or two away from his heard.
It was a cold and hard day and he was just getting back to the ranch with his foreman Bob Crachit. And, as usual, Old Eb warn’t in a good mood a’tall.

Like you said, It was mighty cold outside. A bleak biting, hard wind from the north had blown in, bringing ice and snow. And although it was just past the middle of the afternoon, it was quite dark already.

[Scrooge and Crachit walk in, carrying horse tact. ]
Scrooge: “SHUT THE GATE!”   (Mutters to himself.)

Two Cowboys rush in with a hurt cowboy between them.

SCROOGE: “What’s wrong?”
1st Cowboy: “It’s Lief, sir. I think he’s broke his leg. We got to take to Doc’s right away.”
2nd Cowboy: “His horse stumbled into a prairie dog hole and fell on Lief. That poor horse’s leg was broke for sure. We had to shoot him. Lief here is mighty bad hurt.”
SCROOGE: “I lost a horse?”
1st Cowboy: “We’re takin’ Lief on in.”
[They leave.]
Scrooge to two other cowboys: “Go get Lief’s stuff all together and out of the bunkhouse.”
Scrooge to Bob: “Crachit, figure up how much he’s owed for 24 days of the month. Take out $20, ah, make that $25 for the horse.”
One of the cowboys: “What we gettin’ all his stuff together for.”
SCROOGE: “I ain’t givin’ food and board to a man that cain’t work. Get on with what I told you unless you want to cash out too.”

BOB: “Mr. Scrooge, it’s Mr. Swift, the banker.”
MR. SWIFT: “Merry Christmas Bob. Mighty cold out there. Eb, I got the papers you wanted.”
SCROOGE: “Well, let’s ‘em signed. I ain’t got to waste waitin’ on this. I need that piece of land.”

Cowboy comes in to interrupt: “Mr. Scrooge, looks like the Wider Jones’ cattle have strayed on your place again. Do I need to run ‘em out?”

SCROOGE: “Naw, just let ‘em graze.”

Cowboy to Bob: “I hope I heard Mr. Scrooge right.  He usually gets riled over the wider’s cows gettin’ in his pasture.  I reckon Mr. Scrooge must have the Christmas spirit today.”

Mr. Swift:  “Christmas spirit?  Ha. Eb is just about to sign the papers that will turn her land and holdings, including those cattle, over to him.”

SCROOGE: “I need them Jones people off that property by tomorrow. It just ain’t right for them to be taking up land and space that ain’t theirs.  Take these papers to her right now. Swift, you do like your name says and tell that woman and her young uns to be packed and movin’ and gone by noon tomorrow.”

Mr. Swift: “Take the papers out there on Christmas eve?”

SCROOGE: “You can put a fancy bow on the papers if you want. I just want to see them gone soon. They ain’t got no business bein’ on my property. It just ain’t right.”

(They hear the sounds outside of a horse approaching. Then, in walks Fred.)

FRED: ”Howdy Uncle Ebenezer. A merry Christmas, Uncle! God bless you!”
SCROOGE: “Christmas! Bah! Humbug!”
FRED:”Christmas a humbug? Uncle Eb, You ain’t sayin’ Christmas is a humbug, are ye?”
SCROOGE:”Sure, I do. What cause have you got to be merry? You’re poor enough.”
FRED: “What right have you got to be contrary? You’re rich enough. So, Merry Christmas.”
SCROOGE: Bah. I spit on the whole idear of Merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for having to feed cattle through a long hard winter, a time of realizing you ain’t got money for paying bills; you look in a mirror and find yourself a year older, and not even two bits richer; you look over your herd and find that you got less than you did the year before.
If’n I had my way, every idiot who goes about sayin’ ‘Merry Christmas’ would be boiled with his own stew, and buried with a stake of cactus through his heart. Yep, he would!”
FRED: “Uncle Eb!”
SCROOGE:”Nephew, keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”
FRED: “Keep it! But you don’t keep it.”
SCROOGE: “Let me leave it alone, then. It ain’t doin’ you no good. It ain’t never done you no good.”
FRED:”There are many things in this world that have done me good, but I didn’t make a profit from them. I reckon Christmas is that way.. But I always thought of Christmas time, when it comes round, — along with it being the time we remember the birth of Jesus — as a good time; a kind, forgiving time, a time for helpin’ folks, a time for kin folks and friends to git together.
And so, Uncle Eb, even though Christmas ain’t added any gold or silver in my pocket, or added to my cattle herd, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
MR. CRACHIT: (applauds)
SCROOGE: (To Bob)”Let me hear another sound from you, and you’ll keep your Christmas by finding yourself cut loose from the herd and turned out alone on the prairie! …. (To Fred)…You’re quite a powerful speaker, sir. I wonder you don’t run county judge.”

FRED: “Don’t be angry, Uncle Eb. Come over to my ranch tomorrow and enjoy Christmas supper with me and my wife!”
SCROOGE: BAH…HUMBUG
FRED: “But why? Why you carryin’ on like that? Why?”
SCROOGE: “Why did you get married?”
FRED: “Because I met a wonderful girl and fell head over heels in love.”
SCROOGE: “Because you fell in love! Hadn’t you got any fences needin’ mendin’. Say your good byes and hit the trail.”
FRED: “Uncle Eb, you never came to see me before I got married. Why are you givin’ that as a reason for not coming now?”
SCROOGE: “How about this reason: Adios, amigos.”
FRED”Uncle, I don’t want nothing that’s yours. I don’t ask nothing of you. I worked and got my own land. Still, you’re my next of kin, my own uncle, my Maw‘s favorite brother. Why can’t we just be friends?”
SCROOGE: “Hit the trail, nephew. Ride on off to that ranch, as you call that scrub land of yours, and leave me alone.”
FRED: “I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so hard headed. We ain’t never had any quarrel or fight. But I came over to invite you to share Christmas with me and my Missus. I ain’t gonna let you ruin my Christmas spirit. So A Merry Christmas, uncle!”
SCROOGE: “”Ahh.!”
FRED:”And A Happy New-Year!”
SCROOGE: Bah. Humbug.
[Fred leaves, two other follows from town enter.]
1st GENTLEMAN: “This Scrooge and Marley’s spread, I believe. Do you happen to be Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?”
SCROOGE: “Jake Marley kicked the bucket seven years ago. He died seven years ago, got killed right there where you are standing.”
(Both gentlemen jump backwards.)
2nd GENTLEMAN: Our condolon…condolen… con…con…We are right sorry to hear that, Mr. Scrooge.
SCROOGE: It was the last straw in a land war against Mayfields. Marley and I got the whole of the valley down by the river out of that fight. Well, least ways, I got it. Marley got six foot of ground out of it.”
2nd GENTLEMAN: “Still, it’s a shame to hear of such a thing happening right on the eve of such a festive time of year.”
1ST GENTLEMAN: “Yes, this is a festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge, so some of us at the church have thought that we ought to do something for the poor and suffering folks around us. With the drought last summer and the hard winter on us now, there are some people out here who don’t hardly have any common necessaries, much less anything special for comfort. A few folks around here don’t hardly have a place to bed down at night.”
SCROOGE: “Is the jail house all filled up?”
1ST GENTLEMAN: “There’s room in the jail, but a jail cell ain’t no place to spend Christian. So some of us have decided to gather up some money to buy some meat and drink, and maybe some warm clothes for some of the widow women and their kids and some of the fellers who have lost their crops and cattle to the weather. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when folks really feel their hunger pains. And those winter winds can be mighty cold. What shall I put you down for?”
SCROOGE: “Nothing!”
SECOND GENTLEMAN: “That’s right kind. You don’t want anyone to know that you are helpin’ ‘em. You wish to be ananymous?”
SCROOGE: “I wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish, fellers, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I pay taxes to provide a jail for lazy folks and there are railroads to take all those other folks away from these parts. Let ‘em go to jail or leave.”
SECOND GENT: “Poor folks don’t belong in jail. Many of ‘em have worked hard and would rather die than give up their lands.”
ES: “If they would rather die, they had better do it. A few less lazy farmers and sorry ranchers out here would open up more grazing land for the rest of us.”
[The gentlemen left and Scrooge continued to shuffle through some papers. It was getting on to the end of the day. With an ill-will Scrooge, got up from his chair and walked over to his foreman, who was finishing up his work. ]
ES:”We got a lot of fences that need mendin’ over in the south pasture. But I reckon You’ll want all day to-morrow off?”
BOB: “If it ain’t too much trouble, Mr. Scrooge, sir.”
ES: “It is a lot of trouble, and it ain’t right. If I cut out a dollar from your monthly pay, you would think I was doing you wrong, now wouldn’t you?”
BOB “Yes, sir.”
ES”And yet you don’t think there ain’t nothin’ wrong with me paying out a day’s wages for no work?”
BOB”It’s only once a year, sir.”
ES”A poor excuse for stealing out of a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December! But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here before daylight the next morning.”
[The foreman promised that he would; and Scrooge walked out with a growl. ]
Scrooge lived in a small part of the ranchhouse which had once belonged to his deceased partner. The building was old now and dreary enough; for nobody lived in it but Scrooge, the other rooms being all closed up.

Old Scrooge bundled up and headed over to the ranch house, but all the while, he kept hearing strange sounds in the whistling wind.

[ “Ghost Riders in the Sky” theme song.]
ES: Bah. Humbug.

Being a rancher, a cowboy, a man who had spent many a long hard day and night out on the trail, Scrooge was not a man to be frightened by echoes. He went into his house, lit a candle, fastened the door, and went into his room, carrying his candle as he went.
The house was dark, ‘cept for the candle he carried. Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it. He also liked being alone, but on this night, he walked through his rooms to see that all was right. Something about that sound out in the wind had worked up a skeer in him. But just as he figured, there was nobody in the house with in. Nobody under the table, nobody near his chair; just a small fire in the fireplace and a bowl of stew in a small saucepan. Ole Scrooge ate his food and cussed the cook for putting too many spices in the grub.

[Then, he checked the door to see if’n it was locked, and that wasn’t his usual custom. Pulling his boots off, he settled down to sleep in his chair. A day in the saddle had left him quite sore, but for some reason, he felt like he ought to sit up in the chair to sleep tonight. And yes, he made sure he had a gun nearby. More than once in his life, he had been awaken by some varmit–some four legged, some two legged–that needed shootin’. Eb Scrooge wasn’t a man you wanted to disturb when he was sleepin’. ]
At first he couldn’t sleep. Then he got to thinking’ of ways he had forced the Widow Jones off her ranch right in the middle of the winter: land, barns, and cattle all. He had gotten the whole spread for a steal–mainly by paying back taxes, and he could make back his money with the spring cattle drive. And he wouldn’t have to worry about her botherin’ him anymore over use of the creek or about her settin’ her bonnet on marryin’ him. With that pleasant thought, he drifted off to sleep. And, with sounds loud enough to frighten off a whole of Indians, he began to snore.

What a good sleep, until Eb heard some noises.

[Out the door there were clanking and stumbling and all manner of sounds that get louder and louder.]

[Into Eb’s room walked Jake Marley. Old Marley, dressed in jeans and cowboy clothes same as in life, but his body was transparent; so that Scrooge, looking at him could see right through him. ]

Eb: “Who is it? Who‘s out there? You better git. What do you want?”
MARLEY”Much.”
ES: “Who are you?”
M: “Ask me who I was.”
ES: “Who was you then?”
M”In life I ran this ranch you. We was partners, I am Jake Marley.”
ES: “Jake? Is it really you? Can you — can you sit down?”
M:  “I can.”
ES: “Take a load off your feet.”
[Ghost sits down.]
M:  “You don’t believe in me.”
ES:  ”I don’t.”
M:  “What makes you think I ain’t real?”
ES:  “I don’t know. I reckon because I seen you die seven years ago tonight. I dug the hole you‘re buried in. ”
M:  “Why ain’t you believing’ what you see’in’?”
ES:  ”Because strange things can happen to a man’s eyes at night. You think you see a Indian moving in the bush that ain’t there. You see a stick and think it’s a rattlesnake. Maybe a little too much hooch messes up your seein’. Or maybe it is something you ate. That stew tonight that ole Jack fixed. I think it messed my stomach up. A little bit of raw beef, some potaters that ain’t cooked right, a little too much hot stuff in the stew. Why, Jake I figure there’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”
[Marley takes off the bandage round his head.]
ES:  ”Oh my goodness. Oh man, mercy. You are a awful looking creature. Dreadful haint, why you troubling’ me. I never knew such spirits walked the earth, and why are you comin’ to me?”
M:  “It is required of every feller, that the spirit within him should walk alongside all his fellow men and that we all should go many a mile helpin’ other folks.; and if a man doesn’t have that spirit during the days when he’s livin’ amongst folks, why then he is condemned after he dies to go back to those he did not help in life.. …Eb, my spirit never walked or rode beyond this ranch you and I staked out — listen, Eb! — in life my spirit never shared a canteen, a campfire, a side of beef with anyone who was thirsty, cold, or hungry. Now I got to ride back over many ranges where I never lent a helping’ hand to anyone else .”
ES:  “You helped me, Jake. Look at this cattle ranch we built. I knew the all about herdin’ cattle and you knew how to turn those herds into money. We were the best cattle ranchers in all these parts, maybe in all of Texas. And you were a good man of business, Jacob,”.
M: “Cattle! Business! Mankind was my business. Neighbors, poor farmers, widows, orphans, folks trying to build schools, preachers telling’ people the Gospel. That was our business.
Fence mending, round-ups, cattle drives, horse tradin’, selling the herd in Kansas City and getting paid in gold. All that waren’t even a drop of water in the Red River compared to what the real business was!”
E: But Jake. Look at how many acres we got. The two of us, workin’ together. We settled, took over, and bought out nearly the whole valley. I fixin’ to jump the claims on a few more ranches and farms, and then I’ll, I mean, we’ll have it all. A cattle on a thousand hills…and more. I’ll be doin it in your memory, you know.”
M:  “Eb, hush all that talk. I want you to hear me! I ain’t got much time. I gotta go.”
ES:  “Okay. Don’t be so angry, Jake. It ain’t like you. ”
M:  “I am here to-night to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping what I been through, Ebenezer Scrooge.”
E: Don’t call me Ebenezer. My mamma called me that. Came from the Bible.”
M: “My full name, Jacob, came from the Bible too. That’s about all the two of us got from the Bible, but you got a chance to mend some fences in your soul. I’m goin’ tell you something’ you need to hear.”
ES: “You were always a good friend to me. ”
M:  ”You will be haunted by Three Spirits. Three Ghost Riders.”
ES: “Three spirits? Ghost Riders? Is this what you call a chance and a hope, Jake? Seein’ you here lookin’ worse than a coyote after a bad winter is quite enough. I — I think I’d rather not see or drink any spirits.”
M:  ”Either these 3 spirits come to see you, or you’re gonna turn out worse than me. They comin’, like it or not.
E: But Jake, a man needs his night’s rest. And it’s Christmas eve. A time for celebratin’.”
M: You ain’t expectin’ ole Santy Claus to come see you, are you, Eb? You can git on back to sleep when I head out, and I figure that sometime after midnight, the first Ghost Rider will come ridin’ up. The next ’un ’ll ride up ride some where’s in the night after that. The third one is quite a odd fellow. He ain’t like regular folks. He’ll come when he’s ready, and leave when he’s finished with ye. Eb, I won’t see you no more. Don’t fergit what I tole you.”
[MARLEY disappears.]

[Scrooge checked the door where the Ghost had entered. It was double-locked, as he had locked it with his own hands, and the bolts were undisturbed. He checked his gun also to make double sure it was loaded.]
Scrooge: “Humbug!” (And wore out from the encounter, he sat back down in the chair and fell asleep on the instant.)

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