There weren’t a might of doubt that Jake Marley died with his boots on. The M was still in the brand of the S Bar M Ranch, but Big Eb Scrooge was in the saddle, and he was riding alone, pardners.
And Big Eb was the orneriest, no-goodest, low down sidewindin’ polecat in these parts.
Why, when his own nephew trotted his pinto up to the ranch house to wish Big Eb a merry Christmas, the old coot come out on the porch with a shotgun and says, “Humbug, dagnab it! Git off my property fore I runs you off!”
And I wouldn’t treat a rattlesnake the way Big Eb treated his top hand, Slim Cratchit.
“Please, Big Eb, suh,” says Slim, “cain’t I wait until the day after Christmas afore I goes off on that 2,000 mile cattle drive?”
“Cuss it, man,” snarls Big Eb, “next you’ll be asking me to let you use a horse.”
“But I want to be home with my young ‘un, Tiny Tex,” Slim pleads. “He’s been feeling poorly since that coyote chawed his laig off.”
“Okay,” says Big Eb, reluctant-like, “but then I 'spect you to work 366 days next year.”
Well, sir, Big Eb gobbles down some hard tack and beans, and turns in for the night. Quicker’n a woke-up jackrabbit, up pops the late Jake Marley alongside Eb’s bunk, dragging his saddle and tack and branding irons and such.
“Hellfire and damnation!” cusses old Eb.
“That’s about the size of it, pilgrim,” says Jake’s ghost, “less’n you start in ridin' tall and shootin' straight. Now, three ghosts I been bunking with are gonna sashay in here and set you to a-heading proper down the Yuletide trail.”
"I think I druther wrassle a cactus,” moans Big Eb. But it were too late. In lopes the Ghost of Old-Timey Christmas.
This ghost gets Big Eb recollecting how Christmas Day was, before he got himself all meaned up; how he used to show off with his Winchester at the turkey shoot, give out silver dollars to acquaintances, and dance all night with the prettiest gals at the shivaree.
Next thing, along rambles the Ghost of Christmas Nowadays. This spook shows Big Eb what a nasty cusss he’s been acting like lately.
Lastly comes the Ghost of Newfangled Christmas, who convinces Big Eb that if he don’t mend his harness, he’s in for an early trip to boot hill and won’t nobody care two hoots down the rain barrel that he’s gone to his last roundup.
Well, pardners, I’ll be willow switched if Big Eb didn’t change direction faster than a longhorn herd that come on a rattler. He rode out and shot a couple of range hens for Christmas dinner for his nephew and the Cratchits.
He give Slim a cayuse to ride around the spread, and carved a fancy crutch for Tiny Tex outen an old broke buckboard shaft, to which the little nipper ups and says, “God bless the whole dang bunch of us.”
And these here days, folks down thataway say that nary a soul has a more rip-roaring, sod-busting, gullywasher of a Christmas than Big Eb Scrooge.
This tale was originally a Jim Smart column in the old Evening Bulletin about 40 Christmases ago.
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