Stubby Pringle swings up into saddle. He looks out and down over worlds of snow and ice and tree and rock. He spreads arms wide and they embrace whole ranges of hills. He stretches tall and hat brushes stars in sky. He is Stubby Pringle, cowhand of the Triple X, and this is his night to howl. He is Stubby Pringle, son of the wild jackass, and he is heading for the Christmas dance at the schoolhouse in the valley.

Western short story written by Jack Schaefer in 1963. It made its first appearance in "Boys' Life" magazine, and was republished as a book the next year. 

The story focuses on Stubby Pringle, a brash young cowboy working at the Triple X Ranch somewhere in the Old West. It's almost Christmas, and Stubby is looking forward to the evening's Christmas Eve dance at the schoolhouse in the valley. He doesn't even mind having to ride 26 miles through a blinding snowstorm -- he just wants to blow off some steam and kick up his heels. He's especially eager to find a pretty girl to woo, and he's going armed with a two-pound box of chocolates and a package full of dressmaking materials to help him seal the deal. 

But before long, his ears detect a strange sound -- someone chopping wood? In a snowstorm? On Christmas Eve? Before a dance? And chopping wood... badly? Like they've never chopped wood before? Stubby investigates and finds a lonely homestead, where a woman is out in the cold swinging an ax dangerously enough to risk serious injury to herself. He stops her and learns that she has to chop the wood because her husband has been bad sick and is still too weak to get out of bed. Well, that dance just barely started, plenty of time to get there, won't take much time to chop some wood. And after that, Stubby cuts 'em a Christmas tree, then gets set to head down to the valley. 

And it turns out the family doesn't have anything to hang on the tree. Well, they'll be kickin' up their heels 'til the wee hours, so he gets to work making some homemade ornaments. There aren't a lot of things to scavenge for ornaments around the impoverished homestead, so Stubby even uses one of his warm bandanas and the lining of his coat to make ornaments for the tree. 

But no gifts? No presents for the kids? No presents on Christmas Eve? Well, that dance'll probably be running 'til the sun comes up, so there's still time. Stubby gets the dressmaking materials and tells the woman to sew the little girl a dress, while he fetches some wood and his pocketknife and whittles a toy pony for the little boy. By the time he's completed the pony, the woman has finished the dress and, exhausted, fallen asleep in her rocker. Stubby goes back outside, brings back the box of chocolates, and leaves them in her lap. And not wanting the ill father to be left out, he places his good pocketknife on his bedcovers. And he finally leaves so he can ride down to the dance in the schoolhouse in the valley. 

But the dance is over. He's missed the whole thing. 

So he rides slowly back to the ranch, thinking sadly of the dances he could've danced, the fun he could've had, the girls he could've wooed. Thinking of his life of poverty and hard work and regrets. 

And then he hears sleigh bells...

Well, how is the story? First, you've got to understand that what you're gonna get here is a story soaked in Western fiction tropes circa the 1950s and 1960s -- and written for a children's magazine, no less. It's probably lucky there wasn't a gunfight, a barroom brawl, or Indians saying "How!" at some point. Stubby scoffs at a woman trying to chop wood, and at her husband for being too sick to be able to muscle himself out of bed for hard manual labor, so you know Schaefer fully bought into the macho bullshit of the era. 

But this doesn't make it an entirely bad thing. The retro-Western vibe is lots of fun, and it's easy to imagine that large chunks of this were lots of fun for kids in the '60s who loved Westerns. And it's not all that bad nowadays, 'cause Schaefer does retro-Western vibes really well. Particularly fun is the way Stubby dives into Wild West braggadocio. He's not just Stubby Pringle, cowhand at the Triple X Ranch. He's Stubby Pringle, ten feet tall, born with spurs on, nursed on tarantula juice. He's Stubby Pringle, raised on whetstone, fed on cordwood. He's Stubby Pringle, born with feel for knives in hand, raised to whittle his way around the world. It's a great way to show he's young, full of confidence, and maybe a little full of bullshit, too. 

This is also an excellent Christmas story. You've got a cold, snowy Christmas Eve. You've got the promise of warmth, fun, food, and festivities far away in the valley. You've got an impoverished family in need of help. And you have someone willing to sacrifice his time, energy, and even possessions and comfort to give that family a merry Christmas. That's a pretty classic story -- and the author doesn't even try to disguise it. As soon as he meets the woman trying to chop wood in the snow, you absolutely know it's gonna end with Stubby doing good deeds for the unfortunate and entirely missing out on the dance at the end. If this were a more modern story, Stubby would still get a kiss from a pretty girl, the last person leaving the dance, who'd tell him, "You're a good man, Stubby Pringle" and promise to bring a pie for him at the ranch on Boxing Day. But this isn't a modern story, so his congratulations come from a strange buckaroo hiding in the dark -- and Stubby finds himself more satisfied with himself than he would've been if he'd attended the dance. 

It's a good Christmas story and not a bad Western. It's not easy to find this in print, but there are a few copies online. "Boys' Life" was a Scouting magazine, so you can still find their copy on their website.

"We-e-e-l-l-l do-o-o-ne... pa-a-a-rt-ner!"

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