LR02-Tales of the Lone Ranger
Summary: This is planned as an occasional series of Lone Ranger one-shot stories. The Lone Ranger and Tonto helped many people over the years, but that didn't always involve using their guns or their fists. In Story #1, as Christmas approaches, the Lone Ranger and Tonto make an unexpected discovery and then must do their best to save Christmas and help those involved. The story was written for the Caesar's Palace December 2017 Monthly Challenge (mistletoe) and the Plight of the Little Known Fandom's Christmas Challenge.
The story is loosely based on Bing Crosby's 1943 classic song, "I'll Be Home for Christmas."
Disclaimer:This story is a work of fiction, written entirely for fun and not for profit. It is meant to fit into the 1940s-1950s version of The Lone Ranger TV show, starring Clayton Moore as our masked hero and Jay Silverheels as his trusty companion. This interpretation of that particular version of The Lone Ranger is entirely my own, and The Lone Ranger and all of its various components remain the property of their respective owners.
Story #1: A Home for Christmas
The distant sound of cattle bellowing caused the Lone Ranger to raise a hand and bring Silver to a stop on that cold December morning.
"What wrong, Kemosabe?" asked Tonto as he drew rein on Scout.
"Sound like cattle. Very upset?"
"Very," agreed the masked man. "Over in that direction."
Tonto nodded in agreement. "You want to check out? We lose time tracking the Donner brothers."
"I think so, Tonto. Cows don't usually bellow like that unless there's something really wrong. Their owner would typically help them in that case if they could, so it's possible that someone needs our help. The Donners will have to wait. Let's go."
A short, fast ride down the dusty trail and then off a small path soon brought the pair to a small farm. Seven cows were in a fenced paddock that looked to have seen better days; it was overgrazed and parts were as windblown as the trail the men had just ridden. The cows were moving around rather frantically in the little field, but there were no signs of intruders or other dangers. On seeing the masked man and the Indian approach the fence, the cows came running up, still bellowing loudly.
It didn't look to Tonto that it would take too much for them to knock the fence down. He moved Scout close to ward them off. His move worked, leading one cow to drop to its knees and crane its head under the fence. It was reaching desperately for a small clump of grass that was just beyond the reach of its tongue.
"They hungry, Kemosabe. Maybe not eat in days."
"And thirsty, too, Tonto," replied the ranger, riding Silver back over from a short distance away. "The watering trough is empty. There's a well; please see if you can draw some water for them while I check the house."
"Me check barn for hay, too," agreed Tonto, dismounting. He started to lower the bucket into the well as the ranger moved toward the little farmhouse. The Indian drew the bucket and carried it over to the trough, where he dumped it in as the cows crowded around, pushing each other trying to get at least a little of the precious liquid. Speaking in his native Potawatomi tongue, he said, "Patience, cows. You're thirsty, but there will be more in a moment." He hurried back toward the well for another bucket.
The Lone Ranger was standing at the door knocking but receiving no response. "Hello! Is anyone home?" he called for the second time. He gave three more sharp raps on the door. Again, there was no answer, but this time, he thought he heard something since the cows had, for the most part, stopped bellowing while they tried to drink their fill. From somewhere in the little house, the ranger thought he heard the sound of a baby's cry. With the situation possibly being even more desperate than he'd feared, he called out again as he lifted the latch and opened the door.
The thick curtains on the only window were drawn, so the interior of the house was dark; it was also as cold inside as it was outside. More importantly, the baby's cry was now clear and persistent. The ranger struck a match and held it up to get a look at the situation. He saw an oil lamp and moved to light it, but he noticed that its well was dry, so he lit the lone candle near it just before he had to shake out the match. Again, he called out, "Hello!"
The fireplace looked cold, filled only with a mound of unkempt ashes and a charred log that would have, in most circumstances, been split before being added to the fire. Using the candle to look around, he saw one door to another room, from which came the sound of the crying child.
Knocking once more, he stepped to the side and pushed the door open when he received no reply. Not receiving a hail of bullets either, he held the candle up and was about to peek into the room when the smell hit him.
Though he rarely interacted with babies and never had the opportunity to care for one of his own, he knew the smell of a dirty diaper. This one was apparently very dirty. One wouldn't leave a child like that if they were capable of doing anything about it. Not knowing if there was illness or death in the room, he took the bandana from around his neck and quickly covered his mouth and nose with it, for whatever protection it might afford. "Excuse me," he called, "I'm coming in to help."
Stepping into the room, he saw that bedroom fireplace was as cold as the one in the main room. There appeared to be someone in a bed and a baby that was heavily bundled in a wooden crib over to the side. The little tyke—whether a boy or girl, he had no clue—pulled up on the rails and immediately raised its hands, opening and closing them rapidly as if trying to say, "Pick me up," while actually saying "Ma ma ma ma."
Holding the candle closer, the ranger saw that the child's clothes and bedding were wet. "Give me a moment, little one," he said. "I need to check on your mom. I think."
Moving over, he pulled the cover back a bit to see a dark-headed woman who was or who had been sick. From looking in the gentle glow of the candlelight, he really couldn't tell, so he placed a hand first in front of her nose and then touched her forehead with the back of his hand.
Stepping out to the front, he called, "Tonto! Please come. I need help."
The Indian came running. "What wrong, Kemosabe?"
"Not too close, Tonto. The lady of the house is deathly ill with a fever. The baby appears healthy for now, but could get sick at any time. I may be exposed, so you need to stay out of the bedroom. I'll do what I can for both of them, but I'll need your help out here if they're going to have any chance of making it."
"Me help, Kemosabe. You tell what you need."
The Lone Ranger's list was long, but Tonto was making progress on it. First, there was water and then wood for the fire. He'd found an ax which he used to split the few logs he found in the woodpile. He used the wood to start a fire in the fireplace in the main room, and the ranger started one in the fireplace in the bedroom. Tonto also had a pot of water over the fire, trying to bring it to a boil.
Next he went to the barn and found a bit of hay, which he took to the cattle. They were eating happily, so Tonto found a halter and slipped it over the head of what appeared to be the milch cow. Tying the creature to what appeared to be a relatively steady part of the fence, he sat down on a little stool and started his first attempt at milking.
The cow was swollen and tender from not being milked in a least a day or two, so Tonto's initial ham-handedness with the milking wasn't taken well. The cow shifted, almost dancelike, toward the fence, causing Tonto to rise up, shift the bucket, and then move the stool. Just as he was sitting back down, the cow moved back, pushing on him.
"Whoa, cow!" said Tonto in Potawatomi, putting his arm up to keep the cow in place. "Hold still."
Looking back, the cow noticed when Tonto tried to shift one more time to get into a better position and that was when her foot flew. Tonto rolled away off the stool to avoid the kick, but she connected with the bucket and sent it rolling. Fortunately for the Indian, his efforts to that point had produced such little milk that it really didn't matter.
Picking up the bucket, he placed it back under the cow and threw his right shoulder into the cow's flank, pushing her near the fence. It took some effort but he soon had streams of milk entering the pail.
A short time later, he took off the halter, and slapped the cow's rump. "Go, cow. We'll meet again later." He picked up the bucket and headed to the house. The baby needed the milk and he had a lot more work to do.
It was the next evening and the Lone Ranger was sitting in a rocking chair next to the fireplace, which now held a small fire and a good bed of coals that warmed the room. He was holding the little girl whose name, based on an inscription in the family Bible, he believed might be Ellen. If the inscription was correct, the girl was about a week shy of her first birthday. A small cup of chicken soup and a glass of milk sat on the dresser next to them.
"You want more?" he asked very softly. Seeing her smile, he dipped the spoon into the soup, crushed a little chunk of chicken, and then scooped up a bit of the broth and tiny chicken pieces which he offered to the baby. She swallowed it hungrily and then looked at him for more. Her gaze continued to be affixed on his mask and his eyes, as if wondering why he wore it.
Knowing that would be far too difficult to explain to the toddler, he dipped another spoonful and raised it up in front of her face. "Here it comes, open wide!" he whispered before moving the spoon in gentle circles as if it was a flying bird. This caused her to giggle again before he swept the spoon into her mouth. "Gotcha again, Ellen!"
"It's Ellie," came a cracked but unexpected voice from the bed. "I call her Ellie. How is she?"
The ranger turned toward the woman in the bed. "Ellie's fine and she's quite happy to see you. Deborah, right? How do you feel?"
The woman nodded weakly. She'd been secretly observing him since she'd awoken a bit earlier. "Much better, and I was so glad to wake up and see Ellie okay. I was getting weaker by the moment when I put her in her crib; I don't remember how I even made it back to bed."
"You made it," replied the masked man. "You were there when we arrived; Ellie definitely needed help, but she made it through. Here, have some water."
She sipped slowly as she collected her thoughts. When she was done, she eased back down on her pillow. "You said 'we.' I must admit that I'm somewhat concerned to wake up and see my daughter in the arms of a masked, but apparently gentle, outlaw, particularly in knowing that there are others outside. I guess even outlaws have kids and can be nice to them. I thank you, but please don't hurt us. We were robbed a few days ago and we have little else to give you."
Shifting in the bed, she glanced down and her eyes suddenly filled with fear. Pushing the cover back a bit, she looked at her outfit and cringed. Tears welled in her eyes as she cried out, "You…you took advantage of me while I was sick!"
The ranger shook his head. "No, ma'am. I apologize that I had to clean you and change your clothes and bedding, but it was necessary if you were going to have a chance to survive. I'm sorry I had to do it, but believe me, I took no advantage in doing so. And no one is going to harm you as long as we're here to protect you."
She stared at him for a few moments, as if pondering his words, as she blinked her eyes rapidly, trying to stop the tears. "I don't know why, but I believe and forgive you. What about your friends?"
"Friend, but neither of us are outlaws, Deborah. We are on the side of law and order, always trying to help those in need."
"I definitely needed the help," said Deborah. "But if you're on the side of the law, why do you wear a mask?"
The Lone Ranger sat down on the chair and placed little Ellie on his lap so the little girl could see her mother.
"Ma ma, ma ma, ma ma!"
The ranger smiled. "I wear it to protect my identity and to protect those I love. My friend and I have spent many years bringing law and order to parts of the West, and we have made many enemies who would do their best to cause us, or those we care about, harm."
She stared at him for a few moments, weighing his words. "You..." she started, but then paused again before asking, slowly, "May I see one of your bullets?"
The ranger smiled and pulled one out of one of the loops on his belt. He handed it to her.
"Silver." She smiled at him as she held the cartridge out to him. "Then the stories are true. I...I always thought they were just folk tales, that you were just a story."
"Sometimes stories, if told the right way and heard by the right people, make it easier for us to do our job."
Later that evening, the Lone Ranger and Tonto spoke in whispers outside the house. They had about ten feet between them while they talked to keep Tonto from being exposed to the illness. "She said that two men came to the farmhouse a few days before we arrived. One of them, who looked sick, got very close and then overpowered her. They took food, some clothing, and her rifle, and then stole both of her horses and what little money she had."
"They bring illness to her."
"I believe you're right, Tonto. She said it was a couple of days after they left that she got sick, but she's not sure how long she was unconscious. The baby and I have been exposed, so we may be getting sick in a couple of days, too, though it's possible that Ellie may already be past it."
"What we do, Kemosabe? Donner brothers get farther away by day, but you not be able to ride if you get sick."
"From the description Deborah gave me, I think the Donners may have been the ones who robbed her. I've written up all of information so they can be easily identified and a description of her property in case they still have it. If you can track them down, you can give it to a local marshal and get him to help you capture them if I don't catch up with you first. Then we can return any of Deborah's property that might be recovered."
"If you get sick? What then?"
"Miss Deborah should be strong enough in another day or so to care for me if I get ill. I'll be fine."
Tonto nodded in acquiescence. "Me go at dawn."
For the next two days, the Lone Ranger cared for little Ellie and Deborah as the woman got stronger. He used any free time that he had to work around the farm and make improvements. He also cleaned the house as thoroughly as he could in hopes that the illness would be eliminated. All of the hard work also kept him from dwelling on the possibility that he might soon be getting sick, too.
Deborah reached up from her bed that night and took his hand. "Thank you for all you're doing to help us."
"No thanks are necessary, Deborah. It's what Tonto and I do."
"Maybe so, but we appreciate it anyway. And, please, call me Debbie. Deborah sounds so, well, judgmental."
"Pun intended?" He asked with a smile.
She returned a little smile of her own as she nodded, and then replied, "Ranger, tell me your name."
He paused, catching his breath at the unexpectedness of her demand. "No. I can't. I can't take that risk, either for me or for you."
She bit her lip as she rolled over in her bed away from him, pulling the cover up around her. He let himself out and slept on the floor in the other room.
By the third day, Debbie wanted to be up full time, but he still spelled her with the little toddler for periods to let her get some rest. On the fourth day, as she took over some of the household work, he finally breathed a sigh of relief that he had probably missed the illness. That opened up more options for him.
Since the cows were branded, he let them out of their pen to roam the range to forage. With the watering trough full, he hoped they wouldn't roam too far. He'd have to round them up before departing.
He then spent a good part of the day farther afield scything down grass that could be used for hay. Since it was already relatively dry, he left it on the ground to dry in the sun for a few hours while he continued cutting, and then started raking it up and gathering it in the afternoon. He hoped that it would be dry enough that it wouldn't mold in the barn. Silver helped, too; he wasn't used to pulling a cart, but he cooperated and the ranger forked what he'd gathered into the hayloft. It wasn't a lot, but he hoped that it would help Debbie's tiny herd get through the winter.
That night, he sat down in the chair after dinner and held little Ellie while she fell asleep. Debbie watched silently as she cleaned the dinner dishes, and then came over and had a seat next to them.
"She really likes you," said the woman.
"She's a very sweet little girl," replied the ranger. "I saw in your Bible that she was born around Christmas last year."
"On Christmas eve. Jerry and I were the happiest parents ever; she was such a wonderful Christmas gift."
"I'm sure she was. If you don't mind me asking, what happened to Jerry? I saw his dates in your Bible."
"It's okay," she answered. "It was spring and he was out plowing a new field. A rattler must have surprised him. When I found him, I rushed him to town to the doctor, but rush isn't really the right word. The nearest town, if you can call it that, is about seven miles away. After I hooked up the wagon and struggled to help him get into it, it was probably already too late considering we still had to make the drive."
"I'm very sorry."
"Thank you, but it's okay. We don't have a lot of time to dwell on the past or feel sorry for ourselves here. There's far too much to do."
"I'm sure. How do you run the farm by yourself?"
Debbie sighed. "I found a farmhand who helped for a while, but he left during the harvest, leaving me to bring in the last of the crops with Ellie."
"What are you going to do this coming year?"
She took on a worried look before glancing away. "I really don't know."
On the fifth day, the ranger found another grassy field and cut as much more hay as he could. He cut some firewood in the early afternoon, and then finished gathering the hay as the sun set on the shortest day of the year.
That night after little Ellie was asleep, Debbie approached as the ranger looked over a map spread out on the table. She sat down in the chair next to him, and then leaned in close. Looking at the map and then at his face, she said, "You're leaving." The sad look on her face expressed her disappointment on the thought.
The man nodded. "Soon. If Tonto doesn't return tomorrow, I'll be on my way the next day. We have the Donners to capture, and other outlaws are out there doing their worst, too."
"Christmas is just a few days away. Ellie would like it if you stayed for that, Ranger. This could be your home; it would be like we are a family. We could be..." She paused, unable to say the rest, even though she'd been thinking the words all day.
The masked man understood more of her unspoken thoughts than she suspected, so it pained him as he replied. "Debbie, I'd like to stay, and the thought of having a real home and family, particularly at Christmas...well, that warms my heart. But, it's not about me and what I want or need; there are too many who need our—Tonto's and my—help. As painful as it is sometime, duty calls, so I have to go."
She rose without another word, went into the bedroom, and closed the door behind her.
On the sixth and final day, the Lone Ranger spent the morning cutting some firewood, and then worked around the farm in the afternoon, doing more repairs and setting things in order. He patched a hole he'd discovered in the barn roof and then went out back and fixed a couple of holes in the siding. There were some greenbrier vines growing up on the barn, so he ripped all of them down, exposing another hole which he quickly fixed.
Debbie came out with a bundled-up Ellie about that time and they watched as the little girl took a few unsteady steps around the barnyard. The adults ended up taking turns holding Ellie's fingers as she toddled around and then attempted to chase after a couple of chickens.
Catching her just before she took a tumble, Debbie said, "I think we're going inside to fix supper. See you in a little while?"
That evening, the woman was wearing a finer dress that he hadn't seen before. Her hair was carefully coiffed, too, and her cheeks and lips had the most color he'd seen in them. He glanced away to hide a little smile when he saw her discreetly pinching her cheeks while supposedly checking on the stove.
After a lovely meal, they put the little girl to bed. Debbie excused herself for a moment while the ranger stood by the crib, but she returned a minute later. After a short prayer, Debbie said, "Good night, little one." Taking the ranger's hand, she gave a playful smile and said, "Come."
To his surprise, she stopped in the doorway and turned toward him, pulling him close to her. He looked at her questioningly, but she put her hand around his neck and pulled her down to her level where her lips locked with his.
Her lips were soft and tender, and, despite wanting it to go on, he pulled away.
"What...what was that for?"
She suppressed a grin. "It wasn't 'for' anything, silly. Mistletoe, see?"
The ranger looked at the head of the door at the vine hanging above them. "Debbie, I'm sorry, but I'm pretty sure that is a common greenbriar vine, Smilax bona-nox, if I remember correctly, not mistletoe. The mistletoe vine doesn't grow—"
"Oh, please, it's mistletoe for tonight," she said, almost angrily. Pulling him close once more, she kissed him again, this time more passionately, and this time he responded.
When they finally separated, the Lone Ranger said, "You know, I think you're right. That may be mistletoe after all."
Dawn found the Lone Ranger waking from his spot on the floor next to the fireplace in the main room. He had packed his few belongings by the time Debbie emerged from the bedroom a few minutes later.
"Ranger, I'm sorry. I didn't mean—"
He held up a hand. "Please, Debbie, don't apologize. I understand, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate what you said. If circumstances were different, I'd consider myself the luckiest man alive to have your love and help raise Ellie. Circumstances are what they are, though, so I must say adios and be on my way."
A few minutes later, he was gone.
Fighting tears, Debbie fed the cows while Ellie was still asleep, and then she went back into the house. Seeing the piece of vine hanging above the door, she smiled wistfully before pulling it down and cutting off a small piece. Placing the cutting in a folded piece of paper, she wrote 'Mistletoe, December 22, 1878' on it and then placed it near the center of her Bible to be pressed flat and preserved as a beautiful memory.
It was four days after Christmas and Debbie was bringing in firewood with Ellie in tow when she heard hoofbeats approaching the farm. She quickly stepped into the barn in case it was outlaws approaching again, but she came out when she recognized the ranger on Silver accompanied by an Indian on a paint horse. Then she saw what they had with them.
"Ranger, you came back! And you brought my horses. Oh, thank you!" She looked at the horses hesitantly, wondering why they had things strapped on their backs.
The masked man dismounted and Debbie, holding Ellie, moved forward to give him a hug. He returned the hug before taking Ellie in his hands and lifting her overhead with a "whee!" Pulling the girl close, he answered, "We recovered your horses and your rifle when we captured the Donner brothers, who are now in Lubbock awaiting return to the state prison in Huntsville." He reached in a pocket and pulled out a paper, which he handed to Debbie. "That's a deposit receipt for your account from the bank in town for most of the reward for the Donners. We kept out the rest and bought you some supplies. Here's the change," he added, giving her a few greenbacks and some coins that he'd fished out of his pocket.
"I can't take that," she said, shaking her head. "The reward is yours. You worked really hard for it."
"Debbie, we don't do what we do for rewards. We do it because it needs to be done and we have the means and ability to do it. Please don't argue; you need this money and we want you to have it."
"That right, Miss Debbie," agreed Tonto. "You need more help than we can give, but this be a start."
Seeing that they weren't going to give in, she thanked them as the ranger played with Ellie in his arms.
"Debbie, we talked to the marshal and the pastor in town about your situation, too. They're both going to be on the lookout for a dependable farm hand for you, and they've each promised to check in on you from time to time."
The woman moved closer to the ranger, as if wanting to speak privately, so Tonto said, "Kemosabe, me take supplies in house and board horses." He walked away, allowing them to talk.
"I really didn't expect you to come back," started the woman, "but I'm so glad you have."
"Debbie, we can't stay. We have a lead on a bank robber and need to be on our way."
She nodded. "I figured as much, but I was sad that Ellie didn't get to say goodbye. She missed you."
"Well, I missed her, too. In fact, I bought her a little Christmas present."
"Really? That's so nice of you."
"Oh, and here's a little something for you, too..." He handed her two small boxes with a little red ribbon tied around each.
"Thank you, Ranger." She reached up and gave him a little kiss on the cheek as Tonto collected her horses to take into the barn.
The man, never really accustomed to receiving thanks and particularly not publically, blushed slightly as he shifted Ellie in his arms. "You're welcome."
Debbie giggled slightly on seeing his color. Putting the little boxes down on the ground next to them, she plucked part of a small weed growing nearby. "Well, look what I found! Mistletoe!" Placing it over her head, she gave him an expectant look.
He smiled at her before saying, "Ordinarily, I would think that could be common purslane or something similar, but, for today, I think you're right. It's mistletoe." Stepping close, he put an arm around her and pulled her close before kissing her.
No longer needing the little weed, Debbie dropped it before putting both arms around him.
Their kiss was just ending when Tonto emerged from the barn, but their embrace went on for a few more seconds as the adults looked into each other's eyes and the baby grasped at them both. The ranger changed his gaze to the little girl before kissing her forehead and shifted her to her mother's arm. "You be good, little Ellie, and listen to your mother. I'll see you again sometime soon."
He turned and mounted Silver while Tonto was getting on Scout. Moments later, Debbie and the girl watched as the two went on their way.
Debbie fought tears as she saw them leave, but then put on the happiest face she could. Turning to her little daughter, she said, "Ellie, someday when you're bigger, I'll tell you again so you'll understand, but you and I, sweet girl, were saved by our great friends, the Lone Ranger and Tonto."
Author's Note: Thanks for taking time to read this story, and Merry Christmas to all those who are reading it during the Christmas season, whether in 2017 or some time even years in the future. Please leave a short note to let me know your thoughts about it. Thanks!
"I'll Be Home for Christmas" was released in 1943 in honor of the millions of American men and women away at war who dreamed of being home with their loved ones during the holidays. I hope I've drawn a good parallel to that in this story. The fact that the lyrics also include mistletoe was an added bonus.
Since parents didn't have baby name books, names like Deborah were often chosen from the Bible. The biblical Deborah was one of the leaders of the Israelites known as Judges during the time between the initial conquest of the land of Israel and the time of the kings.
The vine Smilax bona-nox (saw greenbrier) is native to the southeastern United States as far north as Delaware and Kansas and as far west as Texas. Common purslane can grow at practically any time of year in Texas. As the ranger started to say before he was cut off, mistletoe doesn't usually grow in the western part of Texas.
Finally, in the spirit of Christmas, two bonus points are to be awarded to anyone who picked up on the Donner brothers being named after Santa's seventh reindeer.
I hope to add more standalone stories to this collection as time passes, and for those who are interested in "The Summer of '78," I've been working on part 4 of that collection, too.
Edit: Thanks to TheRanger101 and rebecca-in-blue for their early reviews and feedback. I've made some minor changes based on rebecca's comments that I hope make this a better story.