Here is the last part of Nugget Nate, hope y’all enjoy it.-PG
Weeks went by and just as Nate had predicted the snowstorm came and made getting off the mountain impossible. As harsh as winter in the Mountains were for Nate, it was made worse by the fact that his leg wasn’t healing. Instead it seemed as if the wound had putrified. He’d had to cut the stitches open and clean out the infection. He’d poured several jugs of bourbon into the hole over the past few weeks; still it seemed as if the wound was getting worse instead of better.
Nate knew that he was going to have to clean his knife and scrape the inside of the wound to get all the diseased flesh cleared out. He also knew how painful that would be and the fight he’d have just to stay conscious enough to finish the task. He took his boot knife and washed it in bourbon, heated it to glowing on the fire, and quenched it in bourbon again. Then he methodically set to work on the wound. It took considerable time and effort as he had to stop every time the pain would start to grey his vision so that he didn’t pass out and bleed to death. Once he was sure that he had cleaned out all the infected flesh, he flushed it again with alcohol and sewed it closed. He knew that he was close to losing his leg or even his life. He offered a prayer up to the Good Lord and then collapsed onto the cot.
The next few days passed in a fevered state as Nate’s body fought to heal itself. He even became delirious, at times seeing Penny, or Ole Davey, Nathan, or even his old gentleman’s gentleman Sloan. Finally after about a week the fever broke. His leg had started to mend. Nate was as weak as a newborn colt and twice as hungry. On legs that were as wobbly as that new colt he hobbled out to the smoke house and wrestled to carry in an elk shoulder. He got it in the shack and carved a goodly sized piece off with his Bowie. He started a fire and once it was burned down to coals, he roasted the meat and ate every bite of it and then sopped up the skillet with an old piece of hard bread from his pack.
After his meal, Nate felt a bit stronger and cooked up some more of the meat to fill the whole in his middle. He felt like he hadn’t eaten in so long that his front was touching his back. After eating another piece of his elk shoulder Nate sat to figuring exactly how long he’d been out of it. As near as he could tell it must be almost Christmas and he’d been out of it for several weeks. How he had lived was nothing short of a miracle.
Nate removed the bandage to get a good look at his wound. He realized that it had closed up on its own so he soaked the make shift stitches he’d put in it. When they were soft he clipped them and slowly pulled them from the wound, being careful not to reopen the healing hole. Carefully he pushed around the outside, realizing that while still a bit tender it was mostly healed. He’d probably have a slight limp and tenderness the rest of his life but considering how close he came to losing the whole leg he was grateful for what God had done. Nate knew it had to be God that had healed it because he was sure before the fever took him that gangrene had set in. Iffen the Good Lord didn’t touch his leg and heal it, he’d have been in heaven by now.
He slipped outside and looking up to heaven knelt in the snow and said a little prayer. “Thankee, Lord, fer seeing me through this here illness. I reckon I owe ya another one. You jest let me know when and how to be a payin’ y’all back and I’ll do it. I know next ta my life it might seem like a small thing but iffen you could jest let David’s family know I’m alright and jest stuck on this here mountain I’d be mighty obliged to y’all. Oh, and while I’m a sending requests yer way, could ya have one of yer angels keep an eye on the Morgan feller and his family. Thanks again, Lord. I’ll jaw at cha later.”
He knew it weren’t no proper church prayer but he reckoned Jesus knew that he weren’t in church, just hanging out in his ole Trapper shack up in the Rockies. He never held much with purtying things up when there weren’t no need to.
He grabbed his rifle and took a little walk to see iffen he could find any fresh game to eat. Smoked elk was fine and so was the bit of venison he had left but a fat rabbit or a couple a squirrels for breakfast tomorrow would be a welcome change. After walking for several hours and finding nothing or no trail of any game, Nate began to tire and headed back to the shack. He made the last of his coffee to go with the last of his elk shoulder He had enough deer meat for three more days and then he’d have to venture higher on the mountain in hopes of finding game. Not in several years had he ever been in such dire straits. But he was Nugget Nate, and iffen anyone could survive this winter on this mountain, it was him. No winter or Mountain had ever beaten him yet and he weren’t ready to let this one be the one that did it.
Three days passed like a flash. Nate knew things were dire; he’d seen neither hide nor hair of game or even sign that the game had moved higher or lower. He’d ventured both higher and lower without any sign. Nate knew that wasn’t normal. Even in the most harshest of winters he’d been able to find some game but for some reason this year nothing.
Nate ate the very last of his stored meat and drank the last cup of bourbon that he’d brought with him. In the morning he’d have no choice but to pack up his furs and start trekkin’ down the mountain to town. He had lost complete track of what day it was but he knew even if he made good time and got down the mountain in a week he’d still not make New York by Christmas. For all he knew he may have missed the Blessed Lord’s Birthday Celebration already.
Not to let the day slip away without talking to his most precious friend, the Mountain Legend knelt beside his bed and poured out his heart to his maker. “Well, Jesus, reckon y’all know what kind of trouble I done gone and gotten myself into this time. I sure would welcome one of them there miracles yer known to hand out every once in a while. Iffen not, then jest keep me safe as I start down this here mountain in the mornin’. Reckon iffen ya could see fit to send a bit of game my way, too, I’d be mighty obliged. Reckon y’all know how much I love ya. Iffen it wouldn’t be too improper, wonder iffen y’all’d tell Penny that I miss her most every day and I’m a tryin’ to keep my word to her, but this here mountain might jest keep me from it. Again I thankee, Jessus. I’ll talk with y’all a bit later, g’night. ”
With that the ole Mountain man wiped the tear from his eye at missing his love and wrapped up in a couple of bearskins to ward against the cold and slipped off to sleep.
Nate came awake and could have sworn he heard bells. But that was impossible; no one but Nugget Nate would be stubborn enough to try and ride out winter in the High Lonesome of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Just as he was about to drift off to sleep he heard them again, a slight jingling of sleigh bells and a voice, “Hello the camp.”
Nate rolled out of bed and grabbed up his rifle just to be cautious. As he moved silently to the door to open it, the voice came again. “Nugget Nate, you old Mountain Man, get yer tail out here right now. I’m on a tight schedule so quit playing possum; grab yer furs and let’s get going. I got a mountain of deliveries to make tonight.”
Nate opened the door to see the one person he should have known would be who the Good Lord would send to him on this most Holy of nights.
“Nick, you ole Legend o’ the North. How’d you know where to find me?”
The man standing in front of the sleigh and eight reindeer let out his trademark laugh, “HO HO HO! You know what they say, Nugget Nate, I see you when you’re sleeping, I see you when you’re awake. I see if you’ve been bad or good or in your case, just careless.”
“Yeah, well, I remember once some time ago when y’all didn’t see me till I was right up on ya. Y’all needed my help to fix a busted hitchin’ rail.”
Santa Clause nodded his head “I remember, too, Nate. I remember that without your help and know how my mission to give gifts in the name of the Savior would have ended. I was more than willing to make this little extra stop when HE sent me the message along with this year’s blessing to help you out.”
“What do you mean, help me out, Nick?”
The Jolly Old Elf let out another belly laugh. “HO, HO, HO, Nate. Get your furs and anything you don’t want to leave here. I’m gonna make sure you keep your word to your family. I’m gonna get you home for Christmas.”
Nate, never one to mince words or movements, grabbed his buckskins and moccasins and the furs he’d trapped that year as well as his guns, knives, and Ole Davey’s hatchet. On the way out the door he grabbed his coonskin cap and settled it on his head and dumped a bucket-full of snow on the dying embers. “All right then, Santa, let’s get a movin’. I don’t know about this flyin’ deer of y’alls but I reckon it’s trust my life to you and a herd of victuals or not keep my word to my family.”
“HO, HO, HO! I’m sure the girls won’t hold it against you that you think of them as food instead of trusted steads. I’m sure your Lightning would feel the same if I had to have him blessed to fly my sleigh.”
Nate and the Hero of Christmas both climbed on board the sleigh. Nate tucked his gear under Santa’s bag in the back and gripped the front of the sleigh with both hands. Santa took the reins in hand and gave them a snap. “On Dasher, On Dancer. On Prancer and Vixen. Up Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. To the top of the roof, to the top of the trees. Now dash away, dash away, dash away all.”
Nate held on until they were in the clear blue starry sky, then he could hold it back no longer as the beauty and speed of the situation overtook him. “YEHAA!”
From beside him came the standard “Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas, Nugget Nate! We’ll be in New York in minutes.
Nate watched as the whole of the United States of America flew by underneath him. If only people could see the country as Nick did every year. Shoot, the whole world. They’d realize how small they really were in the grand scheme of God’s creation. Maybe then there would be peace on earth and good will towards man.
The ride was over long before Nate wanted it to be. They landed in the street in front of his New York residence. “I would have dropped you off at David’s but I know you couldn’t have resisted waking them before I left.”
Nate laughed along with Saint Nick. “Well, Nick, you couldn’t blame me, could y’all? They still don’t believe me about last time. They think I bought myself them carving’ tools and put yer initials on it as a joke.”
“Yes, I know, Nate, but I’m glad to remain a legend and nothing more. My mission is to remind everyone of the most precious of Christmas gifts, our Savior. If proof of my existence was out there, I’m afraid I would become more important than HE would be. I fear it may happen anyway in a few years.”
“Well, Nick, I pray you are wrong. Anyway I owe y’all one so anytime I can pay you back, you jest send word to me.”
The Patron Saint of Christmas shook his head. “No, Nate, we’re even now. I owed you for the emergency repair of my sleigh; consider that debt paid. Now get inside and get some sleep, you need to get up soon and go spend the birth of Christ with your family. Won’t they be surprised to see you walk into Church in the morning? I only wish I could be there to see it. HO, HO, HO! Santa snapped the reins again and off the reindeer and sleigh flew. Just as Nugget Nate was about to knock and wake Slone to let him in, he heard drifting down from the heavens, “Merry Christmas, Nugget Nate, and a blessed holy night.”