Summary: An idea I got off the episode ‘Love Me Not’.
Rating T (16,285 words)
A/N I am very well aware Candy and Adam were not on the series at the same time, but I needed him.
A Place to Belong Series:
A Place to Belong
The night breeze was blowing softly through the trees, wrestling the green summer leaves as it did so. Ben and his sons set up camp; Ben had left Candy in charge of the ranch while he and the boys went to visit their Paiute friends. An owl could be heard off in the distance and a few small animals could be heard scurrying through the nearby grass.
The Cartwrights had visited their friends the day before and were heading home. Ben had visited an old friend, a Paiute he’d known for twenty years by the name of Running Fox. Now Ben sat up against a boulder unable to sleep, the words of his ill Paiute friend still rang in his mind, ‘You save life of my wife years ago. We said we give you reward someday. I send brave to your home next week; he bring reward’
“He’s stubborn isn’t he?” Adam sat up and looked at his father. He was speaking about his father’s friend. The man would not listen when Ben had said it was not necessary.
“Yes, he is,” Ben shrugged his shoulders and shook his head slightly, “I’m almost afraid to see what my reward is.”
“As long as it’s not another blanket,” Adam pointed to the small pile of blankets that sat next to Hoss who was sleeping soundly. Ben only chuckled and made himself lie down. As morning came early, he needed all the sleep he could get.
Adam was chopping wood while Hoss and Little Joe had taken off early to mend some fences when he saw them, a Paiute brave riding next to a young white woman with her arm around a child, a white girl, no more than three years old. ‘Oh boy’ Adam thought as he put down the axe, ‘How come I get the funny feeling Pa’s ‘reward’ just arrived?’
“Hello,” Adam smiled as the brave and woman stopped their horses, “May I help you?”
“Child,” the brave pointed to the young girl, “my grandfather says is Mr. Cartwright’s daughter now, this,” he pointed to the woman who wore no expression on her face, “is woman for Mr. Cartwright, mother for daughter.”
It took everything Adam had in him, but he smiled politely and said, “I’ll get my Pa.” Only when his back was to the brave and young woman did he roll his eyeballs and grin slightly. “Pa!” he called as he opened the door.
“He take daughter, she lost white child” the young woman looked at the man beside her, “He not have me, you see. No man, Paiute or White, want half-breed’.
“You look white, you and child his now. He take both, you see.” Before the brave could say anything else Ben and Adam came back outside. The brave repeated the words he’d spoken to Adam and quickly left; he was not going to take a chance of the young woman’s words being proven true. The Paiute’s actions only served to get the woman to shoot glares at his back as he rode away.
Ben felt like he was between a rock and a hard place. He knew full well that to send the woman and child back would be considered a great insult, and who knows what his friend would do if he sent this ‘reward’ back. Guess, for the time being, he’d have to make room for them. Walking over to the horse, Ben held up his arms for the child. At first the woman did nothing then she handed him the girl and dismounted herself.
“Adam,” Ben looked at his oldest, “please take the horse to the stable. Come with me.” He looked at the woman next to him; she had to be closer to Little Joe’s age than his. Once they got to the front door, Ben opened the door and let the woman in.
Once inside, Ben looked at the child in his arms then asked the young woman, “What’s your name? What’s her name?”
“My name Brooke. Name Paiute give her,” she pointed to the child, “Little Star; not know white name. Mother and Father killed by Paiute enemy. My uncle find her. Bring her home.” The woman answered.
“I want to eat.” the child wiggled off of Ben’s lap and walked up to the woman who had been taking care of her for the past six months. Brooke looked at Ben, he stood up, “I’ll have Hop Sing get something then I can show you to your room.”
Brooke sat in the rocker Ben had brought into the room holding Little Star and singing the only songs she knew. Ben’s putting them both in the same room only confirmed to her what she’d told the Paiute brave who had brought them there. No white man wanted a half-breed.
While Brooke took care of Little Star, Ben and his sons were talking. “You have got to be kidding!” Little Joe couldn’t help but raise his voice slightly; he was shocked beyond measure. Hoss was grinning at the spot his pa had found himself in; that is finding himself with a “wife” and daughter, but Hoss kept his mouth shut.
“I’m not kidding,” Ben looked up towards the top of the stairs, “Question now is, what to do about this situation.” He had not expected his friend to send a woman and a child to his house!
“Can’t ya just send them back?” Little Joe asked, “After all, Adam said the woman didn’t look happy ’bout being here.”
Ben shook his head, “I’m afraid they’d kill them both, or at least the woman. She didn’t say it, but I think she’s only half Paiute.”
It was a few minutes before Hoss spoke, “I reckon we best get used to havin’ them around fer a spell, at least, fer awhile.”
Before any of the Cartwrights could answer Hop Sing came out of the kitchen, “I start supper. How many eat?”
“All of us,” Ben said as he headed for the stairs, “just keep in mind, I doubt Star will be eating much.”
Adam and his brothers watched as their father disappeared up the stairs, “You reckon we have really got ourselves a new ma?” Hoss asked once Ben had disappeared out of sight.
“Don’t know,” Adam stood up and headed for the door, “but I have a few things I need to get done before supper.”
Little Joe and Hoss grinned; they knew what that really meant. Adam was seeing Mary after supper. Mary was a gal who Adam seemed to be getting quite close to. “You know Joe, maybe Adam will get a wife before this mess with pa is through.”
“Maybe,” Little Joe said nothing more as he too headed out to get a few things done before supper.
Ben stood next to the slightly opened window, a gentle breeze blew in and brushed against his face and then lit upon Brooke. Little Star was asleep in the woman’s lap. “You are more than welcome to stay here for now, but my people, for the most part, do not just up and marry someone they do not know. Do you understand?” Ben was doing his best to explain why he couldn’t just marry her the way his friend expected him to; he kept his eyes on the young woman. There was still no emotion on her face or in her eyes.
Brooke knew the ways of the white man, she knew the white haired gentleman before her spoke the truth. However, she also believed time would not be changing her circumstances. She looked at the child asleep on her lap and, for a split second, Ben saw a smile upon the young woman’s face; then it disappeared. “I know white man’s ways. They not need time take in child. Star your daughter now. I stay. Take care of her. You not want wife, but she need mother.”
Ben felt the cold air in the room and inwardly sighed. A man didn’t have to have twenty/twenty vision to see the woman did not believe it was just the facts he’d stated that kept him from marrying her. He might have said something about the age difference too, only Adam stuck his head in the door, “Hop Sing says supper will be ready in thirty minutes.” At the sound of his voice Little Star woke up and practically flew over to Adam’s side. Before he, or anyone else, could stop her the child had her legs and arms around the man’s leg.
Ben and Brooke both stared as Adam smiled, leaned down, and picked the young girl up. Little Star’s arms were around his neck faster than lightening moved through the sky.
Brooke stood, “She know big brother. Good sign. I go help this,” she looked at Ben, “Hop Sing?” When he nodded in the affirmative Brooke turned and left the room.
Ben watched as Little Joe handed Little Star up to Adam; Adam was sitting in the wagon. In the three days since their arrival to the Ponderosa Brooke had kept busy around the house and Little Star was a constant shadow to the boys. The fact that the young child preferred Adam was as plain as the noonday sun. “We’ll be back soon,” Adam said as he turned and tapped the horses. Since he was only going to get a few things in town he’d agreed to take Star with him; the Cartwrights had dropped the “Little” part of her name figuring they only needed one person around the ranch using that title.
As Little Joe turned around and bent down to pick up the ax that lay on the ground, Ben noticed the small cut on his son’s jaw. Instantly, he was alert, “What happened to your chin?”
Little Joe flinched when he heard the question. He had hoped his father wouldn’t notice. “Nothing, pa, just got a small scratch.” He started to walk away only to have his father stop him.
“I asked you what happened,” Ben’s voice held that “don’t play me for a fool” tone in it. How come he had to go and use “that” voice?
Little Joe turned around and shrugged his shoulder, “Ole’ Jack down at the saloon. He made a few remarks about our new sister and,” he paused, “and the mother that was provided. I had to put him in his place.” His face was straight, but his eyes were grinning.
Ben shook his head and frowned at his youngest son. He’d heard the same talk and set more than one person straight. Thank goodness, the majority of people were just getting their ‘kicks’ out of teasing him. “Let that drunk alone, son. Men like that aren’t worth the fight.” Ben went back into the house. He didn’t have time to worry about the few who insisted on gossiping; he had work to do.
Brooke was standing at the top of the stairs when Ben walked in. He looked tired. She figured it was because of all the late nights he’d spent at his desk working on legal papers, contracts and such. He needed a rest, but how to get him to take one was another question. She started down the steps slowly, thinking as she went.
“How big this Ponderosa?” she walked over to the window and looked out.
Ben stopped his work, put his pencil down and leaned back in his chair, “A thousand square miles full of the tallest pine trees there are.” He had to smile at the look of amazement that came onto the young woman’s face.
“Someday, I see all Ponderosa. I see Star’s new home.” Brooke kept her eye on the view before her. She did not really expect to see all of the Ponderosa, but if she asked questions about his home and his family, she figured it would be a small break for him and give him some rest. In her mind’s eye, she had to do her share to make sure Star’s new family took care of themselves. After all, someday they would ask her to leave and Star would be dependent upon them for her care.
Ben looked at the papers before him then to the young woman looking out the window. She had not once complained about being on the ranch, but she seldom smiled either. She needed to learn to smile. He stood up, “I have an hour to spare; why don’t we take a ride over a small part of it.”
Shock shone on Brooke’s face. She had only been making an observation; she had not expected him to be willing to take the time to show her around the land. Still, she wanted to see the place where Star would be raised. “We take ride. I see land, I see Star’s home. Good she has home. Place to belong.” While she tried to hide it, Brooke failed to keep the pain she felt out of her eyes.
“Star’s home.” “Place to belong.” The words hit Ben like a ton of lumber, the poor woman felt she had no place to belong. He had to show her she belonged in the white world, and she could make her home anywhere in it.
“Oh, no, you don’t!” Adam laughed as he hurried and grabbed Star; the child had begun trying to climb the shelves in Virginia’s City’s mercantile. Mrs. Peters laughed at the sight of Adam doing his best to hold onto the wiggling child; Star was bending and stretching while the oldest Cartwright did his best to keep her from sliding out of his arms.
“Here,” Mrs. Peters held her out arms, “I’ll hold her while you get your things into the wagon.” She might as well have yelled at the top of her lungs for as fast as Star whirled around and wrapped both her arms and legs around Adam. That got a chuckle out of the woman and had Adam wondering what he’d done to gain the little girl’s undying loyalty.
“I think,” Mr. Peters stepped out of the back storeroom grinning from ear to ear, “Adam best take care of his new sister. I’ll get his things into the wagon.” Personally, the man was getting the best laugh he’d gotten in a long time. The sight of any of the Cartwrights trying to deal with a baby sister was way too humorous, in Mr. Peters’ eyes anyway.
“I’d appreciate that,” Adam wrapped his arms around Star, though he was convinced he could have walked out of the store with his arms hanging by his side without risking losing the child.
Once outside, Adam climbed up into the wagon, but found Star unwilling to let go of him. “I think you need a crowbar to pry her off of ya.” Mr. Peter was laughing as he spoke the words. He was definitely enjoying this a bit too much. The fact that Star was holding onto him even tighter than before did not pass Adam by, what on earth was she so scared for?
“I’ll see you later. Have a good day.” Adam drove away still thinking on Star’s behavior towards him. On one hand, he was flattered; on the other, he was bothered. The more he thought on it the harder one thought pressed itself upon his mind. He felt lightning go through every inch of him as he sat up as straight as he could. His family had had a few visitors to the ranch since Brooke and Star had shown up, his new sister did not cling onto him this badly unless the Peters were around! As he thought on it, he had to admit one thing; he wasn’t surprised. The woman really wasn’t all that likable.
“Pa!” Adam called out as he opened the door to the house. “Pa!” he called again, when no one answered. Not knowing about the ride his father had taken with Brooke, Adam grew concerned. Had something happened he should know about? Still, he looked into Star’s trusting blue eyes that were now looking up at him. “Well, girl, it looks like it’s just you and me. My work will just have to wait. Let’s read you a story.”
Adam looked at the books on the shelves. What on earth was he supposed to read to a three-year old child? Running his finger along the shelf lined with books, Adam stopped when he came across the Grimm Brother’s version of ‘The Pied Piper.’ Adam removed the book, sat down in the chair closest to the stairs and began reading. Of course, he changed the words a bit and came up with different voices, knowing he had to do something to keep the child’s interest.
The gentle breeze and clear blue sky made the day a perfect day for riding. Ben had taken Brooke through the pine trees that stretched their arms upwards and seemed to touch the sky to the crystal blue lake that lay and sparkled in the sunlight. The sparkles seemed to jump in every direction possible, inviting all who wanted to, to spend the day relaxing in its beauty.
“Good home for Star,” Brooke said as she and Ben rode back towards the Cartwright’s home. ‘Someday, I find home’ She kept the thought to herself though.
Ben frowned slightly, he wanted her to feel at home on the Ponderosa, but he knew she’d have to look at him as a father figure first, not as someone who had rejected her because of her race. “For now,” he spoke slowly, “I wish you’d stop referring to the Ponderosa as if it were just Star’s home; it can be your home too.” He was shocked when she gave him a look that came close to contempt. She’d never done that before.
“How it my home? You not have me! I here to watch Little Star,” she had refused to drop the little part, though she understood why the men had dropped it, “time come you not need me! You send me away! How my home?” She held her head erect and her eyes dared him to tell her different.
“Brooke,” Ben leaned forward in his saddle as he thought on his old friend, Thomas Brown Bear, “I appreciate what my friend, your uncle, was trying to do and,” he chuckled, “It will be interesting to see my sons handling a little sister,” he had gone to the courthouse the day before to start legal proceedings to adopt the child as Roy had been unsuccessful in finding her relatives, not surprising as they had nothing to really go on, “but, I am old enough to be your father. You need to get used to living among the white man then, someday you’ll find someone your own age to marry.”
Years of anger and pain flowed through Brooke’s veins, and she let it out as she spit fire out of her eyes and barked, “Tell you, no Paiute want me. I half breed. What white man want me?”
So, he’d been right after all, she was only half Paiute. “There are plenty of good, honest men,” Ben spoke as sincerely as he knew how, “who would not hold that against you. You’ll see.”
Again she hissed, “You good, honest man; Uncle say so. He right; I see it. You not want me. Why other good, honest white man want me?” She glared at him; he could tell no matter what he said she would not listen. The rest of the ride back to the Cartwright’s home was made in silence.
“Way to go, pum’kin,” Hoss laughed as Star held the horseshoe, walked up to the small steel bar sticking up out of the ground and let it drop. The horseshoe seem to be as big as she was, “ya did it!” He picked her up, listened to her laugh and giggle. He might have said more, but his father and Brooke rode up. Hoss could tell there was tension in the air. Only after the horses had been put up and Brooke had taken his new sister inside did Hoss turn to his pa.
“What happened, pa? Miss Brooke looks like she could bite the head off a rattlesnake, if’n she had a mind to.” Hoss looked towards the house with a slight frown upon his face, maybe he should go find something else to do.
Ben was more than frustrated, Brooke needed to feel at home; she needed to know someone of mixed blood wasn’t someone to be looked down upon. “She is half Paiute and half white. She firmly believes no man would want her as a wife.”
Hoss let out a low whistle as turned to go to the barn, “She may not be right, pa, but face it she’s not so far off. Folks around here may be polite enough to her, only it’s more for our sakes and Star’s.” He then disappeared into the barn leaving Ben as frustrated as ever.
Star stood on a chair and scribbling on a piece of paper Hoss had given her. He sat next to her amused at the way at the young child was giggling and laughing at her picture. He looked at the big circles on her paper, “What are you drawing, Star?” Little Joe, who was sitting on the couch, started roaring with laughter when the young girl looked up at Hoss and said, without missing a heartbeat, “You.”
Hoss glared at his baby brother, but smiled down at Star, “I am kinda round, I reckon.”
Little Joe again roared with laughter when Star wrinkled up her noise and said, “Kind of?” Hoss realized his new sister was only confused as to what the words meant. On the other hand, he knew full well what Little Joe was thinking.
“Don’t worry ’bout it now,” Hoss turned the paper over and let Star continue to draw. When Little Joe started to say something, Hoss snapped, “Just shut up, Little Joe; shut up while yer ahead!”
“Yes, sir,” Little Joe jumped to his feet and ran for the door when Hoss started to rise to his feet, “Don’t forget, ya told pa you’d watch, Star!” Hoss still dove for his baby brother only to have Little Joe make it out the door. His actions must have frightened Star as she dropped the pencil and started crying and crying loud. Hoss hurried to try to calm the child; the harder he tried, the louder she cried.
“What you do?” Brooke appeared at the top of the stairs then hurried down them. In a matter of seconds she had the young girl in her arms. Star quit her loud bawling, but kept whimpering. “What you do?” Brooke again demanded. She didn’t like seeing Star so frightened.
“I’m sorry,” Hoss was too, “Little Joe and I, we jist actin’ like brothers do sometimes. I reckon it scared her, didn’t mean ta do that, really.”
“What is Star crying for?” Ben and Adam walked in the front door just as Hoss finished speaking. They, too, were upset to see the child looking so frightened. Hoss repeated what he’d told Brooke, “Didn’t mean to scare the little tyke, pa, really.”
Ben rubbed his forehead; it had been a long day and the last thing he felt like having was his two sons scaring their new sister. “I believe you, son, but please watch it.”
“Yes, pa,” Hoss headed for the door, “I need to do a few things.”
Adam would have gone upstairs only Star had finally quit crying all together and was holding her arms out to Adam. “She want oldest brother.” Brooke stood up.
Adam smiled as he took Star from Brooke, “And just what do you want with me?” he teased as he rubbed Star’s nose with his fingers.
Star giggled and laughed, “Story. Adam read me a story.” Ben and Brooke both smiled as Adam once again sat and read the child a story. Ben looked at Brooke, “May we talk outside?”
Brooke found fear taking a hold of her heart. She just knew Mr. Cartwright was going to ask her to leave, and she didn’t want to. She wanted to be near Star.
Ben sat down next to Brooke on the porch. She sat erect, with her head held high. She was determined not to let him see to any tears she was sure would want to come once he told her to leave.
Ben had thought long and hard on the situation. He had almost pulled his hair out until Little Joe had, quite unknowingly, given him an idea. He just hoped it would not backfire, “As you know, that is, as you are somewhat aware, in the white world men court the women they think they may be interested in. They go to dinners, dances and other such activities. Now, we’ve done none of that. When your uncle said I’d be getting a reward,” Ben leaned forward a little and rested his arms on his legs, “I wasn’t expecting a young woman and a small child to be sent to me. You have got to understand how surprised, and shocked, I was.”
Brooke knew he spoke the truth, and she understood, “Surprise me; Uncle not tell me I come here. Brave come. When brave get Little Star uncle tell me.”
Ben sat back in surprise. For whatever reason he had, he had thought the young woman had known all along. No wonder she was so bitter! “Anyway,” Ben started speaking again, “There will be plenty of dances and other such activities over this next year. Why not take that time to get to know each other, time to see what will happen? Things may, indeed, work out between us, but,” he turned the palms of his hands up and continued, “you may very well find yourself wanting something else.” ‘You are young enough, you will find something else; if I were only younger’ He couldn’t help but think as he smiled upon the young woman, whom he’d learned from Adam, was twenty-three years old.
“You court me?” the wall she had in front of her face fell as her shock shone through her eyes, “You want to know half-breed?”
Ben fought the anger he felt over the use of the word ‘half-breed’; he had to get her to stop using it. “You are Brooke, a fine young woman. Please, do not use the word half-breed unless you can do it with your head held high and feeling no shame.”
Brooke stared at the man before her. He was indeed a good man. She began smiling, really smiling, for the first time since being told by her uncle where she was being sent and why, “We court. We see.”
Adam and his father laughed at the shocked look that came upon their foreman’s face. Star had jumped off Adam’s lap and flew onto the man’s leg. “Looks like I have competition.” Adam joked and laughed as Candy’s shocked look turned into a smile; the man reached down and lifted the small child up. He’d just returned from a trip to Carson City.
“Never thought I’d see you with a sister, Adam, but she’s a cutie. How’s her ‘mother’ doing?” He looked at Mr. Cartwright, genuine concern in his eyes. The Cartwrights might as well be his family, and he didn’t want to see the man who had become like a father to him hurt.
“She’s fine,” Ben was beaming, “she, Little Joe, and Hoss are in town right now. They needed to get a few things and thought she might like seeing Virginia City. She really hasn’t had a chance to see it and I’ve been so busy here with paper work and such.”
Candy sat down on the couch with Star who, once he was sitting, went and climbed up on Ben’s lap, curled up and fell asleep holding onto his arm, but not before looking at Adam and saying, “Night, Adam.” She always said night if she was going to sleep, didn’t matter the time of day.
“Night, Star,” Adam smiled.
“How come I have the feeling you get stuck with most of the babysitting?” Candy chuckled and asked. Adam did have the young girl every time Candy saw him, well, almost all the time.
Adam laughed, “Don’t ask me. As much as Hoss and Little Joe play with her, you’d think she’d prefer one of them.” Secretly though, Adam was very much flattered that the young child preferred him over anyone else. Well, except for Brooke and his father that is.
While Star slept and the three men talked Hoss and Little Joe were loading things into the wagon; Brooke sat on the buckboard. She felt herself inwardly cringe when Mrs. Peters walked out the front door of the mercantile; she knew the woman did not approve of her staying with the Cartwrights.
“Please, give these to your father,” she handed Little Joe a small brown box, “my granddaughter has outgrown them and I thought your new sister could use them.”
“Thank you,” Little Joe did his best to smile. He didn’t like Mrs. Peters; the woman was forever doing what she could to send the clear message of what she thought of Ben adopting Star and allowing Brooke to stay on as her governess. At least, that is what she insisted on calling ‘that young woman’, and offering clothes to a family who she knew full well could provide for the child was her idea of an insult and Little Joe knew it, “but no thanks. Star has plenty of clothes already. I could give them to the Millers if you want. They are in desperate need of clothes right now.” He wasn’t surprised when the woman thrust the box at him and stormed inside the house.
“She not like me. She hates me.” Brooke stated the obvious as Little Joe climbed up onto the wagon.
Little Joe only shrugged his shoulders; “She hates everyone, including herself.”
Brooke looked at the store, sympathy shone in her eyes, “Hate not good.” For the first time Brooke realized she had indeed let others convince her to hate herself, she sat up as straight as she possibly could, “Half breed not bad. I not bad.” She looked at Little Joe who was grinning from ear to ear.
“No,” he started the wagon down the road while Hoss followed alongside them, “No, you’re not bad.”
The air smelled clean and fresh; it had just finished raining. Brooke rode alongside Ben and held Star on her lap as he drove the wagon toward town. There was a town social being held and Ben had asked Brooke to accompany Star and himself to the event, hoping she’d be asked to dance by some of the good looking single men in town, and that she’d accept.
Virginia City’s social hall was practically full when Ben walked in with Star in his left arm and Brooke by his side. Almost instantly, a few well to do women were in the corner whispering and looking their way, one of them being Mrs. Peters. Ben looked at Brooke pleased to see the young woman hold her head erect and smiling. Ever since she’d admitted she was good, Brooke had been smiling more and earnestly striving to learn more about the world she had been sent to, and not letting people like the women in the corner bother her.
“There you are,” Adam walked up and, within a matter of seconds, found Star reaching for him, “Guess, you want another story.” He looked around to see if he could see a free chair someplace. He figured he could make a story up easily enough, but was surprised when Star pointed to the people dancing, “Dance.”
He couldn’t help but start laughing, as did Ben and Brooke, “Oh, why not? What are big brothers for anyway?” Adam held the child in his arms and started dancing around the room, giving more than one patron a smile and chuckle.
Ben looked around and saw his other sons dancing while Candy, seeing Mr. Cartwright and Brooke, walked up to them. “Would you like to dance?” Candy smiled politely at Brooke.
For a split second it looked as if she’d accept; then she shook her head, “We court,” she pointed to Ben, “we dance?” she looked at Ben with a questioning look in her eyes.
Ben looked at Candy who only gave him a ‘Hey, I tried’ look. “Of course, that’s what we came for.” Ben took Brooke by the hand and led her onto the dance floor. It took a while, but Brook was able to catch on and soon she and Ben were dancing without a problem.
“She’s a half-breed,” Ben heard Mrs. Peters “trying” to whisper to one of her friends, “how he can stand be near her is beyond me. Personally, the air in here just got a bit thin. I’m not feelin’ so well.”
He purposely made it so Brooke and he wound up almost right next to the woman. Normally he would not grace the woman with any amount of words, but he wanted Brooke to see the woman shut up, “If you need fresh air,” he looked the woman straight in the eye, “might want to try opening your eyes.” The woman gasped in horror for two reasons; she couldn’t believe he’d had the ‘nerve’ to say such a thing, and two, Brooke was laughing as the two turned and danced away from her.
“Well, I never!” she stormed out of the room, feeling very insulted. Ben and Brooke only smiled and continued dancing.
Ben was sitting beside the table on the porch and Brooke sat mending one of Hoss’ shirts while Hoss and Star were ‘playing horseshoe’ when Adam walked out of the house. He stopped walking and watched his father and Brooke for a few minutes, both were laughing as Star again managed to actually throw the horseshoe, even if it didn’t actually go where it was supposed.
When Ben felt someone watching he turned his head. The serious look upon his son’s face made him sit straight up, “What is it, Adam? What’s wrong?”
Adam pointed to the house and said, “I need to talk to you, in there.”
Slowly, Ben stood up and started to head for the house only to find Star running to him and holding onto this leg. “Not this time, you stay with Hoss and Miss Brooke.” He picked the child up and handed her to Brooke, who had put down her sewing and stood up. Once inside the house Ben looked at Adam and waited to hear what his oldest son had to say. He wasn’t surprised when Adam started talking about the night before.
“The ‘good’ people of Virginia City,” Adam flicked his fingers up in the air as he sat down in the chair in front of his desk against which Ben was leaning, “are acting much like Mrs. Peters, except they are making sure we don’t actually hear them speak the words; there are some,” he shrugged his shoulders, “who are actually speaking kindly of her, admiring the fact that there appears to be a change in her for the better,” he smiled at the puzzled look that came upon his father’s face, “The fact is that she walks with confidence instead of acting as if someone is going to bite her, or she was going to bite them.”
Ben couldn’t help but grin; he knew his Adam spoke the truth on that one, “So, what else is there?” Ben knew his son well enough to know there was more. He was right.
“Well,” Adam fidgeted a little, “There are actually two men,” his grin slowly spread from one side of his face to the other, “two good men, I dare say, actually interested in Brooke only,” the grin disappeared, “Brooke seems bent on the fact that the two of you are courting then you’ll marry. She said as much to Hoss and Little Joe at the dance last night. I don’t think either one of them could court her outright.”
Ben scratched the back of his head and sighed, “I agree, but how do we work it otherwise?”
“Well,” Adam began only to have Candy step out of the kitchen with a sandwich in his hands and say, “Since Adam broke it off with Mary, we don’t think it will cause any problems if we just continue visiting her around the house.” He was smiling and his eyes laughed.
Shock waves ran through Ben as he stared at Adam, who was again smiling from ear to ear, and Candy then, as he realized what Candy was saying, he bust up laughing, “Reckon, I can’t see anything wrong with it either!” Ben found himself hoping one of them could succeed in winning Brooke over. At least, that way Star would still have her “mother” nearby.
“Up you go,” Adam lifted Star off the ground and sat her down upon the buckboard next to Brooke. When Star had practically begged her brother to go on a picnic he’d taken advantage of it and asked Brooke to go along too, in case the child needed her. Brooke had gladly agreed to do so; soon the three of them were heading for what had become Star’s favorite play area.
The green grass and open area they were traveling in was breathtaking; Brooke had fallen in love with the Ponderosa and all the beauty it held. As they rode along Adam began singing; he knew full well how much Brooke enjoyed a good song.
A wand’ring Minstrel weary came
to a Castle at an ev’ning hour
where many a Knight and lovely Dame
were met to hold a festive bow’r
Songs of war were loudly sung
by other bards of ancient pride
But the Minstrels Harp in Love was strung
and was sweeter that all beside
was sweeter than all beside
So sweetly sweetly
Sweetly to Love his Harp was strung.
Star sat kicking her little legs to the rhythm of the song; Adam was amazed at the child’s natural ability, or the natural ability she seemed to have with music and tempo.
Brook smiled to and let herself relax as Adam sang. She was glad he’d asked her to come along and help with Star. When the pond they had been heading to came into sight Adam slowed the wagon down; then stopped it completely. “Looks like we’re here,” he climbed down, helped Star down then helped Brooke down.
“Nice place for pi-c-nic.” While Ben had been working with Brooke on her English, she still struggled.
“It is at that,” Adam smiled as he sat down then laughed as Star climbed up his back and onto his shoulders. “Hey, watch it, gal,” he gently grabbed the child’s legs and kept her from kicking him.
Brooke’s eyes sparkled and she laughed, “She thinks brother horse now.”
Adam loved the way Brooke’s eyes danced and sparkled; they, her eyes that is, reminded him of sun’s rays dancing upon the water during the middle of the day. He stood up and started running around in circles, causing both Star and Brooke’s to laugh even louder. The rest of the picnic was spent talking in idle chat and with Adam playing his guitar while singing songs they both knew.
Ben watched as Brooke measured the width of Candy’s shoulders; she was working on sewing him a nice shirt. One of his friends was getting married, and he’d promised to be the best man. “You stand still,” Brooke chastised Candy with just a tad of annoyance in her voice; he was fidgeting quite a bit, “I not make good shirt you move.”
Candy grinned as he looked at Ben, “It would have been easier if I’d just bought a shirt in town.” No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Brooke poked him ever so slightly with a pin. “Hey,” he jerked, “what was that for?”
“I not make bad shirt. No need you buy.” She sounded quite irritated, but Ben had to turn his head and hide his grin for he could see what Candy could not, the laughter in Brooke’s eyes.
Not wanting another poke, Candy turned his head slightly, “I never said you made bad shirt,” ‘Gee, now I’m doing it’, “shirts, I mean. I was just stating a fact; buying a shirt is easier than making it.”
“Woman make shirt, how easier for you?” She stepped around to the front of Candy and looked at him confused.
Ben roared with laughter and walked away. Candy had gotten himself into that one, he could get himself out, maybe.
“I didn’t mean…” Candy inwardly growled and chastised himself for saying anything, “I know someone has to make the shirts; I just don’t necessarily like being the one measured and such.” Only when he had finished speaking did he finally notice the laughter in Brooke’s eyes. He didn’t know whether to be irritated or not.
Brooke seemed to sense his dilemma and grinned, “I put foot in mouth?” she pointed to his mouth as the laughter went from her eyes out of her mouth.
Candy stared; she’d done it on purpose! Slowly a grin spread over his face, “Yes, you sure did!” He too started laughing. From where Ben and Adam stood outside they could hear the laughter drifting out through the window.
Ben saw the torn look in his son’s eyes, he began to worry that it had not been such a good idea to have both men courting Brooke under the guise of friendship, and didn’t hesitate to say so. “I think we need to think of something else,” he said as he finished voicing his concerns.
Adam thought for a moment, “You always said the truth was better than lying. I’ll talk to her tomorrow. That is, I’ll tell her I’m interested in courting her and that I’ve already talked to you about it.”
“I’ll talk to Candy when you do,” Ben sighed and began thinking long and hard about the situation. The last thing he wanted was hard feelings between Candy and Adam; nor did he want Brooke to take offense from any of them.
Ben walked with Brooke down the streets of Virginia City holding Star in the crook of his left arm. He had hoped to talk with Candy while Adam talked to Brooke only they’d received word that “Grandma” Despain wanted to see Ben, Brooke, and his new daughter. Both knew how badly off the woman was and neither felt inclined to deny the request.
Once they came to the old woman’s home Brooke hesitated. She’d met the old woman on several occasions and the Widow Despain was quite a nice old lady. However, Brooke was nervous as to why the woman would send for her. She could think of no reason and it was driving her up a wall! The home itself was not overly grand; still, it was one of the nicer homes in Virginia City. Its outside walls were painted white with the boards around the window painted brown. It boasted three bedrooms, a dining room, kitchen and a living room; most of the homes in Virginia held only two bedrooms and the kitchen was also the place the family would eat.
Ben knocked on the door and waited. When no one answered, he knocked again. This time Mrs. Peterson, the widow’s daughter-in-law, answered. A smile lit up the woman’s round face, though her brown hair looked as if it could use a slight touch of a brush. Poor woman was probably being run ragged, “Mama’s been askin’ fer ya. Thanks fer comin’.”
“That you, Ben?” a voice called out of the door belonging to the bedroom that set off to the right of the front door; it was the voice of Widow Despain.
“Yes, it is,” Ben stepped into the room and smiled, Brooke was right behind him.
“Come here child.” the old woman pointed to her side and talked to Brooke. However, when she said child, Star tried wiggling out of Ben’s arms. He would have made his daughter stay in his arms, but the old woman chuckled, “Let her sit on the bed. I reckon, I shoulda known better than refer to this young woman as child in the first place.” Ben smiled and sat Star down upon the foot of the bed while Brooke sat on the side.
Brooke looked at the silver haired lady before her and waited to hear why she’d asked to see her. She didn’t have to wait long. “Ben,” the old woman pointed to her dresser, it set off the right of the bed, “There is a small brown box in the top drawer, please git it fer me.” He did as she asked.
When he handed the box to the widow she opened it up and took out a cameo that hung on a silver chain. Brooke let out a slight gasp and her eyes widened. It was beautiful! Widow Despain smiled as she took a hold of Brooke’s hand and laid the necklace in her palm. “I have never approved of anyone marrying outside of their race, but,” she tightened her grip on the young woman’s arm, “I do not condemn those who are born of such a union either. You are like the tall pine trees, firm, steady and trustworthy. I never had any daughters, plenty of sons but no daughters,” the old woman smiled again, “I want you to have this necklace. I want you to remember who you are, what you are and stand up tall, pleased to show the world they cannot bring you down.”
Tears filled Brooke’s eyes as she looked at the necklace and heard the old woman speak. “Here,” Ben stepped over to where Brooke sat, “Let me put it on for you.” The young woman did not stop him. Once he had it secured around her neck, he stepped back.
“It looks good on you, now why don’t ya take that child out of the room. I need to talk to Ben.” The Widow pointed to the bedroom door as she spoke the words. Brooke did not argue and, picking up Star, left the room.
The moon and stars sent down the light they had to share; night owls could be heard off in the distance and the coolness of the evening soothed Ben’s troubled mind as he stood upon the porch. He was so engrossed in his thoughts he did not see Brooke appear off to his side, nor did he see how she was studying him. Only when she started walking towards him did Ben turn his head; she was so young she should be with Adam or Candy, even Hoss or Little Joe if one got down right to it. He was too old.
“You not sleep. Not good. What wrong?” Brooke asked, genuine concern shown in her eyes. She did not like to see the father of Star looking so upset.
Ben shook his head, “I just have a lot of things on my mind right now. It does not exactly make for a good night sleep.” He kept his eyes on the moon and stars.
“It is me,” Brooke spoke bluntly seeing no other way to get the man to talk, “It is me. You wish I not come. You not want me here.”
Ben was horrified that he’d, somehow, sent that message to the young woman. He quickly did what he could to correct her, “That’s not it. I am glad you came. We all are. Don’t ever think you are not wanted or welcomed here, please.” He laid his hand upon her shoulder, smiling as he did so.
Brooke’s eyebrows furrowed downwards, “Then why you not sleep? What is wrong?”
Ben let go of her shoulder and rubbed the back of his neck, saying the only thing he could without betraying the last request made by a dying woman, “I’m just thinking about my private conversation with the late Mrs. Despain.” What else could he say? Most everything the woman had talked about was quite personal, so what if she’d applied it to his life?
“Oh, I not ask more. You rest though. No sleep not good. Make you sick.” This time it was Brooke who her laid her hand on his arm, “You go rest.”
“I’ll rest in time, I promise.” He sat down on the porch swing, surprised to see Brooke join him, “You need to rest as much as I do, why not go inside?” He pointed to the door.
She shook her head and leaned back, “I sit. No talk; you not want, but I sit.” The moon and stars continued sending down its light, the owl continued talking to the night and neither Brooke nor Ben spoke a word as they sat on the swing.
Candy stood inside the bunkhouse looking out the side of the window. Unbeknownst to Ben, Adam had gone ahead and talked to Candy. The man had agreed he didn’t want their friendship ruined over any woman, no matter how nice she was. He’d surprised Adam by volunteering to step out of the way, but Candy had given the man a laugh when he’d added, “but, if it doesn’t work out, don’t be surprised to see me running through an open gate!” Now Candy kept his eyes on Ben. He didn’t know what had happened in town, but he knew his boss was more troubled then ever; that bothered him. He was going to keep his ears and eyes wide open.
Brooke sat on a medium sized boulder overlooking the raging river in front of Adam and her. The clear blue sky was dotted with fluffy white clouds, some shaped like balls, and others looked like animals. Adam sat next to her. Her mind was in a whirl. “You want court me?” She looked at Adam intently.
“I’d like to take you to a few dances, maybe one of the community plays,” Adam corrected her, “we had a good time on the picnic. Who knows, we may find out we actually enjoy each other’s company on a regular basis. If we do, it would turn to actual courtship.”
She stood up and walked a few feet as she kept her eyes on the moving water. Brooke could hear “Grandma” Despain talking about the things she’d observed while watching Brooke. The old woman was right when she compared Brooke to one of the tall pine trees, sturdy and needing a home that did not move. Brooke turned and looked at Adam. Slowly she shook her head, “You good man, Adam. You honest man like father but different.”
Adam did not like being confused, and he was confused. He stood up and walked over to Brooke, “Of course, I’m different. I’m my own person. Won’t you give me a chance?” He really did like Brooke and wanted nothing more than to get to see her in a more serious light.
Star looked back at the river and pointed, “You like river. You strong, help everything you pass, but,” she looked at him, “Your spirit, it moves. Someday you leave this Ponderosa,” she waved her hand through the air, “You have different dream, good dream,” she sighed, “different dream. I see your eyes. Your eyes dance you talk of dream, this place called Aus..tr..” she fought to remember the place he’d talked about.
Adam sighed and said, “Australia.” He had talked a lot about the country and his dreams of going there someday.
Brooke nodded, “Future find you not here. Like river, you go. I not river,” she lifted her hand and pressed it against his arm gently as she looked at Adam’s crestfallen eyes, it hurt her and she found herself desperately wanting to make him understand, she did like and admire him. She’d even begun to understand the need for two people to court each other before marriage. “I not move. You need river woman, you find river woman. You be happy.”
Adam couldn’t help but smile at her, “For someone so young, you are very wise.”
Brooke laughed, “I twenty-three, almost twenty-four. Not young like child.” Adam led her back to their horses; he had work to do and dreams to plan.
Ben sat in his chair, and Candy stood by the fireplace as Adam told them what Brooke had said, “You know what I hate?” Adam looked at his father and their foreman as he sat down in the chair closest to the stairs.
“What?” Ben looked at Adam, concern in his eyes.
“She’s right,” Adam turned the palms of his hands up, “Sooner or later, I will be living in Australia. As you know, I’ve started researching various mines and sending telegrams,” Adam said as Star sat at the top of the stairs and slid down the steps; she’d been upstairs playing with her doll. Soon she was sitting on Adam’s lap, but looking at Candy, “I also don’t think Brooke is ever going to consent to be that far away from Star.” Adam looked at the young child on his lap.
Ben’s eyebrows turned down, he’d observed Brooke with Star and had come to the same conclusion some days before. “I’m not going anywhere,” Candy began smiling from ear to ear, “I finally found a place I can honestly call home. If your father thinks he can put up with me around being around the ranch for years to come, I just may have a chance with her.”
“You’ll never know unless you try,” Ben said as he stood up and headed for the door. He felt too uptight, too stressed out, he needed to take a ride; he needed time to think.
Brook stood in her bedroom looking out the opened window. The wind blew through the window; it felt good. Spring was almost over, and summer was getting ready to make its entrance. She saw Ben riding away. Her mind turned back to the day she saw the brave her uncle had sent for standing in front of her uncle’s home. “This my place. How you ask me go?” Her pain filled eyes stared at her uncle. His answer rang in hears “Little Star white child. Not belong with us. My friend, Ben, he has three sons, no daughters. He need daughter. She need mother. No brave here want half-breed. You go. You be mother. You be Ben’s woman.”
“He good man, uncle,” she spoke softly, “he not want me. He says he too old; he think I too young. I not know.” She waited until Ben was out of sight then closed the window, walked out of the room and headed downstairs.
Once down stairs she found Candy reading a story to Star. She smiled, “Little Star keep brothers busy, she keep you busy. Thank you.” She did appreciate it; their willingness to help with Star freed her up to do other things as well.
“It’s not a problem,” Candy smiled then took a chance, “Star wants a ride in the wagon and I need to go into town. Reckon, you have time to come with us? I mean, I can’t get what I need and keep an eye on one very active child.”
Brooke laughed, “She active, keep everyone busy,” the child did to. Maybe that was why Hoss and Little Joe had made the trip to Placerville, to give themselves a break, “I go.” She and Candy could not help but start chuckling when Star’s eyes lit up and she let out a joyous cry, “I’m goin’ to town!
The streets of Virginia City looked as if they were filled to their capacity. Candy couldn’t believe it, “You’d think I’d pick a better day to come into town.” He smiled at Brooke who too sat amazed at how many people she was seeing, but his smile turned into a frown as Star whirled around and wrapped her arms around Brooke’s neck, holding on as if it were a matter of life or death.
Brooke found herself sorry she had consented to bring the child into town, “Star frightened. Much people, we not stay long?” she turned her head and looked at Candy.
What could he say? The poor thing looked so pitiful with her head buried into Brooke’s shoulder. “We’ll not stay long.” Candy headed for the bank. He’d deposit the money he needed to then go to the mercantile. He’d just forgo any other errands that could, in all honesty, wait. Soon they were standing in front of the mercantile.
Out of the corner of her eye, Brooke saw him. A white man by the name of Gary McCarron, she knew him and shuddered. Seeing her shudder, Candy grew alarmed, “What is it? What do you see?” Before she could answer him Mr. McCarron approached them, the fact that he’d been drinking was obvious by the smell of liquor on his breath.
“So, what I heard is true,” the man eyed Brooke, lust in his eyes. Candy immediately stepped closer to Brooke, “the no-good half breed is living with the Cartwrights. I can imagine the pleasures…” he never got another word out as Candy’s fist connected to the man’s jaw.
“You will not speak about Brooke that way!” Candy snapped as McCarron steadied himself then came at him. Candy doubled up his fist and threw a punch into the man’s chest, grabbed his left arm, twisted it and threw him to the ground. Star started crying; Brooke hurried up some nearby stairs and stood watching as the two men fought it out. No one had to tell her what Candy had stopped the man from saying; McCarron had already said plenty the day he traded with her uncle and cousins. That is, he’d said plenty to her, but feigned sincerity to her uncle. Her saving grace had been her uncle had seen past the facade and refused to consent to give her to the man.
McCarron was lying on the street when Roy hurried up to Candy. “What’s going on here?”
“I finished what he started,” he answered Roy then glared at the fallen man, struggling to get up on his feet, “don’t ever come near Brooke, myself or any of the Cartwrights again! Brooke is very much a lady and not to be treated like some prostitute!” Candy hurried up the stairs and took a hold of Brooke’s arm, “Let’s get what we came for and get back to the ranch.”
Ben stood at the foot of Star’s bed. “Read me a story, pa, please?” she’d climbed up on his lap and begged. It was the first time she’d actually called him pa; it made him smile. He’d read more than one then insisted she go to bed. Now, he stood thinking about Brooke, her refusal to Adam, Candy’s interest in her and men like McCarron; Candy had told him about the incident in town. “Thomas,” Ben shook his head as he thought on his Paiute friend, “Why on earth couldn’t you have warned me about this? Star’s a girl, she does need a mother only, blast it, I’m too old for Brooke! She’s young enough to marry one of my sons, or Candy.” He shook his head again, “what on earth were you thinking, friend?’
He had no more time to dwell on his thought as he heard Candy yelling and another man screaming back. Before he knew it, Brooke ran into the bedroom, “Bad man outside! Candy fight him!” Ben ran down the stairs as fast as he could. Sure enough, Candy and a man that fit the description Candy had given him earlier were fighting.
“She’s just a half breed!” McCarron yelled, “You can share…” he never got a chance to finish his sentence as Candy hit him again in the jaw. If he thought he’d win the fight, he changed his mind when he saw Ben with his gun drawn and looking angrier than a swarm of upset bees.
“Being of mixed blood does not make Brooke something to be passed around and used!” Ben barked as he moved faster than McCarron thought possible; before the man knew it Ben had him up against the fence surrounding the stable/barn, “You will get off this land and never come back; if you do I’m not promising a thing!” he let go and practically threw the man towards his horse.
After the man disappeared, Candy looked at Ben, “I don’t know that he’ll listen. When do the boys get back?” Adam, Hoss and Little Joe were out moving a small portion of the cattle. If the drive had been any bigger, Candy would have been with them. As it was, he’d stayed behind to do some other jobs Ben needed done.
“Tomorrow morning,” Ben answered as he turned to go back in the house only to see Brooke standing on the porch watching them. Candy saw her too. A look of fear was in her eyes. She had seen what happened!
Candy hurried to her side and started to speak only to realize it was Ben she was looking at. He didn’t know if it was because she had really fallen in love with him, or if she needed a father figure. Either way, he backed off and went back inside.
“Bad man, he want me.” She spoke the words as Ben walked up to her. Men like McCarron made her sick. “He come back.”
“He may,” Ben put his left hand on her shoulder and lifted her chin up with his right one, she’d been looking downward, “but you have myself, Candy, and the boys will be back tomorrow. You need not fear. He’ll not lay a hand on you.”
“Not frightened for me,” Brooke looked into his face and spoke in earnest, “Fear for Star, for Star’s father, fear for brothers and Candy,” she fought the tears that wanted to come, “I fear for m-my family.”
Her family! Like Candy, Ben was unsure just what she was thinking, yet he did not dare ask. If she was just accepting them as her family and would allow Candy, or some other good man, to court her he did not know. One thing he did know, Brooke needed reassurance. “Things will work out,” he pulled her close and held her, just like he would Star, “one way or the other, life always works out like it should be.”
Chapter Ten Scene
If people were to describe the man, Gary McCarron, if those people were being honest, they’d say he was a man full of greed, liquor and lust. He was born to a successful gambler with a taste for fine wine and one particular saloon girl; Gary had chosen to follow in his father’s footsteps, sort of. He gambled, but was unsuccessful, hung around the saloons, spent time with any saloon girl desperate enough and drank beer. He sat in the corner of the saloon drinking with one of his friends, another unsuccessful gambler by the name of Hank Miller, a tall thin brown haired gentleman who looked like a strong wind could easily push him over.
“Can ya believe that?” Gary was hissing as he talked, “Those Cartwrights and their foreman are defendin’ a half breed! What’s wrong with ’em?” he took a swallow of his beer.
Unlike his friend, Hank was not quite as cold, nor did he have his mind totally in the dirt. “Maybe, whether or not you like it, she ain’t like Lilly or Willow.” Lilly and Willow were two women with whom Gary had had dealings; both were of mixed blood.
“Whose side are you on? I told ya, that gal is a half-breed!” Gary had to fight to keep his voice low. Used to getting what he wanted when it came to liquor and woman, the man was not in a good mood.
Hank stood up, “I suggest you forget the girl and find someone else. There’s plenty to choose from.” He walked away leaving Gary to wallow in self-pity and anger.
Star was running around the yard ‘chasing’ Hoss and Little Joe when Candy came around the corner. He had to stop and laugh; the sight was just too much. “You’re late!” Little Joe said as Star attached herself to his leg, “birthday party’s already started.”
Candy laughed, “And who says it’s her birthday?”
“Pa,” Hoss said, “he went to town and talked to an attorney. The man made it legal. I mean, it’s like pa said, sis has to have a day to celebrate her birthday.”
Candy shook his head and headed for the house, “Only girl who will be able to grow up and honestly deny her true age.” That sent Hoss and Little Joe into fits of laughter and since they were laughing, Star laughed too.
Once Candy had stepped inside and shut the door, Ben looked up from his desk. “How did things go in town?” he asked concerned that their ‘friend’ from the night before might have caused some trouble.
“Fine,” Candy threw his hat down upon the credenza and walked over to the desk, “Where’s Brooke?”
Ben leaned back in his chair, “Upstairs taking a nap. She’s been running herself ragged so I insisted she lay down.”
“Then may we talk?” Candy sat down on the chair in front of his boss.
Brooke walked down the stairs surprised to see Candy sitting on the chair she always saw Ben sitting in. Ben was nowhere in sight. She thought Candy had gone to Placerville with Adam. Candy stood up when he saw her, “I was hoping we could talk.” He pointed to the couch. Unlike the time Adam wanted to talk to her, Brooke had her eyes wide opened. She figured she knew what was coming.
“What you want?” she held her hands on her lap and looked at him. She appeared to be calm and collected, but the truth was she was quite nervous; she wasn’t the only nervous one. Candy was too.
“Look,” Candy put his hands on his hips and took a deep breath, “I know your uncle meant well when he sent you here to take care of Star and, well, to be Mr. Cartwright’s woman but,” he fidgeted again. In fact, he was so nervous he didn’t see the grin spreading over Brooke’s face. She’d never seen a man so nervous before, not on her account anyway. However, the grin was gone in seconds so he did not see it, “I’d like to see more of you, I mean,” he quickly changed his words as a shocked look came upon her face, “I don’t mean,” he put his right hand on the back of his neck, “I mean, I’d like to take you to the dance in town tomorrow night. Mr. Cartwright, his sons and their dates will be there; Star can come too.”
Brooke stared at him. True, she found herself confused at the feelings she had for Ben and for Candy, but she had never thought that Candy wished to get to know her better, “What Ben think?”
Candy smiled, “Mr. Cartwright knows; I’ve talked to him already. Only question is,” he tilted his head slightly, “Is will you go to the dance with me?”
Brooke looked at her hands then looked back at Candy, “I not dance with Ben if I go with you. See two men wrong.”
Candy shook his head, “It’s a town social. We can go to the dance together, but, since we’re not seeing each other on a regular basis, you can dance with who you want to.” It was the truth, okay so he hoped he could get her to dance the majority of time with him. It didn’t really matter though, if he got her to go with him.
Brooke stood up and walked over to the window. Ben’s words came back to her and rang in her ears. “There will be plenty of dances and other such activities over this next year. Why not take that time to get to know each other, time to see what will happen? Things may, indeed, work out between us, but you may very well find yourself wanting something else.” She had to admit Candy stirred something inside of her, but Ben did too. She was confused and hated it.
“Well?” Candy asked again, trying hard not to sound impatient; he didn’t want to sound like he was pushing her.
“I go,” she turned around to see a smile spread over Candy’s face on, “I dance Ben too. You understand? ”
“Never thought I’d be competing with Mr. Cartwright” Candy thought but only smiled and said, “I understand.”
Brooke was trying to catch Star as the young child tore out of the kitchen with more than one cookie in her hand. Hoss grabbed the young girl and scooped her up in his arms. “What ya doin’, pum’kin? Stealin’ cookies?”
“No,” Star shook her head, “I’m eatin’ them!” That got Hoss and Adam, who was sitting behind his father’s desk and working on some paperwork for his father, to laughing. However, Brooke was not amused. She took the child back, and the cookies she had in her hand.
“We talk…” before she could finish her sentence a knock came on the door. Hoss went to answer it.
“Is Adam in,” Mary Lee asked once Hoss had the door opened, “and Brooke?”
Adam stood up, walked around the desk and answered, “I’m here.”
“I here.” Brooke handed Star to Hoss, “Please take Star to room. Make her sit on bed four minutes,” when Hoss looked at her puzzled she explained, “She four years old. One year, one minute. Steal cookies, she punished.” Once Hoss and Star were out of sight Adam looked at Mary.
“What do you want?” It did not pass by Mary, or Brooke, there was a cold tone to his voice. It made Brooke wonder what the woman had done to cause the two to stop seeing each other.
“I wanted to say I was sorry,” she looked at Adam then to Brooke, “Did he tell you why he broke up with me?”
Brooke looked confused, “Broke up with you? You not look broke.” Adam had to stifle a laugh.
“Stopped courting me,” Mary smiled awkwardly.
“Oh, no he not tell me. Why?” Brooke looked at her confused; Adam just stared at Mary. He couldn’t believe she was here apologizing nor could he believe she was going to tell Brooke about it.
“I said a lot of bad things about you, because your mother was Paiute, and said a few things about his father for letting you stay. He was justifiably angry with me,” Mary was wringing her hands as she spoke, “I’ve done a lot of thinking over the past two months and Adam was right; I was wrong. I’m sorry. You are very much a lady and his father has always been an honorable man, always will be. I hope you can forgive me. I was hoping for a second chance.”
While Brooke was shocked to learn why Adam had stopped seeing Mary, she was also pleased, she could tell the woman was sincere in her apology and had indeed changed her mind, “Good you see truth. Good you come here. Now,” Brooke smiled at Adam, “People strong enough admit they wrong need second chance. If Adam smart, he forgive. He give second chance.”
Adam might have said something in reply only Hoss came down with Star. Brooke hurried over and took the child in her arms. “I think we’d best talk outside,” Adam looked at Mary and pointed towards the door.
O swiftly glides the bonny boat,
Just parted from the shore;
And to the Fisher’s glorious note,
Soft moves the dipping oar:
These toils are borne with happy cheer,
And ever may they speed;
That feeble age and helpmate dear,
And tender bairuies feed.
We cast our lines in Largo bay,
Our oars are floating wide;
Our bonny boat with yielding sway,
Rocks lightly on the tide
And happy prove our daily lot,
Upon the summer sea;
And blest on land our kindly cot,
Where all our treasures be.
Candy whirled Brooke around the social hall, which was decorated with streamers and balloons as Mr. Austin played the lively Scottish song. Candy’s smile lit up his face, even Brooke looked as if she was enjoying herself. Ben sat at a table watching the dance and keeping an eye on his daughter, who was drawing on paper Adam had brought along.
“Looks like they’re enjoying themselves,” Adam, who had been dancing with Mary until she’d had to leave due to a family emergency, sat down next to his sister and watched Candy and Brooke dancing.
Ben knew ‘that tone’ and turned his attention away from his foreman and Brooke. “What is it?”
Adam had been keeping an eye on his father, Candy, and Brooke ever since the day she’d told him there was no chance for the two of them. He’d been surprised by the struggle he’d seen in his father’s eyes, “Why don’t you just admit you’re interested in her? Why are you letting the age difference stop you? It may not be an everyday occurrence I admit, but men do marry younger women. It’s not like she’s not an adult.”
Ben’s eyes widened and he felt lightning bolts shoot through every inch of his body. He wanted to deny what Adam was saying; after all, Brooke seemed to be showing some interest in Candy. “I’ll watch Star,” Adam moved a bit closer to his sister. Star smiled, climbed on her brother’s lap and continued drawing.
Ben gave in and stood up, “If I admit you’re right, promise not to say anything. As long as Candy is interested, and Brooke doesn’t tell him there’s no hope for them, I’m not pushing the issue. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t either. After all,” Ben smiled, “I do have my family.”
Adam nodded and agreed and watched as Ben asked Brooke for the next dance.
The wind blew softly threw the trees as Candy drove the buggy to the pond. He’d succeeded in talking Brooke into going on a ride with him and leaving Star in the care of her father and brothers. Once they arrived at their destination, Candy stopped the horses and helped Brooke down. Soon they were eating the picnic Hop Sing had prepared for them.
“It’s a nice day for a picnic; thanks for coming with me.” Candy’s face lit up as he sat on the blanket and bit into the chicken. However, he grew concerned when she did not answer. He looked at Brooke; her eyes were focused on the trees. “What is it? What do you see?”
She turned her head and looked at him. The fact that she seemed to be able to see through him made Candy a bit uneasy. “You ask me here, you want court me?”
Candy had seen the way Ben had started looking at Brooke; he wasn’t blind. The man was genuinely showing interest in the young woman. He had begun wondering what his chances really were. Slowly he nodded, “Yes, I am interested in courting you. I like you. I like you a lot.” He watched as she traced her fingers in the dirt beside the blanket. He wondered if he’d waited too long to ask, wondered if Ben had, unintentionally, worked his way into the young woman’s heart.
Brooke looked at the birds flying in and out of the branches of the beautiful trees that guarded the pond, as if they were guards hired to protect the life within its waters. “You bird,” she turned her attention again to Candy, “You come, go, back and forth, share songs with all. Brighten sky when you leave, brighten up road you return,” she sighed, “Life with bird okay,” she shrugged her shoulders, “I not sure though. I think. Tell you tomorrow?” she looked at Candy, her eyes begged him to understand her dilemma.
Candy smiled from ear to ear, “Fair enough. Better to have an honest thought out answer than to have you say yes now and regretting it later.” He held out a piece of chicken, “Come and eat, food’s getting cold.”
Brooke smiled, sat down and took the chicken from Candy, “Thank you. You good bird.” That only served to make Candy smile even wider. At least, no matter what, he had her as a friend.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Ben grabbed Star and removed her from the bookshelf. He couldn’t believe she’d managed to pull a chair over, climb up on it and get on the bookshelf. Brooke stood on the stairs laughing so hard tears ran down her face.
“Do you think this is funny?” Ben’s eyebrows turned down as he looked at Brooke.
She quickly left the stairs and put Star on the couch, “You sit there. Not climb on bookshelf.” She then turned her attention to Ben, “I think funny see man try to be mother. Men fathers, women mothers,” she grew quiet as she thought again on Candy and the things he’d asked her the day before, “Candy ask he court me,” She kept her eye on Ben, his face did not register shock, “You know?”
Ben nodded and answered honestly, “I knew he was interested. Everyone does.”
Brooke took a hold of his hands and held them up to her chin, “I like Candy, he good bird,” she spoke slowly to make sure she made herself clear, “but I think. I think all night. I want tree with deep roots. I think same as uncle now. You strong tree, roots go deep. You and I court, not see anyone else,” she paused and looked into his eyes, “or you change mind?” As much as she realized she wanted Ben to court her, she was not going to force him too. That much, giving her to Ben without telling him what was coming, was something she’d come to disagree with her uncle on.
Ben looked upon the young woman before him. What did she see in him? He would be a burden to her in a few years. She saw the conflict of emotions in his eyes, she looked past the conflict and into his soul, Brooke smiled, “I not young child. You not too old; Uncle know this. I know this now. Why you not know?”
Ben too had spent many nights thinking about the situation with Brooke. He knew Candy was sincerely interested in the young woman. He’d told himself more than once to make it clear to Brooke that she would be better off with Candy; only the truth was he’d fallen in love with her himself. Still, he found himself once more trying to convince her, or maybe himself, it would not work. “What happens in ten, or fifteen years? You will be burdened with an old man.”
“Maybe, and” she smiled as she released his hands and rested her hands on the front of his shoulders, “maybe life happen to me. I burden for you.” Okay, it wasn’t likely only she knew it to be the truth. She’d seen it happen a time or two. A thousand excuses came into Ben’s mind, but none of them escaped his mouth as he nodded and pulled her close, “I’ll court you.”
Only the sound of Star starting to move broke the two apart,” Time Star go bed.” Brooke picked the child up.
“Night, Pa.” Star held her arms towards Ben. He smiled, took her, gave her a hug and handed her back to Brooke. He watched as the two disappeared upstairs hoping Candy would really understand; after all, he was the best foreman they’d had.
“Hey watch it!” Little Joe laughed as he ducked; Hoss had swung a log around and almost hit him. “I have a thing about keeping my head in one place!”
“Are you sure about that?” Candy smiled as worked alongside Joe, “Seems like your mind has been elsewhere lately. Don’t suppose you’re getting’ sweet on Abigail.” The man enjoyed teasing Little Joe about the crush the young gal had on Little Joe.
“No, I’m not,” Little Joe laughed again then grew serious, “Talk about courtin’…,” he paused not knowing whether or not Brooke had talked to him yet, he needn’t have worried. Candy finished his sentence.
“I wish your pa the best of luck,” Candy went back to work on the fence line, “She’s a nice gal.” He did too. If he had to lose out to anyone, he might as well lose to Mr. Cartwright.
Ben laughed as Brooke swung Star around; the child was laughing and giggling. When Brooke stopped, Star cried, “More, more please!”
“No more,” Brooke too laughed as she sat down on the ground and made sure Star had her lunch in front of her. “Time eat.” After blessings were said the child began eating.
“Hoss, I in town today,” Brooke looked at Ben and grew serious, “I see McCarron. Not like Mary, he still same. I fear he hurt family.” She did too. The man, and what he might do to any of them, downright scared her.
Ben said nothing at first. Unbeknownst to Brooke he, Candy and the boys had been keeping their eyes and ears wide open, when it came to McCarron and his whereabouts. “Roy is keeping an eye on the man when he’s in town,” Ben finally spoke, “He’s caused problems in other towns before he came here,” he covered her hand with his, “For now, don’t worry about it. We take one day at a time; that’s all we can do.”
Brooke might have said something but Star put her food down and started pulling on Brooke’s arm, “I want to swim in the pond, Please.”
“Another day,” Brooke handed the child her half eaten sandwich, “not good eat and swim. Make stomach sick.” The rest of the picnic was spent in discussing his family, his dreams, her dreams and Star. McCarron and the trouble they feared might be coming their way because of him was not allowed into any of their discussions, as they wanted to just relax and enjoy the afternoon.
McCarron sat on the porch of the old run down shack. His un-brushed, uncombed black hair hung to the top of his neck and the whisky bottle he was holding was now empty. Roy had run him out town for the tenth time, but this time he’d told McCarron to stay out or he’d be doing jail time.
“They throw a white man out of town but tolerate a half-breed!” he threw the empty bottle down onto the porch sending it into a thousand tiny flying objects, dangerous objects. H let out a few choice cuss words as some of the glass actually ‘had the nerve’ to jump up and make a small cut on his hand. He went inside to wash the blood off.
Hank was sitting at the table whittling a piece of wood when McCarron stumbled in and started washing his hand. “I heard the bottle break; what happened?” He kept his eye on the piece of wood; he didn’t want to lose any of his fingers.
“Don’t matter none,” McCarron turned away from the sink, “I been thinkin’ though, reckon I know what we need ’round here now. A squaw, a hardworking squaw is just what we need around here.”
Hank didn’t care for company, even if it meant getting out of cleaning the shack. Besides, he figured the only squaws available were on the Paiute reservation and he wasn’t about to mess with the Indians. Paiutes may be peaceable enough, but they were still human. He didn’t want a mad Paiute on his case. “We’re doing just fine,” Hank growled as he almost cut his thumb, “We don’t need to travel to any reservation to get a squaw to work for us.”
McCarron’s disgust shown in his hardened eyes and bitter voice, “Who said anythin’ about the reservation? I was thinkin’ more along the lines of that there half breed Cartwright’s taken up with. He ain’t married her yet.” That was about the only redeeming quality about McCarron, he didn’t bother married women.
Hank put down the wood, “Are you insane? If the old man is courtin’ her you not only have him to worry ’bout but his sons and that foreman of his to boot! I have a thing ’bout livin’, I want to keep doing it!” Hank picked the wood back up and went to work. McCarron on the other hand stood by the window watching a few deer grazing and thinking.
Brooke shut the door to Star’s and her bedroom quietly and went back downstairs. Ben was again at his desk working. “You work hard. Too hard. Past dark.”
Ben smiled and leaned back as Brooke leaned against the desk. “I’m almost done.” He couldn’t keep his eyes off Brooke. He still found it hard to believe she’d chosen him over Candy.
When his eyebrows turned slightly downwards, Brooke knelt before him and took his hands in hers, “You look troubled. What wrong?” She no sooner asked the question than she knew the answer. That being the case, she wasn’t surprised when Ben started speaking.
“Roy chased Grant McCarron out of town,” he pulled her up and onto his lap, holding her close to him while she laid her head upon his shoulder, “but I’m not convinced he’s left the area.”
“It be okay. Vultures eat dead meat. Future find McCarron dead meat.” The sound of the crickets singing drifted in through the open window while Ben and Brooke sat in silence, simply holding onto each other. One way or the other, they knew McCarron would fall.
Ben stood in the general mercantile looking at the rings they had for sale. He had tried more than once in the past week to get himself to ask Brooke to marry him, but he’d failed every time. ‘Pa, what’s holdin’ ya up? Ya love her and she loves you. If’n ya don’t hurry, Candy may just git it into his head to take another try.’ His son’s words had been the final straw; he’d saddled Buck and rode to town. Had he known his other sons and Candy had been the driving force behind Hoss’ question, he might not have ridden so fast.
“We have the best rings this side of the Mississippi.” Mrs. Peters walked over and started talking. Ben felt like telling the woman to go clear her sinus’, but he didn’t. No one, not even the self-righteous, know it all woman beside him was going to ruin this day.
“I’ll take that one.” Ben pointed to a small silver ring with diamonds shaped like flowers on attached to it.
Mrs. Peters opened the case and took out the ring, all the time acting as it was going to kill her. “May I assume you are getting married then?”
“I wouldn’t assume anything,” Ben paid for, and took, the ring, “assuming things always makes an ass out of you and me.” He had to stifle a laugh at the horrified look that came upon the woman’s face. Only, what did she expect asking a question like that of him.
Mr. Peters came out of the back room and said, “Congratulate whoever the ring is for.” His eyes were twinkling and his smile not faked. Ben like him, too bad he had to marry someone like his wife.
“If she says yes, I’ll do that.” Ben walked out the door leaving Mr. Peters to deal with his wife’s temper tantrum, and she was having a fit. After all, ‘Mr. Cartwright has a lot of nerve.’ Had to be that woman’s favorite saying, didn’t matter if it was Ben or one of the boys she was referring to. Once outside, he bumped into Roy; the man looked quite upset.
“What’s wrong Roy?” Ben didn’t like seeing the lawman so upset; upset looks never meant anything good.
“That, that man,” Roy pointed down the street, “that man had the nerve to come back into town and get out before I could get him. Only, now I have no choice but to hunt him down. He stole supplies from Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs, wounded Mr. Jacobs to do it!”
Ben didn’t have to ask as he hurried to his horse, but he did anyway, “Grant McCarron?”
“That’s him,” Roy waited until Ben was mounted before saying, “I’d keep an eye on Brooke. Mrs. Jacobs said the man was muttering something about getting a white squaw. She’s pretty sure he was referring to Brooke.”
That did it, Ben said nothing more as he whirled Buck around and sped off towards home.
Star sat on the floor playing with her dolls, Adam sat in a chair reading a book and Hoss was just finishing supper when Ben hurried into the house. One look at the concern in his eyes and both Hoss and Adam were sitting up straight. “What’s the matter pa?” Hoss asked as he stood up.
“Where’s Brooke?” Ben had ridden Buck quite hard to get home; he had to know Mr. McCarron hadn’t been to the ranch yet, if he was indeed hunting Brooke.
“I here,” Brooke stood at the top of the stairs, Little Joe was with her, they’d been rearranging the furniture in the bedroom she and Ben would share once they were married, “What wrong?” she asked as she and Little Joe walked down the stairs.
Relief had flooded over Ben’s face, “We,” he paused, “we might have a visitor coming to the ranch.” He really wanted to talk to his sons before he admitted to Brooke what Roy had told him. He should have known better.
“He comes. Bad man comes. I tell you. He not know I your woman now. He still want me.” Brooke stood tall and straight, “He just try.” All of the Cartwrights had to smile at the spirit she had proven to have.
“He might come,” Ben took a hold of her shoulders, “he might not. I don’t want you leaving this house alone though, not until he’s caught.”
Brooke sighed. She didn’t’ want to feel like a prisoner, but her first concern was for the man she was to marry, and his peace of mind. “I stay. If I go, I with you, I go with sons,” she paused, “Star and I listen to you.”
Grant finished making the bed while Hank shook his head and continued working at the table, “She’s not available Grant. I hear Mr. Cartwright’s not only courting her, he’s asked him to marry him.
“Well, they ain’t married yet,” Grant strapped on his gun belt, “and I still plan on having me a squaw to cook and clean for me.” Some people had a brain, they even used it, not Grant McCarron though. He preferred to leave the candle under a basket and grope around in the dark. “I’ll be back soon. I’ll have me a half breed squaw, you’ll see.”
“Huh-huh,” Hank shook his head as the man walked out the door and thought, “Guess I best go lookin’ for another trappin’ partner, I just lost that one.’
Ben stood next to Brooke, his arm around her shoulder. The lake below seemed to send out a warm and comforting hug to the couple looking down upon its home. They’d spent the morning riding around the Ponderosa with Star. Now, with Star at home with Hop Sing, Ben and Brooke were enjoying some time by themselves. “Nervous?” Brooke turned and looked at Ben. She knew she was.
Ben smiled. They were to be married in just a couple of days, “A little,” Ben admitted and took her by the shoulders, “I still can’t believe…” his sentence was cut short when he heard the sound of an approaching horse. If it weren’t for the fact that it sounded as if someone was trying awfully hard to get the animal to move as quietly as possible, he might not have been alarmed. As it was, Ben grabbed Brooke and hurried to hide behind some trees.
From where they were hiding Ben could see McCarron appear on his horse. The man was unkempt and there was almost an insane look about him. “He look for me.” Brooke whispered, her voice barely audible.
When he went to step out into the open Brooke took a hold of his arm and whispered, “Stay alive. He vulture food not you.”
McCarron knew he’d seen Mr. Cartwright and Brooke, and he was determined to find them. He dismounted his horse. “I’d stay right where you are. You’re on Ponderosa land. You were told not to come back here. You’re trespassing.” Ben’s voice stopped him cold.
“I ain’t done nothin’ to you; I ain’t botherin’ ya.” McCarron talked as he slowly moved his right hand over his saddle, he had no intention of leaving alone. He came to the Ponderosa to get ‘that good looking half breed’ and make her his. If he had to kill the old man, he’d just consider it a necessity of life.
Ben had been around men like McCarron more times than he cared to admit. He held his right hand near his gun, “You’re not welcome here,” he raised his voice slightly; “get off my land!”
“Over my dead…” the man whirled around gun in hand, but neither he, nor Ben, had a chance to shoot as a shot rang through the air. Mr. McCarron stiffened and stared. He’d been shot, but who had shot him? It was one thing he’d never find out as he fell to the ground dead.
Ben looked beyond the man’s horse and broke out smiling. Candy and Adam sat on their horses, both men hurried over to Ben, and Brooke who had come out from behind the trees and was standing next to Ben.
“Where did you come from? ” Ben asked , “I thought the two of you were supposed to be rounding up the cattle, along with Hoss, Little Joe and the other men.”
“Supposed to, is two little words with a lot of buts in them.” Candy replied, a grin upon his face.
“I saw McCarron heading this way,” Adam said, “I would have stopped him sooner but it took a while to catch up to him. He was moving quite fast.” He and Candy had pushed their horses quite hard as it was. He was glad they’d gotten there in time.
“We go home,” Brooke smiled at Ben, “we marry. Not worry now. Vulture get him.” There was a twinkle, along with a laugh, in her eye. She knew better only it didn’t change the fact that she wished it could be so.
Ben chuckled and shook his head, “As tempting as that is,” he helped Adam get the dead man on the back of the nearby horse, “we have to take him into town to Roy.” He then helped Brooke into the wagon they’d driven out to the lake and followed Adam, who held the reigns to the horse with McCarron draped over its back, and Candy into town.
Star’s laughter, along with Adam’s and his brothers, drifted up the stairs and into the room where Ben and Brooke lay, even if the door was closed. Brooke laid her arm over and on top of Ben’s bare chest. “Star keep brothers busy. Brothers keep sister busy,” she tilted her head backwards and smiled as she looked into Ben’s eyes, “They keep us busy. Is good to have tree to hold onto, a place to belong to.”
Ben laughed as he held her as close to him as possible, “I dare say they will keep us busy, still,” he turned on his side, “I think, for now, they’re on their own.” He lowered his head and covered her mouth with his. The wind that was blowing outside and the owls there were talking to each other could have been shouting and they wouldn’t have disturbed Ben and Brooke; they were too busy enjoying each other to let anything bother them.
Next Story in the A Place to Belong Series:
“The Minstrel Knight” (12 June 1824) Canzonett, Opus 14, No. 3 With an accompaniment for the Harp
Composed by Benjamin Carr, 1768-1831.
Philadelphia, PA: T. Carr’s Music Store, No. 132 South Second Street
“O Swiftly Glides the Bonny Boat” (3 Dec 1824) A Scotch Air
Written by Johanna Bailie Arranged for the Piano Forte by J. F. Nance
New York: Dubois & Stodart, 126 Riveted[sp?] Way
[Source: 121/066Levy] (I actually only used a portion of this song that’s in Public Domain)