Over The Hill And Through The Woods (by Deborah)

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Summary: This Thanksgiving story is set in the Bronwen in Nevada universe.

Rating: K  WC  5500

Bronwen in Nevada Series:

From This Day Forward
Blessed are the Children
Angelic Affection
Over the Hill and Through the Woods
Precious Ties

Over the Hill and Through the Woods

Chapter 1

Bronwen Cartwright lay snuggled under a layer of blankets and a quilt, her head pillowed on her husband’s chest while one of his arms was wrapped around her, holding her close.

“You’re awfully quiet,” she said softly as she raised her head to peer at him nearsightedly.

Adam sighed gently. “I was just thinking how Hoss and I have so much for which to be thankful this Thanksgiving Day. I only wish that Joe did.”

“Yes,” Bronwen said slowly. “We all do.” She paused and then said earnestly, “I know he loved Alice and he’ll never forget her or their child, but I believe someday he’ll meet another woman he can love.”

“Certainly Pa did. Twice,” Adam said thoughtfully. Just then they heard a little voice call, “Mama! Daddy!”

“Sounds like Penny is awake,” Adam said. He sat up and reached for his robe at the foot of the bed, and then with a grin, he grabbed Bronwen’s flannel nightgown, which he’d tossed there earlier. Once she’d slipped the gown over her head, shivering slightly, he pulled back the bed curtain on his side of the bed. He quickly fastened his robe and put on his slippers before getting out of bed. The first thing he did then was to add fuel to the fire in the Franklin stove, which he’d banked the previous night. Meanwhile, Bronwen pulled back the bed curtain on her side and put on her spectacles before looking for her slippers. Adam saw her looking, and chuckling, he bent over and got the slippers from under the bed where she’d kicked them off. Penny’s calls were increasing in volume so he went into the nursery to check on their youngest.

Twenty-two month old Penelope Jane was standing in her crib, her enormous violet eyes beginning to fill with tears while her chin was starting to wobble. The minute she saw her daddy, her little face lit up and she held out her arms.

“Daddy needs to see if you’re wet, Kitten,” Adam said, smiling at her. “Oh yes, you are definitely wet.”

Bronwen hurried in just then, saying, “I’ll change her.”

“Then I’ll go wake up the other girls,” he said, kissing Penny’s cheek before leaving. As soon as she saw him head out the nursery door, Penny began to wail, “Daddy! Daddy!”

“Daddy will be back, Penny fach,” Bronwen said soothingly. “Now, let’s get you changed.”

At the same time Penny was letting her parents know she was awake, a similar scene was taking place at the ranch house. Eight-week-old Jesse Samuel began to wail to let his mama know he was hungry. Claire Cartwright yawned as she sat up and reached for her robe. She shook her head and smiled as she glanced at her husband’s sleeping form. Then she lifted their son from his cradle and sat down in the rocking chair to nurse him.

Claire was burping Jesse when Hoss sat up in bed and stretched. “Mornin’, darlin’,” he said with a smile. He stuck his feet in his slippers and walked over to his wife and son. Claire handed Jesse to him and Hoss smiled down at his youngest and he smiled back at him.

“How’s Daddy’s baby boy?” he asked and Jesse cooed at him.

“Would you watch him while I get dressed?” Claire asked and he nodded.

While Hoss sat in the rocking chair with Jesse, Claire performed her morning routine. Hoss smiled as he watched her put on a pair of red flannel knickers, followed by a linen chemise and a red flannel petticoat. Next, she put on her white twill corset and walked over to Hoss.

“Jesse, Daddy’s gonna have to put you down while he ties Mama’s corset,” Hoss said, carefully placing Jesse in his cradle. He fastened the corset and Claire examined herself critically in her vanity’s mirror.

“Tie it a little tighter, please,” she said over her shoulder, but Hoss shook his head and said, “Nope.”

“Oh, I wish I was as slender as Bronwen,” Claire said sadly.

“I’m glad you’re not,” Hoss said firmly, turning her around and taking her in his arms and kissing her. “I prefer a woman with curves,” he added with a grin as he squeezed her derriere.

“Oh Hoss,” she said, her cheeks turning pink. Then she said, “I must hurry. There’s so much to do before Adam, Bronwen and the girls get here.”

She quickly put on her black woolen stockings, fastening them to the elastic suspenders attached to her corset. Then she put on a plain serge wrapper and laced up her boots before hurrying across the hall to wake up their older son and help him dress.

Three-year-old Joshua Benjamin, named for his grandfathers, had been given his Uncle Adam’s old bedroom. He’d slept in a crib that stood where Adam’s standup desk had been until his brother’s birth, but now he slept in his uncle’s old bed. Claire thought Josh looked a little lost in the bed, but he was proud of being a big boy who could sleep in a bed instead of a crib. He was a sound sleeper just like his father so Claire opened the shutters and pulled back the curtains, filling the room with sunlight. It was a beautiful morning she was pleased to note, with no sign of a blizzard that could prevent Adam’s family from joining them to celebrate Thanksgiving Day.

Smiling, she sat on the bed and said, “Wake up, sleepyhead,” very gently shaking her little boy’s shoulder. He slowly opened his eyelids, revealing eyes as blue as his father’s, and she smoothed his curly brown hair, which he’d inherited from her.

“Morning, Mama,” he said, smiling at her. She dropped a kiss on his forehead and said, “Good morning. It’s time to get up and get dressed. I’ll be back in a few minutes to see if you need any help with your buttons. Okay?”

“Okay,” he replied, stretching.

Down the hall and around the corner, the patriarch of the Ponderosa was lathering his face and humming “We Gather Together”. I have so much for which to be thankful, Lord, he thought as he carefully applied his straight razor. I am thankful for my three sons, so different, and yet all three sons to be proud of. And I’m thankful for my daughters-in-law who are now as dear to me as my sons.

Ben found his thoughts turning to the daughter-in-law lost to him forever along with the baby she was carrying. Lord, he prayed, let Joseph find love again as I did with Inger and with Marie.

He wiped away the traces of lather and then turned out the collar of his shirt, smiling at the thought that in a few hours his entire family would be gathered together. Most of all, he thought, I am thankful for my grandchildren. What a joy to play with them and tell them stories and watch them grow up.

In the adjoining bedroom, Joe finished buttoning his shirt. You can get through this day, he told himself. You can do it. Think about how much you enjoy spending time with Adam’s girls. Why Betsy is prettier every time you see her and Miranda is smarter. She’s definitely her father’s daughter, he thought and grinned. I expect they’re taking care of their ponies right now. Even Gwyneth, with some help from her daddy. And I need to get started on my barn chores. If I keep busy, I’ll be okay.

He opened his bedroom door and discovered Hoss. “I was fixin’ to come drag ya out of bed, little brother,” he said with a grin, but Joe saw the concern in his brother’s clear blue eyes.

“Oh, you know me. I like to sleep as long as I can,” Joe said with a grin he hoped didn’t look forced. “Guess we better get out to the barn.”

Bronwen was fixing flapjacks, while Penny sat in her high chair watching, when she heard the mudroom door open and the sound of her daughters’ voices.

“That’s my hook, Miranda,” she heard Gwyneth complain. Then Betsy said, “Gwyneth, don’t forget to stomp the snow off your boots.” Miranda squealed, “Close the door, Daddy!”

In a few minutes, Adam and their three oldest walked into the warm kitchen, their cheeks and noses red from the cold. The three little girls were all dressed in the knickerbockers and shirts they wore for riding and barn chores.

“Flapjacks! Hurrah!” Miranda said as she saw her mama pouring them on the griddle.

“Since this is a special day, I thought we’d use the maple syrup Mrs. Wharton sent us,” Bronwen said with a smile for her husband, who had maintained a friendship with the widow of his college roommate. “Hurry and change, girls, but don’t put on your good dresses yet.

“Okay, Mama,” they called as they ran through the kitchen.

“Don’t run in the house, girls!” Adam and Bronwen called after them and then shook their heads.

“Daddy,” Penny said, tugging on his shirtsleeve and then smiling up at him. He picked her up and kissed her cheek and she squealed, “Cold, Daddy!”

“Maybe Mama won’t care if Daddy’s kisses are cold,” he said, putting Penny back in her highchair and then walking over to Bronwen.

After they kissed, Bronwen said with a grin, “Penny’s right.” He chuckled before heading to the bathhouse to wash up.

After breakfast, Bronwen and the two older girls went to the kitchen to wash and dry the dishes while Adam took the two younger girls upstairs to play in Gwyneth’s room. It wasn’t long before Miranda came running up the stairs and burst into the room, followed by Maegan, their black and orange tortoiseshell cat.

“Daddy, can we play Old Bachelor? Please?” she begged.

“Yes, we have time before we need to change clothes. Where’s Betsy?” he asked.

“She wanted to help Mama make the cranberry sauce and the squash, and Mama said she could,” Miranda replied.

“You didn’t want to help?” he asked and grinned just a little as his second born shook her head and wrinkled her nose. Betsy was eager to help her mother in the kitchen whereas Miranda was more interested in her lessons.

“I wanna play,” Gwyneth said then, tugging on her daddy’s hand.

“How about you and Daddy play together, Punkin?” he suggested to the four-year-old, and she dimpled as she nodded her head vigorously. He glanced over at Penny, but she was occupied with their wooden blocks. “The cards are in the top drawer of my desk on the right side,” he told Miranda, who dashed out of the room before Adam could tell her not to run. He sighed and rolled his eyes. She returned in a few minutes with the cards and sat on Gwyneth’s bed while Adam turned the rocking chair so it faced the bed and lifted Gwyneth onto his lap.

They hadn’t played very long before Penny noticed Gwyneth sitting on Adam’s lap and toddled over. “Up,” she commanded, holding out her arms. Adam sat the cards down, shifted Gwyneth to one knee and lifted Penny on the other. She was bored after a few minutes and wriggled to let her daddy know she wanted down.

Adam’s attention was focused on the game and he forgot to keep one eye on Penny so he was startled when he heard his wife exclaim, “Stone the crows!” He looked toward the door and saw Bronwen and Betsy, who was giggling, and then he looked where they were staring. He saw Penny had gotten into Gwyneth’s chest of drawers and scattered her knickers, camisoles and stockings all over the floor while Maegan was gleefully rolling around in them. Seeing her mama, Penny toddled over saying, “Wet, Mama.”

“Mama will change your diaper,” Bronwen said, taking Penny’s hand. “Daddy and Gwyneth can clean up the mess you made.”

“I’ll help,” Betsy said and Miranda added, “Me, too.”

“You’ll need to hurry,” Bronwen said as she started out the door, “because it’s time for us to get dressed to go to Grandpa’s house.”

Hop Sing and Claire had reached a modus vivendi within a few weeks of her marriage to Hoss: The kitchen remained Hop Sing’s domain while Claire handled cleaning the rest of the house. She also handled all the mending. The laundry and the garden they worked on together.

This Thanksgiving Day, while Hop Sing roasted the turkey and prepared the cornbread stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes and giblet gravy, Claire dusted the furniture in the dining room, great room and Ben’s study, then set the table. The Cartwright men kept out of their way and played with Josh upstairs while keeping an eye on Jesse.

As soon as Claire was done setting the table, she hurried upstairs. She sat down at her vanity, loosened her braid, quickly brushed her hair and then arranged it in a spiral bun high on the back of her head. When she finished with her hair, she removed her wrapper and put on a tight-fitting, high-necked, long-sleeved bodice of brown, green and gold plaid cashmere trimmed with lace at the neck and wrists. Next she put on the matching overskirt, carefully arranging the pleats in front. As she examined her reflection, she thought, This style is only flattering to slender women like Bronwen. Oh well, the fashion will change and perhaps the new one will be flattering to women with larger bosoms.

She found the men in Josh’s bedroom: Hoss and Joe were on the floor with Josh, building towers of blocks he could knock down while Ben was holding Jesse.

“Look, Mama!” Josh commanded as he knocked down the blocks.

“My, your mama sure looks pretty, don’t she?” Hoss asked Josh while he smiled at Claire.

“Yeah!” Josh stated emphatically.

“Thank you,” she said, adding, “it’s time to put away the blocks and put on your good clothes, Josh.”

“No, I wanna play,” Josh said with a pout.

“You heard your mama, Buckaroo,” Hoss said firmly, and heaving a big sigh, Josh said, “Okay.”

“I guess the three of us need to put on our good clothes,” Ben said then, and this time it was Hoss who sighed. Ben and Joe grinned because they knew how much Hoss disliked having to wear a tie. However, Bronwen and Claire had persuaded their menfolk that since Thanksgiving dinner was a special occasion, they should dress accordingly.

Once Bronwen and the girls had finished dressing, they joined Adam, who was waiting impatiently in the foyer. He smiled when he saw his little girls wearing long-sleeved flannel dresses in a rainbow of colors and white muslin pinafores decorated with ruffles. Betsy’s straight black hair hung nearly to her waist and was held back by an azure ribbon that matched her dress while Miranda’s curls were arranged in ringlets and her hair ribbon and dress were saffron. Bronwen had tried to tame Gwyneth’s curls by braiding them in pigtails and her hair ribbons were cherry red just like her dress. Penny’s silky dark hair was too short to need a ribbon but Bronwen had tied a lavender bow in her hair as a decoration.

Adam then gazed appreciatively at Bronwen, thinking how lovely she was in her Princess sheath dress of forest green delaine trimmed in lace, her raven hair piled high on her head and her face framed by soft curls. (Unlike Claire, Bronwen had to use a curling iron on her straight hair to achieve a fashionable hairstyle.)

“All right, ladies,” he said, causing the girls to giggle, “I’m going to hitch the team to the sleigh and you need to be ready to go when I’m finished because we don’t want King and Prince to stand in the cold waiting for you, do we?”

“No, Daddy,” the girls chorused.

When Adam drove the team in front of the house, the front door opened and the girls hurried out, dressed warmly in their coats and knitted tam-o’-shanters, mufflers and mittens. Penny climbed down the porch steps carefully, holding Gwyneth’s hand. They were followed by Betsy and Miranda, who were carrying the covered dishes containing the candied squash and the cranberry sauce. Bronwen, who was carrying the pumpkin and apple pies she’d made the day before, brought up the rear.

It didn’t take long to get everyone and everything settled in the sleigh. Penny rode in the front with her parents and the three older girls in the back with the food, which was well-wrapped in newspapers. As they drove out of the yard, Bronwen said, “Why don’t we sing, girls?”

“What should we sing?” Betsy asked and Adam replied, “How about ‘Over the River and Through the Wood’?”

“Yes!” the girls shouted so Adam smiled and said, “Start us off, Mama.”

Over the river, and through the wood,

To Grandfather’s house we go;

The horse knows the way

To carry the sleigh

Through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood-

Oh, how the wind does blow!

It stings the toes

And bites the nose

As over the ground we go.

Over the river, and through the wood,

To have a first-rate play.

Hear the bells ring,

Ting-a-ling-ling,

Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!

“Are Uncle Adam and Aunt Bronwen comin’ soon, Daddy?” Josh asked. He was now dressed in a knickerbocker suit made of brown gabardine, a white cotton shirt, black tie tied in a big bow and black wool stockings. (Claire could only find one pair of stockings without a hole in one or both knees that needed darning.)

“Pretty soon,” Hoss promised. “You wanna play horsy while we wait?”

“Yeah!” the little boy answered excitedly.

“It will be so nice to see Adam, Bronwen and the girls,” Claire commented. “We haven’t all been together since Adam and Miranda’s birthday, and that was almost two weeks ago.”

“You want to see your cousins again, don’t you, Jesse?” Ben said to his youngest grandchild as he held him, and the baby cooed.

“I told Betsy if they bring their Old Bachelor cards, I’d play with them,” Joe said.

“They’ll enjoy that,” Claire said, smiling warmly at him. “In another year or so, Josh will be able to play.”

“I think I hear sleigh bells,” Joe exclaimed then and ran to the window. “They’re here,” he said and grabbed his coat from the hook by the door. Putting it on quickly, he hurried outside.

“Hello, Uncle Joe!” the girls called as he walked over. Betsy said, “I brought the cards.”

“Hello, girls” he said, smiling warmly at his nieces. Then he turned to his sister-in-law and said, “Let me help you down, Bronwen.”

Just then Hoss walked out, calling, “Hey, Sweet Peas, let’s get you out of the cold. Then Uncle Joe and I will help your daddy take care of the team.”

In a few minutes, the girls and Bronwen were headed for the warm house. Bronwen and the older girls carried their contributions to the feast while Gwyneth and Penny walked behind, hand in hand.

Josh ran to hold the door open for his aunt and cousins, who entered calling, “Hello, Josh! Hello, Grandpa! Hello, Aunt Claire!”

“I wanna see the baby!” Betsy exclaimed, seeing Jesse in her grandpa’s arms.

“After you’ve taken off your coat,” Bronwen said firmly, smiling at her sister-in-law and Hop Sing, and handing him the pies. Then she had to grab Penny, who was heading for her grandpa.

“No! See Ganpa,” Penny yelled, trying to wriggle out of her mama’s grip.

“You can see Grandpa after we take off your coat,” Bronwen said firmly as she lifted her squirming child and held her tightly.

After a few minutes, Bronwen and the girls emerged from the downstairs bedroom where they’d left their coats. Claire was holding Jesse so Ben’s lap was available for Penny, who toddled over as fast as her short legs would take her.

“How’s Grandpa’s pretty Penny?” Ben asked, smiling down at his youngest granddaughter.

“Cold, Ganpa,” Penny said seriously and then her little face brightened as she returned her grandpa’s smile.

“May I hold Jesse, Aunt Claire?” Betsy asked eagerly and Claire nodded.

“Sit in the blue chair and then I’ll let you hold him,” she replied.

“Go stand by the fire and warm your hands first,” Bronwen instructed and Betsy joined Miranda, who was already standing by the great stone hearth, holding her hands toward the fire.

“So you had a cold ride?” Ben asked and Bronwen replied, “Yes!” emphatically, adding, “I am so thankful for my sealskin cape,” referring to the Christmas present she’d received from her father- and brothers-in-law on her first Christmas at the Ponderosa. “I don’t think it matters how long I live here; I’m never going to grow accustomed to your winters.”

Gwyneth, who’d been leaning against Ben’s arm chair, now spoke up. “Mama told us she never saw snow ’til she moved here.”

Ben smiled at the solemn little girl who reminded him so much of her father at the same age. She had his curls and dimples and his large hazel eyes. And his long legs, Ben thought with a chuckle. Then he looked down at Penny, who was the image of her mama with her heart-shaped face and enormous violet eyes, and she smiled up at him. He glanced at his two older granddaughters, warming themselves at the massive fireplace. Miranda’s resemblance to her grandmother Elizabeth increased as she grew older and brought Ben so many happy memories. Betsy had inherited the best features of each parent and was a beautiful little girl. Ben thought her parents were wise to downplay her beauty so she wouldn’t grow up to be vain and self-absorbed.

Josh came over to lean against his grandpa’s other chair arm, and Ben smiled at his grandson. Like Betsy, he didn’t strongly favor either parent but his features were a blend of theirs. Jesse strongly resembled his brother at the same age but it was too soon to know what color his eyes or hair would ultimately be.

Ben’s reverie was broken by Betsy announcing, “My hands are warm now.” She moved quickly to the blue velvet wing chair. Her aunt and mama exchanged smiles and then Claire carefully placed baby Jesse in her arms. She smiled at the baby and was thrilled when he grinned back.

“He likes me!” she said excitedly.

Thee adults smiled and then Claire asked Bronwen, “When is Miss Brooks returning?”

“December 1,” Bronwen replied. “Betsy has enjoyed her vacation from lessons but Miranda is eager for Miss Brooks’s return.”

“She’s definitely Adam’s daughter,” Ben remarked with a chuckle.

Just then the men returned from the barn and hurriedly removed their coats and hats.

“Don’t you all look handsome,” Bronwen said, seeing the three brothers wearing morning coats-Adam in black, Hoss in tan and Joe in charcoal grey-white shirts and neckties.

“They certainly do,” Claire said with a smile, adding, “and you too, Pa.”

Ben returned her smile and said, “All the Cartwright ladies are visions of loveliness.”

“Amen to that!” Hoss said with a big grin while Adam smiled and said, “I couldn’t agree more.”

Joe’s memory was flooded with images of his Alice, and he had to blink back the tears that burned his eyes. Just then Penny wriggled to let Ben know she wanted down and toddled over, holding out her arms and saying, “Up, Unca Joe.” He smiled, reached down and picked her up, and she kissed his cheek.

“Thank you, Penny,” he said quietly and dropped a kiss on her soft cheek.

“We’d better go wash up,” Hoss said then so Joe put Penny down and she went back to her grandpa.

When they returned, Adam and Hoss joined their wives on the settee while Joe perched on one of the arms of the red leather arm chair Miranda was sitting in.

“Miranda, let your uncle have the chair,” Bronwen instructed while Josh and Penny went over to sit on their daddies’ laps and Ben lifted Gwyneth onto his.

“No, she’s fine,” Joe said quickly. “What was Miss Brooks teaching you before she went to visit her family, Miranda?”

“About the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims and the Indians,” Miranda replied. “It was in Plymouth . . .”

“Mass-” Adam prompted.

“Massachusetts!” Miranda exclaimed with a big grin.

“You were born in Massachusetts, weren’t you, Daddy?” Betsy asked.

“Your grandpa and I both were,” he replied.

“Your daddy was born in Boston and I was born in Gloucester,” Ben added.

“Are they near Plymouth?” Miranda wanted to know.

“Yes, they’re all pretty close together,” Ben answered.

Betsy said then, “We made a snowman. At least, it was going to be a snowman except Daddy said we couldn’t use his hat.”

“Because Daddy needs his hat to keep his head warm,” Adam said, winking at his daughter.

“Mama let us use one of her old hats, so it’s a snow woman,” Betsy giggled while her uncles and grandpa chuckled.

“Did you help build the snow woman?” Ben asked Gwyneth.

She smiled and nodded. Then she added seriously, “Penny didn’t help.”

“That’s because she’s too little,” her daddy said. “When she’s a big girl of four like you, then she can help build the snowman. Or snow woman,” he added with a grin.

“Next year you’ll be four, Buckaroo, and me and you will build a snowman,” Hoss said to Josh, who clapped his hands and smiled.

Claire saw Hop Sing was beginning to put the food on the table so she said to Betsy, “It’s time to put Jesse in his cradle,” and Betsy reluctantly let her aunt take her little cousin.

“When I grow up, I’m going to have lots and lots of babies,” she announced.

“Not me,” Miranda declared. “I don’t like stinky diapers.” She was insulted when her daddy and uncles laughed.

“You may change your mind when you grow up and get married,” Ben said with a smile, but Miranda’s face assumed the mulish expression familiar to her parents and said firmly, “No, I won’t.” However, the adults just smiled.

Just then Hop Sing announced, “Dinner ready,” and started to head back to the kitchen. He stopped when Betsy called his name and turned toward her.

“Thank you for cooking our Thanksgiving dinner,” Betsy said, smiling sweetly, and Miranda and Gwyneth added, “Thank you, Hop Sing.” Little Penny chimed in with, “Tank you.”

“You very welcome,” Hop Sing replied, beaming at them before heading back to the kitchen. Adam and Bronwen exchanged proud smiles at their first-born’s unprompted appreciation of Hop Sing’s time and effort.

Joe had added the extra leaves to the table and placed Josh’s old highchair at the table for Penny so, except for baby Jesse, the entire Cartwright clan was gathered around the dining table. Ben blessed the food and then began to carve the turkey while the others served the children the side dishes and dinner rolls. Bronwen cut turkey into little pieces for Penny while Josh and Gwyneth’s daddies helped them cut their turkey into bite-size portions.

“This cranberry sauce is excellent,” Ben said to Bronwen.

“Thank you. Betsy helped me make it. And the candied squash,” she added proudly.

“You’re gonna be as good a cook as your mama,” Joe said to Betsy, who was seated on his right, and she grinned.

After they finished, Ben asked, “Are we ready for pie?”

“I’d rather wait,” Claire said.

Bronwen said, “Yes, so would I. And Penny needs to take a nap now.”

“So does Josh,” Claire said.

“I don’t wanna a nap,” Josh pouted while Penny shook her head and loudly said, “No nap.”

Adam said quietly, “Kitten, if you’ll be a good girl and take your nap, then Daddy will come sing to you.”

They could plainly see that Penny was torn, but after a minute she smiled at Adam, saying, “Daddy sing.”

Hoss turned to Josh and said, “You know, Buckaroo, your Uncle Adam sings real pretty. Why don’t you ‘n’ me go listen?”

“Okay,” Josh answered, smiling up at his daddy.

Adam had Penny lie down on Josh’s bed while he sat beside her, and Hoss sat on the rocking chair with Josh on his lap. Adam hadn’t even finished “Hush, Little Baby” before both children were asleep. Hoss very gently laid Josh down beside his little cousin and then the two brothers quietly exited the room and closed the door softly.

They found the three girls playing Old Bachelor with their uncle and grandpa, with Bronwen helping Gwyneth.

“Daddy’s back!” Gwyneth said excitedly, jumping off her mama’s lap.

“I was just filling in for you, Cariad,” Bronwen said with a grin as she relinquished her chair to Adam.

“I wanna play in the next game,” Hoss said, smiling at his nieces and then he joined Bronwen on the settee.

“Jesse was hungry so Claire took him upstairs,” Bronwen explained.

They watched the others play and Bronwen said to Hoss very quietly, “It’s so good to hear Joe laugh and see him smile.”

“Sure is,” Hoss said just as quietly. “I know holidays like this are pretty hard on him, but I think they get a little easier each year.”

Just then Miranda crowed, “Uncle Joe got the Old Bachelor!”

“C’mon, Uncle Hoss,” Betsy called as Ben shuffled the deck so he joined the others around Ben’s desk.

After a couple more games, Josh and Penny appeared at the top of the stairs. Bronwen jumped up, saying, “Mama will walk down the steps with you, Penny fach.” As she and Penny came down the stairs, hand in hand, Adam glanced at the grandfather clock.

“We’ll need to eat our pie and be on our way if we’re going to make it home before dark,” he announced.

“But we haven’t finished the game,” Miranda complained, earning a frown from her daddy.

“Uncle Joe has the most pairs now so he’s the winner,” Adam said firmly, and Ben said, “I had the Old Bachelor.” He pretended to be very sad and the girls all giggled.

While Bronwen was cutting the pies into slices, Claire brought Jesse downstairs. “I knew you’d need to be leaving soon, and I wanted to say goodbye.”

“May I hold him?” Adam asked and with a smile, Claire handed Jesse to his uncle.

“Oh, you have your daddy’s smile, don’t you, Jesse?” Adam said, dimpling. Betsy came over then and asked, “Could we have a baby, Daddy? I’d help take care of it.”

Joe and Hoss could hardly choke back their laughter at the look on their older brother’s face. He frowned at them before turning to his daughter. “Mama and I have had four babies, Princess. Don’t you think that’s enough?”

Gwyneth ran over then, saying, “But I wanna baby brother like Josh has, Daddy.”

Joe couldn’t contain his laughter and had to run to the kitchen, struggling to hold back his giggles until he was out of earshot, while Hoss had to bite his lip to keep from laughing aloud. Even Ben and Claire struggled not to grin while Bronwen looked on in amusement because she was trying to persuade Adam to stop using French letters so they could try one more time for a son.

Adam gave Jesse to Hoss and then hunkered down so he was eyelevel with his little girls. “It’s your Heavenly Father who decides whether or not you’ll have a little brother,” he said gently.

“Then I’m going to ask Him for a baby brother every night when I say my prayers,” Gwyneth said firmly while Betsy added, “Me, too.”

Taking pity on her spouse, Bronwen said, “Who wants some pie?” and everyone gathered around the dining table.

When Adam was ready to hitch up his team of Morgan geldings, Joe offered to help.

“I’m sure glad the weather cooperated and you could all come and we could have Thanksgiving together,” Joe said quietly as the brothers worked in concert. “I- I really enjoyed playing Old Bachelor with the girls.”

“If the weather holds, why don’t you plan on having Sunday dinner with us,” Adam suggested, smiling warmly at his brother.

“Thanks. I’d like that, Adam,” Joe said, and he returned Adam’s smile.

Adam’s family was ready when he drove up, and after exchanging hugs and kisses with their grandpa and uncles and aunt, the girls were in the sleigh with the buffalo robes tucked securely around them. As the sleigh pulled out of the yard, Ben, Hoss and Joe stood in the yard and watched until the sleigh was out of sight.

“It sure is nice when we can all get together,” Hoss said with a smile, draping his arms around the other men’s shoulders.

“It surely is, son,” Ben said with great sincerity. “It surely is.”

Next Story in the Bronwen in Nevada Series:

Precious Ties

 

References:

I used the lyrics for Over the River and Through the Wood found at http://www.dltk-holidays.com/thanksgiving/over_the_river.html

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