Summary: Ben and Hoss have a heart to heart about lost loves.
Rating: K (tissue warning) Word Count: 1,499
Of Love and Loss
I tossed a pebble into the calm waters of Lake Tahoe and watched as the ripples grew until they lapped at the shoreline.
“Ya know, it’s not polite to spy on people.” I said, not even bothering to turn my head. There was a moment of silence, and then I heard the distinctive sound of someone moving towards me through the thick brush.
“I didn’t mean to spy, I just wasn’t sure if you felt like having any company right now.” The deep, baritone voice surprised me enough that I glanced up into the familiar, lined face of my father.
“I thought you was Little Joe.” I murmured, dropping my gaze in embarrassment. Pa let out a grunt as he sat down next to me on the fallen log.
“You have nothing to apologize for, Hoss. In fact, I only managed to keep Joseph from running off in search of you by promising to come out here myself to find you.”
One side of my mouth quirked up at Pa’s words. “Yeah, that sounds like old Shortshanks all right. And he says I worry too much.” A warm hand rested on my shoulder and I let out a heart-heavy sigh. “How do you do it, Pa?” I asked after the silence between us had grown uncomfortable.
“How do I do what?”
I turned and looked into his soulful, brown eyes, searching for any answer I might find in them.“How do you go on after…”
“…after the woman you love dies?”
I nodded my head, the sudden lump in my throat preventing me from saying anything more. “It’s not easy. At first, it doesn’t seem possible. You feel as if you’re drowning in a sea of pain and that you’ll never be able to survive it, but with time, it becomes manageable.
When your mother died, it seemed as if the world had ended. It’s true that I loved Adam’s mother, Elizabeth, deeply as well, but Inger was so sweet and gentle…the love I felt for her was very different. With Elizabeth there was the fire and passion of first love, but with your mother, it was the love of friendship-turned-romance that was between us. So when she passed, I not only lost a wife whom I adored, but my best friend as well. It felt as if the sun had fallen from the sky, leaving me in utter darkness. If it wasn’t for you and Adam, I’m quite sure that I never would have survived her death.” My eyes must have widened in shock, for he nodded his head. “Oh, yes, in those first few weeks without Inger, I nearly gave up on finishing our journey out here. It hurt too much to keep on living out the dream that your mother and I had shared. You can ask Adam, I’m sure he remembers what I was like back then. I turned into a bitter man, with a nasty temper to match, and it wasn’t until I met Marie that I realized just how hard I had let my heart become.”
A tear winged its way down my cheek and was quickly followed by a second and a third until I was weeping openly and could no longer keep track of their number.
She had been a sweet little thing, my Marianne—full of goodness and a love of nature that rivaled my own. The only child of widower Harry Dawes, the local butcher, I had known her most all of my life; we attended school together until I dropped out at age fifteen to help Pa work the ranch. It came as no surprise to the townsfolk when we started courting, even less so when I asked her to marry me the summer she turned eighteen. Never in my whole life had I felt happier than when she agreed to be my wife.
A month before our wedding was to take place, the fever came to Virginia City. Doc Martin said it was typhoid and was most likely brought in by one of the miners who had arrived from a nearby gold camp to visit the assayer’s office. The sickness spread like wildfire, until nearly everyone in town had at least one family member or friend who was down with the fever. Marianne was one of the last people to catch it. For three weeks, I did nothing but pray for her swift recovery, but in the end, my pleas with the Almighty did her no good. She was buried in the town cemetery alongside thirty-seven other poor souls who had also been overcome by the disease, and I felt as if my heart had been placed beside her in that grave.
“I-I miss her, Pa! I miss Marianne so much it hurts!” I cried, and he wrapped an arm around me, stroking my back in an attempt to give me comfort.
“I know. I know, Son, but I promise you it will get better in time.”
“Why? Why did she have to die?”
“I don’t know the answer to your question, Hoss, no one does except for God.” I shook my head and pulled away from his touch as anger coursed through me.
“I wish I’d never met her! I wish I’d never fallen in love in the first place, that way I wouldn’t feel like I’m dead inside, but still have to go on living!” I snatched up a stick and hurled it into the water, not caring that I ended up soaking myself when I did so.
Pa grabbed my chin and turned my head, forcing me to look at him.
“No, Eric!” The use of my real name startled me and I stared at him. “Don’t ever wish for that! What you had with Marianne was a blessing; never forget that. It may not seem like it now, but you will move on. You will heal, and you will be able to open your heart up again. You will never forget the love you shared with that sweet, wonderful girl, but eventually you will be able to look back on your time together and cherish those memories.”
“B-but what if I can’t?” My father drew me into his embrace once more and I heard him sigh.
“You will, I know you will. You’re a Cartwright, remember? You come from resilient stock. We can be pushed around and knocked down, but ultimately, we will stand up, dust ourselves off, and move on.” Somehow I knew he was smiling.
“I loved her, Pa.” I whispered, and felt him gently squeeze the back of my neck.
“I know you did, Son. We all did and she would have made you a wonderful, loving wife, but you have to let her go.”
For a long while, I leaned against him, dampening his shirtfront with my tears until they were spent. Finally, I pulled away and rubbed the remaining wetness from my cheeks.
“I-I think we should get on home now, Pa, afore Little Joe decides he can’t wait no more; you know how antsy he gets.” I said, and Pa chuckled, slapping me on the shoulder before he stood and worked the kinks out of his back.
“I guess we have been out here for quite a while now. Hop Sing should have supper ready by the time we make it home.” My stomach rumbled as if on cue, and I couldn’t help the tiny laugh that managed to escape my lips at the sound.
“Well, that settles it! Come on, Son, we don’t want you to waste away.”
He headed off through the brush to the place where our horses were tethered. I hung back and gazed out over the lake one more time; the clouds chose that moment to part, and overhead, a rainbow appeared—it’s brilliant colors sparkling in the sunlight.
Yes, Pa was right. With time, I would heal. Someday I would be able to live, love, and laugh again, and the pain would dull—if not fade away altogether. But I would never forget. Oh, no, I would never, ever forget.
“’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
~Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H.
This story is dedicated to: My Brand sister, Mumu74; I love you, Sis!
Thank you jfclover for graciously spending some of your valuable time beta-reading this little story for me.
Thanks also go to my Mother for catching a lot of the typos and sentence-structure errors that riddled this tale in its infancy, and for putting up with my excitement about finishing yet another Bonanza story so soon after writing my Chaps and Spurs contribution.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
Other Stories by this Author
- My Dearest Mother (by Annie K Cowgirl)
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- Of Mothers and Fathers (by Annie K Cowgirl)
- My Dearest Husband (by Annie K Cowgirl)
- The Argument (by Annie K Cowgirl)