Disenchanted (by DebbieB)

Summary:  When Ben advertises back east for a new school teacher and gets a mail order bride instead, things start going haywire for the four Cartwrights, especially Ben.

Rated: PG  (8,000 words)

Disenchanged

I’ve asked my self a number of times over the last couple of days, what went so wrong?

I had answered the advertisement weeks ago, the one from the school board in Virginia City, requesting a teacher for their school.  The board members replied to my inquiry and before I knew it, I was on my way west ready to start a new life in a new country.

I could hardly wait, I hated it there in the east, and I looked forward to a change.  I had to give up my former teaching position.  You see I had taken a bad fall and had broken my leg.  I had been laid up for weeks and by the time my injury had healed, our school board there had already hired a new teacher, so when I spied the advertisement in our local paper for the teaching position, I thought now would be as good a time as any to make the change.

Thinking back, I realize how funny the situation was, how embarrassing really for all of us, the Cartwrights, Ilene, myself, even the school board members.  And poor ole Mister Ken Garthwright, why the poor man will never get over what happened to him, thinking he had ordered a bride and got a school teacher instead, and Mister Ben Cartwright thinking he got a teacher and ended up with a would be bride!

You see, unknown to me, my distant cousin, Ilene Byerant, on my mother’s father’s side of the family had answered an advertisement about the same time, also from Virginia City, only hers had been much different than mine.  Ilene had answered an ad requesting a wife needed for a lonely widower who also needed a mother for his three sons.

Now that it is all over, I wonder what in the world had I been thinking?  It was silly really, me breaking my leg; Ilene was the one who had always been accident-prone.  Why she could trip over a blade of grass if it were the only one in a five-acre field.  Her clumsiness had become a matter of amusement for both of us; I was always the graceful one, poor Ilene was more the fish out of water type, forever flopping around on the ground.  She was fortunate though, or maybe she was just lucky, she never managed to hurt herself, well at least not seriously.

Naturally, I didn’t find any of this out until much later, after things had finally gotten straightened out.  By that time, I was teaching school, Ilene was happily married to the right man and everything was back to normal for all of us, even that big handsome man Hoss, who had come courting just a few days after I had arrived in Virginia City, had not appeared too disappointed with the fact that Ilene wasn’t what he thought she was, meaning of course, unattached, as I was.  We hit it off right from the start and have been spending as much time as possible in each other’s company when our workload would permit.

Let me tell you the story, it began with Ilene arriving in Virginia City.  Maybe I’ll let Ilene tell it in her own words.  Go ahead Ilene, now tell it just like it happened.

“Okay cousin Irene.”

I saw them the very minute I stepped from the stage; had I been paying more attention to what I was doing rather than to what they were doing, I wouldn’t have made such a complete fool of myself.  But as usual I had my mind elsewhere and that was on the four good looking men who stood slightly to the side of the stage coach and watched as the passengers disembarked.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not man crazy, but one would have to be blind not to have noticed them, for they definitely were men who stood out in a crowd!

I felt my foot touch the first step, and I smiled graciously at them, but by the time I went to place my other foot on the bottom step, I suddenly found myself face down in the dirt and dust.  Goodness, I was so embarrassed, especially when the younger three rushed to my side and quite gently, considering their various sizes, hauled me to my feet.

The youngest one was the most striking by all means, his hazel eyes danced with merriment at my predicament and when he smiled, oh my goodness, by poor heart was jumping about so fast in my chest that I thought my breasts would pop out of my tight corset.  I struggled to get my wind, for once my eyes met his, my lungs expelled nearly every bit of oxygen I had left in them after the fall that left me sprawled in the dirt looking like a hog-tied calf ready for branding.

The handsome dark haired gentleman must have seen how befuddled my mind must have gotten cause he stepped up to me and took me by my hand and bowed, kissed the back of my now soiled white glove and introduced himself to me.  Right then and there I feared I might faint dead away, but instead, I opened my mouth and sucked in a large gulp of air, suddenly wishing I hadn’t for instead of air, I got a bug.  Not caring to make a complete idiot of myself, I swallowed, nearly gagged but kept right on smiling.  The gentleman was none the wiser and my appetite was suddenly squelched.

“Hello, ma’am, my name is Adam Cartwright.”

Then he smiled and I saw the dimples that suddenly appeared on his face and my heart started its rapid pulsating all over again.  Why goodness sakes, I thought for just a swift moment that I had died and gone to heaven so gallant was the tall dark stranger with the equally dark eyes!  This was a man of mystery, I could tell for I sensed him sizing me up and calculating in his ever-active mind just what his first impression of me would be.  I secretly prayed that he would forget about my dive into the ever dry Nevada dust and judge me not for my looks, for I surely must look a mess, but judge me for who I was and not what I was, which might first appeared to have been a dunce.

I hardly knew what to say, so rather than risking embarrassing myself a second time, I just stood there like some star struck fool and said nothing. Mr. Handsome, I mean Mr. Adam Garthwright smiled again, “These are my brothers, Little Joe,” Adam pointed to the cute younger boy, and this is my other brother, Hoss Cartwright.”

I was worried because the poor man seemed to be unable to pronoun his own name correctly.  Well, I would help him with that later, so for now I decided to ignore his blundering speech.

My eyes swept from the youngest of the four, who stood with a look on his face that warned me to use caution when he was near, to the largest…and my heart stopped.  Before me stood the biggest boy I had ever met in my entire life and I suddenly felt very small and insignificant in comparison.

“Hoss?” It was all I could say.  Then I saw him blush, he was embarrassed just trying to speak to me!  Oh what a boy!  Very few males ever blushed and here was a giant of a boy and all I did was repeat his name and he nearly fell apart just hearing me say it.

“Yes ‘um, my real name is Eric, but my family calls me Hoss, that’s H-o-s-s.”

He dipped his hat and smiled.  I noticed the gap between his front teeth but that didn’t bother me, I never judge a person on looks. Here was a man…ere boy, I sensed, that had much more to offer than the striking good looks that his brothers had.  This man was a gentleman, and a giant of a man.  And for the first time in my life I was speechless, no one had warned me, that is Mr. Ken Garthwright didn’t tell me in his letter that his sons were as old as they were, I had been expecting boys, much younger and smaller boys.

The older man joined us; he had remained motionless and silent during my disastrous spill from the coach, allowing his sons to aide me, but now he stepped up to me and smiled.  “Welcome Miss Bryant.”

“Miss Byerant,” I corrected.  He seemed not to notice that he had mispronounced my name, or that I had corrected him.

It was Hoss who caught my attention, he continued to smile at me and he kept his head held low but he was the cutest thing I had ever encountered and I knew that from this day forth my life as his step-mother would be forever changed, as would his.

Adam and Little Joe waited with their father, my would-be husband, for the driver to toss down my luggage, I suppose they had seen the way in which Hoss and I were staring at each other and I can only imagine what must have been going through their minds at the time.  When the entire luggage was finally unloaded, Adam grabbed a couple of satchels, as did Little Joe, but it was my admirer that hefted my large trunk onto his shoulders and carried it to the buggy that they had waiting for me.  It looked as if it weighed nothing the way he carefully lowered it, and I saw the muscles in his arms twitch beneath his shirt sleeve when he placed it into the back of the buggy.

Hoss wasted no time, once the trunk was in place, he offered me his arm and with his help, I climbed into the waiting carriage and then brushed my hand across the seat in an invitation for him to join me.  Though it should have been his father who sat with me, Hoss seemed to want the pleasure.  I looked questioningly up at the older gentleman but he seemed not to mind, so I allowed Hoss to sit next to me.  I saw the handsome Adam glance first at me and then at Hoss before turning to the youngest Garthwright and wink.  He didn’t think I saw, but I did.  Hoss climbed into the seat next to me, smiling shyly as he did so and I could tell that he was nervous, but then so was I in a way.

Once Hoss had settled his large frame into the seat, Adam and his brother finished putting my other things in along side of my trunk and then climbed into the front of the buggy.  Adam picked up the reins and in a quiet voice clicked to the team of horses and we were off.  Mr. Garthwright mounted his horse and fell into line behind us, unfortunately eating our dust as we made our way to his home.

“Miss Irene, how long ya plannin’ on stayin’, ma’am?” Hoss asked me.  I saw Little Joe turn his head slightly, obviously trying to catch my answer and I smiled to myself.  The boy must have been about seventeen or eighteen, a typical teenager no doubt and with those good looks of his, I would bet he was a constant worry to his father.

“Miss Ilene,” I corrected Hoss.  I was beginning to wonder why these seemingly intelligent men could not remember my name.

“Well Hoss,” and I saw the color begin to rise once again to his cheeks, “I suppose I will stay for as long as your father will let me.”

I couldn’t help but laugh, I came here to get married, I hope that the gentleman would want me to stay the rest of my life, but I didn’t say that out loud.  For some strange reason, these ‘boys’ seemed to think I was here for some other reason than to marry their father!

“Oh, well if’n that’s the case, I’m sure ya’ll be here for a very long time, ma’am,” stammered Hoss.  “Pa’s talked a lot about how much he needs ya and just how much good ya will do all the children he hopes will be around.”

Hoss pressed his lips together tightly and I watched, fascinated by this gentle giant, though somewhat confused by his statement, children?  I surely hoped that Mr. Garthwright wasn’t expecting me to bear him more children, why his sons were already grown men, except for Little Joe who was just too cute for words.

Hoss and I made small talk during the ride to his home.  Adam and Joe had long since given up trying to add anything to the conversation, choosing instead to converse among themselves.  Hoss pointed out different scenes along the way to me and I had to admit that this land that he so obviously loved was more beautiful than I had ever imagined it to be.  No words could do justice to the beauty that lay all around, the snow capped mountains in the distance, the sparkling blue lake, the many different variety of trees, the landscape which looked so much like an artist’s drawing, what with the many beautiful shades of color, even the wild life, all of it was a work of art, art created by God’s hand and as I surveyed everything within my view, I knew that this half grown boy next to me was one and the same with this majestic countryside that he loved so.  I sat speechless in awe of it all and suddenly I felt a twinge in my heart, I too felt connected somehow to this land.  It was as if for the very first time in my life, I belonged to something, to someone.

I felt his eyes watching me and when I turned to meet his gaze, he smiled, and I smiled back.  I think he knew what I was feeling, like he could read my mind and quite unexpectedly, he reached over and took my gloved hand into his larger hand and squeezed gently.  No words were needed; our minds and our hearts were in one accord with the land.  But something bothered me, I wish it had been my intended that had sat next to me, squeezed my hand and whose heart-felt feeling for this country had entwined with mine.

We finally arrived at the Ponderosa, and again I felt the twinge in my heart as my heart rate increased.  I was home, or so it seemed.  Mr. Garthwright’s Chinese house servant quickly emerged from the house, a beautiful house I might add, built for men, strong, powerful men who worked hard at making this country fit to live in, making this house into a home where love and honor lived side by side as one with respect and compassion; it was all here and it was mine for the asking.

Mr. Garthwright quickly dismounted as Hoss gently helped me from the buggy.  Adam and Joe watched, smiling and then as they began to unload my belongings, I saw Little Joe nod his head at Hoss and I, then he winked at his father.  I felt my face grow warm, but I tried to hide my feelings, after all, I was suppose to be marrying their father, not their brother.

“Miss Bryant, welcome to our home,” greeted Mr. Garthwright as he gathered me into his arms.

“Miss Byerant,” again I corrected my name, golly, what was wrong with these men?

I was surprised at the turn of events, it was as if the man had been waiting for us to arrive at his ranch, perhaps he feels more comfortable here at his home with showing his emotions.

I instantly picked up the scent of Bay Rum aftershave and I smiled, it reminded me of my father and of my two brothers, Ian and Aaron, and for just a brief moment, I was homesick, but that passed quickly as my intended tenderly tightened his arms around me.

“Pa,” Hoss smiled shyly, “don’t ya reckon Miss Irene might like to rest, maybe clean up some, she had a nasty fall in town.”

“Miss Ilene,” seems like I was always correcting one of them.

I felt my face glowing, Mr. Grathwright pulled his arms free and it was as if he actually saw me for the first time and he noticed my soiled dress and surely my hair was messed, my bonnet sat somewhat lopsided on my head.  Hoss used his neck scarf and wiped a smidgeon of dirt from the end of my nose.  It tickled and I giggled which in turn caused Hoss to start laughing and once we got started, neither one of us could quit.  He took my elbow and walked me to the house.

We were walking slowly, the laughter good medicine for my soul.  Adam trailed behind us with his father; Little Joe had somehow managed to fall into step with us and walked to my right.  I was beginning to see how much these Garthwright boys craved the attention of a woman and I could hardly wait to become their mother.

No one warned me about the boarded porch, thinking back on it now, I realized that we were all so busy giggling that they must have forgotten.  It was only after the horrible shooting did any of them remember to tell me I should have watched my step, what with those ridicules high heeled boots I was wearing.

I tripped, again.  But this time I took Little Joe with me, as I felt myself falling I reached out for the nearest thing my hand could grab.  It wasn’t really his fault, nor was it mine, that my hand grabbed Little Joe’s pistol.  As the three of us, me, Little Joe and Hoss fell down, the pistol slipped from Joe’s holster and accidentally went off.  I think I screamed, or maybe that was Adam, I can’t really remember, but I do know that by the time all five of us collected our selves Adam was bleeding.  Somehow the stray bullet had grazed his arm.  When I turned around, he had dropped my satchel and all my delicate undies lay scattered in the dirt…Well, I nearly died, I wanted to crawl into the nearest hole, but I swallowed my pride, the heel to my boot broken off, I limped calmly back to where my delicates lay and began picking them up.

Hoss was by my side in a heartbeat, helping to gather my things.  His face was crimson, Adam’s arm was blood red, naturally, and Mr. Garthwright’s face had turned a pasty white.  Little Joe?  He was nowhere to be seen.  I saw him at last, he had hidden behind the post when we had gotten up cause he wasn’t sure at first who was doing the shooting.  He hadn’t been aware that it was his gun that had gone off but as soon as he saw the blood on his brother’s arm, he rushed to Adam’s aide and helped him inside.

That’s where we found them, Ken and Little Joe had Adam settled on the settee where their housekeeper, Hop Sing, was tending to the flesh wound on Adam’s arm.  When Hoss and I entered, they all turned and stared at us.  I thought by the looks on their faces that they might ask Hoss to just turn around and take me back into town to catch the next stage back east.  I suddenly wanted nothing more than to cry.  I had planned this trip for so long and I wanted to make a good first impression…well I can truthfully say that I have no doubt left an impression.  Adam’s arm will hurt like blazes for the next few days, and if that wound should leave a scar…well, lets just say the handsome and debonair Adam Garthwright won’t be forgetting me for a very long time.  And to think, I had practically fallen in love so quickly with his father, now as I look into my intended’s beautiful brown eyes, I wonder if my knight in shining armor will ever fall in love with me.  Golly, I am such a clumsy nitwit.

“Miss Bryant,”

“Byerant,” I muttered.

Oh, oh, Mr. Garthwright is heading my way; I suppose he’s going to ask me to leave now and I was just beginning to like it here and this wonderful family of boys…ere men.

“Please, won’t you come in?  Hoss, I know this has been a long tiring day, why won’t you show the lady to her room?  Please?” Ken asked Hoss who jumped into action, wanting nothing more than to please me.

“Thank you Mr. Garthwright, and I am so very, very sorry about all of this.”

I waved my hand about to indicate all the mess I had made and wouldn’t you know it, a pair of my best bloomers flew out of my hand and across the settee right in front of Little Joe.  He instinctively grabbed for the flying object and caught it in one hand.  Grinning like the cat that caught the mouse, he smiled the most mischievous smile that I have ever seen.  I nearly died!

“JOSEPH!”

Dear Mr. Garthwright, I trembled at the loud roar, I think even Hoss did and I know Little Joe did.  The bright smile disappeared and he looked so sheepish, just like a little boy and with a crooked smile or was it a smirk, he handed me my bloomers.

“Thank you Joseph.”  I wondered if the boy had ever even seen a pair of lady’s bloomers, he certainly acted as if he hadn’t.

“Hoss, please…her room?”

I glanced at Mr. Garthwright and he had the strangest look on his face as he stood there with his finger pointing toward the stairs.  Naturally I took my cue, smiled at Hoss and led the way upward, still carrying my armful of dainties.  When I reached the landing, I just had to say one more thing.

“Adam, I’m glad you got shot in the arm.”  He looked stunned so quickly and then I realized what I said.  “Oh, I didn’t mean I’m glad you got shot, I meant that since you got shot, I’m glad it wasn’t anywhere where it might hurt you.  Oh dear, I guess it does hurt, doesn’t it?”

Adam clinched his jaw, I saw it twitching, but he went ahead and nodded his head just the same.

“I meant, I’m glad it didn’t hit anything vital, like your heart or…or…something that might kill you, that’s it, I’m glad that your brother didn’t kill you.  Really Joseph,” I had turned to watch the boy again, “you really should be more careful; you should never play with weapons…why anything could happen…why you could have even shot poor, dear…”

Hoss had a sickly grin on his face…I wonder what was wrong?  He took my elbow for the second time, a mite too tightly for my liking, but I never said a word, I just let him guide me the rest of the way up the stairs, down the hall and into my room.

“I’m about to do something that I ain’t never done before Miss Irene.”

“Ilene.”  Would they never get it right?

Hoss seemed very nervous at this point but I kept my eyes glued to his.  His swift movement caught me by surprise as his strong arms slipped gently about my body and pulled me close against him.  I felt my breast brush against his chest and my body went weak as he lowered his lips to mine and kissed me with more passion than I had ever known before.  The kiss didn’t last as long as I would have liked, in fact, I could have stood there until the same time tomorrow had he not stopped when he did.

“Welcome to the Ponderosa, Ma’am.”

I have never seen such a red face before, especially on a man.  But Hoss went from light pink to fire red in a matter of about ten seconds.  I was speechless, for the first time in my life, I wanted this man as I have never wanted any other man!

Suddenly I felt my conscience boot my backside as I remembered the reason I was here. I felt my own face growing red with shame at the pleasure Hoss’ kiss stirred deep within me.

“I’m sorry Miss Irene…”

I let the mistaken name pass, I was so flustered.

“Oh Hoss…” even I was stammering now, “don’t be…that was…magnificent,” I whispered for lack of knowing what else to say.

Instantly my mind conjured up images of what it might be like to kiss each one of the Garthwrights.

“Aw…shucks ma’am, tweren’t nothin’,”

“Nothing?  Dear God, you mean you can…you know how to…Oh my!”  I gave him a weak smile.  “Maybe you better excuse me for a little while Hoss…my dear son…I feel sorta faint.  I think I will lie down of a spell.”

“Ya all right…Irene?”

There, he said it again!  Dear God, what is it with this boy, is he so absent-minded that he cannot even remember a name?

Oh, but he was so cute when he was worried.  I do believe I could forgive him just about anything.

“Yes, I’ll be fine in a little while, really,” I explained to him, fanning myself, unaware that it was with my spare corset that I had picked up from the ground earlier and which I still held in my hand.

Hoss finally relented and backed slowly out of the room.  I closed the door quickly and rushed to the window.  It was hard to open but at last I managed and when I had it up high enough, I stuck my head outside and took large gulps of fresh air, hoping to fill my lungs and clear my head.  The cool breeze felt good against my skin so I decided to undress, or at least down to my corset and bloomers, after all, I was still feeling the effects of Hoss’ kiss.  I leaned far out of the window, the refreshing air taking its time to calm my nerves and still my heart.  At last peace and serenity filled me to the core of my soul and I pulled myself back inside and lowered the window.  I was tired, but I was happy and content as I lowered my weary body down on the bed and shut my eyes, sleep claiming me within minutes.

A loud continuous knocking at my bedroom door awakened me and still half asleep, I somehow managed to pull my weary body from the comforts that the big bed had offered.  Without a thought in my head other than to stop the irritating rapping, I jerked open the door, “Yes, what is it?” I said a mite too harshly.

Adam stood at the door, one arm extended high over his head, his hand propped against the doorframe and he was smiling at me in the strangest way.  His dark eyes danced with amusement, his dimples making him to appear younger than he actually was but he said nothing, at least not with words.  His eyes raked my body from head to toe, pausing at my breasts before continuing their descend and before I could collect my senses, or what there was left of them, his eyes traveled up the length of me taking one more quick peek of my now heaving bosom and then finally to look me eye to eye.

“Pa asked that I tell you that it is nearly suppertime, Miss Bryant.  Hop Sing will have it on the table in about fifteen minutes.”  Adam moved his arm and took a step in my direction; naturally I stepped back as well.

“Miss Byerant.”  I sighed deeply, giving serious consideration to changing my name.

He grasped the door handle with his hand, winked at me, smiled that all-knowing smile of his and began to ease the door closed.

“I hope that will give you plenty of time to dress, but then I sorta like what you are wearing.”

It was then that I realized I was still clad only in my bloomers and corset, and that had been unlaced earlier and surely, as I’m standing nearly naked in front of this handsome man, I know he must have been able to see everything that the good Lord had seen fit to bless me with and I wanted to die right there on the spot, instead, I just fainted.  I barely remember hearing Adam shout for his father before I crumbled to the floor at his feet.

“What happened son?” Ken questioned his oldest son as he rushed into the room just as Adam was placing the young lady on the bed.

“I’m not sure Pa, but she fainted,” Adam explained sheepishly as he stepped back to make room for his father.

Ben started to reach down to…to do what?  Even he wasn’t sure.  He thought about loosening her corset, but obviously that had already been done.  His hands fumbled in mid air just over her head, not sure what to touch and what not to touch.

“Pa, what happened?  Adam, what’d ya do to her?” Hoss was suddenly angry with Adam.

“I didn’t to anything to her Hoss, calm down.  The lady just fainted, that’s all.  For goodness sake, tell Hop Sing to get the smelling salts.”

Joe burst into the room then and rushed to the side of the bed.  “Whewie…” he blew out his breath.  “Would you look at that?  Jumpin gehosifats, she sure is purty…hey Adam looky?” Joe was pointing at the loosened corset.

“JOSEPH!” Ben thundered and grabbed his youngest son by the shoulders and spun him around toward the door.  “OUT!”

“Aw Pa,” Joe complained, “Do I have’ta?  I ain’t never seen…”

“AND YOU AREN”T ABOUT TO NOW!  OUT!”

Joe almost collided with Hop Sing as he ran from the room.

“I bring smelling salts for the Missy,” Hop Sing moved to the bedside and handed them to Ben.

As Ben took the vile from Hop Sing’s extended hand, he noticed that Adam, Hoss and now even Hop Sing stood rock still staring down at Miss Bryant’s ere…half exposed upper body.  Quickly Ben grabbed the blanket and with a swift yank, covered the young woman’s heaving breasts.

“Really boys, and that goes for you too, Hop Sing, you should be ashamed of your selves,” scolded Ben as he wrestled with the lid on the tiny bottle.

Hoss blushed beet red and glared at his brother, “Yeah Adam, ya ought not to take notice to such things as Miss Irene’s…ere…hmm…Well, ya ought not too.  ‘Sides, I done seen her first, she’s agonna be mine; ya got that?”

Ben and Adam swapped puzzled looks and then both turned stunned eyes onto Hoss’ face.  At first Ben thought he had heard wrong.  But by the look on his middle son’s face, Ben judged right then and there that Hoss was dead serious.

“Son, you can’t be serious?  Why…Hoss, you just met her!”

“Pa’s right, surely you aren’t telling us that you are in love with her?” exclaimed Adam, scratching his head.

“Well…hmm…I…well dadburnit Pa…I cain’t say I’m in love with her, but then I cain’t say I ain’t…” stammered Hoss.

“Well for heaven’s sake Hoss, what are you saying?” ranted Ben, still trying to force the top from the bottle of salts.

Hoss reached over and took the little bottle from his father’s hand and with one flick of his wrist, twisted the cap free and handed the vile back to Ben.

“I have a strong feeling for this little filly and I aim to chase her till I catch her.  And you Adam, better not get in my way,” proclaimed Hoss in a matter of fact tone of voice that said all that needed to be said to his brother.

Adam held up both hands, “I concede, she’s all yours little brother.  Good luck,” laughed Adam.

He knew one would only have to look to see how beautiful the young lady was.  Her hair was long and shiny, the color of golden honey, her eyes, when they were opened, a strikingly beautiful cross between green and hazel, much like his youngest brother’s.  Her lashes were thick and long, her skin soft creamy white, and those lips.  Adam had almost kissed her when he had scooped her up into his arms but knowing now how his brother felt about the mysterious woman, he was glad he had held himself in check.  Adam watched as his father held the smelling salts under Irene’s nose and laughed softly at the face she made when the sharp scent penetrated her nostrils.

Suddenly Ilene’s eyes snapped opened.

I scanned the faces that loomed over me, hoping that his was among the small group.  Yes!  Oh yes! He had come to my bedside, Ken…Oh beautiful Ken.  My eyes locked with his and I saw him smile at me.

“Are you all right, Miss Bryant?”

Byerant, I thought, but who cares I would soon be Mrs. Ken Garthwright.

I heard the deep voice speak to me, I heard the concern in his tone of voice, but I could not pull my eyes from those of my beloveds.

“Miss Bryant?  Um…ma’am?”  There it was again.

“What?” I said crossly and then I caught myself  “I’m sorry Adam,” I said and finally looked at him.  I could see the worry written on his face and I felt ashamed of myself for snapping at him.

“Oh…dear…I must have fainted, I’m so sorry to cause you so much trouble,” I confessed to them.

“It was no trouble, I managed to catch you before you hit the floor.”  There he was again, grinning at me like he was some predator who had its victim cornered.

I gave him a half-hearted grin, “Why thank you Mr. Garthwright, and you with an injured arm, how gallant of you.  And I suppose you enjoyed the view as well?”  My voice dripped with sarcasm.

Suddenly Adam tossed his head back and began laughing loudly.  “Touché, my fair lady.”

The others stood around the bed and watched us, not having an inkling of an idea what had just taken place.  Adam folded his good arm across his middle and bowed deeply, embarrassing me even further and then turned and left the room.  His laughter could be heard all the way down the hall.

“If you think you are all right now, Miss Bryant, we’ll let you rest.  I’ll have our cook bring you up a tray, no need for you to bother yourself about coming downstairs tonight,” Mr. Garthwright said.

I glanced at Hoss, the poor boy who seemed so anxious to have me for his mother and I could see the disappointment in his expression, poor dear; he was as easy to read as an open book.  I was determined not to let him be disappointed any longer, though the thoughts of having to sit across the table from Adam did make me just a mite hesitant.

“No, I’m fine now Mr. Garthwright, really.  If you gentlemen will excuse me, I’ll get dressed and be right down, I wouldn’t miss having supper with you for anything.”

I looked into Hoss’ beautiful blue eyes, his older brother all but forgotten.  Hoss blushed red but I saw the happiness on his face and knew I had made the right decision.

“Come on Pa, let’s give Miss Irene some privacy.  Ma’am,” Hoss nodded his head at me and took his father’s arm and led him from my room.

Hop Sing had already gone down to the kitchen.  When I looked up toward the door, I had to laugh; Little Joe had stuck his head around the corner and was peeking.  He smiled and wiggled his fingers at me, waving I suppose.  He was about the cutest boy, ere young man, that I had seen in quite some time.  It amazed me that out here in the rough, raw western country that the men could be so handsome and brave and big too.  I wasn’t used to seeing men who were so weather worn and toughened by the elements but yet had somehow learned to be tolerant, kind and gentle.  They were educated too, at least Adam was, I had overheard him saying something to Little Joe about when he was in college, in Boston of all places.

Yes, the men here were quite different from men such as my brothers who had known luxury all of their lives.  Their hands were soft and smooth whereas these Garthwrights bore calluses and scares from all their hard labor.  They were tanned, their skin golden where the sun had beat its bright rays onto their flesh, they were a fine species of men as far as I could tell, and I liked it.  I liked this rugged country, it is fresh and new and filled with golden opportunities and better yet, there were less people to contend with than back east where the people were nearly stepping on each other in their haste to get nowhere.  Life was lived at a slower pace here, but life was full and I’m sure never dull, not for a minute…as I was to find out later.

I strolled gracefully down the stairs, being extra careful not to trip myself up.  My gown, a soft shade of green to match my eyes had tiny little white flowers, it was eloquent and as I paused on the landing to strike a poise, I felt all eyes on me.  I smiled warmly as Ken pushed back his chair and quickly crossed the room to escort me to the table.

“Ya sure ‘nough look mighty purty this evenin’ Miss Irene,” compliment Hoss from his seat at the dining room table.

“Thank you Hoss, dear,” I told him and then smiled at each of the other male members of the family as they all rose from their seats in a gentlemanly fashion as I waited for Ken to pull out my chair.

My mind was working so hard not to make any more mistakes than what I had already done when I lowered myself into the seat and missed the chair completely.  Without warning, I found myself sitting in the floor, my beautiful gown up over the top of my head.

I heard the expulsion of air as all four men gasped loudly, and then I could hear the distinctive giggles of the youngest Garthwright as hands gripped me under the arms and hauled me to my feet.  My gown fell from my head, my hair fell from the pins that held it in place and I felt like an utter fool, again.

“JOSEPH!” Mr. Garthwright shouted at his son.  The laughter died immediately as Ken helped me into my seat.

“Are you all right Miss Bryant?” the concerned older Garthwright son inquired.

‘Do I look like I’m all right, you nitwit?  I just busted my backside, what do you think?’ I wanted to ask, but held my tongue.

“Oh, goodness yes,” I fibbed, my rear end hurt like blazes…in fact, my whole body had begun to ache from all the abuse that it had suffered since arriving in this God forsaken country.

“Golly Miss Bryant, you sure do fall down a lot, do you drink much?”

“JOSEPH!” yelled the startled parent loudly.  “What kind of question is that to ask a young lady?”

“Well, geeze Pa, she fell out of the stage, she fell out on the porch, she somehow managed to shoot my brother and now she missed her seat, sumthin’s gotta be the cause of it,” Little Joe exclaimed innocently.

“You know Little Joe, to be seventeen years old, you sure do have a lot to learn, especially about women,” barked Adam from across the table.

“What does that mean Mister Smarty Pants?  I suppose you know everything there is to know about women folk.  Hahaha…I saw the way you were lookin’ at her…um…”

“JOSEPH! THAT WILL BE ENOUGH!”  Ken stood to his feet, I saw the color drain from his face and I thought, ‘why in the world did I ever come here?  Why had I answered that darn advertisement in the first place?’

“Pa, cain’t we just eat supper?  Joe, ya better watch ya mouth, ya hear me?  And you Adam mind ya own business.  After all, Miss Irene here is a lady, and she’s had a bad day, the last thing she wants to hear now is the two of ya squabblin’.”

Hoss took his seat and I watched as Little Joe hung his head.  “I’m sorry Ma’am, Pa, I didn’t mean nothin’ by what I said.”

“Me either, I’m sorry little brother, Miss Bryant,” apologized Adam.

I accepted their apologies but my mind still had a problem with why this handsome man who was educated in Boston, still could not get my name right.  I could excuse Hoss, even Little Joe; they were still young and obviously not wise to the ways of the world as of yet, unlike Mr. Garthwright and his older son Adam.

After supper, Mr. Garthwright invited me for a stroll in the moonlight.  I was so excited, my heart bounding in my chest, I felt sure he would ask me tonight to become his wife.  What really happened instead, nearly destroyed my world, or so I thought at the time.

Ken excused us from the table.  I saw Hoss frown and wondered what was behind the suddenly sad nearly angry glare that he gave his father.  Before I could speak up, Ken offered me his arm and I had no other recourse than to accept.

As we strolled out into the yard, I gazed upward at the stars.  There were so many, and they were so beautiful that I found it hard to find words to describe them.  Back east, in the city, it was impossible to see the stars as I was seeing them now and I was fascinated at the sight.  Suddenly a star shot across the darkened heavens and I squealed in delight and turning, flung my arms around Ken’s neck.

Not caring that I might appear too forward, I covered his lips with mine.  The taste of brandy remained on his lips; my senses soared as I clung tightly to him.  I felt his hands on my arms and was totally taken back when he wrenched my arms free from around his neck.

He looked completely embarrassed and I know I looked equally confused.  I was at a loss for words, but he didn’t seem to have any problem saying what he wanted to say.

“Please, Miss Bryant…” he began and then I found my voice.

“Byerant, the name is Byerant…why can you not remember that?  All day, ever since I arrived here either you or one of your over grown boys have called me everything except my name!”

I started to run, my pride mortally wounded but in the dark I had taken a wrong turn and wouldn’t you know it, stepped smack into the middle of a…well, let’s just say, it certainly ruined my gown!

“Miss Bryant, Byerant, whatever your name might be, are you all right?” Ken tried to take hold of my hands to pull me up but slipped also and ended up in the puddle with me.

We both sat shocked and then he started to laugh.  I took one look at his mud soaked clothing and started laughing as well.

“Oh dear Ken, we do make a pair, don’t we?”  I laughed.

“Yes we do, but tell me something, why did you call me Ken?  You’ve been referring to me as such all evening.  And you pronounce my last name as Garthwright.  I didn’t want to say anything, I thought perhaps you thought that was what it was.”

I was dumb founded.  “Well that is your name…isn’t it?”

He looked nearly as confused as I felt.  “Why no ma’am.”

I felt myself shudder, “It’s not?” I was afraid to know the answer but surely he was joking.

“No, my name is Ben Cartwright, Miss Bryant.”  He finally pulled both of us from the mud and stood facing me.

“My name isn’t Bryant, it’s Byerant, Ilene Byerant and I came here to get married.”

“MARRIED!” he roared, “I advertised for a school teacher, certainly not a wife!”

I was shaking, both from fear and anger.  Here I had traveled half way across the country only to find out that my would be husband had ordered a schoolmarm and not a wife. No wonder Hoss had been so concerned about all the children he had said his father hope to have, Ben, Ken, whatever his name was, had been referring to the children he hoped would be attending school.

Before I could say another word to this dirty filthy man who stood dripping of mud, a horse and wagon entered into the yard.  Perched on the seat was a rather young but handsome looking man of about thirty.  Next to him sat a lovely woman I would guess to be somewhere around twenty-five and at first I thought they might be a couple what with the three young boys who sat silently in the back of the wagon.

Mr. Whatever His Name Is approached the wagon.  As he did so, he tried, though it was useless, to remove what mud he could from both his hands and face.  Even dusting his hands on his pants legs only served to smear more mud around.

“Hello,” the man greeted the mud-covered rancher and I giggled from behind the tree where I was hiding, when I heard the man and woman start to laugh.

“My name is Ken Garthwright,” he began and I gasped in shock.  I saw Mr. Cartwright turn to me, though I remained hidden, for this surely had to be my intended and here I was muddy from head to toe and looking like an old sow who had just finished mud bathing.

“This is Miss Irene Bryant, she’s to be the new school teacher,” the young man explained.

By that time Hoss, Adam and Little Joe had joined their father and all three boys were struggling to contain their laughter, once they spied their father and his mud-laden clothing, for the three of them had just realized what had transpired.

Ben stood in shock, unable to find his voice.  While he struggled to find words, I slipped into the house to rid myself of my soiled clothing.

Adam took charge of the situation and invited the couple inside.  Ben made his excuses and quickly made his way to his room where he cleaned up and put on fresh clothing.  By the time he returned to his guest, I was sitting comfortably next to my future husband with whom I was quickly getting acquainted.

Hoss had shifted his attentions to Miss Bryant, completely forgetting that I had ever existed.  After spending an evening enjoying everyone’s company, Mr. Gartwright took his leave.  I, as his future bride choosing to go along.  Miss Bryant, my cousin whom I had not seen or spoken with since we had been little girls, decided to return to town, where she had taken a room at the hotel.  She promised Ben that she would meet with the school board the next afternoon.

Ben, exhausted from the day of confusion retreated to his room and after blowing out the lamp, crawled into bed.  Sleep came almost instantly to the weary man but Ben had only been asleep for a short time when the sound of his son’s giggles reached his ears.

“JOSEPH!  GO TO SLEEP!”

“Sorry Pa,” came the reply.  “Good night…Mr. Garthwright.”

Suddenly more giggles joined Little Joe’s and Ben could not help but add his along with those of his sons.

The End
August 2002

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