Summary: Having rescued Sally Nelson from a deplorable situation, Hoss and his family must help her determine her future.
Rating: T Word Count: 14,634
On the day that Hoss brought Sally Nelson from Taylor’s Landing to the Ponderosa, they stopped briefly in Virginia City to make arrangements with a dressmaker before heading to the ranch. While held in the oppressive captivity of Josiah Bolton, Sally had to learn to live with almost nothing. Bolton had sold all of what he considered to be the no longer necessary possessions of her family. All that remained for her personally, besides her everyday dress and a tattered nightgown, were a family Bible, her father’s pocket watch, and a small hand mirror that her mother had somehow managed to keep intact on the rough trip west. She only had the watch and mirror because she hid them in her straw mattress when Bolton searched her room. After that horrid time ended, Hoss purchased a new dress and nightgown for her before they left Taylor’s Landing, but he knew that Sally was going to need more clothing for herself and items for the baby very soon.
Hoss met Sally Nelson under the most bizarre and dangerous of circumstances. Having stopped to fish on his return from a business trip to Placerville, he was bitten by a rattler. Hoss managed to ride a short distance to what appeared to be an abandoned farmstead and collapsed. Miraculously the poison did not kill him, however, when he awoke from his venom-induced stupor, he found himself shackled to a bed and being cared for by an obviously pregnant, pretty blonde girl in her late teens.
For Sally, too, Hoss’ arrival at her family’s farm had been equally miraculous. Her family had died from cholera; so the eighteen year-old was forced to hire herself out as a servant. Josiah Bolton first appeared to be her savior, but he soon became to her and to many other unfortunate souls an oppressor after he discovered a vein of gold in a cave on the farm. Hoss had unwittingly come into the situation looking for shelter. Despite some very tense and harrowing moments, Hoss and Sally, and the rest of the Cartwright family were able to defeat the evil Bolton. As if the frightening memories of the ordeal were not a sufficient price to pay, she was unfortunately carrying Bolton’s child. Six months pregnant with no extended family within thousands of miles, Sally was in desperate need of help. The Cartwright family pledged to care for her until an appropriate solution for her situation could be determined.
Heads turned and tongues began to wag immediately upon Hoss and Sally’s arrival in Virginia City. Naturally attentive and caring, Hoss carefully helped her down from the buggy, however, his actions only served to validate the speculations of the town gossips who took no time in drawing their own conclusions as to how this young woman had arrived in her current condition. Tom Harmon and his buddies were about to head into the saloon when they noticed Hoss and Sally. Harmon had been let go by the Cartwrights a few months earlier for being a trouble-maker. He spat on the ground at the sight of his former boss’s big son and the young woman he had by the elbow. The disgruntled cowboy was going to have plenty to harangue about once he got a few beers under his belt.
The focused attention of the people on the street did not go unnoticed by Ben, Adam, and Joe as they tied up their horses across the street from the dressmaker’s shop. Adam and Joe headed to the Silver Dollar for a drink while Ben went to look up Roy Coffee and fill in the sheriff on what had transpired over the past few days.
Harmon had already downed one beer and was working on a second by the time Adam and Joe requested their drinks. The scruffy cowpoke sneered at the Cartwright brothers and started running his mouth. “Well now boys, look who just showed up, them high and mighty Cartwrights. Guess they ain’t so happy with that big galoot of a brother now that he’s knocked up a little girl!” Harmon leered at Adam and Joe.
Adam grabbed Joe by the collar and held him back when the feisty youngest Cartwright slammed his beer mug down with a thud, ready to have a go at Harmon.
Harmon continued to push. “Yeah, you just come on over here, LITTLE Joe, that is if you think you’re MAN enough!”
Joe turned to glare at his brother. Yanking himself free from Adam’s grip, Joe gulped his beer and stormed out of the saloon to howls of laughter from Harmon and his buddies. Adam took a leisurely draw on his beer and flipped the payment for the drinks onto the bar. Tom Harmon’s face grew slack as Adam strode toward him with cool confidence. All eyes turned toward the bar and a hush fell over the saloon in expectation of trouble.
Adam leaned in close to Tom Harmon’s face and hissed. “Harmon, your mouth is what got you kicked off the Ponderosa. Keep it up and you might just get yourself hurt.” He held his steely gaze until Harmon could stand it no more and relented, jerking his head back toward his beer. Smacking his hand on the bar, Adam called out to the bartender, “Thanks for the beer, Cosmo,” and he strolled out as if nothing had happened.
Harmon turned to watch the swinging doors come to a stop and swore under his breath. “Damn Cartwrights!” He picked up his beer and downed it in one big gulp before pulling a coin from his pocket and slapping it on the bar. “Barkeep, give me another beer!”
Outside Joe was pacing back and forth along the boardwalk. He was ready to give Adam a piece of his mind when his oldest brother sauntered through the swinging doors. “What took you so long? And where do you get off pulling a stunt like that with me?”
“Just trying to keep you from getting beaten to a pulp or worse! That’s all, little brother!” Adam’s last words flew back over his shoulder as he headed toward the buggy parked across the street.
Still fuming, Joe trotted to catch up. “So you just walked away from that loud mouth, Harmon and let him make you look yellow?”
“Not hardly. If you’d ever learn to keep a cool head, you might have heard what I said to him, but since you didn’t, I’ll just leave you wondering.” Adam smirked knowing this was going to drive his brother crazy.
Meanwhile inside Clara Norton’s dress shop, Hoss and Sally had to endure the serious scrutiny of some of the local women while the proprietress finished with a customer. Hoss felt very uncomfortable in a place with all women, but his hackles came up when there was an obvious snub by Harriet Fletcher.
He was thankful when Clara’s cheerful, booming voice came his direction. “Well, Hoss Cartwright! This is a special day. Not sure I’ve ever seen you in my shop before.”
“And just who is this pretty young lady?” Clara would have loved to ask a lot of questions, but had the good grace not to pry with a number of nosey ladies present.
“Miss Clara, this is Sally Nelson. She’s gonna need some clothes and I thought mebbe you could help her out.” There was a bit of pleading in his voice.
“I’d be happy to Sally.” Clara could sense both the girl’s and Hoss’ discomfort at having an audience listening and lowered her voice a bit. “Let me just gather up a few things for you and put them in a box.”
The dressmaker disappeared into the back of her shop for a few minutes and returned with a dress box tied up with string. The relief on Hoss’ face was plain to Clara when she handed the package to him.
Clara kept her voice low. “Hoss, would you be able to bring Sally back the day after tomorrow about ten?”
He gave her a grateful smile knowing that he was going to be able to leave soon. “Sure thing, Miz Clara. That’ll work fine. Thank you, ma’am.”
“You’re welcome. I think these will hold you over until then.” Clara patted the box. “Nice to meet you, Sally. See you Thursday.”
Sally nodded. “Yes ma’am. Thank you, ma’am.”
Hoss wasted no time ushering Sally out the door. He was a little surprised to see his father and brothers closing quickly as he helped Sally up into the buggy. He paused to place the box in the back before posing a question.
“Thought y’all woulda headed home before now. Somethin’ come up?”
Ben’s weary smile told Hoss what he already knew, but it was Adam who spoke. “Just thought we’d keep the trip home a family affair. Ready?”
Not wanting to hurt Sally’s feelings, Hoss whispered, “Yeah, more ‘an ready.”
At the Ponderosa, Hoss helped Sally get settled in the guest room. The young women had never been in such a fine house before. She was relieved to be in a safe place and no longer living in fear moment by moment. Still, Sally was not completely at ease in her new environment with a house full of men, albeit polite and caring men, but still men. Being the oldest child in her family, Sally had learned much about being a mother and raising a family. Yet it brought her little comfort with such an uncertain future ahead of her. There had not been much time in the days after Josiah Bolton’s demise to thoroughly discuss a permanent living arrangement for her and the baby. Ben, and especially Hoss, had not wanted to push her to make that decision too quickly after her ordeal. However, Ben was acutely aware that Sally was going to need the guidance of a good woman over the next months and possibly years. Consequently, Ben worked to keep the dinner conversation light for Sally’s first meal at the Ponderosa. He gave Hoss the raised eyebrows and a slight nod when during a lull Sally began to look uncomfortable.
“Sally, ya look like ya might be a little tired. Are ya ready ta turn in?”, Hoss asked gently.
“Yes, I think I will.” She turned then to Ben. “Thank you for the tasty meal. Hop Sing is a really good cook.”
“You’re welcome. I hope you are able to get a good night’s rest.” Ben reached out to pat her hand.
Thinking that a book almost always helped him to work out the tensions of the day, Adam made an offer. “Would you like something to read? I have books of poetry and some classics that you are welcome to borrow. There is also a hodge-podge of books on the shelf beside the hearth.”
“Thank you, Adam. I think tonight I’ll just read from my Bible. Maybe tomorrow.” Adam gave her a soft, dimpled smile of understanding.
“Rest well, Sally”, Joe added.
When Sally moved to get up, Hoss rose and helped her with her chair and immediately Ben, Adam, and Joe were on their feet, as well. It took her by surprise and she did not know what to say; so she ducked into her room just off the dining area. Sally’s father had been a good man and treated her mother kindly, but formal courtesy had not been part of his routine behavior. She had endured so much mistreatment in the last year that she had almost forgotten what it felt like to be around a gentle man. For better or worse, Bolton had been less interested in her once she started to show. Still, she felt dirty and unworthy of a good man’s attention.
Ben left the table to retrieve his pipe and tobacco. He filled and lit his pipe, but rather than taking his usual seat he headed for the door. “Hoss would you like to get some fresh air?”
Adam and Joe exchanged glances. Hoss was about to grab the checkerboard, but instead shrugged at Joe. “Guess we’ll play a little later.” The big man jammed his hands in his pockets and followed his father out the door.
Ben moved away from the house. Stopping at the hitching rail, he rested his backside on the cross piece, stretching his legs out so he could look up at the night sky. Hoss came and stood near, his large hands gripping the wooden rail.
Ben puffed contentedly and then removed the pipe to speak. “Pretty night.”
“Yeah, shore is.”
“How are you feeling, son? I mean, you are one lucky man to have a survived that snakebite.”
“Oh, I’m okay, Pa. Feel almost back ta normal.” Hoss let out a deep sigh. “Guess I jest got a lot on my mind.”
“Yes, I can understand that. Care to talk about it?”
Hoss stood to his full height and crossed his arms against his chest. “I don’t know, Pa, I jest feel so bad for Sally. What’s she gonna do? Even if we locate some of her family, we jest can’t up and send her off now.”
“I fully agree, but I don’t think staying here is the best long term solution either. She needs a woman’s help to get her through this. Four men can’t give her the kind of guidance she needs even with our best intentions.”
Hoss let his arms drop. “But Pa, I owe her my life! I gotta make sure nothin’ bad ever happens ta her agin!”
“Yes, I understand why you feel that way. Believe me, I do. I would probably feel the same way if I were in your shoes, and you can trust that I will be forever grateful to Sally for what she did for you. But that doesn’t change the fact that we may not be able to give her what she truly needs right now.”
“But don’t she need ta be protected an’ cared for an’ made ta feel like a purty gal should? I kin do that for her right here at the ranch.”
“Certainly she does, but when a woman has a baby, it changes her. She will have questions and new feelings that are best understood by a woman that has been down that road. She’s young, Hoss, and probably much more frightened than she’s letting on. And who knows what kind of ghosts will haunt her for months, possibly years, because of the horrible experience she had.”
“So yur sayin’ she can’t stay?”
“Hoss, it’s not that I don’t want Sally here. I just don’t believe it’s in her best interest to stay here indefinitely.”
“She jest got here an’ it seems jest down right mean ta make her go somewhere else real soon.”
In his mind, Ben was having similar thoughts, but he also had mixed feelings about his son’s growing attachment to Sally. Ben was certain that the incidents earlier in the day were only the beginning of a long line of further harassment and shame for Sally. It made his heart ache, but to think that Hoss would become her guardian and shield only made that ache even more intense.
After a few moments of silence, Ben knocked the spent tobacco from his pipe. “Alright. Let’s give things a few weeks, but during that time I think we need to at least keep the door open to a potentially better situation for Sally. If she truly is already six months along, we have a rapidly closing window of opportunity to make a change.”
Hoss had been hanging on his father’s every word. He nodded in resignation. ” I guess that’s fair. Thanks, Pa.”
They both knew that there were no easy answers for Sally’s problems. Ben clapped his hand on his son’s back and gave his shoulder a firm squeeze before the two headed back into the house. Rather than enter into a checker game with Joe, Hoss bid everyone goodnight and went upstairs.
Adam closed the book he had been reading. “How did your talk with Hoss go?”
Ben took a seat in his leather chair. He nodded toward the guest room to let Adam and Joe know that he was not going to risk Sally overhearing their discussion.
Joe got up from the settee. He gave his father a hard look, but kept his voice low. “Well, just make sure he knows about Harmon. I’m sure there’s going to be more trouble. I’m going on to bed.”
Ben watched his youngest son move up the stairs with purpose. Ben shifted uncomfortably in his chair before looking directly at his oldest son.
Adam leaned forward and clasped his book in both hands. “You know he’s right, Pa. Hoss needs to know what’s going to be coming at him.”
Ben sighed heavily, acknowledging Adam’s concern.
Thursday morning as Hoss was hitching up the buggy in preparation for Sally’s visit to Clara’s shop, Adam came into the barn. “Off to town, I see.”
“Yeah, Sally’s gonna go see Miz Clara and get fitted for some clothes ta get her through the rest of her…uh…time.” Hoss yanked uncomfortably on a strap.
Adam smiled initially at his brother’s discomfort, but then went directly into the reason he had come to the barn. “Hoss, there’s something you need to know before you head out.”
“Huh, what’s that?”
Adam mindlessly pulled a piece of straw from the pile nearby. “Joe and I had a little run-in with Tom Harmon the other day at the Silver Dollar.”
“Harmon? Still mad ’bout bein’ let go, huh?”
“Yes, but it’s how he’s doing it that’s the problem.”
Adam drew in a deep breath. “He made a nasty comment about you and Sally.”
Hoss scowled and dropped his head, but said nothing. “I had a little discussion with Mr. Harmon about running his mouth….but you and I both know that’s not going to put an end to it.”
Hoss ran his hand along the harness strap. “Yeah, I know. Dadburnit, Adam! He can spout off all he wants ta ’bout me, but he best not be botherin’ Sally or so help me, he’ll wish ta goodness he hadn’ta!”
“Well, you just watch your step while you’re in town and try to keep out of his line of fire. Ya hear?” Adam poked the straw he was holding into his brother’s big chest.
“Yeah, I hear ya.”
Once in town, Hoss drove Sally straight to the dressmaker’s shop. She was nervous about the appointment and wished that Hoss was going to be with her even though it was a silly thought. Hoss sensed that she was worried and tried his best to reassure her that Clara was as good-hearted as a woman could be and would take good care of her. With a plan to return for her at noon, he left Sally in Clara’s capable hands and went off to do some errands.
Tom Harmon and his cohorts were loitering near the saloon, keeping an eye on Hoss as he made various stops around town. The ranch hands had been working at odd jobs of late. This gave them enough money to eat, but only allowed them an occasional trip to the saloon, something they greatly resented. Seeing a member of the well-to-do Cartwright family walking here and there around Virginia City making purchases only fueled their already bad attitudes.
Hoss was sure that Sally would be hungry after her busy morning. He could tell even after only a few days of regular meals and a sufficient amount nourishing food that Sally’s health was improving. Though not sickly, the young woman looked thin, except for her bulging belly. She had been forced to sneak food while in captivity, constantly fearing that if Bolton or his hired men ever went away from a meal hungry, she would have been beaten. She had known from her mother’s pregnancies that she should have been eating more, but usually she went to bed feeling starved. Hoss made sure that Sally received the proper care she needed, and though he would have loved to take her to the International House for lunch, he had the good sense to know that a high profile establishment was not the best place for them to be seen. He opted for a small cafe where he knew that the food was good and there would be plenty of it. What he did not realize was that Tom Harmon and his buddies were following them at a distance as they walked from Clara’s shop to the cafe.
Just as Hoss opened the door for Sally to enter the cafe, Harmon called out. “Hey BIG man! Takes a really BIG man to do that to a LITTLE gal, don’t it boys. It’s a wonder she survived!”
Sally’s head jerked around to see the other two cowpokes laughing hysterically at Harmon’s cutting, vile remarks as they sauntered away.
“Don’t pay ’em no mind, Sally.” Hoss gently nudged her inside. “Jest go find a table. I’ll be back directly.”
Hoss closed the door behind her and moved down onto the street. Side-stepping horses, a buggy and the water trough, he jogged to catch up to Harmon and his buddies. It was too late to avoid being caught unaware by the time they heard Hoss’ boots land heavily on the boardwalk. He reached out and nabbed Harmon by the back of his collar. Hoss then spun him around and grabbed the troublemaker by the front of his shirt so that the toes of the man’s boots were barely touching the boardwalk.
“Call off yur friends or I’ll bust yur head.” Harmon coughed and did as Hoss said. “Now I’m only gonna say this once. If you say anything filthy about that little gal or bother her any more, yur gonna wish ya never been born! Got that, Harmon, and that goes for yur no-account friends, too!”
Hoss flicked his wrists to release Harmon as if flinging something disgusting from his hands. He watched the three men grumbling as they moved along down the boardwalk, then Hoss hurried back to cafe.
Meanwhile Sally waited nervously at a table near the door. The proprietor’s look of disbelief when she mentioned that she was waiting for Hoss Cartwright along with the fact that the cafe was filled to capacity only further exacerbated her anxiety. Sally felt guilty for putting Hoss in the difficult position of having to defend her. She prayed that nothing bad had happened to him. There was obvious relief on Sally’s face when Hoss came walking through the door. He forced a grin hoping to allay her fears.
Tears were building in Sally’s eyes. “Hoss, are you ok? They didn’t hurt, did they?”
Hoss spluttered. “Shucks no, Sally. Them three are as yeller as a buncha daffodils. I jest needed ta kinda encourage ’em on their way.”
She could not help but smile at his description of the ne’er-do-wells, but then grew serious again. “That’s good, cause I don’t know what I’d do if you got hurt because of me.”
Hoss patted her hand. “Don’tcha worry none ’bout me, Sally. I kin take care of myself.”
It took some time, but Harold Peters, the proprietor, finally came and took their order. It was another fifteen minutes before they got there food.
Mr. Peters was quite apologetic as he set their plates on the table. “I’m real sorry it took so long to bring out your food. The gal that had been helping my wife in the kitchen up and ran off to marry some guy that came in here a couple of times last week. Martha’s doing the best she can on her own.”
“That’s alright, Mr. Peters. Hope ya find somebody to help ya real soon. The food’s always real good here. Be sure ta tell Miz Peters for me.”
“Thank you, Hoss. I’ll do that. Enjoy your meal.”
Sally had been studying Harold Peters’ face while he spoke. She had been a bit frightened by him when she first entered the cafe, but now she thought he seemed more kind and caring. Her mind immediately began to churn. In no way did Sally need a job. The Cartwrights had cashed in the gold that Josiah Bolton had stashed away and divided it between the poor souls who had been working in the mine and her, with Sally receiving a double portion. Still, she could sense the struggle that Ben and Hoss were having about what to do with her. Of course nothing had been said to her directly, but she had noticed the hushed voices that quickly came to an abrupt stop when she entered a room. Though in a way she hoped that Sheriff Coffee would successfully locate some of her distant relatives, she understood that the likelihood of someone wanting to take her in was not high. Even in the outside chance that did happen, she could not imagine what it would be like to travel halfway across the country with a baby. If her pregnancy proceeded to term, she still had over two months before the child arrived. It was unbearable to think of spending all that time idle. Her thoughts and concerns about the future were taking a toll on her as it was, and though the Cartwrights were being very gracious, she knew that they had a ranch to run and could not afford to devote a large portion of their time to her. She needed something to help her pass the time; so she decided to throw out her idea to Hoss.
“Hoss, I’d like to help Mrs. Peters.” Catching him totally off guard, the big man looked at her with surprise. Sally went on laying it all out quickly so that hopefully he would not interrupt. “I know how to cook. My Mama was a very good teacher. I’m a hard worker. I don’t need their money; so they could just pay me in food and a room.”
Hoss quickly scanned the people at the tables nearby and kept his voice low. “But Sally you hadn’t oughta be workin’ in your condition.”
“Hoss, my Mama worked day in and day out til she delivered me and my brothers and sisters. It’s just a woman’s lot in life.” Hoss gulped and put down his fork. Seeing his discomfort, Sally gave him a sweet smile. “You and your family have been so kind to me, but I can’t just sit around and do nothing until this baby comes. I’ll go crazy with worry.” There was sense of pleading in her last words.
“I don’t know, Sally. I mean…” Hoss was afraid to say that he was thinking that the Peters might not want her to work for them.
“Would you ask Mr. Peters for me? Please?”
Hoss could tell that she was not going to be dissuaded. He had been around her enough to know that underneath her sweet and somewhat fragile appearance, there was real backbone. Otherwise, she would never have survived her horrible time of captivity. He also remembered his discussion with his father about being open to possible opportunities for Sally that would give her contact with an older woman. Mrs. Peters’ children were grown and out on their own. Hoss also knew that the Peters were fine people that could be trusted. What he did not know was how they would react to such a proposition.
Hoss sighed. “I’ll think on it while we finish our food.”
His eyes went down to his plate. He picked up his fork and moved the remaining meat and potatoes around as he contemplated what Sally had said. They sat in silence for the remainder of the meal. When she finished, Sally carefully wiped her mouth with her napkin and laid it beside her plate. Hoss could feel her eyes on him before he looked up.
“I’ll go have a talk with Mr. an’ Mrs. Peters.” Hoss pushed his chair back and moved toward the entrance to the kitchen. Thinking that he had been immediately turned down, Sally’s sad eyes met his when he returned to the table in a matter of minutes.
Hoss offered the young blonde a weary smile. “They wanta talk with ya in an hour or so when it’s not so busy.”
Instantly bright-eyed, Sally’s response was filled with warmth. “Thank you, Hoss! Thank you!”
It took the soft-hearted Mrs. Peters only moments to convince her husband that it was a winning situation for all. Hoss had confirmed things in her mind when he assured the Peters that Sally had a home at the Ponderosa no matter when the baby came. The young woman’s help would buy the owners of the cafe time to find someone else to work in the kitchen. The fact that Sally was not going to be paid and her willingness to stay on even if they got a new hire only sweetened the deal. With the Peters’ approval, Sally wanted to start immediately. This left a bewildered Hoss to ride home alone after having promised to return and deliver her few earthly possessions to the cafe.
Sally’s days were now busy working for the Peters, however during this time, Hoss became increasingly aware of how much he missed spending time with her. A little over two weeks after she started working, the Cartwright brothers headed to town on a Saturday night. Hoss begged off going directly to the saloon in the hope of sneaking in a quick visit with Sally before it got too late. Tom Harmon spotted him walking down the boardwalk alone and followed from a distance. Since Hoss had not given the Peters notice that he would be stopping by, he asked if Sally could step out on the porch to chat. This was the first that Harmon had seen the two together in weeks. Now he knew what had happened to Sally. With a satisfied grin, Harmon turned around and headed for the Bucket of Blood.
Hoss did not keep Sally long, Mainly he just wanted to see her and know that she was doing alright. She had nothing but good things to say about the Peters and that she was happy to be busy. To Hoss it did not appear that Sally had strong feelings for him, yet he was somewhat cheered by her genuine gratitude for his help in getting her the job. He bid her goodnight and walked back to the Silver Dollar uncertain what he should think about Sally.
It would have pleased Hoss to know that he had been part of Sally’s discussions with Mrs. Peters. The older woman’s motherly ways frequently gave Sally opportunities to open up. It grieved Martha Peters to hear Sally relate her feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness when it came to having a husband in the future. It was obvious to Mrs. Peters that Sally had all the right qualities to be an excellent wife. One morning after the breakfast rush, the women were chatting as they prepared for the lunch crowd.
Martha stood at a work table cutting out biscuits. “Your day will come, Sally. The right man will love you for you and be able to look beyond what happened.”
“I sure hope you’re right, ma’am, and I could almost believe it except for the baby. What man is going to want to deal with that?” Tears pooled in Sally’s eyes.
“Yes I can understand why you would feel that way. Now I’m going to say something you might find a little hard to accept, but I believe it’s something you should think about.”
Mrs. Peters drew in a deep breath. “Have you considered giving up the baby?”
“You think I should give up my baby? Really? How could I do that? No one would want this child, not if they knew who the father was and what he was like.”
“I think you might be surprised that there are a couples even around here that can’t have children who would be interested in adopting a newborn baby.”
“I don’t know. Maybe you can’t understand this, but I do love this baby. It’s not his fault how he came to be. I just don’t think I could give him up.”
“I do understand, Sally. I’m a mother of five children. Six times I carried a little one in my womb. There’s no other feeling like it in the whole world.”
“Six times – so you lost one – early on or after you delivered?”
“Early – but it was still one of the saddest times of my life. So believe me when I say that I understand what I’m asking you to consider when it comes to giving up the child, but I think it could be what’s best for both of you.”
“Well for one thing, this child will be a constant reminder of the past.”
“Yes, I’ve thought about that.”
“And the other thing which might be hard to see right now is that there could be times you’ll hold a grudge against this child for keeping you from having the life you always wanted. LIke you said, it isn’t the baby’s fault who his father is, but you still might blame him when times get tough.”
“I suppose you could be right about that as much as I hope I wouldn’t do that.”
Mrs. Peters wiped her hands on a towel and went over to where Sally was seated at a table cutting vegetables for stew. The older woman placed her hands on the sides of Sally’s shoulders and gave the girl a comforting squeeze. “You’re a fine girl, Sally. You’ve already faced more in your young life than any girl your age ought to. You know Harold and I will do anything we can to help you. Just say the word.”
Sally rose and threw her arms around Mrs. Peters and sobbed. After a few minutes, she collected herself. “You’ve helped me more than you know, ma’am. More than you know.”
Mrs. Peters held Sally at arm’s length. “Don’t you think it’s about time you started calling me Martha?”
Sally smiled through her tears. “Thank you, Martha. Thank you for everything.”
On the Ponderosa, Adam and Hoss were checking fence and making repairs. Hoss had been uncharacteristically out of sorts of late; so Adam thought some time working together might give them a chance to talk.
When Hoss just about took his brother’s head off pitching a bale of wire from the buckboard, Adam had had enough. “Hey! Watch it! You’ve been grouchier than an old bear who just woke up from his winter nap! What on Earth is eating at you?”
“Why should I tell ya, anythin’. You, Pa, probly even Joe, will jest tell me I’m crazy!”
“Well don’t go lumping me in until I’ve heard the problem!”
“I’m sure yur smart enough ta figure it out without me tellin’ ya!”
Hoss was accurate in his assessment. Adam was pretty certain that his brother’s foul mood had something to do with Sally. However, Adam refused to let on figuring that the more Hoss talked things out the better chance there would be for him to find resolution.
“Well why don’t you just spill it and not worry about how smart I am.” Hoss remained silent for a moment as they got set up for making some repairs. “I’m waiting.”
“Doggone you, Adam. Why do you have ta be so dang persistent!” Hoss kicked the wheel of the buckboard causing the team to jump.
“Well, for one thing I’d like to keep my head attached to my shoulders and for another I’m just plain getting tired of your attitude. This isn’t like you, Hoss. Come on now. We’ve always been able to talk.”
Hoss looked at his older brother with chagrin and spoke so softly that Adam could not make out for sure what he had said. “I want ta marry Sally.”
“What was that?”
“I said I want ta marry Sally! There now, are ya happy?”
“I guess the question is why aren’t you happy about that?”
“Aren’t ya gonna tell me I shouldn’t be thinkin’ like that! Aren’t ya gonna tell me marryin’ her will bring us nothin’ but grief!” Hoss stripped off his gloves and forcefully threw them into the back of the buckboard. He stood gripping the side panel while trembling in anger and frustration.
Adam blew out a big breath before tipping back his hat to massage his forehead while trying to determine how he should proceed with the conversation. “Look, Hoss, whatever concerns Pa, Joe, or I may have about Sally, it has nothing to do with her as a person. By everything I’ve seen, she is a fine young woman, but she is young and she is expecting another man’s child. It would be one thing if you were planning to move to a place where no one knew either of you or the situation about the baby, but we all know you are here for the long haul. The Ponderosa is where you will always be. People are people. That means that you, Sally, and later the child will have to face gossip and slurs. There may be tough times ahead. We just want you to be happy, brother. That’s all any of us want.”
“Why do folks hafta be so damn hateful? Why Adam? Ain’t Sally suffered enough. She lost her whole family. She cain’t help what happened with that bastard Bolton. She needs someone ta love her and care for her. I wanna do that. And I kin love that baby. I know I kin.”
“If any man can, I’d put my money on you, Hoss. All I ask, and I believe the same would be true for Pa and Joe , is that you search your soul and make absolutely certain that you would be marrying Sally for the right reasons. If you do that and still decide to ask Sally to marry you, I’ll be one hundred percent behind your decision.”
“But I have bin thinkin’ on it, Adam. It’s all I think ’bout of late.”
“Have you discussed this with Sally?” Hoss shook his head and turned away. “Am I missing something? How can you be so certain you want to marry her if you haven’t even talked to her about it?”
“She’s been so dadburn busy now helpin’ the Peters. It’s tough ta find a good time fur us ta talk.”
“Look Hoss, if Sally is on your mind as much as you say she is, don’t you think it’s about time to find out what she’s thinking? Granted it wouldn’t seem that a girl in her situation would be happy to accept your proposal, but you’ll never know for sure until you ask her.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“How about Sunday? The Peters only serve breakfast at the cafe on Sundays. Sally should be free after church. Get Hop Sing to pack you a picnic lunch and go somewhere quiet and talk.”
“Yes I think. Now let’s hurry up and get this fence mended, and then I want you to get your sorry backside on your horse and get into town to make the arrangements so that the rest of us don’t have to put up with your sullen attitude any longer, you hard-headed Missouri mule!”
Hoss gave his brother a toothy grin before retrieving his work gloves and throwing himself with gusto into the work at hand.
Sunday could not come quickly enough for Hoss. For Sally the days leading up to their scheduled picnic were filled with nervous energy. Her body was beginning to tell her it was time to prepare for the coming of her child. But with no real home to pour that energy into, she worked that much harder for the Peters. Harold and Martha began to worry that she was pushing herself too hard. They hoped that the new girl who planned to start the following week would help Sally not push herself quite so much. The Peters also understood that she was concerned about meeting with Hoss and prayed for her sake it would be a pleasant occasion.
After church on Sunday, Hoss took Sally to his family’s favorite spot by the stream not too far outside of Virginia City. He picked a shady place near the water where they could relax and enjoy the delicious lunch Hop Sing had prepared for them. Hoss carefully helped Sally sit down on the blanket as it was becoming more difficult for her to do that with a cumbersome belly. He put another blanket behind her back so that she could lean comfortably against the trunk of the tree where they were seated.
Sally found his attentiveness very sweet. “You take good care of me, Hoss. This is a really pretty place. Thanks for bringing me here.”
“Yur welcome. This is where my family likes ta come sometimes on Sundays after church. Peaceful, ain’t it?”
“Yes. You know, I really like working for Harold and Martha, but it is busy and noisy with all the people going in and out. This is a nice change.”
Hoss unloaded the picnic basket and they began to eat. Sally was embarrassed by how much she ate. She rarely sat down to a meal with the Peters because they were always preparing and serving food; so they just grabbed a plate when time allowed. It surprised Sally how much she was able to consume, but then she began to feel uncomfortable because she did not normally eat so much at one sitting.
Hoss took notice when Sally began to shift her position and place a hand on her stomach. “You ok?”
Sally blushed. “Would you mind helping me stand up?”
Hoss got to his feet and offered Sally his hands to help her up. “Better?”
“Yes, thanks. The food tasted so good that I think I ate too much. The baby is taking up lots of room these days.”
The blush on Sally’s cheeks made her look even prettier to Hoss. He could not resist the urge to place his hand on her soft face, but even though his movement was slow and subtle, she reflexively jerked back. She had long ago lost count of the number of times Josiah Bolton had struck her. Embarrassed by her response to such a sweet and gentle man, Sally hid her face against the trunk of the tree.
Tears came into Hoss bright blue eyes. “Sally, it’s ok. I know why yur afraid. If I was you, I’d be afraid of a big moose like me too.”
Her voice was muffled by the tree, unable to face him,. “I’m sorry Hoss. You’ve never been anything but be kind to me.”
“It’s ok Sally. It jest may take some time, that’s all. But there’s somethin’ I’ve bin wantin’ ta tell ya.”
Sally swiped at her tears and turned to face him. “What’s that?”
“I wantcha ta be my wife.” She looked at the big man standing in front of her in utter disbelief. “I want ta give you my love – if you’ll have me – you and the baby, and take care of both of ya for the rest of my life.”
Despite the sincerity radiating from his eyes, there were serious doubts crowding out what Sally was seeing and hearing. “Oh Hoss, how can you love me? I’m dirty and used. And the baby – there are times when I’m not even sure I love him. If I’m not sure, how can you be sure?” Her head dropped as her body was racked with sobs.
“It ain’t yur fault what happened! None of it. Yur a good person. You’ve showed me over and over again. And this baby – all this baby needs is someone ta love ’em. Please Sally! Give me a chance ta prove it to ya. Let me love ya.”
Hoss held out his arms and whispered, “I ain’t gonna push ya. It’s yur decision.”
Hoss stood completely still, waiting – hoping that she would trust him. He was determined to wait as long as necessary. He had done it time and again with a frightened animal. Sally could not bring herself to look up, but she could see that his arms were open to her. Seconds passed and then slowly the young woman began to inch toward him. Hoss remained in his spot, unmoving, with his arms wide open. Finally when Sally fell against his chest, he wrapped his arms ever so gently around her trembling body. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut and tried to block out all the bad memories of her past and soak in all of the warmth and tenderness Hoss was allowing her to experience. It took some time, but eventually Sally was able to relax in his embrace.
Hoss gave her the time she needed before asking, “Ya don’t need ta give me an answer right now. It’s ok ta take some time and think on it. How ’bout we take a little walk before heading back ta town?”
He could feel her nod and released his hold. Taking her by the hand, they walked down to the stream in silence, just enjoying each other’s presence.
Later that afternoon, Tom Harmon and his buddies spotted Hoss and Sally driving through town on their way back from their picnic. The malicious cowboys kept watch making certain that Hoss was driving the buggy back to the Ponderosa and not picking up his horse at the livery. They had been waiting for the right opportunity to come along, and it finally looked like today was that day. They took a side route and laid in wait for Hoss in the place where it was least likely they would be observed. With bandanas covering their faces they caught up with the buggy. Harmon and his cronies forced Hoss at gunpoint into some scrub, beat him and left him for dead. Before leaving they took everything of value they could carry, including the rifle from the buggy, Hoss’ pistol rig, and his money.
The frightened horse and driverless buggy showed up back at the ranch at suppertime. One of the hands intercepted the horse and immediately went to the house to report it to the family. Ben, Adam, and Joe were already eating when there was a knock at the door. Joe frowned when he got the eye from his father to answer whoever was beaconing them in the middle of dinner.
“Pa! Adam! Come quick! Hoss is missing!”
The Christian hymn “Be Still My Soul” is referenced in this chapter
Manned with torches, the Cartwrights and some of their ranch hands went out in search of Hoss. They headed to one of two obvious places along the road to Virginia City where a traveler would be most vulnerable to an attack. The first location turned up nothing, however, it did not take long at the second to locate Hoss. It took most of the party to carefully load the big man onto the buckboard that had been trailing those on horseback. Two of the hands were sent on to town to contact Sheriff Coffee and bring Doc Martin to the ranch. With only the scant light of the torches, Ben could still see that his son had been severely beaten. Hoss would not have been able to open his eyes because of the tremendous swelling of his face even if he had been conscious. The ride back to the ranch house was arduous. While Joe sat in the back of the buckboard cradling his brother’s head in his lap, a vengeful fire was beginning to roar within him.
At the first sign of light, Adam and Joe were mounted and ready to return to the location where they had found Hoss the previous night. Adam had been torn leaving Ben alone to care for their brother especially with Hoss barely clinging to life. Adam tamped down those emotions to be fully focused on the task of finding the men who had done such a despicable thing. Still, Joe’s silence worried him. His youngest brother’s body language gave away the unspoken rage that was boiling beneath the surface. The confirmation came when they found tracks for three horses heading in the direction of Carson City.
Joe launched himself atop Cochise. “Come on! Mount up. What the hell are you waiting for?”
“Roy’s not going to be happy if we take off without the posse.”
“I don’t give a damn about Roy! You’re wasting time, Adam! We know who we’re looking for. There’s no point arguing and pretending! Now are you coming with me or not?”
Adam gave Joe a hard look before he turned to look for dust along the road in the direction of Virginia City. Seeing none and fearful of what situation his brother might get into alone, Adam mounted Sport. “Let’s ride.” The brothers urged their horses toward Carson City.
In Virginia City, word of the attack on Hoss soon traveled to the Peters’ cafe by way of their customers. Sally was practically beside herself when Harold relayed the news to her. Martha tried her best to get Sally to calm down. At almost seven months into her pregnancy, the baby could not possibly survive if she went into labor.
Sally took her hands from her face to look at Harold and Martha. “I’ve got to go to him.”
Sally’s pitiful cries were very disconcerting to, Delores, the new girl who was working her very first day at the cafe. Martha asked her husband to arrange a ride out to the Ponderosa for Sally at the livery. In the meantime, Sally packed a few things so that she could spend the night if necessary.
Hop Sing greeted her at the front door when she arrived at the ranch house. “Big surprise you here, Missy Sally. You come to see Mr. Hoss, but not sure you should have come.” The Chinaman looked very solemn as he spoke.
“I’m sorry to show up without letting someone know ahead of time. How is he? Can I see him?”
“Mr. Hoss hurt real bad.” Hop Sing paused, shaking his head in sadness.
With tears in her eyes, she pleaded. “Please, Hop Sing, I just have to see Hoss.”
The cook nodded and disappeared upstairs. Moments later he returned and Ben came to the top of the stairway. “Sally…I’m not sure this is the right time for you to visit Hoss.”
Stress and fatigue were written onto Ben’s drawn face as he stood with his arms helplessly hanging at his sides. Sally’s hand came up in an attempt to choke back the sobs that were working so hard to come forth. It went against his better judgment, but exhaustion won out as Ben gave the young woman permission to go up. Sally steeled herself for what was to come, even still, she was shocked when she saw Hoss’ face. Initially she turned away, unable to look on his battered head that was wrapped up in thick bandages.
“Live?” Ben finished Sally’s question blandly. “The doctor is hopeful, but until he wakes up, we have no idea if there will be long-lasting effects from his injuries.” Ben bolstered himself and continued. “My son is strong and I believe he has the will to live.”
Sally was briefly lost in her own thoughts. Eventually she turned to look at Ben. “May I sit with him for a while? You look like you could use some rest. Where are Adam and Joe?”
“Looking for the cowards that did this to him.”
Sally dropped her head. “It’s because of me that Hoss got hurt, isn’t it?”
“Don’t even think like that. If the man we’re thinking did this is truly responsible, then he thought that he had a score to settle which had nothing whatsoever to do with you.”
“Yes, but if I hadn’t been around, Hoss might not have gotten hurt.”
“Like I said before, you are not responsible.”
Sally looked at Hoss again. “Please, let me do something to help. I can stay with Hoss while you rest.”
“I appreciate your offer, but I would prefer to stay here with my son.”
“I promise I’ll come get you if he moves even the tiniest bit. Please? It won’t do Hoss any good if you get sick.”
Ben heaved a deep sigh. He was tired beyond measure. “Alright. I’ll be in the room right next door, but please come get me right away if anything changes.”
“I will. I promise.” Sally offered Ben a teary smile.
Adam and Joe stopped frequently to make sure they were still on the right trail. Their search led them to Carson City where they went directly to the sheriff’s office. The deputy at the desk confirmed that there had been a telegram from Roy Coffee. The message stated that the Sheriff of Virginia City was looking for a man named Tom Harmon and two others in connection with the brutal attack of Hoss Cartwright. If found the men were to be held for questioning. The deputy told the brothers that the word had been sent out to local establishments, but that so far no one had reported seeing the men in question. With an admonition to steer clear of trouble, Adam and Joe left the sheriff’s office to do some looking around town on their own. They hit several lower class drinking establishments, but came up empty. Exhausted and famished after beginning their day at the crack of dawn, Adam and Joe were in need of food and drink. They came upon an upscale saloon and decided to go in.
Little did they know that inside Tom Harmon and his buddies were celebrating their good fortune. Hoss had been carrying over one hundred dollars in his wallet when they attacked him. Now rip-roaring drunk, some card sharps had suckered Harmon into a game of poker at the corner table beside the entrance to the saloon. At first the professionals allowed the inebriated cowboy to win enough to keep him interested, but Harmon’s luck had run out. Hoss’ pistol rig was sitting in the middle of the table, it was the last thing of value he had to wager. Furious at losing all the money and drunk beyond rational judgment, Tom Harmon was spoiling for trouble when Adam and Joe walked past his table on their way to the bar.
Harmon could not believe his eyes. “Cartwrights! I’m gonna kill me a Cartwright.” He lunged for the pistol on the table and fired at the brothers.
The shot missed its mark; it did, however, ricochet off the bar and graze a bystander’s leg. Before he could get another shot off, one of the card players seated next to Harmon slammed his shooting hand against the table causing him to drop the pistol. Adam and Joe stood with their revolvers pointed in Harmon’s direction. With the threat of being shot past, Joe ran and lifted Harmon out of his chair and punched him relentlessly until Adam and two other men were finally able to restrain him. WIthin minutes the sheriff, who had been out making his rounds, showed up to take control of the situation.
Statements about the incident were taken from the witnesses and Harmon and his accomplices were locked in the Carson City jail. The sheriff sent a wire to Roy Coffee to let him know that Adam and Joe would accompany the deputy from Carson City the next day and return the prisoners to Virginia City for an inquest.
After Ben went to his room to lay down, Sally sat down in the chair beside Hoss’ bed. She wished that he needed tending of some sort, but there was nothing for her to do except sit and stare at the man who had so generously offered to be her husband. She had thought a lot about what Hoss said the day before. In fact, she had slept very little because it weighed so heavily on her mind. Tentatively, Sally reached out and touched his large hand. Not knowing what else to do, she began speaking to him as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Hoss, I’m so sorry you got beat up. I bet anything it was those awful cowboys you ran off a few weeks ago. I doubt you want to marry me now. Why would you? Why would you want that trouble? The crazy thing is that I was thinking about saying ‘yes’. Do you know what? I’ve never even had a beau? Just look at me. I’ve got some terrible man’s baby inside me. But you’ve been so kind to me. You’ve made me want to believe that we could have a good life together. Why couldn’t you have found me before Bolton did? But now look what’s happened. My life is nothing but trouble upon trouble. I can’t let you do that, Hoss. You don’t deserve it. I’m not going to hold you to what you said. I’ll figure something out after the baby comes. Maybe I should do like Martha said, and give him up.” Sally broke into sobs. “I just don’t know what to do.”
“God, I know I’ve asked you for a lot over the past year. I prayed for help and you sent me Hoss and his family. They’re really good people, but Hoss needs your help now. He needs it real bad. Please don’t punish him because of me and my problems. Please, God!”
Sally pressed her clasped hands against her forehead and rocked back and forth. She continued to pour out her heart. As she thought through her trials, in her mind Sally could envision her mother laboring in the garden. Her mother would escape there when burdened by the weight of the world to work out her frustrations. Sally could also hear her mother’s voice singing a song that brought her comfort. Sally began singing the song quietly to Hoss.
“Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He, faithful, will remain.
Be still, my soul, thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”
She continued to hum the melody even after finishing the last strain of the hymn. Suddenly, Hoss began to stir and tried to speak, but his words were raspy and garbled.
“Hoss? Hoss, you can hear me.” Again he moved. Sally reached out and patted his arm. “I’ll be right back! I’m going to get your Pa!” She disappeared quickly into the hallway.
“Sally.” Hoss croaked out. He tried to raise himself up, but could not and then he slipped back into unconsciousness.
Though knocking vigorously on Ben’s bedroom door, it took some time for Sally to rouse him from a deep sleep; so by the time they returned to Hoss, the big man appeared just as he had when Ben had left him earlier.
Bleary-eyed, Ben looked at Sally uncertainly. “You’re positive that he woke up and that you didn’t just imagine it?”
“He tried to talk, Mr. Cartwright. I’m sure of it. Hoss! Hoss!”
Seeing the girl’s distress, Ben did not press her further. “It’s alright, Sally. I believe you. Sometimes it happens like that. He must not have enough strength yet.” Ben forced a smile. “Even still, that’s a good sign. Thank you for sitting with him for a while, but, maybe you should head back to town now before it gets too late.”
Sally really did not want to leave, but sensed that Ben was not comfortable with her staying with Hoss any longer. “Yes, my driver is waiting. When Hoss does wake up, please tell him”, she paused not exactly sure what to say, “please tell him that I hope he gets better real soon.”
“Thank you, I will. Maybe you could come back for a visit in a few days.”
“Yes, maybe so.”
The look she gave Ben left him unsettled. “Let me have Hop Sing get you something to eat and drink before you leave.”
Ben escorted Sally down the stairs and called for Hop Sing. After a light lunch, Sally returned to town.
Adam and Joe rode hard from Virginia CIty back to the ranch the following day after dropping off Harmon and his friends at the jail. The brothers were anxious get home and find out how Hoss was doing. To their great relief, their brother was propped up with several pillows taking small spoonfuls of broth from their father.
The swelling around Hoss’ eyes had receded somewhat, but he was still looking through slits when his brothers entered his room.
“Gosh it’s good to see you awake, brother, even if you do look like you’ve been trampled by a team of horses.” Joe’s grin lit up the room. He winked at Adam and smacked his oldest brother with his hat.
Ben grunted. “Joseph! Can’t we just be thankful that your brother is sitting up and taking nourishment and forego your high jinks!”
Adam shared what he hoped would give his brother some real encouragement. “Hoss, you’ll be glad to know that we caught up to Harmon and his buddies. They’re locked up tight in Roy’s jail. My guess is that we won’t be hearing much from any of them for quite some time.”
“That’s good ta know, Adam. Thanks. I figured it was them. They had their faces covered and Harmon for once didn’t say anything.”
“Taking a shot at us with your pistol pretty much sewed things up. Just goes to show what can happen when you add alcohol to someone with a big mouth and a bad temper.” Joe added.
“Thankfully you two are safe. That is good news overall.” Ben gave his middle son a relieved smile, but then turned toward Adam and Joe. “But let’s not wear your brother out with a lot of discussion just now. Why don’t the two of you go get something to eat.”
Joe started working the buttons on his jacket. “We already ate in town, Pa. I’m sure you could use a break. Let me sit with Hoss while you and Adam get some coffee.”
“I think I’ve had enough broth for now, Pa. I’m plum tuckered out already.” Hoss words faded away for lack of strength.
Ben set the cup of broth on the nightstand. “Alright, you rest, son. Joseph, please let your brother get the rest he needs.”
“Don’t you worry, Pa. I’ll see to that. Do you think I want to be doing big brother’s chores forever?”
Ben scowled at his youngest son before leaving the room with Adam. Downstairs, over a cup of coffee, Adam related the events of the previous day to his father. Ben was truly relieved to know that Harmon had not been successful in his attempt to harm any more Cartwright sons, but he was not happy to hear about Joe’s actions.
“I know he shouldn’t have taken out his anger and frustrations on Harmon, but honestly, Pa, you would have been hard-pressed not to do the same thing, given the circumstances. Yeah Joe roughed him up pretty good, but it really didn’t change anything. Harmon and his buddies will be going to prison for quite a while.”
Ben drew in a deep breath and stared into his cup. “That is hopefully one problem solved, but I’m afraid that still leaves another. Sally was here yesterday. She gave me a brief respite. She said that Hoss came to for a few moments while she was with him. After he woke up this morning, he asked for her and wanted to know if she was here.”
“What’s troubling you, Pa? Does that really surprise you?”
“Your brother hasn’t said anything definite, but somehow I’m getting the impression that they will marry. Do you know anything about that, Adam?”
“I’m pretty sure if things went on Sunday the way he had planned, Hoss asked Sally to marry him.”
“That would explain why Sally was adamant about seeing him at first.”
“What do you mean, at first?”
“She is blaming herself for Hoss getting hurt.”
“I told her quite clearly that what happened to Hoss was not her fault, but I’m not certain that she believes it. When I said something about coming back for another visit in a few days, she said yes, but her face said something different.”
Adam grimaced. “Let me take the next shift with Hoss. He opened up to me about Sally before, maybe I can figure out where things stand.”
“Don’t push him, Adam. Now that he seems to have turned the corner, I’d hate for him have a set back.”
“Do you really want to face him if thinks we’re not being forthright. Pa, if Hoss believes that we are keeping from him that Sally has possibly chosen to face her future alone because of what’s happened to him, we both know that will push him to try to intervene before he is physically capable of doing so. He needs our reassurance that we are behind him on this.”
Ben knew what Adam said was true, but it did not make it any easier for him to accept. “Twice in less than two months we’ve come very close to losing Hoss. You, probably even more than Hoss and Joe, understand how difficult that prospect is for me. And yet, that is the chief challenge of our existence, is it not, to take the blows that life deals us and try to redeem them into something that has purpose and meaning? Asking ‘why’ only works for so long. Why did your mother have to die in childbirth? Why wasn’t that arrow’s path a few inches one side or the other? Why did Marie’s horse trip? Why did that rattlesnake have to be sitting in that exact spot and bite Hoss? Why Adam?”
Adam found himself unable to hold his father’s gaze as he felt the pinch of the words on his heart and mind. He rose and moved to stir the fire in the hearth.
Ben went on despite his son’s marginal attempt at escape. “We all respond differently to trials, don’t we? You tend to avoid them and then you think them up one side and down the other. Joe fights and rails against them. Hoss rushes in and tries to save the most vulnerable at his own expense.”
Sparks flew as Adam jammed the poker into a half consumed log. “And you, Pa? What do you do, besides wax philosophical?”
“Me? I’ve probably done all those things from time to time.” Ben sighed and moved from where he was seated at the table into the livingroom. “For reasons beyond our control, Sally Nelson came into our lives. She has been dealt some of the worst that life has to offer. Hoss wants to help her salvage her life and turn things around. I just don’t know whether his solution is what is best for either of them. I’m certain that the poor girl was frightened before and now she may be downright terrified.”
Sally was finding it difficult to focus on her work at the cafe. She was struggling greatly with the decisions she felt needed to be made sooner rather than later. She did not know how long it would take Hoss to recover from his injuries. Neither did she know whether he might have changed his mind about marrying her. If she was going to give up her child, a willing family needed to be found. She was afraid if she spent much time with her baby, she would not be able to turn the child over to someone else even if it was for the best. Martha noticed that Sally had said little since returning from her visit with Hoss and had been all business, even with Delores. The newly hired girl was a cheerful fourteen year-old who already knew her way around a kitchen. Friendly and chatty, Delores soon realized that Sally was not interested in conversing with her.
Lost in her troubles, Sally felt stymied at every turn. She was too far along in her pregnancy to travel. Because of her age, Hoss had been made the legal agent for the bank account where her gold money had been deposited; so the bulk of her funds were not available without his consent. As much as she wanted to run away back east and reconnect with her extended family, she knew that it was not an option at the moment. Everything in her life seemed to revolve around the baby she was carrying, and the more Sally thought about it, the more she felt that it would be impossible for her to keep a boy child, especially if the boy resembled Josiah Bolton at all. She was not sure how she would endure the weeks until the baby came.
Later that evening, Martha knocked on the door to Sally’s room. Sally was already in bed and did not really want company, but she also could not allow herself to be rude to Martha and gave the woman permission to enter. The young woman was struggling to pull herself into a sitting position as Martha came through the door.
“Sally? Are you ok?”
“I’m just really tired. Did you need something from me?”
“No, I was just a bit worried about you, that’s all.”
“Just got a lot on my mind, I guess.”
“Anything I can do to help?”
Soon the young woman’s chest began to heave. Martha moved quickly to sit on the bed beside her and pull Sally into her arms.
“I need this to be over, but it’s never going to be done, is it Martha?”
Martha rocked Sally in her arms. “Oh dear girl, I wish to goodness I could set everything right for you. Did things not go well on Sunday with Hoss?”
“He wants to marry me.”
A warm smile came to Martha’s face and she looked directly at Sally. “Why that sounds wonderful. Hoss is a good man. He will make a great husband.” Martha’s smile slipped away. “But you’re not happy about that?”
“Bad things just keep happening. I just need to have this baby, give it up, and go far away, then he’ll forget about me.’
“Have you told him how you feel?”
“I told him that I wouldn’t hold him to what he said and that I might give up the baby, but I’m not sure he heard me. Oh Martha, he was hurt so bad and it was all because of me.”
“No, now you mustn’t think like that.” Martha was about to say there are many bad men in the world that are outside a woman’s control, but quickly thought better of it. “Did you ever think that maybe you could give up the baby and still marry Hoss? Regardless, I think this is something the two of you need to talk out when he is feeling better. Until then you have a home right here with Harold and me and now that Delores is working you don’t need to put in such long hours. You’ve been a great help to us, now it’s time for us to help you.” Martha hugged Sally tight and ran her hand through the young woman’s long blonde hair.
“Thank you, Martha.”
Mrs. Peters got up and moved to the door. “Try to get some rest, dear. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Adam was asleep in the chair beside the bed when Hoss woke up in the middle of the night needing to relieve himself. He was able to sit upright and move his legs over the side of the bed to complete the task, though it was difficult and painful, Awkward as it was to help his brother this way, Adam was happy to see the great improvement in Hoss’ condition.
Hoss was in the mood to talk since he had slept a lot. “Thanks brother. Guess it’s been a long time since you had ta do something like that for me, huh?”
“True. but I’ve put most of those bad memories out of my mind.” Adam smirked.
Hoss chuckled and then groaned. “Ugh. Who knew laughin’ could hurt so bad.”
“Just take it easy. Pa’s been riding herd on Joe and me not to do anything that interferes with your recovery.”
“Yeah, I kin ‘magine. I’ve lost all tracka time. What day is it?”
“Just a couple of hours before daybreak on Wednesday.”
“And Sally was here on Monday, right?”
“Yes, that’s what Pa said. We didn’t get home until late yesterday. Remember?”
“Yeah, now I do. Sometimes things are kinda fuzzy. Do ya think mebbe you could ride ta town and bring Sally out for a visit later today?”
“Yeah I could do that.”
“Funny, I cain’t remember what she said, jest that she seemed real sad when she was here. I’m kinda worried ’bout her. On Sunday, I asked her ta marry me, but she didn’t give me an answer. I told her that was ok for now. I jest wanta know she’s doin’ ok. She was pretty upset ’bout the baby and all on Sunday.”
Adam offered his brother a tenuous smile. “I’ll head to into town after breakfast. Now you’d better get some rest if you’re planning on having company later.”
By mid morning, Adam was in town with the buggy, hoping that Sally would agree to go visit Hoss. Mrs. Peters took Sally and Adam to the sitting room so they could have some privacy.
“Adam, is Hoss doing better?”
“Yes he is. In fact that’s why I’m here. He very much would like to see you.” She exhaled the breath she had been holding and looked away. Adam gave her some time to collect her thoughts. Sensing her uncertainty when she did not speak, he went on. “Sally, you haven’t known my brother very long. There’s something I think you need to know about him. Hoss is honest to the core. If he says something, that’s what he means.” Adam paused gauging her response before continuing. “He told me that he asked you to marry him. He would not have done that unless he meant what he said and intends to follow through. He has not changed his mind, but I think it would be best for you to come out to the ranch and hear it for yourself.”
Sally turned back and studied Adam’s eyes. Though more difficult to read than his brother, she saw honesty and sincerity there. She was still unsettled, but after hearing what both Martha and Adam had to say, Sally knew that she must go and see Hoss.
The ride out to the ranch was fairly quiet. Occasionally Adam would point something out so there would not be inordinately long periods of silence. When they arrived Adam went upstairs alone to check and make sure Hoss was ready to receive his visitor. Ben and Adam came down to the main floor.
“Sally it’s good to see you. I’m glad that you came. Hoss is anxious to see you.” Ben gave her a genuinely warm smile and motioned for her to proceed upstairs.
The door to Hoss’ bedroom was open. Sally hesitated in the doorway feeling the weight of her future hanging in the balance.
“Sally? Come on in. I’ve been waitin’ for ya.” The young woman entered the room tentatively. “Come an’ sit down.”
Relieved to see him looking much improved since the last she saw him, Sally gave him a timid smile and sat down. It took a moment for her to find her voice. “Hoss, you’re looking better. Thank goodness. I was so worried.”
“Aww. Ya don’t need ta worry ’bout me. I’m gonna be fine.” Hoss gave her a puffy-lipped grin. I was worried ’bout ya, too. Ya seemed awful scared and upset the other day.”
Concern flooded Sally’s face. “Did you hear everything I said?”
“I heard ya prayin’ and singin’. You sing real purty and I ‘ppreciate ya sayin’ a prayer fur me. See yur prayers have bin answered. I’m gettin’ better every day. Mebbe you could sing fur me agin some time. I’d really like that.” Sally looked at Hoss wondering how he could be so optimistic after being injured so severely. “Have you thought any more ’bout what I asked ya?”
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’m afraid, Hoss. Are you sure?”
“Aww Sally I know I ain’t at all like the man you probly thought you’d marry some-”
“No Hoss! No! It’s not you! It’s me! I’m afraid you won’t be happy with me.”
“How could I not be happy with ya? You’re sweet, an’ purty, an’ ya got a good heart an’ on top of all that, you kin cook!” Despite the seriousness of their conversation, Sally laughed. “Sally, I know ya got lots of questions ’bout the future that I cain’t answer; so here’s the one’s I kin. I love ya, Sally, an’ I’ll love ya for all my days, and I’ll take care o’ ya and do my level best ta make ya happy. I ain’t perfect and you ain’t perfect, but iffn we pledge ta work together, things ‘ill work out. I know it’s probly a lot ta ask ya ta trust me, but I sure hope ya will.”
“I do trust you, Hoss.” Sally bowed her head and silently prayed for guidance from above.
Hoss waited patiently sensing this was their moment of truth. Moments later, she looked directly into Hoss’ expectant blue eyes and said “yes” with as much confidence as she could muster. He reached out and she placed her hand in his.
A few weeks later on a Sunday afternoon, Hoss and Sally were married in an intimate civil ceremony at the ranch. The timing allowed the Peters to be present as Roy Coffee officiated the rights. Though it was not what Sally had hoped and dreamed of as a young girl, it was what Hoss and her agreed was best given the situation. He built a cradle in preparation for the baby just as he would have if the child had been his own. Despite her anxiety about the pending arrival of the baby, Sally felt more settled than she had in a very long time.
The days rolled by until one warm July afternoon. Hoss was pacing the living room floor struggling to resist the urge to bolt upstairs every time he heard Sally cry out. He felt as if the clock was barely moving when in actuality his wife’s labor was progressing at a good rate. Ben raised up out of his chair where he had been passing the time reading. He managed to grab hold of his middle son’s shoulder from the back. Hoss jerked and turned around to face him. Beads of perspiration stood out on big man’s forehead. A mere three months ago, Hoss would never have imagined that he would be a married man and let alone a father.
Ben offered his nervous son a reassuring smile. “I know it sounds bad to you, but Paul said Sally is doing well. Try not to worry. You’ll be holding that little one in no time.”
Hoss managed to return a weak and weary smile and then plopped into the blue chair, gripping the arms firmly. “Why’s it gotta take so dang long. Sally’s gonna be plum wore out. Just hope she’s got the strength.”
“Hoss, she’s young and strong. She’ll do fine. As much as we wish and hope them to be, babies aren’t on a timetable.” Ben hesitated and then left unsaid the fact that a weaker woman would never have survived what Sally had been through.
Joe came in from the kitchen carrying a plate of Hoss’ favorite sandwiches. “I talked Hop Sing into making you some sandwiches. Here have one. Maybe it will help take your mind off things.” Joe shoved the plate toward his antsy older brother.
Hoss scrunched up his face. “Naw, ain’t hungry.”
Joe turned to his father and shrugged, then held out the plate to Ben who waved him off. Joe grabbed a hefty sandwich and took a big bite before setting the plate on the coffee table.
“Too bad Adam’s missing all the excitement.” Joe spoke while continuing to munch his food.
“Joseph, please, must you talk with your mouth full! Adam couldn’t have known that Sally would deliver today when he left early this morning. Besides, by the time he gets back Sally, Hoss, and the baby will have gotten some rest and he can enjoy a nice visit. ”
“I just wish to goodness the baby would hurry up.” Hoss pushed himself up out of the chair and began to pace again.
Moments later the sharp cry of a newborn pierced the silence. Three faces broke into wide grins. Hoss placed a meaty hand on the post at the base of the stairway and looked up in anticipation.
Shortly thereafter, Doc Martin appeared at the top of the steps, the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up to his elbows. “Hoss, there are two ladies up here who would very much like to see you.”
“Yes, well, one is a very young lady.” The doctor offered the new father a wry smile.
Hoss hooted and scaled the stairs quickly. Paul Martin stepped aside allowing him to pass by before descending the stairs to speak with Ben and Joe who were looking at him expectantly. He answered their unspoken question.
“Mother and baby are doing just fine. Give them just a few minutes and then I’m sure you would be welcome for a brief visit.” The doctor extended his hand. “Congratulations, Ben.”
Both happy and relieved to hear about his new granddaughter, Ben shook Martin’s hand with enthusiasm. He looked over at Joe and let out a deep sigh to which his son responded with a slap on his father’s shoulder.
Upstairs, Hoss had pushed a chair close to the bed so he could be very near his wife and new daughter. Damp ringlets of blonde hair framed Sally’s tired but smiling face. Hoss examined the baby’s fingers and toes.
“She’s beautiful Sally! Just like you!”
Sally blushed. “Are you still alright with the name?”
“Yep. We’ll name her for yur Mama.” Sally placed the tiny bundle into his arms. “Well now little Miss Amelia Cartwright, you’re the right purtiest gal I’ve ever seen. ‘Cept for your Mama, o’ course.” Hoss leaned over and gave Sally a tender kiss. “Sally, I think the Good Lord has smiled down on us today by givin’ us a girl.”
“It’s like I can breathe again, like a burden has been lifted. I feel like God has given us His grace.”
“Grace. I kinda like that. Whadya think about callin’ our little gal Amelia Grace?”
“That sounds perfect.” Sally fingered the fine tuft of hair on Amelia’s tiny head. “Did you hear that, little one? Your Pa has named you Amelia Grace and rightly so, because I don’t know what would have become us if he hadn’t come to our rescue.” Sally’s eyes sparkled with tears of gratitude. She reached out to place her hand on her husband’s rough cheek.
Some time later, there was a soft knock at the bedroom door. Ben and Joe quietly slipped in. Little Amelia squirmed in her father’s big arms. The smile on Hoss’ face told it all. He had a wife and daughter to shower with love.
“Pa, Joe, meet Miss Amelia Grace Cartwright.” Hoss carefully placed the little bundle in his father’s arms.
“She’s absolutely beautiful.” Always amazed at the miracle of a child being brought into the world, Ben gently stroked the child’s tiny fingers before leaning down and kissing her forehead. “I hope you know, Miss Amelia, that your Grandpa is going to spoil you something awful. Just don’t tell your Mama and Papa. It will be our little secret.”
Hoss chuckled and winked at his wife.
“Hey now, don’t forget Uncle Joe.” Joe held out his arms to his father. Ben somewhat reluctantly relinquished his new granddaughter to his youngest son. “Little darlin’, you and Uncle Joe are going to have so much fun.” He tickled the baby’s chin.
While Joe was fawning over the baby, Ben sat down in the chair beside Sally and reached out to give her hand a comforting squeeze. For once he was at a loss for words, but the warmth in his glistening eyes spoke peace and comfort to Sally’s soul. He leaned in and kissed her cheek. He sat holding her hand as the two observed Hoss and Joe for a few minutes with Amelia. ” Well, I think it’s probably time for us to let you get some well deserved rest.”
Ben rose and called out. “Uncle Joe it’s time to return Miss Amelia to her Pa and for us to get out of here and give them some peace and quiet.”
Joe handed Amelia to Hoss. “Bye, Amelia. Rest well. You, too, Sally.”
Joe kept an eye out for Adam the rest of the afternoon. He raced to the barn when he saw his brother ride in.
“Hey Uncle Adam! We had an exciting afternoon while you were out on the range.”
“Really? Sally delivered?”
“Yeah. A little girl, Amelia Grace. She’s really somethin’, Adam.”
Adam removed his hat and wiped his brow, not so much from fatigue as out of relief for Sally and Hoss. “That’s great news, Joe. Really good.”
“Hey, you want me to put up Sport so you can get cleaned up and go see them?”
“Thanks. I’d appreciate it.”
About an hour later, Adam awkwardly entered Hoss and Sally’s room. It truly was a special day in many ways. Normally smooth and in control, he shifted his arms strangely to receive the baby. It had been a very long time since he had held a newborn.
“It’s ok, Adam. She ain’t gonna break. Ain’t she somethin’?”
Though he had held Hoss and Joe when only a child himself, Adam now stared at Amelia, mesmerized by the simple beauty of a newborn human being. Hoss chuckled. He so rarely saw his brother flummoxed.
Adam ever so gently stroked Amelia’s rosy cheek. “Amazing.” Embarrassed, he finally looked up to address Sally and Hoss . “She’s beautiful.”
“Here, brother, I think you’d better sit down. Ya look a little weak in the knees.”
Just a hint of a dimple played on Adam’s face as he carefully eased himself into the chair beside the bed. Hoss came and placed a big hand on his brother’s shoulder.
“Ya know, Adam, I’m not sure we’d all be here like this today iffn ya hadn’t talked some sense into both of us.”
“Hoss is right, Adam. I am very grateful to you and count it a real blessing to call you, Brother.”
“I don’t really know what to say, other than I’m happy, truly happy, because you’re happy.” Adam reached out and Sally took his hand.
Minutes later as Adam pulled the bedroom door closed behind him, his mind went back to the discussion he had several weeks ago with his father. Adam was not so naive as to think that Hoss and Sally’s trials were entirely behind them, he was, though, able to see more clearly how pushing through the hard times, even embracing them, sometimes opens the door to experiencing joy.
Next Story in the Redemption Series:
Other Stories by this Author
- A Gal Named Sal #2 – August Heat (by Hart4Ben)
- Atonement (by Hart4Ben)
- Poisoned (by Hart4Ben)
- A Gal Named Sal #1 (by Hart4Ben)
- Reflections (by Hart4Ben)