More Than Enough Love Part 2 (by Hart4Ben)

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Summary: The Cartwright family continues to adjust to the addition Ben’s new wife, Kate and her nieces, Mary and Hannah. Will an unexpected visitor bring tension into the household?

Rating: T  Word Count: 115,895

Ben Brown Series:

Ben Brown
More Than Enough Love
More Than Enough Love – Part 2
Ladies Day Out
Dog Days

More Than Enough Love – Part 2

Chapter 1


Ben Cartwright and his three sons had seen many a new year come and go. For the past seven years, only Hoss and Joe had remained with their father at the Ponderosa, after Adam journeyed east, back to his roots in Boston, to begin his career in architecture and eventually marry the elegant Cecille Armand. The year 1869 brought great change to the Cartwright family; good change. For more than a year, Jamie Hunter, the orphan of a traveling rainmaker, had been living with the Cartwrights, but in May of 69, a new son was added to the clan when Ben formally adopted Jamie into the family. A few months later, in a strange series of events, Ben met and then married the recently widowed, Katherine McElroy on August 23, his fifty-fifth birthday. The ranch suddenly became a much livelier place when late in October, only two months into their newly married lives, Ben and Kate became the guardians of Kate’s nieces, Mary and Hannah Calhoun, ages four and two, following a tragic fire that left the girls orphaned. Then while home for the holidays, Adam announced that he, Cecille, and their two children, Benji and Elizabeth would be moving from Boston to San Francisco once his architectural firm’s new west coast office was established. In the mean time, Cecille and the children would remain at the ranch, adding two more young ones to what Hop Sing already considered unbearable chaos. However, Ben and Kate could not have been happier. Their grandchildren were staying with them while Adam opened the new office and found a suitable place for his family to live. The only thing that would have made it better was if Adam could have persuaded his firm to locate the office in Reno or Carson City.

It was New Year’s eve and earlier in the day, Ben had suggested to Kate that the four children bed down together in Mary and Hannah’s room so that Adam and Cecille could have some time alone. It was the first time in their five and a half years of marriage that the couple would be apart for more than a few days. Mary was not so anxious to share her room, nor was Benji excited about sleeping with three girls. However, baited with a later bedtime, cookies and hot chocolate, they decided it might not be so bad after all. When Kate and Cecille checked on them around eleven-thirty, they found a tangle of bedcovers and little bodies in a nest on the floor, Mary and Hannah having pulled their covers off their bed and joined Benji and Elizabeth. The foursome looked like rosy-cheeked cherubs.

Cecille whispered to Kate. “They look so sweet and innocent, like little angels.”

“Angels by night, maybe not so angelic by day.” Kate was looking particularly at Mary.

So as the clock struck midnight, ringing in the year 1870, the Cartwright family toasted with gratitude the blessings of the previous year and anticipation for the new one. New Year’s wishes were shared generously with kisses and warm embraces. The year 1870 would bring some major changes in the United States. The U.S. congress would establish the federal judicial system and the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution would give African-Americans the right to vote. Though often slow to accept new conventions, there were changes in the western United States as well; some of which were important to the Nevada economy. By late January, Virginia City would be connected to the Transcontinental Railroad at Reno by way of Carson City, a boon to the mining and shipping industry. This was also good timing for Adam who was grateful that only three more stagecoach trips to Reno would most likely be necessary during his family’s transition to San Francisco.

It had been many years since Ben held the love of his life in his arms at the turn of a new year. He thanked God for his wife, Kate. Her love and support gave him a reason to look forward to the coming year rather than fear growing another year older.

“Happy New Year, Kate.” Ben looked intently into his wife’s striking green eyes and gave her an unashamed lengthy kiss.

Joe poked fun at his father. “Alright, Pa! You’ve been married for how many months now?”

Still held securely in Ben’s embrace, Kate looked at Joe and shrugged with upturned hands. “A few months or many years, it will not matter how long we’ve been married, Joseph. If I want to kiss my wife, I will kiss my wife. You might understand that better if you would find yourself a good woman and settle down. Right Adam?”.

“What did you say, Pa? I was too busy kissing my beautiful wife.” A quirk of a smile appeared on Adam’s face just having released his dark-haired Cecille from a kiss. She leaned demurely into Adam’s shoulder, a little embarrassed by the attention they were receiving.

Jamie shook his head. “Pa, you and Adam are hopeless.”

Ben shook his finger at his young son. “Your day will come, Jamie. It looks a lot different on the other side.”

“If you say so, Pa, but I’m going to bed. Goodnight everybody and Happy New Year!”

“Night Jamie. Happy New Year to you.” The family chorused.

“Yeah, think I’ll turn in, too. I’ve had bout all the excitement I can stand for one night.” Hoss gave them a smug grin. “Night all.”

“Night, Hoss.”

“And I’m definitely not stickin’ around to watch the four of you carry on. Night all.” Joe complained.

The two couples laughed and shared another kiss just for Joe’s benefit, then they gave their ‘goodnights’.

Joe waved a dismissive hand toward them and trotted upstairs.

With a teenager’s natural aversion to adult displays of affection, Jamie gladly went to his room for the night. He had noticed, however, the change in his father over the past few months. The irritability and restlessness that had gripped Ben the past summer had disappeared when Kate became part of the family. She had a calming influence on her husband. There had been a lot more smiling and joking and less shouting and nit-picking over tasks not perfectly completed. The truth was that Jamie liked Kate. He appreciated the gentle manner with which she handled the entire family. Even the arrival of Mary and Hannah had not sent Ben back into his funk, but rather had quickened step, mostly out of necessity. Not that there had not been some exasperating moments. Jamie smiled at the thought. At fifteen, he was by no means thinking of marriage and children, still the easy rapport, mutual respect, and genuine love he observed in both married couples in his family, provided him with two wonderful examples of satisfying and fulfilling marriage.

Forever quiet and shy with women, Hoss had grown to accept the possibility that he might never marry. He had loved several women over the years; in fact, he had almost married a number of times, despite his backward way with the fairer sex. Still, he had grown unsure of himself due to his propensity for falling in love with the wrong woman, whether she be sickly, fool-hardy, or opportunistic. Described by his father as having ‘a heart as big as all outdoors’, Hoss poured himself into helping needy folk, especially children, in part by nature and and in part to fill the void in his life. His relationship with Mary was proof of this. And though he was extremely happy for his father and brother, there was sadness in his soul that he kept hidden away from his family. However, there remained a flicker of hope for finding a mate, a partner, a true love, but with each passing year the flame grew more dim.

Though Joe had put on a show of frustration with Ben and Adam, he secretly longed to kiss the love of his life on New Year’s day, and every other day of the year. At times he felt that his family still treated him like a kid, though maybe he occasionally still acted like one. However, he had known love on more than one occasion. Marriage plans had even been in the works, and yet fate had not allowed him to know that blessed wholeness that a woman could provide. The years were quickly passing by. He had a full life in many respects, many reasons to be thankful, but something was missing. Why hadn’t God allowed a woman to come into his life? It was his heart’s desire to find that special someone who could give him the comfort, stability, and fullness of life that his father and brother had found in their wives.

“I think we will turn in as well, since I am leaving TODAY for San Francisco.” Adam gave Cecille a melancholy glance. “Ready, sweetheart?”

She looked sadly at Ben and Kate. “Yes and no.”

Ben and Kate bid them goodnight, but they both noticed the hint of of a smile on Adam’s face as he led Cecille upstairs. Behind the closed door, Adam pulled Cecille into his arms and placed gentle kisses on her forehead, cheeks, and finally her lips. He did not want to rush things knowing it would be weeks until he could hold her again. She was trying so hard to be strong for Adam’s sake, still her eyes filled with tears. He gently fingered them from her cheeks.

“Please don’t cry. I wish you and the children could be with me, but it would be so difficult for you to be stuck in a hotel room this time of year. And it’s a comfort to me to know you won’t have to manage the children alone.” Adam laid out his reasoning.

“I know it’s for the best, Adam. I don’t mean to be like this. I’m just going to miss you so much.” She pressed her head against his chest and holding him tightly around his trim waist.

Adam gently lifted her chin toward his face and looked into Cecille’s dark eyes.

“And I will miss you, Benji and Elizabeth terribly. I would much prefer that you cry than have no feelings about my being gone.” He offered her a quivering smile. “Ceci, I just need some time to get things squared away with the office. Maybe in a few weeks, Pa and Kate would be willing to watch the children so that you could come to Frisco and help me look for a house.”

“That would be wonderful, Adam. You don’t think it would be too much of a burden for them?”

“You let me take care of speaking with Pa. He gazed silently into her eyes for a moment. “I do love you, Ceci. You have completed me in a way I thought no woman ever could.” Adam’s hazel eyes burned with love as he carefully combed through her dark hair with his fingers.

Cecille beamed through her tears. “I love you, Adam, with all my heart.”

Tenderly holding Cecille’s face in his hands, Adam gently ran his thumb over her bottom lip just before placing his lips over hers. Though morning light would come quickly, Adam wanted the pleasure of this night to live in their memories for the weeks to come. He would have plenty of time for sleep in San Francisco.

After the living room cleared, Ben took Kate to the settee and snuggled her into his shoulder. He kissed her on the temple as he looked thoughtfully toward the stairway.

“You know, Kate, it’s rather strange. I used to worry about my sons getting wrapped up with the wrong women, and now we find ourselves going out of our way to make sure that my son…our son, is literally wrapped up with his woman. Ben gave her an embarrassed grin. “They do make a wonderful couple, don’t they?”

“Yes they do. And they have given you…given us two beautiful grandchildren. Hopefully, Hoss and Joe and eventually Jamie will be as happy.”

“Oh, I do hope so. I just wish it wouldn’t take so long, Jamie excluded for now.” Ben chuckled.

“Ah, yes, but good ones are worth the wait, are they not?” Kate’s eyes twinkled in her tease.

“Most definitely.” He stroked her cheek and kissed her tenderly. “You have brought a contentment to my life that I wasn’t sure was possible. I love you more than I can say.”

“And I love you, Ben.” Kate felt cherished and secure in his love.

Ben slipped his fingers into Kate’s coppery hair, then moved his hand behind her head and brought her lips to meet his in a gentle kiss. He gazed momentarily at her face, his eyes glowing with love for her, then he kissed her again with increasing intensity until finally they came away breathless. Ben helped her to her feet.

“I can’t think of a better way to bring in the new year, can you?” He spoke huskily into her neck and wrapped a steadying arm around her, as she was still recovering from his passionate kiss. Kate’s eyes sparkled with anticipation as he guided her toward the stairs.

A little while later, lying in bed, blissfully satisfied, Ben was leaning back on his pillow almost asleep while Kate mindlessly traced patterns on his chest. He brought her hand to his lips.

“I find it interesting that some human males seem to more closely resemble the animal world. Somehow I have managed to produce two sons more hairy than myself and one whose skin is almost as smooth as a baby’s backside.” There was mischief in his eyes. “I believe you prefer the ‘furry’ variety.” He nibbled down her arm with rumbly growl. Kate’s giggle was suddenly stifled by his devouring mouth. Ben abruptly pulled back and looked on Kate with an intensity that rocked her to the core of her being, then he tenderly pressed her palm to his chest. “Making love to you, Kate, gives me unimaginable pleasure, yet it does not begin to compare to the comfort of knowing that I can trust you with the key to my heart.”

With glistening eyes, she gazed into the depths of his fathomless brown pools. No words or actions could have made this moment between husband and wife more precious. Content in body, mind, and spirit, Ben laid back on his pillow settling Kate’s head on his shoulder. Peaceful sleep came quickly.

Early in the morning, Hoss hitched up the buggy preparing to take Adam to Virginia City to catch the stage. There were snow flurries flying in the stiff breeze. The rest of the family said their goodbyes and gave Adam, Cecille, and the children some privacy for their difficult farewell.

Adam stood with his family at the front door. “As much as I would love for all of you to see me off in town, I feel better about you staying back. The wind is very sharp and there is no telling what kind of weather might blow in.”

“Please don’t go, Papa. I want you to stay with us.” Benji pleaded with his father.

Adam placed his hands on his son’s shoulders. “Now son, we’ve been through this. You are the man of the family while I am gone for a few weeks. I am trusting you to take good care of your mother and your sister. Understand?” Adam tried to help Benji keep his emotions in check.

Benji nodded, working hard to keep his lip from quivering as he spoke. “Yes…sir.”

“That’s my boy.” Adam squatted down to embrace his son.

Hoss cracked the front door. “You ready, Adam? We’d better get on the road, just in case this weather turns on us.”

Adam rose up. “Yeah, Hoss, I’ll be right out. I love all of you.” He kissed Elizabeth, who was in Cecille’s arms, ruffling Benji’s curly hair, and then placed a gentle kiss on his wife’s lips. “The time will go by quickly. You’ll see. And I will bring all of you a surprise from San Francisco! Bye now.”

A blast of cold air entered the house as Adam slipped out the door.

“Bye, Papa.” Benji and Elizabeth called to him.

Cecille stood there for a few moments with tears in her eyes, clutching her daughter and son tightly to her. She forced a smile. “Well, now, your Papa would not want us standing around here all day. Benji, we need to work on your reading and counting, and Elizabeth needs help learning her colors. Maybe Mary and Hannah would like to join us today. Come on, now.” Benji followed his mother up the stairs.

Ben was standing at the top of the stairs when they reached the second floor. Cecille paused and looked up into his caring eyes. Knowing that any words would seem trite or forced, Ben placed his hands on her arms and kissed her cheek, gently touched Elizabeth’s face, and gave Benji a pat on the head.

“Thank you, Ben, for understanding. Come children. We have things to do.”

Snow covered the ground by the time Hoss returned in the early afternoon. He stomped and shook the snow from his coat and hat as he bustled through the door. “Brrrrr! Glad ta be home. That fire sure does look good!” He was envious of those seated in the warm living room.

Cecille dropped her knitting and gave him a fretful look. “Is it bad out there, Hoss?”

“Naw, not really. I just ain’t used ta this cold, snowy weather yet, that’s all. Won’t be much fun for Adam ridin’ ta Reno, but he’ll be fine. Don’tcha worry none. Know he can’t wait for the new rail spur ta open.”

“Thanks for taking Adam to town, son. I’m sure it wasn’t very pleasant for you, either.” Ben added.

“Wasn’t any big deal, Pa. Gosh, it’s awful quiet. Where are the young’uns?”

“Hannah and Elizabeth are down for a nap since we were late to bed and early to rise. And as hard as it may be to believe, Benji and Mary are playing school in Cecille and Adam’s room.” Kate watched for his reaction.

Hoss chuckled. “Not surprisin’ for Benji, but I’d be wonderin’ what ya gave Mary to get her ta do that.”

Jamie called from the dining room table where he was doing his homework. “I’d gladly give ’em my homework to do.”

Ben eyed his youngest son. “Yes, well, I think someone definitely took their holiday more seriously than he should have.”

“I’m hopin’ for a bunch of snow. Then I won’t have to worry about this homework for a while.”

“Don’t count your snowflakes before they’ve fallen, young man.”

“Yes, sir.” Jamie ducked his head back into his school book.

Joe was sitting at his father’s desk working on a ledger. “Maybe you should try your hand at these figures, Jamie. I’ve gotten three different answers on three tries. I don’t suppose it would have anything to do with everybody talking so much, would it, Pa?”

Ben felt little sympathy for Joe. “Now you know how I’ve felt for years, Joseph. Probably need to let it rest. We aren’t going to limit our conversation just so you can add a few columns of numbers. Early in the morning, you know your favorite time of day, might work better.” Ben looked at Kate with a wry smile.

“Gee, thanks, Pa. I’ll keep that in mind.” Joe went back to the figures with dismay.

“Oh, I almost forgot the mail.” Hoss walked back toward the door to retrieve it from his coat pocket. “There’s a telegram for ya, Cecille.”

“Really? For me, not for Adam?”

“Mrs. Cecille Cartwright…reckon you’re the only one here by that name.” There was a twinkle in his clear, blue eyes.

“Thank you.” She reached out to take the paper from Hoss. “I can’t imagine who would be contacting me so soon after leaving Boston. Oh, I hope it’s not bad news from home.”Cecille’s hand went to her mouth after reading the wire.

“Is everything alright, dear?” Ben looked on with concern.

‘Uh…yes…well no…I mean…yes. Oh, I’m sorry to be so confusing. My sister, Gabrielle, would like to visit next week. I hope you don’t mind more company.”

“We would welcome the opportunity to have any of your family visit us, Cecille.” Ben responded sincerely.

Kate whole-heartedly agreed. “How lovely, Cecille. What a wonderful surprise for you and the children.”

“Yes, I can’t wait to see Gabbie, but she was to be married in a few months, and now the wedding has been called off. Her fiancé, David, seemed like such a good match for her. I can’t imagine what would have happened.”

Ben looked at his daughter-in-law with sympathy. “I’m very sorry to hear that. Still, it could be for the best if either of them had doubts about the marriage.”

“Maybe she just needs a little time away to sort things out. You will have much to discuss when she arrives.” Kate added, her eyes clouded knowing that she would never be able to share with her own sister, Molly, the joy of being happily married to Ben.

A thought occurred to Ben. “Cecille, I don’t mean to sound inhospitable, but maybe you should wire your sister and recommend that she wait a few weeks to travel west. It would be a much more comfortable trip once the railroad spur is open, and by then Adam could possibly plan to come back for a few days during her stay.”

Cecille liked the idea immediately. “That is an excellent suggestion, Ben. I will write out a message for someone to take to town.”

Joe realized an opportunity might be escaping the men to do some hunting. “Excuse me for changing the subject, but with the snow continuing to fall outside, maybe the men of this family should consider a little hunting trip before we have visitors. We could head to the cabin for a couple of days. What do you say, Pa…Hoss?”

Jamie broke in. “Hey, what about me?”

“Missing a few days at the beginning of the new school term is probably better than later.” Ben conceded. “Kate, could you part with us for a few days?”

“Oh, I think that Cecille and I are pretty capable gals. Don’t you, Cecille?” Kate gave her a wink.

“Why, yes, I think we can manage just fine. I’ve already had a few hours of practice.” Cecille’s smile looked a bit strange with her attempt at sarcasm.

“Well Joseph, it appears we are expendable.” Ben gave Kate his best sad little boy face, for which she dutifully swatted his arm. “We’ll pack tonight and start out early in the morning. Sound alright with you, boys?”

“Sounds like a plan, Pa.” Hoss smiled.

Jamie’s face lit up. “That would be great!”

“Wouldn’t have brought it up if I wasn’t up for it.” Joe gave his father a wide grin.

Ben rose to his feet. “Guess that settles it. I’ll tell Hop Sing to pack three days of food for us.”

Upstairs, Benji was doing his best to keep Mary’s attention focused on learning the alphabet and numbers, but she heard Hoss’ voice downstairs and was determined to have him put the saddle on her pony, Patches, and go for a ride.

“I’m going to see Hoss.” Mary jumped to her feet and walked toward the door.

Benji frowned and called after her. “You’re not done with the ABC’s and numbers.” He could not understand why Mary would not want to learn to read. He could not wait to read on his own the books that his father and mother read to him.

Ignoring Benji, Mary ran downstairs. “Hoss, can we go for a ride?”

“Oh, doll, I just got back from town and it’s bitter out there today. Maybe…” Hoss stopped short of saying ‘tomorrow’, realizing that all the men were leaving early in the morning for the hunting trip.

“PLEASE, Hoss?”

Ben frowned and scolded her. “Now, Mary, it is not polite to beg. Hoss has put in a long, cold day already.”

Jamie felt sorry for the girl. “Tell you what, Mary. I’m ready to be done with studying. I’ll take you and Benji for a ride, but you both better get bundled up real good.”

Mary sadly dropped her head. She really wanted Hoss to take her. Not that she disliked Jamie, but she and Hoss had become best buddies when it came to horses and her pony, and Mary definitely did not feel it was necessary for Benji to get a ride on Patches every single time that she did.

“Really well, son.” Ben corrected. “Mary, what’s the matter? Did you change your mind?” However, Ben was fairly certain what was troubling her. “What do you say to Jamie for offering to take you out for a ride on this unpleasant day?”

“Thank you. I’ll get Benji.” Her monotone voice let them all know she was not entirely happy about the situation.

Jamie watched Mary plod up the stairs. “What’s wrong with her?”

“Nothing you need to worry about, Jamie. Thanks for obliging her.” Kate gave Ben a look of concern. She did not want to hurt Jamie or Cecille with any further discussion.

Jamie saddled both his horse, Rainmaker, and Patches, thinking it best to have Benji and Mary take turns riding each animal. First he put Mary on Patches and handed her the reins. He kept a lead rope on the pony just to be safe. Then he hoisted Benji onto his horse and led both animals out into the snow-covered yard. Jamie climbed into the saddle behind Benji and walked both animals, circling the area between and house and the barn. Mary was hoping for a more scenic ride, but after a few minutes in the saddle, her interest in riding waned. Though well bundled, she was already cold. Her stubborn nature would not let her abandon the ride too quickly. However, Jamie noticed the discomfort of both children, and suggested that Benji and Mary switch animals. Neither child voiced disapproval, so Jamie quickly helped them to change places and took a few more turns around the yard.

“You two had enough?” He hoped that they had because he was more than ready to get out of the biting wind.

Both children nodded. Jamie dismounted and led the animals back into the barn and then helped the children down. Mary immediately took off back toward the house.

“Whoa there, Mary. Just where do you think you’re going? I know it’s cold out here, but you need to help with Patches. This was your idea and he is your pony, remember?”

Mary stopped, looked at Jamie, nodded, and grudgingly came back. He took care of the pony’s saddle, but handed her the blanket and had her hang it over the stall. Then he gave her a rag and Benji a brush.

“Here, wipe Patches down. He is wet from the snow and it’s really cold. Benji you can give him a little brushing after Mary is done.”

Mary frowned. Most days she was more than happy to care for Patches, but today she was just plain cold and not enthused with the responsibility that went with having a pony. Still, she knew there would be no rides on Patches or any of the other horses if Jamie reported to Hoss or Uncle Ben that she had not helped; so she went to work drying her pony. Benji, on the other hand, was glad to help, demonstrating the responsible nature he had inherited from his father.

Later that evening after the children were in bed, Hoss asked Ben to join him for a cup of coffee in the kitchen.

“What’s on your mind, son?” Ben filled two cups with coffee.

“Pa, since Smokey is going to care for the animals while we’re gone, I asked him ta come get Mary ta help with the chickens and take care of Patches. And he will take her for a ride, too, as long as the weather is decent. Hope Kate’s alright with that. Maybe she could kinda keep it a secret til tomorrow.”

“Thanks, son. I am sure both Mary and Kate will be happy about that arrangement. How does Smokey feel about it?”

“Well, I offered ta sweeten his pay this month by ten dollars for the extra trouble.”

“That’s very generous of you.”

“Just figured it would help Mary keep up her part of the bargain with the pony, and maybe get her out of everybody’s hair for a little bit each day.”

Ben laughed . “Good thinking. I am positive Kate will appreciate that. I will let her know.”

Ben brought up the subject of the hunting trip once Kate and he were settled in bed for the night. “Kate, I hope you and Cecille don’t mind being abandoned by the men of the family. It’s been quite a while since I’ve taken a hunting trip with the boys. I really feel that I owe it to Jamie. One never knows how many years you will have with your sons. I’ve been very fortunate to have had Hoss and Joe here for this long.”

“Ben, you have no reason to feel guilty about taking a few days for a hunting trip. We will be fine. And even though the boys have never said anything, I’m sure they must feel at times like I’ve taken you away from them.”

“Oh, they’re fine, Kate. In fact, Hoss wanted me to let you know that he made an arrangement with Smokey to help Mary feed the chickens, care for Patches and even take her on a ride if the weather is suitable. He will come to the house in the morning and late afternoon to get her. It will make a nice surprise for her.”

“Oh Ben, that was so thoughtful. Be sure to give Hoss my thanks.”

“It was his way of making sure Mary kept up with her responsibilities and hopefully make her easier for you to handle while we are gone.”

“He is very sweet. Mary is incredibly fortunate to have that special friendship with him.”

“Yes, she is. I actually think he will miss her. I’d like to think that someone might miss me, too…just a little bit?” Ben looked on her with questioning brows.

“Whatever do you mean?” Her eyes twinkled with mischief. “Is there some reason I might miss you?”

“Well, now, if you can’t think of one, I just may have to give you a little help. Ben nuzzled Kate’s neck.

Long before it was light, Ben attempted to slip quietly out of bed. However, Kate roused when she felt him sit up and she reached out to pull him back. “I’ll be expecting antelope stew and lots of this when you return.” She gave him an impassioned kiss.

Kate felt, more than heard, the laughter that rumbled from deep within her husband. “Love you. Stay warm. Leaning over, he kissed her forehead.

She groaned and wrapped the covers tightly around her, when the cold air met her warm body as Ben left the bed. He stirred the coals in the fireplace and added two logs, then he dressed quickly, and carried his boots with him into the hall hoping to make as little noise as possible.

Expecting Hoss or Joe when he heard a door open, Ben was surprised to see Mary hurriedly padding toward him. He whispered to the sleepy-eyed girl. “What are you doing up so early, young lady?” Then he scooped her up with his free arm and kissed her warm cheek. Mary did not say a word, just hugged his neck and laid her head on his shoulder. Ben rolled his eyes. What’s a man to do?

There was already a fire blazing in the hearth, the sure sign that Hop Sing was up and about, and busy in the kitchen. Ben plopped Mary on the settee and covered her with the wool throw that laid nearby, and then he sat down in his chair to put his boots on.

Ben conceded looking into the dark-haired little girl’s bright eyes. “I guess you might as well join the boys and I for breakfast, Mary.”

Mary smiled and shouted. “Yea!”

“Shhh! Keep it down.” Ben waved his hand and brought a finger to his lips. “Not everyone wants to be awake this early.”

With boots in hand, Hoss and Joe soon joined them downstairs.

“What are you doin’ up, little cricket?” Hoss sat down in the blue chair to slip his boots on.

“Eating breakfast with you!” Mary smiled up at him.

Joe just shook his head in disbelief while Hoss attempted to cover his laughter. “You would never have caught me up this early when I was your age. I barely made it this morning.”

“That’s not true Joseph. I distinctly remember that you had an uncanny ability to survive on very little sleep as a small child, but something changed about the time you started to school. Suddenly, we couldn’t pry you out of bed in the morning.” Ben replayed in his mind days gone by.

“Yeah, I wish I had a nickel for every time Pa sent me upstairs ta roust your backside outta bed. I’d be a rich man.” Hoss huffed.

“Guess I just got smarter.” Joe cackled.

“Joseph!” Ben reprimanded in his loudest possible whisper.

Joe brought his finger to his lips. “Sh, right Pa. Gotta keep it down.”

Mary smiled at their antics, happy that she was awake to be part of them.

Joe looked around the room. “Speaking of late risers, where’s Jamie?”

Ben knocked on the bedroom door just off the dining room. Jamie had volunteered to take that room while Adam’s family was staying at the Ponderosa. A muffled ‘coming Pa’ could be heard through the closed door. “Get the move on, Jamie. The rest of us are ready to eat.”

Jamie bustled out just as Hop Sing brought steaming platters of eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, and toast to the table.

When Hoss saw Jamie’s uncooperative, wavy red hair in disarray, he looked at the teen with a straight face. “Good thing you’re gonna put a hat on that head, otherwise ya just might scare the antelope away.”

Joe snickered as he chewed his mouthful of eggs, and Ben smiled into his cup of coffee. Jamie scowled, attempting to comb down his hair with his fingers.

“Morning, Jamie.” Mary piped.

Jamie gave the girl an incredulous look, thinking it just was not right for someone to be that congenial so early in the morning. “Why are you up so early?”

“I was hungry.” Mary went back to chewing on a piece of bacon.

Jamie shook his head as he dropped into the chair beside her and began rapidly filling his plate.

After the Cartwright men finished their breakfast, they bundled up and prepared to ride out. Just before leaving the house, Ben put Mary in the blue chair and handed her a picture book from the shelf. “Now, young lady, you stay put until Aunt Kate or Cecille comes down. Do not go into the kitchen, or outside. Understand?” Mary pouted, but nodded that she understood, wondering why Uncle Ben always told her the things she could not do, instead of the things that she could do. “Please be a good girl while we’re gone. I will see you in a few days.” He placed a kiss on her dark hair.

“Bye.” Mary was saddened by the unfairness of it all thinking that it was always men and boys that got to have all the fun.

Streaks of light were breaking into the dark sky as Ben and his sons headed toward the hunting cabin near the southeast shore of Tahoe. There were a few inches of snow on the ground, but the wind was calm making the cold much more bearable than the previous day. The Cartwright men hoped it was a good omen for a productive hunting trip.


Chapter 2


Kate hurried down the stairs with Hannah in her arms when she did not find Mary in the girls’ bedroom. Much to Kate’s relief, Mary was asleep in the blue chair.

Hannah pointed to her sister. “Marwee sweeping.”

Mary’s eyes fluttered open at the sound of Hannah’s voice.

“How long have you been down here?” Kate asked.

Mary gave a sleepy reply. “Ate breakfast with Uncle Ben…Hoss…Joe…Jamie.”

“Well then, you need to get dressed so you can go do your chores.” She tried to contain her smile perceiving what was coming next.

“No chores. Jamie and Hoss gone hunting.” Mary looked forlorn, her chin practically resting on her chest.

“Mary, I have a surprise for you. Smokey is going to help you do your chores. You remember Smokey, don’t you?”

“Yep! He chased the rooster away!” Mary answered with a wide grin.

“That’s right. Come on. Let’s get you dressed.” Kate took Mary’s hand and led her toward the stairway.

Before long, Smokey knocked on the door. “Mornin’ Miz Cartwright.” He gave Kate a slight tip of his hat. “Is Mary ready ta go ta work?” There was an embarrassed smile creeping on the scruffy ranch hand’s face.

“Yes, thanks, Smokey. I’ll send her right out.” She was about to close the door and then remembered something. “Oh, Smokey…”

“Yes ma’am?”

“Would either you or Gypsum be able to take a telegram into town for us?”

“Sure ma’am. I kin do it after chores are done.”

“Thank you so much. I’ll have it ready for you when you bring Mary back to the house.”

“Yes ma’am.”

In a few minutes Smokey and Mary were crunching through the snow on their way to the barn. “Hey there, little gal, remember me?”

“Yep! You chased the rooster.” Mary was struggling to keep up with the man’s long strides.

“That’s right. We’ll feed the chickens first. Don’t let ’em out of the coop when it’s cold an’ snowy. We’ll just fill some tins.”

Smokey grabbed a couple of tin pans and a small bag of feed in the barn. Mary followed him to the chicken house and helped pour the feed into the pans. Then they went back to barn to care for Patches.

“Do you want to ride him first or is it too cold for ya?”

Mary looked up at Smokey with surprise. “I can ride?”

Though not accustomed to being around children, his leathery face crinkled into a smile. “Sure, if you want to. Probly better now than later.”

“Ok.” She gave him a big smile.

Smokey saddled the pony, helped Mary into the saddle, and led them out of the barn.

He suddenly realized that Hoss had failed to mention how competent Mary was at handling the pony. “Can ya ride yourself or should I lead him?”

Mary now had an opportunity that none of the family members had ever given her. “I’m a big girl. I can do it myself.” She stated it more confidently than she actually felt.

Smokey watched from near the corral as she gave Patches a little kick, and the pony trotted slowly toward the house. After making the turn, Mary tightened her grip on the reins and gave the pony a good kick. Patches took off at a fast clip heading toward the road.

“Hey, there! You come back here ya little scamp!” Smokey yelled and gave chase.

He came to a stop at the road, realizing there was no way he could catch them on foot with snow on the ground. Mary was holding on for dear life while vigorously bouncing up and down in the saddle. Somehow she managed to keep hold of the reins and grab on to the saddle horn. Soon Patches slowed having received no further encouragement from his rider to keep up the fast gait. Mary pulled back on the reins and the pony came to a stop. Frightened, she sat for a moment before turning the pony back toward the barn. Giving Patches a light kick, the pony headed back. Smokey had watched Mary the entire time, determined that he would only go get his horse if Mary got out of sight. He grabbed the pony’s bridle when it reached the barn.

Smokey gave Mary a hard look.” Now what kinda fool trick was that, takin’ off down the road, and me with no horse. Are ya trying ta get me in trouble?” He reached out and pulled her out of the saddle.

Mary looked down at the ground afraid to look at him. “Wanted to ride on the road.”

“Well ya better not try that again, or that will be the end of your ridin’ with me. You got that, little gal?”

Mary nodded. “Sorry.” She dug the toe of her boot into the snow.

“Alright then. Let’s git this pony cared for.” Smokey took Patches by the bridle and led the pony into the barn.

Smokey removed the pony’s saddle, blanket, and bridle, and then he handed Mary a brush. She started brushing her pony, then turned to the ranch hand with tears in her eyes. “Don’t tell Aunt Kate.” Mary pleaded. “Please! I’ll be a good girl!”

Smokey hesitated. “Oh alright!” He turned away from her, very uncomfortable with a tearful child. “Guess nobody got hurt.”

“Thanks!” Mary chirped. She gave her cheeks a quick swipe with her sleeve and hugged her pony’s neck.

Smokey shook his head wondering how in the world he had let Hoss talk him into working with a little girl. This sure ain’t worth no ten dollars. They fed and watered Patches and then Smokey took Mary back to the house. “Can ya go get your aunt?”

Mary nodded and went inside. Soon Kate appeared in the doorway. “Everything go ok, Smokey?” Kate had noticed that Mary avoided looking directly at her when she came in.

“Yeah, sure.” Smokey was struggling with making it sound convincing.

Kate picked up on his uncertainty. “You’re sure?”

“Yeah, fine. Do ya have that telegram, ma’am? I better get on my way ta town.”

“Yes, thank you, Smokey.” Kate handed him the piece of paper. “So we’ll look for you again later this afternoon.”

“Yeah, I’ll come git her, ma’am.” He touched the paper to his hat and turned toward the bunkhouse.

Kate called after him. “Thanks again.”

Mary had managed to get out of her coat and was standing by the fire when Kate closed the door.

“Mary, I need to speak with you, please.” Kate walked over to the fireplace. “Did something happen while you were doing the chores?”

Mary stood silently staring at the fire.

“Mary I need for you to look at me. Did you do something you were not supposed to do?”

She slowly turned toward her aunt, wondering how it was that grownups always knew when you did something bad even when no one told them.

“Mary, what did you do?”

The child’s voice was barely audible. “Took Patches on the road.”

“You took Patches out on the road even though Smokey told you not to?”

“Didn’t say.”

“Oh, I understand. You thought that since Smokey didn’t say anything about where you could ride Patches, you could just ride off down the road. Is that it?”

Mary nodded, looking at the floor.

“Mary you know better than that. You took advantage of Smokey and that was wrong. Fortunately you did not fall off your pony and get hurt.” Kate took Mary’s face in her hands and forced the little girl to look directly at her. “Mary, I know you are disappointed that Hoss and Jamie are not here to help you do the things you like to do, but Hoss asked Smokey to help and you need to be good for him just like you would with Hoss or Jamie. Understand?”

Mary eyes filled with tears. Kate was struggling to keep her voice firm, but there was still more that needed to be said.

“Hoss did this especially for you because he cares for you, so I will give it another try. But if I find out that you are giving Smokey any more trouble, that will be the end until Hoss gets back. He would be very upset if he knew you were not behaving for Smokey; so let’s not let that happen again. OK?”

Mary nodded and wrapped her arms around Kate’s legs.

With her hands on Mary’s head and shoulders, Kate hugged the little girl tightly to her. “Mary I know grownups say ‘no’ a lot, but it’s because we care about you and don’t want you to get hurt. Please remember that. Now run on upstairs. Hannah, Benji and Elizabeth are playing in your room.”

A weary smile came over Kate’s face when Mary took off like a shot for the stairs. Kate released a heavy sigh. Yes, Mary, enough with the scolding, but somehow we’ve got to help you channel all this determination for good instead of rebellion. Ben has done this before. I just hope he has the endurance to help me see this through with you.

Ben and the boys reached the cabin by mid morning. Normally an easy ride in good weather, they had taken their time getting there since Jamie was not nearly as experienced as the others at handling a snowy ride. They checked in and around the cabin for any signs of unwelcome guests, whether two or four-legged. Finding none, they unloaded their supplies and bedrolls. The cabin was sparsely furnished with two sets of bunks, a small cookstove, a table and four chairs, and a narrow cupboard that held a lamp, a frying pan, a few dishes and some utensils. Hoss got a fire going in the stove to warm up the cabin and prepare for lunch. Ben put on some coffee to brew and set the buckets of stew that Hop Sing had sent for their lunch to heat up on the stove. Jamie wolfed down his stew, chomping at the bit to start hunting. He had snared many rabbits and shot some squirrels, but this was his first time to hunt larger game. Ben and his older sons had already determined that Jamie would have the first crack at whatever turned up. So when the others had finished eating and were warmed up, they left the cabin, ready to ride down to the lake to look for signs of wildlife.

Jamie was already out of range when Ben spoke to Hoss and Joe as they were getting into the saddle. “So which one of you is going to give him the ‘patience’ speech?” He looked at his sons with a knowing smile. Ben had been down this road a few times already; three to be exact.

Joe gave his father a lop-sided grin. “I’ll go, Pa, since you probably wore it out on me.”

Hoss let out a guffaw. “Ain’t that the truth.”

Ben chuckled as Joe rode off after Jamie.

Jamie was struggling to get his rifle out of the scabbard when Joe caught up to him near the edge of the lake. “Did you see it, Joe?” He shouted over his shoulder, excitedly.

“See what, Jame?”

“Not sure, but it was big, whatever it was. Maybe an elk.”

“Well, Jamie, maybe if you had approached the water a little slower, you might have got a better look at it, maybe even got a shot at it. Patience is real important when you’re hunting, Jamie. Sometimes you only get one chance and you want to make the most of it. You don’t usually see animals at the water this time of day, mostly in the early morning or just before dark.”

“Come on then, let’s try to catch up to it!” There was an urgency in Jamie’s voice.

Joe could relate to how Jamie felt but had learned much over the years from his father and older brothers. “How about let’s just get down and have a look around first, nice and easy. Another thing you have to remember is that animals have really good ears and noses. They will hear you from a long way’s off and smell you if you’re up wind from them. Believe me, I remember how excited I was the first time Pa took me on a hunting trip. I also remember a lot of missed opportunities because I was in such a hurry.”

Hoss and Ben soon joined them, dismounting near the shoreline.

Hoss examined the tracks in the slushy ground near the water’s edge. “Looks like an elk. Did ya get a look at it?”

Jamie looked at his big brother with disappointment. “Just it’s back end. Too far away to get a real good look.”

Ben clapped a hand on Jamie’s back. “Joe, why don’t you and Jamie follow the tracks for a ways on foot. Hoss and I will do some more looking around here.”

With rifles in hand, Joe and Jamie took off up the slope into the trees. Hoss and Ben scoured the shoreline for signs of life, but found nothing of significance. Jamie and Joe returned to the lake when the grade became too steep to continue on foot in the snow.

“Maybe we should split up. Jamie, why don’t you go with Hoss for now. Let’s meet in the trees above that boulder that sits in the water.” Ben pointed to a spot beyond where the shoreline curved to the right. “We’ve put down too much scent here. It’s unlikely any animal would stop at this place. Try to be back about an hour before sunset.”

The boys nodded and took off on horseback. However, the signs of game they found all led to higher ground. With only a few hours until they were supposed to meet at the lake, there was not nearly enough time to follow the leads. Ben and his sons assembled at the appointed time and place to watch for activity, but there was none.

Hoss patted his large middle and complained. “Might as well head back ta the cabin. My belly’s growlin’.”

Ben agreed. “Sounds good. We still have two more days. Let’s plan to get an early start tomorrow.”

Back at the ranch, the late afternoon chores were completed without incident. In fact, the good-hearted Smokey attempted to carry on a conversation with Mary despite the aggravation she had caused him in the morning. The only issue was Benji’s request to join them. He was tired of being cooped up inside. Unhappy when his mother told him he could not go to the barn, Cecille reminded him that the pony was Mary’s responsibility.

“So you like havin’ a pony, do ya Mary?”, Smokey took note of how Mary brushed Patches with gentleness and care.

“Yep! Patches looks like Cooch!”

“Sure does. Well ya ride pretty good for a young gal. Maybe you’ll have a fast horse like Cochise when ya get bigger.”

Mary gave him a wide grin. Smokey was not Hoss, but Mary was beginning to think that maybe he was not so bad, after all. Smokey returned Mary to the house after the chores were done. This time Kate believed him when he said all went well.

The children were unusually quiet at the dinner table. Things did not seem quite right to them without the men of the family. Benji seemed especially out of sorts, feeling very out numbered by the female family members and greatly missing his father.

Kate made an attempt to lighten the mood. “I know someone who is going to have a birthday soon. Can you guess who it is?”

Benji perked up. “Me!”

“Yes, Benji, your birthday is soon, but it’s not the next one.”

The boy hung his head, this piece of news not helping his mood.

“Me!” Mary looked at her aunt with hopeful eyes.

“No, not yet. Your birthday is a few months away.

Benji gave Mary a satisfied look, glad to know that her birthday was not the next one to be celebrated.

Noticing her son’s frustration, Cecille attempted to give him a chance to shine. “How many days are there in a week, Benji?”

Mentally Benji counted through the days of the week. “Seven!”

“Very good, Benji.” Kate encouraged. “I think you will be good with numbers like your father.” Benji beamed proudly at his mother. Mary shot him a fiery look, not appreciating the praise her aunt had given him. Elizabeth and Hannah were still too young to remember their previous birthdays or those of their siblings. “Hannah’s birthday is January 14th, less than two weeks away.”

“Me! Hannah!” The curly headed blond pointed excitedly at herself.

“Yes, Hannah, and we will have a party and birthday cake.”

“Cake!” The children shouted in expectation.

“Presents!” Mary’s eyes had a dreamy look.

“Yes, but this time they will be for Hannah.”

Mary was happier knowing it was her sister’s birthday rather than Benji or Elizabeth’s. At least Hannah would be willing to share her presents.

Beans, bacon, and the few remaining biscuits were on the menu for supper back at the cabin. Joe and Jamie climbed into the top bunks not long thereafter. Ben sat puffing thoughtfully on his pipe, thankful that he had remembered to pack it along for the trip. Hoss sat half dozing, with his legs stretched out toward the warm stove.

“Would have been nice to have some fresh meat.” Joe offered, a bit disappointed with their lack of success.

“Don’t sound so melancholy, Joseph. You can always have fresh meat.” Ben chuckled.

“Oh, I know, Pa, but it’s just different when you catch it yourself.”

“Sorry, I didn’t get a shot at that elk.” Jamie added with dismay.

“Goodness I did not come all the way out here to listen to a bunch of sad sacks complain. The main reason for taking a trip like this is to spend time together as men. Right, Hoss?” Ben looked at his big son for some back up.

Very nearly out, Hoss roused with a snort. “Uh…right Pa…sure…whatever you say, Pa.” He quickly spit out his typical ‘Pa’ reply even though he had no clue what his father had said.

Joe’s cackle reverberated around the walls of the cabin and Ben’s guffaws shook the crossbeams. Jamie held onto his bunk, fearful that the whole place was going to come down around his ears. Hoss just stared at his father and brothers in total confusion, which made them laugh all the harder. Soon Hoss was laughing along with the others.

Worn out and sore from laughing, Ben slapped Hoss on the shoulder. “Guess we should turn in so we can get an early start in the morning.”

A giggle broke the silence once Ben and Hoss were settled in their bunks.

“Joseph, please, enough already.” Ben punched his pillow and put his arm over his ear.

Joe had difficulty containing his snickering. “Sorry, Pa. I’ll try harder.”

Fortunately, they had all fallen asleep before Hoss began snoring in earnest.


Chapter 3


Early the following morning, Ben and the boys rode up into the hills due east of the lake, hoping to find some game in one of the high meadows. Though possible, the probability of seeing a lot of large game this time of year on Ponderosa land was small. With the exception of buffalo, Ben cared little for wild meat, having his fill of it on his journey west. He could easily be content eating Ponderosa beef and the meat of the other domesticated animals they raised on the ranch. On the other hand, Joe and Jamie seemed totally absorbed in the hunt. However, Ben questioned whether Hoss’ heart was in it this time. Other families needed game to keep food on the table; the Cartwrights did not. And Hoss’ natural love of animals had always made him hesitant to arbitrarily end the life of one of God’s creatures. Still, the older Cartwrights understood that there were many life lessons that could be taken away from a trip such as this one. Jamie was well on his way to becoming a fine man. He was kind-hearted and hard-working, yet he had a stubborn streak, most likely the key element of his personality that helped him survive as an orphan but also the main reason he and his father locked horns on occasions.

As they approached an opening in the forest, Joe caught up to Jamie. He kept his voice low as he instructed his younger brother. “Go slow when you get close to the meadow and stay in the trees. Don’t move out in the open. We’ll leave the horses in the trees. Ok, Jame?”

Jamie nodded that he understood and let Joe lead the way. Once they were within twenty yards of the forest’s edge, Joe dismounted Cochise and pulled his rifle from the scabbard. The others followed his lead, moving carefully toward the clearing. Joe checked the movement of the trees for the wind direction. When the field of view opened up, a small herd of about fifteen female and young elk could be seen pawing away the snow and nibbling at the vegetation. They were casually grazing less than a hundred yards from where the men were standing. Joe pointed out one of the largest females to Jamie. “Let’s move out to get a better shot. Remember to move slow and easy. When I nod, you take your shot.”

Carefully Joe and Jamie moved forward leaving Ben and Hoss by the trees to watch. Joe noticed some anxious movement in the herd and nodded to Jamie to shoot. Jamie took aim, but suddenly the gravity of the situation made him have second thoughts. The previous afternoon he had just reacted, the animal near the lake had taken him by surprise. Today it had a totally different feel, unlike snaring a rabbit or shooting a squirrel or bird. These were big, beautiful animals and the thought that the female he was drawing a bead on might be carrying a calf made him even more uncomfortable. Joe stood beside him with his rifle trained on the doe, looking back and forth from his target to Jamie.

Joe whispered with urgency and a building frustration. “Jamie, take your shot.”

Jamie took a deep breath and then brought his rifle down. Joe aimed and fired. The female took a few steps and dropped as the herd scattered and ran for the trees.

“Jamie? Are you alright?” Joe looked at his brother and wondered whether he should have shot the animal.

Jamie stood with his head down, rifle barrel touching the ground. “I…I…just…”

Ben placed a hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “Joseph, go take care of your kill.”

Joe went to retrieve the bags for the meat from his saddlebag. Hoss stayed back from his father and Jamie, taking in the beauty surrounding him and wishing there was something he could do to help his youngest brother.

“I’m sorry, Pa…I couldn’t…”

“Jamie, you have no reason to feel sorry for not wanting to take the life of an animal that would never harm you.” Ben tried to offer some comfort for Jamie’s troubled mind.

“But…but what about, Joe?”

“Every man must come to grips with the reality of his actions. The death of this animal will give life. We will eat the meat or share it with someone in need. We will not waste it. What we leave behind will give life to a wolf or a cougar. And so goes the cycle of life.” His father had stated it with perfect clarity.

Jamie nodded and walked slowly, with shoulders sagging, back into the trees toward his horse. For the moment he could not reconcile his actions in his mind. He ate meat every day, and that thought did not repulse him. But he had never participated in the slaughter of a large animal, and he knew without a doubt that it would be impossible to watch Joe cut up the elk without getting sick. Embarrassed by his actions or lack of action, Jamie was certain that Hoss and Joe would think him weak, and wonder why they had bothered to bring him along. He leaned against Rainmaker, wanting to ride off on his own.

Hoss came up quietly behind him. “There’s probly nothin’ I can say ta make ya feel better right now, Jamie, but I just want ya ta know that I think ya made the right choice not to shoot the elk.”

Jamie spat out. “But you would have shot it.”

“Maybe, if I felt the need to.”

“So was Joe wrong to shoot it since we don’t really need it?” The teen was still trying to make sense of it all.

Hoss paused in thought, then continued. “There are certain things in this life that always have a right or wrong answer. With this, I think Joe did the right thing for him and you did the right thing for you. That don’t mean that you will never shoot an elk or some other animal. I just think today wasn’t the day for it ta happen, that’s all.”

Jamie nodded, somewhat comforted knowing that Hoss did not seem to think less of him for not shooting the elk.

Meanwhile, Ben had walked over to where Joe was dressing out the doe. “Is Jamie ok, Pa?”

“Oh there’s a battle going on inside him, but I believe he will work it out. A little encouragement from you could go a long way to speed the process.” Ben remembered back to times when Joe had been the one on the receiving end of his brother’s advice.

Joe nodded. “Sure, Pa…If you all want to head back to the cabin, don’t feel like you need to wait on me. I’ll be fine.”

“Alright, Joe. See you in a while.”

When Joe reached the cabin, he took the bags of meat and suspended them from a tree branch near the horses’ lean-to. The horses would give warning if any unwelcome guests showed interest in elk meat.

Joe peeked his head inside the cabin door. “Hey, Jame, grab your coat. Let’s take a walk.”

Jamie sighed and gave Ben an uncertain glance before putting on his coat, hat, and gloves. Hoss and Ben looked at each other, the understanding in their eyes spoke volumes. Jamie joined Joe outside and they walked for a time in silence, only the crunch of the snow resounding with each step.

Joe finally broke the silence. “Do you want to talk about what happened, Jame?”

“Joe, I wanted to shoot…but…it just didn’t feel right. Does that make any sense?”

“Sure it does. “You’ll know when the time is right. I’m not going to push you. Sorry if it seemed like that.”

“It’s ok. Just don’t know about tomorrow. What if there’s another chance and I freeze up?” Jamie looked at his brother with concern.

“Don’t worry about tomorrow when it’s still today! Right now I’m hungry. Let’s get back to the cabin and get something to eat.” Joe grinned. Then he reached down and grabbed up some snow, rapidly packed it into a ball and nailed his brother squarely in the chest.

Jamie hollered. “Hey, what’s that for?”

“Cause you’re my brother, goofball!” Joe ran away before Jamie could arm himself.

Jamie grabbed some snow while running toward the cabin and fired the ball at his brother. Joe ducked and it exploded on the cabin door as he narrowly escaped inside with a giggle.

Laughing and shaking his head, Jamie took in a deep breath releasing some of the tension that had its grip on him after the incident with the elk.

Back at the ranch house, the atmosphere was becoming as chilly as the temperature outdoors. Normally quite amiable, even Hannah and Elizabeth were at odds, fussing over dolls, blocks, the rocking horse, and anything else that the one had that the other wanted. The women found it difficult to understand why the men’s absence seemed to be having such an effect on all the children.

Kate decided they needed a fun activity to break the monotony. “Cecille, have you ever made snow ice cream?”

“I have eaten it, but never made it myself. Of course in Boston, it is made with maple syrup. Will you use brown sugar?”

Kate nodded to her. “Yes, exactly. Well I am going to check with Hop Sing about getting the ingredients together. Then we can bundle up the children and collect the snow, much more than we really need, just to give them something to do.”

“That sounds like a good idea. Maybe getting them out in the fresh air will help their dispositions.”

“One can always hope.” Kate gave her a weary smile.

A few minutes later, Hop Sing looked at Kate with a doubtful expression when she explained what she had planned.

“You’re just going to have to trust me on this, Hop Sing. It will be delicious.” Kate continued with her instructions. “Just fill this pan about two-thirds full with milk. Add a cup of brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a small piece of cinnamon. Then heat it just enough to dissolve the brown sugar and set it outside to cool off. I will take care of the rest.”

Hop Sing frowned, unaccustomed to being told what to do in HIS kitchen, but he followed her instructions and completed the task.

Once outside, Kate taught the children to play ‘Fox and Geese’. They laughed and giggled until breathless, chasing each other around the patterned path she made in the snow. When they grew tired of the game, Kate and Cecille helped them carefully collect snow for the ice cream.

Kate paused at the kitchen door. “Cecille, if you take the children in and get them out of their wraps, I will bring the ice cream to the table in a few minutes.”

“Certainly. Come children. Let’s go in so we can have our treat.” She gathered them toward the front door as Kate disappeared into the kitchen.

The children were all seated at the table anxiously waiting for the ice cream by the time Kate arrived with several small bowls on a tray. Hop Sing came carrying a tray with cups of hot chocolate.

“I think you are going to like this.” Kate smiled over her shoulder at Hop Sing. The cook had given his approval when Kate offered him a taste moments earlier.

The children made satisfied noises as they rapidly ate the ice cream and drank the hot chocolate.

Noticing how rapidly the ice cream was disappearing, Kate gave a warning. “Don’t eat too fast. You will get a headache!”

Cecille was enjoying the tasty treat as well. “This is very good, Kate, different from what I remember as a child, but good none the less.”

“Thank you. Glad you like it. I think we will have to make it again when the men return.” Kate raised a creamy spoonful to her daughter-in-law.

Cecille suddenly became preoccupied with the contents of her bowl. Kate’s mention of the men returning home had her wishing that Adam would be returning with them.

Kate reached over and touched Cecille’s arm when she realized what her daughter-in-law must be thinking. Kate tried not to draw the children’s attention as she spoke quietly. “This is a difficult time for you. I did not mean to be so thoughtless. Hopefully you will get a telegram from Adam soon.”

Cecille nodded, willing away the tears that were building in her eyes. “Thank you.”

The hunters came up empty the following day. Joe had purposefully avoided going back to the meadow where he had shot the elk. As a result, Jamie felt that it was his fault they were not taking home any more game. That thought ate on him most of the night.

After breakfast the next morning, the Cartwright men packed up for the trip back to the ranch.

Jamie announced in frustration. “I’m going back to the lake for one last look.” He gave Rainmaker a hard kick and was gone before the others could speak.

“Jamie! We’re ready to leave!” Ben yelled after him and then sighed heavily.

“I’ll bring him back, Pa.” Hoss gave Chub a kick.

This time Jamie slowed as he approached the water. To his surprise, the lone elk buck was drinking at the shore. Jamie dismounted and pulled his rifle, but just that slight amount of noise caused the buck to suddenly look up and take off into the trees. Jamie ran forward, stopped and fired a shot that missed its target. He ran back, mounted his horse and rode up into the trees.

“Jamie! Hold Up!” Hoss shouted. “Jamie, don’t!”

Jamie pushed Rainmaker up the slope, but the horse balked at the slippery footing and reared up to the point that the young man could not hold on to his rifle in one hand and the reins in the other. He slid off the back-end of his horse crumpling his left ankle on a rock. Fortunately his horse stepped away or Jamie could have been crushed. Unable to ride Chub any farther up the slope, Hoss reined up within ten yards of where Jamie laid writhing in pain. The big man got down and climbed up the rest of the way on foot.

Hoss was puffing hard by the time he made it to Jamie. “Are ya ok?”

“Ahhh! It’s my ankle! Hurts a lot!” Jamie gritted his teeth in pain. He winced and let out a groan when Hoss carefully moved his ankle.

“I don’t think it’s broke, but you messed it up pretty good.” Hoss grabbed Jamie’s rifle. “Hold out your hands.” Hoss proceeded to empty the cartridges into Jamie’s hands, then he took the bullets, stashed them in his pocket and handed the rifle back to Jamie. “This is going ta be a little tricky. I’ll hold ya up on the side you’re hurt and you can use the rifle butt to help on the other side. Are ya ready?”

Jamie took a deep breath and nodded.

“Ok. Here we go.”

Hoss and Jamie managed to carefully step and slide their way down to Chub. Both of them leaned against the horse to catch their breath. Chub let Jamie mount from the wrong side with Hoss’ help. In the meantime, Rainmaker had made his way back to the shoreline.

Hoss patted his horse on the neck. “Alright, you ride on down to Rain. I’ll come down on foot.”

Within a few minutes, Hoss was down by the water helping Jamie slide from Chub onto Rainmaker.

Hearing a shot fired, Ben and Joe had grown anxious to find out what was going on and came riding up.

Hoss explained to them. “He took a tumble. Left ankle is banged up, but I don’t think it’s broke.”

Ben got down from Buck to have a look. He pressed firmly up and down Jamie’s ankle and lower leg. “It’s already starting to swell. I’m afraid we’re going to have to take your boot off or we will end up cutting it off later.”, Ben sighed. “I’m afraid that this is going to hurt, son.” Ben removed the boot as gently as he could, while Jamie gripped the saddle horn with a vengeance, but was determined not to cry out in pain. Ben tossed Jamie’s boot up to Joe and then went to retrieve an extra pair of socks from his saddle bag. He slid both socks on Jamie’s injured foot. “It’s going to be a long ride home, son. Let me know if your foot starts to go numb.” Ben was trying hard to keep calm.

After they had ridden for a couple of hours and the terrain was beginning to level out, Ben told Hoss and Joe to ride on ahead a little way so he could speak with Jamie. “I don’t know exactly what happened back there, but I imagine either you or Hoss will tell me at some point. They rode on, neither of them looking at the other. “This much I do know with certainty, Jamie. The measure of a man has much more to do with his making good decisions than his accomplishments. You are part of this family regardless of what you do or don’t do. Nothing will ever change that. Just keep that in mind, son.”

Kate dropped her mending and hurried to the door when she heard footsteps on the porch. She swung the door open ready to give Ben and the boys a happy greeting and found Ben supporting a hobbling Jamie.

“My goodness! Jamie, what happened?” Kate looked at her young stepson with concern.

He muttered without looking at her. “Slipped on a rock and twisted my ankle.”

“Nothing a few days rest won’t cure.” Ben helped Jamie hobble into his room.

Kate watched from the doorway as Ben released Jamie so he could get out his coat, then he hopped one-footed over to his bed to sit down.

“Comfortable, son?” Ben reached down and removed the boot from his uninjured foot and helping him get settled.

“Yeah, thanks Pa.” There was weariness and frustration in Jamie’s voice.

“I will let you know when I’m done bathing and have the tub ready for you. Some warm water may help loosen up that ankle.” Ben took Kate by the elbow and closed the door behind them. “Don’t worry Kate, it was just a little accident. He will be fine.” He walked back to the door to shed his coat and hat, and set his gun belt on the credenza. “Hope you didn’t have your heart set on antelope stew since we brought back elk. Now how about a kiss for your weary hunter.” He gave her a lop-sided grin.

Kate reached up to caress his heavily stubbled cheek and received a very scratchy kiss. “I’ve never seen you with this much growth. Even as ‘Ben Brown’ you shaved most days, but I do remember you being more ‘fragrant’ back then.” She wrinkled her nose at the memory.

Ben laughed. “It’s the scent of a man!”

“More like a dirty, stinky, cowpoke.”

“Yes, well, there are positive aspects to cold weather. Still, I don’t remember that you were very concerned about how I smelled that first time you were in my arms.” There was a twinkle in his eyes.

“I must not have been thinking straight. You had me all confused, not knowing whether you were Ben Brown or Ben Cartwright.”

“True enough.” He chuckled. “So DID you miss me?” He pulled her close despite his present state.

“Well of course, I did.” She smacked her hands on his chest and pretended to push him away. “What woman in her right mind would want to sleep in a big old, cold bed all by herself.” She wagged her head saucily, her eyes full of merry mischief.

“I will be more than happy to remedy that problem this…” The sound of little feet running in the upstairs hallway and then down the stairs suddenly drowned out Ben’s sultry commentary. “More on that subject later.” He gave her a wink.

Turning around, he went down on one knee, and opened his arms wide to the foursome that was rapidly arriving on the main floor.

“Uncle Ben! Grandfather!” They happily greeted him.

“Uncle.” Mary glared at Benji.

“Grandfather.” Benji looked back at her with equal intensity.

“Well now, I am both Grandfather and Uncle, and I am very happy to see all of you, but I would prefer that we have no quarreling.” He gave Mary and Benji stern looks. Both children dropped their heads not wanting to disappoint him. His face softened quickly. “Oh, I missed all of you so much.” Ben wrapped them up in one giant, tight hug and jostling them around, trying to help them forget the previous moment’s scolding.

There were giggles and groans, and lots of squirming, before Ben released them.

“Unca Ben has scatchee face.” Hannah made her pronouncement as she rubbed her chubby palm against his cheek.

“Yes I have a scratchy face, Hannah, and I am going to go take care of that right now.” He stood and patted their heads before taking the stairs in quick steps to collect some fresh clothes.

Cecille had been watching the touching scene from top of the stairs. “Welcome home, Ben. Did you have a good trip?”

“Thank you, Cecille. For the most part, yes, and I will be happy to fill in the details when I look a little more presentable.” Ben gave his daughter-in-law a wry smile as his hands swept down his not so fresh clothing.

Cecille nodded and chuckled.

Kate prepared herself to be bombarded with the children’s responses. “Who would like some milk and cookies?”

“Me! Me! I do! Me, too!” They shouted.

“All right then, go sit down at the table, and I will see what Hop Sing has for you today.”

“Let me give you a hand.” Cecille offered.

“Thanks”

The ladies were met by four grinning faces and much happy chatter when they returned to the dining room table with a plate of cookies and five glasses of milk.

“Would you be able to handle this rowdy group for a few minutes. I have a delivery to make.” Kate placed two cookies on a napkin and reached for a glass of milk.

“I am sure I can manage.”

Kate knocked on Jamie’s door. “Jamie, it’s Kate. May I come in?”

He answered sullenly. “Yeah, sure.”

“Thought you might be hungry.” She walked in and placed the cookies and milk on his bedside stand.

“Not so much, but thanks anyway.” He would have preferred to remain alone.

“I’m sorry things didn’t go the way you would have liked, but I am glad you got to spend some time with your father and brothers. I’m sure you didn’t miss having to put up with a bunch of women and children.” Kate gave him a smirk.

Just a hint of a smile came to Jamie’s lips.

“Well, I will let you get some rest before your father chases you into the wash-room.” Kate turned for the door, then looked back when she heard him call.

“Kate…thanks.” Jamie raised the cookie in his hand toward her.

“You’re welcome. See you at supper.”

All the men had bathed and donned fresh attire by suppertime. Hop Sing prepared a stew using some of the elk meat from the hunting trip. The children were in better spirits and the conversation was lively. Only Jamie seemed more quiet than usual.

Hop Sing came in to clear away some of the dishes and Kate touched his arm. “The stew was absolutely delicious, Hop Sing!. You must tell me your secret.” Kate gave him a hopeful look.

“Hop Sing not tell just anyone, but for you, Missy Kate, Hop Sing tell secret.” He grinned, pleased to be praised by her for his culinary skills.

“Wonderful!”

Ben leaned over and whispered to her. “Well, now, Missy Kate. You have managed to get in the good graces of Hop Sing. That is no small feat!”

“So who do we have to thank for providing our meat for this grand meal.” Kate asked merrily.

Joe looked around the table at his brothers and father. “I got the elk, Kate. Glad you enjoyed it.”

Upon seeing the looks on the faces of Ben and the boys, she glanced at Ben with knitted brows and whispered. “Did I say something wrong, Ben?”

“No, no. It’s fine.” He tried to cover her embarrassment. “I’ll explain later.” Ben broke the uncomfortable silence. “So, children, tell me what you’ve done while we were gone.”

Benji spoke up. “We made snow ice cream.”

The little girls all added their affirmation. “Yum! It was good! Mmm Mmmm.”

“I believe we are having some for dessert this evening.” Cecille added.

“Well, I’ve not had that since…well longer than I care to remember. What a tasty treat. I am looking forward to it.” Ben was working to keep the pleasant conversation going.

Soon Hop Sing brought out dishes of snow ice cream with a small molasses cookie standing in the top of each serving.

Hoss rubbed his hands together. “Don’t that look fine.”

It was quiet again, but this time because the entire family was thoroughly enjoying the dessert.

After dinner they were peacefully congregated in the living room, Kate and Cecille grateful for the change from the past few days. In the blue chair, Hoss held Elizabeth and Hannah in his lap as they paged through a picture book. Joe was attempting the teach Benji to play checkers. Ben sat contemplatively drawing on his pipe as Kate and Cecille worked on their handwork. Mary sat curiously watching as Jamie braided a leather riata for his saddle. Before long, the little girls and Hoss were asleep.

Cecille looking at her sleeping daughter. “Benji it’s time for bed. Elizabeth is already asleep.”

“Awww Mama. Not yet!”

“Yes, now. Look at your sister. I believe everyone will be turning in early. It’s been a long day. Come now.” She gently extracted Elizabeth from Hoss’ arms.

He jerked awake. “Sorry. Musta dozed off.” Hoss stretched his free arm and yawned.

Kate moved to pick up Hannah. “Come Mary. Your bedtime, too.”

Mary pouted even though she knew there was no point complaining.

“Kate, I will be up shortly to say goodnight to the girls. Goodnight Cecille. Benji come give your grandfather a hug, please.” He wrapped his arms around the boy who reminded him so much of Adam at that age it was frightening. “Pleasant dreams, Benjamin.”

Kate and Ben retired for the evening after tucking Mary and Hannah into bed. Kate snuggled close to Ben, relishing the warmth of his body . “I believe you have some explaining to do. I felt like a piece of laundry flapping in the breeze tonight at the table this evening.” Her eyes flashed with the memory.

Ben gave a sleepy chuckle. “Oh Kate, it really wasn’t all that bad. Let’s just suffice it to say that this trip was more about meaty life lessons than bringing meat home. That’s all.” Ben put a kiss in her hair.

“Well that is a bit vague. You wouldn’t care to explain further?” She kissed his cheek.

“Not at the moment, my love. I just want to fall asleep with you in my arms, grateful that Hoss is sleeping in another room.” His voice trailed off.

Kate stifled her laughter and whispered. “Rest well, dear.”


Chapter 4


So the cold winter days of January began to blend together. Cecille was greatly comforted to finally get a telegram from Adam. Though missing his family, he said that all was going well and that a letter with more details was forthcoming. The next bright spot on the horizon was Hannah’s third birthday celebration, but Kate was struggling with the preparations for the party. She was saddened to think that Hannah’s memories of her parents were probably gone since she had stopped mentioning anything about her Mama and Papa. This spurred Kate on to make the celebration a memorable one. Yet she did not want it to be overly extravagant for the sake of the other children. Back in December, Kate had arranged with Clara Norton to make a new dress for Hannah’s big day. And of course, Hop Sing would make a delicious cake for the occasion. In their spare time, Hoss and Joe had been working on a doll cradle for the new doll that Ben and Kate had purchased for her. Hannah had her rag doll that she slept with, but this new doll would grow with her, accumulate new outfits over the years, and maybe even have a carriage. Cecille was knitting a blanket for the doll, Hannah’s gift from Adam’s family. Ben and Kate did purchase a few extras hoping to keep ‘The Green-eyed Monster’ at bay. There was a small top for Benji, a miniature horse that Kate painted to look like Patches for Mary, and a tiny stuffed rabbit made with real fur for Elizabeth. In addition, all the children would receive a few pieces of penny candy. Since Hannah was receiving ‘girl’ gifts, Kate doubted there would be issues with Benji, just as long as Mary did not ‘stir the pot’. So, when Mary began to show signs of being difficult the day of the party, Kate took her aside.

Kate placed her hands firmly on Mary’s shoulders. “Now Mary, this is Hannah’s birthday, not yours. I know that is a hard thing for you, but Uncle Ben and I are not going to allow you to spoil it for her.”

The dark-haired girl looked at the floor.

“I want you to look at me, Mary.”

The little girl brought her head up, but would not look Kate directly in the eyes.

“I don’t want to do it, because it would make me very sad, but if you cause problems, you will have to miss the party and sit by yourself in your room. Do you understand?”

The little girl hung her head again and nodded.

‘Now, let’s put on a happy face and go get dressed in your Christmas dress for the party.” Kate gave her a smile, trying to recover from the gloom and doom of her previous statements.

Soon the family was assembled for dinner, the men in their white shirts and string ties, the ladies and little girls in their holiday dresses, save the birthday girl. Hannah could not have looked more adorable. Her dress was a navy and medium blue floral print trimmed with light blue lace and bows at the neckline and hem, and matching ribbons for her blond curls. Her outfit brought out her already sparkling blue eyes that danced with excitement for her special celebration. Hannah ran from Ben to each of his sons to get a birthday hug and kiss. So sweet and endearing, they would have kissed her even if it had not been her birthday. Ben called everyone to the table. Hop Sing brought out Hannah’s favorites: fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, cooked carrots, and corn bread.

Ben smiled at his young niece. “Well, now, I believe someone is having a birthday today. Does anyone know who that might be?”

“Hannah!” The children shouted.

“My burfday! I’m fwree!” Hannah joyously informed them by holding up three fingers by forcing her pinky finger down with the opposite hand. Her enthusiasm elicited laughter from the adults.

“That’s right, Hannah, you are three years old. My, you’re getting to be such a big girl. We are so happy to be able to celebrate your birthday. I see lots of good food here that you like. Are you hungry?” Ben’s eyes were twinkling.

“I’m hungry! Let’s eat!” Hannah declared.

Ben chuckled. “The birthday girl has spoken. You may begin.”

They enjoyed pleasant conversation with their meal, with the exception of Mary who ate in subdued silence. Kate gave her an encouraging smile, but Mary just continued to eat with almost no expression on her face. This worried Kate, thinking that maybe she had been too hard on the four-year old.

Kate made an announcement when they finished the meal. “I think it’s time for presents.”

The family moved to the living room. Ben sat in his chair, privileged to hold the birthday girl his lap. Mary sat with Hoss in the blue chair. Cecille held Elizabeth and Benji sat beside her on the settee. Joe and Jamie sat on the edge of the hearth. Kate handed the children their little gifts and candy so they would have something to keep them occupied while Hannah opened her gifts.

Mary grinned and showed Hoss her little horse. “Hoss, it’s Patches.”

Benji held up his toy for his mother to see. “Look, Mama, a top.”

“Bunny, Mama, a bunny.”, Elizabeth held it front of her mother’s face.

“Yes, yes, how nice, children. What do who you say?”

“Thank you.” The two young Cartwrights replied.

Mary looked at Kate and smiled. “Thank you.”

Hannah looked at her candy and then gave Ben a worried look.

“Not to worry, Hannah. Your presents are over there.” Ben pointed to three much larger gifts sitting by the fireplace. She gave him a big smile of relief. “Alright, Joe, would you hand me that box, please?” Joe handed his father a long rectangular box with a bright pink bow. “This is from Aunt Kate and me.”

He helped her to open the box. Inside was a rosy-cheeked, curly-headed blond doll dressed in a dress that matched her birthday outfit. Hannah snatched the doll from the box and hugged it tightly to her.

“A Hannah dowwee.” She held the doll out in front of herself, gazed on it, and then wrapping her arms around it in pure delight.

“Isn’t that amazing, Hannah, your doll looks just like you.” Ben looked lovingly at Kate.

Kate glanced away, slightly embarrassed.

“Here, Hannah, let’s see what’s in this one.” Joe handed her a soft square package wrapped in floral paper.

“Bwlanket for dowwee.” The little girl laid it carefully over her new doll.

Elizabeth hopped down from her mother’s lap and went over to Hannah. She pointed to the blanket. “Mama…”

In a split second, Mary was next to Elizabeth. “That’s Hannah’s.” Mary shouted and knocked Elizabeth forcefully to the floor between Ben’s chair and settee.

The incident took everyone by surprise. Kate jumped up to gather Elizabeth into her arms.

Benji launched himself off the settee. “Don’t push my sister!” He gave Mary a hard push backwards.

Joe’s quick reaction kept Mary from falling against the fireplace and being seriously injured. Mary turned in Joe’s arms to give Benji a fiery glare.

Ben reflexively clamped a large hand on Benji’s shoulder. “That is not the way a young gentleman should act.” His voice was stern, quite accustomed to dealing with unruly boys.

But the hurt in Benji’s eyes suddenly made him realize that in his grandson’s mind he had crossed the line between grandparent and parent, with his mother present in the room. Ben released Benji and the child immediately ran to his mother and hid his face in the skirt of her dress. Ben looked at Ceciile with regret. Joe was not sure who he felt most sorry for; Elizabeth, Benji, his father, or Cecille, taking in the situation with visible empathy.

“There, there, Elizabeth. I’m sorry you were knocked down.” Kate tried to console the crying child.

With two of the other three children in tears, Hannah turned to Ben with tears building in her eyes and buried her head in his chest.

“Mama made…Mama made…Mama made bwanket for Hannah.” Elizabeth finally managed to get her words out between sobs.

It suddenly became clear that from the beginning all Elizabeth had wanted to do was tell Hannah that her mother had made the blanket for her.

“Here, Elizabeth come to Mama.” Cecille held out her arms to the tearful child. “Let’s go upstairs”, guiding Benji to the stairway.

Ben and Kate looked at each other with disbelief and uncertainty, wondering how the happy affair could have gone so far awry. Frustration began to take hold of Kate. “Mary come here please.” The little girl walked carefully toward her aunt. “Are you hurt, Mary?” There was an edge in Kate’s voice. Mary shook her head that she had not been hurt. “In that case, you march yourself up to your room.” Kate left no doubt that the girl was in trouble.

Mary ran up the stairs hoping for a few minutes reprieve before her punishment was meted out.

“Boys, why don’t you go ahead and give Hannah your gift.” Ben placed comforting hand on her head. “I know playing with dolls is not exactly your strong suit, but it would be helpful if the three of you would keep her occupied for a few minutes. Kate and I have some ‘issues’ to take care of.” Ben sighed.

He handed Hannah off to Joe and took Kate’s elbow and accompianied her up the stairs. They paused briefly in the upstairs hallway and Ben whispered to her. “I will speak to Cecille if you think that you can handle Mary.” Kate nodded. “Remember to take a deep breath before going into her room.” He gave his wife a weak smile.

Cecille sat on her bed trying to comfort her children. She was not sure how to feel about the entire situation. Elizabeth had done nothing wrong and Benji was just trying to protect her. Cecille thought to herself. Oh, that Mary can be so galling!

She was beginning to get angry; angry with Mary for hurting Elizabeth, angry with Kate for having a niece who would act that way, angry with Ben for hurting her son, and finally angry with Adam for leaving her in this wasteland called Nevada when she should be with him in San Francisco. So when Ben knocked on her door, she was not really in the mood to talk to him.

“Cecille, may I come in, please?” Ben asked in a soft voice.

She hesitated, then answered flatly. “Yes.”

Ben walked toward Cecille and the children. He laid his hand on Elizabeth’s dark hair. “Are you feeling better sweetheart?” Ben leaned down to kiss the top of her head, then the little girl responded with a hiccup and a nod. “Cecille, I believe it is obvious now that this whole affair began with a childish misunderstanding. I am sure that Kate will ask Mary to apologize to Elizabeth, but it may be a while til that happens.” Ben paused and took a deep breath. “The last thing I want is for a simple misunderstanding to cause long-term family discord. I am sorry for over-stepping my bounds with Benji. I know that things would have been different had Adam been present. I am afraid that I just reacted, but still I was out of line, and I apologize.

Even though upset, Cecille could not refuse his apology. He was actually being very gracious. Would that her own father could have been more like Ben when she was growing up. “I accept your apology, Ben. I should have stepped in, but it was all quite shocking and it happened so fast.” Cecille conceded.

“As is often the case with children. They seldom give us fair warning.” He gave his daughter-in-law a faint smile. “Do you think that we could try to put this behind us…for Hannah’s sake? There is still a birthday cake downstairs that needs to be eaten. What do you say Benji, would you like some cake?”

Benji was standing beside his mother with his head down. When Ben mentioned cake, he looked up with anticipation and gave his grandfather a grin. Ben opened his arms to the boy. Benji took a flying leap toward Ben who caught him and hugged him tightly to his chest.

“Hey, you get much bigger, and you’ll knock your grandfather to the floor. Oops, guess that was a poor joke.” He gave Cecille a sheepish look.

Cecille laughed at his faux pax.

Ben ruffled Benji’s curly dark hair. “Take a few minutes and then we will see you downstairs.”

While Ben was smoothing things over with Cecille and the children, Kate was laying down the law to Mary. The little girl was sitting on the edge of her bed, tears running down her face with Kate on her knees in front of her. “Elizabeth was telling Hannah that her Mama made the blanket. She was not going to hurt Hannah and she was not going to take her presents. And even if she had, you do not push other children. We can’t have that in this house. Do you understand?” Kate’s voice grew louder with each statement. “Tomorrow you will have to tell Elizabeth that you are sorry for hurting her. What did I say would happen if you did not behave?”

“Stay in my room.” Mary moaned at the thought.

“That’s right. I’m sorry that you will not get to eat birthday cake, but that’s the way it is since you did not listen.”

“Can I have cake tomorrow?” Mary pleaded.

“I don’t know if there will be any left. You will just have to wait and see.” Kate rose and went toward the door. “I will tuck you in when I bring Hannah up to bed.” Kate closed the door behind her. Kate was exhausted, the façade she had put on to deal with Mary was beginning to crumble.

There was a faint yet unmistakable sound of crying when Ben stepped out of Cecille’s room, not the weeping of a child, but of a woman. Having just left Cecille, that only left one other possibility. Ben opened the door to his room and found Kate face down on the bed in tears. He felt like he was running from one emotional crisis to another. [i]What is this world coming to?[/i] This was so unlike Kate. He drew in a deep breath and knelt beside the bed. “Kate, sweetheart, what is the matter, love?” He placed a comforting hand on her back.

“Oh Ben, I’m sorry. You don’t need this. I’m just so frustrated.” She sobbed. “I wanted everything to be perfect for Hannah’s birthday, but now it’s been ruined and family members have hurt feelings. I just want to scream.” The volume of her voice increasing.

“Shhh, Kate, shhhh. It will be alright. Come here.” He pulled her toward him. Kate sat up and let Ben hold her for a moment. Then he pushed her back, fingered away her tears, and gazed into her green eyes. “I patched things up with Cecille and the children, so stop worrying about that. Yes, we will have to deal with the ‘chief plan foiler’ down the hall, but Kate none of what happened was your fault; you planned a wonderful party for Hannah. With children, one can never know what is lurking around the corner, whether heart-warming or heart-breaking. Trust me I understand your frustration. There were days when I would not have given three cents for the whole lot of my boys. That is the nature of the beast. You can only keep loving them and urging them on to be people of good character.” He rose and poured some water into the basin.”Come, wash your face. There is a little girl downstairs waiting to have birthday cake.”

Kate stood and placed her hands on his chest.

“Thank you. I needed to hear that.” She kissed his lips.

Ben took her face in his hands. “Just remember when everything else is turned upside-down, you can count on this.” He gave her a full kiss. “I love you, Kate. See you downstairs in a few minutes.”

Despite the chaos, Hannah was thrilled with her gifts, rocking her doll in the cradle and happily chattering away to Jamie and Joe when Kate returned to the living room. Fortunately Hannah was young enough not to be greatly bothered by the earlier upheaval in the celebration, provided someone was paying attention to her. Kate went to the kitchen and told Hop Sing they were ready for the cake, then she called everyone to the table. She lit three candles on the cake inscribed with ‘Happy Birthday, Hannah, and a big number three.

“‘Happy Birthday, to you’…” Kate led the family in song and the others quickly joined in.

Hannah was beaming when they finished singing to her. Kate served the cake and they enjoyed it immensely despite the earlier events of the evening.

Once the others went back to the living room to relax, Kate smuggled two pieces of cake into the kitchen. “Hop Sing, here is a piece of cake for you. It was delicious as usual. Thank you for making it for Hannah.” She offered him the cake and a warm smile.

“You’re welcome, Missy Kate. Who other piece for?”

“This is for Mary to have tomorrow after lunch. I’m afraid she was sent to her room for the evening.”

“Too bad for little Miss to not be at party. I will put away cake for tomorrow.” Hop Sing’s face reflected the dismay that Kate was feeling.

“Thank you, Hop Sing.” Then Kate rejoined the group in the living room.

The rest of the evening went smoothly, with Hannah and Elizabeth even play acting with the doll and the bunny. Upstairs a dark-haired girl had cried herself to sleep. Mary woke when Kate brought Hannah to bed. The girls quickly did their bedtime rituals and crawled into bed. Kate turned down the lamp and bid them goodnight.

Hannah fell right to sleep after having such a big day, however, Mary had slept a couple of hours during the party, and now she was wide awake. She listened carefully to each bedroom door open and close. When she no longer heard family members moving about she slowly opened her door and peeked down the hall. Then she tiptoed carefully down the back stairway and into the kitchen. The lamp was burning low on the table; so she turned it up slightly. As quietly as possible for a four-year old, she searched for any leftover cake. Hearing unfamiliar sounds in the kitchen, Hop Sing came from his room.

Though he knew the answer to his question, he asked quietly, “What you doing here little Miss?”

Mary jumped in surprise. Her head dropped as she confessed. “Looking for cake.”

Hop Sing shook his head. “Missy Kate sent you to bed because you were bad that’s why you not get cake.” Mary nodded. Though cantankerous at times and definitely not keen on having children underfoot, Hop Sing could not imagine what Mary could have done that would have kept her from sharing in her sister’s birthday cake with the rest of the family. “Are you sorry for being bad, little Miss?”

“Yes.”

“You be good tomorrow and not cause trouble?” Hop Sing pressed on.

Mary answered honestly. “I’ll try.”

Hop Sing almost cracked a smile at her response. “Then Hop Sing give you cake, but it our secret.”

Mary looked up at Hop Sing in wonder, and then ran and wrapped her arms around his legs.

“No! No! You sit at table, little Miss.” He pried the little girl loose from his body.

A very happy little girl was grinning at Hop Sing when he returned with her piece of cake and a glass of milk. He sat down across the table from her.

“Cake good little Miss?”

Mary nodded, her mouth too full to respond.

When finished, she wiped her mouth with the napkin that he handed to her.

“Remember, our secret. Now you go to bed.” Hop Sing directed toward the back stairs.

“Thanks!” She called over her shoulder before exiting the kitchen.

Only then did Hop Sing smile.

After lunch the following day, Kate asked Hop Sing for Mary’s piece of cake.

“Hop Sing not know where it go. Maybe Mr. Hoss eat it.” The cook felt no remorse for accusing Hoss given all the times the big man sneaked food from kitchen. He remained focused on the pot he was stirring on the stove.

Kate frowned. “That’s too bad. Well, at least I didn’t make a promise to Mary.” It struck her as strange that the piece of cake had just disappeared from Hop Sing’s kitchen and that Mary had not even once asked for cake today. “Hop Sing?”

“Yes, Missy Kate, you need something?” He kept his back to her and continued stirring the pot.

“Never mind. I think I found what I was looking for.” A knowing smile came over her face. Hop Sing and Mary in cahoots. Nooooo. Who would believe it?


Chapter 5


That afternoon while the girls were playing upstairs, the ladies were sitting in the living room, enjoying some time to themselves; Kate doing some mending and Cecille working on a piece of needlepoint. Things had been slightly awkward since the mayhem at the party the previous day; so when Ben offered to take Benji with him into town, Cecille gladly accepted, giving Mary and Benji some time apart. Kate had made certain that Mary apologized to Elizabeth and Cecille required the same of Benji with Mary. Still Kate was hoping to have some time alone with Cecille, just to make sure there were no hard feelings between them.

Kate spoke finally breaking the silence. “It’s nice to have some peace and quiet after a busy and not entirely happy day yesterday.”

“Hannah didn’t seem to be too upset by it all. She loved her gifts and her cake.” Cecille observed. “Kate…I just want to say that I am sorry for overreacting yesterday. With Adam gone, I’m just not dealing with things very well.” She released a heavy sigh. “Benji and Mary are just children and they are going to act like children. I’ve been a parent long enough to know that…” She paused on the verge of stating what was at the heart of her troubles. Once the dam was breached, her words came flowing forth. “But, Boston is all I’ve ever known. My family and friends are there. At the moment, I have no home to call my own. I just feel…lost. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. You and Ben have been so gracious.”

Kate allowed her a moment to compose herself. “Cecille, please don’t feel guilty about this. I can truly understand what you mean. When I first came here to live with Ben everything went very well. But later I grew frustrated because I wasn’t doing the things I was accustomed to doing. Give me a garden to hoe, meals to prepare, laundry to wash. I know how to handle that. Suddenly I was doing none of that. And then when Mary and Hannah came, oh my goodness! I had never really been a parent in the sense of raising children. Days like yesterday show me how ill prepared I was for the task of raising little girls. Thank God for Ben. He helps me keep some perspective when things aren’t going well. But then I feel guilty because he has me to deal with as well as the girls. So yes, Cecille, I may not have the same set of circumstances, but I can relate to your feelings and frustrations. My life has been one change after another for the past several months.” Kate hoped that her explanation let her daughter-in-law know that she understood.

“Thank you for sharing that with me, I know you didn’t have to, but it helps to know that someone understands.” Cecille hesitated, but then proceeded with uncertainty. “But you are happy, aren’t you, Kate?”

Kate gave her a warm smile. “Very much so. Ben is a wonderful husband, and as difficult as Mary can be at times, she can also be very loving. I do not in any way regret bringing the girls into the family. Now, I’m not so sure you would get the same answer from Hoss, Joe, or Jamie on any given day. You will just have to ask them about that!” Kate’s laughter rang out into the room.

“Adam told me a bit about how Ben met you, but you know how men are. I would really enjoy hearing the story from you. That is, if you don’t mind telling it?” There was a curious smile on her face, but she was genuinely desiring a distraction from her troubles.

“Oh my, yes, Ben and I still have moments when we laugh about it.” Kate chuckled. “Well, if you are in the mood for a saga, I am willing to tell it.”

“Absolutely.”

“I probably need to go back a little farther. My first husband John and I came west from Indiana several years ago to try our hand at ranching. We bought a ranch up toward Reno and were doing reasonably well, but then we began having some problems with a man named Cass Breckenridge. Breckenridge was managing a new section of the Ponderosa for Ben, but definitely not as Ben would have wanted. Anyway, when John confronted Breckenridge about cattle rustling and damage to our property, he had his cronies beat John so badly that he died a month later from the injuries.” There was sadness in Kate’s voice.

“How dreadful! I’m so sorry!” Cecille looked at her in disbelief. It quickly put her own problems in their proper proportion. “And the law did nothing? What did you do?”

“I am afraid not. They said there was no proof. Well, I stayed on the ranch because felt I owed it to John not to give up, so with the help of our lead hired hand and any others that were brave enough to stay on, I tried to keep things going.” Kate took a deep breath remembering the difficulties of that time of her life.

Cecille’s respect for Kate’s strength and endurance took a giant leap forward.

“Then one day last summer Ben showed up, walking a lame horse and looking like any other shabby saddle tramp you might see around a cattle ranch.” A quirky smile appeared on Kate’s lips.

Cecille nodded. “Yes, I remember now Adam saying something about this. I just can’t envision Ben that way. He always takes such pride in his appearance.”

“Let’s just say he had been going through a bit of a rough patch here at home and needed some time away.”

“A rough patch?” Cecille looked at Kate with an arched brow.

Kate went on to explain. “Cecille, Ben is fifty-five years old. The boys have taken on the bulk of the responsibilities here over time, and his role is changing. Last summer, he was finding that a bit difficult to accept.”

“I can understand that. He has obviously worked very hard through the years to build such a fine and successful ranch.”

“Yes he has, years of work. Well, back to my ranch. Ben was calling himself ‘Ben Brown’ and came to work for me in payment for a place to stay and some medicine for his lame horse, but I had my lead hand offer him a job and Ben accepted.”

“It is hard for me to imagine Ben taking a job as a common ranch hand under a false identity. You truly had no idea who he was?” Cecille was shocked.

“I had no idea that he was Ben Cartwright, but I definitely knew the name Ben Cartwright since our land bordered the Ponderosa, and all I had was contempt for it because of the tie to Cass Breckenridge.”

“Really?” Cecille asked, incredulous.

“You have to understand, Cecille, that Cass Breckenridge was basically stealing rancher’s cattle and land in that area all in the name of the Ponderosa, but Ben had no knowledge of what was going on until he came to work for me.” Kate looked at her sincerely. “Oh Cecille, this is getting very long and drawn out. Are you sure you want to listen to the entire tale?”

“Definitely. Please don’t rush. I am enjoying this immensely.”

“Alright then. In a last attempt to run me off my ranch, Breckenridge set my house on fire. Ben ‘Brown’ with the help of a hand named Cactus, who used to work here on the Ponderosa, put Breckenridge out of commission. But you can’t even begin to imagine my shock when Ben told me his real name.”

“Well of course not. What did you do? What did you say?” Cecille was anxious to hear more.

“I will never forget it. We were standing in my smoke-filled kitchen when he told me. I wanted to pound my fists on his chest and tell him that I hated him for all the pain and suffering I had endured. But when he looked at me and told me that he was sorry for everything that had happened and that he would take care me and my ranch, I could not help but believe him…His eyes were so full of sorrow and love…I ran to him and he held me until I stopped crying.” Kate’s voice dropped to a whisper. “And then he kissed me.” For a moment, she was lost in the memory, looking out into nowhere, replaying the tender scene in her mind.

Cecille’s hands came up to her lips as she looked at Kate. “How unbelievably romantic. It sounds like something from a fairytale.” She proceeded tentatively. “Is that when you fell in love with Ben?”

It took Kate a bit to recover. Then she shook the memory from her head and gave Cecille a look of embarrassment. “Uh, sorry. Uh, I believe that was the beginning for me, but I wasn’t sure until he came back a few weeks later to do some repairs on the ranch. I knew without a doubt when he was laying in my bed recovering from a gunshot wound. He had taken the bullet trying to protect me from a worthless young ranch hand that had threatened me.”

“How awful, with everything else you had been through! I’m so glad Ben was there to defend you!” Cecille stated emphatically.

“He asked me to marry him about a week later. We had known each other a little over a month, but at our age you hopefully know what you want in a mate. He told me once after we were married that it was pretty much love at first sight for him, which I find very hard to believe because I was pointing a loaded shotgun at him the night he showed up on my doorstep!” Kate’s eyes danced with merriment.

“Seriously?”

Kate nodded and paused for a moment. “Ben is strong, yet tender, wise, compassionate, hard working, and on top of all that, quite handsome!”

“And thankfully he passed on those good looks to his son!” Cecille gave her a definitive nod.

“Indeed…Cecille, you’ve allowed me to prattle on for some time. I think it is your turn. Please, tell me how you met Adam?”

Cecille hesitated. “Ben hasn’t spoken about Adam leaving home?”

“Very little. I think it was a difficult time for him, but please don’t let that keep you from telling me your story.”

Cecille took a deep breath. “About seven years ago Adam returned to Boston. Though his grandfather was gone by then, Boston was comfortable and familiar to him from his time at the university. He still had a few acquaintances at the school and they helped him make the connection with the architectural firm where he is now a partner. My father owns a shipping company, and he engaged Adam’s firm to design a building for his company. Adam did those drawings.”

“So, your father introduced you to Adam?”

“No, not directly. We did not meet until the building was complete. Daddy threw a huge party to celebrate the opening of the building. Our entire family was there. I have two older brothers who are involved in the business, and also my younger sister Gabrielle, who will be visiting soon. Adam was among the many people who were invited to the party.”

“Am I right in guessing that you had a very good time at that party?” Kate gave her a funny little smile.

“As a matter of fact, I did. It was actually my brother Tom that introduced me to Adam. He was so handsome and his manners were impeccable. At first I could barely find words to carry on a conversation. He thought that I was so cultured being a life long Bostonian; I was only twenty-two at the time. We found a quiet spot in the hall where the party was being held and talked the night away. Tom had to come tell us that the family carriage was about to leave, but before we said our good nights Adam asked if he could come to call. I desperately wanted to say yes, but at that time my father had to give his ascent to any gentleman callers. I didn’t want to, but I had to put Adam off temporarily. He was a bit surprised given my obvious age, yet he was very gracious about it.” Cecille’s memories of that time were both pleasant and frustrating.

“You have not mentioned your mother.”

“My mother passed away when I was twelve. Even though I was almost a teenager, Daddy brought in a governess for Gabbie and I. Mind you, Mother always had housekeepers, cooks, and gardeners; so it seemed like the natural thing for him to do. Truthfully, Gabbie and I hated it. The governess was paid to make sure we did everything just the way Daddy wanted. With Mother, we could at least occasionally change her mind or get away with something.” There was a definite edge to Cecille’s voice.

“I am very sorry to hear that you lost your mother so young. It sounds like you had a life of privilege.”

“Yes, Kate, that is true, but wealth does not necessarily secure happiness. My parents’ marriage seemed more like a business contract to me. My father has always been quite strict and demanding, never affectionate. I have envied Adam’s relationship with Ben.”

Kate was somewhat surprised by Cecille’s directness concerning her relationship with her father. “Ben does love his sons deeply, of that I am certain. But please go on.”

“Fortunately, Adam did not wait to hear from me and set up an appointment with my father. Daddy was surprised, but he respected Adam’s work and was impressed that Adam had the courage to come to him directly. Daddy gave his permission, Adam called on me the next day, and we were married two months later. We were madly in love and couldn’t bear the thought of waiting any longer. Daddy thought that we should have waited a few more months, but Adam persuaded him. He can be most persuasive when he wants to be.” A knowing smile came to Cecille’s face.

“So I’ve heard.” Kate chuckled. “Now I will give your question back to you. Are you happy, Cecille?”

“Happy with my marriage and my family, yes, most definitely. It’s the present circumstances I am struggling with. I want to be in San Francisco with Adam, finding a home or making plans to build one, making new friends, feeling settled.” Cecille ended with a sigh.

Kate tried to reassure her. “I am sure Adam is working very hard to get the business up and running to the point that he can have you and the children join him.”

Suddenly, three little girls hurried down the stairs.

“Aunt Kate, can we have cookies, PLEASE?” Mary asked her aunt with a pitiable look.

Hannah and Elizabeth joined in. “Cookies, please!”

“Oh my, you must be very hungry. You look so forlorn.” Kate scrunched her face into a pout. “I’ll see what I can find in the kitchen. Have a seat at the table, girls.” Kate rose and walked toward the kitchen.

“Kate…” Cecille called her back.

“Yes.”

“Before we become occupied with other things, I just want to say thank you. Our conversation was a pleasant respite for me. I truly appreciate your friendship.” Her voice radiated sincerity.

“You’re quite welcome. I am so glad we had this time to get to know each other better. Kate gave Cecille a warm smile. “Now I must go to the kitchen or we will have three unhappy girls on our hands!”


Chapter 6


Author’s Note: The reference to Ben running for governor is based on the season 1 episode “The Stranger”.

The winter days wore on with the normal everyday activities at the Ponderosa, but there was great excitement in Virginia City with the extension of the railroad from Carson City. The brand new rail station was the pride and joy of its citizenry. The clear, cold day of January 29th found everyone in and around Virginia City, including the Cartwright clan, in town for the festivities and to get their first look at the steam engine ‘Lyon’ puffing its way in from Carson City. The depot and storefronts were festooned for the celebration. School had been cancelled in honor of the historic event, so a good number of children were among those present. The Cartwright family stood to the right of the platform, Benji in the ‘catbird seat’ on Hoss’ shoulders and the rest of the young ones in the arms of the adults. Ben had been asked to speak for the businessmen of the community. Mayor Stephens took the platform to open the ceremony and began speaking to the large crowd that was assembled in front of the depot.

“Ladies and gentleman of Virginia City, and distinguished guests, I am very proud to welcome you here today on this most auspicious occasion. We have come to celebrate the official opening of the Virginia City Railroad station and the connection of our fair city to the Trans-Continental Railroad via the Virginia City-Truckee Railroad Line” Mayor Stephens declared loudly with great exuberance. The crowd responded with shouts and whistles and thunderous applause. The mayor raised his arms attempting to quiet the throng, but the faint sound of a train whistle in the distance stirred them to another round of cheering. Once they were quiet, he continued.

“Indeed, it is a glorious day! Shortly the steam engine ‘Lyon’ will arrive and we will have the honor and privilege of welcoming the fine governor of our great state of Nevada, Mr. Henry G. Blasdel to Virginia City.” Another round of cheers went up from the crowd. “I am certain that you will give him a warm welcome. At this time I would like to introduce and bring to the podium, Mr. Ben Cartwright, a long-standing and influential member of our Virginia City community, to say a few words and then place the commemorative spike for us.” Ben, please come on up.”

Ben climbed the stairs to the platform, shook Mayor Stephens’ hand and then stepped to the podium. The people welcomed Ben to the platform with much applause.

“Ladies and gentleman, I am honored to have a part in this wonderful celebration and to speak for the businessmen of our community. Those of you, like myself, who have been here since the early days of Virginia City, may have a greater understanding of the significance of this day for our city and for the state of Nevada…”

As Ben spoke, Kate saw her husband in a whole new light. She had known he was a prominent figure in this area of the state, still she gained a new sense of pride listening to Ben recount days gone by and then stir the crowd with optimism for the future of Virginia City. Hoss and Joe were accustomed to seeing and hearing their father in situations such as this. Choosing several years ago not to have his private life plastered on the front page of every newspaper in the state when an unfortunate event that centered around Marie was dredged up from his past, Ben decided to pull out of the campaign for governor. Otherwise, it was entirely possible that he could have been the first governor of Nevada. Kate knew nothing of these things, but she was exceeding glad to be present with the rest of the family to witness Ben speaking for his community and his state.

“…My thanks to Mayor Stephens and the Virginia City Council for allowing me to be part of this ceremony. I am proud to place the final spike in the track that connects our city to the whole of our great country, the United States of America. Thank you one and all.” Ben’s speech had clearly shown his gratitude and pride for his community, state, and country.

Mayor Stephens handed Ben the silver plated spike and sledge hammer. Ben threw himself into it and drove the final spike into the railroad tie. A great cheer rose from the crowd when his job was complete. Ben was greeted with many congratulations and handshakes as he returned to stand with his family. Hoss and Joe clapped his back. Kate looked at him with shining eyes; no words were necessary, her face said it all. Ben kissed her cheek and patted the heads of all the young family members.

Three long whistles announced the arrival of the ‘Lyon’. For most of the children and a number of adults in the assembly, the engine was definitely a sight to behold. Some of the little ones were not sure whether to cover their ears or wrap their arms around the closest adult. Governor Blasdel received a rousing Virginia City welcome when he stepped out of the passenger car onto the platform. Life in Virginia City had been forever changed. The mining companies had already been hiring more laborers in anticipation of moving a greater volume of ore with much greater speed. Also, many long, uncomfortable stagecoach rides would now be replaced by a trip on the railway. Adam Cartwright would soon take advantage of this convenient and more comfortable mode of transportation.

Suddenly, the Ponderosa became a busy place again. Adam was due to return on February 2, two days before his son’s birthday, and Cecille’s sister, Gabrielle, would arrive the following day. With so many family members under one roof, birthday celebrations would soon become a common occurrence. On the day of Adam’s arrival, Ben thought it best if only Cecille and the children rode into town with him to meet Adam; so after lunch he helped them all into the surrey and they left for Virginia City to meet Adam at the station. The train was running on schedule and Adam appeared on the platform just shortly after three, smartly dressed in black business attire. Cecille held the children back until he was well clear of the car and the crowd, then Benji and Elizabeth ran to their father. Adam dropped his bag and wrapped them up in his arms. Cecille looked on, tears welling in her eyes, as she watched him lovingly greet their children.

Adam gave his very excited children lots of hugs and kisses. “Oh I’ve missed you so much. But I think there is someone else who needs a kiss, too.” He looked up at his wife who was now standing beside them.

“Mama!” The children cried.

Adam stood up and whispered to Cecille. “Yes, Mama. You don’t know how much I’ve missed you, Mama.” He pulled her close and openly kissed her in public.

“Oh, Adam, I’ve missed you, too.”

Young Benji came up to them struggling with the bag that his father had temporarily forgotten about while totally preoccupied with greeting his family. Ben was watching from a distance, allowing them a few moments to themselves. Though married now for the fourth time, Ben had known only a handful of experiences like the one he was observing with his son’s family today. He was never away from Elizabeth or Inger for any length of time before they left this world, however during the years he was married to Marie there had been cattle drives that had taken him away from her for weeks at a time. The memories flooded his mind like it was yesterday. Ben clearly remembered the longing in his heart to be back home with his love and then the comfort of having her in his arms and her sweet kisses. Those feelings surfaced again when he returned from the brief family hunting trip with his sons. He could not wait to hold Kate and kiss her lips. Words could not adequately express those feelings, but he was certain that Adam now understood them quite well.

“Welcome back, Adam. It’s good to have you back home, son.” Ben placed an arm around Adam’s shoulders and shook his hand. Ben thought his son looked tired, certain that Adam had put in many long hours to take off a few days to be with his family.

“Thanks, Pa.” Adam read the understanding in his father’s eyes, and knew that no more words were necessary.

“Well, let’s get loaded up. I know you want to get back to the ranch as soon as possible.” Ben relieved Benji of his burden.

Cecille tried to quiet the chattering children long enough to give her husband an opportunity to tell them a bit about San Francisco, but lots of conversation did make the trip to the ranch pass by more quickly.

Kate was sitting in the living room and went to the door to welcome them when she heard footsteps on the porch. “Adam, it’s so good to have you back. Did you have a nice trip?”

He kissed his step-mother’s cheek. “Thank you, Kate. It’s wonderful to be back, and yes the trip went very well, faster and considerably less bumpy than previous trips back from San Francisco.”

Ben got down on one knee. “Here, Benji and Elizabeth, let me have your coats. Mama is going to want to help your Papa unpack. How about some hot chocolate to get us warmed up?” He was working hard to keep the smile off of his face.

The children cheered. “Yea! Hot chocolate.”

Adam gave his father a wink as he took Cecille by the elbow and walked toward the stairs. Cecille kept her eyes forward unable to look Kate and Ben in the eye.

“Well, that was a brief hello.” Kate said discreetly to Ben, a bit taken aback.

“Kate…Adam will be much more eager to share at dinner all about his work in San Francisco after Cecille has helped him ‘unpack’. ” Ben whispered emphasizing the last word and nodding toward the second floor.

Kate let out a little snort when Ben’s meaning suddenly became clear to her. “Come children, let’s get some hot chocolate.” She was trying not to giggle.

Few words were spoken upstairs; the unpacking done quickly.

At dinner that evening, the family found Adam’s update on the progress of the new office very interesting. “The process of setting up an office from the ground up is quite involved. The physical building was easy enough to find. San Francisco is growing at an unbelievable rate. The current estimate of the population is around one hundred and fifty thousand.”

Hoss looked at his brother in disbelief. “Phfew! That’s a whole lotta folks. I think I’ll stick to Virginia City.”

“I know that sounds like a lot of people, Hoss, but you have to understand for Cecille and I coming from Boston, it is not nearly as large as the city we left.”

“But there certainly must be advantages to your business locating in a rapidly growing city.” Ben noted.

“That is true, Pa. But you also must be extremely careful not to get swindled or stuck with shoddy workmanship when it comes to constructing a building or a home. There are all kinds of charlatans operating in Frisco. You can remember what it was like around here after things broke loose on the Comstock.”

Ben nodded to his son. “Yes, all too well.”

Adam went on to elaborate about the new west coast office. “Our firm is renting an office one block off of Market street, which is the main business thoroughfare. I was able to purchase desks and shelving, things like that, but drawing tables are a specialized item; so those had to be built. All these things take more time than you might think. I have been trying to make contacts for prospective projects while still in the process of locating and interviewing competent employees. The good news is that reputable architects are currently a rare commodity in San Francisco, so there should be more than enough business if the city continues to grow at the present rate. There is a student back in Boston who will finish school late spring and join me in Frisco by early summer. He can’t get to the west coast soon enough to suit me.” Adam paused and took Cecille’s hand. “And there are many new homes under construction. I am especially interested in an area known as South Park, not too far from the office. I would like Cecille to come spend a few days after Gabrielle’s visit, and look at some of the possibilities. Well, I have certainly managed to monopolize the dinner conversation. Shall we give the poor children a break and move to the living room? Benji you said something about checkers on the ride back. How about a game with your Papa?” He gave his son with a dimpled grin.

Benji nodded enthusiastically. It was true. The children had been amazingly cooperative. Everyone agreed that it was best not to push their good behavior to the limit. Most of the family members retired to the living room following the meal. Cecille and Adam went to the settee where he held Elizabeth on his knee while she hopped her toy bunny up and down his arm. Benji and his father were soon wrapped up in a game of checkers, the youngster more than happy to show his father what he had learned from Uncle Joe. Cecille looked on admiringly at her family with a peace of heart she had not known for quite some time. Ben and Kate were together with her perched on the arm of his chair. He was puffing contentedly on his pipe trying not to laugh while Hannah served the indulgent Hoss and Joe, and her doll, imaginary cups of tea. Jamie was at the dining room table, finding it a bit difficult to concentrate on his studies, while Mary, who was sitting across from him, galloped her toy ‘Patches’ back and forth in front of him. Ben pulled Kate a little closer and she leaned her head on his silver hair. This may not have been the perfect scenario for every member of the family, but for the moment, Ben could not imagine a better one.


Chapter 7


Author’s Note: The traditional children’s songs “Skip To My Lou”, “B-I-N-G-O”, “White Coral Bells” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” are mentioned in this chapter.

In true Cartwright fashion, the entire family went to Virginia City to welcome Cecille’s sister to the Ponderosa the following day. Though it had been many years since he had driven a team of horses, Adam thoroughly enjoyed driving the surrey loaded with his family, Kate, Mary, and Hannah. Ben, Hoss, and Joe rode alongside on their horses. With school letting out about the time Gabrielle was due to arrive, Jamie planned to meet them all at the train station. So excited to see their ‘Aunt Gabbie’, Benji and Elizabeth were having trouble sitting still. Adam decided a song might help to distract them.

“Skip, skip, skip to my lou. Skip, skip, skip to my lou..” Adam’s rich baritone rang out into the cold air.

Soon everyone was singing along, the children singing their little hearts out. To Kate it brought back memories of her childhood. Her family had loved to sing, but with those memories came sadness, wishing it was Molly and Jim that they would be greeting at the station today. Mary noticed that Kate had stopped singing.

“Sing, Aunt Kate! Skip, skip, skip to my lou!” Mary encouraged her aunt, then she continued singing, almost on key.

Mary’s enthusiasm made Kate laugh, and she joined them again in the happy tune. Though Mary’s orneriness often got her into trouble, the little girl seemed to have a knack for sensing when someone needed some love or good cheer.

“Shall we have another one?” Adam asked the children after they finished the last chorus of ‘Skip To My Lou’.

“Yes!” They cried.

“BINGO!” Benji shouted.

“All right then. ‘BINGO’ it shall be.” Adam sang out. “There was a farmer had a dog and Bingo was his name-o! B-I-NGO…”

On the following verses, the youngsters loved clapping for the missing letters in “BINGO’s” name, their mittened hands sounding more like muffled thuds.

As soon as one song was finished, he would start another. Finally, having sung through the better part of his repertoire for children, Adam asked for a suggestion from the ladies.

“I’m all out of songs. Cecille, Kate, do you have another song for us?”

The Armands were not a singing family. All the songs that Cecille loved singing with her children, she had learned from Adam.

However, Kate spoke up. “Adam are you familiar with ‘White Coral Bells’?”

“I think I have heard it, but you will have to refresh my memory.”

Kate sang out in her lovely alto voice. “‘White coral bells upon a slender stalk, Lilies of the valley by my garden walk.

Oh don’t you wish that you could hear them ring, That will only happen when the fairies sing.'”

Mary and Hannah listened intently while Kate sang. Even Ben gave his full attention, never having heard her sing alone.

Always one to appreciate a good voice, Adam was quick with a compliment. “That was lovely, Kate. I believe it can also be sung as a round.”

“Yes, that’s how we sang it in my family.”

“Let’s sing it together twice so everyone can learn it, then we will try a front seat, back seat round.” He suggested.

Kate began the song again, and everyone joined in. After singing it through several times as a round, the outskirts of Virginia City came into sight.

“That was wonderful, Adam. We should definitely do this more often. I am sure Gabbie would enjoy some music during her visit.” Cecille commented.

Jamie was waiting for them and greeted them with a wave when the surrey rolled up at the train station.

“I did not expect you to beat us to the station.” Ben’s forehead creased thinking Jamie was skipping out of school.

“Miss Griggs let us out a little early today, so it worked out just right.” Jamie was hoping erase his father’s frustrated look.

“Very well, then. In that case, glad you were able to join us.”

Ben helped Kate down from the surrey and whispered to her. “So why have you not sung for me, Kate. I did not realize you were so talented.” There was a hint of disappointment in his voice.

She flashed her eyes at her husband and gave him a coy response. “You never asked me, but I just might sing for you one of these days if you ask me sweetly, with sugar and a cherry.”

Ben chuckled. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

The whistle announced the train’s impending arrival. Benji and Elizabeth kept a watchful eye as the passengers disembarked the train. Soon they spied their aunt and escaped their parents to run to her. “Aunt Gabbie! Aunt Gabbie.” They called out to her.

“Benji, Elizabeth. Oh it’s wonderful to see you!” Gabrielle Armand showered them with hugs and kisses.

Adam and Cecille walked over to join their children in welcoming her.

“Gabbie, I am so glad you are here.” Cecille took her sister into her arms.

“Oh Cec. It’s s good to see you again.” Gabrielle embraced her brother-in-law. “And Adam, good to see you as well.”

“Welcome to Virginia City, Gabrielle.” Adam made a wide sweep with his arm.

The rest of the family looked intently at the sisters standing side by side on the platform. Cecille Armand Cartwright was the picture of refinement, with dark hair and dark eyes and placid demeanor. Gabrielle Armand had dancing bright blue eyes, golden brown hair that shone in the bright afternoon sun, and she was dressed in the most up-to-date Boston fashion. Her winning smile immediately put Ben and Kate at ease, but Miss Armand was with out a doubt a strikingly beautiful young woman who would definitely be the talk of Virginia City.

Hoss elbowed Joe. “Hey now.”

Joe whistled low and pulled down on the waist of his green jacket to smooth out any wrinkles.”Brother, that is one good-looking woman.” Then he removed his hat and ran his fingers through his grey-brown waves.

Taking his lead from Joe, Jamie dusted off his jacket and pants.

Adam escorted Gabrielle toward his family. “Gabrielle, I would like to introduce you to my step-mother, Kate, and my father, Ben, and Kate’s nieces, Mary and Hannah Calhoun.”

Ben took Gabrielle by the hand. “We are very pleased that you have come all this way for a visit, Miss Armand.”

“Yes, I hope that you will feel very welcome at the Ponderosa.” Kate added with a warm smile.

“Thank you. I am very pleased to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Cartwright, and please, call me Gabrielle.” She looked down at Mary and Hannah with a sweet smile. “Nice to meet you girls.”

“Very nice to meet you, Miss Armand.” Mary said it just exactly the way Kate had told her earlier in the day.

Adam and Cecille looked at each other in surprise, thinking that there might be hope for making Mary into a proper young lady after all.

“And Gabrielle, these are my brothers, Hoss, Joe, and Jamie.” Adam gestured toward each one.

“Very nice to meet all of you.” She greeted each brother with a sweet smile.

Hoss tipped his hat. “Ma’am.”

Jamie looked a bit awkward. “Hi, Miss Armand.”

Joe looked directly into her blue eyes. “The pleasure is all mine, Miss Armand.” Then placed a light kiss on her gloved hand.

“Thank you, Joe. Please, it’s Gabrielle.”

“Gabrielle, what a beautiful name.” He murmured, still holding her hand.

Cecille gave Adam a wide-eyed look, to which he responded with a roll of his eyes. Ben looked at Adam and frowned, both of them thinking that certain things would never change.

Ben cleared his throat hoping to put a end to the stir Joe was creating. “Well now, boys, would you mind attending to Miss Armand’s bags.”

“Certainly.” Joe replied, struggling to take his eyes off Gabrielle.

Once the luggage was loaded, the women and children were helped into the surrey. For the trip back to the ranch Adam, Kate, Mary and Hannah occupied the front seat of the surrey, with Cecille, Benji, Elizabeth, and Gabrielle in the back. Joe rode much closer to the surrey on the return trip than he had on the way into town, making sure to look his best atop Cochise. Cecille was trying to keep the conversation flowing, but Gabrielle still gave Joe an occasional glance. She had never traveled by train west of Chicago before this trip; so she found the majestic Sierra Nevada terrain and a handsome man on a beautiful paint horse a bit difficult to ignore.

Cecille had not planned it for the trip back, but she suddenly felt it was her sister that needed a song to distract her. “Adam, why don’t you lead the children in ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’.”

“Oh now, they wouldn’t want to sing that old song, would you kids?”

“Yes! ‘Row Your Boat’.” The children shouted.

Gabrielle laughed at their enthusiastic shouts.

Adam got them started. “Row, row, row your boat…”

Everyone in the surrey joined in the song except Gabrielle, who was thoroughly enjoying listening and looking at the children’s happy faces.

Benji was disappointed that his aunt was not singing with them. “Come on Aunt Gabbie! ‘Row, row, row your boat’.”

Gabrielle found it impossible to resist her nephew’s pleading and joined in.

Once the song was finished, Benji spoke up. “Aunt Gabbie, tomorrow is my birthday!”

“Really, tomorrow?” She gave him a look of surprise and acted as if she had forgotten.

“Yep. I’m going to be five.”

“My you are getting to be so grown up.” Gabrielle patted him on the head.

Mary made a point to turn around and give Benji a hard look. It irked her that Benji was going to turn five before she did.

“We’re going to have a party and cake! It will be fun!”

“That sounds wonderful, Benji. I am so happy that I will be here for your party.”

When they finally reached the house, Joe was off Cochise and beside the surrey almost before the wheels stopped rolling. Hoss and Ben just shook their heads. Joe offered Gabrielle his hand and she accepted with a gracious nod.

“Come on Aunt Gabbie.” Benji grabbed her hand taking over for Joe.

Elizabeth quickly took her aunt’s other hand and the children escorted her into the house.

No one would have believed it but the ranch house had reached full capacity. Ben and Kate had previously discussed options with the boys for which bedroom to give their guest. Kate knew how Ben felt about the girls sleeping in the same room with them and the fact was that Mary and Hannah were really just beginning to feel settled; so she did not even suggest moving them. Jamie offered to bunk in with Joe and let Gabrielle have the downstairs bedroom. Kate thanked him for his offer, but noted that it was the least private of all the bedrooms, and probably not the best option for a long term guest. Consistent with his generous nature, Hoss then offered his room for Gabrielle, rather than upset anyone else in the family. He said that the bunkhouse would be fine for him for the duration of Gabrielle’s stay.

Gabrielle was surprised by the rustic beauty of the ranch house, having never seen anything quite like it before. “So you designed this house, Adam?”

“Yes I did, Gabbie. Do you like it?”

“Oh, it’s marvelous! So much natural beauty with the wood and stone.”

“Thank you. I am glad you approve.”

“You must be tired after your long journey. I am sure you would like to rest a bit and freshen up before dinner.” Kate motioned Gabrielle to the stairs. “Let me show you to your room.”

“This way, Aunt Gabbie.” Benji took her by the hand again.

Kate instructed the anxious boy. “Benji please show Aunt Gabrielle to Hoss’ room.”

Benji gave Kate an odd look.

“Hoss is allowing Gabrielle the use of his room while she is staying with us.” Kate said answering his unasked question.

Being a normal, inquisitive youngster, Benji asked. “Oh, ok, but where is Hoss sleeping?”

“Son, let’s allow your mother and Kate to get Aunt Gabbie settled.” Adam motioned for Benji to come to him.

“Don’t worry, Benji, We will take good care of your aunt. This way, Gabrielle.” Kate gave Adam a grateful look. For the moment, she did not want to explain to Gabrielle that Hoss would be sleeping in the bunkhouse.

Benji looked up sadly at his aunt, dropped his head, and went to his father.

“It’s all right Benji. I will see you at supper.” Gabrielle tried to console her nephew.

“Mrs. Cartwright, I am sorry to be such an inconvenience to you. I should have realized that with Adam and Cecille staying with you, you would have limited accommodations.” Gabrielle offered in apology.

“Nonsense. You are not an inconvenience. We are all very happy you are visiting with us. Please don’t think a thing about it. And, by the way, it’s Kate.” She hoped to smooth things over with her guest.

“Thank you, Kate.”

At dinner that evening, Joe made sure to seat himself directly across from Gabrielle. He had little interest in his food, seeming to hang on her every word.

Ben, ever the good host, asked their guest about herself. “So, Gabrielle, tell us about yourself. What kinds of things to do like to do.”

“I do enjoy traveling, seeing new places. My father travels extensively for his shipping business and I often go with him since I am single.”

“What are some of the places you have seen?” Joe asked, just a little too eagerly.

“Well, just about any seaport along the eastern and south-eastern coast of the United States.”

He gave her a big smile. “So you’ve been to New Orléans, then?”

“Yes, a few times. It’s a beautiful city and the food is amazing. Why do you ask?”

“My mother was from New Orléans. I am always interested in hearing about it.”

“I see. Well, I would be happy to tell you about my visits sometime.”

Cecille grew tired of feeling that the rest of the family was eaves-dropping on Gabrielle and Joe’s private conversation.”Please share with the family about your work in the clinic.”

Gabrielle turned to her sister in surprise. “Yes, uh, I have been volunteering as an aide for a physician in Boston for about a year now. It gets me out of the house, and allows me to do something productive.”

Gabrielle did not want to get into the real reason she had started doing this work. The family mansion seemed more like a prison, knowing that her only true hope of escape was to marry. She was tired of being under her father’s thumb. Mr. Armand had not approved of her working outside of their home even as a volunteer, but she insisted, knowing that it would make little difference to their already strained relationship. She abruptly changed the subject.

“I understand there is going to be a party for a young man who is turning five tomorrow.” She gave Benji a wink.

“Yea! Birthday party!” The children responded.

Adam joined into the conversation. “It’s hard to believe that Benji will be five. Pa, I remember you telling me that our childhood seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. I am beginning to understand now what you meant. Although, I think there was the occasional day that lasted a little too long for you.” Adam gave his father a quirky smile.

“Never, Adam. You, Hoss and Joe were always perfect gentlemen.” There was a very distinct clearing of Ben’s throat and a wry smile.

Hoss let loose with one of his guffaws. “Sorry, Miss Armand.” He was embarrassed to have carried on so in her presence.

“Yes, well, we will spare Cecille, Gabrielle, and especially the children any of your escapades.” Ben tried to close the subject before things got out of hand.

Gabrielle looked around the table at each of the older Cartwright sons with a twinkle in her eye. “That’s unfortunate. It all sounds extremely interesting.” She found the easy banter of the Cartwright family so refreshing. Conversations in the Armand household had always been a bit stilted and usually very one-sided.

Trying to help her husband’s cause, though she, too, would have loved to hear some of the tales about the boys younger days, Kate rose and suggested that they move to the living room. Joe was quickly at Gabrielle’s side, leading her to the blue chair, then perching himself beside her on the base of the fireplace. This left Hoss to bring over the chair from beside the desk. He had no problem with her sitting in that chair, that was as it should be for a female guest. However, it did gall him that somehow Joe always managed to position himself in just the right place when it came to having a woman’s full attention. Elizabeth went to shelf and pulled a picture book down and then crawled into her aunt’s lap. Benji was put out that his sister had managed to occupy Gabrielle before he got the chance to do so. He kept reaching in and naming the animals before Elizabeth could.

“No, Benji! My turn!” Elizabeth pushed his arm away.

“Oh now, I will have time for both of you, please don’t argue, children.” Gabrielle looked primarily at Benji.

Adam tapped his son on the shoulder. “How about some checkers?” Benji shook his head no. “My aren’t we a bit sulky for an almost five-year old young man.”

With his head down, Benji walked over and retrieved the checker board off the shelf, continuing to sulk. Meanwhile, Elizabeth went on with the book. As the little girl pointed to the pictures and named the animals on the pages, Joe inserted humorous comments and sounds that made both Elizabeth and Gabrielle smile. Hoss watched them for a moment and debated whether he should just go check on the animals in the barn for something to do, but he did not want to appear rude to their guest. Then Mary came up and wanted on his lap. Both were feeling a bit neglected and somewhat out of place; so she snuggled her head into his shoulder. Hoss wrapped his big arms around Mary, and focused his attention on the checker game. Gabrielle turned to look at the big man cuddling the little girl, and the sight melted her heart. She found it odd that this giant of a man could be so tender. She had longed as a child for the comfort of her father’s arms. Hoss suddenly felt Gabrielle’s eyes on him, and turned her way. A blush came quickly on his face. Not knowing what else to do, he tucked his head down beside Mary’s, causing the girl to relax even more into his large chest. Suddenly aware that she was staring at Hoss, Gabrielle turned to find Joe watching her. Then it was her turn to blush. For the moment, her visit to the Ponderosa was much different from what she had expected it to be.


Chapter 8


Benji was understandably excited the next day; so much so that he could hardly contain himself knowing there would be presents and cake after dinner that evening. Adam decided that some father-son time might help the situation, so he planned for the two of them to take a ride after lunch. But, Benji was not the only one who was a bit out of sorts. Joe had business to take care of at the mine, but begged off, privately asking Hoss to cover for him under the guise that he had something important to do in town. Believing that the day could easily be filled with turmoil for any number of reasons, Hoss agreed to go, leaving after an early breakfast. Once Jamie left for school, Kate took the children upstairs to play, and Adam went to the barn to curry Sport. Ben was doing some bookwork at his desk, which left Joe, Gabrielle, and Cecille sitting at the breakfast table drinking coffee.

“Gabrielle, I would love to hear about your trips to New Orléans. I was wondering if you would like to have lunch with me in Virginia City at The International House? I’m sure it’s not nearly as fancy as the restaurants you are used to in Boston, but the food is pretty good.” Joe looked at her with expectation.

Gabrielle looked at Cecille with questioning eyes.

“We would only be gone a few hours, and I will make sure that we are back in plenty of time for the party.” Joe was trying his best to anticipate their objections.

Gabrielle did not want to hurt his feelings and tried to gracefully bow out. “Joe, I am flattered by your invitation, but I had planned to help Cecille with the children today so she can get things ready for tonight.”

Joe continued to press her into going. “Well, it sounds like Adam is going to take Benji on a ride after lunch; so that should make things easier.”

Gabrielle looked at Cecille again for help.

Cecille shrugged. “Whatever you would like, Gabbie.”

Gabrielle found herself once again in the awkward position of trying to please two people at once, having left Boston for that very reason.

“Yes, Joe, lunch in town sounds nice.” She decided that not offending her host’s son was the better option.

“Great. Can you be ready in an hour?”

“Certainly.” Gabrielle gave him a sweet smile though she still felt uncomfortable about the matter.

“Ok. See you in an hour.” Joe jumped up from the table and headed for the barn to polish up the buggy.

“Joseph.” Ben motioned his son over to his desk to speak with him discreetly. “I thought you had work to do up at the mine today.”

“Oh, yeah, Hoss is taking care of that. Got to go, Pa. Want to make sure the buggy looks its best.” Joe grabbed his coat and hat before heading out the door.

Ben sighed, wondering why Joe could not see the difficult choice he had forced Gabrielle to make.

At the table, Gabrielle looked at her sister. “Please don’t be upset, Cec. What was I supposed to say?”

“We will be fine. I hope you enjoy your lunch.” Cecille responded flatly and went upstairs.

As they traveled into Virginia City late that morning, Joe was a bit nervous and kept a steady stream of conversation flowing. He told Gabrielle everything he could think of about the Ponderosa, pointing to things along the way. Once in town, they walked up and down the boardwalk before going to the restaurant for lunch. The handsome pair were the topic of discussion for many curious townspeople. At the restaurant, the waiter showed them to their table, where Joe took great care, and with a bit of a flourish, pulled out her chair and helped Gabrielle to be seated properly.

Gabrielle took in the dining room decor. “Thank you Joe. This is very nice. The restaurant is more refined than I thought it might be for Virginia City.”

“Well, not everyone wants to eat beans and cornbread.” Joe gave her a lop-sided grin. “So tell me what I have to see when I get to New Orléans.”

“It is such an old city. There are so many beautiful cathedrals and churches. One could spend days visiting them all, but you would have to see the St. Louis Cathdral and the St. Alphonsus Church. Both are absolutely gorgeous. And there are two restaurants, Antoine’s and Tujague’s, that you simply must visit…” Gabrielle continued to regale the city.

After lunch back at the Ponderosa, Adam saddled Sport, his longtime, faithful mount, for the father and son ride around the ranch. Neither he nor Ben could bear the thought of selling the horse when Adam left years ago. Though middle-aged, the horse still had plenty of spunk but Sport nickered contentedly when Adam rubbed his white blaze. It was a calm, cloudless day with just a smattering of snow on the ground as Adam and Benji rode off for the afternoon. It was Adam’s hope to show his son some of his favorites spots on the Ponderosa, a bittersweet time for Adam, knowing that he would be leaving again in three days.

Hoss returned from the mine in the early afternoon and was greeted by three little girls who wrapped their arms around his big legs as he stepped through the door. He laughed heartily and patted their heads. Ben chuckled at them from his chair, relieved that Hoss had provided the girls a distraction, having had his fill of ‘tea’. His humor was tinged with sadness, as the sight of Hoss with the girls made him wish his son had a family of his own. Maybe not a houseful of girls, but a family none the less.

“Hey, little darlin’s. Whatcha been up to?” Hoss worked to extract them from his legs.

“Tea parties.” Hannah and Elizabeth both shouted merrily. “Want some tea, Hoss?” Elizabeth held up an imaginary cup.

“Tea parties.” Mary muttered. “Hoss, can I ride Patches, please?”

“Let me get somethin’ to eat first, then I’ll take ya out in a little bit.”

Mary was suddenly all smiles. “Ok! I’ll get my boots!”

Ben called after her. “Don’t rush, Mary. Give Hoss a chance to eat his lunch. How was everything at the mine, son?”

“Seems like things are goin’ good, the new men are workin’ out ok. So what was so all-fired important that Joe had to do in town today?”

Hoss’ question caught Ben off guard, thinking that Joe had told his brother why he was going to town.

“I thought that you knew.” Ben hesitate before proceeding. “Joe took Gabrielle to lunch.”

“He did what?” Hoss responded so loudly that the little girls jumped and looked up at him a bit frightened.

“Hoss.” Ben nodded toward the little ones.

“Sorry gals. I ain’t mad at ya. Ya go on and play now. I’m gonna go eat.” Hoss jammed his hands into his pockets and strode purposefully to the kitchen, as the girls quietly returned to the coffee table where they had been playing earlier.

While on their tour of the ranch Adam stopped by the stream where he and his brothers used to fish. He told his son how much fun they used to have, digging up worms, pulling in their catches, and then eating Hop Sing’s delicious fried-fish dinners. Given that it was the middle of winter and he had no pole, bait, hook, or knife to cut a sapling to do Indian-style spear fishing, Adam was at a bit of a loss. Benji had never been fishing, and Adam had no idea if or when that might happen. Benji listened, but eventually grew tired of fishing without fishing; so they rode on. Their next stop was a series of rock formations where Adam and Hoss used to play “Cowboys and Indians”. Benji happily chased his father around the rocks, trying to get a shot at him with his finger revolver. Adam ducked in and out of the rocks pretending to shoot arrows at his son, then fell spread-eagle on the ground as if he had been shot.

“Papa! Papa! Are you all right!” Benji thought his father had tripped and fallen.

“I’m fine son. You shot me; so I fell down.” Adam gave him a wink.

“Oh, yeah.” Benji laughed.

Adam grabbed his son and pulled him down, tickling him the best he could given their thick coats and gloves. Benji giggled until his father stopped. When Adam sat up, Benji wrapped his arms around his father’s neck.

“I love you, Papa…Please don’t go back to San Francis…San Francisco.” Tears came into the boys eyes as he struggled to get the words out.

Adam winced, his son’s words catching him totally by surprise.

“I love you, too, son.” He held the dark-haired little boy tightly to his chest. “I wish I did not have to go back, but I must. Mama, Elizabeth, and you will come just as soon as it is possible. I promise, Benjamin. I promise.” Adam’s jaw was taut with emotion.

He stood up and brushed off the dirt and snow from himself and Benji, then they mounted Sport and rode on. Their next stop was Lake Tahoe. Adam was grateful that the timeless, majestic, snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevadas that reflected into the crystal blue waters of the lake looked exactly as he knew they would. He told Benji how he and his brothers would come here to swim in the summertime, and how even on a hot day, the water was still very cold, coming down from the mountains. Benji appreciated seeing the mountains and the lake as much as any five-year old boy could, but Adam realized that, more than just a beautiful vista, it was his fond memories that made this place special.

Father and son, spoke little on the ride back to the ranch house, giving Adam plenty of time to think about their afternoon together. He held Benji snuggly against him, his son tired from riding in the cold. In all they had seen and done this day, Adam was made keenly aware of how different his son’s life was from the life he had known as a child. Benji had never fished, played “Cowboys and Indians”, or swam in a mountain stream fed lake. He awoke each day to a mother who loved him and made sure his expanding mind was as well fed as his growing body. It suddenly became clear to Adam that moving from Boston and this period of separation were the most traumatic experiences his son had ever known. The hardships of Adam’s childhood had denied him much of the innocence and freedom that his son knew well. Adam had been forced into early adulthood with the deaths of Inger and Marie, Inger’s passing especially painful for him. Adam knew that Benji had every reason to be upset about his returning to San Francisco, and just because he had learned to bury many of the hurts in his life, did not mean he should expect the same of his son.

Adam tipped Benji’s head toward him. “Are you tired, son?”

“A little bit. Will we be…” Benji stopped.

“Back at Grandfather’s house? Yes, pretty soon.” He sensed that his son was uncomfortable using the word ‘home’.

Benji’s countenance brightened. “Good…I had a nice time, Papa. Can we do it again when it’s warm outside?”

“You bet.” Adam knocked Benji’s hat down over his eyes.

The boy pushed his hat back into place and gave his father a big grin.

When Gabrielle and Joe arrived back at the ranch, he pulled the buggy up to the porch. Joe sat gazing intently at her and wished their time together did not have to end. She was so beautiful, pleasant to talk to, and sophisticated, everything that he desired in a woman. He desperately wanted to kiss her, her lips so inviting.

She interrupted his reverie. “Thank you for lunch, Joe. I so enjoyed the meal and our conversation but I really must get inside and check with Cecille on the preparations for the party. Would you mind helping me down, please?” Gabrielle was hoping not to embarrass him too much.

Joe jerked from his trance. “Oh…sure…sorry, Gabrielle.” He quickly jumped out of the buggy to help her down.

Hoss was peering out the barn door when he heard the buggy pull in. Mary and he were finishing up with Patches after her ride. He opened up the double doors so that Joe could bring the buggy in. “Mary, ya run on inside now. I need ta talk ta Joe a minute.”

Mary did not want to, but she did as she was told. “Thanks, Hoss!” She called back to him, not so much out of politeness, but to grease the wheel for the next opportunity.

“You’re welcome, doll. Go on now. Get inside and get warmed up.” Hoss motioned her toward the house.

He turned to Joe, who had started to unhitch Ginger from the buggy.

“Hey Hoss. Everything good at the mine?” His mind was not really on the mine.

“Yeah, it’s fine. So how was your ‘important’ lunch with Gabrielle?” There was a definite edge to Hoss’ voice.

Joe felt a twinge of guilt. “Hey you’re not mad, are you Hoss?”

“Mad. Why would I be mad? Come on, Joe. If ya wanted ta take Gabrielle ta lunch, you shoulda just said so. I ain’t gonna get in your way. She wouldn’t want nothin’ ta do with me anyhow. But Joe, she just got here yesterday, and so help me if ya say you’re in love with her, I’m gonna haul off and bust ya in the mouth.”

“Now Hoss…” Joe was a bit concerned by his brother’s rare demonstration of temper.

“No, Joe, you’re forever runnin’ your mouth, and for once just shut up and listen ta me.” Hoss’ statement took his brother by surprise. “What makes ya think that Gabrielle would be interested in you? She’s a big city lady that’s used ta fancy houses and fine clothes. And I can guarantee she ain’t never washed a pair of long johns that’s been…”

Mary cried out, suddenly bursting into the barn. “No! No! Don’t fight! It’s not nice!” She ran to Hoss and sobbed into his legs.

So involved in their argument, the boys had not seen her come running back when Hoss began to raise his voice to Joe. The brothers looked at each other with guilt and shame.

“No, doll, we ain’t gonna fight.” Hoss picked her up and tried to comfort her. “Come on now, let’s go inside.” He patted her back as he carried her to the house.

Joe stood there working the harness straps in his hands. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

Mary was still whimpering when Hoss carried her into the living room.

“Oh, dear! I hope that Mary didn’t fall off her pony.” Cecille looked on with concern.

Having heard Hoss mention her name in the argument with Joe, Mary pointed directly at Gabrielle and stated angrily. “I don’t like you. Hoss and Joe fighting!”

Suddenly everyone in the room was staring at either Gabrielle or Mary. Hoss turned flaming red when he looked at the shocked Gabrielle, then she covered her face with her hands and ran up the stairs.

“Mary, you mustn’t say such things.” Kate took her from the utterly dumbfounded Hoss.

He didn’t know what to say or do, he just wanted to get away. However he did not want to go back to the barn and deal with Joe and he could not go to his room since that where Gabrielle was staying. Hoss quickly turned toward the door and went to the bunk house. Cecille knew she should go comfort her sister, but she could not, because like Mary, she felt that Gabrielle was primarily the one at fault. Unsure what to do, she took Elizabeth and Hannah by the hand and went to the settee and held them close. Ben gave Kate’s arm a gentle squeeze and headed for the barn. Kate watched in frustration as Ben went out the door, not quite sure how to handle the situation. Then she took Mary by the hand and went up to her room.

Joe was finishing up with the buggy when Ben stepped into the barn. “Joseph, is everything alright?”

“Yeah, Gabrielle and I had a nice lunch in town. She is one special lady, Pa.” Joe responded dreamily.

“Yes, she seems like pleasant company and she is definitely attractive, but that’s not what I was referring to.” Ben’s frustration was beginning to show.

“You mean Hoss. Yeah, well, he is kinda mad at me.” The look on his face showed his father that he was trying to evade the issue.

Ben pushed on. “And…”

“And I probably should apologize for not telling him the whole story.” Joe’s head dropped.

“Sounds good. Make sure you do that, Joseph.” Ben left his son to contemplate how he would apologize to his brother.

Meanwhile, upstairs in the girls’ room, Kate was trying to sooth Mary, but also explain the error of her behavior. “Mary, I know you care about Hoss and Joe, and you don’t want them to fight. That’s good.” She hugged the little girl close. “And you are right, they shouldn’t fight because they are brothers and they really do love each other. But you need to be respectful with grownups. You can’t say things like ‘I don’t like you’. That’s not nice either. I am sure Gabrielle wouldn’t want Hoss or Joe to fight.” Kate was trying to explain it to Mary, but she wished very much that Ben was there to offer advice. “You will have to tell Gabrielle you are sorry before dinner, understand, Mary?

Mary nodded. Kate held her until she calmed down. “Come on. Let’s get you dressed for the party.” Kate said with a deep sigh.

After getting Mary changed, she and Kate knocked on Gabrielle’s door. Gabrielle opened the door slowly.

“Gabrielle, Mary has something to say to you.” Kate looked directly at her niece.

“Sorry I was not nice, Miss Armand.” Mary looked at the floor.

“Thank you for saying that you are sorry, Mary.” Gabrielle paused and tipped Mary’s chin toward her. “I hope that we can be friends.” She gave the girl a sincere smile.

Mary’s face brightened and relief washed over Kate’s face. “Thank you, Gabrielle.”

Out in the bunk house, Smokey, Gypsum, and Hoss were sitting together quietly at the table playing cards when Ben walked in. “Afternoon, boys.”

“Afternoon, Mr. Cartwright. Is there something we kin do for ya?” Smokey asked.

“No, just need to talk to my son for a minute. Hoss, how about you and I take a little walk?”

Hoss heaved a great sigh and followed his father out the door. Smokey and Gypsum shrugged at each other, and went back to playing cards. Father and son walked along silently. Ben waited for Hoss to open the conversation.

Finally Hoss’ frustration got the best of him. “Dadburnit, Pa! If I hadn’t let Joe get under my skin, I wouldn’ta made such a fool of myself.”

“Well, I’m afraid you had a little help with that. There is nothing quite like the brutal honesty of a child.” Ben looked at him with sympathy. “I am sure you can recall Joe putting me in some similar fixes when he was young.”

Hoss had cooled enough to let out a low chuckle. “He did at that, more than once.”

Ben noticed that the barn door still open. “Why don’t you go clear the air with Joe. I am sure that Gabrielle won’t blame you for the rantings of a little girl. Go on, now. We’ve got a young man who is expecting happy faces at his party this evening.” When he finished, he gave Hoss a comforting slap on the shoulder.

Hoss nodded and turned toward the barn.

Adam had assumed that he and Benji would find everyone in high spirits when they entered the house a little while later; so he was surprised to find a very subdued household.

Ben was sitting in his chair. He laid aside the newspaper that he had been reading. “Did you have a nice ride, Benji?”

“Yep! Now it’s time for my birthday party!” Benji could not stop smiling.

Adam scanned the area. “Where is everyone?”

“I believe their getting changed for dinner. Kate would like for you to let Cecille and Gabrielle know that dinner will be served in an hour.”

Adam placed a hand on Benji’s shoulder. “Sure. Come then young man, let’s get you ready for the party.”

“Adam, I think Benji should stay here for the moment and tell us how his ride went. He still has plenty of time to dress.” Ben tried to keep the concern off his face.

Adam looked puzzled, but nodded and then climbed the stairs. When he reached the upstairs hall, he could hear Cecille questioning her sister.

Cecille gave Gabrielle a hard look. “What was all that about Joe and Hoss fighting over you?”

“Cec, I truly have no idea. Joe and I had a nice lunch, but that is all. I promise.” Gabrielle was on the brink of losing her composure again.

“Gabbie, I do not understand. Did you come out here just to find a new beau? Because if you did, then you should pack up and go back to Boston!” Cecille stated in no uncertain terms, her dark eyes uncharacteristically stormy.

Adam gave a firm rap on the door. Gabrielle opened the door a few inches. “Yes, Adam?” She forced a smile.

“I heard raised voices. Surely you two are not arguing?” Adam stated it in a mocking tone, trying to make light, not realizing the serious nature of their discussion.

Cecille had been facing away from the door and suddenly whirled around to face her husband, and gave him a look that he had seen only a very few times since he had known her. “Adam this discussion is between Gabbie and I, and I would appreciate it if you would respect that!”

He answered her with an arched brow.

Cecille knew that she should not be taking out her frustration on her husband and softened her voice. “I’m sorry Adam. I am not angry with you. Please?”

“I only came up to let both of you know that dinner will be ready in an hour.” He offered blandly.

Cecille gave him a weak smile. “Thank you, Adam. We will be ready soon.”

Adam nodded, gave a slight bow, and closed the door behind him.

Cecille turned back to her sister and began again. “Gabbie..”

Gabrielle cut her off. “Cec, it was never my intention to create problems for you and Adam or anyone else, for that matter. It hurts to see the two of you arguing because of me, but how could you say those things about me, Ceci. Adam mentioned that he had brothers, but I most certainly did not come here with the intent to lead anyone on. I came here to get away from David and Daddy and try to determine what it is that I truly want in a man. As polite, and kind as David is, he is not the man I want to be married to for the rest of my life. You were fortunate to find Adam, a man you truly love AND that satisfies all of Daddy’s requirements for the husband of his daughter.” The anger she had long been carrying toward her father began to seep out as she explained.

“You have to admit that before David you were quite the social butterfly, seen on the arm of every available young man of standing in Boston.” Cecille was still not convinced of her sister’s sincerity.

“That was almost two years ago, Cec. Daddy seemed to think that I needed a husband, forever asking men to come to call. I had absolutely no say in the matter. It was my only defense. Please try to understand.” Tears began to pool in Gabrielle’s blue eyes.

“And what about David? How could you let things go so far if you didn’t really love him?” Cecille was trying to make sense of it all.

“I grew tired of all the beaus and David was genuinely sweet to me, bought me flowers, took me to the theater, and to restaurants. He was not like the others who just play around with any woman who takes their fancy. But you’re right, Cec, I did let it go too far, trying to please Daddy and David. I do care for him, Cec, but just not the way he cares for me. Daddy was thrilled at the prospect of our marriage and if I had asked David for something he would have done his best to give it to me. He has money, position, and Daddy’s whole-hearted approval, but I do not love him, Cec. I could not subject him to that kind of marriage, it’s not right, he deserves better. If any woman should want to be married, it should be me, but I can’t do it that way. So I had to go, don’t you see, I had to get away…” Gabrielle covered her eyes, tears flowing freely down her satin cheeks.

Seeing her sister’s genuine contrition, Cecille regretted her sharp remarks. “Of course you cannot not marry David if that is how you feel. I’m so sorry, Gabbie.” Cecille drew her sister into her arms and spoke softly to her. “Why didn’t you come to me sooner?”

“You were busy with the children and then getting ready to come west. I didn’t want to bother you.” Gabrielle replied tearfully.

“You would not have been a bother. I could have tried to talk to Daddy for you.” Cecille tried to console her sister.

“You know how much good that would have done. Well, it’s much too late for that now and I must pull myself together with dinner in less than an hour. Oh, but, poor Hoss! How can I face him?” Gabrielle looked at her older sister for help.

“Gabbie, Hoss is as kind-hearted as any man I have ever known. Yes, he was embarrassed, but he would never hold a grudge. I’m sure that things will be fine.”

“Thank you, Cec.” Gabrielle wiped the tears from her cheeks. “You go ahead. I just need a few minutes, and then I will change and be down.”

“Certainly. I will see you downstairs shortly, and Gabbie…I am sorry.” There were tears in Cecille’s eyes with her confession.

Gabrielle nodded and hugged her sister.

Adam was helping Benji dress for his party when Cecille entered their bedroom.

“Is Gabbie ready for the party?” Adam kept his head down as he worked at tying Benji’s tie.

“Adam…” Cecille began in apology.

Adam interrupted her. “Ceci, all that I need to know is that the two of you are ready for the party.”

“Yes, Adam. Thank you. We will both be ready for the party as soon as we are dressed.” She gave him a grateful smile. “By the way, you both are looking quite handsome this evening.”

Adam looked up and returned her smile. “Thank you, madame. Come on young man. Let’s go find your sister and let your Mama get dressed.” Adam kissed his wife’s cheek on their way out the door.

Though apologies had been made, pre-dinner conversation was a bit stilted; so Ben attempted to get them off to a good start once everyone was seated at the table. “Well, Master Benjamin Armand Cartwright, how does it feel to be the ripe old age of five years old?” There was a twinkle in his eye.

“Good! Mama said we’re having Boston beans and I’m hungry! Let’s eat!” Benji was practically bouncing in his chair.

Ben chuckled. “The birthday boy has spoken. Pass those beans, please.”

Ben’s brief interaction with Benji broke the ice, and everyone laughed. After dinner they moved to the living room for Benji to open his gifts. He sat between his mother and father on the settee. Ben made sure that Mary was in his lap, reducing the likelihood of she and the birthday boy having a tiff. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the delicious Ghirardelli chocolates that Adam brought back from San Francisco especially for the party. And he gave each child a ball and cup game to keep them occupied while Benji opened his presents.

Joe handed him his first gift to unwrap. “Here, Benji, this is from all of your uncles.”

As Benji tore the paper away, he was thrilled to see a wooden boat with a sail. “Thanks…Uncle Hoss…Uncle Joe…Uncle Jamie.”

Adam ruffled his son’s hair. “Now you can be a sailor like your Great-grandfather Stoddard and Grandfather Cartwright.”

Then Ben handed the boy the gift from Kate and him. It was three books for a young reader.

‘Thank you, Grandfather and Grandmother.” Benji gave them each a hug.

Ben placed his hand on his grandson’s shoulders. “You are welcome, Benjamin, but we will expect you to give us a full report after you have read them.”

“I will.” Benji replied with a big grin.

Gabrielle handed Benji a small pouch and encouraged him to open it with care. “You should open it into your father’s hands.”

Adam put his hands together and Benji poured out the contents of the pouch; two dozen beautiful glass marbles.

Jamie whistled. “Those sure are purty.” Do you know how to play, Benji?”

“Nope. Can you teach me, Jamie?”

“Sure, I’d be happy to.” Jamie replied.

Adam poured the marbles back into the pouch and handed it to Benji. “Thank you, Aunt Gabbie.”

She held out her arms to him for a hug.

“Here son, this is from your Mama and I.” Adam handed Benji a flat rectangle with a small tube tied on top. Benji tore off the paper to find a sketchbook and drawing pencils. He ran and gave his parents a hug.

“Thank you, Mama and Papa. Now I can draw just like you, Papa.” Benji’s face was beaming.

“Are you going to have him following in your footsteps, Adam?” Ben commented.

“There could be worse things.” Adam gave his father a wry smile. “Well, I believe it’s time for cake. What do say, son?”

The birthday boy shouted. “Yes! Cake!”

Cecille went to the kitchen and brought out a lovely cake inscribed with ‘Happy Birthday, Benji’ and the number five. Adam lit the five candles and brought Benji in front him.

” ‘Happy Birthday to you!’ “, Adam sang out and then everyone joined in. After the song was over, Adam encouraged his son to blow out the candles.

And Benji did, all in one big breath, to the cheers and applause of his family. Cecille served the cake and Hop Sing brought out cups of coffee and glasses of milk. The birthday boy could not have been happier. It was the perfect ending to his birthday meal.

After finishing her cake, Mary slipped away from the table without a word, heading for the stairs.

Kate called after her. “Are you ok, Mary?”

Mary nodded that she was fine. However, when she returned from taking care of her personal needs, she saw all of Benji’s gifts sitting on the coffee table. Mary looked over at everyone sitting at the dining room table, and no one had noticed her. She sidled past the back side of the blue chair and went to her knees between the fireplace and the coffee table, totally out of sight of everyone at the table. Benji’s sketch book was laying there inviting her to pull back the cover and start drawing; so Mary lifted the cover and took one of the drawing pencils and began to draw.

Kate looked toward the stairs wondering what had become of Mary. She whispered to Ben. “I think I had better go check on Mary.”

He nodded as she excused herself from the table, but upon entering the living room, Kate knew exactly what happened to Mary. The little girl looked up at her aunt, pencil in hand and panic on her face. She dropped the pencil and ran upstairs to her room as fast as she could go. Now Kate had a dilemma. Mary definitely needed to apologize for drawing in Benji’s book, but Kate also did not want to create a big scene, especially with everything that had happened earlier in the day. Kate decided to put the sketch book high on the book shelf so that none of the children could reach it and to let Mary stay in her room for the time being since she went there of her own accord.

Kate whispered to Adam on her way back to her seat. “I put Benji’s sketchbook on the shelf for safe keeping.”

But Adam could see in her face that something was amiss. Later when the others moved to the living room, Adam hung back and caught Kate by the arm. “Mary ran back upstairs and I got the impression that something is not right.”

“I’m afraid you’re right. I caught Mary red-handed drawing in Benji’s sketchbook, and then she ran to her room.” Kate’s eyes were full of regret. “I’m sorry Adam. I just didn’t know what to do without causing a big fuss. I know Mary needs to apologize. Do you have any thoughts?” Kate was embarrassed and still at a loss.

“That is unfortunate. And the party was going so well.” Adam pinched the bridge of his nose. “Let me think on it for a few minutes.”

Kate gave him a grateful nod, and they joined the others in the living room. Adam went to shelf and retrieved the sketchbook and then waited for a lull before calling Benji to him. “Benji, I need you to come with me. There is something that I need to show you.”

“Are you going to teach me to draw, Papa?” Benji looked at Adam with eagerness.

“Maybe in a little while, but first I need you to come upstairs for a few minutes.” He motioned his son toward the stairs.

Adam received many concerned looks from his family. “Not to worry. We shall return.” Adam forced a smile.

Once they were in the bedroom, Benji looked up at his father, puzzled. “What is it, Papa?”

“I am going to show you something that you are probably not going like and then we are going to have to decide what we are going to do about it.”

Benji gave him a confused look, then Adam opened the sketchbook with Mary’s crude drawing of Patches on the very first page. Benji clenched his fists, gritted his teeth and growled. “Mary! Mary is a bad girl! It’s my drawing book…It’s my present…Mine!” The boy shouted, his anger eventually dissolving into tears.

Adam took his son into his arms and let him cry. After the boy calmed somewhat, Adam spoke again. “Benji, Mary should not have drawn in your book, but I can take care of that for you.” Adam went behind the dressing screen and came back with his razor. He carefully cut out the first page of the book. “There your book is fixed.” He held Mary’s drawing in his hand. Benji reached for it to destroy it, but Adam raised it out of his reach. “Son, I am going to ask you to do a hard thing. I would like you to forgive Mary, because I believe it would be the best thing for you and for Mary.”

Benji gave his father a frustrated look.

“Son, I will not make you do it and I will not punish you if you decide not to, but I think it is the right thing to do.” There was love and sincerity in Adam’s eyes. “I am going to count to one hundred and then you can tell me what you have decided. OK?”

Benji nodded, his face still hard.

Adam began slowly and patiently. “One..two..three…” He looked intently into his son’s eyes as he continued. “…thirty-five…thirty-six…thirty-seven…” Benji’s face began to soften as Adam went on. “…fifty-nine…sixty..”

The boy let out a big breath. “Stop counting, Papa. I will forgive Mary.” Benji threw himself into his father’s arms.

Adam held his son’s dark curls against his shoulder. “I am very proud of you, son…very proud. Let’s go see Mary.” He handed him Mary’s picture.

Adam knocked on the girls’ bedroom door. “Mary? Benji and I would like to come in.”

Gently pushing the door open, they found a wide-eyed, tear-streaked little girl peering back at them.

“It’s alright, Mary. Nothing bad is going to happen to you.” Adam looked into fearful eyes. “Will you sit up please? Benji has something he would like to say to you.”

Mary cautiously sat up.

Benji took a deep breath. “I forgive you, Mary.” He gave her the picture of Patches.

Mary sat unmoving, staring at Benji and Adam.

Adam nodded. “Go on, take the picture. It’s yours.”

She hesitated at first, but then reached out and took the page. Mary finally managed to squeak out a response. “Thank you.”

Benji looked up at his father and smiled.

Adam spoke gently hoping to alleviate her fears. “Would you like to come back downstairs with us.”

She gave him an uncertain nod.

He went to the wash basin and dampened a cloth. “Let’s get you cleaned up a bit.” Adam gently wiped Mary’s cheeks with the cloth and dried them with a towel.

Mary managed a smile and took Adam’s hand when he offered it to her. The threesome was greeted with looks of relief when they reached the living room. Mary ran to Ben and climbed into his lap. He patted her leg and pulled her close, sincerely hoping that this was the last of the drama for the day. Cecille welcomed Benji back with a hug. Though the other three children were running about playing, Mary seemed content to stay in Ben’s lap for the remainder of the evening.

Later, when the little girls finally began to yawn, Kate and Cecille declared it was time for the children to go to bed. Once the living room was quiet, Ben poured himself, his three older sons and Gabrielle each a glass of sherry. They could feel some of the tension of the day slipping away as they sipped the amber liquid. One by one the adults retired for the evening.

Gabrielle rose from her seat and walked toward the front door. “Good night, Adam. I am just going to get a quick breath of fresh air before bed.”

“Would you like for me to get your wrap?” Adam offered.

“Thank you, but I’ll be fine. I’m only going to be a minute.”

Hoss was leaving for the bunk house and pulled his father’s coat from the hook by the door and held it out to her when she turned his way. “Pa won’t mind if you don’t.”

She smiled and nodded, appreciating his thoughtfulness and practicality. Hoss helped her into the coat. Gabrielle was dwarfed by Ben’s tan coat and looked like quite a contradiction of attire with her beautiful dress and a western-style overcoat. She inhaled the faint scent of Ben’s aftershave, saddle soap, and horse from the coat. There was something comforting, almost child-like about wearing the over-sized garment, seldom close enough in proximity to her own father to take in his scent. Hoss opened the door for her. Once on the porch, she crossed her arms around her body, pulling her hands up into the sleeves for warmth. They stood silently, the steam of their breath rising and disappearing into the night air.

Gabrielle gazed up into the starry night. “The sky is incredible.”

“Yeah, it sure is. Pa used to name the constellations for us when we were kids. He knows ’em all, bein’ a sailor before he married Adam’s Ma.” Hoss hesitated before continuing. “Miss Gabrielle…”

Gabrielle broke in and looked up at the big man standing beside her. “Hoss, what if we just pretend that nothing happened this afternoon.”

Their blue eyes met and were locked for a few seconds. Embarrassed, Hoss bid her a quiet ‘goodnight’, and headed for the bunk house.

“Goodnight.” Gabrielle whispered to him. Her mixed up emotions were creating many questions in her mind.


Chapter 9


Author’s Note: Page 8 & 9, Lesson II & III from the McGuffey Eclectic Primer are quoted in this chapter. Adam also quotes a line from the season 5 episode Ponderosa Matador.

After the emotional turmoil of the previous day, Gabrielle lingered in bed the next morning, even though she was certain by the voices coming from the hallway, that everyone else was up. Her conversation with Hoss on the porch had stirred feelings that made her uncomfortable and unable to fall right to sleep once she retired last evening. The questions that had hindered her sleep returned immediately when she woke.

What is the matter with you? It’s not like you are a teenage girl that has never been around men before. The last thing you should be thinking about is getting involved with a man, let alone a rancher from Nevada. You just broke off an engagement with a prominent Bostonian. Have you lost your mind!

Joe had been sweet and polite on their lunch date yesterday, and there was no doubt that he was quite handsome. Still he reminded Gabrielle of so many young men she had known casually, just a little too eager to be taken seriously. But then it was Hoss, the big bear of a man, not nearly as attractive as Joe, not as socially adept, and who seemed totally uninterested in her, that had put her stomach in a knot. Secretly she hoped that both of them would be occupied with work for the day so she could spend time with Cecille and family without being distracted.

Hoss had also found it difficult to sleep the previous evening when he climbed into his bunk. Gabrielle was the most beautiful woman he had ever known, and he was amazed that despite her big city upbringing, she did not put on airs. Still, he felt very inadequate in her presence, that fact was only accentuated by Mary’s embarrassing outburst. He had told Joe that he was not going to get in his way where Gabrielle was concerned. Yet the look in her blues eyes the last evening had turned him to mush and left him wondering.

You must be crazy! No woman like that would be interested in you. Just forget about her! But that was the problem, he could not forget about her. Hoss let out a huff as he mounted Chub early that morning. Smokey, and Gypsum, and he were riding out to make a routine check on the cattle, and he hoped a day out in the cold weather would clear his mind.

The dining room table was filled with hungry family members when Adam came downstairs carrying some papers. “Pa, would you mind if I used your desk for a while. I brought some work along that I really should have a look at after I eat.”

“Help, yourself.”

Joe was disappointed that Gabrielle had not come down for breakfast, but he knew there was no putting off work this day. He was getting ready to head out the door when Adam stopped to put down his paperwork on the desk.

Adam quietly called him aside. “Joe, can I have a word.”

“Sure, Adam.”

“Joe, Cecille filled me in on some of what Benji and I missed yesterday afternoon.”

“Oh…yeah…Hoss told me what happened. Guess it was a little crazy.”

“Look, Joe, nothing would please me more than to have both Armand sisters in the Cartwright family, but I feel that I would be remiss if I did not ask you to put the brakes on with Gabrielle. Cecille told me that Gabrielle could really use some time to get over her broken engagement. So can you just take it easy, little brother?”

Joe sighed in resignation. “Sure, Adam. I can do that. See ya later.”

“See ya, Joe.”

It was heart-warming for Gabrielle to see Benji and Elizabeth in their grandfather’s lap when she finally made it downstairs for breakfast. Ben was listening to Benji read from one his birthday gifts, a McGuffey Primer.

“The…cat..has…a rat. The…rat..ran…at…Ann. Ann…has…a cat. The…cat…ran…at the rat.” Benji read pointing to each word.

“Excellent, Benjamin. You are reading very well indeed.” Ben encouraged. He looked up to greet Gabrielle. “Good morning, Gabrielle. Did you rest well?”

“Yes, thank you.” She fibbed, not wanting to generate concern.

“Aunt Gabbie.” Elizabeth called while jumping out of Ben’s lap and running to her aunt.

“Good morning, Elizabeth. How are you today?” Gabrielle reached out to her niece.

“Good. Hungry?”

“Yes, I must get some breakfast before it is time for lunch.” She gave Elizabeth’s nose a gentle tweak.

Benji was very pleased with himself. “Aunt Gabbie, did you hear me reading?”

“Yes I did, and you must read for me later.”

Benji gave her an enthusiastic nod and then Gabrielle joined Cecille and Kate at the table.

“Good morning Gabbie. How are you doing this morning?” Cecille noticed that she lacked her usual glow.

“I am fine. Sorry to be so late.”

Kate patted her arm. “Think nothing of it. Hop Sing kept some breakfast for you in the warmer. I will be right back with it.”

“Thank you, Kate.”

From the table, Mary spied an opening on Ben’s lap. She went and stood beside his chair.

Ben smiled at her when he saw her patiently standing there. “Would you like to join us, Mary?”

She nodded and Ben pulled her into his lap. Benji gave her an uncertain look. Though he had forgiven her about the sketchbook incident, she still made him uneasy.

“All right now, Benjamin, let’s continue.”

Benji read as Ben pointed out the girl and the boy in the picture to Mary. “Ann.. and..Nat. Ann…has…a fan. Nat…has…a hat. Ann…can…fan…Nat.”

While Gabrielle ate her breakfast, she enjoyed listening to Kate and Cecille. Suddenly a thought came to her.

“You have been so gracious to allow me to come for a visit, and I would love to return the favor in my own way. What if I watch the children for a few hours so that the two of you could go have lunch in town with your husbands?” Gabrielle looked at them expectantly.

Her suggestion caught Cecille and Kate totally by surprise.

“Oh Gabrielle, that is quite an offer, but we couldn’t let you do that. Hoss, Joe, and Jamie are gone. You would be all alone with them.” Kate explained.

Gabrielle kept her voice low. “Your cook, Hop Sing, is it, would take care of lunch and could help with anything that I might need. Surely I could manage for, what, four or five hours?”

Kate and Cecille looked at each other uncertainly, then Cecille turned to her sister and spoke softly hoping that the children did not overhear. “Gabbie, are you sure?”

“Certainly. Please do not tell me that you both would not enjoy a few hours with your husbands without the children.” Gabrielle eyed them with a wry smile.

Kate gave her a warm smile and whispered back. “Well of course. That is most generous of you. Thank you so much, Gabrielle.”

Ben looked curiously at the ladies chatting at the table. “Adam, I believe that our wives are up to something. There is a lot of whispering going on at the table.”

Adam called out from the desk. “Really? Cecille?”

“Yes, Adam, Gabrielle has offered to watch the children while Kate and Ben and you and I go into Virginia City for lunch. Wouldn’t that be nice?” Cecille got up from the table and moved across the living room.

Kate rose and placed her hand on Ben’s shoulder. “What do you say, Ben?” There was a twinkle of expectation in her eyes.

“That would be marvelous.” Ben called back over his shoulder to her. “Gabrielle, are you sure?”

“We did our best to try and talk her out of it, but I am afraid she is quite set on it.” Cecille replied.

Gabrielle rose from the table to move closer to Ben. “Yes, please, just go and enjoy yourselves.”

Adam gave his sister-in-law a big smile. “Well you don’t have to tell me twice. Come on, Pa. Let’s go hitch up the surrey.”

Shortly there after, Gabrielle was standing near the credenza with the four children at her sides awaiting final instructions.

Adam spoke seriously to his children. “Benji and Elizabeth I am counting on you to be good helpers for Aunt Gabbie.”

Ben placed his hands on the heads of his nieces. “Mary and Hannah you be good girls, too, and listen to Miss Armand.”

“I am sure they will be fine, won’t you children?” Gabrielle glanced down at her charges.

Benji and Elizabeth had nodded vigorously while Mary and Hannah seemed a bit unsure.

The adults called out their farewells and walked out the door.

Adam helped his wife into the surrey and whispered to his father.” Pa, why don’t you let me drive, then you and Kate can snuggle up in the back seat.”

Ben gave him a wink as he helped Kate into the back seat.

After Adam took his seat next to Cecille, he turned around to check on Kate and his father. “All set?” Adam was greeted with the top of his father’s hat blocking his view.

Ben had kissed Kate soundly and now they were giggling like a couple of teenagers who had stolen their first kiss. “Yes, Adam, now we are ready.” Ben placed his hat securely on his head. “Thank you for the excellent suggestion. I may just have to hire you as our driver.” He pulled Kate close and let loose with a hearty laugh.

Adam gave his father a look of mock frustration. “Right, Pa!” Then he quickly leaned over and kissed Cecille.

“Adam!” Cecille squealed in surprise.

“Now we are ready!” Adam gave her an ornery, dimpled grin, and slapped the reins.

This entire exchange seemed so foreign to Cecille. Her father and brothers rarely joked and the open affection between husband and wife still left her a bit uncomfortable, but the easy laughter was freeing for them all. It felt good to release some of the previous day’s anxiety into the cold, crisp air, all of them grateful to Gabrielle for a few hours reprieve from the children.

Gabrielle called the youngsters to the settee. “Come children and sit down. We will have lunch soon. Until then, why don’t we play a game. When I was young, Cecille and I used to play a hiding game. We need something small to hide. Can you think of anything?”

Mary jumped down and went to Kate’s sewing basket that sat by the end of the settee. After rummaging around a bit, she pulled out a thimble. Gabrielle was surprised by Mary’s quick thinking but confused by her sad expression when she held the thimble up to her.

“Mary, have you played this game before?” Gabrielle asked.

Mary responded softly. “My Mama.”

Gabrielle bit her lip. She understood all too well what it was like to lose your mother. She gently pulled Mary to her and patted her back. “I am very sorry about your Mama, Mary and Hannah.” After a moment she continued. “The thimble will work perfectly. Now, children, go upstairs in the hallway and wait until I call you down.” They all jumped up and did just that. “No peeking now.” She placed the thimble on the corner of Ben’s desk. “Alright. Hannah and Elizabeth come down first, and walk, do not run down the stairs.” Gabrielle thought that if nothing else they would get some activity going up and down the stairs. She stopped them on the last two steps. “Now there is to be no climbing up on things, no pushing, and no going into the kitchen. The thimble is in plain sight for all of you. One, two, three, go find the thimble!”

The children scattered, Hannah and Elizabeth giggling as they went. Mary and Benji were very intent in their looking. It did not take long for Mary to find it and bring it to Gabrielle.

“You are a good ‘finder’, Mary. All right, Benji, Elizabeth, and Hannah, go upstairs until I call you.”

Benji showed his frustration as he climbed the stairs.

Gabrielle gave the instructions. “Ok Mary, you can hide it now, but they have to be able to see it.”

Mary nodded and placed the thimble on the table beside the stairs. Gabrielle smiled and motioned her back to the settee.

Gabrielle call up the stairs. “Ok, you can come down now.”

It did not take long for Benji to find the thimble this time, having since thought of some good hiding places.

“All right, Benji. You hide it for the little girls. Mary this it just for Elizabeth and Hannah.”

Mary nodded that she understood. Benji hid the thimble on the base of the hearth by Ben’s chair.

“That might be difficult for them, Benji. Ok girls come down and find the thimble.”

After several hints, Hannah found it, then she hid it for Elizabeth. With lots of help, Elizabeth found the thimble sitting on the bookshelf. And by the time each child had his or her opportunity to hide the thimble again, it was time for lunch.

So far so good. As they all sat down to lunch, Gabrielle was relieved that things were going well.

There were a few snowflakes in the air when the Cartwright couples arrived in town. Ben looked to the sky and determined they could proceed with their plans. During their enjoyable lunch, Adam and Ben shared stories from the past.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

“…we chased that bull for miles, finally running it into the corral back at the ranch. Then Hoss, Joe, and I, sat on the bench by the pump, our filthy clothes in tatters, waiting in dread for Pa to come home and bellow. What was it you said Pa? Something to the effect of ‘what you have done to the territory of Nevada in one short afternoon, will reduce twenty-five years of Apache raids to a footnote in history.’ ” Adam repeated his father’s summary of the bull’s devastation in his best Ben Cartwright voice.

Kate and Cecille laughed until their sides ached while Ben scowled at Adam. This was one of those times when he regretted his son’s perfect memory.

“There was nothing he could do but shout. We were grown men, long beyond the ‘necessary talk’ stage.” Adam snickered.

Kate looked puzzled. “Necessary talk?”

“Oh, that was Pa’s delicate way of saying you were going to get a sound spanking.” Adam gave his father one of his typical know-it-all looks and choked. “Not that I would know anything about that personally.”

They all laughed, but then Kate grew serious.

“Adam, I want to thank you for the way you handled the situation with Mary yesterday. Was Benji terribly upset?” Concern was knitted in Kate’s brow.

“I am afraid he was.” Adam went on to explain. “I do not mean this to sound ungrateful for his other gifts, but I believe the sketchbook holds special significance because he associates it with me and my work.”

“That is understandable. Unfortunately, little Miss Mary has demonstrated on more than one occasion that she is quite an opportunist.” Ben looked at Kate and cleared his throat.

“Faults and all, I love those little girls.” Kate confessed with glistening eyes.

“Of course, you do.” Cecille gently placed her hand on Kate’s arm. “And that is what they need the most, to know they are loved.”

“I am afraid we have complicated your lives even more.” Adam brought his clasped hands up to his mouth and blew out a breath. “Pa..Kate…Cecille and I are very grateful to you. We understand that having us all at the ranch does not make your life any easier. I want you to know that I will do my best to have us settled in Frisco as soon as possible. But it’s not just our imposing upon you that concerns us…” He paused and placed his hand over his wife’s. “This separation is just not good for us as a family.” Adam sighed with the release of his burden.

Kate and Ben looked at Adam and Cecille with understanding. “Adam, Cecille, You are family and you are always welcome at the Ponderosa, for just as long as you need or want. But we also understand that the two of you, and Benji and Elizabeth are a family and that you need to be together, especially with the children so young.”

“Thanks, Pa.” A wave of relief came over him.

“Well now, Gabrielle sent us off to have a break from the children, and we have managed to spend our entire lunch talking about children whether big ones or small.” Ben chuckled and pulled his watch from his pocket. “Goodness, the time is getting away from us. If you ladies want to stop at the store before we leave town, we had better get moving.”

It was snowing harder when they stepped out of the restaurant and walked to the store.

“It would be best to make this brief. From the look of the weather, we had better get on the road soon.” Ben looked up at the sky before they entered the general store.

Adam and Ben stood by the window and talked while their wives did their shopping. Though Cecille and Kate shopped quickly, the rate of the snowfall had only increased and now the wind was picking up as well.

“We are going to wait a few minutes to see if the snow lets up, but if is doesn’t, I’m afraid that we will be staying in town for the evening.” Ben informed Kate and Cecille.

“But we can’t leave Gabrielle with the children overnight.” Worry etched Kate’s face as she watched the snow continuing to fall heavily from the front windows of the store.

“If it were just Adam and I on horseback, that would be one thing, but we cannot take the two of you out in this kind of weather in the surrey. Gabrielle and the children have food, shelter, and warmth, and Hoss, Joe, and Jamie should all be home by suppertime to help her.” Ben put his arm around his troubled wife. “They will be fine, Kate.”

Once Adam was sure that there was no point waiting any longer, he told Ben to go ahead and take Kate and Cecille to the hotel and that he would take the surrey to the livery. However, Kate was still fretting when she and Ben reached their room.

Oh Ben, Gabrielle was so thoughtful and now we have abandoned her.” Kate was distressed.

“Kate, had we known this bad weather was coming we would have stayed home, but we did not.” He removed his overcoat and hat. “I seem to remember that Gabrielle said that she wanted us to enjoy ourselves.” He pulled Kate into his arms. “And now that we know that we are here for the evening, I would very much like to do just that.” He began to placed a string of gentle kisses from her temple down to her neck.

“Did you pray for this snow?” Kate eyed her husband warily.

“I’ll never tell. Enough talk now.” He growled into her neck. “We have better things to do.”

Her green eyes flashed. “Now who’s the opportu…”

A few doors down the hall, Cecille was ready and waiting for Adam when he came in from the livery. Having shared their bedroom with their children since Adam’s return, neither had any interest in talking.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

“Wow, it sure is snowing out there.” Jamie stomped and brushed himself off as he walked through the door after school.

The children ran to him. “Hi Jamie!”

“Hey kids.”

“Hello Jamie. Is it really snowing hard? I had not noticed. I have been so busy with the children.” Gabrielle brushed back a loose strand of hair.

“Yeah, it is. Where is everybody?”

“Your father, Kate, Adam, and Cecille went into town for lunch.”

“Gosh, I sure hope they make it back, but they might have to stay in town tonight. What about Hoss and Joe?”

“I have not seen either of them today.”

“Well, they’ll probably be back soon cause it’ll get dark in a little over an hour. Guess I’d better get to the chores.”

Mary looked up at him hopefully. “Can I come, Jamie?”

“Me too?” Benji asked.

“Is it alright, Miss Armand? Mary usually helps me and it’s fine if Benji comes too.”

“All right. I will help them get bundled up, but please keep a close eye on them.”

“Believe me, I will. I learned that lesson the hard way.” He gave Mary a stern look. “Hurry up, you two. Go get your coats on.”

Jamie and the children were back in from doing the chores by the time Hoss came in for supper.

“Hey Hoss. Still snowing?” Jamie asked.

“Hey little brother. Hey Benji. Where is everybody?”

“Gab…I mean Miss Armand has the girls upstairs playing. I was just teaching Benji how to shoot marbles. He’s pretty good at it already.” Jamie rubbed the little guy’s head.

“Yeah, but where’s Pa and Kate, Adam and Cecille?”

“Oh yeah, they went to town for lunch, and I bet there stuck there for the night with all the snow.”

“Ya mean Gabrielle stayed here with the kids all by herself?”

Benji gave a full report. “Yep! We had fun! We played hide the thimble, and read stories, and the girls had a tea party. Ugh! That was not fun!”

Hoss and Jamie laughed.

Hoss chuckled. “Yeah, buddy, I know whatcha mean. I’ve had a fair amount of tea myself lately.”

“Have you seen Joe yet?” Jamie asked.

“Yeah he’s in the barn. Should be comin’ soon.”

“Ok. I’ll tell Hop Sing. He was wonderin’ about holdin’ supper.”

“Hope he’s got plenty. I’m so hungry I could eat a whole steer all by myself after bein’ in the cold all day.”

With four less adults at the dinner table, Hoss had plenty to eat. In fact, Gabrielle was a bit surprised by how much he consumed. Truthfully he had restrained himself a bit, hoping not to send her into shock. Without Ben and Adam’s help, and with Hoss and Joe feeling like they were walking a tight rope with Gabrielle, the conversation was limited. The children had behaved well during the day, but as bedtime approached, Gabrielle could tell they were beginning to get apprehensive. Jamie offered some help by suggesting they play ‘Simon says’.

“Ok kids. I’m going to tell you to do something, but you only do it if I say ‘Simon says’ first. Hey, Joe, can you help me show them how it works?”

“Oh alright, Jamie. ‘Simon says’ pat your belly.” Joe commanded.

Jamie happily patted his stomach.

“Jamie, ‘Simon says’ clap you hands.”

Jamie made a silly face and clapped his hands.

“Jamie, snap your fingers.”

Jamie just sat there looking at the kids.

“Come on Jamie, snap your fingers.” Joe snapped his fingers wildly in front of Jamie’s face.

The children laughed at Joe.

Jamie sat there staring at them.

Joe finally gave the correct order. “‘Simon says’ snap your fingers, Jamie.”

“Now do you get it? Only do what ‘Simon says’. ” Jamie said.

Mary smiled and nodded.

“Yep. Let’s play.” Benji replied.

Jamie started out slowly, and soon Hannah and Elizabeth caught on. Benji and Mary were very good listeners and played the game well, but then Jamie picked up the speed between commands and caught the older children as well. Hoss, Joe, and Gabrielle did lots of laughing while watching the young ones imitate Jamie. When Hannah and Elizabeth lost interest and began to yawn, Gabrielle said it was bedtime. She took Benji and Elizabeth and Hoss volunteered to take Mary and Hannah up to bed.

After tucking Benji and Elizabeth in for the night, Gabrielle came back downstairs to do some reading by the fire. She found Joe and Jamie playing a game of checkers at the coffee table; so she sat down quietly in the blue chair and opened her book. By the time their game was over, Gabrielle was absorbed in her book. It had been a long cold day for Joe, and he had told Adam that he would back away from Gabrielle; so rather than torment himself sitting in her presence by the cozy fire he said his good nights and went to his room early to do some reading of his own. Not feeling comfortable with just the two of them in the living room, Jamie left Gabrielle to her book and went on to bed. Hoss came downstairs after finally getting Mary and Hannah settled for the night. Though something stronger sounded really good to him, he decided on a cup of coffee.

Hoss stopped where Gabrielle was seated. “I’m gonna get some coffee. Would ya like a cup?”

“You would not mind if I join you?”

“Not a bit.” He motioned for her to walk ahead of him to the kitchen, and hoped that he sounded less nervous than he felt. “Have a seat at the table. I’ll get it. I might be able to rustle up a couple of cookies, if you’d like. That is if the kids didn’t eat ’em all.”

“Really? That does sound good.” She smiled like a delighted little girl.

Her smile brought him to a stop and he stood there gazing at her. After a few seconds, Gabrielle let out an embarrassed giggle. “Um, Hoss, the coffee?”

“Right, coffee.” His head jerked and he started to turn pink. Soon Hoss had two cups of coffee and a plate of cookies on the table. “Do ya like cream and sugar in your coffee?

“Yes, please, if it is not too much trouble.”

“No trouble. Got it right here.” Hoss set the cream and sugar on the table and sat down across from Gabrielle. Even from there, her perfume was having an effect on him. “Hope it’s not too strong for ya.” He was unable to think of anything else to say.

“No, it is fine. Thank you.”

They sat in silence sipping their coffee, each wondering which one would speak first. Becoming uncomfortable, they both spoke at once and then laughed.

Hoss gave Gabrielle a silly grin. “Sorry, ladies first.”

“I know so little about ranching. I was just curious what you were actually doing today? It must be difficult being out in the cold on a day like today.”

“Fraid it’s not much fun, but it’s got to be done. The ranch hands, Smokey and Gypsum and me rode around checking our herd. The weather’s not been too bad; so the cattle are holding up purty good. Some winters we ain’t…sorry…aren’t so lucky. But it’s already February. Don’t usually have snow like this now. Probably be gone by tomorrow or the next day.” Hoss suddenly realized he had been talking for quite a while.

“You like ranching, don’t you?”

“Never done anything else. Pa, Adam, and me built this place from the ground up. Then Joe came along. Lots of years of hard work. Probably it’s the same for your father and brothers. Cecille said they have a shipping company back in Boston.”

“Yes, we do. Daddy began on a very small scale before he married my mother. At last count, Armand Shipping has twenty-two boats.”

Hoss whistled. “That’s one big company.”

“Did you know that Adam designed the Armand offices…” They totally lost track of time, caught up in their conversation, when suddenly they noticed Mary standing beside them.

“Hey, doll. Whatcha doin’ down here?”

Mary gave him a sad little pout. “Can’t sleep. I want Aunt Kate.”

“Now we talked about this when I put ya ta bed. Aunt Kate and Uncle Ben will be back tomorrow as long as the weather is fit. Ok?” Hoss tried to reason with her. “Would ya like a glass of milk and a cookie?”

Mary nodded. Gabrielle held out her arms to her. Mary hesitated, but then decided it was better than standing there in her bare feet on the cold floor. Gabrielle handed her a cookie and Hoss brought the glass of milk. While watching Mary eat her cookie, Hoss also watched Gabrielle and her gentle way with the little girl. It struck him odd that this fancy woman from Boston high society could sit here on his ranch and look so natural holding a young one in her lap.

Mary’s milk and cookie quickly disappeared. “Best be gettin’ ya back ta bed, darlin’.” He held out his arms to Mary and she went right to him.

“And I should be getting to bed as well. I would imagine it will be almost noon before the others return, provided the weather cooperates. That means children to watch over in the morning.” Gabrielle sighed. “Goodnight, Mary, and goodnight, Hoss. Thank you for the coffee and cookies.” She offered him a sweet smile.

“You’re welcome. Goodnight. Hope ya rest well.”

Hoss looked at Mary thinking it was probably a good thing that she had shown up in the kitchen when she did. Otherwise Gabrielle and he might have talked into the wee hours of the morning. It surprised him how easy she was to talk to. Nothing about what had just transpired made any sense to him. He wondered why she would even give him the time of day, let alone sit at the kitchen table and talk about ranching. He was afraid to get his hopes up, but he definitely wanted to spend more time with her, a whole lot more time.

Just before Hoss laid Mary down next to Hannah, she planted a kiss on his rough cheek.

“Thanks, doll. Love ya, too.” He was amazed at how easily the words rolled off his tongue. “Sweet dreams.” He said softly before he closed the door.

As Gabrielle laid in bed willing herself to go to sleep, their conversation at the kitchen table kept running through her mind. With Hoss there was no pretense, no striving, just a relaxed joy of living. In the few days that she had known him, she could already tell that he loved his life here at the Ponderosa and that he would probably never be happy anywhere else. In her mind’s eye, she could see him handily performing every type of physical labor required on the ranch, yet he was so incredibly gentle with the children. It frightened her that she would even contemplate the possibility that the two of them could ever have a life together, and still, she could not shake that thought from her mind.


Chapter 10


Gabrielle woke to a knock at her door. “Yes, who is it?”

“Aunt Gabbie, it’s time to eat.” Benji called to her from the hallway.

Noticing that the light was beginning to peek in around the curtains, she jumped from her bed and went to the door. She cracked the door open making sure to keep herself well hidden. Benji was standing there in his nightshirt looking at her expectantly.

“Are you coming down, Aunt Gabbie?”

“Yes, I will be down soon. Please go ahead and get dressed.”

“But…we are eating.”

“You have started already?”

Benji nodded.

“Oh my goodness! Well..uh..go on then. I will be down as soon as I am dressed.”

Benji smiled and ran toward the stairs.

Gabrielle closed the door quickly. She could not believe that she had not heard the children get up, but she also knew that it had been well after midnight when she had finally fallen asleep last night. She briskedly washed her face, and dressed in her previous day’s shirtwaist and skirt, not wanting to waste time going through her wardrobe. She brushed her hair, glanced in the mirror, and gave her cheeks a good pinch.

“Well, you have certainly looked better.” A tired and somewhat discouraged pair of blue eyes stared back at her.

Gabrielle rushed down the hallway and stopped abruptly on the second step when she saw every family member presently in the house seated at the table. The men were dressed for the day, of course, but the children were all still in their night-clothes, their hair in varying degrees of disarray. She brought her hand to her mouth, then forced herself to proceed down the stairs with the proper decorum. The men shot to their feet as soon as she was on the main floor. Seeing his uncles demonstrate the proper social grace, Benji jumped up and stood by his chair not the least concerned about his nightshirt or that his dark curls were all askew.

“Good morning everyone. I am very sorry if I have kept you waiting. Oh dear, I should have been up earlier to get the children properly dressed and ready for breakfast. This is all quite embarrass…” Her words flowed rapidly off her tongue, not allowing even of a pause between sentences for any of them to respond.

Jamie put his head down hoping that Gabrielle would not see the smile that was creeping on his face. And Joe wanted to be sympathetic, but seeing her so flustered struck his funny bone. He was practically choking, holding his breath so that a snicker did not sneak out. However, Hoss looked at her with the warm, understanding smile of one who frequently found himself in uncomfortable situations.

“Would ya like ta sit down?” Hoss pulled out her chair hoping to put Gabrielle at ease.

“Yes…thank you.” She suddenly realized how ridiculous she looked and sounded and that she was denying all of the males their breakfast by keeping them on their feet.

Gabrielle sat down and the men and Benji returned to their seats.

“Look, Aunt Gabbie! Pancakes!” Elizabeth held out her fork with an entire pancake dangling from it.

The pancake broke away and landed with a plop on the table. Then Gabrielle began to giggle. The entire scene, her late arrival, the children in their night-clothes, the men standing uncomfortably, and Elizabeth dropping her pancake on the table, sent her over the edge. Soon everyone joined in, with Hoss’ whole-hearted guffaw drowning out the rest.

After the laughter faded, Gabrielle was finally able to respond to her niece.”Yes, Elizabeth, that sounds good. I believe I will have some pancakes, too.”

Hoss turned her way when she spoke and gave her a reassuring nod. With a beefy arm he passed her the platter of pancakes.

“Thank you.” She smiled sweetly at him finding his mix of manners and free-wheeling laughter very comforting.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Adam could tell by the streaks of sunlight at the edge of the drapes that it had stopped snowing. Cecille was resting peacefully, one hand on the dark curls on his chest. After a night reminiscent of their days prior to having children, he was hesitant to wake her, but he could not resist placing a gentle kiss on her creamy brow.

“What time is it?” Her eyes were still closed hoping to will away the morning.

“I’d say a little after seven.”

“Ugh, I just want to stay here and not think about you leaving tomorrow, but your father and Kate are probably up and ready to go to breakfast.” Cecille wrapped her arm around his chest.

“I would not be too sure about that. You have seen how they are together. I have not seen Pa so head over heels in love since Marie. My guess is that they are not in a rush, and even if they are already at breakfast, they would not begrudge us a few more minutes alone.”

“Oh Adam.” She gave him a swat, not wanting to think about her in-laws love life or the likelihood of them thinking about hers.

“Ceci, I do not want to think about tomorrow either, or Pa and Kate. You know, my love, certain things require almost no thought at all.” There was mischief in his hazel eyes.

The kiss that Adam placed on her lips drove almost every thought from her mind.

The elder Cartwrights were also finding it difficult to get going.

“Excuse me, uh, Mr. Cartwright. Do you see that sun out there? That means it has stopped snowing. Don’t you think we ought to be getting ourselves to breakfast?” Kate gave her husband a playful poke in the ribs.

Ben jumped. “Hey now! What is your hurry? I would be willing to wager that Adam and Cecille are not up yet. Besides, you did not seem to be so worried about getting home to the children once we came to bed last night. Or do I need to give you a little reminder?” He placed a warm kiss on her shoulder.

“Well, you are going to have to do a whole lot better than that, because I am greatly concerned about Gabrielle and the children!” Kate’s eyes were full of orneriness.

A husky chuckled rumbled from his chest. “Really? Well then, let me see what I can do about that.”

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Back at home, breakfast was winding down. Jamie finished his last few bites of food and downed his milk. “Gotta get the chores done or I’ll be late for school. See ya later.”

“Bye, Jamie.” The children chorused.

Joe waved to them. “Guess I better get going, too. See everybody at supper.”

“See ya, Joe.” Hoss was relieved that his brother would be gone for the day.

“Will you be leaving soon, Hoss?” Gabrielle hoped that she did not to sound too forward.

“There’s nothin’ that can’t wait til this afternoon or tomorrow; so I’ll just hang around here and help ya with the young’uns, if that’s alright with ya?”

“I would appreciate that, but it is not necessary. I do not want to inconvenience you.” Though her heart was saying something all together different.

Hoss hoped that his true motive for staying around the house was not obvious. “It’s no trouble. Glad ta help out.”

“Very well, then, I had better start by getting the children dressed. It would be very embarrassing to have them all still in their night-clothes when the others return from town. Come children, let’s go upstairs and get dressed.” Gabrielle urged them toward the stairs.

Mary and Benji led the way with their siblings right behind them.

Mary came to an unexpected stop on the stairs. “Hoss, can I go for a ride?”

Before Hoss could respond, Hannah bounced off her sister and started to fall backwards. Gabrielle reached out to catch the little one taking a step back, but the heel of her shoe came down at an odd angle. Painfully twisting her ankle, Gabrielle landed in an unflattering heap on the stairs. Hoss was out of his chair almost before she could cry out in pain.

Gabrielle reached for her ankle and grimaced with pain. “Oww! My ankle!”

Hoss scooped her up in his big arms as if she was as light as a feather, and gently placed her on the settee. He inhaled the lavender scent of her golden brown hair as it swept passed his face. He had to fight the urge to bury his nose deep in her soft tresses. Gabrielle held on to her ankle and within seconds the children were beside them.

Now that he had an excuse to touch her, Hoss was frustrated with their audience. [i]Dadburn kids.[/i]

Yet it was the ‘dadburn’ kids that had put them in this situation. Hoss probably would have laughed except that he was having trouble enough just breathing as he knelt beside her.

“Mary whadya hafta stop on the stairs like that. See whatya done, I mean, did.” He was struggling with the fact that Gabrielle was in pain.

Mary’s head dropped. “Sorry.”

“No, no, Hoss. It was just an accident. If anyone is to blame, it is me for hurrying them up the stairs and being so clumsy.” Gabrielle gave Mary a sincere but painful smile.

“Well anyway, Benji and Mary, you’re big enough to get yourselves dressed and help the little ones. So get the move on upstairs and find ya some clothes.” Hoss spoke a bit more sternly than he should have, but he did not want them standing around gawking when he examined Gabrielle’s ankle.

The children looked at him wide-eyed and took off up the stairs. Gabrielle was concerned, but she was also thankful that he had the situation under control.

Hoss’ eyes were sympathetic and caring. “Do ya want me ta have a look at it?”

Focused on her throbbing ankle, Gabrielle looked up to find him looking at her with such tenderness that she momentarily forgot all about the pain. Without enough air to get out a simple ‘yes’, she nodded, still fixed on his clear blue eyes.

“Sorry if this hurts. I’ll be as gentle as I can.”

Hoss carefully removed Gabrielle’s shoe and set it aside. He closed his eyes for a second to gain the necessary inner strength to place his hands on her lower leg and foot, his insides felt like they had turned to jelly. He felt a current running through his body as he ran his fingers over the knob of her ankle and a few inches up her calf.

“This is probly gonna hurt.” He cautiously twisted her foot first one way and then the other.

A sudden jolt of pain brought Gabrielle out of her trance. “Oooh…that hurts!”

“Sorry! Sorry! I didn’t mean ta hurt ya!” He placed a large hand on her shoulder.

Their blue eyes locked on each other.

Gabrielle whispered to him. “Hoss.”

“Yeah Gabrielle.” He breathed.

“I think that I would like for you to kiss me.”

There was a hint of surprise on his face as he gulped.”Ya would?”

She nodded. “Yes, I would.”

He slid his hand from her shoulder around to her back for support as he leaned in and placed an incredibly tender kiss on her lips. After he pulled back she laid her hand gently on his full cheek.

Her smiling blue eyes looked intently into his. “I liked that very much.”

Hoss flushed. “Ya did?”

“Yes, I did.” Her eyes were now twinkling with delight.

He looked at her with a hopeful expression. “Maybe I should try one more just ta be sure.”

“I think so.” Gabrielle was barely able to get the words out before their lips met again.

She slipped her arms around his thick neck. This longer, more intense kiss broke off abruptly when the sound of little feet running down the upstairs hallway brought them back to the real world. With the mood lost, both found themselves a bit embarrassed not knowing what to say or do.

“Aunt Gabbie, are you hurt?” Benji called to her.

She looked at Hoss not knowing how to respond.

Hoss offered Benji a comforting smile. “I think she’ll be ok. Don’t think she broke anything, but I’m gonna have Hop Sing get some ice ta keep it from swellin’.”

Hoss left for the kitchen and Gabrielle did her best to make the necessary adjustments to the children’s clothing. “Benji would you please go and find a brush and the ribbons for Elizabeth’s hair?”

He gave her an odd look, thinking his mother never asked such things of him. Mary looked at Gabrielle and then turned and ran past Benji up the stairs. She returned quickly with a brush and a handful of ribbons.

“Thank you, Mary. Here, Hannah, sit here on the edge and I will do your hair and then, Mary, I will do yours.”

Not long after she had finished doing all three of the girls’ hair, Hoss returned with some small chunks of ice tied in a towel. He carefully positioned it on Gabrielle’s ankle.

“I’m fraid it’s gonna hurt more til it gets numb, but it should help.” He smiled hoping it brought her some comfort.

Gabrielle winced, but then her smile came back. “Thank you, Hoss. Sorry to be such a bother.”

“You’re no bother.” Hoss thought that he would gladly stand on his head if she asked him to.

Just before noon, Cecille and Kate came through the door looking rosy and refreshed from the chilly ride and a pleasant, uninterrupted evening with their husbands.

Cecille move quickly to her sister when she saw Gabrielle propped up on the settee. “Gabbie! What happened?”

Kate came and stood beside Cecille. “Goodness! Gabrielle! Are you alright?”

“Oh, it is nothing serious. I just lost my balance on the stairs and twisted my ankle.”

“But where are the children?” Cecille looked at her with concern.

“Hoss has them upstairs. I think he thought it was easier to keep them, as he would say, ‘corralled’ in the girls’ room.”

Kate and Cecille looked at each other and laughed, mentally picturing him with the four children in Mary and Hannah’s room.

“Sorry, Gabrielle! We are not laughing at you. It’s just…” Kate laughed again.

Cecille sat down in Ben’s chair. “Are you in pain?”

“It’s not that bad. Hoss has taken very good care of me.” The full extent of his care she kept as her special secret. “He thinks I should be back on my feet in a few days.”

“That’s a relief. I’m so sorry we didn’t make it back last night.” Kate said it because she knew that it was the right thing to say even if it was not entirely true.

“I hope that you did not worry about us. The children actually did very well. Mary missed you a little, but she did not give us any trouble.” Gabrielle reassured.

“That is good to know. Well, please let me know it there is anything you need.” Kate offered.

“I will. Thank you.”

“Yes, Gabbie, anything at all.” Cecille gave her sister a supportive smile.

“Aunt Kate, Mama.” The children scurried down the stairs as fast as they could go.

“Mama, Mama, Aunt Gabbie got hurt.” Elizabeth told her mother the news with a look of great concern.

“Yes, I see, but she said you were good children, and that makes me very proud.” Cecille gave her daughter and son a hug and kiss.

Mary looked very serious. “I missed you, Aunt Kate.”

“Me, too.” Hannah chimed.

“I missed both of you, too.” Kate gave little girls hugs and kisses.

“Where is Uncle Ben and Adam?” Mary asked.

Kate ran a hand through Mary’s hair. “They will be in soon. They had to take care of the surrey.”

Hoss stood at the top of the stairs observing the happy scene, but mostly his eyes were fixed on Gabrielle. She had turned his world upside down. If he had known for sure that she loved him and that she would be content with a rancher’s wife’s existence, he would have hitched up the buggy and gone for the preacher that minute. But he was only certain of one thing, that he loved Gabrielle Armand.

“Papa!” Benji and Elizabeth shouted as Adam came through door.

“I missed you.” Adam squatted down to give his children hugs and kisses.

Hoss came down the stairs. “Hey, Adam. Pa still in the barn?”

“Yes, he’s finishing up. Pa knew I would want to see my children.” Adam ruffled Benji’s hair and touched a finger to Elizabeth’s nose. He will be in soon.”

“Ok, thanks.” Hoss headed for the door.

Adam noticed that his brother seemed distracted. “Everything, ok, Hoss?”

“Uh, well, Gabrielle has a sore ankle. I gave her some ice for it.” He glanced her way with a sympathetic look.

“Really? How did that happen?”

“I’ll let her tell ya. Be back in a bit.”

Adam knew his brother well enough to know when he had something on his mind and that their father would help him sort it out. As Adam had said, Hoss found Ben hanging up the harness straps in the barn.

“Hey, Pa. Glad ya made it back.”

“Thanks. son. Everything go all right while we were gone?”

“Purty much, except Gabrielle got tangled up with the kids on the steps and twisted her ankle.”

“That’s unfortunate. Is she going to be alright?”

“Yeah, she should be back on it in a couple a days.”

“That’s good. Glad it’s not serious.”

Hoss pushed his hands into his pockets and walked to one of the saddles and began fiddling with a strap.

Ben took note of his son’s preoccupation. “Something on your mind, son?”

Hoss turned around to look at his father. “Pa..What would ya say if I told ya I was in love with Gabrielle?”

Ben tried to keep the surprise off of his face, then spoke sincerely. “Gabrielle is a lovely young woman. If she feels the same way about you, then I would say you are a very fortunate man and I could not be happier for you. The love shared between a man and a woman can bring incredible joy…Does she have the same feelings for you, Hoss?”

“It sure seems like it. I mean neither of us have said anything about love, but it sure feels like it.” Hoss grew quiet and went back to his fiddling.

“I would like to think that you would be one very happy man, but you seem bothered. What’s troubling you, Hoss?”

“Do you think Gabrielle would be happy bein’ rancher’s wife…I mean comin’ from the big city and all. I ain’t Adam, Pa. I could never go live in some city. I love the Ponderosa too much for that. I wish I could be different for her sake, but ranchin’ is what I love. And what’s her Pa gonna say? Do you think he would even let her marry me?”

“If Gabrielle loves you, then she loves you for who are, a thoughtful, gentle man who loves life and has a wonderful gift with animals…my son…who has been a blessing to me since the day you were born.”

Hoss dropped his head, embarrassed by his father’s litany of praise.

“And if she does marry you, then Gabrielle will be getting a husband who will love her with his whole heart and worship the ground she walks on. Most women would give almost anything for that, son.” Ben paused and took a deep breath. “But life is often complicated. My experience has been that love is not always enough of a reason for a woman to commit to a man, otherwise as you and I both know, I would have remarried years ago…I’m afraid you are just going to have to give her some time, especially since she is coming so recently from a broken engagement. She has to be sure, for her own sake and for yours…Believe me, son, I understand how difficult it is to wait when you have strong feelings for a woman. Patience, when it comes to the love of a woman, has never been my strong suit. Just ask Kate. I thank God everyday for her love and that she is willing to spend the rest of our lives together…Gabrielle seems sincere. I believe she will let you know when the time is right. As far as Mr. Armand is concerned, Gabrielle is of age and would not require his consent, however, like any father, I am sure he would appreciate it if you would ask for her hand.”

Hoss sighed deeply and looked at his father earnestly. “Thanks, Pa. I sure hope it don’t take too long for her to make up her mind.”

At lunchtime, Hoss picked up Gabrielle and carried her to her seat at the table rather than helping her hobble over from the settee. Both Adam and Cecille were surprised by the looks Hoss and Gabriele gave each other. Ben smiled, knowing how difficult it was going to be for Hoss not to shout his feelings for Gabrielle from the rooftop. Heeding his father’s advice, Hoss sat across the table from her, trying to make his feelings for her a little less obvious to the rest of the family. The family had a pleasant lunch. The children were happy and relieved that their elders had made it back to the ranch.

Hoss decided to spend the afternoon working in the tack room. There was always plenty of work that needed to be done, but the fact was he needed to speak with Joe when he got home and that was Hoss’ primary concern. He was worried how Joe would take it when he told him was in love with Gabrielle, especially after what he had said to his younger brother just two days earlier.

“Hey Joe. How’s everything at the mine?” Hoss willed himself to be calm when Joe came walking into the barn leading Cochise.

“Hey, Hoss. Good. We’re gonna have our biggest shipment ever thanks to the railroad.”

“That’s great.”

“How’d things go here? I see that the surrey is back; so I take it that Pa and Kate and Adam and Cecille are home.”

“Yeah…yeah, they’re home, but Gabrielle hurt her ankle.”

“Aw, that’s too bad. Hope she’ll be ok.”

“She will…in a couple days…uh…Joe…I need ta talk to you about Gabrielle.”

Joe gave Hoss a look of frustration. “Hey, look, Adam already told me to back off. You don’t need to go there, too. Believe me I’ve heard enough on that.”

“No…Joe…that’s not what I was gonna say. I’m just afraid you’re gonna be hoppin’ mad at me.”

“Why’s that? What have you done to me?”

“Well…now, just try to understand I didn’t go lookin’ for this, it just sorta happened.”

“What happened, Hoss. Come on, spit it out.”

Hoss kept his voice low. “Joe…I’m in love with Gabrielle.”

“You’re what? After everybody’s been jumpin’ on me, you have the nerve to say that?” Joe moved toward his brother.

“Now, Joe, I didn’t go outta my way ta make it happen. It just did.” Hoss held his arms out in front of him just in case Joe decided to take a swing at him.

“And you expect me to believe that!”

“Joe, if ya don’t believe me, then go ask her for a date.” Hoss was desperately trying to satisfy his brother hoping that he had not misinterpreted Gabrielle’s feelings.

Joe’s face softened. “Really? That beautiful woman from Boston has fallen for my big, moose of a brother?” He cackled, suddenly finding the scenario a bit comical.

“Yeah…” Hoss chuckled in relief. “Who’da thought?” Hoss wished he felt as certain as he sounded.

“So when’s the date?”

“Date?”

“For the wedding, you goofball.”

“Oh…yeah…no…we ain’t even talked bout stuff like that. Way too soon…Hey Joe, can ya just kinda keep this ta yourself?…I mean, I told ya cause I didn’t want ya to be mad at me if ya heard it from somebody else…Nothin’s in stone yet…ya know what I mean?”

“Sure Hoss.” Joe gave his brother a slap on the arm and a big grin. “I’m happy for you, Hoss, real happy!”

Hoss let out a big sigh of relief. “Thanks, Joe.”

Following the evening meal, Gabrielle decided to retire early. “Adam, would you mind helping me upstairs?”

“Certainly.” He replied.

Hoss moved toward Gabrielle. “That’s ok, Adam, I’ll take Gabrielle upstairs.”

Adam backed away, giving his brother an arched brow.

Hoss smiled at Gabrielle. “Ready?”

“Yes. Goodnight everyone.”

The rest of the family offered her their ‘goodnights’. Hoss effortlessly carried Gabrielle up the stairs. He knew that he should have let Adam take her up, but he wanted to feel her in his arms once more before the day ended. However, his heart began to beat rapidly when he entered his room and placed her gently on his bed. The significance of what he was doing had not registered with Gabrielle either until he carried her through the bedroom door. Both of them understood that he could not linger. The longing in his eyes pierced her heart. What little rational thought she still had working finally formed a response.

“Thank you, Hoss. See you tomorrow.” Her blue eyes glowed with warmth.

Hoss whispered to her. “Goodnight, Gabrielle. Sweet dreams.”

After Cecille had tucked her children in bed for the evening, she knocked on Gabrielle’s door. “Gabbie, it’s Cec. May I come in?”

“Yes, Cec, I am still up.”

“How are you feeling?”

“I think my ankle will feel much better tomorrow. Sorry that I will not be able to go with you to see Adam off.”

“That is fine. You just rest. I will most likely not be very good company on the ride back after he leaves…Gabbie, Adam would like me to meet him with the children in a week in San Francisco. He is going to let the family know tomorrow. I was wondering if you would like to come along. It might be good for you to get back to the city. I can wire Daddy tomorrow for some money for the hotel and meals and all. Maybe we could do some shopping. Adam says there are some exotic stores in San Francisco. What do you think?”

“Cec, I would be happy to help you get settled in San Francisco. That is part of the reason I came west, to hopefully be a help to you..” Gabrielle looked directly at sister. “But Cec…do not expect a few weeks in San Francisco to change things.”

Though neither sister would mention his name, both knew exactly what the other was thinking.

“Gabbie, you must be sure…you must be absolutely certain, because I do not know if I could ever forgive myself if I allowed you to break his heart.” Cecille’s voice was trembling with emotion. She turned and left Gabrielle alone with her thoughts.


Chapter 11


Adam was putting the last of his clothing into his bags. There was no wishing it away, today he was leaving for San Francisco. Cecille woke the children earlier than usual for their departure into town to see Adam on the train.

Elizabeth whimpered. “Papa going bye-bye.”

“Yes, sweetheart but we will see him again very soon. One week. That is all this time.” Cecille hugged Elizabeth trying her best to console her.

Adam stayed focused on his packing, hoping to avoid a lot of tears with the children.

Benji rose and stood stiffly beside his father. “Papa, I want to go with you.”

“Son, I wish that you could, but there are too many things that I must do before you, Elizabeth and your Mama come to San Francisco. Mama will have packing to do over the next week, and she will need both of you to be good helpers, understand?” Adam placed his hands on his son’s shoulders.

Benji did not want to disappoint his father, but it was almost more than he could bear. He stood with his head down, tears running down his cheeks.

Adam whispered into Benji’s ear. “Now, let’s not have your sister see you crying like this.”

Benji quickly ran the sleeve of his night-shirt across his face and went to find his clothes. Cecille looked at Adam with tears in her eyes, then raised her head to the ceiling hoping to blink them away without the children noticing. She had been dealing with things reasonably well until Elizabeth and Benji had expressed their disappointment.

At breakfast, Benji and Elizabeth sat staring at their plates. The combination of rising early and suppressing their tears was stealing their appetites. Knowing that it would be a long day of travel, Adam forced himself to eat more than he felt the need to do. The situation with Hoss and Gabrielle was weighing heavy on Cecille, and he wished there had been sufficient time to discuss things with her, but he did not have the emotional energy to deal with anything else at the moment.

Later, Ben drove the surrey for Adam and his family into Virginia City. His son had requested no entourage, so Ben rode alone in the front seat with Adam, Cecille, and the children in the back. He allowed them their privacy, replaying in his mind Adam’s announcement at breakfast. Though not entirely a surprise to he and Kate, they had not anticipated Cecille and the children leaving so soon. Still it was his mention of Gabrielle accompanying them that turned Hoss’ surprised expression to one of solemnity. Ben would have liked to have seen Gabrielle’s face as well, but she had chosen to stay in her room and not be a burden to anyone so early in the morning. In the back of his mind, Ben wondered if Cecille had pressed Adam to join him more quickly in San Francisco because of Gabrielle and what appeared to be her growing relationship with Hoss. Ben understood Cecille’s reservations when it came to Gabrielle and Hoss; he had them too, but his heart ached for Hoss.

“Goodbye, son. Kate and I are looking forward to visiting you once you are settled in San Francisco. May you have good luck in finding a home. Take care.” Ben grasped Adam’s hand with a firm handshake.

Adam gave his father a clap on his upper arm. “Thanks, Pa. We will be happy to entertain you in Frisco in a month or so.”

Ben stepped away to let Adam say his goodbyes in private. Adam kissed his daughter and then took Benji by the shoulders.

“Only seven days from today, son, and you, Mama, Elizabeth, and Aunt Gabbie will travel to San Francisco. I know you can count off the days easily, so let’s not be sad.” Adam tried to encourage Benji.

Benji blinked back his tears and nodded. “Seven days.” The boy held up one hand and two fingers while trying to force a smile through his tears.

“That’s right, son.” Adam smiled and gave Benji a hug. “Ceci, it will not be long now. I hope all goes well this week, and I will be anxiously awaiting your arrival next Saturday in Frisco. I love you.” Then he gave her a gentle kiss.

“I hope the week goes quickly. Goodbye, Adam. I love you, too.” Cecille smiled weakly.

The conductor gave the last call as Adam stepped quickly into the train. He turned to wave one last time and disappeared.

Cecille took the children by the hand and moved toward Ben, but then she suddenly glanced at tall, gray-haired gentleman who was creating a disturbance near the depot exit. He had a carefully trimmed mustache and was wearing a finely tailored suit and top hat.

“Daddy?” Cecille spoke quietly, thinking that her eyes must be deceiving her.

“What did you say, Cecille?” Ben was certain he had not heard her correctly.

Cecille handed Benji and Elizabeth off to her father-in-law. “Uh…Ben…would you please keep Benji and Elizabeth here for a few moments.”

“Uh…certainly Cecille.”

She did not wait for his reply leaving Ben standing on the platform with Benji and Elizabeth. He watched in confusion while his daughter-in-law walked up to the tall man.

“Mama!” Elizabeth called.

Ben knelt and pulled his grandchildren close.

Benji looked surprised but commented without emotion. “Grandfather Armand.”

“Really? Isn’t that wonderful that your other grandfather has come all the way from Boston to see you?” Ben exclaimed.

Benji shook his head.

“Aren’t you excited to see him?” Ben looked at his grandchildren in disbelief.

Elizabeth gave him a worried look and Benji moved in more closely to his grandfather Cartwright’s leg.

Ben picked up Elizabeth and hugged her close and then gave Benji’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

“Daddy, what in the world are you doing in Virginia City?” Cecille was now standing directly in front of her father.

“Cecille! Well, that is a fine way to greet your father after I have ridden on a most uncomfortable train car for days.”

“I am sorry Daddy. I am just so surprised to see you. You did not wire that you were coming.”

Louis Armand ignored his daughter’s comment. “Are you here unaccompanied? Why would Adam leave you like this?”

“You just missed him. He left for San Francisco on the train that just pulled out.”

“On the last train? But you are alone?”

“The children and Adam’s father are right over there.” She pointed across the platform. “Come, I will introduce you.”

Cecille gave Ben an awkward look. “Ben, I would like you to meet my father, Louis Armand. Daddy, this is my father-in-law, Ben Cartwright.”

With Elizabeth still on his left arm, Ben extended his right hand and greeted Louis Armand with a warm smile.

“It is a great pleasure to meet you, Mr. Armand.”

Armand said clearing his throat. “Uh…yes…good to meet you. Benjamin, Elizabeth, it is good to see you.” Their grandfather barely acknowledge his grandchildren in a very business-like manner.

“What a surprise for Cecille and Gabrielle and the children that you have come to visit them in Virginia City.” Ben offered cordially.

“I have not come here for a visit, but to take Gabrielle back to Boston where she belongs.” Armand glanced at the surroundings. “It is very difficult for me to believe that Adam came from such humble beginnings as this. He certainly has bettered himself. Is there a decent place to stay in this dusty town?”

Cecille pleaded. “Daddy, please!”

Ben looked at his daughter-in-law, his frustration building. He thought to himself. How is it possible that Cecille turned out to be such a lovely woman with this haughty, hard nose of a father?

Cecille was quick to suggest a solution. “There is a hotel right down the street which will be more than adequate for you.”

“Fine. Now if I can possibly find a porter to tend to my baggage.” Armand was distracted and unhappy with his circumstances.

Ben choked back his growing frustration. “Never mind. I will see to your baggage. Cecille please show your father to the hotel. I will make sure that his baggage is delivered even if I have to do it myself.”

Armand looked shocked. “You will see to my bags? Really! Adam led me to believe that you were a important man in this part of the country. If that is so, then why on earth would you be bothering with my baggage?”

Cecille gave Ben a look of helplessness. “Thank you, Ben. This way, Daddy. Come children.” She took her children by the hand and urged her father toward the hotel.

Two men dressed in ranch hand attire leaned against the column outside the hotel as Cecille, her father and the children passed by. They took careful notice of Louis Armand as he entered the hotel. The men moved into the hotel lobby as Cecille and her father approached the desk.

“I would like to have your best room. Expense is not an issue.” Armand demanded loudly.

Cecille whispered to him. “Daddy, please. Use some discretion. This is not Boston.”

The hotel clerk looked dismayed. “I am sorry sir, but our luxury suite is occupied. You may have an elite room.”

Armand scowled and began to grouse. “Cecille, is this the only hotel in this cow town?”

The hotel clerk stood a little straighter and spoke with authority. “Excuse me, sir, but we run a fine establishment here. I am sorry that our best room is not available. However, if it does open up during your stay in Virginia City, I will personally see that you get it.”

Armand waved at the man dismissively. “Oh, very well. If that is the best you can do, I guess I have no other choice.”

“If you would please sign the register. Here is your key for room 10, upstairs and to your right.”

Armand grabbed the key from the clerk with a huff, and scrawled his name in the register.

“I hope you enjoy your stay in Virginia City, Mr. Armand.” The clerk mispronounced his name to rhyme with ‘hand.’

“Armand! Armand! My God, man, did you just crawl out from under a rock?”

“Daddy, please, stop! You are frightening the children!” Benji and Hannah were clinging to her skirt.

“Well they need to know my name, even if their name is Cartwright.”

“My apologies, Mr. Armand. You can be certain I will not make that mistake again.”

Cecille’s father turned without responding and headed for the stairs.

The clerk looked at her sheepishly. “Excuse me, ma’am. Correct me if I am wrong, but you are Mrs. Adam Cartwright, aren’t you?”

“Yes, my husband and I stayed here a few days ago during the bad weather. That is my father who is visiting from Boston. I am afraid you will have to excuse his poor behavior. He has had a long and tiring trip. Thank you for your help.”

“You are welcome, Mrs. Cartwright. Have a nice day.”

In the meantime, Ben was able to locate Armand’s luggage and hire a young man to bring it to the hotel. Ben stopped at the hotel desk to inquire which room Louis Armand was in and accompanied the porter to room ten. Ben reached out to knock on the room door, then pulled back when he heard Armand speaking to Cecille.

“Cecille, I would never have allowed your sister to come all the way across the country without an escort, but she did not give me a say in the matter. However, now I intend to personally escort her back to Boston.”

“Gabbie has been perfectly safe here, Daddy. The Cartwrights are wonderful hosts, and I believe she is truly enjoying her stay. However, she injured her ankle yesterday; so she will not be up to traveling for a few days. And you know very well that she will refuse to go back with you if you go about it this way. Besides I had planned for her to accompany the children and me to San Francisco next Saturday.”

Not wanting to eavesdrop any longer, Ben knocked on the door.

“Yes, who is it? Louis Armand responded gruffly, pulling the door open.

Ben forced a smile and remained calm. “We have your luggage, Mr. Armand.”

Armand mindlessly motioned Ben and the porter in, then Ben tipped the young man well.

“Hopefully now you can get settled in, rest a bit and get a good meal…Mr. Armand, I would like to extend an invitation to you to come out to the Ponderosa for lunch tomorrow. I am sure you are anxious to see Gabrielle. Unfortunately she is unable to come into town because of a small mishap with the children on the stairs, but she should be fine in a few days. What do you say?” He worked to muster his best smile.

Finally coming to the conclusion that all his money was not going to get him and his daughter on a train back to Boston any time soon, Armand acquiesced with a sigh. “Yes…Mr. Cartwright, I accept your invitation…thank you.”

“You are quite welcome! I will send one of Adam’s brothers in to pick you up about 10:00 tomorrow morning, if that is acceptable?”

“That will be fine. I will see you tomorrow.”

Cecille stood holding Elizabeth in her arms and Benji by the hand.

Ben reached for Elizabeth. “Cecille, why don’t I take the children to the surrey and give you a few minutes with your father.”

“Thank you, Ben. I will not be long.”

Ben took his grandson by the hand and leaned down to whisper in the boy’s ear. Then he took Elizabeth from Cecille.

Benji looked up at his grandfather Armand. “Good day, Grandfather.”

Armand’s expression softened slightly. “Good day, Benjamin…and Elizabeth…Mr. Cartwright.”

Ben touched the brim of his hat and left the room with the children. Cecille turned to her father trying to will away the tears that were building.

“Daddy, you have embarrassed me. You could have had the decency to let us know you were coming. Ben Cartwright is a very kind, thoughtful, and prosperous man, despite what you may think. I hope your disposition is greatly improved with some rest, otherwise I seriously doubt that Gabbie will want to see you.”

“Cecille, I do not need your reprimand.”

Cecille looked at her father directly in the face and stated firmly. “Daddy, I am a grown woman. I am not a little girl and neither is Gabbie. You do not seem to listen to anyone else. I do not know why I expect you to listen to me, but I must try. So, I am asking you, Daddy…tomorrow, please, be polite and treat the Cartwrights with due respect.” Then she quickly left the room before her father had an opportunity to respond.” She thought to herself as she exited the hotel. Oh, Adam, why did you leave today of all days.

Hoss and Mary were in the barn when the surrey pulled into the yard just before noon.

“Here let me help ya.” Hoss held his hand out to Cecille to help her and the children out of the surrey.

“Hi Hoss. Hi Mary.” Benji and Elizabeth called out.

“Hey there kids! Everything go alright gettin’ Adam to the train?”

Ben looked at Cecille.

“Yes, Hoss, Adam is on the train to San Francisco, but we had quite a surprise. My father is in Virginia City.”

Hoss looked at her with surprise. “Your Pa is in Virginia City? All the way from Boston? And ya didn’t bring him to the ranch, Pa?”

“He will be coming for lunch tomorrow. With a full house here, it is best that he stays in town at the hotel.” Ben was relieved that he did not need an excuse for not offering Armand a place to stay.

Hoss grinned at the children. “Well, I think it’s bout time for lunch. Pa, you go on in. I’ll take care of the horses.”

“Thanks, Hoss. I appreciate that. It’s been a rather long morning.” Ben gave his son a weak smile.

Inside, Kate greeted her husband. “Ben you made it back in time for lunch. Did everything go as planned?”

Ben gave her a kiss on the cheek and sighed. “As far as Adam is concerned, yes.”

“And?” Kate looked at him curiously.

Cecille jumped into the conversation. “My father arrived in Virginia City unexpectedly.”

“He did? Why that’s wonderful! But you didn’t invite him to the ranch?” Kate looked at them with concern.

“He was very tired. Ben invited Daddy for lunch tomorrow. I believe that will be best.” Cecille glanced furtively at Ben.

Kate sensed that there was more to the story, but she did not push it for the moment. “All right children, let’s get your coats off and your hands washed. Lunch will be ready soon.”

“Thank you, Kate.” Cecille offered. “I need to speak briefly with Gabbie and then I will be back down for lunch.” She climbed the stairs and knocked on Gabrielle’s door. “Gabbie, may I come in?”

Gabrielle sat propped up in bed. “Sure, Cec.”

“How are you feeling today?”

“Much better, thanks.”

“That is good to hear…Gabbie…”

“Yes. What is it Cec? You seem troubled.”

“You are not going to believe it, but Daddy is in Virginia City.”

“What! You must be joking! He came all the way out here?”

“I am afraid so, and as you might expect, he is not a happy man.”

“Oh, Cec, what are we going to do? I am not ready to go back to Boston.” Gabrielle paused and then whispered. “Cec, what if I want to stay here?”

Cecille sat down on the edge of the bed. “I think it is a little too soon for that, don’t you?”

“When did you know that Adam was the right man for you, Cec?”

“Honestly, Gabbie, I was pretty sure the night that we met, but I was so frightened that Daddy would not approve of him.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really and truly. But, Gabbie, Adam is much different from Hoss…I mean…Hoss is also a wonderful man, but are you sure you could be happy here…on the ranch?”

“Oh, Cec, I know that I would have so much to learn. Believe me, I know that, but I have never known a man like Hoss, so sweet and endearing, yet so strong and masculine.”

“All those things are true, still, life here would be very difficult compared to what you are accustomed to in Boston.”

“It’s not like the Cartwrights are destitute. They have a cook and I am sure we could hire help if necessary.”

“Gabbie, that’s not what I mean.”

Gabrielle held up her hand to her sister, but then spoke gently. “Cec, if Hoss and I were to marry, and at this moment, that is far from certain, but if it does happen, his family is here and you will not be that far away…Cec, you know quite well that all of Daddy’s money never bought what is truly important…Love, Cec, more than anything else I feel love in this home, and I hope that some day I will be a part of it.”

There was nothing Cecille could say. If it was the desire of Gabrielle’s heart to belong to a family that loved each other deeply, then she had no right to deny her sister that opportunity. Cecille gave Gabrielle a hug.

“Now, will you please send Hoss up here for me. I am getting hungry!” Gabrielle teased her sister with a flash of her blue eyes.

Cecille laughed. “My, aren’t you the demanding one! I will send him up immediately your majesty!” Cecille gave Gabrielle a curtsy.

In a few minutes Hoss knocked on Gabrielle’s door.

“Yes?”

Hoss chuckled. “Someone said you need a lift. Can I come in?”

“Yes, please do.”

“How are ya doin’ today?” He was unable to keep from smiling at her.

“I am doing much better, thank you, but I could still use some help with the stairs.”

Hoss bowed to her. “Glad ta be of service, ma’am.”

Gabrielle giggled and Hoss scooped her up in his arms. She would not have needed to, but she placed her arms around his neck. Hoss loved the feel of her in his arms and had an overwhelming urge to kiss her. “Would ya mind if I gave ya a kiss?”

She purred into his ear. “Not at all. I was hoping that you would.”

Hoss gently pressed his lips to hers. Gabrielle tightened her arms around his neck as the kiss deepened. Suddenly, Hoss felt a small person yanking on his pant leg.

“Hoss! Hoss! Come on, Hoss! It’s time to eat!” Mary stood staring at them with one her trademark scowls.

Gabrielle buried her face in his shoulder hoping that Mary would not see her laughing.

“Dadburn’it, Mary! What are ya doin’ sneakin’ up on us like that! Ya like ta scare us half ta death. Now git on downstairs!”

“Aunt Kate! Aunt Kate!” Mary took off running toward the stairs.

Redfaced, Hoss called after her. “Mary, hush now!”

“I guess we are in trouble.” Gabrielle tittered.

Hoss laughed, too. “Yeah, I guess we are at that. Since we’re already in for it, we might as well make it worthwhile.” He grinned and gave her one more kiss.

Hoss and Gabrielle were greeted with knowing smiles and smirks when they reached the table, except for one little girl. Mary sat with her head down pouting after receiving a good scolding from her Uncle Ben.

Late that evening there was a knock at Louis Armand’s hotel room. “Yes.” He responded.

“Message for Mr. Armand.” A male voice called from the hallway.

Armand opened the door impatiently. “What is it?”

A man with a gun hidden under a towel forcefully pushed Armand back into the room followed by a second one who closed the door quickly behind them.

The man holding the gun hissed at Armand. “One word and you’re dead. Do you understand?”

Armand nodded, trembling with fear.

“Now get your boots and coat on. We’ll be travelin’ a ways tonight. Got that note, Tate.”

“Yeah, Pierce, right here.” Tate pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and tossed it on the bed.

“If ya promise ta keep your mouth shut I won’t gag ya, but one peep and you’re done. Got it?”

Armand nodded again, wide-eyed.

The two men led Armand out the back entrance of the hotel to a buckboard that was waiting in the alley. They bound Armand’s hands and pushed him roughly into the back of the buckboard and then took off slowly out of town.


Chapter 12


Back at the Ponderosa, the children were tucked in bed and the adults had begun moving to their rooms. Kate was finishing some mending as Ben sat smoking his pipe. Hoss sat on the corner of the hearth beside Gabrielle who was unsuccessfully trying to focus on her book. Kate reached over and touched Ben’s arm, her expression telling him that they should go up to bed and let the younger couple have some quiet time alone.

Ben rose and emptied his pipe into the fireplace. “Ready for bed, Kate?”

“Yes, it’s getting too hard to see my stitches.” She tucked her mending into her basket. “Goodnight Gabrielle. Goodnight Hoss.” Kate gave young woman’s arm a pat on her way to the stairs.

Gabrielle called to them. “Goodnight.”

Hoss tossed them a casual wave. “Night Kate. Pa.”

“Goodnight you two. Don’t keep the young lady up too late, son.” Ben chuckled and gave his son the appropriate stern fatherly look to go with his admonition.

Ben never saw the frown that Hoss gave him because Kate grabbed her husband’s arm and hurried him up the stairs.

Hoss waited until he was certain that he and Gabrielle were alone. “Would ya like to join me on the sofa?” There was hope shining in his blue eyes.

“That would be very nice.” Gabrielle laid her book on the coffee table.

She limped slightly as Hoss helped her to the settee, then he turned down the lamps and sat down beside her. Side by side they sat enjoying the firelight until finally Hoss broke the silence.

“The fire’s nice, huh?”

“Yes, very nice.”

“Gabrielle, would ya mind if I put my arm around ya?”

“I would like that.”

He lifted a big arm over her and gently brought her closer.

She leaned her head into his shoulder and peered up at him.”That is even better.”

“Yeah…it sure is.” Hoss exhaled a contented sigh.

He brushed a kiss on her hair. Gabrielle snuggled into him as he rubbed his large hand up and down her arm. Staring into the fire, they both knew in their hearts how much they wanted each other. However, Gabrielle understood more than he how difficult it would be to get her father’s blessing for their marriage. Still, with Mr. Armand in Virginia City, Hoss knew that the opportunity to ask for Gabrielle’s hand had fallen into his lap, and there was no reason to keep his feelings to himself any longer.

He tipped her chin toward his face. “Gabrielle, this is what I want for us. I want ya beside me for the rest of my life….I love ya, Gabbie…..Will ya please marry me…be my wife?”

Gabrielle looked into his eyes, her crystal blues were glistening. “Yes, Hoss, I will marry you….I love you.”

A look of wide-eyed wonder came over his face.

“Hoss?”

“I….I…just can’t believe…..you’re so sweet and beautiful…”

“Hoss, you are the kindest, most wonderful man I have ever known. Why would I not want to marry you?” Gabrielle placed her hand over his heart.

He sat there drinking in the moment.

“Hoss aren’t you going to kiss me?”

He blinked as if coming out of a dream and then kissed Gabrielle fully, and tenderly, as she melted into him. When he finally pulled away, Hoss leaned his head back and let out a whoop. He jumped up off the settee, pulling her up so that he could wrap his arms around her. If he had been wearing his hat he would have thrown it into the air.

“SHHH! Hoss! You will wake everyone up.” Gabrielle was trying to be serious, but she laughed at his unbridled joy.

“I don’t care cause we’re gonna get married!”

They were both laughing merrily when Jamie flew out of his room and Joe appeared at the top of the stairs, both in their nightshirts.

Joe gave his brother a dazed look. “What’s going on?”

Hoss shouted to them. “Brothers get yore suits brushed off, Gabbie and me are gettin’ married!”

Joe’s grin grew wide. “That’s great, brother! Congratulations to you both!”

Jamie scratched his head. “Yeah, congratulations!”

“Thank you.” Gabrielle gave them each a warm smile.

Joe fingered his nightshirt. “Since I’m not exactly dressed to kiss the bride-to-be, I think that I’d better get back to bed, but I’m real happy for both of you. Goodnight.”

“Yeah, me too.” Jamie added.

“Night little brothers…..Oh Gabbie, I won’t be able ta sleep a wink tonight.” Hoss felt like he was going to burst. He rocked his lovely fiancee’ her back and forth in his big arms.

Ben and Kate had been occupied and unable to join in the celebration when the commotion broke loose.

Ben laughed hearing Hoss carrying on. “Kate, I believe we will soon have another daughter-in-law in the family by the sound of things downstairs.”

“And you’re not going to run out and offer our congratulations!” Kate looked at him with arched brows.

“You first, my love…you first!”

Kate laughed and shook her finger at him. She gazed into Ben’s brown eyes. “I pray they will know the same happiness that we share, Ben.”

“Yes, I hope Hoss finds the same contentment in Gabrielle that I have found in you, my dear Kate.”

He slid his fingers into her auburn hair, gently caressed her cheek with his thumb and kissed Kate deeply. Ben leaned back, brought his arm above his head and sighed.

“Ben? What is it?”

“Now they just have to get passed Louis Armand.”

“Do you really think he would have so little regard for his daughter’s happiness to cause problems?”

“If you had seen him this morning, you would understand my concern. I don’t know, Kate….I just don’t know….”

Worry creased Kate’s brow as she laid her head on Ben’s chest.

Cecille had been reading and heard the happy conversations. She watched Benji and Elizabeth stir in their sleep but thankfully not wake. She thought about the encounter with her father earlier that morning. There was a part of her that had wanted to run and throw her arms around him even after years of his pushing both she and Gabrielle aside. His business pursuits had always taken priority over his family, at least with the female members of the family. Cecille envied her brothers. Her father had taken the necessary time to groom them for their place in Armand Shipping. She wondered why now he would come most of the way across the country just to take Gabrielle back to Boston. Her heart went out to her sister. She wanted Gabrielle to be happy. If life with Hoss would grant her that happiness, then that is what she wanted for her. Sleep was not going to come easily for Cecille tonight. She had a distinct feeling that tomorrow would be a difficult day for the Armands and the Cartwrights.

Two little girls were awakened by the shouts and words of congratulations. Mary and Hannah tip-toed from their room and stood watching at the top of the stairs as Hoss and Gabrielle were locked in a passionate embrace.

Hoss rested his chin on her head. “Oh Gabbie, darlin’, I love ya so much.”

Hannah pointed at the couple. “Marwee. Hoss kissing Gabwee-elle?”

Surprised, Hoss and Gabrielle turned suddenly toward the stairs when Hannah spoke. Mary stared at them with tears running down her face. Unlike her tattling of the previous day, Mary was painfully aware that she was no longer Hoss’ only darlin’. The realization that Gabrielle had stolen Hoss’ heart was written on Mary’s face.

“I’m your darlin’!” Mary cried out and then ran to her room.

“Marwee! Marwee!” Hannah chased after her sister.

Mary’s words pierced Hoss’ heart.

“Oh no, Hoss.” Gabrielle’s hand came to her cheek.

“I’ll take care of ’em. Just wait here.” He took off up the stairs.

Both girls were back in their room by the time Hoss got there.

Kate was concerned when she heard Mary call out loudly. “Ben, I hear the girls. I’d better see what’s going on.”

Ben was half asleep. “Huh….oh….alright.”

Kate rose and put on her robe. She stayed just outside the girls’ bedroom door when she heard Hoss speak.

Hoss whispered to the girls. “Hey you little crickets, you’re sposed to be in bed.”

“Don’t call me little cricket. You love Gabrielle, not me!” Mary sobbed into her pillow.

Hannah’s lip stuck out. “Hoss, you kiss Gabwee-elle. Marwee sad.”

Embarrassed by the little girl’s directness, Hoss blushed.

Kate interrupted them. “Girls, that’s enough now. It’s time for bed. I’m so sorry, Hoss.”

She placed her hand on his big arm when she saw his bewildered expression. Kate motioned for Hoss to step into the hallway.

“I think Mary just needs to know that you still care about her.” Kate whispered to him.

Hoss nodded and dropped his head.

“I’ll just go back to bed, if you’re ok?”

“Sure. Uh, thanks, Kate.”

He paused a few seconds before he stepped back into the room and then gently sat down on the end of the bed. “Come here, Hannah.”

Hannah willingly climbed into his lap. She snuggled against his chest and put her thumb into her mouth.

“Come on doll.” He lovingly urged Mary to come sit with him.

Through her tears Mary looked up briefly at Hoss, but then buried her face back into her pillow. He tenderly placed his hand on her back.

“Come on now Mary. I need another gal on my other knee.” He smiled at Hannah and tickled her side.

Hannah giggled. Mary looked back over her shoulder to see Hoss giving her a toothy grin. Slowly she inched toward him until he could easily put her on his knee.

“That’s my gal.”

“Story, Hoss.” Hannah’s request was partially garbled by her thumb.

“I don’t think Mary wants ta hear a story, do ya Mary?”

She nodded and then wiped her teary eyes with the sleeve of her nightgown.

“Alright, then….Once upon a time there was these two little gals named Mary and Hannah.”

“Like me and Marwee?” Hannah chimed.

“Yep, just like you and Mary. And there was a family that lived on a ranch called the Ponderosa. This family’s name was Cartwright. And in this family was Aunt Kate, Uncle Ben, Hoss, Joe, and Jamie.”

Hannah’s face lit up. “That’s you!”

“You got it, gal! Well the good Lord knew that Aunt Kate and Uncle Ben, and Hoss and Joe and Jamie needed two little gals ta love; so one day Mary and Hannah came ta live with ’em at the Ponderosa. That’s cause there’s lotsa room and lotsa love at the Ponderosa. And they all got along just fine. And then just before Christmas last, Adam, Cecille, Benji, and Lizabeth came ta live for a while at the ranch cause there’s always room for a few more folks at the Ponderosa. Now does that mean we stopped carin’ for Mary and Hannah? Nope. It just means we got a few more folks ta love. And then a little while later, Benji and Lizabeth’s Aunt Gabbie came to the Ponderosa. Does that mean we stopped lovin’ Mary and Hannah?”

“Nope.” Hannah piped up, getting the rhythm of the story.

“That’s right, Hannah. Cause Cartwright’s have big hearts and there’s always room for more.”

Hoss gave both girls a squeeze. “I got me a buncha darlin’s. Now the two of ya gotta get some sleep. Hop on over there and get under the covers.”

The little girls slid under the blankets and Hoss carefully tucked them in.

He kissed the girls’ foreheads and whispered them. “Sweet dreams, gals. Love ya, both.”

Hoss was almost at the door when Mary called to him. “Night Hoss. Love you.”

He closed the door behind him and released a big sigh. Though everything he had told the girls was true, he knew that Mary was going to have a difficult time adjusting to his being married.

Hoss moved slowly down the stairs. “Sorry I took so long, Gabbie.”

“Is Mary ok?”

“Yeah, I guess so, for now. I think she’s gonna have a hard time when we get married.”

“She is very attached to you, and it is obvious why she would be. You are wonderful with children.”

Hoss ducked his head shyly. “Aw…it ain’t nothin’ anybody wouldn’t do.”

“That is not true. Believe me I know. You will make a great father.” Gabrielle blushed at her bold statement.

Hoss let out an embarrassed chuckle. “I sure hope so.” He gazed at her with eyes full of love. “Cause you’ll be the best Mama.”

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

In the back of a buckboard on the way to a seedy boarding house on the edge of Carson City, Louis Armand groaned with each bump in the road. His body was rapidly becoming a mass of bruises thanks to his captors providing no blankets or straw to cushion the ride. He sat in the back shivering violently from cold and fright while Tate and Pierce quietly passed a bottle of whiskey back and forth as they rode slowly along in the dark.

“We probly shoulda asked for more money, Pierce. Cording to the local tongue waggers, Cartwright can easily come up with a hundred grand and I bet this guy is worth way more than that. Sides he’s related to Cartwright, so it makes him worth even more.”

Pierce nodded. “Yeah, but if it takes ’em too long to get the money together, we’ll be in trouble. We kin go a long ways on a hundred grand. Don’t want this rich dude dyin’ on us or somethin’. And he’d sure be no good on a horse. We’ll jest stick to the plan. If everything works right, we’ll be rich men by noon tomorrow and on our way ta Mexico.”

Frank Pierce and Jim Tate had hatched a plan that would kick them up the ladder from petty thievery and card sharping to the big time. To date they had managed to keep themselves in decent clothes and drinking money, just out of the reach of the law. But now they had put themselves in a high stakes game, having demanded that an unarmed member of the Cartwright family deliver one hundred thousand dollars to Eagle’s Notch by noon Monday, if they ever wanted to see Louis Armand alive again.

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Often on Sundays the Cartwright family would have gone to town for worship, but this Sunday morning it was Hoss alone, dressed in his Sunday best, who hitched the buggy and nervously drove into town to pick up Louis Armand. The closer Hoss got to town the more unsettled he became. The confidence he felt last night immediately after Gabrielle accepted his proposal was disappearing little by little with each mile that passed by. He tied the horse to the rail when he reached the hotel. After checking with the desk clerk to confirm Armand’s room number, he took a deep breath, climbed the stairs and knocked on the door of room ten. He waited a few seconds listening for the sound of activity in the room, but Armand did not come to the door. So he knocked again.

“Mr. Armand?”

With no answer at the door, Hoss went back to the desk.

He queried the desk clerk. “Have you seen Mr. Armand? He didn’t answer when I knocked on room ten.”

The clerk looked back at his rack of keys. “His key is gone; so he must be in his room.”

Hoss was concerned. “Maybe ya better come along, just in case.”

The clerk found the spare key and followed the big man up the stairs. Hoss knocked once more. “Mr. Armand? Are ya in there?” He looked at the clerk. “I think we better have a look in the room just in case something happened ta him.”

The clerk opened the door and they cautiously entered the room. Armand’s belongings were neatly and carefully positioned throughout the room, but he was nowhere to be seen. The room key laid on the table beside the still made bed.

“Lookie here.” Hoss pointed to a paper on the bed. He picked it up and read it. Disbelief came over his face and he thrust the note at the clerk. “He’s been kidnapped!”

“Kidnapped! You’re joking!”

“Fraid not. I’ve gotta get over ta Sheriff Coffee’s office. Don’t touch anythin’. The sheriff will want ta look the room over.”

“Sure, Mr. Cartwright.”

Hoss moved quickly from the room and down the stairs. He jogged across the street to the Sheriff’s office. Within minutes Hoss and Sheriff Coffee were in room ten looking for any clues that might give them an idea who might have abducted Armand. Finding none, Coffee carefully examined the note again.

Coffee frowned. “Written in pencil on paper that anyone could have picked up at the store or who knows where.”

“What should we do, Roy?”

“Let’s check the back entrance since the clerk didn’t see him leave.”

Behind the hotel, Hoss pointed out his findings to the sheriff. “Looks like a buckboard with two horses. Lotsa footprints, but there’s a set of boot prints that somebody made on each side of the wagon. And look, back here. These were made by a man with good-sized feet, but he wasn’t bearing boots. See how some are turned backwards like they were loading someone in the back of the wagon. And look here. A couple a horses been standin’ around. Bet they had horses tied on the back.”

“Sure looks that way. My guess is if you follow those tracks they will lead straight outta town.” Coffee pointed at the ground.

Hoss continued to give the tracks a hard look. “Yeah, bet so.”

“Well I’d better get a posse together. I know I can count on your pa and Joe ridin’ along.”

“Yeah. Be ok with ya if I try followin’ the trail a ways? I think I’ll see bout gettin’ a horse at the livery. The buggy won’t do me much good for that.”

“Let’s plan to meet at Digger’s Crossing at one.”

“Will ya send somebody out ta the ranch ta get Pa and Joe for me? And could ya tell em ta bring my horse and a change a clothes.”

“You betcha, Hoss.”

“Thanks, Roy. See ya at the crossing.”

Hoss walked back to the hotel to get the buggy and drove to the livery.

“Hey Mike.” Hoss called to the livery man.

“Hey Hoss. What brings you in on a Sunday. Looks like you’re dressed for church?”

“Not today, Mike. Can ya take care of the buggy for me.”

“Sure thing, Hoss.”

“I need your biggest horse. Got me some ridin’ ta do.”

“Dressed like that?”

“Somethin’ came up and I ain’t got time ta go home. I’ll get the horse back ta ya as soon as I can.”

“No problem, Hoss. I’ll get ya fixed up right away.”

“Thanks, Mike.”

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Back at the ranch house, everyone was dressed in their best hoping to demonstrate to Louis Armand that even though Adam may have come from ‘humble beginnings’, his good manners were no accident. The family was congregated in the living room waiting on pins and needles for Armand’s arrival. Just about the time they were expecting Hoss to return with their guest, there was a knock at the door.

“I wonder who that could be on a Sunday morning?” Ben was looking very distinguished in his gray suit as he strided toward the door. “Clem. Good morning. What are you doing out this way?” He motioned the deputy into the house.

Clem Foster removed his hat and nodded to Kate as she joined Ben at the door. “Morning Ben. Missus Cartwright.”

“Kate, you remember Clem Foster?”

“Yes, of course, nice to see you again, Deputy Foster. I hope nothing serious has brought you all the way from town.”

“I’m afraid there is ma’am. Ben could I speak with you and Joe for a minute….outside.” Foster kept his voice low hoping not to alarm the women and children.

“Sure Clem. Joseph would you join us on the porch, please?” Ben nodded toward the door.

“Pardon us ladies.” The deputy offered a tip of his hat to Cecille and Gabrielle.

Looks of concern came over Kate and the two sisters.

Ben gave Kate’s arm a squeeze. “I doubt we’ll be long.”

Ben closed the door behind them. “What is it, Clem?”

“When Hoss got to hotel to pick up Armand, the man was gone and this is what he found laying on the bed in the room.” Clem handed Ben the ransom note.

“My God! When did this happen? He’s barely been in Virginia City twenty-four hours!” Ben handed the note to Joe.

“Musta been some time last night. The man’s bed was never even slept in.” Clem replied. “Anyway, Roy knew you’d want to ride with the posse. Hoss is doing some tracking, but he wants you to bring him some clothes and his horse. We’re supposed to meet at Digger’s Crossing by one. I know it’s gonna push you to make it by then. We’ll leave someone there to tell you where the posse headed if you don’t make it by one.”

“Don’t worry we will make it, Clem. See you soon.” Ben gave him a mindless wave.

“Thanks, Ben, Joe.”

“Joe, I’ve got some explaining to do. Would you please take the children upstairs for a few minutes while I talk to the ladies and Jamie.”

“Sure, Pa. Come on, kids! Simon says, follow me upstairs.” Joe gave them a forced smile and moved to toward the stairs.

The children laughed and jumped in line behind Joe and marched up the stairs behind him.

Kate was confused by Joe’s actions. “Ben? What’s going on?”

“I’m sorry to say that Clem’s news concerns all of us. Cecille…Gabrielle…your father is being held for ransom.” The ladies gasped. “I’m afraid it is true.” Ben handed the note to Cecille. She read it shaking her head in disbelief and then passed it to her sister. “The sheriff has formed a posse and Joe and I need to get going right away to meet up with them. We will deal with the ransom if it gets to that point. I’m so sorry.” He reached out and gave a reassuring touch to Cecille and Gabrielle.

“I’ll be ready in a few minutes, Pa.” Jamie gave Ben a hopeful look.

“Son, I need you to stay here with the women and keep watch over the house. That is an important job as well. You are not yet of the age where I want you participating in a manhunt.”

Jamie dropped his head knowing this was not the time to argue with his father.

“Now if one of you ladies wouldn’t mind relieving Joe of the children, we need to get changed and ride out.”

“I’ll go.” Kate looked at Cecille and Gabrielle, and then followed Ben up the stairs.

Kate grasped Ben’s arm in the doorway to their bedroom. “Ben…..you all come back to us. You hear me!” Kate green eyes were filling with tears.

Ben paused long enough to pull her into his arms. “Try not to worry, Kate. I have every intention of coming home to you, and bringing our boys and Armand back with me.” He tenderly placed a kiss in her hair.

Chapter 13


Shocked by the news of their father’s abduction Cecille and Gabrielle sat down silently on the settee. The living room had emptied quickly after Ben and Joe left to make preparations to join the posse. It took Gabrielle a few minutes to collect her thoughts before speaking.

“Cec…there have been so many times when I have wanted to be rid of Daddy’s interference in my life, but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined something like this…..This is horrible….and it is all my fault…..Do you think he is still a…” Her voice gave way, overtaken by emotion.

“Please don’t blame yourself. You could not have known that Daddy would follow you out here. And I am certain now that his boastful talk in the hotel lobby yesterday only made him an obvious target for something like this. We just have to hope for the best, Gabbie. I know that Ben, Joe, and…Hoss will do whatever it takes to bring him back.”

“Hoss….What will I do if something happens to him in all this?…I mean….I do not want anyone to get hurt…” Gabrielle covered her face with her hands as she slipped into tears.

Cecille placed her arms around her sister. She, too, was struggling with her own ill will toward her father and the guilt of his placing the lives of loved ones in jeopardy. For Gabrielle, the memories of Cecille comforting her after the loss of their mother flooded back as she rested her head on her older sister’s shoulder. Here she was, years later, relying on Cecille to be her support in a time of trouble, when she was truly longing for the strength and comfort Hoss’ arms.

Cecille relaxed her embrace on her sister. “Gabbie, at some point we have to decide when to contact Tom and Marc. I do not want to cause them undue worry, if Daddy is found soon. It would take them over a week to get here if they dropped everything this minute and caught the train……I did wire Adam before we left town yesterday to let him know that Daddy had shown up unexpectedly, but who knows when he will get the message since he was traveling all day and today is Sunday. And how long do I wait to let him know about this. There is nothing more that he could do that isn’t already being done and everything could be resolved before he could even get here.” She released a big sigh. “If he did come…..I know he would want to join the posse and put himself at risk as well. Her voice caught. Cecille paused and took a deep breath. “Right now, I am afraid that I must speak with Kate. We have to tell the children something. They are expecting Daddy to be here for lunch and they will be hungry. Will you be alright if I go upstairs?” She searched her sister’s tearful blue eyes.

Gabrielle looked at Cecille with eyes full of uncertainty, but nodded.

After changing and packing some clothes for Hoss, Ben and Joe grabbed a few bites of food in the kitchen before heading to the barn, then Hop Sing served the noon meal to the remainder of the family. Though delicious, the meal was eaten sparingly and quietly, leaving a mountain of leftover food for Hop Sing to clear away. No one seemed to have much appetite, the women and Jamie heavy-hearted over Armand’s disappearance and Ben and Joe’s rapid departure. The children had been told that Armand was not feeling well and unable to come to visit. Cecille and Kate felt deceitful saying it, but both were fearful that there was more truth in the statement than either were willing to admit.

Hop Sing came out of the kitchen to check on the table. He looked a bit sad when he saw that very little food had been eaten. “No good you not eat Hop Sing’s cooking. Missies Cartlight, Missy Armand, children need eat food so you be strong when Mr. Cartlight and boys bring Mr. Armand to Ponderosa.”

Kate reached for his arm and gave him a weak smile. “I’m sorry Hop Sing. The food was wonderful. I’m afraid we are just a bit concerned for Mr. Armand’s health.” She was trying to be careful not to relay more than what she wanted the children to hear. “Hopefully our appetites will improve by suppertime.” However, when she turned and observed Cecille and Gabrielle staring at their plates of uneaten food, she had her doubts. Hop Sing sighed and grumbled a bit in Chinese as he cleared the table.

On the edge of Carson City in a ramshackle boarding house, Armand sat in a chair, bound and gagged. Tate and Pierce had managed to get him into the room before daylight by shrouding him in a blanket and telling the proprietor that he had “somethin’ catchin'”. Tate took the wagon and team to the livery after it was light, but left the saddle horses in the lean-to behind the boarding house in the event that a fast escape was necessary.

“We’ve still got almost twenty-four hours before we get the money. What are we gonna do til then, Pierce?” Tate paced, his deep set eyes and a dark stubble which was emerging on his face giving him a menacing appearance.

Frank Pierce huffed impatiently, his light beard making him look younger than his age. “We’re gonna lay low, that’s what we’re gonna do. Tomorrow mornin’ before light we’ll ride out to Eagle’s Notch. We’ll leave him here trussed up.” He pointed a thumb at Armand. “That way somebody’ll find him ‘ventually. If somethin’ goes wrong and they don’t bring the money, we just ride off and never come back.”

“They’d better bring that money after we risked our necks draggin’ him all the way to Carson. I say we take him with us, Pierce, jest in case. I want that hundred grand!”

Pierce hissed at Tate. “Hush up, ya fool! You want somebody ta hear ya! Now I’m gonna go find us some food. You stay here and make sure nobody gets in this room. You got it?”

“Yeah, I got it.” Tate pitched the dirty towel that laid by the wash basin across the room toward Armand.

“Just simmer down. You’ll feel better when you get some food in ya. Then we’d better get some shut-eye while we kin. Won’t be much sleepin’ tonight.”

Though frightened beyond words and in real need of food and water, Armand was amazingly clear-headed. Pierce had only allowed him a sip of whiskey and a small piece of jerky. Still Armand had listened carefully to every word his captors uttered. It sounded to him that Pierce intended to keep him alive, but he was not so sure about Tate. The look in Jim Tate’s eyes was becoming more desperate with each passing hour, eroding what little hope Armand had left.

Ben and Joe caught up to Hoss and the posse at Digger’s Crossing just before one.

Ben nodded to the sheriff and his deputy. “Hoss. Roy. Clem.”

Hoss dismounted the livery horse.”Shore glad ya brought Chub, Pa. I think I’ve plum wore this one out already.”

“Your clothes are in the saddle bags.” Joe added.

“Thanks, little brother. How’s Gabrielle and Cecille?”

Ben eased himself in the saddle. “Upset, as you would imagine, but holding up.”

Hoss patted Chub’s neck. “Yeah….guess so.”

Roy Coffee was anxious to move on. “Well, we’d better get the move on. We’re burnin’ daylight. I had Clem wire every town within twenty miles of Eagle’s Notch with the description the hotel clerk gave us of Armand. Didn’t hear anything before we left town. Still can’t believe nobody in the hotel saw or heard anything unusual.” Roy pushed down on the horn of his saddle to reposition himself. “Hoss seems ta think they headed toward Carson; so Ben, you and the boys will come with me. Clem will take the rest of you men on the road south. We’ll plan to meet back in town this evening. Tell the men what ya know, Hoss.”

“Well, it looks ta me like two fellas wearin’ cowboy boots in some kinda wagon with their saddle horses tied on the back. Can’t believe they tried travelin’ at night which makes me think they stuck to the road. Even goin’ slow they still coulda made Carson by around sunrise this mornin’ if they left before midnight last night. And Eagle’s Notch is bout the same distance from Virginia City and Carson. I was trackin’ a horse with a loose shoe for a mile or two, but lost it a little ways back.”

The sheriff gave his last instructions. “Ok, remember, Armand’s a tall man, gray hair, in his late fifties probably in dress clothes. Alright, let’s ride.”

“Hey, Roy, I wanna stop at the way station up ahead and change my clothes right quick.” Hoss was relieved to be climbing into the saddle on his own horse.

“You betcha, Hoss. Need to stop there anyway and ask if anybody’s seen or heard anything.”

However the way station operator was no help when Sheriff Coffee questioned him. After Hoss changed, they rode on toward Carson City, stopping to examine each set of wagon tracks that left the road. In every case, Hoss dismissed them as not the what they were looking for. They reached Carson City by mid afternoon. The Cartwrights and Sheriff Coffee split up to question hotel clerks, livery operators and the Sheriff of Carson for leads, but nothing definitive surfaced. With daylight evaporating, they rode hard for Virginia City. Clem and the other men had already returned by the time the Cartwrights and Sheriff Coffee reached town.

Roy Coffee looked at his deputy. “Did ya come up with anything, Clem.”

“Not a thing. Questioned anyone we came up on and checked a couple of abandoned places, but there was nothing.”

Ben sighed. “Same for us in Carson City. Guess I’ll be in town early tomorrow morning to get the ransom money.”

Coffee nodded. “We’ll be ready to ride by ten.”

Ben grimaced and placed a large hand firmly in the middle of Coffee’s desk. “Roy, you know you can’t do that. The note said they will kill Armand if they see more than one man.”

“Well, you can trust we won’t be far away, but we’ll stay outta sight.”

“Alright, Roy, I’m too tired to argue. Come on boys, let’s go home.”

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Louis Armand had many hours to reflect on his life as his captivity wore on. He had seldom done anything in life without forethought and calculation, but certain that Gabrielle had made a terrible mistake breaking off her engagement with David, he had decided with little warning to his sons to come west and take her back to Boston. He found his daughters much more difficult to understand than his sons. In his mind there could be nothing more important than having a financially secure existence for them. That was why he had agreed to Adam and Cecille’s marriage. Knowing that David would be able to provide Gabrielle with all that she would need and more, he could not understand why that prospect had not been enough for her.

As the oldest son of a poor shopkeeper in Boston, Louis Armand determined quite young never to have to struggle to put food on the table of his own household. He worked very hard as a youth taking any odd jobs he could find. At seventeen, he landed a job with the Marcon shipping company as a dock worker. Recognized for having good organizational skills and for offering helpful suggestions to economize the business efforts, he was quickly moved into a managerial position despite his age. Frequently a guest in the Marcon home for holidays and special occasions, it was there he met his future wife, the beautiful Adele Duprey, one of the Marcon’s granddaughters. He continued to work hard and save, determined never to return to the poverty he had known as a child. So when Marcon decided to sell out, Louis found himself the owner of an established shipping company at the age of twenty-one. Secure in his future, he asked Adele’s father for her hand in marriage. He continued to pour himself into the business, often until late in the evening. This left his new bride alone with little to fill the long, lonely hours. With several calculated risks paying off, Armand Shipping continued to expand. As the company expanded, so did his family, first Thomas, then Marcus, Cecille, and finally Gabrielle. Armand had given his family the best his money could buy, but little of himself. As teens, he brought Tom and Marc into the business, but he had been a harsh task master, expecting them to pour their all into the shipping company as he had. Blessed or cursed, as it may be, with their father’s business acumen and desire for wealth, Tom and Marc had stayed the course and now found themselves very wealthy. When Adele passed much too young, Louis had buried himself even much deeper in his company leaving Cecille and Gabrielle to bear their grief without his comfort.

Exhausted and painfully uncomfortable from his restraints and the long, bumpy ride to Carson, Armand’s chin rested heavily against his chest in despair. He had not cried since the day of Adele’s death, but there were tears in his eyes now. He would have gladly traded all his wealth to be back with his family. He had pushed his daughters aside because they had not served his purpose in the pursuit of wealth. And besides Benji and Elizabeth, he had six other grandchildren that he knew only by name, choosing never to be a real part of their lives. However, in less than one day, the truly important elements of his life had become evident. Louis Armand could not remember the last time he had asked anyone for help, but he was desperately in need of help now and was ready to ask for it.

God….if you are out there….I want to make things right…..I’m asking….please…..please…..give me a chance….

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Back at the ranch house, the children had been in bed for over an hour by the time Ben and the boys reached the ranch. Kate had been sitting in Ben’s chair anxiously awaiting their return and hurried for the door when she heard their boots on the porch. Cecille and Gabrielle also rose quickly and turned toward the door.

Barely allowing the men inside, Kate stopped short when she saw their tired faces. “Oh Ben, we’ve been so worried.” She grasped his arms.

Wearily he removed his hat and placed it on the credenza. Putting an arm around Kate’s shoulders he looked with sympathy at his daughter-in-law and her sister. “I’m afraid we did not find your father.”

Gabrielle ran to Hoss and hid her face in the front of his coat. He wrapped her up tightly and let her cry. Ben pulled Kate closer as they looked on the couple. Cecille stood alone wishing Adam was there to offer her some comfort. Seeing her need, Joe walked over and took her hands in his.

“We’ll find him tomorrow. Try not to worry, Cecille.”

“Thanks, Joe.” Cecille was desperately trying to smile through her tears.

“We are not going to give up hope. I will collect the money tomorrow morning, and we will do everything in our power to get your father back.” Ben placed his hands on Cecille’s upper arms and gave her a reassuring squeeze. She nodded to him gratefully.

“You all must be starved. I’ll ask Hop Sing heat some leftovers.” Kate disappeared to the kitchen.

“Hey now.” Hoss tipped Gabrielle’s face up toward his. “Ya heard Pa. We ain’t givin’ up.” Though unable to smile, Hoss could see the gratitude in her eyes, and he placed a kiss in her soft hair.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

About an hour before dawn, Tate left to ready the horses. Before re-entering the boarding house, he grabbed two picket ropes and stuffed them in his coat pocket. Pierce had moved Armand to the bed not knowing how long it would be until someone found him. Tate rapped lightly on the door and Pierce opened it carefully and let him in.

Pierce whispered to his partner. “Horses ready?”

“Yeah, they’re ready, but you’re not.” Tate drew his gun. “Give me your gun, Pierce.”

“What are ya doin’, Tate. This is no time for messin’ around.”

“This ain’t no joke, Pierce. Give me your gun.”

“Are you crazy! You can’t shoot me. You’ll bring the whole place down on us.”

“I’ll shoot ya and be gone before anybody knows what happened, Pierce. Don’t push me!”

Armand looked on with a growing sense of foreboding. Jim Tate’s crazed expression only backed up his words; so Pierce handed him his gun. Tate bound his hands and feet and gagged him with his own neckerchief. He pulled Armand from the bed and pushed Pierce onto the mattress. Leaning over the bed Tate whispered in the ear of his new captive. “If ya happen ta get outta here before noon, don’t come lookin’ for me. I’ll shoot ya on sight. And if you’re thinkin’ bout turnin’ me in, better think twice, cause you’ll be sittin’ in the cell right beside me!” Then he untied Armand’s feet, covered his gag with his wool scarf, and threw a blanket around his head and shoulders. Tate jammed his pistol into Armand’s side. “Now move. Don’t flinch or make a peep.”

Hearing movement in the house, the proprietor was up and stirring the coals in the fireplace of the common room. Observing the well bundled Armand, he gave Tate an odd look.

“Cold air’s not good for ‘im.” Tate feigned a look of concern.

“Iffen he’s so sick, ya hadn’t oughta be takin’ him out.”

Tate called back over his shoulder. “No choice. Gotta be somewhere.” He pushed Armand quickly out the door and toward the alley where the horses were tied.

“Mount up and hold on tight. This ain’t gonna be no big city carriage ride.” Tate sneered.

Once in the saddle, Armand began to shiver uncontrollably, fearful that he did not have long to live.


Chapter 14


Well before dawn Monday morning, Ben attempted to slip out of bed without disturbing Kate. However, she woke and reached out to stop him before he could swing his feet over the side of the bed. He turned back to look at her.

“Ben….I know that you must do this…..but that doesn’t mean I have to like it….Please be careful…I need you.”

He sighed. Dealing with situations like this one with Armand had never been easy, but with a woman in his life again and Mary and Hannah to consider, Ben felt more conflicted than he had in a very long time. He took her hand and laced his fingers through hers.

“I promise you, Kate, I will be careful……but you need to be prepared. This could take a few days if they take the money and run.”

“Yes….I know that…..but I’m praying that it doesn’t go that far…and that you and the boys are safely home with Mr. Armand by tonight.”

“Here’s hoping your prayers are answered.” Ben leaned over to stroke her cheek and give her a kiss. “I love you, Kate.”

Sleep for Gabrielle had come in fits and starts and though the men had tried to be quiet, she heard them in the hallway on their way downstairs for breakfast. Ben, Hoss, and Joe were heartily eating their ham, eggs, and fried potatoes, unsure when they would get their next home cooked meal.

Joe was the first to notice Gabrielle standing on the landing. He whispered to his brother and nodded toward the living room. “Hoss.”

“Huh? What?”

Ben looked up from his coffee to see Gabrielle carefully coming down the stairs still favoring her injured ankle. “Hoss, I believe you have company. Come on, Joe let’s get to the barn.”

Joe gulped the last of his coffee and rose with his father.

Ben offered her a greeting. “Good morning, Gabrielle.”

“Good morning.” She was awkwardly uncomfortable greeting them in her robe. “Please….before you go…..I wanted to speak to all of you.”

Hoss rose and gave her a warm smile, then moved to place a reassuring arm around her shoulders.

“I just want all of you to know…how grateful I am…for what you are doing. I am so sorry to have brought this on you…” Gabrielle turned toward Hoss and allowed him to pull her close.

Ben approached her and placed a comforting hand on her arm. “You came here to visit your sister and her family. Please don’t blame yourself. This is not your doing…..Gabrielle, it could be a long day for you, but we will try to get word to you as soon as possible.”

She nodded timidly. “Thank you, Ben. Please be safe.”

Joe gave her a heart-felt smile. “We’ll do our best.”

Gabrielle watched as the men donned their coats and strapped on their gun belts. Ben and Joe slipped out the door leaving Hoss to say goodbye.

“I know it won’t do any good ta tell ya not ta worry.” Hoss placed his large hands on Gabrielle’s upper arms and gave them a gentle squeeze. He gazed intently into her misting blue eyes. “Jest know I love ya, Gabbie, and I’m comin’ back and bringin’ your pa with me.”

With her chin quivering and tears pooling in her eyes, Gabrielle reminded Hoss of a lost little girl. He tipped her chin up to him and kissed her tenderly. Giving her one last look of reassurance, he turned for the barn and closed the door behind him.

Gabrielle stood staring at the door, nervously rubbing her hands on her arms. Oh, Daddy why?…Why did you have to come here?

Ben and the boys went directly to the bank when they reached Virginia City.

As they approached the door to the bank, Ben gave instructions. “Joe, would you mind going to the hotel and making arrangements to have Armand’s things sent to the ranch.”

“Sure, Pa.”

“They will need to be dealt with one way or another, but we must have faith that Armand will be in need of them soon.” Ben gave his sons a worried smile.

Hoss breathed a heavy sigh. “Yeah, I sure hope so.”

It took over an hour to collect the ransom in cash and coin.

“Here you are Ben.” The bank manager gave him a weary, fretful look and handed Ben and Hoss several bags. “One hundred thousand dollars.”

“Thanks for your help. With luck we’ll have this back to you later today.” Ben began loading the money into his saddle bags.

“I certainly hope so for your sake, Ben.”

As Ben tied down the saddle bags of money, he glanced across the street to the sheriff’s office. He knew that Roy would want to talk to him before they took off for Eagle’s Notch, but he also knew that it would most likely lead to an argument. “All right, let’s mount up.”

Joe spied the sheriff coming quickly down the boardwalk toward them. “Pa, I think we better hold up a minute.”

“Ben Cartwright, I’ve been expectin’ you at my office. You weren’t plannin’ on ridin’ out without stoppin’ by, were ya?” Coffee awaited Ben’s response with arched brows.

Ben bristled and shook his head. “Roy, you know the situation. If they see the law, they will kill Armand and run. I made a promise to his daughters that we would do our best to bring their father back in one piece, and I intend to do just that!”

“As do I, Ben. As do I. Do you really think I can just sit here on my hands and let you go after these kidnappers without a posse? News gets around, you know. People will start sayin’ Virginia City is easy pickin’s and then they’ll be lookin’ for a new sheriff.” Coffee gave him a frown.

After a momentary stare down, Ben sighed. “Alright, Roy, you can follow us with the posse, but you’ve got to keep out of sight.”

“I kin do that, but I’ll only give you an hour, Ben. After that we’re comin’ in.”

Ben growled. “Roy!”

“Do I have ta say it again. I better be hearin’ from one of you by one o’clock, otherwise I’ll be makin’ a visit to Eagle’s Notch. Got it?”

“Yeah, we got, Roy.” Hoss huffed as he climbed into the saddle. “Come on, Pa, we’re wastin’ time. We need ta hit the road ta make sure we’re there before noon.”

Tate and Armand reached Eagle’s Notch around ten-thirty. The trip had taken longer than Tate thought it would. Denying Armand adequate food and water had weakened the man to the point of almost falling off his horse. Tate pulled his prisoner from his horse, then he sat Armand in front of a boulder that was in line of sight from the crest of the mountain of rock. He tied Armand’s feet securely leaving the helpless man bound and gagged.

“There. The trap is baited. Now I just have to get up where I can enjoy the show!” An evil grin came upon Tate’s face.

He hid the horses in some brush behind the wall of stone, and made his way to the top.

Shortly before noon Ben and his sons arrived at Eagle’s Notch. They remained hidden from view. Ben pulled out his watch.

“Alright, I’m heading in. You two stay clear. You hear me!”

“Pa, give me the money.” Hoss moved Chub into Buck’s path. “It’s gotta be me that does this.” The big man’s blue eyes turned a steely gray.

“No, Hoss, I can’t let you do it. I am sure they are expecting me to deliver the money.”

“There was nothin’ in the note that said it had ta be you. Just an unarmed Cartwright.” Hoss handed his revolver to his father.

Ben scowled while Hoss maintained his look of determination.

Ben whispered his resignation. “You’re sure, son?”

“Never bin more certain, Pa.”

Ben sighed deeply. “Alright then.” He lifted the flap on one of the bags placing his son’s revolver inside before he handed the saddle bags to Hoss. “Please be careful!”

“Careful as I can be, Pa.”

Ben and Joe watched as Hoss rode toward the base of Eagle’s Notch.

“I’m following him as far as I can on Cooch, then I’ll get as close as possible on foot.” Joe watched as his brother rode away.

“What do you mean you are following Hoss? Do you really think I am going to let you go on without me?” Frustration was written all over Ben’s face.

“No, Pa, why should I expect you to follow your own orders? Are you ready?” Joe pointed in Hoss’ direction looking smug.

Ben grunted and gave Buck a kick.

Hoss reined in Chub when he came to the end of the cover of boulders and brush. Carefully he surveyed the area below Eagle’s Notch. About a hundred yards in front of him was a large boulder that sat in clear view from above. Slumped in front of the boulder there appeared to be a man. Hoss was certain it was Armand. He dismounted Chub and pulled the bags from his saddle. Hoss flopped both bags over his shoulder, making sure that the one with his gun was hidden under the top one. He took a deep breath and began walking out into the open. When he closed to within fifty yards of Armand, Tate yelled.

“That’s close enough. Nothin’ you can do for him now anyway. So just drop the money and walk away.

Hoss kept moving toward Armand.

“Do ya want ta die! I said drop the bags!” Tate fired a shoot at Hoss’ feet.

Ben and Joe had heard Tate call out to Hoss, but picked up their pace when they heard the shot.

Hoss continued moving forward. Now he could clearly see Armand. He was laying on his side, motionless, with a bandana gag, and bound hand and foot.

“This is your last warning.” Tate fired again and hit Hoss in his upper left arm.

The pain took Hoss to his knees. He yelled to Tate. “Alright. Come get your money.” Then he carefully slipped the gun out as he laid the bags on the ground.

“That’s more like it! Now clear out!”

“Mr. Armand! Can you hear me?” Grimacing with pain, Hoss looked intently for any sign of life.

“I said, clear out!”

“Mr. Armand?”

Barely audible, Hoss heard a faint moan and then saw the man’s eyes flicker open.

With renewed determination, Hoss shouted to Tate again. “You’re gonna have ta kill me if ya want ta stop me, but ya won’t be long for this world cause my Pa and my brother are not far away and there’s a posse behind them.”

Armand moaned again and shook his head trying to discourage Hoss from coming any closer. In the mean time, Joe had worked his way across the base of Eagle’s Notch and was now on the path to the summit, running from side to side hoping to stay out of Tate’s line of fire. Tate couldn’t believe that Hoss was pressing him. He bounced another bullet on the ground near Hoss.

“You know I can kill ya anytime now.”

“If ya give it up now you’ll only get prison. Anything else and you’ll be dead. Just keep that in mind. Armand’s still alive. The law will go easier on ya if ya let us live. I’m makin’ my way over ta him now. Just keep in mind what I said.” Hoss pushed hard on the ground to stand up.

Ben was leaning against the rock face out of Tate’s sight. He called out to his injured son. “Hoss, no, don’t move!”

As Tate looked down trying to pinpoint the new voice, Joe surprised him from behind. “Drop it, mister!”

Tate immediately raised his hands and then dropped the rifle. Cautiously, Joe moved to pick it up.

“I got him, Pa! Now move!” Joe shouted and motioned to Tate to start down the rocky path.

Ben took off running toward Hoss and Armand. By the time he reached them, Hoss already had removed the gag from Armand and was working on the ropes.

Armand choked out his question. “Who are you?”

“I”m Hoss Cartwright..Adam’s brother.”

Even in his weakened condition, a trace of understanding crossed his face as he took in the mountain of a man kneeling in front of him.

“Louis!” Ben was breathing hard from his run.

Armand could only muster a whisper. “Thank…you for saving my life.”

“There will be plenty of time for that later, right now we’ve got to get some coffee in you and get you warmed up.” Ben worked at tying his neckerchief around his son’s arm.

Joe walked up with his gun trained on Tate.

Ben gave Tate a steely glare. “Hold out your hands.” He bound Tate with the ropes he had used to keep Armand a captive. “Joe would you pick up the saddle bags and go get the horses. We need water right away.”

“Sure Pa. You alright, Hoss?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine once this bullet’s out. Burns like fire.”

Armand looked questioningly at Joe.

“Hello, Mr. Armand. I’m Joe, another one of Adam’s brothers.”

The older man raised his chin in understanding.

“Be back as quick as I can.” Joe took of running for the horses.

Ben headed for some brush. “I’m going to see what I can find to build a fire.”

By the time Joe returned with the horses, Ben had started a fire. Joe tossed Ben a blanket and a canteen, and then began to prepare a pot of coffee.

Ben wrapped Armand in the blanket and offered him a drink from the canteen. “Here, Louis, just not too much to start out.”

Armand’s hands shook as he reached to take hold of the canteen and greedily began drinking.

Ben forced him to slow down. “Easy now.”

Hoss handed Armand some hard tack after he lowered the canteen. “I know it ain’t fancy, but ya need to get somethin’ in ya.”

Armand ate eagerly and then paused holding up the hard tack to Hoss. “Thank you.”

Once the coffee was ready, Ben poured a cup and gave it to Armand and then handed Hoss and Joe each a cup. Before pouring one for himself, he took one to Tate.

Ben held out the cup and looked Tate straight in the eye. “Every man deserves better than what you did for Armand.”

Tate looked up at Ben. He reached up with his bound hands and took the cup. Unable to look Ben in the eye, he dropped his head in shame. Ben returned to the fire.

Going down on one knee, he poured himself some coffee and took a good drink. He pulled his watch from his pocket. “The posse should be here soon. It’s ten til one. We need to get you two back to the Ponderosa. There’s a homestead back about five miles. Hopefully we can borrow a wagon to get you back to the ranch. Do you think you could make it that far, Louis?”

Armand breathed a sigh of relief. “I will make it now….thanks to all of you.”

“Joe, why don’t you ride ahead and see if you can get a wagon lined up for us and then deliver the money back to town. Oh and fetch Doc Martin to the house.”

“I can do that, Pa. I know a couple of ladies that will be mighty happy to see you, Mr. Armand.”

“And I will be very glad to see them…More than you can ever know, young man.” Louis gave Joe a thoughtful look.

“Speaking of those ladies. Joe, since you are heading to town, see if you can get someone from the posse to ride to the ranch and let the ladies know that all is well.” Ben placed his hand on Armand’s shoulder and offered him a big smile.

“Will do! See you back at the ranch.” Joe mounted Cochise and gave them a wave.

Shortly after Joe left, Roy Coffee and Clem Foster rode up with the posse. Coffee greeted them. “Well now Ben, looks you’ve got things under control here.” The sheriff and deputy dismounted their horses.

Ben pointed to Armand. “Roy, Clem, I’d like to introduce you to Louis Armand. Louis, this is Sheriff Roy Coffee and his deputy, Clem Foster.”

“Mr. Armand, I’m sorry that we had to meet under these circumstances. Do you feel up to answering a few questions?” Coffee asked.

“Certainly officer.”

The sheriff turned to the prisoner. “What’s your name, mister?”

“Tate, Jim Tate.”

“Alright, Mr. Armand would you mind telling me how you became acquainted with Mr. Tate?”

“Yes, well it was not by my choosing. Tate and another man by the name of Pierce abducted me from the hotel in Virginia City at, um, I am guessing that it was approximately eleven Saturday night.”

“And where is this Pierce?”

“Tate tied him up and left him back in Carson City.”

“Is that so, Mr. Tate?”

“Yeah, but he’s probably half way ta Mexico by now if somebody turned him loose.”

“And where were you holed up in Carson?”

“Some rat trap of a boardin’ house on the east side.”

“Alright that’s probably enough for now. The judge can sort out the rest. Clem, why don’t you head to Carson and see if you can locate Pierce.”

“Sure, Roy. I’ll see you later.”

Ben and Hoss waved goodbye. Foster mounted up and rode toward Carson City.

“Now, Mr. Tate, we just need to find your horse and we’ll be heading to town. You’ll have the privilege of being a guest of the good people of Virginia City.”

At dusk, Jamie was in the barn and ran to the house when he heard the wagon coming in. He threw open the door and shouted. “They’re back! Pa and Hoss! They’re here!”

As Ben pulled the wagon up to house, his family ran out on the porch and called their warm greetings. He jumped off the seat and Kate met him with open arms at the back of the wagon. Joe helped Hoss down and Gabrielle paused momentarily, her face awash with relief as she gently touched Hoss’ injured arm. Within seconds Mary was clinging to his leg. Hannah ran to Kate who picked her up and put the little girl on her hip.

“Hey doll. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.” Hoss patted Mary’s dark hair. He looked back at Gabrielle who was now standing with Cecille at the end of the wagon staring at their father. Benji and Elizabeth ran to their mother’s side and were clinging to her skirt, mostly hidden from their Grandfather Armand’s view.

Gabrielle whispered. “Daddy?”

Ben and Joe helped Armand to scoot forward and drop his legs to the ground. His daughters were surprised when they saw their father’s face. The past few days had aged him. He appeared frail and weak.

“Gabrielle…Cecille.” Armand worked to muster an unfamiliar smile as he reached out a hand to each of his daughters. At first they were tentative, but then each one took his hand, tears welling in their eyes. “My beautiful girls! You cannot know how happy I am to see you again.”

Gabrielle released his hand and put her arms around his neck, and spoke softly into his ear. “Oh Daddy, I’m so sorry for what happened to you.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for, child. It was my own doing.” He embraced her with his free arm.

Cecille could not believe what she was hearing. This was not the father she knew, but when Gabrielle stepped out of his embrace, Cecille found herself in his arms. Soon she was sobbing like a child. There were no dry eyes among the adults. Hoss stepped toward Gabrielle and pulled her close. Ben and Kate shared a look of love and heart-felt joy for Cecille and Gabrielle.

Louis whispered tenderly into Cecille’s dark hair while gently patting back. “There, there, child. This is long overdue. I am so sorry.”

Elizabeth tugged on her mother’s skirt. “Mama?”

Tears began to form in Benji’s eyes as well. “Please don’t cry, Mama!”

Louis released his daughter. “Cecille, the children. I must see the children.”

“Yes, Daddy. Of course. It’s alright, children.” She swiped a hand across her cheeks. “Mama is just so happy to see your Grandfather.” Cecille brought Benji and Elizabeth directly in front of her father.

Armand placed a hand on his grandson’s shoulder. “Just look at you, Benjamin. You are a fine young man. And sweet, little Elizabeth.” He took the little girl’s chin in his hand. “You look just like your mother did at that age. Do you think you could manage a hug for your old grandfather?” Love was shining in Armand’s tired eyes.

Benji’s expression brightened suddenly and when he struggled to hoist himself up into the wagon, Ben reached out and gave him the help he needed. The boy threw his arms around his grandfather with such enthusiasm that he almost knocked him backwards. Louis Armand let out a laugh that had been trapped deep within him for years. Taking in the precious scene, the family added their joyful laughter to his. Then, Cecille lifted Elizabeth up beside them, and with tears in his eyes, Armand hugged his grandchildren tightly against him.

Having allowed Armand time to soak in the embraces of Benji and Elizabeth, Ben cleared his throat. “Well, now, Louis, we need to get you inside and get some of Hop Sing’s good cooking into you. I believe you are in need of a little Cartwright hospitality.”

Louis released his hold on his grandchildren. “Yes…indeed. Thank you.”

Cecille and Gabrielle looked at their father in wonder. Ben and Joe lifted the children from the wagon and then each took Armand by the arm to help steady him as they helped him into the house. The children were all eyes as Armand was carefully placed on the settee.

Joe stood beside the settee making certain Louis was comfortable. “Doc Martin should be here soon.”

“Thank you, Joe, but he should attend to your brother first. I shall be fine with a little food and some rest.”

“I had Hop Sing hold dinner, but it should be ready in an hour.” Kate announced to all.

Armand was grateful for everyone’s concern, but was feeling the need for a little time to process all that took place today. “Would you please excuse me if I take my meal in a room. I am afraid that I will not be much company this evening.”

Jamie had done his best to make himself useful while the other men were gone. “Pa, my room is ready for Mr. Armand. His belongings came earlier this afternoon. I’ll be bunkin’ in with Joe for the time being.”

Ben clapped his son on the shoulder. “Thank you, Jamie for seeing to that, and I will have Hop Sing prepare a bath for you, Louis.”

Louis looked up at Ben with gratitude and relief. “That would be marvelous.”

Benji went and stood near his grandfather. He was trying to make sense of Armand’s dirty face and filthy clothes. “Grandfather…you should stay inside when you’re sick. Right Mama?”

Armand gave his grandson a quizzical look as the family tried to hide their laughter. Cecille came up and placed her hands on Benji’s shoulders.

“Father, we told the children that you were not feeling well yesterday. That is why you were unable to come for a visit.” Cecille gave her father a knowing smile.

Armand looked directly at his confused grandson. “Uhh..yes…indeed…I was not feeling well, and I thank you for your concern, Benjamin. But I will be back to myself very soon thanks to the Cartwright family.” He looked up at his daughters. “In truth, I will be better than when I arrived in Virginia City.”

Ben reached for Armand’s elbow. “Well now, Louis, let me show you to your room.”

“Yes, good evening to all of you, and, again, thank you, so very much.”

Cecille and Gabrielle caught themselves staring at their father in disbelief. His ordeal had obviously changed him, still it was going to take some time for his daughters to get used to the new Louis Armand.

Ben helped to seat Armand on the bed in the room off of the living room. “I will let you know when your bath is ready. Is there anything else I can get for you in the meantime?”

“You wouldn’t happen to have something a little more potent than coffee, by any chance?”

“Absolutely! Whiskey or brandy? I apologize for not offering it earlier.”

“Brandy would be wonderful.”

“One glass of brandy coming right up.”

Armand nodded his thanks.

Gabrielle noticed Ben carrying a tray with the brandy and small glass toward the bedroom. “Is that for my father?”

“Yes. Would you like to deliver it?” With understanding eyes, Ben held out the tray to Gabrielle.

She nodded, then dropped her eyes from his. Ben watched as she moved to the bedroom. He knew that there was much that needed to be said between Gabrielle and her father, and he hoped their conversation would bring them closer together.

She knocked lightly on the door. “Daddy, may I come in? I have your brandy.”

“Yes, come ahead, Gabrielle.”

She set the tray on the bedside stand, poured the brandy and handed it to her father.

“Thank you, my dear.”

Gabrielle stood awkwardly watching her father as he took a two sips of brandy. Closing his eyes, he allowed its warmth to penetrate his body.

“That is very good. Ben Cartwright obviously knows his brandy.”

Louis gently patted the bed for her to have a seat. She hesitated, but then sat down. Gabrielle could not ever remember sitting beside her father on his bed or hers. She placed her hands on her knees and took a deep breath.

“Daddy….I am so glad you were not seriously injured or worse….” She murmured out into the room.

When she turned toward her father, he had tears in his eyes. “I have done you a terrible disservice, my daughter…..All these years I have given you everything you needed, except….a father’s love…..Can you ever forgive me?”

Gabrielle threw her arms around his neck. “Oh Daddy.”

After a moment, Gabrielle released him. With tears streaming down her face, she kissed his dirty cheek. “I love you, Daddy.”

“And I love you too, dear….dear Gabrielle.” He welcomed her back into his arms once more.

There was a knock at the door.

“Yes.” Armand responded.

Ben cracked the door open. “Your bath is ready, Louis.”

“Thank you. I would imagine that Gabrielle can show me the way.”

“Very good then.” Ben pulled the door closed.

Gabrielle was about to get up from the bed. “I will wait outside while you gather your things.”

Before she could get up from the bed, Armand placed his hand over hers with a thoughtful expression. “Gabrielle, have you gotten to know Adam’s brother very well since you have been here. Hoss, is it?”

She bit her lip, “Uh, why do you ask, Daddy?”

“An amazing man. He risked his life for mine….without even knowing me…the younger one, too, Joe….and their father. It is beyond belief. I doubt that I would be here now if it had not been for their selfless acts of courage…I am not sure that I would have it in me to do the same…How will I ever adequately thank them?”

Gabrielle had trouble meeting his eyes. “They are a wonderful family. Cecille was very fortunate to marry Adam.”

“Indeed. Ben Cartwright is without a doubt much more than just a capable rancher to have sons of such character.” He paused and took a deep breath to gain courage for what he knew he must say. “Gabrielle….I may not have come west for the right reasons….but I now know that I would not trade having your love for anything in this world…..Anything.” He gave her hand a squeeze.

Fresh tears blurred her eyes as she brought his hand up to her cheek. Rising, Gabrielle went to the door, but paused and turned back.

“I never thought I would say this….but Daddy….I’m so glad you came.”

Armand nodded as she closed the door behind her. Once in the wash room, Armand could barely force himself to stay awake as he soaked in the tub. The events of the past two days replayed in his mind.

Doc Martin arrived to remove the bullet from Hoss’ arm. Joe offered his bedroom for the task. In a matter of minutes, Dr. Martin had the bullet out and placed Hoss’ arm in a sling.

“You know the drill, Ben. He will sleep for a couple of hours. Here are some laudanum pills if the pain gets to be too much for him. Better have him take it easy for a day or two.”

“I’ll have him out rounding up strays tomorrow morning. Early.” Ben coughed and gave the doctor a wry smile.

“And you would!”

“Oh come on Paul. You know I’m kidding, but he will be as grumpy as an old bear when he wakes up and figures out that he missed supper! Hey, Paul, would you mind checking on Armand? Just to make sure he is ok.”

“Sure I can do that.”

However, there was no answer when Ben knocked on Armand’s door.

Ben looked back toward the settee. “Cecille, have you seen your father?”

“No, not since he returned from bathing.”

“I would like Dr. Martin to speak with him. Would you mind checking with him first?”

“Not at all.” Cecille walked over and knocked again. “Daddy?”

Hearing no answer, she tentatively opened the door. Armand was sound asleep in his bed clothes. She quietly stepped into the room and could hear his slow steady breathing. He looked pale and somewhat older than when she met him at the railroad station, but otherwise appeared to be resting comfortably. She moved back out to the living room closing the door gently behind her.

“My father appears to be fine. He is sleeping easily. I do not believe he will need Dr. Martin’s attention.”

“Well, that’s good news. Thank you for checking, Cecille. Paul we are about to have a late dinner. You are welcome to join us. There should be plenty since Hoss is asleep.” Ben looked smug.

“Sounds tempting, but I think I will get back to town. Maybe another time.”

“Very well. Thanks for coming out and tending Hoss.”

“As always, you’re welcome. Please tell Kate goodbye for me. Goodnight.”

“I’ll do that. Goodnight.” Ben saw the doctor out the door.

Within minutes the family gathered at the table. Ben surveyed their faces and took Kate’s hand. “Well, I do believe we are all very happy to be together for dinner this evening. It would be even better were Louis and Hoss joining us, but thankfully both are resting well and should be up and about soon. Now I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am famished. Let’s eat.”

The tension of the day seemed to melt away with the warm, delicious food Hop Sing had prepared. Ben and Joe related a not too detailed account of the events of the day since the children were present. With the conversation freely flowing, Mary slipped away from the table after finishing her meal and went to find Hoss. She quietly opened the door to Joe’s room to see her big friend asleep with his injured arm resting on his chest. She quickly ran to her room to find her toy pony and then crept silently in beside the bed.

Placing “Patches” next to Hoss, Mary knelt, folded her hands and began to whisper a prayer. “Dear God. Hoss arm got hurt. Please make it better so he can help me ride Patches again. Amen.” Mary let her chin rest on her arms as she kept watch over Hoss.

Having graduated from the high chair, Hannah was half asleep leaning against Kate while the adults were finishing their coffee.

Kate looked over at Ben. “Well, I guess it’s time this little girl gets to bed. I wonder where Mary is hiding?”

“Don’t see her in the living room. Must have gone to her room. Kate, it’s been a long day. How about we turn in early.”

She whispered, her green eyes sparkling. “Sounds like a wonderful idea.”

“We have two girls to get to bed and then Kate and I are going to call it a day. Goodnight everyone.” Ben announced.

The family shared their “good nights”, and Kate picked up sleepy little Hannah. Ben followed Kate to the girls’ room expecting to find Mary playing, but the room was empty. Taking a look down the hall Ben noticed the door to Joe’s room was open.

He pointed to Joe’s bedroom. “I bet we’ll find her in there. You can start with Hannah, I’ll go have a look.”

Ben poked his head into Joe’s room and saw Mary curled up beside Hoss. “Patches” was laying on Hoss’ chest, moving with each breath. Ben tiptoed quickly back to the girls’ room. “Kate, come, you need to see this.” He placed a finger to his lips.

She gave him curious look. Ben picked up Hannah and took Kate by the hand. He gently pushed back the door so that Kate could see Mary and Hoss.

Kate whispered. “Oh, Ben, how sweet. She was worried about him.”

“Mary.” Hannah called.

“Shhh” Ben handed Hannah back to Kate and tip-toed to the bed. He considered taking “Patches”, then thought Hoss would want to know Mary had visited him. Ever so carefully he picked up Mary, cradled her against his chest, and carried her to her room.

“She looks so dear when she is sleeping. Just lay her on the bed. You go on. I’ll be along shortly.” Kate murmured.

Ben placed a light kiss on Mary’s forehead as he laid her on the bed. Hannah reached out to give him a hug. “Goodnight, Hannah.” He kissed her round cheek. “See you soon, Aunt Kate.” There was anticipation in his voice.

After she finished tucking the girls in bed, Kate found Ben in his robe reading in bed. He scooted over and patted the bed. She came and sat down facing him.

“Mary hardly woke up enough for me to get her into her nightgown and Hannah went right to sleep.”

“That’s good. I am glad that you weren’t delayed too long.” Ben laid his book aside and brought Kate into his arms laying her across his chest. He pushed her auburn hair away from her face and placed light kisses on her forehead and cheeks as she gazed into his deep brown eyes.

“You look tired, Kate.”

“I’m not that tired.” There was a glint in her eye as she fingered his silver sideburn. She smiled when she felt the rumble of his chuckle beneath her ear, but then her smile faded.

“You can’t know how happy I was to see you pull up to the house this evening. It was horrible sitting here all day wondering where you were…what was happening…..whether I would see you….” Tears began to form in her eyes.

“Shh, Kate.” Ben touched a finger to her lips and then kissed her tenderly. “Believe me I understand. Truly I do. I have been down that road with my boys a few times. The not knowing is gut wrenching, but everything turned out well except for Hoss catching a bullet, and thankfully he will be fine. He was determined to be the one to deliver the ransom money. I’m not exactly sure why except that possibly he wanted the opportunity to prove to Armand that he would make a worthy husband for Gabrielle. You were not the only one who was worried. For a few moments I wasn’t sure that I would be bringing him back to the Ponderosa alive.”

“Oh Ben, how awful!”

“Thank goodness Joe was able to get to the kidnapper before anything worse happened…..Well, enough on that. All’s well that ends well. See, your prayers were answered.” He touched a finger to her nose. “I think the entire event gave Armand some things to think about. He seems like a very different man than the one I met at the train station a few days ago. Staring death in the face can do that to a man.”

Kate slipped her hand beneath the fold of his robe, her fingers passing through the silver-gray hair until her hand came to rest over Ben’s heart. She reveled in the steady and then increasing rhythm.

“Kate, go and get ready for bed.” There was desire in his deep voice. “I just want to feel you next to me.”

By the time Hoss woke from his drug induced sleep, most of the family had gone to bed. It had been a long and stressful day, so Joe and Jamie were the only two still sitting in the living room when Hoss came downstairs.

“Hey where is everybody? Gosh Almighty, I feel like a could eat a horse.” Hoss declared to his brothers.

“They all turned in early. And now that you are out of our bed, Jamie and I will do likewise. How’s the arm?”

“Definitely don’t hurt bad enough to affect my appetite none. I’m gonna go see what’s left in the kitchen. Night.”

“Nothing affects your appetite.” Jamie added. “Night, Hoss.”

Gabrielle appeared at the head of the stairs having heard Hoss’ voice.

“I think someone is looking for you, big brother.” Joe pointed back to the stairway. “Come on, Jamie. Let’s get to bed.”

The sight of Gabrielle looking down at him brought a warm smile to his face. She exchanged good nights with Joe and Jamie and then joined Hoss at the base of the stairs. She reached out and carefully touched the sling on Hoss’ arm. “Is you arm feeling any better?”

“Oh it’s not that bad. Nothin’ ta worry about. I was just headin’ to the kitchen ta find somethin’ ta eat since I missed supper. Want ta join me?” Hoss motioned with his good arm.

“Yes, very much.” Gabrielle smiled and moved toward the kitchen.

Louis Armand woke up starving after several hours of sleep. He was grateful to whoever left the tray of food on his night stand and set to work immediately to clean off every dish. He sighed, the hollow feeling replaced with satisfaction. Still, he felt in need of something else to drink and considered going in search of the bottle of brandy that Gabrielle had brought in earlier, but decided on a glass of milk instead. Just then he heard voices in the downstairs, one of which sounded like Gabrielle. He picked up the tray and stepped out into the living room and followed the voices through the dining room to the hall the led to the kitchen. What he saw took him totally by surprise. Gabrielle and Hoss were sitting quite close at the table and big man had his good arm leaning on the back of her chair. It suddenly became clear that his daughter knew Hoss Cartwright much better than she had admitted earlier in the evening.

“Hoss, I was so frightened that I might never see you alive again. And when Daddy told me that you deliberately put yourself in….”

Not wanting to eavesdrop any longer, Armand jiggled the dishes on his tray. Gabrielle and Hoss turned to see him standing there. Shocked, they both jumped from their seats, Hoss took the table with him resulting in a loud crash.

“Daddy!”

“Mr. Armand!”

“Sorry, I did not mean to intrude. I was just going to get a glass of milk.”

“Here, let me get that for you.” Gabrielle took the tray from him and set it on the work table.

“Thank you.”

She went the cupboard, took a glass and poured her father some milk.

Gabrielle was struggling for something to say. “Would you like to join us, Daddy.”

“Are you sure. It appeared to me that the two of you were deep in conversation.” Louis tentatively took a seat at the table.

Gabrielle and Hoss looked at each uncertain how to proceed. Then she took the initiative. “Daddy, Hoss….”

Hoss interrupted and placed his hand over hers. “No Gabbie, I need ta do this.” He took a deep breath and looked Armand straight in the eye. “Mr. Armand, I love your daughter and want more than anythin’ in this world for her ta be my wife.”

“Well, this is quite a surprise given the two of have not known each other very long. And Gabrielle, what do you have to say?”

“I love him, Daddy. I want to marry Hoss.”

Pausing in thought, Armand clasped his hands together and brought them to his chin. “Hoss, you proved to today that you are a man of honor and great courage, and I believe that I now understand more clearly why you acted in the manner that you did. It was for Gabrielle, was it not?”

“Yes, sir, and for Cecille and the kids.”

“Yes, I can see that. And you took a bullet that could just as easily been meant for me. You have my utmost gratitude. You have more than proven yourself worthy of my daughter.” Then he focused on Gabrielle. “Still, I have a difficult time imagining you as a rancher’s wife, Gabrielle. I need to be certain that this is truly what you want.”

“Yes, Daddy…with all my heart.” Her face was glowing with love as she looked at Hoss.

“Very well then. Hoss Cartwright you have my permission to marry my daughter. Could I please ask a favor of you?”

“Mr. Armand, I’ll do my level best.”

“Allow her to come back to Boston once in a while to visit her stubborn, old father.” There was a faint smile on Armand’s lips as he extended his hand to his future son-in-law.

Hoss took Armand’s hand and gave it a firm shake. “You can count on it, sir.”

Gabrielle stood and threw her arms around her father. “Thank you, Daddy. You’ve made me so happy!”

Louis returned her embrace. “That is good, my dear daughter, because that is what I want for you.”

After releasing her, Armand stood and picked up his glass of milk. “Goodnight. I will see both of you in the morning.”

“Good night, sir.”

“Goodnight, Daddy. Rest well.”

Hoss pulled Gabrielle into an embrace with his good arm. The two of them gazed upon each other in dream-like wonder.

“Hoss, I just can’t believe it. This has been an amazing day. Never in a million years would I have thought my father would act the way he has today. He is a totally different man.”

“I’m happy for you and for Cecille, but more than anythin’, I’m happy for us.”

Hoss could not keep from smiling. With a joyful heart, he kissed his beaming betrothed.

“You best get ta plannin’ a weddin’, Gabbie! We’re gonna get married!”


Chapter 15


The next morning following breakfast, Ben rode to town to check with Sheriff Coffee on the timetable for the trial. With Hoss out of commission for a few days, Joe took over his ranching responsibilities, and Kate offered to watch the children so that the Louis and his daughters could have some time alone. Hoss would have loved to take part in their conversation. He was almost certain that Gabrielle would decide to spend some time with Cecille and her children in San Francisco. The thought of Gabrielle leaving, even for a few weeks, left him with an ache in his chest. Still, he excused himself from the table to do some reading in Joe’s room.

“Well, it looks as though we have frightened everyone else away.” It was an unfamiliar attempt at humor for Louis Armand.

His daughters laughed softly and eyed their father curiously, still adjusting to the ‘new’ Louis Armand. After an uncomfortable silence, he cleared his throat and continued.

“So, Cecille, tell me how things are going for Adam in San Francisco. What are your plans?”

“Things are going well. Adam has rented an office and is making contacts, but …”

‘Yes, it something wrong, Cecille?”

“He asked that the children and I join him this Saturday. We feel it would be best not to stretch our separation any longer, even if it means staying in a hotel for a few weeks until we can find a suitable place to live.”

“That sounds quite reasonable, but you seem hesitant.”

“Well, Daddy, since you seem to be doing well, I told Ben to wire Adam to expect us as planned. I hope that was acceptable with you. My only other question is are either or both of you planning to join us?” Cecille turned from her father to Gabrielle.

Louis placed a hand on his older daughter’s arm. “I appreciate your concern for me, Cecille, and by no means should you change your plans. I am afraid my schedule will be determined by the trial date, but I am definitely coming to San Francisco as soon as possible. I will not miss that opportunity while I am in this part of the country. Gabrielle? How about you? Things are a bit more complicated now. You will have plans of your own to make.”

“I have not yet spoken with Hoss about going to San Francisco. It was late last evening when we spoke with you, Daddy. I felt like we needed our rest before talking specifically about our future plans. Maybe just a week or so away would be alright. I know that I would enjoy watching Benji and Elizabeth for you, Cec, and maybe we could do some shopping for a wedding dress.” Gabrielle’s blue eyes sparkled with delight.

“Ah, yes, ladies and their shopping. Nothing seems to bring a smile more easily than the word ‘shopping’.”

“Oh, Daddy. We did not spend all your money.” Gabrielle jibed.

“Indeed, but you both gave it a solid attempt.” He reached out to cover his daughters’ hands.

The laughter they shared was freeing, like a breath of fresh air cleansing the hurt from the past.

“Let me discuss things with Hoss and I will let you know. Please excuse me.” Gabrielle rose from the table.

Cecille and Armand nodded as Gabrielle left the table.

Once Gabrielle was upstairs, Louis looked sincerely at Cecille. “I am curious, Cecille. What do you think about your sister marrying your brother-in-law?”

“Um….well…a…” She was trying hard to keep her dark eyes from revealing the surprise she was feeling at treading such unusual territory with her father.

“It is alright to be candid with me, my dear. I will not relay your feelings to Gabrielle, if that is your concern?”

“Well….Daddy….At first I was very concerned that Gabbie was just looking for the attention she was missing from all her young suitors in Boston. But, then I came to understand two things. Gabbie was not really looking for another suitor and Hoss was not really pursuing her. It all just seemed to happen, without plans.”

“So you have discussed things with her?”

“Oh yes, we have spoken about it a few times. In fact I had to apologize for jumping to conclusions that were not so. I did not want to risk Hoss getting hurt. He is so kind-hearted….. As strange as it may seem, Daddy, Gabbie really loves Hoss, and I am certain that he loves her too.”

“Yes, I would definitely agree with you on his part. I believe he put his life on the line to demonstrate that, but I just needed to hear what you know of Gabrielle. I must confess that I found it very difficult to understand why she broke off the engagement to David. Still if she had concerns about the marriage, it is for the best. At this point, it is all water under the bridge. I have given my consent and I will soon have two daughters bearing the last name of Cartwright. From what I have seen of the men in this family, that is a good thing.”He offered Cecille a warm smile.

She returned his smile. “Yes, Daddy, it is.”

Meanwhile, Gabrielle knocked on the open door to Joe’s room before stepping in. Hoss was sitting propped up in bed reading. He shifted and put his feet on the floor.

“Hey there. Everything go ok?”

“Yes, everything went very well. It is still hard for me to believe the change in Daddy. He actually joked with us.” She shook her golden brown head in disbelief.

Hoss motioned her to the chair beside the bed. “Want ta have a seat.”

“Thank you.” Gabrielle sat down beside him.

“I guess we need ta talk about some things, huh?”

“Yes, we do….Hoss, how would you feel about me going to San Francisco with Cecille for a few weeks? She could really use the help and maybe I could find a wedding dress while I am there.” Gabrielle gave him her best smile.

“I’ve been thinkin’ on that. What would say if I went ta San Francisco with all of ya?”

“Really? You would come along, too?”

“Well, like I said, I’ve been thinkin’. We are gonna need somewhere ta live after we are married. I would like ta have Adam sit down with us and draw up some house plans. What do you think about that?”

“That sounds wonderful!…But…..how long will it take to build the house?”

“Probly we could start on it in ’bout a month. For certain by the end of March. And it will probly take ’bout a month to get it finished to the point we can live in it.”

“But where will it be?”

“I’ve got a place all picked out. Knowed for a long time where I wanted my place to be once I had a wife and all. If the weather’s good tomorrow, I can show ya.”

“I can’t wait to see it. How far from the ranch house is it?”

“Oh, it takes ’bout twenty minutes to drive it in a buggy. Not far.”

“Is it between here and Virginia City?”

“No, it’s ’bout five miles the opposite direction.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, it’s beautiful. You’ll see.”

Worry suddenly creased Gabrielle’s brow.

“Somethin’ wrong, Gabbie?”

“Uh….no, Hoss. Everything is fine.” She lied. “I am looking forward to seeing where we will build our home.” She attempted to cover with a demure smile and a change of subject. “By the way, how is your arm feeling?”

“Oh, it ain’t bad. Good as new in a couple of days.”

Gabrielle nodded, but her smiled faded quickly.

“Ya sure, there’s nothin’ wrong? Ya seem worried like, or somethin’. Ya don’t mind waitin’ ta get married til after the house is done, do ya?”

“No, of course not. I was just concerned about you.”

Hoss rose and held out his hand to her. Gabrielle looked up and smiled, then she placed her delicate hand in his large meaty one. He gently pulled her to her feet. He could feel his heart picking up speed from touching her and having her so close.

“You’re not havin’ second thoughts, are ya…I mean…I know I ain’t handsome and mannerly like all them young men you’re used ta back in Boston, and our house won’t be as fancy as what you’re used ta, but, Gabbie, I promise ya, no one could ever love ya more than I do.”

Her uncertainty began to melt away as the love radiating from his bright blue eyes poured into her own. He placed a tender kiss on her lips and then lifted her hand and kissed it. Gabrielle brought her hand up and placed it on his rough cheek.

“Hoss, I have never questioned your love for me, but there have been so many changes in my life in such a short time. I have so much to learn if I am going to be a rancher’s wife. It is very intimidating. You are going to have to be very patient with me. I am not a cook, or a seamstress, or even a good housekeeper…” Tears began to pool in her eyes.

Hoss placed a finger on her lips, much to her surprise.

“Shh, Gabbie, all I’m askin’ is for you ta be my wife. The rest will get figured out in time. If ya love me, that’s all that matters right now.”

Relief brought color back to her cheeks.

“I do love you, Hoss.”

He pulled her against him despite his other arm being in the sling and whispered. “That’s all I need ta know.”

Hoss kissed her until he was supporting her to keep her from falling. When he pulled away, she looked at him breathless, but completely calm. She knew in her heart everything would be fine.

While in Virginia City, Ben sent Cecille’s telegram and then stopped in at the sheriff’s office.

“Morning, Roy.”

Roy Coffee was at his desk. “Morning, Ben. Mr. Armand doing alright?”

“Yes, he seems to be recovering amazingly well. Clem find Pierce?”

“No. Musta high tailed it outta Carson after the boarding house manager turned him loose. Nobody’s seem hide nor hair of him. Guess that leaves Tate hanging out ta dry.”

“Yes….speaking of which, do you have any idea when the trial might be?”

“Spoke with Judge Wilcox already this morning. Trial set for day after tomorrow at ten. You will let Armand know.”

“Good. Yes, I’ll do that. Thanks, Roy. See you Thursday morning, if not before.” Ben touched his fingers to the brim of his hat and exited the office.

Back at the house, Kate was sitting in the rocker watching the children play in the girls’ room.

Benji looked up from his book. “How do you spell San Francisco?”

“Because it’s the name of a city it starts with a capital letter ‘S’, then ‘an’. The second part is capital ‘F’, then ‘r..a..n..c..i..s..c..o’. It’s a long name.”

“I need to learn to spell it cause we will live there soon. Mama said on Saturday. What day is today?”

“It’s Tuesday. Yes…well…uh…You will have to talk to your Mama. Having Grandfather Armand here might change things.”

“But….Papa said come on Saturday.” There was concern in the child’s voice and on his face.

The little girls, who were playing on the floor with their dolls, turned suddenly toward Benji and then looked up at Kate.

Elizabeth chimed. “Going to see Papa soon.”

“Yes you are. Please don’t worry. It won’t be long until you are all together again. But you know, Benji, your Grandfather Cartwright and I will miss you very much.” She reached out to Benji and Elizabeth and lifted them into her lap. “We’ve had such a good time being one, great big family. And now Aunt Gabbie and Uncle Hoss are going to get married. Isn’t that exciting?”

Benji shrugged. He had noticed the change in Gabrielle’s attention and he was not so sure he liked it.

“You’re not happy about that? Aunt Gabbie will be living here, not far away in Boston. You will get to see her more often that way.”

Benji mulled the idea over and then nodded.

“Will Uncle Hoss and Aunt Gabbie live in this house?”

“Well, I’m not sure. They haven’t told us their plans, but I’m sure they will eventually want a home of their own like you are going to have in San Francisco.”

Mary was taking in the conversation without questions. She knew that getting married meant being like her Mama and Papa, and now Aunt Kate was saying Hoss might not live with them anymore.

“I don’t want Hoss to go!” Mary’s face looked like a storm cloud. “I don’t want him to get married! I can’t ride Patches?”

“I know you love Hoss, Mary, and he loves you, too. But you know what, you are growing bigger every day, and soon you will be able to ride Patches all by yourself. In fact you will be five years old at the end of next month. My, you are getting so grown up.” Kate was hoping to distract her from her worries. “In the meantime, I am sure Uncle Ben or Jamie will help you.”

Mary liked the sound of getting bigger and being the same age as Benji, but she still did not like the idea of Hoss living elsewhere.

Mary scowled. “Dollie, my friend Hoss is going away. No more rides for you!”

Kate bit her lip to keep from laughing and yet she feared there would be some dark days ahead for Mary.


Chapter 16


The following day, Hoss took Gabrielle on a ride in the buggy to the place he hoped they would build their home. It was a cold, blustery mid-February day, so he made sure she was covered well with a heavy blanket. The Sierra Nevadas provided a lovely backdrop when they reached his favorite spot.

“Can ya magine it Gabbie? Big old, ramblin’ ranch house, with a great big porch to watch the sun set over the mountains. And that tall tree over there will have a swing for our young’uns. It’ll green up in a month and the wild flowers will pop. It’ll be beautiful, Gabbie…..” He paused and turned toward her. “But not half as beautiful as you.” Then he kissed her lips.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and envisioned the house Hoss described. She smiled into his blue eyes that were awash with anticipation for their new home and life together.

“Anything ya want, I’ll do my best ta get it for ya. I love ya, Gabbie. I want ya ta be happy.”

“You make me happy, Hoss. Just you.” Gabrielle snuggled into him.

The next few days were filled with packing and the preparations for Adam’s family moving from the Ponderosa. However the Cartwright men and Louis Armand were present on Thursday at the trial of Jim Tate. It proceeded without event, and he was sentenced to five years in prison for his part in the kidnapping. Then early Saturday morning the buckboard was loaded with all of Adam and Cecille’s trunks.

“Kate, I will never be able to thank you and Ben enough for all you have done for us. We cannot wait to be settled and then show off San Francisco to you and the girls.”

“That will be wonderful. It was our privilege to have you stay with us. We will miss you so much.” Kate leaned down to give Elizabeth a kiss on the cheek and then gave Benji a squeeze. “And you, too, Master Benjamin. Thankfully we will see you for the wedding if not before.” She hugged Cecille tightly.

Hoss lifted a sleepy-eyed Benji up to the front seat of the surrey, and then helped Gabrielle up beside him. Louis placed Elizabeth on the backseat, and helped Cecille up, before joining them. Hoss made sure that everyone was settled before climbing up beside Benji and taking the reins. Joe was already seated on the buckboard and held the reins when Ben climbed upboard.

“Be back in time for lunch, Kate. Bye girls.” Ben called with a tip of his hat.

“Bye! Take care! We’ll come see you once you’re settled!” Kate shouted and waved to Cecille and the children while holding Hannah wrapped in a blanket.

“Bye, Benji! Bye, Wizbeth!” Hannah was waving with all her might.

Mary stood solemnly shivering in Kate’s skirt as she watched the men in her life leaving her behind. She knew Uncle Ben and Joe would return soon, but her primary concern was Hoss. She wondered if Gabrielle was stealing him away to that unknown place call ‘San Francisco’, never to return again.

At the train station, Louis and Hoss went in to purchase the tickets for their party while Ben and Joe supervised the loading of the trunks on to the train. At the ticket window, Hoss reached for his wallet, but Armand stopped him.

“This trip is on me. It is the least I can do for you, Hoss.” Armand’s expression was soft with gratitude.

“Thank ya very much, sir. I appreciate it.”

“Think nothing of it.”

Ben and Joe came strolling into the depot to offer their goodbyes.

Ben picked up Elizabeth to give her a kiss on the cheek. “We are going to miss you. At least we know it won’t be too long until we get to see you again. I will want a full report on the city of San Francisco the next time I see you, Benjamin.” He hugged his grandson against to his legs.

Benji looked up and grinned. “Yes, sir, Grandfather. I will learn all about it!”

“That’s my boy!” He gave his daughter-in-law a kiss on the cheek. “Cecille, we wish you all the best in finding a fine place to live. And Gabrielle, I’m so happy that this will not be a long farewell and that we will have you back on the Ponderosa again very soon.” Ben gave her a warm embrace and a kiss on the cheek.”

He held out his hand to Armand, and the Bostonian grasped it firmly. They exchanged looks of understanding.

“I am not sure I have the words to thank you for all you have done for me and for my daughters.”

“No words are necessary. We are very happy that you were able to come west for a visit. And if we get those two to set a date soon, you might know how long you will need to extend your visit.” Ben pointed a thumb toward Hoss and Gabrielle.

“Yes, well, we will not rush them. It will be perfectly fine if I need to return home for a time and then come back. Thank you, again, Ben.”

“Safe travels, Louis.”

Armand motioned toward the train car. “Shall we board?”

Benji tugged on his sleeve. “Will it take a long time, Grandfather?”

“I am not sure. What do you say, Hoss. About how long will our trip take?”

“I would guess we’ll get into San Francisco ’bout suppertime if all goes well.”

“That’s a long time, but not long like from Boston, and Papa will be there, right Mama?”

“Yes, Benji, Papa will be there.”

Cecille responded patiently knowing that these were the first of many more questions before the day was done. She smiled to herself. Benji and Elizabeth were not any more anxious to see their Papa than was she.

“Quite right. Let’s find our seats.” Louis patted his grandson on the back.

Once they found their seats, they settled in for their short trip to Carson City before changing trains for San Francisco. Hoss was happy to have Gabrielle beside him, especially because they were seated behind the others and not the focus of their very curious nephew and niece.

“Doin’ ok?”

“Yes, I am fine.” Gabrielle looked at Hoss with concern. Is your arm bothering you? You look a little uncomfortable.”

“Naw. Fraid it’s this tie that’s doin’ it. Never have liked em, but don’t you worry none, I’ll have one on for the weddin’.”

“Sorry it bothers you, but you do look very nice with it on.”

“Pa always taught us to look like gentlemen when we traveled to the city. Much as I don’t like doin’ it, I wouldn’t feel right not having one on….are you lookin’ forward to bein’ back in a city?”

“Yes, I suppose in a certain way I am. I hope we find some good places to shop.” Gabrielle’s eyes were tinkling.

“Maybe I should look for a new suit. Haven’t had one in quite a while.”

“Hopefully Adam has found a men’s clothier by now. Maybe he would go with you.”

“Yeah, maybe so. Well looks like we’re ’bout to pull into Carson. We kin get out and stretch our legs. I’m sure Benji and Lizbeth will want to before the long haul.”

Already bored with the train ride, Elizabeth looked up at her mother. “Mama is it San Frwan-cisco? Where’s Papa?”

“No, not yet. We still have a long way to go before we see your Papa, but you can get off of the train for a few minutes.”

“Good! I’m ti-wered of sitting.”

It took some time for Ben and Joe to put up the buckboard and surrey upon their return from town. Jamie had been busy all morning working in the tack room, but pitched in to help get the job done more quickly. Upon entering the front door, they found a very quiet house with Kate sitting on the settee doing some mending while the girls played in front of the fireplace.

Kate looked toward the door as the men came in. “You’re back. Everything go well getting them to the train?”

Joe removed his hat. “Yes, they’re on their way to the big city.”

Mary ran to Ben. “Where’s Hoss?”

Placing his hands on her shoulders, “Now Mary, you know that Hoss went to San Francisico.”

Ben and Joe removed their guns and hung up their coats and hats.

“Where is San…San…Francisco? Is it far like where Mama and Papa and me and Hannah’s house?” Mary remembered quite well the days of traveling from Indiana to the ranch.

“No, not nearly that far. They will be in San Francisco by suppertime.”

“But when will Hoss come back?”

“Probably in a couple of weeks. Ben placed a kiss on Kate’s cheek. “Have you eaten lunch?”

“No, we waited for you. I’m sure Hop Sing heard you come in. He should have it on the table shortly. Go on and wash up.”

“Joe, will you help me ride Patches?” Mary called out as he galloped up the stairs.

He called back over his shoulder. “Maybe a short ride after lunch.”.

Mary was sure if Joe said short ride, it would be short, and that he would not spend time with her the way Hoss would. She sat down with a big sigh in the blue chair wishing her big friend had not gone off and left her.

“Mary? What’s wrong? Joe said he would help you ride? You should be happy about that.” There was a hint of frustration in Kate’s voice.

Mary huffed. “Joe is not Hoss.”

“I see….”

True to his word, after lunch Joe saddled Patches and Cochise. He helped Mary into the saddle and led Patches out of the barn before returning to get Cochise. What he did not realize is that Mary had a plan and had been waiting for the right opportunity to set it in motion.

“Go Patches!” She kicked her pony hard.

Patches took off down the road so that by the time Joe and Cochise were out of the barn, Mary and Patches were nowhere to be seen.

“Dog-gonit! Mary! Mary!” Joe jumped into the saddle.

As soon as Cochise rounded the barn, Joe had Mary and the pony in sight. He didn’t bother wasting his breath yelling. Cochise covered the distance quickly, but the pony was so short that Joe could not grab its harness from the saddle. Mary looked up at him with a scowl and gave her pony another hard kick.

“Mary! Now cut that out! Slow down! You’re gonna fall off and get hurt!”

Mary was hearing none of it and kept riding as fast as she could keep the pony going. Certain that it would not take too long, Joe held back his horse and just let the pony run itself out. About a half mile down the road it did just that. Though Mary kept kicking and encouraging Patches to move forward, the pony was done.

Joe pulled Cochise up beside Patches. “So now what?”

“Going to town.”

“You’re going to town?”

“Yes!….I’m getting….on the train….going to San….San….Fran….cisco.” Mary finally managed to get it out despite being out of breath from her ride.

“Oh you are, are you? You didn’t pack any clothes. Do you have money? Can’t ride a train without money. And what are you gonna eat? Can’t buy food without money.”

“Ponderosa tab.” She repeated the phrase she had heard many times in the past few months.

“Ponderosa tab!” Joe dissolved into a fit of giggles struggling to keep himself upright in the saddle.

Mary frowned and kicked Patches. The pony moved slowly forward.

“Mary!…..Mary!” Joe was trying hard to regain his composure.

He urged Cochise to walk beside the pony.

“Look, Mary, it’s not gonna work. Little girls do not ride to town by themselves, let alone on a train to San Francisco.”

Mary pulled back on Patches and turned toward Joe.

“But…Hoss…..never….come…back..”

Joe could see the tears forming in her eyes and he softened. The past run-ins the two of them had shared did not seem to matter. He had his own vague recollections of crazy notions he had as a kid that had brought great frustration to his pa and Adam. He got down off Cochise and walked up beside Mary.

He whispered to the dark-haired child, tears now streaming down her face. “Mary, Hoss is coming back. Don’t you worry about that. He’ll be back.”

Joe held out his arms to her. Mary hesitated, then flopped over against his chest, sliding off her pony. Joe hugged her tightly as she sobbed into his jacket.

She hiccuped and kept her head down, afraid to look at him. “Gonna tell on me?”

Joe gave her a squeeze. “How about I just say we rode toward town and turned around?”

Mary pushed back and looked into his eyes. She nodded and smiled when she saw his big grin. Joe plopped her back on Patches and they turned back for the barn.

Around seven that evening the train pulled into the station in San Francisco. Adam was anxiously awaiting his family’s arrival and had hired two cabs to take them to the hotel.

“Papa! Papa!” Benji and Elizabeth called as they ran toward their father.

Adam knelt and wrapped his arms around his son and daughter.

“Oh, I’m so happy to see you. I’ve missed you so much.” Adam planted kisses on them and grabbed Benji’s hat so he could ruffle his son’s dark waves.

Weary from the separation and the travel, Cecille sighed with relief. “Adam!”

He stood and kissed his wife. “Cec, our adventure is truly about to begin.” He whispered to her. “I’m so glad you are here.” Turning to Armand, Adam extended his hand to his father-in-law. “Louis, I am very happy to see you in good health after your ordeal.”

“Yes, yes, Adam, I am fine, thank you, and it is very good to see you, as well. I am anxious to see San Francisco’s wharf while I am here.”

“Well, there is much to be seen. Gabrielle, good to see my future sister-in-law twice over.” He leaned in to kiss her cheek. “Brother, you have done well. Happy to have you here for a visit to the big city.”

“Thanks, Adam. Good ta see ya.”

“I have made arrangements for the trunks to be delivered to the hotel and I have two cabs waiting. Shall we depart? I bet at least three of you are pretty hungry by now.” Adam looked first to his children and then to his big, younger brother.

“Ya know me, Adam. I’ll never turn down a meal.”

“Then let’s get going.”

After getting settled into their rooms, the Cartwright-Armand family met in the hotel dining room for dinner.

“I’ve been enjoying the seafood since coming to San Francisco. I missed it after we left Boston.” Adam commented.

“Yes, this was a fine meal. Although I must say that the beef from your ranch is very good. Possbily the best I have ever tasted.” Louis added.

“Don’t hurt that Hop Sing is a good cook. Course he can make ’bout anything taste great.”

“That is definitely so. I am afraid that I will be seriously out of the practice of cooking by the time we have our household in order.” Cecille said.

“At least you know how to cook. Poor Hoss may starve after we are married.” Gabrielle gave Hoss a worried look.

Cecille offered her sister some reassurance. “I learned to cook and you will too. It is not that difficult.”

“I hope you are right, because I am presently of no use in the kitchen.”

Hoss instinctively covered Gabrielle hand and whispered to her. “Don’t fret. It will be fine.”

Benji and Elizabeth were leaning against their Mama and Papa with eyes half closed.

“Cec, I think we have two young ones that need to get to bed, but we did not decide what we will do tomorrow.”

“It’s so much warmer here than it was at the ranch. Oh, Adam, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a picnic on the seacoast?”

Gabrielle’s face lit up. “That sounds marvelous! I am sure Benji and Elizabeth would enjoy that after being cooped up so long by the cold weather.”

“It does sound nice. Honestly, I have not taken the time to enjoy much of the local sites. I’ll see what I can arrange with the hotel kitchen. For now, I believe Cecille and I shall bid you goodnight. Come on, young man. Time to get you to bed.” Adam urged Benji off his chair and picked up Elizabeth.

Benji pleaded. “Papa, will you carry me? I’m so tired.”

Louis spoke up. “I am ready to turn in as well. Here let me carry you, Benjamin.”

Adam was taken totally by surprise. He had never known his father-in-law to offer to do anything with the children. Cecille responded to his shocked expression with a slight shrug and a smile.

“Uh…thank you, Louis,….but maybe you should take Elizabeth. Benji is getting to be quite a load.”

Adam positioned his sleepy daughter in her grandfather’s arms and then picked up Benji.

Armand whispered to Elizabeth while gently holding her head against his shoulder. “Here we go young lady.”

Adam stared in wide-eyed wonder. “Gabrielle, Hoss, see you at breakfast.”

“Goodnight, all.” Gabrielle’s smile reflected just how much she was enjoying the moment.

“Night.” Hoss called to them.

Gabrielle giggled. “Cecille obviously has not yet had time to discuss with Adam the change that has come over Daddy. The look on Adam’s face was priceless.”

“Yeah, it was pretty good at that. Not much catches Adam by surprise, but that sure did…So you never really was close to your Pa?”

“I know it must seem terribly strange to you, Hoss, and after spending time with you and your family I can understand why. You are so very close. Daddy never seemed to have time for Ceci and I. Ceci says it was even worse after Mother died. The kidnapping definitely changed him. I am very glad for the change. I just wish it had not taken something like that to bring it about. We lost so many years.” Her voice faded away.

“I’m sorry for what ya missed growin’ up, but sure is good ta see him act the way he did with Lizbeth and Benji.”

“Yes, it is.”

Cecille reached out for Elizabeth. “Here Daddy, I can take her now. Thank you for carrying her upstairs.”

“Happy to be of help. It was a long day for them and I would say they did quite well. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Daddy.”

“Goodnight, Louis…and thank you.”

As Adam pulled the room door closed behind them. “All right, Cec. Who is the man impersonating your father. I believe you have some explaining to do.”

“Shhh, Adam. Let’s get the children in bed, then I will tell you.”

A little while later, the children were tucked in and Adam and Cecille were cuddling in bed.

He whispered into her neck. “Oh, how I have missed you, Cec.”

“I missed you so much. You cannot imagine what the past week has been like. I wanted you with me so badly. Everything happened so fast and there was no way to tell you everything in a telegram.”

“So exactly what did happen?”

“Well you know that Daddy showed up with no warning expecting to take Gabbie back to Boston. These two men, who neither your father or I knew were in the hotel lobby overheard Daddy bragging and carrying on. Later that night, they kidnapped him and took him to Carson City and left a ransom note demanding one hundred thousand dollars.”

“A hundred grand?”

“Yes. Of course your father managed to get the ransom together and he, Hoss, and Joe went to make the delivery at a place called Eagle’s Notch.”

“Yes, I know it well. You can see all around from the summit.”

“The kidnappers names were Pierce and Tate. Apparently Tate betrayed Pierce and took Daddy to Eagle’s Notch alone. Hoss insisted on being the one to deliver the money. Daddy said he risked his life to do so and was shot in the arm, but fortunately Joe was able to capture Tate.”

“That’s a relief. I am so sorry I was not there to help, but the important thing is that your father and Hoss are fine.”

“Yes, thankfully…..But, Adam something happened to Daddy….something I never could have imagined….Suddenly we have become important to him….and he apologized….” Cecille’s emotions overtook her.

“Oh sweetheart, shhh, it’s all right, let it out…” Adam held her tightly to his chest.

Cecille’s body convulsed as she tried to stifle her sobs so as not to wake the children. When she finally stopped shaking, Adam pushed her dark hair away from her face and placed tender kisses along her hairline.

“Ceci, I’m so sorry for all the hurt you have carried all these years, but thankfully he has had a change of heart now rather than waiting until he was on his death-bed.”

“Yes, of course, you are right.” Cecille was smiling through her tears. “I do wish you could have seen your face this evening. I had to force myself to keep from laughing.”

“Well, you gave me no warning. It was a shock, a pleasant one, but a shock none the less. What do Benji and Elizabeth think?”

“Elizabeth is so young. She did not seem to notice, but Benji definitely did. Much to my surprise, he has not asked any questions. I am not sure what I would have told him if he had. Of course we did not tell the children what really happened to Daddy. Thankfully Benji has eagerly accepted his ‘new’ Grandfather Armand.”

“Fortunately children are very adaptable. What they want most is to be loved.”

“Yes, and thankfully Daddy now seems to be able to show them that he does care for them….And then there is Gabbie and Hoss. It amazes me that Daddy so easily gave his blessing to their marriage.”

“Well, now, Hoss is a Cartwright. Your father blessed one Cartwright marriage, why not a second?”

“Oh Adam you know perfectly well what I mean.”

“Yes, but actually the greater surprise to me is Gabrielle. She could have had any man she wanted in Boston and she chose Hoss. I still have trouble imagining her as a rancher’s wife.”

“Never underestimate an Armand.”

“I would most certainly never do that…I do love you so, Cec.” Adam kissed her gently. “I think we have talked enough for tonight, don’t you?”


Chapter 17


In San Francisco that next week, the Cartwrights and Armands were enjoying seaside walks, shopping, looking at apartments, and discussing house plans for Hoss and Gabrielle. However, back at the Ponderosa the household seemed empty and much too quiet. Mary and Hannah were more demanding of Kate’s attentions than usual without Benji and Elizabeth to play with, and suddenly there were only six at the table rather than twelve, though Hop Sing was breathing a sigh of relief. Joe was very busy covering both his and most of Hoss’ responsibilities, with Ben picking up the rest. Mary followed Ben, Joe, and Jamie closer than their shadows when they were in the house or barn often asking one of them to saddle up Patches for her. Even when they were alone, Ben and Kate found themselves sighing more and searching for something to say. Having become accustomed to the constant flurry of activity of a full house, they now found themselves struggling in the doldrums. One evening, Ben was already dressed in his bed-clothes reading in bed when Kate returned from putting the girls down.

“All tucked in.” Kate whispered, voicing her relief.

His eyes remained focused on his book. “That’s good.”

She moved toward the armoire for her nightgown, then paused before opening the door. “Oh Ben…I feel so tired…and down in the dumps…I can hardly stand myself. I’m not sure how anyone else can.”

“I think we are all feeling the sudden change that came when everyone left.” Rising, he laid his book on the side table and came up behind her, sliding his arms around her waist and pulling her close. “You’ve been a little more quiet than usual, but I haven’t noticed that you’ve been in a particularly bad mood.” He gave her a sympathetic smile and began to place tender kisses on her neck.

“I just feel old and fat and tired!”

Ben turned her around in his arms. “Kate! You are not old or fat! Just tired.” After pulling back from a kiss, he gazed intently into her discouraged green eyes. “Sweetheart…is there any chance that you could you be going through the change of life?”

“I hadn’t really thought about it, but I suppose it’s possible. My monthly has never been very regular. I always assumed that’s why I never carried another child after Johnny.” Her voice faded away as she dropped her head against Ben’s chest. “Oh, but if I am going through the change, that just makes me feel even older!”

He tipped her chin up toward his face, his brown eyes radiating love into hers and then fingered away a stray lock of auburn hair from her face. “Kate you are beautiful. I love you just the way you are and I will love you when your hair is white and maybe your hips are a little rounder than they are now.” His hands slid below her waist.

Kate gave him an embarrassed smile and placed a kiss on his lips. “Thank you. I guess I just needed to hear you say that. I shouldn’t, but I do.”

“Nonsense, every woman should be told she is beautiful by the man who loves her.” He leaned into her ear. “Now come to bed. I’ve told you, but I want to show you.”

Kate’s eyes sparkled as an impish smile came to her lips. She quickly extracted herself from his arms. “I won’t be long.”

Later as they savored the afterglow of their passions, Ben asked. “Feeling better?”

Kate chuckled. “Funny thing, I feel much better…you are so good to me…”

A contented smile came over his face. “Nothing brings me more pleasure.” Then he grew serious. “Kate, promise me that if you still feeling out of sorts in a few days that you will go and see Paul Martin…just to make sure everything’s alright. Ok?”

“Oh, Ben, I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

He cocked his head and looked at her seriously. “Kate?”

“I promise I will go see Paul if I’m not feeling as I should.”

“Thank you.”

Ben leaned back on his pillow and closed his eyes, but his rest was short-lived.

“Ben?”

“Hmm”

“You know what we need?”

“Huh?”

“We need something to lift our spirits.”

“Uh huh”

“No, now listen to me.”

“Kate, can’t it wait until morning?”

“I want to have a party for Gabrielle and Hoss…invite our friends and neighbors.”

“That sounds wonderful, my love…but the plans can wait…until tomorrow.” His voice drifted away.

“Oh alright.” There was disappointment in her voice, but then she kissed his rough cheek. “Sleep well.”

“Hmmm…you too.”

Kate snuggled into Ben’s side, but sleep was the last thing on her mind.

However at the breakfast table the next morning when she wanted to discuss the plans for the party, her malaise returned. She pushed her food around her plate wanting to take a bite, but the thought of it just did not sit well with her stomach.

Joe was sitting across from her and noticed. “Kate, are you feeling ok this morning?”

Ben looked up suddenly with concern knitted into his brow. “Kate…Are you alright?”

Now Mary and Hannah’s eyes were fixed on her as well.

“Oh, uh, just not very hungry, I guess.” She stated as matter of fact, trying to put it to rest.

“Girls, how about a trip to town today?” Ben asked enthusiastically.

“Yea!” Mary and Hannah responded with glee, knowing there would probably be some candy involved.

“Kate, while I do some shopping with the girls, I want you go see Paul.” He stated plainly.

Joe looked at her with a crooked smile. “Yeah, if you’re not feeling well, Kate, you better go see the doc. We can’t afford to have you down in bed with these two on the loose.”

Ben gave his son a frown. “Thank you for your encouragement, Joseph!”

She smiled weakly and nodded in resignation. “Well, I was intending to pay Clara a visit soon about a dress for Mary’s birthday. Today will be fine.” She turned and gave her niece a warm smile.

The little girl nodded enthusiastically. Any mention of her upcoming birthday brought a grin to her face.

Once in town, Ben drove the surrey to Doc Martin’s office.

“Girls you stay put. This will only take a minute and I’ll be right back, ok?”

Mary and Hannah acknowledged that they understood.

“Aunt Kate don’t feel good, Hannah. She’s going to the doctor. He will make her better. Don’t worry, ok?” Mary was hoping to ease the worry on Hannah’s face.

Ben chuckled and then took Kate by the elbow and walked her inside.

“Good morning, Paul.” Ben greeted.

Doctor Martin looked up from his desk. “Ben, Kate, good to see you today.” He rose and offered his hand to Ben. “I hope it’s a pleasure visit not a necessity.”

Ben accepted the handshake and exchanged glances with Kate. “Paul…Kate has not been feeling quite right. We just thought you might have a look at her and see what you think.”

“I’d be happy to, Kate. Come have a seat.” Martin motioned her to the chair beside his desk. “Give us at least twenty minutes or so, then you can come back for her, Ben.”

“Thanks, Paul. See you in a bit, then we will head to Clara’s.” He leaned in to kiss her cheek.

Doctor Martin returned to his desk and proceeded after Ben was out the door. “Now Kate, tell me what’s going on with you?”

“Well, Doctor…Paul…I just haven’t been feeling like my usual self. Tired. Not very hungry at times, almost to the point of feeling sick.”

“Really?” The doctor replied with just a hint of smile crossing his face. “Any sore throat or fever?”

“No, nothing like that. Just mostly tired and a bit down in the dumps. Adam and his family, Hoss and his fiancé left last week for San Francisco. The house seems awfully empty now.”

“I see. You did have a houseful for quite a while. Let me see. I treated you for a head wound a couple of months ago. Have you had any problems related to that? Headaches?”

“No, nothing. It healed very well, thank you.

“Glad to be of help. Well since I’ve not seen you otherwise, let me ask a few questions, if I may?

“Certainly.”

“How old are you, Kate?”

“Thirty-eight.”

“I believe Ben mentioned you were married previously. Did you have any children from that marriage?”

“Yes, I had one child, a boy. He died from an illness when he was one. And I lost a baby about a year later, but I wasn’t very far along.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that.” Kindness shone in the doctor’s eyes. “Are you still having monthly cycles?”

“Sometimes. They have never been very regular. I think that is why I never carried another child.”

“When was your last cycle?”

“Well, let me think. I guess it was in November. Yes, October and November were normal.”

“Let’s have you move to the exam table and I will just have a quick look at you.”

Kate rose and walked over to the table and laid down. Doc Martin looked at her eyes and throat, listened to her heart, and gently pressed on her abdomen. After he finished with his examination, he offered Kate his hands to help her sit up.

“Well, Kate, you seem to be in good health. I didn’t find anything that appears to be wrong with you.” He offered her a comforting smile. “However…”

“Yes?”

“My examination and your symptoms would lead me to believe that you are with child, about two months along.” His smile grew wide.

Kate looked at him stunned and blinked. “What did you say?”

“You are expecting, Kate. Congratulations!”

“But how can that be?”

Martin looked at her and chuckled.

Kate blushed. “I mean…I can’t be expecting…because…well…I thought I couldn’t. Oh, you must think I am a fiddle-brained woman.”

“On the contrary, Kate. I wish I had a dollar for every woman that has come in here with similar complaints and left knowing she was in the family way. You are far from the first and definitely won’t be the last.”

“But I still don’t understand.”

“I’m not altogether certain either, but you know it does take two to make a baby and it’s possible that the problems you had with conceiving a child in your first marriage were not entirely with you. Ben has not relayed to me a lot about your past, but he did mention that you had some trying times. Difficulties in life can affect a woman’s ability to conceive.”

“So you’re saying that a few months after I married Ben and settled into an easier life, I was suddenly able to have a child.”

“I’ve been a physician for many years, and I do believe I know a pregnant lady when I see one.” Martin smirked.

Kate blushed again. “Of course, you do…but you don’t understand. I told Ben that I couldn’t have any more children. What am I going to tell him?”

Martin laughed. “You’re going to tell him that you are carrying his child, and after he gets over the initial shock his face is going to light up with joy. His strong paternal instincts will take it from there. Men don’t often talk about love when it comes to sons, but by now you know how strong that bond is between Ben and his boys. I’ve known Ben for many years. You need not worry. He will love this little one just as much as he does his sons.”

“But…that means if I am expecting now, it could happen again! Ben is not a young man. I can’t be doing this to him.” Her distress clearly showed on her face.

“One baby at a time, my dear. Given your history, it is highly unlikely that you would get pregnant for over a year. By then you will be another year older.”

Kate sighed and relaxed a bit.

“Honestly Kate, the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is rest as much as possible, which I know with your nieces will be no easy task. Don’t do any heavy lifting. And lastly, just enjoy the fact you have a tiny miracle growing inside you.” He reached out and gave her hand a reassuring pat.

Kate’s eyes began to glisten. Looking down at her lap and then back up, “You are right, Paul. Thank you…But I must ask a favor of you.”

“And what is that?”

“Please don’t say anything to Ben. I just need a little time to decide how I will break the news to him.”

“Certainly… I just wish I could be there to see the look on his face!”

Kate started as the office door opened and Ben walked in.

“All set?”

“Yes, Ben, we are finished.” Doc Martin replied.

“And?”

“And your wife appears to be in good health. Probably nothing a little time won’t cure.” Martin stated with a straight face.

“That’s a relief. Thanks Paul.”

“Anytime.”

“Ready to go to Clara’s, Kate. The girls are waiting in the surrey.”

“Yes, and thank you, Doctor.” Kate replied with a knowing smile.

“Have a good day, Paul.” Ben called as he ushered Kate out the door of the office.

Mary and Hannah were happily licking lollipops as they approached the surrey.

“Are…you…better… Aunt Kate?” Mary managed to get out between licks.

“Yes, thank you, Mary. Now let’s go visit Clara and see what she has for a birthday dress.”

Mary nodded and licked faster. Kate paused to take a good look at the girls trying to envision her child who would be joining them in the back of the surrey in a few years.

“Kate?…Kate?..Are you alright?”

“Yes, yes, sorry. Just amused at the girls and their lollipops.”

Ben helped her up and they were on their way down the street to Clara Norton’s dress shop.

“Oh my goodness look at how much you girls have grown since before Christmas!” Clara’s voice boomed as Kate and the girls entered her shop. “It must be dress time for someone! Who is it this time?…”

Ben bid Clara good day and quickly escaped to send a wire to Adam to let him know that the party for Gabrielle and Hoss was planned for Saturday in two weeks. Then he headed to the Silver Dollar for some male company and the beer that he had been looking forward to after his shopping with the girls. Once Kate and the girls were finished at Clara’s, they all got some lunch at the cafe and then headed for home. While the girls chattered away in the back seat, Kate sat quietly pondering about when and how to tell Ben about the baby.

“You haven’t said much since I picked you up at Clara’s. Are you still feeling poorly?” Ben asked with a worried frown.

“I’m sorry, Ben. Hopefully I will come out of this soon.” She was afraid to look him in the face knowing it was definitely not the case.

“I certainly hope so. You’ve got me worried, Kate. The next few months will be very busy with preparations for getting Hoss and Gabrielle’s household in order. I just want you feeling your best if at all possible.”

“I know. Please don’t worry. Remember Paul said I was in good health.” She forced a reassuring smile.

Ben reached over and squeezed her hand.

“Girls, I’m not Adam, but I think Aunt Kate needs a song. What shall we sing?”

“Wo, wo, wo, yowr boat!” Shouted Hannah.

The girls’ and Ben’s boisterous singing brought an honest smile to Kate’s face as they rolled along back to the Ponderosa. A new vision helped to calm her troubled mind; one of Ben bouncing a laughing baby on his knee, making silly faces and singing a happy tune. It was then Kate decided she would tell Ben her happy news later that evening.

“Ok girls. Time for bed.” Ben had noticed that Hannah was beginning to yawn.

“Aww. Do we have to?” Mary complained.

“Yes, you do. We’ve had a busy, fun day today and Aunt Kate needs her rest so she will feel better.”

“Ben..I can put them to bed.”

“No, tonight I am going to tuck the girls in. You go on up and get ready for bed. I’ll be along shortly.”

“Well, I am certainly not going to complain about going to bed early. Girls, come give me hugs and kisses.”

Mary and Hannah obliged her, and then proceeded up the stairs, in Mary’s case, in less than enthusiastic fashion.

“You too, my love. Put that mending away and get the move on.” Ben scolded her with a wry smile.

Kate dropped her mending in her basket. “Yes, Uncle Ben, I am coming.”

Later when Ben came into the bedroom, Kate was still sitting up reading.

“I was sure you would be asleep already given how tired you’ve been lately.”

“I’ve been relaxing and waiting on you. She patted the bed. Come and sit next to me.”

Ben sat down and put his arm around Kate so she was leaning heavily on him.

“Thank you for putting the girls to bed. I do love them, but it was nice to have night off…You do love the girls, too, don’t you, Ben?”

“Kate, you know I do. Mary and Hannah worked their way into my heart from the beginning.”

“And nothing would change that right?”

“Of course not, why would you even ask? I’d hope by now you’d know me better than that.” Ben replied with a slightly hurt expression.

“I’m sorry. I guess I just needed to know that there is still room in your heart for one more.” She placed her hand on his chest.

“One more what? I mean who?”

Kate took his hand and placed it over her womb, searching his eyes.

At first Ben looked at her as if she had been speaking another language, then suddenly it became clear.

“You’re having a baby! You’re having a baby! You’re having OUR baby! Ben shouted and jumped up from the bed.

“Shhhh, Ben! You will wake the girls!” She was unable to suppress her giggles.

“But I have to tell Joe…and Jamie…and Hop Sing…”

“And the girls, but not tonight.”

“I’ve got to go and tell them all.” He said now laughing giddily. Then he turned around abruptly and gazed silently on his beautiful wife who was reveling in his reaction. Ben quietly sat back down beside her and lovingly stroked her cheek. “Do you know how much I love you?” He kissed her ever so gently.

She fingered his silver sideburn. “Yes, Ben, I do know and I do love you so.” Then she returned his kiss.

He ran his hand carefully across her lower abdomen. “You’re sure. I mean…it all makes sense now why you’ve been feeling the way you have. But you didn’t think it was possible for you to have any more.”

“Paul Martin thinks it could be a combination of reasons. I’m about two months along.”

“He didn’t even let on this morning, that old devil!”

“I asked him not to. He said that he would have loved to see your face when I told you. Now I know why. I was worried that you might be upset with me.”

“Upset with you. Kate, what could be more wonderful than to know that our love has created a new living being. I couldn’t be happier, love.” His eyes glistened as he kissed her again.

“You know this morning when I told you I was watching the girls with their lollipops?”

“Yes.”

“Really I was trying to imagine what our child would look like sitting next to Mary and Hannah.”

“And what did you see?”

“I saw a boy, Ben, that looked you with my hair.”

Ben let out a hearty laugh.

“Well I guess if it’s a boy, it would be fine for him to look like me, but if it’s a girl, I hope she is as lovely as you are, Kate.”

“I love you, Ben.”

“And I love you, Kate, and there will always be room in my heart to one more…But now I’ve just got to go tell the boys!” He jumped up quickly and headed for the door. “Be back in a bit.” He called over his shoulder.

Ben checked Joe and Jamie’s rooms and found them empty; so he quickly headed for the stairs. Joe and Jamie looked up quickly from their checker game when they heard their father coming rapidly down the stairs.

Joe jumped to his feet. “Pa! Is everything ok? What’s wrong?”

“Yeah, Pa? What’s going on?” Jamie was now at his brother’s side.

“Nothing’s wrong boys. Everything is wonderful! Just wonderful! Couldn’t be better!”

Joe’s face a mass of confusion. “Really?”

“You’d better sit down, boys. Go on now. Sit down.” Ben motioned them to return to their seats.

Joe backed himself into his seat. “Ok, Pa, ok…Gosh Pa, the last time you were this excited was right before the wedding! What’s up?”

“Boys, I know it’s difficult to believe or understand, but you are going to have a baby brother or sister in about seven months.”

Open-mouthed, Joe and Jamie stared at their father and turned to each other, finally snapping their jaws closed.

“Right Pa. This is just you and Kate’s idea of a joke!” Joe giggled.

“No, no, Joseph. I couldn’t be more serious! Kate is going to have a baby!” He slapped his boys on the shoulder.

Again Joe and Jamie stared disbelieving at their father. Jamie gulped and found his voice first. “Gee, Pa, that’s great!..Yeah…really great!”

“Isn’t it, though.”

“Congratulations, Pa!” Joe added.

“Thank you. Thank you, both. Oh I just wish Adam and Hoss were here!” Ben was practically beside himself with joy. “I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep a wink tonight. Just had to tell you the good news! Good night, boys.” He squeezed their shoulders before heading back upstairs.

Joe’s eyes followed Ben bounding up the stairs. The room was silent for a few moments until Jamie spoke. “Gosh, Joe. Doesn’t Pa know how old he will be by the time this kid is as old as me?”

“Yeah, Jame, I’m sure he knows, but I guess that he loves Kate so much that he’s not thinking about it right now. Man, what a bunch of changes in the past six months. First Kate, then Mary and Hannah, Adam and Cecille moving to San Francisco, Hoss and Gabrielle are getting married, and now Kate’s having a baby. I had been thinking it might not be too long until Hoss and Gabrielle had a little one, but I sure never expected this. And we’ve been thinkin’ Mary and Hannah were something. Just wait until we hear a baby crying in the middle of the night. Holy Toledo!”

Jamie sat scratching his head. “Yeah…” His voice trailed away.


Chapter 18


Author’s Note: Aesop’s Fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” is mentioned in this chapter. Also the “Virginia City Reel” as called in season 12 episode “A Time to Die”


The following morning Ben woke as the first streaks of light were breaking into the dark sky. Kate was snuggled against his broad chest. He cherished the feel of her body next to his, and though their bodies were touching he could not resist the urge to trace the contour of her soft cheek. Fearful of breaking the spell of this precious moment by waking her with a kiss, he laid motionless taking in her serene beauty.

He had slept in fits and starts, Kate’s surprising and wonderful news leaving him much too excited to sleep soundly. Feelings welled up from deep within his soul, memories that had not surfaced in more than twenty years. He smiled as his mind wandered back through time; first to Elizabeth, then Inger, and finally Marie, each sharing with him their happy news that they were carrying his child. Adam, Hoss, and Joe were their legacies, each one a precious gift from his mother. They were the children of his youth, in a manner of speaking. However, if all went as it should, he would be fifty-six by the time this child was born. His jaw tightened and there was a twinge in his chest as he let sink in the fact that he would be more than old enough to be child’s grandfather let alone a father. And at thirty-eight, Kate was at the age where carrying and delivering a child would be challenging. Many years had passed since her last pregnancy, and to her great sorrow, no child was born. Without a sound, Ben prayed that she would be able to carry this child full term and live to nurture him or her into adulthood. He was determined to do everything in his power to make that happen. Yet the stubborn determination that had kept Kate going after John’s death sometimes put the two of them at odds. Even still, he loved her for it. His protective nature came out to its fullest when he discovered all that she had been through with Cass Breckinridge. Now with the baby coming, all those feelings were back in full force.

Ben’s face took on a firm determination of its own, but then a hint of a smile crossed his lips. In his mind he scolded her. “Now you see here, Mrs. Cartwright. You are going to take it easy these next months until the baby comes.” He knew, of course, that wishing it and getting Kate to comply were two entirely different things.

His thoughts came back into the moment when he heard movement in the hallway. Today they would tell the girls about the baby. Or would they, he wondered. This was not the kind of news he wanted to send in a telegram to Adam and Hoss. He wanted to see first hand their surprised expressions just as he had with Joe and Jamie the previous evening. Ben knew it would be asking too much for Mary and Hannah to keep this secret from the others when they returned from San Francisco. Certain that Kate would agree, he focused on making sure that the boys were privy to the plan.

With great care he moved from the bed trying not to disturb Kate. “Going to have to catch the boys quickly before they let the cat out of the bag.” He thought.

As Ben’s feet hit the dark wood floor, Kate raised her head a fraction from her pillow and tried to clear the sleep from her head. “Ben…what time is it?”

He leaned back on his elbow and whispered close to her ear. “It’s too early for you to be getting up. Go back to sleep, Love. You need your rest.” He placed a gentle kiss on her brow.

“Hmmmm….” Kate nestled her coppery head back into her pillow. “I think I will.” Her voice faded away.

A contented, loving smile came to Ben’s face as he gazed on her peaceful form.

With the news that Adam and his family would come home for the engagement party, Ben and Kate threw preparations into full swing. The Cartwright-Armand entourage was due to arrive back in Virginia City two days prior to the party. Ben knew how anxious Mary was to see Hoss, so when the day arrived, he asked her to join him for the trip into town. Ben whistled a happy tune as he donned his white shirt and string tie for the occasion. He was delighted at the prospect of having his family back together again. Ben move jauntily down the stairs and toward the front door. Kate was helping Mary into her blue traveling coat and hat. He slid into his tan jacket and grabbed his hat.

“My what a lovely traveling companion you are, Mary.” He placed his hand on her shoulder and gave her a wink in confirmation.

“Now, Kate, promise me you won’t overdo while I’m gone this afternoon. Or do I need to call Hop Sing?” His dark eyebrows arched in question.

“Oh, now, stop. I promise to behave. You took care of that. Remember? Hop Sing brought in the reinforcements.” Her hands went to her hips in frustration.

Ben heaved a sigh and with hat in hand he raised his arms in surrender.

“I couldn’t just stand by and let you work yourself to exhaustion. You gave me no choice.”

“I know, I know. Kate ducked her head in contrition. “I’m just not used to letting others do for me….but I am grateful.” She relaxed her stance. “Truly, I am.” Her eyes glistened with sincerity.

Ben’s face softened into a smile as she leaned into his chest and kissed him. He took her into his arms. “Love you.” He whispered.

After releasing Kate, he reached for Mary’s hand.

“Come Mary. Let’s get to town!”

She was all smiles and skipped along beside him as they moved out into the yard. With the number of family members coming home to the Ponderosa exceeding the capacity of the surrey, Buck and Chub stood saddled and tied to the back for the return trip. Ben lifted Mary up onto the seat and swung up beside her. He slapped the reins and the horses took off and relaxed into an easy gait. Mary kept Ben’s ears filled with a constant stream of excited chatter as they rolled along down the road to Virginia City.

When they arrived at the station, Mary was eager to get to the platform. She tugged hard on her uncle’s arm.

Ben grunted. “Now Mary, pulling my arm off is not going to make them get here any faster.”

He scanned the horizon for any sign of smoke. Mary rocked back and forth but stopped straining at his arm. Her dark braids danced to and fro as her head bobbed up and down in search of her big friend.

Ben smiled. He was impatient, too. For a moment he envied the freedom of childhood which allowed Mary to display her true feelings. Within minutes the steam engine came puffing into the depot. When a gust of wind blew the smoke aside, his middle son’s large round hat came into view. Mary’s eyes lit up and she called out to Hoss. She tried to pull loose from Ben’s hand, but could not. Then he smiled at her and released his grip.

“Go on.” He nodded.

Mary bolted and ran straight toward the big man. With all her might, she flung out her arms and latched onto his leg.

“Hey darlin’. I sure missed ya.” Hoss pried her loose and lifted her up.

However, Mary’s happy face was soon replaced by a frown. “You were gone a long time!”

A chuckle rumbled through his barrel chest. “Now it wasn’t so awful long. Ya look like ya got along just fine.”

With quick steps, Ben moved toward the passenger car. “Mary! Give the man a chance to get his feet on the ground. Ben’s scowl turned to a warm smile as Gabrielle and Louis Armand, Adam and his family exited the train. “Hello everyone! Welcome back!”

Greetings, hugs and kisses were shared all around. Ben swung Elizabeth up into his arms and kissed her cheek. “It sure is good to see you again.” He lifted Benji’s hat, ruffled his hair, and slapped the hat back down on the boy’s head. “Did you have a good trip?”

“Yes Pa, it went well. Just the normal weariness from travel.” Adam responded leaning his forehead against Cecille’s.

“Well let’s get your bags and parcels loaded and head for home.” Ben encouraged.

“Adam did wire you that Gabrielle and I will be staying in town?” Louis asked.

“Yes he did. Are you certain, Louis?” Ben asked.

Hoss broke in. “Pa, we talked it over real good. Mr. Armand only has a few more days in Virginia City and Gabbie and I think it’s probly for the best.”

“Yes, Ben, I am hoping to contact Dr. Martin and see if I can put my medical experience to use over the next few months.” Gabrielle added with a confident smile.

His mind clearly set, Louis replied. “Thank you all the same, Ben. You have plenty to concern yourself with Adam, Cecille and the children. And you need not worry. Gabrielle and I will hire someone to get us to the hotel.”

“Very well, then. We will see you Saturday night, if not before.” Ben nodded and offered Armand his hand.

“Until then.” Armand replied.

“Gabrielle.” Ben said taking her hand.

Mary laid her head on Hoss’ shoulder. “We’ve got Chub. Can I ride with you? Please?”

“Oh I reckon Chubby can probly carry both of us.” Hoss answered and gave her a wink. “Gotta tell Gabbie goodbye first, then I’ll be ready ta go.” He set Mary on her feet.

Hoss pulled Gabrielle aside, but Mary followed close on his heels. Ben took notice and steered Mary back to the group. He leaned down and whispered into her ear. “Mary, that’s not polite. Hoss will be ready in a minute.”

The little girl’s shoulders slumped and she dropped her head.

With goodbyes said, baggage loaded and Adam and his family settled in the surrey, Hoss mounted his big, dark horse. Ben handed Mary up to him before mounting his buckskin. It pleased Mary beyond words to ride atop Chub with Hoss. She sat tall and proud and waved to many of the townspeople as they ambled out of town.

Hannah’s attentive ears had been listening for the sound of hoof beats and she shot out the door when the rest of the family arrived at the ranch house. Joe, Jamie and Kate followed closely behind eager to welcome the travelers and give their greetings. Hannah and Elizabeth embraced and hung on to each other as though it had been months rather than weeks since they had seen each other. Kate and Cecille shared warm greetings and then stood watching the little girls with great pleasure.

Kate motioned the family into the house. “Come in! Come in! You must be exhausted from your trip.” She called to the travelers. “Hop Sing has prepared a wonderful dinner that will be ready as soon as you have freshened up.”

“Thank you, Kate. It is good to be here.” Cecille released a grateful sigh as she walked through the front door.

Thrilled to have his entire family under one roof, Ben was anxious to get the chores done before dinner. “Kate, we will be in just as soon as the horses are put up. Joe, Jamie, would you give me a hand here. Adam…Hoss you head on in and get cleaned up. You’ve had a long day.”

The elder sons nodded their thanks. Hoss gave Adam’s back a slap and placed his large hand on his older brother’s shoulder as they entered the house.

Once Ben and his younger sons came in from the barn and were cleaned up, the family gathered in the living room. Hop Sing interrupted their happy conversations to announce dinner. After everyone was seated, Ben looked around the table beaming with pride. His expression changed when he noticed Joe and Jamie’s strained smiles belying their struggle to contain the knowledge of the big announcement that was forthcoming. Upon receiving a withering look from their father, each dropped his head and regained the appropriate demeanor. Ben’s smile returned and he took Kate’s hand before welcoming his family to the table.

“It’s so good to be back together again. Hoss, I know you would prefer to have Gabrielle with us, but I can assure you that it is still a very special evening indeed.”

Hoss looked questioningly at his father.

“How so, Pa?”

Ben looked at Kate and cleared his throat. “Hoss..Adam, it’s been many years since you have heard me say this…you are going to have a new brother or sister in a little less than seven months!”

Hoss blinked and his mouth fell open. Even Adam’s face took on an uncharacteristic look of surprise.

“Pardon me…Did I hear you correctly, Pa?…Kate is expecting a baby?…I mean congratulations to you, both!” Adam attempted to recover from the shock.

“That’s right, Adam, and we couldn’t be happier.” Ben gave his wife an adoring look and then leaned in to kiss her cheek.

Joe smacked Hoss on the arm. “Hey there big brother. You better close your trap before you start catching flies!” He let loose with a piercing giggle.

Hoss snapped his mouth shut.

Cecille cried out joyously. “Kate, that’s wonderful!”

“Yeah…Pa…Kate…congratulations…” Hoss said, struggling to wrap his mind around the idea.

Elizabeth and Hannah smiled and laughed with the rest not fully understanding what was said about the baby. However Benji and Mary’s faces were troubled.

“Papa, is Grandmother having a baby like when Mama had Elizabeth?”

“Yes, son, your Grandmother is going to have a baby.”

“But grandmothers don’t have babies, they have grand…children. Right, Papa?”

Ben jumped in without waiting for Adam to respond. “Well once in a while grandmothers have babies, Benjamin, and I for one am thankful this is one of those times!” He offered Kate a big grin.

Mary sat without a word. She really could not remember much of Hannah as a baby or what having a baby meant exactly. She decided to save any questions for Aunt Kate when there were not so many people around.

“Well, at least now we know what the bottle of wine is for. How about if I pour, Pa?” Adam asked.

“Thank you, Adam.”

Once Adam had filled the wine glasses, he proposed a toast.

“Congratulations to you, Kate and Pa. Good health and blessings to all, especially the new member of the family to come! Cheers!”

The adults added their ‘cheers’ from around the table.

After dinner, Ben gathered the children on the settee with him and read the story of the ‘Tortoise and the Hare’ from “Aesop’s Fables”. Elizabeth and Hannah sat on his knees and Benji and Mary on his sides.

Ben concluded the story with a reminder. “Now remember, children, slow and steady wins the race. Alright, time for bed.”

“Awww!” There was chorus of disappointed young voices.

“Just one more, Grandfather. Please?” Benji pleaded with a sorrowful face.

Adam frowned and gave a mild admonition. “Now, son, we’ve had a long day of traveling and your Grandfather was kind enough to read to you. I think a thank you is in order rather than begging for more.”

“Thank you, Grandfather.” Benji replied obediently, his chin dropping to his chest.

“You’re welcome, Benjamin. I know how much you love stories. I do believe you inherited that honestly. I never could read enough to satisfy your father either.” Ben ruffled his grandson’s dark curls.

“Really?” Benji looked up with a smile.

“Yes, really.” Adam interjected. “Now, off to bed with you.

There were hugs and kisses for the young ones before the children marched dutifully up the stairs.

“Ok, whose turn is it to say prayers tonight?” Kate asked the girls as she pulled the covers up snuggly under their chins.

“MEEE!” Hannah shouted.

“Shhhhh! It’s bedtime. Time to settle down.” Kate reminded. “Alright, Hannah, go ahead and say the prayer.”

“Dear God. Fank you for dis day. God bwess Aunt Kate, and…Uncle Ben, and …Hoth, and …Joe, and …Jamie, and…Adam, and…Ce-cewel, and …Benji, and Wizbeth. Amen!”

“Amen. Thank you, Hannah.”

“Oh and God bwess Hop Sing. Amen!”

“Yes, and Hop Sing, too.”

“And the baby.” Mary added with uncertainty.

There was a catch in Kate’s voice as she replied. “Yes, Mary, thank you, and the baby. That was very sweet of you.” She pushed the little girl’s dark bangs off her forehead.

“Where is the baby, Aunt Kate?” Mary asked.

Kate paused and thought, uncertain how much to share with girls.

“Uh well, the baby is growing in my tummy.” Kate placed a hand on her lower abdomen.

“Where the food is?” Mary asked with wide eyes.

“No, not exactly, Mary. There is a special place in ladies’ bodies for babies to grow, but that is enough questions for tonight. Love you.”

Kate gave Mary and Hannah a kiss on the forehead, then she turned down the lamp and went to the door. “Sweet dreams, girls. Goodnight.”

Trying to get as much rest as possible, Kate went on to bed. She stirred when Ben crawled under the covers.

“Sorry to wake you, love.” He whispered.

“Uh…is it late?” She asked groggy from sleep.

“About ten.” Ben snuggled in beside her and kissed her temple.

She rolled toward him and draped her arm across his chest. Her sleepy brain suddenly came back to life with Mary’s questions.

“Ben?”

“Hmmm”

“How much did you tell the boys when your wives were expecting?”

“Do you really want to get into to this now, Kate? Your were asleep a minute ago.”

“Mary had questions when I put her to bed.”

“Ahhhhh. That explains it. Well…we were traveling west with the wagon train when Inger was carrying Hoss, and there are very few secrets under those conditions. Adam was six and had seen plenty already when it came to animals. I honestly don’t remember him asking much about it. He probably knew much more than I would have wanted him to for his age. And then with Marie, Hoss was about four. He was always kind of shy about things, so he probably took his questions to Adam…So what did Mary ask?”

“She wanted to know where the baby was.”

“And what did you say?”

“That it was in my tummy…in a special place in my body.”

“A very special place indeed.” Ben slipped his hand over her womb. “I believe that was an appropriate answer for an almost five-year old girl.”

“But what if she asks more questions, like how did the baby get in there?”

A deep rumble resounded in Ben’s chest. “I’m sure that you will think of something, Kate, if or when that does happen. Just keep in mind that young children are usually satisfied with a simple answer. Now, let’s get some sleep rather than try to guess what Mary might do.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You’ll probably be in the barn, or in town, or on the range when she springs her questions on me!”

Sensing that her over-reaction to the situation was probably due to her pregnancy he wrapped her tightly in his arms. “Shhh, Kate. It will be fine. Please try not to let things bother you so. If you need me to speak with Mary, I will, but sweetheart what you need most is a good night’s sleep. That will help to make tomorrow easier to deal with no matter what happens. Agreed?”

“I’m so sorry.” She burst into tears. “I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I don’t mean to get upset about things, but I just can’t help it.” Then she dissolved into sobs.

“Shhh, Kate, sweetheart. It’s alright. I’m no doctor, but I do believe some of what you’re feeling will pass before long. Your body is just going through a lot of changes right now.”

Kate’s only response was to cry that much harder.

After a few moments he gently asked. “Kate, are you worried about not being able to carry our child?”

She silently nodded into his shoulder.

“You…the boys…and Cecille…are all so excited.” She hiccoughed. “I want to be…truly I do…I’m just…so afraid.”

“And understandably so, sweetheart…I wish that I could say without a doubt that everything will be fine…but we both know that I can’t…Still we must hope, Kate…Hope and pray.” Tears began to pool in his dark eyes as he stroked her hair.

The whole of Friday and Saturday morning were filled with the final preparations for the party. Then late in the afternoon on February 26th, Hoss took the surrey into town to pick up Gabrielle and her father. Upon their arrival at the ranch, they found the yard and house decorated with lanterns. Inside, there were flowers and food and drink and the entire Cartwright family was dressed in their finest. However, they paled by comparison to Gabrielle who looked absolutely stunning in her royal blue gown that accentuated all the right aspects of her figure and her golden brown hair that was pinned up in curls on the back of her head. Hoss was all smiles with his lovely lady on his arm. He, too, looked quite distinguished in the new dark brown wool suit he purchased on the trip to San Francisco. The sound of music filled the air as the many guests pulled up to the ranch house. Gabrielle and Hoss were at the door greeting friends and neighbors of the family and receiving congratulations on their engagement. Once the stream of guests slackened, Ben gave everyone a hearty welcome.

“Folks!…Folks!…Excuse me!…If I could have your attention for a moment, please!…Thank you! I would like to welcome everyone to the Ponderosa this evening. It is our great pleasure to have you join us for this celebration. Hoss would like to introduce a very special lady to you. Hoss.” Ben motioned his son to come forward.

“Everyone, I am so happy for ya to meet my fiancée, Miss Gabrielle Armand.” Hoss took her by the hand and pulled her close. The guests gave the couple their applause of greeting and congratulations. “I can’t wait to make her my bride real soon. Please make her feel welcome and we hope ya have a real good time tonight. Thanks for comin’. Now let’s have some more music!”

Hoss escorted his lady into the middle of the room as the music began. It was a dream-like moment as he took Gabrielle into his arms to begin the dance. He felt so happy that he thought he might pop the buttons off his vest. And just that quickly the room was filled with couples twirling around to the happy strains.

“Gabbie, ya sure look beautiful tonight…Gosh I feel so lucky to have you…Sorry I ain’t a great dancer…”

“Thank you and you dance just fine. Your suit looks very good on you. I know you don’t get excited about getting dressed up, but I’m happy that you decided to get it.”

“It’s ok, darlin’. I’d do anythin’ for ya…you know that don’t ya.”

“Yes, Hoss, I do, very well.”

Though he had tried to prepare himself, Hoss still found it difficult to relinquish his lovely lady to the eager son of a neighboring rancher moments after the song ended. Gabrielle looked up at her man with understanding and he nodded in resignation. Hoss stood back and watched her floating across the floor with her partner. Much to his chagrin, Hoss knew that she would never look like that in his arms. He also observed Adam and Cecille, and his father and Kate dancing merrily among the other guests. Then he smiled when he saw Mary, Hannah, and Elizabeth holding hands and spinning in a circle with Benji looking on uncertainly. Even Jamie was dancing with Clara’s daughter, Carrie. For the moment Joe and Louis were chatting by the stairway. After a few minutes another man tapped Gabrielle’s partner on the shoulder and took over, and so on and so forth. Ben and Kate took a break and moved toward Hoss as the current song came to an end.

“I think you had better go rescue your fiancé or she will be all danced out before the party has barely started.” Ben commented.

“Yeah, Pa, I guess you’re right.”

After Hoss stepped away, Kate gave Ben a look of concern and asked. “He seems a bit lost. Is he alright?”

“Gabrielle is a beautiful young woman and he knows that other men will always be looking her way. I think once they’re married it will be easier for him…But my son is not the only man here who is fortunate to be blessed with a lovely woman to call his own.” He turned his focus back to Kate and kissed her cheek.

Kate flashed her sparkling green eyes at her husband. “Thank you, kind sir. I just might dance with you again tonight.”

He whispered into her ear. “Only a houseful of guests is keeping me from whisking you away upstairs, my lady.” An ornery chuckle rumbled in his throat.

She leaned into his chest and spoke with discretion. “I’ll have you know, dear, that your occasional whisking me away is the reason you will be making an announcement later this evening.”

Unable to help himself, Ben threw back his head and laughed. “You are definitely in a party mood. I can tell you are feeling better tonight.” He cleared his throat just as Dr. Martin moved near.

“Wonderful party, Ben. Good evening, Kate.” The doctor offered his hand to his hosts.

“Thanks, Paul. Glad that no one is in need of your services this evening.”

“Hoss has found himself a very lovely and capable young woman. I am looking forward to having her help in the office.” Martin spoke as he observed the couple at the refreshment table.

“Thank you for taking her on as your assistant. I know that Gabrielle is very grateful for the opportunity to work with you.” Kate said.

“My pleasure.” Martin replied.

“Paul it’s been a long time since I’ve seen you dance.” Ben commented as the music started again. “How about taking Kate on a turn about the floor? Kate, mind your toes now.”

The doctor frowned at Ben. “After a remark like that, I don’t know why you would want to, but I would consider it an honor if you would allow me to have this dance, Kate.”

She pretended to snub her husband. “Why thank you Dr. Martin for your most gracious offer. I gladly accept your invitation to dance.”

Then all three broke into hearty laughter as the doctor moved Kate out among the other dancers.

By the time Hoss had reached the refreshment table, Gabrielle was sipping a glass of punch with her most recent partner.

“Mind if I snatch my gal back for a few minutes?”

The rancher nodded to Hoss. “Thank you for the dance, Miss Armand.”

“My pleasure.”

Hoss looked at Gabrielle expectantly. “Hey there. How ’bout we take a little break outside for a minute?”

“That would be nice. I am quite warm already.”

Gabrielle took his arm and he led her out the front door.

Adam and Cecille took note of their departure.

“Adam, do you think Hoss is upset?”

“No…I don’t think he’s upset. He had to have known that Gabrielle would be the focus of attention this evening.”

“Why doesn’t he ask someone else to dance?”

“Well sometimes a man just wants what he wants…but a little reassurance in the moonlight never hurts. Right, my love?” A quirk of a smile came to his lips.

“Why Adam Cartwright, I wouldn’t know anything about such things.”

“Uh huh. Let’s go get some punch before I refresh your memory.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea!”

Outside, Hoss escorted Gabrielle out under the pines. The house was quite warm with all the guests, but the air outside was cold. Hoss removed his jacket and placed it over Gabrielle’s shoulders.

“Thanks! The fresh air is good, but so is your coat.”

He chuckled. “I think it would take about three of ya to fill it out.”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s your coat, and you put it on me because you are always so thoughtful, and I love you for it.” She slipped her arms around his neck.

“Oh Gabbie, I love ya so much.” Hoss drew her in and kissed her full lips.

“I know having to share me this evening is difficult for you… but soon it will be just us…You are the one I love…Truly I do.” Gabrielle’s crystal blue eyes peered intently into his.

He wanted to say something in response, but words failed him and he just drew her close and held her.

“You two aren’t stealing ALL the moonlight, are you?” Adam jibed as he and Cecille approached. “Brother, have you forgotten that this shindig is for you and your lovely lady?”

“No we ain’t forgot. Sounds ta me like you’re just jealous of our spot, but we’ll let ya have it for now. Might come back a little later though.” Hoss smiled down at Gabrielle, then he looked back to his brother. “You mind your manners with your lady, older brother!”

“I’ll keep your admonition in mind.” Adam gave Cecille a mischievious smile.

“See ya back inside in a bit.” Hoss gave the couple a big grin.

Louis noticed when Gabrielle and Hoss reentered the house.

“Excuse me, Joe. If I am to get a dance with my daughter, now looks to be the opportune time.”

“Sure. Gabrielle will like that. Enjoy!”

“Gabrielle, you look lovely this evening.”

“Thank you, Daddy.” Her eyes were shining with emotion.

“Hoss, would you allow her father a turn on the dance floor?”

“I know Gabbie would like that just fine. Here ya are.” Hoss offered Gabrielle’s hand to her father.

“You are a marvelous dancer, my dear, and I have not danced in years. See if you can make me look good for the sake of an old man’s pride.” There was a twinkle in Louis’ eyes.

Tears filled her eyes. Gabrielle had often hoped for a moment like this through the years. Unable to speak, she kissed his cheek, then placed her other hand on his shoulder and nodded. They stepped off tentatively, but soon Louis fell into the rhythm of the music. The memories of dancing with Adele many years ago took him back in time. Gabrielle and he made a striking pair that caught the attention of the bystanders as they began to move smoothly around the room; his tall frame securely holding her petite body.

Hoss stood watching father and daughter on the dance floor. “Ain’t that a purty sight, Pa?”

“It certainly is, son.” Ben pulled Kate in more closely.

Cecille stopped suddenly as Adam and she came back into the living room.

“Adam, look!”

They stood and watched momentarily.

“They look wonderful together. Who would have guessed that Louis was such a fine dancer? Have you ever seen him dance before, Ceci?”

“No. Daddy was always talking business at parties…remember he wouldn’t even dance at our wedding…but look at him? He must have danced with Mother when they were young.”

“Maybe you will get a turn as well.”

“I hope so, Adam. I truly hope so.” Her voice faded to a whisper.

Louis escorted Gabrielle back to Hoss when the music ended.

“Thank you, my dear. I have not enjoyed myself so much in years.” He kissed her hand.

With a warm and loving smile she replied. “Thank you, Daddy, That was wonderful.”

Adam called out as he and Cecille moved toward them. “Louis, you and your daughter make a handsome pair on the dance floor, but I hope you have another dance or two left in you.” He held out Cecille’s hand to her father.

Louis reached out and took his older daughter by the hand. “I most certainly do, Adam. It will be my privilege to do so, Cecille.”

“Thank you, Daddy.” She was trying her best not to cry.

Armand whispered to her as he led her gracefully about the room. “You remind me so of your mother, my dear.” He paused and then continued. “I am very sorry for all the many missed opportunities, Cecille. Can you forgive me?”

She smiled through her tears. “Of course I forgive you…but I will be expecting another dance at Gabbie’s wedding.”

“I will never miss another chance to dance with you, my dear.” Then he twirled her about with great flair.

Gabrielle commented to Adam and Hoss as they looked on. “Isn’t it amazing to watch them?”

“Yes and I’m so happy for the both of you.” Adam looked up to his younger brother. “Since Ceci is in good hands, would you mind if I danced with your girl, brother?”

“Oh, I reckon I can trust ya to take good care of her. I may just go find me a little gal ta dance with.” Hoss winked at Gabrielle.

“Shall we, Miss Armand?” Adam asked as he motioned out toward the other dancers.

Gabrielle responded merrily. “Adam, you have impeccable manners. Yes, please.”

Hoss located the children by the refreshment table. Cookie crumbs on their little faces gave away what they had most recently been doing.

“So which of ya gals would like to dance with big ol’ Hoss?”

Mary, Hannah, and Elizabeth cried at once. “Meeee!”

“Well I might be able ta manage two of ya at a time, but probly not all three. Tell ya what, Mary. Let me take the little gals first, then I’ll come back for ya. Ok?”

Disappointment showed on Mary’s face.

“Won’t be long. I promise.” He offered her a smile.

Mary nodded and smiled back.

Hoss scooped up Elizabeth and Hannah each to rest in the crook of an arm. The little girls grabbed his neck and then they were off swooping around the room in a fit of giggles. Soon the adults were joining in with their own laughter and Hoss added an occasional guffaw that resounded off the walls. The other dancers quickly headed for the sidelines as Hoss and the girls careened around the room. Before long he headed back to the table.

“See what you have to look forward too.” Cecille gave Gabrielle a knowing look as they watched Hoss with the girls.

Gabrielle’s heart swelled, filled with love for her giant of a man. “Truthfully, Cec, I can’t wait.”

After noticing that he had managed to clear the dance floor, Hoss said. “Well gals I think we’ve had a good dance. Time for Hoss to take a break.”

“Awwww. More, please!” Elizabeth and Hannah pleaded.

“Well now I promised Mary a turn too, ya know.” Hoss placed the girls carefully on their feet.”

After a glass of punch he asked Mary. “Alright, ya ready?”

“Yep!” Mary replied with bright eyes.

“Uncle Hoss, you don’t dance so good.” Benji noted after watching his uncle’s antics with the little girls.

Hoss let loose with a belly laugh. “Yeah, Benji, you’re right. I sure don’t dance so good, but ya know what? I’m gonna treat Miss Mary to a proper dance. How’s that sound, Mary?”

Mary’s face light up. “Sure!”

Hoss lifted her up. “Grab round my neck good and tight cause I’m just gonna hold ya tight against me.”

Mary did just that putting her cheek against his.

“Here we go now.” He stepped off using his best form.

Mary’s smile grew wide as she floated around the room in the big man’s arms.

“Oh, Ben! How sweet!” Kate commented.

Ben laughed. “I guess he can dance after all. I think Mary is having quite a time.”

This time the other dancers paused as Hoss and Mary moved fluidly around the room, not out of concern for their well-being as before, but because the sight of the big man and little girl, cheek to cheek, tugged at their hearts.

As the music came to an end, Hoss headed back toward the table.

“Thank ya for a fine dance, darlin’. You’re a good partner.”

“Thanks, Hoss!” Then Mary gave him a quick kiss on his big cheek.

He laughed. “Thank ya, doll. It won’t be long til we’ll be dancing with your feet on the floor.” With a big grin and he set her feet on the floor.

“Did you enjoy your dance, Mary?” Kate asked.

Mary nodded enthusiastically. “Yep! It was fun!”

With shining eyes Kate looked up at Hoss. “Thank you. I believe you made her evening.”

“My pleasure. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” He stroked Mary’s cheek.

Hoss looked up and surveyed the room.

“First it was Adam and now Joe’s got my gal. Think I best go after her.” He gave Kate a wink.

However, before he could get to Gabrielle, Mr. Davis caught him by the arm.

“Hoss. Congratulations!” Davis held out his hand. “So how’s that pony doing I sold you at Christmas?”

“Thanks, Mr. Davis. He’s doin’ just fine. He belongs to that little dark-haired gal I was just dancin’ with. She named him Patches and she loves him ta death.”

“That’s great. Just great. Always like to know my animals have found a good home. Quite a party. Thank your Pa for us.”

“I’ll do that. Good ta see ya, Davis.”

By the time Hoss had finished his conversation with Davis, Ben had taken over for Joe as Gabrielle’s partner.

“Man, oh, man. What’s a fella got ta do around here ta get a dance with his own gal!”

Ben moved Gabrielle gracefully around the floor and received much attention from others who were watching. Kate bit her lip as she looked on. She had to fight a twinge of jealously even though she knew in her heart there was no need. Still when she looked around the room, she could tell that the other women were admiring her handsome husband.

Kate thought to herself. “I wonder what they will say when Ben announces that I am expecting?” She emitted a soft laugh. “Oh stop that. That’s the baby talking. Don’t go and ruin a perfectly wonderful evening.”

Across the room, Ben and Gabrielle were chatting as they danced. “Gabrielle, I just want you to know how grateful I am to you.”

“Grateful?”

“You have made my son a very happy man. It means the world to me see him so happy in love.”

“You are quite welcome, but it is I who should be grateful to you. You raised Hoss to be such a fine, and caring man. I can’t wait to be married.”

“Nor can he. Now we just have to get your house built. I saw the plans Adam drew up. It will be a grand home.”

“Yes it will. I can’t wait to see it standing.”

“This has been marvelous, but maybe I should return you to Hoss now. Thank you for a wonderful dance.”

“You are most welcome. I enjoyed it immensely.”

Ben led Gabrielle to the stairway where Hoss and Louis were chatting.

“You are an excellent dance partner, Ben. You continue to force me to change my thinking about Westerners.” Armand commented.

“Ah yes, but you forget that I was from the east originally. Brought the culture with me.” Ben offered the Bostonian a confirming wink.

Armand chuckled.”Yes, indeed.”

“I am delivering your fiancée back to you. Better get out there and dance with her, son, before someone else comes along and steals her away.” Ben said as he held Gabrielle’s hand out to Hoss.

“I’m gonna do just that, Pa. Come on Gabbie, let’s dance!”

Ben walked over to the musicians and told them to play a little fanfare when the current song was finished. He scanned the room and located Kate. He wanted her by his side when he made their joyous announcement. When the fanfare brought everyone to attention, Ben and Kate moved into the middle of the room.

“Folks, if I may have your attention for a moment…We just want you all to know how grateful we are to have you here to celebrate Hoss and Gabrielle’s upcoming marriage, but the Cartwright family has something else to celebrate this evening.” The crowd looked on with expectation. “I am thrilled to announce that Kate is expecting a child in September.”

There were gasps of surprise. Gabrielle and Louis looked at Hoss and then Adam and Cecille in disbelief, then the crowd began to applaud.

“Thank you. Thank you all, very much. We couldn’t be happier. Now we have even more reason to dance. Let’s have some more music, please.”

Ben and Kate were quickly surrounded by well-wishers offering their congratulations.

“Oh Kate, this is so exciting! If you need any new dresses or skirts or things for the baby, just say the word. I will be glad to help.” Clara boomed.

“Thank you, Clara. You will be hearing from me soon.” Kate replied.

Roy Coffee whispered into Ben’s ear and gave his hand a firm squeeze. “Ben Cartwright. You still got it, you old devil. Congratulations!”

Ben choked on his laugh. “Thanks, Roy.”

After the crowd around Ben and Kate dispersed and went back to dancing, Gabrielle and Louis stepped over.

“What a wonderful surprise. I can’t believe Hoss was able to keep this a secret from me. Congratulations to the both of you.”

“Thank you so much.” Then Kate leaned in next to her ear. “Maybe we will have little ones very close in age.”

Gabrielle whispered back. “That would be fun.”

“Now what are you two up ta?” Hoss asked.

Gabrielle’s face went from smile to slightly guilty.

“Nothing you need to be concerned about. Just woman talk.” Kate attempted to cover for her future daughter-in-law.

“And you are not one to be questioning. Look who kept me in the dark about this big news.” Gabrielle gave Hoss a peevish look.

“Had ta. Pa swore us ta secrecy, and I don’t want Pa’s wrath comin’ down on me.” Hoss did his best to look innocent.

Ben cleared his throat. “Well..yes…right, Hoss. Sorry Gabrielle. I’m afraid it was my doing. Please don’t blame Hoss, Cecille, or Adam for not cluing you in.”

“At any rate, this is grand news for your family. Congratulations and best wishes for your good health in the upcoming months, Kate.” Louis added.

“Thank you, Louis. I understand you will be heading back to Boston soon.” Kate said.

“Yes, on Monday. My sons are very capable men, but I am afraid that I did leave in a bit of a rush. I have work waiting for me upon my return. Once again, I am exceedingly grateful to all of you, and I am looking forward to returning in a few of months for the big event.” He looked proudly on Gabrielle and Hoss.

“June fourth will be here before we know it, but probably not soon enough for our happy couple.” Ben noted. “Hopefully your sons and their families will be able to come as well.”

“It will take some exceptional planning, but I think we may be able to arrange it.” Armand gave his daughters a look of hopeful expectation.

“Oh that would be wonderful!” Gabrielle exclaimed.

“Alright now! Grab your partner for the Virginia City Reel!” One the musicians shouted.

“This is a local favorite and great fun to watch. Let’s step aside and let the younger ones have at it.” Ben suggested. “Jamie are you going to ask Carrie to dance? I know you’ve danced this one before.”

Jamie blushed with the attention. “Oh alright!” He complained mildly with a wag of his head, but then he put on his best smile for Carrie who gladly accepted his invitation.

The fiddler began the free wheeling music as two groups of four couples moved to the caller’s instruction. Bystanders joined in by clapping hands to the beat.

“Now all join hands and circle south…and put a little sunshine in your mouth…now the first old couple rip and snort…round the center and you cut ’em off short…ladies go right and gents go left…join your hands and circle eight…circle eight and you’ll get straight…the first couple bow and the first couple swing…now face the outside of the ring…sides fall in behind…now sashay down and form a line…now sashay down and you’re doin’ fine…and you’re back on eight.”

The Armands and Cecille eagerly watched the dancers move through the patterns the caller announced while Ben and Kate and sons clapped enthusiastically with wide smiles on their faces as the remainder of the reel was called out.

“Head gent and foot lady with a dose-y-doe…head lady and foot gent with a dose-y-doe…now head gent and foot lady with a right elbow…then head lady and foot gent with a left elbow…now re-align with a right elbow and here we go… and on to the next with the left elbow…and eeny, meeny, miny, moe and don’t you step on my big toe…keep on goin’ down the line…keep on goin’ you’re doin’ fine…Now make a line that’s what you do…then duck right under and follow through.”

Applause filled the room when the music ended.

Gabrielle’s eyes sparkled with delight. “What fun! I would love to dance that sometime.”

“I sure hope ya was watchin’ careful like, darlin’, cause we’re gonna dance the Virginia City Reel on our weddin’ day!” Hoss exclaimed.

A waltz brought many of the couples back to the dance floor, but soon the guests began to take their leave. It was almost eleven by the time the last of the guests were gone. Hoss hitched up the surrey to take Gabrielle and her father back into town. Armand stepped up into the back seat while Hoss helped Gabrielle up into the front seat.

“Do not mind me. I will be catching a few winks with my hat over my eyes while the two of you take care of the driving.” Louis said. His lips twitched into a smile.

Hoss looked at Gabrielle and chuckled. Ben stepped out onto the porch to bid them farewell. Hoss called to him.

“I took a room at the hotel for tonight, Pa, since it was gonna be so late. I’ll see ya tomorrow. Night.”

Ben waved. “Goodnight son, and goodnight Gabrielle and Louis.”

Kate had just finished getting the girls tucked in by the time Ben came up to bed.

“You must be awfully tired, sweetheart.” Ben slipped his arms around her and gently kissed her lips.

“I am tired, but it’s a happy tired.” She looked up at him with contentment and leaned against his chest. She pulled back and a twinkle came to her eyes. “You know, Mr. Cartwright, you throw a mighty fine party.”

“Thank you, love. I had some mighty fine help.” Then he placed his hands on her womb. “I hope this little one enjoyed the music tonight because in about three months we are going to have one whale of party!”


Chapter 19


The following Monday was a day of departures and new beginnings. Louis Armand hugged and kissed his daughters and his grandchildren with genuine regret to be leaving, but also with the anticipation of seeing them again in three months at the wedding. In Carson City, Armand took the train east and Adam and his family took the westbound train to San Francisco.

After saying their goodbyes in Virginia City, Hoss had escorted Gabrielle to Dr. Martin’s office to begin her work as an assistant.

“Mornin’ Doc.” Hoss greeted as he opened the door and allowed Gabrielle to pass into the office.

“Good morning, Gabrielle, Hoss. It’s good to see you this morning.”

“Thank you Doctor.” She offered him a slightly nervous smile.

“Are you ready to begin, Gabrielle?”

She took a deep breath and nodded. “Yes, I believe so.”

“I am sure you will get along just fine. Nothing to worry about.”

“Well, guess I’ll be headin’ on. I’ll stop back and get you for lunch, okay?”

Gabrielle looked at Doctor Martin.

“Of course. I may be out and about by then, so have a good day, Hoss.” The doctor replied.

“Thanks Doc.”

After looking at Martin a bit self-consciously, Hoss leaned down and kissed Gabrielle on the cheek.

“See ya later Gabbie.”

“Goodbye.”

Hoss then headed down the boardwalk to meet Ben and Joe who was supervising the loading of three wagon loads of necessary supplies to begin the work on his new house.

“Well now, Gabrielle. Let’s get you settled in.” Doctor Martin motioned. “Back the hallway here is a hook for your cloak.”

He allowed her time to hang up her wrap and then proceeded back into the main office area.

“Let’s start with the desk…”

And so Dr. Martin began to familiarize Gabrielle with his office. In short order, she was able to take messages, bandage minor wounds, stabilize an injured patient, and dispense some medications. Later Hoss went to pick her up while Ben and Joe secured a table at the International House for their lunch. Father and son stood when Gabrielle and Hoss and came to the table. Ben pulled out her chair and helped her be seated.

“How did your first morning go assisting Dr. Martin?” Ben asked.

“Very well, thank you. I now have a good feel for the office and Dr. Martin is very kind and understanding. He put me at ease from the first minute…He left not long ago to make a few calls, so I will be on my own for the afternoon”, releasing a tiny sigh.

Ben smile with assurance. “I knew that you and Paul would hit it off and I’m sure you will do fine on your own.”

“Thank you. I truly appreciate you putting in a good word for me.”

“Think nothing of it. It will be a good way for you to become part of the Virginia City community more quickly and help provide a much needed service.”

Hoss looked on Gabrielle with pride. He still felt like he needed to pinch himself to be sure that it all was not just some wonderful dream. After lunch he walked Gabrielle back to the office, and then the Cartwright men drove the heavily loaded wagons out of town. They were heading back to the ranch intent on starting on the new house the following morning. They had traveled a little over a mile when Hoss, who was in the lead wagon, held up his arm and reined his team to a stop. He climbed down and walked back toward the others.

“Think we’d better check these loads since they’re so full and heavy”, as he began checking the lashings to make certain they were secure.

Ben and Joe got down and did likewise with their wagons.

Ben yelled toward the front wagon. “Looks like everything is riding well. Let’s be on our way.”

Just then there was a faint cry of small animal. Hoss turned toward some scrubs trees along the side of the road.

“Did ya hear that?”

“What?” Joe asked.

“A whimper…like a pup.”

Ben was growing impatient. “Could be any little varmint. Let’s get home.”

“No, now, come on. It’ll only take a minute ta check.

Joe shrugged at Ben who by now was working on a powerful scowl.

“You know Hoss, Pa. It’s no use.”

Hoss was already in the underbrush when he saw an orange and white pup stuck in some briars.

“Hey little fella. Be still now and don’t move.” Hoss spoke in a calm, reassuring voice. “Told ya I heard a pup. He’s stuck in this briar patch.” He called back over his shoulder to Joe and Ben who were begrudgingly following behind. “We can’t just leave him like this ta die, Pa.”

Ben exhaled heavily knowing that it was not going to be a simple task to extract the already badly scratched and bleeding puppy from the briars. “No we can’t leave him like that. Joe there should be a couple of knives in the boxes on the wagons.”

“And some wire cutters too…and a blanket.” Hoss added and then turned back to the pup. “Easy now little one.” The puppy’s whimpering slowed a little at the sound of his soothing voice.

Once Joe returned with the tools, Hoss carefully reached into the briars. With a gloved hand, he attempted to put enough pressure on the puppy so that it would not wiggle while Joe and Ben began to clip and cut the sharp underbrush away. The process took some time but eventually Hoss removed the pup from its spiny prison.

“Here we go little guy.” Hoss craddled the puppy against his chest and got a peek at the animal’s underside. “Oops, guess I should say little gal. Hand me that blanket Joe.” Hoss wrapped up the little pup and held it close to his face. The puppy licked his chin enthusiastically as if thanking him for saving her life.

“You are one lucky little pup.” Ben chuckled with relief.

“And she’ll be real cute once those scratches and cuts heal up.” Joe added.

Suddenly Hoss’ face lit up. “Lucky! That’s it, Pa! We’ll name her Lucky!”

“Now just hold your horses, son. Who said we were going to keep this dog?”

“Pa, ya know that the nearest ranch house is quite a ways from here, and Lucky woulda died if we hadn’t come along. Sides Mary and Hannah would love her somethin’ fierce, and you…”

“And I’ve got a little one coming along soon too…yes I know. But just who is going to be responsible for this pup? It’s not like you have time to be dealing with it. You have a house to build!” Ben huffed.

“Mary’s done real good with Patches. I’m sure she can help Hannah learn to feed and water a pup. It ain’t hard.”

Joe looked at his father and held up his hands in surrender. “Don’t know why we’re even discussing it, Pa. Big brother, here, has got it all figured out.”

Ben shook his head in resignation. “I give up! Let’s go!”

After giving it a drink from his canteen, Hoss nestled the snuggly swaddled puppy at his feet in the wagon and they were off. A few minutes later when he glanced down to check on the pup, it was sound asleep.

The wagons rolled in by the barn just before suppertime. Once the teams were cared for Ben and Joe headed for the house having agreed not to say a word about the pup until after supper. Hoss took a rag and some water and carefully rubbed away the dirt and dried blood from the fur of the shivering pup; all the while speaking words of comfort as he performed the uncomfortable task. Then he applied some salve to most serious scratches and wrapped the little animal back in the blanket and placed it in a shallow wooden box before heading to the house to get some bread and milk for its supper.

Hoss called out to the pup when he returned to the barn. “Hey Lucky! Look what I’ve got for ya.”

Lucky started to cry and squirmed out of the blanket. Hoss reached down and lifted the pup out of the box and set her next to the dish of food. Lucky eagerly devoured the food in the dish and her little pink tongue licked and licked making sure she got every last morsel.

“Wow! You’re sure one hungry little gal. Maybe I’ll bring ya a little more after I eat my supper.” Hoss chuckled. “Alright. Back ya go inta the box.”

Lucky protested loudly placing her front paws on the edge of the box. Hoss patted her head.

He gave her ears a good scratch. “I’ll be back after bit and bring some company with me. You just lay down and take a little nap.”

Everyone was already seated at the table when Hoss got in from the barn. He tossed his hat on the credenza and moved quickly to his place.

“Sorry ta keep ya waitin’.” Hoss eyed the food and rubbed his hands together. “Boy, am I hungry!”

“And when are you not hungry, big brother?” Joe responded, prompting laughter around the table.

The serving dishes made the rounds and they began to eat.

Kate noticed that the men all seemed unusually preoccupied with their food, and then looked directly at Ben. “Did everything go well with getting the supplies for the house?”

He looked up, fidgeting slightly in his chair. “Yes, there are three loaded down wagons sitting by the barn.”

A long silence followed. A bit puzzled by the quiet Kate tried again. “So you will begin working tomorrow, Hoss?”

“Uh, yeah, we’ll start early.” He replied and immediately dug back into his food.

Attempting to get some conversation going, Kate continued. “So, Jamie, how was school today?”

“Fine. Bout like usual.”

Kate grew frustrated with the lack of participation. “Ok, something is going on. Joe, do you have an explanation?”

Joe’s eyes grew large. “Who? Me? No…guess we’re just extra hungry.”

“Uh huh. Well something is definitely going on because you of all people are never at a loss for words, my dear.” She gave Ben a hard look.

Ben looked at Kate with wide eyes. Even the little girls were taken aback by their aunt’s pointed remark.

“Guess we shoulda known that we couldn’t keep a secret from ya, Kate.” Hoss dropped his head as he finished.

Kate looked at him with surprise. “Secret? What secret?”

“Well…” Hoss looked at the girls. “I’ve got a surprise for the gals in the barn after we finish supper.”

“Surprise!” Mary and Hannah cried, jumping up from their chairs and running for the door.

“Whoa there, young ladies! You sit back down in your seats right this minute!” Ben bellowed.

The girls stopped in their tracks. Ben rarely raised his voice to them, but when he did, they knew they had better listen.

Mary and Hannah solemnly walked back and took their seats.

Kate looked at her husband intently. “Ben? Are you going to explain?”

Ben was about to open his mouth in response when Hoss held up his hand and broke in.

“Pa’s not too keen on the surprise and it’s my doin’, so I’ll do the explainin’.”

Mary and Hannah looked at Hoss expectantly.

“What is it, Hoss?” Mary asked trying hard to stay still in her seat.

“On our way back from town this afternoon, we found this little pup stuck in some briars. She’s a might scratched up but she’s a cute little thing. I thought the gals might like ta have her.”

“Puppy! Hannah did you hear that! Hoss got us a puppy!”

Hannah clapped her little hands with glee and jumped off her chair.

“Hannah, come and sit down. You heard what Uncle Ben said.” Kate scolded.

Hannah returned to the table with a sad face.

“Finish your supper and then we will all go and see the puppy.” Ben offered the girls a weak smile.

Mary and Hannah looked at each other. Their big grins quickly returned. They shared a hug, and began jabbering away about the puppy.

The girls’ happy response warmed Kate’s heart, but when she turned back to find Ben focused on his coffee cup, she was confused by his reaction to the situation. However, she decided it best to save the discussion of the topic for later.

Once Ben gave them permission to leave the table, the girls shot out the door. By the time everyone else got there, Mary and Hannah were already bouncing up and down by the barn door waiting for one of the men to open it. Hoss came and stood between them and the door.

“Now gals, this pup has been hurt; so ya got ta be gentle with her. I named her Lucky cause I think she is one lucky little pup ta be able ta come and live with us. Alright now. Here we go…” Hoss slowly opened the barn door and took the girls by the hand.

Lucky was peeking over the side of the box, crying and wagging her tail in anticipation.

After taking in Lucky’s condition, Mary warned her sister. “Look Hannah. Lucky’s got scratches so you be careful.”

Hoss released the girls’ hands and picked up the pup. It looked like it was swimming; its legs, flailing wildly, trying to gain a foothold on something or someone.

Hannah reached out carefully to pet Lucky’s head. “Hi Wucky…Sorwy you got ouchies.”

Jamie moved in for a closer inspection. “Sure is a cutie. Hey there, Lucky. You sure are a pretty girl.”

“Isn’t she, though.” Joe added. “Her orange marks look like a beagle. Guess time will tell.”

Kate slipped her arm through Ben’s. “Why don’t you and I head back into the house while the rest get better acquainted with Lucky?”

Ben nodded and they left the barn. Certain that something was bothering him, Kate was hoping to have a few uninterrupted minutes with her husband.

“Lucky seems like a nice puppy and I am positive that the girls will give her lots of love…so what is it that is troubling you, Ben?”

Ben looked at her with surprise. “Am I that easy to read?” He pushed the front door open and allowing her to pass.

“It’s just you’ve seemed upset ever since you got back from town. What is it?”

“The truth is that I am a bit torn. Hoss could use help with his house, but I hate to leave you saddled with the girls and now this puppy…”

Kate cut him off. “Well now Mr. Cartwright, if I can’t take care of a little puppy, I have no business raising children. How in the world do you think I managed my own ranch?” She turned abruptly away from him and playing the tease.

“Kate, you know that’s not what I meant…” He slipped his arms around her and placed his hands over her womb. “I just don’t want to make things more difficult for you”, kissing the back of her neck. “I want you to take good care of yourself…for your sake and the baby’s.”

Kate swiveled in his arms, kissed his lips and gave him a coy smile. “I was teasing you, my love.”

“I believe you enjoy being difficult.” Ben kissed her soundly. “Seriously, Kate, I just want you to be as careful as possible.”

“I know, and I will. Actually I am feeling much better than I was a few weeks ago, so you can stop being such a worry wart.” She tapped her finger on his nose in time with her last few words.

“Never.” He grasped her finger and kissed the tip.

They both laughed and moved to their usual seats; Ben to his chair and Kate on the end of the settee next nearest him.

Finally, Hoss was able to tear the girls away from Lucky and get them back into the house. Mary came in carrying a raggedy old shirt.

Kate looked puzzled. “What on earth are you doing with that?”

“Hoss says Hannah and me are sposed to take it to bed.” Mary responded.

“Sleep with it?”

Hoss went on to explain. “Yeah, if it gets the girls scent on it, then they can put it in Lucky’s box. It’ll make her their dog…Ya know comforting and all.”

Kate looked at Ben for confirmation. “The man knows what he’s talking about Kate. He’s been doing this kind of thing since he was about Mary’s age.”

Kate scrunched up her face and waved her hands in the air in defeat. “Oh…alright, but I hope you shook it out well before you brought it inside.”

Not surprisingly, Mary and Hannah had a difficult time settling down at bedtime. Kate had to threaten to take the old shirt from them when they began a tug-of-war for it.

“Hoss’ old shirt is big enough that you can both hang on to it while you are sleeping; so no more fighting. I know you are excited about having a puppy, but now it’s time for sleeping. You will have lots of time to play with Lucky tomorrow. Goodnight. Love you both.”

Everyone was up early the next morning; the men hoping to get to the building site and the girls anxious to play with the puppy. Ben had even allowed Jamie a reprieve from school for this special first day of work on Hoss and Gabrielle’s home. Ben kissed Kate goodbye as the others rose from the breakfast table.

“See you at supper. Hope your day goes well.”

“You too, Ben. Bye boys.”

“Bye Kate. Bye girls.”, Hoss, Joe, and Jamie called back.

“You two girls be good for Aunt Kate.” Ben leaned down to kiss their cheeks.

“We will.” Mary responded obediently.

“Bye.” The girls chorused.

Ben smiled as he walked toward the door to grab his coat and hat. A year ago he never would have dreamed this heart-warming scene could be possible; bidding his lovely wife and two sweet nieces good day, and within months, another kiss for a child of his own. He left the house feeling incredibly blessed and whistling a merry tune.

“Alright girls. Let’s get some food for Lucky.” Kate gave them a cheerful smile.

Excited to see their new puppy, Mary cried out. “Yea! I’ll go get the shirt.”

She took off running toward the stairs.

Hannah yelled and followed, trying her best to catch up to her sister. “Me too! Me too!”

Soon the girls returned downstairs, each with a tight grip on the ragged old shirt.

Kate set a dish the credenza and reached for her coat. “I’ve got the food for Lucky, but you are going to have to let go of that old rag long enough to get your coats on. It’s cold out there.”

With coats on they headed for the barn. The men were getting the last team hitched up. Several of the ranch hands were ready and waiting with the buckboard and a fourth wagon. The girls waved the shirt at Hoss when they passed by and he gave them a toothy grin. Mary and Hannah ran to Lucky’s box. The puppy was whimpering and doing her best to try to get out. The girls gave the pup the old shirt to sniff and the dog grabbed it in its teeth and began to pull.

“No, no Lucky! That’s for you!” Mary exclaimed.

“That’s what puppy’s do, Mary. They like to chew on things.” Kate tried to explain.

She put the small bowl of food on the floor and picked up Lucky and placed her beside it. The pup rapidly ate everything in the dish. Kate took the empty dish and dipped it in the water bucket nearby so Lucky could get a drink. Now that the dish had disappeared and tired of the confines of her box, Lucky began racing around the barn with Hannah chasing behind. Then seeing that the barn door had been left ajar, the little pup squeezed out the door and into the yard.

“Wucky! No!” Hannah called racing after the dog. The wagons were just beginning to pull out as the pup raced by Joe’s team. “Wucky stop!”

“Hannah! Hannah! Stop!” Kate yelled running out the barn door.

“Whoa Pepper! Whoa Pete!” Joe called to the jumpy team.

Kate screamed. “Hannah!” Before she realized what was happening Hannah was right beside the skittish horses and then Pepper reared and a flailing leg caught the little girl and sent her flying. “Noooo!” Kate screamed hysterically and ran to Hannah’s side.

Hoss and Ben jumped off their wagons and Joe got hold of his anxious team. Jamie came running.

“Here, let me have a look at her!” Ben called frantically pushing his way through.

Hannah laid unmoving with her limbs at odd angles.

“Oh Ben! Is she…” Kate buried her face into his arm.

Ben pressed two fingers against Hannah’s neck. “She’s alive and breathing” He whispered and released a sigh of relief. Realizing that Jamie was the only one with a saddled mount ready to go, Ben shouted out an order. “Jamie, ride as fast as you can for Doc Martin.”

“Yes, Pa. On my way!”

“Hurry Jamie!” Kate called desperately.

Jamie bolted for Rainmaker, and was off for town.

And suddenly there was Lucky standing beside Hannah’s still body, tail wagging. It was all Ben could do not to take a swing at the pup, but then Lucky began to lick Hannah’s cheek. The little girl stirred and then cried out in pain.

“Bad dog, Lucky! Bad dog!” Mary yelled.

Hoss’ big hand came down and grabbed the little pup. He knew that if anyone was to blame, it was him for insisting that they keep the little animal. His face displayed the guilt and remorse he was feeling.

“Try to lie still, Hannah until we know where you are hurt.” Ben rested his large hand carefully on her chest.

“Aunt Kate! Aunt Kate!” Hannah cried, her chest now heaving.

“Oh, Hannah. Where does it hurt, sweetheart?” Kate placed her hand on the girl’s forehead.

“My ahrm…” She sobbed. “My ahrm huwrts!”

“This one?” Ben gently touched her right arm.

“Owwww!” Hannah shrieked.

“I’m sorry, Hannah.” Ben offered soothingly. “Does your head hurt?”

But Hannah was crying too hard to discern whether she had any other injuries.

“Honestly, Kate. The fact that she is crying is probably a good sign. Let’s just get her inside. We’ll do the best we can until Paul gets here. Alright Hannah. I’m sorry sweetheart. I’ll try not to make it hurt more, but we’ve got to get you off the ground and in the house, darling.” Ben tried to comfort her as he carefully slid his arms underneath Hannah to lift her up.

While Ben carried Hannah inside, Hoss carried Lucky back to her box in the barn. “Dadburnit, Lucky. I’m not sure I gave ya right name after all. Why’d you have ta go and run off like that? Don’t know what I’ll do with ya if Hannah’s not alright. What am I gonna say ta her?…and Pa? Gosh I sure put my foot in it this time.” Hoss headed for the house, eyes to the ground.

“Hey, Hoss. What’d ya want us ta do now?” Smokey called.

Hoss’ head snapped up, “Don’t know yet. Give me a few minutes.”

When he reached the living room, Hannah was laying on the settee covered with a blanket, not crying as hard as before. Ben and Kate were sitting on the coffee table attending to her while Mary, Joe, and Hop Sing hovered close by.

“How’s she doin’?” Hoss asked.

Kate offered him a weak smile. “Maybe a little better.”

“That’s good…Hey Hannah. I’m real sorry darlin’ that ya got hurt…Kate…Pa..I’m truly sorry. Just never thought something like this…”

Tears welled up in the big man’s eyes.

“Of course, not.” Kate touched his arm. “If only I had closed the barn door completely…” She covered her mouth with her hand.

Ben put his arm around his wife and looked at Hoss. “It was just one of those things, a puppy, a child, an oversight; it’s nobody’s fault. Thankfully, I believe Hannah will mend.”

“Thanks, Pa…and Kate. It helps a little ta know ya ain’t mad. What’d ya think I should do?”

“We’ll just have to wait on Doc Martin, but there’s really nothing more you can do. Why don’t you and Joe and the hands go on and get started. I’ll stay and help Kate.”

“Ya sure?”

“Yes Hoss, truly.” Kate tried to reassure him.

He sighed heavily. “K then. See ya at supper…Bye Hannah. Sure hope ya feel better real soon.”

“Bye” The little blond whispered, with tears still on her cheeks.

Ben shrugged out of his coat and then reached for Kate’s. “Here let me help you out of your coat. Are you doing ok?”

She nodded. “Better now…I think you’re right about Hannah. She probably has a broken arm, but doesn’t appear to have other serious injuries. Thank God! It could have been so much worse…” Her voice trailed away.

“Yes, it certainly could have…Hop Sing, would you please bring us some coffee while we wait for Doc Martin?”

“What about Missy Hannah?” The Chinaman looked on with concern.

“Maybe just a glass of water for now.” Kate responded. “Thank you.”

Exhausted from the traumatic experience and less painful for the moment, Hannah’s eyes began to close.

“Good hopefully she will rest for a while.” Kate whispered to Ben.

Hannah did rest until she heard the commotion of Doc Martin and Gabrielle coming into the house, then she rolled onto to her injured arm and shrieked in pain.

“There, there Hannah. Doctor Martin is here now…and Gabrielle too…isn’t that nice that she came to help, too?” Kate attempted to calm the the girl.

“Hello Hannah. I heard you had a little accident. I’m here to help now. Let’s see if we can get you fixed up.” The doctor offered in comfort. Learning it was her right arm that appeared to be the problem, he began to check the rest of her body for injury. “I’m not going to touch this arm right now; so you tell me if it hurts when I push. Ok Hannah?”

The girl eyed him warily, but nodded. Finding only a small bump on the back of her head, the doctor was ready to examine Hannah’s arm.

“Alright Hannah. I’m going to give a little shot so that your arm won’t hurt so much.” He measured out a small dose of morphine. Mary watched wide-eyed and bit her lip. “Ok Ben if you hold her shoulder and Gabrielle her feet. Hannah this is going to hurt just a little bit but then you will feel much better. Alright here we go.”

Mary closed her eyes as the needle went into Hannah’s good arm, and Hannah let out a scream. However she quickly grew calm and her eyes began to flutter. Once she was quiet and her breathing slowed, the doctor moved her right arm and found a clean break of the humerus.”

“Well Ben..Kate..her upper arm is broken. That will be more tricky to care for than a lower arm fracture. I will need to splint the whole arm. Ben can you find a board and some clean rags to wrap it up?”

“I’ll be back shortly with what you need.”

“Gabrielle, have you had much experience with the care of broken bones?”

“No, not much. Mostly with wound care and general patient care.”

Once Ben returned with a board and some rags, Doc Martin secured Hannah’s arm to the board.

“There. That should hold it in place. She will probably sleep for a few hours. Then the tough part begins. I’m sure Hannah will not want to stay in bed for long, but a few days of not much activity would be a good idea.”

Kate and Ben glanced at each other.

“Guess I will be reading lots of stories.” Kate sighed.

“Truthfully, it will be good for the both of you.” The doctor added.

“You can trust, Paul, that I will make sure that Kate does not overdo.” Ben gave his wife a stern look.

Doc Martin looked directly at Kate. “Good, I like to hear that my patients are going to follow my instructions.”

Kate frowned. “I think you two are ganging up on me.”

“Absolutely, and if necessary I’ll send Gabrielle out to help as well.” Martin confirmed.

Gabrielle smiled sweetly. “I will gladly come out and help with Hannah. I have to follow the doctor’s orders too, you know.”

“In fact if you can part with her for the rest of the day Paul, it would be nice to have Gabrielle here for the afternoon. It has been a unsettling morning for Kate and I’m sure she could use a little nap later.” Ben suggested. “Hoss would be happy for an excuse to spend a little time with Gabrielle while getting her back into town this evening.”

Doctor Martin nodded. “Sounds like a plan.”

“Goodness! Do I have no say about anything any more?” Kate exclaimed with a huff.

“Sounds like it’s a good time for me to leave.” There was a twinkle in the doctor’s eyes as he spoke. “Have a pleasant afternoon all. Send for me if you need anything else for Hannah.”

Ben looked at his friend with gratitude. “We will Paul, and thanks.”

At the building site, the men were unloading the materials from the wagons. Once that task was complete, preparations for laying the foundation of the house began. Though it made Hoss very happy to be starting on his house, he had trouble staying focused. His mind kept wondering back to Hannah and the previous day when his father had questioned him about keeping Lucky. At one point in the process of staking out the house, Joe caught him staring off toward the horizon.

Joe whistled. “Hey, brother. Pay attention. You do want this house to be square, don’t you?”

Hoss’ head jerked back toward his brother. “What? Oh yeah!”

“What’s the matter, Hoss? Worried about Hannah?”

“Yeah, guess so. Just wish like everything she hadn’t got hurt…and I really wanted Pa to be here today. It was supposed ta be a special day, but then it got spoiled.”

“Nobody’s blaming you. You heard Pa…and there will be lots of other days and plenty of work for him. In fact the days will just keep piling up if you don’t quit moping around and get to work. Just in case you haven’t read Adam’s plans very carefully, this is one big house we’re building. So come on, let’s get these markers up so we can start digging. You’re building this for Gabrielle, aren’t ya, and she’s gonna want to see some good progress by Friday.”

“You’re right, Joe!” Hoss clapped his hands and rubbed them together. Let’s have at it!

A little while later, Hoss noticed Ben and Jamie riding toward them.

“Hey, Joe. Look! Here comes Pa and Jamie!”

“Pa’s smiling Hoss. That must be a good sign.”

“Afternoon boys. Looks like your making good progress digging the footer.”

Jamie got down from Rainmaker.

Hoss looked up at Ben with expectation. “Hey Pa. Surprised to see ya. Does that mean Hannah’s doin’ ok?”

“Thankfully, only a broken arm. She was awake and asking for something to eat right before I left.”

Joe give his big brother a slap on the arm. “That’s sure good news, Pa.”

A wide smile of relief covered Hoss’ face. “Yeah! Good news!…Well are ya gonna just sit there on Buck or what? There’s a shovel over here that’s been waitin’ for ya!”

“Think I hear Kate calling!” Ben started to turn Buck around.

“Pa!”

Ben let out a hearty laugh. “Just pulling your leg, son.” He dismounted his horse and placed a large hand on his big son’s shoulder. Ben looked at Hoss with pride. “I’ve been waiting for years for this day…”

Though larger in stature than the rest of his family, Hoss stood a little straighter and taller.

Ben smacked Hoss in the chest. “Now hand me that shovel!”

Hoss grabbed the shovel and thrust it toward his father. Soon father and sons were working side by side, just the way the Cartwright family always did.


Chapter 20


The weeks of March rolled by as the Cartwright men made good progress on the new house for Gabrielle and Hoss. Every now and then, Ben would take Mary along to the work site to give Kate a bit of a break. He thought it might help the little girl begin to get used to the fact that Hoss would not be living under the same roof as the rest of the family for much longer.

During this time, Kate tried her best not to overextend herself. Her baby appeared to be doing just fine by the growing bulge in her middle. She would laugh when Ben placed his large hands on her belly and talk to the child, his face lighting up with joy. He was anxiously awaiting the feel of a good kick. With so much happening in the lives of the Cartwright family, almost before Ben and Kate realized it, Mary’s birthday was only days away.

“Kate, I’m on my way to town. Hoss has several stops for me to make. Don’t expect me for lunch.” Ben called back over his shoulder with the front door already open.

She rose quickly from her seat at the table. “Oh, Ben, wait! You must stop at Clara’s and…” She stopped short realizing that the girls were within earshot. “And pick up the things I ordered. Now don’t forget.”

A frown crossed his face and he muttered. “Guess I won’t be riding Buck today. Better hitch up the buggy.”

“What was that?” Kate asked as she moved toward him.

Ben turned around to face her. “And how many boxes am I to expect this time, ma’am?” He asked taking on an errand boy demeanor.

Kate rolled her eyes and responded with her hands on her hips. “Quit now. Ladies…” She emphasized. “need a few things once in awhile. This is what you missed having three boys.”

“Yes indeed. At this rate, if I had had three daughters instead of three sons, I would be living in a shack with the best dressed girls in the territory!”

Kate’s green eyes flashed. “Exaggeratin’ a wee bit are ya now Mr. Cartwright!” Kate went into an Irish brogue. “I’d be thinkin’ you’d gone and kissed the Blarney stone! Off with ya…before I ask Hop Sing for the broom!”

Ben burst out laughing at hearing her slip into the vernacular of her heritage. “I’m going, I’m going! Love you.”

“Love you, too!” She moved to him and placed a kiss on his cheek. “Now scoot…and keep your eye out for leprechauns, mind ya!”

“Lepre…” Mary began and then stopped uncertainly, giving her aunt a look of confusion.

“Leprechauns…the little people. I’ll tell you about them sometime.” Kate answered and then gave the girl a mischievous smile.

Ben shook his head and chuckled. “You would think I plucked her straight from the land of Erin rather than from a ranch in Nevada!” He said to himself.

Their marriage generally had the comfortable feel of a much more lengthy relationship, but this silly bit of conversation made him realize that there was still much to learn about Kate.

While in town, Ben decided to stop and say hello to Gabrielle. As he entered the doctor’s office he found her with her back to the door and called out before thoroughly assessing the situation. “Good afternoon, Gabrielle. How is my favorite future daughter-in-law?”

The young woman turned with a start. She was edgy from tending a rough cow hand that had taken a beating in a barroom quarrel. “Oh, Ben, good to see you.” She said trying to recover.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” He said.

“I was just focused on the task at hand. I have a pat…” She began to explain.

Just then the curtain that separated the exam table from the rest of the office was drawn back revealing the grizzled face of a thirty something, shabbily dressed ranch hand whose head was bleeding and black and blue from a fight. “Thought that sounded like a Cartwright.”

“Do I know you?” Ben countenance suddenly became stony.

“No I don’t spose you would bein’ you’re ‘ll high an’ mighty. Jase Cooper’s my name, not that it would matter to ya.” The injured man sneered.

Ben tried to ignore the comment and moved closer to Gabrielle. “Doc Martin out this afternoon?” He whispered and placed a comforting hand on her back.

Gabrielle nodded.

“Kinda chummy there with yur son’s gal. So pretty boy Joe Cartwright’s gettin’ married.” The cow hand spat out.

Ben turned and glared at the man. “Not that it is any of your business, but it is my son Hoss that will marry this young lady.” He responded in no uncertain terms.

“Hoss Cartwright! That big, ugly son-of-a-gun. This pretty little gal’s marryin’ him?” The cow hand shook his bruised head in disbelief.

Gabrielle’s head dropped as she blushed. She tried to appear busy as she rummaged through a cabinet.

“It would serve you well to keep your opinions to yourself.” Ben hissed.

“Oh would it now.” The ranch hand continued to push.

Ben stared at him as though he would burn a hole through the obnoxious man’s chest.

The beaten cow hand backed down. “Sure…sure. No harm intended.” He said almost mocking. He eyed Gabrielle, giving her an unsettling grin, and then let out a faint annoying laugh.

Ben helped Gabrielle organize the supplies to clean and treat the cow hand’s wounds. The injured man stared directly at her while she worked, intentionally trying to unnerve her. When she finished, Ben escorted the man out the door.

Gabrielle’s bright blue eyes looked up at Ben with gratitude and relief.

“I’ll leave Paul a note. I think you should take the rest of the day off.” Ben’s warm brown eyes radiated empathy for the young woman.

She sighed and there was a slight catch in her voice. “Yes, you are probably right.”

He tried to lighten the mood. “How about joining us for supper tonight?”

Gabrielle offered him a weak smile. “Oh thank you, Ben, but Hoss was planning to meet me for dinner here in town.”

“Very well then. How about I walk you back to the hotel.”

“Thank you, yes, I would appreciate that. She tried her best to speak in a more relaxed manner.

After Gabrielle tidied up and got her coat, Ben took her arm and led her out the door and down the boardwalk. They strolled along without a word between them. When they reached the hotel lobby, he sensed that she was still shaken from the incident. They looked at each other awkwardly. Ben removed his hat, smiled and spoke in hushed tones so as not to draw unwanted attention.

“Gabrielle, I don’t want to overstep my bounds here, but you might want to speak with Paul about what happened. I would be willing to bet that you could join him on his rounds…at least for a few days…It might be a good thing.”

She hesitated and worry creased her brow. “Yes…that would be a nice idea…Ben, please do me a favor…don’t say anything to Hoss about it…I am afraid what he might do.” She bowed her head and then looked back up.

Ben sighed and looked at her intently. “Alright. If that is what you want.”

Gabrielle nodded. Her eyes were shining as she leaned in to kiss Ben’s cheek.

“Thank you…for everything. See you soon.”

Ben watched her move up the stairs toward her room. Positioning his hat, he walked out of the hotel and headed for Clara’s shop. Though the situation with Gabrielle bothered him, he rationalized that there were rude men in Boston, as well. He was just thankful he had shown up at the right time to be of help.

Later that afternoon when he returned from town, Kate found Ben struggling to get through the front door with a stack of boxes.

“Oh goodness, Ben! Here let me help you with those.” She offered with an embarrassed smile.

“Thanks. What in the world is all this? Surely two little girls don’t need this much!” Frustration colored his face and tone.

“Shhhh. Let’s just get them up to our room before the girls notice.” She whispered and pushed him toward the stairs.

Ben began in a hushed voice. “Why are we whispering?” Then he switched to full voice. “I mean…why are whispering? I passed the girls outside when I came in. They are playing with the dog.”

“Oh that’s right. I forgot.” Kate giggled.

Once upstairs Kate opened the door to their room and closed it quickly behind Ben.

“Now I can show you what you’ve been toting around. Just set them here on the bed.” She patted the coverlet.

He set the boxes down and pitched his hat on the chair beside the bed. Kate lifted the lid on one of the big boxes.

“See this is Mary’s birthday dress. Isn’t it adorable?” A satisfied smile came to her face as she held up a burgundy floral print with a bright blue sash.

“Yes, it is very nice.” Ben offered sincerely. “Clara does do beautiful work.”

“That she does. Now for the main gift. Remember? I told you what I had in mind.” She looked at him for confirmation.

“You did say something about a riding outfit.”

She removed the lid from the second large box and pulled out a gray wool flannel jacket and split skirt trimmed with black braid at the hemline and cuffs and a crisp white blouse. Ben’s eyes went wide with surprise and he let out a low whistle.

“My goodness. With that she will look more like sixteen than five. Don’t you think that is a bit extravagant, Kate?”

Kate bit her lip. “Well I gave Clara the idea and she ran with it…quite well, I might add. Ben, you know how much Mary loves to ride…more than anything else in the world. I just figured we would start her out right.”

“It is lovely, but what’s in the rest of the boxes? Surely this is enough for one little girl.”

“Well Joe and Jamie were struggling for ideas about what to get Mary, so I asked Clara to make a neckerchief and pick out a hat to match. Those will be their gifts to Mary. The rest is just a few everyday necessities for both girls.”

Ben’s forehead wrinkled with concern. “Isn’t Hoss going to feel left out?”

“Oh…I don’t think so. Didn’t he tell you what he was doing for Mary?” Kate gave him a knowing look.

“No, he didn’t.” The disappointment showed on his face and in his voice.

“Well, then you will just have to wait until the party, unless he shows you himself.” Kate offered looking quite smug.

“I guess I can wait a couple of days. Too bad you can’t tell me, little one.” He said as he ran his large hands over Kate’s belly and focused his gaze on them. “You’re Mama can be a mite uncooperative at times.”

“Are you referring to me?” Kate gave him a shocked expression.

He looked up with raised brows. “I don’t see any other Mamas in this room, do you?”

Kate laughed as he slipped his hands around her waist and drew her close.

“Before we know it, you’ll be planning a birthday party for this one.” He nuzzled her neck.

Kate sighed a contented sigh. “I’m sure it will seem like a blink of an eye.”

“Now just what was it Hoss has been working on for Mary?” He whispered directly in her ear with a deep, husky voice, and then began to place sweet kisses on her smooth neck.

“My lips are sealed.” Kate giggled, swaying from the sensation.

“We’ll see about.” He growled and then covered her lips hungrily with his own.


“Mary’s big day finally came. Kate helped the five year old into her new dress just before dinner.

“The birthday girl has arrived!” Ben announced proudly as Mary pranced down the stairs.

Hoss looked up from the newspaper in his hands. “My, oh, my! Don’t ya look purty!”

“Happy Birthday, Mary.” Gabrielle called, happy to have been included in the celebration.

Mary was all smiles while receiving birthday hugs and kisses from all the men of the family, even Jamie. A subdued Hannah walked down the stairs with Kate. It had been only two months since her birthday and that made seeing her older sister getting so much attention a little easier. Still Kate looked down at the little girl when she felt Hannah squeeze her hand.

As they joined the rest of the family at the dinner table, Kate leaned in and whispered into Ben’s ear. “I think maybe someone else could use a little attention also.” She nodded toward Hannah.

He acknowledged Kate’s message and then reached down to pick up the little blond and kiss her cheek. “And don’t you look pretty tonight, Hannah! Aren’t birthdays fun? We get to put on our nice clothes…and have a special meal… and cake.”

“Cake! Yum!” Hannah’s response was followed by a big grin.

The family sat down together at the table and enjoyed the marvelous dinner that Hop Sing had prepared. Even though the meal had all her favorites, the birthday girl had difficulty sitting still and was greatly relieved when Ben released the family to the living room so she could begin opening her gifts.

Ben brought Hannah into his lap, distracting her for the moment by tickling her side. Mary sat on the settee beside Kate, her legs swinging impatiently. Jamie moved from the base of the massive hearth and handed her a small package.

“I’ll go first. Hope you like it.” He offered her his best smile.

Tearing away the paper Mary found a light blue neckerchief. “Thanks, Jamie!”

She pulled the little scarf around her neck and turned toward Kate.

Kate fussed with the ends and patted them into place. “Very nice!”

Mary ran to Jamie and gave him a hug.

“Glad you like it.” He said giving Kate a grateful look.

Gabrielle rose from the blue chair and handed Mary a small box tied with a pink ribbon. “I saw this in a shop in San Francisco and thought of you.” She said and then gave Mary a sweet smile.

Mary opened the box to find a tiny silver horse on a silver chain. She touched the horse figure with her finger and looked at Gabrielle with bright eyes.

“Thank you, Gabbie.”

“Would you like me to help you put it on?” Gabrielle asked.

Mary nodded and handed her the box. Gabrielle removed the necklace and placed it on the girl’s neck.

“There…what do you think?”

Mary looked down at the tiny horse dangling from her neck and then threw her arms around the young woman.

“I think she likes it just fine.” Hoss smiled down from behind the blue chair where Gabrielle was sitting and gave her shoulder a squeeze.

Gabrielle looked up to catch his gaze and placed her hand on his.

Ben chuckled. “All right, Mary, I think you need to walk around and give everyone a look.”

The birthday girl happily paraded around the room to give everyone a peek, and then she plopped back down on the settee.

Joe was leaning with his elbow on the mantel. “Ok, the next one is from me, darlin’.” He grinned and moved to hand her a hat box tied with a red ribbon.

Mary pulled at the ribbon and lifted the lid to find a black, Spanish style hat complete with stampede string.

“Here Mary, allow me.” Ben offered. He took the hat from her and positioned it just right. “That looks fine. My don’t you look grown up.” He said and gave her shoulders a squeeze.

Mary pulled away. Her hat flew off and hung by the cord around her neck as ran to give Joe a hug.

“Thanks, Joe.”

“You’re welcome sweetie. It looks great!” He gave Kate a grateful nod.

“Guess I’ll go next. Here ya go, doll.” Hoss gave Mary a toothy grin as he handed her his gift.

Mary’s face lit up when she opened the package and found two pony-sized saddle bags with her initials ‘MC’ burned onto them.

“Thanks, Hoss!” Still holding the bags in her hand she leaped into his arms and threw her arms around his neck. The saddle bags slapped against his back as she hugged him. “Now I can carry things like you!”

Hoss let out a guffaw and wrapped his big arms around her. “Ya sure can, darlin’.” He placed her back on the floor and gave her back a pat.

“Very nice, Hoss.” Ben added as he admired his son’s workmanship.

It had never occurred to him until just that moment, that the ‘C’ on the bags could stand for Cartwright instead of Calhoun if Kate and he decided to make it so. The girls had been with them about six months. Hannah had almost no memory of her parents, and as the months had passed by, Mary spoke less and less about her Mama and Papa. Ben looked at the pretty dark-haired birthday girl and her curly-headed blond little sister with shining eyes. He winced subconsciously as his mind’s eye took him back to the first time he saw the girls sitting in front of the Simmons barn, dirty, frightened, and alone. He felt genuine love for both Mary and Hannah and made a mental note that Kate and he must have a talk very soon.

Then Kate handed Mary the last gift box. It had the familiar look of something from Clara’s shop.

“Alright, Mary, one last present. This one is from Uncle Ben and me.”

“I have a new dress.” Mary replied with disappointment, pulling out the skirt of her birthday dress.

“Well I think you had better just open it up. You might be surprised.” Ben encouraged.

Mary looked a bit confused as she pulled her new gray riding habit from the box.

Joe whistled. “Wow! That’s really something!”

“Well now! Won’t ya be the fanciest gal in the whole territory with a get up like that!” Hoss exclaimed.

“What is it?” Mary asked sincerely.

“It’s a special outfit just for riding. Works better than dresses. Here let me help you.” Kate held the jacket while Mary slipped her arms into it. “We’ll try the whole outfit on later, but let’s have a look.” Kate positioned the split skirt at the girl’s waist. With a look of satisfaction she said. “Add her boots from Christmas and that should be just about perfect.”

Ben laughed heartily as Mary held onto her hat and spun in circles, her new jacket floating out at her sides. She stopped and hugged her arms tightly against her body.

“I think we have one happy girl! You obviously knew what you were doing, Kate!” Ben said looking on his wife with pride.

“With many thanks to Clara.” She added.

Ben clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “I’d say it’s time for some cake. What do you say, Mary?” He looked at the birthday girl awaiting her reaction.

“Yes! Cake!” Her eyes were bright with anticipation.


A few days later, Ben sat with his family at the breakfast table. His sons downed their last swallows of coffee before heading for the barn. Jamie was joining in the construction today with no school on Saturday.

“Hop Sing…is our lunch packed?” Ben called toward the kitchen.

“Oh, Ben, I was planning to bring lunch to you today.” Kate stiffened as she mentally prepared for a battle of wills.

“Now, Kate, not that I wouldn’t enjoy seeing at lunchtime, but that’s really not necessary. I’m sure Hop Sing has it all ready to go.” He said, anxious to get out of the house without a fuss.

“Well, actually…he doesn’t…because I told him I would be bringing out to you.” Kate bit her lip and gave Ben a sheepish look.

“Kate! You don’t need to be taking a bumpy ride over to the building site.”

“Ben Cartwright, I am not an invalid. I can’t stay inside for the entire remaining six months! I’ll go crazy!”

Mary and Hannah watched with wide eyes. They were unaccustomed to seeing their aunt and uncle at odds. Ben shook his head and opened his mouth, but then closed it when he realized that two pairs of little eyes were fixed on him.

He acquiesced. “Alright, Kate. I will hitch up the buggy so it’s ready for you and the girls.”

Mary jumped on the opportunity and looked up expectantly at Ben. “Can I ride Patches?”

He sighed. “And I’ll have Hoss saddle Patches.” Ben leaned down to look her directly in the face. “Guess you need an excuse to put on your pretty riding duds.” He gave her wink.

Mary practically leaped into his arms and squeezed his neck so tightly that Ben had to reach up and loosen her hold.

“Easy now. I won’t be much help to Hoss with a wrenched neck… but I wouldn’t mind a response like that from someone else I know.”

He kissed Mary on the cheek and peeked at Kate while placing the dark-haired girl back on the floor.

“Thank you, Ben.” Kate replied as she moved into his welcoming arms and then kissed his lips.

Ben tightened his hold on Kate. “Let’s see. What was it that I am supposed to be doing? Oh, yes, the new house.” He smirked and leaned in for another kiss.

Kate pushed him back and swatted his arm. “Off with you now, or there’ll be no lunch for you!”

“Yes ma’am!” Then he quickly pecked her cheek before heading for the front door.

“Me too!” Hannah shouted.

“You are absolutely right, Miss Hannah. So sorry!” Ben replied turning back and scooping up the curly-headed blond. He puckered up and kissed her little rosebud lips. “See you at lunch!” He gave her backside a little pat as he placed her back on her feet.

When Kate turned back after closing the door behind Ben, she saw Mary scurrying up the stairs. “Where are you going in such a hurry?”

“Put on my new riding clothes.” Mary responded without bothering to stop.

“Oh, alright…but we are going to plant some garden before we go over to the new house.” Kate called loudly. Still, she could not help but smile when Mary returned downstairs dressed in her riding clothes, complete with boots and hat. Mary beamed as she handed her aunt the neckerchief to tie around her neck. After tying on the little scarf, Kate readjusted for a missed button on the blouse and tucked it into the skirt for the finishing touch. “You look very nice, Mary.”

When the dew had burned off, Kate and the girls headed for the garden to plant some cabbage, lettuce, carrots, and peas. Stopping at the storeroom, Kate picked up a hoe. Hearing voices, Lucky came running from the barn. Mary and Hannah greeted their dog and stroked her coat.

“Hi Lucky. We are going to the garden. Want to come?” Mary spoke directly into the dog’s snout.

“I’m afraid Lucky can’t help us in the garden girls. She would probably just dig up everything we plant. We will have to take her back to the barn and close her in until we are done planting.”

“Awww. Do we hafta?” Mary complained.

“Yes we hafta!” Kate said putting a hand to her hip. “Come on. Let’s walk on over and Lucky will follow us.”

True to Kate’s word Lucky followed the girls into the barn. “Lucky stay.” She commanded. “Come girls so I can close the door.” Mary and Hannah trotted out with heads hanging low. “There will be plenty of time to play with Lucky later.”

They walked together to the garden plot behind the house. “Look, girls, the garden is ready for planting. The ground is nice and loose…perfect to plant our seeds. Mary do you remember your Mama or Mrs. Simmons working in the garden?”

Mary nodded and then hung her head. She could still envision her Mama, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to remember much of the everyday tasks her mother had performed. Kate’s heart ached for the girl, but she decided that putting Mary to work was probably the best medicine for easing the girl’s pain.

“Alright now, we need to make some furrows….like this…not too deep.” Kate said as she dragged the hoe into the dirt. “Here Hannah, hold out your hand.”

Hannah opened her hand on the arm without the splint and Kate poured out tiny carrot seeds from a white cotton bag.

“Can you believe that in a few months each seed will be a nice fat carrot if there is the right amount of sunshine and rain?”

Mary scrunched up her face in disbelief. “Those little things?”

Kate laughed at the child’s surprise. “Yes, isn’t that amazing!”

Hannah grinned and added. “I like carrots!”

“I do, too, so let’s get these seeds in the ground. Hold your hand very still, Hannah, and I will show you two how to plant them.” Kate replied with enthusiasm.

She carefully placed the tiny seeds in the ground and then gently covered them with a thin layer of she was finishing the row she pointed without looking up to the corner of the garden.

“Mary, see that pile of pegs over there? We are going to put one at each end of this row of carrots, ok?”

Mary moved to get the pegs with Hannah close behind. Kate saw some movement out of the corner of her eye. She shouted.

“Girls stop!”

Mary looked back. “Why?”

Kate rushed up to pull them back. “A snake!”

Her sudden movement caused the snake to coil and prepare to strike. She grabbed the girls and quickly moved backwards still facing the snake. In her haste she forgot about the hoe that was lying on the ground beside the newly planted row of carrots. Kate tripped, pulling the girls down with her she fell on her backside. Mary landed heavily on top of her stomach. Kate groaned.

“Sorry, Aunt Kate!”

“Come girls. We’ve got to get out of here!”

Mary and Hannah jumped up and offered their aunt as much help as a five and three old child could. The threesome made there way back into the house.

“Hop Sing! Hop Sing!” Kate called loudly toward the kitchen.

The Chinaman came running when he heard Kate’s distressed call.

“Yes, Miss Kate. What is the matter?”

“There is a snake in the garden…ohh!” A sharp pain ran through her abdomen and she clutched her midsection in response.

“Miss Kate. What is wrong? Are you hurt? Here let me help you.” Placing his arm carefully around her waist, he assisted Kate to the settee as she explained.

“Oh Hop Sing, I fell in the garden when we were trying to get away from the snake. I think I will be …Unnhh! You had better send one of the hands for the doctor.”

“Sorry, Miss Kate. No one here but me. I would go but then who stay with you?”

“It’s closer for you to ride to the new house. The buggy is hitched and ready. Go get Ben and have him send one of the boys for the doctor.”

“Are you sure, Miss Kate? Hop Sing no like leaving you alone with little girls.”

“Yes, yes. I’m sure.”

“Can I get anything for you before I go, Miss Kate?”

“Just a glass of water, please, and then be on your way…and please hurry, Hop Sing.”

Hop Sing hurried to the kitchen and returned with a glass of water. He offered Kate a drink.

“Thank you.” She nodded when finished.

Hop Sing set the glass down on the coffee table. “Let me help you lay down.” He carefully lifted her legs up onto the settee. “You rest now. Hop Sing be at new house lickety split. No worry, Miss Kate.” He scurried back to the kitchen to get his coat.

“Thank you, Hop Sing.” She had been so focused on her conversation with the cook that she had not realized that Hannah was standing there with tears in her eyes. “Oh Hannah, come here sweetheart.” Kate reached out and pulled the little girl to her. “It will be alright.” When she looked beyond Hannah, Kate could not see Mary. “Mary? Mary? Where are you? Hannah do you know where Mary went?” Hannah shook her head. Shouting, Kate called for the cook. “Hop Sing! Hop Sing! Are you still here?”

“Yes, Miss Kate. What you need?” The cook came trotting while struggling into his coat.

“Have you seen Mary? She didn’t come when I called her.”

“She was standing here when you came in house, but then we talk and I not see her.”

Kate’s face was immediately awash with fear. “Oh no! You don’t think? She wouldn’t?” Her voice rose with concern.

“She do what?”

“Go and see if Patches is still tied to the hitching rail. I’m afraid when she heard us talking she might have decided to go to the building site on her own!”

“I go see!”

Hop Sing raced out the front door and scanned the yard thoroughly. Shaking his head, he hurried back inside.

“Mary?” Kate asked in a strained voice.

The cook came running. “No pony. No little girl. So sorry Miss Kate. What you want Hop Sing do now?”

“Go! She might make it to the new house alright, but we just can’t take that chance. Go!” Kate shouted frantically.

“Hop Sing find Little Miss. You not worry. Be back soon.” He said giving Kate’s arm a pat.

“Thank you.” Her voice trailed off as tears began to form. Her abdomen tightened with pain and Kate let out a faint groan. Realizing that she must keep her composure for Hannah’s sake, Kate forced herself to calm down and said. “Here Hannah. Let’s get your coat off.” Kate laid the coat over the back of the settee and sighed. “Hannah, sweetheart, I’m going to need you to be a really good girl. Ok?”

Obviously still upset, the little girl just nodded. “Would you please go and get some of your books off the shelf and we will read until Hop Sing or Uncle Ben comes back.”

Hannah went to the shelves by the stairway and pulled a couple of books and brought them back to Kate.

“Thank you, Hannah. Now push the stool over here and sit beside me.”

Hannah, bad arm and all, scooted the footstool that was sitting by the blue chair over beside the settee and sat down obediently.

“Thank you for being such a good helper.” Kate opened a book and was about to begin when she realized Hannah was looking at with tears running down her face.

“Where’s Mary?” Hannah squeaked out.

Kate could not stop the tears from coming. “She’ll be back soon, honey. I’m sure she will.” Kate ran her hand over her belly in response to the tightness she felt. “Please don’t you leave me.” She thought. A tiny sob escaped as she silently prayed for her child and for Mary.


Chapter 21


It was almost noon and Ben was sitting in his room waiting for Dr. Martin to arrive. Kate laid resting in their bed with her eyes closed. Ben found himself once again in that place he had visited far too many times before, forced to sit and wait in helplessness. His heart was in turmoil. This was the second time in their eight months of marriage that he had kept a vigil over Kate. This room held a mix of memories for him, and yet it was their haven. The heavy, dark wood furniture was warm and solid like their love for each other. It was the place where they shared blissful, intimate moments, but now the tiny life that their love had created was hanging in the balance. Ben ran his hand through his silver hair as he shifted in his seat to adjust Mary’s position in his lap. She was exhausted after the morning’s ordeal and now she laid sound asleep against his gray shirt. Little Hannah was playing quietly on the rug, happy just to be near her aunt and uncle. Ben slid down in his chair to offer Mary more comfort as the events of the previous hours played in his head.

The crisp, cloudless April morning had worked its magic on Ben, helping to clear his mind of his worries about Kate and the girls coming to the work site. It had also helped to make the labor on the new house invigorating and enjoyable. Joe and Jamie nailed wood shakes on the roof while Ben and Hoss hammered floor boards into place to build the porch that Gabrielle had been promised for observing brilliant sunsets over the magnificent Sierra Nevadas.

Ben smiled at his first glimpse of Mary bouncing along on her little paint pony, her new black hat sitting atop her head. Though he thought it was a bit early for Kate and the girls to show up for lunch, he knew that Mary would have pressed her aunt into leaving sooner rather than later. Ben and his sons laughed and commented how the pretty little girl would someday give the boys her age a run for their money in more ways than just riding a horse. But then it became clear that she was alone and pushing Patches hard. Their frivolity came to an abrupt halt and they dropped their tools and ran out to meet her. Mary barely managed to choke out that Kate was hurt before Hop Sing raced up in the buggy. Ben had no time for the Chinaman’s haranguing once Mary’s message was confirmed. Ben shouted orders to his sons right and left before he gave Buck a good kick and headed for the ranch house. His horse moved quickly into an unfamiliar gallop; Buck’s hooves threw up clods of soil as Ben cut cross-country to shorten his route.

Ben’s face was tense with worry as he reined up hard at the hitching rail by the house. He flew off his horse and bolted toward the porch. He was calling for Kate as the heavy wooden door swung back. She jerked in surprise and answered back. He ran to her almost tripping over Hannah who was still sitting half asleep on the footstool. Ben flung his hat and gloves into his red chair and knelt beside the settee. Hannah wrapped her arms around his neck as he pulled her onto his knee.

“Oh Ben, I’m so glad you’re home. Where’s Mary?” Kate asked, her brow knitted with concern.

“Not to worry, she’s in good hands. I left her with Hoss and Jamie. How are you feeling?” He offered her a weak smile as he took her hand and searched her eyes for an answer.

Kate sighed in relief. “I was so worried.” She hesitated. “I’ve had some pains, but they seem to be slowing down. Is Paul coming?”

“Joe rode to town to get him. Hopefully they will be here soon.” Ben smoothed her hair and kissed her forehead. “Tell me what happened?”

“We were planting garden. I fell trying get the girls away from a snake. Stupid me. I tripped over the hoe.”

“Now Kate, it could have happened to anyone. It must have been frightening for all of you.” He pressed Kate’s hand in reassurance then glanced at Hannah and patted her arm.

“And then Mary heard me talking to Hop Sing and took off. Please don’t scold her too much, Ben. She was only trying to help.”

“I know, Kate. I understand that. Thankfully she’s fine. Right now we need to focus on you and the baby.”

Ben placed Hannah on her feet and asked her to go find her doll so he could have a moment alone with Kate. The little girl trotted obediently up the stairs.

Kate reached up and placed her hand on Ben’s cheek. “I’m sorry.” She quickly turned toward the back of the settee.

“Kate. Sweetheart.” Ben gently brought her face back his way. His eyes glistened in response to her tears. “No matter what happens, I love you.”

She nodded, unable to speak. Hoping to ease her distress, he leaned down and placed a kiss in her coppery tresses.

A little while later, a blur of gray and black burst through the door. With her black hat banging against her back, Mary ran to the settee. Kate pulled her into a tight embrace.

“Oh Mary, thank God you’re alright. You scared me to death.”

Mary slipped out of Kate’s hold and looked at her aunt in confusion, the magnitude of her error still not registering.

“You needed Uncle Ben. Hop Sing said he couldn’t go. I went to get Uncle Ben.”

Kate glanced at Ben for help.

“Maybe we should talk about this later.” Ben offered from his chair. He really did not want to add any more tension to the already difficult situation.

Convinced she had done the right thing by riding for Ben, Mary looked at him with hurt in her eyes.

“I wasn’t bad. I told you Aunt Kate got hurt. You came home. I helped Aunt Kate.”

Ben knew there was no getting around the determined five year-old now. He called her to come stand in front of him, his large hands engulfed her shoulders.

“Mary, sweetheart, I know you were just trying to help Aunt Kate, but it’s dangerous for girls, even girls older than you, to be riding alone out in the countryside. What if something had happened to you?”

“I’m a good rider…I did it all by myself…I helped.” Mary reached for Ben as her tears came and he held her against his shoulder as she sobbed.

He could not deny that everything she said was true. This time it was he that was looking over Mary’s shoulder to Kate for help.

Kate gazed upon her niece with understanding and responded in a calm, caring voice. “Yes, Mary, you did help. Thank you. But next time, you must ask someone before you ride away from the house by yourself, even for something important. Ok?”

Mary released Ben’s neck and turned toward her aunt. The little girl wiped her tears with the back of her hand clearing her vision enough to see that Kate was smiling at her. Mary nodded that she understood.

Her tears had dried by the time Hoss and Jamie came in from the barn. Ben asked his big son to carry Kate up to their bedroom where she could get more rest. Hop Sing unpacked the lunch that he had meticulously placed in baskets. He served it to a quiet lot at the table with Ben and Kate receiving theirs up in their room. The uncertainty about the baby hung thick in the air making everyone uncomfortable. The boys tried to keep the little girls downstairs, but then Mary sneaked up to her aunt and uncle’s bedroom. She remembered what she had been taught about knocking first. Kate coaxed Ben into letting the girls come in as long as they played quietly. Mary soon returned with Hannah and some toys. They played for a time keeping their voices low. Eventually Mary, still dressed in her riding clothes, went to Ben wanting to be held. He lifted her into his lap and whispered.

“You sure look good in your new outfit.”

Mary gave him a solemn glance as she nestled her head into his chest. “Is Aunt Kate ok?”

Ben ran his hand down the side of Mary’s dark hair and tightened his hold on her. He really did not want to get into a discussion about the baby and tamped down his emotions. “She just needs to rest for a while and maybe you do too.”

As he came back into the moment, Ben was thankful that Mary had asked no more questions and fallen fast asleep. He took advantage of the quiet and closed his eyes as well. He did not see Kate taking in the sweet scene. Neither could he hear her thoughts as she struggled with not knowing if she would ever see Ben hold their child with the same love and tenderness he had shown Mary. Kate instinctively placed her hand over her womb and turned aside not wanting to risk Ben seeing her tears. Though at first she had been afraid tell him about the pregnancy, now there was nothing in the world she wanted more than to bear him this child.

Ben jerked when he heard a knock at the bedroom door.

“Pa, Doc Martin’s here.” Joe called from the hallway.

“Come in.” Ben replied.

He lifted Mary to his shoulder and rose as Joe and Dr. Martin entered the room. Mary eyed them still in the haze of sleep.

“Watch out for the toys.” Ben pointed to the rug beside the bed.

“Joe!” Hannah’s eyes lit up and she held up her arms to him.

He brought her up into a hug. “Have ya been a good girl?”

“Yep!” The little blond responded with bright eyes.

“That’s my girl.” Joe placed her back on the floor and took her by the hand.

“Heard you had a busy morning.” Dr. Martin said to all, and then looked directly at Kate.

“Not one of our better ones, I’m afraid.” Kate was trying hard to keep her anxiety from her voice.

“Well, let’s have a look. Maybe the rest of you could give me a moment alone with Kate.” Dr. Martin’s calm, green eyes radiated reassurance as he gave Mary a pat on the back.

“Sure Paul. We’ll be downstairs if you need us.” Ben paused and looked at Kate with soft eyes.

A few minutes later, Dr. Martin appeared on the stairs with his jacket draped over one arm and his bag in hand. All eyes turned toward him. Ben rose quickly from his red chair, anxious to hear what Martin had to say.

“Well?” Ben searched the doctor’s face for any clue.

After finishing a button on his sleeve, Dr. Martin moved closer to Ben and placed a hand on his shoulder. “You can relax, Ben. I believe that Kate and the baby are fine.”

“But the pains?” Ben asked not yet convinced.

“Are not of great concern since they have subsided and there don’t seem to be any other signs of problems.”

The tension in Ben’s shoulders eased and he released the breath that he had not realized he was holding. He was greeted with relieved smiles when he turned to look at each of his sons.

The doctor continued. “I did, however, recommend to Kate that she take things easy and stay off of her feet as much as possible for the next few days, just as a precaution.”

“Thanks, Paul.” After offering the doctor his hand, Ben eyes betrayed the unspoken question.

“Go on upstairs. I know my way out.” Martin answered suppressing a chuckle. After Ben cleared the stairs, the doctor commented to the boys who were scattered about the living room. “You’d think this was his first child the way he’s acting.”

Joe came to his father’s defense. “Guess I’m the living proof that he’s more than just a little out of practice, Doc.” Everyone laughed. “How about a cup of coffee before you take off?”

“Thanks, I think I will.” Dr. Martin glanced back over his shoulder toward the stairway and smiled.

Upstairs, Ben was sitting on the edge of their bed holding Kate’s hands.

“You’re gonna stay put even if I hafta sit on you.” He scolded, pretending to be serious.

Kate smirked and was about to give a smart response, but then her emerald eyes began to shine.

“I know I’ve been giving you a hard time of late. She paused and bit her lip. “But this scared me Ben.” With tears in her eyes, she whispered. “I don’t know what I would have done if I had lost…”

Ben put a finger to her lips to stop her words. He cupped her face with his hands and placed a tender kiss on her lips. “I love you.”

He leaned to the side and rested his head on her shoulder. Moving his hand in gentle circles over the bulge under the skirt of her dress, his chocolate eyes became soft and warm as he whispered. “And I love you, too, precious one.”

Kate ran a hand through his silver hair and stroked his head. A lone tear trickled down her face as she exhaled away the tension of the day. Feeling incredibly blessed, she thanked God for the day she married Ben Cartwright.


Chapter 22

Author’s Note: Themes from the episodes ‘Joe Cartwright, Detective’ and ‘Hoss and the Leprechauns’ are mentioned in this segment.


Though she felt like an unnecessary burden to her family, Kate remained in bed as Dr. Martin had suggested. Ben and the girls doted on her making certain her every need was quickly met. So with Kate cloistered in the bedroom upstairs, the next day Ben spirited Mary and Hannah out to the garden hoping to surprise Kate by having the early vegetables planted before she was up and about again. It had been many years since he had worked the earth and planted with his sons, but the memories came flooding back in Mary and Hannah’s dirty faces, hands and clothes. They had just finished the last of the planting when Hoss and Gabrielle pulled up to the house in the buggy. Hoss had asked Doc Martin if he could spare Gabrielle for the day so that Kate could have some feminine company. The sound of Ben’s voice could be heard coming from behind the house as Hoss deftly lifted his fiancee’ to the ground.

He cocked his head. “Wonder who Pa’s talkin’ to back there?”

“I think I hear the girls, too.” Gabrielle tugged gently on his arm. “Let’s go see.”

Hoss took her hand and they ambled past the storeroom. Rounding the corner they could see the freshly planted garden plot lined with several neatly mounded rows. Hoss and Gabrielle paused when they saw Ben kneeling at the edge of the garden with Mary and Hannah facing him. He was carefully wiping dirty smudges from the girls’ scrunched up faces with his handkerchief.

“Isn’t that sweet. Your father is so good with the girls.” She whispered.

“Yeah. Kinda fun ta see him with gals. Pa never worried much bout how us boys looked cept if we were goin’ in ta town.” Hoss chuckled and then called out. “Hey Pa! Looks like you’ve been busy.”

“Hoss!” Mary shouted. She squirmed and broke free from Ben’s ministrations to trot over to the couple.

“Hey there young lady. I wasn’t finished with you yet.” Ben scolded her as he rose. “Hello there you two.” He stuffed his handkerchief back into his vest pocket. “I’m afraid that baths are in order for these girls.” Then he looked down at his chest and frowned. He quickly brushed away the dirt from his vest and shirt and shrugged. “Well maybe not just the girls.”

Hoss and Gabrielle laughed.

Mary looked up at her big friend with excitement in her eyes. “Guess what, Hoss? We planted carrots…and cabbage…and turnips …and..”

“Peas!” Hannah shouted. Her face lit up with a satisfied smile.

Mary scowled at her sister for stealing her thunder. Hoss threw back his head and let loose a laugh that would have shaken the house had they been inside. He patted the girls’ heads.

“I’ve never known anybody to get so excited bout plantin’ a garden before. I’m sure you’ll make Hop Sing real happy.”

“No, for Aunt Kate. It’s a surprise. Don’t tell, ok?” Mary looked up at him for reassurance.

“Yeah, a surpwrise!” Hannah chimed in.

Hoss leaned down close to the girls’ faces. “Oh, ok. Mums the word.” Though his face was serious, his eyes twinkled as he placed a finger to his lips.

Mary and Hannah nodded enthusiastically.

Ben chuckled. “Yes well I’m afraid I’ve forgotten my manners. Gabrielle it’s lovely to see you. What brings you out to the Ponderosa today?”

“Well this is our surprise. Hoss thought Kate might enjoy some company and since things have been pretty quiet at the office, Doctor Martin gave me the rest of the day off.” Gabrielle replied.

“And maybe a little later, I’ll take Gabbie over to the house so she can see what we’ve been doin’.” Hoss slipped his arm around her and pulled her close.

Ben nodded his approval. “That sounds like a wonderful plan. I know Kate will appreciate your company. Laying around in bed is not her cup of tea.” He motioned toward the house. “Come then, let’s get on inside. Girls off to the wash room for you!”

“Aww, do we hafta?” Mary whined.

“Yes you most certainly do! We can’t have you looking like this at the supper table tonight. Now scoot!” Ben gave her backside some gentle encouragement so that Mary and Hannah were leading the way toward the front door.

Hoss spluttered. He could not begin to count the number of times he had incurred his Pa’s wrath for the very same reason. “I know how ya feel, Mary. I never thought baths were much fun.” He flushed quickly when he caught Gabrielle’s eyes peering up at him with questioning brows. “I mean…til I got a little older.” He gave his girl a sheepish grin.

Grabbing his beefy arm, Gabrielle let out a giggle and leaned her head into his shoulder. She loved Hoss’ child-like honesty.

Ben choked out a laugh. “Not to worry, Gabrielle. I think he has mended his errant ways.”

Gabrielle’s blue eyes sparkled with merriment. She was thoroughly enjoying the light-hearted banter.

Once inside, Ben excused himself and the girls to go to the wash room. They were moving through the dining room as Gabrielle called.

“Ben, please wait. If you would like, I would be happy to give the girls their baths.”

There was a softness and crinkling around his eyes as he spoke. “That is very kind of you to offer, but then Kate won’t get to enjoy very much of your company.”

“Then how about this? Why don’t you go ahead and wash up and I will go visit for a while. It won’t take long for me to give them their baths if you have everything ready and I forgo washing their hair. How does that sound?”

Not relishing the idea of giving baths, Ben smiled with relief. “Thank you. That sounds marvelous. Kate usually takes care of bathing the girls. I’ll save your hug until after I’ve freshened up.” Ben pulled at his shirt and gave her a wink.

“You’re welcome. Happy to be of help.”

He quickly disappeared to clean up. Gabrielle then turned her attention to Hoss.

“I’ll see you after bit. Oh and good luck with the girls.” She was trying hard to hide her smile as she handed him her wraps and moved up the stairs.

Getting a temporary reprieve from their baths, two little girls were looking up at him expectantly.

Hoss looked at Gabrielle, then at Mary and Hannah, and then back to Gabrielle. “Hey…wait…Yeah…thanks.” He sighed and looked back down at the girls. “Alright gals…Let’s go see if Hop Sing has some milk and cookies.”

“Yea!” Mary and Hannah cried out in unison and took of for the kitchen.

Kate was thrilled to see Gabrielle come through the bedroom door. They talked at length about the upcoming wedding and things for the new house. Though it had been over an hour, it seemed only minutes had passed when Hoss rapped quietly on the door. Gabrielle rose to answer it.

“Hey there.” Hoss whispered. “If you come down pretty quick and give the gals their baths, we’ll still have time to ride over to the house.” He looked into her eyes with hope.

Raising up on her tiptoes, she placed a light kiss on his lips and smiled sweetly. “I’ll be right down.”

With eyes full of love, he tenderly stroked her cheek and then headed for the stairs.

Gabrielle stepped back by the bed to say her goodbye to Kate.

“It’s wonderful to see the two of you so happy and in love.” Kate shivered. “Oh I can’t wait for your wedding!”

“There is so much yet to be done, but I’m so excited. I just want June to come quickly.” Gabrielle eyes were shining with anticipation.

“Everything will come together, you’ll see. Your wedding day will be here before we know it.” Kate stated with confidence. “Thanks so much for coming out for a visit. You made my day.”

Gabrielle leaned down and hugged her future mother-in-law. “It was my pleasure. Hope you are feeling well and up and about again soon. Bye.”

“Thanks. Bye now.”

A little over an hour later, Hoss and Gabrielle were standing on the porch of their partially completed house. They had wandered through the shell deciding what furniture would go in each room. Now they were watching the sun begin its descent behind the Sierra Nevadas. Hoss stood behind Gabrielle with his arms wrapped around her, eyes on the horizon.

Nuzzling her neck, he whispered. “I never get tired of that sight. Wish we could stay to watch the sun go down, but Hop Sing is holdin’ supper as it is…but it won’t be long now and I’ll have my arms around ya like this every evenin’.”

Gabrielle turned around and placed her hands on his broad chest. “And I can’t wait for that day to come.”

Their lips came together sealing their hopes and dreams, but their desire grew in intensity and they kissed again and again. Hoss could feel his passion rising and knew they must go back. Gabrielle’s face flushed as she felt herself melting into him. They finally pulled back breathless and just gazed into each other’s eyes until he took her hand and brought it to his lips.

“Gabbie I love ya so much…I don’t want ta leave…but we need ta go now.”

She nodded and they moved toward the buggy. She was so grateful that Hoss was a gentleman, but that only heightened her desire for him. She snuggled against his shoulder on the trip back to the ranch house. Every now and again Hoss would brush a kiss on her soft brown hair and inhale the sweet fragrance of lavender.

Hop Sing had dinner on the table within minutes after Gabrielle and Hoss returned. Ben requested a tray for both Kate’s and his dinner to be taken upstairs. Without their Pa to keep a lid on things, Hoss and Joe, who were sitting across the table from one another, kept the humor flowing during the meal. Hoss expounded on Joe’s scheme to be detectives, one that got them into a load of trouble. Despite several failed attempts, he announced that they did eventually manage to capture of some criminals. Then Joe giggled his way through telling about the time his big brother saw a bunch of little green men that he thought were leprechauns. Joe reenacted his “Yoohoo” call which left everyone in stitches. He went on to explain that the ‘leprechauns’ were really a group of midgets from a circus that had been forced steal some gold for their money grubbing manager. With both stories, Gabrielle laughed at the brothers’ antics until her sides ached. Hearing all the commotion, Ben finally came down to see what was going on. He leaned up against his red leather chair while Joe filled him in.

“Well that explains everything! Gabrielle I certainly hope that you still want to be part of this family after hearing these crazy stories about my sons. There are times when I really do wonder about the two of you!” Ben gave Hoss and Joe his all too familiar glare.

Always quick to make his case, Joe responded. “But Pa everything turned out all right in the end, and that’s what counts.”

“Yes I guess you are right about that, but I swear that two of you did more than your share of adding to this.” Ben tapped his finger to his silver hair.

Everyone had a good laugh while Hoss and Joe smirked at each other and shrugged.

“Ben, I can’t remember when I have had so much fun. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” Gabrielle smiled warmly.

He walked over behind her chair at the table. Placing his hands on her shoulders, he leaned down to touch his cheek to hers.

“Seems like I owe you that for an earlier kindness today. Then he gestured toward Hoss and Joe. “And for putting up with these jehus.”

Gabrielle brought her hand up to his face.

“You are quite welcome.” She turned to speak to Mary and Hannah. “Bath time wasn’t really so bad, now was it girls?”

“That’s cause you let us splash!” Mary burst out cheerfully.

Gabrielle put her finger to her lips. “Shhhh! Your not supposed to give away my secret!”

Again laughter reverberated around the table.

Shortly thereafter Hoss and Gabrielle left for town. The stars shone brightly in the black sky as the rolled gently along in the dark. Hoss was in no rush since he planned to spend the night in town. The time passed easily as he pointed out the constellations that Ben had taught him as a boy. Soon they could see the street lights of Virginia City. They left the buggy at the livery and walked toward the hotel. As they passed the Silver Dollar saloon, three men came staggering out. One bedraggled cowpoke lurched forward into their path.

“Well well well. If it ain’t the pretty little nurse and her beau.”

Gabrielle clung to her big man’s arm.

“You’ve had too much ta drink cowboy. Move along and let us pass.” Hoss stated firmly and placing his arm around his girl.

“Oh come on now, you remember me, Nursey. Cooper. Jase Cooper.”

The other two cowboys laughed raucously.

Hoss spoke louder this time and with more conviction. “Leave the lady alone. We’ve got no business with ya.”

“So I bet old Ben Cartwright is real happy you’re marrying such a pretty little thing. They seemed right chummy when I saw ’em at the Doc’s office.”

Trembling, Gabrielle buried her face into Hoss’ chest. He pushed her gently behind him and stepped toward the loud-mouthed cowboy. With a sudden burst of power Hoss lifted the drunk man off his feet by his vest and pinned him to the clapboard siding of the saloon.

Their noses almost touching, Hoss hissed into Cooper’s face. “You shut your filthy mouth! You hear me!”

One of the other cowboys moved closer and yelled. “Hey! You let go of him.”

Hoss looked to the side and snarled. “You keep quiet cause I can just as easily hold the both of you up here.”

The cowboy took a step backwards and Jase Cooper’s face went gray. Then Hoss launched Cooper toward his buddies where he landed in a heap at their feet.

The big man positioned his bulky frame right in front of the threesome and shouted. “Now git! All of ya! Git!”

Cooper’s friends hoisted him to his feet and they turned and stumbled on down the boardwalk. Once he was convinced the cowboys were gone for good, Hoss blew out a cleansing breath to regain his composure. He wheeled around to find Gabrielle in tears holding tightly to the porch post. She rushed into his open arms.

“Gabbie, I’m real sorry you had ta see that.” He whispered tenderly into her ear.

He held for a few minutes as she sobbed into his tan coat. Finally she grew quiet. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

“Let’s get to the hotel.” He encouraged with a gentle voice.

Hoss motioned for Gabrielle to take a seat on the sofa in the hotel lobby. He knew she was still quite shaken and did not want to leave her. He held her hands as they sat quietly each afraid to speak. Hoss looked intently into her eyes and keeping his voice low, he broke the silence.

“Gabbie, I know I must’ve scared ya ta death back there. Ya do understand that I would only act like that ta protect someone I care about, don’t ya?”

She nodded and leaned into his shoulder. He brought his arm up behind her and gently squeezed her shoulder. His comforting hand help to ease her tension.

“I should have told you about him…Cooper.”

“It’s ok ya don’t have ta right now.”

“No I want to…I need to…so you understand.”

“Ok if that’s what ya want.”

She took a deep breath. “A week or so ago, Cooper came into the office after getting into a fight. I was there alone. Doctor Martin was out on a call. Your father happened to be in town and stopped by to say hello. He knew right away that I was not comfortable being alone with Cooper and of course that horrible man had plenty of things to say that day too…Anyway Ben helped me get him bandaged and out the door…” She sighed and then continued. “I asked Ben not to say anything to you about it…I didn’t want to worry you.” Fresh tears filled her eyes. “I’m so sorry.”

Hoss looked into her eyes with understanding and pulled her close. “I’m glad ya told me now. I hope ya trust me enough ta tell me everything from now on. That cowpoke is plum crazy if he thinks I’d believe there was anything between you and Pa, but that don’t mean I want him runnin’ around sayin’ stuff like that ’bout our family.”

A flicker of a smile crossed her lips. “You’re right, of course…about all of it…I think I’m ready to go up to my room now.”

Since it was so late, the hallway was empty when they reached Gabrielle’s room. Hoss took the key from her to unlock the door and push it open for her.

Gabrielle reached out and hugged him tightly. “I just want to be married.” She whispered into his coat.

Hoss breathed into her golden brown hair. “I know darlin’. Me too.” Before parting, his finger gently lifted her chin toward his face and he tenderly touched his lips to hers. “Love ya. Night.”


Chapter 23


Author’s Note: Jamie makes reference to his grandfather which is from the season 13 episode “A Home for Jamie”


Two days later following breakfast, Ben covered Kate’s eyes and carefully led her around the side of the house toward the garden. Mary and Hannah each had one of her hands and were bouncing up and down, so excited to show Kate the work they had accomplished.

“Easy now girls. Aunt Kate needs those arms.” Ben scolded mildly, but the smile on his face betrayed his feelings.

“Where are you taking me girls? Are you trying to get me lost?” Kate played along with the game.

“No! No! We’re almost there!” Mary responded.

After a few more steps, they stopped and Hannah shouted. “Open ywer eyes, Aunt Kate!”

Ben pulled his hand away and watched with pleasure as she took in the newly planted garden.

Kate turned to Mary and Hannah. “Oh my goodness! Did you do this girls?”

“Yep, we planted all the seeds. Uncle Ben helped too.” Mary offered.

Ben gave his dark-haired niece a wink.

Hannah’s blond curls were in motion again, her enthusiasm taking over. “We pwanted carwuts…and cabbudge…and twernups…and peas!”

Kate reached out and brought the girls in for a hug. “That’s wonderful! Thank you both for helping. We will have lots of good vegetables in a few months.”

Ben placed his large hand on Hannah’s golden hair and whispered into Kate’s ear. “They so much wanted to please you.”

With shining eyes, Kate looked up and kissed his cheek. “Thank you.” She whispered back.

Desiring a few minutes alone with his wife, Ben encouraged the girls to get about their morning tasks. “All right girls, I think you have chores to do. Patches and Lucky need tending to.”

“Come on, Hannah. Let’s go. Time to feed the animals.” Mary took the tone of a responsible older sister.

Ben took Kate’s hand as they watched the girls skip off toward the barn. “I’m sure you’re tired of being cooped up inside. Let’s sit on the porch for a bit.”

Kate looked up into the clear blue sky and inhaled the fresh morning air. “Yes… I would like that.”

Ben helped her get settled at the table on the porch and took a seat on the end. “Comfortable?”

“Yes, thank you…” She reached over and placed a hand over his. “That was so sweet of you to help the girls plant the garden. I bet it’s been a while.”

A low rumble came from his chest. “Yes, quite a while.”

Ben took her hand in both of his, rubbing his thumbs over her smooth skin.

“Much softer than they used to be…thanks to you.” Feeling self-conscious, she dropped her head and pulled her hand away placing it in her lap.

He reached down and brought her hand back up onto the table and continued caressing it. “Maybe a little…but you’ve missed working in the garden, haven’t you?”

“Hard work was always part of my life until I married you.”

“Any regrets?”

“None.”

Ben lifted her hand to his lips and protectively kept it cradled on the tabletop.

“After living in this area for the better part of a year, there still times that I’m amazed that you chose me. I’ve seen the way women look at you. You could have had any woman you wanted.”

He frowned and looked intently into her green eyes. “But I didn’t want just any woman, I fell in love with you.”

“A hard-working, sometimes hard-headed rancher’s widow?”

“A woman who appreciates hard work and is willing to speak her mind. Yes…I know there have been a lot of adjustments for you and there are more to come.” He smiled down at her protruding belly.

“Honestly, since the girls have been with us, I’ve missed gardening and cooking and all much less than those first few months right after we were married. I felt a bit lost for a while…but Mary and Hannah have kept me busy…and now with the baby coming I’m sure I will appreciate Hop Sing more than ever.”

Ben’s eyes widened and he nodded. “No doubt…Kate, I’ve been wondering of late how the baby will affect Mary and Hannah.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well Hannah is probably too young yet to think much about it, but Mary doesn’t miss much and it may sound a bit silly, but the baby will be a Cartwright not a Calhoun, not the girls’ brother or sister, but their cousin.

“Yes, that’s true. Is there something wrong with that?”

“No…well I guess I should say what’s been on my mind. Have you ever thought about adopting the girls?”

Kate looked at him not sure what to say. “I guess the thought has crossed my mind a few times but…”

“Yes”

“It’s not that I don’t love them enough to call them my own…it’s just…” Kate was suddenly looking at her lap.

Ben allowed her time to collect her thoughts.

By the time she looked up, ready to continue, there were tears in her eyes. “A part of me says that would be wiping away any memories of Molly and Jim for the girls.”

“I can understand how you might feel that way, and by no means am I trying to push you into anything, but I guess my experience with Jamie would lead me to believe it would be the best for the girls in the long run.”

“How so?”

“Well most importantly, they would legally have a family and be cared for no matter what happened to you since you are their only relative for thousands of miles.”

Kate nodded.

“In a year and a half Mary will be in school. Not having parents can be …challenging. Children can be cruel about such things.”

“Really?”

“Unfortunately, yes. I believe it would give them a sense of security.”

“Hmmm.”

“Once the boys and I decided that we wanted Jamie to be permanently part of our family, I initiated the adoption process, but because he was a teenager, I felt that it was important that he had the final say in the matter. Mary and Hannah, for better or worse, are much too young for such a weighty matter. I’m afraid this is one decision that will be entirely up to you, Kate.”

She looked at him solemnly and nodded her acknowledgement.

Ben and Kate both turned toward the barn when they heard Mary and Hannah’s happy chatter. Lucky was following close at their heels. The dog ran up to Ben, tail wagging. He willingly gave her ears a good scratch.

Leaning down and looking squarely into the wiggling dog’s eyes, he asked. “Well Lucky, girl, did Hannah take good care of you this morning?”

“Yep.” Hannah replied.

When Ben released the dog, the little girl crawled up into his lap. “That’s good, Hannah. You have a very important job to do.”

He hugged her tightly, growling into her neck, and then tickled her sides. Hannah’s infectious giggle soon had everyone laughing. All the laughter caused Lucky to bark and circle the table.

Soon Hop Sing stuck his head out the side door and yelled. “Why dog bark? What all the noise about?”

The commotion died down with his scolding.

Ben called over his shoulder. “We’re just having a little fun, Hop Sing. Nothing to be concerned about!”

He looked at Kate with an ornery grin and tickled Hannah once more. Soon everyone was laughing and the dog was barking. The Chinaman muttered some words in his native tongue and slammed the door behind him.

Ben winked at Kate. “Can’t have him too stuck in his ways.”

She gave him a knowing look. “I believe I know where Joe gets some of his talent for mischief.”

Ben took on an indignant, stodgy air. “I think not!”

Kate cocked her head to the side. “Uh huh.”

Unable to maintain his serious demeanor, he burst out laughing, and just in case she might be feeling left out, Ben pulled Mary in for a hug and tickled her, too. Giggling merrily she squirmed until she was able to duck out of his grasp.

As Kate sat watching Ben playing with the girls, she once again realized how fortunate Mary and Hannah were to be living here at the Ponderosa with them. Though Martha Simmons would have tried her best, Kate shuddered to think of what the girls’ lives would have been like with Pete Simmons as their father. The past few moments had only confirmed in her mind where Hoss got his heart “as big as all outdoors.” Ben was more than able to give the girls everything they needed for a happy, stable life; the most important element being his love.

Later in the day after Jamie got home from school, Kate managed to catch him alone in the barn doing his chores. Assuming it was one of the men of the family or one of the hands entering, Jamie did not bother turning to see who it was as he brushed down Buck.

“Jamie.” Kate called gently hoping not to frighten him.

“Kate? Is everything ok?”

“Yes, yes. Sorry to startle you. Do you have a minute?”

“Sure.” He set the brush on the ledge in the stall and stepped toward her.

Kate rubbed Buck’s nose. “He’s such a beautiful horse.”

Jamie patted Buck’s side. “He sure is.”

“So how was school today?”

“Fine…bought like usual.”

“Good, good.” Kate hesitated.

“Did you really come to the barn to ask me about school?”

She let out an embarrassed sigh. “No. No, I didn’t.”

Kate’s nervousness was making Jamie uncomfortable and he worried a frown. “Did I do something wrong?”

“Oh no, nothing like that.”

“Phfew! That’s good.”

Kate gave him a crooked smile and paused again. Finally she got up the nerve to enter into the conversation that she had intended all along. “I hope you don’t think I’m prying, but I’d like to ask you a few questions about being adopted…That is if you don’t mind.”

“Uhh…sure…Do you want to sit down?” He pointed to the bench along the wall.

“Thanks.”

Jamie joined Kate on the bench. “What do you want to know?”

“Well, Ben told me that he left the final decision about the adoption up to you.”

Jamie nodded. “That’s right.”

“It will be coming up on a year soon, right?”

“Yeah, hadn’t really thought about it, but you’re right.”

“So you’ve been Ben’s son for a while now, I was wondering how that makes you feel about your birth father?”

Jamie looked at the floor trying to gather his thoughts.

“I hope this doesn’t upset you…I guess you should know the reason that I wanted to talk to you. It’s because I am trying to decide whether Ben and I should adopt Mary and Hannah.

Jamie looked up and smiled. “It makes sense that you might have questions…I can still remember my Pa Hunter really well and I guess I’ll always love him because I know he loved me…Mr. Cartwright… I mean Pa…kinda confusing to talk about both of them…anyway, he chose me to be his son and that’s a pretty special thing. It’s great being part of this family…having Hoss and Joe…and Adam, even though I don’t know him as well, for my brothers…I kinda gave em a hard time when I first showed up cause I was used to bein’ on my own, but they still decided they wanted me to stay.”

“So you don’t have any regrets about being adopted?”

Without hesitation, Jamie responded. “Oh, no ma’am. I’m proud to be a Cartwright.”

That’s wonderful, Jamie! I’m very happy for you.”

Kate grew quiet, engrossed in her own thoughts. She rose and looked away from Jamie.

“Did I answer your questions alright, Kate?…Kate?”

“Huh…Oh yes.” She turned back to face him. “Sorry. Just lost in my thoughts.”

“That’s ok…Are you worried about adopting Mary and Hannah?”

“I guess it shows, doesn’t it?”

“Maybe a little.”

“I just don’t want the girls to forget their parents, ummm, my sister Molly and her husband Jim. It makes me sad to think that Hannah probably doesn’t remember them already, and I wonder whether Mary will forget them as time goes by.”

“Yeah, that’s a hard thing. I don’t remember my Ma at all cause I was only two when she died, but my Pa Hunter told me a lot about her and I met her Pa, my Grandpa Callahan, for the first time not long ago…Now, there’s a story, but I’ll tell you about that some other time…You know, Kate, even if you adopt the Mary and Hannah, you can still tell them about their Ma and Pa…so they know where they came from and all. Pa never gets upset when I talk about my Pa Hunter. I think he understands about those things because of what he went through, you know, losing his wives and all. He knows it’s good to talk about people that are important to you.”

Surprised by his insight, Kate’s face brightened. “You know, Jamie, you’re absolutely right. How did you get to be so smart?”

He wagged his wavy, red head back and forth. “Gosh, I don’t know.”

Kate laughed. “You’ve been a big help. Thanks for letting me ask you some hard questions.”

“Ahh, they weren’t too tough. And you’re welcome.”

“I’d better let you get back to your chores. Don’t want you in trouble with your Pa because of me.”

“That’s ok. It’ll be fine.”

“Is it ok if I give you a hug before I leave?”

“Uhh..Sure.”

Jamie rose and awkwardly opened his arms to Kate. She hugged the teenager tightly and then placed her hands on his shoulders.

Being almost the same height as her stepson, Kate looked directly into his blue eyes. “Thanks again for everything. See you at supper.”

“Yep. You’re welcome.”

Kate moved toward the barn door and then turned around. “Oh, Jamie, please do me a favor and don’t say anything to the girls about adoption for the time being.”

“You bet.”

Jamie smiled as he went back to brushing the large buckskin. Mary and Hannah were already like sisters in many ways. “Well Buck, I guess we’ll see what happens. Could be a lotta new Cartwrights in this family real soon.”


Chapter 24


With spring arriving in earnest, the ranch was a very busy place. The Cartwright men divided their time between their usual ranching responsibilities, like moving cattle from winter grazing land onto warm weather pastures and branding new calves, and working on the Hoss and Gabrielle’s house. The heavy work load brought Ben back into the regular flow of activity more than he had been in the past two years. Though Kate saw a lot less of her husband and Ben often came home very tired and sore to the point of requesting an evening back rub from his wife, this rhythm of life had the comfortable feel of days gone by. Kate and Gabrielle were spending several hours a week together working on curtains for the new house. Hop Sing generously shared some of his cooking knowledge with the bride to be, and much to Gabrielle’s relief also arranged for the daughter of one of his cousin’s to offer some help for the newlyweds. The days flowed one into the next as the month of May rapidly disappeared.

One evening following a very busy day, Kate was sitting up in bed reading when Ben finally came upstairs after finishing some book work. He was moving rather slowly as he gingerly shrugged out of his vest and began to unbutton his gray shirt. He let out a low moan as he removed his shirt and draped it over the chair beside the bed.

Kate closed her book and patted the bed. “Come here, my dear. If you go to bed without letting me work out some of those knots, you’ll be as stiff as a board in the morning.”

Ben sat down on the bed. “Thanks. This is becoming a nightly ritual. The warm bath helped for a while, but now I’m stiffening up again.” He leaned over to give her a kiss and stopped short with a groan.

“A few minutes of work on your back and I’ll take that kiss. Why don’t you get the lavender oil off my dresser.”

Ben frowned. “You’ll have me smelling like a woman!”

“Suit yourself, but it always helps my aches and pains.” She reached around him and ran a hand up through the thick hair on his chest while a hint of a smile played on her lips. “I don’t think anyone will mistake you for a woman, at least not any woman I’ve ever known.”

Ben chuckled. “Oh alright.”

He pushed himself up off the bed and returned holding a small bottle with a lavender frond secured by a white ribbon. Kate let a few drops fall into her cupped palm. After rubbing her hands together she began working on Ben’s lower back.”

“Ohhh, now that feels good.”

He leaned back into her hands to give her more leverage. Kate stopped long enough to pour a few more drops into her hand and then worked farther up his back. He continued to make sounds of quiet satisfaction.

She leaned against him and patted his back when she finished. Better?”

He turned around and gave her a kiss. “Yes, much. Thanks. In a few months, you may be asking me to return the favor.”

“Most likely. I still have over three months to go and I’m already starting to look like an old cow.”

“Oh now Kate. You look beautiful.”

“Well I’m glad you think so.”

“I don’t just think so, I know so.”

“Thank you…Well anyway, just a few more weeks and Hoss and Gabrielle will be married. Then the work load will ease up a bit for you.”

“True. My aching back is looking forward to that. I thought I was working hard as Ben Brown. That boss of mine was a real slave driver. But these past few weeks have made that look like a picnic!” He paused and gave her a quirk of a smile.

Ben jumped when Kate poked him in the side and complained. “Hey now. You just got the kinks out of my back. Don’t go making more…What I really need is to get that son of mine…” Looking embarrassed, Ben stopped short. He reached back and squeezed her hand. “I mean ours…son of ours…married.”

“It’s ok. Really. We’ve not even been married a year and you were alone for so many.”

“Yes, but I want us to be one happy family no matter when certain members received the Cartwright name…And besides, you’ve been working hard, too, helping Gabrielle get things ready for the house.”

“Oh pshaw, it doesn’t seem much like work because we are having so much fun. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

“Regardless, after this wedding, our focus will be on you and the baby.”

Kate grew quiet.

“Is something wrong?”

“Oh, no, I was thinking about what you said about taking on the Cartwright name. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what you…and Jamie said about adopting the girls and I’ve come to a decision…Once the wedding is behind us, I would like to begin the adoption process.”

“You’re sure?”

She nodded. “I think it would be best for the girls.”

Ben nodded his approval. “Then it’s settled. The Cartwright family will increase by four within the next few months.”

The next two weeks passed by quickly. There was a flurry of activity on the Ponderosa with Adam’s family arriving the Wednesday before the wedding, and then Gabrielle’s father, Louis Armand, and her brother Marc’s family coming into Virginia City from Boston the following day. Though Louis had tried to persuade his oldest son to leave the shipping company in the capable hands of one of their assistants, Tom chose to remain in Boston. Gabrielle was disappointed not to have Tom and his family at the wedding, but she was thankful that the others were willing to make the long trip west. She chose Marc’s seven-year old daughter Patrice along with Adam and Cecille’s Elizabeth to be flower girls for the ceremony; so there were last minute dress fittings with Clara to make certain that the girls would look their best for the special occasion.

Adam could not wait to see how his plans for Hoss and Gabrielle’s house had taken shape in wood and stone. Hoss, too, was excited to show his brother the finished product, but he also wanted everything to be in perfect order when he brought his new wife to their new home following their honeymoon in San Francisco. And he was certain that his father would bring the Armands out to inspect the house, as well. As the first streaks of gold were breaking onto the dark sky, the morning before the big event, Adam and Hoss rode out to the new house. When they got within about fifty yards, they reined up their horses. Placing his hands on the pommel, Hoss shifted his bulky frame in the saddle and took in his new home with a satisfied smile. Adam’s smile was equal to his younger brother’s.

“Looks good, don’t it, Adam?”

“Better than I ever imagined. What does Gabrielle think?”

“Oh she loves the house. She and Kate been decoratin’ up a storm…It ain’t the house that worries me…Do you think she’ll really be happy here? I mean in Nevada.”

“She has said that she will. Every marriage has some bumps in the beginning, but most importantly she loves you and you love her.”

“Brother, that’s a fact. Gosh, Adam, I never knew I could love any gal so much.”

Adam gave his brother a reassuring smile. “Then it sounds like all is as it should be. It may be difficult to understand, but I think I love Ceci more now than I did the day we married. Marriage is a wonderful thing. I wish Gabrielle and you years and years of happiness. Just let me know when you’re ready to put on the addition for all the little ones you two are going to have.”

Hoss let out a hearty laugh. “I’d like that. I just hope if they’re gals, they’re as pretty as their mama, and if they’re boys, well, let’s just hope they’re smarter than me.”

“What do you mean? You got the second most beautiful woman in the world to marry you. Brother, that’s about as smart as it gets.”

Hoss burst out in laughter again. “Yeah, guess you’re right at that.” Hoss gave his horse a pat on the neck. “Well, Chubb, old buddy, this is gonna be your new home real soon.” Chubb nickered in agreement.

The brothers urged their mounts up to the hitching rail by the house. As they headed toward the front door, something looked amiss to Hoss, but the shadow created by the porch partially obscured his view. The problem became obvious when their feet hit the steps.

Adam looked on in disbelief. “What the he…”

Hoss’ face went hard as he ran his hand over the marred front door. Though the lock was intact, it appeared that the door had been vandalized with a running iron. The letter ‘C’ with an ‘X’ over it had been crudely burned into the beautifully finished oak panel.

It was only seconds before Hoss growled his conclusion. “Cooper.”

“Cooper who?”

“Oh he’s this no account drifter of a cowpoke that’s bothered Gabbie a couple of times…It’s just gotta be him. I’m gonna take it outta his worthless hide!”

Hoss turned abruptly toward his horse, but Adam reached out and grabbed him firmly by the shirt sleeve.

“Now hold up, Hoss. We’ve got to think this through. Don’t forget you are getting married tomorrow. We can’t have Pa and Joe all riled up because we don’t have time to be gallivanting all over the countryside looking for some piece of scum.”

Hoss let out a sigh of frustration as Adam released his grip. “Then what are we gonna do? This has gotta be fixed and I gotta make sure nothin’ else happens.”

“You let me worry about the repair. Even though the lock looks fine, we had better check inside and make sure everything is ok.”

Hoss hesitated a few seconds, but nodded and then quickly opened the lock. They entered the house and went from room to room checking to make sure that nothing had been disturbed or God forbid, destroyed. Confident that everything was as it should be, Hoss locked the door behind them and they began to scour the perimeter of the house for signs of the perpetrator. About thirty feet behind the house they found where the fire had been built to heat the iron. With so many men and horses having been in the area around the house over the past two months, it was difficult to distinguish the tracks. After scrutinizing the ground right around the ashes, Hoss noticed a boot print that was significant. The left boot heel of someone who had been standing around the fire had an identifiable wedge in it.

The brothers returned to the front of the house and prepared to mount up.

Hoss looked back over his shoulder toward the front door. “Guess I’ll hafta get Roy involved after all, though a little crease in a boot heel sure ain’t much to go on.”

“Like I said. You let me worry about this. You’ve got enough on your mind. I already have a plan for the door.”

“Really?”

Adam smiled and slapped Hoss on the shoulder. “Yes. It was going to be your wedding gift anyway. Now I’ll just make a little adjustment.”

“Thanks, Adam. Guess I’m still dependin’ on my older brother to bail me out of a fix.”

“That’s what family is for. Now we’re going to ride back like nothing has happened. I will fill Pa and Joe in on everything once the festivities are over and the time is right. We’re going to get you married tomorrow and no idiot like Cooper or anybody else is going to mess it up.”

Hoss’ blue eyes brightened as he nodded and got up into the saddle. The part Adam was leaving out was that he had designed a large metal plaque with the letter “C” and the pine tree brand on it highlighted with silver plate. He had intended it to be hung over a fireplace, but now calculated that it would be just the right size to cover the damage to the front door.

The brothers rode at an easy canter. When they got to the barn, Adam went in search of Smokey while Hoss put up the horses. The long-time faithful cow hand was instructed to put round the clock, rotating guards at the new house. Whoever was on duty was to be totally hidden from view. No fires were to be lit. Adam had a feeling that whoever was responsible for the juvenile type behavior would probably be back in a few days to make another attempt at causing more damage. His final instructions were to have the buckboard hitched and ready to go within the next thirty minutes.

The rest of the family was still sitting at the breakfast table when Adam and Hoss entered the house.

“We were wondering about you two. Pre-wedding jitters affecting your appetite, son?” Ben let out a low chuckle.

Hoss forced his worries to the background. “Nope! Wanted Adam to see the house.” He clapped his hands together. “I could eat a buffalo. Hope y’all didn’t eat everything.”

Joe looked at the platters still laden with food. “I’d say there’s just about the right amount left for you, Big Brother.”

Adam jumped into the verbal fray. “Guess I’m out of luck.”

His comment brought on a round of laughter. The older brothers took their seats and began filling their plates.

Ben looked at his oldest son. “Are you pleased with the house, Adam?”

Adam held up a piece of bacon. “Even better than I had hoped. It’s always gratifying to see my work in more than paper and ink…By the way, how soon are we heading into town?” He smiled warmly at Hoss. “I need a little over an hour for some wedding gift preparation.”

“We are planning to meet the Armands around three for drinks and I believe dinner is at five.” Ben offered.

“Sounds good. I will plan accordingly.” Adam gave Hoss a wink.

Ben picked up on the trace of uncertainty that crossed Hoss’ face, but decided not to ask any questions for the moment. Cecille gave her husband a questioning look since he had not previously mentioned this. Adam answered back with reassuring eyes and a gentle pat on the arm.

“Can I help, Papa?” Benji asked hoping to delay getting dressed in his fancy knee pants and vest.

“I’m afraid not, son. Some other time.”

Never happy to be left out of a secret, Joe offered. “I’d be glad to help you out, Adam.”

“Thanks all the same, but I’ve got it covered.”

Adam’s face suddenly took on that look of days gone by that meant there would be no further discussion of the matter.

Sensing the tension, Kate interjected. “Well there’s nothing wrong with a surprise for Hoss and Gabrielle. Sounds like fun to me.”

Adam rose from his chair. “Thank you, Kate. Now if you will excuse me, I will get about my business.”

He headed for the stairs with Cecille only a few steps behind him. Benji and Elizabeth were quickly out of their seats, but Ben called them back to the table. In their room, Cecille closed the door behind them.

“Are you going to explain? You never mentioned anything about mounting the plaque for Gabbie and Hoss and why would you not let Benji go along?”

“Ceci, it’s a fairly involved story and I don’t want to worry you.”

“You are worrying me by leaving me in the dark. What is going on? I get the impression that there is much more involved than just hanging the plaque over their fireplace.”

“Cec, I just need you to trust me for a little while because I don’t want to burden you unnecessarily. I can tell Pa already suspects something. Everything will be fine.”

“Alright, Adam. If that is what you want.”

Adam placed his hands on her upper arms and kissed her cheek. “Thank you, sweetheart. I won’t be gone long.”

He hesitated knowing his next actions would cause his wife even more concern, but he also did not want to be caught unprepared in the case of trouble at the new house. Adam then retrieved his gun belt from his trunk and strapped it on before picking up a flat crate that was leaning against the wall. In the barn he collected a few tools and loaded them on the buckboard. At the new house, he mounted the striking plaque on the front door covering the damaged area. Satisfied with the results of his labors, he rode back to the main house and arrived back by midmorning.

Soon the entire family was finely dressed for their dinner with the Armands and on their way to town. After dropping the Cartwright clan in front of the Palace Hotel, Joe and Jamie took care of getting the surrey and single mounts to the livery. Claiming to have one last errand before the wedding, Adam quickly excused himself at the door of the hotel. He made sure to detour away from the sheriff’s office until everyone had entered.

“Well Adam Cartwright. It’s been quite awhile.” Roy Coffee gave Adam’s hand a firm squeeze. “Back in town for the big day I assume.”

“Yes, Roy. Good to see you. Finally going to get that big lug of a brother of mine married off.”

“From what I’ve seen of his gal, he’s one lucky fellow.” The sheriff winked and clapped Adam on the back.

“That he is. Of course I can hardly say anything otherwise about my sister-in-law twice over.”

Roy chuckled. “Never really thought about, but that’s true, for sure and for certain.”

“Uh Roy, I wish that I could say this was strictly a social call, but I’m afraid that I need to make you aware of a situation that’s come up.”

“Really? Now what could that be? Surely Hoss hasn’t gone missing.”

Adam forced a chuckle. “No, the groom is over at the Palace as we speak, probably quaking in his boots as he is meeting more of the bride’s family.” Adam cleared his throat. “Seriously, though, are you familiar with a cow hand by the name of Jase Cooper?”

Coffee’s bushy eyebrows went up in surprise. “Now what in the world would you know about that no good saddle tramp?”

Adam went on to explain the full extent of his visit. “So now you can understand why I didn’t want to stir up a hornet’s nest right before the wedding, but yet something needs to be done.”

“I sure wish Hoss had come to me about his problems with Cooper a while ago. Woulda saved a whole lotta headaches.”

“You’re probably right about that. Well I’m afraid I’ve got to get to the hotel. I’ll be in town until Monday. Please let me know if anything comes up.”

“I’ll do that.” Guess I’ll see you then tomorrow for the big event.” The sheriff offered Adam his hand in parting.

“Look forward to it. Thanks, Roy.”

When Adam arrived at the private dining room at the hotel, he was pleased to find the adults engrossed in conversation and children behaving well. He slipped in beside his wife who was visiting with her brother Marc and his wife Suzette, Hoss and Gabrielle.

Marc Armand was tall and lean like his father, Louis, and offered a pleasant greeting at seeing his brother-in-law for the first time in many months. “Adam, good to see you. We were wondering about you.”

“Marc, Suzette, and the bride, good to see you.” Adam took Armand’s hand and then kissed both Suzette and Gabrielle on the cheek. “Sorry I’m late. Just a few last minute details that needed cared for before tomorrow.” Adam smiled as he looked at his children chattering away with Patrice and Marc Armand II. “I see that the cousins are enjoying catching up.”

“Benji and Elizabeth have grown so much since we last saw them. This western air must be good for them.” Suzette commented.

“Yes. Well you can see what our fine western air did for my brother.” Adam motioned toward Hoss.

Marc turned to Hoss as he spoke. “Father told us that Gabbie was marrying an impressive man, and that is definitely the case. We cannot thank you enough for what you did for our father. You demonstrated exceptional courage and he will never forget that.”

Hoss found himself fighting a blush and nodded his appreciation for the kind words. Gabrielle took his arm when she sensed he was uncomfortable with the attention.

“Excuse me everyone.” Ben interrupted the conversations. “I believe our meal is ready. So if you would please take your seats we will get things under way.”

After everyone was seated, the servers poured champagne for the adults. Ben raised his glass and proposed a toast.

“I would like to formally welcome the Armand family to Virginia City for this very special occasion. Please raise your glass for Gabrielle and Hoss. We could not be happier for the two of you and here’s to a marvelous celebration tomorrow. Cheers!”

There were ‘cheers’ all around. Following the delicious meal, Joe moved behind his big brother’s chair and grabbed his shoulders before making an announcement.

“Ladies, you have to excuse the gentlemen. I think my big brother probably needs a little liquid courage for the big event tomorrow.” Joe gave his audience a cheeky grin. “All the men are invited to the Silver Dollar to give Hoss a proper farewell from bachelorhood.”

“Jamie and I will need to see the women and children back to the ranch. Joseph, you just make certain that you get your brother home in good shape.” Ben gave Joe a stern look.

Joe saluted. “Will do, Pa.”

“Thank you for the invitation, Joe, but I will bow out as well. I have faith that Hoss will make the transition to married life quite well.” Louis Armand added.

Ben’s expression softened with Louis’ kind sentiment. Joe began to wrestle his brother out of his seat.

“Just gimme a second Short Shanks. This is the last time I get ta say goodnight ta Miss Gabrielle Armand.” Hoss gazed lovingly at his fiancée. Gabrielle smiled sweetly at her big man. Hoss’ words brought tears to the eyes of the women in the room.

However, Joe’s eyes were bright with mischief. “Oh alright you two, but don’t be too long brother. You’ll have all the time in the world for that mushy stuff after tomorrow.”

Heads dropped and there was quiet laughter around the table. Hoss frowned at his younger brother, and then stood and offered Gabrielle his hand. It was a warm evening for the beginning of June, so they stepped outside. Gabrielle’s lovely, spring green, satin gown swished as they walked arm in arm down the boardwalk. Finding a quiet spot, they stepped to the side. Hoss took Gabrielle’s delicate hands in his own. He placed a gentle kiss on her fingers and then pulled her close.

He spoke into her soft, golden brown hair. “Guess this is it, darlin’. No turnin’ back now. Are ya ready ta be Mrs. Hoss Cartwright? Cept I guess tomorrow the preacher will call me Eric.”

Gabrielle snuggled into his chest. “Eric or Hoss, it does not matter. I could not be any more ready to be married.”

“Me neither. Just kinda want all the hoopla ta be done and get ta bein’ husband and wife. But just thinkin’ bout seein’ ya comin’ down the aisle at church tomorrow…well I can’t wait…”

Gabrielle’s eyes began to glisten at the honesty of his feelings. She touched his cheek lightly and stood on her tip toes to kiss his lips.

“Not that I want ta say goodnight, but we probly better get back…” He whispered her name. “I love ya more than I kin ever say.”

Hoss tipped her chin and leaned down to place a gentle kiss on lips which he held for a moment. Then he took her arm and they headed back toward the hotel.


Chapter 25


After the party guests dispersed, Jamie went to the livery and then drove the surrey up in front of the Palace with his horse tied on the back. Soon the surrey was rolling slowly along in the dark with Ben at the reins. Jamie stayed near on Rainmaker. For a time, Mary, Hannah, Benji, and Elizabeth kept everyone entertained with their singing, counting and reciting of the alphabet. Hannah, who was sitting between Ben and Kate, was the first to succumb to the lazy clip-clop of the horses. With very little room on Kate’s lap these days, Ben brought his arm around the tired little girl and laid her head on his leg. Cecille was holding Elizabeth with Benji and Mary on either side. It was not long before all was quiet in the back seat as well. The sliver of a moon allowed Ben to catch a glimpse of his daughter-in-law engulfed in sleeping children. His soft chuckle caused Kate to glance at him. When he did not say what had amused him, she whispered to him.

“A penny for your thoughts.”

“Oh I was just thinking back to the days when the boys and I would ride home after a full day in town. Joe’s head would usually end up in my lap just like Hannah’s is now. Adam would be pushing Hoss to sit up because he was already a load back then to have leaning on your shoulder…Then I was thinking about us here tonight and all the changes that have taken place since those days…Adam and Cecille’s marriage, Benji and Elizabeth, Jamie…marrying you…then Mary and Hannah coming, Adam’s family moving to San Francisco… And now in less than twenty-four hours, we will have another daugher-in-law in the family…then it’s only a few months until our little one comes…This is what life is about. Family. I am a very blessed man.” Ben breathed out a contented sigh with his summation.

Though he could not tell, Kate’s eyes were glistening as she spoke. “I don’t think either one of us could have ever imagined all this a year ago. I’m also very blessed to be part of this family.”

With no concern for what his daughter-in-law might think, Ben leaned over and kissed Kate’s cheek.

Cecille remained silent, but there was a faint smile on her lips. She stroked Elizabeth and Benji, thanking God for her children and Adam. She looked down at Mary, who was leaning heavily on her right arm. Even though at times Mary and Benji had been at odds, Cecille was thankful for Mary and Hannah’s sake that Ben and Kate were able to take them in. The love of the Cartwright family had been extended to many through the years. Cecille included herself among them, and she was fully cognizant of how their love helped to bring about reconciliation with her own father. For that she would be forever grateful.

Back at the Silver Dollar, Joe and Adam were buying rounds of drinks for the house in honor of Hoss. Though Adam attempted to make Marc Armand feel comfortable in the rustic setting of a Virginia City saloon, after two drinks the bride’s brother gave Hoss his best wishes and called it an evening. Many in the saloon were more than willing to offer Hoss their advice about women, especially when lubricated with alcohol. There were lots of jokes and stories. Occasionally, Hoss’ big guffaw could be heard over the top of the crowd, but he was careful not to over-indulge. Adam came to his aid by holding his hand over his brother’s glass when someone brandishing a bottle became too persistent.

It was late when the three brothers began to make their way back to the ranch. At first there was a lot of reminiscing of days gone by. They each spoke briefly about their near misses at married life. Joe expressed his frustration at not having a lady in his life. Both Adam and Hoss encouraged him to be patient, and reassured him that the right woman was definitely worth the wait. Their conversation dwindled the nearer they got to home, but there was a comfortable unity and comradery in the silence that the Cartwright brothers had not experienced for many years. When they reached the barn, Joe offered to put up Chubb for Hoss, joking that he had already robbed his big brother of enough sleep before his special day.

Despite the late hour when his head hit his pillow, Hoss was up with the sun. Ben noticed that the door to his middle son’s room was open as he moved toward the stairs. Since the breakfast table was unoccupied, Ben headed for the barn. Happy whistling could be heard as he neared the barn door. Ben hooked his thumbs in his pockets and stood for a moment and to watch Hoss brushing down his horse. Ben fully understood how the comforts of routine could help to calm one’s nerves. He wondered if that were the case for Hoss.

“Morning Hoss.” Ben offered as he moved closer.

“Oh, mornin’ Pa.”

“You’re awfully chipper this morning. You would think there was something special happening today.” Ben looked rather smug after finishing his statement.

Hoss chuckled, but then responded sincerely. “Yeah, guess it’s ’bout the most special day of my life so far.”

“One that you will never forget…nor will I.” Ben’s voice faded away. He kicked some loose straw with the toe of his boot.

They were both quiet for a bit before Hoss paused the brushing and spoke. “You ain’t sad, are ya Pa?”

Ben’s head jerked up. “Who me?” He smacked his hands on his stomach. “I may actually get enough food now to put some meat on these old bones.” Then he let loose with a slightly forced laugh.

“Yeah, reckon you and Joe and Jamie will be eatin’ hearty til Hop Sing gets used ta me not bein’ around.” This time it was Hoss’ voice that faded to a whisper. He went back to brushing Chubb with long, slow, thoughtful strokes.

Ben came up and placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. Hoss stopped his work, but kept his back to his father when tears began to fill his eyes.

Ben sensed the emotional tension. “We will all miss you, but no son, I’m not sad. Change is always challenging even when the change is good. I’m not losing you, but gaining a daughter. And you are going to make a wonderful husband and hopefully someday a father.” He gave Hoss’ shoulder a firm squeeze. “Son, I hope you know how proud I am of you and so very happy for you and Gabrielle. She is a fine woman and I wish you both a world of happiness.”

Hoss turned around and engulfed his father in an embrace. “Thanks, Pa. That means a lot ta me.”

After Hoss released him, Ben quickly wiped a tear with the back of hand, and then blustered. “Well hurry up now and get finished with Chubb. Hop Sing has a breakfast feast planned for this morning and you don’t dare keep him waiting!”

Hoss smiled a big toothy grin. “Hot diggity! I’ll only be a minute.”

True to Ben’s description, Hop Sing prepared a fabulous morning meal to sustain the family until the afternoon’s reception. With all the excitement and light-hearted conversation, Kate finally had to shoo the family from the table to get dressed for the wedding. Soon they were on their way into Virginia City. With everyone dressed in their best, even the horses seemed to be strutting proudly for the occasion.

The church was filled to capacity with guests whose expectant chatter floated about the sanctuary. Dressed in their finest suits, Hoss and his brothers were seated on the front pew awaiting the moment when the organist would begin the processional. Hoss was about to ask Adam again for the time when Reverend Thomas rose and motioned for the groom and his brothers to stand. Elizabeth and Patrice looked very sweet as they came down the aisle in their flowing white dresses with tiny wild flowers in their hair, and carrying large baskets filled with roses and lilies. They took there places opposite the Cartwright men. Next came Cecille looking elegant in her deep rose-colored gown with her dark hair pulled up and secured with an expensive jeweled comb.

The organist played several chords as a fanfare to which Reverend Thomas responded by raising his arms to indicate that the congregation should stand. Gabrielle and Louis Armand appeared in the doorway at the rear of the church. Armand was the picture of sophistication; tall and slim with a neatly trimmed mustache, sporting gray pinstriped long coat and pants. However, nothing Hoss had imagined had prepared him for the sight of Gabrielle coming down the aisle on the arm of her father. Her stunningly fashionable wedding gown was made even more striking by her natural beauty. There was an audible response from the congregation. Kate was not the only woman who brought a hand to her lips in awe. Gabrielle’s ivory satin gown was adorned with pink, burgundy, and purple silk flowers lining the wide “V” neckline of a form-fitting bodice that further emphasized her tiny waist. Over the full skirt cascaded heavy lace that was drawn into a swag on her left hip and ornamented with more silk flowers. The floral headpiece woven into her in golden brown tresses held a delicate lace veil which flowed gracefully down her back and met the long train of her skirt. Hoss could not take his eyes off his bride. It was not until the minister spoke to begin the ceremony that the Hoss seemed to be aware of anyone else in the room.

“Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”

Louis Armand responded confidently. “Her father.”

He kissed his daughter’s cheek and offered her hand to her expectant groom. Almost afraid to touch Gabrielle for fear of breaking the magical spell, Hoss hesitated before reaching out to take her hand. As the couple turned toward him, Reverend Thomas asked the guests to be seated and he proceeded with the ceremony. Ben’s face was glowing with pride as he watched Hoss and Gabrielle exchange their vows and then as his large son carefully placed an intricately engraved gold band on his bride’s finger.

“By the authority granted to me by the state of Nevada I now pronounce you man and wife.” Reverend Thomas gave Hoss a reassuring smile. “Eric, the moment you’ve been waiting for has come. You may now kiss your bride.”

Hoss tenderly took Gabrielle into his arms and kissed her sealing their love and commitment to each other. Tears were flowing freely among the guests as they witnessed the big man’s gentleness and genuine love for his wife. Ben leaned over and kissed his wife’s temple remembering their blessed day.

Giving way to the familiar, Thomas went on to announce the couple to the congregation. “And now I am most happy to present you Mr. and Mrs. Hoss Cartwright.”

There were cheers and then applause. Both families quickly converged on the newlyweds to offer their congratulations. Joe sneaked out the side door of the church while more guests came forward to give their best wishes to Hoss and Gabrielle.

The crowd “oohed” and “aahed” as Joe drove a brightly polished white carriage pulled by a majestic pair of Friesians up in front of the church. The guests, who were lining both sides of the front door, clapped and cheered as Gabrielle and Hoss moved carefully out of the church and down the steps toward the carriage. Joe bowed and extended his hand to help the beaming bride up into the fancy rig as Hoss strode to the opposite side. A wide grin covered his face as he took a seat beside his wife. The crowd closed in around the carriage while Hoss pulled his beautiful bride into a tight embrace and gave her lengthy kiss. Family and friends reacted with a mighty cheer, then Gabrielle tossed her bouquet into the waving arms of some young ladies. The couple waved to the throng while Joe drove through the streets of Virginia City. The families and close friends began to make there way to the Palace Hotel for the wedding celebration.

In the shadows not far from the church, three men had been watching the festivities. Jase Cooper forcefully threw down a stub of a cigarette and ground it to shreds with the heel of his boot. The joyful expressions of the Cartwright family left him wondering whether anyone had seen the “gift ” he and his buddies had left for the newlyweds. Cooper motioned for his friends to follow. Soon they were on their horses heading toward the Ponderosa.

After Adam’s visit the previous afternoon, Sheriff Coffee had quietly made it known at the saloons, liveries, and barbershops that he was on the lookout for Cooper. The sheriff was not surprised when a swamper from the Bucket of Blood came up to him and Deputy Clem Foster while they were walking to the reception. The lawmen were informed that Jase Cooper and two men had been in the saloon and were now riding out of town in the direction of the Ponderosa.

“I’ve got this, Roy. You’ve known the Cartwrights much longer than me. Maybe this Cooper guy will play out his hand sooner rather than later and then I can get back before the party’s over.” The deputy gave the sheriff a wry smile.

“Be careful, Clem. Make sure you send for me if you need me.” Roy grasped Foster’s shoulder.

“Will do.”

Inside the hotel, Louis Armand welcomed family and friends to the wedding reception. Armand had spared no expense for the celebration of his daughter’s wedding, including hiring a string quartet. Though there had been a time not long ago when Cecille and Gabrielle would have thought he was only flaunting his wealth in the face of the “less fortunate”, the look in their father’s eyes told them that now it was done purely as a demonstration of his love. It was a truly lovely event.

Having seen the entire Cartwright family along with Sheriff Coffee and Deputy Foster in town Jase Cooper figured that it was the perfect time to pay a visit to Hoss and Gabrielle’s house. Cooper also assumed that most, if not all, of the Ponderosa ranch hands were enjoying a day off, so he and his buddies rode up to the new house as bold as brass. Furious when he saw the handsome plaque that was now covering his running iron handiwork, Cooper turned away from the house and scanned the area for some good sized rocks.

He voiced a raspy laugh and clapped his friends on the back. “Well now, we’re jest gonna give Mr. and Mrs. Cartwright somthin’ a little better for a weddin’ gift, ain’t we boys.”

All three men grabbed a rock in each hand.

“I’m jest gonna put a couple a dents in that nice metal doodad on the door while you two take care of the windows.” Cooper instructed.

The threesome strode closer to the porch and were about to take aim when a man shouted from left.

“Hold it there or you’re all gonna be missin’ some fingers!”

Smokey and Gypsum, the hands from the Ponderosa, were at the corners of the house with rifles pointed at the three troublemakers.

“You better drop them rocks now.” Smokey called out from the right.”

The culprits dropped there rocks and held their arms out to the side. The guards moved in closer.

“Now your guns. One atta time startin’ with you on the this end.” Gypsum pointed with his rifle.

Three revolvers fell to the ground, one after the other.

“Hey this was all Cooper’s idee. He’s the one that took the iron to the door. Weren’t me.”

Cooper hissed at his ‘friend’. “Shut up, ya fool.”

Hoofbeats could be heard in the distance.

Smokey’s lips curled into a smile. “Well that’s right good ta know, mister, cause I’m pretty certain that’s Deputy Foster acomin’ in.”

Clem Foster and his assistant deputy rode up and dismounted behind Smokey and Gypsum.

“Well now. What do we have here?” Foster was sizing up the three scroungy saddle tramps being held at gunpoint.

“Caught these three ’bout ta bash the windows with rocks.” Smokey gestured with his rifle. “Cept this one said that Cooper was the one who took the running iron to the door.”

Hoping to have the law go easier on him, Cooper’s other sidekick chimed in and pointed a thumb at the instigator. “That’s right. This were all his idee.”

Realizing it was pointless to say anything, Jase Cooper just scowled and spit on the ground. Foster’s assistant pulled some ropes from his saddle bag and tossed one to the deputy.

Foster began tying Jase Cooper’s hands while speaking to Smokey and Gypsum. “Appreciate your help boys. Now if you wouldn’t mind grabbin’ their horses, we’ll just be on our way back to town.” Cooper winced as the deputy gave an extra tug on the knot to make sure it was secure.

Hoping to give Hoss the good news before he left town on his honeymoon, Clem Foster headed straight to the Palace after locking the prisoners in jail. Strains of music filled the air of the hall as the deputy entered. Hoss and Gabrielle were among the couples on the dance floor. Foster spotted Roy Coffee sitting at a table chatting with Doc Martin and other friends. Clem pulled the Sheriff aside discreetly and filled him in on what had transpired. Adam was dancing with Cecille and noticed when Clem came in. As soon as the current song ended, Adam escorted Cecille to the table to get some punch and excused himself for a few minutes. He made his way over to where the lawmen were chatting.

Adam offered Deputy Foster his hand. “Clem, glad you made it back for the remainder of the celebration.”

Roy Coffee motioned them to a quiet corner to relay the news about Cooper in private. “Adam, you’ll be glad to know that Clem’s got that hoodlum, Cooper, and his buddies locked up in the jail.”

Adam gave them one of his best smiles. “That is excellent news. Did you get them to confess?”

Foster picked up the conversation to explain the details. “They were about to bash the windows at Hoss’ house when your ranch hands caught ’em. Cooper hasn’t been talking but his cohorts in crime sure did. We’ve got enough on ’em to keep ’em in jail until Hoss gets back. So do you want to be the one to give your brother the news?”

“I most certainly do, but please keep this under your hats until tomorrow, if you don’t mind. I wouldn’t want to spoil the mood of the party.” Adam slapped the sheriff and his deputy on the arm.

Roy Coffee’s mustache twitched in a smile. “Will do. Great party, by the way. Your father-in-law definitely knows how ta throw a celebration.”

“Thanks, Roy. Why don’t the two of you go grab some punch. Who knows, maybe you might even get to dance with the bride. That is if Hoss hasn’t broken all her toes by now!” Adam left the lawmen chuckling.

The dancing continued a while longer, but soon Cecille accompanied Gabrielle from the hall up to her room to get changed into her traveling suit. The newlyweds were taking the late train as far as Sacramento for their first night and traveling on to San Francisco the following day. Adam approached Hoss just as soon as the ladies left the area.

“I’ve got some good news for you, Hoss. Clem Foster brought in Jase Cooper and friends this afternoon. They are locked up in jail. Apparently Cooper’s buddies are squealing like stuck pigs.”

Hoss wanted to laugh, but truthfully he was just relieved. The whole business with Cooper had been bothering him greatly and now he finally felt as though he could relax.

“That’s really good news, Adam. I know it probly wouldn’t have happened without ya takin’ care of everything. Thanks.”

“What’s an older brother good for if he doesn’t watch your back. Besides, I have twice the vested interest in this marriage, and I am sure I will get an earful from my wife when I break the news tomorrow.”

This time Hoss did laugh, but it was tempered by the knowledge that he too would soon be answering to his own wife.

When Gabrielle and Cecille returned, the families gave their best wishes and said their goodbyes. Hoss escorted his wife out the main door of the hotel where Joe was waiting again with the beautiful carriage. He chauffeured the couple to the train station. After making sure their luggage was cared for, Joe kissed his new sister-in-law on the cheek and shook his big brother’s hand in farewell. Hoss gave his lovely wife a hand up into the passenger car and then they turned to wave goodbye to Joe before moving inside to get settled. It did not take long before the motion of the train had them both nodding. It had been a wonderful day of celebration, and though neither was saying it, they both hoped to catch a little rest on the train before the night to come.

Morning light found them resting peacefully like spoons in the luxurious bed in the honeymoon suite. Gabrielle was the first to stir and roll over toward her husband. Thinking he had been dreaming, Hoss almost had a moment of panic as he woke to a beautiful naked woman in his bed.

Gabrielle touched Hoss’ rough cheek. “Sorry to disturb your sleep. Are you alright?”

Hoss laughed and hugged her tightly against him.

“What is so funny?” Gabrielle reached up and ran her hand through her hair. “Does my hair really look that bad?”

Hoss kissed her and laughed again. “No..no..ya look so pretty darlin’ that ya scared me.”

“What?”

“You’re gonna think I’m crazy, but I thought I was havin’ a great dream…but then you were real, and …I mean…well…you know.” He looked below her neck.

Gabrielle started to giggle. Soon they were both laughing so hard that the bed was jiggling and squeaking.”

“Folks are gonna think we’re up ta somethin’.” Hoss said between gasps for breath.

“Maybe we should not disappoint them.” She answered back between fits of giggles.

“Ain’t ya a bold one. Let’s just see what we can do ’bout that.” Hoss countered.

Moments later, their playfulness turned into passionate lovemaking.

In the afterglow, Hoss ran his hand through Gabrielle’s shimmering hair. “I love ya so much Gabbie. This really does seem like a dream too good ta be true…I’m gonna spend the rest of my life makin’ ya happy.”

Gabrielle’s eyes were glistening as she responded. “You have already made me happy. I feel so loved and cherished. I could not ask for anything more.”


Chapter 26


The day following the wedding, Ben invited the Armand family to join the Cartwrights for a picnic at Lake Tahoe. Adam and Ben wanted to show their guests what they considered to be the most beautiful and majestic part of their ranch. Mother nature cooperated completely by providing a lovely, clear, sunny day. Despite all this, Kate remained behind at the house by her own choosing. The bumpy road out to the lake was no place for a lady who was over six months pregnant to be traveling. It had been a very busy last few weeks with all the preparations for the wedding and Hoss and Gabrielle’s new home. Kate was actually looking forward to some quiet time to relax and read. Ben made sure that Hop Sing was staying close by for safety sake and for a little pampering.

The Armands were very much in awe of the lovely scenery at Tahoe. The men quickly shed their jackets and vests and rolled up their sleeves to hike along the water’s edge. Cecille and Suzette tried to stay in the shade as much as possible and held their parasols when walking about to shield themselves from the intense sun. Hop Sing had packed several baskets of delicious food which disappeared rapidly even without Hoss being present. Patrice, Elizabeth and Hannah sat on a blanket pretending to have a lovely outdoor tea party with their dolls. Benji and young Marc were at their fathers’ side, skipping rocks and then fishing along with Joe and Jamie. Adam was happy to really show his son and his nephew how to fish. He shared memories of being in this very spot years ago to the boys’ eager ears. There was an occasional growl from Ben when he heard some of the wild tales of things that had happened when he had not been around to supervise his sons’ adventures. Eventually, Louis and Ben moved to the shade as well to discuss a wide variety of topics.

This left Mary. Dressed in her riding clothes, she stuck out by comparison to the other little girls who were wearing sweet summer frocks. Jamie had allowed her to make the ride to the lake behind him on Rainmaker. She had been a topic of conversation for Cecille and Suzette, who were unaccustomed to seeing women and girls riding astride a horse. Both hoped that little Hannah did not have the same wild streak as her older sister and were secretly quite happy that their daughters acted as they felt little girls should. After lunch, Mary was at a loss for what to do. Even though she had not been able to spend a lot of time with Hoss of late, she was still missing him terribly. She moped around, totally uninterested in the girls’ tea party or with fishing since her previous experience had left her soaking wet and cold, making her wary to do it again. Still, she decided to tag along with Benji and Marc II, but after receiving numerous glares from Benji she went to stand beside Jamie as he fished. Though the teen had acknowledged her presence, he was enjoying the company of the other men and boys immensely and ignored her frequent chatter. Mary soon grew tired of the lack of attention and wandered over to where the horses were picketed, a little ways away from where most of the family was sitting. Cochise and Rainmaker both stood there with saddles on. She desperately wished she was tall enough to get into the saddle and ride away. Fortunately both horses were familiar enough with her that they occasionally bent their heads and allowed her to rub their noses. After a while, she even grew tired of petting the horses. She looked at Ben who was engrossed in his discussion with Louis Armand, and knew that begging to go home would only get her a good scolding. She also remembered her promises not to run off by herself, though that was exactly what she wanted to do. Tired and frustrated, she went to one of the picnic baskets and found a cookie. Without telling anyone where she was going, Mary went to the surrey and crawled into the back seat to get out of the sun, laid down and promptly fell asleep.

The pleasant day went by all too quickly for the rest of the Cartwright clan and the Armands. Soon they were gathering up blankets, baskets, and fishing poles. Though not too pressed for time, the group needed to be heading back to the ranch house before long. Hop Sing was expecting everyone for dinner, and with a group this size, Ben knew better than to be late. He looked at the other girls who were standing with Cecille and Suzette, but did not see Mary. He called out to Joe and Jamie to find if they had seen her. They both yelled back that they had not. Adam also confirmed that she was not with Benji and him.

Based on some of Mary’s previous misadventures, Ben was beginning to worry that she might have wandered off. “Mary, Mary.” Ben muttered under his breath. He looked at the Armands with dismay. “So sorry for the inconvenience. I guess we will just have to spread out and start searching for her.”

The woman and children huddled together in the shade of the trees while the men spread out and began calling for Mary. Jamie’s hands will full of fishing poles; so he detoured to the surrey before beginning his search. The noise of stowing the fishing gear caused Mary to stir. Within seconds Jamie was looking at the dark-haired girl rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

“Mary? Pa! Pa! I found her!” Jamie shook his head. “Boy, it’s a good thing you’re here, otherwise you’d be lookin’ to get a tannin’.” Mary scowled. She was not happy about how the day had been going as it was, let alone to be greeted by Jamie in this fashion. He reached up to help her out of the surrey. “Come on. You shoulda told somebody where you were going. Oh well at least you didn’t run off.” Jamie marched Mary back to where they had picnicked. She was examining her boots as she stood in front of Ben with everyone’s full attention on her.

Ben glanced at Jamie and then gave the girl a hard look. “Where was she?”

Seeing his father’s face, Jamie felt sorry for Mary and tried to smooth things over. “It’s ok, Pa. She was asleep in the surrey. Guess she was just tired after riding with me on Rain.”

Ben placed a large hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Yes, well, Mary, I have no problem with you taking a nap in the surrey, but you should have told someone where you were going. Instead you had us all very worried.” Suddenly he was all too aware that he had quite an audience for his reprimand, and he most certainly did not want to appear overbearing to his guests and the rest of the children. He kneeled down and pulled her into a hug. “I’m just relieved that you are alright.” Mary’s face brightened at bit, as did faces of those watching the interaction. Ben stood up and looked around the group awkwardly. “I guess we should be on our way.”

On the trip back the main house, the families stopped by Hoss and Gabrielle’s new home. Adam received many compliments for the plague that now graced the front door. Only Cecille and he knew the full story behind it, leaving her somewhat on edge. Adam had decided to wait until her family left for Boston to reveal the entire story to his own family. The Armands were very impressed with Adam’s house design and the craftsmanship. The main floor of the house consisted of the kitchen, dining, living, washroom, and two bedrooms, one large and one small. Upstairs there was space for at least four more rooms to be finished as needed for any future little Cartwrights. Though much more rustic in style than any home he thought his daughter would live in, Louis declared it beautiful and very comfortable. Before leaving, both families stood on the porch that faced toward the Sierra Nevadas to take in the view. Everyone was in agreement that Hoss had chosen a lovely location for he and his new bride to call home.

Mary grew more melancholy as she rode behind Jamie the rest of the way home. She had been to the new house a few times while it was being built, but after she saw it today with the furnishings and heard all the discussion about Hoss and Gabrielle, it truly sunk in that Hoss would no longer be living in the same house as her. No longer would he be around to help her with Patches, talk about horses, or be her mediator with Hop Sing. Reflexively, she tightened her hold on Jamie and leaned into him.

Jamie pulled up Rainmaker, concerned that something was wrong. “You ok, Mary?” He felt her hands grip tighter as she now struggled with her tears. “Something wrong? Are you sick?” He could feel her shake her head into the back of his vest.

Ben noticed that Jamie and Mary had stopped and called out to Joe to check on them. Joe and Cochise trotted over to have a look. “Jamie, everything ok?”

“I don’t know, Joe. She’s not saying anything. I asked her if she was sick and she said no.”

“Mary, what’s wrong, darlin’?”

Mary’s head jerked and she gave Joe a fiery look. “I’m not your darlin’!”

Jamie shrugged at Joe thinking Mary was way too young to start the temperamental things he had seen from older girls at school. However, Joe caught on remembering Mary’s failed attempt to ride to Virginia City when Hoss left for San Francisco the last time. Joe waved to the rest of the group to go on and looked at the sad little girl with understanding. “I was just trying to be nice, but I know that you are Hoss’ darlin’, aren’t you?”

Mary shook her head. “He’s gone.”

“Just for a while. Then he and Gabrielle will be back.”

“Not to our house.” Mary’s head drooped.

“Well, not most of the time, but you’ll get to see them. Hoss will be around and I bet they’ll be at the house almost every Sunday for dinner. You know how Hoss loves Hop Sing’s cooking.” Joe gave her a big grin.

“And maybe every once in a while, we can ride over and see Hoss and Gabrielle.” Jamie offered. “You know Hoss is gonna want to know you’re taking good care of Patches.”

“Come on, now. It’s a pretty day, and you’re riding with Jamie instead of in that boring old surrey.” Joe was trying his hardest to coax Mary into a better mood. “You know that Hoss wouldn’t want you to be sad. Betcha can’t smile. Betcha can’t!” Not one to back away from a challenge, Mary found a smile. Joe nodded. “That’s better. Let’s get going. I’m getting hungry!”

The next few days passed by quickly and then it was time for the Armands to head east and for Adam, Cecille and the children to go west. Adam asked Joe to drive the surrey into town for his family so that he could have a conversation with his father in the buggy.

“Hard to believe it’s all over. The time flew by. Things will be very different when Hoss and Gabrielle return from their honeymoon. Adam, do you think Cecille’s family enjoyed their stay in the west?”

“Yes, there will be some major adjustments for all of you and yes, I believe Marc and his family liked their taste of the west. And it was definitely a much less exciting trip for Louis this go around.”

Ben sighed with relief. “Yes, thankfully.”

“Pa, there is something I need to talk to you about before I leave.”

“Oh, what’s that? Something wrong?”

“Well, the issue has been resolved, but you need to be aware of it. I think you are familiar with the name Jase Cooper.”

Ben eyed his son warily. “What do you know of Cooper?”

“Well I heard from Hoss that you and Gabrielle had a run in with him at Doc Martin’s. Apparently Cooper and a couple of his buddies harrassed Gabrielle again one night when Hoss was taking her back to town about a month ago. It frightened her, but no one was hurt because Hoss sent them packing. But, it must have served as an incentive for Cooper to cause more trouble.”

“More trouble? How come Hoss didn’t say anything about this?”

“Well it was right before the wedding and he was afraid to stir up a hornets nest with the Armands already in town.”

“I see. So what exactly was this more trouble?”

Adam took a deep breath. “Cooper and friends did some damage to the house.”

Having just been at the house a few days ago and with everything seemingly in order, Ben was shocked. “They did what?”

Adam looked intently into his father’s eyes. “They took a running iron to the front door.”

The murky picture suddenly became clear for Ben. “So that explains the metal plaque on the door. It wasn’t really your intention to put it there in the first place.”

“No it wasn’t.” Adam’s lip curled. “But you have to admit, it looks pretty darn good, though.”

Ben growled a bit before he laughed out loud. “Yes it certainly does, but what about Cooper. Did Hoss just let him get away with it?”

“Yes and no.”

Ben looked confused and frustrated. “Just spit it out, Adam. You know I don’t have a stomach for this kind of thing.”

Adam chuckled. “It’s all good, Pa. Cooper and his buddies are warming their backsides in Roy’s jail. I had an around the clock guard posted at the house, and told Roy what had happened. Cooper and his cohorts were stupid enough to go back and check on their handiwork, and seeing that it had been repaired, decided to break some windows.”

Ben’s dark eyebrows shot up.

“Like I said, Pa, everything is fine. The hands that were keeping watch stopped them before anything happened. Clem Foster took care of the rest.”

“You mean to tell me that all this was going on without my knowledge?”

Adam gave his father a knowing smirk. “Pa, it needed to be handled and I definitely didn’t want Hoss to be bothered with the details the day before his wedding, and I knew what would happen if Joe got wind of it with his hot head. You had guests to entertain. I just wanted to save you a whole lot of grief.”

Ben was at a loss for words. Part of him wanted to be upset that he had not been informed earlier about the situation, but mostly he was just relieved that it had been resolved. He blew out a big breath. ‘I don’t know what to say other than thank you, Adam. You always have been able to handle things without my help. I know I haven’t always given you that credit, but I am grateful.”

Adam looked at his father warmly. They had had there many differences through the years and though they had come to terms with it, it was still good to hear these words from him. “Your welcome, Pa. You know that I would do whatever was necessary to defend our family.”

“Yes, son, I do know that. You know, Adam, it’s a wonder that Louis agreed to let Gabrielle marry Hoss after being kidnapped on his first trip out west. He surely would have misgivings if he knew about this. But you think Gabrielle is ok? I mean she’s not afraid to live out here in our wild west?”

“Love is an amazing thing, Pa. You know that. I believe she trusts Hoss implicitly to take care of her in every way. Not that there won’t be some growing pains in their married life, but I think they really will be happy together.”

Ben relaxed with Adam’s summation. “We’re happy men, you and I, and now Hoss. Aren’t we son? There is truly nothing like the love of a good woman to help balance the striving and unsettledness that is in the soul of a man.” He looked at Adam with mischief. “Now we just need to find someone for that hot-headed younger brother of yours!”

“That’s going to take some woman, Pa!”

Father and son laughed heartily as the outskirts of Virginia City came into view.


Chapter 27


Ben took Mary with him into town on the day that Gabrielle and Hoss were due back from San Francisco. Things had calmed down around the ranch now that the wedding was over. Kate was ready to proceed with the adoption of Mary and Hannah, but Ben wondered how Mary would feel about it. He thought their ride together might be a good time to approach the subject. The dark-haired, five-year old was practically vibrating with excitement at the thought of seeing Hoss. There were times when Mary reminded Ben so much of Joe at that age it was frightening, given that there was no blood tie between them. Ben understood that the ability to handle a horse and buggy would be a necessity for Mary at some point in the future; so he decided to do what he had done with his boys. He also hoped the distraction of driving the team of horses would allow him an opening for conversation.

“Mary, I think that just maybe I could use a little help handling these horses today.” Ben lifted his arm over Mary’s head and held the reins in front of her. She looked up at him in surprise. Her eyes sparkled with delight as she grabbed hold of the reins in front of Ben’s hands. He smiled down and snuggled her in close to his side. “You know, some day, when you are older, you’re going to need to be able to drive a buggy on your own. It feels a lot different than riding a pony when the horses are out in front of you. Ginger and Polly are very strong.” Ben eased up on his hold. “Can you feel the pull?” Mary nodded, grinning all the while. “You really enjoy the outdoors, being around animals, working in the garden, don’t you?”

“Uh huh.”

“I know you helped your Mama with the chickens even though you were very young, but did you ever work with your Papa when he was doing chores?”

“Just watched. Papa said I was too little.”

Ben’s question did not seem to evoke much emotion from the girl since she was occupied with driving; so he pressed on. “Do you miss your Mama and Papa?”

Mary thought for a moment, then answered quietly. “Sometimes.”

“That is only natural. Did you know that Jamie had another Mama and Papa before he came to live with Hoss, Joe, and me?”

Mary eyed Ben strangely. “You’re Jamie’s Papa.”

“Well I am now, but I wasn’t his first Papa. His first Papa died of a sickness a few years ago. I did not know Jamie when he was a baby. He was thirteen when came to the Ponderosa and his name was Jamie Hunter then.” Ben paused and let Mary ponder the things he had said.

“He is Cartwright, Jamie Cartwright.” Mary had heard the teenage boy introduce himself a number of times over the months she had been with the family.

“Yes, he has been Jamie Cartwright for a little over a year now but a while before that he came here and needed a family to take care of him, just like you did. He lived with us and I grew to love him and wanted him to be my son. So I adopted Jamie and made him my son not just in my heart but according to the law. Then his name was changed to Jamie Cartwright.” Ben knew this information was more than what a five-year old would most likely be able to understand. He just wanted to plant some ideas and let Mary process them in her time.

“Jamie’s nice. He treats me good.”

“Well, he treats you well.” Mary looked up knowing she had heard Ben say this to Jamie before. “Kind of like a brother?”

“No brothers, just Hannah.”

“I know, but Jamie takes care of you, and helps you, like a big brother would.”

Mary nodded. “Hoss is like a biggg brother! He helps me lots. He says love ya darlin’.” Her face lit up at the thought.

“Yes, indeed, he is definitely like a very big brother and he cares for you very much.”

The little girl continued to smile thinking of Hoss, but after a moment her smile turned to a look of frustration and she shook her head. “Hoss Cartwright…Mary Calhoun. Hoss is not my brother.”

“No he isn’t right now, but he could be your brother if Aunt Kate and I adopt you and Hannah.”

“Then I would have two papas and two mamas like Jamie? You will be my Papa, too?”

“Yes, that’s what we would like.”

Mary suddenly sat up a little straighter and her eyes went bright. “Jamie Cartwright..Hoss Cartwright..Mary Cartwright!”

Ben was amazed at how quickly the child had made the logical connections. “That’s right, Mary. I want you and Hannah to be my girls and that would make Adam, Hoss, Joe, and Jamie your brothers.” He could tell she was thinking hard about something.

“Four brothers…two sisters.” Mary nodded satisfied that she had counted correctly.

Ben hugged her to his side. “That’s right. You are very good at counting. And when the baby comes, that will make one more.”

“Brother or sister?”

Ben chuckled thinking that their conversation had been complex enough without getting into an explanation of the facts of life. “Well, we won’t know that until the baby is born.”

“Probably a sister. Closer to the same number.”

Ben cleared his throat. “Yes, well, we shall see about that. I’m afraid that the Good Lord has already determined that one. We will just have to wait and see.”

Mary was not exactly sure what Ben meant by his last statement, but she did not ask any more about it. The girl’s mathematical abilities were a new revelation to Ben, so they passed the remainder of the trip to town counting anything and everything and doing a little problem solving. It reminded him of the way in which Adam and he had whiled away their hours, many years ago, when traveling across the eastern part of the country.

Ben and Mary went to the platform to watch the train chug into the station. The girl was about to burst by the time Hoss and Gabrielle appeared on the steps of the passenger car. Knowing how excited she was, Ben did not try to restrain her.

Mary bolted toward them and wrapped her arms around Hoss’ leg. “Hi brother, Hoss! I missed you!”

The big man gave his wife a puzzled look. “Brother, is it? Are ya my little sis, now?”

“Uncle…Papa says soon.”

“Gabbie, guess a lot has happened while we were in San Francisco.” Ben came walking up to greet them. “Hey, Pa. So rumor has it I’ve got two little sisses now.”

His father suddenly looked very uncomfortable. “Yes, well, that was a bit of an unexpected greeting, I’m sure. Mary and I were doing some talking on the way into town. More on that later. Anyway, welcome back.” Ben leaned in to kiss Gabrielle on the cheek. “Hope you had a wonderful time in San Francisco.”

She squeezed his arm. “We did, thank you, Ben.”

“You both have that newlywed glow.” He winked at his daughter-in-law. “Well let’s get your luggage loaded up and then we can hear about your trip.”

Mary grabbed Hoss by the hand and tried to move him quickly toward the surrey leaving Ben and Gabrielle behind with the other two bags. The girl chattered away telling Hoss about driving the horses into town and that her last name would be soon be Cartwright just like his. Several times during the trip home, Ben had to shush her so that Hoss and Gabrielle might be able tell of the sights they had seen on their honeymoon. Mary’s new “Papa” was now in a quandry. He had not anticipated that she would so easily embrace the idea of adoption. He really needed to speak with Kate before Mary blurted out her new surname to another member of the family.

Hop Sing had planned a welcome back dinner for the newlyweds upon their return; so Hoss and Gabrielle were planning to spend the night at the main house before heading to their new home in the morning. When they arrived at the ranch, Ben cornered Hoss and asked him to keep Mary occupied for a few minutes, so that he could talk to Kate. He knew that it was a poor way to welcome his son and daughter-in-law back. The couple understood completely and took Mary to visit Patches under the guise that it had been a long time since they had seen her pony.

Kate was sitting in the living room waiting for everyone to arrive from town when Ben entered the house alone. “Ben? Where are Hoss and Gabrielle? And Mary?”

He laughed nervously. “Oh, Mary coerced them into going to see Patches.”

“Really? And you let her?”

“Uh…yes. Where’s Hannah?”

“She’s still down for her nap. Why? Ben you are acting very strange. What is wrong?”

“Well, I know that you’ve been worried that Mary might get upset when you spoke to her about the adoption.”

Kate was growing concerned. “Yes. You haven’t changed your mind about adopting the girls, have you?”

“Certainly not.”

“That’s good. So what is the problem?”

“Well, there isn’t a problem if you are fine with Mary referring to herself as Mary Cartwright and Adam, Hoss, Joe, and Jamie as her brothers and you and I as Mama and Papa.”

Kate looked at him with surprise. “What? She is totally accepting the change without question?”

“I didn’t think it would happen this easily. It was never my intention to not include you in the discussion. I just wanted her to start thinking about the possibility, but when I explained how it was with Jamie, she literally took the horses by the reins and went with it. Oh, and by the way, Mary is a whiz at math for a five-year old.” Ben reached out and pulled Kate close. His deep brown eyes radiated sincerity as he smiled while looking down at her protruding belly. “She even asked if the little one was going to be a brother or a sister and remarked that we should have a girl to work toward evening up the score of girls to boys.”

Kate laughed, but then sighed and leaned her head on his broad chest. “I’ve been so worried about this, and now it has all been worked out without a word from me. It still makes me sad that the girls will make this transition from Calhoun to Cartwright with little or no memory of Molly and Jim.”

“Are you upset with me?”

“Maybe a bit disappointed that I wasn’t privy to your conversation, but no, I’m not upset. The most important thing is that Mary and Hannah are happy and are legally ours.”

“That’s true. So I think a visit to Judge Taylor will be in order for tomorrow. Are you up for a trip to town?”

Kate smiled and kissed him. “Sounds like the sooner we make this official, the better. If we wait too many more weeks I may not be able to travel.”

“Indeed!” Ben placed a gentle kiss on her forehead before releasing his hold on her. “Prepare yourself. Mary should be coming in soon. She is going to have a lot to tell you.”

Moments later Mary charged through the front door with Gabrielle and Hoss close behind her. The child jumped up and down while Kate greeted the couple. Unable to contain her excitement, Mary tugged on Kate’s skirt. Ben picked her up and pressed his finger to the girl’s lips. He whispered in her ear that she must be patient and that her new Mama wanted to hear all the news she had to share, but that it still did not give her license to be rude. Hoss and Gabrielle went to the kitchen to get some coffee and left Ben and Kate to speak to Mary. Kate allowed her to tell the entire story without interruption of driving the horses and of Hoss and the others becoming her brothers. The smile on Kate’s face did not truthfully reflect the mixture of feelings she was experiencing with Mary’s enthusiastic retelling of her trip to town. Though she could readily understand Mary’s joy in her newly found sense of belonging, Kate was struggling with the profound and permanent sense of loss of her sister, Molly. She also wondered how Hannah would react. Kate knew that the understanding of a three year-old was much different than that of a five year-old. As Ben looked down over Kate and Mary, who were sitting together on the settee, he could tell that despite her encouraging words to the girl, his wife was having a difficult time. He gently squeezed Kate’s shoulders. When she looked up at him, her shining eyes confirmed the turmoil that she felt. Ben moved to his chair and brought Mary into his lap.

“Mary, I know you are really excited about all of this, but you are going to need to be patient with Hannah. She is not old enough to understand the way you do; so please don’t scold her it she doesn’t agree with you about all the changes. Over time, she will get to used to it. Understand?” Mary nodded. “Judge Taylor will give us a piece of paper saying that you are Mary Cartwright. That could take some time, but when we get that paper we will have a party and celebrate. How does that sound?”

Mary gave him a big smile. “Good! And have cake?”

Ben laughed merrily. “Yes, we will have Hop Sing make a cake.” However he could tell that the gears of her mind were turning. “Is there something wrong?”

“I’m going to call you Pa like my brothers do.” Mary gave Ben a satisfied smile and hugged his neck.

Ben’s eyes went soft. “I’d like that very much.” He hugged her tightly to his chest and kissed the top of her head.

He glanced at Kate who was smiling through her tears. She found Mary’s resiliency amazing. The more Kate pondered the adoption, the more she was comforted by the fact that the girls would be raised in a family that truly understood the hand that life had dealt them. She and every member of the immediate family had suffered great loss in life. They also understood the importance of keeping the memories of one’s birth family alive. She was so grateful to Ben for the ease at which he had accepted the girls into his family. It would be years before they would fully understand how much he and his sons had given to them. Kate could think of no other situation where Mary and Hannah would receive more love and opportunity to grow into their full potential as women. She was not so naive to think that the adoption would not bring with it more adjustments, but they had already weathered several in the past months. Mistakes had been made and forgiveness offered, and she was certain there would be more to come. Though she had been functioning as their mother, the idea began to settle in Kate’s mind that she was already a mother even though her child was yet unborn. She sighed and released some of the burden of loss and uncertainty that had been weighing heavily on her since her sister’s death.

Despite being told that the family would be making a trip to town today, Mary begged to go home with Hoss and Gabrielle the following morning at breakfast. Talking to the judge did not sound nearly as exciting as spending the day with her brother. Seeing that Ben was about to begin a reprimand, Gabrielle caught his eye and also placed her hand on her husband’s arm so that he did not feel the need to respond.

“We would love to have you come for a visit and maybe even spend the night, but unfortunately, Mary, we are not ready for guests just yet. Right now, there is not even food to eat in our new house. Hop Sing is going to come and help us get things set up. Could you please give us a few days to get settled in?” Gabrielle gave Mary a sweet smile. The gentle, honest explanation caused Mary to drop her head and give a slight nod. The girl had prepared herself for a battle with everyone except Gabrielle, and now she was disarmed. Gabrielle was met with grateful expressions from Ben and Kate and a look of pride from Hoss.

By late morning, Ben, Kate, and the girls were in town to see Judge Taylor. Though the judge thoroughly enjoyed meeting the girls, the sight of his long-time friend sitting with Hannah in his lap and Mary in between Ben and the obviously pregnant Kate, kept bringing a smile of wonder to Taylor’s lips. However, he kept his comments congenial and professional. The judge informed them, as Ben already knew from having been down this road with Jamie, that the process could take some time. The names and locations of extended family members were taken down and telegrams and letters would be sent to give them ample opportunity to contest the adoption. Taylor told them to allow at least a month for him to make his ruling and finalize the adoption. The thought crossed Ben’s mind that Pete Simmons could be a problem if he happened to be looking for a way to squeeze more money from the girls’ situation. He kept that unpleasant thought to himself.

Hop Sing spent several hours helping Gabrielle get her kitchen in order. The new bride was nervous about setting up housekeeping. Her upbringing had offered her little help in that area having always had cooks and maids, but she was determined to learn. Hop Sing patiently helped her put together the meal for the evening. His cousins’ daughter would be coming after a few days to help until Gabrielle felt comfortable enough to handle things on her own.

After a busy afternoon, Hop Sing stood at the door the his hat in his hands. “You will do fine job, Missy Gabrielle. In a couple of days Jiao Lin be here to help. Til then, you just send Mr. Hoss to Ponderosa. I make big basket of food for you, lickety split.”

“Thank you, Hop Sing. With your help and then Jiao Lin’s, I know everything will be fine. I promise to remember the things you’ve taught me.” The Chinaman’s face crinkled into a grin in response to Gabrielle’s easy, genuine smile.

Gabrielle lit two candles in celebration of the first meal served in her new home. After washing up, Hoss came in to the dining room to find the table carefully and thoughtfully prepared and steaming dishes of chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy.

“Mmmm mmmm! Something sure smells good and everything looks real nice.” Hoss pulled his wife close and kissed her full lips. “See, you didn’t need ta worry. Ya did just fine.”

“Yes, but Hop Sing did most of it. I only helped. I’ve got so much to learn.”

“But I know that ya want to and that’s half the battle. Now let’s eat before the food gets cold.” Hoss pulled out a chair for his wife and sat down across the table from her. He looked at her for a moment without speaking and then held out his large hand to her. She placed her delicate, small hand in his. “I’ve lived so many years under my Pa that it seems a kinda strange ta think that I’m the man of the house now, but this is our home and we need ta start doin’ things our own way; so if ya don’t mind I’m gonna thank the Lord for all our blessin’s.” Gabrielle’s eyes began to glisten; she nodded for him to proceed. “Lord we thank ya for our new home and all the things our families and friends have given ta help us get started here, for this good food, and I thank ya for the best wife a man could ever have. Help me ta do right by her. Amen.”


Chapter 28


Kate was feeling large and awkward now that she was in her last month and a half of pregnancy; the baby was due around the second week of September. However, her appearance only seemed to increase the frequency of loving smiles that came to Ben’s face. Even though Joe’s cradle was gathering dust in the storage room, Ben desired to demonstrate to her just how eager he was for their child to arrive. He was very excited to finally get some time to work on a new cradle and took great care to make it a handsome one.

And so the Cartwright family was beginning to hit its stride again with the absence of Hoss from the common, everyday activities like meals and after dinner chats in the living room. It had taken a few weeks until Mary could sit at the table without her shoulders drooping. And though the others in the family tried to cover their emotions, they could sympathize with the girl’s honest expression of the loss she felt. However, Hoss and Gabrielle were regularly at the main house for Sunday dinner and occasionally for supper during the week, much to everyone’s delight.

One such Sunday early in August, the family was seated around the table which was heavily laden with Hop Sing’s delicious fare. There was lively conversation resonating off the dining room walls. During the meal, Ben happened to notice his large son periodically exchanging glances with his new bride. He could not help but think that Gabrielle had an exceptional glow about her and that Hoss seemed to have a constant grin on his face. Trying his best not to draw any attention to himself, Ben leaned over and whispered into Kate’s ear.

“I have a sneaking suspicion that there is going to be a announcement today.” He nodded toward the couple when Kate looked at him with questioning eyes. She glanced furtively at Hoss and Gabrielle, and it only took a moment for a smile of understanding to come to her lips. Kate reached over and took Ben’s hand.

“So Hoss, are you starting any new projects this week?” Ben opened the door hoping that he might be able to encourage his middle son to come forward and share whatever was producing the perpetual smile on his face.

Hoss looked over at his father. “Naw, just gonna keep workin’ on the barn. Still got plenty ta do.” He turned and glanced down at his lovely wife, who was beaming up at him and nodded. “But there is some new construction goin’ on ‘sides the barn.” Suddenly it grew quiet around the table and all eyes turned his way. Hoss took Gabrielle’s tiny hand in his meaty paw and with a look of pride he announced. “Gabbie’s gonna have a baby!”

A jubilant roar rose up in the room, bringing Hop Sing running from the kitchen. There was much back slapping and numerous hugs and kisses before a relative calm was restored.

Kate pulled Gabrielle aside as the rest of the family moved into the living room. “I’ve been praying that you would be with child soon so that our little ones would grow up together, and my prayers have been answered. Ben and I couldn’t be happier for the two of you.” Kate hugged her radiant daughter-in-law. “How have you been feeling?”

“Pretty well, thank you. I just get a little queasy in the mornings on occasions, but on the whole, i am feeling well. Oh Kate, Hoss is practically beside himself with happiness. I just can’t wait to see him with the baby. He is going to be a wonderful father.”

“Well he did have a great example in Ben. If the good Lord is willing and the creek don’t rise, we are both going to get the pleasure of seeing our husbands in action with our babies. Ben seems to be taking this all in stride in spite of his age. And I’m afraid that the grin on Hoss’ face sort of gave things away. It is obvious he is thrilled about becoming a father.” Gabrielle nodded enthusiastically and gave Kate another quick embrace.

In no time, August 23rd arrived. It was difficult for both Ben and Kate to believe that an entire year had passed since their wedding. Their lives had changed greatly over the last twelve months. They never would have imagined that they would be celebrating their anniversary confined to the house on the Ponderosa, but with Kate’s due date only three weeks away, that was exactly the case. And though it was also his birthday, Ben decided to postpone that celebration until the following day. He wanted a quiet evening alone with his wife. Earlier in the afternoon, Joe and Jamie had left for Virginia City and Hoss had come over to pick up Mary and Hannah for the evening. It was the first overnighter for the girls and they were very excited. Mary was allowed to ride Patches to Hoss and Gabrielle’s place and donned her riding habit for the trip. Hannah took her doll with her, just in case she got a little homesick. Hop Sing dutifully scolded Hoss for sneaking a few cookies from the kitchen in part because he was busy meticulously preparing an extra special meal for the anniversary celebration, but mostly out of habit. The cook had planned a delicious flaming dessert for the finale to the meal. Ben and Kate enjoyed their grand dinner at a much more relaxed and leisurely pace without the girls being present. Later, they moved to the settee where Ben poured himself a brandy and snuggled Kate into his side. The two sat quietly for a time just watching the fire. Kate placed her hand on her protruding belly and pushed down lightly. The baby was putting pressure on her full stomach.

Ben’s hand came to rest over her’s. “Are you feeling alright?”

Kate sighed. “I’m fine. The little one is just letting me know that I ate too much of Hop Sing’s delicious dinner. That’s all.” She gazed up into his warm, brown eyes. “Oh goodness, Ben. What have we gotten ourselves into? Who would have guessed that we would be celebrating our first anniversary like this? I know that we have everything ready for the baby; the cradle, the clothes, the diapers and all, but sometimes I’m just not certain I will be up to the task of caring for an infant.”

“You’re just tired. The baby could come anytime now. This is the most difficult time, but you’ve done amazingly well.”

She smirked at him. “You mean for an old woman?”

Ben frowned. “I mean for any woman. Carrying a baby is a difficult task at any age, and just look at all you’ve done over the past months.” Ben’s countenance grew stern. “Even when I scolded you to take things a little more slowly.” Then he smiled and kissed her nose. “Besides, Gabrielle will be here to help when the baby arrives, and I am going to pamper you until you get your strength back.”

Kate eyed him. “Oh you are, are you? Too bad you won’t be the one getting up for the middle of the night feedings. Interruptions to your sleep, don’t seem to suit you very well…that is except for certain kinds of interruptions.” She gave him a coy smile and then rubbed her belly with both hands. “And we both know exactly where those got us.”

Ben chuckled softly. “Yes, I certainly do. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Everything will be fine, Kate. Remember I’ve had a bit of experience at this even if was a long time ago. I’m sure it will all come back to me, just like riding a horse.”

Kate gently touched his cheek and traced his silver sideburn with her finger. “I love you so much. You have a knack of saying just what I need to hear.”

“And I love you. You bring me so much joy and add a sparkle to my life. You’ve made me feel years younger.” Ben chuckled again. “And you and I are going to need every bit of that youthfulness in the next few months. Come now before we are both too tired to enjoy some time together. Let’s go up to bed.”

Kate’s eyes were aglow. Over the last few months, they had taken special care to pleasure each other in ways that did not add stress to her condition. She had worried that Ben would find her bulging belly unattractive, but in fact he loved seeing her now well-rounded figure and to run his large hands over the bump of the baby. He would place tender kisses all over her abdomen and whisper sweetly to the yet unborn child. Occasionally, he was rewarded with a strong kick which brought smiles to both their faces. He would pour some lavender oil into his hands and massage Kate’s aching back muscles. Then once she was fully relaxed, Ben would bring her to her peak with loving precision. In turn, she would help her husband release the tension of having a very pregnant wife. This evening, they took even more time and care to physically express their love for one another. Feeling totally fulfilled and complete, they laid together until Kate’s eyelids grew heavy. Then Ben positioned some extra pillows in just the right places to make her as comfortable as possible and the two fell into a peaceful sleep without a care for what the next few weeks might bring.

The following day the family was reunited to celebrate Ben’s fifty-sixth birthday. His family blessed him with many lovely gifts despite the fact that he had told them that he had all that he needed in their love. Adam and his family sent their love in a beautiful card complete with drawings by Benji and Elizabeth and a promise of some expensive tobacco on their next visit to the Ponderosa.

A few days later, while the family was seated at the breakfast table, Joe responded to a knock at the door. A wide grin came to his face and he thrust his right hand forward in greeting.

“Candy! Gosh it’s good to see you! Pa! Pa!”

Ben moved quickly to the door with Kate and the others not far behind him. He pulled the dark-haired man in the red shirt and black vest into an embrace and then held him by the shoulders. “Candy. So good to see you. It’s been too long.”

“Good to see you, too, Mr. Cartwright.” He gazed in wonder at the group now gathered at the entrance. “Uh, guess there have been a few changes since I left.”

“Oh, yes, forgive me. Kate.” Ben reached out to move his wife closer. This is Candy Canaday. He used to work for us a few years back. Candy, this is my wife, Kate.”

Candy looked back and forth from Kate to Ben before taking her hand, her obvious state of pregnancy adding to his surprise. “Pleased to meet you, ma’am. I’m real happy for you Mr. Cartwright.”

Kate nodded; Candy’s engaging smile putting her at ease. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Canaday.”

“Please, just call me Candy, ma’am.” Then he looked toward the little girls and Jamie.

Ben took note and motioned for Jamie to step forward. “Yes, there have been quite a few changes since you’ve been gone. This is my son, Jamie.” Candy and Jamie exchanged nods and a handshake. “And these are Kate’s nieces. Mary and Hannah please say hello to Candy.” Mary gave Ben a strange look hearing Candy’s name again but she remembered her curtsy and Hannah gave him a tiny wave.”

With a big, warm smile on his face, Candy bent down to greet them. “Nice to meet you girls.” Candy looked back to Joe. “Lots of new faces, but I don’t see Hoss. Is he out on the range already?”

Joe gave Candy a playful slap on the arm. “No, Candy, that’s one more change. Big brother got married back in June. Built a real nice house for his pretty little wife. Remember that meadow he always liked so much?”

Candy’s head flew back and his eyes went wide in surprise. “You’re kidding. Hoss is married. Yeah, yeah, I remember that place. Gosh that’s great! Hopefully I’ll get to see him and give him my congratulations.”

Ben clapped Candy on the shoulder. “I know he would love to see you. Are you planning to be around for a while?”

Candy shrugged. “Could be.”

“Well, Mr…uh…Candy, we were just finishing our breakfast and there is still plenty left. Would you care to join us?” Kate motioned toward the table.

“Just a cup of coffee would be fine. Thank you, ma’am. I had breakfast in town. Oh, I almost forgot.” Candy reached into the pocket of his black vest. “I’ve got two telegrams for you, Mr. Cartwright. I ran into Hank and he asked me to deliver them since I was coming this way.”

Ben took the telegrams from Candy as Kate encouraged everyone to move back to the table. Ben paused to read the messages. He ran his hand across his firmly set jaw. Kate bid him to join the rest at the table; so he quickly stashed the telegrams in his vest pocket and purposefully forced a more upbeat demeanor. Candy was already telling Joe about his recent experiences in Montana by the time Ben took his seat. Mary listened carefully to the dark-haired man with the attractive smile. She took note every time he mentioned something about horses.

After Candy had finished multiple cups of coffee and enjoyed a good chat, Joe encouraged him to take a ride over to Hoss and Gabrielle’s place. Ben was thankful for Joe’s recommendation. As happy as Ben was to see Candy, the content of the telegrams was weighing heavily on his mind. Mary and Hannah ran off to do their chores and Jamie left for school, leaving Ben and Kate alone at the table. It did not take long for Kate to pick up on her husband’s preoccupation with his coffee cup.

“You seemed very happy to see Candy. He appears to mean a lot to you. Is something bothering you about seeing him?” Kate searched Ben’s face waiting for his response.

He looked up a bit embarrassed. “Candy, oh yes, we go back a few years.” Ben smiled warmly at the thought. “He’s like a son to me, but he’s got a bit of the wanderlust as you might have detected. Not sure he’ll stick around for long.”

“And that’s what’s bothering you?”

Ben reached out for her hand and sighed. “You know me too well. There is no hiding things from you.” Kate gave him the time he needed. “It’s the telegrams.”

“Is it bad news?” Ben handed her the first message to read. “It’s from Governor Blasdel. He wants you next week? But Ben, what if the baby comes while you are gone?”

“Not to worry. I am not going to abandon you. I will wire him tomorrow and let him know that he will need to find someone else to serve on the state prison inspection committee or postpone the trip to Carson City for a few weeks.

Kate sighed with relief and offered her husband a weak smile, but her smile faded when see saw that he still looked uncomfortable.

Ben fidgeted with the second telegram. “Does the name Margaret Dunlap mean anything to you?”

“No I don’t think so. Why?”

“Did Jim Calhoun have a sister named Margaret?”

“Oh… you mean Maggie. Yes, but she went back east…goodness…fifteen or twenty years ago. There’s a telegram from Maggie?” Kate held out her hand, but Ben paused and gave her a worried look before turning it over to her. She stared at the piece of paper and her shoulder’s slumped. Ben slipped his hand over her’s and she suddenly straightened her back and spoke firmly. “I don’t know what on earth she has to gain by this. She has probably never even seen the girls and now she thinks that she wants to adopt them! This is ridiculous! Well we won’t allow it! It just can’t happen!” But Kate just as quickly lost her steam. “Can it, Ben?”

He shrugged. “I don’t see how, since she has had no contact with the girls, but unfortunately it will probably delay things a little longer. I had so hoped to have the adoption wrapped up before the baby came. I will go see Judge Taylor while I’m in town tomorrow. Hopefully, a telegram from him to Mrs. Dunlap will wield the necessary authority to put a stop to any notion she might have about adopting Mary and Hannah.”

However, when Ben spoke with Judge Taylor the following day, the news was not good. Mrs. Dunlap and her lawyer were on their way to Virginia City to “rescue” her nieces from an “uncivilized” western upbringing. After leaving Indiana at the age of twenty, Maggie Calhoun had by a stroke of sheer luck ended up working in Philadelphia as a personal assistant to a much older, wealthy businessman named Fergus Dunlap. Totally captivated with her youthful beauty, Dunlap eventually proposed marriage, and though he was neither handsome nor exceptionally good company, she accepted and married him for his money. He had passed away just three months ago leaving a very large estate and no heirs. Margaret received the telegram from Judge Taylor notifying her of the girls pending adoption into the Cartwright family shortly after her husband’s death. Even though it would have been much better if Mary and Hannah were boys, Margaret Dunlap was determined pass along the wealth to family members. She planned to educate the girls in the best schools in the east. In the future, assets from the Dunlap estate would make a very desirable dowry and greatly increase the probability that the girls would marry into prominent, wealthy families.

It was a miserable trip back home for Ben. There was nothing that could be done until Margaret Dunlap arrived. He feared how the stress of the situation might affect Kate, and somehow he needed to shield the little girls from any drama so as not to throw them into a panic. Judge Taylor had assured Ben that he could not in good conscience grant custody of Mary and Hannah to Mrs. Dunlap since her kinship was no closer than Kate’s and the girls had lived for nine months in a stable, caring family that was totally capable of providing for all their needs. However, that did not mean that Mrs. Dunlap and her lawyer would not make things very difficult for Kate and Ben. For the moment, his having to put off the Governor of Nevada was the least of his worries.


Chapter 29


Three days later, Mrs. Margaret Dunlap and her attorney, Peter Collins, arrived in Virginia City. Collins immediately went to set up an audience with Judge Taylor, but found that he was engaged with a court case and would not be available until the afternoon of the following day. With the full understanding that his client did not desire there to be a lengthy delay, the attorney dutifully hired a fancy, enclosed rig and a driver to take them to the Ponderosa early the next morning. Collins had informed Margaret that Ben Cartwright was one of the most wealthy ranchers in Nevada, but she was not to be dissuaded. Truthfully he believed that she was on a fool’s errand, however, he was being paid handsomely to attend to whatever tasks Mrs. Dunlap deemed necessary. Even still, he was more than just a little uncomfortable with the idea of showing up on a rancher’s doorstep unannounced; something that Mrs. Dunlap would never do back east. Somehow she had conjured up a scenario of the Ponderosa being a run-down farmstead and Mary and Hannah looking like dirty little street urchins the likes of which she had only seldom seen in Philadelphia. The lawyer sensed that his client was not mean-spirited, but sad and disillusioned. She had come close at one point during their trip west to admitting that remarriage would not be an option for her. In a way, Collins felt sorry for Margaret. She had everything and yet she had nothing.

However, what Mrs. Dunlap and Mr. Collins did not know was that Ben had devised a plan of his own. He had eyes and hears observing the widow and her attorney from the moment they set foot in Virginia City; so by the time the expensive surrey rolled into the yard near the front porch, everyone was prepared for Mrs. Margaret Dunlap. Joe and Ben had donned their white shirts and string ties. Kate and the girls were wearing pretty frocks and their hair neatly pulled up with ribbons and combs. Ben did not want to tip his hand by having them totally overdressed, but he also knew that they needed not to look like they had just come in from the barn. He had also coached everyone in preparation for the encounter with Margaret Dunlap. Joe answered the knock at the door with a friendly smile.

Mr. Collins stood with his top hat and a valise in his hands. “Good morning. My name is Peter Collins. Could you tell me if I am at the correct house? I am looking for Mr. and Mrs. Ben Cartwright.”

“Yes, you are in the right place. Please come in.” Joe swung the door wide allowing Mrs. Dunlap to pass by easily in her dress with a very full skirt.

Kate, Ben, and the girls were now standing by the settee. Hannah held her doll and was tucked into the folds of Kate’s skirt. Mary was holding Ben’s hand looking curiously at their guests.

Kate stepped forward and offered her hands to their lady guest. “Maggie! What a surprise! It’s so good to see you. You should have let us know you were coming. We could have sent someone to bring you to the ranch.”

Flummoxed by Kate’s very amiable salutation despite her own lack of proper etiquette and by her very obvious state of pregnancy, Mrs. Dunlap faltered before returning the greeting. “Kate, it’s been a long time. Good to see you, too…You…you…are looking well.”

“That’s very kind of you. Come and meet my husband, Ben.”

Ben flashed Margaret a warm smile and gently took her hand. “Mrs. Dunlap, I’m very happy to meet you. Please come in and be seated.” Ben motioned her toward the near end of the settee. He offered Collins his hand and a seat in the blue chair. “This is my son, Joseph, who met you at the door.”

Margaret Dunlap gave Joe a cursory nod as he took a seat on the base of the fireplace. She watched as Hannah quickly moved onto his lap, but then her eyes immediately went to Mary, who was now sitting with Ben in his chair.

Kate carefully observed Margaret. “You have come a very long way to meet the girls. Mary, please say hello to your Aunt.”

The five-year old looked at Ben and then hopped down off his lap and curtsied. “Pleased to meet you, Aunt Margaret.” Just as quickly, she was back up in Ben’s lap. The little squeeze of encouragement he gave Mary and the way she snuggled herself into his chest did not go unnoticed by Margaret.

“Hannah, would you say hello to your Aunt Margaret, too, please.” Kate encouraged the little blond.

Hannah jumped down from Joe’s lap and handed him her doll. She offered her aunt an unsteady curtsy. “Pweased to meet yew Awant Margwet.” Taking her doll back, Hannah slid into Joe’s lap. She was rewarded by him with a kiss on the cheek.

Margaret Dunlap bit her lip and smiled uncomfortably. She was undone by the girls’ sweet gestures and the genuine attachment they had for the Cartwright men. “Thank you, Mary and Hannah. I am so happy to finally get to meet you.”

She found herself at a loss for words; so Mr. Collins took that as his cue to begin the necessary negotiations. “Mr. and Mrs. Cartwright, my client, Mrs. Dunlap…”

Margaret Dunlap’s hand came up. “Just a moment Collins.” She turned to Kate. “Would it be possible for us to speak for a few minutes without the girls?”

Kate looked at Joe and without a word he had both girls by the hand and they were out the door.

“Thank you. You have all been very kind.” There were tears forming in Margaret’s eyes and she pulled a handkerchief from her reticule to dab at them. She sighed heavily. “Kate…Mr. Cartwright please forgive me.” Kate reached over and squeezed her hand in understanding. Sensing Margaret’s need to unload the burdens of her heart, Ben and Kate remained silent and allowed her to continue. “I don’t know what I was thinking. Too many memories from the past, I guess. I was never happy having to scrimp and live simply back in Indiana and thought I was missing out. Jim and Molly had so little, but they did have each other and the girls. Now I have all the money one could want, but it cannot buy what they had and what you have here…I hope you know how incredibly fortunate you are.”

No words were necessary to confirm Margaret Dunlap’s conclusion. After offering her some words of comfort, Kate encouraged her to find a way to put her fortune to good use, like helping orphans in Philadelphia area. Despite everything, Kate and Ben were gracious hosts and they insisted that Margaret stay for dinner and get better acquainted with the girls. The following day, Judge Taylor was relieved to hear that the situation has been resolved without incident and very happy to plan a trip to the Ponderosa the next day to sign the papers making Mary and Hannah’s adoption official. Margaret was also there to observe and participate in the celebration that Ben had promised Mary.

After a full day of celebrating, Kate was thoroughly exhausted. It took all of her energy to get undressed and ready for bed. She barely got into her nightgown before she was doubled over with a contraction and then felt a gush of fluid run down her legs.

“Ben! Ben!”

Hearing the concern in her voice, he jumped up quickly from the bed where he had been sitting up reading. “What’s wrong?”

“I think…I’m going…into labor. My water just broke.” She panted.

Ben helped her get into bed and then grabbed some towels to clean her up and mop up the floor behind the changing screen.

“I’m going to send Joe for Doc Martin and tell Jamie to be ready first thing in the morning to take the girls to Hoss and Gabrielle’s if the baby hasn’t come by then.” Ben brushed some hair back from Kate’s forehead and gave her a kiss. “I’ll be right back.”

As he left the bedroom, Kate could feel another contraction coming on. She braced her hands against the mattress. “Please hurry back!”

By the time Ben returned to the bedroom with his arms laden with sheets and towels, Joe was on his way to Virginia City, thankful for a clear sky and an almost full moon to make his night-time ride much easier. Also, Hop Sing already had several large pots heating on the stove. It was a relief to Kate to know that the girls were sound asleep and oblivious to the comings and goings, but as her contractions increased in intensity, she worried that she would not be able keep them from hearing her cries of pain.

The hours crept by. Dr. Martin had been out on another call and did not return to town until well after midnight. Joe fed and watered his buggy horse, tied Cochise on the back and told the doctor to hold on tight because it was going to be a speedy ride to the ranch. Meanwhile, Ben had been doing his best to help his struggling wife through her labor. He offered her his hands to grip tightly when the pain became too much to bear alone. He could tell she was getting close to delivery by the frequency of the contractions. Ben wiped her beaded brow as he came to terms with the fact that he might be the one to deliver this baby.

“Kate, sweetheart, I know you’re getting really tired, but I think you’re almost ready. I think I had better check and see if the baby’s head is showing.”

Kate exhaled a big deep breath. “I feel like it’s close.” She grunted. “I want to push. Where is Paul?”

“I don’t know, but you know he would be here if he could. He must have been out. Try not to worry, darling. I’ve brought many a balky calf and colt into this world. I’m sure I can handle a little, bitty baby.”

Kate forced a laugh. “You may not have a choice.”

Streaks of light were breaking onto a purple sky when Ben heard footsteps in the hallway. He threw open the bedroom door as Dr. Martin entered briskly.

“Glad you made it, Paul. I’ve held her back as long as possible, and don’t you even think about trying to send me out of this room at this point.” Martin chuckled at his long-time friend and immediately went to work. Ben poked his head out the bedroom door. “Joe, thank goodness you got him here just in time. It’s been a long night, but we should have a baby very soon.”

Disheveled and very tired, Joe still had a huge smile and a clap on the shoulder for his father. Ben closed the door quickly as Kate let out a mighty yell. Almost in unison Jamie, Mary, and Hannah were in the hallway. Joe hurried them all downstairs. They passed Hop Sing along the way carrying a pot of water. In a matter of minutes, a baby’s cry pierced the cool morning air. Ben sat on the bed beside his thoroughly spent wife. He had supported her in the final push that brought forth a healthy boy who had a shock of reddish hair on the top of his head. After wiping the baby clean, Dr. Martin offered his congratulations and passed off the swaddled child to his proud father. Moments later, the little boy turned toward father’s chest hungrily probing to be satisfied. Kate loosened the ties of her gown for Ben to help the him find what he was so eagerly searching for. There was a jolly rumbling in Ben’s chest as his son awkwardly suckled his mother’s breast.

With tears in his eyes, Ben whispered into the damp, auburn ringlets around Kate’s face. “There is nothing in this world more beautiful. You have made me happy…so very happy.” Tears of joy trickled down Kate’s cheeks.

A few hours later after mother, father, and newborn son had gotten some rest and had cleaned up a bit, the rest of the family assembled in the bedroom for the presentation of Samuel Donovan Cartwright. Mary and Hannah stood wide-eyed watching the squirming bundle in Kate’s arms. Gabrielle had given each girl a little toy to offer their new brother.

Kate was enjoying the girls expressive faces. “Mary, Hannah, this is your new baby brother, Samuel. What do you think of him?”

Hannah piped up right away. “He’s wealwy widdle!” There were chuckles all around the room.

“Yes he is, but he will grow quickly. By this time next year, Sam could be chasing you around the house.” Ben noted. “How about you Mary? Isn’t it wonderful to have a new baby in the family?”

The dark-haired girl shrugged. “He can’t play with me and Hannah and why does he squeak like that? Something wrong with him?” Her comment brought outright laughter into the room.

“No, there’s nothing wrong with little Samuel. Babies make all kinds of funny sounds. It won’t be long before he will start copying the things you do and say. The two of you will need to be good teachers.”

Mary and Hannah vowed to be good helpers and teachers. Kate and Ben exchanged knowing smiles for the squabbles that they knew would be forthcoming in the days and years ahead, but there was nothing that could spoil this precious moment. Ben gazed lovingly down on his wife and newborn child wondering how it was possible that getting thrown from a horse, firing a good hand, and then running off to escape his demons could have brought him to this point in his life. This world had dealt him some exceedingly difficult blows through the years, but right now it felt more like heaven on earth.

Epilogue

Seven months later, when the spring flowers were beginning to pop, a similar gathering took place in Hoss and Gabrielle’s home. Adam’s family and Candy were also in attendance for the very special occasion of welcoming Matthias Louis Cartwright into the clan. Though not nearly as robust as his father had been at birth, Matthias was a fine, healthy boy with big blue eyes. Other family members practically had to beg for an opportunity to hold the boy, as Hoss was completely smitten with his offspring. While the youngest Cartwright was receiving loads of attention, Mary, Hannah, and Elizabeth sat in the middle of the living room entertaining little Samuel, who was now able to sit up on a quilt and play with toys. And just when Ben thought that things could not be any better in the Cartwright family, Adam announced that he had persuaded his firm to open an office in Carson City. It was Adam’s plan to build a home for his family on Ponderosa property within the next six months. Needless to say, the rest of the family was thrilled to hear this.

Ben took a step back and looked over his family. He could never have imagined years ago when he and the boys were struggling to make a go of it that a day like this one would ever come. He was the envy of many in the state of Nevada for his possessions, but Ben Cartwright knew in his heart those things did not even begin to compare to the riches he had in the love of his family. This was the legacy that brought tears to his eyes and made his heart swell, and gave him hope for the years to come.

Next Story in the Ben Brown Series:

Ladies Day Out

 

Author: Hart4Ben

4 thoughts on “More Than Enough Love Part 2 (by Hart4Ben)

  1. First of all, yay Hoss! (Because for me Hoss is always first of all … ?)

    For me, this was the best out of the three! Beautiful chaos … Life definitely looks different now, but it will sure keep him young. I had all sorts of warm fuzzy feelings by the end ….

    Enjoyed this series, thx so much for writing!

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