Summary – Jamie learns first- hand about a special trait of the Cartwrights.
Rating – K, Word Count – 1270
The Cartwright Vigil
“Hey Jamie, you better get down to breakfast before Hoss eats it all!”
Jamie’s eyes snapped open at the sound of Joe’s voice and the sight of bright sunlight streaming through the window. He threw the covers back and rolled out of bed then suddenly grabbed at the night table when the room dipped and stars flashed before his eyes.
“Whoa there.” Jamie squeezed his eyes shut until the sensation passed. “Must have gotten up too fast.”
Feeling rather tired he threw on some clothes and headed downstairs.
“Well, it’s ‘bout time you came down. Here’s some hotcakes and bacon. Hop Sing’s fixing some more eggs for ya.”
Jamie sat and began to eat. Despite his fatigue he was hungry.
“Are you ready for your big day, Jamie?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess. Look Joe I don’t want to put you or Hoss out.”
“Ah come on Jamie, it’s no trouble. Pa promised to help you train your new horse and since he got called away, Hoss and I are glad to help.”
He finished eating as Joe finished his cup of coffee. “I guess we better get to it then.”
Jamie rose from the table, wobbled a bit then headed to the door to get his hat and jacket. Joe and Hoss exchanged glances but said nothing.
In the corral, a chocolate brown Morgan gelding was running around the perimeter. Jamie held out an apple and the horse came to him immediately. “At a boy, Dodger. That’s a good apple ain’t it.”
As Joe and Hoss looked on, Jamie slipped into the corral and saddled his horse. He was going to train him to be a cutting horse. It was the first step to getting Jamie ready for working with the stock and going on his first cattle drive next summer.
Once Dodger and Jamie were ready, the three brothers rode out to the pasture where a dozen heifers had been gathered. Jamie watched from the sidelines while Hoss described the moves Joe and Cochise made to single out one cow.
“Okay, now Jamie you try it. It ain’t nothin’ you ain’t done before, ‘cept this time you got real cows to work with. Take your time and let’s see if Dodger can do some of it himself.”
The first pass didn’t work so well as the cattle scattered in twelve different directions. Joe, Hoss and Jamie worked to gather them again, then Jamie gave it a second try with Joe coaching him. Rider and horse began to work as a team and managed to cut two cows from the herd. As Joe let out a holler of praise, Jamie slid out of the saddle, landing hard on his back.
Joe jumped to his brother’s side as Hoss drove the cattle to another part of the pasture.
“Jamie? Hoss! He’s passed out and he feels like he’s got a fever.”
“I’ll take him back to the house. You bring his horse then ride for the doctor. Get George to find someone to get those heifers back to the herd.”
Joe lifted Jamie’s limp body up to Hoss and watched for a moment as the two rode away. Mounting Cochise, he carried out his tasks as fast as he could.
In town, once Doctor Martin was on his way to the ranch, Joe sent a telegram to his father, telling him of Jamie’s illness. Ben was two days away so Joe knew it was going to be up to him and Hoss to care of Jamie until Pa arrived home.
At the house, Paul’s diagnosis of a fever and sore throat were a relief for the brothers.
“And what about the fall, Doc?”
“Thankfully the fall didn’t cause any injuries. I’ll call again tomorrow. Just follow Hop Sing’s advice and Jamie should be fine in a few days.”
“Thanks Paul. Ya don’t need to worry. He’s in good hands.”
“I know he is, Hoss. You’re Ben’s boys and he taught you well. I’ll see myself out.”
Hoss and Joe shared a look as Jamie stared at them with rheumy eyes. “What did he mean, Pa taught you well?”
Before Joe could answer Hop Sing arrived with tea and broth for Jamie. “Brothers leave, Jamie eat then sleep.”
Jamie’s dejected look made Joe pause at the door and mouth, “I’ll be back.”
Jamie smiled weakly as he accepted the broth from Hop Sing.
Over the next twenty-four hours, Jamie’s fever escalated. Joe and Hoss set up shifts to tend to Jamie until the crisis passed. Hop Sing fixed light meals for the brothers to eat in Jamie’s room, knowing they would not leave until the fever broke.
Jamie would awaken from time to time and notice Joe or Hoss sitting by the bed. He would try to say a few words, or hear them reading to him, or drink some broth they gave him, then drift back to sleep.
By the second day, he woke up to a cool hand pushing matted hair from his face. He leaned into the hand and opened his eyes. Dark brown eyes crinkled at the corners and Jamie heard the familiar voice. “Good morning, son. How are you feeling?”
“Bet-ter.” Jamie couldn’t seem to make his voice work right and frowned at the pain in his throat.
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked right now. Doctor Martin says your throat will be sore for a few more days but your fever is broken. You’re on the mend now.”
Jamie nodded but continued to stare at his father. Ben noticed and figured Jamie wanted to talk. He retrieved a pen and some paper from Jamie’s desk and handed it to him.
Jamie wrote his question despite his shaky hands. “What did Doc Martin mean that you taught your boys well?”
Perplexed at the question Ben showed the paper to Joe and Hoss just as they entered the room with a tray of food.
“Oh that. Sorry Jamie. I never did explain that since your fever became worse. Do you remember me and Hoss being here, by your bed?”
Joe placed his hand gently on his father’s shoulder and the two shared a knowing smile. “Well, since this the first time you’ve ever been really sick you haven’t experienced what we call ‘The Cartwright Vigil’. Joe sat on the edge of the bed as Hoss took his place at the foot, smiling down at his littlest brother. “You see, whenever we would get sick…”
Hoss interrupted with a nod toward Joe, “Or injured.”
“Yeah, or injured, Pa would stay by our bedside until we were better. During the rough times, he wouldn’t leave no matter what. Even after we became adults, he still stays with us.”
Expressions of warmth and understanding were shared by the older Cartwrights. Hoss looked back at Jamie. “So that’s what Doc Martin meant when he said we were Ben’s boys an’ he taught us well. Doc knew you were in very good hands with me an’ Joe takin’ care of ya.” He winked at his father. “We learned from the very best caregiver there is.”
Jamie reached for his Pa’s hand and gave it a good squeeze. He swallowed and managed to squeak out his heart-felt words, “I must be pret-ty luck-y to have all three of you then.”
Laughter filled the room. Jamie’s smile remained as he sank into his pillow and drifted back to sleep, secure in the knowledge that someone would be sitting in that chair when he next awoke.
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