Summary: This sequel to “The Duet” has Martha Louise singing with both Adam and Hoss one fine Easter.
Rating: K+ word count: 2666
Ellen DeCort knew that Martha Louise Blankenship had entered the mercantile though her companion did not. Ellen pitched her voice so that Martha Louise would be sure to hear. “Adam’s hardly had a minute to spend with me for weeks. It seems he needs every minute he has away from ranch business to practice with Martha Louise.” Adam had been escorting Ellen DeCort about Virginia City for the past five months, and his recent lack of attention had been noted.
“Adam and Martha Louise are singing for Easter services, aren’t they?” The volume of Nettie Blaine’s response matched Ellen’s statement instinctively.
“Yes. Reverend Forrester has them doing several songs together, more’s the pity.” Ellen’s displeasure was clear.
“Everyone thought it was lovely when they sang together on Christmas Eve,” Nettie ventured.
“Everyone doesn’t realize what an effort it takes on Adam’s part,” Ellen replied. “I mean. . . I know Martha Louise has a pretty little voice, but, really, Adam is a trained singer, and, well, like I said the effort he has to put in to make a duet between them presentable. If Martha Louise had a lick of sense, she’d realize everyone would prefer to listen to Adam sing unencumbered by the likes of her.”
“Adam does have a marvelous voice.” Nettie gave a general agreement to her friend’s observation deciding not to mention that she thought Martha Louise and Adam sang very well together.
“And he’s so handsome standing there in his black suit.” Ellen continued, “Then you have Martha Louise. If I was that fat, goodness knows I wouldn’t want to stand in front of the congregation saying look at me.”
“Well, there is that.” Nettie gave a nervous titter.
From the corner of her eye Ellen saw Martha Louise’s sudden departure, and a sly smile slid onto her face. “There certainly is,” she observed, and it occurred to Nettie that Ellen looked like the cat who had gotten into the cream.
Reverend Forrester walked down the middle aisle of the church clapping softly. “Well done!”
“Thank you, Reverend,” both Adam and Martha Louise responded.
“The congregation is certainly in for a treat.” The reverend smiled benevolently at the two singers.
“We’ve been working very hard,” Martha Louise murmured. “Mr. Cartwright’s so patient with me.”
Adam’s low chuckle filled the air. “Patience is not something often connected with my name. You must bring out the best in my character, Martha Louise. That or our surroundings do.” Adam’s hand swept through the air in a gesture that drew all eyes around the church sanctuary.
“Well, the Lord’s house should inspire the best in us all,” the reverend observed.
“Of course,” Adam replied. Then he drew his watch from his pocket and glanced at it quickly. “Reverend, Martha Louise, you must excuse me. I’ve still a few errands, and. . .”
“Of course,” Martha Louise inserted. “Go, please, I’ve kept you here too long already.”
“Yes, do go on, son. From what I just heard, no more practice is needed,” the reverend urged.
Adam departed after telling Martha Louise that he would try to meet her on Thursday for a final practice.
“Umm, Reverend, ummm, Mr. Cartwright has such a marvelous voice, and he knows so much about music, I just, well, don’t you think, perhaps it would be best if he sang alone. Oh, I’d still play, but. . .”
“Now, child, don’t get nervous. The two of you, well, the Lord will be well pleased with your gift to him and so will the congregation.”
“If you think so,” Martha Louise demurred.
“It’s going to be such a lovely service,” the reverend declared beaming in anticipation.
Martha Louise agreed hesitantly as she chewed on her lower lip.
Martha Louise watched Adam walk through the door of the church followed by his family. She swallowed the lump in her throat and smoothed her skirt. Then she walked quickly forward. When she reached Adam, she tugged lightly on his sleeve. He turned and looked down at her. She dropped her eyes to the floor. “I’m sorry.” Her voice was barely a gruff whisper. She placed her hand to her throat. “It started last night,” she managed to continue, “I can’t sing, but I’ll play.”
A frown creased Adam Cartwright’s forehead. “You have laryngitis; you’re sure?”
Martha Louise nodded and looked directly at Adam for the first time that morning. She nodded again. He saw the sheen of tears in her eyes.
“Well, there’s nothing for it then. Are you sure you feel well enough to play?”
Martha Louise nodded again. The church bells started to peal above their heads, and Adam lead Martha Louise to their reserved seats in the front pew. Then he went to speak quickly to Reverend Forrester to alert him to the change in plans.
The service began. When Adam started singing the first song solo, Ben exchanged looks with Hoss and then Little Joe, but it was clear that neither of them knew why Adam was singing without Martha Louise. No one noticed the extraordinarily smug smile that settled on the face of Ellen Decort. By the time Adam sang alone for the third time, the Cartwrights had pushed the question of why from their minds and simply enjoyed Adam’s beautiful rendition of “Come Let Us with Our Lord Arise.”
When the services ended, dozens of parishioners surged forward to congratulate Adam while Martha Louise slipped quickly out the back door of the sanctuary.
The church had decided on a community Easter dinner on the back lawn. The Cartwrights had supplied no less than three steers for the barbeque, and every female congregant over the age of twelve had brought at least two specialty dishes and a dessert to laden the temporary plank tables. The grass was dotted with colorful blankets and quilts while the Easter finery created a garden rivaling any in Europe.
Little Joe spotted his big brother Hoss sitting on a quilt at the edge of the festivities. Crawling across his lap were the O’Conner twins, one-year-old bundles of perpetual motion. Joe started toward his brother as he planned a few choice jibes, but just as he would have entered Hoss’s line of sight, first one and then the other twin began squalling in increasing volume, so Joe back stepped quickly into the shadows.
Hoss looked around for Tess O’Conner or her husband, but neither of the twins’ parents was in sight. He checked bottoms, cooed softly, rubbed backs, and cuddled one twin in each arm, but neither of the babies quieted. Hoss was at a loss as to what to do next when he heard a soft voice come over his shoulder.
“They’re probably overtired and due for a nap.”
Hoss glanced up to see Martha Louise Blankenship standing behind him. “That may be, Martha Louise, but . . .”
“Try a lullaby,” Martha Louise encouraged as she leaned down over his shoulder.
“Well, now that might be a thought iffen I could carry a tune in a bucket,” Hoss replied.
“Of course you can carry one. You’re always helping somebody carry something, so just let me help you carry a tune.” Martha Louise lowered herself to settle next to Hoss.
“Now, I don’t know…”
“Yes, you do. Come on now,” Martha Louise’s voice softened into the melody as she began, “Hush little baby don’t say a word. . .”
Hoss joined in at her nudge, “Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird. . .”
Little Joe listened as Martha Louise’s voice slid under his brother’s and seemed to carry it along.
“And if that mockingbird don’t sing, Papa’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.”
The twins had stopped squalling by the time Papa was gonna buy a billy goat and started to babble an accompaniment by the time Papa was set to buy a dog named Rover. Little Joe came out of the shadows and inched closer as the final strains filled the spring air.
“You’re still the sweetest little babies in town.”
“Martha Louise!” The deep sharp tones startled everyone including the twins who started to whimper.
Martha Louise looked up to see Adam Cartwright striding the last few steps to stand behind Hoss.
“You lied to me!”
Martha Louise scrambled to her feet stuttering, “I, I, I”
“You lied to me!” Adam repeated his accusation in a lower but even sharper-edged voice.
“I, you don’t understand, I. . .”
“No, you don’t understand, girl. I do not tolerate being the recipient of a purposeful and direct lie!”
Martha Louise’s mouth opened, but no words exited as she stared into Adam’s dark glare.
“What do you have to say for yourself?” Adam’s hands had moved to his hips. “No, there is nothing you can say.”
“I’m sorry,” the cowed girl managed to mutter.
“And I shall forgive you, but not until after your comeuppance.”
“Comeuppance?” The word was merely a strangled sound.
“There is always a comeuppance when someone lies to me. Ask Little Joe there.”
Hoss had listened to the exchange with increasing anxiety and tried to rise, but two squirming babies impeded his progress.
Adam stepped closer to Martha Louise and took her firmly by the upper arm. Hoss would have grabbed his brother, but both hands where full of whimpering twins.
“Come with me.” It was an order that Adam expected to be obeyed.
Little Joe ventured a step forward. “Adam?” Adam turned his head to look directly at his younger brother. Little Joe studied his brother’s eyes.
“Little Joe, go and ring the church bell. Now!” Adam moved forward toward the church towing Martha Louise.
“Now, Adam. . .” Hoss’s voice had an urgent tone.
“It’s okay, Hoss, really,” Little Joe offered, “those weren’t his spanking eyes.” Little Joe then took off at a run to obey his own order from elder brother.
Hoss managed to turn the twins over to their mother as the sound of church bells drew a crowd up the steps and into the church. When he entered the church was full. He saw his older brother standing beside the piano where Martha Louise was seated.
Adam motioned for quiet and then announced, “Some of you know that Martha Louise was to sing with me this morning. Well, the problem with her voice has been resolved, and I wanted all of you to hear what we had prepared.”
The crowd murmured its approval, and Martha Louise fingered the opening chords of Mendelssohn’s “Halleluiah Chorus.”
Standing with his two younger sons, Ben Cartwright listened to the voice of his eldest mix with that of Martha Louise as the two echoed and swirled around each other. To Ben’s mind there was only one description for what he heard. The two voices danced to the rafters carrying the hearts of their listeners with them.
When the last chords faded, Hoss’s pride and exuberance overcame him, and he started applauding with gusto. The rest of the listeners soon joined him except for one. Hoss noticed Ellen DeCort turn on her heel with a scowl darkening her face and exit the church in what could only be termed a huff.
Adam turned and gave his hand to Martha Louise who rose and faced the crowd but kept her eyes lowered.
“Now, friends, Martha Louise and I had the thought that a good old-fashioned camp sing might be just the way to end this social, so we’re going to lead one. As some of the tunes will be too worldly for this sanctuary, we invite you to join us on the back lawn.” There were numerous assertions of approval in response. Then Adam called out, “Joe, would you please bring me. . .”
Before he could finish his request, Joe sang out, “Of course, Elder Brother!” He knew that Adam had brought his guitar with plans of a private serenade for Ellen DeCort. Joe himself saw little to appreciate in Ellen other than her rather brittle good looks and found that he was quiet pleased to assist in diverting his brother from that course of action.
Adam was soon seated on the top step of the backstairs to the church with Martha Louise beside him. A sea of people was spread across the lawn below them. Adam started off with the well-known “Sweet Betsy from Pike” which had everyone singing along. The music continued for over two hours. Many songs were sung by the entire crowd, but Adam and Martha Louise added several impromptu duets and a few individual performances of sweet ballads. Without prompting, Little Joe brought them both lemonade when their voices began to falter after the first hour. Then Adam noticed some of those who lived further from town looking at the lowering sun and ended the session with a rousing rendition of “Christ the Lord Has Risen This Day!” as befitted the Easter celebration.
As the crowd scattered below them, Adam turned to Martha Louise and said, “Now you are forgiven, but don’t ever lie to me again.”
“I won’t, Mr. Cartwright,” Martha Louise answered and managed a smile.
Adam gave an exaggerated wince. “Martha Louise, please stop calling me Mr. Cartwright; you make me feel as if I have as many gray hairs as my father.”
“Is that so!” Ben Cartwright and his two youngest sons had come to join Adam on the church steps.
Adam gave another wince at the sound of his father’s voice and then turned to look over his shoulder into his father’s scowl. “And that tone makes me feel years younger than Little Joe. Sorry for any offense, Pa.”
Ben was much too pleased with his eldest to maintain his scowl. “Apology accepted. Your singing was lovely, but Martha Louise why didn’t you sing this morning at services?”
Adam’s tone became sternly demanding, “Yes, Martha Louise, why didn’t you sing at services this morning?”
Martha Louise’s eyes dropped to her hands which began nervously twisting the cloth of her skirt. “I just, well, I thought everyone would rather listen to you sing alone.”
“Why would you ever think that?” A furrow appeared on Adam’s brow.
“Um, well, I heard someone, some people say that people would.”
“Who?” Adam’s one-syllable inquiry was steel-edged.
“I’d rather not. . .”
Hoss’s voice cut into her words, “Was it Ellen DeCort?”
Martha Louise did not make a verbal acknowledgement, but Adam saw the truth in her face. “She said that to you!”
“No, I overheard her say it to someone else; they agreed.”
Adam drew in a long breath, and rose to his feet. “I’ll leave the lecture on eavesdropping to Pa. I have something important that needs my immediate attention.”
Adam’s family watched him stride off angrily, but none of them were moved to intercede on Ellen’s behalf.
Martha Louise looked up at Ben Cartwright contritely awaiting a scolding.
Ben glared down at her for a moment and then said simply, “Ah, yes, eavesdropping, I don’t recommend it.”
Martha Louise smiled and replied, “I promise to avoid it in the future.”
Little Joe rolled his eyes and muttered, “Maybe I should have been born a girl.”
Hoss reached down and gave Martha Louise his hand. “Martha Louise, might I see ya home?”
“That would be very nice,” the girl replied as Hoss slipped her arm into his.
As they watched the two of them walk away, Ben dropped his arm around the shoulders of his youngest son.
“You’re really proud of Adam, aren’t ya, Pa?” Little Joe observed giving his father a sideways glance.
“Well, that duet was quite marvelous, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, elder brother has quite a voice, but I heard a duet that was even better today,” Little Joe announced with a grin.
“You did, did you?” Ben turned to raise his eyebrow inquiringly at his son. “And just who sang that one?”
“Hoss and Martha Louise.”
“Your brother Hoss?” Ben’s tone was incredulous.
“Yep! You wouldn’t have believed it, Pa; it was a thing of beauty.” Little Joe stuffed his hands in his pockets and strolled away from his speechless father whistling “Hush Little Baby” cheerfully if slightly off-key.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, brothers, Family, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright,
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