Summary: Little Joe finds true love with a girl he has known all his life, but their wedded bliss begins unexpectedly! Rated: MA (13,925 words)
This is a Little Joe romance. It is rated MA due to sexual situations, so be forewarned! This story also features Amy Bishop from the “Truckee Strip” episode.
Destiny Next Door
Little Joe Cartwright was riding away from the logging camp where timber was being cut for one of the Cartwright family’s largest timber contracts to date. It had been a long day. In fact, it had been a long two weeks, but the order was on schedule and he was pleased about it.
The sun was getting low in the sky, but Joe was going to stop by the pond where he had recently become reacquainted Amy Bishop, hoping she would be there. He had grown up knowing Amy, who was younger than he and who lived on the ranch next to the Ponderosa. But over the years—and especially in the whirlwind of romances that Joe was always involved in—they had lost touch. A few weeks ago he had stopped by the pond which bordered the property between the Cartwright and Bishop ranches, on his way home from the logging site. He really had been looking for stray cattle, but a short rest near the peaceful pond didn’t sound too bad, either. When he got there he had found Amy swimming in the pond. He didn’t recognize her at first, but she had known him right away. She made him turn around while she got out of the water and quickly dressed. He had helped her button her dress up the back in the places she couldn’t reach by herself.
That was when he had been able to take a good look at Amy. She sure had grown up since he had seen her last. And she sure had gotten pretty, too. She had long, wavy brown hair, large brown eyes with long dark lashes and full, beautiful lips made for kissing. She wasn’t very tall, the top of her head reaching only to Little Joe’s shoulder, and she was slight. She also had a way of looking up at him that made him want to take her in his arms and make the rest of the world go away. Amy was sweet and thoughtful, but she was also lonely. Living with her father and three brothers in their ranch house, she was the only female, her mother having died some years before. So Little Joe had taken to riding by the pond most days after work to see if she was there. And usually she was.
At first they just spent time talking to each other. Sometimes he brought along one of his brother Adam’s books of poetry and read to her. She enjoyed that. Sometimes she read to him, too, while he lay in the grass, chewing on a long piece of it, watching the sky. But Joe being Joe, it hadn’t taken him long before he kissed her. And once that happened, he was lost. As soon as his lips had touched hers, he knew he wanted to taste more. His arms had moved around her shoulders to bring her closer to him, and he gave her long, passionate kisses that made her shiver. Within a week he told her he loved her. She had laughed then, telling him that she knew exactly how many girls in the area that he “loved”. He had the grace to blush at that, because he did have a reputation as a ladies’ man, but he urgently tried to persuade her that he meant what he was telling her. She admitted to herself that she was enthralled by his attentions, and she eagerly looked forward to their meetings. She especially enjoyed kissing him. She hadn’t kissed many boys in her young life, but Little Joe certainly knew what he was doing in that department.
He hadn’t said anything to his family yet, partly because there had been disagreements between Luther Bishop and Ben Cartwright over timber and land rights over the years. Even so, they had known each other for many years and deep down they respected each other. Still, for now, Joe wanted to keep his growing friendship with Amy to himself.
He found himself smiling when he saw Amy waiting by the pond. She was sitting quietly with a book, reading. She looked up and smiled as she saw his approach. She stood when he dismounted, and in only a few seconds they were in each other’s arms.
“Oh Amy, you just don’t know how much I miss you when we’re not together,” he whispered to her.
“I miss you too, Little Joe. I wish we could be together more.”
“Well, really, I don’t know why we can’t! Why don’t I pick you up on Saturday afternoon and we’ll go for a buggy ride together?”
She hesitated and fingered a button on his shirt. “Do you think we’d get in trouble if anyone saw us together?”
“Who would we get in trouble with? Your father? Your brothers?”
She nodded and looked up at him. She was uncertain.
“Amy, I’m not afraid of your father. I’m not afraid to let him know that I care about you. Any problems he has with the Ponderosa are between my father and him, not me.” He gave her an encouraging smile and squeezed her shoulders.
“Well, maybe it would be better if we met somewhere else first,” Amy was still unsure.
Joe put a finger under her chin to lift her face up toward his. “I care about you, Amy. Sooner or later your family is going to know about that. We might as well get it over with.”
Amy nodded, and then gave Joe a smile. It would be easier to have it out in the open. It was just that her father and brothers could be very intimidating at times. They agreed that Joe would pick her up at 2:00 on Saturday afternoon.
When the appointed day and time arrived, Little Joe pulled up to the Bishop residence with the best Ponderosa buggy and team of carriage horses. Amy’s brother, Luke, was lounging on the front porch, a piece of straw in his mouth. He was leaning on the back legs of a chair, studying Joe from beneath hooded eyelids. Luke said nothing, but Joe tipped his hat and gave him a friendly “good afternoon”. He went to the front door and knocked. He wasn’t surprised to see Amy’s father, Luther Bishop, answer the door. He didn’t look completely happy.
“Little Joe, come in,” he said somewhat grudgingly, holding the door open. “I won’t say that I’m entirely pleased to have you and Amy seeing each other, but then again, I’ve always tried to be a fair man, and I’ll be the first to say that my arguments have never been with you, son, they’ve been with your pa.”
“Thank you, sir,” Joe replied sincerely. “I enjoy Amy’s company, and I’ll take good care of her.”
“Well, see that you do,” he said gruffly. Just then Amy came into the front room in a beautiful white dress sprigged with flowers and a straw bonnet with a matching sprigged bow. She gave Joe a happy smile, and kissed her father’s cheek as they got ready to leave the house.
Luke was gone from the porch when they got outside. Promising to be back before dinner, Joe helped Amy into the buggy and then jumped in beside her and slapped the reins to start the team off.
“See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” Joe was in a good mood.
“No,” Amy sat back, relaxed at last. “But it did take me some time to work up the courage to tell Daddy. My brothers weren’t too pleased, though. They seem to think that all Cartwrights are our enemies.”
“Well, then, I hope I get the opportunity to show them that’s not true.” Joe headed the horses for the Lake Tahoe overlook. It was one of the prettiest spots on the Ponderosa, and one of the most romantic too. Perfect for kissing.
On July 4th, Little Joe escorted Amy to a dance in Virginia City. Her father had given his permission. He would be at the dance too, in addition to Amy’s brothers, Luke, Sam and Pete. The dance was crowded, and Joe, who loved to dance, kept Amy busy dance after dance, moving at a lively pace around and around the dance floor. Every time they passed one of her brothers dancing with a beau, Joe made a point of nodding and smiling in their direction. He would win them over if it killed him, he had decided.
At last, Amy insisted they take a breather, so they moved away from the dancers to get some punch. As they were sipping their drinks and watching the other couples dance, Joe felt a poke in his back. He turned to see Amy’s brother, Sam.
“Hey, Cartwright, how about letting someone else dance with my sister?” The tone of his voice was pleasant, but with a sarcastic undertone.
“Sure, Sam, I don’t mind,” Joe smiled, stepping back obligingly. Amy looked at him quickly as Sam stepped forward to move his sister to the floor. Joe spent that dance talking with friends he knew who were also in attendance. Several girls approached him and feigned hurt that he appeared to be “off the market” in terms of dating these days. He just laughed and paid them compliments to their beauty, which always left them in smiles.
It soon became apparent to Joe that between Sam, Luke and Pete, they were going to keep Amy dancing for the rest of the evening, just not in his arms. His brother, Adam, who was also at the dance, smoothly rectified the situation. He very politely cut in on Pete Bishop and began dancing with Amy, who was very pink-cheeked at that point. When the music finished, Adam deftly delivered Amy to Little Joe, who swiftly guided her away for a short walk. They moved down the street a little, in the direction of a group that was gathering to watch the upcoming fireworks.
When the glorious bursts of sparkle and color began exploding in the sky, Joe and Amy held hands, enjoying the show. After it was over, Joe drew her down a quiet side street and behind some bushes to kiss her. She responded warmly to his kisses, even when he opened his mouth and drew her deeper into his longing. He moaned, and tightened his arms around her. She was clutching his arms, but she was kissing him back. One thing he had to give her, she looked fragile, but she wasn’t afraid to give as good as she got.
When they broke apart, needing to catch their breaths, Little Joe laughed. “Amy, you just don’t know how you make me feel.”
Her look at him was quizzical. “I hope it’s not bad?”
“No, Amy,” he said gently. “It’s good. It’s very good,” and then he bent he head to hers again.
It was a particularly hot day about a week later and Joe was riding back toward home just past noon. He was dusty and sweaty, and he decided to take a detour to Amy’s Pond. That was the name he had given it, even though it was technically on Cartwright property. The pond wasn’t exactly on his way, but the thought of the cool water was more than Little Joe could resist. It wasn’t the time that he usually found Amy there, so he wasn’t expecting to see her.
As Cochise moved toward the cool water, Joe was surprised to see that she was there. She was swimming. She was very quiet, moving her arms idly back and forth in the water, just seeming to enjoy herself. He dismounted and tethered Cochise to a nearby shrub. The water beckoned him, and without thinking about what he was doing, he began to undress. Amy hadn’t seen him; her back was turned to him. He was very quiet, and slipped into the water, relishing the coolness that enveloped him. He moved up silently behind her, and slipped his arms around her waist. She yelped in surprise, and turned at his touch.
“Oh, Joe!” Her cheeks turned red and her hands flew up to cover them. Then she became suddenly preoccupied with the sight of Joe’s shirtless chest. It was smooth and muscled. She was speechless.
Little Joe, not having thought this through at all, found himself staring at Amy’s white shoulders. Quickly he pulled her into an embrace, and for the first time they both enjoyed the feeling of complete skin-to-skin contact. His hands moved up and down her back, and her arms reached up around his neck. His head came down to capture her lips against his for a long, gentle kiss. When they stopped, it seemed they spent the longest time just looking into each other’s eyes. Neither spoke, unsure of the next step. Joe finally moved his hands up her arms, then down her sides, to her waist and hips. Amy had thrown her head back and small moans were escaping her mouth by that time. She brought her head up to kiss him again, longingly.
“Amy, I love you. You’re so beautiful.” Joe was kissing her neck and her face, and as he shifted in the water, she felt the effect of their closeness on him. At the feel of it, she gasped again, catching Joe’s attention.
“Amy, maybe we should stop. I didn’t intend for all this to happen. I don’t know what I was thinking…” he stopped, having no rational excuse.
At the sound of his voice, she took a step back from him. But then her arms reached out and her hands touched his shoulders and moved slowly down his chest and belly. He almost groaned out loud at her touch.
“What happens if we stop?” Her question was innocent.
“Then I think about you every moment, day and night, from now on,” he whispered to her.
“What happens if we don’t stop?”
“Then I make love to you right here, and still think about you every moment, day and night, from now on.”
Amy moved toward him a step, slipped her arms around him, and rested her head on his shoulder. They stood that way for a long time, neither one moving, neither speaking.
“Joe, love me,” she whispered.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” Joe knew it was reckless, but he was virtually past caring.
“Yes, but you’ll have to help me,” she whispered against his shoulder.
Carefully he moved to the edge of the pond, secluded on all sides by tall, dense shrubs. He stopped to ask her again if she was sure, and with her solemn assent, he loved her while they both held onto each other. If she experienced any discomfort, she gave no indication. She was mostly silent, resting her head against him when they weren’t kissing, holding on tight. Afterward he was quiet, this time burying his face in her neck, and breathing heavily. After long minutes had passed, he raised his head to look at her. She looked back, smiling as she stroked his face with her hand, brushing back his errant hair. They kissed softly and he watched her face carefully.
“Amy, that was perfect, but I’m not sure it was the smartest thing we could have done. Not only will I want you more, I have probably ruined your reputation. And if your family finds out…” he let this last trail off since they both knew what that meant.
She put a finger to his lips. “”Shhh, Joe, let me worry about my reputation. I asked you, remember? Thank you for showing me. Thank you.”
Slowly they disengaged themselves from each other and got dressed. Joe was appreciating Amy’s soft curves in all the right places, and she was admiring his lean, hard muscles. Joe knew he would be late now, but before he left he extracted a promise from Amy to meet him there the following day. Before mounting Cochise, his kissed her deeply, one last time. “Remember, I love you.”
“I love you, too, Joe,” she whispered.
That day in the pond was their only water episode of love, but on subsequent Saturday rides together, which were becoming regular, Little Joe would often stop the buggy in a very secluded, densely forested area with a small clearing. He would spread a blanket where they would undress and love each other at leisure. Little Joe knew they were going to have to either stop or face the consequences of what they were doing. He knew they were taking chances, but he loved her and would gladly have married her. He even told her so, assuring her that she was the only girl he was seeing, which was true. She, however, would calmly refuse to discuss the matter, much to his frustration, even though she professed to love him.
Her father, Luther, seemed to be getting used to seeing Joe come around to court his daughter. Her brothers, however, were a different story. They would smilingly taunt Joe whenever they could, and promise him an unpleasant future if he so much as harmed a hair on the head of their sister. Joe resisted their attempts to rile him, knowing that this was in Amy’s best interest. He also didn’t want anything to upset the delicate balance of peace he had struck with the Bishop family. So he was determinedly and consistently friendly to her brothers.
One day Joe told Amy that round-up was starting on the Ponderosa. This generally took several weeks and required the help of every able hand available. All the cattle were rounded up, counted, branded if newborn, culled out if they were disabled or diseased, and then herded to market. It was a hard, dusty, dirty and tiring process. But it was essential to the running of a ranch.
Round-up meant that Joe would be gone for an extended period of time, and wouldn’t be able to see Amy until he returned. Amy just nodded when he told her; she was familiar with round-ups because they also occurred on the Bishop ranch. Her father and brothers all went, and she was left alone at home with their cook and housekeeper, which she didn’t particularly enjoy, but it was part of ranch life. She accepted it.
They loved each other one last time, knowing they would be apart for days. Joe told her how much he loved her and wanted to be with her. Her hand caressed his cheek and she smiled at him. “I love you, too, Joe,” she whispered, searching his eyes. He drove her home and escorted her to the door, where he placed a chaste kiss on her cheek.
Round-up seemed to take forever. That was a general consensus among the Ponderosa hands. It was partly due to the downpour of rain that seemed to drench them daily. Often they worked soaking wet and ankle deep in mud. Sleeping on the wet ground was mighty uncomfortable, and good, hot food was hard to come by. The wet conditions made branding the new cattle difficult, and driving the herd to market was just plain hellish. At least when they got to the Salt Lake City market, there was a hotel with clean beds, steaming baths and hot food. Joe, Hoss and Adam, along with a dozen of their ranch hands, were glad to be on the final leg of this annual event.
Once the cattle had been sold and their work done, they headed home with relief, and then, of course, the sun shone brightly in a clear blue sky all the way. When they reached Virginia City one late afternoon, Little Joe stopped at the Silver Dollar Saloon for a beer. Adam and Hoss rode on home, anxious to see their wives and families again.
Joe stayed at the Silver Dollar until twilight, jawing with friends and playing a couple games of poker in which he essentially broke even. Bidding good-bye, he headed outside, ready for the hour-long ride to the Ponderosa. He walked down the board walk to where Cochise was tethered. As he passed an alley, three men stepped out from the shadows suddenly, cornering him. They hauled him down the alley and one of them pinned his arms behind his back while the other two pummeled him mercilessly. Their faces were covered with bandanas, but they were all slim and about the same age and height. Joe took hits to the face and mid-section. In between the explosions of pain, Joe, struggling fiercely, managed to kick one of his attackers under the chin and the other in the ribs. He was outnumbered and pinned, however, and they eventually let him drop, defeated, to the ground. As they left him, one growled, “Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”
Joe wasn’t sure how long he lay in the alley, his head pounding and his face bleeding. He thought he may have some broken ribs from all the gut punching, but he never bothered to check. His body would tell him soon enough. After several attempts, he got onto his knees and then very slowly struggled to his feet. Staying upright was enough of a challenge to keep him occupied for several minutes. He staggered to the street, seeing no one, even though the hour couldn’t have been very late. Cochise was where she’d been left, and Joe pulled himself into the saddle painfully. Getting up in the saddle was the worst part. It caused explosions of pain that made him see stars. He started the horse toward home, slowly, leaning in the saddle, gasping for air, his side aching sharply. Yep, broken ribs. He tried to figure a reason for what happened. He wasn’t having any differences with anyone that he knew of; his wallet was still in his jacket, so robbery wasn’t the motive. But they said he had been warned…warned…the word rang in his head the entire way home.
Cochise seemed to know that her owner was in bad shape, because she made no sudden moves all the way to the Ponderosa. When she brought Joe into the front yard of the ranch house, Joe was leaning against her neck, grasping the pommel of his saddle just to stay mounted. He slid off the horse and landed painfully on the ground. He stayed there several minutes, gathering the energy to move toward the house. This he ultimately did on his hands and knees, until one of the hands found him, and called out for help. Thus it was that Joe was brought inside with a ranch hand walking him on either side. Ben, Hoss, Erin and baby Eric were all in the great room by the fireplace.
The family all jumped up when they saw Joe. He felt a sense of relief that he no longer had to worry about moving. They took over for him, moving him to the settee, laying him down, calling for Hop Sing to come with water and bandages. A ranch hand was sent to bring Doc Martin to wrap the broken ribs. Adam and Mary Lynn ran downstairs when they heard the shouting. Adam studied his brother critically. He had a black eye, a cut on his forehead, a split lip, a suspiciously crooked nose and assorted bruises on his shoulders and torso.
“Joe, what did you do to get into this? You were fine when we left you!”
“That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to figure out,” Joe mumbled in reply.
“”Little Brother, did you get a look at who beat up on you?” This came from Hoss, leaning over him.
Joe shook his head. “Faces covered.”
“Shh now, no more talking,” this came from Ben, who didn’t want his son moving or talking any more than he had to. Hop Sing was sitting close to Joe’s head now, bathing his wounds and placing salve or poultices wherever he could. He conferred with Erin about the proper poultice to use. Erin’s years living with the Sioux Indians had given her a great store of knowledge regarding healing herbs. She and Hop Sing often compared notes on this topic.
Hoss and Adam helped move Little Joe upstairs to his bed. Doc Martin could see him up there, and until he arrived, Joe could rest. Joe was sleeping within minutes of being tucked into his bed. In the morning he hardly remembered Doc Martin examining him. The only sure proof he had that the doctor had even been there were the bandages wrapped around his ribs. He spent most of that next day in bed, but moved gingerly downstairs for dinner with the family that night. He looked a sight, he knew. His face was swollen and purplish. He had a shiner to beat all shiners around his left eye, which was mostly swollen shut. His nose was broken, and Doc Martin had set it for him. He wasn’t going anywhere for a couple of days, he knew that.
It felt good to be surrounded by his family, though. There was always a lot going on at the Cartwright dinner table these days. With Hoss and Erin and their baby, along with Adam and Mary Lynn with their three children, sometimes things got chaotic, but there was always fun and laughter. Joe found himself sitting next to his two-and-a-half year old nephew, Logan, who could be a terror. Joe was pelted with peas despite Mary Lynn’s strictest admonitions to her son, but Joe figured a few peas on his face could hardly make a difference at this point.
The following day just after the noon meal, there was a sharp knock at the door. Hop Sing answered it, and then came quickly calling for Ben, who found Luther Bishop and his sons at the door. They wore stern faces and were all carrying rifles.
“Luther, boys, this is a surprise,” Ben wore a half smile and his face clearly showed that he was, indeed, surprised to see the neighbors he was sometimes at odds with.
“You could say that, Ben,” Luther said wryly. “We’re here for your boy, Joe.”
“You have business with Joe?” Ben was even more perplexed.
“You could say that,” Luther Bishop said tightly.
“Well, please come in and tell us what this is all about,” Ben stepped back, opening the door wider to invite the group inside. By this time, Joe, Hoss and Adam had joined their father at the front door.
Luther looked Joe up and down appraisingly. “Looks like you got on the wrong side of someone, boy,” he commented.
“Yeah, it seems that way,” Joe said, staring pointedly at the purple bruise on Sam Bishop’s chin. He distinctly remembered getting off a kick to the chin of one of his attackers. At that, Sam looked at his feet and fingered his chin self-consciously.
“Would you gentlemen like to sit down,” Ben was still struggling to make sense of this call, which clearly wasn’t social.
“No, Ben, we’ll just get to the point,” Luther told him, his voice turning stony. “My Amy is expectin’, and Little Joe here is the father. We’re here to take him to the reverend’s to get them married. Amy’s waitin’ out in the wagon.”
Joe closed his eyes. He had been afraid a day like this would come. Now he understood why he had been beaten, and what the comment about a warning had meant. He knew that his family was staring at him, wordlessly, speechless.
“Now wait a minute…” Ben began.
“Wait, nothin’,” Luther responded. “He can take responsibility for what he did. I told him to do good by my daughter, and he didn’t.”
Ben took a step forward. “Did your boys do this to Joe,” he gestured toward Joe’s black eye. “I should press charges against them.” His voice had an ominous tone to it.
Luther took a step toward Ben. “And I should press charges against your boy for takin’ advantage of my girl!” They were almost nose to nose.
Now Joe’s temper was rising. “Now wait just a minute…” he said, repeating what his father had just said, his eyes flashing. He was aware of his father’s glare directed his way. “Wait! Everyone, will you just listen to me! I’ve been asking Amy to marry me and she has refused. I haven’t been trying to shirk any responsibility. I love her,” Joe raised his voice to be heard above the buzz of voices.
Ben finally insisted loudly that the Bishops sit in the great room, and then taking his youngest son by the arm, propelled him into the kitchen and out the back door. “Now Joseph, exactly what is this about?” Ben’s voice was low and demanding.
Joe looked down. “I’m sorry, Pa, but it’s probably true. Amy and I have been meeting for weeks now. I love her, and she loves me. If she’s pregnant, then it’s my baby. I don’t know how many times I told her I wanted to marry her. I don’t know why she kept saying no.” His voice was miserable.
“Well, then, it looks like you’ll be marrying her, although I don’t know that it has to be a shotgun wedding,” Ben stated, feeling distinctly disgruntled.
Joe put out a hand on his father’s arm, halting him when he might have returned to the Bishops. “It doesn’t matter to me. I’ll marry her now. I want to.”
Ben gave him a look that clearly said ‘Cartwrights don’t do this’ and then spun around and walked back inside. Joe remained still, scuffing up a cloud of dust with the toe of his boot. He heard footsteps approaching and looked up to see Adam joining him. He cringed inside. Adam could be very critical and punctilious when he wanted to.
For a few seconds, though, he was silent. Then he put a hand on Joe’s shoulder. “Look, Joe,” he started gently. “You know that Mary Lynn and I started our marriage with a pregnancy. It’s not the worst thing in the world, and it sounds as though your heart’s in the right place. I just don’t understand why she’s been turning you down.”
Joe looked up sharply. He hadn’t expected kindness from Adam; he’d expected judgment and sarcasm. “I don’t either, Adam. She told me she loved me. I think she may be afraid of her family. Heck,” he snorted bitterly, “I’m afraid of her family!”
Adam smiled and squeezed his brother’s shoulder. “After that beating, I don’t blame you. Well, if you’re going to get married, even if it’s a shotgun wedding, Mary Lynn and I are coming too. Is that all right with you?” As Joe nodded, they began walking back into the house.
In the great room everyone was on their feet. The Bishops plainly expected to take Joe into their possession now and deliver him to Reverend Hawlings along with Amy for a quick, on-the-spot wedding. Joe hesitated when he saw them all watching him. He asked for some time to go outside to talk with Amy.
“Heck, I don’t see why this is takin’ so long,” whined Pete Bishop. “Let’s just head him off to town for a fast weddin’.”
Fortunately, both Ben and Luther seemed to agree that the suddenly affianced couple needed some time to talk to each other. Joe nodded to the group and walked out the front door, closing it solidly behind him. Looking up, he saw Amy sitting in the Bishop’s wagon near the Cartwright barn. He walked over, and climbed up to sit next to Amy.
He turned to her, and took her hand. She looked miserable, and didn’t meet his gaze. She had a shawl around her shoulders, and she looked quite pale. Joe put his arm around her shoulders and felt her stiffen slightly.
“Amy, is it true? Are you expecting?”
She nodded almost imperceptibly, looking at her feet.
“Do you remember me telling you that I loved you and that I would marry you?” Joe’s voice was gentle and soft.
“You told me you loved me too. Do you?”
“Then why didn’t you tell me about this? We could have avoided this scene with your family.”
She looked up finally. Her eyes shimmered with unshed tears. “You were gone on round-up when I started getting sick. I couldn’t hide it anymore.”
“You’re not feeling well?”
She shook her head, a tear slipping down her cheek. With his hand, he moved her head onto his shoulder.
“Why wouldn’t you agree to marry me?”
She just shook her head. Her hand, clutching a handkerchief in a tight fist, opened and then closed again. “I don’t know,” her voice was barely a whisper. “I’ve been afraid of my pa and brothers all my life. They’re so…militant and demanding. You seemed so different, and I felt good with you, but I wasn’t sure what marriage would be like. I only knew what it was like for my mother, and she died unhappy.”
Joe heaved a frustrated sigh, and pulled her in closer for a tight hug. “Amy, when you’re married to me, it’s going to be like every day is swimming in the pond. Every day I’m going to love you more than the day before. You’re going to be surrounded by love all the time…and by my crazy, wild family too, but lots of love always.” Little Joe had no way of knowing how closely his words mirrored those spoken by Adam to Mary Lynn when he was trying to convince her to marry him some years before.
“Amy, how far along are you?”
She held up two fingers. Two months.
“Well, we better not wait much longer then. I’m willing to go with your family to marry you right now. The only thing I want is for my family to come with me. Are you willing to marry me today, or do you need more time?”
I’ll go,” she whispered, hiding her face in his neck. He took her face in his hands and kissed her very gently on the lips.
Inside the house, Hoss was shamelessly peering out Ben’s office window. “They’re kissing!” His report was directed with a wide grin to the whole waiting group. His wife, Erin, came up behind him and pulled him away by the arm.
“Hoss! Have some shame and give them some privacy,” but she, too, had a smile on her face.
A few moments later Joe and Amy came through the front door, smiling. Joe addressed their families. “Amy and I have decided to get married today, but only on the condition that our families accompany us into town for the wedding.”
There was silence, then heads turned to assess the reaction of the other group members. Some nods, some smiles, and then unanimous agreement.
“Well, I guess we better get moving. We’ve got a wedding to go to,” Ben said heartily, extending his hand to Luther, who shook it vigorously. Adam and Hoss moved quickly to saddle horses and rig carriages, while Mary Lynn and Erin rounded up children for a trip to town.
If Reverend Hawlings was surprised to see the group of 15 at his door, including babies and children, he didn’t show it. He had certainly performed impromptu marriages before. At least everyone in this group seemed relatively happy. The bride wasn’t dressed in a fancy bridal gown, and the groom wore work clothes along with an impressive black eye, but they seemed the happiest of all. He could easily overlook the fact that there were no flowers and no wedding ring. All that mattered was that the vows were taken and the marriage certificate duly signed and sealed. And he knew the Cartwright and Bishop families, both regular church attendees.
Amy and Joe held hands as they recited their vows, their families standing behind them. The reverend recalled performing a ten-minute marriage ceremony for Adam and Mary Lynn Cartwright a few years before. Between them they were holding three children now, and it looked as though Mary Lynn was expecting again.
At the conclusion of the brief ceremony, Joe took Amy’s face in his hands and kissed her lips gently. Then they turned to receive the congratulations of their families. And that was that. From the church, the Bishops departed for their ranch, having handed over a satchel containing Amy’s belongings. Joe and Amy rode back to the Ponderosa in a buggy with Hoss and Erin. Ben rode his horse, Buck, and Adam drove his family in the larger buggy.
At home they found Hop Sing preparing what had become known to the family as one of his wedding feasts. He had done it for Hoss and Erin, and actually two times for Adam and Mary Lynn, who had two wedding ceremonies. His face was wreathed in smiles as he welcomed “Missy Amy” to the house. Joe took her upstairs and showed her the room they would share together. She was being very quiet, and Joe took her in his arms to reassure her that everything would be all right. She held onto him tightly and confessed that she was very tired and feeling queasy. Joe remembered both Mary Lynn and Erin experiencing these pregnancy symptoms, so he had Amy lie down for the rest of the afternoon before he exposed her to the noise of a Cartwright celebration dinner.
He stayed close to the house for the rest of the day, and escorted his new wife downstairs when the family gathered for dinner. He arranged to sit on one side of her, and to have Erin sit on her other side. Erin was the quintessential mother to them all. If anyone was in need, Erin was the person they came to. She was warm and sympathetic and unfailingly cheerful. Joe knew without even asking that she would take Amy under her wing. For that matter, so would Mary Lynn. Erin and Mary Lynn were fast friends, and he hoped that Amy would blossom in the warmth of shared companionship with them. That would add a dimension to her life that was presently missing.
Hop Sing had prepared a turkey and a ham, sweet potatoes, stuffing, corn, peas, potato pancakes, and fresh bread. Ben had opened another bottle of his special champagne and the entire family toasted the newlyweds, even though most of the toasts were at Little Joe’s expense. They made Amy blush, but Joe laughed and took the ribbing in stride.
“Here’s to my youngest son, who started the day a bachelor and ends it an expectant father,” Ben teased. Everyone raised their glasses to that, laughing good naturedly. Only Little Joe could pull that off.
Amy ate sparingly, and Erin, guessing her problem, asked Hop Sing to brew some ginger tea, which would alleviate her queasiness. Amy was a little overwhelmed by the Cartwrights, even though they were welcoming her warmly. She was also still in shock that her family had so quickly turned her over to Joe in marriage, and had then ridden away. A part of her was very hurt. Erin was sensing this about the young bride, and made a mental note to warmly befriend her to help ease her way into the family.
Hop Sing brought out the same white, three-tiered wedding cake with red roses he had made for Adam and Mary Lynn, and also for Hoss and Erin. Joe and Amy cut it and fed each other pieces before passing out slices to the rest of the family. Everyone agreed that Hop Sing had outdone himself once again.
That night, Joe and Amy just held each other in bed. Too much had happened that day for them to do anything else. All the change and feelings had to be absorbed first. Joe put his hand on Amy’s still flat belly, thinking with wonder that his baby was growing there. He couldn’t get over the miracle of it.
“Well, Mrs. Cartwright, are you going to be able to get used to all this commotion on the Ponderosa?” Joe kissed her cheek.
“Your family is so different from mine,” she murmured.
“In what way?”
“Well, they laugh a lot, and everyone seems to really care about each other.”
“They do. We love each other. Wasn’t your family warm with each other?”
“No.” It was a simple but flat statement.
“Well, Amy, get ready. They’re all going to open their arms wide and pull you into their hugs. You’ll get used to it pretty fast.”
“I bet you didn’t expect this to happen when you woke up today, did you?” Amy questioned him cautiously.
“No, but I’m not sorry about it. I told you before that I love you, and I do. I love our baby, too. When do you think he’ll be born?”
“She’ll be born in the spring,” Amy answered, asserting herself for the first time.
“We’ll see about that,” Joe chuckled as he pulled her closer to him and kissed her mouth. “I meant what I said about giving you babies. You’ll have as many as you want. Adam and Mary Lynn are well on their way to a dozen. Who knows where they’ll stop.”
“Well, I don’t know about a dozen, but maybe a half dozen. Will everyone keep living in this house?”
“It’s looking more and more like it. At first we all talked about having our own houses built wherever we selected land on the Ponderosa, but we’re having so much fun living under one roof, we’re starting to like it. We’ve already added an addition to the house for Adam’s family, and there’s no reason there can’t be one for Hoss and one for us.”
Amy marveled at the change in her life in one day. She thought she was going to like it. She felt a warmth in her soul that hadn’t been there since her mother was alive. “Joe? I’m sorry that my brothers beat you up. I didn’t know anything about it, or I would have tried to warn you.”
“Well, I won’t say I enjoyed it or that it doesn’t matter, but I might have done something similar if it was my sister or daughter. I knew we were being reckless, Amy, but I just couldn’t resist you.”
“And I just looked forward to a little bit of happiness that every meeting with you brought me.”
He took her hand in the dark. “Things are going to be different for you now, Amy. You’re going to be safe and loved. We’re all going to take care of you.”
By the end of the next day, Erin and Mary Lynn had taken Amy protectively under their combined wing. She was now a member of the exclusive group of Cartwright wives, and those ladies stuck together. When Joe came back to the house at the end of the day, it was to the sight of Amy laughing with Erin and Mary Lynn, some sewing in her lap. Erin was doubled over with laughter, wiping tears from her eyes.
“Hey, what’s going on here?” Joe said, smiling.
“Oh, Joe, Mary Lynn is telling stories on Adam again!” Erin could hardly catch her breath
Mary Lynn gave Joe a sly grin. She knew he loved it when his oldest brother was brought down a peg or two, especially when he unctuously set himself up for it. Joe made her promise to tell the story at dinner, and then walked over to give Amy a kiss. She showed him that she had started making a layette for the baby. Joe’s heart swelled. He couldn’t believe that he was going to be a father.
Adam had a talk with Hoss and Joe on an autumn day about a topic he had on his mind. When he won agreement from both brothers, he set off to town on an errand. A month later, at dinner one night, both Hoss and Joe presented wedding rings to their wives. Erin’s was a replacement ring, and of course Amy’s was her first. Both were identical to the one that Mary Lynn wore, a wide polished gold band with diamonds inset around the center of the entire ring. Each ring was engraved inside with the bride’s name and wedding date so there would be no confusion. Now all the Cartwright wives had identical and beautiful custom made wedding rings, ordered from San Francisco. They were delighted and thought it was a wonderful way to show that they were part of the same family. Even Erin, who had originally said a plain slim band suited her better, loved her ring. Joe had told Amy he was ordering a ring for her, and was thus able to get her ring size. She had never owned such a beautiful piece of jewelry before.
As the year wound down and winter set in, Joe was enjoying watching Amy’s belly grow. Most of all, he loved to feel his baby kick. It made him want to burst with pride. His brain knew that many a babe had been born before his, but in his heart, this was the most important one. Adam told him that all expectant fathers felt that way, but Joe wasn’t so sure. Right after Christmas, Mary Lynn gave birth to another set of twins, a boy and a girl, named Eli and Susannah. Fortunately their birth was uneventful, although all through that day Adam was nervous as a cat. The birth of their first babies, Nolan and Logan, had been very difficult and had in fact led eventually to a brief separation between Adam and Mary Lynn when Adam decided he didn’t want any more children. Fortunately, everything had worked out well and subsequent births had been normal, but here was another set of twins. It brought back haunting memories for Adam, but this time his pacing must have been effective because the deliveries were uneventful. Erin was present to help Doc Martin again, and this time Amy helped, too. It was as much an education for her as anything else. She knew that her time was approaching in just a few months, and it helped her to watch an experienced mother give birth. When she got to hold minutes-old Eli, the first born of the twins, she was amazed at how tiny he seemed. And her belly felt so huge!
Later that day as the family gathered in the great room of the house, the newborns, Eli and Susannah, were passed around and admired by all. Adam, now the father of five children, was as proud as a peacock. All the adults hovered carefully as three-year-old twins Nolan and Logan each got to hold a baby. They were bundles of energy, not known to sit still for very long, perhaps not even when holding a newborn sibling. Soon they were bored, however. The babies didn’t do anything at all except sleep. Even their sister, Elizabeth, toddled around and chattered endlessly. Joe rescued one baby before his nephew launched himself into another activity. Then he and Amy sat together cuddling and just stared at the baby. They enjoyed the warm feeling of the little bundle, and the little newborn noises the baby made. They looked at each other, knowing that they were next to experience this miracle of life.
Amy felt so amazed to be part of this gathering. This family loved each other, and they welcomed new members with open arms and hearts. She herself felt as though she had been a blossoming flower ever since the day she had been brought here against her will. No one had ever judged her; from the first day she had been treated as a Cartwright, with all the rights and privileges that entailed. Her heart swelled with gratitude. Having Joe and his family in her life was the best thing that had ever happened to her. She only wished her own family had reacted the same way. It was the only sadness in her life just now. Then, without much warning, both babies began to cry, and Adam whisked them upstairs, with Erin’s help, so Mary Lynn could feed them.
Hoss was bouncing two-year-old Eric on his knee. Eric actually preferred riding on his father’s shoulders, because that was about as high as a boy could get when you got right down to it. Hoss even took him out riding on Chubb, even though Erin would have preferred otherwise. But Hoss was as careful a father with his son as any man could be. Hoss was gentle and strong, and Eric was always in good hands. He was very blonde, and had huge blue eyes that took in the world around him. He was a smart little fellow, but he preferred not to talk much. He was an observer, and he adored his father. The whole family agreed that was as it should be.
Winter edged into spring, and Amy felt like a lumbering elephant as her belly grew. She was tired and irritable. She needed Joe to help her get up out of chairs and in and out of the buggy. She was just generally uncomfortable. Mary Lynn assured her that this was normal, but Amy wasn’t enjoying it. The baby’s layette had been long ago completed, and a new cradle waited in their bedroom for the new Cartwright. Doc Martin recommended that she just rest and wait for the birth, but Amy thought she might go crazy before that happened.
One of the things bothering Amy was that she had not had any significant contact with her family since her wedding day. She wasn’t especially surprised about her brothers; they were self-centered young men. Their lives were spent working hard on the ranch and whatever small free time they had went directly to their own pleasures. But Amy’s father, Luther, had a soft spot in his heart for his daughter. While not openly affectionate, she knew he cared about her. Since the wedding, she had seen her father exactly twice. Once was an accidental meeting in town when she and Joe were picking up supplies, and the other had been a month ago when she dropped off a blackberry pie she had made. Each time Luther had been friendly enough, and yet the encounters felt awkward. When he accepted the pie, Amy’s father asked her how she was feeling and how she enjoyed life on the Ponderosa. He even hugged her when she left, but her pregnant belly was not only literally between them, it was an unforgettable reminder of the spur-of-the-moment wedding. Amy actually felt relieved when she was back in the buggy leaving her childhood home behind her.
She had kept these feelings to herself, but she suspected that Joe was aware of them. The difference between her family’s aloofness and his family’s rambunctious warmth was just too stark to miss. On the other hand, Amy would argue with herself, neither Mary Lynn or Erin had families beside the Cartwrights to flock around them. True, Mary Lynn had a grandfather, but she didn’t see him very often. Still, Amy’s family lived close by and the situation caused her unease. It simply added to her late pregnancy woes.
Worst of all, Joe had been gone on a week-long fence mending assignment with a few of the hands. After the winter, rotted wood needed to be replaced, as well as broken wire. On a ranch the size of the Ponderosa, it was an ongoing job, but it was especially necessary at the end of winter.
When Joe returned, he found Amy in tears. They were just tears of frustration; that, and the fact that she had missed Joe so badly while he was gone. He held her and kissed her and promised her that on the first nice day they would take a picnic and go on a buggy ride so she could get out and enjoy the warming weather. She felt better that night, being able to lie close to Joe and to be held in return.
Two days later the morning dawned gloriously with bright sunshine that promised a warm day. Joe declared that to be the picnic day, and they told the family at breakfast what their plans were.
“Well, that sounds fine, but you better take it slow with the buggy Joe,” Ben warned.
“And don’t stay out too long,” added Erin, this to Amy. “You’re not too far from your due date now.”
“I have three and-a-half weeks to go,” Amy answered, sounding as though it might as well have been three-and-a-half years.
Hop Sing put together a basket for them, and shortly after breakfast, Joe and Amy started out in the small buggy. Joe planned to stop at the secluded area where they had met to love each other before they were married. They reached the clearing shortly after noon. Amy had guessed by the familiar landmarks that this was where they were headed, and she was pleased.
“I’m just glad to see you smile, sweetheart,” Joe told her.
“I’m sorry I’ve been cranky, Joe. I’m just so uncomfortable these days.” “
“I know. Erin and Mary Lynn were, too. I think it goes with the territory,” he squeezed her hand as he talked to her.
They enjoyed their lunch of cold fried chicken, cheese, dried fruit and lemonade. Then they reclined on their picnic blanket and spent some time exchanged slow, lazy kisses. Then, they napped, tired from the food and the warm, dappled sunshine on their faces. Joe was the first to awake, when he felt a raindrop land on his face. He turned and looked at the sky, which had become overcast. The sun was gone, and the temperature had become distinctly cooler. It was time to get back. He shook Amy awake and began to pack up the basket. They were a good hour from the ranch house. As he helped Amy into the buggy, the rain began to fall harder in large, cold droplets. The breeze began to kick up in chilly gusts. Joe wrapped a blanket around Amy’s shoulders. Just as he was about to slap the reins for the team to head back home, Amy suddenly clutched his arm in a grip that was actually painful.
“Joe,” he could actually feel her entire body stiffen. He turned to her quickly and saw that her face was pale. She had an arm across her belly in a way that made his stomach drop.
“Amy,” he said urgently. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“It hurts all of a sudden.”
“Maybe the baby is coming early,” he said. “Let’s get moving.” All he wanted to do was get her home where she would be comfortable, and where Erin, Mary Lynn and Hop Sing would know what to do for her. He started driving the buggy, faster than he should have, he knew that, but he was worried now. First babies took a long time to come, didn’t they? Surely he had time to get Amy home. He glanced up and saw that off to his right the sky was darkening in a way that didn’t look promising. Another reason to hurry. But he wasn’t fast enough. Within a few minutes, Amy was tearing at his arm again, and he noticed she was biting her bottom lip. He stopped the team, and put his arm around her. He placed a hand on her belly. It was rock hard, and he knew this happened during contractions. Silently he cursed himself for taking her out, and for taking her so far from home.
And then, as if that wasn’t enough for him to fret over, the heavens opened up and began dropping rain in sheets. Damn. Now Joe was cursing out loud. He thought frantically while trying to cover Amy with the blanket. There was a line shack a short distance away. It was used by the hands when they were working on ranch projects. He didn’t know if it was being used now, but at least it offered shelter until the rain stopped and there was even a small stable for the horses. He turned and headed in that direction.
They were soaked by the time they found the line shack. He got Amy inside first, and helped her lie down on the bed, which he noted was not especially clean. She had had several more pains during the chaotic ride and had collapsed against him, moaning softly to herself. Joe raced outside to unhitch the team and get them in the stable. Next he started a fire in the fireplace. Fortunately a stack of wood was at the ready inside the one room cabin. The rain had not slackened during this period, and he thought to himself that if it continued at this rate there would be some flash flooding that could complicate their ride home even further. He grabbed a pot from the hearth and put it outside to catch rainwater to be boiled. Then he returned to Amy. For the moment she was quiet, and their eyes met, both questioning what lay immediately ahead for them.
Joe began to time the contractions. They seemed to be roughly seven minutes apart, as best as he could tell. That seemed quite frequent to him, but what did he know? He had heard that babies essentially birthed themselves if you let nature take its course. He had been present when mares were foaling, but this was a little different. Another contraction started, and Amy gritted her teeth through it. Joe took her hand and he was surprised at how hard she was able to squeeze. When it was over, he moved around the cabin gathering what cloths and towels he could find, which were precious few, and not freshly laundered, either. He could hear the rain pounding on the roof, and then the sound of it changed. It sounded harder, more distinct. He rose to look out the cabin’s one window. Ice. The rain had turned to sleet and ice. Joe rubbed his eyes as he began to be afraid for his wife and baby. It was possible they would have to deliver their baby alone.
An hour and a half later, everything was covered in a sheet of ice, and still sleet pinged against the walls and roof. The water was now hot on the hearth, and Amy was struggling through her contractions as if they were tearing her open. They felt as though they were coming one right on top of the next, and she moaned out loud at the peak of each one. After a contraction passed, Joe checked her to see if he could figure out the status of her labor. He found out quickly when he saw a large circle of dark, bloody hair crowning.
“Sweetheart, the baby’s right there. I think it’s time for you to push now.”
He repositioned her, moving her closer to the head of the bead. He sat behind her so he could help her into a pushing position with each contraction. That way, the baby would be born right onto the bed and he didn’t have to be at the foot of the bed to catch him or her. With the next contraction, Joe lifted his wife and Amy pushed mightily, crying out with the effort. She dropped back, and Joe checked on the baby. He tried to be encouraging, and Amy pushed more and more. The next time he checked, the head was partially delivered. He grasped Amy’s shoulders and told her it was almost over. He then moved to the end of the bed, and with the next push, the head came out. Using the cleanest cloth he could find, he began to clean the baby’s face, nose and mouth. Then in the next instant, the rest of the baby slid right out. A girl. They had a daughter. Joe wrapped her quickly in a towel and began rubbing her off. She gasped and took a breath, and then another. And then she started crying.
“Joe, Joe…tell me,” Amy was panting.
“It’s a girl, Amy. We have a daughter. Let me try to cut this cord. I don’t even know exactly what to do.” He had at least known to sterilize his knife.
“About two inches from her stomach,” Amy told him. This she had learned watching Eli and Susannah being born. Joe completed this task, tried to clean up the baby more, and then wrapped her in another cloth, and handed her to Amy. The placenta delivered itself within a few minutes. Joe didn’t know what to do with it, so it put it in an empty pot in case there was a reason to keep it. The bed was a mess. He didn’t know how they were going to change it, or even if they could. But he didn’t care right then, because he wanted to examine his new daughter.
He moved to sit next to Amy, and he looked at the tiny face. Amy’s pretty mouth, dark hair and dark eyes as far as he could tell. And a headful of curly hair which was downy and soft. Amy couldn’t take her eyes off the baby. The worst was over, but she was exhausted. Joe wiped the perspiration off her face and smoothed her hair back. He looked for and found another blanket and spread it over the bloody part of the bed, and then made sure Amy was warmly covered. He had packed a towel between her legs, and wasn’t sure what more to do.
He watched his newborn daughter yawn and sleep, nestled in her mother’s arms. His heart swelled with joy and tears came unbidden to his eyes. His finger stroked her soft cheek. Amy looked at him and smiled. He kissed her. Their baby was here, Amy was fine, and it was warm in the cabin. For now that was enough. Except for a name.
“So, Mrs. Cartwright, what did you name your new daughter?” he asked Amy very properly.
“Well, I couldn’t decide,” she answered coyly. “My mother’s name was Isabel, and my husband’s mother’s name was Marie. I just couldn’t decide, so I named her both, Isabel Marie.”
Joe couldn’t speak for a moment. It was a perfect name. A beautiful name for a beautiful baby.
That night they nibbled on leftovers from the picnic basket, and they managed to sleep together on the birthing bed, with Isabel carefully placed between them. Amy had already started nursing her. The next morning they were awakened by the sound of a horse outside the line shack and a low male voice. It was Hoss. God bless him, he had Erin with him too. They had figured out where Joe and Amy had gone in the ice storm, but they didn’t know the baby had been born, and were properly amazed. Overnight the ice had melted enough for them to set out to search for the couple.
Erin went into her natural mother mode immediately and changed the bed with sheets she had brought with her, not knowing what the cabin would be stocked with. Hoss admired the baby, and Joe bragged about how he had delivered her.
“We brought some food,” Hoss said proudly. Food was usually his agenda, and he hadn’t forgotten this time.
“Amy, do you think you can travel, or do you want to stay here another day?” Erin asked gently, admiring the beautiful baby.
Amy and Joe exchanged a look. “I can travel,” Amy said quickly. The comforts of home sounded wonderful.
Within thirty minutes they were on their way. Erin had cleaned up the cabin as much as she could. Hop Sing would send someone out later to make sure it was properly cleaned. Amy rode with Erin and Hoss and Joe drove the other buggy. Isabel was wrapped in a warm blanket, wearing a towel for a diaper. They needed to get home soon for diaper purposes alone.
Hoss drove slowly for Amy’s comfort and also because he had to negotiate some overflowing streams, and Erin talked about the wedding night she and Hoss had spent in the line shack. Amy had heard the story before, but it always fascinated her. That story made the time pass quickly, and it seemed that soon enough they had reached home. As usual, the rest of the family hurried out to greet them. They had worried when Joe and Amy had not returned home.
“Hey, Pa, come see what we have,” Joe called out. Ben came over to Joe’s side in time to see Amy hand him a blanket. Joe adjusted the blanket’s edges so Ben could see a tiny face peering out, dark eyes blinking in the daylight.
“Good heavens!” Ben exclaimed. “This happened overnight when you two were stranded alone? Boy or girl?”
“Isabel,” Joe said. “Isabel Marie.” He met his father’s eyes, and both men’s eyes shone brightly with a shared joy.
Then they hustled Amy inside and up to bed, sending a ranch hand for Doc Martin to come examine her. Erin went upstairs to help her bathe and change into a fresh nightgown. Downstairs, the family gathered around Joe holding his daughter.
“Look at her curly hair,” breathed Mary Lynn, touching it gently.
“Joe, she looks a lot like you did,” Ben said emotionally.
“Where did you two take shelter?” Adam asked.
When Joe told him, Adam rolled his eyes. “Boy, I’ve heard of life starting in those line shacks, but you guys sure took it literally.” Everyone laughed then, since it was common knowledge that Adam and Mary Lynn had met in one of the Ponderosa line shacks during a blizzard, and that Logan and Nolan had very likely been conceived there.
“Did everything go all right, son?” Ben asked Joe.
“Yeah, but I’ll tell you, it was a little scary being all alone. I sure was wishing we were here. But I delivered her all by myself,” he declared proudly. “It was amazing.”
A hand clapped him on the shoulder. “Sure you did, Joe,” Mary Lynn wore an amused smile. “I bet Amy just sat back and watched you. Sheesh, someone’s got to speak up for the ladies!”
Joe looked askance at that, and he and Mary Lynn both stuck their tongues out at each other before laughing at each other with good humor.
After Doc Martin arrived and examined both Amy and Isabel, he pronounced them both in excellent condition and said he hoped that Joe wasn’t planning to go into the doctoring business. He had done such a good job delivering his daughter. Doc Martin didn’t need the extra competition. Of course, Joe was nearly bursting with pride at this compliment, but he honestly admitted he didn’t want to repeat it again without Paul Martin nearby.
Four weeks later, Adam and Joe were closely examining plans for the third and last addition to the Ponderosa. This would be the one for Joe’s and Amy’s family. Dinner was over and the growing Cartwright family was gathered in the great room. The adults were having coffee as usual, except that it wasn’t as easy to do as it used to be. There were plenty of pint-sized little people and babies on hand to be kept track of. Logan, Nolan, Elizabeth and Eric were all walking or toddling. Eli, Susannah and Isabel, of course, were still infants. It took plenty of adults to watch them all. Both Mary Lynn and Erin were holding a twin while carefully watching the older children who were climbing on Ben, who was laughing. Amy was curled up in an easy chair close to Adam and Joe so she could look at their drawings. Isabel was sleeping in her arms. The baby was gaining weight and she was her parents’ delight. Amy felt like her old self again, having decided she didn’t make a very good pregnant person. She did, however, agree that the end result was worth the myriad discomforts.
“Well that should do it,” said Adam, pushing back from the table. “You two are going to have a nice suite of rooms for yourselves. I think we ought to be able to get started within a week.”
There was a collective groan from his entire family because they all knew how disruptive construction on the house was. But they were good natured about it, too, because after all, additions had already been made for them.
“It’ll be great,” Joe exclaimed, sweeping his daughter into his arms and dancing around the room with her still fast asleep.
The adults all cautioned him not to step on the children, but the little ones had quickly caught his infectious spirit and those who could were dancing too. Adam obligingly picked up his guitar and began playing a tune with a quick tempo to accommodate them.
Ben sat back and took it all in. He never thought a scene like this would be played out before him. It didn’t get much better than this, he thought.
That night in bed after the lantern had been turned down, Amy brought up a subject that she had been dwelling on lately. She was safely snuggled in Joe’s embrace.
“Joe, I have an idea.”
“What’s that, darlin’?”
“Do you think we could invite my family over for dinner some evening? They haven’t seen Isabel yet, and I would feel better if they officially met her. Do you know what I mean?”
“Sweetheart, I think it’s a wonderful idea. I’ll talk to Pa about it tomorrow to pick out a few dates. How does that sound?” He kissed the top of her head.
“Thank you, Joe. I don’t know how it will turn out, but I think it’s important to do,” Amy sighed and snuggled closer.
The Bishops had been duly informed about Isabel’s birth within days of her early arrival. Luther had even stopped by to have a look at his granddaughter one day shortly thereafter when he was close to the Ponderosa. Unfortunately, his visit coincided with one of Isabel’s first baths, and she was loudly exercising her lungs during his entire visit. It hadn’t exactly been a peaceful or lengthy visit.
Joe was as good as his word, and the next day he and Ben selected several dates that Amy could offer to her family for a dinner invitation. She immediately wrote a note to her father, and Joe delivered it in person the following day. Luther Bishop seemed pleased, and he selected a date on the spot for the following week.
As soon as Amy heard, she started to get nervous. What would it be like to have all the Bishop men eating at the Cartwright table? She pictured her father being polite and her brothers being silent. What if Isabel screamed all through dinner? What if her brothers picked a fight with Joe? She tried to push those thoughts to the back of her mind and concentrated instead on working out the menu with Hop Sing.
Erin and Mary Lynn were lifesavers in the week leading up to the dinner party. They not only had many helpful suggestions, their moral support was clearly in evidence. They knew how important this was for Amy, and they also knew how much she was dreading it.
By the time Saturday arrived, the Ponderosa was sparkling. Fresh flowers were in vases scattered all around the first floor. By four o’clock the table was set with the family’s best linen, china and crystal. By five o’clock everyone was either dressed, or in the process of being dressed in their best outfits by a wife or parent. Amy was a bundle of nerves, such that she was starting to make Joe edgy, and Mary Lynn warned her that if she didn’t calm down, Isabel wouldn’t be able to nurse properly. Erin just calmly handed her sister-in-law a glass of wine and sat her in a rocking chair.
Promptly at six o’clock the Bishops arrived. Luther handed Ben a bottle of good brandy. After polite and appropriate greetings all around, everyone was seated in the great room. Amy presented the sleeping Isabel to her father to hold. He accepted the small bundle carefully. After a few minutes he seemed to relax and just stared at her face. Sam, Pete and Luke leaned closer to get a look. A newborn baby was a foreign object to them; they didn’t know what to do. The baby didn’t do much; she was sleeping. Sam touched her curly brown hair. Pete touched her soft cheek, and Luke was amazed at the tiny but perfect fingers she had. All three of them looked at Amy with a different sense of appreciation, but they didn’t say anything. Luther offered them the opportunity to hold their niece, but they all immediately declined politely. That was a little too scary for them just then. There was no telling what she might do. They looked like they thought she’d jump right out of their arms.
Luther looked up at his daughter. His face had softened, and his eyes were suspiciously bright.
“She has your mother’s face, Amy,” he said, amazed. “Your mother was a beauty.”
Amy smiled and nodded. The Cartwrights thought she looked like Joe. That was all right. Tonight it was good politics for Isabel to look like most all of her ancestors. Never mind that Mrs. Bishop had just about worked herself to death on their ranch. Amy remembered her mother well and with great fondness.
Hop Sing called everyone to dinner just then and the group moved to the dining room. The Cartwright women had figured out the seating chart in advance so in just a few moments everyone was in their proper place. Hop Sing had laden the table to tempt any palate. There were two roasts, pork and chicken. There were mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, corn, biscuits, corn bread and carrots. And it all smelled divine. Ben began the meal with a toast to the newest addition to both the Cartwright and Bishop families. Everyone seemed pleased to toast both welcome and long life to Isabel. And then the bowls and platters began to be passed. That proved to be a prolonged and noisy episode, especially as youngsters’ plates were filled and prepared. Just as everyone was starting to eat, Isabel awoke and began to fuss. Amy exchanged looks with Joe, who sat beside her, and then she excused herself to feed the baby. Joe hoped she wouldn’t be gone long because she was the primary connection between the two families.
Ben and Luther began a discussion of the cattle herds and water conditions that year. They were at the far end of the table, and for several long moments, everyone else was silent while they ate. Then Erin, bless her heart, began to engage Amy’s brothers in cheerful conversation. She wanted to know what they did on their ranch and how they enjoyed it. They mumbled one word answers, but Erin wasn’t one to give up. She persistently engaged them in talk about their ranch duties. Soon she had them bragging about their specialties and talents, about which there was some disagreement among them. That got Hoss to telling some stories about past mishaps he and his brothers had had around the Ponderosa over the years. That was all the egging on that Mary Lynn needed to chime in with her dry sense of humor about some of her family observations, and soon they had their guests laughing with them.
When Amy returned to the table, it was to an atmosphere of warmth and good will. She silently heaved a sigh of relief. Joe reached out for Isabel so that Amy could eat, but Luther put his arms out for his granddaughter, so Joe brought her over to him. He spent the rest of the meal cradling her in his arms as he continued talking with Ben, but he often stole glances down at the baby he held, who was still awake and was watching him intently.
“You know, I think this little girl is very intelligent,” he remarked. “I can see it in her eyes. She’s going to make something of herself one day,” his pride was clearly showing, and Ben heartily agreed with him.
When not another bite could be eaten by anyone at the table, Hop Sing brought in his signature chocolate cake. There were groans of a different type then since everyone wanted a piece but knew they would burst if they tried. That was when Ben stepped in to suggest coffee and brandy in the great room, with cake to follow later. As the party moved to sit before the large, snapping fire in the hearth, a silence fell once again.
The Bishop boys began to look uncomfortable, as though wishing they could escape what had been their duly performed chore. But the oldest Cartwright grandchildren intervened. Mary Lynn’s and Adam’s son, Logan, the most mischievous twin, marched up to Luke Bishop and told him firmly, “I want to play horsey.”
Luke seemed alarmed by this suggestion. He really had little interest in children. But in the spirit of politeness, he acquiesced. However, he wasn’t really sure what to do. Adam quickly explained the nature of the game to him, and soon Logan was swinging up and down on Luke’s leg, demanding to go higher and higher. That was all the encouragement his brother Nolan needed, and his chosen steed was Sam Bishop. Finally, Pete Bishop was astonished to be roped into duty by Elizabeth, who was a very determined little girl. She proved to be just as good a cowboy as her twin brothers. Joe was laughing along with Adam and Mary Lynn. The green “horses” were a sight to behold. Amy watched with her mouth open, never having seen her brothers in such a situation before. Pretty soon, though, there was a change in the three young men. They warmed to the delight the youngsters were enjoying. They grinned right along with the children. When the horses needed to stop for a breather, the riders would have none of it. There was a general scramble as each child found another “horsey” and the game began all over again. Joe became his nephew Eric’s horsey when the boy toddled up to him and patted his leg insistently until Joe swung him up.
Within a short time the game shifted to shoulder rides and Amy marveled at her brothers marching around the great room hefting Cartwright children and each trying to best the others. No one could tell who was having a better time, the young men, or the children. The game came to an end, however, when Elizabeth threw up on Sam’s head. It was all the excitement right after dinner. Clucking, Mary Lynn took her daughter away to be cleaned up and Joe led Sam outside with a towel where he could clean up in the bunk house. He even helped Sam douse his head and handed him a bar of soap to lather up with. Surprisingly, Sam took it all in stride, which wasn’t always the reaction a childless adult would have to that situation.
“You know, Joe, we really gave you a pretty hard time before you and Amy got married, and I’m sorry about it now. You’re a good man, and I can see that Amy is happy. You have a great family, too,” Sam seemed a little embarrassed as he made this speech.
“Thanks, and think nothing of it,” Joe assured him. “But stay out of dark alleys.” Sam grinned and flushed.
Back inside the house, coffee, brandy and cake were being served, and conversation flowed easily. The children wanted to eat with their newfound friends, and even tough Mary Lynn and Adam kept the Bishops away from the worst of the ensuing mess, all three Bishop brothers wound up with chocolate smears from little fingers on their pants. When damp cloths were passed out for child clean-up, they grabbed them up and dug right in, wiping off the closest chocolate coated face and hands.
“You boys are pretty good at this,” was Mary Lynn’s compliment to them. “You ought to come around for dinner more often.” This brought a laugh from everyone.
“Maybe we will,” offered Pete.
“You may have the best of intentions, but I assure you it becomes tedious rather quickly,” Adam intoned dryly.
As the last crumbs of Hop Sing’s delicious confection were scraped up, a peaceful sense of family settled over the group. Amy realized that sometime during the evening the distance between herself and her family had diminished. And the tensions between the Cartwrights and the Bishops had lightened up. Isabel still nestled in Luther’s arms, and Ben cradled Susannah while Adam bounced Eli lightly over his shoulder.
“Now this is the life,” Luther said quietly during a lull in the conversation.
“It sure is,” Ben agreed with emphasis.
“Boys, you ought to get busy so we can do this at our house,” Luther addressed his sons, whose eyes became quite wide at that point, to the amusement of the Cartwrights.
Shortly thereafter Luther declared that his family needed to be leaving, as he realized suddenly that the time was ten o’clock. This was a fact that surprised everyone. Time hadn’t crawled that evening, as everyone had expected, it had flown! Luther stood and brought Isabel back to her mother. Amy stood and received his kiss and heartfelt hug. All the Cartwrights walked their guests to the door. Amy’s brothers shook hands all around, but reserved an arm around the shoulder or a kiss on the forehead for their sister.
“We’ll have to do this more often,” Joe declared.
“We surely will, son, we surely will,” said Luther. “Next time it will be our turn…except perhaps no chocolate.” This drew appreciative chuckles from everyone, and shortly the Bishops were on their way home.
That night when Amy and Joe were in bed with Isabel between them, kicking her legs as fast as she could, they shared a long kiss.
“Joe, that was so much more fun that I ever expected. In fact, I expected no fun at all tonight, but I loved it,” Amy enthused.
“Amy, when your family is all around you, it just doesn’t get much better,” Joe replied.
“I guess you’re right,” Amy agreed, thinking that tonight had been the first time she had really felt her own family close around her. And maybe destiny had helped it turn out that way. “It really doesn’t get much better than that.”
Next Story in the Destiny Series:
Other Stories by this Author
- Desert Destiny (by karilyn)
- Blizzard of Destiny (by karilyn)
- It’s Just For Now (by karilyn)
- Brothers (by karilyn)
- The Homecoming – Part 2 (by karilyn)