Summary: Ben runs into a lady friend from his past and the sparks fly again.
Word Count: 15,453
Romancing the Ponderosa series:
Note: This is the fourth book in the series and it should be read in chronological order. Ty 🙂
Rose, My Love
Walking down the sidewalk, I make my way towards the telegraph office. I figure I might as well send off this wire since I’m finished at the bank and Candy hasn’t come to get me yet. He’s busy over at the general store loading the supplies we came into town to get.
Candy has turned into a very good ranch hand since we hired him two months ago. But I can’t exactly say that we found him because he found us. The militia I used to be captain of quite a few years ago was reinstated because an Indian captive needed to be transported to another town. Not many men volunteered to help me so Hoss joined me. Joe didn’t want to volunteer since just about a month before Hannah had had baby Lilia Marie, but under Hannah’s insistence, he ended up coming with me. I feel like part of Adam wanted to come along but I could tell he was more than relieved when I told him that I didn’t want him to come along. Misty had been having some mild complications with her pregnancy, so I knew neither of them would be comfortable with him being away from home and I couldn’t put them through that kind of stress. Plus then he would be around the ranch just in case either Hannah or Leo needed help while Joe and Hoss were with me.
It was on that wild trip that Candy found us. One night during camp he appeared out of nowhere. He joined up with us since he said he didn’t have anywhere to be. Once our mission was complete, I asked him if he wanted a job. I liked him and the attitude he had. I now feel very fortunate that he accepted the job because I’ve never once regretted it and I don’t know how we’ve gone this long without him. On top of his good work ethic, he’s become a very good friend to us all, especially Little Joe.
“Hello, Ben. What can I do for you?”
“I’d like you to send this telegram for me.” I hand Frank Jones the slip of paper with my message written on it.
“Sure thing.” He scans it over, calculating the price in his head. “That’ll be a dollar and twenty cents. Where do you want it sent?”
“San Francisco, please.” Counting out the coins, I lay them on the counter. Hearing shouts and horses’ gallops mixed with the sound of wagon wheels, I look over my shoulder to see the stage coming in.
“It’s an hour late again.” Frank comments as he taps my message through to San Francisco.
“Where’s it coming from this time?”
“Haven’t had one come in from there in a few weeks.” Looking over at the general store, I see Candy flop what looks like the last sack onto the buckboard. “Well, thanks again, Frank.”
I turn to walk down the street when the stagecoach comes to a halt and the door swings open. An elegant looking lady steps down with the help of the driver. She looks to be about my age if the gray streaking her hair is any tell tale. As she steps up onto the sidewalk, she turns slightly and I get a look at her face. It’s a beautiful face and somehow vaguely familiar. She smiles brightly as someone else steps down from the stagecoach. Ignoring the other passengers, I search the crevices of my mind for a name and place that is connected to that very familiar smile.
As I continue to think, she takes a few steps to the side as the driver places the luggage on the sidewalk. She smiles again and this time it’s accompanied by a laugh. That tinkling laugh brings back everything in a flash.
Rose Chumley. I never expected to see her again, let alone out here in Virginia City. We were childhood friends and even had a very bad case of puppy love during our teens. I knew her before I went to sea and had met Adam’s mother, Elizabeth. She was the very first girl I ever asked to a dance and she also was my very first kiss. And to think she’s standing right here in front of me! But, of course, I’m sure she’s no longer a Chumley and a happily married woman.
After a quick debate with myself, I decide to go reintroduce myself. It can’t hurt anything and I doubt she’ll remember me anyhow. It’s been so many years that I’m quite shocked with myself for even recognizing her. But those years appear to have been very considerate to her because her face only has a few creases and her jet black hair is only slightly faded with gray. All in all, she still looks very youthful.
“Excuse me, ma’am.” I remove my hat and hold it in my left hand as she turns towards me. She looks up at me with a smile, those same dark brown eyes sparkling at me just like I remember. “I’d like to welcome you to Virginia City. I’m Ben Cartwright.”
“Ben?” Her smile vanishes as her eyes take in every inch of my face. I can practically see the dots connecting as her smile comes back even wider and she lets out a laugh. “Ben! You’re the last person I expected to see. In fact I never thought I’d see you again!”
“I never thought I’d see you again either!” I offer my hand for her to shake but she moves in for a hug instead. After she steps away, I notice that she still fits right under my chin. “What are you doing in Virginia City?”
“I came here because there’s always different opportunities in a new place and because my daughter got the open teaching position for the Virginia City school.” She takes a step away from me and waves her finger in a circle at me. “Turn around, I want to get a good look at you. Ah, yes, still the same old Ben from those long years ago. Well, that is except for a few extra pounds and all that gray hair that’s taken the place of the black it used to be.”
“And it sounds like you’re still the same girl I used to know!” I laugh. “Where are you staying?”
“Well, you’ve had a change in plans because you and your daughter are going to stay out on my ranch, the Ponderosa.”
“You definitely are the same young man I used to know, you still think you can order people around with hospitality!” She laughs. “But, Ben, you’ve got one thing wrong. It’s daughters, not daughter.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I guess I did come across as rather bossy.” I laugh as she waves to three pretty young ladies. They all come and stand beside her so it’s safe to assume that they’re her daughters yet they all look very different.
“Ben, these are my daughters.” She gestures to them and then points to the one with black hair and light brown eyes. She’s the same height as Rose but she’s stocky, not overweight, just stocky. “My oldest, Madeline.”
“Nice to meet you, Madeline.” I shake her hand as Rose points to the young lady on her right, who has very light blonde hair and her mother’s dark chocolate eyes. She looks to be barely over five feet tall and she has her mother’s build, thin yet sturdy. “This is my youngest, Juliet.”
“Juliet, it’s a pleasure.” I bow slightly as she curtsies with a big grin. Rose turns to motion to the tall and thin beauty standing slightly behind her. And a beauty is what she is with auburn hair and eyes that I can only think to describe as caramel in color. “And last, but not least, my middle child, Gabriella.”
“Gabriella.” We nod at each other with a smile. Looking back at Rose, I put my hands on my hips. “So what’s it going to be, Rose, the hotel or my ranch? My house is empty except for myself and my cook, Hop Sing, so I have plenty of room.”
Rose crosses her arms over her chest and puts her chin in her right hand, the gesture one I remember her doing when she had to think and make a decision. She looks at each of her daughters before turning back to me. “Ben, I think we’ll take you up on your offer.”
“Oh, Ben, your house is magnificent!” Rose glances around the room, eyes wide with amazement and admiration. She caresses the table behind the sofa as she walks around, looking all over the room, trying to take it all in. “I never knew you became such a well to do man. You’ve definitely done very well for yourself with this big ranch and fine house.”
“It wasn’t easy but it was my dream.” We both turn towards the door as it swings open and Candy and the three girls rush in breathless with laughter. The three girls hit it off with Candy immediately, especially Gabriella. As soon as Candy caught sight of Gabriella he looked awestruck and so did she. “Well, it seems like you all are having a good time!”
“Oh, yes, Mr. Cartwright! It was a wonderful ride from town. The scenery was beautiful the whole way!” Madeline tells me with a wide, pretty smile. Since Candy and I had gone into town on the buckboard, there wasn’t enough room to transport six people back to the ranch with all the supplies we’d purchased for Adam and Misty. I had gone down to the livery stable to rent five horses since Rose and her girls said they’d rather ride than have me rent a buggy like I had intended on doing. But then the livery only had four horses available so a slight argument over who was going to ride with Candy in the buckboard broke out among the three girls. They ended up having Gabriella ride with him and I don’t think she was the least bit angry about it. “Everything looks so different from St. Louis. Don’t get me wrong, Missouri is a beautiful place but the Ponderosa makes it look dull.”
“Mr. Cartwright?” Candy asks as he gently sits the carpetbags he was carrying on the floor. “Do you want me to take those supplies out to Adam’s place now?”
“Yes. I don’t want them to be waiting on them.” He turns to walk to the door but I stop him. “Oh and tell Adam and Misty to come out to supper tonight. Swing by Joe’s and Hoss’s, too. Tell them we have a very old friend staying with us.”
“Sure thing, Mr. Cartwright!” Tipping his hat at the ladies he pulls the door closed behind him. A second later it opens back up a crack and his head pops back into the room. “I’m invited, too, right?”
“Of course you are! You should know better than to ask that.” He grins as his head disappears back out the door and it clicks shut.
“Candy was telling me about your son Adam and his wife on the way out here.” Gabriela says as she moves to look around the room. “They sound like wonderful people. I can’t wait to meet them.”
“I rode a little bit ahead of the wagon so I didn’t hear what Candy told Madeline and Brie.” Juliet says as she timidly hovers near a chair. Seeing that she’s not sure if she should sit or remain standing, I tell her to sit down if she wants to. “Who’s Adam? And if you don’t mind me asking, how come Candy has to take supplies to him?”
“Adam is the oldest of my three sons.” I begin to explain. “His wife, Misty, who’s currently expecting, has been having some mild complications so he hasn’t wanted to leave her for large amounts of time, especially now since she only has about a month left to go. So Candy, one of my younger sons, or I pick up whatever they need when we’re in town. All of us go to town often so it doesn’t take us out of our way.”
“I’m guessing Joe and Hoss are your younger sons?”
“Yes. Hoss, or I should say, Eric, is my middle son, while Little Joe is my youngest.” She grins at me when I say “Little” Joe. Being the youngest herself, I’m sure she knows why he’s called “little”. “All three of my sons have families of their own so you ladies are going to meet quite a crowd tonight!”
“How many are there in total, Ben?” I look up to see Rose wandering over by the table. “Because if it’s more than nine we aren’t all going to fit around your table.”
“Oh, there’s definitely more than nine!” I laugh, walking up beside her. “Let’s see, there’s Adam and Misty, Hoss and Leo with their two little ones, and then Joe, Hannah, and baby Lilia Marie.”
“That’s fifteen people when you add in Candy and all of us! How are we all going to sit for supper?” Juliet gasps.
“Well, since it’s such a nice day and there’s so many of us, I figured we could set up some tables outside to make one big table. We could have a big picnic out in the front yard!” The three girls let out a cheer.
Shaking her head at them, Rose laughs. “Ben, I swear those daughters of mine act more like giddy little school girls than the grown women they are!”
“And that’s perfectly fine!” My deep laugh joins everyone else’s. “I’d rather someone have a youthful joy than be overly mature and not know how to have fun.”
“Now, Ben, if you’d just show me the kitchen, us four ladies will start fixing supper.”
“Hold on a minute, Rose!” I put one hand on my hip and point a finger at her with the other. “I have a cook who is very capable of cooking all the food we’ll need. In fact, he’d be very offended if I let someone else in his kitchen and he’d probably threaten to quit on me.”
“Well, if you put it that way…” She smiles at me. “Then we’ll help you set up the tables.”
“Nope, you aren’t going to do that either.” I hold up my hand as she tries to interrupt me. “What I want you ladies to do is relax after your very long trip. I’ll take care of everything all by myself. As soon as I get all of you settled in your rooms, I’m going to tell Hop Sing about supper tonight and then I’ll go find a ranch hand to help me set up the tables.”
“Oh, alright.” Rose sighs but it turns into a laugh as one by one the girls try to cover yawns. “We are quite tired.”
“Then let’s get you four settled!” I grab their bags and head towards the stairs, all of them following me.
“I’d like to propose a toast.” I stand up as everyone looks my way. I raise my glass of wine as glasses filled with an assortment of different drinks get lifted into the air around the table. “To an old friend who I haven’t seen in a very long time and Virginia City’s new school teacher!”
“Hear, hear!” The cheer goes around the table as everyone takes a drink of either their wine, water, or milk.
“Speaking of our new school teacher.” Adam says, turning to look at Madeline. “Pa and I are actually on the school board, so if I can remember correctly, your last name is Bartholomew?”
“Yes, that’s correct.” Madeline nods with a smile.
“But, wait a minute.” Candy interjects. “Brie, you told me your last name was Barton.”
“It is Barton. Gabriella Anna Barton to be exact.” Candy seems confused but I see a look of suspicion come over Adam’s face. “In fact, all three of us girls have different last names. Madeline Bartholomew, Gabriella Barton, and Juliet Greyson.”
“How come?” Adam asks. He clearly finds the situation slightly fishy. I don’t quite know what to make of it myself but then Rose and I really haven’t had a chance to talk and catch up. Most of our ride home was spent discussing the scenery and the Ponderosa.
“The girls have different fathers.” Rose calmly states. I see Adam stiffen slightly while Hoss and Joe give each other a look. I know what they’re thinking but I don’t want to automatically assume the worst. The girl I knew all those years ago wouldn’t be like that. “I realize that sounds very strange and suspicious but I was married three times and I had a daughter with each of my husbands.”
“You’ve got to be joking!” Joe laughs, a look of surprise on his face.
“No, I’m serious.” She looks over at me with a confused expression.
“Apparently Pa hasn’t had the chance to tell you our story yet, but I’m sure you’ve noticed how different the three of us look and act.” Adam explains as Rose nods her head in agreement. “Well, it turns out our family situation is very similar to yours because Pa was married three times and each of us have a different mother. Joe’s mother passed away when he was little so Pa’s been widowed for quite some time now.”
“Oh, wow! I never realized there was a family out there so similar to ours.” Juliet exclaims with surprise. “My Pa died when I was three and that was fifteen years ago.”
“So you’re eighteen?” Leo asks her with a smile.
“Yes.” She glances at her sisters. “Just a baby, something I get reminded of very often.”
“Oh, boy!” Joe laughs. “Juliet, it sounds like you’ve got yourself older sisters like my brothers here!”
“If they’re protective and bossy, then we’re both in the same boat.” She laughs. “Oh, and please don’t call me Juliet, practically the only time I’m called that is when I’m in some sort of trouble. Just call me Jewels.”
“Alright. Just call me Little Joe.” With that charming grin of his, he tosses her a wink. Her cheeks pink up as she smiles back with a nod.
A small cry comes out of the little cradle sitting about ten feet away on the porch. Scooting her chair back, Hannah walks over to it and scoops up the crying babe. Lilia Marie doesn’t hush but instead begins to wail louder. Looking back at us apologetically, Hannah says, “She must be hungry. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“That little girl definitely inherited her hearty lungs from her Pa.” Adam jokes after the front door clicks shut. “Joe used to keep everyone awake at night when he was her age. I can still remember how I would lie in bed with the pillow over my head to try and block out the endless wails.”
“Adam, just you wait.” Little Joe points across the table at him. “Pretty soon you’re going to be doing that again, only it’s going to be your own offspring this time!”
Laughing, everyone begins to push away from the table. Misty, Leo, and the two little ones followed by Madeline and Jewels go into the house to keep Hannah company. I see Candy and Brie slip off to go for a walk in the dusk while Adam, Hoss, and Joe go into the barn to hook up their wagons. Pretty soon it’s just Rose and I standing in the front yard. She begins to stack dirty plates, so leaning down the table I help her.
“Ben, I’m sorry I didn’t take the time to tell you everything earlier.”
“It’s alright.” I smile at her. “There wasn’t time earlier.”
“But I want you to know, we were such good friends back in the day and it doesn’t feel right to keep it from you.” She pulls her chair out and sits down again as I follow suit. “I guess it’s best to start at the very beginning.”
“After you left for sea I was heartbroken. I guess I thought the little bit of courting we did was going to turn into something more, but then you signed onto that ship. It felt like my world was shattered but the town boys saw it as a blessing. Practically all the boys my age came calling to ask to be my suitor. I guess since you were out of the way they thought they finally had a chance!” She laughs, apparently now finding the whole situation funny. “I didn’t want to go out with any of them but Papa insisted that I at least step out with a few, so I did.”
“Things got serious with Keith Williams. Do you remember him?” I nod. “He asked for my hand, but I declined. I didn’t truly love him and he didn’t make me feel alive like I did when I was with you. After that I had a few other suitors who asked for my hand, but I turned them down as well.”
“You sure were quite the heartbreaker!” I laugh.
“That I was!” She giggles. “All was well until I was in my middle twenties. That’s when Papa’s health began to fail and he struggled to keep up with the mercantile. There had been this man named Issac Bartholomew, who kept trying to court me. And not only court me, he was also trying to buy the mercantile from Papa. Issac was uppity and snobbish with a nasty streak. I didn’t like him and Papa knew it. But when Papa collapsed one day and the doctor told him he didn’t have much time left, he had to make a decision. I knew it was the last thing he wanted to do because his decision involved both the mercantile and me. Issac had agreed to purchase the mercantile, for a hefty price mind you, but he’d only buy it if part of the agreement was that I’d marry him.”
“So you did just that to ensure your father’s peace.” Reaching over, I take her hand in mine. “I remember how much you and your father loved each other. And I know that he wanted what was best for you.”
“I know, Ben.” She smiles, her eyes free of tears and sorrow. “I wouldn’t have married Issac if I didn’t. But it turned out to be a stormy, short marriage. We had only been married for seven months when one night in the mercantile one of the big shelves on the wall that was stocked full of tools fell on him. He died the next morning. I was expecting Madeline and to be completely honest, I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad.”
“I ran the mercantile by myself for two months. That is until one day this tall, strapping auburn haired man sauntered into the store. He told me his name was Atley Barton and that he was headed west to St. Louis. We talked for a while and the dreams he told me about made my adventurous side spark to life. Two weeks later we married and sold the store. I gave birth to Madeline on the trail west three months later. I expected Atley to treat her like his own but he didn’t. He was a distant and quiet sort of man, some even called him odd, and I guess he couldn’t bring himself to love another man’s child.”
“I’m so sorry, Rose.”
“Oh, please don’t be!” She seems to just take her life for what it is and not want any pity or sympathy for her hard times. “Anyways, I’m not finished yet, but I’ll hurry.”
“We got to St. Louis and made a small homestead there. After living there for about two and a half years, at least that’s how long I think it was because Madeline was three at the time, I gave birth to Gabriella. I never got a chance to see what type of father Atley would be to her because he died four days later. He was killed in a saloon brawl. He wasn’t part of it, a wild bullet hit him in the back and he was dead before even had time to hit the floor.”
“How did you get by with two little ones all by yourself after that?”
“An elderly widowed midwife, actually the same midwife who delivered Brie, needed an assistant. It felt like the right thing to do so I became that assistant. I’ve supported the girls and myself by delivering babies ever since.” As she smiles at me and I can practically feel the joy radiating out of her. “It’s the only thing that I love more than my girls!”
“But wait a minute, you left something out. How did you meet Jewels’ father?”
“I met Trent Greyson one day five years later. I was walking down the street in the rain on my way home from a birth and I guess you can say we literally ran into each other. I liked him and he liked my girls, so when he asked to court me a few weeks later, I agreed. We courted for about three months before getting married and then I found out I was expecting again a little over a month after our wedding. Trent was thrilled but he wanted a son. You know what he got: Juliet. He became distant and wanted nothing to do with any of the three girls after Juliet’s birth. And then two weeks after her third birthday the sheriff came knocking on my door. He told me that someone had found Trent’s body floating in the river. They weren’t sure if it was suicide or if he’d just accidently fallen in and couldn’t get out.”
“Rose, you’ve been through so much it makes me even more fortunate for all the happy ones I had mixed in with my own hard times.” She gives me a small smile. “Unfortunately I’ll have to tell you my story some other time because it’s getting late and I see the boys coming out of the barn and that looks like Candy and Brie coming back.”
“Come in.” I call out as someone knocks on my bedroom door. Sighing, I undo my tie again since I still can’t seem to get it tied straight.
“Mr. Cartwight?” Looking in the mirror, I see Madeline slip into the room, shutting the door behind her.
“I’d like to thank you for throwing this party so I could meet all the parents of my new students.” She steps up beside me. “You’ve been very generous to my mother, sisters, and I in the two weeks we’ve been here. In fact, so generous that I don’t know how to properly thank you.”
“You can thank me by calling me Ben instead of Mr. Cartwright.” I try to tie my string tie again as she nods. I glance over at her when I feel her hand gently touch my arm.
“Let me help you.” I take a step back so she can squeeze herself in between the dresser and me. After a few quick twists and pulls she has the tie straight. “There.”
“And now I have to thank you!” I laugh. Hearing hurrying footfall out in the hall coming towards the door, both of us turn just in time to see it slowly begin to open.
“Grandpa, are you ready?” Jeff asks after opening the door wide enough to stick his head in.
“Yep, I’m all ready. I’ll be down in a few minutes, alright?”
“Alright. But you better hurry, people are startin’ to show up!” With a bang the door is shut again and we can hear him race back down the hall towards the staircase. Madeline and I laugh as we move across the room to the door. As I reach out to grab the doorknob Madeline touches my arm again. Looking down at her, I find her gazing up at me with slightly tear filled eyes and a small smile.
“Ben, you’re a very lucky man. You have a wonderful loving family, something my sisters and I have always craved but weren’t fortunate enough to have. Don’t get me wrong now, we all love each other but there was always something missing.” A tear slowly rolls down her right cheek. “Mama was almost never home and we didn’t have a father. More often than not an elderly lady took care of us while Mama worked. We never told her, but Mrs. Pierson was a grouch and often mean to us. We didn’t want to worry her so we just were very cautious with what we did around Mrs. Pierson. Which was sometimes very difficult to do because Brie and Jewels were constantly fighting with each other.”
“Madeline, I’m so sorry that you and the girls had to go through so many hard times growing up.” I wipe the tears off her cheeks. “I wish I could somehow make it all up to you and your sisters.”
“I know it’s rather silly of me and that it’s probably the little girl inside of me, but I can’t help wishing that things would go back to the way they were between you and Mama before you left for sea.” She smiles shyly up at me, her tears all gone. “When she found the time, Mama used to tell us stories of when she was a little girl. More often than not there was this wonderful, handsome young man named Ben in her stories.”
“Oh, I wasn’t that handsome or wonderful! I’m sure she exaggerated quite a bit.” I say with a small laugh.
“Maybe she did or maybe she didn’t, but I do know that my sisters and I would be more than pleased if the two of you were to court again.” Reaching out she turns the doorknob and opens the door. She pauses in the doorway, looking over her shoulder at me. “I also know that there’s not another family that I’d rather be a part of than yours.”
Thinking about what she just told me, I follow her down the hall towards the stairs. I had actually thought about asking Rose to court me again yet I was slightly hesitant because of what the girls would think. But with what Madeline just told me, I‘ve made my decision, especially since it’s felt like Rose and I have just picked up where we left off all those years ago. Yes, I’m going to ask her to court me again and I think I’ll even ask her tonight if I can slip off with her for a moment alone.
Madeline and I step into a throng of people in the living room as I see Rose making her way towards us. Looking down at Madeline, she tosses me a quick wink. I smile at her but then glancing back up, a man in the crowd catches my eye. He’s a widowed rancher whose son will be attending the school again this year. He’s across the room talking to Adam, so meeting Rose halfway, I lead Madeline over to them. I had intended on introducing Madeline to as many parents as I possibly could and he seems like a good place to start.
“Kevin, I’d like you to meet our new school teacher, Madeline Bartholomew.” He politely nods to her while shaking the hand she holds out to him.
“Nice to meet you, Miss Bartholomew. I’m Kevin Butler.”
“It’s a pleasure, Mr. Butler…” Rose and I slip away towards the punch bowl as their conversation continues. Pouring Rose a glass of punch, I watch Little Joe jump up on the fireplace so he can be seen by everyone.
“Fellas grab you gals, the first dance is about to begin!” He hops down and hurries across the room to where Hannah is bent over Lilia Marie in her crable next to Misty. Since Misty can’t dance she offered to watch the baby so Hannah could enjoy herself on the dancefloor.
“Well, Rose, you heard Joe!” Taking her hand in mine I bow slightly over it with the biggest gentlemanly attitude I can possess. “May I have this dance?”
“I’d be offended if you didn’t ask!” Laughing, we both hurry to the center of the living room as the music begins. I see all the boys and Rose’s girls paired off around the room. Hoss twirls Leo around while I see Candy has Brie in his arms. Since Misty isn’t dancing, Adam offered to dance with Jewels and I can see Madeline being spun gracefully around by Kevin Butler.
After about four or five more dances with different partners, I’m dancing with Rose once again when all of a sudden I hear a man and woman loudly arguing. Scanning the room, my eyes stop when I find the couple, which is Madeline and Kevin.
“Oh dear!” Rose exclaims when she also sees them. “Madeline has a temper but she doesn’t often lose it.”
“Well Kevin Butler is slightly known for his hotheaded ways. He typically keeps a hold of himself but when he lets loose…” We both quickly head in their direction and are halfway there when suddenly Madeline takes off up the stairs and Kevin pushes his way to the front door, practically slamming it shut behind him. Rose moves to follow Madeline up the stairs but quickly reaching out, I grab her arm. Turning to look at all the couples who’ve stopped dancing, I shout, “Why’d everyone stop dancing? Slim, get that fiddle going again!”
Within seconds they’re all back to dancing. Rose tries to go up the stairs again but I gently tug her towards the punch bowl instead. After handing her a glass, I pour myself one. “Let the girl cool herself off, I’m sure it was nothing serious. You can check on her later.”
“Oh, alright.” She takes the last drink of her punch. “It’s awfully warm in here.”
“Would you like to step outside for some air?”
“I was hoping you’d ask!”
“It’s such a wonderful night!” Rose sighs as we walk across the yard, her arm tucked into mine. We stop at the corral and lean our elbows on it.
“That it is.” I reply after a moment of peaceful quiet. “A wonderful night spent with a wonderful lady.”
“I’m not wonderful.” She huffs playfully at me.
“I think you are.” Taking her hand in mine, I turn towards her. “In fact, I think you’re even more wonderful than the last time I saw you all those years ago.”
“Ben Cartwright, you’re still the same flatterer that you were back then!” She laughs and in the moonlight I see her cheeks pink up in a blush.
“But I’m not trying to flatter you, I meant everything I just said.” Lifting her hand to my lips, I kiss the top of it. “I meant it from the bottom of my heart because I’d be honored if you’d agree to court me again.”
“You want to court me again?” She asks, surprised.
“Yes, I’d like to court you again, Rose. Will you?”
“Oh, yes, I’ll court you!” Standing up on tiptoe, she kisses my cheek.
We stand by the corral talking for about an hour or so before hearing the front door open. We both turn around to see the guests beginning to leave. Pushing off the fence, I offer my arm to Rose, who takes it with a smile. “It looks like my guests are leaving, I better be a good host and tell them goodbye. Will you join me?”
“I’d be honored.” Walking back to the porch, we tell each couple good night as they pass us on their way to find their parked buggies. As Rose and I watch the very last buggy drive out of the front yard the front door slams open behind us.
“Pa! Mrs. Greyson! Come Quick!” We both hurry towards the door, knowing something must be wrong if the panic in Little Joe’s face and voice is any tell tale.
“Joe, what’s wrong?”
“It’s Misty, something’s wrong with her.” Rose pushes past him and hurries over to where Misty still sits by my study. Only now she’s no longer sitting up in her chair but bent over her swollen stomach. Adam’s bent down in front of her trying to get an answer from her as a deep moan comes from her throat. Rose scoots him over and bends down in his place and puts her hands comfortingly on Misty’s shoulders.
“How long have you been having these pains?” She asks when Misty finally stops moaning in pain.
“All day.” Misty sheepishly admits.
“All day!” Adam’s shout practically makes the roof shake. “Why didn’t you say something!”
“Because I wasn’t going to miss this party for anything.” She snaps back nearly as loud. The mixture of Adam’s lost temper and the furious pain that she looks to be in is making her fiery temper flare up. “Anyways I don’t exactly have anything to worry about with a midwife in the house!”
“That’s not the point!” He yells back. Hearing movement behind me, I see Joe and Hoss getting their families ready to go. They quietly wave as they slip out the front door. I quickly turn back to Adam and Misty when I hear Adam take a deep sharp breath in preparation to shout again. “You told me that if anything was wrong, you’d tell me so I could go get Doc Martin!”
“There’s nothing wrong!” But the words are barely out of her mouth before she bends over her stomach again with a slightly louder moan that sounds more like a muffled scream. Instead of yelling back with the obvious, Adam’s knees hit the ground beside her chair. He runs his hand up and down her back as he murmurs words of comfort in her ear.
“Rose, what’s wrong?” I ask, since she hasn’t said anything since asking Misty how long she had been having these pains. She seemed to be in a different place the whole time they were arguing right beside her as she intently watched the little pocket watch she pulled from somewhere out of her dress.
“Oh, there’s nothing wrong. Yes, there’s pain but that’s just how nature has these things work.” Standing up, she looks over at me with a smile. “This young lady here is going to have a baby, and soon, too. She’s been having pains all day and now they’re less than a minute apart and lasting nearly triple that amount of time. Plus her temper’s beginning to show itself, which is another sign the baby’s almost here.” She turns to the girls behind us. “Brie, go upstairs and get Madeline.”
“Yes, Mama!” She takes off up the stairs, skipping every other step like Joe does when he’s in a hurry.
“Don’t forget the marbles, Brie!” Jewels calls after her from where she stands next to Candy, who sits on the sofa armrest. I thought he slipped out with the others but apparently he didn’t.
“Marbles?” Candy asks, his brow scrunched in confusion.
“All three of us like to assist Mama with births but after we had multiple arguments and nearly made her late more than once, she came up with the idea for the marbles. She put three marbles, two dark and one light, into a little black bag and we each have to pull one out. Whoever gets the light one gets to help Mama. It’s kinda like drawing straws except with a bag and marbles instead.” She explains. Madeline and Brie appear at the top of the stairs seconds later.
“Misty, Adam, and I are going to help you upstairs to my bedroom, but we’re going to have to go as fast as we can so we can get you there in between pains, alright?” Misty gives her a weak nod as Adam helps her to her feet. He looks at her where the only thing that’s keeping her standing is his strong hold of her shoulders and then over at the staircase. Without a moment of hesitation, he scoops her up in his arms and heads for the stairs. Rose hurries right behind them. “Careful, Adam, we don’t want any accidents.”
“I’m being careful.”
“Girls, hurry up with those marbles, will you?” She calls back down the stairs as Adam disappears down the hall. “Ben, we’ll need lots of hot water and some clean towels.”
“Right away. Candy, will you get the towels while Hop Sing and I put some water on to heat?” Standing up, he gives me a fast nod as he hurries to do what I asked. Walking towards the kitchen, I quickly glance back over my shoulder when I hear someone run up the stairs. I see blonde hair fly around the corner at the top of the stairs, so it must have been Jewels.
“Hop Sing heat water, Mr. Cartwright sit down an’ rest.” With a shove to the front of my vest he pushes me back into the dining room. As I scoot over to sit down as Hop Sing demanded, I see Adam reluctantly walk back down the stairs. Madeline, who had slipped into the kitchen as I was getting shoved out, comes back out carrying a bowl of water. It must be the water from the pot he already had on the stove. Candy tosses her the towels, which she smoothly catches without spilling any of the water. She slips past Adam where he paces nervously and anxiously in front of the staircase to carry the wanted items to her mother.
“Son, why don’t you sit down.” I say after I step up to him and squeeze his shoulder. He looks up at me with eyes that are struggling to hold back tears. He doesn’t often show emotion like the other boys so I know he’s worried and scared. I’m sure his own mother is in the back of his mind since we lost her after his birth. I know he’s worried the same thing will happen to Misty but Misty’s a hardy girl and quite a lot stronger than Liz was. “Please?”
“Alright.” With a sigh he flops down into the blue chair by the stairs. Hearing Madeline’s shoes on the stairs, he turns quickly. “How is she?”
“She’s just fine.” Stopping beside him, she gives him an encouraging pat on the back. “It should be really soon now. Probably within the next half an hour, if not sooner.”
Everyone sits down and begins to fidget as we wait. After a few minutes of very tense and painful silence, Brie gets up and grabs the checkerboard. Within minutes the snap of Candy and Brie’s checkers as they move across the board joins the sound of Adam’s tapping foot. Looking over at Madeline, I suddenly remember her argument with Kevin Butler.
“Madeline?” Since I don’t have anything else to do except wait, I might as well strike up a conversation with the only other person in the room whose hands or feet aren’t occupied.
“Yes, Ben?” She looks up at me from where she was watching the fast game of checkers in front of her.
“What happened between you and Kevin Butler this evening?”
“He didn’t agree with me about how a certain subject ought to be taught. We had a few words, it was nothing serious.” She says with a slight shrug and wave of her hand.
“What subject was it?” She opens her mouth to answer me but doesn’t get a chance to get the words out as a slap and then a baby’s wail drifts down from upstairs. Adam jumps out of his chair so fast it nearly flips backwards. He stands at the bottom of the staircase and it looks as if the only thing keeping him from hitting the floor is the banister he’s leaning on.
After an extremely tense moment that feels like an hour, Jewels appears at the top of the stairs, a huge grin on her face. “It’s a boy!”
“Is Misty alright?” Jewels’s mouth opens but just like Madeline she doesn’t get a chance to let the words out.
“Juliet!” Rose’s voice sounds excited and slightly panicked. Jewels runs back down the hall as Madeline leaps off the sofa and flies up the stairs. Adam moves to follow her, but jumping from my seat I grab his arm before he has a chance to get any farther than the first two steps. “Wait.”
“But, Pa.” When he finally turns and looks at me, I see the tears streaming down his face and how he’s trying not to start sobbing. “Pa, she needs me.”
Suddenly we hear another slap and a baby’s wail followed by Rose, Jewels, Madeline, and Misty’s distinctly different laughs. Adam doesn’t smile or even try to, he’s too busy staring at me blankly. The meaning of the second slap and wail apparently hasn’t registered, he must have thought the worst was about to happen and now he’s almost in a stupor. But Brie knows why there was a second wail and she walks over to me with a big grin splitting her cheeks, checker game completely forgotten. I wrap my arm around her shoulders as Jewels appears at the top of the stairs again. When Adam turns to look at her, his face still blank, she waves for him to come up the stairs. “Come on, Adam! Come meet your sons.”
“Sons!?” His voice is only a croak as he turns back to me eyes wide.
“Yeah, silly.” She laughs as he sprints up the stairs. “Twin sons!”
Four days later I help Rose out of the buggy in front of the nicest restaurant in Virginia City. She agreed to let me take her to dinner tonight since Misty has been resting and adjusting well after birthing the twins. I’ll never forget the look of pure love and joy on Adam’s face when I went into Misty’s room to see the babies for the first time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him prouder of anything than he is of those two little identical boys!
I open the door for Rose and as we walk in the waiter leads us to a table near the center of the room. Pulling out Rose’s chair for her, I wait for her to sit before sitting down myself. We both look at the menu for a moment in silence before I signal to the waiter. After we order, I notice a good friend walking our way from the right side of the dining room.
“Ben!” Robert Steel, the banker, shakes my hand and then nods to Rose who returns it with a smile.
“Robert, I don’t think you’ve had the pleasure of meeting my lady friend, Mrs. Rose Greyson.” He shakes the hand she extends to him. “Rose, this is Mr. Robert Steel, my banker.”
“Mrs. Greyson, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“The same, Mr. Steel.”
“Ben, I wanted to congratulate you on the birth of your twin grandsons!” He slaps me on the back. “You must be mighty proud of that son of yours.”
“That I am, but how did you know Misty had twin boys?” None of us have been in town, that is unless either Hoss or Joe have, so I’m confused at how Robert even knows. “She only had them four days ago.”
“Hoss told me yesterday when he came into town. He must have told some others, too, because it’s been the talk of town all day!” He laughs. “What did they name them?”
“Benjamin Tyler and Gavin Jeremiah.”
“So they named one after you, huh?” He slaps me on the back again, a big grin on his face. With as excited as he is you’d think they were his grandsons and not the grandsons of one his largest customers and old friend. “Where did the other one’s name come from? I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before.”
“It was Misty’s father’s name.”
“That’s nice, both of them named after their grandfathers. But do they look alike?”
“Yep, you can’t tell them apart.” I smile. “They’re beautiful boys that Mrs. Greyson and two of her daughters helped into this world.”
“You’re a midwife, Mrs. Greyson?”
“Yes.” She nods with the same joyful smile that always appears when she talks about her trade. “I’ve actually been one for nearly twenty-four years now.”
“Do you enjoy it?”
“Enjoy it! It’s one of my favorite things.”
“Well, why don’t you go ask Doc Martin if you could help him with that part of his profession? I was talking to him just the other day and he said that he has more expectant mothers right now than he knows what to do with.” He’s interrupted by the waiter who walks up behind him with our plates of food in hand. “It looks like it’s time for me to leave you two alone so you can eat your supper. It was nice meeting you, Mrs. Greyson. And Ben, tell Adam congratulations for me.”
“It was nice to meet you, too, Mr. Steel.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll tell him.” With a final wave he walks back to his table as we begin to eat.
“Ben, so do you think that the town doctor really could use my help?” She asks after we’ve eaten about half of our meal in silence.
“I don’t know but I’m sure he probably could.” I can feel the excitement begin to seep out of her. “How about after we finish here, we go down to Doc Martin’s and see for ourselves?”
“Oh, thank you, Ben!” Reaching across the table, she gently squeezes my hand. “That would make me so happy.”
We finish the rest of our meal in a happy, excited silence and before I know it we’re walking down to Doc Martin’s office. Opening the door, we walk in as he looks up from where he’s sorting and putting away his medical instruments. He waves and he hurries over to us, extending his hand for me to shake. “Hello, Ben. How’s Misty doing?”
“She’s just fine thanks to Mrs. Greyson here.” Shaking hands, they exchange hellos. “Mrs. Greyson would like to offer you her assistance if it’s needed.”
“Mrs. Greyson, are you experienced or do you just occasionally deliver babies when the need arises?” He asks politely.
“I’m experienced, Doc Martin.” She replies back in the same polite tone. “I was the apprentice of St. Louis’s oldest midwife for four years and I’ve been delivering babies by myself for twenty.”
“I sure could use your help but you’re staying on the Ponderosa, which is quite a long distance from most of my expectant mothers. In fact it’s such a distance from town, Little Joe nearly ended up delivering Lilia Marie because I almost didn’t get there in time.” Turning to his desk, he pulls out a pad of paper and writes a couple of things on the top sheet with a short stubby pencil. Tearing it off of the pad, he lays it in Rose’s hand. “But it just happens that three of my expectant mothers are closer to you than they are to me. I wrote down their names and where they live on this paper. All three are due within the next month and a half.”
“Oh, Doc Martin, thank you so much!” With a big grin, she shakes his hand.
Sitting in my red chair by the fireplace three days later, I watch my family all spread out across the room around me. Joe and Hoss brought their families over after supper for a visit and since Adam and Misty haven’t gone home yet, everyone’s here. I lay the book I was reading on my chest and folding my hands over it, I rest my chin on my fingertips.
Cheerful laughter comes from the table near my study, where Candy and Brie are having a very competitive game of checkers. Joe and Hoss stand behind their chairs, rooting for whoever they think will win. Adam sits beside me on the fireplace quietly strumming his guitar and keeping an eye on sleeping Benjamin in the cradle at his feet. Misty lays reclining on the sofa with Gavin snuggled against her chest while quiet animal noises come from behind the sofa. I can see Jewels’s hair spread out around her as she lays on the floor playing with Cherry with the wooden animals Hoss whittled for her. Leo and Jeff sit side by side on the bottom step, winding up a ball of yarn for Rose, who sits in the blue chair beside them knitting what looks to be a sock. Across the room Madeline sits at my desk flipping through a big book, studying for her first day of school in about a month. Hearing a soft sigh, I look over at Hannah where she sits in the red chair by the clock, reading a Jane Austen novel. It must have been Lilia Marie who sighed because she rubs her hand up the sleeping baby’s back, where she lays curled up against her chest.
As I watch my now large family, I feel extremely blessed. A year and a half ago it was just the boys and me, now I have three daughter-in-laws and five grandchildren. Looking up, Rose catches my eye and we smile at each other. And pretty soon our family might grow even more if everything goes the way I hope with Rose. Who knows, before the end of the year I might have a wife and three new daughters.
Picking up my book again, I look down at the page but don’t see any of the words as my thoughts wander again. Listening to the tune coming from Adam’s guitar, I can’t help but wonder whether Liz would be proud of the man who her son has become. I’m sure she would be. I know I am. He glances up at me and smiles when he sees me peering at him from over the top of my book. I smile and he looks back down at Benjamin with a proud, loving gaze. I know he’ll be an excellent father to his two little boys, who seem to have inherited their mama’s red hair if the slight red fuzz on their heads is any way of telling. They’re still too young to tell what color their eyes are going to be but if the darkness of them is any indicator, they’re going to be brown like their pa’s.
Hearing Hoss’s familiar chuckle, I look over to see him laughing at Candy and Joe, who are both giving him nasty looks. It never ceases to amaze me how much Hoss is like his mother, especially since she died when he was just a baby. The way he took to Jeff and Cherry, not only taking them in but loving them like his own children reminds me of the way Inger took in and loved Adam. She would be so proud of her big, loving son!
“Why’d you go and move there for! That was the stupidest move you could’ve made.”
“Joe, I’m trying! She isn’t easy to beat.” Smiling slightly, I watch Joe and Candy argue over Candy’s wrong move. Joe was born hot tempered but thankfully he’s mellowed out quite a bit since becoming a husband and father. It only seemed fitting that his first born was a girl with the way he was such a ladies man because once she gets to the courting age, Joe’s going to get a taste of what he put many fathers through. Lilia Marie is bound to be a beautiful young lady, in fact there’s no way she can be otherwise with both of her parents having such good looks.
Glancing around the room once more, I pause for a moment to study each of Rose’s girls. In the three weeks that they’ve been here I’ve noticed the differences between them. Madeline is the typical oldest sibling with her protective nature and slightly bossy ways, but she’s extremely intelligent and I can only imagine what type of teacher she’ll be.
Brie is by far the prettiest of the three yet she’s also the most athletic. On top of those two things, she possesses a very rare artistic talent like I’ve never seen before. She showed me a portrait that she drew of Jewels and it was so realistic it seemed like I was actually looking at Jewels and not just a drawing.
Jewels, on the other hand, has a very wild and quick imagination. She’s definitely what I would think of as a romantic daydreamer. I’ve found her more than once staring off in the distance, chin in hand, a small smile on her face, seeming to be a million miles away. She’s always jumped a little like I startled her when I asked her if she was alright. She also loves to read romance novels of all sorts, dime store trash and the classics, especially Romeo and Juliet which I’ve seen her reading multiple times. If the state of her copy has anything to say, she’s probably read it more than ten times.
But despite their differences, they have many similarities. All three are dependable, strong, stable girls. They’ve gone through their fair share of hard times, but unlike some people, who break under tribulation, they came out of it stronger. In fact they’re such lovely girls that I’d be proud to be their father and I know the boys would feel the same way about being their brothers.
With a contented sigh, I look back down at my book. Finding where I had stopped, I begin to read again. As my eyes go back and forth across the page, the sounds all around me blend into a distant comforting murmur.
Driving back to the ranch with Rose after visiting the Franklins the next day, we happily chat about random things. We’ve been using the rides we take when she visits her patients as courting dates. We both agreed that it was better this way because I have to find the time to take her since she doesn’t know the area and she didn’t want to take up even more of my time to go on buggy rides, dinner dates, or picnics in the name of courting. So sometimes we bring a picnic lunch, like we did today, but other times we just talk as we ride.
Last night before I went to sleep I made a decision but I haven’t brought it up to Rose yet. I figured it would be a better topic to be discussed on a picnic blanket instead of a buckboard. As Rose points out a pretty spot for our picnic, I pull the buckboard to a stop. Hopping down, I help her safely to the ground as she grabs the basket full of food from behind the seat. We spread the blanket out together and collapse onto it, both of our stomachs growling. Rose quickly pulls out all the food and we dig in.
“Rose, I’d like to talk to you about something.” I break the peaceful quietness between us. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course not.” She sends me one of her lovely smiles. “What is it?”
“Well, last night when everyone was spread all around the living room relaxing and doing different things, it made me start thinking about something.”
“I thought I could see the wheels turning in your head when you were peering over the top of that book, watching everyone.”
“You were watching me?”
“Every once in a while.” She shrugs with a girlish grin. “I couldn’t help it, you’re a very handsome gentleman.”
“Handsome is not the word I would use to describe myself.” I laugh.
“Well, I think you are and that’s all that matters.” Reaching over, she pats my hand. “Now what was it you wanted to talk to me about?”
“What I was thinking about last night was how our families seem to fit so well together. In fact we fit so well together that if an outsider were to see us, they would probably think we’re all one family and not actually two separate ones.”
“We do go together quite well, don’t we?” She looks at me and I can practically see the thoughts rolling around in her head. “Your boys have taken in the girls and they treat them like the sisters they’ve never had.”
“I’m very proud of the boys and the way they’ve been treating your girls.” I begin to laugh. “But I know for a fact that if they weren’t already married, they’d be trying to court your girls instead of being brotherly to them. And I can’t say that I’d blame them, you have very beautiful girls, Rose.”
“Thank you, Ben, but their beauty didn’t come from me. All three of them look exactly like their fathers.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, how come none of them are married?”
“Well, Madeline was always so busy with her studies that she didn’t have time for anything else. She wanted to become a teacher but she had a hard time at school when she was younger, so she had a lot of catching up to do.” She explains. “It took her five years to catch up, and in those five years she applied herself so much to her studies that she didn’t leave time for anything else. She actually ended up breaking things off with a boy she was seeing at the time because the courting was interfering with her studies too much. She had a little bit of a reputation because of that, so the boys never even tried after that.”
“It sounds like she’s a very serious and devoted young lady when it comes to what she wants in her life.”
“Yes, but I’m afraid she’s becoming a spinster. She hasn’t stepped out with a boy since she was twenty which was right after she began her first teaching position and that was seven years ago.”
“Don’t worry about it, only time can tell.” I say trying to push the worry out of her mind but I can see I wasn’t successful. “Jewels is still a teenager so I understand why she isn’t married, but what about Brie?”
“Brie was very seriously involved with a young man named Henry Kendal back in St. Louis. They were actually engaged and planning on getting married the Saturday before the other girls and I were going to leave. But three days before the wedding, she came home angry and upset. She told me that the wedding was called off and the engagement broken. I never pressed her for the reason why because I knew she’d tell me in time. I was surprised how fast she took to Candy after only breaking her engagement a few weeks earlier, especially since she was with Henry for a year and a half. Don’t get me wrong, I like Candy, in fact I like him more than I ever did Henry.”
“What was wrong with Henry?”
“Oh, nothing.” She sighs, laying down her empty plate. “He was a good, respected young man but something deep down in me didn’t like him. I don’t know why I felt that way, but now I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
“I’m sure it was for the best that the engagement was broken.” Laying my empty plate beside hers, I grab her hand and hold it gently between mine. “But back to what we were talking about.”
“Which was about how our families fit so well together.” She interrupts with a smile.
“Yes, and I was thinking that maybe we ought to be one family.” Lifting her hand to my lips, I kiss the top of it. “I know we’ve only been courting for two weeks but I still feel the same way about you that I did all of those years ago.”
“And I feel the same way about you.”
“Last night I was thinking about how much time we’ve already wasted and why we shouldn’t wait even longer, we’re only getting older and not any younger. Plus we already courted, even if it was when we were younger.” She nods at me in agreement so I continue. “Rose, I love you and would be thrilled and honored if you’d be my wife. Will you accept my hand in marriage?”
“Oh, Ben, I thought I loved you all those years ago but now the love I feel for you is ten times stronger and it just feels so right.” Leaning up, she kisses my cheek. “Ben, I would’ve been highly offended and disappointed if you didn’t ask to marry me after making that long speech about how our families ought to be one! I was really beginning to worry you wouldn’t ever get to it!”
“So you’ll marry me?” I ask, grabbing her other hand, pulling her towards me.
“Yes!” I don’t have to pull her any closer because she comes the rest of the way herself and meets me for a slow kiss.
“Part of me really regrets going to sea now that I see what I let get away.” I say after we break apart.
“Please don’t think like that.” Laying her hand on my arm, she squeezes it gently. “If you never went to sea then you never would’ve met Liz, Inger, or Marie, and if you never met them you wouldn’t have your sons. Sons who are your pride and joy. And if you didn’t go away, I would’ve never met my husbands and in turn never had my daughters.”
“I know.” I sigh. “I loved Liz, Inger, and Marie more than anything and it hurt like hell when I lost them one by one, but I can’t help thinking about what could’ve been between us.”
“Well, then don’t. Think about what lies ahead and not about what never happened.”
“Believe it or not, but I’m actually thinking about both. I’ve made another decision that I hope will please your girls. I’d like to change their last names to Cartwright and I want to try to be the father to them that they’ve never had.”
“That would make them so happy, they’ve always wanted to have the same last name and you’ve already been more of a father to them than they’ve ever had.”
“Well, why don’t we get all this cleaned up so we can get back to the house and tell everyone!”
Rose and I drive into the front yard to see a very surprising sight. Right in the middle of the yard, Brie and Jewels are rolling around in the dust, fists flying, skirts flapping every which way as they scream at each other. I look at Rose but she just sighs, shaking her head. If the look on her face is any indicator, this isn’t the first time these two have brawled like a bunch of boys. Pulling the buckboard to a stop about six feet away from them, Rose and I jump down as Adam and Madeline run out of the house and Candy rushes out of the barn.
Candy and I reach the girls first. He grabs Brie by the waist as I yank Jewels to her feet and away from Brie. Both of them struggle to get away but Candy and I hold on firmly. Realizing they can’t get away, they continue to scream at each other instead.
“Take it back, Juliet!” Brie still struggles slightly but Candy has a good firm grip on her waist. “I said take it back!”
“No!” Jewels shakes her head so hard the pins left in her hair fly out. “No, I won’t because it’s true!”
“Girls!” I never thought Rose’s voice could get so loud or sound so stern. “How many times have I told you that young ladies aren’t supposed to get in fist fights? More times than I care to admit! You can scream and yell at each other until you’re blue in the face and hoarse for all I care but I won’t have my daughters acting like brawling heathens! Now what is the meaning of all this?”
“I never realized my older sister was loose with the men folk and I just found out she doesn’t like to be called out for it.” Titling her chin up saucily at Brie, she continues. “Brie, just how many other fellas have there been besides Henry and Candy?”
“Juliet Amanda Greyson, how dare you accuse your sisters of such things!” Rose gasps, even angrier than she was a moment ago.
“How dare I? We’ve all seen how she’s been making eyes at Candy and flirting with him ever since she first laid eyes on him. And after only breaking her engagement with Henry three weeks before, too. What’s the matter Brie, already forget about the man you were with for over…” She stops mid sentence as Brie begins to sob. “Brie?”
“Wouldn’t you want to forget the man who you caught with another woman just three days before you were supposed to marry him? Not just any woman but Amy Dalton, the girl who was your best friend!” She takes a deep breath, tears streaming freely down her cheeks. “I never told anyone because I was ashamed. Ashamed that I almost blindly married a man who had been cheating on me with my best friend. There, Juliet, are you satisfied now? I know you were dying to know the reason I broke my engagement with Henry. Well, now you know!”
Brie breaks away from Candy and runs into the house. Rose starts to follow, but letting go of Jewels, I grab her arm. “Wait. Let me talk to her. You take care of this one.”
Walking through the still open front door, I hear a bedroom door slam shut upstairs. Slowly going up the stairs, I roll around in my mind what just happened in the front yard. Jewels was unjust in her accusation but I know Rose will take care of her. Now I just have to figure out how to deal with Brie. I’ve helped all three boys more than once but they aren’t as emotional as Brie is.
Knocking slightly on the door, I open it. She’s laying face down on the bed, sobbing so hard the whole bed is trembling slightly. Since she didn’t hear my knock on the door, I ease myself onto the bed beside her. I gently rub her back, which causes her to look up at me. Even though I didn’t think it was possible, she begins to sob harder. Gently pulling her off the bed, I hold her in my arms. She lays her head on my chest and stays like that for nearly ten minutes as she sobs all her misery out onto my shirt.
“Ben, you must find me very foolish.” She says once her sobs have stopped.
“Why would I find you foolish?”
“Because of everything that just happened.”
“I don’t find that foolish.” I lean her back and wipe her cheeks dry. “Everyone makes mistakes, it’s just human nature, and not only human nature, it’s how we learn.”
“I know. I just wish these types of mistakes didn’t have to hurt this much.”
“Well, you know what, sometimes talking about things helps ease the pain. I’d listen if you’d like to do that and it would stay between the two of us.”
“I’ve kept it all inside for this long, I think it would feel good to let it out.” She sits up on the bed beside me and takes a long deep breath, which she slowly lets out. “Three days before our wedding I went to the mercantile to get something for Mama. Amy’s father owned the mercantile so she often ran the counter for him. Well, that day she apparently didn’t hear the bell ring when I opened the door. I looked around the store but didn’t find her until I heard her giggling in the storeroom. That’s not the only thing I heard, I also heard Henry’s voice so I tiptoed over to the open door. They were too busy kissing to see me standing there. It wasn’t until I dropped the basket I was carrying that they noticed me. I got angry and when they tried to explain things, I told them that they didn’t need to. Henry tried to apologize but I just threw my ring at him and told him that we were over. The next day I took my wedding dress to the dressmakers and sold it back so I’d have the money to come out here with Mama and the girls.”
“I believe you did the right thing but why didn’t you tell your mother the reason you broke the engagement?”
“Like I said I was ashamed and I didn’t want Mama hurting for me. It was hard enough as it was and since I knew she liked him, I didn’t want to add to the pain.”
“Well, it just happens that when your mother and I were talking earlier, she told me about Henry.”
“Yep, and she also told me that something deep down inside of her didn’t like Henry.”
“I didn’t know that, why didn’t she tell me?”
“She didn’t say but I’m guessing it’s because she saw you were happy and that’s all that mattered to her.”
“By any chance did she say anything about Candy?”
“As a matter of fact, she did.” Standing up, I walk over to the bureau and pour some water from the full pitcher sitting on it into the bowl. “She said that she liked him a lot better than she ever did Henry.”
“I’m glad. But what do you think of him?”
“Even though I’ve only known him for three months, I believe I’d trust him with my life.” Walking over to her, I sit back down beside her and begin to wipe her face with the cloth I had dipped in the bowl. “But what I think is the most important thing right now is what you’re going to do about Jewels.”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you going to forgive her or stay angry with her?”
“I know I hurt her by breaking the engagement and then not telling her why. She was very fond of Henry, he was like a brother to her so I’m not surprised that she thought that way about me.” She sighs. “I know I can’t stay angry with her when this all comes back on me.”
“So you’ll forgive her?”
“Yes.” A knock sounds on the door. Opening it, I find Rose standing in the doorway.
“Can I talk to Brie now?”
“Of course.” I step out the door as she steps in. “We’re all finished.”
“Ben, Jewels wants to talk to you.”
“I’ll talk to her.” I pull the door closed behind me. Going back down the stairs I see Jewels sitting on the sofa, staring at her hands in her lap. Walking up to her I lay my hand on her shoulder and turning, she looks up at me. “Your mother said you wanted to talk to me.”
“Yes, I do.” I sit down beside her and she turns sideways so that she’s looking me straight on. “Do you think you can forgive me for my very unladylike behavior today?”
“Juliet, you’re already forgiven.”
“Oh, thank you, Ben!” She throws her arms around my neck and I hug her tight. Leaning back, the same worried look she had a moment ago comes back. “I don’t see how Brie will ever be able to forgive me for all those mean unnecessary things I said. Do you think she can?”
“I don’t think she can, I know she will.”
“I know just two weeks ago we were all around this table and that I proposed a toast to the lovely ladies staying here with us.” I stand up at my place at the table. “Tonight I don’t have a toast but an announcement.”
Everyone turns and looks expectantly at me. None of them know what I’m going to say because Rose and I agreed to tell everyone altogether tonight at supper. We were too busy earlier with the whole ordeal that came from Brie and Jewels’s fight and then getting supper ready while Candy went to tell Hoss and Joe to come tonight. Now that I finally have my whole family around me I feel like I’m going to burst with excitement.
“Roughly two years ago all my family consisted of was Adam, Hoss, Joe, and myself.” I begin. “Now in just the short amount of time that’s passed, it has grown by eight people. I feel very blessed that my family has grown like this but I feel even more blessed because very soon this family is going to gain four new members. I’m very proud to announce that Rose has agreed to become my wife!”
A chorus of cheers ring out from around the table as my boys jump out of their seats and rush to take turns shaking my hand. Before sitting down they also shake Rose’s hand and gently kiss her cheek. I stay standing and clear my throat to get everyone’s attention once again. As I watch they all quickly turn back to look at me.
“I’d like to say something else.” Everyone looks at me eagerly with happy faces split open by big grins. “Except this time it’s mainly for three very lovely ladies, who I’m proud to be able to soon call my daughters. Madeline, Gabreilla, Juliet, I’d be honored if you’d take my last name after your mother and I wed.”
Shoving away from the table, all three run over to me and wrap me in a hug. Pulling all three close, I look up at Rose to see her smiling at us with tear filled eyes. Glancing around the table, I see the other girls have misty eyes while the boys, including Candy, all look pleased as pie. Cherry just continues to eat, oblivious to everything around her but Jeff watches with wide eyes.
“Ben, we’ve always wanted to have the last name and I can’t think of a better one than Cartwright.” Madeline has tears streaming down her cheeks, but they’re happy tears. Looking at the other two, I see they have the same type of tears running down their faces, too. “Thank you for allowing us to have it. We’re the ones who are honored!”
“And, Ben, I hope this isn’t too much to ask, but can we call you Pa?”
“Of course, Jewels.” I caress her cheek with my hand. “I want to be the father that you three girls have never had. I just hope I can succeed!”
“If what you did today was anything like how you are as a father, I think you’re already a whopping success!”
“Thank you, Brie.” I kiss the top of her head where it lays on my shoulder. “I’m glad you think that way.”
“Well, now that all that announcin’s done, don’t you think everyone should continue eatin’ their food before it gets cold? I know I ain’t exactly fond of cold grub an’ I doubt anyone here is either.” Hoss asks, hungrily looking down at his still filled plate. Laughing, the girls and I sit back down so everyone can begin to eat again.
“Mrs. Greyson?” Joe asks after a few minutes of all of us eating, casual conversation floating around the table.
“Oh, Little Joe, please just call me Rose.”
“Alright, but, Rose, I was wondering if I could call you Ma? That is if it’s not asking too much.” He grins sheepishly at her. “You see, I’m a sentimental fool and it doesn’t seem right to call you by your first name when you’re going to be my mother.”
“Of course it’s not asking too much! I’d love for you to call me Ma, that goes for all three of you.” She looks at both Hoss and Adam. “I’ve always wanted a son and now I’m going to get three. And not only three, but sons who are upstanding, honorable men.”
The boys all look at each other with huge happy grins. Even though they’re grown men, I know they all still crave a mother’s love, which is something that I know Rose will give them freely and willingly. Not only is my family growing but my sons are getting a mother and Rose’s daughters a father. Looking around the table with a happy heart, I watch the faces of the people who I love the most.
Later that night after Hoss and Joe have gone home, Rose and I sit outside looking at the stars, talking about the future. We sit side by side on the porch floor, our legs stretched out in front of us in the yard so we can see the stars without the porch roof blocking our view. My left arm is wrapped around her shoulders while her head rests on my shoulder.
“How long do you think we’ll wait before getting married?” She asks, breaking the peaceful quiet that we’ve been sitting in for the past few minutes.
“Well, I was thinking about two weeks. How does that sound?”
“It sounds just right.” She leans back a little so she can look at my face. “But why so specific?”
“I thought a nice long honeymoon in San Francisco would be a nice start to our marriage.”
“Yes, San Francisco. That is unless you’d rather go to Sacramento instead.”
“Oh, no!” Laughing, she gently shoves my arm. “I’ve never been to California before and you know that! I’ve always wanted to see San Francisco and I can’t wait.”
“Well, it’s settled then! I’ll go into town tomorrow and start making the arrangements for the trip.” I shift slightly, trying to get into a more comfortable position since my foot is beginning to go numb. “How long would you like to stay? I was thinking three weeks would be the perfect amount of time.”
“Three weeks?! But what about the ranch?”
“The boys can take care of the ranch while we’re gone, they’ve done it before. Would you like to go to town with me tomorrow?”
“Well, I planned on helping Adam and Misty tomorrow since they’re going home. But I guess I could have Madeline go instead.”
“How long do you think it’ll take for you to get the whole wedding planned?”
“Since we already agreed to a simple affair here at the ranch, probably a week, at the least.”
“What if you were to stay in town for a few days? Do you think you could get more accomplished that way than if you were to just go into town every couple of days?”
“That’s actually a really good idea! I could go into town tomorrow with you and then stay until Friday. That’d be three days and I could get a lot done, especially if I took one of the girls with me.”
Hearing the front door creak open behind us, we both turn to see who it is. I can tell it’s one of the girls but because of the light being behind her, I can’t see her face. Yet by her height I have a feeling it’s Jewels. As she walks up to us and scoots behind Rose and I, I see my assumption was right. She sits down on the porch on Rose’s other side.
“Jewels, what’s the matter?” She asks, taking her hand.
“Oh, nothing. I’m just happy, is all.” She leans her head on Rose’s shoulder after I move my arm out of the way. “I also wanted to talk to both of you.”
“Alright. We’re both all ears.”
“I wanted to apologize again for what I did earlier.” She sighs. “I’m really ashamed of myself for how foolish I acted and all those ridiculously mean things I said to Brie. Ben, I’m really surprised you are still willing to call me your daughter.”
“Jewels, come over here, please.” Standing up, she walks over to me. I pat the empty spot on the porch beside me and she sits down. “Just because you made a mistake doesn’t mean I don’t want you for a daughter anymore.”
“But what I did was more than a mistake. I intentionally wanted to hurt Brie and I did! Not only with words either but with my hands, too. That bruise on her cheek is proof of that!” I can hear the tears in her voice before I see them shining on her cheeks. “I was so angry at her for the way she was acting towards Candy because I thought she’d broken the engagement for other reasons and not because of anything Henry did. I honestly couldn’t believe my ears when she screamed that at me today. It felt like a slap to the face and a punch to the belly all at once.”
“That’s what happens sometimes when you go into an argument intending to hurt someone. It more often than not turns around and not only hurts the other person but you as well.” Wrapping my arms around her shoulders, I pull her close as she continues to cry. “But I’m sure you’ve learned that now and that you’ll never do it again.”
“Ok, well, dry your tears now young lady and get off to bed. I’m sure it’s late.” I tell her when her sobs slow down.
“It was already ten thirty when I came out here so I’m sure it’s close to eleven by now.” She wipes her eyes with the handkerchief I hand her and stands up. Going over to Rose, she bends, kissing her cheek. “Goodnight, Mama.”
“Goodnight, sweetheart.” Rose pats her hand as Jewels turns back to me. Leaning down, she kisses my cheek. “Goodnight…Pa.”
“Goodnight, Juliet.” She walks back into the house and when I hear the door shut, I stretch out my legs with a small grunt. Standing up, I help Rose to her feet and pull her in close for a quick kiss. “Well, Rose, my love, I figure we better get off to bed. We’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”
Two weeks later I stand in front of the mirror in my room, attempting to tie my string tie again for the fifth time now. I’m all jittery from nerves that I didn’t expect to have plus I’m being watched by an audience, which makes it even worse. Looking in the mirror, I see Joe, Hoss, Adam and Jeff all sitting on the bed, intently watching me.
“Will you all stop staring at me, it isn’t helping!” I grouch at them. Still keeping an eye on them in the mirror, I watch as they all look at each other with big grins plastered on their faces, clearly knowing that they’re being a nuisance.
“Sure thing, Pa!” Little Joe laughs.
The bedroom door opens for what seems like the hundredth time this morning. I’m about to complain again, but turning, I see that it’s Madeline being led by Cherry. I can’t complain to those two beautiful girls, who I’m very lucky to have in my life.
Seeing my still untied tie, Madeline walks across the room shaking her head at me. Reaching up, she swiftly ties it for me and then gives me a peck on the cheek. “Pa, you look very handsome.”
“Thank you, Madeline.” Looking down at her, I let my eyes take in the beauty that’s about to become my oldest daughter. “And you young lady, look very beautiful.”
She blushes with a thank you as the boys add their own compliment to mine. Little Joe walks over to her and circles around her, admiring her from all angles. By the look on his face I can tell he’s going to mix a bit of teasing into his compliment.
“Hmm…something’s different but I can’t figure out what it is…” He rubs his chin and then snaps his fingers with a pretend surprised look. “I’ve got it! It’s the dress.”
“Little Joe!” Laughing, she attempts to swat at him but he dodges her and then grabs her in a quick hug. I’m glad to see that everyone is still getting along, but then, of course I’ve never had reason to think they wouldn’t. You’d think that they’d all grown up together with the way they all interact and tease one another, but they’ve really only known each other for a month and a half.
“Go ahead, give that dress a twirl. I know you want to.” Adam says walking over next to me. “No matter how old they are, every lady loves to twirl in a new dress and you’re no exception. Come on, go ahead and twirl.”
Giggling with a blush, she twirls in a circle. Her lilac purple dress spins out around her as Cherry watches her with wide eyes. Seeing Madeline twirl around, Cherry looks down at her own new blue dress and begins to twirl, too. Only she’s still not fully recovered from her accident nearly seven months ago, so she topples over after only three spins. We all laugh as she begins to giggle, obviously dizzy because her head is swaying slightly.
“What’s the matter, young lady?” Hoss laughs, scooping her off the floor, gently tossing her into the air. She lets out a little squeal as she falls back towards him. “All your spinnin’ make you dizzy?”
The bedroom door opens yet again, and this time Brie slips into the room. She looks around at all of us standing around laughing. Crossing her arms over her chest, she leans against the doorframe. “I didn’t know you all were having a party in here. I’d be awfully upset for not getting invited if it weren’t for all the guests down in the living room.”
“Is everyone here already?” I ask, all my nerves coming back in full force.
“Yep, everyone. You better get down there because if you don’t, Mama just might change her mind and not come out of her room.” Brie laughs. “She’s so nervous, you’d think she was a young girl getting married for the first time and not a middle aged woman getting married for the fourth time!”
“Well, we can’t let that happen, let’s get down there!” I walk out the door and down the hall towards the stairs. It almost feels like I’m leading a parade with everyone following behind me. As we pass Rose’s door, Jewels slips out with a smile and joins the throng of Cartwrights behind me.
Stepping up next to the preacher, I watch as the rest of my family slips into their seats, the boys with their families, Brie with Candy, and Madeline with Jewels. I nervously shift on my feet as the next few minutes seem to take hours as we wait for Rose to appear.
Hearing all the guests rise to their feet, I look up at the stairs to see Rose slowly making her way down the top section. She’s by my side with her hand in mine before I know it. Holding her hands in mine, I vow to protect, love, and cherish her till death shall part us. Deep in my heart, I not only vow these things to Rose but also to her girls because as long as they’re under my roof and in my life, I’ll love, cherish, and protect them.
When the preacher says the word, I pull Rose in close, kissing her. The room erupts in applause and cheers as Rose and I break apart. Smiling at each other, we turn to look at the big family our marriage had created as they all swarm around us with words of congratulations.
Later that evening after many hours of eating, dancing, laughing, and a ride into town with Joe, Rose and I climb onto the stagecoach bound for San Francisco. Joe tosses our luggage up to the driver and then climbs back into the buggy ready to go back home. With a final wave to him as the stagecoach starts to move, Rose and I begin the first journey of our marriage.
Tags: Ben Cartwright, Family, wife / wives
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