Summary: The year is 1849 – a year of dramatic changes for Ben Cartwright and his two sons, Adam and Hoss. Men are pouring across the Sierra Nevadas in search of gold in California, and ben has just arrived back at this ranch after a trip to New Orleans with a surprise for his boys.
Rating: K+ WC 56,600
Adam: The Early Years Series:
First, I want to thank Vickie Batzka and Larkspur1 for reading draft versions of this story and for all their valuable advice. Next, I want to thank Vicki Christian for allowing me to use Marie teaching Adam to play the guitar since she used the idea first in her story “The Solitary Way”. Finally, I must thank Fan d’Adam for her invaluable assistance in providing me with French phrases and French songs Marie could use and then checking the story to make certain I used them correctly. Merci beaucoup, mon amie!
Note: I realize in at least one episode it is stated that Joe was born in the ranch house; however, in “The Philip Deidesheimer Story,” it is stated that Adam designed the ranch house. I choose to believe Adam designed the ranch house when he returned from college and Joe was born in the Cartwrights’ original home on the Ponderosa, which is the setting of this story. In writing this series of stories, I have tried to achieve a compromise between American history and “Bonanza” history by moving events forward six years. Adam was born in 1836, which meant he and Pa and Inger were heading to Oregon in 1840, which was the earliest I could find Americans heading to the west coast. This story begins in the spring of 1849 when Americans in the east learned of the discovery of gold in California and headed west to make their fortune. In 1849 there was no permanent settlement in what would be the state of Nevada; Mormon Station (later renamed Genoa) wouldn’t be founded until 1851. (Virginia City wouldn’t exist until 1859 when silver was discovered.) For that reason, I have the Cartwrights going to California for supplies that they cannot make themselves. Finally, I found a very interesting web site about cowboys in northern Nevada that states cowboys or vaqueros in that region used some slightly different terms than cowboys in other parts of the West. I realize that the Ponderosa is in western Nevada, but I thought it very likely that the Cartwrights might have used these terms. The two that I want to point out here are riata, a long rope of braided rawhide used to catch animals and caviata, which is their term for the pool of saddle horses and is known elsewhere as remuda.
A Gentleman and a Scholar – Part 1
Ben Cartwright shook his head at the daily ‘sound and fury’ that accompanied Cartwright family meals. At age three and a half, Joseph was too young to be taught the finer points of etiquette, but at age eleven Eric, who was known in the family as Hoss, should have at least learned not to speak when he had food in his mouth. He was certainly setting a poor example for his baby brother.
“Hoss,” Ben said sternly, “finish what you’re eating and then speak.”
“Right, Pa,” the boy replied automatically around a mouthful of biscuit. His older brother let a corner of his mouth turn up in a smile while his stepmother shook her head and sighed.
Ben glanced fondly at the family members gathered around the rather crude table he’d made himself, with the help of his first-born. Adam was sixteen going on seventeen, changing from a boy to a young man. He was six feet tall-only an inch shorter than his father and Ben knew he hadn’t finished growing-with curly black hair that he kept cropped short, his mother’s eyes and her dimpled smile. For his fifteenth birthday, Ben had given him his own straight-razor and now he needed to use it every morning. He hadn’t buttoned his shirt at the collar so a little of the black curls beginning to grow on his chest and belly were just visible. Ben shook his head; it seemed like yesterday Adam was a skinny boy with smooth cheeks.
Sitting on Ben’s left was his middle boy. Although Hoss was only eleven, he was already within two inches and a few pounds of his older brother. He didn’t resemble either Ben or his mother, Inger, but he had inherited Inger’s sandy brown hair, intensely blue eyes and fair complexion. He also had his mother’s sweet, generous nature and her love for all living things.
Ben’s third wife, Marie, sat across from him at the foot of the table. His first wife, Elizabeth, had been a petite woman whose head barely reached his shoulders while Inger had been only an inch or two shorter than Ben. Marie’s stature fell somewhere between. Ben loved all his wives equally, but he knew an objective observer would probably say Elizabeth and Marie were the most beautiful, although they were opposites since Elizabeth had been a brunette while Marie was a blonde.
The baby of the family, Joseph Francis Cartwright, sat by his mother on a little block his oldest brother had made to go in his chair to give him enough height to eat at the table with the rest of the family. While Adam and Hoss had always been tall for their age, it was clear to Ben that Joseph would never be more than average in height. Just as Adam resembled his mother, Elizabeth, Joe resembled Marie. He had her green eyes, soft mouth and golden curls (although his mother was distressed to note they were beginning to darken to golden-brown).
Not only do my sons differ physically but their temperaments are also radically different,Ben reflected. Adam is very intense, but he guards his emotions and rarely loses his temper. Now, Hoss’s feelings are always written on his face for the world to see,Ben thought with a smile. He’s even-tempered, for which I’m eternally grateful because his enormous strength would be a danger to others, and to himself. Joseph has the most volatile temperament of the three. His moods are mercurial and he is given to sudden tantrums. Of course, he is only three and a half, and as he grows older, I’m sure he will learn to master his temper.
Ben’s musings were interrupted by his wife’s voice. “Ben. Ben, are you listening to me?”
“Sorry, Darling. I’m afraid I was woolgathering,” he replied and saw his eldest try to hide his grin behind his coffee cup. He frowned at Adam and then asked, “What were you saying?”
“I asked if you were going to send someone to Mormon Station for the mail,” Marie said with a trace of impatience.
“I’d be happy to go, Pa,” Adam offered. “Then I can stop off and check the cattle in the south pasture on my way back.”
Ben nodded and Marie smiled at her older stepson. He returned it and, for just a moment, his dimple flashed. Ben and Marie both saw it, and their eyes met as they shared a smile. ¼
~ ~ ~
Marie’s first glimpse of her new home was a shock. Even though Ben had told her he lived in an unsettled area with few white settlers, she hadn’t realized she would be living in a crude cabin made of logs. She thanked le Bon Dieu that at least it had more than one room and understood now why Ben had told her that the beautiful gowns she had worn at her cousin Edouard D’Arcy’s establishment would not be needed. Even her simple day outfits of taffeta or moiré seemed out of place. She realized that she would need to purchase some calico and delaine for more appropriate dresses that would meld with the frontier that she now called home.
The clearing actually consisted of three buildings made of logs. One was a little larger than the others and had a room built on each end. As soon as their wagon approached the clearing, a small man, who wore his black hair in a long braid that hung down his back, came through the open door of the largest cabin. Marie realized this must be the Chinese cook Ben had spoken of. Hop Sing was his name, she remembered. She was accustomed to black slaves since they were ubiquitous in New Orleans, but she’d never seen an Oriental before and she was curious about him.
“Hello, Hop Sing,” Ben called as he pulled the wagon, with the dappled-grey mare he’d purchased as a mount for his bride tied in back, in front of the larger cabin.
“Good to see you, Mista Cartwright,” the man said with a beaming smile. He noticed the woman sitting beside Ben, but said nothing. Ben followed his gaze and said with a grin, “Marie, I’d like you to meet Hop Sing, our cook. Hop Sing, allow me to introduce the new Mrs. Cartwright.” The shock that the Chinese man felt at those words was not evident on his face.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Hop Sing,” Marie said with a smile. “Ben has told me what a help you’ve been to him. I’m afraid I’m not much of a cook, so I’m glad you’re here to handle that chore.”
Hop Sing bowed and smiled, but not as warmly as he had for his employer, relieved that Missy Cartwright would not be usurping his position.
“Where are the boys?” Ben asked, looking around expectantly.
“Boys go visit McCarran,” Hop Sing replied quietly.
“Oh,” Ben said, and his disappointment was obvious. Then he turned to Marie and said with a smile, “Well, you should meet Andy and Jessie; they’re our closest neighbors. Just let me unhitch the team. I’ll get José or Diego to help with unloading the wagon later. Oh, but first, let me show you our home.”
“Who are José and Diego?” Marie asked curiously.
“They’re my vaqueros,” Ben replied. “They know a lot more about cattle than I do.” Then in a grave voice he added, “Since Jean’s death, José has been in charge.” She nodded and he pointed, saying, “That cabin there is where the vaqueros sleep.”
The family’s cabin seemed even smaller to Marie when they entered. “The loft is where the boys sleep,” Ben said, pointing to the ladder that led to an attic of sorts. “That door leads to Hop Sing’s room, and here is ours,” he added, opening the door to a small room that contained a bed, a small bedside table, a washstand and shaving mirror and an old battered trunk. She looked about and said in surprise, “But where can I hang my dresses?”
He saw the uncertain expression on her face and drew her into his arms before saying softly, “It will all work out, Darling, don’t worry. Adam and I will make a clothespress for you. It will have to be small,” he added apologetically. “But right now, I want to introduce you to our sons. I’ll just go saddle our horses.”
She smiled back at him and said, “Oui, I am eager to meet them. And your, I mean our, neighbors, Monsieur et Madame McCarran.”
Marie was shocked at how far they had to travel to reach the McCarran, their nearest neighbors. When they approached the clearing, she could see the McCarrans’ cabin was a replica of theirs. As the horses drew nearer, a woman emerged from the cabin’s doorway. She was small and plump, wearing a plain dress of blue calico. Her face lit up at the sight of Ben.
“Ben, you’re back! The boys will be so happy to see you.” She suddenly seemed to notice Marie and her face reddened. “Oh, where are my manners!” she exclaimed and Marie smiled to put her at ease.
“Jessie, let me introduce you to my bride, Marie. Marie, this is our neighbor, Jessie McCarran.”
Mrs. McCarran’s jaw dropped at Ben’s introduction, but she snapped it shut and tried to disguise her shock. “Congratulations to you both! That’s wonderful news! It’s just such a surprise ¼” and her voice trailed off.
“Where are the boys, Jessie? I’m eager to have them meet their new mother,” Ben said enthusiastically.
“Th-they’re playing marbles with Todd. Why don’t you two come inside and sit down while I fetch them?” she said, obviously still rocked by Ben’s news.
From the outside, the McCarrans’ cabin looked quite similar to the Cartwrights’; however, Marie discovered that the interior was quite different. This cabin had some lovely braided rugs on the puncheon floor, a colorful afghan draped over the wooden settee, and red and white gingham curtains at the windows. All these touches make this cabin more attractive than ours, which only has bare floors and windows. Of course, all our cabin is lacking is a woman’s touch, Marie reminded herself; Ben did tell you that his wife had died long before they reached the Ponderosa.
Ben and Marie had only just sat down when two boys appeared in the doorway. When Ben had talked about his sons as they’d traveled from New Orleans, Marie had always imagined them as a pair of boys who would be younger versions of her beloved. However, neither of these boys looked like Ben. The older boy-Ben had said he was twelve-was tall and skinny. He had thick black hair that curled wildly and a short, straight nose lightly dusted with freckles. However, what she noted first were his eyes. They were large, deep-set hazel eyes, framed by incredibly long, thick, black lashes. He gazed at her warily from those beautiful eyes, his distrust of strangers evident, so she focused her attention on the younger boy.
He was very tall for his age. If Ben had not told her that he was not yet six, she would have said he was nine or ten. He was a stocky boy with a round face, snub nose, pellucid blue eyes, and a grin that was all the more disarming because of a missing front tooth. His fine, sandy-brown hair had a tendency to fall into his eyes. He didn’t have his brother’s beauty, but Marie thought he was adorable.
Adam and Hoss were surprised to see a young woman sitting by their pa on the McCarrans’ settee. Adam was an observant boy and he noted her golden hair and large green eyes. He also observed that her clothes looked fancier than Mrs. McCarran’s and fancier than the clothes he remembered his mama wearing. In fact, he didn’t remember ever seeing a woman dressed like that except in storybooks. She looked so out of place that he wondered why she was here.
“Oh, Pa, you’re home!” the younger boy shouted and flung himself into Ben’s open arms. Ben hugged him tightly, and kissed his cheek. “You’ve grown, Hoss.” The little boy grinned proudly and Marie saw the tears of joy in her beloved’s eyes.
“Adam said I growed almost an inch while you was gone,” the boy replied and looked up at his older brother adoringly.
Ben stood then and enfolded his eldest in a hug. Marie observed how the boy stiffened for just moment before he returned the embrace, and then he quickly pulled away and stared at her with a mixture of curiosity and embarrassment.
“Boys, I have a wonderful surprise for you,” Ben said proudly. “This is your new mother.” Marie stood and he put his arm about her and she smiled at her new sons, somewhat disconcerted to discover that the older boy could look her in the eye. “This is Adam,” Ben said, nodding at the tall, dark-haired boy, “and this is Hoss,” he added, grinning at the younger.
Hoss’s mouth formed an O and his eyes widened in surprise. He looked up at his brother, whose face was an expressionless mask.
After a few moments of silence, Ben said, “Don’t you have anything to say?”
Hoss looked nervously at Adam, who said impassively, “I’m pleased to meet you, ma’am.”
Hoss then parroted, “Pleased to meet ya, uh, ma’am.”
“You don’t need to be so formal,” Ben said with a smile. “You may call her Ma.”
“Pleased to meet ya, Ma,” the younger boy then said with a grin. The older boy said nothing, only stared at the floor and tugged on one earlobe, so Marie smiled at her younger stepson. “Hello, Hoss. Your father has told me so much about you and Adam. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you both.”
Although Adam remained silent, he noted that the woman spoke with the same accent as their friend, Jean De Marigny. His pa had gone to New Orleans to tell Jean’s family of his death, and that must be where Pa had met this woman.
“You’re really my new ma?” Hoss asked anxiously.
“Yes, I am,” she replied, smiling at him.
Adam continued to stare at the floor, but his silence spoke louder than words. Ben’s sighed internally, for he’d feared Adam would resist the idea of a new stepmother. He said quietly, “Boys, go saddle Beauty and Sugar. We need to get started back home.”
As soon as the boys disappeared out the door, Marie said, “I hope, Madame McCarran, that you can show me how to make rugs like yours. They are lovely.”
“I’ll be happy to show you how to braid rugs, Mrs., uh, Cartwright,” Mrs. McCarran replied. The McCarrans had known Ben Cartwright for several years now, and the thought of Ben with a wife was going to take some getting used to.
“Marie, s’il vous plait, Madame McCarran.” Marie said with a smile. Seeing the bewilderment on the other woman’s face, she quickly added, “Please, call me Marie.”
“All right, but you must call me Jessie. You let me know if I can help out in any way. Hop Sing is a wonderful cook, but Ben and those boys need a woman to take care of them.” She paused and then said carefully in a low voice, “Marie, Adam is a good boy; it may just take him time to get used to the idea of a stepmother. Best advice I can give you is to be patient with him, and he’ll come around.”
“Merci, I mean, thank you,” Marie replied coolly. She knew her neighbor’s advice was well-meant, but it seemed presumptuous.
As soon as Ben and Marie walked outside where the boys were waiting by their mounts, Hoss asked eagerly, “Did ya bring me anythin’, Pa? Did ya?”
Ben smiled and reached out to ruffle his youngest’s hair. “Your Ma and I brought gifts for you and Adam.” He stared at his first-born, who stood mute, refusing to meet his father’s eyes. As Ben continued to stare, the boy glanced at his father and said with no emotion, “Thank you.”
“Yeah, thank you,” the younger boy said enthusiastically. “What’d ya get me?”
“You’ll see when we get home,” Ben replied, tweaking the youngster’s nose.
“I bet ya got a book,” Hoss said to Adam. “Adam always gets books,” he explained to his stepmother. “I don’t like ‘em much, but Adam shore does.”
“Yes, your father told me your brother is an avid reader,” Marie replied, directing a smile at the older boy, but his expression remained the same, and he turned and mounted his chestnut mare with a fluid grace. She smiled inwardly, for it was obvious from that single act that the boy was a more accomplished equestrian than his father.
Ben sighed before saying briskly, “Well, it’s time we were on our way.” They all mounted and before Ben could say any more, Adam spurred his horse into a gallop. Ben started to call after him, but snapped his mouth shut, realizing the futility. Instead, he turned to Hoss and barked, “No galloping.”
“Okay, Pa,” Hoss said. He knew his pa was angry with his brother, and that saddened him. He understood that his brother was upset, but he did not know why. However, his brother’s moods were often an enigma to the placid younger boy.
When the other three arrived at the cabin, they found Beauty in the corral, but there was no sign of Adam. Hop Sing had come outside, so Ben asked if he’d seen him.
“Him chop wood,” the cook replied, his voice and expression impassive. He had seen how upset the boy had been and had suggested chopping wood as a constructive way of releasing his pent-up anger.
“Hoss,” Ben said, “help your ma with the horses. I want to talk with your brother.”
Hoss gulped before nodding his head, for he knew his pa sometimes used the term “talk” as a euphemism for a spanking.
As Ben walked around to the back of the cabin, he found his oldest son attacking the wood with unaccustomed ferocity. Watching the boy, the father’s anger dissipated as he realized how upset the child must be. He took a deep, calming breath before saying his name. Adam swung the axe down hard before turning to face his father, who took the axe from him, setting it on the chopping block. “Walk with me, son, because we need to talk,” he said quietly.
“I know my marriage comes as a surprise,” Ben began, and saw his son’s eyebrows draw together in a frown. “When I went to tell Jean’s widow of his death, I never dreamed I would fall in love with her, or she with me.”
“But you loved Mama! How can you love someone else?” and Ben heard the accusation in his first-born’s voice.
“Adam, when I fell in love with Inger, it didn’t end the love I felt for your mother. She was my first love and Inger understood that your mother would always have a special place in my heart. Inger was a very loving woman and the most generous I have ever known. I know she would be pleased that I found someone else to love, someone who wants to be a mother to her boys.” He saw his first-born’s frown deepen and added, “Adam, please give your stepmother a chance. She doesn’t want to take Inger’s place or your mother’s, but she’d like the chance to make a place of her own in your heart. We have been without a woman’s influence too long and I believe we will all be happier now.” Adam only shrugged, and Ben knew that he hadn’t reached him.
Hoss had chatted with his new ma all the way home and continued to ask her questions throughout supper. Adam, in contrast, ate his meal in silence unless asked a direct question. He managed to finish the food on his plate even though he wasn’t sure he could keep it down. He needed to think about this enormous change in his life, so he looked at his father and asked, “May I be excused, please?”
Ben’s eyes narrowed and for a moment Marie thought he would refuse, but then he sighed and said quietly, “Very well. If you don’t wish to spend time with your family perhaps it’s best that you go to your room.”
Hoss looked disappointed, but Adam only stood and went up the ladder without a backward glance.
After Ben, Marie and Hoss finished eating, they sat on the settee and Hoss asked eagerly about his gift.
“Oh, yes,” Ben said with a smile. “Go bring me my saddle bags.”
Hoss ran to get them and then shifted from one foot to the other in excitement as Ben opened the saddle bags and pulled out a carefully wrapped package. “Here you are, son,” Ben said with a smile as he handed the package to the little boy. “It’s a jumping jack,” he explained as the little boy looked at the contents of the package in bewilderment, and Hoss clapped his hands in delight when his pa made the wooden figure dance.
After he played with it for a bit, Marie said with a smile, “There is one more gift, but this one you must share with your brother. We bought you both some peppermint drops, and you may have one.”
Ben watched his youngest pop the piece of candy in his mouth and then asked, “Didn’t you forget something, Hoss?”
“Thanks, Ma,” Hoss said around his piece of candy.
“Next time, say ‘thank you’ before you put the candy in your mouth. Okay?” Ben said, reaching over and tousling the boy’s hair, and Hoss grinned and nodded. “Now,” Ben added, “you finish your candy, and then I think it’s about time for you to go to bed.”
After the boy finished his candy, he flung his arms around his pa, saying, “Goodnight, Pa. I’m shore glad you’re back.”
“Me, too,” Ben said, hugging his youngest tightly. “I really missed you and Adam while I was gone.”
Hoss grinned and then started to head up the ladder, but Marie’s voice stopped him. “May I give you a goodnight kiss, mon petit?” she asked.
“What’s that mean, moan puhtee?”
“It means little one en français, in French. You are my little one,” and she held out her arms to him.
He ran to her and flung his chubby arms about her neck and kissed her cheek. “Goodnight, Ma.”
“Bonne nuit, Hoss,” she replied, kissing him back. “Sweet dreams.”
“Ask your brother to come down so I can give him his gift,” Ben said as Hoss started up the ladder.
Adam came down the ladder a few minutes later. “Hoss said you wanted to see me?” he asked Ben, unsure of what his father wanted as Hoss had been too engrossed in his new toy to say anything more to Adam. Marie noticed that he pulled his earlobe in an unconscious way that indicated his anxiety.
“That’s right. You went upstairs before we could give you your gift.” Adam relaxed slightly and Marie saw the tension in his jaw line fade as his father pulled a bulky package from his saddle bag and handed it to the boy. “Go ahead and open it. Your stepmother helped me pick them out.”
Hoss had quickly ripped through the wrapping paper to reveal his gift. Adam, however, unwrapped his carefully. Paper was expensive and he could use it to write or draw on. He discovered two books and looked up at his father with a dimpled grin that lit up his whole face. Watching him, Marie thought what a handsome boy he was. She realized, with a small pang of jealousy, that he probably looked like his mother. But she is gone and it is you that Ben loves now she reminded herself.
“Thank you, Pa,” Adam said joyfully. Then he turned to Marie and said stiffly, “Thank you, ma’am.” He looked at his father and said almost pleadingly, “May I read for just a little while? Please, Pa?”
Ben pulled out his pocket watch and handed it to Adam. “You may read for thirty minutes and then you need to go to bed.” With another joyful grin, the boy took the watch and placed it on the hearth, as he stretched out in front of the fireplace and began to read by its light. Marie didn’t want to disturb him so she said, “I am fatigued so I think I shall retire, mon bien aimé.”
Ben nodded, saying, “Think I’ll go check on the stock and talk with José. It’s about time for the spring roundup and branding.”
“Branding?” Marie queried.
“Andy McCarran, Dan Marquette and I each have our own brand and we burn it on the new calves in the spring. Otherwise, we couldn’t tell our cattle apart since they graze together. We separate them in the spring for branding, and again in late summer after we drive them to market,” Ben explained. “I’ll be back in a bit, Love,” he added, kissing her quickly before walking through the doorway.
Adam kept his eyes glued to his book and tried not to listen. He remembered his pa kissing his mama, and he didn’t like the idea of Pa kissing his new stepmother.
Until Marie had a clothespress, she could not unpack so she found her nightgown and changed quickly. She was beginning to feel that although the room was small, it was also cozy. She was brushing her long, curly hair when Ben walked in and drew her into his arms for a kiss.
“I’m sorry you didn’t get a warmer welcome from Adam,” he said quietly when their kiss ended. “I’m afraid he’s feeling a bit resentful about the idea of your taking Inger’s place.”
“But Inger is Hoss’s mother, n’est-ce-pas ?” Marie asked in surprise.
“Yes, but Inger is the only mother that he’s known because Elizabeth died in childbirth. He absolutely adored Inger.” He saw the worried look in his bride’s eyes and added quickly, “But I know he’ll grow to love you, Marie. Just give him time.” He smiled at her tenderly then. “Have I ever told you how much I love you, Marie Cartwright?” he whispered before kissing her.
Hoss was still awake when Adam climbed into bed beside him, and he turned toward his older brother. “Adam,” he said in a loud whisper.
“What,” Adam replied in a softer one.
“Don’t you like our new ma?”
“She’s not our mother; she’s our stepmother. Our mothers are in heaven. Remember?”
“Yeah, I remember. But Pa said to call her Ma.”
“I don’t care. She’s not my ma and I’m never gonna call her that,” Adam said in a firm but low voice.
“But why don’t you like her?” Hoss persisted.
“I didn’t say I didn’t like her. I said she’s not my ma,” Adam replied. “Now stop talkin’ and go to sleep.”
After their lovemaking, Ben surprised Marie by putting his clothes back on. “Where are you going, mon bien aimé?” she asked, hurt that he hurried from their bed.
“I just want to look in on the boys,” he replied with a tender smile. “I always look in on them before I go to bed.”
“Oh, I will come with you then,” she said but he shook his head.
“I’m sorry, my love, but there just isn’t room in the loft. I’ll only be a minute.”
She lay in the dark room, for he had taken the candle with him, and thought, This older boy is a threat to my marriage. I must win his acceptance but I am afraid it will not be easy.
When Ben returned, she asked softly, “Were they asleep?”
“Hoss was. Adam was almost, but he wanted to thank me again for the books.” He stopped then, a faraway, dreamy expression on his face. “When he smiles, he looks so much like Liz. It’s like seeing her smiling at me ¼” and his voice trailed off. He looked at her anxiously, suddenly realizing that his new wife might be resentful of any reference to her predecessors.
“I know you still love Elisabeth and Inger. They are a part of you and they helped make you the man I love. I am not jealous of them.” Or I am trying not to be, she thought.
“You have your own place in my heart, Marie, and the love I feel for you is as strong as what I feel for Elizabeth and Inger.”
“And when we have a son, you will love him as much as you love Adam and Hoss?”
“Do you doubt it?” he asked, taking her in his arms.
“Non,” she whispered. “Je t’adore, chéri.”
Marie was awakened the next morning by the smell of coffee brewing and sounds from the main room. She hurriedly put on her camisole and drawers and then her corset and petticoats. She chose the plainest dress she owned-a high-necked dark blue cotton with a simple little white collar-and then hastily put on her stockings and shoes. Finally, she combed her hair before dividing it into four sections-from her forehead to nape and then from ear to ear. She braided the back sections and then pinned the braids into a knot at the back before combing the front hair, coiling and twisting the ends under the big knot. Once her toilette was complete, she hurried into the main room, only to discover Hop Sing placing platters of food on the table.
“Good morning, Missy Cartwright,” he said, bowing politely.
“I’m sorry I overslept,” she said quickly. “Mr. Cartwright didn’t wake me when he got up. Where are the others?”
“Doing morning chores,” he answered, turning back to his work.
“Even the boys?” she said in surprise.
“Little boy feed chickens and gather eggs; Number One Son milk cow and slop pigs,” he answered before turning to the spider and beginning to remove the biscuits. A minute later Hoss came through the door carrying a basket.
“Mornin’, Ma,” he said with an enormous grin. “Here’s the eggs, Hop Sing.” After he handed the cook the basket, he started to reach for a slice of the bacon filling a platter on the table.
“You wait for others,” Hop Sing said sternly. “Go wash hands.”
“Okay,” Hoss replied, not in the least crestfallen. He walked over the washstand right by the door and poured water from the earthenware pitcher into the large earthenware bowl.
“Face and hands both,” Hop Sing said, without even taking his eyes from the eggs he’d begun breaking and Marie smiled as the boy rolled his eyes but obediently splashed water on his face.
“Hop Sing need milk; where brother?” the little cook muttered.
“Here I am,” Adam said from the doorway. He handed the cook the bucket of milk and then said politely, “Morning, ma’am.”
“Good morning, Adam,” she replied with a smile. “I see you are all early risers.”
“Ranchers hafta to be,” he replied in the same polite tone. “We hafta take care of the stock before we can eat.” He moved over to the washstand and splashed water on his face and hands before reaching for a little of the soft soap in the wooden dish and lathering his face and hands. After he rinsed off the soap, Hoss handed him a towel. When he finished with it, he looked at Hoss and said, “You didn’t use the soap, did you, younger brother?”
“Aw, Adam, I weren’t that dirty.”
“Wash again with soap,” the older boy said sternly and with a sigh the younger complied. Marie knew she should have been the one to make sure Hoss washed properly, but she held her tongue. After all she told herself, Adam has been responsible for his brother for a long time. But I’m sure he will be glad to be relieved of his responsibilities for his brother’s care.
While the boys were washing up, Hop Sing separated the cream from the milk and began scrambling the eggs Hoss had gathered. When the boys finished, Adam took the china plates from the kitchen dresser and Hoss the silverware, and they began setting the table.
“Let me help,” Marie said with a smile.
“Thanks, but it’s our job,” Adam replied in the same polite, carefully neutral tone. He proceeded to set out cups and saucers, ignoring her, while Hoss put out the napkins. Then Adam got two glasses from the dresser and sat them at his place and Hoss’s.
“Why so many settings?” Marie asked, seeing there were seven plates on the table.
“Our vaqueros usually eat breakfast with us. It’s easier than Hop Sing havin’ to cook two meals,” Adam replied with just a hint of condescension in his tone, and she frowned slightly.
She had been shocked the previous evening when the cook had sat down at the table with them. Now it would seem Ben allowed all his employees to eat with the family. That would never have been allowed in New Orleans
Just as Adam and Hoss were finishing, Ben and two dark-haired, dark-eyed men came inside.
“Good morning, my love,” Ben said with a warm smile before moving to the washstand. “Let me present our vaqueros: José Mendoza and Diego Vasquez. José and Diego, allow me to present the new Mrs. Cartwright.”
“Buenos días, Señora,“ the men said. “¡Felicitaciones!”
“Merci, messieurs,” she replied.
José, a tall, slim man about the same age as Ben, then turned to Adam with a wide grin. “I convinced tu padre that you may help with the branding, Adán.”
“Muchas Gracias,” the boy replied, dimpling.
“Por nada,” the man replied with a warm smile.
Marie frowned. From the way Ben had described it the previous night, it didn’t sound like an activity for a boy like Adam. However, Ben directed a proud smile at his first-born, saying, “José told me last night that you’d finished braiding your riata and that you and Beauty have been practicing roping and you’re really getting good at it.”
“Diego says me ‘n’ Adam is gonna be real vaqueros!” Hoss said excitedly. “Right, Diego?”
“Si, muchacho,” Diego said with an enormous grin. “You and Adán will be real vaqueros.” All the men shared a fond smile.
The seven of them sat down around the long table and bowed their heads as Ben said grace. Then they began passing around the platters of bacon and biscuits and the dish of scrambled eggs. There was not much conversation; the men and boys concentrated on eating. As Ben was finishing his cup of coffee, he said, “We’re going to start the roundup in four days. In the meantime, Adam, I want you to help me make a clothespress.”
“A clothespress?” the boy repeated, arching one eyebrow, a gesture Marie had already seen his father make a number of times as they’d journeyed from New Orleans to Western Utah. “Why do we need a clothespress?”
“Adam, when I tell you I want you to do something, I don’t want to discuss it,” Ben replied, his tone sharper than normal when talking to his sons.
The boy’s eyebrows drew together in a scowl, but he said nothing.
“What about me, Pa? Can I help?” Hoss asked eagerly.
“You sure can,” Ben replied with an affectionate smile. “After Adam and I cut the logs, split and trim them, you can rub them with a pumice stone and make them smooth.”
“Isn’t Adam young to be using an axe?” Marie said. “He might cut himself.” Adam rolled his eyes, but he wisely kept the fact hidden beneath his long eyelashes, lest he provoke his father’s quick temper again so early in the morning.
The young vaquero started to laugh but smothered it in his hand as Ben said quietly, “Adam has been using an axe since he was about nine. He’s careful and he’s strong for his age.”
It still seemed dangerous to Marie, but since everyone else took it for granted, she said nothing. As the men prepared to leave the cabin she said, “Oh, Ben, can we get some cloth for curtains?”
“Todd said his pa was goin’ to Sacramento fer some supplies,” Hoss offered.
“After their roundup,” Adam added.
“I’m sure Andy would be happy to get you some cloth for curtains,” Ben said. “You measure how much you need and, Hop Sing, you make a list of supplies. Then after the roundup, we’ll go visit the McCarrans.” He turned to Adam and said, “Finish your milk, son, and then we’d best be on our way.”
“Can I come watch ya chop down the tree, Pa? Please?” Hoss asked, his blue eyes pleading.
Ben wanted to spend time with his boys just as much as they wanted to spend time with him, so he smiled at Hoss and replied, “Sure. Let’s go saddle up the horses.”
When they all left, Marie said to Hop Sing, “What can I do to help?”
He hesitated for a moment and then said, “Could use help with dishes.”
The two of them worked silently and when that chore was complete, she asked what chore she could do next. Again, he hesitated before asking, “You sew?”
“Oui, certainement,” she replied indignantly. “I mean, yes, of course,” she said seeing his confusion.
He nodded and said, “Plenty of mending to do.” He opened one of the drawers at the bottom of the kitchen dresser and took out a good sized pile of clothes and set it on the wooden settee. “Big help to Hop Sing if you can mend clothes. If going get cloth for curtains, boys need new clothes.”
“All right. I want to check on what clothing they have. It’s up in the loft?” she asked and he nodded.
Climbing the ladder in her long skirt and petticoats wasn’t easy, but she made it and looked at the boys’ room. It was small, just as Ben had said. Indeed, she couldn’t straighten without bumping her head on the ceiling and it must be worse for Ben. Adam was also too tall to stand straight she realized. The bed was neatly made, which she suspected was her older stepson’s doing. The only other furniture was a small chest of drawers, a rocking chair and a small bedside table. There were six objects on the little table: a pewter candlestick holder with a half-melted tallow candle and beside it was a flint and steel, two framed daguerreotypes and a lovely porcelain music box. One daguerreotype was of a woman whose face seemed to radiate compassion and gentleness, while the other was of a dark-haired beauty with a dimpled smile. They were both so different, just as their two sons were different. She stared at each thoughtfully before carefully setting the daguerreotypes down and finishing her task, wondering which woman had owned the music box. It was so pretty and delicate she was sure it had belonged to Adam’s mother. She checked the chest of drawers and found a shirt for each boy, cotton drawers, wool union suits, and nightshirts. (Apparently the only trousers they had were the ones they were wearing and what was in the mending pile.) All the garments were very worn and patched. She would take each boy’s measurements after dinner and figure out how much cloth was needed.
When she got back downstairs, she retrieved her sewing basket from her trunk, which Ben and Adam had set in one corner of the bedroom, and began mending the tears in the boys’ shirts and trousers. She was hard at work when Ben and the boys returned for the noon meal, sweaty and grimy.
“Well, we cut the tree and hauled the logs back here,” Ben said as the three of them washed up. “Use the soap, Hoss,” he added, seeing his youngest start to wipe his dirty face on the towel.
“Adam can chop almost as good as Pa,” Hoss said, grinning at his older brother, who reached out and playfully punched his stomach.
“Adam,” Marie said sharply, frowning at him.
“We was just playin’, Ma,” Hoss said quickly.
“I think your ma isn’t used to how roughly boys play. Little girls don’t roughhouse that way,” Ben said carefully as Adam frowned at his stepmother.
Marie colored and said quickly, “Je regrette, Adam. I-I’m sorry.”
“Well, Adam,” Ben said, and reluctantly Adam said, “That’s okay.”
Marie put down her mending and began setting the plates and bowls on the table, and Adam watched with narrowed eyes.
“Look, Adam, Ma’s doin’ our job for us,” Hoss remarked with a grin, which his brother did not return.
“You may help me when you are clean,” she said with a smile.
Hoss put on the napkins, telling Marie all about his morning. Adam, Ben noted with an inner sigh, was silent as he put out the glasses, cups and saucers, carefully keeping his distance from his stepmother.
“Oh, Darling,” Ben said, “it’ll just be the five of us for dinner. Hop Sing always makes a lunch for the men to take with them, and they usually fix their own supper.”
“Bien sûr,” she replied, putting the extra plates and bowls back on the dresser. “This china pattern is lovely,” she commented as she examined it more closely.
“It was Mama’s,” Adam said proudly.
“Your mama had excellent taste,” Marie said with a smile, but received no answering one from Adam.
“I see you’re mending these rapscallions’ clothing,” Ben interjected jovially. “It’s a never-ending chore.”
“Some of the clothes are beyond repair, I’m afraid,” she replied. “And I notice that Hoss and Adam are both outgrowing their clothes, so I thought I would include some chambray for shirts, some twill for trousers and muslin for drawers to my list.” Adam’s cheeks reddened in embarrassment as he thought of this woman making underwear for him.
Ben looked at his sons and saw the knees in their trousers were threadbare as were the elbows of their shirts. Their trousers came above their ankles and Adam’s shirtsleeves didn’t reach his wrists. “I guess they could use some new clothes,” he said thoughtfully.
“Before you begin working after dinner, I will need to take the boys’ measurements,” she stated as Hop Sing ladled rabbit stew into their bowls while they passed around the platter of cornbread.
“What’s that mean, Ma?” Hoss asked, scrunching up his face in puzzlement.
“I need to see how long your arms and legs are and how big your waist is,” she replied with a smile. “Oh, I meant to ask earlier. What color do you want the curtains to be?”
“I like red,” Hoss said enthusiastically. “You like red, don’t ya, Adam?”
“It’s okay,” he said with a shrug.
“Well, I like red, so it looks like it’s unanimous,” Ben said with a smile at his youngest.
Hoss proved to be very ticklish and Marie couldn’t resist playing with him as she took his measurements. Adam, however, stood stiff and silent, and looked anywhere but at his stepmother. When she tried to make conversation, he answered in monosyllables so she gave up and measured him as quickly as she could. When she finished, they went back outside to work and she returned to her mending while Hop Sing worked in his kitchen garden. After a time, her eyes and back began to ache, so she decided to go out into the sunshine and explore her new surroundings. The milk cow was grazing in a fenced in pasture behind the barn while Ben’s buckskin gelding, Adam’s chestnut mare, Hoss’s blue roan pony and the dappled gray mare Ben had gotten her were in the corral. Behind the corral she saw the chicken coop and the pigs in their pen. She heard the sound of sawing and followed it around the side of their cabin. She smiled at the sight before her. Hoss was assiduously rubbing a piece of pumice over a board, the tip of his tongue peeping out, while Ben was sawing a board and Adam was carefully notching the ends of two boards so they would fit together. She just watched silently, for each was concentrating so hard on his task no one had noticed her. Hoss was the first to look up and see her.
“Howdy, Ma!” he said with a big grin. Ben stopped sawing for a moment and smiled at her warmly. Adam kept his gaze fixed on his task.
“Come to check up on us?” Bens asked jokingly.
“No. I just needed a break from sewing,” she answered with a grin. “And I was curious. I’ve never seen anyone make a piece of furniture.”
“It won’t be anything fancy, I’m afraid,” Ben replied.
“But it is a labor of love, n’est-ce-pas?” she said and he smiled at her. “Je me ferai toute petite, I will make myself very little, and watch all of you work.”
She seated herself on the grass, spreading her skirt around her, and watched. She saw that even little Hoss worked with surprising concentration and Adam was painstaking in his work.
“Is this okay, Adam?” Hoss called to his brother. Adam put his own work down and walked over to his brother’s side and ran his hand over the board.
“You did a good job,” he said, and playfully punched Hoss’s arm. Marie shook her head a little. It didn’t bother Hoss; he simply punched his brother’s arm and then Adam reached down to tickle him. He soon had the five-year-old on the ground, giggling and shrieking. Marie watched them, feeling a little envious. She’d never had any siblings and since she was one of the poor girls at the convent school, the snobbish, wealthy girls that made up the majority of the school had shunned her. Ben and his sons have been together for so long, she thought. Will I ever be able to fit in, especially if Adam continues to look on me as an outsider? I must manage to win his affection if my marriage is to succeed, and this time it must. I could not bear that pain again.
She decided to go back inside and when she stood up, Ben dropped his saw and covered the ground between them with long strides, and took her in his arms and kissed her. Hoss watched open-mouthed and Adam averted his eyes, remembering how Pa had used to kiss Mama like that.
Maybe he wants someone to take Mama’s place, but I don’t! No one can ever take Mama’s place! He blinked back the hot tears that threatened to spill down his cheeks.
When Ben and the boys finished for the day and came back to the cabin to wash up for supper, they found Marie had already set the table.
“I decided I would be the one to set the table from now on,” she said with a smile. Hoss grinned back at her. Adam said nothing and his face was expressionless but she recognized the resentment in his eyes. Why should he be angry? she thought. Surely he didn’t enjoy the chore? After all, it’s a daughter’s chore, not a son’s. She had no way of knowing how much Adam cherished the memories of setting the table with Inger when he was Hoss’s age.
During supper, Adam was no more communicative than he had been the evening before, and Ben was growing impatient. The boy answered any questions directed to him but otherwise he was the ghost at the feast. He wasn’t rude or insolent so Ben couldn’t punish him. However, this time when he asked to be excused while the others were finishing their meal, Ben refused.
“I want us to spend some time together this evening, so you may wait here at the table until the rest of us finish eating. Then I thought it would be nice if we sang some songs.”
“Oh good!” Hoss exclaimed. “I like to sing. Do you like to sing, Ma?”
“Yes, I do,” she replied with a smile. She turned to her older stepson then. “And you, Adam, do you like to sing?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered coolly.
After they finished eating, the four of them gathered around the fireplace. Ben, Marie and Hoss sat on the wooden settee while Adam went to a three-legged footstool, which was the first piece of furniture he’d made on his own, and he moved it off to the side before sitting down.
“Let’s sing Pop Goes the Weasel,” Hoss said excitedly. “That’s my favorite!”
“I haven’t heard that one, but if you three sing it once, I’m sure I can pick it up,” Marie said, smiling at the little boy’s enthusiasm.
“I’d like you to start us off, Adam,” Ben said and Adam knew from his pa’s tone that he had better comply. Singing always made him feel better and he started Hoss’s next request, Yankee Doodle, without having to be asked.
“Your turn to choose, Adam,” Ben said when they finished.
“Springfield Mountain,” he replied and Hoss made a face.
“That one’s sad,” he complained.
“Lots of songs are sad,” Adam retorted. “Besides, it’s my turn to choose.”
“It is Adam’s turn, Hoss,” Marie said but he ignored her comment.
“Start us off, Adam,” Ben interjected quickly. As Marie listened to the song describe the death of the two lovers from snakebite, she found herself agreeing with Hoss and hoping Adam’s second choice would be less melancholy, but next he chose Barbara Allen. At least, she told herself, it is a pleasure to hear him sing, unlike poor Hoss, who sings off-key but with great enthusiasm.
When they finished all the verses of Barbara Allen, Ben said, “I think we’ve time for one more. I choose What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor?” and that set Hoss to giggling and even Adam couldn’t suppress a smile so the day ended on a pleasant note.
When Ben climbed up the ladder to check on his boys, he found they were both awake. He sat down by Hoss, and the little boy smiled at him. “I’m shore glad you brought us our new ma. I really like her.”
“I’m glad, Hoss,” Ben said, gently smoothing his baby boy’s fine, sandy-brown hair. “I know we’re going to be a happy family. Right, Adam?” he asked the older boy, who had rolled over on his side so he was facing away from his pa and brother. Ben couldn’t make out Adam’s reply and said, “Pardon me?”
Adam rolled over and faced him. “I said that we were already a happy family.”
“And now we’ll be a happier one,” Ben said in a tone that was calmer than he felt, but Adam said nothing and rolled back on his side. Ben sighed before hearing Hoss say his prayer and kissing him goodnight. He stared at his older son’s rigid back and said quietly, “Goodnight, Adam,” and just barely heard a soft, “Goodnight, Pa.”
When he entered the bedroom, he discovered Marie had already drifted off to sleep so he undressed quietly and slipped into the bed beside her. She didn’t wake even as he curled his body around hers. Lord, he prayed, You know how much I love my boys, and You know how stubborn Adam can be, so Lord, I pray that You’ll open his heart that he can accept Marie as part of our family and grow to love her just as Hoss already is beginning to do.
Ben woke Marie before he left to begin his chores so when Adam and Hoss returned with the fresh eggs and milk, she had the table set.
“Good morning, boys,” she said brightly.
“Mornin’, Ma,’ Hoss replied, flashing his big grin.
“Good morning,” Adam said quietly. “C’mon, Hoss, lets get washed up.”
“And don’t forget to use soap,” Marie added, smiling at the younger boy. He grinned back and neither noticed the hurt on the older boy’s face.
Taking care of Hoss was his job; it had been ever since Mama had put him in his arms just before she was killed. He hadn’t really considered that as their stepmother, Marie would assume responsibility for Hoss’s care. Now he realized that was just what she intended. He was beginning to feel like an outsider in his own family. His unhappiness began to manifest itself physically in a dull throbbing behind his eyes.
Conversation at the breakfast table was stilted since the vaqueros were very aware of Marie’s presence and so guarded their tongues. Their friend, Jean, had never mentioned a wife until just before his death. They were all curious as to why Jean and his wife had lived apart and why he’d never spoken of her, and had speculated about the cause. Now, however, the woman in question was their patrón‘s wife and must be treated with respect. They noticed Adam was unnaturally quiet and deduced he was not happy about his father’s remarriage; however, it was the way of the world and the boy would grow accustomed to the change. They liked Adam and Hoss and for the boys’ sake, they hoped the new Señora Cartwright was as kind as she was beautiful.
Ben noticed that not only was Adam quiet, but he ate very little. After the men excused themselves, he turned to his son and said, “I noticed you didn’t eat much, Adam. Are you feeling ill?”
“I’m just not hungry,” the boy replied, pinching the bridge of his nose to try and relieve the ache in his head. Ben decided not to press the issue but he’d keep an eye on him this morning as they worked on the clothespress.
“Could we go fishin’ this afternoon, Pa?” Hoss asked after several hours of working on the clothespress.
“We’re almost done. We can finish tomorrow. Going fishing with my boys sounds like a wonderful idea to me. How about you, Adam?”
“Sure, Pa,” Adam replied, with the first smile Ben had seen since he’d given him his two new books.
As they were eating the vegetable soup Hop Sing had made for lunch along with johnnycakes, Ben remarked, “Your clothespress is almost finished, so the boys and I are going fishing this afternoon.” He said to Hop Sing, “We’ll bring you back some nice fat trout to fry.”
“And will ya make us hush puppies?” Hoss begged.
“You bring trout, Hop Sing make hush puppies for little boy,” the cook agreed with a slight smile.
“Oh, may I come with you?” Marie asked.
“Of course, Darling. We’d be happy to have you, wouldn’t we, boys?”
“Sure, Ma,” Hoss said enthusiastically.
“Yes, ma’am,” Adam said politely, feeling his headache return with a vengeance.
“Are you sure you feel all right, Adam?” Ben said when the meal was over. “I notice you didn’t eat any more now than you did at breakfast.”
“I’ve got a headache,” Adam replied guardedly. “May I take one of my books with me to read while we’re fishing?” he asked, and Ben nodded.
When they reached their favorite fishing spot, Ben saw with a sigh that Adam quickly moved away from the rest of the family.
After a minute of looking over at his brother, Hoss walked over. “Don’t ya want to sit with us?” he asked in a disappointed tone.
“No, I wanna read,” Adam replied.
“‘Kay, Adam,” Hoss said dejectedly and went back to rejoin the others.
“I shouldn’t have come,” Marie said softly as Hoss was busy baiting his hook. “That is why he sits by himself.”
“Well,” Ben replied, putting an arm about her waist and drawing her close, “he’s going to have to accept the fact that you are part of this family. I suppose I should warn you that he can be very stubborn, but he’ll come around; I’m sure of it.” He looked over at the solitary figure, fishing pole in one hand and the other free to turn the pages of his book, which was open on his lap. “Adam and I will be spending some time together during the roundup; I think that will be good for him.”
“I meant to ask you about that. This branding doesn’t sound to me like something that Adam should be involved in,” she commented.
“José says Adam is ready, and I trust José. I know Adam has been practicing roping and he’s been working hard on his riata since last winter.”
“Of course, he is your son,” she said coolly, and he drew her into his arms.
“He is our son now,” he said softly. “It’s not that I’m discounting your opinion, but José knows about these things; I trust him implicitly because I know he’d never do anything to put my boys at risk.” He felt her relax against him and kissed her gently. He looked up to see Hoss watching them with round eyes and said with a chuckle, “I think I’d better get busy fishing.”
They caught enough trout for each of them and Hop Sing to have one for supper. When they were seated at the table, instead of a glass of milk, Hop Sing handed Adam a cup of fragrant tea.
“Good for headache,” he said quietly, for just like Ben he’d noticed Adam’s lack of appetite and the way the boy’s eyebrows were drawn together and how he kept pinching the bridge of his nose.
Marie observed the boy made a little moue of distaste, but he drank the tea. All three adults noticed that his appetite improved almost immediately and he cleaned his plate.
That evening the family played parlor games. Adam joined in, reluctantly at first. The next day Ben and the boys finished the clothespress and Ben decided they should all go for a ride so he could show Marie more of the Ponderosa.
“Could I stay here and read?” Adam asked. “Please?”
“All right,” Ben replied with a sigh. “We’ll see you at suppertime.”
“How come Adam would rather read than come riding with us?” Hoss asked plaintively as the other three headed toward the corral.
“I don’t know Hoss. I’ve never known anyone who loves to read as much as your brother,” Ben replied.
“Books are a way of escaping the real world,” Marie added quietly. “When I was Adam’s age, that’s why I loved to read.”
Hoss still looked puzzled so Ben said gently, “Don’t worry about it, Hoss. Your brother will be happy reading and the three of us will have a wonderful time going for a ride.”
“All right, Adam,” Ben said as he ate the last bite of supper, “time for you and me to bring the clothespress and its drawers inside.”
“Can I help, Pa?” Hoss asked eagerly.
“Oh, mon petit, I was hoping you would keep me company,” Marie said, smiling at the youngster.
“Okay, Ma. Wanna play checkers?” he asked hopefully.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know how,” Marie replied.
“That’s okay. I can learn ya. Adam learned me.”
“I taught you,” Adam corrected.
“Oh yeah. Adam taught me so I can teach you,” Hoss said, grinning at his brother, who grinned back.
Hoss jumped up and Ben said, “Didn’t you forget something, Hoss?”
Hoss’s forehead puckered and then he flashed a smile and said, “Oh. Scuse me, please.” He ran over and got the checkerboard and checkers and brought them to the table, which Hop Sing was clearing off.
“C’mon, Adam,” Ben said, standing up. He laid his arm lightly across his son’s shoulders. For a second the boy stiffened but then Ben felt him relax.
As they worked together, Ben said, “So, are you looking forward to the roundup tomorrow?”
“Yes, sir. I’ve been workin’ with Beauty every day and practicin’ my dally.”
“Roundup is hard work, son, and so is branding the calves.”
“But I can do it, Pa. You’re not gonna change your mind about me bein’ on the roundup, are ya?” Adam asked anxiously.
“No, if José says you’re ready, then you’re ready.”
I know Mr. McCarran said Todd can’t come, but Ross might be there,” Adam remarked.
“He might. Then you won’t be the only greenhorn,” Ben added with a smile. He saw Adam frown and said, “Everyone starts out as a greenhorn, Adam.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Adam said sheepishly and Ben reached over and tousled his curls. “Aw, Pa,” Adam said, ducking out of reach.
“You know, if we have time, I think I’ll give you a haircut before you go to bed tonight. Those curls are getting pretty long.”
“Okay,” Adam replied, for he’d been thinking the same thing.
When Ben and Adam finished, they discovered Marie and Hoss engrossed in their checkers game.
“As soon as you finish that game, Hoss, I want to cut your hair,” Ben said as the youngster looked up and grinned at him.
“Do ya hafta,” the five-year-old whined.
“Yes, I ‘hafta’,” his pa replied. “Your hair is getting too long. So is Adam’s and I’m cutting his as well.”
“But Adam has such pretty curls,” Marie commented and was surprised when he blushed a fiery red and glared at her.
Ben turned to his first-born, wanting to smooth over his wife’s faux pas. “I’ll cut your hair now while Hoss finishes his game of checkers.”
Aam’s cheeks began to cool, and he nodded silently.
Later that night, while Ben and Marie were cuddling together after making love, she asked, “Why was Adam angry with me for saying his curls are pretty?”
“He would never talk to me about it, but I think that some of the other boys teased him about his curls when I was working for John Sutter. He has always preferred them short,” Ben answered as he gently ran his fingers through her silken tresses.
“I saw the daguerreotypes on the bedside table when I was checking the boys clothing,” she commented quietly. “Hoss doesn’t resemble his mother but Adam certainly favors his.”
“Hoss has Inger’s sweetness,” Ben said. “Adam resembles Liz but he’s more serious, more intense than she was. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of her playfulness ¼” He let his voice trail off. “I’m sorry. I’m not living in the past, Marie. I did love Liz and Inger with all my heart. They were wonderful women and I thank God for the sons they gave me, for a part of them lives on in their sons. But it is you I love now, Marie. Never doubt that, my love.” He held her face between his hands and kissed her gently, but the gentleness changed to passion and soon they were making love again.
Afterward, he said quietly, “I’m glad we were able to finish the clothespress before I have to leave on the roundup.”
“Leave?” she repeated, her voice shrill.
“Adam and I will be gone for a few days. It takes time to round up the cattle and then to brand all the young calves.”
“I can’t believe you are leaving me,” she said accusingly. “We only arrived four days ago and already you are leaving me alone in this wilderness.”
“I don’t have any choice, my love,” he said in a placating tone. “The calves have to be branded.”
“But you have José and Diego,” she retorted.
“My herd has grown and it’s not a two man job,” he replied, trying to keep his tone calm and reasonable. “Andy McCarran, Dan Marquette and I all work with our vaqueros at roundup and branding.” He paused. “Say, you wanted Jessie to teach you to hook rugs; I think this would be the perfect time since she’ll probably be lonely too with Andy gone. Why don’t you and Hoss go visit her tomorrow? Hop Sing will hold down the fort here.”
“Oui, c’est une bonne idée,” she said slowly as she considered the idea. “Hoss and I will visit Jessie.” Then she frowned. “But I do not know the way to their cabin.”
“I can draw you a rough map, and Hoss knows the way,” Ben replied. “He’s been there many times and he has an unusually good sense of direction.” She still looked doubtful but he smiled and said, “Trust me, my love.”
Adam was so excited that morning that he could hardly eat. Ben noticed but he just shared a little smile with Hop Sing.
“Wish I could go on roundup,” Hoss said mournfully.
“You’ll be going in a few years,” Ben said with a smile at his youngest. This would be the first time Adam and Hoss had been separated and it wouldn’t be easy on the younger boy. He hoped Marie would be able to cope with Hoss if he started to mope.
The three men and the boy put their grub in their saddlebags. (Ben had bought Adam’s the last time he’d been to Sacramento, intending to give them as a birthday gift, but he’d been in New Orleans on Adam’s birthday, so he presented them to Adam that morning before the four of them started off with their caviata. Hoss and Marie stood in the cabin doorway and waved and shouted goodbyes until the riders and horses had disappeared from sight.
“Your Pa suggested we go visit Mrs. McCarran. Would you like that, mon petit?”
“Yeah. Maybe me and Todd could play marbles,” Hoss said, his expression now sunny.
The men worked in twos and so Ben and Adam were together. Ben felt pride as he watched Adam work, skillfully using his horse to herd the cattle. He’s better at this than I was on my first roundup, Ben thought with a small grin. José told me that he’s a natural horseman and he’s right.
Halfway through the day, they met up with Dan and Ross Marquette. The boys were both stiff and sore at the end of the day and had to put up with some good-natured teasing from the men.
“Why don’t we put Ross and Adam on the last watch?” Dan suggested. “Give their backsides a chance to rest fer a spell before they have to mount up agin. Appears to me they’re generally stoved up.” He guffawed and the vaqueros all joined in and even Ben and Andy McCarran grinned broadly at the two boys.
“Sounds like a good idea,” Ben said. He knew it would mean a lot to the two boys to be trusted to stand watch on their own.
Adam and Ross, a dark-haired boy who was even skinnier than Adam, were so tired they could hardly keep awake long enough to eat the beans and johnnycake Diego fixed for supper and didn’t even demure when their fathers suggested they turn in after eating. They just spread out their bedrolls and fell asleep immediately. It seemed to Adam that only a few minutes could have passed before he felt someone shaking him.
“Time to get up and stand watch, son,” Ben said, and to Adam’s left he heard Dan Marquette’s harsh voice saying, “Rustle yer shanks, Ross.”
The two boys rubbed their eyes and stood up; they couldn’t remember ever feeling so sore and stiff before. Their faces wore matching scowls as they heard their fathers’ low chuckles.
As the two youngsters rode around the perimeter of the herd, Ross said quietly, “What’s she like, yer new ma?”
“She’s not my ma,” Adam snapped. Then he added in a less hostile tone, “She’s my stepma, that’s all.”
“Okay, yer stepma. What’s she like?” Ross persisted. “Pedro says Diego told him that she’s real pretty.”
“She’s not as pretty as Mama was,” Adam said firmly. “I guess she’s okay, but I wish Pa hadn’t married her. We don’t need her.”
“That’s not what I heard my folks say. I woke up one night and I could hear ‘em talkin’. They said yer pa’s bin without a woman fer too long; that it’s a good thing that he’s found a new wife. Said it was good fer you ‘n’ Hoss, too.”
“Well, they’re wrong,” “Adam spat out, louder than he intended, and the cattle closest stirred restlessly.
“Don’t stir up them cows,” Ross hissed. “We don’t want a stampede.”
“Sorry,” Adam muttered. “But I don’t wanna talk about her.”
“Okay,” Ross replied, puzzled by his friend’s attitude. They rode in silence for a time until Ross asked quietly. “You nervous about the brandin’?”
“A little,” Adam admitted. “I’ve been practicin’ on a piece of wood so I won’t hurt a calf by brandin’ right through its hide.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of doin’,” Ross said. “Wisht I’d thought of practicin’ on wood.”
“You’ll do fine,” Adam said encouragingly.
When they rode back to the campsite, the men were already eating so the boys filled their plates. Diego handed them each a cup of coffee.
“I don’t drink coffee,” Adam said, starting to hand it back.
“A real vaquero drinks café,” Diego said with a grin so the two boys accepted the cups and tried not to grimace as they drank the hot, bitter liquid.
“You boys might like it better the way they drink it in New Orleans,” Ben said with a wide grin. “They make it half coffee and half steamed milk. It’s called café au lait.” He saw Adam’s expression brighten before he made a face as he swallowed a mouthful of Diego’s coffee. Ben, Andy McCarran and the vaqueros managed to conceal their grins but Dan Marquette guffawed loudly.
After eating a couple of mouthfuls of biscuit, Ross said thoughtfully, “I guess Ma’s up fixin’ breakfast fer her and Betsy.”
“Hoss is feedin’ the chickens now,” Adam said. “Hop Sing is gonna milk our cow for me ’cause Hoss is too little.”
“Must be nice havin’ such a pretty new ma,” Dan said with a wink.
“Yes, sir,” Adam replied sullenly and it was clear that he didn’t find it nice at all. Dan raised an eyebrow and Ben shook his head slightly.
“Looks like we didn’t lose too many head this winter,” he said, changing the subject.
“I sold a few head to some crazy Easterners headed to California,” Dan added. “Told me there was gold just lyin’ on the ground waitin’ to be picked up. I doubt them greenhorns even make over the mountains. Surprised they made it this far.”
“My wife and I saw plenty of gold seekers traveling back from New Orleans. Gold-crazed fools,” Ben said shaking his head.
Marie and Hoss enjoyed their visit with the McCarrans. Marie had not realized how much she missed the companionship of another woman. Jessie gave her some cloth and started her on a rug. While they worked, Marie told her about wanting to buy cloth for curtains and new clothing.
“Andy will be happy to buy you the cloth when he goes to Sacramento in a few days. You just write down exactly how much you need of each type of cloth and the colors you’d prefer,” Jessie assured her. “You’re settlin’ in just fine, I hope?”
“Yes. Hoss is such a sweet little boy; who could not love him?'”
“He is a real darlin’,” Jessie agreed with a warm smile. Then she asked cautiously, “And Adam?”
Marie hesitated, but she needed to confide in someone and instinctively she knew her confidences would be safe with Jessie. “That, I think you would say, is a different story. Oh, he is always polite.”
Jessie nodded. “Yes, he would be.”
“But I know he is not happy that I am now part of the family. Ben says he resents my taking his first stepmother’s place. Did you know Hoss’s mother?”
“No,” Jessie replied. “Ben and the boys had already been livin’ here around three years when Andy and I settled here and the Marquettes got here about a year later. We were sure glad to find another family nearby and we usually try to get together on Sundays. They’ve always been friendly but Ben’s never talked much about his past. Andy and I didn’t even know for a long time that he’d been widowed twice, although it sure explained why Adam and Hoss look nothin’ alike.” She paused and then added slowly. “Adam’s never said much about his mama-that’s what he always calls her, and at first I thought he meant his own mother until I learned she died in childbirth-but I remember once I fixed potato pancakes, and he said in a sad voice they reminded him of the ones Mama made.”
“Ben told me that Adam adored her,” Marie said wistfully.
“Well, that’s not surprisin’,” Jessie said. “After all, he was a little boy who’d never had a mama of his own. And I’ve gotta say, Marie, that it’s not surprisin’ that he resents anyone takin’ her place, but I’m sure in time that he’ll come to accept you.”
“I hope so. I want us to be a real family,” Marie said longingly.
Hoss, meanwhile, was having fun playing marbles and catch with Todd and swinging on the swing Andy had hung in one of the trees for Todd. (If Adam or Ross had been around, Todd would have said he was too old to swing, but since neither of them was there to see him, he enjoyed himself.) Jessie insisted that Marie and Hoss stay for dinner and then they headed back to their cabin. Hoss had been happy at first, telling Marie all about the games he and Todd had played. As they approached their cabin, Hoss grew silent. The two of them cared for their mounts while Hop Sing milked the cow. Hoss filled the wood box while Marie quietly set the supper table for three. For Hoss’s sake, she tried to hide her own loneliness but she could see how much he was missing his pa and his brother.
“Would you like to play checkers?” she asked after they’d finished eating.
“Would you read to me?” he asked instead. “Please.”
“Bien sûr, of course,” she replied with a smile and watched him scramble up the ladder to the loft. He returned a few minutes later, carrying a dog-eared book under one arm.
“Adam’s grandpa gave him this book and Adam gave it to me ’cause he says it fer little uns like me.” He sighed mournfully. “He reads it to me sometimes after we go to bed.” His hands flew up to cover his mouth and he said artlessly, “Don’t tell, Pa. He’d have a necessary talk with us ifn he knew we didn’t go right to sleep.”
“I won’t tell your pa, but no more reading after you are supposed to be asleep, all right?”
“Okay,” the little boy said reluctantly and she smiled and began to read.
There was a miller who left no more estate to the three sons he had than his mill, his ass, and his cat. The partition was soon made. Neither scrivener nor attorney was sent for. They would soon have eaten up all the poor patrimony. The eldest had the mill, the second the ass, and the youngest nothing but the cat. The poor young fellow was quite comfortless at having so poor a lot. . . .
She was reading, enjoying herself, when she felt Hoss tug on her sleeve. “Yes, Hoss?”
“Adam always does different voices for Monseer Puss, and the Markis and the Ogre.”
“Ah, I see. I shall do voices then. But, Hoss, it is Monsieur Puss and the Marquis. This is a French story and I read it when I was a little girl.”
“But Adam says-”
“Adam does not know everything,” she replied sharply and then added quickly, “I only meant that Adam does not know French so he was guessing how to pronounce the words. That is all.” She smiled. “I will teach you the correct way and you can teach Adam.”
“Okay,” Hoss said, delighted with the idea that he could teach his big brother something instead of it always being the other way around.
When they finished the story, she spent a little time trying to teach Hoss the proper pronunciation of monsieur and marquis, but with only limited success. Then she said with a bright smile, “Now I will come tuck you in and hear you say your bedtime prayer.”
“Okay,” he replied dolefully and she had an inspiration.
“Since your pa and Adam aren’t here, would you like me to sleep with you?”
“Yeah,” he replied with a happy smile.
“You go on upstairs and change into your nightshirt, and I will change into my nightgown,” she said, ruffling his fine, sandy-brown hair. He climbed the ladder with all the agility of a monkey, and was waiting impatiently for her as she climbed the ladder carefully, holding up the hem of her nightgown in one hand so she did not trip on it. They both knelt down and she listened to him recite the prayer Ben had taught him. It seemed strange to hear prayers in any language but Latin. She knew Ben was Protestant and that was how he was raising his sons. If her suspicions were correct, she must ask Ben if she could raise their child as a Catholic.
She smiled at Hoss when he finished and kissed his rosy cheek. “Bonne nuit, Hoss,” she said with a smile. He climbed into the bed and she got in after him.
After a few minutes Hoss said in a trembling voice, “Ma, do ya miss Pa and Adam?”
She reached out and patted his back. “Yes, Hoss, I do.”
“Do ya think they miss us?” he asked then.
“Of course they do. Remember, your pa said they should be back in four or five days.”
The little boy sighed loudly. “That’s a long time.”
“I know, mon petit, but you and I will keep busy and the time will pass before you know it.”
Marie was sitting on the porch braiding her rug with Hoss sitting beside her, trying his best to braid a rug for the loft, when Ben, Adam and the vaqueros rode into the yard with their caviata.
“Howdy, Pa! Howdy, Adam! Howdy, José ‘n’ Diego!” Hoss shouted, dropping his lumpy rug and running to meet them. “Can I help with the horses?”
“Hello, son,” Ben said, dismounting stiffly. “Can you give Pa a hug?” The little boy hugged his father and smiled up at him. “Hoss, you lost another tooth,” Ben said with a grin. “You can take care of Buck for me, okay?”
“Sure, Pa,” Hoss said, grinning widely.
The two vaqueros exchanged looks as they watched their patrón walk inside with his bride, their arms about each other’s waists. Adam was talking with Hoss and didn’t notice at first that his pa had disappeared inside the cabin with his stepmother.
“Where’s Pa?” he asked suddenly after he dismounted and started to lead his string of mounts to the barn.
“I think tu padre is occupied,” José said quietly. “Diego and I will help you care for his string.”
Adam frowned but he didn’t say anything. As he listened to his little brother’s excited chattering and answered his questions while they groomed the horses, his mood brightened. They were grooming the last two horses in the caviata when Ben entered the barn.
“Well, you’re just about finished I see,” he said, smiling warmly at his two boys. “Gracias, José y Diego.”
“Por nada,” they both replied as they exited the barn, leaving Ben with his boys.
Ben picked up a curry comb and went to work on the other side of the horse Hoss was grooming. “So what did you and your ma do while Adam and I were gone?” he asked. He listened, smiling at the happy exuberance of the five-year-old.
Adam remained silent as he groomed the other horse. Silent until Hoss said, “Ma read to me and she said it’s not Monseer Puss; it’s Monsoor Puss.”
“What was she doin’ with my book?” Adam spat out furiously.
“I think you’d better watch your tone, young man,” Ben said sternly. “You gave your brother that book because you’d outgrown it.”
“I didn’t know he’d give it to her,” Adam muttered angrily.
“What did you say?” Ben barked.
“Nuthin'” Adam replied, refusing to look at his pa.
“Hoss, why don’t you go on inside and tell your ma that Adam and I’ll be there in a few minutes,” Ben said in an even tone. Once the youngster had left the barn, Ben marched over to his first-born and grabbed him by the arm. “You had better keep a civil tongue in your head, young man, or you and I will be having a necessary talk. And I promise you that you won’t be comfortable sitting down afterward. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” Adam replied sullenly.
They entered the cabin together and Marie greeted them with a smile. “Ah, here you are. Hop Sing says supper isn’t quite ready and so there is time for you both to take a bath. Hop Sing is already heating water for you.”
“Yeah, I guess we could use a bath,” Ben said, feeling a little embarrassed. “We just put the wash tub by the fireplace so I’ll need to rig a curtain for privacy. Won’t take but a minute and we can use a bed sheet for the curtain. Adam, you can go first.”
Adam’s face turned beet-red and he glanced in Marie’s direction through his lashes.
“I’ll go back on the porch and work on my rug,” she said hurriedly, and quickly exited the cabin.
As the five of them gathered around the table for supper, Marie saw with a small smile that Adam had dried his hair with a towel and forgotten to comb it so it curled wildly. She also noted that he just pushed his food around his plate.
Ben noticed as well and barked, “Adam, quit playing with your food and eat it.”
The boy did as he was bidden without saying a word. Marie had so hoped that after Ben and Adam had a chance to spend time together, Adam would return willing to accept her as part of the family, but clearly his attitude hadn’t altered. She noted how he pinched the bridge of his nose and how his thick black eyebrows were drawn together.
“Do you have a headache, Adam?” she asked solicitously.
“Yes,” he replied frostily. He saw his pa’s frown and added, “Ma’am.”
“When you finish eating, go on up to bed,” Ben said. He, too, had hoped Adam’s attitude tward his stepmother would have grown more welcoming, and was frustrated at his first-born’s stubbornness. He loved Adam with all his heart and he knew that having a stepmother would be good for him just as it was good for Hoss. If he could only make his son see that.
As Adam lay on his bed in the loft, feeling the throbbing ache behind his eyes, he could hear the voices of the other three laughing and singing. If it wasn’t for her, I would be down there singing with Hoss and Pa. She’s ruined everything. And he felt his eyes begin to burn as the throbbing ache increased to a pounding.
Ben and Marie both noticed Hoss yawning and Ben said with a smile, “I know a little boy who needs to be in bed.”
“Not me, Pa,” the five year old protested but his parents only smiled.
“Yes, you,” Ben replied. “I want to see how your brother is feeling, so I’ll come up with you and tuck you in now.”
“Okay,” Hoss replied with a huge yawn. He ran over to Marie and flung his arms around her. “Night, Ma.”
“Bonne nuit, mon petit,” she replied, kissing his plump cheek and stroking back his silky hair.
As soon as Ben’s head emerged into the loft he saw Adam was sound asleep. As the candle’s flame illuminated the loft, Ben’s sharp eyes also detected the tearstains on the boy’s cheeks. Oh, Adam, if you would just give Marie a chance. Aloud he said very softly, putting his finger to his lips, ‘Your brother is asleep, so we must be very quiet and not wake him.’
Hoss was disappointed but nodded his head. He quickly changed into his nightshirt, knelt by his side of the bed and whispered his prayer. The fact that Adam, who normally woke at the slightest sound slept through it all, showed Ben how exhausted his first-born must be. Ben kissed Hoss’s cheek and tucked the bedclothes around him. Then he bent and dropped a light kiss on his first-born’s curls, something Adam no longer allowed, squirming away in embarrassment. Lord, he prayed as he went down the ladder to his waiting bride, help me to know how to reach him. It breaks my heart to see him so unhappy.
At the end of Marie’s first fortnight at the cabin, she knew for certain that she was carrying Ben’s child. She waited to tell him until they were alone that night in bed. He was so happy that he decided to tell the boys the next evening. She was afraid of Adam’s reaction to the news, and so she tried to persuade him to wait a few months when she would really begin to show, but he was determined.
They’d gathered around the fireplace the next evening-Ben, Hoss and Marie on the wooden settee while Adam sat on his three-legged stool apart from the rest. “Boys,” Ben began, “your mother and I,” and he and Marie both saw Adam flinch at the word mother, “have some wonderful news to share with you two. You are going to have a baby brother or sister.”
Marie knew instinctively that Hoss would be delighted at the news he would soon be a big brother, so she watched Adam’s face when Ben made the announcement. For just a moment, she saw the anguish on his countenance, but then his expression became remote and indifferent.
“I’m gonna be a big brother just like you, Adam!” Hoss exclaimed joyously. “I’m gonna learn my new brother all the things you learned me. How to fish, how to play checkers. Everythin’. When will he get here, Ma?” All the time Hoss chattered excitedly, his brother sat silent and withdrawn.
“Oh, your new brother or sister won’t be here until around All Saints Day,” Marie said with a smile for him.
“The beginning of November,” Marie corrected herself. She had forgotten that Ben and the boys would not be familiar with All Saints Day.
“Well, Adam,” Ben said, smiling warmly, “You’re awfully quiet. Don’t you have anything to say about our wonderful news?”
“I want to go live with Grandfather” he said quietly.
Marie saw Ben’s eyes narrow. “You are my son and you will live under my roof,” he replied in an equally quiet voice.
“Why? I know Grandfather would be happy to have me live with him.”
Hoss looked from his father’s stormy visage to his brother’s expressionless one, and Marie could see the anxiety and trepidation cloud his clear blue eyes.
“You are not going to Boston,” Ben said sternly, “and if you have any foolish notions about running away, I suggest you put them out of your mind. Do you understand me?” Adam nodded, refusing to look his father in the eye. “Do you understand me?” Ben repeated, carefully enunciating each word.
“Yes, sir,” Adam replied without emotion. “May I go to my room?”
Reluctantly, Ben nodded and Adam went silently up the ladder to the loft.
“What’s wrong with Adam?” Hoss asked anxiously. “Aint he happy we’re gonna have a baby brother?”
“No, he’s not,” Marie said, without thinking, and Ben shook his head and frowned at her before turning to Hoss.
“Your brother just needs time to get used to the idea of a baby in the house again,” he said gently and ruffled Hoss’s silky hair.
“Yeah. He’s already a big brother so I guess that’s why he’s not ‘cited like me.”
“That’s right,” Ben said, hugging the little boy. “When he found out you were going to be born, he was just as excited as you are. Now, how about a game of checkers?”
“I’m feeling tired, so if you will excuse me, I think I will retire as well,” Marie inserted quietly.
“You aint sick are ya, Ma?”
“Non, mon petit. I am just tired,” and she managed a smile before going to their bedroom and sobbing into her pillow to muffle the sounds. He rejects me and the child I am carrying so utterly that he wants to leave his home just to get away from us. How will I ever be able to reach him? How?
Meanwhile, Adam flung himself face down on his bed, trying to choke back his tears. Why won’t he let me go to Grandfather? I don’t wanna be here to see how much he loves her baby. Why won’t he let me go?
He cried so hard his head began to throb but finally he fell asleep. He was awakened by Hoss’s loud whisper right in his ear.
“Adam. Adam, you asleep?”
“Leave me alone,” Adam replied, turning his back to his little brother.
“Ya don’t really wanna go live with yer grandfather, do ya?”
“Yes, I do,” Adam retorted, feeling his eyes begin to fill with tears, and his voice ended in a sob.
“Are ya cryin’?” Hoss asked in surprise. His big brother never cried. Even when him and Pa had a nec’sary talk, Adam never cried.
“I said leave me alone,” Adam replied in a shaky voice and buried his face in his pillow.
Hoss was confused. Here they’d gotten wonderful news about a new baby brother, but instead of bein’ happy, Adam was the unhappiest Hoss had ever seen him. He didn’t want his brother to be unhappy, but he didn’t know what he could do to help. Pa always said they should tell Jesus about their problems, Hoss remembered, so that’s what he would do: When he said his prayers, he’d ask Jesus to make Adam happy again.
Adam was startled a few minutes later when his pa shook his shoulder. “I want to talk with you. Come with me,” Pa said. Adam knew his pa was angry as he followed him down the ladder and out to the porch.
“Do you know how bad you made your stepmother feel?” Ben asked his first-born, and Adam knew from his angry tone he was going to get a tanning. He looked at the floor and shrugged. “Look at me when I’m talking to you!” and Ben grabbed the boy’s chin and forced him to meet his eyes. He noticed for the first time the boy’s red swollen eyes and the tearstains on his cheeks, and suddenly he was more sad than mad.
“Am I supposed to pretend I’m happy?” Adam replied in a voice that was not as steady as he would have wished. “I’m not. You’ve got her and you’ll have her baby. Why can’t I go live with Grandfather? He loves me, and I’m all the family he has.”
“I love you, son,” Ben said quietly. “Your brother loves you. Your moth-,” he saw the resentment in the hazel eyes and said instead, “your stepmother loves you. We would all miss you if you left. What can we do to make you believe that?”
Adam wouldn’t look at him. He wanted to believe his father, but knew it wasn’t true. He just shrugged so his father said, “All right, Adam. Go to bed.”
When Ben entered the room he shared with Marie, he saw immediately that she had also been crying. He lifted her in his arms and then sat on the bed with her on his lap, silently stroking her silky, honey-colored hair. After a time, she looked at him questioningly.
“I was going to punish him, but he’s punishing himself. I just don’t know how to reach him,” he said and felt his own eyes begin to burn with unshed tears. “He has convinced himself that I can’t love both him and the new baby.” He felt his shoulders slump in defeat. “If I truly believed he’d be happier with his grandfather, I’d let him go.”
She listened to Ben with very mixed emotions. There was a part of her that wanted to urge him to send Adam away so that she wouldn’t have to deal with his hostility and the knowledge that he was a daily reminder to Ben of his first love. However, there was another part of her that had seen what a wonderful brother Adam was to Hoss and how close they were, and she wanted him to be that kind of big brother to her child.
“No,” she said firmly. “Sending him to his grandfather is not the answer. He needs his family and we need him.” She sighed and snuggled closer to Ben. “The baby won’t be born for another seven months. We must pray that he accepts me and our baby as part of his family before then.”
The subject of their discussion was in the loft undressing and climbing quietly into bed beside his younger brother. Hoss stirred a little and turned toward his brother, but remained asleep. Adam lay beside him, motionless, thinking. Why did Pa have to marry her? We were happy and now everything is changed. I want it to be the way it was. He felt the hot tears filling his eyes again and buried his face in his pillow to muffle the sound.
The next morning was Sunday and for the first time since Marie’s arrival, they planned to spend it with the McCarrans and the Marquettes. Adam did his chores in silence and ate his breakfast, keeping his eyes fixed on his plate and so avoiding eye contact with everyone. Ben was losing patience with his son’s sulkiness and decided his best course of action was simply to ignore him. José and Diego were uneasily aware of Adam’s unhappiness and the strain between him and his father, but it was not their place to interfere. Hoss was bubbling over with excitement and soon provided the vaqueros with the cause of Adam’s unhappiness.
“Guess what José ‘n’ Diego? I’m gonna have a baby brother!” he announced after swallowing a few bites of egg.
“¡Felicitaciones!” José said with a warm smile.
“Si. ¡Felicitaciones!” Diego said, flashing a happy grin.
Adam abruptly sat his fork down. “May I be excused, please?” he asked in a strained voice.
“You haven’t finished your breakfast,” Ben said evenly.
“I’m not hungry,” Adam replied, refusing to meet his father’s eyes.
Ben had noticed that Adam had taken very little food and said firmly, “When you finish eating the food on your plate, you may go saddle our horses.” (He had wanted to drive Marie in the wagon, but she’d insisted there was no reason she shouldn’t ride this early in the pregnancy.)
Adam frowned but only said, “Yes, sir,” in a monotone voice. He concentrated on chewing and swallowing Hop Sing’s delicious food, which had suddenly become tasteless in his mouth. Once he was done, he rose silently and headed to the barn. He’d saddled his mare, Beauty, and his pa’s buckskin when Hoss joined him.
“I’ll help,” the little boy suggested. He was troubled by his brother’s obvious unhappiness. “I’ll saddle Sugar.”
“Okay,” was Adam’s curt response. He saddled the pretty dappled gray mare that his pa had bought his stepmother and then said, “I’m gonna ride on ahead to the McCarrans.”
“I’ll come with ya,” Hoss said eagerly.
Adam hesitated, knowing that if Hoss came with him, he’d be in more trouble. Then he remembered Andy McCarran’s maxim, “Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb,” and replied, “Okay. Let’s go.”
When Ben and Marie walked outside a few minutes later, they found their horses saddled and tied to the hitching post in the yard, but their sons and their mounts were nowhere in sight.
“I never gave them permission to go ahead of us,” Ben fumed.
“Well, in the mood Adam was in this morning, I’m not surprised he didn’t want to ride with me,” Marie replied dejectedly. “I imagine Hoss decided to tag along. I know they should have asked permission, but let’s not spoil our visit, mon bien aimé.”
“I won’t say anything to him until we’re back home tonight,” Ben agreed. “I guess I should explain something to you. There are no churches near enough for us to attend services, so we all meet at the McCarran place on Sundays, since it’s midway between our place and the Marquettes, to read from the Bible, sing some hymns and pray. Jessie tells Hoss and Betsy Marquette a Bible story. Then we all have dinner and visit before heading home. It’s nice to spend time with our neighbors and the children enjoy a chance to play together.” He stopped and said hesitantly, “I know we pray differently from you, Marie, so I hope you don’t mind.”
“Prayers are prayers,” she said quietly. “If they are acceptable to God, who am I to object?” He smiled and took her in his arms for a brief kiss before mounting up. Just as they were ready to ride, Hop Sing dashed out of the cabin.
“Mistah Cartwright! You forget food!” he called as he ran toward them with a lumpy canvas sack.
“Thanks, Hop Sing,” Ben said with a grin as he accepted the sack and tied it around his saddle horn. As they rode off he said to Marie, “It’s some of our root vegetables and maybe some butter. The Marquettes and I bring food and then Jessie and Abby prepare it while Andy, Dan and I talk and watch Hoss and Betsy.”
“What about Todd and Adam?” she asked.
“Oh, the two of them and Ross Marquette are old enough to take care of themselves and it’s a treat to them to spend time together without any younger brothers and sisters tagging along.”
I would think Hoss would rather be with the boys,” Marie commented.
“Oh, he would, but I’ve explained to him that it wouldn’t be fair to leave Betsy all by herself with no one to play with. Besides, Betsy has a pup named Jack and Hoss is crazy about him. He doesn’t mind playing with Betsy if it means he can play with Jack.” He and Marie shared a smile.
Andy and Todd were sitting on their porch whittling when Adam and Hoss rode up.
“Hello, boys,” Andy said with a friendly grin. “Where’re your folks? I’m lookin’ forward to meetin’ your new ma.” He was smiling at Hoss and didn’t see the frown on the older boy’s face.
“We came on ahead,” Adam replied quietly, and Hoss said excitedly, “Guess what, Mr. McCarran? I’m gonna have a new baby brother!”
“Are you now,” Andy said with a twinkle in his eye. “I guess you’re all pretty excited about that.” He glanced at the older Cartwright boy’s face and wished he could take back those words. Too late he remembered how the boy had clammed up whenever his stepmother was mentioned during the roundup and the branding. It would seem he felt the same about his new brother or sister. Probably afraid that he’ll be ignored in favor of the new baby, poor lad, Andy thought compassionately. He liked the Cartwrights and couldn’t have asked for better neighbors. Adam had always been quiet and polite, but a little shy, quite the opposite of his warmhearted younger sibling. And indeed, he and Jessie had noted that Adam was more open with Hoss than anyone, except perhaps his pa.
“Did you bring your knife, Adam?” he asked quickly, to change the subject. “You can join Todd and me while we wait for your folks and the Marquettes. And, Hoss, Mrs. McCarran is making vanity cakes and I bet she’d like a helper.”
“Hurrah!” Hoss yelled, the new baby temporarily forgotten, as he ran into the cabin to be Jessie’s “helper” because he loved the rich, crisp fried cakes.
“I forgot my knife,” Adam said, “I brought one of the books Pa got me in New Orleans. It’s all about these musketeers and they fight with swords. It’s real excitin’; I could read some to you while you whittle.”
“I’d enjoy that,” Andy replied and Todd nodded. He wasn’t much for reading, but swordfights did sound exciting.
When Ben and Marie rode up, the trio on the porch was so absorbed in the adventures of D’artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis that at first they didn’t even notice the couple’s arrival. Marie put one hand on Ben’s arm and put a finger to her lips. She had never seen her older stepson so animated. He read very well for a twelve-year-old, only stumbling occasionally over an unfamiliar word. She glanced at her husband. He is seeing his chère Elisabeth she thought, watching his wistful expression. He is seeing her in their son. No, I will not be jealous of a dead woman, she told herself firmly. I am the one that Ben loves now and I know that he will love our child as much as he loves Adam and Hoss.
Just then Andy looked up and saw them. “Hello, hello,'” he said, standing up and walking toward them. “Boys, why don’t you take care of their horses?” Then he turned back to Ben and Marie.
“Marie, I would like you to meet our neighbor, Andy McCarran,” Ben said with a warm smile.
Todd jumped up and ran to take the reins of Marie’s dappled gray mare as his father helped her dismount. Adam slowly put his book down and stood up, reluctant to face his pa’s ire.
“Glad to see you and Hoss made it here,” Ben said as he handed Buck’s reins to Adam. From his pa’s tone, Adam knew his reprieve was only temporary.
The Marquettes arrived a few minutes later and Marie was introduced to them. While she found Andy McCarran very amiable, Dan Marquette struck her as too loud and too rough to be considered a gentleman. His wife, Abby, was a timid woman and little Betsy was as shy as her mother. In spite of her words to Ben, Marie felt very much an outsider as she listened to them sing hymns that were strange to her and recite the Lord’s Prayer in English. She felt more at ease as she listened to Jessie’s Bible story for the two five-year-olds.
Marie’s sense of being foreign only increased afterward when she joined the other two women to help prepare the meal. She’d already confessed to Jessie that she wasn’t much of a cook so Jessie assigned her relatively simple tasks. Marie appreciated her new friend’s thoughtfulness, but at the same time, it made her feel even more of an interloper. Poor Abby Marquette felt just as uneasy. Marie seemed exotic and her beauty only made the older woman more timid. However, when Marie shared the news that she was with child, some of the strain among the three women eased. Marie was very relieved to learn that Jessie was a midwife and, before moving to Western Utah, she had delivered many babies.
“My ma was a midwife and her ma before her. Runs in our family. I’ll take good care of you and your baby when the time comes,” Jessie said reassuringly.
When the food was ready and placed on the table, Marie looked at it doubtfully, for it did not seem to her that all eleven of them could possibly squeeze around the table. She did not want to offend Jessie by asking but the other woman seemed to guess her concern and said calmly, “We’re not as fancy as folk back in New Orleans. The children sit on the settee and hold their plates on their laps; Adam and Ross keep an eye on Hoss and Betsy. If they spill something, it’s not the end of the world.”
“Ah yes. Very practical,'” Marie said hesitantly.
“Ross and I started plantin’ our hayfields yesterday,” Dan announced as they began to eat the food the women had prepared.
“Todd and I have been working on our vegetable garden but we’ll start planting hay tomorrow,” Andy stated.
“The boys and I are about finished with our hay and then we’ll plant our oats,” Ben commented.
“So you’re helping with the planting, are you, Hoss?” Andy asked, turning toward the youngster, now balancing his dinner plate carefully on his lap.
“I bring the water fer Pa ‘n’ Adam, but Adam gets to plough,” the little boy replied very earnestly.
“Won’t be too many years afore yer big enough to plough though,” Dan said with a loud guffaw and Hoss turned red.
“We are very fortunate, Monsieur Marquette, that both our boys are so tall and strong,” Marie said, smiling at Hoss and then turning to smile at Adam, who dropped his eyes to his plate rather than meet her gaze.
“Yeah,” Dan said, just a little discomfited, “Ben has himself a fine pair of boys.” Marie colored and Ben cleared his throat nervously, for Dan’s statement about “Ben’s boys” made them realize that it would take awhile before Marie was accepted as a part of the Cartwright family.
After they finished eating, the three older boys went outside and played catch and wrestled. While he was playing with his friends, Adam was able to put his upcoming confrontation with his pa at the back of his mind. All too soon it was time for the Cartwrights and the Marquettes to head to their own homes. Adam wished he dared ride on by himself, but realized that he was already in enough trouble. He rode home in silence while Ben and Marie chatted quietly and Hoss struggled to remain awake. Ben was keeping an eye on his youngest and about halfway home he said, “Hoss, let your brother take Sugar’s reins and you can ride home with me on Buck.”
“‘Kay, Pa,” the little boy said in a voice that showed he was at least half asleep already.
As they neared the cabin, the two adults fell silent as well, for all of them were thinking of Adam’s upcoming punishment. When they arrived, Adam quickly dismounted and Ben handed him Hoss to hold while he swung out of the saddle. Taking the sleeping child, he said to Adam, “You take care of the horses, and then wait for me in the barn.”
Adam hadn’t quite finished with the gray mare when Ben entered the barn. They finished the task together in an oppressive silence and then Ben turned to face his first-born.
“All right, son,” he said in a quiet and implacable voice. “I want an explanation for why you and Hoss rode to the McCarrans on your own without first asking permission.”
Adam shrugged. “I wanted to ride by myself but I knew if I asked, you’d say no.”
“So you just decided to willfully disobey me?”
“Yeah, I guess,” the boy replied with another shrug.
“Did you think you wouldn’t be punished?”
“No, but I figured it was worth it.”
“Well, son, I’m going to have to ensure that you don’t ever think disobeying me is ‘worth it’. Now, bend over.”
Marie had decided it would be best if she were out of sight when Ben and Adam returned from the barn, so he found her sitting on their bed darning his socks by candlelight. He looked so sad and so disappointed when he entered the room that she stood and went and hugged him. He hugged her back silently, and then with a sigh said, “I don’t remember ever having to punish him before for being deliberately disobedient. I had to show him that disobedience is not worth the pain of a good tanning, but now I feel like a brute. He wouldn’t cry; he bit his lip so hard he drew blood, but he would not cry. That boy is so stubborn.”
“Perhaps,” she said quietly, “if you talk to me about him, together we can discover a way to reach him.”
“All right,” he replied with a sigh. “Where do you want me to start?”
“Has he always been so reserved, or just since I arrived?”
“Pretty much always,” he replied, gently rubbing her neck. “I remember that when he was just a baby, he enjoyed being held, but the older he got, the less he wanted to be held and cuddled.” He sighed, and then guided them both to the bed and sat down before continuing. “He was between two and three when I took him away from his grandfather and the only home he’d known. The first few weeks we were on the road he would cry himself to sleep, but gradually that stopped. He was a curious child and would pepper me with questions about anything and everything; however, around other people, he was shy. When we stopped at a town or a farm, women would always make a fuss over him because he was such a pretty child with those big eyes and those curls, but he would cling to me. Inger was the first person besides me that he really bonded with.” He paused, lost in memory, and she waited, trying not to feel jealous of memories.
“I think Inger fell in love with Adam before she felt anything for me,” he said with a sweet, yet wistful, smile, “and he returned her love. He blossomed under her care and some of his reserve seemed to melt away. He’d never been a child who smiled or laughed much, probably because I didn’t. But Inger was always smiling and she loved to laugh, and Adam began smiling more and even laughing sometimes. When he saw her die from that Indian arrow, it was as if a light was quenched. I was in so much pain myself that I didn’t even notice his at first, but when I finally began to take note of the world around me again, I realized that Adam had become even more withdrawn and solemn.”
“He actually saw her die?” Marie asked and a sob caught at her throat. Quel pauvre petit garçon, she thought pityingly.
Ben nodded. “Inger had given him Hoss to hold when she picked up a rifle to use along with the men. She’d turned to reload and Adam was the first to see she’d been hit.” Marie could see the tears forming in his eyes as he described the death of his second wife.
She thought about what Ben had said. Here was a little boy who’d been removed from his home while he was still a baby, and then lived a rootless existence with his father where he couldn’t form any real attachments because they never stayed in one place long enough. He finally experienced a mother’s love, only to see his new mother killed right before his eyes less than two years later. For the past six years, he had been living in an isolated area with only his father, younger brother, Chinese cook and vaqueros for company.
“We are going to need even more patience than I realized, mon bien aimé,” she said gently. “Adam resents me because he thinks I am trying to take Inger’s place, but I think it goes deeper than that. He won’t let himself accept my love because he’s afraid he’ll be hurt again. Somehow we have to show him that love is worth the risk and worth the pain.”
“How do we do that?” Ben asked, and there was despair in his voice.
“By our example,” she answered quietly. “If we show him how much we love each other, how much we love Hoss and how much we love him, I believe he won’t be able to stop himself from loving in return. But it will take time. It is easier for me to bear his dislike now that I understand it’s not personal. It’s the idea of another stepmother that he fights against, not me.”
~ ~ ~
In spite of her words to Ben, there were times Marie despaired of ever reaching Adam. The only time she caught a glimpse of the child Ben and Hoss both loved was in the evenings when they sang. Adam had a beautiful, clear soprano and when he sang, he would lose himself in the song. But when the singing stopped, he would once again withdraw into himself.
She and Ben would do their best to include him, but he continued to isolate himself. Instead of joining in conversations about his new baby brother or sister, he buried his nose in a book and ignored them. Ben thought, He wasn’t this way when Inger was carrying Hoss. He was as excited then as Hoss is now. I love him so much and I know he is hurting, but I just can’t break through the wall he’s built around himself. I feel such a failure as a father.
He and Marie didn’t realize that Adam was not as disinterested in their conversations as he pretended. He was beginning to think it would be nice to have a baby sister. He already had a younger brother and didn’t need another, but a sister would be different.
One night when he and Hoss were alone in their bed and Hoss was chattering away about his baby brother, Adam broke in to say, “You keep talkin’ about your baby brother, but it might be a sister.”
“A sister?” Hoss repeated in dismay. “I don’t want a baby sister; I wanna baby brother.”
“You like Betsy Marquette, don’t you?” Adam asked and Hoss nodded reluctantly. “Well, she’s Ross’s baby sister. I think I’d like a little sister.”
“You’d rather have a little sister than a little brother?” Hoss asked in disbelief.
“I already have a little brother; I don’t have a little sister,” Adam replied.
“Oh,” Hoss said, thinking over what Adam had said. He’d still rather have a baby brother, but maybe having a baby sister wouldn’t be so bad.
The next afternoon while Adam was weeding the vegetable garden, Marie was pushing Hoss in the swing Ben had hung in a tree near the cabin. Finally, she told Hoss that she needed a rest so they both sat on the grass under the tree.
“Ma,” he said, chewing on a piece of grass, “am I gonna have a baby brother or a baby sister?”
“Je ne sais pas,” Marie replied. Laughing at his look of total confusion she said, “That means I do not know. Only God knows if the baby is a boy or a girl. I know you want a brother, but you would love a sister, n’est-ce-pas?
“Yeah, I guess so. Adam says he wants a sister.”
“He does?” Marie asked, her brows arching up in surprise.
“Yeah,” Hoss replied, “he says he already has a little brother, so he’d rather have a little sister.”
Marie smiled and hugged him and kissed his cheek, delighted by the knowledge that Adam was beginning to accept the idea of a new sibling. Ben shared her joy when she repeated what Hoss had told her that night when they were alone.
~ ~ ~
Winning Adam’s acceptance was not the only obstacle Marie faced. She had lived her entire life in a large city, where she’d been accustomed to walk to a nearby shop whenever she needed to purchase her daily necessities. On the ranch, they raised their own food and made their own soap and candles. There were a few staples, such as salt and flour and cornmeal, which they purchased from the little settlement of Sacramento across the Sierra Nevada in California. Ben and the boys and Hop Sing had learned to be frugal, and Marie had no choice but to practice the same economy.
In New Orleans, she had met a variety of people while working at her cousin’s establishment, but now except for Sundays, she saw no one but her family, Hop Sing and the two vaqueros. During the spring, Ben and Adam were absent from sunup to sundown, plowing fields and then planting hay and oat crops while she and Hoss helped Hop Sing plant a large kitchen garden. She tried to assist Hop Sing with the cleaning and the laundry, which left her little leisure time. She missed that terribly. When Andy McCarran returned from Sacramento with cloth for curtains and new clothes, she sewed until her back ached and her eyes burned, but it was worth it because the cabin looked much homier with its cheerful red calico curtains. Although Adam didn’t say anything to her directly, Hoss artlessly informed her that Adam had told him that he liked the new curtains. Adam did politely thank her for his new shirts and trousers, and without being prompted by his father.
Once the roundup, branding and planting was done, Ben announced one morning that Adam’s lessons would resume. “While I was in New Orleans, I bought a copy of Webster’s The American Spelling Book and McGuffey’s Fourth Reader for you. Hoss, I think it’s time for you to begin to learn your letters and numbers and you can use Adam’s old McGuffey’s Primer. Your ma will be your teacher.”
“Yes, and lessons will start as soon as Hop Sing and I finish the dishes,” Marie said with a smile. “When you’ve finished eating, Adam, could you got get your old primer and slate and bring them here?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Adam replied. He was happy to resume his lessons but not happy that his stepmother, rather than Pa, was going to be his teacher.
“I’m gonna learn my numbers and letters just like you, Adam,” Hoss said proudly. “Pretty soon I’m gonna be able to read my Puss in Boots book all by myself. I can even read it to you and Pa and Ma.”
“That’s right,” Ben said fondly. “But first you’ll learn to read McGuffey’s Primer just as your brother did.”
When Adam came down the ladder with his old slate, slate pencil and primer, he found Hoss sitting at the table as Marie and Hop Sing washed and dried the last of the dishes. He noticed two brand-new books sitting on the table so he sat down by his brother and picked up the top one. Marie saw him and said, “Why don’t you turn to the first lesson, Adam. Every morning you will begin with the lesson from your reader. You may go ahead and get started while Hoss and I have his lesson. There is some paper you can use to write out your answers to the questions at the end of the lesson,” and she nodded toward the sheet of paper by the books.
Adam opened the book and began to read:
by Charlotte Elizabeth
“Will you give my kite a lift?” said my little nephew to his sister, after trying in vain to make it fly by dragging it along the ground. Lucy very kindly took it up and threw it into the air, but, her brother neglecting to run off at the same moment, the kite fell down again.
“Ah! Now, how awkward you are!” said the little fellow. “It was your fault entirely,” answered his sister. “Try again, children,” said I.
Lucy once more took up the kite. But now John was in too great a hurry; he ran off so suddenly that he twitched the kite out of her hand, and it fell flat as before. “Well, who is to blame now?” asked Lucy. “Try again,” said I.
They did, and with more care; but a side wind coming suddenly, as Lucy let go the kite, it was blown against some shrubs, and the tail became entangled in a moment, leaving the poor kite hanging with its head downward.
“There, there!” exclaimed John, “that comes of your throwing it all to one side.” “As if I could make the wind blow straight,” said Lucy. In the meantime I went to the kite’s assistance; and having disengaged the long tail, I rolled it up, saying, “Come, children, there are too many trees here; let us find a more open space, and then try again.”
We presently found a nice grassplot, at one side of which I took my stand; and all things being prepared, I tossed the kite up just as little John ran off. It rose with all the dignity of a balloon, and promised a lofty flight; but John, delighted to find it pulling so hard at the string, stopped short to look upward and admire. The string slackened, the kite wavered, and the wind not being very favorable, down came the kite to the grass. “O John, you should not have stopped,” said I. “However, try again.”
“I won’t try any more,” replied he, rather sullenly. “It is of no use, you see. The kite won’t fly, and I don’t want to be plagued with it any longer.” “O, fie, my little man! Would you give up the sport after all the pains we have taken both to make and to fly the kite? A few disappointments ought not to discourage us. Come, I have wound up your string, and now try again.”
And he did try, and succeeded, for the kite was carried upward on the breeze as lightly as a feather; and when the string was all out, John stood in great delight, holding fast the stick and gazing on the kite, which now seemed like a little white speck in the blue sky. “Look, look, aunt, how high it flies! And it pulls like a team of horses, so that I can hardly hold it. I wish I had a mile of string: I am sure it would go to the end of it.”
After enjoying the sight as long as he pleased, little John proceeded to roll up the string slowly; and when the kite fell, he took it up with great glee, saying that it was not at all hurt, and that it had behaved very well. “Shall we come out to-morrow, aunt, after lessons, and try again?”
“I have no objection, my dear, if the weather is fine. And now, as we walk home, tell me what you have learned from your morning’s sport.” “I have learned to fly my kite properly.” “You may thank aunt for it, brother,” said Lucy, “for you would have given up long ago, if she had not persuaded you to try again.”
“Yes, dear children, I wish to teach you the value of perseverance, even when nothing more depends upon it than the flying of a kite. Whenever you fail in your attests to do any good thing, let your motto be, — try again.”
Adam was so absorbed in his lesson that he was oblivious to his stepmother and little brother until Hoss tugged on his arm saying, “Listen, Adam. A, B, C, D, E, G-”
A, B, C, D, E, F, G,” Adam corrected.
“Yeah, F, G, H,” Hoss said excitedly. “Pretty soon I’m gonna be able to read just like you.” Then he turned to Marie. “Ma, I gotta go to the outhouse.”
“All right. Since this is your first day, you may take a recess until I call you.”
“I’m not quite finished,” Adam said.
“When you finish then, you may join Hoss and I will grade your paper.”
It didn’t take long for Adam to finish and so Marie picked up his paper, impressed by his neat, precise handwriting.
1. What is the subject of this lesson?
This lesson is about the importance of perseverance, which means to continue until you succeed.
2. Why was John discouraged in his attempts to fly his kite?
He was too impatient. First, he didn’t run when his sister threw up the kite. Next, he started running before she had a chance to let go of the kite. Then a wind came and tangled the tail in some bushes. Finally, he stopped to look before the kite was high enough so it came back down.
3. What did his aunt say to him?
4. What may be learned from this?
What I learned form this lesson is to be patient and not give up when things don’t always go my way.
5. What should be our motto if we expect to be successful?
Bonté Divine, she thought, Ben did tell me that Adam was a very bright boy and he did not exaggerate. It is a shame that he cannot attend a real school with access to a real library. I wonder if Ben has ever considered sending Adam to college when he is older?
The lessons continued throughout the afternoon. Hoss needed her attention more but she introduced Adam to grammar and history and she was disconcerted to learn he already surpassed her in both arithmetic and geography.
“We were not taught any higher mathematics at the convent school; perhaps your father can take over your mathematics lessons,” she said ruefully, but then saw how the boy’s expression brightened at the thought of his father teaching him. “I imagine it was your father who taught you geography.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered politely. “Pa sailed to lots of different places and he told me about them and had me memorize all the continents, countries, mountain ranges, rivers, and seas.”
“Adam’s real smart, aint he, Ma?” Hoss asked, and it was clear the younger boy was very proud of his older brother.
“Yes, he is very intelligent,” Marie replied and saw the faint blush in her older stepson’s cheeks. “I am not speaking flattery, Adam,” she added quietly. “I am very impressed with your work.”
The minute Ben walked through the door at suppertime, Hoss was eager to show him that he had learned part of the alphabet and could count to ten (although he tended to skip five and seven).
“That’s wonderful, Hoss. I am proud of you,” Ben said, ruffling Hoss’s hair affectionately. Then he turned to Adam and Marie.
“Adam did very well with his lessons. I’m afraid you will need to take over his mathematics because I have nothing to teach him,” Marie said, smiling at her older stepson, and she was thrilled when he returned the smile, even if only slightly.
“Well, I was never that fond of mathematics, but let’s see how much algebra, geometry and trigonometry I can remember,” Ben replied, smiling at them both. “We’ll get started after supper.”
They soon settled into a routine. After breakfast, the boys and Marie had lessons until dinnertime. After dinner, Adam had chores, such as weeding the kitchen garden and chopping wood, while Hoss took a nap. Then in the afternoon, lessons continued. Sometimes Marie thought she was making some progress with Adam, but she just couldn’t seem to break through his reserve and he remained polite, but distant.
One summer night after Ben had tucked the boys in and told them goodnight, Adam whispered, “The gooseberries must be ripe now; you wanna skip our lessons tomorrow and come berryin’ with me?”
“Sure,” Hoss replied with a grin, but then he asked in a worried tone, “Won’t Pa be mad if we skip our lessons?”
“You know how much Pa loves gooseberry pie so he won’t stay mad,” Adam reassured him. “It’ll be a surprise. We’ll get up extra early and do our chores. We’ll tell Hop Sing where we’re goin’ and I bet he’ll give us somethin’ we can eat.”
Hoss was so excited at the thought of picking gooseberries for a gooseberry pie that he was awake even before Adam. He waited as long as he could and then he leaned over and shook his sibling’s shoulder. “Adam. Adam, is it time to get up?”
Ben had cut a small window in the loft and Adam slid soundlessly from the bed and walked unerringly over to it and peered out. Then he walked over to the bed and lay back down. “It’s still pitch black out. We’d be wakin’ the animals up if we went out now. We gotta wait until the first light shows up in the east.” He thought for a moment and said, “I guess we could get dressed now.”
“But I can’t see,” Hoss hissed.
“Well, I know where everything is without seein’ it. I’ll get your clothes and bring ‘em over here.”
By the time the two boys had put on their shirts and britches, Adam could see the first faint streaks of light in the east, so they went quietly down the ladder and out the door. Blossom seemed a bit startled to be milked so early but made no objection and the chickens were happy to be fed and began scratching in the dirt while Hoss managed to gather the eggs. They turned their mounts into the corral and worked together to muck out their stalls. Then they turned Blossom into the pasture Pa and Adam had fenced off for her so she wouldn’t wander off.
When they came back into the cabin, Hop Sing was just beginning to prepare breakfast. He looked at them suspiciously when they entered carrying the pail of milk and basket of eggs. “Why you up so early?” he asked without any preamble.
“The gooseberries are ripe and so me ‘n’ Hoss are goin’ berryin’ and we’ll bring enough back so you can make a pie,” Adam replied. “We didn’t eat all the cornbread last night, so can we take it with us?”
“Why you no eat breakfast here?” Hop Sing asked, suspicious once again.
“Well, we wanted to get an early start. We should be back in time for dinner with plenty of berries and you’ll have time to bake a gooseberry pie for supper.”
Hop Sing stared at Adam for a long moment but then he nodded. He wrapped the leftover cornbread, along with a couple of thick slices of smoked ham, in a napkin and handed it to the boy. Hoss, meanwhile, had fetched the two tin buckets Ben had bought them to use when they gathered elderberries, gooseberries and currants.
“If currants ripe, bring some back so I make currant jelly.”
“Sure thing,” Adam replied with a dimpled grin.
He and Hoss took their straw hats from the pegs by the door as they quietly exited.
About fifteen minutes later, Ben and Marie emerged from their room. She began setting the table while Ben headed for the barn to feed and water his buckskin gelding. He was surprised to see Beauty and Sugar’s stalls were empty and hurrying back outside, he spied Blossom grazing in her pasture. He ran back into the cabin, startling Marie.
“Hop Sing, have you see Adam and Hoss?” he demanded.
“Yes, Mistah Cartwright,” the cook replied. “Adam say they go pick gooseberries for pie so they left early and be back for dinner. Plenty of time for Hop Sing to bake gooseberry pie for suppah.”
“They just left without telling us! C’est incroyable! I am sure this was Adam’s idea. Hoss would never be so disobedient. You must go after them, Ben!”
“Well, Adam shouldn’t have gone without asking permission, but they both know where the gooseberry patch is and they’ll be back when they’ve picked enough for a pie.”
“But what if they encounter a wild animal or Indians?” Marie asked in a shrill voice.
“We get along just fine with the Paiutes,” Ben replied. “The boys are in no danger from them. Besides, Adam has been taking care of Hoss his whole life. He won’t let any harm come to him.”
“But Adam is just a boy himself,” she protested. “They shouldn’t be out there alone.”
“Darling, Adam has lived here since he was seven years old and it’s not the first time the two of them have gone to pick berries on their own. If they’d have asked, I’d have given them permission. However, this is the second time Adam has gone off on his own. I’ll have to give him another tanning and he won’t get any gooseberry pie. That will be a fitting punishment.” He saw the worry in his wife’s eyes and said soothingly, “They’ll be fine, Marie. Don’t worry.”
The two miscreants had a wonderful morning. They filled Hoss’s bucket-Hoss had learned the previous summer that gooseberries were too tart to be tasty on their own-and then they found the patch of currants and filled Adam’s bucket with those. (Both boys loved Hop Sing’s currant jelly almost as much as his gooseberry pie.) They decided to explore more of the area to see if they could find more berry patches. Hoss had gone off little ways from Adam (although Adam was careful to keep him in sight) and suddenly Adam heard him yell, “Come over here, Adam!”
“These aint gooseberries; do ya know what they are?” the little boy asked, pointing to some thorny bushes with small clusters of berries.
Adam looked carefully and then he dimpled. “Those are raspberries, Hoss! I love raspberries! I’ll bet Hop Sing could make us raspberry cobbler!” He saw his little brother reach out to pick the berries and said quickly, “Nah, they don’t look ripe yet. We’ll come back in a couple of days and I bet they’ll be ripe then. C’mon. Let’s go skip stones at the lake.”
They arrived back at the cabin at dinnertime with their buckets full of berries and currants. They hurriedly cared for Beauty and Sugar so they wouldn’t be late for dinner.
“We got lots of gooseberries ‘n’ currants, Hop Sing,” Hoss said with a big grin as he and Adam handed their buckets to the cook. “And I found some ra-raspberries. They wasn’t ripe yet but Adam said we can go back in a couple of days fer ‘em.”
“We’ll talk about you going berrying again later,” his pa said sternly. “You knew it was wrong to sneak off without asking permission, didn’t you?”
“We just wanted it to be a surprise,” Adam interjected. “We know how much you like gooseberry pie and we wanted to surprise you. We told Hop Sing where we were going.”
“Yeah,” Hoss said anxiously.
“Your ma was worried about you,” Ben replied.
“Why? We’ve gone berryin’ before,” Adam said. “Lots of times.”
“Yeah. Lots of times,” Hoss parroted.
Ben cleared his throat, feeling uncomfortable. He couldn’t punish the boys for wanting to surprise him. “All right, boys. I guess it was just a misunderstanding, but in the future, don’t surprise me. Ask for permission before you go berrying.” Hoss nodded his head and Adam shrugged. “Or fishing,” Ben added quickly, knowing how literal his first-born could be. “Now, let’s sit down and eat our dinner.” As they started to sit, he said to Adam, “You found some raspberries, huh?”
“Hoss did,” Adam replied, dimpling. “I figure that they’ll be ripe in about three or four days. I thought maybe Hop Sing could make some raspberry cobbler if there’s enough.”
“Or raspberry jam,” Ben added with a big smile of his own. No one noticed how quiet Marie was throughout the meal, hurt that Ben had discounted her fears and had no intention of punishing Adam.
~ ~ ~
The months went by and the bond between Marie and Hoss continued to grow; she knew she could not love him more if she had borne him. Her relationship with her older stepson remained distant. He was polite but she knew he still did not accept her as part of his family-she was the outsider whom his father had married. Every day when she said her prayers, she asked the Virgin Mary to show her how to win Adam’s love.
~ ~ ~
One hot afternoon in the middle of June, although mercifully without the humidity Marie had known in New Orleans, while the boys were playing outside, she was rummaging around in her trunk, looking for the cotton chemises and drawers that she’d worn when she was pregnant with Jean’s child, for she was sure she’d packed them. She found them but she also found an item she had forgotten. She was tuning it when she looked up to see her stepsons in the doorway.
“What is it, Ma? What do ya think it is, Adam?” Hoss asked curiously as he observed the object his stepmother was holding.
Adam only shrugged and appeared indifferent, although Marie noted he made no move to leave.
“It’s my guitar. I had forgotten that I’d brought it with me when your pa and I left New Orleans. I am afraid it is sadly out of tune,” she replied. She was so absorbed in the task of tuning the instrument that at first she didn’t notice Adam was drawn to the guitar like a moth to a flame. She played a few experimental chords and suddenly noticed him at her elbow. “See, boys, now I can provide accompaniment when we sing. Let’s try a song now. How about Yankee Doodle?” She began to sing as she played and soon they all joined in.
“That was fun!” Hoss said, clapping his hands. “Let’s sing another!’
“I’ll try the song about the sailor,” Marie said with a laugh. When the song was over, she glanced at Adam’s face and saw the naked longing. She started to ask him if he’d like to learn how to play, but stopped herself. No, let him ask me, she thought, seeing the struggle between his longing to learn to play and his desire to have as little to do with her as possible plainly written on his face. She said a silent prayer that his love of music would triumph.
Adam worked on his lessons that afternoon, but he was unable to get the guitar out of his mind. I want to be able to make music like that, but she’s the only one who can teach me and I don’t want to ask her. Anyway, she probably won’t let me touch her guitar. But I really want to learn to play. She might agree to teach me. Nothing ventured, nothing gained Pa says.
The family sang more songs after supper that night, and the more Marie played, the more Adam wanted to learn. The next morning he got up early so he could finish his chores before Pa and Hoss finished theirs. Marie was setting the table, and when she saw Adam, she smiled at him.
“Um, I, uh, was wondering if you, uh, could teach me to play the guitar?” he asked, keeping his eyes down because he didn’t want her to know how much it mattered to him.
He peeked through his eyelashes and saw her smiling at him. “I would be happy to teach you, Adam. After you finish your regular lessons this afternoon, I will give you your first guitar lesson.”
The dimples that accented Adam’s broad smile matched the twinkle in his eyes as he whispered, “Thank you, Ma’am.”
When Ben arrived home that evening, Hoss was playing with the handspun top Adam’s grandfather had given him for Christmas a few years earlier. He was concentrating so hard on spinning the top that he didn’t even notice when his pa rode up. Ben took care of his mount and walked toward the cabin, where Hoss was still playing with his toy. He looked up and saw his pa and smiled his wide grin. Ben reached down and ruffled his hair and then started through the door. He stopped when he heard the sound of Marie’s guitar, except he didn’t think it was Marie playing because the sound was dissonant rather than musical.
“I did it wrong again!” he heard Adam’s voice say angrily.
“You must be patient. No one learns to play in one lesson. You are doing very well. You should have heard me during my first lesson. All the cats and dogs in hearing distance yowled in protest,” and Ben heard Marie laugh.
“You’re exaggerating,” he heard Adam reply and then, miraculously, Ben heard him laugh. The first time he’d heard Adam laugh since he’d returned from New Orleans.
“No, I promise you, I was appalling,” Marie said. “Of course, I think you have an advantage over me with those long fingers of yours.”
Ben couldn’t see Adam’s smile, but could hear it in his voice. ‘Yeah, they’re about as long as Pa’s.”
“Oh, I think when you have finished growing, your fingers will be longer than your father’s and they are more slender, more elegant.”
Ben walked through the door then and saw Adam sitting on the settee, holding Marie’s guitar, while she stood facing him. They both looked up when he entered, and smiled at him-and he couldn’t say which face was more joyful.
“Marie is teaching me to play the guitar, Pa. This is an A,” and Adam strummed, producing a musical chord, “and this is an E,” and again his long slender fingers-his mother’s fingers, Ben thought-produced music. “Those are the only two I can play so far.”
“I have told him that he cannot expect to master the instrument in one lesson, but he is doing very well,” Marie said, and her eyes shone with an extra message for Ben.
As Marie taught Adam to play her guitar, he began to see her as a person, not the stepmother who had come to try and usurp his beloved mama’s place. She was different from Mama, but he could see that she really did love Hoss and he loved her. Hoss was just a little boy, and he needed a mama. Adam could also see that Marie made his father happy, just as he remembered Mama had, and he guessed the way his own mother probably had too. He was still unsure about his own place in the family circle, however.
One night, a couple of weeks after Marie began teaching Adam to play the guitar, as she and Ben cuddled together, he said quietly, “I’m so glad Adam doesn’t resent you now.”
“Yes, I think he has accepted me as part of the family, but have you noticed that he still seems to hold apart from the rest of us?”
Ben sighed softly. “Yes. I guess I just never realized what a change I was making in his life. For the past six years-half of his life-it was just the three of us.” He stopped and she saw him smile slightly before adding, “Or the four of us if I count Hop Sing.” Then his expression became serious again. “He was as happy as Hoss is now when I married Inger and I guess I thought he’d feel the same about you.”
“Oh, a twelve-year-old would think he is too old to need a maman,” she replied wistfully. “I remember when I was twelve, I thought I was so grownup.”
“Yeah, I guess I did, too,” he agreed with a smile. “I never wanted my mother to hug or kiss me in public lest someone think I was a baby.”
“Adam may never think of me as his maman, but I think I may become his friend.”
“I think that is an excellent idea, my love,” Ben whispered before capturing her mouth in a kiss.
The next afternoon during their guitar lesson, Marie said casually, “I forgot to ask before now, but did you enjoy the books your father and I brought you from New Orleans?”
Adam stopped strumming for a moment and answered, “Oh yes! I liked them very much. I wish I knew how to use a sword like D’artagnan.”
“You do?” she asked with a smile. “I love to fence and I’d be happy to teach you.”
“You fence?” he repeated, his disbelief clearly stamped on his features.
“Yes, you can ask your father if you don’t believe me.” She frowned a little then saying, “I have a feeling your father would not approve of my teaching you to fence though. It’s a shame.”
“Why would Pa object?” Adam asked, his expression the sullen one that had been absent for the past week or two.
“It’s a long story, Adam, but at least for now, I think it best we not bring up the subject of fencing.” She flashed a sudden smile. “Besides, I am hardly in any condition to teach you now.” She stopped and then said slowly, “I could teach you French if you are interested. I know that José has taught you to speak at least a little Spanish so you should learn French easily.”
He was silent for a moment and she held her breath. “Yeah, okay. I like learning languages. Hop Sing’s tried to teach me his language, but it’s lots harder than Spanish.”
“Well, French and Spanish are similar in many ways, so I don’t think you’ll find it any more difficult,” she replied, and they shared a smile.
That evening when Ben returned home, Hoss ran up to him calling, “Hello, Pa!” and Ben leaned down and hugged his youngest. He saw his wife and first-born exchange a smile and then Adam said, “Bonsoir, Papa. Ça va?”
“I take it you’re learning French?” Ben asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Oui,” Adam replied with a grin.
“I can speak French, too,” Hoss said excitedly. “Bonjour, Papa! That means ‘Hello, Pa’.”
“Hmm, I know ‘Papa’ is the same as ‘Pa’ but what else did you say, Adam?”
He glanced at Marie and she nodded. “I said ‘Good evening, Pa, how are you?
“I’m fine, son. How are you?”
Adam hesitated for a moment, his eyebrows drawn together. Then his dimple flashed and he replied, “Ça va bien.”
Marie laughed and exclaimed, “Très bien!” and Adam’s grin grew even broader.
A few days later all lessons had to be suspended until the hay and oats were harvested. Ben, Andy McCarran and Dan Marquette always worked together. They started at the Cartwrights’ spread, then moved to the McCarrans’ and finished at the Marquettes’. The three men and their sons worked from dawn until dusk harvesting the hay they would need to feed their stock over the long, cold winter. In the past, the three older boys had always had the task of following behind the men mowing the hay with scythes, using rakes to spread the mown hay to dry. However, this year Ben and Dan decided that Adam and Ross, who were both twelve, were old enough to mow the hay. When their fathers couldn’t overhear, they teased eleven-year-old Todd, who along with Hoss, had the job of spreading the freshly mown hay. Hoss was excited because this was the first year he was allowed to help.
At first, the scythes felt awkward in the hands of the two novices, but it wasn’t long before they were able to mimic the rhythm of the older men. While they were mowing the Cartwrights’ hay, Marie and Hop Sing brought jugs of water to the men (and boys) and at noon they brought them slices of smoked ham and hardboiled eggs to eat. When Hoss was exhausted, Ben had Adam take his place. (He’d judged the twelve-year-old needed a rest from swinging the scythe as well but knew how insulted he’d be if his pa suggested he take a break.) Then after a bit, Ben suggested to Adam that he switch places with Ross, and that way both twelve-year-olds got a reprieve.)
That night, barn chores were done by lantern light, and Hoss and Adam almost fell asleep at the table. When Ben climbed the ladder to the loft to check on them, he found both boys sound asleep on top of the covers, fully dressed except for their boots. (Ben had taken to heart the lesson about the farmer being bitten by a snake as he mowed his field in the song Springfield Mountain, and made his sons wear their boots when they helped with the haying.)
“I decided it wouldn’t hurt them to sleep in their clothes,” he told Marie with a fond smile after he descended the ladder and described the scene.
“No, I suppose not,” she agreed. She paused and then said, “Ben, they were exhausted. I think this haying is too much for them.”
“Darling, Adam has been helping me with the haying since we settled here, and he was seven then.”
“Well, Hoss just turned six,” Marie replied. “At least let him stay home and help Hop Sing and me. If he could help me with pulling the navy beans, and pulling up the beets, turnips, and carrots, and carrying them to the root cellar, then Hop Sing could concentrate on digging up the potatoes.”
“I tell you what, Darling. We’ll offer Hoss the chance to work with you and Hop Sing instead of helping with the haying. We’ll see which one he chooses.”
“Bien sûr,” Marie replied with a satisfied smile. Hoss’s reaction the next morning shocked her.
“But, Pa, you said I could help with the hayin’! An’ Adam said I done a good job with the rakin’! Didn’t ya, Adam?” Hoss exclaimed, indignation written all over his face.
“He did do a good job,” Adam said earnestly. “As good as Todd,” he added loyally.
“You may help with the haying if that’s what you’d rather do, Hoss,” Ben replied, carefully not looking in his wife’s direction lest she see his grin.
That day, the men pitched the hay into the hay-rack while the four boys trampled the hay down (their favorite part of haying) until there was no more room. Then Ben and Andy drove the full hay-rack to the barn and pitched the hay into a haymow while Dan, Adam, and Ross cut more hay and the two younger boys followed behind with rakes, spreading it out. When Ben and Andy returned with the empty hay-rack, the entire process of loading it was repeated until all the hay mowed the previous day and been loaded in the haymow. The remainder of the day was spent mowing more hay.
Mowing enough hay to feed the stock at each ranch over the winter took a full four weeks. (As their herds increased each year, the amount of time needed to mow enough hay also increased.) No sooner was the haying accomplished than it was time to harvest the oats. While the three men cuts the oats with cradles, which had blades like scythes and long wooden teeth used to catch the cut stalks and hold them, the three older boys followed behind, binding the stalks into sheaves.
During the day, Hoss helped Hop Sing and Marie with their work. In addition to digging up root vegetables and storing them in the root cellar, some vegetables were dried by setting them on cheesecloth in the sun, which was Hoss’s job.
At sunset, Hoss joined the men and boys in shocking the sheaves. Each man or boy stood ten sheaves up with the heads of the grain at the top, and then he sat two more sheaves on top to make a roof. The process was repeated until all the day’s harvest was shocked, for the oats could not be left on the ground or they would spoil.
Not as much time was needed for the oat harvest, and when it was finished, it was time to drive their cattle over the mountains into California to sell. While the haying and the oat harvest had been going on, José, and Diego, along with the McCarrans’ and Marquettes’ vaqueros, had been rounding up the cattle, which were allowed to range freely, and driving them to the lower pastures. Just as the three neighbors worked together on their harvest, they always drove their cattle together with their vaqueros. The three older boys had been begging to be included in the drive for the past two autumns but their fathers had agreed among themselves to wait until the boys were fourteen.
That evening after the Marquette’s oats had been harvested, the Cartwrights and Hop Sing gathered around the table for a meal of navy beans and salt pork with johnnycakes, and stewed elderberries for dessert.
“Can I come on the drive this year, Pa?” Adam asked almost as soon as Ben had finished saying grace.
“Son, we’ve been over this more times than I care to recall. I told you that you can come on the drive after you’re fourteen; that is two years away,” Ben snapped, for exhaustion was making him irritable.
“But I’m a good rider, Pa. José says I’m almost as good as a real vaquero.”
“Adam, I am not discussing it further. I have plenty of chores for you to do here. You need to dig a hole so we can move the outhouse, and it’s going to take time to dig one deep enough. Plus you’ll have your regular chores: slopping the pigs, mucking out the barn, chopping wood, and milking the cow-morning and evening. I expect all the wood out back to be chopped when I return, and then you and I will need to cut down a tree and chop some more if we’re to have enough for this winter.” He saw the sullen expression on his first-born’s face and snapped, “Adam, right now you are of more use to the Ponderosa here.” He added in a tone less brusque, “In two years, Hoss can take over many of your chores so you’ll be free to come on the drive. In two years, I should have a bigger herd to drive to market, and I’ll need another vaquero.”
Adam’s expression brightened a little at that, and Hoss grinned broadly at the notion in two years he’d be considered old enough to take over his brother’s chores. Marie, on the other hand, frowned at the idea of a just barely eight-year-old Hoss taking over all Adam’s chores. However, she decided there was no point in discussing it with Ben now.
Adam’s sulkiness returned the next morning as he saw his pa, José and Diego ride off with their caviata. A short while later when Hoss went to get wood from the woodpile to fill the wood box for Hop Sing, which was one of his chores, he was surprised not to see his older brother busy at the chopping block. He hurried toward the coral at the side of the barn and saw Adam saddling his chestnut mare, while Todd McCarran, who was already mounted, was waiting.
“Where ya goin’, Adam?” he called as he ran over.
“Never you mind,” Adam replied brusquely.
“I wanna come too,” Hoss said. “Wait for me.”
Adam glanced at Todd, who shook his head. “No, we don’t want any babies tagging along,” Adam said as he swung into the saddle.
“Please, Adam,” Hoss begged.
“No, I told you we don’t want any little kids around. And don’t you be tattlin’ on me neither.”
“C’mon,” Todd said impatiently. “Ross’ll be waitin’ for us.”
Adam nodded and the two boys galloped off leaving a tearful six-year-old standing in their dust.
Not long after, a very woebegone Hoss carried an armful of wood inside and dropped it in the wood box. Marie, who was mending a tear in one of Adam’s new shirts, looked up and smiled at him, until she saw his red eyes and the tearstains on his cheeks.
“Oh, mon petit, what is wrong?” she asked, putting down the garment and hauling her very pregnant self to her feet so she could comfort her little one.
“Nuthin’,” Hoss replied with a wobbly chin, for he wouldn’t tattle on his big brother, even when he was being mean.
“Now, Hoss, I know you would not cry for no reason,” she said soothingly as she placed her hand on his neck and gave it a friendly squeeze.
“I can’t say. It’d be tattlin’,” Hoss stated, shaking his head, and Marie frowned. She knew that meant Adam must have done something he shouldn’t.
“Ask your brother to come here, please,” she said and saw the six-year-old’s face pucker into a worried frown.
“I can’t,” the child finally answered truthfully.
“Why can’t you?” Marie asked, her voice a bit sharp.
“‘Cause I don’t know where he is,’ Hoss replied sadly.
Marie walked onto the porch and called, “Adam! Adam, come here!” When her repeated calls got no answer, she noticed Beauty was not in the corral with Hoss’s Sugar. “Did Adam leave, Hoss? Is that what you meant by saying you don’t know where he is?” she asked and her tone was sharp. Hoss nodded miserably. “He knew he was to finish his chores and ask my permission before he went anywhere,” she said angrily. “The minute his father is gone, he decides to do as he pleases.”
Seeing the fire in his stepmother’s eyes, Hoss said wonderingly, “Are ya gonna have a nec’sary talk with Adam?”
Marie was sorely tempted but her rapport with her oldest stepson was still so fragile that she did not want to jeopardize it, for she knew Adam still viewed her as his father’s wife-not as his mother, with a mother’s authority over him. He had grown over the summer and was now about an inch taller than she was and undoubtedly stronger, so if he did not accept her authority, she would be in a difficult situation. If she did punish him, she would use other methods, and even then she was not sure what she would do if he rebelled.
As the day went by with no sign of Adam, Marie’s anger changed to worry. What if something had happened to him? She had no idea where he had gone. Finally, about an hour before sundown, she decided to send Hop Sing to the McCarran’s cabin to see if Todd had returned, for Hoss had finally admitted that the two boys had ridden off together. Hop Sing returned after dark accompanied by Jessie McCarran, who told them Molly Marquette had driven to her cabin earlier with little Betsy looking for Ross. The two women and Hop Sing were debating the best method of searching for the missing boys when Adam rode into the yard. Jessie ran toward him calling anxiously, “Where’s Todd? Is he all right?” Marie, Hop Sing and Hoss followed her.
“Yes, ma’am,” Adam answered as he swung out of the saddle. “He’s probably at your place by now.”
“Do you want Hop Sing to ride back with you?” Marie asked her friend.
“No, I’ll be fine,” Jessie said. “I brought Andy’s pistol and he’s taught me how to use it.”
Marie nodded and then said, “Adam, saddle Mrs. McCarran’s horse for her and, Hoss, you take care of Beauty.” Hoss led Beauty into the barn and Adam turned to follow. “I want a word with you, Adam, when you’ve finished,” Marie added in a cold voice. He refused to look at her and merely shrugged his shoulders before continuing into the barn.
When Adam finished, he saw Marie and Hop Sing both waiting on the porch. Marie stood with her hands on her hips while Hop Sing’s arms were folded across his chest, and both looked very stern.
“Do you realize how worried Mrs. McCarran, Mrs. Marquette and I all were?” Marie demanded.
“You didn’t have to worry,” Adam replied defiantly. “We know how to take care of ourselves. We’re not little kids like Hoss and Betsy.”
“No?” Marie said. “You all three showed less responsibility and consideration than I would expect from Hoss and Betsy.” She saw the boy’s cheeks flush at those words, but his eyes still showed his defiance. “If your father were here, he’d have a necessary talk with you. Since he is not here, I will determine your punishment. For a start, you can go to bed without supper tonight. Right now.”
“You can’t tell me what to do,” Adam said defiantly but then he saw Hop Sing move closer and his obsidian eyes stared at the boy coldly.
“You hear mother. Go to room, now,” he said sternly, and the boy complied, albeit with obvious reluctance.
Once Marie knew Adam was in the loft, she went to the barn to help Hoss. He was currying Beauty, so Marie picked up another currycomb and started on the other side. As she worked on the horse, Marie suddenly had a picture in her mind of Adam lying on his bed reading. I should have thought of that; spending his time up in his room reading is no punishment at all. When they went back into the cabin, she called up to the loft. “Adam, I am sending Hoss upstairs for all your books so he can bring them downstairs.
Hoss looked anxiously at her and she reached out and ruffled his hair. “Adam has to be punished, Hoss, and that means he can’t read any of his books.”
The little boy sighed gustily and then nodded. Looking dejected, he climbed up the ladder and returned carrying three books under his arm.
“I can’t carry ‘em all at once,” he explained. In addition to the two books she and Ben had bought Adam in New Orleans-The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo-he had a few books that his grandfather had sent him over the years: Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe, The Last of the Mohicans, The Deerslayer and The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Hoss knew how much his brother valued his books, so he carried them very carefully down the ladder and handed them to his stepmother.
“Supper ready,” Hop Sing said quietly.
Supper that night was a subdued meal. Afterward, Marie asked Hoss to play checkers with her, hoping to take his mind off missing his brother. Her tactic worked very well and the sound of their laughter could be heard in the loft where the other member of the family sulked.
After she sent Hoss upstairs to bed, Marie sat in the main room sewing baby clothes by candlelight. She was determined her child would not wear his brothers’ hand-me-downs, and thanks to the nuns at her convent school, she was a fine seamstress. She had cut up one of her soft cotton chemises and was using that cloth to make baby clothes and she had asked Ben to purchase some fine muslin when he drove the cattle to Sacramento. She was so absorbed in her work that she was startled into pricking her finger by the sound of Hop Sing’s voice.
“I sorry, Missy Cartwright,” he said as she stuck her finger in her mouth so as not to drop blood on the cloth.
“Ça ne fait rien,” she replied with a shrug and a smile. “You wished to speak with me?”
“Yes. I think best to keep Number One Son busy as punishment.”
“He has his regular chores and he’ll need to chop enough wood to make up for what he didn’t chop today,” she said. “His father also told him dig a new hole for the outhouse. Do you have some additional chores for him?”
‘Tomorrow wash day. Before he begin dig hole, he do laundry. If all other work finish before Mistah Cartwright return, henhouse need be cleaned and whitewashed,” Hop Sing said quietly.
Marie smiled. “Bien sûr. We will tell Adam of his additional chores tomorrow at breakfast.”
Adam woke early the next morning and quickly pulled on a clean pair of drawers, his britches and one of the two new shirts Marie had made him. Hoss was still sleeping so he reached over and shook him awake. Since the morning was chilly, he put on his socks and boots. His feet had grown over the summer and the boots pinched badly, but Pa had traced his feet and Hoss’s and he would get them new boots in Sacramento.
After putting on his boots, he headed down the ladder. Hop Sing was already up and fixing breakfast so Adam headed out the door and Hoss soon joined him. Once Adam was done milking, he took the pail of milk to Hop Sing, who handed him a pail of slop for his Yorkshire pigs. (Soon Hop Sing would slaughter two of the pigs and smoke the meat. The McCarrans and the Marquettes would each buy a couple of Hop Sing’s pigs to slaughter so they’d all have meat during the cold winter.)
As the four of them gathered around the table, Marie said quietly, “Adam, I would like you to say grace.”
He nodded and when he finished, they began passing around the platters of food. Once they had filled their plates, Marie said quietly, “Adam, Hop Sing and I have decided to give you some additional chores as a punishment. Once you finish chopping enough wood to make up for what you didn’t chop yesterday and before you begin digging the new hole for the outhouse, you will do the laundry.”
Adam’s shoulders sagged. Before Hop Sing became a part of the family, he’d helped his pa do the laundry, and it wasn’t something he enjoyed. He burned with resentment: First, Pa treats me like a baby and won’t let me help drive the cattle to market, and now Marie and Hop Sing are making me do all this work just ‘cause Ross ‘n’ Todd ‘n’ me decided to go off on our own!
He attacked the logs in the wood pile, venting all his anger and frustration with each swing of the axe. Gradually, as his muscles began to ache, his anger began to dissipate. I guess we shouldn’t a gone off without tellin’ anyone; I expect they did worry since they didn’t even know where we were. I guess Hoss and Hop Sing were worried about me. Maybe She was, too. And I was mean to Hoss. He’s not a baby and he’s better at ticklin’ trout than I am. If I’d let him come, maybe I woulda had some trout to bring home and then Hop Sing and Marie wouldn’t a been so mad at me. Nah, they woulda been more worried if Hoss and me were both gone, and Hoss’d be in trouble, too.
After Adam finished chopping the wood, he walked over to the horse trough and splashed water on his sweaty face and neck before going inside to get the two wooden washtubs. Hop Sing already had the kettle of water boiling over the fire, so Adam carried it outside and poured the hot water into one of the tubs. Then he went to the well that he’d helped his Pa dig two summers earlier, and drew up a bucket of cold water. He added just enough of that so that the wash water wasn’t scalding hot. Then he went inside and got the bar of lye soap from Hop Sing and, using his jackknife, he shaved some of it into the hot water. Hop Sing had followed him, carrying the dirty laundry and the washboard, which he now handed to Adam.
Adam scrubbed each piece of laundry on the washboard until his fingers looked like prunes. He had to make a couple of trips to the well to get water to rinse the clean clothing. The sheets were the worst. While he was trying to hang them on the clothesline Hop Sing had strung up, the cook came out to help, “before you make dirty again,” as he remarked acerbically.
It was two hours past dinnertime when he finished the laundry, and Hop Sing fed him thick slices of ham, a big pickle, and a glass of milk while Marie and Hoss sat at the other end of the table and worked on his lessons. (Hoss had learned the alphabet pretty easily but reading was proving to be a struggle.) Adam wolfed down the food, and then grabbing the spade, he went to the location his pa had determined and began digging a hole. His back and shoulders ached but he dug stubbornly until the sun began to go down and Hoss came to fetch him for supper. He was so exhausted that he could barely keep his eyes open long enough to eat and didn’t demure when Marie told him to go up to bed. He pulled off his socks and boots, but then crawled under the bedclothes without bothering to remove any other clothing. He fell asleep almost instantly and was oblivious of Hoss and Marie singing downstairs. He didn’t even wake when Hoss got into bed beside him.
When he came downstairs the next morning, it was clear to Marie and Hop Sing he was very stiff and sore. Hop Sing said to him, “Before you chop wood this morning, Hop Sing rub liniment on back and shoulders,” and Adam nodded gratefully. As the cook rubbed in the liniment, he said, “Hop Sing fix chicken pot pie for dinner so you wring chicken neck and pluck it for him and then chop wood.”
Adam sighed, for he didn’t like wringing a chicken’s neck and he hated the job of plucking the feathers. He almost wished Pa was here to give him a ‘necessary talk’. They hurt, but at least they were over quickly.
It was almost dark that evening when he finished digging the hole and again he went to bed and fell asleep right after eating his supper. The next morning at breakfast, Marie said, “Hop Sing tells me that the henhouse needs to be cleaned and whitewashed, so that will be your extra chore today, Adam.” She noticed Hoss’s expression was just as dejected as his older brother’s. Mince, alors, she thought. I intended to punish Adam, but Hoss is being punished as well. She said with a smile, “Hoss, would you like to help Adam when he whitewashes the henhouse?”
“Yeah,” Hoss said and grinned at her happily.
While Hoss worked on his lessons in the morning, Adam cleaned out the henhouse. Hop Sing and Marie refused to let him inside and instead he had to eat his dinner on the porch. Hop Sing had prepared the mixture of quicklime, water, flour, salt, and whiting, so once both boys had finished eating, he handed Adam the bucket full of whitewash while Hoss ran to get the brushes from the barn.
It was a beautiful Indian summer day so Marie sat on the porch to sew and watched her boys. At first they worked industriously but by the time they were half done, Hoss took his brush and spattered whitewash all over his big brother’s back.
“You look funny, Adam,” he chortled.
“You asked for it, little brother,” Adam said with a fiendish grin as he swiped his full brush from the top of Hoss’s head down to the seat of his britches.
Marie watched with a smile as the two giggled and splattered each other until she called, “Boys, don’t waste all the whitewash. Finish the henhouse and then you can play with what is left.”
They worked very fast to complete the job and then began painting each other with what was left. “You look like a snowman, Adam,” Hoss giggled.
“Yeah, well, so do you,” Adam replied, reaching out and ticking his brother until he screamed for mercy.
“All right, boys, it’s time for you to clean up now,” Marie said, trying to sound stern although it was hard to keep a straight face at the sight of them.
Hop Sing had stepped onto the porch and now said firmly, “Boys take bath outside.’
Marie saw Adam’s cheeks begin to turn red and said quickly, “I’ll stay in my room with the curtains drawn, Adam, until you’ve finished.”
Hop Sing brought both wash tubs out behind the cabin and put hot water in them and Adam aded cold water from the well and mixed it in with the hot water. Meanwhile Hop Sing had brought them clean clothes and towels and laid them on the grass near the wash tubs along with the wooden dish of his soft soap. Even in her room Marie could hear the laughing and splashing and then the yelling when Hoss got soap in his eyes as Adam washed his hair.
A few minutes later Hoss bounded into the bedroom, his skin pink from rubbing and his hair damp. “Hey, Ma! We’re clean.”
“Yes, you are,” she said, smiling at him. She looked up and saw Adam in the doorway, his damp hair curling wildly. “Well, Adam, now that you’ve dug the hole for the outhouse and cleaned the henhouse, I think it is time for your lessons to resume. We’ll start tomorrow morning, but I have a task for you tonight after dinner.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said with a sigh, for he was sure the task would not be to his liking. Sure enough once supper was over and the table had been cleared, Marie handed him his old slate and said, “I want you to write this sentence ten times on your slate: I will not leave the ranch unless I have permission. When you’ve finished, come show it to me and then you can erase those ten sentences and write it ten more times. We’ll repeat the process until you’ve written the sentence 100 times. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, keeping his eyes downcast.
~ ~ ~
When Ben returned from the cattle drive, he found his wife sitting on the porch sewing while his two boys played catch. The boys lost all interest in their game and ran toward their father yelling, “Howdy, Pa!”
“Want me to help take care of the caviata?” Adam asked as Ben swung out of the saddle rather stiffly.
“Thanks, son,” Ben replied with a tired grin, and squeezed his first-born’s shoulder.
“Shore glad you’re back, Pa,” Hoss said, grinning happily as he threw his arms around his pa’s waist and hugged him.
“Mighty glad to be back,” Ben replied. “Now, why don’t you go give your brother a hand with the horses, hmm?”
“Shore, Pa,” the little boy said with a beaming smile, running after his older brother.
Ben covered the distance between the barn and the cabin with long strides, took Marie in his arms and kissed her hungrily. “Oh, I’ve missed you, Darling.”
“”Oh, mon amour, tu m’as manqué aussi,” she whispered, kissing him with an equal hunger.
“I think I’ll be glad when this baby is born,” he said with a sigh as he felt the baby move between them. He sank wearily on the bench beside her and asked, “So how did it go while I was gone? Any trouble with the boys?”
“Just a little the first day, but after that it was- Oh what is that expression you use? Ah, it was smooth sailing,” she said with a smile. Ben, however, was frowning.
“What happened the first day?” he asked.
“Well, you know that Adam, Todd and Ross were not happy to be left behind?” Ben nodded, his frown deepening. “That first morning all three boys decided to take off without asking their mothers’ permission. I gather they went fishing at the lake. When Adam returned that evening, Hop Sing and I assigned him additional chores as a punishment. He had to do the laundry, clean and whitewash the henhouse as well as dig the hole for the outhouse and chop all the wood in the woodpile.” She saw the angry scowl on her husband’s face and added quickly, “He doesn’t need any more punishment, Ben.”
“He’s my son and I’ll discipline him as I see fit,” he barked.
“And you told me that he is my son as well!” she retorted. “Or don’t you think of me as his mother either?”
The anger in Ben’s eyes was quenched as suddenly as a snuffed candle. “You’re right. You are his mother and you have as much right to punish him as I do. You really believe that giving him extra chores is suitable punishment?”
“I also deprived him of his books since you’ve been gone and I made him write 100 times that he will not leave without permission” she added with a faint grin. “Yes, mon bien aimé, for Adam I do not think ‘necessary talks’ are the best punishment any longer. And soon Hoss will have outgrown that type of punishment. After all, the aim of punishment is to stop the child from doing the bad thing, not to hurt him, n’est-ce-pas ?”
He smiled then and put his arm about her shoulder and drew her close. “How fortunate I am to have married such a wise woman.” After he kissed her, he added, “And I’m fortunate in other ways as well. The demand for beef is much higher in California thanks to all those miners looking to get rich. Andy, Dan and I got the best price we’ve ever had for our cattle.” He sighed and added softly, “I wish my old friend John Sutter had fared as well.”
“What do you mean?” Marie asked. “I thought we heard the gold was discovered on his land?”
“It was, and the miners stole the food from his gardens and destroyed his crops and his fort. He’s a broken man now, and he told me he is leaving California.” He hugged her closer then saying, “I made a vow that I will never allow the Ponderosa to be ravaged the way Sutter’s land was.”
After the frenetic activity of the harvest, Marie hoped that the pace of life on the Ponderosa would slow. However, once Ben returned from the cattle drive, Hop Sing butchered two of his Yorkshire pigs and Hoss and Marie helped him salt the meat. At the same time, Ben and Adam took their axes and went into the timber to chop down a tree that they would haul back to be sawed, split and corded in the woodshed, along with the wood Adam had chopped all through the summer, to provide warmth during the long cold winter that lay ahead. When Ben and Adam returned that evening, they hung the pigs’ hams and the shoulders in the smoke house Ben had made with Andy McCarran’s assistance. Once that was done, they concentrated on the tree they’d hauled back while Hop Sing was busy making next year’s lard and sausage. Marie was so enormous and so uncomfortable that for the most part she just observed Hop Sing and tried to stay out of his way, but she and Hoss took turns grinding the sausage meat, which Hop Sing seasoned and molded into balls. Once it was finished, the sausage balls were wrapped in cloths and placed a corner of the woodshed where they would keep, frozen, all winter.
After the sausage making was finished, Ben and the vaqueros butchered a steer. They skinned the steer carefully so the hide came off in one piece that would be used to make boots. Some of the beef was salted to be eaten later but that night they had fresh steaks. The next day Hoss and Marie helped Hop Sing make candles from the beef tallow. Hop Sing melted the beef fat in the large kettle he’d used to make lard while Marie and Hoss strung the candle-molds. They worked all day making candles until they had enough to last them until the next fall.
Once the butchering and all associated tasks were finished, Adam and Hoss resumed their lessons while Ben found tasks to keep him busy near the cabin, and the chief one was making a cradle for the new baby and a rocking chair for Marie to use. As her time drew nearer, he found himself worrying and wishing she could be attended by a doctor rather than a midwife. Of course, the doctor had been no help to Elizabeth, and Inger had given birth to Hoss with only the help of Mrs. Simon. In addition, Marie had told him that this was not her first child, that she had given birth to Jean’s child but the baby had died of a fever. Ben hoped the fact that she had given birth before would make this childbirth easier.
On the last day of October, while she was helping Hoss with his reading, she experienced her first contraction. She remembered from before that it would be several hours before the baby’s birth was imminent, so she said nothing. A couple of hours later, after they finished eating dinner, she said, “I think that someone should go for Madame McCarran.”
“Your labor has started?” Ben asked, trying to keep the worry from his voice, and she nodded. He turned to the boys and said, “I want you both to ride to the McCarran place and tell Mrs. McCarran that your ma needs her. Then I want both of you to stay at the McCarrans’ until I come to fetch you.”
Adam was relieved, for he had been thinking how his mother had died giving birth to him, and he didn’t want to be anywhere near while the baby was being born. Hoss, however, baulked.
“Is my brother gonna be born? I wanna be here. Adam said he was there when I was born.”
“I didn’t mean I was right there,” Adam said, rolling his eyes. “I only meant they let me come in and see you after you were born. We’ll get to see our new sister or brother after she or he is born, won’t we, Pa?”
“That’s right. After the baby is born, I’ll come get you and you can see him or her. But having babies is women’s work and they don’t want us menfolk around,” Ben replied, smiling at the six-year-old.
“It can take a long time, so if the baby is born late at night, your pa will come get you tomorrow morning,” Marie added, not wanting the boys to worry if Ben didn’t come that night because she had been in labor with her first child for fourteen hours.
Adam nodded and then said, “C’mon, Hoss, let’s go.”
When they got to the McCarran place, Andy and Todd were in the yard busy with a project.
“Howdy, Adam! Howdy, Hoss!” Todd called as they rode up.
“My new baby brother is bein’ born!” Hoss yelled excitedly before dismounting and Adam added in a sober tone, “Pa asked us to tell Mrs. McCarran and then he and Belle-mère want us to stay here until the baby is born.” (During one of his French lessons, Adam had asked Marie what the French word for stepmother was. When she told him it was belle-mère, he asked if it was all right to call her that. “Bien sûr,” she had replied with a smile tinged with sadness, for it was one more sign he was still not willing to accept her as his mother.
Andy nodded, for Ben and Marie had already discussed the arrangements with him and Jessie. “Jessie,” he called. She’d been mending so she came to the door with a torn shirt in one hand, and as soon as she saw Adam and Hoss, she asked, “Your ma needs me?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Adam replied quietly.
“Could you and Hoss saddle my horse for me?” she asked, for she saw the anxiety in the boy’s eyes and sensed that he needed to be kept busy so he wouldn’t brood. Andy had reached the same conclusion so as soon as Jessie’s horse was saddled he said, “Why don’t you boys give Todd and me a hand? We’re making a rain barrel and we could use some help. Have you ever made a barrel?”
“No, sir,” Adam replied, looking at the process with interest.
“My grandpa McCarran was a cooper and he taught me how to make barrels and buckets. It’s a useful skill and I’d be happy to teach you.”
“I’d like to learn,” Adam replied and Hoss echoed, “Me, too.”
“Oak is the best wood to use for making barrels and buckets. On our way back from the cattle drive, I spotted some oaks on the California side of the mountains so Todd and I cut one and hauled the timber back here,” Andy explained. “Now, the first step in making a barrel is to create the staves. Todd and I are cutting the staves and next we taper them. Adam, why don’t you help Todd cut the staves?” Adam nodded so Andy handed him his saw before turning to the littlest boy. “Now, Hoss, I want you to help me taper the staves, okay?” and the little boy nodded his head happily, for he liked Mr. McCarran.
They finished with the staves and by that time the sun was beginning to set. “All right, boys,” Andy said, “let’s put our tools in the barn. Would you mind helping Todd and me with our barn chores?”
“Oh, no, sir,” Adam said and Hoss nodded vigorously.
“Well, good,” Andy replied with a smile. “Once we finish, we can eat some of the navy beans and ham that Mrs. McCarran fixed for our supper.”
“But where’s Pa?” Hoss asked anxiously and his chin began to quiver. “He said he’d come get us and we could see our baby brother.”
“Belle-mère said it might take a long time for the baby to be born, and Pa might not come get us until tomorrow mornin’,” Adam said comfortingly.
“That’s right, Hoss. Sometimes babies just aren’t in a hurry to be born. Todd sure wasn’t,” Andy said, grinning at his son.
As they put their tools away, Hoss turned to his brother and asked, “Did I take a long time to get born, Adam?”
“I’m not sure,” Adam replied. “I was just six then, like you are now, and at first nobody told me that you were bein’ born. Pa had gone somewhere and when we camped for the night, Mama asked me to go find Mrs. Simon. She was another lady on the wagon train. Anyway, Mrs. Simon told me to stay with Mr. Simon. I was surprised when Mr. Simon said that Mama wanted me to eat with him and that we should go ahead and eat without waitin’ for Mrs. Simon. Mr. Simon said that we’d save her some food, and we’d save some for Mama, too. I was gonna go back to our wagon as soon as I finished eating, but Mr. Simon said he needed me to help him feed and water his oxen and ours. I knew Pa and Mama would expect me to help, so I did. As soon as I finished, I started back to our wagon but Mr. Simon grabbed hold of me and told me I had to stay with him ‘cause my little brother or sister was bein’ born.” Adam smiled then as he added, “When he said that, I really wanted to go be with Mama and I tried to squirm away, but he held onto me and said the same thing Pa did this mornin’. That birthin’ babies is women’s work and they don’t want menfolk around.”
“That’s true,” Andy said, smiling at Hoss. “We’d just be in the way.”
“So did you take a long time bein’ born?” Todd asked Adam.
“Pa never talks about when I was born,” Adam said quietly.
“Never?” Todd repeated in surprise. “How come?”
“My mother died when I was born,” Adam said softly.
“M-ma’s not gonna d-die is she?” Hoss asked in a quavering voice.
“I pray not,” Andy said quietly. “Don’t worry about it, Hoss. We’ll all just say a prayer right now and ask for your ma and your baby brother or sister to be all right.” The four of them formed a circle and held hands as Andy offered a prayer for Marie and her unborn child.
All three boys were subdued that evening. They played a couple of parlor games and then they went to bed. Todd slept with his father so Adam and Hoss could sleep in his bed.
The next morning Adam and Hoss helped with the chores and then Adam made johnnycakes while Andy fried sausage. They were eating breakfast when Ben and Jessie returned and Hoss jumped up and ran to Ben.
“Is Ma all right? Is my baby brother here?” he asked anxiously.
Ben hunkered so he could be eye level with his middle child and then said with a beaming smile, “Your ma and your baby brother are both just fine.”
Adam felt a mixture of relief and disappointment at his father’s words: relief that his stepmother and the baby were all right, but disappointment that he didn’t get the baby sister he’d wanted.
“Let’s go,” Hoss commanded. “I wanna see my baby brother.”
“Congratulations, Ben” Andy managed to get in with a beaming smile. “That’s wonderful news.”
“Thanks, Andy,” Ben called over his shoulder as Hoss grabbed his hand and tugged him out of the door.
When they arrived at their cabin, Ben said quietly, “Now, Hoss, your brother and your ma may be asleep so you have to be quiet when you go in. But first we have to take care of our mounts.”
Hoss practically tiptoed into the cabin but Ben and Adam could see he was about to burst trying to contain his excitement. Ben said very quietly, “You boys wait here and I’ll see if they’re awake.” He opened the bedroom door quietly and stuck his head in. A moment later he motioned the boys over and followed them inside.
They saw Marie lying in bed, propped up against the down pillows that Inger had made and brought on the journey west, holding a bundle wrapped in the same lamb’s wool blanket that Inger had made for Hoss. She smiled at the boys and folded back the blanket so they could see the baby.
“He’s awful small,” Hoss said, forgetting to speak softly so the baby screwed up his face and began to scream. “Allons, allons, mon ange,” Marie said, gently rocking the baby, who quieted.
“I didn’t mean to make him cry,” Hoss said, on the verge of tears. Ben reached down and gave the little boy’s neck a comforting squeeze.
“Would you like to hold him, Adam?” Marie asked quietly, knowing he’d helped care for Hoss when he was a baby.
“May I?” he asked, looking from her to Ben, who nodded. “I put my hand behind his head to support it, right?” he asked and when she nodded, he gently took the baby from her arms.
“You’re not disappointed to have another brother rather than a sister?” Marie asked teasingly. She was amused to see him blush slightly.
“Hoss, you got a big mouth,” he said, but without any irritation in his tone. “A sister would have been nice, but I guess I don’t mind having another little brother.” He put his forefinger by one of the flailing fists and grinned happily when the tiny fist grabbed hold. “He’s stronger than he looks,” he said in delight.
“Can I hold him, Ma? Can I?” Hoss was practically jumping up and down in excitement, and Marie looked at Ben anxiously.
“Sit down in the rocking chair,” Ben said and when Hoss complied, he added, “I’ll need to borrow one of the pillows, Darling.” He took a pillow and sat in on Hoss’s lap. “All right, Adam, lay the baby on the pillow,” he said with quiet authority and moved right by Hoss, just in case.
“Was I that little?” Hoss asked, remembering to keep his voice low.
His older brother snorted, saying, “You were the biggest baby I ever saw.”
“You were a fine big boy, Hoss,” Ben said, frowning at his first-born.
“How ‘bout Adam? Was he that little?” Hoss then asked, sticking his tongue out at Adam when Ben was turned away, causing Marie to hide her grin behind her hand.
“Yes, I think Adam was about the same size,” Ben replied quietly. Marie could see how painful his memories of that day still were, and so could Adam.
“Did you decide what to name the baby?” he asked his father, wanting to change the subject.
“Yes, he will be Joseph for my father,” Ben said with a smile.
Marie added, “And François for mine.”
“Joseph François Cartwright,” Adam said, frowning. “Are you sure that’s what you want to name him?”
Marie made a moue of distaste. “I thought of it en français. That way it is pleasing to the ear, but when you pronounce Joseph the English way, it is not pleasing.”
“François is Francis in English,” Adam said hesitantly.
“Joseph Francis Cartwright,” Ben said slowly. “Yes, I like the sound of that. What do you think, Darling?”
“Yes, I think Francis sounds more pleasing,” she said after consideration. Then she smiled at her older stepson. “Merci, Adam.”
“De rien,” he replied, dimpling.
“That’s a long name for such a little baby,” Hoss commented. “I’m gonna call him Joe. Little Joe.”
~ ~ ~
Hoss learned quickly that having a baby in the cabin was not as wonderful as he’d thought it would be. He was always being scolded for being too noisy and yet, in his mind, his baby brother made more noise than all of the rest of them put together. Every evening just before suppertime he would begin to fuss and would end up screaming. Marie and Ben walked the cabin with him but he still screamed. She sat in the rocking chair and held him in her arms and rocked him but he continued to scream. After the fourth day when Marie and Ben had both tried unsuccessfully to quiet the screaming infant, Adam spoke up.
“Let me try,” he suggested.
“I can take care of my baby,” Marie snapped and Ben frowned at her.
“We haven’t had any luck, either of us. Let him try,” he said in a sharper tone than he had ever used with his bride.
She started to snap back at him, but instead she put the screaming baby in her stepson’s outstretched arms.
“It’s all right, Little Buddy,” he said softly, sitting down on the settee. The baby continued to scream and suddenly Adam had an idea. Pa held the baby with his head resting on his shoulder and Marie held the baby in her arms just as though she were nursing him. Adam carefully turned the baby so he was lying across Adam’s lap on his stomach. Then Adam began to rub Joe’s back very gently. “How do you like that, Little Buddy?” he asked softly. Gradually, the baby’s screams quieted to hiccupping sobs until he was silent.
“I’ll take him,” Marie said, starting to reach for Joe but Ben grabbed her arm.
“He’s quiet now; leave him alone,” he said sharply. When he saw the fire in her eyes, he added, “Let’s discuss this outside.”
As soon as Ben closed the cabin door, she said furiously, “How dare you! He is my baby!”
“Of course, he’s your baby but Adam has him quieted and I don’t want to start him crying again,” Ben replied brusquely.
“I am the one who should be caring for him,” she hissed and started to go back inside but again he grabbed her arm.
“I will not have you go in and upset the baby. For heaven’s sake, Marie, what is wrong with you? As long as he’s finally quiet, what does it matter who got him to stop screaming?”
“Oh, you don’t understand,” she said angrily, feeling her eyes fill with tears.
“I’m sorry,” he said in a more gentle tone. “You’re right; I don’t understand. You’ve been telling me that you hoped Adam would bond with the baby but now that he has, you sure don’t seem happy about it.”
She took a deep calming breath before speaking. “I am happy that Adam is bonding with Joseph, but I should be the one who can calm him.”
“Darling, you have a stronger bond with the baby than his brothers or I do, but, for some reason, Adam is the one who can calm him when he’s colicky. I’m not going to question it; I’m just grateful that someone can.”
“Je suppose que tu as raison,” she said with a sigh. Seeing his arched eyebrow, she translated, “I suppose you are right.”
~ ~ ~
Adam was able to soothe the baby’s colic, but the cabin was so small that everyone’s sleep was interrupted by the hungry infant.
“I didn’t cry like that, did I?” Hoss asked Adam one night as they lay in their bed in the loft and tried to cover their ears with their pillows.
“Sometimes, and I guess I must have, too,” Adam replied. “Pa says eventually he’ll be able to sleep through the night without waking up and needing to eat.”
“How long before he don’t need to wear diapers?” Hoss asked, wrinkling his nose.
“He’ll be wearin’ those for a long time yet. I think you were around two when you stopped wearin’ ‘em.”
“Two!” Hoss exclaimed loudly.
“Yeah, and I must’ve been about the same ‘cause I know Pa told me we didn’t start travelin’ west until I after I was two and out of diapers.” Even though Hoss couldn’t see his brother’s expression in the dark, he could hear the smile in his voice. “I don’t know why you care. Belle-mère changes him and cleans him up. I had to change you.”
“Eew! I’m glad I don’t have to change Joe’s diapers.”
Adam grinned and then added, “Just be patient. Pretty soon he’ll be rolling over and then he’ll be crawling and then walking and talking. He’ll be cute just like you were, but not so big.” He paused and added wistfully, “I’ll be glad when Joe is old enough that Belle-mère can teach our lessons again.”
“I don’t think it’s fair that you’re givin’ me my lessons but you don’t have to have any,” Hoss whispered indignantly. He was having a hard time mastering reading and couldn’t understand how his brother could actually enjoy it, although he had to admit he liked it when Adam or Pa read stories aloud to him.
“That’s all you know,” Adam whispered back. “Belle-mère says that if you want to learn about something, teach it. It’s hard work teachin’ you, little brother.”
They’d been so busy talking that they hadn’t heard their pa climb up the ladder and were startled to hear his voice so clearly. “Boys, I know it isn’t easy, but try to get back to sleep. All right?”
“Sure, Pa,” they chorused.
~ ~ ~
Two weeks after Joseph’s birth, Adam woke up before the baby announced to the entire cabin that he was hungry and needed to be changed. Since it was mid-November, the loft was cold, but there were several blankets and a quilt Inger had made heaped on the bed and they helped to keep the two boys warm. Adam smiled to himself in the dark. Today is my thirteenth birthday, he thought. Last year Pa was away in New Orleans, Hoss was too little to understand how to read calendars and I didn’t expect Hop Sing to remember. Besides, I don’t even know if they celebrate birthdays in China the way we do. I must ask Hop Sing about that. But this year Pa is home and he’ll remember it’s my birthday and he’ll have Hop Sing make a birthday cake. Just then the baby made his presence known and Hoss stirred next to Adam in the bed.
“C’mon, Hoss,” he said. “Might as well get up because we sure can’t sleep.” He threw back the wool blankets and colorful quilt and stuck his bare feet in his moccasins, and Hoss reluctantly left the warmth of the bed. Both boys wore their wool union suits under the nightshirts their stepmother had made them. They got their heavy flannel shirts and woolen trousers from their chest of drawers, and Adam was glad to have shirts and trousers that were long enough. After putting on their thick wool socks and the new boots that Pa had brought back from California, made from the hide of a Ponderosa steer, the two boys climbed down the ladder. Their pa was already putting on his heavy coat and leather gloves, getting ready to do his barn chores.
“Mornin’, Pa” Adam said with a grin. His grin faded when instead of saying, “Happy Birthday,” his pa only replied. “It’s a cold one so you boys make sure you button your coats.”
“‘Kay, Pa,” Hoss replied, reaching for his coat, which hung on a peg by the door, and Adam silently did the same.
They did their barn chores quickly, but Hoss had to tell Hop Sing that he’d only found one egg.”
“Chicken no lay in winter,” Hop Sing commented. “I boil egg for Missy Cartwright.”
“What are we gonna eat?” Hoss asked worriedly.
“Hop Sing fix oatmeal and fry bacon,” the cook replied. “Number Two son not starve.”
“And biscuits, with raspberry jam?” Adam asked and the cook nodded, taking the pail of milk from the older boy.
Soon Adam could smell the biscuits baking in the spider, and his mouth watered at the thought of creamy butter and raspberry jam on freshly baked biscuits. As the four Cartwrights, Hop Sing and the two vaqueros gathered around the table, Adam looked for the jar of jam and couldn’t see it anywhere. Before he could ask where it was, it was time to bow his head while his pa said grace. As soon as Ben finished, Adam asked, “Where’s the raspberry jam? I was going to have raspberry jam with my biscuits.”
“Sorry. I thought some left, but jar empty,” Hop Sing replied.
“But I wanted raspberry jam,” Adam said petulantly.
“For heaven sake, Adam,” Ben snapped, “stopped acting like a child. There’s plenty of currant jelly and I know you like it.”
“But I wanted raspberry jam,” Adam muttered and Ben said sharply, “Adam!” so the boy said nothing more but ate in silence.
After breakfast, Ben and the vaqueros left to take a wagonload of hay to the cattle. Marie went to take care of the baby, who’d begun fussing just as they were finishing breakfast, and Adam and Hoss sat down at the table so Adam could teach Hoss. Usually they worked well together but today the fact that he must teach Hoss with no thought for his own lessons seemed horribly unjust to Adam, and he was impatient with his brother’s struggles.
“C’mon, Hoss, you’re not trying. It’s not that hard,” he snapped.
“It is so,” Hoss said. “I aint smart like you and it’s hard.”
Adam saw the hurt in his little brother’s eyes and was immediately contrite.
“You are smart, Hoss. I’m sorry I was cross.” He dropped his eyes and said quietly, “I guess I’m just in a bad mood, but I know it’s wrong to take it out on you. Forgive me?”
“Sure, Adam,” the younger boy said with a grin.
“Let’s take a break from lessons. How about I read you a story?”
“Read me that one about the man that slept for twenty years!” the younger boy said excitedly.
“Okay. You wait here and I’ll go get the book.”
When Marie came out of the bedroom a few minutes later, swathed in a heavy shawl, she put Joseph in his cradle, which Ben had carried from the bedroom and placed near the fireplace so the baby would be warm, and started to get her darning. She realized that Hoss was not studying and said sharply, “Adam, you are supposed to be teaching your brother his lessons, not reading stories to him. Put that book down and get back to work on Hoss’s lessons.”
The two boys rolled their eyes and Adam replied, “Yes, ma’am.” For the first time in weeks, his tone bordered on insolence. Marie’s eyes narrowed and her lips thinned, but she decided to say nothing. She sat down in the rocking chair Ben had made her and began darning the holes in everyone’s stockings and the rest of the morning passed quietly.
Dinner was salt pork that Hop Sing had cooked in their dutch oven, boiled potatoes and boiled cabbage, and none of these were Adam’s favorites. Always before, Pa had made sure dinner on his birthday was pot roast, cooked in the dutch oven with potatoes, carrots and onions-his favorite food. No one commented on the small amount of food on his plate and he managed to choke it down.
Ben had decided he needed to repair his tack and, since it was warmer in the cabin, he brought it inside and sat down on the settee to work on it. Marie sat in her rocking chair and knitted a sweater for the baby and the two of them talked quietly while Adam and Hoss worked on Hoss’s lessons. As soon as the lessons were over, Adam walked over to where Marie’s guitar was propped against the wall.
“Adam,” Ben said sternly, but keeping his voice low, “you’re not playing that thing. It will wake the baby.”
“I’ll go up to the loft,” Adam replied, anger and resentment smoldering in his hazel eyes.
“No, it will still wake the baby,” Marie snapped.
“Fine,” Adam retorted. “I’ll go out to the barn. The horses and Blossom don’t mind me playing.”
“You’ll catch a cold out there,” Marie said, and her irritation was obvious.
“Whata you care? You don’t care about anything but your cher Joseph. That’s all anybody cares about!” He grabbed his coat and stomped out of the cabin.
“Gosh, what’s wrong with Adam?” Hoss asked.
“I don’t know,” Ben replied. “He looked happy when he first came downstairs this morning but it sure didn’t last. I’ll give him a few minutes to calm down and then I’m afraid the two of us will have to have a necessary talk.”
“At least he didn’t wake the baby,” Marie said, gently rocking the cradle with her foot. “Today is November 14 and Joseph is two weeks old,” she said fondly.
“What did you say?” Ben asked sharply.
“I said Joseph is two weeks old today.”
“You said today is November 14,” Ben said, and his voice sounded strange.
“Yes, November 14 is exactly two weeks after October 31,” she said, puzzled by her husband’s tone and his expression.
“Oh no! How could I have forgotten what day it is,” Ben said sadly. “No wonder he’s been upset and unhappy. He knows I forgot.”
“Forgot what?” Marie asked, and Hoss looked at his father curiously.
“November 14 is Adam’s birthday. He turned 13 today.”
“Oh non, Ben, comment as-tu pu oublier l’anniversaire de ton fils ainé!” she exclaimed, now feeling guilty for snapping at the poor boy.
“Maybe it’s not too late,” Ben said. He turned to Hop Sing, who’d been quietly chopping vegetables for the soup he was making for dinner. “Could you bake him a birthday cake, Hop Sing?”
“Sorry, Mr. Cartwright, but no eggs. Cake need eggs.”
“Maybe Hoss might have missed one,” Ben said, sounding desperate. “I’ll go check. At least I did buy him a gift when I was in New Orleans.”
While Ben was looking for eggs, Marie thought of a gift she and Hoss could give Adam. “I will use some of the muslin your father brought back to make baby clothes and make Adam a handkerchief, and I will embroider his initials on it. Now, I need you to watch Joseph while I go in my bedroom and sew. All right, mon petit? Can you do that for me?”
“Sure, Ma,” Hoss replied proudly, not noticing the glance Marie and Hop Sing exchanged, meaning Hop Sing was to keep an eye on both Hoss and Joseph.
About 15 minutes later, Ben returned carrying an egg. “I hope one egg will do,” he said, and the cook nodded.
“Can only make small cake in spider,” he said with a little grin, “but I think Number One Son happiest know he not forgotten.”
“Well, I’ve got to find the gift I bought him,” Ben said. “Where’s your ma?” he asked Hoss, suddenly noticing his middle boy sitting in Marie’s rocking chair by Joe’s cradle.
“She’s makin’ Adam a handkerchief that’s gonna be a birthday present from her and me,” Hoss replied. “I’m watchin’ Joe.”
“And you’re doing a fine job,” Ben said with a smile before hurrying into the bedroom.
Marie was sitting on the bed sewing and as soon as he walked in she said, ‘Did you find an egg?”
“I found one and Hop Sing says one is enough. I’ve got to find the gift I bought him, and then I’m going out in the barn to apologize to him.”
“Oh, before you go, tell me Adam’s full name,” she said.
“Adam Stoddard Cartwright. Stoddard was Elizabeth’s maiden name.”
“It is good that I am a fast seamstress. I’ve almost finished hemming the handkerchief and then I will embroider his initials.”
“I know he’ll like it,” Ben said, bending over and dropping a kiss on her head. He rummaged through the drawers at the bottom of the clothespress and finally found a leather pouch. “Here’s my gift. We’ll give him both gifts after we have supper and eat his birthday cake,” and she nodded her agreement.
When Ben opened the barn door, he heard his first-born’s clear, sweet soprano singing the plaintive melody of Ash Grove:
My lips smile no more, my heart loses its lightness,
No dream of the future my spirit can cheer;
I only can brood on the past and its brightness,
The dead I have mourned are again living here.
From ev’ry dark nook they press forward to meet me;
I lift up my eyes to the broad leafy dome,
And others are there, looking downward to greet me;
The ash grove, the ash grove alone is my home.
Ben waited until the verse finished and then he said gently, “Adam, son, I am so sorry. I didn’t realize today was the fourteenth until your stepmother reminded me. I didn’t forget you, son; I only was confused about the date. Can you forgive me?”
“I thought you didn’t care,” the boy said in a voice so low his father had to strain to hear.
“Adam, I love you-I will always love you,” and Ben wrapped his arms around his son, holding him tightly and blinking back tears, as he felt the boy’s arms embrace him. Too soon, however, Adam pulled away but even in the dim light of the barn, Ben saw the boy’s eyes were suspiciously bright.
“I don’t want you catching cold, so why don’t you come on back in the cabin,” he said, giving his first-born one final hug. “Hop Sing is baking a birthday cake,” and his heart clenched at the way the boy’s whole face just lit up at those words. “I thought maybe you and I and Hoss could play Twenty Questions until suppertime.”
“That’d be wonderful, Pa,” Adam said with a wide dimpled grin.
As soon as they walked into the cabin, Hoss said with a huge grin, “Happy birthday, Adam.”
“Thanks, Hoss,” Adam replied with a matching grin.
Marie heard them and came out of the bedroom, smiling at the birthday boy. “Bon anniversaire, Adam,” she said and then kissed his cheek quickly before he could squirm away in embarrassment.
“Ma’s makin’ ya a birthday present from her and me,” Hoss interjected and Adam looked at his stepmother with one eyebrow raised, looking so much like his father she had to smile.
“It is not much, but next year I promise a finer gift,” she said quietly.
“I’m sure I’ll like it very much,” he said with a warm smile that showed his deep dimples.
“I must go work on it, so if you will excuse me,” she said with another smile.
Adam had a wonderful time playing Twenty Questions and Taboo with Pa and Hoss. When Joe woke and began to fuss, Adam picked him up and held him on his knees and rubbed his back while they continued to play and the baby quieted almost immediately. Marie barely managed to finish embroidering Adam’s monogram on the handkerchief by the time Hop Sing announced supper was ready since she’d had to stop and nurse Joe. She used Inger’s best lace tablecloth to make the birthday supper of vegetable soup and johnnycakes seem more festive, and her heart sang at Adam’s delighted smile when he saw it. They all filled up on Hop Sing’s delicious soup, and then the cook placed the small cake in front of Adam with a beaming smile.
“Since you’re thirteen now, I think you are old enough to cut your cake,” Ben said with a proud smile and a beaming Adam cut a generous slice for each person. Once everyone had finished his or her slice of cake, Ben said, “Now, Adam, you sit in the rocking chair and I will bring you your gifts.”
The baby, who had been sleeping in his cradle near the fireplace, began to whimper. He didn’t sound hungry and he was dry so Marie sat with him on the settee and Hoss said with a grin, “See, Joe wants to watch you open your presents, Adam. Too bad ya didn’t get any of the cake, Joe.”
“Maybe next year,” Marie said with a smile and just then Ben reentered the room.
“Can I give Adam the gift Ma made from me and her?” Hoss begged.
“Of course,” Ben replied and handed Hoss the handkerchief.
“See, Adam,” Hoss explained as he handed the gift to his big brother, “it’s a handkerchief and Ma sewed your initials on it. A, S, C,” he said pointing to each letter. Then he turned to Marie. “I know A is for Adam and C is for Cartwright, but what’s the S for?”
“My middle name, Stoddard,” Adam answered for Marie. “C’est magnifique. Merci beaucoup, Belle-mère.”
“Merci means thank you, don’t it?” Hoss asked and Adam replied with a grin, “Oui, mon frère.”
“Here is my gift, son.” Ben said and carefully placed the smooth leather pouch into his son’s cupped hands. He watched as the boy opened the pouch and pulled out a handsome pocket watch.
“Oh, Pa, it’s beautiful,” Adam breathed. He opened it carefully and saw it was engraved: Adam Stoddard Cartwright – 1849.
“Lemme see!” Hoss said excitedly. “It don’t tick like yours, Pa,” he said in a disappointed tone.
“That’s because Adam hasn’t wound it,” Ben said, ruffling his middle boy’s hair. “Here, son, you can use mine to set it to the correct time.”
Later that evening, when Ben went up to look in on his older boys, he found Hoss was sound asleep but not Adam. Ben sat on Adam’s side of the bed and asked softly, “So did you have a good birthday, son?”
“I sure did,” Adam replied in an equally soft voice. “I never expected anything as wonderful as my own watch.” He paused and said slowly, “I’m sorry I thought you didn’t care. I should’ve known better.”
“Well, if you can forgive me for almost forgetting your birthday, then I can forgive you for doubting my love. Is it a deal, son?” Ben asked, holding out his hand.
“It’s a deal, Pa,” Adam replied, shaking his pa’s hand and winking at him.
~ ~ ~
No matter how many shawls and how many pairs of stockings she put on, Marie simply never felt warm that winter. It amazed her that Ben and the boys and even Hop Sing were comfortable in their heavy winter clothing while she always felt cold. From the time she was a little girl, she had been curious about snow; she now decided it was beautiful to look at, but she loathed having to walk through it to use the outhouse. It amazed her that her stepsons loved playing in the cold, wet substance. While they threw snowballs at each other and built snowmen, she sat by the fire and knitted the thick wool scarves and stocking caps she was making each boy for Christmas-red for Adam and blue for Hoss.
Since the baby slept most of the time, she had resumed teaching Adam and Hoss, and each day she became more convinced that a boy with Adam’s intellectual gifts should be receiving a better education than what she could provide. But how? she thought. All the colleges are in the East and there is no way we can afford to send him to school there. Then she had a flash of inspiration. Adam’s maternal grandfather lives in the East; perhaps there is a college near his home. I know Ben would approve of Adam being able to spend time with his grandfather and perhaps he would be willing to assist in paying for Adam’s education. No, she told herself regretfully, Ben will never agree to that. Still, as more people travel to California to search for gold, the market for cattle will increase. Maybe by the time Adam is old enough to attend college, the money will be there for it.
That night as she lay in Ben’s arms after making love, she said, “I know Adam’s grandfather lives back East; I was just curious where.”
“Funny thing for you to be curious about,” he remarked with a smile she couldn’t see. “Captain Stoddard lives in Boston, Massachusetts.”
“Ah, I have heard of Boston,” she replied. “That is where they threw the tea into the sea and called it a tea party, n’est-ce-pas?”
“Yes,” he said with a chuckle, “we call it the Boston Tea Party.”
“Are there any colleges near Boston?” she asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
“Yes. Harvard College is just across the Charles River in Cambridge,” he replied. “This is a strange conversation, my love, but somehow I think there is a purpose behind your questions.”
“Adam is such an intelligent boy and I was just thinking that if there was a college near where his grandfather lives, perhaps he could attend there. That way he could spend time with his grandfather and receive a better education than we could ever give him.”
“I wish there was a way Adam could spend time with the Captain; Elizabeth was his only child and I’ve always felt guilty taking his only grandchild-his only link to her-away from him. But they exchange letters so they know each other that way. Even if I could afford to send Adam to college, a rancher doesn’t need to know Latin and Greek. What would he do with the knowledge out here?”
She thought of saying, “Maybe Adam doesn’t want to spend his life as a rancher. Perhaps he has other dreams.” However, she knew that thought had never occurred to her husband, and it would not be a welcome one, so she remained silent, for the time being.
~ ~ ~
One December night while she and Ben were cuddling together, she asked softly, “How do you and the boys celebrate Christmas?”
He smiled before replying. “In another day or so, I’ll take the boys to go pick out our Christmas tree; it’s a German custom that we learned from an immigrant family that passed through here on the way west.”
“I have heard of Christmas trees,” she said. “You hang ornaments on them, n’est-ce-pas?”
“Adam and I have carved some little animals that we hang, and we string popcorn.” He chuckled. “The first time we did it, Hoss wasn’t much more than a baby and we had a hard time keeping him from eating the popcorn off the tree.” That mental picture made Marie giggle and then Ben continued. “On Christmas Eve, we go cut down the tree and decorate it. Then, after supper, we gather around the tree and Adam recites A Visit from St. Nicholas, we sing some carols and then I read the Christmas story in Luke and Adam reads it in Matthew.”
“It sounds lovely,” she said softly. “I am glad I will be a part of it this year.” She paused. “You must have missed having Christmas with the boys last year, yet you never said anything.”
“Wouldn’t have been any point talking about it,” he said quietly, “but, yes, I really missed them. I knew I might not be able to get back until the spring so I had left their gifts with the McCarrans. Sure wish I could have been there when Adam saw his rifle.”
“Do we have anything to give the boys besides the scarves and caps I am knitting?” she asked.
“When I was in Sacramento, I bought some raisons, nuts, apples and oranges that we’ll put in their stockings. Oh, and a couple of lemon drops and licorice sticks each. They hang a stocking by the chimney and then I fill it with treats. I also picked up a package from Captain Stoddard. He mails it to some friends of mine in Sacramento and they hold it for me.” He nuzzled her neck before adding, “He always sends a combination Christmas and birthday gift to Adam and Hoss.”
“He gives Hoss gifts?” she said, surprised.
“Yes. He says Hoss is Adam’s brother and that makes him his honorary grandson. He doesn’t know about Joseph yet. I wrote him about our marriage while I was in New Orleans. I’ll have to include the information about Joseph’s birth in the letter I mail in the spring. Adam wrote him a letter and gave it to me to mail in Sacramento. I’m glad he’d begun to accept you by then, or the Captain might be writing me suggesting I send Adam to him.” She could hear the sadness in his voice but then he smiled. “It’s different now. Now, we really are a family.”
“I hope Captain Stoddard doesn’t resent me taking his daughter’s place as your wife,” she said hesitantly.
“No, he doesn’t. I can promise you that, my darling. When I left Boston with Adam, the Captain told me to keep a warm place in my heart for Elizabeth, but not to carry her on my shoulders for the rest of my life. He knew she wouldn’t want that.”
“He sounds like a very wise man, Adam’s grand-père,” she said, snuggling close to him.
Christmas Eve, while little Joseph slept in his cradle near the fireplace, the other four Cartwrights decorated their Christmas tree.
“Don’t put your cow so close to my lamb,” Adam commanded Hoss. “We don’t want all the ornaments bunched together.”
“You’re not the boss of me,” Hoss muttered.
“Boys,” Ben said in a tone they both recognized.
“Here, mon petit,” Marie said gently, placing her arm about Hoss’s shoulders, “I think your cow would look perfect here.” The little boy smiled at her, and then when his parents weren’t looking, he stuck out his tongue at his older sibling, who merely rolled his eyes and tried to look superior.
However, as they sat side by side on the settee and strung the popcorn, the two boys began to enter into the Christmas spirit. Their baby brother was awake and so Adam suggested singing Christmas carols.
“Let’s sing Fa-la-la-la-la,” Hoss suggested with a big grin.
“Start us off, Adam,” Ben said as he worked on a third string of popcorn while sitting at the table.
“Why don’t you sing us a French carol, Belle-mère?” Adam asked after they’d sung Deck the Halls, We Wish You a Merry Christmas and Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
“Bien sûr,” she replied, smiling warmly, for she was especially pleased that Adam had asked her. “My favorite carol is really German, but it has been translated into French, and I am sure it has also been translated into English. I will sing the first verse in French, and then why don’t all of you sing the next in English, n’est-ce-pas?” and they all nodded, curious which carol she would sing.
Holding her baby in the crook of her arm, Marie began to sing in her pleasant alto:
O douce nuit, belle nuit
C’est Noël aujourd’hui
Et pendant que les clochers joyeux
Carillonnent sous la voûte des cieux
Sous les toits des chaumières
On a le coeur bien heureux.
Adam and Hoss shared a smile with their father as they all recognized the familiar melody. When Marie finished, the three of them began to sing the beloved carol:
Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born
At the last refrain, Ben did not sing. Lifting his eyes heavenward, he prayed silently, “Heavenly Father, I thank You that You heard my prayer and the five of us are truly a family.”
Winter changed to spring, and it was time to round up the cattle and brand the new calves, to make soap, to plant the hay and oats and the kitchen garden. After the tedium of the winter, Marie found herself welcoming the bustling activity of the spring. Adam and Hoss were always happy about the arrival of spring, with one exception. When it was time to put away their long woolen underwear, it was time for Pa’s spring tonic. He’d mix up a batch of sulfur and molasses and every night for a month, Adam and Hoss had to take a spoonful.
Marie missed Ben while he was away at the spring roundup and branding and Hoss missed Adam, for Joe was too young to be a companion although he was smiling and giggling and could sit up on his own.
When the men returned from roundup, Adam was bursting with news. “Guess what!” he said excitedly, and before giving Marie or Hoss a chance to even open their mouths, he continued. “There’s a bunch of miners camped around Sun Mountain. I talked to a couple of ‘em, and they think they’re gonna find a bonanza. Said if there’s gold on the western side of the Sierra Nevada, then it stands to reason there’s gold on the eastern side. You should see ‘em. They live in these little huts made out of sticks or brush. I told ‘em they’d freeze in the winter, but they said they’d have struck gold and be gone long before that. We sold ‘em a steer and butchered it for ‘em and then we showed ‘em how to barbecue it. You shoulda seen ‘em eat.” He shook his head as Hoss listened, open-mouthed while Ben and Marie shared a smile, for they rarely saw Adam so animated. “They said they hadn’t had any fresh meat since they’d arrived. Mr. McCarran said he’d come by in a couple of weeks and sell ‘em another steer if they were still there.”
Ben had been silent, letting Adam talk but now he said, “Andy and Dan and I made sure they knew where our land is and that they weren’t to do any mining there.” He shook his head saying, “The gold-crazed fools.”
“Did they bring their wives?” Marie asked curiously.
“No,” Ben replied. “If they have them, they’re still living back East no doubt. Can’t imagine any man allowing his wife to live they way they do.”
~ ~ ~
Spring changed to summer and the two older boys went berrying and fishing, but much of their time was spent on their lessons. During the enforced inactivity of the winter, Adam had completed McGuffey’s Fourth Eclectic Reader, and when Ben had been in New Orleans, he’d also purchased the fifth and final book of the series.
“Well, son, after you finish this reader, your schooling will be over and you’ll be a full-time hand just like José and Diego,” Ben said proudly.
“You’ll be a real vaquero, Adam!” Hoss said excitedly. He and Ben were totally oblivious of Adam’s pensive expression at Ben’s words, but Marie was more observant. Then Hoss turned to Ben. “Pa, how soon before I can be a full-time hand?”
“Not for a long time, Hoss,” Ben said with a grin, reaching out to ruffle his middle boy’s hair.
“I don’t have to finish all of them readers, do I?” the youngster asked anxiously.
“We’ll talk about that in a few years. Right now, I expect you to work hard on your lessons and do your best.”
“I aint never gonna do as good as Adam,” Hoss said mournfully.
“Now, Hoss,” Marie said, “‘Comparisons are odious.'”
“Huh?” Hoss said, totally mystified.
“She means that we both have things that we’re good at; they just aren’t the same things,” Adam replied with a wink. “So you shouldn’t compare yourself to me.”
“What am I good at?” Hoss asked, for it seemed to him that his older brother was better than he was at everything.
“You’re stronger than your older brother was at your age,” Ben said, squeezing Hoss’s shoulder comfortingly.
“Yeah, and I bet you’ll be a better wrestler than me,” Adam added, playfully punching his brother’s arm.
“You are very patient and gentle with your baby brother,” Marie added and they were all three pleased with Hoss’s happy expression.
Later that morning, Joe was napping and Hoss was outside playing with one of his tops during recess, while Adam was finishing the essay Marie had assigned him. She watched him, curly head bent over the paper while he wrote. When he handed her the paper and started to join Hoss, she said quietly, “I’d like to talk with you for a moment, Adam.”
He shrugged and sat back down, looking at her expectantly.
“Adam, you know you are a very intelligent boy, and as I’ve taught you, I’ve been very impressed with your ability. Have you ever thought of a higher education?”
“You mean college?” he asked, and she nodded. “Sure, I’ve dreamed about it,” he said slowly, “but that’s all it is-a dream.”
“Perhaps not,” she replied quietly. “Your pa tells me that there is a college near where your grandfather lives.”
“Harvard,” he said and she saw the longing in his eyes. “But it’s across the country and I’d have to be gone for four years. Pa would never agree to that, even if we could afford it. And I don’t know Latin; I think you have to know it if you’re going to college.”
“Don’t give up on your dream, Adam,” she said earnestly. “Who knows what may happen in the future? The next time you write your grandfather, ask him if he can find out what the requirements are for entering Harvard. I’m sure he would be happy to find out for you. After all, if you did attend Harvard, then you and he would have a chance to spend time together.”
“Pa would approve of that. Merci, Belle-mère. I’ll take your advice.” His whole face was alight with happiness and anticipation and she realized how seldom she had seen him truly and completely happy.
~ ~ ~
Early one morning during the haying season while Ben and Adam were doing their barn chores, Adam said quietly, “Pa, I know you’ve said I’ve got to wait until I’m fourteen before I can go on the drive, but my fourteenth birthday is only four months away, and I’m not a little boy anymore, Pa. You can see that I’m not.”
Ben pursued his lips thoughtfully. It was true. This spring and summer Adam had had a growth spurt; Marie’d had to rip out the hems in all his trousers and even so, they were still too short, as were the sleeves of his shirts. Even more noticeable was the way they pulled across his shoulders. Yesterday had been especially hot and Adam and the other boys had removed their cotton shirts while mowing the hay. Ben had been startled to see just how broad his first-born’s shoulders were becoming, and even more startling had been the hair beginning to grow under his arms, which the other boys had teased him about. Ben found himself examining the face before him, noting the subtle changes: the childish roundness was disappearing, slowly being replaced by the more adult features.
“You’re right, son,” he said slowly. “You aren’t a little boy, but neither are you a man. I realize that it’s time you and I had a talk about the changes you’ll be experiencing as you become a man,” and Adam nodded. There were some things he’d wanted to ask his pa about but it was hard to find a time when neither Hoss nor Marie were around. “I might be inclined to let you go on the drive except your brother is still too young to handle all your chores.”
“I showed him how to milk Blossom and he does that most evenings and he could slop the pigs,” Adam said.
“Yes, but he’s too young to be chopping wood or digging the new hole for the outhouse,” Ben replied. “Besides, I don’t think Dan Marquette plans on letting Ross go on the drive this year, and I thought you two wanted to go together.”
“Yeah, we do,” Adam said regretfully, causing his pa to grin.
“Adam, you’ll be going on plenty of cattle drives and I can tell you for a fact that they aren’t fun. They’re hard work.” He changed the subject abruptly and said, “Have you written to your grandfather yet? You need to make sure the letter is ready for me to take to Sacramento.”
“I’m just about finished. It’ll be ready.” He paused and said diffidently, “I wish I could see Grandfather again and talk with him.”
“So do I. I wish he could see how much you resemble your mother. He’d be so pleased.” Ben smiled wistfully before adding, “Of course you take after me in some ways. I can see you’re going to be tall like me.”
“My mother wasn’t tall?” Adam asked carefully. His father seldom mentioned his mother and he cherished every scrap of knowledge he could gather about her. “Was she taller than Belle-mère?”
“Oh no,” Ben replied with a smile. “She was much shorter, but she was so spirited that when you were with her, you forgot her height.” Just then Hoss ran into the barn.
“Pa, Hop Sing says breakfast is ready but Ma says we can’t eat until you and Adam come.”
“We’ll be there in just a minute, Hoss,” Ben replied, and then he and Adam concentrated on finishing their chores so they didn’t keep everyone waiting too long.
~ ~ ~
A little before dusk, Ben and his vaqueros returned from the cattle drive, which was also a trip for supplies to last through the winter. José and Diego were in charge of the caviata and Ben drove the wagon loaded with flour, cornmeal, salt, coffee and other staples plus new boots for Adam and Hoss and several yards of chambray, twill and muslin. The boys heard the horses and came running outside, lessons forgotten, with Marie and Hop Sing following at a more sedate pace and Joe wriggling in his mother’s arms.
“Howdy, Pa!” Hoss yelled, running to greet Ben, who hugged him tightly.
“Glad to see you back, Pa,” Adam said with a grin. “Like some help unloading the wagon?” and his eyes twinkled mischievously. Ben reached out to tousle Adam’s curls, but the boy ducked out of reach. Ben noted that Adam had grown taller just in the time he’d been gone and his shoulders and chest were growing broader.
“I surely would,” Ben said with a tired smile. “If you and Hoss can unload the wagon, I’ll take care of the horses. But first things first.” He walked over to Marie and Joe. “I’ve missed you so, my love,” he said softly. “And you, too, young man,” he said to his baby boy, who was trying to jump from his ma’s arms to his pa’s. Ben took Joe and kissed his soft cheek. “You’ve sure grown while Pa’s been away. Just like your brothers.”
“Joe can walk, Pa,” Hoss yelled from where he was helping to unload the wagon.
“No!” Ben exclaimed.
“Yes,” Marie replied quietly. “He took his first steps two days ago with his brothers encouraging him.”
“Wish I could have seen it,” Ben replied wistfully. “I saw Adam’s and Hoss’s first steps.”
“I wish you could have been here, too,” she said softly, and then added, “Adam helped me find the shoes he and Hoss wore when they were babies.” She pulled up Joe’s frock so Ben could see them. “I’m glad you saved them.”
“So am I,” he replied. “Guess I was just being sentimental and wanted something to remind me of when they were so small.” He turned to watch his two older boys, who were busy unloading the wagon. Shaking his head slightly he commented, “Looking at Adam now, it’s hard to remember when he was no older than Joe. Same head full of curls,” he added, softly stroking Joe’s, “except Adam’s were dark.” The little boy started wriggling, clearly indicating that he wanted down.
“Non,” Marie said, taking him from Ben so he could go unhitch the horses. “Tes grands frères ne peuvent pas jouer avec toi, mon ange. Ils ont trop de travail.” Like most toddlers, Joe did not take well to having his desires thwarted and he began to scream at the top of his lungs and struggle to get down, so Marie took him inside to wait for the others.
While they were all sitting around the table eating supper, Hoss, who’d barely been able to wait until his father said grace, asked eagerly, “Did ya bring me anythin’, Pa? Did ya?”
“Oh, I think I just might have something in my saddlebags,” Ben replied, his eyes twinkling. “We can check after supper.” He turned to his first-born then and said, ‘Oh, I met some old friends. Do you remember Mr. and Mrs. Townsend from the wagon train?”
“I think so,” Adam said slowly. “They had a dog, didn’t they?”
“That’s right,” Ben replied with a chuckle. “I’d forgotten their dog but I should have known you’d remember.” Adam grinned and Ben continued. “They decided to settle in Yerba Buena, or San Francisco as it’s known now, and he got a job working at a bank; said he’d done real well for himself and he and his wife have a son about a year younger than Hoss. He was in Sacramento on business and he was disappointed that you and Hoss weren’t with me. He said if we were ever in San Francisco, to be sure and look them up.” He looked at Marie then and added, “He, uh, recommended a couple of investment opportunities, so I decided to invest some of the money we earned for our beef. I, uh, opened a bank account and put most of the money in the bank though.”
“How’d we do, Pa?” Adam asked. “What price did we get for our cattle?’
$25 a head,” Ben said proudly.
“That’s $10 more a head than last year,” Adam replied, grinning.
“Are we rich, Pa?” Hoss asked wonderingly.
“No, son, but I’d say we’re comfortable,” Ben said, his tone serious, thinking of the years of poverty when he’d been lucky to feed Adam bread and milk and he’d worn tattered and ill-fitting clothes because Ben couldn’t afford to buy him new. God willing, those days are gone forever, Ben thought fervently.
Ben had brought back a small flat package from Captain Stoddard for Adam and after giving the boys their gifts-a sack full of horehound candy and lemon drops for Hoss, a slate and slate pencil for Joe so he could emulate his older brothers, and for Adam a box of pencils and another of paper-he handed Adam the package. Hoss had waited expectantly for his brother to open the package but to his great disappointment, his older brother made no move to do so.
“Aint ya gonna open yer package?” he finally asked.
“Later,” was his brother’s laconic reply and Hoss sighed. Ben was curious what the Captain had sent Adam, but he respected his son’s privacy so he said nothing.
Adam waited until he knew everyone had gone to bed. He slid soundlessly out of bed and then his fingers found his flint and steel where he always left them on the bedside table. Hoss was a heavy sleeper so the sound of flint striking steel didn’t waken him, nor did the faint light of the tallow candle when Adam lit it. He sat on the side of the bed, reached under his pillow for the flat package and then removed the brown wrapping paper as quietly as he could. He uncovered a letter and a book-not a novel, but a book on Latin grammar. He put the book back under his pillow and unfolded the letter
November 14, 1849
First, I want to wish you a happy birthday (even though I know this letter won’t reach you for many months). I was very happy to receive your latest letter and what a lot of news you had to share. A new stepmother. And by the time you receive this letter, you’ll have a new sister or brother. I hope to hear from you that the baby was born healthy and that your stepmother is doing well.
We’ve had a very wet autumn here in Boston. I gather from what you and your father have written that your climate is drier. Sometimes I envy you because the cold and damp here make these old bones ache, but I could never bear to live that far from the sea. Oh, I know I’m too old to sail her, but I love to watch her and the clipper ships in the harbor. If I weren’t so old, I’d board one for San Francisco and come visit you and your family. I’d love the sea voyage, but I’m afraid I could never make it across the mountains that lie between your home and San Francisco.
Since you’d written me that you wished there was some way you could learn Latin, I spoke to an old friend of your mother’s who has a pair of boys around your age. She said this Latin grammar is the one her sons use at the Boston Latin School. If you had remained in Boston, that’s where you would have gone to school. But, your father promised your mother that he’d follow his dream and take you west with him and from what you write, you are happy there on the Ponderosa.
Well, I must close so I can mail this package tomorrow.
God bless you, my boy.
The next morning during recess Hoss and Joe were on the porch playing with Adam’s old Noah’s Ark, which had been passed down from brother to brother, but Adam lingered in the cabin so he could speak with Marie.
“Grandfather sent me a Latin grammar,” he said abruptly. “That’s what was in the package. I wrote him I wished I could learn Latin and he sent me the same book they use at the Boston Latin School. I looked at it, but I don’t think I can teach myself.”
“I know a little Latin,” she said slowly, then seeing his eyebrow arch in that questioning way of his, said irritably, “The prayers I was taught are all in Latin.”
“Oh,” he said, looking abashed.
Marie relaxed with his unspoken, though apparent, apology. “Let me see the book. Perhaps, between the two of us we can manage to work it out,” she said with a smile.
He dimpled and started to climb the ladder, but halfway up he stopped. “Belle-mère, there’s something else I’ve been wanting to ask you. You offered to teach me to fence but you couldn’t then. Could you teach me now?”
She smiled at him. “While Little Joe is taking his afternoon nap, I’ll give you your first lesson.”
When Ben returned late that afternoon, he found his first-born armed with an épée, practicing lunges under the tutelage of his wife, while the two younger boys played with Hoss’s tops on the porch.
“What’s going on here?” he asked with a ferocious frown.
“Belle-mère is teaching me to fence,” Adam said with a grin that faded as he saw his pa’s angry scowl.
“You should have asked my permission first,” Ben barked. Marie said nothing, but her look and demeanor spoke volumes as she slowly reached for the epee that Adam had lowered to his side.
“But I asked Belle-mère and she said she’d be happy to teach me,” Adam said defensively. Ben took a deep breath, rather than chastising the youngster for talking back.
“Take care of Buck,” Ben said steadily, the look in his eyes telling the boy that he had best do as he was told. Adam frowned, but he took the outstretched reins without a word. “Hoss, take Little Joe inside, please,” Ben said. “Your ma and I need to talk.”
“Okay, Pa,” Hoss replied, knowing from experience that he did not wish to be anywhere near by when his pa used that tone of voice. Standing up, he held out his hand to his playmate, saying, “C’mon, Little Joe. We can play inside.” Normally, the toddler would have run to greet his pa, but this scowling stranger alarmed him and he went inside with his older brother willingly.
As soon as the boys were out of earshot, Ben said angrily, “What do you mean teaching him to fence?”
“He asked me,” Marie replied, her eyes flashing green fire, “and I thought it was a good idea. Fencing helps to develop agility.”
“Fencing and swords are not part of our way of life here. I don’t want Adam to have any more fencing lessons.”
“And my wishes count for nothing?” she asked, angry and hurt.
“Of course they count,” he replied. He took a deep breath to calm himself. “For me, fencing is inexorably linked to dueling, and I just don’t want Adam or any of our sons to learn. Can you understand,” and his tone was almost pleading.
“Yes,” she answered slowly. “I suppose I do understand. I don’t agree, but I understand. I don’t know that Adam will though.” She smiled suddenly. “There is something else I should teach him and it also develops dexterity and suppleness.” He looked at her, baffled, so she said with a laugh, “I will teach Adam to dance. I am sure that one day he will need to know.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” Ben said with a smile.
“Maybe it is just as well there are no young ladies living nearby because I’m sure they would all be flirting with him.” She saw Ben’s raised eyebrow and shook her head. “Maybe you cannot see it, but he is growing into a very handsome young man. A little too serious perhaps, but for some, that will only add to his appeal.” She smiled again and said, “It makes his dimples even more devastating when he does smile.” Seeing her husband’s bemused look she quickly said, “Why don’t we talk to him together about substituting dancing lessons for fencing lessons?”
~ ~ ~
Joe’s first birthday was celebrated with a cake and gifts from his parents and brothers. Marie had sewed him a wool coat, and she’d knitted him a pair of green mittens and a green cap with flaps to cover his ears that tied under his chin, so he could play outside with his brothers. Joe had no interest in those gifts, to his mother’s chagrin, but he loved the little wooden horse on wheels that his two brothers had made him.
“I had the idea of givin’ Joe a toy horse ‘n’ Adam got the idea of puttin’ it on wheels so Joe could make it move,” Hoss said beaming, as his little brother rolled the toy back and forth across the smooth wooden floor.
“You both did a wonderful job,” Ben said, smiling proudly at his older boys. Later after Joe was tucked into his trundle bed in a corner of Ben and Marie’s room, separated by a bed sheet that served as a curtain to give them a little privacy, Ben examined the toy more closely.
“The boys did a fine job on this,” he said, scrutinizing the workmanship. “And those wheels are ingenious.”
“Oui, most ingenious. And think how much more ingenuity Adam could display with the right education,” she replied quietly.
“You really think he should go to college, don’t you?” he said thoughtfully.
“Yes, I do, mon amour,” she said quietly. “I asked Adam if he’d ever thought about it, and he admitted going to college was a dream of his.”
“He never told me,” Ben said, stung that Adam had shared his dream with Marie, but not with him.
“He knows you would never allow him to be gone for four years, and that we could not afford to pay for his tuition.”
“He’s right about that,” Ben said brusquely. “Although,” he added in a more thoughtful voice, “we did get a better price for our cattle this trip than last year. There are so many men there hunting gold, and they have no time for anything else, so they pay top dollar for any kind of food. We’ve got money in the bank earning interest. Then there are the investments I made with Dave Townsend. If they turn out well, they’ll make even more money for us.”
Marie decided that she’d planted a seed about Adam’s future and she needed to let it germinate. “Now that Joseph’s birthday is over, it is time to begin thinking of Adam’s,” she said brightly. “Hop Sing thinks he can make a cake with two layers by baking them separately. He is hoarding sugar so he can make icing. Jessie told me how to make it and I told Hop Sing.”
“And I’ll have Hop Sing make his favorite foods for dinner that day because that’s a tradition. I think he’ll be pleased with the celebration and his gifts.”
Adam was very pleased. He hadn’t seen a layer cake since he was a little boy and Inger had made one for his sixth birthday-the only one he’d celebrated with her. He felt a lump in his throat when he saw it and had to blink very fast. When the family gathered around the fireplace to watch him open his gifts, Joe insisted on sitting on his big brother’s lap and “helping” him. Adam rescued the leather-bound journal that Pa had given him before Joe could rip any of the pages. The book of poetry that Marie gave him also had to be rescued from the toddler’s clutches, causing him to scream in frustration. Marie snatched her baby boy away before Ben had chance to administer a swat to his little behind. She took him into the bedroom to calm him and Adam opened the gift from Hoss.
“Diego helped me,” Hoss said, watching his brother’s face anxiously.
“It’s beautiful, Hoss,” Adam exclaimed, holding up a new bridle. “Thanks,” he said with a big, dimpled smile.
“Since it’s your birthday, what would you like to do this evening?” Ben asked, smiling at the two boys.
“I’d like to sing,” Adam replied.
“Hurrah!” shouted Hoss. “Can we sing Pop Goes the Weasel, Adam?”
“Sure,” the older boy said with a grin, getting up to get his stepmother’s guitar.
While they were singing the chorus, Marie and Joe, whose face showed he had been crying, came out of the bedroom to join them. As soon as his ma sat down, Joe wriggled off her lap, toddled over to his big brother and held up his arms.
“Okay, Little Buddy, but your ma’s gonna have to play the guitar.”
“I’ll take it to her,” Hoss said, jumping up and running over to his brother to take the instrument.
When Marie was ready, Adam said, “How about Wait for the Wagon?” You like that one, don’t you, Little Joe?” and the toddler nodded vigorously.
As Marie strummed, Adam started them off:
Will you come with me my Phyllis, dear
To yon blue mountain free?
Where the blossoms smell the sweetest
Come rove along with me.
When Adam got ready to sing “with me”, instead of his voice going up, it croaked. Joe immediately dissolved into giggles and clapped his hands.
Hoss was laughing as hard as Joe but managed to get out, “Do that again, Adam.”
“Shut up, Hoss!” Adam snapped, and to his horror, his voice croaked again.
“That will be enough, both of you,” Ben said, trying to sound stern although he was struggling to keep his face straight.
“But Adam sounds funny,” Hoss got out between giggles.
“Your brother’s voice is changing. It’s perfectly natural,” Ben said.
“Changing to what?” Hoss asked, his curiosity overcoming his laughter.
“Well, little boys have high voices and as they grow into men, their voices get deeper,” Ben said, with a smile for his first-born.
“Ya mean Adam’s gonna sound like you?” Hoss asked.
“I don’t know how low his voice will be; we’ll just have to wait and see. The same thing will happen to you when you’re Adam’s age.”
“Really?” Hoss asked, his blue eyes shining and Ben answered with a smile, “Really.”
“Can we play Twenty Questions instead of singing?” Adam then asked, jiggling Joe on his knee, and hoping to change the conversation to something besides his unpredictable voice.
“It’s your birthday, so if you’d rather play a game, then that’s what we’ll do,” Ben replied, with just a hint of a smile quirking up the corners of his mouth. He had a feeling that Adam wouldn’t do any more singing until his voice had stopped breaking. At least not where anyone could hear him.
That winter Adam finished the last McGuffey Reader and began working fulltime as a ranch hand, going with the other hands to hunt for the wolf packs, cougars and grizzlies that preyed on the Ponderosa’s cattle, bringing wagonloads of hay to the winter pastures and making sure water was available for the cattle.
By spring, Adam’s voice had changed to a honeyed baritone, and the dark fuzz on his upper lip and chin was becoming more noticeable. (Although when he asked to borrow his pa’s straight razor, Ben only smiled and told him to wait a couple of months and ask again.) Joe was no longer toddling about the cabin, but running and climbing on every thing in sight. The ladder to the loft had to be put against the wall of the main room during the day and Adam pulled it up in the loft at night to prevent the toddler from falling and hurting himself.
“Sure wish I could come on the roundup with you,” Hoss said the evening before Ben and Adam were going to leave.
“You’ll be coming in a few years,” Ben said with a smile. “Right now I think your ma needs your help keeping your younger brother out of mischief.”
“Oh, I think that would require a miracle,” Adam inserted with a grin, for earlier that day Little Joe had figured out how to open the drawers in Marie’s clothespress and scattered her drawers, camisoles and petticoats all over the cabin before he was caught.
“Adam,” Ben said warningly.
“It’s the truth. You are a mischief magnet, aren’t you, Little Buddy?” Adam asked and the little boy giggled.
Joe was used to his pa and oldest brother leaving in the morning, but when they didn’t come back for dinner he began to fret.
“Your pa and Adam will be back in a few days, mon ange,” Marie said softly.
“Yeah, that’s right, Little Joe. They’re just roundin’ up the cattle so they can brand the new baby calves,” Hoss added.
“Pa, A’am home,” Joe said, his bottom lip sticking out and his chin beginning to quiver.
“Lucy had some little baby piglets. You wanna see ‘em,” Hoss said quickly, for he hated seeing his little brother cry.
“Oh, wouldn’t that be fun!” Marie said enthusiastically. “We’ll finish our dinner and then go see the baby piglets.”
They were able to divert Joe then, but that evening at supper was a different story. Marie held him in her lap and rocked him but he kept crying for his pa and his brother. His crying only made Hoss miss Pa and Adam more until he had to blink back his own tears because he was too old to cry. Joe finally cried himself to sleep and Marie carefully laid him in his trundle bed. When she came out of the bedroom and saw how sad Hoss looked, she offered to play a game of checkers with him, just as Adam often did, which cheered him up.
The next morning, Joe was his usual sunny self and when Marie was changing his diaper, he wriggled away and ran over to the bedroom door and pushed it open before she could catch him.
“Oh non, Joe, petit diable, viens voir Maman, mon chéri,” she called, struggling not to laugh at the sight of her little darling running au natural through the cabin giggling.
Hoss came back in the cabin with the eggs and milk just then and said in surprise, “Joe’s nekkid.”
“Give Hop Sing the eggs and milk and help me catch him,” Marie said, trying not to laugh.
Hoss caught the giggling child, and, as he handed him to Marie, he remarked conversationally, “You know, Adam’s John Thomas is gettin’ really big.”
Marie felt her cheeks flame and said hurriedly, “Hoss, it’s not proper for you to talk about that. Especially around ladies.”
“Oh,” the boy said with a shrug. “How come?”
“That is something you must ask your pa,” Marie said firmly.
A few days later while Hoss was helping Hop Sing with the kitchen garden and Marie and Joe were playing with Adam’s old cloth ball on the porch, Ben, Adam and the two vaqueros rode into the clearing with their caviata.
“Pa! A’am!” Joe screamed and ran straight toward them heedless of the horses. Marie jumped up and grabbed hold of him while Ben and Adam dismounted.
“Hey, Little Buddy, did ya miss me?” Adam asked.
“Pa! A’am,” Joe said, grinning at them, and holding out his arms to his pa.
“He definitely missed you,” Marie said, and Ben held Joe in one arm and put the other around Marie’s shoulders and kissed her. Hoss came running around the side of the cabin then yelling, “Howdy, Pa! Howdy, Adam! Joe sure did miss ya. He cried every night you was gone.”
José and Diego had dismounted and, hearing this exchange, José said to Ben, “Diego and I will take care of the horses so you and Adán can spend time with Josélito.”
“Muchas gracias, mi amigos,” Ben said, smiling warmly at the two vaqueros.
“Si, muchas gracias,” Adam added, dimpling.
About an hour later while Ben and Adam were telling the others how the roundup had gone and Ben was jiggling Little Joe on his knee, they heard the sound of a horse approaching at a gallop. Adam and Hoss jumped up and ran out the door followed by their parents. They were surprised to see Todd McCarran ride his heavily lathered horse up to the door. His dusty face was streaked with tears and he couldn’t keep his voice steady as he said, “My ma-she’s real sick. My pa sent me to see if Hop Sing could come.”
Hop Sing had followed the others onto the porch and he now spoke up. “I come take care of Missy McCarran. Must get herbs.”
Ben saw Adam was already walking toward Todd’s exhausted mount so he said firmly, “Todd, Adam and Hoss will take care of your horse. You come inside and rest.”
“I gotta go back with Hop Sing,” the boy said in a trembling voice.
“No, Hop Sing knows the way to your spread. You need to rest before you collapse. You can set off back home at first light.”
“But my pa-”
“Hop Sing will tell your pa that you are staying with us. He will worry less about you that way,” Marie said gently.
When Ben returned the next morning, one look at his face told Marie and Adam his news.
“Mon Dieu,” Marie said, her eyes filling with tears. “Not Jessie.”
“She told Andy before she left that she just had a little cold, but she must have been sicker than she let on,” Ben said, making no effort to check his tears. “She had pneumonia and she was already dying by the time Hop Sing got there. She fought to keep alive until she could say goodbye to Todd, and then she passed away peacefully. Hop Sing is going to stay for a few days to look after them, but Andy wanted you to prepare the body.”
Marie nodded, trying to hold back her tears so she wouldn’t upset Joe.
Ben said quietly, “Adam, I’m going back with your ma to offer what comfort I can to Mr. McCarran. I’m leaving you in charge of your brothers.”
Adam nodded as Marie kissed Joe’s cheek and left with Ben.
“Did-did Mrs. McCarran d-die, Adam?” Hoss asked, his blue eyes filling with tears.
Adam nodded, blinking back his own tears. Little Joe ran to the door screaming, “Ma! Pa!” so Adam scooped him up and held him.
“Your ma and pa will be back later, Little Buddy. How would you like to play “This Little Piggy”?
Little Joe squirmed to get away but Adam held him close. “Okay, well how about if you and me and Hoss play with your ball. I know you like to play ball.” He looked at Hoss who was struggling to control his own tears, but said, “Yeah, I wanna play ball. I’ll go get it.”
Hoss came out of the bedroom with Joe’s ball and tossed it to Adam, who caught it with one hand. “Sure you don’t wanna play ball, Little Joe?” he asked, tossing the ball to Hoss, who threw it back to him. After Adam tossed the ball to Hoss one more time, Joe stopped crying and said, “Play.”
Adam knew he needed to keep Joe’s (and Hoss’s) minds occupied, so after they played catch, they played ring-a-round-a-rosy.
“I’m gettin’ hungry, Adam,” Hoss said after several games.
“Hungy,” Joe added.
Joe is weaned but he has to eat food that doesn’t require much chewing, Adam thought. “How about I fix some scrambled eggs?”
“‘Kay,” Joe said with a grin but Hoss asked, “Is that all we’re havin’?”
“Hop Sing said there’s a little sausage left. Go get it out of the woodshed, and I’ll fry that up for you and me to eat with the eggs.” Hoss ran out the door so Adam turned to his baby brother. “You wanna help big brother scramble the eggs?”
“Yeah!” the toddler said with an enormous grin.
As soon as Adam started to pick Little Joe up, he wrinkled his nose. “Uh-oh, Little Joe, you need a clean diaper. C’mon,” and he grasped the toddler’s hand firmly and led him to the bedroom where Marie kept the clean diapers and a pail for the dirty ones.
“I haven’t done this in a long time,” Adam said, “but I do remember one thing. You’d better not pee on me, Little Joe. Understand?” The toddler grinned and Adam frowned and said, “I’m warning you, Little Joe.”
Luckily the diapering passed off without incident. As they were finishing, Hoss came in with the sausage balls. “There was just these two left so I brung ‘em both,” he said.
“It takes longer to cook the sausage, so I’ll get it started and you can watch it for me, okay?” Adam said to Hoss.
“Sure, Adam,” the younger boy said confidently.
“Wait a few minutes and then take this big fork and turn ‘em,” Adam instructed the novice cook, and then he got Hop Sing’s biggest earthenware bowl to make the scrambled eggs, and lifted Joe up so he could stand on the bench at the kitchen table.
“Wait, Joe, you’re getting the shell mixed in with the eggs,” Adam said as the giggling youngster crushed the egg in his hand and dumped contents into the bowl. “Let me see if I can get the shell out.” While Little Joe giggled, Adam did his best to fish out the bits of shell and then reached for another egg in the basket that was hung from the ceiling. When Little Joe started to grab for the egg, he held it out of reach.
“Me! Me!” the toddler shrieked but Adam shook his head.
“No. Big brother is going to break the eggs, but you can stir ‘em.” Joe pouted but he recognized the tone of voice and knew his older brother would not be swayed. Once Adam had broken the eggs, he handed Joe Hop Sing’s wooden spoon and let him stir. He almost stirred the eggs right out of the bowl, but Adam managed to prevent that catastrophe.
“Okay, now I’m going to add a little milk and stir that in.”
“Me stir,” the eighteen-month-old insisted.
“I tell you what. Let me stir a little first, and then you can do the rest, okay?”
“‘Kay, A’am,” the toddler said with a grin.
Just then Adam smelled smoke. “Hey, Hoss, have you turned the sausage?”
“I’m turnin’ it right now, Adam,” Hoss said quickly.
“Why don’t you watch Little Joe while I cook the food,” Adam suggested so Hoss and Joe played with the Noah’s Ark until Adam announced dinner was ready. He hadn’t cooked since Hop Sing had come to stay with them but the eggs weren’t too scorched and the sausage wasn’t too burnt. He put about the same amount of eggs on Little Joe’s tin plate that he thought Belle-mère put and then he divided the rest of the eggs and the sausage between himself and Hoss. Joe was quiet when Adam put him in his highchair (the same one Ben had made for Hoss) and while Adam said grace, but when he saw his brothers start to eat his eyes began to fill with tears and his chin and lower lip began to wobble.
“Ma, Pa home,” he said and his voice ended in a sob.
“Your ma and pa will be back by suppertime, Little Joe. I promise,” Adam said softly. “C’mon now, eat your eggs.” But the little boy began to cry in earnest, so Adam put his fork down and lifted his baby brother out of his high chair and sat down in the rocking chair and began to rock and sing softly. Hoss ate a couple of forkfuls of eggs and a bite of sausage, but then he came and sat on the settee, close by his brothers. He wanted Pa and Ma to come home so they could tell him why God let Mrs. McCarran die so Todd didn’t have a ma anymore, and why God had let those Indians kill his ma and let Adam’s ma die when he was born. He listened quietly as Adam’s smooth baritone softly sang a song that Marie would sing to Little Joe.
Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,
Sonnez les matines, sonnez les matines
Ding ding dong, ding ding dong.
Joe quieted as he put his thumb in his mouth and gradually as Adam continued to sing he drifted off. Adam got up very carefully and carried Joe to his trundle bed and laid him down on it. When he came back out he saw Hoss was still sitting on the settee, looking very downhearted.
“Can you help me clean up?” he asked quietly and the younger boy nodded. Seeing their mostly uneaten dinner, Adam commented, “Good thing Pa isn’t here. He’d scold us for wasting food.”
“I wasn’t very hungry,” Hoss said as helped Adam gather up the plates. “I just kept thinkin’ how sad Todd must be now. I guess like you were when my ma died.”
“I expect so,” Adam replied quietly. “I don’t remember anything that ever hurt as much as losing Mama.”
“I wish I could remember her,” Hoss said sadly. “Do you ever wish you could remember your ma?”
“Sure,” Adam replied with a wistful smile. “Pa never talks about her very much, I guess because it hurts him to remember, but when I was really small, he told me that she watches over me from Heaven. Then after Mama died, he told me that she and my mother would both watch over me and you.”
“Your mother watches over me?” Hoss asked, both his eyes widening.
“I’m sure she does. I like to think of them both up in Heaven watching over us.”
“And Little Joe,” Hoss added.
“Sure, Little Joe, too,” Adam replied. “Now, let’s get these dishes washed before he wakes up.”
One afternoon about a month before it was time to begin cutting the hay, Ben told Adam he wanted to see him in the barn. Adam followed his pa and they stopped inside by the shelf where Ben kept his revolver and therefore was purposely high enough that only Adam, Ben and the vaqueros could reach it.
Turning to his oldest son, Ben said, “Mr. Marquette, Mr. McCarran and I talked it over at the last cattle drive and because of the rattlesnakes and wild animals we sometimes run into on a drive, we decided to give each of you boys a gun of his own. Last year when we were in Sacramento, we each purchased a Colt pocket revolver, a gunbelt and a holster.”
Adam’s dark hazel eyes flashed as he saw his pa reach for the shiny silver-plated pistol, enfolded in the stiff leather holster. The gunbelt was hand tooled and had a shiny brass buckle.
Holding the weapon in his callused hands, Ben waited until his son’s gaze moved from the gun back to meet his father’s eyes. “Now, I need to show you the basics and then I know you’ll want some target practice. I don’t want you to talk of any of this with your brothers and you’re to keep it here with mine unless I am with you to supervise your use of it. Do you understand?”
“Okay, Pa,” Adam replied all too quickly and Ben easily read the excitement in his voice and his expression.
“Adam, this gun is not a toy. You are to do exactly as you’re told concerning it or the punishment will be severe,” he said sternly and Adam took a deep breath to steady his exhilaration.
“I understand, sir. It’s a weapon just like my rifle and I know if I’m not careful, I could hurt or even kill someone. I promise I’ll be very careful.”
“I know you will, son, or I wouldn’t give it to you.” Ben smiled at his first-born and gave his shoulder a squeeze. “All right, let’s take your revolver and I’ll show you how to use it.”
When they were a safe distance from the cabin, Ben stopped and handed Adam the revolver, gunbelt and holster. He waited while Adam fastened the gunbelt around his hips and tied down the holster. Ben swallowed hard, noting that the new addition to his son’s wardrobe was one that he would likely be forced to wear for the rest of his life. Ben recalled the first time he had strapped on a gun when he faced the prospect of a frontier life and the daily need for a firearm to protect himself and his young son.
“Now, I’ll show you how to draw, and then you will practice with the gun unloaded,” Ben said. “You grasp the handle of the gun like this,” and he demonstrated, “with your finger at this angle for the trigger and your thumb cocking the hammer. Don’t be trying to do it fast; concentrate on doing it smoothly, and don’t put your finger on the trigger until the gun clears the holster.”
Adam soon saw the wisdom in practicing without ammunition because he forgot and put his finger on the trigger too soon the first couple of times. He was starting to feel more comfortable when his pa said that was enough practice.
“You’ve got wood that needs to be chopped and then it’ll be time for our barn chores. I want you to be comfortable with the revolver, so until it’s time to cut our hay, every day about this time we’ll come here and you can practice.”
Adam nodded, and smiled a bit as he felt the gun snug against his right leg, the weight of it pulling the belt down on his hip. As they were walking back to the barn the young man asked, in a tone he hoped sounded offhand, “Uh, how soon before I can target practice, Pa?”
“I don’t know, Adam. When I do, I’ll let you know.” He smiled a little at his son’s audible sigh. “Now put the gun up and get on to your chores.”
“Yes, sir,” Adam replied.
By the time of the cattle drive, Ben was satisfied that his first-born was a fair shot. The boy had had another growth spurt over the summer, and while the men were mowing the hay and Little Joe was napping, Marie had removed the hems from Adam’s trousers so they were long enough. She’d purposely made the sleeves too long when she’d sewn his shirts last winter, and now they were the right size without his having to roll up the cuffs. Adam’s feet had also grown so he was wearing his father’s old pair of boots until he could have new ones made in Sacramento.
As the cattle drive grew closer, Adam found it increasingly difficult to suppress his excitement while poor Hoss began to mope. He always hated being separated from Adam during the two or three days of roundup in the spring, and now Adam would be gone for two weeks on the cattle drive. Joe couldn’t go ridin’ or fishin’ or huntin’ with him. Throwin’ the old cloth ball to him just wasn’t the same as playing catch with Adam. He just didn’t know what he was gonna do while Adam was off on the drive. He wished he could go, too, but it wouldn’t do any good to ask. Pa had told Adam more ‘n’ once he couldn’t go until after he turned fourteen, so he had five whole years before he could go too.
The last afternoon of the oat harvest right after the dinner break, Ben turned to Andy and Dan and said, “I think the three of us can finish up on our own. Why don’t we let the boys see if they can catch us some trout for supper?” The four boys looked at each other, taken by surprise at this unexpected suggestion.
Dan started to protest but Andy was an intuitive man and guessed Ben wanted to give his two older boys a chance to spend some time together before Adam left on the drive so he spoke up quickly. “Sounds like a good idea to me, Ben. Seein’ as how we have two weeks of sow belly, red beans and pooch ahead of us, I’d welcome a nice fried trout, with plenty of Hop Sing’s hush puppies.”
“What’s pooch?” Hoss asked curiously.
“Stewed tomatoes, bread and sugar,” Ben answered with a smile and all the men grinned when Hoss made a face. “It tastes better than it sounds.”
“Gosh, I hope so,” Ross said with feeling while Adam and Todd looked equally uneasy.
Dan spoke up then. “It aint gonna take all four of ‘em to catch our supper, so I reckon Ross can stay here and help with the oats.”
Ross’s face spoke volumes, but he knew better than to argue with his pa. Ben could see Adam was going to offer to stay behind with his friend, so he spoke up quickly.
“All right, that’s your business, Dan. Now, you three better get goin’,” he said to the remaining youngsters.
“C’mon, Adam,” Hoss said, grabbing his hand. As Adam looked down at his brother’s smiling face, which lately had been so miserable, he understood what his pa was doing and he grinned back. “I bet I can catch more fish than you ‘n’ Todd.”
“No, sir! I bet I catch the most!” Hoss declared while Todd sprinted over to their mounts, which were grazing near the field of oats.
“C’mon!” he yelled.
Ben walked over to Dan then and said quietly, “Sure you won’t reconsider, Dan? Let Ross have some fun with the other boys?” He looked over where Ross gazed longingly after the three departing figures.
Dan frowned, but then he shrugged and said, “Oh, all right. I reckon the three of us can finish up.” He called out loudly, “Go on, Ross! I expect plenty of trout from the four of you.”
“Thanks, Pa!” Ross yelled before dashing after the others.
The four boys had a favorite fishing spot and they quickly set about the business of cutting fishing poles.
“Shore wish I was goin’ on the drive with ya,” Hoss said quietly as the four boys lounged on the bank with their poles, “‘stead of bein’ home with a baby like Little Joe.”
“Well, you’re gonna be pretty busy doin’ my chores ‘n’ yours,” Adam replied, punching his brother’s arm lightly.
“At least you two got a brother so chores get divvied up between the two of ya,” Ross said with a grin. “Now, me ‘n’ Todd have to do all the chores all the time. Right, Todd?”
“Yeah, right,” Todd replied.
Just then Hoss said excitedly, “I got somethin’!”
“If that don’t beat all,” Ross said disgustedly. “Ya hardly put yer pole in the water and ya caught a fish.”
“Hoss is real good at catchin’ fish,” Adam said proudly. Then he grinned. “Maybe I better call off that bet, huh, Hoss.”
“Yeah, maybe ya better,” Ross said, giving his friend a playful shove.
“Hey, you gonna wrestle or fish?” Todd asked with a grin.
“I guess we better fish first, and then wrestle,” Adam said with a wink, so the four settled back down.
The boys caught plenty of trout and the three families gathered at the Ponderosa along with their vaqueros: José, Diego, Pedro, Luis, and the vaquero Ben had just hired for the drive, Miguel. Hop Sing fried the trout and made hush puppies, and Abby Marquette brought coleslaw and a couple of gooseberry pies. As the men and boys were enjoying a last slice of pie while the women and Hop Sing washed the dishes, Ben said, “Well, since we’re all here, I think this might be a good time to tell the boys and Miguel their jobs. José and Pedro always ride point, Dan and Andy ride swing and Diego drives the supply wagon. Miguel, I’m assigning you to ride flank with Luis. Ross and Todd, you’ll be riding drag, and I’ve decided that Adam will be the horse wrangler.”
“How come we gotta ride drag?” Todd demanded of his father.
“‘Cause the newest hands always ride drag,” Andy replied firmly. “And if you’re not willing to ride drag, well then, I guess you can stay here with Mrs. Cartwright, Hoss and Little Joe.”
“Adam don’t have to ride drag,” Todd muttered.
“Oh, he will,” Ben replied, unperturbed. “I plan on rotating you three boys so each of you has a chance to be horse wrangler and each of you has a chance to ride drag. And I’ll match you up with a more experienced vaquero when you are a night herder.” Todd nodded to show he understood.
“Riding drag is an important job,” José said very seriously. “It’ll be up to you to keep the slow cattle moving with the herd.”
“All the time eating dust,” Ross said with a sigh and the men laughed.
“Well, if we’re going to get started at dawn,” Ben said, “then we’d better head to the north pasture.”
Little Joe had already been put to bed so Ben and Adam said goodbye to Marie and Hoss while Dan and Ross did the same to Abby and Betsy. Andy and Todd headed off with the vaqueros since they had no one to say goodbye to and watching the others was unbearably painful.
The three boys spread out their bedrolls side by side, and as they lay under the stars, Adam said smugly, “Sure glad I’m not ridin’ drag tomorrow.”
“Yeah, well, your pa says you’ll have your chance. You just remember that,” Todd hissed.
“Yeah, but your chance is tomorrow,” Adam chuckled.
“Boys, I suggest that you get to sleep. Adam, you’ve got to be up before dawn to water the horses before breakfast.”
“Okay, Pa,” Adam said, and the three quieted down although they were so keyed up they found it difficult to fall asleep. It seemed to Adam he had just drifted off when he felt Pa shaking him awake.
“Time to get up, son. You’ve got seventy-two horses to water plus the mule team.”
“Okay. I’m up,” Adam said with a yawn.
By the time he’d made sure all the animals in the caviata had been watered, the others were finishing their breakfast.
“Maybe Adam’s not cut out to be horse wrangler,” Ross said and Todd snickered.
While Adam glared at his friends, José said evenly, “Adán will be a fine horse wrangler; he will just need to wake up earlier. And now he must eat very fast,” he added with a chuckle.
Adam wolfed down some bacon and drank a cup of coffee so fast he scalded his mouth, and then he went to help the others catch their mounts. Ben, Andy, Dan and their vaqueros, with the exception of Miguel, owned their string, but the others had their mounts assigned to them, and choosing which vaquero got which mount was part of Adam’s job as horse wrangler. Choosing mounts for Ross and Todd was easy since he knew them so well; however, Miguel rejected the first mount Adam selected for him.
“I will take that bay,” Miguel said, walking toward the gelding.
“That bay is part of Mr. McCarran’s string,” Adam said firmly.
“Well, the chestnut mare with the three white stockings,” Miguel suggested. “I like a horse with spirit.”
“That’s my horse,” Adam replied decisively. “No one rides Beauty but me.” Then in a more conciliatory tone he suggested another mount, and Miguel agreed, albeit reluctantly.
Adam discovered that the horse wrangler ate his share of dust. His throat grew parched and the dust irritated his eyes. He’d never thought about the noise that the hooves of 500 head of cattle and close to a hundred horses would make, not to mention the cattle’s constant lowing. Some of the cow ponies weren’t in any hurry to be ridden, so catching a fresh mount wasn’t always that easy, and the men got fresh mounts three times a day.
They stopped for the afternoon meal and to let the animals graze and drink at a nearby stream. Once he’d led the horses to water Adam dismounted, took a swig from his canteen, swirled it around his mouth before spitting it out, and then flopped on the ground by Diego’s wagon, next to Ross and Todd. Their faces were coated in dirt and their eyes looked inflamed, and Adam figured he didn’t look any better.
“Never knew there was so much dust in all the world,” Ross complained before taking a drink of tepid water from his canteen, his voice sounding raw and raspy.
“Looks like the horses kicked up a lot of dust, too,” Todd said with a smirk. Adam just grinned and the whiteness of his teeth contrasted with the dirt covering his face.
“I see you boys are still with us,” Andy said, plopping down next to Todd.
“Yeah, but it’s hard to recognize ‘em under all that dirt,” Dan said with a loud guffaw as he plunked down by Andy.
“When we reach Sacramento, one of the first things Adam and I are gonna do is visit the bathhouse and scrub away all the accumulated dirt,” Ben commented as he eased himself down by Adam.
It wasn’t long before they heard Diego banging one of his pots. “That’s our grub. I’ll bet you boys get a chance to taste just how good pooch is,” Dan said.
A few minutes later, Dan’s prediction came true. “Ya know,” Ross said through a mouthful, “pooch shore is better than it sounds,” and other boys nodded their agreement as they shoveled in johnnycakes, sow-belly, red beans and pooch.
“Eat up, boys,” Ben said with a smile. “I want to cover another six miles today before we camp for the night,” and they all groaned while their fathers chuckled.
Adam had one more day as horse wrangler and then he exchanged places with Ross. He discovered immediately that the amount of dust he’d eaten as wrangler didn’t even begin to compare with riding drag.
That evening when they made camp, his father asked him and Miguel to gather wood for the camp fire. Adam had picked up about half an armload and had just lifted a good sized branch when he heard a rattling sound and saw the broad, triangular head of a rattlesnake. He froze, knowing there was no way he could draw his gun before the snake struck. Even as that thought went through his mind, he heard the sound of gunfire and saw the snake’s head shot off. Shaking from the sudden rush of adrenaline, he looked in the direction of the shot and saw Miguel replacing his revolver in his holster. Adam walked over to him on shaky legs and said unsteadily, “Thanks. I don’t know what else to say.”
“I am just glad I heard and saw it in time,” Miguel replied.
“How, how’d ya shoot so fast? I knew I’d never be able to draw my gun fast enough.”
“Practice, amigo. Much practice,” Miguel replied, placing an arm about the boy’s shoulders.
Just then Ben and Andy came running over. “We heard a shot. What’s wrong?” Ben asked anxiously.
“Miguel saved my life,” Adam said, pointing at the snake’s headless body. When Ben saw the snake, nearly four feet in length, he went white. “I’m all right, Pa,” Adam said. “I don’t know how he drew fast enough, but he shot it before it could strike.”
Ben said a silent prayer of thanks and then turned to the young vaquero. “I can never thank you enough, Miguel,” he said unsteadily. “If there is ever anything I can do for you, you have only to ask.”
“Gracias, Señor. It is as I told your son. I am only glad that I heard the snake’s rattle in time.” He turned to Adam then and said, “We need to finish gathering the wood.”
Adam took a deep breath to calm himself and then replied, “Right.”
Ben started to object but saw Andy shake his head slightly and only said, “Just be careful, both of you.”
There were no further incidents until they were about a half a day from Sacramento. Todd was getting his second mount of the day and it bucked him off. He landed hard, with his arm at an awkward angle under him. Adam could tell by the look of pain on his friend’s face that his arm must be broken. Helping Todd away from the animals, Adam waived his hat and yelled at the closest vaquero to bring his pa.
Ben was too far away to hear over the din of the cattle, but Luis heard and he rode to the front of the herd calling, “Señor Cartwright!”
“What is it, Luis?” Andy called as he rode toward him, while Ben wheeled around and headed toward Luis.
“I’m not sure but I heard Adán calling for you, Señor Cartwright,” Luis shouted.
“I’ll see what he needs,” Ben said and rode over to the caviata, where he found Adam standing protectively by Todd, who was now sitting upright, cradling the injured limb on his lap.
“I think his arm is broken, Pa,” Adam said quietly.
“I’m afraid you’re right, son,” Ben replied softly, as he looked at the boy who was trying hard not to sob from the pain. He turned to Todd and said in an encouraging tone, “Todd, I don’t know how to set a broken arm, but we’ll find a doctor in Sacramento. You’re going to need to ride with Diego on the supply wagon until we reach Sacramento, and we should make it tonight. Let’s see if I can make a sling for your arm until we can get it seen to.”
Ben broke the news to Andy as gently as he could, but he could see how worried the other father was. “The way Sacramento is growing, I’m sure we’ll be able to find a doctor to set the bone,” he said comfortingly to his friend, though they both knew that prediction was optimistic.
When they were close enough to Sacramento, Ben left Dan and José in charge and accompanied Andy and Todd, who were riding double, into town to look for a doctor. Luck was with them and the second person they asked was able to give them directions to the new doctor’s office. When they arrived, Ben dismounted quickly and tied Buck to the hitching rail before turning to Andy.
“Hand him down to me,” he said and then tried to ease the boy down without causing him any more pain. Poor Todd couldn’t hold back a groan and Ben saw how pale he was under the dust and grime of the trail. The doctor must have heard them because he came quickly through the door.
“Bring him right in here,” he said, holding open the front door for them.
“I think he’s broken his arm, doctor,” Ben said as they followed the doctor into a room containing various medical paraphernalia.
“I think you’re right,” the doctor said. “When did you break it, son?”
“This morning. Horse threw me,” Todd replied. The arm had ached all afternoon and the jolting, first from the wagon and then from the horse, had only intensified the pain.
“None of us knew how to set it so we were hoping we’d find a doctor here,” Andy said. “I’m Andy McCarran and this is my son, Todd. This is our friend and neighbor, Ben Cartwright.”
“Dr. Martin,” the other man replied with a friendly smile, and then he turned his attention to his patient. “Todd, I’m afraid this is going to hurt, but it’s necessary in order for the bone to grow back straight so you’ll have full use of the arm.”
“Go ahead. I can take it,” Todd replied, trying to look and sound braver than he felt.
Dr. Martin asked Andy to hold Todd’s left hand. He nodded, and then Dr. Marin set the bone. Todd turned white and couldn’t hold back a cry of pain, but Dr. Martin worked quickly.
“Now, I’m going to have to put a splint on the arm, and then I’ll give you a sling. You are going to need to keep the arm immobile for the next seven weeks.”
“Thank you, Dr. Martin,” Andy said, shaking the doctor’s hand. “Now, if you’ll tell me what I owe you.”
“I’ll just wait outside,” Ben said quickly.
Before Ben and Andy had left the herd to take Todd for medical attention, the three fathers had agreed they would all meet at their favorite saloon once the rest of the group had arrived in town. Ben, Andy and Dan had agreed the boys could have their first beer. (Ben hadn’t been in favor of the idea at first, but Dan had pointed out it was better if they were there to make sure the boys only had one or two beers and nothing stronger, and Ben conceded the wisdom of that.)
“Well, son, I’m very proud of how well you handled yourself while the doctor set your arm. I’ve had a broken bone in my time and I know how much they can pain a man, especially when they’re first set,” Andy said evenly, though the twinkle in his eye told Ben that he also wanted to distract his son from where they were headed. “You’ve proven your worth on the drive too, so I think you’re old enough to enjoy something that will wash away that trail dust.”
Todd looked confusedly from his father to the other man. As they entered the swinging doors of the saloon, however, the light of understanding immediately shown in his blue eyes,
“Pa? You mean I can have a beer?” Todd asked excitedly, as the two fathers exchanged a wink over the boy’s head. Andy laughed and nodded, as Ben ordered three mugs of the frothy beverage and handed one to each of his companions.
There was no sign of the others yet, so they found a table in a corner of the bar. It was still early so the saloon was quiet. Todd took a sip and nearly spit it out while Andy and Ben were hard-pressed to keep from laughing at the expression on his face.
“Beer takes a little getting used to, son,” Andy said. “Just sip it slowly and it’ll grow on you.”
Todd was almost finished when the others arrived. The vaqueros moved to a second table while Adam, Ross and Dan joined the others. Adam’s and Ross’s reactions to the unexpected diversion and their first taste of beer were identical to Todd’s. Todd smiled smugly, and said, “You get used to it.”
Adam didn’t really want a second beer, but when Todd and Ross said they would have one, he decided he would as well. “I’ll go ask the bartender to bring us another round,” he said, standing up and heading over to the bar.
He placed the order, turned around, and found a woman standing directly behind him. Her lips were redder than Belle-mère‘s or Mrs. Marquette’s-they were as red as raspberries and looked as tasty. Her brown eyes were ringed with black and there were red patches on her cheeks as though she were blushing, but Adam was sure from the bold way her eyes traveled over every inch of him that she wasn’t. He glanced down and found himself staring, mesmerized, at the generous breasts that threatened to spill out of the scanty bodice of her dress, (except the dress looked more like Belle–mère‘s undergarments that he’d seen hanging on the clothesline, than something a lady would wear in public). As he felt his body’s immediate response, he heard her throaty laugh.
“Well, I’m happy to see you, too, Sugar.” She put her hand on his right arm and caressed it, cooing, “Oh my! Feel those muscles,” and his body’s reaction increased until he was downright uncomfortable. “Wanna buy me a drink, Sugar?”
Just then he heard Pa’s unmistakable bellow. “Adam, get back over here, now!”
“Sorry,” he muttered to the woman and headed back to their table.
“Just what did you think you were doing?” Ben barked while Dan grinned, Ross and Todd looked at him enviously and Andy just smiled faintly.
“Nothin’. She, she asked me if I’d like to buy her a d-drink,” Adam stammered, angry with himself because he could feel his face grow warm.
“Sonny, she was lookin’ at you like you was a big, juicy steak,” Dan said with a huge grin. “Trust me, she had more than a drink on her mind. Might even have offered it for free, I’d say.”
“Dan,” Ben said in a warning tone. Then he turned to his son. “Finish your beer and then let’s go to the bathhouse.”
“Pa,” Adam said hesitantly as they left the saloon. “Did that woman really want to ¼ you know?”
Ben was silent for so long Adam thought he was going to ignore his question, but then he spoke in a slow, deliberate fashion. “Yes, son, I think she was propositioning you, but she would have expected payment because for her the act that should be the way a husband and wife express their love is simply a way of earning money. Women like her are very often diseased, and they pass the disease on to the men who use their services. Indeed, it is those men who infect other women so it is a vicious circle. There is no cure for the disease and it will eventually kill you.”
Adam was silent as he digested this information but then he asked, “If that’s so, why do women sell themselves like that, and why do men pay to have relations with them?”
Ben sighed. Being the father of a little boy was certainly easier than being the father of a boy on the verge of manhood. “It’s complicated, son. Some men are unwilling to exercise self-control when it comes to satisfying their appetites, but that is only a part of the answer because I’ve known men with wives that still seek out prostitutes in spite of the risk. As for the women, well, usually they are to be pitied. In many cases, they were seduced by men who abandoned them, causing them to lose their position or be disowned by their families. The only way they can support themselves is by selling their bodies.”
“What happens to the men who seduce them?” Adam asked.
“Nothing. Society overlooks a man’s behavior, but not a woman’s.”
“That’s not fair!”
“Adam,” Ben said, putting his arm around his first-born’s shoulders, “so many things in this life are not fair. It’s not fair that many are born in extreme poverty while a few are born to live in great wealth they did nothing to earn. It’s not fair that a man can work hard all his life only to see his work destroyed by a disaster like a flood or drought.” They had reached the bathhouse and he stopped. “I have just one more thing I want to say to you, Adam. I would have liked to shield you from the more sordid side of life a few years longer, but I realize that was a foolish wish. You are becoming a man and you’ll be faced with the temptations all men are, and I can only pray that you have the strength to deal with those temptations wisely.”
“I’ll remember what you taught me,” Adam said very seriously.
“I know you will, son,” Ben said with a smile. “Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d like a nice hot bath.”
When they walked inside, the attendant said he had to go get the clean towels from the laundry. “That’s fine,” Ben replied. “My son will go ahead and take his bath and you can bring me the towels.” The man nodded his head and started the bath for Adam. He returned with the towels and Ben walked into the room where Adam was soaking.
“Here you go, son,” Ben said with a grin. “About finished?”
“Sure, Pa,” Adam said, standing up and holding out his hand for a towel.
Ben Cartwright, you are just going to have to accept the fact that your oldest son is well on his way to becoming a man, he thought as he handed Adam the towel.
When Ben finished dressing, he said with a smile, “Now, how about some dinner?”
“I feel hungry enough to eat a whole cow,” Adam said with a grin. “But what about the others?”
“We always eat at the same place,” Ben replied. “They may already be there, but if not, they’ll join us. C’mon.”
The restaurant was crowded and they didn’t see any sign of the others but as the waitress led them to a table, a voice called out, “Ben. Ben Cartwright.” Ben turned and said with a smile, “Dave Townsend. Good to see you. You remember Adam.”
“You’re joking!” Mr. Townsend exclaimed, letting his eyes travel up and down Adam. “I’d never have recognized you, son, but I guess it has been-what eight years?-since I saw you last. I was still picturing the little boy on the wagon train.”
“It’s nice to see you again, Mr. Townsend,” Adam said, extending his hand to the older man and shaking it firmly.
“I hope you can both join me for dinner,” Townsend said and Ben agreed with a smile.
After they had placed their order, Mr. Townsend said, “I must confess that I hoped I would see you here, Ben. I remembered that I met you here last year about this time. I wanted to deliver the reports about your investments in person if possible. In fact, I’ve been carrying the papers with me for the last two days, just on the chance I might see you.” He leaned over and took some papers from a leather briefcase propped beside his chair. “Here you are. I think you will be pleased.”
Ben perused the papers carefully and pursed his lips in a whistle. “To say I am pleased would be an understatement. You certainly gave me excellent advice, David.”
“May I see?” Adam asked, and to Mr. Townsend’s surprise, Ben handed the papers to his son, who scrutinized the papers as carefully as his father had. As he handed them back, Adam said to Mr. Townsend, “I won’t be paid a lot for being on the cattle drive, but if I have Pa give you my wages, would you invest them for me?”
“I can, of course, but are you sure that’s what you want?” Townsend asked carefully.
“Yes, I’m sure,” Adam said firmly. “Oh, I suppose I need to pay for dinner and for those two beers,” he said to Ben.
“No, son. Until you’re twenty-one, I’ll be paying for your meals, and an occasional beer,” Ben replied with a proud smile.
“All right. Then I’ll keep one dollar so I can buy Christmas gifts for you and Hoss and Joe and Belle-mère, and I’ll invest the rest,” Adam stated.
“Belle-mère?” Townsend repeated in confusion.
“My stepmother. Belle-mère is French for stepmother, and that’s what I call her.”
“Ah,” Townsend said, glancing at Ben from the corner of his eye. “Very well, Adam, I will invest your wages, minus one dollar. Hopefully in a year, your investment will have grown just as your father’s has.” He smiled at Ben. “You must be proud of this boy of yours. Aren’t many lads his age with such good sense.” Ben nodded his agreement, as he carefully folded the investment statements and placed them in his leather wallet. Just then, the rest of their party arrived and joined the Cartwrights and Dave Townsend for the traditional celebratory dinner after the drive.
The journey back over the mountains with the wagon full of supplies for the Cartwrights, McCarrans and Marquettes was easier than driving a herd of cattle. Still, by the time they made it to the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, Adam didn’t want to admit to Pa how exhausted he was. Every muscle in his body was sore and even his bones ached. I can’t believe how anxious I was to go on a drive, he thought with a wry grin.
They stopped at the Marquettes’ place first and unloaded their supplies before heading to the McCarrans’. When the Cartwrights and their vaqueros were a couple of miles from home, the storm that had been threatening all afternoon broke. The rain fell in sheets and the riders were pounded by hailstones. They sought shelter but, in no time, all of them were soaked to the skin and shivering, trying to calm their frightened horses and mules. It was nearly an hour before the storm passed and the men could mount up again and head home.
“Hey Ma! They’re back,” Hoss yelled and Marie joined him on the porch holding Little Joe, who squirmed to be let down.
“Non, Joseph. You may not play in the mud, vilain garçon,” she said sternly, but the child only grinned.
Marie saw that Ben looked tired but fit while Adam, who was driving the wagon loaded with supplies, looked exhausted. Turning to her middle son she said with quiet authority, “Hoss, go unhitch the mules for your brother.”
“Sure, Ma,” Hoss said with his gap-toothed grin. “Ol’ Adam sure does look stoved up.” He ran over to his pa and brother then. “Howdy, Pa! Howdy, Adam. Here, Adam, I’ll take care of ol’ Rufus and Horatio.” He started to unhitch the mules, but his older brother slapped his hands away.
“I’ll take care of ‘em,” he snapped, his exhaustion momentarily forgotten, as he felt his stubbornness come to the fore.
“Ma told me to do it,” Hoss insisted firmly, and resumed unhitching the team, much to Adam’s chagrin.
“Go on and ask Hop Sing to fix you a hot bath,” Ben said. When he saw Adam open his mouth to protest, he added, “That’s an order, son.'”
“Adam!” Joe squealed as Adam walked onto the porch.
“Hey, Little Joe, Hello, Belle-mère,” Adam said with a smile, but Marie wasn’t fooled.
“Why don’t you take a nap before supper,” she said firmly but Adam shook his head wearily.
“Pa wants me to take a hot bath since we were got caught in a thunderstorm and I’m soaked to the skin.”
“Bien sûr,” she replied, kissing his cheek and feeling the rasp of his whiskers. She smiled at him, saying, “I think for your birthday your pa needs to get you a razor.” He grinned but it was obvious he was exhausted so she stepped inside with the squirming Little Joe and said, “Hop Sing, please prepare a hot bath for Adam.” She turned to Adam and added, “I’ll string up the curtain.”
“I’ll go up and get some clean clothes. It’ll sure feel good to wear clean clothes.”
Adam’s bath and nap revitalized him, and after supper the family gathered around the fireplace to hear Adam and Ben talk about the cattle drive. Marie gasped and grew pale when Adam told of the rattlesnake, and Ben reached for her hand and squeezed it, letting her know how terrifying the moment had been for him as well. Adam didn’t reveal a word of his intention to practice until he could draw his revolver as fast as Miguel had.
“I am glad to know there is a doctor in Sacramento, but I wish there were one closer. In this new Mormon Station or even Hangtown,” Marie commented on hearing of Ben’s meeting with Dr. Martin.
“Oh, Hangtown has a new name, Belle-mère,” Adam said with a grin. “Now it’s officially known as Placerville.”
“Aw, I liked Hangtown better,” Hoss said, and Marie shook her head.
“You would, mon petit. I cannot imagine anyone respectable wanting to live in a town with such a name. Now, it is late so we all need to go to bed.”
“Aw, Ma, can’t we stay up a little longer,” Hoss begged.
“Young man, you have to be up at dawn to do your chores so you need to go to sleep now,” Ben said firmly.
“Yeah,” Adam said, yawning. “C’mon, Hoss. Let’s go to bed. Goodnight everyone.”
“Goodnight, Ma. Goodnight, Pa,” Hoss said, giving each parent a kiss on the cheek.
“Bonne nuit, Hoss,” Marie replied, kissing him back.
“Do you mind if I say goodnight here,” Ben said, giving Hoss a hug. “Your pa is awfully tired and I think I’d just like to turn in. I promise I’ll come tuck you in tomorrow night.”
“Sure, Pa,” Hoss replied, but he was disappointed.
The next morning when Adam woke up, his chest felt a little tight and he found himself coughing as he put on his clothes.
“Hop Sing’ll fix ya elderberry juice and honey for yer cold,” Hoss commented as he finished dressing.
“I don’t have a cold,” Adam snapped.
“You got a cough; I heard ya coughin’,” Hoss responded. He knew his brother didn’t like admitting he was sick so he wasn’t offended.
“I was just clearin’ my throat, so don’t you say nothin’ about it. Understand?”
“Okay, Adam,” Hoss promised. He’ll be drinkin’ elderberry juice ‘n’ honey ‘cause he wasn’t clearin’ his throat; he was coughin’ he thought as he followed his brother down the ladder.
To Adam’s annoyance, climbing down the ladder brought on a coughing spell, and he wasn’t able to muffle the sound enough because Hop Sing walked over from where he was putting wood on the fire and said, “When you finish chores, I give something for cough.”
“Elderberry juice ‘n’ honey. Right, Hop Sing?” Hoss asked, grinning at his older brother.
“That right. You cough?”
“No, not me,” Hoss said quickly. “C’mon, Adam.”
The walk to the barn set off another coughing spell, and Ben, who was already tending to his buckskin gelding, said with a touch of concern, “Sounds like someone needs a dose of elderberry juice and honey.”
“It’s Adam, Pa,” Hoss said, “‘n’ Hop Sing’s fixin’ him some.”
“I hope you didn’t catch a cold from being caught in the rain,” Ben said, and reached out to put his hand on his first-born’s forehead.
“I’m fine. I just have a little cough,” Adam said irritably, jerking away.
“Well, you don’t seem to be feverish but just to be on the safe side, Hoss, I want you to sleep downstairs on a bedroll. And, Adam, you’ll need to keep away from Joseph. I don’t want your brothers catching your cough.”
When they finished their chores and returned to the cabin with the eggs and milk, Adam was still coughing. Joe came running up to greet his pa with outstretched arms, and Ben picked him up and tossed him into the air to screams of delight. Adam handed Hop Sing the pail of milk and, in exchange, Hop Sing handed him a glass. Adam drank it with a moue of distaste even though the honey made the juice perfectly palatable.
“Do you feel all right, Adam?” Marie asked solicitously.
“I just have a little cough. I don’t know why everyone is making such a fuss,” Adam snapped.
“Adam,” Ben admonished and Adam muttered, “Sorry.”
“Pa says I get to sleep downstairs on a bedroll until Adam’s not sick,” Hoss announced with a grin.
“I’m not sick!”
“That is a wise precaution,” Marie said. “Perhaps you should rest today, Adam.”
“There’s too much work to do. Pa needs me to help chop down a tree,” and he looked to his father for confirmation.
“I do need your help, but I want you going to bed early tonight. Understand?” and Adam nodded.
No matter how he tried, Adam could not suppress his cough. As he and Pa chopped a tree to haul back for firewood, it worsened. By the time they’d finished, he was wheezing as well as coughing, although he didn’t think Pa was aware of that. When they took a dinner break, he was relieved that his cough seemed better, but as he worked with Pa sawing the tree into logs they could haul back in the wagon, the cough worsened and he began to wheeze again.
“Adam, you sound terrible,” Ben said anxiously.
“I don’t feel that bad, Pa. Honest. Just tired. I guess I don’t mind going to bed early,” he admitted ruefully.
“I think you’ve done enough,” Ben said firmly. “Hoss is nine now-the same age you were when I showed you how to use an axe and a saw-so he can take your place.”
“But, Pa-” Adam began.
Ben cut him off. “Adam, no arguments. I want you to go home and take a nap. And have Hop Sing make you some more elderberry juice and honey.” Ben shook his head as he watched his stubborn first-born stomp over to his horse.
Adam hadn’t wanted to admit even to himself how tired he was, but after drinking the glass Hop Sing handed him and climbing the ladder to the loft, he lay down and fell asleep almost immediately. Yet, when Hoss shook him awake, telling him to come down to supper, he felt just as listless as he had before his nap. The climb down the ladder brought on another coughing spell, and this time it wasn’t the dry hacking cough it had been. This time he coughed up a quantity of phlegm.
“Adam, comme tu tousses,” Marie said worriedly.
He frowned in concentration and then shrugged. “Oui. I guess I have a cold,” he replied.
“As soon as you finish supper, I want you to go back upstairs to bed. I don’t want Joseph catching your cold.” Then she quickly added, “Or Hoss either.”
“I’m not that sick,” Adam complained.
Ben walked over and put his hand on Adam’s forehead. “He doesn’t seem to be running a fever,” he said. “Are you sure you feel all right, son?”
“I’m sure,” Adam replied. “You want me to chop wood while you and Hoss finish sawing the logs tomorrow?”
“If you’re sure that you feel well enough, then it would certainly be a help,” Ben replied, feeling torn. He saw Marie’s frown, but the truth was that he did need Adam’s help.
Adam felt no better the next morning. If anything, he felt worse and had to force himself out of bed. The congestion in his chest had increased and Marie asked him to sit as far from Little Joe as possible to lessen the risk that her precious baby boy would become sick. Adam felt so tired and weak that it was all he could do to lift the axe and bring it down, over and over again as he coughed and wheezed. After a couple of hours, the skies grew leaden and the temperature dropped. Just as the first drops began to fall, Hop Sing ran out of the cabin shouting, “You come inside now before get more sick. I put axe in woodshed.”
Adam didn’t argue, but loped inside the cabin, where he collapsed on the settee in front of the fire in a paroxysm of coughing. Joe, who had been playing with the Noah’s Ark by the table where his mother was grinding sausage meat, jumped up and started to run over to Adam with a big smile. “Play, Adam.”
“Non, mon ange,” Marie said scooping him up. “Your brother is sick and he cannot play.” Hop Sing said nothing, only handed Adam a large glass of elderberry juice and honey. “Please don’t try to deny it, Adam,” Marie said firmly. “I want you to go up to bed,” while Little Joe began yelling, “Play wiv Adam.”
“Hop Sing bring you up chicken broth for suppuh,” the cook added in an equally firm voice. Adam felt so tired and so miserable that he didn’t demure. He finished the medicine and trudged wearily up the ladder.
“Be sure and put on your flannel nightshirt,” Marie called up after him.
He started to reply, but the attempt brought on a storm of coughing.
There was a heavy thunderstorm the next day and so Ben insisted Adam stay in bed. Hop Sing brought him up plenty of elderberry juice and chicken broth but when Ben went to check on him that evening, he found Adam’s cough was worse. Normally the elderberry juice helped their colds, but Adam’s seemed to be getting worse.
When he and Marie were getting ready for bed he said, “Adam’s cold seems to be getting worse. If the weather clears up tomorrow, then I’m going to Sacramento and bring back Dr. Martin and let him have a look at him.”
She didn’t like the idea of him leaving for Sacramento so soon after he’d returned, but there was no doubt Adam’s condition was worsening. She didn’t feel a boy Hoss’s age should be chopping wood, but he didn’t seem to mind. Quite the contrary, he was proud that he could do what his brother had at the same age. The vaqueros could butcher the steer for them so she and Hop Sing could make the candles they would need.
“I am glad we have this doctor and I pray he will make Adam well again,” she said, hugging Ben tightly, for she knew how worried he was about his eldest son.
The rain stopped during the night and before Ben went to the barn to tend to his chores, he climbed the ladder to the loft and told Adam that he was to stay in bed and Hop Sing would bring him his meals, and empty the chamber pot for him. “I want you to stay in bed until I give you permission to come downstairs, understand?”
“Okay,” Adam replied lethargically, which alarmed his father even more than the other symptoms. When he met José in the barn and told him what he intended to do, José immediately insisted that he be the one to fetch Dr. Martin. Ben could see the wisdom in that and agreed.
“Hello, young man.”
Adam looked up in surprise from the book he’d been trying to read at the sound of an unfamiliar voice and saw a man standing by his bed. “Who are you?” he asked.
The man smiled and extended his hand saying, “I’m Dr. Paul Martin, Adam.”
Adam shook his hand and said, “Did my pa send for you? I’m not that sick.” Then he had a coughing spell as he always did if he tried to talk.
“I think your parents wanted a second opinion, Doctor,” Paul Martin said with a grin that Adam returned, although his was lopsided. Dr. Martin opened his leather bag and pulled out a strange looking instrument. It was made of a turned piece of wood that was hollow in the center and was in two pieces. One piece Dr. Martin put against his ear while the other was hollowed out until it was cone-shaped, and Dr. Martin placed that on Adam’s chest. Before Adam could ask what it was Dr. Martin said, “Take some deep breaths for me, Adam.”
Adam watched Dr. Martin’s face, but except for his frown of concentration, his expression was inscrutable. When he removed the instrument from his ear, Adam asked curiously, “What is that and what were you listening for?”
Dr. Martin smiled. “It’s called a stethoscope and doctors use it to listen to a patient’s heartbeat and their breathing. Your heartbeat is fine, but I do hear some congestion in your lungs, which I’m sure you were aware of since you’ve been coughing up phlegm. Tell me, Adam. Is the phlegm clear?”
Adam frowned and shook his head. “No, it was yellow but now it’s more of a greenish-yellow. That’s not good, is it?’
“No,” Dr. Martin said candidly, “it’s not. It’s not pink or red or rusty is it?”
“No,” Adam said firmly. “Just greenish.” Dr. Martin put his hand on his forehead and Adam forced himself not to jerk away.
“You’re not running a fever. I think you have bronchitis, an acute case. Have you been taking anything for your cough?”
“Hop Sing’s been making me drink lots of elderberry juice and honey,” Adam replied.
“Good for him. Elderberry juice is just what I would have prescribed,” the doctor said with a little smile. “I want to go speak with your parents now. You just rest.”
He found Ben waiting at the foot of the ladder while Marie had managed to get the two younger boys involved with the old Noah’s Ark. She glanced over at the doctor as he climbed down the ladder, but remained at the table with the boys.
“How is he, Dr. Martin?” Ben asked quietly, but his anxiety was evident.
“I’m glad you contacted me,” Dr. Martin said. “He has a case of acute bronchitis that is threatening to turn into pneumonia.”
“Pneumonia,” Ben echoed and the doctor heard the fear in his voice and saw it in his eyes.
“I think we can prevent that. He tells me that Hop Sing,” and he nodded at the Chinese man who was stirring a steaming kettle over the fireplace, “has been giving him elderberry juice, and that’s what I would have prescribed. However, it is too cold in that loft. You need to see about making him a bed on the settee across from the fireplace where it is warmer. And you need to put that tea kettle and some pans of water to boil over the fire to create steam. Have him drink plenty of the elderberry juice and water. All that will help thin the mucous he’s coughing up.”
“He doesn’t have much of an appetite,” Ben said and the doctor smiled reassuringly.
“That’s normal. Give him plenty of chicken broth and beef tea along with the water and the elderberry juice. I’m sure he’ll be fine. He’s a strong boy and except for the bronchitis, I’d say he’s in perfect health.” He smiled slightly. “While I’m here, I will try applying a mustard plaster and see if that doesn’t help the congestion in his chest. Now, let’s fix up a bed for him on the settee.”
“There’s an extra blanket in my trunk,” Ben said. “Hoss, could you get it for me please?”
“Sure, Pa,” Hoss replied, jumping up from the table. He started to head for his parents’ bedroom, but then he walked over to the doctor and tugged on his arm. “Mister. Mister, my brother is gonna get better, aint he?”
Dr. Martin smiled. “Yes, son. Your brother is going to get better. But while he’s sick, you and your little brother will need to keep away from him so you don’t catch what he has. Okay?”
“Okay,” Hoss said with a relieved smile, and he headed to get the blanket.
“Hop Sing,” the doctor said and the cook walked over to him. Dr. Martin explained what he wanted him to do about creating steam in the cabin. Meanwhile, Ben went up the ladder and returned with Adam, who began coughing at the exertion of climbing down the ladder.
Little Joe tried to squirm off Marie’s lap, yelling, “Adam!”
“Non, mon ange,” Marie said, tightening her hold. “Adam is sick and you must not go to him.”
“Want Adam!” Joe screamed in frustration so Marie stood up and carried the shrieking child to the bedroom just as Hoss ran out with the thick wool blanket.
Ben arranged sheets, blankets and pillows on the hard wooden settee, trying to make it as comfortable as he could, and Adam, who looked listless and wan, sat in a semi-reclining position.
Ben suggested to Hoss that they needed to work on chopping the rest of the wood and getting it in the woodshed since the rain had them behind schedule, so the two of them left, leaving Adam with Hop Sing and Dr. Martin.
“Well, Adam, I want to try a mustard plaster and see if that helps in clearing up the congestion in your chest.”
“A mustard plaster?”
“You rest for now and Hop Sing and I will make the plaster,” Dr. Martin said cheerfully and Adam nodded wearily.
Hop Sing’s English had improved during his time with the Cartwrights so Dr. Martin was able to explain what he wanted without too much difficulty.
“All right,” the doctor said, “I use this much dry mustard and this much flour.” The cook watched intently, nodding to show he understood. “Now, I want to mix in the white of an egg so we have a paste.” When he’d mixed the ingredients, he asked the cook for a clean rag, indicating with his hands the size he wanted, and it only took Hop Sing a few minutes to produce a suitable one from the ragbag. Dr. Martin spread the mustard paste on half the rag and then he folded the rest of the rag over it.
“Now, Adam, I need you to unbutton your nightshirt and your union suit so I can set this on your chest.” Adam made a face as he smelled the pungent aroma but Dr. Martin only smiled as he buttoned up Adam’s clothing over the mustard plaster. “We’re going to leave it there for 30 minutes. That won’t be long enough to blister the skin. Oh, and no talking for the next few days. Talking makes the coughing worse, doesn’t it?”
Adam nodded, and then he spoke. “My books are up in the loft.”
“I bring,” Hop Sing said, and headed up the ladder.
“Bring the thick brown one on the table,” Adam managed to call before another coughing spell, and he looked sheepishly at the doctor, who only shook his head.
When Hop Sing descended with the book, Dr. Martin took it. “Why don’t I read aloud? I’d really rather you just lay back and rested.” Adam nodded so Dr. Martin opened the book. “Ah, Gulliver’s Travels. A favorite of mine, and it looks like it’s a favorite of yours as well.” Adam grinned and nodded before lying back on the pillows Pa had brought him and Dr. Martin began to read. As he read, he glanced over at his patient, and when he saw Adam had drifted off, he closed the book with a smile of satisfaction. Then he pulled out his watch and saw the mustard plaster still had ten minutes to go so he stepped outside and watched Ben chop logs while Hoss corded the wood in the woodshed. They were too busy to notice him, so he watched in silence until it was time to remove Adam’s mustard plaster. He hoped he could remove it without disturbing his patient, but Ben could have told him what the odds were against that.
“What’s wrong?” Adam asked drowsily.
“Nothing,” the physician said reassuringly. “It’s just time to remove the mustard plaster. The skin’s a little red but no sign of blistering. I’ll wait a few hours and then try another. Since you’re awake, I’ll have Hop Sing fix you some elderberry juice.”
Dr. Martin applied three more mustard plasters while Hop Sing kept pots and kettles of water boiling all day. Adam dozed on and off throughout the day. Marie was thankful the rain had stopped and that it was a beautiful Indian summer day so she could play with Little Joe outside. He fussed about wanting to see Adam, but she was able to divert his attention at least temporarily. The greatest challenge was at suppertime. She put Joe in his highchair but he let everyone know how angry he was that he was kept from Adam. It was only with difficulty she got him settled down for the night. Dr. Martin slept in the bunkhouse with José and Diego while Hoss was back up in the loft.
After breakfast, Dr. Martin listened to Adam’s chest with his stethoscope and was pleased that the congestion had definitely improved. “I’d say this young man is on the mend,” he announced. “I want another week of bed rest, and then he should only have light exercise until the coughing spells stop. I also want you to keep giving him the elderberry juice, Hop Sing, until the coughing spells are completely gone.”
Hoss had been listening and he interrupted excitedly, “Golly, Adam, sure is a good thing that we picked all them elderberries.”
“Hoss,” Ben said reprovingly but Dr. Martin smiled at the boy and Marie, who was holding a wriggling Joe, said, “Oui, mon petit, it is a very good thing.”
“I’d like you to apply mustard plasters every six hours today, Hop Sing. Just leave the plaster on for fifteen minutes at a time.” Adam groaned at those words, for he was beginning to hate the pungent counterirritant. True, Dr. Martin hadn’t allowed it to blister the skin on his chest, but it was increasingly red and irritated after each application. The physician smiled at him. “Don’t worry, Adam. Only one more day of mustard plasters. I want you to sleep here in front of the fire with plenty of steam until you stop coughing up phlegm.”
“Don’t worry, doctor,” Ben said. “We will follow your instructions to the letter. Won’t we, Adam?”
“Yes, sir,” Adam said with a sigh.
Making sure Adam got all the rest Dr. Martin ordered and keeping Hoss and Joe away from their brother, was a Herculean task, but Ben, Hop Sing and Marie accomplished it. Ben kept Hoss with him, helping with Adam’s chores, which meant only Joe had to be kept away from Adam. Adam managed to amuse himself rereading his favorite books and drawing. He drew Joe and Marie playing with his old cloth ball, and Hop Sing chopping vegetables for the beef stew, and he drew Ben and Hoss engrossed in a game of checkers. He even got Marie to bring him his father’s shaving mirror so he could draw a self-portrait.
“Do you think I need a shave?” he asked Marie eagerly.
“Oui,” she replied with a smile at his excitement. “I think I will ask your father to give you a shave after supper.”
“Maybe I’ll grow a beard,” he said teasingly. “It will make me look older, more sophisticated.”
“Oh, Adam,” she said with a little smile, “fifteen year olds are not sophisticated.” He grinned at her lopsidedly and she looked at him carefully. “I suppose it does make you look a little older.” He smiled smugly and she grinned impishly. “Are you hoping another fille de joie will proposition you?” To her amusement, the boy’s cheeks flamed.
“I guess Pa told you about the woman in the saloon,” he said with a ferocious scowl.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have teased you,” she replied, reaching out and ruffling his curls which caused him to jerk his head out of reach. She thought to herself, I don’t want you to become vain, so I won’t tell you how handsome you are. If you do go to college back East, you will meet many young ladies and I know they will tell you. I hope your grandfather was able to purchase the book I asked for.
By Little Joe’s birthday, Adam was recovered from his bronchitis and able to join in the festivities. While he’d been confined to the cabin, he’d studied Hoss’s jumping jack and figured out how to make one for his baby brother. He had Hoss get him some soft pine that he could cut with his jackknife. Since he couldn’t paint on a face, he carved a big grin and a nose and Marie gave him two buttons to glue on for eyes. Hoss, who who’d been given a jackknife for his ninth birthday, carved his little brother a whistle. That turned out to be a gift the rest of the family regretted since Joe filled the cabin with its ear piercing sound.
Marie had worked hard sewing her little darling some beautiful new frocks but when Little Joe saw them he stuck out his lower lip and scowled. “Want britches!” he declared.
“Non, mon ange,” Marie said. “You aren’t old enough to wear trousers yet. Next year when you are three, maman will sew you a pair of trousers.”
“Want britches!” the two-year-old said mulishly.
“I didn’t get to wear britches until I was three,” Adam said, seeing Pa’s frown. His baby brother looked at him suspiciously so Adam added quickly, “Right, Pa?”
“Yes, that’s right, Joseph. When Adam was two, he wore frocks just like you do.”
“Yeah and so did I, Little Joe,” Hoss added. Ben and Adam exchanged glances, but they didn’t contradict Hoss.
“Want to play with your jumping jack, Little Joe?” Adam asked then, and successfully diverted his baby brother’s attention from the matter of britches.
Two weeks later, the Cartwrights celebrated Adam’s fifteenth birthday. As they gathered around the fireplace, with Adam sitting in Marie’s rocking chair, Little Joe wriggled to get down from his ma’s lap.
“You wanna help me open my presents, don’t ya, Little Buddy?” Adam asked, dimpling.
“Yeah!” the toddler shouted with a big grin.
“All right, Joseph,” Ben said, “but you remember those are your brother’s gifts.”
“Can I give mine first?” Hoss asked as Little Joe ran over to Adam and climbed up in his lap, and Ben nodded. “José ‘n’ Diego helped me,” he said as he handed his older brother a lumpy package.
“A wallet!” Adam exclaimed. “Thanks, Hoss.”
“José said now that you’re earnin’ a vaquero’s wages, you’d need some place to keep your money,” Hoss said, beaming at his brother.
“Now, Joseph, I want you to come sit with me while your brother opens my gift,” Ben said, handing Adam a neatly wrapped package and reaching for his youngest.
“No!” the toddler replied, sticking his lip out in a terrific pout.
“Joseph,” Ben said in the tone all his sons recognized and the toddler reluctantly allowed his pa to lift him and carry him to the settee.
Adam opened the gift and grinned in delight.
“What is it?” Hoss demanded and Adam held up his own straight razor and strap.
“You may not need to shave every morning just yet, but I thought it was time you had your own razor,” Ben said with a mixture of pride and wistfulness. “Now, I want to be there the first couple of times you use it. Don’t want you accidentally slicing your face to ribbons.”
“Okay, Pa,” Adam said with a chuckle. “Thanks.”
Joe stayed on Ben’s lap while Marie handed Adam her gift.
“I wrote to your grandfather and asked him to look for this in Boston,” she said as he carefully unwrapped the gift. He pulled out a slim volume and read the title on the spine, “Advice to a Young Gentleman on Entering Society.”
“What kind of a book is that? Don’t sound very interestin’,” Hoss remarked, his face puckered in puzzlement.
“I believe your ma is thinking your brother could use this book if he’s going to Harvard College back in Massachusetts,” Ben said slowly, watching his first-born’s face.
“Adam wouldn’t wanna go there. Would ya, Adam?” Hoss asked.
“Yeah, I would,” Adam replied carefully. Then he turned to Ben. “I know it’s just a dream, Pa.”
“Dreams are precious things, Adam,” Ben said. “You really want to go to college?”
“Yeah, I do, Pa.”
“But what good is a college education to a rancher, son? College won’t teach you anything you can use here.”
“You’re wrong, Pa!” Adam said, his excitement obvious. “Grandfather wrote me that Harvard now has the Lawrence Scientific School where they teach pure and applied science. They teach zoology, botany, mathematics and engineering, and I know I could use what I learned here on the Ponderosa.” Then, suddenly, all his excitement vanished. “But, I know we can’t afford it, and even if we could, I’d never be able to pass the entrance examinations.”
“Don’t give up on your dream, son. None of us knows what the future holds,” Ben said. He smiled at Adam, but his heart was heavy because if Adam’s dream did come true, he’d be gone four long years. Worse, he might decide that he’d rather live in Boston. Ben Cartwright, he chided himself, remember ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’
Next Story in the Adam: The Early Years Series:
Chapter End Notes:
I used the Buckaroos in Paradise Ranching Culture in Northern Nevada web site at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ncrhtml/crhome.html
As in the past, I used some of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books: Farmer Boy and On the Banks of Plum Creek. I also found a lot of information about frontier life on the web site for PBS’s Frontier House:
I am indebted to several members of Bonanza World who posted information about cattle drives and how to shoot a single-action Colt revolver.
I used this version of Puss in Boots:
I found McGuffey’s Fourth Eclectic Reader at :
I used the lyrics to Wait for the Wagon athttp://www.contemplator.com/
I got my information on the type of stethoscope Paul Martin might have used in the early 1850s at http://www.antiquemed.com/tableofcon.htm
I got my mustard plaster recipe at:
Finally, I used Fashion in Costume: 1200-1980 by Joan Nunn as aid in describing clothing.
Other Stories by this Author
- A Gentleman and a Scholar Part 2 (by Deborah)
- A Son And Heir (by Deborah)
- A Real Nice Lady (by Deborah)
- To Bloom In Another Man’s Garden Part 2 (by Deborah)
- To Bloom In Another Man’s Garden Part 1 (by Deborah)