Summary: Having only been married a short time, Ben and Kate find themselves making a life-changing decision after the death of Kate’s sister. ***Warning – spanking used for disciplining children.***
Rated: T (37,265 words)
Ben Brown Series:
More than Enough Love
The entire Cartwright family was assembled in front of the stage office sharing tearful goodbyes as Adam, Cecile, and their little ones prepared to board the stage for the first leg of their very long journey back to Boston. Hoss held little two-year old Elizabeth, and Jamie was showing four-year old Benji the toy solders his uncles had given him.
“Uncle Joe, Jamie, and me gottcha a little something for your trip, darlin'”, pulling a cloth doll with dark hair and rosy cheeks that resembled Elizabeth from behind his back.
Joe held out a doll sized blanket and bottle.
Elizabeth’s eyes lit up, “Dowee! Dowee!”; happily grabbing the doll.
“That’s right, sweetheart. She’ll keep you company on your trip”, as Joe leaned in and kissed her cheek.
“You’ll probably be full growed next time we see ya”, Hoss said, kissing her on the forehead and handing her off to his Pa.
“Thank you, boys. How thoughtful!”, Cecile responded, with tears in her eyes.
“Pawpaw, dowee…Pawpaw, dowee!”
“Yes, my sweet girl, you’ve got a dollie. Oh how I will miss you!”, whispered Ben, his eyes growing misty. “Cecile, you are a wonderful mother. Thank you for making the long trek to see us.”
“It’s been a marvelous two weeks; especially for the children. You’ve all been wonderful to us”, holding the picture books from Ben and Kate.
Cecile hugged Kate, then gave Ben a warm embrace and a kiss on the cheek.
There were hugs and kisses all around. Adam helped his wife into the coach, then Ben handed Elizabeth to her mother. Benji was shaking hands with his uncles like a grown man, but when he extended his hand to his grandfather, Ben grabbed his hand and swept him up into his arms.
“You’re a fine young man, Benjamin Cartwright, but your grandfather needs more than just a handshake”, hugging him tightly. “You keep a good eye on your sister, you hear.”
Benji nodded, as Ben kissed his dark curly hair and lifted him into the coach. With handshakes, hugs and slaps on the arms, Adam said goodbye to his brothers.
“Kate, I want to thank you for making my Father a very happy man. My best to you”, kissing her cheek.
“Thank you, Adam. It’s been a pleasure to spend time with you, Cecile, and the children. Godspeed.”
“Pa, it was great to be back at the Ponderosa. The children had quite a time. Thanks, Pa. Take care”, struggling to keep his emotions in check; so he grabbed his Pa’s hand and threw his other arm around Ben’s shoulder.
“Adam, words cannot express what these past two weeks have meant to all of us. You have a beautiful family. Thank you making the trip. Safe travels to you all”, hugging his son tightly.
The stage pulled out promptly after Adam was seated. The remaining Cartwrights stood waving their goodbyes.
Ben pulled Kate in close and kissed her temple, “I am so thankful we are leaving for San Francisco tomorrow. The ranch will seem way too quiet without Benji and Elizabeth. I’m not sure I could bear it.”
Kate just nodded, her heart full of emotion. She had fallen in love with Benji and Elizabeth, and was acutely aware of Ben’s pain.
The train from San Francisco had just pulled into the station in Sacramento. Ben and Kate exited the car knowing they had at least thirty minutes while the train took on water, wood, and new passengers. They walked about for a time, stretching their cramped legs. Ben eyed a quiet spot and led Kate out of the passenger traffic, shielding her from prying eyes.
“I just had to have you to myself for a few moments”, wrapping her in his arms and kissing her tenderly. “Don’t know what I’ll do when I actually have to be away from you for a few days. I think I’ll go crazy.”
“I’m sure you will survive,” Kate teased, placing her hands on his chest. “But it’s still nice to know you are thinking about me”, giving him a coy little peck on the lips.
‘I am more than just thinking about you, Kate, you occupy almost all my waking thoughts”, kissing her again. “Do you have any idea how happy you’ve made me?”
“Oh, I think I have a little idea….you do a pretty good job of showing me”, touching the pearl necklace Ben had given her for her birthday and slipping a teasing finger between the buttons of his shirt.
“I love it when you wear the pearls, just the pearls”, with a sultry growl into her ear and thinking back with pleasure to the evening of Kate’s birthday.
“Well that might be arranged”, giving her husband a seductive look. “As much as I would love to continue this conversation, we really should get back to the train.”
“Alas, you are right, my love. It won’t be long now to Reno, then tomorrow we’ll be home.
“San Francisco was wonderful, but I must confess that I am ready to get back to the ranch. I guess I’m just not much of a big city gal”, though Kate looked quite stylish in her dark green traveling suit and hat that sported three rust colored feathers that matched her auburn hair.
“I thought you managed marvelously”, helping Kate up the steps into their passenger car.
Soon the conductor shouted “All Aboard”, and the train pulled out of the station; they would reach Reno in about four and half hours.
An older couple who looked to be in their sixties were now in the seats across from Ben and Kate.
Ben took the initiative to make introductions, “Good day, my name is Ben Cartwright and this is my wife, Katherine.”
“Hello, I am Thomas Perkins and this is my wife Dorothy. Very pleased to meet you”, shaking Ben’s hand. “Where are you headed?”
“Back home to Virginia City. We just spent two weeks in San Francisco”, Ben replied. “How about you?”
“We are on our way to Denver to visit our daughter and her family for a few weeks.”
“I hope you have a wonderful visit.”
“Thank you, and have a safe trip home.”
Ben and Kate nodded their thanks.
Kate pulled a book from her purse and started to read, but the rocking and swaying of the train soon made her drowsy, her head falling toward Ben’s shoulder. He put his arm around her, then gently pushed a stray lock of hair off her cheek, helping to make her as comfortable as possible.
About an hour into the trip Ben shifted slightly in his seat and Kate woke.
“Sorry, I’m not much company.”
“That’s ok, I took the opportunity to snooze a bit myself. Would you mind if I step into the smoking car and get something to drink?”
“That’s fine. Now I might actually be able to stay awake and read.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Perkins.”
After Ben left the car, Mrs. Perkins smiled at Kate, “Have you been married very long, Mrs. Cartwright?”
“About two months. We were on our honeymoon. I’m sorry. Are we that obvious?”, Kate blushed.
“Any woman that has a man who looks at her the way your husband looks at you, has absolutely nothing to be sorry for.”
“I am very fortunate.”
“Indeed”, she replied, as Mr. Perkins snored softly in the seat next to her.
When they arrived in Reno, Ben purchased the stage-coach tickets for the next day, and hired a rig to take them to the hotel for the evening. After freshening up, they enjoyed a pleasant dinner in the hotel dining room, then strolled up and down the board walk stretching their limbs after being cooped up on the train for so many hours. This was their final night of total freedom before returning home. Unbeknownst to Kate, Ben had slipped the hotel maitre d twenty dollars to have a bottle of champagne waiting for them in their room.
Unwrapping the bottle from the towel, “Ben how lovely, you are spoiling me terribly. Just what is it that you have in mind?”, flashing her green eyes at him.
Oh nothing much….”, kissing her neck. “Just maybe a little of this….”, undoing the first few buttons of her blouse, pushing it toward her shoulder and kissing her bare skin. “And a little of that…..”, running his finger under her chin and down the front of her neck, fingering her pearl necklace. He worked loose a couple more buttons, and placed a gentle kiss on her now exposed cleavage. She closed her eyes as her body tingled with excitement.
“Oooh, I think maybe a little of ‘this and that’ may be in order for you, too”, untying his string tie and working the buttons of his shirt down to his belt. Then Kate ran her hands up through the thick hair on his belly and chest and wrapped her arms around him inside his shirt, placing her head against his warm chest. Ben sucked in a breath as Kate’s hands met his skin. After a moment, he loosened her hold and took her hand and led her to the table where the champagne was sitting. He popped the cork and poured two glasses.
Handing her a glass, “Here’s to the wonderful night to come.”
They clinked their glasses and took a sip. Kate’s eyes focused on his mouth; she dipped her finger in her glass and temptingly circled Ben’s lips. He ran his tongue around his lips and suckled her fingertip. The glasses went to the table and Ben’s arms enveloped Kate, kissing her deeply; she gladly returned his kisses, increasing his desire. Their clothing quickly fell to the floor.
Ben paused momentarily and held his wife at arm’s length taking in her beauty, “I do so love you in pearls, but now it is time for even those to come off.”
Morning light found their bare bodies wrapped together in the usual fashion.
“Good morning sleepy head”, as she fingered the hair on his chest.
“I think you wore me out. A man needs some rest after a night like that”, with a smirk and stretching his arms wide above them, then hugging her tightly.
“Not to worry. It is unlikely that we’ll have an evening like that again for a very long time, or the boys will send us to the barn”, Kate giggled.
Ben chuckled and kissed her forehead, “Unfortunately you are correct.”
They lingered in each other’s arms as long as possible. With mixed feelings, Ben and Kate prepared for their trip home.
By late afternoon, their stage was pulling into Virginia City. Hoss and Joe were waiting for them with the surrey.
Ben greeted the boys with handshakes, “Hoss, Joseph, it’s good to be back.”
“Good to have you home, Pa…Kate”, each kissing her cheek; however their faces were unable to conceal the news they had to share.
Ben noticed immediately that something was not right. “Is everything alright, boys?”
Joe handed Kate a telegram, “I’m afraid it’s not good news. I’m sorry, Kate.”
Kate read the message and burst into tears, burying her face into Ben’s chest.
“Kate, what is it?”, reaching for the telegram.
After reading the note, Ben hugged her tightly, stroking her hair, “Oh, Kate, I’m so sorry.”
The telegram related that her younger sister Molly and her husband Jim Calhoun had died in a house fire at Kate’s family’s homestead about a week ago. Miraculously, their two daughters, Mary age four, and Hannah age two, were saved and staying with Jim’s sister’s family nearby in Indiana.
“Oh, Ben, I know we just got back, but I really must make sure Molly’s girls are ok. You do understand, don’t you?”, pleading through her tears.
“Of course, I would not expect otherwise. Joe would you mind getting tickets back to Reno for tomorrow. We’ll take the train east from there”, as he handed Joe the money for the tickets.
“I’m real sorry, Kate. Let me get your trunks, Pa”, offered Hoss.
The ride back to the ranch was more quiet than usual. Hoss and Joe asked about their time in San Francisco, but Kate’s mind was totally consumed with her nieces. Her heart was breaking for Mary and Hannah; how lost they must feel without their parents. It had been almost three years since she had seen Molly, Jim, and Mary. Ben kept his loving arm around her, trying comfort her obvious suffering.
After dinner, Kate was repacking her trunk for the trip to Indiana.
“Ben, how long do you think it will take to get to Decatur. It took John and I months to come west by wagon.”
“That was before the railroad was completed across the country. I would say it will take about ten days since most of the trip will be by train. I believe it takes about six days to get from Reno to Chicago, but we’ll have a better idea once we book our fare in Reno”, sorting through his clothing.
“We’ll be gone from the ranch the better part of a month. I am sorry to do this to you. Three months ago, Indiana is probably the last place in the world you would have thought you would be going.”
“Kate, the boys are fully capable of taking care of things”, coming up behind her and slipping his arms around her waist. “It is only fitting that I am by your side while you are going through this difficult time”, turning her around and kissing her forehead.
“Thank you, Ben. I can’t imagine doing this alone”, leaning against his chest, relishing the comfort of his arms.
The next morning Hoss drove Kate and Ben into Virginia City to catch the stage back to Reno.
“Hoss, I’m sorry we’re abandoning you. Thank you for driving us into town. Hopefully we will see you in about three weeks”, Kate said apologetically.
“You don’t need to feel bad about anything, Kate. You just make sure those little ones are taken of”, giving her a gentle squeeze.
“Son, we’ll be back as soon as possible. I know you and Joe and Jamie will see to things. Take care”, giving his Hoss a firm handshake.
“See ya, Pa…Kate.”
After spending the night in Reno, Kate and Ben boarded the eastbound train.
“Well, Kate, this will be a first for us. I’ve never been an overnight passenger on a train. I guess these sleeper cars are all the rage. The good news is that we will be in Indiana in six days.”
“Thank you, Ben. I know it was expensive.”
“I just wanted you to get there as soon as possible. Once we pass the mountains, I am afraid the scenery will be pretty boring, but I won’t notice because I’ll just be looking at you!”, he winked.
“Flatterer! I just hope we are still in good humor by the time we get to Indiana.
Seven days later they boarded the stage in Fort Wayne, Indiana for a five-hour trip to Decatur. The streets of Decatur were bustling with people as the stage pulled in.
“It’s probably hard for you to believe, Ben, since you have traveled through much of the country, but Decatur was a big city to me. I remember the population being around seven hundred and from the looks of things, it has grown considerably since John and I left the area.”
“I’ll ask about a hotel and get us settled, then we can go to the courthouse to check about the farm”, taking Kate’s elbow and leading her into the stage office.
Later at the courthouse, Ben and Kate found a thin, balding man with glasses standing behind the land office desk.
“Hello, my name is Ben Cartwright and this is my wife, Katherine. We are interested in any information you can give us about the James Calhoun farm. My wife is Mrs. Calhoun’s sister.”
“I’m real sorry about your sister’s family, ma’am.”
“Well, let me see”, as the clerk flipped through the ledger. “It looks like Mr. Calhoun had an outstanding tax bill of one hundred and five dollars on his eighty acre farm. Normally the county would put the property up for sale to cover the expenses, but there is a note here that four draft horses, two buggy horses, six pigs, a milk cow, and three young steers were sold at auction last week for ninety-five dollars. That leaves a balance of ten dollars. Now if the property was free and clear of debt, it could be sold by the family.”
Ben opened his wallet and pulled out ten dollars, “Let’s consider the Calhoun property debt free.”
“I’ll make note of it”, the clerk replied while taking the ten-dollar bill from Ben.
“Who would receive the proceeds from the sale of the property? The Calhoun’s had two little girls that need to be cared for.”
“Well, then, I guess whoever gets the children.”
“Thank you for your help.”
“Sure thing, Mr. Cartwright…Mrs. Cartwright.”
The following day Ben rented a buggy and they made their way to the farm belonging to Jim Calhoun’s sister, Martha and her husband Pete Simmons. Ben noted the flat terrain with trees showing their fall color and fields of shocked corn. It was a crisp, clear October morning; the familiar sights and sounds brought some comfort to Kate.
“Ben, I would like to stop by the homestead before seeing the girls, if you don’t mind. It’s on our way.”
“Of course, I would like to see where you grew up.”
“Well, I’m not sure how things will look after the fire and all.”
After about an hour, Kate pointed out the barn on what used to be the Donovan farm.
“My maiden name was Donovan.”
“Katherine Donovan has a nice ring to it, but I think I like Katherine Cartwright better”, leaning in for a kiss.
The charred remains of the farmhouse became visible as they turned into the lane.
“Oh Ben, I tried to prepare myself.” Kate burst into tears.
Ben pulled her in close, “It’s to be expected. I can only imagine how I would feel if something like this happened on the Ponderosa. Do you want me to drive all the way in?”
Ben helped Kate down from the buggy, keeping his arm around her as they surveyed the homestead.
Only a jagged, burned out stump remained of the large oak that had stood beside the house.
“We had a swing in that tree. I remember pushing Molly when she was a little…”
Kate turned and buried her face in Ben’s shoulder. He held her tenderly and kissed her temple. After a few moments, she pulled away.
There was a large scorched area around what used to be the house, but the barn and farmyard appeared intact.
“I’m glad to see the barn standing. John put months of work into it. We only had a small shed when I was growing up.”
Kate looked out over where their garden had been. Just beyond, there were two white stones.
“Let’s have a look over there”, pointing toward the stones.
Ben took her hand as they walked.
Someone had marked the stones: James Edward Calhoun, 4-11-1834 to 9-28-1869; Mary Margaret Calhoun, 6-21-1837 to 9-28-1869.
“Oh, Molly…Jim…, how could this happen. How could you leave your little girls”, covering her eyes with her hands and falling to her knees.
Ben knelt beside her and just held her. He knew from experience that there was nothing he could say right now that would bring true comfort. Kate just needed to know he loved and cared for her, and he truly did, more than he could ever express.
When her sobs subsided, Ben gently helped Kate to her feet.
She nodded. Placing a strong arm around her shoulders, he slowly led Kate back to the buggy.
It was about two miles to the Simmons farm. A blond-haired boy spied the buggy coming and ran to tell his mother. Martha Simmons was waiting in the doorway when Ben and Kate pulled up; their horse was a bit skittish with the five Simmons children and several small animals running everywhere at once.
“You must be Kate McElroy….uh….I mean…”
“Cartwright, Kate Cartwright, and this is my husband Ben.”
Pleased to meet you”, Martha said offering him the hand without the dish towel. “My husband, Pete is out working in the fields today.”
Martha carefully eyed Kate, “Molly sure favored you. I could tell right off who you were even though we’ve not seen each other for years. What a horrible thing to happen to Jim and Molly. I still can’t believe it.”
Kate just nodded; the lump in her throat choking out her words.
“You’ve come about Mary and Hannah, I take it.”
‘Yes we have. They are here, aren’t they”, Kate scanning the yard.
“Oh yes, that’s them over yonder”, pointing toward the barn.
Two little girls sat by the barn, the older one, with straight, dark hair, was holding a calico kitten for the younger, curly-headed blond, to pet.
“They’ve been pretty quiet; mostly stay off to themselves. The little one cries some at night. I sure hope you can help them. You can see I’ve got my hands full here.”
“Yes, I can see that. I really appreciate all that you’ve done for the girls”, noting that Martha looked close to her own age, but was probably ten years younger.
“Don’t bother calling them over, we’ll go to them.”
“Now the rest of you kids stay put and leave Mary and Hannah to their company, you hear?”, Martha ordered.
Mary and Hannah did not seem to notice Ben and Kate until they were standing right in front of them.
Little Hannah looked at Kate with questioning blue eyes, “Mama?”
“No, Hannah, not Mama”, Mary said firmly, holding her arm in front of the smaller child.
Kate bent down and looked at Mary, “You’re right, Mary. I’m your Aunt Kate, your Mama’s sister, and this is your Uncle Ben. How are you little one?”, holding out her arms to Hannah.
Coming to the conclusion that Kate was family, Mary dropped her arm and Hannah jumped up into Kate’s welcoming arms, touching her face with dirty little hands. The tears welled up in Kate’s eyes as she hugged Hannah tightly. Seeing Hannah in Kate’s arms broke Ben’s heart. He looked at Mary, who stood silently frowning at her sister.
Ben went down on one knee, “Mary, I can tell you are a wonderful big sister. You have taken very good care of Hannah, but you know, Mary, sometimes even big girls need a hug.”
Ben held out his arms to her. Mary looked at him, then at Hannah and Kate, and back into Ben’s caring eyes. Mary’s bottom lip began to quiver, and just before her sobs came, she threw herself into Ben’s arms. He wrapped her up tightly, holding her head as she let loose all of the sorrow she had been holding in for Hannah’s sake. Ben’s heart ached for Mary. It brought back memories of his own boys when they lost their mothers.
“No child should have to suffer so much grief”, he thought to himself.
Ben stood up with Mary in his arms. She was much lighter than her loose-fitting dress made her seem. Most likely she had not eaten much since the fire. He took Kate’s elbow and helped her up. He surveyed the Simmons place. They appeared to be hard-working folk, but it probably took everything they had to keep the farm going and food on the table.
He looked lovingly into Kate’s eyes, “I think we probably have enough room at the Ponderosa for two little girls, don’t you, Kate?”
Kate beamed through her tears and buried her head in his unoccupied shoulder.
Ben wrapped his big arms around Kate and the girls and smiled; “This is going to take some getting used to, but it feels pretty good to me.”
What Kate and Ben did not see during their tender moments with Mary and Hannah was Pete Simmons coming in from the fields. He immediately pushed his wife into the house.
“Who are they?”
“It’s Kate McElroy, only she is married again to a man named Cartwright. What’s wrong?”
“They look awfully friendly with the gals. You know they can’t take them.”
“But why? You said they were just a burden to us.”
“The only way we can get the money from Jim’s farm is if we keep those gals.”
“But Pete, Mary and Hannah deserve a chance at a good life after all they’ve been through. We shouldn’t stand in the way. It’s not right.”
“I don’t care one bit about what’s right, I just want that money. We’ve got to look to our own needs.”
“Oh Pete, don’t do this, please, don’t.”
“You hush up! I’ll take care of it!”
Simmons stormed out of the house, “You kids get inside now!”
The children knew better than to disobey their Pa when he looked the way he did right now; so they scurried into the house without question.
Ben and Kate turned toward the angry voice.
“Kate, you’d better let me handle this. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on, but it doesn’t look good.”
She gave him a worried nod, and reached for Mary’s hand when Ben put her down.
“You must be Mr. Simmons. I’m Ben Cartwright. Pleased to meet you”, Ben said forcing a smile and extending his hand.
“You’ve said your howdies, now you can be on your way”, ignoring Ben’s friendly gesture.
“First we need to speak to you about Mary and Hannah.”
“There ain’t nothing to talk about. They’re staying here. We’ve been taking good care of them.”
“Yes, I see that, but we got the impression from your wife that two more children was a bit much for you.”
“No burden. They’re settled here now; so they’re staying.”
Kate could stand it no longer; the little girls shaking with fear, “Please, Pete, it would mean so much to me to have the girls.”
“It’s not my fault you and John couldn’t have kids. That’s the way God made you; so you’ll just have to live with it.”
Ben was seething, but he did not want to risk Kate or the girls being injured. Neither did he want to tangle with the tall, strapping farmer; especially when he was fairly certain that an offer of money would remedy the situation.
Choking back his anger, “Kate, please take the girls to the house while Mr. Simmons and I finish this discussion.”
“We’re done talking. You just leave the girls and be gone.”
“Surely we can come to a mutually satisfactory agreement. Kate and I would like to have Mary and Hannah. What would you like to have in exchange?”
“Five hundred dollars.”
“Five hundred dollars is a lot of money. How did you come up with that amount so quickly?”
“None of your business. Five hundred or you don’t get the kids.”
“It wouldn’t have anything to do with the sale of the Calhoun farm, by any chance?”
“What if it does?”
“I don’t have that amount of money with me, but I could get a lawyer in Decatur to draw up a document saying that Kate and I want no money from the sale of the farm.”
“How do I know you’ll really do it?”
“Do you have some paper and a pencil?”
“Yeah, I spose we can scrape some up.”
“I will draw up a temporary letter and Kate and I will both sign it. You have my word that it will all be legal before we head back west. Deal?”
“I don’t know.”
“Seems to me it’s a win for both of us, and you can be certain that you will never hear from us again after the agreement is legal.”
Simmons hesitated. “All right.”
Ben breathed a sigh of relief, “Good, now where’s that paper and pencil?”
Simmons led the way back to the house. Kate was waiting with Mary and Hannah on the porch.
Ben smiled and placed his hands on Kate’s arms, looking intently into her worried eyes.
“Everything’s going to be fine. Just give me a few more minutes and we’ll be done with Pete Simmons”, he whispered.
The tension in Kate’s shoulders eased slightly. Simmons returned with a wrinkled sheet of paper and a nub of a pencil. Ben walked to the buggy and used the seat to write the letter and signed it.
“Kate, I need your signature, please.”
Still holding Hannah and with Mary in tow, she walked to the buggy and gave Ben a puzzled look. She read the letter and smiled. Taking the pencil, she quickly signed “Katherine McElroy”.
“I think you forgot something.”
“Oh my goodness!”, quickly adding “Cartwright” to the signature. “This is the first time I’ve signed my name since we have been married.”
“And on such an official document”, Ben smirked.
“Thank you, Ben. This means the world to me.”
He touched her cheek and patted Mary’s head. Reaching for his wallet, Ben took fifty dollars and folded the letter around it. He walked back to the house, knocked on the door frame, and handed Pete Simmons the letter when he came to the door.
“You have my word”, extending his hand to the farmer.
Simmons nodded, gave Ben’s hand a quick shake, and disappeared back into the house.
“Kate, wait!”, Martha called and came running to the buggy.
She handed Kate a blanket.
“Mary and Hannah don’t have any coats and it may be a chilly ride back to town.”
“Thank you, Martha.”
“Can I give the girls a hug before you leave?”
Martha reached for little Hannah and hugged her tightly, “Be a good girl for Aunt Kate, ok?”
Hannah nodded her little head.
Mary hesitated when Martha extended her arms, but her aunt leaned in and gave the child a squeeze.
“You’re a big girl, Mary. You take good care of Hannah, ok?”
Mary quickly nodded and looked away.
“Thank you, Mr. Cartwright. You didn’t have to do that, specially after Pete acted like he did, but I do thank you for your generosity.”
Ben nodded, “You’re welcome, Mrs. Simmons.”
Kate reached out and embraced Martha.
“Thanks for everything. I know it wasn’t easy for you. Take care and so long.”
The Simmons children gradually reappeared on the porch and waved goodbyes. Ben touched the brim of his hat, acknowledging their goodwill. Kate tucked the blanket around Mary, who was sitting the middle, and Hannah, who sat in her lap. Ben slapped the reins and they were off.
When they arrived back in Decatur late that afternoon, their first stop was a dress shop for some clothes for the girls. Mary and Hannah were wearing the only dresses they had.
“While the girls and I do some shopping, will you please make sure there is a tub and plenty of hot water back at our room”, kissing Ben’s cheek.
“I will, but then I must track down a lawyer and take care of this document for Simmons. Otherwise we won’t be leaving tomorrow.”
Kate handed Hannah to Ben, stepped out of the buggy, lifted Mary down, took Hannah back in her arms again, and grabbed Mary’s hand.
“Thanks! See you soon. And Ben, I love you.”
Ben smiled, “I’ll be back as soon as possible.”
With preparations made for bathing the girls, Ben asked the hotel clerk for a recommendation for legal services. Fortunately, there was a law office on the same block; so Ben hurried hoping to catch someone before closing time.
The sign read “Fredrick Schurger, Attorney at Law.” A well-dressed gentleman, who looked to be in his forties, was sitting at the desk when Ben walked in.
“Good day. I’m Fred Schurger. How can I help you”, offering his hand.
Taking the attorney’s hand, “Hello, my name is Ben Cartwright. I am in need of your services.”
Ben went on to explain the circumstances.
“And we were hoping to leave town tomorrow morning since we are traveling with small children. This all came up unexpectedly.”
“I see. I am afraid there is information at the courthouse I will need to prepare the document; details about where the farm is located. But that will not be possible until tomorrow. I have a letter here that I keep for situations like this. If you sign and date it, I will attach it to a document stating you are relinquishing any right to the Calhoun farm or proceeds from the sale of it. I will file a copy with the land office, send one to Pete Simmons, and one to you. Does that sound satisfactory?”
“Yes, it sounds like exactly what we need.”
“Then if you will sign and date this and write your address on this other page.”
“How much do I owe you?”, handing the papers back to Schurger.
“Oh, I think ten dollars should cover it.”
“Thanks for your help”, offering payment and shaking hands with Schurger.
“How many dresses do you suppose my wife has managed to buy in an hour?”
“My guess is you will have two of the best dressed little girls in town!”, the lawyer jested with Ben.
Opening the door to the dress shop, Ben saw a stack of boxes on the counter.
Spying Kate, “Are all these yours? I didn’t stop at the bank before coming here.”
“Oh Ben, it’s really not that much. The girls need to look respectable for the trip home.”
“All right, where is the clerk so I can take care of the damages.”
Kate gave his arm a gentle swat.
“That will be twenty-four fifty, please”, said the clerk.
With her eyelashes fluttering at Ben, “See that wasn’t so bad.”
“Ah, yes, but I have a feeling this is only the beginning!”, Ben countered.
He gathered all the boxes and headed to the buggy, then he helped Kate and the girls get seated.
Finally, they got back to the hotel, bathed the girls and dressed them in fresh nightgowns. Ben had ordered some dinner and had it sent to their room. Mary and Hannah were almost too tired to eat, but they did manage a few bites. Ben carried each of the girls to the cot he had placed right beside the bed. They instinctively snuggled close together as Kate covered them and kissed them goodnight. With his hand on Kate’s back, Ben leaned in and gently caressed the girls’ heads.
“Now a kiss for my very tired, big girl”, kissing Kate tenderly.
It was true. Kate was tired. Not just from taking care of the girls, but also from the emotional stress of the day.
“Why don’t you change and then I’ll rub your back for a change.”
“That sounds nice. I won’t be long”, she said stepping behind the dressing screen.
Ben cleared the plates from dinner, put them on a tray and set it out in the hall. Soon Kate reappeared in her nightgown.
“Here, come sit down”, turning the straight-backed chair sideways.
Kate sat down and pulled her hair to the side, off her shoulders. Ben gently and carefully massaged her neck and shoulders. He could feel her muscles relax under his large hands.
“Oh that feels wonderful, thank you, Ben.”
“Where’s your brush?”, placing a kiss on the back of her neck.
“It’s behind the screen.”
Ben returned with the brush in hand, and then began meticulously brushing her long, auburn hair. Kate could feel herself fading as he rhythmically stroked her hair.
“I think my sleepy girl needs to get to bed”, helping Kate into the already turned down bed.
Like Mary and Hannah she snuggled into her place closest to the cot, and patted the other side of the bed, “Don’t be long.”
Ben sat down on the chair and slipped off his boots. He sat there thinking. What he wanted to do and he was going to do were two entirely different things; so he went behind the screen and changed into his nightshirt. When he returned, Kate’s breathing told him she was already asleep as he slid into bed. He carefully moved his arm under her shoulders and rolled her toward him into her customary sleeping position putting her head on his shoulder. Kate roused just enough to move her arm onto Ben’s chest. Now he felt like he could go to sleep.
About an hour later, Ben and Kate were jolted upright by Mary’s screams. Hannah began to cry as well, having her sleep disrupted.
“Sh… sh…. Mary. It’s alright, Hannah”, lifting Mary into bed with her.
Kate rubbed Hannah’s back while comforting Mary. Ben grunted and rolled away from them. Kate rolled her back to Ben’s in a futile attempt to shield him from the disturbance.
Mary’s crying slowed to tiny sobs.
“Sh Mary, I’m here and Uncle Ben is here, too. Can you tell me what’s wrong?”, Kate whispered.
“It was the fire and I saw Mama run to Papa”, covering her eyes with her trembling hands.
“Oh honey, I’m so sorry. You just snuggle up to me and I will rub your back.”
Mary finally fell back to sleep, but she called out several times and thrashed about a lot, making sleep difficult for all of them.
When morning finally came, they were all a bit ragged around the edges, especially Ben. It had been a very long time since he had slept with children in the same room, and those were not his best memories of his sons. Getting dressed and ready to leave was much more challenging with two little girls running around in a small room. In his haste to get ready, Ben nicked himself shaving.
“Damn!…I mean dad blast it!”
Kate looked at him crossly. “Ben, little ears, please.”
“Yes, yes, I know”, he growled.
Kate was feeling frazzled trying to get the two girls and herself ready to go, but eventually they all were dressed and ready for breakfast. Despite their lack of sleep, the little girls looked very pretty in their new traveling outfits; Mary in bright blue that set off her dark braids, and Hannah in russet with a matching bonnet that covered her blond curls. They danced and twirled, both pleased with their new clothes.
At the breakfast table, there was an abundance of food that went everywhere except into the girls’ mouths. Ben had not worked so hard to keep himself looking presentable in a very long time.
“Can’t you keep their hands wiped”, he complained grabbing an offending hand from each girl sitting between himself and Kate.
“I’m sorry, Ben. They are children. You do remember what it’s like to have children?”, wiping the girls’ hands.
“Yes, I remember quite well.”
Despite everything, they were on the stage to Ft. Wayne by eight o’clock, hoping to catch the late train to Chicago. Ben and Kate passed the girls back and forth hoping the change would help to keep them happy. At the way station, Kate took Mary to the outhouse and changed Hannah’s diaper.
Ben looked at Kate and shook his head, marveling at her energy and patience, “at least one of us is dealing well with this.”
Then they were back on the stage for another two hours. They rolled into Ft. Wayne at one o’clock giving them just enough time to make the two o’clock train.
“Kate, we must hurry to get some decent seats”, grabbing Mary’s hand.
“Sorry, I’m not used to rushing while toting a two-year old.”
“Here, you take Mary, and give me Hannah.”
Kate released a heavy sigh once they were all settled in their seats. The train was full. This route ran from Chicago to Pittsburgh and was heavily traveled. Mary and Hannah were wide-eyed when the whistle blew and the train moved out from the station. Once the novelty wore off, Hannah quickly succumbed to the motion of the train, falling asleep in Kate’s lap. Taking his cue from Hannah, Ben leaned back and closed his eyes. Within a few seconds Mary reached across and yanked on his sleeve.
Trying not to lose his patience, “Yes, Mary, what do you need?”
“You shouldn’t be grumpy at Aunt Kate.”
“I wasn’t grumpy with Aunt Kate”, he began adamantly and then trailed into a whisper.
“Yes you were! If you are grumpy at Aunt Kate, she will go away and not come back.”
“Mary, why would you say such a thing. I love Aunt Kate and she loves me. She would not leave just because I get a little grumpy once in a while. Now I am going to take a little nap and you should do the same.”
Ben leaned back again. He barely got his eyes closed when Mary pulled at his sleeve.
“But….but….”, her eyes filling with tears and her lip quivering, ‘but I was grumpy at Mama the day of the fire….and she went away and never came back!”, giant tears now running down her cheeks.
Kate and Ben looked at each other; his expression softened and her eyes filled.
Ben held out his arms and brought Mary into his lap.
He took his finger and gently lifted her chin, looking lovingly into her eyes, “Mary, nothing you did made your Mama go away. Sometimes bad things happen that we can’t do anything about. Your Mama loved you very much.” Glancing at Kate and then back to Mary, “and maybe God sent us to tell you that she still loves you.”
Ben hugged her small, shaking body. He suddenly became aware that all eyes in the area were focused on them. He had been totally undone by a four-year old and now he was going to have to take his medicine and apologize to Kate.
“Mary you were absolutely right about one thing”, whispering in a matter of fact tone. “I should not be grumpy with Aunt Kate. It’s just not nice.” Turning to Kate he began confidently , “Kate I am sorry”, and then seeing her tears, his eyes became gentle and his voice a tender whisper, “I am sorry for getting upset with you. You did not deserve that”, leaning his head against hers.
Then in a loud voice Mary asked, “Why are you talking so quiet?”
Ben could hear the muffled laughter of the passengers around them. “What am I going to do with you?”, tickling her side.
Mary let out an infectious string of giggles that soon had them all laughing.
Once it was quiet, Ben leaned back again, gently rested Mary’s head against his shoulder and stroked her hair. He was hopeful that both of them would get a nap. Mary snuggled into him and started twirling the end of his string tie with her finger.
Ben sighed and thought to himself, “Hoss, Joe, Jamie we are in for trouble. I am without the fortitude to withstand the charms of a four-year old girl, and I doubt any of you will fare any better!”
The train came into the Chicago station that evening around eight; so it was almost ten by the time Ben & Kate had the girls in bed at the hotel.
“Kate, I know it’s been a very long day, but I think we really need to talk before going to bed.”
“Yes, I suppose we do. Everything has happened so fast. I hope you are not regretting taking Mary and Hannah. I just couldn’t bear the thought of them growing up with Pete Simmons for a father. Ben, the most amazing and frightening part of it is that if we had never married, I would have been powerless to stop it. In some backward, odd sort of way, I should be grateful to Cass Breckenridge and a lame horse that you ever ended up at my ranch.”
“And maybe a hard-headed, middle-aged rancher?”, he asked with a smirk.
“Maybe…”, her eyes sparkling.
Ben took Kate into his arms and kissed her.
“I love you, Kate, and I always will. And because I love you, I agreed to take in the girls. But, honestly, when we married, having children never crossed my mind; given our ages. I’m just trying to get a grasp on this. You do realize in ten years when I am sixty-five and you are forty-eight, the girls will only be twelve and fourteen.
“I know, Ben. I understand that, but I also know the kind of man you are. You are so loving and giving. You have so much to offer the girls…wisdom and years of experience…Maybe I’m asking too much of you.”
“No, Kate, I may be asking too much of you. Selfishly, I want you all to myself. Children always have pressing needs, and I believe by nature women are more sensitive to those needs. You are wonderful with the girls, but I need you, Kate.”
“And I need you!”, throwing her arms around his neck.
Soon they were kissing passionately, desperately wanting to release the tension of the past two days. Just before their desire overtook them, Kate pulled back.
“I can’t Ben, not with the girls right here. I know that the next few weeks are going to be a difficult, until we get home and settled into a routine. But I promise you, Ben, that it is my desire to be your wife, not just a mother to Mary and Hannah.”
Kate smiled, “You know we may have to enlist the boys help, so we can have some time to ourselves, once in a while.”
“By the time we get home, I may be ready to make taking care of little girls their full-time job!”, said Ben with exasperation.
Kate swatted him playfully on the arm.
“Seriously, Kate. As much as I would love to get home, we probably should stay here in Chicago tomorrow. We need a more relaxing day, and maybe we could get a couple of things for the girls to help make the trip go more smoothly. And just maybe I should send a wire to the boys to let them know about Mary and Hannah.”
“Oh, my, yes, we have been preoccupied with the girls, haven’t we. I think staying another day is a good idea, help us be a little more rested for the long haul back home.”
Kate fell asleep quickly once they were settled in bed. However, Ben’s thoughts drifted back to their time in San Francisco; their nights together that brought them so much joy. Away from the ranch with no other focus than their love, they had hours just to pleasure each other. In his mind’s eye, he saw Kate’s beautiful, glistening, arched form, reaching out to him, repeating his name in moans of delight, and then finally the shudder of pure, soul-freeing ecstasy. His body responded to the memory; he whispered an oath. Sleep was not coming easily for him tonight.
Heavy draperies kept the morning sun from invading their room; so Ben was surprised when his pocket watch read seven o’clock in the slip of light beside the window. Mary and Hannah had slept through the night and Kate enjoyed some much needed rest. He was determined not to let little things get under his skin today. Within moments, he heard the patter of little feet. Hannah was standing beside him, sleepily rubbing her eyes, her blond curls all askew.
“Morning little one”, picking her up and kissing her warm cheek.
Ben grimaced. The sleeve of his nightshirt showing the evidence that Hannah was in serious need of a diaper change.
“Well, little girl, you need some attention”, staying true to his vow.
Hannah made a face when she touched his stubbly chin. The memories of his boys rubbing his morning face, and then their giggles when he gave them a whisker rub came flooding back.
“Uncle Ben has a scratchy face”, grabbing her little hand and rubbing his chin against it.
“Cachee face, cachee face”, she giggled.
Ben laughed, too. “Now let’s get you taken care of. I think I remember how to do this”, pulling back the drapes to let in some light.
Mary and Kate stirred when the sun streamed into the room.
“Oh Ben, here, let me do that”, seeing him in the middle of the changing process.”
“Not to worry. I haven’t forgotten everything. Hannah and I are doing just fine, aren’t we Hannah.”
“Cachee face”, she said reaching toward him.
“What’d you say, Hannah?”, asked Mary, who was now standing beside them.
“She said I have a scratchy face”, said a growling Ben, grabbing Mary and burying his bristly chin into her neck.
Mary shrieked and giggled, and then suddenly yelled, “Potty, potty, I need to go potty!”
“OK! Alright! Sorry, Mary!”, as he rushed her to the chamber pot behind the dressing screen.
Ben reappeared from behind the screen with a look of relief.
“Disaster averted!”, he reported to Kate, who was sitting on the edge of the bed, trying to stifle her own giggles.
“Well, it looks like you have everything under control. I think I’ll just go back to bed”, Kate said, looking smug.
“I don’t think so, or you’ll be the next one to get a whisker rub”, diving toward her.
Kate shrieked in surprise, “Ben, stop, we’ll wake the entire hotel!”
“No matter, it’s well after seven. Everyone should be up by now”, he ordered and kissed her soundly on the lips.
“Really? After seven?”
Mary and Hannah rushed over and began pushing their way into Kate and Ben’s hug.
“Oh, get up here, you two”, wrapping his big arms around all of them.
“Kate, this business is either going to keep me young or do me in”, he chuckled.
She looked intently into his deep brown eyes and placed a tender kiss on his lips.
Having Kate’s love more than made up the current chaos.
“Well, now, time’s a-wastin’, gals. The whole city of Chicago is out there waiting on us. Let’s get the move on”, Ben commanded.
Ben, Kate and the girls enjoyed a breezy fall day in Chicago. The streets and sidewalks were full of people, cabs, carriages, and freight wagons; so there was much to capture the girls’ attention. While Kate stepped into a toy store to buy a doll for each girl and a couple of picture books, Ben took Mary and Hannah to a candy store to get a few sweets; a little for now and some for the trip. Later they stopped in a cobblestone plaza to listen to a brass band performing from a covered platform. Initially Mary and Hannah were surprised by the sounds that wafted over the plaza, but soon they were swaying and marching in time to the tunes. Later Ben sent a wire telling the boys they should be home in eight days with Mary and Hannah. He, also, purchased their train passage back to Reno. After a full day, they retired early so they would be well rested for their eight o’clock departure from the train station.
Ben pulled his watch from his jacket pocket when their cab arrived at the train station the next morning.
He looked at Kate in disbelief, “I’m not sure how we managed, but we have twenty minutes to spare.”
He hired a porter to deal with their luggage and helped Kate and the girls out of the cab.
Mary pointed, “What’s that?”
To the side of the entrance to the train station was a brightly dressed organ grinder and his pet monkey, dressed in a matching costume.
“That’s a monkey, Mary. When you put money in the cup on the box, the man turns the crank and the box plays music. Then the monkey will dance.”
“Here”, pulling a coin from his pants pocket and handing it to Mary, “we have a couple of minutes. You can put that in the cup and see what happens.”
Hannah’s grip on Kate grew tighter the closer they got to the monkey, but Mary seemed unafraid. The little animal chattered at her when she reached toward the cup, causing her to jump.
“Iz ok, little girl, he no bite you”, said the organ grinder in a heavy Slavic accent.
Mary dropped the coin into the cup and the man began turning the crank. The box played a pleasant little tune to which the monkey clapped, danced, and turned cartwheels and flips. Mary’s eyes grew wide and sparkled with excitement. The music stopped all too soon for Mary.
“More money”, holding out her hand to Ben.
“Now Mary, you need to ask nicely. Please, may I have another coin?”
PLEASE..MAY…I…HAVE…ANOTHER…COIN?”, trying very hard to say it exactly the way Ben did.
“Yes, you may have one more, but only one, because we must get on the train very soon”, handing her another coin.
This time there was no hesitation when Mary approached the monkey. The organ grinder smiled at her as she dropped the coin into the cup. Again, the monkey clapped and danced his little routine. And again it was over all too quickly.
“Time to go, Mary”, taking her hand.
They soon were on the platform, about to board, when Mary pointed down.
“I guess it’s your lucky day, Mary. You can pick it up, then hold on tight to it.”
They boarded the crowded train and found some seats. Kate and Hannah settled by the window as Ben put the bag with Hannah’s supply of diapers and the girls’ toys on a shelf above them. When he turned around to put Mary in the seat across from Kate, she was gone.
“Mary! Mary! Did anyone see a little girl with dark hair, wearing a blue coat?”, Ben shouted.
A passenger near the door shouted, “I think she just got off the train.”
“Kate, I’m going after her. Whatever happens, don’t get off this train!”, Ben shouted over his shoulder, as he pushed his way toward the door.
Kate was terrified.
“A little girl from rural Indiana has no idea of the dangers of being alone in a big city”, she thought.
“Dear God, help Ben find her.”, she silently prayed, hugging Hannah tightly.
“Mary! Mary!”, looking right and then left over the sea of humanity, as Ben reached platform.
The sheer number of people was overwhelming.
“OK, Ben, stop and think. Where would she be…”
Within seconds it came to him, “THE MONKEY!”
Ben ran through the crowds toward the entrance of the station. Clearing the door, he looked to his left, and there she was, arm extended about to drop the coin she found into the cup.
“Thank God”, he uttered in relief.
He ran toward Mary, scooped her up, and started running back through the station.
A police officer, who was standing by the station door, saw Ben grab Mary and assumed the worst.
“Hey, wait, stop that man!”, taking off after Ben.
“Please sir, you must do something. My four-year niece got separated from us, and my husband ran back into the station to try to find her”, Kate pleaded with the railroad agent.
“Ma’am, this train will be leaving in five minutes. It can’t be held up because another train is coming in soon. I’m sorry, ma’am, if they don’t make it, they’ll just have to take another train.”
In the next moment, a very out of breath Ben came through the passenger car door. An audible sigh of relief could be heard from the passengers seated near Kate.
“Oh, Mary…Ben…thank, God!”, reaching out to hug them both.
“Hold it right there, mister!” the officer said with his gun pointed at Ben.
There were gasps from several passengers.
“Who, me? Oh, officer, I can explain. This is my niece, Mary. She ran off to see that blasted monkey out front and almost got left behind. This is my wife, Katherine, and our other niece, Hannah. Sorry to have alarmed you.”
“He’s telling the truth, officer”, said a gentleman in the next row.
“Alright then. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Glad you found her. Have a good trip”, said the officer, putting his gun back in the holster and heading toward the door.
“Well, Miss Mary, you deserve a good spanking, but this is neither the time or the place for it”, said Ben, giving her a very frustrated look.
“Mary, you could have been lost, and we might never have found you. Do you understand?”
“You mean like Mama and Papa?”, looking sincerely into Ben’s eyes for an answer.
He could not speak, knowing the answer to her question would be much more painful than any spanking ever could be. He looked at her with love in his eyes and gave Mary the slightest of nods. Her tears came quickly, hiding her face in Ben’s chest.
“Sh, Mary. Aunt Kate and I love you so much, we just don’t know what we would do if something happened to you. Can you promise me you’ll never run off by yourself again?”
She could not look at him, and just nodded, face still buried in his chest.
“Thank you, Mary. You are forgiven. I love you”, placing a kiss in her dark hair.
He reached for Kate’s hand and gave it a squeeze. Mary stayed quiet after her tears stopped. She kept one arm wrapped around Ben’s neck. He would have liked to know what was going through her little four-year old mind, but for now they were all together on a train headed west. And that was enough
The references to Lisa and Sam are from the season 7 “Found Child” and season 10 “Little Girl Lost” episodes.
“Hey, Joe”, Hank, the telegraph operator called, seeing Joe walking down the boardwalk.
“Yeah, Hank, what’s up?”
“Got a telegram here from your Pa. Sounds important.”
“Not bad news, I hope.”
“No, not bad, but definitely news”, handing Joe the piece of paper.
Joe read the telegram and took off at a fast clip toward the general store where Hoss was loading supplies into the buckboard.
“Hoss! Hey, Hoss!”
“What? You know this would go a whole lot faster if you’d give me a hand.”
“Wait, there’s a telegram from Pa and Kate.”
“Yeah, but guess what?”
“They’re bringing the two little girls home with them, you know, Mary and Hannah.”
“Yeah, they’re bringing a two-year and a four-year all the way from Indiana back to the Ponderosa.”
“Nope. This wire was sent yesterday, so that means they’ll be here in a week. Hoss what are we going to do with two little girls? I mean, they’re almost babies. This won’t be like when Benji and Elizabeth were here for two weeks and then went back home. They’re comin’ to stay.”
“Course, it’ll be different. But it’ll also be different from when we had Lisa and Sam stayin’ with us, cause Kate will be here to take care of ’em. Dadburn it, Joe, you can work yourself into a lather in no time, and you still ain’t helpin’ me with these supplies.”
“What was Pa thinkin’ when he agreed to that! He just adopted Jamie a few months ago! Kate must really be working some magic on our Pa. Hoss, we’ve barely had time to get used to having a woman in the house, and now this!”, his hazel eyes flashing.
“You need to just settle down, Joe. Pa’s always had a heart for those that need help, and you don’t know the full story, so you best not be sayin’ things like that about Kate. Sides Jamie’s been with us over a year and he’s almost full grown. You be careful what you say about this around him. You and me both lost our ma’s, but Jamie knows what it’s like to lose both his ma and pa… Well, that’s the last of it, no thanks to you!”, dropping the last bag of feed onto the buckboard. “I need a beer. Come on. Let’s go to the Silver Dollar.”
“Yeah, me, too! We need to talk about this some more.”
“Joe, I swear, one of these days, your gonna plum talk yourself to death!”, Hoss said with a scowl.
Later, Joe was sitting at his Pa’s desk working on some figures, and Hoss was relaxing in the blue chair eating an apple, when Jamie came through the door after school.
“Hey, Jamie”, Hoss and Joe chimed.
“How was school today?” Hoss asked.
“Bout like usual. Math was good, English, not so much.”
“Been there, little brother, cept for me, the Math wasn’t good, either”, Hoss smiled.
“Jamie, we heard from Pa and Kate today”, Joe informed.
“They doin’ ok?”
‘Yeah, but kind of a surprise, they’re bringing Mary and Hannah home with them.”
“Whoa! Isn’t Pa kind of old for little kids, especially girls? I mean, he’s never really done that before!”
‘Yeah, guess we’ll find out if you really can teach an old dog new tricks”, Joe cackled.
“Yeah”, said Hoss with a rumbly chuckle.
“Well, I best get to my chores”, Jamie sighed, and took off up the stairs to put his school books in his room.
While Jamie mucked out the barn, fed and brushed the horses, and chopped the wood, his thoughts went back and forth between his memories of his birth pa and Mary and Hannah. He had a really good life now with Pa, Kate, Hoss, and Joe; not that he did not love his Pa Hunter when he was alive, because he did, very much. And he wished like everything that he could remember his Ma, but he was not quite two when she died. Yet his life had changed dramatically for the better when he allowed the love of his new family to fully come into his heart. He did not know much about little girls, except that sometimes they could be a pain, but he was going to do his best to make Mary and Hannah feel welcome and part of the family.
Seven days later, the stagecoach rolled into Virginia City. Hoss, Joe, and Jamie were standing in front of the office. Ben waited until the rest of the passengers cleared the coach, then he emerged with a sigh and weary smile.
“Good to see you boys.”
“Good to have you back, Pa. Are you alright?”, asked Joe.
“Tired, Joe…very tired. Just need a couple days to rest up.”
Joe noticed two pairs of bright eyes peering from the coach window, “Sure, Pa, sure”, giving his pa a weak smile and clap on the shoulder.
Kate leaned into the doorway with Hannah.
“Good to see you Joe. This is Hannah.”
“Well, hello, darlin’. Aren’t you a cutie! Can you say, Joe?”
“Joe!”, Hannah repeated obediently, looking proud.
“That’s right, sweetie. Welcome back, Kate”, leaning over and kissing her cheek.
Hoss stepped around Joe as Kate brought Mary into the doorway.
“Mary, this is Hoss. It’s good to see you, Hoss!”
Mary’s eyes grew round, “Big man!”
“Yes, doll, but I promise to be gentle. Aren’t you a pretty little gal”, lifting her out of the coach, then helping Kate down.
Mary did her best to lean away from Hoss even though he had a good grip on her.
“Welcome home, Kate”, he said leaning down to kiss her cheek.
“Hello, Jamie. Good to see you, too”, Kate said giving him a warm smile.
“Welcome back, Kate”, rocking back and forth on his heels, with his hands in his pockets, then quickly giving her an embarrassed peck on the cheek.
“Mary and Hannah, this is Jamie”, she said.
“Funny hair”, Mary said pointing to Jamie’s unruly, red waves.
“Yeah, guess it is”, he laughed. “And you have a little nose that needs pinching”, attempting to give Mary’s nose a little tweak.
Mary leaned back when Jamie reached toward her and came face to face with Hoss.”
She raised her arms and called out, “Uncle Ben!”
“Oh, Mary, you’re fine. Hoss is not going to hurt you.”
She continued to reach out for Ben; so he took her from Hoss. She wrapped her arms tightly around Ben’s neck and laid her head on his shoulder.
The boys tried to hide their snickers from their Pa. Kate caught Hoss’ eye, and gave him a knowing smile.
“Let’s get EVERYONE and EVERYTHING in the surrey. I just want to get home”, said a very weary and disgruntled Ben.
“Not sure when I’ve been so glad to get home”, said Ben as they walked into the house. “Kate let’s show the girls their room.”
Hop Sing stepped out of the kitchen, “Dinner ready in twenty minutes. Don’t be late.”
“Thank you, Hop Sing. We’ll be at the table shortly”, Ben replied.
“Who’s that?”, Mary said, pointing at Hop Sing.
“Mary, it’s not nice to point at people”, bringing her arm down. That’s Hop Sing. He’s the man who cooks for us.”
“Man cooks, not Aunt Kate?”
“Well, sometimes, I help, too”, Kate said in defense.
“You have a funny house. Mama’s cook.”
“Not funny, Mary, just different”, corrected Ben. “You’ll get used to it.”
They took the girls upstairs and showed them their room. In one corner, was a rocking horse, a pull toy, and some blocks, most recently used by Benji and Elizabeth. Once they were back in the hallway, Ben told Mary to whom each of the other rooms belonged.
“Now, Mary, you must always knock on the door when the door is closed, understand?”
“Alright then, I’m hungry. How about you girls?”
“Hun-gee”, Hannah chimed.
Ben clapped his hands and rubbed them together, “Good, let’s go eat!”, and he scooped up Hannah and headed for the stairs.
Once they were all seated at the table, Ben smiled and reached for Kate’s hand.
“We make quite a group… a family. I am thankful for a safe trip and that we are all together”, Ben expressed sincerely.
“Ok, sweetheart, let me get you some food”, offered Joe. “Here’s some mashed potatoes…some ham…carrots…doesn’t that look yummy! Did you know you’re sitting in my old high chair, Hannah?”
“Here, Mary, I’ll fill your plate”, said Jamie.
“I’m a big girl, I can do it myself.
“Ok, I’ll just hold the dishes for you, how’s that.”
“You had better help her with the gravy, Jamie, or we might have a disaster on our hands”, Ben advised. “So, boys, fill me in on what’s been happening since we’ve been gone.”
“We’ve started bringing the cattle down from the upper elevation pastures and doing some of the other preparations for the winter months”, said Hoss. And they began working in the new shaft up at the mine last week. All the timber is cut for that Carson City company contract. It just needs hauled out before the weather turns on us.
“So, Mary, did you like riding on the train?”, asked Joe.
She shook her head, “too long!”
“That’s ok, Mary. I think we’ve all had our fill of trains for a while”, agreed Kate.
“I liked the monkey!”, Mary said excitedly, and then quickly turned toward Ben when she realized that it would have been better left unsaid.
“You really saw a monkey?”, Jamie joined in.
Mary just nodded.
“That’s ok, Mary, you can tell everyone about the monkey if you’d like”, said Ben.
She shook her head.
“What’s wrong?”, asked Hoss.
“I believe the rest of that story should be saved for when two little girls are in bed”, Ben replied, reaching over and covering Kate’s hand. Looks like Hannah is ready for bed now”, noticing her eyes starting to close, and her head jerking to one side and then the other. “A full tummy usually does the trick at her age.”
“What do you mean, Pa? It does the trick for me, too!”, Hoss added, and everyone laughed.
“Alright, Mary, time for bed. Wipe your hands and face, please”, Kate said, as she cleaned up Hannah and lifted her out of the high chair.
“Get along, now, Mary. I’ll be up in a few minutes to say goodnight”, said Ben.
Hoss and Joe smirked at each other.
“Anyone for a brandy”, Ben asked, after he returned from tucking in the girls.
“Sure, Pa”, both Joe and Hoss replied.
“No thank you, Ben”, Kate responded.
Ben poured three glasses, handed the boys their’s, lifted his glass to them, and took a sip.
“I’ve been looking forward to this and my chair”, settling himself in his red chair, and taking another sip. “Ahhh… that’s good!”
“So, Pa, you didn’t say much about your trip. Sounds like something interesting happened”, Hoss probed.
“Well, Mary is just old enough that we will have to be careful what we discuss in front of her. And, believe me, she doesn’t miss a thing! Those poor little tikes have been through so much. The next few months could be rough; so Kate and I would appreciate your patience. Truthfully, I think the girls are doing amazingly well given that their world has been turned inside out and upside-down.”
“We’ve noticed that Mary has taken a definite shine to you, Pa”, Joe grinned.
“Yes, well…”, clearing his throat, “Mary may have been was very close to her father, and I guess she has chosen me to fill some of the emptiness in her life.”
“Your father has been very gracious, and for the most part…patient with the girls”, Kate said giving Ben a quirky smile.
“Yes, well, the truth is, boys, the situation we found them in was just unacceptable. Mrs. Simmons was trying here best, but her husband is a difficult man. He just wanted the girls so he could get his hands on the money from the sale of the family homestead.”
“I’m glad you brought them here. That would have been awful if that Simmons guy mistreated them. Little Hannah sure is a doll baby”, Joe commented, feeling a little guilty for the things he said a week earlier.
“Is someone else losing their heart to a little girl?” Ben said, giving Joe a questioning look.
“So what was the deal with the monkey”, Jamie asked.
Ben let out a deep sigh.
“Mary was enthralled with an organ grinder and his monkey that we watched for a few minutes out in front of the Chicago station right before we boarded the train. She found a coin on the platform and when we weren’t watching, she took off back through the station to watch the monkey again. Thank goodness, I found her before the train took off. We made it with only minutes to spare.”
“No wonder she was afraid to talk about it”, said Hoss, shaking his head.
Ben stood and reached for Kate’s elbow, “Well, that’s enough for tonight. Ready for bed, Kate?”
“Yes. Goodnight, boys.”
“Night, Kate…Pa”, the boys replied.
Ben and Kate climbed the stairs to their room. When Ben turned to close the door behind them, Kate slipped her arms around his waist.
Turning around in her embrace, “So I’m not the only one who was anxious to get up here.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to focus on the conversation much longer”, parting her lips and kissing him deeply.
“Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t suggest it sooner…just one moment, please.”
Kate gave him a pout, “What now?”
Ben went to the dresser, opened a small drawer, and retrieved something from the very back.
Holding up the key to the door, “Haven’t used this in a very long time, but now it is essential”, putting the key in the door and turning it.
Their passion heightened as they began working at each other’s clothing.
There was a knock at their door, and the knob started turning. They both released sighs of frustration.
“Let me answer”, Kate whispered. “Yes, who is it?”
“Mary…I’m scared. I want Uncle Ben.”
He rolled his eyes, and whispered to Kate, “Don’t you fall asleep. I’ll be back as soon as I can”, buttoning his pants and shirt.
Ben quickly closed the door behind him and picked Mary up, “What is the problem, Mary?”
“My room is scary!”
“Aunt Kate and I are not far away, and Hoss, Joe, and Jamie will be in their rooms soon. You don’t need to be afraid”, he whispered while placing her back in bed beside Hannah. “How about if I read just a little bit from the storybook?”
Mary nodded; so Ben turned up the lamp slightly and knelt beside the bed.
“Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a young maiden…”, reading in hushed tones.
It seemed like forever to Ben, but it was only a few minutes until Mary’s eyes drifted closed. He turned down the lamp, crept softly from the girls’ room and back to his own.
His heart sank when he saw Kate asleep in bed. He slipped out of his clothes, hoping for another opportunity before daybreak. As he lifted the bed covers to slide in, Kate threw them back, making it obvious that she had not given up on what they had started before Mary’s intrusion.
“You are a conniving temptress, and I love it!”, kissing her deeply.
The next morning, Hoss was up early, planning to oversee the moving of some cattle. As he stepped toward the stairs, he heard the door open at the end of the hall. Two rosy-cheeked little girls poked their heads out into the hallway.
“Hey, you little crickets. Whatcha doin’ up so early?”, he whispered.
Hannah came running toward him carrying her rag doll. Mary followed tentatively.
“We gotta get something to wrap ya up, or you’ll be as cold as ice”, stepping back into his room to grab a blanket, the house especially chilly for an early November morning.
Hoss wrapped the two girls into one big bundle and carried them downstairs to the kitchen.
Kate stirred in bed, “I think the girls are up. I better see what’s going on.”
“In a minute. I heard Hoss, and there was no crying or knocking on doors; so let’s just let them be”, Ben said kissing her forehead. “What a wonderful feeling it is to wake up this morning in our own bed with you beside me. I just want to enjoy this for a few more minutes.”
“No little girls in Hop Sing’s kitchen!”, he ordered.
“Now, Hop Sing, I’ll be here for a little while yet. I bet these little ones are hungry. Are you hungry, gals?”
Mary and Hannah nodded.
“Would ya like some pancakes?”
“Hop Sing not make pancakes; make eggs.”
“Oh, come on, Hop Sing. Hop Sing makes the best pancakes in the whole world, don’tcha, Hop Sing.”
“Awright, I make pancakes”, huffed Hop Sing.
“Great!”, said Hoss, rubbing his hands together.
Before long, Hoss and the girls were filling their mouths with light, fluffy, pancakes.
“Mmm…mmmm. What’d I tell you, gals. Aren’t those the best pancakes you ever had?”, Hoss grinned.
Mary nodded, then Hannah followed suit, imitating her sister; their faces and hands sticky with syrup.
Kate and Ben appeared in the doorway of the kitchen.
“See Kate, I told you not to worry. When it comes to food, Hoss can handle about anything. Good morning, girls. Looks like you’ve been enjoying yourselves.”
Mary jumped off her chair and ran to Ben with her arms out.
“Whoa! Hold up, there, Mary. You need some cleaning up before you get a hug”, grabbing her arms before she could do any damage to his shirt.
Kate took a towel and wiped Mary off and then went work on Hannah.
Ben picked Mary up and kissed her cheek, “Did you sleep well, Mary?”
“Yep, but you didn’t finish the story.”
“That’s because you fell asleep, just like you were supposed to”, touching his finger to her nose.
“Too many people in kitchen. Hop Sing can’t work”, the cook complained.
“Alright, Hop Sing. We’ll get out of your way”, said Ben.
“And I gotta get the move on. See everybody later. You gals be good, now, ya hear”, Hoss said waving goodbye.
“Bye, Hoss”, Mary chimed.
“Hoth”, Hannah lisped.
Ben and Kate looked at each with raised eyebrows.
“Isn’t it amazing what some good pancakes can accomplish. Thank you, Hop Sing!”, said Ben “and thank you, Hoss”, he whispered to Kate, grateful for a good start to the morning.
A few hours later, Ben was trying to make sense of the papers that were piled high on his desk. He had not looked at anything for over a month with his honeymoon in San Francisco and the trip to Indiana. He was very thankful the boys were keeping the ranch going.
Before long, Mary came down the stairs and hopped up in the chair beside the desk.
“Working on paperwork.”
“Can I see?”, she asked, as she got down and began shuffling some of the pages around.”
“I think not”, quickly clamping down on her hand.
Mary looked up at Ben with hurt in her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Mary, but these are important grown-up things, and you must not bother them. Do you understand?”
She did not want to, but eventually nodded. Only then, did Ben release her hand.
“Why don’t you go upstairs and play with your toys. I believe Aunt Kate and Hannah are still up there.”
Mary did not respond and climbed back up in the chair; so Ben continued with his work. After a few moments, she began kicking her legs vigorously back and forth, and sighing so loudly that Ben could no longer ignore her.
“Mary, you are making it very difficult for me to concentrate on my work, and I would like for you to go upstairs and play.”
“Joe said I can see the horses.”
“Well, Joe isn’t here right now, but I am sure he will take you to see the horses when he has time.”
“No, not right now.”
Mary dropped her head, her bottom lip protruding.
“You keep that up, and a little bird just might come and sit on your lip”, Ben said with a hint of a smile.
Suddenly, she had big tears running down her face.
“I was just teasing, Mary. You don’t need to worry. It’s just a silly saying.”
“Papa said that”, she hiccupped.
“Oh, Mary, come here”, in a gentle voice, holding out his arms.
Mary jumped down and allowed Ben to put her in his lap.
“Tell you what, if you let me get some work done, I will take you to see the horses and even give you a short ride. How’s that sound?”
It was not what she wanted to hear, but Mary knew it was the way it would be. With head hanging low and many deep sighs, she trudged up the stairs in slow, laborious strides. Suddenly, Ben was transported back more years than he cared to count. Only it was a curly-headed little boy with hazel eyes and a serious pout on his face, dragging himself up the stairs.
“Oh, Mary. I can see many trying days ahead for both of us! And then we have little Hannah. Please Lord, let her be an easy child!”, Ben whispered.
When Jamie rode in from school later that afternoon, he found Mary atop Buck with his Pa slowly leading the horse in a loop between the house and barn.
“Hey, Mary! Look at you!
“Jamie, I’m riding Buck!”
“I see that”, tying his horse up at the corral fence.
“Mary and I went for a little ride earlier, and we’re just finishing up”, Ben said, stopping Buck in front of the barn.
“Hey, Pa, maybe Mary would like to help me feed the chickens and do some other chores.”
“I can feed chickens! Mama showed me …” her voice trailing off, sadness coming into her eyes.
Ben covered her little hands that were holding tight to the saddle horn, his loving eyes letting her know that he understood.
Jamie hesitated and then continued, “And I bet she taught you real good, too”, smiling at her.
“Not good, son, well, really well”, not allowing a teaching moment to pass by.
“Right, Pa…well. Anyway, I’ll go get rid of these books. I bet Hop Sing has some cookies in the kitchen.”
“Cookies!”, Mary brightened.
“Be back soon.”
Ben lifted Mary down, “Mary it’s very important that you stay back from the horses so they can see you, otherwise you might get knocked down or stepped on. Understand?”
Ben put Buck in his stall.
“Jamie will come back and take care of Buck; that’s one of his jobs. He will show you how to properly care for a horse, ok?”, knowing that children need to see others working hard and doing things the right way.
Jamie entered the barn munching a large sugar cookie, and holding another for Mary.
“Here you go, Mary”, handing her the cookie.
Mary’s eyes lit up and she greedily snatched it.
“Mary, what do you tell Jamie?”, Ben scolded.
“Thfwank ooo”, her mouth already full of cookie.
“Next time, please remember to thank someone before you start eating! Jamie, I told Mary that you would show her how we take care of our horses, ok?”
“Sure, Pa. See you at supper.”
“You keep a very close eye on Mary, and Mary, you do exactly as Jamie says. Understand!”
Mary nodded, her mouth too full of the cookie to answer.
“Don’t worry, Pa, I’ll watch her like a hawk!”, giving Mary a face to face, beady-eyed glare.
She let out a little giggle, “You’re silly.”
“Yes, well, just keep in mind what I said. I’ll see you both at supper”, Ben chuckled.
“Ok, Mary”, putting a blanket on a bale, then sitting her on top so she would have a good view. “We gotta take good care of our horses and tack.
“Wha ifs tack?”, cookie crumbs falling from her mouth.
“Tack is all these things we put on the horse to help us ride, like the saddle and bridle”, pointing to each.
“Do you know the parts of the saddle?”
“This the horn, the seat, the stirrup, and the cinch”, he explained, pointing to each part, then lifting the stirrup over the seat. The cinch holds the saddle on the horse. You gotta be sure the cinch is in good shape, otherwise the saddle might slip, and you would fall off your horse”, releasing the tie-down, loosening the cinch, then lifting the saddle off Buck and placing it on to the wooden saddle horse nearby. “Next”, unbuckling the bridle and removing the bit from Buck’s mouth, “you take off the bridle and hang it up on the hook on the wall.”
Mary quietly took it all in.
Jamie laid the saddle blanket over the wall of the stall, grabbed a brush and rubbed it in circles over Buck’s body.
“And you gotta get the dirt, burrs, bugs, and old hair off your horse so he doesn’t get sores on his skin. Then you go back and brush down to make the hair lay down and make it shiny and pretty. See?”
“Yep”‘ Mary fidgeted. “This takes long!”
“Yes it does, but we gotta do it so Buck stays healthy. If your horse gets sick or lame, then you’re stuck and can’t go anywhere.”
“Next you brush the mane and tail. Buck’s tail looks pretty good cause he hasn’t been ridden much lately; so I’ll just brush his mane a little. There, all done with the brushing. Now we have to make sure there isn’t anything stuck in his hooves.”
Jamie held up a metal pick.
“This is a hoof pick. You use it to clean out the hoof.”
He tapped Buck behind his left front leg and picked up the hoof.
“Looks pretty good. I’ll just run this around near the edge of the shoe.”
Jamie proceeded with the three remaining hooves.
“There all done. Now we just need to give him some food and water and you can help with that”, grabbing a bucket.
Jamie opened the grain bin, “We give Buck two scoops of feed, no more, or he’ll get sick. Don’t ever do this without asking a grown-up, ok? You don’t want to make a horse sick. That’s real bad. Can you count to two?”
“That’s right”, lifting her up and allowing Mary to fill the scoop and pour it into the bucket, twice.
Then Jamie poured the feed into the trough in Buck’s stall.
“Now let’s go get some water”, grabbing the water bucket sitting nearby and taking Mary’s hand.
Kate and Ben were enjoying some quiet moments on the porch while Hannah was down for her nap, and observed Jamie and Mary at the pump.
“Ben, he is so good with Mary.”
“You know, Kate, Jamie probably has a better feel for what Mary is going through than any of the rest of us.”
Kate nodded, “He will make some fortunate young woman a fine husband someday.”
“I think you’re right, Kate.”
Back in the barn, Jamie told Mary, “Now we need to take care of my horse.”.
“Another one”, she sighed.
“Tell you what, let’s go feed the chickens and the other animals, then you can go in the house, if you’re tired, and I will finish, OK?”
“Yes! Go feed chickens!”
Jamie got a small bag of feed for the chickens and handed it to Mary. They walked around the side of the barn to the chicken coop.
“Go on, call em”, Jamie encouraged.
“Here, chick, chick! Here chick!”, she called loudly, and smiled at Jamie when the chickens came running.
Mary began to spread the food; the hungry chickens quickly devoured it.
“Good job, Mary”, when the feed bag was empty. “Now we have to check on the pigs.”
“Pigs smell bad!”
“That they do, but there are only four; so it’s not too awful. First, we go to the house and collect the scraps Hop Sing puts in a bucket outside the kitchen door.”
They walked to the house and collected the scrap bucket and headed to the pig pen. Mary was more than glad to let Jamie handle all parts of this task.
“Smelly scraps, smelly pigs. Yuck!”
“Can’t say it’s my favorite job, either, but I sure do like it when Hop Sing fixes bacon, ham, or pork chops! Well, I need to take care of my horse now. Are you staying with me or going inside?”
“Ok, I’ll walk you up to the house” reaching for her hand.
“I can go by myself!”, pulling her hand away.
“Guess if you’re big enough to feed the chickens, your big enough to find the front door.”
Jamie walked with her as far as the corral and retrieved his horse, then he went back into the barn.
Mary walked toward the house and stopped on the porch. She turned and looked back at the barn. Jamie was already inside. She took off running toward the chicken coop.
Mary remembered her Mama gathering eggs in her apron and she wanted to show everyone that she could do it, too. Once inside, the chickens cackled and carried on and ran out of the coop. She spied a few eggs in the vacated nests; so she pulled up the bottom of her dress and carefully placed the eggs in her makeshift basket. When she turned to go out the door, the rooster was standing at the top of the ramp, almost looking her in the eye. Mary screamed and dropped the eggs on her shoes. The rooster began flapping its wings, squawking, and raising its claws at her. Mary’s continuous shrieking got Smokey’s attention as he was washing up outside the bunk house. He ran in the direction of the screams.
“Get out of here, you sorry piece of coyote bait”, Smokey yelled and waved at the rooster, chasing it away.
‘Who are you?”, Mary sobbed.
“My name’s Smokey. I work here. Who are you?”
“Mary. I want Uncle Ben!”, she cried.
Smokey picked up Mary and started for the house.
In the meantime, Jamie had finished with his horse and headed for the house. As he entered, he saw Ben reading in his chair; Kate and Hannah were on the settee.
“How long til supper, Pa?”
“She came in a while ago.”
“Jamie, she never came in the house! I’ve been sitting here for over an hour. You said you would keep track of her!”, Ben’s voice growing louder with each word.
Ben was out the door first with Jamie on his heels. Kate snatched up Hannah and followed them.
“Mary!…Mary!” they called.
Then they saw Smokey and Mary coming around the corner of the barn. Mary struggled in the ranch hand’s grasp; so he put her down. She ran directly to Ben, sobbing uncontrollably.
“Where was she?”, Ben asked Smokey.
“The rooster had her trapped in the hen house.”
“Thanks for rescuing her, Smokey”, Ben said, his heart slowing to a more normal rate.
“Yes, thank you!”, Kate reaffirmed.
Jamie just breathed a sigh of relief.
“No problem”, Smokey replied, and headed back to the bunk house.
“Kate will you please take Mary into the house. I will speak to her in a few minutes up in her room”, putting her down.
Once Kate and the girls were in the house, Ben jammed his hands in his pockets and let out an exasperated breath.
“Jamie, this is a case where a job not quite completed could have resulted in a very bad outcome.”
“I know, Pa, I know. I’m really sorry. Believe me, I won’t let it happen again!”
“You need to be thinking about what you will say to Mary. She needs to know that there will be consequences for disobeying you, Hoss, or Joe, just as there would be with Kate and I. So I believe you should determine her punishment.
Ben put his arm around Jamie’s shoulders as they walked toward the house.
“I know you were trying very hard to be a good example and help to Mary, and Jamie, Kate and I truly appreciate that. I’m just sorry it was spoiled by an impetuous little girl’s disobedience”, his voice now calm and reassuring.
Kate met Ben in the upstairs hallway just outside the girls’ room holding Mary’s egg soiled shoes.
“I told her she had to stay in there until you came up and talked to her. Apparently she went into the chicken house to gather eggs because she wanted to show us that she was old enough to be a helper. Then the rooster trapped her. Thank goodness she didn’t get hurt.”
“Yes, indeed. She could have been seriously injured. We’ll be downstairs in a bit.”
When Ben opened the door to her room, Mary was face down on her bed, crying into her pillow. Ben knelt beside the bed.
“Mary, I need you to sit up and look at me.”
She did not move.
“Mary, please, don’t make things worse by not doing as I ask.”
Slowly she sat up, her head hanging down.
“Aunt Kate told me what happened. I know you were trying to be helpful and I am sorry that the rooster frightened you, but Mary that rooster could have hurt you badly. Until we say you are old enough you must not go outside without a grown-up. And you told Jamie you were coming in the house and then you didn’t. You didn’t tell the truth, did you, Mary?”
She shook her head.
Jamie will talk to you later about this. Do you have anything to say?”
“How about a hug.”
Mary wrapped her arms around Ben.
“That’s my girl. Now let’s go downstairs.”
After supper, Jamie took Mary out on the porch to talk to her. He squatted down and held her shoulders.
“Mary, did you like helping me this afternoon?”
“I had a good time, too, until you disobeyed. Now, because you didn’t tell me the truth, you’re not going to be able to help me for three days, understand?
Mary nodded and dropped her head.
“I care about you, Mary, and don’t want you to get hurt; so you need to tell the truth and obey. Deal?”, holding out his hand.
Mary looked at his hand, and threw her arms around his neck. Surprised and feeling a bit awkward, it took him a few seconds until he smiled and closed his arms around her.
Normally an early riser, Ben found the combination of more than a week of unsatisfying sleep on the trip and the current comforts and pleasures of his wife, gave him little motivation to be the first one out of bed. However, Mary and Hannah were up early the next morning. Mary had not eaten much supper the previous evening because of the emotional end to the day; so now her tummy was growling.
“I’m hungry, Hannah. “You hungry?”
“Let’s get cookies”, remembering the delicious sugar cookie from yesterday.
“Coooookie”, Hannah repeated, with bright eyes.
Mary held a finger to her lips, “Shhh…People sleeping.”
Hannah mimicked her sister, putting a chubby finger up to her mouth and blowing on it. Mary quietly opened the door and took Hannah’s hand. Slowly they crept down the hallway and carefully padded down the stairs. Once on the main floor and seeing no one, they ran to the kitchen. Hop Sing had gone to the chicken house and was having difficulty finding enough eggs for breakfast following Mary’s escapades.
Mary scanned the kitchen and quickly found the cookie jar. She pushed a chair to the shelf, lifted the lid on the jar, grabbed two cookies and gave them to Hannah. Then she took two more and climbed down. She pushed the chair back to the table, helped Hannah up on it, climbed on beside her sister.
Her little sister nodded enthusiastically.
The two girls were happily sitting there enjoying their cookies when Hop Sing returned. He immediately cut loose in Chinese, waving his arms.
“No little girls in kitchen! No cookies for breakfast! Out of kitchen! Out of kitchen!”, scolding them loudly and attempting to shoo them away, then returning to his native tongue.
Hannah dropped her cookie and tearfully clung to Mary. The older one wrapped her arms around her little sister.
“You made Hannah cry! That’s not nice!”, defending her sister.
After hearing the commotion, the kitchen was suddenly filled with the remainder of the household, all still in their night-clothes.
“What is going on here!”, Ben bellowed.
Hoss grinned, having rapidly summed up the situation. Chuckling, he motioned “let’s go back to bed” with his head and grasped his sleepy younger brothers by the shoulders, Joe and Jamie half stumbling out of the kitchen. Joe managed to sneak his old brother a sleepy smile remembering when it was the two of them on the receiving end of their Pa’s wrath. He hoped Pa would not be too hard on Mary.
Kate picked up Hannah and whisked her away not wanting to expose her to any more loud voices.
“Little girls in cookie jar! Make mess in Hop Sing’s kitchen!”, the frustrated cook declared.
“Mary, I believe we need to have a talk!”, firmly grasping her hand and leading her out of the kitchen.
Ben wearily sat down in his chair. He moved Mary directly in front of him, placing his large hands on her upper arms.
“Mary, why did you get into the cookie jar without permission?”
‘Hungry”, she mumbled, her head hanging low.
“And why were you so hungry?”
“Because you hardly ate any supper last night. And why didn’t you eat much supper?”
She shrugged again.
“Because you were upset about the things that happened yesterday afternoon. “And why were you upset?”
She hesitated, then whispered, “Disobeyed.”
“A little louder, please.”
“Disobeyed”, she repeated with slightly more volume.
“That’s right, Mary. And now look what happened. You got little Hannah into trouble, too. You are the big sister, and you must show her the right things to do, not the wrong things. I have tried to be patient with you, Mary, but now I feel you need a little help remembering what are the right things to do. And if having a sore bottom is the only way to help you remember, then so be it.”
Ben laid Mary across his knees. The little girl was trembling. Her Mama had swatted her a few times for misbehaving, but her Papa had never laid a hand on her. Ben was struggling, feeling her little body shaking. He took a deep breath and gave Mary two good smacks on the behind. Mary sobbed as if her heart would break. Ben quickly took her in his arms.
“Please, Mary, I don’t want to ever do that again, but I will, if I have to. I love you and I just want you to be the good girl I know you can be.
Mary wanted to be good, but sometimes she just wanted other things more. Still, she did not want to hurt Hannah. In her mind, Hannah was all the real family she had. She sat there in Ben’s arms, but what she really wanted was her Mama and Papa and to have things back to the way they used to be. Knowing that it would never be left Mary truly sad.
It was a beautiful November day, sometimes called Indian summer, the kind that should be spent outdoors, knowing that warm weather will soon be a rare commodity. It was also the second day into Mary’s punishment, the first having passed by uneventfully, much to the relief of Kate and Ben. However, today, Mary was doing her best to make sure everyone knew just how bored she was.
Kate was a bit out of sorts, as well. Her first two months of married life with Ben had been wonderful. Still, they had also been so full with the visit from Adam’s family, their honeymoon in San Francisco, and then the trip to Indiana to get Mary and Hannah, that it was not until these past couple of days that all of the change and the gravity of the responsibility of raising two little girls had begun to settle in. Since her baby boy, who was born early in her marriage to John, died before he was a year old, Kate never felt the full weight of raising a little one. Now, almost twenty years later, she was responsible for rearing two small children, and she was beginning to wonder if she was truly up to the task. And even though Hop Sing was a marvelous cook, Kate missed cooking, baking, and gardening; so today she persuaded him to let her have some time in the kitchen to bake a couple of apple pies.
Kate put Hannah on a quilt on the kitchen floor with some wooden utensils and pots and pans. Mary was at the table watching Kate peel and cut apples.
“Just a few more apples, Mary, then you can help me make the crusts for the pies. Do you like apple pie?”
“Yep, it’s good!”
“Yes, it is! I love the smell of it baking in the oven!”
Ben had been working at his desk, heard some banging, and came in to see how things were going. Hannah immediately increased her drumming on the pans for his benefit.
“Yes, Hannah, you are quite the noisy cook!”, Ben said, trying to be heard over the commotion.
He picked her up so there might be some hope of carrying on a conversation.
“This looks like we’ll be having a tasty dessert with supper tonight.”
“Kate do you happen to know the dates of Mary and Hannah’s birthdays?”
“Ben, what on earth made you think of that right now?”
“Well, pies made me think of holidays, which made me think of celebrations, which took me to birthdays.”
“My! That’s quite a trail. Well, Mary’s birthday is in the spring sometime, but I am not sure of the exact date. I didn’t get word about Hannah until at least a month after she was born. I think her birthday may be in January. You know, Ben, I didn’t even think about checking at the courthouse while we were in Decatur.”
“Neither did I. Well, it’s such a beautiful day, I was thinking about taking a ride to town. Do you have any interest in going?
Mary’s eyes lit up.
“I don’t think so. It will be a few hours til the pies are done. Besides we will be in town tomorrow for church.”
Mary’s head dropped.
“Alright. I thought about checking to see if Carrie could help the boys keep an eye on the Mary and Hannah for us while we take a ride up to Tahoe tomorrow afternoon.”
“Oh now, that sounds lovely. I would definitely be ready for a ride to the lake”, looking at her husband with grateful eyes.
“I’ll see what I can arrange, and send a wire to the courthouse in Decatur so we will know for sure when to celebrate two little girls’ birthdays. And just maybe Miss Mary would like to ride to town in the buggy with me.”
Mary’s head popped up again, “Yes!”
Ben was about to open his mouth again when Mary piped, “And I will be good!”
“That’s my girl. Let’s get your coat, then we’ll hitch up the buggy”, setting Hannah back on the quilt.
“You may go back to pounding now, young lady!”
As if on cue, Hannah picked up where she left off.
On their way to town Ben talked with Mary about stopping at Clara’s dress shop.
“Now, Mary, let’s practice what you will say when we meet Miss Clara and Carrie. I will say something like, Clara this is Mary, and Clara will say, something like, nice to meet you, Mary. Then you will say, pleased to meet you, Miss Clara. Can you say that for me?”
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Clara.”
“Very good, Mary. Now If you want to do something special you can curtsy.”
“Curtsy?”, giving Ben a puzzled look.
“You take the sides of your dress and pull them out a little, like this”, using his own legs to demonstrate, then bend your knees and go down a little and back up.”
“That sounds funny.”
“It’s considered very proper for little girls.”
“I’m not little!”
“What I should have said is that it is proper for girls your age. Well, you can think about it.”
Once in town, Ben drove up near the telegraph office and tied up the horse, then lifted Mary out of the buggy.
“First, I’m going to send a telegram, then we will walk down to Clara’s.”
“Hello Mr. Cartwright. How are you today?”, Hank asked.
“I’m fine, Hank. Hank, this is my niece, Mary.”
“Nice to meet you, Mary.”
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Hank”, taking the sides of her dress and bending over and back up.
“Mister, Mary. For a man, it’s mister.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mister Hank”, repeating the attempt at a curtsy.
Ben shrugged his shoulders and Hank stifled his chuckle with his hand.
“Thank you, Mary. Mr. Cartwright, I heard you had a couple of little gals staying at the Ponderosa.”
“It is a permanent arrangement, Hank.”
“Ohhh, I see”, eyeing Ben curiously.
“Anyway, I need to send a wire.”
“Sure, here you go”, handing Ben a piece of paper and a pencil.
“Thanks, Hank.”, giving the operator fifty cents after writing the message.
“Have good day, Mr. Cartwright…Mary.”
“Alright Mary, let’s go see Miss Clara and Carrie.”
The bell on the door jingled when they entered the shop. Clara was sitting at a table working on a dress.
“Well, Ben Cartwright. It’s good to see you. And who might this be?”, standing up to greet them.
Mary’s eyes grew round. She had never seen a woman as large as Clara.
“Clara, this is my niece, Mary.”
“Nice to meet you, Mary. Aren’t you a pretty little girl.”
Still in a state of surprise, Mary hesitated. Ben tapped her on the shoulder.
“Uh, pleased to meet you, Miss Clara”, her curtsy actually improved by her uneasiness.
“Well now, aren’t you the proper little lady. What can I do for you Ben. I hope you don’t need another dress in three days”, letting out a hearty laugh.
“No, Clara, nothing like that. Actually, I had hoped to speak with Carrie. Is she around?”
“I’m sorry, Ben. Carrie is spending the weekend with a friend who lives several miles out of town.”
“What did you need from her, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I was looking for reinforcements”, Ben chuckled. “Mary has a two-year old sister. I am planning to take Kate on a ride over to Tahoe tomorrow after church, and I am a little uncertain about leaving the two girls alone with my boys.”
“It takes more than two grown men and a teenage boy to take care of two sweet little ones like this”, pointing to Mary.
“Yes, well, possibly. Anyway, I may check back with Carrie another time. Thanks, Clara.”
“Have a nice day, and say hello to Kate for me.”
“I’ll do that, Clara”, tipping his hat to her.
“Well, Mary, we have one more stop to make before going home.”
“I don’t like her.”
“Why would you say that, Mary. That’s not at all nice.”
“I’m not little!”
“Mary, your body is still small compared to a grown-up, and that makes you little, like it or not. So I don’t want to hear you saying any more mean things about Clara. She is a wonderful lady.”
“Thank you. Well, let’s get home.”
“You said one more stop.”
“I changed my mind when certain girl, named Mary, was not being nice.”
Roy Coffee noticed Ben lifting Mary into the buggy.
“Ben, ho, Ben Cartwright”, Roy shouted.
“Hello Roy. How are you?”
“Fine, Ben, just fine. So who is this pretty little gal?”
The look Ben gave Mary let her know that he would brook no disrespectful talk from her.
“This is my niece, Mary. Mary, this is Sheriff Coffee.”
“Pleased to meet you, Sheriff Coffee”, Mary said flatly.
“Nice to meet you, Mary. I heard you have a couple of little ones staying with you now.”
“Roy it’s not a temporary arrangement. Mary and her younger sister Hannah are with us for good.”
“Really…guess I won’t be askin’ you to go get a beer any more”, slapping Ben on the shoulder. Aren’t you a little old to be starting over, Ben?”
“No, Roy, I’m not!”, Ben huffed, tired of being thought of as old.
Roy’s eyebrows went up, surprised by Ben’s touchiness.
Ben got in the buggy and slapped the reins.
“You didn’t talk nice and you didn’t say sorry”, Mary scolded when they got to the edge of town.
Ben opened his mouth to reprimand her, then softened and said, “You’re right, Mary. I should have said I was sorry. We’re quite the pair. You don’t want to be young and I don’t want to be old!”, Ben sighed and gave Mary a squeeze.
That evening, after finishing the main portion of the meal, Hop Sing brought Kate’s pies to the table.
“Missy Kate make apple pies for you”, he said smiling at Kate.
“Thank you Hop Sing for sharing the kitchen with me.”
“Hey, now, don’t those look good!”, Hoss said rubbing his hands together with a look of anticipation. “Not sure what the rest of you are gonna eat!”
“Slow down there, big brother. You aren’t the only one that likes apple pie”, countered Joe.
“Yeah!, Jamie added.
“I like apple pie!”, Mary chimed.
“Well, then, maybe I should start serving it”, Ben said removing the first piece from one of the pies and handing it to Kate.
By the time Ben had served everyone, Mary had finished her piece.
“More”, she said holding up her plate.
“Hold on there, young lady. First off, that is not the way to ask and secondly, the rest of us haven’t even started on our pie. You will just have to wait a few minutes”, Ben admonished.
“I’m glad you liked the pie, Mary, but it’s important to have good manners and wait to start until everyone has been served”, Kate added.
“But…”, Mary started.
Ben held up his hand, “No buts, young lady. You will sit there properly until seconds are served or you may go to your room.”
Mary hung her head. Ben frowned when he saw the three boys turning their heads aside to hide their smug grins.
Hannah was enjoying her pie, too, her face covered with the sweet filling.
Hoss looked at Hannah, “Now there’s a gal after my own heart. She’s getting the most out her pie!”
Everyone laughed while Kate took a napkin to her Hannah’s sticky face.
“It is delicious, Kate. Thanks for making it for us”, Ben said, then kissing her cheek.
“Here, here”, the boys cheered, raising up their forks in agreement.
“You are welcome. It was my pleasure”, giving them a warm smile.
“Well now, who would like another piece of pie”, Ben said looking at the remaining three-fourths of a pie.
“Meeeeee!”, Mary said grabbing her plate and holding it toward Ben.
“Yes, please”, Ben reminded her.
“That’s better. Let’s try half a piece”, taking Mary’s plate from Kate.
Mary frowned, but truthfully the wait had lessened her appetite.
“I’ll take that other half”, Jamie replied.
“Sure, I’ll have another”, said Joe, passing his plate down the table.
“Pa, you know better than to ask me a question like that. The rest of you better get what you want now”, added Hoss.
“It was great pie, Kate, but I think I’ve had enough.”, responded Ben.
“As have I”, said Kate.
“Alright, you had your chances”, Hoss warned taking the last two pieces.
Kate and Ben laughed.
“Boys, while we’ve got you in a good mood, Kate and I would like to ask you a favor.”
“Oh, so that’s how it is. You bait us with pie first”, Joe grinned.
“It wasn’t intended that way”, Kate said with a bit of a guilty smile.
“Anyway, I would like to take Kate up to Tahoe tomorrow afternoon after church, and we were wondering if the three of you would watch Mary and Hannah for us.”
The boys looked at each other with questioning looks, wondering which one would have the nerve to say what was going through their minds. Then Joe gave Hoss a slight nod.
“Sure, Pa, we can do that”, Hoss said flatly.
Kate looked down at her lap. It was obvious to her that they really did not want to be tied down with the girls, and she really could not blame them.
“Thanks, boys, we really do appreciate that”, Ben said sincerely.
Kate looked up quickly and added, “Yes, thanks…Yes…well, time for two girls to get to bed”, wiping the last of the pie off Hannah’s hands and face. “Come, Mary.”
“I’m not tired.”
“Tomorrow will be a busy day; so you need your sleep”, Kate said firmly, then lifting Hannah from the high chair.
Once Kate and the girls were upstairs, Ben looked at his sons who were still sitting at the table with their eyes on their empty plates.
“Boys…”, Ben began.
“Awww, Pa,”, Hoss cut in. “We didn’t want to hurt Kate’s feelings none, but do you really expect us to watch Mary and Hannah? Sunday is our only day off, you know.”
“Yes, I know, Hoss. I tried to get Carrie Norton to come and help, but she is out of town. I promise not to make a habit of this, but I think Kate is feeling a bit overwhelmed and needs a breather. Isn’t there something you all enjoy that the girls might like, too?”
“How about fishing? We could teach Mary to fish”, Jamie responded.
“Yeah, maybe that will get them good and tired so we don’t actually have to watch them that much”, Joe added with a weak smile.
“That sounds good except that you will have to be especially vigilant while you are near the stream. Small children and water are not a good mix”, advised Ben.
“Don’t worry, Pa. I really will watch Mary and Hannah like a hawk, this time”, said Jamie.
“Thank you, Jamie. You know, if certain members of this family would ever find a girl and settle down, we might have some help for situations like this.”
“No, Pa, that would just mean there would be more kids to take care of!”, Joe cackled and smacked Hoss on the arm.
Hoss guffawed while Jamie went back to looking at his plate.
“And that would be a bad thing?”, Ben asked with a straight face.
Hoss and Joe’s laughter quickly came to an end; Jamie suddenly had a fit of coughing.
After the girls were tucked in bed, Kate and Ben went out on the porch for some fresh air. Ben leaned against one of the posts and pulled Kate’s back into his chest, nuzzling her neck.
“Mmmmm that’s nice.”
“You know what I’m thinking?”, whispering in Kate’s ear.
“I have a pretty good idea.”
“Well, yes, but actually I was thinking about tomorrow afternoon.”
“I was thinking how much I will enjoy being with my beautiful wife, in such magnificent place, with no one else around for miles.”
“Oooooo that sounds wonderful!”
Kate sighed and turned in his arms, “Ben, the boys really didn’t want to watch Mary and Hannah tomorrow, did they?”
“Now, Kate, don’t worry about the boys. They will be fine. I think they are going to take the girls fishing.”
“Fishing! Oh dear Lord, Ben. They will drown!”
“The boys will be careful. Try not to worry.”
“I’ll try, but it won’t be easy!”
“Well, then, I will just have to work that much harder to distract you!”, he growled into her neck.
Both the surrey and the buggy were hitched and loaded for picnicking and fishing early Sunday morning. The clear blue sky held the promise of another lovely day. When they reached the church, all eyes were on the Cartwright family as they entered the building, Ben holding Hannah and Kate with Mary by the hand. Having only seen Kate a few times, the other members of the congregation were surprised to see them with two little girls. Mary had many opportunities to practice her social graces both before and after the service.
Upon leaving the church, Hoss and Joe climbed into the front seat of the surrey. Ben gave Hannah a kiss and handed her to Joe. Then he lifted Mary into the second seat.
“Mary, you be a good girl for Hoss, Joe, and Jamie, and help take care of your sister, ok?”
“I wanna go with you.”
“Not this time, sweetheart. Aunt Kate and I will see you at supper. You have fun fishing”, Ben said, and then kissed her cheek.
Jamie climbed up beside Mary.
“See you later, Pa.”
“Have a good time boys, and be careful!”
“Bye Mary. Bye Hannah”, Kate said, Mary’s sad eyes not helping her already guilty conscience.
Ben helped Kate into the buggy and stepped up.
“I’m not sure.”
“Kate, they’ll be fine. Come on, let’s just enjoy the afternoon”, slapping the reins.
It took a few moments to muster up some determination, but then she said, “Yes, they will be fine!”
Kate put her arm through Ben’s and rested her head on his shoulder as the buggy headed west.
Hoss drove the surrey to their usual picnic spot by the stream. Joe stepped down, still holding Hannah, while Jamie helped Mary down. She immediately took off running toward the water. Jamie caught up to her and grabbed her wrist.
“Mary, today you must stay right with us and do what we say, or it’s not gonna to be much fun for anybody”, keeping a firm grip on her arm.
She scowled at him.
“We can go down to the water together for a minute, but then we’re having lunch. Hop Sing packed fried chicken, biscuits, apples, and cookies!”, not being above offering food in exchange for good behavior.
Joe and Hannah followed them to the water while Hoss spread out the blankets and began unloading the picnic basket.
“Come and get it”, Hoss bellowed when everything was ready.
Mary threw one last stone into the water, then Jamie chased her toward the blankets. She let out shrieks of delight, thoroughly enjoying the game of chase. Joe, with a giggling Hannah on his shoulders, came galloping close behind.
“Mmm…mmm don’t this look good”, Hoss said hoping to coax the girls into staying put and eating something.
The fresh air apparently did it’s job, because the girls ate heartily, the cookies taking highest priority for Mary. Hoss released a satisfied sigh and leaned back after they finished eating.
“Oh no you don’t, big brother! You’re in this up to your neck just like Jamie and me”, Joe said pushing at Hoss with his boot.
“Dadburn it, Joe! I’m ready for a nap. Can’t you and Jamie manage for a little while.”
“Maybe, but we’re not gonna. Go get the fishin’ poles, I’ll get the shovel and a can. Mary’s gonna help me find some worms, aren’t ya Mary?”
“Worms are yucky!”
“Gotta to have em if you want to catch fish”, replied Joe.
Jamie took little Hannah for a walk while Hoss cleaned up the mess from lunch. Before long, Jamie returned, arms extended, holding Hannah out in front of him.
“Hoss, you gotta to do something about this!”
“You know, a poopy diaper!”
“Finders, keepers, little brother!”, Hoss chuckled.
“Hoss!”, Jamie yelled; Hannah started to cry.
“Oh, alright, Jamie. Hand her to me”, placing his big arm around Hannah, her back to his chest, so no added pressure was placed on the offending area. “Go git the bag of diapers for me.”
“More than happy to!”, said Jamie.
Hoss laid Hannah on the blanket and went to work.
“Now you hold still, Hannah. I ain’t done this before…and I hope to goodness I don’t hafta do it again”, he muttered under his breath.
It took several tries, partly because of a wiggly little girl, but eventually he conquered the messy task.
“Never gonna let Pa rope us inta this agin”, he muttered. “There ya go, Hannah. Are you a happy girl, now?”
“Hoppy gwol”, little Hannah smiled and clapped her hands on his jowls.
Hoss let out a good belly laugh, “That almost makes up for it.”
“Get the poles, Jamie”, Joe hollered. “We’ve got enough worms”, holding a fat night crawler in Mary’s face.
She screamed and tripped, falling into the water. Joe quickly snatched her out.
“You got me wet”, Mary’s teeth chattering. Even though it was a warm day, the water in the stream was quite cold.
“Come on, let’s get you a blanket.”
Joe walked Mary up to the surrey to retrieve a blanket.
“We probably should get you out of that wet dress”, starting to undo the buttons in the back.
Mary stood there shivering and frowning. It was one thing for Kate or Ben to undress her, but she did not like the idea of Joe doing it. Leaving her in just her slip and bloomers, he wrapped her in the blanket and draped her dress on a bush in the bright sun.
“Hopefully it’ll be dry by the time we head for home.”
“Don’t want to go fishing!”, Mary pouted.
“Sure you do. It will still be fun”, scooping her up blanket and all.
Jamie and Hoss both had their lines in the water by the time Mary and Joe got back. Hannah was sitting between Hoss’ legs ‘helping’ to hold the fishing pole, the float on the line dancing wildly in the water. Joe plopped Mary down and grabbed his pole. He kept the worm far away from her as he baited the hook, then he swung the line out into the water.
“Ok Mary, here you go”, putting the pole in her hands. Now just hold real still and watch the cork sitting on the water. If it goes under the water, pull back like this”, jerking back on the pole. “Ok?”
“Ok”, she answered blandly, still not happy about her current state of undress.
Before long, Jamie pulled in a nice trout. Mary became much more enthusiastic after seeing Jamie’s shiny fish. Still, she grew fidgety when nothing happened in the next few minutes.
Suddenly Joe shouted, “Pull, Mary. You’ve got a fish!”
Joe grabbed onto the pole to help her flop it up on the shore. Mary jumped up.
“Look, Hannah. A fish. I got a fish”, she clapped.
“Fith! Fith!”, Hannah was soon up and dancing.
The boys had a good laugh.
“Let’s get your line back in the water, Mary. Maybe you’ll catch another one!”, Joe said, putting another worm on the hook.
“Oh, Ben, it’s just so beautiful, and it’s a perfect day”, Kate said when they arrived at Lake Tahoe.
Ben helped Kate down, tied up the horse, and grabbed the picnic basket and blankets. They walked to one his favorite places on the lake that faced west toward the Sierra Nevada range. Together they spread out a blanket. Then, while Kate was turned toward the mountains, taking in the magnificent view, Ben quickly dispensed with his gloves, hat and jacket. He could hear Kate saying something, but none of it was registering in his brain. He deftly pulled his string tie through his collar, yanked his shirttails from his pants, and speedily went through the buttons. The sight that met Kate when she turned back to see why he had not responded to her question made her heart skip. Ben was standing there, white shirt billowing, the hair on his broad chest skittering in the breeze that was coming across the lake, and a fire burning in his eyes.
“I thought you said you were hungry”, placing her hands on his chest.
“I am!”, was the last sentence either spoke for a long time.
Having caught no more fish, the excitement for fishing waned. Hannah was leaning against Hoss, thumb in her mouth, her eyes drifting closed.
“Hoss, you may get that nap after all”, Joe said picking Hannah up. “The two of you might as well go back on a blanket.”
“That, little brother, is music to my ears.”
Hoss stood up, took Hannah from Joe and headed for the shade.
Joe cut the string and released the two trout they caught earlier. The fish eagerly accepted their freedom, and rapidly swam away.
“Why did you let them go?”, Mary asked.
“Because we didn’t catch enough for Hop Sing to fix for supper. No point keeping two fish.”
“What we gonna do, now?”
“We better go check on your dress. Aren’t you cold?”, he said noticing that the temperature was dropping.
Mary nodded, having given up on the blanket long ago. Her dress was almost dry, so Joe helped her get back into it.
“Are you sure you don’t want to snuggle up in the blanket and take nap”, Joe asked hoping to get a break.
“I don’t take naps”, Mary said adamantly. “I’m a big girl!”
Jamie walked up carrying the fishing gear.
Joe moved close and whispered, “I think it’s about your turn to occupy Miss Mary”, nodding her way.
“Alright, I’ll give it a try”, he whispered back.
“Hey, Jamie, take a look at that”, pointing at Hoss and Hannah. “One baby sleeping, and one sleeping like a baby”, Joe grinned. Hoss was laying on his back with his hat over his eyes, with Hannah on his chest, his big arm across her back, both sound asleep.
“Hoss! Get up!”
“Huh, what?”, he groaned.
“Get up!”, Joe repeated. “We’ve got to start for home. I don’t like the look of the sky to the west, and the temperature is dropping like a rock.”
Hannah stirred when Hoss sat up. Her legs were cold to the touch.
“Come on, doll, we got to get you covered up and in the surrey.”
The others were already in the surrey ready to go. Hoss wrapped Hannah in the blanket and handed her up to Joe. He slipped on his jacket and joined him in the front seat. Hoss slapped the reins and yelled, “get up horse”, and kept encouraging the mare to pick up her speed. It was about a thirty minute ride back to the ranch; Hoss was worried they might not make it home before the weather turned ugly.
After the fires of their passion died down, Kate and Ben enjoyed their picnic lunch wrapped up together in the blankets. Fully satisfied, they fell into a sound sleep. Kate woke up shivering, her body only partially covered by the blanket.
“Ben…Ben. It’s so cold. The weather has changed.”
He looked at the western sky with concern. It was already later than he had planned to stay.
“Kate, hurry and get dressed. We’ve got to get out of here or we may not make it home tonight!”
Ben dressed quickly and loaded the blankets and basket into the buggy. He put the top up on the buggy, anticipating rain. Kate was struggling with the last of her buttons when he returned.
“No time. Here put your cape on and let’s go. It’s an hour home in the best of conditions”, he informed her.
“Do you think Mary, Hannah, and the boys are alright?”
“The ranch is farther to the east and my boys know how to take care of themselves.”
The heavily overcast skies made it much darker than usual for five o’clock. When they reached the ranch house, Joe and Jamie quickly took the girls inside while Hoss took care of the horse and surrey. The buggy was not in the barn when he opened the door. A concerned look came over Hoss’ face. The rain had not started yet, but the smell of it was in the air.
“Pa you better be gettin’ home soon, if you know what’s good for you”, Hoss declared as he unhitched the horse and cared for its needs.
An hour passed with no sign of Ben and Kate; so the boys asked Hop Sing to serve supper, knowing they could not keep the little girls waiting any longer. The boys sat quietly at the table with little interest in their food, only speaking to the girls when it was necessary. The wind had kicked up and the rain was pelting the windows making them very uneasy. Hannah was oblivious to it all, and now that her tummy was full, she sat happily drumming on her high chair tray, humming a two-year old kind of tune. Mary, on the other hand, was as dreary as the weather outside. She sat frowning at her plate, moving the food around in various patterns, out of boredom and frustration.
Kate was holding tight to Ben’s arm as they were racing down the road. He kept pushing the horse, but it was almost dark and they would not be able to keep up this pace for fear that the horse might stumble or step in a hole. The wind was gusting and the rain was soaking through the blanket that covered their legs and feet; the buggy top only providing them limited protection. Kate shivered violently. Ben wanted to put his arm around her, but he did not dare risk losing control of the horse. Suddenly the wind roared and there was a loud crack. A branch crashed down through the top of the buggy hitting Kate on the side of her head, scratching and scrapping both of them. The horse bolted in surprise dragging the buggy from side to side in the road. It took all of Ben’s strength to hold the reins. Kate slumped unconscious against the bent frame of the buggy top.
“Whoa, Ginger! Whoa, damn you! Whoa!”, he yelled to no avail.
Finally Ginger ran herself out and Ben brought her to a stop.
“Kate…Kate…Are you alright!”
She did not respond. It was so dark he could hardly see; so he removed his right glove, relying on his fingers to be his sight. When he pulled Kate toward him, he felt a sticky wetness on her shoulder; so he tentatively ran his hand up the side of her face finding a a large gash in her now matted hair. He checked for a pulse. It was faint, but present.
“Oh Kate! Thank God you’re alive!
Carefully he leaned Kate back, sat forward, unbuttoned his coat and slipped his left arm out of the sleeve. He dug at the shoulder seam of his shirt finally managing to rip it loose, tore the button off the cuff, and slid it down his arm. He slid his left arm back into his jacket, then gently brought Kate’s head and shoulders into his lap. He folded the torn shirt sleeve several times, found the source of the bleeding, and placed the make-shift dressing on it. Ben laid his arm on top of her head and gently applied pressure to the wound hoping to slow the bleeding. Then he grabbed the reins and encouraged Ginger to go on knowing the horse could find her way home, it was just a matter of how long would it take to get there.
“Hang on, Kate! Dear God, please help her!”, he cried out.
Hannah finally grew tired of being in her chair and intentionally dropped her spoon on the floor. Joe reached down and picked it up not noticing the little girl’s grin.
“There you go, Hannah”, placing the spoon back on the tray.
She immediately picked up the spoon, held it off to the side of the tray, looked squarely at Joe and dropped it again.
“Hannah, don’t do that again”, he scolded, putting the spoon back on the tray.
Again Hannah took the spoon, smiled at Joe, and dropped it on the floor.
“Hannah, I said don’t do that”, Joe shouted, picking up the spoon and slamming it on the table.
Hannah puckered up and big tears rolled down her cheeks. Mary gave Joe dagger eyes.
“Aw Joe, she’s just tired. We better try to get them to bed”, Hoss said coming to Hannah’s defense.
He stepped over and took the little girl out of the high chair.
“Come on, Mary. Time for bed”, said Joe.
“I want Aunt Kate and Uncle Ben to put me to bed!”
“I know darlin’. I wish they were here, too, but you’re going to have to settle for us tonight”, Joe replied.
Mary drug her feet as Joe and Hoss took the girls upstairs.
“Jamie, you send Pa and Kate up here if they come in before we’re back down”, Hoss called over his shoulder.
“Don’t worry. I’ll send them up right away!”, said Jamie.
Hoss put Hannah down once they were in the girls’ room. She climbed up on he bed and started jumping around. Mary happily joined her little sister.
“Awright you two”, Hoss said capturing Hannah in midair, “time to get you out of these clothes and into your nighties.”
Mary continued to jump until Joe caught her and put her feet on the floor. After multiple recaptures, the girls were finally in their nightgowns and under the covers.
“Read a story”, Mary pleaded.
“tory…weed tory”, Hannah shouted.
“That’s more your line of work, Joe. I’m goin’ downstairs”, declared Hoss.
So Joe began reading, but Mary kept giggling and poking Hannah, not letting her fall asleep. After several reprimands, Joe finally gave up and carried the girls back downstairs. He dropped Hannah in Hoss’ lap.
“You got her to go to sleep this afternoon. Maybe you can do it again”, Joe said giving a weary sigh.
He handed Jamie the storybook, “Here you read to Mary for a while. I’m done!”
Eventually the girls did fall asleep. Hoss covered them up on the settee.
“I just don’t like this, Hoss. Pa and Kate should have been home hours ago. I’m going to saddle Cochise and go look for them.”
“Joe, you ain’t goin’ anywhere in this weather. Maybe Pa and Kate had to find cover somewhere. We can’t afford to be worryin’ bout you, too!”
Fifteen minutes passed. Then there was a noise on the porch. The boys jumped out of their seats as Ben stumbled through the door.
“Pa, you made it…”, relief flowing into Joe’s face.
“Hoss!…Hoss!.. I need Hoss!”
“I’m here, Pa! What’s wrong?”
“Kate’s hurt I need you to carry her up to our room. I don’t think I can do it”, Ben said, his breath jagged from stress, cold, and fatigue, then collapsing into Joe’s arms.
Hoss rushed out the door. The girls woke up and started to cry.
“Jamie take the girls to the kitchen and keep them there. I don’t want them to see Kate like this”, Ben panted.
Jamie picked up Hannah and took Mary by the hand into the kitchen, his face pale with concern.
Hoss returned with Kate’s limp body draped over his large arms. He carefully carried her upstairs and placed her on their bed. Ben staggered upstairs behind them and into his bedroom.
“Leave us alone. I’ve got to get her out of those wet clothes. Tell Hop Sing to bring warm blankets and tell Joe to ride for Doc Martin at first light.”
“I’m sure Hop Sing will have em up here in a few minutes and I’ll tell Joe”, Hoss said going to the bureau to get his father some dry clothes.
“When you finish with Kate, you get yourself into some dry things, too. You’ll be no good to her when she wakes up, if you’re sick.”
Ben just held up his hand for his son to stop talking, “Leave us.”
“I’m goin’, Pa”, stepping toward the door, “but I just wanna say somethin’ first. Kate is healthy and strong, and she loves ya and she loves those little gals!. She’ll come back, Pa. I can feel it in my bones!”
Ben wearily began removing Kate’s wet clothing. It was a very difficult task for many reasons including the fact the he was shivering uncontrollably. He did not try to put a nightgown on her, just covering her with the bed covers. He hardly had the energy to do it, but he stripped out of his wet things and put on dry pants and a shirt. He looked at the pile of wet clothes. There was blood and mud caked on them in various places. He sat down hard in the chair beside the bed. Soon Hop Sing knocked at the door and brought in heated blankets, bandages, towels, and hot water.
“You want Hop Sing to take care of Missy Kate?”, he asked gently.
“No…thank you…Hop Sing. I will take care of Kate.”
Ben pulled back the bed covers and laid two warm blankets over his wife. Then he knelt and started cleaning her wound. The bleeding had stopped, but Kate looked gray from loss of blood. He felt her forehead for any sign of fever. Her skin was cool to the touch, a little too cool.
Once he had finished and there was nothing more he could do for Kate, his anger flared.
“You can’t have Kate, too. You took the others, but you can’t have her. I need her. Mary and Hannah need her. You can’t take their parents and Kate, too. It’s not right”, pounding his fists on the arms of the chair, his mind at war with his Maker.
Ben took Kate’s hand in both of his. Soon his emotions overtook him.
“Please, I beg you! Don’t take her! Kate don’t leave me!”, he whispered, tears streaming down his face, his forehead pressed to their clasped hands.
In the meantime, Hoss and Joe carried the girls up to bed. Hannah gave up easily, curled up and closed her eyes.
“I want Aunt Kate and Uncle Ben!”, Mary demanded, crossing her arms on top of the covers.
Afraid to give too much information, Hoss said, “They’re real tired and went to bed. You can see them tomorrow.”
Joe gave him a questioning look.
“Now you stay in bed, or there’ll be trouble. Ya hear!”, Hoss warned.
Mary frowned and rolled her back to him. She waited until the boys left her room and all was quiet. Then she tip-toed down the hall to Ben and Kate’s bedroom. The door had been left open a few inches; so she cautiously pushed it open a little bit more. At first all she could see was Ben kneeling by the bed.
“Uncle Ben is praying like Papa”, she thought.
When Mary pushed on the door again, she saw Kate laying in bed with a large bandage on her head.
“Aunt Kate has a bad boo-boo. I need to get my dolly. Mama always gave me my dolly when I had a boo-boo”, continuing to try to mentally process what she was seeing.
Mary quietly went back into her room and got her rag doll. She slipped back into Ben and Kate’s room and placed her doll on the bed beside Kate. Ben looked up, hearing Mary’s bare feet on the floor.
“Oh Mary. You shouldn’t be here”, he whispered, not having the strength, physical or emotional to deal with her.
She looked at him with sad eyes and touched a crusty scab on his cheek, “You have a boo-boo and Aunt Kate has a bad boo-boo. I’m sorry”, and she kissed his cheek. “Mama kissed me and gave me my dolly and said ‘sorry’, when I had a boo-boo.”
Ben was touched by her sweet sincerity, and thankful that the innocence of youth was protecting her from the gravity of the situation.
“My Papa prayed to God. I can pray, too”, placing her folded hands on the bed and bowing her head. “Dear God…help Uncle Ben be a good Papa…and help Aunt Kate feel good …and be a good Mama…and help Mary and Hannah be good girls…Amen. Then Papa said ‘I love you.'”
Mary slipped her arms around Ben’s neck, “I love you, Uncle Ben.”
With tears in his eyes, Ben wrapped his arms around her, “And I love you, Mary.”
There was no change in Kate. Ben knew he should put Mary in her own bed, but he did not want to leave Kate alone for even a few minutes. So, he sat down in the chair and brought Mary into his lap; it was comforting to hold her since he could not hold Kate. Mary was very tired. She leaned back on his shoulder, and within minutes, she was asleep. The warmth from her little body seeped into his cold, aching limbs. Ben wanted to stay awake, but his overwhelming fatigue bested him, and he drifted off, too. The boys came upstairs to check on their pa and Kate. Hoss pointed for the others to have a look. Kate laid unmoving with a rag doll beside her; Ben was sitting in the chair with Mary snuggled in his lap, both sound asleep.
“I sure wish that Kate was awake, but at least that little stinker, Mary, got Pa to get some rest. Joe you need your sleep, too, cause you’ll be riding out early, and Jamie you got school, so you two go on to bed. You’re only gonna get a few hours of sleep as it is. I’ll wake you if I need somethin’ or there’s any change in Kate”, Hoss whispered.
Joe and Jamie nodded and mouthed ‘goodnight’. Hoss crept into his room, threw a blanket in a chair, and carried them into his pa’s room. Ever so gently he covered Ben and Mary with the blanket. He touched his large hand to Kate’s forehead checking for fever, thankful she felt warm but not hot, then he sat down to keep watch.
All was quiet when Joe stepped in Ben and Kate’s bedroom just as the first sign of light came on the eastern horizon. Hoss jerked when Joe put a hand on his shoulder.
“No change, I see.”
Hoss tried to shake the sleep out of his head and looked at Kate, “Guess not.”
“I’m off, then. I’ll have Doc Martin here as quick as I can. See you soon”, Joe whispered gripping his brother’s shoulder.
Joe stopped suddenly at the door when there was a faint moan from Kate. Her eyes fluttered open, and she looked around the room trying to get her bearings.
“Ben…Mary…Hoss”, she said, only managing a hoarse whisper.
Ben’s eyes flew open. He tried to get up quickly, but Mary’s weight and having her in his lap for hours made it difficult for him to move. Joe came over and picked her up.
“Kate, Kate, you’re back. Oh Kate, I was so worried. How do you feel?”, Ben asked managing to kneel by the bed, and taking her hand.
“My head really hurts and my throat is very dry.”
Hoss rose and poured Kate a glass of water.
“Good to have you back, Kate”, handing the water to his pa.
“Here you go”, gently raising her head for a drink.
“Thank you. That’s enough for now”, Kate said after a few sips.
“Joe, I want you to go on to town and get the doctor, even though Kate is conscious now. I want Paul to have a look at her head wound”, Ben requested.
“Sure, Pa. Glad you’re back with us, Kate. See ya soon”, handing Mary to Hoss.
“Aunt Kate, you sleeped a long time, Mary said rubbing her eyes.
“I did? Ben, what happened?”
“We’ll talk about that later. Right now what you need is rest, and some broth if you feel up to it.”
“Some broth might be good.”
‘Pa, Mary and I will go down and tell Hop Sing to bring up some broth and some breakfast for you.”
“Pa…Kate…You’re awake”, Jamie said smiling at her. “Good to see you’re doing better this morning. You, too, Pa. You didn’t look so good last night.”
“Thank you, Jamie”, Kate replied.
“Yes, I imagine I looked a bit like a bedraggled, wet, and frightened puppy last night”, Ben chuckled, happy that he could laugh about it now.
“Well, maybe, kinda like that”, Jamie laughed. Anyway, I gotta get ready for school. Hope you’re up and around real soon, Kate.”
“Thank you, Jamie.”
“Well Mary, let’s go get somethin’ to eat”, Hoss said stepping into the hallway.
“Marwee…Hoth”, Hannah said, excited to see them, as she waddled bow-legged down the hallway.
“Dadburn it! Why do I get stuck with the diapers!”, Hoss complained.
“Come on, Hannah. Let’s go to your room and get you changed.”
While Hoss was changing Hannah, he coached Mary about dealing with Hop Sing. With Kate recovering in bed, the next few days were going to be challenging to say the least.
“Now this is what you say, “Good morning, Hop Sing. Aunt Kate is awake. Will you please take her some broth and some breakfast for Uncle Ben? Will you please fix us some breakfast, too.”
Mary thought hard. It was a lot to remember, but she repeated it perfectly. Then Hoss took the girls to the kitchen. Hop Sing was busy preparing bacon and eggs.
“Good morning, Hop Sing”, Mary piped.
“Good morning, little miss.”
“Aunt Kate is awake!”
“Missy Kate awake. That good news!”
“Will you please take her some broth and some breakfast for Uncle Ben?”
“Yes, Hop Sing take up broth for Missy Kate and breakfast for Mista Cartlight.”
“Will you please fix us some breakfast, too?”, Mary smiled at Hoss, having completed her assigned task.
“Since you ask nice, I get you breakfast, little miss.”
“You did real good, Mary. Thanks Hop Sing”, Hoss grinned.
Knowing that broth would probably be needed, Hop Sing already had some simmering on the stove. He served Hoss and the girls their breakfast, then took the food for Kate and Ben upstairs.
“Before I give you some of this broth, we had better get you into a nightgown”, Ben said smiling at Kate. “Can’t have you exposed to anybody but me”, he chuckled, helping her into her nightgown.
“Yes, and you had more than your fair share yesterday afternoon”, Kate grinned.
“I’m happy to know that you remember our picnic.’
“I don’t remember doing a whole lot of eating, but I do remember it being quite enjoyable! “So, Ben, what did happen. The last thing I remember is that it was almost dark, lots of wind and rain, and we were flying down the road trying to get home.”
“The wind broke off a good-sized branch that came down on top of us. Unfortunately, you got the worst of it. Kate, I can’t remember the last time I was that frightened.”
“That explains the headache. I’m assuming there is a big cut on my head.”
“I’m afraid so. It will probably require some stitches. That’s why I sent for Paul Martin. Now let’s get some of this broth into you.”
About an hour later, Joe arrived with Doc Martin.
“Joe told me you had quite a harrowing time last night, Ben”, the doctor said, examining Kate’s wound.
“It’s not an experience I would care to repeat, that’s for sure”, Ben replied.
“Well Kate, your cut really needs some stitches, so I’m going to give you some laudanum to dull the pain. It should take affect in a few minutes”, he said pouring a white liquid on a spoon.
Kate nodded. When her eyes went closed, the doctor pulled a razor from his bag.
“She’s not going to like that”, Ben said with a look of concern.
“I won’t take much off, but it has to be done since the wound has already started to heal.”
In short order, Doc Martin had Kate all stitched up.
“She’ll probably sleep for a couple of hours. Here are some pills for the pain when she wakes up. Everything looks good. There’s no sign of infection; so change the dressing daily and keep an eye on it. Let me know if anything changes. You stay put. I’ll see my way out.”
“Thanks, Paul”, Ben said offering the doctor his hand.
“You get some rest now.”
“That’s easier said than done with two little ones in the house. Can’t promise it’s going to happen, but I’ll try. Take care, Paul, and thanks again.”
“What? Your three boys giving you gray hair at an early age wasn’t enough? Do you want to be bald?”, the doctor chuckled.
“Hey, now. I don’t need that kind of talk from you, too.”
Dr. Martin just shook his head, “See you later, Ben.”
Hoss took the girls back upstairs and got them dressed after breakfast. Ben answered promptly when Hoss knocked on the bedroom door.
“Pa, Joe took off for the mine once he knew Kate was doing ok. I’ve got some things in town to take care of, but what are we going to do with these two?”, nodding at the girls.
Ben looked at Kate, who was still sleeping following the large dose of laudanum.
“Can you hold off going to town until this afternoon? Then at least Hannah should be down for a nap, so I might be able to manage until Jamie gets home”, Ben asked.
“I guess so, Pa. But if I am gonna be with em all morning, we’re goin’ O…U..T…S…I…D…E for a while.”
Ben smiled remembering the days when Adam and he spelled to each other so that Hoss and Joe would not know what they were saying.
“Sure, son. And thanks!”
To Hoss’ amazement, he was able to get a few things done in the barn even with both little girls under foot. After eating their lunch, Mary and Hannah helped Hoss carry lunch upstairs to Kate and Ben, Mary had a plate of rolls and Hannah carried the napkins.
Thank you girls…and Hoss for bringing my lunch”, Kate said, just recently waking from her drug induced sleep.
“Alright, Miss Hannah. Nap time!”, Hoss declared enthusiastically.
He put Hannah in bed and told Mary to take a picture book with her back to Ben and Kate’s room.
“Mary you sit there quietly with Uncle Ben so Aunt Kate can rest, ya hear? Pa, I’m heading to town. Be back by suppertime.”
She obediently sat on the rug near the door and began looking at her book while Ben and Kate were absorbed in conversation.
Down the hall, Hannah slipped quietly out of bed. Mary saw her in the hallway and followed to see where she was going. With Hop Sing out of the kitchen for the moment, Hannah started pushing a chair toward the shelf that held the cookie jar.
“No, Hannah. No cookies. I get spanked!”, Mary scolded her little sister.
Hannah kept pushing and Mary pushed back. But when Hop Sing came through the outside door to the kitchen, he was certain that two little girls were headed for the cookie jar.
“No little girls in kitchen! No cookies for little girls!, Out! Out!”, continuing to holler in Chinese.
Hannah grabbed hold of Mary in fear, but Mary tried to push her away.
“No…Hannah getting the cookies, not me…Hannah not me.”, Mary shouted, glaring at Hop Sing.
Ben came running into the kitchen.
“Little girls trying to get cookies. No little girls in Hop Sing’s kitchen!”
Ben took both girls firmly by the arms and marched them out of the kitchen and up to their room. Hannah’ s eyes were big and round with uncertainty; Mary scowled and balled up her fists knowing what was coming next.
“Hannah it’s time for your nap not cookies”, giving her a little swat on her diapered behind.
She collapsed on the bed in a puddle of tears, leaving Ben feeling like an ogre. Then he turned to Mary who stood glaring defiantly at him.
“Mary what happened the last time you got into the cookies?”
“Got spanked”, she said through gritted teeth. “Hannah getting cookies, not me!”
Not believing that Hannah was able or would even attempt it without Mary’s prompting, “Mary, we have talked about telling the truth. And you’re not telling the truth, are you?”
“Hannah getting the cookies!”, she repeated, fists clenched.
“We just can’t have this”, Ben said sitting on the bed.
He pulled Mary across his lap and gave her three firm swats on the backside.
Though crying hard, the look she gave Ben was a mix of anger and hurt from being unjustly accused.
Mary stood stiffly as Ben pulled her into his arms.
“Mary, please, you must be a good girl, or you will get spanked again.”
“Hannah getting cookies”, she choked out through her tears.
Ben frowned, “You will have to take a nap with Hannah. Get in bed. Now”, he said firmly, pointing at the bed.
Mary threw herself on to the bed and Ben walked toward the door. He turned back to look at the girls and dropped his head.
“Why do you have to make this so difficult?”, he thought to himself, and closed the door behind him.
“Oh Ben, I’m so sorry. I need to be up so you don’t have to deal with this by yourself”, Kate said guiltily, as he sat down in the chair next to the bed.
“Absolutely not. You are staying in bed for at least another day. Then we will see about you getting up. I will deal the Mary and Hannah if necessary. Kate, they have got to learn. The girls are at the ages when parenting is very challenging, but it usually gets better with consistent, firm discipline. We will pray for that; especially for Mary.”
When Mary thought Hannah was asleep, she crept to the door and opened it carefully. Hannah rolled over.
“Sh, Hannah. Go to sleep”, Mary said holding a finger to her lips.
Mary poked her head out the door, and scanned the quiet hall. Not seeing or hearing anyone, she tread lightly down the stairs and out the front door. Hannah hopped out of bed. Thinking that Mary must be going back for the cookies, Hannah headed straight for the kitchen.
“Would you like some coffee, Kate?”
“That sounds good, Ben.”
“I’ll be right back.”
As he entered the kitchen, the sight of Hannah standing on a chair, hand in the cookie jar, and Mary nowhere to be seen, shocked Ben.
“Hannah? I mean Hannah! Shame on you!”
The little girl jumped in fright, dropping the lid to the jar which crashed on the floor, breaking in several pieces.
Ben quickly picked up the broken shards of pottery, and scooped up Hannah from the chair.
“No cookies!”, giving her a swat that she would feel through her diaper.
Hannah dissolved into tears with her face buried on Ben’s shoulder.
“Mary! Mary! Where are you?”, he called, looking all over the downstairs.
“She was telling the truth. Hannah was getting into the cookies and I accused her and even worse gave her a solid spanking”, Ben thought regretfully
He went upstairs thinking she might be hiding in one of the boys rooms.
“Mary! Mary! If you are up here and can hear me, I want you to know I am sorry. Mary, please come out.”
“Ben? Ben? What is going on?”, Kate called.
“I caught this little gal, red-handed, in the cookie jar and Mary is nowhere to be found. I am afraid that I spanked Mary for lying and she was telling the truth! I’m going outside to look around.”
“Oh know, Ben! I am coming with you!”
“No you don’t. You stay put. I can’t be worrying about you, too. Please, Kate, stay in bed.”
Ben took Hannah back to her room and put her in bed.
“Nap time, Hannah. You go to sleep”, Ben said giving her a serious look and closing the door behind him.
Having enough of Ben this afternoon, Hannah stayed in bed.
“Mary!…Mary!”, Ben called while walking toward barn. He opened the door and went inside.
“Mary, if you are in here, please come out. I am sorry. I know it was Hannah. Mary!”
He walked around the barn to the chicken coop and continued to call her name. Circling around the barn, he ended up back at the porch.
“Mary!”, he called on last time.
Ben felt horrible. The boys were still away, the ranch hands were out on the range, and Kate was recovering in bed. He was at a loss for help at the moment.
“Mary, please come back!”
Ben was not giving up the search for Mary. However, he did know from past experience with his sons, that sometimes children with hurt feelings deliberately hide for a time. He was reasonably certain that Mary could not have gone far, with so little time having passed since he put the two girls in their room. He quickly went back into the house for another look and was met by a very unsteady Kate, grasping the stair railing.
“Kate, I told you to stay in bed! Here, let me help you”, he said wrapping his arm around her waist and helping her to the settee.
“I was so worried. You were gone too long. I knew you must not have found Mary.”
“No, not yet”, his head sagging. “Why did I have to assume it was Mary’s fault? I’m going back upstairs and carefully search the boys rooms. You just lie down here!”
While Ben was frantically searching under beds and in bureaus, there was a dark-haired little girl crying in the hay loft. Mary had run out of the house to find Hoss. She had heard him say he was going to town and knew he would have to go to the barn to get his horse. In her mind, Hoss could fix things. When Hoss talked, people listened, like with Hop Sing and Joe. But Hoss was not in the barn, and she did not want to talk to Ben when he called for her. So, looking at the ladder to the hayloft, Mary began to climb. She easily made it to the top and plopped herself down in the hay. She stayed silent when Ben came in looking for her. Then it grew quiet. She could not hear Ben’s voice anymore. She looked around the loft and decided it was not a very nice place. Also she was getting cold, having run out of the house without a coat. Mary got up and stepped toward the ladder. It was a frightening sight looking down to the barn floor, and she instinctively pushed herself backwards into the hay. Soon she was sobbing and calling for ‘Uncle Ben’, to no avail.
“No Mary?”, Kate asked, seeing only her husband coming down the stairs.
“No”, Ben sighed wearily. “She’s got to be in the barn or somewhere near the house. I’m going back outside.”
“Mary!…Mary!”, he called again, running to the barn.
Mary’s head popped up when she heard his voice.
“Uncle Ben!…Uncle Ben!”, she cried out.
Ben thought he detected a muffled cry coming from the barn.
“Mary? Are you in here?”, once inside.
“Uncle Ben”, Mary sobbed.
“Mary where are you?”
“Up here”, continuing to sob.
Ben quickly climbed the ladder and saw Mary laying in the hay, her face a mix of tears and dusty grime.
“Oh Mary!’ Ben said as he sat down beside her and pulled her to him. “I’m sorry, Mary. I made a mistake. Please forgive me”, he whispered as she sobbed into his chest.
Once she calmed down, Ben said, “But you made a mistake, too, didn’t you? And then you got stuck up here, right?”
“Aunt Kate and I were very worried that something bad happened to you. Please don’t run away anymore.”
“You were getting Hoss? Why?”
“Hoss talk to you…Hannah and cookies.
“You wanted Hoss to tell me that is was Hannah who was trying to get the cookies?
“Oh, now I understand…but…you were hiding from me.”
Mary nodded again.
“Oh Mary, it’s been a day of mistakes. I will try to be a better uncle and I need you to only go outside with a grown-up, ok?”
“Yep”, her eyes brightening.
“Good, let’s go inside. It’s cold out here!”
Ben stepped backward onto the ladder. Securing himself with one hand, he held out the other to Mary. She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs snuggly around his middle. Then holding her securely with one arm, Ben carefully descended to the barn floor.
“Here we are. Let’s go tell Aunt Kate that you’re fine”, reaching around her waist to put her feet on the ground.
But Mary did not release her hold on Ben; so he patted her back and carried to the house. He did persuade her to let go once they reached the porch.
“Let’s have a look at you. We had better get you looking a little more presentable for Aunt Kate”, shaking the dust from her dress, removing some hay from her hair, and thumbing away the smeary smudges from her cheeks. “There, that’s better”, planting a kiss on the top of her head and leading her into the house.
“Ben?”, Kate said, turning toward the door. “Mary, oh, Mary, I was so worried about you!”
Ben released her hand and Mary ran to Kate, then the two shared a hug. Kate pulled Mary up beside her on the settee.
“Thank goodness, you are alright Mary. We’re sorry we didn’t believe what you said about Hannah. Grown-ups make mistakes, too, but we are a family, and we say ‘sorry’ and ‘I forgive you’, and still love each other”, hugging Mary tightly.
Ben dropped into his chair, “Phew! Glad that’s over!”
He gave Kate a weak smile, as Hannah came toddling down the stairs.
“Dear Lord, give me strength”, he muttered under his breath.
Kate gave him a look of sympathy.
A little later, while Jamie was keeping an eye on Mary and Hannah, Ben went to the barn to survey the damage to the buggy. He walked toward the hitching rail when he heard Hoss come riding in from town.
“Hey, Pa. How’d it go this afternoon?”, dismounting Chub.
“Awful! I sure could have used you here. You would have saved us a wagon load of confusion and heartache.”
“How’s that, Pa?”, Hoss asked with surprise.
“Right after you left, Hannah tried to get into the cookies, but I thought it was Mary, so I spanked her, and then she ran off.”
“Only I didn’t know she ran off until Hannah did get into the cookie jar, and broke the lid. That’s when I knew Mary had disappeared.”
Hoss’ jaw began to drop.
“But actually she was trying to find you, and then she hid in the barn while I was running around like a lunatic looking for her. But eventually, I found her up in the hayloft, because she climbed up there and couldn’t get down, and of course, I had to apologize for punishing her unjustly…”
Finally when Hoss’ eyes were about to glaze over, Ben came to a stop. Hoss blinked, closed his mouth, turned toward Chub, and put his foot in the stirrup.
“And where are you going?”, Ben demanded.
“Back to town!”, Hoss called over his shoulder.
“Oh, no you don’t!”, planting a large hand on his son’s shoulder.
Tuesday morning Kate was feeling much better, but Ben insisted that she remain in bed.
“Kate I really think you should take it easy one more day.”
“Oh, Ben, I’m fine now. There is no need for that.”
“Look at it this way. You will have one more day to relax and read in bed, then tomorrow it’s back to the grindstone, woman!”
“Oh really! I think I feel a headache coming on!”
“That’s too bad, because starting tomorrow, no more headaches allowed!”, Ben grinned and kissed her soundly.
Kate grabbed the back of his neck, not letting him escape too quickly, and gave him a sensual kiss.
“Woman, what you do to me! I’ve got to get out of here before this day of rest business goes out the window!”
With Kate in bed for the day, that meant someone else was responsible for keeping tabs on the girls. School provided Jamie a temporary reprieve, so that left Ben, Hoss, and Joe sitting at the breakfast table with Mary and Hannah, weighing their options for the day.
“Well, boys, I think the best way to handle things today is to ‘divide and conquer’; one of us take Mary, and another take Hannah, and the remaining one try to get some work done. Then after a few hours we can switch”, Ben suggested.
“That’s all well and good, but I got stuck with most of the diapers, and I’m just not doin’ it today!”, Hoss complained.
“OK, so how about this; Hoss, you take Mary, and if you think you can manage it, work in the tack room. Joe you will watch Hannah, but I will be available for any diaper changes because I will be here doing paperwork. Then after lunch, Joe, you take Mary with you to town and check if there is a telegram about the girls birthdays and take care of anything else you need to do. I will watch Hannah, and Hoss, that will give you time to check on how the cold weather preparations are going.”
“Alright, Pa, but I’m holding you to that diaper change deal!”, Joe said adamantly. “You know, Pa. Maybe you should have Hop Sing check with his cousins. They might have a young girl who could help. I know Kate will be up and around soon, but she might appreciate some help now and then.”
“That’s a good idea, Joe. I’ll do that. What do you say, Hoss? Are you ok with this plan?”
“Yeah, I guess so. Not like we gotta whole lotta choice”, giving Mary a forced smile.
Mary was not quite sure what to think about Hoss’ smile, but she was happy to hear both their names used together.
“Alright Miss Mary, let’s git your coat and go to the barn”, Hoss said taking her hand.
“Yea!”, Mary shouted, just happy to get out of the house for a while.
“And you, little darlin'”, said Joe wiping the remaining breakfast from her face and hands, “let’s go ride that rocking horse all the way to Reno!”
“Weeno!”, Hannah clapped.
Ben patted her curly head, and moved to his desk.
Joe put Hannah on the rocking horse, and she rode to Virginia City, Placerville, Reno, Sacramento, and San Francisco and back again. Then she built towers of blocks and knocked them down, over and over. Next she pulled the cow with wheels around and around the room. After that Joe put Hannah in his lap and began to read the alphabet book.
“A is for apple”
“B is for baby”
“C is for cat”
Hannah stood up.
“Here, honey, we’re reading”, Joe said, pulling her back into his lap.
“D is for dog”
Hannah stood up again.
“Come on, Hannah. Sit down and read.”
“E is for elephant”
Hannah stood up and made a face. Joe soon smelled why she did not want to sit down. Taking her by the hand, they went to the top of the stairs.
Out in the tack room, Hoss was showing Mary how to clean and oil bridles and saddles, tasks that she was not finding very interesting. It did help when Hoss gave her an oil rag to rub on a saddle.
“Come on, now. You gotta rub harder than that. I want that saddle ta shine in the sun.”
So Mary grunted, and groaned, and gave it her all.
“Hey, now, Mary. That’s a pretty good job you’re doin’.”
“I’m tired. Let’s go see horses.”
“But I’m not finished yet.”
“In a little while. What color horses do ya like?”
“Black and white…like…Co-cheezz.”
Hoss chuckled, Cochise or you can just call him ‘Cooch’.”
“Cooch! I like Cooch! What’s your horse’ name?”
“Chubby, but I just call him Chub.”
“Chub, that’s funny.”
“Well, that’s cause he’s big like me. If you had a horse, what would you call it?”
Mary thought, then shrugged.
“Well, you think about it”, Hoss said, pondering a little paint pony as a Christmas gift for Mary from himself and his brothers.
“Done now?”, watching Hoss pick up the cleaning supplies.
“Ok, let’s go see the horses”, taking Mary’s hand.
Hoss sat her on the corral fence and stood directly behind her looking over her shoulder. Mary truly enjoyed watching the horses trot back and forth.
“You like horses, don’t ya, Mary?”
Nodding, “Horses are pretty.”
“Yes they are. I think they’re bout the most beautiful creature the good Lord created.”
“I like you!”, placing her arms around his big neck and giving him a hug.
“You were a good help this mornin’, darlin’. You and me may get on just fine after all”, giving her a little squeeze.
At lunch time, Ben, Mary, and Hannah took a tray upstairs for Kate. The girls climbed up on the bed beside her, eyeing the cake on her tray.
“I’d like to think you girls are happy to see me, but something else appears to have your attention”, Kate commented.
Ben chuckled, “We haven’t eaten our lunch yet, but I thought we would all come up and say hello. How are you feeling?”
“Ben, truly, I feel fine. How about releasing me for the afternoon?”, giving him a pleading look.
“Alright. You enjoy a quiet lunch, and then come on down stairs, if you’re sure.”
“Positive! Thank you!”
“See you in a bit. Come on girls. Let’s go eat.”
Mary and Hannah quickly hopped off the bed and ran to the stairs.
“Well, guess we’ve got two hungry girls”, said Ben.
“Uh.. hungry for cake!”, Kate added.
Hannah and Ben were still sitting at the table when Kate came downstairs carrying her lunch tray.
“Where’s Mary?”, placing the tray on the table.
“She and Joe left for town. They are going to check on the telegram from Decatur.”
“I hope she ate more than just cake”, looking at Hannah enjoying her dessert.
“She did. One thing little Miss Hannah does well, is eat.”
Ben stood up and guided Kate to the settee, and sat down in his chair.
“You know Kate, I’m not sure that this is the best time to bring it up, but you may want to start training Hannah to go on the pot. It makes life so much easier once little ones are out of diapers, and Mary may actually be able to help. Younger ones usually want to do all the things their older siblings are doing. I remember Adam practically training Hoss without much help from me.”
Kate clamped her lips together and brought her hand up to her mouth, working hard to cover the smile that was determined to take control of her face. The ease at which Ben could discuss such things about his grown sons, struck her as very amusing.
Taking a deep breath, “Ben, I have so much to learn about raising children.”
Interpreting her body language as concern, he moved beside her on the settee.
“Kate, you are a natural. You’re doing just fine”, kissing her cheek.”
“Thank you. I really do appreciate hearing that from you”, Kate said sincerely. “Ben, there is something that I have been thinking about.”
“You do realize that Christmas is only five weeks away.”
“That doesn’t seem possible, but of course, you’re right.”
“When we moved to Nevada, Christmas was mostly about being thankful that we had each other for John and I. The money was always tight, so we didn’t do much with gifts, but we invited our neighbors in for Christmas dinner. When I was young and when John and I were first married, we had a big family get-together, the women shared lots of baked goods and the men often gave carved or hand-built wooden things. How do you and the boys celebrate Christmas?”
“Well, on Christmas eve, the boys will go and cut a tree. We’ll move the blue chair and set it up to the side of the fireplace. We’ll get a roaring fire going, decorate the tree with ribbons and candles, and this year maybe Mary will have the honor of placing the angel on top”, Ben shared with anticipation.
Kate smiled and then grew thoughtful.
“Kate, is something wrong?”
“Oh, I was just wondering how much Mary remembers about Christmas from last year.”
Ben put his arm around Kate and drew her in close, “We will do our best to make some wonderful new memories.”
“Hannah down…Hannah down”, she said pounding on her tray.
“Never a dull moment these days! You stay put”, Ben said looking at Kate and tapping her leg. “Coming Hannah.”
In town, Joe and Mary walked up to the telegraph office.
“Good afternoon, Mister Hank”, Mary chimed in.
“Mister Hank”, Joe spluttered and giggled.
Mary frowned, pulled her leg back and kicked Joe in the shin with all her might.
“Hey, there”, grabbing Mary by the shoulder. “That’ll be enough of that.”
“Gotta a little spitfire on your hands”, Hank said, wide-eyed with surprise. “Better keep an eye on her!”
“Yeah, I’ll do that”, giving Mary a stern look. “Do you have a telegram for us, Hank?”
“Here you go. Adams County Courthouse, Decatur, Indiana. That what you’re looking for?”
“That’s the one. Thanks!”, using the paper to tip his goodbye.
Joe urged Mary on down the boardwalk, then stopped.
“What was that about?”
“I was nice to Mister Hank. You laughed.”
“Well, yeah, but you still don’t kick people!”
Had his father been privy to this interaction, he would not have been surprised that Joe’s free-wheeling laughter got him into trouble. And though Mary’s reaction was entirely inappropriate, Ben might have thought there was some justice in it for all the times that Joe’s temper-induced actions played out in similar fashion.
“Let’s see what the wire says. Mary Katherine Calhoun, that’s you, born March 31, 1865. That makes you four years old last March. Hannah Fiona Calhoun, born January 14, 1867. Wow, Hannah will be three right after the New Year. Well, now we know when to celebrate your birthdays.”
“Presents!”, Mary’s eyes gleamed.
“Yeah, but Hannah’s is first. Yours is a ways off. Alright, let’s go. I need to pick up something at the general store.”
“Afternoon, Mr. Watson.”
“Afternoon, Joe. Who’s this you have with you?”
“This is Kate’s niece, Mary Calhoun. Mary this is MISTER WATSON.”
“Good afternoon, MISTER WATSON.”
“Afternoon, Mary. What a nice young lady you are.”
Mary smiled at the man behind the counter.
“Yeah, well, did those shells I ordered come in?”, Joe asked.
“Yes they did. I just have to run to the back and get them.”
Mary moved toward the candy display in the window, her eyes sparkling with delight. She ran back to Joe and yanked on his sleeve.
“I dont’ think so. You weren’t nice a little while ago. No, no candy.”
“Saying ‘sorry’ just to get something you want isn’t really being sorry!”, Joe said firmly.
No sooner were the words out of his mouth, “Oh my gosh! I sound just like Pa!”, he thought with surprise.
Mary was standing there, her head hanging low. Suddenly, all the times that Joe had begged his pa for candy and been told ‘no’ because he had done who knows what, came flooding into his mind.
“Alright, one piece”, Joe relented.
Mary ran back to the window to finalize her decision.
“Sorry that took so long. The box got pushed behind something.”, Watson apologized.
“No problem. And we’ll need ONE piece of whatever Mary decides”, Joe replied.
“What would like, Mary?”, Watson asked.
Pointing to the peppermint sticks, “Please?”
“Figures she’d choose the stickiest option”, Joe muttered.
“That will be ten dollars, please.”
“And one cent”, Joe added.
“Oh, I think I can just throw that in”, Watson said, smiling at Mary. “Have a good day!”
Joe looked at Mary happily licking her stick of candy with mixed feelings, “Uh, yeah, thanks. You too.”
They stepped outside the store. Totally absorbed with her candy, Joe guided Mary down the boardwalk to where Cochise was tied.
“Can’t wait to see what my jacket looks like by the time we get home”, a disgruntled Joe said to himself.
Several times during the ride home, Mary leaned down and patted Cochise on the neck. She felt big and important riding in front of Joe. Joe, on the other hand, was just looking forward to getting back home.
“I think I’d rather dig post holes on a hot summer day, than take care of kids”, he thought as they rode along.
When they finally trotted up to the ranch house, Jamie was coming out of the barn on his way to the pump, busy with evening chores.
“Hi Jamie”, Mary shouted, her leg already over the saddle horn and sliding down.
Joe grabbed her arm just in time, and lowered by her hands, arms extended over her head.
“Hey little girl, you need to careful!”, he scolded.
Mary ran toward Jamie with no regard for Joe’s remark.
“You’re welcome, Mary!”, Joe called, shaking his head, having sacrificed his afternoon for her.
“Hey Mary”, Jamie greeted her.
“Jamie, can I feed the chickens?”, she asked.
“Sure you can. I was saving that for you!”
Mary smiled and watched him fill the water bucket and followed him back into the barn.
Ben had been puttering around in the barn, and heard their voices.
“Well, Mary, did you have a good afternoon?”
“Yep, I got candy!”
“Oh you did, did you. Aren’t you a lucky lit…young lady.”, Ben said, catching himself before becoming the next recipient of one of Mary’s trademark scowls. “Have fun feeding the chickens.”
“And Joseph, how was your afternoon?”, meeting him on the porch.
“Painful and sticky! Hey, I thought you were watching Hannah!”
“Kate decided she was feeling well enough to be up and about. And thanks to you, Hannah has been down for a lengthy nap.”
Joe frowned. “So I give up my whole day to kids so you can do whatever you want”, under his breath.
“So what’s this about a painful…and sticky afternoon?”
“Our SWEET little Miss Mary hauled off and kicked me in the shin while we were standing in front of the telegraph office! Get that, right there in front of everybody!”
“Really…just like that…out of the blue…for no reason whatsoever, Mary kicked you?”, Ben asked with raised eyebrows.
“Well, I kinda laughed at her for the way she greeted Hank.”
“Kind of laughed?”
“Ok, ok. It struck me funny when she called him ‘Mister Hank’.”
“Sounds like the two of you bring out the best in each other”, Ben chuckled. And how many times, Joseph, have I warned you about such things. It’s a good thing I wasn’t there. I would have been tempted to kick your backside! So that covers the painful. I assume that the sticky has something to do with candy.”
“Yeah, well, I had to stop at the general store, and Mary begged for some candy. At first, I was mad and told her ‘no’. Then she said she was sorry, but I told her…”
“Yes, Joseph. What did you tell Mary?”
“I told her that saying your sorry just to get something you want isn’t really being sorry! But I felt bad because I remembered all the times you didn’t let me have candy, so I let her get one piece, and she made a sticky mess of it. There. Are you happy now?”
Ben choked back his laughter. “So you really did hear what I was saying all those years ago, and your still feeling sorry for yourself?”, he asked looking smug.
Joe grunted and went to take care of Cochise, having his own little a pity party the whole way to the barn.
Ben turned toward the front door, and burst into gales of laughter.
“Ben, what on Earth is so funny?”, Kate asked, giving him an odd look.
“Joseph (laughter)..I think (laughter)…has finally met his match (laughter).”
“What do you mean?”
“He had some issues with Mary in town”, beginning to regain his composure.
“What kind of issues?”, she asked with concern.
“Nothing to worry about, Kate. Let’s just say that Joe got a visit from his past in the form of Mary Calhoun! That’s all.
With Kate back on the duty roster the following day, the boys felt like they had been set free.
Hoss and Joe rose from the breakfast table.
“Gotta get goin’. See you at supper everybody”, said Hoss.
“Can I come”, Mary asked looking hopeful.
“Not today, doll. Got a full day ahead of me.”, patting her dark hair.
“See ya”, Joe added.
“Can I ride Cooch?”, giving Joe a sorrowful look.
“Sorry, darlin’. Can’t do it today. Another time.”
She looked at Jamie.
“You know where I’m goin'”, he said.
Mary dropped her head, then looked up at Ben, who was her last hope for not being stuck in the house all day.
“Sorry, sweetheart. Not today. My business in town requires my full attention. Maybe on Saturday”, Ben said.
Mary did not know what day it was nor did she care. She got up from the table, ran to the settee, flopped face down, and began to wail.
Ben and Kate looked at each other.
“You or me”, he sighed.
“Let me try”, Kate said getting up from the table.
“Mary, I know you want to do things with Hoss, Joe, Jamie, or Uncle Ben, but all of them have work or school. But how about helping me today?”
After a few moments, Mary rolled on her side and wiped her eyes, “What?”
“Do you like secrets?”, she whispered.
“Christmas is coming soon and I have some special Christmas secrets that you can help me with”, she added in hushed tones. “And I also need your help with Hannah?”
Mary gave Kate a questioning look.
“Mary, I know that you can go potty all by yourself. I want you to help teach Hannah to go potty like a big girl, ok?”
She nodded again.
“Good. Thank you. Let’s get Hannah and go upstairs.”
“Well, you certainly made that look easy”, Ben said wiping Hannah’s hands and taking her out of the high chair. “Well, I’m off to town to get the buggy repaired. Not sure if I’ll be back for lunch, so don’t wait on me. Love you”, kissing Kate goodbye.
“Love you, too.”
“Bye, Uncle Ben.”
“Bye, Unca Bin.”
“Hey, Pa”, Hoss said when Ben got to the barn.
“Hoss, your still here.”
“Yeah, I wanted to run somethin’ by ya. I was thinkin’ yesterday while Mary and I were workin’ that she might like a little paint pony for Christmas. I haven’t talked to Joe and Jamie yet, but thought they might chip in toward it.”
“That’s quite a gift for a little girl, Hoss.”
“She really loves horses, Pa, loves watchin’ em, ridin’ em, and just bein’ around em. Anyway, if you think it’s ok, maybe you and Kate would want to get the saddle and all for her.”
“I’ll check with Kate and see what she thinks.”
“K, see ya later.”
Kate’s hopes of making headway on Christmas projects were thwarted by Hannah’s many trips to the potty. Kate brought in a second chamber pot so the two girls could sit side by side. They laughed and were silly together, with the occasional giggle fit bringing success for Hannah, and Mary providing abundant praise.
“I’m not sure this is exactly what Ben had in mind, but if it works and they can be happy, all the better”, Kate said to herself.
With Ginger in the harness and Buck tied on the back, Ben went to town. Though he went to have the buggy repaired, he also planned to do some Christmas shopping. After discussing the repairs with the harness maker, he asked about getting a small saddle and bridle as well. Even if Kate did not want Mary to have a pony for Christmas, Ben was certain he could persuade her to get one for Mary’s birthday in a few months. Later at the general store, Mr. Watson showed Ben a beautiful imported wool shawl.
“That is lovely. It would be perfect for Kate. If I pay you for it, would you mind holding it for me until closer to Christmas?”
“I would be happy to, Mr. Cartwright. Have a nice day!
Then Ben went to the silversmith. He ordered each of the boys silver buckles with a ‘C’ engraved on them. After that he went to see Clara.
“Morning Clara. How are you doing today?”
“Good morning, Ben. I’m fine thank you. What can I do for you?”
“I was wondering if I could schedule an appointment for Kate and the girls for Saturday morning. I would like for you to get them fixed up something nice for Christmas.”
“My goodness, Ben! It’s five weeks til Christmas. The dresses I could make with that much time!”, laughing heartily.
“You’re never going to let me forget about Kate’s wedding dress, are you Clara?”
“All in good fun, Ben. All in good fun. How about ten on Saturday?”
“That should be fine, Clara.”
“Say, Ben, how are you getting along with the little girls?”
“Well, Clara, I am hanging on to the knowledge that the problems of ages 2 and 4 will just be memories at 6 and 8.”
“Ah, yes, but then you will soon have a whole new set of problems. There are days when I feel like I need to keep a switch in my hand to beat back all the boys that come calling for Carrie.”
“She is a very good looking young woman, Clara.”
“You just wait Ben, that day will be here before you know it. And you have two girls to be concerned about.”
“Clara, you’re supposed to encourage me, not discourage me! Guess I’ll just have to keep a shotgun handy while I’m sitting in my rocking chair on the porch!”
“That would be a sight! Ben Cartwright in a rocker with a shotgun across his lap!”, their laughter filling her shop.
“See you Saturday, Clara.”
“Have a good day, Ben.”
Later that evening when Ben and Kate had slipped into bed, he asked, “So how did things go with Hannah today?”
“Well, there was lots of laughing and giggling with limited success. Somehow I can’t imagine your boys carrying on so.”
“Oh, you might have been surprised. I can remember some very funny target practice sessions that had absolutely nothing to do with guns”, he chuckled.
Kate almost choked in her laughter, embarrassed by the thought of it.
“On a more serious note, Hoss asked me today about getting Mary a little pony for Christmas. How do you feel about that, Kate?”
“That seems awfully extravagant for a four year old. Mary’s not old enough to really care for a pony and someone would always have to be with her. I don’t know, Ben.”
“I understand your concerns, but I also think that she would quickly accept the responsibility, even at her age, because she really does love horses. Hoss picked up on that right away. He has always had a soft place in his heart for animals, from the time he was very young. It’s good hard work caring for an animal. Mary has lots of energy and enjoys being outside. She may not be the type that wants to be inside learning to cook and sew.”
“Alright, Ben, if you think it can work. I can’t say that I don’t have reservations.”
“It will be something Hoss and Mary can do together. I’ll let him know he can go ahead and find a pony. I believe it will work out. So moving on to a lighter topic, I want to take you and the girls to town on Saturday. I made an appointment with Clara for ten o’clock. I would like the three of you to have new dresses for Christmas.”
“Ben, that’s lovely”, kissing him sweetly. “I am sure the girls will be excited to have a pretty dress for the holiday.”
“I thought all of you might enjoy that”, he said turning down the lamp. “But right now, I’m thinking a little more about UNdress”, he whispered in her ear.
Saturday morning, Ben, Kate and the girls drove into Virginia City in the surrey. Mary and Hannah were fidgety, anxious to know more about the pretty Christmas dresses that Kate and Ben had talked about. He dropped them off at Clara’s right at ten.
“I want to go check on the buggy. Be back in an hour”, giving each of his girls a kiss on the cheek as he helped them out of the surrey.
“Thanks, Ben. Come on girls. Let’s go see Clara.”
Clara was helping a woman as they entered the shop.
“Good morning, Kate…Mary… and”
“Hannah. This is Hannah, Clara.”
“Hannah. Aren’t you a little doll. I’ll be with you in just a few minutes. Please have a look around.”
When Clara finished with the previous patron, she approached Kate.
“All right now, Kate, do you have any ideas about what you would like for material? Green is always a good color for Christmas and you would look marvelous in it. Do you want all three dresses from the same material…”
As Ben was driving down the street to the harness maker, he heard a shout.
“Mr. Cartwright. Oh, Mr. Cartwright.”
He pulled the horses to a stop. It was Hank, the telegraph operator, running him down.
“I’ve got a telegram for you. I think you’ll want to read it right away.”
“Thanks, Hank”, reaching for the paper. “Why it’s from Adam. Coming home for Christmas, if you will have us. Plan to arrive 12-23”, he read. “If we’ll have them. Well, of course, we’ll have them! Hank, wire back and say, ‘looking forward to your arrival on 12-23. Can’t wait to see you.’ Thanks, Hank!”, handing him a dollar. It’s going to be a wonderful Christmas!”
About an hour later, Ben stopped back at Clara’s.
“So, how are things going? Did you make your choices and get measured?”, he asked Mary.
“Not telling. It’s a secret”, she said, then clamping her lips tightly together.
“Pitty dess”, Hannah chimed.
“Shh, Hannah. Member, it’s a secret”, holding her finger to her lips”, Mary reminded her sister.
Kate and Clara looked at each other and laughed.
“Well, I guess I’ll just have to wait until Christmas”, Ben said pretending to be hurt.
“Surprises are good!”, Mary piped.
“Yes, they usually are. I was just teasing, Mary. Kate, I’ve got news. Adam and his family are coming home for Christmas!”
“Oh, Ben, that’s wonderful. I know how happy that makes you.”
“You’ll have your whole family together for the holiday. How nice!”, Clara added.
“Yes, it will be very nice. Clara, do you have everything you need from Kate and the girls?”, he said picking up Hannah.
“I believe so, Ben. You all have a good day now.”
“Thanks, Clara. Goodbye”, Kate said, taking Mary by the hand.
As soon as they stepped out the shop door, Mary pulled loose from Kate.
“And where do you think you’re going?”, Ben said taking a couple long strides and grabbing her by the arm.
“To the store”, pointing across the street.
“For one, you are not old enough to cross the street without a grown-up. Number two, we are going to go get some lunch at the cafe, not to the store to get candy”, Ben said giving her a hard look.
Mary wondered how Ben seemed to know what she was thinking, never having mentioned anything about candy.
“Uh, Ben, I will need to stop by the store after lunch and pick up a few things”, Kate added.
“That’s fine, but right now I’m hungry, and I bet little Miss Hannah is, too.”
Ben chuckled, “She’s talking more every day, Kate. For better or worse, most of it seems to involve food.”
Late that afternoon, Hoss stopped at the Davis ranch. He had heard in town that they had a few small ponies for sale. Hoss knocked on the door of the ranch house.
“Afternoon, Miz Davis.”
“Well, Hoss Cartwright, it’s been a long time since you’ve come calling at our ranch. What brings you here?”
“Miz Davis, I was hopin’ to talk to your husband about the little ponies you have for sale?”
“Why sure, Hoss. I believe he’s in the barn. The ponies are in a little corral over yonder. You go on and have a look. I’ll go and get Herm.”
“Thank you, Miz Davis. I’ll do that.”
When Hoss rounded the barn, he found a small corral with six little ponies: two brown ones, one each black, red and white, and one black and white paint. The paint pony was tearing around, giving the others no peace.
“Oh brother, that’s all we need is a pony that acts just like Mary.”
“Hoss, it’s good to see you”, Davis said, offering his hand. “All that good horse flesh on the Ponderosa, and you’re here looking at these little things. Whatever for?”
“Well Mr. Davis, we’ve got two little gals living with us now, and me and my brothers thought we might give the older one a pony for Christmas.”
“Really, children? I heard your pa got remarried, but I didn’t know there were children involved. Isn’t your pa kind of old for that?”
“The gals aren’t Kate’s, that’s Pa’s wife. Anyway the little gals are her nieces. They lost their folks in a fire.”
“Oh, sorry to hear that. Guess a man shouldn’t jump to conclusions.”
“That’s alright. So that little black and white paint, is he as ornery as he looks?”
“Ever had a saddle on him?”
“Naw, never have. A lot of these little guys end up pulling carts; so we don’t usually mess with saddles.”
“Mary would love a black and white paint; she thinks the world of Joe’s paint. How much would ya want for him.”
“Usually ask forty bucks, but since he’s a bit of a pest, I’d let you have him for thirty. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds alright, but here’s my problem. It’s gonna be a surprise Christmas gift, so I can’t take him back with me. I’d throw in the extra ten if you can hang on to him til the day before Christmas.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Ok if I rope him and have a closer look?”
“Help yourself”, handing Hoss a rope that was hanging over the fence post.
Hoss stepped in the corral. He managed to get a rope on the pony on his second attempt. The little paint bucked and reared, fighting the rope for all he was worth. Hoss spoke calmly to him, gradually pulling him in as the fight in the little pony waned.
“There you go little fella. That’s better”, trying to lead the pony in a small circle. “See I’m not gonna hurt ya. Ya gotta get used to people, cause I know a little gal that wants ta ride ya real soon.”
After a few minutes of trotting in a circle, Hoss loosened the rope and let the pony slip out.
“You made that look easy. I can see you’ve got a good way with animals”, Davis commented.
“Thank ya. Would ya mind if I stop by once in a while and work with him a little between now and Christmas, just to maybe get him used ta people and calmed down a bit.”
“Wouldn’t mind a bit. I think you’ve bought yourself a pony, Hoss. Hope he works out for you.”
“Yeah, me, too, Mr. Davis”, handing him forty dollars and then shaking his hand. “Probably see ya again in a few days. Thanks!”
“Glad to do business with you. See you again real soon.”
That evening, after the girls were in bed, all the adults and Jamie were relaxing in the living room.
“I already told Joe and Jamie, but I found a pony for Mary at the Davis ranch today. He’s a black and white paint, cute little thing, but feisty”, Hoss related to Ben and Kate.
“Oh, Hoss, are you sure about this?”, asked a worried Kate.
“Mr. Davis is keeping it until right before Christmas, but I’m going to stop over and work with the pony, see if he won’t settle down a mite before we give him to Mary.”
“Don’t worry, Kate. Hoss has worked with many a fiery horse, I’m sure he can handle a little pony”, Ben assured.
“Gosh, if Mary loves this pony half as much as she does Cochise, that should be one happy pony”, Joe added.
“Yeah, I can’t wait to see Mary’s face when she see him. Pa, I’m gonna need a saddle soon, so that this little fella can get used to it early on.”
“I’ll see to it, Hoss.”
“This is gonna be fun. Wish me luck. Well, I’m goin’ to bed. Night everybody.”
“Good luck and goodnight.”
Segments of Clement Moore’s poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” are included in this chapter.
The weeks flew by more quickly than Ben and Kate would have ever imagined. They were busy with many holiday preparations which just seemed to take longer with two little girls ‘helping.’ Yet in those weeks, Hannah conquered the potty, much to everyone’s relief. And so, the twenty-third of December came; Adam’s family was due to arrive that afternoon. Usually the entire family went to town to greet arriving visitors, but Kate decided not ride into town with Ben and the boys.
“You don’t think they will mind if the girls and I wait to greet them until they get to the ranch, do you, Ben?”
“Not at all. Believe me, if anyone would understand, it would be Adam and Cecille.”
And so, the Cartwright men were waiting in front of the stage office when Adam, Cecille, Benji and Elizabeth arrived in Virginia City that afternoon. There were hugs and kisses all around as they exited the stagecoach.
“It’s so good to see all of you”, patting Benji on the head and giving Elizabeth a squeeze. Let’s get you into the surrey. Adam, is all this yours?”, Ben asked.
“We came bearing gifts”, Adam replied, giving Cecille a sly grin.
“Didn’t you go a little overboard? Good thing I rode Buck!”, commented Ben.
“Pa, we’re just so happy to be here”, Adam said, his wife giving him an uncertain look.
When they reached the ranch, Kate had hugs and kisses for Adam and his family.
“Adam and Cecille, I would like you to meet my nieces, Mary and Hannah Calhoun.”
It’s very nice to meet you, Mary and Hannah”, said Adam.
“Nice to meet you, Mister Adam”, said Mary.
“You can just call me Adam. Mary and Hannah these are my children, Benji and Elizabeth.”
“Hi”, Benji waved.
“Hi”, Mary waved back.
It took several trips upstairs to unload all the luggage. By the time Adam and Cecille had sorted and unpacked, it was time for supper. Benji and Elizabeth were playing with Mary and Hannah in the girls’ room when Ben called everyone to the table.
“Time for supper”, he shouted from the bottom of the stairs.
Suddenly, a thunderous herd came running to the stairs.
“Whoa there. Easy now. Let’s not have any accidents. We need everyone in one piece for supper”, Ben warned, his arms out signaling them to slow down. “Goodness, it’s been a long time since I’ve had that kind of response to calling children to the table”, turning to Hoss and Joe.
“We can go up and ran down the stairs if you’d like, Pa”, Joe said with a smirk.
“Very funny, Joseph!”
Once they were all seated at the table, Ben looked at his family with pride.
“I am a very blessed man, and thankful we are all together.”
“It’s good to be home, Pa”, Adam said sincerely.
“Alright, let’s get started before we’re all crying and ruin those wonderful mashed potatoes”, said Hoss with a grin.
Everyone enjoyed a good laugh, and there were many more before the evening ended.
Early on the morning of Christmas eve, Hoss rode out to the Davis ranch to get the pony. The trip home took a while since he was a very small pony, but as Hoss told Mr. Davis, he was ‘cute as the dickens.’ When he got back, Hoss stopped behind the barn to make sure that Mary was no where around, and then quickly put the pony inside. Jamie was under strict orders not to let Mary help with chores this evening or Christmas morning. The trick was going to be convincing her not to without tipping their hand or having to deal with tantrums. For now, the little pony was safely hidden in the barn.
The ranch house was a busy place with the addition of Adam’s family. Though Hop Sing had his work cut out for him, Kate persuaded him to give herself and Cecille some time in the kitchen for baking cookies with the children. It was an extremely messy operation, and it resulted in some interesting looking gingerbread men, but very happy, allbeit sticky, children. The cookies would also go on the tree with the ribbons and candles, however, Kate and Cecille agreed that it would be after the children were in bed.
By mid-afternoon, there were snowflakes in the air, adding to the enchantment of the season. Hoss and Joe got the wagon ready to get the tree. Kate and Cecille bundled up Mary and Benji for their adventure. So when the wagon pulled out, Benji was sitting between Hoss and Adam, Jamie and Joe were on their horses, with Mary sitting proudly on Cochise in front of Joe. They laughed and joked and sang “Jingle Bells, and “Over the River and Through the Woods”, as the wagon rolled along. Everyone was in high spirits. A grove of fir trees stood about two miles from the house; so it took about a half an hour to get there.
“Adam, it’s been a long time since you’ve picked out the tree; so I guess it would be your turn this year”, said Hoss.
“Well, I think we have two expert Christmas tree ‘picker outers’ in our presence today; Miss Mary Calhoun and Master Benjamin Cartwright”, Adam announced in his best formal speaking voice. “Thank you very much, Hoss, but I will defer to the experts.”
The boys laughed at their brother. Hoss and Joe had missed Adam’s silly formality. Taking Benji and Mary by the hand, Adam ran them through the grove.
“What sayst thou fair maiden and good master? Shall it be this fine specimen or that one there? This one or that one”, running from tree to tree.
Accustomed to his dramatic ways, Benji just laughed at his father, but Mary eyed Adam strangely not knowing at times what he was saying.
After running about, Adam feigned exhaustion and said, “OK, Mary, which tree do you like?”
Mary looked around and pointed to the tallest tree she saw.
“That one?”, Adam said putting his hand above his eyes and looking skyward. “Um, well, we do need to be able to get it in the house. How about a wee bit smaller.”
Mary looked around and pointed to a more reasonably sized tree.
“That one”, she said.
“And what sayst thou, Master Cartwright? Are you in agreement with the fair maiden?”, he asked shaking his head vehemently up and down and rolling his eyes back in his head.
Benji laughed and pointed to the same tree.
“Hoss, my good man, present the saw.”
Jamie grabbed the other handle on the saw, and the tree came down in short order. Joe and Hoss loaded it in the wagon and they headed for home.
Joe made sure to drop Mary off by the porch when they got back to the house. He did not want her to even think about going to the barn.
“Congratulations, Miss”, pretending to kiss Mary’s hand. Congratulations, Sir”, shaking Benji’s hand. “You have just completed your very first Christmas tree expedition. Now let’s go get some hot chocolate!”, Adam shouted and shooed them into the house.
Hoss carried the tree inside and set it in the stand, holding it firmly while Joe tightened the bolts, the scent of evergreen filling the room.
“Oh, it’s a lovely tree”, said Kate.
“You can thank Miss Mary and Master Benjamin for the selection of the tree”, said Adam.
“You did a fine job, Mary and Benji. Fine job!”, Ben affirmed.
“Time for hot chocolate”, Hop Sing said carrying a tray full of steaming, fragrant cups.
“Mmmmm, mmmmm, that smells good!”, said Hoss.
They were enjoying their hot chocolate when two sleepy-eyed girls appeared at the top of the stairs, the happy commotion waking them from their naps. Elizabeth looked at Cecille and Hannah looked at Kate, both trying to understand why there was a tree in the house.
Supper was a noisy, happy affair. After that, the decorating began. Kate and Cecille had made many red ribbon bows to put on the tree and the men were responsible for placing the candle holders and candles. Then it was time to put the angel on top.
Ben and Kate looked at each other, knowing that the placing of the angel could be a problem.
“Maybe Benji and Mary could put the angel on together, what do you say kids?” asked Ben with a hopeful smile.
“Sure”, said Benji.
Mary just shrugged.
“Well let’s try. Adam, Hoss hoist them up.”
Ben handed Benji the angel, holding it so Mary could grab on to it as well.
“Ok, here you go. Be careful boys.”
Together Benji and Mary managed to get the angel on top of the tree, only slightly off kilter. Everyone clapped and cheered.
Then Kate and Cecile placed the skirt around the base, and the tree was complete, all but the gingerbread men, of course.
“Time to hang your stockings children”, Kate said, holding up four red socks with names embroidered on them.
Mary and Benji were just able to reach the hooks that hung at each end of the mantle by standing on the base of the fireplace.
Adam helped Elizabeth and Ben helped Hannah hang their stockings.
“Alright, now it’s story time! Come sit down and I’ll tell you a story”, Ben said motioning them to the settee.
Benji, Elizabeth, Mary, and Hannah sat lined up on the settee and Ben in his chair.
So Ben began in his rich, resonate voice,
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there…
…He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!”
By the time Ben completed the poem, Elizabeth and Hannah were sleepily leaning on their siblings.
“I think it’s time for bed”, Kate said picking up Hannah.
Ben gave them all hugs and kisses.”
“Night kids. Sleep well”, came from across the group.
Adam kissed Elizabeth’s cheek and the top of Benji dark hair as they passed by on their way upstairs.
It took some time but eventually Kate and Cecille came back downstairs once the children were tucked in bed, their excitement for the next day hindering their cooperation. Then the ladies began hanging the gingerbread men on the tree, minus one that Hoss snatched.
“Shoo now”, Kate playfully scolded. “These are for tomorrow!”
“Just had to make sure ya weren’t poisonin’ anybody”, Hoss laughed.
Kate gave him a stern look that broke into a hearty laugh.
“Git”, Ben motioned, looking like Pa from days gone by.
When the decorating was complete, it was time to bring out the gifts, which began appearing from all over the house and storeroom.
Finally, Kate put a few pieces of penny candy and an orange in each stocking.
The Cartwrights stood back and admired the tree and the many gifts.
Adam slipped his arm around his lovely dark-haired wife and kissed her cheek.
“It’s been a full day, and tomorrow all the more. I think we’ll head to bed. Goodnight all”, he said taking her elbow and leading her up the stairs.
“Goodnight. Rest well. Pleasant dreams”, the others added.
“Well, I need to check on the little fella in the barn before turning in”, Hoss said heading toward the kitchen.
Ben moved Kate toward the settee, sat down and put his arm around her.
“I think I’ll call it a night”, Joe said sensing that Ben and Kate wanted some time alone in front of the fire.
“Me, too. Night.”, said Jamie ducking into the bedroom off the dining room, having given Adam and his family, his room upstairs.
“Well, now, that worked out nicely”, said Ben, then gently kissing Kate.
She snuggled into his shoulder and laced her fingers into the hand over her shoulder. They sat watching the flames dance, reveling in the peaceful, quiet moment.
Out in the barn, Hoss was petting the pony. After several training sessions, which included putting on a small saddle with some sandbags for added weight, the pony was much calmer and used to Hoss. He would just have to take things slowly with Mary, which would most likely be more of a challenge than training the pony.
“Brought ya a little somethin’, boy”, offering the pony a piece of carrot. “Hop Sing will never miss it”, he smiled. “Well, tomorrow’s the big day. Wonder what she’ll name ya? Sleep good little fella”, ruffling the pony’s mane.
Hoss saw that Kate and Ben were still sitting in front of the fire; so he quietly turned down some of the lamps, ducked his head, went to the stairs.”
Ben tipped Kate’s chin and brought his lips to hers.
“Kate, this magical time of year…this moment in time…being here with you…having my whole family together under one roof…the love that is in this house…”, his voice faded, overcome with emotion.
“I know, Ben…I know. It’s about as close to heaven as we get here on earth”, her green eyes glistening in the firelight as she looked into his dark eyes.
They sat in the glow of the fire for a long time, savoring the precious moments, then finally climbed the stairs and retired for the evening.
Early Christmas morning, four children crept down the stairs toward the tree. Their eyes were wide with surprise when they spied all of the gifts that had miraculously appeared over night. Jamie heard little voices and came out of the bedroom off the dining room.
“Hey you kids. What are you doing up so early”, he whispered. “You’d think it was Christmas or something. Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas, Uncle Jamie”, said Benji.
“Merry Christmas, Jamie”, added Mary.
“Merwee Kissmus”, Elizabeth chimed in.
Hannah just looked confused, not knowing what her sister’s name and something called ‘Christmas’ meant. The kids moved quickly to the gifts.
“Unh Unh. Don’t touch. Not until after Christmas dinner”, Jamie reminded them.
“Awwww”, said Benji.
“That’s the way it works”, Jamie said, not backing down.
‘Look! The stockings!”, Benji pointed toward the fireplace.
There was a piece of stick candy poking out of each sock. He ran to the right side of the mantle.
“Yours are over there”, Benji told Mary and Hannah, pointing to the opposite end.
“I know”, said Mary, glaring at Benji. She might not have been able to read the names on the stockings, but her memory was quite good, especially when it came to candy. She gave Hannah her stocking and then took down her own.
“E…L…I…Z…A…B…E…T…H. Here Elizabeth, this one is yours”, handing his sister her stocking. “B…E…N…J…A…M…I…N, and this one is mine”, he said.
Benji was still four, but would turn five in February. He was a bright boy with a thirst for learning, much the same as his father when he was a child. Benji knew all his letters and numbers and could even read some words.
By the time “Merry Christmas” greetings could be heard coming from upstairs, the children were well into their candy. Soon the rest of the household appeared downstairs, providing Jamie with reinforcements for keeping the children out of the gifts. Hop Sing came from the kitchen with trays of sweet rolls, glasses of milk, and cups of coffee. They would have a casual breakfast since there would be much feasting later. After eating, Jamie sneaked out through the kitchen to do the morning chores. With so much activity in the house, Mary did not miss him. Then everyone dispersed to get cleaned up and dressed in their holiday attire.
Gradually the men appeared downstairs, handsomely dressed in their suits. Adam looked especially distinguished in his black suit, charcoal gray vest, white shirt and red ascot tie. Benji also looked sharp in his gray knee pants, white shirt, red vest, and tie. Around eleven, the ladies and girls came downstairs. One would have thought that Kate and Cecille had communicated weeks ahead. Cecille and Elizabeth wore gold satin with dark green sashes, while Kate, Mary, and Hannah were in dark green satin and gold sashes. Both the husbands greeted their wives with holiday kisses. Ben dropped down on one knee before Mary and Hannah.
“Girls, your dresses are beautiful! They are a wonderful surprise.”
Mary did a little twirl for him. Not to be outdone by her sister, Hannah gave a twirl as well.
“Very pretty, girls. You look marvelous!”, Ben chuckled. “I think it’s time for some carols. Adam would you lead us, please?”
“Sure, Pa. O come all ye, faithful”, he began in his beautiful baritone voice, and the others quickly joined in.
Elizabeth and Hannah were enthralled by the music that filled the room.
“And how about ‘Silent Night’ “, Ben requested.
At the completion of the final strain, Ben asked them all to have a seat for the reading of the Christmas story. He took the family Bible from the shelf and turned to the Book of Luke.
Ben began to read chapter two of Luke,” ‘In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus…’ ”
As he finished the reading, Hop Sing carried platters of turkey and ham from the kitchen. Next there were bowls of mashed potatoes, carrots, beets, and a large basket of bread. The family moved to the table with great anticipation for a sumptuous meal. Adam volunteered to pour the wine.
When Adam was seated, Ben asked them to join hands for the blessing of the food.
“Lord, we thank for this blessed day, our family, our home, and for this food that you have graciously provided. Amen.”
The feast commenced with a chorus of ‘Amens’. And when they thought it was not possible to eat one more bite, Hop Sing brought out a beautiful, flaming plum pudding. However, the children quickly grew antsy after dessert.
‘I believe it’s time to open presents”, Ben said looking intently at each child.
They cheered, hopped off their chairs and ran to the tree, except for Hannah who had to be helped out of the high chair. The adults moved to the living room and handed out gifts to the children. There was paper and ribbon flying through the air as presents were hastily unwrapped. With all the noise, Hoss, Joe, and Jamie slipped out to the barn unnoticed.
Much to Mary’s delight, one of her gifts was a pair of riding boots.
Mary hugged her boots, “For riding Cochise!”, looking for Joe among the crowd.
“No, Mary. Those go with something outside”, Ben motioned with his head.
Mary looked confused and a bit sad.
“Go on. Have a look outside.”
She ran to the door, pulled it open, and stopped dead in her tracks. There standing just off the porch were Hoss, Joe, Jamie, and the little paint pony that was wearing a tiny saddle. Mary looked at the boys and bolted toward the pony. Joe intercepted her. The pony jumped at Mary’s sudden movement, but Hoss held him with a firm grip.
“Hey now, Mary. I know you are excited, but you can’t run at an animal like that. You need to meet him slowly”, Joe said putting her down, the rest of the family now assembled on the porch.
Mary reached out calmly and rubbed the pony’s nose.
“That’s better, Mary. Just be gentle. You two need to get to know each other.”, Hoss encouraged. “Whatcha gonna call him?”
“Patches”, she said proudly, Joe having told her once that Cochise looked like patches of black and white.
“That’s sounds like a good name for a pony”, Ben called.
“Ok, Joe, just set her on top real easy like.”, said Hoss.
Joe picked her up and carefully put her in the saddle. The pony flinched, but did not buck.
“Alright, hold on now.”
Mary gripped the saddle horn as Hoss led the pony in a small circle in front of the house. The smile on Mary’s face said it all. She was in love, reaching over to pat the pony’s neck.
Kate did not realize until she saw Mary’s smile, that she had been holding her breath, She released a sigh and gave Ben a look of relief. Ben smiled and gave her a squeeze.
Benji, still holding the book and toy horse he had just opened, watched the delighted Mary circling about on her pony and dropped his head. Adam placed his hand on his son’s shoulder and gave him an understanding look.
After a few rounds, Hoss brought them to a stop back at the porch. Adam whispered in Benji’s ear, and took the book and horse from him. Benji walked up to the pony and reached out to pet its nose. Mary reached out to block his arm.
“Whoa there, Mary. I know Patches is your pony, but think of the times I let you ride Cochise? I think you need to share, too”, Joe reminded her.
Mary held tight to the tiny saddle horn when Joe tried to lift her out of the saddle.
“Come on, now. There’ll be lots of other times you can ride him”, Joe added.
This time when Joe pulled her up out of the saddle, Mary threw her arms around him and squeezed tight. Then she reached for Jamie, who was a bit embarrassed to have a little girl hanging around his neck in front of a crowd of people. And last, she put her arms out to Hoss.
“You’re welcome, doll. You just be good to him and let others have a turn once in a while, ok?”
Mary nodded and ran to Ben, who picked her up and gave her a hug. All this time Benji had been standing there petting Patches.
“Ok Benji, You’re up next”, Joe said lifting him into the saddle.
Ben whispered to Mary, “I know it’s hard to let the others take a turn. Thank you for not making a big fuss”, kissing her cheek.
Hoss circled Patches and a beaming Benji for a few rounds, and then brought him back to the porch.
After Joe lifted him out of the saddle, Benji ran to his father, looked up and gave him a wide grin.
Adam then gave his brothers a grateful nod, which they all returned warmly.
“You know, it’s cold out here. Let’s get back inside. There are still more gifts to open!”, Ben ordered cheerfully.
As the others went inside, Hoss and Patches headed for the barn.
“Ya done me proud, little fella”, reaching in his pocket and giving the pony a piece of carrot.
Once Hoss returned from the barn, the adults began opening their gifts.
Adam pulled his father away from the chaos for a moment and handed him a long flat package.
“Here, Pa, this is for you, from Cecille and I.”
“Thank you, Adam.”
Ben tore back the paper wrapping. It was a painting of a harbor with many large vessels in the water.
“What a beautiful painting, Adam. Thank you very much!”
“It’s Boston harbor, Pa. We wanted you to have it, because you may not get to Boston to see it.”
“What do you mean, Adam? Kate and I would love to visit you some time. I don’t understand.”
“Pa, my firm appointed me to open a west coast office. That’s the reason we brought so much with us. I was hoping that Cecille and the children could stay here until we can be settled in San Francisco…Pa?”
“Yes. Sorry. I’m just in shock. I just never thought you would come back to this side of the country. Of course, you can stay as long as you need. That’s wonderful, Adam! Wonderful! I am so happy for you! And for us, because you will be so much closer. Oh, that’s great! Just great!”, grabbing him by the shoulders.
“Hey, everyone. I need your attention, everyone. Excuse me…Joe!”, Ben said, catching Joe’s attention and putting his fingers to his mouth to signal a whistle.
Joe let out a shrill whistle and soon all was quiet.
“Please, I would like your attention for a moment. Adam has a very important announcement that you will all be interested to hear.”
Hoss and Joe smirked at each other assuming Adam would announce that Cecille was expecting their third child.
“Well, you are going to have to put up with us for a while after the holidays, because you are looking at the head man of the new west coast office of Shepley, Richardson, and Cartwright, Architects LTD that will be located in San Francisco.”
There were cheers, hand shakes, and congratulations between brothers, and Kate gave Cecille a hug.
“I’m so happy you will be staying on for a time. The children will have so much fun together”, Kate said warmly.
Ben took Elizabeth from Cecille, and motioned for Kate and Hannah to come sit down.
“Benjamin, Mary, come here”, Ben called.
Benji jumped up beside Ben. Mary, having just managed to get her boots on, came running.
“Did you hear that? You children are going to get to spend more time together. Won’t that be fun?” he said, hugging both his grandchildren.
“Hey! Too bad we don’t have a photographer. This would make a great picture. Everybody look this way”, said Joe.
If there had been a photograph taken in the Cartwright living room that Christmas day, it would have captured Joe standing in front of the fireplace, assuming the photographer pose, one hand holding the flash pan and the other the squeeze ball; Ben and Kate sitting together on the settee, Kate holding Hannah, and Ben holding Elizabeth; Adam and Cecile, arm in arm, proudly looking on at their daughter sitting in her grandfather’s lap and their son just to his side; and Hoss with his arm around Jamie’s shoulder, standing next to the tree, pointing at Mary, in her lovely green dress and riding boots, squeezed between Kate and Ben, leaning hard into his chest, just touching Elizabeth, and a scowl on her face.
Still, from Ben and Kate’s perspective, there had never been a better Christmas.
“Merry Christmas, Kate”, he said leaning in for a kiss.
“Merry Christmas, Ben”, tenderly placing her hand on his cheek.
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