Summary: 6th story in The Battle of Wills series. It’s the morning after the events in New Expectations. Ben’s thoughts of the coming baby make him remember Adam’s childhood and Hoss’ early years.
Rating: K+ Word Count=3240
Disclaimer: I don’t own the Cartwrights or Bonanza. No copyright infringement is intended. Original plot and characters are property of the author. This story is for entertainment and no money was made from it.
Reviews from the Old Library are on the last page.
The Battle of Wills Series:
Education is More than 3R’s
The Shadow of Jean deMarigny
A Gift Horse
A Room Full of Memories
A New Pattern
Naming the Newest Cartwright
Presents from the Heart
Big Brother Lessons
Dawn was breaking softly through the bedroom window. Ben lay on his side, watching Marie sleep. She normally plaited her hair into a thick braid before coming to bed, but with all the excitement from yesterday’s race, and Adam’s injuries, and the doctor’s announcement that she was with child, she had completely forgotten. The morning light made her hair appear to be a golden halo cascading across the pillow, framing her angelic face.
Ben smiles as he watched her. She was carrying his child. Surely, her condition contributed to her angelic appearance.
Another child in the house. This child would have things that neither Adam nor Hoss had ever known. A settled home at birth, more than two sets of clothes (one to wear and a spare), store-bought toys, and two parents. Ben vowed to give this child everything he could—physically and emotionally.
Ben had been so devastated by the loss of Elizabeth that he threw himself whole-heartedly into seeking his dream. In the process, he had forgotten that Adam was a little boy, not a small adult. Inger had made him realize that Adam was a child. But the boy had had to work just as hard as he or Inger did. And the boy did so without complaint. Putting others’ needs before his own was a trait that Adam shared with his birth mother and Inger.
And then Inger had realized that she was with child. Ben had feared that the rough trip and hard work would harm the baby. Inger had kept assuring him that her mother worked the fields in Sweden through her pregnancy and then she’d given birth to Inger’s brother, Gunnar, after a hard day of plowing. Ben doubted that story, but Inger wouldn’t entertain the suggestion that she do less than anyone else in the wagon train. When she told him that everyone had to do a share of the work, he pointed out that she did more than her fair share.
The night Hoss was born, Ben had been away from the wagon train. He returned to the news that his son had entered the world. Going into the wagon, he found Inger holding the baby and Adam sitting beside her. At the age of six, Adam was already helping to parent Hoss. Someone had to stay with the baby while the other drove the wagon. Inger and Adam swapped places in the wagon on a schedule. The only problem for Ben was that he didn’t know the schedule and neither Inger nor Adam would divulge it.
Ben thought back to that fateful day at Ash Hollow where Inger’s life was taken so brutally. She had again taken more than her fair share of the work upon her shoulders. He was stunned to see an arrow protruding from his love’s back. Adam was holding his infant brother, protecting that precious life, their last link to Inger.
The journey between Ash Hollow and the land Ben would claim for the Ponderosa had been a hard one without a helpmate. Adam helped with driving the team, hunting for food, and taking care of Hoss. At the age of six, Adam had become responsible for helping to take care of a family. Fortunately, Hoss had been a placid, happy baby. The rocking of the wagon encouraged sleeping and he ate eagerly whatever was on hand to feed him once he could chew solid food.
Once Ben had staked his claim, Adam helped to build the cabin in which they would live. While Ben was busy getting title to pieces of land and putting the finishing touches on his dream, Adam was cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, chopping wood, and raising his brother. Ben had become so used to their little family unit that he had forgotten that Adam was a child who should have time for play. There were moments here and there when Adam and Hoss had time for childish games. But those moments were few and far between.
Hiring Hop Sing had been a blessing for all three of them. Hop Sing was a wonderful cook, a kind man, and a hard worker. Ben could still remember the day that Hoss had wrapped his arms around Hop Sing’s waist, pressed his face against the man’s back, and said that the cook was his best friend. Adam had frowned hearing Hoss say that. Ben talked with Adam and explained that Hoss was only two and that the boy liked to eat. Of course the cook was his best friend. Adam had finally admitted that he thought Hoss didn’t need him as much as Hop Sing. Ben told the boy that he would always be Hoss’ older brother and would have many important lessons to teach Hoss about growing up. Those words had comforted Adam and he was again a content boy. But Ben had long since forgotten that his oldest was a boy. He treated the eight-year old as if he were an adult.
In those first years on the Ponderosa, the majority of Ben’s income came from fur trapping. Adam helped to set traps, collect and skin the catches, and process the pelts. Adam took on the role of business partner. He recommended locations to set traps and gave advice on ways to trap more efficiently. The boy experimented with the creation of different types of snares, the majority of which were more effective and less expensive than steel traps.
That first trip to sell furs in New Orleans was taken when Adam was nine. Ben had hated to leave Adam and Hoss behind for several months, but Hop Sing would be there to take care of the boys. When Ben returned four months later, he was surprised that Adam looked older and taller. Hoss had grown too—in both directions. He was tall for his age and chubby. Ben figured that the chubbiness would go away as Hoss grew taller. The boys had been happy to see him come back, but Adam was distant for several weeks. It turned out that he had worried that Ben would like city life so much that he wouldn’t come home. Ben assured his oldest that he would never abandon his boys—and that included Hop Sing.
With part of the money Ben had made from that trip, he bought saws, planes, and other equipment he would need for making lumber. Adam helped chop down trees, saw sections that would be turned into boards, and sand the boards. He helped to mix the mortar and slather it between the boards for insulation. Hoss had helped to mix the mortar, too, and was always covered in mud and lime by the time a batch was finished. Hop Sing grumbled in Chinese as he scrubbed the boy in the lake. Adam worked hard and slept hard. The boy had long since forgotten what fun was since there was no time for him to play.
Some of the money from the trip was used to buy cattle. Ben bought a bull and three cows. He hoped the bull would breed a good herd. When the first calves were born, Hoss named them and wanted to hand raise them. Adam and Hop Sing finally convinced Hoss that the calves were happier in the pasture with their mothers.
With seven cattle, Ben had the beginnings of his herd. Raw timber provided enough money to hire two hands—Bill Palmer from Texas and a Frenchman named Jean de Marigny. Hoss was impressed with Bill’s knowledge of cattle and weather and followed the man when he could. Adam was fascinated by the Frenchman, now known as Johnny, who read literature and could read and write both French and English. Johnny encouraged Adam’s interest in designing and building things. Nothing made the boy happier than being allowed to sketch out building plans or to construct a tool of some sort to improve a specific job.
When Adam was ten, Ben took him to New Orleans with him to sell the furs. Hoss had been upset at first to learn that he would be left behind. Hop Sing soon had the little boy calmed down. Bill promised to teach Hoss how to repair bridles. The day Ben and Adam were to leave, Hoss hugged his father and cried a little. But the little boy’s biggest tears were reserved for his older brother. Adam was sibling, parent, playmate, and teacher for Hoss. The two boys were separated in age by six years but were closer than many siblings separated by fewer years.
Ben and Adam traveled overland in a small wagon to San Francisco. The two camped along the way and talked about the future of the Ponderosa. Adam kept a journal on this trip and often wrote of how much he missed Hoss.
For Ben, this trip with his oldest made him forget even more that Adam was only a boy of ten. Adam had been providing advice on trapping and had been designing buildings for close to two years. His forced maturity made him seem far older than his age. It if weren’t for his baby face, others might have thought Adam older based on his height.
The smell of salt air in San Francisco brought out the sailor in Ben. He proudly shared his knowledge of ships and the sea with his son. Never having met his Grandfather Stoddard, Adam got a deeper appreciation for the man’s chosen career once he and his father were on board and set sail. Ben enjoyed strolling the deck and watching the waves. Adam spent most of his first week sea-sick. By the time they reached New Orleans, Adam had his sea legs but definitely preferred dry land.
New Orleans was unlike any place Adam had ever seen before. St. Louis was the largest city he could remember. So many people of so many colors strolled through the New Orleans on business or pleasure. The sounds of the many languages surprised him. He could pick out some French, thanks to Johnny.
Ben took Adam with him to the fur brokers, banks, and restaurants. In the evenings, Adam stayed in their hotel room and read or drew while Ben socialized. One evening, Ben brought Adam with him to a dinner party. There was a lady there, Linda, who seemed to hang on his father’s every word. Another man at the party, Lord Chadwick, hung on Linda’s every move and word. Adam sat quietly and only spoke if spoken to. Everyone had been impressed by the boy’s maturity and knowledge of both literature and business.
Ben’s pride in his son had been evident to everyone at the party. Some asked where Adam would be educated. Others were already planning matches for the boy, especially since Ben seemed to be on his way to establishing a successful ranch. A couple of times, Ben had caught himself staring at his son, thinking how proud Elizabeth must be of her son. He thought that Inger must be equally proud of the boy who had become her son.
When the time came to leave, Adam was happy to be going home. He missed the open spaces of the Ponderosa, the scarcity of gossiping people, and, most of all, his little brother. Once on board ship, Adam temporarily forgot how ill he was with his constant talk of Hoss and Hop Sing.
Finally reaching home, Adam jumped down from the wagon and ran to his little brother. The two boys hugged tightly for a few minutes before falling to the ground and wrestling. Ben, forgetting that Adam was only a boy, snapped at his son for behaving so immaturely. Then he told his son to put the wagon and team in the barn. The boy’s eyes teared up at his father’s tone of voice, but he went to the wagon and obeyed. Hop Sing had witnessed this incident and he went to Adam and drew the boy into a hug.
Hoss seemed to have grown so much in the four months Adam and Ben had been away. Neither Ben nor Adam could remember Hoss being so tall before they left. Bill and Johnny had taught Hoss a lot about ranching while Ben was away. The boy had even helped to deliver a foal.
Ben was proud of his sons and their contributions to the ranch. He was finally realizing his life-long dream. The only thing missing was a wife to share this with. Ben hoped that someday he would marry again, but assumed that was many years in the future. He sometimes wondered if his sons would be grown with families of their own before he married again.
A sigh from Marie brought Ben out of his memories. He was so lucky to have met and married her. And now his luck had increased with the news of a child on the way. Ben hoped she would have a girl. He loved his sons with all of his heart but wanted a daughter to spoil.
A moan from down the hall caught Ben’s attention. He quietly got out of bed and put on his robe and slippers. Then he padded out into the hall and went into Adam’s room.
In the morning light, he saw Adam lying on the bed, beads of sweat on the boy’s brow. Adam’s right arm was bound to his chest since the shoulder had been dislocated. Going over to the bed, Ben gently placed a firm hand behind his son’s back and gently lifted the boy into a sitting position. With this other hand, Ben took the glass of water from the nightstand and placed it to Adam’s lips. The boy drank a few swallows and then Ben put the glass back on the nightstand and laid Adam back down.
Adam opened his eyes and looked at his father. Ben was looking down at him with concern in his eyes. “Pa?”
“Is there really gonna be a baby?”
“Yes. Your mother is expecting.”
Adam moaned but Ben assumed it was from pain. “Do you need some of Hop Sing’s tea?”
After a lengthy pause, Adam said “I want to go live with Grandfather.”
“You’ll be busy when the baby comes. I’ll just be in the way.”
“You’re never in the way, Adam. We’ll all be busy when the baby arrives.”
“Hoss can be a big brother to the baby. I can be of help to Grandfather.”
“You’ll be a big help to us here. Why do you really want to go live with your grandfather?”
Adam plucked at the covers with the fingers of his left hand. “This baby will have a mother. You won’t need me to help look after it. Grandfather probably needs someone to help him.”
Ben suddenly realized that Adam’s resentment towards Marie was partially due to her introduction into his life as his and Hoss’ new mother. Adam had been parenting Hoss since his little brother was an infant. Marie had suddenly taken that role from him.
“An extra pair of hands and eyes is always needed with a baby around. And I don’t just mean diapers. When the baby starts to crawl, someone will have to keep watch to make sure no one steps on it. And when the baby starts teething, someone will have to keep watch to make sure that nothing dangerous goes into the baby’s mouth.”
“But you, Marie, Hoss, and Hop Sing can do those things.”
Ben decided to try another approach. “The only people in this house who’ve had any experience with babies are you and me.”
Adam looked at his father in surprise. He hadn’t realized that Marie had no baby experience.
“Would you consider staying until the baby is a few months old? You can go live with your grandfather if you still want to when the baby has an established routine. How does that sound?”
Adam thought on that for a few minutes. “How long before the baby is here?”
“The doctor said in six or seven months.”
“So you want me to stay for at least a year?”
“If you’d consider it, Son.”
Adam again thought about it. A year was an awful long time. The longest part would be waiting for the baby to arrive. Maybe the year would go by quickly if he concentrated on chores. Plus, there would be a lot of things that would have to be done to the house to get ready for a baby. Turning the spare room into a nursery would be one of those things.
“Okay, Pa, I’ll stay for a year. But I won’t make any promises beyond that.”
Ben let out a sigh of relief. He patted Adam’s left shoulder and said “Thank you, Son. I appreciate your willingness to help.”
Hop Sing entered the room with a tray bearing a steaming cup. Ben took the cup, placed his hand behind Adam’s back, and gently lifted his oldest into a sitting position. He pressed the cup to Adam’s mouth and his lips parted for the warm liquid. Adam tasted honey and something he couldn’t place. Ben handed the cup back to Hop Sing and gently lowered Adam to the pillows. Adam could hear soft words being spoken in Chinese as he drifted off to sleep.
Ben sat with Adam for several minutes after the tea took effect. He brushed that stubborn curl away from Adam’s forehead and then leaned forward to kiss his son. He was sure that Adam would want to stay once the baby arrived.
Going back to his room, Ben tip-toed in to see Marie still sleeping. He took off his robe and slippers and quietly slipped back into bed. Marie snuggled into him as he placed his hand on her belly. A new life was growing in there—the child that would benefit the most from the pursuit of his dream. He knew he would spoil this child in ways he never could with Adam or Hoss. But he also hoped that this child would appreciate all of the things that would be provided.
Ben was starting to fall back asleep when he realized that Adam had seen and done more in eleven years than this child may ever in its entire life. Little wonder that Adam behaved like a man of fifty at times. Marie was right—Adam was still a boy, not a man. Ben would have to find some way to give Adam extra attention from now on. He couldn’t give Adam back his childhood, but he could make his teen years easier. With a contented sigh, Ben fell back asleep.
Next Story in The Battle of Wills Series:
Other Stories by this Author
- A Christmas Wish (by patina)
- Their First Noel (by Patina)
- Naming the Newest Cartwright (by Patina)
- New Expectations (by Patina)
- Middle Child Syndrome (by Patina)