Summary: A sequel to ‘Changes’. Part of the Joe and Honor series. The Season 15
Rated: T Word Count: 15354
Steps Forwards and Back
There was a second lesson in the birds and bees that Joe Cartwright knew now that his father had never gotten around to teaching him.. Lesson Two, he thought, was on dealing with pregnant women. Lessons on the effects of morning sickness, swollen ankles, mood swings and temporary insanity that seemed to be plaguing his beloved Honor. It was unfair, his father had had this valuable information all these years and had never shared it with his sons. Guess he thought these lessons were the ones best self-taught.
“Sweetheart,” he softly called to her. “I’m sorry. I really thought by this time you would be over this morning sickness business If I’d known that you weren’t, I really wouldn’t have handed you that platter of eggs this morning. Really, I wouldn’t have.”
Honor lay on her side in their big bed and cried, her face away from him. She was just so miserable that morning and his pleading didn’t make her feel any better. He meant well but…what did he know? He was a man.
“Please, Joe, just go away. Right now I just want to lay here in peace.” She said, not even rolling over to look at him. Opening her eyes just a crack, she could see out the window but then his shadow crossed in front of her and she closed her eyes quickly. She felt him lean down and kiss her forehead softly but she was in no mood to be tampered with. She pulled her lips into a tight line and with one long arm extended all the way down to the index finger, pointed to the door of their bedroom.
“Honor, sweetheart..” he started but the finger jabbed towards the door again. “I’ll be back at lunch time, okay?” and finger pointed to the door again. “I love you.” He said softly and headed for the door.
Honor remained still on the bed until she heard the door softly close and his footsteps move away from it. She rolled onto her back and looked at the ceiling, the tears rolling down the sides of her face and into her hair, spread like a fan across the pillows.
‘He never leaves me without telling me he loves me. Does he think I don’t know he loves me?’ she thought to herself. ‘No, he just does it because he does…love me. And how many times, Honor Whitaker Cartwright, have you done just what you did this morning? Let him get away without knowing just how you feel about him? My God, you have gotten so…’ and her mind raced to find the word and finally settle on it: self-centered.
She let her hands drift down and slowly rub her stomach. By her calculations she was 5 months pregnant but the good Doctor Martin said it looked more like six to six and half. What did he know, Honor thought, coming back up with the “he’s just a man”. Of course it didn’t help that she really wasn’t sure herself. Since her first miscarriage years ago, her monthlies had been erratic, to say the least. The second had stopped them for 5 months. She was sure that that was the reason why it had taken her so long to conceive. It had nothing to do with lack of trying! She chuckled to herself softly. She was sure that was why their bedroom was downstairs and away from the rest of the family. Privacy, my eye, she thought about the comment her father-in-law had made when the addition was being built. ‘He just wanted a good night’s sleep’. And she smiled that beautiful smile of hers.
Right about then, Joseph Cartwright would have given up the Ponderosa to see that smile. But as it was, he was heading out to the barn to saddle his horse and get to work.. As he stepped into the stables, he heard his brother’s voice, talking to his own big bay horse.
“Well, little brother, is Honor all right?” Adam asked. He had only known the fiery red head a short time but had been captivated by her the same as the other Cartwright men and to see that she was sick that morning put him ill at ease.
“She will be, I guess.” Was all his brother answered. “Guess being pregnant ain’t so easy on her.”
“Or you, from the looks of it.” Adam teased, trying to lift Joe’s spirits some. But the black look his brother gave him stopped him from saying anything else.
In complete silence, Joe curried his pinto, saddle him and when out in the yard, mounted and rode off. Adam shook his head. ‘Some things never change about you Joe.’ He thought, remembering all the times he had been witness to just the same in years past.
After currying the bay down, Adam decided he really didn’t want to go out today after all. During his years away, he hadn’t really ridden that much and now, what with coming back home as he had, he wasn’t used to it. Not that he would have told anyone. That wasn’t in his nature. He had never been as open with his feelings as Joe was, thinking that he always needed to appear strong and clear headed. But the past years had shown him new ways of looking at things. Perhaps his brothers had been right all those years ago: he thought too much. He turned and went back into the house.
“Pa, if you don’t mind, I’ve changed my mind about going with you this morning.” Adam said when he saw his father getting up from the breakfast table. They’d had planned on going into Virginia City that morning to pick up the mail and take care of some “family business” as Ben had called it.
Adam knew that his youngest brother now ran the ranch, His father now happily spent his time doing whatever he felt like. Most of the time, Ben would continue to help out but had wanted the freedom to do whatever he chose and putting Joe in charge had been the logical answer. What had amazed Adam was when he saw the ledger books. In the years that he had been gone, the Ponderosa had gained half again as much land. The herds were bigger than before and were bringing in a better price. There were now three sawmills where when he had left, there was one. On every page, Adam saw that the value of the Cartwright name had increased dramatically. The investments made in past years had turned handsome profits and those profits in return had been invested again. The holdings now included land in California that was used to raise any thing and everything that grew on a tree for profit He really shouldn’t have been surprised, Adam thought. All along he knew that his father had been making wise decisions but he was surprised to find out that Joe was behind so many of the more recent and more lucrative ones.
He had been concentrating on the figures and what they represented that day and hadn’t heard his brother come in. The first sign he knew his brother was there were the two fists planted knuckle down on the desk in front of him. He looked up, feeling a bit guilty and knew that it showed in his eyes just long enough for Joe to see it too.
“If you wanted to know anything Adam, you should have asked Jamie about the books. He handles all of the financial dealings for the ranch now. After all, he’s a college man just like you even if it was Stanford, not Harvard.”
Adam decided to try and diffuse the situation. “I see that you’ve done well.” He said, closing the ledger.
“No, Adam, the family has done well.” Joe pulled back his fists and his anger just a bit.
“I meant what I said, Joe. I always knew you were smarter than any of the rest of us ever gave you credit for. What you have done here shows it. I’m proud of how well you’ve done.”
Joe had just stared at Adam a long moment, trying to gauge his brother. He knew Adam was telling the truth, he was proud of what had been accomplished while he was away. But the old feelings of mistrust reared back up in the younger man and he wondered just what Adam had meant.
“Meaning you could have done better, of course. Well, I think that you’ll find that if the family’s holdings were sold off today, all of them, everyone of us who has the Cartwright name would be rather wealthy. I’m not just talking about Pa, but Honor, Jamie, myself….and you. And that is the way you need to think about all of this now, Adam. It belongs to all of us and we all run the business. Sure, I’m the one at the head of the team now but you need to decide where you fit into it all if you intend to stay like you said the other night. But I’m gonna tell you, the lead horse in this team ain’t changing.” And he turned on his heels to walk back out.
Adam’s voice stopped him before he got to the door. “I didn’t come back to take over here, Joe. I came back to find out if I still had a part to play in this family. I don’t know what I need to do here. I just know that I need to be here.”
For a long moment, both brothers, out of sight of the other, held their breath. Finally Adam heard Joe whisper, “ I needed you to be here years ago.” And the younger man walked out the door and was gone.
That had been two days ago. Adam had thought about seeking his brother out to talk with him but just hadn’t. Yet. He didn’t know what he would have said to him. And he had no idea what sort of reception he would have gotten anyway. He considered speaking with his father but decided against that as well. Why not, well, he wasn’t sure about that either. But he needed to know some things. About what all had happened here at his home and the only one he could think of whose judgment wasn’t tinged by it all was probably Honor. So Adam decided that morning with his brother away and his father gone to town that he would talk to his sister-in-law. But then she had gotten up running from the breakfast table, sick.
Once Ben had gone, Adam went to the liquor cabinet in the study and poured a glass of white wine. While it was too early in the day for him, he thought that it might help Honor some. He tapped on the bedroom door and called her name softly. If she were awake, she would answer. If not, well, Adam didn’t know what he would do.
“I have something here that might help you this morning. May I come in?”
And when she said yes, he opened the door and was surprised by what he saw. The room was bathed in bright sunlight. Because this was Joe and Honor’s private domain, as his father had called it, there was a different feeling about the room. While the rest of the house had a decidedly masculine feel to it, this room, with the French doors that opened into a small garden area behind the house, was a more feminine room. Adam was startled by the beauty of it from the fire blazing in the fireplace there to the lace curtains at the many windows
She was sitting in a big rocking chair, her feet pulled under her, her hair down around her shoulders and down her back, just looking out at the view below. As Adam walked over to where she sat, he saw some of the same things she did: the mountains, the trees, the little meadow and off in the distance, just a tiny piece of the jewel known as Lake Tahoe. But he saw other things as well, things that hurt too much to think about.
“Thought this might help you some.” He said and gave her the wineglass as he looked down at her. She took it from him and took a sip.
‘God, but she is beauty!’ he thought for the umpteenth time since he had first laid eyes on her while she had frolicked in the river. ‘No wonder my brother is crazy about you…but how in the world did he ever catch you, Honor?’
“What did you say Adam?” she asked and he nearly jumped, afraid that he had spoken his thoughts out loud.
“Just was hoping that you would be feeling better.” He lied quickly enough.
“I thought I was over the nausea part of being pregnant. But I guess this morning proved me wrong. Don’t worry, Adam, it’s a common occurrence among pregnant women.” And she stretched her legs out, reminding Adam of a cat with her grace. “Would you mind, please Adam, hand me that throw over there. My feet and legs are cold this morning. Guess I shouldn’t be sitting here by the window but the sunlight was just so inviting.”
He got her the warm throw from where it hung next to the fire, and although the warning bells were going off in the back of his head, said “Here let me rub your feet, get the circulation going for you” and started to lean over to do just that.
Her voice was quick and sharp. “No.” and final.
“I’m sorry, Honor. For just a moment I kind of forgot myself…” and let himself trail off looking up into her blue eyes, lost in them.
“Adam, you and I need to have an understanding between us. Your brother is my husband and I love him immensely. I will try to be your friend, if that is what you want but don’t ask me to take sides in whatever this feud is between you two. I don’t know where it started from, God knows it was long before I showed up. But I don’t want to become part of it either. Or a reason for it to continue. . Don’t give him a reason to be jealous.”
“I need a friend right now Honor.” He admitted and sat back on his heels looking at her. “ I need an honest friend who will answer some hard questions that I can’t ask Pa or Joe about. Help me?”
“Yes, ask your questions. I may not know the answers, though.”
He found himself unable to speak for a long moment, trying to sort out his mind. He stood and walked to the fireplace, looking at the mantle and the things on it. Odd things, they were, he thought, for a mantle but then this was a very private room. There was a black velvet box, left open. It held two gold rings, women’s rings. One Adam immediately recognized as Marie’s wedding band.
“The other ring was my mother’s” Honor said, coming to stand beside Adam as he had unconsciously reached out to touch the rings.
“This I remember.” Adam said, picking up a child size toy wooden horse, the black and white paint nearly gone. “ Joe was just three when Pa came back from San Francisco with it. Always said he wanted a real one just like. So when he was old enough, Pa bartered with the Paiutes for one. Can’t imagine him on anything else. But what is this pine cone all about?” and he gestured to the big Ponderosa pine cone lying there.
“It was, shall we say a gift from Joe while we were courting. He showed up with it one day, trying to convince me to marry him. Other guys, he said, could bring me flowers, could give me candy and jewelry and the like, but only he could give me the Ponderosa.” They both laughed.
“He always did have a different way of looking at things.”
“And this, “ Honor said, picking up a twenty dollar gold piece, “was a gift from your father, believe it or not. Tried to give it to me a couple of times, and I kept giving it back then one night I just found it there. When I first came to Virginia City, I had nothing but my medical degree and my surgeons’ kit and the clothes on my back. I had had to pawn everything else I owned to eat. I tried to sell Paul Martin my surgeon’s kit. Your father was there in Doctor Martin’s office that day and somehow convinced him to take me on as an associate. But said if I didn’t want to stay, that was my decision and gave Paul Martin the gold piece to give to me should I need it. Well, I got angry, thinking I was being bought, and I returned the money to your father. That was before I met your brother. If it had been your brother in Doctor Martin’s office that day, well things may have worked out entirely different.”
“How did the two of you…?” he started to ask but she was already laughing.
“Paul Martin and your father set us up. I was taken by your brother’s charm though. And his persistence. He fought through a long line of gentlemen callers at my door. But don’t tell him, please, I had a feeling the first time he laid those green eyes on me that my days were numbered until I gave in and married him.”
“He always has been rather stubborn.” And Adam’s thoughts turned inward, remembering that stubborn streak in his brother. Honor saw him turn into himself.
“Listen I am feeling much better now, Adam. Why don’t you go hitch Satan to the buggy and let’s take a ride? Maybe then you can ask me those questions.”
And a half-hour later found the buggy heading out of the yard, with Honor handling the reins herself. She knew where she was going. She had been there before with her father-in-law the first time but her husband many times. When Adam saw where they were headed, he tried to dissuade her but she was firm in her decision. They were headed to the promontory into Lake Tahoe where Marie and Hoss Cartwright were both buried.
Honor pulled the black horse to a stop and asked Adam to help her down.
“I don’t think I can do this, Honor. Not now, please.”
“But I need to Adam, I need to. So help me, please.” And those blue eyes of hers pleaded until he relented and helped her out of the buggy. He watched her walk down the slope, the cold breeze blowing her dress and coat against her. From where he stood, rooted to that spot, he saw her kneel between the two graves, obviously in prayer, her head bowed.
“Marie, Hoss. I never knew either of you in life but somehow I know you know me and have been watching from Heaven and you know their hearts. Help me to help them, please. And Marie, I don’t know how to deal with your son right now. Help me to make him understand that I need his love all the more because of this child I carry. I can’t lose this baby too, I just can’t. Help me, please both of you.” And she let herself cry, bending forward, shoulders shaking, but she had no idea why she should be crying.
With alarm, Adam saw her lean heavily forward. Without another thought than she might be in some sort of trouble, he raced down the slope to her. When he got to her, he tried to kneel next to her and see her face. But he never saw her face. Instead, he found himself looking at his brother’s headstone for the very first time.
And all the years of carefully putting aside his emotions and feelings were ripped away. The walls that he had built around his heart following the news of his brother’s sudden death collapsed in on him and he found himself crying uncontrollably in Honor’s arms. He found his mind racing back over all the times he had with Hoss. Gentle giant Hoss, appetite huge for food and life itself. Patient and peacemaker Hoss who always seemed to be able to stop he or Joe from doing serious damage to one another. A man with a heart so huge…. Finally he couldn’t put thoughts together about his brother, only emotions, the greatest of which was sorrow.
How long Adam cried, he had no idea. Honor held him and let him cry, knowing it was needed. Finally, he began to get control of himself and realized that if his brother had seen him, clinging to Honor, Joe would…..
“No, Adam, he would understand. He has been here many times. Most of the time alone but sometimes I come too. At first I felt like an interloper, a stranger here, but through the stories he has told me, well, I feel them here.” After a long pause she continued. “I know why you came back Adam. They wanted you to come back, Hoss and Marie. You felt their pull the same way Joe and your father do sometimes. You just were further away is all.”
“I had wanted to talk to you about something earlier.”
“Ah yes, those questions. Maybe now, here I can answer them. Or they can.” And Honor gestured to the two graves. Adam helped her to rise and they walked the short distance to the carved log that had been a bench there for many, many years.
“I know you weren’t here when…” Adam started but couldn’t find his voice to continue so Honor told him what she thought he needed to know.
“I know that they wrote you and asked you to return home but you didn’t reply and you didn’t come home. That just about killed your father then Adam. No, don’t give me any excuse. I don’t want to hear it and it was over before I ever came into this family so an excuse to me means nothing. All I know is what Joe has told me. Your father won’t speak of it and Joe has trouble with it too. But I can imagine that it felt like to them that both you and Hoss were lost to them. Do you know that Hoss literally died in your brother’s arms, asking for his father? And then your father, when you didn’t come home then, went into a deeper depression still? For months, he couldn’t face the world.” Adam remembered how his father had acted when Marie had died and knew then how it would have been with Hoss.
Honor continued, even though Adam didn’t want to listen any more and put up his hand as if to silence her. “No I am going to finish this Adam Cartwright and you are going to listen. When your brother died and your father couldn’t face the world, Joe needed you. Maybe more so than your father needed you, he needed you. But no, you couldn’t, or wouldn’t come home. So Joe did what he could. He told me how you had held things together after his mother died and even though he couldn’t really remember, he thought that if you could do it so could he. But he found he couldn’t because he’s NOT you. He started making some poor decisions. Hop Sing told me about the many nights Joe wouldn’t come home but stayed out drinking. How he would let his temper get the best of him and he would fire long time hands on the ranch simply because he was hung-over or drunk. Him, not the hands. But he said the worst decision he made was ….” And Honor paused before she went on. Much of which she was about to tell Adam had been told to her in confidence by Ben. It was as if a small voice in her head was telling her to go on, finish, so Adam would understand the whole of it.
“The worst decision he made was marrying Alice. He was trying to fill a hole in his life, one left by his two brothers. Oh at the time he thought that he loved her but he loved her for the wrong reasons. A long time after she had died, Ben admitted that even though her death was a painful one, her life with Joe may have been more painful if she had lived. Alice would never have filled that hole and they would have come to hate one another because she couldn’t.”
“Pa wrote to me about Joe getting married and I wondered then about it happening so soon after… Knowing Joe I know he was lost but I never knew he was that lost.”
“He was more lost than you’ll ever know, Adam. Father Ben found him one afternoon, right over there where you and I were, between the graves. He was putting his pistol to his head, he just couldn’t handle it any more.” And Honor stopped speaking, watching her brother in law for a long time as he digested what she had told him. She could see the emotions running across his face as though the words were on a page to be read. Sorrow, guilt, fear.
“I don’t know why now Adam, but you need to be here. Not just for Joe or your father. But maybe for you? Or maybe for all of you? That I am not sure about.” And Honor arose from the bench and walked heavily back up the hill to where the buggy waited.
Adam let her go, feeling empty inside. The words she had said hurt him but it had been the same type of hurt that goes with a wound being cleaned. And the wound he had had was the wound in his heart. For Adam Cartwright was the only one who understood just why he had left his home all those years before: he had felt as though he wasn’t needed there any longer. His brother was grown and he had told himself that his promise to Marie had been fulfilled: he had watched over him long enough.
He knew now that he had been wrong.
“It’s all set then. I’m going to Sacramento on Monday to finish the deal off.” Joe told Honor as he slid into bed beside her that late evening. She just moaned. She didn’t like the idea of him being gone any more than he did but she had no one to blame but herself.
“Joe, when I suggested..” and he hushed her just before he kissed her.
“That’s right, you suggested it. I talked it over with Jamie and we think it is a good idea. So we are going ahead with the deal but to do that I have to go to Sacramento to sign the papers. I swear, we will only be gone three, four days at the most. You’ll be fine here with Pa and Jamie.” He did his best to reassure her.
“It’s not me I’m worried about. It’s you.” She admitted.
“Me? Last time I checked you were the one having the baby.” And he rubbed his hand over her belly that he knew she liked. It seemed to calm her as well as the baby.
“Well, maybe you should be sure and wear your wedding ring. So no little hussy down there gets the wrong idea. Or you don’t forget…” and she just let her voice trail off. She really wasn’t jealous but sometimes thought that he needed a reminder.
He chuckled then nuzzled her neck, feeling very much a married man right then. He would do just about anything for this woman but had always balked at wearing a wedding ring. Working there on the ranch he felt it was just too dangerous. A ring could catch on things and take a finger with it, he had reasoned with her, omitting the fact that most of the time he wore gloves. But if it would keep her from worrying while he was gone, he would find it and wear it. ‘It is the damndest little things she worries over. Like I don’t know she’d have my hide for just looking at another woman.’ He thought to himself.
“Have you said anything to Adam about it?” she asked, scooting back into her husband’s embrace and warmth.
“No I haven’t. Need to have a long talk with him before I make up my mind about it all. Figure I’ll do it on the way down. Maybe. If he doesn’t want to take it on, well, it’ll still belong to us and I’ll work something else out. Maybe… But let’s not talk about that right now, Honor. Besides I though you were behind the whole idea.”
“I am. If this will put all this anger and pain behind the two of you, I’m for it.”
“I’m not sure it will do that but maybe it will be a start. Now hush up, woman.”
“Just why do you need me to go with you? From what I understood, this was just routine business.” Adam asked Sunday evening as the family gathered around the fireplace in the living room. Joe had just asked him to accompany him the next morning to Sacramento and had been rather vague about the reasoning behind this sudden change in plans as Jamie had been slated to go with him.
“Thought that maybe you and I should just get away for a bit by ourselves. God knows I need the break, Adam. Come on, go with me. After all, that way you can keep an eye on me and report back to Honor that I behaved myself. She won’t believe Jamie or Candy any more.”
Sighing deeply, not sure of what was actually going on behind the scenes, Adam agreed and the next morning found him up early. He wasn’t in the least surprised to find his father already up but for Joe to up as well was unusual. Adam was still uneasy about whatever was going on and when his brother went to check on the horses, Adam took it upon himself to speak with his father in private.
“What is going on, Pa? Don’t tell it’s nothing because I won’t believe it. This just doesn’t feel…” but Adam couldn’t say what it felt like other than confusing.
“You are trying to read something that isn’t written yet, Adam. I have an idea what it is but I am not sure. Just go with your brother, will you?” Ben insisted and Adam relented, if only for his father’s benefit.
The trip to Sacramento was uneventful. Though Adam hated to travel by stage, that was still the easiest way and after a long day, found he and his brother stepping up to register at the Cattlemen Palace in Sacramento.
“Ah, Mr. Cartwright, glad to see you back down from your lovely mountains. I have your room all ready sir but I don’t see your wife. Is she joining you later?” the little clerk spoke up. Adam almost opened his mouth then realized the man was speaking to Joe as Mr. Cartwright, not him.
“No, Cyrus, it’s just my brother and me this time around. You did get the message about the second room didn’t you?” and scrawled his signature across the hotel register.
“I sent a message back but it must have not been received before you gentlemen left Virginia City. Unfortunately we have no other room available, sir.”
Joe turned and looked back over his shoulder at his brother, scowling. Maybe things weren’t going to turn out as smoothly as he had planned after all.
“There is a sofa in the suite, sir.”
Adam just shot a questioning look at his brother. “Flip you for it.” He offered.
After a hot bath and a nap, the evening was looking far better and both of their outlooks had improved greatly. Especially when Adam offered to buy steak dinners for them both at the Palace’s restaurant. Over dinner they talked about old times together, never touching on the strife that had always been between them. From the restaurant, they decided to make an evening of it and ended up in the hotel bar, sharing a bottle of whiskey between them.
“…..And she really did threaten to scalp you?” Adam leaned back and laughed heartily, thinking of the sight it must have been for Honor to be threatening her husband with a butter knife.
“Yeah she did.” And tossing back a shot, Joe let his mind momentarily turn back to his wife. He missed her already but part of this had been her idea and three days wasn’t long to be away from her.
“We need to talk about something else for a minute. Adam.” Both men looked into the other’s eyes for a long moment then Joe continued “ The other day, when you were going over the books, I was wrong to get mad with you. I forgot that when you were home, you took care of all of that. You had every right to be looking at those figures. After all, you are still a Cartwright and the Ponderosa is still partly yours.” Adam simply waved his hand as though he had written the whole incident off. He hadn’t but Joe didn’t need to know that. “And I should have never have questioned your right to return to your place in the family.”
“No Joe, you were right there. You have done a lot to expand the Ranch and the holdings. I understand. And I don’t want to take it away from you. Pa is right when he says that you deserve my respect. And you have it. But let me say something bluntly, my brother. From what I saw, this may be getting too big for one man to handle on his own. When you add in the fact that very soon, you’re going to have a child, well, maybe I could help you. Notice I said ‘help’, Joe.”
The silence that stretched between them seemed as wide as the Ponderosa and as deep as Lake Tahoe itself. Within that span was a lifetime of insecurity and uncertainty for the younger of the two brothers. It had always seemed to Joe that he had grown up in Adam’s shadow, that he had always been judged against his brother and found wanting: not old enough, not smart enough, too impulsive and too reckless. To Adam that same gulf held loss: that of Marie first, his brother’s mother but his first real friend; his own childhood when she had died and Adam assumed a leadership role in the running of the ranch because his father just couldn’t; his brother Hoss who had been a warm and comforting presence. And knowing that he couldn’t handle another loss, that of his only blood brother’s love, he had decided to bridge his half of the split. Now it was that brother’s job to build the other half of the bridge.
Adam watched his brother’s face but there was no change to his expression. Either Joe truly didn’t want his help or he had become a very good poker player.
“Come on, big brother, we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow. Time for bed.”
Adam felt as though his heart were smashed on the floor.
The next morning found the two brothers in better spirits, despite Adam’s lingering doubt and questions. He took his clues from Joe who that morning appeared dressed in a suit and tie when he opened the door to the bedroom in the suite.
“Well, little brother, it is either a lawyer or a lady we’re seeing for you to have on a suit so early in the morning.” He commented, sitting up from the sofa where he had spent the night. “But knowing how Honor would have your hide otherwise, I am going to assume it’s a lawyer. Right?”
“Nail on the head, Adam. Hope you packed one as well. I’m going down and order us some breakfast. We need to be at the lawyer’s office by 10 o’clock so don’t dawdle.”
Adam gave his brother a mock salute with an “aye, aye, sir”
Joe had indeed ordered breakfast for them both when Adam sat down with him a half-hour later. When he had set down, Adam felt like every eye in the place had been watching him. At least every female eye that is. Their waitress hurried over and filled his coffee cup with a big smile on her face. It wasn’t every day that she had the privilege to wait on two men as good looking as these two.
“What’s the matter with you?” Joe queried, noting Adam’s slight discomfort. “Forget that you are the last of a breed? A single Cartwright male?”
Ten o’clock. Joe and Adam walked into the office of one of Sacramento’s most prestigious law firms. Once again, Adam was struck by the fact that his brother, never one for titles, seemed to accept the referring to himself as Mr. Cartwright as though it happened every day and without comment. They were ushered into a conference room where three other men sat waiting. Introductions were made around but to Adam, it seemed that he was simply an add-on to his brother. The lawyers paid attention to Joe only and that allowed Adam to sit back and assess the situation.
“Mr. Tanner, Mr. Simms. I believe that Mr. Cartwright has made you a generous offer. Has even met your specifications as to how the payment is to be made and the quick transfer of the property involved.” The Cartwright lawyer, Mr. Samuels, was saying, producing a mass of paper work and laying it out in front of the two men mentioned.
‘Ah,’ Adam thought, ‘buying more land are we? That would make sense, I guess but why the secrecy?”
Mr. Tanner and Mr. Simms didn’t even look at the paper work placed before them. One of them, Mr. Simms, Adam thought he was, just growled and said, “Did you bring the cash?”
Joe reached down to the satchel that he had kept close at hand since they had left Virginia City the day before. He sat it on the table, opened it and dumped the contents out. Adam was taken aback as there were stacks of hundred dollar bills and a lot of them. If he had known his brother was carrying that much money in cash on him, he certainly wouldn’t have been as casual about it as Joe was, that was for sure.
“I believe the asking price was $75,000, right? If you gentlemen would like to count it, I have no problem with it.” Joe challenged, green eyes flashing. “Now, either sign or leave so my brother and I can…”
And Mr. Tanner and Mr. Simms quickly turned their attention to the documents, asking for ink and pens. When they had finished, Mr. Samuels turned the papers over to where Joe sat, slightly forward of Adam at the table. Joe in turn handed Adam a set. When he turned, Adam could see the sparkle in his brother’s green eyes and the smile on his face.
His interest piqued now, Adam read what he had been handed. It was title and deed to property and a business known as the Sacramento-Los Rios Trading and Freight Company. He quickly scanned the documents, trying to absorb as much as he could as fast as he could.
“Is everything all right, Mr. Cartwright?” the lawyer was asking Joe who had looked to his brother, that little smile still on his lips. Adam simply shrugged and handed it back to his brother then nodded. Looked very ordinary to him, nothing out of line or abnormal.
Joe flipped to the last page of the sales contract and signed his name without further comment. The money went to the other side of the table and the other two gentlemen left quickly.
“Those two were so sure that you weren’t going to show, that the whole deal was going to fall through! I know they were discussing lowering the price, Joe. You should have held out a little longer on them.” Mr. Samuels chuckled out loud once they were out of hearing range.
“Nah. It was a fair price for what it was. Sacramento-Los Rios was a good buy but it is going to need some attention to get it back on its feet and making a profit.”
The lawyer’s face then changed expression to a more serious demeanor. “The other item you wanted? Did you want to go through with it?”
Taking a deep sigh, Joe leaned back and looked long and hard at his brother then nodded.
Mr. Samuels said he needed to get them and left the room, leaving Joe and Adam alone.
“Well, I guess buying a freight company is a good move for the family.” Adam said, breaking the silence.
Looking at his hands, Joe spoke softly, “ It’s in the family name but the family didn’t buy that freight company, Adam. I did. My own money, my own decision. Little help from Honor, but basically my own doing Adam.”
“Good God, Joe, how in the world are you going to manage a freight company as well as the ranch? You are stretched thin as it is.” And Adam jumped to his feet and started to pace about the room, disbelief at what he was hearing his brother had done. Before he could get any further into his tirade, Mr. Samuels reappeared.
“Sit down, Adam.” Joe directed, “Before I change my mind….please.”
Cautious now and totally unsure of what was to follow, Adam sat down again, but this time not as close to his brother. Mr. Samuels handed a folder to Joe.
Still not looking at his brother, Joe spoke. “I know what happened to Stoddard Shipping, Adam. I know that it didn’t have a chance against the likes of Astor and Kingsley. You were lucky to get out with the clothes on your back. Yeah, I know you had to sell out at a loss. I’m sorry it happened. When you came back here I was afraid that you were going to try and step back in and take over the ranch. The other night, in the bar, you said the right word. ‘Help.’ I need your help, Adam. If this family business is going to continue to grow, I can’t handle it all any more, you’re right. But if we divided it up, there wouldn’t be enough for each of the three of us. So one of us needs a little more. I know ranching Adam. Jamie can handle all of the financial dealings of both businesses. You, Adam, know how to handle Sacramento –Los Rios, so..” Joe opened the folder in front of him and inking the pen again, signed the last page. He closed the folder and slid it across the table to his stunned older brother.
His heart pounding, Adam opened the folder and looked down at the papers before him. Joe had signed over Sacramento-Los Rios Trading and Freight to Adam Cartwright for the sum of one dollar.
“And you can pay me the dollar over time. That is if you accept. But there is one stipulation: We stand together from here on out. No more fighting between us. Agreed?”
“Agreed, as long as I can move the head office for the freight company to Virginia City.”
“God look at me! I am as big as …..Joe, I’m ready to bust a seam here.” She moaned as another inside kick got her. “ I feel like an overloaded wagon. I can’t even see my feet and it seems my bladder has gotten to be the size of a peach pit. And my back hurts.” Honor was deep into her “woe is me” phase and Joe knew no way of getting her out of it that morning.
“Want me to rub it for you like I did yesterday?” he offered and saw some of the spark come back to her blue eyes.
“That would feel good but I heard you and Candy talking about going into town to pick up supplies. …” she started to complain but he leaned over and kissed to shut her up.
“Just roll back onto your side, that’s it.” And let his hands slide under the covers and up under her gown and over her back. He could feel her relaxing into his touch. For a long time, neither spoke a word. Joe let his mind drift back over the years to when he had first seen her, kissed her, made love to her. And all those memories were as fresh in his mind as though they had happened yesterday, not almost six years ago. And he still loved his fiery red haired woman if not even more than he ever had. Now their first child was due in a month. He had watched her swelling belly and felt more than a little in awe of what was happening.
There was a soft tap on the door and he heard his father softly calling his name. He looked over Honor’s shoulder and saw she was asleep. He pulled the comforter up and tucked it around her before he went to the door.
His father’s worried expression almost made him laugh. “She’s okay, Pa. She didn’t get much sleep last night so she’s sleeping now. Honor will probably be hungry by lunch time and get up then.”
“You are sure she’s okay?” Ben asked.
Joe put his hand on his father’s shoulder and turned him away from the door. “Where were you when your wives were pregnant, Pa? Hummm?”
“As I recall,” Adam spoke up from the end of the dining room table where he was just sitting down to breakfast, “He was trying to coddle Marie a good bit of the time before you were born. Guess he had been warned ahead of time that you weren’t going to be an easy child, Brother.”
“Your mother was a headstrong woman and not given to listening to what the doctors told her.” Ben started to explain but Adam butted in again.
“Marrying women like that seems to be a family character flaw. But you know, I don’t remember Marie getting as big as Honor.”
“Don’t you dare let her hear you say that. Honor will do a number on you if she does, Son.” Ben warned. “Maybe I should go into town with Candy to pick up that stuff Hop Sing wanted. You stay here with Honor, Joe.”
But Joe was already pulling on his heavy coat in preparation to going out. “Nah, she’ll be okay. Besides, Pa, you’re the experienced one in dealing with women.” And he opened the front door, letting in a blast of cold air as he left, laughing as he went.
As the morning wore on, Ben went and checked on Honor several times but each time she was still sleeping so he simply put another log on the fire in the room and left her alone. She had been put on complete bed rest a week ago by the good Doctor Martin but keeping her down and quiet was next to impossible. For one thing, her swollen abdomen pulled at her back and made breathing difficult when she lay down. That and the fact that she was a normally very active person made this a most difficult time for her. Her beloved men had done what they could to help her but even this was beyond them.
Just as Joe had predicted, Honor came out about noon, hungry. She was miserable Ben knew. It had become increasingly difficult for her to even walk. Even sitting down and getting up had gotten to be struggle for her. Everyone, from Ben right on down to Hop Sing were concerned. And with her time getting close, she was never left alone. Doctor Martin was afraid that there could be delivery problems and had quietly told everyone that once her pains began, he was to be summoned immediately. So the “Honor” watch as Joe jokingly referred to it, had begun. At first she had railed against this treatment but as worn down by the physical discomfort as she was now, she welcomed it.
That afternoon at lunch with Ben and Adam, Honor, her back still aching, tried to make conversation but she just couldn’t seem to get into the swing of things. Finally, noticing her distraction, Ben put out his hand and covered hers as it lay on the table.
“Honor, are you okay? You don’t look very good, Daughter.”
Before she answered, she took a deep breath and let it out slowly, making herself calm down. In a voice that was beginning to shake a little, she answered in almost a whisper “I think it’s time.”
Both of the men shot to their feet and were beside her. And they were both trying to talk at the same time.
Hop Sing had heard the commotion while in the kitchen and had come in to see what the fuss was about. Mister Ben and Mister Adam seemed to be arguing about something standing over a very pale Honor as she simply sat at her place at the table. He caught her eye and she just nodded. His whole face lit up. Baby coming! But first Honor needed help and unless the other two people in the room got coordinated..
“Mister Caltlight!” Hop Sing screamed at his long time employer and when Ben didn’t answer, reached over and grabbed his shirtfront to get his attention. And it surely did! “You help Missy Honor into room, get fire going good. You, Mister Adam, you go find Doctor, find Little Joe.” And when both men just stood looking amazed at him, Hop Sing stamped his foot and said “Now!” They later both confessed that it was quite a shock to have Hop Sing commanding them but they did as he ordered.
While Ben was bringing in more firewood, Hop Sing had helped Honor get as comfortable as she could have, under the circumstances. She and he had worked it all out months ago, knowing somehow that the men who so capably ran this huge ranch were going to be having trouble when it came to a little thing like having a baby. Hop Sing brought in a huge stack of towels and placed a few on the quilt rack, warming close to the fire. She nodded to him one and he went back into the kitchen and when he came back with the large basin and pitcher of water, she nodded again. It was their signal to one another: as long as Honor could acknowledge him with the single nod, she was doing okay.
Ben now had the fire going well and came over to where Honor laid propped in their bed. He was alarmed when he saw her eyes flutter closed a moment and her head went back and jumped to her side.
Heaving a little sigh, she looked at him as though she were merely taking a stroll. “My water just broke is all. Nothing to be concerned about, Father Ben. Remember that I am a doctor? And I have done this a time or two, you know. Granted not from this perspective but I have been there. Nothing to be alarmed about so just relax, it’s going to be a while before this baby shows up.”
A half-hour later, she wasn’t so sure. Her contractions had started at six minutes apart. She knew there was something wrong. It was happening too fast. Where was that doctor? Where was her husband? She was doing her best to not relay her fears to her father in law but looking at his face, she wasn’t sure but what he hadn’t picked up on it otherwise.
Finally there came a pass through the room that she didn’t nod to Hop Sing. The doctor was not there yet so he knew what he had to do. He went and got Honor’s medical bag from where it rested in the front room by the door. He carried it back into where Honor was trying to rest between gut wrenching pains.
“Missy Honor, you want me..” and before Ben could even turn to look at his cook, knew that something was afoot between these two.
Gasping for breath, Honor caught her father in laws big hand in hers. “Were you present at the birth of your sons?” she asked, blue eyes boring into him, “Or were you out in the parlor waiting?”
Taken completely off guard by the question, Ben looked at her and said “I was waiting..” and he never finished his statement. Honor reached up, grabbed his shirtfront and hauled him down close to her face.
“Well you are going to be present at the birth of your first grandchild. You don’t move from here, do you understand? Unless Joe gets here, you are the rock I am going to have to lean on to get through this,” and as another spasm came over her she released her grip and asked “Okay?”
He smoothed one big hand over her brow, noting her face was covered in sweat. “Of course, Daughter. What do you want me to do?”
“Just do what Hop Sing tells you to. He’s delivered a lot of babies” and Ben looked in surprise at his cook who just smiled back.
In fifteen minutes her pains had gone from six minutes apart to barely one. Ben kept wiping her face with a damp cloth and given her a hand to squeeze when the contractions came. Hop Sing muttered something in Chinese.
“Can see head now. Must push with next squeeze.” Ben could see Honor was running out of energy fast and was silently cursing that the doctor wasn’t there yet. Adam probably wasn’t even in Virginia City yet!
Honor tried to curl into the contraction to help move the baby but simply couldn’t. Hop Sing didn’t have to tell Ben. He sat over on the bed and put a massive hand and arm up behind her.
“No good, do again.” And when Ben could feel her whole body tensing again, helped her to curl forward.
“Again.” Hop Sing ordered. Before the next contraction came, Honor now laying back nearly onto Ben’s chest, hissed “I am going to kill your son for this.” And the contraction came again but this time, Honor had built up a good head of anger for the push..
“Yes yes, baby come good now!” Hop Sing cried out.
Later Ben would look back on that moment and not know which sounded better to him: the cry from his first born grandson or the sound of Joe hollering Honor’s name as he came through the front door.
All of a sudden there were a crowd of people in the room it felt like to Honor. She could see her friend Doctor Martin admiring the towel wrapped bundle Hop Sing held. She felt her father in law move from behind her and then Joe was there with her as she lay back on the pillows.
“A son, Honor, a son. We have a son.” He was saying but it seemed like he was far away. “Look at this fella, sweetheart.” And she could see the boy and wanted to hold him but for some reason the contractions were coming back, strong as before. She couldn’t think straight.
Doc Martin saw the look of panic on her face and went to check her. “Probably just the afterbirth Honor.” He was saying quietly, trying to keep her calm in the sea of chaos that was reigning around them just then. His face whitened at what he saw upon examining her.
“Out!” He shouted, “all of you out, except you Joe. Out!” he shouted and the chaos stopped instantly. But they all stood rooted until he shouted “Out!” again.
The fear in Joe’s eyes was a nearly tangible thing.
“You have to help Joe,” Doc Martin was saying. “Honor is having another baby but it is twisted, hung up. We need to lay her flat. Move her so that maybe that will move the baby as well. Don’t panic on me, Joe. I need you to be calm.”
What felt like an eternity later, the second baby, another son, was born. Honor lay exhausted now, uncaring and unmoving but she knew there was something terribly wrong. The second baby hadn’t cried out. Looking at the doctor, she could see enough to see that the baby appeared lifeless and didn’t appear to be breathing. She had seen enough babies born like that in her practice with the poor and indigent in Virginia City. Blue babies rarely lived, or if they did, were brain damaged from no oxygen getting to the brain. She’d seen plenty of them in her practice too. Honor wanted to cry out but just had no strength in her to do so and consciousness slipped from her.
With the tiniest of gasps, the little boy took a breath and opened his eyes. Doc Martin saw the eyes flutter open and felt that maybe, just maybe, there was a chance. Joe had been intent on Honor but had seen the expression on the doctor’s face when the child was born. He wrapped the child quickly in the warm towel and wiped its tiny face. Then he gave the newborn to Joe.
“My God. He’s so small!” and the doctor, examining Honor and seeing she was in no danger, agreed. While the first baby was a good size baby, probably eight pounds or so, this one was probably half of that.
“Joe, I need to tell you this up front and honest. Babies that have this sort of complications at birth, this small well, their lungs aren’t well developed yet and they have trouble breathing on their own some times. Lots of ‘em,” and he paused a long time before he went on. After all, he had delivered this man standing in front if him. He had watched him grow from tiny boy into manhood. He had doctored all the bumps and bruises and broken bones and busted heads this boy had ever gotten into. He had even helped him and his father over the death of his brother. Now he had to tell him the most awful of truths. “Joe, most babies like this little one don’t live more than a day or two at most.”
It was if Joe’s legs were giving out on him as Doc Martin shoved him into the big rocking chair. His mind was in an absolute turmoil. Here he had been given two sons but then told that one was going to be taken from him and he could nothing about it. Tears streamed down his face as he bent over the child and rocked.
“I’ve given Honor something to make her sleep.” Doc said, coming over to where Joe sat with his son. “ She is going to need you more than anything during this so don’t disappoint me. You have another son who is going to need both parents but this one…” and he just stopped.
“Will you ask my father to come in, Doc? I need to talk to him.” Joe asked.
“Do you want me to tell him?” but Joe simply shook his head.
“No I’ll tell him but would tell the others, please.”
When Paul Martin stepped into the main living room, all talk stopped. He looked around and saw nearly all of them there: Adam, Candy and Ann, Jamie and Cathy. Ben was holding his new grandchild, as the doctor walked up to him and told him that Joe needed to talk to him. Ben handed the baby to Ann and without another word, headed for their door. When Doc Martin saw the door close behind him, he told the rest of the family.
Ben was shaken. He first looked to Honor. She was so pale, so still and dwarfed now almost by the bed she lay on. He could see that she was breathing. When he looked to the rocker, his heart crashed to the floor. Joe was sitting there with a tiny bundle in his arms. A tiny, unmoving bundle. And the look on his son’s face spoke volumes.
“Oh God please, no.” Ben prayed and knelt beside the rocker and his son. Quietly, Joe told his father what the doctor had said.. As Ben looked at the tiny infant held in Joe’s arms, he was jerked back to Joe’s own birth. He had been small, not as small as this one, but small and survived. But still, Ben knew that to voice such hope right now was not the thing to do. He watched as the infant seemed more to gasp than breathe.
“Joseph, Can I … can I hold him a bit? Please?” Ben asked awkwardly. Joe just dumbly nodded. He gave his father the tiny bundle and went to check on his wife. Seeing her resting easily, he turned to go back to his father but then decided not to, but give them a little time of what was left to get to know one another. Still crying, Joe stepped out of the room and into the living room where the rest of his family was now sitting, waiting, stunned. He put his hand up to ward off anyone coming close right then. He just couldn’t stand it any longer, he wanted outside and to be alone.
Out in the yard, Joe stood with his head buried in his arms at the corral. He didn’t care that it was cold. He only knew his heart was breaking and there was no way to stop the awful pain. He felt Adam come up behind him and heard him call his name softly but he just couldn’t face anyone right then.
Adam had stopped anyone else from following his brother but he knew he had to be there with him. When Joe put his head down on his arms at the corral, Adam, behind him and an arms length away, looked to the night sky. He could see one bright star through his tears and thought he heard a voice from somewhere in the past and Adam whispered back to it “ Yes Marie, I know, I promised.” And he stepped forward and gathered his brother into his arms, crying with him, saying repeatedly to him “I’m here, Joe, I’m here”
It was close to midnight when Honor awoke with a start. Joe was sitting, rocking gently there beside her, having pulled the rocker to the side of the bed. He was holding a baby in his arms. There in front of him, with his boot rocking it as well was the cradle he had made her. In it was another baby.
“Hi there, Momma,” he said quietly. “See what you did to us tonight?”
“Oh God, I wasn’t dreaming was I? Twins.” And she tried to sink back into sleep but just then the baby the cradle cried.
“You got a boy here who’s real hungry. Think you can help him out?” Joe asked. She looked close at her husband and saw that his face had a very rough look to it.
Joe carefully lifted his bigger son to Honor, and although it took a moment, the baby found her breast and went for it hungrily. Joe still held his little dark hair son on his lap and while the other one nursed, Joe told Honor what Doc Martin had said. But it was nothing that she didn’t know already She also knew that the first three or four days were important one to an infant, especially a tiny one. If they could just get him over that time frame, he might have a better chance, she kept telling herself
Finally Honor decided that the bigger boy had enough and asked to feed the one Joe was holding so protectively. There seemed to be a great reluctance to turn loose but Joe did, taking his other son onto his shoulder. Where the bigger sandy red haired baby had nursed avidly, the little one just seemed lackadaisical about it and she could not coax him to accept her breast. As Doc Martin had said, sometimes they just didn’t have the strength to breathe and eat too.
“Hmmm. Kind of like the difference between me and brother Hoss. All he ever wanted to do was eat. Me I could have cared less about food. I was more interested in sleeping. Or girls.”
Honor gave a throaty laugh. “Let’s hope there are some family traits that haven’t been passed down then, okay? Or you could be a grandfather in let’s see say sixteen years?”
“Watch out boys! You ain’t a day old yet and your mother is planning your future.” Joe laughed softly.
“Let’s just pray they both have a long future, Joe.”
And so the battle was on. The bigger baby quickly became the delight of the family. He was a very lively baby, grasping at anything that came within reach and trying to get it to his mouth. Hop Sing quickly “adopted” him when there was no one looking for him.
“He my baby!” Hop Sing told everyone. “First baby I bring into world!” he told everyone with pride although the first time Ben heard it he was perplexed by the statement and asked for a clarification. Looking around the breakfast table at Candy, Ann, Jamie and Cathy and Adam, he stopped Hop Sing.
“I could have sworn that Honor told me you had delivered lots of babies, Hop Sing.” Ben questioned, his eyes squinting down.
“Missy Honor lie so you shut up and do what you told. Missy Honor tell me weeks ago what to do.” And he went rattling off into the kitchen in Chinese, laughing.
With all of the rest of them laughing as well, it was hard for Ben to be mad.
“I can see that I am going to have to have a talk with my daughter-in-law.” He grumbled, getting up from the table. And that set off a new round of laughter.
The two other women Ann and Cathy quickly developed a routine after the births. Although they could control their men, the other three were a potential problem. Both women gave a healthy deference to the patriarch of the family, Ben himself, but they knew that there were certain things that needed to be done their way, not his. The best thing for everyone, according to Ann, was that they should be happy and let the joy filter through the house with their laughter and spirits.
“Father Ben”, Ann approached him that first evening, calling him now the name that Honor used.” What they need is to be able to hear the love within these walls. Yes, they fight for the little one’s life beyond those doors. But they also need to be reminded that there is a world out here as well. And they need to know that that world supports them. They don’t need silence.”
Ben had looked down at the very plain little woman in front of him, so quiet she was in her ways and mannerisms that sometimes she went unseen by the rest of them. With school out until the spring, Ann was free from her teaching duties at the school the Cartwrights had founded and built for all of the children in the area. Ben knew that she had come from a family back east and as a Quaker, abhorred violence in any way. But the effect that she had had was as enormous as Honor’s had been before her. She had about her a very serene wisdom. More than once since his return home, Adam and Ann had taken the time to discuss a variety of concepts from philosophy to fine art to history. Ann was well read and enjoyed the discussions but was also mindful of her place. Her husband, after all, was the foreman of the ranch. As such, she tried to rein in her need to speak her mind so forcibly. But where her friend Honor and now these two new babies were concerned, she found she could not stand back.
“And the small one still fights, so they cannot hear grief, only hope and love.” She had finished.
Cathy found her role in this extended family during this uncertain time. With her upcoming marriage to Jamie in the spring, she no longer lived with her mother and siblings but with Ann and Candy in the foreman’s house there at the Ponderosa. Her father, a brutal and abusing man, was dead and the less
Cathy saw of her family the better she liked it. Everyone tried to convince her to see them but to no avail. Demons still haunted her. But of all of them, she had the most experience in dealing with newborns and what they needed. Even though big Father Ben had had three sons, Cathy had him beat by 6 siblings she had helped her mother with. She knew how to care for babies and wouldn’t hesitate to correct even her future father-in-law on holding his new grandchild. She was the one who made sure that clean diapers were at hand and that time limits were imposed on playing with the bigger infant. ‘This family will wear that child out’ she thought more than once.
There was, however, a worry that pervaded all else: the second child, the tiny little boy. It was as if the entire family was standing back, waiting. Doc Martin had been rather explicit. The tiny infant would probably not survive and what Joe and Honor both needed was time with the child before the inevitable occurred. The Doctor himself stayed close by, trying to monitor the situation as best as possible. He knew what the loss would do to the entire family.
Behind the closed bedroom door, Joe and Honor would hear the rest of the household dimly. The center of their universe was a mere four pounds and struggled to breathe with every rise of his chest. He would nurse but only for a very few moments then seem to just lay back and take in the world. The child didn’t even cry. He would sleep if held, it seemed, but the dark eyes would pop back open when laid down. When his brother’s lusty cry would ring out, he would turn and seem to look in that direction but then yawn and go back to his own contemplation.
It seemed a cruel lesson in being a father that Joseph Cartwright was learning. To have been given two sons, one so vibrant and full of life, the other seeming to be dying before his eyes was nearly more than he could bear. In one brief afternoon, he knew just what his own father had learned years before: there was nothing so precious as that of the life of your child. Joe had expected it to come over time but instead, holding his tiny dark son, it had hit him all at once. Always a sensitive person, he was unprepared to face the possible death of his child. Death had taken more than its share from him and he didn’t want it to do so again but had no way of trying to stop it except by prayer and love.
Of all the other individuals present, Honor knew more than any of them about the two little ones. She knew that the older and bigger boy needed her just as much as his younger brother. Not just for sustenance but for love. That special bond between mothers and their children. Honor made it a point to give to him time as well, holding him, checking out all the necessary items like fingers and toes and talking to him. As to her second child, the emotion Honor felt more than any other was despair. She knew there was nothing she could do even as a physician, much less as a mother. She would watch him struggling to breathe and feel her own respiration change to match his. The very little that he took from her in sustenance she knew was not enough. And by the evening of the third day of life for the two newest Cartwrights, even she was beyond feeling anything at all but loss.
Joe had spent long hours holding his smallest child while Honor rested. He would sit in the rocker beside their bed or stand looking out the French doors at the winter wonderland beyond them. It was crazy, he knew, but it seemed that as long as he held the child, the boy would live and to put him down for an instant would allow the child to slip away. As the second day slipped into the third, Joe finally gave in to the demands of his family as well as his own body and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep, laying beside Honor.
When Joe awoke, thin daylight was streaming into the room. He looked quickly for his sons, almost by instinct now. His firstborn lay sleeping in the cradle, his other son in Honor’s sleeping embrace. Joe reached down and patted the big fellow’s back and spoke softly to him so as not awaken anyone.
“You know, we’re gonna have to give you two names here real soon. Your momma and me had a deal you know. I get to name the first one she gets the second. But I sure didn’t expect to do two at once!” and the baby stirred beneath his father’s touch.”All right, you want some time too, don’t ya? Guess I ain’t been a good pa to you but your brother needs us right now, okay.” Feeling the wet diaper in his hand, Joe raised his eyebrows at his now wide-awake boy. “Looks like you need attention too. Well come on, let’s go see what we can find cause I don’t see any diapers in here right now. Come on, let’s go. No crying okay?” and the boy seemed to understand and just wiggled his face around and yawned.
Joe carried the baby out into the kitchen where he could see Hop Sing starting breakfast. As long as he could remember, this was the one place in the house where no one but Hop Sing ruled. Everyone else seemed to enter cautiously but because of the special bond between Joe and Hop Sing, he never did.
“Any coffee yet?” Joe asked, looking around for what he had really needed: a dry diaper for his eldest.
Not to be distracted from the work at hand, Hop Sing rattled off a long string in Chinese.
When he got finished, Joe simply looked to the ceiling and rolled his eyes.
“No you are right. I apologize. Let me start over: Good morning Hop Sing. Did you sleep well? Yes, I understand that all this fuss has given you so much extra work to do. And yes, I do appreciate the fact that you are here right now, helping me out. And no I don’t think you going to San Francisco to work for Cousin # 3 at a restaurant is a good idea. Okay? But I really could use a cup of coffee and my son here needs some dry…” and before Joe could finish, Hop Sing had taken the baby from him.
“You remember what coffeepot look like?” and the little cook went into the open door into the room he had slept in for so many years. He continued to talk to the baby in Chinese, telling him how handsome and strong he was, all the while changing him. Hop Sing could tell by the noises from the kitchen that Joe did indeed remember what the coffeepot looked like but seemed to have forgotten that it could be rather warm.
“Lil Joe,” he called sitting on the bed with the baby now dry. When he saw Joe’s head around the corner, motioned for him to come in. Hop Sing handed Joe a small book tattered at the edges. Joe opened it and saw row upon row of Chinese writings.
“Just cause I can understand you, Hop Sing doesn’t mean I can read this, you know. What is it?”
Hop Sing was now holding the baby boy in his arms, his sunrise smile beaming down on the child. “Hop Sing come to work here many years ago. I work for food, I think. End of first week, your father give me money. But I no have need for money. Have food, warm house to live in. No one give ‘orders’ to Hop Sing. Why Hop Sing need money? Not have English words to explain then but father very adamant so I take money. Next time I in Virginia City, I take to countryman for safekeeping. Like bank. Every week you father keep giving me money, even holidays. I keep taking it to ‘bank’ cause I no need anything not already here! For long time I think about what to do with money then I think that I make gift to first grandchild of man who give to me. This baby that grandchild.”
Joe was stunned. Hop Sing had been there his entire life and was now trying to give away a life’s savings. “Hop Sing, you can’t do that. Okay? I mean, don’t you ever think that maybe one day you’d like to…retire? You know, go someplace else and live?”
“Why Hop Sing want to leave someplace where he has food, warm house, and important work to do? Huh? Most important: Hop Sing have respect here. Maybe not some where else.”
Joe, now sitting beside Hop Sing on the edge of the bed, cocked an eyebrow at his lifelong friend and protector. “You ain’t foolin me. The only reason you’re doing this is ‘cause you think that little fellow there when he starts eating people food it will bankrupt us all to feed him.”
“No,” the cook’s voice turned soft, “Hop Sing do because he love little boy, even when they grow up.” And handing the baby back to his father, quickly launched into another tirade in Chinese, going back to his kitchen chores.
“Yes I know it’s bad manners to not accept a gift and no, I would really rather you not tell Honor about that incident in the garden. For God’s sake, Hop Sing, I was only four!”
The day had been like the others just past. Sounds of the family seeping into the quiet of the bedroom for Honor’s sake, she knew. She could no longer keep up the brave front and, to her, false optimism. She thought perhaps it would just make it harder to say good bye. And as darkness began to fill the room, she felt emotionally drained by it all, The bigger brother having nursed his fill, Joe brought their second son to Honor, taking and holding the older one still. She put her tiny child to her breast but he wouldn’t even try to nurse, just laid there. Looking down at him, Honor began to cry uncontrollably, feeling she had lost the greatest battle of her life. Joe slid into bed beside them and gathered both mother and child to him, still cradling the brother. He could feel Honor crying and feel the tears on his own face. Please God, no, please was the only thought he had and it ran over and over again in his mind.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Honor pushed at her husband’s chest. “Look, look at your son. He’s nursing!” she whispered and he saw the little dark head there at her breast was moving ever so slightly. When he felt his mother start to seemingly move away from him, he gave his first cry to the world and instantly got her back.
They had stayed that way for the better part of an hour before Honor and the children had all had fallen to sleep. Joe couldn’t sleep and got up, trying to not disturb them, putting his firstborn in the cradle by the bed. But his brother had opened his eyes and looked around in that quiet way of his. So Joe had picked him up from Honor’s breast and carried him with him into the living room.
The house was still and quiet. Just the noise of the wind in the trees outside and the snap of the wood in the huge fireplace as it fought the cold. The big living room was warm but not warm enough Joe thought, throwing another chunk of firewood on the grate with one hand. The other hand and arm cradled his newborn son to his chest, small dark head in his hand. Joe sat down on the couch and leaned back, pulling the tiny child up to him close letting him lay on his chest.
“You know, I really thought that you would be a little older before we had to have one of these late night talks.” Joe said to the dark head. “But don’t worry, I think I can remember what they’re suppose to go like. Mind you, I don’t have the voice your Grandpa does to do it with.” Joe wasn’t surprised in the least to hear the chuckle in the dark at the top of the stairs. “Oh no, Pa, oops no, Grandpa caught us,” Joe whispered conspiratorially to the now sleeping baby on his chest.
“Yes I seem to remember a great many of those late nights, son.” And Ben came down the stairs slowly. “Now it seems that it’s your turn.” Ben paused before he sat down on the corner of the table, close to the two. The change that had come over his own son in the past few days had been remarkable to him. Gone was the uncertainty and insecurity that had plagued his son for so many years. Gone also was the drive to continually prove himself worthy. His sons had done that for him now.
“How is he tonight? I see he’s sleeping.”
Joe was pulling the baby’s blanket closer the little one. “He finally got around to nursing real good a while ago. And it seems that his color is getting better. Don’t think he’s out of the woods yet, but I think he’s turned a corner.” And Joe, without thinking, was rubbing the tiny back. “Yes I think my little boy has turned a corner.”
Ben reached out and squeezed Joe’s shoulder, his heart filling with love and pride for what he saw. “Well, I know my little boy has.” And just as he had years ago, ran his hand through his own son’s unruly hair.
The christening was set for two days after Christmas and instead of at the small church in town, would be held right there at the Ponderosa before the big fireplace in the living room. The weather was just too uncertain to be traveling with small ones and all though the smallest of them was making headway; it was just too risky. So the minister made it out from town with Roy Coffee, Doc Martin and a host of others who had long known the Cartwrights. The room was nearly filled.
“Good Lord, Sweetheart,” Joe said after having peaked out the door. “Everybody in the county is out there!”
Honor was trying to button her shirtwaist over her now full bust line and getting no where. “Well, what did you expect? You have lived here all your life and Cartwright is a very well respected name around these parts.” She went to find something else. “Are you ready, Joe?”
“With the exception of not being able to keep my tie tied,” as his oldest son reached up grabbed at it again. “Honor are you sure about the names? You know once we do this…the boys are stuck with ‘em. Didn’t you have an uncle or..”
She cast a baleful look at her husband. “Did you forget I grew up in a string of houses of ill repute? I had more “uncles” than you could shake a stick at. No, I think these are the right names for these boys. So let’s go,” she said, finally getting a shirtwaist that would button. She swished her skirt to make it fall into place then leaned down and picked up their young dark haired baby. Both little boys were in their christening gowns; the one she carried wore the same one his father had been christened in. The boys were nearly three weeks old now and were as different as could be.
At the door, Joe stopped, and shifting his first born to his other arm, leaned down and gave Honor a crushing kiss. “Thank you.” Her merry blue eyes twinkled as she whispered “You’re welcome.”
“Are we gonna do this again sometime soon?” Joe asked, a smile on his face and a twinkle in his green eyes.
“Not for a while but I’ll keep the offer in mind. And Joe, let’s see about a daughter next time, okay.”
“As long as it’s just one at a time….
The hubbub ceased as Honor and Joe, each carrying a child, stepped into the living room and made their way to where the minister stood by the fireplace. Ann and Candy made their way forward as well for they had been asked to be godparents.
“It is an awesome responsibility to be a parent,” the minister started and for the first time since this had all began years ago, Joe realized just what had happened. Here he was a father now, with two small sons and a wife. He didn’t have to hear what the minister was saying; he understood what it had been like for his own father raising him and his brothers. Ben had had no one to teach him. Joe had his father as a role model and a better one he doubted could have been found. He knew about responsibility and unconditional love. Joe had learned it all subconsciously from his father’s constant and abiding presence through out his life. If he could be even half the father that his own had been….
Whether it was something the minister said, or Honor’s elbow in his side, Joe’s thoughts came back to the proceedings just as Candy and Ann said that they would willingly take on the role of godparents.
“Now we need to get to the heart of things,” the minister was saying, “The giving of names to these young fellas! Honor tells me that you two had quite a tussle over this, Joe.” And the whole room laughed, imagining these two hot heads having a go around.
“Well, we both won, thank you!” and again the room laughed. Joe held up his first born so that everyone could see the sandy red hair, the cherubic smile and the size of him. “This is my first born son. As it was, when he was born, he was already carrying on a tradition. All his life he will be asked to lead, to break the way through rough ground for his brother and those around him. I had just the same done for me by two important people in my life. And for that reason, I ask that you give him their names. Reverend, please christen my son Benjamin Eric Cartwight.” And as the minister did so, Joe looked over and caught his father’s eye. Tears glistened in them.
When the minister was finished, Joe took the child and gave him to his father to hold. Ben couldn’t say a thing but the message that passed between them spoke volumes.
Honor reluctantly turned their second child over to Joe. She knew that somewhere along the way, a very special bond had come up between this small child and her husband. They both loved each child, but for Joe, this one a little more so.
“And I got to name this one!” she spoke brightly and once again everyone laughed. “ I thought long and hard on it then realized that this little one was a real heart stealer. So handsome, like his father but so quiet like his uncle. Reverend, if you would please, christen our son Adam Joseph Cartwright.” And when the child was handed back to her, she turned to find her brother in law there beside her.
“May I?” he asked but didn’t wait for an answer before taking the small child carefully from her. “I have a lot of stories to tell my name sake, you know.”
It was late that evening and the guests had long since gone home from the party. Honor had fed and changed the babies and had gone to bed herself, telling Joe to wake her when she was needed but she really wanted some serious sleep. Seeing the lines in her face, he kissed her and promised her that he thought he could take care of things.
“That or I am sure I can find someone who can. The whole family seems to think these boys are theirs, ya know.”
Honor, watching her husband holding the two boys, yawned and stretched. “They do. We may be their parents but Joe, those boys belong to each and every one of the family. Your father can’t get enough of them and I even caught Candy and Adam holding them. They were discussing which one of them was going to be teaching the boys to ride. Jamie swears that they smile at him. Ann and Cathy at least are a little more practical. But Joe, these babies aren’t just ours.”
Joe now sat back in a big rocker that had been moved into the living room, close to the fireplace. With one long leg canted across his other knee, he sat with his lap full of his sons. There was a peace that passed all understanding in him now. The fierce pride was still there. But gone was the wild streak, tamed not by the fiery red-haired woman in the other room but by the two little boys he held in his lap, gently rocking them.
He didn’t even know Adam was in the room until he heard his brother’s voice at his shoulder. “They sure are something else.” Joe looked up to see his brother leaning on the back of the rocker.
“They sure are, Big Brother. They sure are.”
“Well now that you’ve named them, what are we going to call them?” Adam softly asked, afraid to speak above a whisper for fear of waking them.
At the top of the stairs Ben stopped, unseen and unheard and watched his two sons.
“Well, I considered nicknaming this fella,” and Joe reached out and touched his small dark haired son, “Thought about calling him Little Adam. But I remember what I went through getting rid of the “Little”. So I think we’ll just call him A.J.” and Adam nodded his approval, “And Pa says this fella here looks a lot like our brother did as a baby. I know we named him Benjamin, but you suppose anyone would mind if we just called him Hoss?”
Adam stretched out his hand to the bigger baby and got a finger grasped. “No, I think that right now, there’s a big angel watching over these two sons of yours and I think he would be pleased. Very pleased.”
Next Story in the Honor series:
Tags: Family, wife / wives
Other Stories by this Author
- Honor Series # 3 – The Most Important Job In The World (by the Tahoe Ladies)
- Honor Series # 8 – Romantic Interlude (by the Tahoe Ladies)
- Honor Series #10 – Twenty Years Means Nothing to the Pines (by the Tahoe Ladies)
- Honor Series # 7 – When Little Boys Grow Up (by the Tahoe Ladies)
- Honor Series # 6 – Whisper My Name (by the Tahoe Ladies)