Adam Cartwright was a contented man. He was two months short of his fifty-seventh birthday and in good health. He had a wife whom he loved dearly and who loved him with all her heart. They had four lovely daughters: eighteen-year-old Beth, recently married to Reverend Dafydd Jones; seventeen-year-old Miranda, happily enrolled as a student at the Girls’ Latin School in Boston; fifteen-year-old Gwyneth and twelve-year-old Penny. Six years earlier Adam and his wife, Bronwen, had been surprised to learn she was pregnant once again and their fifth child was a boy, Adam Jr., whom his sisters immediately christened A.C. The mining company Adam and his brother-in-law, Rhys Davies, had started was thriving and so his family was financially secure. God has certainly blessed me, he thought as he cuddled close to Bronwen, watching the first streaks of rosy pink begin to lighten the night sky. He was feeling amorous and waiting for her to wake so they could make love.
He felt her stir and whispered, “Morning, sleepyhead.” She turned over on her back then smiling at him. “Mmm, I take it you had a good night’s sleep?”
“Too right. I feel as frisky as a yearling colt,” he replied with a smug grin before kissing her.
After making love, they both drifted off to sleep again until it was time to dress. He carefully trimmed his beard, noting with an inner sigh that there was virtually no black left—it was all gray or snow-white. It was the same story with what remained of his hair. He glanced at Bronwen’s reflection in the mirror and smiled. At forty-seven her raven tresses were almost untouched by gray. Her face had lines that it hadn’t nineteen years earlier, but they didn’t detract from its charm.
“Are you ready for me to brush your hair?” he asked as he put on his shirt.
“Yes,” she replied. She sat in front of her vanity and enjoyed the feel of his firm brushstrokes until he set the brushes down saying, “I’d better go check on the children.”
He knocked on the door of the room Gwyneth and Penny shared, glancing at the now empty room across the hall that had been Beth and Miranda’s room. He still had trouble accepting that Beth had been married for almost two months and Miranda had been in Boston for two years.
“Are you up, girls?” he called.
“I’m up,” he heard Gwyneth’s sleepy reply.
“Make sure Penny is up as well,” he instructed knowing his youngest daughter, like his oldest, was difficult to waken in the morning. He smiled at the thought of the daughter who looked so like what her mother must have at that age. Penny was the only one of their children who had inherited Bronwen’s beautiful violet eyes. The rest all had hazel eyes—Beth and A.C.’s were dark like his while Miranda’s and Gwyneth’s were so light they were almost amber.
He knocked firmly on his son’s bedroom door and hearing no answer he walked in. Five-year-old A.C. had kicked off the bedclothes as usual and was sleeping on his stomach with his arms and legs flung out making a letter X. His thick black hair needed cutting, which always meant an argument with Bronwen, who liked him to wear it long. Adam sat on the bed and gently rubbed his son’s back saying, “Time to get up, Jackeroo.”
A.C. stretched and then rolled over on his back. “G’morning, Daddy,’ he replied yawning hugely.
“Good morning,” Adam said with a smile. “Do you need any help getting dressed?”
“No, I can do it myself,” A.C. replied proudly. Then he added candidly, “’cept my shoes.”
“I’ll come back in a few minutes and help with your shoes,” Adam promised. “And I’ll help you make your bed, okay?”
“Okay, Daddy,” A.C. grinned, showing he had inherited his father’s dimple.
When he reentered the master bedroom, Bronwen was just finishing pinning up her hair and she turned to smile a greeting. “Are they all up?”
“Gwyneth and A.C. are,” he answered. “You might want to check on Penny since I promised I’d help A.C. with his shoes.” He paused before adding, “It looks like A.C. needs a haircut.”
“He does not,” she replied crossly. “Every time his hair is long enough to start to curl just a little, you want to cut it off. He looks so adorable when his hair curls.”
“Boys aren’t supposed to look adorable,” he retorted. “It can wait another week, but then I’m taking him to the barber.”
“Of course, my lord and master. Your wish is my command,” she replied in a syrupy voice.
“Bronwen,” he said warningly.
“Oh, go help A.C. with his shoes,” she replied crossly. “I’ll check on Penny.”
Gwyneth had found Penny was even harder to rouse than usual. “Come on, Pen, get out of bed,” she said shaking her sister’s shoulder roughly. “You don’t want to be late or all you’ll get is a dingo’s breakfast.”
“I’m up,” Penny snapped, slapping Gwyneth’s hands away. In fact, she hadn’t slept well all night because of a pain in her abdomen. It had actually begun the day before and at first it had been dull and she could ignore it, but it had grown worse during the night. She got up and dressed, only half-heartedly brushing her waist-length, straight black hair and pulling it back from her face with a wide ribbon tied in a large bow. She was fastening her shoes when Bronwen knocked and entered.
Bronwen saw that Gwyneth was dressed and her bed was made. At fifteen, Gwyneth wore her hair in a twist on top of her head as was the fashion but her curls resisted their confinement and some were forever escaping. Of all the Cartwright children, Gwyneth bore the strongest resemblance to Adam. She was tall and willowy, and she had the delectably rounded derrière and long slender legs of male fantasies. She was innocently oblivious to the secret (and not so secret) looks she received when she went swimming at the Cloncurry River thinking no male would ever be interested in a tall, skinny girl with a chest almost as flat as a boy’s.
Since the girls were nearly ready, Bronwen went to see if Nell and Mary, their maids, needed any help. Meanwhile Adam had found A.C. shoving his shirttails into his knickerbockers.
“Whoa, Jackeroo,” he said with a chuckle. “Your shirt isn’t buttoned properly.”
“Is too!” A.C. retorted.
“Are you contradicting me?” Adam asked in the dangerously quiet voice all his children recognized.
“N-no, Daddy,” A.C. stammered.
“See that you don’t. Now, re-button your shirt.”
A.C. fumbled with the buttons and Adam forced himself to watch patiently, letting A.C. take all the time he needed before helping him lace his shoes and make his bed.
Adam looked his son over and said firmly, “You haven’t brushed your hair yet; you can’t go down to breakfast looking like that. Stand still and I’ll brush it for you.”
“Ow!” A.C. complained. “Not so hard, Daddy.”
“I’m sorry,” Adam said contritely. “The longer your hair is the worse it tangles.”
“Can I get it cut?” A.C. asked.
“That’s fine with me. Why don’t you ask your mother,” Adam replied with a sly smile.
The two of them hurried to the barn where A.C. “helped” Adam with his barn chores. Gwyneth and Penny were already there and the four of them worked quickly to finish so they wouldn’t be late to breakfast. Adam and the two girls had to change from their work clothes to proper attire before they ate. Gwyneth hastily shucked her waist overalls and black shirt and changed into a cream-colored shirtwaist blouse and a tan skirt while Penny exchanged her old, threadbare cotton blouse (passed down from her three sisters) and knickerbockers for a sailor blouse and navy blue pleated skirt.
When they entered the dining room, they found Bronwen and A.C. waiting and Nell and Mary were bringing in the food. Most of the family ate oatmeal and butter, fresh scones crammed with currants, fried potatoes, bacon and scrambled eggs but Bronwen had her customary tea and toast and Penny just pushed her food around her plate.
“You’re not eating Penny,” Bronwen commented and Penny said defensively, “I’m not very hungry this morning.”
“You need to eat something, Kitten,” Adam said. “At least eat your oatmeal.”
With a sigh, Penny complied. However, with each mouthful she felt more and more nauseous. She walked to school with her best friend, Kate Newkirk, who lived across the street while Gwyneth and their cousin Llywelyn, who lived next-door, walked together. Penny was so quiet that Kate asked her if she was sick.
“I have a pain here,” Penny replied pointing to the right side of her abdomen, “but I didn’t say anything to Mama or Daddy because I knew they’d make me stay in bed and I hate that.” Kate nodded her understanding.
Penny hadn’t been in school very long before she felt really ill. She asked to be excused and managed to make it outside before she became violently ill and lost her breakfast. She said nothing to her teacher, however, and simply returned to class. Throughout the day the pain increased. When she and Gwyneth went home for dinner, Bronwen was preoccupied with A.C., who had been a handful all morning, and failed to notice Penny’s lack of appetite. Penny surreptitiously fed enough of her food to Lady, who was always underfoot at mealtime, to keep the others unaware of her distress.
She returned to school but the pain didn’t get any better and it was difficult for her to concentrate on her lessons. She ate a little at supper so her parents wouldn’t be suspicious; however, she became ill just as she had after breakfast although she managed to make it outside in time and then passed it off as a visit to the outhouse. She convinced herself that the pain wasn’t growing any worse and after supper she played jackstraws with A.C. while Adam and Gwyneth played cribbage and Bronwen read the latest novel by Thomas Hardy. When Bronwen and Adam put A.C. to bed, Gwyneth decided to read. Penny picked up her favorite book, Beautiful Joe, but she couldn’t concentrate. When Adam returned to the library, he asked Penny if she’d like to play a game with him while her mother and sister were engrossed in their reading.
“Could we play backgammon?” she asked and he nodded with a smile, for backgammon was her favorite and she’d improved so much that sometimes she beat him.
“Do you feel all right, Kitten?” he asked during the game. “You’ve been awfully quiet this evening.”
“I’m okay. I just have a little stomachache, but it’ll be better in the morning.”
“Is that why you hardly touched your supper?” he asked quietly, for it just wasn’t normal for her to be so subdued and she usually had a good appetite.
She hadn’t realized anyone had noticed she’d hardly eaten a thing but she didn’t want her daddy to worry so she said quickly, “Yes, that’s why. But I’m sure I’ll feel better in the morning.”
Gwyneth woke suddenly in the dark to the sound of her name. “Gwyneth, please wake up,” Penny sobbed.
“What’s wrong?” Gwyneth asked apprehensively.
“My stomach hurts so. Please, get Mama,” Penny begged and Gwyneth heard the anguish in her sister’s tone.
She was frightened because Penny never liked to admit she was ill or hurt. She hurried to her parents’ room in her bare feet and knocking on the door called, “Mama!”
“What is it, Gwyneth?” she heard her father ask.
“Penny’s sick and crying for Mama.”
“I’ll be there in a moment,” her mother replied so Gwyneth hurried back to where Penny was quietly sobbing. Gwyneth lit the lamp and she could see Penny was white-faced and sweating, lying on her left side. Her parents entered the room and sat down on either side of Penny. Bronwen put her hand on Penny’s forehead and said worriedly, “She has a fever.”
“Where does it hurt, Kitten?” Adam asked gently.
“My right side, Daddy,” Penny sobbed. He applied just a little pressure and she screamed in agony.
“I’m sorry, Kitten,” he said quietly, trying to hide his fear. “I’m going for Dr. Brooke.”
Bronwen nodded. “I’ll see if I can bring her fever down. Gwyneth, please go wake Nell and ask her to bring me some cold water and cloths.”
Bronwen bathed Penny’s face and chest with cold cloths while the child moaned in pain. She complained of thirst but she couldn’t keep down any liquid and her anxious mother and sister could see that vomiting increased her agonizing pain. They both noticed that her abdomen was visibly distended.
Adam rode as fast as he dared on a dark night, for it would do Penny no good if he were injured on the way to Dr. Brooke’s home. “Dear God, let him be home,” he prayed ceaselessly as he rode. He knocked loudly on the front door and in a few minutes Dr. Brooke, wearing his robe and slippers, answered the door.
“It’s my daughter, Penny,” Adam said quickly. “She has a terrible pain in her right side. I barely touched it and yet she was in agony. She’s feverish as well.”
“Let me get dressed and I’ll be there as quickly as I can,” Dr. Brooke replied.
Adam hurried home and up to Penny’s room and saw his much-loved daughter was in even more pain now. “Dr. Brooke is on his way, Kitten,” he said smoothing back her sweat-soaked hair. She was in such agony all she could do was to nod her head to show she understood.
Dr. Brooke arrived a few minutes later. He examined Penny with a grave face and then motioned Adam and Bronwen to the hallway, leaving Nell with Penny and a frightened Gwyneth. He closed the door and turned to face them.
“I wish I did not have to give you such unhappy news, but I believe Penny has appendicitis, what we used to call perityphlitis. It is a very serious condition but surgical removal of the appendix may save her life,” he said quietly..
“May?” Adam repeated.
“There is always risk involved in surgery; however, if the appendix is not perforated, then the chances are very good that Penny will make a full recovery. I read that an American physician has successfully removed a perforated appendix, but I never have. If the appendix has perforated, then it is very likely that peritonitis will develop. If Penny should develop peritonitis, the only treatment is to surgically drain the abscess that develops in the abdominal cavity.” He paused and said quietly, “That treatment is seldom effective. If we only had some method of fighting the infection. ¼” He let his voice trail off and then said more firmly, “Do I have your permission to admit Penny to the hospital and surgically remove her appendix?”
Adam and Bronwen exchanged frightened, anxious glances. She nodded imperceptibly and Adam said, “Yes, you have our permission.”
“Bring her to the hospital and I will meet you there. You will need to sign the admission papers, Mr. Cartwright. Then one of the staff will show you to the waiting room outside surgery. Removing Penny’s appendix is an emergency so she will be prepared for surgery as soon as she arrives.”
While Adam hitched the horses to the surrey, Bronwen hurriedly told Nell and Gwyneth what was happening and packed a bag with some clothes and Penny’s hairbrush. Adam lifted Penny as gently as he could but she couldn’t stop her agonized scream at the slight pressure on her inflamed side.
Adam drove as carefully as he could but the slightest jolt caused Penny to moan in agony. When they arrived at Cloncurry’s little hospital, an attendant was waiting and he placed Penny on a bed carriage and wheeled her inside. Bronwen walked alongside, holding Penny’s hand, while Adam went to sign the admitting papers.
He soon joined Bronwen in the waiting area. She sat with her head bowed and he saw her lips moving silently. He sat beside her and began his own prayers for their cherished daughter’s life. The waiting was endless, but finally Dr. Brooke appeared, and they both noted the sadness in his eyes.
“The appendix was perforated,” he said gently. “I did my best to remove the infected tissue, but we will have to wait and see if she develops peritonitis.”
“May we see her?” Bronwen asked in an unsteady voice.
“After she has recovered from the effects of the anesthetic, she’ll be moved to a private room and you can spend as much time with her as you wish. In fact, I’ll have one of the attendants take you to her room and you can wait for her there.” He paused and said kindly, “She won’t be coming to the room for a bit so if you need to contact your family this would be a good time to do it.”
Adam nodded his understanding and turning to Bronwen said, “I’ll let Beth and Dafydd and Rhys and Matilda know what happened and I’ll talk to Gwyneth and Nell.”
He went to the rectory first. Dafydd was an early riser and he answered Adam’s knock immediately. Adam told him tersely what had happened but Dafydd saw the worry and fear in his father-in-law’s eyes.
“I’ll tell Beth and then we’ll both come to the hospital. We’ll pray that Penny fach will recover, Tada.”
Adam nodded his understanding and he hurried to the Davies’ house. After he left, Rhys said sadly, “I think I should send a telegram to Tad and Mam and let them know,” and Matilda nodded her agreement.
“Can I go with you to see Penny?” Gwyneth asked her eyes filling with tears when Adam told her the results of Penny’s operation.
“Just for a little while. Mama and I need you to stay with A.C. He’s too little to really understand and he’s going to be upset that Mama and I aren’t here. He needs you to be with him.” Gwyneth reluctantly nodded her understanding.
“Is-is Penny going to die?” she asked brokenly.
“We don’t know,” he replied honestly and she could see the fear and anxiety in his eyes.
Penny was in her room when they arrived. She was lying very still with her knees bent. Beth and Bronwen were seated on either side of the bed while Dafydd stood behind Beth, his hands on her shoulders to bring her comfort.
“Hello, Kitten,” Adam said softly and Gwyneth added, “Hello, Penny,” but she didn’t respond.
“She’s still very groggy from the anesthetic,” Bronwen said quietly. “The nurse took her temperature and she’s running a fever of 103 degrees. There’s a drain in her side to fight against infection.”
After an hour, Beth and Gwyneth went to be with A.C. Dafydd stayed longer, but he had other calls he needed to make so he left Bronwen and Adam alone with Penny, promising to return. Adam sat by Penny’s bed and held her hand in his. It was so small and delicate and he could feel the fever ravaging her body. When Dr. Brooke came to examine her, the slightest touch on her rigid abdomen brought screams of agony. When the examination was complete, he motioned Adam and Bronwen to come in the hallway and closed the door behind them.
He looked at the two parents with compassion and sadness, for he had delivered Penny just as he had Miranda and Gwyneth. “She has developed peritonitis. I am afraid you must be prepared for the worst.”
Bronwen began to sob quietly but Adam looked at the doctor with a stony visage. “There must be something more that you can do,” he said with a quiet intensity.
“I wish to God there were,” Dr. Brooke answered heavily. He added quietly, “I am so sorry. She is in God’s hands; all I can suggest is that you pray for her.”
Dafydd returned and he prayed with Bronwen and Adam as they sat with Penny. The smallest movement caused the child excruciating pain and her fever mounted. She was thirsty but if she drank, then she vomited, and her frightened parents could see that only increased her agony
Her mother gently wiped her face clean while her father held one of her hands, hands with the long, slender fingers she’d inherited from him, and stroked it soothingly. Penny focused her pain-filled eyes on his face and asked quietly, “Am I dying, Daddy?”
He couldn’t speak and shut his eyes to blot out the agony in hers. Bronwen smoothed her hair and said very gently, “Yes, Penny fach, you are going home to Jesus.”
“I don’t want to leave you,” she said brokenly.
“I know, cariad, but we’ll see each other again,” and Bronwen kissed her little girl’s cheek. “I love you, Penny,” she said softly and managed to hold back her tears for her little girl’s sake.
“And I love you, Mama. Daddy,” she said and he forced himself to open his eyes and look into hers. “I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you, Kitten,” he answered in a choked voice. “I love you so much.”
“Don’t cry, Daddy. Mama’s right. We’ll see each other again,” and she managed a faint smile. “I’ll be with Uncle Hoss, and Grandma, Grandma Inger and Grandma Marie.” He forced his lips to smile and kissed her hand. She paused, seeming to gather all her strength, and said softly, “Tell Beth and Miranda and Gwyneth and A.C. goodbye for me. Tell them that I love them.”
“We will, Kitten,” Adam said gently and Bronwen nodded.
“I’m glad I had you for a brother for a little while, Dafydd,” she said turning to look at her brother-in-law. “I love you, too.”
“Dw i’n dy garu di, Penny fach,” Dafydd replied softly, bending down to drop a kiss on her forehead and she smiled faintly.
Soon afterward Dr. Brooke quietly entered the room. “Mr. Cartwright, I’d like to speak with you if I may.”
“Daddy will only be gone for a moment, Kitten,” Adam said softly and kissed Penny’s forehead before stepping in the hallway with the doctor.
“I would like to give Penny a shot of morphine,” Dr. Brooke said quietly. “It will ease her pain. I need your approval to give her the drug.”
“I don’t want her to suffer anymore,” Adam said in a flat tone. “You have my consent.”
The morphine eased Penny’s agony but she quickly lost consciousness. Adam asked Dafydd to stay at their house with Beth, Gwyneth and A.C. so he reluctantly left his in-laws alone with Penny. Around four a.m., Penny grew very still and they could no longer hear her labored breathing.
“Kitten,” Adam said fearfully, softly caressing her cheek. “Kitten.” Bronwen felt Penny’s neck for a pulse and said brokenly, “She’s gone, anwyld.” She sank to her knees at the bedside sobbing loudly.
He gently kissed Penny’s forehead and then, silently, he washed her body using the pitcher and basin the hospital had provided, removing the useless drain from her side. When he finished, he dressed her in the clean clothes Bronwen had brought to the hospital. Then he brushed her waist-length hair, carefully removing the tangles. Once that task was accomplished, he took out his pocket knife and very carefully and gently cut a lock of hair and placed it in his handkerchief. In his mind’s eye he saw Penny sitting on his lap—her lips reddened with her mother’s coralline salve and her hair pinned up in a twist—and heard her voice saying, “I’ll always be your little girl, Daddy. I promise.” He kissed her cheek, already growing cold, and then without a word to his grieving wife, he walked out of the room.
One of the nurses heard Bronwen crying and she called to Adam when she saw him, but he walked past her without responding, so she hurried into Penny’s room. She saw Penny was dead and noted that someone had washed and dressed her body and guessed it had been the child’s father since the mother was consumed by her grief. There was nothing she could do for the child, so she turned to the mother.
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Cartwright,” she said gently, placing her hand on the other woman’s shoulder. With an effort, Bronwen controlled her tears. “Where is my husband?” she asked looking about the room but seeing no sign of Adam.
“I don’t know, ma’am,” the nurse answered honestly as she helped Bronwen to a chair. “I tried to speak to him, but he just looked right through me. I think he may be in shock. Why don’t you let me send for Reverend Jones or Mr. Davies? One of them can look for Mr. Cartwright.”
“Yes, send for Reverend Jones,” Bronwen managed to get out but as soon the nurse left her alone she gazed at her child’s lifeless body and broke down again.”
At dawn Dafydd was on his way to the hospital from the Cartwright home when he saw his father-in-law walking blindly down the street. “Tada, wait,” he called. When Adam showed no signs of hearing him, he quickly crossed the street and grasped Adam’s arm. “Tada, has something happened?”
“Penny died,” Adam replied in a flat, emotionless voice. “My baby girl died.”
“I am so sorry, Tada,” Dafydd said gently. “I know how much you loved her, but you’ll be reunited again someday.”
“Just as I’ll be reunited with my mother and my two stepmothers and my brother,” Adam replied bitterly.
Dafydd chose to ignore his tone for now and asked, “Where is mam?”
Adam looked confused for a moment until he realized that he had left Bronwen at the hospital with Penny. “At the hospital,” he replied.
“She needs you now so I think we’d better go back there, don’t you?” Dafydd suggested softly, keeping his hand on his father-in-law’s arm. He was concerned about Adam’s behavior, which was most atypical. Adam’s appearance also troubled Dafydd for his father-in-law was unnaturally pale.
“Yes,” Adam said woodenly. “I will have to make the arrangements.”
“I’ll help you and so will Uncle Rhys,” Dafydd said firmly and slowly Adam nodded and allowed his son-in-law to lead him back to the hospital.
At the hospital, Dafydd consoled Bronwen while Adam stared at the earthly remains of his beloved child. The nurse had seen Dafydd return with Adam and after a few minutes she entered the room with a large mug of hot, very sweet tea. “Mr. Cartwright,” she said, placing her hand on his arm. “I want you to drink this.” When he didn’t respond, she put his hands around the mug. “Drink this tea now,” she said firmly and mechanically he lifted the mug to his mouth and swallowed. She watched to make sure he drank all the hot sweet drink and then she took the mug away, giving the family privacy for their grief.
Just as they were about to leave, Dr. Brooke entered the room. “I want to express my sincerest sympathy,” he said quietly.
“Thank you, doctor,” Bronwen said. “I know you did all you could for Penny.”
“Before you leave, I would like to examine you, Mr. Cartwright.” Adam didn’t respond so Dr. Brooke gently sat him in one of the empty chairs. He noted that Adam’s complexion was very pale and his skin felt clammy. He placed his fingers on Adam’s wrist but his pulse was too faint, so he put his fingers on Adam’s neck and felt his weak but rapid pulse. He asked Adam to remove his coat and after he repeated the question Adam did as requested. Dr. Brooke then rolled up Adam’s sleeve and turning to the nurse who had followed him in with a tray, he picked up a needle and syringe. “You are in shock, Mr. Cartwright, so I am going to give you an injection of saline solution.” He turned to Bronwen. “I’ll come by this afternoon to give him another injection. Please make sure he drinks plenty of water or other fluids for the next day or so.” She nodded and they left the hospital.
When they returned from the hospital, Adam and Bronwen broke the news to Beth and Gwyneth first while Dafydd told the Davies.
Beth broke down immediately and Bronwen put her arms about her firstborn to comfort her. Gwyneth tried to be strong and hold back her tears like her father, but her sadness was too profound. She turned to her mother and sister, who held out their arms to her, and the three of them wept together. Adam stood by impassive and remote. When the women were able to control their tears, Bronwen said unsteadily, “We must tell A.C.”
“He’s playing in his room right now, but he’s been asking about Penny all morning,” Gwyneth said tearfully. “He wants to know when she’ll be coming home.”
“Do you want us to be with you when you tell him?” Beth asked.
“I think that might be best,” Bronwen replied. She looked at Adam to get his opinion but she wasn’t sure he had even heard Beth. She put her hand on his arm and said, “We’ll all go together and explain to A.C. that Penny has gone to heaven.” He merely nodded his head.
A.C. was playing with his Noah’s Ark, waiting impatiently for his mama and daddy to come home with Penny. Gwyneth, Bethy and Dafydd had all told him Penny was very sick so Mama and Daddy had taken her to the hospital and they were staying there with her until she was well enough to come home. He heard footsteps and he looked up to see Mama and Daddy in the doorway. He jumped up and ran to them, and Mama leaned over and kissed him and hugged him. Daddy only stroked his hair. A.C. looked up at them and he could see Mama had been crying, which frightened him, as did the faraway look on Daddy’s face, like he wasn’t even seeing him. He looked around for Penny, but only saw Bethy and Gwyneth. “Where’s Penny?” he said anxiously.
Mama walked over to the rocking chair and sat down. “Come sit on my lap, A.C. bach,” she said and her voice sounded funny to A.C., like she was trying not to cry. Anxiously he climbed up on her lap and looked at the other faces. He could see Bethy and Gwyneth had been crying too, and a hard little knot began to form in his stomach.
“Bethy and Gwyneth told you that Penny was very sick, didn’t they?” Bronwen asked and he nodded slowly. “Sometimes, people get so sick that they can’t get better, and so Jesus takes them to be with Him in heaven.”
“Like Grandma,” he said, remembering the lady in the photograph that looked like Miranda. Grandpa had told him she was his grandma—Daddy’s mama—and she had gone to heaven when Daddy was a little baby.
“That’s right. Like your grandma. Penny was sick like that so Jesus took her to heaven with him.”
“No!” he said loudly. “I don’t want Penny to be in heaven. I want Penny to come home!”
“So do I, but she can’t,” his father said bleakly. “She’s gone and nothing can bring her back.”
A.C. turned frightened eyes to his mama’s face. “We all wish she could be with us, but she is in heaven with Jesus and Grandma, Grandma Inger, Grandma Marie and Uncle Hoss.” Bronwen hugged him tightly and kissed his cheek. “Penny told Daddy and me to tell you and your sisters that she loved you very much. Her body is coming home so we can say goodbye to her before we bury her.”
“I don’t want to say goodbye,” he sobbed, throwing his arms around his mama’s neck.
Adam stroked his son’s hair softly once and then left the room silently as the others began to weep. Gwyneth, wanting her father’s comfort, followed Adam into the hall.
“Are you all right, Daddy?” she asked anxiously.
“No, I’m not,” he answered in a tone devoid of emotion. “I’m going with your uncle and Dafydd to make the final arrangements,” and he left her standing in the hallway, tears filling her eyes.
She went back into A.C.’s room, where her mother was rocking the sobbing child. Bronwen and Beth had managed to control their tears, and when Gwyneth reentered the room, Bronwen said quietly, “I think we should bury Penny in the dress she wore to the wedding.”
“Yes,” Gwyneth said. “It was her favorite and,” her voice shook and she tried to steady it, “she looked so pretty in it.”
“Could you watch A.C. while I take it to the hospital and dress Penny?” Beth and Gwyneth nodded so Bronwen continued. “Daddy dressed her in the frock I took to the hospital for her, but I know she’d want to be buried in her prettiest dress.”
“And her locket,” Beth added.
“Oh yes, she loved her locket,” Bronwen said and smiled as she remembered Penny’s joy when she’d received the little gold locket for her twelfth birthday.
A.C. had stopped sobbing and was listening. “Penny would want to have ’Toria and ’Xandra so she can play with them,” he said quietly.
“Yes, she would,” Bronwen replied gently and kissed his tearstained cheek. “When you say goodbye to Penny, you may give her Victoria and Alexandra.”
“I’ll get her things ready for you, Mama,” Beth said and Bronwen nodded her thanks. In a few minutes, Beth returned with a valise.
“A.C. bach, Mama is going to go to the hospital to dress Penny so I’m leaving you here with Bethy and Gwyneth. Be a good boy for them.”
“I want to go with you, Mama,” he begged, his eyes again filling with tears.
“I’m sorry, bachgennyn, but children aren’t allowed at the hospital. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Bethy and Gwyneth will take care of you while I’m gone.” She hugged him and he nodded his acceptance. Then he asked anxiously, “Where’s Daddy?”
“He’s with Uncle Rhys and Dafydd; he said they’re making the final arrangements,” Gwyneth answered, and Bronwen and Beth nodded their understanding. A.C. said fearfully, “I want Daddy.”
“He’ll be home later,” Bronwen replied handing him to Beth and giving each of her precious children a goodbye kiss.
Bronwen returned from the hospital to be greeted by her tearful son. Matilda and Llywelyn had come over to offer their support and they had helped Beth and Gwyneth comfort A.C. A little later Adam, Rhys and Dafydd returned accompanying Penny’s body. The small coffin was placed in the drawing room on the credenza and the family prepared to say their final goodbye before their friends and neighbors arrived for the wake. Bronwen quietly took A.C. to the dining room to talk with him as Rhys and Dafydd removed the lid from the casket.
“A.C. bach, we are going to say goodbye to Penny and you may give her Victoria and Alexandra, but Mama wants to talk with you first. When you see Penny, it looks like she is sleeping, but she’s not. Penny is in heaven; we’re saying goodbye to the shell she left behind. It’s like when you found the old cocoon in the backyard and Daddy told you that the butterfly didn’t need it anymore so he left it behind.” A.C. looked at her uncertainly but Bronwen decided to wait and answer any questions after he said goodbye to Penny. “Let’s go upstairs and get Victoria and Alexandra so you can give them to Penny.”
When Bronwen and A.C. returned, the entire family walked into the drawing room together. Beth and Gwyneth approached the coffin first and Dafydd was behind them to offer them comfort. When Beth saw her little sister’s lifeless form, her animated face now still and expressionless, she gave a loud cry of anguish and Dafydd took her in his arms and held her. Gwyneth’s grief was just as profound but she stood and gazed at her sister, the tears streaming down her face as she cried silently. She bent over and kissed Penny’s cold cheek and whispered through her tears, “Goodbye, Penny. I’m going to miss you so much.” Bronwen and Adam indicated that the Davies should go next while they stood with A.C. between them, clutching Penny’s dolls in his arms and gazing apprehensively at the grieving adults.
Rhys wept unashamedly as he gazed at his little niece, always so full of life, now forever at rest. He kissed her cheek and kept his arm about his wife, who was sobbing quietly. Matilda managed to control her tears enough to kiss her little niece farewell and then she wept in her husband’s arms just as Beth was weeping in her husband’s. Llywelyn was also crying and he whispered brokenly, “Goodbye, Penny,” before bending down and dropping a light kiss on her forehead.
Dafydd was still consoling his distraught wife so Adam and Bronwen approached the coffin with A.C. between them. Adam lifted his son so he could look at his sister a last time. At first, A.C. thought Mama was wrong; Penny was sleeping. However, as he gazed at her face, he realized what Mama meant. Penny wasn’t there anymore and he started crying. “Come back, Penny. Please come back.”
“She can’t come back, son,” Adam said quietly. “Give her Victoria and Alexandra and kiss her goodbye.”
Still sobbing A.C. put the dolls down, one on either side of Penny, and then he kissed her cold, lifeless cheek. Adam stepped back and held his sobbing son giving Bronwen a chance to say her farewell.
She looked at her youngest daughter, who had always been so cheerful and so lively, and the pain was so great she thought she couldn’t bear it. Oh, Penny, how can I say goodbye? How can I bear to go on day after day and not see your smiling face, never see the woman you would have become? I am so sorry for all the times I scolded you when you didn’t really deserve it. Oh my darling little girl, I’d give anything to have you back! She kissed Penny’s forehead and softly caressed her cheek before stepping back so Adam could say his goodbye.
He handed the weeping A.C. to Bronwen and then walked over to the coffin. He saw his baby girl dressed in the lovely gown of pale green taffeta that she had worn so proudly to her sister’s wedding, with the tiny heart-shaped gold locket he and Bronwen had given her for her last birthday around her neck. The beautiful violet eyes, so like her mother’s, were now closed forever and the vivaciousness that had given her features their charm was gone. Gazing down, all he felt was a terrible numbness. When I said I wanted you to stay my little girl, I never meant this. Oh, Kitten, how could you leave me? He stroked Penny’s long hair gently with his fingertips and then bent and kissed her cheek.
Even while he comforted his bride, Dafydd watched his father-in-law. Dafydd knew how much Adam had loved Penny and he was concerned that he hadn’t seen Adam cry or show any emotion since Penny’s death. However, at the moment, his primary concern was his wife. “Bethan, anwyld, can you tell Penny goodbye now?” he asked softly. Beth drew a shuddering breath and nodded. She leaned heavily on him as she walked back to the coffin. “Oh, little sister, I wish there were some way to bring you back. We’re all going to miss you so much,” she whispered brokenly and then dropped a kiss on Penny’s cheek. Dafydd did the same but did not voice his farewell. I know you are in a better place, Penny fach, but your family will never forget you. Rest in peace, little sister.
A.C. was too distraught to attend the wake so Mary took him upstairs and stayed with him until he fell asleep. Dr. Brooke came by as promised and, after checking Adam’s pulse, gave him another saline injection. Just before the wake, Bronwen had Nell fix Adam a large cup of hot, sweet tea and then made sure he drank it.
Neighbors, friends and most of the men who worked for Adam and Rhys came to the wake. Mark had genuinely liked Penny and when his father came home that evening and told the family that the youngest Cartwright daughter had died and that he was going to the wake, Mark asked if he could accompany him.
“I expect you knew the child, didn’t you?” his father asked slowly.
“Yes, I did, Dad. She was a nice girl and I know the whole family must be very sad. I’d like to tell them how sorry I am that Penny died. She was only a year older than Tamsyn,” he added referring to his youngest sister.
“It’s a hard thing to lose a child,” Mrs. Pentreath said sadly, for she had lost three. Her firstborn had died of diphtheria when he was five months old, her fourth child had died of influenza at age six and her youngest had died of an unknown wasting disease just before they’d moved to Cloncurry. Only Mark and his two sisters, Demelza and Tamsyn, survived.
“I think it’s fitting that you come with me,” Mr. Pentreath said solemnly. “We’ll eat a bite of supper and change into our best clothes to show respect.”
When Mark and his father arrived at the Cartwrights’ home, they saw how many others had come to pay their respects. They noted their neighbors, the MacGregors, and young Ian weeping bitter tears. (Mark remembered Gwyneth sharing with him that Ian was always telling Penny he was going to marry her when they grew up.) Mark noted that Gwyneth, her sister and mother had eyes red and swollen from weeping while Mr. Cartwright’s face looked as though it had been carved from stone it was so expressionless and remote. Looking at Penny’s lifeless form in her coffin reminded Mark of the siblings he had lost, and his eyes filled with tears so that he had to blink very fast to hold them back. He walked over to Gwyneth and Llywelyn who were standing together.
“I am so sorry,” he said haltingly, feeling utterly useless.
“Thank you for coming,” Gwyneth said in a voice thick with tears. “I can’t believe Penny is gone. It was so sudden.”
“She’ll be sorely missed,” he replied taking one of her slender hands with its long fingers in his own. “She was such a lively, friendly little girl.”
“Yes, she was,” Gwyneth said, smiling just a little. “She loved to laugh. I remember the time she put sugar in the salt shaker and the look on Daddy’s face when he took the first bite of the green beans that he thought he’d salted.”
Matilda was standing nearby and overheard. “I remember the time I was showing her how to sew a shirt for A.C. She worked so hard and then we discovered that she’d sewn the shirt to her dress.” Matilda smiled at the memory of Penny’s face that had first registered surprise and then amusement at what she’d done.
“She was always so delighted when she’d give A.C. the Old Bachelor card,” Llywelyn said with a little grin.
“And you always knew when she had the Old Bachelor; Daddy said she’d be a worse poker player than Uncle Joe,” Gwyneth added.
“She was very kind, too,” Mark stated quietly. “My little sister, Tamsyn, told me how the first day at school here, none of the other little girls invited her to play at recess. Penny saw Tamsyn standing all alone and she asked her to skip rope with her and her friends. Tamsyn never forgot that.”
Bronwen had come over to greet Mark, and when she heard him, she felt her eyes fill with tears. “Thank you for sharing that, Mark.”
“She-she was a wonderful little girl, and I am so sorry for your loss, ma’am,” he said self-consciously.
Bronwen smiled sadly. “Your sister¼ Is she about the same size as Penny?” He nodded slowly. “Next week, why don’t you bring Tamsyn here and she can pick out some of Penny’s dresses and take them home. I know Penny would want her to have them.”
Mr. Pentreath had come for Mark and overheard Bronwen’s words. “I thank you, ma’am, but I don’t think it would be fitting.”
“Please, Mr. Pentreath. It would mean a great deal to our family to know that another little girl was able to use Penny’s clothing. And it is what Penny would want,” Bronwen said earnestly. After a moment’s hesitation, Mr. Pentreath nodded to show he acquiesced.
After the last person left, Adam turned to Bronwen and said abruptly, “I’m going for a ride. Don’t wait up for me.’ She watched him walk out of the front door without a word of farewell.
Dafydd turned to Bronwen. “Would you like Beth and me to stay until Tada returns?”
“No, I think it’s time Gwyneth and I went to bed,” Bronwen replied, for she felt drained. She managed a faint smile. “Adam said not to wait up, so it’s best that we don’t.”
“You are all in my prayers; you know that,” Dafydd said softly as he hugged first Bronwen and then Gwyneth.
“Thank you,” Bronwen replied, struggling to maintain her composure.
Beth couldn’t speak; she only hugged her mother and sister and fought to hold back her tears. She walked out, supported by Dafydd’s strong arms.
Matilda was so overwrought that Rhys and Llywelyn had taken her home earlier. Nell and Mary had remained quietly in the background in case they were needed. Nell now said gently, “We’ll see you in the morning, ma’am. I know none of you has much appetite, but you must eat. Mary and I will fix a light breakfast for all of you.”
“Thank you,” Bronwen replied, hugging first Nell and then Mary. “Mary, thank you for putting A.C. to bed for me,” she said and the young woman smiled sadly.
“It’s a terrible thing for all of us, ma’am. We all loved Miss Penny.”
They left then, leaving Bronwen and Gwyneth alone. “I want to sleep in Beth and Miranda’s old room,” Gwyneth said, her eyes filling with tears. “I can’t sleep in our room. I just keep thinking of Penny and missing her.”
Bronwen put her arm around her tall daughter’s waist. “We’ll make Beth and Miranda’s old room yours. I’ll help you change the linens.”
“No, I’ll do it myself,” Gwyneth replied. Then she dropped her eyes. “I just want some time alone,” and Bronwen nodded her understanding.
After Gwyneth went upstairs, Bronwen walked over to the open casket and looked again on her child’s still form, the dolls she had loved so much lying beside her. There was no one there to be brave for, so she allowed herself to cry—gut-wrenching sobs and scalding tears that seared her face. “Oh my baby! My baby!” she whispered hoarsely when she had no tears left. “I don’t think I can bear losing you. You were so precious to me and to your father. I pray you always knew how deeply I loved you. I know sometimes I was too strict, but that didn’t mean I loved you any less. How I will miss your mischievous smile, the way you could wrap your daddy around your little finger. Our family will never be the same without you, my Penny fach.” She smoothed Penny’s hair one final time and pressed one final kiss on the cold, lifeless cheek before turning and walking upstairs.
She lay in their large, four-poster bed, unable to sleep. She was worried about Adam. She knew how much he had loved Penny and she was afraid that he was holding his grief inside. She hoped he was able to cry when he was alone, but knowing him as she did, she feared he would not allow himself to seek the release of tears. She eventually drifted to sleep but woke instantly when she heard him enter the room. It was nearly dawn and he did not lie down; he simply sat in one of the window seats and stared at the sky. She pretended to be asleep until she saw the first streaks of light in the east.
He turned his head when he heard her stir, but said nothing for a moment. “I’ll go take care of the animals. Tell Gwyneth I’ll do her barn chores as well.”
“All right,” she replied quietly. “Nell and Mary are fixing a light breakfast because we must eat something before the funeral. Afterward I suppose people will be bringing dishes by.” He nodded almost imperceptibly and left the room.
The family forced themselves to eat some of the breakfast Nell and Mary prepared and Bronwen made sure Adam drank a cup of tea with plenty of sugar. There had been no time to make mourning clothes so Bronwen and Gwyneth were dressed in dark-colored dresses, while Adam wore one of his black suits with a black crape armband and Bronwen dressed A.C. in the black velvet Fauntleroy suit he’d worn to Beth’s wedding, adding a black crape armband. The Davies and Cartwrights rode together to the church for the funeral and then to the graveside service, following the hearse conveying Penny’s coffin. Adam stood numbly as Penny’s small coffin was lowered into the ground and Dafydd intoned:
“Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.
In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succor, but of thee, O Lord., who for our sins art justly displeased?”
sins did my Penny commit that You were justly displeased with her? She was only a child! Why
did You take her from me? You took
my mother, You took Mama and Marie and Hoss.
Weren’t they enough? Will
You leave me with nothing—nothing but the memories of those I’ve lost?
Adam’s face was expressionless as he helped A.C. throw a handful of earth on Penny’s coffin after Bronwen, Beth and Gwyneth performed this final ritual. He then threw his own, only partially aware of Dafydd’s voice in the background:
“Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take out of this world the soul of our sister, Penelope Jane, here departed, we therefore commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in a firm belief of the Resurrection of the dead at the last day, in which they who die in the Lord shall rise again to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.”
Adam stood at the open grave lost in a fugue until he became aware of Bronwen’s gentle touch on his arm. He realized the others were departing and said, “I’ll join you later,” in the same flat voice he’d used ever since Penny’s death. Bronwen nodded her understanding although she wanted the comfort of his presence desperately. She rejoined the family and indicated they should leave. Rhys picked up the sobbing A.C., who was now too big for Bronwen to carry.
“I want Daddy,” A.C. wailed, squirming to get down and run to Adam.
“Your daddy wants a chance to be alone with Penny,” Rhys said soothingly. “He’ll be along soon.”
A.C., however, refused to be mollified and kept struggling to get down. “Here, let me take him,” Gwyneth offered. After a moment’s hesitation, Rhys gave his little nephew to the niece who now stood two inches taller than he did. A.C. quieted in his sister’s arms. When they reached the surrey, Gwyneth gave him to Bronwen, who was already seated, to hold. Bronwen enfolded her baby in her arms and comforted him, looking back once at her husband’s solitary figure standing by the freshly dug grave.
Adam stood at Penny’s open grave, the warm spring sun shining down on him. All around him were the signs of new life, mocking his grief. He looked down at the small coffin and saw again, in his mind’s eye, the beloved form that it contained. “I can’t believe you are gone, Kitten. I can remember so vividly the first time I held you in my arms. You were so tiny. When I looked at your face, I knew you were going to look like your mama, and I was so pleased. I’d wanted a little girl who was the image of her mother. When I knew your eyes were going to be violet just like hers, I was thrilled.”
“I remember the first time you smiled at me—you were younger than any of your sisters were when they smiled for the first time—and your whole face just lit up because you were so happy to see me. I think your mama was a little jealous that I was the first one you smiled for. You were such a happy baby and a joyful child. Mama thought I spoiled you and maybe I did a little. It was so hard for me to deny you anything when you looked at me with those enormous eyes, so full of love and trust. You were a good girl, bright and outgoing. No one was a stranger to you.”
His previous anger at a God who would allow an innocent child to suffer an agonizing death reasserted itself as he said, “It is unfair that your life was cut off so abruptly. Your mother believes you are in a better place. I hope she is right, and I hope we will be reunited some day.” Then his voice became very gentle as he said, “Goodbye, Kitten. Never forget that Daddy will always love you.”
He turned away from the grave. The last thing in the world he wanted was to hear neighbors and friends express their sympathy, but he knew it wasn’t fair to leave Bronwen to deal with them alone. Slowly, he forced himself to leave the cemetery and begin the walk to their house.
The next few days were bleak ones for the entire Cartwright family. Each member grieved in his or her own way. Beth began spending more time at her parents’ house, needing the comfort of her family as well as her husband. She and her mother would talk about Penny as they sewed mourning clothes and sharing memories eased their sorrow. Gwyneth attended school, but she couldn’t concentrate. She avoided Llywelyn and Mark and went for long solitary rides in the afternoons, often finding herself at Penny’s grave. Sometimes, though, she would join her oldest sister and mother and she, too, found comfort in remembering her sister. A.C. lost his exuberant independence and clung to his mother and sisters, crying when he was separated from them. At night he had nightmares and would wake up screaming, so Bronwen began sleeping in his room. Feeling her baby’s body curled next to hers brought her comfort and she was able to sleep a few hours each night.
She longed to share her grief with Adam, but he wasn’t there. He spent long hours at the mine and then he went for long rides returning home late at night after the others had gone to bed. The family only saw him at breakfast. He would sit at the table, silent and melancholy, ignoring the food and drinking a cup of strong tea. When he finished, he would leave, sometimes without a word of farewell. Bronwen was both worried that he clearly wasn’t eating or sleeping, and angry that when she and their children needed him so badly, he was oblivious to their pain.
The first Sunday after Penny’s death, Gwyneth and A.C. went upstairs to dress for church after breakfast. Bronwen expected Adam would come up with her to dress, but instead he headed for the backdoor.
“Aren’t you coming up to change for church?” she asked hesitantly.
“I’m not going to church,” he announced flatly.
“I won’t worship a God who robbed me and my brothers of our mothers so we never had a chance to know them, who took my brother’s life while he saved the lives of strangers, and who allowed my little girl to die in agony.” He turned on his heel and left her. She ran up the stairs, seeking the privacy of their bedroom, so her children wouldn’t see her tears.
She fought to regain her self-control and was just securing her bonnet with its black veil when there was a tentative knock at the bedroom door. “Come in,” she called.
Like her mother, Gwyneth was dressed in a plain gown of black bombazine trimmed with black crape and wearing a bonnet with a black veil, signifying they were in deep mourning. A.C. wore a knickerbocker suit of black broadcloth with a black crape armband.
“Where’s Daddy?” he asked looking about the room.
“Daddy won’t be joining us,” Bronwen answered in a flat tone. When Gwyneth started to question her, she cut her off curtly. “I don’t want to talk about it, Gwyneth. Let’s go so we won’t be late.”
The Davies noticed Adam’s absence but tactfully refrained from commenting on it. After the service, many of their friends asked after Adam, and Bronwen replied that he was ill. He is, she told herself; he is sick with grief. Later she confided her concern to Dafydd in private.
“I’m not surprised that Tada is angry with God, Mam, but God understands his pain. I’m more concerned that Tada is withdrawing from the family. He needs us as much as we need him; however, that is a realization he must arrive at himself. All we can do is continue to pray for him.”
That evening when Gwyneth went to do her barn chores, she discovered Muffin’s stall was empty. (She had been caring for the pony and giving her carrots as Penny always had; Muffin ate the carrots, but she was always disappointed that it was Gwyneth who fed them to her.) Gwyneth saw Adam was milking their cow and hesitantly she approached him.
“Muffin’s not in her stall, Daddy,” she said quietly.
“I know. I took her to the Dawsons and asked Mr. Dawson to find her a new owner.” He hadn’t been able to endure seeing the pony looking for Penny, disappointed when it was always Gwyneth who curried and brushed her and brought her carrots. Gwyneth, however, understood without words and she agreed with his decision for it was breaking her heart as well to see the pony looking for her mistress. Gwyneth wanted to talk with her daddy about their loss, but he seemed to look right through her as though she didn’t exist so she said nothing and they did the chores in an unhappy silence.
The next morning when Adam and Gwyneth returned from their chores, Bronwen was waiting for them at the backdoor. “Go on and wash up, Gwyneth. I need to speak with Daddy for a moment.” As soon as Gwyneth had gone into the bathhouse, Bronwen turned to her husband. “Unless you object, I’m going through Penny’s things today to decide what to keep and what to give away.”
He nodded mechanically and then he said in the lifeless voice he always spoke in now, “Keep the pink dress Matilda and Rhys gave her for her birthday, the treasure box that Pa made for her and her Graces game. And I don’t want you to give away the dollhouse.”
“I wouldn’t give the dollhouse away,” Bronwen replied, stung. “Cariad,” she said gently, placing her hand on his arm, but he simply walked by her into the house.
When Beth came by soon after breakfast, Bronwen said quietly, “I’m going to go through Penny’s things and decide what to keep and what to give away. Would you like to help me?”
“Yes. I’d like to choose a memento that I could keep,” Beth said in an unsteady voice.
“Certainly.” Bronwen turned to Gwyneth who hadn’t left for school yet. “Would you also like to choose a memento?” Gwyneth nodded wordlessly.
“What’s a ’mento, Mama?” A.C. asked in a subdued tone.
“Something to remember Penny by,” his mother replied softly. “Would you like to choose something of Penny’s to be your memento?” The little boy nodded his head slowly. “Can I have Bunny?” he asked, referring to the brown velvet rabbit Penny had received for her first birthday. She hadn’t played with the stuffed toy in years, but until she’d turned ten she’d always slept with Bunny. Even after she’d decided she was too big to sleep with a toy, she wouldn’t put the velvet rabbit up in the toy chest but set it at the foot of her bed.
“Yes, you may have Bunny,” Bronwen replied, bending over and kissing his rosy cheek.
“I’d like her paper dolls,” Gwyneth said softly. “She loved them almost as much as she did Victoria and Alexandra.”
“We’ll set those aside for you,” Bronwen promised with a faint smile. “Now, you’d better be on your way so you aren’t late to school. Tell Mark to bring his little sister here after school.” As Gwyneth left, Bronwen said to A.C., “I’d like for you to stay with Nell and Mary for a while, bachgennyn. You can watch them do the laundry. Would you do that for Mama?”
His chin and lower lip quivered, but he nodded. “Nell,” Bronwen called and the older woman came into the kitchen smiling. “Master A.C., you come with me and Mary and I will show you how we wash all the dirty laundry.” Reluctantly, the little boy allowed himself to be separated from his mama and sister.
It was a painful task, but Bronwen and Beth carefully went through Penny’s belongings. It took time because they would break down in tears at the memories some articles evoked. Beth decided to take the hairbrushes she and Gwyneth had given Penny for her last birthday as well as the sampler Penny had embroidered so painstakingly under her oldest sister’s tutelage. Bronwen sat aside the jumping jack she and Adam had helped A.C. make for Penny to give A.C. along with Bunny. For Miranda, she chose the book she had given Penny for her twelfth birthday, Beautiful Joe. Penny had cried as she’d read the cruelties described in the book but she had declared it her favorite story. Along with the book, Bronwen selected the miniature set of china that Penny had used for her doll tea parties. She would take them to Miranda in the spring when they went to Boston for her graduation from the Girls’ Latin School.
Except for the pink muslin dress, its matching hair ribbon and the knickerbockers Penny had used for riding, Bronwen decided to give away all of Penny’s clothes. There were other little girls Penny’s size in addition to Tamsyn Pentreath who would appreciate having one of her pretty dresses, blouses or skirts. Their parents would be glad of Penny’s petticoats, stockings and shoes. Bronwen knew it would hurt at first seeing other little girls wearing Penny’s clothes, but she also knew that Penny was a generous child who would want other little girls whose parents couldn’t afford to buy them lovely clothes to be able to wear hers.
Bronwen and Beth were both emotionally drained when they finished going through Penny’s belongings. Dafydd stopped by and joined them for dinner. He stayed to talk with his mother-in-law after she put A.C. down for his nap and Gwyneth had returned to school. Bronwen explained that she was letting Mark’s little sister choose some of Penny’s clothes for her own. “You know better than I which other little girls could make use of Penny’s clothing, so after Tamsyn makes her choice, I’ll let you dispose of the rest.”
“It’s very generous of you, Mam. I hate to ask this, but Tada has agreed, hasn’t he?” Dafydd asked hesitantly.
“Yes. I spoke to him this morning. Mornings are the only chance I have to speak with him.”
“He’s still spending most of his time away from home?” Dafydd asked quietly while Beth gazed at her mother anxiously.”
“Yes. He’s here physically in the mornings, but his mind is elsewhere. I know he is hurting, but we all are,” Bronwen said, her voice ending in a sob. “A.C. cries for him at bedtime; Adam always tucked him in and told him a bedtime story. Now, it feels like the rest of us don’t exist for him.”
“Each of us grieves in his own way, Mam,” Dafydd said gently. “We must be patient with Tada. I fear he is hurting so badly now that he really is blind to the feelings of others.”
“I can understand that and Gwyneth can, but A.C. is too young,” Bronwen said and felt her eyes filling with tears.
“Bethan and I will try to spend more time with him; perhaps that will prevent him from feeling abandoned,” Dafydd replied tentatively.
“Perhaps,” Bronwen said, but there was no conviction in her voice.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
It was a beautiful October afternoon: the cloudless sky was a blue so brilliant it almost hurt to look at it and the air was crisp and invigorating. Dr. Paul Martin was paying his weekly visit to his old friend, Ben Cartwright. The two elderly men were retired now but every Wednesday afternoon Paul would drive his buggy out to the Ponderosa where he and Ben would have dinner together and then spend the afternoon playing chess or cribbage and reminiscing.
Ben was sitting on the front porch waiting when his old friend drove up. “Joe,” he called to his son, who was home working on the books—a task he enjoyed just as much as his father always had. “Paul’s here. Can you take care of his horse for him?”
Joe eagerly put down his pencil and smiled at his six-year-old daughter. Sarah was sitting on the other side of the desk working on her penmanship since she was too young to attend school in Carson City with her older brother. “You wanna help me put up Dr. Martin’s horse?”
“Sure, Daddy,” she replied with a grin that matched his own.
Ben’s arthritis was getting worse so it took him much longer to get to his feet and walk over to his friend.
“Hi, Dr. Martin,” Sarah said with a grin just like her father’s as she ran up to greet their guest. “Me and Daddy are gonna take care of your horse.”
“Daddy and I,” Ben corrected automatically.
“Glad you’re here, Joe,” Paul said with an enormous smile. “I’ve got a letter from Adam. Thought we could read it before dinner if you were here.”
“Sure thing. Let’s hurry, Sarah, so we can read Uncle Adam’s letter.”
Soon the four Cartwrights—Ben, Joe, Sarah and Annabelle—and Dr. Martin were gathered in the great room. “Son, your eyes are better than mine,” Ben said quietly. “Why don’t you read it?” and he handed Joe the letter. Joe looked at the single sheet and thought that his brother was definitely getting older as his normally precise penmanship was shaky and somewhat difficult to read.
September 12, 1893
I have some very difficult news to share with you. I don’t know of any way to soften the blow so I won’t try. My Penny died three days ago...
Joe’s voice trailed off and he dropped the letter to the floor. Paul Martin looked quickly at his old friend and saw the color had drained from his face and Joe didn’t look much better.
“Annabelle, get them some brandy. Quickly,” he commanded. She got up, still in a state of shock herself, and poured some brandy in two glasses. She handed one to Paul, who managed to get a little down Ben’s throat, and she took the other to Joe, who finished it in one gulp. Then she poured a glass for herself and drank it quickly before sitting beside her husband. Sarah looked fearfully at the adults, not quite understanding what had just happened.
Ben, slightly recovered now due to the brandy, said weakly, “Finish the letter.”
“Why don’t I read it,” Paul suggested and he picked the piece of stationary off the floor.
... She developed appendicitis. Dr. Brooke removed the appendix surgically, but it had already perforated and the infection spread so she developed peritonitis. I had to watch my baby girl suffer and die, and there was nothing I could do. We buried her yesterday.
Sarah looked in confusion at the adults. “Penny can’t be dead. What does Uncle Adam mean?”
Seeing all the Cartwrights were in a state of shock, Paul spoke gently to the little girl. “I’m afraid Penny is dead, Sarah. It is very sad but sometimes even children do get sick and die.”
“But I just saw her when we were in Queensland. We played with her dollhouse and we had tea parties for her dolls.”
“I know, sweetheart,” he said, “but Penny got sick very quickly and there was nothing her doctor, or any doctor, could do. She is in heaven now.”
“With Grandma and Uncle Hoss?” she asked in a quavering voice while tears rolled down her chubby cheeks.
“That’s right, Sugar,” Ben said in an unsteady voice. “Penny is with Uncle Hoss and your grandma and Grandma Inger and her own grandma.”
“Uncle Adam and Aunt Bronwen must be awful sad,” she said mournfully.
“I know they are,” Joe said, picking his little girl up and holding her on his lap. Oh God, Adam, I can only imagine what you must be feeling. I couldn’t bear it if I lost my precious angel, he thought as he held Sarah close and kissed her soft cheek. “Beth and Gwyneth and A.C. must be very sad, too.”
“Miranda,” Ben said suddenly. “She needs her family with her now.”
“Not you, old friend,” Paul said gently. “Not unless you want the family mourning your loss as well as Penny’s.”
“I’ll go to Boston,” Annabelle said. “Pa is right; she needs one of us with her.”
“You and I and Sarah will go,” Joe replied. “Benj can stay here with Pa.” He saw his father reluctantly nod his assent and said, “I’m going into town to get us tickets on the first train we can get to Boston.”
“Now, Ben, I want you to lie down on the settee,” Paul said firmly after noting his old friend’s pale complexion and monitoring his faint but rapid pulse. “Buckshot!” he called and the cook came out of the kitchen. “I want you to fix a pot of coffee,” and the cook nodded and hurried back to the kitchen. “Joe, before you leave, I want you to drink some coffee. I want Ben and Annabelle to drink some as well. When you get to town, Joe, stop by Dr. Pascoe’s office and ask him to come see your father.” Ben was lying on the settee so Paul asked Annabelle to bring him the blanket off the stairs and then he tucked it around Ben.
After Joe had left and Annabelle had taken a tearful Sarah to her room to comfort her, Ben turned to his old friend. “Paul, there are several packets of letters in the top right-hand drawer of my desk. Would you find the ones from Penny, and bring them to me, please. And bring me the photograph of all of us at Beth’s wedding please.”
With a nod, Paul did as Ben requested and brought him the photograph and the packet. Ben gazed at the photograph first. It was a double frame and on one side showed the happy bride and groom surrounded by their parents and on the other was one of Beth and all the Cartwrights. Ben’s gaze fastened on Penny’s smiling face as she stood by her little brother in front of their parents, and he noticed the way his son’s hands rested affectionately on his little girl’s shoulders. His eyes beginning to burn with unshed tears, Ben turned to the packet of letters and opened the letter on top, the last letter he would ever receive from his cherished granddaughter.
August 1, 1893
I just wanted to write and tell you how glad I was that you could come for Beth’s wedding. It was so wonderful having all my grandparents and almost all my aunts and uncles and cousins visiting. I love you all so much and I wish you all lived closer to us so we could see you all the time just like we do Uncle Rhys and Aunt Matilda.
Gwyneth, A.C. and I have been to visit Beth several times at the rectory. (We always go at tea time because Beth bakes such delicious biscuits or cookies as Daddy calls them.) Usually Dafydd has tea with us. He likes Beth’s biscuits, too, and she’s been scolding him because he’s gaining weight. They are going for walks again just like they did before they got married. They’ve invited all of us to dinner twice. I could tell Beth was a little nervous the first time, but everything was beaut, and Daddy told her she was a wonderful hostess. (She invited us first and now she’s had several other families to dinner.)
It still seems so strange though that Beth doesn’t live with us anymore. First, Miranda went walkabout and now Beth. I guess Gwyneth will be next. (I told her that and she just rolled her eyes.)
I’m back in school now. I thought I’d grown this winter, but I’m still the smallest person in my class. That Ian MacGregor is still saying he is going to marry me when we grow up. At least he hasn’t tried to kiss me again because I told him my daddy would have a talk with his parents if he did.
Give my love to Uncle Joe, Aunt Annabelle, Benj and Sarah. Tell Sarah I miss our tea parties.
I love you, Grandpa.
Ben sobbed quietly as he thought of Penny’s liveliness and charm, now lost to them forever. He knew the agony he had suffered—the pain he still felt—at Hoss’s death and now his firstborn, who had already suffered too many losses, must endure the worst of all—the death of a beloved child.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
It was a typically damp, chilly autumn day with a blustery wind in Boston. Miranda and Charlotte hurried inside the Alden townhouse. Both girls noted that Robertson’s expression was even more somber than usual. The footman took their coats and Robertson said soberly, “Mrs. Alden asked to see you as soon as you arrived, Miss Miranda. She’s waiting for you in the library.”
The Aldens’ library was larger and grander than the Cartwrights’ but the ambiance was sterile and uninviting as the room was seldom used. Mrs. Alden was sitting on the horsehair sofa and she looked sad.
“Come sit beside me, Miranda,” she said in a very gentle tone. Miranda felt a frisson of fear as she sat carefully by Mrs. Alden. “I received a letter from your mother today,” Mrs. Alden began and Miranda looked surprised. “She enclosed a letter for you, but she asked me to be with you when you read it because it contains very sad news.”
Miranda’s stomach began to clench in dread as she took the letter from Mrs. Alden’s hand. Mrs. Alden saw the blood drain from her face, leaving it as white as the pages that slipped from her limp fingers. She was prepared for this reaction and had her smelling salts at hand.
“Darling, we all grieve with you,” she said gently after she had revived Miranda from her faint. “Penny’s death is a terrible tragedy. I remember what a sweet little girl she was when I met her.”
“I can’t believe she’s dead—she’s been dead for a month and I never knew. I just saw her at the wedding; she wasn’t sick then.”
“No. Appendicitis comes on very suddenly without any warning apparently. At least your parents were there with her when she passed. That must have been some comfort to her.”
“I-I’d like to go to my room; I need to be alone,” Miranda said unsteadily. “Please excuse me from supper. I couldn’t eat.”
“Very well, but I’m having a pot of tea sent up to your room and I want you to drink some. You must eat some breakfast in the morning. I’ll write a note to Miss Bradford excusing you from classes tomorrow.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Miranda managed to get out, her eyes filling with tears. She ran to her room with Doodle at her heels. She lay face down on her bed and cried while the little dog sat at the foot of the bed and watched her with sad and adoring eyes. When her tears were spent, she got the photograph albums her parents had sent her each birthday she had been in Boston. She gazed tearfully at the pictures of her darling little sister. There was the picture of ten-year-old Penny sitting (or squirming as she recalled with a smile) and letting Beth wrap her hair in rags so it would curl. Then there was the photograph of Penny standing on a stool so Beth could measure the hem in her dress. Oh, how Penny always loved to get new clothes, Miranda recalled with a hint of a grin. She and Beth. The next photograph showed Penny and A.C. sitting on the swing on the verandah with Lady between them, grinning a doggy grin. Then there was a photo of Penny playing backgammon with Daddy. She was concentrating so hard that her eyebrows were drawn together in a frown and the tip of her tongue peeped out of her mouth. Daddy looks so proud of her, Miranda thought. I know we’ll all miss Penny, but it is worse for Daddy.
The next album showed an older Penny. Daddy had taken a photograph of Penny and Mama together, and Miranda could see again how strongly Penny resembled Mama. Looking at Mama in the photograph, Miranda could imagine what Penny would have looked like if she’d grown up and she found her eyes filling with tears again. She quickly hunted for the next photograph. This picture showed Penny playing Old Bachelor with A.C., Gwyneth and Llywelyn. Penny was grinning hugely because she’d just given A.C. the Old Bachelor card, and A.C. was smiling from ear to ear because he wanted the card. The next photo was of Penny, Gwyneth and Beth in their bathing costumes at the Cloncurry River. Then there was a photograph of Penny and Gwyneth mucking out stalls in the stable in their work clothes. Penny had borrowed one of A.C.’s caps and stuffed her hair under it just as Gwyneth had hers concealed beneath her Stetson so it looked like Miranda had three brothers instead of one. Finally, there was a photograph of Penny dressed up in her birthday dress wearing the locket she’d received for her twelfth birthday. Miranda closed the album then and felt her eyes fill with tears, for Mama had written that they had buried Penny wearing her locket and the beautiful dress she’d worn at Beth’s wedding.
Little Sister, she thought, I am so glad I got to see you again at the wedding.
But it hurts so much to think of how I missed seeing you growing up these
past two years.
When Miranda woke the next morning, she found a dress of black paramatta silk trimmed with black crape laid out for her to wear and a hat with a black veil was sitting on the chest of drawers. She appeared in the dining room wearing the dress, looking pale with eyes red from weeping.
“Oh Miranda, I’m so sorry,” Charlotte said quietly and her father added, “Yes, we all are. Terrible tragedy for your family.”
“Thank you,” Miranda said in a choked voice. She forced herself to eat and drank two cups of tea. When she finished she said to Mrs. Alden, “I’d like to take Doodle for a walk. Would that be all right?” Mrs. Alden nodded.
The day was overcast and chilly. As she walked through the Common with the little dog trotting at her side and her face obscured behind her black veil, she noticed how most of the trees had lost their autumn splendor—their branches were stark and bare and the dead brown leaves crunched underfoot where they hadn’t been raked. The bleak weather matched her mood. When she returned to the Alden house, Robertson was watching for her.
‘You have a telegram, Miss Miranda,” he said and she detected the faintest trace of curiosity. She thanked him and took the telegram to her room and read it. Then she went to look for Mrs. Alden and found her in the drawing room having her daily meeting with the cook, Mrs. Kelly.
“Ah, you’ve opened your telegram,” Mrs. Alden said with a faint smile.
“Yes. Uncle Joe, Aunt Annabelle and Sarah are on their way to be with me.”
“I’m glad. I’ll direct Robertson to prepare rooms for them.”
Miranda returned to school the next day. Everyone was very kind but she found it was difficult to concentrate on schoolwork. If her thoughts turned to Penny, she would find her eyes filling with tears, which she tried to hide. She came home from school one day to find her family waiting for her in the foyer.
“Oh, Uncle Joe,” she cried, running to him and hugging him tightly. She felt him kiss her cheek softly and she pulled back so she could gaze into his green eyes, bright with unshed tears. She turned to her aunt then and embraced her before hugging her little cousin. Charlotte stood quietly to one side before she briefly embraced the Cartwrights, who were also her aunt, uncle and cousin.
“Paula told us when you arrived home from school, so we wanted to surprise you,” Annabelle said smiling at her nieces. “She suggested we use the library for our reunion.” Miranda nodded.
Charlotte spoke up then. “Sarah, would you like to come with me to the kitchen and see if Mrs. Kelly has any cookies?”
Sarah looked torn but Annabelle said gently, “Why don’t you go with Charlotte? Daddy and I would like a chance to talk with Miranda alone. You and Charlotte can join us in a bit. All right?” Sarah nodded and went off with Charlotte.
“I received letters from Beth and Gwyneth yesterday,” Miranda said quietly as they seated themselves on the horsehair sofa. “They are trying to accept Penny’s death just as I am. Beth wrote that she and Mama and Gwyneth spend time together talking about Penny and it is helping. Gwyneth writes that Daddy is taking Penny’s death very hard. He was in shock at first and Dr. Brooke gave him some sort of injection and told Mama to make sure he drank plenty of fluids. They almost never see Daddy now except at breakfast. Gwyneth overheard Uncle Rhys and Mama talking and Uncle Rhys is very worried about Daddy. He goes to work but much of the time he just sits at his desk staring at nothing.” She saw her uncle and aunt exchange worried glances at that.
“Gwyneth also writes that A.C. is having nightmares,” she stated in a troubled voice.
“That’s not unusual,” Joe assured her. “I had them after my mother’s death and I was about the same age as A.C. I remember Pa, your grandpa that is, was too upset at Mama’s death to comfort me, but Adam did. He’d let me sleep in his bed or he’d sleep in mine. Lots of times he’d sing me to sleep,” he added, lost in memory.
“Now it’s Daddy who is too upset to comfort A.C., or anyone,” Miranda commented mournfully. “Gwyneth says he doesn’t come home until very late at night and so he often isn’t there when A.C. wakes screaming. Mama has begun sleeping in A.C.’s room because that helps him not to have the nightmares. Gwyneth is sleeping in the room that was mine and Beth’s. She can’t bear to be in the room she shared with Penny—the memories are too painful. She’s a very light sleeper and sometimes she’s awakened in the night because she hears someone in that room. She opened the door once and she could just make out Daddy lying on Penny’s bed in the dark.”
Joe felt a cold knot of anxiety in his gut at Miranda’s words. It didn’t sound like Adam. The only time he’d ever behaved like that was after his experience with that madman in the desert.
“Your sisters’ letters were written not long after Penny’s death, correct?” Annabelle queried. Miranda slowly nodded her head. “We must remember it takes at least a month for letters to travel back and forth between our country and Queensland. Your father is probably dealing with his grief now and it is likely that A.C. no longer suffers from nightmares.” Both Miranda’s and Joe’s faces brightened at these words. “The loss of a child is devastating, and so is the loss of a sibling. But we must take comfort in God’s promises.”
“‘I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live’,” Miranda quoted. “I always loved that scripture. It does have new meaning for me now.” She smiled sadly and said, “I’ve been looking at the photographs of Penny in my albums. Would you like to see them?”
“Very much,” Annabelle replied and Joe added, “Sarah would like to see them as well. Let’s see if she and Charlotte have finished their cookies.”
The Cartwrights stayed at the Aldens’ home for a week. They shared memories of Penny with Miranda, knowing that she needed to talk about her sister, and there was no one in Boston with whom she could do so. If Miranda hadn’t been so absorbed in her grief, she would have noted the coolness between Mr. Alden and his brother-in-law. She also did not know that her uncle and aunt had been given separate bedrooms at her aunt’s request. Annabelle spent time visiting old friends so it was Miranda and Charlotte who explored Boston with Joe and Sarah after they came home from school each afternoon. Joe visited the Harvard Yard on his own. Since he was in Boston, he wanted to see the place that had drawn his brother away from his family for four years. It was a beautiful setting and he enjoyed watching the camaraderie among the students. Still, he knew he would never really understand how Adam could have preferred attending college to working on the ranch.
At the end of the week, Miranda bid her family a tearful goodbye.
“Remember that we love you very much, Miranda,” Joe said quietly after gently kissing her cheek. “When you are sad and missing Penny, remember that you are not alone. We all loved her and we all miss her.”
“I’ll remember, Uncle Joe,” she replied, managing to smile valiantly at him through her tears. She turned then to embrace her aunt and her little cousin before they had to board the train.
As the days and then weeks went by, Adam’s anguish continued to turn inward. Each day he grew more melancholy. He had no appetite so he rapidly lost weight. He slept so poorly that dark circles ringed his sunken eyes. A.C.’s nightmares gradually diminished so Bronwen returned to the bed she had shared with Adam for nearly twenty years. One night when he returned from one of his solitary rides, she turned to him for comfort and to reaffirm their love, but for the first time in their marriage, he didn’t respond. Eventually he moved out of their bedroom ostensibly so his restlessness wouldn’t interfere with her sleep, but she knew that in reality he was pulling away from any intimacy—emotional as well as sexual.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
Months went by with no word from Adam and Ben and Joe became more and more concerned. It wasn’t like Adam to ignore their letters; he had always been a faithful and regular correspondent. Miranda wrote them that she had received letters from her mother and sisters but none from her father and asked if they had received any. Finally three months after they had received Adam’s letter, Jacob entered the ranch house late one afternoon when Ben was playing chess with Benj and Annabelle was reading a novel. Ben saw Jacob’s dark face wore an enormous smile. “You got a letter from Queensland, Mr. Ben,” he said in his velvet baritone. Then his smile dimmed just a little. “It’s from Mrs. Cartwright,” he added as he handed the letter to his employer.
“I’m sure it will be good news, Pa,” Annabelle said brightly, but Ben saw the concern in her blue eyes. “I know Joe will understand if you don’t want to wait.”
Ben hesitated, and then said to Benj. “Do you mind if we finish the game later. I really want to read this letter.”
“Sure, I’d like to hear it, too, Grandpa.”
“I think I’d better read it first. Maybe we’ll read it aloud when your father gets home.”
Benj was surprised since Grandpa always read letters from Queensland aloud, but he merely shrugged and went to his room.
Ben’s hands shook as he used his letter opener. He sat in the green leather chair at his desk and read.
December 28, 1893
Dear Pa, Joe and Annabelle,
I’m afraid it was not a merry Christmas here for us. Penny’s loss is still an aching wound, and it is more painful than ever at this season. I don’t think Adam has written to you, so I felt I must. I don’t want to worry you but I must tell you I am very anxious about him.
He is grieving deeply over Penny’s death. He doesn’t have any appetite and is now so thin that it breaks my heart to see him. He doesn’t sleep well either. He is so distant with me and the children that it’s as if he died with Penny. It’s hardest on A.C. He misses Penny and now it seems that his daddy no longer loves him. He’s becoming disobedient and insolent. He is trying so hard to provoke a reaction from Adam, but nothing he does breaks through the wall Adam has built around himself. Gwyneth has been hurting as well although she is better at hiding it since she is very much her father’s daughter.
In some ways I feel I am betraying Adam in writing to you, but you are his family and you have a right to know how things are with him. Please pray for Adam and for all of us.
Annabelle had been keeping a solicitous eye on her father-in-law so she saw the tears coursing down Ben’s cheeks. “Pa, is everything all right?” she asked fearfully.
“No,” he replied in an unsteady voice. “Adam is not dealing with his grief; it’s as I feared. He’s bottling all his feelings up inside. He isn’t eating or sleeping, and he is withdrawing from Bronwen and the children.” He brusquely dashed the tears from his cheeks. “I know exactly what he is going through. It’s how I felt after each of my wives died. With Liz and Inger, I had to pull myself together for the sake of our sons, but when Marie died, I behaved exactly as Adam is now and I forced Adam to fill my role for a time.”
“Something snapped you out of your despair; we’ll pray something will bring Adam out his.”
“Something must or I fear the next letter I receive from Bronwen ...” but he couldn’t voice his deepest fear.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
Weeks became months and Adam continued to isolate himself from his family. He no longer even joined them at breakfast. While Bronwen tried to restore a semblance of normalcy to their lives by reading aloud, playing games or singing in the evenings, Adam was rarely there. If he came home for supper, he sat in a stony silence, playing with the food rather than eating. Once the meal was over, he would saddle Zephyr and not return until nearly dawn. Usually he would find himself at Penny’s grave, placing sprigs of wattle or bottlebrush on the grave and staring dry-eyed at the headstone that had been erected with the epitaph that Bronwen had chosen:
Here sleeps in Jesus all that
was mortal of
Penelope Jane Cartwright,
beloved daughter and sister.
She here waits the transporting moment
when the Trump of God
shall call her to Glory, Honor and Immortality.
Oh, Death where is thy sting?
Oh Grave where is thy victory?
During the day, he buried himself in his work, yet he had difficulty concentrating and Rhys discovered he must check all Adam’s work for errors. He was as worried about Adam as Bronwen. Adam never smiled or showed any emotion. The numbness that he felt was obvious to all who loved him, but no one seemed able to reach him. Yet, gradually, life was reasserting itself. Sometimes as Adam rode to work he noticed the song of a bird. Other times when he rode during his sleepless nights he might become aware of the beauty of the stars in the heavens. Afterward, he would sink back into numbness, but those moments of awareness began to be more frequent.
One evening he went to change clothes before riding as he usually did. As he walked past Gwyneth’s room, he heard her voice and something stopped him. He stood outside her doorway and listened. “...And please, dear God, make Daddy happy again the way he used to be. I know Mama says he is sad because of Penny, but he still has me and A.C. and Beth and Miranda. We all love him so much, God, and it hurts that he doesn’t seem to love us anymore.”
He turned away then, feeling his eyes begin to fill with tears at the pain he heard in her voice. He had been so focused on his own despair, he hadn’t thought about its effect on his family. Hot tears began to flow down his face—the first tears he’d shed since Penny’s death—and he stumbled to the privacy of Penny and Gwyneth’s old room. Some time passed before Bronwen found him, face down on Penny’s bed, sobbing uncontrollably.
“Adam,” she said softly, sitting on the bed beside him and gently placing her hand on his shoulder. “Anwyld, what’s wrong?”
He turned over slowly, and seeing his grief-ravaged face, she lay beside him on the bed. He laid his head on her breast while her arms enfolded him, releasing the grief and despair that had been poisoning his soul during the months since Penny’s death.
Slowly, and with great effort, he regained control and lifted his head. The absolute desolation apparent in his face wrenched her heart. He reached a hand to gently caress her cheek. “I’m so sorry sweetheart,’ he said in a voice thick with tears. “Sorry that I have been so absorbed in my own grief and misery, sorry that I haven’t been a husband to you or a father to Gwyneth and A.C. for months now.”
“Hush,” she whispered, placing her fingers over his lips. “I understood that. I could see how despondent you’ve been and how unhappy. I just didn’t know how to reach you, to help you.”
“I feel so detached, so numb. Sometimes,” his voice sank to a whisper and he dropped his eyes, “I wish I were dead.”
“Oh, Adam, anwyld,” she breathed and he saw the fear in her eyes. “Please. We all love you and we need you. A.C. is only five; you don’t want him to grow up without a father. And I can’t imagine life without you,” she said her voice ending in a sob. “Please, don’t even think of taking your life, I beg you.”
“No,” he replied slowly. “I can see how selfish it would be. I do love you and the children; I don’t want to hurt you. I feel as though I’ve fallen into a pit and I can’t climb out no matter how hard I try.” He stopped and said slowly, “Maybe I’ve found my first foothold.”
She gently caressed the curls at his nape and said softly, “I haven’t slept well since you moved out of our bedroom. Would you come back with me to our room, please?” He was silent for so long she thought he was ignoring her, but then he nodded.
He didn’t think he would sleep but feeling her body snuggled next to his was soothing and gradually he was able to relax and sink into the first deep slumber he’d known since Penny’s death. She woke first but continued to lie quietly, not wanting to waken him. She had almost drifted off again when the door was flung open and A.C. burst in.
“Mama, it’s time for breakfast!” he announced running to jump up on the bed next to her. He stopped short when his father sat up on the other side of the bed.
“Good morning,” Adam said quietly managing a little smile.
“Morning, Daddy,’ A.C. replied tentatively. “Mama, aren’t you coming to breakfast?”
“Of course,” she answered smiling at him before turning to Adam. “Will you come with us?”
He started to decline but stopped himself at the hopeful expression in the two pair of eyes gazing at him—one violet and one dark hazel. “Yes, I’ll join you. A.C., please wait in your room while Mama and I dress.”
A.C. grinned and ran out of the room and banged on Gwyneth’s door.
She opened the door jut enough to stick her head out. “Go away, A.C.,” she said crossly.
He ignored her tone and said excitedly, “Daddy’s gonna eat breakfast with us!”
“How do you know that?” Gwyneth demanded, not quite able to believe A.C. no matter how much she wanted to.
“He told me. I went to get Mama ’cause she wasn’t downstairs yet, and Daddy was with her and he said he was coming to breakfast.”
They shared a smile and then she said, “I’ll be down in just a couple of minutes.” She closed her door so A.C. went to his own room. He wasn’t there long when there was a knock and his parents came in.
“Are you ready?” Adam asked. “I see your bed isn’t made yet.”
“I’ll do it after breakfast.”
“All right. Just this once you can do it after breakfast,” Adam agreed. Then he added, “I think you need to brush your hair first though.”
“No,” A.C. retorted and was startled when his daddy smacked his bottom.
“Young man, I said you were to brush your hair,” Adam stated in a no-nonsense voice. Bronwen tensed for the coming explosion but to her relief, A.C. stomped over to his chest of drawers, picked up his hairbrush and ran it through his thick hair.
“Much better,” Adam said. “Now we’re ready.”
Gwyneth was just coming out of her room and Adam’s heart twisted in pain when he saw her face light up at the sight of him.
“Good morning, Daddy. Good morning, Mama,” she said dimpling. “A.C. said you were having breakfast with us, Daddy.”
“I hope Nell made flapjacks,” A.C. interrupted.
“Let’s not forget we have chores to take care of before breakfast,” Adam said with a slight grin. “After we’ve fed the animals, then we can eat.”
There were no flapjacks but there were plenty of scones, fried potatoes, sausages and scrambled eggs. Mary walked in the dining room just as they were seating themselves at the table carrying a tray with the teapot, sugar, milk and orange marmalade. She was so surprised to see Adam sitting at the head of the table that she almost dropped the tray. She caught it, but the milk sloshed out of the pitcher.
“Good morning, Mary,” Bronwen said with a huge grin that Mary returned.
“Morning, Missus Cartwright, Mr. Cartwright.” She hurried back down the hall to the kitchen to share the good news with Nell.
Adam didn’t really have any appetite, but he made himself butter and eat a scone and a spoonful of scrambled eggs. Bronwen noticed how little he ate but was pleased he was making an effort.
She announced brightly, “Since it’s such a hot day and Gwyneth doesn’t have to go to school, why don’t I fix us a picnic and we go spend the day by the river? We could go swimming, and we could take the croquet set and play that, too.”
She saw the hesitation in her husband’s eye but then he smiled just a little and replied, “That sounds like a marvelous idea to me. How about you two?” he asked Gwyneth and A.C.
“That’d be beaut!” A.C. exclaimed enthusiastically while his sister nodded her assent with shining eyes.
“I suppose I’d better go tell Uncle Rhys that I won’t be coming to work today and perhaps not tomorrow either.”
“I wanna come too,” A.C. begged. “Please, Daddy.” Adam nodded and said, “Finish up your breakfast then.”
“Gwyneth and I will fix the food,” Bronwen said happily.
As they stepped out the front door, Adam hesitantly reached down and took A.C.’s hand, and the child smiled up at him, revealing his deep dimple. When they reached the Davies’ house Daisy, the Davies’ maid, answered the door and told them the family was in the dining room finishing breakfast.
“Good morning, Adam, A.C.,” Rhys said with a tentative smile.
“We’re going on a picnic!” A.C. exclaimed excitedly. “Me and Daddy and Mama and Gwyneth.”
“You don’t mind if I take the day off?” Adam asked quietly.
“Not if you’re going to be spending time with your family,” Rhys replied and his smile grew warmer.
“I thought I might take tomorrow off as well.”
“That’s fine,” Rhys said. “I think it’s more important right now that you spend time with Bronwen and the children. I’ll manage without you for a time.”
“Thank you,” Adam said and his voice shook just a little.
“I hope you have a wonderful time,” Matilda added as Adam and A.C. turned to leave.
“Mark and I are planning on going for a swim later this afternoon, so maybe we’ll see you,” Llywelyn said with a grin.
“I expect you will,” Adam answered with a slight grin of his own.
“Uncle Adam seemed more like himself, don’t you think?” Llywelyn asked his parents after the Cartwrights left.
“Yes,” Matilda replied. “I think that was the first time I’ve seen him smile since we lost Penny.”
“I hope all our prayers are being answered,” Rhys said feeling tears of happiness in his own eyes.
“Penny loved to come here and swim,” Gwyneth remarked as the family unloaded the picnic basket and croquet game from the surrey and walked toward their favorite picnic spot. Realizing she had mentioned Penny, she looked at her father with a stricken expression.
Adam smiled wistfully and put his free arm around Gwyneth’s shoulders. “Yes, she did. She was a little Nereid,” and he smiled tenderly at Bronwen, “just like her mother.”
“What’s a nuhreed, Daddy?” A.C. asked scrunching up his face in bewilderment.
“It’s just a way of saying that Penny was a very good swimmer,” Adam replied quietly.
“I wish Penny was with us now,” A.C. said sadly and Bronwen and Gwyneth looked nervously at Adam, but he only smiled faintly.
“She’s always with us, son, as long as we remember her.” He reached down and tousled A.C.’s hair. “I see your Mama has let your hair grow too long. Saturday you and I will pay a visit to Mr. Puzo. Shall we swim first, or play croquet?”
“It will be hotter later in the afternoon, so let’s play croquet now and swim after we eat,” Bronwen suggested.
By unspoken agreement, the others allowed A.C. to win the croquet game. Bronwen noted that Adam ate with a better appetite than he had at breakfast although he still didn’t eat much. However, when he emerged from the changing tent in his bathing costume, it was obvious just how much weight he had lost. He had become rather portly prior to Penny’s death, but now he was too thin. She and Nell and Mary would have to see if they could tempt his appetite.
For the next several days, things seemed to be improving. Adam now joined the family in the evenings for parlor games and he began reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer aloud since A.C. had never heard it and it was a favorite of the others. He returned to the conjugal bed, although he wasn’t able to sleep through the night. He would get up as quietly as he could and Bronwen let him think she wasn’t aware that he still had trouble sleeping. He made an effort to eat more, but she observed that it was just that: an effort.
One morning she woke before dawn to the sound of deep, gut-wrenching sobs beside her in the dark.
“Cariad,” she said softly, putting her hand on his heaving shoulders, her own eyes beginning to overflow, for she had been dreading this day—what would have been Penny’s thirteenth birthday.
“I promised her she’d get the horse she wanted today,” he got out in a voice thick with tears. “Why didn’t we give her the gift we both knew she wanted so much? How could we have denied her?”
“We did what we thought was best for her. We were trying to protect her. How could we have known?” Bronwen managed to get out before she, too, broke down. They held each other and cried, their hearts aching with loss.
When their tears were spent, they lay side by side, and he held her close. “I’d picked out the perfect horse for her, a bay Welsh cob just a little over 13 hands—intelligent and eager to please but with just enough spirit to please Penny,” he said plaintively.
“I know she would have loved the horse,” Bronwen said softly taking his closest hand in hers and entwining their fingers. “She was such a happy, affectionate child. At least we have the memories of those twelve precious years she was with us.” She smiled just a little. “Remember the time we didn’t think she could climb out of her crib so we didn’t close the door to the nursery and she toddled in almost catching us in flagrante delicto?”
“I’ll never forget it. I’m just thankful that we were under the sheets,” he said with a slight smile. “I remember the first time I put her on Muffin. She was a little nervous—“
“But she wanted to be brave and please her daddy,” Bronwen interjected.
He smiled sadly and continued. “But once Muffin took a few steps, she liked it. She asked me to make Muffin go fast like Zephyr.”
“I remember watching you play Graces with her; it was so sweet watching you throw those ribbon-bedecked rings on the catching wands with her,” Bronwen said smiling dreamily. “I wished I knew how to work your camera because I would have loved a photograph of that moment.”
“I would have liked one, too, but we have the pictures in our minds,” he replied quietly.
They lay side by side in silence then until he saw the first pink streaks of dawn beginning to lighten the sky. “I’d better get up and take care of my chores,” he said slowly and she replied, “Yes, I need to be getting up as well.” She paused and then said diffidently, “I was thinking that this evening after you get home, we could all go to the cemetery. Since we’ve had so much rain the past few days the wild flowers are blooming and we could put some on Penny’s grave.”
He nodded slowly before rising and putting on his work clothes. He knocked on Gwyneth’s door but got no answer. He opened the door and saw her bed was already made. He then went into A.C.’s and found his son already up and getting dressed.
“Morning, Daddy,” A.C. said with a smile that Adam returned.
“Morning. Hurry up, Jackeroo. The chickens are hungry.”
“So’m I,” A.C. replied. “Daddy,” he said then in surprise. “My tooth wiggles!”
“Let me see,” Adam said bending down. “I think you’re going to be losing that one pretty soon.”
“Lose it?” A.C. queried nervously.
“Your little baby teeth have to come out to make room for your big grownup teeth. Losing teeth is a sign that you’re growing up.” A.C. smiled at this but Adam had to fight back a wave of sadness as he remembered when Penny was about the same age she had lost both front teeth so she couldn’t pronounce the letter “s” for weeks. Her two oldest sisters were always getting her to say words that started with “s” and then laughing at her lisp.
He held out his hand saying briskly, “Come along. You need to feed the hungry chickens and I need to milk Buttercup.”
As they approached the stable, they saw Gwyneth preparing to mount Artemis, her golden dun Waler mare. “Just where do you think you are going at this hour, young lady?” Adam called angrily.
He saw Gwyneth hunch her shoulders and turn to face him. “I was going to Penny’s grave. The wildflowers are blooming and I wanted to put some on her grave so she’d know I hadn’t forgotten her birthday.”
“I’m sorry I sounded so angry,” he replied softly. “Your mama and I had decided when I got home this evening we would all go visit Penny. Why don’t you wait and come with us? I don’t like the idea of you riding to the cemetery alone when it’s not daylight.”
She nodded then saying, “I would rather go with all of you. I know it’s a sad day for all of us.”
Adam moved closer and put his arm around her shoulders. She looked up at him, her amber eyes filling with tears. “I miss her so much, Daddy. When will it stop hurting so much to think of her?’
“I wish I knew, Punkin,” he replied, feeling his own eyes filling with tears.
“Maybe God’ll send Penny back if we all ask Him,” A.C. suggested, for he missed Penny and was upset at seeing his daddy and big sister crying.
Adam bent over and picked his little boy up, holding him in one arm and then putting his free arm back around Gwyneth’s shoulders. “No, Jackeroo. Penny is happy in heaven and she’s just waiting for all of us to join her some day.”
“D-doesn’t she miss us like we m-miss her?” A.C. asked his voice ending in a sob.
“She can look down from heaven and see all of us so she doesn’t miss us. She knows that we miss her, but she also knows that when it’s time, we’ll each be in heaven with her. She’s not lonely because she’s with Grandma, Grandma Inger, Grandma Marie and Uncle Hoss. They are all watching us and loving us. They know that someday we’ll all be together.”
A.C. nodded at this and smiled a little. Then he said with a frown, “I heard Mama tell Dafydd that you was angry with God for taking Penny. Is that why you don’t come to church with us no more?”
Gwyneth’s eyebrow shot up at this but she also gazed searchingly at her father. He sighed and said quietly, “Yes, I was angry with God for taking Penny to heaven when I wanted her to be with us.”
“I was angry, too,” Gwyneth said softly and Adam hugged her close. “I think we all were angry,” he said gently, “but God understands and I believe that He has forgiven us.” Adam paused for a moment and then said slowly, “I’m not really angry with God anymore and I will come to church with you this Sunday.”
A.C. and Gwyneth smiled. Just then Buttercup bellowed and the hens began to squawk. “You and I had better get busy, Jackeroo,” Adam said tweaking his son’s nose before setting him on his feet.
As soon as the three of them entered the dining room A.C. shouted, “Mama! Daddy’s not mad at God anymore and he’s coming to church with us Sunday!”
“I would rather have told Mama that myself, young man,” Adam said sternly, but A.C. saw the gleam in his daddy’s eye and knew he wasn’t really in trouble.
When Adam entered the church with his family for the first time in almost five months, he was aware of heads turning and muted whispers. Beth was already waiting in their accustomed pew at the front and her smile was blinding when she saw her father. As Adam sat beside his firstborn, she reached for his hand and squeezed it gently.
“I wanna sit by Bethy,” A.C. stated loudly and was promptly hushed before he was allowed to sit between his father and oldest sister.
When Dafydd entered and walked to the pulpit, he smiled warmly at his father-in-law. “For today’s text I have chosen Matthew, Chapter 18, verses 11 through 13:
“For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? If a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them is gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?”
“You have some letters from Queensland, Miss Miranda,” Robertson said on a blustery March afternoon when Miranda and Charlotte returned from school, and Miranda saw that he allowed his lips to quirk up just slightly.
“Thank you, Robertson,” she replied with a small smile of her own.
“I’ll see you at supper,” Charlotte said with a smile, knowing her friend would want to read her letters from home. She prayed that this time there would be one from Miranda’s father. He had always written regularly, but now six months had gone by with no letter from him, and Charlotte knew her friend was very worried.
Miranda ran up the curving staircase to her bedroom and sat in the walnut side chair by her window, which overlooked the Boston Common. The top envelope was printed in large, childish letters and she smiled when she saw the return address: Master A. Cartwright, Jr./Cloncurry, Queensland. She tore open the letter eagerly.
how ar you i am in skul now so is
mat mate Robby Ladee misss me when I go to skul I am the tallest boy
in my class i wish you went to skul here and not Boston i miss you and Penny i
thot God wuld let Penny cum hom, but Dadee says Penny is happy in heven Dadee
let me hav the old bachler card last night just like Penny used to do.
Miranda was smiling as she folded the letter and put it back in the envelope. I hope A.C. learns about punctuation soon, she thought with a grin. Then she considered what her baby brother had written. So Daddy is playing Old Bachelor with A.C. Maybe that means he’s learning to accept Penny’s death.
Still musing on what A.C. had written, she began to open the next letter, which was from Mrs. Dafydd Jones.
February 1, 1894
You have been on my mind so much of late. I was glad to learn that Uncle Joe, Aunt Annabelle and Sarah were able to come be with you. As hard as Penny’s death has been for all of us to bear, I know it must be worse for you. At least we have each other for comfort. I’m happy to write you that Daddy is no longer isolating himself from the rest of us and he is attending church again. On Penny’s birthday all of us, including Dafydd, Uncle Rhys, Aunt Matilda and Llywelyn, went to the cemetery and placed sprigs of wattle and bottlebrush on Penny’s grave. We shared our favorite memories of her. I shared the time when she was six and she asked me to teach her how to embroider a sampler. I wasn’t always as patient as I should have been, but it was a special time between us that I will never forget.
You and Penny were the only ones who liked to sew and embroider, Miranda thought as the tears slowly trickled down her cheeks and ran into the corners of her mouth. I remember how much the two of you enjoyed sewing together. If I could have been there, I would have shared how much I enjoyed attending Penny’s tea parties with Victoria. I’m so glad Mama is giving me Penny’s miniature china as a memento.
A.C.’s sixth birthday is less than two weeks away now, and we are all trying to be cheerful for him. He misses Penny as much as he rest of us but he’s so young I’m afraid as time passes he won’t be able to remember her. That saddens me. Dafydd says he believes A.C. is old enough that he will have some memories of Penny and he’ll have the memories that we share with him. He has started school. At first, he didn’t want to be separated from Mama; ever since Penny’s death he wants to be with Mama or Gwyneth and me all the time. Dafydd says he is probably afraid that we’ll leave him just like you and Penny did. (I don’t say that to be unkind, Miranda, but that is how it must seem to A.C.) Mama went with him for the first week of school and the teacher allowed her to stay in the classroom. (One advantage of a small town over a city is that everyone knows about our loss and they are all so sympathetic and kind.) Now A.C. is willing to walk to school with Gwyneth and Llywelyn without Mama.
I’ve been married almost six months now and I was hoping that I could share the news that you are going to be an aunt but I show no signs of being with child. I didn’t say anything to Dafydd, but I went and saw Dr. Brooke. He said I shouldn’t worry. Because of the shock of Penny’s death and the sorrow I feel it is not surprising that I haven’t conceived. How I would love a little girl of my own although I would love a little boy just as much. I suppose it’s Penny’s loss that makes me yearn so for a girl. She couldn’t replace Penny in my heart but I’d like a daughter I could teach to sew and cook just as I was helping Mama to teach Penny.
I love you, Miranda, and I want you to know you are always in my thoughts and prayers.
I love you, too, older sister, and I miss all of you, Miranda thought as she neatly folded her oldest sister’s letter before opening the one from her middle sister. I hope Dr. Brooke is right and that soon you will be carrying a child you can love. You always were like a little mother to Penny and A.C.
February 8, 1894
How I miss you. I wish you could be here with all of us now. We all still miss Penny so terribly. I read somewhere that time heals all wounds. I wish it could hurry and heal ours. Still, maybe it is slowly. Daddy is still sad, but now he shares his sorrow with us. When we play games and sing songs in the evening he joins us and we both play our guitars. We can’t sing “Miss Cindy” though because it was Penny’s favorite. A.C. asked to sing it the other night but Mama and I started crying and that made A.C. cry.
On Penny’s birthday we all went and laid flowers on her grave and then we shared memories. Some memories made us cry and some made us laugh. I think that was a healing. I’ve talked to Dafydd and he counsels me to remember all the happy times with Penny and be thankful for them, and not to dwell on how much I miss her. I am trying. At first I didn’t want to be around Llywelyn and Mark but now I do. Especially Mark. He has been so kind to me and so gentle. I never noticed before how beautiful his eyes are. His eyes are as dark as Grandpa’s and they have just a little slant. (Mama says he is sloe-eyed.) He has a beautiful voice as well. It’s very deep and smooth and he has just a hint of a Cornish accent. (Did I tell you he was born in Cornwall in the parish of Pendeen, and he lived there until he was almost ten? That’s when his family immigrated to Queensland.) He has grown a bit lately so he is taller than I am (a little taller than Uncle Joe, I think, but not as tall as Daddy).
Ah, little sister, she thought, maybe Mark’s love isn’t unrequited after all! He just had to wait for you to grow up. However, judging from the looks you were getting from some of the other boys and young men at the wedding, I think Mark is going to have plenty of competition.
I like school better than Beth did and since I no longer have to take arithmetic, I plan on graduating. I don’t want to go away to college though. Mark is hoping to win the Cartwright & Davies scholarship at the end of this school year so he can join Llywelyn at the Sydney Technical College next January. I will miss them both, but they promise to write me and tell me all about life in Sydney. (They hope to share a room near the college.) Llywelyn is looking forward to living in Sydney and says he hopes to meet lots of pretty girls. Mark said there can’t be any girls in Sydney half as pretty as the girls here in Cloncurry. I suppose he meant Beth, but he was looking right into my eyes. Oh, how I wish he were talking about me! But I know I’m too tall, I don’t have much of a bosom and I wear spectacles. Some men and boys do stare at me though when we all go swimming at the river. I don’t like it. Daddy told me that I am never to go riding by myself again, only if he or Uncle Rhys, Llywelyn or Dafydd is with me. I asked about Mark but Daddy got a funny look on his face and said I was absolutely forbidden to go riding alone with Mark.
Daddy is right, little sister, she thought with a worried frown. I’m sure Mark is a gentleman, but one shouldn’t put temptation in his way.
This letter is awfully long so I guess I had better close. I love you, Miranda. I can hardly wait until this June when we’ll all be there to see you graduate.
Her heart beat faster when she saw the neat, precise handwriting on the last envelope. She tore it open impatiently.
February 5, 1894
I feel I must begin my letter by apologizing to you for not writing for so long. I can offer no excuse but only an explanation. As I’m sure you’ve read in previous letters from your sisters and mother, I was having a very difficult time accepting Penny’s death. I told your mother once that grief isn’t something you get over; it is something you learn to live with, as I am sure you are discovering.
I worry about you, Angel. I was glad to learn that your Uncle Joe and Aunt Annabelle came to be with you. I hope you are close enough to one of your friends that you can share your grief with her as well.
I hope you won’t be upset that it is William that I have been able to pour out my heart to, she thought. Maybe it’s easier because I do my sharing in writing. I don’t know if either of us could be as open if we were talking face-to-face. However, in letters we can share ideas and feelings we would never dare to do in person. He has been so supportive of me and so kind. Somehow, I’d never realized how compassionate a person he truly is.
Your brother’s sixth birthday is only a few days away. He is still too young for a birthday party with children his own age and, to be frank, none of us is up to planning and hosting that sort of party. (When I say none of us, I of course include Nell and Mary for they grieve for Penny’s loss as much as we all do.) Your mama and I bought A.C. a cricket bat and Uncle Rhys and Llywelyn have promised to teach A.C. (and me) how to play. Gwyneth and Llywelyn are going together to buy him a Christmas Goose game. (Your brother saw one in Mr. Broome’s story and has been hinting broadly that he’d like it.) Uncle Rhys and Aunt Matilda are getting him a nice set of marbles. Two packages just arrived today from Nevada and one from Massachusetts but we’ll have to wait until your brother’s birthday to learn what they contain. Ditto for the packages from Sydney and Broken Hill.
I am counting the days until we will be arriving in Boston for your graduation.
I love you very much, Angel. I may not have told you so enough in the past, but I am so proud of you for having the conviction and strength of character to pursue your dream of obtaining a higher education. I know you will make me equally proud of your accomplishments at the Harvard Annex.
I must write and tell Daddy and Mama that the Annex is now officially Radcliffe College she thought as she read this.
Take good care of yourself, Miranda, and allow yourself time to grieve and to heal. You are always in my thoughts and prayers.
With all my love,
Although she was weeping as she read her father’s last lines, she knew in her heart that her father was finally dealing with the loss of her sister and allowing himself the time to grieve and to heal also. That knowledge gave her renewed strength to deal with her own pain and she felt, for the first time, that her family would recover from this tragedy forever changed, but intact.
She discovered a second sheet of paper in the envelope and unfolding it, she recognized her mother’s sprawling handwriting.
February 5, 1894
I thought I would enclose my letter with Daddy’s. I know you will be so happy to receive a letter from him. Like all of us, Daddy is still struggling with his grief, but he is no longer shutting out the rest of the world. We are all finding that sharing our memories of Penny helps us to deal with our loss. Most of the memories are happy ones, for Penny was a happy child. On Penny’s birthday we all shared our favorite memories. I shared the memory of watching your daddy play Graces with her and Daddy spoke about the time when she finally managed to beat him at backgammon. She was so proud, but I think Daddy was even prouder. Poor little A.C. was crying when he told us how bad he felt that he broke Victoria but we all assured him that Penny had forgiven him and reminded him how much fun he and Penny had playing jackstraws and Old Bachelor. Gwyneth told about the time she and Llywelyn had taken Penny fishing and Penny wouldn’t stop talking and scared all the fish away except for the one Penny herself caught.
Like Daddy, I am counting the days until we’ll be docking in Boston Harbor and I can see you again.
I love you, Miranda fach. Take care.
I’m counting the days, too. I want to see you all so badly. It is only a little more than two months and you’ll be here in Boston she thought with a sigh.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
Joe had been in town on business so he decided to pick up the Ponderosa’s mail. Miss Tompkins at the post office smiled at him.
“You and your father have a letter from Queensland. It’s from your brother,” she said as she handed him the letter.
“Thanks,” Joe replied automatically. It was all he could do not to rip open Adam’s letter right then. It had been six months since they’d heard from him. Bronwen had written once, telling them that Adam was having difficulty dealing with Penny’s death. Joe had sensed the despair in her letter. He rode home and seeing nine-year-old Benj sitting on the front porch reading he asked his son to take care of his horse. Benj was surprised since usually his father didn’t allow anyone else to care for his mount, but he hurried to do as his father asked and Joe walked quickly into the house, knowing his own father would be working on the books.
“We got a letter from Adam, Pa,” he said excitedly as he threw his hat on the credenza.
Ben dropped his pencil. “Let’s read it right now. Your eyes are better than mine, so you read it, son,” he commanded as he settled back in the green leather chair.
Joe tore open Adam’s letter eagerly.
February 5, 1894
Dear Pa and Joe,
I must beg your forgiveness for the worry I know I’ve caused you by my silence. As I wrote Miranda, I have no excuse to offer, only an explanation. After Penny’s death, I felt as though I had died as well. There are still days when it is all I can do to get out of bed in the morning, but gradually, those days are becoming less frequent. Bronwen and I will never cease grieving for Penny, but we have four other children who need our love and support to help them get through their grief and get on with their own lives.
My memories of Penny are so vivid. Some are joyous such as the first time she smiled at me and the first time she called me Da-da. Others make me weep even now as I write. There are so many regrets and so many might-have-been’s. Dafydd has reminded me that I should concentrate on the happy memories and thank God for the twelve years she was part of my life rather than dwelling in bitterness and despair on the years we were denied. It’s excellent advice, but not always easy to follow.
I still can’t sleep through the night, but I am sleeping more than I was. I have to force myself to eat, but I know Bronwen, Nell and Mary are working hard to try and tempt my appetite so I do try, for their sakes, as much as my own. I don’t eat as much as Bronwen would like, but as much as I can.
Though I know it is a cliché, life does go on. Gwyneth won’t be sixteen for nearly two months, but already some young men have approached me about walking her to and from church. I’ve told them to ask again after she is sixteen. My quiet girl has really blossomed over the past year. I am learning that having lovely daughters can be a curse as well as a blessing. I don’t like the way some men and boys look at her when we go swimming. I’d like to forbid her from it entirely, but I know that isn’t fair to her, so Rhys and I watch her like a hawk. I have forbidden her to go riding alone. I am afraid she might be accosted as Beth was but if she is always with me or her uncle or cousin, then she should be safe. She wanted to know if she could go riding alone with Mark and I absolutely forbade that. I like Mark; he is a very intelligent and responsible young man, but I’ve seen the way he looks at Gwyneth. I no longer think what he feels is calf love or even infatuation. I am afraid he genuinely loves Gwyneth, and Bronwen is convinced that Gwyneth is beginning to view Mark as more than a friend. They are both too young to become seriously involved, especially since I think Mark will most likely win our scholarship and be heading to the Sydney Technical College with Llywelyn. If that does happen, he and Gwyneth won’t see each other for four years. I imagine they will each find someone else during that time. If they don’t, well, then I would welcome Mark as a son-in-law.
Bronwen asks me to send her love, and my son has written his own letter to include with mine. (I’m afraid A.C. has not grasped the concept of punctuation yet.)
Joe looked at his father warily. “He sounds like he is coping now, don’t you think?” he asked anxiously.
“Yes. I knew if he would share his grief, then he would begin to heal. It is such a hard thing to lose a child,” Ben said quietly. Then his expression lightened. “So what has A.C. written us?” he asked.
“Let’s see. Here is the other sheet of paper.” He scanned it quickly saying with a grin, “Yeah, A.C. sure runs his sentences together. Here goes:
how ar you i go to skul now my teecher was surprized i alreddy new the alfabet and numberz our dog ladee misss me when I go to skul i am the tallst boy in my class dadee and mama saz we ar coming to see you soon and Miranda i wish i culd go to heven and see Penny.
“Poor little boy,” Joe said. “First, Miranda goes to school here and now Penny is lost to him forever.”
“It is sad but no sadder than three little boys who had to grow up without their mothers,” Ben said quietly. “You all survived and A.C. will survive missing Miranda and Penny. He still has Beth and Gwyneth and we’ve seen how much they love their little brother.” Ben then added, “May I see A.C.’s letter?” Joe handed it to him and Ben commented with a faint smile, “Very good for a little boy who’s not quite six and just started school.”
“I’m sure looking forward to seeing Adam’s family in June,” Joe said.
“So am I. And I’m looking forward to seeing Miranda graduate,” Ben said with a fond smile.
“If Dr. Pascoe agrees. And don’t forget he says you’ll need plenty of rest between now and then before he’ll consider allowing you to travel as far as Boston even in a Pullman Palace.”
Ben scowled. “I’ll rest because I have every intention of witnessing my granddaughter graduate as second in her class.”
Joe grinned as he spied the familiar determination in his pa’s eyes, and knew that Ben would follow the doctor’s orders to the letter.
“I’m tired of waiting, Daddy,” A.C. whined as he leaned against the verandah railing in a dead-on imitation of his father.
“I know, Jackeroo, but it always takes ladies longer to get ready,” Adam said placatingly, reaching down and giving his son’s neck an affectionate squeeze.
“I’m not sure. I think it’s because they have to fix their hair and they have more clothes to put on that we do.”
“That you’ll find out when you get older,” Adam replied with a small grin. “Good evening,” he said to the Davies as they walked up the verandah steps.
“My sister and niece aren’t ready yet I see,” Rhys said with a grin.
“Aunt Tilda is a lady and she’s ready,” A.C. said to his daddy reproachfully.
“We’re ready, bachgennyn,” Bronwen said from the doorway. “Don’t be so impatient.”
“Let’s go,” A.C. said, grabbing his parents’ hands and tugging them forward. “We’ll be late.”
The others laughed and Llywelyn said with a grin, “Beth and Dafydd aren’t going to start without us.”
“That’s right, A.C.,” Gwyneth added. “Beth and Dafydd are inviting us to dinner because we’re leaving for the States tomorrow. We’re the guests of honor.”
“But I’m hungry. I wanna hurry,” the six-year-old complained.
Beth and Dafydd were waiting on their verandah enjoying the cool evening breeze when the Cartwrights and Davies approached the rectory. After exchanging greetings A.C. announced, “I’m hungry!”
“You’re always hungry, A.C.,” Dafydd said with a grin. “I don’t know how anyone can eat as much food as you do and stay so skinny.”
“I could do it when I was a boy,” Adam said with a small grin, “but it catches up with you as you get older.”
“But you look very fit now, Daddy,” Beth replied. Adam’s appetite had improved a bit and he had put some weight back on, but he was going for walks with Bronwen in the evening so that he wouldn’t regain all the weight he’d lost.
“This is good tucker, Beth,” Llywelyn said with appreciation as they dined.
“I had a good teacher,” Beth replied smiling at her mother.
“That you did,” Adam added, dimpling at his wife whose cheeks grew pink.
Seeing everyone was nearly finished eating, Dafydd smiled at his bride and said, “Before we adjourn to the parlor, Bethan and I have an announcement.”
Adam and Bronwen exchanged excited glances and Rhys and Matilda did the same. The three younger members of the dinner party, however, had no suspicions as to the nature of the announcement.
“Sometime in early November, Bethan and I will have an addition to our family,” Dafydd announced proudly as he and Beth shared a tender smile. Adam reached for Bronwen’s hand and squeezed it while their faces expressed their joy.
“Stone the crows! I’ll be an aunt!” Gwyneth exclaimed in delight.
The father-to-be grinned at his young brother-in-law. “That means in November you’ll become an uncle, A.C. bach.”
“Like Uncle Rhys and Uncle Joe!” the little boy exclaimed excitedly.
Adam and Bronwen got up and went to hug their daughter and son-in-law. As Adam pulled away from their embraces, he couldn’t help thinking that it was only a little more than nineteen short years ago that he and Bronwen were making the same announcement to her parents. “Congratulations to you both,” Rhys said after he had his chance to hug the prospective parents. “You’ll be an uncle, A.C., but I get to be a great-uncle.”
“Do you get to be an uncle, Daddy?” A.C. asked.
“No, Jackeroo, I’ll be a grandpa,” Adam said grinning broadly.
“But you can’t be Grandpa; you’re Daddy!”
“I’m your daddy and your sisters’ daddy but when Beth and Dafydd’s baby is born, I’ll be his or her grandpa,” Adam explain patiently.
“Bethy is having a baby?”
“Of course, drongo. That’s why you get to be an uncle,” Gwyneth said with a laugh but earning a frown from her mother and father for her mocking reply.
A.C. looked confused so Bronwen said with a smile, “Daddy and I will explain it later, A.C. bach.”
“You’re a lucky boy,” Adam added. “Not every six-year-old gets to be an uncle.”
“I’m writing Tad-cu and Mam-gu, but I thought you could tell Grandpa and the rest of the family in person,” Beth said smiling at her father. Adam returned the smile, happy to be bearing good news on what he knew would be a bittersweet reunion with his family.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
“How much longer do you think it will be before the ship docks?” Miranda asked her uncle anxiously as the two of them waited impatiently for the ship bearing the Australian Cartwrights, which was due to arrive in Boston that day. (Ben had wanted to come, but Joe and Miranda had managed to talk him into waiting at the hotel with Annabelle, ostensibly to help her look after Benj and Sarah.)
“I don’t know,’ Joe replied honestly. “Ships don’t arrive on a schedule as precisely as trains.
“I’m a little nervous about seeing Daddy,” Miranda confided. “Gwyneth warned me in her last letter that he is still much thinner than he used to be, but he is eating again.” She smiled and added, “A.C. wrote me that he had lost three of his baby teeth. He is growing up so fast.”
“Children have a habit of doing that,” Joe replied with a grin. “You don’t notice as much if you see them all the time.” He squinted in the direction of the harbor and said, “Look! Maybe this will be their ship.”
“I see them,” Gwyneth said excitedly. From her vantage point, she could make out her uncle’s graying curly head and the diminutive dark-haired figure next to him as the Cartwrights walked down the gangplank.
“Yes, I see them, too,” Adam said, waving his arm to his brother and daughter and smiling as they returned his greeting.
“I can’t see,” A.C. complained.
“You can see them in just a minute,” Adam replied, tightening his hold on his son’s hand. He felt his eyes begin to burn with unshed tears at the sight of his brother and his second born. How I have missed you, Angel, even more now that Penny is gone.
In a matter of minutes the Cartwrights were greeting each other with hugs, kisses and tears. Adam looks all right, Joe thought as he watched his older brother embrace Miranda. He is thinner but not a walking skeleton as I feared. That would have really upset Pa. But he’s aged so much since I saw him at Beth’s wedding, and so has Bronwen. The younger brother had been struggling with how to impart his condolences without causing the older man embarrassment or pain. Joe needn’t have worried as the look in Adam’s eyes when he saw his brother told him exactly what the still grieving father needed. Adam was the one to initiate the hug, and as Joe’s arms, in turn, enfolded his older brother, he whispered, “I am so desperately sorry, Adam.” Adam gripped his little brother even more tightly as he sighed and said, “Thank you, Joe.”
The women did not try to hold back their tears as they greeted each other for the first time since the family’s devastating loss. The sight of his mama’s and sisters’ tears made A.C.’s big hazel eyes begin to glisten as well until Joe held out his arms to him saying, “Does Uncle Joe get a hug?” and A.C. flung himself into his American uncle’s arms.
As the hug ended, Joe said with a surprised grin, “My gosh, A.C., you’re growing like a weed!” The six-year-old turned a baffled face to his daddy who said with a slight grin, “Uncle Joe means you’re growing taller.” The child then dimpled proudly.
“I’ll take care of your luggage so you can go to the hotel. Pa is really anxious to see all of you,” Joe said to Adam after they had all exchanged hugs and were ready to leave the dock.
“Too right!” Miranda agreed. “The only way we could convince him to stay with Aunt Annabelle was to promise Uncle Joe would take care of everything here so you could go straight to the hotel.”
In the parlor of the Cartwrights’ suite at the Parker House hotel, Ben Cartwright sat quietly, though the mixture of eagerness and anxiety at seeing his family was evident in his chocolate brown eyes. Hearing the door to the suite open, he rose a bit unsteadily to greet his children and grandchildren.
“It’s so good to see you, son,” he said, making no attempt to check the tears that flowed down his weathered cheeks. He hugged his firstborn close, and for one of the few times in his life, Adam was not the first one to pull away. There was no need for words between them; Ben’s eyes told his son how deeply he, too, grieved for Penny.
For Adam, this moment was a catharsis. He had not realized how much he had needed his father in the bleak months since his daughter’s death. Ben had been there for all the dark days of his life, and although he would soon be a grandfather himself, there was still great comfort in his father’s embrace just as there had been when he’d sought that comfort as a small boy. As Ben felt his eldest son—the one who even as a small child had shied away from displays of emotion—relax in his arms, he knew of a surety that his firstborn would recover from the cruel loss of his beloved little daughter. Both men wiped the tears from their cheeks unashamedly, and then Ben turned to his daughter-in-law.
“Bronwen,” he exclaimed, enfolding her in his arms and kissing her cheek. How I miss that other pair of violet eyes! he thought sadly, remembering how much Penny had resembled her mother. He felt a tug on his trousers and looked down at a little boy with Adam’s dark hazel eyes and dimpled smile.
“G’day, Grandpa. It’s me, A.C.”
“Hello, A.C.,” Ben replied smiling slightly and cupping the little boy’s cheek in the palm of his hand. The tall slender girl behind him, even more of a replica of her father than his namesake, said shyly, “Hello, Grandpa.”
“Hello, Gwyneth,” Ben said and pulled her into a hug. She stiffened just for a moment before returning the hug and Ben thought, You are so like your father.
Sarah demanded a hug from her aunt and uncle; Benj allowed his aunt to hug him but he extended his hand to his uncle, who shook it firmly. A.C., however, was happy to hug his grandpa and aunt.
“I’m going to be an uncle, Grandpa!” he announced importantly, and one baritone and two soprano voices chorused, “A.C.!”
Ben looked at Adam with raised eyebrows and Adam grinned slightly saying, “It’s not how we planned on telling you, but just before we sailed Beth told us she is expecting a child. The baby is due in early November.”
“That’s wonderful news!” Miranda exclaimed sharing a beaming smile with her parents and her younger sister. “Beth must be so happy. She wrote me that she was worried because she hadn’t conceived yet.”
“She did?” Bronwen asked in surprise.
“She told me the same thing,” Gwyneth added quietly.
“She didn’t say anything to me,” Bronwen stated and her expressive countenance betrayed her distress at the knowledge her firstborn had not chosen to confide in her.
“I think she didn’t want to say anything about her wanting a baby when you and Daddy had lost Penny,” Miranda said gently. Adam and Bronwen shared a troubled glance. They were saddened that their grief had prevented their firstborn from sharing her concern with them. Miranda continued, “Dr. Brooke told her he wasn’t surprised that she hadn’t conceived quickly because of her own grief at Penny’s death and apparently he was correct. I am so happy for her and Dafydd.”
Ben shook his head. “I hadn’t even gotten used to the idea of Beth as a wife and now she’s going to be a mother.” This was a bittersweet moment for him. Sweet because now there would be another generation of Cartwright descendants; bitter because he would never see his great-grandchild, separated from him by a vast ocean.
“I know what you mean,” Adam replied. He smiled faintly at his father. “Maybe you can give me some advice on being a grandpa.”
“Being a grandparent is wonderful,” Ben replied with a twinkle in his eyes. “As parents you have to be disciplinarians, but grandparents are allowed to spoil grandchildren.”
“I’m looking forward to that,” Bronwen replied with a grin.
“I think I am, too,” Adam stated, much to the surprise of his wife and father.
“We thought that today you would probably all want to rest up from your voyage,” Annabelle said quietly.
“I don’t wanna rest,” A.C. said wrinkling his nose in disgust.
“Sarah and Benj and I were going to go play in the Common. Would you like to join us?” Annabelle queried with a smile, and A.C. replied enthusiastically, “Too right!” At his father’s slight frown he said in a more subdued tone, “Yes, please.”
“Thank you, Annabelle,” Bronwen said with a tired smile. “Adam and I would like to rest a bit and visit with Miranda.”
“You must promise to mind Aunt Annabelle, Jackeroo. If she tells me you were a naughty boy, then we’ll have a necessary talk,” Adam said warningly. Ben smiled to himself as he noted how much his son looked and sounded like him in his younger days when Adam was the one receiving the warning.
‘I’ll be good, Daddy. I promise,” A.C. said earnestly and the adults all shared a smile.
“My dad is gonna come play catch with me when he gets back,” Benj said. “You wanna play, too, A.C.?”
“That’d be beaut!” A.C. exclaimed with a grin and seeing Benj’s confused look Adam translated, “He means that would be swell.”
After Annabelle and the younger children exited, Adam turned to Gwyneth. “Are you going to stay here with us, Punkin?”
“I’d like to visit with Grandpa, if that’s okay?”
“It’s more than okay; it’s wonderful,” Ben said. “Maybe we could go for a little walk—“
“Uh, Pa,” Adam interrupted but before he could say more Ben said, “Dr. Pascoe wants me to walk, son. I just have to do it slowly, but Gwyneth won’t mind that, will you?”
She dimpled at her grandpa. “Of course not. If we’re going to be sightseeing, we don’t want to walk fast anyway.”
“Walking is good exercise, cariad. They’ll be fine,” Bronwen said, putting her hand on Adam’s arm and he somewhat reluctantly escorted her and Miranda to their adjoining suite.
The three of them seated themselves on the large, plush sofa in the suite’s parlor with Miranda sitting in the middle. “It is so good to see you again, Miranda fach,” Bronwen said putting her arm around her daughter’s shoulders and hugging her.
“We’ve all missed you so much, Angel,” Adam added and leaned over to kiss her cheek.
Miranda smiled at her parents before saying unsteadily, “It’s wonderful seeing you and Gwyneth and A.C. It-it just seems so wrong not to see Penny. In spite of everything I think some part of me refused to accept that she was really gone, but when I saw the four of you on the gangplank,” and she could hardly speak trying to hold back her tears, “I realized I’d never see Penny again.” She broke down then and cried in her mother’s arms while her father gently patted her back, both of them on the verge of tears as well.
“I-I’m so glad I got to see her at the wedding,” she said in a trembling voice after she’d been able to stop crying and used her daddy’s handkerchief to dry her tears and blow her nose. “I don’t think I could have borne it if I hadn’t seen her since I left Cloncurry.”
“Yes, you would have,” Bronwen said quietly. “We have our memories and nothing can take those away from us.” She and Adam both reached for one of their daughter’s hands and squeezed it soothingly.
“I know but I can’t help thinking how unfair it was for Penny to die when she was so young.”
“I remember the verses in Ecclesiastes: ‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven’,” her father quoted somberly. “’A time to be born, and a time to die.’”
“And I think of the verse from the Psalms: ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,’” her mother added softly. “It’s been a long night, but I believe morning is coming for all of us.” Miranda silently nodded her understanding.
“Since this is your first visit to Boston, is there anything in particular that you’d like to see?” Ben inquired as he walked through the hotel lobby with Gwyneth on his arm.
“I expect it’s too far to walk where you and Daddy used to live,” she said wistfully.
“Not if we take it slowly,” he said with a smile, thinking how lovely she had grown over the past year. Now that she was sixteen, there was no longer any hint of gawkiness; she moved with the same feline grace as her father and her features were a feminine version of his. Of course, Ben noted, Gwyneth had inherited Bronwen’s long, slender neck and her jaw and chin were softer and narrower than her father’s.
“There is one place closer that I’d also like to visit,” she continued. “In fact, I’d prefer to go there first and then we can decide about seeing Great-grandfather Stoddard’s house.”
“Of course, my dear,” he replied. “Where do you wish to go?”
“Miranda wrote us that the cemetery where Grandma is buried is not far from here, and I would like to visit her grave,” she replied quietly and her grandfather smiled, for he also wanted to visit his first love’s resting place.
As they strolled down Tremont to Park, he noticed she flinched at the sounds of traffic. “I don’t like cities,” she said in reply to his unspoken question. “They are too loud and dirty and there are too many people.” She shook her head a little then saying, “But Miranda loves Boston. She says it’s exciting.”
“I don’t mind visiting cities,” he stated with a smile, “but I must confess I wouldn’t want to live in one again.” Then he said thoughtfully, “I suspect your father doesn’t really like them that much either since once he left college he chose to live first on the Ponderosa and then in Cloncurry.”
She remarked reflectively, “I think Daddy’s feelings about cities are ambivalent. Now, Mama is so looking forward to shopping at Bloomingdale’s and the Corner Bookstore.” She grinned then and added, “I’m looking forward to shopping at the bookstore and I’ve been saving my allowance.” She paused and then added, “I guess I’ll be happy to have some new clothes as well.”
“I’ve never known a female who wasn’t,” he replied teasingly as she said, “Oh, Grandpa!” and rolled her eyes in a perfect imitation of her father.
A short time later, they both stood silently before Elizabeth’s grave. Gwyneth broke the stillness first commenting, “Grandma was awfully young when she died—only three years older than I am.”
“Yes,” he agreed softly. “She was eighteen when we married and we had only fourteen months together. But they were some of the happiest months of my life.”
Hesitantly, Gwyneth asked, “You don’t think Beth will die in childbirth, do you?”
“I pray not, but there are no guarantees,” he answered carefully.
“I don’t think I can bear to lose another sister,” she said in a choked voice as the real reason she wanted to be with her beloved grandpa was revealed. He put his arms around her and held her comfortingly as she cried on his shoulder.
“I miss Penny so much, Grandpa,” she confided as she struggled to regain control. “I don’t want to let Daddy and Mama know how much. They have their own pain to bear.”
He was silent, relieved that she remained in his embrace. This granddaughter was so like her father in temperament and he had learned over the years that trying to cajole his eldest into confiding in him only served to make him more reticent; the best method was to exercise patience
After a few minutes that stretched into an eternity for Ben, Gwyneth took a deep, shuddering breath and continued. “I’m so angry that Penny had to die. Sometimes,” and she dropped her eyes and spoke so softly he had to strain to hear her, “I’m angry at Penny. If she’d told Mama and Daddy how much pain she was in sooner, they would have taken her to see Dr. Brooke. He could have removed her appendix before it ruptured and she’d still be alive.” Gwyneth choked back a sob and he gently rubbed her back until she could compose herself.
“Then Daddy didn’t seem to love me or A.C. anymore. He was never home, or if he was, he’d just look right through us. It seemed as though Penny was the only one he loved.”
“You know that isn’t true,” Ben said quietly.
“Yes,” she said with a watery smile. “I do now, but it hurt so much then.”
“Your daddy didn’t mean to hurt you. I know because I was the same way after Grandma Marie died.
“Fair dinkum? I mean, really?” Gwyneth asked in surprise. She sniffed and Ben handed her his handkerchief with a slight smile and then nodded sadly.
“Your daddy had to be there for your uncles because I was too lost in my own grief to give them the love they needed. It wasn’t that I stopped loving them, but for a time I just felt a terrible numbness and I had no love to give. I know that’s what happened to your daddy.”
Gwyneth slowly nodded her understanding and Ben continued. “It’s a very hard thing to lose a child. I still grieve for your Uncle Hoss, but I think in some ways it is harder on your parents because Penny was so young with her whole life ahead of her.”
“Sometimes I think she was lucky,” Gwyneth said haltingly. “In heaven no one is sad or unhappy.”
“That’s true,” Ben said, “and there is comfort in that knowledge.” He dropped his arms as he felt Gwyneth move away and asked gently, “Do you still want to see where your daddy was born?”
“Yes, please,” Gwyneth said smiling tentatively as her grandfather put his arm about her shoulders and led her away, glancing back to wish a silent goodbye to his lost love.
Joe caught up with Annabelle and the children at the Common. Sarah raced toward him joyously and he swung her up into the air before kissing her. Benj smiled at his father and said with a grin, “I brought my ball, Dad. A.C. said he’d like to play with us.”
“That’s fine, A.C.,” Joe said smiling warmly at his nephew, who grinned back engagingly. “Why don’t you go stand over there,” he said gesturing. As the six-year-old ran over to his designated spot, Joe turned to Benj and said quietly, ‘Remember, Pardner, we don’t want to throw the ball as hard to A.C. since he’s still a little boy.”
“Sure, Dad,’ Benj replied. “He told me that Uncle Rhys and Llywelyn are teaching him and Uncle Adam to play cricket. What’s cricket?”
“I think it’s an English version of baseball,” Joe replied. Then with a grin he added, “Or maybe baseball is an American version of cricket.” He smiled at his son. “I’ll throw the ball to A.C. first while you get in position.”
Joe was pleased to see A.C. caught the ball easily. When he threw it back, Joe was astonished at how accurately the six-year-old could throw.
When Annabelle signaled it was time for them to return to the hotel, Joe tousled his nephew’s hair saying, “You throw good, A.C.”
A.C. grinned back saying proudly, “Daddy says I have his arm.”
“Yeah, I remember your daddy writing us that he played baseball in college. He was good, too.”
When the Cartwrights returned from the Common, Annabelle and Sarah retired to their suite to freshen up while Joe and Benj went with A.C. to knock on the door to Adam and Bronwen’s. “Come in,” they heard Adam say.
A.C. opened the door and ran in shouting, “Uncle Joe says I throw good, Daddy!”
“What Uncle Joe meant to say is that you throw well,” Adam replied with a grin, tweaking the tip of his son’s upturned nose.
“He really does, Uncle Adam,” Benj added earning a smile from his aunt and uncle.
“I trust you ‘old folks’ are rested now,” Joe said with a wide smile.
“Yes, we ‘old folks’ are rested,” Adam replied with an equally feisty grin. “Are Pa and Gwyneth back yet?”
“Back?” Joe asked worriedly.
“They just went for a walk, Joe,” Bronwen said with an amused smile. “Pa said his doctor wants him to walk so he was going to show Gwyneth a little of the city. They’ll be back soon if they aren’t back already.”
“We have some news to share with you, younger brother,” Adam began. A.C. started to blurt out the news again but his daddy put his hand over his mouth, which made his sisters snicker. “Beth and Dafydd are expecting a child in early November.”
“That’s great!” Joe said, walking over and thumping his older brother on the back while Bronwen and Miranda tried not to giggle at the way A.C. was glaring at his daddy. (It was exactly the same expression his daddy wore when he was furious the two thought, sharing an amused glance.)
“Why don’t you two wait here for Pa?” Bronwen suggested to Joe, who nodded his agreement.
“What are your plans for tomorrow?” he asked sitting in an armchair across from the sofa where Adam, Bronwen and Miranda were sitting while Benj perched on the chair’s arm.
“I’m taking Gwyneth and A.C. to Bloomingdale’s to shop for clothes and shoes,” Bronwen replied. “Boston certainly offers more variety than Cloncurry.”
“No more clothes like girls wear,” A.C. announced with a scowl.
“Little boys do not speak to their mother’s in that manner. But Mama won’t be buying you anymore Fauntleroy suits, I promise, Jackeroo,” Adam said, trying not to grin at his son’s impertinence since he shared the sentiment.
“No,” Bronwen agreed with a sigh as A.C. squeezed in between his daddy and Miranda on the sofa, for she thought her baby boy had looked so adorable dressed in velvet and lace. “I’ve read that sailor suits are all the fashion now. You’d like a sailor suit, wouldn’t you?”
“Beauty, Mama!” A.C. exclaimed, his whole face lighting up. “But I wanna go shopping with Daddy.”
Bronwen looked hurt but Adam said quickly, “All right. I imagine we’ll finish shopping long before Mama and Gwyneth. When we’re done, we’ll go see the Bunker Hill monument.” He saw his nephew’s face light up and asked Joe, “Have you and Benj been to see it?”
“No,” Joe said and Benj asked eagerly, “Could we go with Uncle Adam and A.C., Dad?”
Looking at a monument sounded dull to Joe, but Benj looked so eager that he nodded his agreement.
“We’ll meet you here at the hotel at ten o’clock,” Adam said. “The monument is a 221-foot granite obelisk. When I was attending Harvard I climbed it more than once.”
“I wanna climb it, Daddy,” A.C. exclaimed excitedly.
“Me, too,” Benj stated enthusiastically.
“Well, since Uncle Joe has reminded me that I am an old man, we’ll let him climb the monument with you boys,” Adam replied with an evil chuckle and Joe grinned sickly. “I was just joshing,” Adam said taking pity on his brother. “I’ll climb the monument with you boys, but we’ll have to take it slowly.”
“That’s okay, Uncle Adam. I don’t mind climbing slowly,” Benj said very seriously.
“I’ve been to the monument, and it sounds like an all male outing anyway. May I come shopping with you?” Miranda asked Bronwen.
“Of course,” Bronwen said with a delighted smile. (In the past, Miranda and Gwyneth hadn’t shown that much interest in clothes, but obviously that was changing.)
Annabelle and Sarah soon joined the others and they discussed Miranda’s upcoming graduation and the Cartwright’s voyage. While they were talking Ben and Gwyneth returned. Bronwen and Adam noticed that Gwyneth seemed more relaxed and suspected that was due to her grandfather’s influence. When A.C. eagerly told his grandpa about the upcoming visit to the Bunker Hill Monument, Ben stated that he would like to be part of the excursion.
“Where did you and Gwyneth go, Grandpa?” Sarah inquired then.
“Gwyneth wanted to see where her grandma is buried, and then I showed her where her daddy was born.”
“You were born here, Uncle Adam?” Sarah asked in surprise. “Just like Mama?”
“That’s right,” Adam said. “I lived here until I was about three.”
“Between three and four,” Ben corrected with a smile. “Then your Uncle Adam and I set off for the west. It took us a long time because I’d have to stop and earn money to buy food and clothes for Uncle Adam as he outgrew his.”
“Do you remember that farm—I think it was in Indiana—where the farmer hired you to help with the haying?” Adam asked, obviously lost in memory.
“My first time haying,” Ben said with a wide smile, “but certainly not my last.”
“I think I was about five then,” Adam replied dimpling, “and I remember how proud I was because his wife let me help weed the garden and wash the dirty clothes.” He grinned broadly as he added, “And she made raspberry cobbler. That was the first time I ever tasted it.”
Ben said a little sadly, “I remember after we left finding a pair of her son’s old mittens, a scarf, and some heavy shirts that had belonged to him hidden in the bottom of our valise. But what moved me the most were the brand-new pairs of flannel drawers she had sewn for you.”
The others all sat enthralled, for neither Ben nor Adam had ever been very open about this time in their lives.
Ben continued, “Then we stopped in a town in Illinois and met your Mama. Grandma Inger,” he added in explanation for the others.
Adam was thankful Ben hadn’t mentioned the other town in Illinois where they’d stopped. That was where he’d learned for the first time that his mother had died as a result of his birth. He forced himself to think instead about the happy memory of meeting his “Mama” for the first time.
“I had a sore throat and Grandma Inger gave Grandpa some medicine for me,” he said with a warm smile. “I didn’t like the medicine much, but I liked the “nice lady” who gave it to me.’ He and Ben shared a smile as he emphasized the words that he had used then to describe Inger. He then spoke to the children. “Grandma Inger visited me while I was sick. She held me on her lap and rocked me just like I knew my own mother would have done. She even talked Grandpa and the schoolmaster into letting me start school so I wouldn’t have to sit alone in our room at the boardinghouse while Grandpa worked.” He glanced at his father then and saw the pain and grief in Ben’s eyes and added quickly, “I knew you didn’t have any choice, Pa.”
“You had to stay all by yourself?” A.C. asked wonderingly. “Were you a bad boy?”
“No, your daddy wasn’t a bad boy,” Ben said quickly. “At least not very often. But your grandma was in heaven and I didn’t have any money to pay someone to take care of him while I worked. Sometimes, like with the nice farmer’s wife, someone would volunteer to watch him, but not everyone wanted to be bothered with a little boy. I guess I never let myself think about how hard it must have been for your daddy being stuck alone in a room all day with no one to play with or even talk to.”
“I understood,” Adam said to Ben with a quiet intensity. “I knew you didn’t like leaving me but you had no choice.”
A.C. tugged on Bronwen’s hand then. “Yes, A.C. bach?” she asked bending down.
He asked quietly, “You won’t go away to heaven like Penny and Grandma, will you?”
“I hope not until you are all grown up,” she said softly while the other females felt their own eyes begin to fill with tears at A.C.’s words. “But even if I did, Beth and Gwyneth and Miranda would help Daddy take care of you. You’re luckier than Daddy because he didn’t have any big sisters to take care of him like you do.”
Adam decided to change the subject to something more cheerful. “When my sore throat got better, I went to school and I had a wonderful time. I learned how to play Needle’s Eye, Tag and Kick-the-Can and I made my first friend.”
“They played Kick-the-Can when you were a boy?” Benj asked in surprise, which made his father grin. However, Ben said with a smile, “I played Kick-the-Can when I was a boy,” and that made all three youngsters open their eyes wide. Grinning at their surprise, Ben added, “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m hungry.”
“We found an excellent restaurant nearby the last time we stayed here,” Adam suggested and Annabelle said, “We need to change if we’re going to dinner. We’ll meet all of you in the lobby.”
That night Adam woke when he no longer felt Bronwen beside him. He heard the sound of muffled sobs and as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he made out Bronwen’s figure standing by the window. He slipped soundlessly out of bed and walked to join her. “Sweetheart?” he asked, rubbing his hand gently down her back.
“I’m sorry,” she replied trying valiantly to stop her tears. “I was just remembering how happy and excited Penny was the last time we visited Boston.”
He drew her into his arms, tucking her head under his chin. “I’d been thinking the same thing earlier,” he said after a moment of silence. “I’m so glad I had the opportunity to show her where I was born and where I went to college.”
“Yes, my memories of Penny’s visit here are happy ones,” Bronwen agreed slowly. “She loved the Common and seeing all the historic sites but I think our stay at Martha’s Vineyard was her favorite part of our visit.”
He smiled then lost in happy memories. “I can picture her and A.C. looking for shells and pebbles on the beach.”
“Don’t forget our contests to see who could build the best sandcastle,” Bronwen said softly. She shivered slightly in the cool night air and he said quietly, “Come back to bed before you catch cold.”
He held her in his arms for their mutual comfort, but gradually the need for comfort was transformed into a longing to reaffirm their love. Afterward, they fell asleep with his body curled around hers, holding her close.
“I’ve made you a shopping list,” Bronwen said briskly the next morning after they breakfasted in their suite, and she handed Adam a sheet of paper.
He scanned it quickly. “One or two sailor suits, two pairs of knickerbockers, seven pairs of combinations ...
“One for each day of the week,” Bronwen interjected and Adam nodded.
“Three or four pairs of stockings and a new pair of shoes. One or two nightshirts.”
“I want pyjamas like Daddy’s,” A.C. stated.
“I want pyjamas like Daddy’s please,” Adam corrected. “We’ll see if they have pyjamas in your size, okay?” he added quirking his lips up slightly.
“Okay,” A.C. agreed reluctantly
“If we’re going to get finished in time to meet Uncle Joe and Benj, then we need to get started. I don’t suppose you ladies are ready?”
“We can’t leave yet because Miranda isn’t here,” Bronwen replied. “She should be here soon, and then we can go.”
“How about a game of 20 Questions while we wait?” Adam asked A.C. as he saw the frown of impatience on his son’s face, and the little boy’s countenance brightened immediately. They only had time for one game before Miranda arrived.
Miranda and Gwyneth were wearing colors now since mourning for a sibling lasted just six months. Mourning for a child, however, lasted a full year. Bronwen no longer wore the black bombazine and black crape of deep mourning; now she wore the black silk of ordinary mourning and a hat with a black veil. She would look for some dresses in the white, lavender and gray of half mourning at Bloomingdale’s since she would soon need them.
When they arrived at Bloomingdale’s, they split into two parties. “We’ll see you ladies this evening,” Adam said taking A.C.’s hand. Before they entered the store, Adam took A.C. to one side and hunkered down beside him.
“A.C., you must not let go of Daddy’s hand. This is a big store and if you get lost, it might be a long time before Daddy could find you. Do you understand?”
A.C. nodded. The building was awfully big and there were lots and lots of people going in. It looked like more people than lived in Cloncurry and A.C. felt just a bit of trepidation. But he knew as long as he stayed with his daddy, he’d be all right.
Adam discovered the children’s department easily and A.C. loved the sailor suits, especially the ones with bell-bottomed trousers. “Let’s just get sailor suits, Daddy. I don’t need no more knickerbockers.”
“I tell you what, Jackeroo,” Adam said with a slight grin. “We’ll get one sailor suit you can wear in the summer and one you can wear in the winter, along with some knickerbockers.” A.C. reluctantly agreed and they decided on a three-piece suit of white drill stitched and embroidered in navy for summer and one made of blue serge with brass buttons for winter. Both suits had bell-bottomed trousers and to complete the outfit, Adam bought A.C. a broad-brimmed straw sailor’s hat. They quickly found the other items on Bronwen’s list including, to A.C.’s delight, two pairs of pyjamas just like his daddy’s.
When Adam paid for their purchases, he had to let go of his son’s hand, but he instructed the child to “stay right here.” As soon as he finished paying and arranged for the packages to be sent to the hotel, he looked down to find A.C. had vanished. He asked the people nearby if they had noticed which way he’d gone, but no one had. He searched the children’s department frantically, calling A.C.’s name, which earned him disapproving stares, but he paid no heed. “Dear God,” he prayed fervently as he searched department after department, “help me find my son and don’t let him come to any harm.”
Finally a store employee noticed him and approached. “Excuse me, sir, but are you looking for a lost child?”
“Yes. A little boy about this high,” Adam replied gesturing, “with dark hair wearing a tan knickerbocker suit.”
“I think I know where he is,” the employee said kindly. “Your grandson, is he?”
“No, my son,” Adam replied and the employee’s eyebrows shot up, for this baldheaded, white-bearded man certainly looked more the age to be the youngster’s grandfather. Adam was oblivious to the employee’s reaction, which was universal and usually amused him.
When A.C. saw his daddy approaching, he ran to him screaming, “Daddy! Daddy!”
Adam caught his son in his arms and held him tightly and kissed his tearstained cheek. After a few minutes A.C.’s sobs subsided into hiccups. Adam set him on his feet and turned to the employees who had been caring for his little boy.
“I can’t thank you enough for looking after my son,” he began.
“It’s all right, sir. Unfortunately, at least one child is lost here every day. He told us he was staying at the Parker House so if you hadn’t arrived soon, we were going to send word there.”
“Have you thanked the gentleman for taking care of you?” Adam asked A.C.
“Thank you,” A.C. said with a tearful grin.
Adam waited until they were on the sidewalk outside Bloomingdale’s before pulling A.C. to one side. Bending down to meet his son eye to eye, he said sternly, “You were told to stay by me, weren’t you?”
“Yes, D-daddy,” A.C. gulped, for he had a good idea of what was going to happen.
“You scared me to death when I looked down and you were gone.”
“I got scared, too,” A.C. said in a quavering voice.
“You know what happens to little boys who disobey their parents?” and A.C. nodded his head miserably. Adam applied four hard swats to his bottom and then picked up the sobbing child.
“I’m sorry, D-daddy,” the little boy sobbed. “I won’t be bad again. I promise.”
Adam smiled a little at the promise he knew no child, least of all his son, could possibly keep. “It’s over and forgotten now. We need to find a cab because we’re a bit late and the others will wonder what’s keeping us. Oh, and Jackeroo, I think it would be best if we don’t tell anyone that you were lost. It would just frighten your mama, and we don’t want to do that, do we?”
“No,” A.C. said firmly, scrubbing his cheeks with the backs of his hands to erase any evidence of his tears.
“We were beginning to wonder what had happened to you,” Joe said with a grin when he opened the door to Adam’s knock.
“It just took a bit longer than I’d thought,” Adam replied quietly.
A.C. opened his mouth to tell of his adventure but his daddy squeezed his shoulder, reminding him of their secret so he quickly snapped it shut.
“Do we walk to the monument, Uncle Adam?” Benj asked eagerly.
“The monument is across the harbor in Charlestown so I think we’d better take a cab. You’ll get plenty of exercise climbing the monument, I promise,” Adam replied smiling at his nephew.
“I can see it, Daddy,” A.C. cried jumping up and down in excitement. “See it, Benj! See it, Grandpa!”
“I see it,” Ben replied with a smile at the child’s exuberance.
“It’s really high,” Benj said admiringly and Ben smiled again thinking how much Benj reminded him of Adam and A.C. reminded him of Joe. His sons seemed to read his mind as they exchanged rueful smiles.
“It sure is high,” Joe added grateful that Adam was willing to walk with the boys to the top.
“Do you boys know about the Battle of Bunker Hill that the monument commemorates?” Adam asked as they walked toward the towering granite obelisk.
“Bunker Hill was fought on June 17, 1775. The Americans lost the battle but they did much better than the British thought they would,” Benj replied seriously.
“That’s right, Benj,” Adam answered impressed at his nephew’s knowledge. “The American soldiers were able to repel two assaults and they inflicted heavy casualties on the British.”
“What’s heavy caslties?” A.C. asked.
“It means many British soldiers were killed,” Ben responded quietly. “War is a terrible thing, boys, even when it is in a good cause. It’s my prayer that neither of you will ever have to fight in one.”
As Adam and the boys began their ascent, Ben and Joe sat on a bench to wait for them. “Adam seems his old self, don’t you think?” Joe asked his father cautiously.
“Yes, I think he and his family are beginning to heal,” Ben said pensively. In a seeming non sequitur, he then asked Joe, “Do you remember when your mother died?”
“Not much,” Joe replied carefully. “I remember having nightmares and Adam letting me sleep with him.”
“Yes, you had to turn to Adam because I wasn’t there for you,” Ben commented sadly.
“Pa—” Joe began but Ben cut him off. “I couldn’t help myself anymore than Adam could after Penny’s death. Gwyneth confided how it felt when Adam didn’t seem to care about her and A.C. and it made me think that the three of you boys must have felt the same when we lost your mother.”
Joe realized that his father wanted him to be honest so he replied, “I was scared and hurt, but I had Hoss and Adam, just like A.C. and Gwyneth had Bronwen, Beth and each other. Once I knew that you did still love me, I just forgot about the other time.”
Ben smiled at his youngest son then. “Yes, I think that’s what A.C. has done, and Gwyneth has forgiven Adam.” He didn’t voice his next thought: Just as Adam forgave me.
“You should have come with us, Dad!” Benj exclaimed as he and A.C. ran to where Joe and Ben were sitting. (Adam walked more slowly, but to Ben’s relief he wasn’t huffing and puffing or red-faced.) “You could see for miles!”
“What a ripper!” A.C. exclaimed grinning from ear to ear while his uncle and grandpa exchanged bemused glances.
As Adam approached Joe said with a grin, “Looks like you survived, older brother.”
“Only because I’ve been joining Bronwen on her daily walks and because I lost so much weight.”
“I wanna go again, Daddy!” A.C. pleaded but Adam shook his head as he grinned slightly. “We’re only going to be in Boston a couple of more days, but maybe your mama and sisters will go with you. Once was definitely enough for me.” Then he turned to his father and brother. “I have an errand that I need to run today. Would you mind watching A.C. until either Bronwen or I return?”
“Of course,” Ben said. “I’d welcome an opportunity to spend more time with this young man,” and he smiled fondly at his youngest grandchild.
“Now, Jackeroo, if you don’t obey Grandpa and Uncle Joe, they have my permission to have a necessary talk with you. Understand?”
A.C. pouted a little but nodded. “Make sure you remember because I can tell you from personal experience that Grandpa’s necessary talks hurt more than mine do.” Adam glanced in his father’s direction as he said this, and noted that Ben’s eyebrow had risen in the familiar gesture.
A.C. looked skeptical but his Uncle Joe added, “Your daddy is right, A.C. Grandpa’s necessary talks really hurt.”
A.C. glanced apprehensively in his grandpa’s direction, and noted that Ben (for illustrative effect) looked at him just like his daddy did when he had misbehaved. A.C. then replied quickly, “I’ll be good.”
Adam gave his son’s neck an affectionate squeeze, and with a wink to his father and brother, he set off on his errands.
When Gwyneth walked into Bloomingdale’s with her mother and older sister, her eyes opened very wide and she exclaimed in a low voice, “What a ripper!”
“I wish we had a store like this in Cloncurry,” Bronwen said with a sigh.
“Penny must have loved looking at all the pretty dresses,” Gwyneth said wistfully and her mother replied quietly, “Yes, she did. She kept trying to convince me to buy her more than two.” All three women remembered with smiles how much Penny had adored getting new clothes.
“Does it hurt seeing other little girls wearing her dresses?” Miranda asked tentatively.
“A bit, at first,” Bronwen replied candidly. “But we all knew that it was the right decision and what Penny would have wanted.” She turned to her younger daughter. “I think we need to get you a new party dress, but what else would you like?”
“I’d like a tailor-made suit,” Gwyneth suggested and her mother nodded.
“I think a suit and a new dress are in order,” she replied with a smile and then turned to her older daughter. “I’d like to get a pair of those Oxford shoes you got Beth for her birthday. She says they are very comfortable.”
“They are. That’s what I wear when I visit the Ponderosa,” Miranda replied.
“Could I get a pair?” Gwyneth asked.
“Of course, but I also want to get you some nice black patent leather slippers. The heels are worn down on the ones you’re wearing now.”
The three of them had a pleasant morning shopping. Gwyneth chose a suit of charcoal-grey broadcloth, a dress of pale green faille trimmed with ivory lace, which she decided to wear to her sister’s graduation, and a fashionable wide-brimmed hat trimmed with feathers dyed green to match the dress. For her party dress, she chose a gown of ivory silk decorated with dark green ribbons. Bronwen bought two new gowns: one of white and lavender striped silk and the other of gray surah silk trimmed with lavender velvet bands. She also bought two new hats: a toque of white tulle and one of lavender silk. Lastly, she purchased a dozen pairs of gloves of assorted colors for herself and for Gwyneth. Miranda had already chosen her graduation attire but was delighted when her mother purchased a new hat for her, “just because”.
Instead of returning to the hotel, they dined at a restaurant near the department store and then Bronwen was ready to return to the Parker House.
“Would you mind if I showed Gwyneth some of the sights?” Miranda asked quietly.
“Of course not,” Bronwen replied, knowing her daughters needed some time alone. “Just make sure Gwyneth is back at the hotel in time to change for dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Collingsworth.”
“She’ll be back in plenty of time because I have to go back to the Aldens and change as well,” Miranda assured her mother.
After giving her mother directions back to the Parker House, Miranda turned to her sister. “The Girls’ Latin School is less than a mile and a half away; would you like to see it?”
“Right,” Gwyneth replied, for she was curious about her sister’s school.
As they walked along, the disparity in their heights caused most people to give them a second glance and many gentlemen gave them a third since they were such attractive young women. “It must be strange with only you and A.C. at home,” Miranda ventured to comment. She and Gwyneth had always been close, being the two bookish sisters, just as Beth and Penny had been close since they both enjoyed more traditional girlish pastimes. However, she knew in many ways Gwyneth had been closest to Penny since they were nearest in age and had shared a bedroom ever since Penny moved out of the nursery.
Gwyneth sighed. “Yes, it is strange and lonely. I always thought I’d like a room of my own, but I miss talking with Penny after Mama and Daddy kissed us goodnight. And she’d help me with my hair, especially after Beth got married. She liked fixing it and she did a good job. We’d always help each other do up our buttons in the back.” She paused before adding, “Llywelyn and I let A.C. tag along with us when we go riding after school but he’s starting to spend more time playing with his friends, Robby and Bertie. On Sunday afternoons Daddy, Uncle Rhys, Llywelyn, A.C. and I all go fishing at the river. Mark used to come with us but now it’s Douglas Campbell and Frank Gibson. They take turns baiting my hook for me.”
Miranda raised one eyebrow and then said with a smile, “That’s right. You turned sixteen a couple of weeks before you sailed here. Have Douglas and Frank asked for permission to walk you to and from church?” Gwyneth’s cheeks flamed but she nodded with downcast eyes. “And what about Mark?”
“No, he hasn’t asked,” Gwyneth replied with a sigh. “Llywelyn told me that he wants to, but he doesn’t think Daddy will approve since his family is poor.”
“Surely Llywelyn set him straight about that!” Miranda exclaimed, for she had liked Mark when she’d met him.
“He’s tried. I think Mark just thinks of me as a friend. There are prettier girls he could go walking with.”
“You’re pretty, Gwyneth,” Miranda stated firmly. “Why do you think Douglas and Frank want to walk with you? Haven’t you noticed some of the men looking at you right now.”
“They’re just staring because I’m so tall and we look odd walking together,” Gwyneth retorted. Then she asked, “What about you? I notice William Gordon’s name appears frequently in your letters.”
“Touché, little sister,” Miranda laughed. “He’s finishing his master’s at Cambridge but he wrote me that he’s going to work on his PhD at Harvard so we hope to see more of each other.” She laughed self-consciously. “I always thought I’d fall in love with a man who was tall, dark and handsome. Like Daddy. William is not tall—I think he’s probably and inch or two shorter than you—he’s not dark, and he’s not really handsome—his nose is too large, his hair is already beginning to thin and he wears glasses.” Her tone became more serious as she added, “But he has a wonderful smile, a droll sense of humor and I think I may be falling in love with him.”
Gwyneth thought, If you marry him, then I’ll lose another sister because you’ll live here in the States. Her pain showed in her face so Miranda said quickly, “I don’t know if what we feel is really love. Maybe we’ll just be good friends. Even if I did marry William and settle here, we’d still see each other sometimes, and we’d write just as we do now.” Her sister looked so sad that Miranda didn’t mention that she had no intention of returning to Cloncurry except to visit.
The next day was Sunday and all the Cartwrights attended the service at the Park Street Church. Afterward, Adam was approached by Julia Randall née Quincy while Ben and Miranda were introducing Bronwen to Margaret Baldwin.
“Adam, it is so nice to see you again,” Julia gushed.
“It’s nice to see you as well, Julia,” Adam replied with just a hint of an ironic smile. “Let me introduce my daughter, Gwyneth, and you met A.C. the last time we were in Boston. Gwyneth, this is an old friend of mine from when I attended Harvard, Mrs. ¼”
“Julia Randall. I’m pleased to meet you, Gwyneth. I can see that you are the daughter who looks like her father. Where’s your little sister who looks so much like your mother?”
Adam and Gwyneth both paled at the innocent question but A.C. answered in a sad voice, “Penny went to heaven to live with Jesus.”
Julia flushed in embarrassment as she said hurriedly, “I am so sorry for your loss. I remember she was a sweet little girl.” She saw Bronwen approach dressed in ordinary mourning and felt even worse since she knew that meant the death must have occurred within the past nine months. Julia knew the pain of losing a child, for her youngest son had been asthmatic and she’d watched him die during a violent attack, helpless to save him.
“Thank you,” Adam replied quietly. As Bronwen moved to stand by his side he said, “You remember Mrs. Randall, Bronwen?”
“Yes. It’s nice to see you again,” Bronwen said with a smile, extending her hand.
Julia shook Bronwen’s proffered hand and said softly, “I was just expressing my sympathy on your loss. My husband and I have been abroad for some time and so I hadn’t learned of your bereavement.”
“Thank you. It’s been difficult for all of us,” Bronwen replied quietly and then Julia took her leave.
Monday, Miranda’s and Charlotte’s graduation day, began with a soft spring rain, but by that afternoon the sun was out and it was a perfect day. A.C. was happy because he was allowed to wear his new sailor suit of white drill and his sailor’s hat. When they all met in the hotel lobby before heading to the Girls’ Latin School, A.C. ran up to Ben exclaiming, “See Grandpa! I look like a sailor just like you used to be!”
“You certainly do,” Ben replied straight-faced while inside he chuckled at the fanciful version of a sailor’s clothing. He caught the sardonic gleam in his firstborn’s eye and knew he shared his amusement.
The Cartwrights and the Aldens sat together at the front of the auditorium. Bronwen had brought with her the two new books she’d purchased for A.C. at the Corner Bookstore because she knew the six-year-old would find it difficult to sit through the entire ceremony. (She was frankly surprised that Annabelle hadn’t brought any diversion for Sarah but realized Sarah could read one of A.C.’s books.)
The graduates marched into the auditorium each dressed in a white frock. Bronwen admired Miranda’s choice of white crêpe de chine and satin dotted with spangles. Since Miranda was the salutatorian, she marched in second place. “Look, there’s Manda!” A.C. shouted excitedly and was quickly hushed by Adam. Miranda heard him and turned her head to smile at her baby brother.
“I know you’re happy to see your sister, but you must be very quiet, Jackeroo,” Adam said in a firm but muted tone. “Miranda’s graduation is like being in church. Understand?”
“Right, Daddy,” replied a subdued A.C. The speeches frankly bored him and Sarah so they were soon reading A.C.’s books. (Annabelle shot Bronwen a grateful look when she offered one to her little niece.) When Miranda got up to give the salutatory, A.C. perked up but after a moment he tugged on his daddy’s sleeve.
“Yes?” Adam whispered brusquely, for he wanted to listen to his daughter.
“I can’t understand, Manda,” A.C. whispered back loudly. “How come she’s talkin’ so funny?”
“She’s speaking in Latin,” Adam whispered back. “Please be quiet, A.C. I want to listen to your sister.”
A.C. started to say something to his mama, but he could tell she was also listening to Miranda and so was Grandpa. Uncle Joe winked at him, but held his finger to his lips, so A.C. pouted a little and then started reading his book again. He was actually absorbed in it when he felt his mama tap his shoulder.
“Look, A.C. bach. Miranda is going to get her diploma.”
“I can’t see!” A.C. complained so his daddy let him kneel on his lap. He saw his sister walking across the stage. A lady handed her something and Miranda took it and shook the lady’s hand before walking off the stage.
“Is it over now?” he whispered to his daddy, who grinned at him. “Not quite, Jackeroo,” he whispered back. “Cartwright is at the beginning of the alphabet so there are lots of other girls who still have to get their diplomas.”
“Oh,” A.C. said with a sigh.
Joe leaned over and said softly, “Since Miranda and Charlotte have their diplomas, why don’t I take the little ones outside for a walk?”
“Good idea,” Adam whispered back knowing his brother was probably as bored as the children.
After the ceremony, the Cartwrights and Aldens all gathered to congratulate the graduates.
“I am so proud of you, Angel,” Adam said softly as he hugged his second born and she smiled at him radiantly.
“I am glad to be done with school,” Charlotte announced emphatically. “I can’t believe Miranda really wants to spend four more years attending Radcliffe.”
“Well, I do. My application has been accepted and I begin in the fall.”
“I hope you are still planning on staying with us,” Mrs. Alden said. “We would love to have you and Nicholson would be happy to drive you over the Charles to the college.”
“Please say you will,” Charlotte added. “I’ll miss you so if you go stay at one of the college’s boarding houses.” She winked at her friend. “Of course, I’ve heard some Harvard students working toward PhDs board at the same houses as the Radcliffe girls. Maybe you’d meet your future husband.”
That settled it as far as Adam was concerned. “We’d be very happy to have Miranda continue living with you,” he said to Mr. and Mrs. Alden and grinned faintly when Mr. Alden winked at him, understanding why he wanted Miranda under their roof.
“I know this isn’t the time to go into this,” Mrs. Alden said, “but I would like to talk to you before you leave for Nevada about having Miranda make her debut this fall with Charlotte.”
Miranda gave a small sigh that only her parents heard, but she smiled at Mrs. Alden, for she knew both Charlotte and her mother had been looking forward to their coming out. The idea of a fancy debutante ball didn’t appeal to Miranda, but it would be nice to be escorted to a play or symphony by a young man. In another year, William Gordon would be returning to work on his PhD and she would like to be able to spend time with him. Attending fancy balls was a small price to pay for that pleasure.
“We’re going to breakfast now, Pa,” Joe called knocking on the door to Ben’s room. (The older man had wanted to give Joe and Annabelle privacy in hopes of fostering some intimacy between them and so he’d booked a room across the hall from their suite.) “Pa,” he repeated with just a touch of anxiety in his tone.
Just then Adam and Gwyneth walked up. “Is he ready?” Adam asked.
“He doesn’t answer,” Joe replied and this time his worry was apparent in his expression as well as his voice.
“You have a key, don’t you?” Adam inquired anxiously and Joe nodded. He opened the door, afraid of what he might find, but all he saw was Ben’s packed valise sitting on the floor by the empty bed.
“He’s gone!” he announced, unnecessarily since Adam and Gwyneth had followed him inside. “Where could he be?”
The two brothers exchanged worried glances but after a moment Gwyneth spoke up. “I think I know where Grandpa is.” They both looked at her quizzically and she said softly, “I think he’s saying goodbye to Grandma.”
Adam nodded slowly. He had been to his mother’s grave the day before, knowing it would be years before he’d be in Boston again, and for the first time took A.C. with him. A.C. had stood and looked at the gravestone quietly before turning to gaze at his father. “Grandma and Penny are in heaven together?” he asked, the connection between the two gravestones half a world apart instantly recognizable in the child’s mind.
“That’s right, son,” he had replied putting his hand on the child’s shoulder and squeezing it gently.
“I guess Grandma is glad that Penny went to heaven; she must have been lonely,” the little boy had said wistfully.
He’d answered gently, “That’s right. Grandma isn’t lonely anymore because Penny is with her.”
Now he turned to his brother and said quietly, “I’ll go check if you’ll tell the others where I’ve gone,” and Joe nodded.
Except for birdsong, the cemetery was silent but it was a peaceful, comforting silence just as it had always seemed to Adam when he’d visited during his years at Harvard. He walked slowly toward his mother’s grave. As he drew near, he saw his father standing by the grave and heard the faint sound of his voice. He didn’t want to intrude so he waited in the distance until his father looked up and motioned him over.
“I wanted one more chance to talk with your mother,” Ben said with a smile. “I always feel close to her in Boston just as I feel close to Marie by the lake.” He hesitated before saying sadly, “I wish I could find my way back to where we laid Inger to rest, but I feel close to her whenever I visit Hoss.”
Adam nodded since he felt the same warm feelings when standing before the small grave in Cloncurry’s cemetery that held his beloved daughter. “I visit Penny often—sometimes with Bronwen and sometimes alone. If the wildflowers are blooming, I pick some and put them on her grave. I think Bronwen, Beth and Gwyneth do the same because I often find flowers there.” After a pause, he turned to face his father and Ben could see the pain in his son’s eyes, before his voice confirmed it. “I want to tell you something I’ve never admitted to you before. After Marie died, when you sank into despair, I was angry with you. Angry that I had to put my own grief aside and comfort my brothers and run the ranch.”
“Adam,” Ben said gently, knowing exactly what his son was about to say.
“I was angry because I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand what you were going through, but now I do.”
“Son,” Ben said quietly, reaching for Adam’s hand and clasping it tightly in his own.
“I’ve lost so many of the people I’ve loved, Pa: my mother, Mama, Marie, and Hoss. Each one was such a devastating loss but when I lost my baby girl, it was just more than I could bear,” and his voice ended in a sob.
For a few minutes, he was silent, trying to regain control of his emotions, and Ben put his other hand around Adam’s, offering him all the physical comfort his son would accept. Adam drew a shuddering breath and continued. “I felt as though I had fallen into the deepest, blackest pit and what was worse, I had no desire to climb out. A part of me knew I was hurting Bronwen, hurting the children, but I was so dead inside I didn’t care. There were times when the deadness would lift briefly, but then I would soon slide back into the pit. Then one night, I heard Gwyneth praying for me, begging God to give her back her father, and something happened. I don’t know how to describe it but the deadness was gone and I could finally grieve for Penny. Bronwen found me and comforted me. I asked her forgiveness and since then I’ve tried to be the husband and father my family deserves.”
Ben squeezed Adam’s hand and said softly, “Losing a child is the hardest loss to bear. I’m glad you are sharing your pain with Bronwen; sharing your grief will help you each endure the pain. I know you’ll never forget Penny—none of us will—but Gwyneth and A.C. need their parents, and soon you’ll have a grandchild to love as well. I wish I could tell you that the pain you feel will lessen, but I can’t. I still miss Hoss as much now as I did the day he died. I’ve just learned to live with the pain as you and Bronwen are doing.”
Ben looked into the dark hazel eyes and saw acceptance slowly replace the anguish of a few moments before. Looking up at the position of the sun, he said, “We’d better head back to the hotel, son.” Placing his arm about their child’s shoulder, Ben touched the granite headstone one final time in silent farewell.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
When the Cartwrights arrived at Carson City, Jacob and Buckshot were there to greet them. “We brought the surrey and the buckboard,” Jacob stated, his dark face lit up by a warm smile.
“I’ll drive the buckboard with the luggage,” Joe said and turned to Benj. “Wanna come with me, Pardner?”
“Sure, Dad,” the boy replied with a grin and A.C. turned to his parents. “Can I go with Benj and Uncle Joe? Please?”
Adam looked at Joe with one eyebrow raised quizzically and Joe grinned so Adam replied, “If you promise to mind your uncle, then you may go.”
“Me, too, Daddy,” Sarah pleaded but Annabelle intervened before Joe could open his mouth.
“No, Sarah. You are riding in the surrey.”
“Come sit with Gwyneth and me in the back seat,” Miranda suggested and Sarah’s pout changed to a grin at that suggestion.
Annabelle and Bronwen sat together in the third of the surrey’s four seats allowing Ben and Adam to share the first in relative privacy. “I’m surprised A.C. didn’t want to ride with you and Adam,” Annabelle commented quietly as Adam slapped the reins and headed the surrey toward the ranch.
“I’m not,” Bronwen replied in an equally quiet tone. “He wanted to be with Benj. At home he often tags after Llywelyn. Or he did,” she corrected herself with a little grin. “Since Llywelyn is seventeen and becoming interested in girls, he’s not much fun to tag after.” She and her sister-in-law shared a smile at that and then Bronwen added. “It’s not easy being the only boy in a family of four—I mean three—girls,” and her voice caught in a sob. Annabelle reached over and squeezed her hand comfortingly and Bronwen managed a faint smile of gratitude before continuing.
“Now that A.C. is old enough to be in school, he’s spending more time playing with other boys his age. It was the same with his sisters.” She sighed. “We want our children to grow up and be independent, but it still hurts a little when they prefer to spend time with their friends,” and Annabelle nodded her agreement.
“Most Sunday afternoons Adam, Gwyneth and A.C. go fishing with Rhys and Llywelyn. Mark Pentreath sometimes fishes with them, but lately there’ve been two other young men accompanying them. They’ve been walking Gwyneth to and from church ever since she turned sixteen.”
Annabelle smiled. “I noticed that she’s really blossomed since last summer. So tell me about these young men.”
“Douglas Campbell and Frank Gibson are the ones who’ve been brave enough to approach Adam about going fishing.”
Annabelle chuckled softly. “Joe told me that Adam can be very intimidating to potential suitors.”
Bronwen gave an unladylike snort. “Terrifying might be a better description.” The two women shared a laugh at the foibles of the masculine gender before Bronwen continued. “Douglas is a tall, burly young man with flaming red hair, blue eyes and freckles. He’s twenty-one, but that’s only five years older than Gwyneth. I personally find him a bit too opinionated, but he’s not courting me. Now, Frank is as handsome as a Greek god with curly blond hair, blue eyes and a lean yet muscular physique.” She smiled mischievously. “He actually reminds me a little bit of Joe when I first met him.” Her expression sobered as she added, “But I’m afraid he looks on Gwyneth as a conquest because she’s about the only girl in Cloncurry not doing her utmost to attract his attention.”
“Which one does Gwyneth favor?”
“Truthfully, I think she’s more interested in Mark, but he has this absurd idea that he’s not an acceptable suitor since his father works at our mine.” Bronwen smiled faintly. “Adam tells me that Mark is almost certain to win our scholarship and that means in January he and Llywelyn will be heading to Sydney to attend the Sydney Technical College and they’ll be gone for four years.”
“It will be interesting to see which adage proves true: Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or Out of sight, out of mind,” Annabelle commented with a half smile.
As Adam guided the surrey down the familiar route, Ben remarked, “You’d written that some young men had approached you about walking Gwyneth to and from church and you told them to ask again after her sixteenth birthday. Did they?”
“Oh yes,” Adam said with a rueful grin. “She has four young men vying for her attention although I’d have to say the frontrunners are Douglas Campbell and Frank Gibson.”
“Not young Mark?” Ben asked in surprise.
“No,” Adam replied frowning slightly. “Llywelyn says Mark doesn’t believe I would allow him to court her because his father works at the mine. Llywelyn has tried to convince him otherwise, but he is stubborn and proud. I can’t very well approach him and say, ’I’d be happy for you to court my daughter,’ even though I actually prefer him to Douglas and Frank. Not that I have anything against either of them. Douglas’s father owns our local newspaper and he works there as a printer. He’s likeable enough, but I’ve heard that he has a temper to match his red hair and has been in a few brawls, plus he’s a bit fonder of Scotch whiskey than I’d like a son-in-law to be.”
“What about this Frank?” Ben inquired curiously.
“His father owns the local pub, uh, saloon, and Frank will inherit the business. He’s gregarious and glib.”
“The opposite of Gwyneth in other words,” Ben said with a chuckle. “And opposites do attract.”
“I suppose one would say he possesses a fair amount of charm although I personally find it rather superficial. However, he also has a reputation with the ladies.” He stopped at the expression on his father’s face. “Oh, I’ve not heard anything really bad about him. He’s just a flirt like Joe was at his age. But I don’t want Gwyneth to be hurt even unintentionally.”
“You can’t protect her from life, son,” Ben replied gently. “However, I have a feeling if you find his charm shallow, Gwyneth does as well. Now, as to your ‘American’ daughter, I’ve noticed the name William Gordon has been appearing more frequently in Miranda’s letters.”
“Yes, Bronwen and I had noticed that,” Adam agreed with a slight frown. “When she first wrote about him, I’m sure they were just friends and I figured that since he would be in England for a few years working on his master’s degree the friendship would probably wither. Now, it appears that it has grown even stronger. I wish there were some way Bronwen and I could meet him and form our own opinions, but I guess we’ll have to trust Miranda’s judgment. She’s always been the most level-headed of our children.” He sighed gustily before saying, “You were lucky to be the father of sons. We could look out for ourselves but daughters. ¼” Ben nodded his unspoken agreement.
The next morning at breakfast Joe asked, “Who wants to go riding?”
“Me!” A.C. exclaimed loudly, earning a reproving frown from his father while everyone but Annabelle and Ben indicated their willingness.
“I have some things I’d like you to do here this morning,” Annabelle said to her children. “We’ll go riding this afternoon.”
“While the ladies change, why don’t we help A.C. pick his mount,” Joe suggested to Adam. “I made a selection of ponies before we left for Boston.”
“I wanna pick my pony,” A.C. said enthusiastically, starting to jump up and run for the front door.
“You forgot to ask to be excused, A.C. bach,” Bronwen said firmly.
“Can I be excused, Mama?”
“No, you may not,” Adam replied. “Uncle Joe and I have nearly finished our breakfast. The three of us will go look at the ponies together.”
A.C., resuming his seat at the table, gave a heartfelt sigh before replying, “Yes, Daddy.”
As soon as the others excused themselves, Benj turned to his mother. “Why can’t we go riding this morning? Why do we have to wait until this afternoon?”
“Because I think your aunt and uncle and cousins should have a chance to spend some time alone. Except for the few days in Boston, they haven’t seen Miranda in almost a year. We’ll do plenty of things together while they’re here,” and both children solemnly nodded their understanding.
“Look! That’s the pony Penny rode!” A.C. exclaimed, pointing to a little perlino mustang pony in the corral. Joe turned a stricken gaze at his older brother, mentally cursing himself for unintentionally including the pony in those he’d selected for his nephew. However, to his relief, Adam agreed serenely, “Yes, Jackeroo, that’s the pony Penny rode.”
“I want to ride that pony,” A.C. declared.
“Are you sure, A.C.? There are lots of nice ponies here to choose from,” Joe suggested hurriedly, not wanting to cause his brother undue pain.
“I think Penny would want you to ride her pony,” Adam said to A.C. with a tender smile.
“A.C., why don’t you wait in the barn and I’ll bring your pony to you,” Joe suggested. As the child ran to the barn, Adam turned to Joe with a melancholy smile. “It’s all right, Little Buddy,” he said using his old pet name for his youngest brother. “Penny loved visiting the Ponderosa and Bronwen and I treasure all our happy memories of her here.”
“I just didn’t want to cause you any pain,” Joe said, blinking back his tears.
“I know,” Adam relied reaching over to squeeze his brother’s neck affectionately as he’d done when they were younger. “Bronwen and I want to reinforce A.C.’s memories of Penny since he was so young when we lost her. Riding the pony she rode will help him feel closer to her,” and Joe nodded his understanding. Adam added, “A.C. still needs help saddling up so I’ll meet you in the barn.”
Miranda and Gwyneth finished changing before their mother and met each other before heading down the backstairs. Miranda’s eyebrows both shot up when she saw her younger sister dressed in her faded waist overalls and black cotton shirt, her long hair stuffed under her black Stetson. “Does Daddy still let you dress like that at home?” she asked incredulously.
“When I’m riding,” Gwyneth replied matter-of-factly. “When we go fishing on Sundays, I dress like you,” she added. (Miranda was wearing loose-fitting knickerbockers, a shirtwaist blouse and low-heeled laced boots.) She cocked one eyebrow quizzically. “Why?”
“You’re not a little girl anymore and it just doesn’t seem proper,” Miranda replied.
Gwyneth laughed. “You're up yourself. I think you’ve been living in Boston too long.” She grinned broadly then saying, “Come on. I want to see if Duchess remembers me.” Miranda sighed knowing that she had no chance of keeping up with her long-legged sister.
When Gwyneth walked into the barn, her long legs and shapely derrière clearly outlined by the denim pants, Joe’s eyes opened wide and he glanced at his brother, waiting for an explosion. To his utter astonishment, Adam merely smiled at his daughter.
“Look, Gwyneth,” A.C. called happily. “I’m gonna ride Penny’s pony.”
“Oh, it is Moonlight,” Gwyneth said, blinking very fast to prevent the tears that suddenly filled her eyes from trickling down her cheeks. She remembered how happy Penny had been to have a mount that looked like Daddy’s first pony and had immediately christened her with the same name.
“Daddy said Penny would want me to ride Moonlight,” A.C. said with a big smile.
“Daddy’s right,” she replied, tipping her brother’s hat down playfully. “Where’s Duchess?” she asked her uncle. He still wore an astonished expression as he indicated the stall of the Morgan mare she’d ridden during her last visit. Just then Miranda, followed by Bronwen, entered the barn.
Mama! Manda!” the little boy exclaimed. “I get to ride Moonlight!” Then he added solemnly, “I told her Penny’s in heaven and that’s why she can’t ride her.” He turned to his daddy. “I put Moonlight’s bridle and blanket on, didn’t I, Daddy?”
Yes, you did,” Adam replied in a voice that was only a little unsteady. He lifted the saddle from its rack and placed it on the pony’s back. Joe watched with approval as his nephew moved the stirrups and bellyband into place, pulled the bellyband snug and after a moment, kneed the pony in the ribs before tightening the cinch.
“Very good,” he praised the six-year-old, who grinned back at him.
“My daddy taught me,” he said proudly.
“He’s a good teacher. He taught me to ride, too.”
Joe looked puzzled but he said, “Yeah, your daddy taught me and your Uncle Hoss.”
“How come Grandpa didn’t teach you?” Miranda asked.
The two brothers shared a smile and then Adam explained. “Grandpa was a sailor and until he decided to head west, he’d never had much to do with horses. He learned the basics of riding when he and Uncle Hoss and I lived in California before we settled on the Ponderosa. I had my first riding lesson from Señor Mendoza who sold us my Moonlight and Grandpa’s first Buck.” The two brothers shared another grin at their father’s propensity for buckskin geldings that he always named ‘Buck’. “After that,” Adam continued, “it was one of our hands, a vaquero named José, who taught me. He’d been riding since he was four and he was a wonderful teacher. He actually taught your Uncle Hoss. I just helped. But I did teach Uncle Joe to ride. He was a born rider, just like you, Jackeroo.
“And Gwyneth,” Joe added smiling at his niece who reddened slightly at his compliment.
“I guess I’m in the same class as your Grandpa,” Bronwen added with a chuckle, “since I didn’t learn to ride until my first visit here. Your daddy taught me as well.”
“Since our saddles are heavier than what you’re used to, we’ll saddle your mounts for you, ladies,” Joe offered grinning at his nieces and sister-in-law.
Watching Gwyneth swing into the saddle with the same grace that he had in his younger years, Joe shook his head in disbelief that his strict older brother let his daughter wear such provocative clothing without raising even the slightest objection. After they all mounted up, Buckshot strode out of the house with some paper parcels.
“Fixed ya some food ya can pack in your saddlebags,” he said handing bundles to everyone but A.C.
“What about me?” the child asked indignantly.
“Yer pa has yer grub,” Buckshot replied in a gravelly voice.
“Grub?” A.C. repeated in a baffled tone.
“It’s American for tucker,” his daddy replied with a slight grin.
“I’ll see all of you at supper tonight,” Joe said as he headed his horse out of the yard.
“Aren’t you coming with us?” A.C. asked, disappointment written all over his face.
“Not this time. I’ve got to check and see how the branding’s coming along. Maybe you and your Daddy and Benj and I can go fishing on Saturday. And Gwyneth, too” he amended hastily.
“Beauty, Uncle Joe!” A.C. said with a happy grin and Joe rode off smiling.
“Where shall we go?” Adam asked his family. Simultaneously Gwyneth and Miranda said, “The lake.” He smiled. “The lake it is.”
They rode along, the others letting A.C. chatter, each remembering how he and Penny had always seemed to try and outtalk the other and the pain of her absence was overwhelming. Adam guided them to one of his favorite picnic spots and after ground tying their mounts, they ate the food Buckshot had provided. When they finished eating, Gwyneth asked hesitantly, “Could we visit Uncle Hoss and Grandma Marie?” Adam nodded silently.
As they approached the well-tended graves, A.C. ceased his chatter. Seeing his daddy remove his Stetson, he did the same and stood quietly. After a several minutes of silence, Miranda spoke in a gentle tone. “Now I understand how you felt when Uncle Hoss died,” and Gwyneth silently nodded her agreement. Adam put his arms around their shoulders and drew them close as he let the tears trickle down his cheeks. A.C. moved closer to his mother, disturbed by his daddy’s tears and she put her hands on his thin shoulders and squeezed them reassuringly. After a minute, the little boy spoke up.
“Where’s Grandma Inger?”
“I don’t know,” Adam said bleakly dropping his arms to his side and the others looked at him uncertainly.
“But she died near Ash Hollow,” Miranda stated cautiously. “That’s what Grandpa told me.”
Adam nodded. “I was the same age as you are now, Jackeroo,” he said, gently reaching out to stroke his son’s dark hair, “when she was killed in an Indian attack at Ash Hollow. I remember watching as her body was laid in the grave the men on the wagon train had dug, right beside the one they’d dug for Mr. Rockwell, who’d been our guide. There was no time to make coffins so the women had shrouded the bodies in quilts. Mr. Simon read from the Bible and prayed and then they buried Grandma Inger and Mr. Rockwell. They had fashioned wooden crosses and used them to mark the graves. Everyone else went back to their wagons, giving your grandpa and me a chance to say a last goodbye.”
He stopped for a moment, his voice sinking to a whisper. “Grandpa was so sad that I don’t think he even realized I was there. After a time, some of the men came and got us and told Grandpa that the train needed to get started if we were to catch up with the main wagon train. Grandpa got on the wagon like they told him and Mr. Simon helped me up on the seat and we started moving. I went in the wagon to change out of my good clothes because I knew that’s what Grandma Inger would want. I looked out the back toward where we’d left her and saw that only the Taylors’ wagon was following us. Mrs. Taylor was holding Uncle Hoss and Mr. Taylor kept looking back over his shoulder. I wondered where the rest of the train was. We were moving very slowly and the Taylors weren’t watching so I jumped out the back and ran to where Grandma Inger was buried to say one last goodbye.”
He paused, remembering the pain he’d felt at the discovery he’d made. “When my friend Johnny had died, the men burned gunpowder over his grave and then they drove all the wagons over it so wild animals and Indians wouldn’t find it. When I got close to Grandma Inger’s grave, I could see they had removed the crosses and were doing the same to hers and Mr. Rockwell’s graves. I realized then that I’d never be able to find her grave after we left. All I had now were my memories of her: how wonderful it had felt to sit on her lap and feel her arms holding me and hear her humming a lullaby, how soft and gentle her voice was, how she always smelled like fresh-baked bread.” Bronwen moved close and he felt her hand encircle his own, and he squeezed hers gently.
“It doesn’t matter that we don’t know where Grandma Inger is buried,” he said quietly to his son. “I know she is in heaven and that Uncle Hoss is with her. He was so like her; there was never a kinder, gentler man. Even though I miss him just the way you and your sisters miss Penny, it makes me happy to know that he is with his mama.”
Bronwen sensed that her husband would like some time alone so she said quietly to her son, “Why don’t you come show me and your sisters how well you can skip stones now? And maybe we’ll find some flowers we can put on Grandma Marie’s and Uncle Hoss’s graves.” As she took her child’s hand to follow her daughters away from the graves, Bronwen turned back and saw her husband kneel on the close cropped grass between the two markers, his head bowed in prayer.
A couple of mornings later, Gwyneth woke up just before dawn. She’d always loved this time of day and at home before her daddy had forbidden it, she used to saddle up her Waler mare, Artemis, and go for a ride at dawn. There was no one she’d meet here except the ranch hands, so she decided there was no reason she couldn’t ride alone. She dressed quickly in her waist overalls and one of her black cotton shirts, and then she hurriedly brushed and braided her long hair. She stuffed the plait under her black Stetson and then stealthily opened her door and crept down the back stairs, carrying her boots in one hand and her parents’ copy of Emma in the other. She could smell coffee brewing; she’d started drinking it on this visit, although not black like her daddy. She liked her coffee heavily sugared and laced with cream. She decided to see if Buckshot would let her have a cup. She sat in the blue velvet chair and laced up her boots and then walked quietly into the kitchen.
“G’day, Buckshot,” she said with a grin as she saw him frying bacon over the large black stove. He jumped at the sound of her voice.
“Ain’t your mama and daddy taught ya it ain’t polite ta sneak up on folks!” he barked. Then he added more quietly, “Couldn’t ya sleep?”
“I slept fine. I’m just an early riser. I’m going for a ride, but I wondered if I could have a cup of coffee first.”
“Yer welcome to a cup of coffee, but ya shouldn’t be ridin’ out alone. It ain’t fittin’ and yer pa and grandpa ain’t gonna like it,” he barked as he poured her a cup.
“She’ll be apples,” Gwyneth replied breezily as she added cream and sugar to her cup not noticing the cook’s bewilderment. “I’m not going far enough to get lost.” She sipped the hot liquid as fast as she dared and then walked out the kitchen door to the barn carrying Emma in one hand.
As she rode along at a walk, lost in Regency England, she heard a voice call from behind, “Hey there, cowboy!” She drew Duchess, her Morgan mare, to a halt and craned her head around. She saw one of the ranch hands trot up on a blood bay quarterhorse. As he drew closer she could see he was young, probably no more than twenty with strong, clean features.
“Hasn’t anyone ever told you it’s dangerous to read while you ride?” the hand asked in an irritated tone.
She shrugged. “My mama. And my grandpa. But I only do it at a walk, and anyway, I don’t see that it’s any business of yours.”
“When I see someone doing something foolish, I make it my business,” the cowboy retorted. He noted the boy before him still had a pure soprano and he was smooth-cheeked with a faint spattering of freckles on his nose. Behind his wire-rimmed spectacles were large, golden-brown eyes surrounded by the longest eyelashes the young cowboy had ever seen on a girl or boy. The boy spoke with an accent that was totally unfamiliar. “You should mind your mama and your grandpa,” the young cowboy said sternly. Then his expression brightened and he asked, “So what are you reading that’s so interesting?”
“You’re joking. You’re reading Jane Austen?”
“My mama and my daddy both recommended it. Besides, what so unusual abut reading Jane Austen?’
“It’s just not what I’d expect a boy your age to be reading,” the cowboy replied.
“Well, I wouldn’t expect a cowboy like you to even know who Jane Austen is. Anyway,” Gwyneth added, lifting her black Stetson and letting her long braid fall down her back, “I’m not a boy.” She laughed as his mouth dropped open.
He snapped it shut and frowned at her before saying, “Say, are you Mr. Cartwright’s granddaughter?”
“One of them,” she nodded with a smile. “I’m Gwyneth.”
“Pete Godwin,” he replied, displaying even white teeth in a smile. Then his expression grew serious. “Do your parents or your grandfather know you go riding like this?’
“Sure,” she answered. “Daddy taught me and my sisters to ride astride because it’s safer than riding sidesaddle.”
“That’s not quite what I meant. Reading while you’re riding isn’t safe.”
“Perhaps not, but Daddy used to do it,” Gwyneth replied, dimpling, and Pete felt his heart begin to race at that smile.
“Oh, yes, he did. The last time I was here for a visit, Grandpa scolded me for reading and riding and told me that he used to get after Daddy for doing the same thing, especially when it was a moonlight ride. I’ve never even dared to sneak out for a moonlight ride.”
“I should hope not!” Pete retorted. “As a favor to me, would you put up the book while you ride?”
She shrugged. “All right.”
“Do you mind if I ride along with you?” he asked, for he didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of her riding alone, and he was sure her parents and Mr. Cartwright wouldn’t like it either.
“Sure, if you want to,” Gwyneth said, a little astonished that he wanted to ride with her.
To her surprise, Pete was very knowledgeable about Emma and Jane Austen’s other novels. He knew exactly what she was thinking and said with a sardonic smile, “Just because I’m a cowboy doesn’t mean I’m ignorant. I’ve always loved to read, although not while I’m riding.”
She blushed slightly then saying, “You’re right and I am being a snob. After all, my daddy was a cowboy once and he’s always loved to read. He even persuaded my grandfather to let him attend college.”
“I wish I could have persuaded my pa,” Pete said and she heard the regret in his voice and saw it on his face. “But we were too poor.” He decided to change the subject then. “I don’t want to be rude, but I’ve never heard an accent like yours.”
“I’m from Queensland on the continent of Australia. After my daddy graduated from Harvard, he came back here to the Ponderosa, but, after a while, he decided he wanted to travel. The last place he visited was Australia. He met my mama and he decided to settle there. He’s an engineer and my mama’s brother is as well so they started up their own mining company in the outback. It’s such a long way to travel that we don’t get to visit the Ponderosa and Grandpa and Uncle Joe very often.”
“Your pa must be a remarkable man,” Pete commented, seeing how her face lit up when she spoke of him.
“He is. He and Mama are both wonderful—at least most of the time. My little brother is another story. He’s always up to something and he can twist Mama around his little finger. I think that’s because he’s the baby—he’s ten years younger than I am—and because he’s the only boy.”
“Does he wrap your pa around his finger as well?”
“No” she answered decisively. “Daddy is strict and if anything, he’s even stricter with A.C. It was my sister Penny who could ¼” Her voice trailed off and she said quickly, “But Penny died,” and he saw the tears beginning to pool in her eyes.
“I’m sorry. It’s hard to lose someone you love.”
“Yes,” she replied, blinking back her tears. “One day everything was normal and the next day she was dead. We were all sad, but it was hardest on Daddy. For a long time it seemed as though we’d lost him, too. Penny’s been gone for nine months but I still miss her so much.” She stopped, uncomfortable with discussing such private feelings. She was confused as well because she’d never talked about Penny’s death with anyone except Grandpa and didn’t understand why she’d poured out her heart to this young man. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to monopolize the conversation.” She looked up at the sun, realizing how late it had gotten. “I’m for it now. Goodbye!” and she turned and galloped back to the house before he could protest.
When she galloped into the yard, Duchess was breathing hard and was lathered. She pulled up sharply and as she swung out of the saddle, she caught sight of her father on the front porch—not leaning comfortably with his arms folded across his chest and hands tucked under them, but standing straight with his thumbs hooked in his pockets, eyebrows drawn together in an angry scowl.
“Take care of your horse and then come inside,” he said in a quiet, even voice, which meant he was furious. The quieter Daddy became, the angrier he was. She wanted to linger in the barn, but knew that would be a mistake so she took care of Duchess as quickly as she could and tried to brush the dust off her clothes before going inside.
Daddy was sitting ramrod straight behind Grandpa’s desk, which she knew was another bad sign.
“Daddy, I’m sorry—” she began.
“I don’t want to hear excuses, young lady,” he interrupted. “First, you disappear without telling anyone where you are going. Second, you go riding alone even though you have repeatedly been told not to do so. And finally, you race into the yard, a dangerous thing to do.”
“It’s true that I rode too fast into the yard but I told Buckshot I was going for a ride and I didn’t ride alone. One of the hands—Pete Godwin—was with me. At least, he was with me part of the time,” she amended quickly.
I’ve never heard your grandpa or Uncle Joe mention him. Is he new?” Adam asked quietly.
“I think so. But he is nice and he is young. We were discussing Jane Austen.” She saw with dismay that her daddy’s scowl deepened at her words.
He looked at her in her waist overalls and groaned inwardly. How could I have ignored how risqué they are! “You are not to go riding unless your uncle or I accompanies you or a hand that your grandpa has chosen. Do I make myself clear?” Her face assumed a sullen expression but she nodded. “And I don’t want you wearing waist overalls anymore. Wear your knickerbockers.”
“But why can’t I wear my waist overalls, Daddy?” she asked petulantly.
Adam felt himself coloring as he tried to reply calmly. “Because they are too provocative.”
“They emphasize your legs and your, uh, buttocks.” He saw the disbelief on her face and added brusquely, “I may be your father, but I am also a man and I can assure you that you could easily create lustful thoughts in a man dressed like that.”
“But I’m not pretty! I’m too tall and I’m too thin! No one is going to have l-lustful thoughts about me!”
“Gwyneth, there are all types of feminine beauty, and believe me, you are very attractive. That’s why I don’t want you going about unchaperoned.”
She turned then and stomped out of the room, causing him to sigh. Well, Adam, you certainly handled that well, didn’t you? Why can’t she see how lovely she is? He went in search of Bronwen; perhaps she would know what to say to Gwyneth.
“Gwyneth, Daddy asked me to come talk with you,” Bronwen said softly as she entered the room Annabelle had assigned to Gwyneth. She took in the room’s immaculate condition: bed neatly made, furniture dusted and gleaming, all the books in the bookcase neatly stacked. Not only did Gwyneth resemble her father physically, she had inherited his methodical and fastidious nature. She was leaning against the window, hands in her pockets, her thumbs hooked through her belt loops. She looked up warily at her mother’s voice.
“Daddy’s forbidden me to wear my waist overalls, Mama. And to go riding with Pete,” she blurted out angrily.
“Who is Pete?” Bronwen asked puzzled.
“He’s a new hand. I met him today and we rode together. We discussed Emma. Now Daddy says I can’t ride with him unchaperoned.”
“Daddy is right. You’re not a little girl anymore, Gwyneth, and you must obey the proprieties. I told Daddy that we shouldn’t let you wear waist overalls any longer. You need to wear your knickerbockers.”
“But I like wearing my waist overalls,” Gwyneth whined.
“The knickerbockers fit more loosely so they won’t emphasize your legs or your posterior.”
“Oh, not you, too!” Gwyneth wailed. “I’m plain and no man is going to be looking at me and having lustful thoughts.”
“Daddy said you didn’t believe you are pretty. Gwyneth, you are no longer all arms and legs like you were a year ago. Yes, you are tall, but some men prefer taller women.”
“But-but I don’t even have breasts,” Gwyneth managed to get out, her face flaming.
“Well, my breasts aren’t large either, but your daddy still finds me desirable.”
“Mama!” Gwyneth protested her face even redder.
“I am sorry if I shocked you, but I was only trying to make a point: Namely, men can be attracted to all sorts of women. If you’re not pretty, why do you think Frank, Douglas, Ned and Alf all want to walk you to and from church? And you can’t think Douglas and Frank have started going fishing on Sundays to be with your father or uncle.”
“It’s just hard to believe they really want to be with me. I’m not beautiful like Beth,” Gwyneth replied in a voice so low her mother had to strain to hear it.
“You have your own beauty, Gwyneth fach,” Bronwen replied gently.
Saturday evening after supper, Ben suggested that they all sing. “We don’t to do it very often but I know all of Adam’s family is musical.”
“All except A.C.,” Gwyneth snickered and A.C. stuck out his tongue at her.
“Gwyneth,” her mother said reprovingly while Adam said with a slight smile, “Let’s just say you aren’t as musical as your sisters, okay Jackeroo?” and A.C. looked mollified.
Adam tuned his old guitar and they had a fun evening singing all their old favorites. Just after A.C. and Sarah were sent to bed, Ben cleared his throat and said a bit nervously, “I, uh, promised Reverend Newton that you and your family would sing tomorrow as part of the service.” He saw his son’s eyebrow shoot up and Gwyneth’s apprehension. “You’ve written that you often sing at your church so I didn’t think you would mind.”
“We don’t,” Bronwen said with a smile. “We could sing Fairest Lord Jesus. Gwyneth could do the descant and the rest of us could sing harmony. I can sing the tenor part if Annabelle could sing the soprano?”
“I’d be happy to sing with you,” Annabelle answered with a smile. She was enjoying spending time with her sister-in-law and nieces talking about literature and music. Miranda, in particular, was able to discuss the newest novels, poetry and music. In fact, Annabelle was dreading the autumn when Miranda would be returning to Boston leaving her isolated in a cultural wasteland.
“While they’re practicing, do you want to play a game of checkers, Pardner?” Joe asked Benj, who agreed readily. “Let’s take the checkerboard up to your room then,” Joe suggested.
“I think I’ll follow A.C. and Sarah’s example and turn in,” Ben said with a smile. “I’m looking forward to hearing all of you tomorrow.”
The next morning the others were all gathered around the breakfast table when Bronwen came down the stairs. Adam saw with a pang that she was wearing the white and lavender striped silk dress and toque of white tulle that she’d purchased in Boston and realized it was nine months since Penny’s death and time for her to enter the three months of half mourning.
“You look pretty, Aunt Bronwen,” Sarah said with a smile. “I didn’t like those black dresses.”
“Sarah,” Annabelle scolded, afraid the child had hurt the grieving parents.
“I wore the black dresses to show people how sad I was that Penny died,” Bronwen replied quietly. “I’m still sad, but now it’s time for me to stop wearing black. These colors, white and lavender, also tell people that I’m sad.”
“I wanna wear white and lavder so everybody’ll know I miss Penny,” A.C. stated and his eyes began to fill with tears.
“We all miss Penny,” Ben said gently, “but men don’t show how they feel by wearing different colors.” A.C. looked at his daddy for confirmation and Adam nodded.
Bronwen added, “After a while I won’t wear white and lavender, but that won’t mean I stopped missing Penny. She was my little girl and I’ll never stop missing her and loving her. Do you understand?”
“I think so,” he replied wiping away his tears with the backs of his hands, and Adam reached over and gently squeezed his shoulder. A.C. managed a smile and Ben gently turned the conversation to the upcoming service.
“Well,” Joe said as he put down his napkin. “The surrey is built to hold eight so I guess I’ll ride to church.”
Before A.C. could pipe up that he wanted to ride to church, Adam quickly interjected, “There’s no need for that. A.C. and Sarah are both small and can sit with two others.”
“I want to sit with Miranda and Gwyneth,” Sarah said, looking hopefully at her parents.
“And I wanna sit with Benj,” A.C. stated.
“We’d be happy to have you sit with us,” Gwyneth replied smiling at her little cousin.
“How about my two grandsons sit with me,” Ben offered.
“That'd be beaut, Grandpa!” A.C. exclaimed with an enormous grin.
“Sweetheart, do you mind if I sit with Joe?” Adam asked Bronwen.
“No, I know you two haven’t had much of a chance to visit and I’d like to talk with Annabelle anyway. If that’s all right with you?” she added quickly.
“Of course,” Annabelle replied with a smile, relieved that she wasn’t expected to converse with her husband. In other circumstances Joe might have objected but he wanted a chance to talk with Adam.
The Cartwrights took up two full pews in the little church. Ben’s heart swelled with pride as his son, daughters-in-law and older granddaughters stood to sing. They arranged themselves by height with Adam on one end and Bronwen on the other. They all sang beautifully but Gwyneth’s soaring descant moved her grandfather to tears, and he was not alone. Andy McKaren was amazed at how Gwyneth had changed from the skinny girl he remembered into this lovely, svelte young woman. In fact, there were so many young men gathered around Miranda and Gwyneth that Adam had difficulty extricating them from their admirers so they could head back to the Ponderosa.
Bronwen put her arm around her tall daughter’s waist and spoke softly, “So, do you still doubt that young men find you pretty?” Her daughter’s only answer was to blush.
All too soon it was time for the four Australian Cartwrights to sail home. During breakfast the day before they were to leave, Ben asked Adam to take him for a drive. “I wanna come too,” A.C. announced but Ben said with a smile, “Not this time. I want a chance to talk with your daddy alone. Father to son.”
A.C. opened his eyes very wide. “A necessary talk?”
The adults all choked back their laughter while Ben said very seriously, “No. Your daddy is too old for those now. I just want a chance to talk with him before you all sail back to Queensland.”
“Why don’t you and I and your sisters go for a ride this morning while Daddy and Grandpa are having their talk,” Bronwen suggested.
“Let’s go visit your brother and Marie,” Ben said quietly after Adam had helped him into the buggy. They drove along in companionable silence, broken by an occasional comment. Ben found his mind drifting back more than fifty years, remembering sitting beside his young son on their old covered farm wagon. He smiled a little, for those had been quiet times as well except when Adam had a question. He’d had a lot of them. His eldest son was more curious than his two brothers put together.
Adam glanced over and saw his father smiling dreamily. He sighed. Even knowing his father was now eighty-one hadn’t prepared him for how frail he’d grown since he’d been at Beth’s wedding the previous summer. He was the same proud, independent man he’d always been, but he’d accepted moving to the downstairs bedroom since his arthritis made climbing the stairs almost impossible. He’d turned the ranch over to his youngest son, content to spend his time reading, playing with his grandchildren and enjoying his weekly game of chess or cribbage with his friend Paul Martin.
“A penny for your thoughts,” Adam said quietly and Ben smiled warmly.
“I was just remembering all the days I’d spent sitting beside you on our wagon as we traveled west,” he replied with a contented smile. “We would sit side by side in silence then too. Quite different from trips to town with Joseph, who would talk my ear off.”
“All our ears,” Adam corrected with a little grin. “A.C. is the same way and so was Penny.” He paused and added forlornly, “I really miss hearing the two of them chattering away.”
Ben reached over and gently patted his son’s knee and then added, “Now Hoss was even quieter than you because when you had a question, you could be as voluble as your youngest brother. But Hoss was content to admire the scenery, only letting us know when he spotted an interesting animal or bird,” and the two shared a smile as they remembered the smiling, sandy-haired little boy with pellucid blue eyes just like his mother’s.
When they reached the gravesite, Adam carefully helped Ben alight from the carriage.
“Worse thing about getting old,” Ben grumbled and Adam replied, “I’ve felt a little stiffness myself during our rainy season.”
Joe had built a bench for his father when he visited so the two men sat down. “Adam,” Ben began, “I’ve been thinking about what you told me in Boston. I’m getting on,” and he saw the worried frown on his son’s face and added hastily, “I feel fine now; but I am eighty-one and I don’t know how much time I have left. Son, I don’t want you to grieve for me the way you are for Penny. I’ve had a full life. I’ve known laughter and tears and the love of three exceptional women. I’ve known the joys and the sorrows of raising three sons to be honest and upright men. But to be truthful, as much as I love you and Joe and my grandchildren, a part of me longs to be reunited with all those I’ve lost. I need to know that you won’t fall into despair so I can go peacefully when the time comes.”
Adam was silent for a long time but Ben waited patiently. At last Adam turned to gaze into his father’s dark eyes, eyes that had always looked into his with love and tenderness. “Your death will leave a void that can never be filled,” he said slowly, “but I know that you’ve lived more than the three score years and ten allotted to man and you’ve seen your dream fulfilled. It will be different than Penny’s death, for she was cut off when she was on the verge of leaving childhood behind, her life one of ‘what might have been’. I’ll grieve for your passing, but I don’t believe I will fall into despair.”
With a nod, Ben said, “Thank you, son.”
As Adam stood on the platform of the train station in Carson City with Bronwen, Gwyneth and A.C., saying goodbye to the loved ones they were leaving behind, his thoughts flashed back three years to a similar scene. He and Bronwen, along with Penny and A.C., were boarding the train to take Miranda to the Girls Latin School. It was the last time the seven of them had been at the Ponderosa and he remembered thinking that he must treasure the moment. Now Beth was married and would soon have a family of her own, so she would never be able to make the long journey again. He and Bronwen knew without Miranda ever saying a word that she would not be returning to Cloncurry except for occasional visits. Whether or not she married this William Gordon or some other man, the trust fund he had established for her and her sisters would allow her to live as an independent woman if that was her choice. The hardest loss to bear was his Kitten but she would always live on in their hearts, forever young and innocent.
“I’m going to miss you so much, Angel,” he said softly as he hugged his daughter. “Write us often. I’ll be interested in hearing how your experiences at Radcliffe compare with mine at Harvard.”
“Yes, and I want to hear all about your coming out,” Bronwen said after kissing her second born. “I know it’s not really something you’re looking forward to, but it means a good deal to Mrs. Alden and you may enjoy it more than you think.”
“I promise I’ll write you all about it, Mama,” Miranda said with a slight grin before turning to her baby brother.
“I wish you was coming with us, Manda,” A.C. declared mournfully.
“I know, little brother, but I’ll write you all about what it’s like at Radcliffe and I expect you to write me and tell me what you’re learning at school and what you and Robby and Bertie are doing. Is it a deal?” she said holding out her hand.
“It’s a deal,” he said shaking her hand vigorously, but then he flung his arms about her neck and kissed her cheek.
Miranda hugged her younger sister hard and as they broke apart she said softly in voice that shook a little, “I want to hear from you about all your beaus. I’m rooting for Mark.”
Gwyneth blushed but said tartly, “I want to know all about you and William. Oh, and about your debut,” she added teasingly, knowing Miranda felt the same as she did about the idea of attending fancy balls. Miranda laughed and said, “I’ll write you all the tedious details.”
While their children were saying farewell to their sister, Adam and Bronwen said their farewells to Ben and Joe. “We’re going to miss all of you,” Bronwen said quietly to her brother-in-law after she kissed his cheek. “It’s been so good for Adam to be here with you and Pa.”
“We’ll be keeping all of you in our prayers,” Joe replied gently. “It’s meant just as much to Pa and me having all of you here.” He grinned the old familiar grin then saying, “It’s sure going to seem dull around here without that nephew of mine to liven things up.”
Ben embraced his firstborn and Adam returned the embrace, each clinging to the other for a moment, too overcome for speech. When he’d composed himself, Ben said softly, “Don’t forget your promise, son.”
“I won’t, Pa. Keep us in your prayers because we need them so much.”
“Always, son. Always,” Ben said unsteadily. “Godspeed.”
The conductor was shouting, “Board!” so Joe and Ben only had time to exchange brief hugs and kisses with A.C. and Gwyneth before they climbed aboard quickly with their parents. Miranda, Joe and Ben stood on the platform and watched the train grow smaller and smaller until it was no more than a speck on the endless line of track.
As Adam pulled the Cartwrights’ surrey up in front of their house, Nell and Mary, who’d been cleaning the drawing room, heard Lady’s frantic barking and hurried out to greet them.
“Welcome home,” Nell said smiling and Mary echoed her words as she scooped up the excited terrier. “I’ll take Master A.C. up to his room,” Nell added seeing the child stretched out on one of the seats sound asleep. Adam nodded his thanks as Gwyneth took the wriggling Lady from Mary and began petting her and letting her lick her face.
“I’ll just set the trunk on the verandah and then we can take care of the horses, Punkin. You look like you could use a nap, too, sweetheart,” he added turning to Bronwen.
“So do you,” she replied with a tired smile. “I feel stuffed but I do want to take a bath first,” she added.
“I’d like to see Llywelyn when we finish, if that’s all right?” Gwyneth asked and her parents both nodded.
As Adam watched his daughter stride energetically toward the Davies’ house, he felt every one of his fifty-seven years. When he got to the bathhouse, he discovered Bronwen had finished her bath and had left water heating on the stove for him since it was a chilly July afternoon. He slowly eased his body into the hot water, grateful for the five feet, ten and three-quarters inches cast iron claw foot tub that allowed him to stretch his legs and lean back. As the water began to grow tepid, he hurriedly washed and then dried off using the towel Bronwen had left warming by the stove. He donned his robe and the clean drawers she’d left for him and headed up the backstairs to their bedroom. He stopped and checked A.C.’s room first, but the little boy was still sleeping soundly so he entered the master bedroom.
Bronwen was sitting in front of her vanity wearing one of her lace-trimmed combinations, carefully working her comb through her freshly-washed hair. In the months since Penny’s death, her raven tresses had become liberally streaked with snowy white, while his beard and what was left of his hair were now totally white. Their grief and pain had left its mark on their faces as well. He thought with a bitter smile that they had both aged ten years over the past ten months.
She heard him enter the room and turned to greet him with a smile. “Would you like some help?” he asked and she nodded. As he slowly and carefully worked the comb through her tangles, as he had done since they were first married, he commented softly, “You have such beautiful hair. Soft as silk.”
“But there are so many white hairs now,” she answered dejectedly.
“I like the white,” he replied with a teasing grin. “Besides, you should be grateful to have hair.”
“I do miss running my fingers though your curls,” she replied with a cheeky grin of her own.
“Maybe it’s just as well Gwyneth rather than A.C. inherited my hair. At least she’ll be able to keep her curls.” They both shared a grin at that.
“I can’t understand why she finds it so difficult to see that she’s become a lovely young woman,” Bronwen said, changing the subject.
“I think all those young men in Carson City and the surrounding ranches coming to call on her and Miranda not to mention the Ponderosa hands volunteering to accompany her on her daily rides may have finally convinced her,” Adam replied dryly.
“And don’t forget the three young men on the ship who were forever hanging around her on the voyage home,” Bronwen added with a smile. Then she said softly, placing her hand over his, “I don’t feel nearly as tired since I took my bath.”
He winked at her before replying, “Neither do I.” He locked their door, hoping their son enjoyed a very long nap.
As Gwyneth approached the Davies’s house, she saw Mark walking down the verandah steps. “They aren’t at home,” he said as she drew nearer. “When did you get back?”
“We just did. I came over to tell Llywelyn and Aunt Matilda.” She paused and then said, “Why don’t you walk me back to my house so we can talk”
Mark replied with a shrug. When she looked away he had a chance to observe her more closely. Some of her curls had tumbled down in the back and he had the strongest urge to unpin the rest and bury his face in them. Then he noticed that her shirtwaist blouse was a little tight in the bust, her budding breasts straining against the thin cotton fabric. She seemed even lovelier now than she had when she left back in mid-April.
Gwyneth looked sideways at Mark under her lashes as they walked along. He’d grown taller she realized and now was at least two inches taller than she was, and his shoulders seemed broader. He needed a haircut because his thick, straight black hair was hanging down over his eyebrows and she had to suppress a strong impulse to smooth it back.
“How was your visit with your family?” he asked after a moment or two of silence.
“It was wonderful being with Miranda again but ...” and her voice trailed off.
“But it made you miss Penny more,” Mark finished her thought for her.
Gwyneth nodded. She paused and then said sullenly, “Daddy got very strict while we were there. He’s forbidden me to wear my waist overalls anymore. He said they’re provocative.”
“He’s right,” Mark said quietly.
“Don’t you tease me Mark Pentreath!” Gwyneth said angrily, her eyes blazing.
“I’m not teasing. Your waist overalls are provocative and so is your bathing costume. Everyone can see how long your legs are and ... And they’re provocative. I like it when you wear them, but I don’t like the other blokes watching you.”
“You don’t?” she said wonderingly. “Why?”
“Because I want you to be my girl,” he blurted out. “But you can’t be. Your dad would never agree to my calling on you since my dad works for him.”
“Daddy doesn’t care about that,” she said firmly. “He wasn’t always wealthy. When he was a little boy, he and Grandpa were poor. Besides, you’re going to win our scholarship this year and attend the Sydney Technical College and study engineering. Daddy would be very happy if an engineer courted me.”
“You’d let me court you?” he asked shyly and she nodded, her face glowing with happiness. He gathered all his courage and asked hesitantly, “Could I kiss you? I’ve wanted to kiss you ever since the first time I danced with you.”
She was silent; she realized that she wanted him to kiss her, but she knew how her father would react if he knew. One little kiss can’t hurt she told herself so she nodded and moved closer.
His lips were soft and the feel of them on hers was very pleasant. Instinctively, they both parted their lips and his tongue slipped into her mouth and began caressing hers. She felt as though she’d been hit by a bolt of lightening and she moved closer so their bodies touched and melded together and she ran her fingers through his thick silky hair. His hands moved intuitively to cup and squeeze her buttocks and move her even closer to him. When they finally had to break apart and catch their breath, he was painfully aroused and stepped back to put some distance between them.
“I don’t think we’d better do that again,” he managed to get out as his heart raced and his breathing sounded loud and ragged in his own ears.
“But I want to,” she said moving closer.
“No, Gwyneth,” he said firmly moving back. “If your dad finds out I kissed you, then he’ll never let me see you again.” She could only nod her agreement so he added, “May I walk you to church this Sunday?”
“Oh yes,” she answered ardently.
“We’ll see each other at school and as long as Llywelyn’s with us, then we can do things together—the three of us,” he replied and then he turned and headed for his home, fighting the desire to take her in his arms again.
She walked to the barn alone, smiling. You were right Mama; I am in love and I do want Mark to kiss me and hold me and do all the things husbands and wives do. It doesn’t seem awful at all now.
She was about halfway home when she saw Beth and Matilda walking toward her. She picked up her long skirts and ran toward them while they quickened their pace. The first thing Gwyneth noticed was that Beth’s pregnancy was beginning to show. Beth saw her sister’s eyes fasten on her waistline and said proudly, “I can feel the baby moving now. Here,” she said grabbing her sister’s hand and placing it so she could feel the faint movement.”
Gwyneth looked at her sister with shining eyes. “I felt it!”
“This little one is a very active baby,” Beth replied happily and her sister grinned at her. Their aunt watched in silent amusement knowing that before the nine months were up, her niece might get weary of being kicked.
“When did you get back?” Matilda asked.
“We just did. A.C. fell asleep so Nell put him to bed and Mama and Daddy were both tired so they were going to take a nap as well. They won’t sleep very long. Why don’t you both come with me and I’ll tell you all about Miranda’s graduation.”
As they gathered in the library, the older two women were pleased to see how animated the younger was as she told them about visiting Bloomingdale’s and several historic sites and hearing her sister give the salutatory in Latin at her graduation. “I was so proud of her and so were Mama and Daddy and Grandpa.” Mary entered then with a tray containing cucumber sandwiches, teapot, sugar bowl, milk pitcher and three tea cups and saucers. Gwyneth waited, expecting her older sister to pour, but Beth said with a little smile, “You’re the hostess, Gwyneth. You pour.”
“Oh, right,” Gwyneth said, her cheeks reddening slightly. She tried to do exactly as she’d seen her mother do countless times before and the others smiled their encouragement. While they were having their tea and chatting, A.C. bounced into the room.
“G’day, Bethy. G’day, Aunt Tilda,” he announced running to give each a hug and kiss and receive theirs. “I’m hungry. Can I—I mean, may I have some sandwiches? And don’t we have any biscuits?”
Mary had heard him clattering down the stairs and appeared a few minutes later with a plate of orange-flavored biscuits and a glass of milk. A.C. rewarded her with a huge grin. “Thanks, Mary.” He ate two sandwiches before asking, “Where’s Mama and Daddy?”
“They said they were going to take a nap like you,” Gwyneth replied. “They were both really tired.”
A.C. digested this information and then suddenly noticed something different about his oldest sister. “You’re getting fat, Bethy,” he grinned.
“No, that’s the baby,” she replied with a smile.
“Yes, the baby is growing inside me,” Beth explained matter-of-factly but Matilda began to turn red.
“Uh, Beth,” she began but Gwyneth interrupted.
“Mama told us about babies when we were about A.C.’s age,” she explained. “I remember how big Mama got with you,” she said to her baby brother, whose eyes had opened very wide.
“I was inside, Mama?”
“Fair dinkum,” his sister replied. “And Daddy took you out.”
“Gwyneth!” her aunt said sharply. “It’s not your place to talk with A.C. about such things. It’s your father’s.”
“Mama is the one who told all of us.”
“Mothers tell their daughters but fathers tell their sons. Now, I really think we should change the topic of conversation.” She turned to her nephew. “Your sister has been telling us about what she saw when she visited Boston. Would you like to tell us about your visit?” Her ploy was successful for A.C. launched into an account of his visit to the Bunker Hill monument. He was telling his aunt and oldest sister all about the enormous fish he’d caught on the Ponderosa when his parents entered the library. Matilda and Beth noticed Bronwen was no longer wearing black but instead wore a white shirtwaist blouse and a grey delaine skirt. In spite of the rigors of their journey, Matilda and Beth thought both Bronwen and Adam seemed relaxed and happy.
As soon as he spied his daddy, A.C. immediately jumped up and ran over to him. “Daddy, did you really take me out of Mama?”
Adam raised one eyebrow in the direction of his daughters, who both dropped their eyes as their cheeks turned pink. “I tell you what, Jackeroo. Sport would like to see you so why don’t we walk to the stable together and we can talk about it on the way.”
“Right. Let’s go,” A.C. said jumping up and grabbing his father’s hand.
After they left, Bronwen turned to her girls. “We didn’t mean any harm, Mama,” Beth said quickly. “He commented that I was getting fat and I just told him that it was the baby growing inside me.”
Bronwen smiled. “It would have come up as your pregnancy advanced anyway. It’s just hard for me to realize how quickly my baby is growing up.” The conversation then turned to Beth’s pregnancy. The other three would have been horrified if they’d known Gwyneth was silently wondering what it would be like if she and Mark were married and she were carrying his baby.
As they headed back to the house, Adam spoke very seriously to his little son, remembering with a mixture of pain and humor the outrage of some parents when a six-year-old Penny had told her friends that her new “sister” was growing inside her mama. “Jackeroo, I know you want to tell everyone about our little talk, but you can’t.”
“Why not?” the child asked curiously.
“It’s just not something to talk about around ladies.”
“Fair dinkum?” he replied scrunching his face in puzzlement. Then his expression brightened. “But I can tell Robby and Bertie.”
“No, I’m afraid not. It’s their daddies’ job to tell them. They wouldn’t like it if you told them instead. Do you understand?”
“I guess,” A.C. said obviously puzzled.
“And if you ever have any questions about what we talked about, I want you to come to me. Don’t ask your friends because they may not know the real answer.”
“Okay, Daddy,” he replied solemnly. Then he said, “I’m hungry. Will we have supper soon?”
There’d been no opportunity for Gwyneth to speak in private with Beth that first night back, so after school instead of heading home, she went to the rectory.
Beth answered her knock with a smile. “G’day, Gwyneth.”
“G’day,” Gwyneth replied. “May I talk with you, Beth?”
“Of course,” Beth said motioning her inside. “Would you like some tea and biscuits?”
“That would be lovely,” Gwyneth said with a smile. She waited in the rectory’s cozy parlor until Beth entered carrying a tray with teapot, sugar bowl, milk pitcher and two cups and saucers in the brightly-colored Spode porcelain that had been Dr. and Mrs. Davies’s wedding gift to their granddaughter and her new husband.
After Beth had poured the tea and passed around her homemade ginger biscuits, she said with a smile, “Now what did you want to talk about, little sister?’
“I was just wondering. When did you know you were in love with Dafydd?”
Beth was taken aback at the question from the sister who had always scoffed at “silly romantic stuff” but tried to answer as honestly as she could. “There wasn’t one particular moment. I think I fell in love with Dafydd gradually as I got to know him,” she replied earnestly.
“But wasn’t there one moment when you realized that you loved him, not just liked him as a friend?”
“I hate to disappoint you but I really can’t think of one defining moment. I think I first began to notice him as a man when he was teaching us to play the Celtic harp, but I didn’t fall in love with him then; I just began to look on him in a new light.” She paused and looked at her sister with one eyebrow arched in unconscious imitation of their father. “Why are you so interested in when I fell in love with Dafydd?”
“You have to promise not to say anything to Mama and Daddy,” Gwyneth replied with such intensity that Beth began to worry.
“All right,” she replied wishing she could worm the truth from her little sister without making a promise she had a feeling she would regret. “I promise not to say anything to Mama and Daddy.”
“I think I’m in love,” Gwyneth said. “He kissed me for the first time and it was so wonderful. I didn’t want it to stop.”
“Who?” Beth asked anxiously. “Not that ranch hand Mama wrote that you’d gone riding with?”
“Oh, no,” Gwyneth replied, dismissing the remote possibility of anyone supplanting Mark in her heart.
Beth thought and then said incredulously, “Mark?”
“Yes. He told me that he wants to court me and then he asked if he could kiss me. I never imagined how wonderful it would be. When Mama told me about what a husband and wife do, I thought I’d never want to do that but now I know it would be wonderful to be with Mark that way.”
“You did just let him kiss you?” Beth asked growing more and more apprehensive. Gwyneth nodded so she asked, “Did you kiss with your mouths open or closed?”
“Open. I hadn’t even realized that you could kiss with your tongue,” Gwyneth answered, blushing a little, and her older sister grew even more anxious.
Now I understand why Daddy is always so protective; oh why did I promise I wouldn’t say anything to him! “Gwyneth, you can’t kiss Mark like that again. Only couples who are married or engaged kiss like that. In fact, a sixteen-year-old girl shouldn’t be kissing a boy at all!”
“I know,” Gwyneth said dejectedly. “Mark says we can’t be alone; we must avoid temptation.”
“Mark is right. Why, if Daddy had any idea that Mark had kissed you like that, he’d—he’d horsewhip him!”
“I was kissing Mark just as much as he was kissing me!” Gwyneth retorted.
‘And that would make Daddy even angrier. He’d never let you near a man until you were thirty! Gwyneth, you’ve got to promise me that you won’t kiss Mark or any other boy until you’re older.”
“I don’t want to kiss any other boys, just Mark,” Gwyneth said indignantly. “Remember, you promised not to tell Daddy and Mama.”
“I know, and I won’t,” Beth said. I’ll talk to Dafydd and then he can talk to Daddy, she told herself silently.
“No, I don’t think I should talk to Tada; at least not until I’ve talked to Mark,” Dafydd said thoughtfully as he and Beth lay side by side in their bed. “Mark’s a good boy and he had enough sense to know they should avoid being alone again. I think I can make him understand that if he truly cares for Gwyneth, then he won’t do anything to hurt her in any way. I’ll also make him understand that if he wants to win Tada’s approval, then he’s going to have to behave like a perfect gentleman.”
“You’re sure you shouldn’t tell Daddy?” Beth asked laying her head on his shoulder. He placed his arm about her comfortingly.
“No, not at this point. I don’t want to say anything to upset him now that he is beginning to heal from his crippling grief. Depending on how my talk with Mark goes, I might change my mind, but I doubt it.”
The next day Dafydd made a point of stopping by the livery stable when he knew Mark would be getting off work. “G’day, Mark,” he said pleasantly. “I’d like to speak with you. In private. It won’t take long, I promise.”
Mark was panic-stricken and Dafydd sensed that so he tried to put him at ease as they walked to the rectory. Beth was busy fixing supper as Dafydd led the young man into his study.
“I don’t want to keep you, Mark, so I’ll come to the point. My wife and her sister had a very interesting talk yesterday, and I think you can guess what it was about.”
“I only kissed her, Reverend Jones. I swear it!” Mark blurted out. “I know it was wrong but I’ve wanted to kiss her for so long. I won’t do it again.”
“Yes, Gwyneth told her sister that you were wise enough to realize you must avoid the temptation of being alone,” Dafydd said calmly.
“I love her, Reverend Jones. I’ve loved her since the first time I saw her and I want to marry her,” Mark replied passionately.
“I’m not arguing with you, Mark. I loved her sister from the moment I saw her but I knew that at sixteen she was too young to marry. You and Gwyneth are both too young to be thinking of marriage. You’re planning on attending the Sydney Technical College and you’ll need to make top marks to keep your scholarship, you know. You’ll be too busy studying to have time for a wife and babies.”
“Babies!” Mark exclaimed in a horrified tone.
“Kisses and embraces like the ones you shared with Gwyneth do lead to babies,” Dafydd said in a slightly bemused tone but then he grew serious. “That’s the main reason you must never be alone with Gwyneth, and you know that, Mark. It only takes one weak moment for Gwyneth to find herself carrying your baby. If you love her, you won’t bring that disgrace on her.”
“I’d marry her,” Mark stated firmly. “I wouldn’t abandon her and let our child be brought up a bastard.”
“I know you’d marry her. Her father, uncle and I would see to that,” Dafydd said sternly and Mark flushed. “This is a very small community, Mark. Everyone would know your first child was conceived out of wedlock. You and Gwyneth would always have to endure smirks and innuendoes, and it would be worse for Gwyneth, for some would scorn her as a fallen woman. Is that what you want for her?”
“No, of course it isn’t. I’m going to ask her father if I can walk her to church this Sunday. We won’t be alone then. But Douglas and Frank want to go walking with her. It’s not fair that they can take her for a walk alone in the evening and you say I can’t!”
“I’ll suggest to my father-in-law that Beth and I accompany Gwyneth and any potential suitors as chaperones. I’m sure he’ll agree to that.”
“Too right!” Mark replied, but he was grinning. At least no one else would have an advantage over him.
Saturday morning Mark showed up at the mine office before Rhys and Adam arrived. “Umm, could I have a word with you, Mr. Cartwright?” he asked nervously and Adam forced himself not to smile. Perhaps young Mark would finally have the courage to ask if he could come calling on Gwyneth.
“Of course. I’ll be with you in a moment, Rhys,” and Rhys, too, had difficulty maintaining a serious expression as he entered the office and closed the door leaving the other two standing outside.
“Yes?” Adam asked in a pleasant tone.
“Well, sir, I-I, uh, wanted to ask if I could have your permission to walk Gwyneth to church tomorrow? And home again?” Mark stammered.
“Certainly. In fact, why don’t you plan on joining us for dinner after church.”
“Th-thank you, sir,” Mark managed to get out. Then he grinned and said, “That’d be beaut,” before heading back to town and his job at the livery on one of the horses he’d persuaded his boss to let him borrow.
A bemused Adam was smiling slightly as he entered the office. Rhys, however, was grinning broadly. “So did Mark finally ask if he could walk Gwyneth to church?”
“Finally. I gave him permission to walk her to church and back home and then invited to him to have dinner with us.”
Rhys raised his eyebrows in mock alarm. “Such favoritism. I fear Douglas and Frank will need to beware of ‘the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.’”
It’s not my favor they’re currying; it’s Gwyneth’s,” Adam replied with a cynical smile.
Mark showed up Sunday morning early, dressed in his best shirt (only a little threadbare in the elbows), which his mother had carefully ironed and starched, and new pants of black broadcloth. He had polished his boots until he could see his reflection and had shaved carefully. (Now that he was seventeen, his beard was growing heavier and he had to shave at least once a day.) A.C. was waiting on the verandah, dressed in his blue sailor suit with its shiny brass buttons, petting Lady.
Lady barked a greeting first and then A.C. grinned and said, “G’day, Mark. Gwyneth isn’t ready yet. She always takes a long time ‘cause of her hair. She wants to cut it off but Daddy won’t let her.” Adam walked on the verandah just in time to see the stricken expression on Mark’s face at the mention of his daughter cutting her hair.
“Adam Stoddard Cartwright, Jr.! You are not to discuss your sister with our guest. It is not polite.”
“I was just tellin’ Mark that Gwyneth’s always late,” A.C. remarked petulantly.
“Are you talking back to me, young man?” his daddy asked in that dangerously quiet voice.
“N-no, sir,” A.C. gulped. Just then Douglas and Frank came walking up, eyeing each other with open hostility.
“G’day, Mr. Cartwright, A.C.,” Douglass said amiably. He looked down at Mark from his six foot, three inch frame. “Pentreath.” He turned back to Adam. “I was hoping to walk Gwyneth to church this morning.”
“And so was I, if that’s all right with you, Mr. Cartwright,” Frank inserted smoothly.
“Gwyneth is going with Mark,” A.C. said smugly, for he didn’t care much for either Douglas or Frank. Douglas treated him as though he were a baby instead of six years old and Frank tried his best to ignore his existence entirely. Mark, on the other hand, treated him as an equal just as Llywelyn did.
The other two prospective suitors frowned at Mark but Adam said genially, “Yes, Mark has already asked to escort Gwyneth.”
“Then may I escort her home?” Frank asked quickly.
“No, Mark is going to escort me home as well,” Gwyneth said from the doorway. She looked stunning in her new tailor-made suit, felt hat pinned atop her thick curls, a few of which were allowed to cascade down her back provocatively.
“Then may I take you for a walk this evening?” Douglas inquired, glaring at his rivals and forgetting that he should have been asking Adam for permission rather than addressing Gwyneth directly.
“You may go walking with my daughter and her sister and Reverend Jones will accompany you,” Adam stated coolly. The color rose in Douglas’s face but he only said quietly, “As you wish, sir.”
“Shall we go, Gwyneth?” Mark asked, offering her his arm before Frank could ask to take her walking another evening.
“If looks could kill, I fear you’d be dead,” Gwyneth said to Mark as they walked along, with Douglas and Frank stalking behind them while Bronwen, Adam and A.C. followed a few feet behind the disgruntled suitors.
“I don’t scare that easily,” he replied with a tight grin. “I wish your dad hadn’t allowed you to go walking with Douglas.”
“I’d rather be with you, but Mama and Daddy think I’m too young to know my own mind and they want me to spend time with several young men.” She paused and then added, “Mama said we’re both too young to know if we’re really in love. I told her I’m older than Shakespeare’s Juliet but she said, ‘Yes, and look at how Romeo and Juliet ended up.’”
Mark grinned slightly before his expression became serious. “I guess you should spend time with other blokes. If I win the scholarship, I’ll be gone for four years. You may fall in love with someone else while I’m gone.”
“So might you,” she said sadly but he shook his head.
“I’ve been in love with you since we danced the polka and your hair came unpinned.” He asked cautiously, “You wouldn’t really cut your hair, would you?”
“Not if you don’t want me to,” she replied shyly.
“I never want you to cut your hair; it’s glorious.” She didn’t know what to reply but only blushed a little and, for the first time in her life, said a silent prayer of thanks for her unruly locks.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
“I got the mail!” Benj yelled as he walked into the great room of the sprawling ranch house after a trip to town for supplies with Buckshot. Sarah and Miranda were having a tea party for her dolls at the table in front of the fireplace while Annabelle sat in the blue velvet chair darning socks. Joe was seated at his father’s large desk working laboriously on the account books—a task he loathed—while Ben had dozed off in this favorite leather chair. He awoke with a start at his grandson’s noisy entrance.
“Benj, how many times do you have to be told to enter the house quietly,” Annabelle snapped.
“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, “but I’ve got good news. There’s a letter from Uncle Adam! Well, two really since one is for Miranda. And there’s letters from A.C. and Beth, too.”
“And we have time to read them before supper,” Joe said, putting down his pencil with a lively grin. It faded just a bit as he added, “Of course, you may want to read yours in private,” he said to his niece.
“Maybe the one from Beth, but not the one from Daddy,” she said grinning back at her uncle.
“You got one all the way from England, Miranda,” Benj added. “Who do you know that lives there?”
“A friend I met in Boston. He’s working on his master’s degree at Cambridge University in England but when he’s earned that degree, he’s going to work on his PhD at Harvard.” She saw the impatience on her grandpa’s face and said with a dimpled smile, “Let’s go ahead and read the letters.”
Benj grinned. “Okay. I’ll read A.C.’s letter to all of us first.” He tore open the envelope and frowned at the piece of paper. “I can’t read this.”
“Let me try,” Miranda said holding out her hand. “I’ve had practice deciphering his writing,” she added with a grin.
I felt Bethys baby move I hop the baby is a boy so I can play with him we are lerning puncashun in skool its hard to remember perods Mark Duglas and Frank go fishing with us but they all want to sit by Gwnth and bat her hook I think they are silly.
“Is Beth’s baby born?” Sarah said excitedly.
“No, the baby won’t be born until November and this is only August,” Miranda answered.
“But how can A.C. feel the baby move if it isn’t born?” Sarah asked with a puzzled expression on her face.
“We’ll talk about it later,” Annabelle replied, her face coloring brightly. Benj had started to reply but he saw his father shake his head and so he said nothing.
“If Mark is going fishing with them, I wonder if that means he decided to court Gwyneth,” Miranda said speculatively. “I hope so because I liked him. I remember Douglas and Frank. I suppose Douglas is all right although I remember he is quick-tempered. I never cared much for Frank; he always seemed vain to me. Of course the fuss all the other girls made over him didn’t help.”
“Your mother said she thought this Frank was mostly interested in Gwyneth because she was the only girl in Cloncurry who wasn’t trying to attract his attention,” Annabelle remarked.
“That might be part of the reason,” Joe interjected and then added with a grin, “but if Gwyneth were plain, he wouldn’t be interested.”
“Let’s read Adam’s letter to us next and see if he mentions anything about Mark,” Ben suggested. “Go ahead, dear,” and Miranda nodded so Benj handed her both the letters from Adam.
July 26, 1894
I’m sorry that I haven’t written sooner but things have been really hectic. Shortly after we returned, the Davies left for Sydney to visit with Tad and Mam. Things are quiet today so I decided it was a good time to catch up on my letter writing.
Our grandchild-to-be is becoming more obvious each day. A.C. is fascinated with the idea of the baby growing inside Beth. . . .
She stopped as Annabelle gasped. “Sarah, I want you to go up to your room and play. Right now.”
“I said right now, young lady. In fact, I’ll come with you,” and she laid down her darning and marched her daughter up the stairs.”
Miranda looked puzzled and Joe said with a faint sneer, “Adam is too outspoken for her taste.” Miranda frowned a little but continued reading.
(His sisters took it upon themselves to explain that was why Beth seemed to be getting fatter, which meant he and I had our first “father and son” talk. (I don’t know how you went through it three times, Pa!) He loves to feel the baby moving and wanted to know if we could feel him move before he was born. When I told him that as he grew bigger he’d kicked his mama so hard that she had bruises, he became very upset. Bronwen had to reassure him that it hadn’t really hurt and that he only kicked because he was growing so big and was getting crowded. I assured him that his sisters had all kicked her as well.
Speaking of my daughters, I have to report that Mark Pentreath has finally asked for permission to walk Gwyneth to and from church. Of course, he has to ask before Douglas or Frank can. They have quite a rivalry going and it reminds me of when Dafydd, Tony and Sandy were all courting Beth. Mark is clearly the favorite but they are both too young to be courting seriously, so we’ve told Gwyneth that she can’t see Mark exclusively. Bronwen feels that Frank just views Gwyneth as a challenge but we both think Douglas is really serious. I’m allowing each of her suitors to take her walking Saturday and Sunday evening with Beth and Dafydd accompanying them. (It was their suggestion, which surprised Bronwen and me, but I feel more at ease knowing Gwyneth is chaperoned. She is only sixteen after all.
Impending motherhood is really bringing out Beth’s maternal nature. She’s busy sewing gowns for the baby, knitting booties and crocheting a comforter. She had a lot of sickness while we were gone, but that seems to have passed. (I noticed that after about the fourth or fifth month, Bronwen wouldn’t get sick in the morning. She had the most trouble with Beth and A.C. but with Penny I don’t remember her being sick at all.) We’re giving Beth and Dafydd the crib that all our children used and I’m making a little cradle for the baby to sleep in the first couple of months.
Gwyneth and A.C. are back in school and were happy to discover they had not fallen behind their classmates. Now that Gwyneth doesn’t have to take any mathematics, she’s one of the top students in her class. (There is only one boy with higher marks. Llywelyn and Mark and are in second and first place respectively so Rhys and Matilda will also experience the joy we felt when Miranda graduated as salutatorian. Mark’s grades are so far above every other student in his class (even Llywelyn) that he really has no competition for this year’s scholarship. The boys were hoping to share rooms in Sydney, but at least for the first year they’ll be staying with Tad and Mam. (Llywelyn came to me for sympathy but I told that you would never have agreed to my renting rooms in Boston my freshman year. I also (gently) let him know what it would mean to his grandparents to have him live with them.) Mark is pretty tight-lipped, but I think his parents didn’t like the idea of the two boys on their own in Sydney any better than Rhys and Matilda. They are both level-headed young men and I’m sure they won’t get involved with anything too wild.
This letter is getting awfully long so I’d better close. Bronwen has just walked in the room and reminds me that I can’t close without sending her love.
“Now I’ll read mine,” Miranda said as she carefully folded her father’s letter and replaced it in its envelope and then handed it to Benj, who gave it to Ben. She took her own letter out and began to read.
July 26, 1894
This letter should reach you only a week or two before you leave for Boston. I remember how excited I was before I left for Harvard. Of course, I hadn’t been to Boston since I was a small child and I was apprehensive about meeting my grandfather again and how I would fit in back east. At least you won’t have those worries since you’ve lived in Boston for three years. I think you’ll find college is different from preparatory school. I’m pleased that you’ll be taught by Harvard professors. Greek, analytic geometry, biology and natural history should keep you challenged, Angel.
Your mother and I are both interested in hearing about your debut ball. After talking with Mr. and Mrs. Alden I have set up a special fund for those expenses. (I made it clear to them that since they are kind enough to bring you out with Charlotte, we expect to pay half the expenses they incur.) Life isn’t all about studying, so I want you to enjoy yourself.
We are all well here. Your younger sister now has three beaus. Beth was in a similar situation at the same age, but the two of them are so different. Gwyneth is not at all flirtatious but neither are Douglas and Mark. (Frank is but I’m beginning to think his cause is hopeless.) Beth and Dafydd have volunteered to act as chaperones when Gwyneth and one of her young men go for a walk. (I find it amusing since Beth would have been furious if I’d sent one of you as chaperone when she was being courted; marriage has certainly made her more serious.)
Your little brother is doing very well in school. I try to get home from the mine early enough that the two of us can go for a ride. (I decided it was time to put Zephyr out to pasture and I’m now riding a chestnut gelding I’ve named Mercury.) I think your brother wrote that all three of Gwyneth’s suitors now join us when we go fishing on Sunday afternoons. Frank is obviously not a fisherman because he tries to talk to Gwyneth and she has to remind him he’ll scare the fish away.
Here’s another bit of news for you. Nell and Mary both told your mama and I that Llywelyn has walked your friend, Emma Lawrence, to church several times. We were a little taken aback at first since Emma is a year older than Llywelyn but then we realized it’s not that surprising. They are both intelligent and well-read so it’s natural they would enjoy each other’s company. I doubt anything will come of it since Llywelyn will be leaving for Sydney in January and they won’t see each other again for four years.
Mama says she will write you a letter that you’ll receive when you return to Boston. We both send our love.
Miranda waited until she got in bed that night to read her other two letters. She opened Beth’s letter first.
July 25, 1894
My sickness in the mornings seems to be over, thank goodness. That aspect of carrying a child is not pleasant. Mama told me it’s different with each pregnancy. She suffered the most nausea and vomiting when she was pregnant with A.C. and the least with Penny. I felt the baby move for the fist time when everyone was visiting the States. At first, it was just a little flutter but now I can definitely feel him or her moving and if you have your hand on my stomach, you can feel it from the outside, too. The baby is so real to me that I find myself talking to him or her, and Dafydd talks to the baby when we’re alone at night. Mama told me she and Daddy used to talk to each of us before we were born as well.
I can’t wear any of my old clothes now but Aunt Matilda had already sewn me some loose fitting, high-waisted dresses I can wear. Mama had told me before they left that Tada told her not to wear a maternity corset so I’m not. I was afraid Dafydd wouldn’t find me attractive as I begin to look bigger, but quite the opposite is true. Mama said Daddy was the same. (I suppose I shouldn’t be writing this way to an unmarried woman so don’t tell anyone.)
I am enjoying marriage so much and I am so looking forward to being a mother. I want a big family like ours. I hope that you’ll find a man you can love as much as I love Dafydd and he’ll love you as much as Dafydd loves me.
Miranda smiled as she refolded her sister’s letter and placed it on her bedside table. Then she eagerly opened the letter from William.
August 2, 1894
Please forgive me for being so tardy in replying to your last letter. I enjoyed reading the text of your salutatory very much. I only wish I’d been able to be in Boston to hear you give it. By the time this letter reaches you, your visit with your family should be nearly over and you’ll be heading back to Boston and Radcliffe. From what you’ve written me about your father, I’m not surprised he’d prefer you staying with the Aldens rather than at one of the boarding houses. Still maybe next year when I am back in Cambridge, he’ll relent and allow you to board. If we work it right, we could arrange to board at the same house. But perhaps I’m being too forward. I know how much I’m looking forward to seeing you again. When I left you were a pretty girl of seventeen, but when I see you again, you’ll be a lovely young woman of twenty.
Of course, you may be swept off your feet by one of the young men you’ll be meeting after you’ve made your debut and be a married woman by the next time I see you. I hope not. Your friendship has become very precious to me.
But I don’t want to be mawkish. I was pleased to hear that your father is coping with his loss now. It must be a terrible grief to lose a beloved child or sister. When I was growing up, I always wished I had brothers and sisters. I’d like to meet yours. In spite of what you write, I’m sure your sisters can’t be lovelier than you are, and A.C. sounds like a real charmer.
My dissertation on the Glorious Revolution of 1688 is coming along very well and my advisor is pleased with it. I get a little homesick at times, but all in all I am enjoying my stay here in Cambridge. Before I return home, I want to travel around England and Scotland. Maybe I’ll even visit Wales as I have a very special friend whose grandparents grew up there.
I’m looking forward to seeing you, William. I doubt I’ll meet any young man in Boston that I’ll like half as much she thought as she put his letter in her trunk and locked it.
As August changed to September, Adam noticed that Bronwen became increasingly withdrawn and melancholy. He knew why she was feeling so depressed, for the anniversary of Penny’s death was only days away. Officially, their time of mourning would be over, but they would never cease to mourn her in their hearts.
The night before the anniversary he woke because he felt Bronwen sobbing beside him in the dark. “Sweetheart,” he said softly. She didn’t respond and he realized she was crying in her sleep. “Bronwen, sweetheart, wake up,” he said gently shaking her shoulder. She turned toward him even though it was too dark to see and he cupped her face in his hands.
“I dreamed about Penny,” she said so softly that even in the quiet room he had to strain to hear. “She was so happy, so radiant. She told me not to be sad, to remember what I told her: that we would be reunited. She said, ‘It’s so wonderful here, Mama. More wonderful than you could ever imagine.’ She kissed me and then I woke up.”
“That is a beautiful dream,” he whispered, his own voice tight with emotion, as he tenderly wiped the tears from her cheeks with his thumbs. “It shouldn’t make you sad.”
“I know,” she said choking back a sob. “I shouldn’t be sad, but I miss her so much,” and she broke down sobbing in his arms. He held her close, his own tears wetting his cheeks as he remembered that terrible night a year earlier—the agony their child suffered and how helpless they were to save her.
When they regained their composure, the first pink light of the new day had begun to streak across the sky. He said softly, “When we were in Boston, I had something made for each of us. I want to give yours to you now.”
She watched quizzically as he removed two small packages from the top shelf of his wardrobe and carried them back to the bed. The room was still dark so he lit the lamps on their bedside tables before handing her one of the small packages. She opened it and found an oval locket engraved with a spray of violets.
“It’s very pretty,” she said in a neutral tone but he only smiled tenderly and said, “Open it.”
“Oh, Anwyld,” she breathed. On one side the locket contained a miniature of Penny. The artist had captured not only her sunny smile, but the glint of mischief in her beautiful violet eyes. The other side contained a lock of her ebony hair. “Oh thank you,” she said in a voice that shook with emotion. She watched as he unwrapped the second package revealing what appeared to be a pocket watch, also engraved with a spray of violets. He opened the watchcase but instead of a watch it contained another lock of Penny’s hair and the miniature. She saw him touch the lock of their little girl’s hair with trembling fingers before he said softly, “I wanted us to have something to keep her close forever.”
They exchanged a tender kiss and then she suggested quietly, “Let’s tend to the stock and then go to the cemetery before breakfast.”
“Yes,” he said slowly. “I think we will all want to visit Penny now. Gwyneth is probably up but I’ll check on A.C.”
A short time later, the four of them rode quietly to the cemetery. It hadn’t rained for a few days, but A.C. spotted a bottlebrush that was still blooming so they stopped and gathered some flowers. After Bronwen and Gwyneth carefully laid the flowers on the grave, A.C. spoke up.
“Can I talk to Penny? Will she hear me?”
“She’ll hear you, Jackeroo,” Adam replied placing his hand on the child’s shoulder reassuringly.
“I know Mama and Daddy and Dafydd say you are happy in heaven, Penny, but I wish you could come back for a visit ‘cause I miss you so much,” he said in a quavering voice
Adam gave his son’s neck a gentle squeeze as Gwyneth began to speak. “I miss you, too, Pen. I know when we’d argue I’d tell you that I was going to ask Mama if I could have Beth and Miranda’s old room for my own, but now that I do have it, I hate it!” and her voice ended in a sob. “I want to be able to talk to you after Mama and Daddy turn our lamps out. I want you to be there to help me with my hair, to tease me about Mark and Douglas and Frank. I just miss you so much.” She began to cry and Bronwen put her arm around her tall daughter’s waist and held her close.
While Bronwen comforted Gwyneth, Adam began to speak softly. “Kitten, I know we’ll all be reunited some day, but your death has left such a void in our lives. There’ll always be an empty place at the table where you used to sit, an empty stall that used to belong to your Muffin, and an empty place in our hearts. I try to remember Dafydd’s counsel and thank God that He gave you to me and Mama for twelve years, but it’s hard because I long to see your face lit up by your mischievous grin, to hear your sweet voice saying, ‘I love you, Daddy.’”
As her father spoke, Gwyneth regained her composure and put an arm around her mother’s shoulders so they stood hugging each other. When Adam finished, Bronwen spoke quietly. “I know you are in a better place, my Penny fach, one more wonderful than our five limited senses can comprehend, but that knowledge can’t stop me from missing you. Like Daddy I try to thank God for the twelve years He gave you to us to love and cherish. However, twelve years is too few. We wanted to watch you grow up and have children of your own, but that gift was denied us. Still, God is merciful and He has given us so many precious memories of you. You will always live on in those memories. Rest in peace, my beloved little daughter.”
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
The morning showed every promise of a beautiful Indian summer day Miranda noticed as she opened the shutters and then tied back the drapes in her bedroom. She was enjoying her classes at Radcliffe so much she could hardly wait to leave each morning and this day was no exception. She dressed hurriedly in a white shirtwaist blouse and navy blue skirt and then had to force herself to sit quietly while Maureen dressed her hair, brushing it over pads to give it a more bouffant style and then twisting the long length of it and pinning it on the top of her head.
When she entered the dining room, she was not surprised to find Mr. Alden the room’s only other occupant but the rest of the family slowly drifted in. She had been a bit surprised at the length of her Aunt Annabelle’s visit for they’d arrived Boston three weeks earlier and yet nothing had been said about when her aunt and cousins would be returning to the Ponderosa. Just as Miranda and Mr. Alden were preparing to leave, Annabelle spoke up.
“I have an announcement to make and it concerns all of us. I have decided to remain in Boston and to seek a legal separation from my husband. I will eventually rent a house for us, but I hope we may continue to stay here until I can make suitable arrangements,” she said looking directly at her brother.
“Of course,” Mr. Alden replied evenly. “I’ll have my man come up with some suitable properties you can look at, and I’ll ask my lawyer to see you about arranging the separation.” He suddenly noticed the stricken faces of his nephew and niece, who obviously had no inkling of their mother’s intentions, and made a hasty retreat from the room. Miranda was upset as well. Not so much from the announcement, but from the way her aunt had thoughtlessly disregarded her own children’s feelings in making it.
“I want to go home to Daddy and Grandpa,” Sarah said tearfully. “I don’t want to stay in Boston.” Benj was too stunned to speak, though his feelings were identical to his little sister’s.
“We’ll talk about it in private, Sarah,” Annabelle said firmly. Then she looked at her niece. ‘I know this puts you in an invidious position, Miranda.”
“Yes, it does. I think given the circumstances I should see if it is possible for me to stay at one of the college’s boarding houses,” Miranda said sharply.
“But we’re having our debut in two weeks!” Charlotte said. “All the invitations have been sent. I don’t see why you need to move.”
“I won’t spoil all the preparations you and your mother have made, but in the circumstances I would find it very awkward to continue living here,” Miranda stated quietly, her hazel eyes darkening in much the same way that her father’s did when he was angry.
“I don’t want you to go, Miranda,” Sarah said, her own hazel eyes continuing to fill with tears.
“Sarah, come with me,” Annabelle said. “Benj, you, too. I think the three of us need to have a private talk.”
After they left, Mrs. Alden, who had remained silent throughout, turned to her young guest. “I think you are being too hasty, Miranda dear,” she said quietly. “The situation between your uncle and aunt doesn’t alter the affection we all have for you, and you must remember that your aunt and cousins will probably only be living here for a few weeks.”
“Besides, you’re closer to Sarah and Benj than I am,” Charlotte added, realizing how inconsiderate she had been before and how upset their young cousins must be, “and they need someone they can talk to about all of this.”
“I suppose you’re right.” Just then Kathleen, the parlor maid, came in the dining room and cleared her throat.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but Mr. Nicholson says Miss Miranda will be late if she doesn’t leave now.”
“Tell him I’m coming,” Miranda said quickly. “May I be excused, ma’am?” and Mrs. Alden nodded.
That night Miranda sat at the desk in the library and wrote to her parents.
September 24, 1894
Dear Daddy and Mama,
This note is intended to be private. I received some distressing news today. Aunt Annabelle announced this morning that she is seeking a legal separation from Uncle Joe and plans to remain in Boston with Benj and Sarah. (Mr. Alden is going to help her find a house to rent.) I’ve sensed for some time that things were not well between them but I didn’t realize Aunt Annabelle was that unhappy.
She admitted that she has put me in an impossible position. If I stay, I’ll feel like I’m betraying Uncle Joe, but Charlotte has pointed out that I’m closer to Benj and Sarah than she is and that they’ll need someone they can talk with about Uncle Joe and Grandpa. When I got home this afternoon, Sarah was waiting for me and she had been crying. She is so upset at the thought of not seeing her daddy or grandpa. Benj was very quiet and withdrawn and it’s hard for me to know exactly what he is thinking. I have decided it would be best if I remain here with the Aldens so I can offer Benj and Sarah whatever comfort I can. I only hope you agree with my decision.
Your loving daughter,
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
Since Llywelyn was on the school cricket team and had to practice and Mark had his after school job at the livery stable, Gwyneth and A.C. walked home from school together, stopping at the post office to see if they had any mail.
“Yes, you’re in luck today. Here is a letter for you, A.C., and here is one for you, Gwyneth, and I have one for your parents. All from Miranda,” Mr. Michaelson, who managed the post office, said with a smile.
“Thanks, Mr. Michaelson,” A.C. said grinning. “Let’s go, Gwyneth,” and he began tugging on her hand.
“Thank you, Mr. Michaelson,” Gwyneth said over her shoulder as she allowed her little brother to drag her from the post office.
“Mama! Mama!” A.C. began shouting the minute he opened the front door. “We got letters from Manda!”
“You mustn’t shout in the house, bachgennyn,” Bronwen said walking down the hall from the kitchen. “Remember?”
“Sorry,” A.C. said with his father’s dimpled grin, which never failed to charm her. “Can I read my letter now? Please?’
Bronwen knew what her husband would say, but her son looked at her so hopefully that she just couldn’t resist. “All right. You may read your letter.”
“Thanks, Mama,” he replied, his smile lighting up his face. He ran back on the verandah to read his letter in private, just as he knew Gwyneth would do.
“Well, if A.C. gets to read his letter now, then I’m going to read mine as well,” Gwyneth said petulantly and headed for her room before her mother had a chance to respond. Bronwen sighed knowing her husband would not be happy.
Her prediction was correct but after dinner A.C. and Gwyneth each read their letters aloud and then waited to learn what their sister had written their parents. Adam opened the letter and the first sentence caught his eye before he even began to read out loud and he said, “I’m sorry, but your sister’s letter to Mama and me is private. We’ll go upstairs to read it and you two can amuse yourselves here in the library.”
“But I want to know what Manda wrote,” A.C. demanded sulkily. “I shared my letter.”
“Young man, you are asking for a necessary talk,” Adam replied quietly.
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” the child replied but his tone gave the lie to his words. Adam decided to let that pass, however, as he felt a sense of foreboding regarding his daughter’s letter and was anxious to know what it contained.
Once he and Bronwen were alone, he read the letter aloud and her eyes filled with tears at the pain she knew her brother-in-law must be feeling.
“I knew things weren’t well between them. I could tell that at the wedding, but I never thought she’d seek a separation.”
“She’s too much like Julia,” Adam said quietly and Bronwen looked at him with raised eyebrows. He continued softly, “When I knew Julia Quincy that first year I attended Harvard, I fell in love with her—or at least I thought I did. I asked her to marry me, but when she learned I intended to return to the Ponderosa, she refused me. My grandfather tried to tell me at the time that she had done me a favor, that it would have been more painful if she’d decided she couldn’t bear life on the ranch after we’d married. I wouldn’t listen then but I know now how right he was. But Annabelle has had children with Joe! You’d think for their sake she’d try and make the marriage work.”
“I agree, but I think their temperaments were just too different,” Bronwen responded quietly, startled and a little hurt by the revelation that the snobbish Julia Quincy had been her husband’s first choice as a wife.
“No more than ours,” he answered.
“Yes, but we have many interests in common. They didn’t,” she replied, regaining her composure, and slowly he nodded his head in agreement. “I agree with Miranda that she should stay with the Aldens. She can offer support to Benj and Sarah and while I don’t think Annabelle is mean-spirited enough to try and turn the children against Joe, frankly, I am not so sure about her brother. I got the distinct impression when we were in Boston that he didn’t like Joe much.”
“You’re right, sweetheart. I think we should both write to Miranda and tell her so.”
About two weeks later Adam received a letter from Joe. After supper, he went upstairs and sat on the verandah, where he could read in private.
October 5, 1894
I’m sure that you and Bronwen noticed how things were between me and Annabelle during your visit, so perhaps you won’t be too shocked to learn that she has left me. When she accompanied Miranda back to Boston, she told me she was going to visit with her brother and she took Benj and Sarah with her so they could send time with their family there. Yesterday I received a letter informing me that she was not returning to the Ponderosa and was seeking a legal separation.
We have been increasingly estranged for over a year now so I didn’t expect it to hurt so much, but it does. We were so much in love when we first married; I’m still not sure what went so wrong between us. However, the most painful aspect of our separation is that I am also separated from my children. Our lawyer informs me there is no way I can regain custody without a messy court battle that I would probably lose since most judges would feel they were better off with their mother in Boston. She is going to enroll Benj in Deerfield Academy and Sarah in a Miss Winsor’s School when they are old enough. For right now Benj is attending public school and she is teaching Sarah at home.
Annabelle won’t even allow them to visit the Ponderosa because she knows that I would do everything in my power to keep them here. If I want to see my children, I must travel to Boston. I can do that, but it’s too much for Pa. Dr. Pascoe was reluctant to allow him to travel to Boston for Miranda’s graduation and he says it’s too much for him now. At least Annabelle has promised to encourage the children to write to Pa regularly, for she knows what they mean to him. Needless to say, this hardly replaces having them here with him, and with me.
Until you lost Penny, I envied you so much, older brother. You seemed to have everything: a wife who loved you as much as she did the day you married, your beautiful children, a thriving business and a good friend in Rhys. I realize now that you aren’t immune to tragedy any more than I am.
I am grateful that Miranda is there with Benj and Sarah. She’ll make sure my children don’t forget they are Cartwrights, not Aldens.
I find my thoughts turning more and more to Alice. If only she had lived. I know we would have been happy. But then I wouldn’t have Benj and Sarah. I just feel so lost right now.
Adam was gone so long that Bronwen began to worry. She didn’t want him to know she was concerned so she walked quietly into their bedroom then looked out the French doors leading to the verandah. She saw him sitting motionless on one of the wicker chairs, Joe’s letter in one hand. He seemed to sense her presence and looked up at her standing in the doorway. She opened the doors and stepped outside. She was going to sit in the chair beside him, but he caught hold of her hand and pulled her onto his lap. She laid her head on his shoulder and waited until he was ready to talk.
“If I were a superstitious man, I would say our family is cursed. Three times Pa has to endure the loss of the woman he loves. Hoss finally meets a good woman who loves him as he deserves to be loved and then a matter of weeks before they are to marry, he dies while saving the lives of strangers. Joe’s love is murdered along with their unborn child and then his second wife deserts him and takes their children with her.” He gently caressed her face as he gazed into her beautiful violet eyes. “I was lucky enough to discover you, separated though we were by a vast ocean, and we were blessed with five wonderful children. Then Penny was taken from us and as Beth’s pregnancy progresses, I begin to worry about her.”
“But you’re not a superstitious man,” she replied quietly. “And Beth is young and strong and healthy.”
“I know, sweetheart, but sometimes I can’t help feeling that way,” he replied in an equally quiet voice. They sat together in silent communion until he said with a sigh, “I need to write to Joe.”
She nodded. “Gwyneth is teaching A.C. to play checkers, but they can do that in the dining room. You’ll have the library to yourself.” She started to leave and then added, “Give Joe my love.”
October 26, 1894
Bronwen and I are both saddened to learn of Annabelle’s decision. I would be lying if I said that we hadn’t sensed the strain between the two of you but we’d hoped that you would be able to work through your problems. Evidently, that was not Annabelle’s wish.
While I do not intend to demean her, I find her decision difficult to comprehend. I can understand a woman leaving a husband who beats her or one who constantly belittles and humiliates her, but I know you did none of those things. Don’t lose heart. Perhaps your separation will actually prove of benefit to your marriage. It may be that being separated will remind Annabelle of the qualities in you than she fell in love with and she will want to give your marriage another chance.
It sounds as though you have an idealized picture of my marriage however. While Bronwen and I do love each other very much, we also have very different temperaments. There have been times when her impetuosity has almost driven me insane while she admits that my methodical nature has nearly driven her to homicide on occasion. She’s accused me of being overbearing and pompous and I’ve told her that she is indecisive and frivolous. Before we married, we made a pledge never to go to bed angry, and that has meant some sleepless nights, especially during our first years together. Over the years, we’ve learned to compromise. That’s been more difficult for me since I do tend to be a bit pigheaded. (I’ll bet you never thought you’d hear me admit it!) In fact, difficult as it is for me to concede, sometimes she is in the right and I’m in the wrong.
Joe, Bronwen and I wish there was something we could do to ease your pain now. At least you can visit Benj and Sarah. We thought it was hard when Miranda decided to go to Boston, but after we lost our Penny, we realized there was no comparison. The best advice we can give you is to visit Benj and Sarah as often as you can, and write to them as well. From everything you and Pa have told me, you can trust Bronc Evans to run things in your absence. Don’t let the Ponderosa keep you from spending time with your children.
Your loving brother,
It was a hot November morning and Bronwen was helping Nell and Mary hang the laundry to dry under the house since the rain was coming down in sheets. They heard the sound of a buggy approaching, very fast, and turned toward the street.
“It’s Dafydd,” Bronwen said and felt her heart begin to race.
“Stone the crows! Miss Beth’s baby is on the way,” Nell said excitedly and the three women ran out to meet the expectant father, heedless of the downpour.
“Oh, Mam,” Dafydd yelled excitedly from the buggy. “It’s Bethan! She says the baby is on the way. I’ve told Dr. Brooke and now I’ve come for you.” He held out his hand and Bronwen climbed up beside him. Before he could turn the buggy around she exclaimed, “Adam! He needs to know!”
“Don’t you worry, ma’am,” Nell said authoritatively. “Me and Mary will drive the surrey to the mine and we’ll tell Mr. Cartwright. You go take care of Miss Beth.”
Adam paced his son-in-law’s study restlessly as the driving rain beat against the windows. Bronwen had always teased him that he suffered more during her labor than she did, and he found waiting for his much-loved daughter to give birth no less terrifying. How can I bear to lose another daughter? It’s too much. God, please don’t ask it of me. And I know what it’s like to grow up knowing you are the innocent cause of your own mother’s death. The guilt you can’t help feeling no matter how your father assures you that you’re not to blame. I don’t want my grandchild to have to endure that pain.
The light was fading and Dafydd, who had been matching his father-in-law step for step in their pacing, lit the lamp in the study. “It’s been hours,” he said in an anguished voice. “Surely it shouldn’t take this long.”
“I remember Tad telling me that the first baby takes the longest,” Adam replied, trying to hide his own terror from his son-in-law. Just then the oppressive silence was broken by the thin, bleating cry of a newborn. Dafydd ran out of the room while Adam followed more slowly—eager and yet dreading what he might learn. Bronwen was waiting for him just outside the open bedroom door while the new father met his child.
“Beth is fine, anwyld,” she said softly, “and we have a beautiful granddaughter.” He held her close and they exchanged joyful smiles. Their daughter looked up and saw them standing in the doorway and smiled radiantly.
“Come meet your granddaughter,” she said softly, indicating the tiny form in her husband’s arms. Adam saw the baby had a head of dark hair and her grandmother’s eyes. He put his forefinger by her little hand and thrilled when the tiny fist curled around it.
“We want to name her Elen Penelope,” Beth said gently.
“Penny would be so pleased,” Adam said making no effort to check the tears that filled his eyes.
In addition to Puchi Ann’s research on appendicitis, I also used the following Web sites:
I used the following Web sites to learn about shock and its treatment in the 1890s:
For information on the grieving process and its stages I used On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Her book discusses the stages of grief that a dying person undergoes, but they are the same for the bereaved family and friends. I remember reading this book years ago and being particularly struck by the idea that the dying person needs permission to die. I have a close friend who is an RN and works with oncology patients and she’s told me she has seen for herself how true this is and how it can make a difference in whether a patient dies peacefully.
I got Penny’s epitaph from one I saw on a gravestone in Williamsburg, Virginia. That one was for a mother and her newborn infant who were buried together. I found it very moving and so decided to adapt it for Penny.
The graveside service comes from the Book of Common Prayer, 1662.
For information on mourning clothes and customs I used the following: http://www.tchevalier.com/fallingangels/bckgrnd/mourning/clothes/
For information on the Bunker Hill Monument I used http://charlestown.ma.us/monument.html
of Welsh and Australian Words and Phrases:
Anwyld - beloved
Bach and fach – adding bach after a man’s name or fach after a woman’s is a form of endearment. Penny fach would translate as Penny dear or Penny dearest; Penny fach could also be translated little Penny
Bachgennyn – little boy
Cariad – dear or darling
i’n dy garu di
- I love you
Mam – mother
Mam-gu – grandmother
Tad – father
Tada - daddy
Tad-cu – grandfather
Beauty - Translation: That’s great
Blokes – guys or fellows
Dingo’s breakfast - nothing
Fair dinkum – used as a substitute for “Oh really?” or “true”
I feel stuffed – I’m tired
Jackeroo – cowboy
Right – Okay
Ripper – great (A.C. and Gwyneth’s expression “What a ripper” indicates how impressed they are with the Bunker Hill monument and Bloomingdale’s respectively)
She’ll be apples – It’ll be all right
Stone the crows! - I asked Joan for an Australian version of “My gosh!” or “My goodness!”(an expression that Adam’s daughters could use without having their mouths washed out with soap)
“That’d be beaut!” Translation: “Wouldn’t that be swell!”
Too right – definitely“You're up yourself" – Translation: “You have a high opinion of yourself”
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