We’re already in Indianapolis! Can you believe it? The railroad makes travel so much faster and easier. In just a few days we have gone as far as it took Papa and Adam months to travel when they first went west. Of course, Papa stopped to take jobs along the way, but still…! We are spending the night in a lovely hotel in this small city. Now I can have a proper bath and wash my hair. Stagecoach travel is dusty, but train travel is sooty. I wish you were with me—Adam always has his nose in a book, but there is just too much to see for me to read. There are so many interesting people on the trains. We have switched lines a few times, but the cars are all about the same. Adam says that some day you will be able to rent a bedroom in a train car. Can you picture that? He says that there are already plans for dining cars on trains that make long trips so they can make fewer stops. That way people will be able to travel even faster, if possible! Of course, the real purpose for the railroads is to move goods, not people. Commerce I think they call it, but I still think that being able to move people around this big country is pretty exciting.
I cried for a long time after the train left Boston. I had just about calmed down when Adam gave me your present. I don’t know what to say! I know that gray silk shawl is your favorite. It’s so delicate and lovely. If you had given it to me yourself I wouldn’t have accepted it. That’s why you had Adam give it to me, isn’t it? You always said it went better with my coloring than your own. I’ll treasure it forever. Thank you so much.As I said, there are many interesting people on the train, but Adam is a regular bear and won’t let me associate with many of them. There have been a number of young men headed west to find their fortunes. It’s fun to speculate how many of them will succeed. I think that the less they left behind, the more likely they are to do well out here. There are all types of people—bankers, merchants, builders, laborers, and scoundrels. I have spoken briefly to some of them and I realize how lucky I am to be going back to a settled home and family.
Well, dearest Meg, I must close because it is almost dinnertime. I send lots of love to you and Aunt Beatrice. I think of you all the time and hope you have a thought or two about me. Adam sends his regards as well. I’ll try to send another letter soon. We are headed for St. Joe, where we switch to the Union Pacific Line.
July 6, 18—
I’m writing this from Ft. Bridger, Utah. We will soon begin the last leg of our journey. Very soon they will join the railroad lines here in Utah and it will be possible to go right from the Atlantic to the Pacific on the trains. Progress is amazing! I don’t think I’ll be able to send you any more letters till we are home. We have a lot of stage travel ahead of us. The railroad is easier to build across the prairie, so more of it is done. Those building from the West coast have to contend with the mountains so they need to tunnel through them or build bridges. Adam says that we have sold a lot of timber off the Ponderosa for some of those bridges, so I guess we’re a part of history. The timber on the ranch is becoming more valuable as people move west—they need to build homes, schools, hotels, stores, etc. Anyway, after a long stretch by stage across part of Utah and Nevada we can pick up the train again and arrive in Carson City by rail! Then it’s just a short stage ride home. I am more and more anxious to be home. I didn’t realize how much I missed it.
One of the first things I’m going to do is buy a horse. I love to ride and Hoss and Adam are the best judges of stock, so one of them will help me. After that—well, we’ll see. I’m a bit nervous, but I guess everything will work out in the end. Adam says the men will be beating a path to our door to meet me. That was nice of him to say, don’t you think? He told me in Boston that I had “turned out well”. I love my family so much and want them to be proud of me.
How is everything in Boston? Does little Joseph Bonelli still have his lasso? Tony should send him out here for the summer—we’d make a real cowboy out of him! Maybe you could bring him! That would be the perfect excuse for you to visit me. Think about it.
That’s all for now. My love to you and Aunt Beatrice. I’ll write once I’m home. Adam sends his regards as well. He’s as anxious as I am for this trip to be over. I try not be too much of a pest, but he is still annoyed about all my luggage!
July 26, 18—
We have been home about a week now. I’m sorry I didn’t write sooner but things have been hectic. One of the nicest things to receive when I got here was your nice long letter. I’m glad that Aunt Beatrice has been seen by the doctor and is on medication. Take good care of her.
My Papa and Hoss and Little Joe were at the stage depot to meet us. I cried when I left Boston, and to round things out nicely I cried when I got home. It was so wonderful to drive from town to our house and see the familiar scenery and the lake. I know you love the ocean, but Lake Tahoe is spectacular. It is surrounded by pines (like the Ponderosa pine for which the ranch is named) and aspens and so many other trees and shrubs. The water is so dark blue that it’s almost black and it’s crystal clear. Of course there was some general teasing about my baggage and Hoss said he would have to go back to town with the buckboard to bring it all back. And Adam had to let them know that more was being shipped! To quote Hoss, “I can’t figure out why a mite like you needs so many trunks. We all can travel with just a bedroll and we’re a lot bigger!” You would like Hoss—just about everyone does. He is a BIG man—not fat, mind you, just really BIG. He has brown hair and the friendliest blue eyes anywhere. He’s jolly and kindhearted and gentler than any man I know. He has a real gift with animals. He loves them and will stay up all night to help a mare foal. He’s as strong as an ox and his appetite is a source of constant joking around here. Some people think he isn’t smart. Well he may not have all the education that Adam has, but he has common sense and knowledge of ranch matters that make him smart in a different way.
My Papa hasn’t changed much. His hair is a little whiter than it was, but he is still big and strong and imposing. He’s an important man in this part of the country. They even asked him to run for governor but he said he’d rather run the ranch…fewer headaches! You don’t know the meaning of the word bellow until you’ve heard Papa when he is angry. When I was younger I used to be slightly naughty at times and he would roar at me—yes, that’s the word—roar! He is pretty patient, but hold your ears if he is cross! Still, I know he loves me because he is always trying to do what is best for me. I’m sure having a little girl dumped on his doorstep couldn’t have been easy for him. Most people say that Little Joe got his hot temper from his mother Marie, but I think a little of Papa slipped in there too.
Speaking of Little Joe, I have decided to just call him Joe. I mean he is almost 23 years old and not a baby anymore. Adam was right (isn’t he always?). Joe has changed. He still seems to be fun-loving, but he’s more mature and takes on responsibilities around the ranch equally with the others. He’s very handsome with curly brown hair and green eyes and has girlfriends all over the area. He has quite a reputation as a lady’s man. One thing that hasn’t changed is his laugh. When Joe laughs, you have to laugh too. I can’t describe it, but it’s hysterical. I’m happy to say that his attitude toward me has changed. He’s being nice and treating me with respect. He was awful to me before I went to school.
Adam, of course, needs no description. He has been very quiet lately and got right back to ranch business. I thought maybe he was angry with me about something, but he said he had something on his mind and it had nothing to do with me, so I shouldn’t worry. And, as usual, he asked me to send his regards.
Papa is throwing a party for me next week (as you said he would!). And I am starting to pester everyone about a horse. They all have such nice mounts and I want one too. It’s difficult right now because this is a busy time on the ranch, and as I said before there is more logging going on than ever before. Still, they have put the word out so maybe the “perfect” horse will show up. I am busy redecorating my room. This house has MAN stamped all over it and I want a feminine refuge, if you know what I mean! Write soon and give my love to all.
August 12, 18—
I got my horse! I got my horse! Joe found her for me. She is a beautiful little palomino mare with a lot of Arabian stock in her. Palomino means she is blond in color with a gorgeous flaxen mane and tail. I named her Taffy. Her Arabian heritage means she can run like the wind forever. I’m thrilled with her. When Joe took me to see her I knew right away I wanted her. I took her out for a ride and she is incredibly responsive. Joe said it was a shame I showed such interest in her right away—he could have made a better deal if I hadn’t been so obvious about wanting her. Anyway, Papa came to look at her with Hoss and they all agreed she was sound so I bought her. Then for my birthday they all bought me her tack (saddle, bridle, etc). I thought they might get me a sidesaddle, but Adam must have told them what I really wanted. Now I can ride away whenever I want. She has a sweet disposition and loves to run. Joe and I go out together sometimes and she has beaten Cochise (his horse) twice! Well, to be fair, she beat Cochise after Cochise had been working all day, but it was a thrill anyway. I gave Joe a great big hug when he brought her home for me. He reacted kind of funny. In fact he has been acting strange around me lately. I’m not sure what his problem is but I owe him for my lovely little mare. Maybe he was annoyed because Papa and Hoss insisted on examining Taffy before the deal was final. Sometimes they still treat him like a kid, but he really is a man—a lot of the males his age around here are married with children! I think the Cartwright men have something against marriage. No, that’s not really true, but they’ve had a lot of bad luck in that department.
I was happy to hear that Aunt Beatrice is doing well on her medicine. Give her a hug from me. What have you been up to all summer? Are you still attending those suffragette meetings?
It’s hard for me to believe that September will be here and I won’t be in class. Still, I have been busy myself. Several young men show up here each week to take me for buggy rides—all very proper you know. And there are barn dances and church socials in town. Females are at a premium here and most of the girls (I guess I should say women) my age are married. However, there are two or three girls I’m friendly with. One is the new minister’s wife. They are both easterners and she is from New York. I hope I have been somewhat helpful to her as she gets used to life here in Nevada. Her name is Ruth Lundstrum and her husband is Reverend Carl Lundstrum. We have had them to the house a few times for dinner. I have begun to supervise the menus and I’m not sure that Hop Sing, our cook , is pleased. But he’ll cook what I ask as long as I stay out of his kitchen!
Well, that’s all the news for now. I think I’ll change and go for a ride! My love to you and everybody.
September 10, 18—
I hardly know how to begin this letter or what to say. Louise Madden wired me about the death of Aunt Beatrice. I am so sorry. I wish I could be with you to give some real comfort. This must be such a difficult time for you. I thought the medicine was making her better. And how awful for you to have found her! I feel so helpless because I want to do something for you, but I can’t. She was such a dear woman and I know that the two of you were devoted to each other. I know I should write something like “please accept my deepest sympathy”, but those words don’t say what’s in my heart. I mourn with you. I’m sure you know me well enough to know the truth of that.
When I told Adam what had happened he rode right into Virginia City and wired his two college friends to make themselves available to you for whatever you might need. One is Dave Hammond, a banker, and the other is Jack Devine, a lawyer. Perhaps by now they have contacted you. PLEASE allow them to help you. I know you are independent and much too proud for your own good, but at a time like this please allow your friends to be of some small service. It won’t take away your loss or ease the pain in your heart, but it might make the tedious and depressing details that accompany death a bit easier for you. They are both fine men and can be trusted completely. And, selfish thing that I am, it makes me feel better to know that there is someone there with you.
Your aunt was the soul of kindness. There is not enough paper to recount all her goodness to me. I will treasure the memories of our times together at your house…a warm, comfortable oasis of love, especially when I first arrived. And I will also remember the fun and the laughter that we all shared. I do share your loss.
Now is the time to consider moving out here. Why not just quit your job and come live with me? I’m sure we could find something for you to do out here and there are many nice men who would be happy to keep company with you. I guess this is the worst time to suggest it, but I’ve never been as proper as you are. Please consider it!
I will write again soon. Please stay in touch and know that we all think of you, dear Meg.
God be with you.
With love, Carrie
Sept. 25, 18—
First allow me to express my sympathy on the death of your aunt. I only met her a few times, but she was a fine woman and I know she cared deeply about you and your happiness. I can only imagine how much you will miss her.
I was happy to hear from Jack and Dave that you have allowed them to assist you with some of the details that you must deal with at this time. They’re both good friends and you can trust them. They will also be discreet (i.e. they won’t tell anyone anything you don’t want them to know. This includes me.) I was happy to be of some small service to you at this sad time. Actually, it also brought some comfort to Carrie, who was distraught by the news of your aunt’s passing.
I know she wrote that you should come out and I agree. She also told me that you wrote her about your responsibility to the school and Miss Collier. I know you love Boston and you’re comfortable there with your job, your activities, and your friends. Remember that you have friends here as well who care about you. It’s a decision that only you can make. I can’t see the point in pressuring you, especially not now, with all that you must contend with. Just know that there is a warm welcome for you here whenever .
I haven’t written because of what we discussed that last day in Boston. It’s not because I didn’t want to or because I’ve forgotten about you, my Longfellow loving friend. Every letter that Carrie sends you brings wishes from me as well, whether she states that or not.
Speaking of Carrie, she has adjusted very well. She has many new and old friends and it’s difficult to get out of the door with all the male callers who hang around. I have a suspicion that something is going on very close to home, which I’m not at liberty to write about yet. I believe I know of one young man who has set his cap for her and will be moving heaven and earth to win her. If what I suspect is true, I think it would be a good match. Please don’t write of this to her. I’m not sure she’s aware of what is going on yet. Perhaps you will get an inkling of it in her letters to you. In the meantime, she loves her new horse and rides endlessly. My brother, Little Joe, made a special effort to find the right mount for her. His success surpassed his expectations.
Meg dear, I’ll close now. You are ever on my mind…never more so than at this tragic time for you.
As ever, Adam
I haven’t heard from you in quite a while. I didn’t want to bother you when I know that you must be busy with school and all. I was beginning to be worried about you. How are you doing? I imagine that schoolwork keeps your mind occupied quite a lot, but then you have to go home to an empty house. I think you should seriously consider taking in a boarder. It would be company for you.
Not much has changed around here. Of course it’s fall and the change of seasons is lovely. New England is more colorful, I think, but the aspens here turn a yellow that is beautiful to behold. They are rounding up the rest of the herds and getting ready to drive them to market. Papa says that soon drives will be a thing of the past as the cattle will be loaded on rail cars and moved to market that way. It may not be bad. Trail drives are long, boring, and dirty. Cattle are pretty stupid animals and must be watched constantly. Then there is danger from wolves and coyotes. So much for the “glamour” of the west!
I still have a number of male callers, but I think there is someone special who likes me a lot. This is someone I never could have imagined myself with, but as I think about it, may be the perfect person for me. If what I suspect is true, it will change the way I thought about many things in my life to this point. Papa says I am young and should meet as many suitable young men as possible before making any decisions. I am nineteen and girls marry a lot younger than that around here. Still, this person has not spoken yet and I may be mistaken. I will keep you informed!
I was disappointed that you didn’t come west after your aunt died. I thought it was the perfect solution to everything. Of course, I’m selfish and want you here where we can visit everyday! Hoss says I must let you decide what is right for you. I know he’s right, but maybe you will at least consider a visit.
Please write soon. Say hello to everyone at school for me.
December 8, 18—
Your last letter was so short! I worry about you. What are you doing besides working? You must take care of yourself. Sarah Williams wrote me that you look very thin. She said you seem sad all the time. If I don’t start getting some good reports soon, I’ll have to come back east and take care of you myself.
I have some news that might cheer you just a bit. I know that it makes me very happy. You remember that I wrote about one gentleman who I thought was particularly interested in me? Well I was right! Never in a million years could you guess who it is. It’s Joseph Cartwright! That’s right—my “brother” Joe who I used to play and fight with as a child. Meg, he loves me! And I love him. If you had told me this could happen six months ago, I would have called you crazy. But it did happen. I can’t tell you how indescribably happy I am.
I noticed that he treated me differently from the first moment I stepped off the train this summer. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I always had the feeling he was watching me. Now he tells me he was! He knew in his heart that he loved me right away. But he was so bowled over and confused by his feelings that he wasn’t quite sure what to do. After all, he had considered me his sister for all this time. His first move was to find Taffy for me. Then we’d often go out riding. He loved when I listened to his ideas and plans—I take him seriously and sometimes the others don’t because he’s the youngest. This wasn’t because his ideas aren’t good—it’s just a habit that the other three have (Papa less so than Hoss and Adam). So I listened to him and was impressed. He said it just about killed him to see me go for buggy rides or dances with the others who came around, but he wanted me to have that experience so when he finally decided to approach me I would be more sure of my own feelings.
Meg, I can’t put into words how I feel for Joe. We always got along well as children. We only began to fight just before I left for school. But all that has changed. I’m a little shy to write this, but he is my soul mate. I love him so much. He is so good and tender to me. Still he has his great sense of humor and, although this should not matter at all, he is the handsomest man in the world! You should see his green eyes!
We told Papa and he was not as thrilled as I thought he would be, because of my age. But he has agreed that we can become formally engaged at Christmas and we plan a June wedding. I will be almost 20 then and that is plenty old enough! Meg, you MUST come here for the wedding. I beg you to please do this for me. That special day will be complete only if you are here. Maybe Miss Collier will allow you a little time off so you can get here early and spend some time with us. I will write her about it immediately because I know that you’d never ask. Please, please, please consider this request!
I must go because there is so much to do. We are having a house built. Joe will supervise it and I will pay for part of the labor from some of my inheritance. He didn’t like that particularly, but we want a nice house and it would be difficult for him to build it himself in the winter so it will be ready for us in June. I told him that what was mine is his and vice versa, so he very ungraciously gave in when I promised he could pay me back. I think he is being ridiculous, but men can be so proud. He has money of his own but not as much as the others. Anyway, I can get around him when he’s angry, if you know what I mean! Papa says I’m spoiled, but I don’t think so, do you?
I can’t wait to hear from you. Write soon! And take care of yourself!
Love (and in love!), Carrie
January 13, 18—
Thank you for the letter with best wishes. I am so unbelievably happy that I cannot express it. Joe is so good to me. He gave me a lovely sapphire ring as an engagement and Christmas gift. He says that blue is my color, so that’s why he picked sapphire. It is so beautiful! Sometimes when he looks at me in a special way, my insides melt like ice cream. I won’t bore you with why I love him so. Just let me say I am the happiest woman on earth right now. The only thing that could make me happier is knowing you will be here to see me married. I’m glad you are seriously considering it. Miss Collier wrote me a lovely letter and said she would encourage you to come out. So you have no excuse not to come.
They have begun to get the materials together to begin construction on the house. I think they will actually start to build it in March. We have picked a spot on the ranch that is on a flat piece of land not far from one of our back roads. There are a number of trees for summer shade and little brook that runs all year long. Our house is closer to town than the main house, which is fine with me. They have already begun to put up the barn. Meanwhile, I have to think of things like linens, dishes, furniture, curtains, pots, pans, carpets, and on and on. You know I’m not fond of sewing, but I intend to at least make my own curtains and a few odds and ends for the house. I’m having my wedding dress made in San Francisco. Papa is taking me there next month. I’ve never been there so it should be exciting.
I hope the next letter from you brings good news about your decision to come here. I know it’s a long trip, but every week it gets a bit easier due to the railroad. My best to the Bonelli’s and everyone at school.
March 23, 18—
I behaved in a very undignified manner when I received your last letter. I ran around the house whooping and hollering “like an Indian” Joe said. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I can’t believe I’ll be seeing you here at the end of May. Miss Collier was so good to give you the necessary time off to leave school early. I’ve decided to create a scholarship at the school in appreciation for that!
Adam said that if you want, you should let Jack D. make your travel arrangements. It can be a bit complicated with switching lines and all. I think you should listen to this advice. He is so often right about these things. Also, if I send you a list, do you think you can bring a few items west for me? These are not for myself, but for my wonderful family. If it is too much trouble I will understand completely.
Work on the house has begun and is progressing nicely. Sometimes it’s hard to find laborers because spring is so busy around ranches. That’s why we started in March. Joe will not let me set foot in the house! He says the first time I’m inside the house will be when he carries me across the threshold. I’m only allowed to observe from the outside.
It’s a sweet concept but I’ll have to get someone in there to do some measuring for me!
The wedding itself will be simple. My gown is beautiful—much better than what I could have made myself. And San Francisco was wonderful. Joe and I are going there for our honeymoon—two whole weeks! You would like S.F. because you can see and smell the ocean. Anyway, back to the wedding. It will be a simple ceremony here at the main house and a reception here as well with all our neighbors and friends invited. I think you’ll find our country parties a bit different from what you would experience in the east. It will be fun to watch your reactions!
I must run. There is more to do than I imagined. Write soon.
April 30, 18—
I’m glad you let Jack make the travel arrangements for you. He wrote us that he had allowed several overnights in hotels so you can rest up and not be too worn out from your journey. It can be tiring, but it’s exciting also. You’ll be here in less than a month! I pinch myself so I know I’m not dreaming. We’ll have such fun together.
It never occurred to me to think about the expense of this trip. I am one of the lucky people who’s never had to worry about money. If I say I’m glad that your aunt left you a small insurance policy that helped make this possible, you won’t think me too terrible, will you? I know that you would rather have her alive than all the money in the world, but I’m glad she did that final kindness for you. I would have paid for your trip myself, if I thought I could convince you to accept the offer.
Thank you also for bringing those items I wrote to you about. I just wanted to give each of the men in my life a little something from me. I hope this will not be too much of a bother. I suppose this is my last letter to you until I see you. You will be leaving before more mail could reach you. Have a safe and wonderful trip. Don’t forget to wire us the day before you will definitely arrive. Sometimes there are unexpected delays. We will meet you in Virginia City the day after we receive your telegram. Bless you dear Meg and see you soon.
Meg examined the contents of her carpetbag one final time. Her trunk had been packed and locked yesterday. Mr. Devine himself had wrapped it with sturdy rope for the trip. He had arrived at her house with his beautiful wife to assure himself that all was in order for her journey. The Devines had been very kind to her in the past few months, even inviting her to dine with them a few times. As they drove home in their carriage Jane remarked to her husband, “She looks so sad, Jack. I hope the trip revives her spirits. And why do you think Adam was so insistent about you helping her? Do you think he’s interested in her or just being kind for Carrie’s sake?”
“I don’t know, love. Adam has always been pretty closed mouthed. It would be a great thing for her if he decided to pursue her.”
“Oh really! And what about him? She seems like a very sweet person. He could do much worse!”
“You’re right, of course. I didn’t mean to belittle her. If that’s the way things are headed I’ll say a prayer that it all works out. Meanwhile, I’ve done my part.”
“Do you think they could ever be as happy as we are, Jack?”
“Impossible,” he replied as he kissed her tenderly. “Now let’s get home to our son.”
Meg had been stunned to learn that her aunt had named her as the beneficiary of a small insurance policy. She had come upon the policy by accident as she went through Aunt Beatrice’s things. It was only $5,000, but to Meg it was a small fortune. It enabled her to pay off all her bills, update her modest wardrobe, and pay for her trip. There was money enough left over to invest and Dave Hammond had taken care of that for her. None of this mattered to her. After the initial shock of her aunt’s death, she had changed drastically. She was still cordial to her colleagues, friends, and students, but she was no longer the sunny personality she had been. She was conscientious about her work but Miss Collier, with whom she was a favorite, was distressed to note the sadness that emanated from every pore of her body. She was alarmed by the loss of weight that she noticed. Meg had never been plump, but her figure was well rounded and she had a hearty appetite. Now she was concerned about the unhealthy thinness, which she feared would lead to illness in this valued staff member. She had spoken to her several times and Meg had always listened politely and promised to eat more.
The truth was that everything tasted like ashes in her mouth. Angelina Bonelli was forever sending one of the children around with some tasty dish. Meg usually disposed of these quietly after the youngster had left. She didn’t like to accept dinner invitations because it meant having to force down food for which she had no appetite. She knew she should eat and had toast and coffee for breakfast and a small lunch at school. For dinner she often had only a cup or two of tea. The little food she ate was burned off by the marathon walks she took around the city. The minute she was home from school she would set out and walk until it was too late to be out alone safely. She walked miles on the beach and into Boston neighborhoods she had never visited before. As the days grew shorter, by necessity so did these walks. She was then forced to go back to the big empty house. She hated this part of the day the most. Yet she refused to “impose” upon the Bonelli’s or any of her other friends who would have welcomed her to their homes. She was independent and believed she should be able to cope by herself. So she grew thinner by the month and Miss Collier and her other acquaintances were in despair about how they might help her.
When Caroline wrote to Miss Collier about her impending marriage and requesting that Meg be given time off at the end of school to make the trip, the older woman took it as a sign from above. This might be just what was needed to break through the cloud of sadness that seemed to envelop the young woman. She could not go on as she was.
Miss Collier called her to the office and spoke frankly but kindly to Meg. She was thrilled when she was able to convince her to make the journey. She did everything in her power to assure Meg that, though she would be missed, they could go on without her for the final weeks of the school year. And she offered a prayer of thanks when Meg told her that friends of Mr. Cartwright would be helping her arrange all the details.
Now Meg examined the daily items she would need in her carpetbag.
She hoped she had not forgotten anything, but she could buy items along
the way if the need arose. Packed at the bottom of her trunk were
the gifts she had purchased for Carrie to give to the Cartwright men…all
except Joe’s present. That she would carry with her for the entire
trip. She also had two small crates of her own. In one was
a whimsical gift for Carrie and in the other a present for Mr. Cartwright
in appreciation for putting her up for a month. She tried to decide
if she was excited about the journey and she decided that she wasn’t, though
she would be glad to see Carrie again. Nothing seemed to evoke an
emotional response from her anymore…well nothing except the one letter
that Adam had written to her. She wasn’t even entirely sure what
she felt, but she had read and re-read it hundreds of times. All
she knew for sure was that she felt something when she read it…and something
was much better than the nothing in her heart the rest of the time.
Carrie’s letters were tied with a ribbon and packed in the trunk, but Adam’s
letter was in her purse. She sighed quietly. She hoped it would
be an uneventful trip.
Adam swung down wearily from his horse and led him to his stall in the barn. It had been a miserable day. Joe was gone for the entire morning while he went with Carrie to pick up Meg. Then he had to sack two men for drinking on the job. Adam didn’t care if the hands got drunk in town on Saturday night. The men worked hard and needed to let off some steam. But it was dangerous to have men drink in the logging fields. Everyone was told that at the outset and no exceptions were made. This left him two men short on an already understaffed crew. There was a contract deadline to be met and he wasn’t sure if they could meet it. Hell, yes, they’d meet it. They always did, but it would be close.
He carefully unsaddled Sport and brushed him down. He was very fond of his mount and, like everything else that was important to him, he took care of him. He checked him over for sores and examined his hooves. Then he led him out for a drink at the trough before settling him in his stall for the night with a ration of oats and plenty of hay. Adam was bone weary and he knew he stank from perspiration. A hot bath would be great, but it was 6 o’clock and dinner was scheduled for 7. Hop Sing would not appreciate being asked to heat that much water on short notice. He would grab some clean clothes and join his brothers down in the pond for a swim. He’d bring some soap. Then he’d get just enough hot water to shave in his room and that would have to do.
No one was in the living room when he walked in and he was relieved. He’d prefer for Meg to see him cleaned up. He went to his room and left the house down the back stairs and through the kitchen. The cool pond water revived him and he felt decidedly better as he shaved and dressed in his room. He had thought long and hard about this trip that Meg had made. She was a brave little soul to make such a long trip on her own, although he was sure Jack had planned things to be as easy as possible for her. Adam had wired him to plan the trip as if Jane were taking it . He hoped that she would not be making a return journey. He knew how he felt about her, but the question was, how would she feel about giving up her life in the east? She knew him well and was right when she told him this was where he belonged. He couldn’t force her to love this ranch as he did, but he hoped she might learn to love it as well. He had decided to go slowly for a number of reasons. First, he wasn’t positive if she returned his feelings, although he was reasonably sure she did. Second, she might love him but decide she hated life in the west. Third, if he spoke too soon and she rejected him it would be hell living under the same roof until she left. Finally, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to court her under the noses of the rest of the family. That privacy issue raised its head again. So he would wait and watch her reactions to the way they lived and the things that went on. This seemed the most prudent course of action given all the circumstances.
He had finished tucking in his shirt and had raised his collar to begin putting on his tie when there was a knock on his door.
Carrie opened the door and walked into the room, several hair ribbons in her hand.
“I’m surprised to see you here. I thought you would have attached yourself to Meg from the moment she arrived,” he remarked as he turned to look in the glass and tie the black string tie. Adam hated ties. These were better than the ones that were worn by men in the east, but any tie reminded him of a noose. He’d like to meet the idiot who’d thought of them and tie his tie for him…nice and tight! But they were dressing for dinner this first night of Meg’s visit so he’d bow to custom. When Carrie didn’t speak, he turned to look at her. She was beautifully dressed in a lavender gown, her hair was swept up and tied with a matching ribbon, but her face was troubled.
“What’s the matter? Why the long face?”
“What about her?” He turned back to the mirror and continued to work on the tie.
“I can’t put it into words, Adam. She’s not herself.” She threaded the ribbons through her fingers.
“Can you be more specific?”
“Well, for one thing, she’s lost a lot of weight. She’s thin as a rail. But that’s not it. It’s…it’s more like the expression on her face.”
“What about it?”
“That’s just it…there isn’t any expression. Whatever the spark was that made her Meg is missing.”
“Maybe she’s just tired. She just completed an exhausting trip.” He had finished with the tie and moved to his bedpost to pick up his jacket.
“I took that same trip less than a year ago and I wasn’t exhausted!”
“The reason you weren’t tired,” he said pointedly, “is because I was .” She made this trip alone, Carrie. It’s not easy.”
“Alright, maybe she could be tired from the trip. She slept for three hours this afternoon! But I think it’s something else. You’re the only other person here who knows her so I just wanted you to tell me what you think after you’ve seen her. Will you do that?”
He shrugged into the jacket, turned, and held her by the upper arms.
“Yes, I’ll do that. But remember she’s had a very nasty year, followed by this trip. She’s also by nature quieter than you are. If she’s not running around enthusing over everything, well, that’s just not her way.” He spoke comfortingly to Carrie but he was worried. What if something serious was wrong? Not much he could do now. He’d wait and see what was to be seen at dinner.
“Carrie!…Carrie, where are you?”
Adam froze. Whatever else was different about Meg, her voice was exactly as he had remembered it. He smiled down at the young woman in front of him.
“Sounds like you’re needed elsewhere. I’ll see the both of you at dinner and we can talk later, alright?”
“Thanks, Adam!” With that Carrie practically skipped out of his room, moving in the direction of Meg’s voice.
Carrie had chattered brightly on the way home from town, but she had been stunned by Meg’s appearance. Meg’s outfit was new and the latest fashion in travel suits, but she herself was thin and wan…a mere shadow of the woman Carrie remembered. When they arrived at the house Joe took the trunk and carpetbag to Meg’s room and she and Carrie unpacked. Carrie brought the gifts downstairs, to be opened after dinner and then led Meg to a bathing room near the kitchen.
“I know how I felt when I got back last year. Why don’t you have a nice bath and wash your hair. Then just go up the back stairs to your room and I’ll bring you a cup of tea. We can spend the afternoon together catching up! How does that sound?”
It sounded perfect to Meg who was exhausted from more than just her journey. As she slipped into the warm water, her muscles, which had seemed like they were in permanent knots for the past nine months, unwound a bit. She lay in the water with her eyes closed and felt herself begin to relax. She let her thoughts float away and just enjoyed the feel of the warmth surrounding her, cosseting her. She could have stayed in that bath forever, so peaceful were her mind and soul at that moment. But the water began to cool, so she scrubbed herself clean with the fragrant French milled soap Carrie had given her and washed her hair. Carrie had indicated a large bucket to the right of the tub.
“That’s rainwater. Rinse your hair with it and it will be soft and shiny. Use it all!”
She poured the bucket over her head and rinsed all the soap out. She wrapped herself in a large towel and then she removed a rubber stopper from the foot of the tub. The tub, much larger than the one she had at home, was on a little platform and a hole had been made in the bottom at one end. A pipe had been fitted to the hole, so that a bather need only remove the rubber stopper after bathing and the water drained away through the pipe and outside, thus saving a lot of work emptying the dirty water. Meg thought this was very clever. She dressed in her undergarments and her wrapper and went up the back stairs to her room.
The room was large, and as Carrie had written, masculine. But there were lacy curtains on the windows, a large double bed, an oriental carpet on the floor and a small round table with an oil lamp on it. A chair was near the table and a large wooden wardrobe was on one wall. There were several pictures on the wall and Meg wondered idly if Carrie’s mother had painted any of them. She decided to sit on the bed, comb through her wet hair, and wait for Carrie. She couldn’t go traipsing through the house as she was. Her eyes felt uncommonly heavy. Aside from losing her appetite, her sleep habits had changed drastically and she woke often in the night, too awake to go back to sleep. These nights she would read, sew, do school work, or even play the piano softly. But now she felt relaxed and sleepy. The tea would revive her, no doubt, but in the meantime she would lay down and rest a bit while she waited for Carrie.
Ten minutes later there was a knock at the door. Carrie stood outside with a cup of steaming tea and waited. When there was no answer she knocked again. Then she opened the door a crack and peeked inside. Meg was fast asleep on the bed, her long hair spread out behind her. Carrie entered the room and put the cup on the table. She called to Meg a few times and, getting no response, was about to shake her, when she hesitated. Then she walked to the foot of the bed and picked up the quilt which lay there. She covered her friend, carefully removed the comb from her relaxed fingers, drew the curtains, picked up the teacup, and withdrew from the room.
A short while before her meeting with Adam, Carrie went to awaken Meg.
“I must have dozed off. I’m sorry. Have I slept long?”
“You’ve been sound asleep for the past three hours, Meg. I almost didn’t want to wake you for dinner, but…”
“Three hours! My goodness! You should have made me get up. I must seem very rude to your father and the others,” Meg responded with alarm and embarrassment.
“Don’t worry. They were all out of the house and working. They’re just back now and getting ready for dinner. You were sleeping so peacefully I didn’t have the heart to wake you up. And you look better now, too. You have a little color in your cheeks. I came up to help you dress and do your hair. What will you wear?”
“I have a new black cashmere that’s nice.” Carrie threw a hissy fit.
“You will not wear black to dinner tonight. Surely you have something else. If not, I’ll lend you something.”
“Carrie, I’m still in mourning for my aunt,” Meg reminded her gently. Carrie would not be swayed.
“Oh fiddlesticks! Your aunt would hate for you to be wearing black for her like some old widow or spinster. I’m not saying you have to parade around in a scarlet gown, but for pity’s sake, Meg, you’re young and pretty! Wear something nice. Anyway, you look terrible in black. That’s more my color and you won’t catch me wearing it tonight.”
“How dressy do I have to be?” Meg asked, troubled. “I mean, do you dress formally for dinner every night?”
“For Heaven’s sake, no! Since tonight is your first night with us, we’re “dressing”. But even our dressing up is much less formal than what you’d find back east. Usually the men just clean up and eat in their work clothes, unless they’re really filthy. But we all wanted tonight to be special. We’re even having wine with dinner, and we certainly don’t do that every night. Now let’s see what we can find for you.” Carrie proceeded to comb through Meg’s wardrobe.
“Here! This is good. It’s dark, but pretty. Did you just have this made? I love the style!” Carrie had selected a wine colored plaid with gold threads running through it. The material was rich and the gold set off the gold flecks in Meg’s eyes. The sleeves ended at the elbows in a two-inch ruffle of lace. The neckline came down straight to about an inch below the collarbones and then dipped toward the cleavage in a modest “V”. The neck was also lined in a matching lace.
“Yes, I did have that one made. I loved the material so for once I treated myself. I wanted to have something especially nice for my trip here.” Meg looked lovingly at the dress.
“Let’s get you into it. Dinner is at 7. How will you do your hair?”
“I guess a bun in the back or perhaps my snood?”
“You’ll be the death of me! I’ll do your hair. We’ll pile it up and run ribbons all through it. It’ll look wonderful. Let me lace you up and I’ll get some ribbons from my room.” While lacing the corset, Carrie got a better idea of just how thin Meg had become. She vowed to herself that she would see Meg put some weight on if she had to feed her herself. In minutes she was trotting down the hall to fetch the ribbons and have a chat with Adam.
As the two young women descended the stairs, the four men rose from their seats. Ben Cartwright was in his accustomed place in the fine old red leather chair beside the fireplace. Joe and Hoss had found places on the settee and Adam was in a blue velvet high-backed chair facing his father. He turned to watch Carrie lead her friend into the living room and over to Ben. To his dismay, he saw that Carrie had been correct. Not only was Meg thin, but there were dark circles under her eyes. She looked beaten down and worn out, even though she was dressed more fashionably than he had ever seen her before. His educated guess was that the death of her aunt had affected her far more than anyone realized. Combine that with the pressures of her job and this long journey and it was no wonder she appeared frail. She had born all that alone and he now remonstrated himself for not going to Boston when he had learned of her sad news. Every excuse he had given himself at the time for not going now seemed lame. He had considered it, but thought it unwise to pressure her at a time when there was such a drastic change in her life. He wanted her to come to him freely and willingly…not because she was grateful to him, but because she loved him. Perhaps it was not too late. This opportunity for her to meet his family and experience their lifestyle would help her decide the answer to the question he would put to her before she left. Now he was more determined than ever to get her to stay. He knew something about having an independent nature, but he believed he could teach her that you didn’t give up your independence when you let those who loved you take care of you in the dark periods that are a part of everyone’s life. Whether she loved him or not, he could no more allow her to continue in this depressed state than he could watch a kitten drown and not try to save it.
“Meg, this is my guardian, Ben Cartwright. Papa, this is Meg Prescott, my dear friend and teacher.” Meg looked up into the kind face of Ben Cartwright. He was still a handsome man, obviously fit from ranch life, with tanned skin, beautiful white hair and piercing dark brown eyes. He smiled broadly at her and welcomed her to the Ponderosa. His voice was rich and deep and if she had to pick one word to describe him at that moment, it would have been courtly. She extended her hand to him in greeting.
“I don’t remember meeting you when I brought Carrie east to school, Miss Prescott.”
“Please call me Meg. I was a new teacher then, Mr. Cartwright. I do remember seeing you at one of the family gatherings, though. And I believe you arranged Carrie’s board with my aunt while I was in class, so we never formally met at that time.”
“You’re right! I do remember your aunt and I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say how sorry we were to learn of her passing,” he added as he pressed her hand warmly.
“Thank you,” was all she answered but she gave him a look that let him know she was grateful for the sentiment.
“And Meg, this is Hoss,” Carrie continued as she turned her friend around to meet him. Meg found herself looking into the kindest pair of blue eyes she had ever seen. The man was, as Carrie had written, big . He wore a beige jacket, white shirt, and string tie. Her hand felt lost inside his gentle grip.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Cartwright. Carrie’s told me a lot about all of you.”
“Well it’s a real pleasure to meet you at last, Miss Prescott. This little gal,” he nodded at Carrie, “she could hardly talk about anything else for the last month except that you were comin’. And you’d better just call me Hoss. There’s too many Mr. Carwrights around here. We don’t want no confusion.”
“Thank you, Hoss. And I’d like it if you’d call me Meg.”
“Well I’d be pleased to do that. We’re all tickled pink that you’re here.”
“And, of course you’ve already met Joe,” Carrie said as Meg again met the smiling gaze of Carrie’s fiance. This youngest Cartwright was incredibly handsome. His brown hair curled around his ears and his green eyes were full of the same vitality and fun that could be seen in Carrie’s. She had never seen such an expressive face. Whatever his mood of the moment (and she noticed his moods were as volatile as Carrie’s), it showed plainly on his face. His expressions could be comical, serious, or, whenever he looked at her former student, incredibly tender. It was no surprise that Carrie had fallen in love with him. His fun loving personality was readily apparent, though she thought he must also have a more serious side.
“I hope you finally got all settled, Meg. You can give Carrie here some lessons on traveling light. When she got back home last summer it took two trips to town to haul all her stuff back, and that wasn’t including the things Adam had to ship out,” he teased Carrie, while addressing Meg. Carrie poked him in the side.
“Don’t insult me in front of my guest, Joe, or I’ll keep her amused with some of your notorious exploits. Meg knows all my faults and she loves me in spite of them. Do you?” He took her in his arms and kissed her sweetly.
“You shouldn’t even have to ask that, darlin’. But I’ll answer the question later when we take our walk.” The two of them were suddenly oblivious to everyone else in the room, and Meg had the uncomfortable feeling of spying on a very private moment. The sound of a throat clearing behind her caused her to turn and almost bump into Adam’s chest. It was impossible, of course, but he seemed taller than he was in Boston. She looked up and he smiled at her saying, “Remember me?” She had forgotten how wonderful his voice was—not as deep as his father’s but every bit as rich as it seeped into her ears, her mind, her heart. She swallowed, suddenly quite shy, and she felt herself begin to blush as her pulse increased.
“Of course I do,” she answered a bit too brightly. “It’s nice seeing you again, Adam.”
He didn’t respond for a moment but searched her face. The blush had brought a more becoming color to her cheeks, but her smiles never reached her eyes, which had lost their twinkle. What he wouldn’t give to see that sparkle again and the dimple in her too thin cheek!
Hoss interrupted any further exchange with a remark to Joe and Carrie.
“Hey you two, there’s time enough for your kanoodlin’ later. I’m hungry and Hop Sing’ll be madder than a hornet if we don’t sit down and eat!”
Although she had never heard the term “kanoodle” before, its meaning was apparent. Joe and Carrie broke apart and Mr. Cartwright offered Meg his arm as they walked into the dining room. He sat at the head of the table and placed her to his right. Carrie was on his left with Joe next to her and Hoss sat next to Meg. This left Adam at the foot of the table. A brief, but sincere grace was said, including thanks for Meg’s safe arrival and then Hop Sing, the cook, entered with the food. While Ben Cartwright poured wine for everyone, Hop Sing offered the platter of roast beef to Meg. She calculated that the amount of meat on the platter would have easily fed her and her aunt for a couple of weeks. She still had no appetite to speak of and she searched desperately for the smallest piece of meat she could find. After she had helped herself, the platter was given to Carrie and then passed along to the men. The meat disappeared onto the plates at an amazing rate. There was also a bowl filled with a mountain of mashed potatoes, a steaming gravy boat, glazed carrots, and a dish green beans. A basket held fluffy biscuits and there were several varieties of pickles in small dishes. She reminded herself that these men worked out of doors all day at hard physical labor. They needed to eat like this.
Never having had much contact with men, she found herself in an alien, but not unpleasant world. There was a palpable sense of security, which emanated from the house itself. The huge beams, the vastness of the rooms, and the sturdy furniture, not to mention the collection of rifles and shotguns in the wall, bespoke security, permanence, and safety. Having lost this feeling of peace when she was in her own home, the ranch house was a welcomed haven. Always a keen observer of people, Meg thought it would be interesting to see what life was like in this all-male household, of which Carrie was now to become a permanent part.
The wine helped her relax and afforded her something of an appetite so she could eat enough and not offend her host. The food was delicious.
“Mr. Cartwright, these carrots are so good. There’s something different in them, but I can’t place it. Would your cook share his secret?” Ben beamed at her and called out for Hop Sing. The Chinese cook scurried in and Ben said, “Well, Hop Sing, it seems Miss Prescott is especially fond of the carrots. Do you put something special in them?”
“Missa Cartwright, I always put some ginger in. Taste good and good for stomach! Have to worry about stomach of Missa Hoss…he eat so much!” This brought a round of good-natured laughter from the table, including Hoss himself.
“You don’t have to worry about the condition of my stomach, Hop Sing, unless it’s empty!” Meg couldn’t help but notice that the man next to her had put away an amazing amount of food. “Anyway, dinner was good, but what’s for dessert?”
“Missa Hoss, I make one of your favorites…apple pie. I take these plates and serve it now. You just wait.” And while he spoke, Hop Sing cleared the table.
“Meg, did you meet any interesting people on your trip?” Carrie wanted to know. All eyes were on her as she thought about her answer.
“Well, between New York and St. Joe I met a young woman about my age who was traveling with two small children. Her little girl was about five years old and the little boy was about two. The woman’s husband worked for the railroad and she was traveling out to meet him. They were going to file on some land in one of the Dakotas, I believe. Anyway, it was difficult for her to travel with these two children. The little girl didn’t behave and ran up and down the cars, disturbing the other passengers. Her mother was embarrassed, but there wasn’t much she could do, because the little boy kept her very busy. I offered to help her with the girl and she seemed grateful. I told her to buy a slate at one of the stops. By the end of the three days we were together on the train, the child had learned the alphabet and her numbers. I’m sure she could have recited the first page of the primer too. She was a smart little thing and had been bored. All she needed was to be engaged in some activity and she was fine. The mother thanked me as we went our separate ways.” Here Meg paused and Hoss remarked, “Well that was right clever of you to think of how to manage that child.”
“Not at all, Hoss. You see I knew exactly what I was doing. After all, I had already had considerable experience in taming another wild little girl.” She stopped talking and popped another piece of carrot into her mouth. There was a burst of masculine laughter around the table as everyone looked at Carrie. Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped.
“Meg! How can you say such a thing! I was never wild,” she answered in protest as the pie and coffee was served.
“Does your family know that you tried to run away twice that first year?”
“Not until now,” Ben broke in. “I never suspected that you were that unhappy, Caroline. You never let on in your letters.”
“Well, it took a while for me to adjust. But, don’t worry, Papa. It was the best thing to happen to me. Looking back, I can say that now for certain.” Joe pretended to look offended.
“Hey, I thought I was the best thing to ever happen to you”
“Oh, silly, I meant up to that point in my life it was the best thing to happen. Nothing can ever, now or in the future, compare to having you in my life.” She turned and looked at him with complete love and devotion and once again they seemed to be in their own special place. Meg observed this with joy and a touch of envy. It must be a beautiful thing to have someone care that way for you. She thought at some time Adam might, but now she was not so sure. He had been polite, but rather quiet. Well, what did she expect? She had only arrived and they hadn’t had any time together. She mustn’t hope too much or she could be disappointed…more than disappointed. While these thoughts raced through her mind, her face began to wear that sad expression again and she sighed.
Adam had been watching her closely throughout the meal. She had avoided looking at him directly and he wasn’t sure what to make of that. She had pulled her coffee cup closer to her and she now appeared to be daydreaming as she watched Joe and Carrie. Silently he slid the sugar bowl past his brother Hoss who was busily stuffing himself with pie and relating a story about some stock to their father. Meg, distracted from her musings by the movement, stared down at the bowl which was now directly in front of her. She gazed at it for a moment and then slid her eyes to the right and up to meet Adam’s. He gave her a slow wink. And then it happened. She smiled her first real smile at him, while they silently shared their private little joke. The smile lit up her face and her eyes twinkled. She bit her bottom lip so she wouldn’t laugh out loud. And he was delighted to note that the dimple was still there. She placed two heaping spoons of sugar in her cup and stirred, the smile still playing around her lips. He felt like leaping across his brother Hoss and grabbing her. Since he couldn’t do that he amused himself by thinking about how he would pursue and win her, because win her he would. It might take a bit of time. She obviously needed to heal from the trauma of the past year, but Adam could be a patient man when he needed to be. He had waited this long…a little longer wouldn’t matter. Then she would be his for the rest of his life.
Carrie broke the spell by demanding that they go into the living room because she had presents for everyone. Ben courteously held Meg’s chair and they took their coffee cups with them into the other room. A fire was burning in the massive fireplace and Meg noted that the temperature outside had dropped quite a bit from the afternoon. The warmth in the room came not only from the crackling logs, but also from the people gathered around the flames. These were people who had a true affection for each other. They knew each other well, tolerated each other’s idiosyncrasies, supported each other and were, in general, completely comfortable with each other. That atmosphere soothed Meg’s wounded spirit like a comforting balm.
Carrie presented Ben with a pair of finely made pipes and a pouch of expensive tobacco. He enjoyed an occasional smoke after dinner and these pipes were better than anything he could find locally. For Hoss she had a new pair of boots made of buttery soft leather. They were a perfect fit and there was a lot of speculation about how she managed to get him the correct size. She had them all chuckling when she said she sneaked into his room and traced his feet while he was asleep!
“You know how soundly Hoss sleeps,” she said. “Well, he was snoring away…you can thank me,Meg…I put you as far away from his room as I could or else you’d never get any sleep…and I just uncovered his feet, held up the paper, and traced. He never even wiggled a little bit! I sent it to Meg and she took care of the rest.” A book of poems by Tennyson was her gift to Adam.
“I wasn’t sure what kind of book to buy you, so I let Meg choose. Do you have this one?” she asked anxiously. She wanted each present to be as perfect as possible.
“No, I don’t, Carrie. Thank you. But you took a real chance in letting Meg make the selection. She might have brought me the complete works of Longfellow.”
“Would that have been bad?” she asked.
They spoke simultaneously and then began to laugh.
“I thought Tennyson was a nice compromise between Longfellow and Whitman. I hope you approve,” Meg said to him.
“I approve completely.” He gave her that direct stare of his and she felt the familiar butterfly sensation inside. Had she known what he was thinking at that particular moment, she would have blushed, but she was fortunately distracted by Carrie who was urging Joe to open his small package. Meg had searched long and hard for this particular gift. Money had not been an object and Carrie had dictated the inscription.
Inside the small gift box was a solid gold pocket watch. Etched into the gold was a scene from a typical New Orleans street. The inscription was in script on the inside of the watch cover…Joe, You Are Forever in My Heart, Love, Carrie. Joe was too moved for words for a moment. The New Orleans scene was a reminder of his mother’s birthplace and her heritage. The inscription was a sentiment that they had often expressed to each other in the last few months.
“Carrie, I don’t know what to say. It’s beautiful,” he remarked quietly. She could tell that her gift had had the intended effect.
“Joe, I know you won’t probably wear it much around here, but I wanted you to have something extra special. Just knowing you own it and like it is enough for me. And anyway, we can take it on our honeymoon. You can use it whenever you have to get dressed up.” She went to him and put her arms around his waist, laying her head on his chest. Then she tilted her head up and he gave her a kiss. Meg was somewhat surprised at this public display. There was nothing wrong, of course, since they were engaged, but she knew that this would be very uncommon back east. Then she remembered what Adam had said about things being different here and she supposed that this was one of them…a freedom to express yourself more openly than she had experienced before. And the way they looked at each other! Somewhere, from the recesses of her mind, a word emerged.
Hoss began to guffaw loudly.
“Where’d a little city gal like you learn that word?” he asked her, still laughing.
“What word?” she asked him, unaware she had spoken out loud.
“Poleaxed…you were looking at Carrie and Joe and you said it…you know, the way they look at each other…poleaxed.”
She blushed with confusion. Then she caught a glimpse of Adam from the corner of her eye. He was smiling and said to her, “Are you going to tell him or should I?” The others were watching her expectantly. She smiled ruefully and explained.
“I have some friends in Boston…the Bonellis. They’re a large Italian family and their oldest child is a fifteen–year-old boy, Anthony. Your brother Adam met the entire family and told me he thought that young Anthony was…umm…had a…umm…felt…,” she stammered.
“I said that he was in love with you,” Adam supplied. Then he addressed Hoss. “The kid was mooning over Meg and I mentioned to her that he looked poleaxed. She didn’t know what the word meant so I explained it to her.” Then he turned back to Meg. “And just how is young Mr. Bonelli these days?”
“He’s fine. His…attentions… have tuned elsewhere,” she answered shortly.
Adam smiled an incredibly self-satisfied smile.
“So I was right about that too,” he murmured
Joe made a face. “Oh great! Just what we need. Older brother is right about something else. He’ll have to buy a larger hat soon, his head is getting so big.”
The joking remark gave Meg a little more insight into the dynamics of this interesting family and into Adam’s personality. He was smart and he liked being right. And he was sometimes smug, which obviously annoyed his little brother.
“Carrie, would you like to see what I’ve brought for you?” she inquired, wanting to change the subject and forestall any remarks from Carrie.
“You brought me something? Of course I want to see it. Where is it?” she answered excitedly. Meg pointed to a crate that was about four feet high and about a foot square.
“Joe, go get some tools and open this. Hurry!” Carrie ordered. Joe was back in a short time and quickly opened the packing crate. Then, on Meg’s instruction, he dumped the crate upside down to let the contents slide out. When Carrie saw what it was, she squealed with delight.
“A hammock. How wonderful! I love it!” She pranced around while Hoss and Joe unrolled it and then held up the ends.
“Oh, this is different from the one in your backyard, Meg.”
“Yes, this one has those spacer bars between the ropes so it’s easier to get in to. I know you enjoyed ours, so I thought you might like one for your new home,” replied Meg, happy that this gift had been a success.
Ben remarked, “I spent many a night in one of these when I was sailing. It brings back memories.”
“My father was a ship’s captain and he hung a hammock in our yard for my brother and me. When I was a little girl I spent a good deal of the summer in it, waiting for my father to return from his current voyage, reading, and dreaming little girl dreams. On very hot nights my brother Jesse used to sleep outside in it. And Carrie seemed to like it. She spent a lot of time in ours, especially that first summer, when she hadn’t yet made many friends.”
“Carrie, you better not be selfish now. You’re gonna let all of us use this ain’t ya?” Hoss asked her.
“Of course I will. You needn’t even ask. But I want to put it up at our house, Joe. I’m sure there must be a good spot. We have quite a few trees surrounding the house. And you’ll need to get hooks to hang it,” Carrie directed in a delightfully bossy manner.
“Alright, sweetie. I think the hooks are right here on the floor,” he answered her, bending over to pick them up. “I’ll hang it tomorrow. You’re going to bring Meg around to see the house then, aren’t you?”
“Yes. Tomorrow’s Saturday and everyone only works till lunch, Meg, unless we’re exceptionally busy. So Joe will be working on the house in the afternoon and we’ll drive over then. Alright?”
“Whatever you want, Carrie. I’m looking forward to seeing your new home.” Meg walked over to the round table near the foot of the stairs and placed her hand on a wooden crate placed there.
“Mr. Cartwright, I brought this for you to thank you for having me as a houseguest this month,” she addressed him.
“My dear, you didn’t have to do that. We’re delighted that you decided to come. You’ve actually done us a favor. Carrie was becoming impossible to live with. All she did was talk about you!” he said with a twinkle in his dark eyes.
“Oh, Papa! You know that’s not true,” she protested, laughing. “Now open your present. I’m dying of curiosity.”
Meg had packed this gift herself and watched over it every moment of the trip. When they arrived at the house she had Joe bring it to her room so she could uncrate it and check for any damages. She was greatly relieved to see it had made the trip in perfect condition. Ben opened the crate, removed a lot of packing material, and lifted out a bottle about 18 inches long and 10 inches in diameter. Inside the bottle was a model of a clipper ship in full sail. There was an incredible amount of detail to be seen, including small coils of rope on the deck, tiny water barrels, minute ship implements, and thin string rigging. The material for the sails had apparently been starched so the effect was that the ship was moving along at a brisk rate. It was beautiful. The eldest Mr. Cartwright was momentarily speechless. It was his second son who spoke first.
“Well, dadburn it, if that ain’t the cleverest thing I ever seen. How’d they get that ship inside there?” Ben finally found his voice.
“Meg, this is beautiful! I used to be first mate on a ship very similar to this, many years ago. Did you know that?”
“Yes, Mr. Cartwright. I’d heard about that from both Carrie and Adam. That’s why I thought this might please you. There’s a home for retired seamen in Boston…you know…for seamen who have no families. Anyway, the men make some money by crafting these ships and other items. They also do a lot of work with whalebone and ivory. I sometimes volunteer down there in the kitchen and this caught my eye. I’m so happy you like it.” She fished around in the crate and pulled out a wooden stand.
“Here’s the stand for it so you can place it on any flat surface. And to answer your question, Hoss, I believe they actually build the ship in the bottle with special tools. It’s quite an art I think.”
While the others were examining and admiring the ship, Adam moved over next to Meg and said quietly, “Well, you’ve won over my father. Those sailing days of his youth were some of his happiest. And I’m sure it must bring back a memory or two of my mother and grandfather.” Meg looked up, startled.
“It wasn’t my intention to “win over” anybody,” she answered him. He smiled down at her.
“I know. But you’ve done it just the same.” Before she had time to challenge him about that cryptic remark, Joe turned to Carrie and said, “Darlin’, isn’t it about time for our walk?”
“Uh huh. Meg, do you want to come with us? We take a walk every night about this time.”
Meg was about to answer in the affirmative when she from the corner of her eye she caught Adam almost imperceptibly shaking his head.
“Thanks, Carrie, but I don’t think so. If it’s alright with you I’ll just stay here.”
“Okay. We’ll be back in a while.” While Carrie was putting on her shawl, Ben said to Meg, “If you don’t mind, my dear, I have some paper work to do. And Joseph,” he said sternly, “remember… half an hour!” He then moved to his desk in an alcove off the main room. In a moment the young pair was out the door.
“Now you’ve won over my little brother. You’re on your way to conquering this entire family,” Adam said to Meg.
“What are you talking about?” she asked him, puzzled.
Hoss enlightened her. “After those two got engaged you couldn’t hardly turn a corner around here without findin’ them in a clinch.”
“Embrace,” Adam translated.
“Oh,” Meg nodded and smiled.
“So Pa told ‘em they could have a half hour walk alone together every night if they’d try and keep their hands off each other in our presence. If you’d gone out tonight, I doubt that Joe woulda appreciated it very much. That’s what Adam means.”
“But I saw them…uh…embrace at least twice tonight!”
“Oh that wasn’t hardly nothing…just a quick little kiss. No, they used to…um…um,” he stammered and began to blush. “Well, it was downright embarrassin’ sometimes. That’s all I got to say. Now they have some privacy.”
“For their kanoodling?” she asked him teasingly. And the big man just threw back his head and laughed out loud.
“And now she’s conquered my other brother,” Adam thought to himself with a smile. He was pleased his family liked her and she seemed to like them as well.
“Meg, do you know how to play checkers?” Hoss asked her as they sat down on the settee. Adam threw a couple of logs on the fire, seated himself in the leather chair and was thumbing through the Tennyson poems.
“Yes, I know how to play,” she smiled at him.
“Well how about a game right now? The board’s all set up and I can just bring it over here to the table.”
“That would be fun. I’m not a very good player, but I’ll do my best.” While Hoss was getting the game Adam said to him, “Don’t let her win, Hoss. She’ll be insulted if you don’t play your best. At least that’s what she told me when I taught her to play chess.”
Meg gave him a look that caused him to chuckle. Hoss placed the board on the table and pulled the blue chair over. Meg slid to the corner of the settee and they began to play. The fire crackled cheerfully and the room was warm and quiet. Hoss beat her easily the first game and seemed almost apologetic about it. He reset the board and she played better this second time. He took some time to consider his next move and she placed her elbow on the arm of the settee and rested her head in her hand while she waited. She felt so completely at ease and peaceful. She was full of good food and wine. Her eyes grew heavy and she fought a losing battle to keep them open.
“Dadgum it, Adam, can’t you see I’m concentratin’?” Checkers were serious business to Hoss.
“Hoss, you’re taking too long. You’re losing your opponent,” his brother replied.
“What in tarnation are you…” Hoss looked up to see Meg asleep with her head still resting on her palm. “Poor little thing. She’s just plum tuckered out, Adam. Think I should carry her upstairs?”
“No, no, no, no,no. Just wake her up gently. Don’t startle her.”
So Hoss crouched down in front of Meg and shook her arm. She opened her eyes slowly and asked, “Is it my move?”
“The only move you should be makin’ little lady is up to bed. You just fell asleep on me!” She was clearly embarrassed.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s the matter with me. You must think I’m terribly rude.”
Adam walked over to her and, taking her by her upper arms, pulled her into a standing position.
“The only thing we think is that you’re terribly tired. Look, why don’t you go on up to bed. You look exhausted.”
“But the game,” she protested. “I can just finish this one game.”
“You go to bed. I’ll finish the game, which will please Hoss. He’s a better checkers player than I am and he’ll probably win. Go on now. No arguments.” He walked her to the foot of the stairs.
She stifled a yawn and then agreed. She bade everyone goodnight and
asked Adam to make sure Carrie got her up early in the morning. Then
she climbed the stairs and found her room. She undressed quickly
and crawled into the comfortable bed. She was sound asleep almost
before her head touched the pillow.
Carrie breezed through the door and immediately asked, “Where’s Meg?”
“She went to bed, Carrie, doll. She was so dang tired she fell asleep in the middle of a checkers game,” Hoss answered her.
“Bed! For pity’s sake, she slept for three hours this afternoon.” She walked over and sat down by Adam.
“Something’s wrong isn’t it? She’s not herself. She always had so much energy.”
“I think something’s bothering her, but I’m not sure what. Why don’t you try and find out?” Adam asked.
“I’m no good at that sort of thing, Adam. I’ll just say, “What’s wrong” and she’ll say “Nothing”, because she thinks she’s so strong and independent. Can’t you try and find out?” He looked at her and sighed.
“Alright, I’ll try. But I think you should just treat her as normally as possible. Don’t bother her with questions. Just let her talk about whatever she wants to talk about. Maybe she’ll just say something on her own accord.”
“Thanks, Adam! I’ll do that.” Carrie smiled broadly.
“Where’s Joe?” Ben asked her, though he was pretty sure he knew why his youngest son hadn’t come in with Carrie.
“He said he wanted to check on Cochise,” she replied.
Ben doubted that Joe was anywhere near the horse. He was probably walking around in the cool night air trying to calm down after and exciting “walk” with his fiancee. These two were young and hot blooded and very much in love. It was a constant source of worry to Ben that they might jump the gun. He had caught them more than once in an inappropriate situation. He had had several discussions with Joe, but it was too difficult for him to speak to Carrie. His relationship with her had changed since she returned from Boston. In many ways she was a mature young woman, but she was still impetuous, bossy, and somewhat spoiled. He would breathe a sigh of relief when they were well and truly married.
“Well, I’m going up. Don’t stay up too late. It may only be a half day of work tomorrow, but I want to get an early start.” They all said goodnight and Ben climbed the stairs to his room.
Meg sat on the porch that ran in front of the house, shelling peas. She was wearing a new pink housedress, sprigged with little green leaves. Having awakened embarrassingly late, she had simply bundled her hair into a dark snood and affixed a pink bow to the top of her head. It was a lovely morning. The air was cool and dry and smelled of spring and horses. The sky was a vivid blue and puffy clouds whisked along high above. She was just about to take a break and walk to the side of the house for a better look at the mountains, when she heard hoof beats. She assumed it was Carrie returning from her morning ride. To her surprise Adam rode into the yard on a beautiful red horse with a white blaze and white stockings. He walked the animal to the hitching post situated to the left of the house, swung easily out of the saddle, and looped the reins loosely around the crossbar. As he walked toward her, he removed his hat and slapped it a few times against his thigh to remove the dust. She felt as if she was seeing him for the very first time.
This man appeared very different from the Adam Cartwright she had known in Boston or even the nicely dressed gentleman at dinner last night. He was wearing black pants and a black shirt with the sleeves rolled up to expose his forearms. His top collar buttons were opened, revealing a mat of dark, curly hair. He walked with an easy, rolling gate. But most differently of all, he wore a heavy black leather gun belt low on his waist and strapped to his right leg. She surmised these were his working clothes and she wondered over the necessity of the gun. What she saw confirmed what she had felt all along. This man belonged here, not in the city. It was apparent in every molecule of his being, from the way he sat his horse to the way he dressed and walked. He might occasionally long for that which the city had to offer, but, as she had told him on the beach, his soul was on this ranch.
“Well here’s a sight we don’t see often enough around here,” he greeted her as he walked over to the porch and sat at her feet.
“A beautiful woman sitting on the porch and….what are you doing?” he frowned.
“Shelling peas for dinner. Doesn’t Carrie sit on the porch?”
“As you may have noticed, Carrie doesn’t sit still very long anywhere. She’s too busy running around giving orders. Why, may I ask, are you shelling peas?”
“I asked Hop Sing if I could and he let me.”
“Well, he shouldn’t have. You’re a guest. You shouldn’t be doing his chores.” He seemed angry.
“Adam, please don’t be mad at him. I kind of tricked him into letting me do it.” He regarded her doubtfully and she continued, “No, really…I did.”
“I’m listening,” was his response. She sighed and hoped he wouldn’t be difficult about this.
“Well, you see, Carrie didn’t get me up this morning like I wanted her to. You did give her the message, didn’t you?”
“No, I forgot.”
“Well, that explains it, I suppose. She let me sleep late. What time did I go up last night?”
“I can’t believe it! I slept for 12 hours. I don’t think I’ve slept that long since I was an infant! She should have made me get out of bed.”
The image of Meg in bed was doing wicked things to Adam’s libido, but he cleared his throat and said, “If you slept that long, you probably needed the sleep.” He had noticed that the dark circles under her eyes were less pronounced this morning. In fact, she looked much less haunted than she had yesterday.
“Maybe, but I can’t go on being lazy like that. It’s not like me at all. I’ll have to have a talk with her.”
“What’s all this got to do with shelling peas?” he pursued.
“Well, I came downstairs at about 10 this morning and no one was around. I went into the kitchen and Hop Sing was working. I saw the peas and asked if I could help him. He turned me down flat and said that Carrie had gone off on her morning ride and was stopping at a neighbor’s house briefly. She had instructed him to make me breakfast and see that I ate it, if she wasn’t back. I told him I didn’t want anything. Anyway it was almost lunchtime and if I ate, it would spoil my appetite. Then he started speaking very fast in Chinese. I think he was angry or worried or something. So I told him that if I could shell the peas I’d eat some toast and have some coffee. Then he could tell Carrie I’d eaten, but it wouldn’t be so much as to fill me up so I couldn’t eat lunch. I thought it was a clever solution and he was satisfied with that. That’s why I’m shelling peas. I was just looking for something to do while I waited for Carrie. I would have been bored otherwise.” And she gave him a happy little smile.
He scratched his eyebrow and said, “Well, Hop Sing is off the hook, but what about you? Did you keep your end of the bargain?”
“I’ll have you know that I never break my word.” And she pointed to the empty dish on the table beside her. In fact, the Chinese cook had toasted two thick slices of bread and smeared them with fresh butter. He placed them on a tray with a dish of strawberry preserves, the coffeepot, a cup, cream and sugar. Then he settled her on a small rocking chair next to the table and left her to finish his other work. She thought she had no appetite, but the food was attractively served and she finished all the toast and two cups of coffee before she knew it. She had commenced shelling the peas just before Adam rode in.
“Is there any coffee left?” he asked.
“Plenty. Wait…I’ll go in and get you a cup.”
“Stay put. I’ll use yours if you’re done with it.”
“I’m done but there may be a little sugar in the bottom,” she warned him with a smile.
He reached for the cup and the coffeepot. He poured a little of the liquid into the cup, swirled it a bit, then tossed it into the dirt. Then he filled it and took a sip. She watched him the entire time. There was something …something intimate about sharing the same cup. His large hand almost engulfed the china. She felt the familiar butterfly sensation again, so she asked, “Is it alright?
“It’s fine.” He took a few more sips, sitting quietly while she rocked gently and continued her task. Then he turned, looked at her, and said, “Tell me about your aunt’s death.”
She was startled. Whatever she had expected him to say, it wasn’t that. He saw the look on her face and added, “I’m sorry. I meant to say tell me about it if you can. Is it too painful to talk about?”
She hesitated a minute.
“No, I can talk about it. What did you want to know?”
“Everything. Start at the beginning. I know from your letters to Carrie that she had some sort of heart condition and was taking medicine. I know she died in her sleep and you found her. Start there.”
She hesitated again, but his eyes were kind and expectant, so she began.
“Aunt Beatrice and I had a little ritual. Carrie knew about it. You see, I’m a very early riser.” Here Adam cleared his throat and smiled.
“Well I am! Today was very unlike me and it won’t happen again, you can be sure. Anyway, on Saturdays she let me sleep later and brought me a cup of coffee in bed. It was the Saturday before school was due to start and I woke up surprised that she hadn’t been in to wake me and bring me my coffee. I went downstairs and checked the kitchen, but she wasn’t around. The doors were still locked and the curtains drawn.” She paused here and sighed. “I think I knew then that something was terribly wrong so I went to her room and she appeared to still be asleep. I tried to wake her up but…” Meg’s voice grew low and she stared off as if watching the events of that morning in her mind.
“I was frantic. I ran out the front door and Mr. Farley, the constable was down the street. He came with me, saw her, and told me he thought she had died, but to be sure he sent for the doctor. Everything from that point on is like a blur. I know the house was full of people—Angelina Bonelli was there in an instant. Decisions were made and everyone was very kind. They sent for the undertaker. I asked them to let me have a moment with her alone and they did. She looked so peaceful, Adam…just like she was sleeping. Dr. Banks told me that her heart had just stopped and she went without any suffering. I was grateful for that, at least. I couldn’t even cry then. The doctor told me I was suffering from shock. She was laid out in the parlor and I can’t tell you how many people came to pay their respects. She had so many friends. It shouldn't have surprised me because she was such a good person.”
Adam thought that many of the people who came did so out of affection and concern for Meg, but he didn’t want to interrupt her, so he remained silent.
“As I said, there were people in the house all the time. She was buried the day school began. Miss Collier insisted that I take some time off, so I did take a few days. There was a lot to attend to.” Here she turned her gaze to Adam and said, “I can never properly thank you for asking your friends Mr. Hammond and Mr. Devine to assist me. They were wonderful! They were patient and explained things to me and took much of the burden of those days from my shoulders. Later they both had me to dinner at their homes and their wives were incredibly kind to me. I can’t say how much I appreciated their help and your thoughtfulness in sending them.”
Adam simply nodded. She was speaking freely and he didn’t want her to get side tracked. She looked off into the distance again and continued.
“I returned to school and tried to resume my regular routine.” Adam noticed a subtle change in her now. She seemed slightly agitated, placing the bowl of peas on the table and pleating and unpleating the material of her dress in her lap as she spoke.
“After school, I couldn’t bring myself to go home. I would stay later and later. Then, when I absolutely had to leave, I’d walk on the beach or around the city. I didn’t have any particular destination in mind. I just…I just couldn’t go back to that big empty house. When I finally would go back, I’d light a fire and sleep on the sofa in the parlor.”
She paused and looked at him again with troubled eyes.
“It’s so ironic. Every once in a while I have to get away by myself…to be alone with my thoughts. It was a difficult thing to do because of the demands made on me by me job and my other responsibilities. But I would find a way to be alone periodically. Mostly I’d go to the beach. It was something I needed. Now I’m alone all the time and I hate it. It terrifies me.” At this point two large tears rolled down her cheeks. They were followed by others—large pear-shaped drops that flowed over her lower lids and coursed down her face. She didn’t sob. She just sat there slowly rocking, more tears spilling onto her cheeks, and her hands working in her lap. Adam wanted more than anything to take her in his arms, to comfort and reassure her, but he thought she was very close to the source of her pain and decided the allow her to finish speaking, uninterrupted. She looked off into the distance again
“I never thought I’d hate my house. It’s always been a haven for me, but now I can’t stand to be inside it, especially at night. When I finally do go to sleep, I have nightmares. I can never remember what they’re about, but I’ll sleep for a few hours and then wake up suddenly. My heart is racing and a feeling of terror possesses me. Sometimes I can go back to sleep…sometimes I can’t, so I light the lamps and try to keep busy until the sun comes up. Last night was the first uninterrupted sleep I’ve had in months.” She stopped and looked at him, smiling a wobbly little smile. She took a handkerchief from her pocket and mopped her tears.
“I shouldn’t be telling you all this, Adam,” she said, apologetically. “It’s embarrassing. I think it shows what a weak-willed person I really am. Everyone has to deal with death. I should be stronger. Actually, I’m very lucky. I have a lot of friends, a good job, and now some financial independence. I just can’t understand what’s gotten into me.”
“You need someone to take care of you,” he stated flatly. She bristled at the suggestion.
“That’s not so! I’ve been taking care of myself for years…my aunt too!”
Adam smiled, noting that her feistiness hadn’t completely disappeared.
“Listen, Meg, everyone needs someone to take care of them now and then. It’s a fine thing to be independent, to believe in yourself and know that you can take care of yourself. But letting others share your burden once in awhile doesn’t make you weak. It allows you to recover and be even stronger ultimately. It’s the same as if you had been physically ill. You need to rest and recuperate for a while before you can go on.” He stopped to see if she would react, but she said nothing so he continued.
“You told me you had no other family beside your aunt. The two of you shared that house since you were a little girl. Every time you step through the doorway, it’s a reminder to you that you have no more living relatives. That’s got to be an incredibly lonely feeling. And as you’ve found out, being alone is sometimes a good thing, but being lonely never is.”
At this point her face crumbled and she bent over weeping into her hankie. He knew he had struck a nerve. She was terrified of being alone in the world. She had friends, but that wasn’t the same as family…at least not in her eyes. He put the cup down, got up and pulled her into his arms. As he held her he felt the stirrings of feelings other than compassion. He knew this was neither the time nor the place for a romantic overture on his part, but good Lord, she felt wonderful in his arms…as if she had been created especially for him. He held her while she cried herself out, stroking her back and murmuring softly to her. When it seemed as if the worst of the storm had passed, he sat her down next to him on the porch, took her hands in his, and said, “If Carrie had still been living with you, I don’t think this would have happened. You would have mourned your aunt, but you love Carrie like a sister…you think of her as a sister. You wouldn’t have felt as abandoned as you do now. You wouldn’t have been frightened to be in the house because you wouldn’t have been alone. And you’re making yourself worse by trying to come up with all kinds of reasons why you shouldn’t be unhappy.”
“I keep thinking about that old saying, ‘I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet’. I’m luckier than many people,” she objected.
“Sweetheart,” he couldn’t help it… the endearment just slipped out naturally. “Someone else’s greater pain doesn’t negate your own. You’re not selfish to feel badly about what’s happened to you.”
She sniffed, wiped her eyes again, and blew her nose. She looked up at him through damp eyelids.
“What should I do now?” she asked with a hiccup, sighing deeply and waiting for his response.
“I think you need to allow yourself the luxury of being pampered a bit. I know that you think of yourself as independent…and you are. But why not let us take care of you for a while? Don’t think ahead. Just enjoy your stay here. Carrie has plans for you, I’m sure. Let her boss you around for a while. Reverse roles. You be the student and let her be the teacher. She’ll enjoy it, and it may be just what you need…to let someone else make decisions for you for a little while. When you’re feeling better, you can make plans for yourself. How does that sound?”
To Meg it felt as if a huge burden had suddenly been lifted from her shoulders. Perhaps it was only temporary, but Adam was right. She needed a rest and she needed to regain her physical strength and natural good spirits. She wanted to look forward to something again instead of dreading each day.
“Well, I suppose I could try it for a while,” she conceded, “but I don’t need anyone to pamper me.”
“You need it more than you can possibly know,” he disagreed, chucking her under the chin. Everyone needs taking care of once in a while.” She looked at him. He was big, strong, and totally masculine. She smiled a tiny smile.
“Even me,” he smiled back at her. She was about to ask him just who it was who pampered him when she realized that she didn’t want to know the answer to that question.
“You’re a good friend, Adam. I’m sorry I’m behaving like such a little fool.”
“You’re not behaving like a fool under the circumstances, and we’ll have a discussion about our friendship real soon, Meg, I promise you.”
There was no time to pursue that remark because there was another sound of hoof beats and Carrie raced into the yard on her horse. She pulled on the reins and Taffy reared and then came to a prancing halt. Adam got up and grabbed the horse’s bridle. He looked furious.
“You little idiot! You know Pa doesn’t want you to ride her in here like that. I catch you doing that one more time and I’ll make sure you can’t sit for a week.” He waited for her to dismount. “Here, give her to me. I’ll cool her off and unsaddle her.” Carrie was totally nonplussed by his tone. As she handed over the reins, she said, “What happened to your shirt?” He looked down at a large damp area where Meg had shed her tears.
“I spilled coffee on myself. Now let me take care of this horse before she gets sick. You ride her too hard, Carrie.” And he walked the sweating horse to the other side of the barn to cool her down.
“Well, you’re up sleepyhead! What have you been up to? Did Hop Sing feed you?” Carrie asked as she sauntered over to Meg. She wasn’t wearing a traditional riding habit. Instead she had on a white shirt, brown leather boots, and a split skirt that came down to her shins. He hair was done up and a large hat swung down her back from a cord around her neck. He cheeks were pink from her ride and she smiled broadly.
“I’m fine. Yes, I’ve eaten. Aren’t you at least a little concerned about your horse? Why was Adam so angry?”
“Oh, pooh! If he weren’t here I’d have taken care of her myself. I’d never let anything happen to her. And he’s angry because no one is supposed to gallop into the yard. Joe’s mother was an excellent rider, but she flew into the yard one day and was thrown. She died. Papa was here and saw it happen. So if he sees us do that, well, it’s like a bad memory.” She shrugged. “I’m a good rider and my horse is part Arabian and loves to run. Sometimes I forget and she just gets away from me. I didn’t do it on purpose.”
“Well, you should be more careful! I’d hate to have anything happen to you. And it’s not nice to frighten people like that. You should be more considerate of other people’s feelings.”
“Yes, Mother,” Carrie answered sarcastically and Meg just shook her head and decided to change the subject.
“Carrie, you mustn’t let me sleep this late anymore. Get me up when everyone else gets up. I can’t have your family thinking I’m lazy.”
“Goodness, even I don’t get up with the men, Meg. They’re up at the crack of dawn. But I promise to get you up earlier tomorrow. You’ll have to, anyway. It’s Sunday and we go to church. If the weather’s fine we have a picnic afterwards. And guess what? There’s a barn dance in town tonight. We’ll have dinner early and ride in. I want you to come and have some fun with us.”
“What will I wear? I’ve never been to a barn dance.”
“What you have on is fine. Joe and Hoss are going. I’m not sure about Adam. Hey, Adam, are you going with us to the dance tonight?” she called to him as he walked her horse around to the barn door. She grabbed Meg’s hand and pulled. “Come on. I want you to meet Taffy.”
The two young women walked into the barn. It had a pleasant smell of hay, leather, and horses. Adam had placed the palomino in a stall and was currying her. Carrie walked into the stall and began to stroke the horse’s nose. Meg waited outside the stall. She didn’t ride and was somewhat wary of the large animal. Carrie laughed at her.
“Come here. There’s nothing to be afraid of. She’s as gentle as a lamb and won’t hurt you.”
Adam saw the doubt in Meg’s eyes so he said, “The stall’s too crowded. Let’s move her out so Meg can meet her.” He backed the horse out into the center of the barn and Carrie swung her around so she was facing Meg. Meg walked up and tentatively stroked the lovely little mare. She was no judge of stock, but this was a beautiful looking horse and she said so. Carrie was pleased.
“She is beautiful, isn’t she? I just love her. And she was Joe’s first present to me.” Adam continued to groom the horse and listened to their conversation.
“I thought you bought her,” said Meg.
“Oh, I did. I meant that his first gift was to find her for me. I guess that’s not romantic by eastern standards, but it sure made me sit up and take notice!” she laughed gaily. “I want to teach you to ride. Then we can go out together and have some fun. What do you say?”
“I don’t think so. I mean, thank you for the offer, but I think I’m a little old to start riding now. You’ve been doing this for years.”
“Don’t be silly! You can learn. We have a few older horses that you can start with. It’s fun, I promise!”
“Carrie, I really don’t think so. It wouldn’t be much fun for you, anyhow. You love to run and I’d be scared to death. There are other ways to get around besides horseback, aren’t there?”
“Well, of course there are. I just thought that maybe you’d like to learn. But if you don’t, then never mind. We can take a carriage when we go out. I’m a good driver.”
Meg breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t want to offend her young friend, but the image of her poking along on an old nag and Carrie flying impatiently away was not attractive.
She was stroking Taffy’s cheek when Carrie again changed the subject.
“Adam are you coming to the barn dance with us tonight?”
As he led the horse back into her stall he answered, “I don’t think so. Pa and I are going over to Taylor’s tonight.”
Carrie wrinkled her nose.
“Oh. Well you’re going to miss a good time. Come on, Meg.
Let’s go in and have some lunch. I want to drive you over to see
our new house this afternoon.”
After lunch, for which Meg had something of an appetite, Carrie hitched a horse to a buggy and they drove off in the direction of Virginia City. After about 15 minutes they turned onto a smaller dirt road and drove for another few minutes. A canopy of firs cast a cooling shadow over the road. Then in a large clearing, the house appeared. To Meg’s surprise, it was made of bricks. It was two stories with a wide veranda running the entire length of the house. It appeared to be finished to Meg, but Carrie assured her that there was work still being done on the interior. Although she hadn’t seen the inside, she knew the floor plan and told Meg the house had a large living room, dining room, kitchen, pantry, and four bedrooms. Her bedrooms had a newly designed feature called closets. These eliminated the need for huge wardrobes in each room. There was a bathing room off the kitchen, and a dumb waiter to make it easier to get things up and down the stairs. She had a pump inside the kitchen so there would be no running out to a well for water. A small stream behind the house fed their spring house and there was a cellar beneath the kitchen. The outhouse was not too far away…just behind the barn, which was a massive structure to the left and behind the main house. A few workman appeared at the door and joked for Carrie to stay ouside while sizing up Meg. Joe hadn’t arrived yet.
“Carrie, this house is splendid! I never thought to see brick here, though. I assumed your house would be made of wood.”
“You forget that I come from the south and most houses there are brick. Joe’s mother was also a southerner so we agreed on that. We had it sent up from Mexico along with the workmen who know how to lay brick. It’s an art. And it makes my house a bit different from all the others around here.” She smiled and hugged Meg. “I’m so glad you like it!”
“I love it. And Carrie, I know you’ll be so happy here. It’s apparent how much you and Joe love each other. I’m very happy for you. And…and I’m glad I came for the wedding.” Carrie smiled happily.
“I was prepared to come and get you myself if you hesitated. Now, you absolutely must do me a favor. I want you to go in and measure all the windows for curtains. We had the house built and bought most of the furnishings. I want to feel that I put something of myself into it, so I’m making the curtains. My mother’s paintings are already hanging inside and I’ve added one or two of my own, but I want to do the curtains too.”
“Well, of course I’ll do it. Are you sure Joe won’t be annoyed? And do you have enough time to do all those curtains before the wedding?”
“Joe just doesn’t want me to go inside. Everyone else from the family has been in at least a dozen times. Adam made some of the furniture…he’s a very good cabinetmaker. And Hoss and even Papa helped out with a lot of the carpentry. And we’ll be able to make the curtains in no time. I have a little surprise back at the ranch. So, here’s a tape measure, a piece of paper and a pencil. I’ll wait out here and bother the men,” she joked.
Meg took the necessary measurements. The house was large and airy
inside and furnished with comfortable furniture. She felt a bit guilty
poking around where Carrie hadn’t even been yet, so she completed her task
and went outside. After a tour of the barn and spring house, the
two women headed back to get ready for supper and the dance.
While Hoss and Joe were bathing and changing for supper and the dance, Carrie pulled Meg into her bedroom. It was indeed the most feminine room in the house with a big canopied bed and ruffled curtains on the window.
“I can’t take the bed with me. Joe says he draws the line at sleeping under an umbrella! So I suppose it will stay here.”
“You could take it for one of the other bedrooms in your house, Carrie. Maybe someday you’ll have a little girl and the bed would be perfect.”
“Maybe I’ll do that. It’s a good idea. But here’s what I really wanted you to see.”
Meg’s jaw dropped when she saw what Carrie was pointing at.
“A sewing machine! I thought only professional dressmakers had one. When did you get it? How does it work?” Meg asked excitedly.
“I got it a month ago. I have no idea how to work it, but I thought we could learn together while we make the curtains. Everyone says it really makes sewing so much less of a chore.”
“Well, I’ll help you, but I think you should use the machine. I’d be nervous about breaking something.”
“You’re such a worry wart. We’ll do the curtains together and that’s that,” Carrie replied with the careless attitude of a young woman who never had to worry about money. “Now let’s go down to supper.”
After being assured for the second time that her daytime dress was appropriate for this dance, Joe, Hoss, Carrie, and Meg drove into Virginia City after eating. Carrie had warned Meg that this wouldn’t be like any dance she had attended in Boston and Meg soon saw how truthful that statement was.
The livery stable had been cleared of all animals and carefully swept out. Japanese lanterns were hung everywhere, and, with the lamps brought by a number of townfolk, there was plenty of light. Music was supplied by a fiddler, guitar player and banjo player. A table had been set up along one wall and it was laden with food. There were sandwiches, baked beans, fried chicken, cakes, pies, lemonade, and apple cider. There was quite a gathering of people and the air was festive.
Carrie introduced Meg to a few of her girlfriends and Hoss and Joe introduced her to some of the men, who outnumbered the women by about half. She wasn’t familiar with the square dances and reels, but soon caught on and became a popular partner. She danced with cattlemen, shopkeepers, the local banker and the schoolteacher. When the band took a break Hoss escorted her to the table for some cider and she watched in amazement as he piled a plate high with food. This was the same man whom she had seen eat four fat pork chops at dinner, along with a large mound of mashed potatoes, gravy, assorted vegetables, and several slices of bread. His appetite was something of a wonderment to her, but he ate with such pleasure and gusto that she could only smile. All too soon the band played a final waltz. Since they hadn’t been in town to set up, Hoss and Joe helped with the clean up duty and soon they were in the buggy and on their way home.
“Well, what did you think of your first barn dance?” Carrie asked from the back seat where she was riding with Joe.
“I had a wonderful time! Your friends are all so nice and I felt comfortable almost immediately. I really like the informal atmosphere…you know, not so much to worry about dance cards and all. But I still think a lady should wear gloves when she dances.”
This was an argument they had had before leaving.
“You would have been hooted out of the building if you showed up with gloves, Meg,” Joe told her. He placed his arm around Carrie and gave her a long kiss. She snuggled into his side and smiled up at him.
“Joe, Meg is used to formal dances. In school I was taught that a lady always wears her gloves. She has to get used to our ways,” she scolded him.
“Well I had a darn good time,” Hoss remarked as he drove the team through the warm night air. There was a quarter moon, but the road was clearly visible. “Food was pretty good, too.”
“All you need for a good time, is for someone to feed you,” Joe answered. “Wonder if Adam had a nice evening at Taylor’s.” Something in his voice caused Meg to ask, “Who are the Taylors?”
“Zeb Taylor’s a wealthy cattleman in the district. Has some mining interests, too. He and Pa’ve been good friends for years. The Taylors arrived here a couple of years after Pa and they’ve always helped each other out. Pa goes over there occasionally to play chess and chew the fat,” was Hoss’ reply. “We’re all thinkin’ that their daughter Susan is settin’ her cap for Adam. He’s about the best catch in the territory.” And here the others all started to laugh. Meg froze. It was the first time she had considered that Adam had other female interests. In Boston he had been clear about his intentions toward her. He hadn’t approached her at all yet, but she had just arrived. The short time they had spent alone together this morning had been taken up by her unburdening herself to him. Perhaps over the course of the last year he had lost interest, or perhaps he didn’t want an easterner to share his life after all. Maybe as soon as he saw her he realized that she wouldn’t fit in here. Susan Taylor was probably a robust woman who, having grown up here, would suit him better. She didn’t know what made her do it, but she asked, “Do you think your brother is interested in her?”
“I dunno. Adam plays it pretty close to the vest,” was Hoss’ reply.
“I don’t know what that means,” she said to him, confused. Carrie spoke up.
“ It means you never know what’s going on in Adam’s head. He’s very private. But he’s not stupid. Susan can be charming when she wants to, but I don’t think that fools Adam. Susan’s a snob. You’d never catch her at a barn dance. It’s too…too…beneath her. She fancies herself Virginia City royalty. We’re not like that and her father’s nothing like that, but he has a blind spot when it comes to Susan. She’s all sweetness around Adam, but she can be cutting if she wants to. I agree with Hoss…she’s got her eye on Adam.”
Joe broke in at this point.
“You can say what you want, but no woman is going to catch Adam. If he decides he wants to get married, he’ll do the chasing.” He started to laugh. “I don’t think a woman would have a chance if he decided to get her. He’d probably have a plan all worked out, just like solving an arithmetic problem. And it would work too. The girl wouldn’t even know she’s being reeled in.” Everyone except Meg broke into peals of laughter. Talk turned to other things, but troubling ideas were racing around in her mind.
Ben and Adam were already home when they entered the house.
“You’re a little late, aren’t you?” Ben asked.
“We helped clean up, Pa,” Joe answered. “Hoss is unhitching the team.”
“How are the Taylors, Papa?” Carrie asked, sitting down next to him on the arm of the leather chair, where he was enjoying a smoke from one of his new pipes.
“Just fine. They asked after you, too.”
Carrie looked slyly at Adam, seated in the chair opposite, reading the newspaper.
“And how is Susan, Adam?”
Meg couldn’t read the expression in his brown eyes. But if he read anything into Carrie’s tone he didn’t let on. He just replied evenly, “She’s fine. She’s going to San Francisco next week to do some shopping. She wanted to know if there was anything you needed.”
“Nothing I can think of. Anyway, I’ll be there soon myself. Just three weeks to the wedding! Well, I’m tired. I’m going upstairs…I have to get my beauty sleep!” Joe pulled her up and gave her a hug.
“You don’t need any beauty sleep. If you were any more beautiful I’d be afraid to let you out of the house.” He gave her a brief, tender kiss. “Goodnight, darlin’.”
“I think I’ll go up too,” Meg said as she followed Carrie toward the stairs. “Goodnight.” At the top of the stairs Meg said to Carrie, “Please get me up for church tomorrow. Promise me!” They walked toward Carrie’s room.
“I promise. I’m glad you had fun tonight. You need to do more of that…have fun I mean. Now go get some sleep. You grew so quiet all of a sudden that you must be tired. I’ll call you at seven. We eat at eight and church is at ten. It takes more than half an hour to drive in. See you in the morning!” With that she gave her friend a hug and disappeared into her room.
Meg entered her own room and closed the door. She was oddly calm
as she thought about the events of the evening and the revelations about
Susan Taylor and Adam. She had to admit that her trip west had been
partly for Carrie and partly for herself. She had wanted to see him
again, to see if her feelings had remained the same. True, she was
seeing him in a new light, but she liked what she saw. Regardless
of his surroundings he was still calm, smart, capable, and…yes she had
to say it…very attractive. He had only to look at her in a certain
way and she felt tingles all the way to her toes. So, what should
she do? She came to the conclusion that she would do nothing.
It was up to him to make a move and her stay was limited, so if he had
any “plan”, as Joe seemed to think, it would soon become apparent.
If nothing occurred she would return to Boston, grateful that he had helped
her overcome that depression which had gripped her for the better part
of the last year. She would count herself lucky to have known him.
She knew she loved him, but there was no way she could make him love her
if the feelings were not there. Her innate honesty prevented her
from playing those romantic games that other women seemed to pull off with
aplomb. It was a sad, but true fact. And she would have fun
with Carrie. Adam was right about that. She should simply enjoy
her stay and make as many pleasant memories as she could to take home with
her. She undressed, blew out the lamp, and went resignedly to bed.
Adam was making plans. He lay in bed, his left arm draped across his forehead and the fingers of his right hand drumming on his stomach. His time was limited, so he had to think carefully. He began by mentally listing the positive things that he had noticed since Meg’s arrival. It was apparent that she could easily fit into the larger Cartwright clan. They all liked her and she seemed to genuinely like them. She also appeared to be recovering from the unhappy state that she had arrived in…and after only a couple of days. He hoped their conversation had helped her. She had enjoyed what passed for a good time out here—the barn dance. Unlike Susan Taylor, she didn’t turn her nose up at the simple pleasures that westerners enjoyed. He remembered that in Boston her friends had come from all walks of life. She wouldn’t hesitate to make friends with their poorer, less sophisticated acquaintances.
This was quite a long list of positives. However, he knew that something would probably come up tomorrow that would introduce her to the uglier side of life in Nevada. He wanted to gage her reaction. He and his family protected Carrie from much of the uncivilized behavior that went on, including rough language and rough people. And, of course, they tried to keep her safe from the physical dangers that abounded on the large ranch. If Meg were his wife, they would do no less for her. But events occurred over which even the powerful Cartwrights had no control. Carrie, raised here from a young age, had accepted this. How would Meg react to the seamier side of things…would she be appalled?…disgusted?…horrified? He hoped that she would accept their way of life while they all worked together to bring about civilizing changes. She would also need to know something of his personal history with violence. He had been shot and he had shot others. This alone might decide her in favor of a return to Boston. Yes, he still needed some time, although time was in short supply.
And, if it appeared as if she would stay, then he wanted time to woo her
properly. She deserved that. It was one of the sweetest times
in the lives of a couple and something that he looked forward to.
Once he resolved his concerns, he could proceed with romancing her.
She was having a more and more profound physical effect on him every time
he saw her. The last time he remembered being in such a frequent
state of semi arousal was when he was a teenager. If he thought about
the fact that she was in bed just down the hall, he’d never get to sleep,
so, with an effort, he put that thought aside, closed his eyes, and emptied
his mind. Still, it was a while before he fell asleep.
Meg was having considerable difficulty in concentrating on the sermon. When they entered the pretty little wooden church they had moved to a pew near the center. Ben had been the first to enter, followed by Adam, Meg, Carrie, Joe, and Hoss. It was a nice secure feeling to be surrounded by these men…secure and unsettling at the same time. The pew was not that large so they were all in close proximity to each other and Adam’s after shave was having an effect on Meg. If he was bothered by her nearness he gave no indication of it. He held the hymnal and found the correct pages for her. Just as when he had shared her coffee cup, there was a feeling of intimacy about this act. When they sang the hymns, she was transported by his voice. He had a rich singing voice and the hymns sounded wonderful as he occasionally chose to sing the harmony. She was glad that she was wearing her new poke bonnet. The brim was wide and hid her blushing cheeks from him as he looked down. And why on earth was she blushing? This was church, for pity’s sake! She gave herself a mental shake and tried to listen to what Pastor Lundstrum was saying, but the emotions roiling inside her had nothing to do with religious fervor.
Aside from the spiritual aspects, there was something to be said for church,
Adam was thinking. It afforded you the opportunity to sit close to
someone, if you were so inclined. He glanced to his right and saw
that Joe was holding Carrie’s hand. He hoped Pa didn’t see that.
Not appropriate behavior in church. Fortunately, they were on the
other side of Meg and probably wouldn’t be noticed. And Meg’s cheeks
were a lovely shade of pink. Wonder why? It wasn’t particularly
warm in here. She looked beautiful today…well she looked beautiful
every day. Her bonnet was lined in peach colored silk, which was
complementary to her complexion. She had stood in front of the mirror
downstairs, tying the bonnet ribbons into a bow under her chin. She
hadn’t noticed him behind her until she turned around. Her fingers
were still in the bow loops as she looked up and it was all he could do
not to bend down and plant a kiss on her smiling lips. But everyone
else was in the room so he had taken her elbow and led her out to the carriage.
Now he was making a half-hearted effort to listen to the sermon.
He had memorized the sermon text—force of habit. His father had always
insisted that the boys memorize the sermon Bible text and be able to give
a brief summary of the sermon when they returned home. He no longer
required this of course, but old habits died hard. He loved
listening to her sing the hymns. She had a lovely soprano voice and
he thought they sounded rather good together. He sat as far away
as he could from Hoss, whose voice sounded like a sick bullfrog.
That was bad enough, but what his brother’s voice lacked in quality, he
tried to make up in volume. But church wasn’t just about hymn singing.
It was about goodness and Hoss was the most genuinely good person Adam
After the service, there was a great deal of socializing and Carrie introduced Meg to more people than she could remember. She definitely remembered meeting the minister and his wife. Ruth Lundstrum had bright red hair and laughing blue eyes. She was older than Carrie, but somewhat younger than Meg, and very pregnant. She immediately invited them both to lunch at the parsonage the next week and the invitation was gratefully accepted. There didn’t seem to be the strict class distinctions that Meg was used to. People of all economic situations mingled freely. There were a number of pregnant young women and many with a child in tow or a baby on the hip. Men in overalls came up to Ben and his sons and discussed ranching, the weather, bank interest rates, or politics. The display of equality was something that Meg was unused to. At home there were certain people that she would never have thought to approach after the service. Apparently such distinctions did not exist here. When she mentioned it to Hoss, he said, “Well, it don’t much matter if you have 4,000 head of cattle or 40. When there’s a problem, it affects everyone. We all just try to help each other out.”
Eventually the crowd began to thin and the Cartwrights and Meg returned to the ranch to change clothes and have their picnic. Carrie wore her riding outfit because she and Joe were going on horseback. The other four would take the buggy. Hop Sing had packed a lunch and all the implements they would need. Hoss tossed a fishing pole, a couple of stakes, some horseshoes, and a mallet into the back of the carriage and Ben brought his chess set. Adam brought his new Tennyson book. Meg had changed into an everyday blue poplin skirt and shirtwaist and she brought her needlework with her. At Carrie’s insistence, they both wore their hair down and tied back with simple bows. When Meg protested at first, Carrie proclaimed, “Sunday is a day of rest and I’ve got to give my poor head a rest from the 100 hairpins that are normally poking into it!” That made Meg laugh and she went along with her friend.
They traveled for about half an hour to a lovely site near a seldom-used back road that came in from town. There were plenty of trees, and a stream, which widened under the leafy canopy, rushed down from a small waterfall. A large tree had fallen across, forming a natural, if somewhat rickety bridge. Further along, the stream became a pond. A blanket was spread, and before she knew it, the men had a fire built so they could make coffee. They had their meal seated on the ground, talking and joking in a most comfortable way, Meg thought. Eventually Hoss went off to fish and Carrie and Joe took off on their horses. Ben set up the chessboard under a tree and he and Adam began to play. Meg brought her sewing over, sat next to the elder man, and watched. It was soon apparent that Ben Cartwright was an expert chess player. He beat Adam twice.
“What’s the matter with you today, son? You usually give me a run for my money,” Ben remarked to his eldest. The truth was that Meg was a delightful distraction for Adam as she sat sewing. With her hair down she looked particularly young and the breeze whipped the curls around her face. It was hard for him to concentrate on the moves he should be making on the board when his mind was filled with the moves he’d like to make on her.
“I guess I’m just not in the mood for chess today, Pa. I think I’ll go read,” was all he said. Ben nodded and asked Meg if she’s like to take a stroll. She accepted shyly.
“Well, what do you think of our place here?” he asked her after taking her arm with old fashioned courtesy. They were walking along the stream and the mountains formed a magnificent backdrop.
“I think this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, Mr. Cartwright. I’ve always lived by the ocean and I thought nothing could ever be so splendid, but your ranch is breathtaking,” she answered honestly. He was inordinately pleased.
“I grew up in the east, too, Meg, and I love the ocean. But I always felt that my future was in the west. I’ve been very lucky.”
“You’re too modest, Mr. Cartwright. It took more than luck to build a ranch as wonderful as this one.”
“Well, you’re right. My boys and I worked very hard to achieve all this. But I am lucky. I have my sons and Carrie and now a wedding in the near future. When you get right down to it, if all I had was that and 10 acres, I’d still consider myself fortunate!”
“I agree with your sentiments Mr. Carwright. Family is the most important thing in the world. You’re very lucky to have such a nice one. I’ve only been here a short time, but I can tell how much you all care for each other, in spite of how different you all are. In fact, I could tell just from knowing Carrie…before I met any of you.”
They stopped walking and Ben looked down into her upturned face. He liked this young lady very much. Why couldn't one of his other two unattached sons see what he saw? They must be blind. He sighed silently. Well, at least one of them was making it to the altar. He would be grateful for that! They turned and he suggested they check on Hoss.
“Is he a good fisherman, Mr. Cartwright?” Meg inquired.
“Meg dear, for Hoss “fishing” is a polite euphemism for taking a nap!”
They found the second Cartwright son reclining near the pond, hat covering his face, and a fishing pole stuck into the ground next to him.
“Any luck, Hoss?” his father asked.
“No, Pa. They’re just not bitin’ today. How about a game of horseshoes?”
“Why don’t you see if you can interest your older brother? Maybe our guest would like to watch,” Ben replied.
“Have you ever played horseshoes, Meg?” Hoss asked as he got to his feet and brushed off his pants. They headed back to where Adam was reading.
“No. How do you play?”
“Well, you just throw ‘em.”
“At each other?” she asked somewhat alarmed. “Isn’t that dangerous?” Hoss broke into loud laughter and Meg realized she had made some sort of mistake. When he recovered, he explained the game to her and she had to laugh at her own ignorance. She watched while he pounded a stake into the ground and removed the horseshoes from the buggy. Adam strolled over.
“Why don’t you show her how to toss one, Adam while I sink the second stake?” Hoss called to him. His brother readily agreed. He picked up a horseshoe and showed Meg how to hold it. Then he handed it to her.
“It’s heavy!” she remarked. “What do I do now?”
“See that stake over there?” he said pointing to the metal spike that Hoss had just finished sinking. She nodded.
“Well, you’re going to throw the horseshoe in that direction and try to get it around the stake…like this.” Adam stepped up behind her, held her wrist in his right hand and placed his left hand on her waist. He drew her arm back with his and then guided it forward in a smooth arc. He repeated the motion again. Her eyes widened and she turned to her right and looked up at him. He was incredibly close, his face mere inches from hers and he was looking directly into her eyes. Involuntarily her lips parted and his eyes dropped to them and stared hungrily. She felt breathless and light-headed. Her first thought was that her corset stays were too tight, but this breathless feeling had nothing to do with her undergarments. She knew it was due to his intimate proximity. It was the same feeling she had had on the beach the last day they had seen each other in Boston. She had to fight an urge to lean back into him so he would be forced to wrap his arms around her. She closed her mouth and swallowed convulsively.
“That’s how you do it?” she managed to whisper.
“Do what?” He could barely think, never mind reply coherently. What was he supposed to be showing her? It had completely left his mind along with every other rational thought he had. He was only aware of her… her big eyes, her sweet lips, her scent.
“Hey, Adam, are you about ready?” Hoss called as he finished pounding the second spike into the ground. They broke apart abruptly, both breathing more heavily than normal. Adam cleared his throat and, without meeting her eyes said, “Just throw it like I showed you in the general direction of the stake.” Meg took a deep breath, walked over, and faced Hoss. She wasn’t thinking all that clearly, and the horseshoe was heavy so she swung her arm back and heaved. Unfortunately she neglected to release the horseshoe when her arm was parallel to the ground. She brought her arm up almost perpendicular and let go. The next thing she knew, she heard Adam shout, “WHOA! Heads up!” and an arm grabbed her around the waist and pulled her off her feet and back a couple of yards. It happened so quickly that it stunned her. When her feet were back on the ground she turned in Adam’s arms. He held her tightly against him and asked, “Are you alright?”
“I think so. What happened?” she asked, puzzled. Hoss was jogging towards them and Adam reluctantly released her.
“You threw the dang horseshoe straight up and if Adam hadn’t acted so fast it would have hit you on the head on the way down. You gotta be careful, little lady. Them horseshoes are heavy!” Hoss told her. She started to giggle. So many emotions and feelings had coursed through her body that day, beginning with church that they needed some outlet. Soon she was laughing out loud and Hoss joined right in. Adam smiled and shook his head. He might have to rethink his plans about waiting if incidents like these continued to occur. He hadn’t felt this randy in a long time. This delicious little morsel was in front of him all the time and sooner or later he would have to take a bite. He had recovered his equilibrium and said to her, “Maybe you’d better watch Hoss and me. We don’t want you to knock yourself unconscious.” So she sat to the side and watched the two brothers play and joke with each other. That was one thing she had noticed about the Cartwrights. There was a considerable amount of affectionate teasing among them. It made the time spent with them pleasant and frequently funny.
Carrie and Joe had returned from their ride and Carrie sat down next to Meg while Hoss and Adam continued their game. Joe was poking along the bank of the stream and Ben had brought out the cookies Hop Sing had packed for their dessert and put the coffeepot on the fire. When it was done, he called them all back to the blanket. Carrie and Meg were strolling towards him when Joe came up beside Meg and tapped her on the shoulder. When she was facing him, he opened his mouth and there, on his tongue, sat a tiny green frog. This was a stunt he used to play all the time on schoolgirls when he was a youngster. Their reaction usually began with a startled look, followed by a piercing scream, and then rapid flight in the opposite direction. He loved to play this joke because it always elicited a satisfying, if somewhat noisy response from the girl. He anticipated no less from Meg. He was to be disappointed. After looking at him for a moment, she turned to Carrie and, pointing to the open-mouthed Joe, said coolly, “You’d better kiss Prince Charming over here. It seems he’s turning back into a frog.” She then walked calmly toward the others. Joe was so startled by the remark that he almost swallowed the tiny amphibian and Carrie pounded him solicitously on the back as he coughed and choked. The other three men were roaring with laughter. Meg sat down and, in a completely lady-like manner, accepted a cup of coffee from Ben, who had to stop to wipe the tears from his eyes.
Once they were all settled with their coffee, Carrie said to Meg, “We’ll go into town tomorrow to pick out some material for the curtains.” Joe, who had recovered nicely, and whose opinion of Meg had just skyrocketed, turned suddenly sober.
“You can’t go to town tomorrow, Carrie,” he said firmly.
“Why ever not?” she asked archly. There was a moment of silence as the men looked at each other. Adam waited to see how Meg would react to the answer. Ben spoke.
“There’s a public hanging tomorrow, Caroline.”
“Oh,” was all she said quietly. “Who?”
“What did he do, Papa?” she asked.
Ben sighed. He tried to shield her as much as possible from this sort of thing, but she was grown now and had a right to know. If he didn’t tell her someone else would.
“He killed his brother, his brother’s wife, and their three children because he wanted their ranch for a mine claim. He told everyone that they had decided to move back east…even produced a forged bill of sale for the land. The sheriff was suspicious because there’d always been bad blood between the two. Roy contacted other relatives in Philadelphia, and when they wired that the family never showed up, he started to nose around the property. He eventually found the graves. Pearson confessed.”
“Well, I still think I could go to town. They hang people behind the jail, don’t they? I’d never see anything,” she argued half-heartedly.
“That’s not the reason, Carrie,” Joe replied seriously. “There are still people in town who think an execution is like a Fourth of July picnic. They bring their families and pack a lunch. A lot of the men get drunk. You can’t go in. Don’t even think about it.” He sounded more authoritative and forceful than he ever had before and after he spoke to her Carrie seemed very subdued. Meg had surmised from her brief observation of the young couple that Carrie would wind Joe around her little finger and lead him a merry chase. Now she wasn’t so sure. He could apparently take charge when he needed to.
“I’m sorry you had to hear about something like this, Meg,” Ben apologized to her. “Unfortunately things are done somewhat differently here than in Boston.”
“Do things like that happen very often, Mr. Cartwright?” she asked quietly. Adam couldn’t read her face. She didn’t appear distressed, but she could be hiding her feelings.
“Less and less, I’m happy to say. Our sheriff, Roy Coffee, has done a lot to cut down on violence and he’s worked very hard to make sure all offenders get fair trials. It hasn’t been easy for him…sometimes there’s still a mob mentality that takes over.” He paused, then said, “ Never mind… I don’t want you to trouble yourself about this. Just stay on the ranch tomorrow and everything will be fine. Now we’d better get packed up and head back,” he said briskly, as he rose from the blanket.
After thoroughly dousing the fire and packing up the picnic remains, they rode back to the house. Adam had considered riding with Meg in the back seat of the buggy, but since they couldn’t talk privately, he saw no point. So he and Hoss rode up front while Meg and his father chatted in the rear.
The men dumped all the dirty dishes in the kitchen and Meg said to Carrie, “Aren’t we going to clean up?”
“Hop Sing’ll take care of that in the morning.”
“Oh no, he won’t, Carrie. You and I’ll do these dishes right now. It’ll only take a few minutes and then he won’t have to start his Monday facing a mess.”
“But we still haven’t eaten supper. See,” she pointed to a large pot on the rear of the stove, “he leaves us stew or chili on Sundays for supper. He’ll have to do those dishes anyway, so why not leave them all?”
“We’ll do all the dishes then. Carrie, did you ever stop to think what a valuable person Hop Sing is to this family? The least you can do is to make the start of his week a little more pleasant.”
“Well, the men never thought of it,” she pointed out.
“That’s because they’re men! Remember what you learned at Miss Collier’s. You’ll be the woman of the house soon and you need to treat your servants well,” Meg lectured.
“Hop Sing is more like one of the family than a servant,” was the reply.
“All the more reason to be considerate then. Make sure there’s enough hot water for us to wash up later. Someday you may have servants and you’ve got to be a good mistress.”
“I’m having servants right away, Meg,” Carrie informed her. “Hop Sing doesn’t do the laundry. We send it out to his cousin and I’m going to do that too. And I’m not a good cook, so I’m hiring one.” This news stunned Meg.
“I guess I understand about the laundry. That’s a really difficult job Carrie… but a cook? Don’t you want to cook for your husband?”
“Not if I want him to stay married to me! Joe’s not real fussy but I can’t cook anything and he said I could do what I want. So I guess I have to hire someone. Hey! How about you? That way I could get you to stay here,” Carrie laughed.
“Would you like to learn to cook or don’t you care?” Meg asked. Then she continued dreamily, “ I always imagined that if I got married it would be nice to have my husband come home to a delicious meal. We’d sit around the table with the children and tell each other about our day.” She sighed as she viewed the mental picture with a dark-haired man at the head of the table and several curly headed children seated there as well. Carrie, who to her surprise burst into tears, brought her out of her reverie.
“Carrie, what’s wrong? Tell me!”
“I want to be a good wife and I can’t even cook! I tried to learn but Hop Sing won’t let me near the kitchen, she sobbed. “You’re right…I want to cook for my husband and have him be proud of me. What can I do?”
Meg hugged her close and said, “Stop crying! Let me think a minute. What did Hop Sing say when you asked him to let you cook?”
Carrie’s tears dried up as fast as they had begun and she sniffed, “Well I did try a few times, but he said I left the kitchen a mess and he started yelling in Chinese. So I gave up.”
“Well that’s it then! You didn’t clean up and you made more work for him. You can’t blame him for being angry. Does he have a day off?”
“Yes, he’s off on Sunday. He makes all the food on Saturday night and he goes into town and comes back very early on Monday.”
“Does he ever take a vacation?”
“Well he visits his relatives in San Francisco once a year. But he won’t be going for a while. Why?”
“I think we should forgo a picnic next week and you and I will make dinner here. And we’ll try to convince Hop Sing to go to town early on Saturday so we can make dinner on Saturday night. I’ll help you and you can start to get some experience. Once you have a little confidence all you need is a cookbook. I’ll even write down some of my favorite recipes for you. How does that sound?”
“It sounds good, but I don’t know if he’ll agree to it.”
“Well, if he comes back to an immaculate kitchen tomorrow morning it might put him in a good mood. You just leave it up to me. You’re willing to learn and that’s half the battle.”
Carrie felt better and the two women began right away. They set the table and set out the stew, vegetables, and bread that the cook had left. Sitting in the living room after the meal, the men could hear the chatter of the women as they cleaned up. It was punctuated by occasional bursts of laughter. Ben smiled.
“That’s a really nice sound, boys,” he remarked.
“What sound, Pa?” Joe asked as he and Hoss played checkers.
“The sound of women in the house. Until Carrie returned it was a sound that’d been missing around here. And after the two of you are married, it’ll be missing again. So I’m trying to appreciate it now.” There was another eruption of laughing from the direction of the kitchen.
“Well there’ll be the sound of a woman in my house,” Joe laughed as he moved a disk on the board.
“I wonder what in tarnation could be so funny?” Hoss remarked as he pondered his next move. “Anyway, Meg may not be leavin’ here after all, if someone I know has his way,” he added.
Adam had been idly strumming his guitar. Now his fingers stilled.
“What do you mean by that?” he asked as casually as he could.
“Well I know fer certain that there’s one man already takin’ quite an interest in her,” he said, smiling as if he knew a great secret.
For a brief second an icy hand gripped Adam’s heart. Could his brother be falling for Meg? What a mess that would be! It never occurred to him that Hoss might find her attractive. But then, why not? She was smart, but didn’t flaunt it. For the most part, her nature was almost as gentle as Hoss’. He felt a thin bead of perspiration form on his brow. Suddenly Joe piped up.
“Yeah, I think know who you mean Hoss.” He jumped his brother’s checker piece and added, “King me.”
Oh great! Adam was thinking. Joe knows too. But Joe didn’t react as if Hoss was the man in question. He thought back frantically. He had been very circumspect. Surely they didn’t know what was going on! There was only one way to find out. As calmly as possible he asked, “And this man would be…?”
His brothers answered simultaneously. Hoss had named the local schoolteacher and Joe had named an unattached banker from town. They looked up and each other and began to laugh.
“Joe, it’s got to be Luther. He asked me at the dance if he could come a callin’ and I suspect he’ll drive up here one of these afternoons and ask Meg to go for a buggy ride.”
“King me again, big brother. You’re wrong. Luther may be interested but Caleb talked to me at the dance and said he wanted to take her out to dinner in town!”
“Well, whoever it is, maybe she’ll get sorta…you know…attached and then she won’t be leavin’. That’s what I’m thinkin’. Anyway, she’s got more in common with Luther…them both teachin’ school and all.”
“You may be right about that Hoss. Carrie’d be tickled either way. You know, she talked so much about Meg before that I was kind of jealous. But she’s really nice and I hope she can stay. It’d make Carrie real happy, that’s for sure.”
Adam didn’t know what to think. Eligible young women were at a premium here and he was a fool not to have realized that there’d be several young men ready to show an interest in Meg. Well, if they came to call there wasn’t much he could do to stop it, unless he spoke first and got a commitment from her. He deliberated on all the possibilities, as was his nature. If she hated western life, then he didn’t have much to fear from either Luther or Caleb. The case for him would be hopeless as well. If she liked the west but didn’t like ranch life, there could be a problem. The trouble was, he still wasn’t sure of how she felt about anything. He made up his mind to get her alone so they could talk. He hoped he could do that before either one of those men, or someone else, for that matter, showed up. As usual, once he had a plan in mind, he relaxed. When a problem presented itself, he had the ability to analyze it, plan a course of action, and, when need be, put it from his mind. The only trouble with this sweet problem was that new wrinkles seemed to constantly be presenting themselves.
Suddenly both young women exited the kitchen, laughing hysterically. Meg wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and pleaded. “Carrie, please stop. I’m getting a pain in my side!” She made an effort to control her mirth.
“What’s so funny?” Joe demanded.
Carrie and Meg looked at him, then at Hoss, and once again burst into fits of laughter. Hoss chuckled along, not knowing exactly what he was laughing at and Joe had a confused smile on his face.
“I was just telling Meg about you two and Sheba, the elephant.” The smile instantly left Hoss’ face.
“Dadgum it, Carrie, you shouldn’t be tellin’ tales like that. That whole thing is something I’d just as soon fergit!”
“It’s funny, Hoss. Don’t be angry with me,” she pouted prettily. “Please?”
It was not in Hoss’ nature to hold a grudge, so he smiled and began to laugh again.
“Well, I guess it does seem pretty funny now,” he agreed, as the girls seated themselves on the settee. Meg reached for her needlework, which she had left on the table. Joe decided to have a little fun of his own.
“We were just talking about all the men in town who want to come calling on Meg, darlin’,” he said to Carrie, draping his arm around her shoulder. This remark completely wiped the smile off Meg’s lips. She put down her sewing and looked at him.
“What did you say?”
“There are at least a couple of fellas from town to want to call on you. They asked us about you at the barn dance. Looks like you made quite a hit,” he answered, delighted that his remark had caused a reaction in this usually cool young woman.
“Oh, Joe, who?…who?” Carrie begged.
“Luther Healy for one and Caleb Winton for the other. Don’t be surprised if they show up here wanting to take Meg for a buggy ride.”
“Oohhh! This is such fun,” Carrie squealed. “Meg you’ll have gentlemen callers! What will you do?”
Meg had been trying to catch Adam’s eye to see his reaction, but he had put down the guitar and appeared to be engrossed in the newspaper. She was incredibly hurt. For all his protestations about his feelings in Boston, here he sat, obviously able to hear the entire conversation, and making no effort whatsoever to give her a clue as to his reaction. Well, that just settled it! He apparently had had a change of heart and wasn’t man enough to let her know. It seemed somewhat out of character for him, but she could only go by what she saw. Suddenly she was furious with him.
“What does it mean when you go for a buggy ride with someone?” she asked Carrie. Does it imply a commitment or do people just do it to be friendly? I’m not sure about your customs.”
“Oh a buggy ride is perfectly proper. It just means that the man wants to get to know you better,” Carrie told her. “Usually it’s in the afternoon or after dinner. You shouldn’t be out more than an hour and if you want, you can invite the man in for something when you get back. This is sooo exciting! Maybe one of them will fall in love with you and you’ll never go back to Boston!” she continued merrily.
“Carrie, you’re impossible,” Meg replied, shaking her head. “I’m going back right after your wedding. I just wanted to know what to do if …if someone showed up here…not that anyone will!”
“I’m not so sure about that Meg. Luther seemed right interested to me,” Hoss interjected, as he finally beat Joe with a clever move.
Meg gave a sigh. She felt a sudden urge to be alone.
“If you don’t mind, I’m a bit tired. It’s been a busy day. I think I’ll say goodnight.” She rose, picked up the needlework and headed for the stairs.
“Don’t you want to stay and sing? Adam plays songs on the guitar and we sing together,” Carrie asked.
“Maybe some other night. I think I’ll just got to bed now.”
“Meg,” Carrie called to her again, “is it alright if I still take my ride in the morning? I’d hate for Taffy to miss the exercise. I’ll only be an hour or so. Can you find something to do?”
“Take your ride, Carrie. I have a few letters to write anyway. I’ll see you at breakfast.” She said goodnight and went to her room collapsing against the closed door and feeling incredibly sad and tired. Either Adam no longer cared or his “plan” was to do nothing. He could have asked her to go for a walk this afternoon by the stream, but he chose to read instead. When he had shown her how to throw the horseshoe, she thought he seemed ready to kiss her…he had looked at her so longingly. She gave herself a mental shake. Her imagination was acting up, she decided. She wanted him and so she was reading into his actions a feeling that just wasn’t there.
On top of all this was the problem of other young men coming to call. She had no desire to go for rides with either of them. However, she would not be rude to any Cartwright neighbors or acquaintances. If, by chance one of them showed up, she would go for a brief ride and that should satisfy everyone.
By now she had a raging headache, so she undressed, decided to forgo writing
in her journal for this one night, and went to bed.
After breakfast the next morning Meg had a talk with Hop Sing. No one ever knew what she said to him, but he agreed to allow the two women to use the kitchen to prepare all the dinners for the rest of the week. Carrie went for her morning ride and Meg sat at the dining room table to write letters to Miss Collier and the Bonelli family. All the men except Ben were out. He sat at the desk in his office alcove doing ranch paperwork. It was the part of ranching he liked the least and he usually left it to his oldest son, but Adam was busy getting a timber order ready. The house was quiet and he had forgotten Meg was there. She had just sealed both envelopes when she heard an exclamation of disgust from the alcove and the sound of a pencil being thrown on the floor. She walked quietly across the room and peeking around the alcove asked, “Is anything wrong, Mr. Cartwright?”
“Oh, Meg, dear, I’m sorry. I totally forgot you were here,” Ben answered, embarrassed. “I’m doing some accounts and it’s not going well. I lost my temper. I apologize.”
“Can I help? I teach household accounts and math at school,” she said. “That is, unless what you’re doing is very private. If not, I’d be happy to do something.”
He looked at her for a moment, thinking again what fools his two oldest sons were. Then he said, “There’s nothing to hide here. Let me show you what to do. I’d be grateful for the help.”
They worked together companionably for a while. She learned quite a bit about the business end of ranching that morning and the tasks that Ben dreaded the most were finished quickly and pleasantly.
That afternoon, she and Carrie read the instruction manual for the sewing machine and practiced on scraps of material. They were both amazed at the speed of the machine and the lovely stitching it produced. Meg resolved to buy one for her self when she returned home, because she was now convinced that’s exactly what she would be doing…returning to Boston after the wedding. She was happy no young men showed up at the door wanting to take her out riding.
Seated at the dining room table that night, Carrie announced to everyone that she had cooked dinner and would be doing so for the rest of the week. There was a moment of silence. A sickly smile found its way to Joe’s lips.
“You… you did the cooking, darlin’?” he stuttered. “That’s great. But I thought you hated to cook. I thought we were going to hire a cook.” He looked at her hopefully.
She and Meg were busy walking back and forth from the kitchen, putting bowls and platters on the table. She said to him as she moved toward the kitchen, “I decided I want to do the cooking so Meg’s teaching me.”
The minute they were both out of the room Hoss complained, “Dadburn it, I’m hungry. Carrie can’t cook anything. She made me eggs one morning that tasted like rubber. She burned the bread, and it looked like the bacon only had a noddin’ acquaintance with the frying pan.”
His father said, “Well, she wants to learn and Meg’s going to teach her. Maybe it’ll be all right. Adam, do you know if Meg can cook? Did you eat at her house when you were in Boston?”
“I ate there once,” came the reply.
“As I recall, everything was very good.”
There was a moment of relieved silence and then Joe said suspiciously, “Yeah, but she lived with her aunt. Who did the cooking, Adam? Meg or the aunt?”
Adam put down his water glass and thought. “I have no idea.”
“Now listen to me, all of you,” Ben warned, unfolding his napkin onto his lap, “Caroline is trying to learn and I want all of you to encourage her. You know how emotional she is. No matter how it tastes, I want you all to eat! Understand?” The three brothers nodded unenthusiastically. When grace was said, the male members of the household were uncertain if they would have any food to actually be thankful for.
Under Meg’s supervision, Carrie had made a pot roast, oven roasted potatoes and onions, creamed peas, and mashed winter squash. There was still bread from Hop Sing’s last baking and they added a small dish of sweet pickles to the table. For dessert they made a simple apple crisp topped with heavy cream. Meg had to consult the Chinese cook about amounts to make, but Carrie did all the cooking. The food tasted different from what the Cartwrights were used to, because Meg used her own recipes, but it was all very good. Carrie received so much praise that she blushed rosy red. Over the course of the next few days, Meg helped her with bread baking, roasting chickens, vegetable preparation, and other kitchen chores. When the men were away for lunch the two women practiced making breakfasts and ate them for lunch. Carrie was a quick learner and an anxious student. She wrote down recipes and asked hundreds of questions. There was much laughter to be heard in the kitchen during that time.
Several nights later, after a satisfying meal of stew, vegetables, and fresh biscuits, Hoss said to Meg, “If you could get Hop Sing to agree to let you two use his kitchen you should think about going into politics.”
“It really wasn’t so difficult and I think he’s enjoying the free time,” she responded. “And maybe I would consider going into politics,” she added demurely. “Unfortunately, women can’t run for public office or even vote…yet.” This last word was spoken very quietly, but was heard by at least one person at the table.
“What’s the matter, Adam?” Hoss asked as he pounded his choking brother on his back. “Food go down the wrong way?” Adam nodded and coughed into his napkin. The last thing they needed at the dinner table was a discussion of women's rights. His father liked dinnertime to be a peaceful end to their busy days and this discussion could easily turn raucous. Fortunately, after his “spell” talk turned to other things. He looked at Meg, who was smiling sweetly, but he thought the look in her eyes was mocking him.
That night after dinner Meg read to them. Ben or Adam frequently had their noses in a book in the evening, but it wasn’t an activity that Joe or Hoss engaged in often. Carrie asked her because they had often spent a pleasant evening in Boston while Meg read to her and Aunt Beatrice. She agreed because she loved to read out loud. When she read stories, she read dramatically and changed her voice for the different characters. Even Hoss, who was not inclined to love literature, sat transfixed as she read to them from Dickens.
When she had finished Carrie said, “You could have been an actress on the stage, Meg! You make every character come alive and the story is so much more interesting.”
“First I’m told to go into politics and now I should become an actress. I think I’ll just stick to teaching if you don’t mind,” she replied, laughing.
“Well, dadgum it, I actually liked that story. I don’t think I’d a read it on my own, but you do sorta make a play out of it, Meg,” Hoss told her. She smiled appreciatively at the man sitting next to her.
“Hoss, you remind me so much of a character in a poem that I like. Would you like me to recite it for you?” The big man actually blushed.
“I remind you of a poem?” The only poetry he had knowledge of was in Adam’s books. He had tried on occasion to read some of them, but they didn’t make much sense to him, and he soon gave up. He answered her shyly, “Well, sure…recite it. I just hope I understand it!”
“Oh, you will. It’s really quite lovely.” She proceeded to recite “The Village Blacksmith” by her beloved Longfellow. When she was done she said, “You’re just like him. You’re big, strong, kind, and hard working. Maybe someday you’ll get married and have children like he did. Of course, your wife won’t die!” she added. Hoss was clearly embarrassed by all this, but he managed to say, “That was a nice poem. I don’t know about me being like that blacksmith and all, but at least I could understand it. I can’t understand none of the poems that Adam reads.”
“Well that’s because your brother has questionable taste in poetry,” was her answer.
The room grew quiet. Although Adam was sometimes teased about being too much of an intellectual, no one had ever questioned his taste in literature. Because they couldn’t always understand it, his brothers just assumed the things he read were on some sort of higher plane. They didn’t challenge him because they were somewhat in awe of his formal education and he was happy to keep things that way. It was apparent that Meg, however, was in no way intimidated by him. After her remark, she looked at him and smiled pleasantly.
He looked back at her, pausing before he spoke.
“I suppose there’s room for all types of literature and poetry. Not everyone’s taste is the same,” he said politely.
“That’s very true,” she agreed. “But I don’t think all literature is equal, just like…well… all food isn’t equal. I mean there’s steak and then there’s…hmm…let me see…what was it you told me about in Boston?” she closed her eyes and wrinkled her nose pretending to think hard. “Oh, yes! Snake. Yes, indeed…steak and snake. Both are food, but hardly the same I would say.”
“No…,” he agreed cautiously, “they’re not the same.”
“Well, I’m glad you see my point!” she said brightly. “There are fine writers like Mr. Dickens and then there are those cheap dime novel writers. And there’s good poetry…you know, understandable and uplifting…and then there’s what you read.”
“Yeah, Adam,” Hoss chimed in. “Why didn’t you tell me about all that good poetry. Maybe then I’d a read some of it.”
Joe wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but he had the sneaking suspicion that Meg was getting the better of his older brother. That was a rare occurrence and an event to be savored. Adam never actually said he was smarter than his two brothers, but because of his age and his attendance at college, the implication was always there. And he could be downright smug when he was right and the other two were wrong. Joe’s opinion of Meg continued to grow as he listened to their banter.
Ben had also been listening and watching his oldest. Something was going on here. He could sense a tension in the air that had nothing at all to do with tastes in literature. He had been surprised at Adam’s behavior toward Meg since her arrival. He was cordial, but somewhat distant. In the past when a young woman had been in the house, there had been some rivalry among the brothers and Adam often bested the other two. Now, of course, there was no question of Joe’s interest. Hoss seemed to like Meg as a friend. His second son was so transparent that any romantic feelings would have been obvious by now. That left the field wide open, so to speak. So what was going on?
He thought back to Carrie’s return from Boston a year earlier. Adam had been in a bad mood almost from the time they stepped off the train. He had thrown himself into work with a vengeance. Could something have occurred between him and Meg in Boston? He thought his eldest might have taken a dislike to her except that when news came of her aunt’s death, Adam had saddled Sport and ridden straight into town to wire his friends to help her. Was that a simple act of friendship, or something more? A germ of an idea was forming in Ben’s mind. His eldest son might have taken a fancy to this young lady and didn’t want it commonly known. The amount of teasing that went on between the brothers was incredible and, though he was a good sport, Adam generally was not the butt of the jokes. If what he suspected was true, Hoss and Joe could make life mighty unpleasant for their older brother. To avoid that, Adam might be appearing to be disinterested. That made some sense. Well, Adam had better do something, his father thought. Apparently a line was going to be forming for her attentions, if what Joe and Hoss said was true. Or perhaps all of this was wishful thinking on his part. The upcoming nuptials might just be putting ideas in his head!
Adam wasn’t about to let Meg make a fool of him in front of his family. She was smiling agreeably at him, but he sensed the smirk beneath the smile. He had a strong desire to spank her. She was trying to pick a fight with him, but he wasn’t sure why. She was usually quite agreeable, making an effort not to offend anyone with her remarks. What was going on inside her active little mind tonight, that caused her to behave this way? Well, he would refuse to rise to the bait.
“As you once said in Boston, we can leave all this to time and see which type of literature survives. Maybe it’ll be what you like and maybe not,” he remarked with far less emotion than he was feeling at the moment.
Carrie was growing weary of the literary argument and said, “Come on, Joe. Let’s take our walk.”
“Half an hour, Joseph,” Ben reminded him as the two walked toward the door, their arms around each other’s waists.
“How about a game of checkers, Meg?” Hoss asked when the door had closed behind the two.
“Alright,” she agreed. He set up the board and they began to play. Ben was again at his desk and Adam was engrossed in a book. In the middle of their second game Meg said, “If you had a piano, I could play something for you, Hoss. Carrie plays. Will she have a piano at her house?”
“I guess she’ll have just about whatever she wants, but I don’t recollect her saying anything about a piano,” he said, between moves. “Do you have one at your home back east?”
“Yes. It’s pretty old, but I love it. I guess I miss it more than I thought. I used to play for my aunt almost every night and for Carrie, too, when she stayed with us.” They chatted on and Hoss beat her two games out of three. By then the young lovers had returned and Meg decided to head to her room.
She excused herself, but once she was alone she sat down on the bed and
thought about her behavior that evening. What had gotten into
her? Oh, the reading out loud was fine…even reciting the poem for
Hoss. But why had she been so snide with Adam? If she wanted
him to be attracted to her, that certainly wasn’t the way to do it.
And there, of course, was the crux of the matter. His inaction indicated
he was no longer attracted. He had had a number of opportunities
to speak with her alone but he hadn’t. Her feelings were hurt and
her pride wounded, so she lashed out at him by trying to outsmart him in
front of his family. And since apparently he was a bit smug with
them sometimes about his education, the others had enjoyed her attempts
to belittle his tastes. She had sensed that and fed on it.
She was completely ashamed of herself. If he had no interest in her,
she should devote herself to Carrie and get through the next few weeks
as well as she could. She should employ her pride in a positive way,
by behaving modestly and courteously to everyone, instead of having the
intellectual equivalent of one of Carrie’s emotional hissy fits.
She would apologize to him tomorrow. He may not love her, but at
least he would respect her. Feeling just a bit better, she wrote
in her journal for a while and then went to bed.
The next morning Meg followed Carrie out to the barn and watched while she saddled her horse.
“I wish you’d change your mind about learning to ride,” she said. “I feel badly about leaving you alone every morning.”
“Don’t be silly! You go and have fun. I have things I can do. I’m so nice and relaxed. It’s a real vacation for me not to have to clean, do my own laundry, tend the garden, and all that. I’m getting spoiled here. And with all the good food, I’m putting on weight. I’m going to have to let out some of my dress seams.”
“Thank heaven for that! When you got here you looked like a skeleton. I’ll be back in about an hour.” With that, she expertly mounted Taffy and they were off at a gallop.
The morning was cool and lovely and Meg decided not to go right back into the house. She wandered over to the corral next to the barn. There were several horses there, including a mare and her new foal. Meg had watched the miracle of birth for the first time two nights ago.
Carrie had awakened her around 2 a.m. Hoss had been fretting over this particular mare for a few days. He woke Carrie when the horse’s time was near because she had always stayed with him during a foaling. She decided it might be something Meg would like to see and she woke her up and brought her along to the barn. It wasn’t a particularly difficult birth, but the foal was large and Hoss watched over the mother with an eagle eye. Meg watched in awe as the front hooves appeared and then the foal’s tiny wet nose. In a short time it was all over and the small creature was making wobbly attempts to stand as his mother nuzzled him.
“Oh, Carrie, thank you for getting me up! That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen!” she breathed.
“I thought you might like it. I get to see that all the time, but it’s always miraculous. Sometimes the little ones don’t make it, or the mother dies. It’s very sad, but Hoss says it’s all part of the cycle of life. Anyway, it’s definitely a part of ranch life. I’m glad you had a chance to see it. Now let’s try and get some sleep,” Carrie responded as they walked back toward the house.
Unbelievably, the little foal was now trotting around near its mother and gamboling around the safety of the corral. Meg put her hand through the fence rails and he cautiously approached her. A breeze rustled her shawl and the movement was enough to send him scampering back to the safety of his mother’s side. She was laughing at his antics when she heard a rider approach. Turning, she saw Adam ride up.
Not for the first time, she noted how wonderful he looked on his horse. He rode with ease and confidence, almost one with the lovely red animal. He spotted her and, still mounted, slowed Sport and walked him slowly toward her. She didn’t move as he dismounted and wrapped the reins around the corral rail. What would he say to her? Surely he must be at least annoyed with her because of last night. She waited and let him speak first.
“Are you checking out our stock, ma’am?” he asked mildly. “Interested in purchasing one of these fine animals? He was teasing her, but she decided to play along.
“Why, yes I am. I’m particularly interested in that spotted horse over there,” she pointed. He never even glanced at the animal as he walked over, his eyes pinned on her.
“Pinto, ma’am. The horse is called a pinto. And you have a good eye. She’s a beauty.” He walked closer to Meg, and she backed up a bit until she was against the corral railings. “But I’m afraid she’s going to cost you some,” he continued.
Adam was very close now, looking down at her and invading her space. She swallowed, but continued to play along.
“What’s her price?” she asked as her heart began to race.
He placed one hand on the rails on either side of her shoulders, boxing her in. His face was inches from hers and she inhaled his scent…bay rum, horse, leather, man.
“Well, I consider her priceless. But for you,” he paused to consider, “for you, perhaps we could make some special arrangements.” He didn’t move. He knew exactly what he was doing, of course. She was sexually unsophisticated and he was completely aware of the effect he was having on her. He hoped she was as uncomfortable as he had been last night. The only problem was that she had the same effect on him and parts of him were becoming damned uncomfortable.
She knew he was playing with her, but it was his game and she didn’t know the rules. What was she supposed to do? Push him away? Give him a smart answer? Run? She decided to stand her ground. Let him make the next move. To her amazement, he suddenly stepped back. The tension in her body had been so great that she grabbed the corral rail to steady herself. Her legs were wobbly and the rest of her felt like a punctured balloon.
Adam turned from her briefly, inhaled a huge amount of air, slowly expelled it, then turned back. The teasing, sexy look on his face was gone.
“We have to talk.”
She nodded, simply because she couldn’t think of a thing to say. He took her arm and led her to the barn. He was walking quickly and she had to skip to keep up with him.
“Has anyone taken you down to see the lake yet?” he asked her.
“You mean Lake Tahoe?”
“That would be the one.”
“Good, we’ll go for a ride and I’ll show it to you.” He called out for Hop Sing and the cook appeared from out of the kitchen.
“When Miss Carrie gets back tell her I took Miss Meg to see the lake. We’ll be back before lunch.” As they entered the barn she reminded him, “I can’t ride, Adam.”
“I haven’t forgotten. I’m getting a buggy horse to hitch up.” He led a bay mare out of the barn and around to the carriage house. It took him only a minute or two to hitch her and then he helped Meg into the buggy.
“Wait here,” he told her. He jogged back to the barn.
“As if I could go anyplace,” she thought. “I have no idea how to drive this thing.”
He returned in a minute with a blanket, tossed it into the back, climbed in, slapped the reins, and they were off. They headed in a different direction from any of the others Meg had traveled since her arrival. They were climbing and scenery changed…more trees, less flat land. The road was not as well traveled as others she had been on, but the horse trotted on briskly. She was becoming unnerved by Adam’s silence and decided to apologize to him before they went any further. Tapping him on the arm she said, “Adam, please stop the buggy.” He complied immediately. Turning to her, and noticing her troubled eyes, he asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I want to apologize to you for my behavior last night…no, please hear me out,” she added when it appeared he was about to say something.
“I tried to outsmart you in front of your family. I was showing off. I don’t know what got into me and I have no excuse. It was rude and ungrateful behavior and I’m truly sorry. It won’t happen again, I can promise you.” She had dropped her eyes while she made her little speech, but she now raised them and gazed into his. To her surprise he was smiling at her.
“Your apology is accepted. I think you were just trying to get my attention. I’ve practically ignored you since you arrived. You had a right to wonder what was going on especially considering the way we left things in Boston. Let me get us where we’re going and we’ll talk about it, all right?”
She silently nodded her assent and he once again turned his attention to his driving. The trees thickened considerably and the sun was almost blotted out. She pulled her shawl more closely around her.
“Are you cold?”
She shook her head. Just being near him created an exciting warmth inside. Her action had been more reflexive than anything else. Suddenly she giggled.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“I was thinking of a quotation that fit the moment,” she answered him, still chuckling.
“Well…what is it?”
“You won’t like it.”
“All right, but you were warned. ‘This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and hemlocks stand like Druids of old.’” She quoted. “In case you didn’t know it’s from “Evangeline” by guess which poet.” And she laughed again.
Adam laughed with her. This was so much better than the testiness, which had held them both captive for the past few days. Riding with her, talking, laughing…yes, this was much better. It reminded him of the time they’d spent together in Boston. And he had a sudden insight. He not only loved this young woman, he also liked her. In the long run, that second feeling might be just as important as the first.
“I’ll admit it’s a fitting quotation. These trees are ancient. Many were probably here when the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock. I read “Evangeline” years ago. It’s about the Acadians and separated lovers, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Evangeline and Gabriel are separated and she searches for him for her entire life. She finally finds him when they are quite old and just before he dies.”
“Just another reason to dislike Longfellow, in my opinion.”
“I don’t understand,” she said, puzzled by the remark. Adam looked at her with that direct gaze of his.
“I don’t think lovers should be separated, do you?” Her breath caught in her throat. Before she could reply he pulled the horse to a stop. He helped her down, tossed his hat into the buggy, and reached for the blanket.
“See that little path?” he asked her, pointing to a narrow break through the trees. She nodded.
“Just follow it for a few hundred feet. I’ll be right behind you.” She began to walk and the trail climbed slightly. Ahead of her she could see a clearing. She continued on and she suddenly found herself on a small grassy bluff with Lake Tahoe laid before her like a large blue shimmering piece of silk. Trees rose up from the shoreline, climbing the hills that surrounded the lake. In the distance she could see snow capped mountains. The view took her breath away. She could hear Adam spreading the blanket under a tree.
“Oh, Adam! I never thought it would be this big. It’s absolutely magnificent,” she sighed as she took in the bright sunlight dancing on the crystal water and the abundant pines standing tall and proud. “No wonder you love it here so! It’s incredibly beautiful!”
He came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.
“You’re incredibly beautiful,” he said quietly. “And I can’t keep my hands off you another second. I hope I haven’t offended your sensibilities, Miss Prescott.” To his utter delight, her reply was to move backwards towards him, resting her head on his left shoulder. He tightened his hold on her and nuzzled her now exposed neck with his nose. He drank in her scent like a man who has found an oasis in the desert drinks of its life sustaining water. He worried her earlobe gently with his lips marveling at its incredible softness. The arms that held her fast sensed the change in her breathing and he turned her around. Her hands rested on his shirt and the face that looked up into his glowed with happiness, trust, and love. She was his beloved.
“I’ve waited twelve long months for this moment,” he told her.
“I’ve waited my whole life,” was her reply.
He bent his head and his lips found hers. He pressed gently, not wanting to frighten her. She was innocent and he had to proceed slowly, though his body was hungry with need for her. Her arms slid up and encircled his neck. He drew her closer still, moving his lips tenderly over hers. She responded by standing on tiptoe and pressing into him, following ancient instinct. One hand slid up her back and cradled her neck. He broke the kiss but moved his lips over her face, mapping her cheeks, eyelids, chin, nose. She whimpered in protest, “ Adam, don’t.”
“Don’t what, Precious?” he murmured. “Don’t kiss you?”
He captured her mouth again, this time taking it with more authority. A tiny moan escaped her lips and when they parted he lightly licked them with his tongue, wanting to see how she would respond. Her tongue darted out shyly and touched his lips. He thought his heart would explode. He broke off the kiss and, holding her tightly around the waist, whirled her around twice. She threw back her head and laughed with pure joy. When her feet were on the ground once again he took her hand and pulled her over to the blanket. He sat with his back against a tree and situated her between his legs in a semi reclined position, her head resting on his chest. For a time they sat just that way, in happy silence.
“Does it ever get tiring?” she asked him as she delightedly listened to his heart beating in his chest and fiddled with the buttons on his shirt.
“Does what ever get tiring? Kissing?” He kissed the top of her head. “No… Hugging?” He gave her a squeeze. “Nope… Watching the lake?” He paused and looked up at the spectacular view. “Rarely…. Breaking horses? Yes! In case I haven’t answered your question, you’ll have to be a bit more specific.”
“Being right! Does being right ever get tiring?” He sighed deeply and responded to her question as if she had accused him of a crime for which he was a known repeat offender.
“I give up. What was I right about this time?”
“In Boston you said that someday you’d kiss me and I’d like it. You were right. I liked it.”
“If my memory serves me, you hussy, you told me you knew you would like it even before it happened.”
“That’s not exactly true…I said I thought I’d like it. But I’m too happy to argue semantics with you. I did like it. You were right…again.” She looked up at him and smiled. He looked at her sweet face, smiled back, and then grew serious.
“Sit up, sweetheart. I want to talk with you.” She reluctantly pushed herself up and sat facing him. He took both her hands in his and bent forward to plant a light kiss on her lips. She looked at him expectantly.
“I love you, Meg. I think I’ve loved you since the day we met in the bookstore. I love your intelligence, your wit, your optimistic nature, and your gentleness. I want to ask you to stay in Nevada…not return to Boston. Nothing would make me happier. But I’m worried about how happy you’d be here. Our life is nothing like city life. It’s harder and uglier. A good example of that is the hanging in town. I tried to see how you reacted to that, but I couldn’t tell. There are plenty of good people in the area, but we deal with a lot of bad characters as well. When you run a ranch you have to hire just about whomever you can. As long as they can do the work, you don’t ask too many questions about their backgrounds. We’ve dealt with everyone from simple vagrants to con men to escaped convicts. I’d do everything in my power to protect you from that type of thing, but you’re bound to run into some of it. If you stayed here it’d be more than a case of missing the shopping you could do in Boston. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
She nodded, but didn’t speak because she saw he had more to say.
“You were right when you said I belong here. My family and my life are on this ranch in Nevada. There would be no question about my leaving here and moving east. Sometime before the wedding I’m going to ask you a question. I hope what you’ll do is try to think about what I just said. I hope you’ll try to learn everything you can about ranch life in general and the Cartwrights in particular, so whatever your answer to me is, it’s the right answer for you.” He paused briefly. “I love you enough to let you go, if that’s what you choose.”
She didn’t speak for a moment. She tried to absorb what he had said and fashion a fitting response. He loved her! Her heart sang with the news. She had thought he no longer cared for her, but in fact he loved her so much that he was going to ask her to marry him, for surely that could be the only question of which he spoke. She caressed his cheek with her hand. He covered it with his own, then planted a kiss in her palm. She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his, sweetly and tenderly.
“I love you, too, Adam. I don’t know when it happened, but I know I was desolate when you left Boston. I felt that a part of me was missing. I thought about you all the time, relived every single moment we’d spent together. A part of the reason I took this trip was so I could see you again.” She stopped and laughed. “You’re right. I am a hussy. No respectable lady would ever admit such a thing.” She grew serious again.
“I won’t insult you by laughing off your concerns for me. This is the place you grew up and you know it far better than I do. So I’ll do what you want and try to learn as much as I can. And I’ll tell you what I thought about the…hanging.” She swallowed, then continued, looking him directly in the eye.
“There were several things that shocked me. First there was the nature of the crime itself. An entire family murdered by a relative! I can’t imagine a person with a soul so dark who could commit such an act. I know that the law must handle these things and apparently it did. But the most shocking aspect of it all was what Joe said…that families treat an execution like a holiday. Is that really true, Adam?” He looked into her troubled eyes and nodded.
“I’m afraid it is, sweetheart. The man committed an atrocious act. Hoss was on the jury. They could have asked for mercy, but they didn’t because the memory of those three children stopped them. Pearson got what he deserved. It’s an unfortunate truth out here that some people create a carnival atmosphere around an execution. We don’t like it and we don’t participate, but you have to know that it happens.” Her face was sad, but she just nodded her head in acceptance of what he was telling her.
“I’m afraid there are some other things I have to tell you. You’re not going to like them, but you have to know.”
“Please don’t tell me now, Adam. It’s not that I don’t want to hear what you have to say. It’s just that this moment is so special to me. I’m happier than I’ve ever been and I want to enjoy the feeling a little longer…please?”
There was no way he could refuse her. She had relieved his mind about two of his three major concerns. She still loved him and he’d be willing to bet she’d marry him and stay here instead of returning to Boston. She had fit into his family with amazing ease. She had everyone eating out of the palm of her hand, including Hop Sing. But the third concern loomed in front of him in all its ugliness. He knew he was only postponing the inevitable. She would have to know about the men he had shot…about the three he had killed. He fully expected that she might not be able to accept those killings, although each had been justified and completely within the law…self defense in two cases and defending someone else in the third. Those events in his past could lose him the person who was most precious to him, but he was too honorable not to be completely truthful with her. She would have to know, but not today. He smiled, pulled her into his arms, and she snuggled up to him. She was right. This was a moment to be savored. They had declared their love for each other and he wouldn’t spoil it by enumerating all the unhappy or tragic events from his past. She tapped him on the chest and he looked down at her.
“Kiss me again like you did before,” she demanded. This was so out of character for her that he laughed.
“You are brazen, aren’t you! I think I’m supposed to initiate that sort of thing.”
“I liked it. It gave me a funny feeling down here.” She patted her tummy. “It was a good funny feeling. Do you get that feeling too?”
He looked at her in amazement. She was as innocent and honest as a child. He wondered what she knew about sex. Carrie, raised on the ranch, knew a good deal. But Meg had been raised by a maiden aunt. Her job was teaching well-bred girls in that little nunnery in Boston. The fact that, if she married him, he might have to teach her about marital relations both unnerved him and filled his head with delightful possibilities.
“Yes, I get that same feeling, dear heart. Come here.” He pulled her closer and kissed her upturned lips. He rubbed gently until her lips parted and a tiny sigh escaped her. He traced the outline of her mouth with his tongue. Her lips parted further. He began a leisurely exploration of her mouth. Good Lord, she was sweet! She became bolder and soon their tongues were engaged in a sensuous duel, which left them both breathless. He pulled away first and looked down at her face. Her eyes were closed, her lips were parted, and she was flushed and breathing heavily. He was watching her experience sexual passion for the first time and he was awestruck. Adam was not an inexperienced man, but this rather tame encounter moved him more, emotionally, than complete sexual union had with any number of other women.
“Meg, sweetheart, we’d better stop.”
“Nooo,” she protested. “It feels so nice. Don’t stop,”
His tone grew firmer. “We’re stopping. Right now.”
“Why?” she pouted. He wanted to kiss the pout away but he resisted.
“I don’t have time to explain it to you now, but I will sometime soon. Besides, I said you’d be home for lunch.” She opened her eyes and looked at him reproachfully. He shook his head as he returned her look.
“Staying here with you is incredibly tempting, but we really have to leave. You’re not going to scowl at me the entire way back, are you?” Her frown disappeared and she laughed. He helped her to her feet and folded the blanket. Taking her hand he led her back to the carriage. After she was seated, he turned the horse around on the narrow road, got into the buggy, and began the drive back to the house.
They drove in companionable silence for a little while and then she said, “Adam, I really am sorry I was so rude last night. I thought you’d had a change of heart. Why did you wait so long to speak?”
“I had my reasons, most of which seem pretty pathetic at the moment. My father’s right. Sometimes I think too much. And when you first arrived you didn’t seem to be in any condition for a serious discussion of the future. Forget about last night. I was playing some attention getting games myself this morning. From now on let’s just agree to be honest with each other. It simplifies things.”
In response, she slipped her arm through his and leaned against him as he drove. She surprised him by asking, “May I drive the horse?”
“Have you driven before?” he asked, suspecting what the answer would be.
“No. Is it difficult?”
“Not really. Come sit closer to me and I’ll show you how.”
“The only way I can sit closer to you is if I sit on your lap.”
He smiled wolfishly at her and waggled his eyebrows.
“Are you serious?” she asked.
He sighed and shook his head.
“Nice as it sounds to me, it really isn’t practical. But wait…” He place both reins in his left hand and put his right arm around her, pulling her close.
“Take the reins,” he told her. She took one in each hand. He placed his hands on her wrists.
“Now if you want the horse to trot, you just slap the reins on her backside. No…no…don’t do it now.” He stopped her as she was about to signal the mare into a faster gait. “The road’s too rough here. We’d bounce all over the place. If you want her to slow down just pull back on the reins…that’s it! Straight back. Good.”
They drove for a while with his arms around her and then she pulled the buggy to a halt.
“Tired? Want me to take over?” he asked.
“No, I want to do it myself now.”
“Isn’t it nicer this way?” he asked as he gave her a kiss. She looked at him with eyes full of love and determination.
“Yes, it’s nicer, but I want to learn to do this properly and you’re a distraction.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that,” he said, removing his arm from around her. “But all right, Miss Independence, you can drive and I’ll watch the scenery.
She slapped the reins and the horse walked forward. She was concentrating on her driving but she noticed him staring at her from the corner of her eye.
“I thought you said you were going to watch the scenery.”
He adjusted his hat and said, “I am. You’re the best looking scenery around here.” She laughed with delight and then grew serious.
“Adam, what are we going to do when we get back to the house?”
“You know that’s not what I mean. Are we going to tell anyone that…I mean about us…I don’t…” she fumbled for the right words.
“Stop the carriage, sweetheart.” She did so and turned to look at him. He took both her hands in his own.
“For the time being, I think we should go on like before. This doesn’t mean that I don’t want the world to know how much I love you…I do! I’d like to go home right now and announce that we’re engaged. But there are things you need to know that might affect any decision you make. You were right. Today wasn’t the day to tell you those things. There’s time enough for that later. I don’t like the idea of keeping secrets, but for now I think we needn’t make any announcements to anyone. Does that sound reasonable to you?”
She stroked his cheek and said, “I was thinking the same thing, but for a different reason. I think this time, up to and including the wedding, belongs to Carrie and Joe. I think everyone’s attention should be focused on them because this is their special time. I don’t want anything to detract from that.”
“Your unselfishness can be added to the growing list of reasons why I love you. I think you’re wrong though. No one would be happier for us than Carrie and she wouldn’t mind sharing her spotlight.”
He smiled at her. “So, we’re agreed. We’re going to be honest with each other and a little less than honest with everyone else, at least for a while. We’re just…friends.” He shook his head. “Sounds good, but I don’t know how I’ll be able to keep my hands off you.”
“I guess I’ll just have to use the acting abilities that Carrie seems to think I have,” she told him.
He chuckled and she looked at him.
“I did some acting of my own in a few college productions. I suppose I can draw on that.”
“I didn’t know that!” she exclaimed. He took the reins from her and slapped them against the horse’s rump.
do you think I met Edwin?”
They were met by an agitated Carrie.
“We just about have time to eat, Meg. Did you forget about the quilting bee this afternoon at Lorna Bitterly’s?” she asked.
“I’m sorry, Carrie. I did forget. Will we be very late?” Meg answered as they walked into the house.
“Not if we hurry. What was Adam doing here anyway? He’s supposed to be overseeing a big lumber order for the railroad.”
“You’ll have to ask him that question,” came the reply.
Carrie never got the chance. Adam hitched a couple of horses to a buckboard and headed into Virginia City. He grabbed a bite to eat and then transacted some business. When he got back to the ranch, he was met by his very angry father.
“Where on earth have you been all day?” Ben demanded as his eldest jumped down from the buckboard. Adam walked around to the back and began untying ropes from around a large, canvas covered item in the bed of the wagon.
“I was at the cut site at 6 this morning. Everything was on schedule so I left Hoss in charge, came back here, and drove Meg over to see the lake.”
“Oh you did, did you? You know we’re behind on this order. Did you replace the two men you fired?”
“No. I can’t find anyone.”
“Are we going to get this order out to Mason on time?”
“I don’t see how.”
“Well, what are you going to do about it?” Ben roared. “While you were sashaying a girl around the lake, we stand to lose more than $20,000!” He took a couple of deep breaths and watched as his son calmly untied the last rope and threw back the canvas.
“And what in the world is that?” he demanded loudly.
“I think they call it a piano, Pa.”
“I know it’s a piano! What’s it doing here?” Adam’s calm demeanor and behavior only served to further infuriate his father’s temper.
“Well Meg said last night that she missed her piano, and since she’s a guest I thought I’d get her one to use while she’s here. I mean we’ve always tried to make our guests comfortable, haven’t we, Pa?”
Ben’s eyes narrowed and he stared at Adam.
“You’re telling me that you went and got a piano so she’d feel comfortable ?”
“Mmm hmm.” Adam stared back at his father but his face gave away nothing.
“Where’d you get it?”
“You don’t want to know.”
Ben took another deep breath. He was making an effort to hold on to what was left of his temper. The only reason he hadn’t exploded was that an idea had planted itself in his brain…a thought that filled him with delight, but he knew it would be next to impossible to get confirmation of it from the person facing him. He took a new tack.
“Where are you proposing to put this thing?” he asked as calmly as he could manage.
“There’s an empty space under the banister by the stair landing. I think it’ll fit.”
“And when our houseguest goes home to Boston?”
Ah ha! There it was! Just the tiniest flicker in Adam’s eye. You had to be looking for it, but it was there. And he noticed that his son didn’t answer immediately. He seemed to be choosing his words carefully.
“When the piano is no longer needed, I’ll take it back, I promise,” was all he said. “Now, can you help me get it into the house?”
“First palominos and then pianos.”
“I said first palominos and then pianos.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Pa.”
Ben smiled and murmured, “Sure you don’t.” Then in a louder voice he said, “It’ll take more than the two of us to unload this thing. Let’s wait till your brothers get home.”
Hop Sing had prepared dinner because Carrie and Meg were away all afternoon. Meg had never been to a quilting bee and this one was special because each woman had made a square for a quilt that was to be a wedding present for Carrie and Joe. It was a star pattern done in Carrie’s favorite colors...blue and green. The women spent an enjoyable afternoon assembling the quilt, sewing, laughing, and gossiping. Meg was again made aware of the fact that the women were from all different backgrounds and yet the class system so ingrained in Boston society didn’t seem to exist at all here. They were united by the fact that they were women taking part in the taming of a rough land. They were a support system for each other because most of them had left their families far behind. At first the others were rather reserved around her, but she soon won them over with her genuine interest in their lives and activities. Her ability with a needle was put to good use. She learned a lot that afternoon, made some friends, and had a good time in the process.
Carrie was the first to see the piano and she squealed with delight.
“Now you can play for us or we can play duets. This’ll be fun! I wonder where it came from?” They found out at the dinner table and when the others weren’t looking Meg caught Adam’s eye, nodded at the instrument, and mouthed the words “thank you”. He smiled and winked. The evening was filled with music and laughter. Meg played well and she and Carrie sang like larks. They both had pretty voices and had practiced singing harmonies during many of the long evenings in Boston. It was a pleasure to listen to them. Sometimes Adam and Joe would join in, their masculine voices blending beautifully with the women’s. They sang rounds, old-fashioned folk songs, and, to satisfy Carrie, more modern tunes that spoke sentimentally of love. When Meg was tired of playing they sat around and kept her in a state of constant amusement as they recounted the tricks Carrie and Joe had played as children. Her favorite story was about the time that the two of them tossed a brick in the air and had told Hoss they’d pay him a dollar if he could catch it on his head. She laughed till she thought she’d cry as Hoss sat looking sheepish.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be laughing. You could have been badly hurt. Why weren’t you? Couldn’t you catch it?”
“Oh no, he caught it all right,” Joe piped up. He’s lucky he has such a hard head. He was only unconscious a few minutes.” There was another burst of laughter. Carrie grew suddenly quiet.
“This is so much fun. Everyone I love best in the world is here and we’re all safe and happy. I wish it could be like this forever.”
Meg mentally agreed with her friend. This was a happy, loving household and she knew she could be happy being a part of it.
“You’re not going to start to cry on me, are you, darlin’?” Joe asked, adding with a laugh, “I’ve fallen in love with the only woman in Nevada with a waterfall behind her eyes!”
“No, I’m not going to cry. I just wish we could always be like this. Maybe it will be.” She looked at Meg and grinned.
“I heard at the quilting bee that Luther Healy is coming to call tomorrow after school.”
Meg’s head shot up and looked at her friend.
“Don’t we have someplace to go tomorrow, Carrie?”
“No place at all. We’re free as birds!” Carrie answered still smiling. “And school’s over so he might be a frequent caller. You two probably have a lot in common since you both teach. He’s very nice.” Meg felt her face turning red.
“You shouldn’t blush, Meg,” Hoss added. “you’re right pretty and it’s no wonder some of the local fellas want to get to know you.
While she was desperately searching for something to say, Joe said to Carrie, “There’s a half moon tonight. Time for our walk, sweetheart.” He took her outstretched hand and helped her to her feet. As she was adjusting her shawl Ben spoke the now familiar words, “Half an hour, Joseph.” The two looked at each other and Carrie giggled. Holding hands, they left the house. Meg pondered how nice it would be to take a moonlight walk with her own particular Cartwright man, but that wasn’t possible at the moment. Suddenly Adam was speaking to her.
“How about a game of chess?”
She nodded vigorously. It was a relief to be able to look at him. In order not to arouse suspicion, she had been trying to ignore him for most of the evening. Now he suggested that they play on the dining room table because it was more comfortable. She readily agreed. While he was setting up the game, his father said to her, “I didn’t know that you knew how to play chess.”
“I know how to move the pieces, Mr. Cartwright. I don’t think that’s exactly the same as knowing how to play the game.”
“You’re right, my dear, but it’s a start. Well, Adam’s a good player. I’m sure he’ll be able to help you improve your game. And now I’ve got more paperwork to do. It never seems to end.”
“Pa, I think I’ve come up with an idea that will save the lumber order,” Adam said as he held out a chair for Meg.
“You do? What is it?” his father asked.
“I’ll explain it to you later, but I’m almost certain it will work. And we won’t have to hire anyone else to get it done.” This put his father in a better frame of mind as he sat himself behind his desk. Hoss, for whom chess held no interest at all, decided to turn in early.
When she was sure that no one would overhear her, Meg asked quietly, “What am I going to do tomorrow when that school teacher comes by?” She moved her first pawn.
“You’ll go for a ride with him.”
If he had pulled the chair out from under her as she sat down she couldn’t have been more surprised.
“I don’t want to go!”
“I know you don’t but it’s better that you do. It would look strange if you didn’t, since everyone is expecting you to go.” He moved his first pawn. “I can trust you with him, can’t I?” he added.
She looked at him coolly and then, like an angry child, she stuck her tongue out at him. She moved her knight.
“You’d better put that attractive little tongue back in your mouth before I find some better employment for it,” he warned her, moving his bishop. When she didn’t respond immediately, he looked up. She appeared distressed.
“Should you be talking to me like that?” she asked.
“I’m teasing you, Meg. Does that kind of talk upset you?”
She captured one of his pawns with her knight. She wouldn’t meet his eyes and she was blushing. She took a deep breath and finally said, “I don’t know how you’re going to take this, but, no, it doesn’t upset me. But it upsets me that it doesn’t upset me! I like it when you say things like that. Suddenly I’m feeling all sorts of strange feelings when I’m with you and I laugh at things that respectable women shouldn’t find amusing. I don’t know what’s happening to me, but I don’t think I’m behaving much like a lady and it troubles me. We said we were going to be honest and that’s as honest as I can be. I can understand if I’m a disappointment to you.” She sneaked a peak at him from below her lowered lashes. He was smiling and shaking his head. He spoke to her very softly.
“You and I are going to have to have a long talk very soon. First, you are not a disappointment to me. Second, those feeling you feel are perfectly normal for someone who’s in love…you did say you love me, didn’t you?” She nodded solemnly.
“You’re the most respectable woman I know and the things we say to each other in private shouldn’t trouble or embarrass you. It’s the way people in love speak to each other and it’s fun and exciting. It shouldn’t upset you…it should make you happy.”
“Then I’m not turning into a loose woman?”
He had to stop himself from laughing.
“You are most definitely not a loose woman…not even close. Stop worrying.”
He saw a look of relief flood her face. He had been right. She might be 27 but she was pretty naïve. Given her background he wasn’t surprised.
“Now you’d better pay attention to this game,” he added, moving one of his rooks.
“I’ve almost got you in check.” She turned her attention back to the game, but he beat her in four more moves.
“I’d play another game, but I have to speak to my father about the lumber deal. Are you going to stay up a little longer?”
“No, I’m exhausted.” She smiled prettily at him and his heart lurched with love for her. “It’s been a pretty exciting day for me… you know, seeing the lake and all,” she teased him. “I’ll just say goodnight to your father and go up.”
“Tell him you’re getting a drink of water in the kitchen and going up the back way.”
“Because I’ll be in the kitchen waiting to say goodnight to you.”
She giggled and walked over to the alcove where Ben Cartwright sat, ledgers opened all around him.
“Goodnight Mr. Cartwright. I’ll see you in the morning. I’m just going to get a drink of water and go to bed.”
Ben looked up and smiled.
“Goodnight, Meg.” He looked behind her for his son. “Where’s Adam?”
“I think he said to had to go outside and visit the…umm…umm.”
“Oh …of course. Well I guess he’ll be in soon. Sleep well.”
Meg walked quickly towards the kitchen. An arm shot out and grabbed her and in a second she was enfolded in Adam’s arms. His lips came down roughly on hers kissing the breath out of her. When he finally raised his head she felt as limp as a rag doll.
“Do you see what you do to me?” she said shakily, holding on to him for support. “I’ve never felt like this before.”
“You said it was a good feeling this afternoon.”
“It is.” She looked at him with adoring eyes. “I never knew such feelings existed. And when you hold me, I just feel like this is where I belong…like I’ve come home. I guess that sounds stupid, but I can’t explain it any other way.”
“It’s not stupid at all. You are home, my love. I just hope you’ll stay,” he said quietly.
She held his face in both her hands and looked into his eyes.
“Adam, don’t wait. Tell me now whatever it is you think I need to know. If it’s something or someone from your past I don’t care. I only care about now and the future. Please tell me. I can’t imagine anything that would make a difference about how I feel about you. I love you.”
“Not tonight, Meg. I’ll tell you tomorrow, I promise, but not tonight.”
He looked so serious that she was troubled, but he kissed her again and every thought left her mind as she wrapped her arms around his neck and floated away on the feelings he was able to produce in her. When he broke away, he said, “I really better get in and speak with my father.” She nodded.
“And, I’d better go to bed,” she answered. He nodded back. Neither of them moved. They gazed at each other, smiling the silly grins that people in love smile. Finally she said, “I really am going up now. It’s been a busy day.” She enumerated her activities.
“ I got to see Lake Tahoe, I went to my first quilting bee, and I got to play the piano again. Oh! I forgot to tell you! I almost bought a horse this morning.” She was smiling wickedly at him.
“Really!” he responded, with a straight face.
“Yes, the man who was selling her said her could make some special arrangements for me to buy her.”
“What kind of arrangements?”
“Oh, he didn’t specify.” She lowered her voice and spoke conspiratorially. “I think he was attracted to me!” She batted her eyes dramatically.
“Wouldn’t surprise me a bit.”
“He was extremely attractive himself.”
“Should I be jealous?”
“I think you should be. I plan to dream about him tonight.” He smiled but said nothing. She continued.
“Yes, I really should get my “beauty sleep” as Carrie calls it because I have a big day tomorrow. I’m going for a buggy ride with Luther Healy, the school teacher.”
When he didn’t reply, she looked up. He wasn’t smiling anymore. She couldn’t believe it. He was jealous! Or at least displeased about the arrangement.
“Don’t frown at me. You were the one who said I should go!”
“I know. I expect you to go, but I don’t want you to enjoy it.” She put her arms around his waist and hugged him.
“You have nothing to be concerned about. I don’t really want to go, but I will. I’ll be polite, but that’s all. I love you .” She looked up at him with adoring eyes. “I really do love you, Adam. You believe me, don’t you?”
He hugged her and kissed the top of her head, then nuzzled her neck.
“Yes, I believe you. And I love you too, sweetheart. Now, you’d better get upstairs. My father will be coming to look for me in a minute.”
He let her go and she tripped happily up the stairs to her room. She undressed and made a mental note to let out the seams of a few of her dresses in the next few days. She couldn’t pull her corset stays tighter without the risk of fainting before she could take a deep breath. She put on her nightgown, brushed her hair and braided it, wrote for half an hour in her journal, blew out the lamp, and crawled beneath the covers. As her head touched the pillow she heard a rustling noise. She lifted her head, listened for a minute, and hearing nothing else, she put her head on the pillow again. She heard the rustle again. Slipping her hand under the pillow she drew out a paper bag. She got up, re-lighted the lamp and examined it. It was a small paper sack with red stripes. She opened it was filled with chocolate drops, one of her favorite candies. She went back to the bed and lifted the pillow to find a note. She read its contents by the soft lamplight:
contained in this bag comes near to being as sweet as you are.
I love you. Sleep well.
went over to the bed still holding the candy, spread her arms out as wide
as they would go, and fell backwards onto the mattress. She looked
at the little bag of sweets and said to it, “I am the luckiest woman on
the face of the earth!” Then she opened the bag and popped a chocolate
drop into her mouth.
Adam never got to have his talk with Meg the next day. After she went to bed he told his father his plan for saving the lumber deal. When he was in Virginia City to pick up the piano and the candy he had heard that it had been raining almost non-stop near the site where the ties were needed. Work on the tracks had just about shut down. It was his idea to offer to store the ties on the Ponderosa until such time as they were needed. The railroad brass could wire them when they wanted delivery to begin. This would probably buy them the time they needed to complete the cutting and milling. His father was delighted, but he insisted that Adam was the one who had to go to San Francisco to make the proposal. He was running the entire operation and no one else could answer all the questions that might arise.
Adam tried to argue his way out of it. The trip meant he would be away for the better part of a week. The wedding was only ten days away and he certainly didn’t want to be separated from Meg for that length of time. But there was no way around it, so he told his father he would leave first thing in the morning.
He went to his room and wrote a letter to Meg. He would be gone long before she and Carrie were up. He noticed that her light was out and he slipped the letter under her door.
Then he packed and crawled into bed to get some sleep.
The next morning Meg found the letter on the floor. As she read it her face showed disappointment, then love, and finally amusement. He had written that he didn’t intend to break his promise, but explained the circumstances of his departure. He said that it might be a blessing in disguise, because even an actor as good as Edwin couldn’t give a believable performance about being “friends” if he loved someone the way that Adam loved her. And he reminded her not to have a good time with Luther Healy. She sighed, kissed the letter, and placed it in her journal with his letter to her in Boston, and the note from last night.
The week flew by, and although she missed him dreadfully, she was busy with Carrie making the final wedding arrangements. Carrie’s gown was exquisite. As she modeled it, Meg told her she looked just like Snow White…fair skin, pink cheeks and lips, raven hair. Her blue-green eyes shone with happiness and excitement. It was mid-June and early roses were in bloom, so she wanted those for her bouquet. They packed most of her clothes and Joe took them to the house. The curtains were done and Meg hung them for her. Everyone’s best clothes were taken out and cleaned, if necessary, and pressed. Meg was to be her maid of honor and she had brought a lovely mauve silk gown with her from Boston. Since she had put on some of the weight she lost, there was a good deal of tailoring to be done to her own wardrobe.
Cooking lessons continued and they even entertained guests twice. One evening Meg got to meet Sheriff Roy Coffee, a good friend of the family. He was a charming, funny man and Meg took to him at once. Carrie assured her he was a tough law enforcement official who had helped to tame some of the wilder elements in Virginia City. And they had Pastor Lundstrum and his wife to dinner, as well. She was due to have her baby in about a month and her willingness to go out to socialize at such a late stage of her pregnancy further indicated to Meg the difference between customs here and back east. Ruth Lundstrum was was not a typical “minister’s wife”. She had a sense of humor and verve that reminded Meg much of Carrie. Perhaps it was her red hair, but she was unlike the quiet, mousy looking women who seemed to marry ministers back home. Meg liked her immensely. Her husband was a tall, pleasant man who seemed to take life a bit more seriously than his wife. His quiet, intellectual nature reminded Meg a little of Adam.
Carrie took her around to see some of the typical activities that went on at the ranch. She watched Joe “break” a couple of horses. She watched some of the hands brand new calves.
“Carrie, I don’t care what you say. That hurts them!”
“Well, maybe you’re right, but they do it as quickly as possible. The calves have to be branded, so we can tell our stock from everyone else’s. One steer looks just like another.”
These must be some of the things that Adam had spoken to her about. Well surely he didn’t expect her to brand calves or even watch it done on a regular basis. She shook her head. He was too worried about her sensibilities. She was stronger than he thought and she couldn’t wait to tell him so.
The wedding was scheduled for Saturday afternoon. Adam was due back on Wednesday. Tuesday dawned hot and humid. Carrie and Joe were riding into town in the afternoon for a final meeting with Pastor Lundstrum. Ben and Hoss were out working and Meg found herself at loose ends. She decided to go for a walk. She dressed casually, even leaving her hair down, but pulled back with a ribbon. She would have never considered doing this at home, but she had gotten into the habit because Carrie often wore her hair down. And the absence of pointy hairpins was a blessing. She packed a little basket with a couple of sandwiches, a tin cup, and a small blanket. She wrote a note and left it on the dining room table telling exactly where she would be.
The afternoon was unusually hot and sultry so she had decided to go back to the site of their first picnic…the little wooded glade with the stream and waterfall. It was a long walk, but much of it was shaded and she moved along briskly. She realized how much she had missed walking. The Cartwrights seemed to ride or drive everywhere. In spite of the heat, the exercise felt good. She came upon a field of black-eyed susans, and , on a whim, she picked a large bunch. When she reached her destination she spread out the blanket, sat down, and made herself a floral crown, necklace, and bracelet like she used to do when she was a child. Then she removed her shoes and stockings and waded in the cool water. She thought to herself that she must be much better than when she arrived because she was enjoying the time alone. The only thing she would have enjoyed more was to have Adam with her. But he would be back tomorrow and that gave her something to look forward to.
She was splashing around near the waterfall and the sound of the water cascading over the rocks blocked the sound of the rider’s approach. He watched her with interest…a young pretty thing, barefoot, skirt hiked up above her knees, wearing a crown of flowers in her wavy hair. A woman-child playing in the cool water. She looked like something out of a fairy tale. He made note of her slender legs and trim ankles. He found himself getting physically excited just looking at her. He quietly dismounted and tied his horse to a tree limb. Removing his hat, he placed it over the saddle horn and walked towards her.
Though she didn’t hear his approach, she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and spun around, almost falling backwards into the stream. He was quick and reached out an arm to save her. He eyes grew wide and she dropped her skirt into the water.
He pulled her towards him and kissed her…a toe curling, bone melting, I’ve been away from you too damned long kiss that left her weak. She clung to him and laughed shakily.
“You weren’t due back till tomorrow. I missed you so much! I’m glad you’re back early. Did your trip go well?” They hugged and rocked together as the comments and questions poured out of her.
“One thing at a time,” he laughed. He helped her out of the stream and they both collapsed on the blanket that she had laid out under a nearby tree.
“Yes, the trip went well. Pa’ll be pleased. The railroad actually thought we were doing them a favor to store the ties till they’re needed. I concluded the business a day early so I left early. I missed you too…couldn’t wait to get back here.”
He stopped talking and looked at her.
“And what do I find, but Titania, decked out in flowers and playing in the woods.”
She blushed and tore the flower necklace from her throat and was about to do the same with the crown, but he stopped her.
“Don’t…it looks pretty. You look pretty.” He kissed her again, but tenderly this time.
“If I’m Titania, then you must be my Oberon,” she said to him. “I’m glad you’re back,” she added quietly. Then more brightly, “Why did you come this way? I thought this road wasn’t used much anymore.”
“It’s not, but it was so hot that I decided to use it because it’s more shaded than any other road from town. And what are you doing out here by yourself?” he asked her.
“Everyone was busy so I decided to take a walk. Don’t worry! I left a note telling exactly where I’d be. It was too hot to stay inside and I remembered this place. So I brought lunch and here I am. Are you hungry? I have some sandwiches.”
They ate the food while she told him about her activities while he had been gone. When she thanked him for the candy, he laughed.
“Is there any left?”
“No,” she admitted with a smile.
“Did you share it?”
“You didn’t say I had to. I ate every piece myself. How did you know that was one of my favorites?”
“Ah, my sweet, I have my ways!” he answered waggling his eyebrows at her and making her laugh. They drank water from the stream from the same tin cup and he teased her when he learned she hadn’t brought anything for dessert.
“Are you losing your sweet tooth?”
“No, I’m afraid of getting fat. I eat like one of your horses and I never walk anywhere. This is the first real exercise I’ve had since I arrived.”
“I can think of a way for you to get exercise and for me to get dessert too.” He lay down on his back and pulled her on top of him. They stared into each others eyes, bumped foreheads, rubbed noses. She surprised and delighted him by taking the lead. She kissed his face all over, ran her fingers over his eyebrows and through his hair. She rubbed her forefinger against the whisker stubble on his chin. She brought her mouth down and covered his, but then he took over. With one smooth motion he reversed their positions so he was on top of her, his weight resting on his elbows. He kissed her rapaciously, then nuzzled her neck and played with her earlobe.
“What fragrance do you wear?” he demanded. “You always smell like a spring garden. It drives me crazy.”
“It’s English lilac. Sometimes I wear rose water, but today it’s lilac,” she managed to reply, running her hands up and down his back, while he trailed baby kisses down her jaw to her chin. She moved restlessly beneath him, wanting something more, but not sure what it was. Instinctively her hips rose. This motion both inflamed him and brought him to his senses. Another few minutes of this and he’d take her on the blanket. That wasn’t how he wanted their first time to be. Puffing like a bellows, he sat up and pulled her up next to him. He raked his fingers through his hair.
“Why do you always do that?” she whined.
“Stop kissing me so suddenly. I don’t want to stop, but you do. Am I doing something wrong?”
He laughed roughly.
“Wrong? Absolutely not. You do everything right…too right. I told you, we’re going to have to have a talk about all this…and soon.” They were sitting facing each other, hip to hip. She was frustrated and a bit angry with him…all these secrets and promises of talks that never happened. The sun disappeared behind an angry looking cloud and her mood darkened a bit as well. Her stubborn, direct Yankee nature wouldn’t tolerate any more.
“I want you to tell me right now what it is that you think might cause me not to love you. I don’t want excuses or postponements. I can’t imagine anything that would make me change my feelings for you, but if such a thing exists then I have to know and know now. The wedding’s on Saturday, Adam. I’ll either be staying on Sunday, or leaving, but either way, I have to make plans.”
He had never seen her this way before. It was like looking in a mirror. Her temperament was so like his own. He was incredibly patient, but there was a flash point beyond which he would take no more. She had arrived at that point and he knew he couldn’t put her off any longer.
“I’ve shot a number of men and I’ve killed three.”
Her head snapped back as if he had slapped her. Confusion and disbelief filled her face. She couldn’t speak as her mind tried to process the information. Her beloved, the man who had showered her with love and tenderness, the man whom she respected and adored, had taken lives…three lives. Her mind raced as she searched his face looking for some indication that he had not been truthful. It was not to be found. He looked back at her, his own eyes sad and troubled as he faced the reality that their relationship might be forever changed, if not completely destroyed, by the sentence he had just uttered. He was about the speak again when he heard her whisper, “Why?”
He took a deep breath and said, “Two of the men I killed were trying to kill me. They shot first and I was defending myself. The third was shooting at my father. I shot and killed him to defend Pa. In each case the shooting was justified. I was legally within my rights.” He paused briefly, then continued. “That said, I want you to know that I take no pleasure in the fact of those three deaths. Had there been any other way out of the situation I would have taken it. My hand was forced by someone else’s actions. I was given no choice.” He was sitting with his knees raised and his arms wrapped around them. He dropped his chin to his chest for a moment, then looked at her.
“I didn’t want to tell you about this. I didn’t want to risk what we have, but I knew you would eventually find out. More importantly, this kind of violence happens here. You have a right to know that. It happens less and less frequently, but it does happen. I agonized over what happened in each case, more so in the cases that involved defending myself, less so when defending my father. I’ve put those events behind me now. Someday, I’ll answer to God for them, no doubt, but for now I can live peacefully with myself. The question is, can you?”
She looked as if she was about to speak, but before a word could leave her lips a bolt of lightening struck a tree on the far side of the stream. The thunder that simultaneously accompanied it was deafening. Meg screamed and ducked her head into her lap, covering her ears. Adam was on his feet in an instant, pulling her up as well. His horse was rearing and screaming, eyes rolling back, as he tried to escape. Adam ripped the blanket off the ground and wrapped and tied it around Sport’s eyes, speaking soothingly to him the entire time. Though somewhat calmer hearing his master’s voice, the lovely beast continued to dance nervously.
“Meg, get over here!” he called to her. “We’ve got to leave now. If we hurry we might outrun this storm…it’s a nasty one.” He chided himself for not noticing the increasingly inky sky. The tree that had been struck was beginning to burn.
“I can’t ride,” she whaled. “And what about my shoes and the basket?” She had to shout to be heard as the wind picked up.
“Leave everything. Get over here now!”
She ran over to him. He had replaced his hat on his head and, put her hands on the saddle horn. Then he laced his fingers together to form a stirrup for her. “Hold on and put your left foot into my hands and I’ll boost you up.”
“I’m afraid.” Her voice quavered.
“We don’t have time to argue about this. I’ll take care of you. Trust me.”
She took a deep breath and he helped her mount the horse. He grabbed the reins and expertly swung himself up behind her. Reaching around her, he untied the blanket, and threw it to the ground. Sport reared, but Adam’s arm held her tight. He turned the horse’s head in the direction of the ranch and they were off in a flash. The horse needed no urging. She kept her eyes shut for a minute, but eventually opened them as they galloped along just ahead of the storm. The gate was smoother than she expected, but the speed at which they were traveling, along with her height off the ground was alarming. She felt a mixture of terror and exhilaration as they sped away, Sport’s hooves beating relentlessly on. Adam’s chest formed a protective wall that she could lean against and he kept one arm firmly around her middle.
They were about a quarter of a mile from the house when the rain caught them, coming down in buckets and soaking them through. In spite of the heat of the day, she was chilled by the cold downpour. Totally against everything he had been told by his father, Adam raced into the yard at breakneck speed, pulled the horse to a stop, and dismounted. He grabbed Meg by the waist and hauled her down, telling her to get into the house. He then turned his attention to caring for his horse.
Meg ran to the door, only to have it opened in front of her by Hoss, dressed in rain gear and heading on out. Joe, similarly clad, was right behind him.
“Pa! She’s here!” Hoss called over his shoulder. He stood aside and let Meg enter the living room. She was quite a sight. She was soaking wet, her hair was wild and tangled, still sporting a few wilted flowers, and she was barefoot. Ben rushed up to her and, taking her by the shoulders asked, “Are you alright? What happened? We were worried when we got home and you weren’t here.”
“I went for a walk and got caught in the storm, but I’m alright. I ran into Adam and he brought me back,” she replied.
Now Meg had been raised gently, first by her parents, and then by her aunt. Because she was such a docile creature, there had never been the need to raise a voice or reprimand her very often. She had been an obedient child, with only the occasional hint of stubbornness.
Ben Cartwright had raised three sons under what could be called difficult circumstances, to say the least. Sometimes, though not often, he had taken a strap to each of them. He had a quick temper. It could be set off by anger, or as was to occur now, by relief after a good scare. His family, including Carrie, was aware of this. Meg was not.
“What’s the matter with you?” he shouted. “You should have at least left us a note saying where you’d be! This ranch is full of dangerous places and animals. You could have been lying in a ditch someplace for all we knew! We were getting ready to organize a search party for you!” he finished with a roar.
Meg’s face paled. As she stood there, shivering and dripping water onto the floor, her only thought was that she had caused a great deal of trouble for this kind man who had welcomed her into his home, practically treating her like one of the family.
“Papa! Don’t speak to her like that!” Carrie exclaimed, aghast at Ben’s outburst.
Meg put her hand up to shush Carrie.
“No, Carrie, he’s right.” She addressed Ben.
“Mr. Cartwright, I’m so sorry I caused you to worry about me. You’ve been nothing but kindness itself and I behaved in a rude and thoughtless manner. I did leave a note somewhere, but I probably shouldn’t have gone out at all. I should have been more mindful of the weather. I’m a guest in your home and I shouldn’t have done anything that would upset you in any way. I hope you’ll accept my apology.” There could be no doubt about the sincerity in her voice.
Ben coughed and cleared his throat.
“Well, as long as you’re alright. That’s the main thing.” He was now embarrassed himself by the way he had taken her to task.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to go upstairs and change.”
“Of course. Get out of those wet things,” he replied gruffly.
Carrie started to follow her, but Meg said, “Please, Carrie, I’d like to be alone for a while.” Carrie was about to protest, but she caught something in Meg’s eyes and changed her mind.
Meg had changed out of her wet clothing and had put on her robe, but she was still cold. She was sitting on the bed, millions of thoughts racing through her mind. What emotions had she felt during the course of one day? Pleasure at being alone for a while, anticipation for Adam’s return, surprise and joy when he showed up a day earlier than expected, passion for her true love, annoyance at his secrecy, shock at his revelations, terror during the ride through the storm, and humiliation for causing her host such grief. She was so overwhelmed that she couldn’t even consider the significance of Adam’s confession to her. And she knew she must think carefully about that. But she was emotionally exhausted.
There was a knock on her door. She hoped it wasn’t Carrie. She just didn’t want to talk to anyone for a while.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me, Meg. Ben.”
She got up and opened the door, letting him into the room. In his hand was a piece of paper. He looked at her sheepishly.
“We found this under the sideboard. The wind must have blown it off the table.” It was her note explaining where she’d be. She simply nodded.
“I’d like to apologize for yelling at you before,” he said earnestly.
“There’s no need for that, Mr. Cartwright. Everything you said was true. I’m the one who needed to apologize.” She smiled weakly at him.
“No, please listen, my dear. You’ve fit into this household so well, that you seem like one of the family. I’d never have treated a guest the way I did you. I treated you the same way I would have Carrie or one of my sons, had they scared me that way. My temper is awful, but my family is used to it. You’re not and you shouldn’t have been subject to it. So I owe you an apology…but one with an explanation. We all care a great deal about you Meg and we were worried sick that something had happened. I was just blowing off steam. I know I probably shocked and frightened you, and for that I am truly sorry! Am I forgiven?” He asked this last question with his head cocked slightly and little smile around his lips.
She surprised him by giving him a hug and saying, with a genuine smile this time, “I’m flattered that your regard me as one of the family. Of course you’re forgiven. But there really isn’t anything to forgive.”
“Then you’ll be down to supper shortly? Carrie’s cooking up a mess of fried chicken!”
“If it’s all the same to you, Mr. Cartwright, I think I’ll spend the rest of the evening here. I have a lot of things to think about.” She saw his worried expression.
“Oh no! It has nothing to do with what just happened,” she assured him. “It’s something else entirely. But I need some time alone. Will that be alright?”
He looked at her keenly.
“Do you need someone to talk to? I’m a good listener.”
She laughed. “I’m sure you are. But this is something I have to work out for myself. Thank you for the offer, though.”
He turned to go.
“I’ll have Hop Sing send some dinner up on a tray. We don’t want you getting all skinny again.”
Just before he left, she kissed him on the cheek. Blushing at her
own boldness she said, “Thank you for everything. The tray sounds
very nice. I’ll see you in the morning.”
At dinner Carrie fretted over Meg, but Ben was adamant about no one disturbing her. Adam sat silently at the table, quieter than usual. His father suspected that something had occurred between his eldest and their houseguest, but you couldn’t force a confidence. He hoped that they would work it out soon because the wedding was only days away. He didn’t want anything to spoil it.
Everyone had gone to bed. The storm had blown away the humidity and the temperature had dropped. Adam sat in the red leather chair brooding over the events of the day. He had heard about the encounter between his father and Meg and would have been angry about it if he wasn’t so busy being worried about how she would treat him in the morning. He loved her so much! Maybe he could find some time tomorrow to speak to her privately…try to determine what she was thinking. They both needed some closure here.
He heard the tinkle of china in the kitchen and got up to investigate. It wasn’t unknown for Hoss to come down for a midnight snack now and then. Instead of his brother, he found Meg opening the tea canister and scooping a few spoons of the leaves into the teapot. She jumped when she saw him and dropped the spoon with a clatter on the wooden table.
“You startled me!” she said as she moved to the stove to get the hot water that was always kept available.
“What are you doing? How come you’re not asleep?”
“I couldn’t sleep. I’m cold and I can’t seem to warm up, so I thought a cup of tea would help,” she explained as she poured the water into the china pot. She was dressed in her nightgown and robe, but she was barefoot. After she put the kettle back on the stove he grabbed her hand. Her fingers were like ice. He could feel her trembling.
“You’re not cold, you’re freezing! Come on,” he said, dragging her by the hand behind him into the living room. He sat her on the stone hearth and poked the fire with an iron. He tossed a few more logs on while he watched her sit there with her teeth chattering.
“I want my tea,” was all she said.
“I have something else that will warm you up quicker.” He poured some brandy in a small crystal snifter and handed it to her.
“Drink that. It’ll warm you up in no time.”
She looked at it suspiciously.
“Is this liquor?”
“It’s brandy… expensive brandy, as a matter of fact. Now do as I say and drink it.”
She frowned. She took a small sip and made a face.
“I don’t like it. I’d rather have the tea.” He rolled his eyes heavenward.
“Drink the brandy, Meg. It’ll warm you. Then you can have the tea. How long have you been like this?” He felt her forehead with his palm. Sometimes people who were coming down with a fever would get chills first, but she didn’t seem particularly warm.
“I couldn’t warm up after we…I got back here. I put all the covers on the bed and closed the window, but I’m still cold.” She took another sip of the brandy and grimaced.
“Why aren’t you wearing slippers? Here…sit on the table and put your feet up nearer the fire.”
She resisted. “Your father doesn’t like people to sit on the table”
He got angry.
“Are you going to argue about everything?”
“I’m cold and I want some tea,” she said stubbornly, turning to face the crackling blaze and warm her hands.
“Oh for…!”. He didn’t finish the remark as he headed for the kitchen. He poured her a cup of tea and brought it back to her. She put down the snifter and took the teacup. She took a sip. She got up and moved toward the kitchen.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“You forgot the cream and sugar.”
He grabbed her by the arm and sat her down hard on the table. He took the teacup from her and almost slammed it down on the table. He was frustrated by her behavior and his voice rose.
“Drink the brandy and stay in front of the fire. I don’t want you ending up with pneumonia.”
Her jaw dropped.
“Don’t you yell at me!”
“I’m sorry,” he said with all the sincerity of a losing politician congratulating his opponent. He raked his fingers through his hair. “Stop being so difficult. I’m just trying to help you warm up.”
It was working. The brandy had burned its way into her system. Combined with the blazing fire and the argument she was engaged in, she was warming up nicely. She had stopped shivering and she was beginning to feel quite toasty. She took another sip of the brandy and handed him the snifter.
“You finish it. I do feel warmer now.” She paused as he took the glass from her and they looked into each other’s eyes. Hers dropped.
“Thank you. I’m sorry I’ve been so nasty. I’ve had a bad day,” she said.
“Mine wouldn’t win any prizes either.”
He sat down next to her on the table and swirled the remaining brandy in the snifter. Then he finished it in a single swallow. He put the glass down and said to her, “Why was your day so bad?”
“There were some little things that went wrong…first the weather was humid and my hair frizzed.”
“That is a tragedy,” he agreed solemnly, picking up the heavy braid that hung down her back and tugging on it playfully.
“Then I left my shoes at the stream when we had to run home in the rain. They’re probably ruined.”
“Well, we can check on that tomorrow. You can always buy a new pair.”
“Then I made your father really angry because he was worried about me. I upset everyone because they didn’t know where I was. I left a note, but it fell under the sideboard.”
“Pa’s very sorry about his outburst. We’re used to his temper, but I’ll bet it frightened you. He told me he apologized.”
“He did. But he was right. I behaved thoughtlessly. I was raised to behave better.”
“Well, those things were unfortunate, but no real harm done.”
“I haven’t told you the worst.”
He turned slightly so he could watch her as she spoke.
“Want to tell me now?” She looked at him and nodded.
“Today I found out that the man I love was almost killed twice. He had to take drastic steps to save himself…steps that he would have avoided if at all possible. He also had to take similar action to save someone he loves very much. For that action, most people would call him a hero, but because he is so good, so moral, and the things he did so extreme, these things trouble him.” She stopped speaking and stroked his cheek.
“Adam, what you told me this afternoon stunned me. But I know you and I know that you did what had to be done given the circumstances. You are a good, honest man and so is your father. Anyone trying to hurt either of you had to have been bad. It’s that simple for me. I could no more hold those events against you than I could fault a soldier in battle for the lives he took. And when I think that one of those people might have succeeded in hurting or killing you or your father, that I might not have your handsome face in front of me now, or that I might not have been able to meet your father and grow to like and respect him…well, maybe all my shivering wasn’t just from the cold.” She stopped speaking and her hand dropped into her lap, but her eyes never left his.
Joe Cartwright knew his elder brother well. His comments about how Adam would work out his pursuit of a woman like a mathematical exercise were right on the mark. Adam had planned to propose in some pretty spot on the ranch, perhaps the bluff where they had first kissed. He thought he would bring along a book of poems, perhaps some wine. He wanted it to be special for them both, but mostly for Meg, because he loved her so.
Every one of those plans left his head following her little speech. He was filled with an incredible sense of peace because she knew the worst and still loved him. She had just absolved him of blame in the three most traumatic events of his life. She accepted him for who he was and what he had done, both good and bad. He was, he decided, the luckiest man alive. He also decided that sometimes you have to throw your plans aside and go with the moment.
He stood and pulled her to her feet. He wrapped his arms around her and looked into her precious face.
“Will you marry me?”
There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation on her part.
“Yes, I will.”
The kiss they shared had a power beyond mere passion. It was a seal of their love, their commitment, and their devotion to each other. It fused their souls.
When they broke the kiss, they stood there, foreheads touching, swaying gently together in front of the massive stone fireplace.
“I love you, Meg,” he murmured into her ear.
“I know. I love you, too. Nothing will ever change that.”
They continued to stand, holding each other, enraptured by that moment which comes but once in any relationship.
Eventually Adam asked, “Can we sit down or are you still cold?”
“We can sit. I’m not cold anymore. Ooohhh!” she squealed quietly as he lifted her off her feet, walked around the table, and sat in the corner of the settee. He sat her on his lap facing him, with her legs stretched out along the sofa seat. They grinned at each other and kissed tenderly.
“If you were cold, how come you’re barefoot? Don’t you own any slippers?” he scolded her.
“Yes, I have slippers. I came down the back stairs barefoot because I thought I’d make less noise,” she replied. She was silent for a minute, just gazing into his eyes, and then said, “Adam, there are some things you’d better know about me before we get married. Since you were so honest with me, I should be honest with you.” Her tone was serious.
“He looked at her solemn face and teased, “What is it? Do you have a nefarious past? Did I somehow miss seeing your face on one of the wanted posters in Roy Coffee’s office?”
“No, nothing like that. But still you should know.” He waited silently for her to continue. She took a deep breath.
“Well, I really shouldn’t be talking to you about things like this. I’m not sure if it’s proper, but since we’re going to be married I think you have the right to know that…” She paused again, then looked him directly in the eyes and said, “I don’t wear my corset to bed.”
He looked at her without blinking.
“And what? That’s it. I don’t wear my corset to bed.”
“I’m lost, Meg. What does that mean?”
“Adam, it means that I don’t wear my corset to bed!” she said in an exasperated tone.
“Is something wrong with that? I don’t understand.”
She tried to determine if he was joking, but he didn’t seem to be. Well, maybe he really didn’t understand. This was a mostly masculine household and he would have no cause to know what Carrie wore to bed. She’d better enlighten him.
“Most women wear corsets all the time…well, except when they’re bathing. They even wear them to bed. But I hate corsets. They pinch and squeeze and make it hard to breathe. I happened to read an article by a European doctor who said that corsets are unhealthy. So now I don’t wear mine to bed anymore. Most respectable women think that’s wrong. I thought you should know.”
“This is your big confession?”
“One of them.”
He threw back his head and laughed.
“What’s so funny?” she demanded, poking his chest. He grabbed the offending finger with his hand and brought it to his lips.
“Sweetie, I don’t care if you ever wear a corset…in bed or out. Women’s fashions are an enigma to me. In fact, fashion in general is an enigma to me. I’ll bet the same nut who invented men’s ties invented corsets. You wear, or don’t wear whatever you want. As long as you’re decently covered I don’t care.” He smiled when he saw the surprise, then relief on her face.
“As a matter of fact, “ he continued, “if I’m allowed a vote on the issue, I vote for no corsets at all. I don’t know much about them, but I agree with the doctor. They don’t sound healthy.”
Privately he was thinking about what he would like to see her wearing in bed. Of course, he couldn’t tell her about that. She’d be shocked to her toes. He was almost certain she knew little, if anything, about sex. Should he explain things before they were married or not? Should he get someone else, like Carrie, to tell her? How should she be told? The questions flew through his mind but these thoughts were interrupted when she said, “Speaking of votes, that’s another thing we have to talk about.”
“Why don’t we stop talking for a while?” he asked, pulling her to him for a lingering kiss. After a minute she pulled back slightly and murmured, “Adam, this is important.”
He released his hold on her and rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger.
“Alright. What’s next on the list?” he asked patiently.
“I’ll never give up my causes, even after we’re married. I’ve already told you I believe women should be allowed to vote. I believe we’re being denied our constitutional rights. I want to continue to work for that. It may cause some embarrassment for you or your family. You have to know that.”
“Meg, my family is soon to become your family too. One thing you ought to know about the Cartwrights…we’ve been known to champion unpopular causes when we believed they were right. There are people who hate for that and some who respect us. What kinds of things would your suffragette activities include?”
“Oh, writing letters to the newspaper and government representatives, going to meetings and rallies, working toward changing legislation, things like that. That’s what we did in Boston.”
“It sounds fine to me. You’ll be happy to learn that Wyoming territory voted to give women the right to vote. You’ll probably meet with more success out here than in Boston, sweetheart.”
She smiled happily. That bit of information pleased her greatly.
“That is good news!” Then she grew quiet. He waited for her next remark.
“Adam, do you think women should have the right to vote? You’ve never actually said.” He smiled at her.
“I think I’d rather see an educated woman vote than some of the ne’er do well men in town whose vote can be bought for the price of a few drinks at the saloon.”
His reply made her very happy and she expressed her pleasure by giving him a kiss.
“Are we almost done with all this?” he asked. “We still have to decide about the date.”
She looked over his shoulder at the big grandfather clock.
“There’s nothing to decided. It’s 1:30 in the morning so the date is officially June 17,” she told him laughingly. He slapped her playfully on her bottom.
“You’re awfully sassy tonight, miss. I’m referring to our wedding date. Now that you’ve agreed to marry me, we’ve got to set a date.”
“I’m almost done. Just one more thing. It’s important.”
He thought this might be the most important of the issues she wanted to discuss with him. She seemed to have a habit of talking about less important things first, as if working up her courage to get to the more serious topics. It was like watching someone inch her way into cold water. He’d rather just dive in, but that apparently wasn’t her style. While he waited for her to speak he ran his hand up and down her back, stroking her and fingering the long braid of brown hair.
“When we take our wedding vows, I won’t promise to obey you.”
His hand grew still and she sensed a change in what was previously his playful attitude.
“That’s something we have to talk about, Meg.” His voice was serious.
“Are you saying you want blind obedience from me?” she asked, stunned.
“Don’t put words into my mouth. I don’t like the word obey. It conjures up images of dogs and their masters. I don’t see our relationship like that. One of your most attractive, if sometimes frustrating qualities, is your independence.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“The problem is that you know nothing about life out here. There may be times when I’d expect you to do something I asked without a lot of explanations and discussion. You’d have to trust that I know best and…I hate to use the word…obey me.”
“Give me an example.”
He thought briefly and asked her, “What would you do if you went for a walk and came upon a bear?”
She didn’t hesitate for a second.
“I’d turn and run as fast as I could. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?”
“If I’d have asked Carrie the same question she’d have asked me a few herself before answering. Is it a grizzly or a black bear? Is it a male or a female with cubs? Is it spring when the bears are hungry or fall when they’re looking for a den to hibernate? Am I carrying any food with me? Some of those things determine how you ought to react. Running isn’t always the best response. If I told you to stand perfectly still, you’d have to do it without questioning me. Your life might depend on it. I don’t want you to ‘obey’ me if it goes against your conscience. But I worry that something could happen to you if you chose to ignore something that I told you to keep you safe.”
“Can’t I promise right now, just between you and me, that if you say something’s for my safety, I’d bow to your judgement? I’d keep my word about that, but then I wouldn’t have to say ‘obey’ in the ceremony.”
He looked lovingly at her and gave her a hug.
“ I don’t want anything to happen to you, Meg. I know that some men use that ‘obey’ vow to dominate their wives. I hope you know I’d never do anything like that.” He sighed deeply, stroking her cheek with his thumb.
“I won’t ask you to make that vow, as long as you reasonably try to take my advice about things here. Can you promise me that much?”
She put her hand around his neck and drew his head down for a kiss.
“Even though people think I’m so independent, I love that you want to protect me and take care of me,” she whispered. “I always feel safe around you. I don’t want anything to happen to me either! So, I can tell you honestly that I’ll listen to what you say. When I’ve been here longer, maybe you won’t have to worry so much.” She had slipped off his lap and was reclining against him. She rested her head and one hand on his chest. The other hand was behind his back. She yawned. It had been a hectic day for her and she was beginning to feel tired. She did feel safe and secure here in his arms. She was more at peace than she had been in almost a year.
“Meg, I want to tell my father about us. I think he suspects something anyway.”
She was feeling too tired to put up much of an argument.
“Alright. Just don’t tell anyone else till after the wedding,” she murmured, snuggling closer.
“You’re wrong about this, you know,” he argued. “My family’s going to be very happy. Carrie especially. But if you want, I’ll just tell Pa. He won’t say anything if I ask him not to.”
“Now let’s talk about when we’re going to get married.”
“Tomorrow.” He knew that she meant they should discuss the issue tomorrow, but he couldn’t help teasing her.
“Tomorrow? Well, that’s a little sooner than even I’d planned, but I guess we can pull it off. Of course, it does pose a problem about where we’ll spend our honeymoon and where we’ll live afterwards, but if you’re insistent…”
Unfortunately, his clever repartee fell on deaf ears. She had fallen asleep. He looked down at her, watching the slow, even rise and fall of her chest, the delicate crescents that her eyelashes formed as they rested against her cheeks. He smiled contentedly to himself. He could think of nothing better than to have this woman sleep in his arms for the rest of his life. He slipped his arm under her knees and in one fluid movement he rose from the settee with her in his arms. He walked toward the stairs and she blinked her eyes.
“I can walk up myself,” she protested sleepily.
“I’m sure you can,” he answered, “but you’re tired. Go back to sleep.”
He walked up the stairs and down the hall into her room. He gently placed her on the bed and covered her with a blanket. He bent over, kissed her cheek.
“Goodnight, angel.” He blew out her lamp, closed her door, and went to bed.
Early the next morning Ben Cartwright was enjoying his first cup of coffee and scanning some paperwork on his desk when Adam approached him.
“Pa, I want to talk to you.”
Without looking up, Ben responded, “Sure, son. What is it?”
“I’m getting married. I proposed to Meg last night and she said yes.”
Ben’s head shot up and he stared at his eldest son, who was wearing an expression more likely to be seen on his youngest…a sort of lopsided grin that proved beyond a doubt to Ben that Adam was not pulling his leg. He put down the coffee cup and grabbed his son’s hand, pumping it enthusiastically.
“Adam, this is wonderful! Congratulations! I’m so happy for you. She’s a wonderful girl.” He was smiling broadly and suddenly reached out and pulled his son into a quick but warm embrace. He stepped back and asked, “So how long has this been going on?”
Scratching his ear, Adam replied, “I guess you could say it’s been ‘going on’ since Boston last year. I didn’t hold out much hope when we got back but her aunt’s death changed everything. By the way, Meg doesn’t want you to….” He never got to finish the sentence because Ben caught sight of Hoss coming from the dining room with a cup of coffee in his hand.
“Hoss, get over here and congratulate your older brother. Adam and Meg are getting married!” Ben called to his second son.
Hoss’s eyes popped open and a big grin split his face.
“Why you old son of a gun, Adam! That’s great!” He grabbed his brother in a bear hug and then gripped his hand in an almost painful shake. “You know, Adam, you’re sneaky,” he added, poking him in the chest. “I never even knew anything was going on. Couple a times there I thought you didn’t even like her! Hey Joe, get yourself down here. Adam’s getting married!” Hoss called out to the youngest Cartwright who was making his way down the stairs.
Things were rapidly getting out of hand, Adam thought to himself. He hoped he could explain this turn of events to Meg. She had been pretty adamant about postponing their announcement.
Joe laughed and asked Hoss, “Oh yeah? Who’s he marrying?” When he was told he threw back his head and let out a roaring , “WAHOO! WAHOO!” He rushed over to Adam and slapped his older brother on the back, while shaking his hand.
“Hey, Adam, this is great. She’s really nice…probably much too good for you!” he teased. “Boy Carrie’s gonna be thrilled. I’m going to go get her.” He turned and headed for the stairs as Adam called out, “No, Joe, wait!” Joe only made it half way up the stairs. His loud shouts had awakened Carrie who was rushing down to see what was going on. Joe took her hand and told her the news. She ran down the stairs and jumped into Adam’s arms. She hugged him and said, “Oh I’m so happy for you! I’m so happy for me! I’m so happy for all of us! This is so wonderful!” She backed off a bit and scolded him, “Why didn’t you let us know what was going on? I didn’t suspect anything except maybe that you two were friends. But then sometimes you weren’t very friendly with each other.” She narrowed her eyes and asked, “How long has all this been going on? Did something happen in Boston I didn’t know about?”
“I’m sure there were a lot of things that happened in Boston that you didn’t know about,” he answered her smoothly, but with a smile.
“Never mind, I’ll get all the details from Meg later. Wait! Where is she?”
“Probably sleeping is my guess, although how anyone could sleep through all this noise is a mystery to me,” Ben said.
“Well, I’m getting her up now!” And before they could stop her she was up the stairs and headed for Meg’s room. Moments later she reappeared dragging a bewildered and very sleepy Meg behind her. By this time, Hop Sing was also part of the group and being informed of the news. Adam crossed his arms and stepped back to observe the pandemonium. She would soon figure out what all the excitement was about and he’d have to deal with her reaction.
In their attempts to congratulate her she was passed around from family member to family member like a plate of hors d’oevres. Finally Ben stepped up to her. He tilted her chin up and said, “I think the smartest thing this highly educated son of mine has done is get you to agree to marry him. I’m delighted. Welcome to the family! We’re all as pleased as we can be.”
She smiled shyly. Her sleep-deprived brain managed to discern that somehow the entire family knew she had agreed to marry Adam and they were expressing their happiness.
“Thank you, Mr. Cartwright.” She looked down at the floor, somewhat embarrassed, as she tied her robe more tightly around her waist. The room went from loud chattering to sudden silence as everyone turned to watch Adam. Meg looked up to find him watching her with a rueful smile on his face. She wasn’t sure why everyone knew about their plans when he had promised not to say anything, but she was sure he had a reasonable explanation. He walked over to her, reached out, took her into his arms and gave her a rather chaste kiss on the lips…his entire family was watching, after all. But it was important to him to make this non-verbal statement that this was the woman he loved and to whom he was going to give his name. She wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head on his chest.
“Aw, Carrie, sweetheart, don’t start with the water works,” Joe said as Carrie sniffed loudly, a few large tears sliding down her cheeks. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her.
“I can’t help it,” she sniffled. “It’s so beautiful and I’m so happy!” Laughter accompanied this typical Carrie reaction.
Hop Sing said, “This all good news…velly good news, but breakfast is getting cold. You all come eat now!”
“I’ll second that, Hop Sing,” Hoss declared. “All this excitement this early in the morning is givin’ me an appetite!”
“As if you needed any help!” Joe cracked.
They all began to laugh and move toward the dining room. Ben looked over his shoulder and asked Adam, “You two coming?”
“In a minute, Pa. I have to talk to Meg.”
“Don’t be too long. We don’t want to upset Hop Sing or starve your brother.”
Adam leaned back against the desk in the office alcove and drew Meg between his legs. Her hands were on his chest.
“Are you angry?”
“ How can I be? Your family is happy and they’re making me feel welcomed. But what happened?”
He explained and she nodded.
“I thought it was something like that. I knew you’d keep your promise if you could.”
He was relieved.
“I thought you might be angry and make a scene in front of everyone.”
“Shame on you! You should know me better than that. Carrie might make a scene, but I wouldn’t.” She laughed, her eyes twinkling. “I’d wait till we were alone and then I’d make a scene.”
He smiled at her remark.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Their kiss was interrupted by Hop Sing calling out, “Breakfast was cold…now getting colder!”
He took her by the hand and led her to the table. Hoss had moved next to Ben so Meg could sit next to Adam. She felt unusually shy, as if they were all seeing her for the first time. In a sense they were. Her status had changed from Carrie’s friend to Adam’s intended. They took a renewed interest in the person who was to become a member of the family. And they were all curious about how this had come about without their knowledge.
Ben passed coffee down the table to the two of them and said, “Before all the questions begin…and I know that Caroline, at least, is bursting with them…I’d like to propose a toast. I know that coffee’s not a traditional beverage to toast with but…”
Adam and Meg looked at each other and began to laugh, cutting him off in mid sentence. He smiled quizzically at them and asked, “Did I say something funny?”
“Pa, coffee’s the perfect drink for you to make your toast with. It’s a long story, but believe me, in our case it’s more appropriate than anything else.”
“Well, I hope you’ll tell me about it sometime,” his father replied. “In any case, I’d like to propose a toast to my future daughter-in-law. Meg, welcome to the family. You’re a lovely young woman and we’re proud to have you become one of us. I wish you much happiness.”
They all raised their cups and drank, embarrassing her further. It took only a second for the barrage of questions to begin. Meg deferred to Adam, allowing him to answer. She respected his desire for privacy and until she knew with more certainty what things he wished to share with his family, she thought it best to let him speak for them both. This was not lost on Carrie, who thought it strange behavior for her independent friend.
The rest of the family was satisfied with what Adam chose to tell them. They convinced Meg that the formal engagement announcement should be made near the end of the wedding celebration on Saturday, before Joe and Carrie left. Most of their friends and neighbors would be there and it was the perfect opportunity. Carrie and Joe insisted that they wanted it that way. During a lull in the conversation, Hoss began to chuckle.
“I guess someone better tell Luther not to come callin’ again!” he said, helping himself to more eggs.
“Did he show up while I was gone?” Adam wanted to know. Ben began to laugh and Meg dropped her head.
“Oh he showed up alright…about 2 days after you left.” Ben continued to laugh.
“Well, is someone going to tell me what happened?”
All eyes looked at Meg. She was blushing, but her eyes had a determined look that Adam was beginning to recognize.
“Meg was rude to him!” Carrie said as she spread jam on her toast.
“I was not rude,” Meg contradicted. “In fact, I think I taught him something about manners. His are from the stone-age.”
“Meg, dear,” Ben interrupted, “I wouldn’t quite say that.”
Adam covered Meg’s hand with his own.
“Are you going to tell me what happened or not?”
“Of course, I’ll tell you,” she huffed. “Your father and I were sitting on the porch and he pulled up in his buggy. He got out of the carriage and went over to your father and said something like, ‘Mr. Cartwright, I’ve come to ask permission to take Miss Prescott for a buggy ride. Is that alright?’ Adam, I was sitting right there! He never even looked at me. He might just as well have said, ‘Mr. Cartwright is it alright if I toss that sack of flour next to you into my buggy and take it for a ride?’” She was getting worked up now, recalling her indignation at the time. Adam was beginning to pity Luther Healy.
“So I stood up right in front of him and said very politely, ‘Mr. Healy, Mr. Cartwright is neither my father nor my guardian. He’s my host. I’m an adult who’s perfectly capable of deciding for myself if I want to go for a ride. And yes, thank you, I’d like to go.’ Then I climbed into the carriage.”
Adam had placed his hand over his mouth to hide his smile. When he could look at her with a straight face he asked, “Was it a nice ride?”
“It was alright. I think he was trying to recruit me as a teacher. He said something about school expansion and a graded school in town. Anyway, I won’t have to see him again. I only went because you said I should”
Carrie smiled with relief. This was the Meg she was used to…a woman who would not be treated like a child or a non-person. She was intelligent and seemed almost incapable of playing the submissive role that many women adopted. She spoke her mind, which had cost her a few boyfriends back in Boston. Apparently Adam accepted this aspect of her personality and to Carrie’s way of thinking this was wonderful news for all of them.
Meg addressed Ben, speaking in her most sincere voice.
“Mr. Cartwright, do you think I was rude to Mr. Healy? If you do I’ll write him a formal note of apology. I don’t want to be the cause of hard feelings between you and your friends.”
“You weren’t rude and you don’t owe him an apology. I don’t think anyone has been quite as direct speaking to him before. As the schoolteacher he commands a certain amount of respect around town. Personally, I think he’s a bit overly impressed with himself.”
“He’s conceited,” Joe stated flatly as he munched another piece of toast. “Hey! You know who’d be perfect for him? Susan Taylor! They both think they’re too good for anyone around here.”
“Joseph,” Ben reprimanded, “May I remind you that Zeb Taylor is an old and dear friend? I don’t like that kind of talk.”
“Pa, I like Zeb too. But you’ve got to admit that Susan acts a bit high in the instep.”
“Be that as it may,” replied his father, “we’ll have no more talk of that sort. If you can’t say something nice…”
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry,” Joe answered, but he was smirking at Carrie and Hoss.
“Now we’d all better get moving. This ranch won’t run itself. We’ve got a lot to do because we’re giving all the hand half a day off on Friday and all day off on Saturday for the wedding. Except for normal chores, of course. There’s never a day off from them!” Ben looked at Carrie and Meg.
“You two ladies can take care of things here while we’re gone?” he asked with a smile. They assured him they could and Meg felt the thrill of inclusion in the family group. As they rose from the table Adam said to Hoss, “ Will you saddle Sport for me? I’ll be right out.” Hoss smiled at Meg and winked.
“I guess I can do that for you this one time, older brother. Don’t you keep him too long now, Meg. He’s got work to do.”
When everyone had left the room Meg asked Adam, “Where are you working today?”
“Still working on the lumber order for the railroad. It’s almost finished. I’m going to try to be back here at 4. We’ll go for a ride and discuss a wedding date. You think about it. But remember this…I don’t want a long engagement. If I could think of a way to pull it off, I’d marry you this week. Now kiss me goodbye before they’re back looking for me.”
Their kiss was long, luscious, and lingering. She insisted on walking outside with him against his protests.
“Meg, it’s cold and you’re barefoot. What is it with you and shoes? Half the time I see you, you’re barefoot. Am I marrying a Bohemian?” he remarked as he put on his hat and strapped on his gun.
“I’m fine. I don’t have on slippers because Carrie dragged me out of bed before I could get them on.” Hoss was walking Chubb and Sport towards the front door.
She placed a hand on Adam’s arm and said in a small voice, “Be careful.”
“I will, sweetheart. And I’ll see you at 4.” He mounted his horse, smiled at her, and the four Cartwright men rode off.
“What are you thinking?” Carrie asked her as the men disappeared from sight.
“I’m thinking how incredibly wonderful Adam looks on that horse and how I’m the luckiest woman in the world,” Meg replied to her amused friend.
“Well, he does look good on the horse, but since I think I’m the luckiest woman in the world, why don’t we just call that a draw?” Meg looked at her and giggled.
They laughed and walked back into the house.
They had gone for a ride in the buggy to look for her shoes and decide on a date. Her shoes were ruined, soaked completely through by the rain. But as he pointed out to her, the downpour had been a blessing in disguise. The deluge that had ruined her shoes had also put out the fire begun by the lightening.
When he asked her about a date, she had actually mentioned the need to return to Boston to take care of matters there. He decided to set her straight about that and fast!
“You’re not going back to Boston…at least not now. I don’t want you making that long trip two more times just to take care of things that can be handled by mail or telegraph. I’ll take you back some day, but any business that has to be taken care of concerning your house Jack will handle for you.”
Secretly she was pleased. She didn’t look forward to making the trip either, but she argued with him about it since there were other items to be dealt with besides the house.
“I need to properly submit my resignation to Miss Collier. And all my things are back there. I’d like some of them here with me.” She looked a bit forlorn when she said this and he put his arm around her as they walked by the stream.
“Well, the family Bible, my father’s chess set, some personal items of my mother’s, the mantle clock, my books and sheet music, my journals, things like that.” He gave her a hug and kissed her forehead.
“I know I seem like a brute telling you that you can’t go back, but it really doesn’t make any sense. You can write a letter of resignation and we’ll mail it tomorrow. That’ll give Miss Collier plenty of time to find another teacher, although they’ll never be lucky enough to find someone to replace you. And as for your things, well, why don’t you make a list of what you want and we’ll have them sent out. I think you should have some of your own things around to make you feel more at home. Just don’t include the piano. I’ll get you a new one.” This made her smile.
“Adam what do you think I should do about the house?”
“You can do whatever you want, but I think you should keep it and rent it out. It might be a good investment. Jack could take care of all that for you. Maybe the school would want to lease it for some reason.”
This remark cheered her up. She had lived her entire life in the same house and the thought of selling it had distressed her.
“It might cost a lot to send for my things,” she said in a worried voice. He turned her to face him.
“I never want to hear you mention money again. You’ve spent too much of your life worrying about it. I’ve got enough to send for all your things and buy everything we’ll need for our own house. As a matter of fact, I wanted to speak to you about your inheritance.”
“How did you know about that?”
“You wrote and told Carrie and she told us.”
“Oh. I suppose you want me to turn it over to you?” It was common practice for a woman to leave the management of her money, if she had any, to her husband.
“I want you to keep it in your own name and do whatever you choose with it. You’re the one who’s making a sacrifice here. You’re giving up your home, job, and friends to live in an unsettled, wild part of the country. Someday you may wake up and decide that you made a mistake. If that ever happens, you’ll have a financial cushion to begin a new life.”
She was taken aback. Part of her was thrilled. The man looking down at her recognized her as an independent person who could make important decisions about her life without his help or input. Part of her was dismayed. Hadn’t she adequately conveyed to him how much she loved him? She would never leave him after the vows were spoken. Trying to imagine her life without him was trying to imagine her life without her arms or legs. He was a part of her now. She wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him.
“I can’t believe what you just said. You’re giving me a freedom that most women can only dream about.” Then she looked up into his beautiful eyes.
“I’ll keep the money in my name if that’s what you want, but I’ll never use it to leave. I love…no, I adore you and my life now is wherever you are. Anything I might miss about Boston is a small price to pay for being able to be with you. In fact, it’s no price at all.” She spoke with such earnestness that his heart swelled. She knew she could have her freedom at any time, but she had freely chosen life with him. He bent to kiss her. He noted that she was learning quickly as her own lips parted to receive his exploring tongue. He pulled her closer and felt himself begin to get hard as her tongue danced with his own. He sensed a deep well of passion within her, which he was anxious to tap. But not now…not till she wore his ring. He stopped kissing her and held her to him tightly, whispering love words in her ear, while his breathing returned to normal. When he was calm he asked her, "What about the date? We still haven’t discussed it.” They resumed their stroll.
“Well, since I don’t have to go back east, I guess it could be fairly soon. Are we going to live with your father?”
“No. I want my own place. In fact, a few years ago I designed a house that I thought I’d like to build for myself some day. I have the plans at home and I’ll show them to you tonight. Then you can decide if you like it too or if you think there should be some changes.”
“You designed a house?”
“I studied architecture and engineering in college. I thought I’d told you that. Come on. Let’s sit down under this tree for a while.” He sat with his back against the tree and pulled her between his legs so her back rested against his chest. He held her snuggly around the waist, as she reclined against him.
She was silent for a moment and then said to him, “Adam, I must have read hundreds of poems about love, but none of them really captures the feeling. I never knew I could be this happy. I feel so blessed, as if God singled me out for a special favor.”
He pulled her a little tighter.
“I feel the same way. I think you were due some happiness, don’t you? You’re life hasn’t always been easy.”
“Maybe not, but I’ve generally been happy. Even when something bad happens, sometimes something good results. If you spend your time complaining, you can become bitter. I wouldn’t want to be like that.”
“That attitude was one of the first things that attracted me to you…that and your pretty face.” She looked up over her shoulder at him and he kissed her.
“Adam, do you think Joe and Carrie feel the same way we do?”
“I’m sure they’re very much in love. But you keep drifting away from the topic of a date, madam. No more stalling. When will we get married?”
“How long will it take to build the house?”
He thought for a bit.
“Listen, if you don’t mind living in an unfinished house, I can have enough work done so that we can get married in mid September.” He rested his chin on the top of her head.
“I’m torn, Meg. I want to give you a house that you’ll love and that we can be happy in. But I don’t want to wait very long to get married. I’m being selfish, but if you think you can stand it, I’ll have the basic structure done in two months or so. That’ll bring us to the end of August. While I’m working on the house I’ll leave the wedding plans and furnishing the house up to you. After we’re settled, I’ll do the finishing work. How does that sound?”
“You’re not being selfish,” she replied. “You’re being foolish. I’d live in a tent with you, if that’s what you wanted.”
“Then we’ll get married on September 12. That’s almost 3 months from now. Carrie and Joe will be back and it’ll be before the fall roundup. If we wait much longer we’d be too busy around here to squeeze in much of a celebration,” he said to her.
“Does it have to be a big wedding?” she asked. He was surprised. Most women wanted a lot of fuss.
“I’m afraid so. This isn’t like Boston. We invited everyone who’s a friend or neighbor. All the hands get invited as well. It’s either strictly family or the whole shebang.” Then he laughed and added, “Even Luther Healy will be invited.”
She sat up and turned to face him. She put her hands on her hips and said indignantly, “You should have been there! He treated me as if I was an object…like I was your father’s chattel! Doesn’t he know women are people with brains and opinions?”
“I think he probably does now.”
“Oh, you! She slapped at him playfully and he grabbed her hands.”
“If you don’t like being treated like chattel, I guess this isn’t a good
time to ask who’s going to give you away at the ceremony.” Her expression
of outrage was stifled when he rolled her over onto the ground and planted
his lips firmly on hers.
At dinner, they announced that they would be married September 12.
“Isn’t that cutting it a little close to fall roundup, son?” Ben asked.
“It’s close,” Adam admitted, “but we’ve decided to postpone our honeymoon. I’ll just about have time to get the main part of the house up. I’ll take a few days off after the wedding and we’ll have a more leisurely trip in the spring.”
“Where will you go?” Carrie asked.
“San Francisco, I suppose,” he answered. He looked at the woman sitting to his left and smiled. “By then Meg should be ready to see the ocean again.” She smiled back at him. She was still somewhat shy about all of this around his family.
“You’d better keep an eye on her, Adam. After living with you for a few months, she might want to jump in and swim to China,” Hoss chuckled.
After dinner he brought down the house plans and they looked at them together. To help her visualize it better, he sketched the façade of the house on a separate piece of paper. She was very impressed with his work and told him so.
“So, do you want any changes? Now’s the time to tell me.”
“Isn’t it sort of big?”
He put his arm on the back of the chair where she was seated and whispered into her ear, “I plan on filling up all those empty bedrooms.” She dropped her head and blushed. This was the first time he had alluded to children and she didn’t know what to say.
She stammered and said, “Well, I think the kitchen should be bigger. I’ll spend a lot of time there and it’s really the heart of a house.”
“Changing the subject, hmm? Alright, I can enlarge the kitchen, but that’s not the only room where you’ll be spending a lot of time.” She picked up a piece of paper and began to fan her face. He tummy was tingling and she felt a throb in the lower part of her abdomen. She tried to ignore his last remark.
“I’ve always thought I’d like a window seat in my bedroom. Could you do that?”
“I can easily put a window seat in our bedroom. In fact, I intend to have a fireplace there as well. What do you think about that?” She swallowed convulsively.
“Very nice. Does it seem warm in here to you?”
He laughed out loud, rolled up the plans, and got up.
“No, it doesn’t seem particularly warm, but why don’t we go for a walk anyway?”
He held out her chair while she rose. As they walked toward the front door, Ben looked up from his chair, where he was reading the newspaper.
“Pa, don’t even think about saying it,” Adam threw at him as he held the door open for Meg. They strolled in the direction of the corral.
“Looks like there’ll be a full moon for the wedding,” he remarked looking up. The pale light from that celestial body created patches of brightness and gray shadows across the property.
“That’s romantic!” she replied. “But then weddings usually are. I can hardly believe it’s only a couple of days from now. Carrie doesn’t seem at all nervous. Is Joe?”
“Nervous? I don’t think so. I think he’s more anxious than anything else. Do you think you’ll be nervous?”
“I’m not sure, but if I am, I think that would only be natural, don’t you think? I mean, it’s such a big change in someone’s life.”
He stopped walking, turned, and took her in his arms.
“Yes, I think it would be natural to have a case of pre wedding jitters. I just want you to know that I’ll always take care of you, cherish you, and love you. My only wish is that you’re happy and have as few worries as possible. I’m looking forward to spending the rest of our lives together, settling into our own home, and raising a family. In case I forgot to say it today, I love you.”
She put her arms around his neck and stood on her toes to kiss him. He held her tightly against him and she was grateful for the support. Their kisses grew more passionate and she felt a restlessness inside her that was becoming more common every day…a yearning for something beyond the wonder of these kisses. But what was it? What could possibly feel better than to be held in the arms of this beloved man, whose kisses made her senses sing? She felt as if she could never be close enough to him. Once again, he was the one to put a stop to their intimacy. She felt a frustration she didn’t understand. She leaned against him, breathing like a marathon runner. He stroked her back soothingly and nuzzled her ear with his lips. He planted feathery kisses on her neck, her cheeks, her eyelids. He whispered endearments to her.
When she was more composed he said, “We’ll have to go into town and pick out a ring for you. If you don’t see anything you like, they have catalogues that you can order from. If I had the time, I’d go to San Francisco and get you one, but I won’t be doing much traveling between now and September. What do you think you’d like?”
“I only want a plain gold band. But I like the wider ones. What about you? What kind of ring do you want?”
“I’m not going to wear a wedding ring.”
Her eyebrows shot up.
“Lots of reasons. I do a lot of rough work and sometimes a ring can be an interference. In some instances it might even be dangerous to have one on. And I wouldn’t want to risk losing it out on the range someplace. Joe’s not wearing one either,” he assured her. She didn’t say anything and he tilted her face up with his hand. There was a definite look of disappointment. He smiled wickedly at her and winked.
“Don’t worry. People will know I’m married. I won’t have a ring on my finger, but I’ll bet they’ll be able to see the one in my nose.” She eyed him speculatively.
“Then I’ll have to make sure it’s a really bright, shiny brass one, won’t I?” she replied saucily. He pulled her to him and said, “What am I going to do about that sassy little mouth of yours?”
“I have absolutely no idea!”
She had to admit he came up with a clever and satisfying solution to the
That night as he lay in bed, a number of thoughts raced through Adam’s mind. He was pleased that Meg had been so agreeable about a short engagement and was willing to make what he considered major sacrifices to accommodate his plans regarding the house and their honeymoon. Not for the first time, he told himself how lucky he was. He was marrying an extremely pretty and intelligent woman, who was feminine enough to appeal to his masculine nature, but smart enough to challenge him intellectually. She probably could be stubborn on occasion, but so could he. She didn’t have tantrums or pout. She generally spoke what was on her mind, although she might hedge slowly into the issue. And she was passionate as well. This was the primary topic on his mind at the moment. He loved her dearly and wanted all aspects of their life together to be as perfect as possible. He could get hard just imagining her in bed beside him. And if he thoughts went further, they could actually become painful. Oddly enough, thinking in this way about the woman he loved so much, conjured up memories of another woman…one he hadn’t thought about in years. Her name was Tess.
Just prior to Adam’s departure for college, he had gone through a turbulent period that his father referred to as “the time before you came to your senses”. In fact, things had begun to get so out of hand that Ben had accepted his father-in-law’s offer to have Adam live with him and attend college in Boston. Previously Ben had not seen a real need for this type of higher education for his boys. They could learn what they needed to know helping him run the ranch. But now it seemed like the answer to a prayer. His eldest boy, who had always been so serious and responsible had begun to hang around with what he considered a bad lot of young men, notably the Bonner brothers. They were hell raisers, drinkers, and gamblers. They worked as little as possible and were sure to be found on the shady side of any deal. Adam was as attracted to them as a moth to a flame, for reasons which confounded his father. There had been some minor trouble already, so before things got completely out of hand, Ben accepted Abel Stoddard’s offer to provided room and board for his grandson and send him for higher education. The old man was delighted when he received a positive response to his proposal. This young man was the last link he had to his dear daughter Elizabeth.
Before he was shipped off east to his grandfather’s, Adam had spent about a year in the company of the Bonners and their cronies. One evening they decided to visit one of the local brothels. Virginia City could in no way be construed as civilized at that time. The number of respectable women who lived there could be counted on one hand. But the town was filled with miners, cowboys, and transients who needed an outlet for their physical needs and the brothels prospered. It was like so many other similar towns of that time. Eventually schools and churches were built, settlers stayed, and the whorehouses closed up and moved on. But for the moment, business was booming.
The madam sized up the situation immediately. She was familiar with the Bonner brothers. They paid a visit whenever they had a little cash in their pockets. But this other one--young Cartwright. Well, she knew something about his father. He was a prosperous rancher. Some said he was on his way to becoming wealthy. From what she knew of him, she was certain he didn’t know the boy was here. He’d never approve. He kept his three sons on a tight leash, but apparently this oldest boy was ready to break loose and sow some wild oats. She considered not admitting him, but what could the old man do to her anyway? She was certain he was a virgin, so the question was which girl should she pair him with. Without hesitation decided on Tess. Tess was only a little older than young Cartwright, but she was a bit more refined than some of the girls. She would treat him well and he might become a repeat customer. She sold the three young men some watered down whiskey at an exorbitant price and sat talking with them for a while.
“I have just the girls for each of you. But pay up first. Two dollars each’ll buy you an hour’s worth of fun.”
They handed over the money and she escorted them upstairs. There was a rather large, garishly furnished lounge area where seven or eight women of various ages and in various states of undress congregated. All eyes turned toward their boss and the new clients.
“Jenny, Patsy, Tess,” she called and three women, dressed in frilly robes, walked over. The madam paired the Bonners with Jenny and Patsy, who took the men by the hands and led them giggling to their rooms.
“Tess, this here’s Adam Cartwright,” the madam introduced. “You treat him good. He ain’t never been here before and we’d like for him to come back.” This last sentence was a code so that Tess would know the young man probably had no sexual experience. She smiled and said, “Well, welcome, Mr. Cartwight. Why don’t you just follow me?”
Adam jumped. He had been trying not to stare and when she addressed him as Mr. Cartwright he thought his father had shown up. The liquor, watered down though it was, began to calm some of his nerves. He followed Tess to her room. It was rather plain, containing a neatly made bed, a wash stand, a chair, and a large mirror. There were sconce lamps on the wall and an oil lamp on the wash stand.
As soon as she shut the door, Tess removed her robe. She wore only a chemise and bloomers. There were faded blue ribbons laced through her undergarments. Tess herself was about 5’ 6” tall with fair skin, blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair. She was about 4 years older than young Adam, but still retained a few freckles across her nose.
The young man was dumbstruck. He had never seen a woman undressed before. He swallowed convulsively, his hands glued to his side.
“Come on now, sugar. Why not sit down here next to me,” Tess said, patting the mattress as she seated herself on the bed. Adam walked over, still silent, scared, and feeling like an idiot. He sat down and Tess turned to him.
“Don’t be nervous, sugar. What was your first name again?” As she spoke, she placed her hands on his chest and began to unbutton his shirt.
“Adam…Adam Cartwright,” he mumbled
“Adam, hmm…that’s a real nice name. From the Bible, isn’t it?” She slid his shirt off his shoulders and down his arms. Adam’s throat had closed and he couldn’t reply. He nodded dumbly.
She got up and knelt in front of him, beginning to unbuckle his belt. He stared down into her cleavage.
“Well now, Adam. You just relax. We’re gonna have a good time.” She began to unbutton his fly buttons and arousal began to crowd out his fear.
“Do you think I’m pretty?” she asked as she pulled off his boots and socks.
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered honestly. At that moment he thought she was the most beautiful creature on earth. She helped him off with his pants, which had become painfully tight because of his erection. She climbed onto the bed and gently pulled him down next to her. Tess was very good at her job.
A short while later, she lay beneath him as he recovered from what he thought was the most incredible experience of his young life. She was thinking about the new hat she wanted to buy when he spoke.
“Are you alright?” he asked her.
She almost laughed out loud, but something in his serious brown eyes stopped her.
“Are you alright?”
“Sure I am. Why’d you ask?”
“Because I’m so much bigger than you and heavier than you. And because …because I was kind of rough. An examination of his face convinced her he was truly concerned.
Tess thought she had lost the ability to be touched. She had been in this business for more than five years. She was used to all types of men…unmarried cowboys and miners who found her a convenient outlet for their physical needs, married men who used her in ways they thought improper to use their wives, other married men whose “decent” wives regarded marital relations as an unpleasant duty, and the occassional freak who derived satisfaction by giving her pain. To avoid that last type was why she had joined a house. There was less money but it was safer by far than working alone. These men paid their money, used her, and left. She knew they had little regard for her as a person, if they thought about her at all. And now, here was a young man expressing concern for her well-being. It was novel and very sweet.
“I’m fine, Adam. You weren’t rough. You were lusty…just the way someone your age should be. How old are you, anyway?”
“Well then, you acted just right. This was your first time, wasn’t it?”
He nodded sheepishly.
“Well, say now, don’t you be embarrassed. You were just fine…really! Here just slide off to the side, why don’t you? You can rest a while and then maybe we’ll have another go.” She went to get up but he pulled on her arm.
“Can we talk a while?” he asked.
She looked at him again. There was something different about this young man. He was so serious.
“Sure we can talk. What’d you want to talk about?”
“Well, umm…I don’t know how to say this. You’re sure I didn’t hurt you? I mean it seems like for a woman it would be …painful.”
She stared at him. He wanted to analyze this! He was truly unique in her experience.
“What makes you say that, Adam?”
“Well, I couldn’t help but notice a bunch of friends of my father’s downstairs. They’re all married. So I thought maybe if this is painful for a woman, they’d come here to spare their wives. I mean why else would they be here?”
“So you’re asking why the married men are here?”
“Yeah. I mean when you get married you’re only supposed to make love with your wife. But if it hurts her, then I guess you’d come here, right?”
“Adam, I hate to disabuse you of your notion there, but we didn’t make love. We had sex. There’s a big difference.”
He looked totally baffled
“I thought what we just did is what you do with your wife. Is there something different?”
“Sugar, you let me slip into my robe and we’ll talk. I’ll see if I can clear some of this up for you.”
For the next half hour they talked. She explained that though the activities involved might be similar, there was a great difference between love making and having sex. She explained that many women grew up knowing nothing about sex. On their wedding day, their mother might have a quick little discussion with them about their marital “duty”. If their husband was not patient and gentle, they might always regard his attentions to them as just that…a duty. They never experienced pleasure and they avoided the act when they could with a whole host of excuses.
Some men were equally inhibited. They wanted to try certain things, but had been educated to believe that respectable women did not engage in those activities. Their attention to their wives was perfunctory…a means of begetting offspring. For pleasure they sought out women like Tess. He listened with wide eyes and when she was done he asked, “Is it always like that? I mean isn’t there ever a time when two people love each other and both of them enjoy sex?”
“Ah, Adam, in some cases it’s just exactly like that. Two people fall in love, get married, and they love each other so much that when they have sex, they’re really making love. And that’s very different from what you and I did. I never see those men. But if that happened too much, it’d just about put me out of business! You said you saw some of your father’s friends downstairs?”
“Well that says something about their marriages. Probably they love their wives, or think they love them. But in the bedroom, well, if everything was good there, they wouldn’t be here!”
She watched as his face paled.
“What’s the matter, sugar?”
“What if they saw me? They’ll tell Pa and he’ll skin me alive.”
“Oh I wouldn’t worry about that too much. They’d have to admit they’d been here and not too many of them are anxious to let that news get circulated. I think your secret’s safe.” He relaxed a little.
“You’re nice, Tess. Why are you a …a…” He fumbled for a nice word for her profession.
“A whore, sugar? Well, sometimes there’s nothing else a woman can do to make a living. It’s a man’s world out there. It surely is. But I’m not unhappy with my life. And every once in a great while I get to meet a real fine person like you. Yes, meeting you has made this a good day for me. Now our time’s just about up. I hope you’ll come back again Adam. I might be able to teach you some things to make a future wife happy. I’d rather see you now, than after you’re wearing a ring. Can’t say that for most men, but for you, well, for you, I hope you can learn what love making is really all about.”
He dressed and she walked him only as far as her door. He turned and to her utter amazement, he planted a gentle kiss on her lips. Then, hat in hand, he left. As she closed the door behind him, she felt tears well up in her eyes.
Over the course of the next year, he visited Tess on a more or less regular basis. She gave him lessons in loving and living. And she was always happy to see him because he treated her well and wanted more than a quick tumble. They talked about many things, but she never would reveal her background to him. She had been a very respectable Kentucky merchant’s daughter who had fallen madly in love at the age of 15 with a local boy. She wound up pregnant and when her father found out, he shot the boy dead, beat Tess, and threw her out of the house. She had a rough few weeks of it and eventually lost the baby. She began to turn tricks to feed herself and eventually hooked up with her current madam. But the remembrance of those encounters with her one true love stayed with her. She brought them out on lonely nights and thanked the good Lord that she had at least those happy memories. She liked Adam and hoped that maybe one day he would find a similar love, but with a happier ending.
One evening he asked her if she had the same explosive feeling at the end of one of their sessions that he had.
“Do you mean did I come, sugar? That’s what that good feeling is called…coming. Well, no, I don’t. But that’s not the point here. You’re supposed to have those feelings.”
“You mean women don’t get that feeling too?”
“I never said that, Adam. I said I didn’t. It’s not like I love you or anything. I like you. Yes, I like you fine, but for women it’s different than for men.”
“Well, for a woman, you got to imagine that this could be looked at two ways. If you love the man, then it’s a joining…a union from love. Two people becoming like one. And it’s sweet. Then, if the man is tender and patient, a woman can come. But if you don’t love the man, then it’s like an invasion…someone possessing you. And since men are stronger anyhow, well, it’s not always nice. Sometimes it can be painful. For a lot of men, it’s just wham, bam, thank you ma’am. Half the time they forget the thank you. But I’ll tell you this, Adam, if two people love each other then things can be real special for both of them.”
“I want to make it special for you, Tess.”
“You’re not falling in love with me are you? Cause that’d be real bad, Adam.”
“No, I don’t think so. But I like you a lot and you’ve been so good to me. Can’t you tell me what to do so you get some pleasure…you know, sort of like a friend helping another friend.”
She looked at his serious face and lovely eyes. What the hell was he hanging around with those Bonner idiots for? This was a young man with some class. She sighed.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea. But I’ll tell you some ways to pleasure a woman that you can use in the future maybe.”
So she instructed him and he was amazed and stunned. He’d never have thought of those things on his own…not in a million years. But she assured him that they could work.
“The main thing to remember, sugar, is to be gentle. Go slow and be patient. It takes a while for a woman to get worked up. I know it’s hard when you’re young like you, but it gets easier with age!”
At his next visit he brought her a bouquet of flowers. And he proceeded to use every technique that she had taught him to arouse and pleasure her. She realized what he was up to and she decided to go for it. Why not? And he succeeded! She felt herself carried away on a wave of ecstasy, the likes of which she hadn’t felt in years. As wonderful as it was, she was troubled. There was a distance to be maintained with a client and she had crossed over the line. She refused to see him the next two times he came. His father had informed him of his impending trip east and he went to the brothel one last time, demanding to see her. She received him, but they only talked.
“I think that’s a great opportunity for you, sugar. Boston! Just fancy! Well, you have a good time, but you study hard and make something of yourself. Not everyone gets a chance like that.”
“I’ll be gone four years. Maybe I can come back in the summer though. If I do, will you see me? Please?”
“Well of course I will, Adam. You’re just about my favorite client. Then you can tell me all about the big city and what you’re learning and such. I’ll look forward to that. I really will.”
“Will you write to me?”
“I’m sorry Adam. I never learned,” she lied. “But I don’t think that’d be such a good idea. I promise that if we’re still here I’ll see you when you get back.”
“What do you mean if you’re still here?” he asked anxiously.
“Well, there’s some talk about moving the house to the gold strikes in California. Virginia City’s getting more settled every day. Soon the decent folks are gonna want us out. But that probably won’t happen for a long time. It’s just talk,” she tried to reassure him.
They said goodbye and the next day he was off for Boston. Tess had been right. Pressure was brought to bear on the new Virginia City council and the brothels picked up one by one and moved west. Adam never saw her again. But he did think about her occasionally throughout the years. He hoped that life had been kind to her and he was forever grateful for the things she had taught him about women and about life.
So as he lay in bed thinking about Tess, Adam made up his mind that, if it was humanly possible, he and Meg would have a marriage that involved love making and not just sex. The passion was there. Of that he was sure. Now he had to think of a way to turn it to their mutual advantage and for their mutual pleasure. So Adam Cartwright began to plan for his wedding night with the care and precision of a four star general planning the most important military campaign of his career.
The next two days passed in a whirlwind of activity. One evening Meg presented Joe and Carrie with their wedding present. It was a set of sheets that she had had made for them from the finest Egyptian cotton she could buy. These were softer by far than the more common muslin that most people used. She had then embroidered a design of colorful flowers along the border of the top sheet and along the border of the pillowcases.
“Oh, Meg! These are beautiful! It must have taken ages to do all the embroidery. Thank you,” Carrie exclaimed
“I’m glad you like them, Carrie. Last year I wasn’t always sleeping well, so sometimes I’d sew at night. And every stitch reminded me of you, so the work wasn’t like work at all,” her friend replied.
Meg got to meet the wives of some of the permanent help on the Ponderosa. There were a total of 6 families whose husbands were year round employees. These families were provided with housing, if they so desired. And Meg finally learned about the availability of all the fresh meat. She wondered at why they seldom had smoked or salted meat for their meals. There were so many people to feed, between the permanent help, their families, and the various wranglers and odd-jobs men that worked for the Cartwrights, that they butchered a steer and a pig every week. The meat was divided amongst everyone and sent out with the chuck wagons. Supplemented with the occasional chicken or lamb, everyone on the Ponderosa ate well. In fact, for the wedding, they were going to barbecue half a steer. Preparations for the meal were under the supervision of Hop Sing and could be heard more and more often yelling in Chinese as the wedding day approached.
The wives of the permanent hands helped Carrie and Meg decorate the house with bouquets of flowers and garlands of greens, interspersed with pretty white ribbons. The ceremony itself was set for noon. Meg and Adam hardly had a minute alone together because of all the activity, but they managed to steal away together once or twice a day for a few private moments.
Meg helped Carrie dress on Saturday morning. She did her hair up, with ribbons and lilies of the valley making a fragrant crown. She was truly exquisite. Carrie was slender and bore herself regally. She looked like an angel in her gown. Her lovely eyes glowed with happiness and anticipation. Just as they completed the finishing touches, there was a knock on the door. Meg answered it. Ben Cartwright stepped inside looking particularly handsome in his gray jacket and silver vest. He carried a small package wrapped in tissue paper.
“Meg, dear, would you mind if I have a private word with Carrie?” he asked.
“Of course not Mr. Cartwright. I’ll be back when they’re ready to begin the ceremony.” And Meg left the two alone.
She ran into Adam and Hoss in the hallway.
“You two look very handsome,” she said gaily. “But why didn’t you tie your tie, Adam?”
“I hate this thing. I try to wait until the last possible moment before I choke myself with this noose,” was his response.
“Tsk, tsk. Stop fussing so much. I’ll tie it for you.”
She buttoned the top button on his shirt and tied the tie.
“There! You look very nice,” she said, patting it into place. “Aren’t you glad you don’t live in Boston where you’d have to wear a starched collar too?”
He put his arms around her waist and kissed her.
“Thank you. Yes, I’m glad I don’t live in Boston or anywhere else for that matter where I’d have to dress like that.”
“Just when I thought I’d seen the last of the kanoodlin’, you two have to get started,” Hoss pretended to complain.
“Now, Hoss,” Meg chided him, “You can’t be saying that Adam and I behave like Carrie and Joe?”
She had a point. They kept their intimacies as private as possible. It was a rare occurrence to find them in an embrace, though if it happened, Adam took it in stride much better than Meg.
“Well, you’re right there, little gal. Once those two young ‘uns
are married I’ll feel a lot better every time I turn a corner.” This
made them all chuckle as they walked down the stairs.
Ben stood for a moment looking at the beautiful young woman before him. She had turned out so well, for which he was grateful. And he was sure she and Joe would be happy, though their marriage might be tempestuous at times.
“Caroline, darling, I have something for you. Over the years I’ve given you various items which belonged to your parents. When you returned from school I gave you your mother’s paintings. Today I want to give you two final things. First I want to give you all your father’s jewelry. You may do what you want with it. There are a couple of rings, a pocket watch, and a gold money clip.” He handed over a small box and Carrie opened it, examining its contents.
“Perhaps someday you may have a son and wish to give those things to him. Or maybe you want Joe to have some of them. It’s entirely up to you.”
“Thank you, Papa. I don’t know what to say.”
“Well, before you say anything, here’s the last item.”
He handed over the tissue paper wrapped package. Inside were three gilt frames joined together. There were portraits in each frame. The one on the left was the portrait of a man, the one on the right of a woman, and the one in the middle was of a child of about two year old. Carrie looked at them and her mouth dropped open.
“The miniatures of your parents were painted by a famous artist, Caroline. And the portrait in the middle is one your mother did of you when you were a baby. I’ve kept them all these years waiting for the perfect opportunity to give them to you. I can’t think of a better occasion than now.”
And Caroline Moreau, soon to become Caroline Cartwright…the emotional woman who cried at the drop of a hat…was moved to a place beyond tears. She stared at the portraits and then looked up at Ben. She walked to him slowly, put her arms around his waist, and hugged him tightly.
“I love you, Papa. I love you so very much. I can never thank you enough for this and for everything you’ve done for me. So all I can say is I love you.”
Ben felt moistness in his eyes as he returned her hug.
“I love you too, darling. You’re a beautiful woman…inside and out. Your parents would be so very proud of you. And I’m proud of you too.”
At that moment there was another knock on the door. Meg informed them that all was ready and it was time for the ceremony to begin.
It was a lovely ceremony. The organist from the church played on the borrowed piano since Meg was maid of honor. Hoss was the best man. Pastor Lundstrum spoke the traditional words with feeling and both Carrie and Joe said, “I will” in clear voices as they looked into each other’s eyes. Unlike Meg, Carrie made the vow to obey, but secretly Meg wondered how easy it would be for the headstrong and volatile young woman to keep it.
The ceremony was followed by a huge party. It seemed to Meg that half of the territory was on hand. She was constantly being introduced to people whom she had not met before and time flew. Sheriff Coffee, a longtime friend of the family, cornered her and asked her what she thought about their country celebrations. She liked this fine man, who had done so much to bring a sense of law and justice out here in what was commonly called the “wild west”.
“Well, Sheriff, I think this is the western equivalent of one of our back home clam bakes. The food is different but the friendship and sense of celebration are the same.”
“My late wife Mary was from back east,” he told her. “Never could figure out what she saw in me that would make her give up all that to live out here in the boondocks.”
“I can!” Meg said, her eyes twinkling. He looked down at his shoes and laughed. Adam walked up and the embarrassed Roy said to him, “ This young lady here is real nice. Too bad she’s headed back so soon. We could used more like her around here.”
“Well, Roy, maybe we can think of a way to get her to extend her visit,” Adam answered. Now it was Meg’s turn to hide her blushing face. When she looked up a willowy blond was standing next to Adam.
“Well, now, Susan. You just get back from San Francisco?” Roy asked her.
“Hello Sheriff Coffee. Yes, we got back two days ago. We wouldn’t have missed Joe’s wedding for anything,” was the reply. Meg thought it strange that the woman omitted Carrie’s name from the proceedings. She hadn’t yet been introduced but she bet herself that this was Susan Taylor. Adam stepped in.
“Susan, I’d like you to meet Meg Prescott. She’s Carrie’s best friend from Boston. Meg, this is Susan Taylor, an old friend of the family.”
“Hello, Miss Taylor. It’s nice to meet you,” Meg said.
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Miss Prescott. Weren’t you Carrie’s tutor or something?”
“I was one of the teachers in the school she attended,” Meg replied politely.
“Oh you’re one of those working women! Isn’t that interesting!” Susan Taylor said. But the implication was that Meg was some kind of oddball for holding down a job. This riled her, but she held her tongue. She reminded herself that this was the very first incident of class distinction that she had witnessed since her arrival. She had been subject to this condescending treatment before in Boston and had learned not to let it bother her too much. And she further reminded herself that Miss Taylor was going to receive a nasty shock later in the evening when the engagement announcement was made. The daughter might not have good manners, but the father was an old family friend and Meg would do nothing to cause friction between the Cartwrights and their neighbors.
“That’s a lovely gown, Miss Prescott. Did Carrie lend it to you?” were the next words out of Susan Taylor’s mouth.
Adam was watching the exchange with interest. He knew exactly what was going on, but decided he would only interfere if Meg looked like she was upset. She seemed to be handling herself well.
“Thank you for the complement, Miss Taylor. No, Carrie didn’t lend me this. I had it made back in Boston especially for the wedding. I’m glad you like it,” Meg replied evenly.
“They must pay school teachers a lot more back east than they do here,” Susan answered snidely. “Will you be returning there soon?”
“My plans were to leave right after the wedding,” Meg said. Adam caught the use of the past tense and smiled to himself, but Susan missed it completely.
“Well, I hope you have a safe journey. No woman I know of would attempt such a long trip alone. You’re very bold.” She slipped her arm through Adam’s and asked, “Adam would you walk me over to get some punch?”
Before he could politely refuse, Meg said, “Yes, Adam, you really should take care of your guests. I’ll just stay here and talk with Sheriff Coffee.” He shot her a worried glance, but she was smiling and he relaxed. They had silently communicated with each other and he knew that she wouldn’t be upset if he walked off with Susan, although he did disengage himself gently from her. Instead, he took her elbow and said to her, “Of course I’ll get you some punch. I haven’t had a chance to speak with your father yet and I see he’s over at the table. Let’s go.” They walked off without Susan Taylor having the courtesy to say goodbye.
Joe and Carrie were going to spend two nights in their new house and take the Monday stage to Carson City. There they could now board a train, which would take them to San Francisco. Just before they were ready to leave in their gaily decorated buggy, Ben called for silence. Friends and neighbors gathered around.
“I’d like to propose a toast to my son Joe and his lovely new bride. Caroline has lived with us on and off since she was ten years old. I’m delighted that she is now officially my daughter because I’ve always thought of her as such. I know that you all join me in wishing these two young people health and happiness for many years to come.”
The toast was given with much laughter, clapping, and cheering. Joe planted a resounding kiss on the lips of his pretty wife.
“And now,” Ben continued, “I have another announcement to make.” He looked around. “Adam, where are you?”
“Right here, Pa,” came the answer from behind him. Adam stepped forward holding Meg’s hand.
“Friends, tonight is a doubly happy occasion. Not only do we have a wedding to celebrate, but I’m also announcing the engagement of my son Adam to Miss Margaret Prescott of Boston.” An excited murmur went through the crowd.
“For those of you who don’t know her, Meg is a good friend of Caroline’s from back east in Boston. She came here to help Carrie prepare for the wedding and we’ve all gotten to know and love her.”
“Apparently my brother Adam got to know and love her a little bit different from the rest of us,” Hoss chimed in, which caused a general burst of laughter.
“So, I propose a toast to Meg and Adam. I’ll be inviting everyone back here on September 12 for their wedding,” Ben finished.
“To Meg and Adam!” went up a loud cry. At this point Adam put his arm around Meg’s waist, turned her face to his, and kissed her tenderly. Neither was given to public displays of affection, but Adam thought this one was appropriate. It greatly embarrassed Meg.
“You shouldn’t have done that!” she whispered to him.
“I’m just marking my territory,” he answered, knowing that would outrage her. He loved to see if he could tease her enough to get her to react. But in public she always behaved like a lady. “Oh well,” he thought, “I’m sure I’ll hear about this later.” It gave him something to look forward to.
Shortly later Joe and Carrie rode away. The crowd began to disperse and finally the three Cartwright men and Meg found themselves alone in front of the fireplace. The men were enjoying a relaxing glass of brandy but Meg went into the kitchen to make herself some tea.
“I told Hop Sing I’d cook tomorrow, Mr. Cartwright. He’s just about worn out,” she said as she returned and took a seat on the settee.
“You don’t have to do that, my dear. I’m sure we can all manage. We might even go into town and have dinner at the hotel.”
“I don’t mind. And then, if one of you isn’t too tired or too busy, maybe you could drive me and my things over to Mrs. Shaunessy’s.” She calmly sipped her tea, but she was nervous because she knew Adam wouldn’t be happy about her plans. He was sitting on the hearth and he slowly put down his glass as he pinned her with his eyes.
“Why do you need someone to drive you to Mrs. Shaunessy’s?” he asked in a deceptively quiet voice.
“Because I’m going to be living there until our wedding,” she replied, not quite meeting his eyes.
“Why? Because it isn’t appropriate that I live in this house with three unmarried men, none of whom are a blood relative and one of whom I’m going to marry. It just isn’t done. I probably shouldn’t even be here tonight, but tomorrow was the soonest I could arrange things.”
“Carrie lived here.”
“That was different.”
“Adam Cartwright, you’re smart enough to figure that out for yourself.”
At this point Ben cleared his throat and said, “I’m feeling pretty tired. I think I’ll turn in.” He could sense an argument brewing and he thought it best that this matter be decided in private. Besides which, he was very tired from the day’s activity.
“I think I’ll turn in too, Pa,” said Hoss. “I may just sleep late tomorrow morning. Never knew a weddin’ could wear you out so.”
The two men made tracks for the stairs. When they had reached the top, Hoss whispered to Ben, “Who do ya thinks gonna win that one?” Ben replied, “My money’s on Meg.” Hoss chucked.
“It’ll do ole Adam some good not to get his own way all the time. Bring him down a peg or two!”
Downstairs Adam had moved over to sit next to Meg. He crowded her a bit and stared at her silently. She slid away from him.
“Don’t think you can intimidate me into changing my mind,” she warned him.
“Are you doing this to get even with me for that crack about marking my territory?”
“Of course not. I had planned to do this all along. People will talk if I stay here. I don’t want your family embarrassed or my reputation sullied by acting inappropriately.” She turned and faced him, hands on hips. “But now that you’ve brought it up, that remark was…was…,” she couldn’t find a suitable adjective.
“It was meant to get a reaction out of you. But as usual, you behaved with complete propriety. I guess that’s what this other thing is about too, isn’t it?”
“I knew you’d be unhappy about it, but it’s the right thing to do. You’re not too angry are you?” she asked.
“I’m disappointed, but I see your point. Tell me something. Did you purposely bring it up in front of my father and brother because you weren’t sure how I’d react?”
She nodded again, somewhat sheepishly. He shook his head and sighed.
She moved into his arms.
“Meg, I never want you to be afraid to discuss things with me. I know we’ll disagree once in a while, but I’m a pretty reasonable man. We can always talk things out. But one thing I’m very insistent about, is that we keep our private concerns private, unless we’ve both agreed to share them with others. I hate gossip and I don’t want to be the subject of it. What occurs in our relationship is for you and me to know about and no one else. Can you understand that?”
She snuggled up to him.
“Yes, I understand. I shouldn’t have sprung that on you in front of your family and I’m very sorry. It won’t happen again,” she said contritely. “And I’ve always known you’re a private person. I am too, but not as much as you are. So I’ll try harder. Do you forgive me?”
He kissed her and said, “There’s really nothing to forgive.” Then he asked her, “When did you make all these plans with Mrs. Shaunessy?”
“Today at the party. She’s agreed to let me stay there and help me learn the things I need to know to be a better wife for you.”
“Such as how to take care of chickens and how to milk a cow.”
He stared at her in disbelief.
“Are you serious?”
“Of course I am. I’m living on a ranch and I want to be able to do the things that any good ranch wife does. I can already garden and put up food. I did that back home. But we bought our eggs, milk, and cheese. So Mrs. Shaunessy said she’d teach me about all that.”
He hugged her.
“That’s very commendable, but you don’t have to worry about those things. You can get meat, eggs, milk, and cheese from Hop Sing. I don’t want you to have to work like a ranch hand.”
She pushed him away and said, “I want to do it. It’s what the other wives do. I want to fit in. Besides, what will I do all day, if I don’t have something like that to keep me busy?”
“Honey, you don’t realize what a commitment keeping cows is. You have to milk them twice a day, every day. They don’t care if you’re sick, or visiting a friend, or going shopping.” He thought for a moment.
“Maybe we can compromise. Why don’t you learn to keep chickens but get the milk from Hop Sing. Then you can make the butter or cheese or whatever without the bother of the cows. How does that sound?”
She made a face as she considered his proposal.
“I guess that’s alright, as long as you promise me I can get a cow if I think I can handle it.” This made him smile. She was stubborn, but willing to compromise. It was a good sign.
“I promise, but I think you’ll be busier than you think now. You won’t want a cow.
“I’ve thought about it. I think I’ll have a lot of time on my hands. I’m used to working, you know.”
“Well, we’ll see if we can keep you busy with a new job.” He pretended to consider for a moment. “How about changing diapers?”
She looked up at him and he thought her expression was troubled.
“What’s the matter, Meg? You do want children, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course I do. It’s just that I don’t know anything about babies. I know an awful lot about young girls, but almost nothing about taking care of a baby. It’s such a big responsibility.”
“I think a lot of it will just come naturally, don’t you?”
“I hope so. Do you think there are any books about it?”
He chuckled and gave her a squeeze.
“I have no idea. But we’ll check that out when the time comes, alright?”
She smiled up at him.
“Do you know anything about babies?” she asked.
He realized an opportunity was presenting itself. He hadn’t planned on having this particular discussion with her yet…wasn’t even sure he was the one to do it. But the topic had come up naturally and he decided to tackle it himself.
“I know how to make them, which is something you and I have to talk about. You tell me. Where do babies come from?”
She hid her face in his chest.
“This isn’t a topic we should be discussing,” he heard her mumble.
He pulled away and looked at her. His gaze was direct, but his expression was kind.
“There’s no topic that’s off limits for married people. You’re going to be my wife and I think we should be able to talk to each other about anything. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some things that you don’t discuss with other people. But husbands and wives can share anything with each other. It’s a very special relationship. You know me well enough to realize I wouldn’t tell you something that wasn’t true. Now answer the question, where do babies come from?”
“They grow inside their mothers until it’s time for them to be born.” She felt her cheeks getting pink.
“How do they get there?” he persisted.
“God puts them there when you’re married.” This answer was about what he had expected.
“If that’s true, how come there are people who are married without children? And surely you must have heard about an unmarried woman who became pregnant.”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s because ‘God works in mysterious ways’”.
“Well God does work in mysterious ways, but that’s not the reason. I’m going to tell you about it now, but first I want you to believe that what I’m telling you is true, that all married couples do it, and that it’s a good and beautiful act. It may sound a bit strange, but it’s pleasurable, fun, and it puts babies inside their mothers. In fact, if you want to get Biblical, I can probably quote you a line or two from Scripture to back it up.” Then, holding her in his arms, speaking in his warm soothing voice, and choosing his words with the greatest of care, he told her. As he spoke, her head dropped and she hid her face again.
There was dead silence after he finished speaking.
“Sweetheart…Meg…say something. Do you have any questions?”
“I’ll never be able to look you in the eyes again.”
He shook with silent laughter.
“You really didn’t know?”
“I did not!” she replied with feeling. “Whom do you think I would speak to about such things? In polite society there are some topics that are just not discussed!” She was silent a minute.
“What you just told me is true?
“You have my word of honor. If you had grown up in the country you would have known or figured it out by now because you would have seen animals mating. That’s one of the disadvantages of city life and all its polite conventions.”
“All married couples do that?”
“For your information, “that” has a name. It’s called making love. And yes, all married couples do it.” He waited because he was sure he knew what was coming next. Everyone had the same reaction when they found out.
She pulled back from him and, contrary to what she had thought a moment ago, she looked at him with wide eyes and said, “ my parents?”
“Fraid so. Mine too, or else we wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation.”
She shook her head.
“If it wasn’t you who told me this I wouldn’t believe it.” She paused. “But, you know, suddenly a few things I’ve overheard my students say make some sense.” She paused again. “Oh my! Adam, you mean that Joe and Carrie…?”
He smiled tenderly at her and nodded.
“I can’t picture it.”
“You shouldn’t try. It’s the most private and intimate act that can occur between two people. Talking about it or trying to imagine it doesn’t do it justice. Now, come here.”
He turned her in his arms and kissed her. She melted against him. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world for her lips to part and to receive his exploring tongue. He cradled and caressed her and she felt excited and safe and more alive than ever before. If there was one truth in her life, it was that she belonged with this man. He trailed kisses down her neck and planted his lips over the racing pulse at her throat. Her head was thrown back and soft sighs escaped her lips. He kissed her closed eyelids and then returned to her mouth, this time to kiss her gently…more an expression of love than of passion. He drew back and she slowly opened her eyes.
“Does making love make you feel this good?” she breathed.
“It makes you feel 100 times better. In fact, there’s really no comparison.” Then he whispered in her ear, “I love you, Meg. I can’t wait to share those special feelings with you."
She looked at him with a love and trust in her eyes which was more eloquent than any verbal response she might have made. Adam breathed a sigh of relief. He had overcome what he considered the last big hurdle in their pre-wedding relationship. Any other obstacles that presented themselves, they would deal with as a couple.
It is with a great deal of regret that I accept your resignation from the faculty here at school. You have been an asset to our staff and I know it will be difficult to find someone as qualified as you to take over your duties. You always were one of my most conscientious teachers and a favorite among our students. You will be sorely missed.
Having said that, I can tell from the tone of your letter that you have found happiness there in Nevada with your young man. I am delighted for you. I wish you well in your new life and hope that you will write to us from time to time to keep us abreast of what you are doing.
Louise Madden and I will be happy to supervise the packing of the list of items that you requested from your house. We will also try to include “anything else that we think you might need or want, but had forgotten to write down.” Please also look inside your crates (for we believe there will be more than one) for some wedding gifts from your friends here.
Mr. Cartwright’s friend Mr. Devine has been to see me regarding the rental of your house. The fee you are requesting is so nominal that the school board has decided to rent the house and use it as housing for some of our unmarried staff. We believe that offering such a benefit will help us attract the new teachers we need for our expanding student population.
I am delighted that Caroline is now a very happy Mrs. Joseph Cartwright. Please extend my best wishes to her as well.
I hope that at some future
date we will meet again. In the meantime, I wish you health and happiness.
God bless you.
Congratulations you old son of a gun! I thought you’d never get married. Dave and I went out and had a drink to toast your good fortune. We’re all very happy for you. I have to admit that Jane first suspected something…woman’s intuition. But you’ll learn all about that soon enough. We all think Meg is a fine person and probably better than you deserve!
I’m taking care of the business of the house for you. Miss Collier, the headmistress, seemed delighted to have central housing to offer new faculty. We’re hiring a crew to go through, repaint, replace the worn carpets, etc. Otherwise the place seems in good shape. It’s a smart move to hold on to it. And since your fiancee is so insistent that I be paid, I’ll settle everything with Dave. He’s keeping her account in good shape for her.
Speaking of Dave, the four
of us went to dinner and a concert last weekend. He and Nancy are
expecting again and I’m proud to announce that Jane and I are as well.
We look forward to hearing some good news from you in that department after
Seriously, we all are very happy for you. We hope that you might make it back here and then we can all celebrate. Or, someday we may get out to Nevada. Just don’t see it in the near future, however.
If I can be of any help,
just wire or write. Dave and I are still laughing. We thought
you were a die-hard bachelor! Meg has to be something to have hooked
you! Love from Jane and regards from Dave and Nancy.
Dear Miss Prescott,
I’m writing this letter for Mama and Papa. We are happy that you are going to marry Mr. Cartwright. Mama and Papa liked him a lot and think that the two of you will make a good couple—you are both so smart! But we are so sad that you will not be coming back. We will miss you very much.
We are doing well in school. Anthony may even go to college! This is Papa’s greatest hope. The rest of us are doing our regular things and helping out in the restaurant. Papa is thinking of expanding. Our business has been very good.
Now that you are in the West, Joseph hopes he may visit someday. Yes, he is still cowboy crazy! I, too, would like to visit, but just to see you again and see what the West is really like. The letters you wrote are different from the novels that describe it.
Mama says to say God bless you and Mr. Cartwright. She will say some prayers in church for your happiness. We will be sending out a wedding present, so be on the lookout for it. We all send our love to you. Please do keep writing. We enjoy the letters so much.
P.S. Please say hello
to Carrie from all of us.
In the words of a very lovely song, “Love changes everything. Love can make the summer fly or a night seem like a lifetime.” The summer did indeed fly by for Meg and Adam. He spent every available moment working on the house so that it would be ready, though not completely finished, for his new bride. It was made of wood, and the timbers he used were as sturdy, but more refined and finished, than those used in his father’s house. The style was a new one coming out of the Midwest, which would eventually be labeled “Arts and Crafts”. Adam wanted the house to blend with its surroundings and he wanted its elements to be attractive as well as functional. He had seen the new designs in an architectural magazine and showed it to Meg. She liked the clean lines as well as the warmth of the wood and readily agreed with him. They had selected a home site on property given to him by his father. The house was to be situated on a nice flat piece of land with a dozen or so of older deciduous trees surrounding the area. They would provide shade in the summer and when they lost their leaves, the house would have the benefit of winter sunlight. The front door would face the road that was being worn to their place and Meg would have a view of the mountains from her kitchen window. A brook ran across the property and Adam planned to plant a number of evergreens as a windbreak to the north and east. Neighbors came to help raise the barn, but Adam selected only a few skilled carpenters to work on the house. By the time they were wed the living room, dining room, a bathing room, kitchen, and their bedroom would be completed. Then he could take his time with the additional bedrooms and other finishing touches.
Meg drove him crazy as they began to furnish the house. She was loath to spend money, having had to live so cautiously for most of her life. No matter how many times he told her he could afford all the things they needed to purchase, she fretted over the expense.
“I’m just frugal,” she argued with him.
“Meg, there’s a fine line between being frugal and being cheap,” he said rather sharply one day after he had worked for hours with a herd of recalcitrant cattle and then went to the house to finish up some work in the kitchen. Her chin began to wobble and her eyes filled with tears. He felt like a complete heel. He put down the screwdriver and took her in his arms.
“I’m sorry. I know that what you’re trying to do. I should be grateful, instead of speaking to you that way. Look, why don’t we take a break and go for a ride? We’re both tired and we’ve been working too hard.”
They took a drive and she explained to him some of the economies she had to practice in Boston to keep a roof over her head and food on the table. She and her aunt had lived on poverty’s doorstep. They had a long talk and they found ways to compromise.
In an unusual burst of confidentiality, Adam happened to mention this one day to Joe as they were doing some endless fence repairs.
“If you think you’re gonna get any sympathy from me, you can forget it,” his younger brother told him. Carrie loves to shop. She’s constantly bringing stuff home from town that we don’t need. No peddler can pass the door without her buying something. I tried to teach her how to budget but about three quarters of the way through the month she came crying to me that she didn’t have any money. I swear I don’t know where it goes.” His bother laughed.
“That sounds like Carrie. Well, if Meg won’t spend the money on the things we need, I guess I can always do it myself. But there’s got to be a happy medium. I hope they both find it.”
“At least you won’t end up in the poor house if Meg doesn’t!” replied Joe.
Meg was busy all summer as well. She was happy at Mrs. Shaunessy’s and busied herself learning how to care for chickens, and make cheese and butter. She loved to cook, so these didn’t really seem like chores to her. She learned how to milk, but decided that Adam was right. Why keep a cow if you didn’t have to? He was nice enough not to say ,“I told you so” when she mentioned it to him. And when Hop Sing shared the bounties of his garden, she was busy putting up fruits and vegetables for her own pantry. The small cellar beneath the kitchen had shelves laden with canned beans, peas, corn, pickles, spinach, peaches, pears, and plums. She and Carrie went berry picking and put up little jars of huckleberry and blackberry jam. Later in the fall she would can her applesauce and apple butter. She would also store the winter root vegetables that Hop Sing would give her when they had been harvested.
Unlike Carrie, she had been inside her house many times and knew every nook and cranny. She was filled with admiration for the care that Adam took with every detail of the house. His efforts were another way of telling her he loved her. He put a closet in the bedroom as well as her window seat and the fireplace he promised. And she made sure that the furnishings she picked were not only attractive, but also comfortable. Visitors to their home would sit on a sofa and overstuffed chairs covered in pretty chintz material. Adam bought her a comfortable wooden rocking chair where she could sit and read or knit. Thrifty as she was, she ordered an expensive chair covered in buttery soft brown leather for him. He was delighted when she showed it to him.
“You work so hard and you ought to have a nice comfortable chair so you can relax at night,” was what she said. They were at the house together. She had hung some curtains she had made with the aid of Carrie’s sewing machine and he was working on the porch railing. He stopped briefly when the chair was delivered and she said, “Let’s go on a picnic. The weather’s so nice and you never take even an hour off.”
“Sweetheart, the porch won’t build itself.”
“Come on, Adam. Please? We haven’t had a moment’s rest in days. Take me somewhere pretty, where we can just sit and talk…no work for a while.” He looked at her, standing there in a pink gingham dress covered by a frilly white apron. She was smiling beguilingly and he couldn’t refuse her. The porch would be built sooner or later. He put down his hammer and took her hand.
“Well, maybe just for an hour or so,” he said, smiling and feeling like a 10 year old playing hookey. They stopped by Mrs. Shaunessy’s and got some bread, cheese, and fruit. Then he drove them down to the shore of Lake Tahoe onto a pebbly beach.
“Look!” she cried excitedly. “Gulls! Like at home!” She hopped out of the carriage and ran to the water’s edge. She stood there, looking out, until he came up behind her.
“It’s so beautiful. I love it.”
“As much as the ocean?”
“I love it in a different way, Adam. I guess it’s like having children. You love them all, but you love each differently.” She turned and faced him. “I know you worry if I’m happy here. I am! I’ve never been happier in my life.” The smile on her face was proof of what she was saying.
They moved back to the grass, sat down, and consumed their meal.
“You were right, Meg. We needed to take a break. I’m glad I came.”
“All work and no play…,”she quoted the old saying.
He watched her as she stood up to replace the picnic things in the buggy.
“You think I’m dull?…that I don’t know how to play? Well, I’ll show you, Miss Prescott!” She turned at the tone in his voice and he was advancing on her with a look in her eyes that made her tummy tingle. She screamed and ran toward the water laughing. He was fast and he caught her, turned her around and planted a smacking kiss on her lips…then he continued to kiss her playfully, nuzzling her neck, and tickling her until she was hysterical and begged him to stop.
“Playful enough for you , Miss?” he asked, roguishly.
She hugged him tight, then looked up into his face.
“I love you. And yes, that’s playful enough. I love this side of you. You’re always so responsible and serious. I’m glad you can play.”
He didn’t respond immediately but thought to himself, “You just wait till we’re married. I’ll teach you some games that’ll curl your toes, little playmate.” Instead he replied, “Okay, dear heart. I hate to be a wet blanket, but recess is over. We’d better get back.
The days passed in quick succession. One Sunday when Meg was having dinner at the big house. Carrie and Joe were there too and it seemed like old times. Ben asked to speak to her privately. They walked out on the porch.
“I wanted to ask you something about the ceremony, my dear. I wondered if you were planning to have anyone “give you away”. I’m not sure that you’re comfortable with the concept. Perhaps you’d rather walk down the stairs alone, which is absolutely fine. It’s your wedding after all. But if you wanted, I’d be happy to escort you.”
She turned to him, smiling.
“Actually, someone is going to give me away, so to speak. Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile my more modern beliefs with my love of tradition. In this case I decided I didn’t want to be by myself. So I asked Sheriff Coffee to give me away and he seemed delighted. I hope I haven’t offended you. It’s just that I’ve come to know and like him so much. And you really are part of the groom’s family. Have I made a mistake?” She gave him a worried look. She needn’t have been concerned. Ben smiled broadly and said, “ That’s a wonderful choice. I’m sure he’s tickled pink. And now that that’s settled, there’s the matter of what you’ll call me after you’re married. I’d be pleased if you’d call me either Pa, like the boys, or Papa, like Caroline. That is, unless those are names you reserved for your own father.”
“Mr. Cartwright, my mother was British and very proper. I called my parents Mother and Father. I’d like to call you Papa like Carrie. And I’m glad you brought up the subject, because Mr. Cartwright is so formal and I could never imagine myself calling you by your first name.”
These important matters settled they walked back into the house and joined the others.
September 12 dawned sunny and cool. The ceremony was set for 5 p.m. to give people a chance to take care of their chores before attending the wedding. Carrie and Joe picked up Meg from Mrs. Shaunessy’s and drove her to the big house to get dressed. Meg had sewn her gown herself. It was simple, but elegant. Carrie did her hair, weaving ribbons and tiny white flowers throughout. She didn’t wear a veil. Her bouquet was colorful, with early fall mums and late roses. A few minutes before the start of the ceremony there was a knock on the door. Meg had a sense of déjà vu…hadn’t she just gone through this same ritual with Carrie a few months ago? Carrie opened the door and Roy Coffee walked in, looking very elegant in his suit.
“I think they’re just about ready down there,” he said. Carrie gave Meg a quick kiss and hug and said, “I’ll see you downstairs. You look beautiful…radiant!” Then she left.
“Are you nervous, Meg?” Roy asked her.
“I’m scared to death,” she admitted. “I don’t feel radiant. I feel like I could faint at any second. I’m glad you’ll be with me or I don’t think I could walk down the stairs!”
He laughed. “I sorta remember feeling that way myself when I got married. Wonder how the groom’s doing right about now?”
“I can’t imagine Adam ever being scared of anything. But if he is, I suppose it’s natural.” The kindly sheriff took her arm.
“Come on now. You’ll both be fine. And let’s start off this marriage right by getting you to the altar on time.” He squeezed her hand and looked her in the eyes. “You look beautiful and I’m just as sure as I can be that you’ll have a long and happy life with Adam. And if he gives you a hard time about anything, you just let me know. I’ll take care of him for you.”
This caused her to laugh and while she was distracted, he got her out the door and to the top of the stairs. The music began and before she knew it she was standing beside Adam and they were making their vows. Her fingers were like ice and she actually trembled, but his hand was warm as it held hers and he gave her a loving smile as he slipped the plain gold band onto her ring finger. His voice was calm and steady as he repeated the words spoken by the pastor and in an incredibly short time she heard the words, “You may kiss the bride.”
He kissed her and then hugged her to him before they turned to the assembled crowd. Carrie was there in an instant, tears flowing over her smiling lips. The next few moments were a blur of excitement as they received good wishes and congratulations from the guests. The reception was identical to Carrie and Joe’s, with a barbecue and music for dancing. Meg had calmed down somewhat and was sipping some punch when Carrie and Joe came up to her.
“How are you feeling now? You looked a little pale before,” Joe said. “I remember that I was a wreck until the ceremony was over. Then I started to enjoy myself.”
“Yes, thanks! I do feel better. I think everything is going very well, don’t you?” she replied happily.
“It’s a beautiful wedding and you look wonderful. But before you leave, Joe and I have to speak to you and Adam about something. So make sure you don’t leave without seeing us first.”
“Alright, but I don’t think we’ll be leaving for a while. We haven’t even had the cake yet.”
As they walked away, Joe said to Carrie, “I don’t think they’ll be staying
as long as she thinks!” and his wife giggled.
After the cake had been eaten Adam came for his bride.
“Are you about ready to leave, Meg? It’s dark and most people aren’t going to leave until we do.” She looked up at him. He was so handsome in his dark suit and her heart just about overflowed with her feelings. This was how she had first seen him that evening in Boston. She could never have imagined then that her future would be permanently tied to him.
“I’m ready. But we have to find Carrie and Joe. They said they wanted to talk to us before we left.” He took her hand and they found the young couple.
“We’re going to leave, Carrie. What did you want to tell us?” Meg asked.
“Come into the house for a minute,” replied Carrie.
When they were in the deserted living room, Joe put his arm around his wife’s waist, looked at her, and said with a grin, “You tell them.”
Carrie’s face was glowing as she said, “I’m going to have a baby.”
Meg’s jaw dropped and her eyes lit up. She embraced her old friend and new sister-in-law.
“Carrie, that’s wonderful! I’m so happy for you.” As she was speaking, Adam was shaking Joe’s hand and congratulating him.
“Have you told Pa yet?” he asked his younger brother.
“Not yet. We will after everyone leaves. We don’t want everyone to know just yet. But we wanted to tell you before you left.” Joe had a grin on his face that fell somewhere between sheepish and extreme pride.
“When’s the baby due?” Meg asked.
“The best I can tell, early spring…probably the end of March or the beginning of April. I’ll see the doctor this week.”
An awkward silence fell on them and then Joe said, “Well, we don’t want to hold you up. We just wanted to tell you before you left because we weren’t sure just when we’d see you again.”
“You’ll be seeing me on Wednesday morning,” Adam informed him. That’s about all the time I can afford to take right now. But you’re right. We’d better go because we’re holding up everyone else.”
The two couples walked out of the house and Adam went to get the buggy. It had been decorated with colored streamers and bells. Meg kissed Carrie, Joe, Hoss, and Roy Coffee. When she got to Ben, she kissed him and said, “Thank you for making this such a wonderful day for me. I’ll never forget it.”
“We were only too happy to do it. It’s a small price to pay for getting one of these grown sons of mine out of the house and on his own,” he joked. She laughed. "Seriously, Meg dear, we’re happy to have you as one of us. And it goes without saying that I wish you nothing but happiness.” She touched his arm looked him in the eye and said, “ Thank you…Papa.” He gave her a kiss on the cheek and handed her over to her husband, who helped her into the carriage. They drove off in a shower of rice.
The evening was clear and cool and the waxing moon was not quite full. The drive to their house took only 15 minutes. They talked about the events of the day and the good news from Joe and Carrie.
“I wish I could be there when they tell your father,” she said. “He’ll be so thrilled. And Hoss will probably shout the news from the roof. I’m so happy for them.”
Adam agreed with her as he stopped the horse in front of their door. He helped her down and they climbed the porch stairs with their arms around each other.
“Wait here,” he said as he opened the door. He went in, lit a couple of lamps, then came back.
“Here we go,” he said as he scooped her up into his arms and walked across the threshold. He didn’t put her down immediately, but held her as he kissed her.
“Welcome home, Mrs. Cartwright.”
“You’re the first person to call me that,” she laughed. “I like how it sounds.”
“You’d better. You’re stuck with it now,” he replied as he set her down.
They stood looking at each other for a few seconds. He knew she was nervous, though she was making a valiant effort not to show it.
“I have a surprise for you. Wait here,” he told her as he made for the kitchen. Early in the day he had filled the sink with ice he had brought from the icehouse and crushed. Sitting in the midst of it was a bottle of champagne. He grabbed it and a tea towel and brought them back with him.
“Do we have any glasses for this?” he asked her. Her eyes widened and she clapped her hands.
“Champagne! Just like the first night we met,” she exclaimed with delight. “Yes, we have some lovely glasses that Dave and Nancy sent as a wedding gift. They’re over in the china closet. I’ll get them.” While she fetched the crystal, he uncorked the bottle. It opened with a loud pop and some of the sparkling wine overflowed the bottle. He used the towel to sop up the spill, then filled the glasses.
“I want to make a toast,” he said. He raised his glass and saluted her. “To my beautiful bride, Meg. I intend to spend the rest of my life trying to make you as happy as you’ve made me. I love you with all my heart.”
Her eyes met his and they exchanged a look that was powerful. She mouthed the words, “I love you too.” There was a brief silence and then Adam cleared his throat.
“Well, drink up before all the bubbles are gone!” And he took a sip of the champagne.
Meg sipped at hers as well.
“The bubbles still tickle,” she informed him. Then she sighed dramatically. “Poor me. I’ve married a man who’s corrupting me with alcohol. I’m definitely on the slippery slope to perdition.”
“But what a way to go!” he responded, laughing. They finished their glasses of champagne and he said, “I’m going to unhitch and take care of the horse. There’s a fire all laid in the bedroom. All you have to do is light it. Think you can handle it?”
She gave him a withering glance.
“I think I can manage that. I’m a multi-talented person, Mr. Cartwright, as you will come to learn.”
“Well, if you do a good job, I just may have another surprise for you. It should take me about 15 minutes to finish what I have to do. Is that enough time for you to…?”
She knew what he was really asking and her mouth went dry, but she just nodded. He winked at her and walked out the door.
She brought a lamp with her to the bedroom and then went back for the champagne bottle and glasses. She poured herself another glass and took a gulp. The fire caught as soon as she set a match to it and she placed the screen in front of it. She got out of her wedding gown as quickly as she could. She didn’t want him to walk in on her while she was undressing. Her nightgown was simple white cotton trimmed with eyelet and pink ribbons. It had flowing sleeves and was incredibly feminine. She sat down at the little dressing table and began to take down her hair. She had some more champagne. She heard Adam bolt the front door and walk toward the room. She could see him in the mirror. He had removed his jacket and was tugging at the end of the despised tie.
“Meg, honey, where’s my boot jack?”
For some reason, this rather mundane question made her relax. Of course, the wine was also having an effect and she noted that she was much calmer than she had been only moments before. In fact, she felt quite happy.
“It’s on the floor in the closet, she answered him. He found it and quickly removed his boots and socks. He took off his belt and pulled the shirttails out of his pants. As he began to unbutton the shirt, he caught her eye in the mirror. They stared at each other for a second. She had brushed her hair out and was beginning to braid it.
“Don’t braid your hair tonight. Leave it loose…please?” he requested.
She nodded and undid the braid. Then she smiled at him and hiccuped. She put her hand over her mouth and giggled. He walked over to her, his hands still on the front of his shirt. He was standing behind her, looking at her reflection in the mirror. He cocked his head and watched her face as she smiled at him. He had catalogued her smiles…her beautiful smile, her beguiling smile, her shy smile, her silly smile. This one was brand new and if he had to give it a name, he’d call it her goofy smile. He glanced at the champagne bottle.
“How much of that stuff have you had?” he asked her. She held up two fingers.
“You’ve only had two glasses?”
She nodded, then changed her mind and shook her head.
“I had two glasses in here and one glass outside. That’s three. I teach…taught math,” she corrected herself. She hiccuped again.
He had all he could do not to laugh. She was tipsy! She reached for her glass, but he moved it away from her.
“That’s enough. If you’re not careful you’ll have a headache in the morning.” She smiled beneficently at him, then went back to brushing her hair. He finished unbuttoning the shirt but didn’t remove it. Instead he walked back to his jacket and searched the pocket. He took out a long, flat box and walked over to her. He took the brush from her hand and placed it on the dressing table. Then he gently helped her to her feet to face him.
“When you accepted my proposal, I knew that you’d be giving up a lot for me. I know how much you love the ocean and that, living here, you wouldn’t get to see it. I can’t give you the ocean, but I can give you this. It’s from the ocean and I hope that when you wear it, it will be some small compensation for something that no longer can be a part of your life.” He handed her the box.
She opened it and inside, sitting on a cushion of black velvet, was an exquisite string of pearls. She stared at them without speaking. She carefully ran her fingers over their opalescent smoothness. Then she looked into his eyes and said softly, “ Adam, I don’t know what to say. They’re beautiful. Thank you.” She looked down into the box again and then up at him.
“I love you. I don’t think I’m giving up anything to marry you. In fact, I think I’m very lucky. You didn’t have to do this!”
“I wanted to. Here, let me help you put them on.” He took the strand from the box and moved behind her. After he had fastened the clasp she turned to look into the mirror. She fingered the pearls lovingly, then turned to him with a look of distress.
“You’ve given me so much, Adam. I feel terrible. I don’t have a gift for you.”
He leaned over, blew out the lamp, and took her in his arms. He smiled down at her.
“You’re wrong, Meg. You have something very special to give me.” His fingers reached for the buttons at the neck of her nightgown.
“I get to unwrap my present right now.”
Adam Cartwright decided he was about as content as it was humanly possible to be and still have two feet planted on the earth. He was sexually sated and lay in bed with his new wife nestled in his arms, a quilt covering them. His hands sifted idly through her hair. She was wearing nothing but the string of pearls he had given her earlier in the evening and her right hand rested on his bare chest. She was very quiet and he wondered what she was thinking.
Adam had been an unselfish lover. His every concern had been for Meg’s pleasure and comfort. He was slow and tender and patient and gentle, coaxing response after response from her. He praised her, instructed her, and called her sweet love names. He was glad he had thought about the champagne, because it had taken the edge off her nervousness, allowing the passion that he suspected was inside her to blossom. And he knew what everyone who gives of himself unselfishly knows…that his own pleasure would be greatly enhanced by pleasuring her. He hadn’t anticipated it, but he was almost certain that she had climaxed. He felt her stiffen beneath him, felt the contraction of her muscles in the moist, warm depths of her, and watched her face as she experienced the closest thing on earth to ecstasy. That sight alone was enough to send him over the edge to find his own glorious release.
Now they lay entwined and she still had said nothing. He broke the silence.
“Sweetheart, are you alright? You’re very quiet.”
“I’m alright,” she replied softly.
“Feel like talking?”
“I’m not sure I’d know what to say.”
He ran his free hand up and down her arm and shoulder, marveling at her soft skin.
“I love you, Meg.”
“I know. I love you too.” She paused, then asked, “Adam, was I alright? I mean did I do everything right? I mean…did I please you?”
“You were worried about that?”
“Of course I was! I want to do everything to be a good wife. I don’t want to do something that might put you off, but I have no experience with this, so I can’t be sure if what I’m doing makes you happy.”
“You were perfect and you made me incredibly happy,” he reassured her. “But what about you? Did I please you? Did you feel good? Did I do anything to upset or hurt you? We need to talk about this, because it’s an important part of marriage. And you have to be honest with me.”
“I’m shy to talk to you about it.”
“I know.” He sighed. “Eventually you’ll be able to. But I understand that you may not want to right now.”
They lay still for a minute and then he felt her push herself up till she was braced over him and looking down into his face. She took a breath, closed her eyes briefly, opened them and then spoke.
“You made me feel special. Nothing you did offended or hurt me. And at the end I was overcome with a feeling that I cannot describe. It was if I had flown free of earth for a while. That’s how you made me feel. It was incredible.” Then she leaned down, kissed him softly, and returned to her former position at his side.
He was amazed and touched. He knew how hard it must have been for her to say that while looking at him. In time these intimacies would become easier, but for now it was difficult for her to discuss them. He admired her courage and loved her all the more because she was willing to overcome her natural modesty to please him.
They lay there again in silence and suddenly she said, “Adam, will you get me a cat?”
Of all the things she might have said to him, this was the last that he had expected. He wondered if he’d ever understand how her mind worked. He chuckled.
“Are we already having a problem with mice?”
“No. I just wanted to know if you’d get me a cat. You know…a house cat. Not a barn cat.”
“Sure I’ll get you a cat…two if you want. But what’s this all about? I thought you didn’t like cats. I seem to remember in Boston that you were close to rude when the Bonelli’s offered you one of their kittens. And when you first got here Carrie suggested you get a cat when you returned home and you almost took her head off. Why the sudden need to get one now?”
“Well, there really isn’t any sudden need. And I don’t dislike cats. I just feel I can have one now that I’m married.”
Adam was an intelligent man, but he had learned that this little woman beside him had thought processes that he would never comprehend.
“Care to explain that to me?”
“It’s really very simple. When I was single, if I had gotten a cat I would have completed the picture of the stereotypical spinster…a teacher with few relatives, not much money, and a cat for company. I thought that if I got a cat, I might never get married. Then I’d have to begin dressing in black, wearing my hair in a bun all the time, and so on. You can see the picture, can’t you?”
He began to shake with laughter.
“So marrying me was just a plot so that you could get a cat?” He was now laughing out loud. She put a quick stop to that.
“OW!” he yelped as she pulled hard on a few of his chest hairs. He grabbed her hand.
“Then don’t laugh at me! You know that’s not why I married you.”
“I know, but you’re just too much fun to tease. You always rise to the bait.”
She was quiet again for a minute and then said, “Adam, I can’t sleep on this side of the bed.”
“How do you know? You’ve never tried,” he answered, still trying to recover from the cat revelation.
“I just know.” Can I sleep on the other side, or will that be a problem?”
“As long as you’re somewhere in this bed with me, it’s no problem.” He lifted the covers. “Climb over.”
She threw her right leg over him, but just before she could complete the move his hands gripped her hips, locking her in place straddling him. The room was dark, but the fire still cast some light and there was almost a full moon. He gazed down between their bodies as she tried to wiggle free.
“Let me go,” she demanded. “What are you doing?”
“Admiring your…uh…pearls,” he said, wondering if she would catch the double entendre. She looked at him, recognition dawned, and she suddenly unlocked her elbows, landing flat on his chest. He was hard pressed to decide which of the two positions he favored. But he didn’t want to tease her too much this first night, so he released her and she slid to his left side.
“Is that better?” he asked solicitously.
“Mm hmm. Now I’m closer to your heart,” she answered as she yawned.
As he twirled the ringlets of her hair through his fingers he thought to himself that she couldn’t possibly be any closer to his heart. She was in his heart. She was his heart. And he could think of no better way to spend his time than this…in the quiet conversation that followed lovemaking.
She had gone quiet and he raised his head and looked down on her. She was lying on her side, her head on his shoulder and her left arm draped across his chest. He eyes had fluttered closed and her lips were slightly parted as she drifted off.
He considered the fact that this was the first of many such nights and
offered up a fervent prayer of thanks for the events that had brought Meg
to him. She was his wife, his soul mate, his friend, his lover, and,
he anticipated, the mother of his children. Then he drew her to him
a little more closely and closed his own eyes, knowing that the most wonderful
dream he could dream would never surpass the blessed reality that was his
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