Joe Cartwright walked wearily up the steps and into his house. It had been a difficult day out on the range. The men had been gentling horses for an order they had from the U. S. army. “Gentling” meant that Joe had spent the better part of the day on top of one wild bronc after another. There were a number of wranglers who worked with him, but it had always been the Cartwright policy to work right along with the hired help. This policy engendered a certain amount of respect from the wranglers…a tough bunch of men who could be difficult to work with under the best conditions. They could sniff out phoniness, weakness, and dishonesty better than a hound dog searching for his supper. If they didn’t respect their boss, they’d make his life miserable. But Joe was a “regular guy” to them. He had a wicked sense of humor, was as good on a bronc as any of them, and always treated them fairly. There was a camaraderie among them and they included Joe, even if he was the boss’ son. In fact, there was a good deal of respect in their crowd for all the Cartwrights. The Ponderosa was considered a prime place to work.
Adam had taken on a lot more of the timber business and Hoss was working cattle, so Ben had sent Joe out to supervise this job. It was an important contract and Joe was glad of the trust his father showed in him, but it was physically demanding work. He was bone weary and looking forward to a quiet dinner, a hot bath, and bed. He opened the door and walked in, unbuckled his gun belt, and placed it on the table near the door along with his hat. He glanced up at the dining room table, dropped his head to his chest, and groaned. Candles!
They had a perfectly nice chandelier, which hung over the table and provided ample lighting for their meals but this was not in use. Instead, there were two tall candlesticks lit, casting a soft glow in the room. Carrie set the table with candles for two reasons. The first was if they were celebrating an “anniversary”. Joe hadn’t known that there could be so many anniversaries in a relationship. There was the anniversary of when they first saw each other when she returned from Boston, the anniversary of when he took her to see her horse Taffy for the first time, the anniversary of their first kiss, the anniversary of their engagement and so on. She didn’t exactly get angry if he couldn’t recall the occasion of the anniversary, but she would look very hurt and sometimes a tear or two would glisten in her beautiful eyes. He hated to see her cry. It affected him like nothing else. He loved her so much that he promised himself he would make it his life’s work to see that she was happy. And it was doubly bad if he was the cause of her distress. He wracked his brain to see if today was one of those anniversaries, but he was quite sure it wasn’t. They had been married three months last week and had had a big (albeit private) celebration. No, he was almost certain an anniversary was not the reason for the candles.
The second reason for the candles was that Carrie had been pouring over her cookbooks again. She had only recently learned to cook. Adam’s fiancée, Meg, had helped her learn the basics and Carrie was quite good at preparing plain fare. But she had taken it into her head that she should be preparing more elaborate meals for her husband and so she would comb through the books and try different and sometimes exotic recipes. Occasionally these turned out well, but more often than not they were a disaster. Joe, raised on basic meat and potatoes, was very good about trying things. His imagination and his vocabulary were stretched to the limit as he tried to think of ways to comment on a meal he disliked without offending her. Again, he didn’t want to be the cause of unhappiness. Her desire to please him was endearing, but hard on the stomach. When he had confided as much to his brothers they both said the same thing.
“Tell her the truth.”
Adam gave this advice because he believed that truth was paramount in any good relationship. Hoss gave the same advice because he loved to eat and couldn’t imagine suffering in silence through so many bad meals.
“Dadgum it, Joe, ya gotta eat! You should just tell her to lay off cookin’ all that fancy stuff and make what ya like.”
“Hoss, I can’t think of a way to do it without the tears starting. It breaks my heart when she cries. She’s so sensitive.”
“Look, Joe,” Adam interrupted, “don’t you think it’s better for you to have a talk with her about this now? She wants to please you. Get her when she’s in a good mood and be honest. Tell her what you like and that if she wants to make you happy that’s what she should cook. Even if she sheds a few tears, she’ll appreciate knowing the truth.”
“Easy for you to say, Adam. Just wait till Meg does something you don’t like. I’d like to see you trot out this “truth” plan and see how it works. Women react funny to that kind of stuff.” He sighed. “Being married’s hard work. You have no idea.”
His elder brother raised his eyebrows and shrugged. He’d said enough. It was best to stay out of other people’s problems.
Carrie had heard Joe come in and walked out from the kitchen. He temporarily forgot about the candle situation as he looked at her. She was so pretty. Today she was wearing a dress of sky blue with a ruffled white apron over it. Her raven hair was pulled back and tied with a simple ribbon of the same material as the dress. Her complexion was fair, but her cheeks and lips always seemed to be a delicate pink. Meg called her Snow White. But her most outstanding feature was her eyes. They were a cross between blue and green with a sort of soft foggy film over them. Her maternal grandmother had been the child of a Frenchman and a Polynesian woman and Carrie’s eyes had a tiny tilt to them, which gave her an exotic appearance. Men always noticed her, but she was innocently unaware of how beautiful she really was. Joe thought he would have been lucky to win her on looks alone, but of course that’s not what drew him to her. Oh, he had noticed her beauty immediately, of course. When she had arrived home from Boston he went with the rest of the family to meet her, remembering her as a 14 year old tomboy—tall and gangly and just beginning to develop into a woman. The person who stepped off the train was someone else entirely. She was softer spoken, moved gracefully, and was drop dead gorgeous.
As the weeks passed, he watched her intently. Though more mature than when she had left, she still had that certain spirit of fun and adventure that he remembered. Her moods were mercurial…she could be laughing one moment and in tears the next. As quick as she was to laugh at a joke or some funny incident, she was just a quick to shed tears over a dead animal or a sad story about a neighbor.
When he learned that she was looking for a horse, he put the word out to everyone he knew. The other Cartwright men were looking too, but ranch business had a way of interfering with their follow-up when they received word about a suitable mount. Joe was persistent and he soon had found a horse he thought she would love. He was absolutely correct. She squealed with delight when she saw the mare she would eventually name Taffy. Carrie had always been a fearless rider and she rode this particular horse as if she was one with it. Of course, the owner, seeing her enthusiasm, wouldn’t budge on his price. Since she was buying the horse herself, from her inheritance, she didn’t care. When Joe finally brought the pretty palomino back to the Ponderosa, Carrie threw herself at him, hugging him, and giving him a kiss on the cheek. He was stunned as he felt a physical response to her.
Carrie wasn’t allowed to go many places alone. Ben took one look at the mature young woman and kept her on a short leash. She pleaded, protested, and sulked, but he stood firm. So Joe would spend time with her after a long day at work. They’d go riding, talk while they rested their horses, then ride some more. She asked him a lot of questions about the ranch, about the stock, and the lumber business. She listened with respect to his ideas and opinions, which was a new and pleasant experience for Joe. As the youngest brother, he wasn’t often given respect by his siblings, although his father made an effort to give him more responsibilities. But Carrie seemed to value his opinion. They had much in common…people, places, and shared experiences. He found himself more and more attracted to her.
He began to resent the string of young men who came calling on her. It was an awkward position to be in. She had been home only a few weeks and he knew he was in love with her, but he decided to let her go her own way for a while. It was risky, but he thought she should have some time to get to know some other men before he declared his feelings for her. These feelings were becoming harder to conceal from her and the rest of the family. He caught Adam watching him with her, but his older brother never said a word to him, so he wasn’t sure if he suspected anything.
One Saturday night they were on their way home from a dance in Virginia City. He had managed to intercept two other men who were about to ask to take her home. He stopped the buggy about a quarter of a mile from the house, a pretty spot overlooking a small pond, and turned to her. In halting words, he told her how he felt. He had faced gunmen and not been as scared as he was at that very moment.
She looked at him with a shy smile. She dropped her head, then brought it slowly up to face him.
“I love you too, Joe. I feel differently about you than anyone else and the feelings are all good. I thought that maybe you cared for me as more than a sister, but I couldn’t be sure. I started to examine my feelings for you. They weren’t sisterly. I’m a little flustered because this is sudden and so new to me.”
Her head dropped shyly again. This was a new side of her that he hadn’t seen before. She was usually so sure of herself, so bubbly, and excitable. He liked this quieter aspect of her personality. He took her in his arms gently and kissed her. It was sweet and tender and electric all at the same time. She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back and he thought he would explode from happiness. He was overwhelmed with the desire to protect her, provide for her, and love her.
When they had both recovered somewhat Joe hopped out of the buggy and asked her to step down too. Somewhat puzzled, she did so. He took her hand and walked her to a small stand of trees at the edge of the pond. Still holding her hand, and with millions of stars twinkling above them, he got down on one knee and proposed. As she looked down on him tears filled her eyes. She was smiling as she nodded and choked out “yes”. The held each other and kissed for long minutes.
When they finally arrived home, no announcement was needed. Their feelings were written all over their faces. Ben Cartwright had mixed feelings. Carrie was young and he had hoped she would see a number of eligible men before making a choice. Of course, he couldn’t fault her on the choice she had made. He knew them both well and feared they might elope if he put too many obstacles in their way. So he agreed on a December engagement and a June wedding. This would give them almost a year to not only plan the wedding, but to get to know each other better.
And now they had been married three months. They were more in love than ever as they each played their respective roles in their marriage. And they both were learning that there are unseen pitfalls and problems in a union, as well as much joy and happiness.
“Hi! I thought I heard you come in,” Carrie greeted him, smiling prettily.
“Hi yourself,” he answered as he walked over and took her in his arms for a kiss. “What’s for dinner?” he asked with some trepidation.
“You mean regular roast beef, or did you do something…uh… special to it?”
“No, it’s regular roast beef…medium rare, if you hurry and get washed up. Otherwise, just medium. I made those roasted potatoes you like too.”
Joe panicked. This was his favorite meal and she cooked it perfectly, so there must be some other occasion he had forgotten, or, more likely, had never even known was as occasion. Try as he might, as he washed up for dinner, he could think of nothing requiring a candle lit dinner celebration.
The food was delicious but Joe’s enjoyment of it was somewhat diminished as he tried to figure out the puzzle of the candles. When they had eaten, Carrie suggested they have their dessert and coffee on the sofa. After they were seated she snuggled up to him. This was bad. She was going to ask him if he knew why she had put the candles out and he had absolutely no idea. She looked at him adoringly.
“Joe, did you notice I used the candles for dinner tonight?”
“ Oh, God, please let me think of a reason for candles!” he thought, but he only said, “I noticed.”
“Do you know why?”
“Don’t panic, Joe. Get a grip here. THINK!” But absolutely nothing came to mind. He made a bold decision. It was risky, but maybe it would work. He had his doubts but he was left with no other alternative. He’d tell her the truth! He began to speak haltingly.
“Carrie, darlin’, as soon as I saw the candles I knew that we had something to celebrate. I’m so sorry, darlin’, but I’ve tried and tried to think of what it is and I just can’t. It’s been a rough day, but I know that’s no excuse,” he babbled on. “I hope you’re not gonna be too angry with me and start to cry because…”
She had hid her face in his shirt and he could feel her shaking. It was worse than he thought. She usually shed a few tears and it was over, but he must have really messed up because it felt like she was sobbing. She finally raised her head and he was stunned to see she was shaking with laughter! And the tears that glistened in her eyes were tears of mirth, not sadness.
“Oh my poor Joe! Were you worried about what we were celebrating? There’s no way you could know!” she told him, still laughing. His body sagged with relief. She looked at him sharply and said, “Joe, does it bother you when I put out the candles for an anniversary?”
“It doesn’t bother me, sweetheart. What bothers me is when I can’t figure out why. Then you get so upset and you cry. I can’t stand it when you cry, Carrie. I never want to make you cry.” She drew back and scolded him.
“Well why didn’t you say something, silly? I’ll say something in the morning so you know and then you won’t have to worry about it when you get home. Joe, just be honest with me. I cry about lots of things…sad songs, love stories, happy endings…lots of stuff. I can’t help it. It’s the way I am, but I’m trying to be more in control. I don’t want you to be unhappy or worried.” She paused a minute, noting the look of relief on his face. “Maybe I’ve overdone the anniversary thing. I guess the most important is our wedding anniversary. How about we just celebrate that from now on? You can remember that one, can’t you?”
“I could never forget it. It was the happiest day of my life.” He pulled her closer and kissed her. She put her arms around him and looked up into his eyes.
“Maybe today will be even happier…for both of us.” Her voice had dropped and she had a strange but beautiful expression on her face.
“Don’t think that’s possible, darlin’. What could be better than marrying you? I can’t think of….” His voice dropped off and he looked at her with a question in his eyes.
Her smile was mysterious and enchanting. She didn’t speak right away, but watched his handsome face as recognition dawned.
“I’m going to have a baby, Joe. I mean we’re going to have a baby. Are you pleased?”
He was struck speechless for a minute. He continued to stare at her. Moistness gathered in the corner of his eyes. He embraced her gently, holding her as if she were a breakable piece of fine china. He had to swallow before he could speak.
“Pleased? Carrie, I’m thrilled! I…I…” He pulled back and looked down at her.
“Are you sure? Are you all right? How do you feel? Can I get you something?” The questions tumbled out of his mouth as the realization of what she told him began to sink in.
She laughed with delight.
“I’m sure and I feel fine. Just a little sick in the morning before I get up. I’m going to the doctor next week, but I know I’m pregnant. I waited until I was certain to tell you. I wanted to see the expression on your face. And I’m glad I did because it’s priceless!”
“Oh, darlin’, I’m so happy. I…I can’t find the words. God, I love you, Carrie.” He kissed her all over her face and finally found her lips. Their kiss was sweet and tender, expressing emotions deeper and richer than mere passion. He held her and rocked her in his arms.
“I love you so much, Carrie. I’ve never been so happy. And now a baby!” He paused as thoughts raced through his mind.
“I’m gonna be a father! I can’t believe it.” Then his eyes opened wide.
“Let’s go tell Pa and everyone right now! I mean we’ll take the buggy. No more riding for you, darlin’. Come one! Let’s go.” He rose and tried to pull her up after him, but she resisted.
“Joe, I want to wait until after I see the doctor. And I want just us to share this secret for a few days. I know you’re anxious to tell everyone, but we can wait a few days, can’t we?”
“Whatever you want, sweetheart…whatever makes you happy,” he answered sincerely, but she could see the flicker of disappointment in his eyes. “When will you be seeing the doctor?”
“I thought on Monday morning, right after Adam and Meg’s wedding.”
“So then we can tell everyone on Monday?”
“Mmm hmm,” she nodded.
“Well, we won’t be able to tell Adam or Meg right away. That is unless you want to interrupt their honeymoon. But I guess I can wait till Wednesday when Adam comes back to work.”
In all the excitement of her news, Carrie hadn’t thought about this. Meg was her dearest female friend and she wanted to share the news with her. Now she’d have to wait more than a week to say anything. She reconsidered her decision.
She cocked her head coquettishly and smiled.
“Maybe we should tell our family at the wedding. Then Adam and Meg would know. We can say something right before they leave and tell Papa and Hoss when everyone else is gone. How does that sound?”
He was ecstatic.
“I like that better, darlin’, but only if it’s what your really want to do.”
“Of course it is. You know I want to tell Meg as soon as possible. But let’s wait till I see the doctor to tell the rest of our friends. I guess I’m a little superstitious.”
He was instantly attentive.
“You don’t think anything’s wrong, do you?” he asked anxiously. “Is that why you need to see the doctor?”
“No, nothing’s wrong. Now stop worrying! It’s just that this is new to me. I have no mother or other close woman relative to talk to. In this case Meg is no help, so I want to talk to Doctor Martin and ask him some questions.” She saw that he was still worried.
“Joe, please don’t make me go through this pregnancy with you wearing that expression the entire time. I’m fine. If I’m not, you’ll be the first to know. She tilted her head a bit and smiled.
“ Now, do you want the baby to be a boy or a girl?”
This question diverted him momentarily.
“Gee, I don’t know. I mean I don’t care, as long as you and the baby are alright.” He paused and a grin split his face.
“I’m really gonna be a father! Carrie, I love you! Did I tell you that?” He hugged her close again as she laughed gaily.
“Yes, I think you mentioned it.” Then she stroked his cheek and grew a little more serious.
“I think you’re going to be the best father ever. I can’t wait to see you with the baby.”
“I don’t know anything about being a father, Carrie. And Doc Martin’s not gonna be able to help me there.”
“You’ve had the best example of a father right in front of you your whole life, Joe. Just be the kind of father that Papa is and you’ll do fine.”
“I guess you’re right, but I may do some things differently from Pa.”
“Like what?” she asked him, watching his face with delight.
“Well, if the baby’s a boy and we decided to name him after me, he’ll never be called Little Joe. I think one of the reasons I wasn’t allowed to grow up was because of that name. I won’t saddle my son with that!” He spoke with great feeling.
“I happen to agree with you, Joe. If the baby’s a boy, I do want to name him after you. But what would we call him then? Joey? Joseph? What?” she asked.
“What about just plain old Joe? Then I can do what my father always did. When he misbehaves I can call him Joseph.” He cleared his throat and said in a stern tone of voice, “Joseph, take your elbows off the table. Joseph, don’t run in the house. Joseph who knocked over the outhouse?”
Carrie erupted into fits of laughter.
“Remember when we did that? Papa was so angry!” She smiled at the memory of their youthful antics and then said, “I love to hear you talk about ‘my son’, but what if we have a little girl?”
Joe’s demeanor changed dramatically.
“A girl! That’d be great too. Think about it, Carrie…a pretty little girl who looks just like you and who I can spoil. She’ll sit on my lap and I’ll read to her. And maybe when she’s older she’ll try to bake something, which I’ll have to eat no matter how badly it turns out. She’ll be my little princess.” He stared into space viewing this mental picture.
“Well, my dearest, if she’s anything like me, she may not sit still long enough to be read a story. And she might think of as many pranks as any son we might have!”
“Not my daughter,” he contradicted. She’ll be a little lady, just like her mother has become. What should we name her?”
Carrie snuggled closer.
“Well, my mother’s name was Paulette, but I don’t fancy it, except for a middle name. And your mother’s name was Marie, but I don’t fancy that either. Would you be awfully upset if we anglicized Marie to Mary? Then she’d be Mary Paulette Cartwright. I like how that sounds.”
“I like it too. And it honors both our mothers. So it’s either Joseph or Mary? Sounds like a Christmas story. If we have a boy and a girl and then another boy, should we name him Jesus like the Mexicans do?” And he began to laugh his high pitched, infectious laugh.
Carrie’s jaw dropped and she punched her husband in the arm.
“ Joseph Cartwright! I think that’s sacrilegious or something! Let’s just worry about one child at a time and don’t go predicting the future.”
Joe pulled back and looked into his wife’s eyes. He stopped laughing and his expression grew tender.
“You’ve made me so happy, Carrie. I love you so much. This is the best news you could have given me. I want you to promise me that you’ll take care of yourself and do everything Doc Martin tells you. I don’t want to risk anything happening to either of you.” He placed his hand gently over her abdomen. “When will this child of ours be born? Do you have any idea?” She covered his hand with her own.
“In the spring…mid March maybe. I guess the doctor will help me figure it out.” She looked a bit worried and said, “I’m going to get big and fat, Joe. I won’t be very attractive to look at.”
He gave her a look of disbelief.
“You’ll be more beautiful than ever to me,” he said sincerely. “I’ve heard other men say that their wives were beautiful when they were carrying their child. Now I know what they mean. I can’t wait to see you and the baby growing. I mean that.”
She relaxed visibly.
“So now you know the reason for the candles,” she said. “I told you that you couldn’t have guessed it.”
He hugged her and rubbed his chin gently on the top of her head.
“Carrie, did you mean what you said when we were talking about the candles. I mean what you said about me being honest with you?”
“Of course I did. We should always be honest with each other. I wish you had told me about the anniversary thing a long time ago. I would have stopped.”
Joe inhaled a large breath of air, then exhaled it slowly.
“Good. I’m glad you feel that way because there’s something I have
to speak to you about. It’s about the other reason you put
candles on the table.”…
“You do it every day?” Meg asked her husband.
“Mmm hmm.” Adam looked at her standing there in her frilly nightgown, hands behind her back, her cheeks still pink from sleep, and smiled as he added, “sometimes twice a day.” She looked surprised.
“Well, because if I’m going out I have to shave a second time or I look pretty scruffy.” He rinsed some soap off the razor and asked her, “Why are you so interested? Didn’t you ever watch your father shave when you were a little girl?”
She shook her head.
“My father wore a full beard. I remember my mother trimmed it for him sometimes, but I don’t remember him ever shaving. It looks dangerous. Is that razor really sharp?”
“Yup. The sharper the better. You can really cut yourself to ribbons with a dull razor.” He began to shave his neck and under his chin.
“What’s that leather thing for?
“The strop? It’s for sharpening the razor.”
“Oh. Do you use the razor for anything else?”
He stopped and pinned her with his eyes.
“No. And please don’t you ever think of using it for anything.”
“Well, I can’t imagine using it, but why not? If it’s nice and sharp it might…”
“Meg don’t even think about using this razor,” he cut her off in mid sentence. “ It’s for me to shave with and nothing else. If you feel a real need to have a razor, I’ll buy you one, but don’t touch this one.” He went back to his task. “A man has a special relationship with his razor,” he added as he stroked away. She frowned and got a little huffy.
“If that’s the way you feel I won’t go near it, but I thought we’re supposed to have a special relationship. I thought you were supposed to share things in a marriage.”
“Sweetheart, you remember that part of the ceremony where I said, ‘with all my worldly goods I thee endow’?” She nodded.
“Well, under my breath I added, ‘except my razor’!”
She wrinkled her nose at him in reply. He rinsed the blade again and said calmly, “You don’t want your pretty face to freeze like that, do you?” He began to tackle the area under his nose, then asked, “Is there any coffee ready?”
She picked up the bay rum bottle, removed the cork, and sniffed it.
“It should be ready soon. Do you wear this every day? It smells nice.”
“I only wear it on special occasions…not when I’m working.”
“Why not? Is it expensive?”
“No, but that’s not why. The men would laugh if I came to work smelling like I’m going courting.”
“I see. So it’s more manly to smell stinky.”
He stopped again and looked at her. He picked up a blob of shaving soap from the mug with his finger and plopped it on her nose.
“If that coffee’s ready, why don’t you go get me a cup?”
She re-corked the bottle and put it down. She said, “That sounds suspiciously like an order, Adam. As you remember, I never promised to obey you.” She wiped the foam off her nose. “Well, that’s not exactly true,” she continued, warming to her subject. “I privately agreed to obey you if you thought my life was in danger but I don’t think this is that kind of situation. Now if you said, ‘Please get me a cup of coffee, my dearest wife’, well, then I might be inclined to get one for you.” She smiled smugly at him.
He rinsed his cleanly shaven face with water and reached for a towel.
“I can assure you, Mrs. Cartwright, that if I don’t get a cup of coffee soon, your life will be in imminent danger,” he answered. He smiled back at her as he dried his face.
She put her hands on her hips and glared at him playfully.
“Adam Cartwright, you ask me nicely or you can just go…”
Adam was quick. He had tackled her and tossed her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes before she knew what was happening. She screeched and giggled, pounding him ineffectually on the back while hanging upside down. He smacked her sharply on her bottom a few times and said, “I warned you. I get a little testy in the morning unless I have my coffee. Now, are you going to go get it?”
“How can I get it like this, you brute? Put me down!” she demanded, laughing.
“Your wish is my command, my love,” he answered and unceremoniously dumped her on the bed. She landed on her back and he followed her down, threading his fingers through hers and pinning her hands at the side of her head. She wiggled wildly beneath him, but he was much stronger and held her in place easily. He was laughing down into her face and she was smiling up at him. He cocked his head and stared at her, the smile gradually fading. He lowered his face toward hers and kissed her. Her lips parted and he deepened the kiss. He felt himself grow hard. He reached for the buttons of her nightgown, freeing one of her hands. She pushed gently on his chest and he looked at her inquiringly.
“Adam,” she breathed, “it’s broad daylight!”
He waggled his eyebrows at her.
“All the better to see you with, my dear,” he replied as he lowered his lips to hers again. It was a considerable time before either of them had another thought about coffee.
Wednesday finally arrived. They had played house for three days. It was a new game for both of them and they were trying hard to learn the rules. They had had only one serious disagreement, which was admirable considering they were both mature adults used to independent living.
Tuesday afternoon Adam suggested that they go out so he could teach Meg how to use a shotgun. She was in the middle of baking bread.
“I don’t want to learn how to use a gun,” she protested, as she kneaded, her sleeves rolled up to her elbows.
“I really think you should learn how to shoot, sweetheart. Carrie’s a pretty fair shot,” he argued, thinking incorrectly that she would want to do the same things her best friend could do.
“I don’t care. Carrie rides and I don’t. I don’t have to be able to do everything she does. Why would you want to teach me how to use a gun anyway?” She tossed a little more flour onto the table.
“For protection. I’m not going to be with you every minute of the day.”
“But Davis will be here. You said he’s coming over tomorrow.”
Davis was an old wrangler who had worked on the Ponderosa for almost as long as Adam could remember. He was the very first hand hired by Ben Cartwright when there was money enough to do some hiring. He had been in his early 40’s then and he was pushing 70 now and semi retired. He and Adam had always gotten on well, so Adam had asked him to live on his place and take care of the chores, as well as keep an eye on Meg. He hadn’t told Meg this last part, of course. It wasn’t that he was afraid of her reaction at having a baby sitter, so to speak, he told himself. He was just exercising the better part of valor.
“I know Davis will be here, but even he won’t be with you all the time. You ought to know how to shoot in case you’re out walking or in the buggy and you run into a wolf or a wildcat. Sometimes people use them to signal if there’s a problem. I really think you should learn.”
He recognized that she was beginning to dig her heels in. It was hard to believe that someone who looked as adorable as she did, in the ruffled apron she was wearing could be so stubborn.
“Meg, it’s important to me that you be safe. I just want to show you the basics. No one expects you to be a sharpshooter.”
“I don’t like guns or rifles or anything. I’m afraid of them. I’d probably shoot myself by accident.”
She began to form the dough into loaves. He loved to watch her doing what he considered womanly chores—cooking, baking, sewing, knitting. He was tempted to pinch himself to confirm the reality that this was his wife baking bread in his kitchen. She was so completely feminine and had already enriched his life more than he could have imagined. He couldn’t bear to think that anything might happen to her.
“You wouldn’t hurt yourself if I taught you what to do. And if you learned something about firearms you might not be so afraid of them,” he argued reasonably, as he leaned back against the table with his arms crossed.
She placed three perfectly formed loaves into the prepared pans and turned to open the oven door.
“I really don’t want to know anything about them,” she said, summarily dismissing his reason and logic.
She popped the three pans into the oven, closed the door, and turned to face him, hands on hips.
“Adam, is this one of those “danger” issues where you’re going to make me do what you want?”
He sighed and rubbed his chin with his thumb. He had vowed to use her promise to obey him only in the most serious of circumstances. He felt justified in using it now, but he hesitated. With a little more time perhaps he could think of another way to convince her to learn to handle a shotgun. He tried another argument.
“No, I’m not going to make you. But I want you to think about it. This issue is very important to me, Meg. I only want you to learn about guns. I hope it never happens, but someday you might need that knowledge to protect yourself or someone else. Will you think about it and not flat out refuse right away?”
She nodded and he was satisfied. If she promised, she would keep that promise. And that would buy him enough time to perhaps come up with a more convincing argument. He just prayed that there would be no need for her to use a gun before she had learned how.
This had been their only disagreement. In every other respect they were as happy as could be. They spent their time doing mundane domestic chores, taking buggy rides, and picnicking. Adam called her his little ‘city girl’ and took her to watch a family of beavers building their lodge. The picnicked near a stream that flowed through the northern section of the Ponderosa and she watched the antics of the playful river otters. He pointed out tracks of rabbits, deer, and fox, and the larger tracks of wolf and wildcats. He told her the history of the ranch and talked about how it had been built piece by piece.
At home Meg was insatiably curious about the care of the animals. She didn’t want to learn to ride, but she loved going into the barn to talk to and pet the horses. She befriended Sport by bringing him a juicy carrot every time she went to the barn. Adam patiently answered all her questions and let her do some less strenuous chores relating to the care of the horses. He had let her drive for a few minutes each time they went out, but suggested she wait before going out alone. There was more she needed to know about hitching up and driving. She had her own little flock of chickens, which was thriving very nicely. When she had it in mind to learn something, she tried to learn everything about that subject and she was getting to be an expert on domestic fowl. Her husband was secretly pleased with her enthusiasm. He had worried that she might dislike ranch life and what went with it, but she seemed to enjoy every new thing she tried.
Just as Adam derived a good deal of pleasure from watching Meg at her wifely tasks, she loved watching him work. There was no man more handsome or smart or strong as her husband, in her rather biased opinion. He had put aside work on the completion of their house to begin to make a cradle for Joe and Carrie. He was an excellent carpenter and she loved to watch him work. He was careful and precise and when she watched him run his hand over a freshly sanded board, she got the same tummy tingle that she got when he caressed her. His hands were masculine, yet graceful. They had decided this would be a joint project. He would make the cradle and she would knit or crochet a pretty baby blanket to go in it. This made the gift giving doubly pleasurable.
Meg would look up from what she was doing and see Adam chopping wood, currying Sport, pitching hay, or even reading a book, and sigh with contentment. She was smart enough to realize that her life wouldn’t always be this ideal, but, oh! it was wonderful at the moment.
Their brief three-day honeymoon flew by and on Wednesday Adam prepared to ride out and meet his father and brothers to divide the work that had to be done. He had saddled his horse and tied him to the hitching post outside their front door. He went inside to get his gun and hat. It was very early, but Meg was up and had made him breakfast. When they had finished eating and it was time for him to leave, he was surprised at how difficult his departure was.
“What are you going to do while I’m gone?” he asked her.
“Oh lots of things. I still have half a barrel of stuff to unpack from Boston. Then there’s some wash that needs to be done, and there’s a bushel of late beans that Hop Sing sent over that I have to put up.”
“I thought we agreed you’d send the wash out. I don’t want you doing any heavy lifting,” he said as he strapped on his holster.
“I am sending out most of the washing. But there are some things I want to do myself. Look, Adam, why don’t you let me run the house and I won’t tell you which cows to brand,” she answered him smartly.
“They’re cattle, sweetie, not cows,” he corrected her. “Alright, you run the house and I’ll try not to interfere.” He reached for his hat. “Davis should be here around lunch time. Stay put till he shows up.”
“Where’s he going to sleep?”
“In the tack room.”
“In the barn!”
“No, in the tack room.” She followed him to the door.
“But it’s in the barn,” she argued.
“It’s attached to the barn. There’s a nice stove in there and a cot. It’s where he wants to stay, so be a good girl and let him sleep where he wants.” He turned to face her. She was still in her nightgown, her hair in a long braid down her back. She looked sweet and oddly vulnerable to him at that moment and he wished Davis was already settled in. But he had wanted them to have as much privacy as possible those few days, so he asked the old man to come on Wednesday. He took her in his arms.
“Are you going to be alright here? Maybe I could drive you over to Pa’s…”
She shook her head emphatically.
“You worry too much. I’m 27 years old and lived in a big city. I’ll be fine. I don’t need someone with me every single second.” She stood on tiptoe and kissed him.
“You go now, before your brothers and father show up here looking for you. When will you be home?”
“I’m not exactly sure. I’ll try to make it an early day, but fall is busy around here. I’ll be back before dark, in any case.” He pulled her closer.
“Want anything special for supper?” she asked him as he nuzzled her neck, inhaling her scent.
“I don’t care, as long as you’re on the menu for dessert,” he mumbled just before he captured her lips for a soulful kiss. They broke apart reluctantly. She walked him to the steps of the porch and watched as he put on his hat and mounted his horse. He looked at her, standing with her arm wrapped around the porch support, her head tilted beguilingly, and he almost dismounted. He sucked in a deep breath, winked at her, turned Sport, and spurred him forward. Meg stood on the porch till he was out of sight.
His brothers and father were waiting for him at the main house.
“Well you’re right on time,” Joe said, meeting him as he came through the front door. Hoss and Ben were at the desk going over some paperwork and finishing their coffee.
“Any reason to think I wouldn’t be?”
Joe smiled wickedly. He could think of a few reasons, but was smart enough not to articulate them. Instead he said, “It was hard for me to leave Carrie that first morning back. I just thought it might have been the same for you.”
Adam looked at him, then smiled slightly.
“It was hard. I guess it’ll get easier.”
“It will. You ready for the remarks the men are gonna make?”
Adam generally wasn’t the butt of jokes and there were sure to be some comments made to him about his new marital status and the “benefits” it brought. Joe had been subject to a number of bawdy comments and sexual innuendoes right after his own wedding. He wondered how his older brother would react.
“I’m ready,” Adam answered. “I figure once they learn Carrie’s expecting they’ll lay off me and start on you again.”
Joe’s face fell. He hadn’t considered that possibility.
“How’s she feeling?”
“Carrie…how’s she feeling?” Adam asked.
“Oh, fine. She’s fine. Just a little sick in the morning. Doc Martin says that’s normal. She might even ride over in the buggy today and see Meg.”
“Good. I hope she does. I don’t like leaving her alone just yet. Is Davis still here?”
“I saw him when I rode in. He was packing up his things.”
“Maybe I should go out and light a fire under him.”
“Adam, stop worrying. She’ll be fine for a few hours.”
“If you two old married men are just about finished over there, we’ve got
a lot of work to do,” Ben called over to them. They looked at each
other and grinned, sharing a new bond. Joe slapped his older brother
on the back and they walked over to the desk.
She had been married a whole week. Meg sank deeper into the warm water and thought about it. Marriage was a combination of what she had expected and things she hadn’t even thought about. She knew she’d be busy keeping house and cooking. She enjoyed these domestic chores and did them well. The house was always spic and span, with everything in its proper place, because Adam hated clutter. It was fun to work in her sunny kitchen with all the newest utensils, pots, and pans. She had protested to him that she didn’t need all those things, but he laughed and hugged her and said he wanted her chores to be as easy as possible. The less time she spent on them, the more time she could spend with him.
She considered the aspects of marriage that were a surprise to her. One was most definitely sharing a bed with another person. This had nothing to do with lovemaking. It was just strange to turn over and bump into a hairy leg or hear a soft snore coming from the other side of the bed. The other night she had awakened just before sunrise and turned on her right side to watch her husband sleeping. His left arm was draped over his middle and the right was curved up a bit over his head. Even in repose, his features were masculine and arresting. Her heart melted with love for him. She turned onto her left side and wiggled back till she bumped into him. Reflexively he turned onto his left side and placed his right arm around her middle, pulling her back against him. She sighed with contentment and closed her eyes to get a few more minutes sleep. She didn’t think she’d ever been so happy.
And then there was the intimate, physical side of their relationship. Sometimes, when Adam made love to her, it was as if she became another person…someone inside her whom she hadn’t even known existed. Adam had said that he knew about the passionate part of her nature…had known from the first time he kissed her. She worried about pleasing him, but he was patient and told her she was doing just fine. She knew he would like her to be a more active participant in their love making…he had said as much. But he was willing to give her time. At the moment he seemed truly delighted with her responses to him. And how could she not respond to him? The touch of his hands or lips always took her eventually to that divine place where she was ready to receive him completely. At those moments she had no thoughts other than yes … and more… and never stop, my love. She had actually heard herself cry out one time from the pure pleasure he gave her.
All this was new and would take some time to get used to. She had made some progress, she thought. If he walked in on her and she was in her chemise and bloomers, she didn’t jump two feet in the air anymore or try to cover herself. And that was only after a week! She couldn’t sleep nude the way he did. She had tried it, but just didn’t like it. He accepted that too.
“I know how to get you out of that nightgown if I want to,” he teased her, making her blush.
He wasn’t the least bit self-conscious regarding his own nudity around her. She had never seen another man unclothed, but she doubted that anyone on the earth was as magnificent looking as her husband. He had broad shoulders and a powerful chest covered with lots of dark curly hair. He was slim without being skinny and the physical labor he engaged in made him incredibly muscular. Once, when he had his back to her, she admired his derriere. Just looking at him made her pulse race. Perhaps she was closer to initiating an intimate encounter with him than she thought.
Then there were the less pleasant aspects of marriage. Adam hadn’t mentioned anything about her learning to shoot again, but she had promised she would think about it. She mentioned it to Carrie, who thought it was a good idea, but Meg still wasn’t convinced. This was a difficult decision for her. She wanted to please Adam as much as possible, but the thought of handling firearms didn’t appeal to her in the least. She was tempted to give in just to make him happy, but some stubborn demon in her kept saying that she shouldn’t be the one to make all the compromises. He wasn’t pressing her for an answer, so she would think about it a while longer.
And there was the annoying little detail about having to check with someone else before you made certain decisions. Carrie had come over on Wednesday and invited them to dinner on Saturday night. Meg wanted to go, but Adam said he had things to do around the house and didn’t feel like going out to dinner, even if it was only at Joe and Carrie’s. So she had to send word that they wouldn’t be able to come that time. She was disappointed but she reasoned that sometime she’d be the one saying no and it would all even out in the end. In any case, if they had gone to dinner, she wouldn’t be pampering herself in the bath at the moment.
Her husband really was the cleverest man she had ever met. Right now she was luxuriating in a large bathtub filled with warm water. He had set one up just like the one in the big house. The tiny room was off the kitchen so it was easy to bring hot water from the stove to the tub, or cold water from the kitchen pump. There was a drain in the bottom so she needn’t do more than pull a stopper to empty out the water. In Boston she and her aunt had bathed in a tiny tin tub that they kept near the stove in the kitchen. It was a big job to fill and empty it and there was barely room to sit in it. When she washed her hair, the water would inevitably spill out onto the floor. By comparison, she felt absolutely decadent bathing in this big tub.
Frugal as she was, she indulged herself with a few items. She always wore light floral cologne and she bought manufactured soap from the store. She hated the slimy home made soap used by so many people. She had lathered her hair and piled it on top of her head, full of suds. One of the last things she would do is rinse it with the bucket of rainwater next to the tub. Carrie had taught her that trick and the soft rainwater made combing through her curls much easier. She sighed. The water was beginning to cool and she’d better get out so Adam could have his own bath. Tomorrow they were going to church…her first public appearance as Mrs. Adam Cartwright. She was humming to herself and trying to decide which dress she would wear when the door opened and her husband walked in, barefoot, dressed in his robe, and carrying a kettle of hot water. She grabbed the sponge and sank down into the water.
“I’m almost done, Adam. I’m sorry I took so long. If you give me a minute I’ll finish up and you can use the tub,” she babbled.
“Don’t rush. I brought some more hot water. I thought yours might be cooling down by now,” he said as he walked over to her. He chuckled to himself as she crossed her arms across her breasts. “You’d better scoot forward. I’m going to pour this in and I don’t want you to get burned. Let me know when the water’s hot enough.”
She swallowed and slid forward in the tub as far as she could go. Her chin was practically resting on her knees. He slowly and carefully added the contents of the kettle to the bath and swished it around with his hand.
“It’s fine, thank you,” she mumbled nervously.
Before she could slide back, he had disrobed and seated himself behind her in the large tub.
“What are you doing?” she squeaked.
“Well, I thought I’d join you. There’re a lot of advantages to bathing together. First, it saves water. Second, I can wash your back and you can wash mine. Third, it’s a nice relaxing way to end the week, don’t you think?”
Think? She couldn’t think at all. Did he say something about relaxing? She had been relaxed but now felt like she was wound tighter than a watch. She watched with an almost detached fascination as his long legs settled on either side of her own.
“What do we do now?” she asked, almost unaware that she was thinking out loud.
“Now? Well, we can talk.”
“Yeah. You know. You say something, then I say something, then you say something, then I say something. That’s talking.”
“You really are impossible, Adam. I know what talking is!” She laughed in spite of herself.
“Or I could talk and you could listen, or you could talk and I could listen. The possibilities are endless.” And he chuckled as he watched her shake her head in disbelief. He was also watching the graceful arch of her neck and the straight line of her spine as it disappeared beneath the water. He sighed.
“Ahh! This feels great,” he said as he reclined behind her. “I was serious about washing your back. Where’s the sponge?” He began to feel around under the water.
“Here it is,” she said hastily. She passed the sodden sponge back to him over her shoulder so quickly that she almost hit him in the face with it.
“Hey! Slow down there, sweetheart. There’s no rush,” he laughed as he took the sponge from her. “Now where’d the soap go?”
“I’ll get it!”
She managed to locate the slippery bar on the bottom of the tub in front of her and passed that to him as well. She had scrunched herself up toward the front of the tub as far as she could go, her shoulders hunched over while she thought of a means of escape. Her towel was on a chair behind the tub, and in order to get it she’d have to stand up, turn around, and bend over Adam to reach it. She wasn’t about to do that. Maybe he’d pass it to her if she asked him. She knew he wouldn’t. He was in a playful mood. She knew he was trying to break down the walls of her modesty. Well, she decided, she’d stay put and see what happened next. This man was her husband after all.
While she was thinking, Adam had soaped up the sponge. He began to gently rub it over her back. He spoke to her quietly all the while, as if this was as natural to them as sharing a cup of coffee in the morning.
“How’d you get that scar on your shoulder?” he asked, moving the sponge in hypnotic circles all over her back.
“The scar? Oh that! I almost forgot I had it,” she answered in a voice that was more normal than she’d have believed possible under the circumstances. “My brother Jesse pushed me when we were playing in the yard and I fell against the fence. I happened to hit a small nail that was sticking out.” She stopped talking for a moment as she recalled the event. It was something she hadn’t really thought about in a long time. “It happened right before he left on the second voyage with my father…you remember I told you about that, Adam…the one they never returned from.” Her voice was quiet.
“I’m sorry, Meg. I didn’t mean to make you sad.”
“I’m not. It’s just that I hadn’t remembered that in a long time. I was little when they died. I don’t have a lot of memories. I guess the ones I do have, whether they’re good or bad, are precious to me.”
He leaned forward and kissed the scar.
“You’re precious to me,” was his response.
She laughed nervously.
“I remember that the cut bled a lot. My mother was furious. I ruined a pretty white dress that was brand new.” She was quiet a while as he continued his ministrations.
“Adam, when we have children I’m going to be a different type of mother than my own mother was.”
“Well, she was so formal and so strict. I mean, I know she loved me, but she could have been more demonstrative. I’ll try to be more like Aunt Beatrice was.
He dropped the sponge and wrapped his arms around her middle. He pulled her back against him and nuzzled her neck.
“I think you’re going to be a wonderful mother. I know you’re a wonderful wife.”
“You can’t say that for certain yet. We’ve only been married a week!” she laughed.
“I have an instinct about these things. You’ll see. I know I’m right,” he answered with assurance.
“Oh, yes. You’re right about almost everything aren’t you? Don’t let it go to your head or you’ll need a bigger hat, to quote your brother Joe,” she replied, realizing she had relaxed considerably as they talked about these silly topics. Then she thought of something that had been troubling her all day.
He grinned to himself, but didn’t answer her immediately.
“Slide forward again so I can rinse the soap off your back,” he directed. He squeezed the sponge a few times rinsing the suds from it, then allowed it to soak up a quantity of water. He raised it and squeezed, watching the rivulets of water make wavy paths through the soap on her back.
“Why are you asking me about Maggie?”
Meg cleared her throat and answered quietly, “Last night, when we were…uh…when we were…in bed…umm…well, you called out ‘Maggie’. And I wondered who that was.”
“That’s you, sweetheart.” He watched her shoulders slump in what he assumed was relief.
“You’ve never ever called me that—no one has! Why’d you do it?” she demanded.
“Well, most of the time you’re Meg to me. But sometimes, when we make love, and you’re lying beneath me with your hair spread out all over the pillow, and your head is thrown back, and your eyes are closed…well then you look like a wild and rare creature somewhat different from the wonderful woman who cooks my meals and keeps house. And that person is Maggie. But she’s still you…just a different part of you. If it bothers you, I won’t call you that again.” He paused just a second and added, “Say, you didn’t think that Maggie was some other woman, did you?
“Of course not!” she replied archly, her response convincing him that that was exactly what she had thought. He chuckled to himself.
She sighed a contented sigh as she leaned back against his strong chest.
“This is rather nice.”
Since he was seated behind her she couldn’t see his smile.
“We can turn it into something more than just nice, if you want,” he whispered into her ear, rocking her a bit from side to side and sloshing a little water onto the floor.
“I don’t know what to do,” she answered softly.
“I’ll show you. What do you say? It’s up to you.”
In response she placed her hands over one of his that was wrapped around her middle. She picked it up and brought it to her lips. She kissed the back of his hand, then turned it over and kissed his palm. She adored Adam’s hands. They were large and strong, but elegant as well. They were equally as good at chopping wood, fixing a fence, currying a horse, strumming his guitar, or caressing her into a state of frenzy. She separated the fingers and kissed each fingertip. Then she did the boldest thing she had ever done. She placed his hand on her breast.
Later, as they lay cuddled together in bed, he teased her.
“I’d say that was worth all the time it took to mop up the spilled water, wouldn’t you?” She made a fist and thumped him on the chest.
“Stop it! You’re turning me into some sort of wanton woman. I can’t believe the things you make me do.”
“Make you? I seem to recall you asking me…no, make that begging me… to…”
She slapped a hand softly over his mouth.
“I want to talk about something else,” she said.
“Alright. What? But make it quick. I’m worn out. I met this hussy when I was taking a bath and…”
“Adam! You stop it now. I’m serious.”
He chuckled, kissed her cheek and replied, “What’s on your mind, Mrs. Cartwright?”
She lifted herself up onto her elbow and asked seriously, “Do you think we’ve made a baby yet?”
“Sweetheart, that’s not something I can tell you. You’re going to have to tell me. But it’s too soon to know anyhow. Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’m thinking about Carrie and Joe. And then sometimes I like to try and imagine what our children will look like.”
“I’d say it was a fair guess that they’ll have brown eyes and dark hair…probably curly hair.”
“Adam, what did your mother look like? I know you never actually saw her, but how does your father describe her?”
He closed his eyes briefly and then answered her.
“My mother also had brown hair, but it was straight. Her eyes were blue, so I suppose there’s an outside chance we could have a blue eyed child. She was about your height and slender. My father has a picture of her, but he always told me it didn’t capture her personality. She was bright and funny and loved to read. As a matter of fact, Pa told me that in some ways you remind him of her. You have a sunny disposition and so did she. She laughed a lot, he said. Sometimes she was like a child, seeing pictures in clouds and worrying about whether she’d eventually be an angel. He felt very protective of her. But she was also a realist and a hard worker. She kept house for my grandfather for years and put up with his long absences at sea. So I suppose she was entitled to dream a little.” He stopped talking and was quiet for a moment, then looked at her and asked, “Does that answer your question?”
She nodded, but she suddenly felt a great tenderness for the little boy her husband had once been. He never knew his real mother, had a brief, happy acquaintance with Hoss’ mother, Inger, and was almost a teenager when Ben married Joe’s mother, Marie. She knew her father-in-law loved his boys, but a father’s love is so very different from a mother’s. Even though her own mother had been quite strict, Meg had some happy memories of times spent together with her. And her Aunt Beatrice had been as loving as any mother might have been. What had Adam missed in his childhood? Had anyone ever sung him lullabies? Had anyone read him bedtime stories and heard his prayers when he was little? Perhaps Ben might have done that. But who had knit a special pair of mittens for his little hands or rocked him when he was small and hurt himself? Fathers were generally no nonsense and gruff about such things. And who had cooked special treats for him when he was a child? Surely not Ben! It was amazing to her that Adam had turned out to be such a loving man.
Well, in certain ways a wife was like a mother. She vowed she’d take the best care possible of him. She wanted to make up to him for some of what he had never experienced as a child. She’d have to be careful. He wasn’t a man to be babied, but she could fuss over him to a certain extent. That was surely her right as his wife. She smiled to herself as she lay back down next to him. He caught a glimpse of her face and asked, “Just what are you smiling about now? Picturing babies again?”
“No, not right now. Right now I was thinking that tomorrow I’ll bake
a batch of cookies and if you’re really good I’ll let you lick the spoon
and the bowl.”
“Davis, will you please hitch Truckee to the small buggy for me?” Meg asked the old wrangler.
“You plannin’ on going someplace, Miz Cartwright?”
“Yes. I’m going to ride over and see my sister-in-law. I haven’t seen her in a few days and I heard she wasn’t feeling well. I just want to check on her.”
“Adam didn’t say nothin’ to me about you goin’ out,” he answered.
This remark annoyed Meg. She had begun to suspect that one of Davis’ main duties was to keep an eye on her and she was beginning to resent it. She had wanted to speak to Adam about it but there was nothing concrete she could cite to him as proof. Besides, if he had asked Davis to baby sit her, he wasn’t likely to admit it.
“Well, I forgot to tell him this morning about my plans, but I’m going just the same, so please hitch up the buggy.”
“Maybe you’re wantin’ me to hitch up Betsy instead?”
Betsy was a docile old mare that had forgotten every gait except a walk. Truckee, on the other hand, was a flashy Morgan gelding that Adam had recently purchased. He was young, but appeared well behaved and Adam was very pleased with his selection. They had already taken him out on several occasions and Adam had allowed Meg to drive for a short while each time. She felt she was capable enough to handle him and she wasn’t going to let Davis think otherwise.
“No, I want you to hitch up Truckee. And Davis, I appreciate your concern, but I’ve already driven him a few times with Adam. So please do as I’ve asked while I go in the house and get my things together.”
She turned and walked away before he could make another protest.
Davis watched her leave. He wasn’t quite sure what to do. Adam hadn’t specifically told him that Meg wasn’t to drive, but then he hadn’t given him the go ahead either. He took off his hat and scratched the back of his head as he headed for the barn. This was the most difficult part of what was otherwise a great job for him. Adam had approached him about a month before his wedding and asked if he’d be willing to come and work for him at his new place.
“Look, Davis, I’ll be frank. There are plenty of chores around the place that I’d rather not have take up my time. You can do just about whichever ones you want and I’ll take care of the rest. If you want to chop all the wood, fine. If you only want to chop the kindling, then I’ll do the rest. You’d have to muck out the stalls, tend to the stock, and plow up a kitchen garden for my wife…that sort of thing. You can work at your own pace. What do you say? If you’d rather stay here, that’s fine. But I thought I’d make you the offer. I spoke to Pa and he’s fine with whatever you decide.”
“Well now, Adam, it sounds pretty good to me. Your father don’t really need me that much around here. Hoss can take care of just about all the barn chores hisself, being you and Little Joe are gone, or just as good as. I ain’t getting much younger and I guess I can handle the work around your place. Besides, you and me have always got along real fine. Just one thing, though. I don’t want to be dining with you and the Mrs. I’m kinda independent like.”
Adam scratched his eyebrow and smiled.
“You won’t have to eat with us. I built a tack room attached to the barn. We can fix up a stove and a bed in there and you’d have your privacy.”
“Well, that’s the ticket then. When you want me over there?”
“I’ll let you know.” Adam paused, dropped his eyes for a moment, then looked at the older man.
“There’s one more thing,” he said looking a little sheepish. “It’s about Meg. She’s new to these parts and she isn’t aware of all the dangers. I’d take it as a personal favor if you’d sort of keep your eye on her when I’m not around. You know, if strangers show up or anything. I’m going to try and convince her to learn how to use a shotgun, but my guess is she’s not going to want to. Even if she does, I don’t know how willing she’d be to point one at somebody or something, for that matter. She’s not the type to take chances or do risky things, but she’s a little headstrong and…”
Davis chuckled and Adam shrugged his shoulders and laughed along with him.
“You don’t have to say no more, Adam. I seen how you look at her. I guess I can keep a lookout for ya. Though, I’m tellin’ ya that looking out for a woman is sometimes harder work than cutting a winter’s worth of firewood.”
“How do you know so much about women, Davis?” Adam asked, leaning against the corral fence.
“Well, I was married oncet. I know what it’s like to love a pretty young thing,” the man answered quietly.
Adam was surprised. He had known this man most of his adult life and this was news to him. Of course, if a man was good worker the rule was you didn’t pry into his life. Davis had worked hard for the Cartwrights for years. He was reliable, trustworthy, loyal, and as silent as a clam about his personal life.
Davis saw the look on Adam’s face and smiled.
“Afore I come to work for your Pa I had a little spread of my own down in Arizona. Had a wife, Sarah and two kids. My son, Matt, would just be about your age and my girl, Nancy, was a couple years younger. Indians got ‘em when I was off one day. Killed ‘em and burnt the house to the ground. So I sold up and traveled north. Had to get away from the memories. Then I hooked up with your Pa and I been here ever since. Watchin’ you grow up is sorta like watchin’ my own boy. I’da hoped he turned out as good as you done, Adam.”
This was the longest speech Adam could ever remember hearing from Davis. He had learned more about him in those few sentences than he had in all the years he had known the man. And he was touched by the hired hand’s remarks.
“Thanks Davis. I’m sorry about your family. I never knew.”
“That’s OK. It was a long time back. I told your Pa and asked him to keep it between us. He’s a good man and so are you. But now that you know, you sure you trust me to keep an eye on your lady? Didn’t do such a good job with my own.”
“Davis, you couldn’t help what happened to your family. I can’t think of anyone I’d trust Meg with more than you…not even my own brothers. So, if you want it, the job’s yours.”
They shook hands on it and the matter was settled. Davis had moved in on the Wednesday after the wedding and had settled himself into a comfortable routine. He kept the barn immaculate and did all the necessary little chores that needed to be done.
Meg didn’t quite know what to make of him. She came to realize quickly that he wasn’t the kind of person to sit around and chat. He was terse, but never rude. Adam had told her to ask Davis for help if she needed it, but she was slightly uncomfortable around him. He wasn’t a servant in the strict sense. That she could have handled. She had tried to talk to him once about her little flock of chickens, but he told her, “Sorry, Miz Cartwright. I don’t know nothin’ about chickens, except when it comes to eatin’ ‘em.”
Adam laughed at her concern about his living quarters and flatly refused to have her ask him to dinner. And she had the uncomfortable feeling Davis was always watching her…not in any threatening way…just monitoring her actions. She began to suspect that her husband had him around for more than just the chores and she didn’t like that thought one bit. Adam was really the limit when it came to over protectiveness! She wasn’t a child who needed a babysitter. She had lived 27 years quite nicely, thank you, in a large city, without a man to come between her and trouble. Was he living under the delusion that there weren’t any dangers involved in city life? The trouble was, she couldn’t prove any of this so she couldn’t approach him about it.
These thoughts raced through her mind again as soon as Davis suggested he hitch up Betsy instead of Truckee. Well, she was the lady of the house and she’d take any horse she wanted. Adam hadn’t said she couldn’t, although in the back of her mind was his suggestion that she not go driving alone until he had taken her out a few more times. But he was so busy and he was tired when he came home. She didn’t want to nag him about something this trivial. She knew what she was doing and she convinced herself that Carrie really needed to see her.
When she came out of the house, a little basket of goodies for her friend over her arm, the buggy was waiting, Davis standing by the horse’s head. He took the basket from her, put it in the buggy and helped her climb in. He handed her the reins and she saw concern in his eyes as he said simply, “Be careful, Miz Cartwright.” She almost changed her mind at that point and considered asking him to hitch up the older horse, but some inner monster kept her lips sealed. She just nodded to him and slapped the reins gently on the horse’s rump.
The drive over was pleasant and uneventful. Truckee behaved beautifully and was very responsive to her handling of him. Carrie was delighted to see her and they had a lovely long visit where they could talk about all the feminine things that bored their husbands when the two couples were together. Carrie was well, but still suffering from morning sickness. Meg promised to make her ginger beer, which was said to be good for nausea. When she was ready to leave Carrie came out to see her off. Carrie, a lover of horses, exclaimed over Truckee. He really was smart looking and Meg was glad she had decided to make the trip.
She was just over a mile from the house when disaster struck. She never knew what spooked the horse, but suddenly he reared up, hooves pawing wildly in the air. His eyes grew big and when he hit the ground he took off like a shot. She pulled back on the reins with all her might, but her efforts to control the beast were futile. Meanwhile, the buggy bounced and jolted crazily from side to side. They were on a main road, which was well traveled and fairly smooth, but every little bump or hole jarred the vehicle madly. She was so frightened she couldn’t even scream. Once more she braced her feet against the buggy floor and pulled back, but Truckee took no notice. In a panic she realized that they had a right turn onto their property. By some miracle, the buggy made it around the turn on two wheels, and then righted itself with a bump. She was almost thrown from the carriage, but managed to hang on. The barn was about an eighth of a mile ahead and the doors were closed. She was convinced the horse would try to run right through the door and closed her eyes in terror. Then, to her complete surprise and relief, Truckee suddenly slowed his pace and stopped right at the barn door.
She wasn’t sure how she managed to get out of the buggy, but she did. She gripped the sides of the carriage, supporting herself with her arms because her legs felt so wobbly. She was breathing almost as hard as the horse and felt sick to her stomach. She stood there a minute and then looked at Truckee. He was panting and there was a film of sweat all over his body. His eyes still seemed a bit wild and she saw what appeared to be foam at his mouth. Suddenly Meg was even more frightened. This was a valuable horse. She shuttered to think what Adam would say or do if anything happened to him. And she knew so little about the care of horses. Then she thought of Davis. He’d surely know how to tend to the frightened animal. She was just about to shout for him when from behind her she heard, “You alright, Miz Cartwright?” She whirled around to face the elderly man.
“Davis! You startled me,” she managed to reply, while trying to decide what to tell him. She didn’t think he’d seen her race into the yard, but he was looking at her strangely. She released her death hold on the buggy and looked down, smoothing her skirt so he wouldn’t see her face. Somewhat calmer, she looked up.
“Will you please see to Truckee for me? He was feeling rather frisky on the way back. That’s why he’s all sweated up.”
“Looks like he’s been runnin’”
“Well, as I said, he felt frisky.”
“He ain’t supposed to do more ‘n trot when he’s pullin’ a buggy.”
“Davis, I have to get in the house. Adam will be home soon and I have to start dinner. Please take care of the horse,” she replied in a rather imperious manner. She began to walk toward the house, stopped, and walked back to the wrangler, who still stood there watching her.
“I’m sorry for how I just spoke, Davis. It’s just that my husband is very fond of this new horse and I know that you’ll do what needs to be done so that Truckee is well cared for. I didn’t mean to be short with you, but I do have to see to dinner,” she said in a more gentle tone of voice.
“You don’t need to apologize to me, Miz Cartwright. But I’ll ask again…you sure you’re alright?” And then Meg knew that the old man knew or suspected that something had happened beyond Truckee feeling “frisky”, whether he had witnessed her arrival in the yard or not. He was simply expressing concern.
“Thank you, I’m fine,” she answered, but he could see the troubled look in her eyes as she turned to go.
“Don’t you worry none about the horse, Miz Cartwright. He’ll be fine too. I’ll see to him,” he called to her as she walked away.
Once in the house, Meg collapsed on the sofa as personal recriminations raced through her mind. Her independence and her pride had almost caused a catastrophe. She was relieved because she knew that Davis would take care of the horse. She was pretty certain he would have said something if the animal were in any real danger. But Adam was due home and she knew she must tell him what an idiot she’d been. He’d probably be angry, and justifiably so. For a moment she considered not saying anything, but then she thought he might hear about something from Davis. But beyond that, she didn’t want there to be any secrets between them. Honesty was a vital component in their relationship. She sighed, got up, and headed for the kitchen.
She didn’t have the gift her husband had of putting a matter out of his mind while he tackled something else. She fretted all through her dinner preparations about how and when to tell him. She had decided to tell him after he ate…no sense in spoiling his dinner. He had been working so hard and he deserved to come home to a peaceful house and a decent meal. She’d wait till after dinner and tell him then. She was so busy running various scenarios through her mind that she jumped when he came up behind her and kissed her on the neck.
“Oh! You frightened me!” she said, turning around. He smiled at her and took her in his arms.
“Did I? I’m sorry.” He kissed her. “I’ve been thinking about that kiss all the way home.” She smiled back up at him.
“Well, was it worth the wait?”
“More than worth the wait. In fact, I think I’ll have a second helping.” And he kissed her again, but she was less responsive than usual. He pulled back and looked at her.
“No, of course not!” She freed herself from his embrace. He was puzzled. This wasn’t the way she usually greeted him when he got home. Was the honeymoon over already?
“Why don’t you go and wash up? Dinner’s almost ready.”
“What are we having?”
“Beef stew and I made those biscuits you like.” He watched her as she busied herself at the stove, not really looking at him when she answered.
“Alright. Give me ten minutes.” He turned and walked out of the kitchen.
At the table she was quieter than usual. And when he spoke to her, she didn’t really seem to be paying much attention. She was distracted by something, but he couldn’t tell what it was. Still, he didn’t press her, figuring she would say what was on her mind sooner or later.
After dinner Adam went to check on the stock and have few words with Davis. When he came back she looked for signs in his face that the wrangler had said something, but could see none. He carried her little basket with him and handed it to her.
“Davis said you left this outside,” he told her, handing it over. She wouldn’t meet his eyes as she took it and he was just about to demand to know what was troubling her when she said, “Adam I have to tell you something.” She placed the basket on the table and faced him. He had never seen her look so forlorn and his pulse raced with unknown fear, but he kept his facial features steady. He folded his arms, tilted his head, and asked, “What is it?”
“I went to see Carrie today. I didn’t walk over. I asked Davis to hitch up the buggy. He wanted to hitch up Betsy but I insisted that I wanted to drive Truckee. I knew he thought it wasn’t such a good idea, but I told him I’d driven Truckee before with you and I could handle him. So he did as I asked. I drove over and we had a nice visit. That’s where Davis got the basket…I left it in the buggy when I got back.” She looked at him, but his face was expressionless.
“Meg, I asked you to wait before you went out driving alone. You don’t have enough experience,” was all he said, shaking his head.
“I know, but I wanted to go and something got into me. I can’t explain it to you. Anyway, on the way back everything was fine till we got to those two tall pines by the pond. Then something frightened the horse. He reared up so high I thought he was going to fall backwards onto me. I could see the whites of his eyes and when his hooves finally hit the ground he started to run. I pulled back as hard as I could on the reins, but I couldn’t get him to stop or even to slow down. The buggy bumped all over, and I thought for sure we’d turn over when we got to the turn into our road, but somehow we made it. Then he kept running and I thought he was going to run right into the closed barn door, but he stopped just as we got into the yard. He was sweating and panting. Davis came out and took care of him”
While she told her story, Adam’s heart pounded at the thought of what might have happened to her. But he let her finish.
“I’m sorry I took the buggy out and I should have let Davis hitch up Betsy. But maybe even she would have run away on me…I don’t know. And all I could think of was how much you liked Truckee and what if anything had happened to him? He could have fallen and broken his leg and then you’d have to shoot him. And the buggy might have been smashed up. And it all would have been my fault because I’m too headstrong.” She paused.
“I’m sorry Adam. I should have had more sense. Are you very angry?”
His head dropped to his chest and he took in a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. He uncrossed his arms and took her by the elbow.
“Let’s sit down,” he said leading her over to the sofa. When they were seated he took both of her hands in his and spoke.
“I’m not angry. I’m disappointed that you don’t seem to believe me when I tell you things that are for your own good. You’re not a child, Meg. Eventually you’ll be more familiar with life on a ranch and then you’ll have all the freedom you want. But for the time being, any restrictions I suggest are only to keep you safe. You could have been thrown from the buggy and paralyzed or killed. The least that would have happened is that you might have broken a few bones. I don’t want anything bad to happen to you if I can help it.” At this point he took her in his arms and hugged her tightly to him.
“You’re so precious to me. I waited a long time to marry and I want us to spend years together…many healthy years. So promise me you won’t take chances anymore…please.”
Her entire body finally relaxed in his embrace. She hugged him back.
“I promise,” she replied earnestly.
He pulled back and looked into her eyes.
“You must have been scared to death. Did you try and use the brake?” he asked her.
“What’s the brake?”
He closed his eyes and shook his head.
“Never mind. It probably wouldn’t have made any difference anyway. This is partly my fault. I said I’d teach you to drive and I’m neglecting you. We’ll practice this weekend with Betsy. She’s not as flashy as Truckee, but she’s staid and reliable.” He expected Meg to look disappointed, but she didn’t. She still looked a bit woebegone. He smiled at her.
“When you’re really good with Betsy, I’ll find you a nicer looking horse that’s safe for you to drive. Just promise me you’ll stay away from Truckee for now.”
“I will. I was frightened, but when we got back I was more worried about Truckee. He was sweating and he looked like he was foaming at the mouth. But Davis was so good. He said he’d take care of him. He is alright, isn’t he?”
“He’s fine. I’ll check out the buggy tomorrow.”
“Adam, I have to apologize to Davis. He never came out and said so, but I know he thought I was making a mistake. But he was so nice to me when I got back.” She paused and then asked him, “Did he say anything to you when you were out in the barn just now?”
“Nope. He just gave me the basket.”
She thought about that. The old man was leaving her to make up her own mind about what to tell Adam. He wouldn’t interfere and she appreciated that. Yes, she definitely owed him an apology.
“I’ll apologize tomorrow. I just feel so tired right now,” she said.
“I’ll bet you’re exhausted. You’ve had quite a day. Are you sure you weren’t hurt at all?”
“Well, I was wearing gloves, but my hands are sore from pulling so hard on the reins.”
“Let me see.”
She turned her hands, palm up, for his inspection. There were angry red welts down the center and across her fingers. He brought her palms to his lips and kissed them tenderly.
“We must have some sort of salve you can put on these. Does it hurt very much?”
“No, they’re just sore. I think they’ll be fine in a day or two.” He had leaned back on the sofa and she laid her head on his chest while he stroked her arm.
“I’m relieved you’re not angry and I’m glad Truckee is alright.” Then she laughed a little and said, “Joseph Bonelli gave me a couple of his cowboy books to read when I lived in Boston. They always said that a cowboy loves his horse more than just about anything else. I didn’t want to be responsible for hurting him.”
“I think they meant that a cowboy values his horse a lot. You can’t seriously think I’d worry more about the horse than you, can you?”
“No, but just the same I’m glad that he’s not hurt.”
“Well so am I, but get it through your head that you’re infinitely more important to me than Truckee.” Then Adam smiled and decided to tease her a little. He tickled her earlobe with his finger and then whispered seductively, “You’re so important in my life that you’re running a close second to Sport.” Silence.
“AARRGGHH! Adam Cartwright! You are a beast!” she shrieked, standing up and hitting him violently on the head with a small sofa pillow. He laughed and grabbed her wrists, preventing her from any further assaults on him. He stood and pinned her arms to her waist and laughed down into her face, while she struggled to free herself. Suddenly her head dropped and she grew very quiet. Her breathing slowed and she looked up and smiled back at him sweetly. He relaxed his grip and bent his head, just as she kicked him hard in the shin.
“OW!” he exclaimed, dropping her wrists and hopping around on one foot while trying to massage his wounded shin. “You little devil! Come back here,” he called after her as she ran laughing into the kitchen. She peeked around the kitchen door and said, “Last night I distinctly remember you called me your ‘Angel’. Make up your mind, sir!”
He sat back down on the sofa, rubbing his shin and chuckling. It wasn’t often someone got the best of him, but if it had to be anybody, then he was glad it was Meg.
The next morning, after Adam had left, Meg went out to see Davis. He was currying Truckee and gave her a nod as she walked through the barn door. Meg walked over and stroked the Morgan’s hindquarters.
“Davis, I want to apologize for not taking your advice yesterday. I almost killed myself because I was too proud to listen. I know that Adam’s asked you keep an eye on me.” At this point the elderly man looked up at her in surprise.
“Oh, he doesn’t know I know, but I’m not completely stupid…just willful sometimes.” She smiled ruefully.
“Anyway, I’ll try to be a little more careful and if you think I’m doing something dangerous, just speak up, alright? And I appreciate that you didn’t tell him right off what happened. He knows, because I told him, but I’m glad that you let it come from me.”
This little speech was hard for Meg to give because she was very proud, but it elevated her in the opinion of the old wrangler. As she was walking back to the house he followed her for a little and then called out, “Miz Cartwright!”
She turned and raised a questioning eyebrow, then smiled when he said,
“I’m real sorry I don’t know nothin’ about them chickens.”
“Want anything special for dinner?”
Meg asked Adam this question every morning as he left to go tend to ranch business and every morning he said the same thing.
“Make whatever you want. I like everything you cook.”
So she was caught off guard on this particular morning when he said, “How about chicken? We’ve been married almost a month and I don’t think you’ve made it yet.”
“Mmm hmm. You’ve done such a good job with that flock that maybe it’s about time we thinned it out a little.” He was busy strapping on his gun so he didn’t see the stricken expression on her face. She recovered her composure before he looked up again.
He took her in his arms for their goodbye kiss, grabbed his hat, and walked out the door. She always followed him to wave him off and this morning was no exception, but she returned to the house greatly troubled. In order to serve chicken, one of the little flock would have to be killed. She’d never done that before and she wasn’t sure she could now. In Boston they’d used a very nice butcher just down the road. Meg hadn’t even been able to select the chicken she wanted from his pen of cackling poultry. She just told Mr. Hendrickson to pick one out and she’d return after work to pick it up. She didn’t think she’d ever be able to eat a creature she’d condemned to death.
Now Adam wanted chicken and there was no butcher shop to run to. She supposed she could ask Davis to do it. She hated to do that. Her independent nature kept asserting itself.
“Don’t be a ninny,” she told herself. “You’re a rancher’s wife. Everyone else kills his own chickens and you should be able to do it too. Besides, Adam’s so proud of you every time you do something you’ve never done before. It’s probably only hard the first time. You’ve got to do this.”
In fact, Adam hadn’t expected her to kill the chicken herself. He thought she’d ask Davis to do it. Unfortunately, Davis wasn’t around today. He had gone into Virginia City for some barbed wire and other ranch supplies. So poor Meg was on her own.
She went out and looked with some pride at the flock of chickens she’d raised from tiny yellow chicks. There were more than two dozen, of varying colors from speckled to red to black and white. She had read all she could about raising them and gotten advice from everyone who would answer her questions. There was no doubt that she had some gift for this little hobby and the chickens thrived under her watchful care. Now she would be forced to pick one out and kill it. How exactly did one do that, she wondered? She heard some people speak of wringing the bird’s neck. No! She could never do that.
Or others said you chopped off their head with an ax. She shuttered just thinking about it. Once someone told a bizarre story about a chicken that ran around after its head had been chopped off. Lordy, if that ever really happened, she’d faint dead away. And once the chicken was dead, how did you get all the feathers off? It must take a lot of time to pick them all out. The butcher had removed all but a few pinfeathers for her. Well, she was in a real bind this time.
Of course, she could cook something else and fabricate a story for Adam. But she hated to be less than honest with him. He placed a premium on the truth, and, in fact, so did she. Or she could fess up to him. But she didn’t want to do that either. He was always so concerned about her adjusting to life out west that she tried very hard to fit in and do what every other wife did so he wouldn’t worry so much. He had heavy responsibilities around the ranch. He was his father’s right hand man, so she saw no need to burden him with silly domestic problems.
Well, today was one of her baking days, so she’d better get moving. Maybe as she kneaded the dough or rolled out the piecrust or baked a batch of cookies, a solution would come to her.
Unfortunately no answer was forthcoming. It was now 2 p.m. and she was no closer to solving her problem than she was at 6 a.m. when Adam rode off. She sat down on the porch steps feeling very sorry for herself and very helpless. She put her head in her hands, a forlorn look on her face. This is how her brother-in-law, Hoss, found her when he rode up.
Both Hoss and Ben made it a point to stop and check on Carrie and Meg if they were in the area. Carrie and Joe’s house was closer to Virginia City, so there were more people nearby and Meg had Davis around. Still, the Cartwright men felt protective of the women and kept a sharp lookout for their welfare. Carrie took it for granted, but it was a new experience for Meg. She had mixed feelings about the attention. There was something lovely about being cosseted and cared for. For most of her adult life she had been the caregiver for her elderly aunt. But she was independent and enjoyed doing for herself and making her own decisions. In fact, that was the most difficult obstacle she had had to overcome in her marriage so far. She couldn’t decide everything on her own. Now there were someone else’s feelings to take into consideration. Adam was very good to her, but they didn’t agree on everything and he was very clever at getting his way, she thought. His arguments always seemed so sound and logical. She deferred to him on many things, but sometimes it irked her.
But right now, she couldn’t have been more pleased with the situation. She was very fond of Hoss. He was strong and gentle and kindness personified. Maybe he could help her solve this little domestic dilemma. She got up and went over to greet him as he tied his horse to the hitching post. He turned, smiling, and removed his hat.
“Hi there, Meg. I was fixin’ some fence bout a half a mile from here and I thought I’d drop by. Everything alright?” He took a quick look around.
She smiled brightly at him.
“Everything’s fine. I’m glad to see you. How about a cup of coffee? I just baked some molasses cookies and a pound cake. Would you like some?”
This was a ridiculous question. Meg suspected that Hoss had figured out that Tuesday and Saturday were her baking days, because he seemed to show up more frequently then, than on any other day of the week. And she knew he would never turn down an offer of food. He was a big man with a large appetite
“That sure sounds good,” he said, giving her a brotherly peck on the cheek. She smiled at him as they walked into the house.
While he was working on his second cup of coffee and his third piece of pound cake Meg broached the subject that was on her mind.
“Hoss, I have a little problem and I wonder if you can help me.”
The cake hung suspended in his fingers between the plate and his mouth as he looked at her sharply.
“Somethin’ wrong?” he asked eyeing her watchfully. Hoss lacked sophistication and he wasn’t as educated as his older brother, but he was a good reader of people. He searched Meg’s face for signs of trouble or distress.
“Oh, no…no, there’s nothing wrong.” She looked at him and smiled sheepishly. “It’s kind of embarrassing actually, but there’s nothing wrong.”
He was puzzled.
“Then what is it, hon?”
“Well, your brother said he’d like to have chicken for dinner tonight and I’ve never killed a chicken, so I was wondering if you could show me what to do.”
He smiled in relief.
“Is that all? Sure I kin show ya. But why don’t you just let me take care of it?”
“No,” she answered with some determination. “This is something I have to learn to do for myself. I mean, why am I raising chickens anyway? I can collect the eggs and I ought to be able to kill one for dinner. So, will you teach me?”
He looked at her before he spoke. He liked Meg very much. She was sweet and kind and had an inner core of strength that was necessary for life in the west. Adam had remarked more than once on how smart she was, but she didn’t flaunt her intelligence or her education. And she had made his sometimes dour older brother very happy. Adam was still a very private person, but there had been a subtle change in him since his marriage. He was more relaxed, more at ease. For want of a better way to put it, Hoss thought Adam had found peace in his marriage.
“You sure Adam wants you killin’ them chickens?” he asked.
“I’m sure he wants chicken for supper and I can’t think of another way to accomplish that than to kill one of them.”
“That’s not what I meant. I meant I don’t think Adam expects you to do the actual killin’.”
“Of course he does! That’s what a wife does. I’m in charge of the meals. I plant the garden and tend it, and I’m responsible for the chickens. Now, will you show me what to do?”
“Well,” he answered doubtfully. “I guess I can show ya. But it ain’t pretty, Meg. You sure you got the stomach for it?”
“If I don’t, I’ll develop one,” she said with grim determination. “Now let’s go.”
The chickens were penned to keep them safe from foxes, coyotes, and birds of prey.
As Hoss was walking into the little enclosure Meg began to feel uncomfortably warm. He mouth became dry. But she took a deep breath and gripped the wooden crossbars of the fence. The chickens had been busy pecking at the soil and tufts of grass still on the ground. When Hoss walked in, they became agitated and some began to run around. He reached down and picked one up, holding it upside down by its feet.
“How’s this one look?”
Meg’s dry mouth suddenly filled with saliva and she thought she was in danger of losing her lunch on the ground outside the pen. She swallowed convulsively and shook her head.
“Oh no! Not that one, Hoss. That one’s tiny!”
Hoss gently pressed the bird’s breast with his large fingers.
“Feels OK to me, but if you think it’s too small I’ll get another one.” With that, he put the bird down and it raced away. He looked around, then quickly grabbed a second chicken.
“How bout this one?”
“No…absolutely not! That one’s red.”
He scratched his head with his free hand.
“Meg, hon, it don’t make no difference what color the bird is. They all taste the same.”
“Not that one!” she insisted.
He sighed. Women could sure be peculiar. He grabbed up a third bird.
“What about this one?”
“No…no…it can’t be that one.”
“That one’s Josie.”
Hoss had been examining the chicken in his hand, but now slowly raised his head to look at Meg.
“I said you can’t kill that one. She’s Josie.”
Recognition dawned…tiny…red…Josie. Tiny…Red…Josie!
“Meg, hon, don’t tell me you went and give all them chickens names!”
She bit her lower lip and slowly nodded her head. A grin spread across Hoss’ face and then he just threw back his head and roared with laughter. He put Josie down and came out of the pen, still laughing mightily. He reached into his pocket and brought out a handkerchief so he could wipe the merry tears streaming from his eyes.
Meg smiled an embarrassed little smile while Hoss’ laughter diminished into an occasional chuckle.
“You don’t really want me to show you how to slaughter any of them chickens, do ya?” he asked, putting the handkerchief back in his pocket.
“I guess not,” she admitted. “I can’t help it. I raised them all from chicks and I just can’t bear to think of killing them. But what can I do? I know Adam likes chicken and he should be able to eat it once in a while.”
Hoss took her arm and they walked toward the house.
“Let’s sit on the steps and think about it. Maybe I can think of somethin’.”
They talked it over and Hoss decided to take two of the chickens back home with him. Then he’d have Hop Sing prepare two of his flock for Meg to cook.
“Are you sure he won’t kill my chickens?” she asked anxiously.
“I promise you he’ll give ya two of his. Now you got ta realize that someday your chickens are gonna end up in a pot. But you won’t know when and it won’t be your pot, so that ought to ease your mind some. Then anytime you want chicken, just give one to Hop Sing and he’ll get one ready for ya. How does that sound?”
“Well, it does relieve my mind,” she admitted. “But it doesn’t quite seem honest. I still think I should learn to do this myself.”
“You talk with Adam about it tonight. I’ll just bet he don’t want you killin’ them chickens yourself.”
So Hoss rode away with two chickens tied to his saddle horn (he didn’t have the heart to ask Meg their names) and thus began the Great Chicken Exchange. He was back in an hour with two freshly killed and cleaned chickens for his brother’s dinner.
Adam put his napkin down and said, “That was delicious, sweetheart. Thank you.” He watched her as she rose from across the table and walked around to face him. He couldn’t quite read the expression on her face.
He took her hands in his and looked up at her.
“Adam, the chicken we ate tonight wasn’t ours.”
“The chicken that I made for you didn’t belong to us.”
He was quiet for a moment, his expression deadpan.
“Are you trying to tell me that we just ate purloined poultry?”
She burst out laughing in spite of herself and he laughed along with her.
“No. I didn’t steal the chicken, you crazy man! That’s not quite what I meant.”
He pulled her down to sit on his knee and said, “Then why don’t you tell me exactly what you did mean.”
Still smiling, but somewhat embarrassed, she told him the whole story.
“Well, that takes a load off my mind,” was his first remark.
“Whatever do you mean?” she asked, completely baffled.
“From what you said at first, I thought I had inadvertently married the infamous Virginia City chicken thief.” She slapped at him playfully.
“Can’t you be serious? I agonized over this all day. Thank heaven Hoss came along.”
“Yes. I notice he manages to show up here a lot on Tuesday or Saturday. Wonder why?”
“You know why! Anyway, he solved my problem for today. But what should I do about the chickens? I’ll never be able to kill them.”
“Well…if I were you I’d keep them for the eggs and when you want one to eat, tell Hop Sing a day or two ahead. He’s not as sentimental as you are when it comes to poultry.”
He noticed her expression had grown solemn.
“What’s the matter, sweetheart?” he asked tenderly. She frowned.
“Do you think I’ll ever be a good rancher’s wife?”
“Sure! I’m a good rancher and you’re my wife so…”
“Adam, I’m serious!”
He hugged her.
“You are a good rancher’s wife. I’m the one whose opinion should count and I think you’re doing just fine. I never expected you to be able to slaughter animals. I thought you’d have Davis do it. I wish you’d believe me when I say that you don’t have to do every single menial task around here.” He stopped speaking and looked at her, shaking his head.
“Just be honest with me. If something is too difficult for you, tell me. I appreciate all the effort you’re making. I really do. But one of the benefits of all my hard work is that I can afford to pay people to do some of the really onerous chores for me and for you. Try and get it through that Yankee head of yours that I love you whether you can slaughter a chicken or not. Am I making myself clear?”
She smiled and nodded.
“That’s better,” he said. “No sad faces.”
He stood up and took her in his arms, then made her laugh by saying,
“I know today was a baking day, but I also know that Hoss paid a visit.
So my question isn’t ‘What’s for dessert?’ It’s ‘Is there anything
left for dessert?’”
On one of his first days back at work Adam began to ask around for a cat for Meg. One of their permanent hands, Israel Slater, had a cat with a new litter of kittens.
“I was just about ta drown the whole lot, there, Adam, but I can save one for you if you want,” Israel told him.
“I’d appreciate it. My wife wants a cat and I promised to find her one.”
My wife. Adam didn’t put any special inflection on the words, but he noticed how much he enjoyed saying them. And he also noticed that once you were married you joined a rather large fraternity, so to speak. When he had been single the men had sometimes ragged on him about his status, sometimes expressed envy. But he was coming to realize that most of them were very happy in their marriages and those expressions of envy weren’t exactly genuine. Oh, they talked a good game, but he’d be willing to bet that most of them thought they were better off than he was when he was single. On the balance scale, wealth and total independence couldn’t outweigh a loving wife and family, even if funds were short. What price could you put on Meg’s running to greet him when he got home in the evening? Or the look on Joe’s face now when he spoke about Carrie and the baby they were expecting? And though he was very new to marriage, he felt a certain sense of peace that he hadn’t known before. It was as if there was a master plan and he had finally found his place in it. Being married felt good, but it also felt right.
“So Adam, you want to come pick one of them kittens out particular, or should I choose one?” Israel interrupted his thoughts.
“Tell you what, Israel. I’ll ride home with you tonight and pick one. And whatever you do, never let my wife know what you do with the rest of the litter, or she’ll want to adopt every kitten in the county.”
“Guess them city folk don’t realize what’s got to be done. Cats breed almost as fast as rabbits! If ya didn’t drown ‘em, the place’d be overrun.”
Adam agreed. He wished there was a better way of dealing with the situation, but until there was it was common practice to drown unwanted litters. Given her sensitivities, he preferred that Meg not know about that. But maybe he was underestimating her again. What did they do with cats in the city? Well, perhaps he’d ask her sometime.
After work he rode along with the other man till they came to Slater’s place. The house was small but the property was immaculately kept. There was a kitchen garden behind the house and flowers in the front. Three children ran from various directions when they saw the two men approaching,
“Pa! Pa!” they all seemed to shout at once. Adam guessed that the oldest boy was about twelve, the next boy ten, and the girl looked to be around 5. The oldest took his father’s horse to the barn after greeting Adam. Mrs. Slater appeared in the door, smiling.
“Hey now, you ruffians,” Slater said, ruffling his second son’s hair and picking up his daughter as they walked toward the house.
“Rosie, Adam here’d like to have one of them kittens for his new missus,” he said after giving his wife a kiss. The woman smiled at Adam.
“Well, sure! Come on in and have a look.” She stepped aside, wiping her hands on her apron as the men walked into the main room of the house. Israel put down his daughter, giving her an affectionate swat on her bottom, and she skipped over toward the cook stove. There was a box on the floor and she pointed down into it.
“Here they are!” she said, as Adam walked over to the stove. He squatted down and looked at the little girl. She had straight brown hair, pulled back in tight braids, blue eyes and she was missing a front tooth.
“What’s your name?” he asked her.
“Sarah,” she replied, without the least trace of shyness. Adam smiled at her.
“Well, Sarah, want to help me pick out one of these kittens?” She nodded. Adam examined the mother cat and the four tiny kittens that were sucking at her belly. They were so young that their eyes were barely open. One was black, one gray, one orange, and one calico.
“I know which one I like, but which one do you think I should take, Sarah?” She considered for a moment and then pointed to the calico.
“That’s amazing,” Adam declared. “That’s exactly the one I like best.” He tilted his head as he asked the child, “How’d you know that?” She giggled and said, “That one has lots of pretty colors. I like lots of colors.” Adam nodded in agreement.
“My wife likes lots of colors too, so I guess that’s the one I’ll be taking.” He stood and addressed Israel.
“When can I pick it up?”
“Tell ya what, Adam. That kitten won’t be ready to leave here for another 5 or 6 weeks. Soon as it can leave, Rosie or I’ll drop it off at your place. That sound alright?”
“Sounds fine. Thanks Israel. I appreciate it... Ma’am,” Adam said as he shook the man’s hand, tipped his hat to Rosie, and walked to the door. He turned before leaving and caught Sarah’s eye.
“And thank you for all your help, Sarah,” he said with a wink and a smile. The little girl grinned and tried to wink back, succeeding only in a two eyed squint.
One Saturday afternoon about five weeks later a buckboard pulled up into the yard. Meg was baking and Adam was in the tack room with Davis. Rosie, Israel, and Sarah Slater climbed down from the wagon as the others walked over to greet them. Sarah was holding the kitten and skipped up to Adam.
“I brung you yer kitten, Mr. Cartwright,” she announced proudly. He squatted down and pointed to Meg.
“Give it to my wife, Sarah. It’s really her kitten.”
The little girl walked over to Meg and held out the calico kitten.
“I brung this for you. I helped yer mister pick it out.”
Meg took the little cat and smiled down at the child.
“Thank you!” Then she looked up at Adam who was smiling and winked at her. She laughed as she cuddled the tiny feline.
“I just finished baking. Would you like to come in for a cookie?” Meg asked the child. Sarah looked uncertainly at her mother. Meg walked over to Rosie and said, “You’re Mrs. Slater, aren’t you?”
“Well now, I’m surprised you remembered! We haven’t met but a couple of times and one of those was at your very own wedding. Yes, I’m Rosie Slater and I’d be pleased if you’d just call me Rosie. Most folks do.”
“Alright, Rosie. Would you and your husband like to come into the house for a while? I always make some coffee this time of day and I have a nice pie that’s cooling.”
Then she added in a lower voice, “I’d really appreciate another woman’s opinion about it. I’m not used to cooking with huckleberries and I’m not sure how well it turned out.”
“Why not just ask Adam?” the other woman inquired.
“Because he doesn’t like to hurt my feelings and unless it really is awful he’ll say it’s fine. How will my cooking improve if he won’t give me an honest opinion?”
“Well then, I’d be happy to sample your pie. And the coffee sounds good too.”
The Slaters stayed for coffee and pie, which Rosie and Israel both declared to be just perfect. When they were ready to leave Meg gave Sarah some cookies wrapped in paper to take home to her brothers.
“Don’t you have no children?” Sarah asked.
“Sarah! That’s not polite,” he mother admonished.
“Oh that’s alright, Rosie. She’s just curious,” Meg said. Then addressing the little girl, “No. Adam and I haven’t been married very long. But some day maybe I’ll be lucky enough to have a little girl as nice as you are.”
When they were gone Adam draped his arm around Meg’s shoulders.
“You were very nice to them. Thank you.”
She looked up, surprised.
“Why shouldn’t I have been nice to them?”
“No reason. In fact, I knew you would be, but some people might assume because you’re the boss’ wife that you’d be a bit of a snob. That and the fact that you’re from Boston.”
She looked at him askance.
“You can’t be serious!”
“Sometimes people make assumptions. Believe me, your treatment of the Slaters will be all over the territory in a week and put to bed any ideas that you think you’re better than they are.” Then he changed the subject.
“How do like your kitten?”
Meg’s face brightened.
“She’s absolutely adorable! Thank you for remembering.” She stroked the soft fur of the little creature in her hands.
“What are you going to call her?”
“Miranda! What kind of name is that for a cat?” Adam asked with amusement.
“It’s a very nice name! I never had a pet before and I guess I can name her whatever I want. Why did you call your horse Sport? He should have been named something like Sir Galahad or Thunder or at least Blaze because of the white blaze on his face.”
Adam laughed, trying to imagine what his friends would say to a horse named Sir Galahad.
“You’re right. She’s yours and you can name her whatever your romantic little heart desires.” He put his hand out to stroke the kitten but it hissed at him.
“You see? She knows your don’t like her name and she’s angry with you.”
Adam shook his head in disbelief. The cat never warmed up to him. She would run and hide when she saw him coming, though she played happily at Meg’s feet and would sleep contentedly in her lap as Meg crocheted or sewed.
“You ungrateful ball of fur,” he said to her one day as she spit at him and then shot past him out the door. “I saved your scrawny neck, you eat my food, and this is the thanks I get!” But Meg loved Miranda, so he tolerated the feline’s abuse and disdain.
A week later Adam brought home a tiny mixed breed puppy. He’d learned of another litter that was about to meet a watery death and picked out one of the pups for himself. He thought a dog around the place would be added protection and act as an alarm when strangers approached. Meg was delighted. She cooed and fussed over the tiny thing and named him Patch because he was white and had a black spot over one eye. Adam was happy to see her smiling. Another month had come and gone with no sign of a child on the way and she was beginning to worry. He comforted her and told her not to be concerned. These things could take time. Privately he wasn’t ready to share her yet…not even with his own child. But he hated to see her upset.
“Carrie got pregnant right away,” she said to him in a little voice.
“When I asked you to learn to shoot, you said you didn’t have to do everything she did,” he pointed out. She sighed.
“Maybe I’m too old. You should have married someone younger.”
“I’m eight years older than you are. As it is, I felt like I was robbing the cradle.”
Her face was still troubled.
“Look, sweetheart, worrying won’t help. It’ll happen when it happens. Stop thinking about it and take care of me, the puppy, the garden and that fleabag of a cat.”
“Don’t call Miranda such horrible names,” she scolded, laughing. But he had successfully diverted her attention from what troubled her.
A couple of weeks later Adam was inside doing more construction work on the house and Meg was outside harvesting some of the late vegetables she had managed to plant before they were married. Suddenly he heard a piercing scream, followed by “No! no! PATCH!!”
He flew outside and Meg, hand over her mouth, was watching in disbelief as a coyote ran away, something tiny and white dangling from its mouth. She turned to him and pointed, not even able to speak. He jumped on Sport and took off, knowing that his efforts would probably prove futile. The coyote had a good head start and could hide in any of a hundred places in the brush. The poor puppy was most likely already dead. But he had to make an effort for Meg’s sake. He hunted for almost an hour and then turned his horse around. He wasn’t looking forward to what would follow.
He rode into the yard and Davis met him.
“I heard what happened Adam. Did ya find anything?”
“No…nothing. Where’s Meg?”
“In the house. I think she knows.” Adam nodded.
“Take care of Sport, will you please?”
He handed the reins to the older man and walked up the steps. Meg was sitting on the sofa with Miranda in her lap. She turned slowly when he came in and he shook his head.
Her lips quivered and tears started to fall down her cheeks. She put the cat down and ran into his arms, sobbing.
“I’m sorry, Meg. I looked all over but I couldn’t find a trace,” he said into the top of her head. He walked her over to his chair, sat down, and pulled her onto his lap. She cried for a while and he said nothing…just stroked her back and held her tenderly. Eventually she looked up, wiped her eyes with the back of her hands, and spoke.
“It happened so fast. One minute I was watching Patch and the next that…thing…had him. It was horrible Adam. He yelped…just once, but loudly. I couldn’t even move. I should have run after it. I should have watched more closely. It’s all my fault. My poor puppy!” And she began to cry again.
“It wasn’t your fault and there wasn’t a thing you could have done. I know it’s not much comfort, but predators usually kill quickly. Patch never knew what happened and he didn’t suffer. Now dry your eyes and stop blaming yourself.
She pulled a handkerchief from her apron pocket and blew her nose.
“This is why I’m not pregnant.”
“What?” Adam asked, baffled. “What are you talking about?”
“God won’t let me get pregnant because if I can’t even take care of a dog, what kind of mother would I be?”
“Now stop it, Meg. That’s nonsense and you know it,” he said firmly. “It’s too bad about the dog, but one thing has nothing to do with the other.”
She sighed and leaned against him again. After a minute she spoke.
“I want to learn to shoot a gun. When can you start to teach me?”
He pushed her forward and looked at her.
“What brought this on?”
She sniffed and blew her nose again.
“Maybe I could have shot that coyote.”
He smiled and shook his head.
“There wasn’t anything you could have done. You know I want you to learn to shoot, but even if you had known how, it probably wouldn’t have helped poor Patch.”
“Just the same, I want to learn. When can you teach me?”
As anxious as Adam had been for her to acquire this skill, he still had to ask.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Can we start tomorrow? Please?”
He pulled her close and kissed her brow.
“Yes, Precious, we can start tomorrow.”
Another month passed and the weather became bitterly cold. Meg had gone to the back door to let Miranda in for the night. There was no moon and wind howled.
“Adam! Come here,” she called to him.
After a minute he appeared at her side.
“What’s the matter?”
She pointed into the dark yard. Adam squinted as his eyes adjusted to the lack of light. Then he spotted it. A medium size dog was limping towards them. It was pathetically thin and its coat was matted and filthy.
“Oh, the poor thing!” Meg exclaimed. “I wonder what’s wrong with it?”
“Get me a lantern, sweetheart. I’ll check it out.”
Meg lit a lantern and Adam walked out, approaching the dog cautiously. Meg began to follow him.
“Stay inside. We don’t know anything about this animal. He could have distemper or be rabid.”
She backed up, but said, “He’s wagging his tail, Adam. I don’t think he’s sick. I think he’s hurt.”
“Just do as I say.”
The dog hobbled toward Adam, his tail wagging gently from side to side. In the light of the lamp Adam looked him over. There was dried blood on the dog’s left rear leg. Whether this was due to a bite from another animal or something else, Adam couldn’t tell.
“Good boy,” he said softly and held out his hand, palm down. The dog took another few steps, sniffed at the proffered hand, and licked it twice. The tail wagged more vigorously. Adam squatted down and gently petted the dog’s head.
“What’s the matter boy? You hurt? Are you lost?” Adam continued to speak softly as he lifted the lantern and tried to get a better look at the dog’s leg. He reached his hand out, gently pushed the hair aside, and swore to himself. He stood up and walked back to Meg who was standing in the doorway.
“He’s been shot. That’s why he’s limping.”
“Oh no! The poor dog! Can’t we do something?” she looked at him anxiously.
“I ought to get my gun and put him out of his misery. He’s in bad shape…wounded and half starved.” Meg grabbed his arm.
“No! Please, Adam, don’t do that…please. Can’t we try and save him? Maybe you can get the bullet out. Couldn’t you at least try?”
He wanted to tell her that it was almost useless to expend the effort on this poor creature. Even if the bullet could be removed, he might get lead poisoning. His leg would probably never heal properly. And Adam still wasn’t sure about any other diseases the dog might have. But Meg was still clutching his arm and looking at him so pathetically that he relented.
“Well, I guess I can take a look at the leg. But I don’t want him to bite me. Go get a piece of cloth I can use as a muzzle.” She ran off into the house and was back in a flash with a piece of material. He ripped a long strip out of it and was beginning to muzzle the dog when Meg said, “It’s so cold out here. Can we bring him inside?”
“Absolutely not. He’s probably is covered with fleas.” He thought a minute.
“Let’s take him to the barn. Bring that lantern. I’ll need all the light I can get.”
The dog trotted behind them as best he could and followed them into the barn. He stood patiently while Adam muzzled him and laid him on his side to examine the wound.
“It’s not as bad as I thought. The bullet’s on the surface and I can probably get it out with a sharp knife. Go get Davis.”
Meg rapped on the door that separated the tack room from the barn. In a minute Davis appeared dressed in pants and suspenders over his long johns.
“Ma’am?” Davis said.
“My husband needs your help with an animal Davis. I’m sorry to disturb you, but can you come?”
The old wrangler and Adam conferred and Davis brought some hot water, soap and a knife from his little room. Adam asked Meg to hold the dog’s head because he didn’t want to risk her fainting if she held the lamp above him. She cradled the dog in her lap and spoke gently to it as Adam went to work. Davis was on his knees beside Adam, holding the lamp.
The dog barely whimpered as Adam removed the bullet. He washed the area as best he could and wrapped a makeshift bandage around it. Then he stood up.
“Well, that’s the best I can do. Either someone was a lousy shot or the dog was hit by a ricochet as someone tried to scare it off. We’ll know more in the morning.”
“Adam, I have to fed this poor animal something. It’s so thin you can see all its ribs,”
“You can feed it, but make it something bland. If you give it a lot of rich food on an empty stomach it’ll just vomit it all up. No meat, understand?”
She nodded and ran toward the house. Adam looked at Davis, smiled quietly, and shrugged.
“She’s hard to say no to.” The older man smiled and nodded.
“I been there.”
Meg brought back an old pie plate with food and to everyone’s surprise the dog didn’t attack the food and wolf it down, but ate steadily and politely. After Meg insisted that they fix up a bed of old sacks in one corner, Adam finally got her to leave the dog and go back to the house. In bed that night she asked him if they could keep the dog.
“Listen dear heart. That dog may not live. Even if it does, it may have some disease we don’t know about. Or its real owner might be looking for it. Don’t get your hopes up.”
“Would that be the beloved owner who shot him?” she asked archly.
“We don’t know if the owner shot him. I’m just telling you not to get too attached to the dog. We’ll take it one day at a time, alright?”
“Alright,” she agreed but as his head fell back onto the pillow he knew she hadn’t heard a word he’d said. She was attached already.
For the next couple of weeks they kept the dog in the barn and Adam and Davis watched it carefully. Its leg healed quickly and soon the limp was gone altogether. He started to fill out a bit as Meg fed him small frequent meals. Adam wouldn’t let her be alone with the animal, lest it show some signs of rabies, but it soon became apparent that this was a healthy young dog. Meg wanted him to be allowed in the house, but his coat was still snarled and he did have at least a few fleas.
“If I cut out the knots and burrs and give him a bath, he’ll look a lot better. And maybe Hoss can tell me what to do about the fleas,” she pleaded with her husband.
The dog was a pleasant distraction for her, so Adam told her to go ahead. He was amazed at the results. Under all the dirt and grime was a beautiful young retriever. After he had been bathed and combed and re-combed, and all evidence of fleas was gone, they brought him into the house. Miranda took one look at him and flew into the kitchen
Adam turned and smiled down at the dog.
“You can stay,” he said, patting him on the head.
“What should we name him?” Meg asked as they sat in front of the fire, the dog snoring softly on the rug at Adam’s feet.
“I don’t know. What about Comstock…you know, after the Comstock lode?”
She wrinkled her nose.
“I don’t like that. Besides, he’s more gold in color than silver.” She thought about it.
“What about Goldy?” she asked, then answered her own question. “No, I don’t like that either. Wait! How about Nugget?...like a gold nugget?”
Adam smiled and nodded in agreement.
“Nugget it is.”
The young dog was well behaved and seemed genuinely grateful for his good fortune. He followed Adam around slavishly when he was home and seemed almost as devoted to Davis. He willingly let Meg fuss over him and cater to what she thought were his doggy needs. He was an excellent watchdog, barking when anyone approached, but taking his cue from his new owners as to the reception the visitors should receive. When friends or family came by, he met them with wagging tail and grinning face. When strangers showed up he stood watchfully at Meg’s side. Adam was struck by the irony of the situation. He had saved the cat from certain death and she couldn’t tolerate him. He had almost shot the dog and now Nugget was his faithful friend.
A few days before their first Christmas as man and wife Meg was busy in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on their dinner. Adam was due home any moment. There was a knock on the door and she went to answer it. A rather scruffy looking man was on the other side. His clothing was dirty, he wore a battered derby, and his teeth, those that were still in his mouth, were rotten. He removed his hat.
“You Miz Cartwright?”
“Yes,” Meg answered cautiously. She hadn’t heard Nugget bark, which was strange.
“Names’s Taylor…Jace Taylor. Heard you got ma dog. I come fer him.”
Meg’s heart sank, but she kept her features steady. Surely this man couldn’t be Nugget’s owner?
“What does your dog look like?” she asked.
“Retriever…yeller color. Bout so high,” he indicated with his hand.
“Well, we have a dog, but I think you’d better wait and speak to my husband about yours,” was all she could think to say. She knew better than to invite him into the house.
“You can wait over by the barn. If you’ll excuse me, I have some work to do.” She felt that she had been rude, but there was something about the man she didn’t like. And she was sick over the thought that he might take Nugget. Then thinking of the dog, she went to look for him. He wasn’t in the front yard, so she opened the back door. He was crouched in a ball near the corner of the house and as soon as she opened the door he ran in.
“What’s wrong, Nugget?” she crooned as she knelt and hugged him. She decided to keep him in until Adam arrived. About half an hour later he rode up, spotted Taylor, and walked over to speak to him. Then he walked over to the house.
“Adam, that man says we have his dog,” she told him anxiously, as he came through the door.
“I know. I just spoke to him. Where’s Nugget?”
“He’s in the kitchen. Oh Adam, you’re not going to let him take him are you? Nugget’s afraid of him. He didn’t bark when the man rode up and I found him huddled in a corner just now. Please don’t let him take the dog,” she begged with tears in her eyes.
“Honey, I have to bring the dog out. Maybe it’s not his dog. If it is, he has a right to have him back. I told you not to get too attached.” But the truth was that Adam didn’t like this situation at all. Nevertheless, he would do what had to be done. He called the dog who slunk in from the kitchen, instead of running up with tail wagging furiously. Adam sighed and opened the front door.
“Come on, Nugget.” The dog followed reluctantly.
“That’s him,” Taylor called out. “That’s Sam. Come here you no good mongrel.” Nugget stayed glued to Adam’s side. Meg came out and stood on the porch.
“Mr. Taylor, how do I know for sure this is your dog. He didn’t come when you called him,” Adam asked.
“He’s ma dog alright. Betcha he had a bullet in his leg when ya found him. Dog’s too stupid ta get outta his own way. Was shootin’ at a rabbit and the dog run in front of it. Got hit and took off. Never came back. Then I heared you Cartwrights got a dog meets the description, so I come lookin’.”
“Why’d you wait so long to come and find him? He’s been here almost a month,” Meg couldn’t resist saying.
“Don’t matter none. Want ma dog, ma’am. I’ll just take him and be on ma way,” Taylor replied in a none too friendly tone of voice.
Adam turned and looked at his wife.
“Meg, go into the house,” was all he said, but something in his expression and tone made her turn and immediately do as he said. She was suddenly frightened and locked the door behind her after she got inside.
“Taylor, I guess this is your dog,” Adam said. “Would you be willing to sell him to me?”
“You lookin’ to buy him?”
“I might, for a fair price.”
“I don’t rightly know. He’s a pretty fair bird dog.”
“I thought you said he was too stupid to get out of his own way,” Adam answered. He knew what was going on here. Taylor didn’t give a damn about the dog. He was hoping he could make some fast cash from the wealthy Cartwrights.
Taylor cleared his throat.
“Well that was just a figure a speech,” he stalled. “How much you willin’ to give me fer him?”
“What are you asking?”
The man scratched his head.
“I guess about $100 would be right.”
Adam was silent. He stood stock still for a minute.
“That’s the price you’re asking?”
“Seems fair for a good bird dog like Sam,” came the reply along with an ugly smile and an evil chuckle. Adam waited another few seconds before answering.
“Take your dog,” he said and turned to walk up the porch stairs.
“Hey! Wait! I thought you wanted to buy him,” Taylor called out, the sickening grin wiped from his face. Adam turned back.
“I said I’d pay a fair price for him. You can go try and rob someone else.”
“Now wait there a minute, Cartwright. Whatta you thinks a fair price for the dog?”
“Yer joshing! This here’s one good dog. I spent time trainin’ him.”
“Fine. Then take him,” Adam said with deadly calm. “I can buy a litter of retrievers and pay a trainer for the price you’re asking.”
“Well now, listen up a minute, Cartwright. Can’t you up the price jest a little? You seem like a gentleman.”
“Don’t you mean a wealthy gentleman?, thought Adam furiously.
“I’ll give you fifteen dollars…take it or leave it,” Adam said out loud, mentally crossing his fingers.
“Well, yer stealing him from me, but alright. Fifteen dollars it is.”
“I’ll want a bill of sale.” Adam breathed an enormous sigh of relief but kept his face expressionless.
Taylor hung his head.
“Cain’t write. Never learnt.”
“I’ll make it out. My hired man can be the witness. You just have to make your mark.”
Taylor began to walk toward the house, but Adam stopped him. He didn’t want Meg exposed to this trash any more than she already had been.
“We can take care of this in the tack room. My hired man lives in there and has a pen and paper.”
Meg unlocked the door at Adam’s knock. She was desperately relieved to see Nugget, but she asked, “What happened?”
Adam smiled at her and held up the bill of sale.
“We keep the dog. I bought him.”
She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him enthusiastically.
“Oh thank you! I love you! I just couldn’t see Nugget with that horrible man. Thank you, thank you, thank you!” And she kissed him after each expression of thanks.
While Adam was enjoying her gratitude, he spied a shotgun on the table near the sofa.
“Sweetheart, what are you doing with the shotgun?”
She smiled sheepishly.
“When you told me to go into the house in that tone of voice, I thought that something was wrong. I got scared, so I locked the door. Then I thought that disgusting man might want to hurt you if you argued with him about Nugget. So I got down the shotgun and watched from the window.”
Adam’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“What were you going to do…shoot him?”
Her chin went up and she said, “If he tried to hurt you…yes.”
Adam wasn’t sure if he was more amused or gratified by this statement. She was looking at him so seriously that he decided he’d better not laugh at her. He kissed her instead and said, “I’m very grateful for that, but we’ll have to have a serious talk about the legal ramifications of gun ownership and use. Anyway, that’s not why I asked you to go into the house.”
She stepped out of his embrace as he hung up his hat and removed his gun belt.
“You didn’t ask me, Adam, you told me! If I wasn’t in any danger why did I have to go inside?” she asked, hands on her hips.
He walked over to his big leather chair and sat down, pulling her onto his lap.
“I didn’t want you out there getting emotional and messing up the negotiations.”
“How could I have done that?”
“Taylor didn’t want the dog, Meg. He wanted money. He probably found out by accident that we had Nugget. I’m sure he wasn’t even looking for him. When he found out that the Cartwrights had him, he figured he could make some fast cash.”
“Oh. Well what did you say to him?”
“I offered to buy the dog for a fair price. He named a sum and I told him I wouldn’t pay it. I said he could take the dog back.”
“WHAT! You said he could have Nugget?” Meg was outraged. She punched him on the shoulder with her fist. “What if he’d taken him? How could you do such a thing? I don’t believe it,” she ranted.
“Calm down. I knew he what he really was after, so I called his bluff. It was just like playing poker.” He winked at her. “And I’m a pretty good poker player.”
She would not be pacified.
“I can’t believe you took such a chance! What if he’d really wanted the dog? Then what would have happened?” She glared at him. “You gambled with the life of this dog. Shame on you!”
He laughed at her, which further inflamed her. Mild mannered thought she was, Meg could not tolerate being laughed at. He had learned that lesson in Boston, but now that they were married he enjoyed getting her worked up once in a while. For some reason, he found her incredibly charming and funny when she was angry. Perhaps because her behavior then was in such stark contrast to her usually calm demeanor.
“This is exactly the reason I wanted you in the house. When he said he wanted the dog back you would have fallen to pieces and he’d have known he could practically name his price. Negotiations were easier and cheaper with you inside.”
“I’m really angry with you, Adam. I’d be furious if I wasn’t so happy that we get to keep the dog.”
This made no sense to him at all but he’d come to realize that the only thing feminine logic and masculine logic had in common was the word “logic”. They were different concepts entirely.
“What did you end up paying that awful man?”
“FIFTEEN DOLLARS! That’s outrageous! We could buy a month’s worth of groceries for that. He robbed you.”
“You want me to take the dog to him and get my money back?”
That stopped her. He watched in amusement as she sputtered and tried to think of something to say. She was quiet a minute, then asked, “What price did he want at first?”
“A hundred dollars.”
Her mouth dropped open and her eyes popped.
“I should have shot him!”
He laughed out loud at that, then put his arms around her and hugged her tight.
“I’ve created a monster. Am I going to have to lock up all the guns so that you don’t shoot every person who makes you angry?”
She sniffed as if offended, but he caught her eye and suddenly they both burst out laughing. She snuggled down into his arms.
“I didn’t really mean that, but, my goodness! To have the nerve to ask a hundred dollars! And even paying fifteen is an incredible amount. You must really have wanted the dog.”
“I knew you wanted him. But you’re right. I couldn’t stomach the thought of Taylor getting his hands on him again. As for the cost…well, think of it as an early Christmas present.” He kissed her temple.
She grew still thinking of the Christmas gift she had wanted to give him…the news that their child was on the way. But that was not to be yet. Suddenly Nugget was at their side, his head resting on the arm of the chair. Meg stretched out her hand and he licked it. Adam reached out and scratched the dog behind his ear.
“Hey, get your own girl. This one belongs to me.”
Meg stroked her husband’s cheek with her hand. She was so much in love with him. He stared into her eyes and asked, “What’s for supper?”
“Do we have to eat it right now?”
“I think it can wait. Why?”
He kissed her gently. Then he pulled her closer and really kissed her.
“I want to celebrate the purchase of our dog.”
“How do we do that?”
“Oh I have an unusual idea or two in mind. Want to hear them?”
“Sure. I’m a pretty open minded individual.”
“That’s what I was counting on,” he said as they got to their feet and
he led her in the direction of their bedroom. Nugget followed right
behind, but despite the warm welcome he had received in his new home, this
time the door was shut in his face.
“Doc, what’s the matter with her?” Joe asked, his face ashen.
“Well, it’s pretty serious, Joe. If your wife wants this baby, she’s going to have to stay in bed for the next three months. And I mean in bed.”
“But Carrie…is Carrie alright?”
Paul Martin turned and looked at the youngest Cartwright brother. He had delivered Joe more than 23 years ago. He couldn’t believe how the time flew. Now Joe’s wife was carrying his child and there were some serious complications. He wanted to reassure the young man, but he had to know the truth.
“Carrie’s fine.” He saw the look on Joe’s face. “I mean it. She’s fine. But the baby’s in danger of being born too soon. The longer we can keep it where it is, the better its chance for survival. And the only way I know of to do that is for Carrie to stay in bed until she delivers. That means no getting out of bed, except to use a chamber pot. I don’t even want her to go outside to use the outhouse. Now I’ve already spoken to her and she says she can do it, but it won’t be easy. Can I count on you to help her?”
Joe’s face muscles relaxed somewhat. Carrie was OK.
“I’ll do whatever it takes,” he promised fervently.
“Good. Now she’s already fretting about housework and cooking and such nonsense, so you go in there and ease her mind. It won’t do her any good to worry. There’s no magic powder I can give her to make this better. She needs to stay in bed and she can’t lift anything heavier than a fork or a teacup. If she does that, the baby will stay inside where it belongs and the closer we come to the beginning of April, the better.” He put on his hat and headed for the door.
“I have three other calls to make this morning, but I’ll stop by in a couple of days. You come and get me anytime, if you need me.”
Joe walked him to the door and shook his hand.
“Thanks, Doc. I’ll make sure she stays in bed.”
“You do that and we have a better than even chance of everything working out well. Now you go take care of your wife.” Doctor Martin climbed into his carriage and road off down the lane to the main road.
Carrie was lying in bed, propped up with a couple of plump pillows. She looked a bit wan, but put on a brave face when Joe walked into the room.
“You see how lazy I am?” she asked. “I’ll do anything to get out of doing a little housework.” Joe sat down on the edge of the bed.
“Don’t joke, Carrie. You gave me such a scare. But Doc says you’re OK and I believe him. And you’re going to stay right where you are till April even if I have to sit here and watch you the whole time.” Carrie’s smile disappeared and she looked serious.
“He told me what I have to do and I’m going to follow his instructions to the letter. I wouldn’t risk doing anything to hurt our baby, Joe. You know that.”
He reached out and pulled her into his arms, hugging her gently. He kissed her temple.
“Of course I know that. And I’m gonna do whatever I can to make this easier for you. If you want anything or need anything, just tell me. I’ll get it for you.”
“Joe, I’m worried about the house and the cooking. The garden’s fine because it’s winter, but who’s going to keep house and cook for you?”
“I’ll see about hiring someone. Maybe Mrs. Shaunessy can do it. Anyway, don’t you worry about it. You just relax and stay well.”
“I think this is going to get very boring after a while. I mean three months in bed! What will I do?”
“Well, I’ll bring you things to read, and you can knit or crochet. I’m sure you’ll have lots of visitors. And we can play cards at night. You leave all that up to me, darlin’. It’s my job to keep you entertained.”
She looked at him and smiled. He was so good to her and she wanted more than anything to give him a healthy baby. Aside from the death of her parents so many years ago, Carrie had never had anything but good fortune smile on her. For the first time in her life, she felt as if she was truly an adult. It was a new and sobering emotion.
“You know what, Carrie? I’ll tell Adam and maybe Meg can help out for a while. Would you like that?”
“Yes, but she has her own house to run. I can’t ask her to move in here for the next three months.” She paused to consider. “But maybe at first she wouldn’t mind. Yes, please ask her, but tell her it’s only till you find someone else. Meg can always help me get my mind off things.”
Meg came over the next morning. Even though it was January, there was little snow on the ground and Adam said she could drive herself. He had offered to buy another carriage horse for her, but she told him that Betsy was fine, so she made a slow, but safe trip to her sister-in –law’s house that cold morning. For the next three weeks Meg came every weekday and stayed till Joe came home. She cleaned and cooked and kept Carrie amused. They sat together in the afternoon knitting tiny baby clothes, gossiping, reading together, and playing cribbage. This began to take its toll on Meg because she insisted on maintaining her own house in spotless condition and preparing decent meals for Adam. He suggested that they all eat together at Joe’s but Meg wanted him to come home to his own place so he could eat and relax. And on top of it all, she caught a bad cold from driving back and forth twice a day in the bitter weather.
“This has got to stop,” Adam told her as she sneezed for the third time in a row. “You’re killing yourself. Why hasn’t Joe found someone to help? That’s what he said he was going to do.”
“He couldn’t find anyone. Mrs. Shaunessy has two new boarders so she can’t help and there isn’t anyone else. I don’t mind…really! Ah choo!”
“How hard has he looked? You’re letting him walk all over you. I don’t want you to get seriously sick because of this.”
“Oh Adam, I just have a cold! It’s nothing.” She blew her nose into her hankie. “Tomorrow’s Saturday. Take me into town and I’ll see if I can find someone. Maybe Joe hasn’t looked very hard because he doesn’t like to leave Carrie’s side. And she’s my family now. I want to help.”
“I know you do, but I have to think about you the way Joe thinks about Carrie. Have you considered that? I don’t want you to get all run down in your eagerness to be helpful.”
He looked at her. He was in a tough position. The entire family was concerned about Carrie. The doctor had made it clear that her health wasn’t in danger, but the life of the child she carried was. They had all pitched in to do what they could. Hoss, Adam, and Ben worked longer days so Joe could spend more time with her and Meg had done more than her share to keep the younger woman relaxed and cheerful, easing her mind about her housekeeping and the meals. There were very few women in the area who were free to play nursemaid and housekeeper for someone else. But people were always coming and going, so perhaps Meg was right. They might learn of someone when they went to Virginia City tomorrow. As concerned as he was about Carrie, Adam didn’t want to see Meg overdo things. On the other hand, if he protested too much she accused him of not caring about the fate of the baby. She had him over the proverbial barrel.
“We’ll ask around in town tomorrow, although I’m not sure you should be going out at all. And if we can’t find someone, we’ll eat at Joe and Carrie’s every night. I’m putting my foot down about that.”
She gave him a mutinous look but before she could say anything he told her, “ Meg, I’m not discussing this anymore. You’re wearing yourself out and I don’t like it, even if it is for a good reason.”
She folded her lips in a tight line of disapproval, but she didn’t argue with him.
The next day they divided the town up and began to make inquiries. Meg was to go to the dry goods stores, the dressmaker’s, and the minister’s. Adam went to the livery stable, the post office and the stage depot. He told her he would stop in the saloon for a beer and then meet her at the hotel for lunch. Not for the first time he thanked himself that his wife didn’t object to his having a companionable drink or two with his friends. He knew of a number of men who had to follow their beer with a chaser of guilt after they had married. Unfortunately, he had no success in locating someone who could help, but he had put the word out and maybe something would turn up. He walked into the hotel dining room and saw Meg sitting at a round table with another woman, whom he didn’t recognize. Removing his hat he walked over. Meg looked up and smiled brightly.
“Adam! I may have a solution to our problem. I’d like you to meet Rebecca Barton. Rebecca, this is my husband Adam.”
The woman held out her hand and Adam shook it. She was a stranger to him. She appeared to be about Meg’s age. She had blond hair, done in braids and wrapped around her head like a crown, in the European fashion. Her eyes were blue with long lashes and she was very pretty although her features appeared taut at the moment. She had an oval face and a straight nose. Her dress was old, but clean, her hat shabby.
He shook the proffered hand.
“Mr. Cartwright,” she responded and he thought he detected a trace of an accent.
“Actually it’s Mrs. Barton, Adam. Sit down and I’ll tell you how we met,” Meg said to him. But he remained standing as she started to speak.
“Adam, I was in Mr. Simpson’s store and I overheard Rebecca asking him if he had any work available. Well, he said he was sorry, that it was a family business and he wasn’t hiring. Then she asked him if he knew of anyplace in town that might need help and that’s when I introduced myself. I told her I might know of something and I asked her to come here for tea so we could talk. She needs a job, Adam, but before you say anything, let her tell you her story.”
He looked at his wife. He wanted to shake her. What was she thinking? You didn’t just go offering a job to someone you met in a dry goods store. He hoped she hadn’t said too much to this Barton woman. They knew nothing at all about her. What had happened to Meg’s common sense?
“I’d be happy to listen, but can I speak to you privately for a minute? Will you excuse us, Mrs. Barton?” he answered as he held out Meg’s chair. He took her arm and led her to the lobby.
“What are you doing?” she asked, bewildered.
“What have you told this woman?” he asked her, ignoring her own question.
“Not much…just that I might know of a job for her. Why?”
“You don’t know anything about her. She’s a complete stranger. You can’t go offering her a job taking care of Carrie when you know nothing about her background!”
Meg realized he was angry. She was quiet a moment, then said to him, “I haven’t offered her a job, Adam. I just said I knew that one might exist. Then we came to the hotel and we talked over tea. I know a lot about her background right now and if you’d go back and listen so would you.”
“You only know what she told you. You don’t know if her story’s true or not.”
She hesitated before answering.
“Well…no…I don’t, but I have a good feeling about…”
He cut her off.
“Don’t talk to me about feelings. There are more con men and women out here than you’d believe. Pay for the tea and say goodbye. Tell her you were mistaken or something.”
Adam was accustomed to getting his own way.
“No, I’m not going to do that,” Meg said, meeting his gaze without wavering. “And before you get really angry, hear me out.” She didn’t raise her voice, but argued her case quietly and convincingly.
“I learned a lot about Mrs. Barton. I think most of it can be checked out by Roy Coffee. She’s from the Carson City area. I think we should go back inside and I’d like you to listen to her. You’re a good judge of character. Maybe I’m being fooled, but I don’t think so. I think you should judge for yourself…that is, unless you’ve already found someone else?” she added with a raised eyebrow.
He cleared his throat.
“Well, no, I haven’t been able to find anyone,” he admitted.
“Then what’s the harm? I haven’t even told her what type of job it is or mentioned any names. I just said it was suitable work for a lady.” She looked at him and added pointedly, “You were the one who wanted to find someone so I’d be home more. Why not at least listen to her story?”
She had him. There was no argument he could make.
“Alright. I’ll listen. And if I think she might work out we’ll have Roy check her out.” He shook his head at her gleeful smile.
“I said if I think she’ll work out. No promises. Understand?”
“I understand. And I think you’re being very sensible. Of course, now we’re going to buy her lunch since she has to tell you everything all over again.”
Meg grew serious as they reentered the dining room.
“Adam, her story is so tragic. If this all works out, it won’t be
she who’s helping us. We’ll be helping her.”
By the end of the day Adam had to admit he thought his wife was right about Rebecca Barton. They insisted on buying her lunch and over the meal she told them about herself.
“As I told Mrs. Cartwright, I came to this country ten years ago from Germany. I was sixteen years old.” She spoke softly and though her English was excellent, she had a trace of an accent. “Well,” Adam thought ruefully to himself, “at least I was right about something.”
“I came with my brother, Henrich. We worked on some farms in Pennsylvania until we saved enough money to buy a little place of our own. Then Henrich got married. I still lived with him and his wife, but she did not take kindly to me. It was very uncomfortable. One day a man named Ed Barton came by. I was young and impressionable. He was handsome and gay and spent money easily. He started to court me.” She shook her head. “I was such a little fool! I thought he was the answer to my problem. Henrich offered to give me my share of the farm money, so I took it and Ed and I were married. I was barely nineteen at the time.” She wiped her mouth delicately with her napkin, then continued.
“At first things were fine. Ed wanted to move west. He had big dreams and my money would help him make them come true. We got as far as Carson City and we bought a little spread. Ed knew nothing about ranching and neither did I. I was a farm girl. Our ranch was poor. The grazing was bad and we sometimes had no water supply. Then I had my child.”
Here she stopped and drank some water, but Adam noticed a suspicious moistness in her eyes when she looked up.
“He was a beautiful little boy, my Eddie. Light brown curls and big blue eyes. At first Ed was pleased, but the ranch continued to drain our money. Then he got angry and began to drink. He would scream at me and he began to hit our son. This I could not have! I called the sheriff on him many times, but he said he could do nothing. It was a matter between husband and wife.”
She stopped speaking again and drew a deep breath.
“This went on for several years. Two years ago, when my Eddie was four years old, his father came back from town drunk. He again began to shout at me and curse me. He raised his hand to strike me and my son ran between us to prevent that. Just imagine! A four year old trying to protect his mother from his father. My husband was furious. He picked up my son and threw him across the room. My baby hit his head and never regained consciousness. He died three days later.”
At this point, Meg was wiping her eyes with her hankie. Adam reached over and covered her hand with his. Rebecca spoke slowly, softly, and steadily, but her face was a mask of pain.
“We had called the doctor. Ed made up a story about the boy falling, but I think he did not believe it. He was there when my son died. I told him the truth and asked him to give me a ride into town. My husband tried to stop me, but the doctor got me into Carson City. I reported all that had happened to the Sheriff and they sent out a posse. They brought Ed into jail. He was tried and sentenced to 25 years in prison. I took some of the money I had left and divorced him.” She stopped and looked at them apologetically.
“I am sorry. I know that is shocking, but I had to divorce him. I wanted no connection to him at all. I tried to keep the ranch going, but nothing I could do worked, so I sold it last month. I intended to go back to Pennsylvania, but my brother Henrich died and so I am trying to earn the fare to take me back to Germany. I still have family there. And that is why I am looking for a job.”
She stopped speaking and looked at Adam. She seemed to know instinctively that he would play a big part in the decision on whether or not to hire her. Adam knew that Meg was right about one thing. Much of this story could easily be checked by Roy. But what would he say to Rebecca Barton in the meantime? He was inclined to believe her, but he was naturally cautious.
“Mrs. Barton, we aren’t the ones offering a position. My brother is. I’d like him to meet you. And, we’ll check out your story. I hope you understand.”
“Of course I do. The sheriff in Carson City can tell you what I have said is true, so please ask him.”
“Did you plan to be in Virginia City very long?” Meg asked.
“Well, I had planned to be here two more days. If I couldn’t find something, I was going to take the stage to San Francisco. I think I might have better luck in a big city. But I don’t have a lot of skills. I must be honest. I was a wife and mother. I cook, clean, sew, and garden. But I read and write English and German and I learn quickly.”
Adam was touched by her attempt to “sell” herself to a possible employer. But he wouldn’t make a move without Joe meeting her and a background check from
Roy. He rose from the table and assisted both women with their chairs.
“The San Francisco stage leaves at 2 o’clock on Monday,” Adam said. “We’ll be in touch with you, one way or the other, before then. Where are you staying?”
“I have a room in this hotel, Mr. Cartwright.” They walked to the lobby where she turned and extended her hand. First Meg, then Adam, shook it.
“Thank you for lunch. Whatever you decide, I have enjoyed meeting you.”
“Goodbye, Mrs. Barton,” Meg said, as Adam nodded. The woman turned and walked up the stairs.
Adam held the door for his wife and she took his arm when they were outside.
“Well, what do you think?” Meg asked him.
“I think we should walk over to the sheriff’s office and have a talk with Roy,” was all he would say.
“Well there’s my girl!” was the way Meg was greeted by the kindly sheriff when they walked into his office. Meg held a special place in the lawman’s heart since she had asked him to “give her away” at her wedding.
“Your girl? I think you’re mistaken there, Sheriff,” Adam said with a smile. “I have a legal document that says she’s mine.”
Meg clasped her hands and batted her eyes dramatically.
“Oohh! Two handsome men fighting over me! I like this!” she laughed as she gave Roy an affectionate kiss on the cheek.
“What brings you two to town? Nothing wrong at home I hope. Carrie OK?” Roy Coffee was an old friend, as well as the sheriff and he took a personal interest in the Cartwrights.
“Everything’s fine, Roy. Carrie’s the same. In fact that’s why we’re here. We’re trying to hire someone to stay at home with her until the baby’s born…you know, a housekeeper…and we think we might have found the right person. But we’d like you to check her out before we have Joe meet her.”
“Well, I’ll be happy to help out, Adam. Who is this person and what do you want me to check out?”
Adam told Roy about Rebecca Barton and the story she had told him.
“Do you think you could wire the sheriff in Carson City and verify what she said?”
“Don’t have to do that.”
“Why not?” Adam asked.
“I happened to be over in Carson City the last day of that man’s trial. It was the talk of the town. Everything that poor woman told you is the gospel truth. He threw his son across a room and killed him. Barton was well known in Carson City as a drunk, and a mean one, at that. He got what he deserved. Whole town’s sympathy was with the wife.”
Meg said nothing, but she was smiling. Adam still pursued the matter.
“What did she look like Roy?”
“Mrs. Barton? Nice lookin’ lady. Mid twenties, I’d say. Bout as tall as Carrie, blond hair in braids and done up on her head…you know, like those Norwegians do. But I don’t think she was Norwegian. She did have a little accent though.”
“She’s staying at the hotel. Do you think you could take a look and see if it’s the same woman?”
Meg broke in.
“Adam, he’s described her perfectly. Why are you so suspicious?”
“I’ve seen a lot of cons and I just want to be sure. Joe has enough on his mind right now.”
“He’s right, Meg,” Roy said. “Better safe than sorry. I’ll get over there as soon as I can. You gonna be in town a while?”
“We’re headed over to Lundstrums. Ruth invited us for coffee. We’ll be back in an hour or so. Is that enough time?”
“Sure is. Meanwhile, I’ll wire the sheriff in Carson City to see about the character of Mrs. Barton. But if she’s the woman I think, then my guess is Joe can hire her without worrying.”
Meg and Adam left the sheriff’s office and walked over to the minister’s house. They were warmly greeted by Carl and his wife Ruth, who had their six-month old son Matthew balanced on her hip.
“Come on in. I have the chess board all set up, Adam. I’ve been looking for an excuse to take a break from writing my sermon!”
The Lundstrum’s parsonage was small but cozy. Ruth served coffee and cake and she and Meg chatted on the sofa while the men played a quick game of chess. Adam happened to look up and see Meg holding little Matthew on her lap, cooing to him, and laughing at his baby gurgles and expressions. She looked so happy. Despite her protestations to the contrary, she looked perfectly comfortable with the child, stroking his fine auburn hair, kissing his chubby cheeks, and tickling his round little belly. For the first time Adam felt the desire to see her with his child. It hadn’t been very important to him until just this moment. But something in the tableau of Meg and the infant moved him. They had been married five months and she hadn’t conceived yet. Perhaps she was right to be concerned. He would have a talk with Paul Martin. It wasn’t something he looked forward to, but Paul was very discreet.
“Are you going to make a move today or not?” Carl teased him and he began to concentrate on the game.
When they returned to Roy’s office the sheriff told them he had seen the woman and she was indeed Rebecca Barton. A wire from the Carson City sheriff had stated she was of good character and had suffered badly at the hands of her former husband.
The next day, after church, Joe, Adam, and Meg paid a call on Rebecca Barton. She listened as Joe explained what would be expected of her and what he was willing to pay.
“I can give you some time to think about it and come back tomorrow for your answer, Mrs. Barton,” he said.
“That is not necessary, Mr. Cartwright. I would like to have this job. It’s like an answer to a prayer. When would you like me to start?”
Joe considered for a moment.
“Would it be asking too much for you to come back to my house with us now? Then you can meet my wife and start work tomorrow.”
“Yes. I can do that. I need a little time to pack my things,” she said rising from the chair in the hotel lobby, where they had been talking.
“May I help you?” Meg offered. Rebecca turned and smiled at her.
“Thank you. I would appreciate that.”
Carrie took to Rebecca immediately. She had naturally been moved to tears when Joe had related the other woman’s history.
“Oh, Joe, the poor thing! I can’t even imagine how horrible her life was with that man. I’ll make sure she’s happy here. She deserves that, don’t you think?”
“Carrie, darlin’, she’s supposed to be taking care of you…not the other way around. Just let her do her job. My main concern is you and the baby.”
“Well, of course I won’t do anything foolish, but I can still try to be nice to her.” She stopped chattering and thought for a moment.
“Do you think it’ll be hard on her to take care of me in my condition when she’s lost her own child?”
“I don’t know. I think she would have said something if she were concerned about it.”
Carrie’s eyes lit up.
“Joe, put your hand here,” she said, grabbing his hand and placing it on the right side of her swollen belly. She waited a second.
“Did you feel that?” she asked excitedly.
Joe’s face split into a huge grin.
“Uh huh! It’s been quiet all day, but now it’s kicking every few seconds.” Her eyes glowed with happiness.
“That’s what makes staying in this bed worthwhile…our own little miracle.”
In typical Carrie fashion she changed the subject another time.
“I wonder if Meg’s expecting a baby yet.”
“How would I know? She’s your best friend. Has she said something to you?”
Carrie frowned and shook her head.
“No. And I don’t like to ask.”
“You shouldn’t. It’s none of our business, Carrie.”
“It’s just that I’m so happy, even with having to stay in bed all the time, that I want them to be happy too.” Joe kissed her tenderly.
“I know. Maybe they don’t want to have a child right away.”
“Well, you can’t really plan that can you?” she said. Joe laughed.
“You know Adam. He’s so smart that if they want to wait to have a baby, I’ll bet he could figure out a sure-fire way to make that happen. Now put it out of your mind. Let’s talk about our baby. You sure you don’ t like the names Hezekiah or Jehosephat?”
Carrie started to giggle.
“No? Well what about Ephraim or Nehemiah or Zebulon? They’re all good Biblical names, darlin’.” Carrie laughed harder.
“Don’t laugh! I haven’t even gotten to the girl’s names yet!”
“And what are you going to be doing today?” Adam asked as he got ready to leave for the day.
“I don’t know. Some house work I guess.”
He looked up. Meg seemed distracted. She had become increasingly quiet over the last few months. He wasn’t positive, but he thought this was tied up with her failure to conceive. Adam had been concerned enough to speak with Doctor Martin.
“I wish I could help Adam. Most people ask me questions about preventing pregnancy. I really don’t have any answers. As long as you’re living a …hmm…normal married life, you just have to let nature take its course. I’ve heard of all kinds of treatments and “cures” for this, but none of them really work. Unfortunately, this happens sometimes. Some women remain barren, but I don’t see any real cause for concern yet. Give it some more time and then I’d consider adoption.”
Barren. Suddenly the word had an ugly sound to it. He wouldn’t want Meg to think of herself that way, but he suspected it was weighing on her mind. He had noticed changes in her. She had a pretty voice and she always seemed to be singing or humming…folk tunes, hymns, popular melodies of the day… anything. She was doing less of that lately. She had liked to cuddle at night before falling asleep. More and more frequently she curled up in a ball on her side of the bed, falling asleep after a perfunctory kiss goodnight. And she was increasingly preoccupied when he spoke to her. It was winter and not the best time for a trip, but he thought he might take her to San Francisco for that delayed honeymoon. That might take her mind off things for a while.
“Well, I’ll try to get home a little early and maybe we can go out for a ride. How does that sound?” She brightened a little.
“That sounds nice. Want anything special for dinner?”
“Nope. I like everything you cook.” And they both laughed at this little exchange, which had become a ritual to them.
“Maybe I’ll take a ride over to Carrie’s and visit with her and Rebecca.”
Adam took her in his arms.
“Just let Davis know where you’ll be.” He kissed her, putting a little more into this expression of affection than he normally did in the morning. She smiled up at him.
“That was nice.”
“Want to try it again?”
“If we do, you’ll be late.”
“If I’m going to be late, why not try it again in the bedroom. Might as well be really late.” She laughed up at him.
“You get out of here. I’m not going to be responsible for you getting fired.”
“Could never happen.”
He crossed his fingers.
“The boss and I are like that.”
She pointed toward the road and said with mock severity, “Go!”
Rebecca had settled into the household with ease. She liked Carrie from the start and Joe was funny and kind. She reflected on the differences between the young Cartwright’s marriage and her own. She discounted their obvious wealth. Money was a good thing, but you didn’t need it to be happy. No, these two shared a loving relationship…one she wished she had known. But she was realistic and she wouldn’t mourn her past, except for the loss of her son and one other terrible secret that she carried. The Cartwrights needn’t know about it. It affected no one but herself. In the greater scheme of things she was lucky. She had employment for the next two months, a roof over her head, and incredibly pleasant working conditions. Perhaps they might ask her to stay for a short while after the child arrived. Though it would be difficult, she made up her mind she would do it if asked.
Her job was easy and she made sure she did it well. She met the other family members…Ben, the father, and the large brother with the strange name…horse…no, that wasn’t it…Hoss…yes, Hoss. They had all been very nice to her. And there was a steady stream of visitors. Aside from keeping the house clean and cooking meals, she was expected to have refreshments available for the family and guests. Life had been such a struggle when she was married, but here she had the best ingredients in any quantity she wanted, so she indulged in baking not only familiar American desserts and sweets, but also some German treats. These were especially well received by Meg, Carrie’s sister-in-law, who was teased about her sweet tooth, and by Hoss, who never said no to an offer of food.
“This here’s really good cake, Mrs. Barton,” he said to her one day, while sitting in Carrie’s room for a short visit. “I ain’t never tasted anything like it. What’s it called?”
“It’s butter kuchen, Mr. Cartwright. It is a cake my mother often made when I was a child. It goes well with coffee, no?”
“How’d ya say that again?”
“Butter koo-ken,” she pronounced more slowly. Kuchen is German for cake.”
“Well, whatever you call it, it’s downright good,” Hoss answered with enthusiasm.
“Then have another piece, Mr. Cartwright,” she offered, smiling shyly.
Carrie had been listening and broke in.
“Rebecca, you’ve got to start calling us by our first names. We’re not all that formal here and if you call all the men Mr. Cartwright, there’ll just be a lot of confusion.”
“She’s right, Mrs. Barton. You better just call me Hoss. If you need to call someone Mr. Cartwright, save it for my father,” Hoss agreed, accepting another generous piece of the cake.
“But is this appropriate for a servant to do? In Germany…”
Carrie’s eyebrows shot up.
“Rebecca, you’re not a servant! You’re just…helping out for a while. And you really must address us all by our first names. I insist.”
“Well, if you are sure. Then you must all call me Rebecca! You too, Mr….I mean Hoss.”
He was busy eating the butter kuchen, but Hoss looked at her and nodded. She was a pretty woman and it suddenly occurred to him that on this visit he was enjoying more than just the coffee and cake. And he also had an inspiration.
“Say, Rebecca, there’s a dance in town on Saturday night. Adam and Meg are goin’. Carrie here can’t so Joe’s gonna stay home with her. You wanna come along?”
Rebecca’s eyes grew large. She was stunned almost speechless. Before she could say a word, Carrie added, “Oh you should go. There are lots of single men there and they’re always looking for dance partners. You’ve worked so hard here that you deserve a little break. Joe will be home with me so I won’t be alone. You should do it, Rebecca.”
Rebecca breathed a mental sigh of relief. Hoss wasn’t asking her out. He was just offering her a ride. For a moment she had been worried that he might be attracted to her. That would never do. Never again could she allow herself to be close to a man. It would be bad for her and serve him no purpose.
“Well…I don’t know. I…”
“Sure ya should come, Rebecca,” Hoss said. “Give Joe and Carrie a little ‘private’ time. Have a little fun for yourself.”
“It sounds nice, but my clothes…I don’t know…”
“Fiddlesticks!” Carrie said. “You’re about my height. I’ll lend you something. Anyway, we don’t dress fancy for these dances. They’re held in the livery stable!”
They kept after her until she agreed to go. Saturday night Carrie lent her a dress and insisted that she add a bow to her hair.
“Your eyes are prettiest shade of cornflower blue! The dress and bow will bring them out and make you absolutely irresistible,” she exclaimed with delight. “Now go and have some fun!” she added sounding more like a doting mother than anything else.
And Rebecca did have fun…more fun than she had had in years. She
was concerned that her status as a divorcee might invite remarks, but everyone
was very nice to her. What she didn’t know was that some remarks
were made, but the Cartwrights kept her away from those people who
were inclined to be malicious. The four of them chatted amicably
as they rode home and Hoss saw her to the door. She smiled, thanked
him and went inside, unaware that Carrie hadn’t been the only one to notice
her beautiful eyes.
“That was a nice evening,” Adam said as he and Meg got ready for bed.
“Mmm hmm,” she answered him, in that disinterested manner that was becoming more frequent. She untied her corset strings and inhaled deeply for the first time all night.
“I think Rebecca had a good time, don’t you?” he continued, trying to draw her out.
“Yes, I hope so,” she replied absently. “Adam, did you know that Margie Davenport is expecting another baby?” she asked abruptly changing the subject.
“No. Did you find that out tonight?” he answered as he hung up his jacket and untied his tie. He heard her sigh deeply. Whether this was an emotional sigh or relief at being freed from the corset, he wasn’t quite sure.
“Yes. That’s her third baby in as many years.” She stopped speaking and finished undressing. She got into her nightgown and sat at her dressing table to brush and braid her hair.
“Why don’t you leave it loose tonight?” he asked softly. This was one of Adam’s ways of telling her he’d like to make love to her that night. The little code had begun on their wedding night. She didn’t answer right away but he thought he heard her say very quietly, “What’s the use?”
“Did you say something, sweetheart?” he asked, as he removed his boots and socks.
“Hmm? Oh! No. I didn’t say anything. Yes, I’ll leave my hair down if you want.”
She put down the brush and climbed into bed. She lay on her back staring at the ceiling. Adam finished undressing, threw a couple of logs on the fire, blew out the lamp, and joined her in bed. He rolled onto his side, propped his head on his hand and looked at her.
“What’s troubling you Meg? Won’t you tell me?”
She continued to look at the ceiling. She sighed softly.
“I’m discovering that I’m not a very nice person. I always thought I was pretty nice, but now I’m not so sure.”
“And what makes you think you’re not a nice person?” he asked gently.
“Adam, I’m consumed with jealousy. I love Carrie to death, but I’m jealous of her…of her and every other woman who’s expecting a baby now or who’s ever had one. I’m angry and frustrated and unhappy and jealous. I’m becoming an ugly person inside and I don’t like it, but I’m not sure how to stop it. These feelings just take off and I can’t stop them,” she admitted, turning her head to look into his eyes.
She snuggled into his arms, her head resting on his shoulder.
“You’re a very nice person. You’re just going through a difficult time right now. I still think all your concerns are premature, but I’m not going to say ‘don’t worry’ because I know you will anyway. That’s how you are.”
“I hate being like this, Adam. I wish I could be more like you. How can you put bothersome things from your mind like you do? It makes life so much easier.”
He chuckled and she smiled as her head bounced gently on his shoulder from his laughter.
“I don’t know, sweetie. I’ve always been like that. I wish I could tell you the secret, but I can’t. But maybe we can talk about this a little. What’s your worst fear about all this?”
She didn’t hesitate with her answer.
“That I’ll never have a child. I’ve always dreamed of a family with a lot of children. Maybe it’s because the Bonellis seem so happy. Or maybe because I didn’t have any brothers or sisters after Jesse died. But it’s been a dream of mine. So if I can’t have children, then my wish for that type of family wouldn’t come true.” She stroked his chest and paused.
“And whenever I look at you I think what a good father you’d be. You deserve the chance to have children and have your name carried on. I know you’ll probably say it doesn’t matter, but I’d feel like such a disappointment to you as a wife.” She tilted her head and looked up at his face. In the firelight he could see her eyes glistening with unshed tears.
“Those are the things that go around and around in my mind all the time. That’s what I’m afraid of.” She settled back onto his shoulder.
He kissed the top of her head.
“I’m not saying that this is the case, but, if for some reason we couldn’t have children, I’d be willing to adopt. Have you considered that?”
Her head jerked back as she looked up at him.
“You’d be willing to do that?”
“Sure. Whoever raises you is your parent. Families are what you make them, Meg. Hoss, Joe and I are half brothers, but I’ve never considered them anything but just plain brothers. It doesn’t make any difference that we each had different mothers. And I’m sure they think the same way. In fact, you might say that I was adopted…both by Inger and Marie. So adoption is a good alternative to me. But what about you?”
“I hadn’t really given it much thought.”
“Well, think about it. What if a little baby like Matthew Lundstrum was placed in our home? Don’t you think you could learn to love him? I could. And he’d be our son just the same as if you’d given birth to him yourself.” He hugged her a little closer.
“I watched you with Matthew last week and I think you’ll be a wonderful mother. I think it would come naturally to you, no matter how the children arrived.”
She lay back down against him.
“Of course I could love a baby like Matthew. I was just so worried about this other issue that I couldn’t see past it to a solution. You’ve made me feel much better.”
She yawned and caressed his chest.
“Adam, will you just hold me tonight? I feel so much better when you hold me.”
“Of course I will sweetheart,” he answered, though he had been hoping for something more. But this was nice too. His wife wasn’t by nature clingy or dependent. As much as he admired her for her self-confidence and strength, it was a nice change for her to express her need for him. He stroked her hair till she fell asleep.
“What are you doing here?” Joe asked Hoss, after he had opened the door and found his brother standing there with something under his arm.
“Well that’s a nice welcome, little brother,” Hoss responded, stepping into the house. “I come over to visit Carrie and see if you wanted to play some checkers.”
“You just left here two hours ago.”
“Yeah…well…you wanna play checkers or not?” Hoss mumbled, not meeting his brother’s eyes.
Joe stared at him.
“No, I don’t want to play checkers. I’m exhausted. I planned on going to bed early tonight.”
“Think Carrie might wanna play checkers?” Hoss asked, shifting the checkerboard to his other arm.
Joe, hands on hips, looked at his brother through squinted eyes.
“No, Carrie doesn’t want to play checkers either. And since she can’t get out of bed, and I’m planning on sleeping next to her, she couldn’t even if she wanted to.”
“Oh. Well, think Rebecca might want to play a game?”
A light bulb went on in Joe’s head. He smirked.
“I guess that depends on what kind of a game you had in mind,” he answered.
Hoss looked down at the floor and didn’t answer.
“Just what are you up to?” Joe said in a quieter and less strident tone of voice. “Are you attracted to Rebecca?”
Hoss was already beginning to blush. He was looking at the floor and dragging the toe of his boot back and forth like a schoolboy with a crush on his teacher.
“Well, ya gotta admit, Joe. She’s real purty,” was about all he could say in response.
“Yes she’s pretty. But checkers? Man, you need some lessons in courtin’, Hoss.”
“Well, dadgum it, what was I supposed to do? It’s February. Can’t rightly ask her to go for a buggy ride. She’d freeze to death. I danced with her some last week, but you know I’m not an all-fired great dancer. I musta stepped on her toes three or four times. I can’t think of nothin’ else. I can’t play the guitar like Adam. I ain’t a smooth talker like you. Bout the only thing I’m good at is checkers.”
“And this was your great plan? Beat her a few times at checkers and she’ll fall into your arms?” Joe asked sarcastically.
“Course not! Hey, I ain’t that dumb. I was plannin’ to let her win the games.”
Joe rolled his eyes.
“Oh yeah, that’s a much better plan. Yeah, that’ll really work.”
“Don’t you be a smart aleck with me, Joe. You got a better idea, you just say so.”
His brother pursed his lips and knit his brow.
“Let me think about it. Say! Maybe we could ask Adam. He might have an idea.”
“Uh uh! Adam ain’t messin’ in nobody’s love life anymore. He’s ain’t never gotten over the Abigail Jones business or what happened with that Mexican girl, Margareta what’s–her-name. You just leave Adam outta this.”
Joe put his arm around his older brother and they walked toward the sofa.
“Okay. We won’t ask Adam. Heck! We don’t need him anyway. I’ll think of something. Leave it to me.”
Hoss got a sinking feeling in his stomach. Joe’s schemes weren’t always successful. In fact, if the past was any gauge of things to come, he’d better try to dissuade his younger brother from involving himself. But Joe’s agile mind was already at work.
“I got it! We’ll fix it so you save her life! No woman could resist a man who put his own life in danger to save her.”
“How ya gonna do that?” he asked.
“Let’s see,” Joe paused to think. He snapped his fingers. “She can be out by the barn and I’ll drop a bale of hay out of the loft. You can push her out of the way.” He frowned in concentration. “Might be a good idea if you let the bale fall on you. You know…you get injured while saving her. Yeah…that’s sure to work.”
Hoss swallowed and looked worried.
“I don’t know, Joe. Them bales weigh a good hunnerd pounds or more.”
“Hey, you want to impress Rebecca or not?”
“Well, sure I do but…”
“Listen, my idea’s a hundred times better than a stupid checkers game. If the hay only weighed a couple of pounds, you wouldn’t have done much to save her, would you? But a big, heavy hay bale…well, now that’s a different matter! She’s got to be impressed by that…and very grateful ,” he added, nodding his head and smiling knowingly. His eyes had taken on an expression that Carrie called his “crazy” look. She had said to him more than once, “Joe you positively scare me when you get that look in your eyes.”
“Yah think?” Hoss asked.
“Big brother, I don’t think, I know.”
“Well, yeah, but maybe I could just get her out of the way without having to get hit by the hay,” Hoss said. “Ya know, something like that happened to Meg and Adam when she first got here. She threw a horseshoe straight up into the air and he pulled her out of the way. He didn’t get hit, but they’re married now!”
“I guess that’d be alright too. But I still think if you got beaned…”
Hoss had had enough.
“No, Joe, I’m puttin’ my foot down. I’ll get her out of the way, but I don’t wanna get hit. We gotta plan it that way or not at all. And you gotta be careful that she don’t get hurt.”
Joe was disappointed, but he accepted the compromise.
“I’ll set it up for tomorrow after dinner. Be here by 5. It’ll be dark enough but not too dark. And you gotta be careful she doesn’t get hurt.”
“How ya gonna get her outside?”
“I don’t know yet, but leave the details to me. We’ll have her swoonin’ over you by 7 p.m. tomorrow night.”
Hoss was still doubtful, but if this plan would advance his cause, then it was worth a try.
“Where’s Rebecca now?” he asked Joe.
“I think she’s still in the kitchen. Why?”
“Cause I’d still like to ask her to play checkers.” It never hurt to have a back-up plan.
Joe looked up at the ceiling, shook his head, and sighed.
“I’ll go get her.”
Rebecca lay in bed thinking about the evening. She had spent it learning how to play a game called checkers. Hoss Cartwright had shown up to have a few games with his brother, but Joe had said he was tired and had gone to bed. Hoss had asked Rebecca, rather shyly, if she wanted to play. When she said she didn’t know how, he eagerly offered to teach her. So they had played a number of games, and Rebecca had won most of them. Either she was incredibly lucky, a very good player, or he let her win. If the last were the case, she was troubled. A man would do that if he were attempting to get a woman to like him. There was no way that Rebecca could encourage a relationship with a man.
She had spent a good deal of time observing the Cartwrights and making the inevitable comparisons to her own life and marriage. They were a close knit family, but each was a complete individual. Joe and Carrie seemed ridiculously happy, in spite of the precarious nature of Carrie’s pregnancy. Adam and Meg also seemed well matched, although there was a sadness in Meg’s eyes that for which Rebecca had no explanation. Ben Cartwright was courteous and friendly, always treating her with respect. And Hoss…well he was just about the nicest, most gentle man she had ever met.
Why couldn’t her former husband have been as nice as Hoss? Joe was a little too mercurial for her tastes, and Adam too cerebral. But Hoss…well, he was sweet and kind and gentle and funny. His laugh was as big as he was, which was very appealing, as there had been little laughter in her life in the past years. He was more attractive than he gave himself credit for, she decided. And his eyes were a lovely shade of blue.
She gave herself a mental shake. There was no use going down that road. In a couple of months she’d be on a ship back to Germany. That’s where her future lay…not in some unattainable dream life here in Nevada. She told herself she would be more circumspect around Hoss. Intuition told her he was attracted to her. She’d have to walk the fine line between cordiality and familiarity. She had to be nice. There was no way she could risk losing this job. She sighed, turned over, and closed her eyes.
The best laid plans of mice and Joe Cartwright… It was truly a miracle that Joe’s scheme didn’t end up reducing the Cartwright male population by two people. He had to enlist his wife’s aid in his plan. Carrie, an eternal romantic, was more than willing to participate. She sent Rebecca out into the yard on some pretext and Hoss was waiting in front of the barn under the hayloft door. Joe had positioned himself in the hayloft and slid a bale of hay into the door opening, where it balanced precariously. Hoss called out a cheery hello to the young woman and Joe prepared to drop the bale. He was having some difficulty holding on to the hay and seeing out the door at the same time. As Rebecca crossed the yard, Joe lost both his grip on the hay and his footing. When he thought back on what happened, he remembered it as a slow motion event. The hay began to slide forward and tip out the door. He lost his footing and slid forward with it. He thought he heard himself shout, but he couldn’t be sure. To save himself he release his grip on the bale and grabbed frantically for a handhold on something that would prevent his drop from the hayloft onto the ground below. His right hand came in contact with the wooden block in the center of the hayloft door that served as a doorstop. He managed to grip it even as his body slid out the door. For a brief moment he hung on with one hand, looking very much like a chimp in the forest, swinging from the branch of one tree to the next. He managed to grab the side of the hayloft opening with his left hand, and with an effort he swung himself up and climbed back into the barn. He lay there, sprawled on the floor and panting, while his heart raced.
Meanwhile, below him Hoss watched Rebecca walk toward him, in answer to his greeting. Suddenly he heard a shout from above and looked up in time to see the bale of hay on its way down. He dove to the side, but it caught him on his shoulder and he went down. Rebecca screamed and ran to his side. He wasn’t badly hurt…he had just had the wind knocked out of him. But it was very pleasant to lie there while Rebecca cradled his head in her lap and looked anxiously at him. Maybe Joe’s plan wasn’t so bad after all. He’d play this for what it was worth.
Having caught his breath, Joe raced down to the yard.
“What happened?” he asked, his eyes filled with what he hoped would pass for concern.
“I don’t know,” Rebecca responded. “I was walking out into the yard when your brother was hit by a bale of hay. It fell from up there,” she said, pointing to the open hayloft door. “Do you think he’s badly hurt?”
“I don’t think so. He’s very tough. Good thing he was here to save you.”
Rebecca was astonished by Joe’s lack of concern for Hoss’ well being.
“What are you talking about?”
“He saved you from being hit by the hay, didn’t he?”
She looked at him questioningly.
“No. I was nowhere near the barn when he was hit.” She looked down at Hoss’ face. His eyes were closed. He moaned softly.
“Joe, you must help me get him into the house. He could be badly hurt!”
Joe looked down at Hoss, thinking what a waste all his efforts had been. The big ox was hurt and he hadn’t even been injured while saving Rebecca…the colossal squandering of a brilliant plan!
“Well, are you going to help me or not?”
Joe looked up into Rebecca’s concerned and angry eyes.
“Oh, sure…sure. Let me see if I can wake him.” He shook Hoss’ shoulder. Unfortunately, this was the shoulder that had been hit by the hay and it was bruised. Hoss winced and let out a genuine cry of pain. His eyes opened and he saw his brother and Rebecca staring at him.
“Oh, Hoss! Are you badly hurt? Can you get up?” Rebecca asked him solicitously.
Hoss gently rubbed his shoulder with his other hand.
“No, I guess I’m alright. Never saw that bale of hay comin’. I couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. But I only got it on the shoulder. Hurts some, though.” Hoss sat up while speaking, all the while massaging his shoulder. He caught Joe’s eye for a nanosecond and winked. Joe breathed a mental sigh of relief.
Rebecca and Joe helped Hoss to his feet, with Joe insisting that his older brother lean on him for support as they walked toward the house. They settled him on the couch and Joe produced some liniment. Hoss looked at the bottle with suspicion.
“Is this that same liniment you used the last time?” he asked his brother. “Because if it is, so help me Joe…” Hoss was recalling the time his younger brother had tried to ease his aching muscles with horse liniment.
“No, this is people liniment. Stop being such a baby. It won’t hurt you like that other stuff did.” Then he said, “I’d better go tell Carrie what happened.” He disappeared up the stairs.
Hoss fumbled with the cork in the bottle and Rebecca took it from him.
“Let me do that. Can you take off your shirt yourself?”
Hoss swallowed and began to blush.
Rebecca took a look at his face and started to laugh.
“Are you shy? I am not a schoolgirl. I was married. I will be happy to rub this on your shoulder, but if it embarrasses you, then I will leave the room or go get your brother to do it.”
Hoss swallowed again. This pretty young woman with the soft German accent was offering to rub the medicine into his shoulder and he couldn’t string two words together to give her an answer. He coughed and cleared his throat.
“No…no that’s alright. Don’t get Joe. But I might need a little help gettin’ the shirt off,” was about all he could manage.
Rebecca knelt in front of him and unbuttoned his shirt. Very gently she pulled it off each arm. She poured a little liniment in her hand and rubbed her palms together.
“This warms it up a little. Otherwise it is so cold on the skin.”
Her touch was gentle, yet firm. She massaged the liquid into his shoulder and a pleasant warmth permeated his aching muscles. He closed his eyes briefly and smiled to himself. He could get used to this. He felt like he had died, gone to heaven, and a beautiful blond angel was ministering to him. Rebecca continued her ministrations for a few more minutes.
“Does that feel better?” she asked.
Hoss opened his eyes and looked at her. They stared at each other for a brief moment. Something in his expression made her draw back her hands quickly, as if the heat created by the medicine had burned her. She felt flustered and looked down, not meeting his eyes.
“No, please don’t say anything. Here, let me help you with your shirt.” She picked up the garment and held it out, still looking anywhere but at him.
He held out each arm and she assisted him as he put on the shirt.
“I think you can button yourself, no?” she asked nervously.
“Yes, I can do it.”
“Good. Then I must go. I have work to do.”
“Rebecca!” he called after her, but she ran from the room.
Hoss watched in dismay. Had he said or done something to upset her? He didn’t think so. He knew he was rather awkward around women sometimes, but with Rebecca it was different. She was sweet and gentle and kind. The times they had talked had felt comfortable to him. He had just about resigned himself to the fact that he would be a bachelor for the rest of his life, but when he looked at her, he wondered. Well, of course this was ridiculous! She was so pretty. What would she possibly see in a big oaf like him? But maybe…Adam had married late in life and was apparently very happy. Perhaps there was some hope for him too. While he was immersed in thought, his brother came back into the room.
“Well, how’d it go?”
“How’d what go?” Hoss asked, puzzled.
“You know…with Rebecca.”
“Well, she rubbed in the liniment and then said she had work to do. She sorta ran off to the kitchen.”
“Hmm,” Joe said. “Tell you what. Why not stay for supper? I’ll eat with Carrie in the bedroom and you two can have a nice dinner together here. How’s that sound?”
“I don’t know, Joe. She ran off like she was scared of me or somethin’. I didn’t say or do nothin’…honest!”
“She ran off? Hey, that’s great!”
“I don’t get ya, Joe. How’s that good?”
“Don’t you see? It means she has feelings for you!”
“But I don’t think they’re good feelings, Joe. Otherwise, why would she run off like that?”
Joe sighed dramatically and draped an arm over Hoss’ shoulder.
“You don’t know anything about women. Could be she just discovered how she felt and was a little startled. She has to get used to the idea of likin’ you. Or maybe she’s playin’ hard to get. Women play all kinds of games. But I’m tellin’ you this. Just as sure as I’m your brother, she’s thinkin’ about you. So now you gotta stay for dinner and be charming so her thoughts’ll be good thoughts. How bout it?”
“Well…I don’t know…” Hoss answered doubtfully. Being charming around women wasn’t his strong suit.
“Hey, it’s easy, big brother. Just ask her about herself. Women like to talk about themselves.”
“You think she wants to talk about her ex husband and her dead baby?” Hoss asked incredulously.
“No, you dope! Ask her about Germany, about her brother, about things she likes. That’ll get her goin’.” He slapped Hoss on the chest with the back of his hand. “You might even learn something!” Then he dangled the apple that he knew his brother couldn’t refuse. “And she’s a great cook! I mean I haven’t eaten this well since…well, since I can’t remember when.”
“Well…okay. I’ll try it. But I ain’t hopeful about it. I always get flustered.”
“Listen, you let her do the talkin’ and you won’t be flustered.” Then before Hoss could change his mind Joe called out for Rebecca.
“Rebecca, Hoss is staying for supper. I’ll fix plates for Carrie and me and we’ll eat in the bedroom.”
Rebecca looked slightly agitated.
“Is Hop Sing sick?” she asked Hoss.
“Uh…no…uh, I just don’t like what he fixed tonight and Joe said you had somethin’ special cooked up,” he stammered.
“That’s right,” Joe agreed. “What was it you were making?”
“Oh, yeah, sour…sour…what exactly is that again?” Joe asked.
“It’s a pot roast made with sour meat.”
Hoss shot his brother a poisonous glance. Joe smiled at him wanly.
“Did you ever make that for us before?”
“No, this is the first time. It is an old German dish. I thought you might like something different.”
“Well…sure…I mean, we’ve loved everything you’ve cooked,” said Joe quickly. “I’ll just go into the kitchen to fix up plates for Carrie and me. I guess you two can take care of yourselves.” And with that he headed off at a trot.
Rebecca looked down and then glanced shyly at Hoss from beneath her lashes.
“You don’t mind to eat in the kitchen? With just two people it seems silly to set the dining room table.”
“Heck no. I mean, I don’t want to put you to any trouble. I already been a lot of trouble this afternoon,” he replied nervously.
“Well then, come.”
To his surprise, Hoss thoroughly enjoyed the meal. Never judge a book by its cover, he thought, or a meal by its name or description. And he was pleased that the conversation flowed easily. Joe had been right. He asked Rebecca a lot of questions about her homeland, the relatives who still lived there, and her dead brother. She talked about them and then, with a little prodding, about her own likes and dislikes. She was a farm girl at heart and they shared a common love of animals. They swapped stories about the difficult calvings and foalings they had witnessed. They talked about pets that they had had and which were now gone. Never had Hoss felt so comfortable talking with a woman.
After dinner, Hoss got ready to leave. Rebecca walked him to the door. Hat in hand, he turned to face her. He coughed, then said, “Rebecca, I’d like to come call on you some day. If the weather warms up a little, I’d like to take you for a buggy ride.”
Her face grew sad.
“I don’t think that would be such a good idea.” She answered in a quiet voice.
“Why not? Listen, Rebecca, I ain’t never been one for fancy talk. I like you. I’d like to get to know you better. But if you don’t like me, then just say the word and I’ll leave you alone.”
She looked up at this giant of a man. His eyes were honest, open, and hopeful. She did care for him…more deeply than she thought possible considering the short time they had known each other. But it wouldn’t work. He didn’t know everything. If he did, his interest would disappear. What could she say that wouldn’t hurt his feelings?
“Hoss, I do like you…a great deal.” She smiled, and he thought how pretty she looked. Her eyes were such a deep shade of blue, her hair so fair. “But I think it best that we not be more than friends. You don’t know everything about me. If you did…”
“Rebecca, I know all I need to know. Is it because you’re divorced? Dadgum it, I don’t care about that. You had a right to divorce that man. It was what you should have done. I don’t give a hoot about your past. I’m thinkin’ about the present…and maybe the future,” he added quietly.
She looked so alarmed at his speech that he stopped talking.
“Because of things in my past, I have no future…I mean I have no future with another man. Please don’t ask me about it anymore. Please just be my friend!” she implored.
He was confused by what she had said, but he decided to let the matter drop…for now.
“Well sure, I’ll be your friend. And we don’t have to talk about this no more right now. I don’t want you getting’ all upset.”
A look of relief flooded her face.
“Thank you, Hoss. Thank you very much!”
“I’m the one who ought to be sayin’ thanks. That was a mighty fine meal. And you sure made my shoulder feel better.”
She smiled at him…a relaxed, happy smile.
“Well, I was happy I could help. And I’m glad you liked the sauerbraten. I have missed making some of the old country meals. Someday I will make it again for you, if you like.”
“I do like…I like very much,” he said with a wink, and she began to blush.
“Well, I’ll be goin’ now. See you again real soon, Rebecca.”
He put his hat on his head and walked toward his horse. She watched
him as he mounted and waved just before he rode away.
Joe was quick to tell Adam about the developments between Rebecca and Hoss. The eldest Cartwright brother was interested but chose to stay uninvolved. He didn’t believe in butting in unless he was asked. Besides, he had more serious matters on his mind. He had come home early the other day and Meg hadn’t greeted him at the door. Usually she ran from wherever she was in the house or yard to give him a welcoming kiss. It surprised him how quickly he’d become used to their little rituals. . He walked into the house, calling her name as he hung up his hat and unbuckled his gun belt. She called back to him that she was in the kitchen. He walked in and she had her back to him, stirring something in a pot.
“Well, this is a fine greeting,” he teased her. “Where’s my kiss?” She didn’t turn immediately. He frowned.
“Meg, honey, is everything alright?”
“Of course,” she answered and turned with her eyes closed and her lips upturned. Something wasn’t right. He felt it instinctively.
“Open your eyes.”
“I thought you were looking for a kiss.”
“Meg, I said open your eyes…now.”
She sighed and opened them. She obviously had been crying. Her eyes were swollen and red-rimmed.
“I didn’t expect you home this early,” was all she said.
“Obviously. What’s wrong? What happened?” he asked with concern.
She bit her bottom lip and shook her head as her eyes began to fill with tears. He took her by the upper arms and looked into her overflowing eyes.
“Sweetheart, tell me what it is…please!”
She drew in a ragged breath.
“I’m not pregnant again. Another month and no baby!” And she started to cry in earnest. In the almost six months they had been married, she had cried only once. It was when her puppy had been snatched by a coyote. She wasn’t weepy like Carrie. Oh, he had seen her eyes mist over once or twice, but she wasn’t one to cry. He pulled her into his arms and held her while she wept. When she had calmed down somewhat, he said, “Let’s go sit down and talk.” He led her, unresisting, into the living room. They sat on the sofa and he took her hands in his.
“Meg, I don’t know what to say to you anymore about this. I still think you’re worrying needlessly. Maybe all the pressure you’re putting on yourself has something to do with this…delay…in conceiving. I wish you could relax, let things happen naturally, and if things aren’t different at the end of a year, we’ll consider other options.”
“It’s not just that,” she responded.
“The other day I was in town and two of Carrie’s friends stopped to talk with me. They both asked me if I had any “announcement” to make yet. I said no, and I was polite to them and changed the subject, but I felt humiliated. I knew what they were really asking me.”
This was something Adam could understand. He knew his wife was proud…maybe too proud. Remarks like that or the hint that someone pitied her would wound her deeply.
“You should have just told them it was none of their business. And you shouldn’t let what other think bother you.”
“I know I shouldn’t. For most things I don’t. But this… Please don’t scold me Adam. I know I’m being an idiot. It’s just that I feel like somehow I’m not a complete woman…like I’m lacking… or failing you or something. I can’t even explain it to myself,” she rambled.
He massaged the backs of her hands with his thumbs while he thought.
“I’m sorry if it sounded like I was scolding you. If my opinion counts for anything, you are very much a complete woman. I love you and I didn’t marry you so you could be a baby-making machine. I married you because I love the person you are and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you. I told you before that there’s more than one way to make a family and we can discuss that when the time’s appropriate.” He lifted her chin with his hand.
“Look at me. You need something to take your mind off all this for a little while. Do you think you can pack a trunk and be ready to leave for a two week trip by Saturday?”
Her eyes widened.
“A trip? Where? And why?”
I thought I’d take you to San Francisco. We can go to the theater, attend lectures, eat out, and, if you’re really good, I’ll take you to the beach!”
“Oh Adam! It sounds wonderful! But wait! What about Carrie…the baby?”
“She’s not due until early April. This is the beginning of March. We’ll be back in plenty of time. What do you say? Think you can be ready?”
“Oh yes! I mean I’ll have to get busy right away, but I can do it.” She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him.
“Thank you!” Then she drew back and looked at him.
“Why are we doing this? Is it just to get my mind off myself?”
“Well, that’s part of it. But it occurred to me that I owe you a proper honeymoon, so we’ll take it now.” He was relieved to see her smiling again.
“That’s better.” He lifted her chin with his hand. “We’ll have a good time. I should have done this sooner. You rarely complain and I think sometimes I take advantage of your good nature.”
“Oh no!” she protested. “You’re very good to me. I don’t complain because there’s nothing to complain about.” She hugged him again, then stood up.
“Now I’d better get busy finishing supper or you’ll have something to complain about!”
Adam was as good as his word. Within the week they found themselves ensconced in one of the finer hotels in San Francisco. After they had settled in, the first thing he did was to bring Meg to the beach.
She looked around with wide eyes, inhaling the briny air and smiling happily.
“Oh, Adam! This is wonderful. Just think…I’ve been from coast to coast! Not many people can say that.” They strolled along arm in arm and he looked down, thinking how wonderful it was to see her so happy again.
“Well, what do think of the Pacific Ocean? Is it as good as the Atlantic?”
“Hmm. I’ll have to study it more and let you know. It seems the color is bluer. The Atlantic is so often gray or green. But the smell is the same. And the sound of the waves! It’s like a lullaby to me.” She stopped walking and turned, placing her arms around his neck.
“Thank you for bringing me here.” She stood on tiptoe and kissed him.
“You’re welcome. And if you’re interested, I like the Pacific better.”
“You wouldn’t let me kiss you when we were on the beach in Boston.”
“No, I wouldn’t, would I? But of course, that had nothing to do with the ocean.”
They strolled a while longer. Suddenly Adam stopped and asked her a question.
“Sweetheart, would you like to be here alone for a while? It’s perfectly safe. I know you used to go to the beach to be alone back east. I thought that maybe you could use a little thinking time here.”
Her eyes shown.
“I’d like that more than just about anything.” Then she looked at him and cocked her head.
“It wouldn’t bother you that I wanted to be alone for a little while? I mean, I don’t have to do it. Just being here is such a wonderful treat. I don’t want you to think I’m ungrateful.”
“Don’t be silly. I’ll leave and be back in an hour to get you. Just stay on this beach and don’t wander too far. There are plenty of people here so I’m sure you’ll be fine.” He gave her a quick kiss and strode off in the direction of the street.
For one glorious hour she sat on the sand. A subtle change overcame her as she enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of the ocean. She felt her whole body relax, as her mind freed itself from the tangle of thoughts that had troubled her back on the ranch. In Boston the weather would have been cold and dreary at this time of year, but here the temperature was cool and the sky was bright blue. She felt at peace.
Adam did everything in his power to keep her busy and entertained during their stay. They attended plays, concerts, and lectures. They spent afternoons shopping or strolling on the beach. Twice more he left her alone there to think and reflect. One afternoon he took her to a shop that specialized in musical instruments. He had her pick out a piano and made arrangements for it to be transported to the Ponderosa. Each evening they dined in the finest restaurants or hotels. He teased her because she never ordered anything but fish.
“You’ll have to swim home if you keep that up.”
She looked around surreptitiously, then stuck her tongue out at him. His laughter caused the other diners to stare at them.
They returned to the hotel one afternoon and when Adam went to fetch the key from the desk, the clerk handed him a telegram.
“This came for you about an hour or so ago, sir.”
Meg’s heart stood still. Telegrams usually brought bad news. And Carrie…what if something had happened? She watched anxiously, as her husband ripped open the envelope and quickly scanned the contents. He smiled.
“It’s good news. Relax.”
“Well, don’t keep me hanging here in suspense. What does it say?”
He read the telegram to her:
“Mary Paulette Cartwright arrived March 14. Mother and baby doing well. Father a wreck. Do not shorten your vacation. Will meet you at depot as planned.”
Meg clapped her hands together and laughed.
“A little girl! Oh that’s wonderful. And Carrie is all right. That’s such good news.” Then she noticed Adam still chuckling.
“What is it? Is there more?” she demanded.
“I’m laughing at the way they signed the telegram.”
“They? Didn’t Joe send it?”
“Apparently not. It’s signed ‘Grandpa and Uncle Hoss’.”
She laughed along with him.
“And now you’re Uncle Adam and I’m Aunt Meg.”
He watched her carefully to see if she was in any way upset, but she seemed genuinely happy for Carrie and Joe. He breathed a sigh of relief.
“Adam, we have to buy something special for the baby. Now that we know she’s a girl, I want to buy her a silver cup with her name engraved on it.”
“Don’t you think we’ve bought an awful lot of baby stuff already?”
She shook her head at him.
“You and I are going to be her Godparents. We need to give her something really nice.” She smiled again to herself. “I wonder who she looks like. She’s just got to be beautiful with Carrie and Joe as her parents. I can’t wait to see her.”
They began to walk toward the stairs.
“The baby came a little early, Adam. Do you think Joe and Carrie will keep Rebecca on for a while to help take care of her? I really like her and I hope I get a chance to say good bye to her before she leaves.”
He hesitated. He hadn’t shared with her the information that Joe had given him. He didn’t like to interfere in other people’s lives, especially their love lives. And in his experience most women tended to be natural matchmakers. Meg would probably be no different. But she would find out one way or another so he decided to tell her what he knew and avoid an unhappy scene at some point in the future.
They reached their room. She rushed right over to re-examine some of the baby items they had bought and he tossed his hat on the table. As he was removing his coat he said to her, “I think Joe’ll probably ask Rebecca to stay on, but not just to help Carrie with the baby.”
Meg continued to hold up the tiny baby clothes and examine them with delight.
“What do you mean? Why else would he ask her to stay?”
Adam cleared his throat. He didn’t answer immediately and she turned to look at him.
“What is it?” Her face grew troubled. “Is something wrong? Is there something you’re not telling me?” Her voice rose as she began to panic.
“No…nothing’s wrong,” he assured her. He shrugged and said, “It’s just that …well, Hoss has taken a fancy to Rebecca and I think Joe will try to get her to stay so Hoss can press his suit.”
Exactly what he thought might happen, did happen. Meg’s face lit up like the sun on the brightest of days. He winced. He had seen that look on other women’s faces before when the scent of romance was in the air. He hoped she might have a little more common sense and discretion than other women, but it seemed to be an inborn trait in females to play matchmaker.
“You’re serious?” she asked. Then before he could respond, “This is wonderful! I never would have guessed. And now that I think about it, they’d suit each other very well! She’d be perfect for Hoss. And, oh Adam, think about their children…all blue eyed blondes! They’d be so adorable!” Her hands were clasped in front of her as she stared off into the future seeing a row of tow-headed Cartwrights.
He rolled his eyes and shook his head. She was going faster than he thought…she already had his brother married and a father. He had to try to put a stop to this.
“Listen, sweetheart, I don’t think you should read too much into this. Rebecca hasn’t expressed much interest in Hoss, other than friendship. And it’s not a good idea to meddle in these things. People can get hurt and…”
“Oh, pooh! I wouldn’t think of meddling. But the thought of those two together is just too irresistible.” He eyed her skeptically. He could see the wheels turning at top speed in her head, regardless of what she said. She looked at him and smiled her sweetest smile.
“I don’t think it would be meddling to invite them both over for dinner to…to…tell them about our trip, do you?” He groaned.
“That would be treating them like a couple and I just thought I said…”
“Oh, Adam! A silly little dinner invitation isn’t like a real date or anything! I mean, they’d be with us. We’d be the chaperones. And if there are four people, conversation is so much easier. There won’t be any of those long, awkward pauses.”
“I’d like to remind you that back in Boston there were plenty of long pauses in our conversation, but I never regarded them as awkward. One of the things I noticed was that those pauses were very comfortable. That’s one sign of a good relationship…if you can be quiet together and not feel the need to fill the silence with a lot of idle chatter.”
Meg looked somewhat abashed. She walked over and stood in front of him, looking up and placing her hand gently on his chest.
“Well, you’re right, of course. I remember that too. And it’s still true. But won’t you please just agree to let me have them over once. I promise I won’t try to interfere any more than that.”
He thought about it. She kept her promises. And what was the harm of just one dinner? He’d insist that she invite them separately, so Rebecca wouldn’t feel as if they were already considered a couple. And if she didn’t want Hoss to bring her back to Joe’s, he and Meg would bring her back.”
He set out the conditions and she agreed to them.
“And you promise that you won’t get involved in this in any other way?” he asked as he looked into her eyes.
“I promise,” she answered solemnly.
“All right. But I think we’d all be better off by not interfering at all. I think fate has a lot to do with all this.”
“You’re absolutely right, Adam,” she said, pulling his head town for a kiss. To herself she added, “But sometimes fate needs a helping hand.”
It was their last evening in San Francisco. They had eaten in a very expensive restaurant, which had a small five-piece orchestra. Later they had danced while waiting for their coffee and dessert. Adam smiled and swirled his brandy as he watched Meg devour a rich French pastry. He silently congratulated himself. The trip had been everything he could have hoped. Meg seemed more relaxed and happy than she had in a long time. When they got home there would be the new piano for her to play and, despite what she said, Hoss and Rebecca to think about. He wished he could be sure about her reaction to baby Mary. He knew she loved Carrie and Joe and was truly happy for them, but would the infant be a reminder to her of what preyed on her mind? Well, he would try to be upbeat and positive. Maybe she would conceive soon and then this could be put behind them. He hoped so. He loved her more than ever and wanted her to be happy. It was ironic that with all the concern he had had about her adapting to life in Nevada, he had never given a thought to this one thing that might give her the most distress. But there was no way he could have anticipated it.
They were back in their room, undressing for the night. Meg was in her chemise and bloomers when a sparkle on her wrist caught her eye. As they had dressed for dinner, Adam handed Meg a flat black box. Inside was a gold bracelet with a flat gold charm in the shape of a heart. On one side was engraved ‘Meg” and on the other side, ‘Adam’. As he helped her with the clasp he said, “The jeweler assured me that these bracelets are the latest fashion. I hope you like it.”
She fingered the charm and examined the engraving.
“I love it. Thank you.” She kissed him and said, “You don’t have to buy me fancy things. You’re spoiling me.”
“I sincerely doubt that’s possible. I got you the bracelet because I love you and I thought you might like it.” He made it seems as simple as that.
She stood in her undergarments and looked at the bracelet again. Then she looked up at her husband and had an incredible sense of déjà vu. It was her wedding night all over again. He had already removed his boots and socks and was standing by the dresser with his shirttails untucked and the shirt unbuttoned. That was how she remembered him as she had nervously brushed her hair that first night.
Now he was busy removing his cuff links. She thought how very handsome he was. As he looked down she remarked on the length of his eyelashes. He was tall and strong, smart and kind, and he loved her. He had done so much to make her happy. She sent a quick prayer heavenward in thanks and added a plea for his good health and long life. Suddenly she was overcome with a wave of desire for him such as she had never experienced in all their months of marriage.
“Let me help with that,” she said, walking over to where he was struggling with the second cuff link. He held out his wrist, palm up, and she deftly removed the jewelry and placed it on the dresser with its mate. He smiled at her.
She grabbed hold of each side of the open shirt with her hands. She buried her nose in his chest and rubbed it back and forth inhaling his scent. His chest hairs tickled a little. She kissed him over his heart. She looked up and he was smiling quizzically at her.
“Adam, you’re so good to me. I love you so much. I want you to know I’m aware of all the things you do to make my life easy and keep me happy. I appreciate all of it.”
She swallowed. He said nothing, his head tilted, waiting for her to finish. She reached for his belt buckle.
“When you love me, you’re unselfish and…and I think you’re more concerned about my pleasure than your own. I want tonight to be different.” She unbuckled the belt and pulled it from its loops. She reached for the buttons on his pants. He said nothing, but watched with silent fascination.
“I want tonight to be different,” she repeated, as she unbuttoned each one slowly. “I want tonight to be very special for you. Just like you make everything special for me.”
She pushed his trousers down and he stepped out of them and kicked them behind him. He wore an abbreviated union suit bottom. The knitted cotton material clung to him, the undergarment ending a few inches above his knees. She stopped, as if unsure of what to do next. He reached out and tilted her chin up.
“Sweetheart, you don’t have to…”
“I want to,” she insisted, interrupting him. “I’m just not sure how to…what to…,” she fumbled for the right words.
“Whatever I do that gives pleasure to you,” he said gently, “if you do it, will give pleasure to me.” She nodded in understanding. He even made this easier for her. That thought, combined with the rush of desire that coursed through her veins, made the rest possible…simple…wonderful. Meg made love to her husband as unselfishly as he had always done to her.
Later they lay in each other’s arms, quietly contemplating a new turn in their relationship.
“Thank you for this trip. It was exactly what I needed. I really feel peaceful with myself and our…situation.”
“I’m glad you’ve enjoyed yourself, sweetheart. And as to our situation, as you call it, let’s not give it another thought until our first anniversary. If nothing’s happened by then, we’ll consider alternatives. More than anything, I want you to be happy.” He smiled to himself and added, “God knows, you’ve made me very happy.”
“Because of tonight?”
“Well that’s certainly a part of it! But that’s not what I meant. I’m just happy to be married to you. I guess I feel kind of peaceful too. I was darned lucky to find someone willing to put up with me.”
“Don’t talk like that. You’re very easy to live with.”
He kissed her forehead.
“Thank you. So I suppose this means you’re not going to run out on me just yet?”
She punched him lightly on the chest.
“Where do you get these ridiculous ideas?” She sighed dramatically. “You’re stuck with me. I took those marriage vows very seriously.”
He stroked her arm and said more seriously, “I know. So did I. I enjoy teasing you.” He pulled her closer.
“Let’s try and get some sleep now. We have a busy day ahead of us.”
Ben met them at the stage depot and Meg insisted they be taken directly to Joe’s house before going home. Hoss greeted them at the door.
“Hey you two! Welcome back. How was San Francisco?” he asked as Meg kissed him and Adam shook his hand.
“We had a nice time. What are you doing here?” Adam answered as Meg rushed off to see Carrie and the new baby.
“Just come over to visit the little gal.”
“Oh yeah? And which ‘little gal’ would that be?” his brother asked, placing his hat on the table.
Hoss blushed and stammered.
“Aw, Adam, I meant the baby…little Mary.”
Before Adam could respond, Meg came back.
“Hurry, Adam. You’ve got to see the baby. She’s beautiful.” She grabbed him by the hand and dragged him to the bedroom. Carrie was seated in a rocking chair, holding her little daughter. Joe was behind her talking baby talk and making faces at his child. Carrie looked up and said, “Adam! Welcome back. Come over here and see your niece.”
He walked over and looked down at the tiny baby, swaddled in a flannel blanket. Her eyes were closed and she was making sucking motions with her rosebud mouth. Her skin was so fair and delicate that you could see the tiny blood vessels just below the surface. There was a fine layer of dark downy hair on her head. He smiled at his brother and shook his hand.
“Congratulations, Joe. She’s beautiful.” He leaned down and gave Carrie an affectionate kiss. “She looks like you, I think, Carrie.”
“It’s really too soon to tell, but I think she has her pa’s nose. I hope she has his wavy hair, too. But no matter what, we love her to pieces. She’s only a few days old and now it seems like she’s been here forever. It’s hard to imagine what our life was like before her,” answered the proud mama, as she rocked gently in the chair.
“Come on, Adam. I owe you a drink. I bought one for everyone in the saloon the day after Mary was born,” Joe said, slapping his brother on the back. They left the room and Meg and Carrie were alone.
“Did you have a nice trip?” Carrie asked.
“We did, but one of the nicest parts was receiving the telegram about Mary. Wasn’t she born a little early, Carrie?”
“Yes. You know, I was so worried about giving birth, but she just decided she wanted to be born on March 14 and out she slipped! I had hardly any pain at all. It was all over before Joe got home. The doctor made it just in the nick of time. If it hadn’t have been for Rebecca, I don’t know what I would have done though. She was so calm and capable.”
“Well, thank heaven she was here! Where is she now? Did she leave?”
“Oh no! I told Joe I’d like her to stay on a while to help me adjust. He said it was fine and so I guess right now she’s in the kitchen getting dinner ready. Didn’t you see her when you came in?”
“No. But I noticed Hoss was here.”
The two friends looked at each other and broke out into a fit of giggles.
“You know?” asked Carrie.
“I know,” Meg responded. “But I promised Adam I wouldn’t interfere. However, he did say I could have them both to dinner one night. Think you can tell her you want an evening alone with Joe and the baby so I’ll have a good excuse?”
“Consider it done. Just tell me what night you want it to be.” And they started to laugh again.
The entire family ate at Joe’s that night. Since Adam and Meg were
expected, Carrie asked Rebecca to cook enough for everyone. It was
a wonderful, happy occasion, with most of the talk centering around the
newest Cartwright. Meg watched for any interaction between Hoss and
Rebecca, but they weren’t seated near each other so it was hard to determine
if something was going on. She did catch her brother-in-law casting
what she thought were longing glances at the young blonde woman, so she
decided that he had indeed lost his heart. Well, she had promised
Adam she wouldn’t interfere and she wouldn’t. But she loved Hoss
like a real brother and hoped that things would work out for him.
He deserved to be as happy as his brothers were.
It was April and spring had begun to change the landscape. The air was warmer, flowers were popping up all over, and the Cartwrights were incredibly busy as their herds of cattle began to produce their calves. Spring roundup was upon them and the Ponderosa was busy hiring all the extra hands it could find. Little Mary Cartwright was thriving and bringing joy to not only her adoring parents, but all the other Cartwrights as well. Rebecca Barton was still around, though she felt she was not really needed anymore. Every time she made the suggestion that it was time for her to leave, Carrie would come up with a list of reasons why she should stay. Truth be told, she would have accepted the flimsiest excuse to remain on the ranch.
Hoss was feeling pretty discouraged. He had made no progress whatsoever with Rebecca. He couldn’t quite figure out what the problem was. She said she liked him. They got along very well, laughing at many of the same things and talking comfortably with each other. She had never given any indication that she was anything but happy to see him when he showed up at Carrie’s, which was more and more frequently. Baby Mary’s arrival made for a wonderful excuse to drop by. He just couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t let their relationship progress to a more intimate level.
They had had dinner at Adam’s one night and the evening had been fun and relaxing. Adam was good with words and there were never any lulls in the conversation. When asked, she sang a few songs in German as Meg accompanied her on their new piano. She then agreed that he should drive her back to Carrie’s because it really was a much longer drive for Adam and Meg. After he assisted her down from the buggy, he held on to her for just a second, and he thought she almost leaned into him as she looked up into his eyes. Then she pulled back quickly and said ‘thank you’ and ‘good night’ before walking quickly into the house. But maybe he imagined it or was seeing something he wanted to see.
She also got along well with the rest of the family which was important to consider if…well…if. He wouldn’t allow himself to go to that place just yet. He had been burned badly before and it was best to go slowly, he had learned.
What was it in her past that made her so shy of another relationship?
He had a gut feeling that it involved more than just an abusive husband
and the death of her little boy, tragic as that was. He had to figure
out a way for her to tell him. Surely nothing could be as bad as
all that. Hoss was a big man with a big heart. He could forgive
just about anything. But he had to know what troubled her so.
He was also convinced that if she could unburden herself, she could look
for a future here instead of running off to Germany. Running off
to Germany…that was it! He smiled to himself. Now he knew exactly
what he had to do.
Rebecca walked into the living room where Carrie was seated in an armchair feeding the baby. Looking up Carrie said, “She’s a little pig!” and laughed as Mary suckled noisily.
“You are lucky to have such a healthy baby, even with her early arrival,” Rebecca said, smiling. Carrie noticed the gentle way Rebecca stroked the baby’s soft hair.
“Rebecca…I’m so sorry about your little boy. I hope it’s not too painful for you here.”
“Ah, Carrie. All babies are special and priceless. I was lucky to have my Eddie for four years. I am at peace about that part of my life. What would be the point of becoming bitter over all that? You are so kind to be concerned, but don’t worry. I rejoice with you in your little girl.”
Carrie moved Mary to her shoulder and began to gently pat her back.
“Wouldn’t you like to remarry some day and maybe have other children? Oh, I know no child could replace Eddie, but you’re young and it wouldn’t be hard for you to start over with a better man for your husband,” Carrie said with her usual candor.
Rebecca’s face clouded over.
“No. It is not possible. I have nothing to offer a man anymore,” she said a bit harshly.
“I know one man who might disagree with that,” Carrie answered, continuing to pat the baby’s back.
“I don’t wish to talk about it. Please don’t ask about this again.”
There was a strained silence, and then Mary burped loudly. The women looked at each other and laughed.
“See what I mean? She’s a little pig.”
Later that afternoon Hoss rode up to his brother Joe’s house. Rebecca happened to be in the yard, scattering chicken feed to the little flock of hens. He dismounted, tied his horse to the hitching post, and walked over to her. He removed his had and cleared his throat.
“Hello, Hoss. Are you here to see the baby again?” she asked as she continued to scatter feed. He coughed again.
“Well, no. Actually, I’m here to talk to you.”
“Me? What about?” She brushed her hands together to remove the feed residue.
“Well, it’s…it’s kinda about your leaving here.” He scratched the back of his head, unsure now of how to proceed with what he wanted to say.
“Well, can you talk while I gather the eggs?” she responded moving off in the direction of the hen house. He was right behind her. She picked up the egg basket and entered the small building. Hoss was so tall that he had to hunch over to avoid banging his head on the ceiling. Rebecca began to systematically check each nest, placing the eggs she found gently in the basket.
“Well, what I wanted to say is that I don’t think you should be so all fired eager to leave here.”
“I plan to stay just as long as Carrie needs me. When that is no longer the case, I go east to catch a ship for Germany. This has always been my plan. I see no reason to change it.” She brushed past him to search the other side of the building.
“Well, dadgum it, Rebecca, there’s no need for you to rush off.” He was becoming frustrated. It had taken all his courage to make this visit and here he was, bent over in a hen house, fumbling for words, while she seemed as calm as the breeze on a warm summer day.
“Are you about done with collectin’ eggs?” he asked with some irritation.
“Yes, I am done. And I think you are too. I’m not sure what you are trying to say, but I’m going back to Germany.” She threw this remark over her shoulder at him as she walked out of the hen house.
“Wait!” he called following her. “I just meant that…OUCH!” Watching her, he neglected to duck in the doorway and hit his forehead against the jamb. “Dadgum it…the dadburn door...,” he mumbled to himself as he finally got out into the fresh air, rubbing his head.
She heard him but didn’t turn around. He didn’t run after her but made her stop dead in her tracks with the following remark.
“That’s it! Run away. Run away to Germany. Run away from me. With all you’ve been through, I didn’t take you for a coward, Rebecca.”
She placed the egg basket on the ground and turned. Her blue eyes were sending out angry sparks and she walked up to him, place her hands on her hips and demanded, “What do you mean, I am a coward?”
Though she was a good 8 inches shorter than he was and many pounds lighter, at that particular moment an independent observer might have given her the edge in a fight. She was furious and her anger was written all over her face.
“Who are you, Hoss Cartwright, to call me names? I am many things, but I am not a coward. How dare you say that to me!”
“Who am I, Rebecca? Well, I’ll just tell you who I am. I’m the man who’s in love with you. That’s who I am. I know it and you know it. And what I said is true. You are a coward because you’re running away. If you weren’t, you’d stop avoiding me and we could talk this out.”
Her demeanor changed dramatically. Her hands dropped to her sides and she stared at the ground. Her shoulders seemed to slump. She was quiet a minute, then looked up at him. Her expression was sad and serious.
“I told you before. I will never marry again. I have nothing to offer a man.”
“Why don’t you let the man be the judge of that?” he asked gently.
She didn’t answer…just shook her head sadly.
“Rebecca, what do you know about storing apples for the winter?”
She blinked her eyes a few times and her expression grew puzzled.
“I said, do you know how to store apples for the winter…you know, in the cellar?”
He had managed to totally confuse her.
“What does that have to do with…?”
“Just answer me. How do you store apples in the cellar over the winter?”
“This is ridiculous!”
“Do you know how to do it?” he repeated.
She eyed him skeptically.
“Of course I know how to do it. I am a farm girl…remember!”
“Then tell me what you do. Please. Just tell me.”
She sighed and shook her head. But she complied.
“First you make sure the barrels are clean and dry. You dry them in the sun before you put them in the cellar. Then you pick over the apples. You remove any that are rotten or even have a small bruise. Finally you carefully place the apples in the barrels. If you do all this correctly, they will keep nicely all winter.”
“Why do you pick out the ones with a bruise?”
“Because, those apples can become rotten and one rotten apple can cause a whole barrel to become bad.”
Hoss smiled at her, nodding his head.
“That’s exactly right. And that’s what’s happening to you, Rebecca. Someplace inside you there’s a bruise. You aren’t throwing it away. You’re keeping it inside you and it’s going to cause the rest of your life to spoil. You’ve got to get it out…throw it out, and the sooner the better.”
She shook her head, her voice increasing in volume as she answered him.
“You don’t know what you are saying. I cannot listen anymore. I beg you, Hoss…forget about me. Leave me alone! I have nothing to give you. There can be nothing between us!” And she turned and fled into the house, leaving the basket of eggs on the ground.
Hoss stood silent for a moment, then picked up the basket and walked into the house.
“Carrie!” he called out, setting the basket and his hat on the table.
“I’m in here,” she answered from the bedroom.
He found her changing Mary’s diaper.
“Is that better you little stinky girl?” she crooned, picking the baby up and turning to face her brother-in-law. “Hi! What are you doing here, as if I didn’t know!”
“I came to have a talk with Rebecca, but I think I really messed things up,” he said, as she placed the baby in her cradle for a nap, carefully covering her with a blanket.
“Come on downstairs and we’ll talk,” she told him, closing the door behind her, as they walked out of the bedroom.
They sat on the couch and he told her what had happened.
“Hmm. I know that you’re right about something inside troubling her, but she won’t talk to me about it either. The only thing I can think of is to see if she’ll speak with Meg. But Meg promised Adam…” and here she stopped abruptly.
“What’d she promise him?”
“Well, she promised him she wouldn’t get involved. I don’t think she’ll go back on her word. She’s funny that way.”
“Not even if I ask her?”
“Maybe, but I think she’d have to tell Adam first.”
“Well I can take care of Adam,” Hoss said with feeling. “I’ll just tell him I want her to get involved. Won’t be much he can say to that!
“Tell you what. I’ll speak to Meg, you speak to Adam, they’ll speak to each other, and then we’ll see. How’s that?” Carrie said, in what she tried to make a hopeful tone.
“I guess it’s the best we can do,” Hoss agreed glumly.
He left right away to find his older brother and Carrie asked Rebecca to mind the baby while she rode over to Meg’s. She was deliriously happy to be able to ride Taffy again. In fact she was deliriously happy just to be able to walk around her house again after three months in bed.
That night Adam reluctantly agreed that Meg should see if Rebecca would speak to her, since this was Hoss’ request. She sent over an invitation for afternoon tea for Carrie, the baby, and Rebecca. It happened to be a lovely spring day and Carrie used that as an excuse to take the baby outside for a while.
“You two sit and talk,” she insisted. I want to go over to the barn and talk to Davis about something. And Mary can use the fresh air.” With that, she was gone.
Meg turned to Rebecca.
“I’m so glad Joe and Carrie convinced you to stay on after Mary was born. I was afraid you’d be gone before we got back.”
“I think you had a very nice trip, no? You seemed a little different when you returned,” Rebecca answered. Meg nodded.
“Before we left something was troubling me. But in San Francisco I managed to find some peace.” She slid a plate of cookies closer to Rebecca. “Was it so obvious that there was something on my mind before I left?” she asked curiously.
“No, I don’t think it was so obvious. There was just something in your eyes…some sadness perhaps,” the other woman responded, helping herself to some of the baked goods.
“You’re very observant. Do you think Carrie noticed?”
“No. She was very rightly concerned with her own health and the health of the child,” Rebecca said, as Meg refilled their cups with more tea.
There was a little silence as Meg thought about how to approach the topic she wanted to discuss.
“Rebecca, I’m going to share something with you that no one but my husband knows…not even Carrie, and she’s my best friend. What’s been making me sad is my failure to conceive. More than anything, I want to give my husband a child…actually a lot of children. Before we were married he’d indicated that he’d like a large family. Well, it’s been six months and nothing has happened. Adam took me to San Francisco as a diversion. But something I didn’t expect happened there. You see, Adam’s told me over and over that if I can’t have children we’ll adopt. He said a family is what you make it. He and Hoss and Joe are half brothers, but you’d never know it. For them, they’re just brothers. He repeated this to me a number of times, but in San Francisco I actually started to believe it. We agreed we’d wait until we’ve been married a year and then adopt if necessary. I honestly don’t think that Adam understands how this whole thing strikes at the core of my womanhood, but that’s not the point. The point is that he loves me so much that it doesn’t matter to him whether I produce a child.” She stopped and chuckled as she stirred some sugar into her cup.
“He told me I wasn’t just a baby making machine to him. And the reason I’m telling you all this is because there’s a similar core of goodness in all the Cartwright men. I guess they get it from my father-in-law. He’s quite a special and unique man. So what I’m trying to say is this.” Meg spoke as earnestly as she could. “Whatever it is in your past…whatever you’ve done…whatever you think is so horrible, I’ll bet Hoss could understand about it. There isn’t a kinder, more good-hearted man in the world than he is.
And I wish you’d just give him the opportunity to prove it to you. The decision is yours, of course. And if you don’t have any feelings for him, then that’s another matter entirely. But whichever it is, I think you should talk to him and not try to avoid him.” Meg stopped talking briefly and looked hard at Rebecca, but she couldn’t tell whether her words had any effect.
“All right. I’ve said what I wanted to and I won’t bring this up again. And I apologize if you think I’ve stuck my nose where it doesn’t belong. I love my brother-in-law and I’d like to see him happy. I like you and I’d like to see you happy as well. Don’t you think you should at least give yourself the chance? I hope you’re not angry with me.”
Rebecca looked down into her teacup, then looked up at Meg and smiled just a bit.
“Thank you for sharing with me your story. Your husband is right. You are worried too early. I did not conceive my Eddie until we had been married nine months. As to the rest…well, you have given me something to think about. And I am not angry with you. I know you spoke out of kindness and concern.”
Meg smiled back, mentally crossing her fingers.
For the next ten days all the Cartwright men were going to be out on the range, rounding up the heifers and their new calves, driving them up to pastureland at higher elevations. It was the first time Carrie and Joe and Meg and Adam would spend any time away from each other. Meg had the feeling that Adam was going to suggest that she stay at Carrie’s so she beat him to the punch and suggested it herself, one night at dinner.
“Good idea, sweetheart. I’ll feel better knowing you’re all together and closer to Virginia City,” he said, as he cut through his meat. Meg put down her fork in disgust.
“Adam, will there ever be a time when I can stay here in my own house alone?”
“Sure…just not yet,” he told her, spooning gravy onto his potatoes. He could see where this conversation was going so he changed the subject.
“Did you speak with Rebecca?”
She knew what he was doing, but she decided not to pursue the other topic. One of the reasons she was so willing to stay at Carrie’s was because she thought she might still have some influence over Rebecca, although she would have to be very subtle.
“Yes, I spoke with her, but I’ve decided to stay out of that whole situation. I guess I agree with you that if they’re meant to be a couple it will happen, with or without my interference.” She picked up her fork again and resumed eating.
“Wise decision, Meg. You did what you could. Now leave them
to work it out for themselves.”
“Hey Adam…did you notice Carrie didn’t even shed one tear when we rode away?” Joe asked his older brother as they trotted off to meet Ben and Hoss. “She’s gettin’ so much better about that stuff. Maybe it’s the baby. You can’t act like a kid yourself when you’ve got that kind of responsibility.”
“No offense, Joe, but I was saying goodbye to Meg and didn’t notice whether Carrie was in tears or not,” Adam said, then added, “So you’re feeling the weight of paternal responsibility, huh?”
“I’ll tell you this, Adam. I didn’t sleep a wink the first three nights after Mary was born.”
“She kept you up crying?”
“No… I mean she cried, but that’s not what kept me up. I couldn’t sleep cause I was just plain scared. It suddenly hit me that I was responsible for this little baby’s life. I don’t know…it was different before she was actually born…but after!…well, I got sorta panicky.”
“I think that’s probably pretty natural, Joe. How are you feeling now?”
“Oh now I’m fine. Gosh, she’s so cute! I think she recognizes my voice.”
“Would that be the high pitched gurgling noise I hear coming from you when you’re around her?” his brother asked with a smile on his face.
Joe laughed ruefully.
“Yeah. I guess I do act like kind of an idiot around her, but I can’t help it. She’s only a month old and I can’t even remember what it was like before she was born. And I’ll tell you this, big brother. I thought nothing could make me feel as good as being married to Carrie…you know, the responsibility of providing for her and everything. But being a father…there’s nothing like it on earth. I look at that little baby and I just want to protect her and give her the best of everything. I couldn’t be happier. I’m one lucky man, Adam.”
Adam glanced at his younger brother as they broke into a canter. This past year had changed Joe to an incredible degree. The brothers had always been very different in temperament. Joe was hot-tempered…quick to anger and react. Adam was more given to contemplation of a situation before he took action, although he’d been known to make lightening quick decisions when the occasion called for it. Joe was also more light-hearted than his older brother was. His sense of humor was legendary, he was given to playing pranks, and his laugh was high-pitched and infectious.
Adam’s amusement derived from the ironic twists that life presented. His wit was dry and sometimes beyond his brothers’ complete comprehension. He noticed that he was laughing a lot more now that he was married. He thought about just why that was. Certainly he was incredibly happy, but it was more than that. His wife was an enchanting and charming creature. Her feminine perspective on things was a constant source of amusement to him, which was fine as long as she didn’t think he was laughing at her. And there had been a number of occasions where she was right about something and he was wrong. And she didn’t automatically defer to him as just about everyone but his father did. That could be frustrating, but more often than not it was fun verbally tussling with her. Besides all that, she always rose to the bait when he teased her. So he found himself laughing more than he ever had before.
But the change in Joe had little to do with his personality. Adam
supposed that Joe would always be more light-hearted than he was.
What had changed so much was Joe’s level of maturity. Overnight he
had gone from being a kid brother to a responsible husband and father.
The precarious condition of their baby in the last three months of Carrie’s
pregnancy certainly had a lot to do with it. Adam saw a friend and
equal when he looked at Joe now…not the pesky kid brother of only a few
short years ago. “Little” Joe had become a fine man.
Any illusions that Ben Cartwright had that this roundup would be like old times were quickly shattered. Oh, he had his three sons with him. They automatically fell into their old routines with regards to who would be doing what job. But he sensed an anxiousness in both Joe and Adam to be done and done quickly. They used to enjoy the quiet times together with the other wranglers, most of whom were unmarried, around an open campfire, swapping tall tales and telling jokes. They’d regale each other with stories of other drives and the varied and sundry events that had occurred on them. Now these two seemed to want to push forward with as much speed as possible, rising even earlier than usual and working till it was too dark to see. Ben stepped in to put a stop to it before the men began to complain.
“Listen you two,” he said to them when he got them alone one evening after supper, “I know you want to get home, but it’s no good for the men or the cattle if we push ‘em too hard. The drive’s gonna take nine or ten days and nothing you can do is gonna change that. Pushing is just asking for trouble. Someone could get hurt.”
Adam nodded silently but as Ben walked away Joe complained, “We could move a little faster.”
“Pa’s right, Joe. If we rush, something’s sure to happen to make the drive longer. This is one of those times when the fastest way to get the job done is to go slowly,” his brother answered.
As if this wasn’t enough, Hoss was moody for most of the drive. As usual he did more than his share of work and was the first one called upon when any real muscle was needed. But he didn’t joke around very much, and what concerned Ben most of all was that Hoss didn’t seem to have much of an appetite.
“Something on your mind son?” he asked during a stop at on a riverbank to let the cattle drink. Hoss, astride his horse Chubb, removed his hat and resettled it on his head.
“Whatta ya mean, Pa?” he said, gazing out over the herd.
“Well, you don’t seem much like yourself, Hoss. You’re awfully quiet and Cookie tells me you never even go back for seconds at meals. That alone tells me something isn’t quite right!” Ben said with a chuckle.
“I just got some thinkin’ to do, Pa. I guess I just don’t feel much like jokin’ around.” He looked at his father and smiled weakly. “And I eat enough…you don’t have to worry none about that.”
“Anything you’d like to share with me, son? Sometimes it helps to talk if there’s something on your mind.”
Of his three sons, Hoss was the one most likely to confide in his father, the one least embarrassed to share his feelings. Adam was private and kept his own confidences. Joe, being the youngest and always trying to prove himself, frequently tried to work things out alone, resisting help unless a situation got completely beyond his control. But Hoss was not unwilling to ask for help or advice. Although they had known their share of romantic problems in the past, his other two boys were both now very happily settled. Nothing would please Ben more than if Hoss could share that same pleasant fate Right now he was wearing his heart on his sleeve and Ben ached for him. His woebegone appearance had something to do with Rebecca Barton, Ben was certain, but what exactly was the problem? He didn’t like to pry, but there was no harm in offering to listen.
“Dadgum it, Pa. I dunno. You know I ain’t never had much luck with women. Well, I kinda been courtin’ Rebecca…you know…Rebecca Barton who works for Joe and Carrie.”
“I know who you mean, son. What seems to be the problem? Doesn’t she return your feelings?”
“Well, that’s just it, Pa. It’s the strangest thing. She says she does care for me. I mean she actually said it in words. But when I try to move things along at all, she backs off. She keeps saying something about her past and that she don’t have nothin’ to offer a man, but she won’t be any more specific than that. Then I really messed things up good by callin’ her a coward for not facin’ whatever that thing is and now I don’t think she’ll speak to me at all. I’m afraid by the time we get back from this here roundup she’ll be gone.” He paused a second and turned to his father, his expression sad and defeated.
“I really care about her, Pa. I really do.”
Ben began to chuckle. Hoss flushed and he looked angrily at his father.
“What’s so all-fired funny?” he demanded.
Ben raised his hand and shook his head.
“I’m sorry, son. I’m not laughing at you. I’m just amused by how similar this situation is to the one I was in before I married your mother…similar but reversed.” And he laughed again at the memory.
“Whatta ya mean, Pa?”
“Well, your mother was very good to Adam and me when we stopped in her store on our way West. I’ve told you before that Adam was sick and your mother was very kind to him and to me, although I was anything but nice to her.”
“You weren’t?” Hoss asked in astonishment. He had never been told this part of the story of his parents’ marriage before.
“No, I wasn’t very nice to her at all. You see, son, I was very proud and it bothered me more than I can say to accept help, especially from a woman! But that was a bad sort of pride and I overcame it for the sake of my little boy. I don’t have to tell you, Hoss, your mother was a beautiful woman…inside and out. When I found myself attracted to her, I felt I was betraying the memory of my first wife, Elizabeth. By then your mother had developed some feelings for me, but I wouldn’t let her near me, just like Rebecca is keeping you away. It doesn’t really matter that the reasons are different. There were two people in love and one wouldn’t let the other into his or her life. That’s what I mean about the situations being similar.”
Hoss looked at his father in astonishment.
“ Well, dadgum it, Pa, what happened? How’d you end up finally gettin’ married?”
“It was all your mother’s doing. She was a plain-spoken woman, son, and intuitive, too. She ignored my rudeness and bad manners and told me what an idiot I was being. She said I was using the memory of Elizabeth to prevent anyone from getting close to me.” Ben took off his hat and wiped his brow with his kerchief. Then he continued.
“You know Hoss, your mother was the gentlest woman on earth. There’s a lot of that part of her in you. But that day she was furious and let me have it with both barrels!” Ben looked off into the distance, recalling the events of that time in his life. He shook his head and smiled.
“Well, she got through to me. She had run out of the room and I ran after her. And right there in the middle of the street, she accepted my proposal—right before I made it!”
“You’re kiddin’!” Hoss said, a grin splitting his face.
“Nope. That’s exactly what happened. If she hadn’t been so persistent, you and I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.” He looked at his second son and smiled.
“Thank God she was! Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that you can’t give up. If Rebecca means that much to you, then you’ll pursue her.” He was silent briefly.
“But I want you to remember something son. I know you. I know that you have a big heart and can forgive just about anything. But you have to think about how her problem or secret or whatever it is will affect your future. You have to remember to consider that,” Ben added, making a veiled reference to a previous love affair of Hoss’ that had turned out very badly
“I know what you’re referrin’ to, Pa. But I can’t imagine anything in Rebecca’s past that could be similar to Regan’s. I…I can’t really explain it, Pa. I never was much good with words. But I think there’s some sorta pain in her past…more than just that stuff about her husband.” The big man sighed, then turned to his father with a shy smile.
“Thanks, Pa. If Rebecca’s still at Joe’s when we get back, I’ll have it out with her. You’re right. I can’t give up.”
“And if she’s already left?”
“Then I guess I’ll just have to go after her,” he said with determination. He adjusted his hat again.
“We better get these cattle movin’, Pa. We got a drive to finish!”
The last night of the drive was always a sort of celebration. The huge herds had been successfully driven to the pastures that would feed and fatten them till the fall roundup.
The men had branded the new calves along the way, as they rested or watered the herds. Everyone was satisfied with a job well done and the wranglers were looking forward to the bonuses they knew would be in their next pay. There was a lot of light-hearted discussion of the best way to use the money. An awful lot of it would find its way into the saloons in Virginia City and be passed from one hand to another during marathon poker games.
Ben Cartwright sat watching and listening as he sipped a cup of coffee. He shook his head ruefully. His three love-sick sons, for that was exactly what they were, were making preparations for the return home tomorrow. They bathed in a nearby stream and wore a set of clean clothes they had brought a long. Of course this didn’t go unnoticed or uncommented upon by the rest of the men.
“Hey Joe! You think you’re sweet enough now?” one of them called out as the youngest Cartwright drew a comb through his wet hair. “Maybe you wanna get yourself some fancy French parfume!” he added and there was a burst of laughter from some of his friends.
“Listen, Ripton, you might have better luck with the ladies if you didn’t smell so much like a cow yourself,” Joe shot back good naturedly to another burst of laughter. He packed away the comb and walked over to his father, sitting down beside him.
“It was a good drive, huh, Pa?”
“A very good drive, Joseph. And now I’m sure you’re looking forward to getting home and having a few days with your family.”
“Yeah, I can’t wait to see Carrie and Mary. Gee, Pa, in ten days the baby could have changed so much. I hope she remembers me!” Ben smiled.
“Oh, I don’t think you have to worry too much about that. But enjoy every minute with her, Joe. Your children are grown almost before you know it.”
Something in his father’s voice made Joe look up. Ben was watching him with a strange look in his eyes.
“Don’t worry, Pa,” he answered softly, “I will.” He bit his lip, stared at the ground, then looked at his father again.
“I hope I can be half the father to Mary that you’ve been to me, Pa. I know I gave you a rough time, and I’m sorry for that. I guess I’ve said it before, but…well, thanks for everything you’ve done for me. I think I appreciate it more now that I have a child of my own.”
Ben put his hand on Joe’s shoulder and gave it an affectionate squeeze.
“Well,” he laughed, “you were a challenge at times. When I think back, I’m not sure whether raising you kept me young or gave me most of this grey hair! I guess a little of both!” And Joe joined in his father’s laughter.
His brothers approached and Joe said, “I hope you’re not planning on stickin’ around too long when we get back, Hoss. Adam’ll be gone as soon as he picks up Meg, but what are you gonna be doing?”
Before his brother could answer, Ben broke in.
“Now just a minute. You weren’t laboring under the delusion that we’d ride into Joe’s yard, Adam would bring Meg home to his house and Hoss and I would just disappear, were you?”
“That’s the delusion I’ve been laboring under, Pa,” Adam answered, scratching his chest lightly with his fingers. “You know something we don’t?”
“Well it seems to me you failed to take into consideration any plans the women might have made.”
“Plans? What plans?” Joe asked, frowning.
“It’s my educated guess,” Ben stated, “that when we get back to your house, we won’t be going anywhere. I’d be willing to bet that there have been preparations under way for the better part of a week for a meal, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time. So we will eat, pay the appropriate compliments, and see what happens then. Anyone care to take me up on it?”
Adam stared at his father for a second, then bent deeply at the waist while flourishing his hat.
“I bow to your age and wisdom on the subject,” he said. Joe groaned. If Adam thought Pa was right, then that’s exactly what was going to happen.
“A big meal?” Hoss asked, showing more enthusiasm than he had in the last ten days. “Say! That sounds great. Maybe Rebecca would play checkers with me afterwards. Or we could all play charades or somethin’!”
His two brothers looked at each other. Joe’s expression had taken on tragic proportions. Adam folded his lips together tightly, shook his head slightly at his younger brother, then turned and addressed Hoss.
“After dinner why not take her for a buggy ride? The weather’s warm and there are plenty of fields of pretty flowers down by the lake. Women like that. And it’ll give you a little…you know…privacy.”
Hoss considered this suggestion for a moment.
“Dadgum it, Adam! We don’t call you the smart one for nothin’! That’s a great idea and as soon as we can leave polite like, then that’s just what I’m gonna do.”
Joe walked over to Adam and wrung his hand, almost painfully.
“Thanks older brother! All we’d need is for him to suggest an evening of playing charades. Thank you!”
Adam extricated his hand and rubbed it. He swore he detected a hint of moisture in Joe’s eyes as he continued to express his gratitude.
“Your welcome, but you really don’t have to thank me, Joe. My motivation was entirely selfish.”
“Well,” Joe thought to himself with a smile as Adam walked over to have a last look at Sport before he went to sleep, “I may not be able to get my hands on Carrie right away, but at least I’ll be able to play with the baby.”
“Joe, you most certainly cannot play with the baby now. She’s been fussy all morning and I finally got her to sleep.” Carrie was stirring a pot on the stove.
“Darlin’, I’ve been gone ten long days. Sometimes the only thing that kept me from going crazy was thinking about seeing you and Mary.”
“I know you were gone ten days. I missed you every single minute of every single day. But the baby needs her sleep. She’ll nap for a couple of hours and you can play with her then. Now get out of the kitchen. We still have some cooking to do.” She turned back to the stove, then whirled around and called to her husband, “And don’t you go sneaking into the bedroom to look at her either!”
Joe mumbled something under his breath and stalked back into the living room where his father and brothers were seated. This wasn’t the homecoming he had envisioned. Oh it had started out all right. They had ridden into the yard where Meg was shaking the crumbs out of a tablecloth. She clasped the cloth to her breast as they rode in. Adam had ridden directly over to her, dismounted, dropped his reins on the ground and taken her in his arms. He didn’t kiss her immediately, but just looked at her. He ran his fingers over her cheek and under her chin.
“I missed you so much,” she whispered, just before he bent his head. The tablecloth was trapped between them as her arms encircled his neck. They spent a pleasant interval re-familiarizing themselves with each other’s scent, taste, and feel.
Meanwhile, Joe was shouting for Carrie at the top of his lungs. She came flying out of the house, her skirts hitched up, and threw herself into his arms. He kissed her and swung her around while she laughed with glee.
Rebecca walked out onto the porch and watched all the activity. Ben and Hoss had dismounted, tied up their horses, and walked toward the house. She greeted them with a shy smile. Hoss was grinning because she was still here. He decided to take it as a good sign.
Ben had been correct about the meal. Meg told Adam they had been planning it for four days. As they ate, they laughed and talked and caught up on what had happened during the drive. It was a most congenial feast, but no one was surprised when Adam said he and Meg would be leaving right after they finished their dessert. Ben declared that he had to get home and make sure his house was still there. Then he turned to Hoss.
“What about you, son? Are you coming with me?”
“Not right now, Pa. Rebecca’s agreed to go for a buggy ride with me. I’ll see you later back home.” His father just smiled at him and nodded.
“Shouldn’t we stay to help you clean up?” Meg asked Carrie as Adam was hitching up their carriage.
“Don’t be silly! Rebecca and I will take care of all this in the morning. You go home and give your husband a proper welcome,” came the saucy reply.
“Carrie!” Meg scolded, but Carrie noticed the rosy color in her friend’s cheeks and just laughed.
Hoss drove down to the lake, as Adam had suggested. It was early evening and still quite light out. When Rebecca remarked on an especially colorful field of wild flowers, Hoss stopped the carriage and helped her out so she could pick some. She was placing them on the floor of the buggy when Hoss took her arm and said, “Rebecca, we have to talk.”
She looked at him directly, unblinkingly, and nodded her head.
“Yah. You are right. We must talk.”
Hoss had noticed that when she got excited or angry or was trying to talk very quickly, Rebecca would revert to using more German words and her accent would get thicker. And now that she had agreed to talk with him, he wasn’t sure how to begin. But, to his surprise, she spoke first. She had walked to the front of the buggy and was stroking the horse’s soft nose. She held onto the bridle but looked up into Hoss’ eyes and said, “I tell you the whole story now.” She took a deep breath and began.
“You know that my husband killed my little boy. But what you don’t know is that this was our second child that he killed. When my Eddie was almost three I found myself again with child. I was about five months along when one night my husband came home very drunk. He began to beat me. I fell to the floor.” She stopped talking and placed her hand over her abdomen.
“I fell to the floor,” she repeated, “and he kicked me here. He kicked me again and again. The pain…I cannot describe it.” She again stopped briefly, took a breath, and continued.
“I passed out. Perhaps he continued to beat me…I don’t know. I can’t remember. Anyway, when I woke, I was bleeding all over the floor. There was so much blood that my husband got the doctor.” She laughed bitterly.
“I think he was afraid I would die and he would be blamed. In any case, he told the doctor I was pregnant and that something was going wrong. To make a long story short, I lost the baby and I almost died myself. The one thing that kept me alive was the thought of my little son.”
Hoss listened in sickened disbelief to what Rebecca was saying.
“Rebecca, didn’t that doctor suspect nothin’? You musta had bruises all over you!”
“Oh, I’m sure he did. But I told you that the law cannot intervene in a domestic situation. The way the law is written, my husband was just disciplining me. He is allowed to do that. Any husband is.”
“Then that’s a law that outta be changed!”
Rebecca nodded her head sadly.
“Yah, that’s a law that must be changed. And I should have left my husband. Perhaps then my son would still be alive. But I was so sick and I had nowhere to go. And there is another reason I am telling you all this, Hoss. After I lost the baby the doctor examined me. He told me that he didn’t think it would be possible for me to have any more children. He said he could not be certain, but he believed the beating damaged me.”
She stroked the horse’s nose again and rubbed her cheek against its face. Then she looked up at the big, kind man standing in front of her
“So this is why I say to you that I have nothing to offer a man anymore. A woman wants to give her husband a child…perhaps many children. This is not a thing I have to offer. Do you understand now? Do you understand why I rebuffed your kind attentions?”
Hoss had removed his hat and was holding it in front of him. He stared at it as if it might magically put the words into his mouth that he wanted to say. Then he looked up at the young woman in front of him. Her face was calm but her blue eyes expressed sadness and resignation. When he failed to answer her, she said, “Next week I leave for the East. I have saved enough to get me back to my family in Germany.”
“I don’t want you to go back, Rebecca. I want you to stay. Nothing you just told me changes the way I feel about you.”
“Hoss, you understood what I said?”
“Of course I did. You told me you can’t have children. And I’m tellin’ you that it don’t matter none to me. It’s you I want in my life. If you can’t have children, well… then we won’t have any. If you want ‘em, then we can adopt. Heck, there’s lots of kids that need a good home.” Hoss put his hat back on his head.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m real sorry for all them things that happened to you, but there weren’t none of them your fault. I just hope I never run into that ex-husband of yours because if I did I’d probably end up in jail myself for what I’d do to him.” His face reddened with suppressed rage. He looked out over the field of wild flowers, then back at Rebecca.
“But I don’t want to talk about him. I want to talk about you…and about me. What do you say Rebecca? Will you stay?”
She bit her bottom lip and looked up at him, continuing to stroke the horse’s cheek.
“You are sure about what you said?” she asked softly.
“I ain’t never been more sure about anything else in my whole life,” he stated with conviction.
She hesitated briefly before answering.
“Then…yah, I will stay.” She looked at him and smiled shyly.
“Well hot diggity!” he said in a very quiet voice. He reached out and brought her gently into his embrace. His size had always made him extra careful when handling fragile items or small creatures. He was doubly so now, holding this most precious woman. He cleared his throat.
“I want to do this right, Rebecca. You deserve it.” His mouth went dry and he thought his knees might buckle, but he looked at her lovely face and regained his equilibrium.
“Rebecca Barton,” he began, but she stopped him.
“No, Hoss, please say Schaeffer…not Barton. My maiden name was Rebecca Schaeffer. Barton is just a bad memory.”
“Sure…sure,” he responded and then began again.
“Rebecca Schaeffer, I love you. Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
Her smile was radiant.
“Yah, mein liebchen, I will become your wife. I love you too.” Then she added softly in German, “Ich lieb dich, Hoss.”
“Well I didn’t understand the German, but I sure understood the English!”
And he bent his head and kissed her. She stood on tiptoe and wrapped her arms around his neck. He had his arms around her waist and when he stood up he brought her right off the ground and held her there securely while he explored her mouth with his own. She felt as light as a feather in his arms and just so darn good!
They broke off the kiss and he set her on the ground. His plain face shown as brightly as the sun on a summer day.
“Wow! Dadgum it, Rebecca, I just can’t rightly believe you said yes. I can’t believe how lucky I am!” He held her gently in the circle of his arms.
“No, mein liebchen, it is I who am lucky.” She stroked his face with her hand. “I am honored that you asked me.”
“Hey, Rebecca, you’re gonna have to teach me all them German words that you keep sayin’.” She laughed and the sound of her laughter was one of the most beautiful things Hoss had ever heard. It was a light tinkling, and it reminded him of the pretty glass Chinese wind chimes Hop Sing had hanging outside the kitchen.
“Ach! Yes I will teach you…unless you prefer I don’t use German at all? I only do it when I am excited…and right now I am very excited.”
“Oh no! I want you to keep usin’ them German words. I kinda like the sound of ‘em. Besides, they make you sorta special…not that you’re not special anyway!” he hastened to add. And again he heard the sound of her laughter.
“Well then, we begin right now! ‘Mein liebchen’ means something like ‘my darling’ or ‘my love’ and ‘Ich lieb dich’ means I love you. If I slip and use other words, you just stop me and I will tell you what they mean, alright?”
“Sure!” He brought her to him for a hug, then stepped back, his eyes lit up like lanterns.
“Say Rebecca, we gotta go tell everyone the good news. I want everyone to know what a lucky son-of-a-gun I am. Let’s get goin’! We can stop at Adam’s first and work our way back.”
“No Hoss!” she stopped him. “We cannot do that right now.”
“Why not?” he asked, puzzled.
“Think! Your two brothers have just spent ten days and nights away from their wives. They both will be busy tonight and not appreciate if we barge in.” Rebecca, Hoss was to learn, had little embarrassment when it came to matters of sex and love making. Perhaps it was because she didn’t have a puritanical American upbringing or perhaps because she had been raised on a farm, where these matters were more routinely discussed. Whatever the cause, she was always to be frank with her husband when the topic arose, though she was circumspect around others.
“Well dadgum it, I want to tell someone!” Hoss exclaimed in frustration.
“Then we go and tell your father! He is not with anyone tonight, is he?”
“Just Hop Sing.” And Hoss burst out into loud guffaws of laughter. “That’s what we’ll do. We’ll go tell Pa!”
Hoss took Rebecca’s hand and led her back to the carriage. Just before he assisted her into the seat he took her in his arms for another sweet kiss. Then he looked down at her and winked.
get goin’, mein liebchen,” he said.
The next morning Meg and Adam were eating a quiet breakfast when a hand from the Ponderosa rode up and told them that Ben wanted them over at Carrie and Joe’s as soon as they could get there. Meg was panicky, thinking immediately of the baby, but Adam calmed her, saying that he thought they might be in for a pleasant surprise. He wouldn’t tell her any more than that though. When they arrived the entire family was there. A blushing Hoss made the announcement of his engagement to Rebecca. There was general pandemonium. The women were squealing with delight, hugging each other and Hoss, and the men were shaking hands, offering congratulations, and slapping each other on the back. When all had quieted a bit Carrie, brushing away a few happy tears, asked, “Well, when’s the big day? Have you two decided?”
“Two weeks from Saturday,” came the reply.
There was a moment of astonished silence.
“Oh, I know that people might think we’re rushin’ things a little, but we talked about it last night and we can’t see no point in waitin’,” Hoss explained. “This is a good time because the roundup is over and we’ll have time for a honeymoon in San Francisco.”
“But where will you live when you get back?” Meg asked.
“Well, for the time being we’re moving in with Pa. It’s just temporary, but it’ll give us time to decide where we want to build our house. Besides,” Hoss joked, “Poor Pa is goin’ to go nuts rattlin’ around in that big house all by himself!”
“I imagine it’ll be full of the sounds of lots grandchildren, before very long,” Ben interjected, with a laugh. “We seem to be headed in that direction already,” he added with a nod toward Carrie and Joe.
Meg, who was standing next to Adam, slipped her arm around his waist, at this remark. He put his arm around her shoulder, caressed it comfortingly, and tenderly kissed her temple.
“I must tell you all something,” Rebecca broke in.
Hoss, realizing what she was about to say, turned to her and said, “Hon, there’s no need to tell anyone about that.”
She put her hand on his arm and spoke earnestly.
“No, liebchen, I want them to know.” Then she spoke to the group.
“Because of some things which happened to me in my past, I am unable to have children. Hoss and I have discussed this. We may decide to adopt children. They will be a part of this family and you should know that.”
Meg’s eyes widened and her heart raced. Her arm fell from around her husband’s waist and she walked over to Rebecca and hugged her.
“Thank you for telling me your story and giving me the courage to tell mine to Hoss.” Rebecca whispered in her ear. Meg stepped back and the two women looked at each other, smiling and sharing a secret that bonded them in a very special way.
“Your children are your children and a part of this family no matter how they arrive, Rebecca,” she stated, and this remark was met by nods all around.
Then Carrie stepped up to the other two.
“Aren’t we getting a little ahead of ourselves—you can’t decently talk about children till your married. We have a wedding to plan and not a lot of time to do it! Let’s get busy ladies!” And, laughing, the three women walked over to the dining table and sat down to make plans. Hoss began to follow, but his father put his arm out to stop him.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“Well, they’re makin’ wedding plans. I thought…”
“Well, you thought wrong, son. The only plans you need to make are to show up on time, properly dressed, at the designated place, and remember the ring.” Ben nodded in the direction of the table. “They’ll take care of everything else.” Hoss looked helplessly at his brothers who were nodding in agreement.
“You may be getting married, but it’s Rebecca’s wedding,” his father added.
“Hey, I know it’s kinda early, but I think we should celebrate this auspicious
occasion with a drink,” said Joe. The brothers and Ben moved in the
direction of the cabinet where Joe kept the brandy. As everyone was
being served and the toasts were being good-naturedly made, Ben took a
step back and looked at the three men in front of him. He thought
about the changes that the last eighteen months had brought to his family…so
many changes in such a short time. Truth be told, he wasn’t sure
where the years had gone. They had slipped away so quickly.
His three “boys” were now grown men, all married or soon to be. He
was proud of each of them. He made a mental toast to their mothers.
Elizabeth, his first love…bright, whimsical, determined. Inger…soft-spoken,
gentle, strong. Marie…beautiful, headstrong, vivacious. He
sighed with contentment. He had done his job. Those women had
each entrusted him with a precious child. Without their help it had
been his job to turn those boys into good and honorable men. Looking
at his sons, he had the satisfaction of knowing he had succeeded.
Adam sat in front of his hearth strumming his guitar. Nugget lay at his feet, legs pumping as he chased a rabbit in his dream. Meg sat opposite him, Miranda curled on her lap as she knitted a new shawl for herself. Hoss and Rebecca were off on their honeymoon and life had returned to normal. Adam was just about to suggest that they go to bed when Meg put down her knitting and said, “Adam, I know what I’d like to do with my inheritance.”
He stopped his strumming and looked at her, smiling.
“I thought you were going to keep that in reserve in case this marriage didn’t work out. Either you’ve decided we might make it or you have some bad news for me.”
This brought a smile to her lips.
“You were the one who suggested that I keep it for that reason. I’ve told you before, you’re stuck with me!”
He put down the guitar, then looked at her and winked.
“And not a bad position to be in at all, I’d say.” She nodded her head at him.
“Thank you, sir. I couldn’t agree more. But getting back to the money…”
“Well, what are you thinking about doing with it sweetheart?” he asked, scratching his eyebrow and sitting back in his chair.
She stopped her knitting and looked at him.
“I’d like Virginia City to have a public library, like we have in Boston. I’d like to spend my inheritance, or at least part of it, to purchase the books and supplies necessary to get it started.” He thought about this for a moment, then answered slowly, “That’s a noble idea, Meg, but it takes more than books to make a library. You need a building. Have you thought about that?”
“Yes.” She paused. “This is where I’d need your help. Adam, do you think the Ponderosa would be willing to donate the lumber for a library building?” She watched his face anxiously.
“Well,” he said, drawing the word out slowly, “I could talk to Pa about it. I can’t promise, but I think he might go for it. But where would it be built? Who would run it?”
“I’ve thought about all that. I want to go to the city council and ask them to donate a parcel of land for the library. And I’d like to ask them to allot a small amount of money from the tax revenues to pay a librarian. It would be a perfectly suitable position for a woman…completely respectable.”
“You want to address the city council?” he asked.
“Yes. Your father is a councilman, isn’t he?”
“Yes, but I don’t think a woman’s ever addressed the council before, sweetheart.”
“Well, citizens are allowed to go to the meetings and speak their piece, aren’t they? I mean they have a session that’s open to the public, don’t they?”
“I’m a citizen, Adam. I have a right to go and address them.” She saw the doubtful look on his face and sighed.
“Before we were married I told you I’d never give up my causes. If something is important to me, then I'll fight for it and this library is an idea worth fighting for.”
He looked startled.
“Is that what you think? That I don’t want you to pursue this library idea? That’s not it at all, Meg. I just don’t want you to be disappointed. Not everyone in Virginia City is as progressive or forward thinking as you are, sweetie. The council might not want to give up the land for a library. And as for spending tax money for a librarian, well, they’re a pretty parsimonious bunch.”
“But, Adam,” she protested, “how can they not approve it? They’ll be getting the building material and the books for free. And I’m sure I can convince them of the value of being the first small city west of the Rockies to have a public library.”
The look of doubt on his face didn’t change. She sat up so suddenly that she startled the cat, who flew off her lap. She grabbed both knitting needles in one fist and and shook them at her husband.
“You don’t think I can do this, do you?” she demanded angrily. He didn’t answer her immediately, which further infuriated her, but Adam was always careful what he said to her when she got like this. He had learned it was better to be quiet and allow her to vent her feelings, than risk a remark that might be misinterpreted.
“Are you going to stab me with those things?” he asked when she had quieted somewhat.
She looked at the knitting needles and blinked twice. Then she slowly lowered them to her lap. She blushed and looked down.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”
Adam got up and knelt in front of her
“ ‘Though she be but little, she is fierce’,” he quoted with a grin.
Meg looked at him and grinned back.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he said. He took her hands in his. “Meg, I wasn’t doubting your sincerity and I wasn’t doubting your willingness to do whatever you think is necessary to make this idea a reality. I just want you to realize that you may be up against forces that you can’t manipulate or control. You may end up being very disappointed.”
She reached out and stroked his cheek.
“I appreciate your concern but I know what I’m doing. I know that it’ll probably be an uphill battle, but Virginia City will have a public library before a year is over.”
“You seem pretty confident.”
She smiled slyly.
“I generally don’t approve of gambling, but would you care to make a little wager on this?” she asked.
He laughed, sat back on his heels, and crossed his arms over his chest.
“What should be the stakes?”
She gave it some thought. Then her eyes lit up.
“If I win you have to read me any poetry or story I want every night for a month.” Since their literary tastes were very different she thought this was a fair wager.
He considered that and said, “Alright. But what if I win?”
“You’re not going to win,” she said, her eyes twinkling merrily.
“That may be, but we have to provide for every contingency,” he told her.
“Then you select your own payoff.”
He thought for a minute and said, “If I win, you promise to give me another night like our last night in San Francisco.”
She looked startled and began to blush. Then she laughed.
“You mean I have to take you out to a fancy restaurant for dinner and then take you dancing? Perhaps buy you a gold bracelet?”
His eyes grew heavy lidded and he said quietly, “That’s not what I mean and you know it.” She dropped her eyes to her lap. Finally she looked up. She stuck out her hand.
“It’s a deal.”
He took her hand and shook it, then leaned forward and pulled her to him for a kiss.
“That’s a nicer way to seal a contract, don’t you think?” he asked her as they rubbed noses.
“Mmm hmm. You won’t forget to speak to your father about the lumber, will you?”
He stood up and pulled her to her feet.
“I won’t forget. In fact, you can be with me when I ask him. I’ll do it tomorrow. Isn’t that the day you help him with the bookkeeping?”
Meg had helped Ben with the ranch paper work one time prior to her marriage. She had done such a good job that after the wedding he asked her if she would stop by monthly to lend a hand with the task he disliked the most. She was quick with numbers and had happily agreed. As a result, she was becoming more and more knowledgeable about the financial empire that was the Ponderosa.
“Adam, if you convince your father to donate the lumber, that brings you one step closer to losing the bet, you know.”
He pulled her into his arms and kissed the tip of her nose.
“I’m not worried about it,” he assured her. “Now let’s get some sleep.” He took her hand and started toward the bedroom, but she pulled free. When he looked at her questioningly she grinned and said, “I just want to go dust off my volume of Longfellow. I wouldn’t want you to be sneezing while you read it to me.”
He just smiled a superior, mocking smile.
“Don’t get overconfident, Mrs. Cartwright. You haven’t won this bet yet!”
The next day they explained Meg’s plan to Ben. He said that the ranch would supply the lumber if the council agreed to donate the land and allot a salary for a librarian. He also told Meg that, like Adam, he wasn’t hopeful that they would do either. The next meeting was in two days and she asked if she could drive in with him to make her presentation.
“Don’t you want me to bring you in?” her husband asked.
“I don’t want you there at all,” she replied to his surprise.
“It’s a public meeting. I’m a citizen and I have a right to be there,” he responded, mocking her with her own words. She gave him a dismissive look.
“Do whatever you like, Adam.”
He crossed his arms and cocked his head.
“If you don’t want me there, then I won’t be there. But I’ll wait for you and drive you home. There’s no need for you to stay till the end of the meeting. They run pretty late. Pa can tell you what they decided the next day.”
“Why are you helping me out? Everything you’re doing makes it more likely you’ll lose.”
Ben looked up curiously.
“Lose? Lose what?” he asked.
“Nothing ,Pa. Meg and I just have a little wager on the outcome of all this,” Adam answered. Then he turned to his wife.
“The reason I’m helping you is because I think you can’t really win. I told you that yesterday.”
“We’ll see,” was her only reply.
“How do I look?”
Adam suppressed a smile. Meg was dressed in her most solemn navy blue dress. Its severity was relieved only by a small white lace collar. He hair was pulled back into a bun, in much the same way she wore it when she taught school back in Boston.
“You look lovely,” he answered honestly. “But don’t you think you that dress is a little…well…formal?” “She looks like a Quaker ,” he thought to himself with amusement.
“I have to dress like this so those men will take me seriously. I want them to pay attention to what I’m saying and not to me.” He bit his lip to keep from laughing when she added, “It really would be even better if I wore spectacles.”
He walked her to the door as his father drove up in a carriage. They went outside and he kissed her and helped her into the vehicle.
“Good luck, sweetheart,” he told her, and he realized that he truly meant it. He admired her determination to fight for what she believed in. Then he untied Buck, his father’s horse, from the back of the buggy. He would ride Buck into Virginia City a little later and he and Meg would leave the horse for his father and bring the buggy back home.
When Adam picked her up after the meeting, she was a bit quiet.
“How’d it go?” he asked her as they drove out of town.
“About as I expected. They listened very politely and even asked me a few questions. If they were surprised to hear a woman speak at the public session, they hid it very well.”
“How do you think they’ll vote?”
“I have absolutely no idea,” she answered, but she was fairly certain she hadn’t convinced enough of the councilmen to vote to make the library a reality…yet.”
The next day Ben rode over to pick up the buggy. It was early and they were just finishing breakfast. Meg opened the door for him.
“Come sit down and have a cup of coffee while we finish up,” she invited.
He put his arm around her shoulder as they walked to the table.
“That sounds good!” he said with forced enthusiasm. He wasn’t looking forward to telling her that the council had voted down the proposal.
She placed a cup and saucer in front of him and filled the cup with the fragrant liquid.
“So, Papa, did they vote to build the library?” she asked as she resumed her seat.
He took a sip, set the cup down, and looked at her.
“I’m sorry, darling. They voted it down.”
Adam watched her face to see her reaction. He didn’t know what to expect. Would she get angry? Would she cry? Would she just seem incredibly sad? It didn’t matter. He would be there to support and comfort her.
In fact, Meg did none of these things. She simply nodded her head and asked, “Can you tell me what the vote was? You know…how many votes for and how many votes against?”
Ben shook his head.
“I’m sorry I can’t.” Then he added with a wink, “But I can tell you that you definitely got one vote.”
She got up and put her arms around his neck and gave him a kiss.
“Thank you!” she laughed. “Now how about a nice piece of coffee cake? I got the recipe from Rebecca and it’s delicious. And I’ll get some fresh coffee too,” she added, scooping up the pot and heading for the kitchen.
When she was out of earshot Adam asked his father, “So how did it really go last night?”
“Actually, it went very well for Meg. At first the men were surprised when they found out she wanted to make a proposal. They’re not used to having a woman present and they had to clean up their language!” he chuckled. “But she presented her case well. She had a paper that she referred to from time to time, but she knew her stuff. She was very persuasive.”
Adam crossed his arms and leaned forward on the table.
“So why’d they vote it down?”
His father took another sip of his coffee.
“You know the skinflints on the council. It’d take a crisis for them to dip into the tax revenues. Besides, I don't think they wanted to pass a proposal made by a woman. They didn’t come right out and say so, but I got that feeling. They were very cautious about their comments since I’m her father-in-law.” He took another sip from his cup and added, “I think she took it quite well, don’t you?”
Adam glanced toward the kitchen.
“Yeah, she took it well,” he agreed, but he was puzzled. Why’d she take it so well? She had seemed very determined about this idea of hers. She had obviously put a lot of thought into it. Her reaction to the failure of her plan rang untrue. Meg could be very tenacious when she wanted to accomplish something. Adam had expected a more emotional response than this. He drummed his fingers on the table. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe this hadn’t been as important to her as he had been led to believe. There wasn’t much he could do but wait and see.
Adam managed to get home for lunch one afternoon the following week. He found Meg in the kitchen, fussing over some fancy cakes and cookies.
“What’s up?” he asked her.
“Oh, nothing much. I’m having some ladies in for tea this afternoon. Do you mind if we eat in the kitchen? I have the dining room table all set.”
“I don’t mind. You’re having a tea party?” “That’s cute!” he thought to himself. He looked at his wife as she flew around the kitchen getting his lunch on the table. She was wearing an especially fetching yellow dress and she had her hair piled up on her head with a matching bow peaking out from among her brown curls. She looked so pretty and incredibly young today. He smiled to himself with contentment.
He was getting ready to leave and he pulled her to him for a goodbye kiss.
“Would you like to stay for the party?” she asked him sweetly.
He smiled at her indulgently.
“No thanks. I think I’ll pass this time. You have a good time.”
As he was riding a way, Meg thought to herself with a laugh, “Have a good time? Not likely. I’ll be too busy with my plan to have a good time!”
Promptly at two o’clock, buggies and carriages began to arrive at Adam Cartwright’s home. Mrs. Clark, the banker’s wife, stepped down from one. Daria Simpson, whose husband owned the largest mercantile in Virginia City alighted from another. She had brought with her Adele Hollister, the livery stable owner’s wife. A third carriage brought Alma Decker, the wife of Virginia City’s mayor and Julia Wright. Sam Wright was an executive with the Stage line. All these women had one important thing in common. Their husbands were all members of the Virginia City council. And they made up what they considered to be the cream of Virginia City Society. They were all good friends, except for those few occasions when they were busy gossiping about each other.
Meg greeted them warmly and showed them into the living room. Their eagle eyes took note of everything and all would be remarked upon as they rode home later in the afternoon.
The conversation was generally light and consisted mostly of polite gossip, but Meg managed to bring up the subject of the library.
“My dear,” exclaimed Mrs. Clark, “I don’t know how you had the nerve to appear before all those men. I don’t believe it’s ever been done before!” The others all nodded and murmured in agreement. Apparently the wives had been informed about her proposal by their husbands.
“It was quite intimidating, Mrs. Clark,” Meg replied. “But I believe so much in the concept of a free public library that I felt I had to do it. I realize now that it may have seemed…well…rather bold…even forward to appear before the council, but at the time I was only considering what a benefit the library would be to the City.”
“I must confess that it’s an intriguing idea,” said Mrs. Decker.
“It was my opinion…perhaps my mistaken opinion…that if Virginia City is to have a real place on the map of the western states, that more such projects should be considered. I’ve heard that you ladies were instrumental in seeing the completion of the Opera House. And certainly that has brought enormous cultural advantages to all of us,” Meg said earnestly.
The women all nodded in agreement, accepting this compliment as their due. Meg pressed her advantage.
“I know that Adam has taken me to a number of concerts there over the past few months. Without such a wonderful resource, we’d have to wait for a trip to San Francisco. It’s so reassuring that the important citizens of Virginia City have such foresight about these things.” Heads continued to bob in self-congratulation.
“Tell me some more about the library, Meg dear. My husband only mentioned it in passing the other night,” requested Mrs. Hollister.
So Meg pitched her idea to the assembled ladies.
“What I can’t understand is why the gentlemen are so unwilling to consider this,” she concluded. “My father-in-law has offered to donate the building materials and the books can be bought with money I wish to donate from a small inheritance. The library would be known as the Virginia City Public Library. The Cartwrights wouldn’t expect any special recognition. I’ve thought and thought about it, and I can come up with only one reason why they’re reluctant to donate the land and provide a stipend for a librarian.”
“And what would that be, my dear?” asked Mrs. Wright, helping herself to another cookie.
“Well,” Meg responded with wide eyes, lifting her cup to her lips, “I think they might want to make some money for the town by selling the land…perhaps to someone who wishes to start a business here…like another saloon.” She took a sip of her tea.
Eyebrows shot up and cups rattled in saucers. The saloons in town were a sore point with the women who lived within the city limits. Every weekend the miners and cowboys from miles around found their way into Virginia City to spend their pay. Roy Coffee did as good a job as was possible to keep order, but Friday and Saturday nights were loud and raucous.
“And there are so few opportunities for a woman to find respectable work. Now we are all fortunate enough to have husbands to take care of us (Meg was mentally choking on these words but she reminded herself of her goal and continued). But some of our less fortunate sisters who might need to support themselves are forced to become saloon girls for lack of more suitable job opportunities in town. A librarian position would be a perfectly respectable job for any woman.” She sighed deeply. “But I suppose it’s not to be!” She looked around at her company.
“My goodness, you shouldn’t allow me to bore you with this silliness! Let’s talk about something else.” And she proceeded to steer the conversation in other directions.
As they enjoyed the refreshments she served and talked amongst each other, Meg managed to get each one alone for a few minutes of private conversation.
“Mrs. Simpson, I really have a favor to ask you. My husband said that when he was single he had the pleasure to dine at your house one night. He said you served pot roast. He remembers it very distinctly because he thinks your gravy was just about the best he had ever tasted anywhere. Do you have some secret ingredient that you’d be willing to share with me? I do so want to please Adam.”
“Mrs. Hollister, do you know any way I can get my biscuits to raise up lighter? The other night they turned out so heavy that Adam told me we could use them for doorstops! (This was an out and out lie. The biscuit remark had been made to Carrie by Joe). I’d try just about anything to do a better job with them.”
“Mrs. Wright, do you think scrubbing with washing soda is enough to get the neck stains out of my husband’s white shirts? I’ve just about been driven to distraction with this. I’d appreciate any suggestion you might give me.”
It was a fine line that Meg had to walk with these little talks. She had to seem genuine and not appear to fawn. She managed it with the skill of a veteran circus tightrope walker.
At four o’clock the ladies got into their buggies and drove off. The consensus was that young Mrs. Cartwright was a sweet girl, but she probably had a lot to learn about keeping house. And she had given them much to think about in the coming week.
A few days later Ben rode up to where Adam and a crew of hands was replacing fence.
“How’s it going?” he asked as he dismounted.
“How do you think it’s going? This is an endless, miserable job,” his son replied. “Are you here to check up on me?”
“No. I’m sure you can handle this ‘endless, miserable job’ just fine,” Ben said. “I just stopped by on my way to your house to tell Meg that the city council passed a resolution last night to build a public library.”
Adam looked up in disbelief.
“Yup. They accepted our offer of the lumber and Meg’s offer of startup funds. They even provided a salary for a librarian…part time only,” he added.
Adam put down the sledgehammer he had been wielding and leaned on the handle.
“What made them change their minds?” he asked.
“Apparently your wife had a lot to do with it.”
Adam looked puzzled.
“How? She didn’t appear before them again, did she?” he asked, although he knew this wasn’t the case.
“No. The men were pretty tight lipped, but I bought Eli Clark a drink after the meeting and he told me he had a lot of pressure put on him by his wife. It seems she went to have tea at your house last week with a bunch of other women. They were quite taken with Meg and thought her idea about the library had a lot of merit. And,” Ben added with a smile, “they were laboring under the delusion that the piece of land that was needed for the library might be sold to someone who wanted to open a saloon! Nothing any of the men could say would convince them otherwise.” He chuckled. “I wonder where they came up with an idea like that?”
Adam had been standing there with his lips slightly parted, his tongue pressed against his upper teeth, as he leaned on the sledgehammer. A grin slowly made its way across his face. He began to laugh quietly and shook his head.
“Where indeed?” he replied. He and his father looked at each other and burst out laughing.
“Pa?” Adam said as Ben went to remount Buck.
“Do me a favor. Don’t tell Meg what happened. I’d like to tell her myself.”
“If that’s what you want.”
“It is. By the way,” Adam called after his father, “was the vote unanimous?”
“Oh no,” Ben answered from atop the horse. “There was one dissenting vote cast.”
Adam cocked his head.
“Of course not. It was Luther Healy, the school teacher.”
Adam laughed again.
“If Meg had proposed to double his salary he would have voted against it. I don’t think he’s ever forgiven her for the tongue lashing she gave him.”
“Well he did vote to make a graded school. There are just too many
students for a one room schoolhouse now,” his father replied just before
he rode off with a wave.
As usual, Meg, followed by the dog, ran out to meet Adam as he rode into the yard. He swung down and took her in his arms for a kiss. She brushed a wisp of hair off his forehead.
“Rough day?” she asked.
“Fixing or replacing fence is always a rough job. But when you own cattle it has to be done. My stint with it is over for a month or so.”
“I’m glad. I know you hate it.” She looked around him.
“What are you looking for?” he asked, reaching down to give Nugget a scratch behind the ears.
“Oh, nothing. I just thought that maybe your father might come with you.”
Adam grinned to himself.
“Oh, no reason. I just thought he might come over. Have you seen him today?”
He took her hand.
“Come with me while I bed down Sport,” he said. They walked in the direction of the barn. “As a matter of fact, he did show up where I was working today.” He watched her brighten. She must have known there was a council meeting last night. This was going to be fun.
“He did?” she asked. “Well what did he have to say?”
Adam backed Sport into his stall and began to loosen the saddle cinch.
“Not much.” He slipped the saddle off and rested it on its stand.
“What do you mean not much? Didn’t he have any news to tell you?”
“About what?” Adam removed the horse blanket, shook it thoroughly and hung it over the side of the stall.
“Well…about anything. What did he say?” She accepted the curry brush from him as he began to remove Sport’s bridle.
“To be honest, I didn’t pay a lot of attention. I was tired and kept working because I wanted to see that job completed today.”
“Oh!” She looked disappointed and annoyed all at the same time. She began to give the horse a good brushing while Adam gave him a drink. He could barely contain a smile as he asked, “Was there something in particular you were waiting to hear from my father?”
She didn’t meet his eyes. She continued to vigorously brush the horse.
“No. Not really.”
Adam filled a feed sack with oats and placed it around Sport’s head. He took the brush from Meg.
“I’ll finish that. What’s for dinner?”
“Chicken pie,” she mumbled, biting on her thumbnail distractedly. He could almost see the wheels turning in her head. She was probably thinking that the proposal had been turned down again, if it had even been brought up at last night’s meeting. Her plan hadn’t worked and she was most likely already busy on another scheme to make the library a reality.
“Sweetheart, if you’ll check in my saddle bags, Pa brought us a copy of the newspaper.”
He watched in amusement as she hastily unfastened the leather straps and extracted the Territorial Enterprise. She scanned it, turning to the page that featured Virginia City news. She frowned, then looked at the front page.
“This is yesterday’s edition!” she exclaimed.
Adam faked a cough and covered his mouth because her look of outrage was so funny. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could string her along.
“I know it is. Pa hadn’t been in to town yet when he dropped by.” He hung the brush on the wall and took her elbow, walking her out of the barn.
“Let’s go eat. I’m starving.”
When they climbed into bed that night, Meg was still acting peculiarly. He knew she must be analyzing what went wrong with her plan and plotting some new course of action. He turned to her.
“Are you all right?” he asked. She looked surprised.
“I don’t know. You seemed a little…preoccupied tonight. Is something on your mind?”
“Nothing you need worry about,” she answered.
“Okay.” He bent over her and gave her a kiss. “I’m exhausted. Good night sweetheart.”
“Good night.” She turned on her side and pillowed her head on her hands.
He waited a minute or two and then said, “Oh! I almost forgot. Pa said that something went on at the council meeting last night that might be of interest to you.”
She flipped over to face him and asked excitedly, “Really! What? What did he say?”
He yawned broadly, then took a deep breath. She shook his arm.
“C’mon, Adam, what happened at the meeting?”
“Well, Pa thought you’d be interested to know that they voted to have a graded school. There are just too many students to continue with a one room schoolhouse.”
“That’s it? A graded school? That’s what he thought I’d be interested to know?” she demanded.
“Well…yes. I guess he thought with you being a former schoolteacher and all…”
“Ugh!” she exclaimed as she fell back against her pillow.
“Well, was he wrong? Doesn’t that sort of thing interest you?”
“Yes…yes I find it interesting.” She sighed again. “Good night, Adam.”
He waited one more minute. He hoped he could get the sentence out without laughing.
“And they approved the proposal for the library.”
She sprang up as if she had a tightly coiled spring hinge in her waist.
“They did? They really did?” She turned so she was now kneeling and facing him in the dark, bouncing up and down with excitement.
“You’re not teasing me? You’re not joking? They approved my proposal?”
“The whole thing,” he assured her. “But they only allotted enough funds for a part time librarian.”
“Well, that’s a start!” she exclaimed excitedly. “Oh! I can hardly believe it.” She clapped her hands together with glee. “This is such great news and I…” Suddenly she stopped bouncing and babbling. She sat back on her heels and grew very quiet…completely and totally silent.
“What?” Adam asked, but he knew what was coming.
She got out of bed and lit the bedside lamp. She turned to face him with her hands on her hips. He managed to keep his face deadpan.
“Just how long have you known about this?” she demanded. He didn’t answer immediately. She walked toward him, hands still on her hips.
“How long, Adam? How long?”
“Since about one o’clock this afternoon.” He just couldn’t help it. He started to laugh.
She flew forward and leaped onto him, briefly knocking the breath out of him. She began to beat him on the chest as he attempted to grab her wrists. When his breath returned, so did his laughter. The harder he laughed, the more furious she became.
“How could you do that to me?” she demanded. “How could you do that? You are so cruel! You knew I wanted to know what happened at that meeting and you purposely kept it from me. Oh! You are the most infuriating man on the face of the earth!” And as she ranted, she continued to ineffectually try and pummel him. He finally managed to capture her hands and he flipped her over so she was beneath him. He pinned her wrists on either side of her head but she continued to struggle. He controlled his mirth.
“Sshh! Meg, calm down. I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known you’d get this upset. I’m sorry. I really am. Sshh!” And he continued to talk soothingly to her till she ceased struggling against his greater strength.
“Can I say something?” he asked. Her chest was heaving and she was looking at him with murder in her eyes, but she nodded. He began to speak, slowly and sincerely.
“I’m very proud of you. I didn’t think you could pull this off. But you did…and in only a few weeks!” She looked into his eyes and she read pride and respect in them. “I admire your persistence and your strategy.” He chuckled. “Robert E. Lee could have taken lessons from you. It’s true that I wanted to tease you a little, but I want you to know above all else how very proud of you I am.”
While he had been speaking her facial features softened. He could feel the tension leave her limbs and he released his hold on her. She reached up and caressed his cheek.
“You’re proud of what I did?” He nodded.
“Of course I am. And frankly I’m in awe of how you accomplished it.”
She smiled and he helped her sit up.
“What did Papa say happened at the meeting?”
“He said that the married men on the council had been under a lot of pressure from their wives to approve the building of a public library. They mentioned something about a tea party. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that would you?” he asked with a raised eyebrow, reaching for his robe.
“I know an awful lot about it,” she giggled, as she maneuvered to sit facing him on the bed, hip to hip.
“For some reason all those women thought the council intended to sell the library land to someone who was going to open a saloon. You didn’t tell them any lies, did you Meg?”
She shook her head.
“I didn’t, honestly, Adam. All I said was that the only reason I thought they were unwilling to donate the land was because they were going to sell it…maybe to someone who wanted to open a saloon. I was just expressing my opinion!”
“And putting ideas into their heads at the same time” he pointed out.
“Well, maybe that was a little deceitful. I did tell one lie though, but I don’t think it made a difference in how anyone voted.” She was playing with the belt on his robe as she spoke.
“What was it?”
“I said that you told me my biscuits were heavy enough to use as doorstops.”
His eyebrows shot up.
“Why’d you say something like that?” he asked, baffled.
“I had to get those women to feel sorry for me and want to help me out. So I asked a lot of questions about cooking and cleaning. They probably think I’m some helpless ninny who can’t put a decent meal on the table, but it was worth it.”
A thought occurred to him.
“Did you purposely dress to look very young?” he asked.
“Mmm hmm. I had to plan everything very carefully…what I wore, what I served, what I said, and when I said it.”
“What else did you do at that tea party, or was that it?” he asked curiously.
“Well, I flattered them some. You have to be really careful when you do that. You want to make sure you sound sincere and not phony.” Meg looked off into space, talking to herself more than Adam. “I must have hit just the right balance,” she murmured, nodding. He shook his head.
“Sweetheart, the entire afternoon was a set-up. It was all phony!”
Adam slipped his arms around her and pulled her closer.
“You are incredible,” he stated with a smile and gave her a kiss. He was surprised to see a frown appear on her face.
“What’s the matter? I thought you’d be happy.”
“Adam, do you think some day a woman will be able to go before a publicly elected body and be taken seriously? I know I got what I wanted, but I hate what I had to go through to get it. Maybe I’m clever enough to get my way but why should cleverness and deceit have anything to do with it? If an idea is good it should stand on its own merits, no matter who proposes it, don’t you think?”
He raked his hand through his hair.
“I think you’re right, but I’m not sure what can be done about it. It’s just the way things are.”
Meg draped her arms around his neck and laid her head on his chest.
“That’s why I’m going to keep working to see that things get changed.” They sat quietly for a moment, holding each other close.
“I won the bet.”
He sighed dramatically and looked at her.
“Yes you did. Well, dust off old Longfellow and I’ll begin to read to you tomorrow night. A month, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. But the bet was that you’d read any poems or stories I like and I like many other writers too—like Shakespeare and Dickens and Keats and Thackery.”
Adam’s face brightened somewhat.
“So it won’t just be old Henry Wadsworth?”
Meg shook her head.
“I love you too much to do that to you,” she smiled.
Adam kissed her gently.
“Meg, you’re a generous winner. Thank you.”
“Oh I’m more than just generous.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you’ve been so good about all this that I intend to pay you off just as if you won the bet.” She smiled beguilingly and he grinned back at her and winked.
“You mean you’re going to give me another night like our last night in San Francisco?”
“That’s right.” She moved so she was kneeling in front of him on the bed.
“You’re going to take me out to a fancy restaurant for dinner?”
“No.” She reached for the lapels of his robe.
“You’re going to buy me a gold bracelet?”
“Uh uh.” She leaned forward, inhaling his scent and placed her lips on the pulse at his neck. He put his arms around her.
“You’re going to take me dancing?”
She pulled back to answer him. During the seven months of their marriage she had grown more comfortable about the sexual aspect of their life together, but she couldn’t quite meet his eyes when she said, “Oh I suppose that what we’ll be doing could be considered a dance of sorts.”
“Mrs. Cartwright, you’re shocking me!” he teased her.
This time it was easy for her to meet his eyes when she replied softly, “I don’t want to shock you, Adam. I just want to love you.”
Then she proceeded to do that very thing.
The beginning of May brought a fever into Virginia City. More than half the residents contracted it and Dr. Paul Martin was kept busy doing what he could to treat his patients. There was little he could give them in the way of medication. It was an illness that just had to run its course. Fortunately it had no serious consequences except for the very old or infirm. It began with fever, headaches, and nausea, followed by body aches. With bed rest, most people were fully recovered in a week to ten days. The Cartwrights were no more fortunate than the rest of the population. Joe came down with it first, followed a few days later by Carrie. Hoss and Rebecca were just back from their honeymoon and she took to bed with the illness almost immediately. Ben and Hoss escaped its clutches and while Meg was tending to Carrie and Joe, Adam got sick.
Carrie was frantic less the baby catch the fever. She asked the doctor if Mary could catch it from her milk. Perhaps she should feed her cow’s milk? Dr. Martin told her to continue to feed the child herself. He had no scientific basis for his opinion, but he thought the baby was more at risk from a change to cow’s milk than she was from catching the fever from her mother. As it turned out, Mary never got sick.
Ben and Hoss were kept very busy with ranch work, since a number of the hands had gotten the fever. Meg rode daily between her house and Carrie’s with an occasional stop to see Rebecca, who was under Hop Sing’s care. By the end of the second week in May everyone had pretty much recovered. Meg and Adam planned a trip into Virginia City to pick up groceries for themselves. They stopped at Joe’s on the way and Carrie gave them a list as well.
“You don’t mind getting me a few things, do you?” she asked plaintively.
“Of course not! How do you feel?” Meg asked, picking Mary up from her cradle.
“I’m better…still a little weak, but just so happy that the baby is healthy. And thank you so much for everything you did for us last week. You must be exhausted.”
“I’m a little tired, but now that everyone’s on the mend, I’ll be able to get some rest. I’m glad some of us escaped the fever. Fortunately I’ve always been pretty healthy.”
“Is that a new dress?”
“Uh huh. I hope I won’t regret wearing it. The fabric’s heavy. It was so cool this morning, but it’s warmed up a lot already.” She kissed the baby’s cheek and handed her to her mother.
“Adam’s calling. I’d better go.”
They left the carriage at the livery stable and Adam walked her to the mercantile.
“What do you say we have lunch at the hotel today? I think you deserve a little treat.”
“That sounds nice! Are you coming in here with me?”
“Nope. I thought I’d go get a beer and catch up with what’s been going on.”
She smiled, and gave him a quick kiss.
“I’ll meet you at the hotel in say…half an hour? That’s all the time I’ll need here. Assuming, of course I don’t run into too many gossipy ladies,” she added in a whisper.
“Half an hour it is.” He began to walk away, then turned back and called to her, “And stay out of the candy jars. Leave something for the kids.”
She was laughing at that remark when she entered the store. She ordered everything on both lists and had a few minutes to spare, so she went to the table where the fabrics were displayed.
“I really shouldn’t have worn this dress,” she thought to herself. “It’s much too hot.” As she fanned herself with her hankie. Matt Simpson, the owner, came up to her.
“Mrs. Cartwright perhaps you’d like to look at the new shipment of goods I just received. There are some very fashionable…” His voice trailed off. “Are you alright Mrs. Cartwright? You look a little pale,” he said with concern.
“Hmm? Oh, I’m fine Mr. Simpson. Does it seem warm in here to you?” Meg answered, fanning herself more vigorously. “Why does his voice sound so far away?” she thought. The last thing she remembered was hearing someone shout, “Catch her!”
Adam flew into the store.
“Where is she?” he demanded.
“We put her in the storeroom, Adam. We looked for you at the saloon, but you weren’t there so we sent for the doctor. We didn’t know you were meeting her at the hotel. She told us that when she came to.”
Adam heard only a small portion of this explanation as he pushed Matt Simpson aside and made his way around sacks and barrels and opened the door to the small storeroom in the back. Meg was seated on a pile of one hundred-pound sacks of flour and Paul Martin was packing up his case.
“What happened? What’s the matter with her Paul?” he asked as he rushed to his wife’s side. He sat next to her, took her hand in his, and anxiously scanned her face. She definitely looked a little pale to him.
“Calm down, Adam. It’s not serious,” the doctor replied as he snapped his bag closed.
“Now you do what I told you, young lady, and everything will be fine. I’d stay but I’ve got half a dozen more calls to make today. You’re lucky I was on my way home for lunch or I wouldn’t have been in town.” And with a nod to them both he hurried off.
“Are you all right, sweetheart? What happened?” Adam demanded.
“I fainted.” She gave a nervous little laugh. “I’ve never done such a thing in my life. It’s so embarrassing.”
“Did Paul examine you? Does he know why you fainted? Is it the fever?” He placed his palm on her forehead, but she was cool.
“I laced my corset extra tight today so I could get into this dress. It seemed a little tight when I put it on this morning. And the material is too warm for a day like this. That’s why I fainted. Now, can we go home? I want to go home.”
He searched her face. For some reason she wouldn’t meet his eyes.
“There’s something else going on here. What is it?”
“Adam, I want to go home.”
“We’re not moving an inch till you tell me what’s wrong.” Anxiety had put an edge in his voice.
Then she looked at him. She knew he meant what he said and she sighed. She glanced around the storeroom…the dingy walls and dirty floor, the sacks of flour and sugar, the barrels piled in the corner, the dust motes floating in the air. Her husband watched with consternation as her chin began to wobble and tears filled her eyes.
Adam rose and pulled her up into his arms.
“Precious what is it? You’re scaring me. Please tell me what’s wrong.”
She wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands.
“I’m going to have a baby.”
He was speechless. He looked at her and blinked…once…twice. He cocked his head and asked, “Then why are you crying? This is wonderful news. I should think you’d be dancing around the room!”
“I’m crying because I always imagined that when I found out I was going to have a baby I’d make a really wonderful dinner for you and tell you in some special, romantic way. I never thought I’d be telling you this in a dirty old storeroom in the back of a general store!” And she started to weep.
He held her gently and rocked her back and forth.
“Meg, Meg,” he crooned to her. “Don’t cry. It doesn’t matter where we are. That’s not important. Think about what you just told me. We’re going to have a baby! You should feel happy and excited and proud. I know I do.”
“Of course I do.” He smiled at her. “See? All your worrying was for nothing.”
A wobbly smile found its way to her lips.
“ I am happy and excited. But mostly I’m in shock. I didn’t suspect anything.”
“You didn’t?” he asked in disbelief.
“No. I felt nauseous a few mornings, but I kept thinking I was getting the fever. And with Hoss’ wedding last month and nursing everyone this month I guess I just wasn’t paying attention to…to…the other thing. And Dr. Martin said that’s why my dress was tight this morning.” She shook her head. “How stupid could I be? All I’ve wanted for months was to learn I’m pregnant and when it happened I didn’t even know it! I hope this child takes after you when it comes to intelligence.”
When he didn’t respond, she looked up. Adam was looking at her with such love in his eyes that it almost took her breath away. He hugged her close to him, standing there silently for just a few seconds. He looked deep into her eyes and said, his voice rich with emotion, “I love you so very much. You’ve made me happier than I can ever remember being. I probably don’t tell you that often enough, but I wanted to tell you now.” Then he bent his head and kissed her gently and tenderly. She wrapped her arms around his neck and held him tightly. He was right, she thought. It didn’t really matter where she broke this marvelous news to him. The wonder of it overcame their shabby surroundings. And she was giving him the greatest gift a woman could give her husband. He had given her so much and now she felt she was making a fitting return.
“Listen, sweetheart. How are you feeling now? Is the dizziness gone?”
“Then let me get you out of here. I don’t suppose you want to have lunch at the hotel, do you?”
She shook her head.
“I just want to go home. I can make us lunch there. But Adam, I don’t want to walk through the store. I’m too embarrassed.”
He thought a second.
“Tell you what. There’s a door back here that leads to an alley in the back of these buildings. You stay here and I’ll run to the livery stable, get the carriage, load the supplies…you finished your shopping didn’t you?”
“I’ll load the supplies, and when I’m done I’ll drive around back here and get you. Just wait by the door.”
“That sounds good. Thank you, Adam.”
He grinned at her and winked.
“Anything for you, little mother,” he said, and she laughed along with
On the way home Adam peppered her with questions.
What did Paul Martin mean when he said that she should do as he said and everything would be fine?
Did he give her any special instructions?
Did she have any idea when the baby was due?
Did she crave anything? He had heard that sometimes ladies who were expecting had peculiar cravings. Could he get anything for her?
And so it went. His voice wasn’t high pitched and panicky like Joe’s. He asked each question in his calm and steady way, but they just kept on coming, one after the other. Meg did her best to reassure him.
“All Dr. Martin meant was that I shouldn’t wear tight corsets anymore, if I wear them at all. It’s not good for me or for the baby. And he told me to just eat a regular diet but drink milk three times a day. And if I get tired I should take a nap. And I shouldn’t lift anything heavy. If nothing goes wrong, then he’d see me in a month and I should call on him if I have any questions.
He asked me a few questions and the best he could figure, the baby is due in December, probably near the middle of the month. Won’t that be fun, Adam? A Christmas baby!
And as for cravings, what I’m craving right now is an end to all these questions! Carrie told me Joe just about drove her crazy for the first few months and he really became a nuisance when she had to take to her bed. You’re not going to be like that, are you?”
Adam smiled sheepishly.
“I’ll try not to be. I just want to make sure you’re okay. I want to help you if I can but the truth is, I feel a little helpless.”
Her head whipped around and she stared at him. Then she started to laugh.
“I never, ever thought I’d hear you admit to such a thing!”
He grinned at her and shrugged.
She placed her hand on his arm.
“Thank you for being so caring,” she said sincerely. “It makes me feel so safe and secure just to know that you’re concerned about me…about us,” she corrected herself.
Then her mind flew in an entirely different direction. He watched her count out something on her fingers.
“Adam!” she cried excitedly, “if Dr. Martin is correct, the baby was conceived in San Francisco!” Then more thoughtfully, “Do you think because I grew up near the ocean that I have to be around salt water to conceive?”
He burst out laughing.
“Salt water has nothing to do with it. I thought I explained all that to you before we were married. I think that you finally relaxed. It was nothing more than that.”
“Oh.” She looked as though a great scientific breakthrough of her own discovery had suddenly been disproved.
“Adam, it’ll be your birthday in three days. I wish I could have given you this news as a birthday present.”
“Well, maybe it came a few days early,” he said as they pulled into Joe and Carrie’s yard, “but it’s definitely the best birthday present I’ve ever received.” He nodded toward the house.
“Are we going to tell them?”
“Would you be awfully disappointed if I said not yet? It’s just that it’s all so new. I need a little time to think about everything.”
He covered her hand with his and gave it a squeeze.
“Whatever you want. Maybe we both need a little time to get used to the idea.” Then he laughed.
“You said your dresses are already getting a little tight. We can only hold off telling them for a while. They’re going to figure it out eventually!”
That night in bed, he held her tenderly. He placed a protective hand gently across her abdomen.
“It’s hard to believe that there’s a baby growing inside there,” he said quietly.
“It’s a miracle,” she replied “One day soon you’ll be able to put your hand there and feel him move. Carrie let me feel Mary kicking inside her.”
“Him. You called the baby him.”
“Well, I hate saying ‘it’, so I decided I’ll say ‘him’.”
“And if she’s a girl?”
“Would you like a girl?”
“Sure. I don’t care whether it’s a girl or boy as long as you and the baby are healthy. But you’ll owe her an apology for referring to her as ‘him’ for the next seven months.”
Meg looked down at her tummy.
“I’m sorry baby, if you’re a girl, for calling you ‘him’. I’ll call the next one ‘her’.”
“The next one!”
“Go to sleep, Adam.
Meg’s pregnancy was normal and uneventful. Adam watched with awe and wonder as her body underwent the changes necessary for the creation of a new life. She had sewn some very loose fitting dresses for herself and over these she wore white aprons that buttoned in the back and had no strings to tie. Adam thought she looked like a very chubby schoolgirl.
And he was surprised at the pride he was beginning to feel in becoming a father. He would never tell Meg this, but in the deepest male part of him a little voice was boasting, ‘Look what I did!”
When she began to get really big, he tried to reassure her how attractive she still was to him, but it was a hard sell.
“I look like a whale,” she moaned, seeing her profile in the bedroom mirror. “I guess I should be glad I’m not back in Boston. Some seaman would be running after me with a harpoon right about now.”
“You look beautiful to me.”
“You have to say that. You’re my husband.”
“Are you questioning my truthfulness?” he asked, looking offended.
“I just meant that you’re not objective. Someone who wasn’t my husband wouldn’t find me attractive when I’m as huge as one of the horses.”
“I didn’t realize it was so important to you to be attractive to other men.”
“Uugghh! I don’t want other men to find me attractive.”
“Then why do you care how you look as long as I find you beautiful?”
She glared at him.
“I hate you, Adam Cartwright,” she mumbled as she waddled out of the room. He ran after her, grabbing her arm and turning her to face him.
“I’m sorry.” His expression was one of pure frustration.
“I just don’t know what to say to you anymore. You really do look beautiful to me. I don’t know how to convince you of that. You look in the mirror and see one thing. I look at you and see a woman who’s willing to put herself through something I’ll never be able to understand so we can have a baby. And I love that woman very much.”
Her expression softened and she stepped forward, wrapped her arms around his waist, and hugged him.
“I’m the one who should be sorry. I don’t know what makes me so moody. You’re a saint to put up with me.”
“The doctor said to expect mood swings. It’s normal. It hasn’t happened very often.”
This was true. She had had only a few episodes of tears through the entire pregnancy.
“So you’re feeling better now?”
“Good. Then I’ll just go find a saddle to throw on you so I can ride you into town.”
He jumped back just in time so that her shoe missed connecting with his shin.
“I’ll pay you back for that someday,” she called after him as he grabbed
his hat and headed for the door. But she was laughing as she said
They discussed names. They agreed immediately on a girl’s name. She would be Elizabeth Jane, named for both their mothers. They would call her Beth. They disagreed on a name should the child be a boy. Meg wanted him named Adam, but her husband wasn’t keen on the idea.
“I don’t need a namesake. Besides, it’ll be confusing with two Adams in the house.”
“Well, then I’ll just start calling you something else. How does ‘Stubborn’ suit you? Or maybe ‘Mr. Pig-headed’ or ‘Your Smart Aleckness’.” I’ll let you decide,” she said sarcastically, as she sat knitting another baby outfit.
“Are you finished?” he asked putting down the book he had been reading.
“I’m sure I could come up with one or two more if I think about it.”
“I suppose the point you’re trying to make is that this won’t be confusing?”
“The point I’m trying to make is that you have a lovely name, and I’d like our son to have it. And if he has your name, he might just turn out to be as fine a man as you are.”
He smiled in appreciation of the compliment but couldn’t resist asking, “Are you trying to get your way through flattery?”
“Yes, and if that doesn’t work, I’m prepared to cry.”
“Well, it worked. I guess we can call him Adam. What about a middle name?”
“I thought Frederick, after my father. I’d never saddle a child of mine with a first name like that.”
“What about Benjamin, after my father?”
“We’ll discuss that when we have our second son.”
Meg didn’t object to moving into Ben’s house as her time grew close. They still had only Davis at their place and if he needed to fetch the doctor or Adam, Meg would be left alone. Foremost in Adam’s mind was the thought that his mother had died soon after giving birth to him and childbirth was still a risky business. He grew tense as the days went on.
Hoss and Rebecca were still living with Ben. Work had begun on their house, but had been postponed during the winter. They were hoping to move in right after the arrival of their own blessed event in June, because three months after her wedding Rebecca became pregnant.
They returned from their honeymoon and she had immediately come down with the fever that had stricken so many in the county. When she was fully recovered, she and Hoss rode to Carson City to apply for adoption at the orphanage there. They had been told that their application would gladly be considered after they had been married at least a year. They were disappointed but resigned and began to plan their house, selecting a piece of land between Joe’s and Ben’s.
At first Rebecca could not believe what had happened. She tried to attribute her symptoms to any number of non-pregnancy related causes. But she had been pregnant twice before and finally couldn’t deny the miracle that had occurred. To be absolutely certain, she paid a visit to the doctor.
“But how can this be?” she asked. “Doctor Tyner said this could not happen because of what my husband did.”
“We doctors are only human Rebecca, and nature has a way of fooling us. Medicine is not an exact science. Given his experience, he told you what he thought was true. I’m happy to say he was wrong. I know Jim Tyner. I’ll bet he’d be happy he was wrong too,” Dr. Martin told her as he patted her hand and confirmed her suspicions.
For days Hoss walked around with a big sappy grin on his face. Then something peculiar began to happen. He started to experience all Rebecca’s pregnancy symptoms. When she was nauseous so was he. Suddenly she couldn’t tolerate the taste of coffee. Neither could he. He would feel incredibly tired in the middle of the afternoon. It was funny at first, but eventually it began to annoy his younger brother.
“C’mon, Hoss! You’re not the one having the baby. Rebecca is.”
“I can’t help it, Joe. I really do feel tired—you know, weak like.
“You’re just trying to get out of stacking these hay bales.”
“I ain’t, Joe, I swear! I’m just plumb tuckered out.”
His brother rolled his eyes.
“This never happened to me when Carrie was expecting.”
“Well, Rebecca says every pregnancy is different.” He sighed. “I really gotta go home and take a nap.”
And with that, Hoss walked slowly to his horse, mounted, and rode off,
leaving Joe with mouth gaping and bales of hay to be stacked.
“How are you feeling this morning?” Adam asked, as he finished dressing. They were now sharing his old bedroom at his father’s and Meg was still in bed.
“Alright I guess. My back hurts.”
“Want me to rub it, sweetheart?”
“Would you? Just for a minute or two?”
“Sure. Turn over.”
“That’s easier said than done,” she remarked and her came over and helped her roll to her side. He began to massage her lower back. She closed her eyes and smiled.
“That feels wonderful.”
“Good. Anything else bothering you?”
“No, but I’m getting anxious for this to be over. I have to go to the outhouse every ten minutes, I haven’t seen my feet in months, my ankles are swollen, and I’m tired of waddling around here like a duck.”
“It’ll be over soon,” he said in his most reassuring voice, but it was just as well that she couldn’t see her face. Adam wasn’t one to obsess, but he was very nervous about the actual birth of the child. What if something went wrong? He couldn’t bear to think about it.
He gave her back a finally rub and patted her on the bottom.
“I have to go. You want me to have Hop Sing send up your breakfast?”
“No. I’ll go down. I just need a little time to get ready.”
“Well be careful on the stairs and remember to…”
“…have someone come for you if anything happens,” she finished for him. “Yes, I know. Help me get up, please”
She extended her hand. He pulled her up off the bed. Her belly bumped into him and they both chuckled. He put his arms around her and looked into her eyes.
“I love you so much.”
He bent his head and kissed her. Then he hugged her gently. She went to pull away, but he held firmly in his arms. She looked up.
“What is it?” she asked quizzically.
“I don’t know. I just wanted to hold you.”
She reached up and stroked his cheek, her eyes soft.
“You’re worried, aren’t you?” She didn’t wait for him to answer. “Don’t be. I’m healthy and everything will be fine.”
He pursed his lips and nodded.
“Now get out of here. Joe’s going to be hopping mad if one of his brothers isn’t able to work!”
And she set him off with a smile on his lips.
She felt more uncomfortable than usual all day. She was bringing some sheets upstairs when she felt the first sharp pain. The linens dropped onto the steps and she grabbed for the banister. The pain was fleeting and as soon as it passed, she picked up the sheets and continued upstairs. She went to their room and sat on the edge of the bed, waiting to see if another pain would occur. None did so she went back downstairs, sat on the settee and picked up her knitting. Rebecca had been out in the fresh air and came in to join her. They sat for a while, drinking tea and chatting, when another pain gripped her.
“Meg, what is it?” Rebecca asked when she saw the look on her sister-in-law’s face.
“I’m having another pain.”
“Another pain? How many have you had?” Rebecca asked with concern.
“Only one,” she panted.
“When was that?”
“About an hour ago. Do you think we should call Adam?”
Rebecca laughed lightly.
“No. There is no need if the pains are so far apart. He would just sit here and worry. We will wait until they are much closer and then send for the doctor. Would you like Carrie to be here too?”
“Yes.” She took a deep breath. “It’s passed,” she said with relief. “But it hurts!”
Rebecca looked at her sympathetically.
“Childbirth is painful… sometimes very painful. But surely you knew that?”
“Carrie said there wasn’t much pain at all. Mary was born before Joe got home.”
Rebecca picked up Meg’s hand and patted it.
“Little Mary wanted to be born at six months. That’s why Carrie had to stay in bed so long. In her case the baby came easily into the world. She had been waiting to do so for a long time. But that is not the case of everyone.”
“So it might take longer?”
“Carrie’s case was unique. It usually takes much longer. But whatever you must endure, at the end you will have a beautiful child to place in your husband’s arms. And I promise you that the memory of the pain fades very quickly. You will forget it the moment you see your child’s face.”
“Will you stay with me Rebecca?”
“Of course I will.”
So they sat together for the rest of the day as the pains came slowly, ever so slowly, closer together. When the men arrived home, Meg took Adam aside and told him what had been happening. He was furious that he hadn’t been called.
“There was no point, my love,” she said trying to calm him, as they talked in the office alcove. There wasn’t anything you could have done.”
“Shouldn’t you be upstairs in bed?” he demanded.
“Not yet. The pains aren’t close enough together.”
“Well what about the doctor? Shouldn’t I go get him?”
“No. Rebecca will know when it’s time.”
“I still think…”
“Look, Adam. Rebecca’s already had a baby and she’s been present at the births of three of her sisters’ children in Germany. I think she might know a little more about this than you do.”
He raked his hand through his hair and she took pity on the expression of misery on his face.
“I know you’re worried and concerned,” she told him gently. “But if I need you to do something I’ll ask.” She placed a comforting hand on his arm.
“I wish you’d relax a little. At this rate…OH!” The hand on his arm tightened painfully, her nails digging into his flesh.
He watched in alarm as her lips grew pale and her eyes huge.
“What is it? Meg, sweetheart, what…?”
“It’s just a pain,” she gasped. “It’ll pass in a minute.” Little beads of sweat dotted her brow.
“Shouldn’t you lie down?” he asked in a panic.
She shook her head from side to side.
“No…just wait a minute!” And she continued to squeeze his arm as she leaned on him. After what seemed like an eternity her grip relaxed and she took a deep breath. She smiled up at him weakly.
“It’s over.” She took a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at her forehead.
“Why don’t we go in and have dinner now?”
He looked at her askance.
“How often are you having these pains?”
“I guess about every half hour now.”
“When did they start?”
“This morning after breakfast. Come on. The food will get cold.”
She took his arm and they sat down with the rest of the family.
After a few minutes during which not much was said, Ben looked up.
“Well, are Rebecca and I the only ones eating tonight?” he demanded, watching as his two sons pushed their food around their plates and Meg helped her self to very small portions of everything.
“Dadgum it, Pa. I’ve been feeling downright queasy this afternoon. I don’t have much of an appetite.”
Ben rolled his eyes.
“What about you?” he asked Adam.
“I’m not hungry either.”
“Why not? You certainly worked hard enough today.”
“I think it’s because I’m in labor and Adam’s worried, so he doesn’t have much of an appetite.”
Ben and Hoss looked at Meg.
“You’re in labor?”
“Mm hmm. But Rebecca doesn’t think anything will happen for a while. So just go ahead and eat your dinner.”
Ben put down his fork.
“Can we do anything for you, darling? Should we get the doctor?” he asked gently.
“No thank you, Papa. Not yet.”
The meal was finished in an uncomfortable silence. As they left the table Meg said to Adam, “I think I’d like to go for a walk. I haven’t been out of the house all day. Come with me?”
“Do you think you should? It’s freezing out there. And I’m not sure you should be walking around.”
“I’ll make a deal with you. If you take me for a walk, I’ll go upstairs when we get back and stay there.” She tilted her head. “Please?”
How could he refuse her? He helped her into her coat, which could no longer be fastened, made sure she had on a hat and gloves, and, shrugging into his own coat and hat, took her arm and led her outside. He kept his arm protectively around her as they walked slowly toward the corral. She looked up.
“It’s a beautiful night,” she remarked, breathing deeply of the crisp air. The stars were a million silver pinpricks in an ebony sky. She looked for her favorite constellations and pointed them out to Adam, who glanced at them with half-hearted enthusiasm.
Suddenly she grabbed the corral rail and her head dropped to her chest. A low feral moan escaped her lips. Adam put his arms around her and held her while she rode out the contraction. Time seemed to stop. Eventually she released her hold on the rail. She took a few shuttering breaths.
“I’m getting you inside!” he ground out.
“In a minute,” she pleaded. Just hold me out here for another minute.”
He took her in his arms and she rested her head on his chest, her favorite pillow.
“I’m a little scared.”
He felt more helpless than he ever had in his life. How could he give her strength and encouragement when he was terrified himself?
“I wish I could go through this for you, Meg.”
“I know you do. I just try to focus on the baby. That helps.”
“You’re my brave girl. I love you so much.”
“Knowing that helps too.” She pulled back and took his hand.
“I think I want to go inside now.”
Eventually both Carrie and the doctor were sent for. Joe stayed at home with Mary. Ben went to bed. Adam’s room was near the kitchen staircase, which was down a long hallway and around the corner from his father’s. That, plus the heavy wooden doors on the rooms provided a sufficient sound barrier for the eldest Cartwright to get some sleep. He extracted a promise that he would be awakened when there was any news to report.
Hoss decided to stay up with his brother, but like the Disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, the wait proved too much for him. He finally fell asleep in his father’s leather chair.
So Adam waited in lonely agony. Each muffled wail, each piteous moan was like a knife through his heart. The time dragged endlessly. The only sounds audible, besides the pathetic cries of his wife were the crackling fire, the ticking of the big grandfather clock, and his brother’s stentorian breathing.
Around 4 a.m. Rebecca slipped quietly down the stairs to get more coffee for the doctor. She removed the Indian blanket from the stair railing and placed it gently over her husband. Then she took a seat next to Adam, on the settee.
His elbows rested on his knees and his head was bowed, his hands covering his face. She put a gentle hand on his shoulder and he slowly raised his head and looked at her. His beard was heavy, his hair mussed, and his eyes tormented.
“It won’t be long now,” she whispered. “Perhaps an hour or so… perhaps less.” And Adam Cartwright, the most private of men, looked at his sister-in-law, and in the midst of his anguish told her, “I could never make her go through this again. I just couldn’t. We won’t be having any more children.”
Rebecca dropped her head and bit her bottom lip. When she looked up there was a little smile playing around the corner of her lips.
“Ach! This is silliness. You are tired and worried. Of course you will have more children. Meg wants it so. She told me.”
He stared at her blankly.
“Adam, only the good Lord can say how many children we will have. For you to make that true, you would never be able to touch your wife again. And that will not happen. You love her too much. And even if you could refrain, Meg would not. She loves you.” She chuckled.
“It is God’s little joke on women. When Eve ate the forbidden fruit and gave it to the first Adam, God told her that women would bring forth children in pain. But he also said that our desire would be for our husbands. So you see? In spite of the pain, you are irresistible to us!”
She looked briefly at her husband, sleeping soundly across from her, mouth slightly ajar. She sighed happily.
“We are so fortunate, we Cartwrights. We have such love for each other and God has blessed us richly. The child about to be born upstairs is a miracle.”
She patted her stomach.
“The child I carry now is also a miracle. Believe me, Adam, there will be many more miracles in the Cartwright family throughout the years.”
She got up and gave him another pat on the shoulder.
“I go now to bring the doctor some coffee. Would you like some?”
He shook his head.
“Well then, I’ll go up the back stairs. It will be soon now. You’ll see.”
Forty minutes later Adam heard his child’s first cry. He ran to the bottom of the stairs and looked up. He took the stairs two at a time and met an excited Carrie in the hallway.
“Oh Adam! It’s a boy! You have a son!”
“Meg? How’s Meg?”
“Why she’s fine…just perfect! But you can’t see her just yet. We have some cleaning up to do.”
Carrie threw her arms around him and gave him an enthusiastic hug.
“I’m so happy for you both. And he’s a handsome little boy! Just wait till you see him. Now you give us a few minutes and then you can have a short visit,” she said with an authoritative air, and pushed him back toward the top of the stairs.
She turned to go and Adam sank down and sat on the top stair. He rubbed his gritty, sleep deprived eyes with the heels of his hands and tried to think. Suddenly he had to get out of the house. He ran down the stairs and out the door, not stopping to put on his coat.
The stars had all disappeared and the sun’s rays were making their way like colorful tentacles across the eastern sky. He took a deep breath of the frigid air. It seemed to clear his head.
Meg was all right! She was fine, Carrie had said. He looked up.
“Thank you,” he murmured fervently.
And the baby was fine too! A boy. He grinned. He had a son. He couldn’t quite take it in. And the date. What was the date of his son’s birth? Ah! He remembered. December 12. It had been an incredible year. For his birthday he had received the news that he was to become a father. For Christmas, he had been given a son. Rebecca was right. The Cartwrights had been richly blessed.
He heard the door open behind him. Paul Martin stepped out, ready to take his leave.
He stuck out his hand.
“There you are! Well congratulations, Adam. You have a handsome son. About 7 pounds worth is my guess. And your wife came through just fine. She’s a real trooper. Well, I’ve got to be on my way. Maybe I can catch a few hours sleep before office hours.
No, no. You don’t
have to see me off. Just get yourself inside and take a look at your
Adam quietly opened the door and peeked in. Meg was semi reclined in the bed, several pillows behind her back. She was gazing at the swaddled bundle in her arms. She looked up when she heard the door open and smiled.
“Well, come in.”
He walked over and sat down on the side of the bed, his eyes never leaving her face.
She was his same beautiful Meg, though she did look exhausted. But a special radiance showed itself in her expression. He leaned over and kissed her. She raised her hand and stroked his cheek.
“My poor Adam. You look so tired. Didn’t you sleep at all?”
“Not much. But I’m fine. What about you?”
She smiled gently.
“It wasn’t so bad.”
He shook his head.
“I don’t believe that.” He dropped his head, then looked up again.
“I’m sorry Meg…sorry for what you had to go through.”
“I’m telling you the truth, Adam. I’m fine and everything is all right. You have nothing to be sorry about.”
“Really! Now, take a look at our son.” And she positioned the child so that his father could see him.
His first reaction was one of alarm. Surely his child could not be this unattractive? Meg was so beautiful! And, even though he wasn’t a vain man, he was pretty certain he was at least average looking. How could the two of them have produced such a frightening looking specimen of humanity? His skin was as wrinkled as a prune, his eyes were two puffy slits, and his nose was as flat as a miniature pugilist’s.
“Meg was looking at the child with adoring eyes.
“I think he has your chin.”
Chin? What chin? That particular feature seemed to be missing from the child’s face. Adam looked down again. Oh. There it was. So small it was easy to miss.
“He’s so beautiful, so perfect.”
Were they looking at the same child? Perhaps what she had endured giving birth to him had affected her mind, he thought to himself.
Suddenly the baby screwed up his face, his skin turned a mottled blue-red, his tiny fists flailed in what appeared to be rage, and he opened his mouth. The cry that issued forth sounded to his father like a cross between the noise Miranda made when someone accidentally stepped on her tail and a rusty hinge badly in need of oil.
“Sshh! My angel, my little love. Don’t cry. Mama’s here. Sshh!” Meg cooed to him and rocked him gently.
“I guess he’s hungry,” she said. “Hold him while I unbutton my nightgown.” And she held the little bundle out to Adam.
“Just make sure you support his head and back,” she directed as she placed the baby in his arms.
Adam swallowed convulsively as he held his son for the first time. He laid the child in the crook of his left arm. Was it his imagination, or had his looks begun to improve a little in these past few minutes? He reached out to stroke the child’s cheek with his finger and at that moment young Adam Frederick Cartwright grabbed onto his father’s finger with a strength that took his breath away. Meg saw it. She smiled as she watched her child capture his father’s finger and his heart in the same instant.
Eight a.m. found all the Cartwrights, with the exception of Meg and baby Adam, having breakfast around the dining room table. Even nine-month old Mary was there, seated in a high chair made especially for her by her Uncle Adam. It was a festive gathering of some very tired people.
“Well, who’s going to work today?” demanded Joe. “Or am I the only one left to run this ranch?”
“What was that, Joseph?” his father asked with deceptive mildness.
“Nuh…nothing, Pa.” Joe stammered. “I just meant that I guess Adam won’t be going out today.”
“No, he won’t,” his father agreed. “You had a little time off when Mary here came along and your brother is entitled to the same.”
At the sound of her name, the baby banged her spoon on the table and began to bounce in her chair. The adults all laughed.
“Well what about you Hoss? Are you feeling stronger today? Are you over your morning sickness?” Joe asked sarcastically.
“Don’t start with me Joe. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night, but I’ll be goin’ out with you today. What are we doin’, anyway?” Hoss asked, suppressing a yawn and scratching his head.
“Hauling supplies to the line shacks on the west range.”
“That ain’t too bad. Mostly sittin’ in the buckboard and a little liftin’”
“Well you think you can handle it? I mean I wouldn’t want you to overdo in your delicate condition.”
“Dadgum it Joe, one of these days I’m gonna…”
“Now that’s enough you two,” Ben said, his voice raised dangerously.
Everyone turned to look at Mary. She was staring at her Grandfather’s angry face and her green eyes had become huge. Her little chin began to quiver. Ben got out of his seat and plucked her out of her chair.
“I’m sorry, darling,” he said soothingly. “Grandpa’s not angry with you. Did I scare you? It’s your Pa and your Uncle Hoss who caused the problem. They still don’t know it’s impolite to argue at the table! What are we going to do with them, hmm?”
Then he looked at his two younger sons.
“You see what you did? I’m taking Mary into the living room. You two finish eating and get to work!”
Carrie took a final sip of her coffee.
“I’m ready to go when you are Joe. You can drop the baby and me off home before you get the supplies, can’t you?”
“Sure, darlin’.” He turned to his brother.
“I’m sorry Hoss. You about ready to shove off?”
“That’s okay, Joe. I guess this symptom thing does sound kinda strange. But I’m tellin’ you it’s real! I’m ready to leave when you are. In fact, I’ll go hitch up the buckboard. The cold air ought ta help keep me awake.” He got up and held out Rebecca’s chair.
“You get some sleep, hon. You were up almost all night. I don’t want nothin’ happenin’ to you or our little fella here,” he said, patting her tummy.
“Yah, I’ll go up now and rest.”
She placed a gentle hand on her brother-in-law’s shoulder.
“Adam, you need to go up and sleep as well.”
Adam rose from his seat and nodded. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so wrung out. He kissed Carrie.
“Thanks for everything you did,” he told her.
She smiled at him and hugged him.
“Rebecca’s right. You need some sleep. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She dressed her baby daughter for the trip home and she, Joe, and Hoss left the house.
Adam took Rebecca’s arm and assisted her up the stairs. At the top he paused and turned to her.
“Rebecca…about last night.”
“Well, I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for being with Meg and thank you for what you said to me.”
He looked down at the floor for an instant then back at Rebecca, a little half-smile on his lips.
“You’re a special lady. My brother Hoss is a lucky man.”
She blushed and laughed her pretty tinkling laugh.
“As I told you last night, Adam, we Cartwrights…all of us…are very lucky. Now you go be with your wife and son and get some sleep!”
She gave him a sisterly kiss on the cheek and walked away toward her room.
He turned toward his room with the smile still in place.
“Yes,” he thought to himself, “I’d better go be with my wife
Adam rode up into his yard and dismounted. It was Saturday and he was home early. There was less work to do in the winter on the ranch and Saturdays were generally half days, if they weren’t too busy. He put Sport in the barn but didn’t unsaddle him. He might ride over to his father’s a little later. The weather was unusually mild for mid December and he unbuttoned his coat as he headed for the front door.
Miranda, the cat, was seated at the corner of the porch busily grooming herself in the sunshine. There was no love lost between the master of the house and the calico feline, though he had never done anything to deserve her scorn, other than laughing at her name. She usually scuttled off when she saw him, but right now she was intent on cleaning her coat. Adam noticed that she seemed dingy. This was odd, because if he could find one good thing to say about her (and it was about the only one he could honestly think of) she kept herself in immaculate condition.
As he was mounting the stairs, Nugget, their retriever, trotted into sight. He too looked dirty and Adam spotted blotches of some black substance on the dog’s coat. No doubt he had been somewhere he shouldn’t have been or tangled with something that got the better of him.
He heard his son crying before he opened the door. He wasn’t particularly alarmed. After two years, Adam had learned a lot about different baby cries. This one he identified as temper mixed with frustration.
He walked in, hung up his coat and hat, and unbuckled his gun belt. Since the arrival of young Adam, the gun was kept on a special high shelf that the boy could not reach, even if he was standing on a chair. The cries were coming from the kitchen and Adam moved in that direction.
His son was seated on a chair in a corner, facing the wall. He was wailing and rubbing his eyes and trying to kick the wall, although his legs were a bit too short to make the connection. Meg was on her hands and knees in front of the stove scrubbing the floor with a brush.
“Sweetheart, what’s going on here?” he asked, walking over to where she was working. You shouldn’t be doing that!”
At the sound of his father’s voice, young Adam stopped crying, hopped off the chair and ran to him, arms out, crying, “Pa! Pa home! Pa home!”
“Adam you get right back on that chair,” Meg ordered the child as she stopped scrubbing and sat back on her heels. He stopped in mid stride and looked at her, then at his father, hope in his big brown eyes.
“You heard what Mama said. Get back on the chair,” his father told him. He waited just a second too long for his father’s satisfaction.
The baby scooted for the corner and resumed his seat, his little legs swinging energetically as they dangled off the floor.
“Meg, what happened?” Adam asked squatting down next to her as she rung out a cloth and sopped up the water from the floor.
“I haven’t been having a very good day and neither has he,” she nodded to their son.
She sat back on her heels again, wiping her brow with the back of her hand.
“The weather was so warm I took him out to help me collect the eggs and feed the chickens. I was getting some feed from the shed when I heard a lot of cackling and fussing. He had gotten into the egg basket and was throwing them at the chickens. They were running around like crazy trying to get away from him. He broke about half a dozen before I got to him.”
Her husband made a valiant effort not to smile. He shook his head sympathetically.
“Then I took him into the barn…you know how he likes to feed a carrot to Betsy. Well, Truckee had just lifted his tail and deposited a large pile of manure on the floor and while I was getting a carrot from the bin, your son…honestly Adam I just don’t know how he can be that quick!…smeared himself all over with the stuff. It was in his hair, on his arms and all over his clothes.” She sighed.
Adam covered his mouth with his hand and coughed, but she wasn’t really looking at him as she recounted the rest of her day.
“So I brought him in, gave him a bath, washed his hair, and dressed him in clean clothes. I thought he’d get into less trouble in the house, so I brought him with me into the bedroom while I changed the sheets. Then I heard him playing with Nugget in the living room. All of a sudden it was very quiet so I went to look for him and I found him, the cat, and the dog in the kitchen. He had gotten into the stove blacking and was painting it all over the two animals. And of course, he was covered himself and spilled a bunch of it on the floor. So I chased the dog and cat outside, gave him another bath, and dressed him in clean clothes again. Then I made him sit in the corner while I scrubbed the floor.”
She wrung the cloth out again and made a final swipe at the floor.
“Does it look clean?” she asked in a worried voice.
“It looks fine,” Adam answered, never giving the boards a glance. “Here, let me help you up.”
He assisted her to her feet. Meg was seven months pregnant with their second child and Adam had hired a young girl to come in several times a week to do the ‘heavy’ housework.
“Sweetheart, you should have left that for Susan.”
“She won’t be back till Monday. We’re having everyone over for the baby’s birthday tomorrow and I couldn’t have the floor looking like that.” She put her arms around him and rested against him for a minute.
“I’ll get your lunch. I know you must be hungry.” He held onto her as she made to pull away.
“No, Meg. You’ve had a terrible morning. Tell you what. Let me take the little hooligan off your hands for the afternoon. Then you can take a nap or read or have tea or whatever you want. I don’t want you working so hard. In fact, let’s cancel the party. You’re in no condition to do all that work.”
“Oh Adam, no! I really want to have it. And it won’t be so much work. Carrie and Rebecca are each bringing a couple of dishes. All I really have to do is some baking. Please let’s not cancel.”
He looked skeptically at her.
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. But if you could take Adam for a little while this afternoon, it would be a big help. I hate to ask. You’ve been working all morning.” She reached up and stroked his cheek gently.
“You didn’t ask. I offered. You’ve been working all morning too. And from what you’ve told me, under much more trying conditions than I have.” He took the hand that was caressing his cheek and planted a kiss in the palm.
“Alright, the party is still on, but you get some rest while we’re out,” he told her.
“But what about lunch?”
“Eat! Eat!” young Adam sang from the corner, still swinging his legs. His father walked over and the baby looked up at him, smiling.
Adam’s eyes were kind, but his voice stern as he addressed his son.
“You just sit there and be quiet. You haven’t been a very good boy this morning.”
The child’s eyes grew wide. He adored his father, but even at the young age of two he knew that if he didn’t obey him when he spoke in that particular tone of voice, life could become something less than pleasant.
“And stop kicking your legs.”
The leg kicking ceased immediately.
Adam returned to his wife.
“Lunch? Well, maybe I’ll stop at Pa’s and get something. Or maybe I’ll take him into town and get him something there.”
“You’d take the baby to the hotel for lunch?” she asked incredulously.
“I didn’t say I was taking him to the hotel. I just said I’d get him something to eat.”
“You wouldn’t take him into a saloon, would you?”
He crossed his arms and shook his head reprovingly.
“I can’t believe you even asked that. Listen, he’s my son too and I won’t let him starve.”
It was such a tempting offer, yet Meg hesitated. She was devoted to their child. She didn’t spoil him exactly, but she rarely let him out of her sight. She had been so taken with his development that she catalogued every achievement in the journal she continued to keep each day. Adam correctly surmised that this was because he was their first. When the second child arrived and she had to divide her time things would change.
They rarely disagreed on child rearing, both believing that youngsters should be well behaved. Meg’s gentle touch with their rambunctious little boy was balanced by Adam’s more strict approach to the child’s behavior. Adam found his son’s actions today more amusing than anything else. He was exploring his world and learning. However, if he continued to throw eggs at the chickens or plaster himself with manure after he had been told this was wrong, then there would be consequences to face. That constituted disobedience and disobedience would not be tolerated.
“Well?” he asked, waiting for her answer.
“Alright. I really would like to rest a little and I can do my baking in peace a little later. Thanks.”
“Good! It’s not very cold out. Get a sweater or something for him and I’ll get him out from under your feet.”
While Meg went to collect a heavy sweater and hat for young Adam, his father lifted him out of his chair and asked, “Do you want to go for a ride with Pa?”
The baby’s eyes lit up and his little bottom bounced up and down excitedly on his father’s arm.
“Ride! Ride! Ride a horse!” he babbled happily.
“Which horse, Adam?”
“Alright. I’ll take you for a ride on Sport,” Adam said, chuckling at the boy’s enthusiasm.
Meg returned with the sweater and hat.
“I’ll take him to the outhouse before you go,” she remarked. Their son had trained early. In fact, he had done just about everything early. He walked at nine months and was stringing more and more words together every day. He was a handsome little boy with his mother’s velvet brown eyes and his father’s strong face. Despite the fact that he was growing up, Meg still dressed him in baby clothes. Today he was wearing a cotton dress over some matching leggings. And she hadn’t yet cut his hair. It fell to his shoulders and curled around his cherubic face like a shiny brown halo.
While Meg attended to young Adam’s needs, his father led Sport out of the barn.
He kissed his wife goodbye and lifted his son onto the saddle, then swung up behind him.
He turned the horse’s head toward the road and they left at a walk.
“Fast, Pa! Go fast!” the child demanded when they reached the main road.
“In a minute, Adam. Do you want to hold the reins?”
Adam put the very ends of the reins into his son’s chubby hands, while keeping a grip on them himself. Then he wrapped his arm securely around the boy’s middle and asked, “Ready to go fast?”
The child nodded enthusiastically and Adam spurred Sport into a trot. The little boy screamed with laughter as they bounced along. His father stood the gait for as long as he could. Not only was it jarring, but with his son’s bottom planted firmly against his crotch, it was painful. The little boy’s laughter was such a delight to hear that Adam stood the discomfort as long as he could. Finally he slowed the horse to a walk.
“More fast, Pa,” young Adam insisted.
“Not right now, Adam. We have to let Sport go slow for a while. He has to rest. He’s tired from carrying two of us.”
This wasn’t entirely true. Sport had plenty of stamina, but it was never too early to teach the child consideration for the beasts that served them. As they walked, Adam pointed out hawks circling above them, wild rabbits scurrying across the fields, and a deer leaping into a stand of timber from a snow covered clearing to the right. His son took it all in, absorbing everything he saw like a little sponge.
They ate at Ben’s house. Young Adam loved it there because there were no stairs at home. Adam’s house was a one story rambling ranch. His son ate heartily and then proceeded to climb up and down the stairs as his father and grandfather finished a second cup of coffee. He enjoyed it most especially because his mother would never have allowed it, thinking he might fall and get hurt.
The two Adam Cartwrights cantered into Virginia City in the early afternoon. Unbeknownst to his wife, Adam had been hoping for an occasion to be in town with his son and without her. He planned to have the boy’s hair cut. The baby curls were fine for a while, but his son would be two tomorrow and another baby was on the way. He didn’t like to be so high handed, but he had made up his mind. The discussions with Meg would have dragged on ad infinitum, so he decided to take care of this himself and be done with it. He’d deal with the repercussions later.
His little boy was somewhat less than enthusiastic about the visit to the barbershop. They sat for awhile and watched some other customers as they had their hair cut and were shaved. When it was their turn, young Adam clung tightly to his father. The barber had placed a board across the arms of the chair to lift the child to a more convenient height. Adam peeled his son’s arms from around his neck and sat him gently on the board.
“No, Pa. Hurt,” he said plaintively, a look of fright on his face.
“It won’t hurt, Adam. Don’t be afraid.”
Then Adam noticed that his son was staring with wide eyes at the barber’s shears. Meg had kept him away from her sewing basket by showing him the scissors and telling him that if he touched them they would ‘hurt’.
“Sam,” Adam addressed the barber, “I think I’ll have my hair cut too.” And so saying, he picked up his son, removed the board and sat down in the chair with the boy on his lap.
“Now you watch Adam, and see if the haircut hurts me. It won’t. And when I’m done, then we’ll have your hair cut.”
So his son sat on his lap while the barber trimmed Adam’s hair. When it was his turn, the boy was still uncertain, but not as scared as before. Just as Sam was about to begin, Adam selected a long, soft lock of his son’s hair and told the barber, “Cut this one carefully. I’ll give it to his mother.”
Adam was more than happy with the results of the visit to the barber. He picked up the child and walked over to Simpson’s mercantile.
“Hey there, Adam! Nice to see you. And how are you, young fella?” Matt Simpson
“Hi Matt. Did those things I ordered come in?”
“Sure did. I got ‘em right back there in the storeroom. Be just a minute to fetch ‘em.”
While Matt was in the back, young Adam had walked over to the glass jars filled with candy. He looked at them longingly and then at his father. Adam laughed.
“You’re your mother’s child alright. Well, you were a good boy when you got your haircut so how would you like a sucker?”
Adam selected one from the jar and gave it to the child. He didn’t believe in giving children many sweets, but this was a special occasion… a kind of rite of passage that required an acknowledgement of sorts. Matt returned, Adam paid for the items and began to leave the store. He stopped and walked back.
“Matt, I’ll take a bag of chocolate drops too.”
He hoped the peace offering for Meg would be accepted.
The two Cartwrights made one last stop in town, at the cobblers. Then, stuffing everything into his saddlebags, Adam and his son rode in the direction of the Ponderosa.
They didn’t go immediately home. Instead they rode up to Joe and Carrie’s house, where they were greeted by Carrie, Joe, two and a half year old Mary, and nine month old Joseph. Carrie slapped her hand over her mouth when she saw her nephew’s new haircut. Then she began to laugh.
“So you finally got Meg to agree! How’d you do it?” she asked curiously.
“I didn’t. I just took him and had it done.”
“You’re a braver man than I am,” his brother said.
“Yeah, well, we’ve been ‘discussing’ it for six months. I thought with the new baby on the way this was as good a time as any. Do you mind if I change him here? I bought him some new clothes to go with the haircut.”
When he had finished, Carrie laughed till the tears ran down her cheeks.
“Oh Adam! He’s adorable! A real little wrangler!”
Her nephew was decked out in a small pair of blue jeans, a flannel shirt, suspenders, and a real pair of leather boots. His father looked at him, well pleased.
“Wait till you see this,” he said, unwrapping the final bundle which he had tied carefully to the back of the saddle. He produced a miniature version of his own black hat.
“I had to have it specially made. What do you think?” he asked setting the hat on top of his son’s shorn curls.
“Hey Adam, he looks so good maybe Pa’ll sign him on as a hand for the spring roundup,” Joe quipped. “He’s a little short, but…” And the adults broke into companionable laughter.
“Adam’s a cowboy,” his cousin Mary announced solemnly as she stood watching.
“Yes he is. And you’re a little princess,” said her uncle picking her up and swinging her over his head, to her great delight. He kissed her cheek and set her back on the floor.
“Well, we’d better go. I can’t put off the inevitable much longer. We’ll see you tomorrow for the party.”
“We’ll be there. I hope Meg’s recovered from this by then!” Carrie said as they walked to the door.
“Good luck, older brother,” Joe said, shaking his hand.
“Thanks. I think I’m going to need it.”
Adam had wanted to prepare Meg for the change in their son’s appearance, but the minute he set the little boy on the ground the child took off for the house yelling at the top of his lungs, “Mama, I dot boots! Mama, come see! I dot boots!” The new footwear had been what impressed young Adam more than anything else.
Adam dropped the reins and ran after his son. He saw Meg come out the door and watched the child run into her arms. Because of her pregnancy, she didn’t pick him up much anymore. She bent over, grabbed his shoulders and pushed him back to get a better look at him. She didn’t seem to react badly at first, but suddenly he saw her frown. She reached out and took the hat off the excited little boy’s head. Her eyes locked onto her husband like a guided missile finding its target. She released the boy and stood up, one hand covering her mouth and the other placed protectively over her swollen abdomen.
For a brief moment Adam truly regretted what he had done. And the way she grabbed her middle frightened him. Had the surprise at seeing the child’s short hair caused an adverse physical reaction? He was on the porch in an instant, supporting her and asking, “Are you alright?”
She took a deep breath and pushed him away.
“What have you done?” she demanded.
He searched her face, but to his immense relief he didn’t see any signs of illness or physical distress. What he did see was shock and budding anger.
“I got him some new clothes and a haircut,” he replied mildly, crossing his arms over his chest.
“I dot boots, Mama! I dot boots like Pa!” their son shouted, stamping his newly shod feet with all his might on the porch floor.
“I see Adam. They’re very nice,” his mother replied absently, while glaring at her husband.
She put her hand up, palm out to ward off further remarks.
“I can’t talk about this right now. I know I’ll end up saying something I’ll regret later.” She turned on her heel and went into the house.
“Well, that went well,” Adam thought with a gloomy shake of his head. He grabbed his son’s hand.
“Come help me put Sport to bed, Adam.”
Dinner was a rather quiet meal. The baby was not allowed to speak at the table unless spoken to, and it wasn’t apparent if he noticed the strain between his parents. Adam attempted to make normal conversation, but he received mostly monosyllabic responses from Meg. They took their coffee into the living room as usual. Young Adam had discovered the lovely loud noise his new boots made on the wooden floor and he sneaked up behind the sleeping Miranda, jumping down hard with both feet, right near her head. The cat jumped about a foot in the air and took off like a shot in the direction of the kitchen.
“That’s my boy!” Adam thought, but out loud he rebuked his son.
“Adam, stop that. If you don’t I’ll take the boots away.”
The threat was enough to cause the child to try and walk around on tiptoe for the next few minutes. Adam watched him in amusement.
“Why didn’t you tell me what you were planning to do?”
Adam looked up at the sound of Meg’s question.
“Would you believe me if I said I wasn’t sure I was going to do it until after we had lunch at Pa’s?”
He got up from his chair and sat next to her on the sofa, where she was sewing.
He spoke earnestly.
“We talked about getting his hair cut for months now. You were always unwilling. It just seemed the perfect time to do it.” He sighed.
“I thought that if I had to wait for you to agree, he’d be going to school with hair so long it’d have to be held back with ribbons.”
“But he’s my baby!” she protested sadly, watching the little boy sit and pet the dog, who was stretched out on the rug in front of the hearth.
Adam placed his hand lovingly on her stomach.
“This is our baby, Meg. That,” he nodded in the direction of their son, “is our little boy. I know you hate the idea, but he’s growing up. I’m sorry I did it the way I did it, but I’m not sorry I had his hair cut.”
“Maybe I would have liked to have been there and seen it,” she pointed out.
“I think it’s something a father usually takes care of,” he said gently.
“I’m hurt, Adam. You handled this as if I didn’t even exist.”
“I know and I’m sorry for that. I make mistakes. I’m not perfect.”
For the first time since he brought the boy home, a little smile came to her lips.
“You’re not? Well, that’ll be news to the rest of the family.”
He smiled and lifted her chin with his hand.
“Am I forgiven? “ he asked.
“I suppose so. Maybe you’re right. He is growing up and I do hate it. The time just seems to fly.” She picked up her cup and had another sip of coffee.
“What about those clothes? You said you didn’t plan this, but I don’t remember seeing anything like them the last time I was in town.”
“You’re right. I didn’t plan the haircut, but I ordered the clothes weeks ago. I wanted to dress him like a boy for his second birthday. How do you like the hat? I got it and the boots a little large so he’ll be able to wear them for a while.”
“I have to admit that he looks cute…very handsome…just like his father.” She leaned across and gave her husband a kiss.
“Oh, I almost forgot. I have something for you.” And Adam produced the bag of chocolate drops. Meg laughed delightedly.
“Thank you.” She put her cup down, opened the bag and ate one of the confections.
“And one more thing,” Adam said, removing something dark from his breast pocket.
He placed the silken baby curl in her palm. Her eyes filled with tears as she stared at the dark brown lock of hair.
“Thank you,” she said quietly. “I’ll wrap it in tissue paper and save it.”
Adam put his arms around her and kissed her forehead gently. He held her to him for a moment, then said, “It’s awfully quiet all of a sudden.”
They broke apart and looked around. Young Adam, exhausted from his exciting day had fallen asleep, his head resting on Nugget’s belly. The new hat was on the floor beside him, but he held on to the brim with a now relaxed little fist.
Meg and Adam looked at each other and laughed. He got up from the
sofa and helped her to stand. He walked over and removed the hat
from his child’s loose grip and gently picked him up off the floor.
Together he and Meg put their son to bed.
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