Word Count: 1250
Clutching his newly earned officer’s papers, the young man stood at the foot of the gangplank of the clipper ship. His excitement at his new position was tempered by apprehension. “Wanderer’s” master, Captain Abel Morgan Stoddard, had a reputation of sternness and being demanding of perfection. However, his reputation also included integrity, fairness, and skill as a seaman. The newly-minted ship’s officer also heard that Abel Stoddard had a beautiful sixteen-year-old daughter. Not that he would be fortunate enough to make her acquaintance.
“Get to it and report for duty,” the young man instructed himself as he adjusted his cap on his wavy black hair. “You’ll never become a ship’s captain by standing here on the dock.” Squaring his broad shoulders, Benjamin Cartwright strode up the gangplank.
First Officer Ben Cartwright, First Mate of the clipper ship “Wanderer”, studied the sky from the porch of the red brick church. It was a beautiful June day in Boston. A sea breeze kept the temperature mild. High fluffy white clouds skidded across the blue sky. Ben smiled as he recalled Liz’s child-like enjoyment of finding shapes in the clouds.
Ben turned and looked through the open doors into the sanctuary. The pews were packed with friends, relatives, and members of the Congregational Church. Despite the open windows, it was quite warm in the crowded church, and the ladies’ fans were fluttering steadily. The minister, followed by Ben’s brother John, who was leaving the next day to start a new life in Ohio, came from the back to stand in front of the altar. The minister saw Ben and nodded that it was time.
The pianist was finishing a hymn that Liz told him was written by Beethoven. Ben made his way through the fragrance of bouquets of Spring flowers to take his place beside his brother. As he turned to face the front of the church, the pianist started up “The Wedding March” and Ben stared wide-eyed as his bride entered, holding on to her father’s arm.
Questions swirled through Ben’s mind. “Who was this lovely enchantress in the ivory satin dress? What did he do to deserve her? What did the future hold for him and this delicate fairy-like young woman he was about to promise to cherish and protect? Was he up to the task?”
After what seemed like an eternity, Able Stoddard placed his daughter Elizabeth’s hand in Ben’s and reluctantly retreated to the front pew. Beaming, the nervous couple faced the minister as he began the wedding service.
The morning dawned clear and bright in St. Joseph, Missouri. The family of three had risen in the dark and had eaten their breakfast of biscuits and bacon. They had long since stowed their breakfast utensils and tidied up their campsite. The tall young woman carefully extinguished their fire while her broad-shouldered dark-haired husband conferred with the other men in their company.
The group of men broke up; the husband returned and grinning broadly, expertly hitched a team of horses to their Conestoga wagon. His efficient wife had already tied their milk cow to the back. She adjusted her calico sunbonnet on her blonde hair and clambered up onto the wagon seat, followed by the couple’s young son. Finally Ben Cartwright climbed aboard, just as excited and eager to be off as six-year old Adam was eager to get moving. Inger Cartwright touched her hand to her rounding stomach where the new member of their family was squirming like a tiny fish.
Finally, the line of wagons got underway. Ben lightly touched the tip of his whip to the horses’ flanks and the young Cartwright family began the journey to their new life in the West.
Ben Cartwright’s sigh of contentment softly echoed the sigh of the wind through the tall Ponderosa pines that surrounded his home. The evening chores were done and his boys tucked into bed in the alcove off the main, and only room, of the log and stone cabin.
Ben had built the cabin with his own hands, as well as the scant furniture inside and the bench on which he sat, outside the door. True, it was small, but it was sturdy with a large fireplace, and amply protected his sons and himself from the harsh winter weather.
He smiled to himself as he thought of his sons. Nine-year-old Adam and three-year-old Eric, or Hoss, as Adam insisted his little brother be called. They were his pride and joy, the reason he was here taking up land for a ranch at the foot of the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains.
This had been his dream, but the dream included a beloved figure that should be here, now, sitting beside him. He shook himself out of his reverie. It wouldn’t do any good to dwell on what might have been. He had to live in the present. He had sons to raise and a future to build for their sakes.
He dumped the spent tobacco from his pipe and stretched as he took a deep breath of the pine-laden air. Morning came early. He entered the cabin and checked on the sleeping boys, tucking the blankets snuggly around them. Then he climbed the ladder to his solitary bed in the loft.
The man stopped his pacing as the woman’s moans and muffled screams bounced down the staircase from the newly-completed second floor of the log and stone house.
His thoughts were in a turmoil. “My brave Marie, she’s trying so hard to hold back the sound of her pain. Please, Lord, let this birth go well. She wants this baby so much. She deserves some happiness after the hard times she’s had.”
Soft footsteps padded across the floor from the downstairs bedroom and he felt a hand on his arm. He looked down into two pairs of eyes: questioning grey ones and teary blue.
“Everything will be fine,” Ben Cartwright hastened to assure his sons. He picked the younger boy, a stocky towhead, up into his arms. “You two need to go back to bed. Try to sleep; it’s late. I’ll wake you when the baby is here.”
The threesome stared, alarmed, when a sharp scream tore down the stairs, followed by utter silence. Ben thrust the little boy in his arms toward the older dark-haired boy and ran. As he reached the top, a new cry caused him to stand stock still: the shrill cry of a newborn. Ben dashed into the small bedroom and almost collided with the midwife. She stood away from the bed, smiling.
“You can stay just for a minute, Ben. I need to get Marie and your new son cleaned up. Then you can come back, and I’ll go downstairs and leave you alone with them.”
Ben was so relieved that he almost didn’t hear a word the midwife said, including the word “son”. He was too intent on the woman on the bed and the red wailing bundle in her arms.
Then it hit him. “A son? Did Shaughnesy say a son? Marie was right. She insisted the baby was a boy. A third son. Three strapping sons to pass the Ponderosa on to.
Ben kissed his wife’s sweaty brow and the baby’s downy head. His heart nearly burst with joy.
“Wait till your brothers meet you, little fellow.”