Word Count: 6000
Marie awoke with a gasp of pain. She placed both hands on her belly and tried to calm down. Trying to take deep breaths, she kept telling herself the pains would pass. But they didn’t. In panic, she reached out and began slapping at her husband’s side of the bed in hopes of getting his attention.
“Ben!” There was no answer. “Ben!!” The panic in her voice resulted in a higher pitch. “BEN!!!!!”
“Hmmm?” was the drowsy reply.
“Ben! I think it’s coming!!”
He sat bolt upright in the bed, finally coming awake. “Isn’t it too early?”
“Yes!” The pain was getting worse. She wasn’t due to have the baby for another six weeks.
“I’ll go get the doctor.”
“Don’t leave me!”
Ben took his wife’s hand and tried to calm her down. “I’ll go wake Adam and send him for Dr. Martin. I promise I’ll be right back.” He got out of the bed and turned up the lamp. Then he hastily put on his robe and went to the door. Flinging it open, he quickly crossed the hall to Adam’s room. Entering his oldest’s room, he turned up the lamp.
Adam was a light sleeper and had awakened at the sound of Marie’s panicked voice. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “What’s happened?” His eyes widened in fright when a cry came from across the hall.
“The baby’s coming. I need you to ride hard and fast for Dr. Martin. Tell the doctor to hurry. It’s too early for the baby to be coming.”
After a squeeze to his son’s shoulder, Ben quickly left for his own room. Adam got out of the bed and reached for his pants with shaking hands. Mama had been in a lot of pain when Hoss was born. But she didn’t seem as scared as Marie. Getting his pants on, Adam drew the nightshirt over his head and flung it on the bed. He could hear crying from Pa’s room now. Mama didn’t have a doctor to help her with Hoss. Instead, one of the ladies in the wagon train helped with the birth. He got his arms into his sleeves and began fumbling with the buttons. Noticing that he’d buttoned the shirt wrong, he realized that he’d just have to let it go. He then pulled his boots on over bare feet.
Going into the hall, he could hear Hoss’ snores and Marie’s whimpers. Good thing Hoss was such a deep sleeper, he thought. Poking his head into his parents’ room, he said, “I’m leaving now. I’ll tell Hop Sing to come help.”
Without looking away from his wife, Ben said, “Hurry, son.”
Adam thundered down the stairs as the clock rang out four times. He ran to the kitchen to get to Hop Sing’s room and came to a sudden stop when he saw the cook at the stove.
“Hop Sing hear Missy Marie. Make tea with honey. Keep Missy calm.”
“I’m goin’ for the doctor,” said Adam as he spun on his heel. He ran for the front door and gave it a tug. It wouldn’t open. He pulled again and nothing happened. As panic started to rise, he realized that the bolt was latched. Quickly releasing it, he flung the door open, stepped through, and shut it behind him. He raced for the barn and got the door opened. It was pitch dark inside. Cursing the lack of a lantern, he felt his way over to where Beauty’s tack was hanging. Fortunately, the layout of the barn was burned in his memory, but now he’d be faced with bridling Beauty in the dark.
Getting the bridle off of the peg, he felt his way over to Beauty’s stall. At a low whistle, his horse came forward with a nicker. Adam reached out and his fingers connected with his horse’s soft nose. He put the bit against the horse’s mouth and lightly pushed. Hearing the metal scrape over teeth, Adam pulled the bridle up his horse’s head and managed to buckle it on.
Leading Beauty from the barn, Adam decided to ride bareback. There wasn’t enough light to see to saddle the horse. He held the reins, grabbed a handful of mane, placed his other hand on the horse’s rump, and gave a slight jump. His stomach landed on Beauty’s broad back and he quickly swung his leg over as the horse began to dance sideways. Getting situated, he urged the horse into a gallop and headed for the Virginia City Road.
The moon was just a sliver but there were plenty of stars out. Beauty’s ground-eating stride, plus the light wind, whipped Adam’s hair around his face. He reckoned that the horse sensed his urgency and was going faster than he’d ever experienced. He gripped the reins tightly but still relaxed enough to give Beauty his head.
He worried as he rode the sleek horse. He couldn’t ever remember seeing Pa so scared. Pa wasn’t there when Mama had Hoss. She had been a strong woman, so he hadn’t worried too much about anything bad happening to her. After several hours, Hoss had been born and Mama was just fine.
Adam knew his own mother had died after he was born. Surely that couldn’t happen to Pa twice. What if the baby died, though? He urged Beauty to go faster.
Between bouts of agonizing pain, Marie sipped at the tea Hop Sing had made for her. Ben was wiping the sweat from her face with a damp cloth moistened from the nearby basin. She feared something was terribly wrong. Babies born too early never lived. Her first child had died only because he was stricken with the fever. Surely this baby was meant to live.
“If I die, Mon Cher, bury me somewhere beautiful.”
“Sshh…you’re not going to die.”
“I want to be buried in the dress I wore on our wedding day. Place my rosary in my hands.”
“I’m not going to let you die.”
Another cry came from her. Ben remembered Adam’s birth. He wasn’t allowed on the same floor with his wife. As he and the Captain nervously waited, the doctor tended to Elizabeth. After Adam’s birth, she claimed that there hadn’t been much pain. Marie was stronger than Elizabeth had been. Surely her strength would keep both her and the baby alive.
He again wiped Marie’s face. Inger had been physically stronger than either Elizabeth or Marie. She claimed to have inherited that strength from her mother. According to Inger, her mother was still plowing the fields in Sweden while carrying Gunnar; when her time came, she had been preparing supper after a hard day of plowing. She stopped what she was doing, gave birth, swaddled the baby, and finished preparing supper. Ben didn’t believe much of that story. But Inger had worked hard on the trail while carrying Hoss. He had worried every day about something happening to her or the baby, but Hoss came when he was ready. And Inger was just fine afterwards.
Marie grabbed for his hand and he tightly held it. With another wave of pain, she squeezed his hand until he could no longer feel it. He gasped at her bone-crushing grip but didn’t want to compare his discomfort to her pain.
Footsteps caught Ben’s attention. Hoss was standing just inside the doorway, his hair sticking up like wild pieces of straw, his eyes as large as saucers. “Mama?” he asked in a quavering voice.
Marie turned her head slightly and said, “It’s all right, mon fils. Go back to bed.” Another cry came from her lips.
Hop Sing had come up the stairs with several towels. After setting his load down, he went to Hoss, turned the boy around, and steered him to his room. Then he helped the boy to dress.
“What’s wrong with Mama?” asked Hoss.
“Baby try to come. Missy not leady.”
“Is she gonna die?” Hoss’ lower lip began to quiver.
“Missy velly stlong. She have long day. You come help Hop Sing.”
“I wanna stay with Mama.”
“You come with Hop Sing. It best if boy not in way.”
As they went down the stairs, Hoss realized that he hadn’t seen or heard his brother. “Where’s Adam?”
“He go get doctah.”
“Mama’s gonna die, ain’t she?”
“Baby cause pain when come. Mother soon forget.”
“I ain’t gonna forget! I hate Anne Marie!” The boy then burst into tears. He didn’t want Mama to die. He’d seen what happened when Mrs. O’Neal died. She was put in a box, the box was put in the ground, and then it was covered with dirt. He didn’t want that to happen to Mama.
Hop Sing pulled the scared boy to him and hugged him tight. He’d noticed how happy his boss had been when he came home with his new wife. That happiness had grown tenfold when they’d learned that a baby was coming. He didn’t know if his boss would ever recover if mother and child died.
After Hoss calmed down a bit, Hop Sing said, “Boy eat bleakfast. Hop Sing have no time for cook. You eat apple and bread for now. Hop Sing cook later.”
Hoss sniffled and said, “Okay.”
Hop Sing left the kitchen and headed back upstairs.
Adam finally arrived at Dr. Martin’s office as dawn’s rosy fingers were reaching into the sky. Beauty was lathered in sweat and blowing hard. Tying the reins to the hitching rail, Adam slid off of the horse’s broad back and went to the door. Finding it locked, he began pounding on it and yelling for the doctor. He was beginning to feel panic rising when he heard “Just a minute! Hold off on all of that pounding!”
A key was turned and the door opened to reveal a sleepy Paul Martin dressed in a robe. He squinted at his visitor and realized who it was. “What’s wrong, Adam?”
“It’s Marie! The baby’s coming! Hurry!”
Adam then turned and ran to Beauty. He struggled onto the sweaty horse’s back and headed for home. Realizing that he couldn’t push the horse after the ride into Virginia City, he kept Beauty to a walk for now. Maybe he’d be able to gallop again soon. At least he’d done what Pa wanted and the doctor was coming out.
He began thinking about death. What if Marie died and the baby lived? Or the baby died and Marie lived? What if they both died? Adam realized that he didn’t want Marie to die. He wouldn’t have minded back when Pa first brought her home, but now it was different. She didn’t treat him like a little kid or try to boss him around. He’d noticed lately that she encouraged Pa to let him try new things and take on new responsibilities. If it hadn’t been for her, he probably wouldn’t be helping Bill and the other hands with the horse breaking.
What about the baby, though? He didn’t even know the sibling he was sure was going to be a boy. Would he be sad if the baby died? Could you grieve for someone you didn’t know? He never knew his own mother so her being dead didn’t leave him particularly sad. It was the same for Hoss and Mama. But he had known Inger as Mama and seeing her die had been terrible. He still missed her and thought about her.
The clip-clop of hooves got Adam’s attention and he looked back to see the doctor’s buggy coming up the road. He stopped Beauty to wait and Dr. Martin pulled up alongside him. “Do you want to ride back with me? You can tie your horse to the buggy.”
“Thank you! I’ll probably get home faster with you than on my own.” Adam slid off of Beauty and led him to the rear of the buggy. He tied the reins to the back and then went around and climbed up beside the doctor.
“Were your mother’s pains coming at regular intervals?”
“I don’t know. Pa said it’s too early. Marie was crying when I left. Will she or the baby die?”
“I won’t know until we get there. Some babies come early and develop normally while some seem to have mental capacity problems. Other babies die when they come early. Some of it seems to depend on how strong the mother is. Yours is strong in body and mind.”
“Maybe it’s not really coming. Maybe she’s hurting from something she ate.”
“That’s not likely, son. An expectant mother knows when her time has come. Has this baby been active or passive?”
“Does your mother speak of the baby moving around?”
With a smile, Adam said, “Yeah. I even felt him kick once. He seems to be real strong.”
“You’re sure it’s a boy?”
“I explained it to Hoss. Pa’s had two boys so this one will be a boy, too.”
“Nature doesn’t always work the way we want. Maybe the baby will be a girl.”
“Pa and Marie keep insisting that it’s a girl, but I’m sure it’s a boy.”
“What names have they picked out?”
“Anne Marie if it’s a girl and Joseph if it’s a boy.”
“Those are both very fine names.”
Adam fell silent and just looked at his hands.
“What’s wrong, son?”
“If the baby dies, I suppose we’ll have to put the name on the grave marker.” He sniffled at that thought.
Paul reached out and patted Adam’s leg. “I’ll do everything I can to make sure mother and child are just fine.”
“Thanks, Dr. Martin.” Adam lapsed into silence.
Hoss had left the kitchen and now sat in his father’s office area. The screams and moans from upstairs were leaving him terrified. He’d seen calves and foals born. Except for a few moos or whinnies, cows and horses were relatively quiet while having babies. Mama sounded like she was dying. He wondered if Adam had been this scared when waiting for him to be born.
Hop Sing was busy upstairs and the hands were out with the cattle. Adam hadn’t returned yet. There was no one to offer comfort to the scared boy.
Hearing another scream, Hoss pulled his knees up to his chin. He hugged his knees and began to rock while he sniffled. He didn’t want Mama to die. Maybe she could tell Anne Marie to stop hurting her. Why wasn’t Papa doing something to make the screaming stop? Couldn’t Hop Sing cook something for Mama to eat so the pain would go away? He hoped Adam would be back soon. He’d know what to do.
Upstairs, Ben was hoping the doctor would arrive soon. The water helped to cool Marie some, but it didn’t do anything for the pain. The only birth he could compare this to was Adam’s. Elizabeth had had a weak heart and Adam’s birth had been too much for her. Marie seemed so strong. But now he feared for her life. He couldn’t imagine not having her by his side.
He tried to soothe her with calming words. If only he could take the pain from her and bear it himself. He would give an arm or a leg if it meant that her pain would stop.
“Tell Anne Marie that I loved her.”
“You’re not going to die.”
“Promise me that you’ll remarry.”
“I can’t promise you that.”
“Don’t let Anne Marie grow up without a mother.”
“You and Anne Marie are going to be just fine.”
Marie started to say something but a scream came out instead. The pain in her lower back left her feeling that she would be split in two. There had been pain with her other baby, but nothing like this. That baby hadn’t been early. She screamed again and felt something wet on her thighs.
Hop Sing saw the blood staining the sheet. He picked up a towel and approached the bed. He gently touched his boss’ shoulder and said, “Hop Sing clean Missy before doctah come.” Ben tearfully looked at the cook and nodded. Hop Sing dipped a corner of the towel into the basin and reached under the sheet. He began to wipe away the blood. He hoped he wouldn’t be washing her body later today in preparation for burial. A slight shiver traveled up his spine. His newest charge shouldn’t be influenced by such negative energy. He would say a prayer to chase away such thoughts.
The sound of hooves in the yard made Ben sigh with relief. Dr. Martin would be able to help Marie.
Adam jumped out of the buggy and hitched the horse to the rail. He left Beauty tied to the rear of the buggy and ran for the house. Dr. Martin was left getting his bag and towels out and going to the open door. He went in, shut the door, and headed for the stairs.
Hearing stifled sobs, the doctor looked around and saw feet under Ben’s desk. Going over to the office area, Paul walked around the side of the desk. Adam was sitting on the floor, Hoss pulled close to him. He was rocking his brother back and forth. The little boy was crying but trying hard not to at the same time. His face was red from the effort.
“Your mother will be all right,” said Paul, trying to comfort the boys.
“She’s gonna die!” wailed Hoss.
“I’ll do everything I can to help her and the baby.” Knowing how valuable time was right now, Paul left the boys and went up the stairs. Entering his patient’s room, he was surprised to see several bloody towels on the floor. Marie was pale and moaning from the pain.
“I need to examine her, Ben,” said Paul after seeing Marie’s condition. Ben looked up, brow knitted in worry, fear behind his eyes. Paul removed his jacket, unbuttoned his sleeves, and then rolled them up past his elbows. He stepped forward and placed a hand on Marie’s forehead to check for fever. She was warm, probably more from exertion than anything else. If this went badly, she would develop a fever and most likely die. “Marie,” he said gently.
She opened her eyes a fraction and reached out a hand when she saw the doctor. “Help my baby.”
Paul told Ben, “I need to examine her. I’d prefer that you leave. I’ll call you if there’s a need.”
“I don’t want to leave her.”
“Go down to your boys. I’ll see what I can do to help her.”
Reluctantly, Ben rose from the bed and kissed his wife’s forehead and then her hand. “I love you, Darling.”
“Je t’aime, Mon Cher.”
Ben left the room feeling heavy-hearted. Was Paul making him leave so he wouldn’t have to watch her die? If she was dying, he’d rather be by her side offering words of love and comfort than on the first floor. He slowly descended the stairs and headed for the brandy decanter when he reached the first floor. The sound of sniffling caught his ear. He looked around but didn’t see the boys. “Adam? Hoss? Where are you?”
“Over here,” came Adam’s reply.
Ben went over to his office and walked around the desk. Partially underneath were the boys. Adam was hugging Hoss to him and rocking his brother. Ben knelt down and placed his arms around Adam’s shoulders. Then he hugged his boys to him. These two were precious reminders of precious lives. If both Marie and the baby died, he would have nothing left of her.
“Mama’s gonna die, ain’t she?” whimpered Hoss.
“Hush, Hoss. Dr. Martin and Hop Sing are doing everything they can for Mama and Anne Marie.”
“It wasn’t like this when Mama had Hoss.”
“Every birth is different. But your mother and Anne Marie are going to be just fine.” Ben hoped his voice sounded as confident as his words.
“Mama ain’t gonna be okay. I know it!”
“Say some prayers for Mama and the baby. Their fate is in God’s hands.” Ben kissed the top of Hoss’ head and gave Adam’s shoulders another squeeze.
“Ben!” yelled Paul from the top of the stairs. “Come help us!”
Another round of sobs shook Hoss’ body and Adam found himself on the verge of tears. Ben quickly got up and ran for the stairs. Adam held Hoss tighter as he rocked him.
Arriving in his room, Ben saw how red Marie’s face was. “Ben, I want you to hold her hand and encourage her. The baby has decided to be a breech. It’s going to be difficult, but Hop Sing is going to help me.”
Ben sat down on the bed next to Marie and took her hand. He brought it to his lips and kissed it. She gave him a weak smile and said, “I’ll die happy with you holding me.”
“You’re not going to die! Dr. Martin is going to make sure of that.”
Paul shot Ben a look. He hated it when people made promises he couldn’t keep. “Marie, when I tell you to push, I want you to do so. Try not to push unless I tell you. All right?”
“Oui” she answered weakly.
The doctor reached under the sheet until his fingers made contact with the baby’s tiny foot. He hoped the baby would survive and become a strong, healthy child. “When I count to three, I want you to push. Ready?” She nodded. “One…two…three push.” Marie held her breath and pushed. Making it through the contraction, she panted for breath.
“Smear some of that oil on, Hop Sing.” The cook did as he was told. Paul wiggled the tiny, chubby leg and the baby slid forward a fraction of an inch.
“I need to push.”
“Just a second.”
Marie gritted her teeth and squeezed her husband’s hand. How ridiculous to expect her to make her body respond to the doctor’s order!
“Now you can push.”
She let out a scream as she pushed this time.
“That was good, Marie. Just try to relax.”
As she laid back a bit, she wanted to yell in frustration. But she had no energy. How on earth could she be expected to relax? The baby must surely be dead or dying. Another surge of pain was building.
Paul was lightly holding both of the baby’s legs. The next push should bring out the hips. Then the hard part would begin. “I want you to push on three again. One…two…three push.”
Marie complied and felt her flesh tearing. She screamed in pain as the baby moved.
Paul could feel warm, sticky blood on his hands. “Please, God, don’t let her or the baby die,” he silently prayed. He reached back with one hand for a towel and Ben’s eyes widened at the doctor’s bloody hand. Hop Sing gave the doctor a towel and he pressed it around the baby to blot up the blood. The baby’s legs and hips were now out. Hopefully, the next push would expose the chest and maybe a shoulder.
Marie was feeling very weak now. There was so much pain! She didn’t know if she would last much longer. Turning her head slightly, she saw her husband’s fear-stricken face. Even terrified, he was her rock. And to think she’d tried to shoo him away from New Orleans and her loneliness. But he’d been a persistent suitor, a man with great courage and fortitude. She’d come to love him by the time Marius fought that foolish duel. She wasn’t ready for the wave of pain that was pulling her into darkness.
Paul could tell that Marie’s strength was failing. Her body was getting ready to push again. This contraction was going to happen whether she pushed or not. He prepared to guide the baby. By the end of the contraction, he could feel both hands. One hand formed into a tiny fist. This baby was a fighter. That had to be a good sign.
Marie was moaning now. She wanted the pain to stop. But she didn’t want to die. Feeling eyes on her, she opened her eyes a crack and saw her love’s face. She tried to squeeze his hand, but didn’t know if he could feel it or not. Her lips moved to say something, but she couldn’t make her voice work.
“Hush, Darling. It’ll be all right. I love you with all of my heart. Anne Marie will be in your arms soon and we’ll be so proud of her. I’m proud of you, Darling.”
She wanted to reach up and caress his face. But a tidal wave of pain took her. As it built, she felt a scream rising in her throat, trying to unleash itself on the world. The sound came out, though, more like an eerie howl than a human scream.
Downstairs, Hoss screamed. He knew Mama had to be dead now. Only animals made noises like that and only when they were dying. Adam couldn’t help himself and ran up the stairs. This couldn’t be happening! She couldn’t be dead!
Marie had passed out with that final push. Her skin was pale and clammy. Ben gasped in disbelief as he couldn’t see her chest rising with her breath. He shakily said, “Marie? Darling?” Why was God taking another wife? Had he done something wrong in his youth to justify God’s punishment?
Paul was cutting the baby’s umbilical cord when Adam reached the doorway. The boy stopped in his tracks at the sight of so much blood. Softly, he asked, “Is the baby…? Is Marie…?”
Quickly looking up, Paul said, “No. Come here and take the baby, Adam.” The boy cautiously stepped forward to accept the towel-wrapped bundle. He felt bile rising in his throat and quickly took the baby from the room. Once in the hallway, he gently pulled back the towel to uncover a tiny face. He looked in surprise at the tiny baby, which shook a fist and began to scream at the top of its lungs. Adam’s ears rang from the baby’s noise, but a smile beamed upon his face. Out of curiosity, he opened the towel further and let out a delighted laugh. He held the screaming bundle tightly to his chest and went downstairs.
“Hoss,” he called as he descended from the landing. “Come see the baby.”
“I don’t wanna see it!”
Adam carried the baby over to Hoss, who was still on the floor near the desk, and said, “Just take a look.”
Hoss couldn’t ignore the screaming infant and took a peek. His heart melted at the sight of his new sibling. “Ya think the baby’s hungry?”
“Probably,” answered Adam. “We’ll have to wait for Marie or Hop Sing to feed it, though.”
Upstairs, Paul and Hop Sing were desperately trying to stop Marie’s bleeding. Ben was still in shock, believing his wife to be dead. In the back of his mind, he thought he heard a baby crying, but he knew that was just wishful thinking. Surely the baby had died and Paul just didn’t want to break the news yet.
Hop Sing was startled by the flow of blood. Suddenly, he remembered his herbs downstairs. “Hop Sing go get remedy.” The cook shot out of the room and flew down the stairs. He could hear his newest charge screaming in anger, but he didn’t have time to stop. Reaching his herbal pantry, he pulled out a pouch of herbs and a pouch of buzzard down and took off running for the stairs. Reaching his boss’ room, Hop Sing applied the herbs and down to Marie and then Paul swaddled her in towels and a sheet. He pinned the make-shift diaper tightly and hoped Hop Sing’s remedy worked.
Hoss’ sobs had given way to relieved sniffling. The baby was okay. That must mean Mama was okay, too. Wasn’t she going to come down and get the baby? He peeked around the desk and saw Adam holding the baby’s face up to his own, whispering something to it. He couldn’t catch any of the words, but Adam sure looked pleased and proud.
Hop Sing mixed some herbs in a cup of water and waved the cup under Marie’s nose. Ben thought this must be some Chinese custom for attending to the dead. Suddenly, Marie gasped and began coughing. He felt tears welling in his eyes—his love still lived.
Marie slowly blinked her eyes as she looked around. If this was Heaven, everyone had come along. Sunlight was streaming through the window, bathing the room in a cheery glow. Feeling a hand on her forehead, she turned slightly to see her husband’s concerned face. She croaked out, “Je t’aime, Mon Cher.” He sniffled and said, “I love you so much, Darling.”
The room was strangely quiet. She thought a baby was crying, but she wasn’t sure. “Where’s the baby?” she asked. No one answered and she began to feel panic rising. “Where’s my baby?!?” she desperately cried out.
Paul shot out of the room to the top of the staircase. “Get up here, Adam!”
Adam held the baby tightly to him and went up the stairs. Reaching his parents’ room, he went in with a proud smile beaming on his face. The baby’s lusty cries got Marie’s attention; a relieved smile came to her face. He carried the baby over to the bed and cooed to it.
“Son…let me hold the baby.”
Adam was brought out of his bubble by his father’s voice.
“Give Anne Marie to me.”
As Adam handed over the baby, he said, “There’s one problem, Pa.”
Marie looked fearful at hearing that. The baby must have a disfigurement.
Ben looked puzzled.
Adam just beamed as he said, “You can’t call a boy Anne Marie.”
Marie chuckled weakly. Her baby was a boy. A healthy boy.
Ben proudly took his new son so his love could see his tiny face. “Oh, mon petit,” she sighed. “You said we’d call a boy Joseph. Are we still gonna call him that?”
“Joseph Cartwright,” said Ben proudly.
“Joseph Francis Cartwright,” said Adam, reminding his parents of their promise to name a boy after both of his grandfathers.
“Petit Joseph,” said Marie.
“What’s that mean?” asked Adam.
“Little Joseph,” she replied.
“Little Joe,” Adam said, testing the sound of it.
Newborn Joseph chose that moment to scream his desire for food.
Hoss shyly entered his parent’s room and saw Papa holding the baby. Bloody towels were on the floor. Hop Sing saw the boy and announced, “Boys need runch. Come with Hop Sing. You come too, Doctah. Hop Sing make celeblation runch!” The cook then crossed the room and took Hoss by the shoulders and steered him from the room. Adam, still beaming happily, left the room and headed for the stairs.
Paul asked Ben, “May I have your son? I want to check him over.” Ben gently handed Joseph to Paul, who thoroughly checked over the newest Cartwright. “He’s a fine-looking baby.” Blushing a bit, he asked, “Do you think you can feed him or should I send for a wet nurse?”
“I want to feed my son,” she replied.
Before Paul handed Joseph back to his proud father, he said, “I want to discuss something with you.” Ben and Marie looked at Paul with their full attention. “Since this birth was so difficult, I recommend that you don’t have any more children.”
“But…but this was not expected,” said Marie. “Joseph arrived early and backwards.”
“I know that. But if you were to conceive again, it’s possible the next baby could come even earlier or cause… complications. You two should make time to discuss this.”
Ben’s proud face now appeared worried. He wanted more children, but not at the expense of his wife’s life. If she wanted to live in separate rooms, he’d understand.
“I suppose I should go downstairs before Hop Sing comes looking for me,” said Paul. He then gently handed Joseph back to Ben.
After Paul left the room, Ben held Joseph so he and Marie could marvel at their perfect baby. Marie touched the little palm with a finger and the hand formed a tight fist around it. Joseph cried louder and stronger for a feeding.
“Are you sure you feel up to nursing?” he asked.
“Mais oui, Mon Cher. If you could settle him for me?”
Ben tried to position Joseph in a comfortable position for Marie as she unbuttoned her nightgown to expose her breast. She held the baby close and with her husband’s help Joseph began to suckle greedily. Marie smiled at her beloved husband.
Ben smiled back at his love and leaned forward to give her a kiss. “I love you so much, darling. Try to rest and relax and let Adam, Hop Sing, and me help with Joseph. I’m pretty sure we can put Adam on diaper duty and he’ll be happy.”
Marie gave a small giggle while she conjured up a vision of Adam changing diapers. She looked at her husband and said, “I love you with all of my heart, Mon Cher. If we can never have another child, then so be it. I can’t love you any less than I do now.”
Ben kissed her again. He was so relieved that Marie appeared to be all right and that Joseph was a healthy baby. He placed his hand on Joseph’s little head and stroked the soft, downy hair. His hunger finally satisfied, Joseph yawned and stretched out his little arms. Ben took his son and burped the boy. After a burp, and another yawn, Ben handed Joseph back to Marie. They contentedly watched their son fall into a peaceful sleep.
Downstairs, the boys and Paul were finishing up Hop Sing’s celebration lunch. It had consisted of stew, bread, and apple pie. Paul told Hop Sing that he needed to go check on other patients, but he would be back in the morning to check on mother and child.
Adam and Hoss went out with the doctor and Adam realized that Beauty was still tethered to the doctor’s buggy. He untied his horse, said good-bye to the doctor, and led Beauty to the barn. Hoss followed his big brother.
Once inside the barn Hoss asked, “Are there rules for bein’ a big brother?”
“Nope,” was Adam’s answer as he brushed Beauty.
“Who teached you?”
“I learned on my own.”
“Yer a good big brother.”
Adam smiled over at his brother and said, “Thanks.”
“Remember when you was whispering to the baby?”
“What was you sayin’?”
“Nothin’,” was Adam’s response. “Help me feed the horses.” Hoss happily complied with Adam’s request. He was a big brother now. Hopefully, he’d do as good a job as Adam.
Twenty years later, the words Adam had whispered to his newborn brother came back to his mind. Joe was fevered from his oldest brother’s bullet and bites from a wolf. As Adam watched his youngest brother’s face, he remembered what he’d said:
Welcome to the world, Little Brother! You’re going to have such a grand life! You’ll never have to worry about anything. Pa and Marie will see to it that you have everything your heart could ever want. But if they won’t let you have something, you just come to me. I’ll make sure you get it. You’re going to have the childhood I never got to have. I’ll get to be a kid by watching you enjoy yourself. I’m going to protect you from everything so you’ll never be disappointed. We’re going to have so many adventures when you get a little older. I love you, buddy and I always will.