Word Count: 4225
“Papa says we hafto get ready fer supper. How come you ain’t dressed yet?” Hoss asked his brother.
“I’ll get ready when I feel like it,” replied a surly Adam.
“Why ain’tcha happy to have a mama?”
“I already had one.”
“I ain’t never had one.”
“Yes you have! Just ‘cause you didn’t know her doesn’t mean you never had one.”
“But I want a mama.”
“We don’t need her!” said Adam angrily. He rolled over on the bed so his back was to his brother.
A very confused Hoss went across the hall to his room. He had forgotten to ask Adam to help him with his tie, which hung limply around his shirt collar. No matter what Adam said, he wanted a mama.
The new Mrs. Ben Cartwright and her husband arrived at the Ponderosa shortly after lunch. Marie and Ben had spent the previous evening in Virginia City because they would have arrived at the ranch so late. Ben thought it more appropriate for his new wife to meet her sons in the light of day instead of at bedtime.
As the buggy pulled up to the house, Marie gasped—the house was more than she imagined. She had assumed Ben and his sons lived in a cabin. A woman’s touch was definitely needed, though. She imagined hanging baskets of flowers, a climbing rose, and a small flower garden.
“Well, here we are, Darling.”
“It’s beautiful, Mon Cher. Where are your sons?”
“Our sons are probably in the barn doing chores. I’m surprised they didn’t come out to meet us.”
The front door opened and a small Chinese man came out of the house. His face beamed with a large smile as he approached the buggy. “Welcome home, Mistah Ben! This is Missy Cartlight?”
“It’s good to be home, Hop Sing. This is Marie. Darling, Hop Sing is our cook. He’s also been a great help with the boys.”
“Hello,” she said with a smile.
Ben alit from the buggy and helped her out. “Where are the boys?”
“I give them eggs. They take to Missy Larson. They be back soon.” Hop Sing then went to the back of the buggy and began unfastening the rope that held the luggage.
Ben picked up his bride and carried her to the door. Marie laughed and blushed—her husband had such a romantic streak. “Welcome home, darling.”
She took in the rugged interior of the house—the high ceiling, roaring fire, and neatly ordered room were comforting. However, a woman’s touch was definitely needed.
After a kiss, Ben said, “Why don’t you go upstairs and I’ll help Hop Sing with the luggage.”
Arriving upstairs, she looked in the first room and saw clothes neatly folded on the bed. The room wasn’t neat, yet it wasn’t messy either. A carved cow, sheep, and pig sat on the nightstand alongside a picture of a woman. Marie noted that the woman in the photo had light hair and eyes, and there was a smile playing on her lips. “This must be Inger,” Marie thought. That meant this was Hoss’ room. Ben told her that Inger, a Swedish immigrant, loved life and had a kind word for everyone. Looking into the picture, Marie said, “I promise to be a good mother to your son and to see him become a man you will be proud of.” Putting the picture back on the nightstand, she returned to the hall.
Entering another room, she noted that it was neatly ordered and included a shelf with books and a ship’s model. This was obviously Adam’s room. Adam clearly liked everything in its place. Going to the shelf, she looked at the books—Poor Richard’s Almanack, Robinson Crusoe, Shakespeare’s Tragedies, and a few other titles. There weren’t many books and all had been read many times, by their appearance. She hoped she could add to his library.
Looking around the room again, a frame caught her eye. She went to the writing desk and saw a photo of a young woman. “What a beauty!” Marie thought. Poor Ben must have been devastated by her loss. He told her that Adam’s mother was well-educated, outspoken, opinionated, and had a love for learning. He also told her that Adam was very much like his mother. Looking into the picture, Marie said, “I promise I will be a good mother to your son and see to his education.” Putting the picture back on the desk, she took a look at the music box. She didn’t open it, but ran her fingers over the cherubs. After one more look around the room, she went back into the hall.
A room full of jumbled furniture next caught her eye. There were some chests that contained who knew what, old chairs, and a battered desk. These things would need to be sorted through to see what could be used and what should be thrown out. This house truly needed a woman’s touch.
Marie entered the final room with a wildly beating heart. This was her new room, the room she and Ben would share for years to come. She went over to the large bed and touched the quilts; an electric tingle went through her. This was the bed she would soon share with her husband. She inhaled deeply and caught the scent of bay rum cologne— how she loved that scent on her dear Ben! She would need a dressing table of her own and a rocking chair. Hopefully, there would be several children for her to rock in the coming years.
Footsteps in the hall caught her attention. She turned around to see Hop Sing and Ben with the luggage. “Oh, you startled me!” The two men set the valises down along the wall and then Hop Sing left the room.
Ben went to his wife, drew her close, and kissed her. When they parted, she blushed like a newly married bride. As she blushed, she thought that she would always feel this way, no matter that they had already been married for three months.
“I’m so happy, darling.”
“So am I, Mon Cher.”
They heard voices coming from the first floor. “The boys must be home!” Ben said with great excitement. “Come down when you’re ready.”
He quickly left the room to greet his boys. Marie followed at a slower pace. She wanted him to have a few minutes alone with his sons.
Watching from the shadows at the top of the stairs, she saw Ben reach the first floor and grab his sons to him. Hoss was much larger than she had expected. Ben had told her the five-year-old was big, but he was up past his father’s waist. Adam looked to be a gangly boy; his black hair contrasted sharply with Hoss’ blond locks.
“We missed you, Papa!” said Hoss, squeezing his father.
“I’ve missed you boys, too,” Ben answered with a shaky voice.
“We’re glad you’re back, Pa,” said Adam, trying to sound like a grown-up instead of a boy happy to have his father home.
“I’m glad to be home. Let me look at you two.” Ben stood back and took in his sons’ appearances. Hoss’ ruddy cheeks were stained with tears. Adam stood straight and casually wiped at his eyes with the back of a hand. Both boys were in need of haircuts but Ben wasn’t going to worry about that now.
Marie got a good look at her new sons from her hiding place. Hoss was a chubby boy with sandy blond hair, red cheeks, and sparkling eyes; he looked ecstatic to see his father. Adam had black hair that was curling up at the back of his neck, long legs and arms, and coloring similar to his father’s. She thought he was going to become a handsome man once he reached his full height and filled out. Adam was obviously very happy to have his father home again but was trying too hard to not appear as a little boy.
“I brought home a surprise,” said Ben.
“A surprise?!” Hoss said with excitement. “What you brung fer us, Papa?”
“Where is it?” asked Adam, looking around the room.
“It’s not a what. It’s a who.”
“Whatcha mean, Papa?”
“You brought home a person?” asked Adam in a confused tone.
“Yes. I think you’ll like her very much.”
“But Hop Sing does all of the housekeeping.”
“I didn’t bring home a housekeeper.”
“Who’d ya brung then?” asked Hoss.
“I brought you boys a mother.”
“A mother?!?” Hoss asked with excitement.
“Yes, a mother. I met her in New Orleans and she’s here now.”
Marie realized that she should go downstairs before the boys asked too many more questions. Descending the stairs, she stopped at the landing so the boys could get a look at her. Hoss reminded her of an excited puppy; he was practically dancing in place and was wearing a huge smile.
Adam narrowed his eyes, scowled, and crossed his arms over his chest. Hoss might need a mother but he thought he certainly didn’t.
She started down the stairs again and came to Ben’s side when she reached the first floor.
“Boys, this is your new mother. Say hello.”
“Hi, Mama,” said Hoss as he rushed to her. He grabbed her around the waist and hugged hard.
Ben quickly realized that Marie’s breath was being squeezed out of her. “Gentle, son,” he said. Hoss relaxed his grip a little but still had her in a hug.
After several minutes, Ben told Hoss to ease up. The boy unclasped his fingers and stepped back. His eyes were shiny with tears. “I ain’t never had a mama,” he said.
“I’ll try to be a good mother, Mon Fils,” Marie replied with a smile and tears in her eyes.
“What was that last bit?” Hoss asked.
“I called you ‘my son’ in French.”
Hoss’ mouth formed on O in surprise. His mama could speak French. What else could she do?
“You must be Adam,” said Marie as she turned her attention to the older boy.
“I must be,” he said coolly.
“That’s no way to speak to your mother,” Ben reprimanded sharply.
“She’s not my mother, Pa. How could you do this? You could’ve checked with us first!”
“I don’t need your permission to marry, young man,” rebuked Ben. “Greet your mother.”
“Hello.” Then he spun on his heel and went to the door. He opened it, shot a glare at Marie, went outside, and slammed the door behind him.
Ben, Marie, and Hoss were startled by Adam’s behavior. “Adam’s jest cranky, Mama. He ain’t been sleepin’ too good since Papa’s been gone. He says it’s hard bein’ the man of the house.”
“He says what?” Ben asked in surprise.
“Adam said he was boss with you gone, Papa. He made sure I did my chores, ate my supper, took baths, and went to bed on time. He’s even teached me to write my name.” Hoss paused and then said, “He was awful scared you wasn’t coming home, Papa.” The boy then hugged his father again. “I’m glad yer home, Papa.” He then hugged Marie. “I’m glad yer home, Mama.”
Ben was surprised by Hoss saying that Adam thought they had been abandoned. Surely his son knew better. This wasn’t the first time he had left the boys to take furs to New Orleans. Of course, he’d been away longer this time… How could Adam think such a thing?
“Go to him, Mon Cher,” Marie said with a touch to his arm.
He gave her a look of gratitude and went to the door. Looking back, he saw Marie hugging Hoss to her. At least one son was happy to have a mother.
Going outside, Ben scanned the yard for Adam. Realizing he must have gone to the barn where he could hide, Ben went to the building. His eyes adjusted to the dim light and he saw Adam hugging his horse’s neck.
“We need to talk, son.”
“About what?” Adam responded sarcastically.
“You have a new mother, son. You’ll just have to accept that.”
“Why, Pa? We’ve been doing just fine. Why now?”
“I’m in love, son. Someday you’ll understand what that’s like. Come on back to the house and get to know her.”
“I don’t want to know her. I want everything to be like it was!”
Ben felt himself becoming exasperated. “She’s my wife and your mother. Things will be a little different now. I still love you and Hoss. That won’t ever change.”
“Until she has a baby.”
“I didn’t love you any less when Hoss was born, Adam.”
“That was different! Mama would’ve been angry with you if you had loved me less. She always treated me like I was hers.”
“Marie will do the same.”
“You don’t know that!”
“Of course she will. I wouldn’t have married her if I thought she wouldn’t love you and Hoss.”
“Why didn’t you send a letter? You could’ve told us what was taking you so long.”
“The mail travels so slowly that I knew we’d be home before it arrived. Were you worried that I wasn’t coming back?”
“Why would I think that?” Adam asked a little too quickly.
“I was gone longer this time. Did you think that something bad had happened?”
“Of course not!”
“What did you think?” Ben prodded.
“That maybe you had stopped by Mama’s grave to put up a headstone.”
“Son, you knew I sailed from California and planned to sail back.”
“So you don’t care about her anymore?!?” the boy said hotly. “You’ve forgotten all about her, haven’t you? Well I haven’t and never will! She loved me like I was hers. Remember when we met her? I was sick. She made me better like a mother would. She’s my mother, not that…that…woman you’ve brought home!”
“That woman, as you put it, is your mother now!” Ben thundered. “She’s your mother and there’s no changing that.”
“I don’t need a mother!” snarled Adam as he raced past his father for the house.
Ben was stunned by Adam’s behavior. Inger had been a wonderful mother to his son, but she’d been gone for five years now. Was Adam so selfish that he couldn’t share his father?
Going back into the house, Ben was not surprised that Adam was nowhere to be seen. Marie and Hoss were sitting on the hearth looking sad. “What’s wrong?”
“Adam is angry, Mon Cher. I didn’t want him to be angry.”
“I ain’t angry, Mama,” said Hoss as he patted her shoulder.
She put her arm around Hoss and hugged him to her. “I know, Mon Fils. Thank you.”
Hop Sing came into the big room and said, “I get suppah leady. I cook steaks in honah of Missy Cartlight.”
“You’ll like Hop Sing’s cookin’,” said Hoss, eyes sparkling with anticipation.
“Go upstairs and change into a suit, Hoss. Tell Adam to change clothes, too. We’re going to dress up in honor of your mother.”
Hoss beamed, planted a kiss on Marie’s cheek, and then went upstairs to tell his brother.
“Adam and I are going to have a terrible battle of wills, Mon Cher,” said Marie with great sadness. “He already has decided that he hates me.”
“That’s not true, darling,” assured Ben. “Inger was the only mother he’s known. He’s had me to himself for five years. It’s just hard for him to accept right now. He’ll come around.”
“Is he as stubborn as you?”
“He’s got a healthy dose of the Cartwright stubbornness”
Marie put her face in her hands. After taking a deep breath, she asked, “Do you think our relationship will be one long war?”
“I won’t let him treat you with disrespect.”
“You won’t always be around to keep the peace.”
Ben went to her and pulled her upright. “I love you. Hoss loves you. Adam won’t have any choice but to love you.” He kissed her and then said, “Let’s go upstairs and change for supper.”
Hoss had gotten into to his dress clothes and was now confronted by the string tie. Papa or Adam always did it up for him. Crossing the hall into Adam’s room he said, “Papa said we hafto get ready fer supper. How come you ain’t dressed yet?”
“I’ll get ready when I feel like it,” replied a surly Adam.
“Why ain’tcha happy to have a mama?”
“I already had one.”
“I ain’t never had one.”
“Yes you have! Just ‘cause you didn’t know her doesn’t mean you never had one!”
“But I want a mama.”
“We don’t need her!” said Adam angrily. He rolled over on the bed so his back was to Hoss.
A very confused Hoss went across the hall to his room. He had forgotten to ask Adam for help with his tie, which hung limply around his shirt collar. No matter what Adam said, he wanted a mama.
Deciding to ask Papa for help, Hoss entered his parents’ room. “I need help with my tie.”
Marie went to him immediately, knelt down, and began to knot the tie. “Is your brother dressed?” Ben asked.
“No sir,” replied Hoss.
Ben went to his son’s room and saw the boy lying on the bed. “Get up and get dressed, Adam. I won’t tolerate this behavior.”
There was no response. “You’re not too old to get a tanning. I want you to get up, get dressed, and be downstairs in ten minutes. Do you understand?”
Adam rolled over and shot his father a glare. “Yes sir.”
After his father left the room, Adam got up and put on his suit. While knotting his tie, he decided that he would eat if he had to but he wasn’t going to enjoy it. He made it downstairs in the allotted time frame and joined his father and brother at the table. Now they were waiting on Marie.
She came downstairs a few minutes after Adam and sat across from Ben. Looking at the faces around the table, she gave them all a smile. Only Ben and Hoss smiled back. Adam just returned a blank expression. Her stomach growled as the aroma of Ponderosa beef wafted in from the kitchen.
Hop Sing, realizing that there was no conversation at the table, brought in a platter of biscuits for his family to begin eating. If they had food to share, they might start to talk. He set the biscuits and a dish of butter on the table by Marie. She looked at him a bit surprised but took a biscuit and passed them on.
Hoss took two biscuits and passed the platter to Adam. He took one biscuit and set it on his plate. Just because Marie was eating one didn’t mean that he had to. The boy passed the platter to his father, who took a biscuit and began eating.
The uncomfortable silence continued but was at least punctuated by the sounds of chewing. Except for Adam. The biscuit was on his plate but he wasn’t going to touch it.
“Eat your biscuit, Son,” said Ben.
“I’m waiting for supper.”
“That’s part of your supper. Eat it.”
“They’s real good,” said Hoss.
Adam just shrugged.
“Adam doesn’t have to eat the biscuit if doesn’t wish to do so,” said Marie.
The boy looked at her, picked up the biscuit, and began to eat.
Hop Sing entered the dining area with a platter full of steaks. He put one on each plate and then retreated to the kitchen. Adam carefully watched Marie out of the corner of his eye. If she ate her steak with gusto, he wasn’t going to touch his.
She cut a piece off of her steak, lifted the fork, and looked at it carefully. As she looked at the meat on her fork, she stole a glance at her oldest step-son. “I don’t know about this, Mon Cher. It doesn’t look cooked.”
Adam quickly cut into his steak, exposing the medium-rare pinkness. Hoss was happily chewing and couldn’t speak with his mouth full. Ben shot Marie a questioning look. She gave him the hint of a smile.
“You must be used to city food, ma’am,” said Adam. “This steak looks perfect.”
“I don’t know,” she replied, “maybe Hop Sing should cook them all some more.”
Hoss nearly lost his grip on his knife and fork—no one was going to take his supper away. Adam began to cut up his steak into bite-sized pieces; Hop Sing would never be able to put the whole steak together again. Marie just watched this in amusement. Ben continued to eat, shooting glances at Marie.
Adam savored every bite of his steak and made a point of making yummy noises with each bite. Marie ate her steak very slowly and inspected each small piece before putting it in her mouth.
When the boys had finished their supper, Adam asked, “May we be excused, Pa?”
“Sure,” was Ben’s only reply. After their departure from the room, Hop Sing came in to clear their dishes. Seeing most of Marie’s steak still on her plate, Hop Sing asked, “Missy not like?”
“It’s delicious, Hop Sing!” she announced.
“Then why you still eat?”
“Because Adam was only going to eat if I didn’t like this steak. It’s absolutely perfect, Hop Sing. You must let me watch you cook some time.”
Hop Sing beamed as he cleared the boys’ place settings.
Ben asked, with some confusion, “So what was this all about?”
“Our first battle of wills,” said Marie as she cut off another piece of her steak. “Looks like I won this time.”
“Adam will come around, darling.”
“I just hope this is a short war,” she said as she took another bite of the most delicious steak she’d ever had. “I don’t think I can cope with a siege,” she thought to herself.
Upstairs, Adam was in Hoss’ room, sitting on the floor and holding the picture of Inger. As he rocked himself, he looked into the eyes of the only mother he’d ever known. Why did you have to die? We were so happy. Pa loved you so much. I loved you. “It isn’t fair!” he said aloud.
“What ain’t fair?”
“That Pa got a new wife. Why did he have to do that? Doesn’t he care what we think?”
“I like havin’ a mama. Is she like mine was?”
Glaring at his brother, Adam said, “She’s nothing like her. Mama was tall and nice and…and she smelled clean.”
“Mama smells real nice.”
“That’s just perfume, Hoss. Without it, she probably stinks.”
Hoss giggled at that. “I don’t care, though. I been hopin’ fer a mama and Papa finally brung us one.”
With a snort, Adam said, “You’re just a kid. What do you know?”
Hop Sing entered the room with a tray bearing two cups of cocoa and some cookies. “Bedtime snack. Bring cups down in the morning.”
As the cook turned to leave, Adam asked, “What are they doing down there?”
“That not boy’s business. You eat cookies then go to bed.”
Nibbling on a cookie, Adam waited until he heard Hop Sing’s feet on the squeaky board near the bottom of the stairs. Putting a finger to his lips, he indicated that Hoss should be quiet; then he tip-toed out to the staircase and looked down into the big room. Pa was kissing that woman and it looked like she was kissing him back. He saw his father scoop her up in his arms and head for the staircase. Going back to Hoss’ room, he said, “Put out the lamp and get in your bed. Pretend you’re asleep.”
“But I ain’t finished my cocoa yet.”
“Just get in the bed.”
Adam quickly went to his own room and shut the door. He changed into a night shirt and got into his bed with a book to read. Since he wasn’t tired, there wasn’t any point in pretending to be asleep. He heard footsteps going into Hoss’ room and two adult voices saying good night. The footsteps then came to his door and stopped. There was whispering and then the door opened.
“Good night, Adam,” said Marie with a smile.
Adam looked at her and replied, “Good night, ma’am. Don’t let the wolves keep you up.”
She looked startled for a second and then left the doorway.
Ben came in and sat on the edge of his son’s bed. “That wasn’t a nice thing to say to your mother.”
“She’s not my mother, Pa.”
“You’re going to have to accept her, son.” Ben then patted Adam’s shoulder and said, “Good night, son. Maybe your heart will be more accepting in the morning.”
“Good night, Pa.”
Ben blew out the lamp on his way out of the room. As Adam lay in the bed, he began thinking of how to make Marie so miserable that she would leave them and go back to New Orleans. He finally drifted off to sleep dreaming about the wagon train, Inger, and happier times.