Le Réveillon (by Puchi Ann)

Summary:  Freshly home from college, Adam becomes concerned when it appears that the Christmas traditions of Little Joe’s mother have been abandoned during his absence.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  5300


Underneath a star-studded sky, Adam Cartwright rested his folded arms on the top rail of the corral and breathed, deeply and contentedly, of the crisp, pine-scented air. Now, this was how Christmas was supposed to smell! Not that the aromas he’d savored back East these past four years had been unpleasant, but they hadn’t evoked the holidays with quite the same vitality as this icy tang.

How he had looked forward to celebrating the Cartwright traditions again, beginning with this morning’s commemoration of St. Lucia’s Day in honor of Hoss’ mother, Inger. Ever since she’d come into their lives, their Christmases had begun as hers had back in Sweden. The first had been magical, as had been the way she’d transformed the lives of a lonely little boy and a broken man, still grieving the loss of his first wife. Of course, there’d been only that one blissful morning when she’d awakened them clad in her white nightgown, a red ribbon around her waist and a wreath of lighted candles in her golden hair as she presented them, in their beds, with the yellow-tinted buns and hot drinks. Even after her death on the trail, however, they’d found a way to remember her every December 13th. Instead of the wreath of candles, they’d settled for a single glowing light in a circle of evergreen in the center of the table; then they’d breakfasted on warm, iced rolls, at first simple cinnamon ones, but when first Marie and then Hop Sing had done the baking, they’d known to add a pinch of saffron to bring out the sunny color of Inger’s Swedish treats.

This morning’s celebration had been all he’d hoped for, except for Marie’s absence at the table. No one mentioned her, probably because they’d had the chance to face that empty chair several times in the years he’d been away, but this was Adam’s first Luciadagen without Marie, and he missed seeing her smiling at Pa’s side. Only for a moment, though. This was Inger’s day; Marie’s would come.

Or so he’d thought. What had sent him out into the cold night air was the need to think through what he’d learned, just as supper was ending. When he’d mentioned that he was looking forward to le réveillon, a Creole tradition Marie had introduced into their Christmas seasons, Little Joe had asked, “What’s that?” and even Hoss had looked a bit bemused.

Adam had somehow evaded answering the question and excused himself, saying there was something he needed to check in the barn. He’d never made it that far, and he hadn’t gotten far in trying to figure out why his father, so careful to preserve the traditions of his mother Elizabeth and those of Inger, had allowed Marie’s to fade into the shadows of the past. Maybe shadow was exactly the right word; maybe the shadow of his grief still cloaked Pa’s heart so thickly that he couldn’t bear any reminder of the woman he had loved longer, if not better, than his other cherished wives. Grief had lingered that long after his own mother’s death, although Adam hadn’t recognized it as that then. To him, who had never known anything else, the dark cloud that sometimes hovered overhead was just part of who Pa was. Not until Inger came had he known real laughter and light, and that was why it seemed especially appropriate to remember her on the Swedish tribute to the winter solstice, which day by day would bring back the sun again, just as she had to their lives.

Had Pa never found the sun again after Marie’s death? He’d seemed to. Had it all been pretense, to send Adam off to college without guilt over relinquishing the responsibility that had made him give up that dream for a while? Had his little brothers been suffering under that cloud of grief ever since he left, the way he had as a small boy? The letters from home had seemed cheery enough, but had they, too, been pretense? He didn’t really think his father, much less Hoss or Little Joe, had it in them to cover their feelings that well — he was the only Cartwright really good at that — but he didn’t know how else to explain the abandonment of a tradition that Marie had treasured and they had all enjoyed.

He’d been so lost in thought that he hadn’t heard the footsteps coming up behind him, so he jerked upright when he heard his father call his name.

“Sorry, son,” Ben chuckled. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Adam turned and propped his elbows on the rail behind him. “Guess I was woolgathering, Pa.”

“We’re not sheep men, boy,” Ben chided playfully. Then he sobered at the sight of Adam’s wrinkled brow. “Something troubling you, son?”

Adam had always been the most direct of the Cartwright boys. “Yes, sir,” he said softly. “I noticed, when I mentioned réveillon, that neither Hoss nor Little Joe appeared to know what I was talking about. Do you not celebrate that tradition any longer?”

Ben’s lips pursed for a moment, but he answered simply, “No, we…uh…haven’t kept it up.”

“May I ask why?”

Ben uttered a rough laugh. “Of course, you may ask. I’m just not sure I have a satisfactory answer.”

“Is it…too painful?” Adam asked hesitantly.

Ben smiled softly then. “No, son. It’s not painful to think of Marie, if that’s what concerned you.” He shrugged. “I’m not really sure why we stopped. Maybe it was too painful that first year. Then…well…it’s a harder tradition to carry on than Inger’s. All that requires is eating a delicious breakfast, and Hop Sing prepares that.”

“He prepared le réveillon, too, as I recall,” Adam observed.

“In part,” Ben agreed. “Marie took charge of the gumbo, though.”

“It wouldn’t have to be gumbo, would it?” Adam pressed. “Any festive meal would do, and since Hop Sing doesn’t attend the midnight Mass, there’s no need for something to simmer slow while we’re away.”

Ben sighed. “That’s the real reason. Of all the outlandish times to hold a church service! I suppose it was just too much trouble to drag two small boys out in the cold and haul them home and then try to calm them down and convince them to go to bed after a large meal in the middle of the night.”

“We did all that when she was here, and they didn’t seem to suffer any ill effects.”

Ben cocked his head and studied Adam’s face. “I didn’t realize it meant so much to you.”

“Not to me,” Adam said, “although I was looking forward to Christmas as we’ve always celebrated it. I’ve missed that these last four years.”

Ben reached out to stroke his son’s muscular arm. “Oh, of course.”

“But I was thinking more of Little Joe. Doesn’t he deserve to honor his mother’s traditions as I do those of my mother and Hoss his, the way we did this morning?” Adam pressed.

“We don’t do anything to honor your mother’s,” Ben disputed. The thought of Elizabeth, so long gone now, suddenly sent a tender ache through his heart.

Adam shook his head. “Of course we do. You and she were both from New England. I always assumed, when we followed your traditions, we were following hers, too.”

“I suppose that’s true.” Ben nodded, a warm smile touching his own lips as he recalled a long ago Christmas with his first wife. The traditions had been the same he observed in the home of his parents, but somehow made more alive and vibrant by Elizabeth’s touch.

“So, as I was saying,” Adam pursued, “doesn’t Little Joe deserve to know how his mother celebrated Christmas?” Seeing his father’s ashen face, he lowered his voice. “Or is there some other reason that makes réveillon…unpleasant for you?”

Ben exhaled slowly. “You know me too well.” He shook his head, more, Adam sensed, in self-reproach than anything else. “I can’t walk through the doors of that church, Adam. All I’d feel there is anger, frustration.” He spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness.

“What frustrates you?” Adam asked, thinking it best to deal first with the simpler emotion.

Ben laughed. “That one’s easy. I can’t understand a word they say, son! You may speak Latin, but I don’t, and your little brothers certainly don’t.”

“I remember,” Adam said. “It was the reason you and Hoss only went to Mass with her on Christmas Eve.” Since he understood Latin well, he had sometimes chosen to accompany Marie on the occasions she took Little Joe with her to Mass. “And the anger?” he probed next, although he suspected he knew the answer.

Ben’s face hardened, the resentment evident in his countenance even now. “You know why,” he all but growled. “That priest, kind as he was in all other ways, would never grant her forgiveness of her sin — the sin of marrying me!”

“I know,” Adam whispered, “but she never let it stop her from practicing as much of her faith as the Church would permit, Pa.”

“Much good it did her!” Ben fumed. “They wouldn’t even let her be buried in hallowed ground, that one sin being such a stain on the purity of their sacred dirt that their dead bodies dare not come in contact with her!” He spewed the words with a contempt Adam had never heard him address toward any living man.

Adam remained silent for a moment before finally saying, “Apparently, Marie absorbed more of the message of Christmas in her limited access to her church than you have in the full acceptance of yours.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Ben demanded. Sometimes this newly college-educated son of his could be exasperatingly obtuse.

“Aren’t you forgetting why the babe came to Bethlehem?” Adam asked, as gently as he could. “Wasn’t it to extend forgiveness to men? I know she understood that, because she forgave every wrong ever done her…whether by man” — a smile at his father — “or boy” — he touched his own chest in regret for his early ill will –“or an entire church that rejected her. She learned the lesson from the Babe of Bethlehem, and her life, short as it was, was the better for it.”

Ben stared for a moment at his eldest son. “Well, I guess I’m just not as good a Christian as she was.”

“You know better than that,” Adam chided, still keeping his voice soft. “Or, at least, I do. I understand the pain, Pa, honestly I do, but isn’t it time to lay it down, to learn anew the message of Christmas, to forgive those that wronged…her? And wouldn’t the resurrection of le réveillon be a good way to start? After all, the word itself means ‘awakening.’ What if forgiveness itself were reawakened this Christmas Eve?”

“I thought you went back East to study architecture,” Ben grunted. “I didn’t expect you to come home a preacher.”

Adam laughed. “Far from it, but to the extent I sounded like one, you can probably blame the requirement of daily attendance at chapel. Setting the sermon aside, how about it, Pa? Can we celebrate le réveillon? For Little Joe, if nothing else?”

As Ben exhaled slowly, an ounce of the anger and irritation seemed to pass from his body with his frosty breath. “Well, I’ve no objection to sharing a meal — a light one, please — in the middle of the night, provided you can talk Hop Sing into it, and you can take the boys to that midnight Mass — if they want to go — but I don’t choose to attend with you. I’m still not quite a good enough Christian for that!” He turned and strode forcefully toward the house.

“Thanks, Pa,” Adam called after him.

*****

“Now, you understand, Hop Sing, that it doesn’t have to be gumbo. Any warm, filling soup will do.” Adam had explained why he wanted to host réveillon in Marie’s honor “for Little Joe,” and eager for the cook’s cooperation, he was trying to keep everything as simple as possible.

“Hop Sing make Missy Cartwright soup; he know how. Watch Missy, help chop, help watch pot. Can make, no problem,” the cook insisted.

“Why, that’s wonderful, Hop Sing,” Adam said enthusiastically. “It will mean so much more to Little Joe if it’s the soup his mother used to make.”

“Missy not make just soup,” Hop Sing said with a frowning shake of his head. “Many things, big dinner.”

“Yes, I know,” Adam said, “but we’ll be eating a big dinner that afternoon. We don’t really need two, do we?”

The cook nodded decisively. “Hop Sing not need!”

“Nor do we. I’m sure you’re right: we just need the gumbo and, maybe, some bread.”

“Hop Sing make Missy Cartwright soup and bread,” the cook agreed, adding after a brief pause, “and wood cake.”

Adam raised a questioning eyebrow. “Wood cake?” He wasn’t sure what that was. Some Chinese concoction to add to their truly eclectic celebration of Christmas?

Hop Sing looked exasperated. “Wood cake,” he scolded, as if Adam should know what he meant. Seeing that the young man did not, his voice sharpened a bit. “Like Missy make,” he said insistently.

The light suddenly dawned as Adam pictured the festive log-shaped cake Marie had introduced to them. “Buche de noel. Of course, Marie did bake that. Do you have the recipe?” He gave the air a calming pat when he saw Hop Sing’s response. “I mean, of course, you know how to prepare that; you know how to prepare so many things from different cultures. That will be a terrific addition, Hop Sing!”

“For Little Joe,” the cook said, with his apron dabbing at a drop of moisture in the corner of his eye.

“Yes,” Adam agreed, although he secretly thought that cake might end up being more for Hoss than any of them.

*****

Much as Ben hated doing the books, he was being especially diligent in their upkeep throughout December. He didn’t want the holidays sullied by having that hanging over his head, so that night, as he had the last couple of weeks, he went dutifully to his desk directly after supper and set to work, while his boys gathered before the blazing fire across the room for games or, in Adam’s case, immersion in a good book.

There was no book that night, however. As soon as Adam had settled himself into his blue armchair, he called his little brothers to come to him.

“Not now, Adam,” Little Joe said stoutly. “We’re gonna play checkers.”

Curbing a familiar desire to lecture a certain little brother on respect for his elders, Adam said, “You still can. I just want to tell you about our plans for Christmas.”

Little Joe flapped a deriding hand toward his older brother. “We know all that. We’re gonna get up real, real early and open presents.”

“And then we’ll have a big breakfast,” Hoss said, looking up from his task of setting up the checkerboard, “and a huge, fancy dinner later.”

“And play all afternoon. No chores!” Little Joe chimed in. He cast a glance at his father and raised his voice. “Of course, I’ll probably be riding my new horse.”

“Would you two be quiet a minute?” Adam demanded. “I’m trying to tell you that there’ll be a slight change this year.”

In alarm, both younger boys scurried over to their brother. “No presents?” Little Joe cried.

“Yes, yes, of course there’ll be presents,” Adam assured him, adding after a slight pause, “although I wouldn’t count on that new horse. The one you have is perfectly good for now.” He knew full well that his little brother wasn’t getting a Christmas pony, and lowering the boy’s expectation could only raise older brother in Pa’s esteem, something Adam could certainly use at the moment.

“No fancy dinner?” Hoss asked, his forehead a veritable field of furrows.

“There’ll be plenty of food, Hoss,” Adam said with a sigh. “Now, if you two would just lay off the questions for a couple of minutes, I’ll tell you about our plans. There’s going to be more, not less, of everything!”

Both of the younger boys’ mouths formed round, silent “O’s.” Then Little Joe leaned on the arm of his brother’s chair and said, “Tell, Adam; tell now.”

Adam rolled his eyes. “That’s what I’m trying to do. Do you remember me mentioning le réveillon yesterday morning?”

Little Joe immediately produced a petulant pout. “I remember you wouldn’t tell me what it was.”

Lips pursed, Adam, once again setting aside his desire for a lecture on respect for elders, acknowledged the rebuke with a curt nod. “Sorry, little buddy. I was just surprised that you didn’t remember,” he explained. “Of course, you were only three the last time we celebrated it, so I guess it makes sense you would have forgotten.” On reflection, he was only surprised that Hoss hadn’t remembered. He drew out his ace in the hole. “I thought you might like to revive the custom, Little Joe, since it was your mother who brought it to us.”

That ace in the hole cemented a winning hand. The pout melted from Little Joe’s face as he climbed into his big brother’s lap. “Tell now,” he ordered again.

The fog lifted from Hoss’ face, driven by the sunlight of his widening smile. “I remember that,” he said.

“You did not,” Little Joe chided.

“But I do now, Little Joe,” Hoss insisted. “I didn’t remember that fancy word Adam used, but I remember Mama’s Christmas.” To prove it, Hoss rattled on. “We stayed up real late and went to town, to Mama’s church, so’s we could sing to the baby in the manger first thing Christmas morning. Then we came back here and had a great breakfast, the biggest ever.” The furrows that had faded came back as he strained to express it just right. “Well, it was more than breakfast. There was gumbo and cake and all sorts of things.”

“Oh, boy!” Little Joe cried. “And then we opened presents?”

“Just one,” Hoss said. “Santa hadn’t got here yet — reckon he started back East first — but we each had one from Mama and Pa, and then we went to bed, so’s Santa would have a chance to come with the rest of the presents.”

Little Joe frowned slightly at the nonsense about Santa Claus, but if Hoss didn’t know the truth yet, he wouldn’t be the one to tell him. “Okay,” he said, “now what’s gumbo?”

After he’d answered that one, Adam found himself plied with questions, fired in such rapid succession that he was certain the Army would welcome a weapon half as fast. Finally, his father came to his rescue with the firm suggestion that it was time for little boys to be in bed. Hoss cut a quick glance at the clock, but catching a glimpse of his father’s frowning face in passing, decided not to mention that it wasn’t really bedtime yet, at least not his. Presents could still be hanging in the balance. While his little brother might not know about Santa yet, Hoss for sure knew where the gifts really came from, so he demonstrated what a good boy he was by not only going meekly to bed himself, but helping to hurry Little Joe along, too.

“Whew!” Adam said, leaning back exhausted as his brothers tramped down the hall upstairs. “Thanks for pulling them off me, Pa.”

Shaking his head, Ben clucked his tongue. “How could you, Adam?”

Adam sat up straight again. “But, Pa, you said we could celebrate le réveillon.”

Ben cleared his throat. “I did not say you could tell Little Joe about it a good ten days ahead of time, but on your own head be it, boy.”

Adam laughed. “Oh, I think I’ve answered every question he could possibly think of, Pa.”

Ben arched a thoroughly amused eyebrow. “You’ve been away too long. This is Little Joe we’re talking about.”

“Oh,” Adam sighed as memory rushed in. “Right.”

*****

Over the next ten days Adam had ample time to rue his early announcement of the proposed celebration. Little Joe became a veritable caldron of questions, more bubbling to the surface every day, and when he ran out of those, he just started all over again, lest he have missed some important detail the first time around. Still, Adam handled them all with aplomb until the day his baby brother discovered that Pa wasn’t coming into town with them. “But why, Adam?” he demanded. “We always do everything together for Christmas.”

Adam tried to explain without revealing the real reason. He certainly didn’t want to poison the little boy’s heart toward his mother’s faith by revealing his father’s ill will. Pa and she had agreed to expose Little Joe to both Catholic and Protestant traditions and let him make his own choice, once he was old enough. Pa hadn’t followed that agreement since Marie died, but given the language barrier, that was probably understandable. Adam felt some chagrin that he’d never thought of taking his little brother himself, but when he came back from college, it had seemed natural for them all to be in church together. Maybe he should offer to take the boy on occasion, but for now he’d settle for just getting through le réveillon with his hide intact.

The trouble with that plan was that Little Joe was quite adept at recognizing a half-truth, so the same question came at Adam day after day as the younger boy probed for a more satisfactory response than “Pa has things to do here.”

“What things?” he’d demand again and again, at times seeming to deliberately raise his voice so the question could be heard across the room at Pa’s desk.

Adam finally had all he could take. “Why don’t you ask him yourself?” he suggested sharply. On your own head be it, Pa, he thought, echoing what his father had said to him a few days before.

Little Joe sent a hesitant look toward the man whose pensive face was quickly buried in his bookwork. He glanced at Hoss, who wildly wagged his head from side to side. Looking back to Adam, Little Joe dropped his voice to say, “Maybe after Christmas.”

Adam leaned forward and whispered, “I think that’s a good idea.” And that was the end of that question, although Adam would only have had to endure it one more day at that point.

*****

Ben rolled restlessly across his mattress, but that was nothing new. Ever since his eldest son had brought up this whole réveillon nonsense, he’d had nothing but restless nights. The audacity of the boy, preaching him a sermon on forgiveness! For this he’d paid four years of expensive college tuition! But night after night Ben had wrestled with the bitterness and anger in his heart and had finally been forced to acknowledge them for what they were. Plain, unadorned unforgiveness, and he knew good and well what the

Good Book said about that: if he refused to forgive others, he could expect no forgiveness for his own sins, which were as plentiful as any man’s. Sometimes it was a powerfully uncomfortable thing to be a Christian.

Then his baby son had taken up where his older brother had left off, his sad little face preaching the sermon with even greater effect than Adam’s eloquent words. The final straw had come tonight, when Little Joe had decided to drop the subject until “after Christmas.” As if he’d take away his little boy’s presents, just for asking! He never wanted any of his sons to be afraid to come to him for any reason, and if harboring bitterness and unforgiveness had led to that, then bitterness and unforgiveness would have to go.

Those talons didn’t let go easily, though. They had hurt her, those priests and their rigid rules! Any hurt he personally had felt over the church’s opinion of him could be easily forgiven; there were plenty of men who didn’t think much of him. But hurt given her? The memory of her tears carved gouges across his heart, and the talons sank deeper into the grooves. Maybe it was always like that; maybe we always feel more deeply the hurt given to those we love, he mused. Just let anyone harm a hair on one of his boys’ heads, for instance, and see how quickly he forgave them! He’d track them down to the ends of the earth and wreak — well, there you had it — yet another violation of the Good Book, which clearly said vengeance belonged to God, not Ben Cartwright. On he wrestled through the night. At this rate, the issue would be moot, anyway: he’d be too exhausted to stay up for any midnight service, regardless of denomination!

*****

Morning finally arrived, and while Ben still didn’t feel like forgiving anyone, he had, at least, reached a point of being willing to try. Perhaps the feelings would follow, but even without them, he had come to a few grudging conclusions. Much as he hated how Marie had been excluded by her church, he had to admit that the priest had only been following its long-established practices, which Marie had known long before she violated them to marry him, and he had followed them with more kindness and leniency than many might have. Though he’d never granted her absolution for that, he had, at least, heard her regular confession and assigned penance for all her other small offenses, whatever they might have been, and while the comfort of Holy Communion had been denied her, he’d never prevented her attending services. Never, Ben conceded, had discipline been administered with such a compassionate hand.

Perhaps only a mist of forgiveness had watered his soul, but Ben had made one definite decision. If he couldn’t face participating in this réveillon himself, he would, at least, do nothing to dampen his boys’ enthusiasm. He mentioned it for the first time at breakfast, expressing the hope that his sons would enjoy their outing. By noon, he could smile at their chatter and urge Adam to place a mattress and blankets in the back of the buckboard, in case his brothers wished to sleep on the way home. As supper ended, he reminded them to dress warmly for that long, cold ride into town. Then he disappeared upstairs.

Adam hoped he would come down again to see them off, but he knew better than to count on it. He wished he had thought to ask if Pa would join them for the réveillon feast, at least, but having already heard his opinion of a meal in the middle of the night, he hadn’t dared ask. He’d noticed the effort his father had made to be cheerful, even encouraging, about the evening’s activities, so he couldn’t blame him if he felt too drained to go a step further. Perhaps next year he’d feel up to more.

Since Pa was absenting himself, it fell to Adam to make sure his brothers were warmly, but nicely dressed. He was just superintending the putting on of coats, caps, mufflers and gloves when Pa did come down the stairs. To Adam’s surprise, his father was dressed in his Sunday suit and walking briskly toward the rack of coats by the door.

“You comin’, Pa?” Hoss asked, a happy grin spreading across his face.

“Of course,” Ben replied, as if there had never been any doubt. “We Cartwrights always do everything together on Christmas, don’t we?” he added with a smile at his youngest son as he borrowed the boy’s words of a few days earlier.

“Yeah!” Little Joe exclaimed, bouncing up and down with endless energy. “Let’s get this ravin’ on started!”

The others laughed merrily, and from that time on, whatever the celebration might be called elsewhere in the world, to the Cartwrights it would always be known as Ravin’ On.

*****

Ben herded his sons into the line of people filing out of the church after a service he’d enjoyed far more than he’d expected. The Latin had been as unfathomable as ever, at least to him, for though Adam, seated between his younger brothers, had translated for them, Ben could rarely hear the whispered words. As the majestic music soared over him, however, the peace and joy of the Savior’s birth seemed to float down on the beautiful melodies and harmonies, and he found he didn’t really need to know the words to recognize the message. The Babe was born in Bethlehem to bring peace and rejoicing to every erring heart, including one that had held onto resentment for much too long.

“Ah, I remember this sweet young face,” he heard the priest say as they reached the door.

Father Gallagher’s hand rested alongside Little Joe’s cheek. “God bless you, my child,” he said. Looking up, he smiled at the boy’s father. “It’s good to see you again, Ben.”

“Thank you,” Ben said quietly, adding in explanation, “I’m here for the boy.”

The priest nodded. “I assumed as much…but you’re always welcome, my friend.”

Not trusting himself to words, Ben also responded with a nod before prodding his sons down the steps of the church. As they climbed into the wagon, he reminded the younger boys that they were welcome to sleep on the way home.

“Oh, no, Pa!” Little Joe insisted as he wedged himself between his father and eldest brother on the wagon seat. “We’re gonna sing all the way home.”

A chuckle fluttered Ben’s lips. “Well, we’ll see.”

They did, indeed, see…and hear…all the way home, but Ben didn’t mind…anything, that is, except the unabashed smirk on Adam’s face. Even that didn’t irk him too much. Four years since he’d shared Christmas with that son. What could be better than all of them, together again, singing at the top of their lungs as they crossed Washoe Valley and headed up into the hills toward home.

The windows were glowing with welcoming light as they pulled into the yard. Making quick work of caring for the team, they all went into the house together, all of them seeming to sense that togetherness was the theme of the evening — well, morning now.

As he rounded the corner into the dining room, Hoss gaped, wide-eyed, at the loaded table. “Wow,” he said, the word drawn out in sheer wonder of the feast before him.

“I told him to keep it light,” Adam defensively assured his father.

“Well, it is light — for a royal banquet,” Ben chuckled. Not satisfied with soup, bread and cake, Hop Sing had produced a lavish breakfast spread with bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy and hotcakes, along with Marie’s Creole dishes and both her special omelets and some cheesy scrambled eggs. “Well, at least this should satisfy our need for breakfast. We can all sleep ‘til noon if we like.”

“Wanna bet?” Adam asked wryly, adding with the relish he always felt when he could throw Pa’s own words back at him, “This is Little Joe we’re talking about.”

Ben responded exactly as Adam had a few days before. “Oh. Right.”

***The End***

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