Summary: Growing up was never easy, but it did have its rewards…just ask Adam Cartwright.
Rated: G…tissue alert for those with tender hearts! (8,660 words)
The center of the ring, where covered wagons had formed a circle, was filled with the happy sound of laughter of many children. Parents all up and down the long wagon train bustled about, setting up camp for the night. Fires were started; tarps were strung along the sides of the wagons and tied off to stakes hammered into the ground, in an effort to provide a small amount of protection from the weather. Wives were preparing supper; husbands tended the live stock while older children minded the toddlers and small infants.
In the camp of Ben Cartwright, he and his young son Adam, worked together as a team, preparing their camp for the night. Every once in a while, the dark hazel eyes of the young boy would search the clearing, watching as the other children ran and played. His sad eyes would seek out his father, tired and worn from too many hard hours on the trail. Adam felt a pang of sadness that he could not join in with the other children, but life had tossed he and his father yet another cruel blow. Inger, his beloved stepmother, had recently been killed by Indians, leaving him and his baby brother, Hoss, without a mother, and his father without a wife.
Once again Adam felt the pressures of young manhood weighing heavily on his shoulders. They were alone, he and his father and baby brother, and Ben needed him. It had been different, when his father had married Inger, for the first time in his young life Adam had been given the freedom to be a little boy. He had enjoyed the loving kindness of his new mother, her tender touch, her bright smile and shining eyes; even the sound of her gentle singing had warmed his heart. He had been so happy when his father had told him that Inger and he was to marry and that together as a family, they would travel across country to find the land that his father had dreamed of.
Adam’s heart had beat with joy when Inger gave birth to his new brother. For the first time in his life, Adam could relate to the other children; he had things in common with the boys that he had met along the trail and who traveled with them on the wagon train. He was no longer ‘different’ than the others were, and the feeling gave him a deep sense of satisfaction, for he was accepted as one of them.
Adam had felt safe and secure in the love of his new family. His joy at having a brother had been the highlight of his life. And he had sworn to himself that he would always set good examples and help care for the new infant, a promise that the young boy discovered would be a lifetime challenge filled with brotherly love and affection for his little brother.
And then suddenly, one bright sunny day, everything changed. Inger was taken from them, and Adam watched unhappily as a new kind of sadness washed over his father. It was a despondency that Adam had never seen before, and the few times that he had caught his father weeping, had alarmed the young boy. Inger had brought such great blessedness to his father and to himself, and to see the man he loved more than anyone else in the world, fall to his knees and weep with such agony, frightened Adam. He had wanted to cry as well, but with his father in such a dejected state of mind, there had been no time for his own tears, Hoss needed tending too, and it fell upon Adam to care for the infant. It was an overwhelming job for such a young boy, but Adam sensed that Ben needed time to come to terms with what had happened, and with no one else to help the family, Adam quickly accepted the responsibility.
Now, months later, Ben had pulled himself up from his grief and together with his sons, the Cartwrights continued on in their quest of building a new life, together in a new frontier.
The days were long and hard. Hoss cried much of the time. It seemed that the baby was constantly hungry and nothing that Adam could do, to entertain the infant, satisfied the baby. Ben had explained to Adam, that Hoss, being nearly double the size of a baby his own age, needed more to eat than the normal sized toddler. Ben had begun to feed the baby from his own plate earlier than most mothers would have recommended, but the added tidbits seemed to fill the baby and satisfy his ever present hunger. By the time that Hoss had cut his first tooth, the toddler could eat almost as much as his older brother.
“I just don’t know where he puts it all, Pa,” giggled Adam one night while they sat around the campfire enjoying the site of the youngest family member as he stuffed the last bite of his supper into his mouth.
Hoss had just finished with his supper and had begun to play with the morsels left in his plate. “If he keeps eating like that, he’ll outweigh you and I put together, by the time he’s five years old.”
Ben laughed, watching the infant trying to lick the crumbs from between his pudgy fingers.
“That might very likely happen, Adam. It’s for sure your little brother is going to be a good sized man…when he’s grown,” Ben had stated.
It was as if he had taken a long look into the future and had known that someday, Hoss would be a man of enormous size.
“How ever are ya going to keep him fed?” Adam asked with wide eyes full of wonder.
Ben laughed a deep rich laugh. “I’m not sure, son. I suppose someday we’ll just have to hire a cook to work twenty-four hours a day just to keep your brother filled up.”
Adam laughed softly and then turned away his head. His thoughts began to wander and with the wandering came a memory. The vision of a beautiful young woman, tall and graceful with blue eyes that sparkled like diamonds and who wore a smile so bright that it could light up an entire room.
“Mama,” the boy sighed downheartedly.
Adam swiped his sleeve across the front of his face and willed away the tears. When he glanced around at his father, Ben was busy cleaning the baby’s face and had not seen the sudden rush of tears that had filled his eyes. Slowly, Adam got up from his seat at the makeshift table and began clearing away the tin plates and cups. He tossed the remains of water from his own cup, wishing he had something to drink besides water at every meal. He longed for a cold glass of milk, but there was only milk enough for the baby and even that was provided by one of the ladies who traveled along with them. She had a milk cow that gave plenty of milk but with a brew of seven children of her own, she was reluctant to share. She would however sell to Ben, for pennies, enough milk to last the baby for a day or two at a time. On several occasions, Ben had done odd jobs for the woman in exchange for the milk, but never had there been enough of a supply for both Adam and Hoss.
Adam knew his father felt bad about the lack of milk. He had seen the sad expression on his father’s face more than once. Adam, gracious by nature, had repeatedly assured his father that he didn’t mind not having milk to drink and agreed that it was more important that baby Hoss have the milk instead.
“Adam,” Ben called as he climbed from the back of the wagon. “Its almost bedtime, son.” Ben smiled down at the raven-headed little boy and ruffled his hair. “It certainly has been a long day…and tomorrow doesn’t look as if it will be much shorter.”
“Will we ever get there, Pa?” Adam asked. “How much longer will we have to live in a wagon? I’m tired of this ole wagon, I wanna live in a house like regular people and I wanna go to school and have friends like other boys my age and I wanna…” Adam stopped suddenly, aware that his father had grown quiet and had fixed his brown eyes on his son’s face.
Not knowing why, but something about the way his father was staring at him, caused Adam’s chin to start quivering and tears filled his eyes. He stood before his father; his head bowed lowly, his heart suddenly filled with remorse. Adam felt the tender touch of his father’s fingers on his chin, tilting his head upward and causing his tears to roll free from the corners of his eyes and down the sides of his cheeks.
“I’m sorry, Pa…I didn’t mean to complain…honest…” Adam cried, before his father had a chance to mutter a word.
Ben knelt down on one knee and pulled the unhappy child into his arms, holding him tightly against his breast. His large hand cupped the back of the boy’s neck as Ben engulfed his son’s tiny body tightly against his own.
“I’m the one that’s sorry, son. I know you have missed out on so much…”
“It’s okay, honest Pa…someday, things will be different, I know…caused you promised me…and you always keep your promise.” Adam buried his face in the fold of his father’s neck. “It’s just…just…that…” Adam began to sob.
“It’s just what son…tell Pa what it is that has you so upset tonight?” encouraged Ben.
Ben gently pushed Adam back so that he could see the boy’s eyes. With his thumbs, he wiped dry the tears that stained the boy’s face.
“Tell your Pa what’s troubling you, boy.”
Adam sniffed his nose and then looked into his father’s eyes. “Nothing,” he stammered softly, sorry now that he was the cause for the worried look that his pa wore.
“Son, come over here and let’s sit by the fire.” Ben took Adam’s hand and guided him to the warmth of the fire where he sat down in one of the chairs, pulling Adam up onto his lap. Immediately, Adam laid his head down on Ben’s shoulder, sniffing his nose again.
“Pa…why did God let Mama get shot with that arrow? And why did He let her die? Didn’t God know how much we loved Mama…and needed her?” muttered Adam in a tiny voice that rang with sadness.
He’d been wondering those very things ever since Mama had died and had wanted to question his father about it, but had been afraid that the questions would cause his Pa to start crying, until tonight. Tonight, he had to know why God allowed things like that to happen.
Ben felt a catch in his throat; he had, on more than one occasion asked himself those very same questions. He had not gotten any answers, other than things like that just happened, there didn’t need to be a reason, other than that’s the way God planned things. But how do you explain to an eight-year old, who had just a few weeks earlier, lost the only mother he had ever known, that sometimes, God just worked like that?
“Well, Adam,” Ben began hesitantly, “I can’t give you a definite answer to your questions. I’ll be honest with you though and tell you that there have been many nights that I’ve asked myself the same things.”
“You have?” Adam said, surprised that his father might also question God.
“Certainly…when we loose someone we love, it’s just human nature to ask why. We know that God, because we trust Him, has a plan for our lives. We don’t always know right away what that plan is…we don’t understand sometimes, when certain things happen to us, but we have to keep believing that God in His supreme wisdom, knows what’s best for us…”
“But how can God think it best for us, not to have Mama with us…I mean…Hoss don’t got no Mama…I’ve lost two mamas and you lost two wives. That don’t seem fair to me, Pa…”
“Adam, son,” Ben pressed the tiny head to his heart and rested his chin on the boy’s head.
“Life often does not seem fair, son. But it is what we make it. Now we can spend the rest of our lives being angry with God for our unhappiness, or we can be thankful that He allowed us to have those special times with our loved ones before He called them home.”
Ben rearranged Adam on his lap so that he could look into the boy’s face. “You see son, a part of living is dying…we live so that we can die…and when we die, we live forever, in Heaven. It’s the natural way of things, it’s the way that God’s plan works. He doesn’t mean for us to be sad when someone we love dies, but that we rejoice because that loved one, your mama and Hoss’ mama, live in Heaven now with God and the angels. And God promises us that if we’re good, someday we will see your mama again. We can spend our days being unhappy, or we can do what your mama and Inger would have wanted us to do…and that’s to go on and live our lives and be happy and try to be the very best men that we can be. Do you understand, son?” Ben smiled at his son.
The tears had dried, but the sad expression remained and it caused Ben’s heart to beat with compassion for the child.
“I guess so…but Pa…I know you’re sad…and that makes me sad. Will we ever be happy again, I mean like when Mama Inger was still alive?” Adam’s eyes had misted and Ben feared that the boy might start crying again.
Ben gave his son a big smile and pulled Adam to him, locking the boy in a tight hug. “Of course we’re going to be happy, son. Why, right now, I’m happy just holding you in my arms and knowing that I have a son…no, two sons, that would make any father proud. I am happy Adam. I’m happy that you and Hoss are mine. I’m happy that God gave the two of you to me, so that when I’m feeling unhappy, all I have to do is look at the two of you, and be thankful that God saw fit for each of you to be born…to be my sons. For that I thank God, every night.”
Ben kissed the top of Adam’s head and then smiled when he felt the boy’s arms slip around his neck.
“Alright Pa, if you’re happy, I’m happy.” Adam leaned back and smiled at his father just before giving Ben a kiss on his cheek.
Ben rose to his feet, Adam still in his arms. “Time for bed, little man…and I promise you son, it won’t be much longer that you will have to live in this wagon, at least not out on the trail like this. I’ll find us a place to settle…I promise you, Adam,” Ben smiled as he cuddled his son tightly.
Adam giggled and then turned serious once more, a trait that Adam, unknowingly at this time, would follow him throughout his lifetime.
“It’s okay Pa, just promise me one thing, please?”
“Anything, Adam, anything,” smiled Ben.
“Don’t ever leave me…don’t ever die like mama did…promise me?” A sob caught in the boy’s throat as he locked his arms tightly around his father’s neck and buried his face to muffle his sobs.
“I promise Adam, I won’t willingly leave you…ever,” Ben managed to muttered softly.
“I love ya, Pa…” the frightened boy murmured.
“I love you too, son,” Ben said as he pulled back the flap at the back of the wagon and crawled inside, his son still held lovingly in his arms.
Adam stormed from the house. It was no use, trying to reason with his father. It was too late anyway; his pa had married that woman and nothing that the boy could say now would change the fact. Marie was his new mother, his and Hoss’ and they were expected to treat her with respect at all times. Adam made a scowl and kicked at a clump of dirt as he made his way to the barn. He was angry, and hurt and he struggled to keep the tears from collecting in his eyes. His father had gone off, leaving him and Hoss in the care of a neighbor and had been gone for what seemed like forever to the two young boys. To make matters worse, when their father had finally made it home, Ben had brought back a new wife, and new mother for his sons, thus robbing the boys of their joy at having their father home again and to themselves as before.
Adam shoved back the barn door, sealing off the outside world as he hurried to climb up the ladder to the loft. It was his favorite place to go, when he was troubled or sad or just plain not feeling well. It seemed to him that lately, he had been spending a lot of time in the loft. Ever since Ben had returned and brought that woman into their home, Adam had found little to make him happy. The day she had arrived had been the day that his joy with living had been snatched from him. There had been nothing but arguments between him and his father. It seemed to the eleven-year old that his father had taken that woman’s side over his in nearly every disagreement that had arisen. And it cut the boy to the very core of his heart and soul for he believed that his father had somehow betrayed him and his younger brother.
Adam buried himself into the deep pile of hay that had broken lose from the bales and covered himself until he was practically hidden from view, had anyone been searching for him.
‘She might be your wife, but she’ll never be my mother,” grumbled Adam softly to himself.
He let his tears roll from his eyes and for several minutes the young boy allowed himself to be just that, a young boy. He cried until there were no more tears left to cry and then he brushed back the hay and stood to his feet. Carefully, Adam picked the dry straw from his hair and his clothes and then slowly started down the ladder. He was only about halfway when the rung broke and Adam felt his body falling through the air. With a thud that knocked the wind from his lungs, Adam crashed to the ground. His head banged against the hard packed earthen floor while everything above his head began to spin. The boy opened his mouth to scream for help, but the barn had sudden grown pitch black and then there was nothing.
“Adam…Adam…can you hear me, son?”
From somewhere far beyond his darkened world, Adam could hear his name being called. He struggled to return to the world from hence he came, but here in the world of darkness, he had found peace from his worries, calm from the turbulent world of bickering and he refused to allow himself to leave.
“Adam…Adam…please…open your eyes.”
There it was again, that familiar voice that called out from beyond to him. It was a deep voice, though laden with fear, for the voice seemed to tremble.
“Try son…please Adam…come back to me.”
Adam could hear the sob that caught deep within the throat of the one who called out to him. The voice was pleading with him, with such urgency that Adam allowed himself to move closer to the sound.
“He can’t hear me.”
“Oh Ben, please…keep trying…you have to keep talking to him.”
Adam’s face twisted into a distorted expression. There was a strange voice that pierced through his dulled senses and captured his attention. Something about the voice annoyed him, making him want to retreat deeper into his own world, yet the tone, a softer, more expressive voice, had been filled with compassion. So he lingered between worlds, waiting, struggling with some deep seeded longing that he had no concept to its meaning.
“Please Adam, open your eyes…your Pa…and I…need you to come back to us, darling…we love you, Adam…please…try.”
The voice seemed to drip with sweetness, drawing Adam from his darkened world of obscurity like honey draws bees to the hive. His long thick lashes fluttered slightly and his head moved from one side and then to the other.
Pa needed him…
“Adam, we love you…I hope you can hear me…We have a secret to share with you…”
Adam’s world had begun to lighten; the darkness was beginning to fade. The voice had a secret…yet what could be so alluring as to draw him from his haven…what could she possibly tell him that would entice him to return to a world of hurt and anger, of mistrust and disappointment? But his curiosity had been sparked, and slowly…Adam returned.
“Adam, open your eyes, son…”
“Pa?” he heard his own voice cry out to the one who had always brought such love and compassion to his life.
Ben smiled at Marie and then brushed his fingers through the dark strands of black hair. “I’m here son…welcome back,” Ben said softly.
Marie dabbed at the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes. She pressed her hand lovingly on her husband’s arm to give him her support.
“Pa…my head…it hurts,” muttered Adam.
His hand raised slightly and Ben was quick to grasp the smaller one into his own. Ben choked back his tears as he placed himself next to his son on the edge of the bed.
“I know son…that’s why you have to remain completely still,” Ben encouraged.
Adam’s eyes drifted closed for a moment and then reopened. His eyes searched the room and then stopped when he found the lovely face of his stepmother smiling down at him. Adam tried to smile, but the effort was in vain. Instead his eyes filled with water but he forced the tears not to come.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered softly. “I didn’t mean all those nasty things I said to you, Marie,” stammered Adam.
Marie sat down on the opposite side of the bed and smiled down at the boy who seemed to be struggling hard not to cry. With fingers as gentle as any that had ever touched his flesh, Marie caressed the cheek of her stepson.
“I’m sorry too, Adam. I never once thought about what you or Hoss might feel or think when I agreed to marry your father and come here, to the Ponderosa to live. I should have thought ahead…I should have known that you especially, would think I was trying to steal your father from you. But that’s not true darling, I love your father…and believe it or not, I love you and Hoss just as much as if I had been your real mother,” Marie proclaimed.
Adam opened his mouth to speak, but was silenced by the gentle pressure of the woman’s fingers to his lips.
“Let me finish, please. Adam, I know I can never take the place of your real mother, or Inger, I wouldn’t want to, I would never attempt too. But what I would like more than anything in the whole world is for you to let me love you and hopefully one day, you could find it in your heart to return that love. My dream is the same as your father’s…and that’s that all of us can live together in love and harmony, respect and consideration for one another…”
“That’s all I’ve ever wanted son,” began Ben. “Was for the four of us to be a family. You asked me once, a long time ago, if I thought we could ever be happy again. Well, Adam, now is our chance…mine, and yours, and Hoss’ and Marie’s…and son…Adam…” Ben paused and looked expectantly at his wife. Marie smiled and nodded her head.
“Adam, with a baby on the way…don’t you think it’s time to put aside our animosity and take advantage of what God has given to you, Hoss and myself…and accept Marie as…a friend…who loves us…all of us?”
Adam glanced quickly from his father’s face to the expression on Marie’s face.
“A…baby?” stammered the boy. “A…real…baby?”
Ben and Marie laughed softly. “Yes son…a real baby…a little brother, or maybe this time, a little sister. Would you like that?”
Adam felt his eyes fill with tears. How could he not be happy? Just the expression of sheer joy that graced his father’s face was enough to tell him that this woman sitting on the bed next to him…this new mother, had brought nothing but happiness to his beloved father.
Adam smeared the tears across his face and smiled; his face dimpled and when he raised up, his arms found their way around his father’s neck. For several long moments he remained as such.
“I’m so sorry, Pa,” he said in a muted whisper. “I didn’t know you loved her so much.”
“Oh Adam,” Ben muttered in a choked voice. “It is possible for me to love all of you…that’s the wonder of why God gave us all hearts and His only desire is to fill each of them with all the love He can give us.”
Adam released his father. His face was still stained with remnants of tears when he turned to Marie.
“I won’t promise you anything, Marie,” Adam said shyly, “other than I promise to try harder at being respectful to you and I’ll honestly try to be more of a help and not make you cry anymore.” Adam’s wee voice faltered briefly. “I’m sorry I’ve been so mean to you.”
“Oh Adam,” cried Marie as she leaned down and kissed his brow. “All I ask of you right now, is that we be friends…what do you say?”
Adam glanced at his father and then back to Marie and nodded his head in agreement.
“All right, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t still get mad at you, sometimes,” the boy smiled with a cheeky grin.
“I’m sure I’ll be mad at you some too, but that’s okay, just as long as we make up!”
“Then it’s settled?” Ben asked hopefully, looking from one to the other.
Marie smiled down at Adam and the boy returned the smile. Both turned to Ben and nodded their heads.
Life after Adam’s accident improved greatly to say the least. The boy kept his promise and tried hard to help Marie on a daily basis while still keeping up with his own chores. During the times that he spent in his stepmother’s company, Adam learned a great deal about why his father had fallen so much in love with the beautiful woman.
She was easy to talk to and Adam noticed right away that whatever he had to say, she listened. Never was there a time that Marie was so busy that she could not stop whatever she was doing and hear what Adam had to share. Marie spent extra time with her newfound friend, helping him with his schoolwork. Adam had been so far behind the other children when he had started school, but Marie was determined that her son would soon catch up and possibly surpass the rest of the glass. Adam enjoyed those times with Marie, and he worked hard and strove to please her and his father.
It wasn’t long before the extra effort began to show and one afternoon, Adam burst through the door, excitement etched into every fine line on his young face.
“Pa! Marie!” Adam shouted as he flung the door wide and rushed inside. The house was silent and Adam paused briefly before running to his father’s desk, hoping that Ben would be there, but he was not.
“MARIE!” he shouted.
“Boy hush…now!” barked Hop Sing from the top of the stairs. “Missy Cartwright not feel well, she sleep…and little boy, Hoss also napping. Mister Adam go play outside…” ordered the family servant.
“No buts…you go!”
Adam, his chin drooping, tossed his things onto the settee and marched out the door. He was disappointed to say the least. He had scored the highest possible grade on the arithmetic test today at school and had been filled with excitement that had bubbled over. Adam had rushed home to share the good news with Marie, who had spent several hours with him the night before, going over the difficult problems until she had been sure that he felt positive that he knew how to work them.
“Later,” he promised himself as he made his way to the barn to start his afternoon chores.
Briefly he wondered where his father had gone and then remembered that Ben had promised their neighbor, Mr. Devlin, that he would help the man repair the roof on his barn.
Adam had been working steady but paused when Hop Sing entered the barn. Immediately he spied the worried expression on the little man’s face.
“What’s wrong, Hop Sing?” he quickly asked as he put aside his rake.
“Hop Sing go find father…Missy not feeling verily well…you go to house, play with little brother,” explained Hop Sing.
“Marie…isn’t having the baby now, is she Hop Sing?” Adam asked anxiously.
“Not know…best if wee one not come…it too early…”
Hop Sing rushed around the barn, saddling a horse to ride. “Boy go to house now…I be back soon, with father…and doctor.”
Hop Sing led the gentle mare from the barn and climbed up onto the horse. With a smile at the boy, he nudged the mare into action.
Adam waited until Hop Sing had rounded the corner of the barn, out of site before going to the house. He pushed the door opened and closed it quietly behind him. As he started to the stairs, he stopped suddenly, seeing Hoss sitting on the landing. The pudgy little boy’s face was streaked with tears, and his chin quivered.
“Why ya crying, Hoss?” questioned Adam as he settled himself down, next to his brother.
“I’m scared…Mama’s makin’ funny noises, Adam…and they’s ascarin’ me,” the tearful boy cried. “She sounds like she’s ahurtin’ somethin’ fierce.”
Adam’s eyes wandered to the top of the stairs and then back down at his little brother. Seeing the frightened expression on the rotund face, the tear filled eyes, and the quivering chin, Adam placed his arm around the trembling shoulders.
“It’s gonna be alright, Hoss. Pa’s gonna be here soon and he’ll know what to do,” Adam said in a shaky voice.
The soft moans coming from his parents’ bedroom had grown louder and had begun to filter down the hall and descend the steps where the two young boys huddled together in growing fear.
Hoss’ blue eyes opened wide with fright and he pressed his trembling body as close as he could get to his older brother. “Wha…wha…what was that?” he whimpered in a tiny voice.
“I think it was Marie…”
Adam pulled free the tangle of arms and legs that had managed to wrap themselves around him and stood up. Looking up the stairs, fear showing on his own face, Adam gulped.
“You sit right there, Hoss, and don’t you move one inch. I’m going to check on Marie…I’ll be right back.”
Adam ruffled his brother’s blond hair and slowly made his way up stairs and down the hall to his father’s room. He stopped at the door, not sure if he was doing the right thing or not, for Hop Sing had warned him against disturbing his stepmother.
Gently he rapped on the door, and waited. When no response came forth, Adam pushed the door open. He was filled with apprehension and a measure of fear for what he might find. The room was void of light except for the fading rays of sun that filtered in from the window. Adam could barely make out the form of Marie’s body where she lay buried beneath a pile of blankets. The sounds of low moaning filtered across the room, reaching his ears. Hoss had been correct in his assumption; Marie did sound as if she were in great pain.
“Marie?” Adam whispered in a low voice.
“Oh…Adam…” came the reply from the bed.
Adam saw Marie turn her head slightly so that she could see him. She raised her hand and waved at him, meaning for him to come closer. Slowly, with rising fear, Adam inched closer to the bed.
“Marie…are you all right?” Adam asked in a trembling voice.
His mother looked so weak, so drained of color. Gone from her face was the smile that had always before been present. Her eyes appeared dull, the sparkle no longer shining in their depths. Pain had branded her features and Adam could not stop the flow of tears that appeared without his consent and streamed down the front of his face with a will of their own.
“Don’t cry, darling…I’m going to be fine…once the doctor gets here…you’ll see,” Marie tried to smile.
“Come here Adam,” Marie asked. “Sit down…here,” she patted the bed next to her and waited until Adam had sat down. Tenderly she took his hand into hers.
“Just sit with me for a minute…and hold my hand…please?” she asked.
Adam gulped and nodded his head. For several minutes, both were quiet. Marie closed her eyes and then when a rush of pain washed over her, she opened them wide and tightened her grip on the boy’s hand. When she squeezed, it hurt, but Adam refused to let this woman, whom he had come to love, know of the pain in his hands. He summed it up to nothing in comparison, seeing the pain that she now suffered.
“Does it hurt much…being in labor, I mean?” he asked her in a whispered voice.
Marie turned her sweat-dampened face toward him and forced a smile. “Yes, dear…very much,” she moaned. “But…it’s a labor of love. Once the baby gets here…all this pain will be forgotten…OHHH!!!”
Adam’s eyes were wide with wonder as he watched his father’s wife struggle with the pain that swept through her body. He held her hand within his two until the contraction ended and jumped from the bed to pour water into the china basin. He took a cool, damp, cloth and laid it on her forehead.
“Thank you, son,” Marie muttered softly.
“Adam…promise me something…please,” she whispered.
Adam sat back down on the bed and watched how Marie strained to speak between breaths. The contractions were coming harder and quicker and lasting longer and Adam feared that Hop Sing would not get back with his father or the doctor before Marie had the baby.
“What did you want me to promise you?” Adam asked, not sure what his stepmother expected of him.
She strained to make a smile for the boy. “I just want you to promise me…that if…if…anything should happen to me…that you will help your father take care of this baby. You’ve become a wonderful, trustworthy and loyal young man, Adam…I’m so proud of you, and I know you will do great things with your life. But I want this baby to be as much yours as your father’s and mine…but I need you to promise me that you will…”
“Marie…I swear to you…I’ll always be here for the baby. I promise you, I will look after him…ere…her everyday of his life if he needs me to. Please, don’t worry…please?”
“Thank you Adam, I knew I could depend on you.” Marie’s grasp tightened somewhat around Adam’s hand.
Almost bashfully, Adam looked at Marie. “You know…at first, after you and Pa told me about the baby, I was sorta…” Adam dropped his head and swallowed. Marie’s fingertips tipped his chin upward.
Adam couldn’t refrain from smiling. “How’d you know?” he whispered.
“I just did…it’s okay, Adam, it’s natural for an older sibling to be jealous at first, when a new baby arrives.”
“Really,” she smiled.
The door opened without warning and both Adam and Marie, turned to see who had entered. Hoss stood in the doorway, his chubby little fingers crammed into his mouth. His face was stained with tears as he approached the bed cautiously.
“I got ascared, Adam,” he whimpered.
“It’s okay, little buddy,” smiled Adam. “Marie’s just having a baby, that’s all…”
“Well, if this woman is having a baby, I’d suggest that the two of you march yourselves right down those stairs and wait for your papa to get home…now scoot,” smiled Paul Martin, the local physician.
“Yessir,” replied Adam, taking Hoss by the hand and leading him from the room.
Adam hesitated at the door and turned around to face Marie. “I’ll see you later, Marie,” smiled Adam.
He dropped his brother’s hand and ran back to the bed. Marie raised up just enough to take the boy into her opened arms.
“I love you, Mama,” he whispered softly.
“I love you too, son,” she cooed.
Ben returned home to find his two sons seated next to each other on the settee. They turned at the sound of the door and looked, with frightened eyes as their father entered the house. He was surprised at the silence that filled his home and his eyes automatically scanned the stairway.
“Pa…mama’s gonna have a baby,” muttered Hoss.
Ben moved to the couch with his sons.
“Yes,” he smiled, glancing over his shoulders as the muted cries floated downward. “So Hop Sing has said.”
An upstairs door banged shut and Ben rose to his feet. Hop Sing scurried down the steps and brushed past the expectant father, on his way for more hot water. Ben glanced at his sons.
“I’ll be right back,” he said as he ran up the steps.
Paul was just emerging from the master bedroom and nearly collided with his patient’s husband. Ben was quick to note the worried expression on the doctor’s face. His hands reached for the physician’s arms, grabbing him tightly.
“Doctor?” Ben cried.
“She’s having a hard time, Ben. The baby’s breach…”
“Dear God,” sobbed Ben.
“Ben, listen to me…the baby isn’t very big…and it’s nearly a month early…it isn’t likely that the infant…can endure a long, strenuous labor.”
Ben stood in opened mouth shock, unable to put voice to his words. He took a deep breath of air and swallowed. “What are you trying to say, Paul?”
Paul pinched his lips tightly and lowered his voice to a whisper. “I won’t lie to you, what I’m saying, Ben, is that the baby might not be strong enough to survive.”
Anger, mixed with fear, washed over Ben Cartwright’s features. “No…you do everything possible to save that child…do you hear me?”
“Ben…of course I will, but Marie…she isn’t very strong, Ben…she might give out before the baby can be born…and if that happens…well, anything is likely to go wrong.”
The doctor took Ben by the arm and led him away from the room. “Please, go downstairs and wait with your sons…they need you right now. They’re terribly frightened, you know…”
“Of course, you’re right. But please, just let me have a word with my wife…and then I’ll do as you say.”
“Alright, Ben, but don’t stay long,” smiled the doctor.
Ben agreed and slipped quietly into the room. A short time later, he emerged. Tears had filled his eyes and when he paused, standing beside of the doctor, his hands trembled as he grasped the other man’s hands.
“Please…do whatever you have to do…I’ve already lost two wives, my sons have each lost a mother…I’m not sure that we can…can…go through it…again,” mumbled Ben in broken words.
The hands on the clock seemed frozen to one spot as Ben glanced for the hundredth time in that direction. He paced the narrow area between the middle table and the large stone hearth until he felt as if he had worn a path on the carpet beneath his feet.
Ben glanced at his sons who lay snuggled together on the settee where they had fallen to sleep. Ben smiled at the picture, his two sons, so alike yet so different. In his mind he tried to imagine the face of this new baby and whom the infant might most likely resemble.
He glanced at Adam, so dark and handsome, so much the picture of his mother, Elizabeth, and then at Hoss whose looks and personality were cut from the same pattern as his second wife’s family. It was hard for Ben to picture in his mind, this new infant. The doctor had told him that the child was small, so perhaps it would take after Marie, for she was a petite woman with a fiery temper that was quick to explode and at the most inconvenient of times, smiled Ben to himself.
A loud wailing screech shattered Ben’s thoughts as the sound pierced the silence of the house. Ben started toward the steps and then stopped at the foot of the stairs. Behind him, a child cried out in fright and Ben rushed to the small boy’s side and gathered the weeping lad into his arms.
“Shh…Hoss…it’s okay,” soothed Ben.
“But that was Mama,” sobbed the six-year old.
“Yes…but the doctor is with her…”
The sounds of a baby’s cry reached their ears and Ben spun around to look up at the doctor who stood smiling down at the three. Ben gave Hoss a quick hug and too scared to voice his question, he moved slowly toward the stairs and waited until Paul had reached the last one.
Adam stood to one side, Hoss still clutched his father’s hand and Ben opened his mouth…trying to form his words.
The doctor laughed lightly and pressed a firm hand to Ben’s shoulder. “Congratulations, Ben, it’s a boy…one of the prettiest…if you don’t mind my saying it like that, but he’s one of the prettiest baby boys I’ve yet to have the pleasure of bringing into this world!”
“A…son…” stammered Ben turning to his boys. “Did you hear that, Hoss, Adam, you have a new baby brother!”
“And Marie and the baby are both fine, Ben…it’s like a miracle. The baby’s small, but he sure does have a set of lungs on him. I have a feeling that this little tyke is going to rule your world!” laughed the kind-hearted doctor.
Ben’s face beamed with happiness as he smiled down at his sons. “May we go see them?” he asked, almost timidly.
“Of course you may, just not more than a couple of minutes,” agreed Paul.
Ben nodded in agreement and then quickly led the way up the stairs, followed by two very excited little boys.
Adam stood with his head bowed; Joe’s face was buried deeply within the folds of his neck. Next to him, Hoss leaned his body heavily against their father, who looked as if he might drop at any minute. The preacher was saying something, but Adam could barely make out the words that were being uttered. Joe’s soft crying was drowning out the minister’s prayer.
“Shh…” Adam whispered to the small boy in his arms. Adam placed his hand to the back of the boy’s head and cradled it against his shoulder.
“Where’s my mama going?” sobbed Joe softly.
“To heaven, Little Joe…to be with my ma and Mama Inger,” whispered Adam.
“But I don’t want her to leave me…why did she have to go, Adam?”
“Because God needed her there…in heaven with Him,” he whispered.
“But we needed her too…and I luv her…”
“I know little buddy, so did we…me…I loved her too.”
Adam nearly choked on his words. It had taken him a long time before he finally realized that he had come to love his father’s third wife as much as he had loved Inger. The truth had hit him full force, the night that his little brother, Joe had been born. How odd that he remembered it now, as Marie was being lowered into the ground, that he had on that special night, declared his love to her and had called her Mama for the first time. How odd that he held in his arms, the son that had nearly cost her, her life when Little Joe had been born.
Adam felt the tiny arms embrace his neck and felt the dampness of his shirt where Joe’s tears had stained the fabric. He clung to the tiny boy as if his life depended on it. The sounds of the dirt being dropped into the open grave sounded in his ears. It was his turn; his father had nudged him along.
Adam stooped and picked up a handful of dirt and followed the person in front of him around the grave. He stopped and raised his hand, allowing the fine particles of soil to slip between his fingers and fall gracefully into the open ground.
“I promised you Mama, that I’d always look after your son…I’ll make that same promise, again, today…never fear for this boy’s well-being, for I’ll be there for him…always…I give you my word…as your son.”
Adam placed another, smaller clump of dirt into his little brother’s hand and then guided Joe’s palm over his mother’s grave. He gently forced open the tiny fingers until the dirt floated downward.
“Do you want to say anything before we go?” Adam whispered to the unhappy child. He saw his brother swallow and then fill his lungs with air.
“Good bye, Mama…I luv ya!” cried Little Joe who could no longer contain his tears as he turned his face back into the fold of his brother’s neck and wept loudly.
Years later, Adam sat in his father’s red chair and stared across the room at the boy, now a young man, that he had sworn to look after, such a long time ago. He smiled as he watched his brother, dozing in the blue chair. Joe had turned out to be every bit as ‘pretty’ snickered Adam softly, as Doctor Martin had deemed him to be, twenty years earlier. But as for ruling his father’s world…the doctor had only been right, up to a point. It had taken every trick in the book and then some, for his father and himself to keep the boy on the straight and narrow, but they had managed. As Adam’s eyes sought his brother’s face, he knew, deep down in his heart, that Marie would have been proud of her little boy.
Adam rose slowly from his chair and strolled out onto the porch. The night sky was aglow with billions of twinkling stars, but Adam’s eyes found the brightest one of all. It was Marie’s star…the one she had promised would shine the brightest when he needed to talk to her, he would know exactly where to find her.
Adam gazed upward, his eyes fixed on the star that Mama had deemed hers, and he smiled. His eyes filled with unannounced tears, surprising himself at the show of emotions his pondering had forced him to feel. He had been unaware until that moment, just how much he missed his stepmother, and just how much of an impact she had had on his life. Adam sighed deeply, wiping his opened palm across his face, unaware that behind him, his youngest brother stood.
“She’s really shining tonight, isn’t she, big brother?” Joe said softly.
Surprised to be caught at such a vulnerable moment, Adam spun around, facing his brother. “I…I…yes, yes she is, Joe,” Adam stammered.
“You know Adam, what today is, don’t you?” Joe asked as he leaned his back against the fence and studied his brother’s face.
“Yeah, I know, Joe…I never forget this date…I never forget that, in a wink of an eye, her life and all she meant to me…to us…was snatched away.” Adam leaned forward on the fence railing, standing close to Joe.
Joe glanced at Adam. “You loved her too…didn’t you, Adam?”
Adam turned to Joe, his heart had somehow managed to creep into his throat and he found speaking difficult, but he nodded his head in response to his brother’s question.
“Yes Joe, I loved her…oh, I didn’t at first…I didn’t even like her…but later, after I found out that she was carrying you…I learned first to like her. She asked me to be just her friend and take things from there. She never asked more of me than what I could give to her. Did you know that?” Adam explained.
“Well, it was when her labor started early…Hop Sing had gone to find Pa and the doctor, and I was left alone with Hoss and your mother. I sneaked into her room, cause I could hear her crying out in pain and I had to know for myself if she was all right or not. She asked me to stay with her and to just hold her hand.” Adam smiled at Joe. “I was scared to death that you’d decide to make your entrance before the doctor got there,” Adam laughed softly and then continued.
“Before the doctor arrived, Marie and I had a long talk, it was then, right before you were born, that I realized just how much your mother had come to mean to me. I told her for the first time that night, that I loved her…and she told me that she loved me. I called her Mama too, for the first time. I’ll never forget the smile that graced her face or the happiness that shown in her eyes right then.”
Adam glanced up at the brightest star again. “You have no idea, Joe, how many times I’ve sat beneath the stars and talk to your mother, our mother, or the things I’ve told her…about myself…Pa…Hoss…you…”
Adam turned and faced his brother, smiling so that his face showed the dimple on his left cheek. “Yeah…you!” he laughed again.
“Great…you’ve probably told her about all the times you’ve saved my hide when I’ve gotten myself into a fix and couldn’t even get myself out of it, haven’t you?” Joe grinned.
Adam’s laughter was gentle as he slung his arm over Joe’s shoulders. “I didn’t have to tell her about those times Joe…she already knew. It was the times when you were never aware that I was close by…when I was busy keeping a promise made twenty years ago, that’s what Mama and I talked about.”
“Heh?” Joe said, scrunching up his face. “What are you talking about…ya ain’t makin’ any sense now. When were you there, that I didn’t know about…and what promise did you make and to who…”
“Whom…Joe…whom. And it’s none of your business. It’s between a special angel and myself…that’s to whom. Now come on, it’s way past your bedtime,” laughed Adam who had locked his fingers around Joe’s neck and was playfully pulling the younger man along with him.
“You need you’re beauty rest little brother, you’re beginning to get wrinkles…”
“Wrinkles!” stammered Joe. “Where? Show me!”
“Right here, next to your eyes, they’re called crow’s feet…or at least that’s what the women call them…and these lines right here, by your mouth are called laugh lines…”
“Crow’s feet? Laugh lines? Golly Moses…what can I do about them…and how’s come you don’t have any? HEY PA!” shouted Joe as Adam laughed softly at his brother’s antics and closed the door, but not before glancing one last time up at Marie’s star.
The star seemed to smile down at Adam and just as the young man started to turn, the star moved, shooting across the sky and leaving a fiery trail of glittering gold in it’s wake.