On the Trail (by BettyHT)

Summary:  A vignette of life on the wagon train with Inger, Ben, and a very curious Adam who notices a lot and wants to understand.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  3610


 

Holding his hands over his ears, Adam tried to fight down his fear. Inger had screamed so loudly several times that he was sure something terrible had happened. No one else seemed overly concerned. They told him to be a good boy and sit quietly. That morning, Ben Cartwright had gone off with a hunting party to re-supply the wagon train with fresh meat, and Adam fervently wished that he would come back very soon. Adam did sit out of the way and wondered what had happened. After many hours had passed ever so slowly for the young boy, he heard a baby wailing, and it seemed to be coming from their wagon. He couldn’t understand that at all because he had not seen anyone go into their wagon with a baby.

Finally, in late afternoon, Ben returned from a successful hunt. Mrs. Chambers immediately went to him and they talked quietly but rapidly. Then Adam watched as his father rushed by him and climbed into the wagon. Ben had not noticed Adam sitting so forlornly next to their wagon. There was more talk in the wagon but Adam could not understand what the low voices were saying. Another woman climbed out of the wagon carrying a sheet bundle. Even more terrified by that sight, Adam felt his heart begin to pound when he saw the sheet was bloodstained. He had not known that Inger was hurt, and tears rolled down his cheeks. He wanted to run and hide so no one would see him cry, but then he heard his name being called. His father wanted him to get into the wagon, it seemed, but he stood frozen unwilling to see what he thought must be a ghastly sight.

“Adam, come into the wagon, son. Inger wants to show you something.”

“Ma! Ma’s alive?”

“Well, of course she is, son. Women don’t die when they have a baby.” But a cloud passed over Ben’s face. Adam thought he knew why too, because he had overheard his father tell more than one person that Adam’s mother had died at his birth, but Adam was also rapidly processing that his Ma was all right. Ben quickly recovered his full smile, though, and held the canvas flap aside as Adam climbed into the wagon. What Adam had failed to fully process was that Inger had had a baby. He stood in shock seeing Inger holding a baby wrapped in a soft blanket.

“Where did that come from?”

“Son, your mother had a baby. You have a little brother now.”

“He’s bigger than the other babies on the wagon train. Where did you get him, Ma?”

“Ah, that is a question you need to ask your father sometime.” Inger chuckled a little then at the grimace her husband had in response to her statement. “Come closer, Adam, and greet your little brother, Eric.”

“How did he get that name?”

“Your Pa and I discussed it, and we decided we liked that name.”

“Didn’t you tell Uncle Gunnar that you would call a son ‘Hoss’?”

“We can’t christen a baby with a name like that.”

“Well, I’m going to call him Hoss. He looks like a Hoss, not an Eric.”

“Adam, mind your manners with your mother.”

Recognizing that tone, Adam was immediately silent before saying he was sorry. Inger sighed deeply and audibly, and Ben frowned but then smiled. The longer he was married to Inger, the better he was doing as a father and as a husband. He wrapped an arm around Adam. “Do you want to hold your brother?”

A little worried but even more intrigued by the idea, Adam moved closer to Inger. Ben picked up the tiny bundle that was Hoss and placed him on Adam’s lap, showing Adam how to use his arm to support the baby’s head. Grinning, Adam looked to his father, to his mother and back to Hoss. A year earlier, he would not have imagined being this happy.

“Pa, we better get to that land you want. Four of us just won’t fit in this wagon.”

“We’re getting close, son, but I need to find some work. Next spring, we’re going to finish this long journey and get to that land.”

Because Inger wanted to try nursing, Ben escorted Adam from the wagon. He was overjoyed to find that there was fresh meat with potatoes and onion cooking in their stewpot over their fire. Ben couldn’t stop smiling, but Adam had a question.

“So, Pa, Ma said you could tell me where she got the baby.”

With a deep sigh and then another, Ben tried to buy some time. He had hoped Adam would forget to ask, but the look of curiosity he had proved that wasn’t going to happen. Ben was thinking those earlier questions about why the sky was blue and where stars came from were a piece of cake compared to this one. Finally, he tried. “Well, when a man and a woman — are married first though — want a baby, they hug and kiss and are very nice to each other, then the mama gets a baby.”

“So you and Mama did that? Where did you do that?”

“Well, every night we hug and kiss before we go to sleep.”

“So you and Mama made a baby in the wagon?”

“Um, yes, well we did, but people don’t usually talk about that.”

“Why not?”

“Making a baby is a very private thing that a husband and wife do.”

“Is that why Mama was hiding that baby until today?”

“Oh, Adam, she wasn’t hiding the baby. It was inside her.” As soon as those words left his lips, Ben wanted to pull them back. Adam was staring at him wide-eyed and incredulous.

“Where?”

Sweating now, even though the evening was cool, Ben grabbed two plates to serve up some stew. His son was far too patient and his memory too good for Ben to think that he would forget what he had asked. Ben was furiously thinking about how to explain it all, and finally decided that the truth was the only way to go. “He was in your mother’s tummy. You remember when the Chambers’ cow gave birth, don’t you, and that calf came out of the mother. You talked about that for days. Well, that’s how Eric came out of your mother. That’s how you were born too.”

Almost praying than that Adam would not ask how the baby got in there, Ben turned to hand his son a plate of stew. He saw that his son had a look of dismay on his face as he processed that information. Adam was silent as he ate and then asked to be excused. Ben was relieved. He wouldn’t have to deal with any more difficult questions for a while, at least; it seemed for Adam was focused in on that last bit of information. Adam went behind some trees and took care of his business. As he emerged from the shadows of the trees, he was confronted again by the Morgan brothers, older than he was and downright disagreeable.

“So, your ma had that baby. Now I suppose that wagon will be rocking again.”

“Why would that make the wagon rock?”

“Well, ’cause your pa can start poking your ma again, that’s why. Or are you too stupid to know how she got that baby.”

“My Pa told me how they got him.” Adam proceeded to tell them what his father had told him. The Morgan brothers were laughing hysterically by the time he finished his short version. Then they filled him in on the exact way a baby got inside a mother. Adam couldn’t believe what they were saying. Once they had finished, they laughed again and told him to go talk to his pa again.

Walking back to the wagon, Adam was thinking about all that he had learned. He wondered if his father had lied to him, or if the way he said things was because Adam was so young he didn’t think he would understand. Then again, he wondered if the Morgan brothers had lied, for they were well known for lying, stealing, and cheating as well as being general ruffians.

When Adam got back to the wagon, Ben noticed how serious and even worried he looked. He thought perhaps he had told his son too much earlier and felt a bit guilty. It was days later before he found out why Adam had that look.

The following day, walking behind the wagon, Adam could see Inger holding Hoss and nursing him. It was another wonder he had wondering — how she could be feeding that baby by holding him to her chest with a blanket over him and her. He knew that there had to be an explanation and was thinking about not much else. Several times he had dropped things or bumped into things as he was thinking, and his father had reprimanded him to keep his mind on what he was doing. Each time that happened, Adam would see a disapproving look on his Ma’s face. He wondered what she was thinking when she did that, for he didn’t know whether the frown was for him or for his father. Inger was very good about talking with them privately when she had a concern. Adam waited each day and there was no talk, so he assumed it was his father who had done something of which she disapproved, but he didn’t know what it was. Inside the wagon, there had been a number of conversations.

“Our son is very curious, and that is just one sign of how intelligent he is. By trying to discourage him from thinking and dreaming, you are discouraging the development of his mind.”

“His mind isn’t going to do him much good if he can’t take care of himself. There are a lot of things out here to worry about, and he’s got his mind on other things far too often.”

“Ben, don’t you remember what it was like to be a child? He’s only six years old. You always seem to expect him to act much older. He’s very smart and can do that sometimes, but he’s too young to be pushed so hard.”

“Adam seems to be a happy boy. I don’t know why you worry so much about him.”

“I worry because I see how he looks at you when you’re not looking at him. He fears you too much, and he doesn’t trust you enough.”

“A boy needs to have some fear of authority. He needs to know there are rules to follow and consequences when those rules are broken.”

“Yes, but Ben, there has to be some balance too. A boy should be able to have some fun without looking over his shoulder worrying if his father will disapprove. He’s going to start hiding things from you. He’ll keep things to himself because he’s not willing to risk your displeasure by discussing them with you. Is that what you want?”

“How do you know so much about this?”

“My father was like that — always waiting for some bad behavior he could punish. Gunnar is the result because he was the one most often who got caught.”

“And you?”

“I was better at hiding what I did.” Inger had a bit of a smirk then, and Ben had to smile.

“I’ll talk to Adam when I get a chance and try to find out what’s been on his mind and distracting him so much.”

“Thank you. You’re a good father.”

“With your help. I love you so much. You have made my life complete, and we have such a wonderful family now. Next spring when we head to our home, we can talk about what kind of house you want.”

“Did you know Adam has some ideas about that? He’s been reading some books and the illustrations gave him ideas.”

“He’s reading books by himself?”

“Oh yes. The others on the train have been loaning books to him, and he’s been going through them as fast as he can. He has a thirst for knowledge that is amazing. He might even end up smarter than his father.” Again Inger smiled, and Ben’s heart melted. He couldn’t believe how lucky he was to have such a wonderful, intelligent wife.

That evening, Ben asked Adam to sit with him after dinner and chores had been completed.

“Adam, you have been very distracted lately. I would like you to tell me what’s been on your mind.”

Looking down at his feet, Adam didn’t want to answer. He had watched two horses mating after they were corralled inside the wagons the day before. He knew when he saw it that the Morgan brothers had not been lying, but he had no idea how to broach this subject with his father.

“Son, you can tell me anything. I promise I won’t be angry. I need to know what you’re thinking, though, so we can work out this problem you’ve been having keeping your mind on what you’re doing. It’s a dangerous country out here, and people can get seriously hurt or even killed, with even a small amount of carelessness or inattention. What do you say? Can you tell me, please?”

Embarrassed at what he had been thinking but wanting to please his father, Adam told Ben what the Morgan brothers had said to him, and what he had witnessed between the two horses. It hadn’t been the first time that he had seen something like that, but it was the first time he had an understanding of what they were doing. “So, Pa, did they tell me the truth?”

Ben was thinking that he was sure he didn’t know this much when he was six years old, but had to admit that perhaps Inger was correct and this boy was even smarter than he had thought. “Yes, Adam, it is. I didn’t explain all the details to you because I thought you were too young to know all about that, but if you wish, we can discuss it now.” Adam nodded so Ben explained what happened between a man and a woman that he repeatedly said had to be married for that to happen.

When they finished, Adam only had one thing to say. “Pa, I’m never gonna do that.”

“Oh, son, I think you’ll change your mind on that someday.”

“But, Pa, that’s gotta hurt. I fell wrong a couple of weeks ago, and it hurt me there something fierce. I can’t see that I would want to do anything like that at all.”

Ben reassured him that he had many years before he had to be concerned about that. The two of them slept much better that night, and the next morning, Adam pulled out a sheet of paper that he had folded inside the book he was reading. He showed it to Ben who was amazed to find a drawing of a house. It was well drawn and reasonably to scale which was remarkable.

“See, Pa, we could build this first part and live in there, and then we could add on over here for a kitchen, and then over here for bedrooms upstairs. There’s room for a bedroom here for you and Ma. Then there’s a little space over here where Hoss and I can sleep.”

“What would we use that space for later when we build bedrooms for you boys?”

“I don’t know. What kind of rooms do people put in houses? I’ve never lived in a house so I don’t know too much about that.”

“Well it could be a parlor, or a sewing room, or even an office.”

“See, Pa, you can see it too. We’re gonna have a great house.”

“We’re going to have a great house.”

“Oh, Pa, you know it too. All we need to do is get to that land. Can I go show Ma the house we’re gonna build for her?”

“Going to build for her.”

“Yes, Pa, thank you.”

Adam ran to show Inger the drawing of the house they would build with the office for his father when he got rich and powerful. Inger smiled at her son, for he was starting to sound like he shared his father’s dream.

The next few weeks that the group traveled west were uneventful. Their most serious problems were getting clean water and dealing with rain swollen creeks and muddy roads. Then, as they got further from settlements and into Mexican territory, there were signs that there had been trouble recently. They found several burned out wagons and old corpses that were little more than bones. It appeared that all the dead were men, making everyone wonder what had happened to the women and children who must have been on these wagons. There were metal tools and other evidence that this was a group headed west to farm, so the assumption was that there must have been families traveling together as they were. That night the group took extra precautions, but for several days did not see any more evidence of trouble. They hoped it would remain that way. Ben thought he needed to explain things to Adam in case there was trouble. With his voice a bit tremulous because of the situation in which he had placed his family, Ben pulled Adam into a hug.

“Adam, I don’t want to frighten you, and of course I know you will be, but there is the chance that there could be very serious trouble. Now if anything happens, the very first thing I want you to do, if you can, is to grab Hoss and hold him tight to you. The other thing you must do is to do exactly what Ma or I tell you to do and no questions. There isn’t time in a dangerous situation to ask and answer questions. Do you understand?”

With eyes opened as wide as he could because of his worry, Adam nodded. He had known that things were very tense, but until this moment, he did not realize his father was scared. The most frightening thing he had ever experienced had happened with that one statement, for he had never seen his father afraid of anything.

“Don’t go away from the wagons for anything without one of us with you. That includes taking care of your business. I will go with you when you need to do that. I know that might be slightly embarrassing for you, but it is far better to be that than to be in danger.”

Inger had been telling Ben that Adam behaved much better and was in a much better mood if rules and expectations were explained to him rather than just demanded of him. Ben had found that to be true, and his relationship with his son was getting stronger by the day. They talked of everything now, and not just the questions that Adam asked, although his questions still had a candor sometimes that caught Ben unprepared.

“I saw that calf that was born on the last train sucking at the momma cow. They told me that was how it got milk, and that’s where our milk comes from. Is that how Ma feeds Hoss?”

“Ah, yes, Adam, that is how Ma feeds Hoss.”

“Then who fed me, ’cause you said my mother died when I was born?”

“How did you know that?”

“I heard you talking sometimes.”

“Eavesdropping is not polite to do.”

“Is it eavesdropping if I was laying in my bedroll, and you were sitting by the fire talking with some of the men?”

“Well, perhaps not, but you could have let me know that you were awake and listening.”

“I didn’t know that you were gonna talk about anything I wasn’t supposed to hear.”

“Going to talk about. No, I suppose that’s true.”

“So, anyway, who fed me?”

“Ah, I had to hire someone to do that for you. She was a very nice lady, and wanted to travel to Illinois to join some of her family there. She was supposed to join them after she had her baby, but her baby died. So she was available to help us.”

“Do some women have more milk than others because I see some women, and they have very big ones, and other ladies only have little ones?”

Laughter erupted from the wagon then, and Ben knew that Inger was enjoying listening to this conversation way too much. He called back to her. “The rules on eavesdropping apply to wives as well!”

But Ben had a grin on his face by then, so Adam wasn’t worried that there would be an argument. He leaned back and grinned. He was starting to enjoy these conversations when he could leave his father nearly speechless and clearly uncomfortable. One of these days, he was going to ask his father about something he had seen down by the creek just a few days before. He was going to get some water and saw some of the women bathing. He had been fascinated, and wanted to ask his father why women did not have penises. He had wondered ever since he saw them how they went to take care of their business because he only knew one way to do that. He thought he would wait a few days before he asked that next question. His father had said they were getting close to Indian Wells where they would rest for a few days.

***End***

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