Ellen, My Love (By Debbie B.)

Summary:  Dedicated to Ellen AKA danblockerfan, who so obviously loves Hoss as much as I love Little Joe.  Ellen, this one’s for you!

Rated:  PG
Word Count:   9560


Hoss took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he straightened to his full height.  Carefully raising his hands upward to see if they were still shaking, he took another breath.  His heart was racing, beating double time deep within his massive chest and his stomach seemed to be filled with butterflies it was trembling so.

“This is ridiculous,” he muttered softly to himself, “she’s just a gal…hmm…a pretty little filly to be sure,” he sighed.  His lips twisted into a scrunched up smile and his sky blue eyes took on a faraway look. His expression was dreamy.

Hoss set his lips firmly and knocked on the door.  He quickly remembered to remove his hat and now he twisted it nervously around in his both huge hands.

As he waited for an answer to his knock, his thoughts filtered back to earlier that morning when he had proclaimed his love of this woman to his family.  Adam had cast one lopsided glance in Joe’s direction, which sent the youngest of the three Cartwright boys into a fit of outlandish giggles.

‘You said the same thing last month, about Bessie Sue,’ Joe had taunted.

‘And the month before that, it was Sarah Wilkerson,’ Adam had added with a grin that only served to enhance the deep dimple in his cheek.

Both young men laughed heartily.

‘Aw…cut it out, them women were just…just…’ stammered Hoss, causing Joe and Adam to snicker that much more.

‘Alright you two, that will be enough, leave your brother alone,’ Pa had said, though Hoss had seen the laughter in his father’s dark eyes that Ben had tried so hard to hide but failed.

‘Laugh all ya want, but when I’m a happily married man and the two of you are still chasin’ the skirts, I’ll have the last laugh!’ Hoss remembered blubbering.

‘MARRIED!’ his family had shouted sounding much like a chorus of boys with high-pitched voices that had yet to mature.

It was Hoss’ turn to laugh; three pairs of wide-eyed men staring at him with mouths open were more than he could stand.  It was hard to contain his amusement, though he hadn’t meant to tell them of his plans; it always seemed as if they had a way of getting the truth out of him before he was ready to tell it.

“Dadburnitalltoblazes,” muttered Hoss under his breath.

Again, he knocked on the door, harder than before, letting his thoughts drift a second time.  It was true, he did want to married the beautiful Ellen LaPlante, his beautiful half French, half Irish, sweetheart, he determined.  He just hadn’t meant to announce it to his family before he had even asked the lovely lady.  If she refused, he’d look like a fool and he’d have no one to blame other than his own impulsive self, his mind accused.

Hoss was so deep into his own private thoughts had he failed to hear the door open or see his vision come to life, right before his eyes.

Ellen smiled.  Hoss’ crystal blue eyes had such a dreamlike glow to them that she almost hated to pull the gentle man from his ponderings.  She heard him sigh; the gentle puff of air was akin to an ardent yearning sound and the thought caused her heart to flutter slightly.

The lady stretched forth her hand, brushing his arm with her long slender fingers, gently allowing them the pleasure of resting on his forearm.

“Hoss?” she said softly, her voice resounding with all the pleasantry that she was known for.

Hoss’ thoughts suddenly vanished from his mind as he spun around and gazed into the light moss green of his true love’s eyes.  His face lighted up, looking as if he had just stepped into the warm glow of the sun’s rays.  Blue eyes danced with joy, revealing the love that burned deep within his heart, his heart however was on his sleeve and though he thought he was doing a good job of hiding his true feelings, Ellen had no need to inquire.  Love glowed in the passionate desire that failed to be hidden.

He swallowed, making a gurgling sound deep in his throat; his face reddened in embarrassment as his fingers nervously rung his hat about in a circular motion.

“Afternoon, Ma’am,” he blabbered in a shaky voice, somewhat caught off guard by the beauty’s presence.

“Good afternoon, Hoss,” smiled Ellen.

A long strained silence followed the awkward greeting.  Hoss was at a loss for words, having devised a speech beforehand, it seemed to have relapsed into his subconscious where it was lost in a forgotten forest of other unvoiced, romantic quotes that he had practiced.

“It’s nice to see you again,” she said softly.  “Would you like to sit down, I’m almost finished packing the picnic basket?”

“Yes’em,” Hoss stammered, feeling rather foolish for just gawking at the love of his life.

Ellen waited for Hoss to move to the swing, but his big boots seemed glued to the boards that made up the porch floor.  She couldn’t help but hide the smile that threatened to break across her face.  He is such a sweet fellow, she thought, pointing at the porch swing.

“Oh…” Hoss said, blushing pink.  “Do ya need any help, Miss La Plantie…”

“LaPlante,” she gently corrected.

“La….Plan…te…” repeated Hoss, sitting down.

Ellen stifled a soft giggle, not wanting to make Hoss feel more uncomfortable than he appeared to be.

“Hoss?”

Hoss jumped nervously to his feet, causing the swing to bang against the wall of the house. “Yes Ma’am?”

“Why don’t you just call me Ellen?  I think we know each other well enough by now that the familiarities can be dropped, don’t you?” Ellen suggested.

“Well, yes’em, Miss La…Ellen, ma’am…”

“Ellen, just simply Ellen, Hoss, please?”

“Alright…Ellen,” beamed Hoss bashfully.

“You have a seat and I’ll be right back with the basket.  I hope you like fried chicken and potato salad?  I made a chocolate cake too.” she smiled.

Ellen stood with her dainty hand holding on to the door and waited for Hoss to make some sort of reply, but he was starring again at the vision before him unable to utter a word.

“Hoss?”

“Oh…yes ma’am…ere…Ellen, anything will be fine…I ain’t picky when it comes to eatin’,” he assured her.

“Good,” she smiled as she disappeared into the house.

Hoss looked straight ahead until he heard the screen door bang shut and then turned his head to peek inside.  He could see Ellen moving about in the kitchen putting items into the basket.  His mouth watered with the thoughts of fried chicken and the chocolate cake.  He briefly wondered if she had asked his father or one of his brothers what his favorite food was, but then decided she hadn’t.  How had she known, he pondered while he waited.  Were they so much alike, that perhaps fried chicken and chocolate cake was her favorite and just hoped that he would enjoy the same things?  The thought left him with a giddy feeling inside that caused him to lick his lips in anticipation of the meal and of the company.  Hoss had looked forward to this day…the day in which he had set aside, just for Ellen.  It was a special day, the day that he planned on asking Ellen to become his wife…Mr. and Mrs. Hoss Cartwright, he gleamed…

“I’m ready!”

Startled from his pondering, Hoss leapt to his feet. “Here,” he said, “Let me carry that,” he ordered as he took the basket from Ellen’s hand and offered her his arm.

Together they walked into the yard toward the buggy, which had been cleaned and shined to perfection.  Quickly he set the basket under the seat and helped Ellen into the buggy.  When she was situated, he climbed in beside of her and turned, smiling warmly.

“Comfortable?” he asked.

“Very,” she answered.

Hoss gathered up the reins and slapped them down on the broad rump of the horse. “Gitty-up, Patty,” he called.

“Patty?” Ellen asked in a teasing tone.  “Not named after some long lost love, is she?”

Hoss’ eyes took on an expression of surprise as he shook his head. “No ma’am,” he said.  “My Pa named her…Ponderosa Patty…why that particular name, I have no clue, but that’s what he called her.”

“Ponderosa Patty…I like it,” smiled Ellen.  “It has class…like Queen Elizabeth, or…”

“Annie Oakley?” snickered Hoss.

Ellen laughed.  Her voice was like music to the gentleman’s ears and Hoss turned to look into the glowing embers of Ellen’s green eyes.  She returned his smile with one of her own. “Yes, like Annie Oakley,” she agreed as she linked her arm with his.

Hoss shuddered; her closeness sent shivers of excitement coursing through his huge frame.  Once more he glanced down at her face, studying the finely chiseled features.  Ellen was looking at the landscape and failed to notice that she was being scrutinized.  Had she known, she would have blushed, for she had no inkling of the thoughts that ran rampant through her admirer’s mind as they rode along in contented silence.

*****

“It’s so pretty here,” she said, turning and smiling up at Hoss.

“Yes’em, this is my favorite place on the whole ranch, in the whole world really.”

“I can see why, just look at that lake, I’ve never seen anything so blue in my entire life!”

“Look how it reflects the mountains,” Hoss said, pointing across the wide expanse of the royal blue liquid.  “The snow capped peaks look sorta like diamonds glitterin’ on the water.”

“It’s beautiful, Hoss,” she beamed.  “Thank you for bringing me here…I wish I could stay here always, but I know that’s impossible, therefore, I shall always remember today.”

Hoss felt his cheeks tingle with redness and knew he was blushing again.  He moved closer, placing his hands tenderly on her slender shoulders and turned Ellen around so that they were face to face.

“It’s not impossible, Ellen…” he murmured in a voice thick with emotion.

“How can it not be?” she whispered.

Her eyes had fixed on his and the depth of passion that reflected back at her left her feeling weak and trembling inside.

“Easy…just…marry me.”

“What!” she stammered.

“Marry me, Ellen and I’ll build you a house, any kind of house you want, right here on this very spot…and we’ll fill it up with young’ons…as many as ya want, boys and girls…I…I…love you, Ellen, with all of my heart,” Hoss blurted out in a rush of words.

“Oh…Hoss…” the young woman muttered lowly.  “I…don’t know what to say!”

Hoss’ blue eyes glowed with anticipation as he gently pulled Ellen into his arms.  He lowered his head, his lips inches from hers.  The big man yearned to kiss her, but refrained for a moment longer, allowing his desire to deepen.

“Say yes, and make me the happiest, proudest man alive,” he whispered softly.

Ellen allowed her body to bold against his, her own passion beginning to match her admirer’s.  She turned her head slightly so that she could feel his warm breath on her face.

“Yes.”

It was a mere whisper, one word that said it all and filled the man for whom it was meant, with more joy than he had ever experienced in his entire life.  So soft was it uttered, that Hoss was unsure whether he had actually heard correctly or if it was just wishful dreaming.  For a fraction of a second, the gentle giant’s heart stopped beating.  With hands so gentle, he turned her face upward again and studied his reflection in her emerald eyes.

“Yes?”

“Yes!” she smiled, giving in to his sudden urge to kiss her.

The kiss was long and fervent, leaving both Hoss and Ellen moved by the impassioned need that surged through both of them.

When Hoss at last removed his lips from hers, he looked down at Ellen’s face, so lovely, so beautiful and then suddenly pulled away from her, his emotions at last bubbling over.

“YIPEE!” he shouted, wrapping his arms about her slender body and spinning them both around in circles.  “YIPEE!” he bellowed again.

“Oh Hoss…darling…put me down…please!” she squealed in delight.  “You’re making me dizzy!”

Hoss’ laughter billowed up from the bottom of his soul as he stopped spinning, refusing to let go of his true love.  Once more he lowered his head, his lips sought hers in a second hot, impassioned kiss.  Together, arms locked about the other, the couple slipped to the hand stitched quilt that lay atop the moss covered ground.  Lost in the need to squelch the passion that ignited their desires, the couple was unaware of the world that spun around, about them until much later.

*****

At the sound of the front door banging opened, Ben spun around, startled.  He had been standing before the fire, poking at the dying embers, trying to bring new life to the once roaring blaze.

Joe, who had been sitting on the settee with his back to the door, craned his neck around to see who had burst into the house in such an improper manner, glad it had not been himself, knowing that such an entrance would only result in a sharp scolding from their father.

“What the?” stammered Ben.

“GUESS WHAT!” shouted Hoss as he flung his hat onto the credenza and tromped over to his family.  He noted the expectant looks on all their faces.

“I have no clue,” Ben snorted, “what is the meaning to all this ruckus. Hoss, you know better than to make such an entrance,” Ben chided.

“I’m sorry, Pa…I just couldn’t help myself…guess what?  Guess what?”

Joe glanced over at Adam who had yet to say a word, and rolled his eyes.

“She said…yes,” teased Adam, grinning at his youngest brother, who by now had gotten to his feet, the book forgotten.  He had no clue that he had just hit the nail on the head.

Hoss, for a split second, eyed his older brother.  Then he grinned, bobbing his head up and down in agreement.

“Yep!” he beamed.

The big man stuffed his fingers into his pockets as he rocked back and forth on his heels.

“She sure’nough did…”

“What?” shouted Ben.

“Yippee…” bellowed Joe as he flung his slender body into his older brother’s arms.

Hoss and Joe giggled uncontrollably.

Adam rose from his seat and moved to his father’s side, glancing at the expression on his parent’s stunned face.

“Did you hear that, Pa?” Joe asked excitedly, “Big brother here is getting married!”

Ben’s face showed his confusion, but he smiled, nodding his head.

“Yes, I heard…Hoss,” Ben said, taking his son’s hand into both of his and pumping it vigorously up and down.  His smile broadened to show his joy.  “That’s…that’s wonderful son…just wonderful!”

“Really, you’re pleased, ain’t ya, Pa?”

Ben was still pumping Hoss’ hand.  “Of course! Of course, I’m absolutely thrilled with the prospect of having a daughter-in-law,” Ben assured his son.

“When’s this big event suppose to take place?” Adam questioned as he stepped up to congratulate his brother.

Hoss was grinning from ear to ear, his face glowed with happiness and his blue eyes sparkled.

“Aw shucks, Adam…I just asked her…we ain’t set no date yet…but I hope it’s soon.”

“Well, let’s not rush into things, son,” Ben advised.  “There are certain things that a young woman likes to plan for, and her wedding day is probably the most important day in her life…so give Miss LaPlante time to plan…”

“You mean, for her dress and who to invite and who not to invite and what to eat…things like that?”

“Yes…” laughed Ben, “things like that.”

“And you have to make some plans too, you know,” Adam added.

“Plans?”

“Like…a new suit,” Little Joe laughed, “you can’t get married in your work clothes…”

“And a house…where are you going to live?”

“Hmm…a house?”

Hoss stared at the others as they all burst into laughter.

“You are welcomed to stay here…in your room,” Ben said seriously, though he was teasing.

“Yeah,” Adam said, rubbing his hands together in anticipation, “it will be nice to have a woman in the house…”

“To help Hop Sing cook and clean and darn our socks and scrub our backs…”

Hoss’ eyes widened and he glared at Joe.

“My wife ain’t gonna be darnin’ no body’s socks but mine…and you find your own woman to scrub ya back…”

Again the others burst into laughter, laughing so hard that tears formed in their eyes.  Hoss was stunned into silence for a long moment until the realization that he was being teased, dawned on him, and then he too laughed along with his family.

Adam slipped his arm about his middle brother’s broad shoulders and gently guided him toward their father’s desk.

“Come on big boy, I have the perfect house plan in mind for you, lots of room for a growing family!”

*****

Less than a week later, construction on the new house was well under way.  Hoss worked hard, adding as much detail to the livability of the dwelling as to the style and design.  There was no need of his family to ask if the big man was satisfied with his soon-to-be new home, the happiness was etched into every line on his sun-bronzed face.

Hoss stood back a ways from the structure, sipping water from the ladle he held in his hand.  His father and two brothers stood nearby, watching him.

“Ya reckon she’ll like it?” he pondered aloud.

Joe moved to stand closer to his brother, wiping his forehead with his neckerchief to ward off the sweat beads.

“She’d have to be blind, not too…Hoss…it’s…”

“The nicest house in the territory,” Adam supplied with a smug grin.  “And I designed it!”

Hoss turned around and grinned at his older brother, blushing.

“Aw shucks, Adam, ya know that ain’t so…the Ponderosa’s the best house around…”

“Now you wait just a minute, young man,” Ben laughed.  “The Ponderosa is, and always will be, the best house…for me…but this,” Ben waved his hand out to emphasize the new house being built, “will be the best house for you…and Ellen,” grinned Ben.

Hoss could say nothing, but turned and looked again at the home where he would soon be living with his new bride.  Excitement coursed through his veins…anticipation pumped his heart…love consumed the man…Hoss was drowning in happiness, unable to fathom that soon, he’d be a married man…and that someday, sooner or later, he might even become a father!

*****

“Okay, now keep your hands over your eyes,” Hoss said as he jumped from the buggy and hurried around to the other side where he could help Ellen down.  “No peekin’.”

“Oh, Hoss,” Ellen whispered.  “Why are you being so mysterious?  What have you done?”

“I told ya before, it’s a surprise.  Careful now, let me hold ya arm so’s ya don’t trip,” Hoss cautioned as he led his true love over to stand before the now nearly completed house.

His heart was racing.  His mind buzzed with a silent prayer that Ellen would like her new house.  He had meant to tell her about it, but at the last moment decided that he’d make it a wedding present, but then he got overcome with anxiety, worrying that Ellen might feel cheated for not having a say in how the house should be built. So, he had decided to bring her out to the construction site, let her have a sneak preview of the goings on and then ask her, her opinion on how she’d like things arranged.

“Okay, open your eyes,” Hoss chanted as he backed up to give Ellen plenty of space to take in everything.

Slowly, Ellen did as requested and opened her eyes.  For a moment, she stood in disbelief of what she was seeing.  As her mouth dropped open and her hands flew to her face, a tiny squeal of joy escaped her lips.

“OHHHH, HOSS!”

Hoss’ eyes narrowed as he stared at her lovely face. “What’s wrong?”

Ellen turned; eyes glowing with unshed tears of joy.  “Wrong?” she stammered.  “Hoss, darling…it’s lovely, it’s…perfect…it’s…ours?”

Hoss bellowed with laughter.  “Of course it’s ours…who did you think I built if for?”

“Oh darling!” Ellen said as she flew into Hoss’ waiting arms.

Her lips sealed his in a heated kiss, sending the blood gushing to all points of passion consuming both of them.

“Whoa, Missy,” laughed Hoss, “You better not do that again, or people will start alking’ about us!”

Ellen refused to pull away from her lover’s embrace.  Instead she moved her head enough to look into Hoss’ face, flushed pink with embarrassment.

“I don’t care…let them talk, I’m not ashamed of what I’m feeling…are you?” she giggled in a mischievous fashion.

The rosy glow to the man’s cheeks deepened as he wrinkled his nose and grinned down at the lady who had captured his heart and brought more joy into his life than he had ever hoped possible.

“Of course not…I…I love you…Ellen…Ellen, my love,” he murmured in a thick voice.

Hoss, lowered his head and covered her mouth with his, taking away her breath as she welded her impassioned body into his.  They remained as such, each locked in the ecstasy   of the love that flowed between them, until such a time that they were required by nature to pull away and begin breathing again.

*****

“JOE!”

Joe ran into the room, nearly colliding with his middle brother who had rushed to the bedroom door to yell again.

“JOE…oh, I didn’t see ya comin’,” Hoss said as he fidgeted with the long black string tie that he had wrapped about his neck.

“What’s wrong, Hoss?” Joe inquired with a lopsided grin.

He knew without really having to ask, just seeing how Hoss had managed to make a knot in the tie around his neck was fair warning that the nervous groom was having trouble tying his own tie.

Joe started to giggle, slapping away Hoss’ clumsy fingers from the tie. “This thing looks more like a noose than a gentleman’s tie,” he snickered, looking up at his brother.

“Aw, dadburnit, Joe…I can’t do a thing right this mornin’, I’m as clumsy as a bull in a China shop, not to mention how my hands are shakin’.  Just look here,” Hoss groaned as he held his large beefy hands out so that he could confirm his worries.

Joe grinned broadly as he fashioned a neater looking bow and knot in the string tie. “You aren’t going to the gallows, Hoss…you’re just getting married.”

“Well, right now I think I’d rather face a hangin’ than that little filly I’m fixin’ to be saddled with for the rest of my life!” Hoss proclaimed as he turned to inspect his reflection in the mirror.

From the doorway, his father watched and suddenly burst into laughter, causing Hoss and Joe to turn around.

“I wouldn’t let the future Mrs. Hoss Cartwright hear you make a statement like that!  Saddled in deed!” laughed Ben happily.

“Aw shucks, Pa…I didn’t mean it like that…I just meant…doggoneit…I’m scared half outta my wits!” the groom groaned heavily, causing his kinfolk to laugh again.

“Come on, son,” Ben said, taking Hoss’ arm and gently guiding him toward the door, “the ceremony is about to begin.”

Hoss swallowed hard, his forehead wrinkled and he cut his eyes around at Joe. “You comin’, Shortshanks?”

“Oh brother,” Joe said, rolling his eyes.  “Of course I’m comin’…I wouldn’t miss this hanging for nothing on earth,” he giggled.

“Joseph!” Ben scolded good-naturedly, “Stop teasing your brother, can’t you see he’s nervous enough without you adding to it?”

Joe’s giggle rose slightly as he placed a brotherly arm about Hoss’ massive shoulders and walked out into the hallway with him.

“Sorry…”

“Sure ya are,” Hoss muttered in whispered voice.

*****

The great room was already filled with guests who milled around anxiously waiting for a glimpse of the bride.  Hoss smiled at his friends and neighbors as he took his place along side his two best men, his brothers…Adam and Joe.  They stood in front of the reverend, waiting for the music to begin, announcing the arrival of the soon-to-be, Mrs. Cartwright.

Ben had disappeared.  Having been asked to give the bride away, he stationed himself at the top of the stairs, anticipating the honor of walking his new daughter-in-law up to the altar, where Ben could see his middle son whispering to his brothers.  Ben smiled; never before had he seen Hoss so happy, or so handsome in his new, finely tailored dark suit.

For a fraction of a second, a sense of sadness washed over him as his thoughts envisioned Inger’s lovely face and how much, right at this very moment, Ben missed his wife.

Down the hall a door opened and shut and a vision of loveliness stepped into the hallway.  Ellen’s beauty was unmatched and her exquisitely designed white wedding gown served to enhance her grandeur.

Ben gasped at the radiance that seemed to fill the hallway as Ellen walked gracefully toward him, glowing with happiness.

“Well, how do I look…Father?” she beamed at Ben.

Ben felt a swelling of his chest as his emotions rose to the surface.  He grinned at Ellen and nodded his head.

“If I were many years younger…I’d have to try to win your heart away from my very own son.  You are a vision of loveliness, Ellen,” Ben whispered.

He placed both hands tenderly on Ellen’s shoulders and leaned down, kissing her gently on the forehead. “May your life always be as beautiful as you are right now.”

“Oh…Mr. Cartwright…thank you!  I love you…you do know that, don’t you?” she asked, dabbing at the tears that welled in her eyes.

“I love you, too…we all do, and I know our lives will be much happier with you included,” Ben assured her.

“Thank you…oh…the music…”

“Ready?” Ben smiled, offering her his arm.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she replied, happily as she slipped her arm around his.

*****

All eyes turned upward to stare in awe at the beautiful bride and her handsome escort.  Hoss felt his heart begin to pound, deep within his chest.  His face lit up in a radiant glow of happiness and the proud look on his face told all observers how truly happy the gentle giant was.

Ben held his hand out slightly in front of him.  Ellen gently rested her hand atop his as together they descended the steps.  Ben took his time as the music played the wedding march.  He had seen the look in his middle son’s eyes and wanted the memory of this moment to be seared forever in the boy’s heart and mind.  Never before had Ben seen his son as happy and filled with joy as he did now, watching his bride descend the stairs and glide across the floor to take her rightful place beside her soon-to-be husband.  Ben watched as Hoss devoured his beautiful bride from head to foot with joyful glee.

Slowly Ben guided Ellen through the mass of on-lookers, leading her to the makeshift alter of God where Hoss waited.  He was certain that he could see the tremors that surged up and down and throughout the boy’s body.

“Who giveth this woman in marriage?” the reverend asked as soon as the music had stopped.

Hoss smiled bashfully down into the face of the woman he loved, lost in a sea of green that colored her eyes, unaware of the others who had gathered around.  His heart and soul belonged to Ellen…lovely, beautiful, desirable Ellen.

“I do,” Ben said in his deep rich voice.

He placed Ellen’s hand on top of Hoss’ large, work calloused hand, knowing that despite the wear that the hand showed, he knew how very gentle and tender they could be at times such as these.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here, in the site of God and man, to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony….”

For several long moments, Hoss was aware of nothing except the woman whom he had fixed his eyes on.  He felt ten feet tall standing before a roomful of friends and family, knowing that within hours this fine specimen of womanhood would belong to him completely, his for the remainder of his days, until death do them part.  Every inch of his body tingled with joy, happiness and expectancy.

“Do you Eric Hoss Cartwright, take this woman, Ellen Rochelle LaPlante, to be your lawfully wedded wife, to love and honor from this day forth until death do ye part, so help you God?”

Hoss smiled down at Ellen, silent, until he felt a sharp jab in his side.  His smile momentarily vanished as he glanced down and glared at Joe.  Joe nodded his head gently toward the preacher.

“Oh…” muttered Hoss.  He turned, squeezing Ellen’s hand gently.  “I do…”

“And do you, Ellen Rochelle LaPlante, take this man, Eric Hoss Cartwright, to be your lawfully wedded husband, to love and honor and obey, from this day forth, until death do ye part, so help you God?”

“I do…I do…I do…I do…” gibbered Hoss repeatedly.

*****

“I do…I do…I do…”

“Pa, what’s wrong with him?” Joe asked, looking down at his brother.

“It’s the fever, son; your brother has been seriously ill,” Ben explained as he dabbed at the tiny sweat beads that had accumulated on Hoss’ brow.

“How long has this been going on?” Adam wanted to know.

“Two, three days now. Doc’s been out everyday.”

“But what’s wrong with him?” Joe questioned again as he watched how Hoss tossed his head about on the pillow.

“Doc’s not sure, son, but he said this morning, before you two got home, that the fever should break today…all we can do at this point is wait,” the anxious father explained.

Hoss moved his head slightly; his lips formed a smile and he muttered softly. “I do…I do…”

Adam and Joe exchanged troubled glances.

“I do?” Joe whispered.

“He must think he’s getting married,” Adam responded almost with a grin at the thought of his big, middle brother getting hitched.

Ben looked up from the side of the bed where he had been sitting with his son. “I believe you’re right, Adam.  He keeps calling out a name…Ellen, I think…yes, that’s it, Ellen and he continues to mutter, ‘I do, I do’,” Ben explained. “Come on, let’s allow him to get some rest.  I haven’t been much good at keeping the chores caught up for you while you were gone to Mineral Springs, but…”

Adam and Joe followed their father from the room and waited while Ben pulled the bedroom door almost closed.

“Don’t worry about it, Pa, Joe and I’ll do them…we aren’t that tired, are we little buddy?”

“No…don’t fret, Pa, we can handle them, you just keep a sharp eye on Hoss…”

Joe turned toward the stairs, muttering under his breath. “What do you know…married…boy, Adam,” he said, looking over his shoulder and grinning, “that must have been some dream big brother’s been having…married…hey, you know any girls around here by that name…Ellen?”

“Nope, nary a one…” Adam said as he headed for the front door.

“Me neither…wonder if she’s pretty?” snickered Joe.  “Poor Hoss…this here Ellen is what you might call…a dream girl…hahaha,” giggled Joe, closing the front door behind him.

*****

“Hoss…stop, lay back down, son,” Ben ordered while gently forcing the big man back against the pillows.

“I can’t, Pa…I gotta get up…Ellen…where is she…what happened?  Did I faint from pure joy or what?” Hoss fussed.

Ben cast a worried glance at his eldest son and then looked into Hoss’ face, trying to read the puzzled expression and the slight fear that shown in the young man’s eyes.  It was obvious that the boy was confused…there was no Ellen…whateverhernamemightbe!

“Son…Hoss…you’ve been sick…you didn’t faint…”

“Aw Pa, that simply ain’t so…I was gettin’ married…”

“Married!  I knew it,” Joe squealed.  “Who’s the lucky girl?”

“Joseph, that’s enough…there isn’t a girl…there wasn’t a wedding…”

“Yes there was!” contradicted Hoss as he shoved back the blankets and crawled from his bed.  “And I’ll prove it to you…to all of you!” he said as he grabbed for his trousers.

“Hoss…stop this non-sense…get back in that bed…RIGHT NOW!” stormed Ben, grabbing Hoss by the arm and trying to force him to submit.

Hoss wrenched his arm free from his father’s grasp and finished putting on his pants. “NO!” he refused, taking a deep breath to calm himself.  “I’m sorry, Pa…I don’t know what’s goin’ on around here, but I aim to find out.’

Hoss jerked opened the shift-robe door and began flinging clothes into the floor.  The others stood speechless.

“Where in the blazes is it?” Hoss grumbled.

“Where’s what, son?”

“Dadburnit…what’cha do with it?”

“Hoss…what are you talking about?” Ben asked in a worried voice.

“My suit…my brand new wedding suit…I had it special made!”

“What?  Hoss, you’ve been sick, really sick…you must have been imagining all this…” Adam tried to explain.

“NO!!  I WASN’T THAT SICK AND IT WASN’T A DREAM…IT WAS REAL!  NOW GET OUT OF MY WAY!”

“Hoss…stop!  Where are you going?” Ben demanded.

“I have to find Ellen…and…explain…if’n I can…”

Hoss stormed from the room, leaving his family to gaze in shock at his sudden departure.

“Hey…wait for me!” shouted Joe to Hoss.

Joe paused and turned back to his father.  “Don’t you think one of us should go with him?”

“I think we should all go!  Come on!” Ben ordered, stepping around Joe and making for the staircase.

*****

As sick as he had been, it amazed Ben that Hoss could ride as long and hard as he did, obviously making his way to town.  He had no clue what Hoss was going into town to try to prove, and it worried him that his son, so recently ill, had imagined himself in love and getting married!  Ben swore to take the time if possible, to have a word with Paul Martin, the attending physician, for surely Hoss needed help…some kind of help.

“Hoss, why are we stopping at the boarding house, son?”

Hoss quickly dismounted, paused a moment to steady himself, for his head was beginning to feel light and though he’d never tell his father, he felt drained and tired like he’d worked hard all day.

Taking a deep breath, Hoss looked over his shoulder at the three men who waited on horseback. “I’m gonna see Ellen…she’ll tell me what’s goin’ on, since none of you will!”

Joe chanced a quick glance at his older brother.  Even he was growing concerned about Hoss…they all were, reckoned the youngest Cartwright.

They watched as Hoss walked up to the door and knocked.  It was several long moments before Mrs. Whaley, the owner, came to the door.  When she saw the Cartwrights, she smiled broadly, wiping her hands on her already stained long white apron. “Well, my goodness, what a pleasant surprise!” she greeted the men.

“Howdy, Ma’am…”Hoss stammered, removing his hat and twisting it around in his hands.

“Howdy Hoss, what can I do for you today?  You need a room?” she laughed softly in a teasing manner.

“No Ma’am, I came to see Miss Ellen…”

“Who?”

“Miss Ellen…Ellen LaPlante…you know, the lady that I asked to marry me.”

“What?  Why Hoss, how sweet, I didn’t know you were getting married.  When’s this special event going to take place…and I hope I get an invitation,” Mrs. Whaley said with a twinkle in her eye.

“Ere…yes Ma’am…I’ll see that you do…but…Ma’am…is Miss Ellen here?”

Mrs. Whaley cast a worried glance in Ben’s direction.  Ben’s brows moved ever so slowly, but the elderly woman noticed the boy’s father’s reaction. “Hoss…there isn’t a Miss Ellen here…and there hasn’t been, why, I’ve never heard the name LaPlante mentioned…”

“But she was stayin’ here…”

“Not here, Hoss.  I’m sorry…could you have been mistaken?” Mrs. Whaley suggested.

She could see how upset the big man seemed to be, rubbing his head and then his temples as if he were in some kind of stress.  The woman looked up again at the boy’s family. “Mr. Cartwright…I’m sorry,” she muttered.

“It’s alright,” murmured Hoss, placing his hat on his head. He refused to look up at the others, sure that his family must be thinking he had lost his mind completely.

Hoss mounted up and turned his horse around, heading back into town.

“Thank you, Mrs. Whaley,” Ben called as he and Adam and Joe tipped their hats and followed after Hoss.

“Hoss,” Ben said softly when they had stopped and Hoss began to dismount.

“I’ll ask the Reverend, I know he won’t lie…”

Hoss wrapped Chubb’s reins around the hitching post and walked, as a man to the gallows, to the front door of the tiny, neatly kept little house that served as the parsonage.

This time the knock on the door was quickly answered; Hoss removed his hat again and greeted the pastor’s wife.

“Afternoon, Ma’am, is the parson around?” Hoss asked.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” Mrs. Breckenworth greeted the foursome.  “My husband is over at the church…he’s working on the sermon for Sunday.  You’re welcomed to walk over if you need to speak with him,” she offered.

“Thank you kindly, I’ll do just that.”

Hoss cast a wary glance upward, noting that his father and brothers were dismounting and following along behind him.  He felt his heart beating rapidly and hard in his chest.  His head hurt, his stomach was in knots and truth be told, he felt as if he wanted to vomit and then cry or vice-versa…regardless, he felt terribly ill just the same.  He had never, in his entire life, felt as miserable and downtrodden as he did right at that moment.

The pastor of the Virginia City Church was standing behind the pulpit, practicing his sermon, just as his wife said he would be.  When the four men entered, the reverend stopped preaching, one arm held high over his head as if he were ready to pronounce hell and damnation onto a sinful congregation.

Hoss stood slightly in front of his family, keenly aware of their presence behind him and wishing desperately that they’d just go back home and let him find Ellen and the answers to his delirium by himself.  But he knew that would never be, his father was persistent when it came to things concerning the well being of one of his sons. And this was most certainly, one of those times.  Perhaps he was losing his mind…NO…his heart screamed, it had happened, it had been real.  Hoss touched his finger to his lips still able to feel the fire that had been started when he and Ellen had kissed.  His body trembled slightly, thinking of her touch, how soft and gentle it had been, how fervently she had responded to his own tender caresses.

“Whew.”

Ben heard the sound and moved closer, placing a reassuring hand on his son’s shoulder.  He was surprised when Hoss moved away from his touch, causing his father to sigh deeply.

“Afternoon, Reverend,” Hoss said at last.  “Sorry to be abotherin’ ya, but I was wonderin’ if’n you could set my family and me straight about somethin’?”

“Why of course, if I can, Hoss.  What seems to be the problem?” the man of the cloth inquired as he joined his guests at the front of the church.

“Well, you see…I mean…ere…hmm…” Hoss couldn’t find the words he wanted to use to put an end to this mystery and his misery.  He cast worried eyes at his father.

The look Hoss gave filled his father’s heart with great sadness, the look would have ripped apart any caring man’s emotions, as they were doing to him now.

“Perhaps I can explain.  You see,” began Ben, “my son here…Hoss…has been ill and he thinks…”

“I don’t ‘think’, Pa…I ‘know’…”

“Alright, Hoss, just calm down and let me finish.  You see Reverend Breckenworth…I mean…did you or did you not perform a marriage ceremony for Hoss and…some lady by the name of Ellen LaPlante?” Ben blurted out.

The man’s eyes widened as he scanned the faces of each man, reading into the different expressions, the same thing, they were all worried about something, or someone.  He looked at Hoss and instantly decided that Ben and his other two sons were concerned for Hoss…but why?

“Married?  Hoss…you’re getting married…”

“NO…no sir, I mean…I ain’t gettin’ married…I got married…and you’re the man who dun married me and Miss Ellen…”

The air rushed from the reverend’s lungs in a loud gush. “Hoss…I’m sorry boy…but…I didn’t…”

“YES YOU DID…DON’T YOU LIE TO ME, TOO!” stormed Hoss, grabbing the man by the front of the shirt and practically hauling the startled parson to his toes.

“HOSS!” shouted Ben in shock at his son’s actions.  He groped uselessly at the boy’s fingers.

Quickly, Adam and Joe stepped forward and wrenched their brother’s hands from Breckenworth’s shirt.

“Let go, Hoss,” Adam said in a calm voice.  His eyes never left his brother’s face as he tugged at Hoss’ hands.  “Let him go, Hoss.  Come on now…easy…that’s it.”

At last the parson was free.  Instantly he backed up, straightening his clothes.  Ben stepped forward, glaring at Hoss with an angry expression on his face.

“Take him outside and wait for me,” he ordered Joe and Adam.

When the trio had gone, Ben turned to the Reverend. “I apologize for my son’s actions, Reverend.  I’m afraid he hasn’t been himself, you see…he’s been gravely ill for several days and he has this ridiculous notion that he got married…and…”

“It’s alright, Ben,” smiled Breckenworth.  “Don’t worry about me, I know that when a person is sick, his mind can conjure up a variety of things to trick the heart…many of which seem so life like that they appear to be real.  No doubt this is what has happened to Hoss…please, don’t be too hard on the boy.”

Ben felt humbled by the man’s forgiving attitude.  He lowered his head, nodding; almost in a whisper he thanked the man for his kindness.

“I hope the boy finds an answer to his problem, Ben…”

“Thank you, so do I.”

By the time that Ben made it back to the horses, his three sons were already mounted up, ready to ride.  He quickly joined them, purposely moving close to Hoss.

“Are you ready to go home now, son?”

“No…”

“Hoss…please.”

“No, Pa…I’ll prove to you I ain’t imagining all this.  I can’t explain any of this, but I can prove I ain’t crazy, come on.”

Giving his father no time to respond, Hoss kicked Chubb into a run, heading back toward the Ponderosa.  He’d prove to them, he pondered as he rode along, ‘I’ll prove to myself; I’ll show them the house…by golly, that’s it!  The house, it can’t lie…it’ll be right there, right where I built it.  I’ll show them and then they will believe me and maybe they will even help me find my Ellen.  Oh Ellen…Ellen, my love!’

Hoss slid down from his horse.  It was evident that he wore a look of sheer disappointment on his face, his father reasoned.  Or was it fear he saw in his son’s eyes? Ben dismounted, motioning for Adam and Joe to stay where they were while he followed slowly behind his distraught son.

Hoss walked aimlessly about as if he were searching for something long lost.  He felt his stomach tighten and form hard knots that caused him to want to be sick.  How could it not be, he questioned himself.  His mind was racing, frantically trying to piece together the parts of the puzzle.  Sure his father had not been right…it couldn’t have been a dream…a hallucination…it had been real, if felt real…it was real!

“What’s he looking for?” Joe whispered to Adam as they watched Hoss, practically staggering around in the lightly wooded area.

Adam shook his head.  “I have no clue, Joe…but he seems to have lost something.”

When Hoss finally stopped, his back was to his family.  Ben moved cautiously forward until he stood only inches from his son’s broad back.  The soft whimpering sounds coming from his son broke his heart.  It was rare that Hoss became so emotional that the big man cried, but crying was what the gentle giant was doing now.

“Hoss?”

Hoss turned around to face his father.  Ben instantly noted the tears that had welled in the depths of the blue eyes.  Never had Ben seen his son so despondent, so…broken as he was at that moment.

“Pa…” Hoss muttered in a low, almost whiny voice.  “It can’t be…the house…it was here!”

By this time, Joe and Adam had joined their father at their brother’s side.

“Son…there’s no house ever been built here…”

“But there was…I built it with my own hands, these hands,” Hoss cried as he held out his hands for the others to see. “And you…and Little Joe there and Adam, you all helped me!”

“Hoss…look around you…”

“I SEE IT…I SEE NO HOUSE, BUT I’M TELLING YOU…IT WAS HERE…RIGHT HERE!” Hoss shouted hysterically.

Hoss sank to his knees, covering his face with his trembling hands. “I’m not crazy, Pa…I got married…I married Ellen…and I built her a house, right here…” he sobbed.

Ben glanced up at Adam and Joe and then knelt down, placing his hands on Hoss’ shoulders. “Hoss, listen to me son…it was a dream…a very life like dream and…”

Hoss pushed Ben’s hands away and stood to his feet, anger showing on his face.“Ya don’t believe me…do you…?  None of ya believe me…you all think I’m nuts…well, I’m tellin’ ya…it happened…ya can’t say…ya can’t…ya…”

The sobbing became uncontrollable as Hoss turned and walked away, shaking his head from side to side in defeat. “OH GOD, WHY!” he bellowed, sending the roosting birds into an untimely flight.

Ben rushed forward as the giant, broken man sank again to his knees.

“Why, Pa?  Why?” he sobbed as he fell into his father’s arms.  “I loved her…I loved her with all my heart and soul…it wasn’t a dream…it couldn’t have been…I held her in my arms…I kissed her…I…I…married her!”

Ben was fighting back his own tears, trying to remain calm and still trying to convince Hoss that sometimes the mind plays cruel tricks on the heart…and this was one of those times.

“Hoss,” Ben said.

“Go away, Pa…all of you…just go home and leave me alone…please,” muttered Hoss, turning away from his father, to ashamed to face his family, for the truth had begun to seep in…

*****

“How long has he been like this, Ben?” Paul wanted to know.

They had been sitting together on the side porch, sipping coffee and discussing the various moods that Hoss had been experiencing over the last several weeks.  Ben had talked several times to his old friend, the town’s physician, in hopes that together they could come up with a plan to help his son break through the dark gloom that seemed to have been hanging over his head since the boy accepted the fact that his mind had played a vicious trick on his heart.  As of now…nothing had come to mind that had helped to relieve his son’s misery.  Hoss’ gloom had begun to take his toll on the entire family…it seemed that nowadays, there wasn’t a happy face among the four.

“Too long, Paul, too long,” answered Ben as he watched Hoss working silently with his two brothers.

Joe and Adam were talking amongst themselves; they had given up trying to lure their middle brother into the conversation, Hoss had repeatedly shown no interest.  Trying not to allow his aloofness to affect their own good moods, the pair had moved on to the barn where chores awaited tending to.

“Why don’t we see if we can talk him into going to town with us…might be good for him, it’s been better than a month since he’s gone,” Adam suggested to Joe.

“Yeah…you wanna ask him?  Last time I tried to talk him into doing something, he got mad and took a swing at me,” Joe said with a touch of bitterness. He paused for a moment and walked to the door, staring out at his brother who was now working on a wagon wheel that needed fixing.  The youngest Cartwright’s own expression showed his sorrow for his older brother.

“Joe,” Adam said softly as he joined Joe at the door.  He glanced at his youngest brother and placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder.  “Hoss didn’t mean anything towards you when he took a swing at you; he was and still is hurting…it’s going to take time…”

“I know that,” Joe said sorrowfully as he turned away.  “I just hate to see him like that, that’s all.”

“So do I; that’s why I think he needs to get away from here for a little while…come on, let’s offer to buy him supper and a couple of beers,” Adam said with a nod toward the opened door.

Little Joe smiled in response.  “You gonna do the asking?”

“I suppose,” Adam laughed lightly.

“Then you’d best be ready to duck,” chuckled Little Joe.

Paul Martin was just leaving in his buggy when Adam and Joe emerged from the barn.  Hoss had straightened up to wave farewell at the doctor but turned when Adam and Joe approached.  He said nothing, just looked at them and then went back to work.  Joe gave Adam a nervous look, pointing with his chin at Hoss, indicating to his brother to speak up.

Adam cleared his throat.

“Ain’t you two got nothin’ better’n to do but stand around all day?” Hoss said without looking up.

“Sure we do…”

“Then why ain’t ya doin’ it?”

“We plan on it…” stammered Joe.

Hoss glanced up.

“But we wanna ask you something first,” Joe stated meekly.

Hoss paused briefly and glanced up again. “Oh yeah…what’s that?”

“Well…Joe and I were planning on going into town this afternoon…”

“And we thought you might like to come with us,” Joe interrupted, earning himself a stern look from Adam.

Ben was standing behind the trio, observing the proceedings.

Hoss rose up, stretching to his full height, eyeing his brothers. “Somethin’ special goin’ on in town?” Hoss asked.

“No…we just felt like going in…you know…see what is going on…and, well, we thought we might could bribe you with a free supper…”

“Yeah, with Hop Sing away…we’re sorta getting tired of Pa’s cooking…”

“Oh, you are, are you?” Ben said, announcing his presence and causing Joe to spin around, a look of slight horror on his face.

Joe gulped, causing his brothers to snicker. “Oh…Hi ya, Pa.”

Ben couldn’t help but laugh.  “Oh, hi yourself!  I’ll tell you what, boys, I’m getting tired of my own cooking too…how’s about the three of you joining me for supper at the International House?  My treat!”

“Yummy!”

Three sets of expectant eyes of various hues, turned to stare at Hoss.  It was the first time in weeks that the young man had shown any excitement of any sort and the others were somewhat amazed to see the smile that spread across the broad face.

“Does that mean you’ll go with us?” Joe dared to question.

“Yep…” chuckled Hoss, “I’m starvin’ plum to death, and I’m so hungry I could eat a bear…and since Pa’s buyin’, I ain’t foolish enough to refuse.”

Hoss began wiping his dirty hands on the rag he held.  Ben’s smile broadened as he slipped his arm about Hoss’ shoulder and walked with his son toward the house. “Good, let’s get cleaned up and get going.”

Hoss stopped in his tracks, causing the others to do the same. “I gotta say somethin’ first, Pa…if’n ya don’t mind.”

“Alright, son, go ahead.”

Hoss pinched his lips tightly and glanced from one face to the other. “I know I ain’t been myself lately…and I know I ain’t been much fun to be around.  So…I want to say…I’m sorry…”

“Forget it, Hoss,” Adam was quick to say.

“I can’t forget it, Adam.  No matter what any of you think…and I know this may sound silly to you…but I reckon I gotta say it.”  Hoss gulped.  “Whatever happened to me…and I can’t explain it, I know what I felt in here, in my heart,” he said, tapping his chest.  “I fell in love…with a beautiful woman…dream or no dream…and she loved me.  I’ll never forget her face, her touch or her kisses…never.”

Hoss took a deep breath, sighing heavily.  “But that’s all behind me now…” He began to chuckle softly.  “Let’s go eat, I’m hungry!”

His statement brought more laughter…more than what had been in weeks, and to those who knew and loved the gentle giant, it was music to their ears.

*****

The Cartwrights had been in town for more than a couple of hours and had just finished their meal.  Stepping out into the fading sunlight, Hoss looked up and down the street. “How about a beer?”

“You buying?” challenged Joe.

“No…I thought you might be.”

“Not me!” proclaimed Joe, shaking his head.

“Adam?”

“Nope.”

All the while they walked slowly toward the saloon.

“Pa?”

“Well, I suppose if we’re to get any beer, I’ll have to be buying!” Ben said with a touch of mockery that caused his sons to laugh.

“Hey look, the stage’s coming in,” Joe announced.

Ben removed his watch and checked the time and then slipped it back into his vest pocket. “Hmm…running a bit late this evening,” he said as he followed Adam and Joe into the saloon.

A sudden urge to see who disembarked from the stage, caused Hoss, who was behind his father, to stop suddenly at the barroom door and watch as the door of the coach swung opened.

Eyes the color of the sky, widened in awe.  His chin lowered, leaving Hoss’ mouth hanging open.  It was as if he were in a trance as he walked slowly across the street toward the stage depot, as if being lured by some unknown force.  The expression he wore was blank, unreadable.

His father and brothers, realizing that one of them was missing, stepped back outside just in time to see Hoss cross the street and approach a lovely young woman who had just arrived on the evening stage.  Curious as to who she might be and why Hoss would be so bold as to approach the newcomer, they marched over to the depot, noting the faraway look in Hoss’ eyes and the expression of disbelief that appeared suddenly on his handsome face.

They had just come to a standstill, arriving in time to hear the young woman introduce herself to Hoss.  Hoss had removed his hat, twisting it around in hands that were visibly trembling, all the while smiling at the vision of sheer loveliness that stood before him.

The lady extended her hand outward to Hoss in greeting.  Only briefly did he pay attention to the long slender fingers with the perfectly shaped and manicured nails before coupling his hand with hers.

He was amazed at the sensation of familiarity and the sudden rush of unquenched passion that filled his senses.  The stranger flashed him a brilliant smile.

Ben, Adam and Joe were entranced as they heard the woman proclaim in a delicately feminine voice to Hoss.

“Hello…my name is Ellen…Ellen Rochelle LaPlante…and you are?”

***End***

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