Summary: A What Happened Next for the episode ‘Found Child’
Word Count: 3668
“You know, Joe,” Ben Cartwright commented to his youngest son, “I’m a bit worried about your brother Hoss.”
“So am I,” Joe admitted. “He’s up to something, but I don’t know what it is.” Joe sounded quite aggrieved, Ben noticed with amusement. It was usually Joe who was ‘up to something’, dragging the hapless Hoss along with him. The sudden role reversal didn’t sit well with him.
“Why has Hoss gone into town with the buggy?” Ben asked.
“The buggy?” Joe echoed. “I thought he’d taken the wagon in.” Joe had heard the wheels, but he had still been at the table when Hoss left. Joe frowned at Ben. “Is he sparkin’ someone?”
“I was trying to ask you the same thing,” Ben sighed. The two men stared at each other in frustrated silence.
Finally, Joe shrugged. “Guess we’ll find out when he comes back.” Joe finished buckling his gun belt around his lean hips. “See ya at lunch, Pa.”
“Yes, see you later,” Ben agreed. He watched Joe ride out of the yard, but his mind was with his middle son. What was Hoss doing?
Joe had only been back in the house long enough to wash up when the door opened and Hoss cried, “Hey, Pa! Look who’s here!”
Hurrying into the main part of the room, Ben looked in bewilderment at the ravishing young lady who stood there, smiling shyly at him. He had absolutely no idea who she was, but judging by the huge grin on Hoss’ face, he really ought to know. Beside him, Joe was returning the smile with a great deal of interest.
The girl had long blonde hair and huge blue eyes. She was quite tall and very slender. “Hello, Uncle Ben,” she said. “Hello, Uncle Little Joe.”
Those words jolted Ben back about 15 years. He blinked as a memory surfaced. “Lisa?” he whispered incredulously. “Little Lisa?” He took a step forward as Lisa flushed and nodded and enveloped her in a hug. “My goodness! How lovely to see you again. What are you doing here?”
“I’ve wanted to come and see you again for a long time,” Lisa admitted. “I finished with school last year. My aunt died then and I had a lot to deal with regarding her estate. I’ve kept in touch with Hoss, and he suggested I come for a visit. I hope that’s all right?”
“Of course it’s all right!” Ben had yet to let go of Lisa’s hand which was sandwiched between both his big, warm hands. She felt incredibly fragile to Ben, just as she had when, as a child newly orphaned, he had first held her on his lap. Ben stepped back to allow Joe in to kiss her warmly on the cheek.
“You look terrific!” Joe told her sincerely.
“I still have Lucy,” Lisa told Joe, referring to the china doll Joe had bought for her. “She’s in my luggage.”
“Yeah?” Joe looked enchanted. “It’s so good to see you again.”
“Chop, chop, lunch ready!” Hop Sing cried. Ben suddenly noticed that there was an extra place at the table. Had Hoss told Hop Sing that they were having a guest? He suddenly visualized Hop Sing clucking around the place that morning, doing something in one of the guest rooms upstairs. He raised an eyebrow at Hop Sing, who turned a bland Oriental countenance towards him and revealed nothing. But Ben was sure that Hop Sing was a co-conspirator in this matter.
They lingered long over lunch. Hop Sing had prepared more than his usual lunch time repast and Ben cast him another look, which Hop Sing pretended not to see. But Ben wasn’t angry. He was delighted to see Lisa again. The child had gone through so much when her parents had been killed and then her uncle tried to steal her money from her. She and Hoss had become very attached to each other and it had been a hard parting all round when Lisa finally departed to live with her aunt.
Watching his two boys, Ben could see that they were both interested in Lisa. Joe naturally flirted with any pretty girl he met, but the message he was getting in response from Lisa was telling him quite clearly that she wasn’t interested. For a start, she kept calling him ‘Uncle Little Joe’ which Joe now found quite embarrassing!
But it was Hoss who interested Ben the most. Ben had seen Hoss in love a few times and had grieved when his love had gone awry. Now, he could see that Hoss was quite smitten with Lisa and he hoped that she would be tactful in letting him down easily.
Hoss had lost his heart to Lisa when she arrived on the Ponderosa as a small child, shocked speechless by the murder of her parents. Hoss’ loving care had worked its magic on her until Lisa regained the use of her voice. He had been no less enchanted by her when she chattered away non-stop. He had loved the feeling of her small arms clutching onto his waist as she perched on the cushion behind him on Chubb’s broad back. As time went on and no relative was found, Hoss began to harbor hopes that they might be able to keep Lisa at the ranch with them, even if it did mean she turned into a tomboy.
The parting had been hard on both sides. Lisa did not know her aunt, and the woman was married to the man who had killed her parents. It had been hard for her to understand why she should go away and live somewhere else and Ben’s patient explanations clearly hadn’t convinced her.
But after the initial period, Lisa had settled in well in San Francisco. She had gone to school and done well, making a number of close friends. She lived the privileged life her parents had intended for her, but she had never forgotten her time on the Ponderosa. She had kept up sporadic contact with Hoss as soon as she was able to write letters without help and when she realized that she was free to do as she wanted, Lisa wrote to Hoss, asking if she could come for a visit.
The ranch was very much as she remembered. She had forgotten how handsome Joe was – or had it been that she was just too young to notice? Ben was kindness personified and Hop Sing still treated her like the child she had been, gentle and warm, offering her cookies and milk. It was like coming home.
While Ben and Joe got on with running the ranch, Hoss spent his time showing Lisa all the places they had gone to when she was small. There was never a moment’s awkwardness between them. From the second Lisa had stepped off the stagecoach, it was like she and Hoss had never been apart.
As Lisa began her second month at the Ponderosa, Hoss realized that he had fallen in love with her.
“Pa? Can I talk ta ya?” Hoss mumbled.
“Of course, son,” Ben replied, putting down the book he was reading. It wasn’t often he saw Hoss like this – hang-dog expression and shoulders slumped. Ben was concerned. “What is it, son? What’s wrong?”
Sitting down heavily on the sofa, Hoss gazed miserably at the floor while he tried to think of a way to tell Ben what was wrong. It didn’t seem to matter how he phrased it – it still sounded dreadful to him. “Pa, I-I’ve…” he stuttered.
“Just tell me,” Ben coaxed.
“I… I’ve fallen in love with Lisa,” Hoss confessed in a whisper, his voice laden with shame. “An’ I’m old enough ta be her pa!”
When there was no response, he risked a glance at Ben, his heart cringing at the thought of his father’s disgust. But Ben was smiling at Hoss as though he found something genuinely amusing! Hoss’ temper flared and he lifted his head and glared at Ben. “I don’ seen nuthin’ funny about this!” he objected strenuously.
Unperturbed by Hoss’ ire, Ben continued to smile. “Joe and I wondered when you would notice,” he replied.
“What?” Hoss wondered if Ben had heard him properly. “Pa, I love Lisa!”
“Yes, I know,” Ben agreed. “And you’re probably the last person to realize it – or admit it.”
“But, Pa, it ain’t right!” Hoss jumped to his feet and started pacing. “I’m too old fer her. She’d educated an’ I ain’t. What’ve we got in common? Why would she want a fat ol’ man like me?” He ran his hand through his hair. “I’m even goin’ bald!” he cried, as though he had just noticed.
“Hoss, love between a grown man and a grown woman is never wrong.” Ben got to his feet and went over to Hoss, putting a hand on his broad shoulder. “Lisa is as smitten by you as you are by her.”
“She ain’t,” Hoss muttered, still not willing to believe. “She’s jist bein’ nice.”
“Lisa is nice,” Ben agreed. “But it wouldn’t be nice to pretend that she loved you, now would it? Hoss, talk to her. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.”
The next comment was said so quietly that Ben almost didn’t catch it. “I ain’t no good wi’ them fancy words.”
Gently, Ben turned Hoss to face him. His middle son’s misery was displayed on his face for all to see. Ben’s heart went out to him. “Hoss, Lisa doesn’t want fancy words. She doesn’t want you to be something you’re not.” Ben put one hand on Hoss’ cheek. “She wants you just the way you are. She wants the words to be honest, like you. Talk to her. For both your sakes.”
Sighing heavily, Hoss nodded. “All right,” he agreed, although Ben thought that he sounded like he was going to face a firing squad. “I’ll go now. D’ya know where she is?”
“I’m sure you know better than I where Lisa is likely to be,” Ben replied, softly and watched as the implications sank in.
Hoss nodded. He straightened up and squared his shoulders. “Thanks, Pa.”
“Good luck,” Ben offered. “Not that I think you’ll need it.”
“I ain’t so sure,” Hoss shrugged, “so I’ll take yer luck. Thanks.”
As Hoss left, Ben sent another quick prayer to the Almighty that things would work out for his middle son.
It came as no surprise to Hoss that he found Lisa at the place Joe had dubbed ‘Hoss Heaven’. Her horse was tethered on some grass and she was sitting on a rock, gazing out at the stunning vista before her. She didn’t turn her head as Hoss sat down beside her, yet Hoss had the distinct impression that she was glad to see him.
“Lisa…” Hoss began, his voice trembling. He was stunned when she put her hand to his lips.
“Don’t talk, just kiss me,” she whispered and placed her lips against his. Hoss responded in kind, his arms going around her slender body and holding her tight.
“You must think I’m shameless,” Lisa commented some time later. “A young lady ought not to behave like that.”
“I don’ think nuthin’ o’ the kind!” Hoss objected. He felt rather dazed. “Lisa…”
Once more, Lisa didn’t allow him to speak. “Hoss, will you marry me?” A deep blush rose in her face, giving her unaccustomed color. She dropped her eyes.
Drawing her into his embrace once more, Hoss blinked back tears of joy. “I was gonna ask ya the very same thing,” he responded huskily. “Lisa, I love ya more than life itself. I do wanna marry ya, if’n ya don’ think I’m too old fer ya.”
“You’ll never be too old for me!” she denied. “I love you, Hoss!” She flung her arms around his neck and kissed him exuberantly. “When can we get married?”
“As soon as we’ve told Pa an’ Joe,” Hoss replied, grinning.
The celebration that evening was especially joyous. Joe and Ben were thrilled that Hoss and Lisa were to marry. They knew there would be quite a few people in town who would comment on the unsuitability of their ages, although it was not at all uncommon for an older man to take a young wife. But that didn’t matter to the Cartwrights. The only thing that mattered to them was that Hoss and Lisa adored each other.
Given Lisa’s lack of relatives, there was nothing to hinder a quick wedding and the date was set for two weeks hence. Lisa went into town and had a dress quickly made up. Hoss ordered a new suit. Joe proudly agreed to stand up with Hoss as best man and a young woman that Lisa had met in church, Mary Rivers, was matron of honor.
It was a simple, moving ceremony. Lisa looked radiant and as Ben kissed his new daughter-in-law on the cheek, he wondered how they could ever be happier.
It was something that Hoss thought regularly as he went about his new life. He and Lisa were still living at the Ponderosa while Hoss made plans to build them a house. He went about his work smiling all the time. Lisa continued to help out in the house. To people who came out to visit, it seemed the whole house had a new glow to it.
It wasn’t long before Hoss had a simple house built and he and Lisa furnished it together before finally moving in. As they lay in bed that night, Lisa gave Hoss another gift. “Hoss, I’m expecting your child,” she whispered.
“Are ya sure?” Hoss cried, incredulous with joy. “Really? Oh, Lisa!” He hugged her hard, then drew back, looking worried. Lisa laughed.
“You can’t hurt the baby by hugging me,” she chided. “I’m not made of glass, Hoss. I won’t break.”
“That’s wonderful news.” Hoss had thought he was happy before, but this news was the icing on the cake.
Three weeks later, Lisa lost the baby.
It took a while for the sparkle to come back to Lisa and Hoss’ eyes, but by the time the snow was flying and they were settling into the big house for a few days to celebrate Christmas, Lisa was into her fourth month and glowing.
She couldn’t believe how happy she was. She loved Hoss dearly and they often reminisced about her days on the ranch as a child, where she sat behind him on Chub. Although as different as chalk and cheese, they were both wise enough to know that marriage had to be worked at and cherished and if they had disagreements, they never let them fester.
But the disagreements were few and far between and by the time May came, Lisa could barely remember when she lived in San Francisco. Her time was drawing near, and so that she wasn’t alone at their small house all day while Hoss was working, it was decided Hop Sing would go out and stay during the day.
The knock on the door came as a surprise to both Joe and Ben, who were deep in a hotly contested game of chess. “I guess I’ll get it then,” Joe grumbled lightly. It had been a standing joke for years that Joe always had to answer the door. He walked over to the door and looked surprised to see Doctor Paul Martin, the family physician as well as an old friend, standing on the doorstep. “Hello, Doc, what brings you out here?” Joe asked. “I haven’t had an accident in ever so long.”
“Don’t tell me,” Paul responded in a grumpy tone. “I’ll be facing penury if you don’t have one soon. Don’t you know you’re the backbone of my practice, Joe? This is just not on.” He laughed and clapped Joe on the shoulder as he came in.
“It’s good to see you, Paul,” Ben cried, rising to his feet. “What brings you out this way?”
“This is a social call,” Paul explained. “Its something I like to do, but rarely get the chance. No, I brought Mrs. Biggings out to Lisa.”
“Mrs. Biggings? The midwife?” Joe looked excited, then apprehensive.
“So I thought I would come and keep you men calm while we wait for news.” Paul’s words told them that Lisa was in labor without being too explicit about it.
Before long, the three men were deep in conversation and time flew by. The front door opening abruptly a couple of hours later took them all by surprise, but they were shocked when they realized that Hoss was standing there, his face pale and his eyes wide. “Doc!!” he cried. “Lisa needs ya! Ya gotta come quick!”
Ben felt his heart contract as he remembered the desperate struggle Marie had had to give birth to Joe. He nodded to Joe, who looked stricken, and the two of them grabbed their coats and hurried out. Paul Martin got into his buggy and whipped up his horse. Hoss threw himself onto Chubb and followed while Ben and Joe quickly saddled their mounts.
It was a somber group that waited in Hoss’ living room. There was no comfort for them to give Hoss except their presence. Everyone knew that childbirth was risky and Lisa was very slight. Hoss himself had been a big baby and Ben feared that if Lisa was trying to deliver a baby the size that Hoss had been, things could go very wrong.
At length, the door to the bedroom opened and Paul stood there. His shoulders were slumped. “You’d better come in, Hoss,” he urged.
For a moment, Hoss stood there, frozen, unwilling to believe what Paul’s tone had told him; Lisa was dying. If he hurried he would be just in time to say goodbye. Hoss took a stumbling step forward, his brain too numb to even ask about the baby – but there had been no cry.
Lisa lay on the bed, looking as though she was asleep. Her color was good, even high, and her hair was spread out on the pillows. “I’m so sorry, Hoss,” Paul said. “She had an eclamptic fit during labor. When that ended, she had another and then a stroke. I’m sorry, I’ve done everything I can for her, but I can’t save her. She only has a few minutes left.”
“The baby,” Hoss breathed. “What about the baby?”
“It was a boy,” Paul replied, sadly. “I’m afraid the baby died during the birth. I’m so sorry, Hoss.”
Nodding, Hoss moved the last few feet to sit in the chair by the bed. He was aware of the midwife holding a wrapped bundle in her arms, but he paid no heed to her. All his attention was on the girl he loved so devotedly. He took her hand, struck at once by the utter limpness of it. “Lisa?”
The girl’s eyes fluttered open. She looked at Hoss and smiled, but only one side of her face moved. The other twisted horribly. Tears sprang into Hoss’ eyes. “Hoss.” Lisa could barely speak. “B…b…b…” She gave up, but Hoss knew at once what she wanted.
“A fine boy,” he lied. “Erik Benjamin Joseph as we agreed.” He smiled at her, willing away the tears, but Lisa saw them only as tears of joy. “I’m so proud of ya,” Hoss went on. “Ya’ve made me so happy.” He thought his heart would break. “So happy.”
A smile flitted across half of Lisa’s face and she gave a big sigh – it seemed to be a contented sigh. Her eyes met Hoss’ and all the love she felt for him seemed to pour out.
Suddenly, she began to fit again and as Hoss stared, aghast, Paul hurried to her side. But there was nothing he could do. Lisa’s life was brutally ripped from her as the fit went on and on. It was a relief when it was over, Lisa still at last.
Standing in the other room, Ben and Joe heard a great wail of anguish break from Hoss’ lips. A sob broke free of Joe’s control and he felt Ben’s arm go around his shoulder. Joe leaned into him, well aware that Ben was as devastated as he was.
At length, Hoss emerged, his eyes red and swollen and his face tear stained. “She’s gone,” he reported hoarsely. “An’ the baby, too.” His eyes sought Paul Martin’s. “Doc, were it somethin’ I did?”
“No!” Paul cried. “Hoss, believe me! There is nothing anyone could have done to prevent this. We don’t know why this happens to some women, but I wish we did. I’m so sorry.”
“If it weren’t anybody’s fault, then it weren’t yers neither,” Hoss reminded him. “I think I’d like ta be alone now.”
They wanted to protest, he could see that, but Hoss was determined. He closed the door behind them and went back to sit with his wife and baby. The boy looked like Lisa, he thought and softly touched the black hair on his head.
Then the sobs came and took him and Hoss cried like a child, unashamed of the sounds that rent the air. He cried for the loss of his future and the joy of his past. When eventually the storm passed, he sat up and knew that he would grieve for Lisa and the child for the rest of his life.
All those years ago, she had been a found child. She had found her own life and lived it for a while before she returned and found him and become his new-found love. His life was the richer for knowing her and there would come a time when he would remember her without such profound sorrow.
Moving slowly, like a very old man, Hoss went to find his family, knowing that they were the only ones who could help him through this.