Summary: Like so many before it, the day began uneventfully, quietly, normally. But nothing would ever be the same again.
Word Count: 4100
Like so many before it, the day began uneventfully, quietly, normally.
Well, uneventfully. Not so quietly, to be honest, but then no one on the Ponderosa remembered the last really quiet day on the ranch, and so the absence of quiet was normal.
Oh, well, then it wasn’t quiet.
It wasn’t quiet, and it hadn’t been quiet since the morning, about seven months ago, when Juliet had declared that the scrambled eggs Hop Sing had served for breakfast reeked like something that had been dead longer than Shakespeare.
While Adam had mumbled under his breath, “Not Marlowe?” and Hop Sing had ranted in Cantonese, Juliet had suddenly looked alarmed, pressed a hand to her mouth and rushed outside.
The drama had repeated itself time and again over the next weeks, so that Dr. Martin’s eventual confirmation hadn’t been more than a mere formality: the Queen was going to have an heir apparent.
It had changed their everyday life in some ways: Juliet’s mood swings, rather unforeseeable even under normal circumstances, had taken on a velocity and immoderation that challenged everyone; Ben, who glowed with pre-grand parental pride more every day, had developed a protectiveness towards his daughter-in-law that, putting it mildly, wasn’t well received; Joe had formed a habit of calling Adam “Pa” (which his older brother expressly ignored) and Juliet “Mum” (but only until one morning she retorted, ‘Yes, kiddo?’ in a voice so sharp it could have cut steel, accompanied by a murderously piercing glare); Hoss had started to speak of himself as “Uncle Hoss,” which was endearing at first but rather nerve-grating after the four hundred and seventeenth time; and Hop Sing had taken to following Juliet everywhere with cups of special herbal teas that were supposed to “be vely good for baby – and motha” fully knowing she hated herbal teas of any kind (she finally made her point when she gave in, drained a mug in one long swig and then immediately puked the contents all over the rug in front of the big fireplace.)
And, of course, while talking about their new “project,” Juliet and Adam soon discovered that their ideas about bringing up children did not always match completely; and they wouldn’t be who they were if they’d passed up these wonderful possibilities to have a major row – which only added to the tense atmosphere in the house. Their mutual pleasure in having battles of wits was beyond the rest of the family even at the best of times, but Ben and his younger sons had learned not to interfere by any means. It was safer to watch it from the sidelines, even though it made them jittery.
So, yes, the day began as uneventfully, quietly, and normally as it was possible with a hearty breakfast someone was only nibbling at, and then everyone tried to stay away from the ranch house as far and as long as possible, so not to become the victim of another gravidic tantrum.
It was the beginning of February, still cold but not freezing anymore. A time to make a survey of the territory, to ride fences, to check for missing or broken tools, to carry out necessary repairs on buildings and gear. The men came home shortly after sundown, cold and hungry, and found that, despite their fears, Hop Sing had prepared a warming and nourishing pot roast and not gone back to China because someone with too much time had tried to reorganise his kitchen yet again. (Doctor Martin had said it was called “nesting instinct” but, of course, her ladyship had contradicted him and said, no, it was common sense, and that it was a sheer miracle that Hop Sing found anything at all in that rubbish tip – and that she wasn’t a bird anyway. “Not even a ladybird?” Adam had chuckled, but what usually would have earned him a mild rebuke and a coy glance of secret enjoyment had led to another round of uncontrolled temper that had ended with heavy sobbing, “I’m not a ladybird, Adam; look at me: I’m a whale!”)
The day ended just as uneventfully, quietly and normally as it had started: Joe and Hoss played checkers, Ben read the Territorial Enterprise, and Adam and Juliet snuggled up on the settee in front of the fireplace, softly talking about their “project” until it was time to turn in.
Adam was bone tired and sore after a long day in the saddle. He sank into his bed with a relieved groan, gave Juliet a distracted goodnight kiss, and fell asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow.
After what felt like about two minutes, he was woken up by some jiggling at his shoulder and an urgent whisper, “Adam, where’s the mop?”
He could connect what he heard neither with the fact that it was dark night nor with the dream he had been roused from (it had been something about him and Juliet building sand castles at a white beach,) and so he did the only logical thing.
“Huh?” he said.
“Adam, wake up!”
There was more jiggling at his shoulder, and then a rather impatient, “A-dam!”
He bolted upright. “Juliet, wha—whazza matter?”
“The mop, Adam, where is the mop?”
“What…? What time is it?” He groped around on his nightstand for his pocket watch but only managed to knock over a thankfully empty water glass.
“It’s about one in the morning,” Juliet said as if it were the most usual thing in the world to wake him at one in the morning and ask for—“Now where is that mop?”
“What on earth do you need a mop for at this time in the night?” If this was that “nesting instinct” again, he’d ask Paul to do something about it. Reorganising the kitchen, arranging the furniture, cleaning desks and cupboards was all well during the day, but at night Juliet should rest and, what was even more important right now, let him rest.
“That is none of your—well, I’ve made a mess in the kitchen and—“
“In the kitchen? At one in the morning?” He tried to get a better view of her face. In the flickering light of the candle she held she looked quite normal. Impatient, annoyed, maybe a bit stressed. “Are you all right? You didn’t…you didn’t try and reorganise the kitchen while Hop Sing was asleep, did you?”
“Of course not!” Royal indignation. “I couldn’t sleep and wanted to make myself a cup of tea.”
Well, that was a relief. Tea at any time of the day or night was something familiar. Mops—not so much, though.
“And why do you need a mop for that?”
“I told you, I’ve made a mess.”
“Juliet, Hop Sing will clean it tomorrow. He wouldn’t want you doing it.” Adam reached out to take her around what was left of her waist and leaned closer. “Come on, Mylady,” he whispered huskily into her ear, “why don’t you drink you tea here in bed with me, and then I’ll give you a backrub and—”
“I don’t want a backrub, I want that mop; and I have no idea where Mr. Hop keeps it, so would you please stop seducing me and tell me where it is.” She pulled herself free, crossed her arms and started to tap her foot.
“Juliet, let Hop Sing do it.” Adam shook his head. “You don’t have to—”
“He can’t.” She bit her lips, then her face melted into pleading. “Adam, please. I…I don’t want him to see…” She broke off and kneaded her hands.
Something was wrong.
“What happened,” Adam asked very cautiously. “What happened that Hop Sing shall not see?”
Juliet heaved a deep breath, then looked down and mumbled, “Mawatabroke.”
She glared at him, then threw her hands in the air and exasperatedly cried out, “Oh, all right, my water broke. All I wanted was a cup of tea, and now there are fluids on the floor I never expected to be in me, and I don’t want Mr. Hop or anyone seeing them. Now where is that blasted mop so I can clean up that—ouch!” She grabbed at her back and doubled over, breathing heavily.
Adam was at her side in an instant. He steadied her, then pulled her down onto the bed.
“Was that the first pain?” he asked.
“No, I had some downstairs. This one was worse, though.”
“You are aware that you’re in labour, aren’t you?”
“No! You don’t say!” She glared at him, crossing her arms again. “Wiseacre.”
He couldn’t help it: he chuckled. Then he took her head in his hands and pressed his lips onto her forehead first, then onto her lips. “Looks like our little project is in a hurry. It’s a bit early, isn’t it?” he said, cupping her cheeks; then he pulled her to his chest and kissed the top of her head. “You stay here. I’ll wake Joe and send him for Paul, then I’ll go downstairs and do the mopping. No one will see it, all right?”
She said nothing but nodded into his chest.
“Are you afraid?”
“No,” she said, and he heard the wonder in her voice. “No, I’m not afraid. I’m…curious. After all these months we’ll finally see our pro—our child.” She looked up, smiling broadly. “Our child, Adam!”
Our child. He had a moment of vertigo, but a glance into her glowing face grounded him. “Our child,” he repeated, then he kissed her once again, and this time she kissed him back. “Stay here, make yourself comfortable, and I’ll be back in a minute.” He smiled. “Mylady.”
And then he rushed out of their room and in just a few minutes he had roused the family, sent Joe to get the doctor, found the mop, cleaned the kitchen floor, and sped back to his wife.
Adam was amazed. One should think that a woman in Juliet’s position would focus on making herself comfortable, on breathing evenly or on whatever women were supposed to do when they went into labour. But, of course, Juliet was focused on tea. Tea!
“Do you really want tea now?”
“This can last hours, Adam. Paul said it’s usually around twelve hours from the first pain until a child is born. You don’t expect me to live through that without a cup of tea, do you?”
“I guess we all will need some. Twelve hours? Are you sure?” Adam sat down next to her and started massaging Juliet’s shoulders.
“It’s what the doctor says.” She tensed. “Not that I believe it right now. Not with these all-fired…umpff. Sacredieu!”
Adam rubbed lower, down at the small of her back, and even though she didn’t seem to be able to fully relax, she moved closer, leaned into his touch. He felt the tension slowly ebbing away and then she leaned completely back on his chest.
“Adam…” she breathed.
He buried his face in her hair. “Hmm?”
“Make me some tea.”
“I don’t want to leave you alone.”
“You’re in pain.”
“And I’m thirsty.”
“Here, let me…” He started rubbing her back again.
He sighed. “Tea.”
She turned and smiled. “Yes. Please.”
He knew he was defeated. “Anything special?”
Her smile broadened and she bestowed him with sparkles from her eyes. He was willing to provide her with every single tealeaf currently available on this planet.
“Darjeeling would be fine.”
“Your wish is my command, Mylady.” He gave her shoulders a final squeeze and left the room to get the required.
He leapt down the stairs, startling Pa and Hoss, both sitting on the settee at the fireplace in the great room, bleary-eyed and nursing a glass of brandy.
“Is everything all right, son?” Pa asked, standing up.
“Yes. Yes, it is. Juliet’s pretty much in pain, even though she tries to hide it,” Adam said. “And she wants tea.”
“Tea?” Pa chuckled. “I remember Marie wanted brandy when she had a hard time with Joe; but tea? Your wife surely stays true to herself.”
Adam gave him a small smile. “No, not completely. I never expected her use…such language.”
“Language?” Pa frowned, then raised his eyebrows. “Not Juliet!”
Adam grinned. “The lady is not as pure as she wants us to believe.”
Pa shook his head. “I really don’t remember if any of your mothers actually swore, but I know that they were a bit out of their minds, all of them. Don’t hold it against her, Adam.”
“Oh, I won’t hold it against her,” Adam said with a smirk. “I consider this blackmail material. There’ll come a time…”
Pa made a tut-noise. “You two are bickering just for the sake of it, aren’t you?”
“Now wait a minute…” The twitching corners of Adam’s mouth made him fail in looking scandalized, and so he gave up any pretense and simply snorted with barely suppressed laughter. He was interrupted by a call from upstairs.
“Adam.” It sounded urgent.
“Drat! The tea!” Adam threw a short glance to the stairs then turned to hurry into the kitchen.
“Adam!” This time there wasn’t so much urgency in the shout, it was…fear.
Abandoning any thought of tea, he bolted up the stairs.
Juliet sat on their bed, staring at him wide-eyed, her hands cramped around her belly just above a huge crimson bloodstain on her white nightshirt.
“It wants out!” She sounded like a frightened child, something Adam found rather disturbing because she didn’t look like a child at all.
“No, the dog.” Now she sounded much more like herself. “Of course, the baby wants out. Honestly!”
“The doctor isn’t here yet. Can’t you wait?”
She just glared at him, then doubled over clutching her belly and whimpered.
“I’ll get Hoss,”
“But Juliet, you’ll need help, and Hoss always…”
“Well, you know, he’s helping all the mares to—”
Juliet suddenly sat very upright. “I know this comes as a surprise, Adam, but I am not a mare and I’m not about to foal.”
“Well, it’s the same principle, isn’t it? And Hoss is very experienced in—”
“Really, he knows what to do, and—”
“He can do it, really. He helped Ellen Henry delivering—”
“No. Adam, no. I don’t want Hoss down there.” Looking very embarrassed, she indicated vaguely at the footboard.
“Oh.” All right, now he understood her reluctance. And if Adam was completely honest, he didn’t want Hoss down there, either.
“Can’t you help me?” It was amazing how Juliet could make a question sound like an order. “You’ve helped delivering foals, too, haven’t you?”
“I thought you weren’t foaling, Mylady?”
She doubled over, again, before she was able to get hold of something she could have tossed at his head, but Adam was sure she would have loved to do it.
And then she said, “God, I need to—” and there wasn’t time for teasing or arguing or tossing things anymore, because they had a project to finish, and apparently the project was the one in charge.
Down in the great room, Hoss and Ben were served with coffee and cookies. Hop Sing had woken up, too, and after realizing what was going on, he had begun to make what would become a long night for everyone as comfortable as possible for his family.
Hoss was annihilating his eighteenth cookie, and poured himself another cup of coffee, when they heard the first cry.
A female cry of terror and pain, a sound they’d never have expected from composed and collected Juliet.
The second cry was even more heart-wrenching.
“That ain’t right,” Hoss said and stood to rush upstairs.
Ben held him back, “There’s nothing you can do, Hoss.”
“But no.” Ben glanced thoughtfully at the upper floor and cringed when another pained scream came from there. “The baby seems to be eager to be let into the world,” he said shrugging. “Not really a surprise, considering its mother’s impatient nature.”
Hoss frowned. “Doc won’t be here fer another hour or so. Mebbie I better go and—”
“Hoss.” Ben took him by the shoulders and forced him back down in the settee. “They’ll be all right. If they need you, they’ll call, and if they don’t call you, they—”
He was interrupted by another scream and a very accusing, “This is all your fault, Adam Cartwright!”
They exchanged a conspiratorial grin. Yes, everything seemed to be quite normal.
Subsequent events soon developed a certain pattern: Hop Sing filled the emptied coffee pot and cookie tray every now and then, Hoss twitched nervously when the birthing woman’s agonizing cries reached a new level of gut-wrenching, and Ben placated him telling Hoss how it had been the same with his mother and Marie. (He was smart enough not to compare the proceedings with Elizabeth’s delivery, even though the sounds bore a disturbing resemblance.)
Juliet’s increasingly frequent cries finally alternated with shouted “blackmail material” and sarcastic rebukes (both Hoss and Ben nearly choked on their coffee at, “Oh really, you think you know how this hurts? Get over here, and I’ll show you!”) until, after an exceptionally prolonged roar, there was absolute silence.
Ben and Hoss looked at each other, feeling panic slowly rising in their guts; Hop Sing came out of his kitchen, wringing his hands. They listened to the eerie quiet.
And then the clear, high-pitched wailing of a newborn child rang through the house.
The three men were still busy with clapping each other on the shoulder, grinning like mad and congratulating Uncle Hoss, Grandpa Ben and shushu* Hop Sing, when the front door opened and the doctor, followed by Joe, entered the house.
Paul Martin took in the celebrating men, listened to the still audible wailing, then grinned and said wryly, “I guess I’m too late.”
Without any further ado he headed upstairs and led the troops of proud men into the room where a small wonder had taken place only minutes before.
Adam sat on the bed next to Juliet, holding her tightly, with their foreheads touching. Between them they cradled a bundle of what looked like just a blanket but clearly had become the center of their attention.
He looked up when the door opened, startled at first, but his face turned into a display of immense relief when he saw the doctor and said, “Paul, I’m glad you’re here.”
“Did everything go well?” Dr. Martin asked, rushing to Juliet’s side to take up her wrist and check the pulse. Juliet apparently wasn’t willing to let go either the bundle or Adam, and so there was a bit of a tussle until the doctor changed tactics and took the pulse at her throat.
“I’m perfectly all right.” Juliet said it with an imperiousness that contradicted her exhausted appearance. “Stop fussing.”
“No one fusses,” said Adam, casting an apologetic smile at the doctor. “But I’d be much easier if Paul confirmed everything is all right.”
Juliet heaved a long-suffering sigh. “Oh, well….”
“Gentleman,” the doctor ventured, “if you would all please leave now, I can make sure Mommy is as well as she claims to be.”
Adam kissed Juliet’s forehead, then stood and, taking with him the bundle of which she only reluctantly let go, followed his father and brothers. As they made their way out of the room and down the stairs they heard Juliet’s annoyed voice stating, “The name is still Juliet, Paul!”
Arriving in the great room, Adam sat on his usual blue chair and was instantly surrounded by the other men, who seemed almost fidgety in their curiosity. He shifted into a comfortable position, adjusted his hold on the bundle in his arms, and unfolded the blanket to give his family a better view of the little miracle inside: a tiny, red face with an even tinier snub nose and long, black lashes, a shock of astonishingly long, black hair standing off in every possible direction like funny little spikes, small, finely-boned, long-fingered hands—one balled into a firm fist, the other lying stretched-out in a nearly elegant relaxed gesture on the blanket.
“May I introduce to you Henry Samuel Cartwright,” he said, almost choking on his pride.
“Henry?” Hoss asked incredulously.
“Henry. That wasn’t open for discussion. Apparently since the fourteenth century every Earl of Barnstoke has been named Henry.”
Hoss tickled the baby’s chin. “This little fella here is an earl?”
“Adam, that’s jest like you. You couldn’t go and have an ordinary kid, could ya?”
Adam looked down at the child, his child, stroked the little earl’s face with his finger oh-so-tenderly, over the soft cheeks, the fine brows, the tiny nose, the rosy, puckered lips; and smiled a smile that somehow pointed inwards. “Not with that extraordinary woman up there,” he said softly. “Not with her.”
Then they took turns in holding the baby, and marvelled about how tiny the youngest Cartwright was (“He’s even smaller than Joe was.” “He was born a little prematurely; I’m sure he will catch up in no time.”) how much he resembled Adam (“Only his eyebrows are Juliet’s. Look at them: I’m sure he can lift them up to his hairline!” “And the chin. Iffn that isn’t the most stubborn chin I’ve seen in ages!”) and how strongly his little hands held their fingers (“Hey, don’t rip it off. Adam, tell your son he isn’t supposed to tear my finger out!” “What, do you want ta eat Uncle Hoss’ finger now, little critter?”)
Joe was just stating that young Henry must be the smartest baby ever because he had answered Adam’s question about whether Shakespeare wasn’t far superior to Marlowe with a wide yawn, when the doctor descended the stairs.
“She’s doing very well,” Paul said before Adam could ask. “You two did a good job; everything is just fine. She’s exhausted and tired, as can be expected, highly annoyed about the ‘stampede’ in her bedroom, and quite obviously misses her son already.” He chuckled. “And apparently her ladyship had ordered a cup of tea ‘ages ago’ which has failed to be served yet.”
Hours later, after Juliet had been provided with a gargantuan tea pot, the men had had a big hearty breakfast, and the doctor had taken his leave, Adam went back to bed to take a nap before starting his daily duties.
He was slowly aroused from sleep by unfamiliar noises and commotion beside him, and as much as he tried to cling on to sleep he was being pulled into awareness much too early for his liking for the second time that day.
He finally gave in, and, as was his habit, reached out for his wife, wanting to pull her close, to feel her round curves melting into his body, to feel her soft skin on his, to bury his face in her silky hair….
He groped into an empty space beside him, and that woke him fully. Frantically, he looked around. The room was dimly lit by the late winter’s sun coming through the half drawn curtains.
He found Juliet sitting in the comfy chair at the fireplace; her nightshirt opened, she held Henry firmly at her breast, feeding him. Her face, dipped into the warm, flickering light of the low fire, was softer than he had ever seen it. She was concentrating on the baby, watching him with a pensive, dreamily content expression that was entirely unfamiliar.
Another layer, Adam thought, but then it struck him: no, this wasn’t just another layer, this was something completely new. His wife, his companion, his friend, his mate, his lover had not revealed a new facet of her personality, she had adapted into a new dimension: into being a mother.
And he—this awareness came almost violently—he was going to follow her there. He was a father now.
He would get up soon, would do his usual chores, his daily routines. He would ride fences, do branding and cattle drives, he would break horses and negotiate timber contracts, he would do all the things he had done his whole life.
But nothing would ever be the same again.
Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood. ~ Oscar Wilde
*Chinese for uncle
With my heartfelt thanks to Sklamb, for the beta. What would I do without you?