Summary: Bankrobbers, mysterious family secrets, burnt food, some new additions to the household, and even two shot wounds — what else could possibly make a six-year-old’s summer more interesting?
Word Count: 10,700
Journal of Henry Cartwright, Aged Six
June 28th, 1869
Uncle Sam sent me this book from New York. He sent along a letter saying now that I can write properly I have to keep a journal, and that a coming journalist had to start practicing early, and that once I find “my style” he would give me my own column in the Buffalo Express, of which he’d just become the co-editor.
I’m not sure I really want to be a journalist. Mama is a journalist sometimes, and then she does an awful lot of writing, and people come and shout at her, and Mr. Goodman from the Territorial Enterprise comes and shouts, too, and then Papa has to chase them all away and Mama says she could have dealt with those cretins herself very well, thank you very much, and Papa says, “Yes, I could see that” and raises his eyebrow, and then Mama raises her eyebrow even higher and says something in French because she’s noticed me. The rest of the talk then goes in French, until at the end Mama throws her hands and says, “Oh, very well. Fine then!” and Papa says, “Yeah, fine!” and rolls his eyes. But I don’t think it’s fine at all; at least not for some time.
Perhaps I’ll be a rancher when I’m big, like Papa. He doesn’t write as much as Mama, even though in the evenings he often sits at the desk doing the ledgers or writing letters. And he also sometimes has people come by and shout at him. When people shout at Papa, Mama comes and says, “Is everything all right?” She never chases them away, though. But sometimes they walk away rather quickly after Mama has glared at them.
But when I told Uncle Sam that last summer, when he came to see our new ranch house, he said that no proper godson of his wouldn’t want to become an author, and that I would look at it differently once I’ve learned how to write.
Well, and now he sent me the journal to practice.
He also said I might appreciate having something that’s entirely my own and that I don’t have to share or show or even tell anyone about once the new baby is born. And that after the new baby Mama and Papa might not have as much time to listen to me as they have now.
It is plain unfair! It’s summer, and I shouldn’t have to do school work. Of course, Mama says writing isn’t work but fun, and that it’ll help me “polish my style” and that Mrs. Myers will be delighted when she sees how much I have improved when next term starts, and that maybe then Papa won’t be “summoned” to the school so often anymore. Papa said he sure hoped that’d be the case for those talks with Mrs. Myers were somehow peculiar. And then Mama made that tut-sound and lifted her right eyebrow. “Perhaps things would go smoother if you took your guitar with you,” she said.
Papa got the look again. The look he got after the barn had burned down in May because
Mama someone had left a burning oil lamp in there. As if he was in pain. But he said nothing.
Papa is the bravest man in the whole world: he isn’t afraid of nothing, and he usually talks back at Mama even when she’s giving him the eyebrow. She can lift her eyebrow real high. I mean, real, real high. It’s kinda scary. Uncle Joe says it’s called the “Eyebrow of Doom,” and that he’ll never let me ride Cochise again if I tell Mama he said that. I like Uncle Joe very much, but he isn’t as brave as Papa.
Anyway, this time Papa didn’t say a word, he just looked at Mama, and then he gave her an eyebrow, too. They always do that. Sometimes they just sit and stare at each other, eyebrows rising and falling, not saying a single word; and in the end one of them is
huffy insulted—or they both start laughing. Lately, it can also end with Mama crying.
I think Mama wanted to say something else but then there was a burned smell from the kitchen and she had to run, and then supper was ready.
When Papa put me to bed I asked him why Mama wants him to sing to Mrs. Myers, and Papa said that Mama doesn’t want him to. That she was being sarcastic, and that she’d been referring to something that had happened a long time ago, when Mrs. Myers hadn’t been married.
“But Mrs. Myers isn’t married.”
“No,” Pa said. “She’s widowed. She’d been married for a short time, but her husband died last year. That’s why she came back to be a teacher.”
And then Papa said that reminded him of the journal, and that I could take it as an opportunity to write down all the things I’m not supposed to say out loud—without getting the eyebrow from Mama and being sent to bed early.
Perhaps keeping a journal isn’t that bad after all. It sure was fun writing all this down, but now I have to stop before someone notices the light under my door and knows that I got up again.
And next time I see Uncle Joe I’ll ask him if he knows more about Papa singing to Mrs. Myers.
We went to Grandpa’s today, Papa and I. Mama said she’d rather stay at home, enjoying the peace and quiet and maybe she’d write an article or two as long as she had the time, instead of being chased around the ranch house by Mr. Hop with herbal teas. I think I would have liked to see Mr. Hop chasing Mama. Perhaps next time.
Anyway, it was great as always. Grandpa told me how he’d kept “a log” when he was at sea, and that he was sure I’d write an “excellent” journal, and that it might keep me outta trouble over the summer. I told him that I didn’t plan to get into trouble over the summer anyway, but Grandpa ruffled my hair (he always does that. Uncle Hoss says is because my hair is so much like Papa’s—but then Grandpa would surely ruffle his hair, wouldn’t he?) and said he knew how things were with boys. And then he looked pointedly at Uncle Joe.
“It’s not that you go looking for trouble,” Grandpa said, “but somehow it seems to find you anyway.”
Now, that’s true. I mean, it’s not that I actually planned to get into trouble with Mrs. Myers on the last day of school. But you don’t see a bullfrog every day (Papa said they aren’t even native to Nevada territory and that I was quite lucky to having found one at all. I wonder why people decide to settle frogs somewhere where they actually don’t belong. Papa says people do the strangest things, and that at least in this case someone must have had a sense of humor—or a heart for little boys.) Mrs. Myers didn’t see it that way, though. She doesn’t like frogs. I mean, really doesn’t like frogs. When Algernon (I named him after one of Mama’s great great-uncles. She said she was honored about that, and that every upright great great-uncle of hers would have looked Mrs. Myers square in the eye and not have yielded an inch just as Algernon,) so when Algernon found his way outta my satchel and jumped straight down the aisle and just stared at Mrs. Myers, not even flinching as she started to screech, she threw a book at him. (Mama lifted her eyebrow when I told her that, even though I swore it wasn’t something by Marlowe. Just an
arice arythm a math book.)
“You don’t throw books,” Mama said. “Never.”
Well, Mrs. Myers only threw that one book, and luckily missed Algernon. But she demanded that whoever had brought the beast to school should remove it, and when I stood up to comply, she said, “Ah, Henry Cartwright” as if she was happy it had been me, and, “I’ll have to have a word with your father, I’m afraid. Tell him I want to see him this afternoon, Henry.”
It’s always like that. And from the look Uncle Joe gave me, I can tell it was the same with him. I asked if Grandpa had to go and talk to Mrs. Myers as often as Papa has to when Uncle Joe was little.
“No,” Uncle Joe said, and he looked very cheerful. “Your pa did that most of the times. Older Brother here always managed to smooth things over with Miss Abigail.”
I just wanted to ask him if that was when Papa had sung for Mrs. Myers, when Papa said he wanted to talk about some more pressing things. Right now, if Uncle Joe had no objections. He said it in a way that made Uncle Joe stop giggling.
I wonder if I’ll have to go and talk to Mrs. Myers once the new baby is big enough to go to school. I didn’t know that that’s what big brothers do.
While Papa started talking to Uncle Joe about fixing a break in the fence up in the north pasture or something, Mr. Hop took me to the kitchen. He gave me a huge piece of freshly baked blueberry pie and a glass of pink lemonade.
“You lucky Mr. Hoss not here,” he said. “Or cake be gone already.”
Now, that’s not true. Uncle Hoss always leaves a piece of cake for me. Uncle Joe says that’s unfair, because Uncle Hoss never leaves a piece for him, but Uncle Hoss says it’s because I’m still growing and that if I want to be as big as him one day I’ll have to eat a lot of cake. It is a bit unfair, though, because Uncle Joe isn’t at all as big as Uncle Hoss, and I think he still needs to eat a lot of cake, too.
The cake was brilliant. Real sweet, with lots of blueberries, and very juicy, and not burned at all. I just was about to tell Papa to have a piece, too—because Papa says that a man has to have a hearty meal that isn’t burned to ashes at least every once in a while. Of course, he only says that when Mama isn’t around. He is the bravest man in the world, but he is also the smartest. Anyway, just when I wanted to get outta the kitchen and tell Papa to come and have some unburned cake, I heard the front door open, and then there was a big
upheefle ruckus in the great room, and Grandpa was shouting for Mr. Hop to bring hot water and liniment and bandages.
Mr. Hop gave me a stack of kitchen towels and said to carry them into the big room while he poured some water from the pot on the stove into a pitcher; and I ran and didn’t drop anything, and only because I was so fast Uncle Hoss didn’t go into shock from blood loss. It’s true, he said so himself.
Uncle Hoss was sitting on the settee, with Grandpa hovering over him, and Papa and Uncle Joe peering over Grandpa’s shoulders. Uncle Hoss had a black eye and a bloody bandage around his left arm, and he said he was fine and didn’t need any fussing. But when he saw my stack of towels he said maybe he did need a new bandage.
Grandpa peeled the bandage off. On Uncle Hoss’s arm was a row of stitches, all black, and it was about two inches long! There was blood seeping out from in between the stitches.
Papa asked, “What happened?” and Uncle Joe, “Who did it?” and Grandpa said, “You should have stayed in town until you were fit to ride.”
Uncle Hoss grumbled a bit, and then Mr. Hop brought the liniment and water, and Grandpa poured some of each on a towel and dabbed at the stitches, and Uncle Hoss said, “Easy, Pa!”
“Hoss, who did that?” Uncle Joe asked again, and you could see he was real mad.
Papa said, “Calm down, Joe,” which didn’t seem to pacify Uncle Joe at all, and then asked again, “What happened, Hoss?”
“A bank robbery,” Uncle Hoss said. “At the Wells Fargo.”
And then he told us how he picked Miss Susan up at the library to take her out for lunch, and how, just as they passed the Wells Fargo Bank, he heard angry voices from inside and how his skin started to prickle and he knew something was wrong. So he told Miss Susan to run to the sheriff and then drew his Colt and cautiously tiptoed to the bank’s door and peered inside. He saw two men with bandanas wound around their faces stuffing money into saddle bags while a third man was holding the customers and the clerk at gun point. He waited until the men had packed their bags and headed to leave the bank through the back door, then hurried to trap them there.
The men still had their guns in hand when they left the bank, and when Uncle Hoss said they were caught and should give up, they shot at him. Uncle Hoss got hit in the arm before he found cover, but managed to—and then Papa remembered me being in the room and listening—even though I kept real silent—and sent me into the kitchen to stay there with Mr. Hop until he called me back.
It was totally unfair. I couldn’t hear the rest of the story from there, as much as I tried.
Mr. Hop gave me another piece of blueberry pie, saying, “Violence, no good for little boys!” and “Missus Lady will not like.” And then he said, “Ah!” as if he’d remembered something and rummaged in a cupboard and then gave me a small bag of herbal tea to give to Mama. “Tell her is good for baby and motha,” he said, and I nearly asked him if he wanted me to chase Mama around the house a bit, too.
Papa won’t tell me what exactly Uncle Hoss did with the bank robbers, only that one of the thieves had escaped and is now on the run. There’s a posse chasing after him, and as long as they aren’t sure the man is out of the territory, Papa and Uncle Joe won’t go up to the north pasture to fix the fence.
We had burned roast beef for supper.
Today Mama burned Papa’s bacon, too.
“I do like my bacon crisp,” Papa sighed, “I really do, but…” and then he stopped because Mama looked as if she was going to cry.
Mama usually doesn’t cry. It’s the baby, Papa says, that makes her cry and be short-tempered lately. He says it was the same when she was having me, but back then they’d been living at the Ponderosa where Mr. Hop cooked, and Mama didn’t do anything in the kitchen but driving Mr. Hop into fits by tidying up and reorganizing things—so no one had to eat burned food.
It’s not that Mama can’t cook at all. Ever since we’ve moved into the new house Papa built half way between Grandpa’s house and Virginia City, Mama has been cooking for us. It always took her much more time than Mr. Hop, and she often looked very tired once the table was set and the food served, but most of the times it wasn’t burned and very often it tasted good. Maybe not as good as if Mr. Hop cooked it, or Aunt Clementine, but it got better over time.
It changed a few weeks ago, shortly after Mama told me that soon I was going to be a big brother after all, and this time for real.
Mama and Papa look very happy when they talk about the baby, that’s why I love it already. It’s the first baby that makes Mama and Papa happy. All the others made them sad, when the Lord took them to Heaven even before they were born. I hope the Lord will leave us this one—Mama says it stayed with her for so long already, much longer than the others, and that’s a very good sign. And it’s true, the others never made Mama’s belly as big as this one.
I just don’t understand why the baby must also make Mama burn our food. Apparently Mama doesn’t understand that, either. After the burned bacon, when she looked as if she would cry, Papa took her in his arms and said, “Mylady,” very softly, and “It’s not so bad”—although it was even worse than bad, actually.
And then Mama dashed at her face and whispered, “I’m trying, Adam, I’m trying so much. I…want to be a proper wife and mother, a proper rancher’s wife. I don’t know what…I’m failing, and I don’t know why. I don’t…I don’t want to disappoint you.”
She sounded so sad. I don’t want her sad. I want her smiling, and laughing, and telling me stories about the manor house in England, about the pranks my uncle Henry played on her when they were children, and about the ghosts in Pluckley, where Mama comes from. I want her making up funny poems with me, and joking with Papa and making gooey eyes at him when she thinks he’s not looking.
“I like the bacon the way you do it,” I said. “You’re the most properest mama in the whole world.”
Apparently that only made her sadder, because now she cried in earnest.
I wanted to sneak off, but Papa said, “Come here” and both he and Mama reached their arms out for me and then took me in between them. Mama kissed the top of my head and said, “My little gentleman,” and it didn’t sound very sad even though she still cried. Papa ruffled my hair—really, I don’t know why they all do that—and said he was going to think of something.
Tonight we had sandwiches for supper.
Coral foaled today. It took her a long time, and I helped pulling the foal out of her when she got too tired to push properly. He’s a beautiful colt, dark chestnut with a white blaze and a tiny white spot on his withers. Papa says I get to name him.
I think I already have the perfect name for him: Spot. But I’ll think it over. Papa says there’s no need to rush it.
At breakfast Mama suggested I name the colt Marlowe. She couldn’t keep her face straight for long, though. Not after Papa looked a bit pained and rolled his eyes.
She couldn’t stop snickering while she served eggs that weren’t burned at all, not even when Papa said she wasn’t allowed to pull innocent animals into her crusade.
Mama said she wasn’t crusading at all, and that it was about time Papa finally admit defeat and that “Dr. Faustus” was much more inspiring than anything that writing maniac Shakespeare ever produced.
Papa, naturally, said something back about Shakespeare being far superior to Marlowe, and then I lost track of what they were talking about. They did have fun, though. Mama’s eyes sparkled like they haven’t done for weeks, and Papa chuckled and called her “Mylady”, and they touched each other a lot, and it ended with them both laughing. And then Papa gave Mama a peck on her cheek and Mama leaned her head on his shoulder and looked real happy.
I think I’ll name the colt Marlowe after all. It’s a good name.
Papa looked as if I’d gone mad when I told him I want to name the colt Marlowe. He said I didn’t have to humor Mama, and that she’d meant it to be a joke anyway.
I told him I didn’t do it to humor Mama, but because it’s a name that makes people laugh and be happy.
Papa crossed his arms and pursed his lips, and looked at me for some time. And then he nodded and smiled and said, “Very well, my dear chap,” with a fake English accent. And ruffled my hair—again. “You’re a wise man, Henry,” he said. “A very wise man, indeed. Marlowe it shall be.”
Mama looked surprised when we told her later at supper. “Why…?” she started to ask, but Papa shook his head and mouthed, “later.”
Grown-ups are very strange sometimes.
Mr. Pettersson came by today to talk to Papa about…I’ve forgotten about what. Some grown-up business, I reckon. Ned was with him.
I haven’t seen Ned since school ended, and he had a lot to tell. He’s lost his second front tooth, and can whistle through the gap. Both my front teeth are loose, but until now they haven’t come out—no matter how hard I wiggled them. Mama says I’m not supposed to joggle and that they will come out anyway, and that it’s much better if I let “Nature have her way.” Uncle Joe says to take a piece of black thread, wind it around the tooth and pull. He says he always did that with his teeth because he, too, couldn’t wait for Nature.
I asked Papa why black thread, and Papa said he doesn’t exactly know why, only that boys have done it with black thread for ages, and that they surely had a good reason for it. He said that perhaps black thread was stronger than white.
It’s the first time Papa doesn’t know something. But he says there’s no problem with not knowing everything—a man just has to know where to get the information he needs. And he suggested I’ll ask Mama’s friend, Miss Winterling, who’s a
I think I rather keep wiggling my teeth. Or perhaps I’ll ask Uncle Hoss if he can just rip them out.
Anyway, Ned said two missing teeth are better than two loose, and that he’d won. And if Mama did have a cookie for us. Mama isn’t the best cook in the world, but she makes great biscuits. Better even than Mr. Hop’s. Everyone knows that.
“They are called biscuits,” I reminded Ned. “You know she won’t give you any if you don’t call them biscuits.”
Mama even had pink lemonade for us. We took the lemonade and biscuits up into the tree house I built with Uncle Joe. From up there we could see Papa and Mr. Pettersson standing at the corral and pointing at the new barn.
Ned asked me how Uncle Hoss was, and said he was a real hero. Ned had heard everything about the bank robbery—that’s the good thing when you live in town: you get all the gossip. Anyway, Ned said that Uncle Hoss shot one of the bank robbers and injured the other and when their friend ran away Hoss tried to go after him. But he couldn’t get on his horse quick enough with his shot arm. Then the sheriff turned up, and arrested the injured robber and called people together to form a posse and go after the other man.
And Miss Susan turned up, too. She was real upset about Uncle Hoss being injured, and took him to Dr. Martin, and Ned said she called Uncle Hoss “dear” and “love” and “poor lamb.” Ned said that he wondered why Uncle Hoss didn’t faint right there and then, or at least tell Miss Susan off for saying gooey things like that, and that he hoped no girl would ever say something like that to him.
I didn’t tell Ned that I think Uncle Hoss didn’t mind Miss Susan saying those things at all. Mama says “love” to Papa sometimes, and she always says it when she’s real sweet on him. She also says “dear” at times, but she says it in that funny voice that means she doesn’t find him “dear” at all. She never calls Papa “poor lamb,” though. Perhaps because Papa never is a poor lamb—but then again, Uncle Hoss doesn’t look like a lamb, either. Anyway, I didn’t tell Ned that because it’s private, and Mama says you don’t tell people other people’s private
afa avare matters. Anyway, I know Uncle Hoss likes Miss Susan very much—almost as much as Papa likes Mama.
Ned said the injured bank robber is now in Sheriff Coffee’s jail but won’t say where his crony probably is heading. Which is too bad because the posse has lost track of him somewhere near Carson City or so. The sheriff says that he likely is already outta the
tery territory and that all they can do now is send wanted posters to all the surrounding towns.
Ned said that the sheriff can be happy Uncle Hoss got hold of the one robber, and that he envied me my uncles. The only great uncle he has, he said, is his Uncle Bob who isn’t really an uncle but his godfather and gave him a jackknife for his birthday.
I told him my godfather sent me a journal to write in; and Ned said that he must be a lousy godfather and why I didn’t have a godfather in Virginia City, like he has, who could go into the store and buy me something I picked out. I told him to take it back, and that Uncle Sam is a great godfather, as well as the funniest man in America. But Ned looked very smug and showed me his jackknife. It’s a great one, with silver inlays on the handle.
Uncle Sam still isn’t a lousy godfather.
And the journal is…fun. There.
Ned started to carve a stick he cut from the tree, saying how good his knife was and how he was going to make a bow and arrows—real pointed arrows—with his knife, and then he cut his thumb. Just a little, and it stopped bleeding after he sucked on it, but it made him stop bragging after that.
He said he had to look out that his little brothers didn’t take the knife, and that his pa had said he would take it away if he saw one of them playing around with it just one time. It was unfair, said Ned, that everything was always his fault, and that he had to look after his little brothers all the time, and that they always wanted to play with what he was playing with,
and that it was unfair and that I was lucky to be all on my own and didn’t have to share everything.
I said I wouldn’t be alone for very long anymore, and that I would have a brother, too, soon, and that it would be brilliant because I’d have someone to play with all the time. But Ned laughed and said he would be a baby, and that there was nothing as boring as a baby.
I asked if there was anything good in being a big brother, and Ned looked real thoughtful, and then he snuffled his nose and said, “Sometimes, when your mum doesn’t look, you can make them do things for you. Yeah, that’s fun.”
I wanted to ask what kinda things they could do for you, but then Mr. Pettersson called Ned, and he had to go.
At supper Papa said now that the bank robber is outta the territory, he and Uncle Joe will go repair the fences at last. But before that he wants to go into town and hire a new ranch hand because he’ll need another man to keep up with the business Mr. Pettersson and he had talked about.
Mama said she’d like to see the doctor another time, and that I needed new shoes.
And so it was settled: we all are going to town tomorrow.
We have a housekeeper now.
We went into town yesterday, and to Barnes’ Mercantile. While Mama inspected the shoes, Papa asked Mr. Barnes if someone had been looking for work lately. Papa says Barnes’ Mercantile is like a market place—Mama calls it the town’s gossip center. But Mr. Barnes said that he didn’t know of anyone who looked for work.
“It’s mid summer, Adam. All the good men found work already,” he said. “You’re a bit late in the season. Unless…”
And then he spoke in a much lower voice, and Mama called me into the back of the shop to try some boots. When we found a fitting pair, Papa had already gone to see the man Mr. Barnes had told him about.
Mama told me to stay in the shop and wait for Papa while she went to see the doctor. Mr. Barnes pulled a face, but Mama gave him the eyebrow, and he said nothing. I didn’t mind staying in the shop. I like it there. Mr. Barnes had some very fine jackknives on display, and I looked at them closely. There was one even better than Ned’s, with a polished wooden handle and a silver inlay showing a bear. I wondered how it might feel in my hand, when suddenly someone said, “Found something you like?”
It was Uncle Joe.
I showed him the knife and told him that Ned had been given one from his godfather, and that I got a journal from my godfather. Uncle Joe laughed and said that it was real bad luck. And that he would go and see what he could do about it.
Eventually Mama came back, and she looked real happy. She was chatting to Miss Susan, who came in at the same time and said she wanted to fetch the books she’d ordered. But then Miss Susan saw Uncle Joe and she asked how Uncle Hoss was.
Uncle Joe said he was good, and why Miss Susan didn’t come to the Ponderosa and ask him herself, he surely would like it. Miss Susan said she certainly couldn’t just—and then Mama said, “Nonsense!” and that she would send the buggy to Miss Susan on Friday, and then we all would go and visit Uncle Hoss and Grandpa.
“If you really think you need a chaperone,” she said, and she looked at Miss Susan as if she couldn’t believe it, “then I’ll gladly play the role.”
Then Uncle Joe asked after Miss Susan’s sister Caroline, and Miss Susan said he had no right to inquire after her, not after he’d broken her heart. Uncle Joe looked real hurt and said that Caroline had broken his heart when she’d gone East to attend a ladies college, and Miss Susan said, “She might have had her reasons” real petty-like.
Mama said, “Quiet, children!” and shook her head, and then Papa came back.
Papa looked real pleased, and said he had a surprise for Mama. And Mama said she had a surprise, too.
“Not twins,” Papa blurted out, and everybody in the shop heard it—and laughed.
Mama looked real embarrassed first, and then she had to laugh, too. “You’re impossible,” she said. And that she would tell him later. But that it weren’t twins, so there was nothing to gossip about. That last she said loud enough for everyone to hear it.
When we got home, Papa said that he’d hired a new ranch hand, Elijah. And that Elijah had a wife, Hattie, who would like to—and then he couldn’t say anything more, because Mama threw herself at him and kissed him right on his mouth.
Anyway, this morning Elijah and Hattie came to our house to sign their contracts, and we have a housekeeper now.
First thing she did was say Mama should sit down and take it easy. And then she went into the kitchen and made cauliflower soup for lunch, and it was the best cauliflower soup ever.
And not a bit burned.
Mama says I have to call our housekeeper Mrs. Coleman even though she’d said her name was Hattie. Mama says it’s about respect, and that Mrs. Coleman is an adult and I’m a child and therefore I can’t call her by her first name. She says it’s the same as with Mr. Hop.
Mama says “Mr. Hop,” too, and she also says “Mrs. Coleman,” even though she’s not a child. I asked her why she’s saying “Mr. Hop” while everyone else is saying “Hop Sing” and she said it’s her way of showing respect. She said that in her opinion people
mouju moutou mutually called each other by their first names or their last, and that she would address everyone by their last name unless she would like to be called by her first name by that person. And that there were only a few people she would like to call her by her first name.
Mama always has funny rules for such things.
I said I don’t think Mrs. Coleman would mind being called “Hattie” and still say “Mrs. Cartwright” to Mama.
“She should,” Mama said, and she said it in that thoughtful way she has when she’s about to tell me something important.
Mrs. Coleman, Mama said, had been a slave before the war and didn’t even have a last name then. Her last name, Mama said, was a symbol of her freedom. “You don’t want to deny her that, do you?” Mama asked.
It’s a strange thing to think that a person belongs to another person, and I’m glad there aren’t any slaves anymore.
I’m glad Papa helped free the slaves, even though he nearly died in the war. But he came back, and all the slaves are free now, and I’m going to call Mrs. Coleman “Mrs. Coleman.”
Papa and Uncle Joe are now at the north pasture doing the fence repairs. I asked Papa if I could come with them, but he said I was needed at home and that we couldn’t leave Mama without male protection.
I think they just want to be on their own.
Mrs. Coleman made us hot chocolate tonight. Mama and I snuggled up on the settee, drinking the chocolate and reading from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to each other. We heard Mrs. Coleman rummaging in the kitchen, and I thought how much better it was having Mama sitting here reading to me than being alone while Mama cleaned up the kitchen.
“Will Mrs. Coleman stay here even when the baby is born?” I asked Mama, and she said she most certainly hoped so.
And then she said that it wouldn’t be long anymore, only four more weeks, Dr. Martin had told her so.
Four more weeks only. I looked at Mama’s belly. It was huge, but Ned was right: my brother would be a tiny baby, and for a long time, and not someone to play with.
“It certainly is eager to expand its horizon,” Mama said and sighed.
I asked her what that meant, and she chuckled and took my hands and placed them on her belly, telling me to just wait.
Her belly shifted. Inside. I stared at Mama, and she smiled and said it was the baby moving inside her, most probably trying to find a comfortable position. There were little knobs appearing outta nowhere. They started wandering around and when I tried to follow them with my hands, they suddenly disappeared. I tried poking at the baby, and then he suddenly kicked at my finger. I swear it’s true! He kicked me.
I think maybe a baby isn’t so boring at all. If we can even play while he’s in Mama’s belly it can’t be a problem playing once he’s out.
I asked Mama if she thought the baby might like me to read out to him, and then he kicked at my hand like mad, and I guess that meant “yes.”
Mama gave me the book then, and put her arm around me, and I laid the book on her belly and read the part about the mad tea party, and I really think the baby liked that. Mama surely did, for she kept squeezing me and kissing the top of my head.
Later Mrs. Coleman even brought a second mug of hot chocolate.
Mama and I took Miss Susan to Grandpa’s today. Miss Susan had a real pretty dress on, with lots of lace and tiny flowers all over the fabric. She’s very pretty, almost as pretty as Mama.
Uncle Hoss was very happy to see her. He’d even put on a good shirt, and his shoes shone as if he’d cleaned them only this morning.
They both smiled a lot, and Miss Susan called him “dear,” and Uncle Hoss her “sweetheart.”
Mama pulled me away, saying to give them space, and off they went without me.
Grandpa said he was looking forward to having a second wedding on the Ponderosa—if Uncle Hoss would pluck up the courage to propose at last. Mama said she didn’t think it would take him much longer, and that she hoped he would do a better job with it than Papa had.
Grandpa laughed and said that he couldn’t imagine Papa having problems with proposing, and that as far as he knew women tended to find Papa irresistible.
Mama made a very funny face and said that that would only apply to Papa singing to women, and that he certainly had not sung to her.
That reminded me that I still haven’t asked Uncle Joe about Papa serenading Mrs. Myers, and I wondered if Grandpa knew something about that. But Grandpa was busy listening to Mama, who told him about Mrs. Coleman and other ranch stuff.
It was a bit boring with Uncle Hoss being busy making gooey eyes at Miss Susan, Grandpa talking to Mama, and Uncle Joe not being around. I miss him.
I didn’t have a chance to talk to Uncle Hoss until after supper. I knew we had to leave soon, so I didn’t ask him about Mrs. Myers and Papa, but about being a big brother. I mean, he is Uncle Joe’s big brother, so he has to know how to be one, right?
Uncle Hoss said that there wasn’t a set way how to be a big brother. That everyone had to find his own way, and that I’d find mine just all right. And that he had never really felt like a big brother because there had always been Papa, and he was the real big brother. Uncle Hoss said that Papa was the best big brother in the whole world, and if I needed a role model he’d recommend Papa.
“But in the end it’s up to you,” Uncle Hoss said. “And I know you will be a great big brother.”
I miss Papa. I told Mama so, and she said she missed him, too. She slung her arms around her shoulders as if she was cold, saying the house felt empty without Papa, and the rooms looked bigger than usual.
She said she’d expect Papa to come back any day now and that he’d been gone far longer than she’d thought.
“There must be a lot of gaps in the fence,” I said.
And Mama said, “Indeed,” and looked nearly as if she was scared, but only for a tiny moment. Or maybe I imagined it, for she smiled then and told me to go and get Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and read it to her and the baby.
Mama and I made up a new poem. She said the baby would need nursery rhymes and she didn’t see any reason we couldn’t invent our own.
Making poems with Mama is fun. She starts with two lines and then I have to add two, and then it’s her turn again and so forth. When Papa is at home, he sometimes joins in, but more often he just sits and listens to us. He says it’s one of his best pastimes.
Tonight’s poem was this:
I once had a horse named Marlowe,
Whose hide did from far glow.
Especially in the sun
And after the currying was done.
I rode him fast, I rode him wild,
And all the time I smiled.
He was the strongest, the best,
Never needed an hour of rest.
Never spooked, never stumbled,
Never shied, never tumbled.
And the only time I ever fell
Was because I had a dizzy spell.
That is true, I tell no lies!
Now be still and shut your eyes,
Sleep well and all night through,
For I’ll be watching over you.
Mama says she’s sure the baby will like it. Perhaps Papa can even set it to a tune. If he ever comes home from repairing fences.
Papa is back.
Tonight, shortly after supper, we heard a coach driving up, and then there was some ruckus on the yard. Mama put her tea cup down and frowned. “Who on earth…,” she started, and then Uncle Hoss dashed through the front door, holding up his hands and saying, “Don’t you fret none.”
Of course, Mama
emmidi immydi right off started fretting. She went completely white in her face and clutched her hands at her chest, whispering, “No, no, no, no…. What happened to Adam?”
“He’s all right,” Uncle Hoss said. “Or he will be. Real soon, the doc says.”
And Mama, “I knew it, I knew it. He should have been home days ago,” and she looked as if she was going to faint.
“Juliet,” Uncle Hoss said pleadingly. “Please don’t. If you faint now, Adam will have my hide. I’m supposed to calm you down.”
“Oh,” Mama said, sounding much more like herself. “You are managing me. Stop it. Right now.”
She stood and headed to the door, but the door opened and in came Uncle Joe who had a real great shiner and helped Papa hobbling in. Papa’s right pant leg was all bloody, and cut open from foot to hip.
Mama said, “Dear God in heaven,” and helped Uncle Joe settling Papa on the settee.
“I’m all right,” said Papa. “It’s nothing.”
“Nothing?” Mama said, and her eyebrow rose.
Uncle Joe slid to the other side of the settee, but Papa looked Mama square in the eye.
She didn’t let him talk back, though. “Nothing?” she said again. Well, actually she shouted it. “Nothing? You call that nothing?”
She pointed her finger at Papa’s leg, and really, it didn’t look like “nothing.”
“You can’t even stand under your own power, you’re bleeding all over my Chesterfield, and it is that leg again. Don’t tell me it’s nothing. What happened?”
“It isn’t actually bleeding anymore,” Papa mumbled, and Uncle Joe started, “You’ll never believe this—”
But then Mama said, “Dear God” again and clutched her back and sat down very quickly.
Now they all started fretting about Mama, even though she said she was fine, until she got really annoyed and glared at them and said that she wasn’t a delicate flower and it had only been a minor cramp anyway, and they were just trying to distract her from the fact that her husband had nearly lost his leg. And now they should confess what had happened.
Uncle Joe said, “There’s nothing to confess,” and rolled his eyes.
Mama said, “Don’t roll your eyes at me” while Papa said, “Don’t roll your eyes at my wife, Joe,” and they all were talking over each other, and you couldn’t understand anything at all, only Mama saying “bedlam” very loudly a few times, and then Mrs. Coleman came in from the kitchen and asked in a very stern voice if someone would like a cup of coffee or tea or maybe a stiff brandy.
After that, they calmed down a bit. Mama had a cup of tea, and the men drank that brandy, and I got a hot chocolate. Then Papa and Uncle Joe told us how they were up in the north pasture, repairing the fence when suddenly a man turned up, asking them for help. He looked as if he’d been camping outside for a long time, but with no
ecw equipment at all. They shared their beans and beef jerky with him, and told him the shortest way to town. Papa even pointed him to Barnes’ Mercantile in case he was looking for a job. The man thanked them and rode away, and they started working again. But after an hour or so, they suddenly heard their horses whinnying, and then they saw the man riding away on Cochise.
Papa followed him on Sport, and Uncle Joe on the man’s horse, that was very worn out already, but they managed to corner him somewhere in a small passage between some boulders. The man shot at them, hitting Papa in the leg, but they’d really stalemated him, and while Papa distracted him by shooting at him, Uncle Joe managed to circle round him and then jumped on him from behind and tackled him down. That was when Uncle Joe got the shiner.
Since the Ponderosa was closer than our ranch they thought they better get there, for Papa couldn’t ride very well and needed a doctor for his leg, and keeping the horse thief at gun point, Uncle Joe couldn’t be much of a help for Papa.
At the Ponderosa, it turned out the man was the fugitive bank robber. Uncle Hoss knew him at once. He took the robber to Virginia City, to the jail, and then brought Dr. Martin with him on the way back.
Dr. Martin fixed Papa’s leg, and said he could go home, but that he mustn’t upset Mama, so perhaps it would be best if Uncle Hoss went with him and prepared Mama for what had happened, so she wouldn’t be shocked.
Mama sighed, and said that Uncle Hoss had done a wonderful job of that, obviously, and what was Uncle Joe’s assigned role in the whole scheme?
“I’m here to protect Older Brother,” Uncle Joe said.
And I, “From the Eyebrow of Doom?”
Really, I didn’t do it on purpose. It just slipped out.
I guess I won’t be riding Cochise for a while, though.
Anyway, I was sent to bed shortly after that.
Mama says Papa has to stay in bed until she says he can get up.
Papa looked grumpy when she told him that this morning, but Mama reminded him that it had taken him years to get rid of the limp after he’d hurt his leg in the war. Now that his leg was finally good, he’d hurt it again, nearly at the same place, and Mama wanted to make sure it healed properly.
Papa said his leg could heal just as well on the settee downstairs, and that he didn’t think wearing pants could suspend the healing process, but Mama gave him the eyebrow and said, “You stay out of your trousers, Mister.”
I cringed when I heard that. Papa doesn’t like to be ordered around, not even by Mama. He glared at her. “Tone, Juliet,” he said. “Mind it.”
I really don’t like it when they are like that. Papa’s voice gets very icy then, and very low; and Mama gets all agitated and waves her hands and shoots lightening bolts with her eyes.
But not this time. Mama sighed, sat down on Papa’s bed, and said, “I’m sorry.” And then she laid her forehead at his and whispered, “Please, Adam. I need you strong and steady. Let’s not take any chances.”
And Papa took her face in his hands and said, “Mylady” and kissed her.
And then he asked me to fetch him some books from downstairs. “Choose something thick,” he said. “I’m going to have a lot of time for reading.”
It turned out Mama was right keeping Papa in bed. He got a real bad fever yesterday, and Dr. Martin had to come and clean the wound on his leg again, and redo some stitches that had been torn on the way from the Ponderosa to our house. He said, though, that Papa was going to be all right, and that Mama shouldn’t fret.
Mama said she didn’t fret. She said she was concerned and that she had every right to be concerned and that Dr. Martin had no idea how it was living with a Cartwright.
Dr. Martin said, “There, there”—and then Mama cried a little, and Dr. Martin send me away to ask Mrs. Coleman for a cup of tea.
I spend some time in the kitchen with Mrs. Coleman, watching her making tea and helping to arrange some biscuits on a plate.
When I came back Mama’s eyes were a bit red, but she wasn’t crying anymore. She started smiling when she saw me, and said, “Come here” and I went to her and she took me in her arms. She held me real close (so close I felt the baby kicking in her belly) and ruffled my hair and said, “All is going to be well, don’t fear,” and then I knew Papa was really going to be all right.
Mama allowed me to stay up with her that night and sit with Papa. We watched him sleep and drank tea with lots of milk and a dash of cinnamon—it almost tasted like Christmas—and Mama told me stories about the time she and her brother Henry tried to catch the ghost of the White Lady of Barnstoke who haunted the yard of St. Nicholas church but instead encountered the reverend and scared him outta his wits.
I woke up this morning, lying in Mama’s bed next to Papa, who was propped up against the headboard. He wasn’t so pale anymore and smiled as he looked down at me.
“Henry,” he said. “You’re the best medicine in the world. We’re going to make a fortune if we hire you out to stay with sick people.”
“I don’t want to be hired out,” I said, just in case he wasn’t joking. You can’t always tell if he is or not.
“No?” Papa grinned. “Too bad. Well, I guess then we’re keeping your healing powers in the family.”
Then Mrs. Coleman came in with a tray of food, and Mama with a tea pot, and then we three had breakfast in the bedroom.
It was brilliant.
I read Papa Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland today, he liked it a lot. Then we played checkers.
Later Uncle Joe came by, and we played a checkers tournament. When Papa beat her three times in a row, Mama argued that the rules for checkers were different in England—which made Papa raise an eyebrow and Uncle Joe look unbelieving—and that it’s called draughts anyway.
In the end, Uncle Joe won the tournament. Papa looked at him through narrowed eyes, until Uncle Joe started squirming on his seat and said, “What?”
Papa raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. He just kept looking at Uncle Joe.
“I didn’t cheat,” Uncle Joe finally said.
And Papa said, “I didn’t say you did.” And then he couldn’t keep a straight face any longer. “Gotcha,” he said.
And then they laughed, but Uncle Joe didn’t look as if he thought it very funny.
Mama finally allowed Papa to get up, and to put his pants on.
He spent the day on the front porch, carving a row of ducks into the headboard of the cradle he’d built for the baby. He showed me how it’s done and then he let me carve a small heart into the footboard.
He said I did it really good, and that it was going to be a very good welcome present for the new baby.
“Is that what big brothers do?” I asked. “Make presents?”
“No,” Papa said. “It’s more about caring.” Then he leaned his chin on his hand and looked at me for some time.
There was no rule for being a big brother, he finally said. That everyone did just what he thought was right. And that he was sure I’d find my own way to be a big brother, too. He said, “Just be yourself, Henry. Do what your heart tells you to do.”
“Is that what you did when you were a big brother?” I asked.
“That’s what I did,” Papa said, “and what I still do. I’m still a big brother after all.”
“Uncle Hoss says you’re a good big brother. The best.”
I nodded, and Papa looked very happy.
I’m not quite sure how to listen to my heart, but I guess I’ll see how it is once the baby is here. I just hope my heart will never tell me to go and smooth things over with Mrs. Myers.
The new baby is there!
I woke up tonight, hearing footsteps on the stairs, and then Papa talking to Mrs. Coleman. I went up to see what was going on, and as I came down, Papa was telling Mrs. Coleman to wake up her husband and send him to get the doctor. “And then heat water,” he said, “and bring it upstairs. And towels.”
“But the doctor won’t be here so soon,” Mrs. Coleman said.
And Papa laughed. “That didn’t stop my Misses the last time. This is going to be quick, Mrs. Coleman.”
“Oh, well,” Mrs. Coleman said. “Don’t worry, I know what to do. I’ll be right up and help Mrs. Cartwright.”
But Papa shook his head and said they’d be all right by themselves. “Just bring the water, and then keep Henry with you, so that he doesn’t…you know. Hear.”
Mrs. Coleman nodded and pulled me with her into the kitchen.
“Hear what?” I asked.
Mrs. Coleman said that sometimes women cried a bit while having a baby, and that Mama surely wouldn’t want me to hear her cry.
I think she didn’t tell me the truth, but I guess that’s another of those things they’ll tell me once I’m older.
Anyway, Mrs. Coleman boiled water and brought it upstairs, and then she made hot chocolate and gave me cookies (she made them, so they were cookies) and Mrs. Coleman showed me how to play Mancala which she said was a game of her ancestors in Africa. It’s a wooden board with two rows of holes in it, and you have to put beans into those holes after a certain fashion. The rules sound easy, but you have to be smart to win. I bet Papa would like it.
After a while I got real tired, and cold. Mrs. Coleman wrapped me in a blanket and said she was going to make me another cup of chocolate—and then Papa woke me up, and I was in my bed.
“Congratulations,” Papa said. “You’re a big brother now.”
I jumped up and ran into Mama’s and Papa’s bedroom, and there was Mama, sitting in the bed and smiling at me, and in her arms was the new baby.
“Henry,” Mama said. “Come and meet your sister.”
Her name is Florence Elizabeth, after Mama’s mama and Papa’s mama, and she’s a girl.
I have a sister now.
I bet Ned will laugh himself silly.
I got a jackknife!
The one from Barnes’ Mercantile, the one with the bear-inlay at the handle. Uncle Joe gave it to me when he came over today, with Grandpa and Uncle Hoss to see the baby. He said that when a new baby is born, people bring presents, and that he didn’t see a reason a new big brother shouldn’t get presents, too.
“Being a big brother looks like a tough job but actually it’s all dandy,” Uncle Joe said, giving Papa a sideways glance. “For once, you’re always right. And you don’t have to—”
Papa interrupted him and said Uncle Joe wasn’t the best person to give advice on being an older brother, because he’d never been one.
“But I’d suffered through one,” Uncle Joe said, and then he had to duck because Papa flung a pillow at his head.
Mrs. Coleman came in from the kitchen, carrying a tray with coffee and biscuits, and the pillow nearly hit her, and she shook her head and said she would snitch on us to Mama if we didn’t behave.
Of course, then we did behave.
Boy, Florence sure had a lot of visitors today—but she didn’t see a single one of them: she slept through all the ruckus.
Mama called it a stampede. She said that in England people waited a few weeks before they came to inspect a new baby, giving the parents a little time to
adcha adjust to their new situation. And that people here didn’t care much about privacy.
But you could see she liked it, and a lot. She smiled all the time, and let everyone have a peek into the cradle, smiling even broader when people said how pretty Florence was. She also showed everybody the little heart I carved into the cradle, and looked very proud.
It was funny: all the people said Florence looked like someone else. Miss Winterling said she looked just like Mama; Mrs. Myers said she was a true Cartwright, just as handsome as her father; Aunt Clementine said she was a true Heatherstone, just as royal as her mother. Sheriff Coffee said she had Grandpa’s eyes (which was real funny because Florence had her eyes closed all the time;) Mrs. Pettersson said she had Mama’s eyebrows; and Mr. Goodman said he hoped not—but that she had Mama’s chin. Miss Susan said Florence looked like me; and Josiah…I don’t remember who Josiah said she looked like. I only remember that he gave Florence a silver rattle, very much like my elephant rattle, but in the shape of a duck. He said Aunt Clementine had given it to him when he was a baby, and now he thought it was only right to give it to his mentors’ daughter. It was just great that Josiah was still in town—he is going to leave for college in just a few days.
Mama’s eyes got all wet when Josiah gave Florence the rattle and said why. She really likes him a lot, not only because he was a stable boy for her horse when she first came to Virginia City. Aunt Clementine actually cried. She said the rattle had been bought for the child she never had, and it was just well that now her grandchild got it. I think Aunt Clementine sometimes forgets that she isn’t Mama’s mama—but Mama doesn’t seem to mind.
Mrs. Coleman served coffee and tea and blueberry pie and raspberry trifle, and the house got fuller and fuller, and louder and louder. But Florence kept sleeping.
Everyone said that Mama was lucky to have a baby that slept so much. Mama made a funny face and said that her daughter did not “exhibit that much consideration during the night” and everybody laughed. Only Mama didn’t.
When finally they all said their goodbyes, Mama looked very tired, and didn’t smile anymore. She fell asleep on the settee while Mrs. Coleman cleaned all the plates and cups away.
Florence woke up and made small cooing noises, and Papa took her out of her cradle and rocked her in his arms.
She was so tiny and red, and her face still looked a bit squashed. Her eyes were open now, big and round and dark blue, and stared into Papa’s face. She had her hands balled into the tiniest fist you can imagine. I wondered if I looked the same when I was born.
“You were quite red, too,” Papa said. “And tiny. You had long black hair, and everyone said you looked like me.”
“She doesn’t look like you,” I said.
Papa smiled. “Do you think she looks like Mama then?”
“No,” I said. “I think she looks like Florence.”
“Is that the wrong thing to say, Papa?”
“No,” Papa said. “It’s the best possible thing to say.” He rested Florence in the crook of his arm and pulled me to his other side.
We stayed like that until Mama woke up and said, “You’re a sight to behold.”
“We’re not,” Papa said, “because we’re not complete.”
And then we went over to the settee, Papa laid Florence into Mama’s arm and sat down next to her, and I crawled to her other side.
And now it was perfect.
Florence can smile. I told her I’m her big brother, and that she can borrow all my books and all my toys when she isn’t so tiny anymore—well, not the jackknife, that’s too dangerous for her, but everything else—that I’ll show her my tree house, and the best trout fishing place at the lake, and that I’m going to protect her from everything. Then I sang her the nursery rhyme about a horse named Marlowe Mama and I made up for her—and then she smiled. At me.
She’s the prettiest baby in the world.
I think Mrs. Pettersson is right, though: Florence has inherited Mama’s Eyebrow of Doom.
And tomorrow I’ll go and finally ask Uncle Joe about Papa singing to Mrs. Myers.
The most useful and interesting letters we get here from home are from children seven or eight years old. This is petrified truth. Happily they have got nothing to talk about but home, and neighbours and family–things their betters think unworthy of transmission thousands of miles. They write simply and naturally, and without straining for effect. They tell all they know, and then stop. ~ Uncle Sam aka Mark Twain
A/N: For readers who are not familiar with the Art-universe some characters might turn up unexpectedly, and some are completely unfamiliar. Here’s a short glossary of those people:
Mr. Goodman – editor of the Territorial Enterprise, as seen in “Enter Mark Twain”
Uncle Sam – Sam Clemens, godfather of Henry Cartwright — Clemens is ultimately the reason Adam got married for he recommended Juliet as his successor at the Territorial Enterprise and expressly asked Juliet to buy a horse at the Ponderosa. The rest is (Art) history…
Aunt Clementine – Clementine Hawkins (“The Burma Rarity”), in whose boarding house Juliet lodged before she became Mrs. Cartwright. Widow Hawkins’ story, as I picture it, can be read in “Home Sweet Home” where I also explain the story with the rattle Josiah gives to Florence
Josiah – the stage coach manager’s son, hired stable boy for Juliet’s horse, and someone of whom the couple is quite fond (they pay for his college education, but that’s a story that still has to be written)
Miss Susan – very beautiful lady with whom Hoss had a blind date that didn’t go so well once. How they finally became a couple is also a story that yet has to be written; Miss Susan and her sister, Caroline, can be found in “The Art of Setting Priorities”
Mr. Barnes, Miss Winterling – minor characters in the Art-universe
Oh, yes, and in the Art-universe Adam fought in the Civil War. At Gettysburg.
If you need more information about that universe, please feel free to pm me (or to read the other stories…. 🙂 )
My heartfelt thanks to Sklamb for her betaread. You are an amazing woman, my dear!