Summary: The difference between romantic love and romancing is illustrated with the experiences of two brothers.
Word Count: 1536
Deafening noise from rain and hail on the wood shingle roof, smoky damp air, and the smells of wet leather and sweaty men aggravated Little Joe Cartwright’s already sour mood. He had been in such a good mood too for a week as he and Adam had worked, talked, and done a little hunting as they repaired the line cabin, rode fence lines, rounded up strays, and in general took care of a lot of little jobs that needed to be done. Then on the morning when they were supposed to ride home, a nasty storm had delayed their departure. Unfortunately, that deluge had been followed by intermittent storms of lesser intensity but there was never enough time for the trails and the streams to return to anything approaching normal or even a reasonably safe condition for travel. After several days of waiting though, Little Joe was willing to take some chances to get home. He and Adam had had words about that that morning. Little Joe knew Adam was correct, but it still rankled that he wouldn’t even consider Little Joe’s position that they could go check to see if there was a chance of crossing some of the streams.
“What? Cross one and then get caught out in the open because we can’t cross the next one, and can’t come back either if any more rain falls? No, we stay here.”
“Pa’s going to worry about us and come looking for us.”
“Pa knows we’re smart enough to stay here until it’s safe to travel.”
“How do you know Pa knows that?”
“Because that’s what Pa would do, and he taught us to know better too.”
Dropping his head, Little Joe gave up the argument if not his anger and disappointment. Looking at how dejected he was, Adam guessed that he knew what was actually wrong.
“You worried about missing the social?”
Little Joe shrugged. “If I’m not there, she might dump me for somebody else. I haven’t been seeing her that long.” Looking up at Adam, Joe wondered why Adam didn’t look worried. “Aren’t you thinking that about your gal?”
“She’s content with our relationship and willing to see how things develop.”
“No wonder you’re not married. Ladies must get bored with that attitude. I bring fun and excitement to every lady I see.”
“And yet you’re not married either.”
With a scowl, Little Joe turned back to looking out the window at the unrelenting rain for he had no answer to that. He looked out that window quite a lot for the next day and a half before seeing blue skies beginning to show in the west as the storms finally abated.
The two brothers were packed and headed home before noon. Travel was difficult with muddy trails and streams still swollen with the rains. They had to make some long detours because of those problems and because of downed trees and a rock slide in one place. They spent one night camping, and then another full day traveling. Finally they saw Hoss and hands busy at work in a pasture rounding up cattle that had scattered during the storms.
“Pa’s been waitin’ on ya. He figured you was hunkered down safe, but this morning, his eyes kept on a lookin’ up this way. You both look like you could use a good scrubbin’ and some clean clothes.
There was no arguing on that point. The oldest and youngest brothers bid their middle brother good day and headed to the house. Ben was relieved to see them, and Hop Sing soon had bath water heating and clean clothing set out for them. Ben told two hands to take care of the horses and gear when he saw how exhausted his sons were. After losing the coin toss, Adam sat on the porch with his father as Little Joe headed to the washroom to clean up and change.
“Did things go as well as they appear to have gone?”
“They did. We got along well, and all the jobs got done. If it wasn’t for the rain, it would have been near perfect. The only disagreements we had were about trying to get home between storms. I wouldn’t try it.”
Ben noted that Adam’s expression and demeanor matched his answer. “Why would Little Joe want to risk riding home in that kind of weather?” Pausing briefly, Ben knew before Adam could answer. “The social. He didn’t want to miss the social.” Adam nodded and leaned back in his chair.
“We talked a little about how to handle a relationship with a woman.”
Smiling, Ben had to ask. “Any answers?”
“If I had answers, Pa, I would be married already, but I think I’m getting closer to it.”
There was no more conversation, but Ben was quietly hopeful. He had guessed that Adam was getting serious in his relationship, but that little comment had confirmed it. Adam said little about his private life so one had to listen carefully for the little clues that he gave.
The next day at church, Little Joe did indeed find out that his gal Mary Jane was now seeing someone else, but he was surprised to see Adam and his lady friend, Anne, talking together and then sitting together during services as if nothing unusual had happened. It meant that she and Adam were still a couple.
Ben had decided it was time to have a party, and Little Joe spent some time after services making sure that there were going to be a lot of young ladies at that party.
The night of the party, Little Joe had a lady on his arm for every dance, and frequently had more than one vying for his attention. There were several who took a short walk in the moonlight with him. He couldn’t have been happier. Adam danced quite a few times with Anne, but he also danced with other ladies and spent some time sitting in with the band. He asked Anne to take a long walk to talk. Little Joe overheard him when he asked her and rolled his eyes at his serious brother. After everyone had left and everything had been cleaned up, Little Joe turned to Adam.
“Pretty dull night for you, huh, Adam?”
“No, in fact, I had a wonderful time.”
“You’re joshing me. I was having fun with lots of ladies. You hardly had any fun at all.”
“Joe, you had a bouquet in your hand, but I have a rose in my garden that I think is about to bloom.”
Without explaining, Adam headed up to bed.
The next morning at breakfast, he was just as tightlipped but still had that slight hint of a smile. Ben and Hoss noticed.
“Son, are you feeling the way you did last night?” Adam nodded. “How do you think she feels?”
Hoss interjected his thought before Adam could answer. “By the way her lips looked after that little walk they done took last night, she ain’t makin’ no secret about that.”
Before Ben could object to what Hoss had said and what it implied, Joe had a question.
“What are you all talking about?”
Standing, Adam answered. “Pa and Hoss will explain. I have an important and perhaps life changing errand to do in town.”
More confused than ever, Little Joe watched as Adam left with a big grin matched by his father and middle brother. “He’s getting to be stranger and stranger as he gets older.” All Joe could do was snicker at his own joke.
Ben explained then that Adam was going to ask Anne to marry him.
“What? But they seem so, I don’t know, kind of dull together.”
“Little Joe, when you were young, do you remember how you liked to go out and cut a rose from the garden and bring it in so I could put it in a cup of water on my desk and admire it?”
“Yeah, I remember that. You always said how much you liked them.”
“I did. I liked them. After a few days, the rose wilted and I had to throw it away. I didn’t mind. I knew you would bring another and another and another.”
“What does this have to do with Adam and Anne?”
“Adam knew how much Marie loved those roses. He took care of that garden. He loved those roses. He nurtured them, watered them, and made sure they had good soil. Every day, he could go out there and look at those roses flourishing. They grew more beautiful every year.”
“I liked the roses and I picked them one after another. But you’re saying he loved the roses because he let them grow in the garden.” Joe thought for a short time about all the different ladies he had romanced and yet he still had no serious relationship having tossed out each one and moved on to another. “All right, I get it.”
“Yup, and now older brother done found himself a rose to love again.”