Summary: A series of stories about Adam’s birthdays from his thirty-first through his thirty-fifth. It is meant to be light-hearted with a little romance. There is a switch in POV from Adam, to Ben, to Hoss, to Joe, to all throughout the story to see the same events from different perspectives, and to examine the relationship among the brothers as well as to examine Ben’s thought processes too.
Word Count: 13779
Many Happy Returns
It was Adam’s birthday again soon. He would soon be thirty-one years old. He was aware that he was always touchy at this time of year and nothing ever seemed to make it better. There were so many sad things he associated with his birthday. His mother’s death of course figured prominently. No matter how many times his father told him that he loved him and didn’t blame him for his mother’s death in childbirth, he still blamed himself. It may not have been logical and rational, but with matters like this, logic and rationality sometimes couldn’t overwhelm his feelings. In his youth, birthdays had often meant wanting something so badly only to be disappointed. He would hold back any complaint because he always saw his father’s sad face and knew he must be remembering his lost wife. How could the lack of a cake and a present compare to that?
Quietly, Adam dressed and went downstairs and out to the stable after grabbing his coat and holster. He worked on the chores that needed to be done. Then he saddled his horse and led him to the tool shed. There he gathered the tools he would need for the day. Before he could mount up and head out to the fence line he had been working on the day before, Hop Sing was at his side with a sack lunch. He thanked his friend. He wouldn’t need anything else as additional supplies were already there because he had brought the wagon out there the day before when he started the repairs and improvements. He hoped to be busy enough to work the whole day and not think about anything too serious.
Hoss thought, well there he goes. He had thought he would get up early and do Adam’s chores for him. Dawn was barely there, and Adam was already leaving. He probably had done all the chores because no matter how much he grumbled about Hoss bringing home strays and such, it had always been Adam and Hop Sing who had helped him nurse the little fellas. And Hoss remembered and smiled too when he thought of the day he had come home with that puppy in his shirt. Adam had been the first one to cuddle with the little thing and welcome him to the Ponderosa. And it had been Adam who stood at his side when he buried the little guy just six weeks later. He had become ill and nothing they did had helped. Adam didn’t cry or anything, but he stood at Hoss’ side for a moment and put his hand on his shoulder. It had been enough. So Hoss knew that Adam would never have fed and watered his horse and mucked out his stall and left the others for later. He would have done the same for all of them.
Thinking of the present he had gotten for Adam for his birthday, Hoss had to smile again. He expected Adam to be completely surprised. But if he wasn’t, he would still be very happy with the gift. Hoss had made sure it was all right with their father, and then he had purchased two theater tickets for a Hamlet performance by a troupe traveling out of St. Louis who would be performing the following month in Carson City. He figured Adam would have a month to ask someone to go with him.
Well Hoss decided he would go to the stable and groom the horses because that wasn’t something they normally did in the morning, but Chubb especially would enjoy it and it would help them with their spring coats. After finishing that task, Hoss could smell ham and biscuits and headed in for a delicious breakfast. He thought it was too bad that Adam was missing it. He mentioned that to Hop Sing as he was seating himself, and Hop Sing said he sent some ham and biscuits with Adam that morning. Hoss smiled. Of course he would have done that. Hop Sing was like another father to all of them but especially watched out for the oldest because he didn’t spend enough time watching out for himself. Hop Sing always said Adam spent so much time watching out for everyone else that he forgot himself, and Hoss had to admit that was true in a lot of ways.
Walking down to breakfast, Ben had to smile to see Hoss already busy eating ham, eggs, and biscuits. As he had gotten out of bed that morning and looked out the window, he had seen Hoss walking in from the stable. Ben had thought that Hoss had done the chores to surprise Adam but now saw that Adam’s hat and coat were missing from the rack by the door. So it was going to be the same as every year. Adam would make himself as scarce as possible in the next few days and on his birthday so he wouldn’t have to interact with his family. No matter how many times he had tried to tell him that he loved him and did not blame him in any way for Elizabeth’s death, Adam carried that guilt like a lodestone around his neck every year at this time. Ben would have tears in his eyes remembering how his son had grown without a mother and how deprived he had been of so many other things that other young boys had. Every time that Adam saw those glistening eyes, he would misinterpret their meaning because of the feeling he had carried with him since his father had told him how his mother died. Who would have known that a five-year-be able to discern that much. Adam had asked why he didn’t have a mother like other boys did and Ben had never suspected that he would realize his birth had been the cause of his mother’s death, and that he would carry that guilt for the rest of his life. The guilt seemed to be imprinted on Adam’s soul and nothing could wash it away.
Sitting at the table, Ben could see the sadness in Hoss’ eyes too. He knew how hard Hoss had worked and thought to find a gift to make his brother smile on his birthday. Now they knew that the melancholy threatened again to make Adam’s birthday less than joyful. A cake and presents, no matter how wonderful, were not going to erase the sadness. They were going to have to be more creative than that because the usual had never worked, but they were at a loss trying to think of what to do. They both heard noise from upstairs and knew the youngest Cartwright had finally awakened.
Each year I plan to get up early for a week before Adam’s birthday and every year, I can’t do it. I get up earlier than I usually do, but everyone else gets up earlier too so my plan never works. By the time I’m up, the chores are done, and I bet that Adam is gone again. He works from sun-up to sun-down on the days before his birthday. I bet he would skip his birthday altogether if he could. I would never skip my birthday. I enjoy each and every one of them. Well somehow I am going to get Adam to enjoy his birthday this year. I will find a way. Adam may be the smartest, and Hoss may be the strongest, but neither of them can beat me in coming up with a plan even if Adam refers to them as ‘hare-brained schemes’ and other such ‘udder nonsense’ although what my plans have to do with a cow’s udder I have never understood.
When I head down to breakfast, I see Pa and Hoss have already eaten and they have that beaten down look that says they’re disappointed again in how unhappy Adam is. Well I already have a plan for doing something about that, and I’m going to tell them what we have to do. I know they are going to have these skeptical looks, but I really think this will work. So before we leave that dining table, we have the plan all set for the next day.
At dinner, Adam noticed that his family seemed to be in very good spirits. He was actually relieved that his sadness had not affected them. Usually he felt badly that his sorrow made everyone sad. It was never his intent to make things worse. He tried to avoid them on those days just for that reason as well as to work so hard that he could find some relief in sleep and then stay so busy that sorrow did not overwhelm his thoughts. He was more relaxed at dinner than he expected, and his father offered brandy after dinner that he was happy to have. Sometimes he didn’t enjoy brandy, but this was one of those times when it tasted good. He went to bed then because he had had a hard day and expected to have another one the following day. He would sleep as long as he could but fully expected to wake before dawn as he had the day before.
Light was coming in Adam’s window before he awoke the next morning though. He was surprised, but also a bit apprehensive. This might mean that his father and Hoss were already up and he would have to interact with them. In his sour mood, he was afraid he might revert to his more sarcastic mode and make some snide remarks to push them away. He didn’t want to hurt anyone but often didn’t know how to just ask for time alone. He supposed he did make it difficult for his family expecting them to know what he wanted without telling them but it was hard to change. As he walked out of his room, he saw the other bedroom doors closed and was surprised. Perhaps he was the first up. He walked down the stairs and there was no one sipping coffee or eating breakfast. He grabbed his holster and hat before opening the front door. There stood his father and brothers leaning up against the wall drinking coffee. No one said a word. They set their cups down and followed Adam to the stable. They did everything he did without a word. Soon all the chores were finished. Adam saddled up and so did his family. Hop Sing brought out lunch sacks for all of them.
The whole Cartwright family rode out to the fence line. They dug postholes, strung wire, and straightened posts without hardly saying anything. They got a lot of work done. About noon, they all dropped their tools as if they had some quiet understanding that it was time for lunch. They walked under a nearby tree where Adam and Hoss sat next to the large trunk and leaned back. Joe and Ben sat on a fallen tree.
Adam could not contain his curiosity any more. As they finished their lunch, he had to ask.
“What is going on?”
“Well, Adam, I know you always compare my plans to a cow’s udder …”
“A cow’s udder?”
“Yeah, you know, you say my plans are ‘udder nonsense’ but this time …”
“Udder; utter!” and Adam started laughing. Ben couldn’t hold back and started to laugh too. Hoss looked at the two of them and wondered what was so funny.
“What is so dadblamed funny all of a sudden?”
Adam leaned over toward Hoss and said “Utter nonsense; udder nonsense” to Hoss who suddenly began with that huge guffaw of his. Adam was laughing so hard he put his head against Hoss’ shoulder. All the emotions he had been holding in came pouring out in a fit of laughing that was almost hysterical. Finally all three regained some composure and looked at Joe who was sitting there mystified as to why anyone was laughing. Adam stood and slapped Joe on the shoulder.
“It may not have been your plan unless you are the most ingenious man I have ever known, but I have to thank you anyway. That felt good.”
“Well it was my plan that we would all work with you today but not pressure you to talk. We’d just be there for you, and we would get the work done. But hey if a laugh was all you needed, I could go back home and go back to bed. I wouldn’t mind a little extra shuteye.”
“Oh no, little brother. If your plan was to work all day, far be it from me to deny you the opportunity to carry out your plan. After you!”
Adam pointed at the fence line. Joe’s sorrowful expression got all of them chuckling again. Joe still had no idea why they thought his plan was so funny. All the rest of the afternoon as they worked to finish the fence line repairs, one of them would occasionally say ‘udder, utter’ and then all three would laugh again. It was getting a little irritating for Joe, but he saw Adam smile and laugh so he decided he would just eat his irritation and wait to ask his father later why they found the day so funny. Well when his father told him, Joe thought it was a little funny maybe but not enough to justify the laughter he had heard. Ben just said it was the medicine they needed and thanked him.
And every year near Adam’s birthday, there would be a resurgence of the ‘udder, utter’ line and smiles all around. Joe had managed to make Adam’s birthday a time of many happy returns.
Too Much Thinking Can Ruin a Birthday
It looked like it was going to be another sad and lonely birthday for Adam. He was in Placerville and the weather was too awful to continue the trip home. He would spend his thirty second birthday among strangers so he decided to get dinner and a drink before he went to his room for the night. Luckily he had gotten a room because with all the stranded travelers, rooms had been booked to capacity. So he would retire to his room and read after he took care of his needs: hunger and thirst. He walked into the saloon and asked the bartender if they served sandwiches to which the bartender nodded yes. He ordered one and a whisky. He took them to a table in the corner away from all the rowdy commotion and proceeded to eat and observe as well as remember.
Just before he left the Ponderosa for this trip to Sacramento, Joe had been giving him a hard time about not having a gal. Joe had another one of course. He always had one, had just left one, been left by one, or was looking for one. Adam thought sometimes that he fell in love just as quickly as Joe but far, far less often. And when Adam fell in love, it was all the way and not just for a week or a month. Unfortunately, it had never worked. The women he had loved were unavailable in one way or another: religion, family, commitments, or a cousin always seemed to get in the way. Joe said he did too much thinking though. Their last conversation ran through his mind.
“Adam, some men can’t find a gal because they’re heavy drinkers but you’ve become a heavy thinker.”
“Joe, that is an inappropriate or noncomplementary use of a premodifier.”
“See, now that is exactly what I mean. You didn’t listen to what I said. You analyzed the words!”
“Well of course. It didn’t make sense the way you phrased it.”
“Adam, some time you should just try to accept what I say without trying so hard to dig another meaning out of it. Then you use those ten gallon words that no one else understands.”
“But if your argument is a false syllogism or based on a false premise, shouldn’t I take that into consideration when evaluating what you say?”
“Gads, you drive me crazy. Just listen to yourself. What woman in her right mind would want to spend time with you? You just make other people feel stupid so they don’t want to be around you.”
Joe walked out of the house and slammed the door.
“But what if that is what I wanted for a result?” Adam had addressed the empty room and had smiled as he had opened his new book and begun reading.
However tonight on his birthday and all alone, Adam decided he would try to find a woman with whom to spend some time. Tonight he didn’t want to be alone. He watched and observed all the saloon girls. One with dark hair and a charming grin appealed to him. He watched as she moved around the room cajoling and flirting with the clientele. She artfully dodged attempts to pull her onto a lap or get a kiss from her, but she did it with such style and grace, the men laughed each time as she slipped away from them. When she got to Adam’s table, he sat with his fingers laced over his midsection.
“Well, cowboy, could I get something for you?”
“Another whiskey would be nice.”
She sauntered over to the bar and got his whiskey. She set it on the table, and Adam pulled out a coin and gave it to her.
“Cowboy, you don’t say much.”
“My younger brother told me I talk too much and I think too much. I am trying to mend my ways.”
“My name’s Claire if you need anything.”
Claire walked away and made the rounds of the room again. But now she kept stealing glances over at the cowboy dressed in black who was sitting at the corner table. She made it back to his table as soon as she could.
“Cowboy, every time I look over here, you’re looking at me.”
“I like looking at you.”
Adam could have said that every time he looked at her, she was looking at him, but thought to follow Joe’s advice.
“Well, do you like what you see?”
“Yes, I do. Very much.”
Claire smiled and made her way around the room again, but now each time she looked at Adam, she smiled. She completed her circuit faster that time and got back to his table as quickly as she could.
“I’m almost done with my shift because I started at noon today. If you aren’t busy, perhaps you wouldn’t mind escorting me on a little walk in the moonlight? It’s a mild night for March and the sky is clear and the stars are bright.”
“Claire, the winds are howling, the rain is torrential, and the streets are mud. Perhaps you would like to join me in my room for a drink to help me celebrate my birthday? Maybe we could continue this conversation?”
“Well, I thought you would never ask. Is it really your birthday?”
Adam nodded yes and grinned, and she thought her heart might explode. He was gorgeous when he smiled like that. The dimples and the twinkling eyes were almost too much. Then she noticed the eyelashes. Wow, she was looking forward to this evening more and more. Claire went with Adam to his room. She knew in her heart she could trust him. He had looked a bit dangerous at first in all black but his manner and his eyes let her know that he had an innocent soul.
In his room, Adam ordered a bottle of wine and two glasses. They drank wine and kissed, drank some more and kissed and hugged. Claire leaned into his broad warm chest and Adam wrapped an arm around her as he leaned back so he could watch her face as she talked about her life and how she ended up as a saloon girl and how hopeless it all seemed sometimes. She was saving money to start fresh but wondered if anyone would accept a former saloon girl working in or running a legitimate business. They finished the wine and Claire snuggled deeper into Adam’s embrace. He hadn’t talked much. He had just enjoyed listening to Claire and watching her expressions. She wasn’t used to drinking because all the girls drank tea instead of whiskey in the saloon. She fell asleep in Adam’s arms. He just enjoyed the feeling of having someone in his arms trusting him so much. Eventually he yawned, and then he carried her to the bed, laid her down on one side, and pulled a blanket over her. Then he pulled off his boots and pants and slid under the covers on the other side.
In the morning, Claire awoke with a hairy arm stretched over her stomach and her head on a man’s chest. She was worried and looked up to see Adam watching her.
“I didn’t want to wake you. You looked so peaceful, like an angel.”
“Oh no, we didn’t, ah, we didn’t, oh no.”
“We didn’t make love. You fell asleep and I carried you to the bed so you could sleep and so could I. If you look, you’re still dressed and I’m under the covers and you aren’t. You just have a blanket over you.”
“But how do I know you didn’t, you know?”
“Sweetheart, obviously you never have or you would know that you would know.”
“Oh. Did you have a good birthday anyway?”
“I had a wonderful birthday. Thank you. I’m going out on the stage today. If you want a fresh start, be at the station by noon. I’ll help you get started with a seamstress job in Virginia City if you want. I have a friend who owns a shop. If you want to stay here, that’s your choice. Now, a kiss and you need to get home, and I need to get some breakfast. Way station food has little to recommend it.”
At noon, Adam climbed on the stage with one other passenger. Suddenly, he heard Claire’s voice asking the stage to wait. He pushed open the door and stepped out. She was dressed for travel and had two cases with her. Adam walked inside to buy her a ticket as they loaded her luggage. On the way to Virginia City, they talked and made plans. Claire was excited. They arrived in Virginia City the next day. Hoss was there to meet Adam. Adam introduced him to Claire and told Hoss they needed to drive to Widow Hawkins boarding house first and then to the dress shop owned by their friend Michelle. Once they were the boarding house, he introduced Claire to Clementine Hawkins. Then he and Hoss carried her trunks up to a second floor room.
As they were walking out, Hoss realized Adam was no longer with him. He glanced back and saw his older brother in a very romantic kiss with Claire. Hoss smiled and walked out to the wagon. He was going to be able to inform Joe of this news just when Joe and his Pa had worried that Adam had suffered through another sad and lonely birthday. That Adam was a sly one. And this would be an utter surprise to his Pa too and an ‘udder’ surprise for Joe. Hoss chuckled as he climbed up on the seat of the buckboard to wait for his older brother.
Adam’s Wedding Birthday
For some reason, the year I was to turn thirty-three, Joe decided I had to be married. Why this year was different than others I didn’t know for quite some time. Joe had somehow gotten it in his head after my little escapade with the fiery Maguerite, that as the oldest, I had to marry first. Now Joe was just twenty-one but apparently he was thinking he ought to be getting married sometime over the next few years and didn’t want my bachelorhood to stand in his way. So he was determined to find me a wife. Of course, he roped Hoss into his plan. That happens so often I wonder why he just doesn’t tell Hoss he’s in as soon as he comes up with one of his hare-brained utter nonsense plans. Inexplicably though, our father also was complicit in the scheme.
For weeks when I went to town, I checked the buttons on my pants expecting them to be open or looked in a mirror to see if my face was smudged with dirt. I inspected my clothing for tears or other problems and never found any. But I swear that every woman in town and a few of the men looked me over like a prize stud bull or stallion. It was so emnbarassing that I became reluctant to go to town, but Pa insisted there were things he couldn’t do and that I had to do. I suggested Hoss or Joe go but Pa just wouldn’t accept that they would be able to handle the tasks. So I kept making these trips to town and kept getting the once-over by many women every time I was there.
Apparently my younger brothers had been asking women to be at the dance that would celebrate both Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras this year. He told them that since the people there were going to be wearing masks, the ladies would have to recognize me by something other than my face. He told them I was looking for a wife so they all ought to be sure to dance with me, and the lucky one would get a walk in the moonlight after which the offended father could demand I marry the young lady in question. None of them really appreciated how anxious many women would be to marry into the Cartwright family and the Ponderosa wealth. So my brothers made their assertions and when asked, apparently my father said indeed it was time for his oldest son to marry and endorsed the scheme. My fate was sealed.
On the day of the dance, I wasn’t feeling well. I woke with a slight fever and a headache. I didn’t say anything until it was nearly time to dress for the dance. Then I said I wasn’t feeling well and just wanted to stay home and relax. Well that got all sorts of moaning and groaning from Joe and Hoss, and then a little lecture from Pa about my standoffish behavior making it hard for anyone to get to know me, and how was I ever going to get married and have grandchildren for him running about the place if I wouldn’t even go to the dance. Well I didn’t know why it was so important to everyone, but they pushed me into going. They all seemed inordinately happy about that, but I felt miserable by the time we completed the ride to town. I donned my mask like the dutiful son and brother I was trying to be and hoped to find a nice quiet place to wait out the dance until I could go home to my bed.
Once in the dance however, I never even got a chance to sit down. It seemed every single female there was sure I had promised a dance to each and every one of them. So I danced and danced until I was hot and nauseous and just had to get out of there. I escaped to the quiet moonlight, alone I thought until a sweet voice asked if I was all right. Well I said no. I said I just wanted to go home and get in bed. And then she slapped me. That was it. My body couldn’t take any more. I had to turn and bend over and then I retched and retched. The next thing I knew Mr. Maxwell spun me around and said I had to marry his daughter or go to jail. I had no idea why he thought that but then I heard that same sweet voice say I had asked her to share my bed. Now nothing like that had happened but what can you say when a woman accuses you of something like that? Well I said I was sick and didn’t want Miss Maxwell in my bed as I just wanted to sleep. Then she slapped me again. My father walked up at that point, and Mr. Maxwell told him that I had besmirched his daughter or something like that. He expected satisfaction or a wedding, and my father assured him that a wedding would be far preferable to a duel. So I sit in my room now on Sunday wondering how I am ever going to get out of marrying that little gold digger on Saturday.
Hop Sing brought my meal to my room because I just couldn’t tolerate the smells coming from the kitchen and those platters of food on the table. He brought me broth and coffee and it was all I could do to keep those down. I said I was sick and Pa said I was just nervous and I would feel better on Saturday. I couldn’t imagine how that wedding would make me feel any better, and there were lots of reasons it might make me feel worse. Finally he did agree to send for the doctor, but Doctor Martin was out of town and his colleague, Doctor Lucille Mayer from Carson City, showed up instead on Monday.
Now I have nothing against lady doctors but at this point, I didn’t want to be any where near a woman. She was offended thinking I didn’t like her, and I actually felt bad about that so I explained the whole sorry tale as far as I knew it. She was sympathetic then and put her cool hand on my forehead and said I did indeed have a fever. She checked me over and said I was sick. Now I had been trying to tell everyone that for two days, and she was the first to believe me, well other than Hop Sing who kept talking about the foolishment of my father and brothers. She told me to get undressed and get into bed and stay there. I felt so happy I wanted to kiss her. I took a good look at her then and decided I really wouldn’t mind kissing her either. She must have seen the look in my eye because she excused herself and went downstairs to inform my family that I was in fact sick.
Well Lucille came back the next day and the next. I was feeling better by the second day but she insisted she needed to see me to be sure. When she came back again on that Wednesday, I was sure she was as interested in me as I was interested in her. Then on Thursday, she startled me and made me happier than I had been all week. She said I couldn’t get married on Saturday if I was already married. We planned and conspired, we laughed, and we worked out a timetable. She said we could elope. I said I would pick her up on Friday afternoon and we would go to Carson City and get married. Then I kissed her. She was surprised at first but then she kissed me back. Kissing her was very pleasurable and soon I knew we better stop or I might not want to stop. So reluctantly, I let her go. She sighed. It was a sweet sound.
On Friday, I told my father I had to go to town to take care of some things for my wedding. He looked so pleased. I wasn’t lying. It was just a different wedding than he expected me to be preparing for. Hoss slapped me on the back and Joe chuckled. They thought their scheme had been a wonderful success. That is, they thought that until I didn’t come home Friday night, and Saturday at the church, everyone was waiting, and I was still a no-show. Soon, there were all sorts of people looking for me: my father, my brothers, Mr. Maxwell, and the Maxwell boys, all nine of them.
They found me, or rather us, at Lucille’s house in Carson City enjoying my, or rather our, honeymoon. And enjoy it I did. We talked, we played games, we read, we had wine, and we talked about our families, our plans, and our dreams. The more I got to know about Lucille, the more I thought I might really fall in love with her. Now my father asked me how I could fall in love with a woman in just five days. I asked him how he thought that was any worse than getting railroaded into a marriage to someone I didn’t even like. I did remind him that there was a possibility that there could be a grandchild already on the way, and he got that funny dreamy kind of look on his face and said something like ‘Well, what’s done is done’. Mr. Maxwell wasn’t so easily mollified though so I mentioned that I had two bachelor brothers, and his eyes lit up.
So, anyway, this year on my birthday, I will be married a month, supposedly. Joe and Hoss finally spilled the beans on their scheme when they asked me how they could avoid marrying Miss Maxwell. I told them how I did it, but neither one seemed inclined to pursue that solution. Well, it’s not my problem anymore. Lucille and I will tell everyone soon that we faked the elopement and never consummated our relationship. Although I am beginning to wonder if perhaps we ought to think about actually getting married, but that’s another story. For now, we’ll just leave it at how another of Joe’s hare-brained utter nonsense schemes backfired again.
Should We? Really?
Now I can see that Lucille is utterly shocked. Apparently she had not reached the same conclusion I had. I was due back from working the high pastures by Friday to celebrate my thirty-third birthday with my family and was expecting to head to Carson City to spend some time with Lucille for the rest of the weekend. Unfortunately on Thursday, Hoss and I found a stream completely blocked by deadfall and decided to clear it because the water being dammed was creating a flood hazard. We were just going to remove some of the deadfall and let the water start to flow out and drain the large reservoir that had developed. Things didn’t happen the way we planned. As soon as the water started to drain, the current pulled part of the deadfall into the flow and soon the whole thing started to collapse and wash out. If it all gave way, there were men and cattle down below who were in danger so we fired our pistols as a warning. I climbed up on a pile of boulders and logs to try to get the attention of the men down below. Before I could, the whole pile gave way because unknown to me, the floodwaters had undermined the gravel the whole thing was sitting on. Well I washed into the stream and Hoss lassoed me and pulled me out but not before I hurt my ankle rather badly and acquired a fair amount of cuts, scrapes, and bruises.
So Hoss had to get me home, and Hop Sing bandaged my ankle thoroughly. I sat in my blue chair in front of the fireplace with my leg propped up on the ottoman. I wasn’t going anywhere for a while. I was very disappointed and I guess my family knew that just by looking at me. I had planned to tell them about the ruse that Lucille and I had pulled off, and then I would escape to Carson City while their tempers cooled. I wasn’t about to tell them that and then stay here trapped by my injury and unable to avoid the lectures, the dirty looks, and the disappointment. The worst part was really that I was enjoying my weekends with Lucille. She was a fascinating woman with a gift for conversation although some would call her argumentative. I loved my time with her. Because she had a medical practice in Carson City, I had been able to tell Pa that we just hadn’t worked out a permanent solution to our living arrangement. I think he was worried I would move to Carson City to live with Lucille. If we had really been married, that is in fact what I would likely have done.
Friday was my birthday and the weather was atrocious. Thunder and lightning accompanied periods of heavy rainfall. The guests who had been invited to be there that evening were not likely to come out here in this weather. There were things that needed to be done and with me hobbled, Pa decided to ride out with Hoss and Joe. I expected them to show up thoroughly bedraggled and miserable by the end of the day. Hoss and Joe walked in just as I expected, but Pa followed them just a bit later with quite an unexpected surprise. He had gone and fetched Lucille from Carson City. He thought of course that being ‘married’, we would want nothing more than to spend the weekend together. Ah, the logistics of this may be a bit tricky. Dinner, cake, presents, and all went well although Lucille seemed a bit cool toward some of our guests. It had amazed me that any of them had come with the weather conditions the way they were. But then they were gone and it was bedtime. Of course, everyone expected that Lucille and I would head to my room for the night. We did, but we had quite the discussion when we got behind that closed door. I found that she can be quite forceful in her speaking even while whispering.
I felt so badly for Adam. He has had so many birthdays that were less than he deserved. This year I thought it was going to be the best one he ever had, and then he got hurt. It’s hard enough for him that he only gets to see his wife on weekends. I fear that he will move to Carson City because I just can’t see Lucille giving up her medical practice nor can I believe that Adam will want to spend only weekends with his wife. And I want grandchildren too, and if they’re only together for the weekends, I may have to wait a very long time yet before there are any. Joe and Hoss have managed to avoid marrying that Maxwell girl and neither one seems to feel any urgency about marrying so Adam is my only hope at this point. Once I realized he wouldn’t be able to travel with those injuries, I decided to go to Carson City to bring his wife to the Ponderosa for the weekend. She hasn’t been here since she was treating Adam for his illness a month ago. Perhaps if she spends some time here, she will be willing to live here. I can hope anyway.
I was so happy to see that I utterly surprised my son with my plan. The look on his face was priceless when Lucille walked in the door. Now I had to spend a lot of time convincing her to come. She had a seemingly endless list of reasons why she couldn’t, but I had an answer to every one of them until she gave up and agreed to pack a valise and stay with us for the weekend. We had another one of Hop Sing’s delicious wedding dinners with a cake decorated with red frosting. Hop Sing said it was for good luck and happiness. He put eggs in the noodles he served too. Noodles he said were for longevity and eggs for new life and fertility. Well I certainly hope he is correct. It warmed my heart a few moments ago to see my son and his wife heading up to bed together. He may be limping but that won’t bother him in bed. My goodness, I shouldn’t be thinking like that. I’ll just have another brandy and think about grandchildren. That brings a smile to my heart every time lately.
The suggestion I had that utterly shocked Lucille was something I had been contemplating ever since our fake honeymoon weekend. We were becoming good friends, but I felt more and more that she was special. I was falling in love with the lady. I’m not sure she was doing the same based on her reaction to my suggestion that we should make our sham wedding a real one. She started talking about the guests at my party. In particular, she mentioned Michelle, Barbara, and Claire which made me smile. Lucille was jealous. If anything, that told me she did have feelings for me even if she hadn’t been thinking that way like I had. However she had some concerns. She asked me if I ever kissed those unmarried ladies, and I had to admit I did. Then she said ‘Aha!’ like that confirmed her hypothesis that I wasn’t in love with her at all.
Just to prove a point, I took Lucille in my arms then, and I put one hand on her lower back and pulled her into me until her body molded to mine. I put my other hand in her hair and pulled her face to mine and brushed my lips over hers. I kissed her then. I kissed her with more and more passion as she responded to me. I kissed her until she pushed away just a little to catch her breath she said. She felt my reaction to her I am sure. I looked her in the eyes and saw that she was focused on me entirely. I said I never kissed any of those ladies like I had just kissed her. The reason was that they were friends, but she was a hell of a lot more than that. Then I kissed her again. She didn’t argue any more, but she didn’t answer my question either.
Well we didn’t settle anything that night. We did sleep together, but that’s all we did. I did rather enjoy waking with Lucille in my arms. I needed a shave and she needed to brush her hair, and yet we awakened and smiled at each other. I kissed her and she kissed me back. I was thinking I was on my way to convincing her that we ought to be married, but I didn’t want to force the issue and scare her away. So I just suggested that we could stay in bed for a time and talk. She said she would like that. So we did what we had been doing for a month on Saturdays and Sundays except this time we were in bed as we talked of our hopes, our dreams, our plans. Finally though I was getting too uncomfortable. I really needed to use the chamberpot. Lucille said it must have been my suggestion because suddenly she had a great need to use it too. Now this was going to be the most awkward part of this arrangement. The night before I had turned my back as Lucille undressed and slipped into her gown. Then she did the same as I put on a nightshirt. I don’t like wearing them but I did it for her peace of mind. However neither of us had a plan for using the chamberpot that didn’t involve some embarrassment for the other. She said I should have told my family we weren’t married and none of this would have happened. I said she could have done that when my father showed up to bring her here.
At that point, we got out of bed but I just looked at Lucille and asked why she had not told my father. She had to know how awkward this was going to be. She had to know that we would be expected to share a bedroom and a bed. So I asked her point blank why she didn’t say something, and her answer floored me. She said it was because she wanted the story to be true. She wanted me to love her and to be married to her. I was so happy, I picked her up, and then disaster struck. My ankle couldn’t take it, and I collapsed to the floor in great pain and Lucille fell on top of me. I had forgotten all about my ankle in my excitement over her statement.
We were having breakfast and being quiet so as not to disturb the newlywed couple upstairs when there was a terrible crash. Joe raced up the stairs and Hoss and I were right behind him. We got to Adam’s door and hesitated. We had no idea what we might find so I knocked and asked if we could come in please. I heard what sounded like a yes so I opened the door. Lucille was kneeling by Adam who was on the floor groaning. She was examining his ankle, and he was complaining in between groans that she was hurting instead of helping. That isn’t what surprised me so much though. Adam was wearing a nightshirt! Lucille had on a full length flannel gown. Now it has been many years since I was married but I still remember the first months of marital bliss. This certainly didn’t fit any of the expectations I had. However, we helped Adam into the bed and Lucille unwrapped and then rewrapped his ankle. We left them together then and walked downstairs. Hoss said what I had been thinking, and Joe wondered the same thing apparently.
Hoss asked us both if we thought Adam and Lucille were really married because they definitely had not been acting like lovers and apparently not dressing that way either when they were together. We had yet to see the two of them kiss. I started to get a bit more suspicious especially considering the timing of their ‘wedding’ and how conveniently it had eliminated something that Adam had considered a major problem. However they had spent the night together and had apparently slept in the same bed. They were up there now behind closed doors together. Over the years, though, I have come to realize just how clever my eldest son can be, and I knew that a wedding hoax was not beyond his capabilities. That one never worried too much about things like that except about getting caught. I started to think of a way that I could trip him up if indeed this was a sham marriage. When I mentioned all of this to Hoss and Joe, their eyes lit up with the possibilities so now I have two allies as well.
First of all, we are going to question that simple gold band Adam gave Lucille. Now it seems to me that a man like Adam given to grand gestures would certainly have presented his wife with a much more elaborate and expensive ring or ring set by now if he were really married. When we saw him later, we would push him on that issue first. Joe mentioned a shivaree as something else to try, and we may do just that too.
Apparently Pa is getting suspicious. After Lucille and I talked more and came to an understanding, we held a blanket for each other and used the chamberpot. It would likely happen again in the future so we figured we could just go ahead and get used to it. Then we dressed still showing consideration for the other. We planned to go to town to do a bit of shopping. When we got downstairs, Pa and my brothers were obviously up to something. They made a big show of looking at Lucille’s gold band. Pa might have pulled that off but my two brothers aren’t that good at acting, and they were too bold in their comments especially Joe. Lucille shrugged off their comments though so for the time being, we’re safe. I asked Hoss if he could hitch up the buggy for me because Lucille and I wanted to go to town. He did, and we left. Lucille snuggled up to me as we drove but mentioned the odd behavior of my family that morning. I explained that I thought Pa and perhaps my brothers were getting suspicious of our ‘wedding’ and were plotting to find us out. Lucille just laughed. It was a sweet laugh.
We completed our shopping in town and were quite pleased with what we found. We had lunch at the International House, and then went to see the minister about ‘renewing our vows’ which we had never really taken. So he got the whole story out of us and took very good care of us. The next day at church services, we would ‘renew’ our vows in front of family and friends. A minister can be quite confidential so we didn’t hide anything from him. He was very understanding. We left and rode back to the Ponderosa in a joyous mood. We talked and laughed. I would have taken Lucille to the lake except my ankle was hurting a lot and I wanted to get home. I told her about it and that soon I would take her there for a picnic.
Well Adam and Lucille came back from town and she’s sporting a ring with a large diamond surrounded by emeralds now. That was just too easy. We need to push Adam a lot harder than that to get to the truth of this matter. So tonight we are going to follow Joe’s plan. He and Hoss are going to organize the hands and as soon as Adam and Lucille head for his bedroom, it’s going to start. He better lean out that window without his shirt on or we’re all coming inside to knock on that door and get him to tell us why he faked his own wedding.
The two of them put on quite a show for us tonight. They couldn’t take their eyes off one another. He was touching her or she was touching him. They were laying it on pretty thick. We looked at each other when they weren’t noticing and winked. We had them running scared and they were trying so hard to make it look good. They retired early trying to throw us off like they wanted us to believe they couldn’t wait to get up there to that bedroom to be together.
Outside the men all got tools and pieces of metal which they all started to bang together. There must have been two dozen men making a heck of a racket and there was no response from Adam’s bedroom. We called his name and banged some more and there was nothing. So we did as Joe suggested and marched in the house and up the stairs prepared to do our shivaree right outside his door. Once everyone got there, Joe threw the door open so we could confront the couple about their sham marriage. Well what we saw caused everyone of us to freeze in place. Some at the back wondered what had happened but others hissed that they should be quiet and get the heck out of there. Adam had grabbed the blanket to cover the two of them when the door banged open, but that didn’t stop everyone who was close from seeing a heck of a lot. Hoss reached in and pulled the door closed. I was speechless. Was there an apology big enough to cover this transgression? I certainly hoped so. Hoss said he thought he might have to make a trip restocking the line shacks, and Joe volunteered to go with him. I absolutely forbid them to go. I could not imagine facing Adam and Lucille by myself after this fiasco.
Nothing could have been as shocking as what happened to Lucille and me on our wedding night. Oh yes, the minister, when he found out all the details, said we needed to be married right then and there so our renewal of our vows on Sunday in church in front of family and friends was going to be exactly that. We got the ring, had our lunch, and then we had the wedding. We had done things in an unorthodox manner but had acted with honor and treated each other with respect during that entire month. What my family did violated respect and honor. I couldn’t believe that happened. If I had to guess, that would be another one of Joe’s hare-brained utterly ridiculous plans. Why my father and Hoss would agree to it, I had no idea. Convincing Lucille that we could try again was difficult. She insisted I block the door. I pushed my desk up against it first, but she decided that wasn’t enough. So I pushed the desk back and moved my dresser in front of the door. It would stay there until we decided to leave the room the next day. Finally we did get to enjoy some marital bliss. I felt happier than I could remember being. I was finally married and tied to one person for the rest of my life and couldn’t have been more content with my life. To see love and desire in her eyes and then being able to give those to her as well made me feel complete.
The next morning we packed up Lucille’s bags and then I packed enough for a couple of weeks. Neither of us wanted to be in this house for a while. We assumed that everyone here would understand why. I might never in fact live in this house again although I certainly would visit from time to time. I was very close to telling Lucille that I would make her house in Carson City our permanent residence. We had some time to discuss all of that of course. First we would go to church to renew our vows and then travel to Carson City. All went as expected and after church and receiving the congratulations of many friends who had not met Lucille before, we climbed into our carriage and began our journey together. I couldn’t resist giving Pa a big grin before we left. The look on his face was priceless. Lucille peeked back and giggled into my shoulder and I had to chuckle too. Loving this woman is so much fun.
The red in my face just wouldn’t leave. Every time I thought about what we did, I felt my face get hot all over again. Adam just waved me off each time I tried to apologize. He wasn’t ready to forgive and forget yet. I went to church and watched my oldest son and his wife renew their vows in front of all our family and friends. Some of the ladies looked just a little sad but most had that teary joyful look that women get at weddings and births. Once all the handshaking and congratulating was done, Adam and Lucille climbed into the carriage for the trip to Carson City. He would be gone at least two weeks. I hoped he could find a way to forgive us during that time. Just before he snapped the reins, he looked back and gave me the biggest damn grin he could have given. Then he turned and headed the carriage out of town. I could swear it looked like he and Lucille were laughing. I looked at Hoss and Joe and they stared back at me. What was that grin about anyway? I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders before I told my younger sons we were just going to have to trust him. Why, oh why, couldn’t I have had three sons like Hoss?
I Gave You My Heart
Sometimes I wonder why it seems there are more storms on Adam’s birthday than on Hoss’ and Joe’s combined. Then I remember that his birthday falls in March when winter storms can still blow down out of the Sierras or early spring storms can sweep up from the southwest. Things are much calmer usually for my younger sons’ birthday celebrations and I’m not just talking about the weather.
There were many years when I felt sad on Adam’s birthday because it was the anniversary of my first wife’s death as well. As I learned how profoundly that knowledge had affected my oldest son, I tried always to make his birthday feel special but rarely succeeded. He carried the knowledge that his mother had died giving him life as a heavy load. Last year, finally, I thought he had set that burden down. He was married, and I’m still not sure exactly when that happened, but I have come to know that he is in fact legally married. Our minister has assured me so even though the confidentiality of his ministry doesn’t allow him to give me the details. I saw my son vow his life and troth to Lucille and she to him in church with their union blessed by the minister. So his birthday should be a celebration now of his marriage to Lucille and the future they have.
Adam moved to Carson City to live in the home owned there by his bride. He’s here a lot of course to share the work, but has some other jobs he’s doing independent of the Ponderosa as well. Lucille doesn’t come here much. One reason is that she has a busy medical practice. Of course she feels a bit uncomfortable around all of us because of that unfortunate incident a year ago. I try to tell her that we have all forgotten about it, but that vision is seared into my brain and will never fade I am afraid. Every time she visits, I feel my face get hot and know that I am turning red with embarrassment. Adam did say eventually that he could forgive me, but of course wondered why I would ever have followed one of Joe’s schemes knowing how they always turned out because Joe’s plans always involve more enthusiasm than common sense. Then I reminded him that he had been roped in by his youngest brother too, and all I had to say was Abigail and he dropped that line of conversation.
Adam and Lucille arrived late yesterday, and I had hoped that we would have all sorts of activities to keep all of us busy, but it is storming out and we are all trapped here in the house and will be forced to engage in conversation. The same thing happened on Christmas but the tree, the decorations, the party, and the presents allowed us to avoid discussing anything that might stir up bad memories. I have a bad feeling about this weekend and I just can’t shake it. I installed a lock on Adam’s bedroom door almost a year ago as a gesture of good faith. I’m not sure Lucille thinks it’s sturdy enough as if she fears we may try to break the door down or something. I just have to keep Joe away from her for the next forty-eight hours, and this may still be the best birthday Adam ever has had.
Being married to Lucille has been a challenge and a joy beyond description. I rest on my side in my old room gazing down at the quiet repose of my wife who looks like a cherub in her sleep. I used to say angel but her condition has caused her cheeks to be a bit fuller as well as her bosom and she looks more like a buxom cherub than an ascetic angel now. She would not be happy to hear me describe her so but I love the changes I see in her. She is carrying our child and this is the weekend we plan to tell my family. Lucille has written to her parents giving them the news. They seem to accept me now although they were not happy a year ago to find their daughter had married a cowboy. They visited us over the summer and apparently I made a good enough impression that they are willing to tolerate me as a son-in-law. News of a grandchild on the way may improve their disposition toward me, at least I fervently hope so.
The wind is blowing hard outside and every now and then, a pinecone or other small object hits the house, but my wife sleeps soundly through it all. She said she sleeps that way because I’m here beside her. She told me that every little sound in her house used to make her alert and often unable to return to sleep, but now she assumes I will take care of anything that happens so she sleeps well. That has a great appeal to my ego as a man, but also means that some nights, I have trouble sleeping because of the sounds and what they may mean. I have to keep Lucille safe because she is more important to me than my own life.
That line of thought brings me back to what I first thought about this morning: how can I make sure that my family does nothing more to harm their relationship with my wife. It is often uncomfortable when we are all together. My wife thinks my family is odd. I assure her that the few things she has experienced or heard about are just minor deviances from a perfectly normal family. I always remind her that people don’t talk about people being normal. It is being abnormal that draws attention and discussion so of course the stories she has heard are all about the odd things that have happened. So she has heard about Hoss chasing leprechauns, Old Sheba, Hoss trying to fly, the bull fight that wasn’t, Abigail Jones, and a number of other episodes better left out of any conversation with her. But of course, any time friends of the family are around, they like to try to delight her with some story or other that she hasn’t heard yet. Today there will be a party with many of my old friends. I gird myself figuratively to do battle with the stories they will tell but as it turns out, it is the stories about me told by my brothers that create the next crisis for me but I could never have anticipated that.
Adam’s here with the missus for the weekend. I really like her, but I think the only Cartwright she likes is Adam. I can’t say as I blame her much considering we walked in on them when they was, you know, being like married couples do when they’re in their bedroom. This weekend though I am gonna try really hard to be nice and get that little gal to like me. There’s another reason of course. That little gal, Claire, that Adam done brought to Virginia City from Placerville and got working in that shop that Miss Michelle owns: well we have been seeing each other. Now I’m thinking that I might be asking her to be Mrs. Hoss Cartwright soon, and I would like my whole family to like that idea. The only way it’s gonna happen though is if Lucille decides we are worth having as family. I’m hoping to pop that question to her today, and if she says yes, then I can tell everybody cause the whole family and all our good friends will be here to celebrate Adam’s birthday of course.
Well that party was going really well by the middle of the afternoon. The weather had let up enough that all the invited guests were here for the party. Hop Sing had lots of good food set out and there was another one of those big chocolate cakes with the red frosting he likes to make for Adam’s birthdays. Pa made his punch too, and I’m afraid all that sweet juice in there concealed just how much alcohol was in that concoction. Claire had a bit more than she oughta, so I grabbed her coat and mine and walked her out onto the porch for a bit. We sat on the bench and she leaned into me with such trust, I couldn’t help myself. I asked her right then and there if she would marry me. She said yes and I just whooped and grabbed her and kissed her pretty darn good right then and there. Then she said something that just got my blood boiling. Adam had said they was just friends, and I reminded him of the kiss I saw. He said she was a pretty little thing and he liked her, but he only kissed her. Now he never courted her or nothing so I accepted his word for that. Well Miss Claire said, ‘Wow, slept with one brother and now marrying the other! Who would ever believe that? You know Hoss I have never seen a man who could grow his beard that much just overnight’ which made my temper flare like the hottest summer day in Death Valley.
After Claire said that, I stood up with my fists clenched and headed inside to confront my older brother. Claire called after me asking why I was going, but I figured she really ought to know why so I just ignored her question. She followed me inside, but I wasn’t in the mood to talk with her at the moment. I walked up to Adam and pushed him back. He looked at me like he had no idea why I was mad but he shoulda. I reminded him that he told me he never slept with Claire, and he said well he never said that, he said he never made love to her and that’s a big difference. That’s when I hit him. He flew over that silly settee and hit his head on the table in front of the fireplace and he didn’t get up right away. When he did, he just sat on that table. Lucille came over to see how he was doing, but she looked about as angry as I did apparently.
What is it about my brothers that make them hit me before they ask me what happened? This could have all been sorted out so easily if Hoss had just thought to ask me quietly. So now it was too late to do it that way. Everyone at the party had heard what he said. I had to explain so I said she was fully clothed and I was under the covers and nothing happened. Then he asked where that was and I said in a hotel room in Placerville at which point I could hear a collective gasp from our assembled guests. Claire wasn’t happy either because only Michelle and I knew she had been a saloon girl. Now she had done that job without losing her honor or her self-respect, but people would assume the opposite if they found out what her job had been. I had to think fast, but the bump on my head was making me dizzy and my thought processes were foggy. So I grimaced and put my head down which apparently made everyone assume the worst. That unfortunately for me included my wife. She wouldn’t hit me, but there were ways she could hurt me that no one else could.
Well Hoss wrapped his arms around Claire to keep her safe from the evil that was me apparently. Pa looked so disappointed, and Joe actually looked a bit gleeful that it was me in this predicament instead of him. Our guests quickly said their goodbyes and made their escape. Claire was staying in one of the guest bedrooms upstairs so Hoss walked her up there. Pa and Joe helped Hop Sing straighten up. Lucille left to get some things she said, but she never came back downstairs. Hop Sing went to bed as did Joe. I continued to sit on that table until Pa headed up the stairs. He said in his experience, waiting only made it worse. So I dutifully followed up the stairs. Pa gave me a sorrowful look and went into his bedroom. I tried to open my bedroom door but it was locked. I knocked softly but there was no answer. I didn’t want to walk into the wrong guest bedroom by mistake, but I really needed to lay down so I decided to use the guest bedroom downstairs. Who would know that falling down half a flight of stairs would get your wife to listen to you?
I heard a terrible thumping and just knew something bad had happened. I was hoping as I grabbed my dressing gown that Hoss was not beating his older brother. One or two punches from Hoss could have devastating results, and he had already hit Adam once this night. As I left my bedroom, I was glad to see Hoss coming out of his room and Joe was coming out of his. When Claire and Lucille emerged, then I knew the sounds I heard must have been Adam. When we reached the top of the stairs, we saw him sprawled on the floor at the bottom of the stairs. To this day, I can’t tell you how it happened, but Lucille was down at his side before any of us got as far as the landing. There really wasn’t room to go any further because we would have had to step over Adam and/or his wife to do it. Lucille was checking him over and found that luckily he had not broken anything.
As Lucille cradled Adam’s head in her lap, she caressed his face. Then Lucille said something that made me sit on the first step down from the landing. She said she couldn’t bear to lose him and their child needed a father. A father! They were going to have a baby. Now I had noticed that she looked a little fuller, but it had been a year and nothing had been said about a baby until now. Adam’s eyes were squeezed shut but he said he loved her and had given her his heart. He said he never loved Claire and had been honest when he said he had only kissed her and never touched her any other way. He said they talked and drank wine just like the two of them had done for a month when they were pretending to be married and nothing had happened. Aha, they had been scamming us. But wait a minute, were they really married now? Lucille said she knew but her jealousy had gotten the better of her. I looked back and Claire seemed happy that Lucille would be jealous of her even as she stood with her arm wrapped in Hoss’. Hoss just looked sickly. Joe seemed to be enjoying this disaster that no one could blame him for in the least, which of course was a rare thing.
Then Lucille looked up at me and a shocked expression came over her face as she quickly turned back to Adam who had finally opened his eyes. Adam glanced up at me to see what had disturbed his wife so much, and his head fell back in her lap as he laughed uproariously. He finally got some control and said to Lucille that we were even now, and then he started laughing all over again even though he said it hurt. All of a sudden it dawned on me and I stood abruptly and almost ran to my room. I had been in the midst of dressing for bed when Adam had fallen. I had grabbed my robe but had not yet put on my nightshirt. Because I was sitting, Lucille was the only woman who had now seen parts of me that only my wives had previously seen. How could I ever face her again? At that moment of course, I realized how she had felt for the past year. Perhaps, our shared torment would bring us together. After all, she was carrying my first grandchild! All in all, it was probably one of the better birthdays Adam has had. No one was sad, and he was laughing.
Headache Not Heartache
A lot had happened in the year since Adam’s last birthday party. He and Lucille were building a house on Ponderosa land. It wasn’t the first choice Adam would have made, but was rather a compromise location so that Lucille could continue her medical practice. They had hoped to be in the house for the winter, but an unseasonably cold and snowy winter arrived unusually early. By March, Adam was anxious to get back to work on his house so he could make it his home. Although Adam enjoyed immensely being married and living with Lucille and now their son too, he found he did not enjoy living in the city as much as he thought he would. He missed the morning sounds of crickets and birds. He missed the quiet evenings when one could just sit outside and stare at the stars. He had also of course married a doctor and wanted to continue supporting her in that. Lucille already had to make compromises because of her pregnancy and then taking care of her baby.
So as Ben and Adam’s brothers made plans for his thirty-fifth birthday party, they realized it might be the last one. In the future, Adam could have a party at his home or celebrate any way he saw fit. Therefore, Joseph convinced them that this party had to be the most elaborate ever. The weather was mild for a change. Adam’s parties were so often confined to the indoors because of storms and cold winds. But it was mild enough to have the party outdoors which meant more people could be invited and it could be a very big shindig.
With Hop Sing’s help, Joe acquired some powerful fireworks. Then he and Hoss rigged them up on the roof of the house. Joe had gotten some primer cord from one of the mines and strung that along all the tubes for the fireworks and then down the side of the house.
“One match, one match, Hoss, and we are going to have the biggest, grandest fireworks show ever, and all for Adam’s birthday. Boy, he is going to be surprised!”
“Joe, you sure that it’s safe to have them set up like this? I don’t want the roof to start on fire or nothing.”
“Nah, we wet down the roof just like we were told to do. It’ll be fine. Don’t you worry.”
“Now, ya gotta remember there’s gonna be two babies in the house so we have to do this early enough so that the babies aren’t upstairs in their cradles when this all goes shooting off.”
“Aw, don’t worry so much. It’s still March. It gets dark pretty early yet. We’ll set em off as soon as the sun goes down.”
Hoss felt a little better about that, but he was still worried. Somehow these things that Joe planned just never happened the way they were supposed to. He and Claire had welcomed their little blonde daughter just a month earlier. This would be the first time that Claire was socializing since the labor, and Hoss hoped she would have a good time. They had been married just over nine months when the baby was born. Hoss knew people were saying that it stretched the bounds of propriety to have a baby so soon, but at least the calendar counters would have seen the birth was over nine months after the wedding. Adam and Lucille had had their son last August so he was seven months old already. Hoss heard his Pa calling and went to help move some tables.
Just before the guests began arriving in the late afternoon, Adam and Lucille arrived with Aaron. Ben was so happy to see them. He and Lucille had made peace not so much because they were ‘even’ as Adam had claimed but because they had to join forces against the incessant teasing by Joe and Hoss. The four of them went into the house to see Claire and baby Gabrielle. Candy was helping Joe hang big colorful paper lanterns and each had a small candle inside. Joe tossed some matches to Candy so he could start lighting the candles on one side and Joe climbed up the ladder on the other side of the yard to light those there. Hop Sing brought out the big birthday cakes as centerpieces for the food table. They were chocolate with red frosting for good luck. Clementine Hawkins and Roy Coffee arrived together with some of the other ladies from the church. Roy had been kind enough to offer to drive them in his carriage. Right behind him was Doctor Paul Martin and his wife. The party was off to a good start.
Up on a ladder nest to the house, Candy was lighting the last of the lanterns when the match burned his finger. He dropped it in his haste to get down from the ladder and plunge his burned finger in the water trough. Unfortunately the match fell on the end of the primer cord laying on the ground next to the porch. The cord started to burn but no one saw it. Within minutes, there was a shocking barrage as the fireworks on the roof started to fire. There was no way to stop it. The Cartwrights inside came rushing out to see what had happened.
Candy had been so shocked by the sudden explosive noise that he had jumped back right into the end of the food table upending it, which sent the cake airborne right into Ben’s chest. Clementine Hawkins went rushing to Ben’s aid but slipped on some cake and ended up falling forward and pushing Lucille into the horse trough. Adam managed to snag Aaron out of her grasp just before she went under. Claire came running to aid Lucille after handing off Gabrielle to Hoss. She got there about the time that Candy did and they collided and Claire collapsed into the water trough on top of Lucille who was just coming up for air. Clementine had managed to stand but had slipped and fallen again as she walked toward Ben and had landed on top of him crushing the remnants of the cake between them. Joe had gotten to the water trough and with Candy’s help pulled up Claire so they could pull Lucille from the bottom of the horse trough. There wasn’t much water left in it by this time.
Lucille and Claire stood and glared at Joe. Hoss and Adam stepped back. There might be more fireworks although of a different type soon and they wanted to be at a safe distance. Lucille advanced on Joe who moved backwards apologizing and apologizing. Finally, he just turned and ran.
Standing and watching were the Martins, Roy, and the other guests who had been arriving and were silent and afraid to laugh and absolutely dumbfounded on what they could do to help. Lucille and Claire stomped off to the house. Ben and Clementine finally were able to stand. Ben told Clementine to go into the washroom and Hop Sing would bring some towels, warm water, and clothing for her. Then he gave a glare to Hoss and walked into the house himself. Adam and Hoss assured the guests that the mess could be cleaned up and there was still lots of time to have a party. People pitched in to help, laughing and talking, and conversing among themselves that there was another great story to tell about a Cartwright party.
Hoss and Adam went to sit on the porch with their babies afraid to go inside and face their wives. Adam especially was worried that Lucille might never want to come to the Ponderosa ranch house again.
Hoss and Adam
“We’re quite a pair, ain’t we Adam?”
“We sure are. We have the best of it and the worst of it. We have beautiful loving wives and beautiful babies. And then: we have Joe.”
“It’s not so bad really. People are having a good time. There’s still plenty of food and Hop Sing made two cakes because of all the people we invited, so there’s still a birthday cake to eat. Joe didn’t mean to do no harm. He just wanted to make this a party you would never forget.”
“Well he certainly managed that part of it. I will never forget this!”
“Adam, we are lucky though, ain’t we?”
“Yes, we have headaches like this instead of heartaches.”
“Yep, better this way.”
“Yes, we sure did shatter that curse, didn’t we, Hoss? Regina, Ruth, Rebecca, Sue Ellen, Laura.”
“Yeah, Helen, Margie, Regan. No need to name them all is there. The only ones that matter are Claire and Lucille.”
“Yes, and I’ve slept with both of them.”
Hoss jerked his head around to see Adam’s face. His older brother was grinning at him.
“Did I ever tell you how sorry I was for hitting you last year?”
Adam nodded and put his hand on Hoss’ shoulder.
“Let’s go inside and see if there is anything we can do to help.”
“What about Joe?”
“Oh, let’s let him hide out here a while and worry. I don’t want to make it too easy on him. It only encourages him to do more of this stuff.”
“And that boy don’t need no encouragement.”
Hoss and Adam walked into the house with smiles on their faces and babies in their arms. Life was good.