Summary: As surprising as it may be, an attack by a cougar leads to some wonderful changes for the Cartwright family especially for Hoss and Joe.
Word Count: 15283
All right, this wasn’t the type of position that Adam enjoyed, but it wasn’t like he had gotten himself into it on purpose, and there was nothing he could do about any of it at the moment. He hadn’t felt the panic or the pain until after the animal was dead. He had been too busy trying to push those teeth away from his head and neck while smelling that fetid breath that nearly made him gag even as he fought for his life. He had been stunned when the cat slammed into him and then again when he hit the ground only to have the cat pounce on him immediately. With no time to think, he only did what he could grabbing what he could manage to grab and trying to force the animals head back, but the cat was powerful and bit down on his arm even as he heard a roar from Hoss’ rifle up close. Then the weight of the animal dropped on him. That was when the panic actually hit as he couldn’t breathe and the pain from his injuries began to penetrate his awareness as well. When Hoss pulled the cat away from him, he couldn’t help the tears that pooled in his eyes.
Up early that morning, Adam and Hoss had been hunting antelope when a large puma leaped from a boulder above and behind Adam knocking him from his horse. Sport predictably had run in that unexpected attack leaving Adam at the mercy of the hungry cat. Luckily Hoss had been quick thinking and acting, as he shot the cat just as it bit down on Adam’s arm so that it could go for Adam’s neck. Unfortunately, Hoss had to dismount and run up close to them in order to make sure he shot the cat and not Adam. In the battle with the cat, Adam had suffered a blow to the head from the fall, some scratches on his arms and chest from the puma’s claws, and that superficial bite on his left arm. As he struggled to fight off the cat, his back had seized up on him as well making it extremely difficult now for him to move. Now injuries like those were something that unfortunately he like the other Cartwrights seemed to have to suffer through fairly often. When Hoss pulled that cat off of him, all Adam could do was moan and then he squeezed his eyes shut. He knew his life was in Hoss’ hands.
“Dadburnit, Adam, lookit what you let that dadblamed cat do to ya.”
In a forced whisper, Adam answered his brother. “I didn’t let him do it.”
“Oh, ya know what I mean.”
When Hoss had dismounted and fired that morning, Chubb had shied from the impact of the nearness of the dangerous cat, the smell of blood, and then the rifle shot. Suddenly unable to stand at his master’s side with his stable mate running for safety and home, Chubb had taken off to the loud objections of his master. Hoss had stood there for just a moment as his heart settled back into his chest before pulling the big cat off Adam. What he saw worried him about as much as it relieved him. The wounds although serious were mostly superficial. Adam would have to suffer through another recuperation but would be fine in time. What was more worrisome was the issue of how to provide shelter and care for him with those two horses taking off like some untrained green horses. Then he had heard it. It was the sound of a woman singing. He couldn’t understand the words, but it was definitely female and reasonably close.
“Adam, ya think ya kin walk ifn I help ya?” Hoss could see that Adam was in shock and great pain. He didn’t know yet that he was suffering from a head injury too.
“I can try.”
After using his clean handkerchief to bind the wound in Adam’s arm, Hoss gathered Adam in his arms and pulled him to his feet even as Adam turned pale and sweat beaded on his forehead. That’s when Hoss noticed that Adam had some blood in the hair at the back of his head. He gingerly touched the spot and felt his brother flinch. Hoss knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy walk at all. He grabbed Adam’s belt in one hand and with Adam’s arm over his shoulder, he grabbed Adam’s wrist with his other hand. In that manner, they walked in the direction of the singing until Hoss reached the side of a small pond and saw a vision that made him pause speechless for a moment even with his desire to care for his brother.
The woman who had been singing whirled when she saw the large shadow over the pond, but when she saw how injured Adam was, she hurried out to help him. She had a small camp there next to the pond and she directed Hoss to place Adam in her campsite and on a fur that she had there. She seemed not at all concerned over her nude state on this warm summer day, but simply pulled a dress over herself. She was covered then to midcalf but all Hoss could think of was what he had seen and knew was under that thin dress. She seemed unconcerned about any of that though and gave all of her care to the needs of her patient. Hoss could barely follow her signed directions as he gazed at her.
Together, they removed Adam’s shirt and used it to first wash the wounds on his chest, arms, and head, and then rebind the wound in his arm. When Adam was resting comfortably and apparently asleep, she took Hoss by the hand and tried to lead him to her sleeping place. He wouldn’t go. She gestured forcefully and pointed. Despite the obvious temptation, he shook his head not understanding why she would want to do this with a stranger especially one who had brought a wounded man to her camp. She laid down on the furs and motioned to the empty space beside her.
For the Bannock woman, this day could not have ended better. She had been shunned by her husband because in the many years of their marriage, she had yet to have a child. Now suddenly the solution to her problem had just walked into her camp. The big man was a gentle man, and she guessed he would be a gentle lover. If he would give her a child, then her husband would take her back.
However, tired from the day’s events, Hoss sat by Adam’s side and ignored the woman although that was difficult. He couldn’t imagine why she would want him to sleep with her as she didn’t know him and they had only met because of Adam being hurt. As he saw Adam drift into sleep, he too closed his eyes and settled into a peaceful sleep next to the warm fire but his dreams were not peaceful.
Disappointed, the woman rose, dressed, and began to prepare a meal. With the size of the man, she guessed that perhaps she could first entice him with food and then get him in her sleeping furs. She found it hard to believe that he had rejected her when his eyes had said he was so interested. If not him though, perhaps the other dark man would be willing. His injuries would not prevent what she had in mind, and his dark skin and dark hair would make a baby her husband would probably like better anyway. With that thought in mind, she smiled as she cooked. She only had one small pot but put more meat to cook on sticks around the fire.
The smells must have awakened the big man because she felt his eyes on her and turned to see him smiling. She tried to talk with him, but it was clear that he did not know any of her words. She motioned instead at the food and used her hands to signal that it would soon be ready. He smiled even more broadly. She smiled too. If he liked her food and the other man needed to stay to recover, then she would have time to make her plan work. If they would just stay a few days, she was sure she could return to her people with an heir for her husband.
Adam had thought he was in pain when that puma was attacking him, but nothing was quite as bad as waking up after that attack having been nearly dragged by Hoss, and then laying on the ground with only a fur for a cushion. The stiffness of the muscles in his back that had seized up, and the many painful cuts from that puma’s claws made him wish he had not awakened.
Within a minute though, the woman he had seen earlier in the day turned to him. She knelt at his side, pulled back the fur that covered him, and began undoing his belt buckle and the buttons on his pants. He wanted to object, but she pushed his hands down and showed him a small container. It must have had some kind of salve in it that she intended to use on him. However, he didn’t want her to remove his pants so he did reach down to prevent that. She seemed inordinately disappointed by that. He didn’t understand why, but she spread some of the ointment on his wounds. It smelled terrible but did soothe the pain away. He thanked her and then closed his eyes again as she pulled the fur back over him. Hoss came back into the camp then after having taken care of business, and she showed him the salve and pointed at Adam who was sleeping once more.
Late in the evening, Adam woke once more. He had no appetite, but he was thirsty. Hoss helped him to a nearby tree so he could take care of his needs and then back to the fur. By then, the woman had brought some bundles of grass and spread them under the fur making a softer bed for him. Adam smiled and thanked her in Paiute. She seemed very pleased that he knew how to say thank you in her language, but before she could say more, he had closed his eyes.
The next morning, Hoss woke early and checked Adam for a fever. He had one, but it was mild. Hoss felt relief at that. He planned to check each of those wounds as soon as Adam was awake to be sure none of them were showing signs of infection. They had plenty of water to irrigate any of them so he had a plan if there was any sign of infection. Once Adam was awake, Hoss checked him over and was happy to report that everything looked as good as could be expected. The woman applied more salve and Adam settled back under the fur to rest as she and Hoss prepared breakfast. He was hungry which was another good sign.
After breakfast, Hoss told Adam that he wanted to see about setting some traps or snares for rabbits and squirrels. Adam said he had some string in his coat pocket and a jackknife if that would help. It would mean a hike back to where they had made camp, but Hoss was happy to hear that as he had nothing to use and was going to have to ask the woman for help. After telling Adam that he would hike to their campsite and bring back the few things they had left there, he walked off with a smile as the woman turned to Adam with a smile also.
However, Adam had a different plan than she had. He asked her to tell him her name. She smiled and clapped her hands because she was so pleased he knew some of her words. She not only told him her name but her story poured out of her now that she finally had someone to whom she could confide. Adam held up his hands to stop her telling her that his Paiute language skills weren’t good enough to understand everything she said, but he repeated what he thought she had told him. She nodded for he had understood quite a bit. To help fill in the details, she spoke more slowly and used more simple words until Adam nodded and repeated what he understood. With delight, she nodded. He had understood her story.
Finally someone knew her problem and understood too what she wanted from the two brothers. Adam told her he would talk to Hoss about her problem and see what his brother would think about it. Giggling a little to think that the two men could be brothers, she agreed that was a good plan. Then suddenly, she leaned forward and kissed him before he had any idea she was going to do that. Hoss walked back into the camp at that point clearly upset at what he saw, and he turned to leave again.
“Hoss, come back here. We have something to tell you.”
“Well, ifn it has anything to do with what I jest saw, I reckon I don’t need to hear it.”
“Hoss, she was happy. That’s all it was. We were talking. I know now why she wanted you in her sleeping place. Do you want to know her story or not?”
“That’s all it was? She was only happy ’cause you kin talk with her?”
Realizing that Hoss was jealous, Adam knew to tread lightly. He was surprised at his brother’s reaction, but he wasn’t going to criticize it. He and their youngest brother had enough experience at falling in love at first sight not to criticize anyone else for the experience. “Her name is Mogo’ne’muha. At least that’s the best I can do with it. I think it means Moon Woman. Her husband has shunned her because she could not have children. That’s why she was so happy we got here. I never thought getting mauled by a puma could have such a pleasant side effect to meet such a nice, kind woman.” Adam stopped talking and just grinned.
Hoss actually had to blush. He didn’t often get the chance to be with a woman like this who wanted him and made no secret of her desires. “She’s married?”
“Well, I’m not sure. I think what’s happened would be the equivalent of being divorced in our society. I think her husband effectively ended the marriage, but she thinks if she can be with child, he will take her back.”
“How could she be with child if her husband done kicked her out?”
Only grinning a bit and tilting his head to the side, Adam waited for Hoss to work that out. He saw it when it happened because Hoss’ eyes suddenly got very wide as he realized why she had wanted him to sleep with her and why she was so happy to have them in her camp.
“Her husband wouldn’t care if it weren’t his?”
“If it’s his wife, it’s his baby.”
“And she wants me to do things with her to have a baby so she can go back with her husband.”
“Yeah, that pretty well sums it up. If you want, you can have her, but then she wants to go back to her husband.”
“Well, that don’t seem right to me.”
“I may know what you’re thinking. You think you might want to do that with her, but if you do, you would take her back with us.”
Hoss had to admit to himself that he was thinking exactly that. After all, he now knew she wasn’t married any more. He looked over at Adam, smiled, and nodded to show his agreement that he was thinking about that. Mogo’ne’muha came up then with a container of water and a cloth interrupting their discussion. She wanted to give Adam a bath and wash his clothing. He insisted he could give himself a bath. She wrinkled her nose though at the thought of his clothing not being washed. He frowned but Hoss agreed that his clothing could use a good washing.
“I got our saddlebags so I got your shaving kit and your clean shirt. You could wash and shave and put that on. She could wash your pants and you could stay covered up under the blanket I brought back until they was dry.”
Moon Woman stood there impatiently as they talked because she needed to wash his clothing and cook their dinner before it became dark. Adam finally agreed and took the container of water from her and then got under the blanket and slid his pants off handing them to her as she smiled and teased him by threatening to pull the blanket away from him. He growled in imitation of a bear making her laugh. Hoss went to check the traps he had set as she washed Adam’s pants and then cooked dinner.
When Hoss came back, Adam’s clothing was drying on some bushes, sweet smells were coming from the pot over the fire, and Adam was napping under the blanket where he had left him. Hoss sat down on a log near Adam and made a few harrumphs until Adam opened his eyes.
“Subtleties were never your strong point. Could you tell me what’s on your mind?”
“Adam, what if she has a baby cause of what we do ifn we do something? I can’t leave her here with my baby.”
“That’s what she wants.”
“She only wants me to give her a baby? She wouldn’t care about me at all even if we was, you know, together like that?”
“Yes, her husband will take her back if she’s with child.”
“But how would you feel about that? I mean, what if it was your baby and you’d never see him again or even know what happened to him?”
“I would know that the child was born to parents who wanted him and loved him. The Paiute don’t worry so much about where a child comes from. The child will be part of their family and they won’t even think about who fathered him.”
“Well, dadburnit, Adam, I’d think about it. I couldn’t accept that. I’d want her to come with me ifn she was gonna have my baby.”
“With you? Hoss, you hardly know her. None of this means anything to her.”
“Well, it means something to me, and if she wants to be with me, then I want her to come back to the Ponderosa with us.”
Resting on that log, Adam thought quickly. “All right, why do you feel something for her that I don’t? And, about taking her back with us: Hoss, you need to think long and hard about that. She’s not exactly married now, but she was, and she’s Paiute or maybe Bannock. Those are just the first obstacles you would have to overcome.”
“Well, you said he shunned her, he tossed her out, and that’s the same as divorcing her so she ain’t married and ain’t really Paiute or Bannock any more.”
“Maybe in our culture, but I’m not at all sure they would feel that same way especially if she ended up with a white man.”
“Well, I’m sure I know what I want. Now can you tell her? Tell her we need to spend some time together and she can learn some English and I’ll learn some of her language. When we can talk some, then we can get more serious about being together.”
“I can try, but my Paiute may not be good enough to explain this.” At Hoss’ look, Adam continued. “But I’ll try, I’ll try.”
When Mogo’ne’muha brought their meals to them, Adam started talking with her. She seemed very upset at first and Hoss asked what was wrong so Adam explained she didn’t like him rejecting her. He continued talking to her, and then Hoss saw her turn to him and give him a shy smile. He knew then that Adam had told her how much Hoss wanted to be with her. Her next expression was a smile though and then she talked a lot. Adam asked her to repeat a number of times and finally looked at Hoss with a sad expression.
“She’s willing to be just with you but only until she is with child. Then she wants to go back to her people.”
“Tell her I won’t be with her if she’s gonna take my baby and leave.”
After Adam talked with Mogo’ne’muha more, Adam and Hoss watched her as she took their bowls and moved to the pond to rinse the bowls. When she came back she was very quiet for quite a while. Adam and Hoss talked softly for an hour or more. When she came close again, she took Hoss’ hand in hers, and as he looked to her, she smiled and nodded. She would do it his way.
The next morning, Hoss went off to see if he could get something for their breakfast for Adam would complain endlessly if all they had were the pinon beans they had been having with their stews. Mogo’ne’muha went to the pond and bathed, and Adam kept his eyes averted because he knew Hoss would be terribly offended if he knew that Adam had watched her bathe even if she didn’t mind. However when she did come near him, she was dressed and had unbound her hair and was pulling a wooden comb through it. Adam was mesmerized by the sight, and then he watched her closely as she continued to groom her hair. He assumed she was going to be doing her best to try to be attractive to Hoss to try to entice him to sleep with her, but Adam was intrigued by what he saw and looked more closely at her when she talked with him. He told her that Hoss would like it better if she left her hair loose and ungreased. When Hoss came back, there were a few things they were going to have to discuss.
For the next hour, Adam worked at teaching Mogo’ne’muha some English. She learned his name quickly and he taught her to say ‘Hoss’. Then he started teaching her some basic words and was amazed at how fast she picked them up which only helped confirm his earlier theory. Hoss walked in and saw the two of them very close together as Adam helped her shape her mouth to say some words. Jealousy reared up and he dropped the two rabbits he had gotten and started to stomp away.
“Hoss, you get back here right now!” Adam’s authoritative tone stopped Hoss in mid-stride as it usually did. Hoss had been conditioned since childhood to respond to his older brother that way and sometimes like now, he was irritated at how easily Adam could command him.
“Hoss, you come I.” Those words however made the anger and jealousy dissipate like morning fog in a light breeze. Hoss turned and had to smile at the grin both of them were giving him.
“I’ve just been teaching her some basic English. If you’re serious about taking her with you, she’s going to need to know how to talk to Pa at least a little.”
Hoss walked over and sat on the log that Adam was resting against. Adam said ‘chicken’ and then tried to get Mogo’ne’muha to say it. She struggled and Adam reached up again to help her shape her lips for the word. She said it in an exaggerated but understandable way, which made Hoss smile at her.
“I’ve been asking her about different names to use and she seems to like Carrie. I said every woman’s name I could remember, and that’s the one that grabbed her attention. So I’ve started calling her Carrie. Carrie, could you fix the food now?”
Carrie paused a little and Adam repeated the request. Then she smiled and walked to where the rabbits were and headed toward the fire where she began preparing them. Hoss was going to go help her but was stopped by Adam. He had earlier explained to her to let her know he didn’t want her to do anything with her hair, which now hung loosely about her shoulders.
“Hoss, did you notice anything about her hair?”
“Well, of course I did. It ain’t all tied up in that braid and all greased down.”
“Take another look. Anything else strike you as unusual?”
Hoss stared and then suddenly looked at Adam as understanding struck. “She’s got wavy hair and it ain’t really black. It’s kinda dark brown.”
“Hoss, walk over there and look into her eyes.”
When Hoss reached down to tilt her chin up to look at her eyes, Carrie smiled at him. He stared at her for a short time, smiled, and kissed her softly. After he did that, Hoss walked back to Adam with a grin. “She ain’t Paiute, is she? Her eye color is about the same as you or maybe Joe.”
“Well, I think she may have actually been with the Bannocks. The more I try to talk with her and listen to what she says, the more I think the trouble I’m having with communication is that. The languages are all so similar but that may be why we’ve been having some difficulty communicating. But yeah, I think she’s white or at least half white. It will be interesting to see what her skin color is when she isn’t in the sun all day. If she starts to fade, we’ll know.”
“You think that’s why she picked up so many words so fast? Maybe she was with whites when she was young and it’s all coming back to her now.”
“Possibly. If it is, maybe some memories will come back too. We’ll have to see how she does when I add more words. I think I’ll try drawing some pictures in the dirt and adding words like wagon to see how she responds.”
“Adam, this could be real important, couldn’t it?”
After breakfast, Carrie went to stretch the rabbit skins, and Hoss helped Adam walk for a bit until he felt the dizziness dissipate. His wound was healing well and the bump on the head seemed not to have affected him too badly. With both Hoss and Carrie caring for him, he was recovering quickly. For the next two days, not much changed except when Adam drew a set of covered wagons in the dirt. Adam worked on teaching Carrie more English and was very successful with that. Hoss spent time each day with Carrie taking walks and trying to learn some of her words. Adam moved his blanket as close to the fire as he could from where they had their sleeping places thinking that at some point there was going to be more intimacy than he wanted to know was happening. He thought he probably would prefer to be sleeping if it happened. It was all very peaceful and was going well until he drew those wagons.
On the fourth day, Adam drew a covered wagon in the dirt as he was teaching words to Carrie. She paused, saying and doing nothing. Thinking he had guessed her origin, Adam drew a second and then a third wagon with animals pulling them. The drawings were crude but there was no mistaking what they were. Carrie stared at them not making a sound. Adam didn’t say the words either. Then he drew people standing by one of the wagons, and she had sharp intake of breath. He put a rifle in the hands of one of the figures, and her breathing rate increased so he next drew a body on the ground and waited. Carried grabbed the stick he had been using to draw and swung it at him hitting him in the face. In a furious attack, she rained blows on him with the stick until Hoss rushed over and grabbed the stick and her preventing her from doing any more. By that time, Adam’s face was bloodied from the first blow, and his arms were bruised and bleeding from fending off the rest of the attack. His wound from the puma had reopened and was bleeding too. Carrie struggled to escape Hoss’ grasp.
“Dadburnit, what happened?”
“I drew a wagon train and then I drew what looked like an attack on a wagon train. That’s when she attacked me. I think we know now how she ended up with the tribe. Those must be some terrible memories, and I made them come back.”
Calmer then, Carrie looked to Hoss and said only one word. “Please.” He let her go. She walked over to where Adam had been sleeping and gathered his things and packed them up bringing them back to him. All she said then as she dropped the saddlebag and blanket roll at his feet was “Go!”
Taking her arm, Hoss turned her to him. “No, Adam stays or we both go.”
It was clear she didn’t understand him so Hoss signed what he meant. Clearly dismayed by that, she shook her head, but Hoss nodded. She crossed her arms and stood staring at him for a time clearly upset before stomping off into the trees.
“Go with her. I can clean this up on my own.”
“You sure. You look a mess.”
“Just a few scratches in my hide. I can manage. You need to go to her to do your best to explain and calm her down.”
“I don’t reckon I got the words for it yet.”
“Being there may be all you need for now. Go.”
It was almost two hours later before Hoss and Carrie walked back into the camp. She glowered at Adam and sat staring into the distance not looking at him at all after the initial hostile encounter. Adam moved from the blanket where he had been resting to sit on the log that he and Hoss usually used to sit when they took their meals and Hoss shrugged and sat beside him. With a gesture to Hoss to be patient, Adam began singing some of the children’s songs he remembered from the trip west. He guessed that Carrie had to be about the age that he and Hoss were and probably had traveled in that same time period. He hoped she might remember some of the same things he remembered. She didn’t react at all to the first two songs he sang, but at the third, both he and Hoss noticed her sit up straighter and turn slightly toward him. He sang that song about the Muffin Man doing his best to remember the words and then repeated it. She turned toward him and hesitantly began singing some of the words with him and Hoss joined in too with what he remembered. Adam sang the song with them several times then until all three were singing all the words in a rousing rendition.
Oh, do you know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man,
Oh, do you know the muffin man,
That lives on Drury Lane?
Oh, yes, I know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man,
Oh, yes, I know the muffin man,
That lives on Drury Lane
They were all smiling together as they finished the second verse, and he held up his hand to end it.
Then very slowly and carefully, Adam acted out and drew pictures to tell the story of how he and Hoss had come west, and how Inger had been killed before they had traveled further with their father. Carrie sat almost mesmerized by the storytelling, which took a great deal of time. When he finished, she moved to Adam and Hoss and crossed their wrists together and asked a question. Adam nodded. Hoss asked what she had said.
“She asked again if we were brothers because we do not look like brothers. I told her we were.”
“This is all getting a whole heap more complicated, ain’t it?”
“That it is, brother, that it is.”
Carrie touched Adam’s face. “Sorry.”
Taking her hand in his, Adam smiled. “It’s all right. It must have been very difficult for you.”
He knew she didn’t understand a lot of what he had said, but she understood the intent which was most important. She smiled too and moved to cook their dinner. It had been a long exhausting day without any lunch. Hoss’ stomach chose that moment to growl loudly giving them all a reason to laugh releasing a great deal of the tension that had built up. After they ate, Hoss sat with Carrie and wrapped an arm around her. Their relationship was developing more naturally now that she had decided to come with them. It wasn’t so important to her to be with child for in her mind, she was now committed to Hoss and trusted that he would take care of her.
After they had been together four days, Ben and Joe rode into the camp leading Sport and Chubb. There were hugs and questions especially about Adam’s condition and why they had lost their horses which had been found wandering together on the Ponderosa still saddled. Ben and Joe had trailed them to their camp and then followed Hoss’ footprints to her camp. They were very grateful to Carrie for her care for Adam and that she had welcomed the two of them into her camp.
Ben was quite surprised though that Hoss wanted to take her with him, but Adam explained that they believed she was white.
“Pa, you know they take children. They raise the girls up to be wives and the boys to be warriors. Now if she couldn’t have children with her husband, and she’s white, it would explain why she was banished. If she had been Bannock from birth, they would never have shunned her. They would have given her a different role. It all makes sense if she’s white though.”
“Yeah, Pa, and Adam’s been teaching her English and she’s learned an awful lot in just four days. Adam thinks she must have been maybe five or six at least when she was taken and had already learned a lot of English. It’s only the bigger words she has trouble with.”
“And the words for concepts that a young child would not have learned yet.”
“Adam drew some pictures and such and then she drew some like his of wagons and men with rifles. She got right upset at first, but after she found out we got attacked on a wagon train, I guess she kinda figured we was alike that way and it sorta set her mind at ease some.”
“All right, if you’re all set on taking her, we will. She can ride with Adam, I suppose. I don’t think Chubb can handle more weight.”
“Pa, Hoss and I can take turns letting her ride with us. Joe can help out too.” Adam had seen that small flash of jealousy cross Hoss’ face and didn’t want to have that flare up now.
As the four men prepared to mount up, Carrie looked very sad. Then Adam walked over to her, took her hand, and walked to Sport. He helped her mount up, and then climbed up behind her grimacing with the effort because his arm and back still caused him pain when he exerted himself.
“Are you all right, son?”
“It’s fine now that I’m up here. Only hurts to put pressure on things.”
As they rode off, Carrie kept looking at Hoss. Finally, she had to say something. “Me, Hoss, husband?”
Adam smiled and looked over to Hoss who had heard and was grinning from ear to ear. Ben was shocked however. “You’re her husband?”
Hoss answered. “To be, Pa, yes, I am, her husband to be.”
On the ride back, Ben didn’t say much. Adam was hurt and needed to be home, and they could hardly abandon Carrie along the way. Joe seemed to like her, and she liked both Joe and Adam but spent most of her time with Hoss. She must have sensed Ben’s difficulty in accepting his son’s plan for she stayed away from Ben for the two days of travel. The more Ben learned about her, the more doubts he had that Hoss should even consider marrying her.
“She’s already married!”
“Pa, her husband turned her out and the tribe shunned her. Besides, you can see as well as Adam and me saw, she’s white. She’s got wavy dark brown hair and hazel eyes. You just wait. The more she’s inside with the rest of us, the lighter her skin is gonna be.
“What if they want her back?”
“Well, she ain’t going back. She’s with her people now, and she’s staying.”
Adam had been unable to escape the conversation. They had only arrived home a short time before and Joe had showed Carrie to a guest room upstairs and then was giving her a tour because their father had said he wanted to talk with Hoss. Meanwhile, Adam’s arm had started bleeding a bit and had gotten more painful as they traveled so Hop Sing had his arm elevated on the dining table and was examining the wound.
“Pa, Hoss and Carrie care very deeply for each other already. You can’t just ignore that because you don’t like it.” Despite occasionally wincing with the pain from Hop Sing’s ministrations, Adam wanted to steer the conversation away from what he had been afraid that Hoss was about to admit.
“Hoss, at the very least, give yourself some time to get to know more about her. We could make inquiries to see if there was a Carrie lost in a raid years ago. She may have family.”
“All that may be true, Pa, but you ain’t hearing what I’m saying. None of that really matters. We want to be together, and we’re going to be together. If she has family, we’ll find em, but that don’t change nothing in how we feel about each other. Pa, she wants me. She likes me. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel? I gotta grab this chance at happiness cause I don’t know that I’ll ever have another chance like this.”
“But, Hoss, do you love her?”
“Pa, yes, I do. We’ve been together for nearly a week now. If my brothers can fall in love that fast, why can’t you believe I could too. You said you loved my mother after only a couple of days. Well, why can’t you accept that it happened for me too?”
“We were the same culture and could speak the same language. At least I hope you plan to wait until she can speak enough English to talk with you.”
“Well, I was thinking this Saturday would be good.”
“That’s less than a week. Are you that sure you want to do this?”
“Pa, I’m a man, and I got a right to make this decision. I’m sure and it’s what I want to do.”
“If you’re sure, it’s your decision. Hop Sing, would that be all right with you?”
“I make big cake.” Hop Sing wrapped the last of the bandage around Adam’s arm before packing up the soiled bandages and cloths he had used to cleanse the wound. Before Hop Sing returned to the kitchen to prepare dinner, he admonished Adam to not use his arm until it had a chance to heal properly.
Ben had one final request. “Hoss, it’s late and we’ve had a difficult few days. Could we talk more tomorrow about this?”
“We can talk, Pa, but I ain’t changing my mind.” Hoss walked outside to find Carrie.
Ben looked at Adam with a glare. “You could have tried to talk him out of this instead of encouraging him.”
“Pa, he’s a grown man and he’s in love. No one is going to talk him out of anything.”
“I’m afraid that he simply cares for her like he cares for any lost soul or even the lost animals he brings here. His heart always goes out to the lost and lonely. I don’t think he’s in love. Feeling sympathy isn’t the same as love. Caring for someone because they need you isn’t the same as love.”
“I don’t know, Pa. Being needed and wanted is a lot better basis for falling in love than some have. Hoss may have something here. Who are we to question a man about what’s in his heart? I especially don’t think I have the right to tell a man whom he can love.”
“Well of course, I’m not telling him whom he can love. I only worry for him.”
“Worry all you want, Pa, but let Hoss make his own decision. He’s doing all right so far.”
There was little Ben could say then. He was worried, but Adam had made good points, and Hoss was a man and deserved the respect that Adam reminded him he ought to give his middle son. Ben decided he should wait and withhold judgment until he knew more. It was going to be difficult to do so, but he was determined to be as cordial as possible until he had more of a sound basis for drawing a conclusion one way or the other.
After dinner, Adam sat with Hoss and Carrie at the table and worked with Carrie on her English that was improving rapidly. She picked up on some of the grammar and sentence structure so easily that Adam told Hoss that he was even more convinced that she had to have spoken English for at least several years.
When it was time for bed, Hoss walked Carrie upstairs, and she expected him to be in her bed. He tried to explain but without success. Finally, he told her that she could come to his room in five days when they would be married. But Carrie counted all four men and four bedroom doors closing for the night and walked silently down the hall stepping over the squeaking floorboard she had earlier noted in front of Ben’s bedroom. Slipping inside Hoss’ bedroom, Carrie moved to Hoss’ bed and tried to crawl in with him. He sat up in bed and then pushed the covers aside, stood, and put his hands on her arms.
“Carrie, what are you doing here?”
“I can no wait.”
She jumped into his arms then and the two of them fell backward onto Hoss’ bed collapsing it to the floor. The resulting crash brought the other Cartwrights rushing as fast as they could to the scene.
“Jumping, Jehosophat! What is going on here?”
Sitting at the table and ignoring the coffee that had already become lukewarm sitting in front of him, Ben Cartwright was still troubled over what had happened the previous evening. He had arrived at his son’s bedroom door and opened it to see a sight he wished he had never seen. Carried was sprawled on top of Hoss and both were on top of the collapsed bed. Joe was next to his father gaping at the scene, and Adam had arrived later having been resting in his bed and still stiff and sore. When he arrived, Ben had turned to him.
“She’s not wearing anything under that dress.” When he had arrived and seen what he had seen, Carrie’s dress had been hiked up nearly to her hips by what had happened leaving little to the imagination. Though she ha stood and pulled the dress back down, Ben was wise enough to take a good look and realized, she only wore the dress and nothing else.
“Yes, Pa, I know.”
“Pa, we were in her camp for four days. It was impossible not to notice.”
“You should have said something.”
“What were we going to do? We don’t exactly have a supply of women’s underthings here. When we went to town to get her some dresses, I thought we would get the rest of the things she would need and leave it in the hands of the ladies at the store to take care of figuring that out. It’s not like I know how to dress a woman.”
“You’ve had enough experience doing the opposite.” Joe snickered after his comment but Ben was not amused. Joe cringed a little when he saw the look and backed up deciding that perhaps he would best be served by staying out of this whole conversation.
“Pa, Carrie can go back to her room, and I’ll talk to her about proper behavior. Remember that she doesn’t know anything about the rules of living in our society. We’re going to have to be patient with her.”
“Take her then and make sure she knows to stay in her room until morning.” Ben turned his attention then to his middle son who gulped when he saw his father’s look.
“Pa, I swear I had no idea she was coming in here. She up and jumped into my arms and I never knew she was gonna do that and I fell, uh, we fell, and that’s how the bed got broke. Honest, Pa, that’s all that happened.”
Raising his hands in surrender, Ben had returned to his bedroom but not to slumber. He had tossed and turned all night. The incident had only made him more sure that Hoss should delay his wedding to be sure he was making the right decision. Ben thought perhaps he felt more sorry for Carrie than anything and that he was overreacting to a woman showing interest in him. He knew that many women saw only the large man Hoss was and missed seeing the gentle warm soul and heart inside that huge frame. However, attraction and gratitude were not love, and Ben didn’t think Hoss knew the difference.
Hearing some footsteps, Ben thought it would be Joe or Hoss but was surprised to see Adam slowly descending the stairs. Watching to see if his son needed assistance, he was relieved to see that Adam seemed to be stronger and walking better. The dizziness from his head injury and the weakness from his injuries both seemed to be subsiding. Adam smiled when he got to the table and sighed in relief at sitting in the chair.
“No matter how many times I have to recuperate from some injury or illness, it still surprises me how weak I can feel. I’m looking forward to feeling strong again and feeling like I can take care of myself if need be.”
Hop Sing of course was soon there with a plate of food and a cup of coffee for him as well as an offer of tea. Adam agreed to the tea to make his friend happy and also because sometimes the tea did seem to help. Ben nodded as Hop Sing passed by and soon had his own plate of food. The two ate in silence as Ben didn’t want to do anything to interfere with Adam getting a good nourishing breakfast. He noted though how slowly Adam seemed to be eating and wondered if his son was purposely trying to delay their inevitable conversation about Hoss and Carrie. Well, Ben decided he could wait. He finished his breakfast and sipped his coffee as Adam dutifully ate his until there was no more possible ways for Adam to delay. He issued a deep sigh and leaned back in his chair.
“I guess we may as well get to it. My brothers seem to have lost all semblance of having any backbone this morning and have left me to talk to you about Carrie.”
From the top of the stairs, there was a loud noise as Hoss let his feelings about that statement be known. “Dadburnit, Adam, I only thought maybe you could do it more peaceful like. I didn’t think it was gonna be all that hard ta do.” With that, Hoss clumped down the stairs and over to the table.
Ben looked up the stairs at what appeared to be shadows. “You two may as well come down too. Teaching Carrie to eavesdrop is not a good way to help her adjust to our ways.”
Rather sheepishly, Joe emerged then and reached back for Carrie urging her to come with him. “I know he yelled last night. He won’t yell now. I think. C’mon, Adam and Hoss are there.”
Adam wasn’t there long though excusing himself soon after greeting the new arrivals. Hoss wanted him to stay but Adam said this was a discussion best held without him. He gave Joe a look when he said it, and Joe grabbed two hotcakes jamming a couple of sausages inside each one.
“Like Adam said, we ought to go work on the chores while you two talk with Pa. Adam can’t work that fast anyway so I need to help him right off.”
Rolling his eyes, Hoss knew they were doing the right thing but still wished they could be there. Instead it was quiet for a time as he and Carrie enjoyed the food Hop Sing brought out for them. Finally when Hoss had eaten all they he could possibly eat, he had to stop and get ready for the serious conversation he knew his father wanted to have with him and with Carrie. About two hours later, he came out to the stable where he found Adam and Joe sitting on crates and talking quietly. Joe was too curious to wait for Hoss to open the conversation at his own pace.
“What happened? What did Pa say?”
“Well, first off, he said he didn’t think I could be in love with Carrie yet. He said I probably didn’t know the difference between being in love and being grateful for her attention to me and wanting me. I told him I did know and it was insulting to me for him to talk to me that way. I gotta thank you, Adam, ’cause I never woulda been able to say something like that ifn I hadn’t a heard you say it a few dozen times. I been thinking on it, and you were right. I know my mind as well as you know yours, and it is insulting for Pa to say we ought to take more time to think on something after we done thought about it and made up our minds.”
“You really said that to Pa?” Joe was incredulous not able to imagine saying such a thing to their father.
“Joe, you’re gonna get to feeling the same way soon enough. Now next up, Pa wanted me and Carrie to wait on getting married. He said she needs to learn more about being with us and about what it’s like to be a wife in our world. He said it could take quite a lot of time for her to learn about how women dress and what they do in the white world. I had to admit he had a point there. Carrie seemed to understand too after a while. She’s a bit sad about it, but I said we was still getting married, but this way we could get her a real pretty dress for her to marry up in and that we could invite lots of people and have a big ole Ponderosa style party for our wedding. She seemed to like that part of it a lot.”
“How are you going to do all of that?” Adam was curious if Hoss had a plan for what he had just laid out as a plan.
“I’m figuring on taking her to town to a dress shop and seeing if they got some ideas for us. Pa suggested we ask Doctor Martin’s wife for a recommendation for what shop to use. He figures she would know who would be the best to help out in a situation like this.”
“What do you think Pa is going to be doing for these few weeks?” Adam had that bit of a smirk that said he already thought he knew the answer. The smirk only got bigger with Hoss’ answer.
“Oh, I’m pretty durn shur Pa thinks he got more time to talk me out of doing what I’m gonna do, but he’s wrong. He’s right in that we can get ready to be married better this way and make some better plans than rushing into it would let us do, but he ain’t gonna be changing my mind. No sirree, he ain’t gonna change my mind at all.”
“Hot diggity, we’re going to have a sister in the family. Hey, Hoss, what can Adam and I do?”
“You could hitch up the carriage for us. I want to go to town today.”
Adam did have a caution for his brother. “You do know there’s likely to be some talk when you show up with her dressed as she is.”
“Yeah, I wish we had a different dress for her to wear. She’s got her hair down, but with that dress and the moccasins, there’s no fooling nobody about where she’s been.”
“I might be able to help with that.” Adam was smiling but it was a funny sort of smile.
Hoss had to ask. “How could you help with that?”
“I bought some dresses I was going to give to Laura for a wedding present. They’re still in boxes in the back of my closet. They may be a bit musty and wrinkled by now, but they won’t look like she just came in from living with an Indian tribe.”
“Hoss, I got an old pair of boots that are too small. She could wear those. It would look a bit funny maybe, but better than wearing moccasins under her dress. And maybe if Hop Sing could be convinced to give up an apron and maybe some of his other clothing, she could have what passed for undergarments too?”
“Now you two can be downright silly sometimes, but right now, I’d like to hug both of you if I could, but I got some errands to run to get my gal dressed up for a trip to town. You two get that carriage ready. Carrie and me are gonna be out as soon as I can rummage up that outfit for her.”
An hour later, Carrie sat beside Hoss in the carriage as the other Cartwrights bid them best wishes for their trip to town. Carrie was dressed a bit oddly with a wrinkled dress that was a bit large for her, boots, and an apron. She squirmed a bit too in the undergarments Hop Sing had given her to wear. At least no one would guess where she had been living. She did look like a woman who needed the talents of a skilled dressmaker and Hoss got the name of one from Anna Martin. Hoss sat on a bench for hours waiting for Carrie to emerge. When she did, she had a stack of boxes and told Hoss there were more inside. He got those and the dressmaker pulled him aside.
“Hoss, I don’t know where she’s been living, but she needs someone to teach her about how to dress, to groom, and to do her hair. Now, I have a daughter who loves to fuss over things like that. I’d be happy to let her work for you for a week for two dollars teaching your Carrie all she needs to know.”
“Harriet, that would be wonderful. When could she start?”
“She’s here in the shop now and helped Carrie already so they know each other. My daughter’s name is Pearl.”
“Well, I got room in the carriage if Pearl was ready to come with us.”
“I’ll have her pack a bag, and she’ll be with you shortly. And Hoss, you should probably think of stopping at the general store to get some things for a lady. Pearl can tell you what you need.”
Hoss simply let Pearl go in and make the purchases and put it all on the Ponderosa account. She opened the bag to show him what she had gotten and there were hairpins and hair ribbons as well as several combs and a brush and some scented water. There were also bars of scented soaps and a few sachets although Hoss didn’t know what those were until that was explained later by Adam. When they arrived back at the Ponderosa, Ben was amazed at the transformation and began to have a bit more confidence that perhaps Hoss was not making a bad decision in marrying Carrie. Over the next week, Pearl taught Carrie a lot about being a woman in the white world. At the end of the week when it was time for Pearl to leave, Carrie didn’t want her to go. Hoss looked at his brothers.
“One of ya is gonna hafta git married up soon so Carrie ain’t the only female in the house.”
It was interesting that the weeks that Ben thought he could use to convince Hoss that he was making a bad decision only helped convince Ben that his son had made a good choice. Carrie got along well with Adam and with Joe. She was attentive to Hoss and was eager to learn all about the new culture absorbing all that Adam could teach her. As the day of the wedding and party approached, Ben asked to speak privately with Hoss.
“Son, I was opposed to this wedding thinking that Carrie was not a good choice for you. After seeing her in our home for the past few weeks, I have some words to eat. Son, she is a wonderful woman, and I’m glad to welcome her to the family. I know there will be some difficult times. In marriage, there always are. But I hope you know that it is a process not an event.”
“I shur do, Pa, and I aim to make her know it too. I know it was by pure luck that we got together, but I’m gonna do everything I can to see that we’re together forever. I want her to know she’s my first and only choice.”
That evening at dinner, Joe asked if Pearl was coming back to help Carrie get ready for the wedding. When informed she would not be there, he seemed as disappointed as he had been when she had left when her week with the Cartwrights had ended. Joe had spent his evenings during that week entertaining her, but it seemed by his response when she left that perhaps he was interested in far more than making sure she didn’t get homesick. His reaction on learning she would not be staying with them before the wedding only served to accentuate those sad feelings of the youngest Cartwright.
The wedding made Hoss as nervous as he could ever remember being, but Joe was there to crack jokes to keep his mind off of it, and Adam was there to offer sage advice and a calm voice. When it was time to say his vows, Hoss had calmed down considerably and when he heard Carrie say those words to him, he smiled so broadly that people watching chuckled. It was clear that the middle Cartwright son was happy. The party was a big success and not a negative thing was said. Carrie was working hard to do everything she could do to try to fit into this white world she had so recently entered and into the Cartwright way of life. No one could fault her for that, and her spirit and joy in everything she did was infectious. It was easy to like her so most people forgot all about what her upbringing had been like and their varying prejudices against Native Americans.
Of course, Adam had made sure everyone there knew he would personally be dealing with anyone who did say anything that might upset either Hoss or Carrie. Ben too had looked over the guest list carefully to try to be sure that no one was invited who might be intolerant in any way. There had been a few incidents in town when things had been called out loud enough for Hoss and Carrie to hear. They had ignored the taunts but they still hurt. The first time they had been in town, nothing had happened because no one had known of Carrie’s background.
The second time, however, there had been things said and Joe had been with Hoss and nearly unable to stop him from getting in a fight because Joe wanted to fight too. It was only his father’s words that he was there to stop Hoss from getting in a fight that stopped a general melee from taking place. However it was decided that after that, Ben or Adam would accompany Hoss and Carrie to town. Their presence had a calming effect on everyone and a more intimidating effect on anyone who might think to say something cruel. The general consensus was that if they did not react and as her story was known, the sensationalism would die down and things would calm down. After all, she was white not Indian and had no choice in how she had been raised. Over the next few months, the plan did seem to be working as there was less tension and more and more of a friendly response wherever they went.
After the wedding, Pearl came out to the Ponderosa rather frequently and helped with some of the things that women did until Carrie learned how to do some sewing and needlework. Then she was able to participate in a sewing circle at church. Of course, Pearl had ulterior motives for visiting so frequently and helping out so much as a friend. Joe seemed to always be around and willing to escort her back to town so she wouldn’t get lost or have anything else bad happen on the way. Adam joked that perhaps they were having the fox guard the chickens, but Ben only glowered at him when he said it. However even he couldn’t keep a straight face for long, and he and Hoss laughed too. Then they had to explain it all to Carrie.
“Will Joe bring her home as his wife then?”
“Oh, no, my son is a long way from that, I think.” Although Ben wasn’t so sure when he thought about it.
Adam and Hoss saw the look he had. “Pa, you thinkin’ on maybe having another daughter-in-law real soon like?”
“Hoss, if I have another one soon, I would think it should be my eldest son who is bringing a young lady through that front door.”
Holding his hands up in surrender, Adam said nothing, but the conversation had drawn Carrie’s attention to him. “Yes, Adam, why are you not married? You should have many children by now. Why are you not married?”
“I think I would like to change the subject. When are we going heading out to bring in a string of mustangs to break again? We need some horses here on the ranch, and we could certainly sell any extra.”
Bewildered a bit as to why Adam didn’t answer her question, Carrie turned to Hoss who whispered that he would explain later. Meanwhile they did decide that by the end of the month, they would have a hunt for mustangs. Both Adam and Hoss knew that Joe would be happy to join in on that. Of course by the end of the month, Joe was laid up with a sprained ankle having done a bit too much showing off for Pearl at the church picnic so it was Hoss and Adam who headed out to bring in a herd. Joe assured them he would be ready to help break the horses once they brought them back in two weeks. For Carrie, it was bittersweet. She was happy to know she was with child, but sad to see Hoss leaving for two weeks just when they had this news to share.
The hunt for horses went well but took quite a bit longer than expected. Hoss and Adam even went to the Paiute camp to get assistance staying there for a couple of days too and talking with the Paiute about what had happened to the horses and game in the mountains with the past several winters being so difficult. Adam had already pried from Hoss the news that Carrie was with child, and that seemed to loosen his tongue on the matter. When the Paiute asked about her, he mentioned that. By the time they rode into the yard at home and herded the mustangs into the corral, Carrie came running from the house to greet Hoss. Hoss wrapped his arms around her and kissed her passionately as Adam finished securing the corral, smiled, and led their two horses to the stable.
“Where are Pa and Joe?”
“They go to town. They talk to Pearl’s parents.”
“Why? Did something happen?”
“No, nothing happen that I understand. Hoss, what is ‘courting’?”
Hoss was about to answer when they were surprised by five men who rode into the yard. One angry, fierce warrior accosted Hoss and yelled at him as Hoss pushed Carrie behind him. Carrie tried to object, but Hoss told her to let Adam handle things as Adam stepped from the stable, walked up to the man, and talked to him for a short time.
“He says his name is Taba’ada and he says he’s Carrie’s husband. He says now that she is with child, she can go back with him, and in fact, has to go back with him. He found out because his hunting party stopped in to visit with Winnemucca’s camp and heard about what you told them.”
“She can’t. She’s married to me now, and the baby is my baby. You tell him that!”
“I’ll tell him, Hoss, but he won’t accept it. I can tell you that much now.”
“Well, you tell him anyway, and ifn he tries to take her, then I aim to stop him.”
Carrie gasped at Hoss’ words as Adam shook his head. “Damn, you had to say that and make it worse. We’re in for it now.”
Hoss was confused. “Why? What’d I say to make things worse?”
“He doesn’t understand much English, but he understands enough. What you just said was in effect challenging him to fight to the death for Carrie. That’s what he expects now.”
“I don’t wanna fight him to the death. I just want him to leave us alone.”
“I’m afraid that isn’t going to happen. Hoss, if you can trust me on this though, I may have a way out of it. A fighter can have someone else fight for them. Let me do this for you.”
“Adam, ifn I gotta fight, I gotta fight. I ain’t gonna let you do it for me.”
“Hoss, I asked you to trust me on this. Please? I can’t explain. I have to do it.”
Regarding Adam for a long moment, Hoss had to let all those years of trusting his older brother take over. He did trust him. “All right. We’ll do it your way.”
“Step back then.”
As Hoss stepped back, Adam moved to the forefront. He began to slowly unbutton his shirt as he talked to Taba’ada telling him that he was going to fight in Hoss’ place. As he told him about growing up with Young Wolf and learning the Paiute ways, he pulled off his boots. Then he took off his shirt and tossed his hat to Hoss. Standing in only his pants, he faced Taba’ada who looked at the dark skinned man with the abundance of curly black hair on his chest. Taba’ada made note of the scars he had. There were a number of them. He asked if Adam knew how to do the fight they had planned. Adam nodded, and then he pointed to the ragged scar on his abdomen. He said only one word letting the man draw his own conclusion.
As Adam suspected he would, Taba’ada assumed that Adam had fought an Apache warrior to the death and survived although he was gravely wounded. Taba’ada had never seen a fight such as he had challenged Hoss to do. It had been bravado on his part thinking the man would back down instead of fighting a fierce warrior in hand-to-hand combat. However fighting this man with the cold dark eyes was making Taba’ada wish he had a way to back down. He didn’t want to die and had a strong feeling that was what would likely happen in a fight with this man who looked at him so coldly now that they were going to fight. This man looked at him as if he was dead already. It was unnerving. Then the man made an offer than made Taba’ada’s heart sing, but he couldn’t give in too easily.
“If I kill you, the Paiute will probably stop trading horses with my family. That could cost us a lot of money. You don’t suppose you would be willing to accept a horse in payment for her so that we could both be happy? You would still be alive and we would still be able to buy horses from the Paiute.”
“Are you so afraid of me that you want to buy your way out of a fight?”
“Oh, well, it was a thought. Let’s get to the fight then. Hoss, let me have that pig sticker you have. I need a sharp blade, and I haven’t sharpened mine today.”
Pulling his knife from the sheath at his belt, Hoss was going to hand it to Adam when Taba’ada suddenly decided to reconsider.
“Of course, my people could use some things in addition to horses. If you would give us ten boxes of ammunition and ten blankets and ten horses, then we could probably make a deal.”
“I only want to bargain for one woman not ten. The Army would arrest us for giving you ammunition. You know that. How about four blankets and two horses?”
“Six blankets and six horses.”
“Two horses and six blankets is my final offer.”
“It is not enough!”
With a frown as if he hated to say what he was going to say next, Adam spat out the next words. “We will let you take four cows too to feed your people.”
With a fierce look and a haughty stance as if he had forced the whites to concede a great deal, Taka’ada inclined his head a minute amount as if he had negotiated a supreme deal. The men with him smiled and nodded to each other thinking he was a superior negotiator for what he had gotten. Looking back at Hoss, Adam winked. Then he told him the bad news.
“You get to tell Pa the bride price we have to pay.”
Gulping once, Hoss picked up Adam’s shirt and hat and handed them to him. “Considering the other possibilities, that don’t seem so worrisome at the moment. I may think so later though.”
Chuckling, Adam dressed and pulled his boots on again as Carrie came to him and picked up Hoss’ knife wiping it carefully on her skirt. Leaning forward, she kissed Adam squarely on the lips surprising him as well as Hoss. “Thank you, my brother. You are good man.”
Within an hour, the blankets had been delivered to the men and two horses had been selected for them. Adam told two of the hands to go with them and cut out four cows for them to take with them. Then he bid the five men farewell and saluted them. The men acknowledged his farewell and returned it. He didn’t seem at all unhappy with what he had to give them so they weren’t sure any longer if they had made a good deal or not, but they had things they didn’t have before, and got to go home and brag so all was good. Adam watched them leave and then went back to the house to get a bath. He was resting in his bath when he heard his father’s voice and smiled guessing that Hoss was telling the story of what had happened.
“Now let me get this straight, Hoss paid a ‘bride price’ for his wife even though they’re already married and she’s carrying his child?”
Adam nodded even as Hoss gulped and Joe suppressed a giggle knowing it would only make Hoss more nervous and their father more upset.
“I do not understand my sons some times. Over the years, there have been some strange tales. Adam brings home a ‘wild man’ who turns out to be a young woman. Joe wins a ‘horse’ who turns out to be a young woman. Hoss orders some fireworks but instead gets a young woman delivered to the house. Need I remind anyone of the Calamity incident?” Ben looked around pointedly at each son each of whom didn’t dare say anything. “But this tops all of those. You paid for your wife after you were married to her, and gave the man two of our fine horses and six blankets?”
“And four cows, Pa, don’t forget they let them take four cows too.” Joe smiled as he said that making both Hoss and Adam frown at him.
“Yes, and four cows. Well, I hope the two of you are willing to work extra hard the rest of the month to pay for what you’ve given away.” Ben turned to leave then as Carrie rushed to Hoss.
“I’m so sorry, Hoss. I didn’t know your father didn’t want me here. I can go away. You can go with me.”
“No, Darling, we’re staying right here.”
“But he is upset at the bride price and didn’t want you to pay it.”
Carrie started to cry making both Adam and Joe turn toward their father with a bit of an angry look. Ben had overheard enough and returned.
“Carrie, I’m sorry. I never meant to say that you weren’t wanted here. I only found it strange that my sons would pay to keep you here when you were already married. It didn’t seem like it was necessary especially as you are already with child.”
His words didn’t help. From Carrie’s perspective, he was still saying the same thing, and she began to cry more. Hoss turned from his father to escort Carrie away. Joe and Adam walked with them giving some sharp looks back at their father for what he had said. Ben stared up at the clouds wondering how he was going to make this right. After a short time, he walked to the house but went into the kitchen instead of the main room. He stayed there for some time working with Hop Sing and swallowing his pride as he took his cook’s instructions and orders doing what he was told to do without complaint.
When it was time for dinner, he had to go change because he wasn’t used to that kind of work and had made quite a mess of his clothing. He returned to the table, but Hop Sing insisted he come in the kitchen and help again with the serving. Guessing it was probably appropriate under the circumstances, he went with him and helped carry out the meal. It was a magnificent feast that Hop Sing had worked on tirelessly as Ben had asked him to prepare a feast. Once it was on the table, Ben moved to sit, but after Hop Sing cleared his throat in a noticeable way, Ben instead gestured for Carrie to take his accustomed seat at the head of the table. He instead moved down the table and sat next on Joe’s right as she smiled rather nervously but took the seat because a beaming Hoss told her to do so. Hoss held her hand as he said grace as his father asked him to do. Then Hoss served food to Carrie first from every plate and then served himself before the food was passed to Adam and then to Ben and Joe.
Carrie clearly understood the implication of what Ben had done and smiled at him in appreciation. This gesture made it clear that his words earlier had been misspoken and not intended as she had heard them, but it was the cake he served for dessert that made her most happy. On the top were the words ‘Carrie and Hoss Forever’ written in white frosting over the chocolate frosting that covered the cake. It wasn’t the most elegant decoration any of them had ever seen and the cake did tilt a bit to one side, but the cake itself was delicious not only because Hop Sing had made sure it was mixed properly but because it was made with love. Joe held back any inclination to say something about the cake until well after dinner when he could no longer hold back. That unleashed a torrent of comments that his brothers had held back too. Ben took it well until he raised his hands looking a bit peeved at the many comments and the laughter about the cake over which he had worked so hard.
“That is enough!” Carrie asserted herself to the brothers including her husband. “Kindness should not be met with not kind talk. You should be ashamed of how you treat respected father.”
Smiling in victory, Ben waited for his sons’ responses. They all dutifully apologized for their teasing until Carrie said that they were forgiven. Then Ben too said that they were forgiven. He smiled at Carrie.
“I’m so happy to have you as part of this family. I don’t know what I did without you here before.”
There was a new dynamic in the family after that evening as Carrie took her place as a full member of the family and not a pampered lost soul who needed the others. She and Pearl began spending a lot of time working on sewing things for the baby and getting a nursery together as Carrie had no idea how white families took care of infants. Pearl said she was going to have her mother and Anna Martin come out and talk to Carrie about some of those things because she didn’t know that much either. She guessed she could learn a few useful things too if the older more experienced ladies would be willing to do that. They were and spent many Saturday afternoons at the ranch.
As winter approached, Carrie got much larger and was getting close to delivering Ben’s first grandchild. Adam spent a lot of time working on making a cradle and crib and Hoss did quite a bit of carving on them as Joe did much of the sanding and finishing. The finished products were beautiful works of art and lined with the handmade linens the ladies had sewn. The cradle was set near the fireplace and the crib was placed in the nursery upstairs as they took over Joe’s room and he moved to one of the guest rooms further down the hall. Adam frowned then realizing the nursery would be next door to him and suggested that Hoss and Carrie take his room and he took their room. Ben told Adam to use his skills to put an adjoining door between the nursery and the bedroom Hoss and Carrie were going to use so there was another project to do. It seemed everything was falling into place until November when Joe announced that he had asked Pearl’s father for permission to marry her and gotten it.
Ben was surprised. “You’re getting married already? I thought they wanted you to wait until next summer?”
“I guess they decided that we were courting long enough. Pearl is out here so much and her mother saw how well she got along with Carrie. I guess that made her more comfortable with the idea that we could marry.”
“When do you plan to have the wedding then?”
“Well, Pa, you know how much I like Christmas.”
“It’s six weeks away. Harriet said that was enough time to get everything ready so that’s what we picked for the date. That’s all right with you, isn’t it?”
Hoss, Carrie, and Adam had been waiting for Ben to get used to the idea and then rushed in to congratulate Joe and talk about what he wanted for the wedding celebration. Of course, it was going to be close to when the baby was going to be arriving so there was some question as to how much Carrie and Hoss were going to be able to participate, but Joe wanted them there and said they would adjust the date if they had to accommodate the arrival of the first Cartwright grandchild.
“Pearl likes people a lot, but she doesn’t like crowds at all. She said the party we had when Hoss and Carrie got married was about as big as she would ever want to see a wedding party and wouldn’t mind if it was a bit smaller. I told her smaller would be better because it was going to be cold so we would have to have it all inside the house. She seemed to like the idea.”
“Yes, that does help in the planning.”
“One thing, Pa, that is a complication though. Could Pearl and her family stay here the night before the wedding? With the winter travel and everything, it would be a lot easier on them. Pearl could stay in the bedroom down here and there’s still one guest bedroom upstairs.”
“What about her brothers, Joe?”
“We don’t have as many hands on in the winter. I thought they could stay in the bunkhouse. If necessary, her father could stay with them, and Pearl and her mother could share the room down here.”
“That could work. It might be fun getting to know the family a bit better. Yes, that’s fine.”
As it turned out, they had a few more guests than that. On Christmas Eve, Carrie’s water broke and her labor started. Joe headed to town to see if Doctor Martin could come out to help. He was busy but said Anna could help as she had assisted in a number of deliveries. Because Pearl’s family was going to be coming anyway, Joe asked Harriet if she could come a bit earlier and she said she could. So he arrived with the two ladies who immediately went to help Carrie and sent Hoss and Hop Sing out of the room. Later that day, the rest of Pearl’s family arrived and then in the early evening Paul arrived. Anna told him to hurry as they needed his assistance. That got Hoss scared, but Anna said it wasn’t anything bad. They simply needed his help. A short time later, Anna asked Hoss to come up to the bedroom to see his son. He raced up those stairs so fast that Anna backed away afraid she might get hurt, but he halted at the top of the stairs and took her arm.
“Thank you. Now I gotta go see my son. I got a son!” Hoss walked into his bedroom then, but was surprised so see how worried everyone looked as he entered. He looked at Carrie and she looked fine, and he looked at the baby who looked fine so he couldn’t understand the way everyone was looking. “Why you all looking like something’s wrong? Nothing’s wrong, is there?”
“Carrie is fine, and you have a healthy son. But Hoss, your son has one peculiarity.”
Paul turned to Carrie who rather reluctantly pulled the blanket down from her son’s shoulders exposing his right arm. Hoss stared at the baby and then looked at Paul.
“I don’t see nothing.”
“Hoss, count the fingers. He has six fingers on his right hand.” Hoss looked closely then and saw them. “I’ve checked and there’s a very small scar on Carrie’s right hand. My guess is that she too had six fingers on her right hand at birth. The extra finger was probably removed.”
“Cut off, ya mean. They cut off one of her fingers?”
“Hoss, it’s there, but it won’t work like a regular finger. It will hang there and be noticeable. It will probably grow, but he won’t be able to use it. From what I can tell, it’s not going to function well at all.”
“So you want to cut if off?”
“I think it would be the wisest thing to do. It wouldn’t hurt very much at this age. It would be a very tiny cut.”
“Not now. I gotta think on this. Not now.”
“There’s no rush, but I wanted you to see it and know the options before anyone else saw it. Now, I’ll tell your family about it if you want me to.”
“Paul, you think maybe that’s why Carrie ended up with them Bannocks?”
“There’s no way of knowing, Hoss, but in some families, they would have thought of such a child as being tainted and might not have looked too hard to get her back if she was one of the taken.”
“It kinda does help things make a bit more sense, don’t it?”
Both Adam and Ben thought so too when they heard the story. It was unusual for taken children to stay with the Paiute or Bannock like that because they had so much contact with whites that usually sooner rather than later, the taken were found and brought back to white society. For her to be there so long probably meant that no one was looking for her so no one had any idea that there was a white female with that tribe. Hoss talked the surgery over with his father and brothers who pointed out that his son, Gabriel, was likely to be the victim of a lot of teasing not only as a child but as an adult for an extra finger that was of no use to him. He was a big infant so there was every reason to believe he would be a big man like his father. Hoss had suffered enough teasing for that and didn’t want to have his son endure any additional torment. Paul did the minor surgery late the next day. It was very fast and as promised there was only a tiny incision. Gabriel did cry, but not for long as salve and a bandage were applied immediately.
It had been quite a Christmas Day with so many people there and the following day, Joe and Pearl were married. The party that followed was small but boisterous with Carrie seated in Ben’s big red leather chair with Gabriel for most of the time. Gabriel apparently wasn’t bothered by noise as he fell asleep on her shoulder there as people milled about talking, laughing, and enjoying the buffet. With sundown so early, the party broke up in the early afternoon so it wasn’t a strain on anyone either. The minister, the Martins, and Pearl’s family led the caravan of carriages back to town as Joe and Pearl stood in the yard and waved goodbye.
After everything was cleaned up and the furniture replaced, the family sat by the fireplace. With the expanded family, there were now two more chairs in that seating arrangement. Two brown leather bucket chairs had been added so that everyone could have a seat when the whole family was together. The newlyweds sat on the settee. Carrie was still in the red leather chair with the cradle at her feet as Gabriel slept. Hoss sat in a chair at her side. Adam sat in his blue chair and Ben sat in the other bucket chair next to him. It was quiet for a time until Pearl had a question.
“Adam, why aren’t you married? You’re the oldest. I’m surprised you’re not married and with a bunch of children by now. Why aren’t you married?”
Carrie started to chuckle and then Hoss and Joe began laughing as Ben looked at Adam as if to ask the same question. Adam threw up his hands.
“Joe, do you need me to draw up plans for a house or anything. I mean, it’s getting rather crowded in this house.”
“Good try, brother, but you’re not changing the subject so easily this time. I think Pearl deserves an answer, don’t you?”
“Don’t look at me. I’d like to hear an answer to that too.”
And Adam was never so grateful to Hop Sing as he was at that moment when the cook and good friend brought out cake, coffee, and sandwiches made from wedding buffet leftovers. Distracted by that, the previous conversation was forgotten. Ben leaned over to Adam and whispered though.
“Someday I would like an answer.”
“I’m working on it, Pa.”
Surprised, Ben looked at Adam and saw that he was serious. He knew Adam didn’t share things easily but when he did, he meant them. He smiled then at his son and put a hand on his shoulder. “I wish you luck then, son. I hope it’s sooner rather than later.”
“I hope so too, Pa.”
It was hours later that the brothers showed Joe their surprise. They had decorated the downstairs guest room with Pearl’s mother’s help and it was ready as a bridal suite. There was a new set of bed linens that her mother had made without Pearl knowing. There were candles and a bottle of champagne chilled. The wood box was filled and the small stove was stoked and ready to be lit. A vase of small pine boughs was decorated with red ribbons and some lace flowers. A box of chocolates sat on the dresser.
“Adam done got one of those boxes for me and Carrie too. I got to tell ya, it’s darn hard to eat only one. I ain’t been able to do it yet.”
“Pa asked Hop Sing to serve breakfast to Carrie and Hoss in their room tomorrow morning, and Pa and I will have breakfast in the kitchen and then go do the chores. You two can have a quiet and private morning. Let Hop Sing know when you want breakfast, and he’ll bring it here if you wish or serve you at the dining table right outside the room. I know it’s a rather limited honeymoon, but it’s the best we could do.”
Of course, Joe had tears welling up in his eyes when he thanked his brothers who quickly retreated. Hoss had to help Carrie up to their room, and Adam said he was going to help their father secure the house for the night.
As Ben settled in to sleep that night, he marveled at how by luck, an attack by a puma had led to such wonderful changes for his family. Then he wondered what Adam was up to before he drifted off to sleep with a smile.