Summary: A story that was written for a friend, Eva — a little romance with her favorite character. An accident and a prank by the sons lead to an unexpected result for Ben.
Word Count: 4702
“Joe, if you had just watched where you were going, we wouldn’t be in this fix now.”
“Well, Adam if you had ridden ahead instead of riding back there jawing with Hoss, you could have warned me about this hole, and we wouldn’t be in this fix now.”
“And if the two of you would just shut up, maybe we could get this wagon wheel out of this hole without breaking it. Now just do what you’re supposed to do.”
Hoss was perturbed with his brothers because he wanted to get home where it was warm and cozy and have a nice dinner, but first they had to get the wagon unstuck. They were barely ten minutes out of Virginia City. Joe had been driving too fast on a down-slope and when the wagon hit the hole, it turned sideways in the road, and the back wheel was now mired in mud. The road was blocked and there was a carriage waiting for them to move their wagon. Adam had a rock for a fulcrum and a tree branch for a lever that he and Hoss planned to push down to lift the wheel. Joe would then be instructed to drive forward as well as turning to get the wagon straightened out.
It all could have worked just fine except Joe watched the two men lift the wheel and snapped the reins as soon as the wagon rose up. That caught Hoss and Adam off guard and the tree branch snapped up into Adam’s face throwing him backwards into the muddy road. Little Joe started laughing, but Hoss knelt by Adam’s side. Little Joe stopped laughing immediately because he realized Hoss would not voluntarily kneel in mud unless Adam was hurt. He jumped down from the wagon seat to go see what was wrong. Adam had a nasty cut to his upper lip and another one right above his left eye.
“Joe, my hands are all dirty. You gotta go get some water and a clean cloth. We gotta get the dirt and such from those cuts and get some pressure on ’em to stop the bleeding.”
“I got a canteen of water, but where am I going to get clean cloth?”
Hoss stated pointedly at Little Joe’s shirt.
“Hey, this shirt is almost new. I just wore it twice.”
“So, what’s your point? Adam’s hurt, and we need to help him.”
“Dang, I know you’re right. I’ll rip the sleeves off.”
“No need for that young man. I have some clean cloth here that should work very nicely.” A woman who was probably about a dozen years older than Adam had walked from the carriage when she had seen Adam fall and realized that he needed assistance. “If you could help him from the muddy road and have him sit on the wagon, I’ll take care of his injuries.”
“Are you a doctor, ma’am?” Hoss always was impressed by people with healing skills.
“No, but I did do quite a bit of nursing in the War. I can handle a couple of little cuts.” She began dabbing at the cuts on Adam’s face to clean them of any debris. He was about as cooperative as he usually was when someone fussed over him, so the lady grew a bit peeved.
“Now you sit there and keep those muddy hands away from those cuts. You’re a fine-looking man, and some ugly scars on your face are going to detract from that so let me do my work.” She said it loud and forcefully.
Hoss poked Little Joe in the ribs. “She sounds just like Pa.”
Adam dropped his hands and stopped being irritated by her care. He couldn’t help himself though after hearing Hoss’ comment. He had a cheeky grin when he answered her. “Yes, Ma.”
“Well, I’m not your ma, but if I was, I would teach you to have better manners.” Adam said nothing more. Soon she had the cuts cleaned up, and then she folded a pad of cloth over the cut above his eye. She told Little Joe to hold it in place as she tore a strip of cloth to hold it in place. She tied that around Adam’s head. Then she held a pad of bandages to Adam’s lip until that bleeding slowed.
“Well it could probably use a few stitches, but I think it will heal without them if you’re careful. That cut above the eye is about the same. It’s not too deep and should heal if you take it easy for a few days.”
“Thank you. I meant no disrespect by calling you ‘Ma’. I called Hoss’ mother that because I respected her so much.”
“Were you adopted by her then?”
“No, my mother died, and my father married Hoss’ mother, Inger. Hoss arrived about a year later.”
“She must be very proud of you two.”
“No, she died in an Indian attack. Pa married again and that’s how we got our little brother there.”
“Ah, the one who doesn’t listen to instructions but jumps right into things.”
Little Joe pouted a little, but Hoss was impressed. “See, Adam, she does sound just like Pa.”
“Ma’am, thank you again for all your help. I’m sorry if you got your boots and dress muddy helping me. If there’s anything we can do for you, please tell us.”
“I am new in town here. My husband owned property here. He died, and I decided to come see about his investments. I could use some friends for I know no one here.”
Hoss took off his hat. “Yes, ma’am, you have yourself three friends. Would you be willing to come to dinner on our ranch so we can properly thank you for your assistance?”
“Perhaps we should introduce ourselves first. My name is Eva.”
“I’m Hoss. This here’s my brother Adam, and this is my youngest brother Little Joe.”
“Just Joe, ma’am.”
“Well what is it, Little Joe or Just Joe?” She had a wicked twinkle in her eye.
Hoss and Adam started chuckling, and Little Joe sputtered out ‘Joe’ to his brothers’ amusement.
“My name is Eva, and I would be pleased to come to dinner, and meet your parents.”
“Just our father, ma’am. Little Joe’s mother died too about seventeen years ago. It’s just us now and Pa.” Eva could hear the catch in Hoss’ voice and knew that he still mourned his stepmother.
“My goodness, your father lost three spouses. I can’t imagine that. I’ve lost one, and find that each day it gets a little better over this past year, but the pain does linger. Losing three must have been devastating.”
Adam interjected his thoughts because he could hear too that Hoss was feeling the losses again. “We try not to dwell on our losses, ma’am. Now if you follow this road out-of-town tomorrow, you’ll see a sign for the Ponderosa. That’s our ranch. Just follow the signs and you should find it, but if you wish, one of us could ride into town to escort you.”
“Adam, I think I would prefer the latter. I’m rather new at navigating out here without street signs and such. I would appreciate an escort very much. I have a room at the International.”
“I’ll be there at four tomorrow with a carriage. If you wish, you could pack a bag and be our guest for a day or two. It’s beautiful on the ranch.” Adam saw that his offer made her a bit nervous. “If you have any concerns about our honorable intentions, please consult with the sheriff. He knows us well, and can reassure you that we only wish the best for any guest.”
With that, the three brothers took their leave, and Eva drove her carriage to town. She did in fact consult with Roy Coffee as well as with the desk clerk at the hotel. Both were impressed that she had already met the Cartwrights, and they assured her that they were decent and respectable people who would be good hosts and good friends if she wished.
Once they arrived home, the three brothers had to explain the delay, Adam’s injuries, and the muddy clothes. Hoss started by explaining how they wagon got stuck in the first place. Ben gave Little Joe a stern look at that. “Joseph, you know better than to drive through holes especially after all the rain we’ve had. Now blaming your brothers for not warning you is not an excuse. You need to pay attention when you’re driving.”
Although Adam explained then about the rock and branch they used as a fulcrum and lever, Ben was still wondering how Adam got hurt. When he heard Joe drove the team off without waiting for the signal to do so, he was perturbed, and Joe got another stern look. Then Ben was more interested in hearing about the lady who came to their assistance.
“Well, Ma was a big help. She took charge just like you do, Pa. That’s why we called her Ma. She kinda thought it was funny, I guess. She’s a lot older than Adam. Ben began picturing an elderly woman for he could not imagine his sons calling someone younger ‘Ma’, and he listened intently to what she did, and was greatly amused at how she put Adam in his place. Little Joe mentioned that she was a widow and was in Virginia City to see about her husband’s investments in the area.
“So after she dressed Adam down and dressed his wounds, she left?”
“No, Pa, we wouldn’t have been so cavalier. We invited her to dinner tomorrow. She said she would be delighted. I’ll go into town to give her a ride to the ranch because she’s not used to being in the country. I sort of invited her to be our houseguest for a day or two as well. I thought perhaps it would be nice for her to get to know us so she would have friends out here.”
“Well, Adam, that was very nice of you, but who will entertain her? We have a lot of work to do over the next few weeks.”
“I was sort of hoping that you would, Pa. Ma is very nice.”
“You were sort of hoping I would. I’m not sure I have time to escort an elderly woman around the Ponderosa.”
A quick elbow to the ribs stopped Hoss from correcting the assumption by Ben that Ma was elderly. Little Joe saw what Adam had done and quickly understood why. Adam and his brothers delighted in teasing their father, and this one was a doozy. Hoss understood too as he watched his brothers smile. They would be able to put a good one over on their father. He smiled.
“Well, I guess I could spare a day to show her the Ponderosa as long as you boys are willing to make sure the work gets done.”
“Pa, I need to take it easy for a day or two. Ma said so. I’ll take care of the books though so you won’t have to do that. That will give you plenty of time to show Ma all around the Ponderosa.”
“So this Ma of yours tells you to do something, and you do it? Why doesn’t that ever work for me?”
“Well, Pa, I guess Ma just has a way about her, and I always obeyed my first Ma too. Inger could put me in my place just with a look. I guess Ma is a lot like Ma.”
“All right, Adam, you’ve convinced me. Now you need to tell Hop Sing so that he can plan a nice dinner. Once he finds out how she took care of you, I wager he’ll be happy to do it.
The next day, Adam cleaned up and got the carriage ready for a ride to town. After he left, Hoss and Little Joe did their best to convince Ben to knock off early so that he could clean up for dinner. After lunch, they hoped he would accept their suggestion.
“This is a working ranch, boys, and I have plenty of work to do. Now I’ll wash up when our guest gets here and not before. Now who’s going to help me with this wagon?”
Hoss volunteered and Little Joe rode off to the branding area. For the rest of the afternoon, Ben and Hoss worked diligently repairing the wagon and then fixing the harness for the team. Finally Ben fired up the forge so that he and Hoss could repair the broken wheel they had taken from the wagon.
“Adam already carved some new spokes, so all we need to do is make a new rim and then put the whole thing together. Next time we break a wagon wheel or damage one, we’ll have the replacement all ready to go.”
They were just finishing up when Adam drove the carriage into the yard. Adam was disappointed to see his father and Hoss still working because he had wanted his father to make a good first impression, but he knew how stubborn his father could be. Hoss shrugged when Adam climbed out of the carriage. When Adam extended his hand to help their guest from the carriage, Ben was surprised. He had not expected a woman who was probably ten years younger than he was. After throwing a slight scowl at Hoss for not telling him, Ben moved to the carriage to greet their guest.
“I’m very pleased to meet you. My sons did not do you justice at all when describing you.” Adam got a slight scowl from his father too, but only smirked in response.
“I could say the same. Well, I guess I just did. I am pleased to meet you. My name is Eva, but your sons persist in calling me Ma. It is kind of cute especially from this one who’s about the same age as my younger brother. He does clean up magnificently though. I can see now where he got those handsome looks.”
Ben had the good grace to blush a little with that as Adam smirked again and Hoss smiled. This was going even better than they hoped. Little Joe arrived back in the yard at that point.
“Howdy, Ma. Glad to see you could make it. Hop Sing has been fussing all day to make something special for dinner. He’s grateful as can be that you helped number one son there.”
Anxious now to get cleaned up, Ben had instructions to give. “Well, Adam, if you would show Eva to a guest room, the boys and I will get cleaned up.”
Hop Sing was more than a little perturbed when Ben wanted him to heat water for a bath when he was so busy fixing a special dinner, but he did it because he always did as he was asked even if Ben had to listen to some complaining as he did it. Ben did apologize and told Hop Sing it was because his sons had failed to mention that Eva was a beautiful and charming woman, and he wanted to make a good impression. Dinner was enjoyable with lively conversation and all-around good feelings. After dinner, Ben and Eva sat talking until Ben suggested that the night was very pleasant and perhaps they would like to sit outside. Once again, Adam had to poke Hoss in the ribs as Hoss thought at first that they were all going outside. Little Joe smiled as Ben escorted Eva out to the porch. Adam walked to the window above his father’s desk and pulled it closed before closing the curtains there. Little Joe and Hoss were more than a little disappointed in that.
“Adam, how we gonna know if they’re really getting along, ifn you know what I mean?”
“Hoss, play checkers with Little Joe. When they come back in, you’ll be able to tell by looking at them. Be observant.”
“What do I look for?”
“Hoss, if you can’t tell, Little Joe and I will tell you. All right?”
When Ben and Eva walked in over two hours later, Adam glanced up from his book and Little Joe turned around from the table where he and Hoss had been in a marathon checkers match. Hoss looked over at Adam and grinned. He could tell. Ben’s hair was a little mussed as was Eva’s, and her lips seemed a bit redder and fuller than when she had left the house. It was apparent that the two liked each other very much already. Ben said that Eva was tired and was retiring for the night. Little Joe snickered a little and got a dirty look from Adam and a frown from his father. Ben said he was also planning to retire for the evening as he planned to be up early so that he could show Eva the grand sights of the Ponderosa. Ben offered Eva his arm as they walked up the stairs. Little Joe could hardly contain his excitement. As soon as they heard two doors close upstairs, he started talking.
“Hey, Pa looks really smitten, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, he does. Smitten is a good word. Don’t you think so, Hoss?”
“Yep. He’s smitten all right. Do you think she’s smitten?”
“Oh yeah, smitten.” Adam grinned. He was having fun.
The next day, Ben took a picnic lunch and gave Eva a carriage ride to the lake and to some of the grand views of the Ponderosa. On the second day, he drove the buckboard and took her along the roads that showed her the timber harvesting areas and the biggest herd on the ranch as well as the breaking corrals where Adam and Little Joe were working. On the third day, he saddled up Buck and another horse. Adam asked him if he and Eva were going riding. He answered in the affirmative even though the answer should have been obvious, and when Eva came out to join him, Ben gave her a little kiss. It wasn’t dramatic or too much, but it was a shock to his sons. If Ben was willing to kiss her in front of them, then he was getting serious about her or certainly appeared to be getting very close to her.
“Ya don’t suppose Ma is really gonna be our Ma soon, do ya?”
“Hoss, we have set it in motion. There doesn’t seem to be any way to stop it. Do either of you want to see them stop it?”
Hoss and Little Joe shook their heads. Their little teasing had created a whole new situation to which they had to adapt.
“She’s a real nice lady.”
“She sure is that, Hoss. Hey, Adam, you like her too, don’t you?”
“I do, but the only one who really matters here is Pa, and he certainly seems to like her. We’ll have to wait and see what develops between them. The best we can do for them now is to make sure all the work gets done around here so Pa can spend all the time he wants with her.”
“Somehow, I knew that you would turn this into a situation that means we’ll have to work more and harder.”
“Aw, Little Joe, Adam just wants us to make sure that Pa can court Eva ifn he wants to do that. Right, Adam?”
As they rode to the northwest, Ben pointed out sights for Eva. She was a good rider but not used to spending so much time in the saddle at one time. Within two hours, they had to stop. Ben helped her down from her horse but didn’t release her when her feet touched the ground. Instead he kept his hands around her waist and leaned down to kiss her. Eva wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close for a passionate kiss. When they broke apart to catch their breath, it was time to talk.
“Ben, you must think me a brazen woman to kiss you so after only a few days, but I find you irresistible. I have never known anyone like you. You are both strong and gentle, sophisticated and down to earth, passionate, handsome, and so manly that I almost swoon when you kiss me.”
“Eva, I feel the same. You make my heart race every time you’re near, and you’re in my dreams at night. I know I’m acting more like my impulsive and impetuous youngest son, but I don’t ever want you to go away. I don’t want to lose you now that I’ve found you. You are a treasure beyond measure. You are kind and gentle, caring, loving, and yet you have an inner strength that is amazing. Anyone who can make Adam do what they want is force to be reckoned with. I want you by my side.”
“Ben, are you asking to court me?”
“I’m still officially in mourning for my husband.”
“How long have you been mourning him?”
“It was a year ago.”
“How long do you think official mourning should last?”
“I think a year should be sufficient. What do you think?”
Smiling, Ben swept her into his arms and kissed her soundly again. “I think we should spend as much time together as possible. My sons can handle the cattle drive. It’s time for me to hand off more responsibility to them anyway.”
“I should stay in town then if they’re away. It wouldn’t be proper for me to stay at your home without any chaperones. I don’t want people to start talking.”
“Yes, I know. Your reputation is very important. I’ll help you find a place to stay in town, but maybe I’ll take a room at the International so I can see more of you.” Ben released her then so he could tend to the horses.
“Ben, how long a courtship is expected out here?”
“Oh, sometimes a day, a week, a month, six months, a year. It depends on what the couple want. There is no prescribed time frame. It’s not as formal as it is in the cities or in the east.”
“Well, as long as my official mourning is over, I would think that the courtship should only be as long as you want it to be.”
Ben turned from the horses.
“If you’re leaving it up to me, I think we ought to get married before the drive starts. The roundup is next week, and the drive will start the week after that.”
“So two weeks? I can be ready in two weeks.”
“Darling Eva, are you sure? That’s not much time to make the arrangements for a wedding and a party.”
“I have a feeling that there are three young men who would be more than willing to help if you wanted them to do that for us.”
“I think you’re correct in that regard. Yes, let’s do it. I want to be your husband more than I want anything in this life. The thought of being with you to the end of my days just made my heart grow twice as big.”
“Do you want to tell the boys right away, or do you want to tease them a little?”
Smiling, Ben drew Eva in close to him. “They did tease me a little about you, didn’t they? They let me believe that you were an elderly woman they called Ma. I couldn’t believe it when such a gorgeous woman stepped from that carriage. I knew then that they set me up. That smirk on Adam’s face was a dead giveaway. He couldn’t help gloating about putting one over on me.”
“Let’s tease them at least a little. What did you have in mind?”
“Oh, nothing too much. We do need their help to pull a wedding and party together in two weeks time. Here’s what we’re going to do.” And Ben outlined a simple plan. The two chuckled and held hands as they walked to the horses. They needed to take a number of breaks on the ride, but Ben didn’t mind at all. Each stop was an opportunity to take Eva by the waist and help her from her horse, and then they would kiss and touch and murmur sweet things to each other. It was syrupy sweet but exactly what both needed on this day. There were realistic enough to know that this phase wouldn’t last, and there would be disagreements and tension at some point, but they knew too that with the love they already had, they would not want to let anything damage their relationship for they wanted that love to grow.
When Ben and Eva got back to the house, it was dusk. Ben’s sons were home and getting a bit worried. When the couple walked in the door, his sons’ relief was evident, but it turned to consternation as Eva stomped to the stairs and acted as if she was going up to her room. Hoss was the first to ask what had happened.
“Eva is going back to town. Things just aren’t working out for us.”
Little Joe was clearly dismayed. “No, Pa, maybe with more time you two could work through whatever problem the two of you are having. Don’t you think you could give it a little more time?”
Unable to keep up the pretense of anger, Eva let a tiny smile crinkle up the corners of her mouth. Ben saw that and had to work to suppress his own smile. It didn’t work. Soon the two of them were grinning until Hoss and Little Joe reached in their pockets to pull out twenty dollars and hand the bills to Adam who sat on his chair smirking as only he could do. Adam looked at the happy couple.
“So when’s the wedding?”
Ben was a little perturbed that Adam had preempted his announcement. “Sometimes you’re too damn smart for your own good.” However his high spirits could not be doused so easily. “In two weeks, Eva will officially become your Ma. We’ll need your help setting it up. I don’t know if we’ll be able to have enough champagne on hand for all of our guests, but punch will do in a pinch.”
“Adam ordered cases of champagne the day after you two took your first tour of the Ponderosa. It ought to be here in plenty of time.” Hoss seemed a little sad about that so Ben asked why. “That was the same day we made the bet. Adam said Eva would be engaged to marry you before her visit here was over.”
“Adam, you know my attitude about gambling, and what kind of example are you setting for your younger brothers?”
“A good one, I think. Always plan ahead and prepare for any possibility. Hop Sing, you can bring it out now.”
Bearing a tray with six glasses, Hop Sing brought out a bottle of chilled champagne for them. Adam insisted that Hop Sing stay with them and toast the couple. He stood by Adam and grinned for he liked Missy Eva very much and knew that she would make his boss and friend very happy. Two weeks later, the couple wed with friends and family there to share in the celebration. Ben took a month off from the Ponderosa to have a splendid honeymoon with his wife, Eva. He couldn’t remember being happier than he was at that time. His sons took over the cattle drives, and Eva began helping Ben manage the books for the Ponderosa and the businesses that she had inherited. By the time their sons had children, there was enough of an operation so that the next generation could be employed in Ponderosa Enterprises, Inc. Ben and Eva enjoyed grandchildren and eventually retirement together enjoying every moment they had with each other.