Summary: Follows The Haunting and Broken with the same OCs. This is, as the title suggests though, a lighter story set on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day focusing mostly on Adam and his wife, Savannah, and children, Owen and Eva, although his father and brothers play roles in the drama as well.
Word Count: 4508
It was so tempting but Adam knew he shouldn’t do it. A nap seemed like such a pleasant thing to do, but he knew he shouldn’t. Under these circumstances, a nap would be deadly. Therefore no matter how much he wanted and needed one, he couldn’t and forced himself to take a personal inventory.
Yes, he was exhausted. With Savannah nearing her delivery time, she couldn’t do much. Helping her up and down the stairs, in and out of bed, to dress, and to do other things took so much time. In addition, she couldn’t help with the children, so he had full-time caregiver responsibilities with Owen and Eva including getting them to bed each night reading stories that nearly put him to sleep before they nodded off.
Besides being so tired, he was hurt. The horses had backed up when startled by a rabbit of all things. It had made the wagon lurch back into him as he was loading pine boughs into it. His leg hurt where the wagon had hit it, but most of all, his head hurt. He didn’t know what his head had hit when he fell, but it was something hard enough to stun him. To be honest, it had knocked him out.
That had led to the next problem, which was that he was cold and wet. It had started snowing while he lay on the ground. He’d been working and was hot and sweating. With his coat open when he fell, the snow settled on his shirt, pants, and face, and melted on him chilled him thoroughly. The wind picked up with the snowstorm too which only made it feel even colder.
With all the time that he had lost, it was getting dark. With the snow and the gathering dusk, he was having a difficult time determining which way he would have to go with the wagon. If he could be honest with himself, he would have admitted that the blow to his head was a factor in that confusion too. Shivering almost uncontrollably by that point, he still managed a laugh although a rather derisive one. He had volunteered for this duty to get out of the house and now all he wanted to do was to get back there, but he was afraid he wasn’t going to make it. He wished he had taken Beau with him because he could have sent him for help. Well he could have tried to send him for help. It was unlikely the dog would have left his side knowing he was hurt, but at least he wouldn’t have been alone.
Struggling to walk, he pulled himself along the side of the wagon and up to the seat. Luckily the horses had settled down and were agreeable to a nice slow ride. He didn’t think he could manage anything more. Even sitting on that bench seat during a slow ride was a challenge with his balance badly affected. Several times he leaned back so far he almost fell back into the bed of the wagon. Grateful that there were pine boughs there, he knew if he did fall, his landing would be cushioned by them and there likely wouldn’t be any more injuries. However, for the time being, he concentrated on trying to stay seated in an upright position and keeping the team moving forward. He had a wife, two children, and an unborn baby he wanted to see born.
About two hours later, Hoss and Joe found the wagon. There was no sign of Adam, but they found blood on the wagon seat when they scraped away the snow. There wasn’t much as it only tinted the snow pink, but it was enough to indicate that their brother was hurt. In the snowstorm, it was impossible to know where he was. They followed the rapidly disappearing tracks back to where he had cut the pine boughs. They were able to do so mostly by determining direction based on the little track they could see. When they got to the trees, they found nothing. Although everything in their hearts told them to keep searching, they had no idea where to look. There were no signs of anything as they rode back to the wagon.
“We should keep looking. He’s hurt and he’ll freeze out here on foot.”
“I know, but where do we look, Hoss? What direction did he go?”
“Dadburnit, I don’t know. I cain’t see nothing no better’n you.”
“Hoss, we have to go home. If we stay out here, Pa’s going to lose three sons.”
“He ain’t lost one yet. He could be hunkered down somewhere out here to ride out the storm.”
“He could be, but we can’t see more than twenty feet ahead of us. With the snow, we don’t know where he went. If he is ‘hunkered down’ as you say, then he’s better off than we are out here in the open.”
Reluctantly, Hoss climbed onto the wagon seat and drove the team home as Joe led Chubb. Everything in him argued that they should keep searching, but as Joe said, they didn’t know where to search. The storm continued to intensify as they drove back so they knew they had made the right call by deciding to head home though neither of them wanted to have to tell their father and Savannah that they couldn’t find him. When they got back, Joe went ahead and opened the stable doors so Hoss could drive the wagon into the building and out of the storm. Joe led Cochise and Chubb in and pulled the doors closed against the fury of the windblown snow.
“We were lucky to get back.”
“Not so lucky. There’s only two of us got back.”
“Hoss, there was nothing we could do.”
“I know, but it hurts awful bad jest the same.”
Ben came into the stable at that point, and seeing only his two younger sons, his whole body sagged with despair. “You couldn’t find him?”
“Pa, we looked everywhere. There was no sign of him.”
“What did you say?”
“There was no sign of him.”
“No, I thought someone said ‘help me’ just now.”
Frowning, Hoss and Joe looked at their father who signaled for them to be quiet. All three listened carefully and then they all heard it. It was unmistakable. They threw the pine boughs, snow, and ice out of the back of the wagon uncovering a cold, injured Adam underneath them. He was shaking with the cold and had a bloody welt on the back of his head. Hoss and Ben got him out of the wagon stripping his wet coat from him. Ben pulled his warm coat off and wrapped it around his son. Then he looked at Hoss who nodded and picked Adam up to carry him to the house.
“You two break a path through the snow for me, and I’ll git him there.”
A warm bath prepared by Hop Sing and cups of hot tea and broth as well as warm dry clothing and a warm blanket had Adam warmed up quite a bit after an hour. He sat wrapped in that blanket in front of the fireplace and told them what happened. He finished with how he had ended up in the back of the wagon hidden under the pine boughs.
“I fell backwards off the seat. It happened when the horses pulled the wagon through a drift. It wasn’t going and then suddenly it was. I got off-balance and with the dizziness flopped right back over the seat. The horses were still moving, and I didn’t think I’d be able to get back in the seat and stay there. I was cold and wet and decided to burrow under those pine boughs to try to stay warm or get a bit warmer than I was. I tried to call for help as soon as I heard Hoss and then Joe, but they couldn’t hear me. My voice was too weak and the wind was too strong.”
“I’m certainly glad you made it back. Merry Christmas, son! Merry Christmas to all!”
“I’m real glad you made it back too, Papa.” Owen was sitting on one side of Adam who sat with Eva on his lap. Both children were leaning a little into Adam as if to reassure themselves that he was there.
On Adam’s other side, Savannah was sitting too but was obviously not comfortable as she kept shifting positions seemingly unable to find one that suited her. “I don’t think we can let you leave the house alone. We’ll have to send someone out with you every time to make sure you come back and do so uninjured.”
Although he detected the peevishness in her voice, Adam said nothing. He looked at his father who smiled softly. He remembered what it was like when your wife was getting close to having a baby. Based on what he saw, he didn’t think it was going to be too long.
“Adam, I think you ought to get the children to bed now.”
“It’s still a little early, isn’t it?”
“No, now.” Savannah was emphatic in her response. Her voice was even a little high-pitched and almost panicky as if worried that Adam might not do as she wished.
“Son, I think now would be a good time. I’ll help if you wish.”
Frowning a little, Adam agreed and told the children it was time for bed. As he stood and watched Savannah put both hands over her stomach, he looked at his father who nodded. Adam’s eyes got very large.
“Yes, son, now is a very good time.”
Then Adam understood why Savannah wanted the children put to bed. He accepted his father’s assistance and asked his brothers to stick close to his wife in case she needed some help. Hoss picked up on that subtle hint and his eyes got big too as he looked at Joe who mouthed the question. “Now?” All three men nodded at him. There hadn’t been a baby born in the house for quite some time. It was going to be a momentous night. Soon Hop Sing was in the downstairs guest bedroom with a load of kindling to start up the fireplace in there. Hoss looked at Joe.
“Now, how’d he know?”
“Hoss, by now you should know he always is the first to know everything.”
They had devised this plan a month earlier. When it was time for the baby to arrive, Savannah would use the downstairs guest bedroom as that would shield her children from the sounds of labor and delivery. It would also be more convenient for the first couple of months of caring for the infant and keeping the baby warm.
Although Adam tried to hurry through the bedtime rituals and stories, it didn’t work. The children insisted that everything be done the same as it was always done and wouldn’t let Ben substitute as storyteller especially as they had feared losing their father that day. The only way to get them in bed so he could go to his wife was to follow their need for uniformity and continuity. Finally Owen rolled over and closed his eyes. Quickly, Adam closed the book and put it on the bedside table hurrying from the room but closing the door quietly. By the time he got downstairs, Savannah was in the guest bedroom. His father had a message for him.
“She’s waiting for you. The snow has stopped so Joe went to town to get Doctor Martin. Things seem to be progressing rather rapidly here.”
After helping Savannah get into a gown and into bed, Adam sat by her side and they talked. Mostly he did his best to keep her mind off the pains that came at regular intervals and were getting worse and lasting longer.
About the time Adam was thinking that he might have to assist in the birth of his child, he heard Joe’s voice. He had thought he had never been so grateful to hear his youngest brother. Soon after that, there was a knock on the door and Doctor Martin entered the room. Paul insisted that Adam should leave the room at that point. Adam spent the next few hours pacing which made his family more nervous even as it helped him burn off more energy. He stopped abruptly when he heard a baby cry. There was no reaction at all from him as he stood as still as a statue so Ben stood and put a hand on his son’s shoulder.
“Congratulations, you’re a father again. This time, you get to have all the fun of having a baby in the house.”
Hoss chuckled. “Pa, I’m thinkin’ we’re all gonna git ta have that fun.”
Ben shrugged, and Adam finally relaxed a little and grinned. His brothers congratulated him too.
“I bought some cigars, but I don’t remember where they are.”
“That’s all right. I don’t think cigar smoke is going to be what Savannah wants in the house anyway. Your brothers and I can wait for a good time for all of us to smoke them outside. At least we will if you remember where you put them.”
They all got to chuckle again which was the best thing for Adam and keeping him from worrying too much until he got to see his wife and baby. He had been so consumed with worries that something would go wrong that he was still finding it remarkable that all was well. When Paul opened the door and told him he could see his wife and child, he covered the space in only a few steps but halted in the doorway as he got the first glimpse of Savannah sitting in bed with their child. Then he moved in to sit on the side of the bed to get a good look at both of them.
“Do you like our son?”
“A son? He’s beautiful. You’re beautiful.”
“You are amazing. I’m a mess and he’s still covered with some of that goo and you call us beautiful.”
“Yes, you are, and I love you.”
“I love you too. Now can you help us get cleaned up before you call your father and brothers in here?”
A short time later, Ben and Adam’s younger brothers met Abel Emmanuel Cartwright, named after his great-grandfather and in honor of arriving in the early hours of Christmas.
In the morning, Adam got to wake his son and daughter to tell them about the new arrival. Owen was excited and wanted to know when he could start teaching his brother about things he knew.
“I’m so glad you gave me a brother. It’s going to be so much more fun than having a sister. We can do things together that I can’t do with a girl.”
“Owen, I hate to break this to you, but I doubt you will be doing much with Abel for many years. He’s eight years, almost nine years, younger than you. By the time he’s old enough to do the things you’re doing now, you’ll be a young man and interested in doing many things he won’t want to do or be able to do.”
“But we could do some things together.”
“Yes, you will be able to do some things together, but he won’t be the companion you were hoping to have. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to depend on your friends for companionship in most activities.”
Although a bit resigned to that, Owen was excited that it was Christmas morning. “We still get to have Christmas though, right? I mean, Mama having her baby didn’t change that, did it?”
“No, you get dressed and head downstairs to have some breakfast. I’ll get your sister, and after breakfast, you can meet your baby brother. Then we’ll see about getting your mother out by the tree so we can have Christmas.”
With that promise, Owen was agreeable to following instructions. Adam headed to Eva’s room and as usual found her still snuggled down under the covers. On a cold winter day, she would likely stay in bed for most of the day if he let her. Smiling, he began to tug the covers away one by one until she reluctantly sat up and reached for him. Taking her in his arms, he shared the news that she had a baby brother.
“Where did you get him?”
“Remember how Mama told you that she had a baby in her tummy? Well, the baby came out.”
“Good. Now I can sit on her lap again.”
Relieved that Eva hadn’t asked about how the baby came out, Adam had to caution her about sitting on her mother’s lap though. “Your mother is very tired. It was difficult for her to get the baby out of her tummy so she needs to rest. You might have to wait to sit on her lap. She’s going to need to hold the baby quite a lot too. Babies can’t do anything for themselves and need to be held a lot.”
“No, Mama said I couldn’t sit on her lap because her tummy was too big. She said when the baby came, her tummy would be smaller so I could fit on her lap again.”
“Yes, you will fit, but I’m telling you that Mama will be so busy with the baby that she may not have as much time to sit and hold you as you want. You still have my lap and Grandpa and your uncles.”
“No, I’m going to sit on Mama’s lap.”
“Well, we’ll see.”
Adam decided that arguing with a four-year-old wasn’t useful. Getting her dressed and downstairs to have breakfast made more sense. He hoped that Christmas would improve her mood, and seeing how Savannah had to hold the baby would make it sink in as no argument could.
That plan worked only until breakfast was done and Adam got Savannah and the baby out by the tree. Savannah held the baby close to her and wanted her children to come close to take a look. Owen was curious and sat on the arm of the chair to get a good look reaching out to touch his new brother’s cheek and smiling as he felt the soft skin.
“Mama, he’s so tiny.”
“You all start out that way. He’ll grow quickly. In a couple of years, he’ll be toddling about the house getting into all sorts of mischief. We’ll really need your help then to watch over him and keep him safe.”
“A couple of years?”
“Yes, sweetie, why?”
“Papa said it would take a long time for him to grow up, but now you said it too. It makes it all kind of sink in better hearing you say it too.”
Noticing that Eva was still sitting by the Christmas tree, Adam suggested she come over and see her baby brother.
“No, he’s in my place.”
“Your place?” Savannah was surprised at her response.
Adam explained. “She thought that you had the baby and now there would be room on your lap for her. She doesn’t like that the baby is still there. I think we’ve got a case of jealousy here.”
“Oh, dear.” Turning her attention to her daughter, Savannah told her to come and sit on the arm of the chair and lean on her shoulder.
“No, I want to sit on your lap. You can give that old baby to Papa.”
“Eva, you will talk nice or you will go to your room.”
“I am talking nice. You lied.”
“Eva, go to your room. I’ll be up in a few minutes to talk with you.”
“You all hate me.” Eva ran up the stairs then in clear violation of the rule against running too. It seemed at that point she didn’t care what anyone thought of her behavior.
“Adam, don’t punish her, please. She needs time to adjust to this new situation. She doesn’t understand.”
“That may be so, but she needs to speak respectfully too and she didn’t do that. Don’t worry. I’ll be gentle with her.” Turning to Owen, Adam decided to get everyone’s attention away from Eva’s dramatics and give the little girl a little time upstairs to get ready to see him. “Owen, that box next to you is for you. Why don’t you open it?”
That instigated a bunch of gift opening and thanking until nearly a half hour had passed. Adam stood, sighed, and headed for the stairs. He didn’t get there as there was someone knocking on the front door. As long as he was up and moving, Adam volunteered to answer the door. He was curious anyway as to who would be at their door on Christmas morning. It was Candy from the bunkhouse.
“I hate to interrupt your family time, but I have a question from the men.”
“Yeah, you have a rule against no women in the bunkhouse ever, but we were wondering if you could make an exception. We have a pretty little lady who showed up about twenty minutes ago and said she’s running away from home and wants to live with us. Now she’s having quite a time telling stories to the boys, and well, they wouldn’t mind having her stay with us.” All the time, Candy was grinning.
As Candy was talking, Adam began to relax and smile as did the others. Owen had a question.
“Who is the lady?” Hoss leaned over to tell him. “Oh, why did they call her a lady?”
“He’s joshing Adam.”
“Maybe I ought to go have a little talk with the lady and make sure she wants to do this. I’ll bring her coat. It seems she took a roundabout way to the bunkhouse and didn’t get her coat or her hat and mittens.” Adam grabbed his coat as well as Eva’s.
“She was a mite chilled when she knocked on our door, but we took care of that.”
“Thank you, Candy.” Turning back to look at Savannah, Adam shook his head and sighed. “Do they always have to run away when they’re upset?” Then he walked out the door closing it softly behind him.
Owen looked a bit guilty then. “Is he ever going to forget that?”
Joe leaned over to him. “Your father never forgets anything.”
In the bunkhouse, Adam found Eva at the center of attention of the men who stayed on in the winter. She looked worried when he entered, but he sat on a bunk and said nothing at first. Finally she addressed him.
“Papa, they said I could stay here if you said it was all right.”
“It’s all right with me if that’s what you want to do. We’ll miss you though very much.”
“Mama won’t miss me. She’s got that baby now.”
“Oh, she’ll miss you a great deal. But won’t you miss us? And miss your toys?”
“I’ll play with the toys here.”
Candy interjected some information for her there though. “Ah, Eva, we don’t have any toys.”
“What do you play with?”
“We play cards or checkers. Some of us play chess.”
“I don’t know how to do that. Can you read books to me?”
“We don’t have any children’s stories either.”
“Oh.” Eva was beginning to seriously doubt whether she wanted to live in the bunkhouse now. They gave her a lot of attention but she was going to miss those other things.
Adam wanted Candy to continue so he added in a question. “Candy, what will Eva do during the day?”
“Oh, you mean when we all leave to go to work. I guess she’d be here all alone then until we came back for dinner. Some days some of the men are back for lunch. She’d get to have beans and bacon with us then. Sometimes we have ham and biscuits for lunch too. Of course, she could wash the plates and cups for us after lunch. She could keep busy sweeping the floor too. Maybe she could straighten things up a bit. You know, keep things tidy.”
“Papa, I don’t want to live here. Can I go back home now?”
“Nothing has changed at home. We still have to give Abel a lot of attention. You will need to have a good attitude and speak respectfully too.”
“I know. I will. I’m sorry for being naughty.”
“You know you were naughty then?”
“Yes, that’s why I runned away to here. I thought you were going to give me a spanking. I was naughty.”
“You ran away. You spoke very disrespectfully. Do you think you deserve a spanking for that?”
Eva dropped her head not wanting to answer that one. Adam took her in his arms and put her coat on her. He whispered in her ear and she nodded even as tears ran down her cheeks.
Fifteen minutes later, they walked into the house from the kitchen. Eva did her best not to rub her bottom. She walked over to her mother.
“Now do you want to sit on the arm of the chair and lean on my shoulder?”
Looking at the arm of the chair, Eva shook her head. Adam came over and put a soft pillow on the arm of the chair making Eva look up at him with gratitude. He lifted her up then and set her next to her mother. She leaned in and rested her head on her mother’s shoulder as Savannah held her sleeping baby. Owen brought over a present for Eva and she opened it to find a doll baby for her to hold. It had a matching green blanket to the receiving blanket in which Abel was wrapped. Eva grinned at her older brother then as her parents smiled at each other.
On the settee, Ben could hardly hold back the tears as he watched the family drama conclude. He knew there would be more episodes, but this was the kind of scene he loved. Across from him, Hoss nudged Joe and pointed at their father before whispering to him.
“Ya think with all that shopping we did, we coulda gotten Pa the best Christmas gift, but I think Adam done beat us again.”
“Hoss, there’s only one thing we can do.”
“We’re going to have to get married and get some kids. It’s the only way to get Pa to really smile these days.”
“I’m working on it, little brother. How ’bout you?”
Ben overheard them and had even more reason to smile.