Summary: The Cartwright sons all have wishes for Christmas, and none of them get exactly what they want, but one of them especially gets something he never expected.
Word Count: 3,893
Scrubbing down the floor of the cabin so the lady would be happy here for a couple of days, Adam Cartwright was thinking mostly of Hoss and his wife, Dolly. They were so happy together. But Adam wished for that same kind of happiness for himself which had so far eluded him, and those thoughts intruded. However, he was going to do all he could to make one lady, at least, enjoy this winter holiday as much as she could.
Once he had the floor of the cabin as clean as it was going to be, he pulled the rope that secured a bundle of greenery he had cut that morning and used it to decorate around the windows which he had packed tightly with rags to keep out any drafts. The pine boughs would effectively camouflage his work while making the whole room smell sweet too and banish any of the musty smells left that his cleaning hadn’t removed.
There was a basket of food and wine covered with a nice damask tablecloth which he removed and used to cover the small table. He set a hand-carved candle holder in the center of that. It had been a gift from his brother Hoss, and he couldn’t think of a better time to use it. With a thick candle set in the center of it, there would be a nice romantic glow over dinner. He had two lanterns to set on the mantle and another two to set on the small cabinet by the stove. The lighting would be adequate and romantic. It was perfect in his estimation.
Rolling out a rug he had brought in earlier, he wondered if there might be some romancing happening there, but he quickly banished the thought knowing that the comfy warm bed was a better place for the couple. He had already put fresh crisp linens and a thick comforter on the bed. On the table next to the bed was a small box of chocolates.
Looking around the room, he couldn’t think of anything else to do except wait. Smiling at the sound of a carriage, he knew he didn’t have to do much of that either. Setting the basket of food and wine on the cabinet, he turned and waited for the door to open wanting to see the look on her face when she saw the preparations he had made. He wasn’t disappointed either as her smile couldn’t have been broader. He grinned in response.
“Oh, Adam, it’s perfect. Hoss is going to love his present from us. A couple of days to relax with no one to bother us. I love it. You have the best ideas!”
“Well, if I can’t have my own romance, at least I know how to help others have theirs.”
Dolly put a hand to his cheek. “Aw, sweetie, it will happen for you. Someone will love you. I know they will. It’s going to happen soon. I know it.”
Uncomfortable with the turn in the conversation, Adam changed the subject as he usually did in such circumstances. “You told him to meet you here?”
“Yes, about a half hour from now. I wanted to make sure you had time to be away before he got here.”
“Then I better be moving along. I’ll carry in your bags and go. Hoss can take care of your horse when he arrives. I have grain in the stable out back and buckets for water.”
“You thought of everything.”
“I hope so. If not, you aren’t that far away.”
“I know, but it’s so difficult to get any time to ourselves. I hope we don’t have to leave here for anything.”
After Adam brought in her bags, Dolly gave him a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek before he left. Then she began adding her special touches to the work he had done. She planned to have a very special time with Hoss especially as she had some wonderful news to share with him. She couldn’t stop smiling.
Sitting in the chair at the table with the fire in the fireplace casting a glow across her blond hair, she knew she gave her husband a good image when he came in the door. Standing stock still for a moment taking in the changes in the cabin, Hoss grinned at her after his eyes had swept the whole of the cabin.
“Adam done this, didn’t he? I knew it had to be him up to something when he wasn’t at the house helping with the tree. Then you said you wanted to meet me here, but Pa said he needed my help for a half hour. I knew you all was up to something, but I never guessed it was this.”
“Would you close the door. It was nice and warm and cozy until you stood there with the door open.”
Hurriedly pushing the door closed, Hoss was a bit chagrined. “I didn’t ruin nothing, did I? I mean, this is so wonderful. I hope I didn’t mess it up none.”
“No, you didn’t. And thank you for taking that bath Adam suggested.”
“He do all the planning on this?”
“No, but it was his idea. I was talking to him and said I didn’t know what to give you for Christmas. He said he thought he might have an idea of something you would like. He talked to your father and Hop Sing and took care of most things. I added a few ideas of my own.”
“I sure am glad to hear Hop Sing was in on it.”
“Oh, I knew you would be, and he packed up enough food for us to be here for a week at least, but we’re only going to be able to stay for three days. Then it’s Christmas Eve, and we need to be back with the rest of the family.”
“Darling, I don’t know what to feast on first.”
“There’ll be time for everything. I think we ought to try some of Hop Sing’s food first though. You’re going to need your strength to get through the night!” Dolly adopted the best version of a wicked look that she knew how to do, put a leg up on a chair, and pulled the skirt of her dress up to her thigh exposing most of her leg.
Gulping for air, Hoss did something he had hardly ever done in his life. He ignored the food in the basket so he could pick up his wife in his arms. Carrying her to the bed, he couldn’t turn down the lanterns. He apologized for that.
“No, dear, we don’t need to hide in the dark here. It’s only the two of us. We can love each other in the light.”
“Oh, I like that too. I get to see all of you the whole time I’m loving you up.”
Then Hoss set about doing just that. Both were so desperate for time alone with each other, the first time didn’t take long. They promised each other that the next time, they would be more relaxed and savor each moment more.
“Hoss, the passion was wonderful though. And we didn’t have to hold back. It was so refreshing to let loose and be able to let you hear how I felt.”
“Darling, it’s a good thing we’re miles from the house. I think anybody within a mile musta heard how you felt.” Hoss was grinning though. “I think we need to make this our cabin for regular getaways. Maybe that’s what Adam had in mind for us. He’s got the place fixed up right nice.”
“It’s hard to believe that you and your father and brother lived here when you first started up the ranch.”
“Yeah, and eventually Hop Sing and our hired man lived in here too. It was a mite crowded, I suppose, but I loved it. It was my first real home. There was a cot for each of us too. I never had my own bed until we lived here.”
“Adam said he thought someone might have been using this place. The window was open and there were fresh ashes in the fireplace.”
“Musta been someone traveling through. None of our hands would use it.”
“Why would anyone be traveling through here now? The passes are all closed with snow already.”
“They might be headed to the south.”
“Oh, I guess that makes sense if they were from north of here.”
While they were talking and dressed only in robes, they got the food out for their dinner. Both heard the sounds outside at the same time. Someone or something was by the horses. Hoss had taken care of both before entering the cabin. He knew he needed to do more for them, and now that was even more important. Quickly pulling on his pants, shirt, coat, and boots, he grabbed his rifle. Dolly dressed quickly too not wanting to be caught undressed if there was trouble.
Moving very quietly for a big man, Hoss used every trick Adam had taught him about sneaking up on whoever was by the horses. By the quick, furtive movements, at first, he thought they were Indians trying to steal the horses but realized soon that they were children. He grabbed one and was shocked to have a knife swung in his direction. Grabbing the boy’s wrist, he squeezed hard enough to make him drop it. The other one, clearly a girl by the sound of her complaint, jumped him then attempting to force him to release the boy. He managed to grab one of her wrists too by dropping his rifle. Then he pulled the two kicking and screaming children to the cabin.
As he came through the door pushing one and pulling the other, Dolly stood shocked to see him. The girl was trying to reach up to scratch Hoss’ face though so Dolly grabbed her from behind and locked her arms around the girl so she couldn’t harm Hoss. That freed Hoss to stop the boy from fighting.
“We got any rope?”
“In the carriage, there might be some.”
Struggling to do so with an arm still around the slender boy, Hoss slipped off his belt. It was large enough to put around the boy securing his arms to his body when Hoss pulled it tight. For that, he got a long epithet of English and what sounded to him like Shoshoni words. The English was cursing so Hoss assumed the rest was too. He pulled out a bandana and gagged the boy.
“I’ll be right back.”
Not trusting the boy even bound as he was, Hoss took him with him to the carriage and got the rope that was there. Then he brought him back inside and tied his ankles leaving him on the floor immobilized enough for the moment.
“Tie her too?”
“Please. I can’t hold her much longer. She’s very strong for such a thin girl, and she won’t stop struggling.”
Between the two of them, Hoss and Dolly got the girl tied up too. There wasn’t much rope so all they could do was to tie her arms at the elbows behind her and tie her ankles together. They weren’t going to be able to do much more.
“Darling, I think the only thing to do is to take turns sleeping and watching these too. I’d say I could stay up all night and watch ’em, but I don’t think I could do it. I’m not sure what these two would do ifn they got out of those ropes. Now, you hold the knife. I need to go get my rifle. I’ll look around for more rope too.”
“Hoss, I can’t hold a knife on two children.”
“Not on ’em. Keep it away from ’em or they’ll be using it on you. By the way they’re dressed and some of them words they used, they been raised at least part of the time by the Shoshoni. My guess is they know how to use that knife, so you keep a good hold on it.” Thinking for a moment, Hoss changed his mind. “You know, maybe you should bundle up and go get my rifle. I see the look in his eyes. He’s waiting for me to leave.”
“They’re only children.”
“Yeah, and he pulled that knife on me once already, so they’re mighty dangerous children. I don’t know who whelped these two, but the father must be a mighty dangerous man.”
“Yes, and he will kill you for what you have done.”
“So you do understand English. I kinda figured you did.” Turning to Dolly, Hoss looked to the door to encourage her to do as he had asked. “Now suppose you tell me what you’re doing here. Were you going to steal our horses? That’s a crime, you know. Get you in a whole heap of trouble.”
“My sister and I do not steal. We were going to sleep there because you took the cabin. We were already there, but we heard screaming here and thought someone was being killed. Then we saw what you were doing and thought to return to where we were to try to sleep.”
“Ifn ya don’t mind, don’t tell the lady that part about seeing what we were doing. Now, why you out here on your own. You could die in this kind of weather.”
“Our mother died, and we came to find our father.”
“And who is your father?”
Hoss whistled when he heard the name wondering how that news would be received and if the man would accept these two as his own. The boy saw the look of doubt.
“My mother said he does not know of us, but she sent a letter. I have it.”
“She must have known she was dying then?”
“Yes, she had a sickness inside of her. She knew. She prepared us.”
“With only a knife for protection?”
“We are too young for guns. That is what she told us. We didn’t have that far to come. She sent us with a Bannock party. They dropped us off nearby and told us where to go, but we got lost. There is so much here we don’t know.”
At that point, Dolly came back in carrying the rifle and two sacks which she set on the floor. “These must belong to them.”
“They’re brother and sister looking for their pa cause their ma died or was dying when they left. The Bannock got them close but then they got lost. Ended up here and took refuge.” Looking back at the boy, Hoss had to ask him what he would have done next.
“We thought when the weather got better, we would find someone who knew our father and ask how to find him here.”
“Well, we both know him.” Dolly looked at Hoss who put up his hands to ask her to wait. “You two look the same size and age. How can you be brother and sister?”
“You must know by what you said.”
“Born at the same time. You’re twins.”
The boy nodded.
“All right. We’ll take you to your father tomorrow and see about getting this all straightened out. Just to help keep things peaceable around here, if we untie you, will you promise not to run or to hurt anyone? Just so you know, I’m not giving you your knife back.”
The boy looked doubtful, but his sister who had been quiet until then spoke for the first time except for the cursing earlier.
“If you share your food so we know you have friendly intentions, then we promise not to try to harm you.”
Her brother looked at her with a frown, thought briefly, and then nodded before looking back to Hoss and Dolly to see if they would agree too. Hoss shrugged and looked at Dolly as well.
“She makes a good point. Ifn we’re all eating together, seems we’d be friends and not likely to hurt one another.”
“We certainly have enough food. All right, let’s try that. But you two have already found out how strong my husband is. I don’t think you want to push him into a fight where he gets mad. Am I clear on that?”
“Yes, ma’am.” The two answered in chorus as if they had done that at least a thousand times already.
Once Hoss got his belt back, he put the knife into it. The boy surrendered the sheath to make that easier to do. Hoss thanked him, but took the bullets out of the rifle and put them in his pocket as a precaution nevertheless. Dolly had the two clean themselves up a bit, and then all four pulled food from the basket and ate a late dinner.
After dinner, the children rolled out blankets to sleep. Hoss got the comforter from the bed for them to share to make their bed more comfortable. Then he went back to the bed to speak with Dolly. When he told her the name of the father, her mouth dropped open.
“Yes, it fits too. It was about that long ago. It’s gonna be quite the Christmas surprise, ain’t it?”
“You know, now that you told me, I can see the resemblance. The dark wavy hair. The hazel eyes. It all fits. It is going to be quite the shock when we show up there tomorrow with these two. What are their names?”
“I plumb forgot to ask.”
The next morning, they got more of the story from the two as well as their names. They had to smile when they found their names were Adam and Eve.
“Our mother opened the Bible to get the names and took the first ones she saw. She wanted good Bible names. The Shoshoni gave us other names too. Our Shoshoni family never called us Adam and Eve. Only our mother called us that and only when no one else was there. She said we needed to know our real father even if our Shoshoni father was good to us. But he did not want us as much as he wanted his own child with our mother. She had no more children, and he was killed two years ago so the Shoshoni did not want us when our mother was dying.”
Dolly had tears in her eyes hearing that story, and even Hoss had a difficult time when he realized everything these children had been through. He looked at Dolly and asked her what she was thinking.
“I’m thinking if their father has any problem being a father to them, we’ve got plenty of love to give. I’ve got news to tell you, Hoss. We’re going to have our own baby, but that wouldn’t stop me from taking these two in if they need a family.”
Hoss’ mouth dropped open making the two children chuckle. He looked at them and back at Dolly. Then he stood and wrapped his arms around her. “I love you so much.” Next he regarded the children. “You know what she meant by what she said?”
“We do. We thank you, but we think we should live with our father.”
“We’ll see how that goes. Meanwhile, let’s pack all this up and head back to the house. Things ain’t working out like we planned, but Christmas is gonna be real special this year anyhow.”
Hoss opened the door to head out to hitch up the horses and closed it almost as fast. “Uh, hold that thought. It seems nature may be causing a slight delay in our plans.”
Dolly headed to the window followed by Adam and Eve. They couldn’t see anything and turned to Hoss.
“Yep, while we been talking, a mighty big snowstorm hit. We ain’t going nowhere until that settles down out there. Now, I need you all to tie these bits of rope together to get me a line to tie to the cabin when I walk to the stable. I don’t aim to let myself get lost out there, but I need to take care of the horses.”
“Hoss, there’s not enough rope.”
“There is if I only tie it from the back corner to the stable. I’ll walk along the walls of the cabin to there, tie it off, and then walk to the stable.”
It was almost an hour before Hoss came back in, and Dolly was scared sick with worry. Covered with snow and chilled, Hoss stood by the fire to pull off his coat, hat, boots, and pants. Dolly wrapped the comforter around him. Adam moved the chair over for him.
That was the routine for the next day as well. One trip to care for the horses and then the rest of the day inside. Hoss taught the children to play checkers and they had marathon sessions of playing those. In between, they spent a lot of time melting snow for water and cooking meals. Their food was enough to get them through as long as they could leave by Christmas Eve. On that morning, Hoss got up and went to the door opening it to find a winter wonderland but the sun was shining. He closed the door but was frowning as he announced the storm was over.
“If the storm is over, why are you upset, sweetheart?”
“There’s too much snow to use the carriage. I don’t know how we’re going to leave. A horse could probably make it, but there’s four of us. We can’t all ride my horse, and your carriage horse doesn’t have a saddle. I don’t think Chubb could carry double in the snow anyhow.”
While they sat glumly not knowing what to do, they heard bells. Hoss smiled even as the others wondered what was happening.
“I knew it. Somebody would make sure we got home for Christmas. The only question is which one is it.”
It was Ben in the sleigh. Two riders were breaking through the snow to help the team pulling. Once at the cabin where it was a bit shielded the riders dismounted and all three men came inside to warm themselves. Ben was understandably shocked to find two children with Hoss and Dolly, and even more shocked to hear their story. He adjusted quickly though, and Dolly and the children got bundled into the sleigh. Hoss rode Chubb and led the carriage horse. They made quite a caravan on the way back.
At the house, Adam opened the door and had about the same expression Ben had when he saw the children. Hoss told him to wait until they were all inside and warming up. Joe asked too and got the same answer when he saw the two children. Finally, Hoss was ready. Adam was leaning against the fireplace clearly waiting to find out the story especially as he saw their father hovering over the two children so obviously wanting to say something but holding back. He knew there was a lot going on and his curiosity was piqued.
“Now, does everyone remember Princess Saratucci and a certain blue dress our brother let her make with some fabric he gave her. Well, it seems, he gave her something else. Merry Christmas, little brother, you’re a father.”