Oh, Ducky! (by BettyHT)
Walking from the church on Sunday morning, Ben Cartwright’s heart felt light and his spirit was cleansed. The minister’s sermon had hit home with him, and he had reveled in the hour of verse and explanation as well as admonitions of how to live a more godly life. He had taught his sons well and not one had squirmed in their seats beside him, but if he had known their thoughts, he most definitely would have been disappointed. Joe saw the colors in the window behind the minister and tried to remember a girl he had kissed for every color in the window. He appeared to be concentrating so well and looking to heaven for blessing that his father was most pleased with him of his three sons that morning. He even saw Joe’s brow furrowed in concentration several times especially near the end of the sermon. Ben couldn’t have been prouder to see his youngest taking such an interest in theological matters. Of course, he couldn’t know that Joe was completely stuck on trying to think of any girl he had kissed who had worn an orange dress. That was such an unusual color for a dress that he was stuck on that one and never did come up with an answer. Hoss stared at that lectern the minister was using and thought it could use some carving to make it more interesting. He imagined what he would do to make it fit the setting and thought that deer and rabbits in a meadow with mountains and the sun rising in the background with a lake to the side would be about right. He was imagining how he would do it and fit all of that on the lectern, which accounted for his stare of concentration during the sermon.
Ironically, it was the son who was actually listening to the sermon who drew Ben’s disapproval. To Ben, it seemed that Adam was inattentive as he looked around at the congregation rather often it seemed during the course of the sermon. As he was the one sitting directly next to his father, that was quite obvious. Adam found the sermon to be a long list of redundancies and thought that after hammering home the same point two or three times, the minister could have moved on to something else, but he kept at the same idea over and over. He knew the man was no Emerson, but he thought he could at least try to keep it interesting instead of being so repetitive. Hence, when Clementine Hawkins latched onto Ben’s arm outside the church telling him she needed an escort for her niece for that week, Ben thought Adam was the best choice and offered him up as the sacrificial lamb even as Hoss and Joe smiled and offered their insincere regrets that they were not the lucky man. Adam gave them the look that told them exactly what he was thinking before Ben disengaged his arm from Clementine to make an offer that infuriated his eldest son who was far too polite to respond the way he wanted to respond.
“Perhaps Adam could begin his escort duties today as he could use the carriage, and I could ride home with Doctor Martin who is coming to dinner later.”
“Oh, Benjamin, that would be wonderful. Dear Penelope was too tired to come to church with me this morning. Her feet hurt so much from helping me in the kitchen yesterday that I told her to soak them in salts this morning. She’ll be so pleased to have a gentleman caller today.”
Sputtering then, Adam had to respond to that. “But I’m not a gentleman caller. I only was offered up to be her escort for the week.”
Ignoring his terminology, Clementine continued in her usual cheery tone. “Oh, ducky, by the time you’ve spent a week with dear Penelope, I know you’ll love her as much as I loved my dear ‘arry or your father loved his three dear departed ladies. Now come along, we don’t want to keep your lady waiting.” Clementine reached up to slip her arm through Adam’s and tugged him to get him to walk to the carriage. “You can give me a ride to the boardinghouse in style. It’s not often I get to ride through town with such a handsome gentleman at my side. Perhaps if you and Penelope aren’t an item by the end of the week, you and I might find that we like spending time together.”
Adam looked back with such a sick and sad look that Ben almost felt sorry for him, but Hoss and Joe could hardly hold back the laughter and as soon as he was a short distance away, they didn’t. Hearing them laugh back there, Adam wanted to go back and punch each one but knew he had far bigger problems and wished his father all sorts of ill will that week for getting him into this mess. When he met Penelope, he wished he had been able to vent a little for he knew the day was going to be a tortuous one for him.
Penelope was short and round, apparently as shy as a mouse, and from their limited conversation, had read nothing more interesting than recipes since she had learned to read in the three years she had spent in school. He did his best to entertain her with stories and descriptions of the area and the town. She seemed interested, but he found it difficult to discern that with any certainty because of the nearly vacant expression she had most of the time. She did seem to know when he had finished every story though and clapped those pudgy little hands together and said appropriate and banal things about how wonderful each story was. If he thought the minister was redundant, by the end of the afternoon, he wondered if this woman knew more than the fifty or so words she had used in the hours they had been together. Penelope insisted on serving him lunch, then a snack an hour later, then a tea at four, and dinner at six. By the time he left at seven claiming that he needed to get the horse home to be bedded down for the night, he wished there was some way to pump the vile ingredients from his stomach for he felt ill with what he had eaten if only consuming enough to be polite as he watched her consume amounts that would have made Hoss jealous. On the porch, he was going to try to get away gracefully only to be grabbed by her in what he later assumed was an attempt to give him a hug. Instead, it pushed him off balance and he fell backwards down the three steps that led to the boardinghouse porch putting a finishing touch on a horrible day as far as he was concerned. He picked himself up, claimed he was unhurt, and walked to the carriage with as much dignity as he could muster. He only nodded when Clementine suggested he bring the carriage back the next morning to give Penelope a nice ride in the countryside to see the beauty of the land. He guessed it would be better than another afternoon at the boardinghouse.
When Adam got home, his father was planning to apologize to him, but Adam walked in with such a foul attitude and made such sarcastic remarks that Ben got upset with him instead of apologizing to him. He watched Adam go up the stairs before he remembered what he had intended to do. That afternoon, he had had an interesting conversation with his youngest sons who apparently had been misleading him for years with his oldest son’s witting or unwitting help. He wasn’t sure which it was. As they had lunch, he asked what they had thought of the sermon that morning. He got some nondescript answers.
“He sure was fired up, wasn’t he, Pa?”
“Yeah, Pa, that minster there shur knows how to preach ta keep ya on your toes.”
“Yes, that’s all fine and good that he has a delivery that you appreciate, but what did you think of the message, and I would like to hear something with more substance than I’ve heard so far.” Ben had waited for several minutes it seemed and Hoss and Joe looked down and at each other and everywhere else it seemed but at him. “Surely you must remember something.”
“Well, Pa, usually Adam kind of explains things to us after we get home, and, well, he wasn’t here today.”
“He ‘kind of explains things’ to you. Now what exactly does that mean?”
“Well, Pa, you see Adam understands that stuff a lot better than we do, and he gives us a short version that we can follow along better than what the minister says. I mean, we always ask Adam what he thought of the sermon, and you know how Adam likes to give his opinion on things, so he kind of tells us the main ideas.”
“So, you two aren’t really paying attention and Adam is paying attention. He tells you what was said and then you tell me what Adam told you?”
“Well, Pa, we’re in church, ya know, and we do hear what the preacher’s got ta say, but it makes a whole heap more sense when Adam says it. Don’t it, Joe?”
“Yeah, Pa, you know, that Adam should have been a preacher. He really has a gift for getting to the main idea of the scripture. He does a lot better than the minister at getting us to understand that stuff.” Joe had a hopeful look and a small smile hoping that he was getting their father to see it their way.
Turning from one to the other and back again, Ben’s countenance grew darker. “I don’t know what to say to the two of you. You have used your brother and misled me. I wonder what the minister would have to say about that!”
The rest of the day, Hoss and Joe had stayed far away from Ben and Doctor Martin who played chess and talked until it was time for Paul to head back to town. Paul was mostly amused by the inner workings of this family and had another good story to share with Roy when they had breakfast on Monday morning. He had a good idea that Roy was going to enjoy this one very much. Paul passed Adam on the road and wished he could have had the rest of the story because the way Adam looked, there was a lot more to this one. Well, he knew he would hear it eventually and then he would have another story to tell, or Roy would hear it first and entertain him with it. Either way was good, and they would have a good laugh to share at the Cartwrights expense once more.
It had made Ben feel guilty though over what he had done to Adam. Then when he had failed to apologize to him, he felt bad again so he waited a short time and headed up the stairs to talk with his oldest son. When he got to Adam’s room, he saw that Adam had pulled off his shirt and had bruises across his back. Ben was going to say something, but Adam must have heard him approach. He saw his father and reached out one hand to fling the door closed in his father’s face. Ben decided that it might be wise to wait until morning to talk to Adam although he did wonder how he had gotten so bruised.
The next morning, Ben waited at the breakfast table but Adam was slow to come to breakfast waiting for his brothers to finish and head out to work. That was very unlike him, but Ben suspected he had taken more than enough abuse and that he wanted to avoid any more. When he saw Adam though, he was pale and moving very slowly.
“Son, what’s wrong?”
“Oh, just a fall off a porch from an attempted hug by her that went awry, and a stomach filled with horrible food. The woman hasn’t found a food that she doesn’t think can’t be candied, sweetened, or glazed. One look at her and you could tell it is a lifetime trait. And all of that is not the worst part, Pa. You have sent me to be incarcerated for a week with a woman whose idea of reading is to look at recipes and whose vocabulary matches that task only.” As he spoke, Adam voice rose in volume and his temper rose too. He raised his hands then as if in surrender. “No, you couldn’t have known how awful it would be. Not even you could do that to me no matter what offense you think I committed.”
Feeling terribly guilty, Ben confessed all and pleaded for forgiveness although he said he knew how difficult it was going to be for Adam to do that with a commitment to escort Penelope for five more days.
“As it turns out, Pa, it will be only three more days after today. Her cousin is due to arrive on Friday, and thank the Lord, but Clementine has released me from my sentence two days early. She thinks that with two nieces, I would be a problem instead of a solution. That is, if I can survive until Friday, I’ll be free.”
“Why would you be a problem instead of a solution?”
“She believes they would fight over me.”
“Well, that I could understand. Adam, if there is anything I can do to help, know that I will do it. I got you into this, and I will do whatever I can to help you now that I know how wrong I was. I did tell Hoss and Joe to get the carriage ready for you.”
“You better tell them to hitch up the large carriage and with two horses. I’m supposed to take the little butterball on a carriage ride today. At least the scenery may entertain her for a while.”
That evening, Adam came home late again and went into the kitchen instead of the main room. Curious about that, Ben went to the kitchen where he found Hop Sing ministering to his son. When Adam turned to him, Ben was shocked to see a swollen nose and two black eyes.
In a voice hampered by the packing in his nose and the cold cloth Hop Sing had given him to place across his nose and eyes, Adam told the story. “I took her for a carriage ride. Thankfully, Clementine packed the lunch so the food was good. She fell asleep on the blanket when we finished eating. I had to wake her later and it wasn’t easy. Then when we were walking back to the carriage, one of the horses turned his head toward her and neighed. She jumped back and knocked me down and fell on me. Her head connected rather solidly with my face and knocked me out. I woke up with my head in her lap or rather cushioned between her ample thighs and generous bosom. She says now that she thinks we ought to get married because she has heard that couples who sleep together and couples who touch each other intimately are betrothed whether he asks her or not. Pa, I think I’ll go up to my room and shoot myself if you don’t mind. Just clean up the mess in the morning.”
“Adam, I’ll go with you tomorrow. We’ll get this all straightened out.”
“Pa, be careful. The way those women work, we may both be betrothed by tomorrow night.”
Adam shuddered in response to that thought and was matched by his father. Hop Sing brewed some soothing tea for both of them. The next morning, Ben tied Buck to the back of the carriage and the two of them headed to town. Hoss and Joe had refrained from saying anything at breakfast because their father’s lowered brows and piercing gaze had been warning enough. When the two left though, they peppered Hop Sing with questions and he repeated Adam’s story as well as he could.
“Missy Hawkins’ niece say Mister Adam sleep with her and touch her so now he have to marry her. Mister Cartwright say he go to town to take care of things for Mister Adam.”
Standing there with their mouths open, Hoss and Joe were told by Hop Sing that he had to get to work so would they please leave his kitchen. They did but were in shock. They had not seen Penelope Hawkins but they had heard Adam describe her and couldn’t believe that he would have done what Hop Sing had said she said he did. They could hardly concentrate on their work until their father finally returned home early that afternoon and then peppered him with questions.
“No, Adam is not marrying Penelope. She is a very, very naïve young woman and has now had things explained to her in no uncertain terms. Adam will escort her as he said he would until Friday when her cousin arrives in town. Now that is all that will be said about this unfortunate misunderstanding. Your brother has suffered quite enough because of all of this so I want you all to be sure that you do not say anything to upset him about any of this. Is that clear?”
Both Hoss and Joe agreed, but of course, they did mean to say something except they wouldn’t say it anywhere or anytime that their father would be aware they had. They chuckled and giggled quite a lot about it though and by the time Adam got home that evening, they were bursting with the desire to tease him and took every opportunity to do so. They had Adam seething by the next morning. It was clear by his demeanor what had happened and Ben once more demanded that Hoss and Joe desist, but once more they agreed but had no intention of actually following that stricture. Because of their behavior over two days, that Thursday evening, Adam told his father about Penelope’s cousin or as much as she had told him about her in order to enlist his father in creating a plan.
Early on Friday morning, Adam saddled Sport to ride him to town. Ben told Hoss and Joe to take the large carriage to town to pick up supplies, get some mail sent out, and to get the carriage top repaired at the livery stable. Adam tossed a package in the back of the carriage and asked his brothers to take it to town for him as he was riding Sport so it would be easier for them to carry it there than for him to do it. Within an hour, Adam rode out, and about an hour later, Hoss and Joe were on their way. When they arrived in town, Hoss and Joe saw Adam walking with Clementine Hawkins on one arm and Penelope on the other to the stage station. They decided that the best thing to do was to go there to tease him just a bit more. Once there though, they were amazed to see Clementine and Penelope greet a beautiful, slender dark haired young woman as she got off the stage. By then, Adam had retreated to let the family members alone and walked up to Hoss and Joe as they stared at the beauty.
“That’s Penelope’s cousin so thank the Lord, my duties are done and I can go home.”
“Brother, you’re sure you don’t wanna keep on escortin’ Miss Penelope seein’ as how she’s got that cousin who probably needs a heap of protectin’ too.”
“Hoss, if you want to do it, I can recommend you for the job. I’m sure she’ll willingly take you on as an escort if you want to do that.”
“Want to, heck, lead me to her.”
“Hey, what about me? There’s two of them. Don’t they need two escorts? Pa wouldn’t mind, I’m sure. He’ll have you back. He always acts like you’re the equal of any two men anyway. So, how about it? Recommend me too?”
Looking a bit skeptically at both Hoss and Joe, Adam finally shrugged. “All right, if that’s what you want me to do. Come with me.” Walking briskly to the three women, Adam had their attention immediately. “Ladies, my brothers, Hoss and Joe, have volunteered to be your escorts for the next week. In fact, they’ll stay in town so they can be available day and night and can take you to dinner and the theater or a dance or perhaps a poetry reading. Anything you ladies would like to do, they will be the gentlemen who will be here to escort you to it.”
“Oh, Ducky, you are so sweet to do that for my nieces after that dreadful misunderstanding. I’m so glad that you are such a nice man, Adam. Thank you.” Clementine smiled up at him with her most ingratiating smile. “You and my Benjamin are such fine gentlemen.”
“Yes, and now I need to get home to help him because my brothers will be here. Penelope, it has been a pleasure, and I’m sure my brothers are going to be delighted to spend the next week with you.”
“Thank you, Adam. I’m glad we’re still friends. If you ever want any of my glazed doughnuts or frosted cookies or sweet cakes or anything else, you stop by. I would be so pleased to serve them to you.”
Hoss looked at Adam. “We cain’t stay in town, Adam. We ain’t got no change of clothes or nothing.”
“Oh, that package that I asked you to bring with you. It’s all in there. Everything you will need for the next week is in there. If I forgot anything, well, we have an account at the general store, and this morning, I made a reservation for you at the hotel. Be seeing you boys. Have a good time.”
Whispering, Hoss was ready to bolt but didn’t know how to manage it after all that Adam had said. He hoped that by warning Joe, his younger brother might find a way out of this. “Joe, there’s something really wrong here. Adam is setting us up for something. I know he is.”
“Hoss, he’s just happy to be done with this. Look on the bright side. One of these ladies is gorgeous, and the other one loves to bake sweets.”
“Cept it looks like she eats ’em all herself.”
Smiling, Joe swept his hat off and bowed slightly. “What can we do first for you ladies?”
With a nasal screeching voice that could peel paint off a building, Penelope’s cousin spoke first. “It’s about time someone asked. You, the big one with the horse name: that’s no proper name for a man escorting a lady. What’s your real name?”
“Ah, my name is Eric but everyone calls me Hoss.”
“Well, we’ll call you Eric. You look big and strong. Get my luggage. Now you, the little scrawny one named Joe. You can take my arm. Why didn’t the tall handsome one want to stay? Why did he leave you instead? Oh well, I guess you’ll have to make do. Don’t walk me through any filth or you’ll be cleaning my new shoes when we get to Aunt Clementine’s place. C’mon now, let’s go. Don’t stare about with your mouth hanging open. It makes you look like a moron. You’re not a moron, are you?”
Adam was riding out of town and chuckling and then laughing. He had told his father that Penelope said her cousin was called Old Crow not only because of her voice but because of her manner and her way of insulting everyone and everything. After all that Adam had been through because of his brothers, he had decided to pay them back. It had been his father who had suggested he pack clothing so that his brothers could stay in town. Ben had figured it would mean less trouble and he and Adam would have a peaceful week. Hoss and Joe were going to have to find a way to make the best of it.
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