Love Has Eyes
“I swear it wasn’t me! I didn’t do it! I wouldn’t do that!” The boy straightened his back and stared into his stepmother’s face.
“I didn’t expect he’d own up to it!” Anger made the man’s declaration reverberate through the room.
“Mr. Clemmons, if Adam says that he did not . . .” Marie Cartwright began in a tightly controlled voice.
“Of course he says he didn’t!” It was said with the vehemence of a curse. “I saw him with my own eyes!”
“Perhaps you were mistaken.” Marie spoke to Edgar Clemmons, but her eyes remained on Adam’s face.
“So that’s the way of it. I see him riding off leaving that filth painted on my barn, but as long as he says it wasn’t him. . . well, I know what I saw, and so will Ben when he returns. “ Edgar paused to focus his glare on Adam Cartwright, “Know this, boy, if I ever see you on my land again, you’ll feel my leather on your back.”
“Mr. Clemmons!” Marie’s voice was sharp. “I’ll not. . .”
“I’ve had my say; I’ll not be troubling you any longer.” Edgar Clemmons jammed his hat onto his head and stalked from the house slamming the front door behind him.
Marie and Adam both watched his accuser leave. As silence replaced the booming echo of the door, Adam moved toward the stairs. Marie reached out and caught his arm.
“Adam, were you at the Clemmons place this morning?”
Stiffening, Adam turned darkly burning eyes toward Marie. “I told you I didn’t do it. I swore it, but you don’t believe me, do you?”
Marie opened her mouth to answer, but before she could speak Adam pulled away shouting, “Go ahead! Believe him! I don’t give a. . .” His final expletive was lost in the sound of his boots on the stairs. The slamming of a door told Marie that Adam had once again retreated to his room. She sighed and walked slowly to sit in her rocker and stare into the fireplace.
She saw her son’s face in the flames, and the look it had had when he found out the Clemmons girl was not the angel her pansy eyes and golden curls had made her seem. There had been a great deal of pain in that face, yet there had been anger too. Celia Clemmons had hurt his heart, but she had dealt an even greater blow to Adam’s pride. “She played me for a fool!” Adam had spat the words at the ground before running into the house and burying himself in his room. That has been three nights ago, and this morning Adam had left the house before the sun rose.
“Mr. Clemmons was so sure. But Adam doesn’t lie. He was gone before dawn, and Sport was lathered when he returned. He was angry at the girl but to write such a thing. If Ben. . .” Marie bit her lower lip at the thought of Adam’s fate should Ben believe that his son had ridden to the Clemmons ranch and painted a vulgarity about Celia Clemmons on the barn wall. “Adam knows what his father would do. Most boys would lie to avoid that. But he doesn’t lie, not to Ben. Would he lie to me?” The thoughts tumbled through Marie’s mind as she rocked back and forth wavering over what to do. “I could just leave it for Benjamin to. . .” She shook the thought from her mind; she would not go back to being less than the mother she had become to the boy. She pushed to her feet and mounted the stairs. She paused after knocking on the bedroom door but did not wait for an invitation to enter.
“Adam.” He was standing at the window staring out and did not turn at the sound of her voice. “We must talk.”
“Pa would believe me.” Adam spoke to the window, but his voice was sure.
“You do not lie to your father.”
“I don’t lie to you either,” his voice had grown younger, and the final words were a whisper, “not for a long time now.”
She crossed the room to place a hand on his shoulder. “Sometimes you carefully avoid parts of the truth.” She felt the shudder that went though his body. “Tell me, mon fils.”
“I, I went to have it out with Celia. I was going to talk to her in the barn when she did the milking. It was on the side of the barn when I got there. I heard someone coming out of the house, so I rode off.”
“It was you then who Mr. Clemmons saw?”
“Yes, m’am.” He turned toward her suddenly. “Do you believe I didn’t do it?”
She looked directly into his eyes and responded without hesitation, “Yes. Yes, Adam, I believe you did not do this thing.” She placed a hand on each of his cheeks. “But you must tell me what you know of who did.” His eyes widened. “Tell me, Adam.” The words had become an order. He pulled away from her touch and dropped his eyes to the floor.
“I didn’t see anyone doing it.”
“I saw Sam Culver riding off as I rode up.” He looked up through his lashes. “Please don’t tell anyone. Please. You don’t know; Captain Culver will. . . Please don’t tell!”
“I cannot promise that.” She saw him stiffen again. She stepped back and studied the fourteen-year-old. He appeared very much the little boy at that moment. “You have had no breakfast. Go down to the kitchen, and Hop Sing will give you some.”
“I’ve chores to do.”
Adam took three steps toward the door and then stopped. “You’re going to tell Pa everything, aren’t you?”
“He is my husband and your papa; to not tell him would be a deceit, and there is Mr. Clemmons who will speak of it.”
“He doesn’t know about Sam.”
“If I do not tell Benjamin, he will ask you.” Marie saw the dejection in each line of his body. Stepping forward she wrapped her arms around her son. “We shall tell him together.”
He turned into her embrace and buried his face in her shoulder. “I broke the rules when I went without permission,” he muttered softly.
“This was wrong, and you must answer for it as Sam must answer for his wrong.”
It was true; his father had taught him that lesson. Adam accepted what must happen. “Yes, m’am, but, well, Ma, Celia deserved it. She lied to the both of us.”
“That, Adam, was not what the girl deserved, nor is Sam Culver the one who should administer punishments. Such an act, Adam Stoddard Cartwright, was a low and cowardly revenge.” She placed her hand underneath his chin. “You understand that, do you not?”
“Yes, but Captain Culver has an awful hard way with a strap.”
Marie bit her lip but answered, “This his son knew before he acted. We shall pray that only that which is deserved is administered. ”
“There’s no changing her mind. She’s that stubborn.” Adam’s hand darted upward and tugged his ear. “We better pray hard,” he replied.
“We shall, and your father shall speak with the captain.”
“And to me,” Adam muttered to himself.
“There is the matter of your disobedience.” A stern look settled on Marie’s face. She saw the concern flicker in the boy’s eyes. It was the same as that which lit young Hoss’s eyes when he faced his father’s correction. She moved quickly, and surprise eliminated any resistance. Catching Adam’s arm, she turned his back to her hand and delivered four swats to her son’s bottom and then released him. Adam turned to face her wide-eyed and rubbing the seat of his pants. “We shall tell Benjamin that your disobedience has been handled and is of no further concern.”
“Yes, m’am,” Adam agreed after a moment and smiled shyly. Then he started once more toward the door but stopped again. He found her eyes before he asked, “Why did you believe me?”
She reached out and caressed his cheek. “You are my son. Love has eyes to see the truth.”
With a quick hug, Adam kissed Marie’s cheek before he darted from the room. She touched the spot and tucked a rare and precious jewel away in her heart.
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