Summary: After a long day out in the rain, Adam longs for more than a hot drink and a hearty meal, and he knows where he’ll find it. 4,400 words, rated K
Also available in eBook format — please pm me for that.
This story was inspired by the wonderful poem of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Day Is Done, all of which you’ll find in the preposed stanzas.
The Art of Belonging
The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.
Adam Cartwright pulled his hat deeper down to shelter his face from the heavy November-rain. It seemed it hadn’t done anything but rain for the past two weeks. And somehow Adam had managed to spend most of these weeks outside: first riding fences, a not overly entertaining procedure even if it was dry and sunny, but with the continuous downpour a downright gruesome experience. Then he and Hoss had ridden to Carson to negotiate a new timber contract with Sloman and Sons Inc.; a cold and wet, albeit short and very successful trip that would be completed once they’d delivered the contract to the family’s lawyer, Hiram Wood, for verification.
Late as it was, though, they’d have to deposit the contract at the lawyer’s office without being asked inside, where it would be warm and dry and Hiram would offer them a strong drink to warm them up from the inside. Instead they would just leave the papers with Wood’s assistant and hurry home to where Pa was waiting with leftovers from supper, kept warm in the oven, and a glass of his finest brandy and where they would warm themselves at the great fireplace.
Adam shivered in anticipation of the warm fire. He was weary and bone-tired, cold and stiff, and altogether cranky. All he longed for was a cozy place, warm and quiet, and maybe a nice book—no, not even a book. Just peace and quiet.
I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me
That my soul cannot resist:
“Won’t be long anymore,” Hoss broke their silence when they rode into town. They hadn’t talked for the past twenty miles; both trapped within their own thoughts, their own dreams.
Adam just nodded, not really caring if his brother saw the movement or not. Hoss didn’t need his confirmation anyway. They both knew how anxiously either of them was looking for a shelter, for a place to rest, for home. He glanced at the light shining through the windows of the Bucket of Blood saloon and considered stopping for a quick drink and a hot soup, but the prospect of having to converse with other customers there wasn’t appealing at all.
They stopped at the lawyer’s office minutes later, and Adam headed in and was back, remounting his horse with a short, “Done,” while Hoss was still adjusting his slicker.
Hoss grinned contently. “Ya sure wasted no time, Adam.”
“No. Hiram wasn’t there anyway, and his young man was happy to get rid of me as soon as possible. I think he only waited for us, and he’s looking to get home nearly as much as we do,” Adam said massaging his neck and shoulder with one gloved hand. He tried to work out some kinks by stretching his stiff neck this way and that, but despite a reassuring creaking it didn’t give him any relief. He’d need more than stretching for that, he mused.
Adam hunched his shoulders in a futile attempt to block the cold from seeping deeper into his bones and gave Hoss a raised eyebrow from under his hat. “Shall we?”
Hoss nodded. “There ain’t nothing holding me back, elder brother.” He poked his nose into the air and sniffed right and left. “I’m not sure, but I think Hop Sing has some roast beef and sweet potatoes waiting for us.”
Adam chuckled. “And do you smell beans or peas going with that, oh, infallible nose?”
“Can’t say,” Hoss said gravely. “Give me ten more miles, and I’ll tell you.”
Silently laughing, they urged their horses on.
A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.
“Roast beef,” Hoss repeated dreamily when, on their way through Virginia City’s dark streets, they passed the International House, from where the pleasant smell of food waved onto the road. “Roast beef, and lemon pie for dessert. And then a nice cuppa coffee and a brandy.”
Adam just smiled. His brother apparently had a very good idea about the further entertainment this evening would bring.
“I’m mighty curious about how Joe fared with those new Mustangs,” Hoss went on.
“Oh, he will have done pretty well. I’m sure he’ll have broken one or the other by now,” Adam said. “And he’ll be very anxious to tell us every single second of his victory.”
“Yeah, but only after we’ve told Pa everything about the new contract.” Hoss nodded emphatically.
Adam cringed. There goes my quiet evening. “Yes, I’m sure Pa wants a full report tonight,” he said, trying to sound not too reluctant.
Hoss threw him a side glance. Adam tried to look approving, but, of course, his brother saw right through him.
“I tell you what,” Hoss tried. “I’ll challenge you for a game of checkers—or no, chess, how ‘bout that, Adam? You love chess, don’t ya, and you won’t have to talk then. What ya think?”
Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.
Adam stopped his horse and closed his eyes. Chess. Good old Hoss…. It was a sacrifice, a real and genuine sacrifice. Hoss knew he stood no chance against his older brother, and yet…in that unique Hoss-way he tried everything to ease Adam’s obvious discomfort with the inevitable way of tonight’s run of events.
But Adam didn’t want to play chess. Or checkers, or any other game. He didn’t want to listen to Joe’s tales about his heroic bronco busting, and he didn’t want to talk to Pa about timber contracts. He didn’t want to think about any ranch business, and he didn’t want to contemplate chess moves. In fact, didn’t even want to think at all.
All he wanted was warm food and a strong drink to heat him up; warm, soft hands that massaged his cramped shoulder muscles; a warm, soft alto voice that told him to relax and that everything would be fine; and then a warm soft body with rounds that fit so perfectly into the curve of his embrace snuggled up to his side.
All he wanted was to be where he belonged.
He opened his eyes to find Hoss, who apparently had stopped and ridden up beside him, studying his face with a concerned expression.
“Ya all right, Adam?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
Adam contemplated his brother for a moment, then came to a decision. “Hoss, would you mind riding home alone?” he asked.
And suddenly everything fell into place.
“Tell Pa I’ll stay at the International House tonight and talk to Hiram first thing tomorrow morning,” he went on, rather quickly—as if he was trying to prevent any objection from Hoss. “That way I’ll save us the trouble of sending someone to town tomorrow.”
But Hoss obviously had no objections at all. He grinned broadly. “Sounds good to me, Adam. And I’m sure glad if I don’t have to come back to town tomorrow. I’d rather rest my bones fer a day or two.”
He winked at his brother, and Adam smiled gratefully and tipped his hat in a mock salute. “Here you go, Hoss. Bye!”
Hoss spurred his horse and waved Adam good-bye. He had made only a few paces when he turned around and called over his shoulder, “And give my regards to Miss Juliet, Adam!”
Adam mumbled, “Yeah, I’ll do that” under his breath, and, laughing silently, headed to Mrs. Hawkins’s.
Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.
“Oh dear, come in, poor chap, come in!” Mrs. Hawkins practically dragged him into the hall when she answered his knocking, and for once Adam didn’t mind being managed by her. The widow’s house was warm and brightly lit, and smelled like freshly baked bread and beef soup.
From the parlour, he heard Juliet’s muted voice. Home, at last.
He shed his dripping slicker, and, with an apologetic smile, handed it Mrs. Hawkins, who had already taken his hat from him.
“I’m sorry to impose on you like this, Mrs. Hawkins, but—”
“Lad, you don’t impose at all, and you know it! Juliet will be delighted to see you.” The widow considered the clothes in her hands and shook her head. “Did you spend the whole day in that rain?” She eyed him suspiciously. “Are you dry underneath this, or shall I give you something to change from Harry’s old clothes?”
There was a gleam in her eyes Adam wasn’t sure he liked. How much brandy, he wondered, has she had already? He opened his mouth to deliver a polite refusal, but was beaten by Juliet’s amused voice from behind him.
“As much as I would like to see Adam in Harry’s tights, Mrs. Hawkins, I’m not sure if the other guests are up to that.”
Guests? And then it hit Adam: it was the last Thursday in November, and on every last Thursday in a month Juliet held her little literary circle. Adam usually attended it, but he had excused himself this time because he didn’t expect to be home in time.
The literary circle. Doctor Paul Martin, Miss Winterling, Juliet’s dress maker, Joe Goodman, Sam Berthley, the barkeep from the Silver Dollar saloon, Mrs. Hawkins and—Abigail Jones, of all people. He had traded a vaguely uncomfortable evening with Pa, Joe and Hoss with some hours in the presence of Virginia City’s most annoying spinster.
Oh, well, he knew he was unfair. Miss Abigail was well read, and even if her analyses weren’t always the most inspiring ones, she was a valuable member of the circle: always well prepared, and her rather conservative opinions often provoked others to voice contrary thoughts. And Adam understood that Juliet’s request that the teacher joined the circle had been a peace offering. He had never understood what had been going on between the two women, but somehow Miss Abigail had despised Juliet from the very beginning, Juliet had countered that with a being very imperious, and from thereon in some way things had gone out of control.
He sighed. Perhaps he’d better head to the hotel right now. “I’m sorry, I forgot…” he started, but then he saw Juliet’s beaming face.
“Better late than never; I’m glad you made it, Adam,” she said wrapping her arms around his chest and then she buried her face in his shoulder. Her voice became muffled, and so only he understood when she continued, “I missed you, missed you, missed you.”
He wrapped his arms around her and pressed her even closer. “And I missed you, Mylady,” he whispered into her hair. “Couldn’t stand another day without seeing you.”
They remained like that for a moment that virtually begged to be stretched to eternity, until they reluctantly parted and Juliet led him into the lounge.
For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavor;
And to-night I long for rest.
Adam was greeted warmly by all occupants of the brightly lit room. Paul Martin in particular made a big show of his entrance. “Oh, hallelujah,” he cried out. “The voice of reason, at last! Adam, tell these ignoramuses that with ‘Announced by all trumpets of the sky, arrives the snow’ Emerson isn’t just making a weather report.”
“Paul, really, leave Adam alone with your crooked spiritualisation. ‘The frolic architecture of the snow’ doesn’t sound apocalyptic to anyone but you,” Juliet admonished him, rolling her eyes but chuckling all the same.
Miss Winterling took Adam’s hand and, with a side glance at the doctor, whispered conspiratorially, “Don’t mention ‘Paradise Lost’ tonight;” Sam, the barkeep, said, “You look like you could use a good drink, Mr. C” by way of greeting; and Miss Abigail gave him her usual high pitched, “Oh, Mr. Cartwright, how very lovely to see you again!”
Juliet glared Sam away from the chair closest to the fireplace and instead she seated Adam there. Scrutinising she run her hands over his arms and, thank heavens, remembered they weren’t alone just in time before she attempted to do the same with his legs.
“Are you comfortable?” she asked quietly. “You’re awfully cold. Do you need a blanket, or perhaps one of Harry’s jumpers after all?”
“No. No, I’m fine,” Adam hurried to assure her. He was cold, and there was steam coming from his damp trousers, but he wouldn’t embarrass himself by sitting next to the fire place with a blanket on his legs like a tottery old man.
Juliet arched a skeptical brow. “Are you sure?”
“Let the man dry himself at the fire and give him a stiff drink,” Paul Martin rescued him. “He’ll be right as rain in a minute. Believe me, I’m a doctor.”
Adam threw Paul a grateful glance, accepted a glass of brandy from Sam and watched with amusement as Juliet and Mrs. Hawkins battled over a tray of food the widow had brought from the kitchen. Naturally, Juliet won, carried the conquered tray through the room and deposited it on the table beside him, arranging a plate with thick slices of white bread to be in his grasp.
“Here, get yourself warm with that first,” she said, handing him a steaming mug of beef soup; and just the caring tone of her warm voice made him feel more comfortable than he had in days.
Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;
The literary circle took up their previous conversation. Adam ate the strong beef soup and the subtly-flavoured bread, and tried not to listen. The voices of the others became only a background sound, like the babbling of a brook or the rushing of the wind. At one point he thought he heard his name, and then Miss Abigail’s squawking voice asking, “Don’t you think so? Mr. Cartwright?” But when he finally bothered to look up, everyone was engaged in a discussion about whether or not Emerson was right to speak for John Brown, and the only thing that stood out to him was Juliet’s emphasis on, “There are other ways than violence, and Emerson used to believe that, too” and Paul’s counter, “Don’t be naive, Juliet!”
He opened his mouth to deliver his slant, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort and remained silent. He stretched his legs out to the fire, rubbed his hands and tried to be swallowed by the opulent stuffed chair he was sitting in.
He had just closed his eyes when he heard the soft ruffle of skirts over the murmur of voices, and as he looked up he saw Juliet crouching next to his chair, her hand on his arm and her head tilted so she could see into his face from down there.
“Are you all right?” she asked softly.
“Wha—? Oh, yes I’m enjoying myself very much.”
“No, you’re not.” She leaned closer, searching his face. “Your mind is miles away, Adam. Where are you right now? Still out there on the pasture or in front of the big fire place at home?”
Adam resisted the urge to pull her close and feel her giving her warmth not only to his soul. He wanted to kiss that caring smile, those soft hands, and those knowing eyes. If only they were alone.
“Neither of them, I’m afraid. The pasture is too wet and the fire place at home far too crowded at this time of the day.” He cringed at his complaining tone, but the idea alone of discussing ranch issues with his father right now instantly made him feel prostrated with fatigue. Where was his mind leading him to? To his bed, with a good book? No, not there. He wanted to be here, with her, in front of the fire place, alone.
He felt her hand squeezing his, and then her mouth was close to his ear. “Give me five minutes,” she whispered, her breath tickling his neck, and her lips brushing his earlobe. Then there was her finger drawing a tiny circle over that spot below his ear where he’d have preferred to feel her lips, for a split second only—but it was a promise, and Adam felt his pulse getting faster.
Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.
She needed even less than five minutes.
With the practised ease of a lady of society Juliet put a theatrical hand to her temple and declared she had a pounding headache.
Everyone got the message immediately. There was a lot of commotion as brandy glasses and teacups were emptied and books, papers and pens were shuffled together and stored away in bags and bundles.
The members of the literary circle stood up announcing how very late it had become, and that they didn’t have to stretch their meetings unnecessarily after all was said and done, especially not at this time of the year, when the nights were so dark and the weather so unpleasant anyway.
Only Abigail Jones seemed reluctant to go, but she succumbed to the general atmosphere of departure—albeit not without trying to derive a benefit from the situation.
“Oh, what a pity,” she said in that quivering voice that never failed to give Adam the chills. “And I had hoped so much to hear Mr. Cartwright’s thoughts about Mr. Emerson’s moral standards.” And then, after a short pause she utilised to get to Adam’s side and to put a spidery hand on his arm, she purred, “But maybe we can talk about that on the way when you escort me home.”
She looked around, nearly triumphantly, but only until she caught Juliet’s gaze. She tried to hold it, Adam had to grant her that, she wasn’t a coward. But poor Abigail Jones was only a mortal being, and as all ordinary mortals eventually she had to capitulate when Juliet’s usually lively sparkling green eyes became hard, icy emeralds, her left eyebrow slowly went up into a perfect arch, and the provoked lady said mordantly, “Mr. Cartwright is indispensable at the moment, I’m afraid. But I’m sure Mr. Berthley here will step in gladly.”
Adam had to suppress a grin when he saw how panicked Sam’s face got at that and how it slowly melted back to normal when Miss Abigail seemed to shrink under Juliet’s stare, then tsked and stuttered indignantly, “Well, yes, err—I don’t think that will be necessary.”
Sam completely relaxed only when Miss Abigail finally turned on her heel and rushed off with only so much as a very short good bye into the round.
Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.
And then, at long last, they all were gone.
Only Mrs. Hawkins was still bustling busily around, clearing away teacups, plates, glasses and all the other remainders of tonight’s soiree, until Juliet softly said, “Thank you, Mrs. Hawkins, that will be all. We’ll be all right on our own from now.”
Mrs. Hawkins stopped her occupation and turned to fix a mocking stern gaze on Juliet and Adam. They stood close to each other, and Adam was painfully aware how obvious they must look, and how impatient and desperate. Mrs. Hawkins seemed to have a great time, though, and Adam knew she was trying to get as much fun out of this as possible. In some way he couldn’t even blame her for that.
“You two behave, children. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” the widow said wriggling her finger in front of them. “I’ll retire now, but I’ll be just in the next room.”
She looked pointedly, first at Juliet then at Adam, and then left the room silently sniggering—which somehow ruined the effect she had tried to create with her previous efforts.
“Alone at last,” Juliet whispered into Adam’s ear; and then she stirred him to the settee, where they sat down and she turned his back to face her.
He sighed deeply when he felt her hands on his shoulders, and she—ahh—kneaded his constricted muscles where it hurt most, finding kinks and cramped spots, working them out one by one, rubbing and massaging them away.
Adam couldn’t help but grunt ecstatically and lean more into her touch when in the end she put her thumbs at the base of his skull and rubbed them vigorously in tiny circles there. “I swear you have magic hands, Mylady,” he moaned.
“Only magic hands?” she breathed close to his ear, and then, finally, her lips were at that spot, nibbling and sucking and ohh…
Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.
Eventually they broke apart, Juliet with dishevelled hair (not that this was something uncommon, but usually she did the disarray all by herself in her daily futile attempt to conquer her sumptuous waves,) and Adam breathless but with a smug expression.
“Are you warm enough now, Adam?” Juliet asked, smiling coyly.
Her smile turned into a veritable grin when Adam responded, “Oh, I’m perfect. Just make sure we’ll keep it that way, Mylady.”
“I’ll get us a little assistance with that,” she laughed, then took a blanket from the backrest of the settee and arranged it around them both. “So we’ll be comfortable while I read you my newest piece of work.”
She snuggled into him, her back resting comfortably at his chest, and pulled her feet up the settee and under her skirt. Then, from the depths of her skirt, she produced her well worn plain black notebook and opening it somewhere near the end she told him, “Just relax and listen.”
“Gladly,” he answered and kissed her bowed neck, leaving his lips linger at her nape, his face buried in her honey-scented warmth.
She adjusted her posture to fit his, making it as comfortable as possible for both of them, and then started to read, low and soothing but expressive with her warm, clear voice.
“The things that we do share
Keep me with you engrossed.
Your wisdom, I declare,
Is what attracts me most.
We speak about the stars,
The moon, the sun, the sky;
’bout heaven, earth and wars;
’bout mercy, and ’bout why.
Why good is good, we mused,
And honour is not pride;
How people can get used
To living side by side.
Can men be owned by men?
And what about a wife?
The power of the pen;
And what is worth a life.
Yet here with you today
Keen wit does not ring true;
When all I long to say
Is simply ‘I love you’.”
She had turned her head and whispered the last lines into his ear. And now she nestled even closer into him. And he just closed his arms around her, held her tight and tried to regain control over his breathing.
And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.
They stayed like that for ever. As close as two people could be without being indecent. As close as two people could be without becoming one.
Adam felt warmth radiating from Juliet, he felt her heartbeat at his chest mixing and matching with his own. He felt her breath adjusting to his—or was it his adjusting to hers?
Fragments of poems chased each other in his head, none of them adequately saying what he wanted to tell her.
No, nothing someone else had thought out would be adequate. Nothing he had ever read or heard was able to express the sense of belonging he felt. The way he truly was himself when she was beside him, the way she was the world to him.
The way he was touched when she showed him that she belonged to him.
Such is my love, to thee I so belong, floated through his mind, but even the Bard’s words didn’t fully catch what he felt.
Well, maybe Juliet was right. Maybe simple words held the most meaning. Maybe it was the best to just say what had been dancing at the tip of his tongue since he’d entered the house hours ago. Surely, Juliet would understand.
He kissed the side of her neck, and whispered, “Where you are there is home, Mylady,” in her ear; and then he just listened to how she tried to regain control over her breathing.
This is for Sklamb and Joaniepaiute, with my heartfelt thanks for your support and encouragement, and your friendship.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
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