Summary: Just imagine if Ellie had met Clay….
Rated: K+ (7,210 words)
Ellie was having one of those days. One of those days when you’re out of sorts, but you don’t really know why. She had just woken up on the wrong side of the bed. Both Papa and Adam had threatened to give her a few swats if her attitude didn’t improve. All she really wanted to do was take a rifle out to the pasture and practice shooting. Joe had taught her to shoot when she was 10 and she practiced every chance she got. Joe said she was a crack shot. Papa had even gotten her a rifle on her twelfth birthday two weeks ago. She loved shooting. It was something she could share with her brothers and something she was really good at. But, she could not handle the rifle without her Papa or one of her brothers.
“Dang it!” she swore as she walked out into the barn to saddle Windy. Unfortunately that “dang it” came out right as she ran into Papa coming out of the barn. He grabbed her arm, whirled her around and gave a stinging swat to her behind.
“Eleanor Grace, watch that mouth.” Pa admonished her. He shook a finger at her, “The next time I hear that kind of talk, I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap. Understand?”
“Yes sir, sorry.” Ellie sighed. She had just been destined to get a swat sometime today.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I’m going to visit Mama.” she responded.
Papa eyed her. She sure was in a foul mood. Maybe a visit to Marie’s grave would calm her down. He sure wasn’t in the mood to deal with a sassy little girl today. “Ok, just be back before supper.”
“Ok,” she sighed.
Pa’s eyebrows went up and he started to correct her.
She looked up and saw the displeased look on his face. “Um, I meant yes sir, yes sir I’ll be back before supper.”
Pa’s face relaxed as he walked toward the house.
She walked into the barn to saddle Windy. As luck would have it, her rifle was still in the case in the barn. She had forgotten to put it away. She smiled to herself. She could ride up and visit Mama and go shooting. Maybe this day wasn’t so bad after all.
She rode for a long while thinking about a good place to go practice shooting where she wouldn’t be caught. No one should be up near Mama’s grave near the lake. She figured that was as good a place as any. She broke into a full gallop. She loved to feel the wind in her long hair and the freedom of just riding. She certainly was her mother’s daughter even though she had never known her mother. She slowed down before she arrived at her Mama’s grave. Much to her surprise, she found a strange man putting flowers on the grave. Ellie frowned. What was that strange man doing near her mama’s grave?
She held back a bit, eyeing the man. He seemed like he was older than Joe, but not as old as Adam, still pretty old in her book. He sure was tall, lots taller than Joe, shorter than Hoss, maybe as tall as Adam. Then again, Ellie was very small for her age and everyone seemed tall to her. She watched him intently, he was kneeling at her mama’s grave. She felt violated. She didn’t like it one bit, what was that man doing? She began to smolder, she was getting angrier as she watched the man. She slid her rifle out of the holder and took aim above his head. She squeezed off a shot over the man’s head.
Clay Stafford hit the dirt and grabbed for his gun looking to see where the shot had come from. He looked up to see a little bitty girl, maybe 8 or 9 holding a rifle on him. He had to keep himself from laughing. If that little girl only knew how silly she looked. Only she did have a rifle aimed at him and he didn’t want to take any chances. He held his hands up.
“Um, mind if I put my hands down and get up.” he asked.
Ellie eyed him. “What are you doing here? This is private property.”
“I’m looking for work.” he said
Ellie just stood there staring at him with the rifle still pointed at him.
“Lil lady, would you mind not pointing that rifle at me?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Mind if I get up?” he asked.
“Ok,” she said still pointing the rifle at him.
“You’re still pointing the rifle at me.”
“I know.” she said. “What are you doing at my mama’s grave?”
Clay looked surprised. So this was his little sister. Well half sister. He had no idea that he had any younger brothers or sisters.
“So, lil miss, what’s your name?”
“Ellie Cartwright and this is the Ponderosa and you shouldn’t be here.”
“Well, where would I go to ask for work?” he asked.
“You’d need to ask my brother Adam or my Papa.”
Slowly but surely, Clay had been making his way toward her, but Ellie hadn’t noticed. In a swift movement, he grabbed the end of the rifle and pulled Ellie to him. He through the rifle on the ground and grabbed her by the arms.
“Damn!” she swore.
Clay almost dropped his grip in surprise, not only was this little girl carrying a rifle she was swearing. “I suspect your Papa or your brother be’d washing that mouth of yours out with soap if they heard your cursing.” he said giving her a little shake.
“Oh please,” she said, “that isn’t real cursing.” “Real cursing is …..” Ellie let out a string of curse words that would make a sailor blush.
Clay turned red just listening. He looked up to see a young man, just a few years older than himself standing behind Ellie. The man clad in black just stood there shaking his head. He put his fingers to his lips. Clay gave him a slight nod.
“Good night, girl, where did you learn that?” Clay asked.
“Oh, some of the hands.” she said smugly.
Clay shook his head. “Boy, if my grandfather had heard me say any one of those words, he would have tanned the hide off of me.”
“Yeah, well if my Papa or my brother Adam heard me, they probably would too, but luckily neither one of them is here.”
Adam almost broke out laughing. If Ellie only knew.
“So, Miss Ellie Cartwright, what does your brother look like? So, I know when I find him to ask about work?”
“Oh you’ll be able to find him, just ask around. He’s about your height, has black hair, a little bigger than you, wears…………………………”
“A black hat, black pants and a black shirt?” Clay finished up for her.
Ellie looked at him curiously. “Heh, how’d you know? Uh, oh, he’s standing right behind me, isn’t he?” she gulped.
Clay slowly released her and she turned around to face Adam. “Um, Adam, how long have you been standing there?”
“Oh missy, long enough to know that you just earned a belt to you bare behind when I get you home.”
Ellie gulped. “Um, I’m sorry Adam. I promise I won’t use those words anymore.” she pleaded.
“No little girl, I bet you won’t.” he said smirking.
He looked at her with a look that could bore holes in someone. “Eleanor Grace, get on Windy and ride back to the house, go to your room and wait for me.”
“Eleanor, 1, 2..”
Ellie raced for her horse. She didn’t want Adam to get to three. If he did, he’d probably tan her right then and there.
As she fled, Adam and Clay burst out laughing. Adam held out his hand to Clay, “Adam Cartwright.”
“Clay Stafford.” Clay extended his hand to Adam’s. “By the way Cartwright, does your little sister frequently carry a rifle with her?” he asked holding up Ellie’s rifle.
Adam whistled. “Whew, she was in trouble with the cursing, just wait until Pa hears she had her rifle on top of it all.”
“You mean you let her shoot a rifle?”
“Oh sure, she is a very good shot. But, she’s only allowed to have her rifle under the supervision of myself, my father or one of my other brothers.”
“Oh,” he said, “you have more brothers?”
“Yes, Hoss and Lil Joe. But, what can I do for you, Stafford?”
“Looking for work.”
“What can you do?”
“Just about any job on a ranch.”
“Well Stafford, just follow me to the main house and I’ll set you up. I need to get home and take care of a certain little girl.”
Stafford just smiled and followed Adam back to the house. Adam introduced him to Pa and Hoss as a new hand. “Hoss, can you take Clay out to the bunk house and get him set up? I have a certain little girl to attend to.”
Pa gave Adam a thoughtful glance, “Adam, what did Ellie do?”
Adam recounted the story repeating most if not all the curse words Ellie said and added the fact, oh she took a shot at our new hand with her rifle. Pa’s face turned red as Adam spoke. Adam thought for sure that steam was coming out of his ears. “I think son, that I will handle this one.” Pa sputtered.
Adam just smiled at his father. “I thought you would think so Pa. I think she really crossed the line this time.”
“Oh son, I think she crossed more than one line today.” Pa started up the stairs and stopped in front of Ellie’s door. He counted to ten before he entered. He opened the door to her room and found her twirling her long hair around her finger and swinging her leg off the bed. She was obviously distraught.
“Yes sir?” she barely whispered.
“Do you want to tell me about this afternoon?” Pa queried.
“What about it Papa?”
“The part that got you sent to your room by your brother.” Pa said exasperated.
“Oh, you know Adam Papa, he just overreacted.” Ellie said twirling her hair.
“Oh, is that so?”
“Start talking Eleanor, my patience is wearing thin.” Pa said his eyes darkening.
“Well I rode up to mama’s grave and this man, that man Adam just hired, was putting flowers on mama’s grave. So I shot over his head, Papa. I didn’t intend to shoot him. Just scare him, Papa, honest!” she looked over at her father to see his reaction. His face remained impassive, she wasn’t sure how mad he was.
“Go on.” he said.
“Well he hit the ground and was on the ground when I asked him why he was at mama’s grave. Heh, come to think of it, he never did answer.” Ellie said thoughtfully.
“Eleanor!” Pa intoned.
“Yes sir” she said startled, still wondering why that man hadn’t answered her question. “Well he asked if he could get up and put his hands down. I told him I wasn’t sure and then he grabbed the rifle and pulled me to him. I sort of said “Damn” and he told me you’d probably wash my mouth out for swearing……” she paused, she really didn’t want to tell him the rest.
“Eleanor, you better finish this story and finish it quick.” Pa threatened.
Ellie looked at him searching his face to see how angry he was. She checked his hands, he didn’t have his hand on his belt buckle yet, so he hadn’t starting taking his belt off. She took a deep breath, “Well, I told him that wasn’t really cursing. I told him real cursing was, well um, I sort of repeated some words that I’ve heard.”
Pa raised his hand up, “Don’t repeat them, your brother already gave me an earful.”
“Papa, it’s the first time I’ve ever repeated those words, honest!” Ellie pleaded as she watched Pa’s hand move toward his belt buckle.
Ellie drew in a deep breath, she knew he was really mad. He hardly ever spanked her with anything but his hand. But, she heard that belt slide through the loops in a woosh! She wished she had thought to put on a couple extra pairs of drawers while she was waiting in her room, except Adam had threatened that it was going to be a bare bottomed spanking. She prayed Papa hadn’t decided the same thing. Unfortunately for her, Papa had decided that very same thing.
When he was done, he pulled Ellie close to him and gave her a hug. “All right Eleanor, you are restricted to your room for a week and so help me, if I catch you with that rifle, you won’t like the consequences. You will stay in your room until supper. I expect you to be at supper and eat. Understand?”
Ellie nodded through the tears. Boy her backside hurt like the devil, she can’t remember her backside ever hurting that bad. He must be really mad because he didn’t even discuss it with her, he just went straight to the spanking.
Pa left Ellie upstairs and returned to the great room to find Adam reading a book. “Don’t you have some work to do, son?”
“Well actually Pa, I finished what I had planned for today a bit early and I was going to read for awhile before I head back out.” Adam said over the top of his book. “I’m heading down to the corral to see how we are doing on breaking those horses for the new army contract.”
“Fine son, fine. I’ll see you at supper. I’ve got some business in town.” Pa said grabbing his hat and his gun belt as he headed for the barn.
Adam finished his reading and headed for the barn to saddle up Sport so he could head down to the corral. He wasn’t sure he should leave Ellie in the house alone. He decided she’d probably had just about enough trouble for one day and that her bottom was going to be sore enough to deter her from any further mischief for today.
He caught Joe coming in on his way out. “Joe, I thought you were down at the breaking corral.”
“I was Adam, I decided I needed my gloves and I left them up here. I’ll be down there shortly.” he said as he raced up the stairs. Joe walked by Ellie’s room and heard her crying. He tapped on her door, “Heh, Sissy what’s wrong?”
Ellie looked up to see Joe standing in her doorway. She burst into a new round of tears. Joe went over to her quickly and recognized the prone position on her stomach. She must have gotten some tanning if she was still crying about it. “Got yourself tanned, huh?” he asked.
She nodded miserably.
“Don’t worry Sissy, Pa won’t be mad anymore. Not once he’s punished you.” Joe said rubbing her back.
“I know,” she said, “But, Joe, it really hurts and Papa didn’t even talk about what happened, he just went straight to the spanking.”
“Belt?” asked Joe.
“Bare behind?” asked Joe.
“Whoa,” said Joe shaking his head, “What happened?”
Ellie filled him in on the events. “You know Joe, that man never told me why he was putting flowers on mama’s grave.”
“Yeah, that’s kinda of curious, ain’t it?” Joe asked. “Well I better get out of here before Adam catches me. I’m suppose to be down at the corral.”
“Thanks Joe.” Ellie sniffed.
“Sure, Sissy, I’ll see you at supper.”
“Yeah, I guess.” she said.
Joe took off on Cochise for the corral. He couldn’t get out of his mind what Ellie had said about the new hand. Why would that man be putting flowers on mama’s grave? Well, he would just have to investigate. But, he wanted to make sure he had all his chores done and any jobs Adam had assigned, he didn’t want to get on Adam or Pa’s bad side today. He had no interest in Pa’s or Adam’s wrath being on him today. Joe made his way down to the corral to find the new hand, Clay Stafford breaking horses. Joe admired the man, he sure was good. Adam had already come and gone. Joe introduced himself to Clay. Joe and Clay alternated getting on the horses and working them.
Clay was standing at the fence watching Joe work the horses. He thought, so this is my little brother. He looks just like Ellie. Clay was proud of Joe, he really could sit a horse. He couldn’t believe that Joe was being allowed to break horses at just 17. But the longer he watched, the more he understood. Joe really had a gift with horses.
Joe got thrown and landed on his back. Clay was over the fence and to Joe within seconds. “You ok, Joe?” he asked.
Joe grinned sheepishly, “Take more than that ole nag to hurt me.”
Clay helped Joe up and headed toward the fence. “I think we’re about done for the day, don’t you?” he asked Joe.
“Yeah, my Pa’d be expecting me home for supper. You can get your supper in the bunk house. Come on.” Joe motioned him to mount up and follow. As they rode silently back to the house, Joe got up enough gumption to ask Clay about why he was at his mother’s grave.
Clay glanced at his younger brother with his eyebrows raised, “Isn’t that a might impolite, boy?”
Joe bristled. “Well, what am I suppose to call you?”
“Well, I’m assuming you’re not 21 yet?”
“17,” Joe scowled.
“17, huh. Well I was always taught, it was “Yes sir” and “No Sir” and Mr. Whatever until I was an adult.”
Joe scowled again, “Jeez you sound like my Pa and my brother Adam.”
Clay just stared at him.
“Ok, M..i..s..t..e..r Stafford,” Joe said emphasizing the mister. “Why were you putting flowers on my mother’s grave?”
Clay took a deep breath, “Well Joe because she was my mother too.”
“You’re lying!” Joe yelled.
Clay stopped his horse and took a picture out of his pocket. “Joe, this is my mother.”
Joe took the picture and stared into the face of his mother. Joe turned pale. “I think you should talk to my Pa.” he said as he spurred Cochise toward home.
Clay shook his head, well that didn’t go very well did it? He took off after Joe.
Joe came riding into the yard hard. He knew Pa’d probably dress him down for riding that hard into the yard. It was one of Pa’s rules. He hoped he didn’t get a tanning because of it. He knew Pa wasn’t in the best of moods.
Pa came running out of the house. “Joseph, how many time have I told you to slow down before you get into the yard.” he shouted.
“But Pa….” Joe started.
“But nothing, young man. I suggest you take care of your horse and get yourself inside.”
“Joseph!” Pa warned.
About that time Clay showed up in the yard. “Mr. Cartwright, I believe I upset Joe, he had a reason for riding in the way he did.”
Joe shot Clay a grateful glance.
“Oh really,” said Pa with his eyebrows raised and his eyes dark. “And just what reason would that be?”
Clay took a deep breath, “I told Joe that Marie was my mother.”
Pa went pale. “Young man, I think you need to come in and talk to me.”
“Yes sir, I think I do.” Clay said as he followed Pa into the house.
“Joseph, wait here and tell Adam and Hoss to wait until I call for you.” Pa said as he ushered Clay into the house.
Joe just stared at his father’s back as he entered the house.
Clay and Pa stayed in the house for quite a while talking. Unbeknownst to Pa, Ellie had opened her door and could hear the conversation quite clearly. She couldn’t believe what she heard. First of all, her Mama had been married before she married Papa and she had a baby. Clay was 8 years older than Joe. Clay’s grandparents had stolen him and claimed he was dead. Her poor Mama never even got to meet Clay. She was even more surprised to hear the Papa had known about Mama being married and having this baby. Only Papa thought the baby had been born dead. Her head was reeling. She closed her door and lay down on her bed, she didn’t know what to think.
Pa finally opened the door and motioned the boys in. He turned to Joe, “Go get your sister, Joseph.”
Joe sprinted up the stairs. He returned with Ellie in tow. Joe had already filled Adam and Hoss in on what he knew. Pa sat them down and explained all he knew. Ellie didn’t think she liked this one bit. She moved toward Adam and wrangled her way into his lap. She needed to feel secure. Things were changing. Adam noticed her distressed look and put his arm around her, settling her in his lap.
Everyone was in a state of shock. He turned to Clay and said, “Clay had I known about you, you would have certainly grown up on the Ponderosa with your brothers and sister. I regret I didn’t have the pleasure of being your father. I want to welcome you into our home, now your home. You can have the spare room at the end of the hall, please get your things from the bunkhouse.”
“Mr. Cartwright, Sir, I don’t know if I’m staying. I just wanted to meet my family.” Clay said shaking his head.
“Well, you will move into the room upstairs until you decide.” Pa said.
“But, Sir…” Clay started.
“Young man, I am not accustomed to being disobeyed.” Pa said.
Clay looked into the dark eyes of the man who would have been his step-father. He truly wished to belong. He just wasn’t sure. “Yes sir,” he said quietly as he turned to retrieve his items from the bunk house.
Dinner was a rambunctious affair. Joe couldn’t keep quiet. He chattered on and on about the Ponderosa. The only one who wasn’t talking much was Ellie. Pa watched the children around the table. He didn’t know if Ellie was quiet because of the spanking she had gotten earlier or this new brother was bothering her.
The clock chimed 8:00 and the family was still sitting at the supper table. “Bed time Ellie,” Pa said.
Ellie just nodded her head and went up the stairs.
The next morning found all of the children, including Clay at the breakfast table. The grownups talked about the tasks for the day. Clay and Joe were going back down to the corral to work the horses. Ellie just sat and watched everyone. She just pushed her food around on her plate. Pa looked at Ellie, “Ellie eat your breakfast.”
She looked as if she hadn’t even heard him, “May I be excused.” she asked looking at her father.
Frustrated, Pa responded, “No, I just told you to eat your breakfast and I mean now!”
“Papa, if I eat, I’m going to get sick. Honest.”
“Ok, go on up to your room. Remember, you are to stay in your room the rest of the week.”
“Yes sir”, she said morosely.
Clay watched his new little sister, something definitely wasn’t right. She sure had been a little keg of dynamite yesterday. He wondered as he headed for the corral with Joe.
The days passed into weeks. Clay had been with them about month. Ellie avoided him at all costs, while Joe followed him around like a puppy. Pa had gotten wires verifying his story, so Ellie found out that Clay was truly her brother. He tried to talk to her, ask her questions, found out what she liked and disliked. She spoke very little to him, she answered “yes sir” and “no sir” and that was about it.
Clay was perplexed, he wasn’t sure why Ellie didn’t like him. He wasn’t sure that he should stay on the Ponderosa anyway. But the longer he stayed, the more withdrawn Ellie became. He noticed how attached to Adam she was. Ellie would stick to either Adam or her father like glue when the family was around. She became withdrawn from Joe as well. She treated Hoss the same as always. He decided he better talk to Mr. Cartwright.
He approached Joe’s father. He just thought of him as Joe’s father or “sir”. The patriarch of the Cartwrights did not want to be called Mr. Cartwright, but Clay couldn’t bring himself to call him “Ben”, or “Pa”, so he just settled on “Sir.” Pa was sitting in the great room at his desk. Clay walked in and directly over to Pa’s desk. “Sir, may I have a word with you?”
“Sure, son, what is it?” Pa asked putting the contract he had been reviewing down.
Clay noted the familiar term “Son”. “Well, sir, it’s about Ellie. I’m worried about her. Is she normally quiet and I don’t know, like …. the fire’s gone out of her?”
Pa smiled at his newest son. He regretted that Clay hadn’t grown up on the Ponderosa with the rest of his children. He would have been a fine addition to the family. “No, Clay, she is usually not at all quiet and she normally is a ball of fire. I think she is trying to settle a number of things in her mind.”
“What do you mean sir?”
“Well, I think she can’t imagine her mother being married to anyone else. She just can’t reconcile in her mind that her mother had a son and that you’re not my natural son. You see even though she knows that Marie was not Adam and Hoss’ mother, in her mind they never had another one. The boys refer to her as Mama, so she’s used to us all being in one family. It has never crossed her mind that I would be a step-father, even though Adam and Hoss had a step-mother. She’s grown up with the boys, it would never enter her mind that they aren’t her full blood brothers.”
Clay nodded. “Yes sir, she sure seems attached to Adam.”
“I think she doesn’t trust you and doesn’t want to get close to you.” Pa added.
“Why would you say that sir?”
“Well, when you first came to us you said you might not stay. You mentioned how attached to Adam she is. Adam has loved and cared for her so long that even when he gets married eventually and moves out of the house, chances are he will be nearby somewhere.”
Clay stood soaking this all in.
“And one more thing son.”
“You’ve occupied her very best friend in the whole world and she probably doesn’t know how to react.”
Pa nodded smiling.
Clutching his hat in his hands, Clay said, “I’ll see what I can do about that, sir.”
“It would probably help if you started calling me Pa instead of Sir all the time.”
Clay looked down and blushed. “Yes sir, I mean Pa.”
Pa smiled. Things were definitely going to improve around here. He very much enjoyed having another son and he was certain that he would have his little girl back to normal shortly. He smiled again to himself as he went back to reviewing the contracts on his desk.
The next morning, the family was sitting around the breakfast table. It was Saturday and Ellie had the day to herself as long as her chores were done. “May I be excused?” Ellie asked.
Pa started to excuse her, when Clay broke in. “Umm, Ellie would you like to go to town with me and Joe, we were going to pick up supplies?”
Ellie bit her lip. She really wanted to go into town and see if the mercantile had any new books. She didn’t really want to go with Clay. She wasn’t sure she liked him. She was mad at Joe for ignoring her.
“Come on Ellie, I’ll take you and Joe to the International House for lunch.” Clay wheedled.
“Really?” she asked. The International House was her favorite place to eat in Virginia City, she didn’t get to go there very often.
“Come on Sissy, you can see if Mr. Callahan has that book.” Joe said smiling at her.
“What book?” interrupted Adam.
“Treasure Island.” Ellie supplied. She turned to her father. “Papa, can I go?”
“Are your chores done?” he asked.
“No sir, not yet.” she frowned.
“Well, go finish your chores and you can go.”
“Ellie, we can wait, Joe and I have chores we need to do.” said Clay.
She looked at her father, “May I be excused?”
“Yes, your excused and put on a dress before you go to town. You can’t very well walk into the International House dressed like a boy.” Pa said.
Ellie started to retort,”why not”, but decided Papa might change his mind if she sassed. “Papa?”
“May I have my allowance?”
Pa took a $5 bill out of his wallet and handed it to her.
Her eyes got big, “$5, Papa?”
“Well, I thought you might need a little extra for the book.” Pa said smiling.
“Oh no sir, I’ve been saving.” Ellie said shaking her head and handing him back the money.
“No, baby, Papa’s treat.” he said pushing her hand away.
“Thank you Papa, thank you!” Ellie exclaimed throwing her arms around her papa’s neck and giving him a big hug.
“You’re welcome baby. Now scoot and do your chores.” he said returning her hug and giving her a soft swat on the bottom as he turned her toward the front door.
Clay watched the scene and smiled. He had heard about how much a spoiled brat Ellie was. He hadn’t really seen her act that bratty. She had a temper, but only when she was defending her family. She was spoiled on love, not material things. She knew how to save her money and knew the value of a dollar. He had been watching her. She certainly had the men wrapped around her little finger, but none of them had any trouble doling out the discipline when she needed it. She didn’t seem to need it too often. He reached the conclusion that she was a very special girl, loved in deed.
Ellie finished her chores in record time. She raced up to her room to clean up and put on a dress. Jeez, I hate dresses she thought as she pulled a dress over her head. She was trying to button the buttons in the back, but quickly became frustrated. She started to swear, but she thought against it, if Papa heard her or Adam, she wouldn’t get to go get that book. She steeled herself, breathed in and counted to ten. Just then Joe tapped on her door.
“Heh, Sissy, ready to go?”
No! I can’t get these darn buttons!”
Joe quickly entered her room, “Better not let anyone hear you say that or you’re gonna get a swat.” Joe said laughing.
“Only Adam and Papa.” she said letting Joe button her up.
“Oh, I don’t know, I’m thinking you’d get one from Clay or Hoss just as easy.”
“You know Hoss don’t swat us. Well not too often. Why Clay?” she asked.
Joe just stared at her, “Because he is our brother and he is as much older than you than Adam is of me, and Adam sure don’t have problems swatting.”
“Oh,” she said.
“Besides Ellie, he was making me “yes sir” and “no sir” when I first met him cuz he said I wasn’t 21 yet. I think he’s kinda like Adam on that stuff.” Joe said as he finished the last button. “Come on girl, time’s a wasting.” Joe grabbed Ellie by the hand and head for the stairs. The both ran down the stairs and met Clay at the front door.
“Heh you two, quit running on those stairs.” Clay chastised.
Ellie looked at him startled. Gosh I guess he is like Adam, she thought.
Clay loaded them up in the buckboard and headed for Virginia City. Ellie was very quiet. She contemplated this new big brother of hers. She just had a hard time accepting him as a big brother. Joe seemed to be ok with it. Why couldn’t she? Well at any rate, Joe seemed to be a little less enamored with Clay and was paying more attention to her. She thought about that. Maybe she was jealous. Oh boy, she had never thought about that. The preacher said jealousy was a sin. She resolved that she would try her hardest not to be jealous. She was lost in her own thoughts, when Joe punched her in the arm.
“Heh Sissy? Sissy?” Joe said.
“Darn you, Joe Cartwright. Why’d you do that?” Ellie said her eyes flaring.
Clay stopped the buckboard and looked at Ellie. “No more swearing missy or I’ll give you a swat.”
Oh great she thought, he really is another big brother. She just looked at Clay. “Darn ain’t a swear word and who says you get to swat me anyway?”
“Well, Pa did for one.”
Ellie gasped, that was the first time Clay had referred to her Papa as his Pa.
“And for another thing, any big brother would swat a little sister for swearing.”
“It ain’t a swear word.” Ellie muttered.
Clay held up his hand, “I’m not arguing with you Ellie, I’m just telling you how it is.”
“Sissy, I’ve been trying to ask you where you wanted to go once we got to town. I mean besides Mr. Callahan’s?” Joe broke in, trying to diffuse the fight that was about to start.
“Oh, sorry Joe. Um, I really just want to get that book. Maybe we could go in the sweet shop and get Papa some of those cakes he likes?”
Fortunately, the three arrived in Virginia City about then, all arguments and swear words forgotten. Clay grabbed Ellie by the waist and set her down. She started to go into Callahan’s by herself. Clay caught her dress, “Just a minute, you need to have someone go in the store with you.”
Ellie just rolled her eyes. “Oh for heaven’s sake, I can go in to the store by myself. Jeez, you’re worse than Adam and Papa put together.”
Clay grinned. “Ok, you can go in the store to check on the book. Joe you go give the supply list to Mr. Callahan and I told Pa I’d check on those wagon wheels at the blacksmith. I’ll meet you both at the International House in 30 minutes.”
Joe and Ellie headed into Mr. Callahan’s. Clay headed for the blacksmith. Joe handed Mr. Callahan the supply list. “Mr. Callahan we’ll be back after lunch to pick up the supplies.” Joe said.
“Right, Little Joe, see you in about 2 hours?”
“Yes sir. Heh Sissy, I’m going down to Spence Pullans to look at rifles. Pay attention to the time and meet me over at the International House in 30 minutes, ok?”
Ellie was looking at Mr. Callahan’s inventory of books. She saw two she wanted. She was trying to make up her mind. “Ok,” she said not really paying attention.
“Sissy, 30 minutes?” Joe said checking to make sure she understood.
“Yeah, ok, 30 minutes Joe.” she answered.
Joe ran out and headed to Spence Pullans rifle shop. He really shouldn’t leave Ellie in a store by herself, but he figured what could happen? Mr. Callahan would watch for her. Knowing Ellie, she would still be standing there 30 minutes later staring at those books. He’d probably have to drag her out to lunch.
Ellie finally chose “Treasure Island” and handed the book to Mr. Callahan.
“Tough choice, Ellie?” asked Mr. Callahan kindly.
“Yes sir, you have “Little Women”, too.”
“Maybe next time, honey.” Mr. Callahan said taking “Treasure Island” from Ellie.
Ellie nodded her head, “I have to save my allowance, maybe next month.”
“Honey, where’s your brothers, I know your Pa don’t like you walking around Virginia City by yourself.”
“Me and Joe is suppose to meet Clay over at the International House for lunch. I told Joe, I’d meet him over there.”
Mr. Callahan accepted her payment and handed her back the book. “I don’t know honey, maybe you should wait for one of your brothers to come get you.” He was a little worried, Clay had stirred up the miners a few weeks back and things still hadn’t settled down.
“No sir, Mr. Callahan, I can go by myself. For heaven’s sake, I’m 12.”
Mr. Callahan eyed her.
“I’m sorry sir, I didn’t mean to be disrespectful. It’s just that the International House is just one street over, I can go without getting into trouble.” Ellie said quickly apologizing.
“Honey, I know you’re a big girl now, but things in town can get rough. I wouldn’t want you to get caught up in anything.” he said shaking his head.
“Mr. Callahan, I promise to go straight to the International House.” Ellie pleaded.
“Ok, go on now, go straight over.”
“Yes sir!” Ellie said grabbing her book and running out before he changed his mind.
Meanwhile, Joe arrived at the International House. He looked around and didn’t see Clay or Ellie. He smiled to himself. Imagine that he thought, I’m actually the first one here. He looked around to see Clay entering the International House.
“Joe, where’s Ellie?” Clay said.
Joe shrugged his shoulders. “I left her at Mr. Callahan’s, she was taking forever looking at the books.”
Clay gave him a smoldering stare, “Joe, you know your … I mean Pa doesn’t like her to be alone in town, even for a minute.”
Joe shrugged away guiltily. “I can go get her.”
“No, let’s both get her and then we can have lunch.”
They exited the restaurant and headed a street over to get Ellie. They came upon Ellie obviously arguing with two boys.
“Heh, Cartwright brat.”
“What do you want?” asked Ellie.
“Just a message for your brother.” said Max Stockwell grabbing her book from her and tossing to his brother Stan.
“Yeah,” said Stan catching the book, “tell your brother the miners are going to kill him.”
Stan tossed the book back to Max, “Yeah, the miners take care of their own.”
Ellie ran in between them. “Give it back!” she said reaching for her book.
Max gave her a shove as he tossed the book to Stan laughing. Ellie ran toward Stan. Stan tossed the book back toward Max shoving Ellie in to the dirt. Ellie was so mad, she started to cry. Stan and Max took turns pushing her and tossing the book. The book finally dropped.
“Whoops!” said Max as he picked up the book and tore some the pages and let them flutter to the street.
Joe looked at Clay, “Clay, that’s Max and Stan Stockwell. Their Pa’s a miner.”
Clay and Joe took off running toward Ellie. Just as Max moved to shove Ellie once more, Clay caught her in his arms. Ellie started to fight thinking it was Stan. “Ellie, I got you baby.” Clay said sharply.
Ellie looked up to see Clay. She breathed a sigh of relief and collapsed into his arms crying. Clay hugged her to him and then pushed her behind him. He turned on the Stockwell boys. By this time, Joe had Max in a head lock. Stan was just standing there looking at Clay. “If you have something to say to me little boy, you better say it.”
Stan bristled at being called a little boy. “I ain’t no boy!” he spat.
“Oh really, then why are you picking on my little sister. You outweigh her by a good 70 pounds. You really think picking on a little girl and destroying her book is something a man would do?”
Stan was about Joe’s size. Clay was a lot bigger than he thought he’d be. Max was just a bit bigger than Stan. Clay looked at Joe, “Let him go, Joe.”
Joe wanted to beat the tar out of him for even touching his baby sister. Joe didn’t let go. “Joe, I said let him go.” Clay said sharply. Joe shook his head no. “Now, Joe!” Clay said giving him that big brother voice.
Joe sighed and released Max. Clay looked at Stan and Max. “Now boys, if your Pa has a bone to pick with me then let him do it man to man. You two leave my family alone.” With that Clay grabbed Ellie’s hand and Joe by the arm and led them away to the International House.
Clay had just changed in Ellie’s eyes into one of her big brothers, another brother to keep her safe and secure. As relieved as she was about Clay, she was devastated about the book. She pushed her food around on her plate.
“Ellie, eat your lunch.” said Clay gently.
“I’m not hungry.” she said.
“Aww, baby don’t let those yahoos upset you.” said Clay patting her hand.
“But Clay, they destroyed my book. I’ve been waiting months and months, saving my allowance. I was just lucky Papa gave me money. I spent his money and now I have nothing.” she said miserably.
Clay’s eyebrows went up. He didn’t think she had ever called him by name. “I’ll tell you what, if you finish your lunch, I’ll get you a new book. It was on account of me that that boy ripped up your book anyway.”
Ellie looked at him surprised. Wow, he sure was nice. Maybe it wasn’t so bad having another big brother. “Really?”
“Sure, little sister, sure.”
When they finished lunch, they headed back to Callahan’s to collect the supplies. Clay and Joe loaded the buckboard. Clay handed Ellie, “Little Women”. Sorry, baby, Mr. Callahan didn’t have another copy of “Treasure Island”. He said he’d order you a copy.”
Ellie’s eyes lit up. “Thanks, Clay, I mean thanks big brother.” She reached over and gave him a hug and a kiss.
“Well,” said Joe, “you’re part of the family now. Once you start getting Ellie’s hugs and kisses you’re all right in her book.”
Clay just grinned, “Well that’s just fine little brother, that’s just fine.” Clay slapped the horses with the reins and headed toward home with his baby brother and his baby sister. He was really feeling like he was home.