The First Day (by Fozrulz)

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Summary:  THIS IS MY FIRST STORY WITH ELLIE, A CARTWRIGHT DAUGHTER.  

Rated: K+ (11,460 words)

 This story adds a character.  The Cartwright boys have a little sister, Eleanor,  that was born when Joe was 5, right before his mother’s death.  Pa goes off to San Francisco for Cattleman’s Association meeting and leaves Adam in charge of the children.  Eleanor is 6, Adam is 23, Hoss is 17 and Joe is 11.

 

The Night Before School

Adam sat with his head in his hands.  He was tired.  It was a chore to run the ranch and handle the 3 children.  Oh, Hoss wasn’t a child really and he helped a lot with Joe and Ellie.  But, he was still tired and wished he could just read his new book without all the responsibility of the ranch at the back of his mind.  He smiled to himself and thought, well at least he didn’t have school tomorrow.  He was mulling over the fact that his baby sister was starting school tomorrow and that Pa was not here to take her.  He fervently wished his Pa were here.  He knew that Joe would be no help and that Ellie was scared witless.  Just then, the front door opened slamming against the credenza and in bounced Joe and Hoss.

“Heh, older brother”, shouted Joe.

“Adam”, said Hoss.

“Joe, quit shouting, I’m right here. “Did you get the fences mended in the North Pasture?” groused Adam.

Wow, touchy, touchy….”said Joe with amusement in his eyes, “Someone sure seems grouchy.  Heh, Hoss does older brother seem a mite grouchy to you?”

Adam shot Joe one of those looks.  The look that said “stop now, while your still standing, or all you will be doing is standing.”

Hoss caught the “look” in Adam’s eyes and said, “Well, we’ll just get washed up for supper, won’t we Little Joe.” 

With that he grabbed his younger brother by the arm and dragged him upstairs.

“Heh, what did you do that for?”  Little Joe asked Hoss with a stunned look in his eye.

“Cuz I don’t want you go and makin’ him mad or nuthin, didn’t you catch “the look”?”

“Aww, Hoss, I was just teasin him a lil.  He always looks like that when Pa’s gone.”

“Yeah, well  iffin you don’t stop, you’ll be standing up at supper.  I’d step real easy ‘bout Adam tonight and don’t give him no trouble ‘bout goin’ school tomorra and for Pete’s sake don’t sass him none.”  Pa had warned Joe not to sass Adam before he left for San Francisco.  Everyone was always telling him not to sass.  He didn’t really sass that much, well at least he didn’t think so.

“Oh,”  Joe’s face fell, “I almost forgot about school.  Gee, Hoss thanks for remindin’ me.”  Joe slunk off to get washed up.  “don’t sass…, he mimicked under his breath.  Good Lord, what did he ever do to deserve having  3 Pa’s.

“You say sumpin, boy?” asked Hoss with his eyebrows raised.  “I’m telling you, you watch that sassy mouth of yours or I’ll wallop ya myself.  Ya hear me, Joe?”

“Yeah, yeah, I heard ya.” Joes said irritably.  Hoss never tanned Joe, well, almost never.  Joe was about to say something and thought better of it.  He wasn’t real sure if Hoss was truly mad.  Boy, this evening wasn’t turning out to be any fun at all and it being his last free day before school.  What was all the fuss about anyway?  Adam is always had that look, especially when Pa is gone.

“Heh, Hoss, tell Ellie it’s time for supper,”  called Adam from the bottom of the stairs.

Joe ran down the stairs, skipping the last few steps and landing his two feet on the floor with a loud bang.
Adam yelled, “What on earth…”

“Washed and ready for supper.”  said Joe amiably.  Adam just shot him a dark look.  Joe gave him an innocent glance. 

Hoss knocked on Ellie’s door.  “Heh, lil princess it’s time for supper.”

“Not hungwy, Hoss,” came a muffled answer from the bed.

Hoss thought for a minute.  Oh, Lordy another sassy youngin.  He wasn’t sure he could take Adam’s temper if Ellie was going to cause trouble.  He’d rather go back to fence mending.  Hoss stuck his head in the door, to see his sister’s back turned to him.  He went to her bed and turned her toward him.  He leaned down to her face and said as seriously as he could  “Listen here Ellie, Adam is in no mood to puttin’ up with sassin’ youngins tonight.  Ya jes git yourself down there for supper.”

“No!” she said petulantly.

Hoss was getting mighty frustrated with the youngin’s tonight.  He grabbed her by the waist, lifted her off the bed and stood her on her feet in front of him and in his best “Pa” voice he could muster, “ELEANOR GRACE CARTWRIGHT, you have 2 choices, you can go down stairs and sit down in your chair and eat supper or you can go downstairs and stand up and eat supper, now what’s it gonna be?”

Her eyes got big as saucers, Hoss never ever called her by her full name.  Not only that he sounded so much like Pa, she had to look again and make sure it was Hoss.  She snuck another look at him and his eyes were glowering.  She thought about what he’d said and when she took on the full meaning of Hoss’s words,  she gulped and scooted by Hoss with her backside away from him and ran for the stairs.  Hoss chuckled, he’d never spanked her and doubted he ever would, but she didn’t need to know that, did she?

Adam looked up the stairs to see Ellie standing at the top.  She was such a pretty little girl, she had the look of Marie about her.  She was so tiny, petite, with big green eyes and a mass of dark soft curls on her head spilling down to her shoulders.  She was like a copy of Joe, only in girl form.  They both looked so much like their mother.  He smiled, remembering how cute Joe was at that age.  Her lower lip was trembling and she was glancing back toward her room.  Oh my word, thought Adam, what’s gotten into her.   She was usually such a good girl.  She almost never disobeyed Adam or Hoss for that matter.  Adam wished Little Joe would learn a lesson from her.  “Come on Ellie, time for supper.”  Adam smiled at her.

“Coming”, she said as she lingered and took the stairs very slowly, one at a time, still looking back.

At this rate, dinner would be cold, Hop Sing would be yelling about late suppers and leaving “ungrateful” family and going back to China and Adam would be having one big headache.  Exasperated, Adam said , “NOW ELEANOR GRACE, not next week.  Hop Sing will be mad if you don’t get down here and eat this supper before its time for you to go to bed.”

  Uh Oh, he said “ELEANOR GRACE” she thought and Hoss just said it, why is everyone mad at her.  Usually when someone started a sentence with ELEANOR GRACE, it ended up with a swat on her behind. 

Just then, to show that he wasn’t really angry with her, Hoss stopped on the stairs and grabbed her up in his arms and carried her into the dining room.  “And now the Princess of the Ponderosa has been placed on her throne..” as he deposited her in her chair.  She giggled.  Hoss always made her laugh.  Adam was grateful to see that she was smiling.  He figured she just missed her Papa, but it was getting tiresome watching her sulk around the house, but still he couldn’t be sure…..

Adam said grace and as supper got underway, Joe and Hoss starting telling Adam about their day and how Cochise got away from Joe and well, how they ended up taking a swim, and how……………..  But Adam wasn’t really listening.  He was watching his baby sister.  She wasn’t eating.  She was just pushing her food around on her plate.  
Ellie was miserable, she just wanted to go to her room and pretend tomorrow wasn’t going to happen.  She just knew school was going to be awful.  She knew bigger kids teased the little kids and that they were mean.  Joe was always coming home with a black eye or something.  He was always saying how mean they were.  He was always saying how …. She just knew that she was gonna get teased because she was a Cartwright, because she was small, because she had curls, because she was the baby, because she was left handed like Joe. And worst of all she couldn’t say all her sounds right.  She tried real hard, but she just couldn’t.  Papa said she would grow into it.  She was so lost in thought, she didn’t even notice Adam was talking to her.

Hoss squeezed her leg and whispered,” Heh, lil princess, Adam’s talkin’ to ya.”

She looked up at Adam startled.  He saw the tears floating in her eyes.  She had those beautiful green eyes, like her mama and Joe.

Adam said, “Everything ok princess?”  Ellie didn’t even look up, she was worried she cry in front of everybody and Joe would tease her about being a baby.  Again.  Boy, she was powerful tired of Joe telling her what a baby she was.  Why just that afternoon he had told her she couldn’t go with him and Hoss because she was still a baby and she couldn’t ride the pony Joe had because she was a baby and she couldn’t do anything by herself because she was a baby.  Then worst of all, Joe said she still talked like a baby.  She knew she talked funny.  It was on account of the shooting accident when she was 2, which took some of her hearing away.   Pa told her she would learn in time and it was ok.

She was on the verge of tears.  She just wanted to go to her room. “May I be ‘cused?  ” she asked.

“Excused,”  Adam automatically corrected.  He  didn’t know what to do.  He knows Pa never allowed the children to leave the table without at least eating something.  Pa usually had the rule, eat 4 more bites of everything and you could go.  But Ellie hadn’t eaten anything.

Well, missy, what’s the rule?  Adam asked.

Looking down at her plate, Ellie said “eat 4 more bites of everythin’ on your pwate.  But, Adam, I’m not hungwy.  I think my tummy huwts.”

Adam waivered, but stuck firm.  He said in his most serious “Pa” voice, “4 bites..”

Ellie choked down 4 very tiny bites of everything on her plate.  “Now, may I be ‘cused?”  she asked plaintively?
“Drink your milk.”

She gulped her milk.  “Now?”

Adam sighed and glanced at the clock, it was 7:00.  “Ok, it’s bed time anyhow, with school being tomorrow.  I’ll be up to hear your prayers soon.”  Adam couldn’t figure out what was going on in her little 6 year old mind.  He sorely wished Pa was home.

At the mention of school, she took off up the stairs.  Once she had fled to the sanctuary of her room, Hoss said to Adam, “Ain’t you bein’ a mite hard on her Adam.”

“Hoss, she needs to eat something”,  he said tiredly.

“I know Adam, I’m just thinking she’s a missin’ Pa and mehbe a lil scairt bout tomorra.”

“Maybe so, maybe so” said Adam as he looked up those empty stairs.

Once supper was over and the boys cleared the table, Adam was still deep in thought about Ellie.  Joe was just about to sit down for a round of checkers with Hoss, when the clock chimed 8:00 and Adam said, “Heh, Joe best be getting up to bed so you can get up for school tomorrow.”

Joe got a dark look on his face. Going to bed at 8:00, why that was for little kids.  He hated Adam telling him to go to bed, like he was a little kid.  After all he was 11.  Joe scowled.  He wanted to make a smart aleck comment to Adam about being too old to be told to go to bed, too old to go to school and about school being too boring and about how he was needed at the ranch.  But, Hoss’s and Pa’s warning about sassing Adam was still ringing in his ears.  Besides, he caught the “look” earlier and wasn’t taking any chances about having a sore backside and having to sit on a hard bench at school tomorrow. 

“Goodnight, Joe”, Adam and Hoss chorused.

Without saying goodnight, Joe sighed and trudged up the stairs.

“What’s with him?, asked Adam.  Hoss just shrugged.

Adam took a look at Hoss and said, “I’ll go check on Ellie”.  He sighed as he headed upstairs.  Maybe if he offered her a story, she would shake that ornery mood.  As Adam approached her room, he heard a soft sobbing.  He opened the door and saw Ellie lying on her bed fully dressed, her little body just shaking.  He quickly grabbed her up in his arms, shushing her.  “It’s ok baby, big brother is here.”

“Not a baby.  Pwease, pwease, I want Papa,”  she wailed.  She buried her face in Adam’s chest and grabbed his shirt with her tiny fists.

Adam’s heart skipped a beat.  Her crying just about unwound him.  “Ssh, ssh baby, Papa’s not here, but I am.  Papa will be home tomorrow.  What’s wrong baby, tell big brother.”  With that, Ellie just broke into hysterical sobbing.  She was having one of her meltdowns.  You could always tell when was about to happen, the lower lip starting quivering, her body starting shaking, yup, you could always tell.  Usually the boys left that to Pa and made themselves scarce.  But, Pa wasn’t here, so Adam rocked her and rocked her until she was quieted down.  When Ellie had finally calmed down, Adam smoothed her hair and wiped her tears away with his hands.  She was still hiccupping, when he said, “Let’s get you changed and then you can tell me what’s wrong.” She just nodded.  He unbuttoned her dress and pulled it over her head and got her dressed in her nightgown.  He pulled her onto his lap and turned her face toward him with his hand and said, “Now what’s this all about?”

“I ca…ca…can’t go to ‘cool.  Adam,   Joe, says they are mean to all the wil kids, I can’t talk good.  They gonna make fun of me…  I just can’t go.”  She buried her face deeper into Adam’s chest.  All the while, Adam was still rocking her.  He stopped and then tipped her chin.  “Princess, you have to go to school.  You talk just fine.  Remember it’s hard to learn to talk right when you can’t hear all that good on one side.  The doctor said you will learn to talk just as perfect as anyone, it just takes time.  Not all the kids are mean, most of them are real nice.  You know, Marybeth will be there tomorrow.  You don’t want to miss your chance to see her do you?  Besides, you know that Joe will be there and he won’t let anything happen.”

Ellie stopped sniffing long enough to think about Marybeth.  Marybeth was her best friend and all of 7.  Ellie sure wanted to see Marybeth.  “You sure, Adam?”

 “Um hm ,” he soothed as he stroked her hair.

“What about how I tawk?  Joe says I tawk wike a baby still.”

 ‘“He said that did he?”

“Uh, huh, he was real mad!”

“Well, don’t worry about Joe, he didn’t mean it.  He knows you can’t hear well.  You talk just perfect for being 6.”
 With that, Ellie breathed a huge sigh of relief, and relaxed her grip on Adam’s shirt.  Adam knew everything.  He went to college.  He almost knew as much as Pa.  If he said she talked ok, he must be right.  What a relief!  She started to yawn.  He just sat there with his arms around her tiny body and rocked her until he felt her relax and fall asleep.  He laid her down on the bed and pulled the covers over her.  He kissed her head and said, “Sleep tight my little princess.” and he walked out of the room.

Talks like a baby, huh?  I think I’ll just go have a talk with baby brother…. Joe was in his room, he hadn’t gotten ready for bed yet.  He was still steamed that Adam told him to go to bed.  So, he just sat there staring out the window.  He wished he were bigger like Hoss, so he didn’t have to go to school and take orders from Adam.  He was so lost in his thoughts, he didn’t even hear Adam open the door.

Adam walked in his room without so much as a knock.  Joe nearly jumped out of his skin.  Adam walked over to Joe’s bed.  “Well, little brother, I see you aren’t even ready for bed yet.” he said disgustedly.

Anger flashed in his eyes,  “Umm..yeah, well…..I’m not tired”,  he said defiantly.

“Oh really, and what were you told?”  Adam said very quietly.

Uh oh, that quiet voice of Adam’s was nothing to mess with.  When Adam got real quiet like that, that was the time to start praying.  But Joe’s temper got the best of him as usual.  Pa always said his temper was going to be the death of him and Joe.  Joe just couldn’t help himself, he exploded.  “Yeah, yeah I know to get ready for bed.  I’m tired of you bossing me around.  I’m sick of you telling me what to do.  You’re not Pa!  You don’t get to tell me what to do!”  He clamped his mouth shut, he knew he shouldn’t have sassed Adam, the moment it came out of his mouth.  Lord, he just couldn’t control his temper.   Hoss told him not to sass, but it just came out as natural as the day is long.  Joe looked at his feet.

“Uh – huh” said Adam quite calmly, “and uh, Joe, what is Pa’s rule?

Joe just couldn’t help himself as he dug himself a deeper hole, he rolled his eyes and said staunchily mimicking Pa’s voice, “When you talk to Adam, it’s like you’re talking to me.”

“Umm hmm, so, I suppose you would have talked to Pa like that?”

Joe scowled. “No, but …..”

“There are no buts, Joe”, said Adam, “ I told you to get ready for bed.”

“Well you’re not Pa and I told you, I am too old for you to be telling me to go to bed.”  Joe shot back.  Joe sat on his bed, glaring at Adam, daring him to do the inevitable.

Adam closed his eyes and sighed.  He had had just about enough of 11 year old Joe’s sass.  In one swift moment, he yanked Joe to his feet, turned him around and gave him a two very hard swats on the backside.  Joe’s look was one of surprise and anger.  “Now Joe, there is a whole lot more of that coming your way, if you don’t stop sassing me.  I’m tired, I have a lot of work to do and I just spent the last half hour dealing with Ellie and her “meltdown” because you told her she talks like a baby.  What were you thinking, Joe.  You know she can’t hear very well out her left ear and the doc says that’s what’s making it hard for her to get all her sounds.  How could you be so mean to her?”

Joe was rubbing his behind, his eyes tearing from the swat.  But as Adam spoke, the tears starting rolling down his face.  He was so ashamed.  He felt bad that he sassed Adam, he felt even worse that Adam swatted him, but he worst of all because he loved his baby sister like nobody’s business, he felt bad that she was having a meltdown on account of him.  Joe hung his head and asked misrabley, “That what she said, Adam?”

“That’s what she said.”  Adam didn’t even need to ask if it was true, the look in Joe’s eye’s was enough.

“I’m sorry.  I was just so sore.  She was being such a pest this morning.  I’ll go tell her I’m sorry Adam” he said his eyes looking down the hall to her room.

“Not tonight, Joe.  I finally got her calmed down and I don’t want you stirring her up.  But you tell her tomorrow and you make sure that you watch her.  It’s your job to protect her and make sure nobody hurts her.  You’re not suppose to be the one that hurts her.  Just like it’s my job to protect you and Hoss and Ellie and it’s Hoss’s job to protect you and Ellie.  You understand, me?”

“Yes, Adam”, Joe said chastised.  Joe knew he had been mean to Ellie and he felt awful.  He knew he had crossed the line and wasn’t looking for anymore swats from Adam.  Adam swatted a lot harder than Pa most of the time.  Surprised by the show of respect, Adam just smiled to himself.  He knew his brother felt like he was in a bunch of trouble, especially if he told Pa.

“Uhh – Adam, I didn’t mean it you know.”

“What?”

“That…. you know….., what I said before you swatted me.”

Adam stood up and pulled his little brother into his embrace.  He felt Joe go a little limp as he relaxed in his brother’s arms.  “I know buddy, let’s move on and start new in the morning.”  He released Joe and said with mock severity, “Now, get ready for bed young man.”

“Yes, sir” Joes said as he saluted Adam and dissolved into giggles. 

“Adam?”

“Yeah” Adam asked pausing in the door way.

“You ain’t  gonna tell Pa what I said to Ellie?  I promise I won’t do it again.” Joe said pleading with Adam. Joe knew that teasing Ellie about her speech was one of the worst offenses he could commit, even worse than sassing Pa.   The last time he made a comment to Ellie about her speech, he had a “private” talk with Pa, which was Cartwright code for a tanning.

“No, Joe, I think those two swats handled it.” Adam said, pulling Joe’s door shut.  As Adam closed his door, Joe breathed a sigh of relief, relieved that he only got two swats.  He lay down on the bed exhausted from all the effort.  He went to bed thinking – it’s a good thing this family starts new in the morning.  Even after the worst tanning, Pa always said, “Let’s move on and start new in the morning.”

Adam started downstairs, but thought he should just go on to bed.  Playing Pa to those two was as hard a thing as he’d ever done.  He’d rather be doing anything else.  How did Pa do it with the four of them?  He just didn’t know.  Please Lord he thought, let Pa come home soon.

As Adam was turning down his lamp, Hoss tapped on the door.  “You, ok big brother?” Hoss asked, his voice dripping with concern.

“Everything is ok lil brother, go get some sleep.  I think tomorrow is going to be a long day.”  Adam said tiredly.
Hoss said good night and smiled to himself.  He checked on the younger two and found them fast asleep.  He covered both of them and gave them each a kiss on their matching masses of curls.  All was right with the Cartwright children once again.

The Next Morning

Adam and Hoss were sitting at the breakfast table, when Little Joe raced down the stairs and skated into his chair with a big smile on his face.  “Morning big brothers!” he sang.

“Morning Joe.  Go, get Ellie up.  And remember Joe, you were going to apologize to her.” said Adam.

“Fer, what?”  asked Hoss.

Joe looked fearful.  He didn’t want Adam telling anybody about what he’d said to Ellie. 

Adam just said, “Oh, he was just teasing her.”

Hoss raised his eyebrows at Adam with a silent understanding that passed between them.

Joe wanted to stay and see if Adam told, but he knew he better go get Ellie.  Besides, Joe knew it was his job to help Ellie get ready in the morning, school or no school.  Just like it was Hoss’s job to see to Joe being ready for the morning.  Joe ran up the stairs and knocked on Ellie’s door.  She didn’t answer.  He pushed the door open and found her sitting on her bed in her nightgown.

 “Heh, Sissy, you better shake a leg and get dressed, so you can get yourself some breakfast.”  Joe had always called her Sissy.  He had called her that since she was born.  It was his special name for her, a name that no one else got to use.  Not even Adam and Hoss. 

“No – don’t wanna go!” she said shaking her curls.

“Aww, come on Sissy, what’s the matter?”

“Not goin’!”, she said sticking her chin out as she crossed her little arms over her chest.

“Sissy, please, if you don’t come down, we’re both gonna get in trouble with Adam.”  She just sat there and glared.
Joe thought for a minute and realized something.  “Sissy, you scared cuz today is your first day of school or you mad about what I said yesterday?”

Her resolve faded and she dissolved into quiet tears.

“Oh, Sissy I’m so sorry I said that you talk like a baby.  You don’t really.  I was just sore.  You forgive me?”

She nodded.  Whew, thought Joe, that was easy.

But she was still crying.  Something else was bothering her.  “Oh,” said Joe wisely, “you afraid kids are gonna make fun of ya, huh, because of how ya talk sometimes?”

She nodded miserably.

“You know, Pa told you that will come with time.  It’s a little harder to learn when you can’t hear so good out of one side. Right?   I’ll tell you what, how ‘bout if I promise to beat up anyone who says anything?  Besides, Ms. Jones won’t let nobody be mean to you.  She’s real understandin’,” well she is most of the time he thought.

“Reawy, bubby ?“ she sniffed.  Wow, she hadn’t called Joe “Bubby” for a long time.  Bubby was her pet name for him when she was a baby.  When she turned 5, she decided she had to call him Joe.

“Yep!  Cross my heart!  Any ways, what’s a big brother for?”  Joe was happy to be the big brother for once.

“It’s ok bubby, I wuv you!”

Jeez, this was getting to be too much.  “I love you too Sissy, now come on before Adam comes looking for us.  Joe helped her dress quickly before they went down to breakfast.  Joe grabbed her by the hand and went downstairs.  Ellie ate a very good breakfast that morning.

The clock chimed 7:00 am.  Adam and Hoss looked up at the clock, then looked at the two children at the table.

“Ya’ll need to git goin’” said Hoss.  Hoss looked at Adam, “You wanna flip to see who’s taking ‘em to school?”

Standing at the front door, Joe’s eyes narrowed, “I don’t need no big brother taking me to school, like I’m some 6 year old.”

“Yeah, but you are taking “some” 6 year old to school and she isn’t allowed to ride by herself yet and neither are you for that matter.  So, how do you plan on getting her to school?” Adam pointed out.

“Well, she can ride behind me on my pony.” Joe stated flatly.

“Joe, when is the last time that you rode into Virginia City by yourself?”

Joe didn’t like where this was going.  He wasn’t allowed to ride into town by himself.  Joe’s eyes were brimming with indignation, “You know Pa don’t let me ride into town.”

“Exactly, and since school is in town, I think someone needs to take you.”

Joe just harrumphed and turned around and slammed the door.  He couldn’t imagine how embarrassing it would be for one of his brothers to escort him to school.  Truth be told, he was a little jittery about riding in by himself, but he wasn’t about to say it.  Besides, he could use Ellie as an excuse.  Ellie just stood there looking at her feet.

Adam scooped her up in his arms and said, “Come on princess I have to run some errands in town, you can ride with me.”

Hoss was shaking his head.  That little brother of his needed to control that temper.  Good thing it was Adam instead of Pa.  If Joe been sassing Pa, the way he’d been sassing Adam.  Hoss didn’t even want to think of what Pa would say.  He sure couldn’t wait until Pa got back that evening.  Still shaking his head, he thought better Adam than me.  Then he thought, a whole day without Adam or the youngins, what a blessing this day was going to be.  Hoss starting whistling a merry tune as he headed out to do his chores.

The ride to Virginia City was quiet, each one of the Cartwright children were lost in thought.  Joe was thinking about when Pa got home, how he was tell him that he was too big to have someone taking him to school and that he could take Ellie by himself.  After all, Hoss took Joe to school when he was that age.  Adam was thinking, boy I can’t wait until Pa gets home and I hand these children off to him.  All Ellie could think about was how scary the first day of school was going to be.

By and by, the trio finally arrived at the school yard.  Adam dismounted and pulled Ellie off his horse.  She was still in his arms when she spotted MaryBeth, she struggled away from Adam.  “Where you going Princess?”  Adam laughed.

“Mawybeth, Adam.” she said as she ran toward her best friend.

“Morning, Liza”, Adam greeted Marybeth’s mother.

“”Morning, Adam.  Where’s your father?  I thought he’d bring Ellie on her first day of school.”

“Oh, he’s in San Francisco for a Cattleman’s Association meeting.  He’s coming in on the 3:00 stage.  He’s going to pick Ellie up, but it’s a surprise.  Don’t let on, ok?”

“Sure”, she said smiling.  She called Marybeth over for some last minute instruction and encouragement.  She reminded Marybeth to watch out for Ellie.  She told her, “Don’t forget, some of the bigger kids can tease and Ellie won’t understand.”

“Yes, mama, I always watch for Ellie.”

Adam noticed the school teacher, an unfamiliar face to him, he wondered where Ms. Jones was.  The teacher was about to ring the bell.  He called Ellie over to him. 

“Yes, Adam.” she looked up at him with those big green eyes filled with dread.

“Ok, Princess, I’m going now.  I want you to be a good girl.  Obey the teacher like he was me or Pa. OK?, Now, give me a kiss to last the whole day!”  She gave him a big loud kiss and giggled.  It was a little private joke for her and Adam, he always told her he need a big kiss in the morning so it would last the whole day.  She took a step back and her lower lip started to quiver.  Adam felt so helpless, he felt like he was throwing his baby sister to the wolves.

Marybeth’s mom walked over and whispered, “Adam, she’ll be fine.”

“Liza, where is Ms. Jones?” 

“Oh, she is still back east and she won’t be back until the Spring term.”

“Hmmm,” thought Adam, that didn’t sit with him very well.  He wasn’t entirely convinced Ellie was going to be ok at school.  He just had a bad feeling.  He had always been able to sense when things weren’t right with Joe and Ellie.  He shook off the feeling and decided he was being way too overprotective of Ellie.

“Heh, Joe,” Adam called, “Come take Ellie in to school.”  Ellie still looked petrified.

Joe came over and grabbed her hand and said, “Ready, sissy?”  Adam knew better than to kiss his little brother in the school yard, so he just ruffled his hair and said, “Have a good day buddy.”  Just then, the school bell rang and Joe took off with Ellie.  He looked back at Adam and gave a wave and a smile.

As the children filed into the room, they all took seats except Ellie.  She didn’t know quite where to sit, it being her first day and all.  Joe pushed her toward the front, where the younger kids sit.  Ellie took a seat in the second row.  Tommy Mayfield grabbed her by the dress and pulled her out of the seat and said, “Heh, dope that’s my seat.  All you babies have to sit in the first row.”

“Sowwy,” she whispered.  Marybeth grabbed her hand and hauled her into the first row.  Joe was watching, but he didn’t want to get into trouble for getting out of his seat on the first day of school.  He looked up and realized Ms. Jones was not standing in the front.  There was a very strict looking man standing at the front.  He was already glaring at Ellie and Tommy.  Joe thought, he would just keep an eye on things, since Ellie seemed to be getting settled next to Marybeth.  Joe was glad, Marybeth always seemed to watch out for Ellie.  He supposed it was because she knew about Ellie’s hearing and speech problems.

“My name is Mr. Caruthers.  I will be your teacher for this term.  The proper response in class will always be “Yes sir or No sir” or “Yes Mr. Caruthers or “ No, Mr. Caruthers.  Is that understood?”

  “Yes, sir “ the class intoned.  Well, all the class but Ellie.  She was just too scared to talk.  His voice was loud and scary and sitting in the front with him looming over her just made her more scared.  Not only that he was walking around the front of the class, smacking a ruler against his palm.  He was standing on her left side.  She strained to hear what he was saying, but she didn’t catch it all.  He was going over the rules.  He told the class that each student will stand when spoken too, that he made no allowances for rudeness, late work, late students, fighting, fidgeting, day dreaming, …….

Mr. Caruthers then pulled out the roll to make sure each student was present.  He explained how each should answer, “Here, sir.”  He starting calling the roll, “Eleanor Cartwright”.  Ellie just froze.  Marybeth nudged her but she didn’t move. “Ellie,” hissed Marybeth. “Eleanor Cartwright, Eleanor Cartwright”  The other children starting sniggering.  Joe was watching, but he wasn’t sure what to do.  He didn’t want to get in trouble on the first day of school.  Much to his relief, with much nudging from Marybeth, Ellie finally said “Here.”  But Joe’s relief was short lived.

Mr. Caruthers looked very angry.  “Eleanor, didn’t you listen just now. What did I say the proper response was for roll?”

Ellie looked up at him nervously and said “I didn’t hear you, sir”.  “Sowwy, sir.”  Her lip started to tremble and her body starting to shake.  Joe recognized the signs of a full blown meltdown coming. 

Mr. Caruthers stormed, “Not hear me?  You are sitting in the front row.  I said the proper response is “Here Sir” and there is no such word as sowwy in the English dictionary, the word is sorry.”

“Yes, sir” said Ellie.

“Let’s try this again, shall we?  Eleanor Cartwright?”

“Here, sir” she trembled.  Joe breathed a sigh of relief. He was very grateful that Ellie didn’t have a meltdown.  He was very unsure about how to handle the situation.  He was proud of himself that he didn’t go punch the teacher and tell him to quit being mean to his little sister.  There, for once he controlled his temper.

Mr. Caruthers went on with the whole roll.  Ellie was miserable.  She couldn’t believe how stupid and babyish she felt.  At least she didn’t cry.  She couldn’t focus at all on school.  She was so humiliated.  Fortunately, Mr. Caruthers gave the youngest children letters to practice and that didn’t take much concentration for her, Ellie was very good at her letters.  Adam had taught Ellie and Joe their letters, numbers and some reading before they ever started school.  In fact Ellie was very good at reading, but she had a lot of trouble reading out loud.

Finally the recess bell rang and the children filed out of the school house.  Joe ran over to Ellie.  “Sissy, sissy, you done so good.  You showed that mean Mr. Caruthers.”  Ellie started to tear up.  “Oh, jeez, Sissy, don’t cry, it’s going to be ok.”  Joe tried to pull her into his lap and hold her.  She pulled away.  Just then, Marybeth came over and put her arm around Ellie.

“It’s ok Joe, I just think Ellie wants to play with me, not some yucky old boys.” said Marybeth.  Marybeth grabbed Ellie by the hand and dragged her over to a group of girls playing hopscotch.

Joe looked from Marybeth to Ellie and wondered what to do.  But, it seemed that Ellie was going to quit crying so she could play with Marybeth.  So, he shrugged his shoulders and went to find his best friends Mitch Devlin and Michael, Marybeth’s brother.  Joe found Mitch and Michael playing marbles.  Joe hunched down next to Michael.  Michael noticed Joe looking at Ellie and Marybeth.

“Little sisters sure are a pain, ain’t they?” Michael asked.

“You’re telling me” said an exasperated Joe.  He wondered if Adam and Hoss ever felt like this when they were looking out for him.  Just then, the bell rang signaling that school was back in session.

The rest of the day went smoothly, until Mr. Caruthers asked the youngest children to stand and read.  Joe heard him ask Ellie to stand and read.  Joe was petrified, he didn’t know how Ellie was going to handle it.

“Eleanor read the page 3 of the reader.”  He was standing on her left side.  She was so engrossed in practicing her arithmetic, she didn’t even hear him.  Marybeth tried to nudge her to stand, but Ellie just didn’t notice.

Mr. Caruthers glared at her and repeated louder, “Eleanor, read page 3 of the reader.”  She finally noticed that he was staring at her, taping that ruler in his palm.  She gulped and looked up at the teacher, she started to tremble.  She sat frozen in her seat.  She didn’t want to tell him that she hadn’t heard a word he said. 

“Eleanor, put your hand on the table.  If you aren’t going to be obedient and listen to me, you must be punished. “
Joe, started to stand up.  He watched horrified.  He knew Mr. Caruthers was going to smack her hand with that ruler.  Michael stopped him.  He whispered, “Don’t Joe,” as he dragged Joe into a sitting position.

Eleanor meekly put her hand on the table.  She didn’t know why he wanted her hand on the table.  Quickly, he brought the ruler down on her hand three times.  Ellie yelped and grabbed her hand back.  He grabbed her hand and turned in palm side up and smacked again.  Ellie was so stunned, no one had ever smacked her like that in her whole life.  She didn’t know what to do.  Big crocodile tears started to roll down her face, her lip began to tremble and her body began to shake.

Oh no, Joe thought, please Sissy don’t have a meltdown.  That will just make things worse.  Joe prayed, please Lord keep her from having a meltdown.

Thankfully, after Ellie’s punishment, Mr. Caruthers said, “Class is dismissed and now you will understand what it is to be obedient in my class.”

As soon as the teacher rang the bell, Joe pushed his way upfront to Ellie.  “Come on Sissy, let’s go.”  He tried to grab her hand, but she cried in pain and he dropped her hand like a hot potato.

“Joe, pwease don’t tell Papa.”

Joe looked uncertain.  He knew the teacher had been wrong and that he obviously didn’t know about Ellie’s hearing problem.  He wasn’t sure whether he should tell Pa or not.  “Ummm, Sissy, I don’t know…”

Her lower lip started to tremble, he knew she was headed for a meltdown.  She’d been heading for one all day.  He didn’t want it to happen on his watch.  He knew that Adam and Pa would be there any moment to pick them up from school.  He quickly sushed her, “Ok, Sissy, ok, just don’t cry.”

Across town, the stage had just come in.  As Pa stepped off the stage, his first thought was that he couldn’t wait to see his children, especially the two youngest children.  The first day of school for Ellie, she was getting to be such a big girl.  He looked around for one of his eldest.  One of them would have brought the buckboard into town to pick him up.  He was anxious, even though he left them in capable hands, he just didn’t like being away from the children.  
“Welcome home, Pa,” he heard.  He turned around to see his oldest son. 

“Good to see you son!  How did things go while I was gone?’ Pa said while giving Adam a warm embrace.

Adam sighed and ran his fingers through his hair.  “Well, Pa, um…. I’m glad your home and the children are yours once again.”

Ben’s eyebrows raised.  “Adam, what happened while I was gone?”

“Nothing, I couldn’t handle Pa.  But those two, surely do wear a body out.  I don’t know how you keep up with them.”

Ben just chuckled, “It’s a father’s job, son.  Now, let’s get over to the school house and pick them up.  I can’t wait to see them.”

Adam and Ben rode over to the school house.  As they arrived at the school yard, Ben jumped out of the buckboard searching the grounds for his two babies.  He saw Joe try to grab Ellie’s hand as she stuck her hand in the pocket of her dress.  He thought it odd, but figured, I guess she is a big girl and doesn’t want to hold her brother’s hand anymore.

“Joseph! Eleanor! “

Ellie squealed when she saw her father.  Ellie tore away from Joe and flew into her father’s waiting arms.   Ben picked her up and hugged her tight. 

“Missed you Papa,  missed you! ”

“I missed you more!” he laughed.

“Hi, Ad’m,” she greeted Adam.

 “Hi, yourself princess.”

Joe walked non-chalantly over to his father for a more dignified greeting.  Still holding Ellie in his arms, Ben didn’t care, he grabbed Joe into his hug with Ellie. 

“Pa”, Joe muttered, “people is watching…”

“Are watching”  Adam corrected.

Joe just rolled his eyes.  Secretly, he was grateful that Pa was home.  Maybe things would get back to normal with Ellie and she wouldn’t want to be having a meltdown every 5 minutes.  They all climbed in the buckboard and headed for home.  Ben still had not let go of Ellie and she was still in his arms when they climbed in the buckboard.  She snuggled close to him.

“Papa can I stay wight here, all the way home?”  She put her left arm around his waist.  She didn’t want him to see her hand, which was turning ugly red and purple from getting smacked by the ruler.  Joe got in the back of the buckboard for the ride home.  He noticed Ellie’s hand was starting to swell and turn ugly colors.  He thought that there is no way that Pa is going to not notice that hand.  He wondered if they were both going to get in trouble.  He felt so guilty that he hadn’t taken care of his baby sister like Adam hold told him was his job the night before.  He was lost in his own thoughts all the way home.

“Sure baby, sure.”  Pa just wrapped his arms around her and stroked her head.  She relaxed against his broad chest, just being comforted by his steady breathing and strong arms.  Before they were even on the edge of town, Ellie had fallen fast asleep.  Adam looked over at Pa and said, “Boy, I guess the first day of school tuckered her out.”  Pa just smiled.  He loved times like this, when the children were very small and still wanted to sit in his lap and fall asleep.  The trip home was quiet, as no one wanted to wake up Elllie.  When they got home, Pa carried her upstairs and laid her on her bed and put a quilt over her.  He would wake her up for supper.

Pa came downstairs looking for Joe.  “Joe?”

“Huh?” Joe looked up from his homework. 

“That would be “Yes, sir” to you young man.”

“Umm, yes sir, sorry Pa, I wasn’t thinking”,  Joe said sheepishly.

“Joe, is something wrong?’

“No, sir.”

“How was school?”

“Fine, sir”

Well Pa thought, this is not a very informative conversation.

“Joseph?”

“Sir?”

“Are you sure everything is fine?”

“Yes, sir, just a lot of homework.  That Mr. Caruthers is real hard.”  Joe said hesitantly.

“Finished your chores, yet?”

“No, sir.”

“You have an hour to work on your homework, then get your chores done.  I expect you to watch the clock yourself. You can finish up the rest of your homework after supper.”

“Yes, sir.”

Pa didn’t know what was wrong with his youngest son.  He certainly wasn’t acting himself.  Normally, he would be jumping around, following him around trying to tell him about his day at school.  Joe was unusually subdued.  Joe was never this compliant unless he knew he was in trouble.  He usually had to be cajoled or threatened to do chores and to do homework.  Pa let it be for now, he was tired and happy to be home.  He would sort it out later.  He walked over to his desk to work on the ledgers.  Adam came in and they started to discuss the ranch business that had transpired while Pa was in San Francisco.

A couple hours later, Hop Sing came in, “Missur Carwrigh…Deener ready in 15 minute.  No late…make good deener for you…”

Pa took up from his desk as Joe came in from doing his barn chores.  “Joseph, please get Ellie, supper is almost ready.”

“Yes, sir” Joe flung over his shoulder as he raced up the stairs.  Pa just shook his head, does that boy ever walk anywhere?

Joe tapped on Ellie’s door.  She was still asleep.  “Heh, Sissy, wake up, wake up.”  Joe gave her a little shake.

“Huh,” she said sleepily.

“Wake up sleepy head, supper’s almost ready.  Wash up.”

Ellie put her hands down to push herself off the bed.  “Ow”, she cried cradling her hand.

“Sissy, does your hand hurt real bad?  Let me see.”  Ellie put her hand out to Joe.  It was black and blue and purple on both sides.  It looked so bad, Joe looked worried.

Ellie looked confused.  “What’s matter, Joe?

“Ellie there is no way you can hide that hand from Pa.”

Ellie sat on her bed chewing her lip.  “I cain’t eat supper, Joe.”

“Why?”

“Cuz, this is my eatin hand and Papa’ll see and he’ll get mad and he’ll give me spanking for being bad in school.”

“Sissy, you know Pa’s gonna make you come downstairs and sit at the table even if you don’t eat unlessin you is just sick.  You ain’t sick.”

“Not going,” she shook her head.

Meanwhile, Pa was getting agitated sitting at the table looking at two very empty seats.  “Adam, please go see what’s taking those two children so long.”  Adam just sighed, those two are going to give me gray hair he thought.  Pa glared at Adam’s sigh, “ On second thought, I’ll get them myself.”  Pa pushed back from the table and started up the stairs.  Hoss gave a questioning glance to Adam.  Adam just shrugged his shoulders.

Ellie and Joe were so engrossed in their conversation, they didn’t even hear Pa come up the stairs or see him standing at the open door.

“Pwease, Pwease, Joe don’t tell papa.”

Pa cleared his throat, “Don’t tell papa what?” he demanded.

When Joe and Ellie heard him at the door, they both froze and looked up with stark fear in their eyes.
“Joseph, go down to supper.  Tell Adam to say grace and get started.  I want to talk to your sister.”

“But, Pa….”

“Joseph!!!”  Pa said darkly, you have until the count of 3, 1..2..  Joe took off for the supper table, you never ever let Pa get to 3 unless you were wanting to stand for a very long time.

Ellie sat on her bed, hanging her head in utter misery.  She just knew what was coming.

“Eleanor, what were you asking Joe not to tell me?” Papa’s voice was gentle, but firm.  He did not abide his children keeping secrets or involving the other children in deception.

Ellie didn’t look up.  “Eleanor, stand up and look at me when I’m speaking to you.”

Ellie’s lower lip started to tremble as she slid off her bed, she put her hand behind her back and looked up at her Papa with the biggest saddest green eyes imaginable.  The tears started to run down her face like a leaking water pump.

“Eleanor, I’m waiting.  What’s behind your back?”

She stood there for a moment not knowing what to do.  Pa stood in front of her looking very angry.  He said, “Eleanor Grace, what is behind your back.” his voice rising.  “I’m waiting,” his voice rising a bit further.

She showed him her hand and began to sob.  “Sowwy Papa, sowwy Papa, I be good tomorrow, honest.”

Pa saw her hand, red, black and blue.  Her hand was swollen and ugly.  He felt his blood pressure rising, he was blind with fury.  How could her hand be so badly hurt and why didn’t any of the boys know about this.  Then he remembered, Joe knew.  He’d have to have a discussion with that young man.  He was so enraged that he didn’t notice the telltale meltdown signs right away.  When he looked up, Ellie lip was trembling and she started to shake like a leaf.  Hoping to stave off the meltdown, he pulled her into his lap and hugged her tight.  Too, late she let loose those gut wrenching sobs into his chest.  He rocked her and rocked her until she calmed down.  “Baby, tell Papa, what happened?”

“tweacher…”

“Tweacher?  oh, the school teacher?”

She nodded.

“He did this to your hand? But, how, why…..”

“wooler,” she sobbed.

“Ruler?  What are you trying to tell me? “  She told him all about how she was scared and everything that had happened at school, from Tommy until the final swats with the rule.  He had a hard time understanding her through her tears and sobs, but got the jist.

“Papa, are you going to paddle me?” she questioned nervously.

“Of course not, why do you think that?”  He pulled her close to give her a hug.  Now he knew why she asked Joe not to tell.

“Cuz, I heawd you tell Joe, that if he got trouble in ‘cool, you’d paddle him when he got home.”

“Oh,”  Pa smiled.  “So, a very naughty girl must have been listening at the stairs?  Hmmm?”

“Sowwy, Papa.”

Pa continued to rub her back and stroke her hair.  He was so angry, that the only way to keep calm was to focus on Ellie.  He was so angry, the hair on the back of his neck was standing up.    He was furious that Mr. Caruthers would see fit to strike a 6 year old child, let alone a 6 year old who couldn’t hear well and had speech problems.  He steeled himself against that anger, he would fix that situation tomorrow.  Now, he was hungry and he wanted to eat supper.

“Come on baby, it’s time for supper.”

“Can’t Papa,” she whispered.

“Eleanor” he said his voice rising.  He was using his “God, help me voice”, that one where he looked to the ceiling as if asking for some divine intervention.  He used that voice with Joe an awful lot. She didn’t know what divine intervention was, but that’s what Adam said he was doing.  She only knew when Joe didn’t obey, he got a tanning.   Ellie didn’t want a tanning.

“Papa, my hand huwts, can’t hold nothin’,” she stated matter of factly.  She knew her Papa was very serious about good table manners and the Cartwright children did not eat with their fingers.

“Oh, “ he said nodding understandingly.  He knew she couldn’t hold a fork or a spoon with her right hand.  In fact, her right hand was pretty useless.  She was sorely left handed.  “How about if I just cut up your food and just this once you can use your fingers?  Besides Hop Sing made fried chicken and you don’t need a knife and fork for that.“  She nodded relieved.  She really was very hungry.  He hefted her up and carried her downstairs.  As he deposited her in her chair, Adam and Hoss looked questiongly at Pa.  He just shook his head no and mouthed the word, “later”.   When the meal was finally finished, Pa looked at the clock and it was 7 pm, time for Ellie to go to bed. 

“Hoss, please take your sister up for bed.  You too Joe, I think it’s time for bed.  I’ll be up in a few moments to tuck you in and hear you prayers.”

“Sure Pa,” said Hoss.  Hoss moved to scoop up his baby sister.  “And the princess was carried away on her magical carpet to her palace……” She giggled as he carried her up the stairs.  He turned around and gave Joe that look.  That don’t be messin with Pa look.

Joe started to protest, he usually had another hour.  But, he took one look at Pa and decided it was in his bottom’s best interest to be obedient.   “Yes, sir.”

As the youngest three trooped off upstairs, Pa motioned for Adam to follow him into the great room.  Pa flopped down in his favorite chair and motioned for Adam to sit across from him.  “Adam, did you mention to the new school teacher about Ellie’s hearing and speech?”

Adam looked startled, “Uh… No,sir.  I didn’t think about that.  I expected Ms. Jones and she knows about Ellie.  I was very surprised to see the new teacher.”

“Didn’t I tell you to mention that to the new teacher before I left?”

“No, sir.  I didn’t even know Ms. Jones wasn’t going to be back for this term.”

“I, see” said Ben morosely.  He knew that Ms. Jones had left notes about the students in case she didn’t come back to Virginia City in time for the beginning of school.  He meant to tell Adam to mention Ellie’s issues with the interim teacher.  He couldn’t believe he forgot to tell Adam and that he wasn’t here himself to take Ellie to school.  He felt the weight of the world bearing down on him.

“Pa, what’s going on?  I don’t understand.”

Pa went on to tell Adam the whole story, well as much as Ellie was able to tell him.  He ended with how ugly the bruises on Ellie’s hand were looking.  Adam went white with rage.  He jumped out of his chair, “Why that son of a ……….”

“Don’t even think of using that language in this house young man” Pa thundered.  Looking at his oldest and knowing how he felt, Pa put a hand on Adam’s arm.  Pa took a deep breath and calmed himself, “Adam, we will work this out in the morning.  The damage is done.”

“But Pa, how could he beat a baby’s hand so black and blue, she can’t even hold a fork to eat.  For that matter, she probably won’t be able to hold a pencil in school tomorrow to write.  Even, if she didn’t have hearing and speech problems, why would anyone hurt a child like that?  I just don’t understand.”  Adam was seething.

“I’m not sure son, I’m not sure.”

“Say Adam, will you check on Joe.  Hoss is with Ellie.  I just want to sit here for a little while and think about the best way to handle this situation.

“Sure, Pa. Pa?”

“Hmmm?”

“Did Joe know?”

“Yes, when I went to get them for supper Ellie was begging Joe not to tell me.”

Adam headed upstairs to check on Joe.  Joe had been acting awfully strange this evening. He figured out that Joe had been struggling with whether or not he should tell Pa.  He remembered countless times when Joe or Hoss asked him not to tell Pa.  He knew the feeling.  He walked up to Joe’s door and tapped on the door, “Joe?”

Joe was sitting dejectedly on his bed.  His shoulder’s were slumped and his eyes were red.  Adam smiled to himself, he walked over to Joe and put his arms around his baby brother.  “You want to talk about it, buddy?”

Joe just looked at him with a tear stained face.  “I couldn’t ‘tect her Adam.  I didn’t get up and make Mr. Caruthers stop hitting her hand.  I just sat there,”  he sobbed.

Adam rubbed his back and took Joe’s chin in his hand and looked him square in those big green eyes.  “Joe it’s not your fault, there was nothing that you could have done that would have not made the situation worse.  I would have done the same thing.”

“B, b,but, Adam,   did you see her hand.  It’s an awful mess and it’s her left hand.  She cain’t even write now.  That will probably make Mr. Caruthers even madder.”

Adam enveloped Joe in a big bear hug.  Don’t you worry, Joe, Pa said he would take care of it in the morning.  Just get some sleep, buddy.”  Adam helped Joe get in bed and he pulled the covers up over Joe and tucked him in. “Night buddy,” he said as her turned the lamp down.

As Adam walked out of the room, he turned to his little brother, “Joe, it really will be ok.”

“Thanks, Adam, I love you!” Joe smiled relieved.

“Love you too, buddy.”

As Adam walked down the stairs, he saw Hoss and Pa sitting in the great room.  Pa had just finished telling Hoss the story.  Hoss was clenching his fists and looked like he was going to tear something or somebody in two.  Adam walked up to him and put his hand on Hoss’ arm.  “Simmer down Hoss.”

“I knowd it Adam, I know, but I’m just so mad.” Hoss stormed.

“Boys, boys, we need to approach this whole situation with care.  Let me think about it.  Are Joe and Ellie asleep?
He heard a “Yes, sir” from both boys.  “Why don’t you boys go on up to bed, tomorrow may prove to be a long day.”

Adam and Hoss exchanged glances as they looked at their father.  They knew he was struggling with his anger and thought best to leave him to his own thoughts.  “Night, Pa”, they said as they headed up the stairs.

Pa sat in his favorite chair with his head back and eyes closed, thinking about the situation.  He felt a small tug at his knee.  He looked down to see his youngest standing in her nightdress with bare feet.  “Ellie, I thought you were asleep.”

“Had a dream Papa.”

“About what?’

“Woolers.  They was chasin me.”

Pa’s smiled to himself, what an imagination that child had, he picked her up and cuddled her to his chest.  “Do you want to sit in the rocker?”  Ellie nodded.  Pa had used that rocker with all his children.  He had soothed many bad dreams and many illnesses in that rocker.  Truth of the matter was that Ellie was the only one who still wanted to sit in the rocker with her Papa.  With her still in his arms, he went and sat in the rocker and rocked her to sleep.
Pa carried her upstairs and tucked her in bed.  He stopped by each of the boy’s rooms to drop kisses on their heads and straighten out the covers.  He didn’t care how old they were, each of them were still his babies and he loved them unconditionally.

The next morning Pa was sitting at the breakfast table with Adam having coffee.  They were discussing Pa’s plan.  Hoss lumbered down the stairs, “Morning Pa, Morning older brother,” he greeted.

“Morning Hoss.” they returned.

“Hoss, is your brother up and ready for school?” Pa asked.

“Yes, sir.  He’s getting Ellie ready.”

“Come on Sissy,” Joe pleaded, “you gotta get ready.”

 “Not goin’!”, she said sticking her chin out as she crossed her little arms over her chest.

Joe thought, oh boy, this is just like yesterday morning.  I’m not doing this again.  Joe went down stairs to get his breakfast.  “Morning,” Joe sighed.

“Joseph?  Where is your sister?” Pa asked.

“She says she’s not going, Pa”, he gulped.

Pa’s eyebrows raised and his eyes narrowed.  “What?” he thundered.  Adam and Hoss exchanged amused glances.

“She said she’s not going,” Joe squeaked.

Pa grabbed his napkin off his lap and started for the stairs.  He counted 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.  He was calming himself.  He told himself, she’s scared, she’s just a baby, don’t yell, don’t be angry….

“Eleanor”, Pa pushed the door open.  “Get dressed, NOW!” he demanded.

Ellie hesitated.  “No! Can’t!” she said squaring her little shoulders and looking her Papa right in the eye.

“What do you mean No! Can’t”.  Lord that child could be so obstinate.  He just couldn’t imagine where that trait came from.

“Not going!”

“Yes, you’re going!” Pa’s voice was rising.

“No!”

Pa took a deep breath.  “Eleanor, I won’t let him hurt you again.  Do you understand?  I won’t let him hurt you!”

“Can’t”

Exasperated, Pa asked, “Why?”

“Can’t button dress,!  Can’t button shoes? Can’t brush hair! Can’t do nuthin’! Hand huwts.” she said stamping her foot with each statement.

“Oh,” Pa’s eyes smiled, “The logic of a 6 year old.  “Why didn’t you tell Joe?”

“He didn’t ask!”

“I see.  So you need some help?”

She nodded her head.

“Come hear baby, Papa can help you.”  Once Pa helped her get dressed and brush her hair, they went downstairs for breakfast.

“What was the problem,” asked Adam.

“Buttons,” said Pa.

The brothers just exchanged curious glances.

“Adam, I want you to ride into town and talk to Ms. Wilson.  Hoss, I want you to finish branding the new stock in the south pasture, I’ll be taking the children to school this morning.”

“Yes, sir.” he heard both boys.

“Joseph, Eleanor,  are you finished with breakfast?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good, it’s time to go to school.”

“But, Pa, it’s too early to go to school.”  Joe said.

“I know son, but I need to have a conversation with Mr. Caruthers before school starts.  So, go get in the buckboard, it’s hitched up outside.”

The children scrambled outside and Adam followed to lift Ellie up into the buckboard.  Adam said “Give me kiss, princess, one to last the whole day.”  She gave him a big hug and kiss, but she wasn’t smiling.  “It’s ok princess, Pa will take care of everything at school.”

Hoss caught Adam, while he was saddling Sport.  “Adam, how come you talking to Miz Wilson?”  Hoss knew that Miz Wilson was Adam and Hoss’ teacher.  She had gotten married and quit teaching school about 2 years ago.

“Pa, wants her to tutor Ellie until Ms. Jones returns.  He is not letting her go back to the school as long as Caruthers is there.”

“Ahhhhh, good idear.”  Hoss nodded.

Boy, Joe thought, this is going to be a bad day.  First all his friends were going to see him get to school with his father and then, Mr. Caruthers would probably be even meaner.  He sighed, yep, this is not going to be a good day.  They got to the school yard about 30 minutes before school started.  The yard was just starting to fill with children.  Pa caught sight of Liza, Marybeth and Michael walking into the yard.

 “Morning Liza,” greeted Pa.

“Why, good morning Ben?  How was your trip to San Francisco?”

“Just fine, just fine Liza.  Liza, can you keep an eye on Ellie for a few moments, I need to have a word with the schoolmaster.”

“Certainly.  Ben, is anything wrong?”

“Nothing that can’t be handled.”

With that Pa steeled himself and walked up the steps to the school house.  He rapped lightly on the door.  Mr. Caruthers was sitting at his desk grading papers.  “Excuse me, Mr. Caruthers?  My name is Ben Cartwright, I would like to have a few words with you.”

“I’m sorry, sir, this is not a convenient time.  I must get ready for class.”  Mr. Caruthers said not even looking up from his desk.

In a voice that brooked no argument, Ben inhaled sharply and placed his hands on Mr. Cauthers desk.  “I will have a moment of your time, right now!”

Startled, Mr. Caruthers looked up.  Who was this man?  He racked his brain, Cartwright, Cartwright wasn’t that the name of the president of the school board?  Or, then he remembered, no that is the last name of the little girl he disciplined yesterday.  “Yes, Mr. Cartwright, I assume you are here to discuss your disobedient daughter and her punishment yesterday.”

“I certainly am, Mr. Caurthers.” he said slowly.  “For your information, you beat her hand so badly she couldn’t even pick up a fork for supper last night.  She can’t hold a pencil to write, today.”

“Bu, Bu……But, Mr. Cartwright, I punished her left hand, not her right hand.”  Mr. Caruthers stuttered.

Pa poked his fingers in Mr. Caruthers’ chest.  “Oh I’m not done, sir, you will not interrupt me.  That’s right, you beat her left hand.  Did you hear me sir, you beat the child’s hand.  This was not just a slap for being disobedient.  The fact is she is left-handed, not right-handed.  So her hand is currently useless.  Exactly, why did you find it necessary to punish my 6 year old daughter?” 

Mr. Caruthers gulped and then stood up to face Pa and said, “She did not listen on several occasions yesterday.  I had to repeat myself several times for her benefit.  I will not tolerate day dreaming in my class.  Then, she refused to stand or read when asked.”

“I see,” said Pa seething with rage.  “Did it occur to you that there might be a reason other than day dreaming?  Did you check the notes form Ms. Jones?  I know that she left the interim teacher a note regarding my daughter.  My daughter has a hearing loss in her left ear and as a result she can’t always hear and she hasn’t mastered all her sounds, especially r’s, l’s and s’s.  I assure you we work with her at home.  Her older brother taught her to read already.  She probably did not want to read out loud because she was afraid the other children will make fun of her.  If you speak to her you must stand on her right side so she can hear you.  And above all, sir, she is 6 years old and is in school for the first time.  Surely, you should be more compassionate.”

Mr. Caruthers just stared at Ben Cartwright.

“Just one more thing, sir, she will not be attending school here until Ms. Jones returns!  Nor will you take any of this out on my son, or you will answer to me personally!”  with that final statement Ben Cartwright walked out into the school yard.  As he walked out of the school house, Adam was walking toward him.

“All set Pa,” said Adam.

He called Eleanor over to him.  “Ellie I’m going to take you to Mrs. Wilson, she was Adam’s teacher.  She will be your teacher until Ms. Jones returns.” 

Hand and hand, Ellie and Pa headed toward Mrs. Wilson’s house.

**********THE END*************

 

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