Summary: This is the first of my series of stories about Adam. It begins with his birth and ends shortly before he and Ben meet Inger Borgstrom
Rating: K WC 21,400
Adam: The Early Years Series:
The World was all Before Them
The first thing the tall, dark-haired young man noticed when he burst into the bedroom was how pale and exhausted his young wife appeared. His eyes glanced quickly over to the cradle by their bed and saw the tiny infant lying there. Then he took in the blood-soaked sheets.
“You have a fine boy, Mr. Cartwright,” the doctor said. “He should be a consolation to you.”
Ben Cartwright ignored him and moved quickly to his wife’s side, sitting beside her and taking one of her cold white hands in his. Elizabeth’s long black lashes fluttered and she slowly opened her eyes. “Ben,” she said faintly, “Did you see our son? Our Adam?”
“Yes, Darling,” he replied leaning over to kiss her colorless lips.
“Oh, how sweet his face looks,” she murmured weakly, turning toward the cradle and smiling. “Just like the cherubs on my music box.” Her expression suddenly became very grave as she turned back to her husband. “Ben, I want you to promise me-promise me that you and Adam will follow your dream and settle in the West.”
“You and I and Adam-we’ll all go. I promise,’ he replied earnestly, squeezing her hand.
She only smiled-a sad little smile-and said in a voice so weak he had to strain to hear, “Play my music box for me, Ben.”
He set it beside her on the bed and felt her hand grow colder in his, saw her breaths grow fainter until they ceased altogether. The doctor had been watching and he reached over and felt for a pulse and then closed her eyes while Ben laid his face on her shoulder and wept disconsolately. Elizabeth’s father, Captain Abel Stoddard, stood at the foot of the bed, tears streaming down his face. The doctor turned and spoke to him.
“I will arrange for a wet nurse. In the meantime, you may have to make do with cow’s milk. Mrs. Callahan knows what to do and I will send her over as soon as I can. I’m sure she will also prepare Mrs. Cartwright’s body. If you would like, I can send word to Reverend Collins.” The Captain nodded slowly and after a pause, the doctor added in a sad tone, “I am sorry. I tried to save them both, but I couldn’t stop her bleeding.”
“I’m sure you did everything you could,” the Captain replied woodenly. “I thank God we were spared the baby.”
“I’ll see myself out; your son-in-law needs you right now.”
For a time, the Captain stood there, watching the lifeless body of his only child and the anguish of her young husband. His introspection was broken by the thin cries of his grandson. “Benjamin,” he said gently, moving to stand behind his son-in-law and placing his hand on Ben’s heaving shoulders. “She is gone; you must accept that. But a part of her lives on in her son.” Speaking in a firmer voice he continued. “I want you to hold your son just as Elizabeth would have. You must be both father and mother to him now. It’s what Elizabeth would expect of you.”
Ben raised his tearstained face then and slowly nodded. He stood up and walked over to the cradle where his son was crying. He saw the baby had lots of dark hair. His little face was red and blotchy and slightly swollen. He didn’t look cherubic to Ben. His deep blue eyes immediately fastened on Ben’s face and he stopped crying. “Hello, Adam,” Ben said softly. He reached down to touch the baby’s cheek and was startled when Adam instantly turned his mouth toward the finger. He moved his fingertip to Adam’s lips and the baby began to suck on it. He was surprised that such a little mouth could suck with such vigor. “You’re hungry, aren’t you, little boy?” he said in the same gentle tone.
“The doctor is arranging for a wet nurse,” the Captain stated. They heard someone knocking at the door and the Captain went to answer it. He returned a few minutes later with Elizabeth’s closest friend, Margaret Baldwin, who had given birth to her daughter four months earlier.
“I heard what happened,” the plump young woman sobbed. She made a visible effort to compose herself before adding, “I’ve come to nurse the baby.”
“God bless you, Meg,” Ben replied in an unsteady voice.
“I will feed the baby. and then I would like to prepare Elizabeth’s body,” Meg answered quietly, her voice growing steadier. “She was my dearest friend since we were little girls, and I want to do this for her.”
“Thank you,” the Captain managed to get out while Ben was too overcome to speak.
“Where shall I go to nurse him?” Meg asked the Captain as she lifted Adam from his cradle. When Ben had removed his finger from Adam’s mouth, he’d begun screaming and Meg knew he was hungry.
“Take him into my room,” the Captain responded. “Here, I’ll show you,” and they left Ben alone with Elizabeth.
He stood and looked at her: Her face, normally so animated, was still and her beautiful expressive eyes were closed now forever. He would never again see them shining with love for him. His own eyes swam with tears as he sat beside her on their bed. “Oh Liz,” he sobbed lifting her in his arms for one last embrace and pressing his lips to her cold, lifeless ones. He slowly laid her back on the bed.
A short while later Meg’s voice broke through the darkness surrounding Ben. “I need you to hold the baby,” she said. “I don’t think it is right for him to be here even if he is sleeping. Now, make certain you support his head. He won’t be able to do it for himself.” She laid the sleeping infant carefully in his father’s arms.
Ben walked dully down the stairs to the parlor and sat in an armchair. He looked at the infant sleeping in his arms. Adam’s face was less blotchy and less swollen now, and Ben could see the sweetness that Liz had seen. The baby’s long sooty lashes resting on his smooth cheeks reminded Ben painfully of the times he’d watched Liz sleep, and he felt scalding tears running down his cheeks into the corners of his mouth. Oh, Liz, how could you leave us? I need you so much and so does our son. He’ll grow up never knowing you, never experiencing your hugs and kisses, never hearing your voice or your laughter. I can’t go on without you, my love. I can’t!
Then he seemed to hear her soft voice in his head. You must, my darling. You must for Adam’s sake, and for your own. I cannot be with you, but you can be both father and mother to Adam. Show him all the love I would have given him. Take him to the land you’ve dreamt of, a land of tall trees.
His tears were streaming down his face and he sobbed audibly. The sound startled the infant and he screwed up his little face and began to scream. “Hush, Adam. It’s all right, baby. Papa is here,” Ben choked out, moving his arms soothingly in a rocking motion. Gradually, the cries ceased, the tiny eyelids closed and the dark eyelashes rested on Adam’s cheeks again.
Ben got through the funeral and accepted the condolences of friends and neighbors, but he was totally wrapped up in his own grief and scarcely noticed the grief of others. The household soon settled into a routine. In the morning, the Captain would take Ben with him to the chandler’s shop and Meg would arrive with her baby daughter. (She had wanted to keep Adam at her home because it would be easier for everyone, but the Captain had been adamant in his refusal. He wanted to make sure that he and Ben kept in daily contact with Adam. He got the doctor to show him and Ben how to feed the baby cow’s milk so they could feed him at night or early in the morning before Meg arrived.) Meg would look after the children and Mrs. Callahan and Polly, the maid of all work, took care of the cleaning, laundry, and cooking. The Captain and Ben would come home every day for dinner and before they returned to the shop, Ben would hold Adam if he was awake. In the evening, they would return home to the supper Mrs. Callahan had prepared. She and Polly would return to their own homes leaving the two men to deal with baby Adam on their own. (Meg had to return earlier so she would be home to prepare her husband’s supper.)
During those first months, Ben did what was asked of him but he was detached from the world around him. Only when he held his baby boy did he feel connected. He would hold Adam and talk to him softly and rock and sing him to sleep. He observed with wonder how Adam grew. His baby hair fell out and the new hair grew in soft curls just like his mother’s. His skin was no longer blotchy except when he cried, and his facial features lost their swelling within a day of his birth. Ben marveled at how much Adam resembled Liz. His eyes were a deep blue-not her light hazel-but the shape was the same as were the incredibly long, thick ebony lashes. Ben thought Adam’s mouth resembled Liz’s but his lips were not as full. That led to thoughts of how sweet her kisses had always been and soon he had fallen into a black pit of sorrow and anger-anger that she had left him and anger that she would never see her baby grow to a boy and then a man. He would weep for the unfairness of it all.
One afternoon after dinner he was holding Adam, making cooing sounds and smiling at him, when he noticed something was wrong. “Mrs. Callahan,” he said and hearing the worry in his tone, Mrs. Callahan looked up from her mending.
“What’s wrong, Mr. Cartwright?”
“It’s Adam’s eyes,” Ben said, his apprehension obvious while the baby waved his hands and grinned toothlessly at his father.
“Let me see,” Mrs. Callahan said, bending down and gazing at the baby. “I don’t see anything wrong,” she stated soothingly.
“But the color-the blue looks sort of dirty,” Ben replied in an agitated tone.
“Oh Mr. Cartwright, the color is changing. Babies are born with blue eyes but change to the eye color of one of their parents. I imagine Adam will have dark brown eyes like yours although they might be like his mother’s.”
“Oh,” Ben sighed in heartfelt relief while Adam giggled.
Ben kept checking Adam’s eyes and noted they finally settled on a dark hazel that seemed a compromise between his chocolate brown and Liz’s light hazel, almost amber. They were lovely eyes as Meg commented.
“I can see him breaking plenty of hearts with those eyes,” she said with a smile as she handed him to his father one afternoon after dinner. “He rolled over all by himself this morning. Didn’t you, Adam?”
“Did you? You are Papa’s big boy, aren’t you? Yes, you are,” Ben laughed, swinging the baby up over his head, to delighted squeals and grins. Ben loved to see Adam smile, for his smile was so reminiscent of his mother’s with the same deep dimples.
That evening after supper and after Adam was settled for the night, the Captain and Ben sat in companionable silence puffing on their pipes. The Captain was the first to break the silence. He had noticed that over the past month or so Ben had ceased his withdrawal from life. He still grieved terribly for Elizabeth, and the Captain understood that, for he knew he would never cease to grieve for his only child; however, Ben now seemed to realize that his own life must go on without her.
“Benjamin, have you given any thought to your dream of heading west?” the Captain inquired thoughtfully.
“I haven’t forgotten my promise to Liz,” Ben replied somberly and his voice only shook a little at the mention of her name. “But I promised her I would take Adam with me and so I must wait until he is old enough to travel.”
“That will give you more time to save money,’ the Captain agreed. “I wish business were better.”
“If I have to, I can earn more money doing odd jobs along the way. We’ll manage.”
“Well, I am glad to have the two of you staying here with me. Having Adam here is like having a part of Elizabeth.” He felt the tears pooling in his own eyes and Ben got up abruptly and rushed out of the house. The Captain started to go after him but thought better of it. He walked quietly to Elizabeth’s old bedroom, which she had shared with Ben during their brief marriage, and just stood and looked at his sleeping grandson. Adam’s baby hair was all gone now and the Captain’s gnarled old hand reached out to touch the silky softness of his curls, gently so as not to wake the baby. After a time, he left the room as quietly as he had entered. Ben had not returned, which worried the Captain, but he knew Ben probably wanted to be left alone.
The next morning, he and Ben ate their breakfast in a stiff awkward silence, each resolved not to mention the previous evening. As usual Ben had dressed Adam and set him on a quilt on the floor of the dining room where he could keep an eye on him as he played with his rattle or chewed on his teething ring. Normally he was a happy baby, but lately he had been fretful and a little feverish, which both Mrs. Callahan and Meg assured the men was only natural since he was teething.
“It won’t be much longer before this little man won’t need me,” Meg said as she picked Adam up to take him upstairs and nurse him. She smiled at the baby but he was hungry and began to cry. “I will miss nursing him, especially since I weaned Tabitha two months ago.”
“You know you are always welcome to visit. You and Tabitha,” Ben said warmly.
“Thank you, Ben. I will certainly take you up on your offer. It’s just… Well, I never realized how quickly babies grow up. Tabitha is talking a little now and she can pull herself to a standing position if she holds onto furniture. It won’t be long before Adam is doing the same.”
Business at the chandler’s shop was poor, and that was a source of concern to both Ben and the Captain. They were able to provide the necessities of life but there was little left for Ben to save for his trek west. Still he had faith that he and Adam would manage. In spite of Meg’s words, he was amazed at how quickly his son was growing. Here he was nine months old and already he could drink from the little pewter mug his grandfather had given him as a christening gift. The Captain had found Liz’s old walker in the attic, and Ben loved to watch the baby scoot around the house in it. Even more, he enjoyed placing Adam’s tiny hands in his large ones and helping him walk about. However, it was not only Adam’s physical development that astonished his father. Equally wondrous was the fact that he was beginning to talk. “Da-da” applied to both his father and grandfather and he would ask for “wa-wa,” which they quickly discerned meant water. When Ben and the Captain left for the chandler’s shop, Adam would always wave “bye-bye”. However, Ben was forced to admit that it often seemed Adam’s favorite word was, “No!” The only regret Ben felt was that as Adam grew older, he had less interest in being held and cuddled.
One morning about three weeks before Adam’s first birthday while Ben and Abel were having breakfast and Adam was playing on the quilt, Ben saw Adam carefully pull himself to a standing position. He had only mastered standing on his own recently and Ben always enjoyed watching his command of any new skill. He started to turn back to his food when he saw Adam move his foot forward and take his first halting step all on his own. Ben’s smile was so wide it nearly split his face.
“Come to Papa, Adam. Come to Papa,” he urged and Captain Stoddard looked up then and saw the baby taking those first unsteady solo steps. Adam took about four steps and then he lost his balance and fell back on his little behind. He looked at the two adults, as if seeking a clue as to what his reaction should be.
“Come on, Adam. You can do it. Come to Papa,” Ben said encouragingly. Adam struggled back on his feet and began his tottering walk to his papa. He lost his balance just short of his goal, but Ben was ready and caught him. “Papa’s little boy can walk now,” he laughed along with Adam, and Captain Stoddard joined in. Mrs. Callahan came out of the kitchen to see what was going on.”
“Adam just took his first steps, Mrs. Callahan,” the Captain said, beaming at her.
“And him not even a year old yet,” smiled Mrs. Callahan. “He’s a special baby, no doubt about that. He’ll keep us all on our toes now and no mistake about it.” Seeing the puzzled looks on the men’s faces, she shook her head at male ignorance. “Once a baby can walk, you have to watch him all the time because he will be into everything, including things that could harm him. When you have Adam on your own, you must both watch him constantly so he doesn’t come to any harm.”
It only took a day for Ben and Captain Stoddard to understand the seriousness of Mrs. Callahan’s warning. The two men were enjoying a game of chess while Adam tottered about the parlor. Ben was absorbed in his next move and the Captain looked around for Adam and saw him walking unsteadily straight toward the fireplace-he was less than a foot away from the flames.
“Adam!” the Captain roared, getting up as quickly as his stiff leg would allow. His bellow startled Adam, who sat down with a bump and began to scream. Ben looked up and saw his son’s danger; he leaped out of his chair, darted across the room, and swept his son up in his arms, making soothing noises.
The Captain sat back down heavily saying, “I never appreciated how difficult it is to raise a child. No more chess games for us, Benjamin, unless Mrs. Callahan is available to keep an eye on Adam.”
A couple of days before Adam’s first birthday, Mrs. Callahan announced as she served breakfast, “I thought I would make a cake for Adam’s birthday-nothing fancy, just a plain cake. Polly and I have sewn him some new frocks as our birthday gifts-”
Ben cut her off. “We won’t be celebrating Adam’s birthday,” he said in a harsh voice.
“We both appreciate your thoughtfulness,” the Captain added quickly in a firm voice.
Mrs. Callahan looked hurt and bewildered until she remembered that the anniversary of Adam’s birth was also the anniversary of his mother’s death. “Poor man,” she told Polly later after explaining there would be no birthday celebration.
“Poor Adam,” Polly contradicted.
“Oh hush, girl,” Mrs. Callahan scolded. ‘Adam is too young to understand about birthdays anyway. At least we can still give him his new clothes.”
“I bought him a pinwheel, too,” Polly said. “I can still give it to him, can’t I?”
“Of course. You can give it to him after Mr. Cartwright and the Captain leave for the shop.” She paused and added thoughtfully, “And I’ll make some gingerbread. Adam likes that better than cake anyway.”
Adam’s birthday was a bleak, rainy November day. Ben listened to the sound of the rain beating on the windowpanes and on the roof. He thought of how one year ago today he and Liz had been eagerly looking forward to the birth of their child. Since the doctor had confined her to her bed, she had sewn many little gowns and bonnets for their unborn child, whom she always addressed as Adam. She was so sure the child would be a boy and none of his teasing weakened her conviction. He saw her as he had that last morning-sitting up in bed, her beautiful ebony curls spread against the white pillowcase, her hazel eyes shining with joy, and her hands folded protectively over her womb. Oh, Liz, he thought with a groan, My life is so empty without you . His tears scalded his eyes and he turned and buried his face in his pillow to muffle his sobs. Then a little voice penetrated through his tears.
“Adam wet, Papa. Adam wet.”
“Just a minute, Adam,” he answered in a thick voice. He got out of bed and lit the candle on the dresser. In the thin yellow light, he saw his son, with Liz’s soft raven curls and deep-set hazel eyes, sitting up in his trundle bed in his little nightshirt. “So you’re wet are you, little boy,” he said, removing first the damp night nightshirt and then the soaking diaper. “Well, let’s get you cleaned up and then we’ll go down to breakfast, all right?” and Adam nodded solemnly.
The Captain wasn’t down but Ben put Adam in his highchair and went to start the coffee and some oatmeal for Adam. He heard the Captain’s heavy tread on the stairs and began preparing some slices of ham, eggs, and toast. “Morning,” the Captain said, and Ben noticed his eyes were red-rimmed as well. “I’ll just get the little lad’s milk,” and he poured Adam’s milk in his little mug and took it in to him.
When they were all seated at the table, Ben said without looking at his father-in-law, “I won’t be going into the shop today.” The Captain started to say something, but bit off his words. Instead, he looked over at his grandson who, in attempting to feed himself, had smeared more oatmeal on his face and bib than he had gotten into his mouth. “Here, Adam, let Grandfather feed you,” he said, reaching for the child’s little spoon.
“No! Me do!” the little boy shouted and Ben said in an indifferent voice, “Let him alone. He’ll never learn to feed himself unless he tries. In time he won’t be so messy.” The Captain desisted and they ate their meal in silence. Ben left as soon as he finished, without even giving Adam a goodbye kiss. As soon as Adam realized his father had left him, he began to wail. The Captain got up and, after removing Adam’s filthy bib and wiping off his oatmeal-smeared face, he picked him up and began to walk around the dining room, patting the child’s back and speaking to him as softly as he could. He was still crying when Mrs. Callahan and Polly arrived.
“What’s wrong, precious?” Mrs. Callahan murmured, taking Adam from his grandfather. “You shouldn’t be sad today. Today is your birthday. Polly and I have some presents for you.” She looked significantly at Polly.
“Look, Adam,” Polly said, using a very happy voice. “Polly got you a pinwheel for your birthday. Watch.” She blew on the pinwheel and as he watched it turn, Adam’s sobs subsided. “Now you try it,” Polly said, holding the toy by Adam’s mouth, and the three adults all smiled at the child’s excitement when he made the toy turn.
“Now, Adam, you sit right here and play with your toy while Polly and I clean up the breakfast dishes. All right?” Mrs. Callahan set him on the dining room floor with his new toy, and left the Captain to watch him.
When Polly came to carry out the dirty dishes, the Captain said, “That was kind of you-to buy the lad a gift.”
Polly’s faced turned bright red at the Captain’s words, but she managed to get out, “It was nothing, sir. I wanted to do it.”
“Well, I appreciate it. I’m afraid that Mr. Cartwright and I don’t feel much like celebrating today, but I know it’s not right to deprive Adam of his birthday.”
“Yes, sir,” Polly replied, and bobbing her head, she left with the dirty dishes.
“Well, Adam, I’m afraid Grandfather has to go to work, but I may have a surprise for you when I come home for dinner.” Adam grinned at him, showing his new teeth. The Captain bent over and placed a kiss on the child’s cheek and received one in return. Adam stood up and said, “Bye-bye, Ganfavur,” and toddled along with the Captain to the front door. “I’m leaving now, Mrs. Callahan,” the Captain called. She hurried out of the kitchen and took Adam’s hand.
“We don’t want you standing in the draft, so we’ll wave bye-bye to Grandfather from the window,” she said, scooping the child up and walking with him to the large bow window.
Adam spent the morning playing while the two women did the housework and kept an eye on him. Captain Stoddard was late returning for dinner, which was most unusual, and had Mrs. Callahan a bit concerned, but then he walked in carrying a small package.
“Mr. Cartwright isn’t with you?” Mrs. Callahan asked as the Captain tousled Adam’s curls.
“I am afraid we may not see Mr. Cartwright until suppertime,” the Captain said hesitantly. Then he turned to his grandson. “Adam, Grandfather has a birthday present for you. Here you are,” and he handed Adam the package and helped him tear off the paper revealing a small slate and a piece of chalk. “See, you can write on it. Here is your name,” and he printed ‘Adam’ on the slate. Then he handed the slate and chalk to his grandson, who immediately began scribbling.
“He’s a little young to learn his letters, Captain,” Mrs. Callahan said with a grin she couldn’t suppress.
“I suppose you’re right, but he can scribble on it.”
“I’m afraid his scribbles aren’t likely to be confined to the slate, but chalk is easy to clean. Please don’t give him a pencil or pen until he is older though,” she said with a laugh.
Adam was upset when his father didn’t come home for dinner and it took time for Mrs. Callahan to get him settled for his afternoon nap. Once he fell asleep, Mrs. Callahan made the gingerbread. When he awoke, Polly moved his highchair to the kitchen and the three of them-the little boy, the young woman and the middle-aged woman-gathered for gingerbread and milk (or tea in the case of the women). That occupied his mind but once he was finished, he began fretting for his pa pa. Mrs. Callahan prayed that Mr. Cartwright would be home promptly for supper. The Captain came home but there was no sign of Ben.
“I’m sorry, Captain, but I can’t stay,” Mrs. Callahan said as she held the wailing Adam, already in his nightshirt, on one hip before handing him to his grandfather. “He’s missing his father and Polly and I haven’t been able to get him to stop crying for more than a few minutes at a time. I tried to feed him his supper but he refused to eat. Maybe if you rock him, you’ll be able to get him to sleep.” As an afterthought she added, “Your supper and Mr. Cartwright’s are warming in the oven.”
“All right, young man,” the Captain said to his sobbing grandson as Mrs. Callahan closed the door behind her, “let’s see if we can get you to sleep. Grandfather can’t sing, but he’ll rock you and tell you a story.”
He climbed the stairs to the bedroom Ben and Adam shared and sat in the rocking chair, the same one his wife had used to rock Elizabeth to sleep. “What’s wrong, Adam?” he asked as gently as he could in his gruff voice since it was clear the child was overwrought and exhausted.
“Papa home,” the little boy managed to get out between sobs. “Papa home.”
“I want him home, too, little one,” the Captain said. “But if you go to sleep, then when you wake up, Papa will be here.” The child only cried harder and repeated his words. The Captain rocked Adam and rubbed his back, but still Adam fought off sleep. He tried pacing with him, but to no avail.
“Adam, I think you are the most stubborn child Grandfather has ever seen. Well, I am hungry and if I can’t get you to sleep, then you can sit and watch Grandfather eat his supper.” He carried Adam downstairs and put him in his highchair; he immediately began to scream at the top of his lungs and beat his hands and kick his feet against the chair. The Captain tried to harden his heart as he got his supper and sat down to eat; however, he was only able to swallow a few bites before setting down his utensils and picking up his grandson. The hysterical screaming gradually subsided to hiccupping sobs as the Captain paced the dining room, gently patting the child’s back and talking to him. Finally, the sobs ceased and the Captain felt Adam sag limply against him. He was afraid to put him to bed, for Adam had always been a light sleeper-even as a tiny infant he was easily startled awake-so the Captain went to the parlor and sat very carefully on the settee. Adam stirred a little but remained in an exhausted sleep. They sat there for an hour, the Captain’s arm growing cramped, when the front door opened and Ben headed for the stairs. The noise startled Adam awake and he immediately began to cry for his papa.
“Adam,” Ben said, hurrying into the parlor and taking the sobbing child from the Captain. Adam wrapped his arms so tightly around Ben’s neck that he was choking him. “Adam, not so tight,” he said trying to loosen the child’s stranglehold.
“Don’t you ever do this to him again,” the Captain said savagely. “This poor child has been crying for you most of the afternoon and all evening. I know what you were feeling,” he added in a gentler voice, “but Adam must come first. Didn’t you think what it would be like for him if you just disappeared?”
Ben dropped a kiss on his son’s tearstained cheek before answering. “You’re right of course. I was selfish; I just couldn’t bear to be here…” and his voice trailed off. He squared his shoulders then and, kissing Adam’s curls, said, “Let’s you and Papa go to bed, little boy. It’s been a long day for both of us.”
Ben carried Adam up the stairs and sat in the rocking chair, rubbing Adam’s back as he slowly rocked, singing a lullaby in his velvet bass. He felt the child relax and then stood up very carefully and walked to the trundle to put Adam to bed. As soon as he moved him, the hazel eyes opened and began to fill with tears. “No! Stay wiv Papa,” he cried flinging his arms around Ben’s neck.
“It’s all right, little boy; it’s all right,” Ben murmured soothingly. “You can sleep with Papa in his bed. Okay?”
“‘Kay,” Adam nodded, sniffling.
“Papa wants to put on his nightshirt, so I’m just going to set you on my bed.”
“No!” Adam replied, tightening his hold.
“Adam, Papa doesn’t want to sleep in his clothes and he can’t change unless he puts you down. It will only take a few moments.” He set the child on the bed gently, but he could see Adam’s chin begin to wobble and his lower lip begin to quiver so he changed into his nightshirt as quickly as he could. He pulled back the covers and then got into bed beside Adam. The exhausted child fell asleep almost immediately, but Ben lay staring into the darkness for some time before finding the oblivion of sleep.
Throughout the next year, Ben continued to wonder at his son’s growth. He would jabber away and was beginning to form short sentences. However, he grew extremely frustrated when he couldn’t make himself understood, throwing temper tantrums. Ben quickly discovered that speaking sternly or spanking Adam only worsened the situation, so he learned to hold the child and speak to him quietly until he calmed himself. These temper tantrums decreased as Adam’s vocabulary and his articulation improved. He was beginning to assert his independence more and more, which pleased Ben but at the same time saddened him.
Meg often visited with little Tabitha, and Ben was secretly proud that even though Tabitha was four months older than Adam, Adam knew more words and could speak more distinctly. On the other hand, Tabitha was an easy-going, happy child whereas Ben had already noted an intensity and stubbornness in Adam that worried him just a little. The stubbornness he came by honestly, Ben had to admit, for both he and Liz certainly weren’t lacking in that quality. But Adam’s response to any stimulus was always extreme; he was never going to be placid and easygoing, that much was already clear.
When Adam was a month away from turning two, he woke one morning without his usual energy and Ben immediately noticed that he felt warm. “I think you’d better stay in bed today, little boy; Papa thinks you have a fever.” Usually Adam strenuously objected to the idea of staying in his trundle even when he had a cold, and Ben’s stomach clenched with fear when the child agreed saying, “‘Kay, Papa,” in a listless voice.
He informed the Captain and Mrs. Callahan that he was sending for the doctor.
“I’m sure it’s just a little fever and a sore throat, nothing to worry about,” Mrs. Callahan said soothingly.
“I pray you are correct, but I still want the doctor to look at him. And I am staying home with him,” Ben stated firmly.
“I can manage the shop; I know Adam will want you with him,” the Captain agreed.
The doctor stopped by late that afternoon and examined the lethargic child. When he was done, he shook his head solemnly. “I am afraid my diagnosis is serious, Mr. Cartwright. Adam has diphtheria. There are several cases in the neighborhood.” He saw Ben turn white, and said quickly, “It is not always fatal and so far Adam’s is a mild case. Come here.” Ben stood by him and the doctor had Adam open his mouth. “See that thin membrane over his throat; pray that it does not thicken, for it may choke him. Give him clear broth and plenty of water. He won’t be able to swallow solid food but you must get some nourishment down him. However, you must be very careful to give him small amounts so that he doesn’t choke.” He paused and looked at the stricken father. “He is in God’s hands, Mr. Cartwright. Pray that He will be merciful.”
For little over a week, Ben never left Adam’s bedside. He sponged him off to cool the slight fever and he managed to get some water and broth down him but it was killing Ben to hear Adam’s shrill gasps with each breath he took and his pitiful whimpers. He would look at his father with his enormous hazel eyes-his mother’s eyes-begging him to make everything better.
“Dear God,” Ben sobbed dropping to his knees but keeping one hand on Adam’s sweat-soaked curls. “Don’t take my son from me. He is all I have left-my reason for living.”
When the Captain came to relieve Ben that night, he found him still on his knees by Adam’s trundle, his eyes red with weeping. “Don’t despair, Benjamin. God may spare his life,’ the older man said, placing his hand on the younger man’s shoulder comfortingly. “His breathing is no worse is it?”
Ben pulled himself to his feet and looked at Adam’s sleeping form, restlessly tossing and turning, gasping for each breath. “It’s no better,” he replied despondently
“I will take comfort if it is no worse. You need to try and get some sleep now. I’ll sit with him.”
Ben threw himself on his bed and tried to sleep, but he kept listening for Adam’s gasps. He was half dead with exhaustion himself by the time the membrane gradually grew thinner and eventually disappeared. Adam was still very weak and spent much of his time sleeping, and Ben was finally able to relax and catch up on his own sleep. The last time the doctor came to on check Adam, he stopped just before leaving. “I didn’t want to tell you this before while you were so worried about your son, but I think you should know that little Tabitha Baldwin died five days ago; she contracted diphtheria a day or two before Adam did.”
“Oh no,” Ben said, his eyes filling with tears at the loss of that sweet, quiet little girl and for the grief he knew her parents must be feeling.
“Yes, nine children have died that I know of so far. That disease is a scourge, choking the life out of babies. Your Adam was one of the lucky ones.”
Ben checked on Adam and saw he was sleeping soundly so he shaved, for the first time since Adam’s illness, and dressed in a frock coat of black broadcloth paid a call on the Baldwins. Meg was home, looking very pale and drawn when she received him in the parlor. “Meg, I am so sorry for your loss,” he said, taking her hands in his comfortingly.
“Thank you, Ben,” she replied in a strained voice. “I know I must accept God’s will,” and her voice ended in a sob. With an effort, she controlled herself and asked quietly, “How is Adam?”
“He’s still very weak but the doctor thinks he will make a full recovery.”
“I am glad,” she said quietly.
He could see how fragile her self-control was and excused himself. He returned home and stood over Adam’s trundle, watching him sleep, the inky black lashes resting on his pale cheeks and the ebony curls tangled about his face.
“Papa! Ganfavur!” Adam squealed, hurtling across the room as Ben and the Captain came in through the front door. “I used watah coset like big boy!”
“Papa is proud of his big boy,” Ben said with an enormous grin that stretched from ear to ear. He gave Adam a brief hug before the child squirmed to be free.
“Grandfather is proud of you, too,’ the Captain said, tousling Adam’s curls while Mrs. Callahan smiled in the background.
“Pway horsy, Papa,” Adam commanded imperiously.
“Play horsy what?” Ben asked firmly as he removed his cloak and hat and hung them on the pegs by the door.
Adam frowned for a moment and stuck his lower lip out in a pout, but after a moment, he grinned at his father. “Pway horsy pwease.”
Ben swallowed the lump in his throat and blinked back the sudden moisture in his eyes; when Adam smiled, he was the image of his mother. “That’s right, and since you asked so politely I will.” He swung Adam up n his shoulders and dashed down the hall to the dining room, ducking low as he went through the entrance. He put the giggling Adam in his high chair and began bringing the food to the table Polly had already set. After the Captain said grace, Ben said conversationally, “Adam, now that you are such a big boy, you and Papa will be going on a journey together.”
“What’s journey?” Adam asked through a mouthful of clam chowder.
“Don’t speak when your mouth is full of food,” Ben corrected automatically. “A journey is when you go from one place to another. We’ll be going from Boston to Oregon.”
“What’s Boston? What’s Orgun?”
“Boston is the city where we live by the Atlantic Ocean. Oregon is a long ways away by the Pacific Ocean. We’ll be traveling in a wagon a long time before we reach Oregon.”
“When did you plan on leaving?” the Captain asked quietly.
“Not until spring,” Ben replied. “I have a lot of planning to do and we’ll need to purchase a wagon and supplies, including clothes and shoes for Adam.”
The Captain nodded, determined not to show his grief. Ben had promised Elizabeth that he would follow his dream of going west. At least he’d had two years to watch his grandson grow and develop.
It was a sunny morning in May when Captain Stoddard, Ben, and Adam gathered before the farm wagon Ben had purchased with most of his savings and had fitted with a bonnet of watertight homespun. The Cartwrights’ supplies and meager belongings had been packed, and now it was time to say goodbye. Watching the Captain tousle Adam’s curls, Ben said quietly, “I don’t like taking him away from you, Captain.”
“You made a promise, son. I want you to keep it,” Captain Stoddard said, but his voice betrayed his sorrow.
Ben threw his arms about the older man and hugged him fiercely. “I’m going to miss you, sir, and I know Adam will as well.”
“No more than I’ll miss the two of you,” Captain Stoddard said in a choked voice, tightening his arms around his son-in-law. Then he placed both hands on Ben’s shoulders and looked into his eyes. “Don’t brood, son. Keep a warm place in your heart for Elizabeth. Don’t carry her on your shoulders for the rest of your life. She wouldn’t want that.”
Ben said slowly, “No, I suppose she wouldn’t. I’ll keep a warm place in my heart for you, too, sir.”
“Aye, do that,” the Captain replied, clasping Ben’s arm. Then he turned to the little boy standing in his smocked cotton frock looking at the two men in puzzlement. “Would you give Grandfather a goodbye kiss, Adam?” he asked, leaning over to pick up the child.
“G’bye?” Adam asked, arching one eyebrow in puzzlement.
“Yes. I am not coming with you on your journey; that’s why I want a goodbye kiss.”
“G’bye, Ganfavur,” Adam replied, throwing his arms around the Captain’s neck and placing a resounding smack on his cheek. The Captain gently rubbed his whiskered cheek against his grandson’s soft sable curls before handing him to Ben, blinking back tears. “Goodbye, son. Godspeed. Write when you can and let me know how you are doing.”
“I will, sir. Don’t worry about us.” He clasped the Captain’s arm one final time before turning to place Adam on the wagon seat and then walking around to climb up on the other side. He picked up the reins and slapped them on the back of the old cream-colored draft horse he’d purchased. “Giddap, Molly,” he said briskly.
“G’bye, Ganfavur,” Adam called, waving enthusiastically. “G’bye!”
After about half an hour had passed Adam announced, “Me dwive, Papa. Me dwive.”
“After we’re out of the city, then you can help Papa drive,” Ben agreed. “Why don’t you go back in the wagon and draw Papa a picture. I put your slate and chalk on the mattress for you.”
“‘Kay, Papa. I dwaw picture of Molly,” and he slipped back inside the wagon onto the mattress. That kept him occupied for a quarter hour and then he stuck his hand out holding the slate. “See, Papa.”
“It’s a wonderful picture, Adam. Now, why don’t you play with the Noah’s Ark Grandfather bought you? I put it on the mattress, too, for you.”
“No,” Adam replied obstinately. “Want dwive now.”
“Not yet,” Ben said firmly. “And little boys that contradict their fathers get a necessary talking to, young man.”
“Me be good,” Adam said, not so much fearing the spanking as distressed that he’d displeased his father.
“How about if Papa tells you a story? Would you like that?”
“Yes,” the child replied, dimpling.
Ben took one hand off the reins and reached around to help Adam back on the seat beside him. Adam looked at his father expectantly and Ben began. “Once upon a time, there was a boy named Jack…” Adam listened enthralled. At the story’s end he said, “I’m t’irsty, Papa.”
“Papa’s thirsty too. I guess we might as well stop for a drink.”
After they each had a drink from the water jug, Adam said in a worried tone, “Molly t’irsty. I give Molly dwink.’
“There’s no water trough in sight, Adam. She probably could use a drink, but I don’t have anything to put the water in.”
“Put water in pan. Pans in wagon.”
“But they’re for me to cook with-” Ben paused. “I guess one can be Molly’s water pan. I want you to stay in the wagon while I give Molly a drink.”
“No! I give Molly dwink,” Adam replied, sticking out his lower lip in a pout and stamping his foot.
“You mind your papa, little boy,” Ben said, applying a swat to Adam’s bottom before lifting him up and placing him in the wagon. He hardened his heart to the child’s sobs and when he climbed back in the wagon, Adam said a tremulous voice, “I sowy, Papa.”
“Apology accepted, but you must learn to mind Papa. Then he doesn’t have to have necessary talks with you. Do you understand?” Adam nodded his head and Ben smiled at him and ruffled his curls. “Do you want to ride with me or play with your Noah’s Ark?”
“Pway with Noah’s Awk,” the little boy answered seriously.
Ben started the horse again, periodically craning his head around to check on his boy. It wasn’t long before he noticed Adam had fallen asleep on the mattress and he remembered Mrs. Callahan saying that Adam still napped in the morning and afternoon.
As Ben drove along the road headed west with one ear cocked for sounds of Adam waking, he found his thoughts turning to Liz. I’m keeping my promise, my love, but my dream seems hollow without you. Part of me doubts the wisdom of taking Adam away from Boston where he could get a good education. And your father will be so lonely without us. He is not demonstrative, I know, but he adores his grandson and Adam loves his grandfather. He dashed the moisture from his eyes then. I know I mustn’t wallow in self-pity. I will make a good life for our Adam and I’ll do my best to be both father and mother to him. But, Liz, I miss you so. I miss your laughter, your kisses and I miss loving you and feeling you curled next to me at night. Sometimes I feel I will go mad with wanting you. He resolutely forced his thoughts away from his sorrow then by singing. He was in the middle of “What Do We Do with a Drunken Sailor” when he heard a treble voice join in.
“So you’re awake,” Ben said with a smile after the song ended. “Do you want to help Papa drive?”
Adam nodded vigorously and dimpled so Ben reached around to help him climb onto the seat. He maneuvered Adam between his knees and let him place his tiny hands on the reins just below his.
“Adam good dwiver,” the little boy announced proudly.
“You sure are. Are you getting hungry yet?”
“Little bit,” Adam answered, concentrating on his “driving”.
“When you are ready for dinner, you just let Papa know. Mrs. Callahan packed us a hamper full of food.”
“Gingerbwead?” Adam asked hopefully.
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised,” Ben replied with a smile
As they drove along, Adam peppered his father with questions about the fields of grain or grazing sheep and cows they passed. Ben was starting to feel really hungry when Adam announced he wanted dinner. They pulled off the road under the shade of an enormous chestnut tree. Ben gave Adam a sandwich to eat while he built a small fire to make his coffee. He would’ve sworn he’d only taken his eyes off the child for a moment but when he turned, he was gone. Ben’s heart constricted as he looked about wildly for a sign of his son. It only took him a moment to spot Adam walking toward a pasture full of sheep. He sprinted toward the child and, grabbing him by one arm, he spanked him soundly, yelling, “Don’t you ever wander off like that again! Do you understand!”
Adam was crying so hard that he had to gasp for breath and he looked terrified of his father. “Oh baby, don’t cry,” Ben said, softening his tone and holding the rigid child in his embrace. Gradually Adam’s sobs subsided into hiccups and he relaxed in his father’s arms. Ben turned the child so their eyes met. “Adam, Papa doesn’t like to spank you, but he must when you are naughty. I want you to promise that you won’t ever wander off by yourself again.”
“Pwomise, Papa,” the little boy said in a quavering voice, his hazel eyes enormous and his nose badly in need of a handkerchief. Ben pulled his out and commanded Adam to blow. Once that was accomplished, Ben set Adam down and hunkered in front of him.
“Now Adam, you must keep your promise because if you don’t, you and I will have another necessary talk. Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” Adam replied, his eyes beginning to fill with tears again.
“No need to cry, son. Let’s see if Papa’s coffee is ready and give Molly her feedbag. And then, we’ll see if Mrs. Callahan packed some gingerbread in our hamper,” and he ruffled Adam’s dark curls.
Adam was munching happily on his gingerbread while Ben ate his sandwich and drank his coffee. Then Adam stated, “I want milk,” spraying gingerbread crumbs with each word.
“Oh, I’m sorry but we don’t have any,” Ben said. “We’re going to spend the night either in Framingham or Milford and we should be able to get you some milk there. For now you’ll have to make do with water.”
“Dwink cawfee,” Adam suggested.
“No, it’s not for little boys and I don’t think you’d like it.” He saw the stubborn pout and decided to switch tactics. “Would you like to taste Papa’s coffee?”
Eyes bright the little boy nodded. He took a big gulp from the proffered tin cup and quickly spit it out.
“Papa said you wouldn’t like it, didn’t he? Let me get you some water to take the nasty taste out of your mouth.”
“Why you dwink cawfee?” Adam asked after taking a big swallow of water from his pewter christening mug.
“Grownups like Papa enjoy the taste. You might like it better with lots of cream and sugar.”
Adam rolled his eyes at that and said firmly, “I nevah dwink cawfee.”
“All right, whatever you say,” Ben replied with a grin, picking Adam up and swinging him overhead to giggles of delight.
After they finished eating, Adam announced that he needed to use the water closet. “I’m afraid there isn’t one here,” Ben replied. “We’ll just go behind the tree. Adam looked at his father doubtfully, but he soon saw what was needed. “I should have asked Mrs. Callahan to sew you some breeches. These skirts are a real nuisance,” Ben muttered. “Now, Papa wants you to stay in the wagon for a while,” he said lifting Adam inside. “Why don’t you draw me a picture of one of the sheep?”
“‘Kay, Papa,” Adam agreed. He started his picture but fell asleep before finishing. When he woke up from his nap, Ben entertained him with stories until they reached Framingham. Ben found an inn, got a room, and arranged to stable Molly. It was an hour before sundown and he was restless from spending the day on the wagon so he decided that he and Adam would go for a walk. It was hard to adjust his stride to such short little legs and he was tempted to carry Adam except that he figured Adam needed the exercise as much as he did. A small, friendly mongrel dog began following them and Adam kept stopping and reaching over to pet the dog, giggling when the dog licked his face.
As the sun began to set, Ben headed back for the inn. When twilight fell, he picked Adam up and carried him at a brisk pace. He discovered the food at the inn was more expensive than he had hoped, but he didn’t want to use the supplies he’d purchased until they were in less settled country. The inn wasn’t accustomed to requests for milk, but Ben eventually persuaded the innkeeper to locate some for Adam. After their meal, they went to their room and Ben helped Adam change from his clothes to his little nightshirt. He tucked the child into the bed (looking so tiny and lost in it), kissed him goodnight, and prepared to write in his journal. He’d only written a few words when he heard the sound of quiet sobbing.
“Adam, what’s wrong? Tell Papa,” he said gathering the weeping child in his arms.
“Miss Ganfavur and Miz Cal’han and Polly,” Adam managed to get out between sobs. “Want go home.”
“Oh, Adam, I know you miss them and they miss you, but we’re on our way to a new home. They’ll be big trees and lots of grass and flowers. We’ll build a house and we’ll be so happy, Adam. You’ll see.” He held his little son and softly sang a lullaby he remembered from his own childhood until he fell asleep.
Nine months we’ve been on the road Ben thought one mild day in late February and we’re no further than western Pennsylvania. Travel was so much more expensive than he’d dreamed when he set out from Boston. Inns were too expensive so during the summer and fall he and Adam had camped out along the road and ate the food they’d brought with them, but as the weather grew colder and snow fell, they were forced to use inns. When the temperature grew too cold or the snow too heavy, Ben feared to expose Adam and so they stayed at a town until conditions improved. Now their food was gone and Ben was almost out of money. He knew he would have to stop and find work at the next town. At least they would have the luxury of sleeping in a real bed in a house. I just hope I won’t have any problems finding a place that will accept a child he thought as he looked at the solemn little boy sitting next to him.
“Mrs. Schneider,” Ben said hesitantly to the plump, apple-cheeked woman who opened the door to his knock, “I was told you take in boarders.”
Mrs. Schneider’s eyes appraised the man before her: tall and broad-shouldered with dark hair beginning to gray at the temples, strong regular features and smoldering dark eyes under heavy black brows. “That’s right. I run a boardinghouse, and you’re in luck because I have a vacant room. Mr. …?”
“Cartwright. Ben Cartwright.” He paused and then said diffidently, “Uh, how much would you ask for say two weeks?” She named an amount higher than he had hoped for but which seemed reasonable since she included three meals a day. “There’s just one more thing,” he added apprehensively. “I’m, uh, I’m not alone. My son is with me.”
Mrs. Schneider noticed that his clothing was clean if well worn. She also saw where a button had been sewed back on clumsily-as though by someone who’d never used a needle before. “Your wife isn’t with you?” she inquired.
“I am a widower,” Ben answered stiffly and she could see the sorrow in his chocolate-brown eyes.
“How old is the child?”
“Adam is three, going on four. He’s a good boy. He-he wouldn’t be a bother.”
“I’ve never known a three-year-old who wasn’t a bother sometimes,” she retorted but her features softened when she saw the despair in his face. “Mr. Cartwright, I’ve four children of my own so I doubt one more will make that much more work for me. What if we add a penny a day for-Adam is it?”
“Thank you,” Ben replied and the relief in his eyes touched Mrs. Schneider’s heart. “Mr. Hoffman wanted me to start at the livery stable right away-”
“Then bring young Adam here and you get to work. Where is the child?”
“He’s in the wagon,” Ben replied over his shoulder as he moved quickly toward the wagon. She saw him lift down a small child and then a battered valise. He took the child by the hand, carrying the valise in the other. As she watched in the doorway, Mrs. Schneider called over her shoulder for her oldest daughter.
“Hilda, we have a new boarder who has a little boy,” she informed her 12-year-old daughter, who had inherited her chubby figure and apple-cheeks. “I want you and Clara to watch him along with Emil and Eva.” She saw Hilda’s frown and added, “I will let you and Clara have the penny a day Mr. Cartwright is paying us to watch Adam.” Hilda’s face brightened at that and just then Ben and Adam were at the door.
“My, aren’t you a pretty child,” Mrs. Schneider said, taking in the enormous hazel eyes with their long sooty lashes and the curly black hair.
“Pretty enough to be Eve,” Hilda said with a grin.
“Mr. Cartwright, this is my oldest, Hilda. She looks after my two youngest and so she’ll be looking after Adam as well.” She noted the little boy opened his eyes very wide at those words and moved closer to his father, almost hiding behind his leg.
Hilda noticed the child’s reaction as well and smiled encouragingly at him. “We’ll have lots of fun, Adam. We have a swing in the backyard; do you like to swing?”
Adam shook his head and tightened his grip on his father’s hand.
“Adam,” Ben said in a quiet but cheerful voice, “Hilda is right. You’ll have fun playing with the other children. Papa has to go to work now.” He let go of Adam’s hand but Adam quickly grabbed hold of his leg.
“I go wiv you, Papa,” he said in a quavering voice and his eyes began to fill with tears.
“You can’t, son. I’m sorry but I need you to be a good boy for Papa and stay here with Mrs. Schneider and Hilda.”
“No,” Adam sobbed. “Go wiv Papa,” and he tightened his grip on Ben’s leg.
Ben cast a worried glance at Mrs. Schneider but she smiled just a little at him. “Don’t worry, Mr. Cartwright. At this age they don’t like to be separated from their parents, but he’ll be all right, I promise. Old Hoffman isn’t known for the milk of human kindness so you best be on your way. Just give him to me.” Ben pried Adam’s hands loose and handed him to Mrs. Schneider. He felt his own heart breaking as he heard Adam’s piteous cries of, “Papa! Papa!”
Mrs. Schneider tried to hug Adam reassuringly, but he went absolutely stiff in her arms. “Poor little liebchen,” she whispered, patting his stiff back soothingly as she carried him inside and Hilda picked up the valise Ben had left. “No Mama and now Papa has to leave you with strangers. But he’ll be back, don’t you worry.” She continued to pat his back as he sobbed. “Oh, liebchen, you are going to make yourself sick,” she murmured. Just then her three other children burst into the room.
“Who’s crying?” demanded seven-year-old Emil, and seeing more strangers, Adam began to cry even harder.
“Clara, take your brother and sister back outside. Hilda, finish chopping the vegetables for the stew, please. I’m going to rock Adam and see if that will calm him,” and Hilda nodded while Clara shooed her younger siblings back outside. Mrs. Schneider went to her bedroom and sat down in her rocking chair. She rocked Adam, humming an old German lullaby and patting his back, until he cried himself out. She set him on her lap then and dried his tears with her hankie and then had him blow his nose.
His skin was mottled, his eyes were swollen, and his long lashes clumped tgether; he looked altogether forlorn. “Would you like a cookie, Adam?” she asked, but he shook his head. “Well, how about a glass of milk in the kitchen and you can watch Hilda and me make dinner. Would you like that?”
He hesitated a moment and then nodded his head. “I like milk.”
“Then a glass of milk it shall be,” she said, smiling at him, hoping to elicit a smile in return, but her hope was dashed. He clung tightly to her hand as they walked back to the kitchen. Hilda smiled when she saw them return, and she felt sad for the woebegone little boy. Mrs. Schneider sat Adam in a chair, which she saw was much too low.
“Hilda, go get the pillows off my bed. We’ll sit Adam on those and see if that works.” Hilda ran out of the room and returned a few minutes later with two plump pillows. “All right, Adam liebchen, let’s see how these work.” Mrs. Schneider lifted him up and Hilda placed the pillows on the chair. Then Mrs. Schneider set Adam back down and the pillows did the trick. She saw him smile just a little at the feeling of sinking down on the pillows. She handed him the glass of milk Hilda poured and watched him carefully take the glass in both hands and drink. She couldn’t help grinning at his milk moustache, and she wiped it off gently saying, “Now liebchen, you watch us fix the stew.”
He sat quietly and watched them sear the meat in the big kettle over the fireplace and then add the vegetables they’d already chopped. Then he observed Mrs. Schneider mix flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl and watched her cut in the lard with knives. “Now we add the milk. Would you like to pour the milk in, Adam?”
“Yes,” he said and smiled at her so she could see the deep dimples. She poured the milk in a glass and then said, “Now I am going to let you stand in this chair so you can pour in the milk, all right?” and Adam nodded happily. He poured the milk without spilling any and then watched her stir it in and drop spoonfuls of dough on a baking sheet and then turned to Adam. “You’ve met Hilda and I’d like you to meet my other children.” He looked a little anxious but nodded. “All right, let’s get you out of that chair and we’ll go out back.” She noted Adam clung to her as tightly as he had to his father and when the other three came running up he hid behind her skirt.
“Emil, Clara, Eva, this is our new boarder, Adam,” she said quietly, tugging him from behind her skirt. “He and his papa will be staying with us. Adam, say hello to Emil,” and the stocky blond boy smiled at Adam, “Clara,” and this time it was a taller, chubby girl with light brown hair that smiled, “and my youngest, Eva,” and she indicated a plump little girl with flaxen pigtails.
“Are you sure he’s a little boy, Mama? He looks like a little girl to me,” Eva stated.
“Yeah, he has hair like a little girl,” Emil added.
“Not a girl,” Adam said indignantly.
“I think you owe Adam an apology, both of you,” Mrs. Schneider said firmly. “Lots of boys Adam’s age wear their hair long, especially when it’s so pretty. You didn’t have your first haircut until after you were two, Emil.”
“Sorry,” Emil and Eva muttered. Then Eva asked, “You said he and his papa were staying here? Where’s his mama?”
“Mama?” Adam said in a puzzled tone that broke Mrs. Schneider’s heart.
“Hilda, why don’t you see if Adam wants to swing? All right, liebchen?” Very reluctantly, Adam allowed Hilda to take his hand and lead him to the big elm tree with the swing at the end of the yard, but he kept looking back over his shoulder at Mrs. Schneider. “Adam’s mama is in heaven just like your papa.”
“He doesn’t have a mama,” Eva said wonderingly. The six-year-old could imagine nothing worse.
“No, he doesn’t so I want you three to be very nice to him.”
“We will, Mama,” they all assured her. Then Emil added, “At least he has a papa.”
“It is sad that you have no papa and Adam has no mama, but remember there are children with no papa and no mama. You must thank Lord Jesus every day that you are not orphans.” The children solemnly promised and then they all joined Hilda and Adam.
Adam had never been on a swing before so Hilda had him sit on her lap and wrap his arms around her neck and his legs around her waist. “It’s fun Adam; you’ll see,’ she promised. At first he held on so tightly it was hard to breathe but gradually his grip relaxed and he began to giggle. “Higher, higher!” he shrieked.
“I think that’s high enough for now,” Mrs. Schneider said. “Would you like to try swinging by yourself now, Adam?”
“Yeah, don’t you want to swing like a big boy?” Emil asked as Hilda stopped the swing.
“Like big boy,” Adam agreed and Hilda set him on the swing and showed him how to hold onto the rope.
“Don’t let go, Adam. Hold on tight,” Mrs. Schneider admonished and he nodded. “Go ahead and give him a push, Hilda.” She watched for a few minutes and then satisfied that Adam was absorbed in his play, she headed back to her housework. The other children soon grew bored with watching Adam swing and the two girls went back to playing with their dolls while Emil waited with growing impatience for his turn to swing.
“When is his turn gonna be up?” he finally asked in a pugnacious tone.
“Adam, wouldn’t you like to play Ring Around the Rosy and let Emil have his turn to swing?” Hilda asked and she stopped pushing.
“No play Rosy; I want swing,” Adam replied, sticking his lower lip out in a pout.
“But Ring Around the Rosy is lots of fun,” Hilda said. “Clara, Eva!” she called. “Wouldn’t you like to play Ring Around the Rosy with Adam?”
“Sure,” Clara said and Eva added, “It’s fun, Adam, you’ll see.”
“Yeah, and you can have another turn on the swing later,” Emil promised.
Somewhat reluctantly Adam agreed to play but soon he was having great fun falling down. Then the girls showed him how to play London Bridge and he loved being shaken up. All too soon for him Mrs. Schneider called that dinner was ready. The other boarders-Miss Wiessmann, the dressmaker, and Mr. Davidson, who worked at the mercantile-gathered in the dining room after Adam and the Schneider children had gone to the kitchen for their dinner. Mrs. Schneider watched for her new boarder but wasn’t really surprised that Mr. Hoffman hadn’t given him a dinner break since he would have been late starting work. After dinner, she set Hilda and Clara to work on the dishes while she took Adam back to her room and rocked him and told him a story until he fell asleep. She carried him to the room he would share with his father and placed him on the bed. She still had an old trundle bed in her room that her children had used and she’d have Mr. Cartwright move it into this room for Adam when he returned.
It was just after sundown when Ben reached the boardinghouse. Mrs. Schneider had been looking for him and met him at the door. “Supper is in a half hour. Adam is eating in the kitchen with my children right now. I’ll show you where your room is so you can wash up. Hilda already took your valise up.” Ben wanted to see Adam but he acquiesced. He quickly washed up and put on a clean shirt-his only good linen shirt-and then hurried downstairs. Adam was just finishing his slice of cherry pie when he spied Ben in the doorway. He dropped his fork with a clatter and tried to jump down from his pillows shouting, “Papa!”
Ben caught him before he fell and hugged him tightly. “How’s my boy? Have you been good?” he asked the wriggling child. With a sigh, he set Adam down but kept hold of his hand.
“I be good. I s-swinged and played f-fall down and London B-bridge,” Adam stuttered in excitement. “An’ Emil played ball wiv me.”
“Sounds to me like you had a very exciting day. And made some new friends.” He turned to the other children. “I want to thank you for playing with my son.”
Emil’s face turned crimson and Hilda said, “It was our pleasure. He’s a sweet little boy.”
“Yeah,” Eva chimed in, “even if he does look like a little girl.”
“Eva!” Hilda hissed at her.
“Well, he does,” she retorted. “I mean he’s real pretty. I wish I had long curly hair like his.”
“Not a girl!” Adam replied vehemently.
“No, and I think it is time we cut those curls,” Ben said slowly. They were almost to his shoulders and did look girlish. It was just that they were so like Liz’s curls that he hadn’t been able to make himself cut them. “How about that? You want Papa to cut your hair tonight?”
“Yes,” Adam replied so forcefully that everyone else laughed, which made him pout.
“You’d better pull that lip in or some big old rooster’s liable to come sit on it,” Ben said, tweaking his son’s little nose. Just then Mrs. Schneider stuck her head in the kitchen.
“Everyone is in the dining room, Mr. Cartwright. Emil, take Adam to your room and play with him. Hilda, Clara, I need you to help me put the food on the table.”
Ben started to go but Adam tightened his hold on Ben’s hand. “No! Stay wiv Papa!”
“Adam, as soon as I eat supper, I’ll come get you. You go with Emil and play with him.” Adam continued his death grip so Ben said firmly, “Adam, do you want a necessary talk?”
Adam’s lower lip came out and a tear trickled down each cheek. “N-no, Papa.”
“All right then. You go with Emil and I’ll be there before you know it.” Emil led Adam away and then Ben hurried into the dining room to meet the other boarders. They seemed pleasant people, but Ben ate as quickly as he could and didn’t participate much in the conversation. He excused himself and left the dining room while the others were still eating. Miss Wiessmann and Mr. Davidson looked disapproving until Mrs. Schneider explained about Adam.
“Poor man,” Miss Wiessmann clucked sympathetically. “It can’t be easy on him raising the child alone.”
“I’m a bit surprised he didn’t leave the child with relatives,” Mr. Davidson said. “Someone who could give the child a stable home.”
“He’s very attached to his son and Adam obviously adores his father. I imagine that eventually he’ll remarry and give Adam a stepmother. That would be best for both of them,” Mrs. Schneider stated.
The subjects of their conversation were sitting together on Ben’s bed. “So you learned to swing today, did you?” Ben said, ruffling his son’s curls as he set him on his lap.
“It was fun, Papa! I went high, high, high! An’ Miz Sider letted me p-pour milk in th’ biscuits. An’ she maked a baby cherwy pie for us. An’ Hilda showed me baby k-kitties but the mama kitty wouldn’t let me pet ’em. She was angwy and she spitted at me. She tried ‘trach me.” Ben hadn’t seen Adam this excited in a long time and in spite of his aching muscles, he was content to hear his son’s happy chatter. Or he was until Adam stopped, looked up into his father’s eyes, and asked very solemnly, “Where’s my mama?”
Ben had known that some day he would have to answer that question. He said very quietly, “Your mama is in Heaven, Adam. After God gave you to your mama and me, He decided he needed Mama in Heaven with Him. But she watches over both of us from heaven, Adam, I promise you that.”
Adam stared at his father, saw the tears in his eyes, and asked seriously, “You miss Mama?”
“Every day, son, every day.” He managed a little smile then, seeing the sadness in the child’s eyes. “Now young man, how about that haircut?”
Adam nodded vigorously then. “Don’t want to look like girl!”
Just then there was a knock on the door. Ben opened it and stepped back so Mrs. Schneider could enter. “Mr. Cartwright, I have a trundle bed in my room that my children used. I thought that if you could bring it in here that it would be perfect for Adam. I’ll just need to make it up for him.”
Ben smiled gratefully. “That would be wonderful, ma’am.” He hesitated a moment and then asked, “Would you have a pair of scissors I could borrow? I want to cut Adam’s hair.”
Mrs. Schneider looked at him thoughtfully. “Have you ever cut hair before?” Ben shook his head and she stated, “You’d best let me cut it. I’ve cut Emil’s hair since he had his first haircut. It’s not as easy as you think, especially with a child that won’t sit still. Come down to the kitchen; I’m sure it will be easier if you’re there with him. ”
By the time the haircut was complete, Ben was relieved that Mrs. Schneider had offered to do it because Adam clearly did not care for the experience. However, once it was over and he saw himself in Mrs. Schneider’s mirror, he was pleased with the result. “Now you look like a little man,” Mrs. Schneider told him and he dimpled. “I thought you might want this as a keepsake,” she said to Ben, handing him one long curl. “Thank you,” he said but she felt herself amply repaid by the gratitude in his eyes. “Tomorrow, Adam, I will give you a bath and wash your hair,” she added.
“Oh no, ma’am, I don’t want you to go to the trouble,” Ben said hurriedly.
“Mr. Cartwright, the child needs a bath and you won’t have any time to bathe him working from sunup to sundown. At three he can’t be that modest.”
“I suppose you do have a point,” Ben conceded and she said, “Then it’s settled.”
“He likes baths, but he doesn’t like getting his hair washed,” Ben warned.
“He probably gets soap in his eyes,” she replied with a smile. “Adam, I promise I won’t get soap in your eyes if you let me wash your hair and give you a bath.”
Adam puckered his brow and frowned as he considered. “You pwomise?”
“Yes, I promise,” she said very earnestly and he nodded his head.
Each day Ben would come to the boardinghouse for dinner and manage to spend a little time with Adam before going back to the livery stable. He would hurry through supper so he could spend time with Adam before putting him to bed. Adam was making friends with the Schneider children and Ben was thankful that he had this chance to play with other children and be mothered by Mrs. Schneider and even Miss Wiessmann. At the same time, he worried because the longer they stayed, the harder it would be for Adam when it was time to leave.
Toward the end of the second week during dinner, Miss Wiessmann said hesitantly, “Mr. Cartwright, I hope you won’t be offended but I noticed that Adam is outgrowing his clothes. Since he told me that he wanted to wear breeches like Emil, I took the liberty of sewing him two pairs of breeches and some shirts.”
“I will, of course, pay you, Miss Wiessmann,” Ben said stiffly.
“Of course you will not,” Miss Wiessmann replied tartly while Mr. Davidson kept his eyes riveted to his plate. “Mr. Cartwright, I never had a child of my own to sew for and I enjoyed making the clothes. Please don’t destroy my pleasure by offering me money.” Ben reddened but nodded his agreement, and Miss Wiessmann continued. “Another thing I noticed is that Adam’s shoes are too tight. Mr. Heine is an excellent shoemaker and you should speak to him about a new pair of shoes for Adam.”
Mrs. Schneider and Hilda came in then with apple strudel for dessert and Mrs. Schneider stated, “I am taking Emil and Eva to Mr. Heine’s shop tomorrow. If you’d like, I could take Adam along and then you could settle the bill with Mr. Heine later.”
“Thank you, ma’am, if it’s no bother.” Ben decided then that they would leave at the end of the next week; he should have enough money saved and Adam would have much needed new clothes and shoes.
After he finished eating, he excused himself and went to the backyard where he found Adam with the younger Schneider children. As soon as Adam saw his father, he ran toward him shouting, “Papa, I got breeches just like Emil!”
“So I see,” Ben replied with a grin, noting the child’s plaid shirt of heavy flannel and breeches of black corduroy.
“I got another pair and two more shirts,” Adam said excitedly, holding up two fingers.
“My goodness, I think you may have more clothes than Papa does,” Ben said. “Tomorrow Mrs. Schneider says she is going to take you with Emil and Eva to get new shoes,” and he was rewarded by Adam’s smile.
Just as Ben feared, Adam wept at the news that he must leave his new friends. “I know it is sad to leave and you will miss Emil and Eva and Clara and Hilda,’ Ben murmured, holding Adam on his lap and rubbing circles on his back. “But we’ve got to set off on our journey again. You don’t want Mrs. Schneider or Emil and the girls to see you crying like a baby because you are a big boy now, and Papa wants to be proud of his big boy.”
“I big boy,” Adam got out in a quavering voice and Ben dried his tears and wiped his nose. He watched as Adam pulled on his socks and tan breeches and then wriggled into his red flannel shirt. He struggled with all the buttons but Ben knew he would adamantly refuse any help. Finally Adam put on his new shoes and Ben set him on his lap and used the buttonhook to fasten them. Adam held tightly to his father’s hand and Ben carried their valise in his other as they walked into the kitchen to say farewell.
When they walked into the kitchen, Mrs. Schneider took in the valise and said, “You’re leaving then?”
“Yes. I told Mr. Hoffman that yesterday would be my last day.’
She nodded then and said briskly, “Breakfast is ready. Eat with the children and me before you go. That way they can say goodbye to Adam.”
“Pwease, Papa,” Adam begged, looking at his father beseechingly and Ben nodded.
“Adam and his papa are leaving today but they are going to have breakfast with us,” Mrs. Schneider announced in a cheerful voice as her children entered the kitchen.
“Aw, I wish you could stay,” Emil said to Adam. “It was fun having another boy around.” He turned to Ben then. “Couldn’t you and Adam stay here?”
“No, we go to Orgun,” Adam answered before Ben could open his mouth.
“You’ll get to see Injuns!” Eva said excitedly. “I always wanted to see a real Injun.”
“That will be quite enough from you, Eva,” her mother said sternly. “Hilda, help me put the food on the table while Eva sets it and Clara pours the milk in the glasses.”
Once the food was on the table, Mrs. Schneider asked Ben to say grace and then everyone began passing the platters of fried potatoes, eggs, bacon and toast. Both the adults noticed that Adam ate very little but knowing the reason, they didn’t try encouraging him to eat more. Just before the Cartwrights left, Mrs. Schneider placed a package in Ben’s hand.
“I made gingersnaps last night and since Adam loves them, I packed some for him to eat. They’ll last several days as long as you keep them well wrapped.”
“Thank you so much for looking after my son,” Ben said warmly.
“I enjoyed looking after him and so did Hilda. I hope you and Adam reach Oregon Territory safely.” She turned to Adam then and bent down so she could kiss his cheek. “Goodbye, Adam.”
“G’bye,” he said, his chin quivering as he struggled not to cry. Hilda and Clara both hugged him and Ben knew he needed to leave before Adam began crying. He took Adam’s hand and picked up the battered valise in his other and walked out the door while the Schneiders waved goodbye.
At age four and a half, Adam couldn’t remember a time he and Pa weren’t living and traveling in the covered farm wagon. His only memories of his grandfather were from the stories his pa told him. Pa was always happy to tell him stories about Grandfather but if he asked about his mama, Pa became very sad. Pa had a music box that had belonged to Mama, but he said Adam was never to touch it, just as he must never touch the miniature of her. Adam got a glimpse of the picture once. His mama had been pretty. He wished God hadn’t taken her to Heaven because he and Pa needed her more. He asked God to give her back to them, but so far, God hadn’t answered his prayer.
“Are we gonna stop for dinner soon, Pa?” he asked as they rode along a dirt road. (Pa wasn’t sure if they were still in Ohio or if they’d crossed over into Indiana.)
“Pretty soon,” Ben replied. “There’s a farmhouse up ahead and I want to see if they could offer me any work. But we’ll eat soon, I promise,” and he put his arm around the boy’s thin shoulders. Too thin Ben thought. Forgive me, Liz, that some days all our boy has to eat is bread and milk, and not much of that.
“Pa, would you tell me a story?”
“Well, what sort of story would you like to hear?”
“‘Bout you and Grandfather on The Wanderer,” Adam stated, his dark hazel eyes shining, and Ben squeezed his neck affectionately before launching into the story. He timed the story so it ended just when they approached the farmhouse. As their wagon drew near the house, a big mastiff ran up growling and showing his large fangs. Adam moved closer to his father-his posture tense and his eyes round with fright. A woman came to the door and said in a firm voice, “Here, Goliath. Down, sir.” The mastiff walked stiff-legged and sat at her side. Adam relaxed and let out the breath he’d been holding.
“Can I help ya?” the woman said. She was small and thin and her brown hair was liberally streaked with gray.
“Yes, ma’am,” Ben replied. “I was wondering if you might have any work. I’m handy and willing to do any work at all.”
“That yer boy with ya?” the woman asked.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m Ben Cartwright and this is my son, Adam.” He nudged Adam and the little boy said shyly, “Hello, ma’am.”
“Hello, Adam,” she replied with a faint smile. “My name is Miz. Crawford.” She turned to Ben then. “It’s just you and the boy? Yer wife’s not with ya?”
“I’m a widower,” Ben replied stiffly, but she heard the pain in his voice and thought it must be a recent bereavement.
“I reckon we could use an extra hand with the hayin’. Caint afford to pay ya much, but we can give ya and the boy three meals a day and ya can sleep in the spare room.”
“That would be fine, ma’am,’ Ben said gratefully. If he didn’t have to pay for meals, then all of his wages could be saved. Well, not quite all. The weather would be turning cool soon enough-too cool to go barefoot-so Adam would have to have a new pair of shoes. The clothes Miss Wiessmann had made him were getting too small as well, but Ben figured they could wait.
“I reckon I could find some jobs fer Adam, too. Think ya could help me feed the chickens and milk the cow?” Adam nodded at her solemnly and she smiled at him, the smile softening her thin, pinched features. She was hoping for an answering smile from the pretty little boy, but he only gazed at her gravely. “Ya can stable yer horse in the barn. My husband and son should be back fer dinner shortly. Ya may as well eat with us and then ya can start workin’.” She turned to go back in the house saying, “Come, Goliath,” and the dog followed her.
Adam sat on the wagon seat and watched as Ben unhitched Molly, rubbed her down, and gave her her feedbag. Once that was done, he swung Adam off the wagon seat and then they both washed their hands and faces at the pump in the yard. Ben knocked lightly on the backdoor and heard the dog’s ferocious barking start, only to be silenced at the woman’s command.
“C’mon in,” she invited, opening the door. “I’ll show ya where to put yer satchel and where ya’ll be sleepin’.”
The house was immaculate, Ben noted, as he followed Mrs. Crawford. The room she took them to was a tiny one in the attic with a bare wooden floor and a plain bedstead of pine. “Sorry it’s so stuffy but it don’t get used much,” she said, throwing up the sash on the room’s two windows and opening the shutters. “I’ll bring up some linens fer the bed after dinner.” They could hear Goliath barking again, but this time it was a welcoming bark. “That’ll be my husband and Seth.” She dropped her eyes for a moment but then brought them back to Ben’s face before saying awkwardly, “Our Seth is a mite slow, but he’s a good boy and there’s no harm in him.”
“We’re looking forward to meeting him and your husband, aren’t we, Adam?” Adam nodded, not understanding why she was telling them her son was slow or why she seemed embarrassed about it. Some people could run faster than others could; it was nothing to be embarrassed about.
They hurried down the winding attic stair and into the kitchen where two men were washing up at the pump. The older man was average in height, with a receding hairline and sharp features like his wife. The younger was about the same height with round, childish features and oddly shaped brown eyes.
“Abe,” the woman said quickly, “this here is Ben Cartwright and his son, Adam. He was lookin’ fer work and I said we could use some help gittin’ in the hay.”
The man looked Ben over and seemed satisfied with what he saw. “That’s right. I reckon we could use some help. Caint pay much but room and board.”
“That would be fine, sir. I, uh, don’t have much experience with farm work, but I learn fast,” Ben answered nervously.
“Fair enough,” Abe replied, holding out his hand to Ben, who shook it firmly. Seth spoke up then, pointing at Adam.
“His clothes is funny,” he said with a big wet grin, and Adam frowned while Ben felt his face flood with color, noting how short Adam’s breeches were and how his wrists shot out of his shirtsleeves.
“Seth,” Abe said sternly and Mrs. Crawford said hurriedly, “He meant no harm. Seth, say yer sorry. Ya made Mr. Cartwright ‘n’ Adam feel bad.”
“Sorry,” Seth repeated, adding, “I didn’t mean ya to feel bad, honest.”
“No harm done,” Ben replied, holding out his hand to the boy, who shook it vigorously until his father said his name. “I know Adam is outgrowing his clothes and I plan on buying him a new par of breeches and a new shirt.”
“No need fer that,” Mrs. Crawford spoke up. “I’ve got old clothes of Seth’s that he’s welcome to.”
“We don’t need charity-” Ben began, but she cut him off.
“Land sakes, Mr. Cartwright, they’re jest gonna to end up in the ragbag. Adam may as well get some use out of ’em,” and reluctantly Ben nodded his assent. “Now, you men sit yerselfs down and I’ll bring out the food.”
Adam’s eyes opened very wide as Mrs. Crawford brought in the food. There was ham, baked beans, mashed turnips, boiled potatoes, green beans, and fresh bread. He had never seen so much food in his life. As soon as Mr. Crawford said grace, he began to eat and never lifted his eyes from his plate. He ignored the adult conversation until he felt his father’s hand on his shoulder.
“Adam, Mrs. Crawford asked you a question.”
Adam’s cheeks grew pink with embarrassment as he answered, “S-sorry, ma’am.”
“That’s all right, Honey,” she said with a smile. “I jest asked if you wuz enjoyin’ the food, but I got my answer.”
“Oh yes, ma’am!” he replied, smiling at her and revealing his dimples, and she thought he was one of the prettiest children she’d ever seen.
“Adam is used to my cooking,” Ben said with a half smile. “This is a treat for both of us.”
“Well, Adam, ya save room fer some raspberry cobbler, ya hear.”
“Yeah,” Seth said around a mouthful of food. “Ma makes real good cobbler.” Adam had never had cobbler but he knew that he mustn’t speak unless spoken to so he concentrated on eating the food on his plate. “Is Adam gonna help with the hayin’?” Seth asked.
“He’s too little fer that, Seth,” Mrs. Crawford answered. “Nah, Adam’s gonna help me weed the garden this afternoon. Tomorrow he’ll help me feed the chickens and maybe even help milk Daisy.”
“Aw, his hands is too small,” Seth laughed.
“Are not!” Adam retorted indignantly and then his face flushed with shame, for he had spoken without being addressed and been disrespectful. “I’m s-sorry,” he stammered, looking nervously at Ben beneath his lashes.
“That’s all right, young man,” Abe said calmly. “And Seth only meant yer hands is small compared to a grownup’s. I’m afraid they aint big enough to milk Daisy, but I’m sure we’ll find some chores ya can help with while yer pa is helpin’ with the hayin’.” He winked at Adam and then said, “Mother, where’s that cobbler?”
Adam decided raspberry cobbler was the most delicious food in the whole world. By the time he finished eating, he was nodding at the table. “I’ll put him down fer a nap, don’t ya worry, Mr. Cartwright.”
“I don’t want to make work for you-”
“Hush, man. It’s been years since I had a child this young to look after and I enjoy it. Yer a lucky man.”
“I know,” Ben said quietly. “Now, Adam, you mind whatever Mrs. Crawford tells you,” and Adam nodded sleepily, his eyelids drooping.
Ben found haying exhausting work. He quickly got the hang of swinging his scythe rhythmically through the tall grass with Seth walking behind, spreading out the mowed hay to dry. But the sun was scorching and soon Ben’s shirt was soaked with sweat, as was his hair under his wide-brimmed hat. His arms were aching and his throat was parched when Abe shouted for him to stop.
“Sally and yer boy are bringin’ us some cool water,” he said, pointing in the direction of the farmhouse. Mrs. Crawford was carrying a bucket and Adam walked beside her proudly carrying a dipper. Ben saw he was wearing clothes that fit better although the legs of his breeches were rolled up so he wouldn’t trip over them. His cream-colored cotton shirt was also a bit large, but Ben knew he’d grow into the clothes soon enough.
“I know yer thirsty,” Mrs. Crawford said with a smile, “so me and Adam decided to bring ya some water.”
“We sure are thirsty, Ma,” Seth said, reaching for the dipper.
“Adam’s a good worker,” Mrs. Crawford said. “We got the garden all weeded, didn’t we?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Adam replied. “Mrs. Crawford let me help churn butter, too, Pa. And she taught me a song about some blind mice.” Seth then began to sing Three Blind Mice in a flat, off-key voice and Adam frowned. Ben saw the frown and squeezed Adam’s shoulder warningly.
“That’s my fav’rite song,” Seth said happily when he finished. “Sing it with me, Adam.” After glancing at his father, Adam’s clear sweet treble joined with Seth’s off-key tenor. Seth looked so happy that Adam decided he liked singing with him even if he didn’t sing very well.
“You and Adam can sing some more after supper,” Abe said. “Right now we need to get back to hayin’.”
Ben had thought he couldn’t eat any more after the large dinner, but after hours of swinging his scythe, he found he was ravenous and he devoured roast pork and applesauce, pickled beets, sweet potatoes, green beans and Mrs. Crawford’s delicious bread. He noted Adam was eating heartily as well and he was glad. Mrs. Crawford offered a choice of leftover cobbler or pound cake for dessert and Adam eagerly chose cobbler.
“Now we can sing,” Seth announced after everyone had finished and Mrs. Crawford began to gather up the dishes. “I wanna sing Three Blind Mice.”
“Well, let’s go sit on the porch where it’s a mite cooler and out of yer ma’s way,” Abe suggested. He and Seth and Ben sat on a wooden bench and Adam sat cross-legged at Ben’s feet. “All right, Seth, you and Adam sing fer us,” Abe commanded.
Seth began to sing tunelessly and Adam tried to ignore him and sing the way he remembered Mrs. Crawford had.
“Ya sing real purty, Adam,” Seth said, grinning at him. “Ya know any more songs?”
“Pa and me know Barbara Allen,” he replied and Abe said, “Well, Ben, why don’t you and the boy sing for us?” Ben and Adam blended their two voices, bass and treble, and sang the haunting ballad.
“I like Three Blind Mice better,” Seth said. “Let’s sing it again.”
“I think we’ve heard that song enough today,” Abe replied firmly. “Ben, would you and the boy sing us another. You both sing real fine.”
“How about Springfield Mountain, Adam?” Ben asked and Adam nodded. He liked singing with Pa. When they finished, Ben said, “If you don’t mind, I need to get Adam to bed.” Abe nodded although Seth looked disappointed. Ben hesitated for a moment and then asked, “I was wondering if I could use a little of your hay for my horse?”
“Surely,” Abe replied. “Tomorrow jest put yer horse out to graze with mine.”
“I thank you,” Ben said and then he turned to Adam. “C’mon, let’s go take care of Molly.”
After Molly had been fed, watered, and brushed, Ben and Adam went up the narrow attic stairs to their room. It was no longer stuffy but it was still hot. Ben took the quilt off the bed and carefully folded it and placed it on the Windsor chair by the washstand.
“All right, little boy, time you were in bed,” he said, taking Adam’s threadbare cotton nightshirt from their worn valise while Adam took off his new clothes and carefully folded them and placed them on the quilt. Ben handed him the nightshirt and Adam wriggled into it. Ben noted that it barely came to Adam’s knees and the sleeves were three or four inches short of his wrists. I’ll have to buy him a new flannel nightshirt before cold weather sets in.
Adam meanwhile knelt by the bed to say his prayers so Ben knelt down by him. When Adam finished, he got in on one side of the bed and asked for a story.
“How about David and Goliath?” Ben asked, pushing Adam’s curls off his forehead. They’re getting too long again. When we leave here, I must be sure and cut them. I really need to visit a barber myself.
“And Daniel in the lions’ den?” Adam asked hopefully and Ben nodded. He wasn’t surprised when Adam nodded off before the first story was finished. He turned down the lamp and then took his journal out of the valise. He sat on the bed to write but his muscles were sore and he was exhausted so he only made a short entry before blowing out the lamp and going to bed.
He was awakened by a loud knock on the door and Adam’s fearful voice saying, “Pa!”
“Mr. Cartwright! Adam! Ma said to tell you breakfast in five minutes,” Seth hollered through the closed door and Ben saw the first streaks of light in the sky through the open window.
“We’ll be there,” Ben called back, flinging back the sheet. He saw with irritation that Adam had shed his nightshirt at some point. For some unknown reason, the child had an aversion to them. “Adam, get dressed and find your nightshirt.”
“Yes, Pa,” Adam replied, jumping out of the bed and pulling a clean pair of drawers out of the valise. He slipped out of the dirty pair and into the clean and then put on the light blue cotton shirt and the breeches Mrs. Crawford had given him yesterday. Meanwhile Ben had hurriedly pulled out another work shirt and his other pair of trousers and dressed. He had no time to shave, which he hoped wouldn’t offend Mrs. Crawford.
Adam saw breakfast at the Crawford’s was as plentiful as the other two meals. There was oatmeal and flapjacks and ham and doughnuts. He ate a bowl of oatmeal with plenty of cream and maple sugar, a doughnut and a glass of milk, and felt pleasantly full. The men hurried off to work on the haying, which needed to be finished that day if at all possible. Abe told Ben he’d like him to stay one more day and help getting the hay in the barn. “That way Seth can get caught up chopping wood,” and Ben nodded his assent.
“Today’s washday, so you bring yer dirty clothes downstairs,” Mrs. Crawford announced.
“Ma’am, I don’t expect you-”
“Mr. Cartwright, I doubt yer dirty clothes are gonna make much more work fer me. Don’t argue; just bring the clothes downstairs and put ’em on the back porch. If it’ll make ya feel better, Adam’s gonna help me with the washin’. I reckon he’s big enough fer that.” She turned to Adam with a smile. “First, we feed the chickens and milk Daisy.”
Adam enjoyed scattering the feed although it was a little scary the way the hens all rushed around him and he worried his bare toes would get pecked so he threw the feed as far as he could. While they were eating, Mrs. Crawford took him with her to help gather the eggs. Adam tried to get one but the hen pecked at his hand and he jerked it back.
“Never you mind,” said Mrs. Crawford, who had been watching, and she squeezed his shoulder comfortingly. “These old hens can be really mean. Seth don’t like gatherin’ eggs and he’s a much bigger boy than you are. I’ll just go milk Daisy and then ya can help me carry the milk pail.
“Okay,” Adam said, his expression brightening. She wanted to see his dimples again, but this little boy didn’t smile often it seemed. After milking the cow, she asked him to play quietly on the porch while she did the dishes and then they would start on the laundry.
“May I go get my primer?” he asked politely.
“Land sakes, ya don’t mean to tell me that a little boy like you can read?”
“Yes, ma’am, Pa is teaching me. I can write ‘Adam’, too. Not ‘Cartwright’ though.”
“You go get yer primer then and read it on the porch where I can keep an eye on ya.” After he left, she felt the tears well up in her eyes. Seth had never mastered reading and writing and here this baby boy was already learning. She loved her son, but wondered why he couldn’t have been as bright as this little boy. Then she stopped herself. Adam was growing up motherless, and even though his father loved him, they were poor and homeless. And her Seth was happy and smiled most of the time unlike sad, solemn little Adam. I should be thankful fer my own blessings and not covet those of another she told herself sternly.
As she washed and dried the dishes she watched Adam’s dark head bent over his book. He’d brought his slate and chalk down as well and just as she was finishing, he ran inside. “Look, ma’am! See, I wrote my name,” he said proudly. His letters were large and a little wobbly, but he had definitely printed Adam.
“That there’s real good, Honey. Now ya’d best put yer things back up in yer room and then we’ll start washin’.”
At first Adam thought scrubbing the clothes on the washboard was fun, but after a while his back started to hurt and his fingers were beginning to look like prunes. Mrs. Crawford had been watching him and realized that he needed a break, so she asked him to take a pail to the pump and fill it so they could take it out to the men.
She had noticed the state of his drawers and resolved to make him some new ones. She had some flannel and he would need warmer drawers in the winter. She wouldn’t say anything to Mr. Cartwright; she’d just pack them in the valise without his knowing. That afternoon while Adam took his nap and the pot roast for supper was in the oven, she quickly sewed two pairs of flannel drawers. When Adam woke up, she put him to work setting the table while she slipped upstairs and placed the drawers at the bottom of the valise along with some heavy flannel shirts that had belonged to Seth and an old pair of his mittens and a wool scarf. Then it was time to take more water to the exhausted men.
The little attic room was an oven that night and Ben decided he and Adam could dispense with their nightshirts and sleep in their drawers on top of the sheets. He wished Adam were old enough that he could give him a rubdown because he couldn’t remember the last time his muscles were so sore. Still, he was glad he’d stopped here. Haying was something he’d need to know when they reached Oregon. He’d brought up a pitcher of water so he could give himself at least a partial washing. He was so ripe that he offended himself and Adam could use a good washing as well. He tossed and turned in the stifling room and it seemed he’d only just fallen asleep when Seth knocked on their door. Once again there was no time to shave, Ben thought regretfully, as he felt the heavy stubble on his face.
Abe decided it might go faster if he and Seth got the hay in the barn and Ben chopped firewood. “If ya finish, then come join us,” Abe suggested.
He was exhausted by dinnertime but had finished chopping the wood so he joined the other two men. Abe gave him the task of raking the dried hay into windrows while Abe pitched the windrows into the hayrack and Seth trampled them down. It was Mrs. Crawford’s baking day and she had Adam helping to make pies and cakes and bread. The Crawfords insisted Ben and Adam have breakfast with them before they left the next morning.
“I never thought to ask,” Ben said as he finished his cup of coffee, “but are we in Ohio or Indiana?”
“Indiana,” Abe relied. “Closest town is Waterloo.” He paused and inquired, “Where ya headed?”
“You want to tell him, Adam?”
“Me and Pa are goin’ to Oregon,” Adam said proudly.
“Land sakes, ya mean yer takin’ this child all that ways?” Mrs. Crawford exclaimed.
“It’s a promise I made to his mother. It’s taking us longer to get there than I’d hoped, but we’ll do fine. Won’t we, Adam?”
“We’ll do fine,” Adam repeated solemnly.
A few days after they left the Crawford’s farm, they ran into seemingly endless days of pouring rain and thunderstorms. The road turned into an impassable quagmire so their progress slowed to a crawl. Often the rains or the roads were so bad that Ben felt they had no choice but to stop in a town, but towns cost money so he had to make more frequent stops to earn some more. This meant that the Cartwrights were no further than Illinois when a heavy snow began to fall. It was coming down thick and fast, and Ben knew he dared not risk being caught on the open prairie during a snowstorm so he headed for the nearest town. One building proudly proclaimed Bank of Chillicothe and the town seemed prosperous. Hopefully he could find work, but most important, he needed to find a boardinghouse. He made a few inquiries and was directed to a small house with peeling paint and an overall ambiance of neglect. He knocked on the front door and it was opened by a fat, slatternly woman with greasy brown hair streaked with gray. “Yes?” she inquired in a nasal voice.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but I was told you take in boarders,” Ben said in his politest voice.
“That’s right,” the woman replied and named a figure that made Ben gulp.
“Does that include meals?” he asked quietly.
“No,” she replied. “There’s a restaurant two blocks down where my boarders eat.” She paused and then said with a malicious grin, “This is the only boardinghouse in town.”
Ben held his anger in check and said evenly, “I would like a room for myself and my son.”
“I don’t take children. I’ve got no time to be bothered with ‘em.”
“Adam wouldn’t be a bother. He’d stay in the room and keep himself occupied.”
The woman considered. She could use the extra money and as long as the brat stayed in the room, it shouldn’t be a problem. “All right, as long as he stays in the room. But the first time he causes me any trouble, you’re both out on the street. Understand?”
“Yes, ma’am, I understand,’ Ben said quietly. “I need to stable my horse and then we’ll be back.”
They left Molly and the wagon at the livery stable and walked through the snowy streets to the boardinghouse. Ben was truly thankful for the kindness of Mrs. Crawford, for Adam was wearing the scarf and mittens she’d hidden in their valise. His coat was too small but he was wearing both flannel shirts for warmth along with the new flannel drawers. His feet were cold as were Ben’s because their socks had holes and Ben didn’t know how to darn. He’d need to see if he could buy some new ones here in Chillicothe.
Ben knocked on the door and waited, keeping Adam in front of him to shelter him from the wind. Finally the woman answered it.
“Took you long enough,” she said and her nasal whine grated on Adam’s ears. “I’ll show you the room, and remember, he,” and she pointed at Adam, “stays out of sight in the room.”
“I don’t like that lady, Pa,” Adam said as soon as the door closed behind the woman. “She’s not very nice.”
Ben knew he should scold the boy, but instead he found himself saying, “No, she’s not. But she has the only boardinghouse in town so we have to stay here until the snow stops. And I need to get some work so I can earn some more money. I had to promise her that you would stay in our room while I’m gone.” He saw the pout begin to form and added quickly, “It won’t be so bad. You can read your McGuffey’s Primer and practice your writing and play with your Noah’s Ark. I’ll come home every day for supper just as soon as I can, and if I’m allowed, I’ll come home for dinner, too.”
Adam knew Pa was counting on him, so he sighed and said, “Okay, Pa.”
“Now, let’s get out of these coats. We can hang them over this chair so they can dry,” Ben suggested.
“It’s cold, Pa,” Adam complained after taking off his coat.
“Yeah. Obviously she doesn’t spend much heating her guests’ rooms. Just leave both your shirts on, okay?” and Adam nodded. The dust on the washstand and chest of drawers must have been an inch thick Ben noted. “It doesn’t appear she dusts either,” he muttered under his breath. “I wonder how clean the bedding is.” He pulled back the quilt and blanket to see sheets gray with grime. “Probably bedbugs,” he said under his breath.
“What’s bedbugs, Pa?” Adam queried.
“Never you mind. You just wait here while I talk to our landlady, and don’t touch the bed. Sit there,” he said pointing at the rickety Windsor chair they’d used to hang their coats over. Adam did as he was told and watched his pa stride out of the room with an angry scowl on his face.
He found the landlady sitting in the parlor, eating divinity fudge. “Yes?” she said in a tone that left no doubt as to her annoyance.
“The sheets on our bed are filthy. We need clean ones.”
“If you don’t like the bed linen, why don’t you bring your own?” she said spitefully.
“Fine. I will,” Ben retorted and turned on his heel. He found Adam sitting on the chair, idly kicking his heels. “Put your coat back on. We’re getting our sheets, blankets, and pillows and bringing them here. But first I’m stripping the bed.” He yanked off the filthy bed linens and tossed them in the hallway while Adam put his coat, mittens and scarf back on. Ben quickly put on his own coat and scarf and grabbed Adam’s hand and stormed out of the house with Adam trotting along, trying to keep up with his pa’s stride. Ben quickly got his clean sheets and took the blankets off their mattress and instructed Adam to pick up the pillows. Then they marched back to the boardinghouse with Adam carrying a pillow under each arm while Ben carried the rest. The landlady stood openmouthed as they walked past her to their room where Ben proceeded to make the bed while Adam looked on with big round eyes, still wearing his outside gear.
“There. Now I don’t have to worry about being eaten alive,” Ben said emphatically.
“Who would eat us alive?” Adam asked timidly.
“It’s just an expression. I was afraid the dirty sheets might have had fleas or other bugs on them.”
“And they’d eat us?” Ben saw the apprehension on his son’s face and smiled at him.
“No. But they would bite us and it would itch. You know, like mosquito bites.”
“Oh,” Adam said and sighed in relief. Then he said carefully, “Pa, are we gonna eat? I’m kinda hungry.”
“Yeah, me, too. There’s a restaurant where we’ll be eating. Let’s go,” and he grabbed his coat and put it on before taking Adam’s hand in his.
The restaurant was warm and inviting, redolent with delicious aromas. Ben spotted an empty table and guided Adam to it. A young girl of no more than fourteen or fifteen with pigtails and a pronounced overbite walked over to them as they were removing their coats. She had a smile for Ben and a friendly wink for Adam. Ben returned the smile but Adam stared at her solemnly.
“Hello. My name is Alice. We have roast pork with applesauce or chicken ‘n’ dumplings today. Which would you like?”
Ben said hesitantly, “Could you tell me the price?” Alice told him and he winced internally. Compared to the amount of money he had in his pockets after paying for a week’s board, it was expensive. “I would like one plate of the roast pork,” he replied self-consciously.
“Just one?” Alice asked in surprise. She saw Ben flush and added quickly, “You get a choice of buttered carrots or baked squash with it.”
“Squash, please,” Adam replied politely and Alice added, “Coffee for you and milk for Adam?”
“Yes, thank you,” Ben said with a nod.
The young waitress hesitated for a moment. “Are you stayin’ at Miz Peterson’s boardinghouse?”
“That’s right,” Ben agreed.
“Well, I guess you need to know that we aren’t open for breakfast. Her boarders go to the bakery across the street and buy bread or sweet rolls for breakfast. Mr. Johnston’s gonna close in a few minutes. I could sit with Adam while you run over and buy something for breakfast.”
“Adam can wait by himself,” Ben said in a harsher tone than he’d intended, for he saw the girl’s happy smile wilt. “I just mean I wouldn’t want to keep you from your work,” he amended hastily in a softer tone.
“Oh, we’re fixin’ to close pretty soon, too. You’ll most likely be our last customers. And I wouldn’t mind a chance to rest my feet,” she added with another wink at Adam.
“If you’re sure,” and she nodded. As he put on his coat he heard Adam ask curiously, “How do you do that with your eye?”
Ben ran across the street and bought a loaf of bread and two meat pies for dinner the next day. He saw there was a greengrocer next door and although the man was closing his store, Ben talked him into selling him two apples. When he returned to the restaurant, he found Adam practicing winking and couldn’t suppress a grin. Alice soon brought them their food and drinks and they ate quickly since the sun was going down. When they stepped outside, they discovered the temperature was growing frigid. A couple of inches of snow had accumulated so Ben carried Adam back to the boardinghouse. Adam was too sleepy to complain that he was a big boy now. As soon as they returned to their room, Ben had Adam change out of his outer clothes into his flannel nightshirt and tucked him into the bed under the blankets.
“It’s cold, Pa.” Adam whined curling himself into a fetal position.
“I know. Give me a minute and I’ll get in bed with you and that should warm you up.” Ben quickly stripped to his woolen drawers and undershirt and yanked on his nightshirt. As soon as he got into the bed, Adam snuggled up to him for warmth. “Your feet are like ice,” Ben complained. “I think we’ll both sleep better with our socks on,”
“Yeah, me, too,” Adam said, so they put their woolen socks back on. It helped, but they would have been more effective if they hadn’t been full of holes. First thing I’m gonna do after I get a job is buy us new socks Ben thought just before he drifted off.
The next morning they dressed quickly and ate slices of bread and drank water. Ben would have made himself some coffee except he knew the odious landlady wouldn’t allow him in her kitchen. “Don’t forget to eat your apple and you have your meat pie for dinner,” he reminded Adam as he prepared to go look for work. “And stay here in the room. Remember.” Adam nodded his head sadly and Ben’s heart constricted at the sight of his sad little face.
Ben was lucky; the owner of the general store was willing to hire him to clean and stock the shelves and load purchases for customers. During his brief dinner break he wolfed down his meat pie and bought two new pairs of woolen socks each for himself and Adam and a new wool cap for Adam with earflaps that tied under his chin. He worked hard but it certainly wasn’t as strenuous as working on the Crawford’s farm. As soon as he was finished, he hurried home to collect Adam so they could get some supper.
Adam was reading when he arrived. Ben saw the tearstains on his face, which were like a knife blade piercing his heart, but he assumed an air of forced jollity. “Time for supper,” he announced with a big smile. “Get your coat and mittens on, and don’t forget your scarf.”
Adam smiled a little and hurriedly put on the required garments. He started for the door when Ben said, “Wait. I have a surprise for you.” He held out the cap and felt a great joy when he saw his son’s face light up.
“Thanks, Pa,” he said dimpling and Ben was struck once again by how much he looked like his mother when he smiled.
“And I bought us some new socks to keep our feet warm.”
“Can I put them on now?” Adam asked eagerly.
“No, we’ve got to hurry so we can get to the restaurant before it closes.”
“Okay,” Adam said a little reluctantly but he put his hand in his father’s and they set off. The wind had picked up and Ben decided to carry Adam so they could hurry. “But I’m a big boy,” Adam started to protest, but Ben cut him off.
“Do you want a necessary talk?”
“No, sir,” Adam muttered with a sulky pout that Ben chose to ignore. This time Ben went to the bakery first. He bought more meat pies for the next day’s dinner, and to make up for having to stay by himself cooped up in the small room, Ben bought Adam a current bun for his breakfast.
When they opened the restaurant door, Alice walked up to them with a broad smile and a wink for Adam, who winked back. She took them to a table and said, “Today we have chicken pie or beef stew.”
“Which would you rather have?” Ben inquired, and pleased to be asked for his opinion, Adam sat up straighter and said firmly, ‘Chicken pie, please.”
As they ate, one again sharing a meal, Ben asked Adam how his day was. “Okay,” was the laconic reply, but Ben could not forget the evidence of his son’s unhappiness. “What did you do?” he gently probed.
“I practiced writing my numbers and my letters and read two lessons in my primer,” Adam replied, not looking up from his food, for he didn’t want Pa to know how lonely and miserable he’d been in the cold cheerless room.
“That’s good. You can read me the lessons tonight,” Ben said and was rewarded by Adam’s smile.
When they got back to their room and were removing their outer clothes, Ben was happy to note Adam’s ears were not red from the cold as they had been the day before. “Looks like your new cap really keeps your ears warm,” he commented, running his fingers through Adam’s curls to smooth them and Adam nodded. He got his primer and then climbed up on his father’s lap to read to him.
“‘What bird is this? It is an owl. What big'” and he paused carefully sounding out the next word, “‘eyes it has! Yes, but it can not see well by day. The owl can see best at night. Nat Pond has a pet owl.'” When he finished, he looked anxiously at Ben for his approval.
“That was very good. Now the next lesson,” Ben said.
“‘The day is hot. The cows are in the shade of the big tree. They feed on the new grass. Our cows do not run off. At night they come to the barn.'” He looked at Ben and dimpled. “Just like Mrs. Crawford’s cow.”
Ben grinned back. “That’s right. When we get to Oregon, then we’ll have cows and we’ll teach them to come to the barn at night. Now would you like me to tell you a bedtime story?” Adam nodded eagerly so Ben smiled and said, “Let’s get into our nightshirts and we’ll put on a pair of our new socks. That should keep our feet warmer tonight.”
They both got under the covers and Adam snuggled next to Ben for warmth, falling asleep almost as soon as Ben started the story, so Ben turned down the lamp and lay in the darkness for a long time.
By Saturday, the sun was shining and the temperature had warmed enough that the snow was beginning to turn to slush. Ben was sick of Mrs. Peterson’s boardinghouse and decided to try his luck in the next town, Princeville. However, he would stay in Chillicothe long enough for them to attend church Sunday morning. They ate a hurried breakfast and then Ben dressed in his one fine linen shirt, shabby brown woolen frock coat, and his cleanest pair of trousers. Adam put on his clean blue flannel shirt, black woolen trousers and scuffed shoes. He hadn’t grown into Seth’s old clothes yet so the trousers had to be rolled up, as did the cuffs of the shirt. Ben had cut his hair short the night before so it looked wavy rather than curly, which Adam preferred. They quickly packed their nightshirts and Ben stripped the bed of his sheets and blankets. He had Adam wait while he walked to the livery stable and drove the wagon to the boardinghouse. He and Adam quickly placed their things in the wagon and left without encountering Mrs. Peterson.
Adam tried to sit quietly during the church service. A couple of times he started to squirm but he felt Ben’s hand on his shoulder and quieted. He did enjoy the hymn singing and wished there were more of it. At last the service was over and while Ben stayed to talk with the minister, Adam gravitated toward a group of children.
“Who are you?” one boy asked as Adam drew closer. He was lots bigger and Adam thought he looked mean. He started to back away but the boy said more loudly, “I asked you who you are.”
“My n-name is Adam C-Cartwright,” Adam replied with the slight stammer that developed when he was nervous.
“I aint seen you here before,” the boy continued in the same belligerent tone.
“M-me and my pa are p-passin’ through,” Adam replied quietly. “Th-that’s him talkin’ to the p-preacher,” he added, pointing.
“Where’s your mama?” asked a little freckle-faced girl standing beside the boy.
“She’s in Heaven,” Adam answered softly.
“Your mama is in Heaven,” the little girl repeated in a sad voice. “So’s my mama and my baby brother.”
“Yeah, he killed our ma,” the older boy snarled.
“How c-could your b-baby brother kill your m-mama?” Adam asked in confusion.
“He killed her bein’ born-it hurt her so bad and I could hear her screamin’-and then he died, too. I heard my pa tell the doctor that he was glad my brother died ’cause he couldn’t love a baby that killed his own ma.” Adam’s face grew very white and still at those words. The older boy looked at him and asked accusingly, “When did your ma die?”
“I d-don’t know for sure. Pa said God took her to heaven right after I was b-born,” Adam replied slowly.
“If she died right after you wuz born, I bet you killed her-just like my little brother killed my ma,” the older boy taunted.
“Did not!” Adam screamed while his eyes filled with tears, and he ran at the older boy and butted him in the stomach with his head. The boy shoved him away hard so that Adam fell down. Several of the adults, including Ben, heard Adam’s scream and came running over.
“Adam, stop it!” Ben commanded, grabbing Adam’s arm and preventing him from running at the older boy. “What’s going on?”
“He s-said I k-killed M-mama,” Adam managed to get out between sobs, scrubbing at his eyes with both fists to try and stop the tears.
Ben picked his son up in his arms. “Come on, Adam, we’re leaving.” He walked over to their wagon and placed Adam on the seat before climbing up. “Giddap, Molly,” he commanded, slapping the reins hard, and Molly lurched forward at a trot.
After they had left the town behind and been on the road a time, Adam spoke up in a small quavering voice. “Pa, did I k-kill Mama?”
“No, Adam, of course not,” Ben replied firmly.
“She d-didn’t die ’cause I was born?”
Ben directed Molly off to the side of the road and then pulled back on the reins. He turned around, put one arm around Adam’s thin shoulders, and with the other hand he took hold of Adam’s chin and tilted his tear-streaked face up so their eyes met. He looked into those hazel eyes with their thick curly lashes-so like his mother’s-and said gently, “Adam, sometimes mamas die after their babies are born, and it is very sad. But, Adam, it is not the baby’s fault. It just happens. That boy was being cruel when he told you that you killed your mama.”
“He said his baby brother k-killed his mama and then the b-baby died. His p-pa was glad ’cause he couldn’t love a baby that k-killed his m-mama.” Adam hesitated, and Ben saw the tears pooling in his eyes, before he asked haltingly, “Do you love me, Pa?”
Ben pulled Adam into his arms and held him tight, dropping a kiss on his head. “I love you more than anything in the whole world, Adam. You mustn’t ever think that I don’t love you.” He held Adam at arm’s length then so he could see his face and he saw the hazel eyes search his and the relief on the child’s face, and he hugged him tightly. “You and I are going to make a home for ourselves out west surrounded by tall trees just as I promised your mama we would.”
“And we’ll have a house all our own, right, Pa?” Adam said, managing a wobbly smile.
“That’s right, a beautiful house surrounded by tall trees,” Ben replied, ruffling Adam’s curls. “Don’t ever doubt it, son.” Then, keeping one arm around Adam, he slapped the reins and started Molly on the road to the next stop on their journey.
Next Story in the Adam: The Early Years Series:
The American Pageant: A History of the Republic by Thomas A. Bailey
McGuffey’s Eclectic Primer – Adam reads Lessons XXI and XXII to Ben
Paradise Lost by John Milton – The title of this story comes from Book XII. The poem meant a great deal to Ben and Elizabeth and a couple of scenes in Elizabeth, My Love have Ben reading it aloud to Elizabeth. During one of those readings, she decides to name their baby Adam.
Your Child: Birth to Age 6 by Fitzhugh Dodson, Ph.D. and Ann Alexander, M.D.
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder – this is where I got the description of mowing hay