To Be a Family


I'll Be Home For Christmas

(The characters from the Ponderosa are not mine, but this story is. Please do not reproduce it in parts or in whole with out my permission. I do copyright all my work.

Please read and review. Thanks.)

He saw them standing together by the corral on the ranch. The horses ran circles inside as they stood together and watched them. As Little Joe Cartwright looked through the window, he saw his brother Hoss' arm lift slowly and wrap around Tess Greene, as if he was afraid of how she would react. She didn't turn to slap him, so Joe took that as she wanted his brother to hold her. Joe tilted his head to the side as he continued to peer through the window, spying on his brother. Her head went down onto his shoulder, Joe couldn't quite see, but he knew she was crying again. He knew by the way his brother's hand came up and rested gently on the top of her head. Joe tilted his head back in the other direction and watched some more. He dared not go outside, Tess needed her space. Hoss needed to be alone with her.

A rattling came from behind Joe. He jumped, turning around abruptly to see his brother Adam standing there. Adam's arms were folded across his chest as he approached his brother.

"Don't you know any better than to spy on your own brother?" Adam said giving Joe a playful tap on the back of his head.

"She's cryin' again." Joe told him.

"She has every right to cry, Joe, to be upset. You cried when Ma died."

"Yeah, I know. I was just saying."

"We all need to give her time. That's the only way her hurting will stop." Adam said. He bent over and looked out the window. "Hoss' been out there the whole time?"

"Yup. He's her handkerchief." Joe giggled.

"Seems to be good company for her. What she needs now is a friend. Someone to listen to her. Hoss is good at that."

Little Joe tilted his head again. "What's gonna happen now, Adam?" he asked. "Tess can't just go back and live on her Ma's ranch can she?"

"I don't thinks so, little brother. Tess can't manage all the ranch work herself." Little Joe kept his gaze fixed on Hoss and Tess. "Pa just went into town to see what he can do."

Joe broke his stare and turned to Adam. "It just ain't fair, Adam." he said.

" 'specially for Tess to see it like that."

"I know it's not, Joe." Adam put his arm around his brother's shoulder. "But sometimes bad things happen to good people. We wish we could stop them from happening, but they still happen. We all just have to try to deal the best we can. We have to help Tess deal. She's hurting more than anybody now."

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"I need you to get a judge down here, Maurice." Ben said following Frenchy around the stable.

"It's Christmas time, Ben." Frenchy said. " There is no way you will find a judge to come here before the snow falls."

"Snow's still a while off. All I need is for him to sign the papers."

"The girl isn't going anywhere. She has no place to go."

"That's exactly the point." Frenchy left the stable and walked over to the saloon. "What's the earliest we can get him here?"

"We can not leave Eagle Station until the storm passes. It is going to be violent, Ben. By the time we get to town, it will be snowing too hard to turn back."

"I need to get this done before Christmas. I promised Margaret I would take care of everything."

"You promised her you would find a home for the child. You've done that, have you not?"

"She needs a home, Maurice. A real home for the holidays."

"I am sorry, Ben. There is no way." Frenchy started to enter the saloon, but turned back. "I am sure you will think of something."

Ben walked away from the saloon. Town was relatively quiet for the Christmas season. He turned and walked towards the Orowitz' store. He pushed open the door and heard the ring of a bell as he entered. Eli appeared from the back room.

"Good evening, Ben." he said stepping out from behind the counter.

"Eli." Ben said.

"You look troubled. Is there anything I can do?"

"Not unless you can keep it from snowing long enough to get a judge here." Eli was in shock by Ben demeanor. "I'm sorry." Ben said. "It's this whole thing with Margaret. The storm is keeping the judge from getting here."

"You have found a home for the girl?"

"Yes. All I need is for the judge to sign the papers. It would be better if I had this done before Christmas, but with the snow coming."

"I see. Perhaps it would be better if you waited until after the storm ends."

"By then, Christmas will be over and I wanted to have her with a family before that."

"I don't know what I could do that would help you."

Ben paused a moment and then changed the subject. "I need a pound of flour and sugar. Hop Sing is making Christmas supper. You and Ruth are more than welcome to join us."

"That is very kind of you, Ben. We would love to come. Christmas day?"

"Yes. Is that a problem?"

"No, no." Eli said. "We will be there."

"Wonderful." Eli handed him the flour and sugar. "How much do I owe you?"

"One fifty." Ben handed him the money. "Have a good night, Ben."

Ben nodded his head and walked outside. he raised his left hand and with his thumb and index finger rubbed his temples. "I'm trying, Maggie." he said softly and then mounted his horse and rode out of town.

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It was dark now, but Hoss and Tess still stood by the corral. The horses had stopped running, Tess had stopped crying. Hoss still had his arm around her shoulder. They saw in the distance the moderate approach of Ben's horse.

They walked away from the corral to meet him as he reached the house. Ben pulled up on the collar of his jacket so that it covered his ears.

"Boy, the storm'll be here anytime now." he said. Hoss knew that his father had no luck in town that day. "We should get inside."

Hoss put his arm back around Tess and they followed Ben back to the house. Ben removed his hat and jacket and closed the door after Hoss and Tess entered.

"Pa." Adam said as they entered. "Hop Sing's got supper on the table."

"Good, I'm starved." Hoss said.

"You're always hungry." Adam said.

"He's a growing boy, Adam." Ben said.

"That's what I'm worried about." Adam laughed. Hoss took off chasing him around the room.

"Boys, don't run in the house." Ben said as he looked over and saw Little Joe lounging with his feet up. "Joe, get your feet off the table."

"You know, Mr. Cartwright, I'm not very hungry." Tess said. "If it's alright, I'm just gonna go up to bed."

"Sure, if you're not hungry." Ben began to get agitated. "Stop running around the house. ! Adam! Hoss!" He looked back at Little Joe. "Joseph! Your feet, Now!" Ben then looked back at Tess. "I'm sorry, Tess, you can go." Tess ran off to her room and Ben turned to the boys. "Settle down, the three of you." They all just stood completely still and looked at him. "What's the matter with you boys? Acting like a bunch of animals."

"Pa," Adam said. "We were just..."

"I know," Ben said in a softer tone. "I know." Ben sat down at the table and spooned some food onto his plate. "Come on, sit down and eat something before it gets cold." They still didn't move.

"I'm not really hungry anymore, Pa." Little Joe said.

"Come on, boys," Ben said looking around at them. "Hoss, Adam." They still stood. "I have a lot of things on my mind, boys." Ben explained. "I'm sorry. I had trouble in town today, I want to make this Christmas happy for everyone and right now, things don't seem to be going my way. Now please, boys. Sit down and eat some supper."

They only looked at eachother for a moment, the Adam sat down. He looked at his brothers and they shortly followed suit, eating in silence, until Little Joe looked up and out the window.

"Hey, look. It's snowing" Little Joe jumped up and ran to the window. "This is gonna be a big storm, Pa. I can feel it. And we can all go out and build snowmen, and a fort..."

Ben got up from the table, walked towards the door, and grabbing his coat and hat, left the house. Little Joe stopped in mid sentence and ran after his father. Adam and Hoss followed him.

"Let him go, Joe." Adam said putting his hand on Joe's shoulder.

"What'd I say, Adam?" Joe asked watching Ben mount his horse and ride off. "We don't have to do any of that stuff, honest."

"He had a rough day, Little Joe. It's been a rough week for all of us. He'll be back. Tomorrow's Christmas, he'll be back." They looked at eachother. "Supper's getting cold." Adam said closing the door and walking back to the table with his brothers. They knew Ben would return, but they knew not when. They didn't even know where he had gone in the dawning of the storm. And so the young Cartwrights sat down and ate their supper, remaining silent through the duration.

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Meanwhile, Tess sat up in bed, staring out the window at the snow as it fell from the sky. She clutched her pillow as tears streamed down her face. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and continued to look out at the snow. She let her mind wander to that fateful day that had caused her so much pain:

It was the week before, and uncharacteristically warm for December. The people walked around without gloves or even jackets on. Tess stood with Hoss by the stable, watching Little Joe attempt to mount one of the horses. They were laughing and giggling, because every time he grabbed hold of the horse, it began to walk away.

Hoss looked over at Tess who had begun to walk away from the stable. "Where you goin', Tess?" he asked.

"Ma's been on me about picking up some things from the Post. Plus, I still have to buy her a Christmas present."

"What'd you have in mind?"

"I saved up all my money for a month. Mrs. Orowitz has a beautiful pair of earrings that I know she'll love."

"You need some help picking up the rest of the things?"

"Sure, thank you, Hoss."

"We'll be right back, Little Joe." Hoss said as his brother still tried to mount the horse. "You just keep trying to get up on that pony there."

Hoss and Tess shook their heads as they walked towards the Post. Tess had a smile that went from ear to ear as they went inside.

"Mornin' Mr. Orowitz. Mrs. Orowitz." Hoss said.

"Good morning," Eli said. "What can I do for you two today?"

Tess approached the counter. "I wanted to buy those earrings you showed me. For my Ma."

"I will go get them for you." Ruth said.

"Uh, Tess." Hoss said. "Tess, your Ma."

"She's gonna love them, Hoss, I know she will."

"No, Tess. Your Ma." Tess turned around and looked out the window only to see Margaret outside speaking with Ben and Adam.

"She isn't supposed to be here." Tess said. "She came to pick up the flour and wheat, I know she did. It'll ruin everything." Tess thought quickly and yelled to the back. "Mrs. Orowitz,"

"Tess, she's coming." Hoss warned as he saw Margaret approach the Post.

"Mrs. Orowitz. Could you please hold onto those earrings for one more day. I want to make this a surprise and my Ma's right outside."

"Uh, Tess." Hoss whispered. "Right inside." Tess spun around and faced her mother.

"Tess," Margaret said. "I didn't expect to see you here. I thought you were down at the stable with Joseph."

"Oh, we were, Ma. But then I remembered I told you that I'd pick up those things for you."

"Tess, it's been days since I asked you to get those things. I just came to get them myself."

"Can I help at all, Mrs. Greene." Hoss asked.

"Oh, Hoss, thank you, but I think your father was looking for you. He's with your brothers at the stable."

"Thank you, ma'am." Hoss said tipping his hat. "I'll see ya later, Tess." Tess smiled as Hoss ran back off to the stable.

"I was gonna get the things today, Ma."

"I asked you three days ago, Tess. The least you could do is help me carry it to the wagon."

"Yes, Ma."

"Morning, Eli." Margaret said as Eli approached them. "I need some flour and some wheat."

"As well as your usual order?" Eli asked.

"No, just the wheat and the flour will do."

Eli went to the back to get the order, leaving Margaret and Tess alone in the front of the store.

"Now how hard was that?" Margaret asked her daughter. Tess waited until her mother's back was turned to role her eyes.

A bell on the door of the Post rang as a young man entered. He walked over to Margaret and Tess.

"I will be right with you." Eli called from the back room. Tess turned around and saw Hoss tapping on the window, She slowly snuck away from her mother, and outside.

"Did you figure out how you're gonna get your Ma her gift?" Hoss asked.

"I'll just pick it up tomorrow." Tess said. "I think she's just upset now cause she had to come all the way down here to pick up the flour and wheat."

"Hoss!" Little Joe yelled running up to his brother. "Hoss, I can do it, come look."

"I'm talkin' to Tess." Hoss said.

"Oh, please, Hoss. Come watch."

Hoss looked at Tess. "I guess I'll see you later." he said.

"I've gotta help Ma anyway." Hoss ran off with Little Joe. Tess smiled and shook her head as she turned to reenter the Post. She reached the door and as she began to enter, she caught sight of her mother and the man. They faced eachother, motionless.

Margaret broke her glance from the man and saw Tess coming towards her. Her eyes met with her daughter's in a show of panic. Tess stopped in tracks, but still couldn't understand the cause of her mother's anguish. Margaret's eyes stayed locked on her daughter. It was as if she were trying to tell Tess something. Tess began once again towards her mother.

"Stop, Tess." Margaret yelled. "Go back." To this, Tess saw the man shake his head and then she heard the exploding of a gun and saw her mother fall to the floor.

"Ma!" she cried and without thinking ran to her. As Tess reached Margaret, the man grabbed her. She screamed, kicking at him until he took his gun and placed it at the side of her head.

"Start walkin', kid." he said. Tess froze. "I said walk! Or do you wanna end up like your Ma?"

Tess had tears rolling down her face as they walked outside. There was a crowd of people outside the Post who had heard the shot. Ben Cartwright and his boys stood at the front of the crowd.

"Everyone, back off." the man yelled. "Back off or I'll shoot her." Ben moved slowly towards them. "I said back off, mister."

"Listen," Ben said. "You don't want to do this."

"How do you know what I want?"

"I just know. Please." Ben still inched closer. "Please put the gun down. Whatever it is, we can work it out. Please."

Ben stepped still closer. He reached his hand out for the gun, but the man pointed it up in the air and shot. Ben froze.

"Next time, I'll be pointin' at her." the man said.

"OK alright." Ben said. "How about this. How about you let her go and take me?"

"Are you crazy, Ben?" came a voice from the crowd. Nobody however had noticed Hoss sneak around behind the man.

"What do you say?" The man didn't say a word. "Come on, she's just a child. Why would you want to shoot a child? She couldn't have done you wrong in any way. Let her go."

The man nodded, motioning for Ben to approach, which he did slowly. As Ben reached him, the man let Tess go. Ben grabbed for the gun and Hoss grabbed the man from behind, pinning him to the ground. Ben turned back and ran to Tess who was holding on to Adam.

"Are you OK?" he asked.

She was crying hysterically. "He shot my Ma, Mr. Cartwright. I saw him, he shot her."

Ben looked at his son. "Adam," he said. "Tend to her, I'm going to check Margaret." Ben ran to the Post. Eli already had been bending down holding pressure on the wound.

"Ben," Eli said. "She has been asking for you."

Ben leaned over her, putting his hand under her head. "Maggie." he said. "Eli, I'll take over here, could you leave us a minute." Eli stood up and left the Post. "You're gonna be alright, Margaret. You just hold on, we'll get a doctor, you'll be fine."

"Ben, please." Margaret gasped. "Find a family that will care for Tess... like you care for your boys."

"You'll be able to take care of her, Maggie." Ben said still holding onto her wound. "You're gonna be..."

"Ben... promise me...Say it, Ben."

"I promise." he whispered. "I promise you."

"And tell her that it... tell her it's not her fault... Please, Ben."

"I promise, Maggie." Ben looked her in the eyes. They fluttered and then closed as her head fell back limply. Ben gently rested her head down, paused a moment and then exited the Post. Adam was still holding Tess as Ben approached. Without saying a word, Tess knew the outcome.

"No." Tess shook her head. "No." Adam held her as Ben stood there. "It's my fault. Oh, God. If I had just done what she asked... Oh, Adam."

"Tess." Ben said turning her around to face him. "Listen to me. This was not your fault. This could have happened to any of us."

"She didn't have to be here, she wouldn't have been here if..."

"How do you know, Tess?" Ben said letting the girl hold back onto Adam. "She might have thought of something else she needed here. This is not your fault, it's not. Your mother loved you very much, Tess. She knew this wasn't your fault."

"What now, Pa?" Adam asked.

"Well," Ben said. "She can't go back to the ranch, not by herself. She can stay with us on the Ponderosa, until everything is settled." Adam still held Tess. "It'll all be OK. I promise."

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The sun rose slowly over the ranch. Little Joe jumped out of bed and ran over to his older brother.

"Adam." he whispered poking at his brother. "Adam, wake up. Come on, it's Christmas, come on."

"Alright, alright, I'm up." Adam said. He looked across the room at Hoss who was still asleep. Adam looked at Joe and then reached behind for a pillow, flinging it at Hoss.

Hoss spun around in bed, grabbing the pillow. Joe giggled loudly as Hoss took the pillow and tossed it back. "Gall dang it, Adam." he said. "What's you go and do that for?"

"How else was I supposed to get you up from all the way over here?" he smiled. Little Joe was still giggling.

"Ooo, I'll get you for this, Adam." Hoss said jumping out of bed and putting his clothes on. Adam did the same, quickly. "Just you wait." The boys took off running, Little Joe followed behind.

"Don't let him catch you, Adam!" Little Joe called. "Hey Hoss, can't you run any faster than that?" he giggled.

The boys ran through the kitchen and out into the living room. Adam was still ahead when they were startled.

"What did I tell you boys about running in the house?" They heard their father say. Adam stopped short, causing a collision with Hoss and the Little Joe. Adam managed to keep his balance.

"Pa." Adam said. "When did you get home?"

"That doesn't matter." Ben said. "I'm her, it's Christmas. Let's all try to make the best of things today."

"Merry Christmas, Pa." Hoss said.

"Marry Christmas." Adam and Joe added.

"I hope I didn't miss anything." The boys turned around to see Tess standin there, dresses in a beautiful, powder blue dress.

"Golly, Tess." Hoss said. "You sure do look pretty today."

"Before my father died, My mother and me, we used to get dressed up all nice for Christmas." Tess said. "We just stopped one year. I just thought, you know, why not."

Joe walked over to the window and wiped the condensation off so he could look out. "Gee, Pa." he said. "Look at all that snow."

"Not quite as much as we were all expecting." Adam said joining his brother at the window. "But enough for... oh I don't know, maybe a fort, a few snowmen."

"Really, Adam?" Joe asked excitedly. "And you'll help me build 'em?"

"Sure, why not."

"Oh, thanks, Adam."

There was a knock at the door. Little Joe ran an swung the door open. "Pa." he called.

Ben went to the door followed by Adam, Hoss and Tess. He was surprised to see Eli and Frenchy.

"Merry Christmas, Ben." Eli said.

"Eli, Maurice." Ben said in shock. "What a wonderful surprise, won't you come in."

"Actually, Ben." Frenchy said, "I don't think..."

"We would like to come, but we have someone else with us that..."

"Whomever it is, they're welcome to step in also." Ben said. "Please." The men stepped in, followed by a man in a long black coat. "I'll have Hop Sing bring you something warm to drink. Adam, would you..."

"Just a moment, Ben." Frenchy said. "I think you should get to know our friend here."

"Oh," said Ben, "of course. I'm Ben Cartwright, and these are my boys, Adam, Ho...Eric and Joseph, and this is Tess Greene."

"Samuel Baker." he said shaking Ben's hand. "Judge Samuel Baker."

"Judge?" Ben said in shock. " did you... Eli, Maurice. How..."

"He will go anywhere with you to get the papers signed." Eli said. "Merry Christmas, Ben."

"I don't know what to say."

"You could say what family name you would like the judge to put on the papers." Frenchy said.



"You can put Cartwright on those papers, your honor." Ben said turning to Tess. "What do you think, Tess?"

"I think..." Tess said with tears forming in her eyes. "I think Ma would want us to be a family. I think... I... I want us to be a family." Tees ran up to Ben and put her arms around him. "And I think...that this is the best Christmas present I could have ever asked for."

"You heard her," Eli said to the judge. "Cartwright it is."

And so the papers were drawn up giving full custody of Tess Greene to Ben Cartwright. Ben knew he was doing the right thing adopting Tess. He felt that would be what Margaret would have wanted. A family to care for Tess the way that Ben cared for his own sons was what she had asked of him. With Ben and his boys, Tess would receive the love and care that had been promised, and a family for Christmas, and many Christmases to come.