"Daddy, is Clint going too?" Emily asked as she loaded her saddle bag onto Flash, Adam helped her as she fumbled with the ties.
"Yep." He answered moving back to his own horse.
"This is gonna be fun!" She smiled at him.
"I've always enjoyed cattle drives, I think your a lot like me in that area." He stated. "Why don't you go help your sister finish packing."
"Alright." She sighed. Katie was only six but she took forever to choose what she was going to bring. Even though she would ride in the wagon, all of her stuff had to fit into a saddle bag just like everyone else. Emily ran inside, up the stairs, and into their shared bedroom. "Are you almost done?" Emily asked her sister.
"Why do I have to be done now? We don't leave until tomorrow." She whined sifting through her pile of clothes.
"Because we are leaving early and everyone has to be packed and ready to go. Now your bags are full, so come on." She pushed.
"No wait!" Katie yelled as her sister tried to take the bags. "I still have to put these somewhere." She held up her play clothes.
"Katie, what do you have in here? Your supposed to pack those." She dumped the saddle bag upside down and two dresses, a petticoat, shoes, and a doll fell out. "You don't need this stuff, we are gonna be on the trail for two weeks." She grabbed the overalls and button up shirts from her little sister and put them in her bag. Then finished packing her necessities, leaving out everything she had in the bag in the first place. "Now your ready."
"But I have to bring Milly." She grabbed her doll and held it protectively. "And what if we go into town, I'll look like a boy. I need a dress." She whined close to tears.
"Oh stop. You can bring the doll but there is no room for the dresses. Nobody will think your a boy, not with that long curly hair." She tried to comfort, her father had explained that Katie was not looking forward to this like she was, and that they needed to try and help her have a good time. "Come on, Daddy is waiting. He'll be so proud that you packed your own bag." She smiled at her trying to change the subject.
"I didn't pack it you did." She accused as a tear escaped.
"No, I just put it in the bag. You had it all out and ready, just put the wrong stuff in." She wiped away the tear, took the doll from her, and placed it in the bag. She took her sister's hand and they headed out to the barn. "Here you go, Daddy. Katie did a real good job packing."
"Good, did you make sure she had only what she needed." Adam asked as he set the bag in the wagon.
"Yep, I checked it." She smiled glancing between her father and sister. Joe came up behind her and lifted her onto his shoulders. Emily squealed in surprise and then laughed.
"You to need to get to bed, we've got an early start in the morning." Adam half smiled at them.
"But it's still light out." Emily argued. Katie walked over to her father and hugged his leg.
"Yes and we have to get up while it's still dark out." He said in a tone that called for no arguments. Little Joe walked over to Adam and Emily wrapped her around her father's neck, swinging off of her uncle's shoulders.
"Goodnight." Adam blew up his cheek and Emily kissed it, it popped. Then Emily blew up her cheek and he kissed it, also letting a puff of air out. He set her down, lifted Katie in his arms and did the same with her. The girls had said goodnight that way as long as they both could remember and no one knew when or why it had started. He watched them both run into the house to get ready for bed and then turned back to preparing for their coming adventure. Little Joe leaned on the side of the wagon and watched for a minute. "You just gonna stand there or are you gonna make yourself useful." He stated in his normal big brother way. Joe chuckled and went to work beside his brother.
"Is she pretty?" Joe asked as though it was the most appropriate question of the evening.
"What?" Adam asked, he had been working absentmindedly before but now all of his focus was on his little brother.
"Is she pretty?" He asked again but noting the confused look on Adam's face he explained. "Well you sure are distracted by something, I've seen that look on plenty of the hands and their usually thinking about a girl. So is she pretty?" The question came a third time and was starting to get annoying. Adam gave Joe a chilling look that said "You know better than to even think that." and Joe suddenly dropped his head, wishing he had kept his mouth shut.
"Hey, I'm...I'm sorry, big brother. I lost my head for a minute. I'm sorry." He stumbled. Adam sighed, the anger that had built up inside him vanished, knowing his brother hadn't meant anything by his misplaced comment.
"Keep working that harness, it has to be ready tomorrow." He commented and Joe knew that changing the subject was his way of saying all was well.
Waking up Katie that morning had been a chore, Emily popped out of bed excited and ready to get going but her little sister rolled back over and fell back to sleep. Adam woke her up again, pulled her covers away, and stood her on her feet. "Get you both ready, we'll have breakfast and then leave." He instructed.
"Yes sir." She smiled giving him a salute, he chuckled and then left the young girl to her task. Katie immediately fell back into bed. "Katie get up." Emmy whined at her pulling her out of the bed but she did not quite catch her and she hit the floor with a "thump".
"Owwwwww." She glared at her sister.
"Well, you shoulda got up." Emily smirked and headed over to put her riding clothes on. Katie crossed her arms but remained on the floor. It was Emily's turn to be angry. "You better get up, if you make it so we can't go today, I'm...I'm never speaking to you again." She stared her sister in the eye.
"I don't want to go, I'm never speaking to you again." She yelled back at her.
"It wasn't my idea, it was dad's. You better not try to change his mind." She yelled louder.
"Change who's mind?" Came a voice from the door, both girls froze and turned to face their father. "You think the whole house can't hear you to carrying on?" He asked the rhetorical question. "Now what's going on so early in the morning?" He asked wearily. The girls both tried to explain, and eventually he got the whole story between the two.
"I'm sorry." They both finished with the same apology hoping to keep them out of trouble.
"Listen carefully, I have made up my mind and your both going, that's final." He said firmly looking at both of the girls, he got a smile from Emily and a frown from Katie. "But whether we make the a good trip or a bad trip is up to you too and how well you behave." He looked directly at Katie this time, she looked down at the floor. "Now you both know what is expected of you and that is not different when we are on the trail, understood?"
"Yes sir." Came a cautious reply from his eldest, but Katie stayed silent. Adam turned to Emily.
"Go down and get your breakfast, we'll be there in a bit." She nodded and quickly left not wanting to join in the trouble her sister had found herself in. Adam reached under the little girl's arms, lifted her up and placed her on her bed, then squatted down in front of her. "I know you don't want to go, but we all have to do things from time to time that we don't feel like doing. I expect you to behave and have a good attitude."
"Emmy, never has to do things she doesn't want to do." She whined not looking at her father.
"She does just like anybody else, now do you want to start out this trip over my knee or do you want to quit whining and do as your told?" He asked.
"I'll be good." She said quietly, deciding if there was no way to get out of it, it was probably best just to give in.
"Good, come on lets go get some food in you." He winked at her and the lifted the young girl into his arms, she giggled and her messy curls bounced around her face. She wrapped her small arms around his neck and laid her head on his shoulder. Other than the fact that they were about to go on a cattle drive with his two young daughters, life felt normal again, it was a good feeling and Adam couldn't hide the smile on his face or in his heart. But just as soon as the joy came, it left with one thought of his dear wife. He saw her smiling face when he looked at the Emily and the pain of loss returned, the pain of each day without her, the pain of never seeing her, holding her again. He tried to shake the melancholy feeling as he sat down at the table but the pained look on his face could not be hid from his youngest brother. Joe knew how difficult it was for Adam to have that constant memory of Sarah with him, but he had been doing so well since he and Emily had talked over at their house. Joe could not understand why that pain had suddenly returned, but it worried him.
The table was quiet that morning, all except for Emily who didn't seem to notice the tension in the room, if she had she was to excited to let it bother her. She talked on and on about the cattle drive asking questions but barely allowing enough for an answer. Adam didn't seem to be in the mood for anything this morning so Hoss and little Joe took Emily out to get the horses ready to go. Ben had already headed out earlier to get everything prepared and by the time the rest of the Cartwright clan got their they were ready to go. As they loaded their supplies into the food wagon, Adam went to talk to the driver.
"Loren." He called as he came up to the front.
"Well, good morning to you, Mr. Adam, sir." The older man grinned at the man that stood before him.
"Good morning, listen Loren this is Katie she'll be riding in the wagon with you." He said simply.
"I know little Katie." He grinned and waved at her then seemed to catch the rest of what Adam had said. "How long are you figurin her riding with me?" He asked thinking there was no way he could mean she was coming on the drive with them.
"For the duration of this cattle drive. It comes down to this, she has to come with and I wouldn't put her on a horse by herself and you know we can't double up riders. So she rides in the wagon with you." He stated it matter-of-factly as though Loren should have figured it out on his own.
"I just have one problem with that...uhh...sir." He stuttered slightly nervous. "I ain't no babysitter, I won't go being held responsible for anything she does or what happens to her, otherwise I'll just find myself another cattle drive to cook for." He nodded keeping his head held high.
"I'm not a baby!" Katie said loud enough for the older man to hear.
"Oh, I didn't mean nothing by that girly, it's just a term. Anyways, no one could mistake a fine young girl like yourself as a baby, you must be about what...say four?" He questioned. Adam could the flustered look on his daughters face and quickly stopped any response with a hand on her shoulder. She glanced at him, and her features softened, then she turned back to Loren.
"I'm six." She said proudly.
"My mistake, I'm sorry about that girly. Your way older than four." He smiled at her and got a half smile in return. Adam leaned down to her and gave her same lecture about behaving before lifting her into the wagon beside Loren. Adam turned back to Emily, slid onto his horse and called her up beside him.
"Let's just hope your sister can keep herself out of trouble." He said glancing back at the wagon to see Katie giggling and Loren laughing and slapping his knee. He glanced back at Emily and the feeling of guilt and loss returned, he dropped his gaze. "Stay by me, unless I say otherwise don't ever leave my side." He said firmly.
"I will, Daddy." She said but noticed that her father seemed upset with her, and the joy she had of getting to come along was quickly snatched away. The drive started and the sound of hundreds of hooves hitting the ground overpowered any other, Emily knew there was know way she would be able to talk to her father, so she obediently rode beside him. Adam routinely rode by the food wagon to make sure Katie was alright and behaving herself and Ben stayed close to it at all times to keep an eye on things. The hours on horseback were starting to get to Emily but she was trying hard not to let it show, thinking that they were still close enough to turn back if there was any problems. Joe was keeping a close eye on his brother and niece, Adam was wrapped up in his work and inward struggle and hadn't noticed the weary traveler next to him. Joe didn't want to interfere but afraid she would fall off her horse if she fell asleep, he headed over to talk to his brother.
"Adam." Joe rode up beside him. Adam glanced at him and nodded for him to speak. "I think it might be a good idea if Ann rides in the wagon for a while, takes a little rest." He nodded towards the girl. Adam glanced at her, for the first time he saw the struggle she was having focusing and staying awake.
"It was an early morning, will you take my place while take care of this?" He asked.
"Of course." Joe smiled at him, but knew his older brother was quite put out by being told what he felt he should have already known. Adam rode back to the wagon with Emmy on his tail, he called for them to stop and then helped her into the back. Loren tossed him a blanket and she laid down in a small empty space in the back. Adam thanked Loren, then rode off back to his assigned task, the wagon had fallen behind some and only caught up when they stopped for lunch. Katie had also fallen asleep but had leaned up against Loren's arm. How she stayed asleep with all that jolting and moving the elderly man didn't know, but she seemed to do just fine.
"Wake up, girly. We got to get moving, you riding with me then you'll be helping me cook." He said as he shook her awake. "Hurry up, now." He shook her more.
"Your wasting your time, she never wakes up fast." Emily smiled at him from the back of the wagon, she made her way up to the front and leaned on the seat.
"Is that right?" He chuckled.
"Yep, you go ahead, I'll wake her up." She smiled at him. He chuckled and hopped out of the wagon, these young girls were gonna steal this old man's heart, not that he would ever let anyone know that he was already enjoying having them along. Emily managed to get Katie up in time for her to help with the last bit of cooking, mostly she just stirred the soup, but Loren made it seem like a big job.
"Clint!" Emily left her sister and ran over to her friend.
"Hey, how's our little cowgirl doin?" He smiled down at her.
"Hungry." She smiled sheepishly. She was still a little shy around him at first but after a little while she always got comfortable again. "Am I really a cowgirl? She asked hopefully.
"Of course, the one and only on this cattle drive." He nodded.
"Soups up." Katie called but most of the hands didn't hear the little girls voice, Loren hid a chuckle and the called it again a little louder. The men started to gather around.
"Ladies first." Clint motioned to Emily to go get her food.
"I'm not a lady, I'm a cowgirl." She smiled.
"Still cowgirls go before cowboys." He chuckled at her statement. The men held back as Emily got her food.
"Alright, girly, go ahead." He motioned to Katie to get some food, but she shook her head.
"The cooks always eat last." She smiled feeling mature.
"Ha, you got that right." Loren said sarcastically. "But your the cook's helper so you don't have to." He argued.
"Mama said it's only right that the cook waits for everyone else to be fed." She argued back and nodded her head.
"Alright." He sighed. "Go ahead men." He motioned to the group of men who were impatiently waiting for his signal. He glanced down at the little girl beside him, never argue with a Cartwright it's a waste of time, he thought. Katie busied herself handing a piece of bread to each of the men after Loren scooped the soup into the bowl, he couldn't help but laugh when the young girl slapped a hand that tried to reach in her bowl and grab bread for himself. Hoss came by and smiled at his niece.
"Is ol' Loren here workin ya to hard?" He asked as she handed him his bread.
"Nope, I like it." She smiled the biggest smile her uncle had seen for a long time. A little bit later Adam came through the line.
"Kates, are you behaving yourself?" He asked glancing up at Loren.
"Mmhhmmm." She nodded.
"Yes, Mr. Adam, she is doing great. But I am going to need a trumpet to wake her up." He said feigning irritation. Adam chuckled knowingly.
"Good, your doing a fine job. Have you eaten yet?" He asked her.
"No, Mr. Loren wouldn't let me until everyone else got served." She whined, but Adam saw the glimmer of humor in her eyes and played along.
"Well now, that's not the least bit fair is it, making a lady wait until last." He reprimanded Loren.
"Wait just a minute, now I told her too but she wanted to wait." Loren argued defensively. Katie giggled and Adam winked at her.
"Gotcha!" She smiled her best smile at him. "I'm the cook's helper, and Mama said it's not right for the cook to eat before anyone else." She explained to her father, who's demeanor notably changed at the mention of his wife.
"That's good, Kates. Why don't you join us when your finished here?" He said and at her nod walked away. Adam sat down by Emily without saying a word and began eating, Hoss joined them sitting down by Clint.
"Mighty good, aint it?" Hoss said in his ever optimistic way. "I think having a lady's touch sure does help the food." He added.
"She just stirred, she slept through most of it." Emily said sounding slightly put out. Hoss was a little shocked by her reaction but didn't say anything about it, sometimes she could be a little grumpy when she woke up. Katie and Loren had joined them a little bit later and they all joked and ate, except for Adam who hadn't said a word. When he was finished he walked away, Emily quickly followed him.
"I'm sorry I fell asleep, Daddy." She apologized when she caught up to him.
"Don't worry about it, we had an early start." He said simply before mounting his horse.
"Where are you going?" She asked him petting the neck of the horse.
"I need to go check on some things before we head out again." He said turning the horse around.
"Can I go with you?" She asked quickly before he left.
"Not this time." He answered as he rode off. She watched him go and then headed back to sit with the others, they all noticed the pout on her face. Adam came back as they started to head out, Emily mounted Flash and followed him. Adam noticed that she was upset with him but he wasn't going to discuss it while they were working. The day went by without incident but the crew was exhausted and sore from their first day on the trail. That evening while most headed off for bed, a few sat beside the fire talking while others stood watch by the cattle. Joe sat by Emily who was staring intently at the fire.
"How was your first day? Everything you expected?" He asked quietly.
"It was fine." She said not turning to him.
"Just fine?" He questioned. "What happened to all that excitement from this morning?"
"I don't think Daddy wants me here." She said quietly her voice cracking slightly.
"Why sure he does, he loves having his girls with him." Joe said surprised by the comment.
"No, he loves having Katie here. I just get in the way." She continued quietly so that no one else would hear.
"Your wrong about that, Ann, and you know it. Now what brought this on?" He questioned.
"He only talked to me when he was telling me to do something and then he had that angry tone in his voice. He wouldn't even look at me." She said growing angry.
"Come here." Joe said as he stood and put his hand out to her. She took it and they walked away from the others to the back of the wagon, where her uncle lifted her onto the tail and stood in front of her. "I know it don't make since to you, but your father is still hurting. He is missin' your Ma a whole lot right now. See Adam had always kinda pulled away from everyone when he was hurting, he never talked about it or let others see it, he just dealt with it and on his own he would come around. Well, it's different this time, he can't pull away cuz he's got to be there for you and Kates. He's just havin' a hard time adjusting is all, ya gotta be patient with him." Joe tried to explain, hoping he hadn't told her more than she should know.
"I think I understand, it's just like he's always mad at me." She sighed.
"I know, give him time, it'll get better." He touched her cheek. "It's getting late, you best get to bed." He lifted her down from the tail of the wagon. "Goodnight."
"Uncle Joe?" She said as she turned back to him.
"Ya?" He answered.
"Why do we say "goodnight" to each other? I mean it's not like we are sayin' I hope you have a goodnight, it's like you're telling me that better have a good night or that it is a good night." She looked at him confused.
"Where do you come up with these things?" He laughed but when she kept looking at them with her questioning gaze, he thought about it for a second. "You know I can't say for sure, why we say it. I guess it could be all three, I mean I want you to have a goodnight, it has been a good night, and you better have a goodnight!" He smiled and walked with her to her bed.
"Man, all that is wrapped up in one word. What if it wasn't a good night?" She asked.
"Enough questions, get some sleep." He said as he pulled the blanket back for her to crawl in next to Katie.
"But uncle Joe, it wasn't a "why" question." She whined and looked at him with her big brown eyes.
"Well, I guess that's when we say "have a goodnight" instead." He smiled giving in.
"It just seems kinda demanding to me." She said thoughtfully.
"Maybe so," He chuckled again. "Well, I hope you have a good night, Ann." He said in an over-dramatic way.
"Maybe that's why." It was now her turn to laugh. "Goodnight, Uncle Joe." He smiled at her and then left her in her bed close to the wagon.