Life without her

"What's taking so long?" Ben asked as he paced the floor.

"Pa, sit down. The doctor knows what he's doing and wearin' a hole in the floor won't help Marie or the baby," Adam said as he shifted his younger brother Hoss to a better position on the couch.

"I guess you're right." It had been almost a whole day since Marie had gone into labor and they were all feeling the strain and on top of things, the baby decided to be six weeks early and backwards! Ben wasn't allowed to stay with Marie, so he reluctantly went downstairs to his two sons.

"I can't stand this anymore. I'm going to..." His sentence was cut short as a high pitched shriek hit the air. Ben and Adam both stood up which woke Hoss, who sat up rubbing his eyes. Ben waited a few minutes, listening, waiting to hear the sound again. When he didn't hear any more sounds from the bedroom, he bolted up the wooden staircase. So many questions ran through Ben's mind, is she all right?', 'how's the baby?', 'is it a boy or a girl?.' He was almost knocked off his feet by Paul Martin who stopped him in the doorway.

"Paul, how is Marie? And the baby; are they alright?"

Paul put his arm around Ben's shoulder and guided him back down the stairs."Ben, you have a healthy baby boy, though he's a little small cuz' he's early," Paul replied in a mournful voice.

"And...and how's Marie? can I see her, see both of them?"

"In a few minutes, Ben. First, I need to tell you something."

His sentence fell on deaf ears as Ben was already back up the stairs and had entered his and Marie's bed room. Paul just shook his head and continued into the room to join Adam and Hoss.

Marie was lying on the bed with a bundle by her side. She appeared to be asleep but squinted her eyes and smiled as Ben entered. He sat carefully on the bed next to her and the bundle which he now could see was his son.

"He's beautiful, isn't he," Marie said in a croaky voice unlike her smooth usual tone. Ben noticed this and picked up a pitcher and poured a glass of water and put it to her lips. She drank deeply and then shook her head and Ben took the glass away. Ben now turned his attention to the squirming bundle and gently picked it up. He pulled back the blanket to reveal a small pair of the green eyes, a small button nose and red puckered lips. "He's perfect, Marie, our son is just, just perfect. Joseph Francis Cartwright," he whispered and cuddled the babe. He turned his attention back to Marie and saw that she appeared to be asleep. He placed the baby in the cradle and kissed Marie on the forehead and slipped out of the room.

After a quick bite to eat and a toast to the newest member of the family, Ben, Adam, Hoss and Doc Martin went upstairs to check on Marie and the baby. When they entered the room Paul, as well as Adam and Hoss, went over to the small cradle and examined the newest Cartwright. Ben went over to Marie and again kissed her on her forehead. As he did so he noticed that she felt cold. He gently shook her shoulder and whispered her name. "Marie...Marie." He shook her shoulder harder. "Marie, wake up! MARIE!" This startled the others in the room including baby Joe who scrunched up his little fists and shrieked in a high pitched wail.

Paul handed baby Joe to Ben and went over to Marie and felt for a pulse, he first checked her wrist then her neck, he sadly shook his head.

"NO, NO, SHE CAN'T BE..." Ben's cries could hardly be heard over the cries of the baby.

"Mama, Mama," Hoss cried as he also shook her shoulder.

"ADAM, GET THEM OUT AND TAKE, TAKE IT," Ben screamed out to his son, and handed the shrieking baby to Adam then turned his attention back to his wife.

Adam held the baby in one arm and took hold of Hoss' arm and dragged his sobbing brother out of the room.

Once downstairs Adam placed the baby in the cradle near the fire place and pulled Hoss into a hug. "Shush...hush," he whispered as he rubbed circles on Hoss' back. They stayed like that until a whimper could be heard from the crib and both brothers turned their attention to their brother. Adam stood and walked over to the cradle and bent over to pick up his brother. He hugged the baby to his chest and walked back to the couch and sat down. He unfolded the blanket and was greeted by a small red faced baby, who shook his fists around trying to escape the folds of the blanket. Hoss gently stroked the baby's soft curls.

"He sure is a little thing, ain't he, Adam? Is Mama gonna come down and see him?" Hoss asked expecting his stepmother to suddenly appear. Even with all the commotion that had happened upstairs, Hoss still didn't understand. He is only six after all, Adam thought. He wasn't sure whether to wait for his father or tell Hoss now.

"Hoss, Marie...Mama, is... She's..." Adam swallowed the bile that was rising in his throat. "She's in heaven with your mama and mine." Adam looked into Hoss' blue eyes to see if he understood.

"So she's...she's...?" Hoss' eyes filled with tears as Adam wrapped him in a hug almost forgetting the baby on his lap. They both looked down at the baby who was staring back with interest as if studying his surroundings. Adam picked the baby up and held him close to his ear and whispered, "It's not your fault." These were the same words he had repeated over and over again in his own head as a child.

Sometime later, Paul emerged from the upstairs bedroom and came down the stairs. Finding all three boys asleep, he quietly picked Joe up and put him back in the cradle near the fire place. He then got a blanket from the cupboard and covered the two remaining boys, then slipped from the house silently, praying for the family.

In the future, when Hoss looked back on that time, he couldn't remember how he got to sleep that miserable night, but Adam would always remember putting both brothers to bed. Hoss, in fear of being alone, slept in the bed with him and little Joe's cradle was right beside his bed. He never saw his father that night, nor the night after. Joe cried but still Ben did not appear, so Adam was the one who had cared for the crying infant.

Adam carried on looking after his brothers, caring for Joe and Hoss and coming to terms with their loss, all the while preparing funeral arrangements for Marie. Their foreman, Frank, helped with the work which had been neglected for a short time and also promised to deliver the supplies they needed, for which Adam was grateful.

The day of the funeral arrived and Adam was dressing little Joe in a black frock and wrapping him in a shawl, all the while cooing softly. He didn't hear his father in the doorway until a floor board creaked. Adam spoke without turning from Joe. "You ready, brother?" When he got no reply he turned around to see his father dressed and ready to leave.

The man did not utter a word, just stood in front of Adam for a few minutes, until Adam decided he'd best finish getting Joe ready. He turned back to the baby and wrapped Joe up when he heard his father walk out of the room. Picking Joe up, Adam walked from the room and down the stairs to find Hoss with his thumb in his mouth, sitting on the sofa, staring at Ben. Ben was staring into the burning embers lost in thought.

"Do you want to hold him?" Adam asked as the embers crackled.

Ben didn't look up, afraid to look into his children's faces, the children he was failing. "N...no. No, I'll...go and hitch up the wagon." He walked from the room, unable to stay a minute longer.

Adam stood staring at the casket that was being lowered into the ground silently praying. He held Joe in his arms, while Hoss held on to Adam's pant leg, also staring at Marie's casket, his thumb again inserted in his mouth.

After the funeral, only the Cartwright family was left to say their final prayers and goodbyes. Adam had picked the words on the marker of Marie's resting place. It read...

Marie Cartwright

Loving Wife to Ben Cartwright

Mother to Adam, Hoss and Little Joe

May she sleep in peace with the angels now and forever more

That night after his family was asleep, Ben Cartwright slipped on his clothes and headed towards the stairs. He was only half way down when Adam appeared behind him.

"Pa? Pa, where are you going?" Adam was afraid this would happen but still couldn't believe his father was walking out on them. "Why? Why?" Adam shouted causing Joe to start crying and Hoss to appear a few moments later with the baby in his arms.

"I, I'm...I can't," and with that Ben fled from the house without looking back, leaving his children behind.

Adam stared at his father's retreating back, tears falling freely down his face. He was about to charge out and demand his father tell him why he would leave them, when he heard Hoss cry out behind him.

"Adam, where's Papa goin'? He ain't leavin' us, is he?"

Adam turned, staring as his younger sibling wiped the tears from his face. He walked toward Hoss and plucked Little Joe from his arms and rocked him until the cries subsided. "Pa will be back by morning, Hoss." said Adam softly. "Let's go back to bed."

"Can I sleep in your bed, Adam?"

"Sure, buddy, sure."

Adam woke early that morning. While slipping on his dressing gown he looked at Hoss and seeing that he was asleep, picked up Joe and quietly left the room. On the way to the kitchen, Adam looked into his father's room and, with a broken heart, saw that the bed was still empty.

A short time later Hoss came down to breakfast expecting his father to be there and pointing this out to his brother who was busy feeding Little Joe. "Pa's gone away for awhile," Adam said. As he finished feeding Joe, he rested the baby's small head against his shoulder and bounced slightly.

"When's he comin' home?"

"Soon, buddy, soon," replied Adam hoping his words were true.

It had been almost a week since Ben left the Ponderosa and Adam was sitting on the couch holding Joe, who refused to stop crying. He wondered if his father would ever return home, when a knock sounded at the front door. Hoss came from the kitchen eating an apple and went to open the door.. He pulled the door open to reveal a tall, skinny man with thin grey hair and dark uncaring eyes.

"Hello," the man said staring down at Hoss with a crooked smile. "I'm looking for Adam Cartwright."

Adam got up from his place on the couch and went over to the man. "I'm Adam Cartwright, and. you areā€¦?"

"My name is Toby Morgan; I'm here to take you boys to the Boy's Home."

"No. You must be mistaken," Adam said grabbing Hoss' arm and pulling him behind him.

"Three boys, names of Adam, Eric and Joseph Cartwright, yes? Hurry up, I haven't got all day."

"Our father will be back soon," Adam stammered.

"Don't lie to me, boy. I know that pa of yours up and left after your ma died," sneered the man pulling Adam towards him.

"We're not going with you," Adam spat back in his bravest voice.

Suddenly Joe started crying from his cradle next to the fire place and all faces turned to the source of the noise, including Morgan's. Morgan grinned and strolled over to the cradle and snatched him up in his arms. Joe's cries subsided instantly at the man's touch. "Well if you don't come with me, then I shall take this here one."

"You take your dirty hands off him and get out of this house," Adam shouted pulling a gun from his father's desk.

"Yeah, mister," Hoss shouted from behind Adams leg.

Morgan slowly lowered Joe back into the cradle and put his hands up.

"Now back away from my brother or I will kill you right here," Adam sneered while following the man with the barrel of the gun until the man was on the porch. "Now get on your horse, ride outta here and DONT come back!"

"You can't count on that; I'll be back, and with more men," the man shouted while riding out of the yard and disappearing behind a cloud of dust.

Adam let out a sigh of relief and turned around, entering the house. He looked round the room in search of his brother and found him sitting on the floor in front of the cradle. Adam strolled over to his brother and pulled him into a hug. After a few short minutes he pulled away and turned his attention to Little Joe, who was content on sucking his small fist. Adam plucked the baby from his bed and rested his chin on his soft curls, hugging Joe to the crook of his neck.

To be continued