Raul's Victory
Fan Fiction

 

 

Baby Blues
By Victory

Ben Cartwright was exhausted. It had been a very long week on the Ponderosa and he was looking forward to some peace and quiet for a few days. Peace and quiet? There was no such beast in the Cartwright home, since Little Joe was born. Ben thought back over the last few years and smiled. He never figured he would fall in love again and be so happy. When he had met Marie, it was love at first sight. When they married and returned home from New Orleans, Benís first two sons, Adam and Hoss embraced Marie as their mother. Although, it did take Adam a lot longer to love her, he finally did. Ben figured that Adam experienced so much tragedy in his young life that he didnít want to love another mother. It wasnít until two years ago that Adam came to call Marie Ma. Two years ago, Benís youngest son, Joseph Francis Cartwright, was born and captured all of their hearts; especially Adamís.

Ben was brought from his thoughts by a crash followed with a piercing cry from upstairs, then rapid footsteps to the nursery. Ben continued to sip his morning coffee as he listened to the sounds of the house waking.

"Adam, have you seen my math book?" Hoss asked.

"Hoss, I donít use your books. Pa told you to keep them in the same place all the time and you wouldnít lose them." Adam replied. Ben heard the opening and closing of dresser drawers and closets.

"I FOUND IT ADAM." Hoss yelled. Ben smiled despite himself. Would that boy ever be able to do anything quietly? Hoss was only 8 years old, but he was as big as Adam, who was almost 15 now.

"Boys. Stop your yelling and get downstairs for breakfast." Marie scolded.

"Yes maíam." Both boys said together.

Ben looked up as Adam came down the stairs first. He had his boots in his hands and he smiled at his father.

"Morning Pa." Adam chimed as he sat down and pulled on his boots with a small grunt. Ben figured Adam needed bigger boots, but Adam wouldnít say anything. He learned early on not to complain. There had been times he went without shoes, on their journey out west, simply so they could eat. No, Ben figured he would have to bring it up.

"Morning son. Looks like we need to get you some bigger boots."

Adam blushed and shyly said, "I reckon. These could last a little longer."

"Nonsense Adam. The Ponderosa is doing well and I can certainly afford to get you a pair of new boots. I have to be in town this afternoon, so why donít I meet you and Hoss after school, and we will get you some new boots."

"Okay pa." Adam came to the table and took a sip of his milk.

"Where are your brothers and mother?"

"Hoss is coming and ma was having a little problem getting Little Joe dressed. He certainly doesnít like to stay dressed." Ben and Adam chuckled. Hoss made his appearance and said, "Whatís so funny?"

"Nothing son. Does your mother need any help upstairs?"

"Nah. Joe was giviní her a hard time, but he stopped his fussiní after she swatted him. Poor baby." Hoss sat and drank down his whole glass of milk.

"Poor baby? Hoss I feel more sorry for ma. She stays and deals with Little brother all day."

"Heís jest a baby Adam."

"More like two year old dynamite." As Adam finished his sentence, Marie and the Dynamite came down the stairs. Marie was smiling and Little Joe was sucking his left thumb and had his head down on Marieís shoulder. Ben stood as she neared the table. He kissed her, said "Good morning sweetheart." and took Little Joe from her and gave him a hug.

"Howís my baby this morning?" Little Joe hugged his papa and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "No baby. Big boy papa." Ben laughed.

"Okay, big boy." Ben smiled at Marie. "He give you a hard time this morning my love?" Ben said as he set Little Joe in his high chair. Hop Sing served breakfast.

"Ben, I think we are going to have to cage in his bed. He got out of bed and was dressing himself."

"Thatís not a good thing?" Ben smirked.

"You know perfectly well, that he makes a mess everywhere he goes. He ended up pulling his dresser drawer completely out. He could have been hurt. Then he took off his diaper."

"Well Dear, maybe itís time to start teaching him how to us the pot."

"I suppose."

Marie started to eat and everyone was too busy eating to talk. Finally, Adam and Hoss were excused and left for school. As Ben was finishing up his coffee and Marie was feeding Joe the last of his breakfast, there was a knock at the door. Ben intercepted Hop Sing and answered it himself. As he opened the door, young Brian Jacobson ran in.

"Mrs. Cartwright. You have to come quick. Maís haviní the baby and the doc is gone. Sheís real scared."

"Brian calm down." Marie said. "Where is the doctor?"

"Pa said heís in Carson City and wonít be back Ďtil Sunday. Maís scared that the baby will die cause of last time."

Marie looked at Ben as if to ask if she could go and Ben nodded the go ahead.

"Okay Brian. Ride home and tell your ma that Iím on the way."

"Thanks Mrs. Cartwright."

Brian left and Marie looked at Ben. "I donít know how long this could take Ben. I donít like leaving you with the boys all alone."

"Now Marie. I raised Adam and Hoss by myself until you came into our lives. I think I can manage again for one weekend."

"Iíll take Joe with me." Marie looked around franticly trying to decide what to take. "I need to pack some stuff and a baby bag."

Ben took Marie into his arms and held her still for a moment. "Sweetheart. You canít concentrate on Janet if you have to watch Joseph. I can take care of him too. You just concentrate on Janet, okay?"

"Are you sure Ben? Little Joe can be a handful."

"Iím positive. Besides, it will give me a chance to spend some time with the rascal."

"How did I ever find such a wonderful man? Iíll make this up to you Ben."

Ben kissed her passionately. "Iíll collect when you get home."

"Ben your impossible." She kissed him again and hurried upstairs. Ben returned to the table to find Little Joe had spilled his milk and was using his hands to splash in it. Ben frowned and took a cloth and cleaned up his son. "Are you going to make me regret keeping you this weekend young man?" Joe just stared at his papa. He wasnít sure if his papa was mad or not. After a couple of minutes, Ben smiled and picked up a clean Little Joe. Joe smiled back and hugged his papa. All was forgiven.

Marie walked down the stairs at that moment and saw Joe hugging his papa. She felt better about going to help Janet now. She leaned over and took Little Joe into her arms. She hugged and kissed her baby then said, "You be good for papa, Little Joe. Mama will be home soon." With one last hug she handed Joe back to Ben. Joe didnít know what was going on, but he didnít want his papa right now, he wanted his mama. He tried to squirm from his papaís arms and finally Ben set him down on the floor. As Ben said his goodbyes to Marie, Joe latched onto Marieís shins. Ben looked down and smiled.

"I hope heís going to be okay Ben."

Ben picked Little Joe up and held him tight as he squirmed to be free. "Heíll be okay. You be careful and let us know how things are going and we will see you Sunday, if not before."

"Okay. If you have any problems or questions, ask Adam. I Love You both." She kissed both Ben and Joe and left quickly. Joe stared at the closed door for a second and started to cry and call for mama. Ben held him close and tried to calm him down.

"MAMA!" Joe cried and finally sobbed on his papaís shoulder. Ben walked and rocked Joe slowly.

"Itís okay baby. Mama will be back soon, but until she does you have your papa to play with." Ben tried for half an hour to get Joe to calm down and play with something, but nothing worked. He was about at his wits end, when Hop Sing suggested he go outside and look at the horses. Ben suspected it was so that Hop Sing could have some peace away from the screaming child, but it was a good idea.

Fifteen minutes later, Joe was giggling and smiling as he pet the horses. Ben figured he would try to get some barn chores done as long as Joe was happy. Ben set his young son down next to one of the barn cats that had kittens.

"Now Little Joe. You can pet these kitties, but you have to be careful not to hurt them. Be gentle okay?"

"Yes papa." Joe played with the kitties for about 15 minutes before he became bored. He wanted to see the horses again, but every time he got close to the stalls his papa would say "No" and put him back with the kitties. Joe decided to go outside and see those horses instead. Ben only turned his back for a second, but when he looked for Joe, he was gone.

"Joseph. Where are you?" Ben heard a small giggle from outside. When he came through the door of the barn and looked toward the corral, what he saw stopped his heart.

In the corral with two of the newest colts, was his two year old standing bold as brass trying to pet the "horseys". Ben quickly jumped the fence and grabbed his young son. After he got out of the corral, he looked at Joe.

"Young man. You know the corral is a no-no. You could have been hurt. Papa told you to stay in the barn. Do you understand me son?" Ben didnít mean to yell, but seeing Joe with the horses had scared him.

Joeís bottom lip quivered and he started to cry. Little Joe nodded.

"Joe you should answer, Ďyes sirí". Ben said more calmly.

"Yes sir." Joe said through his tears.

"I love you Joe. I just want you to be safe. You scared papa." Ben hugged Joe close and discovered that Joe needed a clean diaper.

"I sorry papa." Joe then put his thumb in his mouth and let Ben carry him back to the house.

"How about we change this messy diaper and then get you a snack?" Ben said as they walked into the house.

Joe nodded. Ben carried him upstairs and put him down on the changing table near his crib. Ben removed the soiled diaper and put on a clean one. After Joe was redressed, Ben had Hop Sing make Joe a snack. Ben looked at the clock and saw that it was only 9am. It was at that point that he realized that Marie had a tougher job then he did.

**********

Joe wanted to go back outside after his snack. Ben figured he could bring his paperwork out onto the porch and Joe could play in the yard. An hour later, Ben couldnít understand how Marie got anything done, if she would have to chase Joe around to keep him out of trouble. Hop Sing had been watching Ben chase Little Joe all morning and decided to rescue his boss. He brought out two glasses of lemonade. Ben looked up and took the lemonade gratefully.

"Thanks Hop Sing. Joe come here and have a drink." Joe came over and sat on the porch. Hop Sing gave him the glass and smiled.

"Boy keep you plenty hopping."

"Plenty. How does Marie do it?"

"I get pen." It was a simple statement that confused Ben.

"Pen?" Hop Sing quickly brought four sections of fencing that looked like it belonged around the garden. He set them up around Little Joeís sandbox, and returned to Ben.

"Missy always put Little Joe in pen while she hang laundry. Watch."

Hop Sing approached Little Joe and smiled. He picked up the boy and lifted him over the fenced in area and deposited him within the pen. Ben was a little skeptical.

"No way for boy get in mischief. Nothing but toys in reach."

"And Marie does this? Pens in her precious baby? I donít see how it works considering he can escape from his crib."

"It work, you see."

"Okay Hop Sing. Iíll try anything to get some work done." Hop Sing left and took both empty glasses with him. Ben glanced at his baby son and saw that he was playing in the sandbox quietly. Ben was amazed.

**********

Lost in his work, Ben didnít realize what time it was until he saw Roy Coffee ride up. Ben quickly looked over to make sure Joe was still playing and was pleased to see Joe looking at something in the grass; content to explore. Roy dismounted and smiled at Ben and his son.

"Babysitting Ben? Iíve never seen this technique." Roy laughed.

"Donít laugh Roy. Marieís been doing this for a while. I didnít think it would work but it has. What brings you all the way out here today?"

"I was just riding back from the Jacobson ranch where I saw your wife. I thought I would stop by and see if Little Joe had eaten you alive yet."

"Very funny. I am perfectly capable of taking care of my son." Ben replied gruffly.

Joe heard the voice of Roy Coffee and walked toward the porch. As he got closer he realized that the fence wasnít close enough so he pushed it gently. As the fence fell, Little Joe ran over to the sheriff. Ben look astounded while Roy seemed amused. Roy swept Little Joe into his arms and spun him around.

"How is my favorite deputy today."

"Mamaís lost. You find her?" Roy had to smile. Joe was going to break hearts with those big sad puppy-dog eyes.

"Joe your mamaís not lost. Sheís helping someone bring a new little baby into the world. Your papa can take care of you Ďtil your mama comes back." Joe looked at the sheriff and then at his papa. He smiled big at his papa and put his arms out for his papa to take him from the sheriff. Ben took Joe into his arms and hugged him.

"Youíve been a good boy this morning Joe. How about some lunch?"

"Yes sir. Iím hungry."

"Roy why donít you join us."

"Donít mind if I do, Ben." Roy followed Ben and Joe and started to tickle Joe. Joe giggled and squirmed in his papaís arms as they sat down to eat. After a hardy lunch, both Ben and Roy noticed Joe rubbing at his sleepy eyes. Roy said his good-byes and Ben took Joe upstairs for a nap. Joe protested mildly, but he really was too tired to put up a good fight.

Ben checked Joeís diaper and then lay him down in his crib. Joe started to cry, "I want mama."

"I know sweetheart, but sheíll be home in a few days. You go to sleep now and when you wake up weíll go to town and meet Adam and Hoss after school. Okay?" Joe nodded. "I donít want you getting out of this crib. Do you understand?"

"Yes papa." Joe put his thumb in his mouth a rolled over. Ben covered him with a blanket.

"Good. I love you. Sleep tight." Ben gave Joe one more kiss and left the room. As Ben walked down the stairs the clock struck noon. This is going to be a very long weekend.

**************

Ben went back outside to collect his paperwork. He noticed the fence sections and laughed to him self about how easy it was for Joe to push the one section over. Maybe he could put up a permanent section around the sandbox, that way Marie would only have to open a gate. Ben brought all of his papers inside and told Hop Sing what he was going to do and to let him know when Little Joe woke up.

Ben spent a better part of two hours setting up a nice sized fenced in yard for Little Joe to have free rein. He placed a small crate for Joeís outside toys near the wall of the house and even sent one of the ranch hands out for some fresh sand for the sandbox. Ben was attaching the "child proof" latch to the gate when he heard Joe crying.

Hop Sing met him at the door and they both smiled that Joe was awake. "Iíve got him Hop Sing."

"Bring boy down. Have snack leady."

Ben nodded his okay and checked the clock in the living room on his way upstairs to get Little Joe. It was 2pm and he knew he needed to leave soon if he was to meet Adam and Hoss at school.

As Ben entered the nursery, he saw Little Joeís left leg making itís way out of the crib. Ben frowned slightly and cleared his throat to let Joe know he was being watched. Joe pulled his leg back into the bed and smiled at his father.

"Papa!" Joe threw his arms up for his papa to pick him up. Ben lost his frown and wondered if he would ever be able to be stern with this little charmer. Ben picked Joe up and gave him a hug.

"Little Joe. Didnít papa tell you not to get out of your crib?"

Joe frowned. Was his papa mad? Joe nodded. He noticed his papa giving him that Ďhow do you answer lookí and said, "Yes papa." Joe was happy to see his papa smile back.

"Very well Joseph. You need to listen to mama and papa when we tell you to stay in bed. Do you understand?"

Joe frowned. Grownups were so complicated. "Yes sir." He put his thumb in his mouth and snuggled closer in his papaís arms.

"Iíll forgive you son. I love you."

"Love you too papa. Whenís mama coming home?"

"Not for a couple of days. Do you know how long that is Little Joe?"

"No papa." Ben set Joe down to change his diaper and explained, "Well Joe. She may not be home before Sunday. That is about three or four sleeps away. After dinner you will go to sleep, then all day tomorrow you can play, then have a nap. Thatís two sleeps. Then tomorrow night you will sleep and when you wake up it will be time for church." Ben noticed that Joe didnít look like he was following his explanation very well, so he tried a different tactic. "Joe mama will be home after your nap after church. Okay?"

"Okay papa." Joe was squirming to get down.

"Well, with that settled, lets get you a snack and then weíre going to ride into town and meet your brothers."

"Get candy papa?"

"If youíre good in the store, I will think about it."

***********

Hop Sing had a snack ready when they both came downstairs. Joe ate it quickly and Ben then took him outside to show him the fenced in yard.

"Papa made you a play yard today Little Joe. What do you think?" Joe walked over to his sandbox and saw more sand and smiled. He then looked through the box of toys and seemed happy. Ben closed the gate and made sure it was latched before he addressed Joe. "Joe you play for a few minutes while papa goes and saddles the horse okay?"

"Okay papa." Ben headed for the barn and stopped when he heard Joe crying. He turned and saw Joe trying to push the fence over like before. He was frustrated because he wanted to follow his papa but he couldnít get the fence or the gate open. Ben returned to the yard and spoke to Little Joe.

"Whatís wrong son?"

"Out papa. See horseys." Joe cried out.

"Not this time Little Joe. You stay here and play. I canít watch you and saddle the horse at the same time."

"No papa. Go too." Joe cried louder.

"Joseph. I will not argue with you. I am the papa and you are the baby."

"I no baby!" Joe screamed.

"That will be enough Joseph or papa will spank you. Do you understand?"

Joe sat down in the grass and cried. "I want mama."

"Joe, mama isnít here. You play and I will be right back. Okay?"

"Okay papa." Joe wiped his eyes and walked to the sandbox.

"Good. You play and I will be right back. I promise." Ben went quickly to the barn and saddled up Buck, then led him out of the barn and tied him near the play yard. "Okay Joe letís go and meet Adam and Hoss."

Joe came over to the gate and waited for his papa to open it. Ben swooped Joe into his arms and gave him a big hug. "You ready Little Joe?"

"Yes sir." Ben gently lifted Joe into the saddle and mounted behind him. As they were about to leave, Hop Sing came out of the house carrying something and waving for Ben to stop. As Hop Sing approached the horse, Ben realized what he had forgotten.

"Little Joe may need diaper. You take." Hop Sing tucked the items into Benís hands and quickly returned to the house.

"Thanks Hop Sing. What would I do without you?"

Hop Sing turned around in the doorway. "End up using shirt as diaper." And turned into the house.

Ben laughed. "Well, young man. Letís ride."

"Yeehaw!" Little Joe yelled.

Ben laughed even harder.

***************

The trip into town was very peaceful. Ben showed Little Joe things, like animals and plants, on the Ponderosa and why it was so beautiful. Ben hoped one day Joe would come to love the Ponderosa as much as the rest of the family. Since Joe was his only son actually born on the Ponderosa, he didnít worry too much about Joeís connection to the land. It was in his blood. Joe asked a million questions the entire way and Ben tried to answer the best he could. How does Marie keep up with the questions?

**********

Ben and Little Joe arrived at the schoolhouse just as the children were being dismissed. Adam noticed his pa first and motioned for Hoss to follow. When Hoss saw Little Joe, he reached up and took his baby brother from his país saddle.

"Hey Punkin. You decide you wanted to come to school too?"

Joe giggled at his brother. Hoss was so much fun to play with.

"Swing, Hoss. Swing." Hoss was about to comply when he heard his father.

"Not now boys. We need to go over and see about some new boots for Adam. Hoss, hand Little Joe to Adam and go get the horses please."

"Yes sir." Hoss handed Little Joe to Adam who gave his baby brother a big hug and started to tickle him. He then looked at his pa with a serious look.

"Pa. How come you brought Little Joe? Is ma okay?"

Ben noticed that Adam looked real nervous. "Yes son, maís fine. After you two left this morning Brian Jacobson showed up and asked your mother to help with delivering the baby since the doctor is out of town until Sunday."

"Is she going to be gone all weekend?"

"Probably. Why?"

Adam shifted his feet a little. "Well, Ross wanted to go fishing tomorrow. I figured if I finished my chores early you would let me go, but you may need help with Little Joe." Adam looked disappointed.

"Adam." Ben waited until Adam looked up and smiled at his oldest. "You and Ross can go fishing. I am perfectly capable of watching Little Joe. I have been doing it all day and heís still in one piece." Ben smiled at Adamís obvious relief.

"You sure pa? He can be a real handful."

"Isnít that the truth." Ben took Little Joe from Adam as Hoss returned with both horses. Joe started to wiggle away from his papa. "Sit still Joseph." Joe continued to squirm.

"Adam. Ride with Adam." His wiggling was making it hard for Ben to keep him in the saddle. Ben gave him a firm swat on the leg and said, "Sit still Joseph, before you fall."

Joe stopped wiggling and cried. Adam smirked when he heard his father mumble, "a handful indeed" as he rode toward town.

************

By the time all four Cartwrights left the general store, Ben was relieved. Adam had a new pair of boots that should fit for at least the next year, Hoss had a small bag of candy and Joe had a peppermint stick in his hand. Ben felt a little bad about bribing his youngest son with the candy, but it was either that or continue to tell Joe "no" every time he went to touch something. Ben realized the temptation to touch was too great for an inquisitive two year old. Ben had handed Joe the peppermint stick and set him in a chair. Joe sat quietly afterwards and was still quietly sucking on the candy. He was going to have to find a place to clean Joe up before they headed home, but for now everyone seemed content. Ben decided to walk over to the sheriffís office to say howdy to Roy before they left. Roy would also let him use a cot to change Joeís diaper and clean his hands off.

************

The ride home from town was full of chatter. Hoss was telling his pa about his day at school and Adam, who had Joe in front of him, was telling him a story. When they all entered the yard, Joe squirmed to get down to show Adam and Hoss his new play yard. After Adam saw the fenced in yard, he smiled at his pa. Adam offered to take care of Hossí horse while he played with Little Joe. Ben and Adam headed for the barn as Joe and Hoss played.

"You keep him penned up all day pa?" Adam asked.

"No son. I didnít. Hop Sing only told me about the fencing after watching me chase the rascal all over the yard." Ben said with a sigh.

Adam laughed. "Ma did that for a while, until she found out he couldnít get into the garden with the fence, she figured the opposite would be true also. Sheíll love your improvements."

"I hope so. It still surprised me that she would want to pen him in."

"Well, I think it was a pen or a rope." Adam said seriously.

"She wouldnít?" Ben looked at his oldest to see if he was serious or not. Adam looked serious.

"The day she thought of the pen, she would have tied him to the porch post to get a rest."

"I can understand how it could be a tempting idea. I will certainly appreciate your motherís job from now on."

"Sheíll be happy to here that too pa." Adam couldnít help but snicker at his país expression.

"Youíre getting quite the smart mouth on you son." Ben said with a smile.

"Well, pa you are sending me to school to get smart." Adam said with mischief.

"Keep it up boy. Keep it up." Ben walked past Adam and gave him a playful swat on the backside.

"Hey. No fair." Adam yelped with a smirk.

"Donít forget Adam. I donít have to play fair."

Adam laughed as his father left the barn and headed toward Joe and Hoss. Adam rubbed his backside and thought, need to remember to watch my flanks when dueling with pa. He followed his father to the play yard where Little Joe was riding Hoss like a horse.

"Look papa. I ridiní a bronc." Little Joe screeched.

"I see that son. I have no doubt you can tire him out. Hoss you be careful not to throw him."

"Iíll be careful pa."

Ben and Adam went inside to check on supper and get cleaned up. Adam started his homework, while Ben put away any paper work that could be a temptation to a two year old. Hop Sing announced supper would be ready in 20 minutes, so Ben went outside to fetch his two youngest boys.

"Hoss. Joe. Time to come get cleaned up for supper."

"Oh boy. Iím plub starved pa." Ben never had to tell Hoss twice when it came to food.

"Doesnít surprise me son. Playing with Little Joe works up an appetite." Ben noticed that Joe didnít respond.

"Letís go Little Joe. Time for supper."

"No." Joe simply said as he continued to play.

"Young man, if I have to come in there to get you, I will spank your bottom. Now letís go."

"But papa. Iím playiní." Joe never looked up.

"Playing time is over Joe. Itís now suppertime. Letís go."

"No papa." Joe continued to play and failed to notice how angry his father became. Ben entered the gate and approached his young son. He picked Joe up and plant three firm swats on Joeís diapered backside. Not enough to hurt him, just enough to correct his behavior.

"I said now." Joe cried as Ben carried his son into the bathhouse to get cleaned up.

"Papaís sorry he had to spank you Little Joe, but when I tell you to do something, you need to obey me and not tell me no. Do you understand?"

"Yes papa." Joe sniffled.

"Good. I love you Joe." Ben hugged his baby and held him tight while Joe whimpered softly against his shoulder. "Letís go eat supper. Okay?"

"Okay, papa." Ben wiped Joeís nose and eyes and carried him into the house as Hop Sing announced supper.

***************

At supper, Adam and Hoss shared their plans for the next day, which was Saturday. Hoss wanted to go fishing with Adam and Ross, but Adam didnít want him to.

"Pa, I donít want to have to babysit Hoss. Ross and I were going to fish and do some swimming. Hoss doesnít even know how to swim yet."

"I can to swim, Adam and I ainít no baby like Joe, that needs to be watched."

"I no baby Hoss." Little Joe added between bites of food.

"Now boys, thatís enough. Adam where were you planning on fishing and swimming?"

"We havenít decided yet pa."

"Why donít I take your brothers up to the lake for the afternoon. I can give Hoss another swimming lesson and Little Joe can play on the shore. Will that work Adam?"

"Sure pa. Ross and I can find some good fishing spots away from the lake."

"Good, then itís settled. After morning chores, Adam can go meet Ross and the rest of us will have a picnic by the lake. Should be a nice quiet afternoon."

Adam looked at Hoss and smirked. Then he turned to his pa and said, "You want a quiet afternoon to relax, youíd better bring that rope." Adam giggled.

"You know Adam. You are not to big to put over my knee for being a smart mouth." Ben said with mock sternness.

"Sorry pa. I keep forgetting that." Adam giggled.

"Laugh it up boy." Ben smiled as he got up and cleaned off Little Joeís face and hands. Joe hated having his face washed so he keep moving his face away from the cloth.

"Sit still Joseph. As soon as your face is washed you can get down." Joe stopped moving around and let his papa wash his face because he wanted to play outside some more. Ben set him on the floor and said, "There you go sweetheart. Go play."

Joe headed straight for the front door and started to bang on it. Ben came around and smiled. "No Joe. You have to play inside now. Itís too late to be outside."

"Out please papa." Joe kept banging on the door.

"No Joseph. Come over by the fireplace and play on the rug."

Joe sat down on the floor in front of the door and crossed his arms.

"Very well Joseph, but you are not going outside and if you want to waste your time pouting, go right ahead." Ben walked away from Joe and retrieved his pipe. Hoss and Adam were playing checkers and Ben pretended to read the paper while waiting for Joe to finish his tantrum.

Joe cried and kicked the door a few times trying to get someoneís attention. Nobody was paying any mind to him. He stopped crying and wiped his eyes. After he stood up he walked over to his papa and looked at him. Ben was listening as Joe calmed and then approached him. He set his paper aside and looked at Joe. "You done?"

Joe nodded his head and put his arms up to be held. Ben smiled and picked Joe up. They cuddled for a few minutes when Joe asked, "Papa go outside?"

"No Joe. Itís too late. You can play outside again tomorrow."

Joe put his thumb in his mouth and cried softly in his papaís arms. "I want mama."

"I know baby. But mama will be home in a couple of days." Ben held Joe until he stopped crying. Just when Ben was going to ask Joe if he was tired, Adam said, "Heís asleep Pa. You want me to put him to bed?"

"Nah. I have to change his diaper anyway, so I might as well do it." Ben arose and carried Joe to his room. He changed Joeís diaper and put him in his nightshirt without Joe even waking up. He tucked his baby into bed and gave him a kiss. Ben watched him sleep for a few minutes and then left the room. One day down. Two to go.

**********

Ben woke with a start. He wasnít sure what woke him so he listened for a minute. All he could hear was his heart beating. He looked at his timepiece and saw that it was only 2am. He decided to get up and check on the boys. He put on his bathrobe and headed for Hossí room first.

Even before he opened the door, he could hear Hoss snoring. He was headed to the nursery to check on Joe, when he heard voices downstairs. He retrieved his gun from his bedroom and headed down the hall. As he approached the top of the stairs he recognized the voice as Adamís. Adam seemed to be humming softly.

Ben quietly came down the stairs and saw Adam sitting in the rocker by the fire. As he reached the first landing, Adam looked up and quietly said, "shhh" as his father approached.

In Adamís arms was Little Joe, snuggled in a blanket from his room. Joe had his thumb in his mouth and his eyes closed, apparently sleeping while Adam rocked him.

Ben sat on the hearth and smiled at his boys. He whispered, "I didnít hear him cry Adam. Iím sorry. You should have woken me up."

"Itís alright pa. He didnít wake me by crying. He must have crawled out of his crib, because he came and tried to crawl into bed with me. He was wet, so I brought him down here to change him where it was warm. The nursery was a little chilly. After he was dry, we cuddled and I figured it would be easier to rock him to sleep down here where it was warm."

"Youíre a very good big brother Adam. Iím proud of you."

Adam blushed at the praise. "Thanks pa."

"Iíll go up and warm the nursery and then we can all go back to bed. Itís way to early to be awake and we both know that this rascal will be up with the sun."

"Sounds good to me." Adam continued to rock Little Joe until his father returned to tell him the nursery was warm enough. They put Joe to bed and tucked him in then headed for Adamís room. Adam was surprised when Ben tucked him in also.

"Thanks pa."

"Youíre welcome son." Ben kissed Adam on the forehead and waited for Adam to roll over and go to sleep. "I love you son. Very much."

Adam mumbled, half asleep, "Love you too papa. Night."

Ben smiled. He felt truly blessed.

********

Saturday morning shone bright through Benís window. He stretched and looked toward the window with a frown. In the back of his mind he remembered that Marie wasnít home yet and that he promised the boys a picnic by the lake today. He reached for his time piece, just a little curious about what time it could be since Little Joe hadnít woken him yet. The watch said it was 6:30am. He decided he had better check to make sure his young son hadnít spent the morning wandering through the house wrecking things.

As he came out into the hallway, he was met by Adam and Hoss; both dressed and ready for chores.

"Morning boys. Have either of you seen or heard your baby brother this morning?"

"No sir." Was the reply from both boys.

Adam added, "Do you want me to check pa?"

"No son. Iíll peek in and see. If heís still asleep, I will let him stay that way until I can get some work done before chaos resumes."

"Okay pa. Weíll get to those chores, so we can get an early start."

"Good idea boys. Iíll see you at the breakfast table."

Adam and Hoss went to do their chores, while Ben entered the nursery. What he saw made him smile and feel all warm inside.

There curled up in the corner of the crib, was Little Joe. He looked angelic when he slept. His thumb was no longer in his mouth but poised just outside of his open mouth. He had thrown his blankets off and Ben could tell that Joe was going to need a dry diaper as soon as he woke. Ben carefully re-covered Little Joe and silently left the nursery. Joe probably wouldnít sleep much longer, but it would give Ben a little time to shave and get dressed. Some me time Ben thought.

********

While Adam and Hoss were out in the barn and Ben was getting dressed, Little Joe was waking up.

The first sensation Little Joe had was that he was uncomfortable. As far as his baby understanding would go, Joe sat up and pulled at his diaper. Joe knew the cloth was what was making him cold, even if he didnít understand why. He had become pretty good at getting the offending cloth off, but it was even easier when his papa put it on. He didnít do diapers as well as mama. Mama. Joe frowned. He wanted his mama. Papa had said his mama would be back after church, whenever that was. He didnít know days. Joe decided since no one was going to look for mama, he would have to.

Joe slowly crawled over the edge of the crib and found himself on the floor. He made short order of the diaper, and was quickly leaving the nursery with nothing on but his nightshirt.

********

Ben stopped shaving for a minute. He thought he heard something. He paused and heard Adam and Hoss enter the house. That must be what he heard. He finished shaving.

********

Adam and Hoss entered and stopped as they heard a small thud. When they didnít hear their father, they assumed he had dropped something. They headed to the washroom to clean up before breakfast.

********

Little Joe was getting tired. He had searched all the rooms but his papaís and Adamís. He didnít know what he would do if he couldnít find mama.

As he entered Adamís room, he didnít see mama, but he did see all of the books that Adam read. Joe was momentarily distracted from his task by the books. Joe knew that Adam looked at them all the time and sometimes he would show Joe the pictures. Joe wanted to see the pictures again, so he climbed on Adamís chair and tried to reach the books. He still couldnít reach, so he stood on the desk. It took some doing, but Little Joe finally managed to pull one of the books free. He carefully climbed down and sat on the floor near the bed. As he sat down, the rest of the books on the shelf, shifted, and tumbled to the floor with a thud. Everything was quiet.

Joe decided it didnít matter much. Adam could put them back when he was finished looking at the pictures.

*********

Adam and Hoss returned to the living room and wondered where Little Joe and pa were. Hoss decided to begin his breakfast with an apple from the bowl and Adam headed upstairs for something he wanted to bring to show Ross.

As Adam reached the top of the stairs, he saw his pa coming out of his room.

"Chores are done pa. Isnít Little Joe awake yet?"

"I havenít heard him. Iím surprised to the way you boys came into the house so loudly."

"We werenít loud pa. We heard a loud thump but we figured you had dropped something. We didnít hear Joe."

Both Ben and Adam looked at each other. "If you boys didnít cause that noise, thenÖ"

"ÖLittle Joe did." Adam finished. Ben and Adam ran to the nursery and found it empty. Adam picked up the soiled diaper and addressed his father. "Well, where ever he is, heís not covered."

"Good grief. Letís find him quick before he hurts himself."

**********

Ben and Adam searched the upstairs, while Hoss looked downstairs with the help of Hop Sing. Ben was looking in Hossí room as Adam entered his.

He was not happy with what he saw. His floor was covered with the books from his shelf and sitting a top the pile was his baby brother.

"Little Joe! What have you done?" Adam grabbed his brother and lifted him to eye level. This scared Little Joe and he started to cry. With the release of his tears, came the release of his bladder. He peed all over Adam. Adam was horrified. He set Joe down and yelled, "PA!"

Within seconds, Ben Cartwright entered Adamís room to find a sobbing two year old and his oldest son trying to keep his pee soaked shirt from touching his skin. He scanned the mess and said, "I guess we know what the noise was." Ben was trying not to smile but Adam noticed.

"Pa. This isnít funny. Look what he did to my books and if that isnít bad enough, he PEED on me." Adam started to remove his shirt.

"Youíre right son. Itís not funny." Ben was trying to compose himself to deal with Little Joe, who was still crying. He knelt down in front of Joe and asked, "Joseph. What are you doing out of your bed and making a mess in Adamís room?"

Joe scrubbed at his eyes and said, "I wasÖlook..k..iní for mamÖmÖma."

"Joseph. I told you that mamaís not home. You did a naughty thing here. You disobeyed me by getting out of your crib. Letís get you back to the nursery and get you cleaned up." Ben took Joeís hand and led him back to the nursery. He turned back to Adam and said, "Son. Leave this mess be. Iíll help Joseph clean it up after our little talk."

"Okay pa. I just need to change my clothes."

"Alright son." Ben continued to the nursery.

***********

Little Joe knew his papa was mad. He was mumbling stuff that Joe didnít understand until they got back to his room. Once there, his papa took off the nightshirt and set him on the diaper table. He got a cloth and started to clean Joeís entire body.

"Joseph. Papa is very angry with you." Ben sat Joe up as he put on a clean shirt. "You need to learn to obey me young man. Iím afraid papa is going to spank you for getting out of your crib." Joe started to cry again.

"Please papa. No Ďpank." Joe instinctively moved his hands to his exposed backside.

"Joseph. I promised you a spanking if you got out of your crib without permission. Did you get permission to get out of your crib?"

"No papa." Joe cried.

"Then papa has to keep that promise." Ben lay Joe back on the table and reached for a clean diaper. He looked at Joe and said, "Joseph. The next time you get out of your crib without permission, I will do the same thing." Then quickly, Ben added two small swats to Joeís backside.

*******

Adam was walking by the nursery when all he heard was two smacks, followed by Joeís wail. Adam felt bad for his baby brother. He continued downstairs where he saw Hoss scrubbing at his own eyes.

"Whatís wrong with you?" Adam asked.

"Heís jest a baby Adam."

"I know." Adam sighed. He sat down next to Hoss and waited for their father and brother. Hop Sing came in grumbling in Chinese as he announced breakfast. Hoss and Adam went to the table and started to eat. They both looked up as they saw their pa come down the stairs carrying Little Joe. Both boys could tell that Joe was unhappy. Ben set Joe next to his chair and said, "Adam. Joseph has something to say to you."

Joe looked at his papa and then at Adam. All Adam heard was his sad little voice say, "Sorry Adam."

"Iíll forgive you Joe." Joe looked at Adam and saw his arms out. Joe fell into Adamís arms and sobbed. "Shh, itís okay buddy. I still love you."

"Love you too Adam." Joe mumbled into Adamís shirt. "I sorry."

"I know little buddy. Now why donít we eat some breakfast." Joe nodded and returned to his papa. Ben lifted Joe into his chair and the family finished breakfast.

********

Joe spent the rest of the morning playing in his new play yard, while Ben was rounding up fishing gear and a baby bag to take with them to the lake. Adam had already left to meet Ross with strict orders to be home for supper. After the wagon was loaded with gear and lunch, Ben went to the play yard to get Joe.

"You ready to go to the lake Little Joe?"

"Yes papa." Joe stood by the gate and waited for his papa to open it.

"Letís load up then." Ben picked up his boy and hugged him close. He kissed Joe on the cheek and set him on the bench of the wagon. "You sit right there Little Joe. I donít want you to fall."

"Yes papa." Joe was excited about going to the lake; the rough morning completely forgotten.

Ben, Hoss and Little Joe headed for the lake.

*********

Adam had just met Ross and the two boys were headed to pick up the girls. Adam was feeling a little guilty about not telling his pa about the real reason he didnít want Hoss to tag along. Ben had strict rules of conduct between girls and boys Adamís age. Adam didnít plan on breaking any of país rules of conduct. Even the one about not being alone with a girl was overlooked because Ross and Del were going be there too. They were just going to do some fishing.

Adam picked up Caroline and Ross got Del. The foursome rode toward the creek, where they could fish and talk and not be disturbed. They all had such a pleasant afternoon, that they lost track of time. When Adam realized what time it was, he knew he was going to be late for supper, but they still escorted the girlsí home.

*********

Ben wasnít having a perfect afternoon. He spent the better part of the day chasing Little Joe around and was exhausted. He had a small reprieve when Hoss offered to chase him for a while. After lunch, Little Joe fell asleep. While he napped, Ben gave Hoss another swimming lesson. When Joe woke up from his nap, he wandered down to the waters edge and saw Hoss and his papa swimming. He made quick order of his diaper and waded into the water. He didnít go to far in because it was deep and he didnít know how to swim yet. He laughed and played in the wet sand at the waters edge.

Ben noticed Joe come down to the water and was pleased that he didnít come too deep. Hoss decided to fetch his baby brother and show him what he learned. Hoss approached Little Joe and asked, "Hey punkin. You want to come out and swim with me and pa?"

"Yes Hoss." Joe put his arms up to be carried. Hoss quickly picked him up and carried him out deeper. As the water came up to Joeís legs, he held onto Hoss tighter.

"Itís okay Little Joe. I wonít drop you. Iíll let papa hold you and you can see what I learned." Hoss approached Ben and as soon as he was close enough, Little Joe reached for his papa.

"How was your nap sweetheart?" Ben asked as he took Little Joe tightly into his arms. The water wasnít very deep, maybe three feet, but it was definitely over Little Joeís head. Hoss showed Joe all the new things he learned and Joe wanted to try too, so Ben gave him a quick lesson too.

Ben call the swimming quits when Little Joeís lips started to turn blue. Joe protested getting out, but Ben insisted. They all got warm and dry, and Joe was changed into a dry diaper. Ben announced that it was getting late and they needed to get back for chores, so he packed up the lunch, gear and his boys and headed home.

********

Supper was being served. Ben was not happy to find his oldest son was not home yet. He had been told to be home for supper and here it was suppertime and no Adam. Ben settled Hoss and Joe at the table and started the meal without Adam.

Thirty minutes later, Ben heard a horse ride into the yard. Figuring it was Adam, Ben went out to meet him. As he got out onto the porch, Ben saw the rider wasnít his son but Mr. Ryder.

"Jack. What brings you all the way out here this time of evening?"

Jack didnít dismount. "Ben. Iím looking for Caroline. I thought maybe she had come here with Adam."

"Adamís out fishing with Ross. Heís not back yet."

"He stopped by this morning and invited Caroline to join him and Ross. I let her go because I assumed he was meeting up with you Ben. He told me you and the boys were fishing by the lake."

Well, itís true I took the boys fishing at the lake, but Adam and Ross wanted to go off on their own. I didnít know about the girls or I wouldnít have let him go."

"Well, I trust your son Ben, but itís getting late and theyíre not back yet."

Just as Ben was about to answer, Adam rode into the yard. As soon as he saw Mr. Ryder he knew he was busted. He dismounted and walked over to his father and Mr. Ryder.

"Sorry Iím late pa. Hello Mr. Ryder. I left Caroline at home with her ma. Iím sorry we were late. I lost track of the time." Adam didnít dare look at his father.

"No harm done young man, but next time I insist that you stay with your pa. Understood?"

"Yes sir."

"Well, Ben. I will get on home then. Thanks."

"Anytime Jack." Ben and Adam stood without talking until Mr. Ryder was well out of site.

"I really am sorry Iím late pa. We lost track of time." Adam ventured to look at his father and wished he hadnít.

"Take care of your horse. Weíll finish this little talk in the barn."

"Pa?" Adam was confused. He expected a lecture, but there was only one kind of Ďtalkingí that went on in the barn, and it wasnít pleasant.

"Now Adam." Ben turned around and went into the house. Adam headed for the barn. He briefly wondered if there were any thin boards he could use to protect his backside from país little talk.

Ben asked Hoss to finish supper and to keep an eye on Little Joe while he spoke to Adam in the barn. Hoss agreed.

********

Adam had finished taking the tack off of Sport and was rubbing him down when his father entered the barn. Adam could tell that his pa was mad.

"You want to explain to me why you didnít tell me you were taking Caroline fishing with you and Ross?"

Adam thought for a second. "You didnít ask?"

"Iím very disappointed in you Adam. You lied to me."

Lied? Ut-oh. "I didnít lie to you pa." Adam defended.

"You omitted certain facts about your outing today. That omission was a lie."

Adam knew his pa was right. He no longer just expected a lecture because he knew what to expect from lying. "Iím sorry pa. I didnít think I was lying to you."

"Let me ask you a question. Why didnít you tell me you were taking Caroline and Del, Iím assuming went with Ross?"

"I donít know."

"You donít? I do. You knew I wouldnít have approved of you two taking the girls out without an adult present. Iím I right?"

"I guess." Adam couldnít look at his father.

"You guess? Adam I have tried to explain to you that there is a proper way for a gentleman to conduct himself with ladies."

"We were just fishing pa. Nothing else I swear."

"Whether you were fishing or at a Saturday social, you shouldnít be without a chaperone."

"Pa Iím not a little kid. I know how to act like a gentleman." Adam defended.

"Adam, you are a very responsible young man most times, but you are still a kid."

"Iím almost 15 pa."

"I am well aware of how old you are. Fourteen is too young to be galavanting around unchaperoned with girls. You are old enough to know better. Are you not?"

"Yes sir."

"Son, since you werenít honest with me about your fishing trip, I will expect you to stay around the yard for the next two weeks."

"Yes sir."

"And for lying to meÖ" Adam looked up at his father and swallowed past the lump in his throat as his father removed his belt.

*********

Hoss and Little Joe were playing near the fireplace, when their father entered. He went to the table and picked up his coffee and sat in his red chair. Hoss noticed a small sigh and was worried about his pa.

"Everything okay pa? Whereís Adam?"

"Everything is fine Hoss and Adam is still in the barn. He will be in shortly. Would you let Hop Sing know that Adam will need his supper warmed please. Iím just too tired."

"Yes sir." Hoss went to find Hop Sing and Ben closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he was looking into the beautiful green eyes of his baby son. Ben smiled and picked up his baby and hugged him tight.

"Papa?"

"Yes sweetheart?"

"Whenís mama cominí home?" Ben had to laugh. His youngest son had a one-track mind.

"She will be home sometime tomorrow." Little Joe put his thumb in his mouth and nodded as he cuddled closer to his papa. Without removing his thumb, he said, "I miss her papa."

"I know baby. I miss her too." I want her back so she can watch Little Joe and I can go back to chasing down stubborn steers and cattle rustlers. Itís safer. Ben chuckled which caused Joe to sit up and look at his papa.

"Whatís funny?"

"Nothing sweetheart. Nothing at all." Ben wasnít sure if his answer was going to be enough, but Little Joeís focus changed when Adam came into the house. Adam smiled sheepishly at his father and Ben smiled at his son.

"Adam. Hop Sing has your supper warming up."

"Okay pa." Little Joe wiggled free of his father and ran to Adam. Adam smiled at his baby brother and picked him up and hugged him.

"Hey squirt. You have fun today with pa and Hoss?"

"Yes Adam. I caught a biggest fishy." Adam looked at his father for confirmation. Ben came over to his boys and looked at Joe.

"Little Joe you didnít even fish. How could you have caught a fish."

Joeís mischeivious smile was infectious. "I caughted a Hoss fishy. Biggest Hoss fishy in the lake." He giggled at his own joke.

Ben laughed. "I think it was the other way around Little Joe. That Hoss fishy caught you." Ben reached over and started to tickle his baby son. The fun stopped when Hop Sing brought in Adamís supper.

"Sit. Eat." Hop Sing then grumbled out of the room.

Ben smiled as Adam gingerly sat down. "I wish I knew what he was saying sometimes."

Ben felt Joe tug on his pant leg. "He said Adam is a bad boy."

Ben and Adam both looked at Little Joe and wondered if he could really understand or if he was just guessing.

"Joe, how do you know that?" Ben asked.

"Tells me all the time Iís a bad boy. Heís just jokiní though." And Little Joe went back to his toys. Adam smiled and Ben laughed out.

"Will that rascal ever cease to amaze me?"

"I doubt it pa. Heíll be giving you reason to pause until your dying day." Adam ate his supper and Ben returned to his coffee.

********

Ben didnít realize he had dozed off until he heard Little Joeís scream. He was instantly awake.

"Whatís going on boys?" Ben asked. Little Joe was sitting among a pile of blocks, crying and Hoss looked guilty. When Ben looked at Adam, he was smirking.

"Iím sorry pa." Hoss said. "I was buildiní this tower and Little Joe pushed it over. I told him no and he done it again two times. I finally slapped his hand." Hoss looked so ashamed.

"Little Joe. Come here please."

Joe went over to his papa and stood before him. "Did Hoss ask you to stop pushing his tower over?"

"My blocks."

"Answer my question son."

"Yes sir. My blocks, papa."

"Joseph you are old enough to share." Ben looked at the clock and saw that it was past Joeís bedtime. "It doesnít matter anyway, Little Joe. Itís time for bed."

Joe started to cry. "I not tired papa. No bed." Joe sat on the floor.

"It doesnít matter if you are tired or not, itís bedtime so letís go."

Ben saw that Joe wasnít going to move. Having no energy left to fight tonight, Ben picked Joe up and carried him upstairs. Joe cried all the way upstairs and until he was changed and in bed.

"Go to sleep Little Joe. Tomorrow mama should be home." Then she can fight with you. "I love you sweetheart. I will see you in the morning. Remember, donít get out of this crib."

"Love you papa." Joe sniffled. He put his thumb in his mouth and rolled over. Ben watched Joe drift off to sleep, despite the declaration that he wasnít tired.

********

Ben returned to the great room and sent Hoss to bed as well. Adam read until his father sent him to bed. As he was headed up the stairs, he paused and faced his father. "Pa?"

"Yes son?"

"Iím really sorry about today. I didnít mean to disappoint you."

Ben stood before his son. "Adam. I know itís hard growing up, but I will always be here to show you the right way and to protect you. I love you son and I forgive you."

"I love you too pa." Ben hugged Adam and they both headed off to bed.

"Best get some sleep. Tomorrow is church."

"Better bring that rope." Adam smiled as he dodged his fatherís hand to his already sore backside. He ran up the stairs with his father pretending to pursuit him.

"You had better run young man." Ben smiled at the foolishness. He made his final check on his sons and then went to bed. Two days down, one to go.

**********

Ben felt tapping on his face. He opened one eye and saw the green eyes of his baby son. Ben groaned. This child was going to try ever ounce of patience he had. He smiled despite that fact his baby son apparently disobeyed him again and got out of his crib without permission.

Joe just smiled at his papa. Adam had reminded him that mama was due home today when he got him up. Adam had changed his diaper and got him dressed and asked him to wake up papa.

"Good morning Little Joe. Did you crawl out of your crib again?"

"No papa. Adam got me up. See Iís dressed too." Joe backed up a little so Ben could in fact see his son was dressed.

"Well, I am very glad to hear that son. Where is your brother?"

Little Joe looked toward the door and pointed. "Right here papa."

Ben rolled over and saw Adam smiling in the doorway. "Heís even better than an alarm clock." Adam said.

"Obviously not that good. I didnít hear him crying."

"I no cry papa. Iís a big boy." Joe crawled onto the bed and sat down next to his papa. "Adam said mamaís cominí home today. Is she papa?"

"Yes son. She should be home after church sometime. She may even be here when you wake up from your nap later."

Joe scrunched up his nose at the idea of a nap, which only made Adam and his papa laugh.

Ben got up and started to get dressed while Joe played on his papaís big bed. "Papa?"

"Yes Joe?"

"When do I get a big boy bed? Iís not a baby dat needs a crib anymore."

"Iíll think about it Joe. If papa got you a big bed, I would still have to put up some sides, because you roll around too much. You could fall out."

"Thatís okay papa. I jest want a bed like you and Adam and Hoss and mama and Hop Sing andÖ"

"Whoa Little Joe. I get the point. I will think about it and ask mama what she thinks, but for now you still need to not be climbing over the edge of your crib. Understood?"

"Yes sir. I didnít crawl out today. Adam gots me up."

"Yes Joseph, Iím aware of that." Before Joe could ask anymore questions Ben added, "Joe. Is Hoss up?"

"Yes papa. Heís out feediní the horseys and kitties and chickinís andÖ"

"Okay Joe. Why donít you go find your boots and ask Adam to put them on for you."

"Okay papa." Joe happily went out to find his boots and Adam. When Ben finally came out of his room he caught a glimpse of Little Joeís room. He obviously tore it apart looking for his boots. Oh well. Iím sure Hop Sing will have it clean before we even get back from church. Ben headed downstairs for breakfast.

*********

The Cartwrights headed for church a little late because of a smelly diaper, but where quickly back on time with Ben driving. The service was short, which Ben was grateful for, since Little Joe was too excited about his mama coming home to sit still. Adam apologized to Mr. Ryder again and felt better knowing that Mr. Ryder had trusted him and would still let him see Caroline.

As they were preparing to leave, Hoss asked if he could spend the afternoon at Jamie Dentonís house. Ben agreed to let Hoss go and told the Dentonís he would pick Hoss up before supper. Little Joe didnít want Hoss to go because he wanted to play when they got home, but Ben told him that he was taking a nap after lunch. Joe fussed about being too big for naps most of the way home.

Ben, Adam, and Joe ate lunch and then Adam stretched out on the settee to read. Ben decided to rock Little Joe in front of the fireplace. As they rocked, Joe fell asleep. Quickly followed by Ben and Adam.

*********

As she entered the great room, she was surprised to find it quiet. She scanned the room and smiled at the sight before her. Ben was sound asleep with Joseph asleep on his shoulder. As she came further into the room, she noticed Adam asleep on the settee. Marie had been concerned that she would walk into a house in chaos. She knew what Little Joe could do in one afternoon and it looked like Little Joe had tired them all out.

She quietly leaned over Ben and kissed him. He woke with a start and smiled when he saw his wife. She motioned for him to whisper.

"I missed you darling." Marie said.

"I missed you too. If I ever tell you that my job is harder than yours, you have my permission to kick my butt. This rascal had me running ragged from the moment you left."

"I figured that when I say the new fenced in area outside. Does it work?" She giggled.

"For now. He hasnít figured it all out yet. Give him time."

"Well. Every little bit helps." She looked toward Adam. "Whereís Hoss?"

Ben quickly looked at the clock and decided that he had a little time before he had to fetch Hoss. "Heís at the Dentonís. I have to pick him up shortly."

Marie sat down close to the rocker and stroked Joeís hair. "We should put him in his bed, send Adam after Hoss, and then we canÖ" Marie leaned over and whispered in Benís ear. She giggled when he almost blushed.

"Such a wanton woman I married." He laughed.

"And here all this time I thought that was WHY you married me."

"One of many. Adam canít go anyway, heís grounded."

"Grounded? Our Adam got in trouble? What did he do?"

"Lied about his outing yesterday."

"Lied huh? So thatís why heís stretched out on his stomach." She waggled her eyebrows at him.

"Could be heís a mite sore. He was really sorry though. I think he learned his lesson."

Ben rose and carried Joe upstairs. He tucked him in and closed the nursery door. As he turned around, he took Marie into his arms and kissed her deeply.

As they came up for air, Marie asked, "You sure you donít want to send Adam to get Hoss? Itís not like he hasnít learned his lesson."

Ben considered his options. His mind was made up when he saw Marie head to their room and wink at him. "Iíll be back."

Marie giggled.

**********

As Ben came down the stairs, he saw that Adam was awake. "Hey pa."

"Well sleepyhead. Did you have a good nap?"

"Yeah. I dreamt ma was home."

"That was no dream son. Your mother is upstairs cleaning up from her ride home."

"Really?" Adam was so relived. He had put on a strong face all weekend, but he was very glad that Marie was home. Things could get back to normal.

"Yes really son. I know you have been worried all weekend, so now you can relax."

Adam shyly put his head down. He didnít realize that his pa could see through his mask. Marie came down the stairs and rescued Adam from further embarrassment.

"Adam. Youíre awake." Marie stood before her son.

Adam hugged her tight and said, "Ma! I really missed you." Marie hugged him back.

"I really missed you too son. Your pa tells me you had a rough day yesterday."

"Yeah." Adam blushed and rubbed his backside. "Had a run in with país belt, but I learned from it."

"Thatís all that is important. Trust is a good thing when properly placed. I know that your father and I can trust you to always tell us the truth."

"Yes maíma."

"Your father and I were talking about what to do about Hoss."

"Hoss? What about him?" Adam sat down gently.

"Well. Someone needs to go pick him up and your father is awful tired. I was hoping that he would allow you to pick up Hoss, then he could relax."

"Iím grounded. Arenít I pa?"

"Yes son you are, but I know that I could trust you to go straight to the Dentonís and straight back with Hoss, if you wanted to."

"Iíd like to pa. I could prove to you that you can trust me."

"Very well, straight there and straight back. No detours or I will have to rethink my trust in you son."

"I promise pa. No detours."

"Alright then. Jake already has the buggy ready, itís easier on the backside."

"Thanks ma. Thanks pa." He kissed his mother good-bye and grabbed his hat on the way out. "Iíll be back in an hour."

"Donít run those horses son. Just walk. Itís 2:30pm now, I will expect to see you and Hoss no later than 4 oíclock. Understood?"

"Yes sir." Adam left and Ben sat in his red chair. Marie came over and sat on his lap.

"I thought you said I needed to relax woman." Marie leaned in and kissed him. Ben returned her passion.

"I know the perfect way to relax you."

"You do huh?"

"Yup." Marie grabbed Benís hand and led him upstairs. With one last look at Little Joe, Ben and Marie locked their bedroom door for the next hour.

***********

Little Joe woke cold and wet. He was about to crawl over the edge of his crib when he remembered what happened last time. He looked out the window and saw sunshine. He remembered falling asleep in papaís arms after lunch. He just didnít remember how he made it into his bed. He waited a few minutes but he didnít hear anything. He was very uncomfortable so he decided to let someone know about it.

"PAPA!! PAPA!!" Joe cried. A few minutes later and he heard a door open. Moments later his papa walked in.

"Howís my baby? Did you have a good nap?"

"Yeah papa. I wet."

"I bet." Ben picked Little Joe up and quickly changed his diaper. "I have a surprise for you Little Joe."

"What Ďprize papa?"

Ben picked up his son and carried him into the master bedroom. The bed had been made and Marie was sitting in a rocker by the window. When Little Joe saw his mama, he screamed, "MAMA!!" Ben quickly set him down and Joe ran into his mamaís arms.

"I missed you so much baby." Marie hugged Joe tight.

"I missed you too mama, but I was a big boy and didnít cry." Joe looked at his papa and Ben gave him that ĎI donít think soí look so Joe added, "Well, not much."

Marie laughed. "Iím sure you were my brave boy. Mama saw your new play yard outside too. Do you like it?"

"Yeah mama. I can play and papa wonít have to turn all red."

"All red?" Marie looked at Ben with a knowing smirk. She knew her baby son could cause even a saint to loose his or her patience.

"Yeah mama. Just like his chair."

Ben squatted next to his wife and son and tickled Joe. "Well, thatís gratitude for you."

"Help mama, save me." Joe tried to scramble away from his papaís fingers.

"Iíll protect you from that mean old papa."

"Old! Well, I wasnít so old thirty minutes ago." Ben leaned in for a quick kiss before he barely dodged his wife's slap.

"Mama?"

"Yes son?"

"Papa said that I could get a big boy bed."

"He did, did he?" Marie raised an eyebrow at Ben.

"Papa actually said, I would think about it and see what mama thought. Didnít I Joe?"

"Yes sir. Thatís what he said mama. Can I have a big boy bed?"

"Iíll think about it."

"Okay." Little Joe hugged his mama and got off her lap. He headed for the door when Ben stopped him.

"Where are you going son?"

"To find Hoss ta tell im mamaís home."

"Hoss isnít home yet sweetheart. Adam went to pick him up."

Little Joe walked up to his mama and whispered, "Papa Ďpanked Adam mama. Hop Sing said he was a bad boy."

Ben and Marie just laughed. Ben took both Marie and Joeís hands and headed downstairs. They decided to let Joe play outside while they waited for Adam and Hoss. They didnít have long to wait, as the boys entered the yard minutes later. Hoss ran to Marie and hugged her close. He told her about his weekend and how much he missed her. The dinner table that night was lively, with everyone glad Marie was home.

**********

After dinner, Joe and Hoss were playing with the blocks and Adam was reading. Marie and Ben were snuggled up on the settee watching their family. Joe started to get tired so he curled up on his mamaís lap. Ben didnít have the heart to send him to bed yet. Besides, he would fall asleep on Marieís lap just as easily.

Marie asked, "So Adam. Aside from Saturdayís trouble, how was the weekend? I asked your pa how everything went and he said Ďlike clockworkí."

"A broken clock maybe." Adam snickered at his fatherís face, if looks could kill.

"Now Adam. Didnít we have a Ďlittle talkí about lying?" Ben said.

"Yes sir we did. But ma got the truthÖ" he added, "From me at least."

Ben winked at Marie. "Boy Iím about ready to do something about that smart mouth." Ben shifted slightly so when he went after Adam this time, he would be caught. Adam noticed the smile on his país face, and because he had confidently escaped the last few times, he became over confindent.

"Ma did you ever find that ROPE." Adam laughed.

"Rope?" Marie was confused. She had obviously missed a private joke. What she didnít miss was how fast Ben moved and caught Adam unawares.

Adam noticed his pa coming after him with a sinister smile, too late. His pa grabbed hold of Adamís waistband as he attempted to run upstairs. Ben lifted his 14 year old right off the ground and carried him to the hearth. He pulled Adam into his lap and put him over his knees. "Now youíre going to get it. Make fun of your pa like that." Ben raised his hand, pretending to spank Adam. When Adam screamed, "No pa." And covered his flanks, Ben proceeded to tickle Adam until he hollered for help. No help was coming.

"You sorry for your smart mouth boy." Ben said as he paused his torture.

"Yes sir. Iím sorry." Adam huffed. Adam was having trouble breathing, much less talking.

"Good." Ben set his son on his feet and made sure Adam knew he was playing. Adam smiled back at his pa. He took a couple of steps back and risked a smirk.

"Still think you could have used that rope." And up the stairs he flew.

Ben just laughed harder. "Benjamin. I think you all have lost your minds." Marie said as she carried Joe upstairs. "Come Hoss before your papa attacks you too."

Hoss laughed and followed his mother upstairs. Marie turned to her laughing husband and winked. "Are you coming to bed dear?"

"Right behind you sweetheart. Should I bring the rope?"

"Donít you dare." Marie turned toward the stairs as Ben continued to laugh. He put out all the lights, said good night to the boys, and joined his wife in bed.

"Benjamin?"

"Yes dear?"

"What was all that talk about rope?"

Ben just laughed. "Adam was talking about the ties that bind us my love." He leaned over a smothered her next question with a searing kiss. It only took seconds for her to forget what the question was, as Ben got up and locked the door.

The End


Back Home

Feedback:  phantomfaye@yahoo.com