(I'm starting to think Annie's been rattling around in my brain for a while. There seems to be a lot to tell about her. Anyway, the usual disclaimers that I didn't invent the Cartwrights...)
The minister droned on and on. Annie Cartwright appeared to be paying attention but her mind was on the plans she and her cousin Joe had for the week. Finally, after 4 weeks of being restricted to the yard, they were going to be free and they wanted to make up for lost time. They had been restricted for two weeks when they dumped mud on Hop Sing's head, thinking he was Hoss. Then, just as they were about to be done with their restriction, Uncle Ben had come home early and discovered that they had gone for a ride on Jove, a horse they were forbidden to go near, much less ride. Annie squirmed in her seat just thinking about what went along with that restriction. Uncle Ben sure had been angry. Suddenly Uncle Ben tapped her shoulder and she was aware of everyone standing around her. She stood up quickly and joined in the hymn. She tried to remember the parts of the sermon she had listened to. Maybe Uncle Ben wouldn't pick on her today. Maybe it was Joe's turn, or Hoss's, to retell what the reading had been and what the sermon had been about. She thought she remembered hearing the minister say something about Jonah. Frantically she tried to remember what she knew about that story.
She filed out of the row behind Hoss. Uncle Ben was behind her, and Joe was behind him. Ben had learned pretty quickly to not let Joe sit next to Annie during the service. Adam was still on the cattle drive; no one expected him back for at least another week or two. Uncle Ben was shaking hands with the minister when Annie noticed Johnny Rogers sticking out his tongue at her. She couldn't stand him. The first time he met her, he put a snake down her dress. He couldn't believe it when she calmly pulled it out and threw it back at him. Girls weren't supposed to do that. She stuck her tongue back at him, and was rewarded with Uncle Ben's hand hard on her shoulder. She looked up at him and he shook his head slightly. Hoss was already over talking to Tess and Mrs. Greene. The two families had planned an afternoon picnic and no doubt Hoss was making sure that Tess brought his favorite pie.
"Annie, Joe, why don't you go with Hoss for a bit, I need to speak to Reverend Johnson. Make sure you stay out of trouble!" Annie and Joe raced over, Joe beating Annie by a few seconds. She "accidentally" bumped into him in revenge. He thought about bumping her back until Hoss stepped casually between the two.
"Hello, Annie, hello, Little Joe. We haven't seen you in a while." Mrs. Greene smiled pleasantly at them.
"Uh, yes, ma'am. Well, we've been real busy on the ranch. It's been lots of work getting ready for winter. Pa and Hop Sing needed us." Joe took off his hat as he spoke to her. Hoss snorted and Joe started to hit him with his hat until he felt the hat pulled out of his hand and set back on his head. He looked up and saw Pa frowning.
"Boys, Annie, time we headed back to the ranch. Margaret, Tess, we'll see you in an hour by the lake?" Ben put his arms around Annie and Joe to herd them over to the wagon. Hoss followed behind.
They were about halfway to the ranch and no one had said much. Ben knew that none of the youngsters had paid any attention to the sermon and that they were keeping quiet hoping that he would pick on someone else. "Annie? Could you please remind me what the reading and sermon were about today?" Two loud sighs of relief told him he was right.
"The reading? Of course Uncle Ben. It was the story of Jonah and the whale." Annie went on to retell the whole story of Jonah being thrown overboard and then being swallowed by the whale. Hoss and Joe looked on in amazement because they knew she hadn't been paying any more attention than they had, yet she told the story almost word for word.
"Good, I'm glad you were paying attention. Now what did you think of the reverend's sermon?" Here Annie faltered because she really hadn't paid any attention to the sermon. She stumbled through a few words, then was hit by inspiration. "Uncle Ben, my father let me read some of the letters you wrote home. I remember that in one of them you described a whale you saw. Now, I've never been able to understand how that kind of whale could swallow a person and not chew him up. How could that be?"
Ben launched into an explanation about God and miracles while Joe and Hoss looked as if they were witnessing a miracle. Annie had completely diverted Pa's attention from the sermon, and she did it without having to spend the rest of the day in her room memorizing Bible verses, which was the typical punishment if Pa caught someone not paying attention during church.
When they got back to the ranch, Ben went into the house while Hoss and Joe stabled the team. The two of them cornered Annie in the barn. "How'd you do that?" Hoss demanded. "You weren't payin' no more attention than me or Joe, but you made Pa think you knew what was goin' on."
"It's a skill, Hoss, either you've got it or you don't. Truth be told, my father used to do the same thing. I think it's something they had to do with their father when they were younger. Anyway, I didn't pay attention much and I spent a lot of time memorizing Bible verses. Plus, Pa used memorizing the verses as punishment a lot so I figure I've got just about the whole thing memorized."
Joe and Hoss just shook their heads in admiration. "I'm just glad he didn't pick on me." Said Joe. "If he did, I wouldn't be going on the picnic today, and I for one am sick of my room and this yard!"
It was mid-afternoon and the Cartwrights and Greenes had just finished a delicious picnic by the lake. "Margaret, Tess, you've outdone yourselves." Ben put down his plate. "I couldn't eat another bite."
"Yes'm, that was fine." Hoss agreed. Joe and Annie snickered. Tess had made two of Hoss's favorite pie and Hoss had eaten almost one by himself. Hoss glared at them and stood up. "I think I need to walk this off. Tess, want to go for a walk?" Tess looked to her mother for permission. Margaret nodded.
"Yeah, Pa?" Ben gave Hoss a look like he should remember something. Hoss sighed and nodded. "Yes, sir, we'll not go far." He didn't look too happy, though. He and Tess walked down towards the lake.
Annie started to clean up the picnic mess, but Margaret urged her to go play with Joe. "I'll clean these up. I'm sure Ben won't mind helping." Annie and Joe needed no urging and they took off towards the lake, too.
Ben and Margaret gathered the dishes and put everything in the picnic baskets. Ben carried them to Margaret's buggy while Margaret shook out the blanket and spread it back on the ground. Ben sat back next to her and leaned back on his elbows. It was early September and the sun was warm, but the air was crisp with a hint of the cold weather that would soon be on them. "I spoke with Eli yesterday," he started. "He said Mr. Taylor had accepted the position as the new school teacher and that'll he be here on the Monday stage. Eli expects school will start up on Tuesday."
"It'll be good to have a teacher again but I think Tess will be relieved to hear that she's too old for school. Have you told your brood yet?"
"No, I thought I'd wait. No point getting hopes up." Ben laughed. "I suspect Hoss will be as relieved as Tess to find out he's too old. He never much cared for school, even when Marie was the teacher. Most of the trouble I had with him as a young boy was when he played hooky. Adam of course took like school like a fish to water, but he quickly learned more than most of the teachers knew, and that explained a lot of the trouble I had with him! I don't know about Annie, but I don't think Joe is going to be happy at the thought of sitting in school. I almost feel sorry for the teacher."
"I don't know Eli says he has a reputation for maintaining discipline in the classroom."
"Well, Joe knows what I'll tolerate and what I won't, and he knows the consequences, so hopefully he'll be smart and behave himself."
"I'm guessing he and Annie haven't been so smart lately. When I mentioned this morning that we hadn't seen them in a while, Joe told me that you and Hop Sing needed their help on the ranch and that they've been very busy. I got the impression they didn't volunteer to help."
Ben laughed. "No, they spent two weeks doing chores for Hop Sing after they set up a bucket of mud to spill when someone went in the woodshed. They figured it would be Hoss. Then on the last day of that restriction, they decided to sneak a ride on a horse they were forbidden to go near. So they were restricted again, but I don't think either of them wanted to go riding anyway."
Margaret nodded. "I remember one time when Tess was about 12 and her father caught her" Margaret's story was interrupted by the sounds of yelling and screaming. Annie and Joe came flying into view and a very irate Hoss came charging after them, Tess running behind.
"I'm gonna pound both of you when I get my hands on you!" Ben jumped up and Annie and Joe hid behind him for protection. "Pa, let me at them two. I'm gonna pound them!"
"Hoss, Joe, Annie, stop this at once. What is the meaning of this?!" All three began explaining at once. "One at a time! Hoss, why are you threatening your brother and cousin?"
"Pa, them two snuck up on Tess and me and started throwing acorns at us. One almost hit Tess in the eye!"
"Joseph, Anna, is this true?" Ben looked down at the two, stern-faced.
Joe looked at Hoss. "Why don't you tell Pa what you and Tess were doing when we threw the acorns?"
Hoss reddened and reached for Joe. Pa grabbed his arm. "Hoss?" he said in a quiet voice. Hoss just turned redder and Tess looked like she wished she could disappear.
"They were kissing for a long time, and it was gross!" Joe yelled, delighted to get an older brother into trouble for once. Pa's eyes narrowed and he looked at Hoss. "Eric, we've talked about this." Hoss just mumbled. "I think the picnic is over for us. You three get ready to ride." He turned to Margaret. "Thank you for a lovely lunch. I'm truly sorry about Hoss's behavior. I've spoken to him in the past and he's supposed to know better.
Margaret looked at Tess. "I suspect he wasn't the only one to blame, Ben. Tess also knows what's expected, don't you?" Tess nodded. Ben tipped his hat to Margaret and went over to where his three had mounted up. Hoss handed Ben the reins to his horse. "Pa, I-" Ben held up his hand. "We'll talk about this at home."
The ride home was silent. They rode into the yard and put up the horses in the barn. "Annie, Joe, go into the house now. I need to talk to Hoss here in the barn." Hoss blanched and Joe looked sorry that he'd ratted on Hoss. He thought of all the times Hoss had saved his hide and he felt pretty guilty.
Annie and Joe were playing checkers when Ben and Hoss came in. They looked at Hoss closely, but he didn't seem so bad off. "I made coffee, Uncle Ben. Would you like some? How about you Hoss?" Both nodded, so Annie poured two cups. Hoss sat at the table next to Joe. He looked like he was sitting okay, but he didn't look too happy with Joe or Annie. They decided they'd better stay out of his way for a while.
"Annie, did I see your father's Bible in your room?"
"Would you get it for me please?" Ben picked up his own Bible from the side table. "Thank you" he said when Annie handed him the second Bible. It was the twin of Ben's. He thought back a minute to when he received his Bible. His parents had given each of their sons an identically bound copy one year for Christmas. Like Ben, Edward had obviously kept his safe through years of travel. He wondered a moment if John still had his copy and if it was still in good condition.
He shook himself from the past and looked at the three youngsters sitting at the table. Joe and Annie had resumed their checkers game, and Hoss was still quiet from their talk in the barn. They were enjoying their free time before chores. "Right. Annie, are you familiar with the story of Daniel?"
Puzzled, Annie looked up. "Yes, Uncle Ben." She colored slightly. "Pa made me memorize it once." Ben nodded. "How about the story of Ruth?" Annie shook her head. "Good." Ben thumbed through Annie's Bible until he found the page he was looking for. "Fine. I want you to spend some time memorizing these passages before dinner." He picked up his own copy. "Boys, I've only got the one book left, so you'll have to share it. I want you both to study the story of Jonah." He picked up his hat and opened the door.
"Uncle Ben, that's not fair! I was able to recite the text and I knew what the sermon was about!" Ben smiled. "I suspect you've already had to memorize the story of Jonah and it was obvious you had no idea what the sermon was about. And boys, the next time you're happy I didn't ask you about the service, I suggest you don't make it obvious. You've got an hour or so before chores, I expect you to get busy. I'll be out in the barn if you need me. Oh, and Annie, Hop Sing left a stew. Please put it on the fire to warm for dinner."
"How'd he know that?" Joe demanded when Ben had left the room.
"Just shut up and start memorizin'" grumbled Hoss. "I'm in enough trouble 'cuz of you and I'm not gettin' into any more!"
Finally it was chore time. Annie was able to recite her passages to Uncle Ben as she readied the table for dinner. "Next time, I expect you to pay attention during the service, young lady. You're not in church to let your mind wander." Suitably chastened, Annie agreed. Ben delivered similar admonitions after Hoss and Joe stumbled through their passages.
They all sat to dinner and after he said grace, Ben dished the stew to everyone. When he passed a bowl to Annie he wondered about the devilish look on her face. Finally, after she had eaten some of the stew she asked sweetly "Uncle Ben, my father told me a story about church once. I wonder if you remember it." Ben groaned, sure he knew what was coming next. "It was something about you and Uncle John and mice in the minister's robes. He said he was pretty young at the time so he wasn't sure he got all the details right." Ben was pretty sure that Ed had gotten all the details right, and he knew he never told this story to his own sons for fear of what they would do with the knowledge. Both Joe and Hoss looked at him expectantly. He sighed, knowing there was no way to get out of this one.
"All right, then. I was about 12, and John was about 14. We had to go to church every Sunday, not just once every two or three Sundays like we do here. The minister was a real fire and brimstone preacher." They all looked puzzled. "That means he liked to preach that everyone was bad and everyone was going to hell. Needless to say, that didn't have much appeal to us children. His sermons would last hours. It was all we could do to stay awake, let alone actually pay attention, but Grandfather Cartwright would ask us at the end of each service what the text of the lesson had been and what the sermon would be about. He didn't ask just one though. He would ask each of us in turn."
"Well, John and I were getting more and more bored with church, and we decided we had to make it more interesting." Joe's eyes just about bugged out of his head when he heard his father make this admission. "We gathered up some mice, and snuck into the church before services started. We put the mice in the pockets of the minister's robe figuring he would get distracted and forget what he was going to say. In those days the ministers also wore wigs, so I put a couple of small mice in the hair of the wig.
"The service went on and on, and nothing seemed to be bothering the minister. John and I had just about given up on the mice when one of the mice crawled out of the wig and landed on the minister's nose. Then the minister reached into his pocket. A mouse clamped onto his finger. The minister pulled out his hand and flung the mouse as hard as he could into the congregation where it landed on an older woman. She started screaming and from then on it was complete chaos." Ben paused.
"Go on, Pa, finish the story!" Joe urged. He and Hoss were both on the edge of their seats.
"Well, somehow Father knew that John and I were the culprits. I don't know how he knew, but he did. He dragged the two of home, with Mother and Eddie behind us. He marched the two of us right into the woodshed and gave us a tanning that I think I can still feel." Ben looked at Annie. "I remember your father was a real brat, crowing for days every time we tried to sit down and couldn't. Then, my father dragged John and I to the minister's house to apologize. The minister insisted that we apologize to the entire congregation the next Sunday." Pandemonium reigned at the dinner table for a few minutes as Joe broke into a broad smile and Hoss hooted with laughter. Annie laughed, too. "Gee, Uncle Ben, you told me a lot more than Pa ever did."
"All right, all right you three, settle down. We're still eating dinner." Ben waved at the threesome. "Besides, I have something important to discuss with you." He smiled himself as he could see three minds examining their guilty consciences. "You're not in trouble. No, I have some good news. The town has hired a new school teacher and school will start on Tuesday." Suddenly the smiles and laughs disappeared.
"Pa, you aren't gonna tell me I have to go to school, are you?" Hoss asked plaintively. He was relieved when Ben shook his head no.
"No, I need you on the ranch. Besides, school is only for children up to 15. Well, Annie, Joe, aren't you pleased?"
Joe scowled. "No. How come I gotta go, Pa? Don't you need me here, too?"
"Sorry son, your education comes first. It was important to your mother and it's important to me, too. Don't worry, you'll have plenty of time for chores. You're very quiet, Annie. Aren't you excited?"
Annie shrugged. "I don't know, Uncle Ben. I've never been to school."
Ben was stunned. He knew Annie could read and write, he'd seen her do it. She also knew her sums. "There were schools in Santa Barbara. How come you didn't go there?"
"Pa thought we were too far out of town for me to go alone and he couldn't spare anyone to take me in everyday. He taught me everything I needed to know."
Joe muttered that she didn't know how lucky she was. "That will do, Joseph. Annie, I think you'll enjoy school very much." Annie shrugged again. She and Joe had great plans for the coming weeks and now it looked like she'd be spending her days sitting in a classroom.
Tuesday morning dawned all too soon for Joe and Annie. Joe dawdled through his chores until Pa threatened to use a belt to hurry him up. Annie just sat quietly eating the breakfast that Hop Sing made. Finally it was time to go. Hoss hitched up the team because Ben wanted to drive the two to school on the first day. Joe had protested, but Ben insisted that he had to register the two and pay tuition. He assured Joe that he didn't intend to make a habit of accompanying them every day, that he thought they were old enough to go alone. Annie actually seemed relieved that Ben was coming along.
Ben pulled up the horses in front of the school. Joe recognized most of the children playing in the schoolyard, but Annie did not. They jumped out of the wagon and Pa directed them into the school. A fair-haired man in his early 40s sat at the front desk. He stood when Ben and the children entered the school. He extended his hand to Ben, who shook it. "Good morning, I am Mr. John Taylor. I assume you are here to register your children?"
"Yes. I'm Ben Cartwright. This is my son, Joseph and my niece, Anna. I am her guardian. They are both 12. Joe has attended school in the past, but this is Annie's first time." Mr. Taylor and Ben talked about tuition and books, and then Ben bade the two children good-bye. "Master Cartwright, could you show me where you were in your reader?" Mr. Taylor took a few minutes with Joe to place him in the class. Annie took that time to look around the classroom. It was a dark room with small windows. Lanterns hung from the wall, and a stove was in the center of the room. There were 8 rows of seats and desks, but the front row had no desks. Joe had told her that's where the lowest grade of students sat. She hoped she wouldn't have to be there, it would be too embarrassing. Suddenly she realized that Mr. Taylor has spoken to her. Joe had already left the room.
"Miss Cartwright, you have never been to school, is that correct?"
"Yes, sir, but my father taught me to read and write and he taught me some arithmetic." Mr. Taylor gave her a sheet to read. She read it aloud without difficulty. He nodded and gave her a passage to read. She read that without difficulty.
"Excellent" he said. "Your father did an excellent job. Now try these sums." Annie was able to do all but the last 5 problems. "Good, I know where to place you now. You may go outside until I ring the bell."
Annie ran out into the sunlight. Joe was already playing with some of the boys he knew. Suddenly Jimmy Rogers came running towards Annie. "Hey, it's the Cartwright Charity Case" he taunted. "I heard Cartwrights took her 'cuz no one else wanted her!"
"You take that back" she yelled.
"Who's gonna' make me?"
"Oh yeah? I dare you?"
Just as she was about to punch Jimmy, Annie remembered Uncle Ben warning her and Joe to stay out of trouble in school. She also remembered Joe telling her that what she got in school for punishment she would get double at home. She sneered at Jimmy. "You're not worth the trouble" and spun on her heel towards the stairs. There was Mr. Taylor standing at the top of the stairs.
"Miss Cartwright?" He beckoned her forward. Oh great, she thought. I've been in school five minutes and I'm in trouble already! Uncle Ben is going to have my hide. She reached the top of the stairs. "Yes, sir?"
"Miss Cartwright, I am very pleased to see that you know fighting is forbidden on school grounds. You should also remember that it's not fair for you to start a fistfight because a boy who hits you back will be in far greater trouble because he hit a girl."
Annie nodded slightly. "Yes, sir, I'll remember that."
"Good, please take your seat." Mr. Taylor rang the bell and the rest of the students came running. Annie was pleased to see that the teacher kept Jimmy back for a minute to scold him.
The morning passed fairly quickly. Mr. Taylor spent most of the morning trying to place students in the proper grades. Lunchtime found Annie and Joe the envy of their classmates because of the lunch Hop Sing made. Joe already started making deals with his fellow students to sell parts of their lunch in the future. Annie tried to make friends with the one girl who was her age, but the girl didn't seem to want to talk. All of the other girls were much younger than Annie. Joe and the boys were playing tag, but after Jimmy's teasing that morning Annie didn't want to play with them.
The afternoon went more slowly. The teacher spent the afternoon listening to them recite the lessons they were supposed to learn in the morning. Mr. Taylor turned out to be a fairly strict teacher and he used his ruler on Jimmy Rogers' hand when Jimmy tried to pull the braid of the little girl who sat in front of him. Annie found her mind drifting out the window to the hills outside the schoolroom. She wished she and Joe were out hunting rabbits like they planned to be. She was shocked out of her daydreams by a ruler whacking the desk in front of her. "Miss Cartwright, will you please recite your lesson." Fortunately for the palm of her hand, she knew her lesson word for word and Mr. Taylor didn't need to use his ruler again.
Finally 3:00 came and Mr. Taylor dismissed the students. Annie and Joe ran out with the rest of the students and found Ben waiting out front. He greeted the two and helped Annie up on the wagon. "How was school?" he asked after he urged the horses to walk on. He laughed at Joe's "okay." Annie was slightly more animated and told him that Mr. Taylor thought her pa had done a good job teaching her and that the lessons were pretty easy. When Ben asked what she thought of her classmates she was less animated. "I don't know. There was only one other girl my age in the class and she didn't really want to talk much at lunch."
"Yeah, Pa, and when Jimmy Rogers started to pick on Annie I thought she was going to pound him good!" As soon as the words were out of Joe's mouth, he covered it with both hands. Ben stopped the team and looked at Annie, who was glaring at Joe. "Anna Marie, look at me."
Annie dragged her eyes to Ben's. "Anna Marie, were you involved in a fight at school?" Annie shook her head dramatically. "No sir, I know better. Jimmy Rogers tried to get me to fight, but I walked away."
"What did Jimmy say?"
"I don't want to talk about it." Annie looked like she was about to cry, so Ben dropped the question. He would ask Joe later. "Mr. Taylor told me he was glad I remembered that fighting was against the rules and that it wouldn't be fair for me to hit a boy 'cuz the boy would catch it for hitting a girl."
Ben nodded and urged the team on again. They reached home a short while later and were pleased to see a familiar horse tied up out front. Joe threw himself from the wagon. "Adam's home! Adam's home!" Annie waited until the wagon stopped completely, then jumped out too. Sure enough, Adam appeared in the door of the house, looking tired and covered with dirt. He laughed when first Joe and then Annie jumped onto him.
Ben climbed down from the wagon, a big smile on his face, his hand outstretched. "Welcome home, son! We didn't expect you for another couple of weeks."
Adam shook Pa's hand and was drawn into his embrace. "I just got home. We got as far as Placerville, and the miners there offered such a good price for the herd that Mr. Johnson thought we'd be fools to press on to Sacremento. We didn't get as much as we would have there, to be sure, but we didn't have to chance losing any cattle, or having them lose any weight. Come on, Hoss, let's take care of the horses."
Hoss stepped out of the house behind Adam. "Pa, Tess asked if I could come to dinner tonight. Can I go?"
Ben nodded. "That should be all right. Mrs. Greene will be there won't she? You remember what we talked about." Hoss started to roll his eyes, then thought better of it. "Yes, sir, she'll be there and I'll remember what we talked about." He grabbed the team's lead and headed them towards the barn. Adam led his horse towards the barn as well.
"What was that all about?" he asked Hoss once they had the horses stabled.
"Oh, that rat of a little brother told Pa that he saw me and Tess kissin' and Pa gave me another 'how young gentlemen act with young ladies' talk." Adam rolled his eyes. He lost track of the number of times he'd heard that lecture himself. Hoss nudged him and winked. "It's a dang good thing Joe didn't come along a few minutes earlier 'cuz we was doin' a bit more than kissin' then." They both laughed.
"Oh, lord, you don't want Pa to catch you!" Adam went onto to tell a story of when Pa caught him with a girl a few years back in New Orleans. "I tell you, first he blistered my ears, then he threatened to blister my tail."
They both turned at the noise behind them. Annie and Joe tried to duck out of sight, but each brother grabbed one. "What'd you hear?" asked Hoss.
"Nothin'" said Annie. Joe answered "Enough" at the same time. Hoss shook Joe.
"You'd better be nice to me if you don't want Pa to hear the story you just told Adam." Joe preened ever so slightly. Hoss just shook Joe again.
"Pa can't be around to protect you all the time, you just remember that."
Joe deflated visibly at the threat from his much larger brother.
Adam looked at Annie. "You got something to say?"
"Only that Uncle Ben wants you to come in." Adam put her down and brushed off her dress. Annie knew better than to threaten to rat on Adam and Hoss. Joe may have forgotten, but she knew that they had played several jokes on Adam and Hoss that Uncle Ben didn't know about and that could get Annie and Joe into a lot of trouble. Bribery was a dangerous game when you played with Adam.
Dinner that night was noisy. First, Ben had to hear from Adam all about the drive and the cattle sale. Ben was proud of Adam, and he made sure that everyone knew it. Annie smirked at Adam. He may be 21 and all grown up but he's swelling like a bullfrog listening to Uncle Ben's praise. Bet if I put a pin in him, he'd pop all over the place, she thought.
Then Ben wanted to hear all about school. Annie said she liked it fine. She didn't want to say much for fear that Uncle Ben would bring up the near fight again. Joe talked on and on about who was in the class and who he sat next to and who he played with at recess. He ended with "Mr. Taylor sure is strict. He already whacked Jimmy Rogers' hand with a ruler."
"Knowing Jimmy Rogers, he undoubtedly deserved it." Ben wryly observed. "You two make sure you don't do anything to deserve Mr. Taylor's wrath." Annie bit her lower lip. She hoped Uncle Ben wouldn't find out that her attention wandered in school and that Mr. Taylor had hit her books with his ruler. She didn't think he'd be too pleased about that.
The next morning found Joe and Annie riding by themselves to school. Of course, Uncle Ben's last words to them were an admonition to go straight to school, behave themselves and come right home after school. No dawdling! As if they would ever dawdle!
They made it to school with several minutes to spare. They unsaddled their horses and led them to the corral. "Hey, look, they've got a marble game going on, wanna play?" Joe was already digging through his saddlebags looking for his marbles.
Annie shook her head. "No, I'm going to try to talk to that other girl. She's sitting all by herself." Sure enough, the only other girl Annie's age was sitting on a log. Her red hair was braided into two braids even longer than Annie's. Her dress was worn, but carefully patched. Annie sat next to her.
"Hi, I'm Annie Cartwright."
"I remember. I'm Peggy Flynn."
"I live with my uncle Ben and my cousins. That's my cousin, Joe, over there."
Peggy nodded sadly. "I live with me da's cousin and his wife."
"You talk funny, where you from?"
"County Cork. That's in Ireland. How old are you?"
Just then Jimmy Rogers came over. "Hey look, the two charity cases are talkin'! What do you reckon they're talkin' about?"
Peggy looked like she wanted to cry but Annie just stood up, fists balled. "You take that back!" Before she could advance on him, though, Joe came flying through the air and knocked Jimmy down. The next thing Annie knew, the kids were yelling "fight! Fight!" and Mr. Taylor was outside trying to pull the two apart. He was taller than Uncle Ben, and he towered over the two boys.
"Joseph! James! Fighting is forbidden and you both know that!" Mr. Taylor dragged both boys by the collar into the schoolhouse. The rest of the children could hear muffled talking and then the sounds of Mr. Taylor's switch. Then he came and rang the bell. As Annie filed in with the rest of the students, she took a look at Joe's forlorn face. His face was filthy, and it looked like he was trying hard not to cry.
The day passed slowly after that. Once again, Annie's attention wandered and she was brought back to the real world by the whack of the ruler on her book. "You may stay in for recess, Miss Cartwright. And, the next time my ruler will not be hitting your book!"
It was a dejected Joe and Annie that saddled their horses to go home that afternoon. Annie tried to talk to Joe about the fight, but he was silent. "I'll tell Uncle Ben it was my fault," she said as Joe swung himself carefully into the saddle. The ride home was slow as Joe tried to keep his backside from being jostled too much. As they neared the house, Joe finally spoke up. "Look, do I have a black eye?"
Annie shook her head. "Nope, I can't tell by looking at your face that you were in a fight." Joe relaxed.
"Do me a favor then, don't tell Pa."
"He won't hear it from me but don't you think he'll notice you're having trouble sitting?"
"Nah, it's not that bad. I just don't want to get it from him, and you know the rule, what you get at school, you get double at home."
Fortunately for Joe, his father was preoccupied with a mare about to foal, and didn't notice Joe's discomfort. Annie and Joe ate dinner by themselves as Adam, Hoss and Ben were with the horse. They had started their homework when the three men came in. Joe looked up expectantly.
"It's the purtiest little filly" Hoss told them. Ben told them how Hoss had been the one responsible for delivering the little horse and went on to praise Hoss's animal care skills. Annie smirked again another grown up cousin puffing up like a bullfrog.
"May we go see the horse?"
"Yes, but stay out of the stall. The mother is bound to be a bit jittery right now and she might bite." Ben sat down as Hop Sing served their dinner. Annie and Joe raced out of the house and Adam got up to close the door behind them.
They slowed to a walk outside the barn and tiptoed towards the mare's stall. They peeked between the slats. Hoss was right, Annie didn't think she had ever seen such a beautiful filly. The baby was standing by her mother, head butting her mother as she started to nurse again. Suddenly Annie was hit by a wave of profound sadness and she started to cry.
At first Joe just looked at her in disgust wasn't that just like a girl to start crying over some baby animal. Then, when he looked again, he could tell something was really wrong. Annie didn't even notice he had left the barn to fetch his father until strong arms gathered her up and Ben carried her to the porch of the house. He gestured with his head for the boys to go inside, and he sat down on the bench. He stroked Annie's hair for a minute until she calmed down. "Do you want to talk about it?" She shook her head and buried her head in his chest. She didn't know what was wrong how could she talk about it?
"It's all right to miss him, you know. It's all right to cry." Annie looked up in amazement how could Uncle Ben know that she missed Papa when she didn't even know it. Ben held her closer. "It's not the first time I've held a grieving child. They all went through this, Adam, Hoss and Joe." He held out his handkerchief and she wiped her eyes and nose. "You think everything's fine, then suddenly something reminds you and you start crying again." Annie looked at him curiously and somehow she didn't think he was talking about his sons this time. It struck her how much sadness Uncle Ben had known, and yet his life went on. She sniffed.
"One of papa's mares foaled just before he got sick. When I was standing there, it made me remember standing with him." She paused. "Uncle Ben, am I a charity case?"
He was always amazed how quickly a conversation could change when he was talking to a child. He stroked her back to comfort her. "We talked about that Annie. You are my family as much as the boys are. You're not here because I was charitable, you're here because I love you, as I loved your father. Besides, aren't you the one who just enlarged the Ponderosa? Maybe I'm the charity case!" He smiled at her giggling. "Is that what the near-fight was about yesterday?" She nodded. "Well, that Jimmy Rogers doesn't know what he's talking about, does he? Come on, let's go wash your face. I think it's bedtime for you." She gave him a kiss on the cheek and jumped off his lap. Ben looked at her, thinking again how nice it was to have a little girl.
Thursday passed without event for Annie and Joe. Jimmy Rogers left Annie alone and Mr. Taylor didn't need to remind her to pay attention. Finally Friday came, with its promise of the weekend's freedom. Annie and Joe rode to school in good moods. Ben had told them they wouldn't have any extra chores on Saturday, just their usual ones. They had the whole day to play.
They made it to the school just in time to unsaddle their horses and slide into their seats before Mr. Taylor reminded the students that they would be having a spelling test later that morning. Annie and Joe had Adam quiz them the night before o they were feeling confident. Mr. Taylor stated the class on arithmetic and then called Annie to the front.
"Miss Cartwright, I think you are finding the reader too easy. I've brought in a book that I think you may enjoy more." He passed a slim volume to Annie and she looked at the spine. Macbeth by William Shakespeare. "Are you familiar with Shakespeare?
"Yes sir, my father and I read Romeo and Juliet together."
"Good. Now you return to your seat and finish your arithmetic. While the rest of the class is reading from their readers, I want you to read the pages I've marked. We'll discuss it during the afternoon."
Annie read the play until the spelling test. She had no problem with the test and was feeling good when Mr. Taylor collected the papers. The school headed out to lunch and she laughed when she saw Joe selling some of Hop Sing's cookies. "Hey, don't sell my lunch! You'd better split that money with me, or I'll tell Hop Sing!" Peggy was absent so Annie sat with Joe during lunch and played tag after they ate.
The morning had gone so well that Annie had no idea of the trouble awaiting her that afternoon. Mr. Taylor had heard the students recite their reading lessons and pronounced himself pleased with Annie's efforts in Macbeth. Then he started talking about the geography of California and Annie found herself lost in thoughts of her life in Santa Barbara. Suddenly she was aware of complete silence. She looked up nervously to see Mr. Taylor frowning down at her. "Miss Cartwright please stand up and hold out your hand." She put out the right hand and hid the left hand behind her back. She bit her lip as Mr. Taylor delivered two stinging blows to her palm with his ruler. "Miss Cartwright, you will go to the board and you will write 500 times "I will endeavor to remain attentive to my studies while in school." Annie walked to the board, feeling every eye in the school on her back. She willed herself to not cry as she picked up the chalk.
She had only written her sentence 450 times when Mr. Taylor dismissed the school. She turned expectantly but he waved her back. "You are not done. You will remain after school until you have completed your punishment." Joe looked at her and gestured that he would be waiting outside. Annie turned back to the board and resumed her writing. How could a day that started so great turn out so badly? At least it couldn't get any worse.
Annie was just finishing her last sentence when she heard footsteps and a deep voice. "Is there a problem, Mr. Taylor?" Annie sagged. The day just got worse.
She turned to see a stern faced Uncle Ben approaching. Mr. Taylor rose and extended his hand in greeting. "Well, Mr. Cartwright, Annie has had some trouble this week remembering to pay attention during school."
Uncle Ben's frown deepened. "That's unfortunate. Annie knows how I expect her to behave in school."
"Annie, if you are done, would you please step outside so I may speak with your uncle?" Annie slipped out, taking care to stay out of Uncle Ben's reach. She saw Joe sitting on the steps. He had both their horses saddled and ready to go. He shot her a sympathetic look. "I didn't know Pa would be in town today. I was hoping we'd get home before he noticed we were late." Annie sat next to him and shook her left hand. "How's your hand?"
"Which one? They both hurt, and I'm afraid that's not the only thing that will hurt once Uncle Ben's done in there."
"Yeah, I know. I have this bad feeling that my fight is going to come up, too. Looks like another Saturday spent in the yard."
"Mr. Cartwright, please sit down." Mr. Taylor sat next to Ben in the front row. "Mr. Cartwright, you shouldn't be too upset with Annie. I've found this to be a common problem with students who have never been to school before. She's really doing well here."
Ben grunted. "Nonetheless, I expect my children to stay out of trouble."
Mr. Taylor nodded. "I agree, sir, and that's why I tend to be very strict, especially at the beginning of a new term. No doubt Joe told you that I'm too strict after what happened Wednesday."
"I'm sorry, I don't know what happened on Wednesday."
"Joe and Jimmy Rogers were fighting, which I absolutely forbid on school grounds." Ben nodded approvingly. "I broke up the fight and took a switch to both of them."
"No, Joseph forgot to mention that. I think I know the cause Jimmy's been teasing Annie and Joe probably took issue to that."
"As I was saying, Mr. Cartwright, you shouldn't be too upset. Joe's been doing very well and Annie's getting better. I must say that both children are very bright. I've already moved her from the readers to Shakespeare."
"Thank you for your kind words. I'll speak to both of them, but I promise I won't be too hard." Ben rose and shook Mr. Taylor's hand.
Ben could tell that both children were watching him closely during the whole ride home. They reached the ranch and dismounted in front of the barn. Ben handed his reins to Joe and asked him to take care of the horses, as he needed to speak to Annie. Annie followed Ben dejectedly to her room. Ben closed the door and turned to face her.
"Why are you in school?"
Annie looked up, surprised. "Because you send me?" she asked cautiously.
Ben hid his smile. "And why do I send you?"
Annie shrugged. "To learn?"
"Exactly. Can you learn if your mind is wandering all over creation?"
Annie looked back at the floor. "No, sir."
"I send you to school and I expect you to pay attention. Do you understand? Look at me when I'm talking to you."
Annie looked up. "Yes, sir, I understand."
"Good. You will spend tomorrow morning sitting at the table, studying, and if I see your attention wander just once, you'll spend the day there. Now go tell Joseph I need to see him."
Annie headed to the barn. She lost half her free Saturday, but it couldn't have been a lot worse. "Joe? Uncle Ben wants you!"
Joe wasn't too happy to hear that Pa found out about the fight, but he was relieved to find out that he only had extra chores for Saturday morning. His afternoon was still his own. He wasn't sure why Pa was being so easy on him, but he wasn't going to complain.
Annie sat down to dinner with her family that night. She thought about the week and decided it was a pretty good week. She made a new friend, she had a new book to read and Uncle Ben didn't seem too angry about the trouble at school. She thought she might just like school after all.