At the dinner table, Adam gazed to his right and smiled as he watched Shiloh feed their second son, Aaron, lying in her arms and covered, at the same time she encouraged his big brother, Abel, to eat his dinner. Abel had not completely mastered his spoon. He opened his mouth and watched his spoon as it came closer, only to see the small pea he hoped to eat roll off the spoon and back into his bowl. Angrily waving the spoon while his nose wrinkled, he sang one long, irritated note.
Adam reached over to help him, but Abel adamantly shook his head. "No! Me do it!" He threw the spoon on the floor and picked the pea up with his fingers, put it in his mouth, and nodded as he chewed it.
Bending to retrieve the spoon, Adam said, "Abel, if you throw your spoon on the floor again, you will go to bed without the rest of your dinner."
Sitting very still, Abel blew out of his nose, and moved his eyes to his father's. When Adam raised his brows, the boy picked the spoon up off of his tray and dropped it on the table. "Me no wan."
Shiloh turned her head to hide her smile when Adam pinched the bridge of his nose. She touched her lips with her fingers as if to wipe away her smile, then turned to her son and moved the spoon back to the tray. "Abel, you may eat your peas with your fingers, but you will use your spoon for your potatoes."
Quite innocently, Abel nodded exaggeratedly as if all was well, lifted his spoon and shoved a big bite of potatoes in his mouth, following it with one green pea.
Answering Adam's narrowed eyes, Shiloh said, "It's called compromise. He will one day master things that roll away." She hadn't quite gotten it out before she started giggling.
Bart quietly ate his dinner, content to observe how the Cartwrights interacted. He'd been surprised over and over the entire winter by their warm smiles, their bantering back and forth and their tender moments, something he had considered quite inappropriate in the company of others. But then, Hoss and Annie were the same, and everyone else seemed to delight in the closeness they shared. He had come to realize the mother and father he knew growing up were never really…together, and that he and his brother were raised by two people who endured a loveless marriage. Would he ever be able to tell Adam that he'd learned so much more than work ethics and engineering while staying in their home?
The entourage from the Ponderosa had arrived at the stock ranch several weeks ago, and while Adam arranged for Amalee to return to help with the children, and feeling guilty for taking her away from Evelyn Slater, he found someone else to help Evelyn with her young son, Robbie. Shiloh managed the boys and was able to work with Titus in the music room to work out the inconsistencies in his new scores, and Bart traveled with Adam back and forth to the Slater and Cartwright offices each day.
When they were at the stock ranch, Bart continued to ride out with Adam to check the herd, the bunkhouse, and take care of the rare disturbance between the men even though Adam had told him his ranch education was over. Bart didn't want it to be over. At his home in Boston, he'd grown up with few responsibilities. When he was in college, he whiled away his time boasting with his gentlemen friends or chasing girls with the intent of taking as much of their virtue as possible, but never looking for a commitment. He didn't need a commitment. He had money. He could pay for whatever he needed or wanted.
After spending the winter with the Cartwrights, Bart knew his life had been meaningless…wasted…just as his father's and his brother's lives. And of course, his mother endured that because she was one of those women who needed to be taken care of, and because of the expectations of her station, had became as hard as his father.
Amalee would arrive the next morning. Titus had left this morning for San Francisco, and the Cartwrights were settling down to their normalcy. They'd both gotten used to having Bart around. Both had watched the young man change from self-important and over-confident to humble and hard-working. They considered him a member of the family.
"I do hope Bethany works out well for Evelyn," said Shiloh as she continued her dinner while Aaron settled back down to nurse after having stopped to watch his brother and his spoon.
"Being sisters, Bethany has the same qualifications as Amalee," said Adam. "And Bethany can use the work now that her marriage has been dissolved. Since she's home with her parents, she feels she needs to contribute to the household expenses."
"Did you discuss a permanent position with Amalee?"
"Not yet. I thought I'd let her get settled, and then ask if she wants it. She may not want to leave her family."
Leaning back in her chair, Shiloh looked under the light blanket hanging off her shoulder and watched as Aaron's eyes closed. "I know the Ponderosa is farther away than she's been from her parents, but if she wants to be independent, it would be good for her." Moving him out from under the blanket, she wiped Aaron's chin, then bent and kissed his forehead. "I think she'll like the Ponderosa."
"I wouldn't get your hopes up. She's lived in the city all her life," said Adam as he sipped his coffee, enjoying the peace and quiet that had taken over the house now that everything was put away from the trip and Titus was gone. Adam thought the man seemed to talk endlessly.
"She'll go with us."
"And just how do you know that?" Adam asked with an presumptuous smile.
"She's not here just because of me, you know," answered Shiloh with her chin raised. "She's also here because I married you."
Adam's lips parted as his eyes narrowed. "What's that got to do with you having an independent…and sometimes exasperating…mind?"
Trying to hide a smile creeping across her lips, Shiloh replied, "It was you who sent me to that school, and it's you who encourages my work outside of taking care of our children."
He furrowed his brows and smiled, albeit briefly. "Had I known…well, you know…I wouldn't have sent you that school."
Shiloh sneered. "If Amalee chooses to marry, Susan wanted her to know what kind of man to choose. Someone who will encourage her to be her own person and allow her to pursue her rights." She arched an eyebrow at the incredulous expression on Adam's face. "If…she chooses." There was a long silence before she added, "And if you hadn't sent me to that school I wouldn't have been the woman you chose to marry."
He took her hand and kissed it. "You were the way you are long before you went to that school."
"And just…how was I?" she asked with her head cocked and her lips pursed.
Adam's laughed started low, but grew as he spoke. "You were the most obstinate little know-it-all on this entire side of the country."
Clearing his throat, Bart said, "If you'll excuse me, I'll think I'll read a bit before I turn in." He stood, playfully pulled Abel's ear which sent the child into giggles, then headed for the stairs.
Carefully pushing away from the table, Shiloh stood, and with her lips still pursed, she asked, "Would you please bring Abel up? It's bedtime." She turned away and headed for the stairs.
Adam was close behind her with Abel who was bargaining with his father. "Da, stoy."
"Not tonight. You're late for bed."
Abel crossed his arms and pouted. "Me not twubble."
Chuckling, Adam said, "No, you were not the problem."
"Stoy," Abel whispered, leaning into his father. "Pwease," he said, looking into his father's eyes with round, blue eyes of his own.
Adam let out a long breath, then nodded. "A short one." He was rewarded with a big smile, bright eyes and claps from Abel, something he would never tire of.
After the story, Adam went into their bedroom, and stood for a moment at the crib, watching Aaron sleep. He turned to face Shiloh when she came out of the washroom. "You're angry."
"I learned things at that school I would never have had the opportunity to learn at other schools."
Pushing his bottom lip up and nodding curtly, he said, "True enough. It was the extra curriculum I would have preferred you avoided."
"So you believe a woman should be subservient to men?"
Adam could see her steam rising.
"You believe a woman should expect nothing more in life than taking care of a man's home and his children?"
"Shiloh, I did not say that," Adam said as he leaned against the front of the wardrobe and crossed his arms. "I'm just saying there are woman who are happy with that." By the look on her face, he realized he'd knocked the air out of her.
Plopping down on the bed, Shiloh said, "So all this was a lie? You just tell me the horse business is mine to placate me? You tell me I could run the ranch if needed, and you say that because you don't expect the need to arise?"
"Adam, why shouldn't I have the right to vote? The laws men pass affect me. In fact, men pass laws that dictate how I take care of my own body, and in ways that are, frankly, ridiculous," she said widening her eyes, tightening her lips and giving him a curt nod.
"And that's why you have a female doctor, is it not?" When she turned her body away from him, he said, "You were handful when you were young. Do you remember how you behaved at school? You slammed your books closed or pushed them off your desk in the middle of a lesson." Receiving no response, he continued, "Sweetheart, there's no reason for you to vote. I speak for this family."
"And who speaks for the Ponderosa?"
"Pa, of course."
"Then why do Hoss and Joe get to vote if Pa speaks for the Ponderosa? What about those women who aren't married and run businesses in Virginia City. Don't you think they'd like to have a say in matters that affect them and their businesses?"
Folding his lips into a line, Adam closed his eyes and blew out of his nose, calming himself before he spoke. "Most women aren't like you and Annie. They marry to be taken care of." He exhaled and softened. "Like Bart's mother."
"There are more women out there than you think who would like to have the right to vote for laws that affect them and for the people who write those laws. In fact, there should be some women in those positions to represent the needs of women."
Shaking his head, Adam walked toward the bedroom door, moving his hand to the door knob. "A woman in politics would be eaten alive."
He stopped his progress and slowly turned back around. "Shiloh, you have no idea."
Raising her hand, Shiloh wiped wetness from her eyes. She'd thought Adam was supportive of her in her business pursuits…in running a ranch…in bidding contracts. She rose from the side of the bed and headed back to the washroom, and on her way, she mumbled, "Then maybe you should stop asking me to take care of the ranch while you're away or update the ledgers or read a contract if you think I'm so stupid."
Adam's head snapped up. "Shiloh!" Her forward progress continued without a flinch, so he followed her, and when he caught up, he grabbed her arm and spun her around. She'd angered him, but when he saw the moisture on her face, he softened. He took a deep breath, and moving his hands to her shoulders, his fingers caressed her neck. "Shiloh, I know this is important to you, and I have no doubts about your abilities. In fact, your knowledge puts some men to shame. To be brutally honest, it amuses others. Maybe someday there will be a place for women in large businesses and even in politics, but that's not going to happen anytime soon, Sweetheart. Change like that takes time…decades." When her hopeless expression didn't change, he continued, "I'm sorry. I was joking when I brought up your childhood behavior. I never intended…this."
She didn't immediately respond, but rather quickly glanced up at Adam. After a moment, she looked up and held his eyes. "Adam, if I had the opportunity to run for the school board…or even the city council, would you vote for me?"
He held her gaze, and replied, "It depends. We're about to have three babies to take care of here, and your…our…first responsibility is to them. You need to remember I resigned both positions when we started a family. But when they're older, yes, I would. I think you'd do both positions justice, and as a city council member, you could consider how laws the council recommends affect women. But Sweetheart, you are one of very few women I would vote for."
"So you're saying it's a matter of education?"
Raising his brows, he nodded. "Yes."
"Then I would say there is a need for more schools like the one I attended. If it hadn't been for that school…if it hadn't been for those women teaching me that I could do anything I set my mind to doing, I don't think I would even have tried."
Taking another deep breath, Adam said, "Maybe," as he walked back into the bedroom. Speaking louder so she could hear him, he added, "Then again, you were never expecting to be taken care of by a man."