Synopsis: Ben Cartwright receives an incomplete telegram. What is the message and who is it about? A post-series story.
Genre: Western, writing challenge
Word Count: 1,930
“Dear Mr. Cartwright,
It is with deepest regret that I must inform you…”
“That’s all?” Ben Cartwright asked of the telegraph clerk who handed him the partially received message.
“That’s all there was…” the elderly man stated as he turned back to the telegraph machine and tapped out a message asking for confirmation that there had to be more. “Lines musta gone down, didn’t receive a response accepting the message received.”
“Where did it originate? Less, where did this wire originate from?” Ben asked.
“That’s the funny part, now that I think of it, there weren’t no origination code,” replied Less. “Lines musta been unstable and prevented that part of the message from coming through, and then we only got that much of the message in… I’m sorry Mr. Cartwright.”
Stepping from the telegraph office, Ben Cartwright, owner of the most prosperous ranch in the Nevada territory was at a loss on what to do regarding the partial message he’d received. It couldn’t be…
“Ben!” Paul Martin hailed as he saw one of his dearest friends step into the roadway that was the main street of Virginia City and almost be struck down by the incoming stage coach. Pulling the man back to the boardwalk, Paul continued, “Ben, what’s wrong? Didn’t you hear the stage?”
“What? I’m sorry Paul? What about the stage?” Ben inquired.
“You’re coming with me to my surgery.”
Brokering no refusal, Doctor Martin sternly steered his patient down the boardwalk and into one of his examination rooms.
“Ben, have a seat.”
“Paul, this isn’t necessary,” Ben answered.
“When I see you so distracted that you almost get yourself killed… Something’s wrong.” Paul turned from the sideboard and held out one glass tumbler half filled with an amber colored liquid. “Drink.”
Waiting for the color to return to his friend’s face, Paul asked, “Care to tell me about it?”
“I don’t know what there is to tell… Less handed me a partially received telegram.”
Ben handed the sheet of paper to the physician.
After reading what Less has transcribed, Virginia City’s long-time doctor knew his friend and there was nothing he could prescribe to alleviate his friend’s grief. “Where are the boys?” Paul asked.
“It may not be the boys? It could be John… my brother… or Will. Then there’s always the possibility of it being Clay. Or Clarrisa…”
“Did Less attempt to confirm the message?”
Ben nodded as the pit of his stomach churned even with the warmth of the brandy calming his nerves…
“I need to get home,” Ben softly spoke.
Paul Martin advised Roy Coffee that he would see their friend home as he tied Buck to the back of his buggy.
“I’ll stay with him tonight,” Paul solemnly spoke.
“I don’t envy Ben right now… Take care of him,” Roy answered.
Years of knowing the man who sat to his right, Paul Martin allowed his friend this quiet time, a time for him to worry without any platitudes or false airs that all would be fine. The beauty of the land they crossed could do nothing to quell a grieving heart. Over the years the good doctor knew how many times each member of the family had come too close to taking their final breath. He prayed that God would grant Ben Cartwright one last miracle.
“Paul? What’s wrong with Pa?” Hoss Cartwright asked, as the large man lumbered from the doorway, across the wooden porch, and onto the hard-packed dirt that lay between the horse barn and the main house.
“At least he knows it’s not Hoss,” Paul thought. “He’s received a distressing wire that was only partly delivered and we can’t confirm.”
“What did it say?” Hoss absentmindedly asked as he untied Buck from behind the buggy.
“We don’t know… The wire abruptly ended.”
Turning to a long-time ranch hand who offered to take care of the graying Buck, Hoss spoke “Thanks Charlie, I know Pa’ll appreciate you takin’ care of ol’ Buck.”
Hop Sing hovered at the doorway and quietly followed the men across the great room and up the stairs. The ever faithful servant quietly slipped from the room as the other two settled Ben into his bed; returning shortly with a tray bearing the coffee pot, three mugs, and the brandy decanter.
“Ever knowing, Hop Sing. Thank you for your thoughtfulness,” Paul stated as he measured out the brandy into each coffee cup. “For medicinal purposes, gentlemen.”
Weary from worry and unfathomable grief, Ben’s eyes closed in sleep.
“The best medicine for him,” Paul spoke as he set his cup aside and waited.
“He’ll be alright, won’t he Paul?” Hoss asked.
“He will. With us here, he will.”
Visions of distant memories and quiet voices surrounded Ben Cartwright in an effort to prove him strong enough to handle God’s plan.
“Ben?” was quietly voiced in a feminine voice with a New England accent. “God gave you strength, be strong my love.”
With a sweet, Swedish tone, another voice spoke, “Benjamin? God has blessed you with courage and compassion. There is no other man like you.”
“Ben, with God’s strength, you picked me up from the depths of my despair, know you will rise again as does the Phoenix.” The words sounded like a song spoken with quiet French inflection.
Those in the room turned to the doorway at hearing, “Pa?!” called from the first floor.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve heard his voice,” Paul stated.
“Too long,” answered Hoss.
“I go make sure all is ready,” Hop Sing replied.
A dark clad figure entered the great room, allowing two others to precede him.
“Joe?! Pa?!” he called out as he tossed his hat on the credenza behind the door, after setting their luggage beside the grandfather clock.
A figure from the top of the stairs called, “Please, lower your voice.”
“Where is everyone?” the man asked looking up.
“Who are you?” asked the man looking down to the bearded figure with a bald pate on top.
“I’m Adam Cartwright. Where’s my father, and my brother? And who are you?”
“I’m Doctor Evers. Ben Cartwright is up here in his room, I’ve had to sedate him.”
Adam Cartwright raced up the staircase, taking the steps two at a time; leaving the woman and young man alone in the house they had never been inside.
“What happened?” Adam asked as he sat in the chair beside his father’s bed and caressed the man’s hand.
“We don’t know, exactly. I mean for a man of his age… One of the hands found him unconscious on the porch and sent for me. Even though he was unaware of what was happening, he was quite agitated when I arrived.”
“He’s supposed to be on his way back from Reno.”
“Pa! I’m…” Joe yelled and stopped mid-sentence seeing the strangers standing in the great room of his home. “Who are you?”
“I’m Millicent Cartwright and this is Benjamin Eric, my son,” the woman spoke as she pulled the teen-aged youth close behind her as the man’s hand rested on the butt of his gun.
“Then…” Joe looked left and right, then demanded, “Where’s Adam?”
The boy pointed upstairs.
As his brother before him, Joe took the stairs two at a time, ran down the hallway to the only room with an open door and froze in the entry way, hands braced against both sides of the door frame.
“Pa?! Adam?!” Joe cried and raced into his father’s room. Falling to his knees beside his father’s bed, next to his brother.
Sensing the need to wake, Ben struggled against the heavy pull of sleep. Moments passed as his eyelids fluttered open.
A smile appeared on his weathered face and tears spilled from his eyes as he bore witness to his oldest and youngest, side by side after so many years apart.
Breathily he spoke, “Elizabeth, Inger, and Marie are waiting for me.” Slowly his hand patted the hand of his eldest and then his youngest’s hand. “Don’t worry, I’m not making this trip alone, Hoss and Paul are here, so are Roy and Hop Sing. They’ll see me safely home.” Struggling to say what he needed to say, “Remember boys, love each other as I loved you. This land is yours, it always was. You two take care of each other, I’ll be watching.”
Ben’s eyes closed once more as his chest fell for the last time.
Returning his stethoscope to his black bag, the physician stated, “He’s at peace. His last wish was finally granted, to see you two together again. He lived a long life; I hope I can live to see ninety.”
“We didn’t get to say goodbye,” cried Joe with tears streaming down his face.
“We did Joe, just the fact that the two of us were here,” answered Adam as he pulled his youngest brother into his arms.
“Ben, you weren’t supposed to know. How did you…” Paul asked as he took the hand of his old friend.
“I knew that Joe and Adam were alright.”
“Could have fooled me,” Paul announced. “This was all planned so it would appear to be any other day. How did you know that the telegram was about you?”
“Paul, I sensed when Hoss died, even before Joe told me; and this didn’t feel like that. I couldn’t let that wire be delivered in full; not with Adam on his way home. Not until I knew that Adam would be there for Joe, and Joe for Adam. I didn’t want either of them to be alone. Besides, I couldn’t let on that I knew the truth.”
“Pa? Do ya think I’ll get inta too much trouble for what I dun? I mean, cuttin’ that wire off like I did,” Hoss asked.
“No Hoss, you were doing what needed done. I knew my time was short, but your brothers needed to be here, together, before I’d let God call me home.”
“Come on Ben, your wives and a lot of old friends are waiting for us to get back so they can say hello, again. And I’m sure Hop Sing has a pot of hot coffee just waiting for us.”
~The End October, 2013
Written in response to the Kill a Cartwright Challenge
Kill a Cartwright… It sounds easier said than done. Since Jamie was kicked out as an option from the git-go, the decision became extremely difficult. If Jamie was out, then by logical association, I presumed so too would Will, Laura (by marriage), and Clay (though not a Cartwright by birth, he could have been adopted by Ben after he married Marie and assumed the Cartwright name). There was also Ben’s brother John and cousin Clarrisa, both I also presumed would also not be acceptable as a Cartwright to kill. Maybe I read too much between the lines, but I thought killing any one of these would be avoiding the literary intent of this challenge… Can one write of the death of one of our beloved Cartwrights?
I may have taken the cowards way out in the story I’ve submitted, and some will think I have failed at this challenge. But maybe just the fact that I wrote of the death of a Cartwright, and I survived, will be enough to satisfy the requirement that I did indeed “Kill a Cartwright”.
Some say the act of Killing a Cartwright is liberating; me… I’m going back to all the Cartwrights being healthy and together.