Summary: A rift between father and sons is healed in an unexpected way.
Word Count: 650
Ben Cartwright rose from the hardwood bench when the last chord of the hymn diminished. He wondered what on earth he could possibly say to the widow standing in the doorway of the church that would justify the absence of his sons. Forlornly, he picked up his hat, unconsciously fingering the rim and gazed at the empty row once again before he joined the line forming in the aisle.
The argument had been fierce. Never before had Ben witnessed such open defiance from his middle son, but Hoss had been adamant about not attending this service. In a role reversal of historic proportion, Joe had intervened and acted as peacemaker between them . . . for all the good it did. Harsh words had been spoken; voices raised in anger; doors slammed; and ultimately, Ben was here alone.
He didn’t blame Hoss for feeling the way he did, or Joe for failing to reach an accord. Simon Miller had been a miserable excuse for a human being. He stole from his partner and drove him to suicide, cheated on his taxes, publicly berated and belittled his wife, beat his children, and abused his animals. For Hoss, the latter was the ultimate sin. The condition in which Hoss found the animals when he went to help the family after their sudden loss riled the gentle giant. Well, riled was putting it mildly. Hoss was as angry as a grizzly bear with a bad tooth, Ben thought.
No, he didn’t blame Hoss for feeling outraged that a man like Simon Miller would be lauded for the sizable donation he left the City. In truth he felt the same way, but the Cartwrights held prominent positions in the community and as members of many civic organizations, they had a responsibility to be here today to acknowledge Miller’s largesse, whatever their personal convictions were.
“Joe sure has a knack for creative thinking in difficult situations,” Hiram Wood said out of the blue as he caught up to Ben in the aisle. When the only response was a raised eyebrow, the attorney pulled Ben out of the crowd into an empty pew and continued softly, “Miller set aside a large portion of his estate for a monument to himself. His intent was to commission some grandiose statue to which the fine citizens of Virginia City could pay homage for all eternity.”
Ben snorted in derision.
“I know,” Hiram continued. “But he never got around to documenting the specifics. Heard tell he was still dithering with sculptors on the design. Probably figured he had plenty of time left.”
Ben frowned. “What does this have to do with Joe?”
“Joe convinced the family that the monument money should be spent on something more—appropriate, shall we say.”
“A Foundation for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and Animals. First gift is to fund the building of a permanent structure for the orphanage. Joe’s already wired Adam about designing it along with a barn to house rescued animals so the children can learn to care for them properly. Ironic, isn’t it?”
When he reached the door, Ben was amazed to see Hoss in the receiving line next to the widow and her children.
Miller’s unintentional act of charity couldn’t eradicate a misbegotten life or erase painful memories for his family, but it would go a long way toward healing the rift between a father and his sons. When Ben looked past Hoss and saw Joe leaning against the hitching post, his vision blurred.
Blessed be his peacemakers—both of them.