Summary: After a long absence, Adam comes home for Christmas.
Word Count: 7480
This story is written in dedication to my older brother whom I haven’t seen for some time and is now finally coming home for Christmas. When my brother had been away for awhile, I began to think of what it must have been like for the Cartwrights when Adam went away, especially around the holidays when families miss their loved ones most. This is how I pictured it would have been like, had Adam decided to visit for the holidays after having been away in the East for four years. The relationship I write between Adam and Joe is deeply affected and motivated by my own relationship with my older brother. Anyway, here’s my story and I hope you enjoy it! This one is for you, Nick; it’s so wonderful to have you home for Christmas!
Joe stretched and yawned as he sleepily made his way to the barn. The chill of the mid-December air was enough to shake the last remaining feeling of sleepiness from him and he pulled his coat tighter around him to keep out the frigid morning air. He glanced up at the lightly falling snow as it made its way down toward earth, beginning to form a thin layer on the ground.
It was about time, Joe thought to himself. Snow flurries had passed through the area continuously over the past few weeks, though none of it lying on the ground long enough to form that blanket of snow that would, at least in Joe’s mind, truly make it Christmas.
Entering the barn, he crossed the room to the stall on the far end. His horse, Cochise, whinnied as if welcoming his owner in from the cold. Patting the horse gently, Joe smiled at the animal. “Glad to see me Cooch?” He asked as though expecting an answer.
Grabbing his saddle off of the side of the stall, he placed it on Cochise, a trip into town planned in his mind. There was nothing new about the details of this morning. Joe had ridden into town every morning for the past couple of weeks as he waited in hopes of a particular letter to come in. Joe prayed silently that a snowstorm or anything else hadn’t delayed its arrival or a reply from its receiver… his oldest brother, Adam.
It had now been a little more than four years since Adam had left for the East or since they’d even last seen him at all. Though they kept in touch through letters, the void in all of their lives was still very present, particularly during the holiday season.
It had been a month prior that Joe and Hoss had discussed this and, without Hoss’ or Ben’s knowledge, Joe had written to Adam in hopes that this Christmas might be one of which they were finally all together again.
“Joseph?” Joe was brought suddenly out of thought by the sound of his father’s voice. He glanced up as Ben crossed the barn to where he stood.
“Morning, Pa.” He nodded toward his father and offered him a smile. He hoped his father hadn’t figured him out. After all, Ben had to be at least a little suspicious with how many trips he was making into town.
“You going into Virginia City, son?” Ben asked simply. His youngest son’s frequent trips there hadn’t slipped by him and he had to admit, they had him curious. But Joe would soon be coming upon twenty-eight years of age and he was certainly past the age of having to “report” every trip and pastime to Ben.
After all, it wasn’t as though Joe’s work was suffering. If anything, his youngest son seemed to be working extra hard of late. Ben knew it was the holiday season. It had never been a secret that this was Joe’s favorite time of the year and Ben knew that Joe’s recent trips into town probably had to do with some surprise he had dreamed up.
Joe nodded in reply to his father’s question. “Need me to get you anything, pa?” he asked.
“Just be sure to check the mail,” Ben answered. “I generally expect to hear from Adam around now.”
“Sure thing, Pa.” Joe replied as he mounted Cochise. “I’ll be back shortly,” he stated as he kicked his horse to a gallop and rode for town.
Icy snowflakes stung Adam’s face as he quickly walked down the busy street of Boston. It was even colder than he had thought and he was now beginning to wish that he had saddled his horse and rode down to the letter office. He had contemplated it before leaving his place of residence just up the street, but thought it to be to short a distance to bother saddling a horse for.
Nothing could keep him from his destination, as he knew it was high time that he got a letter off to his pa and brothers for Christmas.
A sudden tug on his sleeve caused his thoughts to pause and he glanced down. It was a little boy of not much more than ten, Adam guessed and judging the look of his ragged clothes, this boy’s family was down on their luck, that is, if he even had one.
“Your name Mr. Cartwright?” The boy finally spoke and Adam nodded.
“The man down at the letter office told me to give this to you.” The boy announced, holding a letter out toward Adam.
“Why thank you, young man,” Adam took the letter. The boys smiled at Adam’s thanks though he made no move to walk away and Adam realized what he was hoping for. Reaching into his pocket, he had a look at its contents- some small change, a silver dollar, and a five dollar gold piece.
Glancing down at the boy once more, his heart again softened at the eager look on the boy’s face. Deciding upon the gold piece, he placed it in the kid’s hand and was rewarded with a beaming smile.
“Gee thanks Mr. Cartwright.” The boy said enthusiastically. “Merry Christmas!” He then turned and ran down the street.
“Merry Christmas to you,” Adam called out after him before glancing down at the letter that had been handed to him. It was from Virginia City and Adam knew that it could be from none other than his pa. He opened it quickly and was surprised to discover it to be, not from his father but from his youngest brother.
The icy coldness of the morning was soon forgotten as his mind and heart returned to home, and he slowly read the letter.
Hoss glanced up from where he was grooming Chub just outside the barn as Joe rode up and dismounted. It was now heading toward evening and the sun was beginning to set. Joe had a lot on his mind at the moment. The fact that he still hadn’t received a reply from Adam, had him worried and he realized there was a good chance his letter had been delayed.
“You listening, Joe?” He was suddenly brought out of thought by Hoss’ question.
“I’m sorry, what’d you say Hoss?”
“I said you look tired. You oughta get some rest.”
Joe only nodded.
“You get very far on working that new string of horse pa recently bought from Texas?” Hoss enquired, hoping to start up some sort of conversation with his brother. It seemed as though Joe had been very distant over the past couple of days; as if his mind was entirely somewhere else.
“Very far?” Joe replied. “Just finished them today.”
Hoss looked surprised at this. “That’s the hardest I’ve ever seen you work, Joe; you sure you’re feelin’ all right?” He said jokingly. Hoss was even more surprised when Joe made no effort to defend himself of the sarcastic remark.
“Where’ve you been lately any way, Joe? You’ve been awfully quiet. I wish you’d at least acknowledge I’m even here.” Hoss finally stated.
A mischievous grin spread across Joe’s face at his brother’s comment.
“Don’t worry, brother; I’ll acknowledge you’re here…” Joe announced, reaching down and grabbing a handful of snow. “…with this.”
Hoss hadn’t even a moment to think before he felt an icy cold snowball hit him in the arm.
“So that’s how you want to play, little brother?” Hoss asked before hurling his own snowball at Joe who quickly ducked out of the way…. Just in time for it to hit Ben, who had walked outside when he had realized his youngest had arrived home.
“Sorry pa, we didn’t see you standing there,” Hoss tried to apologize quickly, displaying a sheepish look as he hoped that their father hadn’t noticed their goofing around when they were supposed to be getting things done around the ranch.
“I see you two are working,” Ben commented in a stern voice though, in truth, he was trying hard not to laugh.
“I finished working on that new string of horse, pa,” Joe made an effort to change the subject.
“That’s quick work, Joseph. I’ve noticed that both you and Hoss have been working extra hard lately and so I’ve decided that it’s high time that you both had two weeks off.” Ben announced, a smile now spread across his face.
“Two weeks?” Hoss was the first to speak. “Hot diggity! Did you hear that Joe? Two weeks!”
“Thanks Pa!” Joe exclaimed as he took his father’s hand, shaking it profusely.
“Don’t thank me, you boys earned it.” Ben replied as he turned to walk away but stopped. Kneeling down and picking up a handful of snow, he turned back around.
“But don’t let me keep you from your work,” he commented as he handed the snowball to Joe and walked away, leaving his son’s completely speechless.
Glancing toward the loading platform, Adam hurriedly made his way through the crowds of people to finally reach the ticket counter.
“Is there a train into Carson City? He enquired of the clerk.
“I’m sorry sir, but due to some rough weather, the train you’re looking for is only going as far as Denver.”
“Denver?” Adam wanted to make sure that he had heard right. The clerk nodded. This was certainly going to cost Adam some time. Deciding upon at least reaching Denver and possibly taking a stagecoach or even borrowing a horse from there, he turned back toward the clerk.
“I’ll take one ticket for Denver, then.” He stated.
“I’m sorry sir, but the next train for Denver won’t be leaving for a week yet. There is one leaving today but I’m afraid it’s already full up.” Adam became dismayed at these words.
“Look, can you check again?” He asked.
“Sir, I’m sorry but you have to understand that….” The clerk began but Adam broke in.
“No, please you have to understand. I haven’t seen my family in four years and I need to be home for Christmas.”
The clerk seemed to soften at Adam’s words.
“Please,” Adam again pleaded and the clerk finally nodded.
“I’ll check and see if any of the passengers didn’t show up. But I’m not making any promises mind you.” The old clerk tried to sound rough but underneath all of that, Adam could see a kindness there.
“Thanks,” Adam replied quietly and he waited as the clerk left to check on the train.
Scanning the crowds of people, Adam could see that the trains were filling up quite fast. Most were likely to be traveling to see loved ones for the holidays and were just as anxious as him to get a seat on the train that would take them to their destination. Though all were going to different places, in a way they were all tied together by a common destination…. Home.
Adam’s eyes continued to scan the multitude of people and they soon came to rest on a very small boy. How the boy had managed to capture his attention among the scads of so many others who stood above him, Adam didn’t know…..and yet, he did. Maybe it was the boy’s wavy brown hair and hazel eyes that seemed to only remind him of another.
His thoughts drifted back to a dreary day that seemed years ago and yet, somehow, only yesterday……………
“Little Joe?!” Adam called out into the fading glow of twilight. No answer.
“Little Joe?!” Still no answer. It had been an hour prior that his nearly five-year-old brother had gone missing and it was now, that seventeen year old Adam began to worry. Though it wasn’t all that odd for his little brother to wonder off, after all, he seemed so full of energy even at such a young age, it was the circumstances of what had happened over the past two weeks that had him concerned about little Joe.
It had been in that time that Marie had fallen from her horse and had been killed, her funeral held only a week and a half ago. Little Joe couldn’t seem to understand what had happened though their father had tried his best to help him understand that his mommy wasn’t coming back.
Adam pulled his horse to a halt at the sight of his youngest brother, right where he’d expected him to most likely be- his mother’s grave. Dismounting from his horse, he slowly walked over to where his little brother sat on the ground, next to the grave. He seemed unaware of Adam’s presence as his gaze was fixed upon the still-fresh mound of dirt which covered the woman he’d begged God so many times to bring back.
Adam stared at his brother a moment. He knew all too well, the grief he must be feeling. After all, though he’d never even known his own mother after she’d died giving birth to him, he could remember what it had been like to lose Inger.
After her death, he’d promised himself that he didn’t need a mother and never again would he open his heart to one. But, along came Marie and through her kindness and love, he’d learned to again open his heart. He’d never been sorry.
The years she’d had with them had been wonderful and she’d always treated Hoss and Adam as though they were her own. It had been no secret though, that Joe had been the apple of her eye, the sparkle that lit them up whenever he simply smiled at her.
Though Ben had always said that little Joe embodied much of his mother’s spirit and zest for life, whenever she’d looked into the face of her son, she’d seen so much of Ben there and it had delighted her to know that she’d bore his image. Little had she known that little Joe would be the only child she’d ever have a chance to bare him.
“Mommy isn’t coming back, is she Adam?” The voice of his little brother brought Adam back out of thought. Little Joe’s eyes were still cast down toward his mother’s grave as he spoke, his voice soft and full of emotion.
Grief tore at Adam’s heart to see such a sorrow consume his youngest brother much like it had done to him when Inger had been killed on the trip west. He had been not much more than six himself, and he understood the confusion that swept a child’s mind at the death of a parent.
He knelt down next to his brother as he struggled for the words to explain the death of one who was loved so much.
“Mommy isn’t coming back,” he gently confirmed. “Mommy’s in Heaven.”
At these words, little Joe turned to look into the face of his oldest brother, his own little face streaked with tears.
“With God?” He asked finally and Adam slowly nodded, afraid now that, if he spoke, his own emotions might get the best of him.
“What’s it like in Heaven, Adam?” Silence followed for several moments as Adam thought of how to describe a place he’d never seen.
“Well, let’s see….. Heaven is very beautiful. More beautiful than anything we’ve ever seen.”
“Does it have trees and clouds and the sun?” Little Joe asked with a curiosity that only a five-year-old could have. Adam smiled at his youngest brother as he thought it over.
“You know, it just might, little Joe,” he answered.
“And horses, Adam? Mommy loved horses.” Little Joe asked innocently, the sorrow in his eyes beginning to fade.
Adam smiled at his little brother, happy to see a glimmer of hope flash across his brother’s eyes. “I’ll bet God knew that and put horses up there just for her,” Adam answered.
“Then mommy’s happy,” little Joe stated as though that was entirely all that mattered. But his eyes again turned downward and Adam knew that there was still a question left unanswered.
Turning his tear-filled hazel eyes again toward Adam, he voiced the fears that had been consuming him for the past two weeks. “But mommy will never see me again.”
Adam placed his hands on his little brother’s shoulders at these words.
“Of course you’ll see mommy again one day,” he answered gently. “And until then, she can see you and she’ll always watch over you from Heaven.” He brushed away his brother’s tears. “….. and I’m here. I’ll always be here to watch over you and keep you safe.” He promised, remembering the lat vow he’d made to Marie to look out for his youngest brother always.
“You’ll never go away like mommy?”
“Never,” Adam again promised as he took his five-year-old brother into his arms. Little Joe clung to his brother, his source of stability…of hope…of love.
“Let’s go home,” Adam whispered…………………
“Sir? Sir?” Adam was brought suddenly out of thought by the question of the clerk. “I’ve found an empty seat for you on the train but you’ll have to hurry if you want to get settled before it pulls out in five minutes.”
Thanking the clerk profusely, Adam moved quickly onto the train and seated himself just in time before the train started to move forward. His mind wandering again to home, he could hardly wait to get there.
He thought again of the promise he’d made to his five-year-old brother, so many years ago, that he would never leave. How little could have known then how after making that promise, he would break it only a few short years later when he’d left for college and again when he left for the East.
But that was all in the past now and his mind now wandered to the future… when he would finally be home for Christmas.
Ben glanced up from the breakfast table as Hoss descended the stairs.
“Mornin’ pa,” Hoss announced cheerily. After having been off the past several days and, with Christmas a mere six days away, he was in an especially cheerful mood.
“Morning, son.” Ben returned Hoss’ greeting. “Is your brother up yet?”
“He’s been up and gone since dawn this morning, Pa. Remember, Chuck Brewer asked him if he’d help him break that new stallion he just bought a few weeks back.” Hoss reminded him. “He told me he wouldn’t be gone long. I reckon he oughta be back any time now.”
But it wasn’t until two hours later that Ben finally heard his youngest son ride in. Putting down the book he’d been reading and getting up from his chair to walk across the room, he was spared walking outside into the biting cold when Joe walked through the door.
“Hi, Pa.” Joe greeted his father, though his face was contorted into one of pain and Ben was immediately concerned.
“Something wrong Joe?” He instinctively asked, placing a hand on his son’s shoulder.
“I had a slight accident over at Chuck’s.” Joe began. “I was breaking his horse and it threw me,” Joe explained.
“Well, are you all right? Did you see Doc Martin? …” Ben began asking worriedly as he checked his son over.
“I’m fine, Pa,” Joe assured him. “I fractured my wrist and I had the doc take a look at it. It’s hurting pretty bad now but he said it should be fine in a few weeks.”
At Joe’s words, Ben calmed, offering his son a smile. “Well young man, you’ll sure go to great lengths for a couple of extra weeks off.”
Joe managed a smile back. “Yeah, well for your information, pa, it’s my right wrist that’s fractured so I’ll be able to help out in a week or two.” Joe assured him.
“Oh, no, don’t worry about it Joe, you just rest up the next few weeks. Hoss and I can handle the chores around here ourselves for a while. We’ll manage. Now how about we get you something to eat young man?”
Joe smiled “Thanks pa. Sounds great.” And they both headed for the kitchen.
Adam glanced up at the dark clouds that covered the sky as far as he could see, threatening to send forth another blizzard on the already-snow-covered Denver, Colorado.
He had just stepped off of the train and was now deciding the best route from here. There was the stage line but, with the weather as unpredictable as it was, the stages would likely be held up somewhere along the line, costing time… and time was something Adam already had barely enough of.
The best route he knew was to get a horse from here and try to ride the rest of the way. The trip from here would now be the hardest part of his journey home— if he even got there. God only knew the perils that could keep him from arriving safely or on time.
Adam also knew that it was about time that he get a wire off to his youngest brother and let him know he was well on his way. In his haste to leave Boston immediately, he had forgotten to do so then. If all went well and he rode with little rest, he would arrive early on Christmas Eve— but again, that was if everything went right.
Adam could only pray that he would make it home safely.
Light snow fell as Joe urged Cochise to a faster pace toward town. It was now the twenty-third and still, he hadn’t heard from Adam. Joe knew now that only a miracle would bring them together for Christmas.
The sun shone off of the very deep snow that now lay on the ground causing it to glisten and enhancing the beauty of the day. It had been on a day such as this, over six years ago, that Adam had announced to him, his intentions to return East to start a business……………
“I’ve already told Pa…I’ll be leaving in three weeks, after the holidays.” Adam said as Joe remained silent, causing Adam to be unsure of how his youngest brother was taking the news of his plans to move East.
“Does Hoss know?” Joe finally asked, his voice not much more than a whisper.
Adam shook his head. “I haven’t told him yet. I felt that maybe I should tell you first,” he replied.
“Thanks,” Joe answered quietly.
Turning his gaze toward the mountains, Joe leaned against the fence of which they were repairing. He and Adam had been working on a lot of projects and jobs together of recent and this news seemed especially surprising at such a time in their lives. The ranch was running better than ever before and it seemed only to look more beautiful every day.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Joe heard himself ask, half of him wanting to know all about his oldest brother’s hopes and plans for the future, the other half wanting only to change the subject so he could continue believing that the three of them would continue on in helping their father run the ranch. That was how it always had been… it was hard to imagine it any other way.
Adam only nodded in reply, Though Joe wouldn’t admit it, Adam knew how hard the news had to be on him. He and Joe had only begun over the past year to really become closer and it wasn’t any easier on him to have to announce it.
It wasn’t that Adam didn’t love the Ponderosa, their home, as much as either of his brothers. It was just that ever since college, there was always a part of him still in the East. Adam felt that he needed to at least return to Boston and pursue a business in architecture, his life-long dream. He had to at least give it a try and see if it was where he truly belonged. As long as he didn’t give it a try— he would never know.
Turning his deep brown eyes again upon his brother, he struggled to find the words he knew he needed to say. He wanted to say that the Ponderosa would always be his home; That their relationship as brothers couldn’t have been better; That looking back on it all, he didn’t regret for a moment the experiences they shared.
“Joe?” He began, but was suddenly at a loss for words.
Staring deep into his brother’s eyes, knowingly, Joe placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder, letting him know that he didn’t need to say anything.
“Me too.” He said quietly………….
Upon reaching Virginia City, Joe was brought back out of thought. He had only to pick up a supply real quick at the general store and then he could be on his way again, back to the Ponderosa. A hot cup of coffee and a warm fireplace sounded awfully good right now and he was anxious to return home.
Though Ben had insisted that he stay home, Joe had argued that he was fine enough to make the quick trip into town, now he wished he would have stayed in and left Hoss to make the trip but he’d known that he needed some time to himself, not to mention the fact that he wanted to check the mail one last time.
He dismounted carefully off of Cochise all the while, making sure to keep his right arm out of harms way. It had only been a couple of days since the accident and his wrist was still very touchy with only the slightest movement causing him pain.
“Joe?! Joe?!” He heard someone shout. He turned around to see Amos Freeman from the telegraph office hurrying toward him. “This came in the other day, Joe. I was going to ride out to the Ponderosa and deliver it myself but I guess you just saved me the ride. I’m sure you’ll want to read it right away.” Amos told him, handing him a piece of paper.
Joe was surprised to read the name of the sender. It was from Adam.
Adam spurred his horse onward though his weariness and the extreme cold caused his body to protest every step forward. Though he’d switched horses twice along the way from Denver, the horse he was riding now had been ridden to the point of exhaustion; His rider felt the same way.
The fast-falling snow was a hindrance to Adam as he tried to make his way through the pitch black of the cold December night. Adam knew that if he’d kept track of the date properly, it was now the early morning hours of the twenty-fourth.
He’d been riding on the Ponderosa for some time now but, with the size of the ranch and how much of it he had yet to cross before reaching the house, he calculated that he probably wouldn’t be home before late afternoon.
Pulling his coat tighter around himself, each step forward of the horse seemed more difficult than the last. But, he continued forward, knowing that each step also brought him closer to home.
Joe glanced up at the clock as the morning slowly ticked by. Adam had stated in his telegram that he would be home on the morning of the twenty-fourth and with the passing of each hour, Joe was becoming more anxious. He hoped that his brother hadn’t been delayed because of the weather…..or worse.
“Somethin’ botherin’ you, little Joe?” He looked up as Hoss spoke.
“No, why?” Was his short reply. All of his worries focused on Adam, he wasn’t in the mood for questions just now.
Hoss shrugged. “Just askin’ is all. You keep staring up at that clock like you was anxious about somethin’.”
Joe made no further reply and returned his attentions… or at least his focus… back upon his book, his mind still elsewhere.
“You sure there ain’t nothing the matter, Joe?”
Growing more impatient with his brother’s every question, Joe turned his now flustered gaze upon Hoss once again.
“I’m sure. Now will you stop asking me so many questions so I can get back to my reading,” he asked impatiently and Hoss nodded.
“Sure thing little brother… but do you always read your books upside down?”
Joe, glancing down to discover that his brother’s words were true, righted his book while displaying a sheepish look.
Hoss eyed his brother suspiciously. It wasn’t unlike his brother to have some sort of surprise planned out for this time of year and he wouldn’t be surprised if that was where Joe’s mind was right now. He had to admit— it had him curious but, knowing Joe, Hoss knew that he would have remain curious until the following day.
Turning his attention back to his own book, Hoss tried to continue on reading but his mind couldn’t help but wonder back to other things.
And so it continued on this way the rest of the morning as snow continued to lightly fall outside.
Adam pulled his horse to a halt. He needed a moment to regain his bearings. His keen sense of direction was all that he had left to rely on and even that, he was beginning to lose faith in.
The heavy snow that had fallen all night had caused the land to become covered in a deep, white blanket and everything now looked the same in Adam’s eyes.
His eyes scanning ahead as far as he could see, he sat up straight in his saddle at the sound of a low rumble reaching his ears. That low rumble quickly became a very loud one as the ground suddenly began to give way beneath him. He hadn’t even a moment to think before he felt himself falling down the steep, rocky side of a cliff.
Reaching out helplessly for anything he might grab onto to break his fall, his hands soon found a bush, its roots firmly grounded in the soil on the side of the cliff. Dangling dangerously about a quarter of the way down, Adam gave a try at pulling himself up to no avail. With every movement he was risking the roots weakening.
Wondering what good it would even do, Adam found himself calling out for help in hopes that someone, anyone, might hear but his calls were met with and eerie silence.
Thoughts of his family flashed through his mind as he began to wonder if he’d ever even see them again. He wasn’t going to allow himself to give up that easily and he vowed silently that he would get home… somehow… some way— So long as his name was Cartwright.
The clock struck four o’clock as Joe finally stepped over toward the door, grabbing his gun belt, hat, and coat. He found himself unable to stand about any longer. Ben and Hoss were both in town after Ben had insisted that they check the mail one last time for a letter from Adam.
Joe hated to see his father worried after not having heard from Adam but Joe also knew that the surprise of Adam’s return visit would more than make up for it and he wasn’t about to say anything now. Not after he’d managed to keep his plans a secret for so long.
It took him only a few minutes to saddle Cochise and he was soon on his way. Where to go, he wasn’t certain, but something told him to have a look along the East road and so he found himself heading in that direction.
Everything seemed so deathly quiet and empty even on the main road. The fact that it was Christmas Eve and also because of the bad weather, Joe knew that it really wasn’t odd but he couldn’t help but wonder how long it would take for someone to be found if they were stranded out here.
The idea of this caused him to think of Adam and of how it could be possible that his older brother was stranded somewhere between here and Denver. In this kind of weather, anything might happen.
But the thought left as quickly as it had come as Joe pushed it out of his mind. Adam had probably stayed somewhere along the way until the worst of the storm had blown over. He might get home late but he would get home just the same. Joe was probably worrying over nothing.
And, though he told himself he was… He was having a hard time making himself believe it.
Adam gritted his teeth as he struggled to maintain the hold he had on the bush. He allowed his eyes to glance downward toward the ground several hundred feet below him. That’s when he realized that if he lost his hold, there would be nothing else to grab onto to break his fall.
From the strained feeling in his arms, Adam guessed that he’d been holding on now for close to an hour. How he’d managed to last even that long, he wasn’t sure.
A pang of fear suddenly went through him as his hands slipped, only slightly, but enough for him to slide down a little.
The panic of the moment was forgotten only a few seconds later when the sound of a rider reached his ears. He strained hard to listen a moment, afraid that his ears were deceiving him but the whinny of a horse confirmed what he’d thought he’d heard.
Joe patted Cochise gently. “Something wrong, boy?” He asked aloud. His horse seemed on edge, as though something was wrong. He suddenly pulled Cochise to a halt as they came upon a steep cliff. The deep snow had caused it to seem invisible until he was right upon it. The snow must have given way here, Joe realized, because he had been by that way only the day before and hadn’t noticed it
Adam glanced upward when the sound of the horse’s hooves stopped. “Anybody up there?” He called out, afraid that his chance had been lost, that the rider had already ridden away.
Or had he imagined it?
Joe glanced back down toward the cliff with a start. Had he heard a call for help? Not willing to simply sit and wait for an answer, he quickly dismounted from Cochise and came to the edge of the cliff.
Shock flashed across his face at the sight of his oldest brother dangling part of the way down, dangerously close to a horrifying death if he lost hold.
“Adam?!” He called out toward his brother. “Hang on, Adam, I’ll get a rope.”
Adam breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of his youngest brother and the sound of his voice. He now knew that everything would hopefully be all right, but hopefully didn’t mean for sure and even now, anything might happen.
Joe quickly grabbed the rope he’d had looped around his saddle. Tying one end securely to a nearby tree, he quickly made his way back to the edge of the cliff. Now, to decide what the best thing was to do from here.
“Adam, if I drop the rope down, do you think you can grab onto it?” He called down to Adam.
“I don’t know, Joe.” Adam called back. “If I move, I’m afraid the rest of this might give way before I get a good hold on the rope.”
Joe’s mind thought quickly at this reply. There was only one other option.
“Don’t move, Adam. I’m coming down.”
Adam didn’t reply, his mind entirely concentrating on holding on.
Joe tied the end of the rope around his waist and, casting one last glance down, he began a slow backwards decent down the cliff, holding onto the rope firmly with both hands. He was reminded immediately of his fractured wrist as pain shot up his arm at the weight he was placing on it.
Adam’s heart quickened as his hands slipped him downward a little more. He now knew that it wouldn’t be long before he lost hold completely.
“Joe?… I can’t hold on much longer,” He called out though he knew his youngest brother was doing all he could to move quickly.
Joe glanced down at Adam, their situation now dire. Joe knew that he had literally moments to work with. He pushed his pace a little faster though with every step, he was becoming less careful, running the risk of losing his footing.
Finally reaching eye level with his brother, he reached out when Adam suddenly slipped again, this time losing complete hold. Adam reached out for his youngest brother’s hand, just barely grabbing it before he would have slipped out of reach.
Joe lost his breath for a moment as he struggled to block out the pain in his wrist and concentrate on holding on. His left hand was now all that held onto the rope with his right holding onto Adam. In the quickness of the moment, he’d lost his footing and was now dangling precariously, trying desperately to pull himself back up enough to regain his footing.
Mustering all of his strength, he pulled himself up on the rope enough to do so. He felt the weight on his right arm slacken as Adam managed to find a ledge wide enough upon which to stand. Joe leaned in toward the cliff so as not to lose his balance. He concentrated on keeping his footing as he carefully released his firm hold on the rope and untied it from around his waist. He dropped it down toward Adam.
“Grab the rope and tie it around you,” he told his older brother though Adam’s face quickly filled with concern.
“What about you?” He asked. With nothing tied around him, if Joe lost hold of the rope, he could very well lose his life.
“I’ll be all right,” Joe promised though a slight twinge of doubt couldn’t help but run through his mind. It was a long way back up. “Now are you going to do what I say or are we going to be here all day?” Joe finally asked when Adam didn’t move.
Knowing the chances of changing his brother’s mind were slim, Adam reluctantly tied the rope around him and he firmly grasped the rope with both hands.
“Let’s go,” He said, glancing upward toward their destination that seemed so hopelessly far away. “Joe?” He found himself asking and Joe glanced back down toward him. “Be careful,” Adam said quietly and Joe only nodded.
Joe turned his full attention on the slow climb up. He found himself holding his breath with every step. The loose gravel of the cliff made slipping all that much more easily possible and with each pulling of the rope, Joe could feel his right arm weakening.
It was this problem as well as the loose gravel that caused Joe to finally slip part of the way up. Trying desperately to keep a hold of the rope, he slid down it a moment before Adams hands on the rope brought him to a halt.
Panic gripped Adam and he reached out with his left hand to grab onto his youngest brother’s jacket. When their gazes locked, Adam saw a weariness in the eyes of his brother.
Letting go of Joe’s jacket, he placed his hand around his brother’s, that’s when he realized for the first time that Joe’s right hand was injured when he felt the thick bandages there.
Practically at eye level with Joe, Adam stared into his hazel eyes willing his brother the strength to continue on.
“Come on, Joe. We can make it,” He said quietly. “Remember… We have to be home for Christmas… Both of us.”
At Adam’s words, determination settled on Joe once again. “What are we hanging around here for then?” He finally replied causing Adam to smile.
Slowly, together they made their way up and they were relieved to finally reach solid ground. They sat for a moment on the ground, in silence, trying to get their breath back.
“Your hand going to be all right?” Adam was the first to speak, concern written across his face.
“I’ll live,” Joe replied and despite the pain in his wrist, he offered his brother a smile. “I’m glad to see you got here Adam, but did you have to choose such a dangerous way to do it?” Joe asked as if Adam had any control over the situation. “Are you finally ready to go home or haven’t you had enough action for one day?”
Adam smiled back. “No, I think I’ll pass on more adventure.” Then his face became serious once again. “Thanks,” He said quietly.
“We did it together,” Joe reminded him before getting to his feet and helping Adam do the same. They would have to ride Cochise home together as Adam’s horse had been unfortunately lost in the fall.
Joe mounted Cochise as Adam stared off into the distance for a moment, captivated by the beauty of the ranch he’d once worked along side his father and brothers to help build up.
“You know something?” He asked quietly, turning his gaze now upon his brother. “It’s good to be home.”
Smiling at his older brother’s words, Joe helped Adam up behind him on Cochise and they began the short ride back to the house.
Ben walked Doc Martin out of the house to his buggy. He had been surprised when Joe had arrived back at the house with Adam. It had been a heart-warming reunion with his oldest son as well as between Hoss and Adam. Ben felt so indebted to his youngest for making this Christmas the best they’d had in years.
Paul was about to climb into his buggy but he stopped to turn around toward Ben.
“I don’t know how he did it, Ben.” Paul stated, speaking of Joe. “With his wrist in the shape it was, he shouldn’t have been able to do much of anything with it, much less be able to hold onto Adam the way he did.” Paul said. “Why I don’t know what to say… it’s… it’s… “
“… A miracle?” Ben finished and Paul nodded.
“I’d better be on my way then,” He announced, climbing into his buggy. “Merry Christmas, Ben.”
“Merry Christmas.” Ben returned before the doc started the buggy forward.
Watching for a moment as the buggy disappeared around the barn, Ben walked back to the house. The sound of laughter reached his ears as he opened the door to see Adam, Hoss, and Joe sitting by the fireplace.
“Well, I don’t know about you boys, but I’m up for a nice hot cup of coffee. How about it?” He offered.
“I’ll take a cup,” Hoss answered as Joe echoed his reply.
Adam smiled at Ben. “I think we’ll all take some, Pa,” he said and Ben headed for the kitchen. He turned around just before entering though, to look again at his sons. His eyes rested first on Hoss, Joe, then Adam. Each one a living legacy he would leave behind when it came his time to leave this Earth.
But that time seemed a million years away as Ben’s mind could think only of this Christmas and of how he would forever cherish the fact that they could be a family once again on this special day.
He turned his gaze upward as he offered a silent prayer of thanks not only for his youngest son’s amazing gift but also for God’s hand of safety over Adam during the difficult journey to be home for Christmas.
I’m dreaming tonight of a place I love
Even more than I usually do
And although I know, It’s a long rode back
I promise you
I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents under the tree
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”
©Kim Gannon, Walter Kent (c) 1943