Summary: What Happened In-between in “The Hopefuls”
Word Count: 4000
It was late when the Cartwright men made their way back to the ranch. With a silvery half moon shining high in the sky, the trail was easy to follow when on open ground. Occasionally, it wound through patches of forest where, under the cover of the tall Ponderosa pines, the ghostly light flickered and danced, making the ground appear to move slightly beneath them. The stillness of the night was broken by the reassuring, rhythmic thump of four sets of hooves making contact with the dry ground.
Adam rode slightly ahead of the other three, with Ben following several lengths behind. Each man was lost in his own thoughts. Light chuckles could be heard coming from the rear as Hoss and Joe rode side by side, discussing the events of the day.
Adam’s thoughts were in a whirlwind as his normally rational and responsible mind tried to sort out the feelings that were crowding in on him. Excitement – yes, that the world could still present him with such a surprise package. Fear – that no matter what he decided to do, someone would be hurt by his actions – if not his Pa and brothers, then Regina herself. Dread – that if he didn’t follow what he knew his heart was telling him – well, how many chances can a man expect to get before they all run out? Frustration – that was a big one. Why can’t things ever just be simple?
“Time, that’s the problem. There isn’t time to weigh all sides of this situation. She’ll be leaving in the morning. Whatever I decide, it has to be soon. No…it has to be now.”
Finally, he allowed himself to admit one small feeling that was struggling to work its way up to the surface…hope.
“Hey, Hoss. Did you see the cow eyes that Adam was making tonight at Regina?” Joe was giggling under his breath.
“Now, you just hush up about that, Little Brother.”
“But, I mean…it’s not like she’s pretty or anything. What’s he looking at her for?”
“I said hush, Joe. Adam hears you and you might just find yourself flat on your back with a fist in your eye. Besides, I thought Miss Regina was right purty.”
“Uh, uh. Looks like a schoolmarm to me.”
“Joe, you ought to be old enough by now to know that it ain’t the purty ribbons and fancy paper, it’s what’s in the package that counts. What’s that Pa says? ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ or somethin’ like that?”
“You really believe that, Hoss?”
If the moon would have been brighter, Joe would have seen the small, sad smile on Hoss’s face. “I’m countin’ on it, Joe; I’m countin’ on it.”
There was a slight pause as Joe considered what his brother had said.
“I don’t know, Hoss. I sure do like those pretty ribbons and fancy paper! Like unwrapping ’em, too!”
“Trouble – that’s what this night has turned out to be,” Ben thought as he followed behind his son on the trail. “Sam Board…what was Adam thinking this time?” Hoss and Joe had found a moment to pull Ben aside and fill him in on what they knew about Sam Board from the talk at the Bucket of Blood.
People always assumed that it was Hoss who picked up strays, and that was true. There wasn’t a deer, rabbit, or fox that needed help that he didn’t bring home. Adam, on the other hand, always seemed to find the strays in humankind and went out of his way to help them; sometimes with disastrous results.
“I just hope this isn’t one of those times.”
Ben let his thoughts turn to the wagon train that was now camping on the banks of the river. Jacob Darien and his daughter, Regina. It’s not that he couldn’t appreciate the spirit and tenacity of these people. To sell all they had and come all the way from Ohio to seek a new land…yes…that was something that Ben Cartwright could understand. But there were so many other things about them that he couldn’t understand. Accept? Yes. Respect? Yes; but understand…not really.
And what of Adam tonight? It hadn’t gotten past him; the looks he shared with Regina throughout the evening; how he would gently put his hand on her arm and then move it when someone would look their way; the time they spent together behind the wagon. What exactly was going on between them and how did it happen so quickly? Yes, Ben thought, here was trouble of a different kind.
Hoss couldn’t remember the last time that he had such an enjoyable evening, full of good food and good company. “Here, Pa, let me put Buck up. You go on into the house,” he said as he took the reins from his father.
“Thank you, son. I think I’ll do just that.”
Ben rolled his shoulders and stretched his arms above his head trying to work out some of the kinks and stiffness that seemed to worsen as the years went by. As he moved toward the house, he indulged in just one backward glance to his oldest son.
Noticing the change in Adam’s mood from earlier in the evening, Hoss decided to strike up some conversation as they brushed and watered their mounts. “Hey, Adam. Whereabouts did you meet up with Miss Regina? Adam…Adam!”
“Huh? Oh. I was in town when they came through.
“Yeah? And was that about the same time as you ran into Sam Board?” Joe asked, the edge in his voice plain for all to hear.
Adam scowled to himself. He didn’t want to talk about Sam Board and it was obvious that his family didn’t feel comfortable with Board around. He was grateful for the man’s help in town when the drunks in the street were harassing the Dariens. He had offered Sam the job before he knew his real identity and saw no reason to change his mind. Adam was not the kind to put too much stock in idle gossip. As far as he knew, Sam wasn’t wanted by the law and the accusations of cheating at cards had not been proven. A man had a right to a fresh start. The fact that Sam didn’t seem to want or need his help and had decided to move on just didn’t seem important to him at the moment. He had other things on his mind…
Adam let out a sigh, “Goodnight, gentlemen. I’m going inside.”
As Hoss and Joe exchanged bewildered glances Adam turned and walked out the door.
Although the hour was late, Ben found it impossible to unwind and poured himself a generous portion of brandy. After stoking the fire he settled in his chair and contemplated the storm clouds he saw rolling in on the horizon…storm clouds that had nothing to do with the weather.
The door opened and Adam came in, casually tossing his hat onto the sideboard. As he took off his gun belt and carefully rolled it up he noticed his Pa sitting beside the fire.
“Adam, care to join me in a brandy, son?”
Adam turned toward the staircase, “No, Pa. I don’t think so. It’s late and I’m tired. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, son. Sleep well.”
Ben exhaled a deep breath that he wasn’t even aware he had been holding. As he stared into the dancing flames, he pondered his eldest son. Adam was so self-contained, so introspective, some might even say moody. His mind drifted back to the women with whom Adam had been romantically involved. Sue Ellen Terry…well, that really had no place to go from the start. Tragic ending to a poor girl’s life. Still, Ben didn’t think that Adam had felt real love for the girl. Pity, probably. Desire, definitely; but love? No, not love.
Virginia Keith? The three years off and on that Adam spent with Ginny before he went off to college and after he got back were pleasant; uneventful. Lem Keith, however, was never very accepting of him, knowing that he could never control Adam the way he planned to control his son-in-law. Apparently, the relationship wasn’t worth the effort of constantly butting heads with a domineering father. Ginny and Adam parted as friends.
Ruth. That was a different story entirely. That his son was truly in love with someone for the first time, Ben couldn’t deny. He saw the desperation on Adam’s face when he realized that Ruth had left with the Shoshone. He lived with the desolation his son felt for months afterwards. Yes, when Adam truly fell for a woman, he fell hard – and fast, like a burst of flame. Unfortunately, each time the flame would burn itself out just as quickly and leave the smoldering ashes of his son’s broken heart behind.
In his room, Adam took off his boots, unbuttoned his shirt and shrugged it off his shoulders. As he lay back on his bed, he again tried to analyze his feelings for Regina. Feelings that came around the corner and knocked him off his feet before he even saw them coming. What was it about her? Did she have incredible beauty? He had to admit that she didn’t; that’s not what had him so intrigued. Was it the fact that she was so different from other women he knew? He let out a frustrated sigh. No, it was some of these differences that gave him most cause for concern.
“Will I ever really find someone that I can love and who will love me…no strings attached, no complications?” he thought dismally. At that he smiled a little to himself. “Not if you keep trying to analyze every relationship like a mathematics problem, you won’t!”
Adam got up, went over to his bureau and took out a small box from the top drawer. He opened it and carefully drew out the worn, leather bound Bible. It smelled of earth and felt good in his hands, solid and comforting. As he opened it, he read the inscription written on the first page. “Olaf Halverson, daughter, Ruth.” The family tree of a family that had ended in tragedy. He gently set the book aside and unwrapped a small parcel covered in paper. His mind went back to that hillside by the lake where he picked the prairie grass to weave into the ring that he now held in his hand. As he turned it over and over, he relived those few, wonderful days just over a year ago. He had loved Ruth with all his heart. Was it a betrayal of her love to feel what he was feeling now for Regina? He drew in a quick breath and knew suddenly and with the calmness of certainty that what he felt for Regina was the same as what he had felt for Ruth; true love, deep and undeniable. With this certainty as his shield came the knowledge of what he now had to do.
“Hey, Pa, you still up?” asked Joe as he and Hoss bounded noisily into the great room.
“Thought I might enjoy a brandy by the fire. Care to join me?”
“Maybe later, Pa. Joe and I are gonna go get a bite from the kitchen. I swear I’m feelin’ a mite peckish and that shore ’nuff was a tirin’ ride!”
Joe just shook his head in disbelief. Not only had Hoss just eaten a large meal with the wagon train, but the ride from the Darien camp couldn’t have been over five miles.
“Count me out, big brother. I don’t want Cochise complaining when I climb into the saddle tomorrow! ‘Night, Pa.”
“Goodnight, Joseph.” Ben sat back into his chair and casually picked up the book that was on the large table in front of him. It was, of course, one of Adam’s. This again brought his thoughts back to his eldest son.
Hoss came round the corner from the kitchen with a plate stacked high with bread and meat. “Pa, I’m gonna take this here sandwich up to my room. I’ll see ya in the mornin’.”
About a half an hour later, Ben was awakened in his chair by a gentle tap on his arm.
“Hmm, what? What’s that?”
“Shh, Pa. It’s just me. I was wondering if we could talk.”
“Oh, Adam. Sure, son, what’s on your mind?”
“Here it comes,” thought Ben nervously. Adam rarely went in for soul-baring and when he did, it usually meant that he had a burden that he felt he couldn’t carry alone or a problem he just couldn’t solve. Ben felt privileged that Adam would come to him at these times, but he also had a sense of foreboding. After what he saw today, this couldn’t be good news.
Adam sat at his customary place on the table with his feet balancing against the hearth. This was going to be difficult. “How can I explain my feelings to him, what I know I have to do, when it sounds crazy and irresponsible, even to me?”
Ben watched his son for several moments. Unconsciously, Adam was going through his ritual of nervous habits; scratching behind his ear, clearing his throat, pinching the bridge of his nose; things he almost invariably did when he was uncomfortable or unsure about himself or, Ben thought, when he’s getting ready to break the “bad news.”
“Pa…” A long pause.
“Well, you see, it’s like this…” An even longer pause.
“It’s just that…”
Inwardly, Ben had to chuckle. This was his college educated son. Probably the most well-read man in the territory and he was having trouble stringing more than a few words together. “Patience,” he told himself, “patience.”
Adam took the plunge. “Pa, I’ve made a decision. I’m going to travel with the Darien train to Slatersville. I’ll be leaving in the morning.”
Ben’s head snapped up and his eyes opened wide at what he had just heard coming from his son. Whatever he had expected, it wasn’t this.
“What? Boy, this is nonsense. Use your head!”
“Pa, I’m not a boy, and what I’m feeling now has nothing to do with my head!”
Ben could clearly see that Adam was already on the defensive. “Adam, son…I could see tonight that you had feelings for Miss Regina….”
“More than ‘feelings.’ Pa. I haven’t felt this way since…” He hesitated as a slight shudder went through his body.
“Since Ruth?” Ben ventured.
Adam’s nod was so slight that Ben barely caught it. He rarely mentioned Ruth’s name or what happened on that long ago “Mountain of the Dead.” This was more serious than he originally thought. Best to try a different tack. Arguing was almost always counterproductive with his eldest son…and besides, Ben usually lost the arguments!
“Son, you’re a grown man and what you do is your business. I just want you to think about a few things first.”
Adam forced himself to sit still and listen to what his father had to say. After all, he did come down here to ask his advice, didn’t he? Or did he really just come down to present his father with his decision, already made with no discussion? Was he inwardly hoping that his father would logically talk him out of this? He nodded slightly, indicating for him to continue.
Ben went on. “Adam, they have a whole different way of life than us; a different set of beliefs.”
“Pa, they’re good people.”
“Yes, yes, son. They’re good people. No one’s disputing that. But just because they’re good people doesn’t mean that they are the same kind of people. They think differently than us. They live differently than us.”
“Pa, do you think I don’t realize that? That I haven’t argued with myself over this decision?”
“Adam, son, from what I’ve heard, they don’t believe in violence of any kind.”
“And what’s so wrong with that, Pa? Since when do we advocate violence?”
“It’s not that we advocate violence, son, but I’ve brought you boys up to protect and defend what’s yours. To use your gun in self-defense or defense of each other. I won’t change that belief now.”
“No, Adam, hear me out. You saw the way the wagon train was lined up tonight. End to end, one after another. These people have no concept of the kind of violence that occurs in this territory. Anyone with any sense would have circled those wagons and prepared a watch for the night. It’s just an example, son, of our different ways of thinking – of living.”
Adam had to sigh. Like father, like son. This was the same comment that he made to Regina this afternoon by the lake. Suddenly, he found himself responding to his Pa by echoing what she had said to him.
“Pa, everyone has a right to do things their own way, don’t they?”
“Yes, of course they do, son. But please, don’t be naive about this. One of you will have to make a big adjustment if it’s going to work. Are you prepared to meet her more than half way? If not, you’d better reconsider this.”
Adam closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them he turned to face his father.
“Pa. I feel that I need to do this. I’m afraid that I’m being given one last chance and if I don’t take it, I may never get another. I’ll travel as far as Slatersville. That will give us time to get to know each other better and see if there’s any possibility for a future. I need to do this, Pa. Please don’t stand in my way.”
Ben could feel his son pleading with him for understanding. The moment he had been dreading all his life was now staring him in the face. Either he let Adam live his own life, let him go with his blessing, or risk losing him forever.
“Son, I have no intention of standing in your way. If you have to go, though, I’d like to go with you to the camp…say my goodbyes to Jacob and Regina.”
Adam felt an enormous weight lifted from his shoulders. “Sure, Pa…I think I’d like that.”
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence while Ben replayed the conversation in his mind, wondering what, it anything, he could have done to change its outcome. Suddenly a thought occurred to him.
“Oh, Adam, what about Sam Board?”
“Don’t worry, Pa. Sam took off earlier and I don’t think we’ll be seeing him again.”
“Well, I can’t say as I’m sorry about that, son. Goodnight.”
Adam grasped his father’s shoulder with his hand. A brief contact in which he tried to convey his thanks. “’Night, Pa.”
After Adam went up to bed, Ben paced the floor of the great room. “What was I to do? He’s right; he’s a grown man. I can’t keep him here against his will.”
Still feeling a great deal of unease at the prospect of Adam leaving with the wagon train, possibly never to return, Ben found himself outside the door of his middle son. The snores coming from the other side of the door were soft, but still audible. Maybe Hoss hadn’t been asleep for very long.
Softly Ben turned the knob and walked in. What he saw amused him despite the worry that was eating at his stomach. Hoss was in his nightshirt, reclining against the headboard of his great bed. In his hand was a sandwich that he had apparently made a valiant effort to consume before sleep caught up with him. There were crumbs on his chest and a smile on his face.
“Hoss, Hoss, wake up, son.” Hoss’s snoring stopped abruptly.
“Pa? What’s wrong?”
“Sorry to wake you, son; can I have a word with you?”
Hoss wiped the sleep from his eyes and the crumbs from his mouth. “Sure, Pa. You feelin’ poorly?”
Ben sat down on the edge of the bed. “Hoss, did you notice anything different about your brother Adam tonight?”
Hoss scratched his head, “Well, I suppose he was a mite quieter than usual, but that ain’t so surprisin’, considerin’ it’s Adam.”
“What about at the Darien camp? Anything then?”
Now Hoss was getting the picture. His Pa didn’t often come to one brother to discuss the private life of another unless he was truly upset or worried. He thought back to Joe’s comments about how Adam was making “cow eyes” at Miss Regina.
“Aw, Pa. Adam and Miss Regina was just gettin’ to know each other. I don’t see as how you got any cause to worry.”
“I’m sorry, Hoss. I know it’s really not my business, but your brother has decided to travel to Slatersville with the wagon train. He’s leaving in the morning. I just wish I didn’t think he’s making a terrible mistake.”
Hmm…traveling with the wagon train. Once again, his brother was able to hide his true feelings from his family. Hoss didn’t understand what made Adam act this way. Didn’t he realize that all his family wanted was for him to be happy? Hoss was no happier than his father that Adam felt he had to leave but he determined right then to support his brother, no matter what the personal cost. “Pa…” he began.
Hoss knew would have to tread lightly. He cleared his throat and started again. “Pa, I think them Ohio folks was real nice. They seemed to care a lot for each other, and Miss Regina, she seemed right taken with Adam.”
“Hoss, you don’t understand. They’re so different from us. Their customs, their beliefs. I’m just afraid that Adam will find that he’ll be asked to sacrifice too much of himself for her. By the time he realizes it’s a mistake, he’ll get hurt…again.”
There was more to it than what his father was saying, Hoss was sure of that. Yes, he agreed that they were different. But wasn’t everybody different? Wasn’t it the differences that made things interesting, worth paying attention to? Deep down, these were good people and Hoss had no intention of judging them. His Pa had been around a lot longer than he had and he owed him his respect and so he wouldn’t argue the point. He knew what his father really feared was not who he might be losing Adam to, but the fact that he was losing him at all.
Hoss felt for his brother. Some folks tended to think that, just because Adam didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, that his feelings didn’t run as deep their own. He knew that just wasn’t true; far from it.
“Pa, you reckon you can do without both of us for a few days? I figure I might just ride along with Adam for a spell. Kinda keep an eye on things. I ain’t so sure I’m too comfortable with that Sam Board hanging around, either.”
“I’d be grateful for that, son, I truly would.”
Ben turned back and looked over his shoulder from the top of the rise. Stretched out before him was the wagon train. He could see the low dust cloud and hear the creaking of the wheels and hooves on sod as it began the final leg of its journey.
“Bring him home, Hoss. Bring your brother back to me.”