Summary: (A “Missing Scene” from the episode The Ride)
Word Count: 1725
Word soon trickled through town about Adam Cartwright’s refusal to face up to Bill Enders. Whispers sifted through the stores and the saloons, into homes and offices. Opinions were voiced over the table between husbands and wives, or at the bars between barkeepers and miners, cowboys and riff raff from off the street.
“Even caught old Ben by surprise …” was often stated when those who had noticed the altercation outside the saloon between Adam and his father and brother had let drop that tasty tit bit of gossip.
“Who would have thought Adam Cartwright would back down in front of Bill Enders?” women whispered to one another and the shining luster of hero worship dwindled just a little. “Do you think it possible that Mary Enders was telling the truth about … you know what?” they whispered with sly eyes twitching in case someone overheard and wondered how it was possible to even think it.
“No smoke without fire!” said many a husband who had got sick to the back teeth the number of times their women folk had lauded Adam Cartwright as a modern day David facing Goliath.
One woman remained firm in the face of such gossip, ignoring it, brushing it aside and refusing to accept that Adam Cartwright could do anything wrong. Adam Cartwright never did an unheroic deed in his life. To Miss Abigail Jones, Adam Cartwright was a true Sir Galahad.
But discussions at home in front of children often left an aftermath, and while Miss Jones was busy chalking up the title for the next lesson on the board in the school room, sounds of disharmony came loudly through her window.
“You’re a liar. A fat stinking liar.”
“No, I ain’t. Everyone in towns talkin’ about it and thet’s a fact. Adam Cartwrights a yella stinkin’ coward.”
“Are . . . Take that.”
“Ouch … gerroff me.”
“Take it back then.”
Miss Abigail Jones’ voice pitched in between the hollering and shouting in the play ground and children separated to allow her passage as she sailed into the fray like a vengeful Amazon. When it came to defending her beloved Adam’s name, an Amazon was exactly what she felt like! She grabbed both boys by the collar and held them as far apart as she could while she demanded a full explanation for the fight.
“He said that Adam Cartwright refused to face down Bill Enders in a fight,” Phil puffed and blew like a walrus in his efforts to thump Tom Wright.
“Well, he did so. My Pa told me and he was sitting right at the table next to them and Bill Enders said Adam Cartwright was a coward.”
Miss Abigail Jones went rather red around the neck and she snorted a little through her pinched nostrils while she shook both combatants and then ordered them into the class room. The twenty-plus children in her care marched solemnly to their seats and, with a great deal of clattering, sat down.
She looked at them all carefully. They were good children, on the whole. Some of them were lazy, some were devious, and some were cruel. They were just children, after all. Some had loyalties to the Cartwrights, some had admiration, and some came from families who bitterly resented them. She drew in her breath and put her hands together rather piously.
“Now, children. For the weekend, I want you all to write an essay. The title will be WHAT IS COURAGE?” She glanced at them all and smiled thinly. “Is discretion the better part of valor as Falstaff said in his magnificent soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Henry IV? I want you to write down whether it is … or not.”
The children looked at one another uncertainly and sighed. They shuffled their feet and some scratched their heads in puzzlement. Miss Jones turned to them regally. “Before you go home, we have ten minutes in which to relax a little and enjoy a game. Would you like that?”
There was much nodding of heads and a great deal of giggling and loud assents. She beckoned Sarah, the brightest girl in the class, and Phil, to assist her. After a little bit of whispering, she sent them on their task to clear back the desks and place the seats in a circle
“Sit down now, children.”
There was a giggle here and there. Sarah and Phil whispered to some of the children who whispered between themselves until eventually they were all settled in a circle around Miss Jones. She took the little bell from her desk, and sat down with them. The bell she placed in front of her.
“Now, children, this is an easy game. I am going to ring this bell and I want everyone of you to tell me how often the bell rang. I’m going to start with you, Phil.”
They smiled, winked and shuffled in their seats. She rang the bell four times and everyone said, very solemnly, that it had rung four times. When she rang it seven times, why, everyone agreed that it had rung seven times. Then she rang it again.
Four children said it had rung five times, but when it came to Phil’s turn, he said it had been six times. Then Sarah agreed, it was six times, not five. Three other children said six instead of five.
The next time she rang it four times and some said three, some said five, Sarah said three times and so did Phil. So did Tom and several others.
“Are you sure, Sarah?” Miss Jones asked, and Sarah said yes, she was sure. Phil said he was sure too, and so did Tom.
“You are really sure, Tom?”
“Yes, miss, definitely three times,” Tom replied and nodded his head. His friends agreed and nodded their heads. It was three times.
“Miss? Miss?” Sarah put up her hand, “I meant it was four times, Miss, not three.”
“What do you think it was, Tom, three or four?” asked Miss Jones.
“Three,” Tom replied but he wavered and looked across at Phil, who promptly put up his hand.
“Please, Miss, it was four. I was wrong. I meant four,” declared Phil.
Tom blushed and squirmed in his seat. His friends looked helplessly at him and then at Miss Jones. This surely was a strange game.
“Never mind. Shall we try again?” Miss Jones gave them all a very sweet smile, but her eyes glinted behind the glass in her spectacles rather strangely.
The bell rang again, seven mellow clangs. No one seemed to know now how many times it rang. When Sarah and Phil said it was eight times, everyone changed whatever they had thought it was and agreed it was eight times. Tom said it was seven times and he was right, but his friends dithered and decided to agree with Sarah and Phil and the others. Tom wavered and swallowed a gulp,
“Eight or seven or nine?” Miss Jones demanded. She folded her hands in her skirts and her lips went very thin and her eyes were as hard as little blackbirds about to pounce on a fat worm. Certainly, Tom wriggled much like one.
“It IS eight,” Tom capitulated and lowered his head with a scowl. “It seemed like seven but I guess it was eight.”
“Well, is has to be one or the other. Think, Tom, which is it?”
He looked around him. It seemed all eyes were on him. The clock struck the hour. No one could go home until Miss Jones said; they cold and he was keeping them waiting. The pressure was mounting. He swallowed again. “I said, already, it was eight.”
Miss Jones walked to her desk and put the bell down. She turned to face them and smiled gently. She looked at Tom with kinder eyes, for she could understand only too well the pressure he had been under and she felt sorry for him now. “Tom, you were so sure it was seven.”
“Yes, Miss, but then Sarah and Phil said it was eight and then everyone else did. I don’t know now whether it was seven or eight.” Tom looked wide eyed at the teacher; he was blushing and longing to get back home.
“If you were so sure that you were right, why give in to what everyone else thought? You were right after all. I only rang the bell seven times.”
“But,” Tom looked up at her, then he blinked and lowered his head, “I didn’t want the others to think I was stupid if I was wrong, I was …”
“Frightened?” Miss Jones said softly.
“No,” Tom shook his head vehemently. Then he saw the kindness in her eyes and the understanding which was even harder to bear than the hard stern look she usually showed to them. “Yes, I guess so.” he mumbled.
“So it would have been brave to have stuck out for seven, wouldn’t it? Brave, stubborn, proud, confident, arrogant – logical, sensible and right.”Abigail Jones placed a hand on his shoulder and smiled again. “All the things Mr. Cartwright showed when he refused to face down to Mr. Enders. I am sure that you will find Mr. Cartwright will have thought of a far more sensible and equally courageous solution to the matter, Tom.”
She looked around the class at the wide eyed children and smiled. “Now, don’t forget the lesson of this game. I want to read some interesting answers to the question ‘What is courage?’ in your essays on Monday morning. Class dismissed.”
She smiled to herself as they filed out of the classroom. Phil rather cheekily gave her a wink and received a stern look of reproof in return. Tom cast her an enquiring glance, thoughtful and pensive. She watched as they walked into the yard. Before they parted to go their separate ways, Tom approached Phil and put out a hand, which the other boy accepted with a grin and shook willingly.
With a sigh of contentment, Miss Jones began to replace the desks in the room and wonder exactly how Adam Cartwright would prove Bill Enders guilty of Toby’s death. She knew, unswervingly, that prove it, he would.