Candy Canaday – His Story (by Krystyna)

Summary: (AU) This is one author’s alternative view of how Candy might have met the Cartwrights and lived his life on the Ponderosa)
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count: 13,000


There was always so much to do when it came to the spring round up; so much to do and so little time in which to do it. It was always the same, either not enough men to carry out the tasks necessary before pulling out, or too many and having to decide which of them to lay-off.

It was back breaking work too; both men and horses were worn down to exhaustion before a day was ended and it always seemed that there was never enough sleep. Cattle had to be rounded up, calves branded, and then the best had to be separated from the worse, the more robust cattle herded together for the journey to be sold as meat back east and the younger and weaker ones remaining to gain strength on pasture ground.

Hoss Cartwright rode into town and dismounted from Chubb outside the Hardware Store. ‘Cusson’s Emporium’ had been freshly painted on the sign above the door and for a moment he paused to survey it, before taking off his hat out of respect and entering the building. Inside had not been freshly painted but certainly looked as though a dash of paint would do it no harm. Hoss pulled out the list of his requirements and slapped it down on the counter for Mr. Cussons to pick up and deal with at his leisure, or rather, at his customer’s leisure because Hoss had plans to go over to the saloon and grab a long, cool beer.

*****

The tall young man in the black clothes dismounted and slipped his horse’s reins over the hitching rail outside the saloon. He ran his hand along the animal’s neck and then stroked its soft nose before turning to enter through the swing doors into the smoky interior of the saloon.

“Something to drink, Mister?”

“Whiskey, thanks.”

Mick nodded and attended to his duties with a lethargy that indicated that the day had been a long one already, leaving the stranger to wonder how the man would manage when the saloon was full later on in the day and evening.

“Always this busy?” he asked. With a hint of irony in his voice, he tossed a coin onto the counter and pulled the glass towards him.

“Not at this time of day,” Mick replied and glanced over to the door as Hoss stepped inside. “Morning, Hoss. Anything I can git for you?”

Hoss removed his hat and slipped it onto the counter close to his elbow. He looked around and frowned, and then looked at Mick. “Not very busy today, Mick?”

“There’s a big game on at the Sazarac; everyone’s gone over there…” Mick scowled and poured out Hoss’ drink, assuming from habit that the big man would prefer a long cold drink to a short fiery one.

Hoss took a gulp of the beer and very slowly swallowed it, allowing the liquid to flow over his mouth and tongue before trickling down his throat. He glanced over to where the man in black was standing, and sighed, not that the stranger would have understood why, although he offered the other man a friendly smile.

“Passing through?” Hoss asked politely, taking in the amount of dust on the man’s clothing and the weariness etched beneath the very vivid blue eyes.

“Nope, in fact, I’m hoping to find some work to keep me going for a while.”

“Oh, what kind of work?” Hoss looked at him again, took in the well built frame, sparse though it was, the strong features, the gun belt. He pursed his lips and frowned, “Know anything about cattle?”

He hadn’t waited for the reply to his first question, but to his second, the stranger nodded, and looked more keenly at the face of the man opposite him who was nursing his glass of beer as though it were a life saver. “Some”

“We’re preparing for a cattle run shortly, need more men.”

“Hmmm, well…” He put his hand to his shirt pocket, hidden by the black vest, and pulled out a paper which he handed to Hoss. “Reference from my last employer.”

“What’s your name?”

“Canaday … folks call me Candy”

“Huh,” Hoss nodded; he could understand why they would, but there was nothing about the young man that would encourage anyone to laugh at the name. He nodded again, “Hoss Cartwright.” he extended a broad palm which Canaday accepted and shook. “My Pa and brothers run the Ponderosa, it’s…”

“Sure, I know about the Ponderosa. Mr. Griffin…” he indicated the letter in Hoss’ hands, obviously written by Mr. Griffin, “spoke about it often.”

“I’ll be riding back there in about half an hour; you can ride in with me if you have a mind to,” Hoss tucked Mr. Griffin’s reference into his shirt pocket.

Candy nodded. He returned to his drink which he took his time about consuming and then, when Hoss turned to leave, the man in black followed him out of the building.

*****

The men in the bunk house gave the newcomer a cursory glance before returning to their respective tasks. Some grunted a greeting and someone asked him if he would care for some coffee. The young man nodded, looked about him and threw his saddlebags and hat upon the one unused bed. This was followed by himself, cast down and stretched full length with his arms folded behind his head.

“Here…”

He looked up to see a big man standing beside the bed with a mug of steaming coffee in one hand. Sitting upright and swinging his legs over the side of the bed, he gratefully accepted the hot drink, took a sip and nodded in approval. “Good stuff. I like it strong.”

“I’ll try and remember,” the other cowhand said and extended his other hand. “Eddy Davis.”

“Canaday” the other replied, and shook the other man’s hand.

“You did a good day’s work today, Canaday. I was watching you. You know your way around cattle pretty good.”

“I’ve worked with them long enough to have learned something,” Canaday replied with a slight scowl on his face. He gulped down the coffee, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and looked over at the other men. Some were watching him and Davis now, listening in on the conversation with the natural curiosity of men who when confined together in a small space find any diversion of interest. A new hand being one of them.

“Most folk call me Candy, on account of my name,” the young man said by way of introduction and he smiled pleasantly, which lightened the sallow features and made the blue eyes sparkle.

“You rode in at the right time of year,” Eddy replied. “I’ve worked with the Cartwrights for five seasons now. They pay well, and the grubs good. All they expect from their hands is honest work, and keep the bunk house clean.”

“Yeah,” Candy glanced around the bunk house, “I did notice that the lady of the house likes to keep things in order. This is about the neatest bunk house I’ve been in for some time.”

“Ben Cartwright’s a widower,” another man volunteered and paused in the act of pulling off his boots, “Ain’t never bin no woman on the ranch since his third wife died.”

“THIRD wife?” Candy raised his eyebrows, “Case of lock up your daughters, huh?”

The boot clattered to the floor, swiftly followed by the other. “Nothing like that.” the cowhand wiggled his toes and shook his head at the sight of the hole in his sock “Mr. Cartwright’s wife died over 20 year ago. “

“The only one that applies to now is his youngest son, Joseph.” Eddy chuckled, “Now, HE is one to watch where the ladies are concerned. Pretty lad he is, and as full of pepper as a man can be.”

Candy, as he preferred to be called, frowned. “So where does Hoss Cartwright fit into the picture?”

“Oh, that’s Mr. Cartwright’s middle son, Hoss. He’s Mr. Cartwright’s second wife’s son.”

“There’s another one then?”

“Was three of ‘em.” Eddy nodded, took Candy’s mug and took it back to join with a line-up of others on a ledge near the stove

“The eldest left the Ponderosa about a year or more ago.”

“Don’t tell me, he’s the first born from Mr. Cartwright’s first wife?” Candy allowed a half smile to grace his lips and his eyes twinkled.

“S’right,” Eddy replied, “He was a good boss. Sure miss him.”

“Sure do,” the other man sighed, and there was a mumble of agreement from some of the others.

“So what’s the matter with the others? That Hoss fella sure seemed to know what he was doing,” Candy said as he resumed his seat on the edge of his bed.

“Oh they do, don’t you worry none about that. There ain’t no flies on the Cartwright boys. They sure do know all about how to run this ranch. It’s just that they just don’t seem to have got things sorted out yet since Adam Cartwright left here…”

“Ain’t something you can rightly put your finger on, because they’re all good at what they do and Mr. Cartwright is just about the best boss a man can get, but Adam was disciplined and expected us to work according to his standard or else. He was a loss to the place, and that’s a fact.”

“And it came to ‘em as a shock, his deciding to get up and leave here. No one expected that to happen, not in a million years.” Eddy sat down on his bed and stretched out his long legs. “Anyways, Candy, where’s you from?”

“Round and about Yuma way,” Candy replied as he slowly unbuckled his gun belt and coiled it carefully upon the end of the bed. “I worked for Jack Griffin for some time, until he decided to sell out to Colonel Peterson.”

“Huh, I heard tell about that Peterson fella. Mean streak in him, I heard.” the man with the hole in his socks muttered. “By the way, my names Andrews, Jake Andrews.”

Candy nodded an acknowledgement to the man and pulled off his boots. He settled back upon the bed and once again folded his arms behind his head. He closed his eyes and hoped that the conversation would no longer concern him. He needed to think and plan for the future.

Life hadn’t been so good over the past few years. There was no doubt about it; meeting Ann and falling in love with her had been like soaring heavenwards and catching stars. Getting married had been the first great commitment of his life, but then that was when everything had gone wrong. Everything. He squeezed his eyes shut to blank out the hurt. Even now, even after so long, it still hurt. He could still see her face. He could still hear those words ‘marriage is over’ ‘annulment’ ‘over for good’

How could something so wonderful, something that made them so happy suddenly have become so bad, so wrong? He had loved her and she must have loved him. After all, she had said ‘Yes’ to the marriage vows, and she had taken his ring and put it on her finger, kissed him and …

“Hey, Candy…”

Eddy’s voice broke into his memories and he forced his mind to return to the now and present time to look over at his newly found associate.

Eddy smiled. “Time to eat. Hop Sing’s brought us over something for us to eat. Best cook in the world. Another reason why I keep coming back here season after season.”

Candy nodded, rubbed his face with his hands and then raked through his thick dark hair with his fingers. Good food, clean bed, decent workmates, what more could a man want? He knew the answer to that one.

… a good wife who would love him forever.

*****

“So what’s he like, this new hand?” Joe Cartwright looked up at his brother and raised a questioning eyebrow, while at the same time he speared a good sized steak onto his knife and dropped it onto the plate.

“He’s a good worker,” Hoss replied, carefully cutting into his meat, “Good thing too, we were short-handed.”

“So, he’s a good worker. What else?”

“Well, he’s quiet. Efficient. Works at a quicker pace than some. Knows his way around the cattle, and a good horseman. Pleasant enough I reckon.” Hoss continued to tackle the steak and looked over at his father who was ladling potato onto his plate, “You alright, Pa?” “

“I am, Hoss,” Ben replied in his deep even voice and he glanced over at his son and smiled, “So what is this new efficient worker‘s name? Do you think he’ll last here long?”

“Hard to tell, Pa. He seemed the kind that would be content to just drift for some while. His name’s Canaday, but prefers to be known as Candy.”

Ben nodded and picked up some bread. Joe was deep in thought and concentrating on his food with a furrowed brow,

“Anything on your mind, son?” Ben asked kindly, and when Joe looked up at his father Ben smiled reassuringly,

“No, Pa, I was just thinking about what time to leave tomorrow, that’s all.”

“Oh, you weren’t frettin’ over that little gal of McDonald’s, were you?” Hoss grinned and raised an eyebrow in fun, “I heard tell…”

“You shouldn’t listen to gossip. Anyway, it hasn’t anything to do with you.” Joe retorted sharply, and his lips thinned in annoyance “Seems to me a guy can’t be doing anything around here without someone poking their big fat nose into it.”

“Shucks, Joe, there ain’t no need to go on so,” Hoss declared. “I weren’t gonna say anything.”

“Well, you already did,” Joe snapped and pushed himself away from the table, throwing down his napkin. He was about to stride away when Ben’s hand grabbed at his wrist and brought him to a halt,

“That’s enough,” Ben said quietly and calmly. “Now, young man, I suggest you just set yourself back down there and finish the meal Hop Sing has provided for you and apologize to your brother.”

“But…”

“No but’s…” Ben replied softly. “And no more of this nonsense.”

“Yes, sir.” Joe sat down heavily on the chair and glanced over at Hoss, who lowered his eyes rather than be even more hurt by the anger on Joe’s face, “Sorry, Hoss.”

“Huh, yeah, sure.”

“I said ‘sorry’, “Joe snapped again, “Can’t you…”

“Joseph!”

Ben looked at Hoss sternly and then at Joe, then he shook his head and sighed, as though the bickering at the table was beyond his patience. Both Joe and Hoss resumed eating but both did so with a lack of appetite now, as though the harsh words had robbed them of the enjoyment of the meal.

“Now, back to what you were saying. What have you decided to do about leaving tomorrow?”

“I’ve got it all fixed, Pa. Hoss, do you reckon the new hand will be prepared to work along with us on the drive?” He shot a sharp look at his brother, barely an acknowledgement but it was better than nothing.

“I don’t see why not,” Hoss replied in his normal manner, always prepared to let bygones be bygones just as quickly as possible. “Talk was about nothing else at the camp so he’ll know we’re about to move them out anytime now.”

“Well, I’ve four more men joining us in the morning. Should be here by dawn. Sam Downing has the chuck wagon already provisioned for and is ready to go. I guess we should be moving out by noon.”

“Mmm, well, it isn’t as large a drive as we usually have at this time of the year.” Ben sighed, “Old man Wallis didn’t want to join with us this time. First time he’s missed sharing our drive with us for ten years.” He frowned thoughtfully, as though there was some other reason than the one Wallis had provided them.

“Huh, spares us having to share his men as well. That foreman of his was always trouble,” Joe retorted sharply and pushed his now empty plate away but drew the coffee pot closer. After pouring himself a cup of coffee, Joe rose from the table and move to the living room area, settling down in front of the fireplace.

“You mean Jed Orton? He signed off several months ago. Decided he wanted to go to Sacramento and mind a store there instead.” Hoss dismissed Orton from his mind and set it to thinking about the next day. He made a mental note that it would be the second one without Adam riding along as trail boss, so it was going to be Joe’s task, while he went along as ramrod. With the four men joining them in the morning, the new hand, Candy, and the other twelve ranch hands, they had a full contingent of men to handle the drive. He looked at his father who was pouring himself some coffee. “Do you think that deal for the timber will work out with Jefferson?”

“I don’t see why not,” Ben replied, “As soon as I’ve got the contract signed, I’ll cable you. You should be at Boulder’s Creek by then.”

Hoss nodded in agreement. Boulder’s Creek was a regular stopover point. He glanced across the room down to where Joe sat in silent contemplation of the fire.

“You alright, Joe?”

“Sure. I’m fine,” Joe replied still staring into the flames.

“How about a game of checkers?” Hoss pushed away from the table and smiled at Ben as he passed his father to join Joe at the fireside.

Joe nodded and turned his attention away from the flames. There was little point in dwelling upon past times anymore, he told himself. But then he had said that, oh probably a million times, every time, in fact, that his mind had trickled back to times before, when Adam had been there, been home, sharing the banter and the love. He looked at Hoss and smiled but his mind was saying, “He didn’t have to go and leave us; he didn’t, not really.”

*****

The four men arrived in the yard of the Ponderosa just as dawn was breaking. Sam Browning had already driven the chuck wagon to the location where the cattle had already been rounded up and most of the men in the bunkhouse had themselves ready for departure. Breakfast had been earlier than usual; horses and equipment were checked over and the men made ready to leave the ranch.

Candy fastened his horse’s girth strap securely and surveyed his surroundings. He had worked on a number of fair-sized ranches over the years since he had chosen an independent life and he was impressed by the way in which the ranch hands on the Ponderosa were organized for the largest cattle drive of the season. Not a man there grumbled at the early start but were good-natured, anxious to be off, and already planning what to do with their earnings at the time of payday, which was six weary weeks away.

He led his horse from the corral by the reins, his eyes watchful of the men there as they saddled up and made their way, at a comfortable canter, to the designated spot for departure. His eyes caught sight of the four new cowboys who had ridden into the yard and he was wondering where they would fit in when the door of the house opened and a young man paused at the threshold. Upon seeing the men, he walked towards them.

There was some discussion between them and what appeared to be a package passed from the main spokesman into the younger mans hands. It was at this point that Joe, for it was him, glanced up and saw Candy observing them. He beckoned the man over to join them, watching him all the while as Candy strolled over towards them, his horse loping behind him.

“Are you Canady?”

“I am.” Candy nodded and looked straight into Joe’s eyes; he kept his hat on his head and raised his chin defiantly.

Joe nodded, a slight grin passed over his lips in acceptance of Candy’s stance. He turned his attention back to the four men who appeared to be waiting for his instructions.

“Candy here will take care of you. He’s new here too so don’t worry too much if you happen to lose your way.” There was a twinkle in his eyes as he spoke and he glanced over at Candy to see how the man accepted the sarcasm. “Candy, that is what you prefer to be called, isn’t it?” As Candy nodded, he proceeded. “Candy, this is Tom Matthews, Phil Jackson, Andy Cooper and Travis Mayhews. Andy and Travis have ridden on our drives before now, so they can take their usual positions on the left flank. Tom and Phil join the men on the right flank.”

“And where do you want me to ride?” Candy said quietly.

Joe raised his eyebrows slightly and tugged at his ear lobe before he said quietly. “Well, you had best ride drag.”

Candy nodded. The worse place to be on a cattle drive and for some reason not unexpected to have been given him. He showed no irritation or annoyance but the way he flicked the reins to and fro between his fingers indicated to the observant young Cartwright that, in actual fact, he was not at all happy at his designated assignment. Joe gave them all a curt nod and turned into the house. The door closed behind him.

“New here are you?” Travis asked as he turned towards his horse.

“Came yesterday,” Candy replied.

“They’re good folk to work for,” Travis observed as he mounted his horse. “Just keep your nose clean and give ’em a good day’s work for your pay. You’ll be alright.”

Candy nodded and turned away. ’As though I asked your opinion,’ he thought as he slipped his foot into the stirrup and took his seat in the saddle. He lowered his hat and led the way out of the yard.

In the house, Joe walked to the study area where Ben was following with his eyes the route Hoss’ finger was tracing out on the map. Both men glanced up as Joe walked into the room,

“Travis brought the mail with him,” Joe said and tossed it onto the desk.

“Were they alright?” Hoss asked, his finger poised at the place at which he had been interrupted by Joe’s entrance.

“Sure, all eager to go. Oh, I met that Canady – Candy – fellow as well.”

“Oh sure, how is he?” Hoss grinned and his blue eyes lit up, “What did you think of him?”

To that question Joe gave a mere shrug of his shoulders.

*****

At the end of the day, it was a pure blessing that no one had been killed. As Hoss Cartwright narrowed his eyes to peer into the dust, his heart was pounding so loudly within the confines of his rib cage that he could barely catch his breath. Slowly, bit by bit, figures could be more clearly discerned through the gloom, and as the dust ebbed away, one by one, the horsemen became more sharply defined as they rode wearily towards him.

“That was close,” Candy Canaday muttered as he drew alongside the ramrod, and wiped sweat and dust from his face.

“It was,” Hoss replied, his eyes sweeping over the other man’s face, noting that apart from weariness and anxiety, Candy had emerged unscathed from the chaos of the stampede.

“Where’s Joe?” Hoss asked, turning in his saddle to find his brother His breathing was harsh, mirroring that of Chubb, who was snorting and fighting the bit in his mouth as though, despite the perils he had undergone, he was more than willing to re-enter the fray.

“I’m here,” Joe said, quietly wiping his brow with the back of his arm. “I’m alright How about you two?”

“We’re alright,” Hoss replied, giving his youngest brother a quick scrutiny to ensure the truth of his statement, and relieved to see that his brother was indeed, unharmed.

“No men hurt?” Joe asked, bringing his canteen to his lips and taking a long few swallows of the cool water.

“None.” Hoss leaned on the pommel of his saddle and frowned. “I reckon those cows lost quite a few pounds of fat in the run-off of theirs.”

“How many head did we lose? Do you know yet?” Candy asked. He took the canteen from his saddle horn and opened it, then tilted his head up to pour refreshing cool water over his face before he put it to his lips to drink long swallows of the liquid.

“No, I was about to go in with Jake and Zeke to find out. You two had better get to the chuck wagon. Sam’s fixing up some coffee,” suggested Hoss.

Candy and Joe said nothing to that, but turned their horses’ heads and walked them towards the camp. They rode side by side, and for an instant, just an instant, it seemed to Hoss that he had gone back in time and saw not one but two brothers riding back to camp.

No man there grumbled about the dangers they had just encountered. They waited in line for their coffee and whatever there was that Sam could provide to go along with it. Danger was all part of the work for which they were being paid and the cattle could spook at anything. They looked up at Joe and Candy as the two men rode into the camp, nodded as though pleased to see them both and returned to their drink. From the oldest to the youngest, each and every one of them had been near death that day. Whether from falling from their horses into the path of the pounding hooves of the cattle or from the horns that could disembowel a horse as easily as a butcher’s knife or could tear off the leg from a man, each one of them had survived.

They counted it a blessing and those that had a faith thanked God for it, while those without faith just put it all down to a day’s work.

“You did well today, Candy,” Joe said as they waited for Sam to pour out coffee and provide them with a hunk of bread to go with it.

“I didn’t realize you were watching,” came the rather sarcastic reply.

“Well, I wasn’t – too busy like everyone else – but it just seemed to me that you kept coming into my line of vision… thanks, Sam.” He took the mug of hot liquid and nursed it between his hands, declining the bread.

“Funny how that happens sometimes,” Candy replied and shrugged slightly as though it didn’t really matter to him one way or the other.

“How are you getting on with the men?” Joe looked up at the other man, to observe the eyes of the man.

“Well enough. There’s just one guy gives me some bother now and again, but I don’t let it get under my skin like some may do. He’s only a little problem, after all.” Candy raised his eye brows and looked directly at Joe over the rim of his cup as he drank his coffee.

Joe smiled slowly, shrugged, and finished his coffee. He threw the bitter dregs onto the ground and then turned to walk back to the chuck wagon. Suddenly, he paused. “We should hit Boulder’s Creek tomorrow. How about riding in with us?”

“Who exactly is us?” Candy asked with a slight twinkling of the blue eyes.

“Hoss and me.” Joe shrugged. “Some of the men who aren’t on shift will be going in too. “

“Sure,” Candy nodded, “You can count me in.”

“Good.” Joe nodded and walked away; he put the cup down and then returned to Cochise. He swung himself into the saddle and rode slowly out of camp and back to the cattle. ‘Just a little problem was he?’ Joe ground his teeth. Well, he thought, you’ll soon find out how big a problem I can be, Mister Clever Canaday. You’ll see!

*****

Boulder Creek had grown since the last time the Cartwrights had passed through town. Like many ’mushroom’ town, it was prospering from its location near a river and being on the regular route for cattle runs. No one paid much attention to the half dozen men who rode into the town late in the day. Hoss dismounted outside the telegraph post office, and after a brief exchange of words with Joe, disappeared inside the building. Joe walked Cochise to the hitching rail outside the saloon where the other men, including Candy, had tethered their horses.

The barkeeper looked up and recognized some thirsty men with a gleam of pleasure in his eyes, and the saloon girls suddenly appeared from various locations in the building to sashay over to them and drape themselves around the men. Joe watched in the mirror as the Ponderosa men drifted to various tables, some to play a serious game of poker with the resident diehards in the saloon and about to start a new game, and others to enjoy the flirtation with the girls. He watched as Candy sought a table to himself and seemed to drift into deep thoughts of his own. When a pretty girl strolled over to Candy and sat at his table to lean provocatively over at him, Candy said something in a quiet tone that made the girl flounce away with a petulant look on her face.

Joe took his beer and the one that he had paid for Hoss and walked over to Candy’s table. “Don’t mind if I join you, do you?”

Candy looked up as though surprised that Joe would be the one to ask the question but muttered that it was all the same to him whatever Joe decided to do. Upon such a gracious invitation, Joe put down the glasses and pulled out a chair.

“Like your own company, Candy?” Joe leaned back in his chair. “She was a pretty girl.”

“Well, she’s all yours, Joe.” Candy swept his hand in the direction of the girl, and smiled with a bitter twist to the lips. “I prefer to keep my own company when I get the chance to do so.”

“Oh, you want me to leave then?”

“You can do whatever you wish.” Candy shrugged.

“You’re not actually going out of your way to be friendly, Canady,” Joe murmured, then glanced over to the doors of the saloon as they swung open. “Hey, Hoss, over here.” He smiled and then turned to his companion. “You don’t mind, do you?”

Again Candy only shrugged, but smiled a greeting at Hoss when the big man came and pulled out a chair to sit down. Hoss set down a package of letters, then picked up the beer which he gulped down much like water goes down a plug hole.

“Another?” Hoss smacked his lips. “Candy?”

“Sure, thanks.”

“Three more beers over here, mister,” Hoss boomed and then he took off his hat, wiped his brow on the back of his sleeve and sighed. “Sure needed that. For some reason, Sam’s cooking just ain’t doing it for me anymore.”

The three of them took their glasses and Candy was about to say something when there was an angry shout from one of the tables which drew their attention. Big Zeke was standing up, his cards thrown down on the table

“You twister, I saw where that card came from and it weren’t from where it should have done either.”

“You calling me a cheat?”

Joe and Hoss exchanged glances. How many times had this happened? It was such a regular occurrence that they turned away to leave Big Zeke to deal with it himself,

“Happens all the time,” Joe muttered in explanation to Candy, who had also resumed drinking. “Zeke is pretty hot-headed at times.”

“Almost as bad as you, huh?” Hoss grinned.

There was the sound of a gun being fired and again they turned to see what had happened. A girl screamed, “You killed him”, and suddenly all the Ponderosa men were on their feet. Zeke was protesting that it was self-defense, but another card player claimed it was no such thing. The ’dead’ man suddenly had a resurrection and pulled out a gun which he aimed at Zeke, who proceeded to flatten him by a punch on the nose. The girl screamed again, “You killed him” and immediately there were fists flying, tables being overturned and chairs being thrown about.

“Aren’t you going to help them?” Candy asked, looking at Hoss and Joe who were cradling their beers against their chests to ensure they didn’t get knocked over in the event of some clumsy cowpoke falling into their table.

Hoss looked surprised at the question. “Why?”

“Yeah, why? They can take care of themselves. Not too sure about the townsfolk, though. They do seem a scrawny bunch, don’t you think so, Hoss?”

“Yeah, I feel sorry for them,” Hoss said in a melancholy tone of voice. “Zeke and Hank carry a lot of weight behind their punches.”

“Yeah,” Joe sighed and raised his glass to his lips.

The batwings flew open and several more men piled into the melee. Hoss and Joe exchanged a look and grimaced.

“Looks like the odds have turned.” Hoss sighed, gulping down the last of his beer.

“Wouldn’t you just know it, just when I thought it was about over,” Joe grumbled and put his empty glass on the table.

Candy watched as his trail boss and ramrod weighed into the battle. He stepped to one side, holding tightly to his glass, as he watched Hoss pick up one man by the scruff of the neck and cast him casually over the counter. Joe was entangled with two men who seemed to think he was some kind of punch bag to practice on until he hit back much like a jack-in-the-box. There were screams from the ladies, curses from the men, thumps and thuds from all parts of the room, the crashing of furniture shattering as bodies landed on them, or they were smashed over bodies.

“Here’s one for you, Hoss,” Joe cried, pushing one burly cowboy over to his brother, who gave the cowboy a neat thud on the head which sent him sinking almost gracefully to the floor.

Joe laughed and he turned to grab at a man who had sneaked up behind him. As he did so, one of the gambling men took out a gun and aimed it at Joe’s unprotected back.

“I wouldn’t if I were you,” Candy suggested, ramming his own pistol barrel into the man’s back. “Just put it back in its holster – nicely.”

The fight seemed to die its own death at that point. Candy re-holstered his gun and Joe and Hoss returned to their table, set it upright and beckoned to the barkeeper for three more beers. Throughout the saloon tables were being set to rights, chairs turned right side up and order slowly being restored.

The barkeep brought over the three beers and set them down on the table. “Who do I send the bill to? There’s a lot of damage your men did here,” he grumbled.

“It wasn‘t just our men, and it wasn’t our men who started it,” Joe said, wiping blood from a cut in his lip.

“That’s right, your gambling friend over there started it all. You should see to him for damages,” Hoss added.

“All the same your men still did a lot of damage here even if they did have help from Simpson and the others,” insisted the barkeeper.

Joe pulled out his wallet and carefully withdrew some notes from it, which he folded and pushed into the barkeeper’s hand. Satisfied with that, the man trundled off back to the counter, counting out the dollar bills and feeling smugly pleased with how it had turned out to his benefit after all.

“You gave him too much,” Candy said quietly.

Joe shrugged, and looked at Hoss but his brother was saying nothing, so he looked over at Candy and raised his eye brows. “I’ve seen enough of these brawls…”

“And been in enough” Hoss quipped.

“…to know roughly how to estimate the damage. Thanks, anyhow, for your advice.” There was an edge to Joe’s voice which made Hoss sit up and take notice.

“Hey, Joe, you should be thanking Candy here. He saved your life.”

“How come?” Joe’s eyes narrowed and he looked at Candy doubtfully, even a trifle angrily,  as though the last thing he wanted on earth was to be beholden to this man.

“He stopped a guy shooting you in the back, that’s how come,” Hoss informed him. He looked over at Candy and nodded his thanks.

“I didn’t see you in the fight; thought you were sitting out of it,” Joe said begrudgingly.

“It wasn’t my fight, couldn’t see the point in getting busted up over nothing,” Candy replied, “But it’s always worth watching and seeing what goes on.”

“Yeah, so it seems. Thanks anyhow.”

Candy nodded and raised his glass to his lips. Hoss started scrabbling around on the floor to collect up the letters that had spilled onto it, and he placed them carefully in his pocket.

“Weren’t we supposed to be meeting Mr. Cartwright here?” Candy observed, pushing his glass away from him, and leaning back in his chair.

“Yeah, that’s why we stopped over,” Joe replied.

“He’ll find us,” Hoss said nonchalantly and was about to speak when Joe excused himself and left the saloon, alone.

“What’s wrong with him?” Candy asked, “It seems that nothing I do pleases him, not even when it comes to saving his life.”

Hoss frowned, pursed his lips and shook his head. “Well, I got me an idea, Candy, and I may be way off the beam with this one, but it might be because of how he feels about our brother, Adam.”

“Adam? Sure, I heard of him. But what does he have to do with me?”

Hoss sighed and cradled the half-empty glass in his hands. He shrugged. “You dress in black; you’re his coloring, kinda. In some ways, you have a lot of his way of doing things…  Like just now in that fight — you acted just how Adam would have done.”

“Well, I can’t rightly help that,” Candy said after he had taken a few minutes to think it over. “I’m who I am. People have to accept me for who I am and for who they think I may be like.”

“Sure, I know that,” Hoss sympathized. “I did say it was just an idea of mine. I ain’t sure I’m right. It’s just that my little brother – well, he kinda had a special relationship with Adam – and… and I guess there’s a whole lot of anger still boiling away there over his leaving.”

“Did he have to leave?”

“Adam thought so. Joe didn’t.” Hoss shrugged, picked up his glass and emptied it. He pulled out his watch and frowned. “Guess I’ll be heading back. I don’t want to be here too long with those cows still restless after what happened yesterday.”

*****

Whatever Candy’s feelings were when he galloped into the yard of the Ponderosa, he kept them well hidden. He knocked on the big door and waited to be invited in as any good hired hand would, not presuming too much on the friendship of some in the family. Ben was crossing the floor to his study and paused to look up at the young man with a smile. “Ah, Candy, welcome back. How did the trip go?”

“Well enough, sir,” Candy smiled, pulled some papers from his vest pocket and handed them to his employer, taking off his hat with his other hand as he did so. He felt rather gauche and awkward standing in the big room in front of Ben, who was now scanning through the paperwork carefully while walking thoughtfully into the study area of the room.

They had returned from the roundup ten days previously — the Cartwrights, himself and several other men. Since that day, Candy had kept himself to himself, carried out the tasks assigned him and generally deported himself in such a manner as to have been favorably noticed by the big ranchman. Ben smiled slowly to himself as he took his seat at his desk, and for a few moments continued to look through the papers. The money he placed in the top drawer of his desk. “Were the men pleased with their bonus?“

“Definitely.” Candy smiled more broadly, “Mind you, I haven’t see hide nor hair of them since they hit the first town that we came to.”

“Oh, don’t worry, they’ll trickle back before long.” Ben glanced up at him and raised his dark eyebrows. “Candy, I‘ve been observing you for a while now; Hoss has a good eye when it comes down to selecting men to work for the Ponderosa.” Ben extended his hand to him, which was shaken with great warmth. “Look, why not clean up and join us for dinner tonight? I noticed that Hop Sing had picked out a particularly plump chicken…” He smiled so pleasantly that Candy had no other recourse than to accept, even though his heart sank at the prospect of sharing a meal with Joseph Cartwright.

*****

Joe glowered a little when Candy came into the room and took his place at the table. Hoss was more than pleased and made such a fuss over Candy that Joe felt even more annoyed that he had done when Ben had told them of the young man’s invitation to the meal. However, after having received several stern looks from his father and a kick on the ankle from Hoss, he put himself out to be as friendly as possible, actually laughing quite naturally at some of the things that were being discussed.

Candy told them about a fight he had had with Zeke, and also told them about the death of another of their employees, a young man who had fallen and broken his neck after his horse had broken its leg when stepping into a gopher hole.

“I’ll contact his mother tomorrow, Pa.” Hoss said, “She would want to know what happened and being a widow as well…” He paused and raised his eyebrows, indicating that perhaps they should do the right thing by her.

“Yes, he was a good worker and a pleasant lad. I’ll leave you some money in an envelope for you to take to her. “

“I’ve his personal effects in my saddle bags. Perhaps you could take them to her as well, Hoss?” Candy suggested.

The talk gradually trickled back to other things, Ben regaled them with tales of his days at sea, and in the lull that followed, Candy brought up the subject of Adam Cartwright,

“The men talk a lot about your son, Mr. Cartwright. They reckon him to have been a good trail boss.”

“He was,” Ben said quietly.

“You must all miss him a great deal,” Candy said and glanced at their faces as he said it. Ben nodded and Hoss fidgeted. Joe’s mouth tightened; he stood up abruptly, making the table rock, and pushed himself away as, without a word, he strode away from the room.

“Joseph…” Ben thundered, but Joe was not going to be compliant to his father’s orders this time. He hurried from the room, and out into the yard, slamming the door behind him.

“I’ll go and talk to him, Pa. Sorry about this, Candy.” Hoss stood up but before he could leave his chair Candy was already moving from the table,

“I’ll go, if you don’t mind, Mr. Cartwright?”

Ben looked at Hoss, motioned to him to resume his seat and nodded at Candy who promptly left the room.

“Joe’s still sore, ain’t he, Pa?”

“Seems to be.” Ben sighed, and picked up a glass of wine, “After all this time, you would think he’d have calmed down, accepted things as they are, as we have.”

“Yeah.” Hoss nodded, frowned, and wondered if his Pa really believed what he had just said. After all, he didn’t feel he could ever accept the fact that Adam had left the Ponderosa. In his heart of hearts, he didn’t believe that his father had either.

*****

 “What do you want?”

The ungraciously delivered inquiry could have deterred a less resilient man than Candy Canaday, who took it with a shrug of the shoulders and continued to walk towards the younger man who was leaning against the corral fence and staring into the stars. “I wanted to sort out this ‘little problem’. I thought in all fairness to your father and brother it should be sorted out sooner, rather than later,” he replied and joined Joe at the corral fence.

Joe was leaning with his back against the fence and his arms hooked over one of the bars, but Candy chose to stand a foot or two away from Joe with his arms folded across the top bar and leaning towards the corral. In the gathering darkness, their two shadows pooled into one on the ground.

“I know you miss your brother, Joe. I can understand how you feel, missing a person so much that it seems to leave a hole in yourself, as though a vital piece of yourself has gone and can’t be replaced,” Candy said softly after some moments of icy silence had passed between them.

“What do you know about it?” Joe snapped, and then he heaved a sigh and shook his head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that; it wasn’t fair.”

“No, it wasn’t,” Candy agreed and for a moment stared out at the stars as though thinking deeply about what to say next. “The thing is, Joe, you have so much here that you seem to be taking for granted.”

“I don’t!” Joe exclaimed with such petulance that he seemed like a little boy having to take discipline from a teacher, and that made Candy smile.

“Well, you have a wonderful father. There’s a saying in the world, isn’t there, that you don’t miss what you don’t have, but sometimes I think that’s a bit glib. A man can yearn for a good father if he hasn’t had one.”

“You didn’t have one?”

“Oh, I did but not a man to respect like your Pa. My father saw life through the bottom of a bottle. When he died no one missed him. And that’s sad, because, after all, he was my Pa.”

“Yeah, guess so.” Joe frowned; he had known many a man like Candy’s father, and had been to school with many of their children. He shivered slightly, and nodded. “My Pa had his tough times, too. When my Ma died, he left home for a while. I felt pretty annoyed then, frightened too. I thought he wouldn’t come back, like Ma…” His voice trailed away and he looked down at his feet, then turned round to lean against the bar in the same manner as Candy. “It was an odd time in my life really. I was five and suddenly everyone I loved was leaving home. Ma died, Pa left home. Pa came home, Adam went away to college.” He shook his head. “I couldn’t understand what was going on in my life. The only constant was Hoss. I guess I clung onto him like a barnacle in case he went too.” He gave a rather wobbly grin and cast a glance over at his companion. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” he asked.

“No. Thank goodness. I mean, that there were no others who had to go through a childhood like mine. When my father died, my Ma married a good man and he taught me a whole lot of things. I remember praying that he wouldn’t die and he wouldn’t take to the bottle. But seemed he’d taken the pledge, so that was my prayer answered.”

“And he’s still alive?” Joe grinned.

“Yeah, still alive.” Candy looked down and kicked a pebble about with his foot. “My Ma died though when I was about 17, so that’s when I left home. I was just glad she had some years of happiness in her life.” He drew in a long deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Your brother must be quite a guy. The men speak well of him. Folks in town have nothing but good to say about him. You act as though you worship the ground he walked on.”

“I…” Joe paused, then shook his head. “No, no, I don’t. Adam and I often clashed over things; we’re different in a lot of ways too. It’s just that when…” Again he paused, and shrugged. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Yes, it does. It matters to you; otherwise, you wouldn’t act the way you do. I mean, I’m nothing like your brother, Joe, and…”

“I know that,” Joe interrupted and again he shrugged his shoulders. “Just sometimes you have a way about you that reminds me of him. It’s like seeing a shadow on the wall and expecting to see the person you think the shadow belongs to, because – because it’s familiar and then I remember you’re a complete stranger. You’re like that, a shadow. I want…I don’t want…” He bowed his head and struggled to find the right words, the better way to frame the things he wanted to say. “Adam was like my Pa. He helped raise me, you know? He taught me things, and when Pa went away that time, Adam was the one who helped me over my grief and to understand how my Pa was grieving too. But then he went away, and when he came back, he was different.” Joe cast a quick look at Candy, who was listening intently. “Know what I mean?”

“Not exactly. Why not tell me?”

“It would take too long. I guess, looking back now, he left here a kid and came back a man. He was – is – so clever and wise, and I miss him. I don’t understand why he left, although when I read his letters and know that he’s living a life without us – that he’s ABLE to live a life without us – I get so angry. It’s only because – well – it’s like I can’t not feel this way; otherwise, I’ll lose him completely. He’ll sink to the back of my mind and life will be full of other things, and one day a complete stranger will walk back into my life and the Adam I knew was gone forever.” He slumped a little upon the bars of the corral and rested his chin upon his arms. “Guess it makes no sense, huh?”

Candy said nothing for a moment and then produced a picture from the top pocket of his shirt. He passed it over to Joe, who looked at it carefully, for although the moon was especially bright, it was still too dark to get a clear view of the face peering up at him.

“Who is she? Your Ma?”

“No. That’s Ann, and before you ask me who Ann is, well, she’s my wife, except that she isn’t my wife.”

Joe looked at Candy in surprise and then glanced back down at the picture. “You mean, she’s dead too?”

“No.” Candy took back the picture, sighed and replaced it in his pocket, “Ann and I fell in love, and against her father’s wishes, we married. The next thing I know he’s there, taken her home, and got the marriage annulled. I don’t know much about the legal procedures or the religious doctrines they leveled at me, but I know that when I vowed to make her my wife, I meant them. I don’t and I won’t view myself as free to marry until I hear she’s married someone else, or died.”

“You love her that much?”

“I’ll always love her,” Candy replied and stared out into the sky as though Ann was there looking right back at him.

“So you’re holding on too…”

“Yeah, I’m holding on too. Perhaps one day she’ll walk back into my life and my life can carry on from where we left off.” He frowned, and then looked at Joe. “I only told your Pa; he said he wouldn’t tell anyone.”

“Sure. You can trust me.” Joe smiled and thrust out his hand. “I’m sorry I gave you a hard time, Candy.”

“It wasn’t your fault. It’s just how life is at times,” the older man said as he took Joe’s hand and shook it warmly.

For a few moments they remained together, propping up the fence as some would say, and then together, they walked back into the house.

*****

Candy Canaday had proven himself to be a first rate ranch hand. As Joe sat on the top rail of the corral fence to watch the next horse being broken, he began to think upon the other man’s experiences. But one look at Candy as he shot out of the stall in the saddle of an evil-looking brown mustang sent Joe along the familiar pattern that he seemed to have set himself for days now.

Candy was the same age as Adam, which meant he was twelve years older than Joe. He was good-humored, mature and a person comfortable with himself. Unafraid to face anyone down, yet gentle and kindly, generous and open hearted. So far so good. Joe could admit that he was probably in much the same league as his friend.

But Candy could talk about being places, not just Yuma, San Francisco and Sacramento. He had been to places where only Indians still lived. He had had adventures, real adventures, not just falling off a horse during bronco busting, not just stopping stage coach robbers or being in a posse riding after some wasted individuals for Roy Coffee. Candy had experienced life and the problem for Joe was that he failed to see that he himself had experienced life too but in more narrow confines.

Joe smiled when Ben came and sat beside him. He could tell that his Pa found it a little less easy to climb up the corral rails, and the thought slipped into his mind that if he went away, perhaps something would happen to his Pa that he wouldn’t find out until much later. He shook that thought away. It was a fear they lived with every day and had, at times, had to face.

“Alright, son?”

“Sure, Pa.”

“Candy’s a good horseman, isn’t he? Sure has a good wrist. Ooooh, that wasn’t such a good idea. Could’ve got himself unseated there. What is he thinking of? Oh, well done, Candy!”

Joe sighed as he listened to his father’s commentary on the manner in which Candy was breaking in the horse. Hoss came and leaned against the railings and watched without saying anything. It occurred to Joe that Hoss had been unusually quiet during the past week. He had even stopped eating as much. “You alright, Hoss?”

“Sure, I’m jest fine. Yourself?”

“I’m fine too.” Joe grinned, “Candy’s having a bit of a tussle with this one.”

“Yeah, so I can see.”

Joe pursed his lips and looked down at his brother. “How about going into town later? We could get a drink or two.”

“Yeah, if you like.”

Joe clambered down and stood beside his brother, who smiled, slapped him on the back and nodded, then winked and turned to watch the rest of Candy’s ride. “He’s a good rider, ain’t he?”

“Yep, he sure is,” Joe replied, and leaned against the railing. “Good thing he rode into the Ponderosa that day, ain’t it?”

“Yeah, I’d miss him if he were to go now,” Hoss said

“Why should he leave? He’s got a good job here, and friends,” Joe replied, rather defensively.

“Yeah, but we ain’t his family, are we?” Hoss responded rather tetchily, and concentrated on watching the fight between man and beast that was going on before him.

Ben clambered down and stood beside them. He smiled and put a hand on their shoulders. “Well, Candy did a good job there. Did I hear you boys saying something about a drink in town? I need to go in and see Roy. Mind if I come along?”

“Sure, Pa.” Hoss grinned and looked at Joe, “That’ll be fine, won’t it, Joe?”

Joe nodded and smiled; he glanced over at the man dismounting from a now stationary horse, and watched as Candy beat dust from his black shirt with his gloved hand. He sighed; true enough Candy wasn’t family, but in some ways, he was now such a familiar figure around the Ponderosa that it almost felt as though he were, and when the four of them rode into town later that day, perhaps some in town would see the man in black riding with them and think that was what they were … a family.

*****

The brightly colored little lanterns strung along the front of the town hall glowed so bravely that a poet could have written a poem on how they were challenging the stars for their glory. Bunting and flags fluttered and snapped in the lightest of night breezes and the sound of music was loud upon the evening air.

Candy took a deep breath and removed his hat slowly as he entered the hall along with the Cartwrights and some of the other ranch hands who had been invited along to the social. He stood for a while at the doorway and looked about him as though it was the first time he had been there, although it was not. Seth Mayhew was calling out the moves for the dance

‘Your left hand to the lady’s right

Swing her now with all your might

Form an arch together now

Swing her down and give her a bow.’

Ladies shrieked and men hollered; hands were clapping and feet were tapping in time to the music. The colors of the ladies frocks swirled and swayed as they skipped down the aisle and took their partners hands to go under the arch. Laughter and joy, good food and good friends, enough to drink to chase away sobriety, and pretty girls to flirt the evening away.

A slight mocking smile touched his lips as Candy approached the trestle table and took one of the glasses which he filled with the punch. He sipped it and then turned to face the ensemble before him and watched as Joe took the hand of a pretty young girl and swung her into the dance, then he turned away and refilled his glass.

“That’s pretty potent stuff; I’d watch it if I were you,” Hoss murmured as he came and stood by his friends’ side

“It tastes awful…”

“Yeah, I know.” Hoss frowned and poured some into a glass which seemed to disappear in the palm of his hand. “First taste is unbelievable, then you take a second just to convince yourself that it really is as bad as you thought…”

“And the third?”

“No one in their right minds has a third.” Hoss grinned and raised the glass to his lips.

A young woman approached them and smiled at Hoss, although her eyes were on Candy. Hoss greeted her with a smile and introduced her to his companion, and Candy shook her hand politely and smiled back at her,

“I saw you the other week when you were in town, Mr. Canady,” she simpered, dimples gracing her cheeks and her blue eyes twinkling. “My mother pointed you out as being Mr. Cartwright’s new foreman.”

“Hardly that, Miss Rutherford,” Candy replied modestly, and released her hand having held it, he thought, rather longer than propriety allowed.

“I heard tell you were in Arizona some time back, that you worked for Mr. Laurence Griffin?”

“Yes, that’s correct.” Candy smiled; he had fond memories of his time with the Griffins. “Did you know him?”

“Oh yes, he was a relative of my father’s — a cousin I believe.”

The music started for a new dance and she looked at him with expectancy on her face, so he took her by the hand and led her into the more sedate steps of the waltz.

“I just love this music, don’t you?” she whispered and gazed up into his face with such intensity that his collar suddenly felt two sizes too small.

Candy nodded but stared over her head as he remembered another woman who had danced in his arms and said just the same thing. But then she had rested her head upon his shoulder and his arm had encircled her waist far more intimately that he could this young girls. Memories of another time, another occasion and the woman whom he loved still. He sighed and looked down at her,

“I’m sorry, Miss Rutherford, if you don’t mind…” Without another word, he took her hand and led her from the dance floor. As he passed Joe, he placed her hand into that of his friend and quickly left the building.

There was a seating arrangement of benches positioned in the yard and he sat down on one, bowed his head and buried his face in his hands. There were really too many memories and he loved Ann too much to let go of them. They remained there, a constant refrain in his mind, a constant focus of his attentions.

The crunch of gravel warned him of the approach of someone else; he hazarded a guess – Ben or Hoss. He looked up and saw that he was right in his summation as the figure of the elder Cartwright came towards him. He straightened his back and squared his shoulders and waited for Ben to join him on the bench.

“You don’t like these kind of occasions, do you, Candy?”

“No, not really.”

“Is it because of your wife or that you’re just born unsociable?” Ben smiled slightly to soften the effect of his words and saw the crease in the younger man’s brow fade.

“Ann.”

“Ah, your wife.”

“I’ve no right to call her my wife now, have I?” His words left his mouth without expression, cold and flat. He leaned forward a little, his elbows on his knees and his fingers intertwined. “I can’t help how I still feel, though.”

“There comes a day when you have to let go of your memories, Candy; otherwise…”

“I don’t want to let go of them. If I do that, what shall I have left of her? Surely you understand, sir?”

Ben said nothing for a second or so. He bit down on his lips and then looked at the younger man. “Yes, I understand.” He turned his head away and looked up at the stars, then across to the twinkling lights bravely gleaming in the glass jars. He smiled slowly. “Do you ever hope to see her again?”

“There’s always hope,” Candy replied, and then a grim smile drifted over his lips. “So I’m told anyway.”

*****

Time has a habit of passing sometimes in great leaps of weeks, sometimes in a dragging of days, but it passes all the same. During the months that followed, as winter arrived and drifted into springtime, Adam Cartwright returned home. The joy and delight of father and brothers were not wasted on the serious man who had travelled far to be back with his family, and even if he spoke little of the adventures he had partaken of while away, it was not long before he was once again back in his rightful place as his father’s right hand man.

For a while, Candy Canady wondered if it were now time to saddle up and drift on by, perhaps to Canada, to the Hudson Bay area, but whatever change he may have sensed in the relationship he had enjoyed with the brothers was quickly dispelled, evaporated by the continuing warmth of their friendship.

“You’re not thinking of leaving the Ponderosa now that I’m back, are you, Candy?” Adam Cartwright asked him one evening as they walked slowly back to the ranch house after a day’s hard work with the cattle. He straightened his back, paused awhile as though the reply was taking too long, glanced down at Candy and smiled. “You’d be a great loss if you did.”

“Would I?” Candy frowned. “I wasn’t sure…”

“Well, it’s up to you, of course; you have to make your own decision one way or the other. But I know I sure would miss having you around, and I know the boys would as well.”

“Well, the fact is…”

“Sure, as I said, it’s up to you.” Adam smiled while his eyes glanced at him briefly, and then turned away. “But just remember, the Ponderosa will always be your home.”

And that really put an end to any thought on his part of leaving, for a while at least.

It was only a matter of weeks later when Adam was concentrating on the new contract being drawn up for a logging commission that a polite knock came to the door. He had been too absorbed in his work to have heard the sound of a buggy coming into the yard, and rather slowly, as though his thoughts were still on the work he was being forced to set aside, he walked to the door and pulled it open.

A woman in a dark grey suit stood on the doorstep, one hand nervously adjusting her bonnet while the other clutched at her purse. When she realized the door had opened, she turned her attention to the man framed in the doorway and stared at him for a moment.

Adam, a slight smile on his face, stared back.

“I am sorry, but, could you tell me, please, is this the Ponderosa?” Her voice was light, soft and melodious; her eyes were grey and large framed by long lashes. Her mouth was formed by two very attractive coral pink lips.

Adam cleared his throat, and nodded, stepped aside and smiled. “It is. Would you like to step inside for a moment?”

“Er…well…”

Her hesitation became her. Adam’s smile widened. “My name’s Adam Cartwright. My father and brothers and myself…”

“Yes, I know,” she interrupted and squared her neat little shoulders. “I’m looking for a man?”

“Oh?” Adams eyebrows rose questioningly. “Any man or a particular man?”

“I was told… someone said that…” She dropped her purse and had to bend down to pick it up. Her cheeks were flushed when she stood up and looked him in the face. “I’m looking for a Mr. Canaday.”

“Aah!” Adam looked at her in such a way that the flush of her cheeks deepened, he nodded slowly. “Certainly, follow me …”

“You don’t know who I am, you didn’t ask me for my name,” she said as she hurried on after him. “I’m Ann, Ann Faulkner…I mean…Canaday.”

“Yes, of course,” Adam paused and looked at her, nodded, smiled and waited for her to catch up with him. He sometimes forgot that women who insisted on wearing the latest style hobble skirts could not match their strides to his, but once she was beside him, he took her gently by the elbow. “Come along, it’s not far now.”

It was a bright day, the sun was brilliantly hot in the sky, and everywhere shimmered in its heat, yet when they reached the out buildings where two men were busy with the horses, it seemed as though the heat faded and the light drifted into darkness. She stood there framed in the great doorway and watched one man in particular as he raised the hammer and brought it down upon the metal; the other man who was raking over some hot coals paused and turned, saw her and his brother standing at the entrance and stopped.

It was Adam who cleared his throat very loudly and caused Candy to stop his hammering, and to turn to face them. Then, just for a moment of time, it seemed as though only two people existed in that world, caught up in a fraction of time and bathed in the glow of the most glorious golden sunlight.

*****

The loud guffaw of laughter floated above the noise of people in the big room at the Ponderosa. Tinkling glasses, loud voices, laughter, music playing quietly in the background, a combination of the sounds of people enjoying themselves at one of the Cartwright events. But this was a particularly special event that had brought old friends together to commemorate it, and new friends together to enjoy it.

Hoss Cartwright refilled his brother Joe’s glass with punch, and then laughed again as he turned with his own glass filled. Together they stood side by side to look at the gathered assembly, Joe glanced up at his ‘big’ brother and grinned. “Looks like folk are enjoying themselves, huh?”

“Should do; Pa’s put on quite a spread for the day.” Hoss raised the glass to his lips and slurped some punch; he smacked his lips and nodded, “Yessirree, this is quite something.” He slurped some more.

The bride stepped forward now, her face radiant and her eyes beaming. By her side was her husband, vows just a matter of hours old; no one was too sure who was blushing most. He took her into his arms and as the music struck up so they stepped gracefully into a waltz.

“Sure look happy, don’t they?” Joe sighed, his face softening as he watched the happy couple.

“Yeah, they sure do.” Hoss nodded, and his blue eyes followed the young couple as they turned gracefully back on themselves.

Other couples were taking to the floor now. Hop Sing and No. 1 Cousin busied themselves by replenishing stocks of food on the tables. Ben appeared with some bottles and did mysterious things to the punch bowl so that the liquid level was raised. He winked at his sons as he passed them by.

All three turned to watch as Candy Canaday slipped out of the house holding tightly to the hand of a pretty young woman. With a smile, Joe nudged Hoss’ elbow and exchanged a wink and a grin.

*****

Who would have thought it possible? That was the refrain that went round and round in Candy’s head as he took the young woman into his arms and kissed her. Who would have thought that the one thing he had thought quite impossible could have come about in such a wonderful way.

Was it only a month ago? He could remember it so well, the morning he was shoeing a horse with Joe, yammering on about something or other and both of them not even bothering to look up when a buggy went by and stopped in the yard. They hadn’t even stopped when footsteps approaching the stable were heard. Joe had only paused for breath when he had become aware of her standing there, and he had nudged Candy and then – there she was, standing in the doorway with the light shimmering behind her and her neat form a dark silhouette just waiting for him to look up.

“Ann …” He whispered her name now, kissed her lips again, very gently brushed his fingers through her hair. “Ann, oh my dearest dearest darling.”

Here she was in his arms, real and solid and beautiful. Mrs. Ann Canady. His Ann. The Ann he had won and lost, and now re-found.

Around them, stars shone in a dark sky and music, laughter and singing came from the big house. Together they were locked in to their own private, long-denied world.

When her father had died, she had resolved to find the man she loved. It had taken her a year to trace him, a long arduous year and one which had taken her from one state to another in search of the husband she had abandoned but had never stopped loving. She had journeyed from ranch to town, from town to settlement, and always heard the same thing: ‘He was here, but left a while along…’ And then one day in Arizona, someone had said ‘He was here but left to go to work on the Ponderosa. That’s in Nevada territory. Why not go look for him there?’

That had brought her to journey’s end. That magical moment when she had stood in the doorway and watched him hammering at the shoe on a horse, and he had raised his head, looked at her and cried her name as though his heart was in his mouth and had exploded with that one word.

“Ann!”

Now this was their wedding day and Ben Cartwright had provided them with a day to remember. Because, to him and to his family, Candy Canaday had been more than just a ranch hand, a friend. This day had been a wonderful evidence of the affection they held for him.

Adam’s gift was that of a house for them, one he had labored on himself some years earlier, one that they knew had been built on love. It was now to be their home on a small parcel of land gifted to them by the generous owner of the Ponderosa. Neither of them could have believed it possible that they could have been so showered with so much love.

*****

“You’re looking mighty pleased with yourself, Candy.” Joe gave his friend a sly sidelong look out of the corner of his eyes and raised his eyebrows. “Anything happening that I should know about?”

“No, nothing,” the other man replied sheepishly, and continued to hammer down the post with renewed vigor, going rather red in the face as he did so.

“You quite sure?” Joe managed to ask as he grappled with some fencing and hauled it upright for Candy to take the brunt of the weight while he hammered it the other end.

“Yeah, sure, would I lie to you?” Candy said, averting his face to avoid catching Joe’s eyes.

“Mmm.” Joe frowned slightly and shifted the weight of the planking. “You’ve been going around the place looking like you were lost in a dream most of the time. Is that what marriage does to a man?”

“I dunno,” Candy shrugged. “Different people react in different ways, I guess.”

“Well, I wouldn’t know.” Joe muttered, and glanced up over his shoulder as he saw Hoss approaching. “Hoss, where’ve you been?”

“In town, had to get some more nails and such.” He turned to Candy. “Hey, Candy, I saw Ann in town.” His face broke into a broad smile.

“Oh – you did? I mean, did you?”

“Sure did, and ain’t she jest about the cutest little gal a man ever did see? Candy, you sure got yourself a real beauty of a wife.”

“Yeah, I know.” Candy nodded, going even redder in the face but trying to avoid looking at the two Cartwrights as he reached out to grab a handful of nails.

“And she told me your news.” Hoss guffawed, and nudged Candy with his elbow, sending the other man teetering forward some steps before he regained his balance. “Sure is something, I guess congratulations should be in order.”

“Congratulations?” Joe paused and looked at Candy before looking at his brother. “Congratulations for what?”

“Seems like there’s gonna be the pattering of little feet soon.” Hoss leaned against a post and grinned, looked smug and thumbed his hat to the back of his head as he stared with guileless bemusement at Candy.

“Oh,” Joe smiled innocently. “Is that right, Candy? You getting yourself a dog?”

Candy dropped the plank and turned to look at Hoss reproachfully, and then at Joe. “You know darn well it ain’t no dog, Joseph Cartwright. You’ve been hinting and pushing for me to tell you all day -”

“Cats then?” Joe smirked, tossing the hammer in the air and catching it in one hand.

Candy shook his head and picked up his end of the plank, hoisted it up and muttered something about getting the fencing finished before Ben came to see how they were getting on. Hoss grinned, nudged Joe and winked; Joe in turn winked, nodded and nudged his brother back. For the rest of the day, Candy had to suffer the merciless teasing of the two brothers in celebration of the news that he and his wife were to become parents.

*****

This is the story of a man who had found his life again through friends and the woman who loved him. As the months passed, Candy and Ann became the parents of a daughter, Rose. As he stood at the doorway of the house with his infant in his arms, Candy Canaday looked over at the view and thought of the man who had built this house with the intention of bringing his own wife there, and then he thought of the family who had so generously opened their arms to him, and to Ann.

He remembered the heat of the day when he had ridden into Virginia City with barely a dime to his name, and Hoss Cartwright had come into the saloon when he could so easily have strolled over to the Sazarac as so many of Mike’s customers had done that day. He remembered the strength of the handshake they had shared and the new-found confidence he had gained as he had followed the big man out of the saloon.

Memories were good, he mused and looked down at the little face peeking up at him from her shawl. Yes, one day this would be a memory too. He kissed her brow and remembered to thank God for so many blessings, now and for those yet to come.

***The End***

Return to Krystyna’s homepage

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.