Summary: Adam is stuck for an answer.
Word Count: 2128
Adam sat quietly in his favorite chair. It was the blue velvet one that stood at the base of the staircase of the ranch house. The high back of it and its well-worn seat fit his curves perfectly. He had spent countless hours sitting in that very spot.
He loved evenings like this. It was late autumn. His belly was full of Hop Sing’s Irish stew and apple cobbler. His favorite. Outside the first flutters of snow speckled the air like a swarm of moths. The long, dog days of summer and the never-ending chores that went along with them were well over. The fall cattle drive was complete as well. Finally, Adam had some down time. He relished it. The warmth of his home and the fire that sparked beside him oozed comfort.
Ben sat across the floor from him. He was engrossed in a Dickens novel. His latest. But his fascination was not too entrancing to take notice of his youngest son. Little Joe was perched atop the dining room table. He sat cross-legged with his elbows on his knees and his fists holding his head up by the cheeks. Surrounding him was an array of halters, reins and bridle pieces that needed mending. Joe seemed to be prioritizing them but in actual fact it was all an exercise in procrastination. Joe’s noisy arranging and rearranging of the collection finally severed Ben’s last nerve. He turned to chastise his boy. Only then did he see Joe’s position. Ben’s brow deepened into an annoyed scowl. But, he decided to quell his temper for the moment. “Joseph,” he said evenly.
“Yes sir?” Little Joe replied without removing his gaze from the leather that littered the red and white tablecloth.
“FEET…. on the floor please.”
“Oh. Sorry Pa.”
“How many times do I have to tell you?” Ben sighed.
“Never again, Pa. Never again.” Joe plunked himself onto the carpet with a soft thud and stood to peruse his impending task once more. But, it was obvious that nothing was going to get done. He gave them one last scan before abandoning the job and sauntered over to the settee. He threw himself onto it like a sack of potatoes. His entire body was splayed across the fabric, boots and all. He lounged there but only momentarily.
“JOSEPH!” Ben barked.
“Whaa?” Joe replied with a start.
“FEET… on the floor!”
“Oops. Sorry Pa.” Joe swung around and sat properly.
“Didn’t I just tell you to keep your feet off the furniture not thirty seconds ago?”
“Yes sir. You sure did. It won’t happen again.”
“It won’t happen again he says.” Ben shook his head making his remark to no one in particular. “I’ve only been scolding you since you were old enough to stand. I truly do not understand your propensity of treating sofas and chairs like livestock.”
“I know. I know Pa. I’ll be more careful. You’ll never see my feet on the furniture again.”
“Promises, promises. Please do as I ask. I ask so little, don’t I?”
“Ah yes, Pa. Absolutely.”
Hoss was oblivious to the banter. He’d heard it so many times before. It simply went in one ear and out the other. He sat on the hearth of the fireplace working diligently on his latest figurine. He whittled with his tongue stuck out. He had no idea of its placement. But, when he was fully concentrated, it inevitably found its way out of his mouth. Hoss had been working on completing a set of farm animals for the local school – a horse, a sheep, a goat, a cow and this last one of a chicken. The teacher was aware of Hoss’ talents with wood and knife and asked him to do it. He was more than happy to oblige. He enjoyed crafting things.
Adam too was engaged, ignoring the familiar exchange between his father and youngest brother over feet and furnishings. He was on newspaper number three of the pile that was stacked beside his chair. He often received east coast newspapers from his university friends. He enjoyed reading the New York Times or Boston Herald. They were far more informative than the Virginia City Miner. It only reported on news in the area – the birth of a litter of puppies or Mrs. Wilson’s latest cupcake recipe. These trivial items never quite satisfied Adam’s need for more important current events. But these periodicals did. They held news of goings on in Europe and Africa. Every corner of the globe was covered. They were also up-to-date on the unrest in the Southern and Northern states. Adam knew they were biased, but at least it was something.
Unlike his brothers, and to some degree his father, Adam was very aware that there was another world outside the borders of the Ponderosa. He liked to be informed. It was in his nature to be curious. He wanted to know as much as he could about just about everything. Tonight was his first chance to bring out his cache of papers and catch up even though some dated back to last spring.
Ben was always cautious when they made their appearance. The newspapers would most certainly incite some sort of argument between Adam and Joe about which side was more justified in the war. When Ben first saw them, he winced slightly but made no mention of it. Maybe this time Adam would keep his comments to himself. And, uncharacteristically, this time he did. But Ben wondered why. When he finished a chapter, he peered up from his book to look at his eldest boy. He found it curious that Adam had the paper folded in quarters and was writing on it with a pencil. Between notations, Adam tapped the end of the pencil on his bottom lip as if deep in though. He was totally engrossed in something.
“Adam,” Ben tried.
There was no answer. Ben glanced at Joe to make sure he was seated properly. He was.
“Ah… yes Pa?”
“I’m afraid to ask this, but what has you so intrigued?”
“Oh. Well, it’s a… it’s a new thing, Pa.” Adam chuckled pleasantly and immediately turned his attention back to the paper.
“New? What is it?”
“It’s just a puzzle.”
“A puzzle?” Ben replied with interest. He stood and moved behind Adam’s chair to get a closer look.
“Yes. It’s what they call a crossword. It’s a brand new thing. Comes from England.”
“England?” Joe piped up from sofa.
“Yes Joe. England.” Adam chided. “It’s a country.”
Little Joe sneered at his older brother but made his way over to join his father despite Adam’s jab. Hoss stayed put.
“How does it work?” Ben asked with genuine interest.
“Well, it’s a series of squares. Each line has a clue both down and across. It’s really quite something. And, as I’m finding out, a little challenging.”
“Yes, yes. So, it seems, so it seems.” Ben sounded captivated. “Can I help?”
“I suppose.” Adam frowned slightly, seemingly putting on a pout. “But I sort of wanted to do it myself.” He placed his hand over the paper to hide the clues.
“Oh. Don’t be silly. We want to play. Don’t we, Joe?”
“Yeah. Sure.” Joe shrugged casually but didn’t seem as enthused as his father. He supposed it would quell his boredom for a few moments at least.
“Well, I guess I could use a little help. I am stuck on a few of these answers.”
“Okay then. Give us a clue?” Ben leaned over Adam’s shoulder to get closer to the print. Adam could feel his breath on his neck. He grimaced and exhaled loudly.
“Alright then. This one here. 26-27 The close of day. It has seven letters and the third letter is ‘e’.”
“Hmmm. The close of day. The close of day.” Ben looked to the beamed ceiling as if for guidance.
Ben’s audible thinking process made Adam roll his eyes. Joe made a face too. He had to in order to try and come up with the answer. Hoss continued to whittle. He never lifted his head from focusing on his project. He seemed unaware of the gathering at the bottom of the steps.
“The close of day.” Ben repeated again to Adam’s dismay. “Humph. I don’t think I know that one Adam. Is there another clue you need help with?”
“Yes. There are many clues Pa.” Adam said with impatience.
“Alright. Give us another one then.” Again Ben leaned over Adam, to his son’s aggravation.
Adam cleared his throat. “4-5. A written acknowledgment.”
“A written acknowledgment. A written acknowledgement,” Ben echoed. “Could it be note or maybe correspondence?”
“The answer has seven letters as well.”
“Oh I see. Seven letters… ummmm. That’s a hard one.”
“I think that’s the point, Pa.”
“No need to be sarcastic, Adam. It’s just a game.”
“I know, Pa. But, it’s my game. It’s my puzzle. I started it and I’d like to finish it!”
“I’ll play with you, Pa.” Joe winked then gave his brother another scowl for being curt. “Adam never was very good at sharing. Let’s have a game of checkers and leave ‘Mr. I know everything’ to do his precious puzzle,” Joe jested.
“Yes. Lets,” Ben conceded. “But, if you need any other help Adam, I’ll be right over here.”
“You’ll be the first to know,” Adam quipped with gritted teeth. He took a deep breath to regain his concentration.
The evening wore on. But when bedtime came around, Adam had yet to finish. The truth was he did need help but was too suborn to ask for it. He had the entire crossword all filled out except for one 4-letter word. He toiled over it for an hour or so with great frustration. He didn’t want to give in and fought the urge to probe his father for ideas.
Ben and Joe had completed their little match and had returned to their seats to read. But, Ben caught Adam peering around the room to see if any one had noticed him squirm. Father and son’s eyes met and there was a few seconds of awkwardness. “What’s the matter, Adam? Stuck?”
“Actually, ah… yes… I am.”
“Well, you don’t have to finish the puzzle, you know. Sometimes puzzles beat you instead of the other way around.”
“But it’s just one word I can’t get, Pa. I…ah, I must admit – I’m a little frustrated.”
“Would you like some help?” Ben raised his eyebrows and tilted his head with a tinge of cockiness.
“If it’s not too much trouble,” Adam resigned with an insipid grin.
“No, no. No trouble,” Ben answered brightly. “What’s the clue?”
“Hmmm. To cultivate. To cultivate.”
Ben’s repeat performance made Adam blink rapidly. He sagged in his seat wishing he hadn’t given in.
“Tooooo, cult-I-vate. To cultivate,” Ben enunciated.
“That’s an easy one,” Hoss piped up. He had yet to lift his head from his sculpture all night. All had assumed that he had not been party to that evenings puzzle conversations.
“Oh really.” Adam stared at his brother. “YOU know the answer?”
“Now you be nice to me, older brother, or I’ll keep it to myself and then you’ll never git it done. You’ll be a wake all night just thinkin’ about it. Tossin’ and turnin’. I know you, Adam; this’ll make you down right loony. Now I know that answer. Do you want me to tell you or not?”
“Sure, sure. Go ahead. Enlighten me.” Adam patronized.
Joe, Ben and Adam’s attention was all on Hoss now. He waited to time his answer perfectly.
“F-A-R-M,” Hoss said simply. “To cultivate. Farm. It’s got 4 letters don’t it… older brother?” Hoss winked smugly.
Without a sound, Adam turned his attention back to his puzzle and jotted down the final word. He dotted it loudly.
“Well. I’m tired,” Joe announced with a stretch of his arms up as far as they could go. “I can’t take much more of this excitement. I’m going to bed.” He stood to leave. “Next time you do one of those crossword things, you should get Hoss to help you from the start,” Joe poked.
“That’s right, Adam,” Hoss agreed. “Don’t you know I’m the brains in this family?”
“Ah yes,” Adam replied sharply. “I had forgotten about your extended education and world travels.”
“You don’t need no schoolin’ to know stuff, Adam.”
“You are proof of that, younger brother. You certainly are proof of that.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: In fact, the first crossword didn’t come along until 1913 – written by Englishman Arthur Wynne – published in the New York World. But, I couldn’t resist that Adam would both like and be good at crossword puzzles.