Word Count: 57,500
The arrangement of living quarters that surrounded the original trading centre was protected by a palisade of thick tree trunks and strong wooden gates which were policed by the men of the settlement. To Ben Cartwright, it was a sign that they had reached the edge of civilization as they knew it and beyond was the wilderness where animals and man would be more than happy to make a feast of them.
He directed the horses towards where several other wagons were lined up and their families were to be seen lingering close to everything they possessed within them. These individuals eyed him warily as he clambered down from the wagon seat and began to unhitch his animals.
“Come far?” a woman asked remaining seated on an upturned barrel while she peeled vegetables for her family meal.
“Far enough.” Ben replied, sounding surlier than he had intended as he led the horses to what appeared to be a livery of some kind at the back of the trading post.
The woman resumed her work having met more weary men on this trek from her homeland than at any time before. She recognized the signs and wondered where the man’s wife could be. Every so often she raised her eyes to watch what he was doing, and when he returned, she asked him again if he had come any great distance.
Ben felt disinclined to talk; he was tired, exhausted, and what was far worse was that this was leading to his losing focus. The dream of what was ahead of him was seemingly drifting out of his reach. The selfish — and he was the first to admit it — but the selfish desire to pursue the dream had already put himself and his infant son in danger and now, noticing how primitive everything was in this settlement, he had to accept that going onwards was going to have them face even greater dangers than ever.
He walked to the back of the wagon and disappeared inside, reappearing a little later with a child in his arms, a boy of just over a year in age. Sleepy-eyed, the infant gazed around him and then, thumb in mouth, settled his head upon his father’s shoulder, watching everything with the wariness of an infant unused to much social contact with people. Through half-closed eyes, he glanced from one to the other of them, noticed the horses, the wagons, the smoke from their fires. By the time Ben had reached the Trading Post, the child was sound asleep once more and the whisper trickled through those gathered there that there was no woman riding with them.
Ben purchased what he needed, paid for the feed for the animals and arranged for their legs and feet to be checked over before the next leg of the journey. The trader took his pipe from his mouth and narrowed his eyes “You intending to go on from here?”
“I am,” Ben replied as he placed the purchases in a box which he balanced beneath his free arm.
“Are you mad?”
Ben looked at the other man and frowned. “No. Are you?”
The trader raised his eyebrows and leaned forward his elbows on the counter, his face looking concernedly at the infant Ben was carrying. “You know what you’re riding into out there?”
“Something worse than what I’ve already ridden through, I imagine.”
“Yeah, something far worse. We ain’t pushed the boundaries that far yet. This is the last trading post before you reach Joe Robidoux trading post on the Missouri. Out there…” he pointed with the stem of his pipe to what Ben assumed lay beyond the thick boundary fence “are wild animals, wild Indians and wild fur trappers who ain’t gonna be too obliging’ in seeing you and your family traipsing around the place. If you go in there, you need to go with company.”
“You got anyone in mind?” Ben replied patiently as he carefully counted out the money onto the counter.
“Wal, some of those folks in the wagons were thinking of moving on once summer came. Likely would take you with them if you asked.”
“How long they been here?”
“Some came just before the first snows of winter, but didn’t want to continue until more wagons came. There have been the odd straggler since joining up with ‘em.” He put a plug of fresh tobacco in his pipe. “Some turned back last week to return the way they came. You likely to do that?”
Ben paused, the child in his arms stirred and he put a hand gently to the boy’s back. “No. I don’t intend on going any place other than onwards.”
The trader took the money and passed over some coins in change. He nodded. “I’ll get someone to check over your horses.”
Ben said nothing but collected up the box of purchases and made his way back to the wagon where the woman was now waiting for him with a look on her face that made Ben feel uncomfortable. He was not in the mood for social chitchat, for an exchange of news and views and so forth. He wanted to spend the evening resting up, and being with his
“How old is the boy?” she asked as he put the box down and then carefully settled Adam back into his cot.
“Just over a year old.”
“Where’s his Ma or ain’t he got one?”
Ben swallowed and nodded. “He ain’t got one.”
“You brung him all this way here without a ma?” She looked at him and rolled her eyes before shaking her head and looking over at her camp fire where her food was now cooking, “You can join us for something to eat if you like. My husband and boys would enjoy talking to someone new; you can tell us what’s going on in the big wide world.”
“I don’t know much about the big wide world, madam. We’ve been travelling for a while now, not seen many folk along the way.”
“Well, you’re welcome anyway,” she replied, and without another word, slowly moved back to her position on the upturned barrel.
He didn’t join them and they didn’t pressure him into doing so, accepting the fact that he had arrived weary and as such would be more talkative in the morning when a fresh new day would have dawned.
Adam woke and rubbed his eyes and sat up, saw his father and smiled a sleepy hello. Ben leaned forward and tousled the boys black curls. “Alright then, son?”
The child stretched out his arms and was instantly gathered up into his father’s embrace, safe and warm, the greatest protection a child ever could need. Ben passed him some food and helped him with the spoon as he ate his own meal by his side. The boy was quiet, perhaps too quiet, and Ben blamed himself for that as well. Too many weeks travelling, months on their own. He stared into the now empty bowl and tried to remember what Elizabeth looked like and the conversations they had shared together about this so-called glorious dream. What innocent, ignorant fools they were, as though they really could travel from Boston to their paradise so easily, and as a result, what kind of life had he condemned his boy to?
He opened a small trunk and took from it a music box which he wound up before raising its lid. The tinny music flowed and the child stopped to listen, his head to one side, the dark eyes fixed to the cherubs. He reached out and Ben smiled and gently reminded him he was not to touch it and was given something to eat instead. Now Ben picked up the picture he had of his wife, carefully wrapped between some paper so that it didn’t crease; he carefully set it down in front of them. “See, Adam, this is your Mama.”
The boy looked at the picture and then at Ben; he nodded his dark head and smiled. Dimples came to his cheeks and his teeth gleamed white like tiny seed pearls. He reached out to touch and again Ben removed his fingers and told him no, some things he had to learn not to touch.
Then Ben started to tell him the story about the lady in the picture and how she had told him to go in search of their dream. He told Adam that was why they had journeyed so far, for so long, and one day the dream would end when they found the right place to stop and build their house, their home. He smiled down at the child. “House, Adam?”
“House.” The boy looked up and smiled, just a baby, with limited speech but he could say house, even if he didn’t know what a house was then.
“We’ll build a house among the trees,” Ben said quietly stroking the boy’s soft curls. “Tall trees; your Ma said you would be tall, standing among tall trees …”
“Trees.” The infant clapped his hands. “Trees.”
Ben smiled and nodded; he knew he had been selfish to have brought an infant all this way, alone. He’d been arrogant in assuming that it would be easy just because it had been his particular dream. As he looked at his son, his heart swelled with pride and love, and he sighed, “I love you, son.”
He whispered the words just as the music was tinkling to an end, and when he looked up again, he saw the face of a man staring in at him, a grin on his whiskery chin. “Came to invite you round for some hot drinks, seeing you ain’t got a fire going yet.”
Ben braced himself and nodded, thanked the man and leaned forward to pick up his son; it was time to meet the neighbors.
The moon had finally slipped away behind clouds obscuring within deeper shadows the horses and wagon that had been concealed as much as possible within the shrubs and trees. Moccasined feet padded their way close to this covert and the sounds of men breathing heavily after exertion sounded nearer than they actually had been.
Ben Cartwright relaxed just a little, his rifle still at the ready in case any errant straggler came by and was curious enough or alert enough to see, notice, that there were strangers close that would lead to someone dying that night. Ben tried to control his breathing so that no sound would be heard by those men who had hastened by, keeping to the shadows and holding their coup sticks in one hand and bloodied tomahawks in the other.
Finally when not a sound could be heard, only the rustling of leaves, he allowed himself to relax and thank God that even the horses had remained invisible to those men who were endowed with eyes and instincts as sharp as a cat’s. He turned to a particular clump of shrubbery and carefully raised a bough to expose the child hidden behind it. With a finger to his lips, he nodded and the child gave a tentative smile before crawling out towards his father, putting his arms around Ben’s neck and holding him close.
Adam Cartwright was nearly four years old now and he knew the danger of speaking or even breathing loudly at those times when Ben would hide him away and put finger to mouth and say, ‘Not a sound, Adam.’ He had learned that danger existed everywhere and caution was needed always, and if he ever wondered why his life was so bound up with fear; he had only to look at his father and know it was also bound up with love.
After their brief embrace, Ben checked the horses and wagon, then lifted the boy inside and told him to sleep; in a few days, they should reach some settlement and safety. Adam nodded and pulled a blanket over himself. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep, knowing that his father would be sitting, alone, with his eyes ever watchful and the rifle close to one hand and a knife in the other.
He wanted to sleep. He wanted to shut out the fear and the worry because the strange life this journey forced upon them created hardships beyond number. Every nerve in his little body was strained to hear some warning sounds of danger, something that would save them from the fate of the wagons they had travelled with some while back. The memory of the brutal attack upon them still gave him nightmares; there were sights and sounds that took place that day that still resonated even after some time had passed.
The survivors had struggled along together for a while before gradually drifting apart. Where there had been safety in numbers previously now seemed a pointless reason for them to co-exist together, and Ben had turned away in the direction of the river as the others parted to go in a direction of their own choosing.
Still more recently had been the time he had gone down to the river near where Ben had stopped and, due to exhaustion, had fallen asleep. Adam had taken himself off to catch a fish after all he had seen Pa do it, but instead of catching anything he had been the one caught as some wily Indian caught him up by the foot and proceeded to drag him along the shore.
He had kicked with his free foot and struggled to grab hold of anything he could reach as he was hauled along like an old sack of meal, dragged along so that stones and pebbles, shrubs and tussocks of grass tore at his clothes and flesh.
The Indian had dragged him along by the foot for some distance before Ben had reached him, running along the shore line and throwing himself bodily upon the man, totally ignoring the fact that where there was one Indian, perhaps there could have been several more. The fight had been short and brief, for fear for his son gave Ben a desperation that the other man lacked, and by the time he had realized the white man had the better of him, it was too late. Ben had left the body in the water and then turned to swoop up his son and take him to safety.
Ben had disciplined him severely afterwards, and then explained the importance of obedience, the necessity of caution. The lesson had been learned; Adam never strayed again and kept his mouth shut, his eyes open and his senses on the alert – always.
As he tried to sleep, he felt the wagon lurch to one side as it would when someone entered it, and he opened his eyes to look at Ben, who had clambered in and was now preparing to sleep alongside him. “Is it alright, Pa?” he whispered.
“I’m putting my trust in God, son,” Ben replied quietly. “I am so tired that if I don’t sleep now, I could do more harm than good later should it be necessary to…” He yawned and closed his eyes. “Were you frightened, boy?”
Adam was never sure what to say when his Pa asked this kind of question. He didn’t want his Pa to be worried if he had admitted that he had been, and he didn’t want to tell a lie. He decided it was wiser to say nothing; instead, he said “We ain’t gonna build a house here, are we, Pa?”
“No, son. This isn’t the right place for us, yet.”
“Will it be soon?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps.” Ben drew the boy close to him, and could feel the sharp edges of the boy’s bones as he did so. He was too thin, Ben lamented within himself, far too thin, but what was there to eat in this wilderness? He couldn’t hunt with his gun for fear the redmen would hear and follow the sound of the shot. He sighed and closed his eyes, with his son’s head resting upon his chest.
“When we get to our special place, I’m gonna draw you a big house, and then we can build it, can’t we?”
“You’ll draw me a big house, huh?” Ben smiled slowly and gently ran his fingers through the boys black curls. “How big?”
“Ever so big. With windows.”
“Oh, I see. And will it have a lot of rooms?”
“Yep, and big steps up in the house like that house we saw where we stayed once before.”
Ben frowned, and nodded in recollection of the cabin that had provided some shelter and hospitality some weeks back. It reminded him that the man of the house had warned him to get to the next settlement before the snows came; they were going to come early that year. “That house didn’t have stairs, Adam,” he said drowsily.
“Our house will…” Adam replied, nestling in closer, and he yawned. “And a big fireplace to keep us warm.”
Ben sighed, and his eyes grew heavier and then closed altogether. He didn’t hear a sound, although he snored loud enough for a whole tribe of Indians to hear him and have scalped him a hundred times over had they heard.
When he woke up, Adam was sleeping in his blanket, and for a while. Ben studied him with the anxious care of any parent. He noted how pale the child was, how thin and how the shaggy black hair seemed to make him appear thinner and paler. He wondered if this journey would ever end, if there ever would be a time when Adam would be able to draw his big house and if they would ever get to build it.
The sky was blue but the wind was cold, reminding him of the warning the man had given him some time ago about the snow. He raised his head and snuffed the air, and knew that he had to move on; there was no time for dallying now.
They drank water and ate pemmican and jerky. Adam was lifted up and onto the wagon seat while Ben led out the horses who had eaten well on fresh grass. It seemed to Ben that the most important thing now was to reach the settlement before the lone wagon with its meager protection would fall foul of any marauder who should ride by.
It took another full day before the settlement finally came into view and they were trundling their way through the gates which were closed behind them. It was a busy large place, bustling its way into a township; Ben soon found himself some work and lodgings for him and Adam to stay. Within a week, the snows arrived and would seal them in for the coming months of winter.
“Look, Pa.” Adam held up a drawing on some paper that had been provided him along with wax crayons, for he was proving quite a favorite among the ladies in the town. “Look, I drawed you a house.”
“You drew me a house, son,” Ben corrected him and smiled, placing his hand on the boys head and taking the paper in his other hand. “So you have, and a big house it is too.”
He smoothed it out and listened as Adam pointed out the windows — one for each room — and there was a door to the big room. “Where are the stairs, son?”
“Inside,” came the prompt answer. “I ain’t drawed ‘em yet, cos you can’t see ‘em.”
“Hmm, well, we’re going to need stairs to get to those rooms up here, aren’t we?”
Adam sighed and nodded, and observed his drawing seriously. Ben stroked his chin. “Is this house being built with bricks, son?”
“No, sir, with trees.” came the prompt reply.
“Looks like we’ll be in for a busy time then.” Ben smiled and carefully folded the drawing away. “Keep it safe; we may need it some other time yet.”
Adam nodded; he wanted to keep it safe in the trunk where the music box and the picture of his Mama was kept, but he knew that his Pa didn’t like him touching those things anymore, so he put the picture safely away in between the pages of a book.
That night he couldn’t sleep for worrying about those stairs…
They had left the wilderness and entered a realm of civilization, for just a short while they were rested from the fears of Indian attacks, starvation and the miserable existence of man and child fighting the elements. Within the oasis of this bustling little township, Ben had found himself facing a different kind of menace, one he had thought to have left behind long ago in Boston. Profit-loving greedy men who thought nothing of using man’s basic inferiorities to harm others who they were led to think against them.
But Ben had also found within this maelstrom of greed, pride and violence, a woman whom he could relate to and love. A young woman with a lilt of an accent in her voice, clear blue eyes and golden hair, someone who loved him and his son as much as they loved her.
“You do understand what I’m telling you now, Adam, don’t you?” Ben said seriously as he sat beside his son’s bedside one evening.
“Sure, Pa. I understand,” Adam replied, looking intently at the pages of a book he was holding and trying not to catch his father’s eyes.
“Now, Adam pay attention.” Ben gently lowered the book down and forced Adam to look at him by taking hold of his face in his hands, brown eyes gazed solemnly back at him, “So, what do you understand? Tell me?”
Adam frowned a little crinkle like a horseshoe appeared between his eyebrows. “You said you’ em getting married.”
“That’s right.” Ben nodded but looked slightly worried. “Aren’t you going to ask who I was getting married to?”
Adam sighed and then shrugged slightly. “I don’t know what getting married is? You ain’t told me that yet? Is it good?”
Ben trawled through his memory for a moment or two and then laughed softly and tweaked his son’s nose. “Getting married means I am going to get myself a wife, a lady whom I love is going to come along and be with us … together, Adam, we’ll be together, like a family. She will be your mother.”
“My mother?” Adam breathed softly, almost a sigh and his mind thought immediately of the lady in the picture. “You mean I’ll have a Ma like those other kids?”
Ben nodded, “That’s right; you’ll have a Ma like everyone else.”
Adam settled back against the pillows and stared at Ben thoughtfully. It was a strange thing that they had never mentioned words like marriage, wife or such before. It was like opening a book with lots of words he didn’t comprehend. He knew the position of certain stars and galaxies because Ben had taken time to show him them on the journey, pointing them out and talking about the importance of knowing their positions when on a ship. He even knew more about ships as Ben talked about them a lot as well…ratlines and sails, taffrails and hawsers. He could never remember Ben spending any time talking about or referring to marriage and a wife, so something, or someone, in their lives now had made a difference and it involved a lady.
“Pa, I don’t want you marriaging a lady.”
“Getting married to a lady you mean.” Ben smiled slowly. “Why not?”
“Because I only like Inger, and if someone is coming along with us, then I want it to be Inger.”
Ben laughed aloud; he threw back his head and laughed so that his son thought his father had gone slightly crazy. If this was what being married was all about, then perhaps his Pa should think about it some more and not do it, whatever it was. Ben shook his head and calmed down; all that rambling speech he had prepared and spilled out to prepare Adam for his marriage had obviously meant nothing but confusion to the lad. Such a bright boy and his naiveté had caused total befuddlement.
“How about if Inger came along with us when we leave here next week, huh?” Ben smiled and leaned closer. “Would you like to have Inger as your Ma?”
“My very own Ma?” Adam’s eyes widened and he even blushed a little. “My Ma?”
“Sure? Wouldn’t you like that?”
“I sure would, Pa, I sure would.” He could barely contain his excitement; there was a bubble of joy rolling about inside his stomach bursting to get out and he jumped upright and threw his arms about his Pa’s neck. “She’s a real fine lady, Pa.”
“So I remember you telling me a long time ago, son.” Ben held him close, so close that he rolled off the chair and the pair of them landed on the floor with a thud, laughing even though they bumped heads.
Later in the calm of the evening, when Ben had gone to see his future wife, Adam settled down beneath the blankets and stared at the ceiling. Inger would be his Ma, fancy that, his Ma. It was something he had often pondered over, seeing for himself at various brief times in his life how some men and women were always together and the woman would care for the children because she was their Ma. He had seen them, the way they washed the children and combed their hair, dropped kisses on their brows, smoothed away their hurts when they had fallen. He had watched as they read stories or sang songs to them, or just sat by their sides and held their hands in silence, a silence that needed no words between them.
He had wished at times so hard that he had a Ma of his very own, someone who would have held him in her lap and soothed away his hurts. Pa was kind and gentle, but it was different; he knew it was different because he had seen it, and even now, briefly he had known it, with Inger.
He drew in his breath and closed his eyes. That just about messed things up some, he told himself; he’d have to draw another house to fit Inger as well.
Mr. Philip Shrieber liked to keep himself to himself. He had a small wagon drawn by four good horses and no woman or child to keep him company. He disliked children for the noise they created and the way they were so unpredictable. He had attached himself to the small wagon train that was going to Ash Hollow and had sought privacy immediately. The neighborly overtures of the women he had brushed aside firmly and politely, with the result that after a few weeks, his isolation was not solely due to his own reticence in seeking society, but came because no one could be bothered about him anymore.
Then there was all that fuss over that woman having a baby, and its consequent squalling. He always kept his wagon away from the one that belonged to the Cartwright family because he couldn’t bear the noise of the woman singing lullabies and the baby crying. Everything about the family seemed noisy to Philip, from the man’s deep voice that sounded like a fog horn and was heard voicing his opinions at any opportunity he could grab, to the woman trilling like a lark in that foreign voice of hers and the baby crying and the boy, that Adam, always asking questions. He was always turning up just when you thought it was safe to shave or change your underwear or burn your dinner. “What you doing, Mr. Shreeber?”
Adam did not realize for a moment that he was a thorn in the flesh as far as Philip Shrieber was concerned. The man was merely a man who was there and afforded him some interest. Later in life he would have said in his own deep voice ‘The man intrigues me,’ but he didn’t
understand the meaning of those words or feelings at his age of five.
One bright morning when there was an enforced delay, Shrieber brought out his foldaway desk and inks and pens and papers. He unrolled the papers and examined them thoughtfully, before pulling up a chair and looking at the drawings upon them with a concentration that he gave most things of importance to him. He was an architect and had been asked to design some buildings for the town to which he was travelling. His one hope was to get there in one piece without going mad and killing any of his fellow passengers in the process. Not that he was a mad man, just that he was a perfectionist and had suffered his adversities in life, so was on what Ben would call ‘a short rein’.
“What you doing, Mr. Shreeber?”
He swallowed, gulped and inhaled deep and long before raising his eyes to look at the boy who looked at him with a smile on his freckled face. Before he could say a word, the boy stepped closer and looked down at the drawings. “That’s a house.”
“Yes, it is…” Philip replied drawing himself upright. “It’s going to be the house of the…”
“I’m a drawer, I drewed a house too.”
“What exactly are you talking about, little boy?” He shook his head.“You drew a house?”
“Yes, I drewed a house.” Adam nodded his dimples deep in his cheeks and the brown eyes bright with intelligence and interest “But it don’t look like that ‘un.”
“Ah, your grammar is appalling.” Philip groaned and shook his head. “This drawing is the correct way to design a house. You see…” He picked up his pen and beckoned the boy closer, then began to indicate the lines of the house, its proportions and layout, the position of windows and doors, even stairs.
“This is just the exterior,” he said and began to roll it up in order to display the drawing that came next. “This is the design of the house’s layout inside. You see here? Stairs, and a fireplace, and here there’s a door to -”
“It doesn’t look like a house.”
“I assure you it is.” He sighed. Why was he wasting time explaining such things to a child?
“But how do I get stairs in my house? And its gotta be big becos there’s Inger and Hoss living in it as well as me and Pa now.”
Philip shook his head. “What exactly are you talking about, boy?”
“My house. I drawed – drewed – a house to live in when we get to where we’re going and we’re gonna built it with the trees with big windows and stairs.”
Philip sat down and rolled up his plans; he pulled out some paper and set it out on the table. “Show me.”
The boy looked at him warily at first and then began to draw the house on the paper, the typical house one would expect a five year old to draw, some squares within a square and an oblong for a porch. Then the pen stopped and the boy looked at him. “Show me how to draw it proper so I can show Pa what it will be like inside?”
So Philip the Architect drew a design of what he thought the house would look like inside, although the boy would say ‘No, not that, don’t like that.’ or ‘No, something bigger than that,’ When Philip shook his head and said “Who exactly is going to build this thing?” the boy smiled and said, “Me an’ Pa.”
It was time to move on; the camp was breaking up with fires being extinguished and children being gathered up. Inger called to Adam, who ran towards her, and Philip watched him go and then glanced down at the drawing he had sketched down of Adams house. Of course, he told himself, it’ll never be built. He rolled it up carefully along with his own designs and slipped them into a long cylinder which was stowed carefully away in his wagon.
That night Adam told his Pa and Ma about the house he had drawn with the help of Mr. Shrieber, the ‘arky-teck‘. It had stairs and a big fireplace; the stairs led up to a long landing with lots of bedrooms. After all, it wasn’t just for Pa and himself now; he had to think of Inger and Hoss.
Philip Shrieber often wondered about the little boy who had drawn the house which remained rolled up in among others designed on that ill-fated trip. He could remember him well — an intelligent boy who suffered the loss of his mother during an Indian attack at the place called Ash Hollow. He wondered if the family had ever found their paradise and if the house had ever been built.
There is a saying in the world that some events can turn a man’s world upside down. So it was for Ben Cartwright, and if his world was rocked by Inger’s death. So also was Adam’s, for his father’s grief was something quite beyond his comprehension.
In his short life span of just over six years, Adam had known his father as a man of courage, integrity, and if at times he was a trifle morose and short tempered, he was also gentle and generous, good-humored and loving. During the time they had Inger, shared her love together, Ben had laughed more, sang and joked, teased and loved in a way Adam had never known him previously. It had been a wonderful interlude in their lives.
It seemed now that Ben locked himself away from his son. If he wept for Inger and his loss, then he wept alone beneath the stars at night as he gazed up at them and wondered why he had to suffer such a loss a second time. During the day, he performed his duties in near silence, his face drawn and solemn, his eyes dark and emotionless, except that there were emotions, all the negative ones.
When Adam tried to slip his hand into that of his father’s as they sat side by side on the wagon seat, Ben would pretend not to notice it; if the boy leaned against his arm then Ben would move slightly away so that eventually Adam realized that his father preferred to be shut off, lost behind his grief to such an extent he didn’t even realize that he had placed a double burden upon his little boy’s shoulders.
There was Hoss to be cared for too. Ben would sit with the baby in his arms, just staring down at him as though by doing so he could find Inger. During the day, it was Adam’s responsibility to care for the baby and he did so, often with tears running down his face as he thought of ‘Ma’. When the wagons stopped for a halt, some woman or other would come to check on the boys, to nurse the baby, change his diaper and make sure there was food for Adam, and Ben.
It was a time of learning for Adam, learning that his father was, after all, merely human and a suffering one at that. It was a lesson he found hard to bear for he was, after all, only a child himself.
He stayed during the breaks with the women who had children of their own, hung close around them for the scraps of affection and kindly words that fell to him, until Ben would bark, “Adam. Time to go.”
It was hard. It was harder than anything he had experienced in his life. He had no understanding of this adult world where his father could grieve to such a depth that nothing else seemed to matter — not him, not Hoss, nothing. He didn’t understand that Ben felt so bereft that he felt numb, unable to think beyond the moment, that the existence he was forced into now, when his heart was torn in two left him only seeing an endless journey to nowhere and nothing meant anything anymore.
Hadn’t it been hard enough without Elizabeth? And when a small voice whispered in reply “But there was Adam…” he ignored it. Why did it have to be so hard now, without Inger? Couldn’t she have been spared for him? And a small voice whispered, “You’ve two sons to comfort now.” But he ignored that as well.
Hoss Cartwright dribbled milk and blew bubbles; his blue eyes followed his brother’s finger until Adam tapped him gently on the nose and said, “Boo.”
Mrs. Penrose smiled and tapped Hoss on the back until the baby obliged with a loud burp, which made Adam laugh. “That was a loud one, Hoss.”
“He’s a big lad, your brother,” Mrs. Penrose said as she stood up to carry him over to the wagon where the baby was to be settled for the night.
“I know. I told Ma he was a big ‘un. Pa said he was called Erik, but my Uncle Gunner said to call him Hoss, because that means…”
“Adam.” Ben’s voice came from the shadows. “That’s enough now. Get yourself to your bed.”
Adam gulped back the words and blinked fast. With bowed head and the hope that Mrs. Penrose hadn’t seen the tears in his eyes, he scrambled into the back of the wagon and then turned to take the baby from her. Hoss looked up at him and smiled his sweet gummy smile, his bare arm reached from the shawl while his fingers grabbed for his brother’s dark curls. “Thank you, Mrs. Penrose.” Adam whispered.
“You’re welcome,” she replied and stood awhile to watch as he went into the back of the wagon to where he slept.
Ben returned to polishing the barrel of his rifle in a methodical manner that meant he didn’t really have to think about what he was doing. Mrs. Penrose paused a moment and then approached him slowly. “Ben?”
He froze, his shoulders went taut and he stared ahead of him. “Good evening, Mrs. Penrose. Thank you for looking after the boys for me.”
“There’s plenty of food left. Why not join us this evening?”
“No, that’s alright, thank you.”
She came closer until she was standing close enough for him to be unable to avoid her anymore. He looked up and raised dark eyebrows. “Yes?”
“Ben, you can’t go on like this, you know. You just can’t; your boys need you and…”
“I’m always there for my boys, Mrs. Penrose. If you’re finding it too much to feed them, then I’ll not bother you anymore.”
“Nonsense, it has nothing to do with that …” She drew herself upright and looked at him sternly, her mouth was tight. “Grief is all very well; it’s natural, and you have good reason to grieve, but you have no reason to be so uncaring to your boys.”
“No, let me finish what I want to say. Inger was a wonderful loving woman, and she loved her boys. What you’re doing now is the very opposite of what she would want you to do. For goodness sake, man, your boys need your arms around them, not have you shut them out as you are…”
He just stared at her and then in silence checked the safety catch on the rifle and walked away.
He had walked no further than another two wagons when Philip Shrieber stepped in front of him. “Excuse me, Mr. Cartwright; I’d like a word with you.”
Ben hissed through his teeth; it seemed the world and its mother wanted to stop and talk this evening. He shook his head “I’m busy…”
“Walking and minding my own business.” came the snapped-off response.
“Good. That’s what I had in mind too, so I’ll just walk along with you for a while.”
Ben frowned and glanced at his neighbor thoughtfully, for Shrieber was a man who liked only his own company. After all, hadn’t he and Inger even laughed a little about him? Inger had said… He bowed his head. It didn’t matter what Inger had said; she wasn’t there to say it anymore.
“Your boy, Adam, he’s a clever lad, knows a lot about quite a few things which I daresay you’ve taught him over the years, Mr. Cartwright. You need to be teaching him how to read and to write. He has the brain to be a scholar, you know? Yes, he has the liking for words and…”
“How would you know he has a liking for words?” Ben stopped and turned to ask in a gruff off hand manner.
“I read him some poetry this morning. He was quite enraptured and…”
Ben snapped his head away and stared into the dark shadows of trees ahead. He walked more quickly in the hope of shaking this suddenly talkative man away. He didn’t want to be bothered; he didn’t want to wake up from this nightmare because if he did he’d lose her, all over again. He’d lose his Inger. If he resumed life as normal, wouldn’t he be somehow disloyal to her and to what they meant together?
“Now, Hoss, just close your eyes.” Adam looked intently at his brother who stared as intently back. “Close your eyes, Hoss.” Hoss burped and drooled and made sounds like gurgles and water going down a plug hole. “I’ll tell you a story, Hoss.”
Adam leaned forward and brought the corner of the shawl over his brother’s shoulders; he smiled and freckles merged across his nose. “One day, a pretty lady who was our Ma said to the little boy, ‘What are you doing?’ and the little boy said ‘I’m drawing a house and it’s the house where we are going to live.’ ‘Oh,’ said the pretty lady — and her name was Inger — she said, ‘Oh, how nice. Is it a big house?’ and the little boy said ‘Yes, big enough for you and Pa, for Hoss and me…’”
He stopped because something funny had happened to his throat; it was tight and somehow he couldn’t breathe properly. He couldn’t say the words, he was gasping for air, and his eyes were filling up with tears; and in a voice tight with his grief, he sobbed, “Oh Ma, Oh Ma.”
Sobs upon sobs, and shaking shoulders as he hunched over the baby with the tears dripping from his face, and then Hoss realized his brother was crying and he began to wail adding his cries to those of his Adam. Adam raised his arm to brush away the tears but his chest was tight, and he was wailing, wailing with a forlornness that caused Mrs. Penrose to pick up her skirts in order to run to the wagon.
Adam felt strong hands upon his shoulders, gently turning him around and then a hand on his back as he was drawn to his father’s chest and held in a tight embrace that was more than anything that he wanted at that moment. He heard his father’s voice soft whispers in his ear, his father’s heart beat a soft rhythm against his own, and the smell of his Pa more comforting than anything he could think of as Ben rocked him back and forth until the crying stopped and he lay exhausted in Bens arms.
“It’s alright, Adam, it’s alright, you’re alright, son. We’ll find our place, you’ll see. You’ll design your house and we’ll build it together. We’ll cut down the trees and build up those walls, see if we don’t, son, see if we don’t.”
Now there was a time for healing, at last. That night Adam and Hoss slept to the sound of the tinny tune from Elizabeth’s musical box, and in his bed, Ben thought of the future for the first time in weeks. There would be a house — Adam’s house — and they would build it; and more than that, his sons would grow as strong and tall as the trees that surrounded it.
The journey stretched on through the weeks and months, and for a while, Adam had the chance to be just a little boy who liked to play games with the other children, sing and shout, roll around in the grass and laugh. There was a lot of laughter now, a lot, and it made Adam feel safe, especially when at the end of each day Ben would hold Hoss in his
arms and Adam would lean into his lap and listen to whatever story his Pa wanted to share with him.
Ben didn’t talk about Elizabeth or Inger; he kept the words inside his head and nurtured them in his heart. For his boys, he told them the stories of his adventures at sea, or some Bible story, the character of whom he had a fondness. So Adam learned you didn’t have to be big and strong to conquer a bully — just have faith and courage like David — and you didn’t have to be afraid to admit to mistakes but have honesty like the Apostle Paul.
Sometimes if there was a river or stream nearby, Ben would take Adam fishing — with baby Hoss in his arm and then set down safely in the grass. And sometimes when Adam fell asleep with the sun shining down upon his face, he would wake up being carried home in his father’s arms and set down beside his sleeping brother.
The wagon train changed at times. They would reach a settlement and wagons would separate to go their different ways. Sometimes in small townships, Ben would stop awhile and get work in order to finance some project he had in mind for the future. It was at these times that Adam would be introduced to school if there happened to be one available.
They arrived at the small township at the foot of the snow-laden Sierras to find the trail already blocked off and impassable, so once again the group of travelers separated — some to return to other settlements or attempt other routes to their preferred destinations; as a result, many died due to the extreme weather, Indian attack and disease.
When Ben finally drove his wagon into the small township of San Francisco, there were fewer than 500 souls living there. As he followed the other wagons, Ben knew that this was not the place he wanted to settle into, and when the wagon came to a halt, he sat awhile to consider his options.
“Is this where we’re staying, Pa?” Adam enquired looking at the profusion of buildings, canvas tents and rough stone adobe cabins. Indians sauntered by as though bemused by the riffraff of settlers, sailors made their way to the saloons and rough houses along the main street, and Chinese gabbled together as they carried their wicker baskets of washing back and forth.
“No, I don’t think this is where we will be staying,” Ben replied, he smiled as he looked down at the boy. “Stay here with Hoss until I get back. Don’t leave the wagon, Adam.”
The boy’s shoulders slumped a little; he was stiff from sitting through the day’s travelling and running around to explore this place seemed perfectly ideal to him. He looked at his little brother and frowned; sometimes looking after Hoss wasn’t his favorite task. Since the child had learned to walk, he tended to get to places even Adam didn’t think of venturing into.
He sat and watched people walking by, wondered about where they had come from and where they were going. He could see his father talking to some men in a building close by that had its walls covered in maps; he had to narrow his eyes to see them, especially when a man started to move his finger tracing out a route along one map and Ben was nodding and stabbing at this place and then that place. Another man came along and Ben started talking to him; a book was brought forward and the men bent down over it, and then began to study the maps again.
So intent was he on watching his father that he forgot to look out for Hoss who, like Adam, had got stiff from so much inactivity. Hoss was an adorable child with his big blue eyes and round face framed by almost white blond hair; he looked older than he was due to his size so when he managed to clamber from the back of the wagon and hurry his way down the sidewalk no one seemed particularly worried.
Adam was finally roused from observing Ben when there was a gentle tug on the leg of his pants. He looked down and found a round, smiling face with sloe black eyes looking up at him. He had never seen a man from China before and felt a slight feeling of panic, but the man was nodding and smiling so he smiled back.
“You want boy?” the man asked still nodding and smiling
Adam frowned and shook his head. He wriggled uncomfortably on the wagon seat and looked over at where his father was now engrossed in discussing something with the men in the building. Another tug at his trouser leg, and the Chinese man was smiling again.
“Boy come out of wagon. You want him back?”
“Hoss? You mean Hoss?”
“Not Hoss, little boy.” The man still smiled, although he looked confused. He fumbled around to produce Hoss who had been concealed behind his back. “This boy? Your wagon?”
“Hoss!” Adam exclaimed and put on his ’angry face’.”What’re you doing down there? If’n Pa saw you now, you‘d get a hiding for sure.”
Hoss opened his mouth and began to grizzle; he rubbed his eyes and nose and wailed, so that Adam had to jump down and put his arm around him, give him a slight shake before hugging him close. He looked at the man who was still standing there, looking concerned at them both. “Thank you for bringing him back.”
“Boy like spider — wriggle everywhere.”
“Huh, he sure does.” Adam sighed and grabbed at Hoss’ shirt as the child attempted to escape again.
“Boy like candy? He see candy in window of shop.”
“He sure does like candy alright,” Adam replied, struggling to stop Hoss from escaping, for the child was stronger than most children his age. “He ain’t never had much of it, but he sure likes it when he can get it.”
The man nodded. “Hop Sing understand.”
Adam wrestled with Hoss a little longer and managed to get him back into the wagon where the child grizzled awhile, by which time the Chinese gentleman had vanished. Adam peered about for him but there was no sign, so he settled into the wagon with Hoss and started to read him a story from a picture book. Hoss wasn’t interested in the book, or the story, or his brother’s attempts to restrain him, so that for a moment or two there was quite a wrestling match going on in the back of the wagon before a smiling face appeared looking in on them through the gap in the tarp.
Both boys became instantly silent and still as they stared at this cheerful looking man who once getting their attention held up both hands. In each he held a small bag of candy, and nodding gleefully, passed one to each child. “You like candy? Hop Sing make good candy, lots of sugar and things little boys like.”
Adam and Hoss just stared at him until eventually Adam stammered a thank you and Hoss just stuck some candy in his mouth. Hop Sing nodded as though the sight of the child drooling over the candy was the best thing he had seen in years.
“Adam?” Ben’s voice intruded upon the trio, and the other man stepped aside to allow Ben to reach the back of the wagon, peer inside and see his sons safely there. He frowned before turning to Hop Sing. “Did you get them the candy? How much do I owe you?”
“No – Hop Sing make candy – all good, boys like, you see…” Hop Sing gestured to where Hoss was almost choking on the sweet stuff.
Ben frowned, nodded and thanked him gruffly and was about to address Adam, who was still wondering what to do with his bag of candy, when the Chinese stepped up to Ben’s side.
“You stay here in town?”
“Er – no – I’m travelling on, towards Utah territory.”
Hop Sing nodded, “Not many peoples there yet.”
“True, which is one reason why I’m going there. Anyway, thanks but…”
“You alone? No woman? No wife?”
“Well, not that it’s any of your business but…”
“Lots of bad Indians, wild animal. Who you have help you with little boys?”
“You go alone? Have boys? You one man, one gun. Fight many Indians?
No, Hop Sing think you one crazy man.”
Ben’s eyes rounded and the black brows beetled into a scowl. “What?”
“You not go alone. Hop Sing come too. I shoot gun, cook food, help with boys.”
Ben looked over at his eldest son, who was watching with his eyes and mouth wide open. He had seldom seen his father bested in a war of words but it seemed as though this foreigner was certainly getting the master of him. As Ben was going to do for many more years to come, he turned to Adam for help in getting him out of the situation only to find that Hop Sing wasn’t going to brook any of that nonsense from him.
“I go, come back soon.”
“I may be gone by the time you get back,” Ben growled.
Hop Sing smiled and bowed politely. “I come back very soon.”
As he hurried away, Ben turned to look at his two sons, one who was sticky and relishing his candy and not bothered about anything other than that, and the other staring at the retreating stranger with something like awe on his face. “Well, Adam, what do you think we
“Well…” Adam frowned, his eyes still on Hop Sing who was rounding the
corner of the street. “Hoss likes his candy.”
“That’s not the best reason for getting ourselves lumbered with the fellow,” Ben grunted.
“Well, he sure seemed like he wanted to come along with us, Pa.”
“He sure did, didn’t he? I wonder why?” Ben rubbed his chin and looked doubtful, “I think we had better just get ourselves out of here as quick as we can…”
“He’s coming back, Pa,” Adam cried excitedly and relaxed his hold on his bag of sweets which somehow got into the clutches of his little brother.
Hop Sing was coming back, carrying a big basket of what must have been his personal effects and a rifle slung over his shoulder. Behind him came at least six other men, all Chinese of varying ages, and within minutes, Ben found himself surrounded by them all gabbling and gesturing. Hop Sing meanwhile stowed his basket into the back of the wagon and stood beside Ben as though that was his station in life. He smiled and nodded and then bowed to the other men, who all stopped talking and bowed back. He turned to Ben. “My uncle and cousins, they come to say to you thank you for taking me on journey with you.”
“I don’t recall actually saying that I would, Mr. Hop…er…Sing,” Ben replied with a courtesy he didn’t actually feel.
The distinguished-looking elderly gentleman now stepped forward and bowed. “Honored sir, my nephew, Hop Sing, very good cook, very good man, honest and works hard. You not like, you send back quick.”
The older man smiled gently. “Hop Sing wise man. He see you go in long way all alone with small boy; you go into danger and need help. One gun not enough for territory you go into; Hop Sing very good with rifle.”
Hop Sing beamed proudly at his uncle’s recommendations. He nodded at all his relations, who nodded back and bowed, so that he bowed again. Ben looked at him thoughtfully; it was logical, it made sense. He was going to leave the other wagons and he would be alone, with two small boys to care for… He nodded. “Very well then, we had best get started.”
Adam watched as the stranger took his place beside Ben on the wagon seat. He sat back and thought how strange it was that this person should have attached himself to them. As he looked at the two men sitting side by side, their backs to him, he somehow felt that it just seemed such the right thing to have happened.
That night, as Ben finished the story and settled them down to sleep, he said, rather casually, “Well, son, you’ll have to add another room to our house if Hop Sing’s going to stay with us.”
“I know, Pa,” Adam sighed and folded his arms behind his head. “But it’s a good thing, really, that he’s come along, isn’t it? He can help us build it.”
Ben laughed and ruffled the dark hair. “I somehow doubt that he’ll turn out to be any kind of builder.”
Adam turned his head and observed his Pa thoughtfully. Shadows played over Ben’s face but even so, there was far less strain there than had been even a year ago. He raised his hand and placed it upon Ben’s cheek, just briefly, but it was an action that said more than words ever could how much he loved him.
As they journeyed on, Hop Sing proved to be all he had said he was — a better than good cook, a fine shot with the rifle and a man who loved the boys. Ben had many an occasion to be grateful for the day Hop Sing had stopped by their wagon as they continued a further two hundred miles to what would become … home.
From time to time during the journey from San Francisco, Ben would take out a map and some papers that he had collected from the Land Registry Office. The route and land that Ben had negotiated with them was what Adam had observed from his seat on the wagon, and now, with these in hand, Ben brought the wagon to their first sight of the Lake.
He had to stop the horses and just allow his eyes to dwell upon the whole vista that opened up before him. Hop Sing, seated beside him, looked back and beckoned the boys to join them so that the four of them sat and feasted their eyes upon the sight.
“Is it the sea?” Adam asked naively, to which Ben smiled and after putting his arm around his son’s shoulders explained that it wasn’t the sea, but a lake. A vast body of water captured in a valley. “Can I sail a boat on it?”
“Perhaps one day,” Ben said, thinking of small paper rafts whereas Adam was thinking more in the line of his father’s clipper ships.
“Water,” Hoss declared pointing at the lake. “Birds.”
As they watched, some geese made a perfect landing upon the surface, creating ripples that eddied out, widening until they disappeared from view.
A better day could not have been chosen for them to have arrived at this spot. Wild flowers grew in profusion everywhere they looked; animals scampered about with hardly a glance at them, although Hop Sing observed them with a sharp eye. The surrounding landscape was mirrored perfectly in the tranquil stillness of the waters.
“I can hardly believe that this is our territory,” Ben murmured. “I can’t believe it.”
“Maybe those with eyes that have been watching all won’t believe it either,” Hop Sing muttered.
Ben glanced at his companion anxiously. “You saw them too?”
Hop Sing inclined his head. “Yes, many times, follow us – Hop Sing keep rifle very close.”
Ben nodded now and looked over to where the boys were now running playfully along the banks of the lake. “Don’t say anything about them to the boys; I don’t want them frightened.”
He watched them for a moment, and then mindful of what or rather who they had been discussing, Ben shivered as though someone had walked over his grave. He glanced over his shoulder but everywhere was calm; only the birds flew overhead. Rabbits peered from their burrows and a slight breeze bent the heads of the heavier flowers.
Eventually, he and Hop Sing joined the boys on the banks of the lake; Hop Sing cast out a line and sat down on the grass and Ben chased the boys about until they were too tired to run any more. By the time they returned to the wagon, Hop Sing had caught enough fish to provide food for an army. Ben lifted the boys back into the wagon, “Well, Adam,” he said with a smile on his face. “Do you think this would be the best place to build our house?”
Adam shook his head and laughed. He was happy; he felt free from worries, and the beauty of what he had seen had touched his little heart. Beside him, Hoss bounced on the blankets of his cot, his energies returning.
“Let’s move on then.” Ben ruffled Hoss’ curly blond head and returned to take his position beside Hop Sing, who sat rigid backed with his rifle across his arm.
If the boys sensed the wariness of the two men as the wagon rolled away from the lake towards the more verdant areas of land, they made no mention nor indicated it. As Ben urged the team of horses onwards, he took good note of the land through which they were travelling. When he saw meadows of grass, he thought of cattle; a drier terrain and he pondered upon the likelihood of horse rearing; and then when the wagon eventually returned to the shadows of the trees, he thought of a saw mill.
Now, he pondered, why a saw mill? Apart from the cost of setting one up, why have one here just because there were so many trees? After all, they were just the one family.
As dusk finally settled around them and the day was drawing to an end, Ben decided they would make camp. He unhitched the horses, and after securely hobbling them on a picket line he found himself, staring into the shadows, wondering if the talk he had heard in the Land Registry would be true. He rubbed his chin anxiously, remembering how the Manager had drawn up a map of his territory and as he had handed it to him had congratulated him for getting in ahead of the crowd.
“Mark my words, Mr. Cartwright, it won’t be long before there’ll be a flood of people beating their way to that territory.”
“Why? What’s there that they haven’t already got here?” Ben had asked as he had pocketed the papers and taken the receipt for the monies he had paid over.
“Well, they’ve been prospecting there for some while,” another of the men in the office had observed, “They reckon there’s gold in the Washoe, and once they make it more public than they have, you can guarantee it’ll be like Sutters Creek all over again.”
The Head Clerk had closed the book and pushed it to one side, leaning on one elbow he looked thoughtfully at Ben. “So why’d you want to buy up so much land, Mr. Cartwright? There ain’t nothing there except Indians and a few prospectors.”
“Do the Indians cause any trouble?” Ben had asked anxiously and had noticed the way the men had looked at one another before one replied. “If they do, we ain’t likely to hear about it.”
Ben had said nothing but left with the feeling that a wagon with one man and two small boys would be swallowed up by the territory he had just paid for, and whatever the Indians did to them would be of no account. No doubt the Land Registry clerk was already thinking of how to re-sell the land in the future to some other fool who was willing to hand over the required funds.
Perhaps that was why he had been more willing than usual to take Hop Sing on board, the security of having another adult – although at times he did wonder if he could put Hop Sing in that category – made a big difference to his state of mind.
As the boys settled down to sleep in the wagon, Ben wandered over to the camp fire and stood there awhile, listening to the night sounds. He looked up at the sky and observed the stars, the moon shining above half hidden by the dark peaks of the trees. He felt an overwhelming feeling of privilege at being there, the awesome beauty he had seen throughout the day made him feel that at last everything was right, everything was as it should be.
Later he took out his copy of Paradise Lost by John Milton. He located the section that he and Elizabeth had loved so much, and as he read it he imagined her voice whispering the words along with him :
“They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy seat,
Waved over by that flaming brand, the gate
With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms:
Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide;
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.”
Ben had woken early enough to see the first streaks of light pierce the dark heavens and had stirred himself to build up the fire. The feeling that he was not alone, and by that he didn’t mean Hop Sing and the boys, but some other presence being felt he looked about him warily and reached out a casual hand towards his rifle so that it would appear a natural movement rather than a defensive one.
A darker shadow within shadows shifted and moved, merged with several others to become complete so that by the time he had the rifle in his hands, several men were approaching him. They entered the camp without the arrogance of the Plains Indians but there was certainly enough hostility felt for Ben to feel the hairs on his body tingle.
A man stepped forward, looked around the camp with a look of obvious, disgust and then glared at Ben. “Who you?”
“I’m Ben Cartwright. I’m here with my sons and a friend.” He cleared his throat “This is going to be our home.”
“Yes, our home.”
The Paiute turned to address the other men, several of whom spoke together; angry tones of voice and threatening gestures were obvious. Hop Sing had arisen and was standing beside him, unarmed it seemed, although he actually had a good meat cleaver hidden behind his back.
“You say – this home – you not ask Chief – you not ask permit have?” A toss of the head, black eyes glittered and proud lips thinned.
“Where is your Chief? It would be good to see him, to talk,” Ben replied, hoping that such a request wouldn’t lead to greater problems.
“He come – speak you – soon.”
They left as silently as they had first appeared with Ben and Hop Sing watching them until satisfied that they were alone. Ben looked at his companion.“Well, we may as well have some coffee. I’ll get the boys.”
Adam very carefully placed the sticks on the ground. Watching him from his seat by the fire, Ben could see a pattern emerging and with a smile asked his son what he was doing, to which Adam replied he was making their house.
Ben promptly stood up and approached him, and by looking down could see the outline of the building that Adam was designing. “So this is where we shall live, huh?”
“Sure, Pa, this is the big room see? Here’s the stairs…” He pointed to where a cluster of sticks indicated a staircase.
“Hmm, we’ll need a barn you know, and stables for the horses.”
Adam nodded and stood up, brushing his hands upon the back of his pants, “Pa, how many men built the ark?”
“What ark?” Ben swilled coffee round and round in his mug, and then smiled. “Noah’s ark, do you mean? Well, there were Noah and his three sons, their wives and Mrs. Noah.”
Adam sighed and nodded. “Sure is a good thing our house ain’t gonna be bigger’n the ark.”
“Well, that’s true.” Ben leaned down and looked at the twigs that Adam had set out so carefully. “So, what have we got here … a big room …”
“And a big fireplace, Pa, just here…” Adam pointed to an area. “Is that the best place, Pa?”
“I think so, son.”
They shared a smile, a moment united in a common thought before Ben broke away to check on his horses; one thing he knew about the Paiute was their love of stealing animals.
Hoss came running round from the back of the wagon, without looking and without thought he dashed through the carefully set out twigs so that they were scattered over the ground. “Hoss, you broke it; you broke it on purpose.”
“Didn’t,” came the swift retort, which was Hoss’ most immediate form of defense.
“You did.” Adam gave his brother a punch of his fist which resulted in Hoss giving a howl and turning to give his brother an immediate punch back.
Adam went down as though he had been struck by lightning and Hoss was about to throw himself on top of his brother – seeing it as an ideal opportunity to land another blow before Adam could strike back at him – when Ben grabbed him by the seat of the pants and hauled him back. “That’s enough – go and sit down, over there…”
Ben knelt beside the older boy and looked at him anxiously, for Adam’s stillness was unusual. He was quick and light on his feet and even now he remained inert. “Hop Sing – get me some water.”
The wet cloth wiped around his face and neck slowly brought Adam to his senses; his eyes rolled around a little and he had to blink several times to get them in focus. He looked up into the anxious eyes of his father and Hop Sing. “Hoss hit me.”
“I know. He just doesn’t know his own strength, son. Are you alright?”
Adam’s bottom lip trembled; he wanted to cry as much from humiliation at the fact that his younger brother had knocked him out as in the pain he was feeling still. He sat up and glowered at Hoss who was sitting by the wagon. The little boy was sniffling and crying, scared that his brother wouldn’t wake up, and worried by the repercussions that would come as a result.
Ben, after making sure that Adam was going to be alright, left him to Hop Sing’s ministrations while he went to sit with Hoss.
It had become evident as Hoss had grown that the boy possessed more than the usual strength of one so young. As a result he had often times hurt Adam more than he had intended when they were having their scraps, but this was the first time he had actually accomplished a ’knock out’. There had been other instances of the boy not understanding that he was stronger than most and that he had to learn to handle his strengths in a way that would not hurt others or injure himself.
How could one explain to a child not yet three years of age that he had to be more careful, that he had to hold things gently when perhaps he already thought he was? Ben rubbed his jaw and sat down, gave Hoss a hug and then stammered through some explanation only to have Hoss say, quite truthfully, “He hit me first.”
He was just a little boy and with limited understanding, it was just too easy to assume that because of his size and strength, he was so much older than he actually was, that he had to restrain either his strength or his temper. How does a child realize that a natural reaction to defend oneself had to be reined in …that his rough and tumble could mean pain and injury to his brother?
Hoss approached Adam with his head hung down. “Sorry, Addy”
“Go away, I don’t like you; you broke my house.”
“Didn’t …” The brows beetled together in a scowl
Hoss’ bottom lip trembled, tears welled up. “You’re bossy.”
“You are too.”
Adam stepped forward, fist clenched and ready to swing but Ben caught hold of him and spun him round. “Your brother said sorry, now leave it be.” Seeing the mutinous look on his son’s face, Ben lowered himself down to look into his face. “You have to remember he’s much younger than you are; you have to learn more control over your feelings, over your temper. You have to look after your brother, Adam.”
Adam bristled; it seemed to him that all he ever did was look after his brother. He pouted and his dark eyes went darker. “He hit me.”
“You hit him first.”
“He hit me harder…”
“You have to teach him not to …”
Adam pulled away. He felt hard done by and slouched to the wagon where he found refuge in a book, while Hoss picked over some food that had been left over from the morning meal.
Both boys had a lot to learn and it seemed to Ben that he was failing to teach them. It was at times like this that he missed Inger, longed for Elizabeth.
Ben decided to move on from that location. He felt it oppressive and the trees crowded in so thickly that it provided too good a cover for any Indian attack. With rifles at the ready and his revolver loaded by his side, he and Hop Sing took the wagon away from the lake and woodland to where they could see it slightly thinning out.
Unbeknown to Ben, the Chief of the Paiutes was a man of outstanding wisdom and foresight. He was a man given to strong religious beliefs and firmly believed that all men were of one family and that one day the white man, and others, would come to his land and be united in peace. Now that another white man had arrived, he prepared himself to greet him and welcome him to the land which he did not then know had already been purchased.
He was called Onennumucca or One Moccasin, and many years earlier had led the Lewis and Clarke party to a safe place from the Bannocks. He was to become known as Truckee in the future, and was father to Winnemucca. Dressed in his rabbit skin and fox lined garments, he rode at the head of a small party of Paiute to locate the lone white man and his companion.
Adam and Hoss were back on good terms now and waiting for Ben to confirm whether or not the area where they had stopped would be the location for their house. As far as Adam was concerned, it was beautiful. There were not too many trees to make it dark and foreboding, and when he lay on his back and looked upwards, he could see the sky through the tops of the trees. Wild flowers grew in profusion and lent their sweet smell to the air around him.
Hop Sing was showing Hoss how to handle an egg. It was his first lesson on how to hold things in a more careful way, a way where nothing could be harmed. It meant being taught that he was different, and although that made little connection in his mind at the time, it was something he would grow to fight against bitterly until finally accepting it.
When Onennumucca stepped out from the trees, Ben was caught some distance from his weapons and stood between the Paiute and the wagon. Hop Sing stood up slowly and shuffled the little boy behind him for protection while Adam scrabbled to his feet and hurried to his father’s side.
The Chief opened up his fur garment revealing his nakedness and that he came unarmed; he nodded and smiled and in halting language assured Ben he had come in peace. It was time to talk, as new friends.
Weeks passed, trees were felled, and land cleared. The Paiute came to watch until they were bored and drifted back to their own duties of life. During the night, Adam and Hoss slept in the wagon while close by the house slowly began to take shape.
No matter how impatient Adam was to see ‘his’ house built, there was only so much that two men and two small children could accomplish. A tree had to be felled, stripped of its boughs and branches, and then cut to shape and size. It took back-breaking work, during which time Hop Sing had to cook and care for the boys, who were limited to the amount they could do to help their father. The horses worked with a will, but eventually axes and saws would get blunt so it would be another task to sharpen them up each evening in preparation for the next day.
The son of Winnemucca, grandson of ‘Truckee’, befriended Adam and often the two boys would wander off. They would swim in the river, fish, as well as hunt for rabbits and small game. He was known as Yacoub, although later in life he would change his name as many of his people customarily did, a name changed with differing circumstances in their lives and how they felt about them.
It seemed to Yacoub that this white boy was very ignorant of many things so he took it upon himself to teach him how to track, how to follow the spore of a wild deer, how to identify the roots of plants that could be nourishing, and those that could kill. Adam’s education was stretching, and the more he learned, the more eagerly he wanted to learn more.
Ben tolerated his son’s absences because the boy was of little help to him, and it was to their benefit that he was kept amused. Hoss kept closer to Hop Sing, forging an unbreakable bond that would last a lifetime, and not only because of the food the man cooked for them.
In August, Ben returned to San Francisco, which had grown even larger during the few months since they had left. Ben bought more staples and equipment for the house. He also returned with half a dozen men who were willing to assist him, for a salary and some good food.
“Well, Adam.” Ben put his arm around the boy’s shoulders. “What do you think now?”
Adam nodded and leaned against his father’s knee; they were standing on an outcrop of rock which provided them a bird’s eye view of the land that had been cleared, and where the foundation of the house had been set out. The boy thought of his drawings over the years, and the way he had visualized it so many nights on end. If Ben had had a dream to spur him on, then Adam had had a project and now looking down on what was the outline of their future home he felt an overwhelming sense of pride and pleasure.
“Pa, am I an arky-teck now?” he asked with his brown eyes wide and shining with delight.
“Well, it is your design,” Ben said with his dark eyebrows raised as though surprised that his son would doubt the fact.
There were still some trees clustered close by, providing shade during the heat of days to come, and a wind break when winter blew in. There was the well being dug out by two of the men, and there was Hop Sing standing in the place that would one day be his domain. He had his hands on his hips looking from right to left and beside him a little boy with blond hair stood in parody of him, hands on hips and head twisting this way and that… a sight that brought a smile to Ben’s lips as he watched them.
“How many bedrooms do you say we need?” Ben asked as he turned and lifted the boy into his arms and onto his shoulder.
Adam laughed.“Lots and lots.” He raised his arms into the air. “I can see the mountains; I can see the sun shining on Sun Mountain, Pa. It looks like gold. I can see the trees they stretch for miles and miles, Pa.”
Clean fresh pure air, Ben drew it down deep into his lungs and closed his eyes. “This is it, then, Elizabeth. This is home …”
The house was built before the winter set in that year. Ben and the men he had hired built up the fireplace while Hoss and Adam made up the clay cement that was used to keep the stones altogether. It was a fine centerpiece for the big room and everyone stood back for some minutes just looking at it and admiring it. It extended up to the roof so the heat from the fire warmed the two main bedrooms that the chimney passed through.
Ben had to make numerous trips to San Francisco, which was growing all the time. He brought back everything that was necessary, sometimes having to hire out more men and wagons to bring them all. There was the stove that had to be put in the area which was designated his study, and there was the oven and stove for the kitchen so that Hop Sing could continue to cook fine meals for them.
Furniture took more time, but bit by bit, things arrived and were fitted into the rooms. They made do with what was available until items did arrive. Both the boys were amazed at the things that would ’appear’ from the wagons and be carried into the house.
Glass for the windows presented a problem as there were no glaziers at the time, so wooden shutters had to be used to keep out the cold air. They were fixed both externally and internally for double insulation.
It seemed to Adam as though the house grew a bit more every day, rising up from its foundations and becoming more like a real home all the time. The care Ben took in smoothing out the floorboards of every room so that they were as smooth as could be with no danger to any feet getting splinters was a remarkable testimony to his patience. Adam and Hoss would be on their knees beside him to help when other tasks didn’t beckon for their attention.
When the first snows were beginning to fall, the hired men drifted away; hands were shaken and salaries paid. Hoss was the most upset at seeing them go; he was a gregarious little boy and enjoyed company more than his more serious-minded brother who still preferred to run around with Yacob, which really annoyed Hoss.
“We should have a name for our home,” Ben said one evening several days after the men had left.
He sat by the roaring fire smoking his pipe while Hoss sat on his left knee leaning against his chest and Adam sat on the floor leaning against his father’s leg. Outside the wind howled and snow struck against the wooden shutters making them thump and thud against the framework.
Hoss wasn’t interested in thinking about anything except how cozy and warm it was and how glad he was not to be in the wagon any longer. Adam was becoming drowsy from the fire’s heat and yawned before saying, “Pa, are we poor?”
The question caught Ben unawares and he had to clear his throat by coughing. “No, we aren’t poor, son.”
“But we were one time, weren’t we?” He looked up at his father quizzically. “When we went to that town and met Ma, we were poor then.”
“Yes, we were.” Ben nodded, and stared into the flames as he thought back to the time when he had almost gone begging, cap in hand, for work. “Yes, Adam, we were very poor then.”
He didn’t say anything about the times when they had been starving during the miles of their journey through the wilderness, where Indians padded silently by looking for their white victims. It didn’t matter then how much gold you had hidden away; it couldn’t buy anything, as valueless as the dirt itself. He sighed and absentmindedly ruffled Adams hair. “We’re not rich, son, but with hard work and diligence, we’ll be alright.”
Adam didn’t ask who diligence was. He wondered if it had anything to do with Hop Sing, and as for Hoss, he was sound asleep now and snoring.
A name for their home. Ben sucked the stem of his pipe and stared into the flames…the Cartwrights of the…mmmm, Ben Cartwright, owner of the Triple C ranch? Box C ranch. He shook his head; he only had two milk cows and a bull so far, so could he rightly class it as a ranch?
He looked around him at the big room and the fire, he felt pride touch his heart; it had all come about as close to Adam’s drawings as possible — a few tweaks provided by himself, of course — but the child had had the right idea of what suited this wild rugged place. No bricks, either; all built from the trees that grew upon the forested hills and mountains. He sighed and got to his feet, dislodging Adam as a result and holding Hoss in his arms. “How about The Pinetree ranch?” he suggested to Adam, who was rubbing his eyes and yawning even more.
He carried Hoss up to the boy’s room, knowing that during the night the child would no doubt creep into Adam’s bed, for they were so used to being close together at night. He pushed open one of the shutters, pushing snow from the ledge that fell upon the porch roof below.
It was snowing heavily and the flakes hit against his face as he looked upwards into the sky. He hadn’t mentioned to anyone, not even Hop Sing, about the flakes of gold he had found on his land that he had taken to the assayer’s office on one of his trips to ‘Frisco. No point in saying anything after all; that might be all that there was but it went a long way to pay for everything he’d brought back with him.
The months rolled into years and the ranch house was extended to with bunkhouses, hay barns and stables. More trees had been felled and the way to the ranch house had been cleared for some while with cattle grazing in the meadows and horses in the corrals.
When Ben Cartwright decided to go on a business trip to New Orleans, he left his sons in the care of Hop Sing. Relations with the Paiute were good, and the boundaries of their territory had grown as a result. More gold had been found on their land, and when he had shown it to ’Truckee’, the Paiute had shaken his head. “It is what makes the white men go mad. It’s bad medicine.”
But for Ben, it meant he could pay for his cattle, and finance the business deals he ventured into, and although it dismayed him to see how many prospectors were now toiling in the territory for gold he never disclosed to anyone, the amount he had himself found.
It was some months before he returned from his journey to New Orleans and when he did so, he was not alone.
Marie Cartwright had put a hand on his arm to stop him from getting down from the vehicle. She wanted to look at this building which was to be her new home, and as she glanced from window to window, from porch to roof, she smiled then turned to him, and gripped hold of his hand with her fingers. “So, Ben, this is your Ponderosa?”
“Yes,” he replied and looked up, following the direction of her eyes. “Yes, this is home.”
“Home,” she echoed and nodded as she waited for him to assist her down, home where two little boys were about to get the shock of their lives when their father walked in and introduced them to their new Mama.
Hoss had almost fallen down the stairs in his hurry to reach the door so that he could welcome his Pa home. Ben had just reached Marie’s side when the little boy appeared with a red face and beaming smile and arms up stretched for his father’s hug. After all, despite his size, he was merely a five-year-old who had yearned for the return of his Pa.
“Hey there, Hoss.” Ben swung him up high and then into his arms where the child’s arms encircled his neck and hugged him tight. “How’s my boy today? Missed your Pa did you?”
“I did, Pa; I missed you more’n you’ll ever ever know,” Hoss said. “Why’d you have to be away fer so long? I waited and waited for you and you never came back, and Hop Sing said you would…” His voice trailed away as he realized he was being watched by the pretty young woman standing close to his father. He blinked and his hold on Ben relaxed enough for Ben to set him back on the ground.
“Well, Hoss, I’d like you to meet Marie. Marie, this is Erik; we call him Hoss.” He gave his son a little gentle tap on the shoulder. “Say hello to Marie, Hoss.”
“Hi.” Hoss nodded and raised a hand, blinked and looked curiously at his father. A woman was such a seldom seen being on the Ponderosa; even in the settlement, there were just a handful and most of them were worn-out women who cared for a weary husband and a gaggle of children. He had never seen such a pretty woman in all his five years and shyly edged closer to Ben.
“Hello, Hoss,” Marie replied and leaned down a little to his level. “I’ve heard so much about you. I’m really pleased to meet you at last.” Very gravely she shook his hand, although he snatched it back quickly and hid it behind his back for some reason even he couldn’t explain.
A flurry of activity came from the house now as Hop Sing appeared wreathed in smiles and pleasure at seeing his friend and master return. Behind him came the thin long- legged boy that Adam Cartwright had become, not wreathed in smiles, although he had been until he had seen the woman talking to Hoss.
“Mr. Cartwright, you come back home good time like now. Big trouble in settlement, big trouble in Indian camp, big trouble in Hop Sing’s kitchen. Stove all bust can’t cook no more.” He paused and looked anxiously from Ben’s beaming countenance to the woman smiling at him. “You come all way with Mr. Cartwright? You maybe crazy?”
“No, Hop Sing, I’m not crazy. It’s good to meet you.” She put out a hand and shook his, leaving him dumbstruck, but she was looking over his shoulder at the boy who stood behind him. “You must be Adam?”
Adam gulped and cleared his throat. “Yes’m.” He looked at his father and offered up a small smile, the joy of seeing him return overtaken by the niggling feeling that wriggled at the back of his mind, “Hi, Pa.”
“Hey, c’mon, aren’t you going to give your Pa a hug?” Ben laughed and opened his arms wide in order to embrace the boy who, blushing, allowed himself to be hugged, responding with enough warmth to satisfy Ben. “Adam, Hop Sing – this is Marie.”
They turned to regard her again as though they hadn’t noticed her before already. Adam waited, convinced there was more to come; after all, this was no waif and stray Pa had picked up begging on the high road. Hop Sing nodded and smiled, and then looked at Ben, who added now. “Marie is my wife. Marie Cartwright.”
He wanted to say ‘Boys, this is your new Mama.’ but suddenly it seemed out of place to do so, as though he were providing a replacement for something that was old and out of date. He took hold of her hand and smiled at her, before looking at them. Hoss now sidled over to Adam, who closed ranks by stepping closer to him. Hop Sing nodded; his eyes wise in how things were now to be. He bowed politely, his countenance serious. “Welcome to Ponderosa, Missy Cartwright. I go now bang on stove make work so can cook good special dinner for you.”
Ben looked at Hoss and Adam, his smile broader than ever. “Well, boys, let’s go inside.”
He took the lead with Marie, and then when they reached the door, he swooped her up into his arms. When she said, “Oh Ben” and laughed, he laughed along with her and then, (this really made Adam blush) kissed her right there on the spot before carrying her over the
Hoss looked at his brother. “Why’d he do that to that lady?”
“That’s what people do when they’re married,” Adam replied having read about it once a long time ago.
“What? All the time?”
“Of course not,” Adam replied scornfully. “Just the once.” He paused and twitched his thin shoulders. “Look, you go on in side; I’ve chores to do in the stable.”
“Can’t I come too? I don’t wanna go in by myself.”
“Don’t be such a baby, Hoss. She can’t eat you, can she?” Adam replied and was about to turn on his heels to get to the stable as soon as possible when he heard his father calling them indoors.
Adam Cartwright was eleven years old now, and in many ways a great deal older for his years. Emotionally, however, he was naïve and young, having had little social dealings with anyone other than those men who worked on the ranch, the Paiute, and a few homesteaders struggling to settle in the area, and even those he saw rarely.
What he knew about life beyond his narrow horizons were garnered from the memories of his times on the wagon train, in various settlements for brief periods of his life, and from books. On one of Ben’s forays, into San Francisco, he had managed to purchase a job lot of books and it had been Adam’s determination to read through every one of them.
He now nudged Hoss forward and followed close behind the blond-headed freckle-faced five-year-old. When they stepped into the house, they found Marie standing by the fire, looking around at the room; she smiled at them both. “This is a beautiful room, Adam. Your father tells me that you designed the house and helped build it.”
“Hoss helped as well,” Adam said quickly wishing there was somewhere he could hide behind because Marie Cartwright was really pretty and he felt awkward and ill at ease.
“I did the mud,” Hoss volunteered. “We made a big puddle and then stomped about in it and then we filled up the cracks between the logs with it.”
“You did a very good job of it, Hoss.” She smiled and Adam had the impression she was going to pat the boy on the head like a puppy. Instead, she started to remove her coat, which Ben took from her and draped over the back of a chair; then she removed her bonnet revealing her golden hair which made Hoss’ eyes go round just like marbles.
“You’re pretty,” he said in a quiet voice. Then he frowned slightly and looked at Ben, back at Marie and sighed. He had seen the pictures Ben had of Inger, his own mother, and knew that she had had hair equally as blond.
“Thank you, Hoss.”
A clatter from the dining room heralded Hop Sing’s return with the, tray loaded with tea and coffee pots, cups and saucers. He placed this carefully on the table, and then with a bow, disappeared back into the kitchen where the sounds of banging could be heard as he attempted to get the stove to function.
For a moment, there was an awkward silence until Marie smiled graciously and walked to the table and poured out the coffee which she handed to Ben. She poured herself tea and then returned to the fire and sat down in the blue chair. She looked at the two boys who hadn’t moved a muscle. “Don’t just stand there, boys; come closer and let me have a good look at you both.”
Hoss frowned and approached slowly; he looked up into her face and smiled. After all, who could resist such a pretty face? “Are you going to stay with us now?”
“Yes, I am. You don’t mind, do you?” She smoothed back a curl from his forehead and her eyes twinkled along with her smile.
Adam swallowed a lump in his throat, and drew closer to her and looked at her with as much interest as she showed him. When she smiled at him, his returning smile was wavering; he felt shy and awkward. He glanced over at Ben, who was slowly unbuttoning his own travelling coat, the cup of coffee cooling on the table beside him. “I’ve some chores to do before supper,” he muttered. “I’d better get them done now.” He turned to Marie. “A pleasure to meet you, Ma’am.”
Ben frowned slightly as his son hurried from the room and the outer door closed. He picked his cup up slowly and sighed. The return home, the welcome he had anticipated, wasn’t working out quite as he had hoped.
Adam worked more slowly than usual at his chores. Normally he liked to get indoors for supper as soon as possible, because afterwards he could read one of his books. But he knew that that wasn’t going to happen tonight. He accepted the fact that there was going to be talking, and somehow he didn’t feel prepared for it. He was cautious by nature; he had learned to be so, and as a result he found himself perplexed as to how to handle this sudden change in their circumstances.
He was mucking out the stalls when the stable door opened and Hoss entered. After casting a quick look at him, Adam said, “What do you want?”
“Pa said for you to hurry up, suppers nearly ready.”
“I know that…”
“Then you gotta hurry up.”
Adam firmed his lips and raised his chin challengingly. For the past few months, he had been his own boss, had tackled his chores and never missed on doing them, but he had done them at the speed he had chosen. He looked at Hoss, who was staring at him. “What?”
Hoss shrugged. “Pa said that the lady is our Ma.”
Adam frowned. “Well, she ain’t.”
“Pa said she is.”
“She’s Mrs. Cartwright but she ain’t our Ma.”
“Pa said she is, though.”
“How can she be our Ma when…” He stopped, swallowed; it was too cruel to say the words but Hoss understood what he had been about to say, for he bowed his head and pushed some straw and dirt about with his booted foot. “Do you like her?”
Hoss shrugged. “She’s pretty.”
“You do like her, don’t you?”
“Wal, I guess I do. She said she was going to read me a story tonight.”
“But I…” He stopped himself; he had read or told Hoss a story every night since Inger had died, ever since that time on the wagon train when Pa had disappeared into himself. He shook his head. “I’ll just finish this and then I’ll be in.”
“Pa said to make sure you wash up …”
“Then you’d better make sure you do too, Shortshanks.”
Hoss laughed; he was already up to Adam’s chest and could hardly be called Shortshanks much longer. But he left the stables happy enough, leaving Adam to finish his assigned task.
He washed his face and hands in the water trough before stepping into the house and closing the door behind him. The smells of good food and the sight of it on the table proved that Hop Sing’s clanging and banging had been successful. He followed the rest of them to the table and sat down. Marie smiled at him. “You’ve been busy in the stables?”
“I – er – yes, ma’am.”
“I could smell the horses on you, Adam. I like horses very much. Tomorrow you must show me yours.”
Adam swallowed again; he felt he had been kindly told off for smelling badly and lowered his head. Ben said the prayer and they began to eat. The food was delicious but Hoss was the only one who really enjoyed it.
By the time Hoss was to go to bed he was already in love with Marie. He found himself too shy to call her ‘Ma’ so didn’t call her anything at all, but when it came for him to go upstairs, he lingered awhile in saying goodnight to his Pa and then turned to her. “Are you really going to come and read me a story?”
“I said I would, didn’t I?” She took hold of his hand.
“’Cept that Addy always tells me a story …”
Ben spoke up now and said that not this time; he wanted to have a chat with Adam so it would be better for Marie to spend the time with him. Hoss glanced over at Adam and nodded. “Alright, Addy?”
Adam watched his little brother mount the stairs with the tall slim woman right behind him, then he turned to look at his Pa. Ben was standing by the fire, staring down into the flames. He turned now and looked at his son with an anxious expression on his face. “Well, son, I guess I caught you unawares, didn’t I?”
“How’d you mean, Pa?”
“Not letting you know that I was getting married and bringing Marie home to be – to be a mother to you boys.”
Before Adam could say anything, Ben came and sat down by his side. “It may seem unfair of me to have done that, but time and distance meant there was no time for such niceties, Adam, and you have to be grown up enough to understand that…”
“Sure, Pa. I understand…”
“I love Marie, Adam. She’s a lovely woman and she’s given up a lot to come here with me. Her life is going to change dramatically now, and I want you to help her settle in and feel happy to be here. I want you to make her life easier; I want you to love her as I do.”
Adam looked at his father, deep into the man’s black eyes, striving to understand all that Ben required from him. He was just 11 years old and expected to understand and accept something that Ben seemed to think was so easy. Perhaps it was, perhaps he should be able to accept Marie because Ben loved her and that, really, was that… He frowned as he accepted that along with everything else. Life was changed. Forever.
In itself, the house had not really changed much with the years. Outside, there was a large planter with two rose shrubs in it that bloomed each year. On the left side, the roses were red; and on the right, they were white. That was just one change Marie had made to the outside of the building.
There was glass in all the windows now and curtains draped elegantly at them, while here and there were other feminine touches that she had brought along with her. Ornaments and dainty things, much admired by Hop Sing, who handled them very carefully as he dusted them, and even some elegant furniture which was mostly to be seen in the bedrooms.
Adam sat alone in his own room, his back bowed, his head low while his hands dangled between his legs. He stared at the floor boards without seeing them as he thought over the events of the past few years that had brought them to this particular time.
Marie had changed things a lot, not just by bringing along her bits and pieces to add to the house and softening the more masculine feel of the place. She laughed and sang, and teased and cajoled, and in general got all her own way with them. She didn’t complain about being so alone, for there were few women in the area; even in Washoe diggings that were struggling to exist and the homesteaders that arrived, there were few whom she befriended.
Most women were hardened by their existence in that harsh country. The journey to their homes had been hard, some with major losses, some with great personal sacrifice. They were all destined to a life of hard work relieved by the rare occasion of festival and jollity. Marie Cartwright was rather like a delicate beautiful rose among far sturdier plants, and in some ways her prettiness and New Orleans ways intimidated the homelier women she met.
She was only ever in her own element when Ben took her to San Francisco every year, and then they would go to the theatre and she could shop and for a short while enjoying a different life that closely resembled the one she once had known.
But they had all worked to make her happy; she’d been pampered by Ben and Hop Sing, adored by Hoss, who had started calling her Mama within the first week, and respected and admired by Adam, despite his initial misgivings. That was how it had been until she had Joseph Francis Cartwright.
Now in his room, Adam fell back upon the bed and folded his arms behind his head to stare up at the ceiling. That had been some day, he recalled; everyone pacing the floor, waiting for that wretched doctor to come. Paul Martin M.D. had arrived in a slight panic; he had been new to the territory and had lost his way and had arrived to a panic-stricken household with the woman about to deliver a premature baby with her Chinese cook pouring Oriental herbal drinks down her throat to assist her.
But Joe had arrived safely, bawling his eyes out, screaming his protests against the world into which he had been so abruptly hurled. That was the day Adam first called Marie ‘Ma.’ He remembered it now … he had walked into the bedroom where Marie lay with the baby mewling in her arms and she had looked up and smiled at him, Adam, and just said, “Come and look at your little brother, Adam?”
Hoss had already bounced upon the bed and was peering down into the face of this noisy infant while Ben had stood at the head of the bed as though he had never fathered a child before in his life. Briefly, Adam had faltered and wondered if his father had ever looked as proudly upon him, or Hoss, as he looked then upon Marie and baby Joe.
He had approached the bed and looked at the baby; he had never seen one so small for his memory of Hoss had been that – well, as he had said it himself, ‘He’s a big un.’
“He’s real small, isn’t it?” He leaned over to look at him and then glanced at Marie who was still looking at him. “What’s his name?”
“Joseph Francis,” Marie had said and her finger had caressed the downy cheek of the baby so gently. “But he’s so small. Who would have thought such a tiny little baby could have caused so much pain?”
“Oh.” He had winced a little. “I guess it did …” He recalled the yelling and other sounds; he hadn’t realized Marie knew so much French! He had reached out his finger and touched the baby’s hand. “Little Joe … guess you’ll get to grow some soon.”
The baby became silent and his eyes rolled around, he yawned and smacked his lips before beginning to yell again. Hoss put his hands to his ears. “He sure is noisy.”
“He’s hungry,” Ben said with a laugh and put a gentle hand on Hoss’ head. “Now, off you go so Ma can feed him.”
Hoss had jumped off the bed and grabbed hold of Adam’s hand. At the doorway. Adam turned and smiled. “He’s going to be a tough one, Ma. You won’t have to worry; Hoss and me, we’ll take care of him.”
The look on Ben’s face was reward enough; he had positively beamed at Adam as though all lit up from inside.
Not like now… Adam cast his arm over his face as though to shield them from the light of the sun shining from the window. It was a lovely day outside, a day of sunshine and blue skies, where the smells of ponderosa pine permeated the air and Marie’s roses bloomed yet again.
It had been just such a day 36 hours ago when she had insisted on going riding. “I can’t stay indoors on a day like this, Ben.”
Adam could hear her voice now, teasing and cajoling, her arms wrapped around Ben’s neck and a kiss dropped upon the top of his head, for Ben had been sitting at the desk writing a letter and she had sneaked up on him behind his back.
“Well, it is a good day out there; I wish I could come with you.” Ben had smiled up at her and turned the chair around. “You won’t be gone too long?”
“Not at all. I want to see the lake; there’s a view there so beautiful on days like this, and the weather will break soon, I know it will…”
“Enough of your teasing, woman, be off with you.” He had stood up then and wrapped his arms around her, then kissed her cheek.
Little Joe had run up, holding his hand up for her inspection “Cut finger, Mama. Kiss better.”
She swung him up and kissed the upset finger> “Better now?”
He had nodded. “All better, Mama.”
Hoss had been eating something, scowling at his little brother for getting in the way over something. “You taking Joe, Ma?”
“No, I want to go alone,” Marie had said as she picked up her little riding hat. “Joe, you be good for Pa and your brothers.”
“I am good,” Little Joe had insisted as he pulled several books out of the bookshelf in an attempt to find the one he wanted.
Hoss was ten now, a tall well-built lad with blond hair like his own mothers and blue eyes that caught people by surprise when they first looked at him, such beautiful blue eyes. Marie had kissed his cheek. “Be patient with your baby brother, dear.”
“I am – all the time,” Hoss had protested while Little Joe crowed in delight at finding what he had sought and leaving the mess for someone else to clear up.
Adam had strolled into the room and smiled over at her. “Going riding?”
“Yes, your father has given me permission for several hours of indulgence.” She pulled on her gloves now over dainty hands and smiled at him. “Come and give your Mama a kiss goodbye.”
He had smiled, dimples formed in his cheeks and the brown eyes had twinkled. His respect for her had grown to a deep affection, no, now he could call it love, now he knew it was, had been, love.
And then she was gone.
Adam shuddered and wiped his eyes from the tears that he was shedding. He could hear nothing but silence in the house but he knew that in the rooms where his father and brothers were, they would be weeping their own tears.
In his room, Ben held onto Joe, held him so tightly that the little boy didn’t dare to move in case he was suffocated. The child’s misery was compounded with confusion; he couldn’t understand that his mother had been in that box which had been lowered into the ground. Oh sure, Pa had explained it all, in a broken voice that had wobbled and broken at times, and he had seen his Pa crying, and he had seen Hoss and Adam weeping so he knew, deep down, that Ma was not going to come home again.
He hadn’t seen her fall from the horse, just heard the screams, not hers, the screams of the horse which had made them all run from the house. Adam had reached the porch first, turned on his heels and grabbed at Joe and hurried back into the big room with Joe in his arms, while Ben had gone out to attend to his wife. They had heard his cries, his protests, despair and then anger and then heartbreak all bound in his deep voice that seemed to reverberate throughout the house.
Joe had held on so tight to his brother, so tight. He had pushed his face into Adam’s chest as though if he burrowed in there close enough he could disappear altogether. Adam had been shaking, his whole body had been shivering and trembling and Joe could hear his brother’s heart thudding against his ear, really thudding so loudly, so fast.
“Is Ma hurt, Addy?” He had raised his face to look up at his brother and Adam had tears running down his face and had been unable to answer, and in the corner of the room, Hoss had been clinging to Hop Sing.
In the kitchen Hop Sing prepared the meal; people had to eat even if hearts were broken. It didn’t really matter too much if they didn’t eat it all, just that it would be there. He pushed pans about, wiped his eyes, and shook his head. It was as though a light had been blown out; there was no laughter now, no singing. He stopped in his work and raised his head as though to listen but there was just the silence bound up in heartbreak.
He pulled out a chair and sat down, bowed his head and sighed deeply. Perhaps the food could wait.
Hoss knocked lightly on his brother’s door and pushed it open. Adam was outstretched on the bed and for a moment Hoss wondered if his brother was sleeping but no, Adam sat up and looked at him. “I…I didn’t want to be by myself no more, Addy.”
Adam nodded, reached out his arm and beckoned to his brother to approach. Hoss sat on the side of the bed and stared at the far off wall. “Was it like this when my Ma died, Addy?”
Adam thought back to that time and nodded, he didn’t trust himself to speak; his throat was too tight. His mouth worked but no words came out; he put his arm around Hoss’ shoulders. They sat side by side for some time before he could find his voice again. He cleared his throat. “We’ll have to look after Joe, Hoss. We promised Ma, remember?”
“Did we?” Hoss frowned
“Sure, when he was born.”
“Sure, I remember now.” He sighed deeply. “She was pretty, wasn’t she?”
“She sure was.” Adam nodded, and stared far off as though seeing her all over again. “We’ll have to look after Pa, as well. He…he may be a bit different for a while, Hoss. You mustn’t mind him, if he is…but…we just gotta look after him, alright?”
“Sure.” Hoss nodded, “I’m sure gonna miss her, Adam.”
“I know, Hoss. So am I.”
He knew he was going to miss her. He had grown to love her despite himself; she had been that kind of person. One couldn’t help oneself but love her, and he had… he really had.
When the letter came from Boston, it was stained and shabby-looking, having been some time travelling the distance from the writer to the recipient. Ben weighed it in his hand and looked at the writing thoughtfully for a moment or so before thanking Hop Sing and walking
back into the house.
From the post mark, the letter had been posted some months ago and had it not been for Hop Sing having to go to San Francisco to visit his relatives — some grand occasion that begged his attendance — then it would have languished in the Mail Depot there until some clerk found someone who would deliver mail to the Washoe Diggings. Hop Sing walked in, asked if there was mail for Ben Cartwright and ended up playing mailman for every human soul alive and dead who had ever wandered through the straggling settlement.
So here he was, balancing the letter in his hand and wondering what it was that Abel Stoddard wanted. He was allowing his mind to wander back to the past when he was shipwrecked off the coast of Tierra Del Fuego in the Magellan Straits and had been rescued by Abel’s ship coming to pick up survivors. That was how their relationship had began all those years ago.
“Hey, Pa?” Adam tapped his father on the shoulder. “I know we don’t often get mail but you could tell us who the letters from?”
“Who’s it from, Pa?” squeaked Little Joe from somewhere behind his big brother and then he peeked from around Adam’s legs and gave his Pa a wide smile, showing gaps where his front teeth were missing.
“It’s from your Grandfather Stoddard,” Ben replied and noticed immediately the way his son’s eyes widened and dilated, a flush to his cheeks. “First time we’ve had mail from him since before Joe was born.”
“Sure is…” Adam replied, edging closer and peering over Ben’s shoulder to look down at the envelope. “Aren’t you going to open it?”
“Ain’t’cha gonna open it, Pa?” came the echo now clutching hold of Bens trouser legs and smiling beguilingly up at him so that Ben had to smile and give the boy a wink of his eye.
Hoss sauntered up to join them on the porch. “What’s happening?”
“Pa’s got a letter…” Adam smiled, eyes twinkling.
“Uh-Huh? Who from?” Hoss wiped sweat from his brow; he’d been grooming his horse and it was an especially hot day. He returned to the trough and worked the pump so that he could duck his head under the water that sluiced its way out.
“From Adam’s granddad,” Joe piped up and then looked again at Ben. “Have I got a granddad, Pa?”
“No,” Ben said quietly and walked into the house with the three of them following behind him so close that they were nearly tripping over his heels.
“Open it, Pa,” Adam urged with his dimpled smile as wide as could be in anticipation.
“I will…” Ben said and raised his hands as though to push them aside. “Now, let me read it first, it may be bad news.”
Joe frowned and shrugged, raising his shoulders right up to his ears, then he ran out to the yard to continue with his playing. He got bored easily, and waiting for Ben to read an old letter from some old man he never knew was not his idea of fun.
Hoss wandered off to the kitchen to talk to Hop Sing and find out how he had got on seeing all his folks and what was San Francisco like now…while Adam stayed where he was, just waiting. Ben sighed, frowned and raised dark eyes to look at his son. “You’d better sit down; Abel usually writes quite long letters.”
Adam did as he was told, sitting in the blue chair and leaning slightly forward with his hands clasped in his lap. He was a tall gangly youth now, at that age where elbows and knees seem their most sharp and awkward. His hair was overlong, curled rebelliously, and his skin was tanned with an almost copper tint to it. Ben had told him that he was beginning to look too much like the Paiute friends he ran around with but that was just dismissed with a laugh.
He sighed several times during the time it took for Ben to read the letter through, during that time Hoss had returned with a beef sandwich and was chomping his way through it, dropping crumbs over the rug. Every so often Adam would dart a cold glare at his brother for his chomping disturbed his thinking and concentration, although why he wasn’t sure, except that he felt certain that a letter from Abel would surely involve him somehow.
Finally Ben folded the letter back into the envelope and looked at Adam thoughtfully, then glanced over at Hoss.
“Was it anything important, Pa?” Hoss asked.
“Er – I’d like to talk to Adam in private, son. Could you go and make sure that Joe isn’t in any kind of trouble out there?”
With a slight frown, Hoss looked first at Adam and then at Ben before stuffing the last of the sandwich in his mouth and getting up to leave the room. The door closed behind him and sealed in the heat; beyond the room could be heard the rattle of pots and pans as Hop Sing returned to the business of rescuing his family from the starvation diet they had obviously been on during his absence.
“Adam…” He paused and licked his lips, then stood up and approached his son, who looked anxiously up at him
“Is he alright? He’s not ill, is he?”
Ben smiled slowly and shook his head; such concern for a man his son had never met, only irregular letters to create any kind of bond … He sighed and sat down on the edge of the low table they had in front of the fire.
“No, he’s well. He wants to see you, son.”
Adam flushed, the color darkened his already tanned skin. “Why?”
“You’re his only living relative, Elizabeth’s son. He…well…he has a proposition he wants me to put to you.”
“Yes?” Adam leaned forward, dark brows furrowed and his lips thinned.
“He wants to finance your college education.”
“College?” Adam looked startled and then shook his head and repeated the word. “College?”
“He wants you to have the best chance of a future he can provide you. He feels he owes it to you.” Ben tapped the envelope upon his knee. “It was something your mother and I often discussed before you were born, about your having a college education.”
“But I thought that after what happened to Marie – Ma – that I couldn’t go to college. I mean, I know we talked about it once or twice but I never thought it was a possibility.”
“Why not?” Ben smiled gently and put a hand on his sons shoulder. “Why didn’t you think you could go? Marie and I talked about it quite often; we even started up a college fund for you.”
Adam shook his head, took a deep breath and stared at the floor while Ben sat and waited, thinking and wondering what was going through his son’s mind right now, what kind of inner conflict of desire versus duty wrestled within him.
“Wouldn’t you like to have the chance to go to college, son?”
“Pa? I’ve not even been to a proper school…how could I qualify?”
“There are ways. The first thing is for you to get to your grandfather in Boston. He seems to have everything organized already; it just needs my authorization and permission, and your willingness and presence.” He smiled and again his hand rested upon Adam’s shoulder. “What do you say, son?”
“I don’t know what to say, Pa. It’ll mean leaving here, leaving home.” He frowned. “How would you manage? I mean, what about the boys?”
Ben smiled, rather a forced smile to be sure, but it was more a smile than a grimace. “You won’t be gone forever, son.”
Adam sighed and shook his head; he looked at Ben and frowned. “I don’t know, Pa. I don’t know what to think, or what to say.”
“Well, think on it and then let me know how you feel in a few days time.”
“Do I have to go soon – if I agree to that is -”
“A few weeks …” Ben said quietly, “He’s paid for your passage from San Francisco to Boston already.”
Adam frowned, shook his head again. “But how could he know if I’d accept or not?”
“I think he’s assumed that, being Elizabeth’s son, that you would… At the same time, even if you don’t go to college, you would still like to see your Grandfather, wouldn’t you?”
Adam wasn’t too sure about that but to travel to Boston, to go by ship and experience sea travel… What an adventure!
It seemed to Little Joe Cartwright that his world was coming to an end. The fact that Hoss was morose and moping about didn’t help him either. He had snuggled into Adam’s bed the night before he had left and clung hold of him, really clung to him, and told him, begged him, not to go. There was so much to do here on the Ponderosa, and he was needing him to help him with his lessons and so much more…please, please stay.
Now here they were in San Francisco watching the changeling boy into man walk up the gangplank of the clipper ship that was going to take him so far away to that old man whom Joe really, really, hated with a passion. He looked up at his father. “Don’t let him go, Pa. Go and get him back.”
“No, now then, Joe, that’s enough,” Ben said quietly and his voice had a huskiness to it that made Joe quiet down some, although he looked at Hoss appealingly. But just then Hoss had to blow his nose, said there was something in his eye.
Joe felt so alone as he stared at the dark figure about to be swallowed up by a crowd of other passengers. How could Adam do it? How could his dearly beloved brother leave them behind just to go and see that old man and go to college.
He clung tightly to Ben’s hand, really tight just to make sure to himself that his father wasn’t going to fly away or disappear and leave him and Hoss alone on that busy wharf. He watched as boxes and crates were lifted up by huge nets and swung overboard to lower into the ship. He strained his eyes for some sight of his brother but there were too many people and then Hoss said “There he is …”
A tall thin figure waving his hand and too far away from them to tell if he was smiling or crying. Joe hoped that Adam was crying. ‘Serve him right,’ the little boy sniffled. ‘Serve him right for going away and leaving me.’
Adam Cartwright looked down at the small group and raised his hand in farewell. He thought over the evenings when he had sat and talked, and talked to his father about whether or not to go, what was the advantage or the point of getting a college education when he would be living so far in the wilds?
“Didn’t you want to be an architect at one time, son?”
Adam had smiled and nodded and Ben had asked him if he had not still that desire? “There will be more people moving here; they’ll need a good architect to build a town, son.”
Now he watched as the small group stepped closer as though they needed to see him more clearly. Hands waved and he felt his heart quiver and his stomach shake as he recalled how Joe had clung to him. He heard the thin little voice begging him not to go “don’t go and leave me.”
Then Hoss trying to be big and brave, but blustering and bawling in the barn so that they had held onto one another very tightly. “You said you’d look after me,” Hoss had protested and then pushed Adam away and ran.
It had been a hard blow; those words broke Adam’s heart and he had stood in the yard and looked at the house, looked at the way Marie’s roses were blooming, the breeze making the curtains of the rooms upstairs billow out, the way the trees hung close and seemed to hug around the yard.
They had built this, together, with Hop Sing and those hired men, but it had been his design. How could he leave it? He had turned as Ben walked towards him, a smile on his face that wasn’t echoed in his eyes, and without a word he had turned away. He didn’t want to go to college; he wanted to stay home … here, on the Ponderosa.
So now here he was waving them all goodbye and his eyes were welling up with tears. At the same time, his nerves were tingling with excitement. He was on board a ship that was going to take him all the way to Boston around the Cape Horn, nearly 90 days of travel.
He leaned further over the side of the ship and waved more vigorously; he couldn’t cry now. There was too much to learn, far too much, and he wasn’t a child anymore.
The snow had fallen stealthily overnight carpeting the streets and rooftops with its virginal whiteness. When Adam woke up from his dream of home, he had to stay a while in bed to remember exactly where he was and then rub his eyes, look around and confirm it. The window was blanked out with snow where the wind had blown it making the room darker as a result.
He closed his eyes again and wondered if he would be able to recapture the dream; it had been so pleasant being back home, listening to Pa and… He yawned. No good; time to get up. The cold was creeping into his bones and the best thing to dispel that was action.
The sight of his grandson coming into the room for his breakfast warmed Abel Stoddard’s heart. He didn’t like to make a fuss about it — he had never really gone in for emotional displays before and he wasn’t going to do so now — but the sight of the youth really gave him such pleasure.
“Breakfast is done, young man. Better sit down and eat it while it’s hot.”
Adam smiled at his grandfather and then nodded his thanks over to the woman who did Abel’s cooking; he pulled out a chair and sat down opposite the old man and poured out coffee.
“You drink too much of that stuff, it’ll stunt your growth,” Abel cautioned with a glare from his pale eyes, almost hidden now behind thick glasses.
“I doubt it now, Grandfather,” Adam chuckled and began to eat his meal with relish. “What do you want to do today, Grandfather? Go for a walk anywhere?”
“In this weather?” his companion grunted, “It’s howling a blizzard out there and my arthritis is bad. Haven’t you work to do?”
Adam nodded, swallowed a mouthful of food and then drank some coffee. “I brought some home with me, and something to read…” He paused. “Have you heard of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Grandfather?”
“No, who is he? One of those students you racket around with?”
“I don’t racket around, Grandfather; I’m too busy.” Adam laughed and sliced into more ham and eggs. “Try again?”
“A new lecturer?”
“I wish he were, although a lot of his ideas are very forward and not acceptable to some. I thought you would have known him, Grandfather; after all, he is a Bostonian.”
Abel shrugged; he wasn’t particularly interested in other Bostonians unless they had sailed on the clipper ships and shared his life. Outside his narrow boundaries, he knew relatively little. Adam continued with his meal, his thoughts on the books he had brought along with him — books of Poetry, Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and Henry IV Pt 1, and some of Emerson’s works that had been recommended to him by the principal of the school who remembered Emerson when he had been a student at the Boston Latin School and Emerson was in his last year before going up to Harvard. Emerson was becoming the newest star in literature’s vast firmament.
Later, Adam pulled on his outer clothes and boots and trudged out into the snow. He stood for a moment at the doorstep to look around him, as though to immerse himself into these surroundings. Later he would write it all down in a letter to his father and brothers, his first impressions of looking at a snow laden harbor in New England from the doorstep of the house where he had been born.
He made his way through the town with the snow squeaking beneath his feet at each step. How much had changed in the past eighteen months, he mused as he walked along, head bowed as a new onslaught of snow blew against him. School life – well, that had been rather a nightmare at first, but he had gradually crawled from under the negatives and was now enjoying it. He often thought of how much he owed Marie for her insistence upon teaching them the social graces. He very much doubted if his rough wilderness manners would have been appreciated in the lofty corridors of learning at the Boston Latin School where his grandfather had placed him.
His thoughts trickled back to that first meeting with Abel, the way the man’s eyes had brimmed over with tears at the sight of his daughter’s son. Once they had arrived in the town, Abel’s first thought was to take Adam to Elizabeth’s graveside, where he had told the youth about the day she had left them … as though forgetting that he brought fresh guilt into the heart of the lad standing by his side. But then he started to explain how he had promised on this cherished precious headstone that he would get his grandson a good education, pay for it himself, a tribute to them both, mother and son, that, he said, was why Adam was here now, because of that vow.
Sometimes when he came to stay with his Grandfather, Adam would go to the graveyard and sit on the bench that was opposite the grave of his mother. He would sit and contemplate the way things had been with his Pa, the journey from New England to the Ponderosa. Somehow it seemed fitting to do that, as though he were sharing his thoughts with her, this woman he had never known, who had given him life.
“Hoss, is Adam ever gonna come home?”
Hoss frowned and scowled slightly at his little brother. He shrugged. “Guess he will.”
“I dunno. When he feels like it, I guess.”
“Of course not tomorrow. Nor the day after that for all I know.” Hoss put a little more elbow grease into cleaning his horse’s tackle; he polished the bridle until it shone, and put it on the hook with some pride. “Adam will come home when he’s done his exams.”
Hoss sighed and looked over at Joe, who was sitting on a bale of straw eating his fingernails. Joe smiled his most beguiling smiles, and Hoss nodded. “Exams are answering lots of questions about what you’ve been learning all the time you’ve been in school. That’s what Pa said anyhow.”
Joe’s brow puckered up into a frown. “Adam sure must be learning a lot; he’s been gone a mighty l-o-n-g time.”
Hoss nodded. “I know. I wish he were still here.”
“I miss him,” Joe said and hugged his arms around his chest and rocked to and fro, “I bet he doesn’t even know I’ve lost more teeth.”
“Yeah, but you got some new ones, didn’t you?” Hoss grinned over at him and began to polish his saddle, easy long strokes of the duster.
“Do you miss him, Hoss?”
Joe was standing beside him now, so close that Hoss’ elbow kept tapping him on the head so that he had to push the boy further away. “Sure I do”
He did. He meant it; he missed his brother every bit as much as he knew he would, which had been why he hadn’t wanted him to go. Pa kept the routine in the ranch the same and somehow work got done, but there was something lacking, and it wasn’t just another person missing from the table.
Joe wandered over to the door and stared out to where the sun dappled the hills far away, and the shadows were long in the yard. The house was bathed in the light, the windows sparkled and shone, the roses at the door now sprawled their way over the porch roof. He sighed. “I miss Ma. I miss Adam.”
“So do I, Shortshanks.”
Hoss paused. Adam used to call him that; seemed such a long time ago. He shook his head as though to shake the memory away so as not to hear that beloved voice. “One of these days Adam will come home, you just wait and see.”
“Ma won’t though, will she?” Joe asked, looking back over his shoulder at Hoss who paused in his polishing to stare back at him, and then shake his head. “No, I didn’t think she would….”
Joe trailed out of the stables and slowly made his way to the house; he had reached the door when he heard the sound of a horse and turned to see his father riding into the yard.
Ben’s eyes lit up at the sight of the little boy standing on the porch with a hand raised in greeting and a wide smile on his face. He dismounted and tethered the horse to the rail, and when Joe ran to him, he stooped down to catch him in the crook of his arm and swing him up high. “How’s Joe today?”
“I had two doughnuts and I wasn’t sick,” came the quick response.
“TWO doughnuts? Hop Sing’s spoiling you. I’ll have to tell him to let you have only half a one in the future.”
“Oh no, Pa, don’t do that. Hop Sing needs me to eat them; otherwise, he just gives ’em to the chickens and Hoss.”
Ben laughed and set the boy down; Hoss came strolling out of the stables with a vague smile on his face, so tall and broad for his age he could already be mistaken for a youth much older. It worried Ben at times as he wondered how his son would handle life in the future when the settlement really grew; he knew people with Hoss’ trusting nature were only too easily exploited by the devious and greedy.
“I’ve a letter from Adam in my saddle bags.” he said slapping dust from his pants with the back of his hat. “Shall we go in and read it while we have some lemonade?”
“Is it a long letter, Pa?” Hoss wanted to know with his face, alight with pleasure as Ben produced the envelope.
“I don’t know,” Ben replied leading the way inside. “Somehow I’ve managed to keep myself from opening the envelope and finding out.”
Joe ran on in ahead. “Hop Sing! Hop Sing! Pa said get some lemonade and doughnuts.”
Hoss followed. “Pa’s got a letter from Adam, Hop Sing.”
It didn’t take too long to settle around Ben’s big leather chair, Hoss leaning forwards from the corner of the settee and Joe on his father’s knee. Breaths were held as Ben ripped open the envelope and drew out the letter. He looked at their faces, first Hoss and then down at Joe’s; he raised his eyebrows teasingly. “Shall I read it now?”
Joe nodded so vigorously his head nearly fell off and Hoss grinned shyly and picked up his lemonade with his big blue eyes fixed on his father’s face so Ben drew in a deep breath and began to read:
“Dear Pa, Hoss, and Joe
It’s been a long winter here in Boston with snowfalls regularly from late December through to February. I stayed over with Grandfather for some time during the holiday and write to tell you that despite being frail and nearly blind, he is in good health.
My studies are coming along well. I enjoy them. My roommate here at the college is not a keen student so I am often left to my own devices, which means I have the room to myself for study. Mr. Collins says I have the makings of a first rate engineer if I keep working at it, so I don’t intend to slack off now.
Boston is a lovely old town, but I like being with Grandfather near the harbor and the ships. He often tells me about your adventures with him, Pa, and the things that happened and the places you went to see. Sometimes he talks so vividly about these things that it is as though he really lives them all over again.
I have a year left at college now and yet Mr. Phillips is already asking me what I intend to do in the future. When I told him I intended to build a new town back home, he kind of smiled. I thought he was going to pat me on the head and say ‘There, there’ but if I do become a qualified architect and engineer, where else could I want to go?
Are you all well? Did you buy the mare you wrote about, and have there been any more problems with the Paiute? I daresay Joe and Hoss have grown some since I left home. Hoss wasn’t too ill with that fever was he? I think of you all often, wish I could have some of Hop Sing’s home bakes here. The food is pretty dismal. I can’t write anymore as the bell has rung for the next study period.
Ben sighed and folded the letter back into the envelope. Another year away from home; it seemed as though it was going to stretch on forever. Joe jumped up and into his father’s lap to put his arms around his neck and hugged him. “I’m going to write to Adam and tell him come home right now. I don’t want him away anymore.”
“Well you can write if you want to, son …” Ben smiled, and then looked over at Hoss who was, as usual when they received news from Adam, quiet and thoughtful. “Alright, son, what’s on your mind?”
“Nothing, Pa,” Hoss sighed and reached for his glass, then watched as Joe ran off to the desk to rummage for paper and pencil. “I think I’ll go to bed now, Pa. Can I write to Adam in the morning?”
“As soon as chores are done.” Ben nodded and watched as his son trudged up the stairs to his room. He heard the closing of the door and knew that now he was alone Hoss would give way to his own private grief; a year to Hoss would be interminably long.
In the time that he had attended college, Adam Cartwright had formed a close knit group of friends who were of similar age to himself. Although enjoying their studies, they didn’t neglect the opportunity of having some form of social life which was far less excessive than some of the other students who were at the college. One particular tavern they enjoyed socializing in was not far from the college grounds; it was popular with the majority of the young men as lack of time spent travelling meant more time to enjoy themselves.
During one evening when the five youths had taken themselves off to the tavern for a quiet drink and conversation, an altercation arose when several youths entered the premises with a great deal of swagger, throwing the door wide so that it slammed against the wall with a thud. All those sitting at Adam’s table, including himself, looked over at the newcomers and audibly sighed. Carson shook his head and turned away. “It would be him and his toadies.”
“Looks like they’ve already been drinking elsewhere,” Hansford mumbled and pulled his glass closer with one hand while another hand reached out to protect his books.
“I hope he doesn’t see me here,” Carson whispered now, lowering his head further. “I borrowed some money from him the other day and…”
“That was a stupid thing to do,” Adam hissed through clenched teeth. “You know you should never ask them to bail you out. Why didn’t you ask me?”
“I was going to but I heard you tell Edwin that you weren’t in funds and I needed it desperately.”
“Shush, he’s coming over,” Booth said and pulled his books into his lap.
The youth who approached the table was tall and broad shouldered with a loose mouth and lazy heavy lidded eyes. In many ways, his face told everybody his character; he was a bully and his two friends backed him up to the hilt. The three of them now stood immediately behind Carson, who had gone pale. “Carson you little maggot, you owe me some money.”
“I know. I’m sorry I haven’t got it on me right now. I’ll pay you as soon as I have some.”
“No excuses, Carson,” Beau Carlyle sneered with his hand on the other youth’s shoulder. “I need that money now.”
“He can’t pay it if he hasn’t got it, Carlyle,” Booth said with unexpected courage.
Carlyle turned to look at him. “No? Well if he hasn’t got it, then perhaps you have? Come on, Edwin, put your money where your mouth is and pay up.”
“I don’t see why I should; it’s not my debt,” Booth replied, hugging his books against his chest.
“Then why don’t you just sit quiet and keep your mouth shut,” one of Carlyle’s friends hissed, bringing his face so close that they were practically nose to nose.
Adam placed both his hands on the table’s surface and leaned slightly forward. “Look, he doesn’t have the money. Why not leave him alone and wait until he has …”
Carlyle turned slowly towards Adam as though quite pleased by this new addition to the controversy, he smiled exposing his excellent teeth and shook his head. “It’s none of your business, Cartwright. The maggot owes me a debt and I want it to be paid now.”
“He’s already explained that he can’t repay it … now,” Adam responded narrowing his eyes slightly and raising his glass slowly to his mouth.
“Now look here, Cartwright, I’m not going to have you poking your nose into my business, do you understand?” Carlyle stepped closer to Adam, leaned down slightly to glare into the dark brown eyes and hoping to see the younger youth flinch.
“I don’t like the way you’re bullying a friend of mine, Carlyle. Why not do as suggested and wait until he can bring you the money.”
“That…” Carlyle hissed lowering his head still further “is not convenient.”
“Then I suggest you make it convenient and leave us alone.”
Carson and Booth were quickly gathering up their drinks and their books and edging away from the table, as were Brown and Hunniford. Students and other revelers were beginning to turn around to see what was going on as the voices had begun to be heard by those closest to their table. Carlyle stepped back, and then without a word raised his clenched fist and brought it down, fast, but Adam had already raised his arm to block it. From the corner of his eye, he saw one of Carlyle’s friends coming in upon him so he threw the contents of his glass into that young man’s face.
“Behind you!” Carson yelled as the other youth threw himself forwards onto Adams back, only to be crushed against the wall as Adam pushed himself backwards. Carlyle moved in to throw another punch only for Adam’s fist to connect with his nose.
Even before the landlord had had a chance to come from behind the counter, the fight was over. Carlyle held a handkerchief to his nose to catch the blood and glared over at his antagonist. “You’ll regret that, Cartwright.”
Adam twitched a shoulder in a slight wry shrug and resumed his seat; his friends did likewise, looking around to make sure that Carlyle actually did leave the building. Carson leaned forwards. “Thanks for coming to my help, Adam, but he meant what he said… you’ll have to watch your back from now on.”
Adam beckoned for another glass of beer and looked at Edwin. “Go on, what was that you were saying about Marlowe’s blank verse?”
“Oh yes…” Booth stammered and fidgeted. “Er…about his poem ‘Accurse’d is he who first started war …’”
He stopped and looked at Adam then began to snigger; whether it was from the irony of the topic or the relief he felt over the conclusion of the fight, no one knew except that his laughter became contagious so that soon the five of them were laughing companionably without a thought of any consequences to what had occurred.
Adam thought little of the matter as they strolled back to college that evening, his hands in his pockets, whistling a popular song while his friends chattered among themselves. He had had several fights while at college, mainly when he had first started there; it was as though it were some kind of rite of passage, a means of having to prove himself worthy of being there and not just some backwoodsman claiming to be something he wasn’t.
He had gradually become used to the insults they had thrown at him about his background, for most the students were youths from wealthy and old Bostonian families who felt the college was ‘lowering the tone somewhat’ by allowing ’a rustic’ from out in the wilds to join them. His desire to learn and his willingness to study, coupled with his natural abilities, soon established him as a good student, and with less taunts coming his way, there were fewer reasons for him to resort to his fists to defend the Cartwright name.
It was several nights later when Carson and Adam were strolling back to college deep in conversation, their hands in their pockets and their feet more or less finding the route more by habit than anything else. They had reached a section that was deep in shadow when several youths stepped in front of them. Carlyle, with his usual swagger and twisted smile, took several paces forward and with hands on hips looked at the two younger men. “Well, Carson, I thought you’d have my money now and – Cartwright – I came to repay you what I owe you.”
Adam didn’t have to look behind him to know that several others had already made an appearance, using the shadows as their allies and crowding in behind him and Carson. He looked Carlyle with a slight frown. “You don’t owe me anything, Carlyle.”
“Oh but I do…” Beau Carlyle sniggered, and clicked his fingers, a sharp sound that was lost immediately in the noise of feet shuffling forwards, and then the thud of fists striking flesh, Carson’s yell to be left alone.
The attack could have been prolonged had not a cab driven past and then halted, its occupant dashing out to yell at the crowd. Carlyle and his companions made a quick dash down various alley ways and eventually slunk their way to their rooms in the college. Adam and Carson were left sprawled out on the road with the school Provost kneeling beside them wondering if he had two corpses on his hands.
Sometimes life isn’t a smooth road, as Adam knew only too well; there were many a bump and a curve to send one spinning into some cruel cul-de-sac. The matter of the attack was hushed up in as discreet a manner as possible, the perpetuators never brought to account even though several sported black eyes and bruises from where Adam and Carson had struck back and succeeded in landing some of their blows.
Carson was the worse injured and spent several weeks at his home being cared for by private doctors and nursed gently back to full strength. Adam was treated at the college and patched up and cared for adequately, but an interview with the Provost left him feeling bitterly angry at the unfairness of a class system he had not expected to find in an American school of learning.
“You have been accused of brawling, Mr. Cartwright. Twice within a week you have been at the center of a brawl — once in Mr. Solomon’s club and again in the street. It really isn’t what we like our young men doing; we have the name and reputation of the College to uphold and consider.”
The Provost paced the floor, twirling his spectacles by its thin wire, his brow furrowed and his mouth thin. Adam stood in the center of the room with a straight back and dark thoughts mounting in his mind. “I didn’t start either of the fights, sir.”
The Academic turned and looked at him thoughtfully, as though seeing him for the first time. He liked the look of the youth, tall and slim, broad shouldered and good looking with an intelligent cast to his face. He sighed. “Beau Carlyle and several others have lodged complaints against you…”
“But they…” Adam paused. There was an honor code among students and there was little point in bleating innocence and provocation where Carlyle and his friends were concerned. Their parents paid so much in fees and subsidies that they practically owned the building. He firmed his lips and frowned, stared at the carpet before raising his eyes to meet those of the Provost. “Sir, Carson and I were not the guilty parties in that street fight.”
The man sat down at his desk and for a moment said nothing. “Look, Mr. Cartwright, you are a very intelligent young man, a good student. I have nothing but praise for you at the manner in which you have conducted yourself since coming here. I know you came with a disadvantage, your background isn’t…” He paused and frowned again. “Well, it isn’t the kind we usually accept here.” He leaned forward. “Believe me, all your lecturers and teachers want you to succeed, Mr. Cartwright; they want you to leave here a credit to the school, to your family — but this brawling has to stop.”
Adam nodded and he wondered briefly if the man sitting there at the desk really understood what actually had taken place, or was he accepting what he had been told with no questions asked because he didn’t want to rock the boat just to help out the son of a man who lived on a ranch in a place no one had heard of — yet.
“Sir, it seems strange to me that we fought a war not so long ago to cast off the outmoded caste system of another country and yet here have adopted one equally as rigid.” He bowed his head and wondered if the man was expecting an apology; if so, he was going to have to wait a long time.
“You graduate soon, Mr. Cartwright.” The Provost rose to his feet. “Try and keep out of trouble from now on, will you?”
When Adam reached his room, he looked at the books upon his desk and his first impulse was to thrust them aside – let them fall, let them tear and rip. He no longer cared; he no longer cared about any of it. He raised an arm, paused and then slowly lowered it. With a sigh, he walked to the window and looked out to the quadrangle below. Everyone knew the source of trouble in this college, everyone knew that – but it seemed that the god Mammon succeeded in preventing justice even here.
Old Abel Stoddard listened to what his grandson told him with his grey head bowed, occasionally raking his fingers through his beard, nodding his head. It had been some weeks since the incidents had taken place, and although Adam’s anger had subsided, there was still a bitterness against the system rankling within him. It had been good to be able to spend time with Abel now, and in the peace and quiet of his home relate all that had taken place.
“My boy, it’s always the same and you’ll find it wherever you go. It’s the same kind of thing that happened to me all those years back, when you father married Elizabeth and set up the Chandler’s Store. Men with money think they can own your very soul; it’s only your own honesty and strength of character that can win through. Don’t allow yourself to be corrupted by them, son, and don’t waste time being bitter, because sooner or later, they have to win battles that even their money can’t win for them.”
Adam stared thoughtfully into the fire’s flames and rubbed his chin. “I guess I haven’t been around enough people in my life, Grandfather, to be able to get the full measure of them.”
“You are more naïve than most.” Abel chuckled. “But I wouldn’t want you any other way. Just…just don’t get bitter and angry about this, Adam. Put it down to experience, learn from it. You have to learn from everything that happens in your life; it will add to the stature of what kind of man you will eventually become in the future.”
“But what if it happens again? I mean, this situation with Carlyle … I can’t just let him beat me.”
“There’s more than one way of beating people like him,” Abel replied and for a few moments he was silent. Then he leaned back into his hair and smiled. “You graduate soon, Adam. It won’t be long before your college days will be over. Don’t end them under a dark cloud.”
Adam said nothing but some words from Paradise Lost, often quoted by his Pa slipped into his memory: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”
Several things had taken place during Adam’s absence at his grandfathers, one of which related very much to his own stand against Carlyle and his associates. Although they had swaggered about sporting their bruises as though victors of a bold campaign, they had actually advertised the fact that someone had stood up against them, and whether he had been vanquished or not, those previously bullied felt that they had a champion among them. Like some medieval rallying cry, these now began to get a little backbone of their own and resist the demands and cruelties of Carlyle’s group.
Adam’s friends had become aware of what had taken place in the Provost’s office in that vague way most things trickle through the ether, and came to the conclusion that their friend had to reach graduation day without further mishap. Henceforth, he found himself never alone, always with at least two of his friends alongside him whether he wanted it or not.
He would laugh at them at times and shake his head in despair at others, but it was a tactic that proved to be necessary as Carlyle’s authority over the students waned and Adam’s popularity soared. With the cunning of many who were at heart weak, Carlyle became obsessed with breaking the other youth, of forcing him into situations that would disgrace him and see him ’sent packing’. Encouraged by his associates, he would used every strategy he could think of — jeering, taunting, even to appearing in groups to challenge him to fight — but Adam, bristling though he would be, waited and bided his own time.
He found himself closely observing the young men who were with Carlyle so much. Some were wealthy, old Bostonian families; others were just weak and too afraid to change. Often when he was studying for some class, he would find himself thinking about Carlyle, or one of his friends, trying to find a weak spot, a frailty within them as a group that would break them down.
One morning while strolling through town, he noticed Jacob Hardy gazing rather adoringly at some young lady who was talking animatedly to Carlyle. He watched them for a while before continuing onwards, listening to Booth and Carson as they discussed some text or other.
“Who’s that girl Carlyle was talking to just now?” he asked Booth, who looked surprised and glanced over his shoulder at the small group.
“It’s his sister. She’s alright, not like Beau. Why? Do you…er…um…like her?”
Adam shrugged and said nothing but it didn’t take long for Booth to give him all the information he needed, after which he asked his friend if he knew her well. “She’s interested in theatre, as am I,” Booth replied, squaring his shoulders and preparing himself for some teasing.
“So you know her, meet her at times?”
“Oh yes; in fact, I’ll be seeing her tomorrow afternoon. We’re rehearsing Romeo and Juliet.” Booth smiled and sighed. “She’s a very pretty Juliet.”
“But you’re not cast as Romeo?” Adam grinned and Carson laughed when Booth shook his head and said, “Sadly not.”
Later that day Adam saw Hardy sitting alone, his head buried in a book. Asking his companions to wait awhile, Adam approached the other youth, who seeing him immediately sprung to his feet and glanced around for some assistance, but he found no one nearby so he nervously stammered, “What do you want, Cartwright?”
“I was just curious, Hardy. I heard you were interested in drama, theatre and was surprised when Booth told me you never got involved in any of the productions they put on…” He pursed his lips and slipped his hands into his pockets. “It’s a pity because Booth said they’ve some really pretty girls in the drama group.”
“I…well…” Hardy shrugged. “How did you know I was interested in that kind of thing?”
“I saw you talking to Carlyle and his sister and assumed you knew her from the theatre group, but then Booth said you weren’t part of it, I was quite surprised really.”
“Huh, well, Carlyle isn’t bothered and…did you say his sister was in the theatre group?”
“Hmmm, she’s rehearsing for their next production – she’s Juliet. A pretty girl; I guess she’d make quite a stunning Juliet.” He frowned. “A pity really, you could have been Romeo.”
“Yes…” Hardy’s voice trailed off. “Yes, I guess I could have been.” He licked his lips. “Tomorrow, did you say?” Then his face fell. “She’d not be interested in me.”
“Why not? Because…because she never notices me when I’m around.”
“That’s because you’re always with her brother. What girl’s interested in what her brother does? But they are interested in those people who show an interest in them and what they’re doing.”
“Oh yes, certainly.” Adam nodded as though he was a great authority on the matter and had seduced most of the girls in town by this ploy. Hardy nodded and reached out his hand to shake his, thanking him profusely for the help, then adding, “Don’t let Carlyle know, will you?”
Adam assured him he would not tell Carlyle anything at all.
Slowly, one by one, with the help of his friends, Adam was able to find some weak chink in the armor of the Carlyle’s little band of merry men. One by one, they slipped away from him so that he became more and more isolated within the college grounds. Even when out and about in town, he was often found walking with a solitary friend who had ‘found the time’ to accompany him. He was confused and puzzled by this turn of events and became more bullying and crude as a result, cuffing much younger students around the head as he passed them, elbowing them roughly aside in the corridors, and becoming openly more aggressive in his manner towards all.
His once loyal friends, having removed themselves from him, now began to see him for what he was, and as a result had even less to do with him.
Adam turned slowly towards where Carlyle, who had burst through the library door, had involuntarily spat out his name when seeing Adam seated at a desk studying. Immediately, there was a loud hiss from all around as students and librarians tried to remind him that the rule was for silence in the library.
He walked up to Adam’s desk and grasped hold of the younger youth’s jacket. “Don’t think I don’t know what you have been up to, Cartwright. I’ve seen how you’ve been creeping up to my friends…”
“What friends are they then, Carlyle?” Adam asked quietly, pulling himself away from the fist that gripped his jacket so tightly.
“You think you’re so clever, huh? Think you’re the better of me? Let me tell you, Cartwright, you’ll never be better than me, do you understand?”
“Not really.” Adam smoothed down his lapels and shrugged. “Better than you at what?”
Carlyle stared at him for an instant, his face blank, devoid of emotion. He shook his head. “Better than me in every way you can think of.”
“Well, when I think of you, Carlyle, there isn’t anything about you that I would want to be better at …thanks anyway.” He lowered his head, put a hand to his brow and concentrated on the book he was reading as though the other young man had already gone away.
Carlyle pulled the book away, and with a growl of frustration threw it with all his might at the bookshelves opposite them. Having done that, he turned and walked with as much swagger as possible from the room.
Not long after that Beau Carlyle left the college.
Graduation day came with blue skies, sunshine and the heady smell of flowers in the air. Abel Stoddard took his seat among the family and friends of the students and listened to the speeches with a pride in his heart that made his eyes dim. He looked at the rows of students in their caps and gowns, saw his grandson among them and wiped a tear from his eyes.
Earlier that day, he had stood at Elizabeth’s grave, one gnarled hand resting upon the headstone at the base of which he had placed a posy of white lily of the valley. “Well, my dear,” he said softly, “We’ve done it. Our boy has his graduation today. Who would have thought it after all these years but, my goodness, he has worked hard to achieve it, my dear, really worked hard. He has a love of learning, Liz, just like you always had. I kept my promise, dearie, I kept my promise …”
He was still thinking of her when Adam made his appearance on the platform, accepted his diploma, thanked the Provost and walked on. He had passed with honors, and one distinction in Maths. It was a strange thing that as he walked away and joined the others in tossing his hat in the air, he could only think that now – he could go home.
Leaving New England was delayed by Abel’s illness; in a letter to his father and brothers, he told them that he would be staying until his grandfather was well enough to be left or travel back to the Ponderosa with him.
Winter came with a screeching whirling blizzard that sounded like a thousand devils beleaguering the house that Adam built. In his room, Joe shivered and tried to close his ears to the sounds as snow and wind tried to force an entry by any means possible. He put his hands over his ears and burrowed below the quilts but still the monster howled at his window.
Hoss Cartwright inwardly groaned as he heard, above the roar of the wind, the pitter-patter of his brother’s not so tiny feet. He tensed his body in preparation for the quilts being lifted as Joe threw them back. ”You gotta come in and disturb my sleep, Little Joe?”
“I – I’m cold.”
“I can’t get my teeth to stop chattering.”
“Wal, I ain’t hearing nothing from ‘em. Jest quit your jawing will you and get into bed. Don’t” — too late — “put your feet on mine. Goshdarn, Little Joe, do you always have to do that?”
Joe huddled down as close to Hoss as he possibly could, and waited for the shivering to stop, which it always did within minutes because Hoss was never cold. He may have said he felt the cold, but his body was always perfectly warm. Joe closed his eyes and sighed contentedly. “Hoss, will the wind blow the roof off?”
“You sure? The shingles sure are rattling about some.”
“That was probably your teeth you heard …git to sleep.”
“But Hoss, that door is sure banging something fierce. Do you think it’ll be alright? It won’t open up will it?”
“Pa’s got a bar across it,” Hoss mumbled, itched his nose and screwed up his eyes.
“I don’t want to know.”
“Go to sleep.”
A thud and a bang startled them both and they lay there together eyes wide open, staring into the darkness, listening to the storm. Gradually their heart beats settled down and they sunk back into the pillow. “Reckon it was the outhouse agin,” Hoss muttered.
Joe rolled his eyes and winced. What a time to mention the outhouse…
In the large room where Ben slept, the sound of the storm made little difference. To a man who had sailed the seas, been shipwrecked in the Magellan Straits and travelled in a wagon across the country, one storm was much like any other; the louder the thuds and bangs the louder Ben snored.
For Hop Sing, it was a problem. He lay awake, prayed to his ancestors and closed his eyes. He opened them again and stared at the ceiling and muttered imprecations galore. Eventually he got up and went into the kitchen to light the stove. The rooms were so cold that even in his quilted outer coat over his dressing gown over his nightshirt he was shivering.
He stood in the middle of the big room and shook his head. “Room too big,” he mumbled. “Too big, too cold. Take too much fire to get warm. Not good.”
Having made his usual comment about the room dimensions, he lit the stove in the area where Ben worked and waited for the little flicker of flame to reward him. He nodded. That was good; the fire hadn’t gone entirely out. Going to the big fireplace, he moved the logs a little and then got the bellows to work in order to get life from the embers that still glowed there. Every night, he banked up the fires but often times in this intensity of cold, they would be dead in the morning. Once the flames were strong enough, he placed logs upon them and then returned to the kitchen.
The blizzard had blown hard for several days, and when morning came, all four of them were sure that it would have died away and gone somewhere else. The warmth of the rooms due to Hop Sing’s vigil over the fires was misleading, for when they stopped to listen, the roar of the wind continued unabated. Joe scowled. “I told you it was still storming.”
“I heard you; I jest didn’t want to have to agree with you, is all,” Hoss replied, giving Joe a little push to move him along to the table.
Ben was quiet through the meal; he answered the boys in short abrupt words and then resumed his thinking. He finally put down his cup and went over to the front door and opened it. The wind was almost gleeful as it hurled itself against him and sent him staggering back several paces; snow blew into the room and danced around him, seeking corners and places to sink into.
He slammed the door shut and, after an effort, managed to place the bar across it. “We need more wood from the barn, and we need to check the cow …” He rubbed his hands together and looked at his sons, who were staring round eyed at him. He knew there was no point in sending Joe, who would have been blown away in such a wind but Hoss was big and strapping, considered a man in the world of that day.
Hoss nodded. “Sure, I’ll get onto it right away, Pa.”
“Finish your meal first.”
For some moments there was no sound other than that of everyone eating, the rattle of cups upon saucers and of cutlery. Finally Hoss set down his napkin and stood up, stretched and yawned. “Shucks, Pa, I think the outhouse blew away in the gale last night. You want me to check on that too?”
“Mmm, had better,” Ben said with a slight scowl, and then rose to his feet and walked with Hoss to where their coats and mufflers were. “I’ll come with you.”
“Hey, Pa, ain’t no need…”
“Every need, Hoss. I don’t want you…”
“I ain’t gonna blow away, Pa.” Hoss put a placating hand on his father’s chest. “Jest you stay indoors some and I’ll go and look see.”
“Hoss.” Ben pulled up his coat. “I’m coming with you.” He turned back to where Joe was standing watching them both. “Joseph, you write out your letters from that primer I got you, you understand?”
The wind was bitterly cold, it caught at their breaths and whipped the words out of their mouths. By holding onto the line they had previously rigged up, they were able to reach the stables and check on the horses, then onto the barn to see to the milk cow. She wasn’t happy; half the roof had been ripped away and she was huddled in a corner behind some hay bales. “Must have been what we heard last night,” Hoss shouted in his father’s ear.
The barn was moving from the force of the wind that was blowing into it from the gap in the roof. As it sought a way out, so it was pushing at the boards so that they creaked one way, and then another. Ben tapped his son on the shoulder. “We’ll have to board up the hole from inside; otherwise, the whole lot will be ripped apart.”
It took far longer to achieve than they thought, although the danger was less by working on it from inside the building. The wind was still strong, strong enough to blow them one way and then the other; more than once they were sent tumbling over but both men were strong and succeeded in boarding the gap. Ben shook his head. “It doesn’t look pretty but it’ll do.”
The outhouse was still standing, although with a precarious lean which they decided to leave as the cold was becoming too severe, and quickly they made their way to the woodshed, sliding and slipping as they went, pushed this way and the other by the wind. Loaded down with clean dry logs, they fought their way back to the house and finally, gratefully, slammed the door shut behind them.
By the fire Joe had fallen asleep, his pencil in his hand and his primer ignored. Instead there was a drawing of what might have been Hoss and Pa going out into the snow, and under it he had written, “Der Adam, it is snowing bad and hard. Pa and Hoss have gone to get logs for the fire. I think the outhoose blewed away. There was a bang last nite. Are you having snow too? Your b…”
Hoss picked it up and grinned. “Say, Pa, he’s gitting mighty good with his spelling, ain’t he?”
When the blizzard had blown itself out, Ben mounted his horse and, with Tom Riley beside him, took the trail to the meadow where he had his cattle. Behind them on a sled piled with hay was Hoss, his strong young wrists handling the team with a steadiness that gave them confidence to fight the bright whiteness.
Ben had taken a gamble and decided that the land would be good as grazing land and earlier that year had bought a hundred head of cattle. It had been good prime beef and from those he had hoped to build up a far greater herd, eventually perhaps even introduce a hardier strain by buying up purer stock.
The horses had to struggle through the snow — sometimes it was chest high, sometimes they fell into drifts and the riders had to dismount and tumble about some before they were hauled out and steady enough to proceed.
They sat in the saddle and looked at the cattle. Hoss clambered down from the sled and pushed his way through the snow to stand beside his father. “What happened to them?” he asked as he stared at the animals dead in the snow.
Tom Riley pointed to a thicket where several animals stood lowing mournfully over at them. Some had survived and Hoss hauled out the hay and began to scatter it over the snow for them but they were hesitant about moving forwards until a young heifer forged a way and began to eat.
Tom Riley eased his back and shook his head after he had checked over the dead animals. There were over 60 sprawled out as stiff as though they had been in an abattoir and hung up in an ice house. Ben looked defeated, tired and beaten. “Well, what did happen to them?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Cartwright, ain’t nothing you could have done for them except maybe have them all in a barn warm and cozy like.”
“A hundred head?” Ben barked, angry with himself, angry at the loss of the cattle, the waste of money, and angry at the blizzard that had blown for over a week.
“As I said nothing you could do about it. The cold weather, the ice…” He scratched his head before quickly replacing his hat. “Seen it before. The ice forms from their breathing; it covers their mouths and nostrils and they gradually suffocate. Can’t eat, can’t move, can’t breathe, so they just stand and freeze to death. The ice is like a glass muzzle, thick and hard. Ain’t nothing they can do to get it off’n ‘em.”
He surveyed Ben thoughtfully and then turned away to help Hoss with the hay which the surviving animals were now eating, pushing each other aside in order to reach it. He thought that Ben had learned a hard lesson this winter, but he knew the man well enough to know that he’d not be beaten, even if he felt that he was at the moment. This kind of thing happened to a lot of cattlemen, and as far as Tom was concerned, Ben Cartwright had come out of it better than most.
Adam Cartwright looked at the two letters in his hand and then sat down again at the table in his grandfather’s house. One letter was from the Provost of his college, telling him that he had met with a friend, a prominent architect, who needed an apprentice. He had taken the opportunity of putting Adam’s name forward. The second letter was from the architect himself, a Cyril Monroe a partner in the company of Monroe, Norton & Co., the most important firm of architects in Boston. Referring to the Provost, Mr. Monroe informed Adam that if he were interested in a position with the company, would he please attend the offices at 10 am on the 23rd of the month. Mention was made of the high respect the Provost had for him, speaking very highly of him indeed.
He set the two letters down and then turned to look at his grandfather who was nodding in sleep by the fire. Outside a fierce wind raged, hurling snow against the windows, but inside was warm, and although the casements rattled, no draughts found their way through to disturb the old man.
He leaned back into his chair and pushed the letters to one side before bowing his head into his hands. It seemed as though everything was pushing him away from the very thing he most wanted to do, and that was to get home.
With some skilful maneuvering, Ben, Hoss and Tom were able to get the remaining cattle down to the meadow that was closer to the ranch, thus enabling them to get feed to them more regularly through the remainder of the winter. Even as they plowed their way through the snow, encouraging the cows forward, Ben was scanning the skies for any sign of another storm. It was possible that there would be nothing for a few days, but weather was unpredictable along the Tahoe.
“What are we going to do about those dead cows, Pa?” Hoss asked. He was breathing heavy; the effort of the task had taxed even his strength. His team of two horses pulling a now empty sled had forged on through the snow bravely enough but had floundered into drifts occasionally, which had overturned the lightweight sled, meaning he had to fight the horses and the snow to get it upright again.
“I was wondering about that …” Ben glanced over at Tom, who was leaning upon his saddle horn listening to them talking, “Tom, what do you suggest? You’re an old hand at this kind of thing. What do you think we should do?”
“Wal, the men at the Washoe Diggings would sure be grateful for some meat right now but I can’t be sure you’d be able to get to them with the snow cutting off the passes as it has.” He pushed back his hat and scratched his head. “Best burn ‘em.”
“What? Just burn them like in a bonfire?” Hoss said, screwing up his face as though what he heard didn’t make sense to him.
“Nothing else for it,” Tom replied. “You’ll get the scavengers coming soon; they’ll come out and gorge on the carcasses, and then next thing you know, they’ll be down hunting the cattle that you’ve still got alive.”
Ben nodded, although he looked thoughtful and not so sure as to the veracity of what Tom was saying. He looked at Hoss as though for inspiration and then nodded as though his mind were made up. “Look, Hoss, do you think you would be able to get to some of the other homesteaders around here and see if they need some meat? The Dents may be needing some; they don’t seem to have done so well during the year … and check on the Hawkins as well.”
He paused and looked at his son anxiously, then shook his head and laid a hand on his arm. “I don’t want you to go alone, Hoss. Perhaps I should get someone else to do it.”
“No, Pa, it’s alright, I can do it,” Hoss replied, for he was always eager to prove that he could act as old as people assumed him to be, which was a deal older than his 14 years.
“Tom, what do you think?”
His older companion rubbed his jaw. “Wal,” he drawled as usual, “I don’t rightly know, Ben. The snows deep in places, and if another storm blows, could be pretty tricky. It’s quite a distance to those other homesteads as well, and you got…”
“Sure, alright I see what you’re thinking.” Ben nodded then remounted his horse. “Alright, Hoss, let’s get home and warm up. Those cattle are so frozen stiff they won’t be going no place for some while yet.”
During the coming four days when there was a calm in the weather, Ben was able to send some of the frozen meat to those of his neighbors who were still accessible and not cut off by the snows. Some had not seen fresh meat since the beginning of the snows, so the sight of the frozen creatures was more than just a source of wonderment.
When the Paiute noticed the sleds being hauled with their frozen consignments from the Ponderosa, they promptly reported back to Chief Truckee, who sent emissaries to Ben pleading for assistance as the winter was harsh for them also, and hunting had been curtailed due to the dangers of the weather. His pleas did not fall on deaf ears as Ben, Hoss and several of their men saw to the delivery of cattle to the Chief who, humbled by the white man’s generosity, admitted that had the people not been close to starvation, pride would have prevented him from ‘asking’ for the help given.
When the next storms came, it seemed as though the world was blanketed with white; only the tallest trees still stood proud casting their long blue shadows across the snow covered landscape.
Cyril Monroe liked to talk. He talked about the weather, the founding of the company, how he had graduated from the same school as Adam fifteen years previously and on what good terms he happened to be with the Provost. Adam sat in the hard backed chair with one leg crossed over the other and his hands folded in his lap. He waited for the inevitable questions while he listened with half an ear to the man’s ramblings.
The office was large and ostentatious. It had all the trappings of a company that had been and still was successful. Upon the walls were framed documents and testimonials and diplomas with their red wax seals proudly proclaiming the company’s prestigious position in the world of architecture and engineering. Adam looked at them, his eyes wandering from one to the other as Cyril continued to chatter.
“Now, let’s come to you, shall we?”
The question came out of the blue, and for a moment Adam had to bring back his attention from his private thoughts about Cyril , the office and the interview to look at the little man seated behind the big desk. He nodded, smiled, and waited. “The Provost tells me that you have an unusual background – from someplace in Utah I believe?”
“My father owns land there.”
“Really? What does he do there? Farm? Er…agriculture is it?”
“Timber, and horses,” Adam answered, for he was not yet aware of Ben’s cattle enterprise. “We catch horses for trade with the army.”
Cyril’s brow creased in curiosity. “So you’re not…farmers?”
“No.” Adam’s lips thinned. “We’re not farmers.”
“Why did you come to Boston, Mr. Cartwright? All this way, an arduous journey for a young man.”
“My grandfather wanted me to get an education here. I was born in New England. He wanted me to have an education worthy of…” He paused. Worthy of what? Worthy for a Cartwright? What would that mean to a self-seeking little man like Cyril Monroe. He cleared his throat. “My grandfather wanted me here.”
“And why architecture?”
“I’ve always wanted to be an architect, ever since…” He paused again. Ever since way back as a child. Would Cyril Monroe be interested in that? “I met a man once who showed me how to design a house and that interested me…”
“How many houses have you designed yourself, back there in your wilderness, Mr. Cartwright?”
Adam looked at Mr. Monroe and knew that the man had granted this interview based on his acquaintance with the Provost, not because he was interested in furthering a young man’s dream or future. He could sense the antipathy with which Monroe was struggling to hide behind a pretence of interest, and slowly he stood up, pursed his lips slightly and looked directly into the other mans’ face. “I’ve designed one house. Only one…so far that is…”
“Just the one? Well, some of the men we have interviewed …”
“It’s alright, Mr. Monroe, you don’t have to say anything else. I appreciate the time you have given me, but I realize that anything more would be a waste of your time and mine.” He picked up his hat and the envelope that contained all the pertinent papers that Monroe had requested. “I don’t really belong here,” he murmured.
“You have a lot of promise, Mr. Cartwright.” Monroe rose to his feet and extended his hand. “I do wish you every success and I’m sure …”
“Thank you, Mr. Monroe.” Adam cut him short, shook the proffered hand briefly and quickly left the room.
Once outside, he released his breath and stood still. He looked up at the sky and remembered the day his father had cut down the first tree for their house. He could hear Ben’s voice now saying that at last the dream had become reality, and how he had looked, so proud, so happy. Adam placed his hat upon his head and pulled up the collar of his coat. He needed to get home, to his father and brothers, to the house he had built.
Abel Stoddard listened out for the quick confident steps of his grandson and smiled to himself that secret smile of pride a man feels for the younger ones they love. He heard the door open and close before turning to look at the youth as he stepped into the room. “Did it go well, my boy?”
Adam forced a smile and nodded as he removed his outer garments and hung them upon the peg. He looked at the old man and stepped up towards him. “Are you feeling alright, Grandfather?”
“I’m tired, Adam, that’s all. Come and sit down and tell me all about it? What was the office like? Is it as grand as I’ve heard tell it to be?”
Gently, Adam helped Abel back into his chair, and then after making sure that he was settled, he tended the fire, putting on more logs so that there was a good blaze going within a few moments. He frowned and glanced at Abel as the thought crossed his mind that even the simple task of placing logs on the fire was now beyond the frail old man’s abilities. Had he not returned now, the fire would have gone out and the house settled into one so cold that Abel would have easily become ill.
He brushed the dust from the logs from his hands and then sat in the chair opposite his grandfather and answered his questions. Abel nodded enthusiastically his eyes watered; his lips trembled as did his hands. “Yes, yes, and did they say you could work there? Did you get the position? You should you know; you’re perfectly qualified.”
“I didn’t want the position, Grandfather,” Adam said honestly and then saw the dismay on the old man’s face, the shadow of fear passed across it before it was replaced by the man’s stubborn thrust of a jaw and tilt of the chin as he questioned him as to why. “Because I’m not in Mr. Monroe’s class, Grandfather; I don’t quite come from the right background.”
“Nonsense, damned nonsense.” Abel said and slapped the arm of his chair with his fist. “I can remember Cyril Monroe when he was running around in short pants and hanging onto his mother’s skirts. Who does he think he is …”
“It’s alright, Grandfather.” Adam reached out a hand which he placed on Abel’s trembling fist. “It’s alright.”
“No, it’s not. You’re Elizabeth’s son. You’ve worked all these years to get your qualifications and no pompous ass is going to stop you getting that position. I’ll write to him myself and tell him…”
“Grandfather, don’t. I…well…to be honest, I wouldn’t want to work there. I couldn’t work there,” he added with more firmness in his voice and again he saw that fear shadow Abe’s face and he smiled. “It’s alright; I won’t leave you, Grandfather. I won’t be going just yet.”
“Well, who spoke of you going? You know you don’t have to go; you’ll always have a home here. This is your home.” Abel blustered and his cheeks reddened and he shook his head. “Don’t fear, Adam; this is your home.”
Adam nodded, smiled but inwardly he thought no, it isn’t… He looked at the old man with the trembling hands and frail body and leaned back in the chair. For a while, he would be staying here, because this old man needed him for now; it wouldn’t be for long, though, and then he would be able to go home.
Sometime before Adam Cartwright was born, his grandfather sat on a bollard on the quayside and stared out across the harbor to the far off horizon. It seemed to him that no matter how he had tried, he could no longer hear the sea calling his name and so he had changed his way of living as a result.
Now his grandson sat on that same bollard and stared across the harbor with his arms folded across his chest and his thoughts more on the family so far away than on the old man struggling to live in the house close by. He had felt restless for so long now, even before graduation he had had that longing to push away the buildings, the congested streets and the cluttered up skyline. He wanted to breathe the pine scented air of Ponderosa pines wafting down the valley on the winds from the Sierra’s. He longed to mount a horse and gallop out into the wilderness, the vastness beyond towns and railway lines and all the contrivances of the modern age that seemed to slow people down here in this vast metropolis.
“I need to be free of here; it’s choking me, and I want to go home” was like a chorus line from a song that went round and round in his head so that he felt he was banging his head against a brick wall because he couldn’t dislodge the thought.
He was getting to his feet when he saw fat Mrs. Jackson hurrying towards him, her face creased with anxiety and concern, and by the time he had met her half way across the wharf, she seized his hands. “Mr. Adam, it’s time; he’s calling for you.”
Abel Stoddard could hear the sound of the footsteps coming up the stairs, a man’s tread but light in their haste to reach him quickly. He could sense his grandson’s anxiety in the way he rushed to the bedside and reached for his hands, and he nodded as though in an attempt to reassure him that it was alright, everything was alright.
He could no longer see the face he loved of this young man but he could imagine it clearly — the black hair that curled around the nape of his neck and the dimples in the lean cheeks, the dark eyes, so like Elizabeth’s, tender and gentle… Just like Elizabeth’s, he thought again and he reached out with his hands and felt them taken in Adam’s. The strength of the young man was such a contrast to the frail hands of the grandfather, and for a moment Abel relished the feel of them, the strength and vigor of those fingers; he could feel the pulse beating through them and smiled. “Adam, you’re so young, so much more to do yet.”
His voice was like a thin reed and Adam had to bend low to catch the words. Over his head, he glanced at the doctor and Mrs. Jackson; the first shook his head and the latter buried her face in her apron. Abel squeezed feebly his beloved grandson’s fingers. “So proud of you, boy. Elizabeth – so proud of you – I dream of my ship sailing on the dark seas, and I wonder if one day I will ever see her again.”
“You will, grandfather, you will …” Adam whispered and looked at his grandfather with such intensity as though to burn the image of his features into his brain so that they would never be forgotten.
“Adam…” Abel paused; there was something he needed to say, something he felt was important but which slipped away from his memory now. There were sounds like the ebbing of the sea whooshing in and out, in and out, softly drawing away his very being. He drew in a deep breath and his grip on Adam’s hands tightened as though in protest at being taken away now. He wanted to stay, just a little longer.
Adam waited for some moments before the doctor touched him on the shoulder, nodded in that way so many doctors had from generations upon generations ago, and he knew then Abel Stoddard had gone, but he still sat there holding the frail old hands.
Ben Cartwright rode his fine buckskin horse through the turmoil of the mining camp while beside him Hoss, mounted on a handsome black horse, loped by his side. It had grown in size; it seemed to them both that there were more men than ever, and some women also with children struggling through the cloying mud that tugged at their skirts as they strode through the narrow passages between claims.
There was just a huddle of tarpaulin-covered shanties, wagons with their canvas covers stretched out to act as the roof over their claim; it was squalid and unpleasant. Camp fires belched smoke and there was a smell hanging about the area that was far from pleasant.
He paused to ask a tall thin man if he could tell him where the doctor lived and a thin boney finger pointed to a wooden clad timber frame building some distance from them. Ben directed his horse to the doctor’s office and dismounted, looked around him and then looked up at Hoss. “Well, what do you think?”
“Not much; makes me want to get back home – quick.”
Ben smiled, a fleeting smile as he turned to open the door and enter the room. He soon came back out again. “What’s wrong, Pa?”
“One doctor and about fifty patients jammed pack tight in there like sardines,” came the reply. He looked up and down the churned-up mud of a thoroughfare and shook his head. “Something needs to be done to get some order into this.”
“Folks are following their dreams, Pa,” Hoss muttered leaning onto the pommel of his saddle and smiling down at his father.
“That’s alright if it isn’t all one and the same dream, Hoss.” He sighed and shook his head, looked up and down and then froze to the spot as two men rolled out of some tented affair with the signpost “Bucket of Blood” sprawled on it in red paint. The two men were hitting out at each other, swearing and cursing as they did so. Even as Ben watched, another few men came out, bottles or glasses in their hands to watch and cheer the fight on.
It ended when one of the men didn’t get back up on his feet, upon which the others cheered the winner and trooped back into the makeshift saloon. Ben and Hoss walked over to the other man and turned him onto his back. Hoss looked at his father who shook his head. “He’s dead.”
They looked at the body; from what they could discern through the mud that caked his face and clothing, the man was young, no doubt only a few years older than Hoss. Even as they looked, a man in a black suit bustled up and elbowed them away; he was the undertaker and didn’t want anyone interfering in his business.
As Ben turned to go into the saloon, the undertaker grabbed at his arm. “Wouldn’t do that, Mister, if I were you. You won’t be thanked and could well end up next in the row to this one.” He indicated the dead body whose pockets he was rifling through; he gave an exclamation of delight at finding some papers on the lad’s jacket. “Ah, Jethro O’Connell.” He nodded to himself, stuffed the papers in his own pocket and looked at Hoss. “You look like a strong strapping fellow; pick him up and carry him over to my place, would you?”
Hoss looked at Ben, who reluctantly nodded and then turned to walk alongside the other man. “Does this kind of thing happen often?”
“What? People getting shot, stabbed, beaten to death, killed in the mud and slime of the mines they’re tunneling?”
“All the time. The doctors keep busy trying to keep them alive, and I’m kept busy burying ‘em. Half the time there isn’t anyone to pay the funeral costs either. I just pocket their claim and sell it on.” He stopped in front of a tarpaulin-covered tent, large and commodious, and when Ben and Hoss stepped inside, they saw it was quite filled with coffins. “I hardly have time to make new ones,” the undertaker said. “They’re for the folk with relatives here; others get…” He jerked his thumb over to a pile of jute sacks.
Hoss gently laid the young man, Jethro O’Connell upon a table consisting of several thick slabs of wood. “Ain’t there any law here yet?”
“No. A Circuit Marshal comes around once a year for a few months but that only started up before the winter set in. He hasn’t got here yet.”
Ben shook his head and looked down at the dead youth, then beckoned to Hoss to follow him. “We’ll get what we need and then head back home.”
It was miserable and disconcerting to see the changes on the Washoe. Within such a short time, so many people had thrust their way into the area. He was not to know that in a few more years, when it was confirmed there was gold in the area, that there would be even more people flooding in to grab their stake, and that one day a man called Henry Comstock would discover one of the largest nuggets of gold that would trigger off the biggest gold strike in American history. Times were changing… and Ben didn’t feel convinced that they were changing for the better.
“Was it horrible, Hoss, was it?” Joe tagged behind his brother, having listened with ghoulish horror and fascination at Hoss’ tale of the sad demise of Jethro O’Connell.
“Yes, it was,” Hoss replied simply and continued currying his horse with a vigor that indicated a more subconscious desire to be rid of the mud and filth it had collected in that ride through the diggings.
Joe found a stack of straw to sit on and swung his legs to and fro, his face puckered in concentration. “Did he just fall down then? Did the man shoot him?”
“No he didn’t shoot him; they jest fought and then he fell down into the mud…” Hoss glanced up and stared at the roof of the stables as though a thought had just struck him as significant. “I think he was smothered by the mud, Joe.”
Joe nodded sagely, and looked out of the stable doors at the churned up mud in the yard. The snows had left their evidence in passing; he’d slipped in the mud himself only the previous day and got a scolding from Hop Sing for the mess he had made of his pants as a result. “Did he swallow it then?” He swung the question back at his brother, who sighed deeply and straightened his back.
“Look Joe, I don’t want to talk about it anymore, alright?”
Joe nodded and swung his feet some more as he plucked straw from the stack and twisted it round and round in his fingers. “Hoss?”
“Pa says I ain’t allowed to go to the diggings.”
“Good; it ain’t the place for you. Pa’s right; you stay clear, you hear me?”
Joe shrugged as if he could go anywhere by himself; there was always someone with him because, even though he was a big boy now of 9 years of age, he was slight of build and Ben was over-protective of him since Marie’s death. He knew there were wild animals in the woods; he knew there were savage Indians who would delight in carrying him off. After all, he was constantly being reminded of the time the Bannocks carried off a whole family some years ago — a woman and her sons and daughter. Sometimes Ben forgot to mention that they had made a safe return, just to pound it into Joe’s stubborn little head that if any Paiute or Bannock or even Shoshone got hold of him, they probably would keep him for good.
He felt it was unfair, but refrained from protesting too much. After all, he loved his home, he loved his Pa and brother. It was just that at times Ben was just too restrictive – that was Joe’s opinion anyway.
Hoss rubbed his head making his dark blond hair stand on end as he did so. “Reckon Pa will let you go along sometime, shortshanks. You just got to be patient.”
Joe knew Hoss was right and chewed on the tip of the straw before falling back upon the stack and staring up at the rafters. He could see where light shone through a small hole; it shone down pure sunlight so that he could see dust motes dancing in the air. “I wish I was growed up now.”
“You’ll be growed up soon enough,” Hoss muttered. “Now why don’t you get yourself up and do some work around here?”
Joe sighed. Was there a worse hard-done-by lad than him alive? He didn’t think so.
The young man sat with his heavy coat wrapped around him to keep out the rain and his hat lowered. When the brim was full of rain water, he tilted his head forwards so that it would sluice out between his legs onto the well beneath the wagon seat. He sat patiently, listening to the driver talking about his claim, his wife, his son, as though no one else possessed such things themselves, nor wanted to either.
Every so often the wagoner would spit tobacco juice into the wind, which caused his young passenger to turn his head aside and twitch his shoulders. He was broad-minded enough and didn’t object to whatever habits other people indulged in, but preferred not to be such a close witness to some of them.
It had been a chance encounter with old Roy Hayes in San Francisco that had enabled Adam Cartwright to get this ride into Eagle Station, which was now developing into a trading post, and the rain had started to fall not far from the huddle of buildings that could be seen on the horizon. He had learned from Hayes that the diggings along the Washoe was a rowdy dangerous place to be, and if a man wanted to grow to full height, he avoided it like the plague.
By the time they actually arrived at the trading post, the rain had stopped; Adam was able to reshape his hat and shake his coat out, retrieve his luggage and make his way into the building. He knew all the history of this place — about the bald eagle that had been shot by one of Fremont’s men and that was why they named it Eagle Station. He had followed the exploits of Fremont and Kit Carson, his scout, ever since they had arrived in the Washoe valley; even at college he had continued to read about their exploits with a wry smile remembered the man’s claim that they were the first white men to see Lake Tahoe. Ben Cartwright could have proven him wrong on that score had he had a mind to do so …
It was noon, and upon his request for a horse, he was asked to show the color of his money first before being taken to see what was available. If the wagon had taken him to the diggings, his ride would have been far shorter but Hayes had his claim in a more private area; a wink of the eye and a tapping of the nose was the closest Adam got to finding out where it could have been. The trader leaned upon his counter and looked the young man up and down. “You reckon you know where you’re headed?”
“Yes. Thank you.” Adam glanced up at the shelf. “And I’ll have that rifle and some ammunition.”
A man lolled close by, elbows hooked over the counter and nodded. “You likely able to hit whatever it is you’re aiming at?”
“Do you want me to have to prove it on your hide?” Adam replied levelly as he took the rifle from the trader and checked it for balance. He squinted along the barrel and nodded with satisfaction, then paid over his money.
“Where you headed for anyhow, boy?” another man asked not ungraciously and stepped away from the door against which he had been lounging to come closer.
“The Ponderosa,” Adam replied letting the words roll from his tongue with a great sense of pleasure.
“The Cartwright’s place?” this man asked and stepped closer, eyeing Adam up and down. “You related to Ben Cartwright?”
“I am.” Adam took his change and turned to the trader. “I’d like to see about that horse now, mister, and I’ll need a saddle and everything else as well.”
The man who had shown so much curiosity now stepped in front of Adam and once again looked him over with a narrow eyed look on his face. “You Ben Cartwright’s eldest boy, the one they call Adam?”
“I am,” Adam replied and added, “If you don’t mind now, I’d like to get myself a horse before this day’s over.”
Some of the men in the trading post exerted themselves enough to watch him ride away. One muttered that he hadn’t known Ben Cartwright had another son, always thought it was just the two, but Ephraim Dent had remembered the boy who had come with his father to build the chimney in his home. He stood by the door with the other men and watched the young man ride away before turning back into the interior of the building.
Adam made his way carefully from the trading post, following along the faint track that wagon wheels had made over time but keeping his eyes open for the one trail that would lead him in the right direction. Every so often he paused along the track to wait a while behind some boulder or tree, just in case he had been followed, for he didn’t trust the way some of the men had watched him. Eventually he gained enough confidence in the fact that he was not being followed and would not be bushwhacked, and put his heels into the horse’s flanks in order to get it to get into a gallop. The day was passing too quickly; he wanted to be home soon, sooner even than that!
Ben Cartwright was reading through a book that wasn’t really interesting him greatly when he heard the sound of a horse loping into the yard. He looked up and then over to Hoss, who was eating a sandwich and watching as Joe laboriously wrote down his math, an assignment Ben had given him earlier that day and which Hoss was trying to work out before Joe managed to do so.
It was, at that time, unusual to have visitors unless it was one of the ranch hands, but they usually rode around to the corral to get to the bunkhouse. After realizing that neither of his sons was going to move to see who the visitor was, Ben rose to his feet, muttered something beneath his breath about some people had younger legs and should use them more often, and strode to the door which he threw open.
For Adam, it was a whole combination of feelings as he rode into the yard, and for a while just sat in the saddle to look at the building. During those few moments, his mind traced back to when he had first scribbled a plan down as to how the house would look, and how once he had tried to plan it with sticks that Hoss had broken down that had caused a fight between them. He sat and stared at the glazed windows, at the porch with Marie’s big wooden planter close by, and his eyes rose to see the smoke rising from the chimneys. He could smell food that was being cooked, so he had arrived at a convenient time for everyone, for at the smell his stomach grumbled to remind him it had been empty too long.
Memories flooded back and now here was the reality at last. Was it smaller than he remembered? Yes, a little because he had been that much smaller when he had left it, but was it grander? Yes, because now the door was opening and Ben was standing there, his hands on his hips staring out as though daring whoever had ridden in to be anyone of whom he could possibly disapprove.
Adams throat tightened; he wanted to yell out an excited ‘PA!” but somehow the word wouldn’t come so he dismounted from the saddle and tethered the horse, and then walked slowly all the distance across the yard to the porch.
Ben’s face showed his emotions too clearly, much to Adams amusement and pleasure. There was curiosity, doubt, incredulity, delight, realization and then, “Adam! Adam, is it you, son?”
Their feet barely touched the ground now as they hurried towards each other, Ben’s hand on Adam’s shoulder, then pulling him close to embrace him, then shaking his hand and the black eyes staring into his face. “Adam…I can’t believe it. I can’t…why didn’t you let us know you were coming?”
“I think I would have arrived about the same time as the mail, Pa.” Adam smiled, shy now, and a little bashful. “I…I thought I’d surprise you.”
“It’s a surprise alright,” Ben said and stepped back. “Let me look at you.” His face flushed with pride, pleasure but his mind said, “He’s grown so tall, as tall as me, if not taller, and thin, he’s too thin. Hop Sing will soon fatten him up. Home, I can’t believe it, my boy’s home.”
Behind Ben came the scurry of feet and Hoss was there, hurrying out of the door with a slight frown as he wondered why Ben was taking so long before coming back indoors, and then disbelief, a shout of pure joy. “Adam, Adam – you’re back, you’re home!”
A bear hug — what else could he have expected from Hoss — a great bear hug and being twirled about the yard by this youth who was barely a head shorter than himself. Finally Hoss stopped and released him. “By dadgumit, Adam, you sure look scrawny. Come on in; Hop Sing was about to dish up supper.”
Adam grinned and thought that no one could accuse Hoss of being scrawny; he was a big built strong lad by no mistake and he was about to comment such when he saw Joe.
Joseph Francis stood at the doorway with his hands in his pockets, staring out at the racket that was going on, his freckled face displayed little more than fascination at seeing his big brother Hoss cavorting around the yard with another man in a bear hug while Ben laughed and stood there looking so pleased with himself. Joe only realized that this someone was Adam when Hoss had released him and he was looking towards the door with a smile, dimples twinkling in his cheeks and brown eyes snapping with amber sparks. Joe put his head to one side to survey this unknown but well loved person as he approached him; he narrowed his eyes when Adam leaned down towards him to be more at his level.
“Hi Joe, it’s good to see you again, buddy.”
He couldn’t remember that his brother’s voice was so deep, or that he was so tall and dark. His brother Adam had been different to this; the memory he had was of someone closer to the ground with a shock of curly black hair and freckles. He remembered the freckles because he had challenged himself to count them once when they were fishing and Adam had dozed off. ”Are you really Adam?”
His voice was thin; it seemed to cut the jollity and sober the mood, but Adam only smiled, and the dimples danced and he leveled himself down a little more and narrowed his eyes and stared at the little boy. “Sure, I’m Adam. Are you really Joseph Francis Cartwright, that annoying pesky little brother of mine who always wanted me to tell him stories and take him fishing?”
Joe looked him over thoughtfully. “You look different than my Adam.”
“People change, Joe,” Ben said quickly with his hand on Adam’s shoulder and anxious to get inside to talk and just absorb the next few hours listening to all Adam had to say and tell them.
“You know,” Adam said solemnly as he looked more closely at Joe, “I don’t think you could be my pesky little brother. You’re too tall. My brother Little Joe was down here somewhere,” he lowered his hand to just above Joes’ chest, “and he was fatter than you for sure. Hoss used to call him butterball.”
“He didn’t!” Joe said but a smile hovered around his lips.
“He did too … I wonder where that fat little pest went?”
Joe laughed now. “I ain’t gone no place; I just growed.”
“You sure did …that is, if you really are Little Joe.” Adam swooped him up into his arms and tossed him in the air and there was Hoss right by his side to catch him as Adam threw him over and then there was Hop Sing dancing about on the rug with his black eyes glinting with welcome home tears and delight.
There were a hundred and one questions that had to be asked and some tumbled out of their mouths all mixed up together, voices clashed; there was laughter as a result so Hoss just gradually quieted down and just sat eating his meal and raising his eyes to make sure his brother was still there sitting beside him. Sometimes he wanted to lean over and pinch him just to make sure, and then he thought perhaps he should pinch himself in case he was dreaming.
Eventually, calm settled over them all while Ben said the prayer of thanksgiving for the food they were about to eat and for the safe homecoming of his son. At the conclusion of the prayer, his eyes glanced down at Adam’s hands and he immediately reached out to take hold of each one and turned them palm upwards. The calluses where blisters had once formed and hardened over were more than obvious, and upon looking at his son’s nails, he saw that they were torn, the knuckles skinned. “These aren’t the hands of a scholar, Adam … what have you been doing since you left college?”
“Ah well…” Adam frowned and shrugged before rather anxiously pulling his hands free and taking a long drink from his glass. “I had to work my passage home.”
“On board ship? Around the Horn?” Ben exclaimed. “But surely you had money enough to pay as a passenger?”
Hoss looked from his father to Adam and raised his eyebrows. It always surprised him when people asked a question after the answer had already been given them. He looked at Adam and wondered what it was like having to work passage on a ship and could only assume it was a lot harder work than sitting cozy in a cabin all day.
“Well, I needed to keep hold of what money I had for as long as I could,” Adam answered slowly. “It wasn’t until after Grandfather died that I found out that he had mortgaged the house. I knew he had sold the chandlers store long ago in order to pay for my education; he told me that right from the start. I knew he wasn’t a wealthy man.” His voice faltered and he looked down at the food on his plate. “But all those years I was in college …” He sighed, a long drawn out exhalation, and leaned back into his chair. “He never told me. I think he wanted to tell me before he died, perhaps he thought I was expecting some kind of inheritance upon his death but…well, I didn’t…not after I’d paid what was left of the mortgage and some few other small debts.”
“I didn’t know he had sold the store …” Ben said. “I guess it made sense; after all, he was not young when we left New England. He wouldn’t have wanted to work there until he became incapable of doing so.”
“He had hoped that the sale money, with interest from the bank, would be sufficient to fund my education. But during the time between the sale and my arrival there were other matters that had to be dealt with, which ate into those savings. Then, of course, fees increased and there were things he knew I’d need …” He bowed his head and picked up his fork and pushed the food around the plate a little more. “Anyway, that’s why I had to work my passage home.” He looked down at his hands which he turned over as though seeing them for the first time and then smiled although without humor. “I learned a lot; it was quite an experience.”
“Abel always was what we would have called ‘canny’ when it came to money,” Ben said slowly. “I’m more than grateful to him for what he did for you.”
“He said that he did it for my mother; he always promised her that her son would have an education in a good college. He was a proud man …” Adam’s voice faltered a little and he firmed his lips and stared down at his plate in order to keep his emotions in check. It made Ben realize that his son, although a man, still had a tender heart.
Joe changed the subject by asking what it had been like being on the ‘boat’ and had there been storms and had it been exciting. Adam nodded. “Yes, it was quite an adventure. But I wish the officers were not so harsh on the men; they would quite often hit them with their rattans, and once I had to watch while a man was flogged.”
Hoss and Joe hissed in their breaths, and Joe whispered, “Flogged? What does that mean?”
“He was beaten with a whip, twelve lashes,” Adam replied. “We had to stand very quiet and watch it. Passengers were told to remain in their cabins but as I was part of the ship’s crew for the trip, I had to take my place and see it. It’s barbaric.”
Ben nodded and sighed. “It happens; with a good Captain it seldom does, but there are times when officers abuse their privileges of responsibility and overstep the mark.”
“I agree. I think there will be trouble on that ship before too long; the men were very mutinous by the time they reached San Francisco. I was glad to disembark…well, for more than one reason.”
“Adam.” Hoss leaned forward. “Did you miss us, even jest a little bit?”
“Every day, Hoss, and more than jest a little bit.” Adam smiled over at him and the smile that was returned was the best reward for the long arduous journey he could have wished for. “I wrote so many letters; I hope you got some.”
“We got some, probably not all …” Ben replied, “San Francisco is some distance to travel, although we try to get there reasonably regular. You’ll find a lot has changed since you left, Adam.”
“In what way? Indian trouble?”
“On and off, mainly because of the miners – or as the Paiute call them, the diggers. The Washoe Paiute have just seemed to disappear, but the Bannocks come down and cause trouble among the Paiute even though Chief Truckee tries to keep them in order. His son, Winnemucca, is all for driving the miners out of the land.”
“Have they caused any trouble here, on the Ponderosa?” Adam looked at them anxiously; his eyes fell upon Joe who looked up and smiled with innocent delight in his eyes. “Why didn’t you mention it in your letters?”
“It wasn’t an issue here, and has only become one since more miners have come into the area,” Ben muttered soberly and turned his attention to dishing out some potato onto his plate.
“Hey, Adam, did you see the cattle we got now?” Hoss asked, his blue eyes lost in the folds of his cheeks as he grinned so widely.
“Pa’s decided to go into the cattle business as well as selling them horses.”
Ben nodded. “With so many people hereabouts, the wild life is vanishing. I thought having prime homegrown beef available would make sense for the other ranches as well as the diggings and Eagle Station.”
Adam said nothing; he had never really thought about having cows on the Ponderosa, but it made sense and he smiled at Ben as though proud of his father’s initiative. Joe piped up with the story of how a lot of the cows got frozen stiff during the winter and gradually the conversation veered along more familiar topics and away from the worrying aspects of Indian raids and Abel’s financial problems.
Adam’s first sight of the diggings came several days later when he managed to persuade Ben to let him accompany him. Ben had fussed rather, which seemed to amuse Adam at first but gradually had him reminding his father that he was no longer a child so would he please stop treating him as one, which rather shook the older man into agreeing, even though in a rather disgruntled manner.
Ben watched as his son buckled on a gun belt and tied down the holster, and smiled when Adam reached out for his hat. “Adam, do you actually know how to use a gun?”
His son raised his head and the dark eyes darkened slightly, the well shaped lips formed a tight line. “I know how to use this, Pa. I didn’t just sit behind a desk all day at college.”
“I only asked…” Ben said quietly and left the house frowning. It seemed his son had got himself all grown up in more ways than one over the years and he wondered what other surprises he’d have in store for him as the days went by.
He smiled to himself as he saddled his horse at the pleasant evenings he had now, even though they had only been few. It had been a welcome change to share the darkening hours with Adam, talking over ranch matters, or listening to Adam telling him about college, about Abel and even about that ship’s voyage home. They’d chatted over the chess board, or just sat in silence reading.
As they had ridden closer to the mining camp, Adam had turned repeatedly in the saddle this way and that, refraining from comment but noticing everything. Ben just stared ahead, his dark eyes preferring to look only at the things he wanted or needed to see.
“How do they get their provisions?”
“A wagon goes to Eagle Station for them. They’re not much, but they seem to get by on them.”
“What about mail?”
Ben grinned, his teeth flashed white against the dark skin. “No mailman here yet, I’m afraid, son”
“Doesn’t seem to be much of anything here yet, except gold hungry men and a lot of hungry people”
“Yes, and it’ll get worse before it gets better,” Ben replied, turning his horse to where the Doctor lived. “Remember Dr Martin? He left here a month ago; we have a new doctor now, Dr. Hay.”
“Why did Dr Martin leave?”
“He didn’t have the time to drop by and tell me, Adam,” Ben replied dryly.
Dr. Hay didn’t have much time to spend talking to two healthy specimens of humanity; he shook their hands and asked them if everything was alright, to which Ben replied he had one of his hands sick. “What am I expected to do about that, Mr. Cartwright? I don’t have the time to make house calls just yet. Can’t you get someone to bring him in to see me?”
“If I have to, I suppose…”
“You’ll have to; I’m sorry, no alternative,” Hay replied, pushing Ben aside to let a man with blood streaming from a head wound stagger by. He grabbed the man’s arm and helped him into a seat. “I’m busy, so if you don’t mind -”
Adam raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips before glancing at his father, who only nodded, and thanked Hay for his time. Back on the hard packed track that ran alongside the doctor’s place, Ben looked up and down, then shrugged. “Well, so much for progress.”
“This is progress?” Adam replied looking around him and he shook his head, “This isn’t progress, Pa; this is just a plain mess.”
Joe glanced up towards the stairs as his father came down pulling on his leather vest; beneath the table he gave Hoss a sharp kick to the leg which brought Hoss’ attention from his plate to observe Ben who smiled, looked around the table, and then frowned “Where’s Adam?”
Joe heaved in a deep breath but it was Hoss who said, “He went out early.”
“Where? How early?”
“I don’t know, Pa. He never said. He was already out of the door when I came down. Jest said to tell you he’d see you later.” Hoss shrugged and lowered his head in order to feed himself faster.
“Joe?” Ben looked at the smallest Cartwright in the room and was awarded a smile.
“I don’t know either, Pa. I wasn’t up even when he left.”
Ben shook his head as though to toss away the black cloud that was beginning to hover and pulled out his chair. “He didn’t give you any idea where he was going?”
“No, sir,” Hoss mumbled and closed his ears to his father’s sigh as Ben sat down and pulled his chair up to the table.
“Had he eaten anything before he went?”
Too bad for Hop Sing, who got a list of questions fired at him as soon as he entered the room to set the plate of food before Ben, and to each of them he shook his head until he got confused and said sharply, “I cook. I not ask questions. I cook. Make food. He eat I go. He go, I clear up plate. All over now. I go. You eat now.”
Ben sighed, looked over at his sons who were closely observing him, and stared down at his plate. For some reason he had expected — no, he had hoped — that his eldest son would hang around him like a leech, would not want to venture from his side, would be asking for his advice and exchanging ideas, not go disappearing without a word to anyone and
by that, he meant himself, of course.
The day was dry, hot and sunny; in fact, the sun burned down relentlessly. Dust spiraled up from the paths between the makeshift cabins and tarpaulin tents. Adam rode slowly down what he assumed was the center of this haphazard settlement, weaving in and out of the assortment of dwellings that littered the way. Finally he stopped outside the framework of what was going to be a decent-looking timber frame house. He looked at it thoughtfully and then looked at the pile of lumber stacked on the ground beside it. He was still looking and thinking about what he was seeing when he felt something hard prod into his back.
“You step back from there right now, Mister.”
He did so, carefully, and when a tall man walked round with a rifle in his hand and a scowl on his face, they looked one another up and down before he said, “I was looking at the lumber you have there.”
“I know. I saw you. You keep your thieving eyes off’n it. I’m being paid top dollar to make sure no one walks off with any of that.”
“Who’d want it? Looks pretty cheap and flimsy to me.”
“You kidding me? That thar stuff would be worth its weight in gold for some of those miners. It would stop the tunnels falling on them for a start.”
“Then why don’t they get lumber …?”
“Because it’s too expensive. That lumber there came all the way from San Francisco, and the freight charges alone cost more than the wood itself. That’s why I have to make sure no one runs off with it.”
“Who owns it then?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Stringer.” He glanced over Adams shoulder as he spoke, causing Adam to look back to see who was coming. “That’s them now.”
Mr. and Mrs. Stringer looked totally out of place as they picked their way through the dusty track between several tents. She was protecting herself from the sun by holding up a lacy trimmed parasol, getting several ribald comments and shrill cat calls along the way as a result. They came to a stop in front of Adam and the rifle man. “Who’s this?” Stringer asked, removing his hat and looking narrow eyed at Adam.
“Caught him trying to run off with some of your lumber.”
“ I was not…” Adam snapped immediately.
“Then what were you doing?” Stringer asked, wiping his brow with a spotted handkerchief.
“I was wondering where you got your lumber from and what you were charged. From what your – friend – says, you were paying out too much money for haulage from ‘Frisco. What are you building here anyway?”
Mrs. Stringer stepped forward now. “We’re building our home. We’re going to settle here and start up a school.”
“A school?” Adam’s eyes opened wide, then he looked at the frame of the building. “That won’t be big enough for a school.”
“What would you know?” Mr. Stringer said. “I can’t afford anything bigger. It’ll have to be the best we can do for now, what with the price of timber, the haulage … you need to strike a bonanza here before you can even set down the foundations.”
Adam removed his hat, inclined his head politely to the lady and smiled his most charming smile. “Mr. Stringer, I think I have the answer to your prayers. Is there anywhere we can talk – privately?”
The horse was nodding over his shoulder as Adam sat on an upturned barrel scribbling notes on some paper, his brow creased in concentration. The day was drawing to a close now, and he knew that he needed to get back soon because his stomach was rattling around and he didn’t want to miss another meal. When he stood up, he found himself looking at a gangly thin young man with twinkling blue eyes and a huge grin on his face. “You ain’t no miner,” this young man said.
“Nor are you for the looks of things,” Adam replied totaling his figures and dashing a line beneath them.
“So what are you doing here?” The other youth leaned forward the grin still on his face. “I bin watching you all day. You’ve been walking all around the place, haven’t you? Even been down a mine or two, ain’t’cha?”
“What business is it of yours if I have?”
“None,” came the reply and he thrust out a large hand that seemed to fit with the size of him. “My names Ross, Ross Marquette. My folks want to settle here, get a ranch started up. I hear theres some ranches hereabouts already.”
“Some,” Adam replied tucking the notebook into his saddle bags and stroking his horses nose. “I’m Adam Cartwright, from the Ponderosa.”
“The Ponderosa huh? Yeah, I heard of it.”
“You should get your folks to come over and speak to my Pa. He’ll be able to tell them about ranching around here.”
“And you? You ranching too?”
“Among other things,” Adam replied slipping his foot into his stirrup and mounting in to the saddle
“What else do you do then?”
“I’m an architect … and I want to build houses, towns even.”
Ross Marquette laughed. Adam thought he had never seen such teeth in his life before, but when Ross laughed, he found himself chuckling along with him. “What’s so funny?”
Ross shrugged. “I dunno. Jest can’t imagine anyone wanting to build a town hereabouts.”
Adam glanced around him. “Well, I don’t see why not.” He leaned upon his saddle horn. “There are people here; where there are people who are determined to stay, there’ll be a town. The Ponderosa has timber, and I design buildings… There’ll be a town here, one day.”
Ross nodded and stepped back some paces to allow Adam to move the horse. “I reckon you will at that; you seem determined enough.”
“I am,” Adam replied and with a tilt of the hat and a nod of the head, he sent his horse into a canter towards home.
He pushed open the door and removed his hat, which he flipped onto the bureau, then leaned to remove his gun belt. From somewhere in the room, the deep voice of his father bounced from wall to wall. “Do you mind telling me where you’ve been all day?”
He smiled up at Ben, and although he could see from his father’s face that he really had nothing to smile about, he maintained it. However, the twinkle in his eyes faded away.
“I’ve been to the diggings.”
“All day?” Ben thundered, “ALL DAY!!”
“Mmm, all day.” He cleared his throat and tucked his hands into the back pockets of his pants, pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes as he looked at Ben. “I was thinking how we could use that timber on the hills to good use.”
“You were thinking were you? And were you thinking about what we would be thinking about with you gone traipsing off to who knows where?” Ben blew himself up as tall as he could and his dark eyes blazed. “Thinking of using my timber, were you?”
“Ponderosa pine, Pa.” Adam forced his eyes to twinkle and he shrugged. “It’ll bring in good profits in no time at all. And there’s already one commission, for a school. Joe can attend a real school.”
From somewhere, a thin voice wailed, “I don’t wanner go to no school.”
Adam shrugged again and went so far as to tap his father on the chest, “Just think, Pa; that’s something Hoss and I never did. We never had the chance of a real school.”
“I don’t wanner go to no school,” Joe whined.
“And not only that, it’ll be the first building that I’ll design and that’ll be built with our very own wood. We’ll need a saw mill, of course, and we’ll have to hire some men to deal with the timber.”
“You’re thinking of cutting down my trees…?” Ben thundered his hands on his hips and his chest thrust out.
“I don’t wanner go …” Joe wailed.
Ben turned round and snapped, “That’s enough; be quiet and go and sit at the table.”
Throwing a mutinous scowl over at his father and brother, Joe did as he was told, head handing low and his legs swinging back and forth beneath the table.
Adam produced his notebook and opened it to show Ben. “See here, Pa…Mr. and Mrs. Stringer…”
“They want to teach at the school I’m going to build them. This is the design. It’s quite basic; it won’t take too long. Did you know how much the haulage charges are they’re paying for lumber? And several of the miners want timber for the mines; they need to be shored up. If they’re shored up properly, there won’t be so many cave-ins, fewer injuries, less work for the doctor, and all the time we’ll be using our timber. And according to my figures, if we charge a reasonable sum, we should have paid for the saw mill within a few months.”
Ben shook his head, rubbed his brow with his fingers and closed his eyes; then after counting more than ten, he put his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “How long have you been home, son?”
“Four days,” Adam replied, his eyes still on his notepad and calculations whizzing about in his head.
Ben heaved in a long breath and shook his head. “Let’s go to the table and eat. I’ve a headache coming on.”
Adam was somewhat perplexed at the heavy atmosphere that settled over them all during the meal; even Hoss and Joe were quieter than usual, with Hoss casting anxious looks over at Adam and several times, when their eyes met, shaking his head and rolling his eyes. Joe looked glum and ate his food as noisily as possible so that eventually Ben snapped at him to eat with his mouth shut or not at all.
“Well, I’m not happy,” Joe exclaimed, casting down his fork and glaring over at Adam.
Ben’s shoulders sagged as though his youngest son’s woes were yet another burden for him to carry and the weight was just too much …”Why not?” he sighed.
“I don’t wanner go to school.” Joe shrugged his shoulders up and down several times to emphasize the point and looked at his father. “Please don’t send me, Pa. I don’t want to go away from the Ponderosa.”
“Who said anything about you going away?” Hoss guffawed and dropped his potato on the floor as a result.
This was quite a novelty for Adam, who had been absent from such familial exchanges for some time. He turned to look at Joe, who was now red-faced. “Adam went to school and he was gone years and years. I don’t wanner go away for years and years without seeing you all.” He promptly burst into tears.
This immediately provoked an outburst of laughter from Hoss and Adam, which was promptly quelled by Ben barking, “That’s enough from the pair of you.”
“Joe, you won’t be going away for years and years.” Adam smiled as he spoke and Hoss butted in to add his nickel’s worth. “Shucks, shortshanks, you reckon anyone would even want you in their school for that long a time?!
The set the boy off to a fresh display of tears, which prompted Ben to order him to his room so that, howling now for really good effect, Joe slid from his chair and ran upstairs. Adam frowned and stood up, causing Ben turning to him. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“To talk to Joe. He’s upset and…”
“I know he’s upset, and I know who’s the cause of his being upset, so sit down, and eat your food while I go and explain things to him.”
For a fraction of a second, Adam remained as he was and then slowly subsided into his chair. He watched as Ben thudded his way across the floor and up to Joe’s room, leaving his other sons watching him and then staring at one another. “What happened?” Adam asked quietly
“Er…well…you ain’t forgot that Pa has a short fuse at times, had you?” Hoss asked, lowering his eyes to look at his food.
“So? What has that to do with what just happened?”
“Pa’s been kinda building up to it all day.”
Hoss shoveled food into his mouth in the hope that he didn’t have to say anything else but Adam was nothing if not persistent. He had to ask. ‘Why?”
“Wal” Hoss scratched his head, “you didn’t tell him where you were going for a start, and then he got worried and no one knew where you were, and he got past being worried and became annoyed and…” He shrugged.
“You mean I have to ask permission to go anyplace?”
Hoss shrugged; he disliked talking about his Pa in this way. To him, it was perfectly natural to tell Ben where he was going and why, not that he went anywhere without Ben anyway. The fact that Adam had actually ‘challenged’ Ben on this point by his actions caused Hoss some discomfort.
Adam sighed and resumed his meal; when he had eaten enough, he got up and tossed his napkin down onto the table. “Hoss, will you tell our Pa that I’m upstairs in my room.”
“Uh…huh…er…sure, Adam. Anything you say.”
Adam practically tiptoed to his room and closed the door as quietly as possible. Four days home and suddenly things looked a little frayed around the edges. He walked to his desk and picked up Horatio Greenough’s essay American Architecture which had been published in 1843 and a gift to him from his Grandfather. He then sat at his desk, and after unrolling some paper upon its surface, he opened the book at the page he required.
Ben returned to the table with Joe dragging his feet behind him. He paused as he saw the empty chair and narrowed his eyes “Where’s your brother?”
“In his room, Pa.”
With a grunt Ben sat down to resume his now cold meal. Joe did likewise, scowling under his brows as he did so.
Adam was immersed in his reading when there came an abrupt knock on the door and before he had the chance to say ‘come in’, it opened and Ben stood there, filling the frame as he did so. “What are you doing?”
“I want to talk to you, privately, downstairs.”
Adam frowned and slowly placed a marked in his book which he then closed and placed on the desk before getting to his feet. He followed his father downstairs, glanced at the clock when he reached the lower level and noticed that his brothers were nowhere to be seen. “Where’s Joe and Hoss?”
“In bed. It’s late. They have to get up early in the morning to do their chores,” Ben replied and stood in front of the hearth as though suddenly lost for words.
“Was Joe alright after you’d explained about school?” Adam asked, bringing a hand up and sweeping it down the back of his head and then rubbing where as a result of doing so much reading he now had a ’crick’ at the base of his skull.
“Humph,” was the only reply he got to that as Ben turned to face him. “Adam?”
“Yes, sir.” Adam smiled but his eyes didn’t; even he had memories of discussions with his father in the past that he’d prefer to forget, a tone of voice that warned of storms ahead.
“I’d…er… prefer it if you’d let me know in future where you’re going. It helps…er…um…to know because…” He shrugged, and this time he swept his hand over the back of his head, no doubt to ease the headache he’d claimed to have had before eating. It had obviously not gone away.
“Because?” Adam slid into the blue chair and crossed his legs, his face upturned to look attentively at his father.
“Well, there’s work to do around a ranch this size. I had plans for you to work alongside us today, to check the cattle and to discuss the…er…fencing.”
“I see. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.” Adam frowned and then leaned forward. “But, Pa, aren’t you excited at the thought of what’s happening here? That there are people moving here who would take the time to build a school and teach the children? That’s what is really progress, surely?”
“They can build a school in their own time and with their own funding, but…”
“But what? What’s wrong with helping them build that school? Don’t you…I mean…do you object to me drawing up the plans for it or what?”
Ben opened his mouth and closed it again, then he turned his back on his son and shook his head. “Those miners will be gone – they won’t stay – they’re a nuisance and a problem. They’ll continue to be such all the time they’re here.”
“Because they’re greedy and they’re after gold. Adam, I can’t believe that you took it upon yourself to promise OUR trees …” It was interesting Adam thought that Ben had referred to them as our trees while jabbing his thumb into his chest.
“But it makes sense, Pa. Our timber could build the whole town, should it ever grow into one… which doesn’t seem to be what you want.”
“No, I don’t want it. This was our dream, your mothers and mine; it wasn’t for the whole world and his missus to come tramping through the wilds to join up with us!”
“But they’re all chasing dreams of their own, Pa. Surely…”
“Aren’t you listening to me, son? They want gold, they’ll do anything to get their hands on it; they’ll even come onto the Ponderosa for it if they can.”
Adam shrugged. “Well, if they do, we’ll chase them off.”
“I don’t want to waste my time chasing people off MY land.” Ben’s deep voice rose higher, he threw his arms in the air and then glared at Adam with his eyes so black that Adam gulped back anything he had thought to say to that last comment. “The timber stays where it is.”
“I’ve already promised the Stringers lumber from our timber for the school. I’m working on a design for it now. There’s several mines that need shoring … I said …”
“You had no right to tell them anything, or promise them lumber from our trees,” Ben shouted.
“But why not? It’s not as if those trees are doing anything except standing there, growing… “
“Exactly and that’s what I want them to continue to do. I don’t want them disturbed to make those miners comfortable with shoring from them, do you understand?”
“No, I don’t.” Adam stood up, thrust out his chin and his eyes darkened. “No, I don’t understand.” His voice was raised now. “You said when we were in that miserable mud rotting hole, that this was progress…”
“I didn’t mean it the way you obviously took it.”
“I knew what you meant when you said it, Pa. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It…it means something to give to a community…” He raised his shoulders and shook his head as though struggling for the right words. “They want their dreams to come true too, Pa.”
“Not on my doorstep.”
“I…Pa…you can’t ignore them; they’re not going to go away.”
“They are NOT having my timber, or coming near my land.”
“They are and they will. You can’t stop a flood, Pa, but you can prevent it spilling over onto YOUR land. Look…” He lowered his voice, once again swept his hand over the back of his head and heaved in his breath. “Look, we can get a saw mill set up in the woods, get skilled timber men to cut them down and…”
“Where do you intend getting skilled timber men here?” Ben almost sneered and then turned away at the look on his son’s face.
“There are some men already prepared to be hired for the work, Pa. They can’t handle mining; they want the sky above their heads and daylight during their days, not groveling down in a hole. They said…”
“You’ve arranged this already, without asking me?”
Adam stepped back and frowned. “I didn’t realize I had to ask permission for that. I thought you would trust me to make some decisions. Isn’t that what I spent all those years in college for? To design buildings for this township? To build them with our timber?”
“Adam, I’m warning you, you’ve just about gone too far….”
“Too far in what? I don’t understand you, Pa? What exactly is it that you want from me?”
“I want you to help me build up the Ponderosa, to make it the best and…and most productive ranch in this territory.” Ben hissed, leaning now towards his son. “Do you understand that?”
“But what is the point of being the best and most productive if there isn’t anyone around to compare with? No man can be an island, Pa, not now, not when there are so many other people making their way to your front door.”
“Are you lecturing me?” Ben growled, his eyes now blazing and his face getting redder while the veins stood out on his forehead and neck.
“I don’t intend to be lecturing you, Pa. I just don’t understand why you’re being so…so pigheaded…”
“Alright, stubborn then …”
“Adam Cartwright, that’s quite enough. Quite enough. Just get up those stairs to your room right now.” A flung out arm and finger pointed to the stairs.
Adams lips firmed into a tight line but he turned on his heel and then, halfway across the distance to the stairs he stopped, turned. “Pa, those timber men will show us how to protect the trees; they said that when you chop one down. You just plant more. That way the trees keep on growing and getting stronger because they’ll grow where there’s light and…”
“Adam, before I lose my temper…”
Adam grimaced and shrugged. “I thought you already had.”
Ben’s lips now tightened into such a firm line it was obvious he wasn’t going to swallow the only bug in the territory. He watched Adam make his way, slowly, upstairs and then with a sigh made his way to his chair into which he slumped, head bowed and aching.
Hop Sing peered around the wall of the kitchen. “It all quiet now? No more scream and shout?”
Upstairs Joe had already crept into Hoss’ bed with his hands over his ears and not to cut out Hoss’ snoring. He had never heard his father rage in such a way nor his brother shouting back. He wished more than ever that Adam hadn’t gone away for all that time and then wondered if perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if school did mean absence from home.
In his room, Adam sat by his desk, picked up pen and ruler and began to draw the outline of the building for the school. Then he put it down, his shoulders slumped and he buried his face in his hands. After all these years of learning his trade, what was he supposed to do when his own father seemed determined to prevent it? He felt like a bird with clipped wings…
As soon as the sound of a horse cantering into the yard was heard, Adam was on his feet and at the door to pull it open. Ross Marquette dismounted so fast that his long gangly legs nearly tripped him over as he hurried to where his friend waited and called out to him “Well, did you find him?”
“No, Adam.” Ross was breathing hard, taking deep gulps of air proving for a certainty the haste in which he had been riding. “I went to the diggings but they haven’t seen Dr. Hay, I asked everyone I met …” He wiped his forehead on his sleeve and shook his head. “Adam, it’s crazy, trying to get a doctor hereabouts -”
“Ross, you’ve got to find him, Hoss needs a doctor.”
“I know that!” Ross snapped, and then seeing the distress on Adam’s face grabbed at his arm. “Look, my horse is just about tired out. What if I get a fresh mount and try some of the homesteads and ranches around here?”
Adam looked at him with a momentary gleam in his eyes, which faded almost immediately; he shook his head. “No, there’s no point in killing yourself; you could be chasing all over the territory and never find him. I sent one of the men southwards; he’s covering up as far as Eagle Station but I have little hope of him finding him that far.” He bit down upon his bottom lip and looked at Ross. “Thanks, Ross, you’ve done more than I would have asked.”
“I know but I don’t like the thought of Hoss being so ill and…and being so unable to help. You sure there ain’t nothing else I can do?”
Adam forced a smile, albeit without warmth or mirth, and slapped his friend on the arm. “No, you’ve done more than enough. You’d best get home or your Ma will be getting worried.”
“At my age?” Ross grinned but then cast a look up at the stairs. “How’s he doing right now?”
“Holding his own. He’s tough, he’ll fight this thing …” Adam drew a hand over his mouth and bowed his head, then straightened up to face his friend. “Thanks again.”
“I’ll ride by tomorrow …”
He closed the door as soon as Ross had stepped outside and then stood there for a moment, leaning against the bureau and his head hung low as he stared at the rug without even really seeing it. Then as though giving himself a mental shake, he braced himself for yet another test of endurance.
Hop Sing stood up from the chair as soon as Adam stepped into the room, he nodded and then looked down upon the bed where Hoss lay. “He sleeping now. He sleep much…need sleep. You sleep too.”
“No, Hop Sing, I can’t … not just now.”
“Then I make coffee. You stay. I go. You have coffee keep awake more.”
Adam nodded and took the seat Hop Sing had just left and drew it closer to his brother’s bedside. For a moment, he stared at Hoss’ face and then put his hand gently upon his shoulder. “Hoss?”
The youth lay very silent apart from the wheezing that came from his chest; the struggle to breathe was so obvious that it tore Adam’s nerves to shreds and his face contorted with all the conflicting emotions a person feels watching a loved one suffering. “Hoss?”
The eyelids of the sick young man flickered; his eyes barely opened but there was some movement before they closed down again. Adam grabbed at one of Hoss’ hands. “You crazy idiot, Hoss Cartwright. Why’d you go do a dumb fool ass thing like that? Didn’t you stop to think you could get yourself into trouble?”
The wheezing continued and Adam held hold of Hoss hand in both of his, bowed his head, and willed his brother to open his eyes and be better. A miracle was what he wanted. Surely just one little miracle wouldn’t do no harm, not when it meant saving Hoss?
Hop Sing entered the room with a tray which he set down. He looked down at Hoss and felt his brow. “Hot.”
“Too hot, Hop Sing.”
“Fever last too long.”
“I know that!” The words were snapped out, and then he felt ashamed; it wasn’t Hop Sings fault. He apologized but his eyes didn’t leave his brothers face. “Hop Sing, Ross couldn’t find the doctor. What can we do? Isn’t there anything else we can do that will help him?”
“I give him more medicine, make fever not so hot.”
“He will get better, won’t he?”
“He strong, strong like ox, he fight hard …he get better quick quick,” Hop Sing assured the young man and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “You not worry now.”
“I can’t help but worry. How do you expect me to stop?” Adam muttered and glanced over his shoulder at the man’s retreating figure, the door closed and he was left alone in the room with his brother wheezing and sweating in bed.
Why now? Adam shook his head. Why did Hoss have to fall ill now? In fact, why did Pa have to decide to take Little Joe all the way to New Orleans now? He shook his head; it was actually four weeks since they left. He could recall how excited Joe was, hopping about on one foot and then the other and then begging his father to hurry up and Ben giving his last minute instructions of things to do, things not to do, not to interfere with this or that and to leave the other alone as well. Adam remembered wishing they would both just go because they were making his head reel.
Hoss had been excited as well, even though he wasn’t going anywhere. Ben had asked him along with them but Hoss didn’t want to go anyplace; he wanted to stay where he had his heart, and New Orleans just didn’t appeal to him at all, especially as it was just to see some old folk related to Joe’s Ma who wouldn’t have a nickels worth of interest in him. Ben had assured him that they would be visiting old friends of his as well, but Hoss had shaken his head and staunchly declared that Adam needed someone on the Ponderosa to keep him on the straight and narrow.
Then they had gone, ridden out of the yard with a wave of the hand and that was it. Hoss had grinned and draped his arm across Adam’s shoulders. “Fishing?”
Adam had grinned back “Yeah – fishing. I know just the perfect place…”
“Not that pool down by the two rocks…”
“Sure, that’s just the best place in the world to fish.”
Four weeks ago. It seemed just like yesterday, and no way now of letting Pa know how ill Hoss was, and how much he was needed back home.
He stood up to stretch his legs and bent his back to get out the kinks, poured out coffee and carried the cup to the window so that he could look over to the hills. He narrowed his eyes and followed the line of trees right to where they stopped growing. Well, they had their saw mill now, and good men, experienced in tree felling and logging set up in a camp among the trees.
It was odd how quickly Ben had come around to the idea once he had met some of the men. Once they had explained what could be done and how the trees could be preserved by sensible and selective logging, he had appreciated the benefits both financially and environmentally. The initial outlay cost but it soon brought in returns
Adam turned his attention back to the bed where Hoss was stirring, but when there was no change, he returned his gaze to the hillside. He had had the pleasure of seeing his design for the school being used and Mr. and Mrs. Stringer taking their place as the teachers in residence at the diggings. Joe had been made to attend and hated it as he had promised them he would…but he had gone and benefited by it despite his ability to find trouble and create mischief.
That had been some years back and somehow – Adam bit his lip and frowned; somehow, life had become so busy on the Ponderosa that, apart from several designs drawn up for buildings at the diggings that were currently still on his desk, there had been no architectural work at all.
A movement and Hoss’ voice called out for Pa. A spasm of coughing and then again, “Pa?”
Adam hurried back to the bedside and was there before Hoss had opened his eyes, stared blankly at Adam and mouthed his name, then the eyes had closed again, but his hand held tightly to his brothers. Hop Sing came in, and with Adam’s help, managed to pour some liquid down his throat. “Will that help?” Adam asked and got a withering look back in answer.
He resumed his position in the chair and watched as Hoss’ labored breathing seemed to echo round the room. He wiped his brothers’ brow and around his neck with the cloth and water that Hop Sing brought up, and he sat and waited, his eyes seldom leaving sight of his charge.
He slipped back to thinking about his ambitions when he had returned home several years back; he was going to design and build houses, banks, town halls… he was going to have an office in town but that he hadn’t even bothered to suggest that to his father; there had been no point. He thought of the designs he had drawn up already, and wondered if they would actually ever be used.
The diggings were worse than ever; more and more people pouring in, of all nationalities, cultures, social classes. The Stringers had moved away when Mrs. Stringer caught a rather unpleasant illness from one of the miners and they had had a succession of teachers since then. The last one, Miss Abigail Jones, seemed to have become a rather permanent feature though.
They were selling their lumber for shoring in the mines, and there were the timber frame buildings going up, even a mercantile store but nothing that required Adam’s expertise.
What had happened to his ambition? His hopes? Dreams? He leaned forwards as Hoss mumbled something, and then wrung out the cloth to wipe around his brothers face, and murmur words of comfort and reassurance.
He had realized that to become a real architect would have meant going to San Francisco, working in an office there to become ‘established’, and when the Washoe Diggings were ready for him then he would return and design the wonderful buildings it would deserve. Or he could have returned to Boston of course… But he couldn’t; he couldn’t leave the Ponderosa then, anymore than he could now.
Ben had been right when he had said the miners would encroach on their land; it seemed to be a constant fight to repel them back to where they belonged. They seemed to swarm all over the Ponderosa and they were constantly chasing them off.
There was oversight of the lumber camp and being involved with the timber, and there were cattle who had calves that needed branding and then the horses. The list just went on and on.
“I’m here, Hoss, it’s alright, you’re not alone.”
“What’s wrong with me?”
Adam frowned. “I’m not sure, couldn’t get hold of a doctor. But Hop Sing reckons it’s some kind of pneumonia.”
“Huh? How’d that happen?” Hoss wheezed.
“The other day when you insisted on staying out in the rain and then fell and cracked your head so you were spread eagled out in the field most of the day before I realized you were missing… Well, we reckon you got ill from that.” He paused, and rubbed his face. “It was my fault, Hoss. I should have stayed with you to help, but there was so much else to do, I thought I’d get back to you before mid-day and then it started raining.”
Hoss frowned and stared up at the ceiling “Shucks, dad blast it, I remember now. It rained so hard I thought I’d best get back home and that was when I fell and cracked my head.”
“You can remember doing that?”
“Sure, clear as day. One minute I was plodding through that mud and the next my feet went from under me and I was flat on my back… and then I woke up and saw you standing over me.”
“Took me forever to get you up on that horse, you big galoot.” Adam grinned at the memory, struggling to get Hoss off the ground was one thing, but when it was mud and his feet were going every which way possible while Hoss was dead weight in his arms and no one nearby to help…it had been a nightmare.
Hoss closed his eyes. “I’m tired, Adam, sure am mighty tired.”
“Get some sleep, brother.”
“Adam – I’m sure glad you’re back home with us y’know.” His eyes were closed; he was drifting off but a smile widened across his face .“I missed you when you was away.”
Adam felt his throat tighten; he couldn’t find the words. He hugged his brother’s hand against his chest and screwed up his eyes so the tears would not flow.
Hoss sighed deeply, long drawn out and wheezy. “I missed you, Adam.”
He squeezed Hoss’ hand and waited until his brother had slipped back into sleep. For a while, he sat there before slowly leaning back into his chair. This was another reason why he had stayed; he loved them, all of them, loved them so much he could no more leave than pigs could fly.
He looked around Hoss’ room. He could remember when they had planned it out, pacing out the width and breadth, and then plastering the walls and cutting out the windows. An age ago, a time before Joe was born, before Marie …
Hop Sing entered the room and looked at the two young men — Hoss in the bed sleeping more calmly and Adam in the chair, eyes closed, head low upon his chest his breathing deep and steady. Hop Sing smiled and went to the window, drew across the drapes and then put a match to the lamps in order to bring light to the room.
It was another 24 hours before Hoss was free from the fever, but it took a while longer for him to regain his strength. Adam bore the brunt of the work, the chores, the ledger keeping… If he thought at all about building houses, it was only in his dreams, if he had any. Most nights, he crawled into his bed and fell deeply asleep from sheer exhaustion and the mornings always came far too quickly.
In New Orleans, little Joe Cartwright played mud pies with a little girl called Laura. The sun shone and the buildings hemmed him in, and if it wasn’t for the thought of returning to that terrible Miss Abigail Jones, he would have given anything to get back home. After all, it just wasn’t the thing a boy should do … playing with a girl!
Among the litter of tents, shanty cabins and a few timber framed buildings with their tall false fronts, the school house remained a neat and tidy environment for the children to gather in order to be taught. Various teachers had come and gone since Adam had designed it for the Stringers, and Joseph Cartwright had taken his seat among the children from the mining camps, and those from the homesteads and ranches that were settling into the area.
It was a tremendously hard life for every family there, whether toiling underground and subsequently heaving their lungs up from the tuberculosis, bronchitis or other pulmonary disease as a result, or fighting the land to bring order to it, to clear the trees away, to plant crops that died in the first season, to get cattle to thrive and breed. But the obligation remained that the children were the front line of a new generation, and education was a necessity.
Joseph Cartwright formed a number of friends while at school, mostly from the families of the ranchers and homesteaders. Some of these friendships would endure into adulthood while others would dwindle over time.
One day he arrived at school with his lunch pail full of Hop Sing’s goodies and his books slung over his shoulder. He was late, which was not unusual as he had furthest to travel and had dallied on the way. On this particular morning, he found the playground empty and pushed the door open with some timidity. He had been told the previous Friday that a new teacher was starting this particular day and as far as he was concerned, a teacher was…well…just a teacher.
Miss Abigail Jones was a young woman who was old before her time. As she stood before her class and looked at the faces staring back at her, she wondered, not for the first time, just what she had let herself in for by coming to this rough mining camp to teach their children. She glanced over at the boy hurrying in from outside and watched as he closed the door and hurried to an empty seat. “You’re late.”
Her voice snapped around the room in the way an elastic band snaps back when stretched to its maximum and then released. Joe froze and looked at her. “I have longest to come, and…”
“I won’t have excuses. In future you make sure you arrive at the proper time or you will have detention.”
He stared at her and blinked, then smiled charmingly. “I’m real sorry, Ma’am.”
“Sit down. What’s your name?”
“Joseph Cartwright… Ma’am.” He fluttered his eyelashes and smiled again, freckles peppered his cheeks and his hazel eyes were large and twinkled.
Miss Abigail Jones stared at him. “It’s Miss Abigail Jones. You will address me in future as Miss Jones.”
He sat down and felt a nudge of the foot from the boy seated next to him; they exchanged a roll of the eyes. Miss Abigail Jones once again surveyed her class and then after introducing herself briefly began their first lessons together.
A few months ago she had been teaching school in Philadelphia, rows of neatly clad boys and girls in perfectly ironed uniforms, girls with their ribbons and white aprons, and boys with their hair neatly combed and their shirts and pants crisp and clean. Here she had a motley assembly of children dressed in all manner of attire. The majority of children from the tents and cabins were bare footed, dirty, snotty nosed and their clothes were either too big or too small and certainly not clean. On some of the worst, she could imagine the fleas and even perhaps, lice, hopping about their clothing and bodies.
The children of the homesteaders and ranchers were turned out a little better, and she could see that those with more financial clout were the better dressed, wore sturdy boots, and as she could see when she looked outside, came to school on plump ponies. The girls wore pretty dresses and ribbons in their braids, the boys, dungarees and tidy shirts.
She was 21 years old now and had been teaching school since qualifying at the age of 16. She had never dallied with a boy, nor had a romance. Her life was dedicated to education, and when she read about these ‘frontier’ schools, she felt it was a calling with as much fervor as a missionary seeing the need to travel to Africa and teach in mud huts there.
As she raised her head to look at the children before her, she wondered if that would have been the better option… rows of little black children from mud huts eagerly learning under her tutelage.
Some stifled laughter from the back row and she looked up and rose to her feet. “Joseph Cartwright?”
“Yes, Ma’am, Miss Jones, I mean.” Joe stood up politely.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m…I’m doing my work like what you said.”
“Like how I told you…” She corrected primly.
“Yes, Miss, like what you told me.”
She looked at him, innocent of face, blank expression, lips twitching. She scowled and nodded and watched as he sat down. The lesson was a short essay on who they were, and where they lived, a form of introduction to her of each pupil. The smaller children were to copy their A.B.C from the board onto their slates. She was already longing for the day to come to an end.
The week dragged for everyone — pupil and teacher alike — and wasn’t helped by the heat that particular summer. Joe had already had his slingshot confiscated, been made to stand in the corner twice due to some misdemeanor or other. Other pupils had also been punished; after all, Abigail Jones strove to be fair.
Friday afternoon and the end of the first week. Miss Jones sat at her desk primly rolling her pen between her fingers while Joe sat on the bench seat in front of her. She waited for the footsteps of the boy’s father to fulfill her expectations of an elderly man who would, having a son like Little Joseph, be worn with anxiety and worry. When she looked up, she found herself watching a tall dark haired young man walking confidently towards her, hat in hand and a slight smile on his face.
She watched him, and it seemed as though he were floating on air towards her… his smile widened, white teeth and dimpled cheeks made an impression upon her mind, dark brown eyes like rich molasses and honey beneath long lashes and curling black hair… She had to put a hand on her heart to stop it thumping so fast.
“Miss Jones?” Adam repeated her name for the third time and leaned forward, his hand outstretched as though to touch her shoulder. It hovered slightly but she seemed to come out of her daze before it could do so. He bit down on his lip; Joe sure must have done something terrible for her to be like this. He glanced over at his brother who just rolled his eyes and shook his head.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Cartwright …you are Mr. Ben Cartwright, this boy’s father?” Her voice was shrill. She cleared her throat.
“No, Miss Jones, I’m this boy’s elder brother. Adam.” he stretched out his hand. “Adam Cartwright.”
His long fingers curled around her hand, the pressure was slight before his hand fell away, and he was smiling at her again in a way that made those confounded dimples seem absolutely – wonderful.
“Oh … I see. Mr. Adam Cartwright.”
“Yes, Miss Jones. That’s right.” He cleared his throat now, and twisted his hat round and round between his fingers. “Er…I’ve come to see about Joe? You sent a note to my Pa to ask him to see you but he sends his apologies as he was unable to keep the appointment due to a prior engagement. I hope you don’t mind my coming in his place?”
She had to hold onto the desk for support and smiled, then remembered he was expecting a reply so nodded, “Well, of course not; these things happen after all. I’m…I’m de…I mean… I’m very pleased to meet you, Mr. Cartwright.”
“About Joe?” He turned slightly from the waist to observe his brother and then resumed his gaze upon her. “What’s he done this time?”
“He…” She paused and looked at Joe, who was now standing beside his brother, looking sorrowful and woebegone. “Perhaps you’d like to tell your brother, Little Joseph?”
Joe cringed; he hated the way she called him that. He bowed his head. “I was chasing the girls…”
Adam raised his eyebrows, Miss Jones lips narrowed and she raised her eyebrows as well. “Go on, Little Joseph, the whole story now…”
“I was chasing Amy and Sarah with water from the trough. Mitch and I were going to throw it over them; they said they were too hot and we thought it would be fun to cool them down.”
“Continue…” Miss Jones snapped, staring at him because the brown eyes of the elder brother were having a very strange effect upon her; she could feel her head swimming.
“Amy fell over, I fell over Amy and the water went over Miss Jones instead. It was an accident,” he mumbled with his head still bowed, although for some reason his shoulders were shaking.
There was silence for some moments. Adam Cartwright tugged at his ear lobe, and then twitched his shoulders back. “I…er…I think you owe your teacher an apology, Joe.”
“I said sorry at the time,” Joe snapped back his lips thin.
Adam coughed into his hand and looked away, then straightened his back and looked at Miss Jones. “What punishment has he already received, Ma’am?”
“He had several strokes of the ruler across his hand but …” She looked at him and blinked. “He has several times disrupted the class …”
“Oh!” Adam raised his eyebrows higher.
“He’s brought his sling shot to school and used it on…on school premises.” She folded her hands primly in her skirts.
Adam looked at Joe and shook his head. “Joseph,” he said in a sorrowful kind of voice which made Joe wince.
“I thought I should just let you know, Mr. Adam…I mean…Mr. Cartwright, that your son… brother…really needs a most firm hand.”
“Believe me,” Adam jiggled his hat a little in between his hands, “I’m more aware of that fact than you’ll ever know.” He smiled at her, head to one side, eyes slightly narrowed.
“So, you will see that he has some form of discipline when he arrives home?”
“I can assure you he will.”
“Thank you, Mr. Cartwright.”
He nodded, smiled, and grabbed his brother by the shoulder. “C’mon, Joseph, quick march.”
Joe glanced up at him and frowned. His brother’s fingers had really tightened on his flesh; it had hurt. When Miss Jones called after them, Joe actually saw a gleam of panic on his brother’s face, then thought perhaps he had imagined it as Adam turned towards the teacher with a smile on his face. “Miss Jones?”
“Little Joseph told me you enjoy reading poetry?”
“He did?” The grip on Joe’s shoulder tightened – traitor it seemed to say – but the smile remained fixed on his face.
“I…I really love poetry, and the classics – Milton, Shakespeare, Francis Bacon …”
“Oh yes, mmm, well …”
“Perhaps, some time or other, we can discuss our mutual likes together.”
Joe didn’t believe it possible but his big brother was at a loss for words. He assumed that was the case as Adam didn’t reply right away and then suddenly let out a kind of shuddering, ‘Hahaha ,well, yes perhaps we could …sometime.”
By the time Joe reached his pony and Adam had him by the scruff of the neck and seat of the pants and hauled him into the saddle, he knew he was in for trouble.
Miss Jones sunk down upon her seat by her desk. Was this love? This feeling that engulfed her now? The shaking knees, the tremulous heartbeat, the color and heat of her cheeks. She raised a hand to cool them for they were ice cold… and she remembered the feel of his fingers around hers, the way he smiled. She felt as though her body were on fire…
A rather corpulent man raised a hand to stop Adam and Joe going too far; he was well dressed in a tailored suit, and looked totally out of place in his surroundings. Adam glanced around him as though to find out a reason as to how this gent had managed to stroll around with a gold watch on a gold chain across his ample vest without having been assaulted and robbed. Several other men stood at a discreet distance with low slung gun belts, so, he thought, that answered that question. He looked down at the other man. “You wanted something?”
“You Adam Cartwright?”
“Studied Architectural Engineering?”
“What of it?” Adam narrowed his eyes and looked about him again. “Who’s asking?”
“Jonas Armstrong, sir. I’m an architect myself; my offices are in Maine.”
“You’re a long way from home, Mr. Armstrong.”
“I wondered if we could get together sometime, and talk?”
“Here do you mean?” Adam quirked an eyebrow; he could see Joe getting fidgety and wanting to get off home. He looked at Armstrong again.
“Why not here? People need homes. Banks. Offices.”
“True enough. Do you aim to build them?”
“In time. Will you meet me tomorrow?”
Adam stared at him and ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth. He shook his head. “I won‘t be here tomorrow, I have to take some horses to Fort Ransom.”
Armstrong nodded slowly. “A pity.” He shrugged. “Perhaps another time.”
Adam watched as the other man turned away, paused to take a cigar from his pocket and thrust it between his jaws. He shook his head; another opportunity lost. He looked at Joe who was scowling at him and nodded, time to go home. It had been a long time coming.
In 1859, gold was discovered, a real bonanza that was to become world famous as the Comstock Lode, yielding bullion to the tune of millions of dollars. More and more people flooded into the Washoe and the diggings finally had a name to call its own, Virginia City.
Armstrong, Struthers & Co. Ltd, Architects, flourished and prospered as much as many of the miners during that time. Some architects arrived and set up rival companies, some became miners themselves and some never found that elusive vein in their mines but died among their contemporaries.
As the town expanded, there was a call for more schools and Miss Jones, who had left to teach elsewhere, returned to teach in the very building that Little Joe had attended. Her hopes of setting eyes on the man she cherished in her heart were often thwarted now that there was no longer any need for his brother’s discipline to be discussed.
Joseph Cartwright was 17 years of age and watched the changes taking place with wonderment. His father viewed it with dread but realism; as someone had once said, no one can stop a flood, especially when humanity was concerned.
Life on the Ponderosa was one of sheer hard work, long hours and often times, exhaustion. There were times when death was a constant feature; during the time of the Truckee Strip incident, there was quite bloody conflict resulting in misery and death. When Bishop sold his property, it was to a family called Jessop, who would become a future thorn in the Cartwrights’ flesh.
Adam and Hoss Cartwright noticed the changes as they walked along the boards; each time they came to town there was something new to report. The Bucket of Blood was a going concern now, a building with large windows and fancy gold lettering, far removed from the tarpaulin tent of years previously. They stopped to watch as a carriage drove by pulled by two white horses, perfectly matched; the couple who drove by nodded and raised a hand before passing on.
“He owns the biggest mining corporation in town now,” Adam muttered to Hoss, and rubbed his chin as though it was a matter of some concern.
“Guess this is what they call progress, Adam.”
“They can call it what they like; it doesn’t make life any easier for us,” his brother retorted. “They’ll want to get onto the Ponderosa soon, mark my words, Hoss.”
“Yeah, but – why?”
Adam looked at his brother and shook his head, then hooked his thumbs over his vest pockets. “Because we have silver and gold on our land and they’ll want to mine it.”
“Ah, right, of course, I see what you mean.” Hoss glanced up the street, “There’s Amanda and Sally Ridley. Reckon on going to speak to ‘em?”
Adam shook his head. “No, let’s go on in and get a drink before we get on with business.”
The saloon was busy, as were most of the saloons in town, and they had to use their elbows to get to the counter and order their drinks. “Things sure change,” Hoss sighed. “I remember when I used to come here and weren’t no one in sight.”
“Which was fortunate for you, seeing as how you sneaked in underneath the canvas because Pa wouldn’t let you come here.” Adam tossed money onto the counter and turned, a glass of beer in his hand. He raised it to his lips as his eyes cast around for a table at which to sit; he nudged Hoss and nodded over to a table in the corner to which they both pushed their way through to sit.
“Adam? Adam Cartwright?”
He turned immediately, and upon recognizing Jonas Armstrong, he nodded, placed his hat upon the table and indicated the empty seat. Jonas, a slimmer man now, sat down. “Adam, I’m more than pleased to find you here. I want to run a suggestion by you.”
“Sure, go ahead.” Adam glanced at Hoss and winked, then drank a little more of the beer.
“We want to build a proper Town Hall for Virginia City.”
“Good idea.” Hoss nodded and slapped Armstrong on the back with the result that the man’s whisky slopped over his hand.
“Whereabouts?” Adam asked. “And why come and tell me?”
“Because you trained to be an architect – didn’t you?” Armstrong leaned forward; his breath smelled of the alcohol and Adam sat back a distance from him. “I didn’t forget that, and I think it’s about time you put your training to good use.”
“I’ve not designed anything for a while; life’s been too busy,” Adam said slowly, even though something within him was stirring like the embers of a long dormant fire that was being prodded alive.
“Look, you know what you’re talking about when it comes to engineering; you and that Philip Diedesheimer fella, worked out that system, didn’t you?” He leaned back. “I tell you what, I’m going to advertise in the Territorial for any architect in the area to draw up what they think is a suitable building for a Town Hall… and the best one wins.”
Hoss wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “Wins what?”
“The contract of course.”
Adam shrugged and looked into his beer. “Well, I suggest you do that then, Mr. Armstrong.”
Jonas nodded and finished his drink, picked up his hat and bade them goodbye, but he placed his hand firmly on Adam’s shoulder as he rose to his feet. “Think about it, Adam. You trained long enough for the qualifications, after all.”
After he had gone Adam folded his arms on the table and leaned forwards. “Well then, there’s a man with a long memory.”
“Sure would be something if you won the contract though, Adam. Our own Town Hall designed by Adam Cartwright of the Ponderosa. Sounds good, huh?”
Those self same words were echoed by Joe when he listened in on the conversation later that evening. Adam looked at Ben and raised an eyebrow. “What do you think, Pa?”
“Well, Armstrong’s right in that you spent those years back east getting your qualifications…” Ben rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “But there’s a lot to do here, Adam.”
“I know it.”
“Has he said anything about when the date for when the plans need to be submitted?”
“Nope.” Adam put down his cup and saucer and stretched out his legs; he looked into the fire. “Anyway, I doubt if I’ll do it.”
Joe looked surprised. “Why not? I bet you’d be the best one, Adam.”
His brother smiled and shrugged. “I haven’t designed anything of any importance since I left college…”
“Several schools…” Hoss reminded him as he whittled on some wood.
“Yeah, and that bank, that was a fine building til it burned down in that bank raid last year,” Joe added.
Adam only shook his head; once a long time ago, he thought he would be building grand edifices of stone and marble, with colonnades and pillars and big windows. Clapboard school houses and a modest bank building hardly compared to such ambitious plans. He continued toying with a book he had picked up and turned his attention to that instead.
The knock on the bedroom door interrupted Adam as he was looking through some papers which he had taken from a leather briefcase usually kept beside his desk. He glanced up as his father appeared in the doorway with a thoughtful expression on his face. “Anything wrong, Pa?”
Ben glanced at the papers that remained in his son’s hand, then at Adam. “You intend to go in for this contract?”
“I’m not sure,” Adam replied returning to his task of taking out the papers which he slowly spread out on his desk. “I’ve some ideas floating about in my mind but…”
“But? Don’t you think you could do it?” Ben sat down on the chair next to the bed and looked at Adam with narrowed eyes as though trying to discern the young man’s innermost thoughts.
Adam gave a slight smile. “Pa, I stopped thinking of myself as an architect a long time ago. There’s enough of them in town to build a hundred town halls if they were needed.”
“Adam…” Ben paused and frowned, rubbed the back of his neck and shook his head. “You’ve been so busy here on the Ponderosa that you never really had a chance to do any designing work…”
Adam leaned back in his chair and pushed the papers to one side, “Pa, the kind of buildings I wanted to design and see built…” He paused and pursed his lips, frowned and looked a little embarrassed. “I wanted to build the kind of properties that we’d see back east, not these timber frame wooden boxes that get built here. This isn’t the place for the kind of designs I wanted to create and now, I don’t know if I could…” He paused and wondered whether the words he had been about to use would have been suitable.
“You can do anything if you really wanted to, Adam,” Ben said, getting the whole point of what Adam had been about to say totally wrong, but his son didn’t enlighten him; he merely smiled and nodded.
He had actually been about to say he didn’t know if he could really be bothered anymore.
Things often happen for a reason, so Ben had always said, and it seemed that despite himself, his son did design the Town Hall for Virginia City, as a result of which he received several other commissions for houses in the style that he enjoyed designing. A Town Council was formed and both Ben and Adam were asked to be members of it, to represent the homesteaders and ranchers outside the environs of the town. Following that, the Cattlemen Association was introduced and they became founder members in order to protect the rights of the ranchers in the territory. A School Board was organized of which they were Governors.
It seemed that suddenly the town had matured. Sheriffs came and went, Jurisdictional Judges came, and appointed Marshals, and new sheriffs appeared. Eventually a man of experience came to town and took up the law as sheriff. His name was Roy Coffee and he was no stranger to the early settlers there, certainly not to the Cartwrights whom he had befriended years earlier when he had been on the circuit as a law keeper. Six months here and six months moved on to another settlement until eventually finding himself the permanent lawman in Virginia City. One of the first things he did was to ask Adam to design and build a decent jailhouse.
Times were changing, and the more gold that came from the soil, the more people streamed into the area, and the more threats there were to the Ponderosa. Adam set aside his designs and concluded the time had come to be free of that particular dream.
There was a time when Adam could look back over the year and think to himself that life could not get any better. He didn’t torment himself over the fact that he had never set up business as an architect, and he didn’t wallow in self-pity because something he had nurtured since a child had not borne fruition. He was content with his life with his father and brothers on the Ponderosa, equally as much as they were.
He gained a measure of pride in what he had designed and built in the town, but the most precious of all was their home – the Ponderosa. Many times he had stood by the corral fence and watched as the moon gilded the shingles with silver light, or the sun shone at a particular angle to make the wood appear mellow and golden. There were times when he would pause as he stepped up to the doorway just to run his hand along the framework and to recall to mind the day it was set in place or would admire the great chimney yet again in remembrance of the hard work it took to build.
Unbeknown to himself, Ben did very much the same. The pride he had in his home may have gone unspoken but it was always there, for every part of it contained some story, some tale of rigor or humor. He would often regale visitors of the time when a little boy decided he was going to be an ‘arrky-teck’ and build their home. He gained immense pleasure by adding proudly “…and he did just that.”
But that time now seemed to have fled and as Adam sat in his room, he cast his eyes down upon the design of a building and could see nothing, nothing but despair and misery. When had life taken this strange cruel twist onto a path that had led to nothing but the worse of events, the most tortuous of tragedies?
He put his hand to his brow and closed his eyes. In the dark environs of his memory, he replayed the agonizing day when he had shot and killed his best friend, Ross Marquette. Oh true, there were many to remind him that at the time Ross had actually tried to kill him, having murdered his pretty wife only hours earlier, but he couldn’t forget that during his last moments on earth the man, Adam had cradled in his arms had been Ross.
As though life and fate had not twisted the knife sufficiently, only weeks later he had nearly killed his brother. Adam groaned within himself and shook his head as memories flooded through him of that long journey with Joe wondering if at any moment he would feel the dead weight within his arms and know that he had killed …murdered… yes, he whispered to himself yet again murdered … his brother. Oh Joe. He shook his head and tried to send the memories fleeing from him.
Bitter hate for everything to do with the Ponderosa had over taken him during those days, resentment at having to share the one miserable doctor with countless others when his brother was in such need, the misery of not being able to get the medication that would save his life, the greed and selfishness of those who were prepared to take advantage of their worse moments. Oh, no wonder he had sat and spouted Thoreau to Hoss, patient humble Hoss…
Oh now this… now this… He bowed his head lower and covered his face with his hands, and remembered how he had thought fate was at last being kind in bringing to his attention the opportunity of a wife and child only to have even that snatched from him.
He heard footsteps upon the landing and raised his head and squared his shoulders; he turned his face to the door which, after a light knock was immediately, opened to admit his father, who glanced at his son with a face that looked alight with optimism and joy as he announced that Dr Paul Martin was downstairs.
“To see me?” he frowned, glanced at the drawing on the desk and then at his father. “Oh, of course.”
“Adam?” Ben frowned and approached him then placed a hand gently upon his shoulder. “Of course to see you. I mean, after what happened this afternoon, you can’t expect him not to come and make sure for himself, do you?” He smiled, his wide generous smile that spoke of pride, love and relief.
This afternoon Laura had chosen Will; the woman he had wanted as a wife had decided to take another… He nodded slowly and looked down at the chair upon which he was sitting. Just another chair, not the one he had been forced to spend weeks in due to that accident, a normal chair from which he would now stand up from and walk away. He looked at his father. “Of course, I…I should have realized.”
“What you did today was remarkable, Adam.”
“Not really, Paul kept saying that it would heal, and…and it has, and couldn’t have happened at a better time, could it?”
Did he sound bitter? He hoped not, he didn’t want anyone to think he felt bitter over what had happened. He gripped the edge of the desk and used it to help get onto his feet but before he had stepped away from it, Paul Martin was already at the door, bag in hand, a look of incredulity upon his face. “Adam, is it true … ?”
Adam had never thought of himself as anything more wonderful than any other specimen walking on two legs, but the look on Paul’s face almost made him laugh. Wonder of wonders, it seemed to declare, after all this time of confinement, wondering if he could, or would, ever walk again and here he was … “Adam, it’s just wonderful, wonderful.”
Adam smiled, nodded, yes, wonderful.
During Paul’s examination and even while answering Paul’s questions, Adam thought over those few hours after he had overheard Laura and Will talking about their relationship, and himself. He had felt, well, if anyone had asked him how he had felt at that moment, he would have had to admit to feeling nothing. Numb. Then his pride came to the fore and with it anger, and then cold logic .. ..
Had he really loved her? That question tumbled around in his head tirelessly? Had he? Or had his father been right that time he had said Adam wanted marriage, someone to protect, a child to care for …
He turned to look at Paul, who was looking thoughtful, even a little concerned. “I want you to walk from the bed to the window. Would you do that for me?”
Walk – well, why not? He stood up and steadied his feet upon the floor and looked over at the window, then at his father. Ben had always said he was stubborn, and his brothers called him a granite head because of it, and he wanted to walk, didn’t he? Yes, of course he did. He wanted to show them, show Laura, that he was not going to be dependent on anyone, never again.
Several days later he was on his horse and had decided that he would take a look at this house he had designed and had started to build, the monster that had devoured his time and nearly killed him in the process. He rode slowly, in no hurry; after all, the weather was beautiful for the time of year ..
His eyes scanned the skeleton of the building, the framework nearly completed. He shook his head; he must have been mad, he told himself now, to have even thought of undertaking such a task alone. He raised his eyes to the cross beam that had been his nemesis, and narrowed his eyes as though seeing himself over reaching, determined to reach that other section of wood and then falling — he could remember that bit clearly — the falling and nothing there to stop him hitting the ground.
On the far side of the site were all the materials that had been ordered and delivered, ready to be put in place for the house to be completed. There were the windows, the doors, the shingles… He stared at them awhile and then looked back at the framework. It would have been his home, their home. Peggy would have played here and ran up and down the stairs while he and Laura lived their lives and grew old together.
He grimaced, a wry smile; well, that wouldn’t happen now. He nudged Sport to walk on and around the structure, looking at it from every angle and then he stopped and looked over at the view. It was a beautiful view, one he had always loved and had always brought him peace of mind and contentment. Even now he could feel the black bleakness that had been filling his mind seeping away.
Wild flowers were blooming within the crevices of the rocks and bowed their heads to the breeze, the river trundled its way through the green grass below the slopes and trees stood elegant and tall close to hand. A perfect spot, like poetry in physical form before his very eyes. He smiled slowly, and leaned forwards in the saddle slightly to ease the niggling ache in his back. One day he would finish this house — he had designed it, after all — and here he would make it his home. One day he would bring his wife here, a woman who would love him as dearly, as passionately, as he would love her, a woman who would be nothing like Laura, nothing at all.
He dismounted, and taking Sport by the reins, led him down the grassy slope to the banks of the river whereupon he sat down, stretched out his limbs and watched the clouds scud by in a blue sky on a perfect day.
Life was good once again, at last.
It seemed to be a glorious summer that year which trickled into a fall they all remembered for various differing reasons. Life seemed full of events, some funnier than others, some poignant in that it brought losses to the town or settlements, even to themselves. Old friends died or moved away, new friends turned out not quite as friendly as one had hoped. For a brief time it seemed possible that Ben would take himself a fourth wife, but that hope died along with her then current husband.
In the evenings when the winter came, the four men shared the experiences of the past year while Hop Sing kept the fires burning and food in their stomachs. Life was hard for the ranches during the winter, and brought along with it a myriad problems that the four of them, along with the ranch hands that ‘over-wintered’ dealt with in the manner that brought about the best results.
They teased Adam mercilessly over his adventure with ‘King Arthur’ and then turned on Ben for being so hotly pursued by Widow Hawkins. As Adam said with a sigh, “I have nightmares of ‘Arry’s pink bloomers taking pride of place over the chimney,” which would bring shudders running down Ben’s spine.
They laughed over some of the things Sam Clemens had written while he had lived there from September 1862 with his brother Orion who was the Nevada Territorial Secretary from ‘61, and how it had seemed the whole of Virginia City had ended up in their back yard looking for the ‘monster’ prowling around the Ponderosa. It was a winter upon which all could look back and remember fondly for the times shared together.
Snow came and graced the roof top of the Ponderosa ranch house and blew through the chinks that time had wrought around the doors and windows. Spring would come and those chinks would be checked over and repaired to spare further problems when the next winter brought new gales upon them.
During that time of winter, Adam sat at his desk in his room and redesigned the house he had previously decided never to look upon again. He tweaked this and that until he felt the property would one day be good enough for the woman he would eventually, perhaps, carry over the threshold. During that spring, he hired some men from town to undertake the work having argued at length with his father, long and hard, about the liability of taking the work on himself. This was an argument that Ben actually won.
That early summer Adam and Joseph Cartwright took cattle down to sell and stopped off at a small town called Eastgate. In a saloon called the Red Dog, they enjoyed a cool beer together, talked a little too openly about just how much money they had on them, and went their separate ways. Joe chose to stay and see what happened to a man called Obadiah Johnson, accused of murdering his wife and her lover while Adam decided to spend a little time on his own and in doing so met his nemesis … Peter Kane.
The moon was shy and slid behind clouds so that the shadows silently seeped into the darker shadows until the Ponderosa seemed plunged into a totality of darkness. In the stables and corrals, the horses shifted in their stalls or pushed against the corral bars, restless and nervous. The barn owl took its silent flight from the barn to seek its prey and sent its lonesome call echoing through the night.
In the big house, the four men lay upon their beds in their bedrooms…one slept soundly, his mind reassured and settled now that his brother was home. The anxiety of his loss and the misery of his finding now a thing to put behind them, because for Hoss, life was about living each day as it came, learning from each experience and moving on to the next.
In his room, Joseph Cartwright lay flat on his back staring up at the ceiling. His mind followed familiar channels that it had traversed regularly during the past days. It had been mind-numbing to realize that they had decided to turn back for home when his brother had been so close to them all the time. Thinking of the consequences had they done so made his stomach tighten. Whenever he closed his eyes, he saw that same scene played over and over: a solitary man dragging a travois with a dead man upon it, each step, each weary step, sapping more and more strength from him. What if they hadn’t noticed him? What if they had ridden away when they had been so close to finding him?
He knew it was futile to keep asking the questions; after all, they had found him. They had buried Peter Kane and brought Adam home, they had — they had –but what if they hadn’t?
Ben turned the flame in his lamp just a little higher so that he could read the section of scripture more clearly. How many times had he read this section about faith? How many times had he asked himself why he had lacked faith when he had needed it most? His son was near death and he had been prepared to ride away. Where had his faith been in finding him? It had gone; after a few days, he had been ready to come home.
Now his son was home safe and sound, well, safe anyway. There was something not quite right though, even after all these weeks there was something – a restlessness, wariness? Ben shook his head and concentrated again on his reading, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, then you will say to that mountain move …”
He left the room, unable to concentrate now, and went downstairs to get a glass of brandy and just sit by the fire. He needed to mull a few things over in his mind and then, tomorrow, start afresh. But as he sat down, he felt as though he were carrying the weight of his son’s body in his arms again and hearing that wretched heartbreaking sob, ’Oh Pa…’
What had really happened during that time with Kane? Why wouldn’t he talk more openly about it? Why keep it shut up within himself? Hoss had reminded them that he had been the same when Ross had been killed, but that was understandable because Adam had fired that fatal shot. He had not killed Peter Kane …had he?
He raised his eyes upwards and heard the sound of footsteps pacing the floor — back and forth they went, back and forth. Ben reached for his pipe and tobacco, slowly filled the bowl, and finding the matches, struck one; the flame hovered and then he paused as he saw Adam coming slowly down the stairs. He immediately blew the flame out and put the pipe down. “Couldn’t you sleep, son?”
“Couldn’t you?” Adam replied with a slight smile as he walked towards the fire, then paused to stare into the dying flames. “You alright, Pa?”
“Yes, of course. What about yourself?” Ben leaned back as though he had all the time in the world to listen, and for this young man, yes, he’d have given all that and more if it would have helped at all.
“Oh yes, I’m alright. D’you want something to drink? Brandy?”
“That would be good, thanks.”
Adam moved to the cabinet, and for a while, all Ben heard was the clink of glasses and the pouring of the liquor which Adam then carried back with him to where Ben sat. After handing his father a glass, he sat down on the blue chair and stretched out his legs and swilled the brandy round the glass. “What’s on your mind, Pa?”
“Nothing. Well, nothing much… I just couldn’t sleep.”
“Anything worrying you?”
Ben took a deep breath, then expelled it before nodding. “I’ve been worried about you.”
Ben forced a slow smile and stared down into the glass, “Well, you seem…restless.”
“Restless?” Adam gave a mirthless laugh and shrugged, drank some of the wine. “Why should I be restless?”
“Perhaps the experience you went through with that dead man you were dragging through the desert may have done something …” He paused, shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“Well…” Adam dragged the word out, sipped more of the brandy. “I guess a man has a lot of time to think when alone in the desert dragging dead bodies about…” His smile was just a crooked grimace and he shrugged again. “I wonder at what time during that trek he actually died?” He said this more to himself that to his father, his brow creased. “He was still alive when we left the camp, I know that … I made sure he was …”
“Was that important? His being alive I mean?”
“Yes, it was.” Adam nodded. His dark hair was tousled and stubble was dark around his jaw. He held the glass bowl between both hands and swirled the liquor round and round a little more. “I wanted him dead, though; then when it looked as though he was, I needed him to be alive.”
Ben frowned and nodded. “Why?”
“Because…” Adam paused, thought hard for a moment. “Because he wanted me to kill him, and I didn’t want him to have that satisfaction of knowing he had succeeded in driving me to doing it. I didn’t want him to win.”
“To win?” Ben frowned, shook his head, confused now. “Win what?”
“The game. No.” Adam paused again. “No, it wasn’t a game.” He said this quietly, as though remonstrating with himself. “It was all rather deadly serious, really. But that was what he wanted; he wanted to drive me to killing him.”
“If he was mad …”
“He was, quite mad.” Adam nodded and looked intently at his father, narrowed his eyes and then turned away. “Quite mad.”
“Adam, you’ve killed men before. In this world we live in, that’s been unavoidable, so what was…”
“Different about this man?”
“Well, if you want to put it that way …”
Adam drew in his breath and rose to his feet; he stood a moment looking down at the fire, the brandy glass in one hand, while the other rested upon the chimney. “Because this was different, he was different … everything was different.”
“How?” Ben leaned forward; this was the most they had talked about the matter and he dreaded his son deciding that now enough was enough. He held his breath as Adam stared into the flames as though he had to find the right words from there in the heart of the dying embers.
“Those I’ve killed in the past … we’ve killed… there’s been little or no choice in the matter, has there? I mean, even with Ross it was shoot or …” He rounded his shoulders in an off -hand shrug. “But Kane started off by saving my life when I was near dead anyway. Then bit by bit, he…”
“I’d mentioned to him that a man of principle could never kill just for the sake of killing, that something fine within them would prevent the thought becoming a reality. And…then…”
He stopped, raised his eyebrows and drank his brandy before looking at his father. “Another one, Pa?”
“Er…no.. thanks, ones enough for me at this time of night.”
Adam smiled and carried the empty glasses to the cabinet before returning to his seat. He stroked his chin and shrugged. “He wanted to die but he didn’t want to die from hunger, or thirst, or by shooting his brains out. He wanted to die knowing he had driven someone else to killing him. I didn’t want to cold-bloodedly kill the wretch, but there were times when I got so angry and he knew how close I was getting, so each day he’d goad me on just a little bit more…then one day I heard you calling me and I thought I was going mad then especially when…”
“We rode away?”
Adam nodded. “Yes, that’s right, you rode away.”
Adam said nothing more; there seemed nothing more to be said but he stroked his upper lip with his forefinger and his dark eyes became somber and reflected the dying embers of the fire at which he was staring. Ben waited for some moments before the clock struck the hour which seemed to break the spell as he rose to his feet. “Time we tried to get some sleep, son.”
Adam nodded and looked at Ben with a smile. “We built a fine house, didn’t we, Pa?”
“We built more than a house, son; we built a whole new world, a family, our home…”
Adam sighed and stood up, put his arm around his father’s shoulders. “Come on, Pa, we got a busy day ahead tomorrow.”
“Today.” Ben glanced over at the clock and smiled.
Adam allowed a grin to pass over his expressive features and nodded. “Yes, quite. Today then…”
In his room, Joe had finally fallen asleep. The murmur of the voice downstairs combined with the drone of Hoss’ snores across the landing a background lullaby to which he had finally succumbed.
Letters arrived with a reasonable regularity now and the town continued to grow along with the times. The population had grown to over 10,000 and large mining consortiums had long taken over from the small miners’ individual attempts to ‘find the elephant’, as a strike had once been called. Gas lighting had arrived along with the Opera House, hotels, and theatres.
On the Ponderosa, life had settled into a pleasant existence and the ranch house mellowed further as season followed season. Adam talked to Ben about designing an extension to the back of the ranch, but before he could put his design into reality, a letter came that changed the course of their lives.
Whether or not he had intended to keep it a secret from his father and brothers, Adam never said, but when the letter came, he had to admit later that it was a surprise to him as he had given up in expecting any response to the enquiry he had sent months earlier.
It took him two days to find the courage and the right time to pass the letter into the hands of his father for him to read and Ben had smiled, seen the look on his son’s face and then looked concerned, and then finally had read the letter. He read it twice to make sure he had understood what he was reading, and then just stood there as though stunned. It was Joe who had asked what was wrong and had then snatched the letter from Ben’s unresisting hand
“I don’t understand,” Joe muttered as his eyes scanned the words. “What does it mean?”
Ben sighed. “It means that your brother intends to leave the Ponderosa, Joe.”
His voice was weary, as though there was no strength left in it, and although Adam had said quietly, “Pa, it isn’t like that…”, Ben had shaken his head and turned away, his hands on his hips and his head bowed as he stared at the logs piled on the gridirons.
“Lemme see that.” Hoss pulled the letter from Joe, almost tearing it in half and read it, frowned, read it again. “I…what…Adam? What’s this mean?”
Adam shrugged and shook his head, reached out for his letter and then looked at them with his eyes going from one to the other and to his father who had turned now and repeated Hoss’ question. “What does it mean, Adam?”
Adam sat down slowly on the old blue chair and looked at the letter then up at his father. “I’m sorry, I wrote to these people months ago, and…and after I hadn’t heard from them, I thought nothing would come of it. I just thought there was no point in mentioning it to you, any of you, when there seemed no likelihood of anything happening.”
“You didn’t think to mention it?” Ben’s voice rose higher and his eyes darkened, veins stood out on his forehead. “You didn’t think to mention it?” He shouted this now, as though his earlier question hadn’t been heard by all present there. “Something this important you didn’t think needed to be mentioned?”
“I didn’t think anything would come of it,” Adam replied lamely while his eyes looked at his father with a wistfulness not often seen on him.
Joe gulped and squatted down on the arm of the settee; he wanted to speak but somehow the words got stuck in his throat. Hoss just sat down with his head bowed low, his chin resting on his chest as he stared at his brother. “But, Adam, why?”
Adam glanced at him anxiously then looked away. “Well, it was…” He paused to think of what to say without creating further outbursts of any kind; he coughed and shook his head. “Well, I thought it was time, you know; time to do something different.”
“You’re bored? Is that it? You’re bored with being here with us? With the Ponderosa?” Ben boomed, and in the kitchen Hop Sing decided to make a quick exit into the garden.
“No, Pa, no, not at all but the fact is I’m getting older and life seems to have leveled out and I – I want to go places that I read about, experience things I hear others talk about. That’s all.” He looked at his brothers appealing.“Don’t you understand?”
“I ain’t as old as you yet,” Joe said with brutal honesty. “Perhaps when I am I’ll understand better. All I can see is that you want to leave us and go away like you did before.”
Hoss shook his head. “You know how I feel, Adam. I don’t need telling you agin, life here on the Ponderosa is all I ever want, ever will do too, come to that.”
Adam clenched his hands into two fists and shook his head. “I just want to experience something different before I get too old and no good for anything anymore. That’s all.”
“It isn’t a case of ‘That’s all’ though, Adam,” Ben said quietly. “Nothing is that simple or that cut and dried. You leave here and…” He shook his head. “Time will pass, things will change and you won’t be a part of it. You’ll be gone, somewhere, who knows where, having your experiences, and anything could happen in the meantime.”
“I know, I’ve been thinking about that, over and over ever since I got the letter.” Adam nodded.
“You really want to go?” Ben asked simply, while emotionally inside he was yelling in fury.
“I want to go and I want to stay,” Adam replied quietly. “I don’t want to leave here or go from you, but…”
“Yeah – but?” Hoss grunted and glowered at his brother. “You ain’t never really settled here, not since you went to college and came back with all that book learning.”
“That’s not true, Hoss, and it’s not fair either,” Adam replied quietly. “I fought as hard as any of you to keep the Ponderosa safe during those early years with the diggers, and I’ve taken my fair share of bullets and beatings for being a Cartwright as well.”
Hoss shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, then turned away as though afraid to look at the object of his affections any longer, his hero, his big brother… He heaved in a deep breath and struggled to maintain his composure.
Ben rubbed his forehead with one calloused hand and then looked at his son before sitting down again. He leaned forward. “Adam, have you thought all this through carefully?”
“Of course I have.”
“Do you feel the same way about it now as you did when you wrote that letter of enquiry all those months ago?”
Adam turned his head to stare at Joe and then at Hoss. “No. I don’t feel so sure or certain of myself now. I…I don’t want to leave my brothers or you, Pa, but at the same time I feel that if I don’t do this now, for me, then I’ll just…”
“You’ll go anyway,” Joe said quietly as he got to his feet, his handsome young face the picture of misery. “If you don’t go now, Adam, you’ll just up and ride away some day without ever even telling us. I know it; so do you.”
It surprised Adam and Ben that the youngest of them had the most insight into how his brother felt; Joe felt tears prickling to the surface and he shook his head as though that would deny their presence. The only reason he didn’t weep was because he was too numb and Adam had to look away as though unable to face those moist hazel eyes as he heaved in a deep breath. “I think you’re right, Joe. I think that’s just what I would do.”
“But why? I mean, I know you explained why but – I don’t understand – why?” Hoss almost wailed and he looked first at his father and then at Adam. “Couldn’t you just move to town for a while? Or San Francisco? Jest until you got this outa your system?”
Adam shook his head, raised his shoulders and shrugged. “Look, when I was a child, I travelled, with Pa, alone. We crossed wilderness, desert, Indian territory and we did it often on our own. I never wanted to settle in any place – you know that, Pa – I always wanted to move on.”
They looked at him blankly. Ben nodded but his brothers turned their faces away. He waited but when there continued to be nothing but silence he continued. “I guess it put a restlessness in me, all that travelling. Pa, you taught me to navigate by the stars, you taught me all your craft and skill as a seaman, you told me stories of when you went to sea, and your father before you ..”
“I know; it was all that I had known before…” Ben said and shook his head. “But that doesn’t mean…it doesn’t explain why you need to go now.”
“Why doesn’t it? My life was…” He paused for want of finding the right word. “Look, Pa, you took me from one place to another, and all I wanted was to reach this paradise you talked about and build our home. And we did that, and then I went to college and along with learning to design buildings I spent time with my grandfather who talked of ships and sailing, and other countries.” He paused again, shook his head and stood up.“I’m sorry. I‘m sorry if what I‘m saying makes no sense to any of you, and if you don‘t understand.”
No one spoke as he walked from the room and went outside; the door closed with a sharpness to it, and silence remained there until Joe said he was going to his room. Hoss watched him mount the stairs and then turned to Ben. “Pa? Are you going to let Adam go?”
“I can’t very well stop him, Hoss. As he’s rightly reminded us, he’s getting on in years; he’s not a boy any longer.”
“Pa? What’re we gonna do without him here?”
Ben stood up and put a gentle hand on his sons shoulder. He didn’t want to admit to Hoss that he’d rather not think about that; it was too hard to even contemplate. But he shrugged anyway and mumbled, “ I guess we’ll just keep working here until he comes home again.”
It didn’t seem quite sufficient. Hoss knew what he meant but he wanted more, some reassurance that nothing would really change, even though he knew everything was going to anyway.
In the stables, Adam took down his saddle and got Sport ready for a ride. He felt he needed the time to cool down, to feel the air in his face and to think about his family’s reaction to what he had shown them in that letter. As Sport loped out of the yard, he remembered how it had all started, all those months ago when everything had seemed so black and frustrating, when everything was going wrong in his life.
It was only then that he had found the letter from his grandfather yellowing among other papers. It had been addressed to him, although he couldn’t remember ever having seen it before, but assumed that it must have been gathered up among the others and put altogether in the valise. He had read it carefully before taking it to Hiram their lawyer in town for clarification. After Hiram had read it through, he confirmed that Abel had detailed all that was required for his grandson to get a Commission in the Navy. All that was necessary was to apply to the President, tell him about his college education, give some background information regarding his family’s sea connections and then wait and see what happens .
Months of waiting and suddenly, there it was in black and white: an invitation to go to Boston and sit before a panel of Naval Officers who would discuss the matter with him and decide whether or not he was a suitable candidate for a Commission. It had set his world upside down, and he had to go and take a long drink of water to stop his stomach churning over.
It was just the interim period that was so testing now … the having to let go, once again, of those he loved and helping them somehow or other, to let go of him.
When he rode home late that night, the moon shone upon the house he had designed all those years ago. It shone all over with silver light and had never looked so picture card perfect as it did then. He sat in the saddle and remembered when he had drawn his first picture of what their home would be like, and how there was a man on one of the wagon trains who had shown him how to design a house correctly. Just as his father’s dream had been to find that Eden he and Elizabeth had spoken about so much, so it had been his own personal longing to build that house, complete with stairs and enough bedrooms for everyone. It had been the hook that had continually drawn him along to its completion.
He felt a tightness catch at his throat as his eyes wandered up to the windows … his father’s bedroom with the light shining there, and his father’s shadow passing and re-passing as he paced to and fro. There was the window of Hoss’ room, and below that the window to the study.
He shivered; it seemed as though suddenly the winds of change were blowing and that there was going to be a lot of pain with it.
Nothing more was said about Adam’s future plans; it was as though time was holding judgment on the whole affair and no one risked a word in case too much was said too soon. Ben took on the attitude that if he ignored it long enough, it would go away and everyone else followed his example so well that sometimes it was almost possible to believe they had imagined that conversation about ships and the sea.
Ed Payton rode back to claim his home and ended up a permanent feature on Boots Hill. Adam’s family waited to see if that would be the straw on the proverbial camel’s back but it was not. Adam remained close-mouthed and steely eyed even when the Cass’ moved away and the Michaelsons took over the Hardware Store.
They wondered if giving such a bright lad as Michael Michaelson private tuition would encourage Adam to remain home, although not one of them mentioned such a thought to any of the others just in case, well, in case it didn’t.
Howard came on the scene and left behind the legacy of a song:
“Poor Howards dead and gone,
Poor Howards dead and gone,
Poor Howards dead and gone,
Who’ll be there to sing his song.”
It seemed at times to Ben as though even the house was standing on tiptoe in anticipation and dread. The joists seemed to creak more, the stairs took their time to settle in an evening and the shingles murmured above his head at night. When morning came, he forced himself to amble down the stairs and smile brightly, and greet them all with as cheerful a face as possible.
Work went on through the weeks; calves had to be branded and trees had to be hewn down and fences needed to be repaired. Adam took to taking on tasks that took him from home, alone, which chewed Ben’s nerves to shreds.
Adam wasn’t oblivious to his father’s feelings, but he knew Ben well enough to know that when the time was right, another conversation would be forced upon them all and they would have to bare their souls for the greater good, and he honestly didn’t want it. Being at home and looking to a future away from them all was pulling him apart from the inside out, and the only time he had peace was when he was out on his own.
There were still squatters to be chased off their land, still the odd bullet to duck and avoid. He went to bed at night wondering if the next day would be the day he would have to say farewell, and as much as he longed for it, he also dreaded it.
Joe was chomping on an apple one morning when Adam returned from doing his early chores, he looked over at his little brother and smiled, “What you looking at, Joe?”
Joe’s shoulders tensed for a second and then he shrugged. “Oh some maps I found here in Pa’s old desk.”
“Really?” Adam walked over to join him and looked down, his fingers smoothed away the corners that were curling and he grimaced. “Hawaii?”
“Er…I was just looking.” Joe sighed, and looked down at the map in the direction that Adams eyes were travelling, “That’s a lot of sea, Adam.”
“Yes, it is.” Adam clamped his mouth shut and nodded.
“Reckon you’d be going to places like that? Japan? Hawaii?”
“I don’t know, Joe.”
“Are they places you’d like to go and see?”
“Wouldn’t you?” Adam looked at Joe, and for a moment Joe’s grin took on the sparkle of mischief.
Then he shrugged and shook his head “Nope, not really. I don’t think I’d like to go on a boat.”
“A ship,” Adam said by way of correction.
“Alright then, a ship.” Joe looked at Adam and then took another bite of the apple, before he walked away, leaving Adam to roll that map up and observe another. “You still got your mind set on going?”
“I guess so, yes.”
“Well, I guess seeing as you got no woman in your life, there ain’t no point in your sticking around here just getting old.” Joe slumped down on the settee and waved the apple about. “When I get as old as you, I might even want to go places I’ve never seen before, but not on boat…ship.”
“So you wouldn’t miss me then?” Adam smiled and joined his brother, sitting in the old blue chair next to him.
“Ah well, that’s where you’re wrong, older brother, because I shall miss you.” Joe frowned and nodded; he looked at Adam, swallowed and then looked away. “I will miss you, Adam.”
Abruptly Joe got to his feet, tossed the apple into the fire, and turned to go but Adam caught him by the arm. “I’m sorry, Joe; I’m sorry if it upsets you, but I really can’t stay much longer and…”
“Don’t, Adam, don’t say no more. I don’t want to hear it. I understand, but…just leave me be.”
Adam watched his youngest brother take to the stairs, then lowered his head and bit down on his bottom lip, then looked over at the door as his father and Hoss stepped into the room. Ben tossed his hat onto its peg and looked around him. “Joe alright?”
“Yeah, he’s – fine.”
Ben and Hoss looked at one another doubtfully, but it was Hoss who asked what it was that had upset Joe, and then handed Adam an envelope. “Reckon it had anything to do with this?”
Adam rubbed his jaw and then took a deep breath as he opened the envelope and pulled out the letter. Ben tried to pretend it was just another letter and walked over to the table and sat down as though food would miraculously appear if he did so. Hoss stood near his brother with his hands on his hips looking up briefly at the sound of Joe’s footsteps on the stairs. “Well?” Hoss asked, jutting out his jaw. “Anything you’d like to share?”
Adam’s mouth was unexpectedly dry, he licked his lips and slipped the letter into the envelope and joined his father at the table. “They’ve booked my passage, Pa. I have to leave in a few days time.”
Ben grimaced and nodded. “I see. Best sit down, son, and eat your breakfast. Hoss, Joe, come and sit at the table.”
Adam narrowed his eyes and looked at his father, wondered briefly if his father had understood what had been said, but then Ben nodded. “So, they’re paying for you to get there ?”
“No, I’m going to work my way, then the Captain can give some kind of reference to how I work on board ship, even if it is for only a few months.”
Ben straightened his shoulders and then looked down at the meal that Hop Sing had set upon the table. “I see.”
Hoss said nothing but put some food on his plate and Adam poured coffee into his cup, while Joe thought of all that sea, so much more blue on a map than anything else and boats, ships, call them what you will, they were mighty small in comparison.
It was a fait accompli and they all knew it and accepted it as such, although it tore at all of them. In the evenings, they talked about the past, the people they had met and known, the misadventures they had shared, the way they had felt when one of them had been hurt. It was a case of “Do you remember …” “How about when …” “I wonder how …” so that they all did their share in scratching at the wounds and keeping them sore and open.
Then they would go to their beds and think their own private thoughts and wish that they could hold back time.
Adam Cartwright sat in the stagecoach and waited for the other passengers to board. A man and his boy, a young woman and an old man. They crowded in together and the woman smiled even as she dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief, having said her farewells and not wanting to prolong them.
Adam looked round and out of the window, his father, Hoss and Joe stood there and nodded, smiled. They raised their hands and he nodded to them and tried to blank out the depths of misery in their eyes which would, he knew, weaken his resolve. Ben approached and put his hand on his son’s arms. “God bless you, my boy.”
“Thank you, Pa. And you also.”
“I hope following your dream makes you happy, son.”
Adam drew in a long deep breath and frowned. “Thanks, Pa.”
They had said their many private words the previous night, and repeated them again that morning, his brothers and himself, his father; there was nothing more to say now, not really. “I’ll see you soon, Pa.”
Ben only nodded, a brief smile and he stepped back as the stagecoach surged forwards, dust billowed from beneath the wheels but they didn’t move. They raised a hand even though they knew that Adam wouldn’t be looking back.
The boy looked at him and said, “Mr. Cartwright?”
Adam didn’t want to get into conversation with anyone; he couldn’t trust his voice. But he looked up at the boy and nodded.
The child smiled. “It’s me, Mr. Cartwright, Jimmy.”
Adam still just looked at him, narrowed his eyes while his brain groped for a name to put to the face so that the boy looked disappointed.
“I was in your class when you were the teacher when Miss Scott was ill.”
Another memory to haunt him. He forced a smile. “Of course, hello, Jimmy.”
“I remember your lessons, Mr. Cartwright. I sure wish you had stayed being our teacher. You were real good; I learned a lot.”
The father leaned forward. “He did too; seemed like suddenly he realized there was some point in learning to read and write.” He patted his son on the back, and the freckle faced lad grinned and nodded.
Adam listened to the boy as he chattered on and remembered that time too well. A time when his pleasure at teaching had been marred by the death of a man because he, Adam Cartwright, had deemed fit to delve into the history of the land and peoples that man belonged to; he thought of it as a failure. A death because of him of an innocent man, the last of his people. He leaned back and smiled at the boy who enthusiastically was telling him he had been a great teacher.
Life, as Shakespeare had said, was just a stage and men were merely actors upon it. He could repeat that section by heart but he saw himself there. Would-be teacher, would-be architect, would-be deputy sheriff. He lowered his hat over his face and shut himself off from the gaze of those there; his heart was breaking and he didn’t want any witnesses to it.
He had taken his last ride on Sport the previous evening just as night had fallen; they had gone as far as his favorite place, where a house had been built and stood empty as though waiting for its owner to return to it. He had wondered if he would ever get to see it again, or live in it. The view even then had been lovely with the moon shining upon the river and sending scattered diamonds of light rippling to the banks along its shore.
Then he had slowly made his way home, to the Ponderosa and looked upon the ranch house that he and Hoss had helped Ben build. Long ago it seemed, so long ago…he had stood among the trees and just looked at it. The house that he had built …well, not really, but it had been conceived from his dream just as the land had been part of his fathers.
Well, all that was over for now, a new dream was about to begin…