The Love of His Life (by Krystyna)

Summary:  Memories and the hurt over losing Rebecca Kaufman cause someone else to recount their own loss, in hopes it will help Adam to understand — he is not alone.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  4400


Marie Cartwright had not been a foolish woman. When she had made the decision to marry Ben and move to a territory of which she knew very little, she took along with her several wagons full of everything she thought she would need. Those wagons contained not only her personal possessions, her clothes, and jewellery, her ornaments and furbelows, books and treasures; they had also carried well wrapped bare root trees and shrubs, rose bushes and soft fruit canes.

Upon arrival at their destination, these precious commodities had been taken from the wagon in which they had jostled side by side for all the weeks of their journey and placed gently upon the land which was to be allocated to the mistress of the house for her own personal use. This was to be her own prized and private place.

Perhaps Ben had smiled a little at her delight in counting the trees, checking to see that they were undamaged. Perhaps he had smiled when she had carried them one by one to the site where she wanted each one to be planted. He had certainly smiled at the sight of his eldest son digging deep holes, measuring out the spaces between each straggling little tree and the other child with the bucket of water trailing behind him. All the while Marie was there, nodding approval, watching Adam pile back the rich dark soil onto the roots while Hoss had gently and carefully poured the water over each one.

There had been twenty-four apple trees, six different varieties. She had also brought twelve plum and damson trees, and ten cherry trees. Oh, they had not been trees then, just rather pathetic sticks with roots, but her pleasure in each one as Adam heeled in the dirt upon the dry little roots made her clap her hands in delight and declare that soon they would be eating apple pies, and have plum jam from their very own orchard.

The only one who had seemed to really understand her had been Hop Sing. He had walked alongside Hoss with another bucket and a ladle, and had also assisted in the watering of the trees and shrubs. He had answered the boy’s questions, assured him that yes, there would be apples growing there one day, there would be plums for them to pick.

It did not take long for Hoss to lose his enthusiasm about the trees. For several weeks he would inspect them carefully, and then trudge into the house with a grim face and shake his heads,

“Ain’t no apples on them things.” he’d declare in dismay.

Hop Sing would smile and just say, ’Patience’. Marie would laugh and ruffle his hair and say ’Patience’. Time passed and Marie and Hop Sing would retire to their little orchard and tend their tender trees, watering and sharing the time together. Friendship grew with the slender saplings, affection blossomed along with those that bloomed upon the boughs. The days came when apples were plucked and placed in a bowl upon the table.

“Patience,” Marie said with a smile, “has been rewarded.”

As the years passed the trees grew stronger and bigger. Their boughs spread out and provided dappled shade for those who strolled beneath them. The sweet blossom that covered them each year promised fruitage to come and when Marie was no longer there to stroll among the avenues between them, Hop Sing her friend continued to loyally care for them.

It was a day like many other days as Hop Sing took his basket to fill with the apples from Marie’s trees. He opened the gate and paused just for a moment to gaze upon them. They had grown and mellowed over the years. Their smooth trunks had formed whorls and lumps and blemishes, scars and markings, and he nodded and sighed, just like himself, he thought, and closed the gate carefully behind him.

He walked a few paces into the trees enjoying the way the sun created patchwork shadows through the branches onto the grass beneath them. He reached out to pluck the first apple and sighed. If Marie could only see her orchard now, he mused, how pleased she would be.

He paused, had there been an echo of his own sigh from somewhere close at hand? He looked about him cautiously before stepping further among the trees. There was a small seat close to where Marie had planted the roses. True, not all the roses had survived that she had brought in that wagon all those years ago, but those that did provided sweet smelling blooms throughout the summer months. She had enjoyed sitting there during the years when Joe had been small, watching him take his first steps, tumbling over, chasing butterflies, running away from the bees.

Now Hop Sing paused again to observe a young man sat on the seat, his chin cupped in the palm of one hand, his elbow resting upon his knee. His eyes gazed without seeing beyond the trees, at no fixed point. He sighed again and shook his head slightly, as though his thoughts both perplexed and annoyed him.

Hop Sing frowned and watched the young man thoughtfully for a moment or two. Adam Cartwright was not a man who easily talked about his troubles to anyone, and Hop Sing knew from experience that he would not choose to discuss them with him. His relationship with this tall, dark, handsome young man was quite unlike that which he had formed with Hoss and Joe. He was about to step back and away from the forlorn figure when Adam raised his eyes and noticed him,

“Oh, hello, Hop Sing.”

Hop Sing nodded his head, smiled broadly and raised his arm to indicate the fruit basket. Adam regarded it solemnly and nodded, obviously understanding the message the pantomime was meant to convey. He turned his head away and sighed, shook his head,

“Why are people so – so strange, Hop Sing?”

“Strange?” Hop Sing frowned, and grimaced, “How you mean – strange?”

“Complex.” Adam turned dark eyes to the other man, and a small frown furrowed the smooth skin above the dark brows.

Hop Sing had always been there, well, for as long as he could remember practically. Since before Joe had been born, possibly before Marie had arrived. He smiled slowly and glanced up to the trees then at Hop Sing,

“Remember when Marie came with the wagon full of what we thought were just sticks?” his voice had lost the edge to it now, softened, the words had a smile in them and Hop Sing approached him, grew closer. “We never thought for a moment we would be picking apples and plums from them in the years to come.”

“You did not, and Hoss he soon stopped thinking of apples and plums.” Hop Sing smiled, remembering the hard working little boy carrying the heavy bucket of water and diligently watering each thin little sapling.

“Marie relied a lot on you, Hop Sing. You knew she would have an orchard here one day, didn’t you?”

“Good soil.” Hop Sing commented, “Strong trees.”

Adam nodded, smiled briefly, and sighed again as he glanced up at the sky between the boughs. The sun sent shafts of speckled shadows across his face.

“I was just thinking -” he said quietly.

“You were thinking of Missy?”

“No, of – of someone else.”

“A young lady?”

“Yes. A young lady.” Adam glanced at Hop Sing and smiled, his eyes looked at the other man thoughtfully as though realising that perhaps he could get some sensible answers to the questions from him. “Rebecca Kaufman”

Hop Sing looked at him, the dark eyes looked into the younger mans’ dark eyes and understood, but he said nothing except to acknowledge the name with a nod of the head. His eyes slanted down to regard the book that was on Adam’s other knee, one hand protectively covering it. A new book, full of poems no doubt, Hop Sing nodded.

“She did not like the book you get for her?”

“I didn’t get to give it to her.” Adam replied and the words were tainted with bitterness, his mouth tightened in a familiar button of anger. “Aaron just looked at it and said ‘What do we need another book for when we have shelves stacked with them?’”

“He is a merchant. He would have books to sell.” Hop Sing replied sagely, and nodded his head in the hope that his comment would take the sting from what Aaron Kaufman had said.

“This was a gift for Rebecca. She liked poetry.”

“Liked?” Hop Sing frowned, “Little Missy is unwell?”

“Little Missy is no longer there. Aaron has sent her back to her family in Pennsylvania.”

Hop Sing said nothing to that, but waited to see if Adam would say more as it was quite obvious that there was more going on in his head than he had divulged so far. He watched a fat bee as it squatted upon a fat apple on the tree opposite them, a good sized apple without blemishes. He would pick it later for the pie he intended to bake.

“It seems I’m not suitable -” Adam said suddenly, breaking the silence with the angry words, “I’m a Gentile. I thought that after what had happened between us that such a thing would have been a small irrelevancy, but no, I was wrong. He said that it was against the Torah for Rebecca to continue with her friendship with me. He didn’t want her to develop ‘feelings’.” and this last word was accompanied with a ‘humph’ of derision.

“Mr Kaufman is of the Jewish faith. It is not for them a religion but their life. It would be his wish to keep his daughter safe for another man of their culture.”

“I understand that, but -” a deep sigh of exasperation, and Adam bit his bottom lip.

“You loved this girl?”

“No. Not yet. I – I found her very appealing though,” now Adam grinned, and his eyes twinkled.

Hop Sing nodded, how like his father this young man was, he thought, so intense in his feelings, so quick to give away his heart. Not unlike Joe though, he frowned slightly, neither Joe nor Adam would like to think there was such a similarity between them, but Hop Sing knew that there were many things about which the two brothers were very alike.

“It is a good thing you had not yet fallen in love with young missy. Her father knew the right time to send her home -” he nodded, and looked at Adam who regarded him thoughtfully.

“But surely if two people were growing to feel affection, love, for one another, religion shouldn’t be used as a barrier to separate them?”

“It was not just religion; it was their way, their culture.” Hop Sing reiterated like a tutor repeating a lesson to a slightly ignorant child.

“I had no objections to their religion, nor their way of life, Hop Sing, I would have quite liked knowing more about it, in fact. Aaron didn’t seem to want to understand that though.”

“No. It is because he knows you would never be a Jew. His child – he wanted to protect from feelings that would lose her to him forever.”

Adam sighed and shook his head before he looked down at the book and remembered Aaron’s face, the sad eyes that seemed to carry generations of misery within their deep wells, the thin straggly beard, the slightly trembling hands.

Hop Sing wondered if now was the time for him to leave the young man to his private thoughts. He was about to move when Adam asked him if he had ever been in love.

“Have you ever been in love, Hop Sing?”

Hop Sing could hear her voice asking that same question, and the hazel green eyes looking into his face as they stood together under the apple trees. There were no apples yet, but the blossom covered the boughs like snow. There were fragrant flowers touching her hair and the smell of them was intoxicating.

She had not been embarrassed to ask him, they were friends after all. Marie Cartwright and Hop Sing had an affinity with each other that redefined relationships. He had looked at her and nodded,

“Yes.” he had said, and that had been sufficient.

Once again he looked into Adam’s dark eyes, and once again he said “Yes.” but this time the answer was insufficient, and after a momentary pause he turned away and told Adam about the girl he had loved.

“We were young, and very much in love. Every day we would walk together through the gardens and the village. We talked of our future, of being married, having our own children. It was good to talk of these things.” he frowned in concentration as he tried to form a picture of her in his mind, he didn’t like to admit it to anyone but over the years it had become increasingly difficult to remember what she looked like, memories of her were fading.

Adam said nothing, but looked down at the ground thoughtfully, realising how little he really knew about this man who had shared their lives for so many years, and whom, in all honesty, they all took rather for granted in all that he did for them. He was about to speak when Hop Sing resumed his narrative.

“She was a small person. Not tall. When we walked together she reached here” he touched his shoulder and nodded, “She smell always of jasmine.” he crinkled his brow, “Perhaps not always, perhaps that is what I think now -” he paused, then smiled slightly, “One day we sit by stream, watch fish swim, she sing song about fish. She sing velly velly good.”

Another pause, it seemed to him that the days had always been warm with the sun making the colours shimmer and shine. He could never remember a day when he was with her that the sun did not shine.

“But one day I go to find her, she is gone.”

“Gone?” Adam repeated, his eyebrows rose in surprise, “How do you mean – gone?”

“It is what you Amelicans say is class status. I learn this from Miss Jones. She teach many things to Hop Sing who is not always understanding Amelican way.”

“Forget Miss Jones for the moment, Hop Sing. Where had your girl gone?”

“In China we too have class status. There is Mandarin, and there is Cantonese. Mandarin wealthy person, very much knowledge, very political. Cantonese workers in field, cook, clean, ignorant fellow.”

“You mean she was a different class to you? That made a difference?”

“Big difference. Her father very angry with Hop Sing. Send men to beat me and order me away from village. He velly velly powerful political man.”

“And he could do this? I mean, he could drive you away from your village?”

“Yes. Happen all time in China.” Hop Sing nodded sighed and rose to his feet; there were apples to be collected and food to prepare. Time never stood still, there was always something to do.

“Did you never see her again?” Adam asked, getting to his feet as well and slipping the little book of poems into his pocket.

“Some while later I go back. I see her and we make plan to leave together. We love one another velly much.” his voice faltered a little, that was the day when the sun did not shine, he remembered soft rain falling upon his face as he gazed up into the face of his beloved Mai Ling.

“And -?”

“She did not come to place we arrange. I wait long time but she not come. Then I find out why, she is sent away to big city. I think I never see her again. Never.”

Adam pursed his lips. He put a hand on the other mans shoulder and squeezed it gently, sympathetically. It was almost a parallel of his own failed romance and touched him deeply, although he was honest enough to admit to himself that he had been spared the deeper pain, not having yet fallen in love with Rebecca. He was also honest enough to admit that Aaron Kaufman had been kind, sympathetic, and gentle as he extinguished the flame of love that could have existed in the younger man’s heart.

“So – did you ever see her again, Hop Sing?”

“Yes. I look for her in big city. It take Hop Sing long time but one day I stand in crowd as important people come by in big process – what do you say? – many peoples, horses, even soldiers?”

“A procession?”

“Yes. Then in a litter carried on shoulders of strong men I see her for just one moment. She and I – our eyes meet – and then she is gone.”

“Did she recognise you?”

“Perhaps not. But she was one I never forget, never. Now I know she is belong to other man, has child, no longer mine except in my heart.” his hand touched his breast gently, and he sighed.

Adam glanced away to look up at the sky through the latticework of apple laden boughs. Without looking back at Hop Sing he could only say

“It’s strange, isn’t it?” he said quietly, “How things work out at times.”

Hop Sing nodded. He turned away and without a word began to collect the apples for the pie he was preparing. Adam watched him as he shuffled along, and then, head bowed as he contemplated the conversation they had shared; he turned and left the garden. Hop Sing paused momentarily as he heard the little picket gate click shut.

As Adam made his way to the house his mind returned to his confrontation with Aaron. To his way of thinking there was no other way to describe it than that it was a confrontation between two men standing on different sides of an invisible line. A line that had been drawn thousands of years earlier. He felt once again the raw edge of the disappointment he had felt when being told that Rebecca had been sent away.

What was it Aaron had said to him? That the To’rah forbade marriages with Gentiles? And what had he said in reply? Well, he had stammered ’But love…” and that had been promptly dismissed

“Yi! Love! Yes, love interferes with rules, I know, I understand. But love for God and His Law is what dictates and directs our lives.” Aaron had then clamped his hand around Adam’s wrist and stared into the dark eyes, the thin beard had seemed wispier than ever as he spoke “I took a gun into my hand, Adam, and on Sabbath too. I broke the Law. Thou shall not kill. I killed two men. I shot them. I took lives.”

To that Adam had made no reply, there were certainly the words spinning around in his head, but he could not find the right ones to calm this emotionally wrought old man. His heart was turbulent with suppressed emotions too, he was intrigued by Rebecca and he had felt for her deeply. So it was not love, not yet, but it could have become the love of his life. Now he would never know.

He paused now on the porch of the house and turned to look at the mountains that formed a back drop for his home. He remembered again how Aaron had released the grip on his wrist,

“Adam, you must understand this, as Rebecca must also understand, that the ways by which we live in this new land with so many new opportunities must not change our ways. We are now like the old men of ancient times as they wandered from Egypt and were separated from the nations by the Law. Rebecca felt the beginning of love for you but in the early days of this love, it can be stifled, and without too much pain. You understand?”

“I’m trying too” Adam had replied

“This will not make much change in your life. You are young and a good man. You will soon forget my daughter.”

Adam could see the earnest look in the old man’s eyes even now, and he could hear his own voice replying

“You don’t know me very well, sir. I shall never forget your daughter.” he had stood there, wondering whether or not to leave the book, and then with a respectful nod of the head and a tip of his hat, he turned and had walked away.

He pursed his lips thoughtfully and wondered if he could have conducted himself in a better way. As he stood there he heard the picket gate creak and knew that Hop Sing had left the garden and his thoughts turned to the other man and the story of his lost love.

*****

Hop Sing stood by the window in his room and looked out to the mountain. Pine clad and snow capped it looked much as it had looked the first time he had seen it. He sighed and turned away. He had been here some years now, he had changed, the house had mellowed, but the mountain never changed.

Sometimes in early morning sunsets the mountain tops gleamed pink and red as they reflected the burning skies. At night, when the moon kissed the peaks they would glow against the purpling skies and the rugged edges would merge into the darkness softening the look of the natural barrier against weather and time.

At times when the sun was warm upon his back he would sit on a bench and watch the mountains as he plucked chickens or prepared vegetables. He would turn his dark eyes to the mountains and be drawn yet again to the magnetism of their appeal.

This morning he found no pleasure in looking at them. Since his conversation with Adam the previous day unbidden memories kept stealing into his mind. He found himself remembering the hills of his own home country, walking through the fields and the gardens of his village. Then as one memory broke down the wall between them and his life of today, another would steal forth. The one that hurt his heart and had given him troubled sleep during the night.

It was worrying. For so long he had managed to keep his memories safely locked up in his heart, but since talking to Adam about Mai Ling it had been as though someone had found a key that had unlocked that secret and set it free to torment him.

He closed the door of his room behind him and made his way to the kitchen, passing Ben as he did so. The rancher paused in what he was doing, frowned slightly, considered for a moment and then followed Hop Sing into the kitchen.

“You look worried, Hop Sing?” Ben said quietly, “Is anything wrong?”

“Nothing wrong. Nothing anyone can change. Nothing.” he paused and looked at the rancher. The big man. His friend. He sighed and paused to look at the domain that he had created for himself.

“Are you sure?” Ben asked, just behind him, making him jump.

He nodded slowly and concentrated on preparing things for the morning meal. There was so much to do, if he worked hard perhaps he could gather in all his memories and tuck them back into that secret place in his heart, and then lock them all away again.

“Hop Sing, if you need to talk, if there is anything I can do?” Ben’s voice faltered a little, it was so seldom that Hop Sing had ever presented him with any problem that he was caught unsure and uncertain as to what to do for the best, “Do you want to leave us, is that it?”

“No.” Hop Sing shook his head, and then he turned to look out of the window before looking back at Ben, “It is something that happened a long time ago. I was talking of her -”

“Her?”

“Mai Ling. I was talking about Mai Ling and now I cannot stop thinking about her.” he shook his head, “Many years – too many years -” he put his hand onto the skillet and regarded it as though looking into the face of his greatest enemy.

“Mai Ling? Do we know her?”

“No. You do not know her.” he shook his head and set the skillet down carefully. “I find that she is much in my thoughts now.” he sighed, “I think it was hard not to be able to say to her the things that were in my heart then.”

“You loved this girl?” the deep voice was gentle, sympathetic and for some reason Hop Sing found he did not want sympathy, it made the memories real again, too real. Ben placed a gentle hand upon his friend’s shoulder, “I am sorry, Hop Sing.”

It would have been easy to say, because of his own losses, ‘I know how you feel’ but the truth of it was that he did not know how Hop Sing felt. He understood the pain, the loss, the void that would never be filled. He could appreciate the fact that life went on, although differently, but he could not know how this friend of his felt, so he said nothing.

Hop Sing did not need superfluous words spoken; he understood the touch of the hand on his arm, the warmth in the deep voice. He knew and understood his friend. He would never be able to say that he knew how his friend felt with the loss of three loved ones, but he understood the courage of the man, the endurance and stoicism of his friend.

He sighed and nodded again. The mountains were always there, and he knew as years went on and he grew into an old man, should he still be there on the Ponderosa, he would turn his eyes to the mountains day and night, and perhaps, allow the unbidden memories to keep company with him once again.

***The End***

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