Word Count: 3600
Dark. Even though I can’t see the ship’s clock on my nightstand, I know what time it is from the sound of boot heels passing down the hall. That’ll be Hoss, and Joe won’t be far behind. I know my youngest brother is kinda hard to get up some mornings, but not when he knows he’s really needed. Pa’s sure to be already downstairs, which’ll make me last. I’ll hear about it at breakfast, guaranteed – I’m usually the first. Definitely time to get up. Gonna be hard, though. That last horse yesterday . . . had to get him broken, had to get the job done. Didn’t want Joe taking the ride – he could have handled him if he was fresh, but he’d taken too many rides already. Maybe I had, too.
Getting up – first step, shift onto my side. Ohhh. That hurt. Nothing broken, thank God, but I’m sure gonna feel that ride today.
Today. Cattle roundup. Oh, yeah, that’ll be fun.
Gotta grease that door – bet this is Joe coming in to wake me up. Wonder if he’ll bounce on the bed like he used to when he was a kid? I’m gonna wrap him around the bedpost if he does.
Oh, g’morning, Pa. Huh? Stay put? But the roundup—
I know what he’s doing. The lamp he’s carrying shows those little worry crinkles at the corner of his eyes all too well. He thinks that toss yesterday took a lot out of me. Well, maybe it did, but that doesn’t mean I can’t work a full day anyway.
Well, I’ll take care of those contracts for you then.
Hmm. Must’ve scared him more than I thought if he won’t even let me do paperwork. I was only out for a few minutes, but . . . he’s still got some of that look on his face, same as he had when I woke up lying in the middle of a pile of broken rails. Well, that’s Pa. Always afraid for his boys. Guess I can’t blame him, though, all things considered.
All right, all right. I’ll take the day off, even if it is the middle of the week.
Not even put my boots on? He’s really serious about not working. Bite your tongue, Adam Cartwright – you can always put them on after he leaves.
Pa, I’ll take it easy. I promise. I’m fine, y’know. Nothing a hot bath and a cup of Hop Sing’s tea won’t set right.
Got him. If he thinks Hop Sing is going to watch over me, he won’t spend the day worrying. Hop Sing and I have a deal, though. As long as I’m reasonable, he leaves me alone. And his idea of reasonable isn’t nearly as restrictive as Pa thinks.
Bed sure feels good. Warm, soft . . . guess I’ll go ahead and get comfortable . . . wait for them all to clear out . . . I’ll get up in just a minute . . . get started . . . on my day of rest . . . .
Coffee. I smell coffee.
Maybe Pa knew what he was talking about – I can barely move. Only thing to do – get up and get going. Sore muscles don’t get better lying around. Try sitting up first. Yeah, that works. C’mon, up on your feet.
Let’s see. What’s the damage? Purple over the ribs – okay. No bones shifting around. At least where they shouldn’t. Gonna have some interesting colors there in a couple of days. Well, taking out a piece of the corral with your ribcage isn’t exactly an approved engineering method.
That scrape on my forehead isn’t going to look too good in a day or two, either. At least I didn’t end up with a black eye. For some reason, those seem to take forever to heal up, and there’s a dance Saturday night. Leg doesn’t look too bad. Must’ve twisted my knee somehow, though. Bending’s a b—
There it is! Hop Sing must have been here – love his coffee on a morning like this. Hoss says it’ll get a steer moving that’s been dead for three days, but it’s just what I need. My robe’s laid out, too – hey, it’s even warmed. Oh, that feels good. I wonder if there’s enough hot water on for a bath. Think I’ll just take my shaving cup down with me.
These stairs – I was so pleased when they went together according to my design – they make me feel like an old man today. I must have scampered up and down them fifteen times after we drove the last nail. I’ll save that kind of behavior for another day.
I’d rather have a bath first, Hop Sing. Oh, not ready yet? All right, I’ll have some breakfast then. Nothing too heavy—
No bath. So Pa didn’t tell him, he didn’t guess, or he thinks I should eat first. Well, if I eat first, I can soak as long as I like. Just as long as he isn’t making fried potatoes or something. Don’t think my stomach’s up for that.
Read my mind again. I don’t know how he does it – or maybe he just pays attention. He’s known me since I was eleven, after all.
Kind of nice to sit at the table in my robe. Pa would have a fit . . . well, maybe not today. I’m under strict orders to relax and take it easy. If having all morning to enjoy Hop Sing’s eggs, biscuits with strawberry jam, my very own pile of crispy bacon and pot of fresh coffee doesn’t qualify as relaxing, I don’t know what could. Pa was right; I’m stiffer than a four-inch board of mahogany this morning.
Finally got caught up on the newspapers. D’you suppose Dan meant to put the advertisement for the hair tonic right next to the one for the barbershop? Wouldn’t surprise me. I think Sam Clemens had something of a bad effect on Dan’s sense of humor.
Gould & Curry’s still going well; so’s the Kentuck. Wonder how my little mine on the Feather is doing? I really ought to go check on it one of these days soon. John’s a good engineer – good manager and partner, too – but I have to remind him every now and again about taking care of the land. His intentions are good, but he gets wrapped around a problem and doesn’t always notice the effect his solutions have. We do too much digging in the wrong place, and the whole thing’ll wash down the river, let alone that the trees’ll never be able to grow back if we lose the topsoil. Saw too much of that when I spent that autumn out there in ’50.
Let’s see . . .we’ve already checked the line shacks, got to get past roundup, then mark that new timber stand up by Johnson’s Lake and make sure the books are up to date . . . I’ll be about due for a trip to San Francisco, so I could go out the Placerville route and stop at the mine on the way. It’s always amused me when Pa calls it “Adam’s little investment,” but he doesn’t know how well it’s been doing. I’ve got a nice bit of a nest egg tucked away at Franklin & Crisp’s Bank in San Francisco. I’ll check on the balance when I get to the city. When it comes time for me to leave the Ponderosa for a while, I won’t have to draw on ranch funds for my travels. Leave my portion for Pa to work with. Soonest I could go, based on what we’ve got planned for the ranch, would be autumn next year – I figure my balance compounded over the next sixteen months would be—
Head’s starting to hurt. Guess I’d better leave the figuring for tomorrow.
Well, I’ve got that book Robert sent from Boston – pretty basic stuff, but it’s the second edition with corrections, he said. He’s a good friend, watching out for things he knows I’ll be interested in. I’m sure he just picks up a second copy of what he buys for himself, so I know it’s no trouble, but I wonder if he realizes how much it means to me? Wish I could think of something to do for him. Maybe he’d like to take a trip west sometime . . . well, I’d better replenish my account with Tinker’s Bookshop so at least he doesn’t have to actually pay for them. Now where did I leave that book? – upstairs, I suppose.
Oh, thanks, Hop Sing. Nice of you to bring it down for me. Yeah, another cup of coffee would be fine, but I can get – all right, I’ll stay put.
Him, too, huh? Sounds like a conspiracy to me.
Beautiful volume – nicely decorated cover. I remember when Robert sent the first edition to me well over ten years ago, and now I have the newest:
Industrial Drawing: Comprising the Description and Uses of Drawing Instruments, the Construction of Plane Figures, the Projections and Sections of Geometrical Solids, Architectural Elements, Mechanism, and Topographical Drawing; With Remarks on the Method of Teaching the Subject. For the Use of Academies and Common Schools, by D.H. Mahan, LL.D., Professor of Civil Engineering in the United States’ Military Academy.
Now isn’t that a title to roll off your tongue! There goes Hop Sing, shaking his head at me again. Same look on his face as when I was a kid and pestered anyone I could get my hands on to explain things.
Dennis Hart Mahan – I remember attending one of his lectures on that trip to New York City with Robert. Interesting to visit the Military Academy, but it was Professor Mahan that I couldn’t stop thinking about. Brilliant man. Knows how to take something complicated and make it plain enough that even an untutored young man from the West can understand it. Sure wish I’d had that book when I was doing the plans for this house. The builder Pa found in Sacramento did a good job turning my drawings into something to work from, and he did his best to answer my questions, but I just didn’t have the mathematical tools . . .
So, one hundred fifty-six pages, including fold-out plans and diagrams. Wonder what changes he made – there’ve been a couple things that I could never quite make work out, so maybe that was it. And maybe I can use a couple of these ideas to make the plans for the new mill a little clearer to the boys.
Just set the cup on the table, Hop Sing. Thanks . . .
Mr. Adam, Mr. Adam, he calls me. Always has. Something about being the oldest son, he said once when I asked him.
Oh . . . sure got stiff working here at the round table all this time. Lost any benefit from that hot bath by working on those drawings all morning. Hard to bend over with my ribs aching, but the light’s better over here and the table’s big enough. Not like Pa’s desk. That’s all right for doing the accounts, but the one time I tried spreading out there, Pa just barely rescued our mothers’ pictures from disaster. Wasn’t long after that he got this table. He knew me pretty well – I couldn’t stop drawing plans for things. Still can’t. Like Hoss and his animals, I guess. Or Joe and girls. Some things are just a force of nature.
All right, I’ll creak my way over to the table. Wouldn’t be so bad if my ribs didn’t hurt so much. Maybe I did crack one or two – breathing hurts too much for just a bruise.
I’m coming, Hop Sing!
Good thing that chair was handy. Didn’t you just tell yourself that it hurts to breathe deep?
Why do we always yell? Why does he always ask that? Don’t know what he expects in a house full of men.
Yeah, Mr. Adam’s coming, slow as an old turtle.
What, lunch already? All this? Who are we expecting – Hoss?
Oh. Figures. Pa won’t come himself; that’d be too much like hovering, and he knows I hate that. Joe would just tell him I’m fine – he doesn’t like being under Pa’s watchful eye any more than I do – but Hoss’ll give him a fair report. Sure wish he’d sent Joe. I’ll just settle myself in my chair here at the table before he comes in, and maybe he’ll leave before I have to get up.
I’m fine, Hoss. Leave my head alone – Ouch! Well, it didn’t hurt till you poked at it. Hey, I’ve been trying to figure out if Hop Sing has been baking an apple pie or that mixed mince pie he made at Christmas. What do you think?
I knew that’d get him.
I might have made it through lunch, but I guess I didn’t fool my brother much. He told me he wouldn’t leave until I was flat on my back, and I believed him. Most of the time I can get Hoss to do what I want by just explaining things, but he has this one particular look he gets and then you know you may as well just give up. I finally managed to convince him that stretching out on the settee would do as well as my bed – after all, Hop Sing had already been upstairs for his daily straightening – and he allowed as how that might be all right. I got him to fetch a pillow, too. Make it easier to get up. Then, of course, he had to go get the Indian blanket in case I got cold. I have to admit, it sure feels good to lie down. Funny how easy it is to accept help from Hoss, but it about drives me crazy to take it from anyone else.
Put the blanket over the back of the settee. I’ll pull it down if I need it.
I can take only so much fussing, even from Hoss.
Leave my boots alone! I just got ‘em back from Hop Sing.
He takes my boots off, and I’ll never get ‘em back on again. And why Hop Sing chose today to polish all three pairs— Bet Pa put him up to it. He knew I wouldn’t go outside in house slippers, not if I had any choice at all.
Would you please sit down and tell me how the roundup’s going!
I know what he’s doing. He’s settled himself in Pa’s chair with a fresh cup of coffee, telling me everything that’s going on like I asked, but his voice is getting that steady monotone . . . that soft, gentle way of talking he has . . . puts me right to . . . .
So here I am, relaxing. I’ve had a two-hour nap (woke up covered by the blanket), another hot soak, and now I’m in my oldest, softest jeans, favorite boots – right, Pa, my boots! – my thick red shirt and the black vest for just an extra bit of warmth. It’s kinda cool out here when you aren’t working.
Sitting on my favorite bench on the back porch, a different book next to me that I’ve been itching to read again – this one won’t set up that pounding headache – fresh coffee on the little table to my right. The pines are rustling, the birds are singing, there are little rabbits running through the grass—
Huh. How can a man relax when he knows his father and brothers are out on the range, short-handed, branding wild stock? At least the horses are done. Fred Peterson only wanted ‘em rough broke so he could get them cheaper. A mistake, by my thinking. Well, we’ll make some money on the deal, and though I’d never admit it to my little brother, I’m just as glad we’re finished with that particular batch.
This one’s a good looking book, too, with the gold arches on the cover and gold letters on the spine: “The Seven Lamps of Architecture.” Fits well in the hand. Nice illustrations – good quality plates.
I like this chapter – The Lamp of Memory:
“I would have, then, our ordinary dwelling-houses built to last, and built to be lovely; as rich and full of pleasantness as may be within and without . . . with such differences as might suit and express each man’s character and occupation, and partly his history.”
Somehow, reading it out loud, it makes more sense.
Damn, that boy’s quiet!
What are you doing home? Checking up on me, too?
Well, at least he has the grace to look embarrassed. I know how it is – Pa’s played the same thing on me. Send someone home for supplies, but expect a report back on the one he’s worried about.
Tell him I’m fine, Joe. Just sitting out here reading a book.
He wants me to read that passage again? Joe wants to know what an engineering book says? Maybe I hit my head harder than I thought yesterday. Or Joe thinks I look pretty bad and wants to make sure I’m okay. He’s a good kid – with a great heart.
Well, what a surprise. A pleasant surprise, too. I always figured the boy could think. Guess you just have to find the right hook. He even wanted to memorize that passage. Home is important to him, so I guess I can see why those words touched something inside. Guess they touch something inside me, too. I hope that’s what I was able to do when I designed our house. I hope that passage means something to him because maybe I did it right.
I’m tired, but exhilarated. Yeah, Joe has that effect. Can always make me smile.
Breeze feels good. Had one of those quick mountain showers at lunchtime that clear up quick, so it’s even fresher than usual. I can smell the good, wet earth, fill my lungs with the clean, clear air of the mountains – Ouch! Adam Cartwright, when are you going to learn? Small breaths, remember?
Much as I miss Boston sometimes, I never miss the noxious air. Oh, it’s all right when the sea breeze picks up, cleans the grit from the factory smokestacks that seems to coat every surface and crawls into your lungs. As much as I love the city, all the different buildings, the music, the literary groups . . . there’s nothing can compare with the way this land feels, the way it gets inside you.
It’s been hard holding it. Days like today are part of the price. Used to be I wouldn’t have had the luxury of staying behind – I’d have been out there with Pa rounding up strays, tossing calves, bringing in more wood to keep the branding fire hot.
I still hate that chore. I was so proud the first time Pa let me help with the roundup, but when I got there, found he wanted me to keep the fire stoked. I can laugh about it now, but I sure was steamed, like only a twelve-year-old boy who thinks he’s a man can get. I thought I was gonna be a cowboy like the other men, and Pa nearly had to blister my backside to keep me at the chore, where it was safe.
He hasn’t given up on it, either. Guess it’s part of being a father. Something I know a bit about, now, especially after the past few years helping with Joe. He’s not a little boy, not really even a young man any more. Just a man. Well, no “just” about it. He’s a fine man. If I had something to do with that, then it’s something to be proud of – even if I never do have boys of my own.
Nice here on the front porch as the sun drops. Too cool out back, now. The building shelters you from the breeze when it blows down from the mountains, so there’s just the warm sun.
There he is, home early. Clamp down on that smile, he won’t appreciate it. And here comes Hop Sing with a pot of coffee and a couple of the red china cups. Smart man . . .
Care to join me?
Of course he does. He’s a father who’s spent the day wondering if his boy is all right. Doesn’t matter I’ve told both Hoss and Joe, and that Hop Sing would have sent someone if there’d been any problems at all. I just don’t understand, though, why this time is so different from all the other falls – even worse ones – that I’ve taken.
It’s not your body that needed healing today, son. You’ve been at it so hard; you’re losing the why of the work. You needed a day to just sit and remember why we work, and to appreciate the good things that come from it.
Another passage of John Ruskin’s comes to mind, also from the Lamp of Memory:
“Therefore when we build, let us think that we build forever. Let us not be for present delight, nor for present use alone, let it be for such work as our descendants will thank us for . . .”
He raises an eyebrow at me, but waits patiently because he knows me and knows there’s more.
“. . . and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, ‘See! this our fathers did for us.’”
Pa smiles – the worry lines gone.
Tomorrow I’ll be back on the range.