Summary: This light-hearted tale was inspired by a discussion between Bonanza fans on the origins of the Cartwright name and speculation on the possibility of a Cartwright family crest!
Word Count: 4000
As the noon stage rolled into Virginia City, Roy Coffee, the town sheriff, wandered down to the stage depot. Roy preferred to stop trouble before it got started and to that end he liked to keep an eye on who was coming and going. A young couple alighted and quickly disappeared from view. Then two men climbed out of the stage. The first was tall, middle-aged with greying hair and a distinguished air about him. His eastern mode of dress was impeccable; a well-cut suit, an embroidered waistcoat and a silk cravat at his throat, the whole ensemble being topped with a derby hat. His companion was also well dressed in eastern style. He was a smaller man, a few years younger and had dark hair and a sallow complexion. From the way the tall man was giving orders, Roy assumed that the smaller man was in the employ of the other. Roy wondered what sort of business these two might have in Virginia City, but all sorts passed through and he didn’t waste too much time on his speculation. None of the passengers looked as though they would be robbing the bank or causing trouble, so Roy turned his attention to lunch.
The two men made their way to the International House where they acquired a suite of rooms. Half an hour later the two entered the hotel bar. The distinguished man approached Bill the bartender. “Excuse me my man, a word with you if you don’t mind.” His accent was English and distinctly upper class.
“Yes sir, what can I get for you.”
“Would this establishment serve good Scotch whisky?”
“Yes sir.” The bartender put two glasses on the bar and reaching underneath the bar he brought out a bottle of genuine Scotch whisky. It wasn’t the whisky he usually served, but he always had a bottle on hand.
The two men savoured their drinks. “Ahh, nectar from the gods,” commented the older man. He eyed the bartender and put some coins on the counter. “Young man, my name is Bertram Carrington and this is my assistant Percival Owens. I am looking for someone here, unfortunately I don’t know the man’s name.”
Bill eyed the coins. “Perhaps I can help you there Mr. Carrington. What’s this fella’ like.”
“I sincerely hope that you can sir. He’s the wealthiest man around here. Now who exactly would that be?”
Bill thought for a moment. “Well there’s a couple of the mine owners, they’re plenty rich, Hanson and Brecht would be the biggest I guess.”
“No, the man I am looking for would have an English name you know.”
“Oh, you must mean Ben Cartwight, he doesn’t live in town though, owns the biggest ranch in these parts, the Ponderosa.”
“Is that so. I am sure that he is the very gentleman I am seeking. Tell me, my good man, where could I find this Benjamin Cartwright?”
“I noticed a couple of his sons eating in the restaurant. They’ll show you the way.”
“Would you be so kind as to point them out?”
Bill came from behind the bar and walked to the restaurant door. “Those two over by the window, the big man and the younger curly haired fella with him.”
“Thank you. Come on Owens.” With that Carrington made his way over to the table and as he passed he nudged the big man’s arm as though by accident, causing him to spill his coffee. “Sir, I apologise. Forgive my clumsiness.” Carrington made a half bow and picked up a napkin and began to dab at the spilled coffee. “Owens, find a waiter to get this gentleman some fresh coffee,” he said still fussing with the napkin.
“Oh that’s okay mister, no harm done.”
“Thank you, sir, for being so gracious.” Carrington started to move on then hesitated and returned to the table. “I wonder if I might speak with you gentlemen for a moment?”
“Sure mister, what can we do for ya ”
“Thank you. I was wondering; I am looking for a man, perhaps you know him?. His name is Benjamin Cartwright, I believe he is a rancher around here.”
The big man looked across at the younger man. “What might ya be wanting him for mister?”
“Well, I have some news that might be of interest to him. I really do need to speak to him.”
“Well, you found him, at least his sons. I’m Hoss Cartwright and this here is my brother Little Joe,” said Hoss by way of introduction.
“My goodness, this is a stroke of good luck.” The men stood and shook hands and then all three sat down at the table.
“Is your father in town by any chance,” the stranger inquired.
“Nope, he’s back at the ranch, anything we can help ya with?” asked Joe.
Carrington looked carefully at the two young men and then lowered his voice to a low conspiratorial tone. Joe and Hoss had to lean forward to catch what he was saying.
“Well, perhaps you could let your father know that I am here. Do you think I could come out to your home to see him tomorrow?”
Hoss looked at Joe and then whispered: “I reckon so.”
Joe glanced at his brother and then at Carrington and then in a normal voice asked, “What the heck are you whispering for?”
“Sshh.” Mr. Carrington looked around and then added, “This is very private business Mr. Cartwright. I am here at the behest of her Royal Majesty Queen Victoria.”
“Queen Victoria….you mean the Queen of England?” exclaimed Hoss loudly, his eyes growing wide.
Joe gave Hoss an equally wide-eyed look. “Mr. Carrington,” he whispered loudly, “I think you must have the wrong Benjamin Cartwright. My Pa doesn’t know the Queen of England.”
“How do you know Joe, Pa might have met her one time when he sailed to England.”
“Oh come on Hoss. Do you think that if Pa had met Queen Victoria that he wouldn’t have said something about it?”
“Gentlemen, please. Keep your voices down. I didn’t say that he had met Her Majesty. I am trying to trace the last male member of the Cartwright family who emigrated from England in the last century. There is a title and lands that belong to the heirs of that estate. I thought that if I showed the coat of arms to your father he might just recognise it.”
“Title?” said Joe with growing interest.
“Lands?” repeated Hoss who was already convinced that his father must be the heir. “Really!”
“Look Mr. Carrington,” said Joe wanting to get this straight, “are you saying that my Pa is heir to a title like lord or something and has land in England?”
Carrington nodded. “May be Mr. Cartwright. I have traced the family this far, but of course I need to confirm and verify everything. That’s why it is imperative that I speak with your father. I need to show him the coat of arms to see if he recognises it.”
Little Joe leaned back in his chair and smiled. “Hoss! You know what this means don’t ya! Royalty, that’s what.”
“Royalty! Yeah, royalty, that’s right.”
“Well not exactly gentlemen.”
Joe sat forward. “What d’ya mean? You just said so.”
“No, I didn’t, not royalty. Nobility, noblemen!”
“Yeah, that’s right Joe, nobility. Don’t ya know othing’ about lords and such. Hey Mr. Carrington, what’s this coat of arms that ya want Pa to look at?”
“Mr. Cartwright, a coat of arms is something that the knights wore on the field of battle. As you know when knights fought they wore suits of armour.” The two Cartwright brothers nodded sagely. “Now because the helmet covered their faces completely it was impossible for the knights to be recognised, and so they carried shields decorated in such a way, with symbolic figures, so that they could be recognised. In later years this family insignia was embroidered on to the surcoat which was worn over the coat of mail, and so it became called a coat of arms. The family coat of arms of each knight is different and I have a copy of the Cartwright coat of arms for your father to look at.”
“Well, we could get Pa to come into town tomorrow,” suggested Joe, now as enthusiastic as Hoss.
“It might be more discreet if Owens and I were to visit your home don’t you think?”
“Yeah, it would at that,” agreed Hoss. “Tell ya what, I’ll come pick you up at nine o’clock tomorrow morning, how’s that sound?”
“Excellent, I will have everything ready. Now if you gentlemen would excuse me.”
“Sure thing Mr. Carrington, see ya tomorrow.”
The two Cartwright boys sat back down trying to digest the news. “Ain’t that othingg’ Joe. You ever known anyone as polite as he was? Dadburnit, our Pa a lord!”
Joe sat looking dreamy for a while. “Hey Hoss, do you think that would make us lords too? I mean we are his sons after all.”
“Nah, I don’t think so Joe, not lords exactly. Probably more like earls or knights, yeah that’s it knights, like he said.
Little Joe leaned forward and spoke quietly. “Hoss, you think this is real. I mean he wouldn’t just be making all this up would he?”
“Now Joe, why would he do that? You can tell by the way he talks and his clothes an’ all, that he’s a real English gentleman, might even be nobility himself. After all didn’t he say the Queen of England herself had sent him?”
“Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about the Queen. Come on lets get home. Pa sure is gonna’ be surprised when we tell him this.
The front door flew open and Joe and Hoss burst noisily into the house. “Pa, hey Pa, you home?” shouted Hoss.
“No he’s not,” came Adam’s voice from the study area. “What’s the matter with you two?”
Joe and Hoss walked round to the study where Adam was working on the accounts. Joe sat down in the chair in front of the desk and put his feet up on the edge of the polished wood. Hoss seated himself down next to him. Adam eyed his two younger brothers. They were up to something. He knew these two of old, they had the look. With a quizzical expression on his face Adam weighed up his two brothers and then asked, “Well, what is it? You both look like the cat that got the cream.”
“What do ya think Hoss? Should we tell older brother here?”
“I don’t know Joe. Ya know how he gets. We don’t want him lording it over us do we!” said Hoss grinning at Adam. Joe began to giggle. “Adam, you are just not going to believe what we found out to day. Boy, wait till we tell Pa.”
Adam was still looking with suspicion at his siblings. He leaned back in the chair and put his feet up on the desk. “Okay you two, come on, out with it.”
Hoss couldn’t contain himself any longer. “Adam, it looks like Pa is a….” he paused and looked at Joe.
“Pa’s a what?” asked Adam causally. He was by now really curious about his brothers’ behaviour but wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of knowing so.”
“A lord,” finished Hoss.
Adam stared at his brothers.
“Don’t you hear Adam, Pa’s a lord,” said Joe putting his feet back on the floor and leaning forward, grinning at his brother.
Adam smiled slowly at first, then grinned and shook his head. “Well it’s finally happened. You two have finally flipped. I suppose it was only a matter of time.”
“Oh no, it’s true Adam. There’s a Mr. Bertram Carrington in town. He’s come from England looking for Pa. What was that word he used Joe, when he said that bit about coming from Queen Victoria?”
“Queen Victoria!” Adam laughed, he could hardly believe what he was hearing.
“Let me see, what was it. I got it. Behest, that was it. At the behest of Queen Victoria, whatever that means.”
“Yeah that’s it Joe. At Queen Victoria’s behest!”
“At the command of, is what it means. You don’t honestly believe that Queen Victoria would order this man to come all the way to Nevada to find Pa do you?”
“That’s what he said Adam. Pa’s the long lost heir to a title and lands. And he’s got a coat of arms too, just like the knights used to wear in battle,” said Little Joe with a nod, trying to impress Adam with his newly acquired knowledge.
Adam just shook his head in disbelief.
“Aw, leave him be Joe. He’s just sour ’cos he ain’t the one who found out that we’re members of the nobility.”
Adam got up from his seat and walked across to the living room closely followed by his brothers who sat next to each other on the settee. Adam walked to the fireplace, folded his arms across his chest and turned to face his brothers, giving them a sceptical look. “You two have got to be the most gullible fools that ever lived. It’s a scam; he’s after something. More than likely your money, or Pa’s.”
“Aw, come on Adam, he hasn’t asked for any money, he’s just othingg’ orders from the Queen.” Hoss was quite indignant.
“He’ll eat his words Hoss, when we all turn out to be lords or knights or something,” confided Joe with a smug look at Adam.
Adam tried unsuccessfully to suppress a grin. “Knights! I suppose you will be Sir Joseph.” Joe nodded proudly. Adam turned to Hoss, “and you’ll be Sir Hoss I suppose?” Joe started to laugh, the name sounded so ridiculous.
“No,” said Hoss giving Joe an annoyed glance. “I’ll be Sir Eric of course,” he said attempting to look regal.
“Mmm, well let me tell you younger brothers. If all this were true, and I don’t believe it for one minute, then neither of you would be knights or lords.”
“Oh and why not,” demanded Joe.
“Because little brother, only the first born son inherits, its his birthright. Everything goes to the oldest; title, lands, money,” he said with glee, “coat of arms,” he added with emphasis. So you see if Pa is a lord then I, as first born, would be Sir Adam, and I would inherit everything.” This last was spoken in his finest Shakespearean voice and was finished with a courtly flourish of his imaginary hat. Adam’s eyes were dancing with amusement as he watched his crestfallen brothers.
“Joe, you think he’s right,” whispered Hoss.
Joe scowled and looked across at Adam who had seated himself in the blue chair. “Yeah, probably. He does have that awful habit of being right doesn’t he.” Little Joe was feeling very deflated.
They were silent for a while. “Don’t younger brothers get nothin’ Adam?” Hoss couldn’t believe how unfair this system was.
“Well, the youngest brother usually goes into the church, or becomes a monk,” teased Adam, thoroughly enjoying himself.
“What!” Little Joe looked horrified. “A monk!”
“Mmm. Of course, you would have to take vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty.” Adam was very good at maintaining a straight poker face, but his dimples betrayed his amusement as Joe assimilated this latest piece of information.
While waiting for Ben Cartwright to return home for supper, Adam went back to finish his work on the accounts. Joe and Hoss munched apples and dreamed of life as gallant knights rescuing beautiful damsels in distress. They had decided to disregard Adam’s input about the fate of younger brothers. Eventually, they heard their father’s footsteps approaching and by the time Ben opened the door his three sons were waiting to meet him.
“Hi Pa, how ya doin’ ” greeted Hoss.
“Hi Pa, added Joe.”
“Hello boys. I’m fine thanks. Glad to get out of the saddle though I must say.” Ben took off his gunbelt and put it on the dresser by the door. “Hello Adam, you had a good afternoon?”
“Hello Pa, yes I’ve actually had a very entertaining afternoon.”
“Really!” said Ben wondering how even Adam could find the account books remotely entertaining. He walked across to his chair by the fire and wearily sat down. Adam was waiting with anticipation for his brothers to give their Pa the good news.
After nudging each other a number of times, Hoss finally began. “Pa, you know anything about your ancestors in England?”
Ben gave his son a puzzled look. “No, I don’t Hoss. To be honest I’ve never really given it much thought.” When Ben looked across at Adam for an explanation, Adam merely winked at him, and looked as inscrutable as ever. Looking back at Hoss, Ben waited for his son to speak some more. He could see that Little Joe was nodding at Hoss, obviously as an encouragement to proceed. “Well Pa, we think you might be a lord,” he finished rather weakly, realising how improbable this suggestion sounded.
“Yeah Pa, in fact it’s almost a certainty,” added Joe with more enthusiasm.
Ben stared at his two youngest then across at Adam, who was once more seated in his favourite chair, an enigmatic smile playing on his lips, his eyes bright and sparkling as he watched his brothers struggling to tell their father their news without sounding absurd.
“A lord!” repeated Ben incredulously.
Joe and Hoss beamed at him and proceeded to relate their meeting with Bertram Carrington. To begin with Ben found the whole thing amusing until he realised that these two sons of his believed it all.
“Now boys, you don’t really believe this fanciful notion do you. Queen Victoria! Oh really. Come on now, you’re intelligent young men for goodness sake.”
“But Pa,” Joe protested, “it is possible isn’t it. You can’t just dismiss it.”
“Joseph, he’s after something, I’m sure of it. I have to agree with Adam, who obviously doesn’t believe this fairytale either.”
“Why Pa, what can he be after, what difference can it make to him?”
“Joe, I told you he’s after money,” insisted Adam.
“Won’t you even see him Pa?”
“Alright Joe, I’ll see him. Hoss you go and get him tomorrow and we’ll sort this out, okay?”
“Good, now if it’s alright with your lordships I would like my supper.”
When Hoss arrived back at the ranch the next day with Bertram Carrington and Percival Owens, Joe was waiting anxiously. His father was still doubtful and Adam was openly derisive. Joe opened the door and ushered the men into the living room.
“Mr. Carrington, Mr. Owens, this is my father Mr. Ben Cartwright, and my older brother Adam. As the men shook hands, Mr. Carrington spoke. “Mr. Cartwright, I am honoured to meet you sir. Thank you for taking the time to see me, I am sure that you will find it to your advantage.”
Ben raised a sceptical eyebrow. “Well gentlemen, why don’t we sit down. I have a busy day, so if you could get to the point I would appreciate it.”
“Quite so, sir, quite so. I assume your sons have mentioned the reason for my visit. Owens, the coat of arms please.” Owens placed a leather satchel on the coffee table and drew from it a sheet of parchment paper on which was printed a very impressive coat of arms. The shield was made up of a lion, wheat-sheaves, and geometric designs. There was a large lion standing to the right and a horse standing to the left. On top of the shield was a knight’s helmet with scrolls of leaves in red and brown. Underneath the shield was a motto written in Latin. The paper was headed “The Cartwright Family Coat of Arms”. Mr. Carrington took the paper from his assistant and presented it to Ben with a flourish. “Mr. Cartwright, this is the unique coat of arms of the Cartwright family, and I have every reason to believe that you are the male heir of this most noble family. Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, has commanded me to search the four corners of the earth to find lost members of the nobility and to restore to them their rightful titles and estates.” Hoss and Joe looked eagerly at their father, while Adam rolled his eyes.
“Really!” said Ben.
“Oh yes sir, Her Majesty is most eager that the aristocracy should take their rightful place. All that is necessary is for us to prove that you are indeed the heir, and the title and lands will be yours.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Carrington, where exactly is this land that my father will inherit?” questioned Adam.
“Why in England of course,” Carrington replied in patronising tone.
“Yes, but where in England,” persisted Adam.
“Lancashire. Do you know it? A wonderful county.”
“Now Mr. Carrington, don’t you mind Adam, he’s just naturally suspicious,” apologised Hoss.
“Mr. Carrington, just exactly how do ‘we’ go about proving that I am the rightful heir,” queried Ben.
“Well, it will take some work I have to say, and naturally some funding, but I assure you it will all be worth your while,” answered Carrington with a business like air.
“Here it comes,” said Adam.
“Funding? What kind of funding Mr. Carrington?” asked Ben.
“Well we will need to check the records of course, and double check all the information that we already have. We may have to go to court just to make sure that everything is legal. I am sure that two thousand dollars would cover it to begin with.”
“Two thousand dollars!! Mr. Carrington, you may have hoodwinked my two sons here, but I assure you that I am not handing over two thousand dollars to verify some bogus claim to non-existent titles and land.”
Mr. Carrington was outraged. “Mr. Cartwright, if her Majesty were to hear…”
“If her Majesty were to hear of the fraud that you are carrying out in her name, I am sure that she would order you to be locked in the tower sir,” said Ben furiously.
Joe and Hoss were aghast at the turn of events, their dreams of peerage dissolving with their father’s words.
Carrington stood and with all the dignity he could muster, he wished them all a good day. As he walked past the coffee table, he knocked the satchel on to the floor, a sheath of papers spilling out. All pictured ‘unique’ coats of arms, waiting for the family name to be inscribed in Old English script at the top of the page. Owens hastily gathered up the papers and pushed them back into the satchel.
“Carrington I suggest that you move on quickly or I will be informing the sheriff of your shady dealings,” threatened Ben as the two men left the house. “Hoss, get someone to drive them back to town. I would prefer it not to be you.”
“Yes sir,” said Hoss sheepishly, and followed the two rogues outside.
Little Joe, left alone to face Ben and Adam, felt very foolish. “Sorry Pa. He really sounded so genuine. I guess we got well and truly taken in. I really thought that we were noblemen.”
“I hate to say it little brother, but I told you so,” said Adam good-naturedly.
“Oh come on son, don’t look so downcast. Besides, you are noble men, all three of you, and we have our very own kingdom here on the Ponderosa.”
Joe grinned at his father, thankful he wasn’t mad at him.
“You get a share of the inheritance too little brother,” said Adam playfully slapping his brother on the back, “and a share of the work. Come on Sir Joseph, there’s plenty to do, let’s go.”