Betwixt and Between (by Sandy W)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  13,700


Adam was absolutely scared out of his wits, in addition to being drunk, as he rode reluctantly towards the Ponderosa and the coming meeting with his father.  Accompanying him on this ride were his younger brother, Hoss, 12 years old and also slightly tipsy.  Unfortunately, the other person accompanying them was Sheriff Roy Coffee.  It was way past midnight and he was supposed to have had Hoss back home by 11:00, so he knew his father was stewing at home worried about them as it was, which wasn’t going to put him in the greatest of moods to hear what he was going to have to tell him.  And he was going to have to be the one to tell it, as Sheriff Coffee had insisted upon that.

“It’s on your shoulders, Adam.  It’s bad enough I got to be taking you and your brother home in this condition, it’s up to you to do the tellin’ to your Pa.  You’re ‘most a grown man now and I expect it of ya, and I won’t hear ‘nother word about it,” the Sheriff had ordered.

 Adam had another six months to go before turning 18 .  It was five months  since his stepmother, Marie, had died.  When that had happened, his father had turned inward and basically left everything for Adam to handle, which he had done.  He had taken care of Little Joe and Hoss and the ranch business as best he could, had kept things together until his father had finally shrugged off the deepest of the grief he was letting oppress him, and realized that he needed to get back to taking care of his family.

 Ben was more than grateful for what Adam had accomplished, and surprised at the sudden show of maturity on Adam’s part in picking up the pieces.   Up until that time, though Adam had always been a good boy, there had still been a lot of times that he and his father had butted heads.  It was common knowledge amongst those close to the family that Adam and Ben were alike as peas in a pod when you came right down to it, and that could make for some hard times in raising a teenaged boy.   Some people called it stubbornness, others would call it determination, but there was no doubt about it that  both Adam and Ben had plenty  to spare.

 Since Ben had taken back the reins of running the ranch and the family, Adam had reverted somewhat to the way he had been comporting himself just prior to Marie’s death.   He wasn’t even sure himself why he did some of the things he did when he knew darn well they would make his father angry, and he really didn’t want his father angry with him.  Deep down, more than anything else, he wanted his father’s approval.  In addition to that, he didn’t want to make any waves as far as his college plans were concerned.  His father had promised him that he could finally leave for college in another year or so, and he didn’t want to do anything that might jeopardize that.

 But it was awfully hard sometimes to always be the “good boy,” the “mature one,” the “dependable one.”  Sometimes he just wanted to sow a little wild oats.

 But boy, he had really blown everything tonight.  He knew Pa was going to be absolutely furious with him.  He also knew that his father had every right to be.  He was supposed to be taking Hoss into the Virginia City Founder’s Day Supper and Dance.  Hoss wanted to go awfully bad, particularly for the dinner part,  and Ben couldn’t take him as Little Joe had been sick with the mumps.  Joe was doing much better, but Ben didn’t feel comfortable leaving him, so Adam was elected to take Hoss in and keep an eye on him in town.

Unfortunately, after the supper and at the dance later, they met up with some of the town boys that Adam was acquainted with and ended up at the Bucket of Blood.  Adam couldn’t quite remember just how that had happened, but it had.  Hoss was 12, almost 13,  but he looked like a grown man as far as his height and build.  He still had a baby face, but the bartender at the Bucket of Blood didn’t really care who came in his place as long as their money was good.

At first, they were just going to show Hoss what the inside of a saloon looked like, as Ben had never allowed him inside one before.  Hoss was real excited about this little venture.  He knew his Pa wouldn’t approve, but thought that as long as Adam was letting him do it, he might just as well take advantage of the opportunity.   He also knew that Ben wouldn’t have approved of Adam drinking there, but Adam started out with a couple of beers as the other boys kept pushing it on him.

Then Lanny Myers spoke up and said, “Say, Hoss, you ever tasted beer?”

Hoss blushed and shook his head.  “Well I’d say it was about time, wouldn’t you?” Lanny laughed.

 “Look Lanny, leave my little brother alone.  He’s too young and my Pa would have a fit, if he knew,” Adam retorted.

“Well, your pa don’t have to know anything about it, Adam.  One little beer isn’t gonna do anything to this big guy and you know it.   Won’t hurt him to just see what it tastes like.”

By that time, Adam had drank a shot of whisky, in addition to the two beers, and wasn’t using his best judgment.

He grinned and said, “Well, I guess just one won’t hurt him.  Want to try one, Hoss?”

“Dadburnit it, Adam, I don’t know.  Will Pa be able to tell if I do?”

Tom piped up, “Nah, just chew on one of these cinnamon drops I got in my pocket and he’ll never know nothin’ about it, Hoss.”

“Well, okay, I guess I could try it.”

With that, Lanny pushed one of the full glasses of beer over in front of Hoss.  Hoss looked at it for a second, then picked it up and took a swallow.  He made a puckered up face and said, “Dadgone it, that really don’t taste so good – don’t see what you fellers see in that stuff.”

As Adam watched, a slightly dazed expression on his own face, he heard Lanny say, “Oh, Hoss, the first swallow is always the hardest.  Don’t nobody like it much first swallow.  Take a couple more.”

Hoss didn’t think much of the idea, but he didn’t want to appear like a kid to his brother’s friends, so he took another couple of swallows.  Interestingly, he found that with each swallow, the taste somehow didn’t bother him so much as it did at first.  As a matter of fact, by the time he finished the glass, he was feeling pretty darn good and the stuff wasn’t tasting so bad after all.

Lanny pushed another full glass his way.  Adam started to object, but Lanny said, “Oh, don’t be such a priss, Adam.  It won’t hurt him.  He’s as big or bigger than any man in the room.  Let him have a little more.”

Forever after, Adam was to wonder why he didn’t put a stop to it right then and there.  He was to regret that for a long time to come.  Hoss downed this one quicker than the first and was really feeling good by that time, good enough to get another one down while Adam wasn’t paying attention.

“Say you fellas,” Tom said, “you think Hoss has ever seen the inside of Queenie’s house?  Bet he’d really get an education if we took him in there.”

“Hey, you guys, Hoss doesn’t need to see the inside of a brothel.  My Pa’d have my hide if I took him in there,” Adam protested.

 “Oh, come on, Adam.  We won’t do anything but look.  Bet ole Hoss would like to see how them girls dress and see those pictures on the walls there.  That’s all we’ll do just look.”

 By that time, Adam had had another whisky.   He wasn’t used to drinking this much.  He had been out with the boys before, but had kept his drinking to a minimum.  He didn’t want his father to know anything about it.

 “Oh, all right.  We’ll just show him the inside of the place and then I gotta take him home.”

 They got up to head toward Queenie’s.  Hoss was about as excited as he had ever been.   He had heard some things from the other guys about what went on there, and some of the guys his own age had tried to get him to run in the door with them to take a look, but Hoss was too shy, plus he knew what his father would think.  But Hoss, for some reason now, wasn’t feeling real shy at all.  As a matter of fact, he was feeling about the best he could ever remember feeling.

They reached  Queenie’s on D Street, all of the boys staggering just a bit, but nobody on the streets seemed to notice.  Tom went up to the door and knocked.  Queenie herself opened it up, “Well, hello there boys, glad to see you.   Come on in and join the fun.”

They all piled through the door and Hoss was mesmerized by what he was seeing.  Never in his young life had he seen anything like this.  There was a large, heavily decorated room with a bar at the back.  There were easy chairs all around with men and women sitting together, some of them rather entangled together, Hoss thought.  The women were dressed as scantily as Hoss had ever seen.  His eyes were bugging out of his head at that,  then Tom pointed out some of the pictures on the walls to him.  Hoss couldn’t believe his eyes.  Every picture was of women – naked women – leaving nothing to the imagination.  For the first time in his life, Hoss now saw what a naked woman looked like.  He was finding this mighty interesting.

Adam, on the other hand, was embarrassed that he had brought his young brother into this place and wished he could think of some way to get him out of there quick.  But Tom and Lanny pulled them both over to the bar and ordered up some more beers.  Adam found himself drinking another beer, then another.  He refused to let Hoss drink anymore, though.  Hoss was obviously feeling the ones he had already drank and Adam didn’t want to risk him getting falling down drunk.

Unfortunately, about that time Tom and a stranger at the bar had gotten into an argument about something, and before Adam even knew what was happening they were all embroiled in a bar fight, the likes of which hadn’t  been seen in  Virginia City in some time.   Adam pushed Hoss under a table after somebody had tried to hit him with a whisky bottle and ordered him to stay put.

By the time all was said and done, the bottom floor of Queenie’s was smashed up pretty bad, the Sheriff had been called in, a good part of the men in the place had been carted off to the jail, and Adam and Hoss found themselves sitting in Roy’s office.

Roy had had plenty to say to Adam about what had gone on, the fact that he was drunk,  the fact that he had let his 12-year-old brother drink to the point of inebriation,  the fact that they were even in Queenie’s, and the fact that they had gotten mixed up in a fight there.   But Roy knew that Ben would take care of the situation and take care of it good, so he set off to accompany the boys back to the Ponderosa.

*****

Adam had been mulling over the night’s events in his somewhat addled head, and knew he was probably in for the biggest trouble of his life.  Adam didn’t have a clue as to what his father would do to him about this, but he knew it wouldn’t be good.   He also knew that what was going to bother him the most would be the way he knew Ben was going to look at him, the words that were going to be said, and, most especially, the look of disappointment he knew was going to be in his father’s eyes.  Drunk as he was, he knew that was going to be the hardest thing he would have to bear this night.

The closer they got to the Ponderosa, the more scared he was feeling.  He had never really been “afraid” of his father in his whole life, but he was scared to death of what was coming.  In addition to all of that, he was getting very sick to his stomach.  He knew part of that was the liquor, but part of it was facing his father.  Every single time he had had to face his father when he had done something wrong, it had made him sick to his stomach – and this was the first time he had had to face him when he’d also been drinking, not to mention the fact that he had let his young brother get drunk, too.

Soon they could see the lights of the house.  Adam was really feeling sick now.  What on earth was he going to say to explain this mess?  Sadly, he knew there was no explanation on God’s green earth that would be good enough to save him from what was coming.  He tried to think of the worst that could happen -confinement to the ranch for who knew how long, the lecture of his life – of those he was fairly certain, but what else – perhaps his father wouldn’t allow him to go to college after all.  The latter was worrying him the most, but even beyond that was still the picture in his mind of his father’s look of disappointment in him.

As they rode up to the house, Ben came running out to meet them.  Adam couldn’t even look in his father’s direction.  The only place he could look was down.  His stomach was churning up so bad, he wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to hold his dinner down.

On the other hand, Hoss giggled, then giggled again and said, “Hi there Pa, how you doin’ tonight?” and slipped rather ungracefully off his horse into a limp, giggling heap on the ground.

Ben ran to him, took hold of his arm and pulled him onto his feet.  “Hoss, what the devil is wrong with you?”  But the minute he asked the question, he knew the answer.  He could smell the liquor on his breath and the lanterns around the porch illuminated the silly expression on his 12-year-old’s face.

“Drunk, Hoss you’ve been drinking!   What the hell is going on here?  Adam?”  He looked up at Adam, but Adam was still looking at the ground.  Ben then realized Roy was with them.

“Ben let’s get your boys inside and we’ll have a little talk.”

“Oh, we’ll have a little talk all right, you can bet your life on that,” Ben’s voice rang out angrily.

Roy got off his horse and tied it and Chubb up to the hitching rail.  Ben looked up and said, “Adam get off that horse and get in the house right now.”

Adam slid off Sport, tied him to the rail, then immediately bent over and lost his dinner right next to the front porch.

Ben had got Hoss inside and onto the settee with Roy close behind, then turned and went back out to meet Adam.  He got there in time to see what had happened.  He went up to Adam and the smell of his son reeking of alcohol even overwhelmed the smell of his lost dinner by the porch.

“Adam, what in the world has gotten into you?  Get into that house immediately.”

 Adam had stopped retching and he walked as fast as his legs could carry him, staggering slightly, into the house.

Ben came in behind him,  took him by the upper arm with an iron grip and sat him down on the settee next to Hoss.   Roy had settled himself into the blue chair by the fireplace.

*****

Ben sat down on the table in front of the settee where he could look both boys in the eye, but neither boy could look at him.  On seeing his Pa and the look in his father’s eyes and hearing his angry voice, Hoss had suddenly become a bit more sober and realized he was not feeling as good as he thought he was.

“I want both of you to look at me when I speak to you – right now!”  Their heads both popped up at the same time,  but Adam had a hard time looking in his father eyes.  It was there – in addition to the anger, there was that look of disappointment that he knew would be there and it was making him sick to his stomach again.

“Adam, I want you to explain this to me right now and I don’t want any fiddling around the subject, and I want that explanation this instant!”

Adam drew a deep breath and started, “Well, Pa, I’m really sorry….ah, it’s like this, uh…..well, I took Hoss to the supper and the dance.”  He stopped.  He knew his words were slurred, partly from the state he was in and partly because he was scared.

“Continue!” his father thundered and Adam jumped at the sound.

“Well, we met up with some of the guys and well, we…. uh….we.”

“We went to the Bucket of Blood, Pa.  They just wanted to show me what it looked like in there,” Hoss chimed in.

“Eric, I was not speaking to you.  You keep quiet.  You and I will have plenty to talk about later.  Right now I am speaking to your brother and until I ask you something, keep your mouth closed.  Is that understood?”

“Hoss stammered, “Yes sir, Pa,” and immediately shut his mouth.

“All right Adam, let’s hear it!” commanded Ben.

“Well, Pa, yeah, we took him to the Bucket of Blood and one of the guys wanted Hoss to see what beer tasted like.”

“And you let your brother drink it, do I understand you correctly?”  Ben’s voice had dropped from the thundering tone down a few octaves.   That scared Adam even more.  He knew that when his father was really angry, his voice got softer rather than louder.

“Yes Sir,” he answered.

“There’s more isn’t there?  You had plenty to drink yourself didn’t you?  Finish the story!”

“Yes, Sir,” I had some to drink, too.  Guess I wasn’t thinkin’ too straight after that and I let them talk me into us all taking Hoss over to Queenie’s.”

“Queenie’s?  You took your 12-year-old brother into a brothel?”  This time Ben’s voice was even softer.  Adam kept his eyes on his father’s face as he had been told to do, but he really couldn’t look him straight in the eye.

“Yes, Sir, but we only took him in there to look, just to see what it looked like in there.  That’s all, I promise.”

“I see,  and had you ever been in there before yourself, Adam?”

Adam blushed deeply as he answered, “Yes, Sir, but only to see what it was like in there.  We stayed on the bottom floor, I swear it, Pa.”

Ben glanced over at Roy, who was hiding a small grin on his face with his hand, which seemed to anger Ben even more when he saw it.

“All right, there must be more to this story, otherwise Roy wouldn’t be here.  Let’s hear it all, boy.”

“Well,” Adam hesitated, but then went on, “Well, Sir, some of the boys we were with got into a fight with some guy who was already there and before we knew what happened there was a big fight going on, uh…. a lot of stuff there got smashed up, and Sheriff Coffee came and arrested some people and took us to his office.”

“I see,” said Ben shortly, turning to Roy.

“Is that about it, Roy, or is there more?”

“Well, Ben, there was considerable damage done at Queenie’s.  She’s going to total up the cost of the damage and then I’m gonna divide it out amongst those I was able to get hold off and get to the jail, including these two.  So I imagine you’ll be getting a bill in a couple of days on that.”

“Otherwise, that’s about it, Ben.  I wanted Adam here to be the one to tell you and he’s done it, so I’ll be on my way.”  He stood up then and proceeded to the door with Ben following along.

He shook Roy’s hand and thanked him for accompanying the boys home and apologized for his sons’ actions.

“Now, Ben,”  Roy said softly so that Adam and Hoss couldn’t hear, “Remember you and I were once their age.  You know boys will be boys sometimes.  Hope you won’t come down too hard on Adam there.  He’s was pretty ‘fraid to face you tonight.”

“Humph,  boys will be boys maybe, but not my boys.  You can believe I will take care of my boys on this subject and they’ll work off every cent I have to pay to Queenie.”

“I know that, Ben. Well, I best be getting back to town now.  Remember, Ben, we were once their age.”

He walked out the door to his horse.  Ben closed the door softly behind him and walked back over in front of fire, paced back and forth a couple of times, then looked down at his boys.

“All right, Eric, you get up to your bed right now.  You and I will have a little talk about this tomorrow.”

Hoss jumped up and loped up the stairs, glad to be getting away from the scene in the living room, but worrying about what was coming tomorrow.

Adam was staring at the floor.  By now he was biting his lip as hard as he could because he could feel tears threatening, and the last thing he wanted to do was end up blubbering like a 6-year-old.  He could feel Ben’s eyes on him, but he couldn’t look up at him.

“Boy, look at me!” Ben ordered.

Adam reluctantly pulled his eyes upwards, but couldn’t really look his father straight in the eye.

“Son, I am very disappointed in you tonight.”

With that, Adam couldn’t hold the tears back.  He bit his lip even harder and reached up and brushed the back of his arm across his eyes.

“But you are in no condition tonight to discuss the consequences of your behavior.  I want you to go on up to your room, get to bed, and tomorrow morning, bright and early, you and I will have a very serious discussion about your immature actions tonight.”

“Do you understand me, boy?”

“Yes, Sir,” and the tears started to flow freely.   He couldn’t stop them and was aware that his father could see them.  He prayed he wouldn’t start sobbing until he could get to his room.

“All right, then, get upstairs now.”

 Adam stood up shakily and walked across the room and up the stairs as fast as he could without running, which he knew would anger his father even more.

 Ben sighed, hung his head, and stared into the fire.  What was he going to say and do in the morning?  At this moment, he didn’t know himself.

*****

The sobbing started as soon as Adam got through his bedroom door.  He fell onto his bed and pushed his face into the pillow, hoping that no one in the house would hear him.  He hated the fact that he was bawling like a baby, and he couldn’t get stopped for a couple of minutes, but finally was able to pull himself together.

He got up, took off his alcohol/vomit-reeking clothes, cleaned himself up, put his nightshirt on and got into bed, but he knew this was a night in which he wouldn’t be getting much sleep.

Sure enough, bright and early the next morning, Ben knocked lightly on his door and walked into his room.  Adam had just awakened from the little bit of sleep that he had finally gotten.  As Ben walked in, he sat up immediately and then stood up.  He felt even less like looking his father in the eye this morning than he had last night, plus his head was throbbing with a hangover and his mouth was dry as cotton.

“All right, young man, do you have anything to say for yourself this morning?” Ben asked in his sternest voice.  “And please look at me when I speak to you.”

 Adam raised his eyes, “No Sir.  It was all my fault and I’m really sorry I disappointed you, Pa.  I’ll do anything I can to try to make it up to you and pay you the money back.  Uh …. I don’t know what else to say.”

“Hmmph!   Ben Cartwright’s money going to a brothel, thanks to you.”

“Adam, sometimes being sorry just isn’t enough and this is one of those times.  You set an extremely poor example for Hoss, and I don’t even know what to say to Little Joe about this – I’m sure he will know something has happened, and I’m going to have to figure out a way to explain this to him.  He looks up to you so much.  You know that.  And so does Hoss.  I just cannot imagine what you were thinking last night.”   He fixed his gaze sternly on his eldest son and Adam found himself trying to focus anywhere but on those steely eyes of his father.

“All right, Adam, if anyone had told me before last night that something like this would have happened, I would have said no way.  I thought you had finally grown up and could be trusted, trusted to keep yourself out of this kind of trouble and trusted to take better care of your younger brother, but I would have been wrong.”

“Because you behaved as a child, you will be punished as a child, the same punishment that Hoss will receive.   Hoss is 12 and old enough to  make  right choices, but I imagine that was a little tough to do when he had his 17-year-old brother leading him along.   So you will have Hoss’ punishment on your conscience, also.”

“First, you will be confined to this ranch for six weeks and when I say confined, I mean it.  You had better not set foot off this ranch for those entire six weeks, except for church on Sunday, or I will know the reason why.”

“Secondly, you and Hoss will be given a list of extra chores to be done around here to earn off the money you owe to Queenie.”

 “Now, thirdly, and this is a very unhappy moment for me, Adam, as I had thought some time ago that you were too old be given a whipping as punishment, but you have proved me wrong again by your behavior last night.”

Adam, disbelievingly, watched his father unbuckle his belt.  This he never expected and his innate rebellion started to kick in.

 “But, Pa,  I  am too old to be gettin’ a tanning.  I’m not a kid anymore.  You can’t really mean this.  I’ll stay on the ranch and I’ll work real hard to pay off that money, but this isn’t fair – come on, Pa.  You don’t mean it,” the tone of Adam’s voice rising with every word of protest.

 “I most certainly do mean it, Adam,” Ben replied sternly as he finished taking off the thick leather belt and doubling it up.  “An adult would not have taken his 12-year-old brother into a saloon, let him get drunk and then take him on to a brothel.”

Adam started to back up against his bed, but he realized that Ben did indeed mean it, and Adam knew he would never physically fight against his father.

The funny thing was that the first thought in his head was that he wished he had gotten up early enough to have put on his heavy jeans.  His second thought was the realization  that he had brought this upon himself.  The rest of his thoughts were of the pain as Ben inflicted upon him the severest whipping of his life.  Ben was a  strong man and had never believed in sparing the rod, though it had not ever  been a very pleasant father’s duty for him.  Adam managed to grit his teeth and get through it without yelling out, but he couldn’t hold back the tears – partly due to the pain, but mostly due to his complete humiliation at this form of punishment at his age.

As Ben laced his belt  back through its loops, he said, “Son, I expect you to get dressed and join the rest of us for breakfast, which will be just as soon as I finish talking with Hoss.”

*****

Adam and Hoss tried very hard over the next weeks to work out their punishment and gain back their father’s trust.  Adam did indeed feel very guilty about the punishment Hoss received and did as much as he could to help his younger brother out with all the extra work that was assigned to them.  But he couldn’t take back the lecture or the tanning Hoss had received.  Hoss didn’t seem to hold it against him, though, but had resolved to himself that he certainly wasn’t going to touch beer again anytime soon.

It wasn’t difficult for Adam to stay confined to the ranch and do the extra work until about three weeks later, while in church with his family, he spotted a young lady new to Virginia City whose looks made his heart do a flip-flop.  Her name was Jenny Henderson.  Her father, Gabe Henderson, was the new owner of the Lucky Strike Mine, one of the largest and most successful mining operations in the Virginia City area. They had moved to Virginia City from San Francisco, where Jenny had lived all of her life, because Gabe wanted to have hands-on operation of his newest business venture.  He was an extremely successful, wealthy man.  His daughter, Jenny,  was a beautiful girl with strawberry blonde hair and lovely aquamarine eyes, eyes like nothing Adam had ever seen before in his life.  Her skin was like sweet cream and she had an infectious laugh and a twinkle in her eye.  Adam fell like a ton of bricks on first meeting.  Jenny was not above a little flirting herself.  She thought Adam the most attractive and intelligent boy she had come across in this little backwater that she had been forced to move to.

They were introduced by their respective fathers at church that first day and managed to have a little time to themselves for conversation.  Jenny invited Adam to come to their home that evening for dinner, but Adam had to decline.   When she asked him why he couldn’t make it, he blushed and did his best to avoid answering the question.  Jenny persisted, however, and asked Adam what he was going to be doing the next afternoon.  Adam answered that he was going to be riding fence line to check for any need of repairs.

“Well, Adam, what if instead of riding fence line tomorrow, you were to meet me just outside of Virginia City and you and I could go for a little ride together.  I’d love to have you show me around a little.”

Adam started to say no, but looking into those eyes made him hesitate just long enough.  Actually, as long as they weren’t seen by anyone from the ranch, no one would know that he was off the ranch.  The fence line task he was assigned for the entire next week was a solitary one, and he knew if he was careful he could probably get away with it.  For some reason, his promises to his father about responsibly working out his punishment seemed to go out the window when he looked into those eyes.

He started spending every spare minute that he possibly could with Jenny, and found her to be as intelligent as he with many of the same interests in books, music, art, the world.  Jenny was unlike any girl he had ever met before.  She flirted unmercifully with him and soon they were finding every opportunity they could to be alone and to steal kisses from one another.

Adam managed to get most of his work done and yet still sneak off the ranch to meet Jenny.  He felt pangs of guilt, but the more he did it, the less he felt guilty, and the more he saw Jenny, the more he wanted to see her.

At the end of the six-week confinement, his father released Hoss and Adam from their punishment and praised them for their hard work and obedience.  That little talk was another hard one for Adam to get through and the guilt had come flooding back, but thoughts of Jenny kept him quiet.

One day they happened to be alone at her house, something her father really wouldn’t approve of, but their housekeeper had gone shopping and Jenny said there was really no good reason why Adam shouldn’t be able to visit her.  Adam was a little reluctant as to the propriety of it, but couldn’t resist  Jenny’s entreaties to stay.

They were seated together on the settee in the front room of her spacious house and Adam couldn’t resist kissing her.  But something changed between them and Jenny was  insinuating her body closer and closer to him, seeming to mold herself to his form.  He was beginning to become aroused and he knew he needed to break it off before something happened that they would both be sorry for.  Adam had never been with a woman yet, even though some of the saloon girls had tried to entice him up to their rooms.   He felt that, at least for now, it was something he better not be doing – not just yet.  His father had tried to instill certain morals in his sons, and he knew that his father would definitely not approve.  Ben had had a talk with his eldest son about the ways of men and women, but that the union of a man and a woman was a sacred act that was to be saved for the marriage bed.

Beyond that, he knew that if he ever took advantage of a girl like Jenny, his father would be deeply disappointed,  he would be expected to marry her immediately, not to speak of possibly having an irate father after him with a shotgun.

So, though it was one of the more difficult things he had done in his life, he resisted Jenny’s advances and said, rather breathlessly, “Jenny, I’m sorry but we can’t do this.  I’m really sorry for letting myself go like this and not having more control,” taking the blame upon himself. Jenny gave him a rather petulant look and then turned away.

“Well, Adam, I think it’s time you were going.  If I remember correctly, you said you had some supplies you had to pick up.”

Adam sighed, stood up and said, “Sorry, Jenny, I do have to go.  I hope I can see you again soon.”

“Certainly, Adam.  I will see you in church on Sunday.  Good afternoon.   I think you know the way out.”

Adam walked down the front walkway of the house and climbed on his horse with a perplexed look on his face.

*****

From that point on, Jenny seemed to avoid Adam and though he tried mightily to gain back their former relationship, she made it plain she wasn’t interested.

Then a few weeks later, Adam came in from the range and was surprised to see Gabe Henderson’s surrey sitting at the Ponderosa.   He put up Sport in the barn and walked into the house.   His father was sitting at his desk, while Mr. Henderson was seated in a chair in front of the desk.  Ben had a grim look on his face, but then so did Mr. Henderson.  Adam was curious as to their business and immediately walked over to them.

“Hello, Mr. Henderson, nice to see you, sir.”

Ben looked up at his son and stood up, but Mr. Henderson remained seated and didn’t respond to Adam’s hand outstretched in greeting.  Adam slowly pulled his hand back and looking questioningly at  his father.  The look on Ben’s face was none too comforting.

 “Adam, Mr. Henderson has come here today with something to tell us and I’d like to hear what you have to say about it.”

“Sure, Pa… what is it, Mr. Henderson?”

Henderson raised up quickly out of his chair and glared at Adam, which made Adam take a small step backward.

“I’ll tell you why I’m here, you young scalawag.  If I’d known what you were up to, I wouldn’t have let you anywhere near my girl.  But I knew your father here had a certain reputation and I thought I could trust her with you, but I was certainly mistaken, wasn’t I ?”

 Adam was mystified and  again looked questioningly at his father.

“Now, Mr. Henderson, Ben interjected, “calm down and tell him what you’re talking about before you go off half-cocked here.”

Henderson took a deep breath, trying to calm himself, then proceeded, “Adam, Jenny is with child and I expect you and she to be married immediately.”  We will spirit you two off to San Francisco, citing an elopement.”  You can be quickly and quietly married there and stay there with a job in my organization at least until after the child comes.  Then if you wish to come back here, we can talk about it then.”

Adam stared at Henderson with a dumbfounded expression on his face.  This was probably the last thing on earth he ever expected to be hearing from this man, and he was thunderstruck to say the least.

“Now, Gabe, give Adam a chance to say something here.”

“Adam,”  Ben took a deep breath, I know you and Jenny were seeing a lot of each other a while back, and frankly I thought you two were getting rather serious.  I have to ask you, son, is this true?  Are you the father of Jenny’s child?”

“What do you mean by that, Cartwright?” Henderson roared.   “Are you calling my daughter a liar.  Of course, he’s the father.  She said so and I believe her.”

“I said calm down, Gabe. I’m not calling Jenny anything, but my boy deserves a chance to have his say in this matter.”  He looked at Adam and motioned for him to answer.

Adam looked at his father, at Henderson, then back at Ben.  “Pa, I swear on my word of honor, I am not the father.  I couldn’t be because Jenny and I never…..”

 “Wait a minute, son, are you saying it’s impossible for you to be the father?”

 “That’s just what I’m saying, Pa.  Absolutely what I’m saying.”

 Gabe Henderson was sputtering furiously, “Why you lying, good-for-nothing.”

 “Now just a minute, Gabe,” Ben yelled.  “You will not come into my home, make accusations of that kind against my son and then not hear him out.”

 Ben Cartwright and Gabe Henderson glared at each other, while Adam stood there with a complete look of stupefaction on his face.  What had Jenny done?  And why had she picked him to pull this on?  It was immediately obvious that she must have been afraid to tell her father who the real culprit in this matter was and had decided to put the blame on Adam.  He realized now why she had thrown herself at him on that day and why she was disappointed at his reluctance to succumb.  She had in mind to lay this at his feet all along,  hoping that it would have been sealed by the reality of their having been together.  But they hadn’t and now she was going to try to drag him into it anyway.  He couldn’t help but be angered, but he also felt a certain sympathy with her situation. But there was no way he was going to be taken in by her and suffer the consequences of something that, in reality, had nothing to do with him.

“Mr. Henderson, Jenny is a very nice girl and I like her a lot, but we have hardly seen each other in  the last few weeks and I swear that I could not be the father of her child.  I simply could not be.  We were never together in that way – for that matter, I’ve never been with any ……,” he blushed and ducked his head at that point, and couldn’t finish his thought out loud.

Ben felt a major amount of tension go out of him.  He knew Adam was telling the truth.  When Gabe had arrived with his story, he had not really wanted to believe him, but knowing how young men could react to a girl like Jenny, he knew there was a possibility of it being true.  He was so relieved, he almost grinned when Adam couldn’t finish his sentence.

Though Gabe was still seething, he had a very strong feeling all of a sudden that he was being told the truth.  He hadn’t gotten to where he was today without being a judge of men and he sensed the depth of sincerity in this young man’s emphatic denials.  He felt the anger drain out of him and replaced with a feeling of defeat.  Jenny had lied to him.  He was sure of it now.  He had usually known in the past when she was lying to him, and when she told him that Adam was the boy who had gotten her with child, he had the smallest niggling feeling in the back of his mind that she was not being straight with him.  But he had accepted it because it was what he wanted to believe.   Adam was certainly preferable to the person he now knew must be the one – Scott Henshaw, the son of one of his business partners and someone Jenny had been seeing in San Francisco before they moved to Nevada.  Gabe had never thought much of Scott.  He was a rich man’s son with no backbone, lazy and worthless, in Gabe’s opinion, but Jenny had gone after him the first time she saw him.  Scott was as handsome a young man as there was around and a charmer to boot.  Gabe had tried to keep Jenny away from him, but she had a mind of her own.  He should have gotten her away from the city long ago, he realized.  Well, it was all too late now.

“Ben, Adam… I’m sorry.  I do believe you son,” he nodded to Adam.  I apologize for my coming here and for my daughter’s duplicity in this.  I hope you can forgive her.  She is a frightened child.  That’s all I can say in her defense.  I’m truly sorry to have brought this to your doorstep, Ben.  I hope you will accept my apologies.”

*****

After Henderson left,  Ben looked at his son and gave him a small grin.  Adam grinned back.

“Pa, I’m awfully glad you believed me, but I’m especially glad Mr. Henderson finally did, too.”

 “Well, so am I son.  I’m just sorry I had to even ask you the question.  Jenny must be a very mixed up young lady.”  I think she needs our sympathy, even though it wasn’t a very nice thing to do to you, son.”

 “Oh, I agree, Pa.  I’m not going to hold it against her.  I kind of have my doubts that I’ll even ever see her again.”

 “Yes, son, I think you may be right there.  I expect Gabe will be hurrying her back to San Francisco as soon as possible.  I had the feeling before he left that he had figured out who the person was that she had been involved with, and I would imagine he’s going to have a little talk with him.

Ben had sat down at his desk and started looking over the books again.

 “Uh….Pa,”  Adam said very softly,  “there’s something I need to talk to you about.”

“Well, certainly, son, sit down.  What is it?”  He looked at Adam’s face and immediately closed up the ledger book and focused entirely on his son.

“Well, Pa … umm, I have something to tell you and it’s gonna make you mad, but it’s been eating at me and I know I’ve disappointed you again, but I….”  He was having a devil of a time getting it out.

“Son, go ahead – there isn’t anything you can’t talk to me about.  I hope you know that.  Even if it makes me angry, we can work it through together.”

 Adam felt even more guilty at that, but finally was able to tell Ben how he had disobeyed him, not done all the work he was supposed to have done and had gone off the ranch during his supposed confinement, all to see Jenny.  He hung his head in shame, finally realizing what a fool he had made of himself in every way – once again!

Ben looked at his son for a long time before finally saying, “Well, son, I guess you know you could have gone on forever and never have told me this, so I’m happy that you were able admit this to me.  You did deliberately disobey me, but at least you have come forward and told the truth when you didn’t really have to, so this time there will be another two weeks’ confinement and extra chores.  All I can say is that I hope you have learned your lesson, finally, this time.”

“I have, Pa, I promise you I have,” and he meant it.  He finally felt good about himself for the first time in months.

*****

About that time, Little Joe bounded down the stairs and Ben and Adam decided it would be a good time to change the subject.  Adam couldn’t help but feel good that his father had believed in him about this, especially since the drinking fiasco of a few months before.  He had felt since then like  he was walking on eggshells around his father, and was trying his best to earn back the trust he knew he had lost over that incident.  Somehow, with the day’s happenings, he felt like some of that trust had been regained, though he probably still had a ways to go yet on that front.

Little Joe came running across the room and jumped up into Adam’s arms.  Adam laughed and tickled his little brothers ribs, eliciting a fit of high-pitched giggles and screams of “Stop it, Adam, stop it.”

“Okay, boys, that’s enough roughhousing for now.  Take it easy.”

“Okay, Pa,”  Adam laughed again as he put Joe back down on the floor.

 Joe turned to his Pa and asked, “Can I go outside and play, Pa?”

 “Sure son, go ahead, but stay close to the house because dinner will be ready soon, okay?”

“Okay, Pa, I will,” promised Joe, and out the door he ran.

“Well, guess I better get out to the barn and get my chores done, Pa.”

“All right, Adam, keep a bit of an eye on Little Joe, will you?”

“Sure, Pa,” Adam answered as he also went out the door.

 *****

Almost the minute Adam shut the door, Ben heard him screaming at the top of his lungs, “Little Joe, no….. no…..Joe…. get away , get away from there.” Ben practically flew  to the door and then ran out.  He saw Adam headed toward the corral at a dead run.  Ben’s heart jumped into his throat as he saw why Adam was yelling.  Little Joe had climbed up onto the top rail of the corral and was precariously balanced there while holding his hand out towards the horse in the corral.  That horse was Lucifer, the newest of their breeding stock and a meaner horse Ben had never seen.   Little Joe had been warned over and over to stay away from him.

Ben ran after Adam.  He finally let out his breath, as he watched Little Joe quickly climb back down the corral fence as Adam neared him.

“Gosh darn it, Little Joe, you been told  a hundred times to stay away from that horse,” Adam yelled at his baby brother.

‘Well, gee whiz, Adam, I was only tryin’ to make friends with him,” Ben heard Joe say as he walked up to them.

“Joseph, I have told you repeatedly to stay away from that horse.  He’s dangerous and I don’t want you anywhere near him.”  With that, he grabbed hold of the back of  Joe’s neck, turned him around towards the house and escorted him quickly back, landing several well-placed swats on his young son’s backside as he marched him to the house.

Adam let out his breath with a whoosh and shook his head.  Little Joe was the apple of all their eyes, but he could sure be a pain sometimes.  The little stinker knew no fear where horses were concerned.  It was funny, he was still afraid of the dark and had to have the lamp lit all night long, and there were other things he was afraid of, but not horses.  He really had a kinship with horses, much as Hoss did with all animals, but he needed to learn caution, especially where Lucifer was concerned.   The animal would be the start of some really fine breeding stock, but children had no business being around him.  He hoped those swats of Pa’s and the talking-to that he knew Joe was receiving would get through to the little boy.  They were all going to have to watch that little fellow much more closely.

 Adam sighed.   Pa had promised that Adam could leave for college in another year, but Adam sometimes wondered if he really could let himself go that soon.  Joe was such a handful, even with Pa, Hop Sing, Hoss, Adam, plus the hands to watch him.  Well, maybe in a year’s time, Joe would be a little easier to handle than he was now.  Adam never remembered Hoss being anything like Little Joe at this age.  Hoss was always so easygoing and biddable, always trying to mind the rules as best he could.  All three of them were so different, but he really couldn’t imagine either of his brothers being any different than they were, nor would he wish them to be.   He turned back to go to the barn to do the chores that he had set out to do earlier.

*****

It was morning a few weeks later when Adam and Hoss were working on transferring a wagonload of hay into the barn.  Ben was sitting at the table on the porch working on the books out there because it was such a beautiful warm morning.  He really hated working on the books and decided that if he had to do it, at least he could take advantage of the lovely  summer morning, plus keep an eye on Little Joe as he played outside.

Hop Sing came out to consult with Ben about the list of supplies that Ben was going to be getting in town later in the day, and Ben took his mind off the books for a minute and, unfortunately, off of Little Joe.

 Adam was standing inside the wagon forking out the hay onto a wheelbarrow, which Hoss was then wheeling into the barn.  Adam raised up for a minute, took his hat off to wipe the sweat off his brow when he caught sight of a scene that virtually froze him in place for a split second, then he leaped off the wagon and sped towards the corral.  Joe had actually gone under the fence and was holding out an apple towards Lucifer.

The huge horse was backing up and pawing the ground as Joe advanced on him with the apple in his hand and a smile on his face.  Adam was afraid to even yell, for fear of spooking the horse even further.  He ran as hard as he could towards the corral fence, reached up to the top rail and cleared the fence in a graceful leap just as the horse suddenly started coming towards Joe.   Joe realized the danger in that instant and turned to run, but got his feet tangled up and he fell virtually under the front of the horse as it reared back on its hind legs.  Adam jumped on top of Joe, curled into a ball with Joe under him, holding Joe down with his body, then held his arms over the back of his own head.   At that point, Lucifer’s hooves came crashing down on Adam’s back.   The pain was incredible, but all Adam could think of was to protect his little brother.  He took one hand and pushed Joe’s head down further under his own chest while the horse raised up again and this time the hooves landed on the back of Adam’s head.  The horse continued to rear and trample the object in front of him that had spooked him.

 By that time, Hoss, Ben, Hop Sing and one of the hands had reached the corral.  Hoss and Ben were immediately over the fence and waving their hats at the horse, trying to scare him back away from the two on the ground.   Charlie, the hand, came up also and between the three of them, they were able to get the horse backed off.  Charlie threw a loop over Lucifer’s head and pulled him back safely away.

Ben and Hoss both sank to their knees and confronted the image in front of them.  Adam was still curled over Joe, but his shirt was shredded and his back and head were bleeding.

Ben reached out and gently turned him on his side to see how Joe was.  Joe wriggled out from under Adam’s body and started sobbing, partly due to his fright from the horse and partly from seeing what had happened to his big brother.  Hop Sing had come in the corral and pulled Joe to him and looked him over quickly.

“Lil Joe okay, Mr. Catlight, him just fine.  Mr. Adam save him okay.  He not hurt at all.”

Ben breathed a sigh of relief as he heard Hop Sing reassure him, but he was sickened at the sight of his oldest son’s injuries.

 It was obvious that Adam was completely limp and unconscious.  His back was a mass of shirt, flesh, dirt and blood all mixed together in a frightening pattern.  He had a copiously bleeding, deep gash in the back of his head.

 “Charlie, tie that horse up quickly and get to town and bring Doc Martin out here as fast as you can go.”

“Yessir, boss,” Charlie complied and raced to do Ben’s bidding.

“Hop Sing, get Joe back into the house and get some bandages and water up to Adam’s room right away.”

“Pa, Hoss asked, his voice shaking and barely holding the tears back, “what can I do to help?”

Ben was palpating Adam’s body, trying to see if he could feel any broken bones before he tried to move him.  He knew at least a couple of his ribs were broken, but that’s about all he could tell for sure.  He was scared to death of some kind of internal injury and what he knew to be a very serious head wound.

“Hoss, go ahead of me and clear the way.  I’m going to carry him into the house and up to his room.  Hold the doors for me.”  With that, he carefully and gently picked up his son in his arms.  Hoss ran to hold the corral gate open for them.  Adam was heavy for Ben, but he hardly noticed as he carried him up to his room.  The only thing Ben was thinking was a repeated plea to God to save his oldest son.

 They reached Adam’s room and Ben gently laid him back on the bed, still holding his back and head up.  Hop Sing was right behind with bandages and water.

 “Hoss, see if you can get his boots off, but be careful, then unbuckle his belt and take that off.”  Hoss did as he was told.  He couldn’t help it now – the tears were running down his face as he did it.  Adam was his beloved older brother, his best friend, his protector, and he was scared to death for him.

Ben then gently, with Hoss’ help, turned Adam and laid him down on his stomach.  He turned Adam’s head  on the pillow so he was facing away from them so he could deal with the head wound.   He positioned Adam’s arms around the pillow with his elbows bent, hoping that would be the most comfortable position for him, but also knowing that at that moment Adam was not even cognizant of pain.   Ben grabbed a quilt that was folded on a chest at the end of Adam’s bed and put it over Adam’s legs while he prepared to try to tend to his wounds as best he could while waiting for the doctor.

 He knew he had to get the shreds of Adam’s shirt pulled away from his wounds before the blood dried them to his flesh, but first he tied a bandage around Adam’s head as tight as he could to try to stem the flow of blood from the head wound.  He then worked for the next two hours, little by little cleaning the shirt  and the dirt out of his wounds, praying the whole time for the doctor to hurry up and for God to spare his boy.

He was worried that Adam didn’t rouse during all that time or seem to even be aware of the pain that Ben was afraid he was causing as he worked on the wounds.  It sickened Ben to see the outline of hoof prints on Adam’s back.

He looked up once at the doorway and saw Joe standing there, the tears rolling, his face white as a sheet.

“Hoss, take Little Joe to his room and stay with him there, please.  I’ll let you know if I need you.”

 “Joe,  go with Hoss now like a good boy.  Adam will be all right.  Doc Martin will be here soon and will take good care of him.  Don’t you worry.”

“But, Pa,” Joe sobbed, “it’s my fault, I shouldna went to see Lucifer.  I only wanted to take him an apple.  I didn’t want Adam to get hurt.  I’m awful sorry, Pa.  I didn’t mean it.”

“I know you didn’t mean it, Little Joe,” Ben soothed.   “Don’t worry about that now.  Your brother is going to be okay.  Now you go with Hoss and let him read you a story.  Hop Sing and I will take good care of Adam.  You be a good boy now and go with Hoss, okay?”

“Joe sniffed and hiccuped, but said, “Okay, Pa, I’ll go.”

Hoss led him off toward Joe’s bedroom, looking back once with frightened eyes.  Ben gave him back a reassuring look that indicated for him not to worry either, but they both knew that wasn’t going to happen.

Ben turned back to Adam as he heard a small moan.  “Son, just take it easy, you’re gonna be okay.  Everything’s gonna be okay.  You saved your little brother’s life and you got hurt doing it, but you’re gonna be fine, son.”

*****

Just as Ben had done all he felt that he could to clean Adam’s back wounds, Dr. Paul Martin entered the bedroom.

“Hello, Ben.  I got here just as quickly as I could, ” he announced as he walked across the room to his friend and put his hand on Ben’s shoulder.”  Ben turned and looked up at Paul with the most pain the doctor had seen in his eyes since Marie’s death.

“Let me take a look at him, Paul said reassuringly and put his bag on the nightstand next to Adam’s bed.  Ben stood up to let Paul take his place.  Paul spent a long time examining Adam’s head and back, then he asked Ben to help him remove Adam’s jeans so that he could inspect his legs.  Then he and Ben very carefully turned Adam over so that Paul could examine and palpate his chest and abdomen. Throughout the examination, Adam only moved when they moved him and no sound was heard from him again.  That small moan earlier was the only sound he had made since he was hurt.  Paul directed Ben to help him turn Adam back to his original position.

Ben watched Paul work with a dreadful fear clutching at his heart.

Finally, Paul turned to him and gave him his news.  “Well, Ben, you’ve done a fine job of cleaning the wounds on his back.  About all we can do there is let time heal him.  He has two broken ribs on the right.  I am hopeful there is no internal bleeding as his abdomen is not distended, but only time will tell on that score, too.”

“I am worried about his head injury.  He obviously has a concussion, but the question is whether or not his skull is fractured.  We are going to have to watch him very closely.  When he comes to, he may be sick to his stomach, which is to be expected with concussion, but if he develops severe vomiting, we may be in for trouble.  You see, Ben, what can happen with a skull fracture is internal bleeding within the brain, which builds up pressure inside his head.  One of the first signs of that is severe vomiting.  Unfortunately, if there is bleeding and it’s bad enough and doesn’t stop on it’s own, there is nothing we can do for him.   One good thing is that I didn’t see any blood coming from his ears – that is a good sign.   Ben, Adam is a very strong young man.  You and I both know that.  All we can do now is wait, keep him comfortable and pray, Ben, which I know you are already doing.”

“Paul, I can’t lose him, Ben said beseechingly.”  I just lost Marie, I can’t lose him, too.  Isn’t there anything more we can do for him.”

“Ben, I’m sorry.  I’m going to dress the wounds on his back, put another pressure bandage on his head and his chest, and then it’s just going to be a matter of waiting.  I know how hard this is for you, believe me I do,” he said to his old, dear friend, “but  that is all we can do for now.  After I finish here, Ben, I have to get over to the Slocum’s ranch and take a look in on old Tom Slocum.  You know he had a stroke last week and I promised Mrs. Slocum I’d be by there today.  I’ll come right back here early tomorrow morning to check on Adam.”

With that, he turned to do the best he could with bandaging Adam up, and then gave Ben a bottle of laudanum to use when Adam came to, as he was sure to be in much pain.  He decided not to tell Ben that there was every possibility that Adam would not ever again wake up.   He felt he couldn’t take that little bit of hope away from him.

 “Now Ben, when he does come to, he is going to be having considerable pain, but with the severe head wound, he shouldn’t be having  but very little of the laudanum at a time. I’ll write down the instructions for you.  We need to have him as alert and awake as we can get him and the laudanum will tend to put him under again and we don’t want that for now, okay?  Also, every so often, turn his head to the other side, if he can’t do it for himself. “

Ben nodded, his heart in his throat,  wondering how he was going to get through this night.  Always in the past, for as long as he could remember, when he had had to face something like this, Adam had been the one he had turned to for support – he realized that even when Adam was a young child, he had done that. Now he had no one to turn to, except his younger boys, and he really didn’t want to do to them what he had done to Adam.

Hop Sing, who had been hovering in the background all along, showed the doctor out, then came back up the stairs to see what he could do to help. “Hop Sing, I’d appreciate it the most if you could just keep an eye on Little Joe and Hoss for me.  Maybe take them downstairs and get them interested in something down there.  I’ll sit here with Adam.”

So for the next many long hours, Ben sat by his son’s bedside, sometimes just stroking his hand, as the only place he felt he wouldn’t hurt him by doing so.  Finally, after the younger boys had been put to bed by Hop Sing and Ben was sitting there in the glow of the oil lamp, Adam started to moan .

 “Adam, son, can you hear me, are you awake boy?”  Ben leaned over to see that Adam’s eyes were open.   He wasn’t really focusing, but he started to mumble something.  Ben had to listen closely to hear.

“Mama, mama, Indians comin….Pa what…do… yeah, I’ll hold the baby…Papa,  mama’s hurt, what happened to her?”  Adam grew agitated and tried to move, but couldn’t.   Ben stroked his hand again.

“Son, you’re all right, you’re here with Pa in your own bedroom.”

 “Pa, pa.  Joe… that horse….owww.”

“Pa, can’t let nothin happen to Lil Joe…gotta take care of him. ….Pa loves him so much….gotta get him away from the horse.  Oowww….mmmm, don’t ya see, Pa can’t live without Joe, gotta protect him….he doesn’t need me like he needs Joe…gotta get him away from the horse.  Somebody help me get him away.  Can’t let anything happen to Joe.  He’s the baby.”

 Ben’s heart froze at the words, “he doesn’t need me like he needs Joe.”  Is that what Adam thought?  Oh, my God, have I made him feel that way somehow?

 “Marie….Marie, I’m sorry I was mean to you.  Please don’t die, Marie… please.”

 “Papa….why’d my mama die?  It was my fault.  I know it was.  She’d still be alive if it wasn’t for me.  I’m sorry Pa…sorry, sorry I made her die.”

 Ben’s eyes filled up with tears as he heard these words, seeming to come from the depths of Adam’s soul.  He knew that somewhere along the line Adam had gotten the idea that he was to blame for his mother’s death, and, try as he might over the years, obviously his reassurances to the contrary had not been believed.  His poor, poor boy, taking all that upon himself, thinking he had killed his mother, thinking that Ben loved Joe more than him.

*****

Ben didn’t sleep at all that night and Adam seemed to go back and forth in and out of consciousness.  When he did rouse, he wasn’t coherent and continued in his state of delirium through the night.  Ben learned many things about his oldest son on that dreadful night.  Many of Adam’s words made no sense at all, but those that did worried his father deeply.

It finally sank into Ben just what his son had been through in his life, and how through it all, somewhere early on, Adam had seemed to lose his childhood long before any boy should have to.  He came to an understanding that night of Adam’s late start into teenage rebellion.  He had had to be the “good” boy for so long that eventually some of the usual teenage goings-on had finally come forth at this late date just prior to his going out into the world on his own.  Adam had had to pull it all together for so long, it was only natural that these things had to finally explode at some time.   Ben also began to have the sense that Adam had never had the time himself to really grieve over Marie’s death.  With Ben’s experience along those lines himself, he knew that was a necessary ingredient to the healing process.

Many times through the night Adam called out for “mama,” which Ben knew to mean Inger, but he also called to Marie and to Ben.  He expressed guilt at his own mother’s death and guilt about Joe’s accident with the horse.  He expressed apparently deeply-held feelings that Little Joe was more important to his father than he was, though Ben detected no animosity towards Joe in that, only guilt that somehow he hadn’t taken better care of the little boy for his father’s sake.

Through all of his parenting years, Ben had had many misgivings about his abilities as a father, but none so deep as that night as he felt somewhere along the line he had let this boy down.  He was determined that should, God willing, he be given another chance, he would make his feelings plain to this child,  that he loved all his boys equally.  Each was as important to him as the others and that was, without any doubts in Ben’s mind, the truth.  He could not imagine his life without any of them.   Of course, Joe was the most demonstrative of the three, but that did not mean that he didn’t love Hoss or Adam just as much as he did Joe.

 Early morning came and Adam finally seemed to fully come out of his delirium and become aware of where he was and what had happened.  He also became very much aware of his pain, but his first coherent words to his father were, “Is Little Joe okay, Pa?  I don’t remember what happened after I ran to the corral.  Is Joe okay, he pleaded.”

“Yes, son, Joe is not hurt in any way.  You protected him completely with your own body and saved his life. As little as he is, that horse would have killed him. You saved his life and I am so grateful to you for that, son, but you risked yours and have been hurt badly and I’m so sorry for that.  What happened was my fault, son.  I should have kept a better eye on him.  It was my job that morning and I didn’t do it.  I knew how attracted he was to that horse and I should have put the horse a long way from the house before this happened.”

“I know you have a lot of pain, Adam, and Doc Martin has left some medicine here for you, but because of your head injury I can’t give you as much as we would like.” He reached for the laudanum and gave Adam the medicine, hoping it would help his obvious pain.

“Pa are you sure Joe is okay? You’re not just saying that?”

“I’m sure, son.  Last time I checked he was curled up in bed with Hoss.  They’ve both been very worried about you.  Little Joe is very sorry that he caused this to happen to you.”

 “Adam’s eyes closed again as the medicine took him off to what seemed to be real sleep as opposed to unconsciousness, for which Ben was deeply grateful.  He finally dozed himself for a bit.

 Hop Sing, Little Joe and Hoss found them both that way a little later that morning, then Hop Sing shooed them both downstairs.

Dr. Martin finally entered the room again and gently put his hand on Ben’s shoulder to wake him.

“Oh, Doc,”  Ben shook the sleep off and pleaded with his eyes to know Adam’s condition at this point.

 Paul gently examined Adam’s back and head wounds, waking him too as he did so.  He then had Ben help him carefully turn Adam onto his side against some soft pillows so that Paul could inspect his chest and stomach.

 “Well, young man, looks like you’re finally with us.  How are you feeling?  Are you dizzy or sick to your stomach at all, son?”

 “Only a little, Doc, mostly my back hurts and I’ve got a bad headache.”

 “Well, that’s to be expected.  As soon as I’m sure your head is doing better, we can increase your dose of the pain medicine a little, but things are looking better today.  Your wounds are looking clean – you can thank your father for that.  He took real good care of you before I was able to get here yesterday.”

 “Well, Ben, I think he’s going to be just fine.  His eyes look good, he’s conscious and aware, his wounds look better.  I’d say all around, his young body is pulling him through this just fine.  I’m headed out to the Jenkins’ place.  Mary is in labor.  As soon as we get that baby delivered, I’ll stop back, may be late tonight, but I’ll be back.  Now don’t get up, Ben.  I can find my own way out.”

Ben smiled at him thankfully and watched him go out the door, then looked back at his boy.

 Adam seemed very much alert and aware, and Ben felt it was time to get some things straight between them.

 “Son, last night you were pretty much out of your head and did a lot of talking.   You said many things that have set me to thinking and I need to make some things clear to you, okay?”

 Adam looked questioningly at his father.  He had no memory of  the previous night and had no idea what Ben was getting at.

“Son, you said some things while you were delirious about your being responsible for your own mother’s death.  That makes me think you still have that thought in your mind, though you and I have had a couple of discussions about this in the past.”

You were the one thing that made your mother happier than I ever saw her.   She loved you from the day she found out she was carrying you and when you were born, she was in tears from the happiness of having you.  You were the sweet expression of your mother’s and my love for each other.”

“She was in fragile health, Adam, before she and I were even married.  We just didn’t realize how fragile.  The doctor confided in me in later.  There is also something else that I never told you about.  Just a few weeks prior to your birth, your mother and grandfather had an argument and your mother accidentally had a fall.  That didn’t help matters.  Please don’t ever think that her death was your fault, son.  You have a logical mind – think about it.  Your mother and I loved each other as much as any man and woman can.”

“I love each of you boys for the people that you are, for the fact that you are my children, and for the fact that you are each a part of the three woman that I loved.  I don’t love one of you more than the other.  You are all precious beyond words to me.  You did a very brave thing in saving your baby brother and I will always be grateful to you for that, but I certainly would not have wanted you to be killed in his stead, nor did I want you to be hurt like you are.  It hurts my heart to see you like this, son, and to think that you blame yourself for your mother’s death, or that you think I love Joe more than you is just simply not true.  You are one of three parts of my life, son, and to lose you would be to lose a very important part of myself.  I love you, Adam.  Nothing on this earth is ever going to change that.  I’m sure that at one time or another through our lives, each of you boys might think that I favor one over the other, but that is not true and will never be true.”

 His gentle eyes bored into the questioning ones of his oldest son, and was shocked to see two tears make their way down Adam’s cheeks.  He took Adam’s face in both of his large, strong hands and brushed the tears away with his thumbs, leaned over and kissed Adam’s forehead, saying, “I love you Adam, with every thing that is in me, I love you.”  More tears came at that, but Ben could see an acceptance in Adam’s eyes that he wasn’t sure he had ever seen there before.  He brushed the rest of the tears away and stroked his son’s forehead.

 “Now son, I want you to rest, let us take good care of you, and soon you’ll be back on your feet as good as new.  I want you and I to spend as much time together as we can before you go off to school next year, so we need to have you well and healthy, do you hear me, son?”

 Adam’s eyes shown brightly as he softly got out the words, ‘Yessir, Pa,” and then he slowly drifted off to sleep again.

*****

 EPILOGUE

 Adam’s young body mended quickly, though he was plagued with headaches for the next few weeks.  He seemed to be a happier, steadier young man to Ben, but once in a while still had his “moods,” was a bit argumentative and irritable at times.   Little Joe was so grateful to have his big brother back and all well again that he tried very hard to be a good boy and not cause him any trouble.

 Six weeks after the accident with the horse was the first anniversary of Marie’s death.  Mid-morning on that day, all the Cartwright men gathered up great bunches of flowers, dressed in their Sunday best and drove the buggy up to Sandy Cove to visit Marie’s grave.  It was an emotional visit for all of them, especially Ben who couldn’t stop his eyes from misting over as they all stood there in silence, keeping their thoughts to themselves.

 Suddenly, though, Adam broke off from the group and left at a dead run to the other side of the buggy sitting up the hill from the gravesite.

 “Hoss, stay here with Joe, please, and don’t come until I call you,” Ben commanded.

 “Okay, Pa, sure,” Hoss looked at his father questioningly, but didn’t say anymore.  He sat down in the grass and pulled Little Joe onto his lap.

 Ben walked quickly up the hill and found Adam on the other side of the buggy,  with his arm against the side of it and his head buried against his arm.  He was shaking and sobbing uncontrollably.

 Ben took him gently by both shoulders and turned him around to him and gathered him into his arms.  Adam threw his arms around his father, leaned into him and burrowed his head into Ben’s shoulder, as great racking sobs shook his body.

 “I want her back, Pa.  I miss her so much.  I can’t help it.  I wished I had been nicer to her.  I’m sorry, Pa.  I didn’t mean to do this.”   He repeated these phrases over and over, hiccuping and sobbing as Ben had not seen him do since he was a very young child.”

 “Shhh, hush, son.  You don’t have anything to be sorry about, just let it out, son,” Ben reassured him as he stroked the hair on the back of Adam’s head.

 “You need to let this out, son, and it’s okay.  I understand.  It’s all right, boy.  I understand and you don’t need to be sorry about anything.  You are such a good son and you’ve helped me so much to get through this.   And, believe me, Marie knew you loved her.  She always did and she was so proud of her oldest son.”

 At that, Adam’s sobs grew even stronger, but he didn’t say anymore.  He just soaked up the love and comfort emanating from his father, savored the closeness that they didn’t often enjoy as he had gotten older,  and finally let all the pain and the grief empty out of him as it had not done before.

 Finally, his tears were spent and he sagged limply back against the buggy, giving his father a sheepish look.

 “Son, showing your feelings like you just did is never anything to be ashamed of, never, and I’ve found over these many years that it helps to get all that out like you just did.  I have a feeling now that you are going to feel a lot better than maybe you have in a long time.  I know it always helps me. ”  Ben himself had tears streaks down his face.

 “Thanks Pa.  Thanks for being here and thanks for being the best father anybody could ever ask for.  Every time I see some of the other guys with their fathers, I know just how lucky I am.”

 “Well,” Ben took a deep breath and tried to pull himself together, “I’m going to go and take those younger brothers of yours for a little walk.”  You just stay here and relax for a minute.  I won’t take them very far. “

 With that, he walked back down the hill to Joe and Hoss.  Adam knew he was just giving him a chance to pull himself together before his brothers saw him.  After Ben had taken the younger boys further on down the beach, Adam walked back down to his stepmother’s grave and bowed his head.

“Thanks, Marie.  Thanks for being here and for being my mother.  I love you.”  He looked down the beach, “And thank you, Pa.”

***The End***

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