Great Divide (by SandyW)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  12,300


It was 2:00 in the morning, the latest Adam had stayed out on a work night since he had started down the path that had his father so worried. It was very hard for Ben to go to sleep if he wasn’t sure that all his boys were safe at home.

What Ben just couldn’t understand was that in the two years that Adam had been home from college, he had really been everything his father could have hoped for in a right-hand man in the running of the ranch. To Ben, he had returned from college seemingly all grown up and matured into a fine young man.

Ben had realized just how much Adam had learned about business, engineering, building, mining, agriculture and just about everything else while he was at college. Frankly, Ben was relieved to hand over a lot of the responsibilities of

the ranch to Adam. He trusted Adam’s judgment and it gave him some needed respite from the daily duties and responsibilities that went with keeping a large cattle ranch running. Ben was also greatly relieved that Adam had returned home. There were many times along the way during Adam’s college years that Ben had been afraid that he might not choose to come back, that his yearnings to learn about and see more of the world would supersede his wanting to return home. But in the end, Adam had decided to come home and Ben couldn’t have been happier about that.

But for the past few weeks, things seemed to be going downhill. Adam had taken to staying out late on work nights and sometimes all night on weekends. Ben felt that Adam was an adult and as long as he gave a full day’s work for his pay, then that’s all he could ask of him as a ranch hand; but as his father, Ben did expect more. He had heard that Adam was drinking heavily, playing poker to all hours and generally acting totally unlike himself.

Ben wondered if it had something to do with the breakup of a relationship Adam had been involved in recently. The girl, Mary Ellen Hughes, had a bit of a reputation and Ben and Adam had exchanged a few words on the subject, but then Ben had left it alone. Adam was a grown man and Ben felt it was not his business to interfere any further. The girl had left town about two weeks before Adam started displaying this unusual behavior, so it was possible that this was a reaction to that. Ben just didn’t know what to think. The one thing he did know, parents didn’t get to stop worrying about their children after they were grown. As a matter of fact, Ben was beginning to wonder if they didn’t worry more rather than less.

Ben rolled these thoughts around and around in his mind as he kept one ear open for the sound of a horse returning to the ranch, but was startled to open his eyes and realize that dawn had arrived. He jumped up, grabbed his robe and quickly struggled to put it on. He couldn’t help it…he had to check. He walked softly on bare feet down to Adam’s room and knocked very lightly, then opened the door. He could feel his heart thump in his chest. The bed had not been slept in. This was the first time Adam had stayed out all night on a work night. A dozen scenarios rushed through Ben’s mind, from whether Adam had simply decided to spend the night in town and would make it home in time for work, to whether he had been hurt on the way home.

Ben sighed, returned to his room and quietly dressed. An hour later, Ben, Little Joe and Hoss sat down for breakfast with still no evidence of Adam. Hoss had also discovered that Adam had not made it home and was wondering what his Pa’s reaction would be. Joe, at 13, had not paid any attention to the fact that Adam wasn’t home until he realized his big brother was not at the breakfast table.

“Where’s Adam, Pa? Has he already gone off to work? Wish I could go off to work rather than to school,” he frowned as he said it. Joe was not happy with school, especially today. He had to do an oral book report and he had just skimmed over the book. It was so boring. He couldn’t possibly imagine actually reading through the entire book. He hoped he could maybe, just maybe, fool the teacher and get by without him knowing.

“Um…I’m afraid I don’t know where Adam is, Joe. It appears he didn’t come home last night, so I gather he may have decided to stay in town for the night. He’ll probably turn up pretty soon.”

Joe looked at his father, wondering if he was angry or worried about Adam. Probably a little of each, if he knew his Pa. He decided he better change the subject, but then they all heard horse’s hooves as someone rode in.

“Well, I bet that’s your missing brother right now,” Ben declared and got up from the table to go look, motioning at Hoss and Joe to stay put.

Just as he reached the door, there was a knock. Ben opened the door to Sheriff Roy Coffee and his heart really did a flip-flop at the sight of him. He prayed Roy was not bringing him bad news about Adam.

“Mornin’, Ben.”

“Morning, Roy,” Ben said as they shook hands. Not able to wait another moment, Ben asked, “Roy, you haven’t seen Adam, have you, by any chance?”

“Well, Ben, I’m sorry to say that’s just why I’m here so early this fine mornin’.” Roy saw the fearful expression on Ben’s face. He raised his palms up to Ben and said, “Now, Ben, don’t get yourself all worried here. Adam is fine, just a little worse for the wear is all. I’m afraid I’ve got him cooling his heels down to my jail. That’s why I come out here to tell you myself. He got himself into a fight at the Bucket of Blood last night. Quite a brawl it was, too. ‘Bout filled up my jail with those I could get my hands on and they’re all going to have to pay for breaking up the place, I’m afraid.”

“Roy, you’re telling me Adam got in a fight and you arrested him?”

“Well, him and about a dozen other fellas, Ben. I just felt they all needed to cool their tempers off a bit. Ya know, the way Adam’s been carrying on lately, I just felt maybe a night in jail might knock some sense into the boy. I figured comin’ out here and bringin’ you back to bail him outta my jail might wake him up a little bit. Ya know that boy just hasn’t been acting hisself lately.”

“Yes, Roy, do I ever know it. I just can’t believe he’s gotten himself in this kind of trouble. It’s just not like him, not at all. Was he drinking heavily, too,?” Ben questioned as he glanced at his two other sons who were listening to every word. This was a fine example Adam was setting for Joe, Ben thought to himself.

“Well, Ben, now yes he was. That’s another reason I kept him in the jail. I didn’t think he had any business trying to ride home in his condition. Just felt all around it was the best thing. He was still sleepin’ when I left. I imagine he’s gonna have quite a hangover when he wakes up.”

Roy could see the defeated look in Ben’s eyes and it hurt him to have to tell his friend about his oldest son’s behavior.

“Well, Roy, why don’t you sit down and have some breakfast before we go back to town. I’m real sorry you had to come out here this early.”

“No thanks, Ben. I had my breakfast before I came. I’m ready to go back whenever you are. Maybe I’ll just have a cup of Hop Sing’s coffee while you get ready to go.”

“Sure, Roy. Come sit down here and I’ll pour you a cup and I’ll go out and get Buck saddled…..I’m sorry about my boy causing you this trouble, Roy.”

“Ben, don’t you go worryin’ about me. Just part of my job.”

******

Back at the jail, Adam stared up at the ceiling of his jail cell. Roy had already let go several of the men he had arrested last night, so now Adam was in a cell by himself, though all the other cells were still inhabited. He knew Roy had gone to get his father and he wondered what was going to be said when they came back. He knew how disappointed his father was going to be in him, but it couldn’t be helped. Roy had said he wasn’t going to let Adam out until he had gone and gotten his father to bail him out. Adam had the money to bail himself out just like those who had already left had done, but he knew Roy wasn’t going to change his mind.

‘Well, I’m too old to whip or be restricted to the ranch,’ he thought. But Adam knew neither he or his brothers would ever be too old for one of Pa’s lectures, of that he could be sure. ‘I’m really treading a fine line here,’ he mused to himself.

He heard the front door of the jail open and close. He felt his stomach tighten. Grown man that he was, he still hated to face his father’s disappointment. Roy opened the outer door of the cells, walked down to Adam’s cell and unlocked the door.

“Your Pa’s waiting for ya in the office, Adam.”

Adam picked his hat up off the bed and walked out to face the inevitable. He saw the look of hurt and disappointment in Ben’s face as soon as he walked in the office, but Ben’s face quickly became stern and he said nothing in response to Adam’s, “Hi, Pa.”

“Thank’s for coming out, Roy. I’ll talk to you later.”

Roy handed Adam’s holster and gun back to him and answered, “Okay Ben, talk with ya later.”

Ben turned on his heel and walked out. Adam followed and found Sport standing next to Buck. His father must have retrieved him from the livery first. They mounted up together and rode out, Ben still saying nothing. They rode for awhile and then saw a rider approach. It was Joe on his way to school. They all stopped, exchanged short greetings, then Joe went on his way to town. At that point, Ben turned to Adam.

“Adam, I was waiting until we passed Joe and I’d like to have this conversation here rather than in front of Hoss at home.”

Adam braced himself for what was to come, a little sick to his stomach at the thought.

“Son, I just don’t know what has gotten into you lately. I’m sure I don’t know the full story on what you’ve been up to recently, but I’ve heard things and now this. This isn’t like you, son, and if there is something bothering you, that’s got you all upset and not acting yourself, I want you to know that I’m here to listen.”

“I’m worried about you, boy. You’re headed for trouble and I don’t want you to get hurt. I can’t tell you that this hasn’t been a disappointment to me because it has, but I know there must be some reason behind it. If it has to do with Mary Ellen, then I can understand how you feel, but you’ve got to move on with your life and pull yourself together. If there is anything I can do to help you, just say the word, son.”

This was not what Adam was expecting to hear and in a way he almost wished his father had come down on him like he had expected. Leave it to Ben Cartwright to throw a surprise your way just when you felt you had him all figured.

“Pa…look, I’m a grown man now. I lead my own life. I messed up last night and I didn’t make it to work on time today. You’ve got a right to be mad at me about that and you can cut my pay or do whatever you think I deserve about that, but my private life is my own and I don’t need to answer to you for it. If you don’t want me under your roof under those conditions, I can understand that and I wouldn’t blame you.”

“Adam, you’re my son. I don’t want you to leave home. I’m just worried about you. Look, you’ll lose a day’s pay today. I doubt you’re feeling in much shape to work today anyway after what happened last night. I just want you to know I’m worried about you, son, and I want to help you if I can.”

Adam looked down at the ground. This was definitely not going the way he expected it to. Well, that’s Ben Cartwright for you. Oh, Pa, he thought, why couldn’t you just once be predictable.

“Well, come on son, let’s get home and you can catch up on your rest today.”

*****

Adam went home and did go to bed, deciding to take advantage of the opportunity to rest. He had been losing a lot of sleep lately and it was good to catch up on it. He finally got up in the early evening, got dressed, went downstairs and over to the sideboard to put his gunbelt on.

Ben was sitting by the fire, reading the paper and waiting for supper. “Adam, where’re you headed? Supper will be ready soon and your chores have already been taken care of.”

Adam couldn’t look at Ben as he answered, “Uh…I’m going into town, Pa.”

Ben threw the newspaper down noisily onto the table. “You’re going back to town tonight after what happened last night? I don’t understand, Adam.”

“Um.. well, I’ve got some stuff to take care of there.”

“What stuff?” Adam could hear the anger beginning in Ben’s voice. This was the start of what he had expected earlier. He figured it wouldn’t take too much more to push his father to the edge on this.

“Just stuff, Pa, my stuff, my business.”

“You going back to spend another night at a saloon, maybe end up in jail again?” Ben questioned sarcastically.

“Well, I guess that’s just my business whether I do or whether I don’t,” Adam answered back loudly as he put his coat on and reached for his hat.”

“Adam Cartwright! Don’t take that tone of voice with me. You may be a grown man, but I am your father and I expect a certain amount of respect, especially under my own roof.”

“Well, I told you already, Pa …if you don’t like the way I’m living my life, I can just move out from under your roof.” With that, he planted his hat on his head and walked out the door, not giving a shocked Ben time to respond. Hoss was midway down the stairs and was astounded at the exchange he had just heard between his brother and father. Something was definitely wrong here. Adam had never talked to Ben in that manner before, ever, not even when he was a teenager and giving his father a difficult time.

Ben stood staring at the closed door for several moments, then his shoulders slumped and he sagged back down into his chair.

Hoss made his way down the final steps. “Pa, I think maybe I should talk to you about somethin’.”

Ben sighed with a preoccupied look on his face, “What is it, son?”

Hoss sat on the table in front of Ben. Joe was upstairs and he didn’t want Joe to hear what he had to say.

“Well, Pa, I was in town earlier today and I heard some things about Adam that’s got me kind of worried.”

Ben looked sharply at Hoss, “What things, Hoss?”

“Well, seems like he’s been hanging around with some of those fellas from the Bar J Ranch, been drinking with ’em, playing poker with ’em, and sayin’ some stuff.”

“Saying just what kind of stuff, Hoss?”

Hoss looked very uncomfortable as he tried to think of how to word this to Ben. “Well, Pa, seems like he’s been sayin’ that he works awful hard here at the Ponderosa for not much pay…uh…that he deserves more for the way he helps you run things around here.” Hoss looked down at the floor. He knew this was going to hurt his Pa, but he felt they needed to figure out what was going on with Adam and get to the bottom of it before something happened. Hoss was worried that Adam would not only just move away from the ranch, but maybe leave the territory altogether, if he was this unhappy.

“Hoss, I just can’t believe this. Adam has never said anything to me about not having enough money. He gets paid very well and he knows it. He also knows I’ve invested money all along for each of you boys and that this ranch will belong to the three of you someday – for that matter it belongs to all four of us as it is now. It’s not just mine, it’s all of ours. If he’s losing his money in poker games, he may be short of ready cash, but this just doesn’t sound like him….but then again, he hasn’t been sounding or acting like himself for weeks now.”

“And of all people to be hanging around with, I can’t figure why the Bar J. He knows how I feel about Bart Jameson… how a lot of us feel about him. He’s come in here bought up as much land as he can, but instead of hiring some good ranch hands, what does he do…hires a bunch of gunslingers. Can’t figure him out or what he’s up to, but I would bet it’s no good, whatever it is. He’s running cattle on that spread, but not as many as he should be and he seems to have plenty of money to stock the place right, if he really wanted to. Just can’t figure any of this, Hoss,” Ben said sadly.

*****

Adam rode into town and tied up Sport at the Silver Dollar. He figured he wouldn’t be welcome at the Bucket of Blood until he had paid up there. He walked in, looked around and saw the people he was looking for sitting at one of the back tables. He sauntered over to join them, a sheepish smile on his face. He saw the man himself, Bart Jameson, was here tonight.

“Well, lookee here, if it ain’t our old jailbird friend, Adam Cartwright,” whooped Linc Johnson, the Bar J’s foreman. “Pull up a chair.”

Adam sat down at the table with them. “Hello yourself, Linc. Only reason you didn’t get thrown in jail with me is you must’ve been hiding under one of the tables,” he smiled.

“Well, I got me enough sense to do just that when I see the sheriff comin’, Adam. Yessiree, Mr. Jameson, we got us quite the criminal sittin’ here with us tonight.” Everyone at the table laughed, including Adam and Bart Jameson.

Bart was a man just about Ben’s age, but heavier, with short sandy hair that was only just beginning to show a little gray. He watched Adam with his keen gray eyes shadowed by his bushy eyebrows, wondering just exactly where Adam Cartwright really stood in the big picture. Bart had no use for Ben Cartwright.

Ben was known for building up his empire by hard work and the sweat of his brow. Bart had gained his holdings a little differently.

Adam spent the rest of the evening and well into the wee hours of the morning drinking and playing poker with the Bar J outfit, with Jameson watching and assessing Adam’s every word and move.

Adam made it home to the Ponderosa, managed to get a few hours sleep and to get up on time for work. When he reached the breakfast table the rest of his family were already seated.

“Hey, Adam, could you help me out with my school work tonight. I gotta write another book report and I need some help understanding this book,” Joe asked with a smile and an expectant look on his face.

“Listen, kid, I don’t have time for that stuff anymore. It’s about time you were learning to do your own school work, if that’s possible.” Adam could see the hurt in Joe’s eyes as soon as he said the words.

“ADAM!” Ben roared, “That was totally uncalled for. Your little brother was simply asking for your help. If you don’t wish to help him, you don’t need to be sarcastic about it.”

Ben smiled at Little Joe, “Son, you and I’ll get together tonight. I’ll be glad to help you out.”

Adam got up out of his chair, having only taken a couple of bites of his breakfast. “I’m going to work.”

Ben stood up, also. “Adam, I’m going out to the barn with you. You and I need to talk.”

“Suit yourself.” Adam turned and walked over to the sideboard for his gun. Ben wanted to grab his arm and shake him, but he let Adam go on out the door first and then he followed behind to pick up his gunbelt. He noticed Hoss and Joe were both looking at their plates, but not eating. This has got to end, he thought. It’s tearing this family apart and I can’t let that happen.

Adam was saddling up Sport as Ben walked in. “Adam, you and I need to talk this out. Things can’t go on this way. You’ve been disrespectful to me and hurtful to your little brother. I don’t know what’s going on with you. Whatever it is, I’d like to help, but I won’t tolerate any more of this kind of behavior around here, grown man or not, Adam.”

 Adam was facing away from him as he said the words. Adam knew this was hurting his father to have to say those words to him, and it was hurting Adam to hear them. He spun around to face Ben. “Fine, Pa. That’s just fine with me. I’m tired of having to always go by ‘your’ rules, watching what I say, how I say it. Twenty-five years old and have to worry about my father if I’m out too late, and by the way, I’m thinking, considering all the work I do around here, that maybe I’m not getting paid enough either, you know. I went to college for four years and I’ve used a lot of what I learned there to make things better around here, yet the foreman over at the Bar J makes better wages than I do.”

“Adam, is that what’s been bothering you? You don’t think you get enough money here? You’ve never said anything like that to me before. You know our financial situation and that funds are being invested for all three of you boys, and that this ranch will belong to the three of you someday. I don’t know what Jameson’s paying over there, but I’m paying you top dollar, plus!”

Adam turned back away from Ben and quickly mounted his horse. In a loud, angry voice, he retorted, “Well, it isn’t enough, Pa…not nearly enough,” and he rode off out the barn door. Ben could hear Sport build up to a gallop shortly.Unfortunately, they were not headed towards the East Meadow where he and Adam were scheduled to work today.

Ben sighed deeply, grabbed hold of the door of Sport’s stall, hung his head and wondered to himself just what in the hell had happened to his oldest son.

Joe walked into the barn and saw his father’s obvious distress. “Pa, what’s the matter, what’s wrong? Did you and Adam have a fight?”

Ben raised his head up, gathered himself together, sighed again, turned and smiled at Joe. “Well, I won’t deny your brother and I had a few words, son, but I’m sure we’ll work it all out. Don’t you go worrying about it,” Ben reassured him as he put his arm around Little Joe’s shoulder and pulled him close.

“I’m sorry, Pa. He shouldn’t talk to you that way.”

“Don’t worry about it, I said, Joe. It will be okay. Now get Cochise ready and get on to school, and I haven’t forgotten – we’ll work together on that book report tonight, okay?”

Joe was doubtful about Ben and Adam working anything out very soon, but he responded and smiled at his Pa, “Okay, guess I better hurry or I’ll be late.”

*****

Adam rode off towards the Jameson ranch. Now was the time to do what he had been considering for the past few weeks. He was sorry about the scene with his father. That was the last thing he wanted to do – hurt Ben – but he just didn’t have a choice in the matter – not now – he was in too deep now. He had lost a considerable amount of money at poker to the men of the Bar J, especially BartcJameson himself, who was an excellent poker player.

He rode through the gate of the Bar J and up the long road leading to the main house. Though large, the house at the Bar J was nowhere near as beautiful as the Ponderosa ranch house, Adam thought to himself. There were a lot of men hanging around the place, but none of them seemed to be all that busy working.

Linc was standing on the front porch of the house and smiled as Adam rode up.c”Well, hello Adam. Whatcha doin’ here? Decide to take us up on our offer?”

Adam dismounted and tied Sport to the hitching rail. “I suppose you could say I’m giving it some serious thought.”

“Well, come on in and talk to the boss. He’ll be glad to see you, boy.” Linc was a gregarious young man about Adam’s age. He had light blond, straight hair and blue eyes just about the color of Hoss’, Adam always thought. But any resemblance ended there. Though Linc could come across as friendly and talkative when he wished to, Adam knew that he was as fast with a gun as any man in the territory and as mean as a snake if necessary. Adam had seen him backhand one of his men for questioning an order. Then when the man was down, Linc took his boot and deliberately drove his spur into the calf of the man’s leg. Adam knew he would have to be very careful with this one.

They walked through the front door of the house and into a small study where Bart Jameson was sitting behind his desk. When he saw them come in, he got up, came around his desk and held out his hand to Adam in greeting. Adam responded in kind and they shook hands.

“Glad to see you here, Adam. Given some thought to my offer, have you?”

“Well, to tell you the truth, I have, Mr. Jameson. My father and I have had another argument. He just doesn’t want to let loose of enough of his money to pay me what I think I deserve.”

“So your Daddy and you not seeing eye to eye these days, huh?” Bart turned his back to Adam and went back to his chair. He leaned back in it and studied Adam’s face for a moment.

“You know when I first came here, everybody said you were second in command there at the Ponderosa, had taken over a lot of responsibility for your Pa. They said you were a lot like ole Ben, tough, but honest, and that you were your Daddy’s pride and joy, going to college and all. So what’s happened now to change all of that?”

Adam looked down at his hat in his hands and ran his hand around the brim of it before he spoke. “A few weeks ago, I was very interested in a certain young lady in town. My father made it pretty plain that she didn’t live up to the kind of woman he felt a Cartwright son should be with. I’ve been out of college for two years now and have put my education to good use on the Ponderosa – everything from the ranch operation, to the mining, the timber, everything. Yet he still treats me like a kid and doesn’t pay me what I’m worth to him. He wants to keep us all on a short string. Well, I’m tired of it, that’s all.”

Bart quietly gazed at Adam after he had finished, then made up his mind and got up out of his chair again, came around and sat on the front edge of his desk. “Okay, Adam, I’ll give you a chance here on the Bar J. I think you may be of great help to me in some of my activities. I’ll pay you half again what you’re making on the Ponderosa. Linc here will show you your place in the bunkhouse.” He reached out to shake Adam’s hand again.

“Thanks, Mr. Jameson, you won’t be sorry,” he grinned widely. Linc and Adam walked back out of the house to the bunkhouse with Bart watching them leave. He thought to himself, ‘This could be my lucky day. I can use a smart boy like that, especially one with a grievance against his own Daddy, the owner of the largest ranch in the territory. Yes, I could put Adam to good use around here.’

*****

Adam rode straight back to the Ponderosa, hoping to miss everyone in his family before they came home. He needed to pack up a few necessities to take back with him to the Bar J. He hoped to avoid another confrontation with Ben and planned to just leave a note as to his whereabouts.

It wasn’t to be, however, as he saw Buck tied up at rail in front of the house and knew his father was there. He walked in and saw Ben at his desk. “Hello, Adam.”

“Uh…Hi, Pa …uh… I’m here to pack up a few of my things. I’m going to work for Bart Jameson at the Bar J.”

Ben quickly stood up from his chair, the disbelief showing in his eyes, “What are you talking about? What do you mean? You mean you are leaving the Ponderosa, your home here? You’re going to work for someone else….Bart Jameson? Why, Adam? I don’t understand and Bart Jameson – everyone around here knows he’s up to some kind of no good. I even heard tell he may be involved in those stage holdups we’ve had going on here and the robberies of the Army’s gold shipments. I know there’s been no proof, but there’s been talk. How can you do this? Why are you doing this?”

Adam looked away from Ben towards the fireplace. “I’m tired of being treated like a schoolboy here, Pa, and being paid like one. Now there’s nothing more to say. I’ve made my decision. I just need to get a few things and I’ll be out of your hair.”

Ben came over to him and grasped his arm, “Out of my hair…when have I ever indicated to you that I want you ‘out of my hair?’ I don’t want you to leave, son. I especially don’t want you getting caught up in the Jameson crowd. Please, think about this some more, Adam. Whatever it is that’s really bothering you, we can work it out. Please don’t do this.”

It was ripping at Adam’s conscience to hear his father’s pleas. He had to get out of here. He pulled his arm from his father’s grasp and said, “Pa, I’m going and that’s all there is to it.” He quickly strode across the room and took the stairs two at a time. He threw some things into his saddle bags and turned around and quickly descended the stairs. His father was waiting at the bottom.

“Please, Adam, don’t do this.”

Adam shrugged past him hurriedly, then across the room and out the door. Ben heard Adam’s horse ride off. He virtually collapsed onto the bottom step of the stairway and held his head in his hands, which is how Hoss found him a few minutes later.

“Pa, what’s the matter? What’s wrong?” He came over and put his hand on his father’s shoulder.

Ben slowly raised his red-rimmed eyes to his middle son. “He’s gone, Hoss. He picked up a few of his things and rode out of here. He’s taken a job at the Bar-J. I don’t understand it. I just don’t understand it.” He rested his chin on his folded hands, elbows on his knees.

Hoss couldn’t believe what his father was telling him. Adam leaving home, going to work for Bart Jameson. What the devil had gone wrong around here?

“Pa, he don’t mean half of what he says when he gets mad. You know that. He’ll be back. I’m sure he will. Now don’t you worry, Pa.”

Ben slowly stood up and put his arm around Hoss’ shoulder. “Thanks for saying that son, but I just don’t know your brother anymore, I just don’t know him,” Ben said dejectedly.

*****

Over the next few weeks, Ben and Hoss and even Joe heard very disturbing reports of Adam. It seemed that he was spending nearly every night in one saloon or another in town with men from the Bar J, almost always including Bart Jameson himself. They were playing poker every night and Adam was losing big. Apparently he had run up IOUs to Jameson for near on $10,000, Ben had heard. Before this, Adam had never been much of one to play poker and when he had, he usually won.

All of this was very disquieting to Ben. What had happened to his oldest, steady, rock-solid son?

During all this, Adam worked with the cattle at the Bar J, but there wasn’t much of a herd and the work wasn’t hard, though he was making considerably more than he had at the Ponderosa. However, he had lost his wages and was in deep debt from his losses at poker. He owed Jameson more money than he could ever pay back.

Jameson, for his part, figured he had Adam Cartwright right about where he wanted him. The boy owed him big money. Now was the time to pay the piper and to see if he could be trusted. He sent for Adam and called him into his study.

“Morning, Mr. Jameson,” Adam greeted him.

“Morning, Adam. I needed to talk to you about all these markers of yours I’m holding here. You know they’re up to $10,000 now. How do you expect to pay these off?”

Adam looked down at his boots, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I never should have let myself get drawn into this, I guess. The only assets I have are what I brought with me here and my wages. Guess I’ll be paying you off for a long time to come.”

“What about your Pa, boy? Can’t you ask him to help you out?”

Adam set his jaw, “No sir, I can’t do that and even if I went to him, he wouldn’t give me the money. He doesn’t believe in gambling beyond what you can afford and he’d never help me out, especially since I’ve left home and come to work for you. There’s just no way he’ll help me on this.” The words sounded bitter to Jameson.

“Well, Adam, $10,000 is a large amount of money and I can’t just wait around for the rest of my life for it to be paid off. What if I could offer you a way out of this, a way to pay me back in a short period of time and maybe get hold of some extra money beyond that for yourself?”

“I don’t understand. How could I do that?”

“You’re a smart boy, Adam. You’ve probably got some idea since you’ve been here. I’m not running a cattle ranch here and you know it. I’m in for bigger stakes here. You’ve figured that much out, haven’t you?”

Adam allowed himself to show a small self-conscious grin, “Well, I kinda figured there was something going on here, other than running a few cattle. I mean you’re paying me big wages for not a whole lot of work, and I don’t see the other men doing a heck of a lot of work either.”

“Adam, I’m not totally sure I can trust you. You had a reputation for honesty when I first came to this territory. I’ve decided to let you in on this, but I want you to know something. If you come in with me, then you’re in for the count. There won’t be any backing out, no matter what you may think of what we’re doing or what I ask you to do.” Jameson’s eyes turned hard as Adam watched and listened. “Once you’re in with us, there will be no out. You’ll be a dead man is what you’ll be and I’m not above taking down some of the rest of your family with you if I feel you’ve betrayed me. Do we understand each other here, Adam?”

Adam almost flinched, but stood firm. Putting himself in jeopardy was one thing, but the rest of his family? That put a different complexion on this entire thing. He knew there was no going back now. He was in too deep already. He knew enough from just living at the Bar J for these few weeks and he knew Jameson would never let him go, even now. He knew one other thing … if Jameson tried to do anything to his family, it wouldn’t be Adam Cartwright who would be dead, it would be Bart Jameson. Adam made himself a promise about that.

“We understand each other Mr. Jameson.”

“Well, fine, Adam, then why don’t you call me Bart from now on. I think you and me are going to make a good team, Adam. You’re a smart boy, too smart to live the rest of your life sweating on a cattle ranch. We can make some big money together, more money than you’d ever see in ten lifetimes as a rancher. I know what you want, Adam. You want to travel, see the world. You’ll never make that on a rancher’s wages, but with me that’s a dream that can come true for you. You’ll be able to pay off my $10,000 easy and the rest will be gravy. How does that sound?”

Adam smiled broadly, “That sounds just fine to me, Bart, just fine.”

*****

That night men from the Bar J crew were gathered around a table in the Silver Dollar again, with Jameson holding court. Adam was sitting right next to him twirling his drink as he listened to the men’s chit-chat. He glanced up and saw his father and Hoss walk in. He looked quickly down at the table and hoped they hadn’t spotted him, but luck wasn’t with him tonight.

Ben and Hoss approached the table nodding at the men there. “Hello, Adam,” he said evenly.

“Evenin’, Pa, Hoss.” Adam gave them both a quick glance, then watched the amber liquid spin around in his glass.

“Well, howdy, Ben,” Jameson nodded. “How’s everything at the Ponderosa these days?”

“Fine.” Ben acknowledged Jameson with a quick glance, then turned his attention back to his son. “Everything going okay, son? Haven’t seen you in a while.”

This was it, Adam knew. This was where he was really going to have to draw the line. He hated doing it, but it had to be done. He slammed his glass down on the table and the whisky splashed out onto the table and over his hand. “You just can’t leave me alone for one minute can you, Pa?” Adam’s voice was slurred as he said the words. “Everything is just fine with me and you see as much of me as you need to, and I see as much of any of you as I need to. I’m leading my own life now and I don’t need you following me around like a little kid. I’m not a kid anymore and I do as I damn well please.” He knew the profanity would get his father’s back up like nothing else.

Hoss butted in first, though, “Adam, watch your mouth! That’s no way to talk to Pa.” Hoss was clenching his fists and started forward, but Ben grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

Adam could not look up into his father’s eyes. He was afraid of what he would see there, but he was also afraid of what Ben would see in his eyes. Ben stared down at this boy who had grown so far away from him that he had no idea how to bring him back. He was furious about the way Adam had spoken to him, especially so in public, but his voice was low as he responded. Adam recognized that tone of his father’s voice, the one he used when he was angriest.

“Yes, Adam, you are a grown man now. It’s just too bad that you don’t act like one!”

Ben turned on his heel, with Hoss in tow and started to leave, the next words that he heard burned into his mind the rest of the night.

“I’ll act anyway I want, Old Man!” Adam yelled after him, then picked up his glass and turned and threw it against the spittoon next to the bar, shards of glass flying all around.

Hoss tried to get loose from Ben’s hold to go back and confront his brother, but Ben held firm and they walked out the door.

“Pa, let me go back in there and teach him a lesson in manners.”

“No, Hoss, I’ve had enough for one night. We’re going home.” His voice was stern, but Hoss could see the pain in his father eyes, even with only the light from the saloon to see by.

*****

A few of the glass fragments from Adam’s shattered beer glass had pierced the skin of the arm of one of the patrons at the bar, and he challenged Adam. Soon Adam was involved in another saloon brawl and once again was arrested by Sheriff Coffee. This time, he was the only one taken into custody as the witnesses attested to the fact that Adam had thrown the glass. Bart tried to intercede and bail Adam out, but Roy refused, saying Adam needed another night in jail to cool off and that he better learn his lesson or he’d be doing some heavy time if there was another such offense.

At around 3:00 a.m., Adam was awakened by the sound of his cell door opening. Roy and another man entered his cell. The other man was an Army major. Adam stood up and shook the major’s hand. “Good to see you, Phil.”

“Good to see you, Adam. You’re doing a fine job for us. The general is pleased to hear of your progress.”

“Phil, I’m doing this for you and for Roy because you asked me to, but this is really, truly starting to hurt my father just too much. I can’t stand putting him through any more of this. Roy, you see what’s happening to my father. You’re his friend.”

“I know, Adam, and I’m feeling pretty bad about that myself, but you and me both know how important this is. Both Phil and me felt you were the only man for this job and we’re all in it now.”

“But then, I want to tell my father. I can’t go on hurting him like this. I won’t do it anymore. He’s not going to let it out. You know that Roy.”

Major Phil Sutton, standing in the cell ramrod straight, was a tall man, as tall as Adam, but about five years older He had light brown hair and intelligent blue eyes. He and Adam had met in Boston and had become friends while Phil was stationed there. Now Phil was stationed at Ft. Barry. The Army had been losing a lot of money and men in the stolen gold shipments. Both General Kearney and Roy Coffee felt that Bart Jameson and his men at the Bar J were involved, but they had no evidence to prove it.

The general and Roy had decided together that they needed someone to infiltrate the Bar J. When Phil Sutton heard that this was where Adam Cartwright lived, he had suggested Adam for the job. Roy had to agree that he couldn’t think of anyone who would fit the bill better, but the real drawback, both for him and for Adam, had been what this would do to Ben. Phil had been put in charge of the operation and he was under orders that no one apart from the general, himself, one other Army contact, Roy and Adam were to know what was going on. Adam had wanted to tell Ben right from the start, but the general had refused. He felt it would be more convincing to everyone if Ben and the rest of the Cartwrights were not to know the real truth. There was nothing Phil could do to change his mind about it.

“You know I can’t allow you to tell your father, Adam. I’d like to, but the general has insisted.”

“Well, I’m not in the Army, Phil. I don’t have to take orders from you or the general. I don’t have to carry on with this for one more minute.”

“Adam,” Roy interjected, “I know how you feel and I gotta admit I’m feelin’ the same. I hate seein’ Ben so upset, but that’s what’s makin’ Bart believe this whole business. You know if you back out now, all these weeks’ work will have been for nothin’. Jameson will know the Army is on to him and will just lie low.”

“He’s right, Adam, we need to seize the moment now.”

“But how am I ever going to get my father to forgive me for what I’ve done to him? He doesn’t deserve this. I didn’t realize when I started this how hard it was going to be on him and on my little brothers.”

“Adam, I think once he knows what you’ve been doin’, the reason for it, the importance of it, he’ll understand,” Roy reasoned.

Adam sighed, “I don’t know Roy, I just don’t know … Okay, I’ll continue for a little while longer, but if this doesn’t come to a head soon, I am going to put a stop to it. It’s not fair to my family.”

*****

Ben heard the word pretty quickly that Adam had spent another night in jail. Unfortunately, the person who heard it first and came to him with the news was Little Joe. Adam and Joe hadn’t always gotten along very well since Adam’s return home from college. Joe had been seven when Adam had left. At that time, they had been very close and Joe had not understood why his beloved big brother had left him. However, he was eleven upon Adam’s return and what a huge change in a child from seven to eleven. Adam wasn’t quite ready for it and Joe definitely wasn’t ready to have a big brother come home and start bossing him around. However, even with that, the love was still there and things had evened out a bit over the past two years. Now Joe was totally confused about Adam leaving the ranch, going to work for Jameson, getting into trouble in town and being arrested twice.

“Pa, I don’t get it,” he said, “Adam would’ve killed me if it was me doing all this stuff to get in trouble. How come he’s changed so much lately?”

Ben put his hand on Joe’s shoulder and squeezed it gently. “I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that anymore than you do, son. This just isn’t like him at all. I don’t know what’s happened and I can’t seem to get through to him. I guess all we can do is wait it out and see if he comes to his senses pretty soon.”. He pulled Joe into a hug. “I simply won’t believe that he won’t come to his senses soon, I just won’t.”

“If you say so, Pa.”

Ben truly believed what he had just told Little Joe, but Adam’s words from the night before were imprinted indelibly in his mind, “I’ll act any way I want, Old Man.” None of his sons ever had talked to him so disrespectfully, not ever, and especially not Adam. He had been so shocked at the time to even respond, though his secondary urge was to go back and yank him off his chair, drag him out of the saloon and give him the thrashing of his life. But Adam was right about one thing…he was a grown man, 25 years old, but still so young to Ben, so very, very young. Somehow, some way, Adam had started down the wrong road and Ben needed to figure out how to bring him back, but he simply did not know where to begin.

In the meantime, Adam had returned to the Bar J and had been called again into Bart’s study. Linc was present this time. Bart finally confided to Adam just what the Bar J’s real operation entailed from the stagecoach robberies to the Army’s gold shipments off trains, to Wells Fargo jobs and bank jobs spreading out across the territory. Adam knew that the Army had become the primary investigative body because no witnesses were ever left to tell the tale and several military men had been killed.

Bart and Linc’s next plan was to rob the Virginia City Bank itself. This would be the first time they would hit something inside Virginia City itself. They figured it would be a walk in the park compared to their recent hit on the Army’s gold shipment, but they figured it was a way to ease Adam into the operation and see just how trustworthy he was.

“You understand, Adam, that we never leave witnesses, even though we are masked. How’re you gonna feel about that, Adam?”

“Well, I’m not going to like having to kill innocent people, Bart….but I guess I can see the necessity of it if we’re going to keep our identities from getting out.”

“You gonna be able to do it when the time comes, Adam? What if there’s someone in the bank that you know?”

“There’s already people in that bank that I know. I know the bank president and I know every teller in there, but I guess I don’t have much choice here. I owe you more money than I’ll ever be able to pay, my father has virtually disowned me by now, I would venture to bet. I don’t have any other options, looks like to me.”

“I’m glad you are smart enough to see that, Adam.”

“We’re planning on doing the job this Friday afternoon. There will be extra money in the safe from the ranch payrolls that will have come in on the noon stage that day. If anybody thinks we’re going for those payrolls, they will probably expect us to hit the stage, as that’s what we’ve usually done. But we’ll surprise them and hit the bank instead before the majority of the payroll money is picked up by the ranchers. The thing is we gotta keep them off guard, never quite figuring out a pattern for us. That’s what has worked for us for so long now.”

Adam knew he would have to get a message to his Army contact before Friday. If they kept up their usual evening activities, they would be back at the Silver Dollar tonight or at least some night before Friday. His contact was someone who appeared to be a scruffy old miner, but was really a sergeant from the Army post. He had put in an appearance in the same saloons as Adam had been frequenting since this had all started.

Sure enough, the Bar J men spent their evening in the Silver Dollar that very night and Adam had been able to get his message through to his contact. He knew already what the plan would be, as he and Phil and Roy had gone over every possible scenario they could think of, whether it be banks, Wells Fargo offices, stage coach or train robberies. Adam simply had to go along with Jameson’scheme, and then Phil and Roy would put their plans into action and this whole cat and mouse game would be over.

Then he would have to think of some way to make up to his father what he had put him through these past few weeks. He was eager to let his father know that he hadn’t gone awry as his father was thinking. On the other hand, he had a lot to account for regarding the pain he had put his father through. He only hoped that Ben and his brothers could find it in their hearts to forgive him.

*****

Friday, Ben and Hoss came into town at noon, had a small lunch, did some ranch business with their lawyer, then met Little Joe after school. Being Friday night, they planned to treat Joe to dinner at the Hotel International. Things had been pretty depressed at the Ponderosa of late and Ben hoped a night in town would bring everybody’s mood up, though he wondered if he could ever stop worrying about Adam. The more he thought about Adam’s actions, the more difficult he found it to comprehend what was behind it all. Something just didn’t sit right, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. All he knew was that every time he thought about Adam, he got a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. For that reason, he had buried himself in work, trying to keep his mind off his oldest son, but it was always there, always in the back of his mind.

While Ben and Hoss were picking up Joe at the school at 3:00, Adam, Jameson, Linc and five other men from the Bar J entered town from the opposite end, using a side street next to the Virginia City Bank. They had donned their masks just outside town and quickly dismounted and entered the bank. Adam was thankful there were no customers in the bank. He had been put in charge of closing the curtains and locking the door after five of them entered, leaving the other three as backup and to have the horses at the ready.

Unbeknownst to the Bar J men, both bank tellers were Army officers and the man sitting in the bank president’s office was, also. Adam knew that Roy and Phil had everything covered inside and out.

Linc and Bart had already pulled their guns and held them on the tellers, while another man pulled the bank “president” out of his office and ordered him to open the safe. The man quickly started to spin the combination.

Quietly, in the meantime, Major Sutton and Roy Coffee and their men had overpowered the three men outside, being careful not to let anyone inside the bank hear them.

Suddenly, the supposedly locked front door of the bank burst open and all hell broke loose as the “tellers” and bank “president” drew hidden pistols and Sutton, Coffee and several others came through the doors. In the melee that followed, Jameson looked Adam in the eye and instantly knew he had been betrayed. He was able to get off a shot which took Adam in the arm before he was cut down by the Major’s men.

However, Linc, who had taken cover behind a desk, started screaming, “If I’m going down Cartwright, you’re going with me.” He came out, both sidearms blazing, and just as Adam was sliding down the wall as his legs gave out from the impact of the arm wound, one of Linc’s bullets got him point blank in the chest. At that moment, Adam pitched face forward on the bank floor and was still. Roy Coffee himself put an end to Linc Johnson and the Jameson gang was no more.

Ben, Hoss and Joe, plus a crowd of other Virginia City men had run to the bank upon hearing the shots. They were among the first to arrive hearing shouts of “bank robbery,” “Bar J men,” “Bart Jameson himself.” Ben burst through the door of the bank, saw that Roy had the situation well in hand, and then his heart jumped into his throat as he saw a familiar figure lying in a puddle of blood on the floor.

“Adam, my God, Adam,” he screamed and knelt by his son. He turned Adam over and saw the mask tied around his face, which he quickly ripped off. He felt for a pulse in Adam’s neck and could barely feel one, but at least he was alive. He raised his son up and cradled him in his arms.

“Someone get a doctor!” he screamed, “Get a doctor now!”

“Doc’s already on the way, Ben, don’t you worry,” Roy responded, kneeling down by his friend.

Adams eyes opened. He could see Ben’s face above him. Ben had to lean close to hear his few whispered words, “Pa…. it’s…. not what you… think. Please… forgive…. me.”

“Shh…son, just be still. The doc’s on the way. You’re gonna be okay. I forgive you anything, son. I love you. Hang on, son, hang on.” Ben looked at Roy, his face a reflection of the fear he was feeling.

“Ben, I know it’s not much consolation to you right at the moment, but Adam didn’t have nothin’ to do with robbin’ the bank, ‘ceptin’ so far as he was working with me and with the Army on catchin’ Jameson and his gang. Your boy did a brave thing here, Ben, and he wasn’t supposed to get hurt. We thought we had everything covered, but we didn’t figure on Linc Johnson virtually committin’ suicide just so’s he could gun down Adam. I’m awful sorry, Ben,” Roy apologized to his good friend.

Ben jerked his head around to glare at Roy, “Oh, you didn’t figure on his getting hurt, and you’re awful sorry!” Ben bit back. “He’s just a boy, Roy… my boy. How could you let this happen?”

Roy lowered his eyes and shook his head. He stood up quickly and tried to disperse the onlookers milling around, except for the two white-faced young men standing against the wall by the door who were both unable to take eyes off their fallen brother.

Just then Dr. Paul Martin rushed in the door and over to Ben’s side. He took a quick look at the situation and ordered four of the men in the near vicinity to carry Adam quickly to his office. As the men picked him up carefully from his father’s arms, Ben stood up to follow. Hoss and Joe were transfixed by the sight of their brother’s blood smeared all over the front of Ben’s coat and shirt, but soon turned to follow him to the doctors office.

*****

Adam was taken immediately back into the doctor’s examining room, and Paul firmly closed the door, telling Ben that he needed to remain in the waiting room with the boys.

Roy sent his deputy to his house to bring back a clean shirt and coat for Ben. Soon the doctor’s waiting room was filled to capacity by Ben, Hoss, Joe, Roy and Major Sutton.

What was left of the Jameson gang were locked up in the jail, and a contingent of army personnel were going over the Jameson ranch with a fine-tooth comb. Ben changed into the clean shirt and coat, never wanting to see his own again which were covered with his son’s blood.

Major Sutton approached Ben where he was sitting on a bench, a son on either side of him. “Mr. Cartwright, I’ve had word from the general. He regrets he is not able to leave the fort at this time and wants you to know that his prayers are with you, and for me to let you know what a brave thing Adam has done and that in doing so he has potentially saved the lives of many. I expect you know that gang never left any witnesses alive and that we have lost 16 good soldiers and countless civilians during their onslaught. I know this is cold comfort at this point, but your son is a hero, Mr. Cartwright.”

Ben looked up at the major with sadness and fear in his eyes. “I appreciate your words, Major, and I know the kind of man my son is and why he felt he had to do this, but all I can think of now is that he is lying in that room, near death. That’s all I can think about. I hope you can understand how I feel, young man. I understand you were a friend of Adam’s back when he was in Boston. You knew the danger of this kind of operation and yet you recommended your friend? I’m afraid I just don’t understand that.”

Major Sutton looked down at his boots for a moment and then into the eyes of this despairing father. “I’m sorry, Mr. Cartwright. As I assessed the situation at the time, I just didn’t see anyone else that I thought could really do the job as well as I knew Adam could. I knew how intelligent he is. The situation seemed perfect for our needs. Son of the owner of the largest cattle ranch in the territory, college education, known to butt heads with his father once in a while, father himself known to hold a tight rein on his sons. We felt that we could make it look like Adam was very unhappy with his situation, have him lose some big money gambling, put the word around that he wasn’t happy at home, not getting paid enough for his work.”

“Well, it succeeded. Jameson fell for it all, confided in Adam, took him into the gang and then Adam was able to get word back to us about this plan for today. By stopping the Jameson gang now, we have put an end to all the robbery and killing that has been going on here for months. I realize, Sir, how you feel, really I do. I just felt at the time that Adam was our best bet and the general agreed.”

The major continued, “We had already made the decision when we went to Sheriff Coffee. Please don’t blame your friend. Both Adam and Roy wanted to tell you right up front, but the general wouldn’t agree to it. Adam was heartsick at what this was doing to you, and I don’t think he could have continued this much longer. As a matter of fact, the last time we talked, he said that he would not continue it much longer unless he were able to confide in you what was going on.”

At that, Ben closed his eyes and sunk back against the bench. He put one arm around Joe and his other hand on Hoss’ arm.

Hoss covered Ben’s hand with his own. “Now Pa, Adam’s tough. He’ll make it. I just know he will,” Hoss tried to reassure Ben.

Ben looked down and saw tears welling in Little Joe’s eyes, which almost brought tears to his own. He ran his hand through Joe’s hair and answered, “You’re right, Hoss. He is strong. We must believe he will be all right.”

The contingent waited for three hours before Paul finally came back through the door to his exam room. During that time, the restless Joe had paced back and forth in the waiting room until Ben finally had to ask him to sit down and be still for a while. They all jumped up when Paul entered the room.

Ben looked the doctor square in the eye, “Paul?”

“Ben, he’s lost a lot of blood. One bullet shattered the bone in his upper arm and had to be removed and the arm splinted. Thank God, the bullet in his chest missed anything vital. It just took me a while to get it out. As I said, he has lost a lot of blood and will be very weak for a long time, but I’m fairly certain, barring infection, that he will pull through. He’s going to need constant care and we need to get as much liquid into him as we possibly can to rehydrate his body and to help replenish his blood. He was conscious for a while before I performed the surgeries and was quite agitated and worried about you, Ben. He is still out from the anesthesia now and will probably sleep for a while yet, but he may or may not be upset again when he wakes. He was worried that you might be thinking he was really robbing that bank, plus he was concerned about all the worry that he had put you through. I tried to reassure him, but you know that it’s your reassurance he’s looking for, Ben. You can go sit with him, Ben, but only you. He needs to remain as quiet and still as possible. We don’t want any more bleeding to start up. The major and Roy can go back to their duties and Hoss and Joe can lie down in here and try to get some rest,” he smiled at the boys.

“When can we see him, Dr. Martin?” Joe asked.

Paul reached out and tousled Joe’s hair as he answered, “Oh, I expect in the morning. I’d send you both over to the hotel for the night, but I know it’d be no use, so you might as well stretch out on the benches and try to rest. Ben, I’m going to take you in to him now and, Hoss, you can come in for a minute as we will need your help to move him off the exam table and into a bed.”

Roy and Phil said their good-byes and left the office. Joe tried to peek in and get a glimpse of his brother as Paul took Ben and Hoss into the next room.

He was lying on the table. Mrs. Ellis, who helped Dr. Martin with his surgeries, was pulling a blanket up over his bandaged chest, leaving his splinted left arm uncovered. Ben walked over to the table and lightly grasped Adam’s right arm with both of his hands and looked down at his motionless son. ‘He is so pale,’ was his first thought.

“Ben, let’s have Hoss help us move him into the bed now.”

The four of them together transferred Adam’s limp body from the table into the waiting bed. He never stirred or made a sound during the move.

Dr. Martin placed a chair next to the bed and then directed Hoss to leave the room. Before he left, Hoss gazed down at his big brother and said, “I’ll be prayin’ for you, Adam.” He turned, left the room and joined Joe in the waiting area.

“Ben, I’m going home to get some rest. I’ll be back early in the morning. Mrs. Ellis will be here through the night. If you need me, send one of the boys and I’ll come immediately. Mrs. Ellis will know if I’m needed. I know you won’t do it, but I wish you would try to rest a little, Ben. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Ben reached out to shake hands with the doctor, “Thank you for everything, Paul.” Paul nodded to him and to Mrs. Ellis, then left the room. Mrs. Ellis sat down in a corner of the room and pulled her sewing out of a basket next to her chair. Ben sat down in the chair next to Adam’s bed and again placed both of his hands on Adam’s arm, needing to try to convey his feelings in some manner, and knowing that Adam probably could not hear what he was going to say, but he had to say it nonetheless.

“Son, I’m here and you are going to be all right. Everything is going to be all right. I know the whole story now and I knew all along that something in the way you were acting these last few weeks didn’t ring true. You just rest and get better son; that’s all I want.”

There was no response, but Ben knew that Adam would probably sleep for many more hours. Finally, just before dawn, Ben dozed for a couple of hours himself, but woke up as he heard Adam’s voice.

“Pa….it wasn’t what you think. I wasn’t robbing the bank.” The words were slow to come and his voice was weak, but his head was turned to Ben and his eyes were open and clear.

“Adam, son, I know you weren’t. I know everything and to tell you the truth, I had a funny feeling all along that something wasn’t right about your behavior over these weeks. That’s not to say you didn’t make me angry along the way, because you did, but it’s all over, forgiven and forgotten now. I just thank God you are going to be all right.”

“But, Pa….I know I caused you to be more than angry at times….I know I hurt you and I’m sorry. The general and Phil kept telling me I had to make you angry, it had to be believable to Jameson and his men. I tried to think of everything I could that would make you angry, but I didn’t mean any of it, Pa, and I wanted to quit just before the robbery. I shouldn’t have hurt you that way…please forgive me.” His voice was getting weaker and he was struggling to get the words out.

“Son, I already told you…I forgive you for anything you think I need to forgive you for. Everything is all right. You rest, go back to sleep, and just remember that I love you, Adam.”

Ben saw tears form in the corners of Adam’s eyes as he responded, “I love you, too, Pa….,” and then he drifted off to sleep again.

*****

EPILOGUE

After several days in the doctor’s office, Paul felt Adam could finally go home and finish his recuperation. He was still terribly weak from the blood loss, but Paul felt he would do better at home. On his second day at home, Adam finally was well enough to sit up in bed and strong enough to feed himself. Ben brought a lunch tray into his room and sat down to watch and make sure he ate. It had been a struggle to get him to eat enough.

After finishing off the greater portion of his lunch, Adam finally pushed the tray back. “Just can’t eat anymore, Pa.”

“Well, you did fine this time, son. We’ll have you back on your feet soon,” he smiled as he took the tray, put it on the table and sat down again. He watched Adam sit back against the pillows.

“Son, now that you are feeling so much better, I just want to get some things straight between us regarding what has gone on these last few weeks.”

Adam gave his father a slightly embarrassed look and waited. “Adam, I admit to you that I did believe you were drinking heavily and gambling. When you left and went to work for Jameson, I couldn’t understand it, but I did believe you were angry with me for some reason. But, when I went into that bank and saw you lying there, even with the mask on, I knew, without any doubt, that there was some other explanation. I knew that you would not be a party to robbing a bank or committing any other crime of that nature. I knew you were not capable of that. I wanted you to know that I never lost my faith in you, son.”

Adam started to say something, but Ben hushed him as he went on, “Now I just have one more thing to say to you about this situation.”

“Adam, if you ever get involved in something like this again and scare me to death like you did this time when I walked in that bank and saw you bleeding on the floor, 25 years old or not, grown man or not, I will get my razor strap, take you out to the barn, and tan you until you can’t sit down for a week. And if you ever call me ‘Old Man’ again, I will DOUBLE the punishment!”

Ben got up out of the chair. He took Adam’s face in his hands, leaned over and kissed his forehead. Adam closed his eyes just as a tear slipped through, reached up and held one of Ben’s wrists with his good hand as he said, “Yes Sir, I believe you would.”

***The End***

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