Word Count: 9100
Five years have passed since Captain Abel Morgan Stoddard, Adam’s grandfather, wrote and asked Adam to visit him in Boston. Captain Stoddard needed Adam’s help to consolidate his shipping enterprise and other business ventures and Adam accepted his request.
Captain Stoddard passed away two years after Adam joined him and as per the Captain’s will, Adam as sole heir, had inherited the business as well as the family residence. He hadn’t been able to return to the Ponderosa and see his family in all this time.
Jamie Hunter has been formally adopted by Ben Cartwright and is now another Cartwright son. He knows of Adam, but has never met him.
Candy is now foreman and has a bedroom in the ranch house.
“Mr. Cartwright… Mr. Cartwright, wait Sir, I’ve got an urgent message for ya.”
Ben Cartwright and Sheriff Roy Coffee both stopped their conversation and walking along the sidewalk, while the young boy from the telegraph office ran the final few yards up the street to them. In his hand the boy waved a white envelope.
“This just came for ya Mr. Cartwright. I had trouble tryin’ to find ya.” Gasped the out of breath lad. “Mr. Cousins said I had to find ya straight away or he’d skin me alive. He said it was mighty important and ya had to read it as soon as I could find ya.”
Smiling Ben ruffled the boy’s hair as he drew out a coin from his pocket and tossed it into the air for the hard breathing boy. After the death of Timmy’s father in a mining accident, Ben had asked around the town for somewhere for the boy to work to help support his mother and 3 sisters. Mr. Cousins at the telegraph office had
hesitated only slightly before agreeing with Ben’s request to employ Timmy.
“Well we wouldn’t want that to happen now would we Timmy? Thanks for delivering this to me son.” Ben watched the boy run off back down the street then he slid his fingers into the envelope and drew out the paper.
“Oh No….Oh no…” The blood drained from Ben’s face and he felt himself go limp with shock. He felt his vision clouding over in front of him, growing blacker by the second. The paper slipped from his hand and floated to the ground.
Roy Coffee heard his friend’s strangled cry and caught Ben as he slumped against the building wall, preventing him from falling to the ground.
“Ben what is it? What’s happened?”
“Hoss….” Whispered Ben.
“Hoss? What about Hoss? Tell me Ben.”
Numb with shock, Ben could only shake his head at Roy and stare into the face. He couldn’t find his strength to form the necessary words. Lifting a shaking hand he pointed at the telegraph lying beside the Sheriff.
Roy shifted his grip on Ben’s arm and helped him into a chair resting against the shop-front wall. He lowered Ben into it, then leant over and picked up the paper. Running his eyes over the short message, he too experienced the shock that Ben had just received.
HOSS KILLED IN PLACERVILLE BANK ROBBERY STOP
BRINGING HOSS’ BODY HOME BY STAGE STOP
ARRIVING TODAY AT 3PM STOP
Stuffing the paper into his pocket, Roy placed his arm around Ben’s back and helped him to his unsteady feet. His face pale with shock, Ben allowed himself to be walked up the street by Roy, not caring where he was being taken. All the while he mumbled to himself and shook his head in disbelief.
“No I don’t believe it….No…No.. Not Hoss….No..”
A few townsfolk gave them a second glance as the two men walked up the street.
Once they were at Doctor Martin’s surgery, Roy staggered under Ben’s weight up the short flight of stairs, through the open doorway and into the parlor.
“Doc. Get out here quick. It’s Ben Cartwright.” Shouted Roy; alarmed he couldn’t see the Doctor anywhere. He hoped he was somewhere in another room.
Doctor Paul Martin rushed out of his surgery from where he’d been sterilizing instruments. He was drying his hands meticulously with a clean cloth as he took in the source of urgency. His facial expression changed from curiosity to concern as he looked first at Roy and then Ben.
The pallid color on Ben’s face instantly alerted him as to who was going to be his patient. With a curt wave of his hand, Paul directed them into the room he’d just come from. Following closely on their heels, Paul threw his damp towel onto the side of the basin and picked up his medical bag.
“What’s happened to him Roy? He looks as though he’s in shock.” Said Paul as he started to examine Ben. He drew out his stethoscope, unbuttoned Ben’s shirt and began to check Ben’s chest.
“He’s just received some bad news. Hoss’ has been killed in Placerville, in a bank robbery. Joe’s bringing him home on the next stage.”
“What? How’d that happen?” Called Paul over his shoulder to Roy, as he prepared a sedative. Ben’s heartbeat was racing and Paul was concerned that if he didn’t calm him down, he’d do himself an injury, possibly a heart attack.
“I haven’t got the details yet. Can you look after Ben without me? I’ve need to urgently wire the Placerville Sheriff and find out what the devil happened. In the meantime I’ll send my deputy Clem out to the Ponderosa to tell Candy and Jamie what’s happened. They’ll want to be here when the stage comes in I’d say.”
“Sure. Don’t you think you should wire Adam too?” Suggested Paul over his shoulder as he helped administer the drug to Ben. Ben’s hands were shaking too much to hold the glass successfully without spilling the contents over himself.
Paul wrapped his hands around Ben’s and helped direct the glass to his mouth. Under his soft touch, Paul found Ben’s hand cold and clammy.
“Hmmm, didn’t think of Adam but I guess you’re right. It’ll be weeks before he can get here but I’m sure he’d want to know what’s happened to his brother. I’ll wire him once I get all the details from Placerville.”
Roy gave Ben a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder before he spun around and hurriedly left the surgery. He was determined to find out the details for his friend and his family. All of Ben’s sons were like the children Roy never had. To hear that one was dead hurt him as much as seeing the shock on Ben’s face. He’d seen them all grow up into fine young men, which any man would be proud to call his own.
After a brisk walk down the street, Roy swung open the door to the telegraph office with a loud crash, startling the operator as he did.
“Oh it’s you Sheriff. I thought you were Ben Cartwright, been expecting him.”
Said Stan Cousins as he picked up his pencil and paper. “I gather he’s taking the news bad?”
“Yep.” Sighed Roy as he cast his eyes down to the counter in front of him. “He’s over at the Doc’s in no fit state at the moment. Been a real shock it has.”
“You want me to send off some wires for him Sheriff?”
“Yep. One to the Placerville Sheriff first. Ask him what happened and in detail. When you get that one bring it straight over to me at the jailhouse. I’ll be wanting to send a wire to Adam Cartwright in Boston when I get all the information.”
“I’ll get this done right away Sheriff.” Turning back to his paper, Stan began to write his message out quickly, then to tap out the wire.
Roy strode out of the office and into the busy main street, his expression severe as he made his way towards the jailhouse.
Joe Cartwright was cramped and uncomfortable but he didn’t complain. The dust from the road swirled around his face and scratched his already raw eyes.
For the one-hundredth time that day he ran his gloved hand over the smooth wood of the coffin resting across the stagecoach seats. He was alone in the coach with the body of his dear brother kept close to him. Earlier that morning he’d argued with the stagecoach driver, until eventually in frustration and anger, he’d drawn his gun and shoved it into the man’s face.
“Mister, my brother is riding inside with me. You’re not putting him up on top like some piece of baggage. He’s staying with me and if you don’t like that, too bad because this stage is going to Virginia City now and nothing is stopping it. Now get a move on.”
Turning his back on the man and with the help of the undertaker, Joe guided Hoss’ coffin into the interior of the stagecoach. Because of the length, they had to angle it across the seats before it would fit securely. Joe collected Cochise and Chubb from the stable and firmly tied them to the rear of the coach before he climbed on board himself. He leant back against the hard leather seat and closed his eyes as the coach began to pull out of Placerville.
Joe picked his pocket watch out of his jacket pocket and studied the blurred hands on the dial.
“Only one more hour to go Hoss and we’ll be in Virginia City. Pa’ll be waiting like he always does when we go away. Just to make sure we get home safely……”
Joe’s voice faded away. He dropped his head onto the coffin and threw his arms over it. As his body shook with the emotion he felt, his tears fell onto the wood, slowly soaking in; making dark damp circles.
“Hoss… Hoss. What am I going to do without you?” he sobbed. “Pa sent us to Placerville to get the lumber contracts signed and witnessed and to get the advance arranged. Why’d you have to stick your nose out of the bank manager’s office? If you’d just stayed quiet you’d still be alive. You dadburnit lovable fool. Always gotta go to the rescue of some kid haven’t you? Well you went and got yourself shot this time and left me alone to bring you home. Pa’s going to be real angry with me letting you get yourself killed. ”
Holding tightly onto the coffin, Joe remained there for the rest of the journey. His cheek was rubbed raw by the time they arrived, but he felt nothing except a numbness, which he knew, wouldn’t go away.
Adam Cartwright, President of Stoddard Shipping, sat in his office overlooking the Harbor. As his sipped his lukewarm coffee he glanced at the tidy mounds of paper which had accumulated on his desk. He’d already spent the majority of his day checking his accountant’s costing for the new ship he wanted to purchase and in the late afternoon was relaxing for the first time. His feet were propped up on the windowsill, the ankles crossed and his weight tipped on the back legs of the chair. His mind was wandering at the sight of the tall ships glowing in the afternoon sun and he didn’t hear the soft knock at his open door.
“Mr. Cartwright? Mr. Cartwright?” Andy Roberts tapped louder on the door.
“Ahem, Sir.” He called out louder. This time he was answered, as his boss dropped the chair back onto all its legs and turned to face him.
“Sorry Andy, was a long way away. Nevada to be exact.” Adam smiled as he placed the cup on top of the papers. “What is it?”
“This telegraph just arrived for you, Sir. It’s marked urgent. ” Andy handed the envelope over. “Do you want me to wait in case you want to reply straight away?”
“No thanks Andy. If I need to send a reply, I’ll write it out and send it myself on my way home this afternoon. Adam looked over the young man’s shoulder at the grandfather clock behind him. “I think you can go for the afternoon.”
“Thank you Mr. Cartwright. I really appreciate being let go early today. Me Ma’s been ill the last few days and she’d be happy to see me home early to help with the young’uns.” Smiling to himself Andy left the office, closing the door behind him.
Stretching back in his chair to ease the persistent ache in his shoulders from leaning over his desk for too long, Adam opened the envelope and read the telegraph.
He felt his blood pounding loudly in his head as his vision clouded over. Adam didn’t know how long he’d sat blinking in his chair, not seeing anything in front of him except his brother’s smiling face. Hoss, from the moment Adam first saw him in Inger’s arms as a baby, to the day they said their farewells in Virginia City, passed in front of him. Only twice in the past had his tears run down his face like they did now. His staff and business competitors would have been surprised to see the intense emotions on Adam Cartwright’s normally impassive face.
It would take him only a day or two to arrange his affairs into some order and make travel arrangements for Virginia City. The journey would take him three weeks and by then Hoss would be buried.
Deputy Clem Foster pulled his bandanna from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his face. The front door to the Ponderosa ranch house was open, beckoning a welcome to all. He didn’t feel welcome at this very moment as he stepped down from his horse. In face he wished he were out chasing a bank robber or murderer and facing bullets, rather than being the bearer of bad news. As he tied the reins to the corral post he couldn’t help but think how even a man as wealthy as Ben Cartwright couldn’t prevent tragedy striking his family once again. He took a few moments to put himself at ease, if that was possible, before he began the long journey to the door.
“Howdy Deputy, what brings you out here today?” Grinned Jamie, Ben’s youngest son from the doorway. He’d seen Clem ride into the yard from his bedroom window. Curious for the reason of the visit, he’d decided to meet him at the door and find out for himself. Instead of being the last to know he’d be the first for once.
“Jamie.” Said Clem, peering past him and inside the house. “Hop Sing and Candy around?”
Jamie’s grin dropped from his face as he saw the grim expression on the Deputy’s face.
“Yep, they’re both in the kitchen. You want me to get them?”
Clem’s troubled eyes met the innocent look of Jamie’s as he nodded. “Yes I need to speak to all of you, together.”
“It ain’t Pa is it? Has something happened to him?” Gasped Jamie as his eyes widened in fear.
Clem reached out and reassuringly patted the boy’s shoulder.
“No it’s not your Pa. Just go get the others will you son?”
Turning Jamie to face the kitchen, Clem gave him a gentle push then walked to the fireplace in the large living room. He noticed absently that the fireplace could do with a good clean. Must have had a roaring fire going last night he thought.
Candy and Hop Sing followed Jamie as he rushed back to Clem. Both had an apprehensive look on their face.
“What’s the problem Clem? How come you needed to speak to all of us together?” asked Candy as they came around the lounge chairs and stopped in front of him. The grandfather clock ticked loudly in the silent room as Clem fidgeted from one foot to the other. This was going to be harder than he thought as he looked from one face to the other.
“Umm, there’s no easy way to say this so I’m just going to come out plain. Hoss is dead. He was shot in Placerville in a bank robbery and Joe is arriving on the 3pm stage with his body. Ben’s in town at Doc Martin’s. He’s been hit hard by the news. Sheriff Coffee has wired Placerville for more details but he thought you’d want to be in town to meet the stage.” He paused, the shock of Hoss’ death had made the faces in front of him go white and Jamie was visibly shaking.
“I’m really sorry…” His voice trailed off as Jamie burst into tears. Candy drew the sobbing boy to him, holding him close as the slim body shook with each sob.
“Thanks for letting us know. We’ll be ready in a few moments.”
“You want me to hitch the wagon for you Candy?” Asked Clem.
“No…Yes, I guess we’ll be needing the wagon won’t we?” Replied Candy sadly as he ran a hand through Jamie’s red hair. It was a gesture made to comfort both of them. Beside him Hop Sing sank onto the sofa, his face buried deep in his hands.
“No Mr. Hoss for dinner. No Mr. Hoss come steal cookies from Hop Sing kitchen. Hop Sing no chase Mr. Hoss from kitchen.” He mumbled into his hands.
The 3 men in the wagon rode in silence as it rolled towards Virginia City. Candy and Hop Sing sat stiffly on the seat, holding a stunned Jamie upright between them. There was nothing to say, each deep within their grief for a man they all loved. Beside them Clem also rode in silence, his gaze fixed straight ahead on the road.
When Roy returned, Ben was still at the Doctors, with Paul seated beside him on the sofa watching him closely. Ben’s eyes were staring into some distance place as he felt a tug on his arm.
“Ben…Ben, I’ve got some good news for you.”
Ben blinked a few times then slowly turned towards Roy. Roy winced at the despair in Ben’s eyes and face. His friend had aged ten years in the time he’d been away waiting for the wire.
“I’ve just got a telegram from Placerville. They’ve captured the man who killed Hoss. Ben? Did you hear me, Ben?”
“I heard you Roy, but it won’t bring Hoss back to me will it, nothing will. My child wasn’t supposed to die before me.” Ben’s voice was hushed and emotionless. He felt drained of all feeling.
Doctor Martin reached out to Ben and touched his arm. “Its nearly 3 Ben, time to meet the stage.”
Slowly lifting his head, Ben stared into Paul’s face. Paul nodded.
“I’ve sent Clem out to get Jamie, Candy and Hop Sing. They’ll be waiting at the stage depot for us.”
Paul and Roy stood up and reached down to help Ben. Instead he pushed their hands away in anger.
“I can manage. I’ve done this three times before, remember.”
“Yes Ben, we know, but never under these circumstances. You were with your wives when they died Ben, you weren’t with Hoss.” Eased Roy, his quavering voice betrayed his emotions to both men. “I’ve wired Adam for you. I hope you didn’t mind but I thought he’d want to know about Hoss.”
Ben lifted his head and let his sunken eyes rest briefly on his old friend. “Yes he’ll want to know.”
The three men walked in silence towards the depot. All around them the townsfolk fell silent as they watched the procession of solemn men. Only those who hadn’t heard the news or didn’t know the Cartwrights were unaware of the passing of a gentle, kind man who never had an enemy in the world.
Jamie saw them first and ran the final yards into his father’s arms. Over the top of the boy’s head Ben saw Candy and Hop Sing standing beside a wagon. He closed his eyes and clutched Jamie tightly to his chest.
“Son, everything will be alright.”
“Pa, he’s dead.” Cried Jamie, his face pressed hard against his father.
“I know, I know. Somehow we’ll get through this day together.”
Behind him, Ben heard the sound of the stage rolling into the street. Holding Jamie tightly under one arm, he moved closer to Candy and Hop Sing.
They waited as the stage pulled up in a dusty halt in front of them. Trailing behind the stage Ben saw Cochise and beside her Hoss’ horse, the saddle dusty and empty.
Joe stepped down from the stage, his hat twisted tightly in his hands. In front of him stood his father, the face a solid mask. Beside him was Jamie, tears running unashamedly down his cheeks. Candy, Hop Sing and Roy Coffee stood to one side of Jamie.
Joe’s voice cracked with the emotion he felt. “He’s inside Pa, I wouldn’t let them put him up top. ”
Joe stepped aside as his father walked stiffly to the open coach door. Ben’s already pale face paled visibly further as he saw the coffin containing his Hoss. His fingers dug into the wood of the coach, then he backed away, struggling to hold his tears. This was not the time to grieve- that would come later when he was alone.
“Let’s get him home boys.”
“Whoa.” Yelled the stage driver as he pulled his team to a halt outside the stage depot. One final cloud of dust swirled onto the passengers as they prepared to leave the coach. As Adam held out his hand to assist the sole woman passenger down, he heard a familiar gruff voice behind him.
“Adam, Adam Cartwright is that you son?”
Without turning from his task Adam grinned.
“You must be mistaken Sheriff, he doesn’t live here anymore. I believe he went to Boston some time ago.”
“Thank you Mr. Cartwright.” Said the woman huffily. “You were a perfect gentleman, not like some men on this journey. She glared at the other passengers as they left the coach, then flung her head back and stepped onto the sidewalk to wait for her luggage. Politely Adam touched the brim of his hat to her, then turned to Roy.
Roy had been quietly observing the exchange between Adam and the woman. He also studied Adam and noticed that his eastern style clothes hung loosely on his body and the handsome face was thin and drawn; much like his father’s and brother’s had become since the funeral.
“Anything I should know about?” He said indicating with his head the impatiently waiting woman.
“No Roy, not really. She’s from back east and used to manners from men. I think this trip has been a big shock to her in more ways than one. Why are you here Roy? Do you usually meet the stage?”
“As a matter of fact I was expecting some wanted posters to come in today.”
In a way it was the truth, although he knew from Jamie that Adam was due to arrive sometime this week. He wasn’t deliberately making an effort to meet every stage from back east; it seemed to happen that whenever it was due in he was walking by.
“Uhuh.” Said Adam skeptically.
“Hey Mister this ones yours ain’t it?” Called the driver from atop the stage. He was holding out a small carpetbag. Not waiting for an answer, he threw it over the edge towards Adam.
“Yes.” Grunted Adam as the bag hit him in the chest and fell to the ground.
Both men stepped onto the sidewalk and watched the driver throw the remainder of the luggage down onto the ground.
“I thought your Pa would be waiting to meet you Adam.” Roy glanced up and down the street for the familiar figure.
“I didn’t tell them I was coming in this week Roy.” Adam’s voice was soft and emotionless. “I need time to get myself….ready to meet them. How are they? Pa and Joe I mean.” As Adam lifted his eyes to Roy, Roy saw that the oldest Cartwright son’s eyes were very much like his father’s; a window to his troubled soul.
“Much like you son, quiet. Your Pa’s lost weight too and Joe….” He hesitated, not wanting to continue.
“What about Joe?” Asked Adam as he looked into the street, watching the passing jumble of people and horses. In five years Virginia City had grown faster than he thought possible.
“He’s been taking to the hard drink. Candy’s been dragging him home most nights.”
Adam cast his eyes up the street to the Silver Dollar saloon. Everything in this town reminded him of the good and bad times spent with his two brothers and father.
“Is he here now? In town I mean?”
“No. I guess you’ve forgotten its branding time and your Pa needs every man he can get working and that includes Joe, even if he has a hangover.”
“Been away too long Roy, I’d forgotten about that.”
“You back for good Adam?”
Adam bent down and picked up his bag. “How about you give me the full details of how Hoss was killed while I get a horse from the livery.” Suggested Adam, conveniently avoiding Roy’s question. Adam couldn’t answer Roy because he didn’t know the answer himself.
As Adam rode around the side of the barn and into the yard, his eyes ran over the familiar house. Not much had changed he noticed, new corral and fencing but that was about all he could see. He reined his horse in and dismounted. Throwing the carpetbag onto the ground outside the barn, he loosened the cinch and led the horse inside. Once his eyes were accustomed to the darker interior, he could see three horses in stalls. The first was a bay pony he didn’t recognize. The second was his beloved Sport who flicked his head and nickered a greeting to him.
“Still remember me hey boy, wasn’t sure you would. It’s been a while hasn’t it?” He gave the horse a quick look over and ran his hands down the neck and back. The horse snorted and threw his head again. “Someone’s been looking after you real good fella. I guess that changed a few weeks ago.”
With a final pat he moved onto the next stall in which he found Chubb. He slowly stepped up to him, put his arm over the neck and rested his head against the horse. Adam remained leaning against the horse, as memories flooded back into his mind. After a time he gave the horse a fond rub on the jaw.
“Miss him too fella.” Adam whispered then wiped the tears from his face and eyes.
He untacked the livery horse and gave it a rub down. Picking up a bucket he walked to the trough near the corral and filled it up. Once the horse was watered and feed a bucket of oats he picked up his bag and headed towards the house. His face was pensive as he stopped at the door, unsure whether to go straight in instead of knocking first. He was saved from his indecision by the door being flung open. A young boy, around 14 faced him, a suspicious look on his face.
“Who are you and what were you doing in our barn?”
“I could ask the same question regarding the house, but the red hair gives you away. You must be Jamie.” Adam gave the boy a wry grin.
“Yeah Jamie Cartwright, but who are you?” Jamie asked as he folded his arms across his chest and stared at Adam in puzzlement. Something was familiar about the man at the door.
“Pleased to meet you finally Jamie,.” replied Adam, holding out his hand. “No doubt you’ve heard of me, I’m your older brother Adam.”
“Adam? Pa said you were coming but….”
“I didn’t have a date for my arrival so no one really knew when I was getting into Virginia City. I just got in today.”
Jamie reached over, grabbed hold of Adam’s arm and pulled him into the house, slamming the door behind him. He yelled happily as he dragged Adam closer to the kitchen.
“Hop Sing, Hop Sing look who’s here. It’s Adam, he’s home, he’s come home.”
Hop Sing scuffled out of the kitchen. A few minutes later Ben, Joe and Candy came into the house from outside. Ben stopped, stunned by the unexpected sight of his oldest son.
“We saw the horse in the barn, but we had no idea it was you. Welcome son, it’s good to have you home.” Adam and Ben met in an awkward embrace. Joe stood watching them, a blank expression on his face. Ben held Adam at arm length and ran his eyes over him; while Adam did the same. Roy had been right, noted Adam, his father was a lot thinner than he remembered and his face was aged. His father’s face and hair were smeared with dirt, but the same black eyes pierced into him, as they always had.
“Come on Joe, greet your brother.” Ben let go of Adam and beckoned Joe forward.
Joe and Adam stood apart, appraising the changes in each other, noticing those that hadn’t.
“Been a while Joe, missed me?” Grinned Adam.
“Yup, you’d better believe it older brother. Even with Jamie and Candy to help, me and Hoss…..” His voice trailed off. “He missed you Adam, we all did.” Joe continued. There was an uneasy silence in the room.
“Hello Adam, I’m Candy. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.” He said sincerely, introducing himself to a man he’d heard so much about.
“Candy. Pa’s said a lot of good things about you in his letters. I feel I already know you.” Adam took Candy’s hand in a firm handshake. Both men sized each other up, immediately liking what they saw in each other.
“Hop Sing supper ready. You no eat now all ruined. There plenty food for Number One son.”
He dashed into the kitchen and returned with a plate and cutlery for Adam, sitting it down in Adam’s customary place at the opposite end of the table to his father.
Once they’d all washed up, Joe nearest his father and Candy sat on one side, while Jamie and an empty chair, nearest to Ben on the other. Adam stared at Hoss’ empty seat, holding back his tears before he looked at his father. Their eyes meet across the table for the first time in five years. Pursing his lips and blinking rapidly Ben nodded, his own tears glistening in his eyes. He’d waited a long time for Adam to return and his family to be whole again, but it wasn’t to be.
The remainder of supper was subdued. Adam answering their questions while his eyes kept flickering back to the empty chair.
After coffee, Hop Sing cleared the dishes from the table while they remained seated. Adam was the first to move. He pushed his chair back and stood up.
“I’m tired, it’s been along day and I think I’ll turn in. Goodnight everyone.”
“’Night Adam, I’m glad you’re home.” Said Jamie.
“Goodnight Adam.” Candy grinned at Adam, easily fitting into the old routine.
He picked up his bag from where he’d left it hours ago and walked slowly up the stairs. Pausing in the hallway outside Hoss’ room, he heard steps behind him and turned to find his father.
“It’s hard to believe he’s gone Pa. I kept waiting for him to sit down and start eating everything off the dining table.” Adam leant against the doorframe as he stared into the familiar but empty room.
“So do I son. Did you get a chance see his grave before you came home?”
“He’s with Marie isn’t he, up by the lake?” Adam’s voice broke as he shook his head.
“Yes.” Was all Ben could say. He reached over, put his arm across Adam’s shoulders and turned him away from the room.
It was after 8 am before Adam woke up. He sat up quickly, not immediately recognizing his surroundings. Because the morning sun wasn’t shining directly into his room from the window he could tell it was late morning. There were also no sounds in the house that he could hear.
He slid out of the bed and opened his wardrobe, smiling as he saw how neatly his clothes were hanging. It wasas though he’d never been gone as he dressed quickly and stomped on his boots. The black shirt and pants were loose on his body as he buckled the belt up an extra notch. He stood staring at his gun for a few moments before he reached past it to his hat.
Downstairs he found Hop Sing making the only noise as he busily tidied his kitchen.
“Morning Hop Sing, where’s everyone today?” queried Adam as he leant against the doorframe with his arms crossed.
“They all at upper meadow for roundup. You eat now?”
“No Hop Sing, I’m not hungry but thanks.” Adam shook his head, he should have realized they’d still be at roundup, what had he been thinking. It didn’t take him long to saddle and ride out towards the meadow.
Sport pranced under him as they rode the familiar land towards the branding yards. Both man and horse enjoying the fresh air and ride.
He caught up with Joe and Candy as they were branding. The smell of burning hair and hide stung Adam’s nostrils and he grimaced. Joe and Candy saw his expression and grinned at each other.
“About time you got out of bed big brother. The day’s nearly over.” Joe took off his hat and wiped the sweat from inside it with his bandanna.
“Very funny Joe. Where’s Pa?” Adam’s eyes were scanning the area for the familiar figure of his father and horse.
“He’s gone to check the water level in the creek. He won’t be much longer. So which chore do you want, branding or helping Jamie round up some more steers?”
“I’ll pass on the branding.”
“Suit yourself, but you haven’t been riding for a while.”
“Yeah I know, but I’d rather be sore than smell.”
Candy laughed. “Either way Adam you’ll need a bath by the time we’re finished today.”
“Yep.” Adam gave his horse a nudge towards the herded animals, uncurling his lariat as he did.
Later that evening as he soaked in the hot bath he decided he’d taken the wrong choice. At least the smell could be washed away with soap and water, not like the aches he felt all over his body. Ruefully he realized tomorrow he’d feel worse and he’d have to get back on the horse and do it all over again.
As he gingerly walked from the washhouse, he heard Hop Sing call them for supper. Once inside, he threw his dirty clothes over the back of the sofa and sat down carefully at the dining table.
The three younger men tried to conceal their grins and laughs in their hands as they watched Adam wince in pain.
“What’s going on boys?” Ben wondered, because he hadn’t seen Adam’s face as he sat down.
Joe burst into a giggle. “I think Adam’s regretting his decision to rope steers instead of branding ‘em.”
“Oh?” smiled Ben as the realization hit him. “Did the hot bath help son?” he asked helpfully.
“Some.” Adam glared at his brothers and Candy from under his eyebrows, a ghost of a smile touching his lips.
“It’ll be worse tomorrow.” Everyone laughed, including Adam who waited until they’d finished.
“Yeah I know. You don’t have to remind me.” He replied drolly as he picked up his knife and fork. Although he’d worked as hard as everyone else had, he had no appetite. He pushed and picked at his food while everyone else cleaned his plate. Between mouthfuls, Joe noticed his brother’s reluctance to eat and glanced at his father who was also scrutinizing Adam and his worried eyes met Joe’s. Ben decided to give Adam some time to get used to Hoss not being around before taking him aside and discussing his obvious problems.
The next day Joe and Ben reined their horses in on a small hill overlooking the area where Adam was working the cattle with Candy and Jamie.
“What’s wrong with Adam Pa? Why hasn’t he visited Hoss? He won’t say anything to me.”
Ben had been thinking along the same thoughts. There was only one explanation he could think of.
“Your brother’s never been one to show or talk about his feelings Joe. He’s seen a lot of grief in his lifetime and he’s never had a mother or family to share that sadness with. I couldn’t help him when Inger and Marie died and you boys were too young to help him too. He’s had to keep his feelings locked away deep inside him. We have to reach him, help him confront his feelings about Hoss’ death. You and I have had each other, while Adam has had three weeks alone, while travelling home, to think with no one to talk to. Now that he’s here he’s avoiding anything that reminds him of Hoss. He has to confront this head on and with our help, otherwise it’ll destroy him.”
“He’s already destroying himself, right in front of our eyes Pa.”
“Yes Joe, that’s why we’ve got to help him and as soon as possible. It will be hard for all of us, but especially him.”
Ben had taken to stopping by Adam’s room each night in the hope of getting his son to open up to whatever was troubling him. He knew Adam would be upset with Hoss’ death, as they had been and still were, but Ben felt there was something deeper within Adam. With each late evening visit, Ben found him wide-awake staring out the window or sitting in a chair, an unopened book in his lap.
“Talking will help son. Talking’s helped your brother, and having you home, to get over his drinking,” said Ben one evening as he massaged Adam’s tense shoulders. He hoped that tonight would be the night that Adam broke out of his resistance to talk. All his and Joe’s previous efforts had failed. He and Joe had also failed in getting Adam to see where Hoss was buried.
Adam stared out the window at the moonlit sky, reluctant to turn and face his father.
“I can’t sleep Pa. Every time I close my eyes I see him; his face smiling at me; hear his laugh.”
“I think he’s trying to tell you something son, don’t you?” Ben offered gently.
Adam sprang out of the chair and faced his father.
“I can’t…I can’t go there, not yet.” Ben could hear the fear in Adam’s voice but couldn’t see his face because it was in a shadow.
“Only you can make that decision Adam, but I think it’s been long enough.” Ben gave Adam on last intense look before he turned and left the room.
A week went by, following the same routine. Thursday evening came around and they were seated at supper.
Adam was again picking as his food and Ben was extremely concerned. His eldest son had become thinner and more withdrawn as each day passed.
“I’m going up to Hoss’ grave tomorrow, before I go into town. Why don’t you ride along with me Adam and then join the boys once you’ve finished seeing Hoss?” Said Ben as he passed the plate of potatoes to Jamie.
Startled, Adam suddenly lifted his eyes to his father, then dropped them uncomfortably back to his plate.
“No, I’ll go when I’m ready.” His strangled reply could be just heard.
“Ready for what Adam?” Jamie asked, puzzled as to why Adam hadn’t been to the lake. He’d asked his father earlier the same question but he’d not been given an answer.
Ashen-faced Adam stood up from the table.
“I’m going to bed.” He spun around on his heels in the uneasy silence and hurried up the stairs.
It was a few moments before anyone spoke. Wiping his mouth with his napkin, Ben began to stand up. Joe reached over and held his father’s arm.
“I’ll go Pa. I’ll try to talk to him.”
Ben nodded and sat back down, silently wishing Joe all the luck he could gather.
Adam’s door was shut so Joe opened it and entered, closing the door behind him. Adam was lying on his back on the bed, his arms folded behind his head on the pillow.
“You never were one to knock were you, Joe?”
“If I did, you’d have said No ,so I thought I’d do what I’ve always done since I was a little kid,” grinned Joe.
“Well you’re not a little kid anymore,” snapped Adam.
Joe didn’t answer and instead moved Adam’s feet across and sat on the end of the bed beside him. They waited in silence, neither wanting to start the conversation.
“Well what Joe?”
“Why haven’t you been up to Hoss’ grave? Why don’t you want to go? It’s been over a week since you’ve been home and you still haven’t been there.”
“Leave me alone Joe.”
“No. I’ve left you alone enough and maybe that’s the problem, you’re too alone Adam. You’ve cut yourself off from all of us; shut us out.”
“Why can’t I? Besides it’s got nothing to do with you.”
“Because Hoss wouldn’t have wanted you to, that’s why. He wanted us to be a family; brothers here for each other.”
“How could I be a brother? I was over a thousand miles away in Boston. That’s not being a brother, well not to my way of thinking.” Replied Adam angrily.
Joe sat back, stunned by Adam’s words. Tears began to glisten in his eyes are as he finally understood why Adam wouldn’t see Hoss.
“You blame yourself for Hoss’ death don’t you?” His voice cracked with emotion. Adam’s eyes flared at Joe, his guilt and grief so raw that Joe was forced to look away.
“Hoss’ death wasn’t your fault Adam. How could it be?”
“I wasn’t here Joe, I wasn’t here when he needed me the most. I was off in Boston being the big business man. I should have been back here with Hoss, Pa and you.”
“Hoss understood why you had to leave Adam, Pa and me too.”
“That’s a bad joke Joe.”
“I’m not joking. Do you remember when you shot me while we were out wolf hunting?”
“How could I ever forget?” said Adam sarcastically.
“Hoss told me and Pa you were about ready to leave then because of what happened and how you felt about living out here. He always knew you’d leave. That’s why he told me about how you felt and why you were so happy when your Grandfather, Captain Stoddard, asked you to go to Boston. I didn’t want you to go, none of us did but Hoss said that for you to be true to yourself meant going away; leaving the Ponderosa and us. He said you’d come back one day and he was content to wait for that day.”
“Well that day’s happened and he’s not here Joe, I’m too late.”
“It’s never too late. He knows you’re here Adam. He wants to see you and you need to see him. Just like me and Ma, he knows you’re here.”
Adam rolled over and faced the wall; his arms hugged close to his body.
“Go away Joe and leave me alone. Nothing you or Pa can say can help me.”
Joe rubbed his hands across his eyes and sighed. He’d tried. He now knew the reason behind Adam’s refusal but he hoped he’d convinced his older brother that he wasn’t to blame. He gave Adam one long look before he left the room.
The wall stared back at Adam as he heard Joe leave. He knew by the sound of Joe walking down the steps that he was going to tell their father about their conversation. He was still staring at the wall when he recognized his father’s footsteps coming up the hallway and stop outside his room. Then they kept going towards Ben’s room. Adam heard the door shut behind his father.
Adam was up early the next morning and after dressing hurriedly left the house to start the morning chores. As he stepped into the barn he was amazed to see Jamie and Joe already hard at work.
“Now that’s a change I never expected to see. “Grinned Adam as he sat down on the tack box and leant back against the wall. He stretched his long legs out and settled back to watch his younger brother’s work. Joe nudged Jamie in the ribs with his elbow and rested on his broom.
“Doesn’t he remind you of someone, just sitting back watching us younger brothers do all the chores?”
“Yep, sure does.” Agreed Jamie as he chewed on a piece of hay.
While his two brothers had been talking Adam saw that there was a small enclosure in one stall which he hadn’t noticed before.
“What was that for?” he asked as he pointed.
Both Jamie and Joe looked to where he pointed and laughed. Jamie was the first to control his laughter and answer Adam.
“A couple of months ago Hoss came home with an injured fawn. He made that up so he could look after it.”
Adam frowned. “What’s so funny about that? Hoss was always bringing stray animals home to care for.”
Joe took up the story.
“Nothing but when Hop Sing saw the deer he told Hoss he wanted it to cook for dinner. I’ve never seen Hoss so mad. He chased Hop Sing all the way to the kitchen, yelling at him not to touch his deer. Pa had to get Hop Sing to promise that he wouldn’t touch the deer before Hoss calmed down. It was so funny.”
Adam was staring at the pen, his eyes unfocused as he played the scene over in his mind. It was another memorable time he’d missed sharing with his family. How many more had he missed in the years he’d been away? Had it all been worth it, living in Boston? Not being able to share these memories of Hoss ate into him. Poignant memories flickered into Adam’s mind; a baby Hoss in his arms; Hoss digging his way into the rubble of the mine cave-in when he and Philip Deideshiemer had been trapped and everyone else had given up hope; Hoss kidding him about always wearing clean shirts as he ripped one up to bind Hoss’ wounded leg from a bullet fired by Josh Tatum’s boys; being asked by Hoss to find the real killer when Hoss couldn’t believe Jamie Wren had murdered anyone; Hoss’ loss of memory and nearly leaving them because he couldn’t remember his family; Hoss
nearly killing him in the bunkhouse when he thought he and Ragan Miller had become lovers; Hoss comforting him after he had to kill his best friend Ross Marquett . All the characteristics and personality that had been his brother were now gone, along with the bright blue eyes and smile, never to be seen again.
While Adam had been thinking, Ben had also strolled into the barn, looking for his sons. In silence he watched the emotions pass swiftly across Adam’s face until only one remained – guilt. Ben reached over a put a hand gently on Adam’s shoulder. Adam jumped, startled out of his thoughts.
Adam’s haunted eyes flew from face to face. There was pity in their eyes and he didn’t deserve it. Hate would have been more comforting; he would have welcomed their hate. He hated himself for what had happened, why didn’t they?
“Leave me alone, all of you.” Adam snapped as he stormed out of the barn and into the house, slamming the door behind him.
“What did we do Pa? I thought he’d like to hear stories about what Hoss did while he was away.” Asked a sad Jamie as he watched Adam leave.
“Nothing son, just leave him be. I’ll go see if I can calm him down. You boys get back to your chores.”
Joe’s arm went across Jamie’ shoulders and he squeezed him as Ben hurried across the yard.
“Big brother’s always been too quiet for his own good Jamie. That was the one thing Hoss could always do and that was draw Adam’s feelings out into the open. I miss him and so does Adam. Pa can try but he’s nowhere as good as Hoss was.” He shook his head and picked up his broom. “Come on Jamie, leave everything to Pa.”
Ben found Adam sitting on his bed in his room, a letter clutched in his shaking hands.
“Did Hoss tell you he wanted to get married Pa?”
Shocked by the unexpected question, Ben sat beside Adam.
“No he didn’t. Why…Why do you say that?”
“The last letter he wrote me, he’d asked Betsy-Sue to marry him and she’d accepted. He wanted me to be his best man. All he needed from me was a date I would be home and he’d have the wedding then.”
“When did he write you? Is that his letter?” Asked Ben indicating with his head, the letter in Adam’s hand. “Yes, a month before he died. I hadn’t replied to his letter.”
“Is that all you can say?” Yelled Adam as he stood up and paced the room. He thrust his hands deep into his jeans to stop them from shaking. “Nothing about why I didn’t reply? Why I delayed the wedding until it was too late? Why he didn’t tell you?”
“Adam, I’m sure Hoss had his reasons and yes I am disappointed he didn’t tell me.”
“Disappointed?” Adam asked incredulously, as he stopped in front of his father and his guilty eyes met his fathers.
“Disappointed with him or is it with me Pa?”
“I’m sure you had your reasons too son.” Ben’s voice was quiet. He was torn in two; half of him wanted to shout at Adam for being selfish and not putting aside his business affairs for the happiness of his brother and the other half could see Adam was already punishing himself more than what his words would ever do.
Adam’s self-mocking laugh rang out in the room as he turned from his father and stared out the window.
“Knowing I spoilt Hoss’ happiness is something I’ll have to live with the rest of my life Pa.” Adam said as he lowered his head and squeezed his eyes tightly.
Ben wanted to reach out and hold his son, to tell him everything was alright but he couldn’t and Adam wouldn’t accept his absolution, only Hoss could do that.
With a sad heart Ben left Adam alone in his room. Nothing any of them could say or do would help him, for only he could decide what to do and when.
The next morning Ben and Joe found Adam’s bed unslept in. As they came down the stairs, still dressing, Hop Sing met them at the bottom.
“Mr. Adam no eat breakfast. He ride off early, not say where he go.”
Wordlessly Ben and Joe glanced at each other then hurried across the room. They threw their hats on and buckled their guns as they hurried to the barn. Inside Sport was gone. Saddling up their mounts quickly, they lit off after him.
They found him at Hoss’ grave. Adam noticed that the grass had started to grow across the mound of dark earth already.
“I always meant to come home earlier than this Hoss. I know you wanted me to come home, so you could get married, but something with the business always got in my way. I’m so sorry I let you down when you needed me. I never meant to.”
Blinking quickly Adam struggled to control his tears. Biting his bottom lip he lifted his head and stared at the sky. All the while, bittersweet memories of his gentle younger brother swept across his mind. “So much to say and now forever unsaid. I never had a chance to say Goodbye to you.”
There was barely a sound as Ben walked over to Adam and stood beside him.
Tears slowly crept down Adam’s cheeks and his shoulders began to shake.
Adam turned to face his father who held his arms open to his grieving son and gathered him into his embrace.
“None of us had a chance to say Goodbye son. The Lord wanted him and took him from us, for a purpose only he knows. Always remember one thing Adam, people die but love never does. The love we shared with you brother will live in our hearts forever.”
Joe joined his father and brother and together the three men stood in tearful silence beside the grave as the wind gently rustled leaves around their feet.
“Farewell forever my brother.” whispered Adam as his father began to recite a comforting prayer.
The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.
He maketh me lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runeth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
This story was written after viewing the opening episodes of season 14. My personal opinion is that an episode should have been written to farewell Hoss. Although performing would have been extremely difficult for the actors, it would nevertheless have been appreciated by all who adored the actor and character. Possibly even Pernell Roberts may have reprised his Adam character for such an episode – I’d like to think so.