Small Gifts (by EPM)

Summary: Please note that “A Study in Scarlett” was not published until 1887 but it fit so well I couldn’t resist.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  3260


“Where you goin’ so late?” Hoss asked his big brother as Adam brought Sport out of the barn.

“Now don’t be so nosey so close to Christmas,” Adam smiled as he tightened Sport’s cinch. “I just have a few errands in town. It’s not that late.” He mounted and said, “You need anything while I’m going?”

Hoss gave his brother an embarrassed smile. “When we was kids, you used to bring me peppermint drops. You could always bring me a sack of them.”

“Maybe Santa will bring them if you’ve been a really good little boy.” Adam laughed and wheeled Sport around toward town.

Hoss stood and watched the fine mist of snow Sport kicked up as he moved out. He shook his head. Somehow, the Christmas season always brought out the playful side of his older brother. It’s as if the holidays gave him permission to relax and take life a little less seriously. He chuckled and shook his head again. “If I’ve been a really good little boy…”

*****

They were small things but somehow these gifts seemed more important to him than the ones he had brought several months ago. When Adam came into town and found that they had arrived, he cheerfully picked them up and brought them into the quiet of the café. A hot cup of coffee would taste good before heading home. He took his time and looked at each gift carefully, adding his own special message to each one.

With the presents tucked safely in his saddlebags, he headed back to the Ponderosa. Even though it was only two days until Christmas, the deep snows had held off and Sport had no trouble making his way through the few inches of light powder. The moon shed its white light on the familiar trail. There was no denying that this time of year only emphasized the closeness of his family and Adam let himself be immersed in the joy of the season.

Feeling content, he hummed a favorite hymn. Sport tossed his head as if giving his approval. Horse and rider stopped just as the lights of home shown in the distance. It struck him that nothing was quieter then a winter’s night when the wind chose not to howl. Fat, fluffy flakes began to drift through the air, floating in disarray on their way to the ground. Sport danced to the side, eager to be on his way. Adam loosened his hold and his anxious companion lunged forward. At the same time, a deer darted across their path and the big chestnut suddenly shied.

Adam was not ready for the horse’s abrupt moves and found himself sailing through the night air. He had no time to avoid the boulder that lined the side of the trail. His left arm and side hit first then his head struck the ground. His field of vision narrowed as the darkness chased the light. The last thing he remembered was Hoss’ peppermints spilling out of his pocket and into the snow. He watched as the moisture bled the color from the candy forming small spots of red amidst the endless white.

*****

Ben paced between the fireplace and the window over his desk. Most of the time his rantings were mumbled so that Hoss and Joe did not have to answer their father’s irate questions concerning the whereabouts of their elder brother. But every so often he would stop in front of them and ask clearly and succinctly if they had any idea where Adam had been going or when he would be back. Joe could honestly answer that he hadn’t spoken to Adam since breakfast but Hoss was not so lucky. He swallowed hard and looked into his father’s angry face. “Now Pa,” he said, “don’t you worry none about Adam. He said he had to finish a few errands in town and he wouldn’t be long.”

“Errands? What errands?” Ben shouted as he continued to pace.

Hoss looked helplessly at his father. “Well, I don’t rightly know what errands. He told me not to be so nosey so close to Christmas.” Hoss’ last statement started Joe giggling.

“Joseph,” Ben hissed, “I fail to see what’s so funny.”

Joe jumped at his father’s tone. “Oh Pa, it’s not snowing all that hard and Adam’s been through worse.” Joe stopped giggling but the wide smile remained. “He’d have a fit if he heard you fussin’ like this.”

“Well fit or no fit, saddle up!” Ben started for the door. Joe and Hoss looked at each other and shrugged than followed their father.

*****

It was snowing harder now and the wind had begun to blow but there was still enough moonlight for the Cartwright men to follow the familiar trail toward Virginia City. They hadn’t gone far when Joe spotted a horse in the distance. The animal stood next to the trail with his head down and his tail to the wind. Coming closer, they knew it was Sport and the cold sweat of fear left each man shivering in the winter night.

The three men dismounted. Hoss went to Sport’s side and the forlorn creature gave him a soft whinny of greeting. He ran his hands down the long neck than down all four legs. Finding no damage and no hints of what could have happened to his missing brother; Hoss just looked at his father and said, “I don’t see nothing wrong with Sport.”

“We need to spread out and start looking,” Ben answered. They left the four stable mates huddled together and started searching.

Ben tried to clear his mind of the seemingly useless questions that kept creeping in—why had he gone to town so late, what had been so important that it couldn’t wait? The only thing that mattered now was that they find him. Ben was jarred out of his thoughts as he found himself hurtling toward the ground. He had tripped over something close to the trail’s edge.

Joe and Hoss saw their father fall and rushed to help him. Joe turned his father over. “You ok Pa?”

“Yes—, yes son, I’m fine. I must have tripped,” Ben answered, shaking his head.

They both looked back to see Hoss kneeling next to something. They looked again and recognized what Ben had stumbled over. Hoss brushed the light covering of snow from Adam’s face, all the time speaking soft words of encouragement and comfort.

“Adam?” Ben whispered as he knelt next to his son. He took off his glove and reached for the still face. He thought how cold the pale skin felt. “Oh Adam,” came out on a whisper.

 Hoss laid his hand inside the thick jacket and placed it over Adam’s heart. After what seemed an interminable amount of time, he finally said,” It’s there, Pa, slow but it’s there. Let’s get him home.”

Joe had gone to retrieve the horses. Ben mounted than pushed himself back behind his saddle. “Give him to me,” he said.

“You sure you don’t one of us to take him?” Joe asked.

“Give me my son,” Ben repeated.  With Joe’s help, Hoss lifted Adam into the saddle. Ben opened his coat and wrapped it around Adam’s cold, wet body. Joe mounted and followed his father, leading Sport as he did.

Hoss saw the small spots of red that dotted the white blanket before him. Bending to retrieve Adam’s hat, he saw that the stains were made by the melting peppermints that littered the ground. Hoss straightened and crushed the hat to his chest.

*****

Thankfully, Adam had not been far from the house when the accident happened. The snow and wind now drove any light from the sky and they were glad to have Adam within the warmth of the ranch house. Ben missed having Hop Sing home but he was in town visiting relatives and didn’t plan on returning until tomorrow.

Hoss had carried his brother upstairs and helped his father get him undressed. Once the heavy, wet clothes were gone, they could see the swelling around a prominent bulge on Adam’s left forearm along with the bruising and scraps along his left side. Carefully, they lifted the injured limb onto a pillow. Ben dried Adam’s wet hair and discovered a bump at the base of his skull. That seemed to explain why his son seemed so deeply unconscious. No matter what they had done to him, Adam had not made a sound.

Joe returned from the barn after bedding down the horses and ran up the stairs to his brother’s room. He had retrieved Adam’s saddlebags and hung them over the back of the desk chair. “He awake yet?” he asked Hoss.

“Nope, not yet,” Hoss answered.

“It’s really coming down out there. It’ll be pretty rough going for Doc Martin but as soon as I warm up a little, I’ll leave.” Joe shifted from foot to foot and rubbed his reddened hands together.

“No Joseph, no one’s going out tonight.” Ben sat at Adam’s side and didn’t look up.

“Pa, what are you talking about? Adam needs a doctor!” Joe moved until he stood in front of his father.

 Ben turned and looked at Joe through narrowed eyes. “I know he needs a doctor but I’ll not have one son risk his life to save another. It’s snowing too hard.” Ben’s voice became softer, holding a hint of pleading. “Maybe it will be better in the morning. Then you can try.”

“But Pa,” Joe started to argue but stopped when Hoss interrupted.

“Joe, listen to Pa. He’s right; no use havin’ to worry about you too. Adam’s ribs don’t look all that bad and his arm is most likely broke but I don’t think the bones are out of place.” Hoss moved to the other side of the bed and gently placed his hand on Adam’s forehead, brushing away the still damp curls.

Joe’s shoulders slumped and he looked down at his silent brother. “Than why won’t he wake up?” he asked quietly.

*****

Ben had talked Hoss and Joe into going to bed with the promise that he would wake them if Adam awoke or when it was their turn to sit with him. He dozed on and off into the early hours of Christmas Eve day. The lamplight in the room was low and cast shadows on the wall. He lifted himself out of the rocker and stood over his son, studying the handsome face. A smile crossed his lips as he thought how much the boy looked like his mother. All three of his son’s resembled their mothers and for that he was thankful.

Ben stretched and walked toward the window. Joe had left the chair to Adam’s desk pulled out when he hung the saddlebags there. The toe of Ben’s boot caught the leg. The chair squeaked across the shinny planks as the bags fell to the floor, spilling their contents. Ben bent to replace the items than stood up with three books in his hands. Books, I should have known! It was the books that had enticed his son out on a snowy winter’s day!

Just then, a low groan drifted across the room. Ben moved to Adam’s side and sat down, the books still in his hands. “Adam—son, come on now. Just wake up for a little bit.”

He was rewarded with the familiar golden brown eyes opening and looking up at him.

“Pa,” Adam started to speak then stopped and raised his forearm across his eyes. After a few moments he took his arm away and smiled up at his father. “Now I remember—deer ran out in front of Sport, frightened him. I wasn’t ready.” He stopped again. “How much damage?”

“I’m afraid your arm’s broken and you’ve scrapped up your ribs some. And you’ve got quite a lump on the back of your head,” Ben answered. He ran his hand along Adam’s cheek, trying to find any signs of a fever. “You couldn’t have been down long. There doesn’t seem to be any signs of frostbite.”

“Did Sport come home? Adam’s voice was already thick with fatigue. Ben placed the books on the bedside table and helped his son drink some water.

“No son. We found him standing right next to you. It seems he didn’t want to leave you alone.” Ben helped Adam lay back down. He noticed his son wince in pain as his left arm moved on its protective pillow.

Adam’s eyes shifted to the books his father had put on the table. “I see you found the books.”

Slightly embarrassed, Ben answered, “No, I tripped and upset your saddle bags and—.”

‘It’s ok Pa, they’re for you and Hoss and Joe anyway.” His eyes began to close. “Go ahead and read them.” His eyes were closed now. “Just consider it an early Christmas gift.”

Ben watched his son’s deep, easy breathing and said in a quiet voice. “I’ve already had my early gift, son.”

When Ben was satisfied that Adam was sleeping peacefully, he took the lamp and books to Adam’s desk. He turned up the wick, sat down and looked at the titles: Moby DickA Study in Scarlett* and Poems of Nathanial Hawthorne. Ben smiled. His son knew that they all would be grateful for something to read during the long winter to come. He opened the cover to the book of poetry and saw an inscription to Hoss. He quickly closed the cover, not wanting to pry.

Ben found that the Melville story was intended for him. He leaned back into the comfortable chair and read the message from his son.

 Pa, I thought this book would be just the right choice for you! It would bring back memories of your days at sea and your time in Boston. But the greater meaning of the story pits good against evil and if ever a man stood by his ideals and fought for what’s right, it’s Ben Cartwright. Thank you Pa for the love and support and for passing on those ideals.

Your loving son,

Adam

 

Ben closed the cover and looked over at his sleeping son. “Your welcome son,” he said.

*****

Hoss woke Joe and waited for him to dress. Both men walked into their older brother’s room only to find their father sound asleep in the rocker, a book open on his lap. They looked over at Adam and both smiled in relief as they saw that he was awake.

“Adam, you kinda scared us,” Hoss said.

“Not me,” Joe added. “I knew nothing could hurt that thick head.”

Adam smiled back. “Why don’t you wake up Pa and see if you can get him to go to bed.”

“Pa’s awake,” Ben said, as he folded his arms behind his head and stretched. “How are you feeling this morning son?”

“Sore and I have a headache, but I’ll be fine,” he answered.

Hoss walked to the window and pulled the curtain aside. “Looks like it stopped and the wind’s died down.”

“Well, after breakfast, you and Joe can hook up the cutter and go get Doctor Martin.” Ben rose from the chair, still holding on to his book.

That reminded Adam of the two volumes that lay on his desk. “Joe, would you hand me those two books?” he asked. He nodded his head toward the desk.

“This is why I went to town. They’re just small gifts but I wanted you to have them.” Adam winked at his father. “Pa got his last night so I don’t see any reason why you two should have to wait.” He handed the Arthur Conan Doyle book to Joe and the Hawthorne book to Hoss.

“Come on, boys. Let’s let your brother rest while we try to cook up some breakfast. Thank the Lord Hop Sing will be home today!” Ben headed for the door.

“We’re coming Pa. Thanks Adam, guess I’ll have to look at this later.” Joe followed his father out the door.

“I’m glad yer ok, Adam. You really did scare me when we found ya out there in the snow.” Hoss held the slim book in his large hands. He noticed that something seemed to be stuffed within the pages but he too would wait until later to look at his gift.

“It’s alright Hoss. I’m ok—really I am.” Adam placed a reassuring hand on Hoss’ arm.

*****

Paul Martin had come and gone. He placed Adam’s arm in a plaster and comforted Ben by telling him that his son would be just fine. Hop Sing was home and busy within the kitchen. When he found out that Adam had been injured, he immediately broke into a tirade of mixed languages. All they were able to understand was that something always happened when he was not there so he vowed never to leave the ranch again. None of the Cartwright men believed that but none were about to tell him so.

It was early evening on the day before Christmas when Ben and Hoss and Joe settled into their places before the fire. They had shared dinner in Adam’s room but left when he quietly slipped into sleep. Joe picked up his gift and opened the cover.

Joe,

Instead of reading those awful dime novels, I thought you’d enjoy the adventures of a real detective, Sherlock Holmes. He is an interesting mixture of darkness and light. His bright side reminds me of you— endlessly curious, not afraid of anything and never willing to give up.

 Enjoy little brother,

Adam

 

Joe found himself swallowing hard. As much as he loved the present and the words Adam had written, the thought of the possible cost caused his chest to tighten. Thank you big brother, he breathed to himself.

Hoss settled into the corner of the settee. He had kept his present from Adam inside his shirt all day. He pulled it out and watched as a single peppermint dropped into his lap. He looked around to see if either his father or brother had noticed. They hadn’t.

Hoss,

By now you’ve found the candy. I was sure that you’d eat all the others right away so I figured it would be a treat for you to find just one more. Awhile ago, you asked me to borrow one of my books of poetry. I thought every man should have one of his own.

Always your brother,

Adam

 

Hoss thought back to the peppermints melting in the snow and a sudden chill shook his body. He held the book close and looked at the single piece of candy in his hand. He knew he’d put it away among the other things he treasured.

*****

Adam had been sleeping on and off all day and now he was restless. Slowly he got up and managed to dress himself in soft, faded jeans and a well-used red shirt. He didn’t bother with boots over his thick socks. He slid his arm into the black sling then carefully walked down the stairs to the landing. The candles on the tree had been lit and oil lamps were scattered about the great room. The wonderful smell of pine and wood smoke and ginger cookies brought a smile to his face. His soft tread had not aroused his family.

Adam watched as each of them was engrossed in the wonder of his small gifts.

He continued down the stairs.

***The End***

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