Word Count: 1290
Adam came awake and lay in the stillness. Hearing the chimes, he counted them slowly, started to rise, and then settled back against the pillows again. Tugging the bedcovers up under his chin, he rolled onto his side and allowed himself to drift back to sleep.
Three hours later he opened his eyes, glanced at the clock on the bedside table, and swung his feet to the floor. Taking a second to locate his slippers, he rose and walked over to the window. Pulling back the curtain and staring out at the bright Sunday morning, he spotted several people clearly returning from morning services, and his teeth chewed the corner of his bottom lip. For the first time in his life, he had failed to attend church not for some justifiable reason but simply from self-indulgence. Pa would… he shook the thought from his head, but a memory slipped in to replace it.
“Adam!” Ben Cartwright followed his own shout entering his son’s bedroom with a second call. “Adam! What are you doing still in bed?” He hesitated before striding across the room. “Are you sick, son?” The volume of his voice dropped from concern.
Adam swallowed and took in a deep breath. “No. No, Pa, I’m not sick.”
“I am not going to church.”
“Not going?” The volume of Ben’s voice rose again.
“No, I’ve thought about it, and I think I can…” The statement remained unfinished for Ben reached down, grabbed Adam by the upper arm, and in one swift movement pulled his son’s lanky, fourteen-year-old body out of the bed. As Adam’s feet hit the floor, Ben’s free hand came full force to meet his son’s backside. The crack seemed to echo in the air.
“The first or the last, Adam Stoddard, which shall it be?”
“The last, sir.” Adam’s voice had grown years younger.
“Ten minutes then! You have ten minutes to be properly dressed and downstairs ready to go, or it shall become the first of many. Is that clear?’
He had been downstairs and in the buggy ten minutes later. His stomach had not growled during the church service only because Hoss had slipped him three cold biscuits to eat on the long ride to town.
Adam smiled wistfully at the thought of his younger brother and let the curtain drop back over the window. He walked to the bedside table and picked up the leather-bound volume that lay there. Opening the cover of his Bible, he looked down and read the inscription: To Adam Stoddard Cartwright with love from his mother and father. Adam’s finger skimmed lightly over his father’s bold letters. Above his father’s writing was an older inscription: To our daughter Elizabeth. May God keep you always in his hand. The writing held no familiarity as it belonged to a grandmother that Adam had never and would never meet, but at that moment it seemed to hold as much reproach as that of his father’s. Adam sat down on the edge of the bed; the sound that escaped his lips was part sigh and part entreaty, “Pa.” I can go to evening service. Adam shook his head in chagrin. Am I telling myself or trying to placate you, Pa?”This time his smile was rueful. Both, I suppose.
He stood and went about his morning routine. I suppose going without breakfast could be considered a punishment. Some kids get sent to bed without dinner. You never did that, though, did you, Pa? I suppose there were too many memories of the hard times for you to use hunger as a punishment. Still, it’s too near dinner time to eat anything now, so no breakfast and a couple of hours of Bible reading shall have to do for a penance. Penance…you taught me that word didn’t you, Marie? You’d be none too happy with me either, now would you, not with all the trouble you took to get to Mass in the beginning. He picked up the Bible again, glanced at his bed, and then settled into his straight-backed desk chair and began to read.
“Cartwright! You’re coming with us, aren’t you?”
Adam turned and looked back at his friends shaking his head. “Not today.”
“Come now, Cartwright, the Lord instructed us to take a day of rest. Tonight will be time enough to put your nose back to the grindstone.” The statement was echoed by several murmurs of agreement.
“I’m not going to study. I’ve something else to do this afternoon, and then I’m… well, I have something to do this evening too.”
“Adam, is it really that important?” Tim stepped forward and focused on his friend’s face.
Adam paused and then smiled. “My father and brothers expect the occasional letter, and I’ve only managed to send two so far.”
“Well then, my good fellow,” Tim smiled, “join us later, if you can.”
It occurred to Adam that few people would understand how the slim, dark-eyed nineteen year-old Tim could remind him so much of Hoss, but Adam smiled because Tim often did. “Enjoy yourselves!” he called as he walked away from the group which had started off in the opposite direction.
Reaching his room, Adam took a seat at the desk. He placed a large sheet of paper before him and dipped his pen into the ink.
Dear Pa, Hoss, and Little Joe,
It is Sunday, and my thoughts are much with you, so I am taking pen in hand. Perhaps one of you will do the same, and our missives will pass each other on the long journey from East to West.
Dipping his pen repeatedly, Adam wrote page after page about his life at college, his new friends, and the days he had spent with his grandfather. He also asked question after question about what was happening at home. Finally, he concluded with Your loving son and brother, Adam.
Glancing at the clock, he sighed and reached for another sheet of paper.
For your eyes only, Pa. Please.
I know that when I asked to come East to college you had many reservations and concerns. I appreciate so much the faith you showed in me by agreeing to allow me my dream. I believe that one worry which came to you was that the temptations here might lead me from the path you have taught me to follow. I cannot tell you, Pa, that I have not done nor shall I never do anything of which you would not approve. You, best of all, know that I have misbehaved in the past even with you there to take me in hand. I do wish to tell you, though, that you need not worry that I shall become the prodigal son. Even in small matters, I find that you have instilled in me a most stern conscience which not surprisingly speaks in tones quite similar to your own, though I must admit that the tones of several others echo there also. Pa, the thought that you might be disappointed in me or that I might be a poor, even if distant, example to Hoss and Joe guides me always onto a path I am determined will allow me to return to you all with my head held high. Of course, if you still wish to kill the fatted calf and throw a party, I really do not think Hoss or Little Joe would mind.
Trying, as ever I have and shall, to be your obedient son,
Hearing the chimes, he set the letter aside to be sealed and mailed on the morrow, rose, and went out to attend evening services.