Word Count: 1975
He had felt it first beneath his house slippers and then beneath his fingers as he stooped and ran his hand over the wooden planks of the floor. When he lifted his hand, it clung to his fingertips slightly reflective in the strong sunlight from the window. Fine, white sand had been brought into the house. Not the usual dark earth or darker mud that he cleaned endlessly but definitely pure, fine sand. The sand itself was not disturbing, but its presence here in the room of number one son was. There were not many places on the Ponderosa where such sand could be found, none of them were places that the boy should have been without his father’s permission, and Hop Sing had heard Ben’s orders that young Adam not leave the confines of the yard while he was up at the lumber camp for two days. Hop Sing rose and began sweeping vigorously as he contemplated options for both action and inaction.
Adam felt eyes upon him and looked up from the book before him. Glancing about, he saw only the retreating back of the Chinese cook. Turning his eyes back to his schoolbook, Adam allowed his mind to wander. He did not know the circumstances that had a led to his father hiring Hop Sing. Before going into town that day, his pa had made no mention of hiring anyone, let alone a Chinese man, to cook and clean for them. They had, of course, moved from the cabin into the first floor of what one day would be a large and impressive two-story house. Hop Sing was an excellent cook and his presence did allow Adam more time to study and to assist his father in real ranch business learning what he would need to know as he and the ranch both grew. Still, at times, that presence left Adam feeling uncomfortable and unsettled. Pa insisted that all adults be treated with due respect by both his sons, and Hop Sing, though young, was definitely an adult. Adam seldom spent time alone with the hands, but he spent large amounts of time alone with this servant who obeyed his requests yet held an elder’s authority over him. Adam shook his head as if to dislodge his musings and returned to his studies.
Hop Sing gave an almost imperceptible sigh. Here again was the white sand. With certainty it had been brought in on the boots of his master’s elder son, and just as surely the boy had disobeyed his father in acquiring it. Hop Sing stared at the grains as if trying to decipher one of the intricate puzzles of his youth. In the two months that he had worked for Ben Cartwright, he had come to respect the man greatly and feel for him a loyalty he had before felt only for elders within his own family. He knew that Mister Cartwright did not draw the same line between servant and master that he had seen in his homeland and even among many of the rich in this new country. He had not spoken of the sand to his master after discovering it the first time. He was unsure that it was his place to do so, yet several times when business had kept Mr. Cartwright from his home overnight he had placed the responsibility for his sons’ welfare in Hop Sing’s hands. Hop Sing felt that responsibility as he stared at the sand on the floor and began sweeping it away.
“Hop Sing.” Ben Cartwright’s voice caused Hop Sing to turn. “Hop Sing, is there any coffee left from breakfast?”
“Always coffee is on stove in kitchen. I get for you now.” Hop Sing set the broom against the nearest wall.
“I can get it myself.”
Hop Sing shook his head slightly. “I get.” He moved quickly toward the kitchen and returned with a tray containing a small pot of coffee, a cup, and a plate of freshly baked cookies. He carried them to the desk behind which Ben Cartwright had settled.
Ben smiled. “Thank you, Hop Sing.” Picking up a cookie, he added, “Don’t let Hoss eat too many of these before lunch.”
“Number two son always eat good lunch. Cookies no spoil.”
“No, they never have,” Ben agreed. “Well, I better get to these books and stop interfering with your cleaning.” Ben opened the ledger before him as he munched a ginger cookie. Hop Sing returned to his broom.
Ben reached for his coffee cup and noticed Hop Sing’s eyes upon him though they were quickly removed. Minutes later while reaching for another cookie, he noticed that the houseman was again regarding him silently.
Ben leaned back in his chair. “Hop Sing, is there something. . .” Ben let his question hang as he was not sure precisely what he wanted to ask.
“Mistah Calwight,” Hop Sing began and then walked slowly toward the desk.
“Yes, Hop Sing? Is there something you would like to ask or perhaps tell me?”
Hop Sing answered with a slight bow. “Hop Sing have knowledge he not know if his place to speak.”
“Number one son.” He waited and studied the face of the man before him.
“Adam. You know something I should know about Adam?”
Hop Sing dropped his eyes. “Is not so that white sand found only near some of lake?”
Ben’s brow furrowed. “Sand? Yes, the only sand around here is at the lake. There’s a desert full of it, of course, but. . .”
“Number one son bring sand into house on boots.” It was a softly delivered statement of fact.
Ben drew his own conclusions quickly. “When?” he snapped.
“Find last week and again today when sweep.”
“You’re sure about all this? Sure that it was Adam?” Ben’s voice was harsher than he intended.
Hop Sing nodded. “Would not say if did not know.”
The pen in Ben’s hand clattered against the desk top. “Excuse me, Hop Sing.” His long strides took him quickly through the door, across the yard, and into the barn.
“Hoss!” The little boy turned quickly at the sound of his father’s voice. “Go in to Hop Sing. He has some fresh cookies for you.”
As pleasant as the suggestion was, Hoss heard the anger in his father’s voice and realized his absence was being ordered. Giving a quick glance to his elder brother, he scurried away with a swift, “Yes, Pa.”
Adam had also noted his father’s tone and the absence of his own name from the offer of cookies. When Ben pointed to the spot in front of him, Adam walked to stand there immediately if not speedily.
“Have you been anywhere near the lake without my permission?” The direct question and the force of its delivery made the boy’s eyes blink then widen.
“Why would you think I went to the lake without your permission, sir?”
Ben took in a breath and blew it slowly out of his nose. Even at eleven, his son’s ability to evade telling a lie was well-developed. “Adam, if you are wise you will not anger me with evasions, deceits, or lies.”
“I know better than to lie to you.” Adam kept the tremble from his voice until the final word.”
“When were you last near the lake?”
Adam could not resist a final attempt. “How near the lake, Pa?”
“Adam!” The two syllables lashed out like a bullwhip.
Adam could not reason how, but he knew that his father had discovered his transgression. “Yesterday.” The word seemed to drain from him with the remaining color from his face.
“The whole story now, young man, and I had better not have to ask again.”
It was a simple story of boyish disobedience and forbidden adventure. He had met two other boys in secret. Nothing they had done there had been wrong in and of itself. It was simply that he had gone beyond his boundaries and engaged in deceit to do it. That and the inherent danger in three boys alone at the lake without anyone knowing fueled his father’s indignation. Ben Cartwright did not allow his sons to engage in disobedience or deceit with impunity. Adam’s punishment was swift and thorough. After it had been delivered, Ben walked the crying child into the house and up to his room. As Adam buried his face in his pillow, his father placed a hand on his head.
“The matter is settled, Adam. Next time you will remember the consequences of such actions and make a better choice.”
“Yes, Pa,” the boy managed to reply though the words were barely audible. “I’m sorry, Pa.”
“You are also forgiven.” Ben patted his son’s back very gently. “You will stay in your room until I call you for lunch.”
“I don’t want any lunch.” The statement was not defiant or petulant but simply true.
“Nevertheless, you will wash your face and hands and come to the table when I call.” Ben’s voice was not harsh, only firm.
“Yes, sir.” Adam heard his father’s footsteps as Ben left the room and the closing of the door. The boy then allowed himself the indulgence of removing his pants and crying himself to sleep upon his bed while one thought repeated in his head, “How did Pa find out; how did he know?”
Even a far less astute man than Hop Sing would have known that the boy had received a whipping by simply observing him at the table. Hop Sing set down the platters and bowls with unusual swiftness and departed to the kitchen. He sat down and pushed the food on his own plate around.
“Hop Sing?” He had been lost in thought and was greatly startled to hear Mister Cartwright’s voice in his kitchen.
“Something you need, Mistal Calwight?” Hop Sing sprang to his feet.
Ben motioned for him to sit again. “Yes, and that is what I want to speak to you about.”
Hop Sing hesitated and then sat back down. Ben took a seat opposite him.
“Hop Sing, I am raising two boys without the help of a wife. I need help to do that properly. While you live under the same roof with us, I need your help. You said you did not know if it was your place to share what you knew about Adam’s disobedience.” Ben paused.
“Not know if my place to be part of family business between master and son.”
Ben sighed heavily, “I have told you, Hop Sing, I am not your master. I am your employer and someday I would like you to consider me your friend.”
“Mistal Calwight has been much a friend to Hop Sing.” Hop Sing drew in a breath, “You wish Hop Sing to look upon sons as sons of brothers be looked on?”
“Yes.” Ben nodded for emphasis. “I would like you to consider the boys in your care even when I am not gone.” When Hop Sing did not answer immediately, Ben inquired softly, “Is that asking too much of you?”
Hop Sing shook his head gravely. “Not too much. Hop Sing willing.”
Ben relaxed and smiled. “Thank you, Hop Sing.”
Hop Sing returned the smile. He knew what was expected. Things could be dealt with if one knew what was expected.
Ben rose, but Hop Sing’s voice stopped his leaving. “Does number one son know?”
“I didn’t tell him who or what had given him away. I don’t intend too. I can’t if I want to stay a step ahead of that boy.”
Hop Sing nodded.
“I shall speak to both boys, though, about your position in this house.”
Hop Sing nodded again. That would be good as he intended to keep that position for a very long time.