Word Count: 13,200
Joe Cartwright looked up from the cards he held in his hand and prayed that his face wasn’t revealing too much. The excitement he was feeling must not be allowed to show. His hands must be steady and his face impassive. It was hard, though. Who would have imagined that he would find himself in this position…holding what must certainly be a winning hand — four of a kind — against Simon Roth.
Joe stared across the table at his opponent. Simon Roth was an impressive man in appearance, broad shouldered and strong featured, with curly reddish hair and beard. The rather showy silver brocade vest that he had on was in noticeable contrast to the plain and sober black coat he wore over it. Not surprisingly, Joe could not detect any sign of what Roth might be thinking in the man’s expression. The unwavering gaze of Roth’s dark brown eyes and the tightly controlled set of his narrow mouth revealed nothing.
Simon Roth had a reputation that was something less than sterling in Virginia City, but it couldn’t be said that it seemed to bother him very much. He was well known to be a man that people went to when they had to have money and were unable to obtain a loan from the bank. But it was primarily desperate people with no other resource who resorted to him, for his sternness as a creditor was also well known.
Joe had heard discussion about this man within his own family. Close to the same age as Roth, his brother Adam had been acquainted with him through various business dealings for some years, and was frequently critical of him. On one occasion Joe had heard Adam caustically refer to Roth as “the Shylock of Virginia City”. Joe didn’t quite understand the allusion, though he had a vague sense that he ought to. But it was obvious from the way Adam said it that it was not a good thing.
Roth was also recognized as one of the canniest gamblers in a town of high stakes players. Most often he practiced that skill in private clubs. On those rare occasions when he sat down to a game of poker in one of the town’s saloons, there were always plenty of comers ready to test themselves against him. And tonight, at the Silver Dollar, Joe had been among them. At nineteen years old, Joe was a relative greenhorn when it came to gambling. Still, he had not been able resist the challenge.
At this point in the game, the other two players had folded, leaving only Roth and Joe to contest the hand. Joe had just seen Roth’s latest raise, but it had taken almost everything he had. Looking at his hand, everything in him was demanding that he follow up with a substantial raise of his own, but the single twenty dollar bill sitting in front of him mocked the impulse, As he began to unconsciously drum his fingers on the table, his mind was hatching an idea. An idea that would be bold enough to impress even Roth. Oh, he knew what his father would say about it. And Adam would no doubt say he was crazy. But…four kings!
Into his thoughts intruded the impatient voice of Simon Roth. “Well, Mr. Cartwright, will that be all? It doesn’t look to me like you have very much to raise with.”
“I was just thinking, Mr. Roth,” Joe responded, working hard to keep his voice steady so that Roth would not sense how nervous he was. “I may not have a great deal in front of me, but you must certainly be aware….”
“I am aware that your family has considerable resources,” Roth interjected in a condescending tone. “About you personally, I really have no such knowledge. Now just what is it you were about to propose?”
Joe was not quite prepared for the way that Roth asserted himself. But he did his best to gather himself and continue as if he had not been interrupted,
“I was going to ask if my IOU would be acceptable as a way of offering a raise.”
Roth leaned back in his chair and fixed Joe with an appraising stare. It made Joe uneasy. It felt as though Roth was trying to look right into his head and read what he was thinking.
“Exactly how large an IOU were you contemplating?” Roth inquired.
Joe hesitated for just a second before taking a deep breath and throwing all reservations to the wind. “Five hundred dollars,”
Roth’s eyebrows went up, if only slightly, and the spectators gathered around the table reacted with murmurs of surprise. “That’s would be doubling the amount that there is in the pot right now. Are you sure you want to do that?”
To Joe, Roth’s admonition sounded too much like Adam saying ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you’. But he had made up his mind. “I’m sure.”
Roth pinned Joe with that appraising stare again. It was only for a few seconds, but to Joe it seemed like much longer. Then Roth seemed to come to a decision, and his manner abruptly became very businesslike.
“Mr. Cartwright, when a man bets against me, I normally expect him to actually bring his money to the table. However, on this occasion, I am willing to make an exception. I will accept your IOU…on condition that it specifies that, should you lose, you will redeem it within forty-eight hours.”
That gave Joe pause. Due to what he had to admit was some rather lavish recent spending (Allison Birney liked expensive meals and gifts, and Joe liked Allison Birney), his personal bank account was depleted and his contribution to what was already in the pot represented virtually all he had. But then, he told himself, he wasn’t going to lose. Four kings! He repeated it to himself like a charm in order to give himself courage.
“I accept your condition, Mr. Roth,” Joe said with a calmness that he didn’t quite feel.
Without comment, Roth drew a small pad of paper and a pencil from the inside pocket of his coat and slid them across the table to Joe. Joe wrote out the IOU, tore off the page and threw it onto the pile of money in the center of the table. Roth reached over and picked up the paper. He examined it briefly, then, with a glance at Joe and a quick nod, he put it back in the pot. He pulled a wad of money from his pocket, peeled off five hundred dollar bills and tossed them into the pot.
“I see your five hundred dollars, Mr. Cartwright. I presume you are now ready to reveal your hand?”
“I am,” Joe declared. With a smile, he laid down his four kings, and he heard with satisfaction the response of the spectators. Roth, on the other hand, showed no reaction. Seeing that, Joe began to eagerly reach out his hand to gather up the pot.
And it was then that Roth spoke up sharply.
“A little patience, please, Mr. Cartwright. You really must learn that one does not attempt to claim the pot until all the hands have been shown.” With a smooth movement, he laid down his cards. Joe heard the gasps from the onlookers, and he felt the blood draining from his face as his own expression turned to one of shock.
Roth’s mouth turned up in a smile as he reached out to gather in the money. “Apparently you were so distracted by having four of a kind that you failed to notice that none of the aces had shown up yet. Keeping track of the cards that have been played is another thing you must pay attention to if you want to be taken seriously as a gambler.”
Joe lowered his eyes to try to hide his embarrassment at Roth’s remark. Roth carefully folded the IOU and stowed it in his inside pocket, then added his cash winnings to his wad of bills.
“I’ll be expecting to see you either tomorrow or the day after,” Roth continued. “You know where my office is?”
“I know. And I’ll be there,” Joe replied in a voice so low it could barely be heard. He slowly rose from the table, turned, and began to make his way through the crowd, who were chattering among themselves about the events that had just transpired. The sound grated on his ears.
He pushed open the saloon doors and made his way outside. The cooler air was a relief from the stuffiness inside the saloon, and he gratefully took in a deep breath to calm himself. He stood there for a moment, trying to clear his head and wondering what on earth he was going to do now. He didn’t have the money to redeem the IOU. And none of his family were available at the moment to help. Ben and Adam were in San Francisco together, working on drumming up business for their timber and cattle operations, and it wasn’t sure how long they would be gone. Hop Sing had gone with them in order to visit some of his numerous relatives. Hoss was supposed to have been left in charge, but he had been called out of town to help an old friend that had been injured. Up to this point, Joe had enjoyed taking advantage of the freedom that being left alone had offered him. But now he found himself wishing that the rest of his family had never left.
Joe gave a sigh and slowly walked to where Cochise stood waiting, tied to the hitching rail. He wanted very much to get home and fall into bed. But somehow he knew that he would be getting very little sleep this night.
The office out of which Simon Roth conducted his various business dealings was on the second floor of a building that also housed the offices of several important mining concerns. The afternoon following the poker game found Joe Cartwright plodding up the stairs with reluctant steps. He was tired after spending, as expected, a virtually sleepless night contemplating his situation. He had been tempted to put off his interview with Roth until the last possible moment, but finally came to the conclusion that delaying the inevitable wasn’t going to do any good. Better to face whatever was going to happen and get it over with.
Reaching the second floor, Joe turned down the hall and began to examine the names on the doors. The second one on the left proved to be the one he was seeking. The name “SIMON ROTH” appeared in large, bold letters, and underneath, in smaller letters, the words “Financial Consultant”. Joe gave a small snort as he saw the words that Roth had chosen to describe the kind of activities he engaged in. Reaching out his hand he gave the door a light tap.
“Enter!” came a harsh edged voice from inside.
Joe opened the door and stepped into the office. He found Roth standing in front of a filing cabinet with his back to the door. Joe glanced around and found himself feeling a little intimidated. A large desk of dark mahogany dominated the middle of the room. There were two chairs of the same wood in front of it. The plush upholstery of the chairs and the thick carpet were both in a rich wine color. Along the back wall were the filing cabinet and a couple of bookcases. On the side walls there were several oil paintings. A couple of them might have been portraits of Roth’s ancestors. There were no windows, which gave the room a somewhat claustrophobic feel. Roth closed the drawer of the filing cabinet, turned and saw Joe.
“Ah, Mr. Cartwright, I’m pleased to see you.” Roth gestured for Joe to take one of the chairs in front of the desk. “I presume that you are prepared to redeem your IOU.”
Joe was grateful to be able to sit down, as he felt his legs going a little unsteady.
“Actually, Mr. Roth, I needed to talk to you about that.” Joe knew his voice sounded nervous, but there really wasn’t anything he could do about it. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have the money at the moment. I was hoping that you would be willing to allow me an extension of a week.”
Roth moved to stand behind the desk and stared down at Joe accusingly. “This is a very serious matter, Mr. Cartwright. The failure to meet an obligation of this kind can mark a man and seriously affect his reputation…as I’m sure you realize.”
“I do, Mr. Roth, and I assure you that if you’ll just give me another week…”
“And exactly what difference do you expect another week to make?” Roth interrupted impatiently. “You obviously undertook the obligation knowing that you did not have the funds to meet it and not expecting that you could possibly lose. Can you explain to me exactly how you intend to raise the money, if I were to give you the week you ask?”
“I have two horses that I caught and have been training by myself,” Joe answered. “Really nice horses they are, too. A friend of mine asked me to let him know when they were ready to be sold. The price he offered was more than enough to cover the amount I owe you.”
“I see.” Roth sat down in his chair behind the desk and leaned back, brushing his finger against his nose thoughtfully. “The offer to buy these horses was a firm one?”
“It definitely was,” Joe assured him.
“And the horses are in fact ready to be sold?”
“Yes, sir, they are,” Joe said with decision. As he said it, he was thinking that the horses would certainly do for all usual purposes. Under normal circumstances, he would actually have liked a little more time to work with them. But these were not normal circumstances.
Roth sat silent for a long moment, in deep thought. Then he leaned forward and spoke to Joe in a confidential tone. “I have to say that all sounds very reasonable. However, I must be sure that if I do allow you another week, I won’t be seeing you here asking for yet another extension. In order to ensure that, I’m sure you will agree that it is appropriate for me to demand a condition that will make you think more than twice before forfeiting. And I believe I’ve thought of something quite appropriate. Now let me draw up the agreement I have in mind and we’ll see what you think. It should only take a few minutes.”
Roth drew out some paper from one of his desk drawers, dipped an old fashioned quill pen into some ink and began to scribble away busily. Joe sat there without a word for what seemed an interminable time while he waited for him to finish. Finally, after writing two pages, Roth set down the pen, sat back and reviewed his work with a critical eye. Then, with a satisfied nod he handed one page over to Joe.
Joe began to scan the document. The strong, clear penmanship reminded him somehow of his oldest brother’s. As his attention shifted from the form of the writing to its meaning Joe’s eyes started to grow wide. By the time he was finished, they had the look of a startled deer.
“But this says that if I should fail to pay by the new deadline that the forfeit would be part of the Ponderosa!”
“Specifically, that part of the Ponderosa that you are due to inherit upon the death of your father. Yes, that’s right. I thought that would cause you to take notice. Rather amusing, actually, don’t you think? Something like Shylock’s ‘merry bond’ demanding a pound of flesh from his debtor.” The corners of Roth’s mouth turned up in a smile that had something unpleasant behind it.
Joe suppressed a groan. Shylock…there was that name again! He only wished he understood what Roth was talking about. Once again he found himself wishing that Adam was here. He would be able to explain it.
“Of course, this condition doesn’t actually threaten your life as Shylock’s demand threatened Antonio,” Roth continued.* “However, it should be enough to get you to take the situation very seriously. Now if you’ll just sign where I have indicated….”
“But I can’t do that!” Joe protested. He was horrified at the very idea of putting his name to such a document.
“Oh, come now, Mr. Cartwright. There is no real risk of your having to forfeit…is there? Haven’t you just been explaining to me how you were planning to get the money to pay the debt? If you were to refuse to agree to this condition, it might cause me to suspect that you weren’t completely confident in your arrangements.”
“So what happens if I don’t sign?” Joe demanded after a few seconds.
“Well, In that case, with no agreement for an extension of the deadline, you would be in default as of the end of the day tomorrow. And I’m afraid I would have to initiate legal action for the confiscation and sale of your personal property in order to pay the debt. Leaving aside those horses you have mentioned, which I have not seen, I would imagine that would include that pinto you are so fond of riding around town on…your saddle…and your rifle, of course.”
Joe’s breath caught. Lose Cochise, along with all the most valuable things he owned? Have his reputation forever ruined? At this point, Joe was feeling that he was caught up in a nightmare. His mind was resisting the idea of signing that paper. How could he ever explain it to Pa? But what real choice did he have? Roth was playing the situation with devastating precision, and at this moment Joe couldn’t think of any way to counter it.
“Very well, Mr. Roth. We have an agreement.”
Roth handed him the pen and Joe signed his name with a not completely steady hand.
“And now the second copy please.” Roth handed him the other page he had written and Joe signed that as well. Then Roth added his signature to both copies and gave one back to Joe.
“We each keep a copy,” Roth said. “And when you pay the debt next week, we will both tear our copies up and laugh at the joke.” The unpleasant smile was back on his face. “Oh, and by the way, please take note that the contract stipulates that payment is to be made in cash only. A simple precaution to guard me against accepting a check and discovering there is no money in the account.”
Joe nodded as he rose from his chair, folded the paper and tucked it away in his jacket.
“Until next week, Mr. Cartwright,” Roth threw out.
“Until next week,” Joe replied.
He turned and made his way out the door as quickly as he could. He couldn’t bear the claustrophobic atmosphere of that office…and everything connected with it…any longer.
Thank God for Josh Marshall and his offer to buy the horses. Joe held onto that thought like a lifeline as he hurried down the stairs and out into the heat of the day.
Joe spent the day following his interview with Simon Roth working as much as he could with the horses he was planning to sell. One was a very strong, handsome black colt and the other a graceful chestnut filly. By the end of the day, he was satisfied that they both had sufficient polish on them to satisfy the buyer. The next morning he groomed them well, attached lead reins to their halters, mounted Cochise and, with the other two horses trailing behind, set off for the home of his friend Josh Marshall. He kept an easy pace so as not to tire the horses, with the result that it took him almost an hour to reach his destination. When he finally turned down the lane and approached the small, neat white cottage with vines climbing up its walls, Joe could feel the butterflies fluttering in his stomach. He trusted Josh, but he knew he would not be totally at ease until the deal was completed and he had the money to pay Roth safely in his pocket.
He saw his friend in the front yard, chopping some wood. As Joe drew near, Josh noticed him and stood up from what he was doing. The lanky young man with tanned skin and curly brown hair threw his visitor a welcoming smile.
“Hi there, Joe! Good to see you.”
“Good to see you too, Josh,” Joe responded cheerfully as he came to a halt close to him. Joe gestured with his head toward the steeds behind him. “I brought around the horses you were interested in buying. I think you’ll be real pleased with them.” He paused for a moment before continuing in a voice that betrayed a certain embarrassment. “Fact is, Josh, I kind of need the money, so I’d really appreciate it if you could pay me the whole amount today.”
Josh frowned slightly as he came up to stand beside the black colt. He gently stroked the animal’s glossy neck.
“Gosh, Joe, the horses are beautiful, and they sure would make fine mounts for Coralee and me.” His voice took on a tone of embarrassment that echoed Joe’s. “But you see, Coralee’s sister and her husband in Denver had a fire in their house that did a lot of damage, and they needed help. We had to send them the money I meant to use for the horses. So I’m afraid I’m going to have to back out of our agreement. I’m real sorry, Joe, but it was a family emergency. I’m sure you can understand that.” He looked at Joe with an appeal in his eyes.
Joe was silent for a moment. He felt as though the wind had been knocked out of him without anyone laying a hand on him. Finally he gathered himself and spoke in a low voice. “I understand, Josh. If any of my family needed help, I’d give up anything I had for them. Listen, the next time I have any horses to sell, I’ll give you the chance to make the first offer. How’s that?”
“That sounds good, Joe,” Josh replied in evident relief. “It’ll probably be a while before I have that kind of money saved up again, though.”
“Well, it will probably be a while before I have any more horses of my own to sell too,” Joe returned with a faint attempt at a smile. “I guess I’d better be going then. Bye, and give my best to Coralee.”
“I sure will, Joe. Be seeing you around.” Josh gave a friendly wave.
Joe gave the wave back and turned to go. As he rode back up the lane, his mind was turning furiously, trying to think of someone else who might buy the horses from him. He ran through the names of just about everyone he knew. And then the obvious answer came to him.
In the afternoon, Joe took the horses into Virginia City. He stopped in front of the livery stable and dismounted from Cochise. The new manager of the livery, Lucas Brand, came out to meet him. Brand was a tall, weathered looking fellow with sandy colored hair, most of which was hidden under a battered tan stetson. Joe had met Brand a couple of times but didn’t know him well. Right now, Joe was just praying that the man would be receptive to his offer.
“Hello, Mr. Cartwright. What can I do for you today?” Brand inquired.
“It’s really more a matter of what I can do for you,” Joe replied, putting on his most businesslike demeanor. “Now, not very long ago, Sam…”
“The fellow who was manager here before me?” Brand interrupted.
“That’s right.” Joe nodded. “Anyway, Sam had told me that the stable could use a few more horses.
Well, I happen to have a couple of horses here that I’m looking to sell, so I thought you might be interested in buying them. I trained them myself and I can vouch for their soundness and good temperament.”
Brand stepped back and rubbed his chin with his hand thoughtfully. “That may have been the case when he said it, but the fact is I’ve already acquired a few extra horses since I’ve been here, and at the moment, we’re actually pretty well full up. It’s kind of a shame, because your horses do look like fine ones, but right now I can’t see my way to buying any more.”
Once again Joe’s hopes were dashed. He couldn’t remember a time when everything seemed to be going against him this way. He had always thought of himself as lucky but, given recent events, he was seriously reexamining that belief.
“I see,” Joe finally said. “Well, would you happen to know of anyone else who might be interested in buying them?”
“I’m afraid not, son,” Brand replied. He eyed Joe speculatively, “You’re giving me the impression that getting those horses sold is pretty important.”
“It’ll be all right,” Joe said a little defensively.
“Well, I’m sorry I can’t be of any help to you at the moment. But the next time I’m looking to add any more horses, I’ll know where to look first.”
“Thank you,” Joe said, but there was little real enthusiasm in it. “Good day, Mr. Brand.”
A few minutes later he was headed out of town, his mind once again turning busily in search of any options. His eyes fell on the sign for the telegraph office and he reined in his horse. An idea had occurred to him, an idea he was reluctant to accept, but one which seemed to offer what might be the only way out of his current predicament.
A couple of minutes later he found himself in the telegraph office writing out a message to be sent to Hoss at the home of Abel Anders, the friend he was helping out, asking him to come home as soon as possible.
It was the afternoon before the extended deadline for paying Roth, and Joe was just about to climb the walls of the ranch house with anxiety. Over the last several days he had been trying everything he could think of to raise the cash. He had posted a “For Sale” notice about the horses and a few items of jewelry he figured he could part with on the community bulletin board at the post office. He had spoken to a number of his acquaintances, revealing as few details as possible, and asked them to spread the word to as many others as they could. He had even just managed to beat the deadline for putting an advertisement in the edition of the Territorial Enterprise that came out in the middle of his grace period. But nothing had gotten any response. Most disheartening of all, he had not heard anything from Hoss. He couldn’t understand it. Even if all else failed, he was sure he could count on his brother. So much had he relied on that expectation that he hadn’t seriously considered trying to contact his Pa or Adam. And now it was too late for that.
Today he had spent a good part of the day leaning on the fence of the corral, watching as the two horses he had hoped would be gone by now as they ran and romped around the enclosure. Normally he would have taken pleasure in their beauty, but today he was distracted by constantly turning his head in the direction of the road that came from town. Unfortunately, the much hoped for sight of his brother Hoss riding into the yard had so far failed to materialize.
His head hanging in discouragement, Joe had just turned away from the corral and started back toward the house when he heard the sounds of hoof beats approaching. Looking up quickly, he felt his breath catch…for finally, there was Hoss! A sudden sense of elation swept over him as he hurried forward to greet his brother. Hoss had just dismounted and was tying Chubb to the hitching rail when Joe reached him.
“Hoss! Man, am I ever glad to see you!” His relief made the words come out of Joe in a rush. “Did you get my telegram?”
Hoss took off his hat and knocked it against his leg to remove the dust from it. “Shucks, Joe, I didn’t get no telegram. I reckon I must’ve left ol’ Abel’s place before it got there.”
“Well. If that’s true, then you sure must’ve taken your time traveling home.” Joe’s voice had an accusing edge to it.
“Now look, Joe. I didn’t have no reason to think there was any particular rush about gettin’ home. And I kinda thought you’d be enjoyin’ bein’ on your own and bein’ the boss around here. So yeah, I did take my time on the way home. Stopped to pay a visit at Vic Trainor’s place and stayed overnight with him for one thing.” Hoss began to frown. “What’s this all about anyway? Have you got yourself into some kind of a jam…again?”
“You might say that,” Joe replied with a sigh. “It’s a long story. Maybe we’d better go inside so we can sit down and I can explain it all.”
“All right, Joe,” Hoss said, eyeing his brother curiously. “And I sure hope the story is worth listenin’ to.”
They went into the house and sat down together on the settee. Because of the heat of the day there was no fire in the fireplace. In a hesitant voice, Joe began to tell his brother everything that had happened…his joining the poker game against Roth, his excitement at finding himself with four of a kind, the deal to get Roth to accept his IOU, his dismay at seeing his four kings beaten by Roth’s four aces, his interview with Roth and the agreement he had demanded in order to extend the deadline. Joe even told his brother about all his unsuccessful efforts to raise the money. He left nothing out.
As he listened to the story, Hoss’ frown became deeper and deeper. When Joe had finished, they sat silently for a moment as Joe’s anxious eyes searched his brother’s face for some kind of reaction. Finally Hoss got up and began to pace up and down in front of the hearth in an agitated manor. He seemed to be working himself up to something. Then he turned and confronted his brother.
“Dagnabbit, Joe, what do you expect me to say? I’ve done defended you for a lot of things over the years, but this…this has gotta be the biggest foolishness you’ve got yourself involved in in your whole life! What was you thinkin’ of, offerin’ an IOU for five hundred dollars when you didn’t have the money to back it up?”
“I had four kings, Hoss! Tell, me, what would you have done?” Joe challenged.
“I woulda remembered the first rule Pa taught us about gambling…you never bet anything you can’t afford to lose!” Hoss shot back. “Or, better yet, I woulda never have been in a game against Roth in the first place. I woulda knowed better than to have anything to do with a shark like that.”
Joe blushed under his brother’s rebuke. “Don’t you think I’ve been beating myself up about it ever since it happened?”
“Well, you should be. And then, signin’ that agreement that if you didn’t pay, he’d have a claim on part of the Ponderosa….” Hoss shook his head. “I don’t know how you’re ever gonna explain that one to Pa.”
“Neither do I,” Joe acknowledged quietly. “Look, Hoss, I know Pa will probably be restricting me ’til I’m forty over this, but that comes later. What’s important right at the moment is to get the money to pay off Roth.”
“Do you really think an agreement like that is gonna stand up in a court?”
“I’m not a lawyer, Hoss; I can’t say for sure. But Roth seemed pretty confident that it was all perfectly legal. And I sure don’t want to take any chances. I just want to pay him off so we don’t have to ever find out.”
“Well I agree with you ’bout that all right.”
“It’s too late to go into town and get money from the bank today before it closes. But we can go first thing in the morning, get the money, take it right to Roth and settle this whole thing.” Joe paused. “You do have the money…don’t you?”
Hoss’ forehead furrowed in perplexity.
“Oh I got the money in the bank all right. And foolish as I think you’ve been, I wouldn’t wanna leave you hangin’ over somethin’ as serious as this. But Joe…I ain’t gonna be able to get the money tomorrow mornin’.”
“What do you mean, Hoss?” Joe started to feel a lump forming in his throat.
Hoss sat back down on the settee next to his brother. “You see, on the way home, I stopped in Virginia City to have something to eat an’ such. When I walked past the bank, I saw there was a sign in the window. Seems the bank manager’s wife died. The funeral is gonna be tomorrow an’ out of respect, the bank is gonna be closed all day.”
Joe looked at him in dismay for a few seconds. Then he bowed his head, putting a hand to his forehead, and gave a groan. “I don’t believe it. I just don’t believe it. This can’t be happening.”
“Now wait a minute, Joe,” Hoss interrupted, looking concerned. “Couldn’t I just pay him by check?”
Joe shook his head. “The contract says that payment must be made in cash only. Roth gave me some blather about not wanting to take a check only to find out there wasn’t money in the account to cover it. So what do we do?”
Hoss considered for a moment. Then he slipped an arm around his brother’s shoulder. “How about this? I’ll go with you to see Roth. I’ll offer him more than you owe him…twice as much if I hafta…if he’ll either accept a check or wait one day until I can get to the bank. That oughta give him somethin’ to think about, don’t you think?” Seeing Joe’s skeptical look, Hoss continued in an encouraging tone. “It’ll be all right, Joe. This is gonna work out all right. Just you wait an’ see.”
“Sure it will, Hoss,” Joe replied with forced cheerfulness. But in his mind he wasn’t sure. He wasn’t sure at all.
The Good Businessman
“Enter!” the voice of Simon Roth called out with its now familiar harsh edge.
Joe was deeply grateful that this time he didn’t have to enter the stifling environment of Roth’s office alone. The presence of Hoss behind him was a much needed support. On this occasion, Roth was discovered sitting behind his desk, scribbling in his ledger. His eyebrows rose as he looked up and saw that Joe had brought someone with him. He rose from his chair with a scowl.
“I’ve been expecting you, Mr. Cartwright, but I had not expected to see your brother as well. From the fact that he came with you, as well as the expressions on both your faces, I would venture to guess that you are not bringing the money to fulfill our contract. Am I right?”
“That’s true, Mr. Roth,” Joe began to explain in the appealing tone that usually worked so well on his father. “You see, the friend who was going to buy my horses needed to use the money he was going to pay me to help out someone in his family who’d had a fire, so he had to back out on the deal, and I wasn’t able to find….”
“The reason is immaterial, Mr. Cartwright,” Roth cut in impatiently. “The only material fact is that, unless you can find some way to pay me the money before the close of business today, you will have broken the contract, the forfeit will be due and I will have a clear legal claim on roughly one third of the Ponderosa.”
“Now wait just a second there, Mr. Roth,” Hoss demanded indignantly. “What I understand from Joe here is that you mean to claim the part of the Ponderosa that he’s gonna inherit when…when our Pa dies.” He stopped to swallow a lump in his throat at the unpalatable thought. “And the fact is, you don’t actually know what that amounts to. Now do you really think that’s smart?”
“It’s true I do not know the details of Ben Cartwright’s will,” Roth admitted. “But I know what everyone in Virginia City knows that Ben Cartwright dotes on his three sons. I believe the assumption that he would have divided his empire into basically equal shares for each of the three of you is a safe one. In truth, I can hardly imagine it otherwise.” He smiled his unsettling smile. “It should be interesting to find out what the exact provisions are.”
Hoss regarded Roth intently, as if trying to decide what approach to take with him now. “Mr. Roth,” he finally ventured in a quiet, determined voice, “I reckon you know the old sayin’ about a bird in the hand bein’ worth two in the bush. Now Joe owes you five hundred dollars, ain’t that right?”
“Yes,” Roth responded, looking back at Hoss with curiosity.
“So wouldn’t you rather have a thousand dollars?”
“What exactly is it that you are proposing?” Roth asked after a momentary hesitation.
“Well, let me explain. Today is suppose’ to be the deadline for payin’ the money. Now I would have gone to the bank an’ got it for you with no problem, only the bank is closed today because of the funeral of the bank manager’s wife. I guess you prob’ly knew about that.”
“I did,” Roth responded.
”But it’s gonna be open again as usual tomorrow. So if you’re willin’ to wait one day ’til I can get to the bank, I’m willin’ to pay you twice as much as Joe owes you to settle the matter.” Hoss noticed that the expression on Roth’s face was a mixture of interest and skepticism, with skepticism dominating. “Or, if you’d rather, I could just write you out a check for a thousand dollars right now. I know you wanted the payment to be in cash, but you really don’t hafta have any concern about there not bein’ money in the account to cover the check. I give you my word about that, and if you know anything about me, you should know that when I give my word you can trust it. Now what do you say?”
“An interesting proposal, Mr. Cartwright,” Roth answered. “However, neither of the alternatives you mention actually fulfills the letter of the contract. And I have yet to hear any good reason why I should settle for a mere thousand dollars when I stand to gain so much more through legal recourse.”
“Maybe ’cause it’s the right thing to do…the decent thing to do. ‘Cause otherwise your takin’ advantage of someone who’s hardly more than a boy and who didn’t have no idea what he was getting’ into when he sat down to play poker with you. You’d be makin’ a good gain for yourself. Ain’t that enough? Why push things any farther and hurt other people doin’ it?”
“You call it taking advantage. I call it seeing an opportunity and seizing it…the mark of a good business man,” Roth asserted in an aggressive tone. His stern gaze shifted to Joe. “When you sat across the table from me, did you not realize that I was reading you like the proverbial book? When you offered the five hundred dollar IOU, I had an instinctive feeling that you were jumping in over your head and there was a strong possibility that you wouldn’t be able to redeem it. And if I saw a way to maximize my benefit should that be the case, would either of you seriously expect me to refrain simply because you were young and foolish? It was your decision to enter the game and to play it as you did. When one makes such decisions, one must be prepared to accept the consequences. That is another of the rules of the successful businessman.”
Roth turned to address Hoss again. “You maintain that what you offer should be enough for me. But who is one man to tell another how much is enough? Isn’t it human nature to want as much as one can possibly get?”
“Not everybody thinks that way,” Hoss said quietly.
“But it’s the ones who do that are the drivers of progress.”
Hoss was about to object, but Roth overrode him. “No, Mr. Cartwright, I have no intention of accepting anything less than what is due me according to the letter of the contract. Consider this your formal notice that I will be filing suit to press my claim tomorrow. Anticipating this turn of events, I have already made inquiries and discovered that the circuit judge will be in town on the 16th, six days from now. You had best be prepared for a hearing at that time.” He shuffled through some papers on his desk and pulled one out. “I will be representing myself, and I assure you I am fully qualified to do so. However, I assume that you will be consulting an attorney. I took the precaution of making this extra copy of the contract for you to give to whoever that might be. Oh, and be sure to have him bring your father’s will to the hearing.”
He handed the copy to Joe. “Now I believe that our business for today is concluded. I will be seeing you in court.”
Roth sat back down in his chair and turned his attention to his ledgers once again, obviously expecting Joe and Hoss to leave.
The two brothers looked at each other with the same question in each of their eyes.
So what do we do now?
Turning the Pages
It was early in the evening of the 14th, and three men sat around the fireplace in the great room of the Ponderosa ranch house. The weather had turned cool enough to justify a fire, and its glow showed up the serious expressions on their faces. Joe and Hoss Cartwright sat together on the settee, their heads hanging. In the blue chair at the corner of the hearth sat the family’s attorney, Joshua Armitage. He leaned forward in the chair uneasily, resting his elbow on the arm and thoughtfully stroking his beard with his hand. When he had begun to work for the Cartwrights, that beard had been all black, but it had since turned a distinguished salt and pepper. The usual amiable gleam in the eyes behind his spectacles had been replaced on this occasion by a look of concern. And there was good reason for that concern. All three men sat silently. They appeared to be, and in fact were, waiting for something.
When Joe and Hoss had left the office of Simon Roth in the afternoon several days earlier. Hoss had insisted it was time that they had to contact their Pa and Adam, and Joe had reluctantly agreed. However, when they had arrived at the telegraph office, they had found a message waiting for them from their father, saying that he, Adam and Hop Sing were heading home and expected to arrive on the evening of the 14th. Since it was too late for any telegram to spur them to arrive home any sooner, Hoss and Joe didn’t send one after all. Instead they proceeded to take the next logical step; they went directly to the office of Joshua Armitage, discussed the situation with him and showed him the copy of the contract that Roth had given them for just such a purpose.
Armitage had shaken his head at hearing the story, but had tactfully refrained from reproaching Joe, sensing that his young client felt guilty enough as it was. After looking over the contract briefly, he admitted to the brothers that he didn’t immediately see anything obvious that would call its legality into question. On hearing that Ben and Adam were expected home two days before the hearing, he had suggested that he should be on hand when they arrived so that they could all discuss the case. Joe had gratefully embraced the suggestion, perhaps feeling that if the lawyer was present when things were explained to his father, Ben might be less inclined to lose control of himself and do something in his anger that Joe would consider regrettable.
Armitage had arrived as promised and now he, along with the brothers, was awaiting the return of the absent family members. Having talked about the case as much as they really could without the others present, and having no desire to talk about anything else, they had settled into a silence that was starting to become oppressive. Joe idly picked up a book that lay on the table in front of the settee and started to turn the pages. Realizing that it was a volume of Shakespeare’s comedies that belonged to his brother Adam, he gave a little sigh and set it back down.
The three men abruptly raised their heads and turned their eyes toward the door as the sound of horses approaching the house was heard from outside, and they rose from their seats. A moment later the door opened and Ben entered, closely followed by Adam and Hop Sing. Ben looked around with a curious expression until his eyes caught sight of the lawyer. “Joshua! I thought I recognized your horse and buggy outside. It’s certainly a surprise to see you.”
Registering the serious demeanor of the three men by the fire, Ben started to feel a little uneasy. “Has something happened?” he asked.
“There is a situation that we need to talk about, Ben,” Joshua Armitage answered him. “And I won’t try to deny it’s a pretty serious one. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll tell you all about it.”
His anxiety growing, Ben moved to take the vacated blue chair. Before he sat down, he looked over at the Chinese servant. “Hop Sing, I think we could all use some coffee. Would you go and make some, please?”
With a wordless nod, Hop Sing headed off to the kitchen to do as requested. Ben settled himself in the blue chair and Adam went around to take the red chair on the other side of the fire.
“All right, Joshua, let’s hear it,” Ben demanded.
Armitage began to pace up and down in front of the fire, speaking in a deliberately low, calm voice as he did so. In discussing the case earlier with Joe and Hoss, it had been decided that Ben might accept what needed to be said with the least amount of fuss if it came from the lawyer rather than from one of his sons. But as he watched Ben Cartwright’s face grow redder and redder as the tale went on and his eyebrows rise high into his hairline at certain points, he wasn’t so sure. Ben was looking at Joseph with an anger in his eyes that Armitage was profoundly grateful wasn’t directed at him. Meanwhile, Adam sat with his chin resting on his hand and listened with wide, alert eyes, giving out a low, barely audible whistle on occasion. The look that he trained on his youngest brother was tinged with pity.
“So that’s it, Ben,” Armitage concluded. “The hearing is the day after tomorrow and Roth is looking for a judgment that will give him possession of the part of the Ponderosa that would fall to Joe according to your will. And at this moment I simply don’t know how to prevent it.” He rested his hand on the mantle and bowed his head.
Ben Cartwright sat silent for a moment, obviously making a great effort to control himself. It was just at that moment that Hop Sing appeared with a tray that bore a steaming coffee pot and several mugs. He placed it on the table in front of the settee, then, seeing that no one seemed interested in coffee at the moment he shook his head and quietly withdrew. Ben rose from his chair and moved quickly to tower over the trembling figure of his youngest son.
“Joseph, I cannot believe this! I have one of my most successful business trips and secure one of the most lucrative lumber contracts we’ve ever had, and I arrive home to discover THIS…that an important part of everything I’ve worked so hard for all these years…that we’ve all worked for…is about to be pulled out from under us. Do you have any idea what it would mean if Roth should succeed in this? It would give him a say in every major decision concerning the ranch. He could exploit his interest in any way he saw fit without regard to the lasting harm it might do. I tremble to think of what might happen!” Ben turned his eyes away and took a deep breath before turning them back and continuing. “Joseph, if I were to give in to what I am feeling at this very moment, the house might not be able to withstand it! Just be assured that once this is settled, one way or another, I will be dealing with you in a manner befitting the enormity of what you have done. But I can’t stop to think of that at the moment. Right now, the urgent need is to find a way to stop Roth.”
Ben turned to Armitage. “Can I see a copy of the contract please?
Armitage reached into the inside pocket of his suit coat, drew out a paper and held it out to Ben.
This is a copy that Roth made out to be given to your attorney. Joe also has one of the originals, with his signature.”
Ben grabbed the paper and quickly scanned it. Then he turned on Armitage. “Are you telling me that this is within the law?” Impatiently he handed the paper back to him.
“The conditions of the contract may be rather unusual, but there’s nothing that, on the face of it, would cause it to be thrown out.”
Then Adam spoke up. “May I see that please?”
“My copy is here on the table.” Joe stood up, picked up the paper and moved to hand it to his brother.
“Thanks, little buddy,” Adam responded. He gave his brother a ‘you’ve really done it this time’ look that was still not without a trace of sympathy as he took the paper and settled back to read it.
Meanwhile, Ben was consulting with his lawyer. “Joshua, I just don’t feel capable of thinking clearly about this at the moment. Fortunately, we do have a full day to decide what to do. Why don’t I and the boys come to your office tomorrow morning and we can hash things out then?”
“That should be all right,” Joshua replied. “Will you be able to make it by about ten-thirty?”
“I believe so. Thank you for coming this evening, Joshua. We’ll see you in the morning then. Hopefully, we’ll be able to come up with something to deal with this.”
“I really hope so, Ben,” Armitage replied. But his voice sounded more like wishful thinking than real expectation. They shook hands; Armitage quickly gathered up his things and, after a brief exchange of good nights, disappeared out the door.
Ben slowly approached the settee where Joe and Hoss still sat, the look on his face now one of weariness rather than anger. “Boys, it’s not that late, but I for one am tired and I think it would be a good idea for all of us to try to get a good rest so we can take a fresh look at things in the morning.”
“I guess you’re right, Pa,” Hoss replied as he rose from his seat. Without a word, Joe also rose and they both moved toward the stairs. Hoss began to plod up the steps without hesitation, but Joe paused with his foot on the bottom step and turned back toward his father.
“Pa… I’m really awful sorry about all this.”
“I know, son.”
Ben said nothing more and, after a few seconds, Joe followed his brother up the stairs.
Adam had remained sitting so quietly in the red chair that his father had hardly paid attention to him. But now Ben noticed that his son was still intently perusing the document that Joe had handed him. “Adam, don’t you think that you had better retire for the evening too?”
“Pa, I don’t think I would be able to sleep anyway. I think I’d rather stay up a while longer.” Adam waved the paper in his hand. “Maybe I can come up with something. I do some of my best thinking after business hours you know.”
“Yes, I know, son.” Ben managed a smile. “Well, good night then.”
“Good night, Pa.”
A moment later Ben had also disappeared up the stairs.
Adam continued to examine the contract for a few minutes, then tossed the paper back down on the table and leaned back with a dissatisfied sigh. He began to cast his eyes around and eventually noticed the book that still rested on the table. With a look of interest on his face, he leaned forward to pick it up.
“My Shakespeare,” he thought to himself. “Well at least that’s something worthwhile to pass some time.” He began turning the pages. “Comedies? Well, if you define anything that has a ‘happy’ ending as a comedy, I suppose so. But there are actually some pretty serious issues and some rather ambiguous resolutions in some of them.” He found himself turning up the first page of The Merchant of Venice. “Now there’s one. Somehow the character of Shylock seems to take it out of the comic realm. Curious that this play should come to my attention just when we’re trying to figure out how to deal with our own Shylock.” An ironic smile touched his face. “I guess when I called Roth the Shylock of Virginia City, I didn’t know just how right I was. He certainly has the same quality of being implacable.” He paused briefly in deep thought, then continued quickly turning the pages until he came to the scene he was looking for, the trial scene. He wanted to remind himself how Shakespeare had dealt with his Shylock. He read over the well known lines, nodding to himself as he remembered how the character of Portia, wanting to save her new husband’s dear friend, disguised herself as a lawyer to appear in court and confront Shylock. His face grew even more thoughtful. “And she does a remarkable job. Basically, what she does is take his insistence on the letter of the bond and rub his nose in it. She finds something in the bond that she can turn against him, making it unacceptable to him. I wonder….”
Adam set down the book and picked up the contract again. He read it with new eyes, looking for something that would suit his purpose. And then a gleam came into his eyes and he smiled.
“Well, maybe I just came up with an answer,” he thought with satisfaction.
The Hearing Begins
A low, intense buzz traveled through the courtroom as the crowd waited for the day’s proceedings to begin. There were clearly more spectators than usual on a normal court day. Evidently, word had somehow gotten out about Simon Roth’s suit against Joe Cartwright, and a number of the better known local gossips had turned up to see just what was going on.
Ben and Hoss Cartwright sat together in the first row of the area reserved for onlookers, both of them silent and serious. Joe sat behind the defendant’s table toward the front of the room, his hat pulled down over his eyes and his arms wrapped around himself in an apparent attempt to make himself appear as small and inconspicuous as possible. Joshua Armitage and Adam sat with him behind the table, conversing with each other sotto voce.
“Joshua, I really think you should be the one to do the talking,” Adam was saying. “You’re the lawyer here.”
“Yes, but you were the one who came up with the idea,” Armitage replied. “Much to my discredit. In hindsight, I find it hard to believe I hadn’t seen it first. You’re probably better qualified to present it than I am. Besides, I’ve heard that Judge Moyer was rather impressed with you that time you injected yourself into the case when Hoss was suing Joe, and a personal connection like that can prove very useful in a case like this.” He saw Adam’s uncertain expression. “I really believe it will be most effective if you speak for us, Adam.”
“Well, all right then,” Adam said. “I just pray I can pull this off.”
“I have every confidence in you,” Armitage said encouragingly.
At that moment the buzz from the back of the room increased and heads turned as Simon Roth entered and strode confidently toward the front of the room. Roth placed a portfolio on the table reserved for the plaintiff and casually took the chair behind it. Adam exchanged a brief look with Joshua Armitage, then slowly got up and walked over to Roth’s table. Hearing his approach, Roth looked up and gave him the smug look of one who knows he has the advantage over the one he is addressing.
“Hello, Adam. You’re here to support your brother, I see. Naturally. Well. I’m afraid that he and your whole family are in for a rather hard time here today.”
Adam ignored his tone. “Simon, could we have a word in private before the judge arrives, please?” He gestured toward the isolated front corner of the room.
Without a word, but with a curious expression, Roth rose and followed Adam to the spot indicated. There was no chance of their being overheard here.
“Well, Adam, what is this all about? Are you about to plead for mercy?” Roth’s voice clearly implied that Adam should know how useless such a plea would be.
“Actually, I wanted to give you one last chance to act like a human being,” Adam responded. Roth gave a small snort. “Simon, I’ve known you for some years now,” Adam continued, “and I don’t think I’ve ever known you to do anything that wasn’t primarily motivated by making the greatest possible profit. Did it ever once occur to you that there might possibly be something more to life than the number of dollars in your bank account? Did you ever think of other people as something other than obstacles you have to climb over in order to get more for yourself? You could find that regarding other people as neighbors and showing a little understanding and compassion once in a while is actually a more satisfying way to live.” He paused to look for some response in Roth’s face, but found none.
“You’ve always been one to insist on the strict letter of a contract, but you must realize that everybody falls short sometimes…and that you yourself are no exception. Maybe that would help you to see the wisdom in the old adage about treating others the way you would want them to treat you.” Roth still looked at him as though not really comprehending what he was saying. But Adam wasn’t finished yet. “I know that my brother Hoss offered you twice what Joe owed you in order to settle the matter. I’ll increase the offer to three times the amount. Fifteen hundred dollars. It’s a good deal, Simon, and I truly believe you would be well advised to take it…for your own ultimate good.”
Roth shook his head and gave a small chuckle. “It’s really rather pathetic watching you try to argue your way out of this one, Adam. But you and your family have interfered with my dealings several times in the past, and believe me, the thing I will find most satisfying is to be in a position to make you all pay for it. No, I have no inclination to accept any offer you might make…not even for the good of my soul, as you imply. Now it’s time for the judge to be coming in, so I think we had better both return to our rightful places.” Roth turned away and went back to his table. Adam also returned to his place next to Armitage, answering the lawyer’s questioning look with a shake of the head.
A moment later the door on the other side of the room opened and Judge Abraham Moyer entered. Everyone in the room rose as he came in and sat back down as he took his seat. The judge rapped his gavel briefly to quiet the crowd and called the session to order.
“The first case before the court today is Roth v. Cartwright.” Judge Moyer looked down at the papers on his desk. “Mr. Roth, I understand that you are representing yourself in this proceeding.”
Roth rose from his chair. “Yes, your honor.”
“And, Joseph Cartwright, are you represented by counsel?”
“He is, your honor,” Armitage rose to answer. “Joshua Armitage, representing the defendant…and Mr. Adam Cartwright will be participating also.”
Moyer looked at Adam with a faint smile of recognition. “Very good. Now, Mr. Roth, as the plaintiff in the case, let me hear your statement first.”
“Thank you, your honor.” Roth came around the table in order to face the judge more directly. “You have before you the contract between myself and Joseph Cartwright, signed by both of us. As you can see the requirement of the contract is that Mr. Cartwright pay me the sum of five hundred dollars in cash by the date specified. As Mr. Cartwright himself will concede, the money was not paid according to the terms of the contract, and therefore the forfeit specified is due. You will further note that the forfeit consists of that part of the Ponderosa ranch which is due to come to him according to his father’s will. Very simply, my request is that you order that will to be produced immediately in order to disclose the precise definition of that property, and that you order that title to that property be turned over to me with all due haste.”
“I see. Thank you Mr. Roth.” As Roth sat down again, Judge Moyer took a moment to briefly review the document in front of him, then turned his attention to the other table.
“And what response does the defense have to Mr. Roth’s claim?”
Adam rose and approached the judge with some papers in his hand. “Your honor, at this time we will happily disclose to Mr. Roth exactly what it is he would be getting. “ He brandished the papers he held. “This is the current, valid will of Benjamin Cartwright, as will be attested to by Mr. Armitage.”
Armitage half rose from his chair. “That is correct, your honor,” he confirmed.
“Let me now read the relevant portion of the will,” Adam resumed. He turned to the third page of the document, cleared his throat and began to read in an authoritative voice.
“To my son Joseph I bequeath that acre of land including and immediately surrounding the grave site of his mother, Marie Cartwright, with stipulation that his brothers Adam and Eric shall, in perpetuity, allow him free access to the site through the land belonging to them.” Adam turned to Roth. “And that is exactly what is due to come to Joe according to his father’s will. That and nothing more. Simon…do you really want title to the grave site of Marie Cartwright?”
Roth jumped up from his seat, his face red with anger. “This is outrageous! When was that will sign?”
“It was made out and signed yesterday in Mr. Armitage’s office,” Adam answered.
Roth turned a pleading face to the judge. “Your honor, I protest! This is a blatant attempt to evade the conditions of the contract! The clear intent of the contract was that that property be defined according to the will in effect at the time it was signed.”
“I disagree, your honor,” Adam interjected. He set the will down on the defense table and took up the copy of the contract that was there. “The contract does not directly specify what will is to be used in order to define the property which should be forfeited. The exact words of the contract are “that portion of the Ponderosa ranch which shall be due to come to him according to his father’s will.” Now obviously, that property is not due to come to Joseph Cartwright until his father’s will takes effect, which will only be upon the death of Benjamin Cartwright. Therefore, I would argue that if we are to construe the intent of the contract from that wording, we must conclude that the forfeit is only to be paid at that time, and according to the terms of the will in effect then. In addition, I would point out that Mr. Roth’s contract is with Joseph Cartwright, but the property in question, however it is to be defined, currently remains in the name of Benjamin Cartwright. Benjamin Cartwright is not a party to the contract and did not sign or endorse it in any way. He cannot be held liable for the terms of an agreement that was made without his consent. Once again, the conclusion is that Mr. Roth must wait to demand his forfeit until the property actually passes into the possession of Joseph Cartwright.”
Roth seemed stunned. He glanced around the courtroom and saw everyone staring at him. He turned toward the judge and saw no indication in his face of how he might be reacting to Cartwright’s argument. He raised his hands in a pleading gesture.
Hardly a sound could be heard in the courtroom as a long moment passed while Judge Moyer sat there pondering what he had heard. Then the judge roused himself and looked down at Simon Roth, who still had his face turned up to him in supplication.
“Mr. Roth, there is no question in my mind as to what you intended with this contract. However, for purposes of the law, I can only go by the words that were actually set down on the paper. And I have to agree with Mr. Cartwright that the precise wording of the contract does imply that the forfeit is to be claimed at the time Benjamin Cartwright’s will takes effect, according to the terms in effect at that time. And that is my ruling.”
Roth stared at the judge in consternation. “Your honor, are you actually telling me that I am to receive nothing now? This is a gross miscarriage of justice!”
“On the contrary, Mr. Roth, it is strict justice…according to the letter of the contract,” Moyer replied.
Roth turned a furious face to Adam. “You think you’re so clever, don’t you? It would serve you right if, when it comes time, I were to take possession of that acre of land with the grave of your precious Marie on it. And just how would you feel about that? You don’t think I would actually do it? Well, think again!”
“Oh, I have no doubt that you are capable of such a thing,” Adam retorted. “But there are a couple of things you need to consider. First of all, what makes you think that the terms of our father’s will won’t have changed again by the time it takes effect?” Roth raised an eyebrow at that, as though he had not considered the possibility.
“In addition to that,” Adam went on, “you can be assured that the Cartwright family will do everything we can to make such an attempt on your part as difficult as possible.” He cocked his head. “You know, Simon, given all the circumstances, your actions in this case could be considered an attempt to defraud the Cartwright family.”
“You’d never make that stick!” Roth was almost sputtering at this point.
“Perhaps not. But we could force you to spend so much time, effort…and money…disputing the charge that any satisfaction you might get from eventually claiming the forfeit would hardly be worth it.”
“So you expect me to just give the whole thing up and go away with NOTHING?
“Not at all. We have no intention of cheating you out of what is rightfully yours. You are certainly due the five hundred dollars that Joe lost to you.” Adam picked up a small piece of paper from the table. “I have here a check for that amount, plus a reasonable ten per cent interest, for a total of five hundred fifty dollars.” He held the check out to Roth. “A little while ago, I made you a more generous offer than this and said you would be well advised to take it. You refused. Well, now I’m telling you that you would be well advised to simply take this check and renounce any further claim you might have. And I don’t think you want to refuse again.”
Roth stood there for a moment, his whole body trembling with his anger and frustration. Finally he grabbed the check out of Adam’s hand and turned his back on him.
Judge Moyer had sat silent through the whole exchange. Now he rapped his gavel to suppress the growing murmur that had arisen in the courtroom. “Mr. Roth, am I to understand that you are withdrawing your claim in favor of accepting the offer that Mr. Cartwright has made?”
Roth turned to face the judge and fought to put down a lump in his throat. “Yes, your honor,” he managed to choke out.
“Very well, the suit is hereby dismissed, with stipulation that paperwork recording the agreement reached between the parties shall be filed within thirty days.”
“Agreed, your honor,” Joshua Armitage interjected.
“Agreed,” Simon Roth spat out. He stuffed the check along with his other papers into his portfolio and turned to leave as the judge’s gavel called a formal end to the proceeding.
Adam laid a hand on Roth’s shoulder, causing him to turn back. “I’m surprised at you, Simon. You’ve always been a pretty sharp fellow. But it seems that, in this case, you were so distracted by the idea of getting your hands on part of the Ponderosa that you neglected to think things through the way you should have.”
Roth looked startled. He was remembering how he had reproached Joseph Cartwright for being so distracted by seeing that he had four of a kind that he had neglected to keep track of what cards had been played. And now to have Joseph’s brother reproach him in nearly the same terms! What painful irony! He tucked the portfolio under his arm and, with an impatient gesture, turned and strode away.
The crowd was chattering as many of them prepared to leave during the interval before the next case was called. Adam made his way over to the defense table. Ben and Hoss had joined Joe and Armitage there, and they were all smiling as Adam came up to them.
“That was a wonderful job, son,” Ben beamed as he reached out to give Adam’s hand a hearty shake. “I wasn’t sure about how this whole idea of turning the letter of the contract against Roth was going to work out, but you certainly played it beautifully. I have to admit it was a little unsettling to hear the subject of my death referred to so often…but I can’t complain when it all worked out as well as I could have possibly hoped for in the end.”
“You really did it, Adam,” Hoss opined, slapping him on the shoulder. “Looks like ol’ Roth kinda slunk away with his tail between his legs.” He let out with a happy chuckle.
“I owe you big time for this one, older brother,” Joe said with a relieved smile. He raised his hand with a theatrical flourish. “A Daniel come to judgment! Yea, a Daniel!” he declaimed.
Adam stared at him with wide, surprised eyes. “Joe, that’s a direct quote from The Merchant of Venice! You actually read it?”
“Obviously. I was too keyed up about what was going to happen today to sleep last night anyway, so I sat up way late to do it. Since you had said that the play kind of gave you the idea of what to do, I got curious and thought there must be something there. And there was! Oh I didn’t get everything at first reading. But the trial scene really was exciting. And now I know all about Shylock!”
Adam smiled at his brother’s enthusiasm. “I’m glad that you’ve learned to appreciate it, Joe…and maybe a little bit flattered if my influence had anything to do with it. But don’t go thinking that’s going to get you out of any of the debt you owe.”
Joe’s happy expression suddenly turned worried. “What do you mean, Adam?”
“That check that I used to pay off Roth…it came out of my personal account. So now you owe the five hundred dollars, or actually five hundred fifty dollars, to me.” He cocked an eyebrow. “You didn’t think you were going to get out of this without eventually paying off what you had bet…did you?”
“Of course not,” Joe murmured, but his look betrayed that he had hoped he might possibly do just that.
“We’ll work out a schedule for you to pay me back by doing some of my chores,” Adam continued. “It may take a while, but I think that will teach you a valuable lesson. And don’t forget what Pa said about dealing with you once the legal case was settled.”
At that, Joe’s face became truly crestfallen. He looked at his father with the appealing gaze that so often softened the stern patriarch. But not this time. Ben looked at his youngest in a way that showed no yielding.
“As for that, young man, I am still considering what all the consequences of your behavior should be. But I do know that those consequences will start with the following: First, you are not to enter a saloon for the next six months.” Joe was about to open his mouth in protest, but his father’s look stopped him. “And second, you will not engage in any type of gambling whatsoever for one full year.”
“Yes, sir,” Joe said obediently. But inwardly he gave a sigh. He supposed he could live with that last part. He would have to. Actually, after what had happened, he wasn’t feeling much of an urge to do any gambling anyway, and he didn’t suppose he would be for quite a while. But as for the first part, he didn’t know if he could make it a whole six months without stopping by the Silver Dollar for a beer. Well, maybe he could find some way to get Pa to ease up on that. Or maybe he could find some way around it. He began to consider what that might possibly be.
“Oh, and I think you should know,” Ben continued, “I don’t believe it would be quite seemly to change my will back immediately. No, I think that it would be appropriate to wait several months before I do that. So I would suggest that you conduct yourself with particular care until then.”
“Yeah, and you’d better hope nothin’ happens to Pa before that too,” Hoss chimed in.
Joe’s face blanched a little at the thought, but he said nothing.
Meanwhile, Joshua Armitage had taken Adam aside and was talking to him earnestly. “Adam, I really believe you would make an outstanding lawyer if you turned your mind that way. Have you ever thought of pursuing that option?”
Adam laughed. “Not really, Joshua. I have to admit I have rather enjoyed sticking my finger into legal affairs the handful of times that I’ve done it. But as for making it a career…no, I really think that engineering and architecture are more my true calling.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Joshua said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Well, if you ever change your mind, let me know. I would welcome a partner such as you in my practice.”
“Thank you, Joshua….but don’t be counting on it.”
At that moment Ben Cartwright’s voice rose to catch the attention of them all. “Boys, I think it’s about time we were all heading home. There’s work to be done!”
“Sounds good to me, Pa,” Joe said, and he began to gather up his things.
Ben thought to himself that it certainly did sound good. “Home” had to be one of the most beautiful words in the world, especially now that their home, which had been threatened, was once again safe and secure. He looked over at Adam, thinking about how much they all owed him for helping to keep it that way.
Joe and Hoss were soon headed out the door together. Adam began to follow them, and was quickly joined by Ben, who slipped an arm around his shoulders. Something in the gesture caused Adam to turn his head and look at his father curiously. The look that his father returned him held all his love and gratitude.
“Thank you, son,” Ben said simply.
Adam didn’t have to ask for what. He knew.
*For anyone who isn’t very familiar with Shakespeare, Shylock is the famous character of the Jewish moneylender from The Merchant of Venice. The merchant Antonio borrows a large sum of money from him in order to help his friend Bassanio, who wishes to woo the heiress Portia. Having a grudge against Antonio, Shylock includes the condition that, should Antonio fail to pay, the forfeit will be a pound of his flesh. Antonio anticipates no trouble in paying the debt, as he is expecting the arrival of several of his ships. But a string of disasters leaves him at Shylock’s mercy…and Shylock is prepared to demand that the agreement be enforced to the letter.