The Night After “Death at Dawn” (by Debra P.)

Summary:  (With acknowledgement to Laurence Mascott who wrote the original episode) 
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  1560

Previously:    For those who might not be familiar with this episode, I will summarize very briefly: Sam Bryant is the boss of a group of thugs who are terrorizing Virginia City and extorting protection money from the town’s merchants.  When one of them refuses, one of Bryant’s men, named Farmer Perkins, guns him down in cold blood.  He is eventually convicted and sentenced to hang.  This enrages Bryant, who arranges to have Ben Cartwright kidnapped and threatens to hang him if the sentence against the Farmer is carried out.  When the sheriff is wounded in a shoot out with some of Bryant’s men Adam winds up in the position of acting sheriff and is faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to proceed with Farmer Perkins’ hanging.  Adam argues that if they give in to Bryant, he will assume that he can get away with anything and will probably kill Ben anyway.  However, if they demonstrate that the law will be enforced by going ahead with the hanging Bryant will realize that his only chance is to return Ben unharmed.  His position is made more difficult as almost the entire town, including his own brothers, accuse him of gambling with his father’s life.  Though the pressure is extremely hard on him, Adam finally goes ahead with the hanging.  His gamble pays off as Bryant is seen coming down the street with a very much alive Ben Cartwright.  Bryant is shot down by one of his men, who considers his giving in to be a betrayal, and Ben is happily reunited with his sons.

I always felt there needed to be a scene between Adam and Ben in which they come to terms with everything that happened.  Since we didn’t get it in the episode as shown, I decided to provide it myself.

 

 *****

Ben Cartwright quietly padded down the staircase leading to the great room of his home, expecting to find it deserted, the fire dying out.  Instead he was greeted by the sight of his eldest son sitting on the settee in front of the still brightly burning hearth, a book, opened but unattended to, lying beside him.

“Adam, are you still up?  I would have thought you’d be all done in after everything that’s gone on this last couple of days.”

His reverie broken, Adam turned his head sharply and, seeing his father, smiled briefly up at him. “Hi, Pa.  I guess I was just a little too keyed up to go to sleep.  But what about you?  If anybody ought to be exhausted….”

“Oh, I’m just about to turn in.  I just thought that maybe a small glass of something would help me relax.  It seems I’m feeling a little keyed up myself.”

Adam gestured toward a glass sitting on the low table in front of him.  “I poured myself a brandy a few minutes ago.  Took a couple of sips and decided it wasn’t what I wanted after all.  You’re welcome to it.”

“Thank you, son.”  Ben picked up the glass and sat down in the chair at the near corner of the fireplace.  He took a tentative sip and, with a sigh of satisfaction, settled back into the comfort of the chair.  “Yes, that’s fine.”

A moment of silence ensued, which Adam seemed determined should not become prolonged.  “Hoss and Joe settled in all right?”

“Oh, yes.”  Ben gave a little chuckle.  “I overheard them talking a little earlier.  They were discussing how to approach you tomorrow with an apology for some of the things they said.  It seems they feel they made the situation more difficult for you.”

A wry smile crossed Adam’s face.  “Actually, they did.  But I can hardly hold it against them.  They were only acting out of their concern for you.”  His expression turned somber, and his voice uncharacteristically hesitant.  “Pa, I just hope you understand why I did what I did.  I would hate for you to think….”  His voice trailed off.

Ben leaned forward and placed a comforting hand on his son’s knee.  “I do, son.  Believe me, I understand very well.”  He hesitated, then decided that more needed to be said.  “You know, Adam, when Bryant’s man returned and reported on what you were doing, I told them that you were doing exactly what I would do, and I meant it.”  He paused, lowering his eyes.  “At least I hope I would have been able to do it.  Looking back on it now, I’m not sure I would have had the strength…if it was the life of one of you boys that was on the line.”  He raised his eyes again and they were full of pride as he looked at his son.  “You had that strength.  However hard it was…you did the right thing.”

Adam’s dark eyes looked straight into his with a startling directness that carried with it a kind of challenge.  “Well, everything turned out all right, and I thank God for that.  But I can’t help thinking of how easily it could have gone the other way.  It could have ended up with you dead.  I really don’t know if I could have lived with that.”

Ben took up the challenge directly.  “Adam, you were put in a position where any action you took could have backfired.  Defying Bryant may have been a gamble, but you had already figured out that giving in to him and letting Farmer Perkins go could have carried just as great a risk in its own way…hadn’t you?”  Adam nodded silently.  Ben leaned back again.  “There could be no guarantees,” he continued.  “All you could do was weigh the risks as carefully as possible, act accordingly, and know that, whatever the outcome, you had done the best you could.  And that’s exactly what you did.”

Adam’s gaze turned back to the fire and he remained silent for a time, pondering his father’s words.  “I wonder if Hoss and Joe would have seen it that way,” he said quietly.

Ben shook his head thoughtfully.  “I don’t know about that.  It would have been hard for them.  Eventually, perhaps.  But there’s one thing I do know.  If you were strong enough to do what you did today, you would have been strong enough to deal with the consequences…whatever they might be.”

As Adam continued to stare into the fire the dancing flames found themselves reflected in his troubled eyes.  “That’s easy to say, knowing how things actually turned out.  But right at this moment I can’t seem to feel that sure about anything…about myself…or about what I did.”

This sounded so unlike his son’s normal confident, self-assured tone that it caused something inside Ben to twist painfully on hearing it.  He hoped he could somehow find the words that Adam needed to hear from him at this moment.

“I’ll tell you one thing you can be sure of,” Ben began. “That’s the confidence I have in you.  Everything I’ve ever seen you do has shown you to be worthy of the highest trust.  And this last couple of days wasn’t anything different.  You showed the insight to see past Bryant’s threats and understand how he would really react, the courage to make a hard decision in spite of great risk, and the strength to hold to it when everyone, even your own brothers, doubted you.  Adam, you and I are bound by the closest of blood ties, but even if we weren’t, if we were totally unrelated, you are still a man that I would seek out for a friend.  And you know I do not say that lightly.”

Ben watched anxiously for Adam’s reaction.  He could see that his son was making an evident effort to maintain his composure.  It seemed that what Ben said had gotten through.

“Pa.”  Adam spoke the word softly, with an obvious attempt to keep his voice under control.  “You can’t know what it means to hear you say that.”  He looked over at his father with full eyes.

Ben smiled at him, glad to see the impact of his words.  “It’s no more than the truth, son.”  He downed the last of his brandy, put the glass down, got up from his chair and moved over beside Adam to give his shoulder a careful squeeze.  “Are you about ready to go up to bed now?”

“In a few minutes,” Adam replied, picking up the neglected book beside him.  “I think I’d just like to finish the chapter I had started on first.”

“Rest well, son,” Ben said.  “And don’t worry about getting up so early in the morning.  You deserve to sleep in a little late.  And I’m sure your brothers will be happy to cover your morning chores.  That can be part of their apology.”

“Thanks, Pa,” Adam said with a chuckle.  “I’m sure they’ll appreciate that,” he added with a touch of irony.  “And you rest well too,” he finished softly as he turned to the book and began to thumb through the pages.

Ben stood for a moment, watching his son resume reading.  Then, with a whispered “thank you, son” he turned and quietly padded back up the stairs.

***The End***

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