A Poor Man’s Roses (by DebbieB)

Summary:  Running away from your problems never solved a thing.  That’s what Pa had always preached to his three sons, but now Ben was doing exactly that, running away.

Rated: G (10, 660 words)



                                      A Poor Man’s Roses


I must make up my mind today
 What to have or what to hold
 A poor man’s roses or a rich man’s gold
 One’s as wealthy as a king in a palace
 Though he’s callous and cold
 He may learn to give his heart for love,
 Instead of buying it with gold
 Then the poor man’s roses
 And the thrill when we kiss
 Will be memories of paradise
 That I’ll never miss and yet
 The hand that brings the rose tonight
 Is the hand I will hold
For the rose of love means more to me

 Than any rich man’s gold.

Ben closed the door gently behind him and slowly made his way to his waiting horse.  He hesitated slightly wondering if his leaving was the right thing to do.  Was it the answer to his problems?  No, he reasoned; he felt like he was running away, something he had always tried to teach his three sons not to do.  How many times in their lives had he told them that nothing could be solved by running away?  Now here he was, doing exactly the same thing that he had preached against for all those earlier years. But, thought Ben, I am so weary, I’m so tired of trying, so tired of putting up a front, I need to get away for awhile.

Ben felt rather than heard his youngest son approaching him before he heard him speak.  “Pa?” called out Little Joe.

Ben rested his forehead on the side of Buck’s saddle.  He knew how much he was hurting his youngest son and it was tearing him up inside.  Joseph had never fared well in his absence.  Now, with most of the ranch land burnt to a crisp, more than half of his cattle herd destroyed in the fire, timber lost, mines closed, and the mustangs scattered to all four points on earth, he felt guilty adding his leaving to the worries of his youngest son.  At eighteen years of age, Joseph would always be his baby, always be the one that most likely would chose to cling to his father for guidance and reassurance.  Joseph, a man, yet, still a boy, with a fiery temper and a forgiving heart walked slowly to his father’s side.

Ben glanced over his shoulder and saw the tears that had pooled in the green eyes that watched him.  The quivering chin did not go unnoticed, nor did the fact that Joseph was chewing on his bottom lip, a sure sign that the boy was distraught.

“Pa,” the whispered plea was barely audible.

Ben turned to face his youngest son.  “What is it son?”

Joe fought the urge to throw himself into his father’s arms and beg him not to leave.  “You are…” started Joe and then hung his head.  Ben noted the tears that dripped from the sad eyes.

Little Joe swallowed the lump that had risen deep in his throat and raised his head to meet his father’s gaze.  “You are coming back, aren’t you?” he asked in a voice choked with emotion.

Even as a youngster, Joe’s greatest fear had been that his father would one day leave him and never return.  It was a fear that he had never been able to put aside and as he watched his father now, that fear multiplied in size and gripped his heart.  He knew without really having had to ask that his father would indeed be leaving, and that knowledge scared him for no amount of begging would allow the older man to change his mind.  Joe needed to hear from his father’s own mouth that ‘yes’ he would one day return.   Joe’s heart silently pleaded with his father’s heart to squelch the rising fear that he fought so hard to control.

Ben gently placed his hand on the back of the boy’s neck and slowly drew him to his chest.  Ben’s arms encircled Joe’s shoulders and held him tightly.  Joe in return reached his left arm around his father’s neck and with his right arm closed just as tightly around the older man’s back and try though he might, the tears came and he wept.

“Joseph, son, of course I’m coming back.  It was not my intentions to leave you with the fear that I would not,” Ben tenderly explained to his son.

“Promise me Pa, please, promise,” cried Joe.

Ben placed a kiss on Little Joe’s curly head and whispered into his ear.  “I promise Little Joe, I will come back,” using the boy’s nickname that he rarely used himself.  “ I just don’t know when, I have no idea how long I will be gone.  Please try to understand I have to do this, I have to get away for a while.  Can you understand that son?” Ben pleaded with his youngest to understand his need.

Little Joe raised his head from his father’s shoulder.  “No, Pa, I don’t understand,” he spoke more harshly than he had intended.  “Why do you have to go?  Why can’t you stay here with us?”  Joe knew he was beginning to sound like a child rather than the man he really wanted to be in front of his father but he could not stop himself, his fear was quickly rising and he was scared that he might never again see his father.

“We’ll get through this, we have managed before, and we will this time too.  Please, Pa, don’t leave!”  Losing control of his emotions and fears Joe could not stop the tears that had resurfaced and he returned his head to his father’s shoulders.

Ben was dying inside.  The need to get away was pulling him in opposite directions, but the need to stay here, here with this heartbroken boy was just as great.  He was torn, added to his weariness and strain; Ben felt his own tears as they tumbled down his cheeks.

Ben gently pulled Joe back from his shoulders so that he could look the boy in the eyes.  “Son, I have always kept my promises to you, haven’t I?”

Joe nodded his head in agreement.

Placing both hands on each side of his son’s face and raising it slightly, Ben kissed the forehead of the expectant young man.  “This time will be no different.  I promise Joseph, I will come home.  You have to trust me, I have never lied to you,” smiled Ben.

Ben moved his thumbs across the wet cheeks and dried the tears that remained there.  “Now, I do not want to remember these tears when I think of you.  Give me one of your famous Joe Cartwright smiles.”

Joe swallowed hard and cleared his throat.  He knew that he could not let his father leave knowing that he had left behind a crying son.  Joe had no desire to add to his father’s misery that had grown to massive proportions over the past few months.  So many things had started to go wrong lately, that deep down he really did understand his father’s need to distance himself from such conditions.  Adam and Hoss seemed to understand, and Joe reasoned that he should now give in to his father’s wishes rather than to fight for his own, he was being selfish he knew in asking his father not to leave.  Time had come for him to put aside his feelings and consider his father’s feelings for now.

Joe looked deeply into his father’s dark brown eyes, trying hard to sear them into his memory.  He knew in his heart that his father’s absence would be a long one and he wanted to remember the love that radiated from those eyes during that time that his father would be away.

At last Joe gave his father what he had asked and smiled, the twinkling of the eyes showing that the smile was sincere.

“That’s better.  Now, that is what I will carry foremost in my heart.  Thank you son.”  Ben again kissed Joe’s forehead and releasing his hold on his son’s face turned and mounted his horse.

“Remember Joseph, I love you and I will be back.”  Ben turned Buck and gently kicked the horse forward.

“I love you too, Pa and I’ll be here waiting for you,” Joe called out as his father rounded the corner of the barn and moved out of the young man’s sight.

Ben had been gone from the ranch for nearly a month.  He had traveled long days and seemly short nights, not really caring which direction he was moving.  After weeks on the trail, Ben found himself in Texas.  Thinking that perhaps he would find a few good heads of cattle and perhaps with luck, a few good horses for breeding, he would then have them moved back to the Ponderosa and start over again.  He had become homesick during this time and thinking of the sons he had left behind, Ben’s impatience was beginning to wear thin.  But as luck would have it though, and considering how his luck had been running the last months, Ben’s life was fixing to take a turn that would forever change not only his life, but also the value that he placed on the lives of his sons.

Ben’s leg hurt, he knew it was broken.  He had not been paying attention when Buck had reared in the air, causing him to fall from his horse.  A rattlesnake had spooked the big buckskin and when the horse had tried to side-step the snake, Ben had been tossed to the side of his saddle and when the horse reared, he found himself laying in a heap on the dusty ground.  Ben smiled through his pain, he wasn’t sure who was most surprised, Buck, the snake or himself.  The snake had crawled away, he was sure of that for he had seen him.  Buck cut out to unknown territory, and Ben was stuck sitting in the hot Texas sun.  Not sure what he would do now, his only hope was that once the big buckskin horse calmed down he would return to his rider.  He had done that on more than one occasion and Ben hoped that he would again.  The sun beat down on his head and caused his mouth to become dry, making him wish he had his canteen with him.

Ben wasn’t sure how long he had been asleep nor how he had even managed to fall asleep, but gradually he was pulled back from his slumber by the sound of a voice calling out to him.  Ben looked up but the sun was shining into his eyes and he had to shield them from the sun’s brightness. At first he thought he had only imagined the voice, until he heard it for the second time.

“Hey mister, you okay?” the voice said.  Ben moved slightly so that the sun did not shine directly in his eyes.  At last he was able to see the face that went with the voice.

“My leg, it’s broken.  And my mouth, it’s so dry, do you have any water, please?” Ben asked the stranger.

“Sure ‘nough, here ya go mister,” the man pulled the cork from the top of the canteen and handed it to Ben.  “Drink slowly now, don’t want’ca to get sick on me,” cautioned the man.

Ben did as he had been advised and drank slowly, the cool water tasting good in his dry mouth.  Ben ran his wet tongue around his lips, bringing moisture to the chapped cracks that had started to form there.

“Name’s, Solomon Barker, now let’s get a look at that leg sonny,” Solomon told Ben as he bent down and examined the break.  “Don’t look too nasty, but a break is a break.  You’ll be laid up for a few weeks, but then guess you already knew that, didn’t ya?”

“Yes, unfortunately, I realize that.  I need to get word to my sons, let them know what’s happened.  Can you help me?” Ben wanted to know.  He had not telegraphed his boys in two weeks to let them know of his whereabouts, and he knew they would be worrying.

“Oh, I can help ya with this here break, but as for letting ya sons know, there’s no way to be doin’ that; ain’t no telegraph office within a hundred miles of here not even in town.  Sorry sonny, now, let’s see ‘bout getting, ya back to my ranch.  It ain’t far, just over yonder hill.

Ben looked in the direction that the old man had pointed and had to cover his eyes again in order to see the hill in reference.  It looked to Ben as if ‘over yonder hill’ was a good ten miles from where he now sat and looked again at the man in front of him, surprised to see that the stranger was smiling and humming to himself.  Ben recognized the tune and smiled through his increasing pain to himself, ‘Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, I once was lost, but now I’m found’.

Solomon returned to his wagon and led his team to Ben’s side and tethered them there.  “Sorry sonny, I didn’t catch ya name,” Solomon said to Ben as he offered his hand to Ben so that he could get up.  Helping Ben to rise, he instructed Ben to put his weight onto his good leg and lean on him.  Ben wasn’t sure if he dared to allow the old man to carry his weight.  He watched Solomon as he helped pull him to his feet and thought that the old man must be at least seventy years old or older.  Shorter by at least a foot in height, the man had a round little belly, skinny arms and walked with a limp.  Ben was doubtful of the man’s ability to be much help getting him in the wagon.  But with nothing else to aid him, Ben did as ordered and leaned into the man for support.  Surprisingly, the old man was stronger than first expected and without much difficulty, Ben was moved to the back of the wagon, where he rested comfortably on the straw that had been tossed into the back.

Ben turned his head and met the eyes of the weathered man; the old man’s face slightly sunburned from the hot Texas sun that continued to beat down.  “Ya horse came to the house earlier.  Figured someone might be hurt, so’s I brought the wagon, just in case.” Solomon told Ben in answer to his unasked questions that had appeared in his dark eyes.

Ben nodded his head in reply.  “Thank you for your help. Oh, and the name’s, Cartwright, Ben Cartwright,” supplied Ben.

“Whatca’ doin’ way out here?” asked Solomon as he helped Ben to get comfortable.

“Just drifting.”

“Ya don’t look like no ordinary drifter to me,” Solomon stated more to himself than to Ben as he climbed up to the front of the wagon.  Solomon had noticed the clothing, the fine leather vest and boots, not to mention the pearl handle pistol and exquisitely fashioned holster and belt.  When Ben’s horse had showed up unexpectantly at his home, Solomon who had a sharp eye for horseflesh, knew that it’s rider would not be just any ordinary man.  The horse was one of the finest he had ever seen and the rifle that remained on the horse’s finely designed leather saddle was silver engraved and a sure sign of the wealth of its owner.  Seeing Ben now, his suspicions were confirmed.

The ride back to Solomon’s house took the rest of the day and it was close to dusk before they reached their destination.  Ben’s leg had begun to ache more and he closed his eyes in an effort to distract the pain.  During the ride Solomon continued to hum his songs, giving comfort to Ben when an unexpected moan from the rear of the wagon made its way to his old ears.

With some effort, Solomon managed to get Ben into the house and into a bed.  Ben’s pain had worsened and he could not stop the soft moans that escaped from his mouth.  Solomon left his side momentarily and when he returned he held in his hand a half-empty whiskey bottle.

“Drink some of this Benjamin, I only use it for medicinal purposes, nothing like rock gut whiskey to kill the pain. I have to set this leg now.  Drink up,” Ben took a long swig of the whiskey and coughed.  “Drink some more,” ordered Solomon.  Ben turned the bottle up and downed some more.

“Let’s get this over with,” he moaned.  Before he could say another word, Solomon had pulled the broken leg back into place and the bone was set.  He then took some boards he had readied earlier and with strips of cloths, secured the boards around the leg.

“This should hold it till the doc can get here and put on a plaster cast.  I’ll send one of the men, first thing in the morning.  You rest now Benjamin, and I’ll fix us some supper.”  Solomon pulled the covers up around Ben and tucked them in.  It was only minutes later that Solomon could hear the steady breathing coming from Ben that told him that the stranger was sleeping soundly.

True to his word, early the next morning a rider was sent into town to fetch the doctor.  Later that afternoon, the doctor had arrived and placed a cast on Ben’s broken leg.

“You stay in bed now for a couple more days, then you can get up.  Just move carefully so as not to break this cast.  You should heal nicely in about six to eight weeks.  No riding until then, understand?” the doctor instructed.

Ben smiled, “Sure thing doc.”  Ben was reminded of his youngest son, that boy sure did hate to be confined to bed when he was sick or injured and now the father thought he could understand why.  Ben laid his head back on his pillow and it was not long before he slept soundly, dreams of his home and his sons dancing through his mind.

“Sol, you make sure Mr. Cartwright here follows my orders to the tee, okay?” grinned the doctor, winking at Solomon as he watched Ben snuggling down into the comforts of the bed.

“Sure thing doc, thanks for comin’,” said Solomon as he walked to the door with his long time friend.

Ben had no other choice but to spend his convalescing time in the company of his new friend.  He had grown fond of the old gentleman and was enjoying the time spent with him.  Each evening Solomon would help him outside where they would both sit in the matching rockers that had obviously been Solomon’s and his wife’s.  Solomon had tended to Ben’s needs as well as any of his sons or Hop Sing might have done and Ben wanted for nothing.  Many nights they shared stories about their lives, their families and their travels.  Other nights they told one another of their experiences of their youth, they spoke of their dreams, both past and future and Ben shared his hopes he held for each of his sons.  Other times Ben told Solomon in detail about each of his sons, pride of each sounding in his voice.  It did not take the wise old Solomon long to know that Benjamin Cartwright held each of his sons in high esteem.  Just the way that the younger man spoke of them, the look that came into his dark chocolate eyes each and every time he called one of them by name, affirmed these facts for him.  Solomon admired the man who shared his home, he often thought that had any of his sons had lived to manhood, he would have been proud had they turned out to be a man much like the one who rocked on the porch with him.

Solomon came to understand the nature of Ben’s travels, the reasons why he was on the move, the need to rekindle the driving force that once motivated the man.  After several weeks and many conversations later, Solomon saw a change in his friend.  The man was becoming fidgety and Solomon recognized his need to move on.  Ben’s conversations regarding his sons and his home told him that this new friend was homesick. But Solomon, who was wiser by far than most men had a few more things to share with Benjamin Cartwright.

A few nights later as Solomon and Ben sat rocking, Solomon began the conversation that would bare his heart to his new friend; something about this little talk would be the turning point in Ben’s life and would somehow bring Benjamin Cartwright face to face with his woes.

“Benjamin, I have a small herd of cattle, all good stock, plus a few good horses and I own about 1000 acres,” Solomon explained as he waved his hand about him, showing Ben the extent of his holdings.  “I have a few dollars in the bank, this house and that’s about it.”

Ben glanced around at the layout of the ranch taking in the run down conditions of the place and then turned to watch the expression on the face of the old man whom Ben had come to admire.

“Oh, I know what you’re thinkin’.  I know it ain’t much compared to what ya got, but it’s mine.  I worked hard, gave up a lot to have this here place.  By the sweat of my brow and with these own hands I made it into one of the finest ranches around back then.  I was proud, maybe too proud, now that I think back on it.  Know what Benjamin?” asked Solomon not waiting for an answer, he continued.  “I’d trade it all for what lays over yonder under that grove of trees,” Solomon pointed to a small stand of trees in the distance.

Ben looked in the direction Solomon pointed and saw that under the trees was a small cemetery with several graves. Ben glanced at his old friend and saw the tears that had pooled in the tired old eyes.

“Know what that is?” Solomon asked as he turned to meet Ben’s stare.

Ben shook his head.

“That Benjamin, that is my life’s blood.  Out yonder lay what I realized much too late, was what makes me the rich man I am today.  You see, buried out there are three of my four sons, Isaac, Isaiah, and Matthew.  Matthew was my youngest; he was the first to go.  He was seventeen when the fever took him.  Lingered for days, but in the end, it was just too much for him.  Matt was never a healthy boy, small for his age, but he was the joy of my life.  Poor boy, he was so delirious with fever he didn’t know he was dying.  He thought I was the one dying and as I held him in my arms, he cried and begged me not to leave, said he was scared I wouldn’t come back.  Can ya imagine, Benjamin, a seventeen-year old boy crying for his pa not to leave’em?  Broke my heart.  Purely broke my heart.”  Solomon stopped talking and held his gaze at the small cemetery in the distance.

Ben was silent, yes, he thought, I can imagine.  His thoughts went back to the morning he had left his home, Joseph had cried, begged him not to leave and he was eighteen.  Joseph was his youngest also, his smallest of the three boys, and probably the most loving.  Joseph was also the joy of his heart. Oh Joseph, cried Ben’s heart, I am so sorry I left you.  I know now how much you needed me to stay; I realize now how much I need you in my life.  Please God, help me to get home soon.

“Isaac was the next to go. He was just twenty years old.  Such a good boy Isaac was, ya know, never did cause me any worry.  He kept tellin’ me how sorry he was that he would be leaving me and his ma here to do all the work. That boy always did have a way of putting others before himself, not a selfish bone in his body,” Solomon continued telling Ben about his family.

“About two days after Isaac died, Isaiah died.  Fever took him quick like, one day he was up walking around, helpin’ me and Sarah with the chores, next day he was down with the fever and by the third day, he was gone.  He dyed while I was in the field; I never even got the chance to say good-bye.  That was niegh onto thirty years ago, but I remember them like they was standing here today.” Solomon’s face took on a sad appearance and he swiped at the tears that rolled from his eyes.

“My oldest son, Abraham, he left home many years ago.  He came back for a few years, after his brothers died, but he had the wanderlust and left again.  Oh, he dropped by every few years or so but never stayed long atall.  Haven’t seen nor heard from him now in over ten years, don’t even know if’n he’s still alive or not, he don’t even know about his ma’s passin’,” Solomon said sadly.

“Didn’t know it until sometime later Benjamin, but this land, this house, everything that I had in this world meant nothing to me without my family.  Both of my daughters were back east.  Several years later we got word that Elizabeth was killed when her coach turned over on her.  Rebecca died in a fire at the motel where she was staying while visiting some friends.  See that fourth grave?” he pointed toward the cemetery and continued.  “That grave belongs to Sarah, my wife, I buried her there last summer.”  Solomon turned to look at Ben who had been sitting quietly.

“Don’t look so sad Benjamin,” Solomon smiled, the twinkle returning to his blue eyes.  “I have something that no amount of money can buy.  Memories my boy, memories.  I am so rich with memories that there ain’t enough gold or silver in this land that I would trade them for.  It’s what keeps me goin’.  I can see my family whenever I want to, I can talk to them any time I need to, and all I have to do is remember them.  But I miss them terrible like Benjamin, terrible like.  I can’t wait for the day to come when I know I will see all of ‘em again.”

Solomon smiled and pointed to a rose vine growing at the corner of the porch.  “See that vine Benjamin?” he asked.  “Sarah planted that about ten years ago.  Funny thing, them roses never did bloom, not until after the spring when I buried her.  She never did get to see them.  That old vine there, it ain’t never had but two roses on it, never.  Sarah said once that the roses if they ever bloomed, were called ‘Poor Man’s Roses’.  I laughed when she told me that, said it fit her and I like a glove,” Solomon laughed softly as he recalled his wife and the little joke they had shared together many years ago.

“You know, if I could go back and relive my life, I would do so many things different.  I would worry less about havin’ things and care more about the people who loved me and who I loved.  I would spend more time with my family, take the daily pleasures and claim them for my wealth.  I’d tell them more often how much I loved them.  Never know Benjamin, might not ever get the chance to tell one of them sons of yours what they really mean to ya.”

Ben sat deep in thought, recalling his wives that had past on years before, he thought of his sons who waited at home for his return.  His thoughts turned to his riches, his land, his money, and the herds of cattle he had lost, to the horses now scattered, his silver mines now closed, and the multitude of timber now lost to fire.  He fought with the emotions that began to rage within his heart.  What difference did all of that make now he asked himself?  Just like Solomon, what would it all matter if he lost his sons, and had no one to share it all with?  It wouldn’t, therefore, in truth for now it did not matter, not the land, not his riches, his money, not the cattle or horses, not the silver nor the timber.  What did matter were his sons, Adam, Hoss and Joseph.  They were his riches, his joys, and his very reasons for living.  They were his blessings, each one different, giving of them selves, loving him, respecting him and honoring him. If he had to choose, his wealth or his family, there would be no question thought Ben, my sons, first and foremost, always, now and in the future.

Ben began to understand the things that Solomon had been trying to tell him.  He had known all along that his sons were indeed what made him wealthy.  Ben had forgotten that for awhile, having fallen into complacency with his life as it was and taking for granted that things were well within his world and not subject to change.  How wrong he had been, thought Ben, life held no promises, no assurances of tomorrow.  So he had lost a few thousand acres of timber, lost a few cattle and horses, so what if the mines had to be shut down?  The trees would grow back, he could make do with the remaining cattle, and he could roundup his mustangs and he could re-open the mines when things got better.  It all seemed so simple now, how had he missed it?  He still had his sons, sons that now he longed for, sons his heart ached to see, to hold and sons he needed to tell that he loved them more than life its self.  Homesickness marched into his heart along with a yearning so strong that Ben thought his heart might stop beating at any minute.

“Thank you Solomon,” Ben said softly.

“For what son?” asked Solomon as he turned to Ben who was trying to get up.

Ben smiled at the wise old man.  “For reminding me how rich I am, for showing me what is really important in my life, for telling me it is time for me to go home and for being my friend.”  Ben offered his hand in friendship to Solomon and the older man grasped Ben’s hand in his own and a bond was made between the wise and wisest of men.

Two mornings later Ben woke and was surprised to see that Solomon was still sleeping.  The older man was a much earlier riser than Ben and it had been his custom of rising, stoking the fire and starting breakfast.  This morning it was Ben who started the fire going and set the coffee on to perk.  Hobbling around on his good leg and limping on his broken made doing the chores slower to accomplish.  Tomorrow, thought Ben, he would ride into town and have the cast removed and then start for home.  He was anxious to get moving, the need to see his sons weighed heavy on his heart.  By the time Ben had breakfast nearly finished Solomon had not yet risen and worries caused Ben to check on the old man.  Ben knocked softly on the bedroom door and when he did not get a response, he gently pushed it open.  It did not take a second look to tell him what had happened.  Solomon lay face up staring at the ceiling.  A gentle looking smile creased his face.  Ben carefully closed the eyes of his friend and covered his head with the sheet.  In Solomon’s hand he held a small photo of his family, he, Sarah, their four sons, Abraham, Isaac, Isaiah, Matthew, their two daughters, Elizabeth and Rebecca.  Ben carefully removed the picture and placed it on the small wooden table that stood next to the bed.

Later that day, with the help of a few cowhands that still worked for Solomon, the kind old man was laid to rest next to his beloved family in the little cemetery under the grove of cottonwood trees.  Ben read from the bible, gave testimony as to what Solomon had meant to him and then in his rich baritone voice, Ben sang ‘Amazing Grace’, a gentle reminder of the day that Solomon had come into his life, making him richer for having done so.

The next morning Ben packed what few belongings he had and after saddling Buck, being careful of his cast, he rode into town.  His first stop was at the undertakers where he ordered a headstone to be placed at Solomon’s grave.  Ben paid the man for his services and headed for the doctor’s office where his cast was removed and after being given a clean bill of health and bidding the doctor good-bye, Ben’s next stop was at the sheriff’s office where he informed the man of Solomon’s death.

“I appreciate your stopping by Mr. Cartwright.  It was good of you to take care of matters for him,” the sheriff said.

“It was the least I could do for him.  He did plenty for me in the few short weeks I have gotten to know him.  I am glad I could be of service to him.”  Ben shook the sheriff’s hand and turned to go.

“Oh, by the way Mr. Cartwright, Mark Chapman asked me to tell you that he needed a word with you before you left town.  He’s down a couple of doors, you’ll see his sign hanging outside.”  The sheriff instructed Ben as he shook his offered hand and opened the door for him.

“Chapman you say?  I’ll stop by there now, again, thank you sheriff.”  Ben made his way down the boarded sidewalk until he came to a sign that read: Mark Chapman, Attorney at Law.  Opening the door, Ben stepped inside and was greeted by a young man about the same age as Adam.

“Mr. Chapman?” asked Ben as he approached the young man.

“Mr. Cartwright, come in please,” said Mark Chapman, as he rose from his chair and offered Ben his hand in welcome.

Ben excepted the extended hand and shook it.  “Mr. Chapman, the sheriff said you wanted to speak to me?” answered Ben taking off his hat.

Mr. Chapman pointed to a chair in front of his desk and invited Ben to have a seat.  “Yes, that’s correct Mr. Cartwright.  As Solomon Barker’s lawyer, I needed to speak with you before you left town.”

“I don’t understand, what’s this all about?” Ben asked.

“Mr. Cartwright,” started Mark, then paused, “May I call you Ben?”

“Certainly,” smiled Ben.

“As I was saying,” began Mark picking up some papers from his desk and coming around to the front, he sat on the edge of the oversized oak desk so that he could face the man to whom he was speaking with.  “Solomon came in to see me about a week ago and had me draw up some papers for him, they concern you, sir.”

Ben looked up, surprise showing in his face.  “Me?” he asked.

“That’s right.  Ben, you knew that old Solomon was a dying man didn’t you?” Mark questioned.

“No, I didn’t know that.  I knew he wasn’t well, but I didn’t realize that it was life threatening.  What was wrong with him?” Ben wanted to know.

“He had a heart condition, had it for quite sometime, he knew about it though for a long time and wanted to get his affairs in order.  That’s why he came to see me,” Mark explained to Ben.

“I can understand that, but how does that involve me?” asked Ben

“Well, first let me explain some things about Solomon Barker.  Old Solomon was not a wealthy man, at least not in worldly possessions, as you already know.  He was very rich in other ways, ways that most men never realize.  Solomon was an excellent judge of horseflesh, knew cattle like the back of his hand, and I might add that he was also an excellent judge of character.  He liked you Ben, admired you really, and he spoke very highly of you.  After you had spent the last several weeks with him, what with that broken leg of yours, he felt as if he had really gotten to know you quite well.  That’s why he wanted you to have this,” Mark explained to Ben and handed him the papers he had been holding in his hand.

As Ben excepted the papers from Mark, he asked, “What is this?”

Mark smiled at the surprised expression on the older man’s face, “Seems as if Solomon wanted you to have his herd of prime beef, he has 250 head of the best beef ever found in this part of the country.  There are about 10 bulls included in the herd for breeding.”

“WHAT?” Ben said as he jumped from his seat and turned to face Mark.

Laughing at the shocked man, he continued speaking, “That’s not all Ben, there is a herd of about 150 of the best brood mares in the state. That includes 15 of the best stud stallions around and some of those mares have already dropped fouls this year and some of the others are due to drop in the next few weeks, they are all yours now,” continued Mark.

“Solomon has about 15 men keeping their eyes on both herds, all trustworthy men according to Solomon and they all know of this arrangement and have agreed to help you drive them back to your ranch,” smiled Mark. “It was one of Solomon’s last requests to them and they didn’t hesitate to honor it, they all admired him deeply.”

Mark liked Ben Cartwright; Solomon had shared with him about the bad luck that had befallen the rancher from Nevada Territory and he was enjoying the expressions that played on the man’s face.

Ben starred in wonderment at the papers in his hands not knowing what to say.  He could hardly believe his ears, a man who just a few short weeks ago had been a total stranger, was now giving him exactly what he had needed to bring life back to his beloved Ponderosa.

“I just don’t think I could except this, this is entirely too much,” Ben explained shaking his head slowly.

“Mr. Cartwright, Solomon said you would probably try to refuse his generosity, and told me to tell you that if you did, he would very much be insulted,” laughed the lawyer.

Ben laughed with him, “Yes, that does sound like the Solomon I have come to know.  I have a question though Mark, what about his son, Abraham? Shouldn’t this be his?”

“Solomon thought of that Ben, everything else, the ranch, the land, what little he has in the bank, will go to Abe, if and when he returns.  He has been gone for nearly 10 years, so there is the possibility that he has died,” Mark told him.

“I see, but what happens to all of that if that proves to be so?”

“We worked that out, Solomon has a grandson in school back east, Aaron, he’s about fifteen now.  If Abe doesn’t put in an appearance by the time that Aaron is eighteen and finished with his schooling, everything then goes to the boy.  I have to admit though that I tried to warn Solomon that his would be a major undertaking for such a young man, having no knowledge of the west, much less of running a ranch.  But Sol would hear nothing of it, said the boy could learn, just as he had to when he first came here.”

Ben sat back down in his chair and remained silent for several minutes as he tried to collect his jumbled thoughts at what had just taken place.  At last he looked at the young lawyer and spoke.

“Mark, I am extremely grateful for all of this.  Lord only knows how much I needed this boost.  But I will only except this gift on one condition,” Ben told him.

“What might that be?” asked Mark.

Looking the lawyer square in the eye to be sure he had his attention before he spoke, Ben laid out his plan.  “I will take ownership of both herds on the condition that should Solomon’s property fall to his grandson, Aaron, I will be notified.  I will then return to the boy, enough brood mares, a couple of stallions, and enough cattle to start his own herd.  That will provide him with a new beginning for his ranch and hopefully give him a good start.  And my sons and I will be willing to help him learn anything he needs to in order to run the ranch in such a way to make it profitable.”

Mark shook his head in agreement, again thinking how well he liked the man sitting before him.  Solomon had been correct in his appraisal of Benjamin Cartwright and he was pleased that he could serve both men, one in death and the other in life.

“That sounds fair to me.  I will start immediately on the paperwork and get it to your lawyer in Virginia City for your signature. Mr. Cartwright, it has been my pleasure,” Mark said as he reached for Ben’s hand a second time, this time offered in friendship.

“No, the pleasure has been mine.  I am a much richer man today, not because of Solomon’s gift to me, but because of Solomon, the man.  I have never met a man such as he in my entire life.  Men such as he are rare to say the least,” Ben grasped Mark’s hand and bid him goodbye.

Ben left the lawyer’s office with an overwhelming feeling in his heart.  How had he been so fortunate to have stumble into the man who had shown him so much of his self?  Ben thought in his heart that God had known what he had needed and supplied that need in the form of a dying man, a man of wisdom and of the knowledge of what true wealth really consisted of, something that Ben had for a short time lost sight of.

Ben knew he had one more stop to make before returning to Solomon’s ranch to collect his new herd of cattle and horses.  Thoughts of home entered his heart, how he missed his sons and how his heart ached to see the smile of his youngest that had been his going away wish!  Anticipation of his homecoming caused him to hurry his steps.

When Ben reached the undertaker’s office, he quietly opened the door.  “Mr. Cartwright, did you forget something?” asked the tall thin man who looked as if he were dressed and ready himself to be placed into one of his finely carved pine boxes.

Ben smiled to himself, “Yes, about Solomon Barker’s headstone.  I want to have something engraved on the stone.  Can you see to that for me?”

Tapping all ten long bony fingers together and bobbing his head up and down, the undertaker replied, “Certainly, certainly, just write down what you want it to say and I will see that it is taken care of right away, Mr. Cartwright.”

Ben reached for the paper and pencil and moistened the leaded end of the pencil with his mouth before he began to write the desired words.  When he was finished he folded the paper in half and handed it back to the waiting undertaker.  Ben reached into his vest pocket and pulling out a few bills, paid the man for his service, thanked him and left, closing the door quietly behind him.

The undertaker carefully opened the paper and read the inscription.   At the top of the paper, Ben had carefully drawn two roses entwined together.  Under the roses he had written:

Solomon Barker
Beloved husband, father, friend
A Poor Man’s Roses,
Wealthier by far than a rich man’s gold.

Ben returned to Solomon’s ranch and with the help of James, Solomon’s most trusted employee, they set the old house in order and closed it down. They managed to pack away what few items that had remained and stored them in the attic.  When they had completed cleaning out the house, they moved to the barn and moved all of Solomon’s equipment into the barn for storage and made sure all was secured.

The next day Ben called a meeting of all the ranch hands and made his plans for moving the herds of cattle and horses back to Nevada and the Ponderosa.  James was put in charge of herding the cattle and Juan was to handle the horses.  Ben explained that he wanted the horses moved out first and that the cattle would follow the next day.

Juan was given directions to the ranch and Ben explained that he wanted Juan to send one of his men to the house the day before the horses were to arrive so that his sons could have things ready and waiting for them. Ben also instructed Juan to relate to his sons that he would be arriving within two days of the arrival of the horses and he would have the cattle pastured in one of the lower pastures.

With orders given everyone went to work and the moving of the herds began.  The trip to Nevada was slow and uneventful for all and Ben offered up a prayer of thanks that all had gone well.

As Ben shifted himself in his saddle, his thoughts continually strayed to home and he was anxious to see his sons.  He had been gone more than three months and he was ready to start life anew.  Solomon had been a blessing to him, just what he had needed to put things back in their proper perspective for him.  Another prayer of thanksgiving was offered up and Ben assured himself that in the future when things went so horribly wrong, he would somehow manage to keep on course, the right one this time.  Never again would he allow himself to walk away from neither his problems nor his sons.  He knew now what was really most important to him.

Juan rode into the yard and dismounted his horse.  He had decided that he would deliver Mr. Cartwright’s message to his sons himself.  The hands that stayed with the horses could be trusted to do their jobs and do them well.  All had worked several years for Solomon Barker so the decision for Juan to be the one to go had all been agreed upon.  Juan looked in amazement at the large home of the Cartwright’s.  Never before had he seen such a home as he was now standing before.  While Juan stood in amazement, the door to the house opened and Adam walked out into the late afternoon sun.

“Hello, can I help you?” asked Adam when he saw the stranger standing in the yard.

“Oh, yes, my name is Juan, I am looking for Mr. Cartwright?” Juan asked as he stepped closer to Adam.

Smiling, Adam questioned him, “Well, I am one of the Mr. Cartwrights, which one did you wish to see?”

“I suppose any one of you would do.  I am to deliver a message to one of the sons of Benjamin Cartwright, I take it you are one of his sons?” Juan asked.

Hoss and Little Joe had come into the yard when they had heard Adam talking to someone.  Both moved closer to Adam at the mention of their father’s name.

“Yes, I am Adam Cartwright, what message are you to deliver?” Adam wanted to know.  He and his brothers had begun to worry about their father as it had been weeks since they had heard anything from him.  Little Joe stepped forward and looked at the little Mexican who stood with hat in hand and looked as if he thought he might get bitten.

“You know our father?” Little Joe asked him.

“Si, Si, I work now for Mr. Ben.  He sent me here to tell you that tomorrow many horses will arrive and asked that you have corrals ready.”  Juan smiled for the first time, glad to have his message given.

“Horses?” Hoss asked looking somewhat puzzled.

“Si, Si, many horses, beautiful horses, Mr. Ben say he would explain to sons later about the horses and cattle,” Juan’s head was bobbing up and down in excitement as he spoke.

“Cattle are coming also?” inquired Adam, giving his brothers a questioning look.

“Cattle come in three days.  Father also comes in three days.  Will put cattle in lower pasture he say to tell you.  He say, ‘tell sons will be home no more than two days after horses arrive’, that is what he say I am to tell sons,” beamed Juan.

“YEEHAW!” shouted Little Joe, “Pa’s coming home in three days!”  Joe jumped into Hoss’ arms, taking the larger brother by surprise and causing both brothers to start laughing. “Did you hear that Adam, Pa’s coming home,” Little Joe ran to Adam and slapped him on the back.

“I heard buddy, I think everyone within ten miles heard!” laughed Adam as he watched his younger brother.  The mist that had suddenly formed in the eyes of the green-eyed boy did not go unnoticed by his older brother.

“Thank you Juan, for bringing us the good news.  Tell your men we will have the corrals ready tomorrow and will meet you there about this time tomorrow afternoon,” Adam instructed and grabbed the smaller man’s hand in a firm handshake.

Juan gathered the reins to his horse and bid the brothers a farewell, assuring them that the horses would be there on the agreed time and turning, rode out of the yard.

“I can’t believe it Adam, Pa will be home in three days.  That’s the best news I’ve heard in weeks.  Wonder where he found the horses and cattle, better yet, how’d he pay for’em?” Hoss said as he slipped his arm around his older brother’s shoulders.

Adam suddenly became aware that it had gotten very quiet in the yard and that Joe was no where to be seen.  “Where did Joe get off too?” he asked Hoss.

Both brothers looked around for their younger brother and noticed that the barn door was partly opened.  “Looks like he went into the barn.  Maybe I’d better go talk to him Hoss.  He’s probably got something in his eye about now,” Adam smiled and winked at Hoss, both knowing how emotional Joe could get a times like this.

“Yeah, probably does, go easy on him Adam, he can’t help it if cryin’ comes so easy for’em,” Hoss said, wanting to be sure that his baby brother would be okay.  He himself felt like crying, golly, it had been months since any of them had seen their father but for Little Joe, those months had seemed like forever.

“Don’t worry Hoss, I just want to make sure he’s okay.  Phew, you worry too much.”  Adam entered the barn and waited for his eyes to adjust to the dim light.  “Joe, you in here little buddy?” called Adam.

Joe who had been in Cochise’s stall wiped the tears that had seemingly appeared unannounced when hearing the news that their father would be home soon.  The last thing that he wanted now was to have his oldest brother seeing him cry and think of him as a kid.

Joe cleared his throat before he spoke.  “I’m over here Adam, I…umm…I wanted to check on Cooch before turning in,” lied Joe.  “Did you need me for something?”

Adam came to stand near the stall and waited for his brother to come out.  Adam watched the play of emotion on Joe’s face, and noticed instantly that the boy had indeed been crying.

“No,” Adam said softly.  “Just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“I’m fine, why wouldn’t I be?” Joe asked, his tone a touch on the rude side; he hoped that Adam could not tell that he had cried.

Adam sensed that Joe was fighting to stay calm and not wanting to cause a scene or to cause him embarrassment, Adam allowed the harsh tone of voice to pass.

“Hey, since when can I not worry about my “baby” brother?” laughed Adam.  “Come on kid, let’s get inside, we have a lot to do before those horses get here tomorrow.  And we need to plan something special for Pa’s homecoming, what do you think?”

Joe’s temper cooled and he smiled at his older brother.  He hadn’t been fooled, Joe knew Adam had already figured out why he had escaped to the barn.  “I had something in my eye.” Joe told Adam for no reason.

“I thought so little brother, come on, Hoss is waiting for us.  Want him to eat all of that apple pie before we get back?”  Adam laid his arm across the boy’s shoulder and gently urged him forward.

Joe looked at his brother and smiled shyly.  “Thanks Adam,” he said softly.

“For what?” said Adam while he pulled the barn door shut and secured it for the evening.

“Oh, everything, but mostly for just being my brother, my older, bossier, meaner, big brother!” laughed Joe as he playfully punched Adam on the arm and then darted for the house.

Adam laughed and chased after the fleeing boy catching him as he reached the door.  Grabbing him in a headlock, Adam pulled him inside, “I’ll make you pay for that, you little scamp.

When Ben rode into the yard, he fully expected all three of his sons to run from the house to greet him.  He was disappointed that had not been the case.  Sighing deeply, he led Buck into the barn.

“Pa!” called Adam who had been giving Sport a rub down, turned at the sound of the barn door being pulled open.  Having thought that it might be one of his younger brothers returning he was surprised to find his father standing behind him.

“Hello son,” Ben replied as he dropped Bucks reins and gathered his oldest son into his arms.

Adam, who had never been one to openly show his feelings, turned quickly into his father’s embrace.  “It’s good to have you home,” said Adam, lingering in the strong arms that had always had the power to make him feel safe and loved.

Ben, reluctant to end the welcoming embrace, whispered, “It’s good to be home son, better yet to see you.”

Minutes later father and son pulled from each other’s arms and smiled at one another.  Ben watched his son’s face, he looks tired, thought Ben, guilt at being gone from home for so long beginning to play into his conscience.

Ben glanced around the barn and noticed that neither Chubb nor Cochise was in their stalls.  “Where are your brothers?” Ben asked.

Adam saw the disappointment in his father’s eyes and felt sorry for him that his younger brothers had missed their father’s homecoming.  “Hoss went to check on the fence down at the lower corral.  One of the new stallions kicked part of the railing down.  He should be back soon,” Adam said explaining his middle brother’s absence.

“Guess that means the new horses arrived okay?” Ben asked as he led Buck into his stall and began unsaddling the horse.

Adam returned to Sport’s stall to finish his rubdown.  “They sure did.  Don’t know where you found them but they are top grade stock.  Joe was overjoyed when he saw them.  I thought I was going to have to hog-tie him to pull him away from the corrals that night they arrived,” laughed Adam, recalling how his youngest brother had suddenly come to life while watching the horses being put into the corrals.

Ben stopped currying his horse and smiled at Adam.  “Speaking of that young scamp, where is he?”

“He went into town, he ordered something for you.  It’s a surprise and he had to pick it up, he shouldn’t be long.  Pa, they would have been here if they had known you would be back this soon.  Especially Little Joe, you know that, don’t you Pa?” Adam explained.

“I know son, it’s okay Adam…” Ben paused.  “How is Joseph? Honestly?” Ben asked, the concern showing clearly on his face and heard in his voice.

“He’s okay, now.  Once word came that you would be here in a couple of days, well, it was like new life had been breathed into him,” smiled Adam as he remembered how Little Joe’s eyes had misted at the news of his father’s impending arrival.

“And before that?” Ben asked.

He had worried most over leaving his youngest son.  He knew that Adam and Hoss would watch out for him and keep him out of trouble, but Ben’s heart had remained heavy with the knowledge that Joseph would grieve for him while he would be away.  Only the memory of the smile that Joseph had given to him as he left had lessened his regrets at leaving and as it turned out, it had in more ways than one been a worthwhile trip.

“It was hard for him Pa.  He tried to hide it, but you know Joe, you can read him like an open book most of the time.  He missed you, Pa, we all missed you, but for Joe, well, I think he was scared.  He spent most nights in your bed, guess it made him feel closer to you somehow.  He had nightmares too, but as soon as we heard you were coming, all of that stopped.  He seems fine now, really Pa,” Adam added seeing the worry lines cross his father’s face again.

Ben returned to his job of caring for his horse.  “I’m sorry I worried all of you.  I didn’t intend to be gone this long but I had an accident and…”

“Accident?  What happened?” Adam wanted to know.

“It’s a long story.  I’ll tell you all about it when we are all together.  Everything’s fine now and as it turned out, it was a blessing in disguise,” Ben reassured his son.

Ben and Adam finished their tasks and started to the door when it was suddenly jerked open revealing the happy face of the middle son of Ben Cartwright.

“PA!” shouted Hoss as he gathered his father into his strong arms.  Hoss’ joy overflowed and he began spinning his father around in circles.

“Hoss! Put me down!” laughed Ben who was enjoying the attention.  Hoss stopped suddenly freeing his father from the bear hug he had been held in.

“I’m just happy to see ya!  When’d ya get home?  Does Joe know you’re here? He’s been drivin’ me and Adam plum near crazy wantin’ to know when ya’d be here!  How was the trip? Pa, those are the purttiest horses I ever did see and…” Hoss bombarded his father with questions.

“Hoss, son, clam down,” laughed Ben, holding up his hands to silence his boy-like man- child.  “Now be still, let me get a good look at you.”

Hoss stopped his dancing around and waited for his father to get his fill of looking at him for the first time in three months.  Ben walked around his middle son and when he faced him again, joy shown in his eyes.

“You are a site for sore eyes, young man,” laughed Ben, happiness at seeing his sons making his tone light and merry.

Ben’s thoughts turned to Solomon and the words the wise old man had spoken, ‘the shine of gold feels cold in comparison to the warmth that shines in a child’s eyes when they gaze into the face of a father they love and respect.  Gold has no warmth, but love can warm even the coldest of hearts’.

Ben was seeing that warmth now, in the eyes of his two oldest sons and knew he was richer for it.  Like Solomon, he was richer by far than a lot of men, not in earthly things but in the form of the persons that he held dear and near to his heart.

As Adam, Hoss and Ben left the barn, Little Joe came galloping into the yard.  Not seeing his father standing behind his brothers, he pulled Cochise to a sudden halt causing the spirited horse to rear high into the air.  Ben’s breath caught in his throat at the sight, his mind turning the clock back in time to another horse rearing into the air, a shrill scream, and the sudden silence that had filled the yard and the air around it.

“JOESPH!” yelled Ben, his panic surfacing.  Cochise came down hard making the ground vibrate with the thump of her hooves as they hit the solid packed ground.

Joe turned startled eyes in the direction of the barn and was surprised to see his father standing with hands on hips, between his brothers.  As soon as Cochise’s hooves were safely on the ground, Joe bolted from the saddle and ran mid-way to his father before stopping.

“Pa,” whispered Joe, emotions choking off the rest of his sentence.

Ben’s anger dissipated when he saw the tears cloud the shiny green eyes.  Ben spread apart his arms to welcome his son.  Joe needed no further invitation and ran the remaining distance to his father’s waiting arms.  Father and son a like cried tears of joy while Adam and Hoss stood silently watching the reunion of their father and younger brother.  Hoss dabbed at the tears that pooled in his own blue eyes and smiled as Joe showered their father’s face with kisses.

Adam and Hoss exchanged happy glances; both relieved that now things would be returning to normal.  Joe had suffered emotionally throughout the absence of their father and watching the display of love shared between the youngest and oldest members of their family brought contentment to their hearts.

“Let’s go inside boys, there is much to tell,” Ben said.

Joe placed an arm around Ben’s shoulder, Ben placed his arm around Hoss and Adam’s arm closed around Joe’s shoulder.  Together the four Cartwright men walked toward the house.  When Ben reached the post near the porch he suddenly stopped.  Growing from the ground at the foot of the post was a rose vine; half way up the post two perfectly formed red roses was blooming.

“Where did this rose vine come from?” Ben asked, searching the three young faces of his sons.

“No one seems to know Pa.  They just appeared one day.  Ain’t they purty though?” asked Hoss.

“Very,” smiled Ben.  “They’re called ‘Poor Man’s Roses’”, he explained as he led the way to the door.

“How come they’re called that?” inquired Little Joe.

“Come inside, I’ll tell you a story about them,” smiled Ben, a far away look appearing in his dark eyes.  The boys saw the expression on their father’s face change and they exchanged questioning glances with each other.

Joe, Hoss and Adam entered the house but Ben held back momentarily.  “Thank you Solomon,” he whispered into the night sky.  “You’ve reminded me once again how very rich I am and all because of the ones that I love the most.  Thank-you for not letting me forget.”

The door closed softly and once again the sounds of happiness mingled with high-pitched giggles and laughter could be heard ringing from within the walls of the Cartwright home.

The End
October 2001

‘A Poor Man’s Roses’ sung by various artists, no infringement rights intended.

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