One Brother from Boston (by Donna)

Summary:   A Bonanza/Highway to Heaven Crossover story.
Category:  Crossover
Genre:  Western/Fantasy
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  7511


 

 

“Joseph, get your feet off the table,” the silver-haired man gruffly yelled from in front of the rock fireplace.  Smoking a pipe, he appeared more involved in the fireplace ashes than what was happening with his two sons, who sat playing checkers at the low table behind him.  But he knew from many years under the same roof that Joe would have his feet on the table while Hoss studied the board and then moved his man.  Just as he knew that Joe would win the game before they set up the board.

“Yes, sir,” Joe said, absently.  He continued to eat the apple he picked up from the fruit bowl on the table, not even moving his feet.

“Joe, what’s the matter with you? Pa told you to get your feet off the table,” his older brother firmly reminded him.  A big, friendly man with big blue eyes who preferred keeping peace to making war, Hoss Cartwright knew that Pa wanted Joe to have respect for both him and the furniture.  Joe appeared to disregard both at the moment.

“Yes, sir,” Joe responded.  His green eyes focused on the apple, he slowly moved his feet onto the floor.  Smaller than Hoss, his family and friends still occasionally called him “Little Joe,” but he had grown into a muscular young man with a gunslinger’s quick speed with both a gun and his wit.

“Pa?” Hoss asked once Joe’s feet were planted on the floor.

“Yes, son?”  Ben Cartwright asked, not moving or looking at him.

“Anything wrong?  You’re so quiet these days.”

“Just thinking about a trip I have to make to San Francisco.  Hate to leave you and Joe shorthanded with Adam gone now, but I have to meet with the railroad representatives about that timber contract.”

“We can handle it, Pa,” Joe said with his usual enthusiasm and confidence.  Ben looked at both of them and smiled weakly.  It’d been too long since they had seen him smile.  A weak smile was a start.

“I know you are both grown men now, and you can handle things while I am gone.   Guess it’s being away from all three of you that’s on my mind.”

“Pa, you knew that Adam loved his life back East.  If it wasn’t for his promise to Mama to take care of our little brother here, he might have been back there long before now,” Hoss gently reminded him.  Then took a swat at the “little brother” in question, a young man in his early twenties who was about to take his feet off the floor again.

“Yes, Adam loved his life back East,” Ben agreed.  “I do feel fortunate that he came back to help me raise both of you after college, but another Christmas together would have been a blessing.  Just wish that Captain Stoddard hadn’t insisted Adam return to Boston  so quickly, that’s all.”

“If wishing could bring Adam home for Christmas, we’d all be making it happen,” Hoss said.  Joe looked at him, a gleam in his eye and a determined look across his face.  I’ll make it happen, he thought to himself with his usual determination.

“If wishing made things happen, those trees would already be cut,” Ben said in a loud boom.  Hoss and Joe laughed together, knowing that wishing alone didn’t make things happen.  Whether their father went to San Francisco or not, they had some busy days ahead of them if they were going to get the timber out in time to meet the railroad’s deadline next month.

“Guess we all need some sleep then,” Hoss suggested.

“Go on ahead, boys.  I’ll be up in a few minutes,” Ben said, motioning them upstairs.

*****

“Hey Joe, give me a hand with this saw,” Hoss hollered to his younger brother the next afternoon as he stood admiring the tall Ponderosa pine they were cutting.

They didn’t always work side by side but Joe had insisted they work together today, so Hoss went along with the plan.   “Hey, Joe!  Joseph!” he called out again when the younger man standing in the shade didn’t respond.

“Oh, did you say something, big brother?” Joe answered as he walked in Hoss’ direction.

Hoss studied his brother and wondered what was occupying so much of his attention.  Probably a new girl in town, he thought to himself with a laugh.

“Yeah, I told you to give me a hand with this saw.“  Joe promptly obliged, then became lost in thought again.

“You feel all right, Joe?” Hoss asked.  “You asked me to help you with this tree, you know.”

“Yeah, just fine.  Say, you know what Pa would really love for Christmas?”

“Christmas?  That’s months away.”

“We need time to set up the surprise, Hoss.”

“Now what?  Remember what happened when you traded Sheba for that mule?   Pa was so mad when he heard that you took it in trade for ‘that magnificent animal,’ as he called that elephant we took instead of wages from Mr. Tweedy,” Hoss reminded him.  Joe turned pale, gulped as if he was about to be sick, then brightened as quickly as the paleness had overtaken his tanned face.    Hoss laughed at his brother’s reaction, a big booming laugh that spread through the work site.

“No, this is a really great idea.  Let’s bring Adam home for Christmas,” Joe suggested, with an arm around Hoss’ shoulders.  I always know how to get my big brother on my side. 

“Joe, you and Adam fight all the time.  I’m enjoying the peace and quiet around here since he’s been sailing around the world and taking over his grandpappy’s chandler shop in Boston.”

“Yeah, he is a bossy ol’ bother, isn’t he?  But I think that Pa would really love it if Adam was here.   He’s not the same since Adam left a few months back.”

“You mean ‘brother,’ don’t you, Joe?”

“No, I mean ‘bother.’  Always telling me what to do. But Pa misses him.”

“I’ve noticed that, too, Joe.  Let’s send him a letter and ask him to come home for Christmas.”

“Holy Toledo, Hoss, that’s a great idea,” Joe said with a wink. “You’re a giant among men.”

Joe walked away and Hoss hollered, “Joe, where are you going?”

“To write that letter.  I want to make sure the ol’ bother gets the letter in time to get here,” Joe answered with a grin.

“You’ll do anything to get out of working, woncha?”  Hoss said, a big grin covering his face.   Joe kept walking and Hoss followed, shaking his head at yet another scheme his brother was hooking him into.

They looked at the trees waiting to be cut for the railroad for a moment, then at each other.

“Guess a few more hours won’t make much difference?” Joe said, pushing a hand through his dark curly hair.

“Guess not.  We did promise Pa we’d make sure things moved along without him here.”

“And we will need money to pay for Adam’s ticket.  Any idea how much they cost?” Joe asked, with sudden uncertainty.

“I’ve never been to Boston.  I don’t know how much the ticket will cost.”

“I’ll find out when I mail the letters.  Gotta get some more trees ready here” Joe said as he moved toward another tree.  “Give me a hand with the saw, Hoss.”

“Sure thing,” Hoss answered.

*****

Adam Cartwright sat at the large, mahogany desk that went with running “Stoddard and Cartwright, Ships Chandlers,” the sailing equipment store he inherited from his grandfather, Captain Abel Stoddard.  The letters from his brothers sat in front of him, calling him home.  He read them and reread them, looking for a way to say “No,” but also wanting to reach across the miles and go back in time, when his brothers’ antics were the biggest worry on his mind.

That was before he interrupted a trip around the world to take over the store upon his grandfather’s death.  He was grateful to have the opportunity to take on a business he had known almost nothing about away from the Ponderosa, to continue with his grandfather and father’s tradition since they started the shop together.  It offered him a chance to know more about his mother, who died when he was born.  He and his father left for Western horizons not long after her death.

But he also found himself working extra hours just to keep up.  His staff worked long hours, too, and as the boss he knew he needed to set an example.

A tall man with dark hair, brown eyes and a serious expression, Adam looked up to see Joe’s eyes, begging him to come home.  He blinked, thinking the extra hours were getting the better of him.

He looked again and saw a man standing in front of him.  The stranger’s eyes somehow reminded him of Joe’s.  Not the mane of curly hair or the concerned expression on his face, just the eyes.  Adam blinked a couple more times to make sure he was seeing what he thought he saw.

The man stood with his arms crossed, watching Adam’s expression.

“Looks like an important letter,” Jonathan Smith said, tilting his head in thought.  His voice sounds so familiar, Adam thought.

“It is,” Adam agreed.  “A letter from home.”

“And where is home?” Jonathan asked.  He knew home was Virginia City, Nevada, and that the letters were from Adam’s brothers, Hoss and Joe.  Adam probably had forgotten their brief meeting several years earlier, and the fact that Jonathan was, in Joe’s words, “a bulletproof angel.”

“How did you get in here?” Adam asked as he set the letters aside to take a closer look at the man grinning Joe’s grin at him.

“I have my ways,” Jonathan said with a shrug as he continued to grin.

“Find your way out the door.  I’m a very busy man.  A store to restock—“

“And a family that needs you.”

“They have each other,” Adam said in frustration.  Persistent, just like Joe.

“But they need you.”

“To do what?  Joe and Hoss can take care of things now, and Pa’s—“

“Getting up there in years,” Jonathan finished.

“Pa’s not sick, is he?” Adam asked with obvious concern.  He hadn’t expected his father to be sick, but maybe Hoss and Joe didn’t want to alarm him.   Or maybe Pa wasn’t telling any of them because he still wanted to protect them.

“Your father’s fine, but you never know.  They miss you and they need you.”

“They don’t need big brother getting in the way.”

“ ‘Getting in the way’?” Jonathan asked.  “Is that what the letter says?”

“No, it’s some foolishness about me coming home for Christmas this year.  I have a business to run.  There’s always next year.”

“What if I told you there won’t be a next year?” Jonathan asked.  Adam took a deep breath.

“Who are you really?” Adam asked angrily.  Here he had so much work to do and he was arguing with —

“Jonathan Smith.”

“Smith?  Where’s Jones?” Adam asked sarcastically.  No time for silly games with strangers, although this man hardly acted like a stranger.  Or looked like one.

“Mark’s on another assignment right now.  The Boss sent me to take care of this one by myself,” Jonathan explained.

“Mark? The Boss?” Adam asked, a perplexed look on his face.

“My partner, Mark Gordon.  We met your brother, Joe, a few years back, and now he needs my help with some kind of Christmas present for your pa.  As for ‘the Boss’,”  Jonathan looked heavenward.  Adam rolled his eyes; whether to follow Jonathan’s direction or in exasperation was unclear.

“How did you meet Joe?”

“Ran into him a few years ago in Virginia City.  In fact, he ran into me because he was running from you.  Something about a girl—“

“That’s Joe.  Ah, now I remember,” Adam shook his finger and laughed. “He and I both took Mary to the dance that Saturday, and he made sure he got the last dance.”

Jonathan laughed with him, remembering Joe’s request to take Mary to the dance that week.   He almost laughs like Joe, from deep down.  Nah, I’m just thinking of the little squirt, that’s all.

“What do the letters say, Adam?” Jonathan asked, now that the younger man was starting to relax.

Adam picked up Hoss’ letter and began to read:

Dear Adam,

Pa misses you something awful.  Joe and I
miss you too and want you to come home for
Christmas.  Dadburnit, just not the same
without you around here.  Joe and I will even
pay your way if you’ll come home.

Hoss

 

Dear Adam,

 Get yourself home for Christmas.  Can’t keep
cheering Pa and Hoss up all by myself.  Even
the horses are looking down in the mouth.  Hoss and
I will pay your way if you’ll come home.

 Joe

 

“Guess they do need me,” Adam said with a sheepish grin.  “They’re willing to pay my way.”

“Let’s go send them a telegram that you’re coming home, then,” Jonathan suggested, motioning him to follow.

“I’ll do it this afternoon,” Adam said with a sudden yawn, sitting down at his desk.

“Guess the late nights are catching up with me.”

“Just see that you do it,” Jonathan said with a laugh.  Joe’s laugh that rang through the room and brought tears to Adam’s eyes.  Tears that Adam wiped away as sleep overcame him, sitting in his chair….

*****

“Where am I?” Adam asked himself as he looked around.  A cold, howling wind whipped a light rain around him like the winter winds he remembered from home, but there were no trees, no familiar landmarks.  A muddy road stretched out in front of him, twisting just behind a rock formation.

“You’re in Minnesota,” a voice called out over the wind.

Adam took another look around and saw Jonathan approaching him.  Oh no, not him again! 

“Hello, Adam,” Jonathan said with a smile.  Adam managed a small smile, then shook his head.

“What is happening here, Jonathan?” Adam asked with exasperation.  He approached Jonathan as if he wanted to strangle him.

“Not used to dreaming, are you?” Jonathan asked, unconcerned about Adam’s anger.

“Am I really dreaming? And what am I doing in Minnesota?”

“I don’t know what the assignment is yet.”

“ ‘Assignment’?”

“I don’t know yet if I’m cutting down trees for timber or getting ready to set sail.”

“That I know something about,” Adam said with a laugh.

“ ’Thought you would,” Jonathan answered with a twinkle in his eye.  “Any more questions?”

“Where are you going?” Adam called out as Jonathan started along the road as easily as if the road was dry.

“To see where the next assignment takes me,” Jonathan answered.

“What am I supposed to do now?”

“You can either wake up or you can find out what your assignment is.”

Adam thought for a moment, then followed Jonathan.  Might as well see where Jonathan was headed.  Adam remembered Joe’s words about Jonathan.

“Wait a minute, Joe said something about you being an angel.  A bulletproof angel, as I recall,” Adam said.

“Angels come in many forms, Adam,” Jonathan said, starting to walk into town.  “Some bear good news and some bear bad news.”

“And you say that Pa and the boys are fine?”

“Other than that they all miss you.  Why not go home for Christmas and brighten their holiday?”

“I have a lot of work to do.”

“I can see that, but your Pa isn’t getting any younger.  Do you have any idea how many people wish that they had a family to go home to for Christmas?”

Adam gulped.

“I remember my earliest Christmases with Pa,” Adam said contemplatively.

“It was pretty lonely.”

Pictures of his early childhood years on the road before his father met and married Inger, his stepmother and Hoss’ mother, flooded his mind.  No one else around but the two of them, until they arrived in Inger’s hometown, a drifter and his sickly son.

“Just like it is for you now?” Jonathan asked.

“How did you know?” Adam asked.

“You looked lonely when I was watching, there at your desk.  All that work just doesn’t take the place of your pa and brothers, does it?”

“No,” Adam ruefully agreed.

They walked in silence, as the wind became fiercer and fiercer.  Adam knew a snow storm was coming and they needed to find shelter for the night, but Jonathan appeared unconcerned.

“Hey, Jonathan, let’s find some shelter!” Adam called out as the wind continued relentlessly.

“I know where we’ll find it, Adam,” Jonathan answered.  “That’s where we’re headed.”

“So you’ve been here before?”  Adam asked.

“Not exactly.  But angels do know a few things.”

“Like what?”

“We know when we’re needed, and when we’re needed we go and take care of the assignment.”

“Oh,” Adam replied.  “I need to go home for Christmas.”

“I didn’t say that, you did,” Jonathan answered with a smile.

Adam was silent for a moment.  Hoss and Joe did say that they needed him, and he knew that it would please his father if he came home for Christmas.  Why am I protesting again?

The men continued in silence, each thinking his own thoughts.  The wind continued to get more intense and Adam was starting to wish he was awake back in his office, where his coat hung on a rack.

Just as he felt another shiver run through his body, he began to stumble.  Jonathan grabbed him before he hit the ground, but his attention was on what he nearly stumbled over.

“Jonathan, look!” Adam exclaimed, pointing a finger at the brown-clad figure huddled and shivering at his feet.

“I see him, Adam,” Jonathan said, kneeling to the ground.  Adam knelt to the ground next to him and helped the man up. He appeared unhurt, but felt very cold to the touch.  Adam once again wished for his coat, because this man really needed it.

“Got to get home to Caroline and the girls for Christmas,” he said through chattering teeth.

“We’ve got to get you warmed up, first,” Jonathan suggested.  “We’ll get you to shelter.”

The man nodded.  “My family will wonder where I am.”

“We’ll get you home,” Jonathan said, and the man nodded again.

“Where’s that shelter, Jonathan?” Adam asked.

“Just up ahead a-ways.  I’ll lead the way.  Can he walk?” Jonathan asked.

Adam helped the man a few steps, making slow but steady progress.  They didn’t have a lot of time to find that shelter before night fell.

“It’ll be slow going.  Can we make it to shelter at this pace?” Adam asked.

“Sure,” Jonathan said, grabbing the man’s hat from the ground and trying it on for size.   “It’s not too far away.”

After an hour of walking, Jonathan called out cheerfully, “We’re almost there.”

“I hope so,” Adam said. Doesn’t anything bother him?

“I know so,” Jonathan said as they reached a clearing.  A small shack stood before them, with a fire in the chimney.

“How did you do that?” Adam asked, pointing to the chimney.

“Just call it Christmas magic,” Jonathan said with a twinkle in his eyes.

There was more “Christmas magic” inside.  Blankets sat on a bed near the fire and warm food and drink stood on a table nearby.  Adam marveled at their good fortune as Jonathan tended to their charge, who was warmed up in almost no time.  He slept near the fire as his rescuers stood by it for warmth.

“Drink something, Adam,” Jonathan suggested.  “You look cold yourself, brother.”

“Brother?  I’m not your brother!” Adam yelled.

“Just an expression, Adam.  Quiet, you’ll wake the sleeping” Jonathan warned.  Adam scowled as Jonathan laughed quietly, then found himself caught up in the laughter.

“Good, very good, Jonathan.  Have any more jokes to tell?”

“No joke, Adam,” Jonathan said, a hint of a smile across his face.

“Drink your hot chocolate and we’ll see what happens with our friend over there.”

“Tell me the joke about being an angel again, Jonathan,” Adam teased as he poured himself a cup.

“Adam, I am an angel.”

“I don’t doubt that you believe you are an angel.  And you convinced my little brother that you are an angel.  But I’m not as gullible as he is.”

“Some would call it faith.  Why not believe that I am an angel?”

“Because angels just aren’t logical!” Adam exclaimed.

“Adam, this is your dream, not a mathematical equation to be solved.  Dreams don’t have to be logical,” Jonathan explained.

“Why would I dream about an angel?”

“You weren’t dreaming in your office, just now.  And I was there.”

Adam thought for a moment.

“Where did you really come from, Jonathan?”  Adam finally asked.

“Where angels come from,” Jonathan replied.

“Why?”

“Because you and he needed one tonight,” Jonathan said, indicating the sleeping man. “And his family needs him, just like yours needs you.  He was willing to risk freezing to death to get home to them, Adam.  He gambled, and he could have lost!”

Jonathan turned away from Adam, who turned away from the fire.

“Your brothers are reaching out to you, Adam.  Did they do anything to hurt you?”

“No.”

“Have they broken any laws?  Gossiped about you?  Cheated you?”

“No.”

“Then maybe you need to reach back to them?”

“I don’t fit in at the Ponderosa anymore,” Adam said.

“What do you mean?” Jonathan asked.

Adam studied Jonathan for a minute, then started to speak.

“I went back after college because I promised Marie that I’d help with Hoss and Joe, but they’re grown now.  They don’t need a big brother anymore.”

“Maybe they just need a friend?” Jonathan offered.

“They’ve got lots of friends in Virginia City,” Adam informed him.

“Someone who’s known them all of their lives, someone who knows everything about them and cares about them, anyway?”

“Sounds like Pa,” Adam said.

“Maybe he needs a friend, too?  Someone who knows the pain he suffered when Marie died.”

“How did you know about Marie?” Adam asked.

“You and Joe talked about his mother the first time we met.”

“Oh,” Adam replied.  He thought back to the day Marie died, and questions he had then that were unanswered.

“Where were you when Inger and Marie died?  Where were you when–“ Adam broke off, too choked with emotion to continue.  Not usually one to display emotions, this outburst took him by surprise.

“I don’t know about Inger and Marie,” Jonathan said.  “But you can talk to Him and ask him those questions yourself.  Stop feeling sorry for yourself and start thinking of what would make your family happy.”  And maybe you’ll find some happiness, too.

“You don’t understand,” Adam said, his voice cold.

“I understand that this man risked his life so he could be home for Christmas, that your brothers want you to be with them and your father.  If you want to spend Christmas alone, go ahead.”

“What?” Adam asked.

“You heard me.  Go ahead and live the rest of your life alone, away from people who care about you.  I’m not hearing that they’ve broken any laws, or done anything that should keep you apart.  I wish I had a family to go to at Christmas,” Jonathan admitted.

Jonathan turned away, giving Adam time to think about what he said.

Adam turned the opposite direction, wrestling with feelings he’d long ago locked away because they hurt so much.

“Looks like our friend is waking up over there,” Adam said, regaining his composure.

The man looked at both of them and Adam moved closer.  Once his eyes adjusted to the change in light, he stood speechless, staring first at Jonathan and then at their companion.

“I’ve got to get home to Caroline and the girls,” the man repeated.  “What’s he staring at?”

“Joe!” Adam blurted out and woke up to a dying fire and a room almost as cold as a Minnesota blizzard.

*****

He blinked, then blinked again.  “Joe’s miles away,” Adam said to himself, trying to shake the feeling that Joe wasn’t all that far away, after all.

“Ready to send that telegram?” Jonathan asked with a smile. He sat across from Adam.

“I think so.  Uh, Jonathan, could you do me a favor?” Adam asked.

“What’s that?”

 “Not show up in Virginia City to meet me at the stage.”

“Why?” Jonathan asked with a sly grin.

“That’s why!” Adam exclaimed.  “I look at you or the man we helped in the storm and I see Joe.  What’s it going to be like if I see you and Joe in the same place?”

Jonathan looked skyward and said “He didn’t ask for both of us to be in the same place, just as they heard rain beginning to fall on the roof overhead.   They heard thunder cracking in the distance.

“No promises, Adam,” Jonathan said.  “And just where was that telegraph office, anyway?”

*****

Ben stepped off the stage and headed straight for the telegraph office.  He wanted to make sure any messages from the railroad offices in San Francisco were not left in the office overnight.  Joe was more reliable these days, but there still were times when he forgot the mail because he was involved in a poker game down at the Bucket of Blood.  Home a day early from his trip, he knew that the boys wouldn’t be waiting for him, but he intended to rent a horse and buggy from the livery stable.

“Anything for me, George?” Ben asked the telegraph operator.

“I’ll check, Mr. Cartwright,” the bespectacled man said.  He checked the mail slots and found Adam’s telegram.  Unaware that Hoss and Joe intended Adam’s visit to be a surprise, George handed it to him.

“Ah, a message from Adam.  Thank you, George.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. Cartwright.”

“Please make sure that any telegrams for me from San Francisco are directed out to the Ponderosa,” Ben requested as he opened the telegram. Ben’s eyes grew wide and he looked like he was about to burst at the seams.

“Everything all right, Mr. Cartwright?” George asked.

“Everything’s wonderful!” Ben exclaimed as he started to walk away.

“Any message in reply?” George asked.

“Oh yes,” Ben said with his usual dignity restored.  He took a pencil and a telegram, then composed a response.

 Dear Adam,  Just received message.  Will send your train and stagecoach fare by wire.  Will be a pleasant Christmas surprise for Hoss and Joe.  Pa

Ben gave George the message, who immediately sent the telegram.  Ben paid him and discussed arrangements to pay for Adam’s ticket, then grabbed the luggage left behind by the stage driver.  He wished that one of the boys was there to greet him, but then he would not have had the time to plan his Christmas surprise for them.  How fortunate that Adam sent a telegram to tell him that he planned to be home for Christmas and he would pay his own fare.   Paying that fare would be Ben’s gift to Adam, Hoss and Joe.

“When do you reckon we’ll hear from Adam?” Hoss asked as he served himself Hop Sing’s fried chicken and mashed potatoes.

“Soon, I imagine.  You know how he likes to keep things tidy.  He won’t leave us hanging, “ Joe said, watching Hoss mound up his dinner from across the dining table.

“You told George to send out any messages from Boston right away, right?”

“No, I told Fred.  Why would I tell George?”  Joe asked.

“Because George helps Fred once or twice a week.  Keeps him out of Martha’s way and gives him something to do,” Hoss said.

“He does?  How do you know that?”  Joe asked.

“Because he told me so himself, one day at the saloon.”

“Well, Fred will get the telegram to us.  Don’t you worry,” Joe said, with more assurance than he really felt.

“Don’t worry, little brother.  I’ll talk to George and see that we get that telegram.”

“Make sure you do. And check the post office, too. I won’t sell my rifle for the fare until I know he’s really coming out here.”

“And I aint selling my saddle until I know Adam’s really coming, too.  I hear a buggy.”

“A buggy?  With all that food on your plate, you hear a buggy?   Are you feeling all right?” Joe asked as he served himself.

“Yes, I’m fine.  Let’s check out that sound and we’ll get back to the chicken.  Hop Sing will understand,” Hoss said.

“Sure he will,” Joe said.

“Well, it may take a little convincing, but I’ll make it up to him,” Hoss said as he moved his chair back from the table.  He covered the area between the table and the door quickly.

“Joe, it’s Pa!” Hoss exclaimed as he ran through the door.

“Pa?  He’s not supposed to be here until tomorrow,” Joe said as the door slammed behind Hoss.  He quickly followed Hoss outside.

“How was your trip, Pa?” Hoss asked as Ben stepped down from the buggy.  Joe started for the luggage.

“Fine, just fine,” Ben said with much enthusiasm.  He gave both sons a sound pat on the back and smiled.

“That good, huh?” Hoss asked, puzzled by Ben’s restored enthusiasm.

“Just fine.  Angela and Carlton Ames say hello to you boys.”

“I thought they’d be in Europe, seeing all those sights she told us about the time she came to sing opera for the ladies on Founders’ Day,” Joe asked.  He didn’t know what to make of this change in his father, but shrugged it off and carried the luggage into the house.

“They’re back in San Francisco seeing family for a month or so.  Carlton’s career has really taken off since we saw them.  He’s booked in New York, London, and all those places Angela told us about when she visited us.  They’ve made a new life for themselves,” Ben said with appreciation for his friends’ good fortune.

“Did you do any sightseeing in San Francisco?” Hoss asked.

“Not much.  There wasn’t time,” Ben said as he opened the door.  Hoss followed, perplexed by his father’s apparent happiness.

*****

“What do you make of it?” Hoss asked Joe later that evening.  Ben was his usual self, only happier than they remembered seeing him for a long time.  Sitting in Hoss’ bedroom, they discussed the change in their father’s mood.

“I don’t know, Hoss.  But I aim to find out, rest assured I’ll find out what’s up that sleeve of his.”

“You don’t reckon that Pa knows about our surprise, do ya, Joe?”

“Nah, he couldn’t know.”

“I guess you’re right,” Hoss agreed as he scratched his head.  Something had changed since Ben’s departure for San Francisco.

At that moment, Ben walked upstairs.  Hoss and Joe continued to talk about their plans, too engrossed to notice that he had opportunity to hear every word.  Or he would have had opportunity if he wasn’t so preoccupied with planning a surprise of his own.

****

Hoss and Joe thought they were keeping a secret from their father for the next several months, planning ways to get Adam home behind closed doors or out cutting logs when Ben wasn’t around.  They were puzzled by his lack of response to their request, but decided that there had to be a way to get him home.

Joe wrote a letter to Adam every week, asking him to come home.  Adam kept the letters in anticipation of the day he would see Joe again and have opportunity to remind him just how much he missed big brother, especially when Joe was grumbling about being told what to do.

Ben knew that he was keeping a secret from Hoss and Joe and could not wait to see the look on their faces when they saw their brother come through the door.  He was eager for that moment himself from the day he received Adam’s message accepting his payment of the fare.

Several weeks after Ben sent Adam the telegram offering the fare, Joe arrived in town and headed directly for the telegraph office.  Surely Adam would have sent a message this time.

“No message, Joe.  Let me check with George,” Fred said.

“Hoss mentioned that George’s working with you these days,” Joe said, drumming his fingers on the sill of the telegraph office window.

“A couple days a week.  Gives him something to do,” Fred said.  He and Joe shared a chuckle, knowing that George was well-known for doing nothing.

“I’ll be by in an hour or so.  Need a beer to wet down my parched throat,” Joe said.  He picked up his hat, set it on his head, and started away from the office, singing “I Came from Salem City”.

Three hours later, Joe returned to the telegraph office.  The office was closed, but Joe knew he could get Fred’s attention and find out what he wanted to know.  He already knew there was no letter in the day’s mail from the stage, because he checked that on his way down to the saloon.

“Still no telegram,” Fred said, shaking his head.  “I’m sure he’s busy back there, Joe.”

Joe pondered the situation, wondering how Adam could be that busy.  “But he knows how much it would mean to Pa if he came home for Christmas.”

“Just your pa?” Fred asked.

“Hoss misses him, too.  Yeah, I miss the ol’ bother too, now that I think of it,” Joe said with a laugh.

“How about sending a telegram?  Maybe the letters got lost somewhere?”

“It’ll have to be after payday,” Joe said, avoiding Fred’s eyes.

“Why?”

“Just lost the last of my paycheck in that last hand of poker.”

“Same ol’ Joe,” Fred said, shaking his head again.

“You know how it goes,” Joe said, shrugging his shoulders.  Payday was days away, not even a month before Christmas.  Hardly enough time to get one more message through before Adam would have to leave Boston.  And there was still the question of how much money he would raise for his rifle and Hoss’ saddle.

“Let me know when you want to send the telegram, Joe.  Boy, what a lot of trouble to bring one brother home from Boston.”

“It’ll be worth it to see the look on Pa’s face,” Joe said as he walked away, undeterred but apparently disappointed.  “See ya after payday.”

“Right, Joe,” Fred said.

*****

“You’ve really taken to this line of work, Jonathan,” Adam said one day as his departure drew nearer.  “Wish you could give my brother Joe some lessons on taking lessons.”

“Maybe I will, someday.  For now, we need to get the new shipment out on the floor so the crews can get it off our hands,” Jonathan answered.  “You won’t regret taking me up on the offer to help you here while you’re out West.”

“Ay, ay, captain,” Adam said with mock seriousness.  Both men laughed.

“You must be looking forward to seeing your family soon, Adam.  You’ve relaxed since we first met again.”

“I am looking forward to seeing them, even the little squirt.”

“He’s not so little anymore, is he?  Must be full-grown by now,” Jonathan suggested.

“I suppose.  But he’s still my little brother, always will be.”

“And you’ll always be his big brother,” Jonathan said.

“No, the big brother is Hoss,” Adam said, a smile slipping across his face.

Both men laughed, and they reviewed the steps to take if any major problems arose.   He thought about Jonathan’s words and knew that he needed to see his family for his sake as much as for theirs.

*****

Jonathan did not appear as Adam stepped out of the stagecoach in Virginia City on Christmas Eve.  Adam wondered if his dream with Jonathan and the stranger was a sign of his homesickness, because he found himself missing Joe more than he realized he did.

“Hey, George, wait up!” Adam called out as he saw the telegraph operator driving through town.  George looked back and stopped his wagon.

“If it isn’t Adam Cartwright,” George said as he shook Adam’s hand.  “Jump in and I’ll give you a lift.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” Adam said, tossing his valise into the back of the wagon and jumping in the seat with George.  “Say, what’s new in town?”

“Not much.  Mrs. MacGuffey’s still teaching school and Roy Coffee’s still sheriff here. I’m helping Fred at the telegram office.”

“Any stories to go with those telegrams?”

“Well, you see, there’s one of my customers who got so excited about a telegram he almost left town without replying to it.”

“Hm, what did the telegram say?”

“Which one?”

“The one he received.”

“Oh, Adam, you know that I can’t tell you that.  The contents of a telegram are confidential, after all.”

Adam folded his arms across his chest and thought about whether he wanted to find out how confidential the telegram really was.  He decided to leave it confidential and asked George about the day’s weather.

“Cold, chance of snow by late evening,” George predicted.  Adam knew that without George’s interpretation, so he decided to think about the moment when he would see his family again.

*****

“I just don’t get it,” Hoss said as he and Joe placed their gifts to Adam, each other and their father under the Christmas tree that towered clear up to the ceiling in the livingroom.  Only a few hours ago, the house sang with the sounds of guests of all ages for the Ponderosa Christmas party.  Hoss and Joe decided to set their gifts out in the place of the gifts given to the local orphans invited to the party, because the tree looked bare underneath.

They stood back to take in the effect, shook their heads at each other, and sat down on the sofa.

“Well, maybe big brother went back to sea and wasn’t able to get the letters.  Any number of things could have happened, Hoss,” Joe said with a sigh.

“What did you get for Pa instead?”

“Socks,” Joe said unenthusiastically.  “He can always use another pair of socks. What about you?”

“Socks, too.”

“Not the brown ones?” Joe groaned.

“No, these are blue.”

“Then we didn’t get him the same thing.”

“Guess not,” Hoss said with a shake of his head.

“That’s a relief,” Joe said.

“It’d be more of a relief if Adam were here.  Then I could keep the socks until Pa’s birthday.”

“Same here.  Well, I’m ready to turn in for the night.  How about it?”

“Yeah, we want Santa to get here, don’t we?” Hoss said.  Both men laughed and headed up the staircase.

What Hoss didn’t know was that Joe sneaked downstairs again when his older brother was sound asleep.  He just had to know what his father and brother got him, and tomorrow wasn’t soon enough.

He looked through the packages under the tree for his name and shook the first gift.  Sounded like a bottle of cologne.  He started to shake the second gift when the door opened.

Joe managed to drop the package gently, then reached for his gun.  It wasn’t there.

“Drat, I left it upstairs,” he said to himself quietly.  He watched the door, ready to attack if it was necessary.  It wasn’t necessary.

His eyes got big as recognition dawned.

“Adam!” he called out as he ran over to him.

“Sh, Joe, you’ll wake everybody.”

“We thought you weren’t coming.  Why didn’t you answer our letters?”  Joe asked and started to cry.

“I did, buddy.”

Joe looked at Adam, not understanding his meaning.  Tears rolled down his cheeks, and he wiped them away.

“You did?  We never received anything from you.”

“Well, Pa wired me the money for the trip.”

“Pa knows?”

“Yes, Joe.  I just told you that.”

“Guess you did.”

“I thought you’d be happy I was home, little brother.”

“I am.”

“Then why the tears?”

“We didn’t think you would come home, Adam.  I thought—“

“That I didn’t want to come home?” Adam asked.

“Yeah,” Joe said in a husky voice.  Adam patted his shoulder and Joe hugged him as if he never would let him go.

“Joe, you need to let go.  I’ll be here a few days, and by the time I go home—back to Boston—you’ll be dying to get rid of me.”

“I guess so,” Joe said finally.  “’Better get back to bed.”

“So what’s in the gift you were checking out?”

“You’ll find out,” Joe said as he bounded upstairs.  Adam followed him and settled in for the night in his old bedroom.

*****

Joe was up first on Christmas morning, yelling “Pa!  Hoss! Hurry up so we can open gifts” as he charged downstairs.

“They’ll be there ten minutes from now,” Hoss called out with a yawn.

“Why can’t you get up like this every morning, Joseph?”  Ben yelled down to him.

Joe stood at the foot of the stairs, watching Adam drinking a cup of coffee.

“Haven’t you ever seen a man drink coffee before?” Adam asked.

“Yep, and I’ve seen you drink it before.   But I thought I’d never-“ Joe said, stopping when Ben and Hoss reached the bottom of the staircase.

“Adam!” Hoss called out and ran to him, pounding him on the back.  Adam almost choked on his coffee, but recovered himself.

“So when did you get in, son?” Ben asked.  The thrill of seeing his boys together again was almost overwhelming, and he was grinning from ear to ear.

“Last night.  George brought me through before the snow started, and I hid in the barn until after the guests left.”

“George?”  his father and brothers asked.

“Yes, George.  He told me that there was a man who was so excited about the telegram he got, that he almost forgot to send one in reply,” Adam answered, barely hiding a smile.  He guessed that the man was his own father, after learning that Joe didn’t know about Ben’s telegram the previous evening.

“Oh really? Why would a man want to do that?” Ben asked, a knowing smile escaping from his serious expression.

“Same reason his sons sent letters back to Boston, I suppose,” Adam said, drinking his coffee and looking at Hoss and Joe.  The familiar guilty expressions crossed both faces, and everyone laughed.

“Why didn’t we hear from you?” Hoss asked.

“You did, when Pa got the telegram I sent in response to your first letter.  Before I got the rest of Joe’s letters.”

“Joe’s letters?” Hoss asked.

“Joe sent me a letter every week, asking the same question. ‘Will you come home?’,” Adam said.

“You did?” Ben and Hoss asked at the same time.

“Had to make sure that my big brother was going to be here, didn’t I?” Joe asked with a mischievous grin.

“I almost didn’t come, Joe,” Adam admitted.  All the reasons were vague memories as he sat with his father and brothers, sharing conversation and waiting for a Christmas breakfast to beat all Christmas breakfasts.

“What made you change your mind?” Joe asked.

“Remember your friend, Jonathan?”  Adam responded.  Ben and Hoss exchanged glances, not recognizing the name.

“Oh, the bulletproof angel fellow,” Joe answered after a moment.

“Yeah, the bulletproof angel fellow.  He paid me a visit at the store one day and told me how lucky I am to have a family that misses me enough to ask me home for Christmas.  He’s running things while I’m here.”

“Sounds like someone I’d like to meet,” Ben said.

“You’d like him, Pa.  It’s eerie, though,” Adam said, scratching his head.

“What’s eerie?” Joe asked.

“Well, Joe, I’d say that you and Jonathan look more like brothers than you and I do.  He’s older than you, but there’s a definite resemblance.”

“I didn’t notice it, Adam,” Joe said.

“To top it off, there was a fellow in my dream who looked like you, too.  If you lived in Minnesota, you’d be his double.”

“Sounds like you were missing your brother, son,” Ben said, clasping a hand on Adam’s shoulder.

“I’m just glad that you’re here, older brother,” Hoss said.  “Let’s eat.  I’m starved.”

“You’re always starved,” Joe and Adam said in unison.  Hoss shrugged them off and sat down at the table in his usual place.  No empty place at the table tonight, which brought a grin to his face.

Adam sat in his place, and Ben and Joe followed.

“Before we eat, I’d like to say grace,” Ben said.  Each of the boys folded his hands and bowed his head.

“Thank you, Lord, for bringing Adam home to us safely for this Christmas.  We are indeed very blessed. Thank you for the food we are about to receive and for each of my sons. Amen.”

Each of them looked at the others for a moment and then looked at the Christmas tree, with presents and all the trimmings.  The bareness that Hoss and Joe sensed the previous night when they set their gifts under the tree was gone.  They had something that money could not buy—love.

***The End***

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