Areas of Expertise (by Rona)

Summary:  A terrible accident teaches the Cartwrights that each of them have their own areas of expertise.

Category  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  5606


“What is that, exactly?” Adam Cartwright asked disdainfully, looking down his nose at his youngest brother, Joe.

“What?” Joe replied, looking confused and sounding exasperated. “It’s a horse, what do you think it is?” His sarcasm had a cutting note to it.

“That’s not a horse, it’s a pony,” Adam snapped. “And I for one am not riding that!”

It wasn’t the right tone to take with Joe that day. It was raining and cold and Joe wasn’t in the mood for backtalk from anyone, especially his oldest brother. “I’m in charge of this remuda, Adam and if this horse isn’t good enough for you, then I suggest you walk! You can’t take Sport out again, because you all but rode him into the ground this morning. So you take the horse I give you or you get out of here!” He held out the reins once more, but Adam resolutely refused to take them.

The horse in question was a dainty-looking dapple-grey mare. She wasn’t quite as big as Sport, but she was in no way a pony and Adam certainly wasn’t going to be too big for her, as he thought. Quest was sweet natured, but an excellent cow pony, seldom needing to be told what to do. But Adam was determined he wasn’t going to ride the horse he had deemed only fit to be a lady’s saddle horse.

“What’s wrong with giving me Chester?” he asked, pointing to the rangy liver chestnut gelding that he usually used as second horse.

“He’s lame,” Joe replied. “He was lame when you brought him back yesterday and he’s still lame. What did you think – that he would get better overnight?” Joe was trying to be patient, but he wasn’t succeeding very well. “Come on, Adam, make a decision here. Are you riding Quest, or are you rounding up cows on your feet?”

Nettled by Joe’s tone, and determined that he was not going to do as Joe wanted him to, Adam shook his head. “I could ride Ace,” he smirked. “And you could ride Quest.”

“Ace is my second horse for a very good reason,” Joe snapped. “He’s green and inexperienced and I don’t think you’re the rider to help him to learn! Now take the mare!” Joe was practically shouting at Adam.

“What’s going on?” asked a deep voice and both boys looked round in relief, thinking that Ben Cartwright would settle the dispute in their favor.

“Joe thinks I’m going to ride Quest,” Adam explained quickly. “And that’s not going to happen! I could ride Ace, but Joe doesn’t seem to think I’m good enough.” He waited expectantly for Ben to back him up.

“Is that right, Joe?” Ben asked, neutrally.

“Yes, it is,” Joe replied. He had his temper back under control and his answer was delivered in a matter of fact tone, without the defensiveness that Adam had expected to hear. He said nothing else. Adam had to admit to himself that he was slightly surprised at that. He had expected Joe to rush into an explanation, thus digging himself deeper into the hole he had created.

Gravely, Ben looked at his sons. He couldn’t understand how two people who loved each other as much as these two could butt heads so often. “Joe’s in charge of the remuda, Adam,” he said quietly. “He decides who rides which horse and I don’t interfere in that decision. You ride what he tells you, son. He won’t give you an inappropriate horse.”

“But, Pa!” Adam exclaimed. “I’ve been riding since before he was born! I hardly think riding Ace is going to be beyond me!”

“I didn’t say it was beyond you, Adam,” Joe replied, cuttingly. “I just said that I didn’t think you were the rider to help him to learn. You’re too impatient, for a start and you’re heavy handed. Quest won’t like the hold on her mouth, but she won’t fight you like Ace will. She’ll just get on with the job.”

Sighing as he saw the stubborn look sweep over Adam’s face, Ben interrupted before the argument could get nasty. “Adam, I’ve already told you that Joe is in charge of the remuda. You ride the horse he tells you, or you walk. The choice is yours. You don’t let others undermine your authority, so why are you trying to do this with Joe?”

It was true, Adam thought. He hated when others argued with him over orders. “All right,” he agreed ungraciously and took Quest’s reins. He mounted the mare, surprised to find that she wasn’t as small as he had expected and rode off on her.

“Thanks for backing me up, Pa,” Joe said, as he led Ace out of the remuda and tightened the cinch. The pinto was young, and had very feathery feet, showing that his breeding was not among the best, and he had one walleye. But Joe thought that he would make a good cow pony when he gained some experience and Joe was seldom wrong in that respect.

“As I said, son, you’re in charge of the remuda,” Ben replied and smiled at Joe.

“Thanks,” Joe repeated and rode off.


As the afternoon wore on, Adam began to acquire a grudging respect for both Quest and his brother’s judgment.  The mare was more than able, she was willing, too, and Adam found that she could probably have done the job on her own. Much as he hated to admit it, Adam knew he was going to have to apologize to Joe that evening when they were back at the house.

Stopping the mare on a slight rise, Adam paused to look round and see how things were going. The rain was making the ground quite greasy and the milling cattle were making everything muddy. The cowboys were being very careful that they didn’t slip. Further down the slope, Adam could see Hoss, mounted on a huge horse that wouldn’t look out of place hauling logs, Adam thought.  Paddy was the biggest horse on the place, standing over 18 hands high and broad to match. An amused smile crossed Adam’s face as he thought that Paddy made Hoss look like a normal sized person.

Movement on the periphery of his vision made Adam look round and he saw Joe herding a cow and calf out of the underbrush. A momentary resentment rose in Adam and he thought that Ace didn’t look so very inexperienced. He was sure he could have taught the young pinto just as well as Joe could.

Putting his heel to his horse, Adam started to walk down to join the rest of the men, preparing to give the cattle the final push towards the new pasture. As he did so, he saw the cow that Joe was herding turn abruptly and lower its head.

Cursing the cow’s stubbornness, Joe gently urged his horse towards the cow, but Ace was having none of it. Joe smoothed one hand down the black-and-white neck and spoke calming words. Again, he gave the signal to go forward, but the cow began waving her horns threateningly and the young horse had had enough. It shied and half-reared, moving sideways up the slope away from the cow. “Easy,” Joe soothed.

As Ace planted his feet on the ground once more, Joe took his quirt and snapped it in front of the cow’s nose. With a startled bellow, the cow turned suddenly and once more the pinto reared, the combination of the snapping quirt and bellowing cow proving too much for him. “Easy, Ace,” Joe soothed once more. “Easy.”

As the pinto came back to earth once more, the ground beneath his back hooves slipped slightly. Off balance, the horse panicked. His front hooves crashed back to earth – and slipped.

Normally, Joe didn’t worry too much about horses falling. With four legs, they usually had a leg somewhere to stick out and catch themselves. But the unstable ground and the panicky horse were a bad combination and Joe suddenly found that he and his horse were moving backwards down the slope at high speed, as the land slipped.

“Joe!” Adam cried, in horror, urging his horse to a faster speed, but the mare knew that the ground was too dangerous for speed and resisted the commands. Helpless, Adam could only watch as Joe and the horse gained speed and the horse lost his footing entirely!


There had been nothing anyone could do as they raced to the place where the mud and rocks had settled. Both Adam and Hoss were chalk white with fear and Charlie had sent someone flying to get Ben from the house and bring back a wagon.

In the heap of debris, they could clearly see the horse’s back legs feebly kicking. But of Joe, there was no immediate sign. The Hoss moved around the other side of Ace and found Joe pinned beneath the horse, covered in mud and unconscious. “He’s here!” Hoss cried. “Hurry!” Heedless of the mud, Hoss knelt by his brother.

“Can we get the horse up?” Adam demanded and Charlie shook his head.

“His legs is broke, Adam,” he replied. “Best put him out of his misery.” He drew his gun and went to the horse’s head, murmuring something before putting the horse out of his pain.

“Come on, boys,” Adam called. “We’ve got to get Joe out of there!” He positioned himself by Joe and put his hands under the dead horse. Everyone quickly got the message and they were able to move the horse enough that Hoss could pull Joe free. Together, the brothers carried Joe away from the scene of the disaster.

“Get me a canteen!” Adam called, as he wiped mud gently from Joe’s face. “How is he, Hoss?”

“Looks ta me like he’s busted that leg, Adam,” Hoss replied, grimly. He pointed down to Joe’s right leg. “It were caught in the stirrup.”

Following Hoss’ pointing finger, Adam thought that Hoss was right. Joe’s leg was indeed at a strange angle below the knee. “Hold him still while I get his boot off,” Adam ordered, and Hoss clutched his younger brother to his chest and averted his eyes from the mess that was Joe’s lower leg.

He was still cradling Joe when Adam brought the canteen. “I think he done broke his arm, too,” Hoss sighed. He held Joe’s head steady while Adam gave him a drink. To their combined relief, Joe swallowed the water and when Adam soaked his bandanna and began to wash the mud off his face, Joe groaned and moved his head slightly.

“Joe?” Adam asked. “Can you hear me?”

“Adam?” Joe murmured. He blinked and peered up at his brothers. Then a spasm of pain crossed his face and his eyes slammed shut again. “What… happened?”

“There was an accident,” Adam answered, not wanting to be too specific. “You fell.”

“Ace… panicked,” Joe mumbled. “Fool horse.” He swallowed and Adam gave him another sip of water. “He… all… right?”

Unsure what to say, Adam hesitated. Joe’s eyes opened again. “Adam?” he questioned. He tried to move and let out a fearsome groan.

“We had to put him down, Joe,” Adam replied, as steadily as he could manage. “Lie still, you’re hurt.”

For a moment, Joe didn’t say anything, then he asked, “Am I… hurt bad?”

Again there was the hesitation, as Adam and Hoss exchanged glances, neither of them wanting to be the one to tell Joe the truth. Immediately, Joe felt a pang of fear in his belly. “Adam?” he ventured, his voice quivering. “Hoss?” He twisted around to look at the brother who cradled him so protectively and felt even more afraid. “Tell me,” he begged.

“Stay calm,” Adam soothed. “You’ve broken your leg pretty badly, Joe and it looks like your arm is broken, too. You were trapped under Ace when we found you. Stay still!” he added, sharply, as Joe tried to sit up to look.

Moving had proved a big mistake, for it awoke all the aches and pains in Joe’s battered body. He lay still, trying to concentrate on just breathing and managing the pain. But after a minute or two, he was so cold, he started shivering. Adam slipped off his custard-colored coat and tucked it in around his brother’s body, although the garment was heavy with the accumulated rain that had fallen that day. But the added warmth kept Joe’s body temperature from falling too far and stopped hypothermia adding its deadly contribution to the injuries.

It took almost an hour for Ben to arrive from the house with a wagon. It was piled high with blankets and hay. Joe was dozing uneasily. The pain was taking its toll on him and he was finding it more and more difficult to keep from groaning aloud. He wanted to move to escape the pain, but knew that movement would make it worse. Joe wasn’t sure how he could bear it any longer.

The grim looks on his older sons’ faces told Ben that the accident was as serious as he had feared. He pulled the wagon to a halt and set the brake without being aware of his movements. Jumping down, he hurried over to kneel by Joe, smiling to hide his worry. “Joe?”

Opening his eyes, Joe tried to smile back, but neither one fooled the other. “Hi, Pa,” he breathed and felt immensely comforted when Ben rested his hand on Joe’s shoulder.

“Let’s see about getting you home, shall we?” Ben asked rhetorically. He glanced at Adam and Hoss. “How badly is Joe hurt?”

“His right leg is broken just above the ankle,” Adam replied. “And I’m pretty sure his right arm is broken, too. There could be some ribs, and there’s the gash along his forehead, too.” He shrugged. “I didn’t want to hurt Joe by probing too much.”

“Joe?” Ben asked, bending over his youngest again. “Can you feel your legs?”

“Hmmm,” Joe agreed, unable to tell Ben just how much he could feel his right leg.

“All right,” Ben nodded. “Joe, we’re going to move you into the wagon. I’m sorry, son, but this is going to hurt.”

“I’m ready,” Joe lied. He didn’t think he would ever be ready to move. He tried to smile, but the smile felt stiff and he didn’t prolong the attempt.

“After three,” Ben ordered. “One, two, three.” He, Adam and Hoss lifted Joe as carefully as they could, but Joe still screamed in pain and after a moment, flopped limply in their grasp.

Although Ben was desperately worried about Joe, he knew it would be easier on his son if he were unconscious while he was moved. Before long, Joe was settled on the hay in the wagon and had blankets tucked around him. Adam thankfully donned his custard-colored coat again. He had been feeling very cold and was soaked through.

The journey back to the ranch was taken slow and easy. When they arrived at the house, Ben was relieved to discover that Doctor Paul Martin was waiting for them. Joe was moved as gently as possible into the house and put to bed, where stone hot water bottles had taken the chill off the covers for the injured man.

Sending his other sons to dry off and change clothes, Ben waited anxiously while the doctor examined Joe. He kept his eyes on Joe’s face, wincing along with his son, and smiling encouragement and love down at him. Finally, Paul sat back.

“As you know, Joe’s leg and arm are broken. His ribs are very badly bruised, but he’s got off lightly.” Paul smiled. “I know it doesn’t feel like that, Joe, but you have.”

“What about his head?” Ben asked.

“It’s still attached,” Joe growled. “And I’m here!”

Grinning, Paul clarified. “Its superficial, Ben, don’t worry. Joe, I’m going to give you something to make you sleep while I set your arm and leg. I’m afraid you aren’t going to be going anywhere much under your own power for quite some time to come.” He glanced at Ben once more. “Ben, why don’t you go and get changed while I do this?”

“I’ll wait until Joe’s asleep,” Ben replied, but once his son was in a drugged sleep, he did do as the doctor suggested and went to get into clean dry clothes. By the time he came back, Paul had set both breaks and was putting on splints.

“Well, you look better!” Paul exclaimed, as Ben came in. “Get some hot food inside you and you’ll be a new man.”

“Once I find out how Joe is,” Ben corrected gently.

“I’ve set both limbs,” Paul replied. “They are both pretty swollen, given the amount of time between the accident and getting them set. Now, that’s not a criticism of your boys, Ben. They did exactly the right thing in leaving it for me to do. Setting bones is not something I advocate an amateur doing unless they are more than a day from a doctor’s care. But I’ll wait until the swelling is down before I put a cast on these. I want to keep an eye on his leg, anyway. The bone didn’t come through the skin, but it was close. Joe’ll be fine in a couple of months.” He tied off the last bandage and rose. “Come on, Joe will sleep for a while yet. Let’s get something to eat.”

Leaning over the bed for an instant, Ben stroked the hair back off Joe’s forehead. His son wasn’t quite as pale now but he looked very young, lying there sleeping. “I’ll be back soon,” he promised in a whisper, even though he knew Joe couldn’t hear him.


“Obviously, Joe’s going to be out of commission for quite some time,” Ben commented over breakfast the next morning. He’d had some sleep, thanks to Adam arriving at 3 am and bullying Ben into bed. “He’s going to need a lot of help and Hop Sing and I will take care of the nursing. You boys will have to deal with separating the calves alone.”

“We can do that,” Hoss assured his father.

“No problem,” Adam amplified.

“Adam, I think you ought to take over-all charge of the remuda,” Ben went on. “Hoss will keep an eye on any horses that come in lame, as he’s better with the injured animals than you He’s got more experience.”

“I was doin’ that anyhows,” Hoss agreed.

“So basically, Adam, you’ll be matching horses to riders. Ask for help if you need it, son. You aren’t as familiar with the horses as Joe is.” Ben took another sip of coffee. “When Joe is feeling a bit better, I’ll give him some of the books to do. His handwriting isn’t great, but he counts very well.”

“I can help you with the books when I come in,” Adam protested.

“Son, if you’re running the remuda, and separating those calves, you won’t have the energy to help with the books,” Ben chided him gently. “Don’t worry; Joe and I will manage. You concentrate on doing Joe’s job.”

As they went back out to the remuda that morning, Adam felt slightly resentful that his father thought he couldn’t run the remuda and do the books. After all, running the remuda was no big deal, he thought.

By the end of lunch, Adam had changed his mind. He had never known a group of cowboys could be so contrary. Almost everyone had argued with his choice of horse, except Hoss, who was so much bigger than everyone else and only really rode Chubb and Paddy. Adam could feel his famous patience fraying quite drastically round the edges.

“What did I do wrong?” Adam asked Hoss, who rolled his eyes and replied,

“Everything.” He smiled forgivingly. “Ya’ll git it right tomorra, Adam.”

“That’s a comfort,” Adam muttered as he collected his second horse from the remuda – and noticed he’d been left the dapple-grey mare, Quest. Walking over, Adam smoothed a hand down her nose. “No offence,” he told her. “But I prefer not to ride mares.” And the thing was, Adam thought, as he mounted, she hadn’t taken offence and was just as sweet tempered as ever. He wasn’t quite sure why he should feel somewhat put out.


The plus side of the day for Adam and Hoss was arriving home to a hot meal and the news that Joe was feeling a lot better. “Don’t tell him about the remuda,” Adam hissed at Hoss as they went upstairs to see their sibling. “He doesn’t need to know.”

“What ever ya say, Adam,” Hoss agreed, but Adam was too late. Ranch gossip had already reached Joe’s ears and he gave Adam a hard look when his brother came in.

“Didn’t you notice who I gave each horse to yesterday?” he asked scathingly.

“I had other things on my mind,” Adam responded curtly.

“Never mind,” Joe replied, the unconscious condescension in his tone rubbing Adam the wrong way. “You’ll know for tomorrow.” He beamed at his brother, completely ignorant of the insult he had just delivered. “Pa’s going to bring the books up here tomorrow and I’m going to help him.”

“I don’t think you’ll find it as easy as you think,” Adam told him. “And it’s not very entertaining – not like your dime novels.”

“I know,” Joe replied cheerfully. “But I’ve got to learn how to do the books properly, Adam, so I might as well do it now, when I’m not able to go off and do something more interesting instead.”

This was as sensible a thing as Adam had heard Joe say for a while and he almost asked Joe if he was feeling all right. But given what had happened the previous day, Adam thought that this might be too much provocation and kept quiet. Joe didn’t notice Adam’s reticence and he and Hoss were soon deep in conversation about Chester’s sore leg, which the liver chestnut horse was still favoring. However, it had been a long day for all of them and it wasn’t long before all three were yawning loudly and even less time before Adam and Hoss made tracks for bed.


Sure enough, the next morning, Ben brought the account books upstairs and painstakingly took Joe through the ins and outs of bookkeeping. Ben was rather surprised at the way Joe took to the new information initially, but reflected after a while that he shouldn’t have been. Although Joe’s grades in school were no better than all right, Ben knew that his third son possessed a great intelligence and he simply had absorbed information without much effort and then was bored when expected to regurgitate it. When faced with something new and potentially useful (Joe had never really seen the point of learning Shakespeare, since he wasn’t going to be an actor) Joe soaked up the details like a sponge.

Convinced that Joe had learned as much as he could for the time being, Ben gave him some of Adam’s calculations for a timber contract to go over, more to show him how everything was laid out than any other reason. Joe was silent for a while diligently adding up the figures. After a time, Ben became aware that Joe was frowning at the paper in front of him.

“Is there a problem, son?” he asked.

“Has this contract been submitted?” Joe asked, waving it in the air.

“Not yet,” Ben replied. “I’m taking it in tomorrow. Why?”

“That’s a relief,” Joe replied. “Because I’ve found a mistake, Pa – a big one. If this contract had gone in, we’d have won all right, but we wouldn’t have made money on it; it would have cost us money. Lots of money. Look.”

Following Joe’s pointing finger, Ben scrutinized the figures more closely and realized that although Adam had got the arithmetic correct, when he wrote down the final total, he had transposed the decimal point. It would have been disastrous for the ranch had that bid been submitted.

“Well spotted, Joe,” Ben praised. “I hadn’t been over those figures, but your brother said he’d checked them.”

“Well, a fresh eye,” Joe replied modestly. “It often helps. Have you got anything else for me?”

“Why don’t you add up this column of figures, Joe and I’ll go and get us some coffee,” Ben suggested. Joe gave him a sunlit smile and agreed, eagerly grasping the book. Ben hid a smile. He was sure Joe’s enthusiasm for bookwork wouldn’t last!


“Why does nobody want to ride Quest?” Adam demanded of Joe that evening.

“Because she’s a mare,” Joe replied. “And because she doesn’t look like a cow pony, I guess. She looks like a lady’s saddle horse.” He shrugged. “Are you still riding her then?” he asked and Adam nodded shortly. He liked the mare, he really did, but now that Chester was sound again, he wanted to ride the rangy chestnut, but he had been unable to persuade anyone else to take on the mare.

“Charlie usually gets Glory,” Joe mused, referring to the big dun-gold gelding. “But he would ride Quest if you told him to.”

“Charlie is always first at the remuda,” Adam retorted. “And gets his horse out before I’m there.”

“That’s Charlie for ya,” Joe sniggered, for the wily old man hadn’t got to be foreman of the ranch by letting chances slip past him. “You could give Cheesy to Pete and Ivan to Dan. Hoss always gets Paddy, to be sure he doesn’t break any other horse…” Joe let his sentence trail off and grinned at Hoss, who leaned in to tickle Joe.

Normally, the tickling match would go on until Joe managed to escape, but with the broken limbs, it wasn’t a fair contest and Hoss kindly stopped before Joe started crying with laughter. Adam was waiting impatiently for the high jinks to stop. “Go on,” he suggested to Joe, who looked blank for a second before remembering what they were talking about.

Obligingly, Joe rattled through the rest of the horse-rider pairings. Adam didn’t like to stop Joe and get him to write them all down, but he was sure he would remember most of them. “Thanks,” he said, when Joe had finished.

“No problem,” Joe replied, airily. “It’s all a case of observation and knowing your men. Of course, I wouldn’t expect you to know the horses as well as I do, but at least you’ll be getting more familiar with them.”

Feeling he’d had rather enough of Joe’s unintended lectures for one night, Adam rose. “I’d better go and do some work on those books,” he sighed. “I can’t expect Pa do to them all.”

“Oh, the books are up to date,” Joe told Adam blithely. “I don’t know why you make all that fuss about it, big brother. It’s not that hard – basic arithmetic. Oh, and you’d put the decimal point in the wrong place on that timber bid, but don’t worry, I spotted it before it was submitted.”

Turning without a word, Adam went straight downstairs and went over to the desk. Ben glanced up at him. “Problem?” he asked, seeing only the annoyed look on Adam’s face.

“Joe had the cheek to tell me I made a mistake on the timber bid,” Adam replied, his voice tight.

“You had made a mistake,” Ben told him gently. “It was a good thing Joe spotted it, or the ranch might have gone under.”

Finding the bid, Adam scrutinized the figures, finally seeing where the original figures had been scored through and new ones put in. He could see the decimal point was in the wrong place and wondered how on earth he had missed it. A fresh copy of the bid was lying underneath the original. It would have been a catastrophic mistake had the bid been submitted in its original form.

“Good thing Joe caught it,” Adam mumbled. “Good night, Pa.” He walked upstairs without meeting Ben’s eyes and Ben watched him go in sympathetic silence.


At last, the calves were all separated from the cows and the men began to cut out the breeding stock for the following season.  The cows that were for sale were put onto a lush pasture so they could add as much fat as possible before the long drive to market in a few weeks time. Ben wasn’t sure how Joe would cope without him, yet he couldn’t afford to stay at home, since Joe was not able to go. He hadn’t quite decided what to do about this dilemma.

By now, Joe had graduated to coming downstairs most days although he still required help with certain things, like cutting his food up. As Ben had predicted, his enthusiasm for bookwork had dwindled, but Ben was sure that Joe had a thorough grounding in all the ins and outs of the ranch finances and he had been impressed with some of the suggestions Joe had made. However, Joe made no bones about the fact that Adam was welcome to doing the books week in and week out. Joe would stick with what he felt he knew best – the horses.

It hadn’t escaped Ben’s attention that Adam had been out of sorts since Joe had his accident and he resolved to find out what was troubling his oldest son. However, Joe, in his own inimitable fashion, brought the subject to the surface over supper.

“You know, I’m really glad you’re finished with the calves,” Joe commented. He was chasing green peas around his plate, wondering which sadist had thought they were suitable food for someone eating one-handed.

“Any particular reason?” Adam enquired. “Surely you don’t think we’ve got time to stay at home and amuse you?”

“No,” Joe sighed, disconsolately. “But at least you can do the books again and I won’t have to.”

“I thought you said doing the books was easy,” Adam retorted.

“Yeah, but I agreed when you said it wasn’t all that interesting,” Joe nodded. “It ain’t.” He gave Ben a cherubic smile. “I’ll stick with the horses any day.”

“You’re welcome to the horses,” Adam snapped and Ben instantly realized that he’d found the root of the problem.

“Well,” Ben said, pacifically, “I think we’ve all learned a lot during this time.” He was gratified to see all his sons looking at him, waiting for him to speak. He noticed Joe abandoning his attempt to eat the peas and made a mental note to tell Hop Sing not to serve them until Joe could use both arms again.

“I sure have,” Joe agreed. “I learned to do the books.” He glanced at his plate again. “And I learned I can’t eat peas with this on!” He raised his casted arm as far as he could.

The remark broke the slight atmosphere that had been growing and everyone laughed. “Well, that’s partly what I meant,” Ben smiled. “But what we’ve chiefly learned is that we all have our own areas of expertise. Adam is happiest with the books and Joe is happiest with the horses. We can all lend a hand and fill in for the others, but we all have things we do especially well. It’s nice to be reminded of that.”

As he thought about that, Adam felt his bad mood dissipate. He had been acting as though Joe had deliberately set out to be injured so that he could show Adam up. If Joe hadn’t taken Ace that first day, Adam would have been the one injured and although Adam would rather have had the injuries than see Joe hurt, he couldn’t truthfully deny that he would not have ridden the inexperienced horse as well as Joe had done. Joe’s sharp eyes had caught the mistake that Adam had made with the timber bid before the mistake could bring disaster to the ranch, yet Joe wasn’t rubbing in those mistakes, he was just biding his time until he could get back to the horses.

And Ben’s remark settled another problem that Adam had been stewing over. He had been fighting the urge to leave the ranch and see the world, but he had put off telling everyone that he wanted to leave, because he thought nobody else could do his job. And now he saw that they would cope without him. Yes, he would be missed, as Joe had been missed at the remuda, but they had coped. It was a revelation.

Looking at his oldest son, Ben smiled. Adam looked suddenly more at peace, more accepting of life. Adam’s eyes met Ben’s and Ben knew that later – not necessarily tonight, but sometime soon – he and Adam would have a talk. Ben nodded and Adam nodded back and no more needed to be said between them.

“Hey, Pa,” Joe laughed. Ben gave him an enquiring glance, belatedly aware that he’d missed some mischief between Joe and Hoss. “What’s your area of expertise?”

For a moment, Ben sought to look disapproving, but he couldn’t keep the grin from breaking free. “Keeping you three in line!” he roared and made a pretend swipe for Joe.

As they laughed together, Ben thought proudly that perhaps he could say that raising his sons was his area of expertise, for all three were fine young men. He blinked back tears and found Joe watching him.

“What?” Joe asked, softly, the laughter stilled for the moment.

Smiling, Ben shook his head. This was a thought he would keep and cherish in his heart.


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