Then and Now (by Cheaux)

Summary:  Two sides of the same coin, one looks forward, one looks backward and they both struggle in the present.  This post Season 14 story is set in 1879 and includes almost all of the principal cast from the series run
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  10,700


 

 

Chapter 1 –  San Francisco, California

 

The Western Union messenger climbed the stoop to the front door of the Victorian row house and rang the doorbell.  Surprised when a gentleman answered the door instead of a butler or maid, he stammered.

“T-telegram for Mr. C-cartwright.”

“I am he.”  Adam stepped out onto the narrow porch and took the proffered envelope hoping it contained more information as Joe’s first wire of the morning had been annoyingly cryptic.

On the one hand, he was grateful his kid brother’s loose lips had tightened with age.  He had spent a lifetime impressing upon Joe the need for discretion when it came to airing family business in a town that thrived on rumor and speculation as much as Virginia City did.  On the other hand, Joe’s message had hinted at trouble without elaboration and asked Adam to come Nevada as soon as possible.  Without sufficient information on which to base a decision, he had not yet responded.  Perhaps this telegram would enlighten him.

He was wrong.

The wire was from Lucinda Gillette, his ex-wife.  He perused the message and silently cursed.

“Would you mind waiting?  I need to send a response.”

“Of course, sir, take your time.”

*****

Adam stepped inside the house and leaned his back against the mahogany door pushing it shut.  The soft click of the latch echoed through an empty foyer.  He crossed to the only furnished room on the main floor—a wood-paneled study with a utilitarian desk and chair under the window.  The only other piece of furniture was a wing-back reading chair placed next to a cast iron fireplace flanked by two built-in bookcases, mostly empty.

With a heavy sigh he sat down at the desk and read the telegram again.  Most people were succinct when sending a wire due to the cost involved.  Lucinda’s wordy rant left no room for ambiguity.  At the close of the school term, their fourteen-year-old son Ethan had left the home of her parents in whose care he had been placed and disappeared.  Someone thought he may have boarded a train for San Francisco.  Lucinda cared not for his welfare. Was only notifying him because her lawyer advised her to do so.  She had disowned and disinherited Ethan, and hoped never to hear from him again.

Adam took a sheet of paper and envelope from his top drawer and wrote a brief message . . . to Joe.

He removed a bill from his wallet in a denomination that was sufficient to pay for the wire plus a tip for the messenger.  After donning his morning coat and bowler hat, he stepped onto the porch, asked the messenger to see that the wire was sent with all due haste and set off himself to the Central Pacific Railroad ticket office.

*****

Chapter 2 – Virginia City, Nevada

 

Jamie Cartwright paced in front of the Western Union Telegraph office waiting for his older brother to conclude business inside.  The foot traffic on the boardwalk provided little in the way of entertainment.

“Well?” he asked when Joe Cartwright step out the door at last. “What did he say?  Is he going to come?”

“He’s going to think about it.”

“Think about it!  Did you tell him that Pa’s—”

“—Quiet!” Joe hissed, grabbing Jamie’s elbow and steering him toward the alley out of earshot of passersby. “We don’t need the busybodies around here knowing our family’s business.  You know that would only cause more problems.”

“But Joe,” he whispered, “how could Adam not come?”

“He’s got something more important to attend to. Come on, let’s get back to the ranch before Pa does something stupid.”

Joe shouldered his way past his younger brother into the street and hightailed it to where the horses were hitched.  Jamie grumbled under his breath while tightening the cinch. “What could be more important than losing the ranch?”

Joe’s eyes narrowed.  He leaned over the seat of Cochise’s saddle and whispered, “Losing a son.”

*****

Although not a short trip by any stretch of the imagination, the journey back to the Ponderosa used to carry its own reward—a breathtaking view of the Sierra Nevada.  In the old days Joe would carefully navigate the treacherous descent down Geiger Grade worried more about his horse than himself.  When he reached smoother ground, he would kick Cochise into a gallop, circle the south rim of Washoe Lake and head up into the pine-laden forests which gave the ranch its name.

Used to.  Now a large portion of the Sierra Nevada range was barren.

Previously, the slopes were covered with pines and the snow runoff fed the Carson river throughout summer and into fall.  Now, with no shade, the first spell of hot weather melted the mountain snow and sent water rushing down into the valley causing floods that devastated homesteads and communities.

Before, the westerly winds blew over the snow-capped Sierras creating breezes which cooled the Ponderosa and the ranches below. Now, with no timber to block the wind, gusts swept the snow off the peaks in giant swirls like sand from a dune, leaving the land parched.

When there were trees, Joe loved a blustery storm.  He took joy in the sound gale force winds made whipping through the pine trees. Standing fast in the yard, face to the sky, he could well-imagine what his father must have experienced on the deck of the Wanderer.  Now, he was afraid of storms knowing a torrential downpour would wash soil from the roots of the stumps, laying waste to the land his father loved.

Joe scowled at the thunderheads gathering above Jobs Peak to the south.  A quick glance along the ridgeline toward Mt. Rose did nothing to quell his fear.  Along with the churning clouds, his mood darkened and he urged Cochise forward trusting Jamie to keep up.

*****

Chapter 3 – The Ponderosa Ranch

 

“What do you think you’re doing?”

Startled, Ben whirled to see who had come into the kitchen through the side door.  In so moving, his plate tilted sending a steaming cascade of soupy beans to the floor.  Hoping to save the steak teetering on the edge of the plate, Ben grabbed the freshly-seared meat with his bare hand, yelping in pain when his flesh touched the crackling fat.  The jerk of his hand allowed the crutch under his arm to twist and drop and he would have fallen had Jamie not caught him.

“Joe said you’d do somethin’ stupid.”

“I had everything under control,” Ben protested as Jamie eased him onto a stool next to the chopping table.

“Uh, huh.”

“Well I would have if you hadn’t spooked me.  I thought you and Joe were in town for the day.”

“Came back early ‘cause of the storm.”

“Where’s Joe?”

“He headed up to the timber camp.  Why?”

“Let’s keep this between us, okay?  He tends to cluck.”

“Could it be he learned from the biggest Mother Hen of them all?”

“Hmmph!”

“Well, it doesn’t look like you did any damage,” Jamie said after examining the cast surrounding his father’s broken ankle.   He handed Ben his crutch and helped him rise.  “You rest up by the fire while I clean this floor and start dinner.”

Ben harrumphed again, but grudgingly made his way into the great room.  He was not a man used to being sidelined or told what to do by uppity youngsters.

A brilliant flash of lightning illuminated the room for several seconds followed almost instantaneously by a tremendous boom and then the ground shook.

The barn!

*****

Chapter 4 – San Francisco, California

 

“Does he have a ticket?”

“I don’t know.   What would happen if he didn’t?”

“Upon discovery, the conductor would remove him from the train at the next stop, probably with just a warning, but he could also turn him over to the local constable for prosecution.”

“He’s just a boy!”

“And without a ticket, a trespasser.  How old is he?”

“Fourteen.”

“A minor!  His parents should be flogged.  They have a moral and ethical—not to mention legal—responsibility to oversee their offspring.  What is your relationship, may I ask?”

“I’m his father.”

The ticket agent regarded Adam with disdain.  “Then I wish the boy luck,” he said, closing the window and pulling down the shade.

*****

Stunned, Adam left the ticket office and wandered aimlessly through the streets and markets, winding up on a park bench with his head in his hands wondering how life had come to this.

He’d been content to help his father realize his dream but grew restless when his siblings came of age.  He left the Ponderosa with the family’s blessing to pursue his own dream.  He moved to Boston, worked hard and acquired a solid reputation as an innovative architect, but not a lot of wealth.  He subscribed to his father’s principle of saving ten percent, giving ten percent and pouring the rest back into the business.  What he did acquire was a long-line of society women anxious to marry him.

Then Lucinda Gillette, only daughter of a prominent Connecticut family, caught his eye.  She was cultured, well-travelled, educated, witty, and beautiful—tall, full-figured, with hair the color of wheat framing her smoky blue eyes.  They met at a charity ball in Boston that she had organized to benefit the widows and orphans of veterans of the War Between the States.  When he learned Lucinda was herself a war widow with a six-year-old son, he admired her altruism all the more and respected the time she devoted to philanthropic endeavors.  They married five months later and he adopted her son Ethan.

A year later they had a daughter they named Elizabeth.  It had been a difficult pregnancy, but a normal birth and life settled into a routine.

He expected to love his wife unconditionally and to commit wholly to her and their marriage—something he had admired about his father.  And just as Ben Cartwright had accepted Marie’s first born, he accepted Ethan as his own.

What Adam hadn’t counted on was Lucinda’s relentless drive to have the best of everything.  Her altruism revealed itself to be a thinly disguised bid for prestige.  She demanded a life-style above what he could afford.  He took on more projects and worked longer hours to keep the household accounts solvent.  He put aside saving or giving.  Everything, including the needs of the family, was sacrificed to Lucinda’s insatiable quest for social prominence and the concomitant power in society it commanded.

And then the unimaginable happened.

His precious Elizabeth died of peritonitis following a ruptured appendix.  Lucinda withdrew her affections, becoming emotionally distant and even more driven.  They separated, a social sin among the upper crust of New England society.  Clients disappeared and projects all put dried up.  When an opportunity to design and build an expansion to the medical college at Stanford University came to him, he accepted and moved temporarily to San Francisco, all the while supporting his wife and son with a regular stipend.  Nevertheless, Lucinda claimed desertion and divorced him—apparently discarding Ethan in the process.

And now his son was missing and, according to Joe, the Ponderosa was in trouble.

*****

Chapter 5 – The Ponderosa Ranch

 

“Jamie!  The horses!” Ben shouted, moving as quickly as he could to the front porch just in time to see his son sprint out the kitchen’s side door toward the barn to set the horses free.

“Stay where you are, Pa!”

Heedless of the admonishment or the rain, Ben moved into the muddy yard and pounded on the bunkhouse door to rouse anyone inside.

Flames were already licking up the side of the barn when Candy rode in and catapulted from the saddle before his horse stopped.  He quickly headed to the tack room where buckets and extra blankets were stored.  Two hands from the bunkhouse joined him and they began beating the flames out, while Ben filled the buckets from the trough.

In answer to everyone’s prayers, the rain fell harder and faster and helped to extinguish the remaining flames.

“Candy, Wes, check the hay in the loft and make sure there are no cinders,” Ben shouted.

Both men filled their buckets and went into the barn.  A few minutes later the door on the hayloft flew open and several bales were thrown out.   Ben could see dark spots where the hay smoldered.  It was only a miracle that the bales hadn’t ignited.

Joe arrived a moment later.  He’d seen the flames from the ridge above the ranch house and made all haste down the trail.

“Is everyone all right?”

“Yeah,” Candy said, wiping his face with his handkerchief.  “We can put a tarp over the hole in the roof and Wes and I will stay in the barn tonight just in case.”

Joe nodded, “I’ll help with the tarp.”  He then saw his father’s muddy, sodden cast.  “Pa, what do you think you’re doing?”

“You know, I’m getting really tired of being asked that.”

*****

Chapter 6 – San Francisco, California

Adam considered taking a train East to begin searching for his son, but if San Francisco was Ethan’s destination, he could arrive any time.  Then again, he could have been put off a train in any town along the way or fallen victim to unscrupulous hobos.  There was only one solution he could think of.

Scrubbing his face with both hands, he rose from the bench, straightened his back and headed for the nearest streetcar.

*****

The family had used the services of The Pinkerton Agency in the past and the name Cartwright carried some weight—enough to grant an immediate audience with the Agent in Charge, Matthew Townsend.  When Adam explained the situation to Agent Townsend, he was escorted to the second floor to plan a course of action.

Route maps of every type of transportation available decorated the walls, along with city maps of metropolitan areas.  There were fifty or more agents, male and female, involved in various activities.  In one area, numerous telegraph keys clacked away.  Pins marking locations of persons or objects on maps were moved according to the information received.  It reminded Adam of a battlefield command center.

The plan proposed by Agent Townsend included dividing the train route into segments and dispatching an agent to each sector with a picture and description of Ethan.  In the event Ethan had remained in the Hartford area, a local agent would investigate other possibilities for his whereabouts.  Communication would be by telegraph.

Agent Townsend inquired whether Adam had a call box in his home so that dispatches could be sent directly to him.  As he did not, the agent said a messenger would be assigned to handle communications.

Satisfied he had done what he could, Adam decided to return home but before leaving the Agency, he inquired about the call box the agent had mentioned and was handed a paper with the details.  The telegraph call box system consisted of a circular box containing a glass dial that had ten or twelve selections:  doctor, police, fire, messenger, and so on.  The box connected one directly to the telegraph office.  The machinery accurately indicated the location of the signaling box and the nature of the service required.  If a doctor was needed—and name and address were on file—he would be notified by a messenger who would then proceed directly to the subscriber’s house to receive further instructions, go for prescriptions, etc.   Ingenious!  Adam chuckled to think how many trips to Paul Martin’s office could have been saved over the years if they had only had one of these on the Ponderosa.

*****

Chapter 7 – Virginia City, Nevada

 

“Joe.  Joe Cartwright.”

Candy heard the cry from a distance.  “Hey,” he said, grabbing Joe’s elbow and turning him around.  “Someone’s calling you.”

“Hey, Clem.   Haven’t seen you in a while.”

“Joe.  Candy,” Clem acknowledged.  “I was up to Reno to pick up a prisoner who I think belongs to you.”

Joe laughed.  “We’re not missing any ranch hands to my knowledge.  They usually don’t go missing until after payday.  Candy?”

“All present and accounted for this morning when I handed out assignments.  What makes you think he’s one of our hands?”

“Silent type.  Couldn’t get much out of him, but I found this in his haversack.”  Clem handed Joe a miniature daguerreotype.

“What the blazes!”  Joe not only recognized the picture, he had one just like it on his dresser at home.  “This ‘prisoner’ wouldn’t by any chance be around fourteen years old, would he?”

“Might be, although he acts a bit younger.  Looks half-starved.  Won’t say who he is or where he’s from.”

“I’m gonna kill him.”  Joe stalked off down the boardwalk towards the jail.

“Don’t worry, Clem,” Candy said.  “He meant that figuratively . . . I think.”

*****

Clem caught up to Joe at the jail.  The outer door to the cells was open and Ethan Cartwright sat forlornly on a bunk with one leg tucked under him and the other swinging nervously.  Joe noted the sole of his shoe was tied up with rope.  The boy’s dirty blonde hair hung in strings and his clothes were filthy, but there was a defiant glint in his green eyes that Joe found familiar.

“Open the cell, Sheriff.”

“You cooled off yet?  Can’t have prisoners abused while in my custody.”

“Oh, he’ll get what he deserves and no court in the land will convict me.”

“Afraid I’ll have to take your gun.”

Joe removed his Colt and handed it to Clem.  “As long as I have my belt, I’m good.”

During this exchange, Ethan’s eyes widened.  He pulled both knees up to his chin and shrank back against the wall as Joe walked into the cell and removed his belt.

“Close the door on your way out, Clem.”

“Sure thing, Joe.”

The man and boy stared at each other.

“Uncle Joe?”  Ethan asked in a small voice.

“Sadly, yes.  I never thought a nephew of mine would do something so monumentally stupid!”

“I’m sor-ry.”

“Do you know how many people have been looking for you?  What a dangerous situation you were in?  You could have fallen under the rails hopping a freight or been murdered in your sleep.”

“No one cares what happens to me.  My mother disowned me.”

“Your father hasn’t.  He’s been worried sick.”

“Then why isn’t he here instead of you?”  Defiance was edging back into Ethan’s voice.

“He’s in San Francisco waiting for you to show up.  The information we had said that’s where you were headed.  He’ll be here as soon as I wire him.”

“Don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Send for him.  I’m not his real son.  He . . h-he doesn’t love me.  He never did.”

“What makes you think so?”

“’Cause he m-moved a-away and left me with th-them.”  Once the tears started, they didn’t stop.  “And, e-even though I was s-scared, it was b-better than being a-alone in that b-big m-mansion.”

Joe gathered the boy into his arms and held him tight.  “You’re not alone anymore, Ethan.  It’s all right.  Cry it out.  You’re safe now.  You’re home and everything will be all right.”

Clem stuck his head through the door and Joe mouthed “water.”  A while later, Clem returned with a tray of sandwiches and two glasses of lemonade from the café across the street.  He opened the cell door and placed the tray on the other bunk, pointing to a wet washcloth.  Joe nodded his thanks and continued to rock Ethan.

When the sobs subsided, Joe took the cloth and wiped most of the grime off the boy’s face and hands before handing him a ham sandwich.

“Th-thanks.  I’m hungry.”

“I figured you might be.  Me, too.”

When they finished their meal, Joe put his belt back on and said, “You sleep some and then we’ll head home.”

“Home?”

“The Ponderosa.”

“What about my Dad?”

“I’ll wire him.  He’ll come as soon as he can.”

“He’s gonna kill me.”

“Not likely, but a tanning may be in your future.”

“Is that why you took off your belt?”

“Yes.  But I’ll let your father do the honors.”

“Can’t you be my dad?  I’m not scared of you.”

“No. There’s only one Joe Cartwright and he’s your uncle.”  Joe paused.  “Can you ride a horse?  Be honest.  It’s a long ride to the ranch.”

Ethan nodded enthusiastically, but under his uncle’s steely gaze dropped his chin, “It’s been a while.”

“I’ll rent a buggy.  Get some sleep.”

*****

Joe closed the cell door behind him and locked it.

Back in the office, he hung the ring of keys on a peg and plopped down in a chair in front of Clem’s desk.

“You didn’t need to lock the door, Joe.”

“Oh, yes, I did.  Self-preservation.”  Clem looked confused.  “He’s run away once.  There’d be hell to pay if I let him slip away before Adam arrives.  What’ll cost to get the boy out of here?”

“The cost of the train ticket plus a fine for riding without a ticket.”

Joe reached for his wallet.

“Plus $500 bail.”

“What?!”

“You said it yourself, he’s a flight risk.”

*****

After making a withdrawal at the bank, Joe sent a wire to Adam, and then went shopping.  Since a third of the population of Virginia City and Gold Hill was under 18, there were several clothing stores that catered to young men.  He found one at the end of C Street near the stable where he rented a buggy.

He was in luck.  A customer had a boy with her who appeared to be about the height and weight of Ethan.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” he said, tapping her lightly on the shoulder.  “I wondered if you could tell me what size—”

The woman turned and smiled.  “—Joe Cartwright, I declare!  I never thought to see you in a shop like this.  And just who, pray tell, might you be courting that has a son?”

Great, he thought.  The biggest gossip in town.  “I’m shopping for my nephew.  He’s become fascinated with cowboys of late, so I—”

“—I’d be thrilled to assist you.  About William’s size, you say?”

“Yes.”

Joe culled through the stacks of clothes the woman laid on the counter and selected three items.  Boots would have to wait until they could be fitted, but he did add a cowboy hat to the pile.   Mrs. Knight was disappointed that she couldn’t persuade him to select more than jeans, a shirt, and a pair of long johns.

Thanking her once again, he paid for the items and quickly departed.  Despite his assurance the clothes were for his nephew, he knew the rumor mill would be working overtime by Sunday.

*****

Ethan was awake when Joe returned to the jail to pay his bail.

“Thanks, Uncle Joe.”

“Don’t thank me.  Knowing my brother, you’ll be working off the debt.  Now, come on, let’s get you a bath and a haircut before we head home.  Bad enough Grandpa has a riverboat gambler for a son, can’t have him seeing you look like a ragamuffin.”

*****

Chapter 8 – The Ponderosa Ranch

 

The next week flew by for Ethan.  Nervous at first, he quickly adapted to life on the Ponderosa, including chores which he’d never done before.  At first, he balked at the notion of mucking out stables or weeding the garden or collecting eggs, but quickly understood that everyone played a role in keeping the ranch running smoothly. Even his grandfather with his broken ankle sat and peeled potatoes or snapped beans to help out when he wasn’t doing the books.  And when Joe and Jamie came home one afternoon covered in slime and mud from clearing a beaver dam, he understood no job was too menial if it needed doing.

Despite feeling compelled to administer a “necessary talk” for running away, Ben delighted in having his grandson around.  Sans cast, he still needed a cane when walking. To build strength, he and Ethan strolled around the house, barn, and outbuildings after meals while he shared stories of his and Adam’s journey west and caught Ethan up on family history. Occasionally, they rode in a buggy out to view the herds, or down to the corrals to watch Joe gentle the newly broken mustangs.

“This ranch was my dream and my sons helped me build it, but the land was here long before us and will be here long after we’re gone.  We’re just caretakers here, the guardians of tomorrow.”

For all intents and purposes, Joe was now head of the Ponderosa and his choices—including those made in concert with Ben, Jamie, and Candy—weighed heavily on him.  He averaged four hours of sleep a night and even when idle, was always watching and thinking.  Nevertheless, Joe made time to give Ethan a refresher on riding as promised.  He also showed him his father’s and uncles’ favorite places on the ranch, including the secret happy place he shared with Hoss.

“Besides you, the only other person I’ve ever brought here was my wife.  Not even your Dad knows about this place.”

Jamie took Ethan fishing and on hikes up to the lake.  At Joe’s request, he encouraged Ethan to talk about his feelings.  It surprised Ethan to learn Jamie was also adopted, and that knowledge spawned a lot of questions which Jamie freely answered.

“In the end, Ethan, family is more than blood.  It took me a long time to learn that, and longer still to believe it.”

One day, Ethan cornered Candy and asked him about Joe’s wife.  Where was she?

“Alice was murdered,” Candy said.  Ethan’s eyes widened. “They hadn’t been married very long and they were going to be parents.  Joe took the death of his wife and baby hard, especially so soon after your Uncle Hoss died.  It changed him.  Not a subject you want to bring up, Ethan, unless Joe does first.  Understand?”

Ethan did.  He remembered well when his sister Elizabeth died and how it changed his Dad.  How it changed everything in his life and eventually led him here.

*****

Chapter 9 – The Ponderosa Ranch

 

More than thirteen years had passed since Adam had last been home.

Before, there was an immutability to the Ponderosa that rendered the passage of time moot no matter how long he’d been away.

Now, although he’d kept up to date through regular correspondence, he’d missed out on pivotal events in the family like Jamie’s adoption, Hoss’s death, and Joe’s marriage.  Letters could relate the facts, but not the nuances of change.

At 75, his father had aged fairly well.  His white hair was still thick.  He appeared a little thinner, but overall in good health aside from a broken ankle—the origin of which was shrouded in a conspiracy of silence, for every time he asked, someone changed the subject.

Hop Sing appeared ageless, only the silver streaks in his otherwise black queue and a slower trot belied his advancing years.

Few ranch hands remembered him, and he recognized even fewer.  As for the foreman, Adam couldn’t read Candy at all.  The man slinked.  He seemed to be everywhere and nowhere, moving silently, speaking little.  Adam didn’t know what to make of the fact that Candy slept in the house, ate meals with the family, and always called Pa “Mr. Cartwright.”

Jamie brought a smile to his lips.  The red-headed, freckle-faced lad he’d seen only in pictures had grown into a 22-year-old young man that reminded him of Hoss in some ways and of Joe in others.  He was guileless and good-natured with a sharp mind, even if he preferred to talk animal husbandry rather than Shakespeare.

His mercurial kid brother wore his grey hair longer than he remembered, and he remained a study in contradictions—wickedly funny and sentimentally sappy, short-tempered but quick to apologize and forgive.  Solid muscles covered a wiry frame that could bench press more than his weight even at age 37.  The biggest difference, Adam noted, was the laugh—still infectious but not as forthcoming.

As for Ethan, their reunion could best be described as strained.  Although his son had grown since Adam last saw him, it wasn’t the physical changes as much as a wariness of each other that cast a shadow.  Adam knew he would have to address the runaway issue but figured that would best be dealt with at home in San Francisco.

As much as the genuine affection displayed between Ethan and his father pleased him, Adam was conflicted when he observed the boy with Joe.  Their interactions were more—intimate, for lack of a better word.  More like the relationship Joe had with Hoss than the one Joe had with him.

At dinner the day after his return, Adam announced he and Ethan would be taking the noon stage on Friday to San Francisco.

The explosion could be heard in the next county.

*****

“Like hell!” Ethan swore loudly.  With one swipe of his arm, his plate and everything surrounding it crashed to the floor.  “I’m not going anywhere with you. I hate you!”

Ben was nearly apoplectic.

Jamie retreated to the kitchen to get a bucket and mop.

Joe stood, grabbing the boy by the arm and pulling him out of his chair to swat him on the backside.  When he pulled back his arm, Adam halted the swing and pushed Joe hard against the wall, causing a picture to fall and break.

Adam yelled, “Ethan, go to your room!”

“You’re going to let him get away with this?” Joe shouted.

“He’s my son, not yours.  You had your chance at fatherh—”

“—ADAM!”

Ben’s sonorous baritone reverberated throughout the house stopping everyone in their tracks.   Despite the broken ankle, he bolted upright from his chair, his black eyes flashing. “That’s enough!”

Deadly silence followed.

Joe stood still, chest heaving, fists clenched.

Candy slid into the space between the brothers, elbows at his side palms out, prepared to keep them apart if necessary.

Adam, bewildered, did not understand his father’s overt chastisement.  Only when Joe’s demeanor changed from rage to anguish, and tears tracked down his cheeks did he comprehend.

“Joe, I’m sorry.”

Joe pivoted on his heel and stormed out of the house throwing the door into the credenza.

Adam turned to his father.  “Pa, I—”

“Sit. Down!”  Ben pointed to the settee.  “Candy, go after him.”

Already in pursuit, Candy nodded and closed the door.

*****

“I don’t understand you, Adam.  You’ve always been opinionated, and at times a bit imperious for my taste, but you’ve never been deliberately cruel.”

“I didn’t think.”

“You didn’t think . . . what?  That your words would not cut?  That six years was enough time for Joe to get over losing his wife and child?”

“I lost a wife and child, too.  So have you.  Why should Joe’s grief be any more profound than ours?”

“While there is no expiration on grief, I’m talking about cold-blooded murder, not divorce or illness.  I’ve only suffered that heartache once, thank God.  You may have forgotten, but four of the women Joe’s loved were murdered, plus an unborn child.”  Ben shuddered and sank back into his red chair.  “To have never cradled your child in your arms is unfathomable.”

Immediately, images of Elizabeth floated across Adam’s vision.  All he had of her now were the memories. Her dancing on his toes.  Him carrying her on his shoulders. The tea parties they shared.  Joe didn’t have any memories to savor.

“I am sorry, Pa.   I’ll talk to him.”

“No!” Ben said sharply, then softened his expression.  “Not now, son.  Let Candy settle him down first.”

“A hired hand?”

“A friend.  The friend who was there the night of the fire and pulled him screaming from the burning house.  The friend who never left his side as they crisscrossed California looking for the men responsible.  The friend who stood by him before, during, and after when his brothers were . . ..”

“Not here.” Adam sighed.  “More than a friend then.”

“Yes.”

“A best friend like Hoss?”

“The bond is similar, but there will never be another Hoss.”  Ben gazed into the fire wondering what he could say to help his oldest son understand how Candy fit into the family dynamic.  “As far as Joe is concerned, Candy is family with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that entails.”

“And how do you see it?”

“I respect his opinion and rely on him frequently.”

“You could say that about anyone who has served as foreman.”

Ben knew the words he had spoken weren’t enough to convey the special place Candy held in his heart, especially after their month together in darkness and in the aftermath of Alice’s murder.  He turned to face Adam head on.

“I’d trust him with my life . . . and that of any of my sons.”

Adam’s eyebrow arched and he whistled softly wondering where that left him.

“You’ve been gone a long time, Adam.  Led your own life, married, raised a family.  But you are, and always will be, my first-born.  I was hoping you had returned for good.

*****

Candy stood on the porch and listened for a moment before moving silently towards the barn.  No light showed through the crack where the siding met the floor, nevertheless he eased the door open and stepped inside.  When his eyes adjusted, he was relieved to see Cochise not only present but unsaddled.

“Joe?”

Candy was a patient man.  He waited.

Finally, a choked response, “Last stall.”

He found Joe nestled on fresh straw in the corner.  After easing himself down into the small space, he removed a flask from his vest pocket and took a swig before handing it over.

“Come here often?”

Joe accepted the flask with a grin. “Used to hide out in the barn when I was a kid.  Down here when I was too small to climb; up in the loft behind some hay bales later.  Took some doing to perfect the layout since the bales weighed more than I did.”

“Anyone ever find you?”

“Hoss.  Once.  But he kept my secret.  Said every creature needed a place to lick their wounds in private.”

“What happened to ’Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never break me’?”

“Yeah . . . only big brother’s words came close more often than I cared to admit.”  Joe coughed, not so much from the whiskey as from the dust in the hay. “The fort gave me time to sort myself out, figure what to do.”

“Seems to me Adam blindsided you tonight, not the other way around.”

“Ah, there’s the rub.  I poked the bear.”  Even in the semi dark Joe could see his friend’s confusion.  “He’s upset at Ethan, not me. I just got in the way.”

“Want me to beat him up for you?”

Joe broke into a full-on laugh which turned into a coughing fit.  He took another swig of whiskey and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“So, what are you going to do now?”

Joe took one last gulp and handed the flask back to Candy.  “Now I try to fix this mess.”  As he stood up, he said, “Thanks.”

“That’s me—always good for a laugh.”

“Or two.”  Joe extended his arm to help Candy up and they exited the barn together.  “Or six.”

“Shut up.”

*****

Joe closed the front door softly and threw the bolt.  The fire had been banked and the lamp by the staircase turned low waiting for the last one in to extinguish it.  He waited for Candy to reach the landing, then blew out the flame and followed up the stairs, stopping first in Ethan’s room.

His nephew was splayed every which way across the top of the covers.  Joe smiled at the similarity between them.  He removed a quilt from the trunk at the foot of the bed and draped it over the boy, then he crossed to the window to raise the sash a few inches so air could circulate.   When he turned around, Ethan was staring at him with red-rimmed eyes.

“Hey, buddy.  You should be sleeping.”

“I heard voices.  You okay?”

“Me?  Sure.   Your Dad and I have been arguing since the day I was born. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Grandpa was mad at him, too.”

“He was?”

“Yeah.  Said he was ‘im-impurvious?’”

“Imperious.”  Joe chuckled.  “That means arrogant and domineering.   Yeah, you could say that sometimes your Dad is imperious.  But he’s also the smartest man I know.  He may take you to task, but he does it because he loves you. That’s the way this family works, Ethan.  We may fight amongst ourselves now and again but let anyone come between us or up against any one of us, and we stand united.”

The boy appeared nonplussed.  Joe sat down in the bedside chair and leaned back, one foot resting on the bed frame. “When I was a little older than you, Virginia City was off-limits.  It was a wild, crazy boom town then.  Nothin’ but mines and businesses that catered to miners.  I wasn’t allowed to go into town alone.  Heck, I couldn’t even tag along with my brothers.  Grandpa had to be there or else.  I bucked the restrictions like a wild mustang fights a saddle.  Raised the biggest ruckuses you can imagine.  I was pig-headed, insolent, and disrespectful.  Many the time Pa and Adam tanned my hide because of it.

Ethan’s eyes grew round.  “My Dad tanned you?”

“You forget he’s 12 years older than I am.  When Grandpa had to travel on business, he was in charge.  And, believe me, he could be tougher than Pa.  Can’t say I was pleased, but I knew he loved me and cared enough to make sure I understood the dangers and consequences of my actions . . . and to hold me to account if I didn’t toe the line.”

“Did you?”

“Some.  But I pushed the boundaries a lot, including sneaking into town.  Grandpa blames his white hair on my many transgressions.”

“You’re getting white without kids.”

Joe winced, but let it go.  “It’s not easy parenting alone.  My pa raised three boys by himself.  Give your Dad time to work out what’s best for the two of you, okay?”

“I don’t care what he says, I’m not going to San Francisco.”

“You’re 14.  Your Dad says where you can live, not me, not even Grandpa.”

“I’ll run away again.”

“You do, and your father won’t be the only one you have to worry about.”

Ethan thought about that for a minute and then gulped.

“That’s right.  Next time you break the rules or behave badly, I won’t wait for your father to give you a ‘necessary talk.’  Understood?”

“Yes.”

*****

Joe’s next stop was Adam’s room.  He entered unannounced and flopped sideways on the bed propping his head on his palm.

“Still haven’t learned to knock, I see,” Adam said, looking up from the book he was reading.

“Why start now?”

Adam huffed at his brother’s impudence, then grew serious.  He dropped his elbows to his knees and leaned forward in his chair.  “I didn’t mean—”

“—sure you did,” Joe interrupted.  “You’re Ethan’s father, I’m not.  I respect that.  But you have to admit, when I was a kid that never stopped you from disciplining me when Pa wasn’t around—or even if he was, for that matter.”

“That was then.”

“Disrespect is now acceptable in a Cartwright?  What is wrong with you, Adam?   Pa would never have tolerated bad language or attitude from me when I was Ethan’s age.  And neither would you.  If I backtalked at dinner my rear end would be burning before my fork hit the plate.  Why let Ethan get away with it?”

“You don’t understand.”

“That’s the first thing you’ve said that makes sense since you got here, brother . . . I don’t understand.  You wanna enlighten me?”

“You’re not going to let this go, are you?”  Unable to look at Joe, Adam launched himself out of the chair and crossed to the window but, instead of answers, saw only the reflection of his brother waiting for an explanation.

The six years between him and Hoss never seemed significant, and never posed a problem.  With the kid, it was another story.  It wasn’t just age that made a difference . . . it was circumstance.  By the time Marie gave birth the family enjoyed a measure of prosperity.  From the moment Adam held that underweight, fiery-tempered, strong-willed baby in his arms, he had been the all-seeing, all-knowing big brother, the one who held the answers to life’s mysteries for his youngest sibling.

“I can’t enlighten you.  I can’t explain it to myself, much less you.”

“Try.”

Adam could see there would be no peace, no sleep until he appeased Joe.  He turned from the window and began to pace.

“Not long after we married I received a job offer in San Francisco, I asked Lucinda to move west.  She ridiculed the idea.  We settled in Hartford near her family.  I was naïve to think that all it took to make our marriage work was love and commitment.  All that was important to her was wealth, position, and power.

“When our daughter died, Lucinda couldn’t be bothered with Ethan and turned over day-to-day responsibility for his upbringing to her parents.”

“Where were you?”

“Working.  The lifestyle Lucinda demanded required I put in 12-15 hour days if I didn’t want to go into debt or be financially dependent on her father.”

“Yankee granite-headed pride?”

“Maybe.”  Adam shook his head.  “Probably.  I don’t know.  Perhaps I was distancing myself from her even then, finding any excuse not to be at home.”

“I didn’t spend much time around Lucinda at the wedding, but she struck me as . . . cold.  I thought it was just a New England thing.”

“My ex-wife is a complicated woman.  She devoted herself to Elizabeth, but in retrospect perhaps for the wrong reasons.  I see now that her life revolved around grooming LizzieB for society.  When she died, Lucinda became bitter, vengeful.”

“Bee?  Oh, for Beatrice.  Right.  Her middle name.”

“That, and because Lizzie was always buzzing around, flitting from one thing to another. Couldn’t stay still for more than a minute,” Adam smiled, remembering.

“‘LizzieB’ is not very ‘upper crust,’ is it.”

Adam snorted.  “Lucinda detested my pet name for our daughter.”

“I rather liked the nicknames you and Hoss came up with.   Buddy, kid, shortshanks.”  Joe swallowed hard thinking what he’d give to hear ‘punkin’ once again.

“After the funeral, Ethan ran free—ignored by his mother, undisciplined by his grandparents, and unencumbered by rules.”  Adam shook his head.  “I tried to be the same taskmaster to him as I was to you, but clearly nothing I did worked.  As you saw tonight, Ethan is as willful as . . .  as you were at the same age.  If you and I were oil and water then, Ethan and I are flint and steel now.”

“Pa says we’re two sides of a coin—made of the same metal, with different points of view, but we have always had each other’s back.”

Adam’s brow knitted together and then slowly relaxed.  He nodded.  “Good analogy.”

Joe sat up with his arms folded across his chest and took a deep breath before plunging into the abyss.

“Pa had three of you to help raise me—Hop Sing, you, and Hoss.  Move back to the ranch, Adam.  Let Pa, me, and Jamie help you raise Ethan.”

“You’re serious.”

“He wants to stay here.”

“He told you that?”

“He didn’t have to.”  Joe swung his legs around to the side of the bed and stood to dig into his pants pocket.  He pulled out the miniature Clem found in Ethan’s belongings.

Adam recognized it right away.  It was a picture of him and his brothers taken by an itinerant daguerreotypist traveling through Genoa in 1854.  They’d had a large portrait made to give their Pa for Christmas that year, and Adam had miniature copies made for himself and his brothers.   He looked to Joe for an explanation.

“It’s how he knew where to come.  Look on the back.”

Adam turned the picture over.

Adam Cartwright, aged 26
Eric Cartwright, aged 20
Joseph Cartwright, aged 14

The Ponderosa Ranch
1856

 

Adam had believed Ethan boarded that train on a whim or a dare, with no thought of the consequences.  To realize that he knew all along where he was headed and had the determination and grit it took to carry out his plan at fourt-. . . .  Wait a minute!  Fourteen?

He reversed the picture and focused on his kid brother standing straight with his hands on his hips, chest high, chin jutting out.  Proud, confident, and cocksure of himself.

“My God, except for the hair color, Ethan is you.”

“He wants desperately to belong somewhere, to matter to someone.  From what you just told me, it’s not the Gillettes, and certainly not in Hartford.  He feels safe here.  Let him stay on the Ponderosa and learn what it means to be a Cartwright.”

“Why?  So you can be the better parent?”

“Oh, for God’s sake!”  Joe threw up his hands and marched toward the door.  He stopped half way and tilted his head back, staring at the ceiling.  His shoulders dropped as he let out a sigh and made one more effort.  “For the last time, that’s your role, not mine.  Be his father; pay attention to your son’s needs.  If you don’t, you’re going to lose him.”

“I think you’d better leave.”

“Don’t let your past memories of me cloud your vision of Ethan’s future.”

“Close the door on your way out.”  Adam sat down and pretended to read.

“You know, I always thought you had the answers to everything.  It’s quite a shock to discover you don’t.”

Adam’s head snapped around.  He expected to see derision written on Joe’s face.  Instead, his brother was smiling.  He shook his head.  “It’s exhausting trying to figure you out.”

“Am I really that much of a mystery to you after all these years?”

“Then and now.  An enigma wrapped in a riddle.  Always.  Now get out of here, kid.  I have a lot to think about.”

Joe paused in the threshold without turning.  “Apology accepted,” he said before closing the door behind him.

The next day, Ethan was gone.

*****

Chapter 10 – Virginia City, Nevada

 

Adam spotted the roan on Summit Road above Ophir Ravine and decide to leave the buckboard on A Street and walk up.  For one thing, he needed to stretch his legs.  For another, it gave him time to think on Joe’s advice.

For a man with no children of his own, his brother had an innate understanding of child psychology.  When they discovered Ethan had taken a horse and disappeared, it was Joe who suspected what was going on.

“It’s my fault, Adam.  I told him how I used to push the boundaries when I was his age.  I also told him Pa—and you—punished me because you loved me enough to see that I grew up right. The Gillettes never disciplined him.  When he got here, Pa established rules and set parameters.  He did well until last night.  When I tried to swat his behind for that stunt at the table, and you stopped me, he thought you didn’t care.  To him, a lickin’ is a sign that you love him enough to set him straight.”

Adam found Ethan sitting on the tongue of an old wagon that had one wheel missing.  He picked a piece of straw out of a crack in the sideboard and put it between his teeth.

“Horse stealing’s a hanging offense in Nevada,” he said lightly.

“Ain’t no trees anywheres around that I can see,” Ethan said.

Adam refrained from correcting the boy’s appalling grammar.  “Seems to me like you had a plan when you ran away from Hartford.  What’s your plan this time?”

Shrug.

“How’s that working for you?”

“Not so good,” Ethan admitted with surprising candor.  “I thought . . . I thought it would be different.”

“It?”

“Virginia City.  Uncle Joe said he used to sneak into town at night and raise hell.”  Ethan shook his head.  “Don’t look like you could raise much here besides dirt.”

Adam laughed.  “Life was a lot different here when he was your age.  Pa tried hard to keep him out of Virginia City.  It was a pretty wild place then.  Not quiet like it is now.”

“Quiet?  I can hardly hear myself think.”

“It’s less noisy than before.  Only a few stamp mills working now.  But trust me, it’s like a ghost town compared to what it was twenty years ago when it was primarily a tent city with cheap wooden structures and plenty of saloons.  Three-quarters of the city burned down in ’75. That was a blessing in disguise as it rid the city of the shoddy construction.  They used brick to rebuild.”

While they sat, Adam pointed out features of the Comstock—explained the street layout, how to tell where the mines were by the tailings and slag heaps, showed where St. Mary’s was and the hospital, Piper’s Opera House, the train depot, and of course the stamp mills.  He talked about The Territorial Enterprise, Mark Twain and other colorful personages that had visited the city in its heyday.

What captured Ethan’s imagination the most, however, were tales of the three Cartwright brothers, like the time they chased Jigger Thurman’s bull over half the county, or when Hoss and Joe were wanted for bank robbery.  Adam poured it on thick and was rewarded with genuine smiles and peals of laughter from his son.

The rays of the afternoon sun warmed their backs as much as the retelling of old memories did.  Adam became aware of an inner serenity he hadn’t experienced in quite some time.

“You don’t want to live in San Francisco, do you?”

Ethan shook his head.

“What do you want?”

“I want to stay on the Ponderosa with my Grandpa and Uncles . . . and you.”

Adam’s heart did a little flip.  “I’d like that, too.”  He put his arm around Ethan’s shoulders and drew him close.  “You understand you got a punishment coming for taking the horse without permission.”

“I do,” Ethan said, with just a hint of a smile that did not go unnoticed by Adam.

“Well, if we’re going to be ranchers, what say we go down to C Street and buy us some clothes.”

“And go to a saloon?”

Adam laughed and squeezed the back of his son’s neck.  “Boundaries, boy, boundaries.”

The boy’s wry grin told him Ethan would be pushing those boundaries as hard as Joe ever did.

*****

Chapter 11 – The Ponderosa Ranch

 

Dressed once again in his familiar black pants, shirt and cowboy boots rather than a business suit and balmorals, Adam felt strangely liberated.  The demands of ranch work had trimmed his waist while simultaneously restoring his appetite.  He felt better than he had in years and slapped his chest with both hands at the top of the stairs.

Adam slowed his descent as soon as he saw Joe sitting forward on the settee, elbows on his knees, with his head in his hands.  From the landing he could see a wrinkled shirt and stained pants which meant Joe hadn’t changed clothes, either because he was indisposed to do so—unlikely—or more than not, hadn’t slept.  In a flash, Adam recalled how Joe had embraced him so fiercely the night he arrived that he couldn’t breathe. But before he could ask what was wrong, Joe had bolted, leaving Adam with the inescapable feeling that waters now ran deep within him.  It appeared the time to still those waters had come.

“Trouble?”

Joe rubbed the area above his eyebrows with his fingertips.  “You could say that.”

Adam sat down on the plank table in front of his brother.  Proximity had always worked before and he hoped it would now.  He leaned forward and put his hand on Joe’s knee.

“Don’t you think it’s about time you explained why you sent me that first telegram.”

“You remember when Pa got into a fight with Josh Tatum and tried to hide it from us.  What was it you said?  Something about a man always believing he was as good as his best day.”

“Something like that, yes.  Pa been fighting again?  Is that how he broke his ankle?”

Joe covered his right fist with his left and shook his head.  “No.  Tilting at windmills is more like it.”

“Explain.”

“Gus Tatum was killed last night.”

“Bar fight?”

“No.  He worked for us at the Willow Creek timber camp.”

“Gus is no lumberjack.”

“No.  As a hired gun.”

“Hired to do what?”

“Defend our property.”

Defend the Ponderosa?  Adam sat up straight and took stock of his brother, noting that his right hand trembled.  Fear? There was a smudge of gray under his eyes and taut lines around his jaw.  “I noticed the clear cuts on the Eastern Slope coming back from Virginia City yesterday.  I was going to ask you about that when we got home but you weren’t here.”

Candy walked in from the kitchen with Jamie who was carrying a tray with a coffee pot and mugs for all.  “We were up at the camp all night fighting off poachers.”

“You’re right, Adam,” Joe said. “I should have told you, but you had more important things to deal with.”

“Nothing is more important than family, Joe.  Right?”

“Ethan’s your family now . . . and you’re leaving . . . so, don’t worry about it.  We’ll manage.  We always do,”  Joe said, too tired to hide the bitterness he felt.

Although Joe kept his head down, Adam could see his lower lip trembled.  He looked to Candy for help.

“The Comstock started harvesting Tahoe timber back in ’72,” Candy said.  “Most of the Sierra south of the ranch is denuded.  They left us alone as long as there was public land to harvest, but they’re coming after Ponderosa timber now.”

“How much have we lost?”

“Millions of board feet,” Joe said, swiping his eyes with the palms of his hands.  He stood and started pacing in front of the fireplace, fingers tucked behind his back in his belt.  “We’ve been doing our best to defend against . . . ‘poachers’ is as good a word as any, I guess.  Men who come in the night and cut down the trees.”

“They’re trespassing,” Adam said.  “Does the Sheriff know?”

“Yeah, but if you don’t catch ‘em in the act, how you gonna prove it’s a Ponderosa pine?  It’s not as if the log has a brand on it.  And there aren’t enough men on the payroll to handle the cattle and timber, let alone guard the perimeter of the Ponderosa.”

No wonder the kid is exhausted.  Since his brother had beaten him to the breakfast table every morning, he’d thought Joe had turned over a new leaf . . . instead he’d been burning the candle at both ends dealing with this crisis.  “It’s not your fault, Joe,” Adam said.

“No, but it’s on my watch.” Joe sat at the other end of the settee.  “And what about Gus?   How many trees are worth a man’s life?   One? Ten? A thousand?  What if the next man to die is Jamie or Candy?  How do I live with that?  How do I live if anyone dies?”

Ben had been listening from the passage between the kitchen and dining room.  He realized the condition of the Sierra forests, of course, but didn’t know Ponderosa timber was now endangered, accepting at face value Joe’s assurance that everything was fine.  Sometimes the only way to learn the depth of an issue was by listening covertly.  He moved into the great room and sat next to Joe, putting a hand on his back.

“It’s up to God when someone dies, not us.  But you’re right, Joseph.  We protect people first and then do what we can to protect the land.  We’ll replant as we always have, only instead of one for every tree cut down, we’ll plant three.”

“Oh, Pa.  We could plant fifty trees a day and it wouldn’t be enough,” Joe said, his voice quavering.  “I’m sorry.”

“There is no need to apologize, son.”

“It’s your dream and I failed to protect it. I’m so sorry.  I’m so sorry.”

Adam thought Pa was tilting at windmills.  Planting was an exercise in futility.  “Joe’s right, Pa.  Some of those pines are centuries old.  Reforestation will take decades.  Full growth won’t be reached in our lifetime.  Maybe not even in Ethan’s.”

“There’s more than pines.”  All eyes turned to the young man on the stairs.

“Son, you shouldn’t eavesdrop on—”

“—Adam,” Ben interrupted.  “This is his heritage we’re talking about.  Come down here, Ethan.  We . . . all of us . . . want to hear what you have to say.”

The boy descended cautiously, avoiding his father’s dark gaze.  He was uncertain where to go until Ben patted the cushion to his left.  Relieved, Ethan moved next to his grandfather and drew courage from the arm around his shoulder.

“Now, what we’re you about to say?” Ben asked.

“Just . . . well.  You’re talkin’ about trees that have been . . . have been—”

“—harvested,” Adam interjected.

“Harvested.”  Nods all around encouraged the boy to continue.  “When Jamie and I went for a hike the other day, there was all kinds of trees growing on the hills, not just pine trees.”

“Go on,” Ben said.

“Well.  If pines take so long to, ah—”

“—mature,” Jamie helped.

“Yeah, that.  Why can’t you plant more of the trees that will grow faster?”

No one spoke as the significance of Ethan’s statement sank in.

Finally, Adam placed both hands around his son’s face, and kissed him on the forehead. “Brilliant!  My son is brilliant.  We re-seed the pines like Pa says, but we also plant aspens.  Lots of them.  They’re fast growing, two-three feet a year and they have a formidable root system that will hold the soil.”

“And they thrive in full sun without a canopy to shade them,” Jamie added.  “You see plenty of them in burn areas until the conifers come back.”

“Candy,” Ben said, “get the maps.  Bring them to the dining room.”

They all crowded around the table looking at the topographic maps of the Ponderosa.  Adam explained the symbols to Ethan and pointed out where the various stands were and the camp locations where they conducted their logging operations.

Joe traced the outer boundaries with his finger. “If we pull back our men from the perimeter to defensible positions here, here, and here, we have the best chance of protecting the old growth forests.”

Candy concurred, and Ben added, “If we’re lucky, the Comstock will go bust sooner rather than later.  It may be the only thing that saves the Sierras.”

“How much of Ponderosa capital is tied up in mining?” Adam asked.

“We’ve sold off most of our shares,” Ben said.  “But we still have stock in the Consolidated Virginia.  Why?”

“Ethan and I were in town yesterday.  I didn’t like what I heard or saw.  The Comstock is dying.”

Joe said, “It’s been dying before, but it always comes back. The Big Four keep pouring money in to raise stock value and just when you think it’ll crash, damn if there isn’t another bonanza.”

“And the railroad makes it profitable to mine lesser grade ore so they can afford to keep going,” Jamie added, “even with lower yields.”

“Adam, you’re the one with the engineering and mining experience,” Ben said, “Do you believe another Bonanza is possible?”

Adam considered what he knew.  It wasn’t like there was an undiscovered vein lurking around the corner.  Dan DeQuille had once posited that ore on Sun Mountain was like raisins in a bread pudding and now the raisins were all gone.  “I don’t think so,” he said.  “My sense is that the end is near.  I’d sell those shares, Pa.”

*****

Chapter 12 – The Ponderosa Ranch

Winter came to the Sierras in September bringing heavy snows that prevented harvesting of any timber.  The reprieve gave the Cartwrights time to complete their plan for defense and reforestation.

On New Year’s Eve family and friends gathered to reflect on what they’d gained and what they’d lost in the past year.

Toasts were made all around, some funny, some sad, some raunchy enough that Ben put his hands over Ethan’s ears to everyone’s amusement.

When it was Adam’s turn to toast, he raised his glass.  “Many years ago, my brothers and I tried to put Pa out to pasture—a bit prematurely as it turned out.”

Hearty laughter filled the room.

“Turned out, it was my brothers and I that needed rescuing that day and so did Jack and Gus Tatum. Afterwards, their father Josh told my Pa ‘raising kids sure ain’t easy.  Guess I got me a wolf pup that I need to knock some sense into providin’ y’all can help me.’  Well, he did and we did.  Jack, here’s to you and your brother Gus for having the good sense to listen to your father.  You grew into fine men he would be proud of today.  We, all of us on the Ponderosa, are grateful to Gus for his sacrifice and saddened by his loss.  We’d like you to know that we filed papers with the assessor’s office to rename Willow Creek.  It’ll now be known as Tatum’s Ridge.”

Amid quiet murmurs, everyone raised their glass in acknowledgement.

“And I’d just like to add that I agree with Josh’s sentiment.  Raising kids sure ain’t easy.  So here’s another toast,” Adam said.  “To my brother Joe, the flip side of my coin, who always has my back, especially in raising my own wolf pup.”

Cheers and laughter again echoed around the room, and the Grundy boys started up the music for dancing.

Later, Candy sidled up to Adam and suggested that he might want to have a few words with Joe, then quietly slipped away—a move Adam was not only becoming accustomed to, but had begun to appreciate.

Joe was sitting at the table on the front porch with his feet propped up on the railing.  A full moon shown on the freshly fallen snow illuminating a carpet of diamonds in the yard.   Adam placed two glasses and a bottle of brandy on the table before sitting down and burying his chin in his Sherpa jacket and tucking his hands under his armpits.

“Pa’s good stuff?”  Joe asked as he filled each glass to the brim.

“Of course.”

They sat, sipping the amber liquid, listening to the music and laughter pouring out the windows which had been opened for ventilation.  The brothers chuckled at overheard bandy jokes and rolled their eyes at absurd flirtations.

They were on their third round when Joe finally said, “1880.”

“Yep,” Adam drawled.

“I’m older now than Hoss ever was.”

Adam pondered the observation for a time before responding. “You thinkin’ it isn’t right or fair.”

“Yeah.  It’s strange knowing that every day of my life now is one he never lived then.”

Once again, Adam faced the knowledge that he did not possess the answers to life’s mysteries for his brother or anyone else.  Instead, he reached across the table and placed his hand on top of Joe’s, offering the only comfort he could.

“Then make every day from now on count double.”

Joe rotated his wrist and grasped Adam’s hand so firmly he could feel their blood pulse in tandem.  With his free hand, he raised his glass, and choking back tears whispered, “To Hoss.”

“To Hoss,” Adam replied.

*****

Between the champagne and brandy consumed that night, Joe was in his cups well past midnight.  As Adam helped him to bed, he took advantage of his inebriated sibling’s loose tongue and asked, “so, how did Pa break his ankle?”

Among a jumble of syllables, the only words Adam could distinguish were “Clementine” and what sounded like “trap.”

Or was that trapeze?

***The End***

Author’s note:  The bonanza mines paid their last dividends in 1879 and 1880.  It was reported that sometimes one could walk down C street and not see a living soul.

May 3, 1881, fire broke out in the mines.  The 150 million board feet of lumber that propped up the rock under Virginia City burned for three years.  Mining stopped and Virginia City stopped with it.

This story was written for the 2018 Ponderosa Paddlewheel Poker Tournament.  The cards (words/phrases) dealt to me were:

A broken ankle
A fear of storms
Commitment
To be loved
A daguerreotype

July 2018

Return to Cheaux’s homepage

18 thoughts on “Then and Now (by Cheaux)

  1. I see I’ll have to amend my pattern of reviews. I’ll read the whole story and then post one all over review; so many of the comments I made show up in multiple chapters and I don’t like repeating myself. I liked the Ponderosa challenge idea which definitely involves a vivid memory of all the Bonanza episodes and plot . I like your references to various episodes yet in working them in new situations. I liked best keeping all the TV characters in your stories (yet older) . Joe is still Joe and still has the problematic relationship with Adam. Obviously I liked everything about this story (will there be a or more sequels?)

    Like

  2. I’m up to chapter12 now. I like the similarities between Ethan and Joe and their obvious inter relationship with each other which only aggravates Adam (maybe that’s why Ethan and Joe gravitate toward each other). “Adam and I have been arguing with each other since the day I was born. (poor Joe) . I liked that Joe expressed sadness while remembering Hoss calling him “punkin” (I like prequels too). Joe and Adam’s discussion about Ethan’s future and that of the ranch which sets up perimeters for future chapters and whole stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have too many comments on just chapters 7-8 to go on. Adam seems to still have “personality problems” – he is almost cruel (as Pa says) when of course we know he can be very sensitive but not showing it much. It makes for good fan fiction however. So Adam comes “home”; Ethan doesn’t want to leave with him back to SF. Adam is somewhat upset with than’s relationship with Joe. Pa calls him “imperious”, That definitely Adam’s attitude to Candy. Pa still want Adam (and therefore Ethan to stay “home”. Many problems are festering here, again making for great fan fiction as Cheaux writes it.

    Like

  4. I’m back ! But I’ve been leaving reviews for each chapter if that’s OK. Joe and Adam are obviously at odds with each other, Adam calling Joe’s message a”annoyingly cryptic”. And I see that Adam is still ordering Joe around and criticizing everything he does. I always love your descriptions of the settings – Adam’s house i SF with it’s wooden panelled study”. Lucinda does not seem to be a very nice person. I’ll read and review of chapter 2 tomorrow if that is OK. MLFAN54

    Like

  5. Great story! I really enjoyed the historic accuracy and the way you honored Hoss and how you wrote the characters maturity

    Like

  6. Loved reading this story again with the more mature brothers but still the family dynamics in place plus a few more pieces to make it more complex and intriguing. Thank you.

    Like

  7. I enjoyed this story — it has a lovely, bittersweet feel to it which I tend to associate with life moving along and changing, for the better or worse. It’s nice to think of another young man growing and coming into his own on the Ponderosa, even if the world around them has changed …

    Thx so much for writing!

    Like

  8. Beautiful mix of real history and the Cartwrights! Thanks for bringing Adam back along with a nephew for Joe (bg) As always your stories are a joy to read. Loved it! Jane 🙂

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.