Summary: Lonely and disillusioned, Adam returns after years away, but he doesn’t find what he had hoped would be there. He seeks to change his life but needs to discover a way to do that.
Word Count: 5460
Although Candy had thought he had never met Adam Cartwright, as soon as he heard that voice, he remembered him. He hadn’t exactly met him, but he knew him or knew something about him. It had been at Fort Churchill many years earlier when Candy was quite a bit younger and starting his career as a scout for the Army. A man dressed in black had been talking to his commanding officer when a much younger man in a blue jacket and rather silly looking small black hat had come up to him to tell him he was going off to visit with some friends at the Paiute encampment a short distance away. The man in black had hardly raised his voice, but it carried well enough.
“You’re not going anywhere. We’ve had enough trouble with the Paiute.”
“Seems to me, you were the one who had all the trouble. I was one of them helping to pull you out of the fire.”
“Don’t make trouble. I’ll be done here in a moment, and we’re going home.”
“I can run faster than you.”
“I’ll find you.”
The promise in those words was that if he had to look, it wasn’t going to turn out well for the young man who looked to be about seventeen. Now Candy realized that young man must have been Little Joe.
“You’re not my father.”
“Would you like to explain to Pa why we’re late?”
“Oh, all right, but you are the most cantankerous man I know. You know, you’re an old man before your time. I wish Pa had sent Hoss with me to deliver these horses.”
“I think we both know why he didn’t. Now if you’re done interrupting, I have a conversation to conclude here.”
Although the man in black couldn’t have been more than about twenty-eight or thirty years old, he stood with the colonel and talked with him with an ease and confidence that said more than anything that he would defer to no man. He showed respect but none of the worry that many had in the presence of such a distinguished officer. They talked and shook hands. Then the man in black turned and waved to the young man and the two mounted up and left.
Until Adam Cartwright rode into the yard at the Ponderosa, dismounted, and was introduced to Candy as the long missing son of Ben Cartwright, that incident had been long forgotten. That is, it was until he heard that voice.
“Seems to me, we may have met before.”
“Not sure you could call it meeting, but I recall you were at Fort Churchill and talked with Colonel Miles when I was there working as a scout for him.”
“Right, and you were decked out in buckskins then and rode a dappled gray.”
Impressed by his memory, Candy wanted to respond in kind. “And you were with a rather impatient young man who had some ideas you didn’t like.”
“Seems to me that happened a lot in those days.”
“Hey, I’m right here.”
“Sorry, Joe. Didn’t think it would bother you. Those days are long gone, aren’t they?”
“Sure. I guess so.”
But Joe had been a bit jealous to find out that Adam already had met Candy and that the two seemed to get along so easily. He had rather hoped they wouldn’t so that his friendship with Candy would be something he could keep for himself. What Joe didn’t see was that the two men were taking the measure of each other or trying too after what they already knew of the other and trying to balance that against their own judgment. Both were thinking that getting to know the other might be interesting at the least. However Ben and Hoss arrived home about that time and the welcome of Adam by his father and big brother took precedence.
“Adam, I didn’t know you were arriving today.”
“Pa, once I made the decision, I got anxious to get here. I hurried through what I had to do and came home. It is still my home, isn’t it?”
“Of course it is. Come inside. You have to meet Jamie, and Hop Sing is going to be excited. Although get ready for some complaining. He was planning a big dinner to celebrate your homecoming.”
Of course, it didn’t matter that much to Hop Sing. He was pleased to see the oldest son come home. He told him he looked too pale and needed some of his cooking though. Then it was time for Adam to meet Jamie. The two were a bit tentative with each other with neither one knowing enough of how to act to be comfortable interacting.
“I heard you play chess.”
“Yeah, Pa’s been teaching me.”
It was a bit jarring for Adam to hear ‘Pa’ come from the stranger’s mouth but he knew he was going to have to adjust to that. “I’d like to play a match or two with you soon. There hasn’t been much time for me to play lately so I may be a bit rusty.”
“Don’t you worry, Jamie. Rusty or not, Adam is going to give you a good match. He’s been playing chess since he was old enough to remember what the names of the pieces were on the board.” Turning around, Ben noticed someone missing. “Now where did Candy go?”
“I guess he reckoned it was time for family.”
“I wanted him to be here too. Well, if you see him, tell him to have dinner with us, would you?”
“Shur will, Pa.”
Joe agreed also. Both Hoss and Joe saw that the request puzzled Adam even though he did his best to hide his reaction.
Over the next couple of days, Adam spent time with Jamie getting to know him and time with Ben telling him about the things he had done and places he had seen. By the end of the week, it was clear to Adam that his brothers, at least Hoss and Joe, were showing some resentment of how things were going. He thought he could head off any further trouble by volunteering to help out the following week.
“That’s right nice of ya, Adam.”
“Yeah, nice of you to remember that this is a working ranch.”
“Joseph, Adam has been busy.”
Ben was going to explain all the things Adam had done that week, but Adam cut him off.
“Pa, let’s just drop it, all right? I’ll help out next week and that should take care of things.”
It was Jamie’s turn to frown puzzled by that interchange. He had seen Adam working on contracts and drawing up building plans while talking with their father. Yes, they had been conversing but while they were working. Why Adam didn’t want to discuss that with Joe was a mystery to Jamie. Hoss saw the look even if Joe missed it. After dinner, Hoss asked Jamie about it.
“I don’t get it, Hoss. Adam’s been working all week while he and Pa have been talking about what Adam did while he was gone. He and Pa have been going over contracts and writing up bids. They had me sit with them while they did some of it. Adam told Pa I should do that so I would learn how it was done. Adam even drew up some building plans when Pa asked about a new stable and a larger lumber mill. Why wouldn’t he want Joe to know all of that?”
“Ya see, Adam and Joe have always had this prickly kind of relationship. I guess Adam thought that bringing up all that stuff with Joe ready to blow already might only make the argument last longer not end it. He wanted to keep a lid on everything with Pa there. Next week when we’re a long way from Pa, then they can let loose and git it all out.”
“They wouldn’t fight, I mean really fight, would they?”
“Nah, not any more, they wouldn’t. At least, I hope so.”
“I kinda like him. He’s funny. Not in the real funny way that Joe has that makes you laugh out loud. But he’s quiet funny. Sometimes I laugh later because I don’t even know it’s funny when he first says it, but I think about it later and realize it was funny. Does that make sense to you?”
“Yeah, he’s got that way about him. Sometimes folks get mad later too when they realize he made fun of ’em and they didn’t know it when he did it.”
“Yeah, I could see him doing that too. Do you think he’ll stay?”
“Hard to say. He left ’cause he was looking for something. Guess he came back ’cause he didn’t find it, but I know it ain’t here. Don’t know what he’s thinkin’ and probably won’t for a while yet. I’m afraid that he’s maybe thinkin’ there ain’t a place for him here any more.”
“Of course there’s a place. He’s part of the family.”
“But you’re here now, and Candy’s here. I get the feeling he’s thinkin’ it’s feelin’ a mite crowded as far as anybody needin’ him.”
“Well, maybe we don’t need him, but what does that have to do with wanting to be part of the family?”
“It’s part of who Adam is to be needed. He took care of me and then Joe when we was young. He worked to build this place right next to Pa. He gave it everything he had. Now there are others who can help Pa. I think that’s why Pa had him doing all that stuff this week.”
“He knows he has to feel needed?”
“Yeah, but I don’t think what Pa did is gonna be enough.”
“Well, maybe building that lumber mill might do it. That’s the kind of thing that could maybe keep him here.”
“And Pa is talking about maybe putting a paddle wheeler on the lake.”
“Yeah, that’s the kind of thinkin’ we need.”
With Hoss and Jamie hopeful and Ben doing what he could to keep the mood positive, Sunday went well. Monday morning however was another matter. As Adam and Joe headed out to their assigned task, Joe was quiet. As they worked, he said only what was necessary to get the work done. After about two hours of that, Adam dropped the fence post he was carrying and stood with his fists on his hips waiting for Joe to say something.
“Are you going to do something or wait for someone to do it for you?”
“What’s eating you? You’ve been wanting to say something ever since I got back. Well here we are with no witnesses. You can say anything you want.”
“I got nothing I need to say.”
“I saw how you looked after you guys flipped a coin. I know you were doing it to see who worked with me except you didn’t win, did you? You lost.” Adam saw how Joe almost squirmed knowing that Adam had figured that out. “And the bet was your idea. You were doing whatever you could so you wouldn’t have to work with me. Why?”
“When you left, all the work fell to me. I didn’t ask for it, and I had no say in what happened, but I did it. I worked hard and we got things moving forward. Everything is working smoothly now too, and you walk in here and start working with Pa like you’re going to step right back in where you were when you left. Well, I have to tell you, we don’t need you.”
“Don’t you think I noticed that? All I’ve been doing with Pa is trying to find if there is something else that I could do here. Otherwise, there’s no point in me being here. I’m not going to be a hired hand.”
“Oh, you’re too good for that, is that it?”
“You know that’s not it.”
“Do I? You always thought you were better than the rest of us. You’re arrogant. You think you’re smarter than anyone else. If you’re so smart, why are you back here still alone and still looking for work? You’re just a charity case.”
Joe had moved up to shout in Adam’s face, and Adam shoved him back after that last comment. Joe tripped over the fence post Adam had dropped and fell into the last post he had set. Hitting his head, he was stunned. Shaken out of his anger, Adam moved toward Joe but was stopped by Joe’s words.
“Stay away from me. I don’t need you. Nobody here needs you.”
It was such a perfect reflection of what Adam had been thinking that he had no answer. He moved to his horse, mounted up, and rode off without saying another word. Time and distance hopefully would let him regain his composure and order his thoughts.
Up on the slope near the work site, two hands had watched the confrontation. They were often in trouble with Joe and expected to be let go at the end of the month. After their latest run-in with Joe, they had heard from others that he and Candy had been overheard discussing them. It wasn’t a good sign.
“Let’s go down there and give him a goodbye gift. It might get blamed on his brother if we do it right.”
“Ride down from his blind side and come up behind him. If he doesn’t take a look at us, hit him a couple of times from behind. He’ll never expect that.”
“Oh, and the only one he knows that’s around is his brother.”
“Yeah. He already shoved him down.”
“I’d love to mess up that pretty face of his.”
“All right. If we knock him senseless, you can do some of that too. Boy, this is gonna be good. We get even with him and then we watch the mess blow up in his family over it too. That couldn’t be better, could it?”
“Nope, couldn’t be better.”
Moving with all the stealth they could, the two men headed toward an unsuspecting Joe.
When Adam rode back to the work site hours later, no one was there. The tools were scattered about so he collected those before riding back to the house. When he arrived and brought his horse into the stable, Hoss and Candy almost immediately accosted him.
“Where you been?”
“Joe and I had an argument. I rode away to cool down before things got worse.”
“I don’t know how they could have gotten worse. Doc says Joe has a concussion and he could lose the sight in one eye.”
“From that bump on the head. I’m sorry, Hoss. I didn’t know it was that serious. He only fell back into it when he tripped over a post I dropped. I offered to help, but he was too angry with me. I had no idea he was seriously hurt. I would never have left if I did.”
Hoss and Candy were going from furious to confused in a hurry. Hoss had been talking but Candy had a question.
“You didn’t beat Joe within an inch of his life?”
Grabbing Adam’s right hand, Candy looked at the knuckles before Adam pulled his hand away. The hand was clean with no evidence that he had hit anyone. Candy looked at Hoss and shrugged.
Getting angry, Adam wanted to know what had happened. “What the hell is going on?”
“We went to see how you two was doing and we found Joe all busted up. He didn’t say much, but when we asked who done it, who hit him, all he said was you.”
“I never hit him. I would never do that.”
“Well, of course, I know you’d never do that to Joe on purpose.”
“Things can happen and get out-of-hand sometimes. You know, like I did when I was so upset with you over Regan.”
“Yeah, you did. I didn’t. I need to go see him.”
In the house, Adam went up the stairs to Joe’s room, but faced the same kind of inquisition with his father. He saw Joe in the bed with a bandage over one eye and another wrapped around his head. Clearly he had been severely beaten.
“Adam, why?” Joe’s voice was weak but clear enough considering the swelling to his lips.
“Joe, it wasn’t me. I didn’t do this to you. I would never do something like this.”
By Joe’s reaction, Adam could tell that Joe didn’t believe him. It hurt but there was no way for him to prove to his brother that he hadn’t done it. He wouldn’t argue with him while he was hurt so much. Instead, he excused himself.
Downstairs, he met Jamie who asked much the same questions but at least accepted the answers.
“When he was much younger, sometimes he would say he hated me. At least then I knew he cared. Up there, I could see that he didn’t believe me. He didn’t trust me. With no trust, there’s no caring. There’s no love if there’s no trust.”
As he said that line, Adam looked over at his father’s desk and around the room. Jamie had the impression he was talking about more than Joe’s reaction. He didn’t say any more but walked outside after taking his hat, coat, and pistol. Jamie followed to see what he would do. They met Hoss on the porch coming in.
“Let me ask you, Hoss. If it was Candy, would you think he could have done that to Joe?”
“Nah, Candy would never.” Hoss stopped talking then realizing the implications of what he had already said.
“Yes, it’s that exactly. I need to get away for a few days. I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
Mounting up, Adam rode out of the yard without a wave or a look back, and Hoss couldn’t blame him. He dropped his head when Adam rode out of sight knowing he had failed him. Candy walked up to Hoss.
“You should ride after him, you know.”
“I should, but I cain’t. Doc says Pa’s heart isn’t so good, and now with Joe hurt, I gotta worry what’s gonna happen. I cain’t take care of two of ’em at the same time. Adam don’t do nothing foolish though. He’ll worry on it some. I got time. When Joe’s better and I know Pa will be all right, I’ll go see to Adam.”
“I don’t know, Hoss. First time I ever saw Adam, I got the impression that he didn’t back down for any man. Seems like that’s what everyone wants him to do here.”
Jamie was there and offered to help out.
“I know you can, but it’s too much for you now. No, Adam’s handled a lot worse before this. He kin wait a few days for me to go after him.”
“I don’t know, Hoss. Maybe he thinks nobody cares. By what he said inside, that’s what I think he’s feeling. He said if there’s no trust then there’s no love.”
“I hope he doesn’t go to town though. By now, they’ve heard what happened to Joe and he could have trouble there.”
“That’s even more reason you should go after him.”
“You’re making a lot of sense. Maybe I oughta. Candy, kin you help Jamie here. I think I better head ta town to see ’bout Adam.”
When Hoss got to town, he couldn’t find Adam. He went all through the town to any place he thought he could be and he wasn’t there. Roy usually kept a good watch on things and hadn’t seen him either. Hoss headed home after hours guessing that Adam had gone someplace else. He simply didn’t know where. When he got home, Candy had news.
“Some of the hands came to me. Seems two of the men have been asking questions about Joe, but the way they ask is suspicious.”
“Like maybe they know too much. Charlie asked me if maybe somebody could have snuck up on Joe from behind or if Joe was on the ground when he got attacked. These men have asked questions as if he was.”
Hoss was nodding then. “Yeah, remember Adam said Joe tripped over that post he dropped and fell back into the other one. He would have been down and probably leaning on that other post. I bet he had a good headache at that point. If he heard anyone coming, he probably thought Adam was coming back.”
“That could be why he thinks Adam hit him.”
“Yeah, that’s probably why. Let’s go talk to these two men.”
Hoss and Candy went to the bunk house and up to the two men the others had talked about. They looked up and did their best imitation of an innocent look. Candy grabbed the hand of one while Hoss grabbed a hand of the other. One had clear bruises and abrasions on his knuckles. The other had clean hands. Realizing what they were doing, the other hands volunteered the information that the one with clean hands usually wore gloves while working. His gloves were found and handed over to Hoss who threw them down on the table where the bloodstains were obvious.
Hoss and Candy pulled the two men up and propelled them out the door and threw them down in the dirt. Although Hoss would have liked to administer a punishment right there, he knew he couldn’t. Instead he told Candy what to do.
“Take ’em into town and ya don’t hafta worry none about being gentle wit ’em. Hand ’em over to Roy.”
With that done, Hoss headed to the house to check on Joe. He was pleased to find him sitting up and drinking some broth. Their father was smiling so that meant that he had confidence that Joe was going to be all right.
“He’s remembering a little more too. He believes Adam now. He says whoever hit him came from the wrong direction to have been Adam. He came up from behind him and he remembers Adam riding away where he could see him.”
“It was that Saunders and his buddy Jenkins. I told the men to take ’em to Roy.”
“It was Saunders and Jenkins! I know that Joe had trouble with them. We were planning to let them go at the end of the month. How did you find that out?”
“The men figured it out by the questions they were asking. They went to Candy and he came to me as soon as I got back.”
“Is Adam with you?”
Hoss dropped his head then with the smile gone. “Couldn’t find him.”
“Where do you think he went?”
“I don’t know, Pa. Could be anywhere.”
Consumed by quite a bit of guilt, as were his father and brother, Joe asked the question they all thought. “Do you think he’s coming back this time?”
In Carson City, Adam was thinking about that too. He felt as alone as he had all those years in the east and while traveling. He had come home to try to escape that feeling, and instead, it had intensified. His old aversion to the violence of the west was back too. What had been done to Joe had upset him, but he hadn’t had the support of his family to face it. He felt he had no one on whom to lean and no one in whom to confide. He had gone to Carson City knowing that he might get a hostile reception in Virginia City and he hadn’t packed so he couldn’t camp out anywhere. In the city, he could buy anything he needed which wasn’t much. He thought a few days of quiet contemplation might give him a better idea of what to do about his future.
Three days later, Adam rode out of town toward the Ponderosa thoroughly upset with himself and the whole culture of the area. He had killed a man and hadn’t even known him. Challenged in the street that morning, he had tried to talk him out of it until the man had drawn. With the sun in his eyes, he had not even known how young the man was. At eighteen though, he was old enough to know to get the sun behind him when challenging someone to battle with pistols. He didn’t know enough to accurately assess his opponent though. Adam was much more accurate. The young man claimed Joe had gotten his sister in the family way and refused to do right by her. He insisted that the Cartwrights had to pay one way or another and then drawn. With no choice, Adam had drawn too.
After relaxing for three days and thinking, Adam had thought he had come up with a way to live on the Ponderosa and contribute without threatening anyone’s position there. However the gunfight had changed how he looked at things. Seeing that boy’s blood soaking into the dust of the street, dead at his hand, he had felt no greater frustration. He didn’t even know the boy’s name and he had ended his life to no purpose either as far as he knew. When he got home, he wanted to find out too if there was anything to the young man’s claims. It wasn’t likely to make him feel any better, but he was struggling with the whole situation, which seemed unreal. There were times he hoped he hadn’t awakened from the night before and it was all a nightmare, except he knew it wasn’t Anything that was factual might help.
By the time he got home, he found Joe sitting on the porch. There was no longer a bandage over his eye so it appeared the threat of permanent damage to that eye was gone. He got a smile from him too so he guessed that things were better between them.
“I’m sorry, Adam. That concussion had me thinking stupid or more stupid than usual. I know you didn’t do this. The men who did are in Roy’s jail.”
The sound of horses coming announced that Ben, Hoss, and Candy were returning. They all smiled to see Adam there.
“Where ya been, older brother? We been worried ’bout ya.”
The look Adam had said that he wasn’t sure he believed that. “In Carson City. I killed a man this morning so the sheriff suggested I should cut my visit short.”
“Son, you killed a man?”
“He said Joe got his sister with child but won’t marry her. He wanted satisfaction one way or another so he drew down on me. I had no choice.”
“I know who it is. Adam, I couldn’t be the father. It never got that far with her. They’ve been saying things for a couple of months now. It’s not true.”
“Sometimes it doesn’t matter what’s true. It matters what people think is true.”
There were a lot of ways that could be taken. As Adam went into the house, the others were quiet. It wasn’t a surprise when Adam announced at dinner a few days later that he was leaving again. He didn’t specify where or when he might come back. He told them it wasn’t open for discussion. On his ride back from Carson City, Adam had thought back to all the alternatives he had considered doing while he had been there. One that he had rejected came back to his thoughts over and over again. He began to think that the only way to potential happiness for him was that one. A drastic change might be what he needed to achieve the significant change he wanted in his life. He planned to do that one and he was fairly certain if he told his family, they would argue against it so he didn’t tell them. The next day, he packed up his basic items in a chest and his clothing in a valise. He asked if he could have a ride to town to make arrangements for travel. After a trip to the bank, he surprised his father and Hoss by deciding to travel by stagecoach instead of by train, which was now available. Still he offered no details.
A few days later, in Placerville, he sold his pistol and bought a gray hat and gray coat. He continued on his journey arriving in Slaytersville in a few more days. He asked for directions, rented a horse, and rode to his destination. When he got there, some recognized him. It was a neat and busy little community, but clearly they had not prospered. He heard his name called and turned to see Regina Darien smiling at him.
“I am pleased to see thee but surprised to see thee here.”
“I surprised myself.” Opening his coat, Adam showed he was wearing no weapon. “I need to change my life, and I hoped to find help here.” Pausing briefly, he had to ask. “Have you been well? Happy?”
With her gentle smile, Regina pointed to a small white house. “Let’s go inside. We can talk. Thee have been traveling, and I can prepare a meal for thee.”
-Five years later: On the Ponderosa, there had been letters occasionally from Adam but none told where he was. He talked of building buildings, of meeting new people, and of experiencing new things, but there were never details. Now a much thicker letter had arrived, and when they opened it, the reason for the thickness was apparent. There was a photograph. Ben sat in shock at his desk when he saw it. Hoss and Joe walked to stand behind him so they could see the picture too. Jamie waited to see what they would say expecting that it would be something big after the way their father had reacted.
“Well, I always said he was sneaky.”
“I never would have guessed that.”
“What is it?” What they said hadn’t helped Jamie understand anything. Ben handed the picture to the youngest son who stared at it and still didn’t understand.
“That’s Regina Darien. Adam met her years ago when her people traveled through here on the way to California. He loved her, but their lives were too different.”
“He looks happy. There’s little ones in the picture too.”
“Yeah, do you think they’re Adam’s?”
“What’s the letter say, Pa?” Hoss wanted details.
“Yeah, Pa, what’s in the letter?” Joe seconded that request.
Opening the letter, Ben began to read.
“I’m sorry that I misled all of you for these past five years. I wanted a change in my life and thought this was the only way to do it. I was so lucky to find that Regina was still willing to be my partner in that endeavor. She and I married soon after I arrived in Slaytersville. Now that was the start of the change. Their community didn’t do well there, or I should say our community didn’t do well there. We moved the whole group to an area outside of Stockton using the money I drew out of my investments. We raise cattle, horses, peaches, and various other things for sale in the cities. The community has prospered.
More have come from Iowa and joined us here so our community has grown. We have our own school and general store now. I run a construction business and the men here are the construction crew. I told the truth in my letters when I said I was building buildings.
I have also built a new life for myself. I have children. There is Jacob who is four. He is very smart and wants to be a doctor some day. Hannah is three and quite a handful. She reminds me so much of Joe at that age. We have adopted a baby too. His mother died in childbirth and the father already had four children to raise. The baby’s name is Isaac.
So, Pa, I don’t know if my brothers have been busy in that regard, but you have three grandchildren here if you choose to visit. I am comfortable with my choices and happy in my life. I invite you all to come visit me here. I will not travel away from my community. I hope you understand why.
Your son and brother, Adam.”
Smiling as he finished reading, Ben looked up at his other sons. “I think he’s found his dream.”