Summary: Sitting in near darkness around a campfire can help men reveal thoughts and feelings to each other that they otherwise would conceal. The Cartwrights are like that.
Word Count: 2255
Scene 1 – Hoss
It wasn’t easy for Hoss to admit anything to his father. He was always looking at the accomplishments of his older brother and his younger brother and feeling he came up short. However, it was also nearly impossible for him to carry around guilt, and there was one thing that had been gnawing at him for a decade. One night as they sat at a campfire and had a couple of rounds with a bottle of moonshine Joe had managed to buy from a mountain man high up in the hills where they were hunting, Hoss finally had to tell his story.
“Pa, I been carrying a load of guilt with me for a long time. I’d like to chuck it by telling you the story I ain’t never told.”
“From a long time ago?”
“Yeah, Pa, it was a long time ago. You know that map that you’re so all fired proud of.”
“The one hanging by my desk at the house?” Ben wondered at Adam who suddenly looked like he wished he wasn’t there. He had nowhere to go though and simply sipped his cup of brew and turned his head to stare at the stars above. Ben knew then that whatever it was, it was going to involve Adam somehow because those long fingers kept turning that battered tin cup round and round.
“Yeah, that’s the one. Well, I got a story to tell you ’bout that. When you ordered it, you went away on that trip and when that map came, me and Little Joe got really curious. Now, he was only a little shaver, so this is all on me. Ya see, even though Adam said not to touch it when he put it on your desk, we did, or rather, I did. I waited for Adam to be gone when I knew he’d be gone a while doing chores and he told me to watch over Little Joe, and I opened it up and rolled it out. It was so pretty, Pa, ‘cept me and Little Joe had only just finished breakfast. Our hands were all kinda greasy like, and we made a mess on that map. It weren’t on purpose. No, we were just touching things as we looked at it. Then we saw what we done and wanted to fix it up for ya so we got some lye soap and tried to clean it up. Darned if that didn’t make that map almost nearly disappear as we scrubbed it.”
Hoss saw his father frowning in obvious puzzlement and saw Adam squirming a bit too wondering how the rest of the tale would be received. There was no helping it though. Hoss had to finish the story now that he had divulged so much.
“So now I suppose you’re wondering where you got that map you got. Well, you see Adam didn’t want us to get the whupping we was gonna get so he made a map for us. He hardly slept for most of a week gettin’ it done, and we thought it was real purty. It was, and it is ‘cept ole Adam didn’t know much about map making and such back then. So that’s why things is the way they is. I know people have remarked on that sometimes. I hope you don’t mind none?”
Hoss felt better getting the truth out after carrying it around for so long. Joe looked fine for he’d been a child when it happened and could hardly be held accountable. Their father smiled and thanked Hoss for telling the truth, but after the look he gave Adam, Hoss could understand why his older brother looked a bit uncomfortable, and it wasn’t the moonshine.
Scene 2 – Joe’s turn
After a long day in the saddle, Adam wanted to sleep. When Joe tapped him on the shoulder, he thought it would be to ask a question about whether they were doing the right thing chasing these rustlers as far and as hard as they were. He guessed Joe might think it wasn’t worth the effort as they had only taken a few cows. Seeing that their father and Hoss were still awake and paying attention, he guessed it might become a full-fledged family discussion about whether they ought to continue their quest. But it wasn’t a discussion about legal principles that Joe wanted. In fact, the whole topic was a big surprise.
“Adam, when Melinda Banning kissed you, I wasn’t really upset. I want you to know that I was actually happy about it. The rest of what I did and said was all for show, and then you left with Hoss so I didn’t get a chance to explain that to you.”
Seeing Adam’s incredulous look and his father’s raised eyebrows, Joe knew he had to explain.
“I didn’t want to marry her. It kinda slipped out in the moment, you know, and I got really good kisses from her. You know how I like to romance the ladies, but then, I didn’t know how to take it back. I mean, you can’t do that, can you, take it back, I mean? Later, I got to thinking maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Pa would be happy I was married, and well, there would be some sweet advantages to having a wife. Well, once she kissed you, I had the perfect way to get out of it. I know I got all upset and everything, but that was going to be my way to make it all blow up. When her father showed up and made it all happen a lot faster, I didn’t need that, but thanks for being there for me when I thought I needed you.”
“Ah, sure, Joe, anytime, I guess. It would have been nice if you had told me then.”
“We’re good though?”
“That’s great because there’s this gal I’ve been seeing, and she keeps hinting at marriage, and I don’t want to marry her, but I don’t want to hurt her either, and, well, I was wondering . . .”
“No, no, no!”
“Aw, c’mon, Adam, it worked with Melinda!”
Throwing off his blanket, Adam stomped off to take care of business, but Joe followed and didn’t give up continuing to plead his case even as he and his oldest brother walked into darkness. Ben and Hoss had to chuckle at the one who was persistence and the other who was resistance. Neither was ever going to give in easily.
Scene 3 – Adam
The three brothers had a long ride home. Adam developed a fever and they had to rest for almost a week before he could ride again. Even then, they had to set a slow pace, camp early, and make sure Adam got enough rest. It was the kind of situation in which the oldest brother had too much time to think. Hoss did his best to be a nurse, a protector, and general all-around helper. But it was as listener that he did his best work. Sitting at the campfire on the last night before they arrived back on the Ponderosa, Adam opened up to his brother when they started talking about women and lamenting their lack of permanent relationships.
“Hoss, I have to admit it. I never loved any of them enough. I’m as guilty of infatuation as I have frequently accused our little brother. I was glad that Will walked away with Laura.”
“I have ta say I was right glad of that too. I jest never could see her as part of the family.”
“She wasn’t the only one with whom I found it convenient to have a failed relationship. It was almost a relief to have religion get in the way of a relationship with Rebecca even though I liked her a lot. A marriage would never have worked for us. I know that being grateful to Ruth for saving my life and wanting to help her wasn’t enough on which to build a life together either. We were too different, and she would have found it extremely difficult to fit into my world. As for Sue Ellen, I wanted to show her that not every man was no-good and that she could love and not have to beg for it. But wanting to help someone isn’t love of the right kind for a lifetime together. If Anne hadn’t whispered Tom’s name in my ear, I would have found another reason why I couldn’t bring a saloon girl home with me. I never truly loved any of them enough except for one. I still see her in my dreams.”
“I think I know, but which one is it?”
“I figured she was the one. You know, I liked her too. I wished the two of you coulda stuck it out.”
“I wish she could have loved me enough to want to try.”
“I think she did. I think she didn’t think you loved her enough after you shot it out with Bord. You said she’d get over it. She told you she wouldn’t, and you went ahead with it anyway. Maybe she thought you was telling her something by doing that.”
“I guess when we get home, I should start working on a letter, a very long letter.”
“I think maybe it’s the kind of thing a man says to a woman in person and not on paper if he wants it to sound like he means it.”
“You’re probably right about that too.”
Scene 4 – Hoss and Candy
Tossing back the last of his coffee, Hoss sighed deeply. “You know, this is when I miss him the most.”
Candy didn’t have to ask because Hoss had been telling a few stories about his brothers and things they had admitted to him and to each other around the campfire. Joe was still there so he had to be talking about Adam. The stories had left Candy with a question though.
“Did Adam ever go through with what he said? I mean, did he go see Regina?”
“Nah, he never did.”
“Seems to me that was a lost opportunity.”
“He checked and found out she had married and had a baby already. There was no point in seeing her or even writing to her. It was another loss he had to accept.”
“That’s a sad story.”
“Yeah, probably added to the tally of reasons why he left. He had things pulling him to leave, but he had things pushing him too. Never did figure on which was stronger.”
“He hasn’t been back to visit. That should tell you which it is.”
“You know, Candy, I guess it does, and that makes me even more sad. Cause if it’s true, I may never see my brother again.”
“Lots of those things have probably changed, haven’t they? Why don’t you write to him and let. him know how different life is here now?”
“Candy, did anyone ever tell you how smart you are? I’m gonna do that.”
Scene 5 – Jamie
Watching his older brothers and Candy drink and trade barbs with each other, Jamie sat next to his father with a smile that matched Ben Cartwrights but for a different reason. Ben was overjoyed to have his eldest home for a visit. Hoss had organized this hunt so they could all spend some relaxing time together. All Ben needed for a smile was to see his sons interacting or just doing anything ordinary together. For Jamie, it was more significant. He had worried that the eldest son would not accept him or that he would be displaced with the original three back together again. Instead, he had been buoyed by Adam’s words to him.
“Pa, I was worried about Adam coming home.”
“You thought maybe you wouldn’t be accepted by him?”
“He must have spoken kindly to you. What did he say?”
“Being brothers isn’t being born of the same two parents. Being brothers is thinking of each other as brothers – as family, keeping each other in your heart, and being willing to do anything to make each other happy and fulfilled. You’re family because you’re family. It’s who you are, and it will never change. No matter where I was, I was always a Cartwright and now so are you.”
With a grin, Adam had slapped him on the shoulder like that was the end of the conversation and had said no more about it. Now he looked to where Jamie sat with their father.
“Hey, you little red-headed scoundrel, get over here and join in. You don’t get to sit under Pa’s protective wing all your life.”
Joe got in it then. “C’mon, Jamie. Care to see if you can match wits with the rest of us?”
Hoss laughed. “It’ll be easy with some like Joe cause he’s only a half-wit.”
“Hey, you resemble that remark a lot more than I do.”
Jamie laughed. “I don’t know, Joe, maybe you resemble that remark more than Hoss. He’s a bit large to resemble that remark.”
“You little bit, you, better not be making any cracks about my weight.”
Candy poured a little more alcohol into Adam’s cup and they toasted each other as they listened to the three trade insults, and Ben leaned back and smiled.