Summary: On a hunting and fishing trip, Jamie hears a number of stories of his family and learns about them and about life.
Word Count: 11,307
Although arthritis was bothering him, and sometimes he was short of breath, Ben Cartwright couldn’t be happier. All of his sons were home with him. Adam had come home after so many years away that they thought he might have perished, and Hoss had been found alive. It was two miracles when even one would have been more than he thought the Lord would grant. However Jamie was getting ready to leave for college, and Ben wanted time with his sons. So Hoss suggested a hunting and fishing trip. It was more of a talking trip though because it got them away from everyone else and away from work and responsibility. Every day, there were many chances to talk and gradually the telling of stories clearly had the most beneficial effect on Jamie who got to know the family history and learned too about his brothers and about life.
The first story he heard though made Joe a bit uncomfortable as it didn’t cast him in a very good light. He repeated over and over as the story was being told that he was quite young and Jamie especially should remember that. Those interruptions only added to the merriment of the moment.
The Order for the Day
The last few miles of Ben Cartwright’s ride home were in a near panic even though the smoke plume was diminishing the closer he got. As he rode into the yard, he was relieved to see the men walking about calmly. When he saw his sons, he could relax although Adam had a bandage around his head. It was no longer white but wasn’t too thick either. Whatever it covered wasn’t likely a serious injury. He addressed Adam first.
“What happened here?”
After getting a summary of what had happened from his eldest who was sheepish about his own part in the near debacle but still nursing some anger for how it had all started, Ben called out to Hoss. As he expected, Hoss verified the details of everything Adam had said and finished the story filling in the end of the story that Adam didn’t know. Then the two gave a rundown of the barn fire.
“The barn is saved. The fire from the overturned lantern is out and only did minimal damage and none of that was structural. I can replace the stall that was damaged the most severely and repair any other spots that need it. All the straw and hay that might have been exposed to fire or sparks has been removed far from any buildings and thoroughly doused with water.”
“Yeah, I got some of the men taking turns watching in the stable overnight to be sure we ain’t missed anything. They’re gonna have a few buckets of water with them and a bell to ring. The horses have been taken out and are in a rope line in the corral. They’ve been fed and watered.” Walking with his two older sons as they trudged to the house, Ben noted that both Adam and Hoss had some spots of singed skin on their arms. Adam already had that small bandage around his forehead so he sent them to Hop Sing for treatment even as he called for Little Joe. He steered the twelve-year-old into the washroom. As they cleaned up, he began to question his youngest..
“Now Joseph, I have heard from your brothers about what happened here. I have a pretty clear picture of the events as they occurred here today, and it isn’t a pretty picture when I consider your position in the center of it.”
“I suppose Adam put all the blame on me.” Little Joe had seen his father talking to Adam, and guessed he probably had talked to Hoss as well.
“There was no blame put on anyone by your brothers. That job is mine to do. Their job was to tell me the truth and leave nothing out. Adam admitted losing his temper with you and yelling. Hoss admitted chasing you and not thinking of what you could do because you might be afraid of him as upset as he was. Both of them know that they played a role in the fiasco that occurred, but the key is that none of it would have happened except for your refusal to do as they told you.”
Although Little Joe looked embarrassed to admit what he had done, he didn’t look even the least contrite. “I didn’t mean to knock over that lantern. I only kicked it when I went to go up the ladder to get away from Hoss.”
“I know that, but he wouldn’t have been chasing you if you hadn’t shoved Adam against the fireplace before running out and then threatening Hoss as you did.” Ben was waiting for some sign of remorse but wasn’t seeing any.
“I didn’t know Adam’s head would get hurt. I thought his head was too hard to hurt.”
“Joseph, there will be no more talk like that or you will find yourself in even more trouble than you are for not doing as your brothers told you as well as your other actions.”
“But, Pa, I’m old enough to make that decision for my self. It shouldn’t be up to Adam or Hoss to tell me to do that.”
“Joseph, now listen to me. Adam was just doing what I told him to do as was Hoss. Did you or did you not, throw Adam’s book into the fire in the fireplace when he told you that you had to do it?” Ben’s temper was rising, and he understood completely why Adam would have lost his with this boy when he was in his stubborn mode.
“Well, yeah, Pa, I did. But you shoulda heard the way he told me to do it.”
“Joseph, it doesn’t matter how you felt about how he told you. He was relaying my orders to you, and your behavior was completely out of line. He said he told you at least three and perhaps four times before your remarks to him irritated him enough that he lost his temper. You refused to go out and saddle your horse to do as you were told. You will apologize to him and pay for a replacement book for the one that is scorched. Is that understood?”
“But, Pa, I ain’t got no money.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“Really? I thought you always had money.”
“Stop that. I know what you’re doing, and it won’t work.”
“Yes, Pa.” Little Joe heard the edge in his father’s voice and knew he had pushed as far as he dared to go. Even the sad puppy dog look wasn’t working. He thought about using tears but guessed it might make his father angry instead of sympathetic and didn’t dare risk it.
“There are plenty of chores you can do here and tasks you can do elsewhere to earn some money. Any and all monies earned will be set aside to pay for that book until you have enough. Is that clear?”
Although it was obvious that Little Joe wanted to make an objection and clearly had some other thing he wanted to purchase, he wisely withheld those words.
“Now, when Hoss restrained Adam after you damaged the book and hurt him, he reminded you of what I wanted you to do. You had the audacity to grab a rifle and pointed that rifle at him and asked if he wanted to make you do it, is that correct?”
“Yes, Pa, but it wasn’t loaded. We all know none of the rifles on the rack are loaded. Besides, why does he get to make me do things just because he’s so big?”
“He wasn’t making you do anything. He was reminding you to do what I told you to do! Now you will also apologize to Hoss, and you will volunteer to do his chores for the next month. Is that clear enough?”
“The next month?” Then he saw his father’s face and decided he better agree before it got worse. “Yes, Pa.”
“At least he knew you wouldn’t really shoot him, but even threatening to do so is nearly unforgivable. He’s your brother! You need to work on that apology to make sure he believes it.”
“Why wouldn’t he believe it?”
Ben gave his youngest one of those looks where the eyebrows came down and the lips pursed as he waited for Little Joe to admit why his brother might not believe him. “So tell me.”
“I guess maybe because once in a while, I fib a little.”
“Well, we’ll talk about understatement another time. Now, one last thing, and it should have been done today. Tomorrow morning, you will get up with the sun. You will do your chores and spend extra time making sure they are done perfectly because you skipped some of them today. Then you will do those of Hoss and Adam as well.” Joe was going to object, but Ben held up his hand to stop him. “Then you will eat breakfast. When you are finished, you will clean up and then ride to town and get a haircut! Is that understood?”
“There! That’s all you had to do, and all this trouble could have been avoided.”
The two finished cleaning up and walked into the house where Hoss and Adam only heard what Joe had to say.
“Hey, Pa, is this gonna be like those stories you tell about the kind of trouble Adam got into when he was young?”
Although Adam wanted to shake his head at the kid’s impertinence, he had a headache. Hoss did it for him even as their father answered.
“Thank the Lord, he was never this much trouble or he might have been an only child.”
Unwilling to allow all the laughter to be at his expense, Joe persuaded Adam to tell the story of the summer before he left for college. Ben had almost forgotten that one, but remembered well how he had worried about his lusty son and what might happen if he gave in to his urges.
Summer at the Lake – The Old Pirate
For a young man about to embark on romantic adventures, there truly was nothing worse than younger brothers who were far too interested in what one was doing. Seventeen-year-old Adam Cartwright was looking forward to heading east to attend college, but before he went there, he hoped to gain some experience with the young ladies of Virginia City that he hoped to put to good use over the next four years of his life. His father had finally loosened his hold on his oldest son and allowed him some freedom to make his own choices. Some of those choices so far hadn’t been the best, but those raised eyebrows and the fatherly advice lectures that were more like sermons had been all he had suffered. There were no more of those ‘talks’ that his younger brothers still faced for doing things they shouldn’t. Now it wasn’t that he no longer did those things of which his father disapproved, but he learned to be more moderate, and certainly, he learned to be discreet both in the doing and in the telling. Quiet and serious by nature, that suited him well as did the freedom because he had an independent streak in him that meant that although he respected authority, he chafed at it. So, his father no longer was an impediment as Adam began his conquest of the ladies.
However, his younger brothers, especially Hoss, found Adam’s activities endlessly fascinating. Adam guessed that it was because Hoss was eleven and going on twelve when and might be getting quite curious about females. That was probably the main motivation for all the questions and the pestering as well as the efforts to be with him whenever he managed to be with a young lady. Why Little Joe wanted to tag along or ask endless questions was a mystery though. At five, there should be no reason for the little guy to be so interested in anyone’s romantic endeavors. He had that beautiful lake setting which was a natural for a romantic conquest, but when two little brothers are thrown into the mix, it changes everything. When he complained about his little brothers’ attention, his father was far less than sympathetic.
“You are their hero, and moreover, you have a responsibility to watch over them, guide them, and set an example for them.”
However, Adam didn’t think his father had any idea what that example would be if Adam actually let them see what he was doing or rather what he wanted to do. No, he wisely kept that thought to himself, but he had to start thinking creatively because his father was no help on this issue. In fact, his father seemed to be encouraging his brothers to go along with him even helping them pack a picnic lunch for four that very morning. Now he had managed to send Hoss off on an errand and gotten Little Joe interested in catching some minnows in a pool. It gave him time to walk with the young lady into a shaded and secluded spot to steal a kiss and if he was lucky, maybe a bit more. Moving his hand up from her waist and about to try that, he nearly groaned at the interruption.
“Adam, whatcha doing? I thought ya said you and her was gonna find berries for our lunch. You ain’t even looking!”
“Little Joe, I thought you were catching minnows.”
“I got tired of doing that. What we gonna do next?”
“Hey, Adam, I got firewood, and I found all them skipping stones ya wanted. I got the horses watered and staked ’em out where there’s lots of nice grass for ’em. Kin we have our lunch now?”
With a sigh, Adam threw up his hands in surrender. “Of course, we’ll have lunch. It seems I can’t do anything else.” He offered his arm to the young lady who at least looked disappointed at the interruptions.
Every excursion seemed to go about like that. Every walk in the moonlight or stroll at a church social or any other time he hoped to get even slightly lucky, a brother or two were there to ruin it. Then it was the day he got on the stage to head to San Francisco to board the ship to take him on his journey to the east. Suddenly he knew he would miss those brothers even if they did pester him so. His father’s gift to him choked him up. It was a watch with a miniature of the last family portrait they had done. He tucked it away along with his father’s advice.
“Keep it with you, and remember that we are always with you. Make us proud, and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do if we were there.”
As the stage began to pull away, Hoss had tears in his eyes knowing he wouldn’t see Adam for years. Little Joe didn’t quite understand that, but he wanted to know the answer to an important question.
“Pa, did we do good?”
“You did fine, Little Joe. You and Hoss did exactly as I asked you to do keeping an eye on your brother and making sure he didn’t get himself into any trouble before he left. Now I hope he remembers those lessons and follows that same kind of behavior when you aren’t there to remind him.”
On the stage, Adam hear Little Joe’s question and the first part of his father’s answer. He stared at the watch, thinking about his father’s words, and remembering all that had happened in the previous months especially when he took young ladies on excursions down to the lake. He shook his head and his words made the other passengers curious.
“That wily old pirate!”
For the next half hour, Adam regaled the passengers with an entertaining and embellished tale of his exploits chasing the ladies and how they had been undermined by his little brothers tagging along and endlessly interrupting. With an exaggerated sheepish grin, he ended with the punch line that it had all been orchestrated by his father. It had the effect of making the passengers ask him to tell more stories. Adam had his first clue as to how to make friends and influence people in his travels.
The laughter was as hearty around the campfire that night as it had probably been more than twenty years earlier when Adam told the people on that stage what his father had done. Of course, there was a demand for another funny story so Adam brought up one that most of us had nearly forgotten. Joe was at the center of that one too, but he had no reason to be embarrassed about it. He could laugh as heartily as the rest of us as Adam told that one. Most of us knew how it would end, but Jamie was surprised.
Sylvia’s mother was a relatively recent arrival in Virginia City. She found the city to be far less than what she had hoped. The streets weren’t paved and the dust and things far worse and not talked about by respectable ladies could daily stain your petticoats and mar your boots. It was a gargantuan task simply to try to look clean walking about the frontier town. Then there were the horses and other animals in the streets and the backyards of homes. Not her home of course because she didn’t want those odors assaulting her in her sanctum. Worst of all perhaps were the people. They were loud and many smelled of those very animals even as they attended church services. One couldn’t shop in a store without smelling the other patrons or having dust from the mines being slapped from an arm or a hat and fouling the air and fine clothing.
Sylvia’s mother did find a few like-minded souls with whom to commiserate. Spending their time sharing their tales of this god-forsaken town allowed them to vent the worst of their frustrations that their husbands had dragged them from perfectly normal, proper homes to this place. Of course, one of the top subjects of conversation was the one family here that passed for the upper crust of Virginia City society. They did so much love to talk about those Cartwrights.
Monday was her weekly meeting day with her circle of friends. The purported purpose of the meeting was to do ladies fine hand sewing, but of course what they did mostly was talk. However, Silvia’s mother heard a simply awful conversation between that youngest one of those Cartwrights and her Silvia that very morning right at her front gate. Young Joseph Cartwright had taken an immediate interest in her pretty daughter and was there every day to walk her to school. He rode his horse up to their gate and then walked with her daughter as he led his horse. Now she would never have tolerated such behavior, but her daughter seemed charmed by the boy. From what Silvia’s mother heard, the youngest was following in the footsteps of the oldest Cartwright son and romancing every pretty female of his age in the town. He was far too young for a true romance, but she could hardly object to him escorting her daughter to school as the Cartwrights were at least rich.
However, Silvia’s mother did eavesdrop to make sure that there wasn’t some secret between the two she ought to know. What she heard made her nearly faint. Although she had heard people talk about having their blood run cold, this was the first time she experienced anything that made her feel that same way. When she had time to think about what was said, she shook with righteous indignation and unexpressed anger as well as deep frustration. She knew she had to relate this tale to the other ladies in her circle to get advice on what to do. It was a small social circle, but it was the only place she felt she could go with this particular story. She was sure they would know what to do as they had lived in this backcountry town far longer than she had been subjected to its conditions.
“I simply do not know what to do. I am well aware the sheriff is a friend of the family so I don’t know that reporting such a crime to him would be a reasonable effort.”
Starting in her melodramatic style, she had the others ready for the rest of the story. One woman suggested they should keep going with their knitting. Silence greeted her and she learned well and quickly not challenging them again. Questioning began with theories of what might have gone wrong expressed in those questions.
“Whatever did you hear?”
“Yes, please, tell us.”
“Who had committed a crime?”
It was the opening she was waiting to hear. Sylvia shuddered with dramatic flair and prepared to stun her audience.
“I know you ladies will be shocked, and please do not be too upset with me for telling the tale, but I have it on good authority that a crime has been committed on the Ponderosa!”
“A crime? Which one did iit?”
“Has Adam compromised a young woman? Wouldn’t surprise me he has one or even two in the family way and is refusing to marry.”
“Has Ben cheated a neighbor out of land? He didn’t get that huge ranch by being nice.”
“Has Hoss hurt someone terribly? Looking at him is frightening when you realize what those hands and all those muscles could do.”
“That Little Joe is a rapscallion. He could do almost anything and has. What is it this time?”
“I think they killed a child.”
Complete silence greeted that only to be broken by gasps all around. “Little Joseph Cartwright, not quite yet twelve-years-old, was telling my Sylvia that he slept in a cradle when he was a baby, but Jeremiah had to sleep in a box in the storeroom. He said he played with him outside only as his father Benjamin didn’t want him in the house. He said he got to feed him scraps from the table if he would eat anything. He said his brother Adam said that Jeremiah didn’t belong with them and should be with his own kind. Joseph said he had been worried because their cook said all Jeremiah was good for was that his legs would make a good meal.”
“Oh, my. They are wicked savages, aren’t they?”
“I don’t know how it happened, but Little Joseph said that Jeremiah was dead because of something they did, and they buried him out under the rose bushes. He said his father said at least he could do some good there.”
“Oh, how barbaric. Murder and not even a proper burial.”
“I’m sure they were all glad to be rid of him.”
“That’s a terrible way to think of poor Jeremiah, but it’s probably true too. This is such a tragedy.”
“My dear, you must go to Sheriff Roy Coffee.” Again, the gasps were there. “I know, I know, but with members of Congress in your immediate family and with plenty of investments that connect you to others with influence, no citizens here are going to make life difficult for anyone who has complaints against those Cartwrights.”
Within a week of that little social confab, Sylvia’s mother pressured her husband into taking another job so they could move to California. The adult citizens of the town were civilized about it and probably a bit dismissive of what she had done. After all, she was a woman, and they expected some women to be a bit eccentric especially one so newly arrived from the east. No, it wasn’t the adult population that caused any significant problem. Sylvia’s mother couldn’t bear to walk in the streets of Virginia City and hear the children with their new song. She knew that song would linger for years. Ever since Sheriff Coffee had told her Jeremiah identity, apparently, he had been unable to keep that story to himself. It spread like wildfire throughout the town. Parents may have joked privately, but the children made up a rhyme and sang it to peals of laughter whenever they saw her near.
“Old ladies and creepy dialog.
Gory gossip all agog.
A terrible kill!
But, Jeremiah was a bullfrog.”
Not wanting to be outdone completely by Adam, Ben decided that there was a story he could tell that Joe and Jamie had never heard. He guessed that Adam and Hoss would like hearing it too from his perspective.
As Hoss rode home that late Sunday afternoon, the wildflowers didn’t get his attention and the geese in the sky didn’t dominate his thoughts. He looked back and the ranch he had left looked the same as when he had first ridden across its borders early that afternoon. The sun casting long shadows as it prepared to set didn’t conceal anything. With fists clenched, he studied the lay of the land and it looked exactly the same as it had earlier that day. Even so, the devil seemed to have done some of its work there already because that gal who seemed so sweet had a bit of a mean streak running through her. At church because of the urging of her parents although mostly it was her father, he had agreed to call on her. Yet at her home, she was dismissive of any request and he heard her dismissal of her mother’s advice that she should offer some chocolates to her guest. When he had been there an hour, she did offer refreshments and then brought out tea and lemon cake. Now Hoss was a gentleman and he ate it, but right then he made the decision. She was attractive even if she was short but with pretty shiny hair that likely reached almost to the waist if she had it hanging loose. Guessing that she could never be the one for him though, he did regret his decision a bit because he liked her smile and her way of walking. He was only going through the motions with her until he had fulfilled the time required for a proper social obligation. He simply couldn’t be serious about his intentions with her after the way she had treated him.
Later, on the Ponderosa, for a short time, Ben thought the conversation between his sons was strange, but the more he listened, the more he appreciated what was being said. Hoss had succumbed to pressure from a couple at church and called on their daughter that afternoon. Apparently it had not gone well but all he had said to him was that she served lemon cake. Ben had responded that it was nice that she had thought to bake a cake for him. The response from Hoss had surprised him.
“Aw, Pa, you don’t understand.”
Then Hoss had gone to sit by the fireplace and stare silently and morosely into the glowing embers there. Sitting in the blue chair reading, Adam had put down the book he had been reading and looked over at his large brother.
“I’m sorry about that cake.”
Ben frowned at Adam’s response but wisely remained silent and listened.
“Wasn’t your fault.”
“I know, but I understand how it must have made you feel.”
“Yeah, Pa didn’t.”
Still eavesdropping, Ben had to accept that was true.
“I know cake can represent emotions. Take chocolate cake for example. The exuberance of chocolate cake is unmatched. When you smell it, you feel better. When you get that first taste, you smile. Hoss, how many times do you ask for a second or even third piece of chocolate cake?”
“Now, Adam, you know that’s a three-piece cake ifn there ever was one. I cain’t hardly think on leaving the table if I ain’t had my third piece. It’s like that drug that kills pain though and folks who take it only want more of it after a bit.”
“Yeah, that’s the one. Well, chocolate cake is like that. Once you have some, you only want more. It makes you feel good ‘cept then it’s gone and ya feel bad ’cause you want more.”
“Chocolate pulls people together. So if she had served you chocolate cake, you would want to go back there and see her again.”
“Yeah, ‘course I would ’cause I’d want more.” Hoss grimaced once more at the memory of that lemon cake. “But now I don’t care one way or the other if I ever see her again.”
“We’ll get to that.”
A shrug said he could wait or they needn’t bother discussing her. Lemon cake had put her on the list of women who had little value as far as he was concerned. “How about spice cake then? One piece is always enough for me even if Hop Sing puts that nice white icing on it.”
“That’s because spice cake leaves you with that feeling that something is missing, doesn’t it?”
“What dya mean by that?”
“Well, when you have a steak, you take a big drink of beer. When you have bacon and eggs, you have a nice cup of coffee to go with it. When you eat spice cake, it seems there should be something extra, but there isn’t.”
“Yeah, you’re sure right about that.”
“Spice cake is for loners. Feeling lonely is not a good feeling if you’re on a mission to find something or someone and that cake sends the message they’re not there for you.”
“No, it probably wouldn’t be good to serve me that. I’m not a fan of that kind of cake. I’d spend the rest of my time getting ready to leave the first chance I got.” Hoss thought for a moment and had one to offer. “I like Hop Sing’s rice cakes with sugar on ’em, but he only makes ’em for weddings. I’d purely panic if she served that. They’re little wedding cakes so it’s a cake of commitment, and it’s too soon for that.”
“Yes, you’re getting it now. Food sends messages. When you had cake there today, you got a message.”
“Yeah, my mouth purely puckered up with the sour of it and my jaw hurt. You know how my jaw hurts when I eat something with lemon in it. I don’t even like lemonade.”
“Lemons are used to freshen the air and banish odors. She sent a message. Her parents may have wanted the two of you to get together, but the particular sadness of lemon cake gave you an entirely different account of what she was feeling.”
“Yeah, who’d think to put lemon in a cake. Mebbe she was saying to stay away.”
The two brothers walked outside together, and Ben sat at his desk and had to agree they might be on to something. He was going to start paying more attention to desserts and the messages that might be sent by those who provided them. That evening, Hop Sing served chocolate cake to smiles and hearty praise. He was smiling broadly with the response, and Adam and Hoss shared knowing looks.
Then Joe reminded his father of another episode, one with far more serious implications. At the time, Joe had thought he understood what had happened, but as he got older, he came to know that his oldest brother had made a serious error in judgment. When he reminded his father and Adam of that incident, he saw how their demeanor changed. With a shake of his head, Adam turned to their father and told him he ought to tell the story because it was an enlightening as any other.
To Be the Fool
It was something the Paiute never expected to see and something the men in the posse were shocked to see. Adam Cartwright rode out between the two parties with his hands raised in the air and his weapons still in their leathers. Ben Cartwright and his younger sons were stunned to see it. Sheriff Roy Coffee ordered the posse to hold their fire unless he told them to shoot because he didn’t know what was going to happen but didn’t want to start anything as he watched his friend ride to his doom. He worried too that in any shooting, posse members might shoot Adam by mistake. As they watched, some found themselves holding their breath waiting for the fatal shot to come from the other side. It didn’t happen. Adam rode guiding his horse with his knees and stopped a short distance from the Paiute hidden in the trees waiting for what could have been a hail of bullets and arrows or even a spear to cut him down. Instead, he heard a voice.
“Why do you come? What do you want?”
“I come for the girl and nothing more. We can settle this here and now with no more bloodshed and no more harm to anyone.”
“We did not steal her.”
“I know you did not.”
“We got her from the Washoe. They told us they got her from the Apache.”
“I believe you, but she doesn’t belong here. At least all those men over there believe that, and as long as she is here, there will be trouble.” Adam was relieved that his voice did not betray the pounding of his heart.
“You will tell them the truth that we told you.”
“I will tell them, and I will make them believe.”
“Come closer. She will walk out to you.”
To the men in the posse, what they saw next amazed them even more. A Paiute man walked out to the edge of the trees with the girl they had come to save, but she clearly did not want to go with Adam. The Paiute man had to come out further and made her get up on Adam’s horse. Then he ordered her to go with Adam. She cried but obeyed. Without delay, Adam said goodbye to the Paiute, wheeled Sport around slowly, and rode back to the posse where he was met by Sheriff Coffee who took the girl from his arms and his angry father waited only a moment to tell him what he thought.
“That was a foolish stunt!”
Too angry to say anything more, Ben turned from his son and went to his horse as Adam explained to Sheriff Roy Coffee what he had learned from the Paiute.
“Roy, they didn’t steal her and didn’t harm her. Make sure you put that in your report. They got her from the Washoe who got her from the Apache. I don’t know how the Apache got her. She may be able to tell you, but she’s very young.”
“She is. If it wasn’t for that blond hair, nobody woulda known she wasn’t a Paiute. Adam, she acts like an Indian and dresses like one. Do you think she knows any English?”
“I said a few things to her on the way back. She only responded when I said something in Paiute.”
“So she probably got taken as a little one. All right then, we’ll hafta see if anybody down in Arizona is missing a little blond girl. Would you say she looks to be about five or six?”
After agreeing with Roy on that, Adam left the little girl in Roy’s hands, dismounted, and walked to where Hoss waited. He could tell that his brother had about the same opinion of his action as their father did.
“I know. I know. Let’s just go home. I don’t need a lecture about it. I can’t justify it to you or anyone else.”
Although Hoss may not have said anything, his look and his reaction were enough. Adam got the message loud and clear. Later he would ask both his father and his middle brother to forgive him for what he had put them through knowing how they probably had felt seeing him ride out there. He hadn’t asked anyone’s advice before he took that action because he knew he would be advised not to do it and probably stopped by force if he had tried it anyway. However his natural inclination to be the hero had won out as he felt he knew enough about the situation that it could work. He had chosen to ignore that it might not.
Only Little Joe praised his action, but Adam had about the same response to that. He didn’t want to talk about it. Over the next few weeks, whenever Adam went to town, conversations anywhere near him seemed to include the word fool or various synonyms for it spoken loud enough for him to hear but never directed at him. He ignored them all. Little Joe however got angry about it and challenged Adam.
“They’re saying those things about you. I hear idiot, dummy, as well as fool all the time when you walk by people. Doesn’t that bother you?”
“Why should it bother me? They’re right.”
Flabbergasted by that response, Little Joe protested. “But you were brave.”
“No, bravery is having fear and acting anyway. I acted impulsively without regard to the fear. The fear hit me when I was out there, and it was too late to reconsider. At that point, I had to go through with it. If I turned back, I would have been killed. Simple as that. I had no choices left once I made the one to go. So it wasn’t bravery.”
Little Joe had nothing more to say. It was later that day though that he had to talk to someone about it and sat on the edge of his father’s desk letting Ben know he had something on his mind. Leaning back in his chair, Ben waited for him to spit it out.
“Pa, Adam was really brave and saved lives by what he did, and rescued that little girl. Now people call him a fool and worse, and he doesn’t do anything about it. He even told me they’re right. What’s wrong with him?”
“Nothing is wrong with him. He’s evaluated his action and is well aware of what he did. He was foolish. He knows it. He set himself up in a situation where it was quite likely he was going to die. The only thing that saved him was that the act was so outlandish, it shocked the Paiute into being curious instead of deadly. It was a tremendous risk though, and he got tremendously lucky. He knows that.”
“You think he was a fool too?”
“Your brother knows he was a fool. It’s because he’s a wise man. By this time, he’s read enough Shakespeare to know the line, and I’m sure he agrees with it. A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool. He acted impulsively and was successful, but how would you be feeling now if the Paiute had decided to shoot instead of talk?”
Shivering almost involuntarily as that image appeared in his mind, Little Joe looked at his father.
“Yes, son, that’s the image that I had when I saw him riding out there. He’s asked me to forgive him, but I can’t forget that image.”
It got late some nights, and Ben turned in well before the others. One evening when they were at a line shack and sitting outside with Ben sleeping inside, the stories got a bit more revealing of adult activities. Jamie was especially interested in those. Joe told the story of getting caught up in a card game in which the dealer was cheating.
Evening the Odds
Catching the signal from one of her friends, Angela brushed her skirt, took a deep breath and walked towards where that man in black was sitting wondering what he was doing. Earlier, he had come in and leaned up against the bar where he could see everything in the room. That action had the mark of a careful man so she wondered if he was a lawman or a gunman. Moving in to try to find out, she guessed that despite that act, he was neither. He had bought her a drink and had been very nice to her. All the while though, he spent more time watching the poker game in the corner than he did paying attention to her. She had slid the dress down a little bit more on her shoulders, but he never even seemed to notice.
“You a gambling man? You’re dressed more like a gunman, but your hands say you’re a working man. Your clothes are cut pretty fine so you got money too. You are kind of a mystery man.”
“You’re a very observant young lady.”
“Not too often anyone ever called me a lady.”
“Then they weren’t very intelligent. You are a most charming lady. What’s your name, pretty lady?”
“My name is Angela.”
“Angela. Sounds about right. An angel sent to help the righteous. Now, could you tell me what you’ve observed about that poker game in the corner?”
“That youngest man was the last to arrive. He wins some and loses some. He’s good, but he won’t walk away with any money. The man next to him has been losing all night but he folds easy so he’ll probably last until the game ends. The man on his right is about to give up probably. He’s been getting more and more red-faced as the night has gone on. No one can get near him to even offer to bring him a drink.”
“What about the man dealing?”
“He is a professional. He’s been here a few weeks. He wins big by the end of every night. Somehow, the right cards seem to be in his hand at the right moment. I don’t like him at all.”
“You think he’s cheating.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“No, you didn’t have to say it.”
While they talked, a large man wearing a ten-gallon hat joined the game. Like most he won hands at first. After she had offered her observations of the poker game and the men around that table, he had walked over asking to sit in too. She realized that he had managed to get a great deal of information from her without offering her any. Curious, she waited only a few minutes before she sauntered over to look over his shoulder and see that the young man in the green jacket was drawing to an inside straight in this hand. Her father had taught her enough about poker to know that wasn’t a smart move. By her initial contact, she thought this was a smart man so she assumed he had to be bluffing. Keeping her poker face, she moved around the table and saw each hand. There were two of a kind and three of a kind and one drawing to complete a flush and another with only an ace. The man in black had the possible flush. Nothing too strong showed though so unless they drew well, the one in the green jacket might have a good chance of bluffing them. The betting was modest and he raised twice but nothing too much with each one.
After the second raise, there was only one left in the game to contest green jacket man because the others folded. The dealer in this game rarely folded so he was the one still in it. She walked back around to stand behind green jacket, but he had the cards together in his hand and she couldn’t see what he had. She assumed he had not gotten the card he wanted, but from his face, no one could tell. She wondered if he was a gambler too.
The man with the three of a kind called and laid down his cards. Smiling, he began to reach for the pot acting as if he knew he had won it.
The man in the green jacket laid his cards down too and had his small straight.
“That’s not possible!”
The man in black spoke and she knew any man with sense would know to be worried. “How could you know that unless you were dealing crooked?”
“I don’t deal crooked, but he must have cheated somehow to fill a straight.”
The man in the green jacket sitting next to the dealer spoke up. “Of course you were cheating. How could you know what card I needed? You’ve been cheating all night.”
The man in black spoke softly but in that intimidating voice again. “He dealt cards from the bottom, and he has at least a couple in his left coat sleeve.”
“I haven’t been cheating at all.”
“Mister, you can leave easy or hard. It’s up to you.” That was the man in the big hat.
Both the man in black and the one in the green jacket stood, but then the other two men there stood to back them up. Facing those men, the card shark dealer stood and thought about drawing hoping to surprise the two, but the look from the man in black and the eagerness in the man in the green jacket led him to believe he ought to just cut his losses and exit while he was still without holes in him. These weren’t ordinary cowboys.
Grinning, the man in the green jacket looked to the man in black. “How did you know the dealer was cheating?”
The man in black picked up a ten-dollar gold piece and flipped it to Angela. “While I was talking with this pretty lady, I could see the white side of the card up his sleeve. I watched for the bottom dealing just like you did. Thank you, Angela.” He started to walk out but paused turning to the man in the green jacket. “I’ll see you back at the hotel and soon, I hope.”
“I’ll be there, Adam. I’ll have a beer with the other men who were playing poker, and then I’ll be there.”
The big man in a ten-gallon hat who had been leaning against the bar apparently waiting slapped the man in black on the shoulder and walked out with him. She wondered how the man in the green jacket had gotten the card he wanted and must have mused aloud because he laughed and answered.
“I got it from my brother under the table. I’m never worried when I’m in a game in a strange town because my brothers always watch out for me.”
“But the two of you cheated!”
“No, darling, we evened the odds.”
“Wait. You’re brothers?”
“Sure. You don’t think any ordinary man would do that for a stranger, do you?” He tipped his hat and left but not before adding his ten-dollar silver coin tip to her profitable evening.
Angela sighed. It had been a profitable night, but Joe could tell she wished it could have been so much more.
Frowning, Joe looked over at Adam to complain that his oldest brother didn’t always look out for him. Adam seemed to know exactly what he meant, but Hoss asked them what they were talking about. Jamie wanted to know as well so Joe told a story after making sure they would never tell anyone else.
A Fantasy About Joe
Strong and limber, seventeen-year-old Little Joe Cartwright climbed up the oak tree outside the lady’s bedroom window. It was amazing how accurate the instructions had been. He knew what to do because the entry in the journal had told him exactly where to put his feet and his hands in the dark to make the ascent. Then he stepped from that first sturdy branch across to the porch roof and stood there a moment to catch his breath and get ready for the next step. Ready to fulfill her fantasy, he paused and moved slowly because he didn’t want to frighten her. There hadn’t been any way for him to tell her that tonight was the night. When he had read that part about her having a fantasy like this about him, he had had to read it again and again until every word was committed to memory.
With his heart pounding, he gazed with longing through that open window, and he could see her sitting at her dressing table combing out her long hair with the soft curls. When he had read that she wanted him to come to her this way in the night, it had been exhilarating. To know she had been harboring this fantasy about him and had even told his brother was amazing to him. Of course, he had had a suspicion all along that she preferred him to his older brother Adam. Whenever the two were around, he tried to catch her eye and give her one of his dazzling smiles to let her know he was available whenever she tired of the staid serious one she was stuck seeing just because Adam had met her first. The night was still and he was surprised that she hadn’t heard him at all except he could see a slight smile as she looked at the mirror so perhaps she had heard him. She was most likely then only waiting for him to knock on that window and enter her bedroom for an evening of pure bliss. He had snuck into Adam’s room to see what he wrote in those secret journals of his. He’d been doing it for several weeks when he came across the entry from a few days earlier describing how she had told Adam about her fantasy of Joe coming to her like this. He couldn’t wait to make her dreams come true.
About an hour later, Joe rode home physically and emotionally exhausted. He had tried to explain to her father and brothers, but she didn’t help at all. When he arrived at the Ponderosa, he entertained all sorts of ideas of how he could explain all of this to his father, but no matter what he said, the truth was bound to come out sooner or later. What he had done was going to be the talk of the town for a while. If her father and brothers didn’t tell, he guessed there was no way, no possible way that Adam wasn’t going to let everyone know what happened. After all, he had climbed up to see Adam’s gal. Then it had all gone terribly wrong.
While riding, even with all the aches and pains of the beating he had taken and the stress of being grilled by her father, Joe had one question for which he had no answer. He knew now that he should have thought about it earlier because it didn’t make sense. The question for which he had no answer was why would she tell Adam about how he, Joe that is, could climb up into her room. He could understand if she told Adam how to do it so he could get to her room or if Adam had discovered for himself how to do it, but why those instructions would be in her story to Adam made no sense to him at all. Unless of course, this was a diabolical plot by Adam, but no, he knew that wasn’t possible. He couldn’t think of a reason why Adam would do that. He was home before any answers to his question coalesced in his mind.
Once he had taken care of Cochise using as much time as he could, he trudged to the house to face the consequences of what he had done. As soon as Ben saw his son, he had questions, and Joe had answers that made the patriarch of the Ponderosa blow his stack. Joe had seldom, no never, seen him that angry. The lecture woke Hoss who came out and sat on the stairs to witness the whole thing. The punishments meted out by his father were about as harsh as anyone could have imagined and actually worse than Joe had envisioned. It didn’t matter that he said his youngest son was barred from leaving the ranch for a month. Joe couldn’t imagine wanting to go to town for the next few months anyway.
Through it all, Adam stayed quiet. After their father stormed up the stairs to go to bed after telling his youngest to get cleaned up and do the same, Joe looked at Adam as if to ask if he was going to say something. What surprised Joe most was that Adam didn’t look jealous and didn’t even look particularly angry or the least bit upset. In fact, if he had to describe it, he looked rather smug like he had expected the whole thing. Joe wondered how he could look that way after what had happened. Then what he heard wasn’t what he expected, but it explained a lot as Adam spoke in that low voice he had when he was mad but was in control of his temper. “I take it the bruises are from her father and brothers. There are two lessons here for you: one – I know you were in my room and read my journal. Don’t ever do that again. Respect my privacy or pay the penalty. And if you want to stay in one piece, don’t lust after another man’s lady especially if she’s mine!”
Furious even though he remained silent, Joe’s thoughts were still on mayhem. He knew now that Adam had set him up for the whole thing, and to his way of seeing it, the humiliation and the embarrassment as well as everything else were therefore Adam’s fault. Thinking that if Adam wasn’t so darn much bigger than he was, and if he wasn’t already hurting and in a lot of trouble with Pa, he would have pounded him for that or at least tried to do that. Adam got up real slow almost challenging Joe to try. He knew Joe was probably too smart for that though if he was thinking at all, and he went up the stairs. Hoss waited until Adam went around the corner and he heard his bedroom door close.
“Joe, I done told ya never to mess with him. You just don’t learn. Don’t be thinking on getting even neither. Remember the other thing I told you. He don’t get even. He gets ahead. You’re only going to lose that game. You read his journal and went after his gal. I don’t know what’s wrong with you to do those things. He got you for doing that, and can’t say as I blame him at all. You best let it go.”
Nodding as if he agreed, Joe waited until Hoss followed his father and brother and went to his bedroom. Then he sent a glare toward where Adam’s bedroom was. This wasn’t over; not by a long shot as far as he was concerned. It could be months, but he would find a way to even up the score.
Jamie wanted to know how he got even. Joe had to admit he never did anything. Once he cooled down and thought about what Hoss had said and evaluated what had already happened, he decided that it was best to let it go. No, he had done nothing. It was one time he had thought something through and made the right decision or at least the smart one.
The last long story told was on the last evening when it got a bit chilly and someone mentioned that it could snow. It brought up thoughts of winter and Christmas reminding Adam of a story that inspired hope and never giving up.
A Christmas Angel
For the first time since the trouble with Laura had ended with her leaving with Will, Adam Cartwright had ventured to town for a social occasion. His back was sore yet so he had taken the carriage instead of riding. The social hall was decorated in the best festive tradition of the season with boughs of pine tied with red ribbons all around. There was even a sprig of mistletoe tied with a bright red ribbon positioned strategically near the door. It was mostly there for conversation and amusement and an occasional chaste kiss. Smiling and agreeable, Adam found that dancing the slow dances didn’t create any discomfort and had a number of willing dance partners. With smiles and conversation, he did his best to be charming with each one. As the night progressed, his brothers noted he never danced with the same woman twice however. Clearly he was being polite and even charming but standoffish. The spirit of the season hadn’t moved him to joy and good will entirely as the memory of betrayal hadn’t let him go. On a visit to the punch table to get cups of beverages for themselves and their ladies, Hoss and Joe noted Adam moving away from yet another lady.
“Hoss, he’s not over it yet.”
“I know. I was hoping tonight was the sign it was over, but it ain’t. He’s as cool as a mountain stream toward them ladies. Ain’t gonna land one that way.”
“He doesn’t even seem interested.”
“Oh, he’s interested. He’s so snakebit though he’s cain’t believe any one of these women can be trusted.”
There was nothing to be done so the brothers returned their attention to their ladies. One lady with whom Adam had danced drew quite a bit of attention from the other men at the Christmas dance. When one tried to maneuver her near the mistletoe, another took offense thinking he was making an improper advance, and that’s how the fight started. Not wanting to be part of it, she made an exit as quickly as she could. Adam noted that she left without her wrap, and he asked which one was hers and grabbed it following her out the door. She had stopped outside as if unsure of what to do.
“Melissa, you forgot your wrap. I thought you would want it. It’s cold.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that. I realized my mistake as soon as I stepped outside, but I was too embarrassed to go back in.”
Pausing on the wrap-around porch outside the hall, Melissa waited for Adam to walk to her. Accepting the wrap from him and pulling it around her shoulders, she was clearly disgusted by the brawl that had broken out inside.
“Why must men act that way?”
With a bit of a smirk, Adam tipped his head to one side. “I don’t think I can answer that question.”
“I’m sorry. I’m upset. I know my name will be associated with that, and I’m worried about my reputation.”
“I’m sure they’ll get it all sorted out. Do you want me to walk you to your home?”
“No, that’s quite all right. I’m staying at the boarding house. It’s a short walk. I’ll be fine. I only came here because Clementine said I’d find nice people who could become friends, people I could trust. That’s not easy to do these days. Oh, it’s hard to keep believing when you know you’ve been deceived.“
About to return to the hall, the sounds of an all-out brawl had made Adam pause, but her words made him turn around. It seemed he had found someone with similar experience to his own. “Yes, I know what you mean. It’s nearly impossible.”
“I sense a story there.” She had the same thought.
“Not a pretty one.” The last thing he wanted to discuss with her was Laura.
“Nor is mine. I would as soon forget it and move forward.”
Now Adam took that as a promising development. He tried a bit of philosophy to see what she would say. “I feel the same, but it is difficult. We’re forged by what’s happened.”
“But we don’t have to let it change who we are, do we? I mean, every person has free will and that should mean one can choose to let those things rule their lives or they can make another choice.”
Adam grinned. “I have the feeling we could have some great conversations. Christmas is in three days. Do you have plans for Christmas dinner?”
“I think I do now.” In the dark, it was difficult for Adam to see her expression but he thought he saw her smiling. “Could I rescind my earlier rejection of your gallant offer and accept your company on my walk to the boarding house.”
“I would be most pleased.”
So Adam offered his arm, and they proceeded to take a long, slow and rather circuitous route to the boarding house. By the time he released her there, they had gotten to know each other much better.
“I’ll be by to pick you up Christmas morning.”
“What if it’s snowing? Clementine said that everyone has been saying it looks like storms are coming in.”
“Even better. I’ll be here with the sleigh. You might want to pack a bag though in case you get stranded. We do have guest rooms so don’t fear. We’re quite civilized on the Ponderosa. If you have any doubts, talk to Clementine. I’m sure she’ll vouch for me.”
“I’m sure she will, but I don’t think there’ll be any need. Good night, Adam, and I look forward to seeing you Christmas morning.”
Raising her hand, Adam kissed the back of it before releasing it and waited until she was inside the boarding house before he walked away. Inside, Clementine had felt her heart beat faster at the romantic gesture. She couldn’t wait to talk with Melissa.
When Adam got back to the social hall, Roy and deputies were there assessing fines and sending home all the fighters. Hoss and Joe came out and took a good look at Adam noting that he looked none the worse for wear. Then they remembered his bad back.
“Oh, I guess it was smart of you to get out of there before you got hurt again.”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t have been much help to us with your bad back and all. We’ll jest count on you doing twice as much next time. Right, Joe?”
Contorting his sore muscles and rubbing his aching jaw, Joe simply nodded but then winced as that didn’t feel too good. Adam’s smart remark didn’t help any.
“By now you should know not to shake your head or nod after a fight.”
“I know. I know.”
That’s when Joe remembered that yelling didn’t feel good either. Adam only smirked and walked to the livery to get the carriage as his brothers got their horses. Hoss tied Chubb to the back of the carriage and climbed in next to Adam before Joe could think to ask if could ride in the carriage instead of on horseback.
“Hey, what if I wanted to ride in the carriage instead of on Cochise?”
“I thought of it first.”
“We should flip for it or something.”
“Nope, I was first and I’m older too.”
“Well, I’m getting sick of that being older argument and having privileges just because you got here first. Someday I want to be the older brother.”
Hoss and Adam chuckled at that. Hoss had to question him.
“Joe, how you figuring on being an older brother. Where you think Pa’s gonna get himself another son so you can be the older brother anyhow?”
“I don’t know, but I wish he would.”
Adam was more logical in his approach. “Let me see. If Pa got married right now and they had a baby in the normal length of time, Joe would be about twenty-five years older than that boy when he was born. Of course, it could be a girl and how much fun would it be to be an older brother to a girl?”
“Not that much fun either way being an older brother to a baby.”
“Yeah, I know. I did that twice.”
“Well, maybe Pa could adopt a son who was older.”
“Yeah, Joe, like that’s gonna happen. Pa’s got his hands full with the three of us. He ain’t lookin’ to add to this bunch. You jest have to get used to the idea. You’re always gonna be the youngest.”
Joe shrugged with the inevitability of it. Various conversations along those kinds of lines occurred until the brothers reached home. Then there was only one subject left to discuss.
“Pa’s not gonna be happy to see us.”
“Oh, sure, you can say that because you ran out on the fight.”
“Now, Joe, we already discussed why Adam wasn’t in the fight, but what’s important now is what we say to Pa about why we were.”
“Why were we in the fight, Hoss?”
“We were protecting the ladies, that’s why.”
“Joe, it ain’t a very good story if you keep asking questions like that.”
“Oh, yeah. Hoss, I think maybe I had too much punch. Maybe you ought to tell the story to Pa.”
“That’s what I was figuring on doing, but you gotta say ‘yeah’ and not say any questions. Can you do that?”
“Just like that.”
So Hoss told the story and Joe agreed with everything he said. That alone was suspicious. Adam standing there sipping a cup of coffee that he had gotten from the kitchen and saying nothing added to the sense Ben had that there was more to the story. When Hoss finished and Ben had no more questions for him, he turned to Adam.
“What have you got to say about all of this?”
“Nothing about all of that. I wasn’t in the hall during the fight. I do have to admit one transgression though.” Ben’s eyebrows rose dangerously high and then fell precipitously low as they did often before an explosion of temper. “I cleared it with Hop Sing now, but I asked a friend to Christmas dinner without clearing it with you first. She’s quite nice. Her name is Melissa. I’m picking her up Christmas morning. Well, that’s all. I’m heading up to bed now. It’s been a long night.”
Before anyone had a chance to react, Adam set down his empty cup and went up the stairs remarkably fast for a man with a bad back. Ben looked at Hoss and Joe expecting some answers and saw shocked looks that matched his own. Hoss responded first.
“I always said he was sneaky.”
“And I always said he was good at surprises.”
Ben nodded. The specter of Laura had been banished for the holiday it seemed. For that alone, this Melissa was an angel. He began to think of her that way, as a Christmas angel. When she arrived on Christmas morning and he saw his son smiling again, he didn’t care what happened next, the joy of the season was back, and Melissa was the reason.
That was the last story. Jamie thanked all of them for what he considered the best trip ever and hoped they could do it again. They agreed even as Ben looked forward to his own soft bed, and Hoss missed Hop Sing’s cooking. Joe had a wife and family who missed him, and Adam was anxious to get home to see his wife Melissa and their children. When they got back, Jamie began writing all the stories he had heard. Eventually there would be a family chronicle as he amassed the stories over the years.