Summary: The death of Marie and what led to it trigger years of difficulties for Adam Cartwright and his family building the Ponderosa but with trouble holding the family together. The truth can let them move forward but it takes a long time before Ben admits it. A reader suggested the idea, and I used it to write my NaNoWriMo novel for 2014.
WC = 61660 rating = T
TRUTH BE TOLD
Riding back to the ranch house, Marie Cartwright was unhappy and her face showed her emotions so clearly. When she arrived at her home, she would be acting. As she did every day now, she would act as if she liked living in Nevada even though the drudgery of ranch life, the lack of any social life almost completely isolated from towns and civilization, and being forced to live with a man she grew to dislike more and more each day made her angry and frustrated. When she had met Ben Cartwright in New Orleans, he had seemed so strong and brave. He took chances and the risk-taking appealed to her. He had been gallant and such a gentleman most of the time except when he unleashed his passions. He had told her of the dream he was building in Nevada, and the huge size of the ranch already. She had eagerly accepted his offer of marriage and the chance to escape the life in New Orleans that was becoming increasingly more dangerous for her. She was with child by then, and whether it was Ben’s or some other man’s was something she would never tell.
Almost every day, Marie took long rides. Sometimes it was to see her lover when he could get away. They had set up a drop point where he would leave a message when he could meet her. It was simple. There were five flat stones. If they were stacked one on top of the other she knew he would meet her in a small abandoned cabin they used for their clandestine meetings. If the stones were lying on the ground, then he had been unable to get away.
On this day, they had rendezvoused at the cabin for lovemaking made all the more exciting by being forbidden. He was a demanding and powerful lover who made her feel as if she was the most desirable woman in the world. That was so much more exciting than quietly accepting her husband’s attentions so as not to make any noise that the children could hear. Ben was especially concerned about Adam who he was sure would correctly interpret any noises he might hear coming from his parents’ bedroom.
That Adam was getting to be more and more of a concern for her. It wasn’t just his attitude toward her for he had seemed to resent her insertion into the family, but it was the suspicious looks he gave her when she arrived home from each ride and even when she talked with her husband answering Ben’s many questions about her activities. She wondered too if Ben was suspicious but dismissed the idea as preposterous. He lusted after her. She believed that meant he must still believe all the stories she had told him. But that Adam didn’t believe her. Somehow she could sense the doubt he had in her. He looked at her from under those hooded eyes and that dark shock of curly black hair, and she knew he not only didn’t like her, but he knew she was lying most of the time in the things she said. She began to think about how she might use Adam’s behavior and attitude to help herself.
Arriving home from working, Ben saw that Marie’s horse was gone again. He knew she rode frequently. He knew she was trying to escape some problem. He wondered if it was because of the demands of caring for three boys and Little Joe was still so young that he demanded a lot of attention. He knew too that Adam said things or gave her those looks, which said she wasn’t welcome on the Ponderosa. At least Adam was old enough to send out to do work so that she didn’t have to deal with him so often. Ben had tanned his son on numerous occasions for disrespectful things he said to his stepmother. He still called her Marie no matter how often Ben told him to call her Ma. He had recently found ways not to call her anything or he slipped in a ma’am as a substitute. Ben had no idea why his son remained so jealous of Marie. Ben had thought he would be grateful to have a woman in the home to cook, sew, and clean, but he acted as if she was an intruder when she arrived, and his attitude had not improved much since then although at times he did let a little warmth slip through that emotional armor he had donned. Ben even worried that his son might find Marie attractive. He was at that age when boys notice women and girls so much more. Ben noted how often he caught Adam staring at Marie. He had to wonder what was going through his son’s mind.
Adam was riding home as well. He rode purposefully a little out of his way to see something that he didn’t yet understand. For the past week when he had been putting in a fence, he rode by this spot for the first day when he had ridden out to work, he had seen five stones piled one on top of another. Now that wasn’t unusual because the Paiute and other tribes used such methods to leave messages and give directions. He remembered talking about that with his father only a few months earlier. What had surprised him was that on his way home that day, the stones were lying on the ground in no pattern at all, and the only tracks around them were from shod horses. The next day, they were still that way in the morning, but by early evening when he was heading home, they were stacked again. The next morning, they were still stacked but by the late afternoon, they were on the ground again. The only riders he had seen were Marie and another man who seemed to be passing through for he rode up toward some property they had recently acquired. Adam didn’t see him again so had assumed he had kept riding. Marie had ridden back that way several hours later. That morning, Adam had seen the rocks stacked again, and now he was checking to see what he would find. As he expected, the rocks were again strewn on the ground in no pattern. Adam knew they were a message, and now he was sure that Marie was the one receiving that message. He had marked one of the shoes on her horse so he could see its tracks. As he had suspected, he saw the mark very clearly. Adam was determined to follow her the next time he saw her riding. He knew she would never know that he was on her trail. She rode well, but she knew very little of how to live out in the wilds of Nevada. Adam however had been taught by the Paiute friends he had and by many of the people who lived here before he and his family had arrived. He was determined to find out who was leaving messages for her, and what those messages were.
When Adam walked into the house, he knew the evening would not be pleasant. Hoss had not managed to keep Little Joe out of trouble while Marie was out riding. He was getting a stern lecture from their father as Little Joe sat on his father’s lap unconcerned that his behavior had led to Hoss being nearly in tears. When Adam walked in, Ben’s anger turned to him.
“Where have you been? You should have been home sooner than this, and you could have helped Hoss watch over Little Joe. Now there’s a mess in the kitchen, and Marie is going to be very upset again.”
“Shouldn’t she be the one watching over her son?”
“You will not speak to me that way, or we’ll be having another discussion in the stable.”
Holding back any further comments, Adam told Hoss to go to the kitchen to help him clean up the mess Little Joe had made. Hoss exited as fast as he could to get away from his angry father. It seemed their father was angry fairly often lately, and Hoss couldn’t understand why. Ben had another question for Adam.
“Don’t you think you should apologize for your remark?”
Wishing he didn’t have to do it, Adam knew he had to apologize at least for the sake of his brothers because otherwise his father’s temper could explode. “Sorry, Pa.”
Ben wasn’t happy with the insincere and nonspecific apology, but he decided to accept it as Adam had volunteered to clean up the mess. Ben set Little Joe down next to the fireplace in their newly built home, and stood to pour himself a brandy, and it was a generous pour too. In the kitchen, Adam heard the unmistakable sound of the brandy bottle as Ben clinked it against the rim of his glass and then set it down. He knew his father was hurting too, and regretted doing anything to add to his unhappiness, but his anger built again as he thought about Marie who was responsible for that unhappiness. Adam had slowly been building up some affection for her as he saw how she cared for Hoss, and how she had made his father smile, and she had brought him another little brother to love. But over this past year, the affection had cooled because he saw how unhappy his father was becoming, and now he had a strong suspicion he knew why that was happening.
There was a stew simmering on the stove, and Adam saw that there was fresh bread on the kitchen worktable. At least Marie did the cooking reasonably well although she added ingredients that he and Hoss didn’t like. He had Hoss wiping up the spilled flour, and he went to get another bucket of water. It took multiple buckets, but finally all of the flour was wiped up. As Adam exited the kitchen to throw out the last bucket of dirty water, Marie rode into the yard and then walked her horse into the stable. Adam walked back into the kitchen and had Hoss get the plates and utensils to put on the dining room table. Marie walked into the kitchen then probably hoping to get to work in there to disguise the fact that she had arrived home so late. She looked decidedly unnerved to see Adam there and giving her one of his speculative looks.
“You didn’t button your blouse properly.”
Marie looked down and realized that in her hurry to dress, she had missed the top button. She hurriedly began unbuttoning and rebuttoning her blouse as her cheeks turned red in embarrassment. At that point, she knew that Adam either knew or suspected what she had been doing. She had been afraid for months that she would be found out, but it infuriated her that it was this boy who had done it. She wondered what he had told his father or would tell him. Ben stalked into the kitchen then because he had heard her voice and Adam’s. Seeing her button the top buttons of her blouse, Ben was upset, and the brandy had loosened his reserve.
“Why are you doing that in front of my son?”
“It was quite warm riding, so I had opened the top few buttons. He noticed and said something to me. I don’t think that it is proper that your son is looking there nor that he said anything about it.”
With a furious glance at Adam, Ben had to ask. “What did he say?”
“Oh, I do not remember his words exactly, but it was the tone that he used.”
Ben was very familiar with the tones that Adam could use to make a statement very different from the words that he used. “Go to your room. I’ll be up later to speak with you.” Fighting the desire to say what he suspected and with righteous anger over his unfair treatment, Adam stood for a moment too long before complying or at least that was how his father saw it. “You will not defy me. Go!” Once he had turned and headed to his room, Marie had a question.
“With the way he talks to me and the way he looks at me, perhaps he should not be in the same house I am.”
“What do you mean the way he looks at you?”
“You know, the jealousy and then sometimes as if he desires me.” Ben fought believing that, but Marie moved to him to hug him and kiss him as she stroked her hand across his chest. “You’ve seen how he looks at us when we kiss and he can see. He is so angry about it.”
Thinking he may have finally gotten a clue as to why Marie had taken to riding away from the house so often and using that to substitute for the fear he had that Marie was having an affair, Ben looked at her in dismay. “You think he’s jealous of me and that he wants you?”
“My love, what else could it be?”
“But where could he go if not to live in the house with us?”
“The bunkhouse is larger than needed. There would be room for him there, no?”
“But what of his studies? He could hardly keep up with his studies if he was in the bunkhouse.”
“Oh, that talk of college again. Benjamin, my love, do you think that someone like Adam would ever be accepted at a college? He is so irresponsible and immature.”
“Irresponsible and immature?”
“Yes, does he help watch over Little Joe? No, he leaves that to his brother Hoss, and sometimes he takes Hoss away so that our darling boy has no one to play with him. You send him out to complete tasks, and do you not often say that it takes him too long and anyone else could have done if much more quickly.”
“Yes, he does leave, but he has a lot of work to do. And he takes a long time because he always tries to make things perfect.”
“He tells you that, but who knows what he is really doing? He is very intelligent, no? He could be telling these tales to make you think what he wishes you to think. He is a very creative boy.”
“I’ll think about it. Maybe we’ll have to do something about it, but I hate to think of him moving out of the house. I had hoped that I finally had a proper stable home for the boy.”
As Ben left to refill his brandy glass, Marie knew that she had dodged a bullet. She had thought that Ben was becoming suspicious of her too. Now she had shifted that suspicion of bad behavior to Adam. She would have to see what she could do to make that suspicion grow. With Adam out of the way, she could consider what she had suggested to her lover. If Ben were to die with all three sons still children in the eyes of the law, she would inherit and then if she married again, her new husband would legally own the property effectively blocking any claims by the sons. She could get rid of Adam then by sending him off to his grandfather or anywhere else. She would keep Hoss she thought because her son was so fond of him, and he really was no trouble at all. She was smiling then and began humming a tune. Ben was sitting at the dining table by then and relaxed hearing his wife. He called to Hoss and Little Joe to join him at the table.
“Your Mama is about to serve dinner. Come now.”
Little Joe came running to sit by his father’s side. Hoss was a bit slower in getting to the table. He was hungry, but his father’s lecture earlier and the harsh words he had overheard before an angry Adam stormed off to his room upstairs had made him uneasy. Ben encouraged him to sit so he did but at eleven years old, he was beginning to get more of an understanding of what was wrong in their family, and although he loved Marie, he knew she was at the base of every problem as far as he could see. He hoped his older brother wasn’t going to get another tanning. That usually made everyone unhappy for at least a week until all the hurt feelings started to heal. Dinner passed pleasantly enough. Hoss did wonder why Adam was being punished, and he had received a lecture from his father, but Little Joe who had thrown flour all over the kitchen because he thought it was fun received nothing. He didn’t dare say anything though. Even at his age, he could sense the volatility of the family dynamic and didn’t want to cause any kind of explosion. He got nervous again after dinner as he saw his father heading upstairs.
Ben knocked on Adam’s door and opened it without waiting for a response. He was fairly certain there wouldn’t be one so he moved on without one not wanting any more trouble with his eldest son. He expected Adam to be upset with a proposed move to the bunkhouse, but he hoped that suggesting something so drastic might make Adam change his attitude and behavior. Certainly the tannings had done no good as they seemed to be making his son more resentful and angry without curbing any of his behavior or changing any of his attitudes. Ben saw that Adam had removed his belt and laid it across the bed so he knew that Adam expected another tanning. He stood and began unbuttoning his pants when he saw his father.
“No, not tonight. I think you deserve one, but it’s not done any good with you, has it?” At Adam’s look of surprise, Ben allowed his hope to rise. He had surprised him so he hoped that somehow he could get through to him that he had to change. “Your mother and I have been talking.” Ben saw the immediate change in Adam’s demeanor and expression. He tried to hide the look of disgust he had hearing Marie being referred to as his mother but wisely remained silent. Seeing that he was getting at least a modicum of cooperation from his stubborn son, Ben continued. “You cannot keep acting the way you have been acting nor speaking to us the way you have.”
“Pa, I do everything that’s asked of me. I try to do the right thing, but you and Marie always find fault with me.”
“Do not interrupt me when I’m speaking or I may have to reconsider my earlier idea about you not needing a tanning.” Adam clenched his jaw and his eyes narrowed, but he said nothing. “We have an idea on how to resolve this. There’s extra room in the bunkhouse. We built it to accommodate our future needs as the ranch grows in size and the herds get bigger. For now though, there’s less than half the space being used. If you prefer not living with us, then you may take a berth in there. You can take your books and things with you. I’m sure we can set up a quiet corner for you to study and to read as you prepare to leave for college next summer.” Ben was relieved that Adam was speechless. It was a sign he thought that he had finally gotten through to him just how unacceptable his behavior had become.
However, Adam was in shock. He had lost two mothers, one he didn’t remember and one he did including the day she died so tragically protecting him and Hoss. He had struggled for years with a fear of abandonment. When his father had gone off to New Orleans leaving them in the care of the Coffees and the ranch in the care of Hank, he was certain his father was never coming back. He had resigned himself to that when Ben had reappeared suddenly but also had brought another woman into the family. She immediately had usurped all the roles that Adam had held previously as the main confidante of Ben but also took over care of Hoss including tucking him in at night. Now his father was threatening him with the very thing he feared most, and he saw no way to prevent it. He was being banished from the family. All he could think to say was a two-word agreement. “All right.” He choked it out without crying, which had been one of the most difficult things he had ever done in his life.
“All right, that you’ll treat your mother with the respect that she deserves and speak to us in respectful tones, or all right, you’ll move out?”
“I’ll move into the bunkhouse if that’s what you want.”
Ben was terribly disappointed with that answer, but he told Adam to get his things together but that he had until the next morning for his final decision. Adam knew there was no alternative but wisely kept that to himself. Ben turned then and left with a heavy heart pulling the door to Adam’s bedroom slowly until it closed. He had hoped that Adam would call out to him that he had changed his mind. He wished there was some way to reach Adam, but this certainly hadn’t worked. He decided that perhaps he ought to go talk with Roy Coffee. He seemed like a second father to Adam, and the two talked frequently. Perhaps Roy could suggest a way to get Adam to change. Ben hoped so.
When Ben came downstairs, it was evident to everyone that he had a heavy heart. They had not heard Adam cry out so there had been no tanning even if Ben looked the same way he did after he tanned either Adam or Hoss. Marie asked what had happened so Ben explained before he went to get another glass of brandy. Hoss watched Marie as she watched Ben. Her look of victory was all too clear to Hoss, and then he knew that it had been her idea. He loved Marie and called her Ma because she was always so nice to him, but he hated how badly she treated Adam. He began to wonder if she deserved his love at all. The next morning, when Adam took his things and moved into the bunkhouse, Hoss knew he needed to choose sides. He had known this was coming for months. He chose Adam’s side and went to talk with him as soon as breakfast was done except Adam had already gone off to work. The bunkhouse was empty. Hoss took a small sheet of paper out of his pocket and placed it on Adam’s desk. It was a simple letter expressing Hoss’ feelings of gratitude, love, respect, and admiration in a few simple words.
“Adam, I love you. You are the best brother ever. Hoss”
There they were. The stones piled one on top of the other with fresh tracks of a horse and a man. Adam knew what it meant. He waited a short distance away until he saw Marie arrive. As he expected, she knocked the rocks over and rode in the direction that man had gone. Adam followed her. As she rode over a rise and down to the abandoned cabin on the property they had recently purchased from a family discouraged by the hardships of living out here, he saw smoke coming from the chimney. The windows on the cabin had been repaired and the door no longer hung at an odd angle. He watched as Marie rode up and a man came from the cabin.
Adam recognized the man. He played cards at the saloon in town. Sometimes he played marathon games that went on for days. He had heard a number of people talking especially when the man came to church services. Many people wondered why he was there, but they supposed even a gambler could be a believer. Now Adam knew why. He came to see Marie. He remembered the looks he had seen the two exchange furtively when they thought Ben and his sons were not watching. Adam had suspected something, but he had wondered how they could possibly get together without people knowing, but now he knew how they had done it. She had used the trick she had heard Adam and his father discussing so many months earlier.
The man helped Marie from her horse and they kissed. The man slid his hands inside Marie’s riding jacket, and Adam had a pretty good idea where they were going. They kissed and pressed their bodies together as lovers would before the man picked Marie up. She flung her arms around his neck, and he carried her inside. Adam didn’t need to go any closer. He knew what was happening, but now he had no idea what he should do next except to go back to finish the fence line he was supposed to complete that day. He spent the day considering his options but had not reached a conclusion by the time he finished the fence and headed home. He saw Marie riding ahead of him then, and his anger grew in intensity.
Knowing that he wasn’t ready to confront her or say anything to his father, he decided that he ought to go visit Roy Coffee and talk to him. He was living in the bunkhouse now so he assumed that the family rules no longer applied to him. He wouldn’t be expected at the dinner table, and like the rest of the hands, he assumed that the time he had when he was not working was his own. At that time of day, he expected Roy to be working so he rode for town. He found Roy making the rounds of the small town. He stopped outside the saloon when he saw Adam ride in.
“What you doing in town this late, Adam? Your Pa got you working so hard ya gotta run your errands so late in the day?” Roy noted how serious Adam looked though and began to worry that something was seriously wrong. As he waited for Adam to dismount and tie his horse to the rail, the resident card shark gambler rode into town stopping at the livery stable to have them take care of his horse. Roy didn’t like the man and certainly didn’t trust him. He was surprised to see those same feelings reflected in young Adam’s face as he saw the man too.
“Sheriff Coffee, is there someplace private we can talk?”
“Sure is. Nobody in the jail right now. We can talk there.” Roy put a hand on Adam’s shoulder then as they walked to the jail. He made a bit of small talk until the door to his office was closed. “Now what’s got you so upset? I could tell just by the way you’re walking that something’s bothering ya something awful.”
Looking down and gathering his thoughts as he thought of the best way to start, Adam chose the most shocking thing first. “I saw that gambler out on the Ponderosa today. He was with Marie. They were kissing, and then they went in the cabin on the old Morris place. He carried her in, and then the door closed.” Adam could see that Roy wasn’t surprised at all. In fact, he looked as pained as Adam felt. “You knew.”
“I suspected. I saw some of what went on at church. He seemed a might friendly with a woman he supposedly didn’t even know except for seeing her at church on a Sunday with her husband. He rides outta town rather often for a man ain’t got no business to do except with a deck of cards. I figured he was up to something. I think your pa suspects too. He’s been drinking more than I ever knew him to drink. He ain’t a good drinker either. Some men get happy when they drink, and some get mean or angry.”
“Pa’s been angry a lot lately.”
“How’d you happen on them like that?”
“I followed them.” Then Adam told Roy about the mystery of the stacked stones and how that had piqued his curiosity until he had an answer. Then he had waited that day and followed Marie to her rendezvous with her lover. “What do I do now? I can’t let her keep doing this.”
“It’s a touchy thing to get between a man and his wife. You say something, and it could hurt your relationship with your father forever.”
“Probably can’t hurt it any more than Marie already has.” Then Adam told Roy about how he had been banished to the bunkhouse and that it was probably Marie’s idea.
“I had no idea things had gotten that bad. Now I still don’t want ya saying anything and making problems between you and your pa get any worse. You kinda hang back and try not to get in any more trouble with him. I’m gonna find a way to check out what you said. If I can see it with my own eyes, I can go to your pa and tell him what I saw. That way ain’t no way for him to tie you up in the mess.”
“How can you say you saw it when I’m the one who saw it?”
“I know where they’re going. Next time he rides out of town, I’m going over to the old Morris place and find myself a place to watch what’s going on. After I see it, I’ll go talk to your pa and try to get him to see what’s been happening right under his nose all this time.”
“Roy, do you think she’s done it before?”
“Not that I know, but I don’t know her very well. Why do you ask?”
“I was just wondering.”
Because Adam looked so worried, Roy had a suspicion he knew what was troubling him now that he knew Marie was unfaithful. “Are you worried that maybe your pa ain’t Little Joe’s pa?” Shocked that Roy could read his mind that easily, Adam had nothing to say. “There’s been talk in town for years. Little Joe arrived a might sooner than he should have based on when your pa said he married Marie. Now he coulda been born early, or maybe your Pa kinda acted a bit married before he was married. Little Joe was small enough to be an early baby, but as he got a bit older, the talk started up again, and it was a bit uglier.”
“Because Little Joe doesn’t look like either of them?”
“You done hit the nail on the head right square there. You look like your pa a bit. Hoss looks like his ma and her family from all I’ve been told. But Marie is tall and blond, and your pa is tall and dark. Joe is light, and pretty small, and he’s got that curly brown hair, and those hazel eyes. He don’t look like either of ’em. That’s the talk. Now not every son looks like his pa or ma, but with other things, it kinda made people suspicious.”
“Roy, if Pa divorces her, could she take Little Joe away from us?”
“Nope, I can’t rightly see how that would happen. Your pa is legally the father, and he has all the rights to his son if he wants ’em. No, she can’t take him away from you.”
Adam was greatly relieved by that answer and smiled with genuinely good feelings for the first time in a long time. “I guess I better head on home if I want to get anything to eat. It may be beans and bacon but I missed dinner last night. I don’t want to miss it again.”
“Why did you miss dinner last night?”
“Pa sent me to my room without dinner. I thought I was going to get a tanning, but instead I got banished.”
Often Roy thought that Ben was too hard on his sons especially Adam. He worked him hard and disciplined him severely for every infraction it seemed. Adam acted as if it didn’t matter, but Roy worried about it. He thought that resentment would build up in the young man, and if there were ever a father and son who loved each other, it was Ben and Adam. He hated to think that something could damage that relationship, and now Marie already had. He bid Adam goodnight then. The young man had given him a lot about which to think.
Adam rode home as fast as he could safely go. When he rode in and led his horse into the stable, he was surprised to hear his father’s voice soon after.
“Where have you been?”
“I rode to town after I finished my work.”
“You didn’t have permission to go to town.”
“I’m living in the bunkhouse. Hands are on their own time when the work is done.”
“You are not a hand. You are my son, and you need to ask permission before you go to town.”
“If I’m your son, then why am I living in the bunkhouse with the hands?”
“If you’re my son? How dare you say anything like that? You will say nothing more or you will be reminded that you are my son. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, if you don’t mind I would like to go get some dinner before it’s all gone.”
Ben was going to retort that the family had already eaten before he remembered that Adam was eating with the hands now. “Very well, go. But remember to get permission from me before you leave this ranch for any reason.”
“Yes, sir, I will.” Adam threw his saddle and blanket over a saddle rack and headed to the bunkhouse. Ben stood watching him wondering how everything had become such a huge mess. In his heart, he knew, but the pain of admitting it was causing him to deny what he knew had to be the truth. He had no idea at that point that his denial was going to cause him even more pain.
When Adam got in the bunkhouse, one of the hands told him there was still some dinner for him in the kettle that sat on a pot-bellied stove in the middle of the room. The stove heated the bunkhouse and cooked their dinner most nights. The hands didn’t know what to say. Many of them had left their homes because of overbearing fathers. They put Ben Cartwright in that same category although he seemed much better with his younger sons, and the hands that had been there the longest said he used to be that way with his oldest son treating him with the utmost respect and depending on him quite a lot. They had talked that day as they worked discussing the situation. There wasn’t anything that any of them could do about the situation, but they did want to understand it if they could. Hank was the only one who might have a chance at helping their boss through this, but he didn’t want to even try because, like Roy, he suspected all the trouble was because of the boss’ wife. There was no possible way that he was going to say anything about that to Ben Cartwright. He liked his job too much.
It was quiet in the bunkhouse that night. Adam finished his dinner and sat at a table in the corner reading by the light of a small lamp. One by one, the hands crawled into their bunks to sleep. The last one in called out to Adam to put out the light. He said he was sorry, and then pulled off his boots and shirt before lying on the bed and pulling a blanket up over himself. He had watched the hands surreptitiously as he read. He wanted to know how they slept and where they put their things. Each man pulled off his boots next to his bed. Hats were already on a rack by the door with coats. Holsters were hung on a post of each bed. It was a warm night and all the men except one pulled off his shirt and hung it on the same post as their holster was hung. Adam did the same then.
As Adam got ready to sleep, Hank watched him in the dim light coming in through the windows. He had seen Adam read Hoss’ note earlier and then turn away from the hands and wipe his eyes. They had all seen the note lying on the table with the boy’s belongings earlier. They all thought that Hoss was a nice kid. As big as he was, he was likely to be working with them full time soon. They thought that Adam was a nice kid too although he could have quite a sharp tongue when he wanted. But he worked hard, did things the right way, and never complained. The hands respected him even if he had just turned seventeen years old. He had been working like a man since Hank had been hired many years earlier. He hated to see what was happening to the family, but he felt powerless to do anything about it, although he could watch out for Adam until it all played out. He and the other hands had decided that earlier in the evening. They planned to do what they could to make the kid’s life a bit easier. A new hand in the bunkhouse usually had to put up with a bit of hazing. It wasn’t going to happen this time. It wasn’t because he was the boss’ son. It was because he was getting enough of that already. Everyone had a limit, and they didn’t want to push him toward his.
In the house, Ben was getting undressed for bed too. He wanted Marie, but as she often did, she said she was too tired after caring for the house and the children all day. Ben wanted to say that if she didn’t go for rides lasting two or three hours she might have the strength for marital relations, but he didn’t dare. He was too afraid of opening that line of discussion with her and the revelations that might ensue and especially the repercussions afterwards. So he talked a bit instead. It seemed she hardly listened for her responses were only the obligatory uh-hmms.
“I’m going to town tomorrow. You can make a list of things you want. I might see Roy and spend some time with him so I may be back late in the day. Hoss will help you if you need help with Little Joe. Adam will be working at the forge tomorrow so he’ll be here to if you need something done. Good night, my love.” With that, Ben slid under the covers, turned on his side, and tried to sleep. It was a few hours later before he was able to do that though. He worried about Adam, and thought that he shouldn’t have followed along with Marie’s idea. It was wrong to have his son sleeping in the bunkhouse when he had helped design and build this house. Ben was a proud man so finding a way to back down gracefully from that ultimatum was going to take some thinking, but deciding to do that was what finally allowed him to close his eyes to sleep. In the morning, he told Hoss that he was going to town and that Hoss was to help Marie as much as possible especially by keeping Little Joe out of trouble. Ben went to the bunkhouse next to tell Adam to make horseshoes at the forge that day because he was going to town and needed someone to be at the ranch house if Marie needed anything. Adam was almost ready to deliver a sharp retort to that line but caught himself. His father was going to town so perhaps Roy would talk with him. It was too soon for Roy to have seen anything himself, but he still might try to get his father to see reason. He smiled and said that he would be happy to do that.
“Adam, when I get home, I think we should talk, and by that, I mean a real conversation. I’d like to clear the air between us, and get you back in the house where you belong.”
“Thanks, Pa. I’d like that.”
After saddling up his horse, Ben headed to town. He felt better about things in general than he had in quite some time. He hoped that Roy might help him find a way to resolve the issues in his family. He had no idea how much worse things would be by the end of the day. It started with a talk with Roy in his office after Ben had loaded the wagon with supplies and had lunch with Doctor Paul Martin and Roy.
“Ben, I know you ain’t gonna wanna believe this but I’ve been told that your wife has been seen with another man.”
“Roy, who told you this slander? I want to know who it is so I can confront the lying bastard.”
“Ben, I got no reason to doubt my source. He come to me cause he was so upset about how this information could hurt you. I was gonna do my best to verify it before I talked with ya, but with what you been telling me about what she wanted you to do about Adam, well, I felt it was my responsibility to tell you what I knew.”
“You don’t know anything, Roy. It’s some gossip, some damned awful gossip.”
“Ben, I know there’s gossip out there, but this ain’t gossip. She was seen kissing a man and going in a cabin with him.”
“That gambler who took up residence in the saloon ’bout three or four months back at least. He come into town here where he ain’t got no ties, but he don’t seem to have any reason to leave either. I been wondering about that myself until I heard this. Then I knew why he was still hanging around.”
“Well, I’ll go talk to him and see what he has to say about all of this.”
“Ya can’t, Ben, cause I saw him ride outta town when we was having lunch. I had meant to follow him to see where he went, but I couldn’t under the circumstances, now could I.”
Roy pulled a nearly full bottle of whisky from his bottom desk drawer. It was rare for the sheriff to drink, but this was one of those occasions. He put two coffee cups on the desktop, and poured a finger of whiskey into each one. He handed one to Ben who took it and downed it in one gulp as Roy sipped his. He waited for Ben to talk more. He didn’t have long to wait as Ben poured out his doubts and worries. The man had been carrying too big a load for too long. By the time Ben left a few hours later, Roy had a very good picture of what had gone wrong and why. It was going to take Ben some time to accept what he had to do next. Roy had advised him to divorce Marie and told him that he would be there to help the family however and whenever he could. Ben rode slowly out of town.
On the ranch an hour later, Marie was riding hell bent for leather back to the ranch house. She had just discovered that her mother-in-law from her first marriage had sent the man with whom she had been sleeping. The woman had wanted her destroyed and didn’t care who else got in the way. Marie had heard the words the man had said echoing in her mind over and over. She could hardly concentrate on riding with what she had heard. She had forced the issue with him because Adam had accused her of adultery that morning. She had gone outside to tell him that he needed to go help the men with the branding. She knew by how he looked at her that morning and the way he talked to her that he knew, and she didn’t want him following her. He had refused her orders. She had been rude.
“Keep your dirty mind off of me. You are a despicable, snide, uncouth boy.”
“I may have done things that were wrong. But I never committed adultery. You have. My Pa can divorce you for that, and you’ll get nothing. Little Joe is legally my father’s son, and you can’t take him away from us. Adultery is a sin and against the law.” Adam knew and there was no denying it with him. He was as sure of himself as he could be.
“You must have followed me. You sneaky bastard, you spied on me. You are a dirty little weasel.”
“So now you’re not denying the adultery. Now you’re trying to say that my catching you in adultery is worse than what you did. You are a sick, sinful woman. We’ll all be better off without you.”
She had turned then to see Hoss standing with Little Joe on the porch. “Take him back inside. Now!” Hoss had rushed back into the house with Little Joe. He didn’t know why they couldn’t play outside or watch Adam at the forge. They had always been able to do that. He wondered if it had anything to do with that adaltree word Adam had used a number of times and which seemed to make Ma very upset. He was going to have to ask someone what that meant, but right then, he decided he better wait and write the word down so he wouldn’t forget it. He wrote out adaltree. He said it to himself several times and it sounded like what he had heard. He left the note with his reader and got out the wooden blocks and toy soldiers to play with his little brother.
Frustrated and worried, she had ridden off then relieved to find the standing stones. She didn’t even bother to knock them over for she knew she would never use them again. She rode to the cabin and told the man to come with her to the house. She told him that they would get her jewels and everything of value that they could carry, and she would leave Ben before he could divorce her. She told the man that she would contact Ben demanding a fortune to agree to the divorce he would want so desperately by then. She planned to take Little Joe with her. She said the man could take care of Adam who would be the only one there who could try to stop them. She told him she didn’t care if he killed the boy. That’s when he had started laughing. He had a bemused expression while she was talking that had made her wonder, but his laughing infuriated her.
“Don’t you dare laugh at me.”
“Why not? I did what I was sent here to do, and I got to bed you on a regular basis as it was. It was pretty good too. I must admit you learned a lot entertaining gentlemen of all sorts in New Orleans. It all has worked out quite well for me. I got paid money to come here. My expenses were also paid. I made money gambling with these yokels. Now that I have succeeded in ruining your marriage and ruining you, I can go home and get the other half of my fee. The old lady will probably pay me a generous bonus when I tell her everything I’ve managed to do to you. In fact, tonight, I’ll enjoy telling everyone at the saloon how good you are in bed.”
He had started laughing again then before walking outside to ride away. He never got to tell the tales he wanted to tell. When he got back to town, Sheriff Coffee ordered him to pack his things and leave town. When he asked why, the sheriff had told him that he knew why and not to ask such stupid questions. He nodded and grinned. “You know I was hired to do this, don’t you? You know she was a wicked little thing. She wanted me to kill her husband and take over the Ponderosa. The little bitch thought I liked being out here in the wilderness. Today she asked me to run away with her. She said I could kill that oldest boy if he tried to stop us. You might want to ride out there. Who knows what wickedness she has planned for that family.” He walked away from Roy, packed up his things, and began the trip back to New Orleans to collect a small fortune for the job he had done.
Roy couldn’t do anything about him. There was no proof he had broken any law. However Roy thought that if the man had been truthful about his conversation with Marie, he ought to ride out to the Ponderosa to see what had happened. He could only hope that Ben didn’t kill Marie before he got there.
Emotionally on edge because of all the conflicting information he had been given, Ben rode into the yard and saw Adam working at the forge. He forced a smile for his son. He knew Adam was blameless in this and that he had been very unfair to him. Inside though, he was hurting very badly and still not completely convinced that Roy was correct in what he had told him. He desperately did not want to believe what he had heard, but he was deeply sad knowing that somehow it was probably true. Before he would act on the information though, he wanted to know who said they had seen her betrayal of him, and he very much desired a chance to confront that gambler who was supposedly seeing his wife. He felt as tired as if he had been on a six-week trail drive.
Wearily, Ben had dismounted when Marie rode into the yard as if chased by wolves. Her hair was in disarray, and her face was distorted by anger and fear. She saw Ben, and that shocked her for she had thought she had time to grab her things and her son to flee before he returned. She pulled up her horse, but he stumbled catapulting Marie over his head. She landed very awkwardly on the ground. Ben and Adam would forever remember the loud crack as she hit the ground. Ben rushed to her side, as did Adam. No matter what she may have done, she was still a part of the family. As soon as Adam saw her, he knew she was dead. He had seen death before. Her eyes were half open but her face was gray. Her heart must have stopped beating as soon as her neck had snapped. That was very apparent as Adam saw how her head lolled unnaturally to the side. Ben moved her head to his shoulder and held her calling out her name plaintively.
Hearing the front door of the house open, Adam turned and rushed to prevent his younger brothers from seeing what he had seen. He ushered them back inside insisting that they would not go outside. Little Joe was adamant that he wanted his mother.
“Let me go, Adam, wanna see Mama. Adam, wanna see Mama. Adam, let me go.” Adam held the little boy easily despite Little Joe’s efforts to wriggle free even as Little Joe attempted to bite his arm and then to kick at him. Adam looked over at Hoss who stood scared and worried.
“Marie had an accident.”
“Adam, should I ride to town for the doctor, or I can watch Little Joe, and you can go.”
“Hoss, there’s no need for a doctor.”
“Ma ain’t hurt that bad then?”
“No, Hoss, it’s the other reason.”
“Adam, she can’t be. I can’t lose her, Adam, I can’t.”
With Little Joe settling down a bit because he realized he couldn’t free himself from Adam’s viselike grip around the little boy’s waist, Adam put out his other arm for Hoss. With Hoss’ head on his shoulder, and Little Joe cradled against his body, Adam waited for almost an hour. He had heard the hands arrive back at the ranch and heard a lot of talking outside. Occasionally he heard his father utter a word. Then the front door opened, and Hank and Roy came in.
“Adam, we gotta carry her in here. We can’t let her outside any more. It’s gonna rain.”
“I’ll take the boys into the kitchen. You can put her in the bedroom down here.”
Soon, Marie was lying on the bed in the guest room with Ben sitting on a chair by her side holding her hand. The door was closed because Adam didn’t want Little Joe to see her body or see how distraught their father was at that point. Adam had to tell Little Joe what had happened, but he knew the child didn’t understand what he meant. He finally told him that Marie had gone away leaving Adam in charge for the night. That seemed to satisfy Little Joe who ate a light dinner with his brothers in the kitchen and then allowed Adam to tuck him in. However Little Joe knew in his heart that something very bad had happened, and he did his best to mind Adam as he realized how Hoss and Adam were so very sad too. A day and a half later, they buried her out by the lake. Ben acted as if he knew nothing of her wickedness. Adam didn’t understand that, and Little Joe didn’t understand the burial.
“Adam, why did they put Mama under the ground. She doesn’t like the dark, Adam. Isn’t she gonna be a scared?”
“She will sleep forever now, Little Joe. She will never wake up because she is in eternity now.”
“I wanna go there then, Adam. I wanna go see Mama there, but I don’t wanna go under the ground. I don’t have to go under the ground, do I, Adam?”
“No, Little Joe, you’re going to stay right here with me and Hoss and Pa. We’re going to take very good care of you.”
“Mama took real good care a me, Adam. Why did she have to go away?”
“I don’t know, Little Joe. I don’t know why that happened.”
People had come. They had brought food and flowers as well as heartfelt offers to help with anything. Ben was numb and nodded and thanked them without realizing what they had said. He was emotionally frozen and didn’t know what to feel. In many ways, Ben blamed himself for his wives’ deaths. If he hadn’t had a child with Elizabeth, she might still be alive. If he hadn’t taken Inger across the plains and across the Rockies, she would still be alive. He had brought Marie from New Orleans, and now she was dead. He felt that he was snake bit, and every woman he touched was poisoned and destined to die an early death. As a result, he felt extreme guilt too for depriving his sons of their mothers. They didn’t have anyone to nurture them and teach them the things a mother taught a son. Ben felt that he was a poor substitute. After Marie was buried and the other mourners left, he began drinking too often to soften the pain. She had loved him once. He was sure of that. She had given him a wonderful son. There was no denying that either. She had given her loving care to Hoss as well and helped him become such a wonderful boy. He knew that his love for her could have survived almost anything. It already had. The pain of his loss made him physically ill. Nothing could make it go away, but a brandy now and then seemed to make the pain more of a dull throbbing ache than a sharp stab in the gut.
As the boys had walked back to the house after the burial, Adam had no idea what they should do next. Her clothing and other possessions had been packed up by him and Hoss and were stored in the attic. Her books were in Little Joe’s room. The other things she had put in the house though couldn’t so easily be removed. She had sewn up curtains that were everywhere in the house decorating every one of the windows. There was the settee in front of the fireplace. She had picked that out in San Francisco many years ago when Ben had taken her along on a business trip there. As part of her trousseau, Marie had brought the bedding on Ben’s bed from New Orleans. Her dishes were what they used for every meal. There was no way to remove her from their lives as if she hadn’t been there, and she had been Little Joe’s mother so it would have been cruel to him to try to do that anyway. At night, Adam tucked Little Joe in, but when he went to bed, the little boy was immediately at his bedside asking to be allowed to sleep next to him. Hoss came in a short time later to ask the same. Adam slept with one arm around Little Joe and another around Hoss.
On the third night after the burial, Ben seemed to snap out of his deep depression at least somewhat. He looked at Hoss who was staring into the fire in the fireplace and suggested he might want to do his lesson in his reader. He called Little Joe to him and held him on his lap asking what he had done that day. Adam came out from the kitchen after cleaning up in there and sighed in relief. It looked like things would slowly return to normal. That lasted only a few minutes.
“Pa, what’s an adaltree?”
“What’s an adaltree?”
“No, I was asking you. I heard Adam say it to Marie and I wrote it down so I could ask what it was. I heard of bristlecone pine trees and a Ponderosa pine tree and an apple tree. I ain’t never heard of no adaltree before.”
For a moment, Ben was frozen. He knew what it had to be and yet couldn’t believe he had heard it. He looked at Adam and knew. His oldest son looked afraid. Adam rarely showed that so it had to be. He set Little Joe down and told him to play with his toys and told Hoss to watch over him. He asked Adam to walk outside with him. Hoss was scared too. He had never seen such a horrible look on his father’s face before. He knew that adaltree must be a very bad word then, and that Adam was in a lot of trouble. He didn’t know what to do though.
On the porch, Ben barely kept his fury contained. “You’re the one who talked to Roy, aren’t you? You’re the one who was spreading that damnable story that got Marie killed. She was so upset with what you said, she rode like a madwoman. You killed her as effectively as if you had shot her. Were you that jealous of her? That resentful? How can you live with yourself after what you’ve done? Those boys in there lost their mother because you accused her of adultery.”
Knowing that his brothers might hear Ben’s loud voice, Adam talked much more softly. He had been carrying a lot of guilt for accusing Marie of adultery on the day she died, but it wasn’t a lie. “Pa, I saw her. She met him at the old Morris cabin. He kissed her, and she hugged him. They went inside and closed the door. Pa, when I said it to her, she didn’t deny it. She said I was worse for following her and catching her at it. Pa, please, I didn’t lie.”
“Get away from me.” Adam had moved closer to his father hoping to get him to listen to him. Unwilling to accept what he had heard because it hurt so much, Ben meant to shove Adam away, but after drinking quite a bit of brandy already, he miscalculated and struck Adam in the face with his hand. Adam fell and even in the evening light, Ben could see that he had bloodied his lip. He handed a handkerchief to Adam and turned to walk inside without saying another word. He went to his room to grab some of his belongings before he returned to the porch. He couldn’t stay and do more damage to his family. But when he looked at Adam who was sitting in a chair holding the cloth to his lip, all that he felt was anger at his son for knowing the truth about him. He had been shamed by his wife, and his eldest son was aware of it. He struck out with words because of the overwhelming pain that he felt. “You wanted her gone so bad so you could be in charge again, didn’t you? Well, fine, you’re in charge. I’ll be gone for a while. You take care of things. You seem to like running other people’s lives. Try it full time. This is all your fault, and I need some time away from you.” Ben stalked off then.
Sitting silently, Adam had not said a word. When he fell, he had hurt his hip and leg. He was in great pain and the emotional pain was even greater. He was mute. He watched as his father rode out. After about an hour, he struggled to his feet and made his way into the house telling Little Joe and Hoss it was time to go to bed. They said nothing and complied. The shock of seeing their father leaving had left them mute as well, but they had heard Ben’s last words to Adam, and now blamed him for their father being gone. With a great test of his determination, Adam was able to walk without a limp though each step was excruciating. Adam expected his father back within a few days, but the days turned into weeks. He worked despite his injury and did his best to keep things going. Hank helped and the hands were as cooperative as they could be. They did worry about being paid, so Adam had to make a trip to town to get money for the payroll. The ride was extremely painful but had to be done. In town, when it was time to mount up on his horse again, he found he could hardly do it. The pain had severely sapped his energy which was rather low to begin with as he hardly slept at night.
“I help you. You need Hop Sing help.”
Hearing a kindly voice, Adam turned to look at a Chinese man standing on the sidewalk in front of the bank. “How can you help?”
“Hop Sing have small carriage. Hop Sing give boy ride home.”
“Mr. Sing, I …”
“It Mr. Hop. You get off horse. I tie to carriage. You ride. I help.”
“Mr. Hop, I live a long way from town.”
“You ride. I help.”
In too much pain to argue, Adam let Hop Sing do just what he wanted. As he sat beside him in the carriage, he leaned back taking pressure off his hip and fell asleep. He awoke in the yard of the Ponderosa thinking that this Mr. Hop was quite smart to have remembered all of the directions he had given him. One of the hands came out to help Adam by taking care of the horses. Hop Sing helped Adam into the house and had him lie down on the settee.
“Hop Sing have tea for pain. I make now. You rest.”
“Thank you, but I’ll pay you for your help, and you can go back to town.”
“Not safe for Hop Sing in town. He stay here maybe? You need cook?”
Hoss perked up at that. He and Little Joe had been sitting and staring at the two but now had a reason to join the conversation. “Adam, we sure could use a cook. You’re too busy to cook. We’ve had the same food for every meal for three days now.”
“All right, we can try it. Mr. Hop, we can’t pay you much.”
“You pay anything. Call me Hop Sing. Where Hop Sing sleep?”
“Uh, there’s a cot in the room off the kitchen. We’ve had men stay there when they’re sick or hurt because it’s easier to take care of them in there than in the bunkhouse.”
“Hop Sing stay there. It good place for him.”
“Hoss, please go help him clean up that room a bit. There are blankets in the linen closet upstairs.”
“Adam, I help too.”
“All right, Little Joe, Hoss will tell you what he needs you to do.”
Hoss and Little Joe had been angry with Adam blaming him for their father’s departure and for Marie being gone as well based on what they had heard their father say. But their anger had dissipated, and Adam bringing this man into their home was rather exciting. Hoss showed Hop Sing the small room off the kitchen, and he and Little Joe got sheets and blankets from the upstairs linen closet. They showed him the washroom and pointed out the path to the necessary. Hop Sing got busy cooking then but didn’t forget to brew some tea for Adam. Adam preferred his tea with milk and sugar so that’s what he got. He drank it all when Hop Sing insisted, but when he wanted to come to the table to eat, Hop Sing said no.
“You hurt hip and leg. You lay down or stand up. Not sit. Make hip worse. I put tray on low table here. You eat then go to bed.”
“I have to get the payroll ready. I can’t go to bed this early.”
“You go to bed. I wake in morning. You work better then rested and not so much pain.”
Adam had to admit he had a sound argument. He ate his dinner reclining on the settee. Hop Sing brought him another cup of tea, and he began to feel very drowsy. He walked around locking doors and making sure the windows were latched and the shutters closed up tight. Then he told Little Joe and Hoss to go to their bedrooms too.
“Why, we’re not hurtin’?”
“Hoss, please, I need to go to bed now, and I can’t sleep if I’m worried about the two of you.”
“All right, Adam. Say how did you get Hop Sing to come here? I like him.”
“It’s funny. It’s like he was sent here to help. He’s just what we needed.” Adam was relieved to have someone to take over some of the responsibility. It had been weighing heavily on him to try to work with the hands and keep track of all the ranch work, do the paperwork, and watch after his younger brothers.
“Mama sent him then. He’s gonna do what Mama did.”
Adam smiled at Little Joe’s assertion and shepherded his brothers up the stairs. In the morning as promised, he heard a knock on his door and when he opened his eyes, the light of dawn was just beginning to filter into his room. He waved at Hop Sing as he opened the door, and he swung his legs out of bed with a groan. Hop Sing stepped into the room to hand him a cup of tea.
“It help with the pain and help leg and hip get better.”
Within an hour, Adam had to agree it seemed the tea had helped. It had a strange and slightly bitter taste but wasn’t any worse than any medicine he had ever taken. He stood at his father’s desk preparing the payroll. He counted out the money due each man and added two dollars. To Hank’s, he added four dollars. Then he wrote a thank you note to each man and folded the pay into each piece of paper. Finally he was done just as he heard his brothers coming down the stairs. He heard a knock on the front door and grabbed the stack of payroll notes. He was correct that it was Hank at the door. Adam walked with him to the bunkhouse and handed out the monthly pay. The men were pleased that they had been thanked for their efforts, and the extra couple of dollars was appreciated as well. Hank walked outside the bunkhouse with Adam to tell him that he didn’t have to do that.
“I did. I want to see about making the Ponderosa jobs the best paid among the ranches out here so we’ll get the best hands. I want those who are here to stay, and being appreciated with pay was a good start on that I thought.”
“Well, that’s a good way of thinking. Now the men will kinda be looking for that extra every month now though.”
“If I’m in charge, it will be there. I think we need to increase the pay until it’s a dollar a day. That would be thirty dollars per month. It may take us a few years to get that far, but if the men stick with us, then that’s what they can expect. If we keep expanding our herds and do more things to make money, we should be able to afford that. You put more money in, you get more money out.” With that, Adam headed back to the house for breakfast passing Hop Sing who had a big tray of eggs and steak as he walked to the bunkhouse.
“You don’t have to cook for the hands. They usually manage on their own.”
“I good cook. They like Hop Sing cooking better. You see.”
As Adam thought about that, he decided to walk to the bunkhouse to see what kind of reception Hop Sing got. At first the men were a little nervous about what he might be serving him but as they smelled it and then saw it, there were smiles all around. This improvement was even better than the pay increase had been. As he left the bunkhouse with Hop Sing, he thanked him for the work he was doing.
“You go house now. Food all ready. You eat.”
In the house, Adam found his brothers already eating ham and steak with a stack of hotcakes. He didn’t think Little Joe could eat all the food he had on his plate, but he nearly did. Apparently the little boy would eat more if the food was this good. Adam didn’t feel bad leaving the boys that day. He instinctively trusted Hop Sing who took over the cooking and cleaning jobs as well as the laundry. That day, Adam found riding difficult and remembered what Hop Sing had told him about sitting. He decided to help the men building a new breaking corral because it didn’t involve any sitting. That night he slept better than he had in a very long time and woke up in the morning refreshed and ready to face the day. Roy Coffee was there shortly after breakfast to talk with Adam. Hoss and Little Joe wondered about what they talked, but they were never allowed to listen.
“Adam, I had to put your pa in jail again last night. He was drunk and started another fight. Now I know that you don’t have a lot of extra money, but I can’t keep putting him in jail and not fining him anything.”
“Where’s he getting the money to drink?”
“He goes to the bank when he gets close to sober, and then he drinks himself under the table again. I tried to talk with him a bunch of times, but he won’t listen to anything I have to say. He keeps saying that you drove Marie away and told your lies to me.”
“Can you just keep him in the jail because he can’t pay his fines?”
“I could but what good would that do?” But even as he said it, Roy knew the answer. Ben wouldn’t be able to drink so he would finally have to be sober, and then perhaps Roy could keep talking until his literally captive audience would accept what he had to say.
“You really think Adam would lie about something like that? Ifn he said he saw it, then he saw it. He was real broke up about it, and he was worried that Marie might leave and take Little Joe with her. I told him that wasn’t legal for her because it would all be up to you. He was mighty relieved by that, let me tell ya.” Roy leaned forward putting his elbows on his knees until he was almost pressing up against the bars of the cell. He was determined to get through to his friend somehow.
But Ben wasn’t ready to give up his fantasy yet. “He wanted Marie gone from the moment she got there. He set out to do something about it, and he finally succeeded in the worst possible way. I know you’re his friend. Sometimes he treats you more like a father than he treats me, but you can’t take away his guilt in this.” Ben was sitting on the cot in a cell and leaning up against the wall. He had several days growth of beard, and he hadn’t bathed nor put on clean clothing in probably a week at least. He looked a defeated man.
“Now, you see here a minute. That boy loves you like no other. He loves his brothers. I’m starting to wonder if you love him though. All you been doing since ya woke up is bashing that boy. Now why do you suppose that is. He’s taking care of your ranch and your other two boys. He’s always done it so it ain’t no surprise to anybody. What is a surprise is to see Ben Cartwright wallowing in his grief and his guilt and not doing what he should be doing.”
“I don’t feel guilty.”
“Sure ya do. I heard some of what you was saying. How Marie was to take the place of the mothers you had taken away from your boys. Now she’s gone and you feel like it’s all your fault, but ya can’t face yourself, so you’re drinking and blaming Adam.”
Ben put his head down in his hands. He couldn’t stand the smell of himself. The sour breath and the soiled clothing must be creating quite a stench for Roy, but his faithful friend was sitting outside those bars talking to him for hours on hours. Ben knew that Roy was trying to help him. He began to wonder why he wasn’t helping himself, and then he knew. He was punishing himself. He was feeling as guilty as Roy said he was. He felt tremendous shame too not only over the drunken binges he had been on but also on how he had treated Adam and abandoned all three boys.
In a more characteristic Ben thought, he knew what he had to do. “Roy, I need to go home. I need to take care of my boys. They must be miserable by now, and it’s all my fault.”
“Well, they’re not as miserable as you might think. Adam done hired a cook and housekeeper for the ranch. He’s a darn good cook too. I had just one sandwich that he fixed, and it was one of the best I ever ate. He’s doing the cooking and the cleaning and watching out for Little Joe so Adam can work, especially seeing that on most days now, Adam’s taking Hoss with him.”
Ben wasn’t ready to accept all of what he needed to accept yet though. So he ignored what Roy had said and focused on his own thoughts. “I need a bath and some clean clothes too. I can’t go home like this.”
“Well now, you’re starting to make some real sense. I’ll get you out of here now. I guess Adam did know what he was doing when he said to keep you here.” Suddenly Roy knew that if regret could erase words already spoken, he would be eternally grateful. The anger was apparent in Ben’s furrowed brow and bunched eyebrows even if he said nothing. “Now Ben it was what I said to him that got him thinking that. It did sober you up now, didn’t it?”
“It did, but I’m tired of my oldest son doing his best to manipulate me.”
“He just does what he thinks is best for his family. Now you can’t fault him for that, can ya? Ben, now you hold that temper of yours. You should be grateful to have a son like that.”
“You’ve never had children, Roy, so you don’t know how it is.” And Ben realized he shouldn’t have said that either.
“Maybe I haven’t, Ben, but I woulda given up an arm or a leg to have a boy like that or any of your boys. You keep that in mind. You got a treasure there that some of us is only able to dream about so you best do what you can to protect what you got.” Roy unlocked the cell door and hoped that Ben would be able to work out the difficulties in his family before any more damage was done.
A few hours later, Ben rode into the yard of the Ponderosa. He was glad and somewhat disappointed to see that all was well with the place. Everything was in order, there was wood stacked for use, and everything seemed clean. Ben led his horse into the stable and heard boys’ voices as he unsaddled and curried his horse.
“Little Joe, we gotta go close the stable door. Adam told us to keep it closed. I don’t know how it got open, but let’s go take care of that.”
“Can we climb up to the top where the hay is, Hoss?”
“Nope, you know Adam said we can’t do that unless he’s here. He’ll be back in a bit. I’m only here until Hop Sing finishes the laundry. This afternoon, I’m going out to help Adam . . . Pa!”
Little Joe and Hoss stood for just a moment in shock before rushing into their father’s arms. He hugged them as tears flowed freely. He told them he was back for good and apologized for leaving.
“Pa, are you gonna fight with Adam and leave again? I don’t want you to, Pa.”
“No, Little Joe, I’m staying.”
“Good. Is Adam going to go away then?”
“No, Adam is going to stay too.”
“But you’re gonna be fighting. I don’t like fighting. Adam is mean, Pa. He makes me do all sorts of stuff I don’t wanna do. Last night he made me eat green beans with my dinner.”
“Adam was only doing what he thought was right. I’ll be in charge now, so you don’t have to worry about a thing.”
“Pa, I’ve been working with Adam a lot of the time. Can I keep doing that?”
“We’ll see, Hoss, we’ll see. I don’t want you being put into dangerous situations at your age. I couldn’t bear to lose you or see you hurt.”
“Pa, Adam don’t let me do nothing dangerous. He watches out for me real good, Pa.”
“I’m sure he does his best, but I’m your father, Hoss. It’s my job to watch over you.”
Hoss realized that battle lines were being drawn already and didn’t like it. At his young age, there was nothing he could do about it anyway. He had been forced to choose sides when the dispute had been between Marie and Adam. He had chosen Adam, but he didn’t want to ever have to choose between his Pa and Adam. He thought that changing the subject might help. It didn’t.
“Pa, ya gotta come in the house and meet Hop Sing. He’s really a good cook, Pa, and he knows how to watch over Little Joe and keep him outta trouble. He washes the sheets every week, Pa. I ain’t never had such a good smelling bed as I do now.”
“Pa, he makes me take a bath, and he washes my hair. I don’t like taking so many baths, Pa.”
“Little Joe, you know ifn you didn’t get yourself muddy so much, ya wouldn’t have ta take so many baths. It’s your own fault.”
“Pa, Adam says I got to go to school next year. I don’t hafta, do I, Pa?”
“Well, I’ll see about that. Let me think about if for a time. I’ve just gotten home, and I need to see what has to get done around here.”
“Pa, Adam’s got the round-up and branding nearly done. He and Hank been talking bout how many cattle to take to market this year and which ones to cull out for the drive.”
“Oh, they have, have they? Well it seems to me that will be my decision. I’ll be checking on the herd tomorrow. Now let’s go inside so I can take a look at the paperwork that’s probably been piling up.”
By then, Hoss knew better than to say anything. Adam had been doing the ledgers and paperwork, and their father’s desk had never looked so neat and tidy. It was Adam’s way. He didn’t like anything out of order. Once they were inside, another battle was fought. Ben won.
“I thank you, Mr. Hop for what you have done. I’ll pay you your wages now, but your services are no longer needed.”
“What? You cook? You clean? You wash clothes? House a mess when Hop Sing get here. All good now. You foolish man.”
“You wouldn’t work here long with that attitude anyway. Now, I informed you of my decision.”
“Mr. Adam hire me, so Mr. Adam only one to fire me.”
“Mr. Adam, ah, Adam is my son. This is my ranch. I hire and fire. Now pack your things. I’ll pay you a fair wage for what you’ve done.”
There was nothing that Hop Sing could do. He didn’t have enough fluency in English to say more than he already had. Adam had been teaching him more English, and he had taught some Chinese to Adam, but they had only had a short time to accomplish much. He saw how sad Hoss and Little Joe were, and he felt very badly that he wouldn’t get a chance to say goodbye to the Number One son whom he believed was likely to be in for a very troublesome time. An hour later, Hop Sing was driving his carriage from the yard. As Adam neared his home, he saw him leaving and hurried to his home thinking that something very bad had happened. It had in a way and he was soon to find out that his father was not at all grateful for what he had done in his father’s absence. Instead of a fatherly greeting, he was met with an accusation with more to follow.
“You had me locked up in that jail.” Ben was on edge and put Adam on the defensive right away.
“You got yourself locked up. I didn’t pay your fines.”
“Then I get home and find that you brought a complete stranger into our house and trusted him with my sons.”
“They’re my brothers, and I did the best I could for them. I wasn’t in town.” Adam wanted to say more but wouldn’t with his two younger brothers in hearing distance. He wanted to say that his father had been on a drunken binge for weeks with no concern for his sons at all, and that Hop Sing had been more of a parent than Ben had been. He was left simply with the only truth that Hoss and Little Joe knew. “You weren’t here. I did what I could.”
“Well, I’m back now, and I’m in charge. I want to look at the books to see what a mess you’ve made of them.”
As Ben sat down, Adam knew there were a few things he needed to explain. “I needed a lot of help from the hands. I paid them each an extra two dollars, and Hank got an extra four.”
“What? Now they’ll expect that every month. You backed me into a corner on that. I know we had discussed raising the wages here, but I told you why we couldn’t do it. So you used my absence as a chance to go behind my back and do whatever you wanted to do.”
“No, it wasn’t behind your back. You weren’t here, and I couldn’t handle all the work by myself. I needed all the experienced hands to stay. There was some talk of some of them leaving thinking that if you were gone, they wouldn’t get paid or that the ranch would fail. I had to make sure they knew that the ranch would keep going and they would have the jobs they depend on.”
“And you paid a cook the same wage as a hand. That’s twice as much as any cook gets around here unless he’s cooking for the hands too and going on drives.”
“He was cooking for the hands. He made breakfast and dinner for them.”
Suddenly Ben knew that he might have made a mistake letting Hop Sing go. “Well, we can get a cook with a better attitude than his to do the same work then.”
“Do you know of any cooks around here looking for work? They’re all hired, even the ones who don’t cook that well, and Hop Sing is an excellent cook.”
“I’ll find us a cook. That is no longer your concern. Now about the drive: I’ll talk to Hank and we’ll decide how many cattle to cull and take on a drive.”
“We’ve already cut out most of the cattle that we need for a drive. I calculated how many the lower pastures could handle in the winter, and we cut some hay too and stacked it.”
“Math isn’t as good as knowledge and experience out here. As I said, Hank and I will discuss how many cattle and which ones will be driven to market. I don’t want to deplete the herds so much that we don’t get any growth next year.”
“We had a very large calving season, and we have too many cattle for the pastures to handle. We could lose a lot of cattle for nothing if we don’t send enough to market.”
“Adam, that’s enough. I told you my decision, and that’s that.” Slowly Ben realized that his boy had become a man, and there was no way to put that wine back in the bottle. It was already gone. He knew he would likely butt heads with his oldest son who had the same temper and perhaps even a bit more stubbornness than his father. Ben met with Hank that evening. There too there was a tension between the two men that had never been there before especially as Ben said he wanted to ride out to look over the herds and see which cattle he wanted to send to market.
“Adam and me already done that, Mr. Cartwright. We figured on how many we could safely carry through the winter, and culled the herd of the weaker ones and smaller ones ’til we got to the number. We’re all set to go.”
“Well, I’m the one who has to pay the bills around here, and I don’t want the herd so small that we don’t get another good calving season like we did this year. I’ll have to make sure we carry enough over the winter to make sure that happens.”
“I thought we took care of that. I’m wondering why we gotta do the same work all over again.”
“Because I think perhaps my son and you would like to sell too many so that the wages he’s been paying can stay that high. It’s the future of my ranch that matters here, so tomorrow we’ll do as I said we would. Is that clear?”
“Sure, Boss, that’s clear.”
Hank had nothing more to say although there was an awful lot he wished he could have said. It had been a lot more pleasant working with Adam than with a surly Ben. He knew he lost a wife and one who wasn’t any too nice to begin with, but Hank thought he needed to get back to the way he used to be before he did any more damage to his family, himself, or the ranch. He didn’t say that to him but wished he could.
Relieved that nothing more was to be said, Ben turned away from his foreman sensing much of what the man was thinking. Ben knew he had handled it all very badly from his firing of Hop Sing to his meeting with Adam and then with Hank. He didn’t know what was wrong with him. He didn’t usually let his emotions guide him so much. When he went inside, he thought about a brandy and realized he couldn’t go there. Instead, he asked Adam what they were having for dinner.
“Hop Sing had some ham ready. We’re having that and bread. I didn’t have time to do anything else. I’ll bring some ham to the hands and tell them they’re on their own for cooking again.”
“I’ll bring the ham to the men. You get the table ready and make sure your brothers have cleaned up for dinner.” Adam gave him a look that said all of those instructions were unnecessary, and then Ben realized Adam had probably been doing that for weeks. “Sorry, boy, just do what needs to be done. I’ll be right back.”
In the mood Adam was in, that apology did a lot more damage than it did anything to soften the impact of the earlier statement. Being referred to as a boy merely strengthened his opinion that his father did not respect him and perhaps didn’t even like him much. It was the kind of thing one man said to another to demean him. It wasn’t a loving term in Adam’s mind.
Ben’s reception in the bunkhouse wasn’t any better as the men had been stewing over the comments they had heard earlier. When Ben said there would be no more cooking by Hop Sing and that they would be on their own again, he was asked who would be cooking for the trail drive. Hank knew what would be happening by the next day. Men would be giving notice that at the end of the drive, they would be quitting to look for jobs in California where working conditions were better, wages a bit higher, and cowboys didn’t do their own cooking. He stepped outside the bunkhouse and called to Ben who was returning to the house. He decided to tell him just that.
“You want these hardworking, experienced cowboys to work for you, you gotta offer them something better than they can get elsewhere or they’re going elsewhere. They’ll do the drive, but you’re gonna come home mighty short-handed if you do all you’re talking about doing.”
“What has Adam done to make all of you so hard to deal with?”
“It’s nothing he done. Lots of the men were talking about pulling out after the drive long before the big trouble happened here. The way things were going around here; they figured they’d look for a better place to work. With the changes Adam made, he had ’em changing their mind and planning on staying. Now you got ’em thinking of leaving again all in less than a day.”
“What if I went to see if I could hire Hop Sing back again and kept the pay increase that Adam gave them?”
“Might be enough.”
“Might be? I will not be held over a barrel like this.”
“Might be that me and the hands like to be talked to in a more respectful tone. You want men to act like men; ya gotta treat ’em like men not like some boys who been irresponsible. Ya gotta trust ’em.” Hank wanted to add that it applied to his son too, but he knew that would be going to far with the volatile man. With these Cartwrights, it was best to tread lightly when talking about what they should do.
Staring at Hank intently, Ben saw the same look he had seen on Roy. It was a mixture of sympathy, frustration, and anger. He began to understand how difficult it must be for his friends to deal with him the way he was. “It’s been hard lately. I’ve made some mistakes.”
“We know it’s been hard. The men are willing to make some allowances for all you and your family been through.”
“All right, Hank, I’ll see what I can do about all of it.”
When Ben got back into the house, he said little. His feelings and thoughts were so jumbled up that he couldn’t make sense of them at all. He had such mixed feelings about Adam at that moment that he didn’t know what to say to his oldest son. He said little, and all three boys were relatively quiet. They didn’t know how to react to everything that had been happening. Adam and Hoss cleaned up after dinner. It was quiet for the next two hours. Then Ben took Little Joe to tuck him into bed, and Hoss and Adam went to their rooms to escape the tension. After a short time, Hoss knocked on Adam’s door.
“What do you want, Hoss?”
“I just wanted to see if you were all right.”
“Good.” Then Hoss paused to evaluate that answer. “Fine, like you’re all right, or fine, like you don’t want to talk about it?”
“I was hoping not to have to talk about it any more today. It’s been a long day, and I’m afraid tomorrow isn’t going to be any better.”
“Is it because you think Pa is mad at you for making him go away?”
Surprised or perhaps even shocked, Adam frowned. Hoss thought he had said something that upset his brother and turned to leave. “No, Hoss, but why do you think I made Pa leave?”
“Cause of the things we could hear Pa saying to you that time when he left. We didn’t hear you say it wasn’t true. Then you stayed outside a long time like you couldn’t face us after what you done.”
“Hoss, I did tell Pa he was wrong. I didn’t yell though. I wanted to yell. I didn’t want Pa to go. He pushed me out of the way though. I was hurt some, and that’s why I didn’t come into the house right away.”
“I thought you said you got hurt working outside when I asked you why you was limping the next day?”
“I said that because Little Joe was there, and I didn’t want him to know Pa hurt me. He had enough things that upset him. I didn’t want to make it worse.”
“You and Pa seem mad at each other a lot.”
“We don’t agree on some things.”
“Was one of those things how you felt about Ma?”
“Hoss, I knew some things about her that she didn’t like me knowing and that Pa doesn’t like hearing. It’s why he got mad at me. It’s the truth, but Pa doesn’t believe me.”
“Oh, that’s crazy, Adam. We all know you don’t lie. Course sometimes you leave out some things, but that ain’t the same as telling lies, is it?”
“Well, it kinda is, but if I say something, then that is what happened.”
“I know that. I wish we could go back to having a happy family. It ain’t been much fun living here lately. I’d like to go fishing too.”
“Maybe on Sunday we’ll have a chance to do some fishing.”
“I’d like that.”
“Hoss, maybe it’s time for you to go to bed though. I need to get some sleep because tomorrow may be a tough day.”
The brothers said goodnight, and Hoss felt better about things, but then he was wondering why his father did leave. It was a mystery to him at that point so he decided not to think about it. No one was likely to give him an answer anyway.
The next week was difficult for Ben and for Adam. Ben hired Hop Sing back and was sure that Adam felt some pride that he had been correct and that his father had made an error in judgment. As a result, Ben countermanded many of the orders Adam had given to prepare for the drive. As expected, Ben took over as trail boss of the drive, but he made Hank the ramrod. Everyone had expected that Adam would have that job as the second in command on the Ponderosa. Adam was the most upset about it. It was a demotion such as one would give to someone who had been doing a poor job. It said to everyone that he was not qualified for the job, and that hurt. Adam carried that hurt around letting his resentment build because he didn’t want to confront his father over the issue.
For the first time, Hoss was coming along on a drive. His job would be to work as part of the drag crew and learn how to hold the herd at the back. It also meant a dusty job, but it was the one most beginners got so Hoss didn’t feel insulted and didn’t understand why Adam was so surly about the job he had been assigned which was to take point on the drive. It meant he was a top hand. Hoss thought he would have been proud to have that job. He didn’t understand all the dynamics of a trail drive though, and if he had, he would have known why his older brother was upset again.
Little Joe was left in the care of a neighbor when the rest of the family and Hop Sing went on the trail drive. Things went reasonably well for the first few weeks. It was in the last week of the drive that it all fell apart for the family. Adam had been riding point and had done well. He still resented being ousted as ramrod, but Hank managed in that position, and in some ways it was better because Adam didn’t have to discuss every issue with his father. Then they had a thunderstorm as they were moving the herd downslope on the western side of the Sierras. It seemed to develop right over their heads and there was no place to settle the herd. Some thunder made them uneasy, and when lightning hit a tree near the front of the herd, they stampeded. The area had received a lot of rain before the herd had gotten there, and running was difficult in what was soon mud as thousands of hooves churned up the grass.
As a point rider, Adam was the one who should have turned the herd back around at itself, the usual method for stopping a stampede. But he saw the lead rider on the other side go down and knew that if he turned the herd, that man would be trampled to death. He rode with the cattle and gradually turned a few until the others, becoming exhausted by running in wet sod and mud, simply slowed down until the stampede was over. However by that point the herd was scattered over miles of terrain and they would lose some days finding all of them and getting them back together. Ben was furious when he saw Adam ride into camp hours later.
“Why didn’t you even try to turn the herd? That was your job and you failed. This is going to cost us a lot of money in extra wages and lost cattle. Well what have you got to say for yourself? Don’t you have some excuse for your failure?”
If it had only been that first question, Adam would have answered. As his father’s tirade continued, he grew angrier and more resentful. Only he and Shorty knew why he had not turned the herd, and Shorty was injured and being cared for by Hop Sing. It was two days later before Shorty knew that no one understood why Adam had not turned the herd. He told the story then, but in many ways, it was too late. That night, Adam had stalked away from his father without saying a word knowing anything he said was likely to make the situation worse, but his silence was even more of a problem than if he had spoken harshly.
The next day, Adam and the others were up early to head out to round up the cattle that had strayed from the herd during the stampede. They rode out in all directions. By that night, they had most of the cattle back with the herd, and in only two days, they would be in Sacramento. Everyone seemed to be looking forward to this drive being over. Adam was the last one in and was confronted by his father again.
“You rode off this morning without checking with me.”
“I took my area and found cattle. What was I supposed to do?”
“You were supposed to wait until I told you what area to search.”
“Because I’m in charge, and I give the orders. You’re not the ramrod. You take orders, and you don’t go off to do what you want without checking with the trail boss or the ramrod.”
“So, Boss, what are your orders?” It was said derisively and everyone heard it that way.
Doing his best to hold his temper, Ben couldn’t let that transgression go without reacting to it. “You can go ride night herd right now.”
“I haven’t had dinner yet.”
“If you had waited for orders, and if you had gotten back here on time like the others, you would have had dinner. Now I gave you an order. What are you going to do?”
“I’ll ride night herd. What do I do tomorrow then, boss?” The first part had been a sullen response, but the second was an outright challenge.
Ben didn’t back down. “You’ll ride drag for the next two days.”
Adam understood why he got that order. It was the punishment doled out to hands who didn’t follow orders. He was shocked though because he had not disobeyed any order. He had done what he thought he was supposed to do, and he had done the best he could do. It seemed terribly unfair to him. “You have no right to punish me for doing my best.”
“I have every right. You will follow orders or you can find some other place to work.”
The ultimatum stunned Adam. “I didn’t disobey any orders. I did what I thought I was supposed to be doing.” He didn’t know what else to say to it.
Ben was almost as stunned by what he had said. He wanted to take those words back, but his pride wouldn’t let him. He wanted to reach out to Adam and say he was sorry, but he knew his son, and thought he would be too furious at this point to listen to anything more his father had to say. Adam was furious but he was even more hurt, but with no apology nor a recanting of the options he had been given, Adam could not find words to say, so he stalked off, mounted up, and rode off. If only Ben had known it would be the last view of his son that he would have for over five years, he might have swallowed down some of that pride even if it hurt and apologized sincerely to his son. He needed to make some changes, but because of his pride, he didn’t. He would curse himself for that failure especially, but he knew he had many others for which to atone. Those failures had long-term consequences he didn’t foresee.
Adam did his night herd duty. He quietly greeted the other hands when he passed them but didn’t make any small talk with them. The hands sympathized with his position but wouldn’t interfere in a dispute between father and son. If they had, Adam might have stayed. As it was, he rode near the camp when he finished his duty and saw Hoss grooming some of the horses. He was relieved by that and rode up to his younger brother.
“Hoss, I’m glad you’re here. I thought you might be sleeping, and I needed to talk with you.”
“I couldn’t sleep. What do you want to talk about, Adam?”
“Hoss, I’m leaving.” Hoss was so shocked he stood with his mouth open unable to say anything. “Hoss, I’m sorry, but I can’t live like this. Pa blames me for Marie’s death. There are things I could tell you if you were older, but trust me, please. I didn’t lie, and I didn’t do anything to make Marie die.”
“I believe you, Adam. Please don’t go. I had too many people leave me already. I can’t lose any more.”
“Pa can’t seem to stand the sight of me. I need to leave before any more harm is done to either of us.”
“Pa’s knows you aren’t to blame for any of this. He’s just hurtin’ so bad inside. If you go, he’ll be hurtin’ even more.”
“And my leaving might be what he needs to start healing inside. I seem to be the thing that keeps poking at the wounds he has and not letting him heal. Hoss, I’m hurting too and he can’t seem to see that. Pa’s had plenty of chances to say he’s sorry, but he hasn’t. I won’t be gone forever. I want to go to college and I would have been gone anyway by next summer. I’m leaving a bit earlier than planned. I’ll write when I get to Boston.”
“You’re going all the way to Boston?”
“Yes, that’s where I want to go to school, and I’ll get to meet my grandfather too if he’s still alive. Hoss, I love you. I’ll miss you, but I think this is the best thing to do.”
“I’ll miss you too, Adam. You better come back.”
“I will. Someday, I’ll be back.”
“How you gonna make some money so you can get to Boston?”
“I’ll work. I can find some ranch work on the way to San Francisco, and then I’ll hire on a ship to sail around the Horn.”
“You tell me all about it in a letter when you get to Boston, all right?”
Grabbing Hoss in a hug, Adam said he would. Then he mounted up and rode off into the night. He had to travel slowly, but he was quite a distance from the herd before dawn. Ben asked where he was when he didn’t see him at breakfast. Hoss told him then that Adam had left and planned to go to Boston.
“You should have told me he was leaving.” Seeing Hoss’ hurt look, Ben had to back off on that. He had already driven one son away. “It’s not your fault, Hoss. I’m sorry for making it seem like I was blaming you. No, it’s Adam. He’s being a foolish boy. He has no money, and he has to travel across a continent. He’ll be back in a few days.” Hoss wanted to say something then but wasn’t ready to challenge his father. That would take a few more years.
Ben began to say a prayer every time he thought of Adam as he fervently wished that nothing bad would happen to Adam and that he would, in fact, be back within a few days. They delivered the herd to the Sacramento stockyards and spent three more days in the city. Adam didn’t return. Ben hoped that perhaps he had returned to the Ponderosa, but when they arrived home after ten days of hard riding, Adam wasn’t there either, and Ben knew he had made a grievous error in judgment. He asked Hop Sing to put all alcohol in the root cellar. Ben didn’t have another drink for over five years. He pledged to himself that he would have a drink on the day Adam walked back into his home. Until then, he was going to maintain absolute sobriety.
On the Ponderosa, life was far more pleasant. Little Joe thought it was because Adam had left. He had heard his father say that Adam was why Marie was dead, and he heard him say that was why he had left as well. At his young age, Little Joe knew nothing of Marie’s infidelity and Ben’s drunken binge. He was too young to know. So Little Joe assumed that Adam being gone was a good thing. He was too young to understand that everyone lectured Ben about his behavior until he was forced to accept that he needed to change. Hop Sing did it, Hank did it, and most importantly, Ben got the same message from Sheriff Roy Coffee and Doctor Paul Martin who had been shocked to hear what Ben had done and that Adam was gone. Ben was most shocked about what Roy told him about what Marie had wanted her lover to do. To kill him was awful enough, but she had been willing to have the man kill Adam. He realized then that he had married a witch. He knew that Adam had told him the truth, and that in his stubborn pride, he had refused to accept it. Each day he prayed for Adam’s safety and wished that he would come home. After months of waiting, he knew that wasn’t going to happen so he only prayed than that Adam would be well and live the life he deserved.
Hoss was very quiet about the situation. His father assumed it was because Hoss was sad that Adam had left. He was grateful that at least Adam had bid his brother goodbye. But Hoss heard bits and pieces of conversations by the hands and sometimes by eavesdropping when people talked to his father or talked about him after they got back from the drive. After a while, he got a very good idea of what had happened. He was very unhappy with his father and did miss Adam very much, but he had no idea what he could say or do to make things any better. Instead, he took care of animals, played with Little Joe, and went fishing by himself as often as he could.
In California, Adam had ridden up to one ranch after another until after two days, one very large ranch said they had a job if he could break horses. Horsebreakers usually were paid three or four times as much as a regular hand. Adam said he could and was led to a breaking corral. The men there saw what they thought was a green kid and pulled an ornery horse out of the holding corral. They settled him into the gate and waited for Adam to climb aboard. Men from all around the area moved to the fences of the corral to watch the kid get dumped in the dirt. It didn’t take long for them to realize he was either older than he looked or had gotten a lot of experience for one so young. He rode that horse to a standstill, and then cheekily asked if he had been hired. The foreman had pointed to the holding corral.
“We’ve got over forty more to go. You’re hired until they’re broke. We’ll pay you three dollars a day.”
“Four, and you got yourself a horsebreaker, sir.”
“Pretty demanding for a boy who needs a job.”
“Not too demanding because you need a horsebreaker, and I am one. I may be young but I’ve been doing this for almost four years, sir.”
“All right, four dollars a day as long as you ride at least eight of them per day, and get most of them green broke like you did that first one. Today’s already half over so it’s five of em for two dollars.”
“Three more today and that’s a deal, sir. Thank you.”
“All right and you can call me Bud. What’s your name?”
“It’s Adam, Bud.”
“All right, Adam, we were about to break for lunch. I’ll show you where to stow your gear and stable your horse. We’ll get some lunch and you can break a few horses for me.”
Over the next several months, Adam worked his way toward San Francisco breaking horses. His reputation preceded him in a few cases and ranchers were anxious to hire the young man who was so good at breaking horses. Adam got a lot of bruises and a few cracked bones, but luckily didn’t break anything. By the time he reached San Francisco, he had well over one hundred dollars in his pocket. He sold his horse and saddle for another fifty. He thought that might be enough to pay some college tuition or at least he hoped it was even after he bought himself a few new shirts and two pairs of pants. His next stop was the port where he knew he needed to sign on or get away from there before he was shanghaied. He asked around and went to a ship that he had been told was hiring. He looked it over. It seemed clean and in good repair, and the sails looked cleaner than most. He walked up to a sailor washing down the side of the ship and asked whom he should see about getting hired. The man called out a name and another man walked to the railing.
“Hey, Crawdad, this fancy cowboy wants to sign on as a sailor. You think you want him?”
The first mate grinned a bit, but noticed that the young cowboy seemed serious. “So what is it you want, cowboy?”
“I want to work my way to Boston. I don’t have family here any more, and I have a grandfather in Boston. He used to captain ships. His name is Captain Abel Stoddard. I think he’s still alive. I don’t have any way of knowing.”
“Oh, I remember him. I met him once when he brought in a slaver near Charleston at night. Illegal it was, but a lot of trade is smuggled in even now.”
“No, that must have been someone else. My grandfather sailed all over the world and brought exotic goods back. My father sailed with him for a time too.”
“All right. Maybe that’s the case. So you got some salt water in them cowboy veins of yours, aye. Come on up here now and show me your hands.” He looked at the callus on Adam’s hands and nodded approvingly. “Well you look like a fancy cowboy with them duds of yours, but your hands show that you know how to work. We’ll take ya on to work your way around. You don’t have any sailor skills I’m guessing, so you’ll be doing cleaning and helping the cook. You’ll do as you’re told and you’ll get a berth and three meals a day. Is that what you wanted?”
“Yes sir. That’s exactly what I wanted.”
“Now you got any belongings you want to take along?”
“Nothing more than I’ve got with me, sir. I don’t own much.”
“All right then, I’ll show you where you’ll be bunking. You are now an official part of the crew. We’ll be sailing at high tide tomorrow.”
For a half day then, Adam had a chance to reconsider what he was doing. He couldn’t see that going back would help, and he did very much want to see his grandfather if he was still alive. One way or another, he wanted to go to college as well. He had to wonder if his father even supported that idea any more. As he lay in his bunk that night, he was fully committed to his course of action.
“Adam, get your butt up here. We need these decks swabbed again. The men who took shore leave last night made a mess when they got back.” It had been two weeks and the ship had only made it to the southern parts of California. They had a load of hides but the captain hoped to find more valuable trade goods especially anything small that was easily transported.
Routine aboard ship appealed to Adam. Everything on the ship had to be in order too for the space was small and any shifting of cargo could be devastating. Everything was kept clean as well because disease or sickness of any kind was something else to be avoided at all costs. Adam looked forward to when they would pull out to sea. So far they had been hugging the coastline and stopping in at almost every little port. The other hands had told him that once they cleared Alta California, they would not likely see land again for many days or even weeks until they had to pull in for fresh water and any other supplies that were needed. The work was demanding, but Adam was strong and found he could do what was asked. He was brusquely ordered about by just about everyone it seemed, but there was no meanness about it. He didn’t know what needed to be done, so every time he stood idle, someone had a task for him.
Each night on board the ship, Adam lay in his bunk wondering if he had done the right thing. More and more, he realized he had let his temper rule his judgment, and that he could have handled many situations so much better if he had been better able to control his emotions. He was very good at hiding or masking his feelings, but he knew that they still often were the basis of decisions he made. To avoid more trouble in his life, he decided that decisions he made ought to be based on logical, rational thought instead of emotional, impulsive reactions to what others had done. He had been thinking quite a bit like that as he reached San Francisco and had posted a short letter to his family explaining where he was going, and after he signed aboard a ship, he posted another short letter with the name of the ship, the Falconer, and its planned route. He was homesick and hoped his family was doing well knowing he would not know that for perhaps years now that he had decided on this course for his life.
That night the captain announced that the cargo holds were full and they would be sailing out to sea in the morning to make better time. As men came back from shore leave, their gear was stowed, and in the morning, the sails were trimmed and the anchor was pulled in anticipation of high tide. When it came, they sailed from the last harbor the ship would ever see. The men were fidgeting on board as they sailed southward. Almost to a man, they seemed to think the winds carried some hint of danger. Typhoons were a threat, but the skies remained clear for the next week. They had sailed relatively close to Mexico in anticipation of a possible storm, and they saw whales, which was fascinating to Adam and the first of many exotic and wonderful things he had read about but never seen.
When no storms materialized and the sky was lightly dotted with clouds in all directions, the captain took them further out to sea as they sailed southward. Only four nights later, disaster struck. During the day, the winds had been strong and the waves were higher, but the skies remained clear and benign. In the darkness, a storm blew up on them and waves grew to enormous heights. The skilled crew fought the storm but it was a losing battle as first the foremast cracked and later fell and the main mast was barely able to hold creaking in its central spot on the ship. It was wound with rope to help give it strength, but water washed across the deck with every wave, and everyone on board prayed for the chance to see loved ones again. Adam was down below with the cook trying to secure everything in the galley when there were screams from above, and even with the noise of the storm, an loud crash could be heard. The cook looked at Adam with fear in his eyes.
“Get up on deck. It’s our only chance now. If you can, grab something that floats and hang onto it for dear life because that’s exactly what it will be.”
The two rushed up the steps to the deck to find the chaos the cook expected. The main mast had snapped about two-thirds of the way up, and the mizzenmast was already broken in pieces hanging over the side. Men were rushing around the deck trying to help the injured and doing what the cook had suggested Adam do. At that point, Adam was on his own. He pulled his boots from his feet and stuffed them inside his shirt. He grabbed at a crate that seemed light and moved forward on the ship’s main deck, as it seemed that was what many of the crew were doing. Before he got three feet, the ship hawed severely and then dropped on its side in the sea throwing almost everyone into the water. It was clear then why the crew had been moving forward. Those like Adam who hadn’t gotten there were tangled in ropes and sail riding the waves with the broken ship.
For what seemed like hours, Adam was trapped and at the mercy of the typhoon. He heard a horrible crack at one point and the top mainmast broke away from the lower part. Gradually the sails were torn to pieces and Adam floated tangled in sail, ropes, and broken parts of the top mainmast and gaff. The roar of the storm was all he could hear. He hung onto what was near and did his best to breathe when he wasn’t being submerged by monstrous waves. Slowly the wind died down and the waves settled into more normal patterns. Amazingly the sun came out then from behind the purple and black clouds. Adam looked around to find that he was riding within a tangle of the top mainmast and the main topsail as well of bits and pieces of things he could not identify. In the storm, all of it had broken away from the ship which was nowhere in sight. Adam was grateful that the tangle of debris had broken away or he would have been dragged to the bottom when the ship sank as he assumed it had. He floated like that for the rest of the day looking around for any other survivors and seeing no one. Occasionally debris floated by but he never saw another person or any bodies. Tangled as he was in the rope, mast pieces, and sail, the predators of the sea did not see him. He didn’t know that the reason he didn’t see bodies or survivors was that sharks had been drawn to the disaster. His thirst grew significantly for that first day, but all Adam could do was to keep from falling asleep which he knew would mean his death. He rocked in the sea for the night and the next morning, and he thought he could see mountains in the distance. He wondered if he was hallucinating but began to kick to push the flotsam that was his prison and his salvation toward what he hoped was shore.
Moving by instinct more than thought, Adam made his way to the shores of Nicaragua. He moved up the beach only a few feet once he got to shallow water and could stand allowing him to free himself from the flotsam. On the beach, he fell asleep where some fishermen found him later as they returned to their homes. They knew he was from a ship that had floundered just by the debris they saw. Dragging him into the shade of some trees, they quickly went to the shoreline to see if anything of value had come ashore with him. They salvaged some rope and the large part of the sail before heading back to their village to tell the people there what they had found.
As the men carried Adam to their village, he didn’t wake. He awoke hours later to the sounds of people talking and laughing. He opened his eyes to see a pair of dark eyes looking back at him. A small boy then ran to the others telling them that the man had awakened. Luckily Adam had learned a lot of Spanish from the vaqueros who often worked on the Ponderosa. He had met more while he was in California, which had allowed him to practice on them. He was able to communicate enough to find out where he was. He was given food and water and was allowed to recuperate there. He had to make a new plan then. He never let them know that he had money in his pocket. He appeared to be entirely without resources and let them continue to believe that was true. He traveled to Managua and then sailed down the length of Lake Nicaragua and across to a small port on the Atlantic side of Nicaragua. In each case, he worked to pay his passage. He lived on the Atlantic side and worked at odd jobs until a ship arrived that was sailing to New Orleans. He signed aboard as crew and was soon headed north. In New Orleans, he had to buy a ticket to board a steamboat headed up the Mississippi and disembarked at Cairo, Illinois where he bought clothing more suitable for traveling and got a map to plan his route to Boston. He took coaches until he was able to get on board a train for the rest of the trip to Boston although he had to switch often, as the many lines were not yet consolidated. After nearly nine months since he had left his home, he stepped off the train in Boston ready to find his grandfather if he was still alive.
On the Ponderosa, Adam’s short letters had arrived. Ben was enveloped by great sadness as he read them realizing what his anger and his drinking had caused. He was devastated a few months later when some San Francisco newspapers arrived. The Falconer was listed as probably lost based on debris that had floated ashore after a typhoon had hit off the coast of Nicaragua. All crew were listed as presumed dead. Ben had penned a letter to Abel Stoddard telling him that his grandson was on his way. Then he had to write another to explain what had presumably happened to the last link Abel had to his daughter. Guilt weighed heavily on Ben, but this time, he carried it and didn’t resort to drinking to escape it. He didn’t tell his younger sons the news at that point. He wondered how long he could keep a tiny thread of hope alive until he would have to tell them what had happened to their older brother. With the difficulties of mail delivery, those letters from Ben to Abel had arrived only a few days before Adam stepped off that train. He hailed a hackney and gave them the address he had memorized for his grandfather’s home. When he got there, he walked up the steps to the house hoping that his grandfather would still be alive. When a woman answered the door, his heart fell but when he said who he was, she paled and said she would get Captain Stoddard.
As Abel walked to the door, he intended to blast this imposter with all the expletives he knew, but when he saw the young man standing there, he saw Elizabeth in his eyes. He was speechless and could say nothing.
“Grandfather Stoddard? I know it must be a great surprise to you, and I should have written to tell you I was coming, but I didn’t even know if you were still alive.”
“My God, Adam, I could say the same about you.” Confused, Adam let Abel lead him into the house as the teary-eyed man told his housekeeper to make some coffee for them. As they drank coffee, Abel told Adam why he had been so shocked at his appearance, and then Adam was shocked knowing that his family thought he was dead.
“I have to write to them. I have to tell them what happened.”
“First, tell me what happened. Is the Falconer lost?”
“Yes, it went down in a typhoon. I washed ashore with some of the other debris. I never saw another man from that ship after the ship tipped in the waves.”
“My boy, it’s a miracle you’re alive. God above must have decided to give us all a second chance with you. Now tell me how you got here, and don’t leave anything out.”
Telling the whole tale was almost as exhausting as living it. By the time dinner was served, Adam’s eyes were drooping. The housekeeper told Abel that a bedroom had been freshened up for the boy. “Captain Stoddard, he can barely get the food to his lips. He needs to sleep now so don’t be pestering him for any more stories. He needs his rest, and so do you after the shock you got this day.”
“Mrs. Feeney, that will be enough from you. Adam can decide when he wants to go to bed. He’s a man not a boy, and I certainly have not been a boy for a very long time.”
After Mrs. Feeney walked in a huff back to the kitchen, Adam looked a little sheepishly at his grandfather. “Sir, I am rather tired. I wouldn’t mind going to bed now and talking more tomorrow.”
That night, Adam slept better than he had in years. He relaxed without any pressure bearing down on him or any danger threatening him. He was with his grandfather who had accepted him as he was with no criticism of any kind. He knew that there might be some more difficult times ahead in their relationship, but he was relieved to find that he liked his grandfather very much after knowing him for less than a day. The next morning, Adam awoke with the dawn feeling refreshed. When he went to dress, he realized how shabby his clothing looked. His money had dwindled to only about one hundred dollars. He wasn’t sure what tuition would cost, but with clothing and books to buy, he was fairly certain that he did not have enough especially if he had to pay room and board for he did not intend to impose on his grandfather. He intended to be dependent on himself alone so that no absolute demands could be made of him. His tenure under his father’s thumb had made that a sore point with him.
At breakfast, Abel began to ask Adam about his plans for the future. Adam stated them as succinctly as he could. He had wanted to go to college to study architecture and engineering, but with the added expenses that he had not anticipated because of the Falconer being lost and stranding him in Nicaragua, he had spent more money than he had wanted and could not pay tuition, for books, and for room and board as well as clothing that he would need.
“Nonsense, you will live here so there is no cost for room and board. I have lots of clothing that no longer fits me. Mrs. Feeney can alter them for you taking in the sides and adding to the length because you are a might thinner and a might taller than I am.”
Adam chuckled but had to add more. “I don’t want to take from you without giving back. How can I pay for the room and board without having the money to do so?”
“You are insulting my hospitality with that attitude.” Seeing Adam stiffen up with that reproach, Abel softened his statement. “If it’s so important to you, you can work in my shop on weekends when you’re in school and for the rest of the summer now. I’ll take your expenses out of your wages before I pay you. Is that acceptable?”
“Yes, sir, it is. I have a few things I would like to do soon, if you don’t mind. Most importantly, I would like to see where my mother is buried, and after that, I would like to check on schools and see what they offer.”
“My boy, I had hoped you would want to go to my Elizabeth’s grave. I go there the first Sunday of every month, but I wouldn’t mind going more often. I’ll have a carriage brought around after I open the shop this morning. We’ll go see my darling girl, and she can see what a fine son she has.”
“Sir, is there paper here that I can use to write a letter to my family?”
“Already out on my desk. Write what you have to write, but do it quickly. I want to be down at my shop within the hour, and it’s a good mile to walk there.”
With the thoughts that he had been working on since he had heard his family thought he had perished, Adam penned a letter to his family. He realized it was very businesslike in its tone, but it was the only way that he could think about them now. He missed his brothers terribly, but still harbored some resentment over how his father had treated him. He tamped his emotions down and wrote the facts alone to reassure them that he was well and about to embark on the next stage of his life. Captain Stoddard posted the letter for him after opening his shop. Then they rode in a carriage to the large graveyard where Elizabeth Stoddard Cartwright was buried. Adam knelt by his mother’s grave and placed his hand over the headstone where her name was engraved. He prayed and asked her to watch over him while he was in Boston. He was startled by his grandfather’s next statement.
“Not just here. She’ll be your guardian angel wherever you go and whatever you do.”
“How did you know what I was thinking?”
“I didn’t. She told me what to say. Every time I come here, I feel her talking to me. Maybe it’s my all too vivid imagination, but that’s what I feel. Did you feel like someone was with you when you were floating in the sea wondering if you’d live or perish?”
Adam could only nod. He had felt what had seemed must be an irrational thought, but he had never told anyone. He had been sure when he was floating on the ocean that he heard a woman’s voice gently but firmly commanding him not to give up and to stay awake for he wasn’t too far from land. The memory of that was very vivid when Abel put a hand on his shoulder as Adam stood and walked with his grandfather back to the carriage so they could go visit some of the colleges in the area. However they had to alter that plan at the first stop they made. The looks Adam got in his shabby clothing made Abel realize he would need to buy at least one set of new clothing for his grandson before they made any more inquiries at colleges. So despite Adam’s strenuous objections, Abel took him to a haberdashery where Adam was measured and fitted with a new suit. Then it was off to the shoemaker to get him two pair of shoes, one for working in the shop and one for school and church. By the end of the day when they returned to the shop, Adam had several packages wrapped in brown paper. The next day, the plan was that he would visit colleges and get a much more genial greeting and much more cooperation in getting the information he needed to make a decision.
Life for Adam became filled with work and study. He took classes at college in mathematics and business, was an apprentice architect two afternoons per week at a construction firm, and worked at his grandfather’s shop on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday. After the first month of that, he was exhausted every Sunday when he finally got to take some time to study and prepare for the following week but had no actual work to do. Several times he had heard his grandfather and the housekeeper discussing his schedule but neither said anything to him. He had heard his grandfather say that the work would wear him out, and then he would have to drop something to have a more manageable workload. Adam would have a small smile when he heard things like that. They had no idea what he was capable of doing and how they only made him more determined to succeed in all three endeavors by doubting that he could. He did overhear one conversation that made him a bit depressed though.
“Abel, doesn’t he have any friends? I never see him with anyone except people he works with.”
One thing Adam had noticed in the conversations he overheard between his grandfather and the housekeeper, who had a small bedroom next to the kitchen, was that they called each other by their first names when no one else was present, and that her voice could be heard several times per week upstairs in the early morning. Adam very strongly suspected that there was a much closer relationship between the two than either was willing to let him know. Certainly it seemed so when he would hear them discussing him. He had always walked quietly and gracefully as compared to the heavy tread of his grandfather especially. But according to his grandfather, he floated around the house and surprised them frequently by his presence when they had never heard him approaching. He sometimes left his room upstairs and went to his grandfather’s study to get paper, supplies, or a book, and it was then, he often overheard them talking. That day when they talked about his lack of friends, they got him thinking about the fact that he had never had many friends, and if he did, they were seldom in his life very long. He had moved so often when he was young, and then lived on the Ponderosa that was far from other families and from town. He had made friends on board the Falconer, but all of them had perished in the storm that stranded him temporarily in Nicaragua. Then he overheard a conversation that was even more painful for him. He was very lonely and a bit homesick. The lack of friends made it all the more lonely for him.
“How will he ever marry? He doesn’t have time for any young women here with all the work and study he does.”
“I’m hoping to do something about that. I think we ought to have a party here. Perhaps we could have a fall harvest party. We could invite some of the families with sons and daughters of about the same age. Perhaps that way he could get to know some people his own age.”
“A party would be quite fun. We could do it in a few weeks.
But a party to introduce the country bumpkin to the friends of his grandfather seemed somehow rather demeaning and perhaps a bit overwhelming. Adam tried to dissuade them when they brought up the topic at dinner, but he had come to understand that the stubbornness he had seemed to be inherited from both sides of his family. Abel would not drop the idea, so three weeks later on a Saturday in October, Adam dressed in his suit and prepared to be introduced to a number of strangers. The party went reasonably well in Adam’s opinion, and he was invited to go riding on Sunday afternoon. He agreed and traveled to the stable after church services. He arrived after the others, and six horses were saddled and ready to ride. The saddles were much smaller than those Adam was used to using, but other than that, he expected no problem. The other two men and three ladies took a horse so Adam assumed correctly that they had left the sixth one for him. He tightened the cinch and spoke softly to the horse, which seemed slightly agitated. When he mounted up, his horse began bucking in earnest. He didn’t have a pommel to grab to use to hold his seat, but he did have his knees and did his best to hold his seat that way with the highly agitated animal. Several times he got him to nearly stop, but each time, the bucking began again before he had time to safely dismount. Finally one of the other male riders maneuvered his horse close enough to pressure Adam’s horse into moving sideways so that Adam could slip off. He did and nearly staggered over to the fence. He wanted to vault over the fence, but didn’t have the energy left and opened the gate instead to walk away.
“Wait, wait, we had no idea Bernard had done anything to your horse. Adam, please, we’re very sorry.”
Turning to look at them in disdain, Adam kept his temper barely in check. “I’ve been shot at by Indians and by rustlers. My family and I crossed the Humboldt desert where there is no water. I’ve broken horses that wanted to do their best to hurt or kill me. I have survived blizzards and avalanches. I’ve been in stampedes when men died under the hooves of hundreds of cattle. My stepmother was murdered before my eyes. I was on a ship that capsized at sea, and I floated in the ocean for a couple of days until washing ashore in Nicaragua, but I never experienced the asinine cruelty of violence for the sake of entertainment until today. My grandfather wanted me to have friends, but I would rather sleep with rattlesnakes than be friends with the likes of you.”
Bernard walked up to him then. The young man was about Adam’s height or perhaps an inch taller but outweighed him by at least sixty pounds. He pushed Adam in the shoulder. “There’s no call to be insulting. It was just a bit of fun.”
“If you touch me again, you may regret it for the rest of your life.”
“What are you going to do, little man? I’ve taken the boxing title at my school for the past two years.”
“If you make me defend myself, I’ll hurt you so you won’t be fighting any time soon.”
“You haven’t got a chance of doing that to me. You’re just backwoods trash that needs to be sent back where it came from.”
Then he pushed Adam in the shoulder again, and when that didn’t get Adam to back away, he took a swing at him. Adam grabbed the man’s hand and twisted him around and pushed his hand up high on his back while placing his leg around the man’s leg toppling him to the ground and landing on his back. There was the sound of a snap when that happened causing the man to howl in pain. Adam released him and the young man sat on the ground with tears running down his face as he cradled his arm.
“In Nevada, when you fight, you want to make sure you live. We don’t fight to put a trophy on a shelf. I warned you, but you decided to pick a fight anyway.” Adam looked at the other man then. “Do you feel the need to defend him?”
“Not at all. In fact, it’s about time someone put Bernard in his place. I suppose you’re no longer interested in riding and frankly I never was. I only came to be with the ladies here. Now if you would care to accompany us to a nearby restaurant, perhaps we can become properly acquainted. We really are much nicer than rattlesnakes. Well I assume we are never having actually met a rattlesnake. I presume though that they are quite nasty.”
“What about him?”
“We’ll put Bernard in a hackney and send him home. Now about my invitation?”
Looking at the young man and the three ladies standing with him, Adam nodded. “I’ll give it a try.”
That evening, Adam arrived home to find his grandfather and the housekeeper having tea in the kitchen. Mrs. Feeney hugged Adam when she saw him. “Now don’t be so stiff. It’s just a hug. You must have missed getting hugs since you left home.”
“No, I didn’t. I didn’t get hugged so there was nothing to miss.”
“You didn’t get hugged. Well I suppose you got to be too old for that kind of thing then.”
“No, I can’t remember ever being hugged. I hugged my little brothers when they were scared, but no one hugged me.”
“But dearie, someone must have hugged you when you were little and scared.”
“Ma did. Inger that is. She was my stepmother for a year before she got killed. I got hugs from her, but I don’t think I got any since then.”
“My goodness, how old were you then?”
“I was five when she married Pa. I was six when she got shot with an arrow. Hoss was just a baby then. It’s all right. I didn’t need hugs.”
“Honey, everyone needs hugs. I’m sorry no one was there to do that for you.”
Anxious to change the subject, Adam turned to Abel. “One of your friends might not be too happy with me about now. I think I may have broken a bone in Bernard’s arm today.”
“Why did you do that? For that matter, how could you have done that? That young man is much bigger than you.”
“He placed something under the saddle of the horse I was supposed to ride. The horse tried to buck me off, but I managed not to get thrown. Apparently that was a great disappointment to Bernard. Then he insulted me and pushed me. I warned him not to do that or I would hurt him. He pushed me again and then took a swing. He won’t be taking a swing at anyone else for a while.” He couldn’t help letting his statements be tinged with a hint of pride in what he had done.
“Oh, my, Adam, you can’t take pleasure in hurting another.”
“Oh, woman, be quiet about that. He wasn’t taking pleasure in hurting him. He was proud to stand up for himself and put that bully out of business for a while. Adam, he is a mean one though. You need to be careful around him from now on. He’s hurt many a young man with those fists of his.”
“I will be careful. I always try to be careful.”
“Now if that’s what happened with the horse riding, where have you been for the afternoon and part of the evening too?”
“The others and I went to a restaurant. We had some food, and we talked about things. We’re going to meet there next Sunday afternoon too if that’s all right with you.”
“Quite all right, Adam, quite all right. Now get cleaned up and we’ll have a light dinner before you get to your studying.”
That next day when Adam returned to Captain Stoddard’s home in the late afternoon, he heard his grandfather call to him as soon as he entered the house. He hurried into the study to be sure nothing was wrong, but that did nothing to soothe his fears for his grandfather looked worried.
“Sit down, boy. I want to give you something, and I want you to sit right in that chair until we’ve talked about it.”
Even more worried, Adam sat as requested but he was stiff and as serious as he ever could be. He waited and his grandfather walked to him and handed him a sheet of paper. It was a letter from his father.
“I got one too. I read mine, and now I want you to read yours. Then we’ll talk, and you’ll not be arguing with me on that point.”
Adam took the letter and did his best not to let his hand shake. His grandfather stood at his side almost as if to guard against him bolting before they had a chance to talk.
Adam, I am so sorry for my behavior. In a letter, I cannot express to you the depths of my guilt over how I acted toward you. I was feeling guilty and was in deep sorrow. I struck out at you when all you did was everything you could to help me and help your brothers. I was wrong about so many things. I know better now, but you are a continent away, and I cannot do anything to right the wrongs. You were right about the herd too. We took heavy losses over the winter because I kept too many cattle in pastures that couldn’t sustain them. We managed to make a profit but a very small one. I am sending what I can to help you pay for your schooling and other expenses. Please accept it as it is your due as my son and as one of the owners of the Ponderosa. I have thanked God each day and each night that you survived your journey. I know how awful it must have been for you. You have shown a resiliency and fortitude that is to be greatly admired. When you have done what you need to do in Boston, I pray that you will come home. There are letters in the package from Hoss and from Little Joe. I’m sorry that the one from Little Joe is so negative, but I cannot tell a boy his age about his mother and what she did. I hope you can understand that. I have communicated to your grandfather all of this and what I found out about Marie from Sheriff Roy Coffee. It is an even worse story than you know. If you want to know the details, your grandfather will tell you. I was a fool in so many ways, and it was my pride that kept me from seeing it for so long. Please know that I love you, and I miss you. I have the greatest of pride in you. I made a promise not to drink a drop of alcohol until you walk through the front door of this house again and we can sit by the fireplace and share a brandy together, man to man. Please consider that you might be willing to do that someday. By the way, Hop Sing is still with us, and he reminds me quite regularly about how I squandered the treasure of a most valuable number one son. I know he’s right about that.
Your loving father,
“He means it boy. I didn’t read it, but it has to be a lot like the letter he wrote to me. He knows how badly he acted, and I know how hard it is for a proud man to admit he’s been an ass. There have been times when I have had to do it myself. So what say you?”
“It sounds like he means what he said.”
“I’m sure he does, my boy.”
“What else did he find out about Marie?”
“You sure you want to know more about that?”
“I do. I want to know whatever my father knows.”
For hours, Adam and Abel talked about family. The floodgates opened and Adam poured out his soul to his grandfather especially that he felt guilty for letting his temper drive him to take action so often. Abel said he understood that very well too.
“My boy, you get a goodly sized portion of that temper from your dear mother, and she got it from me. Your father has a good temper in him too, but I think all that happened to you over these years has created an anger inside you too. You have lost so much and suffered so much for one so young. It’s that anger you need to come to terms with. Righteous anger like you showed against that Bernard is understandable, but there’s more seething within you that you must face.”
“How do I do that, grandfather?”
“You must learn to accept what you cannot change. Sometimes events conspire against us and put us in awful predicaments. We do the best we can when that happens, and we have to forgive ourselves when the results are sad or terrible.”
“You’re talking about my mother dying, aren’t you?”
“Yes, that, and your stepmother Inger dying as well. You could do nothing about either. You have to let that go. Grieve as you must, but look forward not back. It’s what your mother would want.”
“But she died giving birth to me. I don’t know how you or Pa can ever forgive me for that.”
“We couldn’t ever blame you. Elizabeth wanted a baby, and when my daughter wanted something, no one could deny her. I told you that you were much like her. And you were six years old when Inger was killed. You could not have done anything to save her either. You told me she told you to protect Hoss. Even that was a mighty big job for a young boy, but you did it, and your brother is alive because of you. I never knew Inger, but I have to believe that she would be proud and very pleased that you did that for her.”
“I have a lot to think about tonight.”
“Don’t spend too much time thinking. You have classes tomorrow and work. Let the ideas sit there a bit, and wait until you have some time to think things through.”
“All right, goodnight, Grandfather. Thank you.”
“Goodnight, my boy.”
“You know when you say it, it doesn’t sound so bad.”
“It always irritated me when Pa called me boy, but when you say it, it seems nice. I don’t know why it’s so different, but it is.”
“Maybe it’s because when I am looking at you as my grandson, you are my boy, but when I talk with you as a man talks to a man, you are Adam.”
“Maybe, because when Pa says boy, it’s usually to tell me to do something or to complain about something, and it makes me mad.”
“You should tell him that someday. He may not realize what he is doing when he does it.”
“Oh, he knows.”
Adam turned then and headed up the stairs. Abel watched him go and mused to himself. “You have a lot of anger in you, my boy. You need to find a way to let it out before it burns you up.”
Mrs. Feeney walked in the room then. “Talking to the air, are ye? It never answers, I hope. Now how did our boy take the news from home?”
“Rather well as far as I can tell. He hides his feeling very effectively much of the time. Now what would you like to do tonight?” Her smile was the only answer he needed.
Over the next two years, Adam worked and studied. He finished his course work at Harvard but then took some business classes at another college with a more practical course of study. He was hired on a part-time basis by the company where he had interned. Able Stoddard began to hope that Adam might be thinking of making Boston his home. He never tried to convince Adam that was the way to go, but he certainly did nothing to discourage any ideas that Adam might have in that regard. Adam had a small circle of friends with whom he socialized, and he began to go to religious services with them as well. Abel had no objection and was quite pleased that his grandson was a believer. After the laws admitting California as a free state but the strengthening of the Fugitive Slave Law as a result, there was more and more agitation in the churches of Boston to do something about the enslavement of four million people in the United States. Many countries had abolished slavery, but the federal union was leaving that issue up to individual states. Ministers spoke out against that, and various anti-slavery groups became very active. Adam and his friends began to attend rallies put on by the anti-slavery groups.
“Well, I suppose your attendance does help offset the guilt your family must feel after making its money in the slave trade.” Bernard loved having something true to use to taunt Adam. If he hit him for speaking the truth, then Bernard might get him arrested. That would end his college days rather quickly and perhaps be enough to get him sent packing.
“Haven’t you had enough? Do you seriously think that you can insult my family like that, and I’m simply going to walk away?”
“It’s not an insult. It’s the simple God’s truth. Ask your friends there. They know.”
Turning around to get denials from his friends, Adam saw only sympathy and concern. Then he knew. The rumors he had heard were true. His grandfather and, by any rule of logic, his father too had made their money in the slave trade. He could hear Bernard laughing and wanted to smash his mouth and shut him up. Two friends took him by the arm though to lead him away from the rally.
“Adam, we should talk. It’s true. We thought you knew. We don’t hold it against your grandfather or your father. They didn’t own the ship. The owner dictated where the ship would go. Many of the families here and in Connecticut and Rhode Island made their fortunes at least partially from the slave trade especially after it became illegal. The profits simply were too great for ship owners to ignore.”
“But they never told me.”
“We know. We could tell by the way you looked that you had never heard that before. We’re so very sorry. Please, let’s go to a restaurant and talk.”
“No, I want to go home. I want to talk to my grandfather and ask him why I was never told. I had a right to know.”
“Adam, it was a long time ago. Things were different then. We don’t condemn those who went along with the way things were. Many people especially here in the north didn’t know how bad things were. We look at who can help us now, and what they’re willing to do to right the wrongs.”
“I’m going to go talk with my grandfather. I want to know the truth, all of it.” But by the time Adam got back to the house, he found he didn’t know how to broach the subject with his grandfather. He loved his grandfather, and the two of them could be so honest with each other when they talked with neither losing his temper nor saying hurtful things to the other. Adam knew that if he brought up this subject, their relationship might be forever changed. He wasn’t at all sure that he would be able to tolerate that if the changes occurred as he was worried they would. Instead, he brooded on the topic for weeks, which turned into months.
Abel noticed that something had changed in their relationship but couldn’t think of anything that had happened to cause it. Any attempt to try to get Adam to divulge his inner thoughts met with stony silence. Abel began to understand the difficulties Ben had faced in dealing with Adam. If he didn’t want to share something, there was no getting it out of him. Finally Abel decided there was only one thing he could do. He walked up the stairs to Adam’s room and watched him as he worked. Then he stepped into the room and set an item on his grandson’s desk.
“What is it?”
“It’s a journal, me boy. It’s a place for a man to put his thoughts and his feelings when he doesn’t have any other place to moor them. You won’t talk to me about what’s been bothering you so, and I thought maybe then you could talk to yourself by journaling. It’s all got to come out, me boy, or it isn’t going to fester until it makes you so sick at heart that something in you will die.”
Something in Adam had already died. His innate trust in others and his belief that there was good inside everyone had perished. He knew that he had become more suspicious and that he now questioned every act wondering what the hidden motives might be.
“Is it so you can read it when I’m not at home?”
For the first time since Adam had come to live with him, Abel was angry with his grandson. His pride had been questioned and his honor had just been besmirched. He wasn’t about to let it go. “I have offered you the comfort of my home and my affection. You answer it with accusations? What have I ever done to make you not trust me? You are a mean-spirited boy when you want to be.”
“If you had told me the truth about how you made your money, then I would be more inclined to trust you. You were a slaver!”
Shocked that his grandson had come across that knowledge and then quickly understanding that with the friends he had, it wasn’t so surprising, Abel admitted the truth. “I did not make my wealth as a slaver. I did do that twice. The first time, I wasn’t aware that my cargo would be slaves from Cuba. That trip was my first as a captain, and I had taken a ship’s command with pride not knowing the illicit trade its owners were using to their great benefit. As a young captain and inexperienced in such illegal activity, the owner was willing to release me from my contract when we returned to Boston. The second time, I was captaining a ship that did tobacco and rum trade, and against my better judgment, I allowed the owner to have slaves hidden among the cargo in the hold when we were in Jamaica. I knew I needed to allow it in order to keep my captaincy. When I returned to Boston, I gave up that ship’s captaincy because my conscience bothered me so. Because of that, I was forced to remain idle for nearly a year until another owner was willing to take a chance on me. My family suffered with no income for all that time, but they supported my decision and the reasons for it.”
“And my father was part of it too?”
“Only by default. He was on the ship that took slaves on board the second time it happened to me. He had no rank and could do nothing about it.”
“He could have left the ship. He could have signed on with another ship.”
“Then he would have been stranded in Jamaica and he would not have met and married my daughter. You would not be his son and my grandson.”
“There are times when I wish I wasn’t alive.”
“Never! Never say that! I will not have you speak that way in my home. Life is a precious gift. Your mother knew that and gave it to you. Never speak of squandering such a sacrifice. Never!”
Standing stoically staring at his grandfather, Adam wondered why he had such trouble with the men in his family. He wondered why he couldn’t maintain a good relationship with either his father or his grandfather. “May I be excused, sir? I have studying to do.”
For the next few months, Adam went back to spending all of his time studying, going to classes, and working. His professors and his employer were very impressed by his achievements, but Abel, Mrs. Feeney, and Adam’s friends were concerned about how he had shut all of them out. Abel decided to force the issue one evening. He walked up to Adam’s room and stood at the door watching him at his desk with his head bent over his books. Abel knew that Adam was aware he was there. He waited determined to force Adam to look up and ask if he wanted anything, and of course, Adam was just as determined to ignore his grandfather’s presence until he went away as he had done all the other times he stood in his doorway watching. The battle of the wills was underway, and Adam lost. He couldn’t concentrate on his books eventually and realized he gained nothing by winning this particular battle so he looked up.
“Is there something you want, Grandfather?”
“The falling out I had with your father was over slaving. I was going to take a captaincy against my better judgment in order to get my damnable pride back again and stand up top a ship and know that she was mine to command. It wasn’t difficult to smuggle slaves. There was legal intracoastal trade in slaves all the time. You pick up fifty slaves in Charleston and sell them in New Orleans. That was completely legal and a good cover for the illegal trade. There was not a problem in making a side trip to Cuba and mixing in say twenty or thirty slaves from there. At an average of a thousand dollars each when they were sold, an owner could make thousands in profit on one short trip. It would be repeated then after cotton was taken up to New England and rum and other goods taken to a southern port. Aye, I knew what I was going to be doing, and I knew my conscience would suffer, but I thought it would all balance out. I was very wrong, and your father forced that contract to be broken. I won’t go into any more sorry detail, but needless to say, your father, at least, was blameless in the slave trade. I cannot say the same, but I have donated to the cause here in Boston ever since and helped in any small way I could. You can ask why your friends were so aware of what I had done. I told the group what I had done, that I felt great remorse, and I asked what I could do. Some who help runaway slaves escape asked me to use my connections to help runaways here. I use my shop to hide them at night, and we get them on board a ship bound for Canada or some other place where they can be free.”
“I didn’t know.”
“It is illegal to do what I am doing now. Your young friends do not likely know that I am the one who is hiding the runaways in the port, but they may have guessed. I didn’t want you to know. If I am caught, you and Mrs. Feeney will be suspected but held blameless.”
“I want to help.”
“It is too dangerous, Adam, and I can’t let you do that.”
“You can, and you must. I have to do this. Please let me help somehow?”
“Your father would have me keelhauled if he knew I had even given you this information. It puts you in a terrible position if the authorities ever question you.”
“Now that I know, I have to do something. Isn’t it better that I do it with people who have experience rather than blundering about on my own?”
“Aye, I know you’re going to do something now so I best be the one helping you, but Mrs. Feeney is going to have me keelhauled if anything happens to you.”
“You like her a lot, don’t you?”
Looking at Adam and wondering how much he had guessed, Abel decided that it was probably a lot. “Aye, I like her a lot.”
“Why don’t you get married?”
Surprised because he didn’t know his grandson had noticed that much, Abel harrumphed to buy some time. Finally he decided that more secrets could only hurt his relationship with his grandson. “She’s Catholic and her family and her church would be mortified if she would be openly involved with an old Methodist sinner like me. They must have guessed by now that she is more than my housekeeper, but as long as we maintain that pretense, no one will cause any trouble for us.”
“You don’t have to maintain the pretense for me, Grandfather. I have guessed that I have made your life more complicated since I got here.”
“Aye, that you have, me boy, but I wouldn’t have given these years up for any amount of treasure. It has done my heart and soul good to see Elizabeth’s boy under my roof. You know that you are welcome to stay forever if you wish. This house and the shop will be yours someday.”
Carefully wording his response, Adam had to let his grandfather know how torn he was by having two families. “I promised Hoss I would come home. Now you have given me a home here. I hope I can always call this home too, but someday, I have to go to my home in Nevada.”
“It is your home, me boy. When you go back to Nevada, if ever you feel the need to leave, know that this home is waiting for you here.”
“Thank you, Grandfather, and thank you for forcing me to talk to you. I didn’t know how to bring up the subject. I’m very glad we were able to clear the air between us.”
“You do have a knack for hiding your emotions and walling others off from you. I don’t know why you’re that way, but me boy, you need to work on showing others how you feel.”
“I’m not comfortable doing that.”
“I know. But someday, you may realize how important it is. Good night now, and I’ll leave you to your studying. That woman is downstairs waiting for my report, I’m sure.”
Adam grinned warming Abel’s heart. He was amazed sometimes what one grin from his grandson could do for him as he saw his daughter smiling in her son. He knew his next visit to her gravesite would be a lot more pleasant than the previous one when he had been so frustrated. He looked forward to Sunday services and the chance to stand by her resting place once more at peace with her son. However that wasn’t going to happen. Lots of events that week created an entirely new and unforeseen result.
The next day, Abel quietly told Adam to take a basket of food down to the shop at closing time. They were expecting a late delivery and would need some food. Anyone who was suspicious was supposed to think that the food was for Adam and Abel as they waited for a late delivery. However, the federal authorities had become aware that runaways were being hidden in a shop or warehouse in the harbor, and they were watching for any suspicious activity. The shop with a light on well after all other businesses closed drew their attention. They were watching as Adam delivered the basket of food and then remained in the shop when Abel left to get some other items. A wagon pulled around to the loading dock, and the watchers saw Adam open the back door of the shop and help three people wearing long coats up the steps and into the back of the chandlery. They began to move in to make what they hoped would be an arrest that would show the southern states that they were in fact enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act even as states such as Massachusetts and Wisconsin defied federal authority. Adam saw the shadows of the men moving in toward the back of the shop as he watched for his grandfather’s return. He told the three runaways that they literally had to run. He led them out the front door after seeing no one advancing toward the shop in that direction. They ran and ran to the sounds of yells and pursuit behind them. But Adam’s stay in the city had taught him more shortcuts and back alleyways than these federal agents knew. They eluded their pursuers, but Adam had no idea where he could go with the three. They had to be somewhere before dawn or they would be apprehended. Suddenly Adam knew where they could go so that his grandfather would know where to look for them. It was almost noon when Abel arrived at his daughter’s graveside. Soon Adam stood by his side with his head bent as if in prayer.
“I didn’t know where else I could take them.”
“Where are they?”
“Up the hill in that small copse of trees. No one would think to look there for them. They’re sleeping now. In how much trouble are we for doing this?”
“For me, nothing other than suspicion. I won’t be able to help any more by using my shop. But for you, there’s potentially a lot of trouble. You were the one who arrived with the basket of food and then ran with them. I told them you were a boy who helped out with odd jobs and that you were supposed to be cleaning the shop last night not hiding runaway slaves. Now they have no idea that the cleaning boy is you, but if they get one good look at you, they’ll know. Your father sent a letter. I have it here. I’m guessing he’s asking when you’re coming home. Now would be a good time if you were so inclined.”
“What about my things?”
“I have them in the carriage. You can take it to the train station.” Handing a plump envelope to Adam, Abel continued. “Here’s money to buy a ticket and for other expenses you may have on the way. Don’t hesitate to ask for more if you need it. I have a list here of friends who will help you on your travels until you get to St. Joseph. That’s the jumping off point for wagon trains headed to California. You could sign on with one of those, or you could take a steamboat down to New Orleans and head out by sea and cross again at Nicaragua. Lots of people bound for the gold fields are doing that. You should have no trouble going that way either.”
“Will you tell my professors and my employers that I was called away unexpectedly to return to my home in Nevada?”
“I will do that. I’m so sorry you didn’t get a chance to get your degree.”
“It’s all right. I learned the things I wanted to learn. A piece of paper that says I did that is only a piece of paper. What will happen to the three who are up on that hill sleeping?”
“My friends only need know where they are. There are always contingency plans. If your first plan doesn’t work, you need to make sure you have another plan. We’ve operated like that for almost twenty years now, and it has worked well for us.”
“That’s a good strategy. If your first plan doesn’t work, get yourself another plan. I like that.”
“Crazy as it may sound, it was a runaway who taught us that. I guess he knew more about running away than we supposedly well educated people knew.”
“Thank you, Grandfather, for everything. I’ll write. I guess now with the rush of people to California, there will be better mail service soon too.”
“I hope so, me boy, for I shall be waiting to hear from you, and I’m an old man. I can’t wait too long.”
“Grandfather, don’t talk like that. I’ll be back here someday to see you again. I can’t leave without promising you that I’ll be back.”
With a hand on Adam’s shoulder and tears about to flow, Abel pointed at the carriage. “You better get going now before those federal men figure out what’s been going on.”
Unable to speak, Adam took his grandfather’s hand and grasped it tightly before walking at a fast pace down the hill to the carriage with his father’s letter in his pocket. On the train to New York later, he read his father’s latest entreaty. He had asked before, but Adam could sense the sadness in this letter as his father seemed to wonder if Adam was ever coming home. His father also promised that he would make changes if Adam came back and that he would treat his son as a man showing him the respect he deserved. Adam didn’t write an answer to that letter. With travel and mail delivery as they were, he would arrive home about the same time as any letter he could post, and if all went well, he would arrive home well in advance of any letter. He hoped that would be the case.
“You want to hire this boy and put all of our lives in his hands if anything happens to you?”
Early that morning in St. Joseph, Adam had approached the head scout of a wagon train headed to California. He had been told they were looking for two scouts to assist the head scout. The man had looked askance at him at first but had warmed to him rapidly as Adam answered his questions. Now the two of them stood in front of the wagonmaster and his assistant who wondered if the head scout had lost his mind somehow in the previous day.
The scout had an answer for the wagonmaster. “This boy, as you call him, lived in Nevada for eleven years. His family has property in the Sierras. You know what happened to the Donner Party, and if anything happens to me, this is the man who is your best chance at avoiding that fate. He’ll get you through those mountains to California.”
“But he has to ride all day, hunt for us, and help defend the train if we’re attacked.”
“I have confidence he can do all of those things.”
“You may have confidence, but I do not. I want to see some evidence that he can do what he says he can do.”
The scout unbuckled his gunbelt handing it to Adam who strapped it on. The he walked to a nearby bush and selected five branches that he stuck into the ground. Walking back to Adam, he asked if he thought he could hit those.
“I’m not sure. I haven’t fired a gun in almost five years.”
“Just do your best. All you have to do is show you can shoot.”
Taking a deep breath and exhaling, Adam drew and shot four of the five sticks in the ground. Turning to the scout, he apologized for missing one.
“My, God, boy, if I had tried to shoot that fast, I might have only hit one. Where’d you learn to shoot like that?”
“In Nevada, we often didn’t get supplies regularly. Everyone needs to make every shot count. It could mean your life if you don’t.”
Looking at the wagonmaster, the scout had only one question. “Good enough?”
“More than good enough. But get him dressed in clothing more fitting for a scout. I don’t want the people on the wagontrain to think I hired a greenhorn scout, and that’s what he looks like in those city duds. If you got any gear, boy, you can store it in my wagon. It’s the first one in line.”
Unbuckling the gunbelt and handing it back, Adam was not about to let another man call him a boy repeatedly. “That’s fine, sir, but I am not your boy. My name is Adam. You can call me that.”
“Well, you got some spunk, but be careful how you talk to me. I could still change my mind about hiring you.”
“I could change my mind about being hired too.”
“Buck, get him out of here before we have a problem. He’s your hire, so you keep him in line. Is that understood?”
“It is, and I’m sure he’ll do fine.” Looking at Adam, Buck had to say something. “That pride of yours has probably gotten you in trouble a time or two I would guess.”
“A few times, yes, but nothing I couldn’t handle.”
“I would guess so. Well, let’s go get you some gear. You got some money or do you need an advance on your pay?”
“I have enough money.”
“Good, go get yourself some clothes, a good horse and a spare, a rifle, a pistol, and as much ammunition as you can pack in one side of a saddlebag. If you can afford it, buy a shotgun too. We’ll have trouble out here with the supplies so you need enough for the whole trip just in case.”
By the time Adam returned to the wagon train, he looked the part except that everything was new, shiny, and clean. It wouldn’t stay that way, and the settlers and gold seekers they were guiding wouldn’t know any better anyway. That night, Adam had dinner around a campfire for the first time in years as he slowly acclimated himself to the west again. The other assistant scout, Murray, pulled out a harmonica and began to play. Adam leaned back against his saddle and sang along. Soon many people on the wagontrain walked over to enjoy the entertainment with some of them joining in on the singing. The scout walked over to the wagonmaster.
“Now that’s a nice bonus I never expected. We got ourselves some entertainment for the trip too. I wonder if Adam can play anything like a guitar or banjo.”
“Find out. We can find an old guitar if he knows how to play.”
Finding that Adam could play chords on a guitar, an old one was located and packed into the wagonmaster’s wagon. After a few nights of practice, Adam began playing and most nights then, Adam and Murray provided entertainment. The first part of the journey went well. The plains were relatively flat and sometimes they were able to make as many as fifty miles in a day. Crossing rivers and even small streams often took a full day, and in a few cases two days. Rain and thunderstorms slowed them as well. Rivers, ponds, and streams were relatively abundant, and there was lush summer grass to feed the stock so there was no hardship. Even though they had to slow down to only about three miles an hour as they reached the foothills of the Rockies, the travel remained relatively easy. They had not faced any dangerously flooded streams or rivers, and there had been no trouble with Indians or with animals depleting their stock. The people on the train began to get overconfident thinking they would be in California in record time despite the wagonmaster telling them that the hardest part of the journey was still ahead of them.
As they passed the Continental Divide to the western side of the Rockies, Adam grew uneasy. Not only was Inger killed by Indians out in this area, he had the feeling each day that they were being watched. The train had grown smaller as a group had broken away in Nebraska taking the Denver Road and giving up on their dream of going all the way to California. With fewer men to defend the train, the scouts stayed closer and watched for trouble. Adam was the first to come in with evidence that they were being watched.
“I found tracks of what look to be about a dozen unshod horses on the hill just ahead. They must have seen me riding that way and left. I doubt they went very far, but they made some attempt to brush out their tracks and that means they don’t want us to know they’re there. That’s a bad sign.”
“How did you know there were the tracks of twelve if they brushed them?”
“I learned to track from the Paiute. Brushing tracks only works when trackers don’t know that trick. It’s not hard to calculate how many by indentations that the brushing doesn’t remove. I think that they’re young men too because none of the tracks were deep indicating that the horses were being ridden by men who are lighter than average.”
“Sounds like it might be young bucks on a hunting trip or out to count coup. Got an opinion on that?”
“Probably both. If we let them take some stock without too much trouble, they’ll probably head back to their camp whooping and hollering all the way about how they defeated the stupid white people.”
The wagonmaster didn’t like that idea at all. “We need all that stock to get across the desert and the Sierras.”
Buck chimed in though trying to get him to agree. “We can replenish our stock in Salt Lake. The Mormons there trade with any train coming through.”
“And they charge an arm and a leg for every purchase. It’s practically robbery with the prices they charge. They have an agreement with the government to protect and help wagon trains coming through, but that doesn’t stop them from extorting money by charging excessively for necessities.”
“The weaker stock won’t make it through the Humboldt Sink any way. We’d be better off with replacements.”
“If we can even afford the prices they’ll charge us.”
“What price do you put on a life, sir?” Adam wanted the wagonmaster to see the big picture and not the narrow money argument that he had.
“There is no price to be put on a life, Adam.”
“Exactly, sir. If we fight to keep all the stock, I have no doubt that we’ll win, but lives will probably be lost. If you aren’t sure, maybe you’d like to ask the men on the train if they would rather lose some stock or would they rather lose their wife or perhaps a child.”
“All right, Adam, what are you suggesting?”
“Let them ambush us, but we’ll set up the situation so that the people on this train are safe.”
“Buck, can we do that?” At Buck’s nod, the wagonmaster gave in. “All right, Buck, you and Adam set it up. Do it soon before those young braves decide they’re going to ambush us at some point where we won’t be ready. Just be sure to see that they get the worst of the stock and not our prime horses and mules.”
As the wagonmaster walked away, Buck turned to Adam. “All right, Adam, it was your idea, so where do we set this up and when?”
“Tomorrow. As we pass where they were watching today, the trail narrows. We can only have the wagons go through single file. You know that means the stock will be coming through last. Have everyone hitch up their best teams and tie off any essential stock to the back of wagons. Murray and I will take what’s left to the back of the train and wait until all the wagons are through. That’s when they’ll hit us.”
“Murray, that all right with you?”
“I think it’ll work. I hope all they have are bows and arrows. They’re deadly with those things but we can take some precautions.”
That intrigued Adam who had to ask what those could be. Murray told him. The next morning, Adam and Murray borrowed some very large kettle lids and put them under their shirts in front and back. As Murray had pointed out, the Indians were most likely to shoot them in the back or chest so if they protected those areas of their body, they had a better chance of riding out of an ambush alive and probably unhurt. Using some strips of cloth, the women helped the young men position the lids over their chests and backs. Both Adam and Murray put on two shirts and each wore a heavy coat over those as well. The wagonmaster brought out his duster and Buck offered his so that they two young men had another layer of protection.
The plan worked to perfection except for one small problem. The Indian who shot at Murray was apparently a very bad shot, and the arrow hit Murray in the side just above his right hip. Adam rode back to the train driving ten head of stock with an arrow sticking out of his back but bouncing around because it was lodged in the multiple layers of clothing. He was leading Murray’s horse as Murray hung on to the pommel of his saddle.
“Well, Buck, Adam here planned for everything except for the damn poor shot one of them made. I wish he had hit me in the chest. It hurts real bad, and I’m bleeding pretty heavy.”
Murray rode in a wagon until they reached Salt Lake and the Mormon settlement there. In Murray’s condition, he was unlikely to survive the desert crossing and the Sierras. He had lost blood and was fighting an infection. They agreed he would do better to stay with the Mormons.
“Hey, Adam, is it true that Mormons can have more than one wife?”
“It’s true, but many of them don’t, even though I’ve heard stories of men like Brigham Young having dozens of wives. I don’t know if it’s true, but they do take in young people all the time who have no parents.”
“I might make this my home then. Wouldn’t that be something? Two dozen wives! I ain’t even got one now, and I’m thinking on having a bunch. Once all them children grew up a might, I wouldn’t have to do nary a chore, now would I?”
“Always thinking, aren’t you Murray? If you decide not to stay here, you can come to the Ponderosa. I’ll do my best to get you hired on there.”
“What’s a Ponderosa?”
“It’s my father’s ranch. Go to Carson City or Virginia City and there will be people there who can give you directions. You’ll be heading toward the lake. You’ll be on the Ponderosa in no time.”
“Thanks, Adam. I may take you up on that.”
The wagontrain pulled out then with their supplies replenished and the people still confident. The wagonmaster had warned them of the Humboldt Sink but they had crossed the forty five miles of waterless land between the extremely shallow Big Sandy River and the Green River, and most thought it could be no worse than that dusty trip. They were wrong. They followed the muddy meandering Humboldt River until it dried up. People on the wagon train who were exclusively from the northern and eastern states had never seen a river just end. In their experience, a river flowed into a bigger river and that into another until it emptied into a big lake or the ocean. The Humboldt ended in an alkali marshy swamp. The water was undrinkable at that point, and then they faced the firebox of the Humboldt Sink with its loose, white, salt-covered sands and baked alkali clay that reflected the sun’s rays creating a dry heat that could dry a body into a desiccated state in a few days. By the end of the trip, there were bodies of people and animals that had been left out there to do just that. Taking the time to bury anyone in the baked clay soils that needed a pickaxe to be broken meant that more would die. Prayers were said and blanket wrapped bodies were left behind. There wasn’t any time to mourn.
Within two hours of venturing into the Humboldt, the people and animals had been stumbling in fatigue though they had covered only eight miles at that point and had thirty-two more to go. They couldn’t stop to rest. Every minute was precious and had to be used to keep moving. Pianos, dressers, brass beds, and all sorts of family heirlooms were tossed aside to make the load lighter for the animals so they could move a bit faster to get them out of that ungodly furnace that let them know how people could suffer in hell’s heat. Adam and Buck had set out a half-day ahead of the train. Each was going to find one end of the Carson River that also emptied into the Humboldt Sink but on its west side. They had found the end of the northern branch but it was dry as was Stillwater Marsh. Buck continued on following the streambed of the northern branch of the Carson River as Adam headed toward the shorter southern branch. They were to fire three shots if they found the river with water. The train would head in the direction of whoever fired the first shots. Neither man fired hoping the other had found better water until Adam was miles along the southern branch and found muddy water. Hearing nothing more, the wagonmaster headed toward the southern branch of the Carson River. When he got the train there, Adam told him that he needed to go several more miles before there was any water in the riverbed.
“It’s muddy, but it’s there. The snows must have been light this winter. The river is extremely low. A few miles further up, the water is cleaner in some pools, and there’s grass.”
Discouraged, the people on the trail trudged further. Adam handed over his two canteens to those who seemed to be in the worst shape. He and his horse had drunk their fill, and he had filled the canteens as well. He took empty canteens and rode ahead to fill them bringing them back to the exhausted travelers. They spent three days on the banks of the Carson River moving even a little further up in the hills where the grass was better and the water cleaner and more plentiful.
Buck never came back. Adam rode up to the northern branch as the people on the wagontrain rested and recuperated, but he couldn’t find him. He wondered if Buck had perished in the desert. He had no way of knowing that the scout had drunk some water he shouldn’t have and died from dehydration with the ensuing diarrhea and no one to care for him. That left Adam to guide the wagontrain through Carson and up over the Sierras to Hangtown. Once there, they would no longer need a scout.
Adam was so close to home and as anxious as he was to get there, he wondered about how he would be received. At night with nothing to do, he stared at the familiar constellations and worried. He knew that Hoss would be happy to see him. Every letter from Hoss had ended with a plea to remember his promise and come home. Adam was very concerned about how his youngest brother would react, and had some misgivings as well about how his father would react to the surprise of Adam arriving on the Ponderosa. At least he had over a week to get ready because it took that long to get the wagontrain up the eastern slopes and headed down the trail to Sacramento. Adam was paid for his services and thanked by many people. He turned then leading his spare mount, headed overland to the Ponderosa.
“Raise up your hands and step away from the horse.”
Of all the possible scenarios that Adam had imagined could happen when he greeted his father again, this one had never occurred to him. He had ridden in and walked up toward the house, but he had been challenged almost immediately by his father’s voice behind him.
“Now turn around slowly.”
Doing as requested, Adam’s eyes took in the graying hair on his father and that he looked a lot heavier than Adam remembered. Standing next to him was a tall, blond young man who had to be Hoss but it was astounding to see him at nearly seventeen and probably six feet three inches tall, a full two inches taller than his older brother. He was holding a rifle rather casually as if he didn’t believe there was any danger or at least not the kind of danger that had Ben Cartwright worried. It appeared that a smile was tugging at the corners of his lips too. Ben looked worried and as protective as a mama bear protecting her cubs. There had been a number of men passing through the area recently headed to the goldfields of California, and most weren’t very concerned about what damage they did or what laws they broke as greed was their motivation and their credo.
“You look familiar. Do I know you?”
For the six months that Adam had been with the wagon train, he had not cut his hair, and for the past few weeks, he hadn’t shaved either, as his shaving kit was lost somewhere in the Humboldt Sink. His clothing was dusty, and he wore the slouch hat favored by scouts because of its superior ability to protect from sun and rain equally well. He had on the duster he had gotten from Buck who had not asked for it back before disappearing. His two valises were slung over the spare horse with his bedroll. He supposed he did look a lot like the men heading toward the goldfields.
“I should hope you still know me even if it has been five years.”
Standing in shock for a moment, Ben noticed all the changes in this man who had to be his son. In addition to all the hair, he was a bit taller but also more muscular. He was more a man than the slender youth who had left five years earlier. He had a confidence in how he stood there that was a just a bit intimidating as was the penetrating look of those eyes. As Ben hesitated, Hoss did not. He had recognized his brother immediately and had been amused that his father had not. Hoss enveloped Adam in a bear hug surprised a bit at the muscular man who hugged him back. Then Ben stepped forward and took a turn hugging his son.
“You look a bit like a mountain man dressed like that. I expected you to come from Boston looking more like an eastern gentleman.”
“I think I did until I got to St. Joe. I signed on as an assistant scout on a wagon train to work my way home. I thought it might be faster than traveling south to take a ship to Nicaragua, crossing, and catching a ship on the other side. As it turned out, it was probably about the same amount of time.” Adam didn’t want to say that as a member of the underground railroad, he didn’t feel safe traveling through any part of the south. “But I’m home now. And this must be Little Joe. You’re a lot bigger than I remember you.”
“You’re a lot dirtier than I remember you.” The animosity of Little Joe’s response wasn’t concealed at all, and Adam had been afraid of just that kind of attitude in his youngest brother. It was going to make being at home a bit more difficult.
“Joseph, that is no way to talk to your brother. You need to apologize right now.”
“Sorry.” But it was clear there was no remorse.
“Pa, I’d like to put my horses in the stable if you don’t mind.”
“I’ll get one of the hands to do it.”
“I’d like to do it myself. These two got me home safely, and I’d like to show them a bit of kindness now that our travels are done.”
“I’ll help ya, Adam.”
“Hoss, I’d like that. I’d like that very much.”
As Adam and Hoss led the two horses to the stable, a smiling Ben listened to Hoss asking questions about Adam’s trip home and where he got the horses. Little Joe stomped off to the house obviously not pleased at all with Adam being home, and now Hoss heading off with him and completely ignoring Little Joe. Ben waited until he didn’t see his son any longer and went in the house to talk to Hop Sing about drawing a bath and getting a room ready for number one son. In the stable, Adam and Hoss talked very seriously for a bit.
“I know what Marie did and why Pa was drinking. I know that none of it was your fault. Pa was real unfair to you back then, but he stopped drinking, Adam. He ain’t had a drink at all while you was gone. He’s always said he wouldn’t have a drink again until you walked through that front door again.”
“So things got better around here when I left.”
“Well, they did but it wasn’t because you left, well, maybe it was because you left, but only because that shook Pa up something fierce. He hadn’t seen what he was doing to ya so much until you was gone. I know that Roy and Dr. Paul talked to him a lot. Well from what I heard, I guess you could say they yelled at him a bunch. It was in spring that Pa finally admitted to anyone who was listening that he missed you real bad and that he had been wrong about a lot of things or maybe everything. He wrote to you to tell you that. Did you get the letter?”
“I got it. What happened that made such a difference?”
“Well, we was doing the herd counts and it wasn’t going real well. The numbers were way down, and we found carcasses and bones all over the place. There just wasn’t enough feed. Lots of cows that made it were too skinny too. Calving was one of the worst we ever had. Pa and Hank almost come to blows over it.”
“Hank? He’s one of the most loyal men I ever met. How could he and Pa almost get in a fight? I don’t understand.”
“Pa was complaining about all the losses we took that first winter you was gone. Hank looked him in the eye and said it wouldna happened if he hadn’t been such a stubborn ass cause him and you had figured out how many could make it through the winter. He said ifn he’d listened to the two of you, them extra cattle woulda been sold instead of fertilizing the pastures.”
“What did Pa sat to that?”
“He said that was malarkey and Hank asked him to show him some evidence that he was wrong. They stood there toe to toe for a bit, and then Pa backed down. You know how hard that is for him. Well, course, Pa couldn’t show him that he was wrong cause he was right. Pa said he was sorry and shoulda listened to you and Hank. Then he asked Hank to explain how you had gotten the number. We been using your idea since then, and the winter losses haven’t been so much.”
“I bought some seed in Missouri. I got it in my bag inside. It’s some grass seed that might work out here and give us better pasture grass. I only have enough for a small plot, but if it grows, then we could get more seed from it and start overseeding the pastures to improve the grass.
“That sounds like a good idea. You got any other ideas?”
“I was thinking of two. If we could start cutting timber, we could have a second source of income.”
“You know how Pa feels about those trees.”
“Yes, but if we planted one for each one we cut, and if we cut selectively so that there were trees to cut every year, then it would help the forest we have and still give us more income.”
“Hard to find men to work out here as it is.”
“The goldfields are discouraging a lot of men already. Some of them from the northern states especially those from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota probably have experience in cutting timber so we only have to let them know there’s some steady work here.”
“That might work.” Looking down at the floor after finishing the grooming of Adam’s spare horse as Adam groomed his horse, Hoss was uncomfortable bringing up the next subject.
“Spit it out, Hoss. It’s not going to come out any other way.”
“Dadburnit, you kin still read my mind some.” After a pause and a deep breath, Hoss was ready. “It’s Little Joe. He thinks that you somehow caused Marie’s accident because he heard Pa accuse you of that all those years ago. I thought he might forget it, but it seems to be branded into his brain like we brand cattle, permanent like.”
“He still talks about it?”
“Not so much that as he makes a comment sometimes when Pa or me mentions your name. He thinks you made Pa leave too.”
“No one has ever told him the truth, any of it?”
“It’s real hard, Adam. Little Joe is the only one of us who remembers his ma at all. I hate to take that away cause I know what a treasure it would be if I could remember Ma. She’s only a picture to me except for the stories you and Pa tell. And Pa doesn’t talk much about your ma. Hey did your grandfather tell you about her?”
“Yes, I got to visit her grave, and grandfather and I talked a lot then and many times after that. I feel like I know her now, and she’s not only a picture.”
“Did you know Pa’s got all three of them in frames on his desk now? We can see all three of them any time we want.” At Adam’s slight look of surprise, Hoss nodded. “I know about Marie. I heard enough over the years to know what you said she did. I know Roy talked to Pa about it too. Pa doesn’t know that I know.”
“And no one has ever criticized Marie to Little Joe so he thinks she was this wonderful woman who was taken away tragically because of me somehow. I understand why no one wants to tell him exactly what she did, but letting him believe lies isn’t any better. Wouldn’t a bit of the truth be better than that?”
“How do you tell a boy like Little Joe a little bit about how his mother had a lover while she was married to Pa, and that she planned to have Pa killed so the two of them could take over the Ponderosa? I guess she even thought about you getting killed to get rid of ya.”
“Yes, I guess there’s no way of doing that a little bit. But someday, Hoss, he might need to know all of it.”
“Maybe, someday, but not now, not yet.”
Adam nodded and the two walked to the house shoulder to shoulder. Inside, Hop Sing greeted Adam and smiled. “Hop Sing happy to welcome number one son home where he belong. You take bath now. It ready.”
“Would you like to borrow my shaving kit, son?”
Nodding, Adam explained that he had lost his in the Humboldt Sink somehow probably when cargo was shifted from one wagon to another to even out the loads. Hoss asked why they had to do that so Adam described the last leg of the wagontrain trip to California through the Humboldt Sink and then over the Sierras. He decided to wait to tell them the other stories especially the one about the Indian attack because he was concerned about his father’s reaction to the news that his son had purposefully put himself in harm’s way. He took a long bath then after cutting his hair shorter. He planned to go to town to buy clothes, and he would let the barber finish shaping his hair when he did that. After his bath, he shaved off the heavy beard he had grown in only a few weeks. Then he dressed in a white shirt and black trousers that he had worn in Boston. With a quick cleaning of his boots, they looked presentable. By the time he walked out of the washroom to have dinner with his family, he looked more like the son Ben remembered except for being taller, broader in the shoulders, and much more confident in how he walked and talked.
Dinner conversation was mostly Ben and Hoss asking questions and Adam answering. After dinner, the family gathered at the fireplace and Adam asked some questions about the ranch and what they had been doing. Hoss brought up the ideas that he and Adam had discussed in the stable earlier causing Adam to cringe a bit. He had meant to hold those for a later date when he thought his father might be in the mood to listen to his plans about making some changes.
“Well, Hoss, Adam only got back today. We aren’t going to be making too many more changes until he gets a chance to see what we’ve done while he was gone. Everything has been working very well, so we’ll table any discussion of making changes until we have to consider it.”
At that point, both Adam and Hoss knew that there was trouble brewing already although with a more mature Adam, it wouldn’t likely be the kind of explosive argument that had caused him to leave five years earlier. At least Hoss hoped that was the case, and it was. They eventually started a timber operation, and after another series of arguments between the oldest son and his father, a lumber mill was added. That one had been a doozy of an argument especially the last one.
“The best profits are made on finished products. Why send our timber as raw material to someone else who get to make fantastic profits on our raw materials by turning logs into boards?”
“And who is going to be supervising this operation? We’re all very busy, and to add another business with all the paperwork and contracts as well is out of the question.”
“What if I do all of that?”
“You don’t have the time.”
“If I say I’ll do it, then I’ll do it.”
With that, Ben had backed down as he did eventually with the pastures being overseeded, cattle being brought from Texas to crossbreed with their cattle, investments in mines, windmills, and finally some investments in railroads and banking. Hoss was able to tell over the years how frustrated Adam was that every change had to be wrought with months of arguing even though every one of his ideas had brought greater wealth to the Ponderosa allowing it to get even larger and more profitable.
However that friction between Ben and Adam over the future of the Ponderosa paled in comparison to the problems that repeatedly developed between Adam and Little Joe. It had started when Adam had arrived home at age twenty-two and Little Joe was ten. The first full day that Adam was home, Ben declared it a holiday and the whole family went to town with Adam. The first stop was the barbershop, and the first issue was raised.
“Why do I have to get a hair cut just because Adam needs one? His hair looks awful. Mine’s fine.”
“His curly hair and your curly hair are about the same length. I want yours cut so you look like my son and not some riverboat gambler’s child.”
“Why’d he have to come back anyway? All he does is make trouble for everybody.”
“Little Joe, he is your brother, and you will talk to him with respect.”
“I wasn’t talking to him. I was talking to you.”
“Mind your tone with me, Little Joe. You will talk about your brother with respect too. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Pa. But I don’t have to like him, do I?”
With that, Adam turned and walked into the barbershop. He didn’t think anything their father said or did was going to improve the situation. Little Joe had been nursing his anger at Adam for perceived wrongs for too long. It wouldn’t go away with anything less than the truth, and not one of the other Cartwrights was willing to tell him. Adam decided he would have to bear it until Little Joe was old enough to accept the truth.
After the haircuts, the family headed to the general store. Adam bought a gray hat and a black one, bought four shirts, and bought some pants to wear while working. Hoss said he would make him some chaps, so the only other purchase was a gunbelt. Adam preferred the smooth black one he had, but his father wanted to buy a tooled brown leather one and Adam accepted that. He got an extra pair of boots, and then he noticed a new pistol in the case. He asked to see it and was entranced by it’s balance and smooth feel. He bought that as well. That last purchase made Little Joe as angry as he could remember being. He had been begging his father for a pistol to use for target practice, but his father had said it was too expensive and that Little Joe was too young for that. Now Adam had two pistols and two gunbelts. It seemed terribly unfair in the mind of the ten-year-old. He didn’t enjoy any of his time in town. People kept coming up to Ben and Adam and being so happy to see his oldest brother. Little Joe was especially perturbed by the number of young women and girls who had to come up to say hello or ask to be introduced to Adam. He thought it was disgusting, and he was greatly relieved when his father said finally that they had to be heading home so they wouldn’t have to travel in the dark.
The next morning, Ben asked his two older sons to ride with him to look over the herds and for Adam to see some of the changes that had been made. Ben instructed Little Joe to do his chores and to help Hop Sing. Little Joe was angry again, but this time he had a plan because he had anticipated this happening. He did his chores as fast as he could and then went to help Hop Sing in the kitchen. After broken eggs, spilled dishwater, and an overturned chair, Hop Sing told him to leave and go outside to play.
That was exactly what Little Joe wanted to hear. He ran to the gun cabinet and pulled out Adam’s old pistol and some ammunition. He had seen him put it there the day before when they got home. Adam was using his new pistol and gunbelt now. Little Joe went out behind the stable with a can he found outside the kitchen. He put it on a fence post and drew the pistol firing into the dirt right in front of him. He decided that perhaps he couldn’t draw and fire yet so he concentrated on the firing. His next shot went high in the air with the recoil of the pistol. He used two hands for the next shot but missed the can. He thought that perhaps if he put the can on a rail lower down then he would stand a better chance of hitting it. He still missed each shot and also missed the fact that there were horses in the pasture behind the fence where he had placed the can. A few more misses and he was entirely frustrated. He thought he better get the pistol back in the gun cabinet too before anyone came to investigate the shooting. He had fired a pistol though not just once but five times. He put the pistol back into the drawer of the gun cabinet with the box of cartridges. It had been half full and now was missing only ten more. Little Joe didn’t think anyone would notice that.
Late in the afternoon, Ben rode into the yard with Hoss and Adam. Hoss noticed that one of the horses in the pasture seemed to be limping. He put his hand on Adam’s shoulder and pointed.
“Hey, ain’t that your spare horse that’s limping?”
“Well, actually this is my spare. I thought I would let Sport have a day of rest after all I put him through, and yes, he is limping.” Adam vaulted the corral fence and then the pasture fence walking toward his horse and getting upset as he did so. He could see blood trailing down Sport’s flank. As he got closer, he could see an injury up higher, which looked like a bullet wound. Hoss was right behind him and said the same thing that Adam was thinking. Sport shied away from Adam at first but then let him take the halter as Hoss took a closer look.
“It’s a bullet wound. It doesn’t look too deep. He musta been shot from a distance.”
Turning Sport toward the stable and getting him to slowly limp in that direction, Adam noticed a can sitting on a railing of the corral fence behind the stable. He pointed so Hoss saw it too. They both drew the same conclusion then, but they knew that Sport needed their attention at that moment. As they neared the stable, Ben asked them what had happened.
“Somebody shot my horse. I’ll give you one guess as to who that was.”
“Adam, there’s no need to be that way. There are many ways in which your horse might have been wounded.”
Snapping back at that, Adam told his father about the can on the fence. Ben didn’t want to believe it, and they needed to care for the horse first anyway. Adam got Sport into a stall and then hobbled him tightly. He asked Hoss to pull the halter down so that Sport’s muzzle was at his knees. Then he pushed up against the animal as Hoss did the same at the front. He pulled out his pocketknife and began digging for the bullet as Ben stood by waiting to see how he could help. The bullet was shallow so Adam removed it quickly. The wound was bleeding quite a bit though as Ben handed him a thick bandage to press against the wound. He had gone to tell Hop Sing what was wrong while Adam had been hobbling Sport. Hop Sing arrived soon with salve but couldn’t apply it because of the bleeding.
“Son, I think it has to be cauterized. You won’t be able to stop the bleeding quickly any other way.”
“Would you heat up a branding iron for me, Pa. I’ll use the tip to close the wound.”
Within ten minutes, Ben was back with a red-hot branding iron. He offered to do it for Adam, but Adam felt it was his job to do. He pressed the tip of the branding iron against the wound and held it there as Sport did his best to break free of his restraints. Finally Adam was able to pull the iron away. The air smelled of burnt flesh and hair but the wound was closed. Hop Sing stepped in to apply some soothing and healing salve. Adam stroked his horse’s side as Hoss did the same up front. Eventually the animal calmed enough that Hoss released his head. He turned to look at Adam who came forward to stroke his cheek and talk softly to him. The others left him there to soothe his horse.
In the house, in an accusatory tone, Ben asked Little Joe if he had shot Adam’s horse. Unaware that he had shot the horse accidentally, Little Joe denied it vociferously and demanded to know why he was being blamed.
“Little Joe, there was a can on the fence, and it looked like maybe you had been target shooting. That’s why Pa asked. Now you done told the truth, didn’t ya?”
Almost in tears because of his fear because he suddenly knew what had likely happened, Little Joe answered him in a shaky voice and with tears in his eyes. “But Hoss, I ain’t allowed to shoot a pistol. If I did, Pa would tan me good.”
Ben and Hoss interpreted the tears as Little Joe being upset that they had accused him. They had no idea it was because of fear and guilt. He knew then that he had shot the horse, but it had been an accident although he didn’t think they would believe him on that. He sank down on a chair dropping his head to look at the floor. Ben came over to place a hand on his shoulder to console him.
“I’m sorry, Little Joe. I never should have accused you without asking you.”
At that moment, Adam came in the house. He was emotionally distraught and wondering if Little Joe had shot his horse accidentally or on purpose. He walked over to stand next to his father.
“Little Joe didn’t shoot your horse, Adam. I don’t know who did.”
Ben saw that look Adam had when he was barely keeping his anger in check.
“You believed him?”
“Little Joe doesn’t lie to me.”
Adam walked over to the gun cabinet pulling out the drawer where he had put his old pistol the day before. He sniffed the barrel and then pulled the cylinder dropping five spent cartridges to the floor before handing the pistol to his father.
“Then I guess Hop Sing must have shot my horse. There wasn’t anyone else in the house today. I’ll be in the stable with my horse because I can’t stand the stench in here.”
Shocked that his son would speak to him that way and that Little Joe had clearly lied to him, Ben stood silently not sure which son had angered him more at that point, but Little Joe was closer. Under his hand, Ben could feel his youngest son shaking. His heart was pained to know what he had to do. “Little Joe, you lied to me, didn’t you?” Little Joe nodded. “Go up to your room, and put on your nightshirt. I’ll be up soon to talk with you about what you’ve done.”
Hoss watched Little Joe go up the stairs and turn the corner to his room. “Pa, I’m sure it was an accident. He would never of shot that horse on purpose.”
“Yes, but he took that pistol to shoot knowing exactly what I would do if I found out because I had told him often enough. And he knew exactly what he was doing when he lied to me.”
Little Joe was facing several uncomfortable days of sitting by the time the evening was over. He blamed Adam thinking that if Adam hadn’t pulled that pistol out of the drawer, their father would have let the matter drop. He hadn’t hurt the horse on purpose, and lots of boys his age already knew how to shoot. His father was being very unfair to him, and in his mind, it appeared that Adam was the cause. He sat by the window staring at the stable as light from a lantern shone out the door. He wished all sorts of dire consequences for Adam as he watched. After about an hour, he saw his father heading to the stable just as Adam walked out the stable door. Joe watched as they talked.
“I’m sorry for snapping at you earlier, Pa. This horse means so much to me, and to have to dig into him to pull out a bullet shook me up an awful lot, I guess.”
“I understand. You relied on him to get you home, and he is a beautiful horse too. I took care of Little Joe. I don’t think he’ll be trying any more stunts like that.”
Adam grinned a little. “After the stories you and Hoss told me today about the things he’s done, I’m not so sure about that. He may be up in his room dreaming of his next one right now.”
“Now, I told you I hadn’t had a drink all the while you were gone. I wanted to have a brandy with my first born son when he walked into my house again.”
Laughing, Ben put an arm around Adam’s shoulder. “All right. Our house. Now will you have that brandy with me?”
“Yes, Pa, and thank you.”
As they walked to the house together like that, Little Joe watched from his window fuming. He had heard his name mentioned and assumed the laughter was about him. He planned to get even with Adam for that, but he knew he would have to think of a plan where he couldn’t be blamed for what happened.
“Now, we’ve been telling you all about what’s been happening here. You need to start telling us about all of your experiences. Did you get your college diploma?”
“Ah, no, I left before I finished my classes.”
“Why did you do that?”
“I got in a bit of trouble and had to leave Boston quickly.”
“It wasn’t a girl, was it?”
Adam blushed a little. It could have been trouble with a girl, but he had been careful not to let that happen. “No, Pa, it wasn’t because I had gotten in trouble with a girl. No I broke a law and they were close to figuring out I was the one who did it.”
Shocked, Ben could only sit there for a minute. “You broke the law?”
“It’s not a moral law, Pa. It’s immoral, and a man of conscience has to break such a law.” Seeing his father’s look of doubt, Adam explained more. “Grandfather has been hiding runaway slaves in his shop until they can be put aboard a ship for Canada or another free country. I was there one night when the authorities came. I ran with them and hid them in the cemetery where my mother is buried. Grandfather found me there and told me it would be best that I leave before I could be identified as the one who had helped the runaways.”
“Adam, you could have been killed or sent to a federal prison.”
“I know. That’s why I left, and that’s why I didn’t travel south to catch a ship to Nicaragua. I didn’t know how much information about me, if any, was out there. I’m hoping to hear from Grandfather on that score.”
“So you risked the cross-country trip instead.”
“It seemed the wiser choice at that time. Other than one Indian ambush, there weren’t any serious problems.” Adam hadn’t meant to mention that attack, but he had, so he had to explain all of that too. Then he had to explain how Murray was hurt and that Buck had disappeared leaving him to guide the wagontrain to Hangtown. “So I got paid for the trip instead of paying for it. I have quite a bit of money now with some left from what Grandfather gave me, my wages from my job in Boston, and my wages from scouting.”
Leaning back in his chair then, Ben was relieved that his son had arrived home with no injuries, but he was worried about one thing. “Did Captain Stoddard give a reason why he was helping runaway slaves?”
“Yes, he did. Pa, I know about the slaving. I was very upset about it at first, but Grandfather and others talked to me about it. I understand how it happened, and that you felt that you had no other choice. I wished I didn’t know that about you or about Grandfather, but I do. I’ve come to terms with it. I hope you have too, and we can let that rest in the past.”
“It’s not an easy thing to have on your conscience, but yes, I have come to terms with it as well, and I do what I can to fight injustice and intolerance in this world.”
“That’s what I was doing, Pa.”
“You can’t help everyone, Adam.”
“No, I know that, but I can help some, and I will whenever I can. I can tell you though that I won’t go out seeking chances to do that, but know too that I’ll never turn away from someone who needs my help even if it means risking my life.”
“You sound a lot like your mother when you talk like that. She had the strongest moral convictions of anyone I had ever known. Now I know another who has that same fire in him.”
“I learned a lot about my mother while I was in Boston. I learned that she was quite stubborn apparently and that once she made up her mind to do something, there was no stopping her. I know she wanted to have a child with you even though the doctor told her that her heart might not be able to withstand it. I think she knew she didn’t have that much time anyway, and she wanted to make a mark on the world. It’s up to me to make sure it’s a good mark.”
“You’ve done a good job at that already, boy. Try not to rush into doing too much too soon. You have a lot of years to go to seek chances to show what you can do.”
The term boy rankled as it always had, and if anything, it irritated Adam more than it ever had before. At seventeen, there was at least some truth to it, but now that he was a man and one who had proved himself, it was more demeaning in his mind than ever. He didn’t react to it though. This was one of those moments he wanted to keep free of discord. He nodded and said he was tired and wanted to go to bed. Ben smiled and said he would be going to bed soon too. They left it at that both feeling that some good had been done in rebuilding their father-son relationship. Ben still didn’t fully understand what had gone wrong between him and Adam, and the consequences of that were going to be significant as was his failure to sincerely apologize in person to Adam for what had happened and to take steps to see that it wouldn’t happen again.
The next morning, Little Joe began his ingenious scheme. He got up very early and rushed to the stable to do his chores. Then he quickly and quietly got back to the house and slipped into his bedroom waiting for the others to get up. When he heard the last of the three sets of footsteps heading downstairs, he waited for a few minutes and then walked down the stairs holding his boots in his hands. His brothers and father were at the table already having coffee and waiting for Hop Sing to serve breakfast. He said little at breakfast and waited. When the food was gone, Hoss and Adam got up to go do their chores. Little Joe sat in his chair relaxing. Hoss headed out the door because he knew how long Little Joe could tarry when he wanted. Adam however asked if Little Joe was coming with them.
“I thought I’d stay here for a while.”
“You should get to your chores first. You don’t want people to think you’re lazy.”
“Pa, is it all right for Adam to be telling me what to do? Isn’t that your job? And he just called me lazy too.”
“Adam is your older brother. You should listen to him.”
“All right, Adam. I did my chores already.”
“You’re lying. You got up after all of us. Your chores couldn’t be done.”
“Pa, Adam said I’m a liar too. I did my chores, Pa. Honest, I did.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time you’ve lied, now would it?”
“Adam, please, let me handle this. Now, Little Joe, when did you do your chores?”
“This morning. I got up early. I wouldn’t lie to you, Pa. I only lied yesterday because I’m afraid of Adam and what he might do to me. I never meant to hurt his horse. I mean, I didn’t even know I did until you said all that stuff last night. Then I knew it was probably me, but I was afraid Adam was gonna kill me. He scares me so much.”
Ben stood and walked over to Adam. “You better go do what you have to do. I’ll talk to Little Joe.” Behind Ben’s back, Little Joe stuck his tongue out at Adam, and Adam knew then that it was a set-up. He clenched his jaw, which his father saw. He assumed Adam was being too angry with his youngest brother and rather brusquely told him he ought to go then. Adam stalked out of the house to the stable. When he got there, he saw that indeed, Little Joe’s chores had been completed. Hoss had noticed too.
“Dadgummit, if that little whippersnapper didn’t get out here early and do his chores. That talking to he got last night seems to have had a big impact on him.”
“No, I don’t think it did, at least not in a good way. I think he blames me for him getting a tanning, and now he wants to get even for that among other things.”
Hoss stopped and leaned on the pitchfork in his hands. “Now, Adam, why would you say something like that?”
So Adam told the whole story to Hoss who stood there in disbelief.
“Now I reckon it does look bad, but do you think that boy could come up with something so darn sneaky?”
“You know him better than I do. Do you think he could?”
“Well, I think he could, but I don’t want to think that he did.”
“What bothers me most is that he told Pa that he’s afraid of me. I’m wondering what Pa thinks of that. Does he really think a boy would be afraid of me?”
“I don’t know. Joe gets that look of his with his lip all a quivering, and Pa gives in more times than not. Hard to tell sometimes when Joe is telling the truth about how he feels or if he’s acting to get something he wants.”
“I guess I don’t know how to act around him. I don’t want to make things worse, but his behavior is a bit out of control.”
Trying to cheer Adam up and to try to see if there was a way to bring his two brothers closer together, Hoss had a suggestion. “Maybe if you could do something that Joe likes, he’d have to give you a chance. Maybe you could do something with horses. He loves horses. He wants a new pony, but Pa won’t get one for him until he proves himself a bit more. Pa doesn’t think he takes good enough care of the horse he’s using now.”
“Well, I did think we could do more with the wild mustangs that roam the hills. If we rounded them up, we could green break them, and then sell them after we took the ones we wanted. It would be a good source of income with virtually no expense involved. But Little Joe wouldn’t be able to come along when we did that.”
“Who’s gonna break all them horses?”
“That’s a lot of horses for one man to do.”
“When I left, I worked my way to San Francisco by breaking horses. I must have done several hundred at least over a couple of months.”
“But you ain’t done any lately.”
“It’s not something that goes away.” And then Adam told Hoss about his experience with Bernard. Hoss asked more questions and Adam ended telling him the same stories he had told his father the night before. Hoss was amazed at what Adam had done. “Hoss, you can’t tell anyone about the runaways. I could be in a lot of trouble if anyone ever knows that was me leading those runaways to safety that night.”
“Adam, I’ll never tell another soul, but you know you could have been killed. Heck, you coulda ended up in a prison. Pa woulda been real mad about that. I woulda felt real bad too.”
“I did what I had to do. I’ll always try to do what I have to do.”
“It’s hard to do that, isn’t it? I mean things weren’t so good for you after you challenged Marie over her behavior. Maybe it isn’t always the best way to go.”
“Maybe not, Hoss, but I have to do what I think is right no matter what the consequences are. Now lets head out to check out those mustangs. Maybe we can come up with a plan that Pa won’t say no to the first time we tell him.”
“Hey, what’s this ‘we’ stuff? It was your idea. You can tell him.”
Adam started laughing and Hoss joined in. Little Joe walked outside then and was disappointed to see Adam and Hoss getting along so well. He decided he would have to do something about that too even if he had no ideas at that time. His older brothers told their father that they were going to go check some things out, and Little Joe saw his father smile. Then as Adam and Hoss were mounting up to ride out, Ben told Little Joe that his job was to split some logs into kindling. He did it by working hard that morning not wanting to risk another punishment, but he stacked the kindling behind the stack of logs so it couldn’t be seen. At lunchtime, Adam and Hoss rode in and found Little Joe playing with kittens in the stable. They tied up their horses and walked toward the house. Ben came out to see them. Adam and Hoss both noticed that there was no stack of kindling in its usual place. Adam looked at Hoss and winked.
“Hey, Little Joe, weren’t you supposed to chop some kindling?”
“I did what I was supposed to do, Adam. You don’t have to go checking up on me.”
“Oh, then where is the kindling? It doesn’t look like you chopped any.”
“Pa, Adam’s yelling at me again. You said you wouldn’t let him do that unless I did something wrong, and you weren’t around.”
“Now, Little Joe, I don’t think Adam was yelling. He only asked a few questions. Now why don’t we go in the house.”
“But Pa, I did chop the kindling. See it’s right back here.” Little Joe pointed behind the stack of logs.
“That’s fine. Let’s go in the house and have lunch now.”
Adam and Hoss followed Ben into the house with Little Joe trudging in behind. It had worked so well the first time, he didn’t understand why it hadn’t worked again. Hoss looked at Little Joe’s downcast look, and then he looked at Adam and winked. Now he understood exactly what Adam had meant. Little Joe wasn’t going to give up on that trick though. He used it a number of times over the years. It often worked because often enough he failed to do his chores, so that he did get Adam to fall for it as long as he didn’t use the trick too often. That’s what he had learned that day: he shouldn’t be so predictable in the pranks he pulled on his brother. Sadly he didn’t learn that his brother knew how much disdain Little Joe held for him, and he didn’t understand that his brother loved him despite of that.
Over the next dozen years, as Little Joe learned about training horses and then about breaking them with Adam as his very patient teacher, Joe and Adam spent much more time together. The two of them developed a very complex relationship. Little Joe harbored resentment of Adam but also loved him as a brother. He wasn’t as close to him as he was to Hoss though because he and Adam clashed far more often. Although Little Joe respected and admired Adam for all the things he could do, he also did his best not to be like Adam in any way except to try to be better than he was with a pistol and with horses. Ben noted the competitiveness but was at a loss as to what to do about it. He tried not to favor either son in their disputes, but Little Joe often resented anything that Ben said that supported Adam especially when the two were at odds. And there was an edginess about the two when they were together sometimes and that led to disputes. However, both did their best to help the other and frequently helped save the other’s life. Joe had followed Adam’s lead when they were on the posse together and asked and learned. It was like that quite often. Sometimes, Adam stepped in when he thought Joe was going to make a mistake. Joe was forever grateful that Adam stopped him from killing Red Twilight. If he had, he would have lost his father’s respect and Hoss’ as well his self-respect. He knew Adam had saved him from making a grave error there. However, he did sometimes get very angry when Adam helped him resenting the help until the end when he would sincerely thank his brother for his help.
Ben thought they had learned to love each other and had put the past behind them. It wasn’t so, and neither had Adam adjusted to his father. Adam just seemed generally resentful of his father, and Ben had no idea what to do about that either. Ben had no idea that his promises from twelve years earlier were making his present relationship with his son very difficult. In Ben’s mind, he had changed, but his son held a different view. As Adam cleared out muddy watering holes, repaired fences, and branded cattle, he remembered very well what his father had said about being willing to listen to his ideas and make changes. Adam thought that apparently Ben’s idea of listening was to hear Adam out and then say no. Even for very small changes, Adam had to argue long and repeatedly to get the change he wanted. Working at jobs any cowhand could do, Adam was resentful too that his father didn’t let him take advantage of this education by being creative and resourceful in turning the Ponderosa into a more complex and better organized enterprise.
On a spring morning, Adam was arguing with his father that they needed to expand the lumber mill and begin producing more products. He argued as he always did using facts and balance sheets, but he got angry because he was very tired of having to do this for even minor changes such as the ones he was suggesting. He finally spurted out a statement that made his father as angry as Adam had ever seen him.
“You just never want to let facts influence your opinions, and your opinions are always negative when I bring up new ideas.”
Fuming for a time, Ben fought for control so he wouldn’t say something he would regret later and wished his oldest son could do the same. “I don’t want to talk to you when you’re like this. I have made a lot of the changes you suggested. We have windmills, don’t we? We’ve added investments, changed how we cull the herd, crossbred the cattle, opened up a horse operation, and a number of other things. You simply can’t stand not having your way all the time, boy.”
That did it. Adam stormed out of the house and mounted up to ride out as Joe was riding in. Joe had been in town the night before playing poker and drinking. Ben had tried to curb those behaviors without success, but with Joe at twenty-three, there wasn’t much he could do to stop him. He had learned years ago that he might not like the results of giving an ultimatum. He would say something to him, but he knew it wasn’t likely to do any good.
Joe was upset too. Ben could see it when he walked in the house. He assumed it was because Joe had lost at poker again. He usually did. But what had Joe very upset was that he had written a large IOU when he thought he had a sure thing winning hand. He lost, but he was certain he had seen the dealer palm a card. He refused to pay the IOU claiming the man had cheated. Both had stood ready to draw on the other when Sam intervened with his shotgun, and soon Sheriff Coffee was there in the saloon a short time later having been summoned by other patrons. The dealer said that Joe owed money, but Joe said the dealer had been cheating. By then, there was no evidence of any cheating, and Roy had said Joe rightly owed the money unless he could prove the man was cheating. At that point, Joe wasn’t sure what he would do.
On the Ponderosa, after grabbing a quick breakfast, Joe headed out to work. He hadn’t had much sleep because he had only grabbed a few hours of sleep at a friend’s house, but he didn’t want to have to face his father again after a night of drinking and gambling. His head was pounding a bit too, and he pulled his hat low over his eyes to shield them from the glare of the sun. As he rode to the pasture where the branding was being done, he noticed Adam sitting and staring into space it seemed. Riding over, he addressed his brother in a reasonably friendly tone but expected that Adam would say something about Joe not coming home the night before. Adam said very little. He said he was going for a ride. Then he stopped and turned toward Joe.
“Weren’t you going to go to the horse auction in Carson City?”
Dropping his head and rubbing the back of his neck, Joe blew out his breath. “I forgot.” He expected an explosion from Adam at that point, but it didn’t happen. Joe looked up to see Adam with that rather blank look again. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
“I just did. I reminded you of the horse auction in Carson City. If you leave now, you can still get there in time for most of it. It’s scheduled to continue over the next two days. It’s the biggest horse auction ever in Nevada according to the promoters.”
“Yeah, I can do that. Hey, will you tell Pa where I’ve gone so he doesn’t think I got in another marathon poker game?”
“Sure, Joe. If you need money for buying any horses, just go to the bank and ask them to wire us for confirmation.”
“Hey, why aren’t you riding Sport?”
“He seemed tired this morning. Jupiter is a lot younger and has more energy so I’m riding him more often lately.”
“Well, Cooch is probably kinda tired. Would you mind letting me take Jupiter and you ride Cooch today? It’s an awful long way to Carson City on a tired horse.”
“Sure, Joe. Not a problem.” The two men switched mounts and Adam waved as Joe rode off with a smile.
“Thanks, Adam. I’ll see you in a couple of days.”
Sitting there and watching his youngest brother ride off without a seeming care in the world, Adam wondered why he took things so seriously. If he could be more like Joe, life would be a lot easier. He began to take a slow ride in the general direction of town even though he didn’t expect to go there. He only wanted to ride where he wasn’t likely to see any more people for a while. He wanted some quiet time to think about why he always seemed to get so angry with his father. He needed to understand it if he was going to be able to change it.
In town, the gambler was talking with two friends. They had a system. The three of them got one or two others into a poker game. The two friends alternately lost and won hands making it look like a legitimate game. Unknown to Joe and others who played with them, they were working together. Their big payoff was supposed to be the previous night, but Joe had reneged on the IOU. The gambler simply could not tolerate that. He had given the two men instructions and they were reviewing them to be sure they were all in agreement as to what was going to happen.
“Now you grab young Cartwright. That horse of his makes him standout from a mile away. Once you have him, I send a messenger with a ransom note. We’ll get the money and then head out of here.”
“And we’re supposed to get leave Cartwright in one of their own lineshacks?”
“Yes, they’ll be so busy going after him that they won’t know we’re not with him. Now, go out there and find that welching weasel.”
Two hours later, the two henchmen spotted the pinto pony and split up to come at their target from each side. The plan was to throw a blanket over his head and tie him up. Then they would take him to a lineshack, leave him there tied up, and go tell their boss it was time to deliver the ransom note. The plan worked as well as they hoped because Adam was distracted and lost in his own thoughts. He never saw the ambush coming. They wrestled him to the ground stunning him with a few blows before tying him securely with a blanket wrapped over his head and around his torso. He couldn’t do anything including getting up on Cochise. It was then that the two men realized their error. This man was heavier and taller than Joe Cartwright. It had to be someone close to him to be riding his horse around the Ponderosa. With Adam pressed up against Cochise with a gun pushing into his back, the two men asked him who he was. They were very upset when they got that answer and when they asked why he had Joe’s horse, he told them after a bit of physical persausion. They took him to a lineshack as planned though and planned to leave him there tied up, but Adam was waiting for them to help him get down from the horse. He had been working on loosening the ropes as they had ridden toward the lineshack. In the struggle, the blanket was pulled from him as well as the ropes. One of the men clubbed him to stop the resistance, and then they stood there worried as to what they should do next.
“Nate, he can tell everyone who we are now. What are we gonna do now?”
“Orrin, we’ll wrap him up in that blanket so he can’t see anything and won’t know where he is. We’ll have to ride off the Ponderosa and find a place to hide him. Then we’ll go see Marty. He’ll know what to do.”
Marty was very upset when Nate and Orrin got back to town and told him what they had done. “Well, things had to move a lot faster now. If what he told you is the truth, then Joe Cartwright won’t be back for a few days. We have time to cover our tracks and get out of here. We’ll deliver a ransom note. Then we’re leaving.” He wrote out a ransom note telling Ben to deliver money to the lineshack they originally intended to use if he wanted his son back or they would sell him for whatever they could get. Then the three headed back to where Adam was hidden. Once there, the ransom note was attached to Cochise’s saddle, and Orrin was sent to let Cochise roam loose on the Ponderosa.
“Now, we have to get rid of this one. We can’t let him go free. He’ll have the law on us before we can cross the line into California. I’ve been thinking of going to San Francisco next. Keep him tied but cut a hole in that blanket so he can breathe.”
“Aren’t we gonna kill him, Marty?”
“Orrin, we kill him, and those Cartwrights will track us down. No one hurts one of them without getting in serious trouble. But if one of them just up and disappears, and there ain’t no body, what are they gonna do?”
“That’s real smart, Marty, but how can we keep him alive without him telling what he knows?”
“He’s gonna get us some more money in San Francisco. He’s gonna be taking a trip on a ship. We’ll sell him. You two get our wagon loaded up and put him in the back.”
“Shanghai him? Heck, I ain’t done that kind of thing in years. Good money in it though.”
“That’s the plan then. He’s gonna be taking a long, long trip. Ain’t no way he’s gonna be able to tell anybody about us at all. If old man Cartwright pays the ransom, maybe once we’re in San Francisco, we can tell him what we done. He’ll never be able to find out what ship it was. Besides, the way these Cartwrights are with their ways, he probably won’t last more than a month on board a ship anyway. I’ll catch up to you when I get the ransom money. Then we’ll start working the towns around San Francisco. We’ve never worked those as a team so we should be able to rake in some good money.”
Tied securely and unable to move much less get free, Adam listened and memorized the names. He planned on finding these men at some point. He had a few things he wanted to do to them for what they had already done to him and what they were planning to do. He expected to be rescued long before they could complete their plan. Adam was fed once a day and given water. By the time they reached San Francisco, he was feeling weak and light-headed. It worked well for his captors who delivered him to a ship in the early hours of a morning. Carried aboard and dumped in with the cargo, he was only untied when the ship pulled away from the dock and began sailing out to sea. He tried to explain his situation but was ordered to be quiet under penalty of punishment. He demanded to see the captain, and that got him a beating. The first mate stood over him as he lay on the floor of the crew quarters.
“You’re a sailor now. Nothing you say is going to change that unless you fight me too much. Then you’ll be shark food. I won’t be warning you again. You lay right there, and one of the men will come get you when I want you.”
As Adam lay there, he found it nearly impossible to believe that no one had come to his rescue. Surely they were missing him and had begun to search for him. He couldn’t believe that criminals who were as inept as those three seemed to be had managed to do this without his family being able to find out what they were doing. As he thought about his options, he didn’t move because he didn’t want to risk another beating. He wasn’t sure how many of those he could take.
What Adam didn’t know was that his father had assumed the ransom note was for Joe because it was Cochise that was sent to the Ponderosa with the ransom note attached. He was supposed to pay a ransom, but Joe returned home very early the next day because he didn’t think the horses at the horse auction were anything they wanted and never bought a horse. When Joe arrived at home, he found his family and the hands were shocked to see him. The only conclusion they could draw was that the kidnapping and ransom request were a hoax.
“Why is everyone so surprised to see me? Didn’t Adam tell you I was going to Carson City?”
“Adam hasn’t been home since yesterday morning. We had an argument and he left. I heard him ride out, and that’s the last anyone has seen him.”
“Adam left without saying goodbye or telling us why he was leaving?”
After explaining about the argument he had with his oldest son the day before, Ben told Joe about the ransom note, but they never compared timelines and Joe didn’t tell them that he had switched horses with Adam. He didn’t think it was important because he thought Adam left after he and Adam had talked. Ben was devastated that his son had left without talking with him. There was no letter and no telegram. They had no idea where Adam was. Hoss told anyone who would listen that Adam wouldn’t have done that and they ought to be searching for him. Hoss was very discouraged when others pointed out that they had no idea where to even begin a search if they were to do one. Hoss began asking questions of a number of people. He found out about Joe’s gambling IOU and that the gambler had left town the day after that had happened. He talked with Joe and found out that Adam had been riding Cochise the day that he disappeared. When he found that out, he became extremely worried about his older brother. He kept checking and looking around. When he found rope at the southeast lineshack with tracks all around it even though they hadn’t used it for months, he started to think that it had been Adam who was kidnapped. After a few days, he sat down with his father and brother to explain what he had found.
“Big brother, you think that because you want to think that. You never want to think anything bad about Adam. We could make up a bunch of stories to fit with the things you think you found out.”
“Joe, Hoss made some good points, but what can we do now? We don’t know where that gambler is, we don’t have any idea what they may have done with Adam, and we have no idea where to look.”
“Pa, I been thinking on it. They said they’d sell him, and we know they wanted money. Where could they get money for him, and where would a gambler find a natural place to be?”
It took Ben only seconds to come up with the same idea Hoss had. “The Barbary Coast. Hoss, we’re days behind them if that’s what they’re doing. We have to ride hard and fast.”
“Pa, let’s wire San Francisco. We know the gambler’s name is Marty. We can send telegrams faster than we can ride.”
Joe felt rather smug a few days later when word came back to them that the authorities had not located a gambler named Marty, and that they had been keeping a close watch on all ships in the port and none were seen having a tall, dark haired man boarding any ship. They said they would keep investigating, but Ben and Hoss knew what that meant. Joe learned a few weeks later that Marty had relocated to Carson City and was gambling there. He came home to tell his family that, and Hoss was determined to go talk with Marty. Ben told him he could try if he wanted to do that but to be careful. Hoss saddled up his horse and headed to Carson City. He found Marty and sat watching him for an hour as he played poker in a saloon.
Marty got nervous, but not nearly as nervous as Orrin and Nate. They had found that San Francisco was a challenge. By the time they were done with bribing the police and paying a percentage of their winnings to the local crime organizations, they had less money than when they were fleecing cowboys in Nevada. The money they had gotten for shanghaiing Adam was long gone, and they were living in shabby boarding house rooms. Nate excused himself from the game claiming he had lost too much. When Orrin excused himself later, the game broke up. Marty had made only a few dollars. Hoss walked over to him then. Marty was nervous but simply asked what Hoss wanted.
“You got an IOU from my brother Joe, I think.”
“If you’re a Cartwright, then yes, I do. He hasn’t paid up yet.”
“How much is it?”
“Five hundred dollars.”
“That’s a lot of money. Seems odd you haven’t tried to get him to pay.”
“It’s like money in the bank. He’ll pay eventually.”
“You wouldn’t have done anything to get that money and a bit more, now would ya?”
“I have no idea what you are talking about. If you came to pay your brother’s debt, fine. Otherwise I think I’ll be going back to my room to take a nap. I hope to have a better game this evening.” Marty picked up his hat and coat and walked out of the saloon at that point. Hoss stayed in town and checked up on him. It seemed he had very little money, but that he often had the same two players in the game with him.
After a few days, Hoss rode home. He had found that Marty was likely cheating at cards, but he had found nothing else that helped him in finding Adam who had seemingly disappeared with no trace. All of their inquiries had brought back nothing. If he left, he had done so without a horse or any supplies. That was highly unlikely so it was more likely that he had left with someone who provided those things.
They didn’t have a clue for nearly a year until a sailor showed up with information on Adam. Hoss and Joe met him in town when he was asking if anyone knew Adam Cartwright and brought him back to the ranch. When Ben had entered the house later, he first thought the man was Adam because from the back, the broad shoulders, narrow hips, and dark curly hair looked so much like Adam. But when he turned around, he was clearly not Adam. He didn’t look at all like Adam, and Ben jumping to that conclusion let Hoss and Joe know just how much their father was missing his oldest son. The man claimed to be Gilly Maples but turned out to be a dishonest man named Morgan who finally admitted that the real Gilly and a friend had saved Adam’s life. Morgan admitted that he had stolen the few possessions Adam had with him after being shanghaied. There was a money clip, a pocketknife, and a wallet with pictures of his family.
“The part I told you about him thinking that whaling was wrong was true. And he did stand at the railing and stare out a lot whenever they let him on deck. I jumped ship when I got a chance and then I came here. The first mate is a mean one, but the captain wasn’t too bad except for letting the first mate and a few friends do all the dirty work. The only good thing is that he lets the first mate only go so far before he makes him stop.”
“What do you mean by that?” Ben was fairly certain he knew but needed confirmation no matter how awful it might be.
“Flogging and beating the new ones until they settle down. Your son got an awful lot of punishment. I thought that he might get tossed overboard, but I heard the captain tell the first mate that they could weaken him until he obeyed because the captain thought he was a good strong one and hated to lose him. I know the first mate thought they had wasted the money they paid for him.”
“What is the name of the ship?” It was the first solid information they had gotten, and Ben meant to follow up on it.
“The Lucia. It sails from Seattle to southern Mexico doing most of its trade from small ports. They carry lumber, hides, people, or whatever is available.”
Morgan was turned over to the authorities, and information they had gathered was sent to the authorities. Ben no longer had confidence in them though so he also hired a detective agency to investigate. He hoped that they could locate his son soon. He was relieved that at least Adam was still alive and hadn’t been shanghaied to a ship that traveled all over the world. They had a chance of finding him.
Time on the ship had become as onerous as it could be for Adam. He had been beaten and wouldn’t follow the rules for the first few weeks he had been on the ship. The captain allowed the first mate to flog him then. He had been dragged to the main mast and stripped of his clothing. His arms were tied up above his head stretching the skin on his back. The first strike was bearable and the second wasn’t much worse. Adam clenched his jaw vowing not to cry out but the third and fourth lashes crossed the first two opening the skin and causing blood to flow. By the time the first mate had reached ten lashes, Adam had screamed out in pain repeatedly. He waited then feeling like his back was on fire and wondering how much he could take before he passed out. He didn’t have to wait long.
The first mate ordered him doused with a bucket of salt water next. The pain was so excruciating that he opened his mouth to scream but couldn’t make a sound. Then he did pass out. He woke up later still tied to the mast. The ship was yawing a lot and Adam’s feet were slipping and sliding from side to side putting nearly unbearable pressure on his arms still tied above his head. It wasn’t until he was untied and allowed to drop to the deck that he realized he had been sliding in his own blood, which had flowed freely down his bare legs from his back. He got another salt water bath and woke up laying on a blanket on the floor of the crew’s quarters. Still naked, he had a bit of relief because someone had applied a salve to his back and left a cup of water beside him. He tried to get the water because he was so thirsty but any movement caused fiery pain in his back, and he couldn’t make his swollen hands do what he wanted anyway. A sailor knelt by his side then and helped him by lifting him up a bit and holding the cup to his lips.
The sailor whispered in his ear. “The name’s Gilly Maples, and I gotta tell ya that I admire your courage, but you’re a fool too. You ain’t improving your situation any by fighting them every step of the way. You got to learn to choose the time and place of your battles more wisely. They bought you because a couple of sailors jumped ship on us in San Francisco. The first mate wanted to dump you on the way to Seattle. We’re shorthanded, and that’s one reason they haven’t dumped you overboard to the sharks. I asked him to keep you, and I said I’d work with you and try to get you to follow orders. You ignored me before. How you feeling about that now?” Adam could only shake his head. “Now if you want to get off this ship, you need to do the same as the men who already jumped ship did. Act like your spirit is broken. Do what they say and keep your head down. Don’t talk back. Eventually they’ll trust you with shore leave in some isolated port. If you prove yourself, you’ll get more chances. Eventually you’ll go on shore leave without anybody watching you, and you can make your break then. Understand me?”
Nodding, Adam thought about what the man said. He managed to whisper a question. “How long?”
“It could be a year or even two or three. The first mate hates you already and that’s gonna work against you. You won’t get a chance in Seattle. You’ll be locked in the hold the whole time we’re there. The way you been acting, they’re not gonna be too sure of you for a while even if you do what I said. They’re smart enough. They’ll wonder if you’re faking, and you might even get a few minor punishments to test you. They’ve been fooled a few times now, and it’s made them real suspicious.”
“Why are you still here?”
“It’s the only life I know. I don’t have any other options. I’m guessing you do. I saw the nice clothes you were wearing and the money clip you had when you got here.”
“Where are those things?”
“Gone. Somebody took your stuff. It doesn’t matter. You’re still alive so you got that. Not all men who are flogged can say the same.”
The wounds on Adam’s back healed leaving a crisscrossing of scars. With Gilly’s salve, the scarring wasn’t too thick. Adam followed Gilly’s advice as well as he could. His temper still flared on occasion getting him long hours of extra work and some punishments. Gilly thought it was working out well for him because he wanted to escape some day. If Adam had become too cooperative too soon, they would have never trusted him. As it was, the first mate watched him like a hawk watches a rabbit slipping through the brush waiting for it to make a mistake that meant its death. The first mate didn’t like his ideas being countermanded by his captain. In his mind, Adam should have been tossed overboard. He thought he was too dangerous, and he sensed an intelligence in him that didn’t bode well for the future so he didn’t trust him at all. Adam was often restricted and occasionally was shackled.
For nearly a year, Adam didn’t get any shore leave. When they were in port or even near one, he was locked in the hold of the ship or shackled if they needed him to do any heavy lifting. When the first year was well past, he finally was trusted to go ashore, but it was only with the most trusted of crew who made sure he made it back to the ship. He never got shore leave in San Francisco or Seattle but only in small ports where it would be unlikely that he could get away. That lasted for nearly two more years. Finally he was allowed to have shore leave like any other sailor and most of the crew went with him. They were in the very isolated Puerto Chiapas in southern Mexico. The captain intended it as a test to see what Adam would do. They were in this small port to pick up men to bring to San Francisco as laborers. The men were to be put under twenty year contracts and paid a meager fifteen dollars a month once they sold the contracts for their labor in California although they didn’t tell them that was what they were signing. They were told they were signing a one-year contract to work for a dollar per day. To the men of the Chiapas region, that sounded like a fortune and a great opportunity. Many of them had heard of the gold mining and other jobs in California. They expected to get one of those after a year and then send for their families.
To make room for the men, cargo had been offloaded and sold as they traveled down the coast. In one port, the men came back with cigars. Gilly had given a couple to Adam. He was smoking one the day he was going on shore leave and had another in his pocket. As the others walked down the gangplank and off the ship to enjoy the town’s liquor and women, Adam said he had forgotten something, and he hurried down below. A short time later, he rushed down the gangplank to join the crew as they headed for fun. He was no longer smoking a cigar, and his pockets seemed to be full. Gilly wondered what was going on but then thought that this godforsaken place might be where Adam planned to jump ship. He was only given shore leave in this port because even the very suspicious first mate wouldn’t expect anyone to jump ship here. As the men split off into various cantinas and other establishments, Adam stopped and looked back to the ship.
“Just the captain and first mate still on the ship, Gilly?”
“Yes, and a couple of their favored ones. You know, the ones who do most of their dirty work. While we’re gone, they’ll tap into the best of what’s left of the cargo. The rum, the cigars.”
Gilly wondered at that response, but got his answer about ten minutes later. They were sitting under a straw awning and enjoying some local hootch when the Lucia blew up. At least the front of the ship blew up. The rest was burning until the whole thing listed to one side and tipped over into the harbor. Men from the village and sailors all rushed from the buildings to stare at the remains of the ship in the harbor. Adam didn’t look surprised at all. Gilly turned to him.
“What did you do?”
“They left me alone and locked in the hold too often. I managed to figure out how to open the locks of the powder magazine and the treasure room. I left my cigars lit in the powder magazine lying over some flash cord that was connected to kegs of powder. I worked in the mines in Nevada. I know how to use explosives.”
“But what about the rest of us?”
“You should be able to salvage what’s left of the ships gold. The water is fairly shallow at low tide. Have a nice vacation. I’m heading north.”
With that, Adam turned to walk away. He spoke in Spanish to a number of men, and Gilly had to wonder what he was saying, and he hadn’t even been aware that Adam could speak Spanish. There was nothing he could do except walk to the other sailors and tell them what Adam had said. They were stranded here until another ship came in. Until then, they would dive for the gold that was now in the shallow water of the harbor in the wreck of the ship that had brought them there. It would be quite a while before Gilly and the others found out that Adam had told the people what the officers on the ship had planned to do. He had told them the sailors in their midst were as innocent as anyone.
As Adam walked away, Gilly said a quick prayer of thanks that he had not been one of the men who had crossed Adam Cartwright. He wondered what Adam would do to the men who had shanghaied him. He shivered a little at that thought.
A few hours later, Adam had purchased a horse, saddle, clothing, boots, and a hat as well as a pistol and a rifle. None of it was new, and with his dark hair, beard, and deep tan, he looked as Mexican as any other man there. He got directions as well as some warnings about what he faced as he rode out of the small port city, but he was determined. He had a very long way to go, and he knew he would have to work along the way to be able to afford the supplies he needed for the journey. He wished he had taken more of the gold from the ship, but he wasn’t greedy. The sailors were going to need that gold to live until another ship pulled in.
The terrain was completely unfamiliar to Adam. It was tropical, and as he ventured north, he encountered a lot of fog. His clothing was wet and clung to him, and breathing was difficult in the excessively hot and humid conditions. Unwilling to try to find a safe place to sleep in such an unfamiliar environment with innumerable poisonous insects and snakes, he pushed on for two days with only naps on occasion. He had to move very slowly in the fog and the dark, but he managed not to hurt himself or his horse. Once he reached the first village on his trek, he found a place to sleep and rested for two days. Then he was on his way again paralleling the coast and passing through a number of small towns. His Spanish improved significantly as he was forced to rely on it in nearly every place he stopped. After about a month, he was out of the heavy growth of the tropical region and into more open country. He was also almost out of money and began to ask if anyone knew of any work he could do. He did whatever job there was working sometimes for food and a place to sleep and other times being paid a small wage. Week by week he traveled north until he finally worked his way to Durango where he signed on to work on a ranch breaking horses. He stayed there two months before moving on. He was liked there as the owners and the vaqueros warmed to him and his unassuming ways. He did his work, and he didn’t complain. He was quite different than the usual gringo who meandered through that region. When he said he had to go, he was warned of the great danger of heading into northern Mexico. The Apaches still fighting against the white men, and there were many renegades and the outlaws who called it home. The Comancheros worked some of the region trading with the Apache and with the whites as well as stealing from the whites when there were opportunities to do so. He would not be safe if he went that way, so he worked his way east to Monterrey and then north to Laredo. Each place along the way, he took jobs and eventually traveled to El Paso finding work easily on the west Texas ranches. When he had enough money, he continued on to Tucson and then north to Phoenix. It had taken him almost two years to make it that far, but it was getting easier. There were less dangers, and he could travel north to Nevada or to California. He chose Nevada. He planned to find the gambler and his friends and get the whole story from them before he killed them.
A fury burned inside him consuming his thoughts. One of the things he had tried to teach Joe was never to go into a fight mad because it slowed your reflexes and your thinking. He worked hard to get his emotions under control as he rode north to Nevada. He wanted to know why they had kidnapped him and sold him to the captain of the Lucia. It all seemed so preposterous. He wanted to know too why there had been no rescue by his family. If necessary, he would have spent his life looking if a member of his family had been kidnapped. He planned to get that answer too but after he found the men who had stolen years from his life.
“Don’t move or you’ll be missing something very near and dear to you.”
Marty awoke in his boarding house bed to find a hand on his chest holding him down and what felt very much like a large knife pressed to his privates. He opened his eyes to see that his lamp had been turned up to cast a light glow across the room. He didn’t recognize the bearded man with the frightening voice and countenance, but he had cheated, swindled, and otherwise taken advantage of so many men over the years, it could be any one of hundreds if not a thousand or more.
“What do you want?”
“Who are you?”
“Have you shanghaied so many that you don’t remember them?”
Marty had only directly participated in shanghaiing one man. His heart rate increased and his breathing became fast and shallow. He knew who this man was, and he was getting ready to cry out because he believed Adam was going to kill him. His mouth opened but he never made a sound anyone could hear because his own dirty sock was stuffed in his mouth. Adam leaned down very close to him.
“I’m not going to kill you, but if you don’t answer my questions honestly, you may wish I had. Now, I’m going to ask some questions and you’re going to tell me the truth or I’ll castrate you first before I remove any other parts. Is that clear to you?” Marty nodded as well as he was able. “All right then. No yelling and answer my questions. I want to know why you had me kidnapped. I’ll remove the sock but if you yell instead of answering me, I’ll cut you first before I go out that window I used to get in here. You might not bleed to death from that, but you and I both know you would wish you had if that’s the case. Now what’s the answer?” Adam pulled the sock from Marty’s mouth and the whole story poured out of the terrified man. When he finished, Adam stuffed the sock back in his mouth and ordered him to get out of bed and lie face down on the floor. Then he felt horrific pain as Adam stomped on his right hand with as much force as he could muster. “You won’t be cheating at cards any more. I should do your other hand too, but I’ll leave you that one so you can work at whatever job they give you at the state prison if you get the prison term you deserve. You won’t be able to fight back either if any of the men you cheated track you down.” Tears were running down Marty’s cheeks, and he reached up to remove the sock that was stuck in his mouth. “Oh, no, you’re not calling for help yet. I have other business to attend to tonight. Your friends are still in the saloon. I’m going to pay them a visit and see how they react.”
After Adam pulled the belt from the chair where it was hanging and secured Marty’s left hand to the leg of the bed, he climbed through the window and slid down the porch roof before dropping to the ground. Purposefully, he began walking to the saloon even as his mind churned over the information he had gotten. Joe had finally pulled what turned out to be the ultimate prank and had gotten Adam off the Ponderosa at the same time. Adam knew that Joe had not orchestrated the whole thing, but the result was the same as if he had. He knew he needed to tamp down that anger again because he was likely going to be drawing his pistol and needed all the speed that he possessed because he was well aware that he might have to go up against two men at once. No one would be able to say he had committed murder in that situation. He did think that the cowards might agree to go to the sheriff, but he had not carried through and killed Marty. He had found that he still had enough decency left inside that he wouldn’t kill an unarmed man. But like a gunfighter, he expected that he might be told to leave town if he did shoot the two men, but because he intended to do leave town soon anyway, that wasn’t a problem. It had taken him only a few days after arriving in Carson City to locate Marty and his friends. He had watched them and learned all he could about them. Then that night, he had decided it was time to move forward with his plan.
In the saloon, Adam moved to sit next to his two targets. He stared at them making them nervous until one of them challenged him.
“Why you staring at us, mister? Most men in here watch the women not the other men.”
That got a few chuckles from some of the other patrons, but the room grew very quiet when Adam began to speak.
“Don’t you boys remember me? You escorted me from Virginia City to San Francisco and put me on the Lucia for a very long trip. Now do you remember me?”
Both men stood then, backed away, and cleared their holsters. They recognized him and assumed correctly that he was in Carson City for vengeance or at least justice. They backed away so that there was room between them, and that would make it a lot harder for Adam to shoot both of them. It looked a lot like they had done this sort of thing before.
“Boys, are you calling me out? I would have thought that should have been my call. I was thinking that if you put your guns down, I’d take you over to the sheriff’s office. I could tell them where to find Marty too.” Adam stood slowly and everyone in the saloon did their best to get out of the way of the three men. “Last chance, boys. Drop the guns and go to the sheriff, or I’ll have to kill you.” Orrin said ‘anytime’, and when he did, he drew, as did Nate. Both were on the floor and shot in the gut a very short time later. Orrin died first as he bled out with his blood pooling on the dirty wood floor of the saloon mixing with the dirt from boot, spit, and countless other unidentifiable filth. Nate was going to take longer to die as Adam’s bullet had missed the artery. He would likely die a long and agonizing death. Adam apologized.
“I never wanted to make you suffer. You rushed my hand, and I couldn’t hit you where I wanted to. You’ve still got your own gun if you want to take care of it yourself.”
Looking down at his belly, Nate could see the blood and smell that and the other fluids that were leaking out between his fingers and wetting his shirt. He had known others who had suffered a gut wound like he had. After days and weeks of suffering, they died usually in extreme agony as abscesses and infections filled their bellies with fluids and nothing any doctor had in his bag could alleviate the pain. He reached for his pistol with his left hand, put it in his mouth, and pulled the trigger ending his own life. As he did so, the sheriff came into the saloon with his shotgun at the ready. Adam had already holstered his pistol. The sheriff demanded to know what had happened, and he got an accurate accounting from the bartender. Then he walked over to Adam.
“You a bounty hunter?”
“No. These men kidnapped me years ago and sold me to a ship in San Francisco. I was going to see if I could get them to your office. I guess they didn’t think they would like prison.”
“More likely they thought they could take you. One against two, the odds were in their favor.” Looking at the bodies on the floor, the sheriff amended his statement. “I guess they only thought the odds were in their favor. Overconfidence is a killer. Now I need you to come over to my office and make an official statement. I already got the statement of the bartender. I’ll write that up, and he’ll sign it. Then you can leave town.”
“What if I wasn’t planning on leaving right away?”
“You planning to track down any more men in my town.”
“No sir, I did what I came here to do. There is a man in the Cobb boarding house, and he might need some medical attention. His hand is hurt. Then he could use some time locked up too.”
“He part of what happened to you too?”
“Yes sir, he is. He’s the gambler that set it all up. He’s probably been cheating men here with these two.”
With the murmuring that developed at that statement, the sheriff thought that was probably true. If this man hadn’t killed the two cheaters, one of his citizens might have done it eventually. “All right, you can make a statement about him too. And I want the truth, all of it.”
“Yes sir, I’ll give you the whole truth. It’s something I believe in very strongly.”
A few hours later, Adam was sitting with the sheriff sipping coffee and talking about what had happened to him when he heard Marty approaching and complaining loudly that he had been assaulted and that they ought to be searching for the man who had done it. When he walked in the door with his right hand heavily bandaged and in a sling, he nearly fainted when he saw Adam sitting there. Adam gave him one of those feral cat grins he had. It was all teeth but there was no humor in it at all.
“Hello, Marty. The sheriff already has statements about this whole thing, and he has put Orrin and Nate away where they can’t leave. I’m just here to make sure you tell the truth to the sheriff too.”
The sheriff and Adam had agreed that they would let Adam make Marty think that two of the statements were from Orrin and Nate and to make Marty believe that his two accomplices were still alive. It worked. Marty admitted to everything. When the sheriff took him into the cellblock to lock him up, Marty looked around expecting to see Orrin and Nate. When he didn’t see them, he looked back at the sheriff.
“Oh, I locked the bodies up at the undertaker. He’ll take care of them in the morning. As for you, I think you were lucky that man out there needed information from you. Now get in the cell.” Then the sheriff went to the outer office to bid goodbye to Adam. “I only came here a year ago to take a job as a deputy sheriff. Won the general election for the top job a month ago when the last sheriff retired. So I haven’t seen too much of the Cartwrights, but I have to say you look a lot more like a Mexican bandit than you look like one of those Cartwrights. Good luck to you. From what you’ve told me, I know you’ve had a difficult time of it.”
After thanking the sheriff, Adam went to the hotel, got a bath, and stretched out on a bed for a good night’s sleep. He had done a lot of what he intended to do, and he took some time to relax. He knew he probably had an emotional homecoming, which he would have to endure, and he wasn’t altogether sure what those emotions would be, but for one night, he wasn’t going to think about that. He slipped under the covers enjoying the feeling of being clean and having clean cool sheets under him and over him. He let his head sink into the pillow, and he purposefully thought about and relaxed each part of his body until he fell into a deep and restful sleep. The next morning, Adam got up and took a good look at himself in the mirror. He had long wavy hair and a full beard. He wasn’t sure if anyone was going to recognize him in Virginia City. He could likely do what he had done here, and collect some information and try to understand the situation before he did anything more.
The next day, Adam walked around Carson City reacquainting himself with the place. He ate at restaurants and went to the general store to buy a new shirt and a shaving kit. He hadn’t had one in years but assumed he would need one eventually. For the time being, the anonymity he had behind that beard and the long hair was useful. It was in the late afternoon as he was walking, that he heard a woman cry out for help down an alleyway. No one else went to her aid even though by the looks they gave to the entrance of the alley, they were aware that there was a woman in distress. Adam cautiously entered the alley and moved toward the sound of the woman’s voice and then the voices of men who apparently were trying to force her into an act in which she didn’t want to participate.
“Back away from the lady.”
One of the men looked back to see Adam holding his pistol casually. “Mister, you’ll have to wait your turn. We got her first.”
By her dress, the woman was most likely a saloon girl. Adam spoke quietly but more forcefully. “There are places in town where the women won’t object to your demands. This woman doesn’t work there so let her go.”
“And I told you that you had to wait your turn.”
Adam shot the man’s hat off his head then startling both men and allowing the woman to scramble away from them. “And I told you to let her go. Next one’s in the gut. You may have heard a story about two men dying that way last night. I would be more than welcome to send you on to join them.”
“Damn, you don’t have to be so nasty. All right, all right, we’ll go.”
“You can go, but leave your pistols there on the ground. I’ll drop them off in the sheriff’s office. You can pick them up there later if you want.” Adam could see them hesitating but then suddenly they dropped the pistols and took off running down the alley. Adam had heard the footsteps behind him but the girl’s face had registered relief not fear so he hadn’t taken his attention from the two ruffians.
“You do have a way of putting yourself in charge of things, Adam. I think I can tell what happened here. Belle, is it what I think it was.”
“Yes, sheriff. Those two grabbed me when I was on my way to work. They’ve been bothering me in the saloon. You know I don’t do that sort of thing with customers, but they wouldn’t accept no for an answer.”
“All right, Belle. You want me to walk you to the saloon?” The sheriff had moved forward and picked up the pistols that were on the ground.
“No, sheriff, I have to go home to change. They tore my dress.”
“That’s a bit out of my way, Belle. Will you be all right walking home alone?”
“I’ll walk you to your home, Belle, if you trust me to do that.”
Belle smiled at Adam’s offer and took his arm when he offered it. The sheriff shook his head. The man did have a way of getting involved in things. Adam walked with Belle until they reached her home, which was a small shack that was in good condition.
“Ma’am, would you like me to wait and walk you back to the saloon where you work? It’s getting close to dusk now. I wouldn’t want you to run into those two men again.”
“Come on in then. Now I’m just asking you in so you can sit while you wait. It doesn’t mean anything more than that.” Adam nodded. “You was nice to me and I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I don’t hardly know you.”
“I understand completely. I would never expect more from a woman than what she wanted to give me. I assure you that I’ll be a gentleman despite how I look.”
With a little smile, Belle entered her home and held the door for Adam. There was a small kitchen with a table and two chairs. Belle indicated to Adam that he should sit on one. He put his hat on the table and sat as directed. Belle looked a bit nervous so Adam looked down at the floor. She went into the bedroom and closed the door. He smiled that she had such innocent ways even though she probably sat on men’s laps and endured all sorts of comments and touches in her job. It seemed to be taking her a long time making Adam wonder what kind of dress she was putting on. Then he heard her softly complaining.
“Belle, is there anything wrong?”
There was no answer for a full two minutes until Belle opened the door to the bedroom. “Those men damaged the ties on the back of this dress. They should untie with a simple pull, but I can’t get them to untie at all. I hate to ask, but could you help me?” Adam did his best to untie the top bow, but it had been pulled at so much it was frayed and pulled into a tight knot. He told Belle that and asked if he should cut it open because it was ruined anyway. She agreed and Adam sliced the knot to free the dress for he had undone all the lower bows already. He found he couldn’t help himself and he slid his hands into her dress tugging it down off her shoulders and then helping it fall to the floor. He bent down and kissed Belle on the shoulder as his hands remained on her small waist. She closed her eyes and sighed pressing back into him and tipping her head to the side to give him better access to her neck. He kissed his way there and then kissed her cheek. She turned toward him a bit and he captured her lips with his. His hands had begun to move too as he untied the ribbons holding her petticoat in place and then pulled her chemise up and over her head breaking contact with her lips only briefly. He came back to the kiss as Belle turned toward him and opened her lips inviting him inside. Their tongues found each other as his hands began to caress her, and she began to unbuckle his belts. First his gunbelt and then the belt in his pants as well as his pants fell to the floor. Adam began moving with Belle toward the bed.
“Belle, I think you’re going to be very late for work tonight.”
“I don’t care. After what happened, I deserve a night off. Now be quiet and kiss me some more.”
Later as they lay together in an embrace under the covers, Belle had a question. “Adam, what happened to your back?”
“I was flogged.”
“Why? Who would flog you? You’re one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. You were so gentle and sweet with me. Well the second time you were. It must have been a long time since you were with a woman.”
“Yes, and I was flogged on a ship. I didn’t follow orders very well. I’m not willing to accept orders from someone especially when I am in a situation not of my choosing.” Suddenly Adam got an understanding of the friction packed relationship he had with his father for years. He had thought about it and thought about it, but talking about the ship and the flogging had suddenly given him insight into himself. He had always looked at his father and wondered why they argued so much. He realized he should have been looking at himself more. He was so much like his father in wanting things his way. It was too bad he hadn’t understood this sooner.
“You look like you were miles away there. What were you thinking about?”
“About going home.”
“Virginia City. My family owns a ranch there, the Ponderosa.”
Belle sat up then and stared at Adam. “You can’t be. I worked in Virginia City until a few months ago. I read the papers. It said you were dead. It said the ship that you were on was lost. It blew up or something.”
“No, actually, I blew it up. If I didn’t, the captain would have sent men to drag me back. It would have been an awful way to die. I’m guessing I might have been flogged to death, or they might have thought of something even nastier for me. The first mate would certainly have been willing.”
“You blew it up? Did you kill everyone?”
“No, I only killed a few, those who deserved to die. The rest of the crew were on shore leave with me. Then I started toward home.”
“But that must have been over a year ago. Why did it take you so long?”
“It was about two years ago. I was in Chiapas, Mexico. That’s on the southern end of Mexico. I’ve been working my way north ever since. I didn’t have much money so I had to take jobs along the way. Mostly I worked ranches, but I took a few odd jobs for food too.”
“Why didn’t you go right on home when you got to Nevada?”
“I wanted to find the men who put me in that situation.”
“You were the one who shot those men in the saloon last night?”
“Yes, I would have taken them to jail, but they chose to fight. The third man is in the jail.”
“Now you’re going home?”
“Yes, now I’m going home to see what my family has to say?”
“To say? What do you want from them?”
“The truth. I want to know the truth.”
“The truth about everything. I want to know why no one came to rescue me. I want to know what they thought happened when I didn’t come home.”
“I don’t know. I haven’t planned any further than going to see my family. Now do you know enough? Can we get some sleep?”
Belle settled back in resting her head on Adam’s shoulder as his arm wrapped around her pulling her close. She fell asleep then only to be awakened several hours later by Adam’s kisses. They made love again, and she fell asleep in the spoon position with him. In the morning when she woke, he was gone. She felt a little sad about that. She knew he would leave, but she would have liked to kiss him goodbye. Then she heard some noises from her kitchen and heard a man humming softly. She stood and pulled on a wrap before opening the bedroom door.
“Good morning, Belle. I looked for something to make for breakfast, but there wasn’t anything here so I went out and got some eggs, butter, and bacon. I stopped at the bakery and got a loaf of fresh bread too. I love the smell of fresh bread.”
“You’re still here.”
Adam smiled gently at her and shook his head. “I guess it takes you a bit to wake up, although after three times last night, I suppose you have a right to be tired. Now all I could find was one plate, one cup, one fork, and a spoon.”
“I don’t have guests for meals.”
“I got that, but that means we have to share the plate.” Adam filled the plate with eggs and bacon before setting it on the table. He pulled out a chair and sat. “Sit. We’ll have breakfast.” Belle moved to pull out the other chair, but Adam shook his head and pulled her onto his lap. Then he picked up the utensils. “Fork or spoon?”
“We’re going to eat from the same plate?”
“Belle, after what we did together last night, you’re worried about sharing a plate of food?”
Belle had to laugh then and grabbed the spoon. She took a spoonful of the eggs. “Hmm, these are good. You know how to cook.”
“I’ve had a lot of practice. I hope you like your bacon crispy.”
They finished their breakfast then including sharing a large cup of coffee before Adam told her he had to go.
“Adam, you can come back to see me anytime.”
“Belle, you can count on it. I’ll come back to see you the first chance I get.” Adam had retrieved his horse and his belongings and paid his hotel bill. “The next time I see you, I want to take you to dinner. Is that a date?”
“It’s a date, cowboy, and I hope you find what you want when you get home. Maybe you’ll remember how to smile again.”
Pulling Belle into his arms, Adam buried his face in her hair and held her close. “Thank you, Belle. You helped me find part of myself again.” He kissed her. “Maybe I ought to stay a bit longer so we can have a very pleasant goodbye.”
“No, you need to go home and see your family. They’ve missed you long enough. But I do think I should put some salve on those scars on your back. They felt very dry, and that must bother you. If you take your shirt off, I’ll do that for you before you go.” Adam pulled his shirt from his pants then and opened the buttons. He twirled a chair around and sat on it leaning on the back of the chair. Belle began rubbing some soothing salve into his back, and he felt so relaxed.
“That is so nice. I don’t remember the last time anyone touched me so tenderly if anyone ever did.”
“Oh, your mother probably did this kind of thing for you when you were a child.”
So Adam told Belle a brief version of his family history. She was amazed at how sweet he was to women with such limited experience with women as he was growing up and then to endure those years with Marie that must have been so difficult. Finally neither of them could think of any more reasons for Adam to tarry. He kissed Belle again before he walked out and mounted up on his horse tipping his hat to her before he wheeled his horse around to ride out of town. As he rode away, Belle had tears in her eyes. He had been so wonderful, but she never expected to see him again. She thought that once he was back on the Ponderosa, he would certainly not be thinking about a saloon girl in Carson City, but at least she had some great memories.
Late that day, Adam arrived in Virginia City. He was correct in that no one recognized him. He got a room in a decent hotel that he could afford, ate dinner in a small restaurant, and then headed to the Silver Dollar saloon taking a seat in the back so he could observe people. Most of all, he wanted some time to prepare himself for heading out to the Ponderosa. He was startled to see his brother Hoss walk in with another man. Hoss surveyed the room but his gaze passed over Adam as quickly as it did any other man in the room. Adam sipped his whisky and watched and listened. Quite a few men greeted Hoss, and Adam was sure they called the man with him Candy, but he was surprised to hear a man with that name. However no one seemed to think it at all unusual so he guessed this Candy must be well liked and probably had been in the area for some time. Tired after not getting much sleep the night before and taking a long ride that day, Adam decided he would leave and head to his room. As he stood to walk out, a drunk decided to make an issue of his long wavy hair.
“Hey, you, stranger, you got hair like a girl. You like girls, or you one of them that don’t.”
Finishing his whisky, Adam set the glass on the table ignoring the drunk. The man wasn’t in the mood to be ignored however. He moved to stand in front of Adam as he walked to the front door. Adam said nothing, and the man taunted him. He still said nothing. Watching from the bar with their beers in hand, Hoss and Candy turned to see what would happen. As Adam stared at the drunk, Candy yelled out.
“Hey, Swamper, I think you might have stirred up a diamondback this time. You might want to step aside and let him pass.”
“Nah, Candy, he’s yellow. He’s afraid to push by me. Watch this.”
Swamper reached out to push Adam back, and Adam grabbed his wrist and held it in a viselike grip as he forced it down until Swamper was staring at the floor and whimpering in pain. “Hey mister, I was only funning with ya. Jest let me go now, ya hear.” Adam released him but two of Swamper’s friends had stepped forward.
“There was no call to hurt him. He was only having a little fun with ya. He only called ya a yeller coward cause ya got girly hair.” The two men laughed, and Swamper got his courage back with two to back him up.
Adam said nothing as he did his best to hold his temper in check. He knew they thought they were going to teach him a lesson. As soon as he saw one man getting ready to swing, he started moving. He used that man’s momentum to slam him headfirst into a wall. Then the second man roared and bull rushed him. He sidestepped him and felled him with a two handed blow to the neck as he fell forward. That left Swamper who moved to draw his pistol, but before he cleared leather, he had a pistol pressed against his forehead. He froze as did almost everyone in the saloon. Adam reached down and pulled Swamper’s pistol tossing it aside. Then he shoved Swamper back causing him to land on his butt on the floor. Adam looked around and seeing no more threats, he walked from the saloon. It was very quiet in there at that point.
“Hoss, even you might not want to meet that one in a back alley fight. I get the feeling that a lot of people tend to underestimate him. He is a diamondback.”
“Candy, it’s odd, but somehow I thought I knew him. It couldn’t be, but I feel like it was.” Hoss rushed from the saloon then to follow the longhaired stranger, but he was nowhere in sight. Candy came up behind Hoss then.
“Who did you think it was?”
“He looked a lot like my brother, Adam, and he fought a lot like him. He was usually pretty darn cool when he fought. He always said it was his advantage that he didn’t fight mad because being mad makes you slower and makes your mind not work so well either.”
“But I thought you told me that he died on a ship. I thought you said the ship blew up.”
“It did, but now I’m wondering if Adam was really on that ship when it blew up. C’mon, I want to walk over to see Roy. Maybe he’s seen this man and knows where he’s staying.”
From the alley next to the saloon, Adam watched and listened. Now he knew why they had stopped looking for him. They thought he was dead. At least he was reassured by the fact that they had looked because they knew he had been on the Lucia. But he didn’t want to do anything yet. He was too tired and too emotionally on edge at that point. He hadn’t known how difficult it might be to see his brother and hear him after all this time. He decided that his plan to observe for a short time needed to be amended. He had observed enough. He would try to get a good night’s sleep, and the next day, he would ride to the Ponderosa. That was his new plan. He walked quickly to his hotel and went to his room. He lay back on the bed, but found sleep elusive. He was so close to home and yet worried about what faced him there. He needed to confront Joe about what had happened but his anger at that was now mixed with a lot of other emotions. He was in great turmoil and didn’t fall asleep for hours. With the exhaustion and the whisky, when he did fall asleep, he slept deeply and long. When he awoke, the sun was already up quite a way in the sky. He checked his watch and found it was ten already. He rarely slept past dawn so this was a big shock. He was well rested though, and packed his saddlebags and checked out of the hotel. He wanted to grab a quick meal but when he saw Sheriff Roy Coffee walking rather purposefully into one hotel and restaurant after another, he knew that Roy was looking for him. He headed to the livery stable and got his horse. Within a few minutes, he was riding to his home and whatever reception might await him there.
Arriving at the Ponderosa ranch house about noon, Adam could smell Hop Sing’s cooking. He dismounted and tied his horse to the rail. As he walked toward the house, the man with the red shirt and black vest whom he had seen with Hoss the night before came out of the bunkhouse and ordered him to stop. He didn’t, and the man told him he’d shoot if Adam moved any closer to the house. Adam heard him walking up behind him. When he got close enough, Adam whirled and grabbed the gun, which discharged harmlessly into the dirt. He pushed Candy up against the wall of the house twisting Candy’s right arm up behind him.
“If you ever pull a gun on me, you better shoot.”
The door to the house had opened and Ben had led his younger sons out. They were all armed. Ben demanded that Adam release Candy. When Adam looked over at his father, he saw the pistol in his hand aimed right at him.
“This is getting to be a bad habit. You pulled a gun on me the last time I came home.”
Hoss had a crooked little smile, but Ben was in shock. “Adam? Hoss said he thought he saw you in town last night. He said he had Roy checking for the man he saw, and that Roy was going to tell us if he found him. I was getting impatient and we were going to ride to town to find out what we could. I see you now, but how could it be you? We got reports that you were on a ship that blew up almost a year ago.”
Releasing Candy who nursed a sore arm, Adam turned to face his father and brothers. “As you can see, those reports were highly exaggerated. And you don’t have to go talk with Roy because I’m here now. Are you going to lower that pistol or shoot me?”
Quickly holstering his pistol, Ben apologized. “I’m sorry. We heard the shot and then we saw you holding Candy up against the wall. You look so different. I had no idea it was you until you talked to me.”
Hoss stepped forward then. “Is that why you never said nothing last night in the saloon? You thought I would recognize your voice?”
“I’m sorry, Hoss. It shook me up to see you, and I guess I wasn’t ready to say anything. It had been so long, and these years have been hard.”
Hoss grabbed his brother in a hug. That broke the ice, and Ben rushed forward to hug his long missing son as well. Candy stood to the side and noticed that Joe hung back. Joe had told him a lot of stories about how mean his oldest brother had been to him sometimes, and what a miserable kind of man he was. So far, nothing supported what Joe had said. Adam spoke calmly and respectfully to his father and brother. Joe finally spoke.
“Well, I suppose I ought to go tell Hop Sing to set another place at the table.”
“Joe, aren’t you going to welcome your brother home?”
“Sure, Pa. Sure, Adam, it’s real good to have you back. I’m real glad you’re not dead.” Then Joe turned and walked into the house.
“Some things haven’t changed much I guess. He still doesn’t like me much.”
“Aw, Adam, he’s just shocked a bit is all. He’ll come around.”
“He might need some help. Now, I could smell Hop Sing’s cooking. I want to say hello to him.” Adam stepped into the kitchen and all of them could hear how happy Hop Sing was to welcome the number one son home again.
Hoss walked in the house with his father a bit concerned at how shaky his father was. He got his father to sit at the table. Joe was already there. “Joe, ain’t ya happy that Adam’s alive?”
“Of course I am. It’s just such a big shock. It’s so hard to believe, and I want to know why he didn’t let us know.” Joe noticed too how pale his father was. “Pa, it’ll be all right.”
Ben simply nodded at first. “I know it will be, but as you said, it was such a shock. At least Hoss told us that he thought he might have seen him last night. I had that little bit of warning anyway.”
Adam walked into the dining room from the kitchen then. “So what’s the topic of conversation?”
“Oh, like why you didn’t let Pa know you were alive instead of coming here and nearly shocking him to death.”
“Joseph, he did not nearly shock me to death. It was just a surprise.”
“No, Pa, I’d like to answer that. I blew up the Lucia in Chiapas, Mexico. That’s in the middle of nowhere, or really it’s south of nowhere. I had very little money and had to work my way north by land. I was worried that if they got me on a ship again, I would die a horrible death for what I had done. By the time I got to Texas, I had to take jobs just to live. I didn’t have any extra money. When I got to Nevada, I went to Carson City to locate the men who had me shanghaied. That was less than a week ago. I found that gambler, Marty, there. You remember Marty, don’t you, Joe? He’s the one to whom you gave a five hundred dollar IOU and then wouldn’t pay up. Instead you conveniently switched horses with me, and his accomplices took me instead of you. That’s how I ended up on the Lucia. Marty’s in the jail over in Carson City if you’d like to check out my story. So does that answer your question about why I didn’t let you know I was coming home?”
For a change, Joe was speechless not only by the revelation that he was the cause of Adam’s disappearance but by the ferocity of Adam’s answer. Adam stood then and stalked out of the house. Ben looked at Hoss.
“Go with him, Hoss. Don’t let him leave, please.”
Hoss looked at his father and then at Joe. “Seems to me that you got an honest answer out of Adam. You two have been keeping too many secrets, and Adam paid the price. It’s time for the truth to be told about everything. You two created this problem. It’s time you fixed it, and let the guilt and the bad feelings be banished.” Hoss walked outside then to be with Adam. He found him standing next to his horse. “Don’t go, please.
“There’s no place for me here. I have nowhere that I should be.”
“Yes, you have a place here. This is your home.”
“Really? Pa has always blamed me for Marie’s death. Joe definitely blames me for her death and a whole lot of other things. How can I stay here and be challenged like that all the time? Hoss, I’m a different man now. I could hurt someone if that happens too often.”
“And you don’t want to hurt them so that should tell you something right there. This is your home. I told Pa and Joe it was time for the truth. I think everybody needs to tell the truth now, all of it.”
“You know what the truth could do to Joe, don’t you?”
“I do, but I’ve seen what covering it up has done to you, and to Joe too. He’s been carrying all this anger all these years, and Pa’s been carrying the guilt. Let’s go back inside and see if they’re ready to dump those loads.”
When Adam and Hoss got back inside, Joe was standing by the fireplace. Ben was standing by his red leather chair. Lunch was cooling on the table and Hop Sing stood by the kitchen door wondering what would happen next. Ben motioned to Adam and Hoss to come in. He smiled as much as he was able to let Adam know he was wanted.
“Sit down, please.” Joe didn’t move. “All of you need to sit down, please. I have a story to tell. Adam knows all of it, and I think Hoss has learned a lot of it over the years. I never even wanted to discuss this with Hoss and he was forced to learn it on his own. Joe there are things you need to know and that I have been too proud and too cowardly to tell you for many many years.” Joe did sit then but perched on the edge of the settee like a deer ready to run if the predator got too close. “Joe, I thought I was protecting you by keeping the truth hidden, but that was wrong. Your brothers felt the same way, I’m sure. You need to know the truth too no matter how painful it is. It’s the only way that this family can be whole again. Marie was a beautiful woman. She was vivacious and talented and oh so smart. I loved her deeply and I know she loved me. She was a wonderful woman and she gave me a wonderful son. We loved each other, but that all changed over the time she was here. Eventually I think I knew that Marie was cheating on me.” Ben saw Joe’s shocked look and held up his hand to stop him from interrupting. “I had seen the looks and the furtive touches she shared with another man when she thought I wasn’t looking, and I knew those rides she took were too long, and that her flushed face and the twigs and grass she sometimes had on her dress meant she had been with another. Roy advised me to divorce her. But Joe, I felt I could not take your mother away from you. I still felt so much guilt that Adam and Hoss had not had mothers to nurture them when they were young. I blamed myself for their deaths. I know I should have talked to Adam about that. I let him think that I blamed him for his mother’s death. I never did. I loved him because he was her gift to me. I was so very wrong to have accepted some of the terrible things Marie said about him. Joe, she didn’t want to be part of this family any more.”
“Pa, that can’t be true. My mother loved us.” Joe was shedding tears, and his voice was very shaky as he was battered with the truth.
“No, sadly, Joe, I am finally telling you the truth. I held it in for far too long. I can’t fix taht but I can try to heal the wounds that failure made. This is the whole truth. I know it’s an awful lot to learn in one sitting, and I should have told you so many years ago. I thought somehow that it would all be forgotten and not matter any more. I was a fool. I know that now, and I guess I suspected as much all along. So here is the whole story. Marie did love you. She loved you as much as any mother could love a son. She was a good and loving mother to you, and she accepted Hoss, and she treated him as if he was her son too. But her animosity toward Adam was grew, and by that last year, she was not a faithful wife to me. Eventually she plotted to get rid of him. You may not remember, but Adam was sent to live in the bunkhouse at one point shortly before her death. That was her idea, and I went along with it because I was desperate for her love. Her sense of morality was too weak because of selfishness and greed. Joe, she wanted her lover to kill me and take over the Ponderosa. She even told him that he could kill Adam.”
At Joe’s shocked look, Ben knew he had to explain his source for that information. “Sheriff Coffee did all he could to help. He sent the gambler who was her lover packing, but before he left, the man bragged at what he had done and what Marie wanted him to do. I know that you blame Adam for your mother’s death, and for a long time, so did I. Somehow I thought that if only he hadn’t been so truthful, none of it would have happened. But the truth did need to come out. If he hadn’t accused her of adultery, maybe she would not have had that riding accident or maybe it was something else that upset her so much that day. Sometimes when I remember that scene that I can never forget, I realize how surprised she was to see me in the yard. It’s possible that is what caused the accident. But Joe, if she hadn’t died, I would most likely be dead, and Adam probably would have been killed too. Marie wanted both of us dead. If one man wouldn’t do it for her, she would have found another.”
“Pa, how can that be?”
“Joe, some people can only love those who give them what they want. When I no longer could give her what she wanted, she no longer loved me, but I was blinded by my needs and my emotions. Adam wasn’t. He did his best, but he was young. He didn’t know how to handle it. He did go to Roy for help. After Roy talked to her lover who was using her and being paid to do it, he told me, but I refused to accept the truth at first. I knew she loved me once. I couldn’t believe that was all gone. I couldn’t believe the type of woman she had become.”
Sitting silently, Joe was observed by his two older brothers. Tears were flowing freely and they could see Joe struggling with accepting what he was hearing. He was intelligent and wise enough when he took the time to think things through, and that was what he was being forced to do at that point. As he remembered all the things he had done and said in regards to Adam, he was ashamed of the person he was. He had no excuse and he knew it. He had taken love and caring and not given nearly enough back. He would be carrying a load of guilt for a long time. “With all the trouble I caused, I guess I am my mother’s son.”
“You don’t have to be.” Ben stood and put a hand on Joe’s shoulder.
“I know. I need to make better choices.” He was the one responsible for Adam being kidnapped and serving for years on a ship against his will. He knew that but had no idea how to make things right again. “I don’t know what to do now.”
Ben squeezed his youngest son’s shoulder. “I think you do, Joe. You need to do it. You need to take that first step. It will take time, but now that the truth is out, we can all begin to heal and be the family we should be.”
Joe turned toward Adam. “I’m sorry. I know I said that a lot over the years, and most of the time, I think you knew I didn’t mean it. But Adam, I do love you. You’re my brother and you did so much for me over the years. I should have been nicer to you. I shouldn’t have played all those pranks on you. Adam, I never wanted this to happen to you, and I did miss you.”
“Thank you, Joe. That means a lot.”
“Adam, there’s one thing you need to know. I didn’t switch horses with you to get you in trouble. I had no idea that would cause anything bad to happen to you. Cochise really was tired, and I needed another horse to ride to Carson City. I would never have wanted anything so awful to happen to you. Can you forgive me for being such a fool?”
“It’s all right, Joe. We all made mistakes. If I hadn’t been fighting with Pa that day, I wouldn’t have been riding out there where you saw me.”
“What did happen to you that day, Adam? We hired detectives finally to find out where you were. They were the ones who told us you were still on the Lucia but that was about the same time we heard that it had exploded. How did you do that anyway?” Hoss had a lot of questions.
“It took that long to find out where I was?”
“Until the detectives got on the case, we didn’t know that the authorities had been paid to look the other way on men being shanghaied. We were sending information and asking help of people who were doing nothing to help us.” Ben told Adam something he already knew. There was a lot of corruption fueled by greed.
Hoss took over the story at that point. “We found out about the Lucia when a man named Morgan came here claiming to be a Gilly Maples. He had your money clip, pocketknife, and wallet. We finally got the truth out of him, but the authorities didn’t help us. When they finally told us that the ship had come into San Francisco again, they said they searched the ship, and you weren’t on it. We worried then that you might be dead already. Pa hired detectives then.”
Ben took over the explanation once again. “Son, when the detectives got on the case, one of the first things they told us was that the inspectors in San Francisco were not to be trusted when it came to men being shanghaied because they got bribed to look the other way. I had wasted a lot of time trusting the authorities. Because of that, it took the detectives a long time to locate anyone who could tell us that you were still on the Lucia. So the first report we got was that the ship had been checked and you were no longer on board that ship. Then we got a report that you were on the ship, but the last report was that the ship had blown up.”
“Yes, a couple of cigars resting on primer cord leading to kegs of black powder make for a spectacular explosion.”
“Adam, were there men on board when you blew it up?” Ben was concerned knowing that a ship in a harbor usually had men on board even though the ship was going nowhere at that point.
“Yes, Pa, there were. The men who would have killed me if they had caught me trying to jump ship in Chiapas were the ones who died. The rest of the crew were on shore leave with me.”
Ben was a bit shocked that Adam could do that, but it meant there was another question to be asked. “How bad was it on that ship for you, especially at first?”
“Pretty bad. You never know how nasty someone can be until you’re slipping and sliding in your own blood, and then they wash it away with a bucket of salt water.”
Ben nodded. He knew that could happen even on a ship with crew who had signed on voluntarily. It was a terrible thing to witness, and now he knew that his son had experienced it. Thinking that they all needed a chance to relax and think about things, Ben made an offer he thought would be accepted. “Would you like a bath? I think I heard Hop Sing say something about getting a bath ready for you if you wanted one. This has been an awful lot for all of us. Maybe you could use a break. I know I could, and I assume Joe could use one too.”
At that point, Adam was relieved to have another option. He went to the washroom, and Ben sent Joe up into the attic to see if he could find some clean clothing for Adam. Joe brought the boxes down and pulled out a black shirt and black pants. He smiled a little and offered to take them to Adam. When he got to the washroom, he knocked and entered without waiting for an answer.
“Some things never change.” Adam smiled a little but he knew why Joe stood there speechless. “It was a long time ago. It doesn’t hurt any more.” Joe dropped the clothing on a bench and backed out of the room. When he got back to the great room, Ben and Hoss noticed how upset he looked. He was staring into the fire looking as shocked as he felt.
“His back is all scarred up. It looks terrible.”
“Joe, he was flogged on that ship. That’s what he meant by slipping and sliding in his own blood. They tie a man to the main mast after stripping him. He gets flogged and they let him there usually until the sun goes down. They wash away the blood with salt water.”
“But that would hurt something fierce.” Hoss was now shocked as well.
“Yes, it would. Men usually scream and pass out when that happens because the pain is so great. I was afraid of that kind of thing as soon as I learned that Adam had been shanghaied. He’s not one to suffer crime and injustice quietly.”
After more than an hour, Adam walked out of the washroom looking more like the Adam they remembered. He had cut his hair much shorter, and he had shaved off his beard. The beard had been there a very long time so his face was pale where the beard had shielded his cheeks and chin from the sun.
“If I’m staying, I ought to go put my horse away. I already have my saddlebags in the washroom.”
Ben stood and walked to Adam. He squeezed his shoulder to convince himself again that his oldest son was alive and not a mirage. “Of course, you’re staying. Hop Sing and Joe are upstairs right now getting your room ready. Candy is helping out as he can, and Hoss helped too putting all the boxes of your things back in your room. You may need to put things away the way you like it, but we saved everything. We couldn’t bear to get rid of anything.”
“Thank you. It will be nice to have familiar things around me. Now, I’ll put my horse in the corral if you don’t mind.” When he walked outside, Hoss joined him. He nodded because he knew they didn’t want to let him out of their sight. He liked the company too for they could talk things over. He had always been able to do that with Hoss. As he walked his horse to the stable, he began asking Hoss questions. “You didn’t seem as surprised as Pa and Joe that I was alive. Why is that?”
“I thought I would feel it in my gut ifn you weren’t alive no more. I didn’t. I dreamed about you doing stuff. You weren’t gone yet as far as I was concerned. A ship blowing up wasn’t enough for me.”
Nodding because he felt the same way about his family, Adam had another question. “Candy seems like he’s part of the family now. I’m not creating a problem there, am I?”
“Yeah, he’s our foreman, and Candy is a lot like part of the family. He was living in the house and taking his meals with us until just a short time ago. We got a new man here now, and Candy felt obligated to him. He moved back into the bunkhouse to help the new guy, Griff.” Adam asked a few questions, and Hoss had to tell him about the prison riot and how that all turned out. “Candy had a few stripes on his back too, but they probably aren’t as bad as yours. Joe was kinda upset after seeing your back, and Pa said it was likely a real awful thing happened to ya.”
“It was, but it was a long time ago now. Sometimes if I get some salve rubbed into the scars, it helps soften them some. Otherwise they can get to feeling kinda tight.”
“I’ll help you with that, Adam. It’s real good to have ya back. I hope you don’t get tired of hearing that cause I like being able to say it.”
“Hoss, it feels good to be back even with what happened in there. Now that all the truth is out, I may finally get to relax, and maybe like Belle said, I’ll get my smile back.” Adam knew then that he would have to explain Belle so he did before Hoss could ask. “So, I helped her, and then she helped me. I plan to see her when I go back to Carson City. I’ll probably have to testify at Marty’s trial. He seemed the type that might back off on that confession once he isn’t scared any more.”
“Not that I wanted any more bloodshed, but I’m real surprised you didn’t kill him.”
“I wanted to do just that for years. I dreamed about it. But when I was there with him, I knew I couldn’t just murder him. I guess I’m still clinging to a small bit of civilized behavior. Plus, he’s going to be locked up for a long time. It will give him a taste of what I went through. Those prison guards aren’t shy about using whips either from what you told me.”
Both men heard the sound of horses in the yard, and a minute later, Candy led his horse into the stable. He was a bit surprised to see Adam and Hoss, there, or at least he assumed it was Adam because he looked very different without the long hair, the beard, and the Mexican style of clothing that he had been wearing. Dressed all in black, he still looked intimidating. Adam approached Candy to apologize for how he had treated him earlier. “I am truly sorry for what I did earlier, but it’s that I don’t like people pointing guns at me.”
“Your father pointed a pistol at you, and you didn’t do anything about that.”
“Well, I knew him, and I was reasonably sure he wouldn’t shoot.”
“Only reasonably sure. He’s your father. Why weren’t you positive?”
“Well I can be a nasty bastard sometimes, so I couldn’t be certain he wouldn’t shoot.”
Shaking his head and looking to Hoss who was chuckling, Candy started to smile. “I’m beginning to think your stories about him are closer to the truth than those that Joe tells.” Candy saw how the brothers reacted. “What happened? Something happen to Joe?”
“In a way, yes. Pa told him the truth about his mother and about why she and I didn’t get along. He’s having a hard time with it.”
“He never knew the truth?”
“I guess everyone thought we were protecting him. It was a bad decision. He’s got to face it all now. I’m glad he has a friend like you. He may need to talk it through with someone outside the family. Know though that Pa told him the truth. There’s no getting around it.”
Candy looked at Hoss to see what he thought of what Adam had said, and Hoss nodded. “It’s a pretty bad story then?”
“That’s the way of it, Candy. Joe’s got a lot of things to think on now. It was kinda like an avalanche hit him. He’s hurting all over, but he’ll get better now that the wounds have been lanced and all the nasty stuff is done drained out.”
Adam looked at Hoss with a rather disgusted look. “Remind me never to ask you for help if I need some doctoring.” Hoss looked hurt before he and Adam broke out laughing. Candy watched them. This was a different kind of relationship than he expected. It was as if the two of them could read each other’s mind. “It feels good to laugh.”
Hoss put his hand on Adam’s shoulder then. “Let’s go get some dinner. We plumb forgot about eating lunch with all that was going on. I’m real hungry now.”
“Hoss, you were born hungry. I remember that well.”
“Hey, Adam, was he really the biggest baby anyone ever saw?”
“Now, confound it, Adam, how could I a been bigger than that?”
“Bigger than anyone ever saw, and bigger than anyone ever heard about, read about, or had nightmares about.”
“Remind me again why I like you.”
“Because when you’re next to me, everybody thinks you’re the nice one.”
“I am the nice one.”
“See, it even works on you.”
“Hey, Candy, you want to have dinner with us. You need to get to know my brother better, and you ain’t had dinner with us for a while now.”
Dinner went well with all of the men having a chance to talk about things they had been doing over the past few years. Adam’s stories had four men enthralled, but Adam was equally attentive to all the changes that had occurred in the time he had been gone especially the adventures his family had experienced. For a time, he could live vicariously through them and not have to dwell on the unhappy conditions of his years at sea. Focusing earlier on Adam’s beard and hair, Ben had not noticed other changes in him. When Adam handed the plate of chicken to Hoss when he asked, Ben suddenly saw the scars on Adam’s wrists. He knew what they were from and should have expected to see them, but it still made him freeze in the middle of saying something. Adam noticed the sudden stall in the conversation and noticed where his father was staring. He quickly set the platter down and moved his hands to his lap.
“Pa, they healed a long time ago too.”
Hoss and Candy had seen what Ben had seen, but Joe hadn’t looked concentrating instead on his father’s pained look and not seeing why he reacted that way. Joe turned to Adam after his comment and stared at him wondering what he had missed. Adam raised his wrists then and all could see the thick bank of scar tissue around each one.
“Ropes and shackles. It kinda built up the scars after a while.”
Joe was surprised. “Why would they keep doing it long enough for you to get scars like that?”
“They knew I would jump ship at the first opportunity so I was confined and usually shackled for the first couple of years anytime we entered a port or sailed near land. The ropes were used when I was being punished. You know me, Joe. I never could take anyone telling me what to do when I didn’t want to do it.”
“That part sounds more like me.”
“We’re more alike on that score than different. We come by it honestly though.” With a small smile, Adam looked at his father who had to nod in agreement for his oldest and youngest took after him in a number of ways, desirable and undesirable.
That evening, Candy was the first to excuse himself to get some sleep. Hoss and Joe were next once it neared midnight. Ben wanted to go to bed too, but he wouldn’t until he saw Adam go into his room. He knew he wouldn’t sleep until he knew Adam was back in the bed he hadn’t seen for so many years.
“Pa, you can go to bed. I won’t leave.”
A little embarrassed to be caught out so easily, Ben was as honest as he had ever been with his oldest son and laid his heart bare. “Adam, I can’t bear the thought of you leaving here ever again. Please tell me that you’ll stay. Please, if anything starts bothering you, talk with me and give me a chance to make it right. I can barely handle the guilt I feel now. I can’t take any more. I have to plead guilty as charged over not sincerely apologizing to you many times over the years. You were the loyal, dutiful son, and I took advantage of that. I need a chance I don’t deserve. I need a chance to show that I can be the father you deserved to have.”
“Pa, I promise you I won’t leave. I need you as much as you say you need me. I can’t live like I was. I need you too, Pa. I need a place where I feel I belong. Sometimes I’d stand at the railing of that ship and see mountaintops in the distance. I wanted to get home so much. I thought about jumping overboard and trying to swim to shore. I knew I didn’t stand a chance of making it, but I was desperate to get home. That’s when I started planning how I would get away. The first chance I had, I did. I’m where I need to be now. I wasn’t sure right away, but I’m sure now.”
For the first time in many years, Adam began to cry. He had held in so much for so many years, and now there was no reason to hold it in any longer. Ben wrapped his son in his embrace and let his tears flow too. When a sobbing Adam dropped his head onto his father’s shoulder, Ben never wanted to let him go. They stood like that for several minutes until Adam raised his head and wiped the last of the tears away. “I’m sorry for losing control like that. I don’t know what was wrong with me.”
“Nothing at all is wrong with you. I am so proud to be your father. I know it’s very late, but would you like to have a brandy with me.” Adam nodded and Ben moved to the tray holding the decanter.
At the top of the stairs, Hoss and Joe stepped back from peaking around the corner. As softly as they could, they walked back to their bedrooms with Hoss feeling relieved and Joe as shaken as he could be seeing some things he never thought he would ever see. But both slipped into bed and smiled.
“I have had to learn to accept what I can’t change. Grandfather Stoddard did his best to teach me that. Sometimes events conspire against us and put us in truly awful predicaments. We do the best we can when that happens and understand that others are doing what they think is best, and we have to forgive ourselves and others when the results are sad or terrible. The toughest thing to do is to change the past. It won’t happen, so I have to move on.”
Adam was leaning against Sport’s stall in the stable. The horse was too old to work any more, and Adam was going to let him loose to roam in the pasture. Joe was grooming his new horse that was almost a copy of Cochise. Joe did think about what Adam had said.
“So that’s why you can forgive me so much more easily than I can forgive myself. I can’t go back and change things anyway, so you’re willing to let us start fresh now?”
“That’s about it. Hoss is riding to Carson City with me tomorrow. Marty’s trial is scheduled for the day after that. You want to ride along with us?”
“I’d like to do that, but I think somebody should stay here with Pa. He puts up a good front, but this past week has been hard on him too.”
“Yes, it’s been an emotional time. It will be good to get this all done and look ahead and not back at all. Hoss and I will only be gone a few days.”
“Where did you go for two days?”
“I had someone I needed to see.”
“Yes, and I’m not telling you any more about her right now, so don’t ask any more questions.”
Joe knew he meant that and didn’t ask any more. For most of a week except for two days when Adam said he needed to go see someone, he had talked through issues with his father and his brothers. Adam, who was unaccustomed to hugs, got quite a few that week, and he had to admit to himself, at least, that they were very welcome and helped him heal. They had reached an understanding with each other over the events of the past. Adam finally told his father how much he disliked being referred to as a boy.
“But you’re my boy and you always will be. I only meant it as a way of saying you’re my son. I didn’t mean to hurt you by saying that.”
“Pa, you only use that term when you’re upset with me or arguing with me. It’s what one says to another to demean them. Whenever I did anything you disliked or my brothers did, you called us boys as if we were not grown men who could make mistakes or do something silly and still deserve respect as men. Grandfather Stoddard referred to me as ‘my boy’ and never when he was angry with me. Then it was always ‘Adam’ with a tone of voice that very easily communicated his feelings.”
“I am sorry. I guess I never realized I was doing that. If I said son or ‘my boy’ and never when I’m upset, then that would reassure that I respect you very much as a man?” And that had led to another of those hugs with his father grasping his shoulders as they broke apart. “Adam, I do respect you and always have. Sometimes I didn’t respect myself very much, and I took it out on you. I can never apologize enough for that. I was the one acting like a boy and not accepting responsibility. I know I have asked you to forgive so much already, but please forgive me that too?”
Adam had nodded as he did in many of their conversations. They were beginning to work on the future. Adam was working his way back into the business of the ranch. Ben hoped he would be able to take over more of the negotiations and contracts. But first, Adam had to go to Carson City because he had been summoned to testify in Marty’s trial. Much as Adam had expected, when Marty was no longer afraid, he had hired a lawyer and was trying to say that all of the evidence against him was coerced. Once Adam testified though, Marty was likely to be convicted.
The next day, Hoss and Adam headed to Carson City. For Adam, the experience was the best he had since returning home. There was no pressure, no more questions to answer, and no more things he felt driven to do. He could relax and enjoy himself. When they got to Carson City, Adam wanted to stop at Belle’s home first. He was a bit nervous about it and wondered why until he realized he very much wanted her to be happy to see him. He hoped too that Hoss would accept Belle. Adam had knocked on her door on Wednesday.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t see customers at my home.”
“Belle, it’s me.”
Belle reached up to touch Adam’s cheek and stare at his much shorter hair, his shaved face, and then into his eyes. It was his voice though. “It is you. I never thought you would really come back. Oh, my, Adam, you did get your smile back, and a beautiful smile it is.”
“Do I get a kiss?”
Belle threw herself into Adam’s arms and kissed him with all the pent up emotion she had. After a moment, Adam pulled away a little but kept his arms around her waist.
“Does that mean you’re happy that I came to visit?”
“Oh, you know it does. I thought once you were home on your big ranch, you would forget all about me.”
“Belle, I told you that you touched something in me that I thought was lost. I need to see you. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Mind? Come on inside, and I’ll show you exactly how I feel.” They had spent the rest of that day and that evening together. Adam had accompanied her to the saloon, and no one there bothered her once they realized that Adam was there to protect her. They spent that night together, and in the morning, Adam had promised again that he would be coming back.
Now he was there again, and he knocked on the door looking back at Hoss who was grinning at him. Hoss could see how nervous his older brother was and for the first time, he wondered if Adam was falling in love with this gal. He was grinning because he could imagine the reaction if Adam decided to bring Belle home with him. The door opened and Belle stood in front of Adam. When she smiled and opened her arms, Adam wrapped her into an embrace and kissed her deeply. Belle returned his passion despite seeing a man sitting on horseback watching them. Adam broke the kiss and turned to Hoss who was still grinning as he watched them. Hoss had a twinkle in his eye.
“Hoss, this is Belle. Belle, this is my brother, Hoss.”
“Gees, Adam, I kinda guessed it was Belle. Belle, I’m real pleased to meet you. I think I’ll head on over to the livery stable and then get us a room at the hotel we usually use.”
Belle stood on tiptoes to whisper in Adam’s ear. He smiled and turned to walk out next to Hoss. He took his saddlebags from his horse. “Hoss, you’re probably only going to need one bed in one room tonight. I have other plans.”
“Kinda thought you might, older brother. But probably?”
“Maybe things will happen that I need a room, but I’ll get one if that’s the case.”
“All righty, then, I’ll see you in the morning. Tonight, I’m gonna see if I can find a pretty and friendly woman, and ifn I can’t have both, I’ll take friendly ifn you know what I mean.”
Wishing him good luck on his quest, Adam walked back to Belle who stepped back into her home. Adam followed and pulled the door closed.
“So everything is still going well with your family?”
Dropping the saddlebags on a chair, Adam pulled Belle into his arms. “Yes, very well. Now I want to shake things up a bit again. I don’t want you working in that saloon any more. I don’t want you to have to tolerate men touching you in ways you would rather they didn’t and have to listen to any more indecent proposals.”
“Adam, I need that job. I couldn’t get any other kind of work. I can’t sew, and that was about the only job that was available other than schoolteacher, and I can’t do that either.”
“You don’t have to have a job. I want to support you.”
“I don’t want to be a kept woman like that.”
“You interrupted before I could finish. I want to support you as my wife. I want you to come back with me and live with me.”
“What? You can’t be serious. Your family would never accept me.”
“Belle, you have no idea what my family will accept. With what I’ve been through, they aren’t going to have one word to say against this. Now, will you?”
“Are you sure about this? I mean, you don’t have to marry me. I never even expected you to come back, so you know I wasn’t going to ask any more of you.”
“Are you done trying to talk me out of it? Now, I need an answer. Will you marry me?”
Belle smiled before kissing and hugging him, and that was all the answer he needed.
“Let’s go buy you a ring and then find a minister. I’ll get Hoss to come with us if I can find him. Pack a bag, please. We’ll take a room at the hotel. I want our wedding night to be special.”
So, by the time, Adam and Hoss rode home, Marty was headed to prison, and Belle rode a horse next to Adam. There were going to be more changes on the Ponderosa, but they were all good ones. First they had to get back there though, and they had started late in the day after packing up Belle’s things and saying goodbye to Belle’s friends. Then as they rode, the horse Adam had purchased for Belle developed a stone bruise. She could continue to ride him, but they had to slow their pace. They arrived at the Ponderosa late, and when they entered the house, it was clear everyone had gone to bed already.
“Pa’s gonna get one heck of a surprise at the breakfast table tomorrow morning, ain’t he?”
“It’s a good surprise though.”
“It is, but I gotta be there to see his face when you walk down those stairs with Belle and tell him you up and got married.”
Adam smiled as he and Hoss carried Belle’s bags up to Adam’s room, and Belle followed. She wished Hoss a goodnight before Adam picked her up and carried her into his bedroom that was now their bedroom. Hoss smiled from the door of his bedroom as Adam’s bedroom door closed. It felt darn good to have the whole family back together, and it was heartwarming to see Adam smiling. Hoss slipped into bed and fell asleep almost immediately. Adam and Belle had more to do though. Adam emptied a few of his dresser drawers to make room for Belle’s things. He put her other bags in the closet before turning to face her. He grinned, and she smiled as she began unbuttoning her dress. Adam was at her side in an instant to help her although it probably took more time with his help than it would have without it as each button or bow required a touch and a kiss according to Adam.
It was a very warm night, and later as they rested in each other’s arms letting the mild night air evaporate the sweat from their bodies, Adam opened up to Belle. “A few years ago, when I first managed to open the lock to the powder magazine on the Lucia, I thought about taking one of the pistols they stored in there and ending all the misery and loneliness. I was feeling hopeless. I wasn’t sure I would ever get off that blasted ship. But I couldn’t do it. No matter how awful it was, I couldn’t do it. It’s not the kind of man I am, and I wouldn’t let them take that away from me. Instead I began planning how I could free myself. It took a very long time, but I was determined. Now as I lay here with you, all the terrible things are over. I feel loved, accepted, and hopeful about the future. You are a big part of that. I want you to know that. Your innocence and your spirit drew me to you. You’ve been through a lot already, but you kept true to yourself. You’re such a good person, and I needed you to make me whole again. I hope that I can give you what you need. You only have to tell me, and I will do my best to provide whatever it is.”
“Adam, I think that all I need is you. When my mother died, and my father ran off, I thought I might have to marry just to survive. I didn’t want to spend my life with someone I probably wouldn’t even like and most likely wouldn’t respect. I couldn’t live a life like my mother lived in a marriage without love. The only thing I thought I could do was work in the saloon until I had enough money to start a business of my own or buy into someone else’s.”
“You wanted to be a business owner?”
“Yes, I was always good with talking with people and handling the budget for our family. My mother made clothing and canned food, and my father made furniture. I handled most of the selling in town. But when my mother died, I couldn’t see how I could do it any more. What would I sell? No one ever taught me how to make anything.”
“We need to talk about this more. I’m probably going to be doing a lot of the negotiations and contracts for the Ponderosa. I could use a partner to travel with me and help me with that.”
“You think I could do that? Oh, Adam, that would be wonderful.”
“Let’s talk more about that tomorrow. Now I’m looking forward to the first trip already.”
Feeling more content than either could remember being, Adam and Belle fell asleep spoon fashion with a sheet only pulled up to their waists. In the morning, Ben awoke early. He had stayed up late, but finally had gone to bed and succumbed to sleep when Adam and Hoss did not arrive home as they had thought they would when they left. He supposed something unexpected had happened, but when he walked into the hallway and saw both of their bedroom doors closed, he smiled. His sons were home. He opened Hoss’ door first and smiled again when he saw Hoss spread-eagled on the bed and snoring softly. Next he moved to Adam’s door and opened it. He stood in shock at what he saw. At that moment, Belle opened her eyes at the unexpected light that entered the room, and then she screamed. Adam quickly sat up which pulled at the sheets that Belle was hastily trying to use to cover her breasts. Climbing out of bed, Adam moved to close the door but Ben had reached in hastily to do that. A moment later, wearing pants that he had hastily donned and nothing else, Adam came out of his bedroom as Hoss and Joe came rushing into the hall wondering what had happened.
“Pa, what the hell?”
“Adam, there’s a woman in your room!”
Hoss stepped between his older brother and his father facing his father. “Pa, now you remember what you said all week. You was gonna be listening and not judging. You was gonna trust Adam and not doubt him. You remember all of that?”
At Adam’s furious look and with Hoss’ tender reminders, Ben knew. “Adam, I’m so sorry. I had no idea you had gotten married.”
Adam opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out as he worked his jaw in consternation, but Joe was excited.
“Adam, you got married? I didn’t even know you were seeing anyone. Hey, is that why you were gone for a couple of days? Did you go see her then? Hey, Pa, ain’t that something? Adam got married?”
Frowning, Adam stared at his father for a moment more. “How did you know?”
“I didn’t until I saw a woman in your bed. I know you wouldn’t bring a woman into this house and into your bed unless you were married, so I knew you must be married. I would have liked to meet her before the wedding, but I’ll be happy to meet her whenever you can get yourselves down to breakfast. And you really ought to consider locking your door now that you’re married.”
Shaking his head, Adam turned to go back into his bedroom to see how Belle was taking the shock. Ben called out to him before he did that though.
“Congratulations, son. I’ll tell Hop Sing to make a special breakfast. Are you going to be downstairs soon? I’d very much like to meet the woman who managed to get my oldest son in front of a minister.”
Nodding, Adam stepped into his room and closed the door. Belle looked at him and broke out laughing. She had heard everything that had been said.
“Hey, Pa, is she pretty? She sure has a pretty laugh. Pa, why did she scream earlier? Hey, where’s everybody going? Isn’t anyone going to answer any of my questions?”
“That must be your brother Joe out there. I heard Hoss. He’s so wonderful. You’re very lucky I didn’t meet him first.”
“Oh, now you want to make me jealous of my brother.” With a grin, Adam let her know he was enjoying the moment now too. “Belle, this has been quite a shocker of a morning. How about if we get dressed and go down to breakfast? And wear something that covers everything up real well. I think my father has seen enough of you already.”
Belle moved up to Adam and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Sweetie, everything is going to be all right. Now kiss me, and I’ll do whatever you want.”
Adam grinned and Belle stepped back and put her hands on her hips. “Not that. Not with everyone knowing what we’re doing, and I am hungry. You told me so much about Hop Sing’s cooking. I want to see what we’re having for breakfast. I heard you little brother giggling and your father growling so I want to see what they look like.”
“You could have come out in the hall and I would have introduced you.”
“I couldn’t find a wrap or a robe. I didn’t need any last night.”
“Sweetheart, you are never going to need any of those at all when you’re with me.”
So began the first day of their married life on the Ponderosa.
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